Monthly Archives: December 2010

Ree’s Mac and Cheese

I have a girl-crush on Ree Drummond. Just a little one. She lives in a big beautiful ranch house containing my dream kitchen and seems to just cook all day. (I know she also homeschools her kids, but I just read her cooking blog, so to me, it seems like she cooks all day. Even if she doesn’t.) She takes the most beautiful pictures of the most heavenly looking food and food preparation. She seems to be making a successful career out of home cooked food and blogging. Every so often, I get just a wee might jealous.

I drool over her blog all. the. time. But I had never actually made anything from it. So, when I had a craving for ketchup but knew we didn’t have a box of mac and cheese at home (yes, I will happily eat mac and cheese out of a box. Remember, not a foodie!), I did a quick search of her blog and found a recipe that seemed to have a bit of a twist and didn’t require a stop at the grocery store. And this mac and cheese came out of the oven looking and smelling absolutely delicious.

It was cheesy, creamy… You can’t go wrong, right? Especially when this is the Pioneer Woman we’re talking about!

Not so much. Yes, it was good. But I can’t say anything beyond that. It was OK. A decent backdrop for my Heinz. As I took the first bite, I realized I had wanted a mac and cheese that didn’t require ketchup, that would blow me away on first bite with cheesy delight. I expected if anyone could deliver, it would definitely be Ree. But it was just… lack luster.

It might be my fault. Maybe I used tablespoons of ground mustard instead of teaspoons? I found it a little grainy almost. And underneath the graininess, a little, well… flavourless.

This brings up an issue with the world of cooking and of blogging about cooking. How are you supposed to know before you begin a recipe that it’s actually going to be something you enjoy? You don’t. Choosing a recipe to create in your own kitchen, whether its from a blog or an in-print cookbook has a lot to do with trust. You need to trust the creator of that recipe and have confidence in the choice of ingredients. This is why I mostly boycott Allrecipes. I don’t trust the contributors to test their recipes over and over again to ensure they have the right combination of flavours. And yet, I tend to trust bloggers like the Pioneer Woman and Deb at Smitten Kitchen and Elissa at 17 and Baking (even though she’s only 18). I think the difference between food bloggers and recipe conglomerates like Allrecipes is in what they share: food bloggers are sharing not just a recipe, but their lives. The trust is built not through amazing food (though it is often amazing) but through the invitation into their lives, their homes, their kitchens.

I still trust Ree Drummond to make delicious food even though this particular recipe was just OK. But I know she’s not perfect. She doesn’t have to be.

(Want to try her mac and cheese and see if you can be successful with it? Check it out — and her beautiful photography and quirky commentary — here. To make it like mine, just add a pound of browned ground beef to the mix before you pop it in the oven. A few veggies probably couldn’t hurt either, if you want it to be a well-rounded dinner.)

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Lost Cameras and Symbolism

My camera has mysteriously gone missing. This is one of the reasons you have seen very few new posts in the month of December. This is concerning for a couple reasons.

Of course, there’s the obvious reason. It’s my camera. Yes, it and I have a love-hate relationship: I never was able to find its rechargeable battery, so its battery life is either really short or really expensive, and I never managed to become familiar with its manual settings in the same way I did with my old camera. It’s not a high-end piece of equipment by any means. But it did a surprisingly decent job in artificial lighting and I have almost always been happy with the quality of images that I can work out of it in my kitchen as I took pictures of the things we eat. And, I just bought this thing a year and a half ago. It’s no where near worn out and I am just not ready to spend the $600-$1000 I would want to invest on a new camera just so I can take pictures of food. And honestly, I don’t really want another point-and-shoot. Unless it’s really good and therefore worth about as much as a low-end DSLR. (Oh, and, unless it’s a Canon Powershot A620.)

But the loss of my camera is maybe not that important. Even worse, I’m fairly certain that something rather important to me was in the camera case, carefully tucked away someplace safe. Or so I thought.

My parents (my mom, really) gave me and my sister versions of this necklace for Christmas probably 5 years ago now. I don’t know why this particular symbol is important to my family. I’ve always wondered if we have a little French in us somewhere that passed the symbol down through the matriarchy of my family. My mom gave a necklace to each of her daughters in the same way her mom gave each of her daughters a necklace. Did my Oma receive her necklace from her mother? I don’t know. Either way, this necklace has always made me feel connected to my family, my mother and my sister in particular. It’s a connection to what we believe, a connection to something bigger than myself: a family by birth and by holy means. This necklace reminds me of the connection I have to the Trinity through my family.

So, the thought of losing it is not so pleasant — not that I think I’m going to lose those connections — I know it doesn’t work that way. But the reminder of family is a comfort. I took my Hugenot cross off for J’s wedding a month ago yesterday and tucked it into my camera case. I forgot to put it back on later, but always knew it was there, safe, in the little front zippered pouch. And now, the camera case is missing, the camera that goes with it and, likely, the little sterling silver cross too. I can’t imagine not finding it. It must be here somewhere. But it’s a little uncomfortable not knowing exactly where.

