Coronation Street Scene of the Week (Oct. 31/10)

C

There was a lot of good stuff this week.  Carla hauling the vodka bottle out of her desk drawer and telling Sally Carla-talking-with-Sally“orange juice in the fridge” after Sally has told her why she needs time off work.

Also excellent is the ongoing storyline with the dueling grandfathers in the Barlow family: there’s a lot of show – and English – history with Ken and George battling it out over education options for Simon.  Have a look at the first episode where Albert Tatlock gives Ken a little lesson in class consciousness when the young university student is feeling caught between two class worlds.  Also in that episode, a bicycle is being repaired in the Barlow living room, just like last week.  But that time Ken wasn’t doing the fixing, rather he was mortified about it.  But for the scene of the week, I stand by the decision I made early in the week.  (Sun, Oct. 31st)

Tuesday – C scene

I’m writing this Tuesday.  I’m sure I’ve just watched “the scene”.  Bill comes by Kev and Sally’s to see how Sally’s visit to the oncologist went.  Just Kevin is there, Sally is upstairs having a long soak.  Bill kind of shuffles from foot to foot and tries to look cheery.  His body language is that of visiting “the sick room” – that not knowing C - Kevin explains lymph node surgery to Billwhere to look or what to say.  Kevin tells him what the process will be, his lips uncomfortably forming the words “lumpectomy” “lymph nodes”.  His speaking manner is a bit stilted, like he’s reciting or practicing a phrase in a foreign language.  And he is:  he’s repeating the words of the doctor, words he may have heard before but never had them apply to his own life.  C words, the vocabulary of cancer.

As Kevin talks, Bill’s face transforms.  He’s listening, hearing and understanding the words but he’s going back in his mind.  Looking at Bill, I could see his wife and Bill, hearing the same words in their doctor’s office years before.  He never mentioned his wife, he said hardly anything at all other than the usual words one offers.  He asked if the girls knew yet.  No, Kevin said.  After giving best wishes, chin up etc., Bill leaves.  End of scene.  I had a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes.

Bill listens to Kev tell about Sally's surgery - CCancer has not affected me directly in my own family, so I wasn’t remembering something familiar and sad to me.  Maybe I’m wrong on the powerfulness of this scene; maybe if I had more firsthand knowledge I wouldn’t have found it so evocative.  But I don’t think so.  I think it was beautifully and knowledgeable written and acted.

Also it speaks to the history of the show with a deft touch.  I’m beginning to feel I know Mrs. Webster the Elder.  I don’t even know her first name, I don’t remember Bill as a younger man.  But I’m starting to know that man and his wife.  I always loved the episodes written by Daran Little, long time programme archivist and later writer.  If I hadn’t caught the opening credits, I knew as soon as I heard a reference to the past that it was a Daran episode.  “Oh goody,” I would think, “they decided we’ll get a history lesson”.  I loved how Daran wove the long-ago history of present and past characters into present episodes.  His writing always added depth to the episode, giving more dimensions to what was happening on screen.  No other writer did it, perhaps because it was Daran’s specialty.

Unfortunately, Daran has moved on from Coronation Street, and I miss his “history lessons”.  I’m delighted that other writers and directors (Damon Rochefort and Durno Johnston in this case) are strengthening today’s stories with understated reference to the past.

Portugal and Eco: The Knights Templar Castle, Tomar

Archways at Knights Templar Castle, Tomar PortugalVacationing in the Azores, my reading was Humberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum. It was my introduction to the Knights Templar and I fell in love. I was going on to Portugal, and Tomar with its Templar Castle was on my itinerary, come hell or high water. I met a friend in Oporto, and after a few days in that amazingly beautiful city, we headed south, with a stop in Tomar planned.

Driving fast because we’d got away late and wanted to get to Tomar before nightfall. Driving through the city of Coimbra, with its ancient university – no time to stop, gotta get to Tomar. On the highway through the city, looking at the map and out the window, I could see rooftops – “there it is, that’s the university over there”. My partner, driving, took a glance over. And that was our tour of Coimbra.

