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Number of posts: 18
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By Kate McNally:
People You Meet on Planes
I remember the first time I flew on a commercial airliner. I was 19 and on my way from Atlanta to Knoxville to visit my college roommate. I was absolutely enchanted with the experience of flying, and couldn’t wait to do it again. I loved the rush of takeoff, being slammed back into my seat and that magic moment when this enormous awkward machine became weightless.
Many years later, I had a job that required that I fly about 400,000 km / 250,000 miles a year. Every week I would leave home on Sunday (or the crack o’dawn Monday if I was lucky) and fly to a different city to meet with clients.
I have a confession to make. I really don’t like New Year’s. To me, it’s an artificial thing. Don’t get me wrong, I love the IDEA of it–a new start, wipe the slate clean and begin anew. What’s better than that?
The problem is that we seem to take all our problems, resentments, wounds into the new year. We can’t seem to leave them behind. We try to feel as if it’s a brand new year, but if we’re honest with ourselves, nothing is different, is it? At midnight we say HAPPY NEW YEAR! and we pop corks and throw confetti and set off fireworks and we try to feel as if something is different, something is new. But it really isn’t. At least for me.
I’ve been a little bit under the weather lately. No, that’s not really true—I’ve been on the injured reserve list. I have a kitchen injury.
We’re all familiar with the normal kitchen injuries: burns and cuts. When we work with fire and knives we expect a little blister or cut from time to time. Sometimes we even have something more dramatic, like the time I sliced the tip off my little finger while preparing dinner for some friends. It bled significantly for a couple of hours.
Many years ago, when I was in Grad school, some friends and I began to think seriously about nutrition. Grad students on the whole aren’t known for their interest in nutrition, but we discovered a vitamin that’s not very well known: vitamin O. Vitamin O deficiencies are pretty common, and can have serious affects on your social life. Your body can’t store it, and so you need some every day. Jogging, for example, completely strips your body of it. Vitamin O is very important for mental health. And we WERE studying Psychology, after all!
I was talking to someone recently about the benefits and challenges of living in a country that you didn’t grow up in. One of the challenges is that most people don’t get your cultural references. I mean, imagine living in a place where nobody understands what you’re talking about when you say, “Gee, Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore.” Or kemosabe – doesn’t everyone know what kemosabe means? No. A lick and a promise? Nope. You’re batting a thousand? Ha! You’re in the right ballpark? Sorry. I’m gonna slap you silly? Uh-uh … But I digress. One of the trips we made recently was to York.
There was a time in my life when I couldn’t eat anything that had wheat in it-no crackers, no bread, no pita, no gravy, no biscuits, no cookies, no croissants…you get the idea. I got pretty creative with some things. Like hummus. I really really like hummus, but if you don’t have pita to put it on, what can you do? Corn chips. Yes. They work very well. Sometimes, though, if you have company you want something a little fancier.
I have seen recipes for panna cotta for years, and frankly, I didn’t understand the point of it. Sweetened cream, set with gelatin? Ew. But when we were in Siena several years ago, I tried it for the first time. OH. MY. This is definitely something whose description doesn’t do it justice. Not at all. It’s just, frankly, wonderful.
It’s the perfect light dessert after a rich meal. It’s just the right touch of sweetness, and when you add berries as I have, you have a light, sweet/tart dessert, the perfect end to a perfect meal. What more can you ask?
I have a confession to make. No, two of them. First, I’m a yeast-o-phobe. I love things made with yeast: fresh dinner rolls, good crusty bread, cinnamon buns. Pizza. And I absolutely love the smell of yeast. But I never bake with it. I buy it regularly―in my supermarket they have these pretty little cubes of fresh yeast that look so nice in my fridge until they’re about 3 months past their expiration date. Sigh. I love the IDEA of baking with yeast, but I just don’t do it. I’ll make anything with baking powder. But yeast, that’s another story. When we designed our apartment, I ordered a pizza stone with my oven. TWO YEARS ago. It was still in its virgin state. Never used, never even heated. Sigh… I’ve always been a sucker for the tool-buyer’s fallacy: if I have the tools I must be good at it. NOT […]
Ahhh, Memorial Day: the beginning of summer, barbecues, long weekend, the swimming pool finally open…
Here in Belgium, the last Saturday in May is the commemoration of the end of WWII. This year, as every year, we were invited to the ceremonies at the American Cemetery at Henri-Chapelle, about 10 miles from our house. This is only one of the many cemeteries for Americans who died in the Allies’ drive through northern Europe into Germany and in the Battle of the Bulge. There are bigger cemeteries at Liege and Bastogne, but this one is big enough—7,992 Americans are buried here. 7,992 sons and brothers, fathers and fiancés, comrades and friends. 7,992 families not started, 7,992 lives of hopes and dreams lost so that the people of Belgium could have their hopes and dreams. Here, in the Ardennes, where the battle raged, where the occupation crushed so many lives, people don’t forget.