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A-a-a-a-a-a-a-amen

I know I said I have nothing to blog about. That was yesterday*. And then, I went to Tafelmusik’s performance of Handel’s Messiah and I just can’t help it. I have to write about it while it’s still fresh, while I can still almost hear the Amens.

The Messiah is probably the single most influential piece of music in my life. My dad has sung it in various choirs since I was quite small and I remember being enthralled by the sheer volume of the voices, the way they could make this weird feeling well up in my chest, make me tense and relax at the same time, the music bubbling through me. I know, it sounds cheesy. I have never felt this way about any other piece of music.

My familiarity and love for the Messiah only grew the year I played it myself. I had been playing violin for two years when my teacher decided to pad his orchestra with less experienced players. I was a second violin that first year and the experience was frustrated but oh so rewarding. To be a part of the music was a whole new experience. I’ll admit I faked half of the Hallelujah chorus and would regularly get lost in the middle of Unto Us. But to hear my own voice — that of my violin — adding to the magnitude of the music was almost awe-inspiring. Perhaps I idealize that year. Maybe it wasn’t like that at all. But I miss being a part of something like that.

(The following year, my teacher tried to bump me up to a first violin. The technical jump that was required along with his lack of dedication as a teacher pushed my love of the music into the realm of frustration and I quickly became overwhelmed. Today, my violin sits in storage.)

I haven’t seen a performance of the Messiah in a few years. My exam schedules and Christmas schedules have regularly prevented me, even when my father was performing. So, when L asked if I wanted to go, there was no way I was going to turn her down. We chose the Tafelmusik performance over the TSO — it was her decision, since I didn’t really have an opinion either way. It. was. perfect. The point of Tafelmusik is small, authentic baroque music. This means no big orchestra and a choir smaller than any my dad used to sing in. Despite the few bodies at the front, the power of the music was hardly diminished.

Some negative thoughts:

  • I don’t like counter-tenors. I felt like he did not have near the dynamic range of the other soloists. Besides that, I kept thinking about what his speaking voice might sound like. Just a touch distracting.
  • I prefer soloists for whom English is their first language. I could hear the accent of the baritone. He seemed to leave off the whole first syllable of ‘trumpet’.
  • Generally, I don’t like solos.
  • I couldn’t hear my dad. It was a little weird listening to the Messiah without being able to pick out my dad’s voice or see him moving back and forth in the back row.
  • Guy standing behind me: I will claw your voice out if you are ever behind me at such an important musical event again. What made you think it would be at all appropriate to hum all the way through the Hallelujah Chorus?

Some positive, amazing, make-you-burst thoughts

  • I sat on the edge of the pew the whole performance. Almost.
  • The performance was in the most beautiful church downtown. I almost wish it was during the day so we could have seen the stain glass. This is the biggest reason I’m glad we didn’t go big with the TSO. The Messiah feels like it belongs in a church. This probably has a lot to do with the majority of my experiences with the music being in small spaces, specifically old churches.
  • The tenor was amazing. I don’t think I had ever noticed someone creating such a dynamic range with their voice before. Comfort Ye blew me away.
  • One word: harpsichord.
  • HallelujahChorusholyshitIwannahugyou.
  • Handel knows finales. I’m still tingling.
  • It was snowing when we left the church and by the time I got home, they were big, fat, fluffy flakes. Now, it’s truly Christmas.

Next year, I want to go to the sing-a-long Messiah. Anybody with me?

(* I also must clarify: I wasn’t complaining yesterday that you guys aren’t reading my blog. I know you’re reading and I love each and every one of you for it! As much as a blogger might insist that her blog is just for herself, no writer wants to send her words out into the world to no readers. But I know that when I don’t post, there aren’t too many people finding their way here every day… My lack of desire to post means there’s nothing for you to read.)

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Hi?

My lack of current readers is sad, especially after my month long marathon of posting in November, but I really can’t bring myself to post anything. No motivation for a worthwhile post. I have been cooking and baking, but not taking pictures and not thinking about blog posts as I consume chocolate and soup and tuna casserole. I haven’t been reading much, instead preferring to stare blankly out of grime-covered bus windows. We have been doing plenty; Christmas dinners with ham, gift exchanges, Christmas shopping. I am going to see Handel’s Messiah tonight, the epitome of Christmas. But nope, not sharing. Don’t wanna.

Come back in January.

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Old Ivories

If you didn’t figure it out from my last post, I want an acoustic piano. I’ve played a few digitals: they just don’t feel the same as a solid, majestic upright. Of course, there’s a few issues with my desire for real keys under my fingers, a few issues that mean I can’t have an acoustic piano for at least half a year.