Roman Ruins

Just out of Coimbra, we saw a sign for Roman ruins ahead. We’d made Conimbriga Roman ruins, Portugalgood time, so decided to stop for a look. There was no one there, and we just walked in. It was astounding. Beautiful, peaceful, eerie almost. We spent quite a long time there because it demanded time and attention. Not attention to explanatory signage, although it was useful. Just looking at the mosaics and their beauty and the engineering and its beauty.

Feeling glad for having seen this true pearl of history, we continued to Tomar. I was a bit anxious; I feared it would be dark when we got there. We had to find a place to stay, had to find the Castle, I had to psych myself up for this pilgrimage to the holy land of the Knights Templar. Still, I didn’t regret our stop to see the Roman ruins.

View of Tomar, with castle on skylineDrove like hell to Tomar, got there almost at dusk. I’d been looking at the maps, so knew where the Castle was (plus it’s a castle, how can you miss it?). “Quick, let’s go there first, just to see it.” We drove through the town and headed up the winding lane that leads up the hill to the Castle. All the way through town, you see the Castle looming above you. The hillside is wooded. Darkness was falling. We park and jump out. Quiet, nobody around, just the trees and the massive dark wooden doors. I’m crying, I’d started on the way up the hill.

Tomar at Easter

There’s a sign beside the doors. It gives the hours for the Castle and its very few closed days.  Easter Sunday is one of them. This was Saturday, the day before Easter Sunday. The castle had closed an hour before we got there. We had to leave Sunday evening; we had only blocked out the one night and day for Tomar. There was no choice; this was a working holiday and the holiday part was ending, with work starting Monday.

Easter Sunday Procession, TomarWe found a hotel and I read pamphlets about the Castle. Sunday morning, I went to Easter Mass and the procession through the streets. It was beautiful, the old church in the town square, the service, the old women in their black shawls, the little kids spit-polished in their best clothes.

Afterwards, I walked around the square and went to a park along the river that went through the centre of town. I sat on the grass and looked up at the Castle, stone battlements against the tree green and black and sky blue. I watched people strolling in the park with scampering kids, all dressed in their best clothes. All, like me, just out of Mass. Picnic hampers were unpacked, grannies called kids to come and eat. I wandered across the square again, quiet now, and went back to the hotel. We went to a restaurant, had a fabulous meal of seafood and drove around the castle grounds again and then out of Tomar.

One miss, two hits

View from Knights Templar Castle in TomarSo one big miss on the bucket list in this trip, and two unexpected hits: the Roman ruins and Easter in Tomar. And I never hear of Coimbra or its university without remembering yelling “there it is, look over there” and waving my arm toward a tower and rooftops way in the distance from a highway while the driver negotiates through high-speed city traffic reading road signs in a language he doesn’t speak.

I gathered these photos from several sources. The photo of the procession in Tomar I took that Easter Sunday. The panoramic photo of Tomar and the photo of the Conimbriga ruins I found online. American women took the photos from inside the Templar Castle, of the archways and the view from the top. I met them in the Algarve and we talked about where we’d been and what we’d seen. When I told them about my trip to Tomar, they said “You poor thing! We’ll send you our pictures when we get home.”  And bless their hearts, they did. In their letter, they noted that they “hope these are Tomar, so many cities, so many castles…” But I am happy to look at them, and imagine myself in the Castle keep.

 

Coronation Street Scene of the Week (Oct. 24/10)

Trifecta

No one scene jumped out at me this week.  But three spoke a bit, for different reasons.  The Becky after pregnancy test scenepenultimate scene with Steve and Becky. A close up of Becky looking back at Steve, worried, pensive, scared, maybe all of the above.  She had been in the Rovers’ bathroom earlier, taking a pregnancy test out of the box.  She’s been like a frightened rabbit since.

When she learned Claire had told Steve Becky didn’t want kids, she told Claire off in no uncertain terms.  No ‘bezzy mates’ if you blab.  She had a long talk with her real ‘bezzy mates’ Roy and Hayley, about kids and marriage but didn’t tell them the results of her pregnancy test.  Steve has got very broody all of a sudden and is pressuring her to have a baby, even without knowing she thinks she’s pregnant.  That’s the only part of this story that strikes me as rather contrived, indeed “soapish”.  I could accept Steve getting broody and wanting a baby with Becky and her resisting.  I could also accept her thinking she might be pregnant, not telling him, taking the test and not knowing what to do with the information (assuming it’s positive).  But having the two things happening at the same time, without Steve knowing that Becky is at the stage of taking a pregnancy test?  It says American daytime to me, not Coronation Street.