When I was growing up, there were some special desserts that my grandmother made. EVERYONE’S grandmother made them. One of them was chocolate pound cake. This is one of those recipes that is closely guarded and only given to the younger generation when they marry, as a part of their trousseau. It’s an incredibly lovely cake, with a texture like silk and a deeply chocolate flavor. It was often served alone, unfrosted, with perhaps some fruit. When it wasn’t served plain, it was frosted with a fudge frosting that was basically fudge spread over the cake before it hardened. It’s one of my fondest memories.
We just got home from a visit to Italy. We spent two weeks in Turin, studying Italian and enjoying the good life. While there, we had the great good fortune to see the Shroud of Turin, which is only on display a few times each century.
It’s an ancient relic, much studied and much disputed. Some say that it’s the image of Christ, that it was wrapped around his body after he was crucified. Others say that it dates from the 12th or 13th century, and was probably from the last head of the Templars who was tortured and crucified as an example to the others. Still others say that it’s a total fake.
I love a circus, don’t you? When Dan had an office in Montreal, we used to spend a certain amount of time there. One of the things we loved to do was to see Cirque du Soleil. The things they did were astonishing, magical. I remember once there was a man who flew. Really flew. He began by walking around the enormous ring, his hands through some gymnast’s rings that were attached far above him. He just walked in a big circle. Then slightly faster, and faster, till he was running. Then he simply lifted his feet in that amazing gymnast’s move until he was horizontal in the air, arms out to his side. He was flying. Magic. I was entranced.
Having grown up in the Southern part of the US, I have some special food prejudices. I love spicy food. I will make a beeline for a coconut cake. I like my tea strong and iced. No sugar (I know). My lifetime ambition is to make good fried chicken (I’m not there, not by a long shot). In the summer, I could happily eat BLT every single day. And I love pimento cheese.
Pimento Cheese. Pimiento cheese. However you spell it, I like it. Dan, who grew up in San Francisco, looks at a Pimento cheese sandwich and says, “eh”. He doesn’t hate it, but he wouldn’t go out of his way to make it. Or to find it.
I think that’s because he didn’t grow up with it.
One of the wonderful things that we discovered after we’d moved to Belgium is duck confit. In French, it’s called cuisses de canard confit. Cuisses de canard means duck thighs. Confit is a word that doesn’t translate well into English. Prepared? Pickled? Preserved? Not exactly the same thing, but in that family of ideas.
Here’s how they’re made: duck thighs are packed in a mixture of salt and herbs for a day or so to draw out the moisture, and then they’re cooked gently in goose fat (or duck fat) for a few hours.
One of the interesting things about living in Belgium is learning to deal with the vagaries of the post. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. If I put a letter in the post today, it will be delivered anywhere in Belgium tomorrow. That’s impressive to me. A bookstore in Siena once sent me some books on a Friday and I had them on Monday. From Germany or Switzerland I might expect that kind of efficiency, but from Italy? I know. On the other hand, sometimes things go astray.
One of the interesting things about living in Belgium is that we are exposed to different languages every day. Everything we buy has two or three languages on it: French, Dutch, and often German as well.
Our daily language is French. When we leave our house we’re in a world where very few people speak English…
I used to smoke. Back then, everyone did. I smoked a pack of cigarettes a day for many years. I quit, I re-started, I tried to cut back, I was hooked. Cigarettes were my best friend: They were always there, any time of the day or night when I needed the comfort they could bring. Cigarettes were my worst enemy: They stole my breath, they made me stink, they damaged my health. I had to quit.
I had my last cigarette on November 5, 1982, at half past noon. It was a Friday,
Growing up in an Irish Catholic family meant that we ate fish on Friday. Every Friday. Without fail. The only exception we ever saw was when my older brother had rheumatic fever and the doctors wanted him to eat beef every day to strengthen his heart. Heh. I know. But it was the best medical wisdom at that time. My grandfather had the same advice after his heart attack, and he lived to be 87.
Actually, as Catholics, we weren’t obliged to eat fish. We just couldn’t eat meat. Except my brother. At our house, though, “no meat” meant fish. So we ate fish every Friday. We didn’t live especially close to the sea (Atlanta),