Of course, the main issue at the moment is space. Remember what our apartment looks like? Maybe I could get a small, apartment style piano into the spot my Yamaha currently sits. But even a small acoustic piano would take up a significant amount of space. Access to our beautiful bookcase would be lost and the couch may need to squish up against our side table. And really, do I want an apartment style piano? Even if such a piano would fit, getting it up the elevator onto the 30th floor and down the hall and into our suite would likely be way more work than it’s worth, especially considering I’d much rather a full-sized upright.

And then, there’s cost. I don’t want a new piano. I have a strong fondness for ivory keys and scratched panels. I don’t like the shiny coating of brand new pianos, their susceptibility to fingerprints and their lack of history. Besides that, new pianos are expensive. But so are refurbished pianos, pianos that have been beautifully restored, ivory keys carefully replaced, strings restrung, felts refelted. So, a new piano is out, a refurbished piano is out. Kijiji?

There’s plenty of $100 pianos on Kijiji. $150 pianos. Maybe $200. This is a warning to anyone trying to find a piano on Kijiji: unless the seller is also delivering the antique piano, it’s not worth the $100 they’re asking for it, except perhaps in their own sentimental value. Especially ads that say ‘Some TLC required’ or, worse, ‘Works fine but needs tuning’. Unless you know a little something about pianos, don’t touch these. A glance or two won’t tell you if the soundboard is broken or, worse, the tuning block is cracked. A piano that can’t hold its tune has no value except as firewood.

But what’s about the free pianos on Kijiji? There’s a few. Lots of people just want the monstrosities out of their houses: a child has left for university and doesn’t care about the instrument she was forced to play as a child; someone bought the thing thinking they would learn and then realized it was actually hard; it was handed down, and they thought it would make a beautiful piece of furniture, until they realized how much space it was really taking up. These are the ones I look for. There’s a few I’d like to go look at, just to see if I could tell if it’s a good enough piano for me.

But, then, I think about my piano. It looks something like this:

The finish is a little darker, not so red. And mine is missing that beautiful decal along the top. But pretty much, that’s my piano. It’s the piano I learned on, the piano I played for approximately 11 years before moving out of the house. I have a lot of sentiment attached to this piano. And, guess what? It’s not only free, but I know exactly what kind of shape it’s in.

About two years ago when I was looking for a piano I could have with me, my parents considered selling the upright and giving me whatever they got from it to go towards a new, good quality digital piano. They called in a piano technician from a local restoration and retail company to assess the piano, tell us how much it’s worth and maybe buy it off of us. The results were mixed, but ultimately, as beautiful and valuable as the piano is to me, it’s junk to pretty much everyone else. Except. The bones on my piano are remarkable. The soundboard survived a fall down the stairs into the basement, the tuning block has been able to handle 100 years of changing temperatures without losing its ability to hold its tune, and the rest of the structure is solid. Yes, the hammers need to be replaced and the action needs some work. But if I were to put approximately $1000 into refurbishing the interior of this piano, it would sound a heck of a lot better than any new piano I could buy. And, until we decide to actually do the refurbishing, I know my piano will still be good to me, even if the tone is a little shrill.

So, the question now is how do we get it out of my parents’ basement? And, when we do get it out, will M and I have the space for it wherever we’re living in six months?

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Dusting Off the (Plastic) Ivories

I own this keyboard:

It’s a Yamaha NP-30. It’s worth about $300 brand new. I made the mistake of buying a used one almost two years ago off someone who doesn’t play piano without doing enough research myself. I was excited when I set it up in my bedroom and sat down for the first time in 4 years at a piano that was mine, that I would have constant access to. At first the light touch was just hard to get used to. Then, it was disappointing. I clearly noticed the lack of hammer action, the lack of control in dynamics. The pedal was unwieldy and kept slipping as I used it.

After a week of buyer’s remorse, I settled into the keyboard a little more and became grateful for it: it’s easy to move, takes up little space, and, even though it doesn’t feel like a real piano, I managed to settle my craving for keys under my fingers, a craving that only seemed to grow as the years in which I didn’t have a piano passed. This piano hasn’t seen a lot of serious practicing: a lot of praise and worship music, chorded popular songs, my grade 8 pieces, and a few scales for my theory class last year.

Come January, however, this keyboard is going to have to work a little harder. I’m a little nervous about how hard it’s going to have to work: can it stand up to it? Will it be sufficient? Will this whole endeavour just end up a huge waste of money?

I — the girl who barely scraped through her grade 8 piano exam with a pass — I have found a piano teacher. This means I am making a commitment, a commitment I can’t break until my last lesson. Just ask my mom how that went the last time I had piano lessons. Those stories could fill a month of blog posts…

 

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