Family history scene

Kev and BillSecond “almost” scene was earlier in the week – Kevin telling his dad about Sally’s cancer, and their talk about the death of Kevin’s mother from cancer.  I don’t remember Kevin’s mother so don’t know if this was an on-screen story or not.  Still, it was moving to see the two of them talking about their shared loss, and to hear Bill talk about how he coped with losing his wife and caring for two children.  From reading the comments at Corrie Canuck, I see this scene was a big hit with many of them.  As some people there said, it was nice to get some of Bill’s backstory.  Also nice to see Corrie writers using their history and putting present stories in the context of stories and characters from the past.

God-awful Scene

Connor family discussionThird “almost” – for sheer awfulness – was New Year’s Eve and Michelle coming home with her cute little roofer pick-up guy.  She wants to get a few things for a surprise sleepover with him at a ritzy hotel.  What does she find when they come through the door?  Her teenage son and his girlfriend in the middle of their own “sleepover”!

But that wasn’t the awful part.  That came when, after a weird discussion about teenage sex, Michelle gets her stuff together to go to the hotel for her overnighter with Bob the Builder.  I’m not sure that woman should be allowed to raise a goldfish.

Click Fatigue

Every day I gave .6 bowl of kibble to shelter animals and 10 pieces of freekibble.com logo click to givekibble to other shelter dogs and 10 pieces to cats.  I had 2 foster dogs and 2 foster cats that I fed, walked and patted every day.   These were my virtual fosters and feedings.  I clicked to help every cause I could.  Waking up my computer meant first doing my click duties.  Going on Facebook meant ensuring my virtual fosters on Save a Dog and Save a Cat were taken care of.

Now I’ve lost those dogs and cats.  I got too busy to go on Facebook and my animals disappeared.  I feel horrible about it, but I can’t commit to them again.  I can’t promise them that I will log in and click every day for them.  I don’t always click every day on the Animal Rescue Site (and the attached Literacy Site, Rainforest Site etc.).  Sometimes I forget to answer the trivia question on freekibble for dogs and cats.

What put me over the edge was when I entered a new realm of giving by clicking.  The Pepsi Refresh site gives money for good causes and projects, both in the US and Canada.  I spent a considerable amount of time choosing my Canadian projects and then diligently clicked every day.  When I started feeling overburdened by clicking duty, I happened to see an ad on tv for an insurance company or credit card company.  I can’t remember what it was – maybe I’ve blocked it from my mind to protect myself.  You can support their worthy causes by signing up and clicking every day.  No!!! No more!

Click backsliding

So my backsliding started.  I forgot to click the easy ones, Animal Rescue Site and freekibble, a couple days in a row.  Then I didn’t go on Facebook for, like, a week.  Next time I logged in and went to Save a Dog and Save a Cat apps, my foster animals had disappeared.  Not just expired and easily renewed – but the message reading “you currently have no fosters”.  I searched the database and found them again, and diligently clicked for a week or so.  Then something else came up and I didn’t log in.  I lost them again.  This time, I haven’t gone back.  I’m not a responsible virtual pet parent.

I let my Pepsi Refresh causes win or lose without my help.  I try to remember to click the Animal Rescue Site and its affiliates.  I enjoy the trivia questions on freekibble so try to do it every day.  I still use banner from oldfriendsequine.orgGoodsearch as my search engine and raise a penny per search for Old Friends Equine Retirement farm in Georgetown, KY.  But that’s as much as I can do.  I am a click burn-out.

Coronation Street Scene of the Week (Oct. 17/10)

Molly’s Turkey

Molly pulls the Christmas turkey out of the oven. The pan tips and the turkey slides out on the floor. Oh, the poor girl.

Molly pulls turkey out of ovenI haven’t had a lot of sympathy for her in this whole affair with Kevin, but my heart bled for her in this scene and the one leading up to it. That’s where Kevin breaks it off with her. What I liked in the follow-up scene was there was the turkey on its platter in the middle of the table, with Tyrone, Jack and all tucking into it.

Molly did what I’d hoped she did when I saw the turkey laying in the middle of the kitchen floor. She picked it up, wiped it off, put it on a platter and served it – ta da! – telling no one of its little side trip en route to table from oven.

Pick turkey – and yourself – up

Now, girl, that’s what you have to do with yourself.  Pick yourself up, look your best and carry on!  Easier said than done, when your “great romance” has just told you that you’re childish and selfish and acts as if you were the only one with delusions of leaving partners and going off to a new and wonderful life together.  At the best of times, that is difficult to hear from someone who has said he or she loves you.  But when an hour before, it’s him who has persuaded you that it’s time to up stakes, tell the spouses that you’re leaving them and damn the consequences.  All on Christmas Day?  Even Molly, deluded as she is about the ease with which a marriage or two can be ended, seemed not entirely sure that Christmas Day, before the turkey dinner, was the best time to do this.

She really is still just a girl without a lot of experience in adult relationships.  But she’s learning fast, as her look of hurt and stunned disbelief showed when Kevin lectured her about why he could now not leave Sally.  That he had to stand by his wife, now she’s been diagnosed with breast cancer.  Earlier he’d also told Molly that he had to stand by his family until Sophie was through her school exams.  Molly said ok to that. But, after finding out about the romantic weekend in Paris Kevin and Sal had, she said ok, enough!  Good for you, Molly!

But Kevin couldn’t leave it at that.  No, he persuades her running away is a good, and romantic, thing to do.  She falls for it – of course she would!  She loves him or at least is infatuated with him or the thrill of an affair.  Then, when he does the right thing and says he’s staying with his wife, he has to belittle Molly.

Power imbalance

There’s already a power imbalance between Molly and Kevin.  She’s a lot younger than him, so he can feel good about having a young woman fawning over him.  But he can also turn it the other way around when it suits his purpose; she’s silly and immature, too young to understand these things.  And, being young, those words will hurt her without her realizing what it also says about him and his level of maturity.  Molly has just learned an important lesson about relationships; whatever someone says they like about you can be used against you in bad moments.

Meanwhile, she knows that she came within a hair’s breadth of destroying her life with Tyrone.  It probably is already destroyed. But at least now she won’t be letting it happen because of the promises of a fool’s paradise with Kevin.  Unless, of course, he decides he can’t cope with Sally and her cancer without the support of his “real love” Molly.  Then he’ll put her through the emotional wringer again and again.  If she lets him.  I hope the dropped turkey and her fast coping with that shows her she’s got the emotional strength to deal with her other “dropped turkey” – Kevin.

Commodity Dogs

Dogs and cats have always been a part of my life – an important part.  Most of them, from my childhood and adulthood, have just come along and stayed. An agreement was reached, a negotiation and relationship I suppose. Once part of the family, they were not ‘disposable’ if inconvenient. Also, rarely were they activelyCharlie in chair Sept 2008 sought out like a purchase you decide to make. Both my present dogs are “official rescues”, adopted through a local dog rescue group All Breed Canine Rescue. So they broke my pattern: they were actively sought out because we were in need of a dog. We didn’t really plan on two, and hadn’t really decided on these two. They were to be fosters, but they made up our minds for us. Their backgrounds are, unfortunately, two all too common stories of dogs who end up in need of homes.

Two dogs

Charlie, a little terrier mix, was in an overcrowded pound in the States. Perhaps he was a victim of the house foreclosure crisis in the US, directly or indirectly. I don’t know why a small, cute, young dog wasn’t adopted, but he’d outstayed his allotted time and was scheduled for euthanasia. He was pulled from the pound and brought to Canada. He ended up with us, and he and we are very happy about that.

Commodity Dogs Leo on porch Sept 2008Leo, a Standard Poodle, was a victim of commerce and exploitation. He spent five years as a stud dog in a puppy mill in the US. I don’t know how old he was when he first got there, presumably old enough to be of service to them. So maybe 6 months to a year? I don’t think he’d ever been in a house in his life, prior to coming into ours. He didn’t know how to walk on a floor or climb a stair. He “marked” pretty much everything in the house. White-haired men frightened him and he kept distant from everyone else – except me. He glued himself to me, I guess recognizing me as the one safe base he had in this new world after leaving the puppy mill and enduring a very long ride to Canada.

Puppy mills and negligent owners

Both these dogs have given me an abiding anger toward people who callously or irresponsibly breed dogs. Charlie was young, but old enough to be neutered. He wasn’t until the rescue group did it. Leo was making Labradoodles. There’s nothing wrong with developing a new breed of dog. But there is something very wrong with churning out puppies without regard for genetic health problems, ante- and post-natal care, temperament, and socialization. There’s something very wrong with treating dogs as a cash crop. That, I believe, applies to large- and small-scale puppy mills and to people who think that a litter of pups is a good way to make a few extra bucks by selling them on online sites like Kijiji.

Equally, just not getting around to getting your dog fixed is wrong. There will be pups and someone is going to have to deal with them. If it isn’t you, it will be rescue groups or kind-hearted strangers, or animal control officers and a gas box to kill them.

Leo & Charlie, with friend Lucy, at St. Thomas dog park 09Leo, the puppy mill dog, is unrecognizable now from what he was. In appearance and temperament, he’s a true Poodle – showing off, meeting and greeting everyone including white-haired men. But a lot of time and a lot of money went into making a healthy and happy dog out of the sick, scared animal that I first saw. And I’m sure that puppy-mill operator is still churning out puppies, making money and passing off his breeding stock to people like me to rehabilitate after he’s got all the use he can out of them. Laws need to be stricter, not to punish responsible breeders but to shut down people like him.

 

Secretariat: The Movie (2010)

Amazon link for movie Secretariat
Amazon link for dvd

The thing that annoyed me most about the movie Secretariat was that the horses playing him were not in the credits. In particular, the one who played him in close-ups was superb – playing to the camera, acting the ham. Just like the real Big Red, so those who knew him say. I hope I will learn his and the others’ names and more about them on the dvd.

Ok, that’s my criticism. Other than that, I loved the movie. It’s the story of Secretariat’s fabulous 1973 Triple Crown win, and the story of his owner Penny Chenery Tweedy. Now, I’m a Man o’ War girl when it comes to that important question – who was the greatest racehorse of the 20th century? It’s not a decision based on any real knowledge of thoroughbred racing, just that he was the first racehorse I knew anything about. I had a put-together model kit Man o War 1920of him when I was a kid, and it caused me to find a book about him in the library. And, even if you’re in the Secretariat “greatest horse” camp, you can’t deny the magnificence of Man o’ War, the original “Big Red”. His stride, as marked out at the Kentucky Horse Park, is still the longest of any known horse, including Secretariat.

The 1973 Belmont

But that win by 31 lengths! Nothing has ever been seen like that. I didn’t see the actual race. I was living outside North America and didn’t have a tv set. I’ve watched replays since but, thrilling as even that is, I cannot imagine what it felt like to actually see the race not knowing what the outcome would be. By 1978, after Seattle Slew and Affirmed won back-to-back Triple Crowns, I felt that having a Triple Crown was pretty exciting but not particularly unusual. I never imagined that it would not be done again for so many years. No horse, before or since, has won even one of the individual races that make up the Triple Crown in such a spectacular fashion. Especially the Belmont, the longest and most grueling of the three. Watching him is like watching a horse fly. It’s magic and majesty and pure joy.

belmont stretch panorama secretariat.comThe sheer magnificence of Secretariat is why I didn’t find jarring the overvoice of a passage from the Book of Job at the movie’s beginning and end. Such beauty and strength as a horse possesses calls up reverential words and imagery. The solemnity and beauty of the words fit the magnificence of the animal, one of the most beautiful in creation.

After seeing the movie, I checked online reviews. My interpretation of the use of the Book of Job is at variance with most of those I read. Quite a big deal was made of the fact that director Randall Wallace is an outspoken Christian. I did not know that going in so it didn’t influence my viewing of the movie.

Oh Happy Day

Two other scenes of the movie are focused upon as evidence of the Christian message of the director and/or Disney Studio. The choice of Oh Happy Day, as music coming from the stable radio, and as the horses are coming down the final stretch in the Belmont. The first time, when it’s coming from the stable radio, I just heard it as a popular song by the Edwin Hawkins Singers, and fitting when everybody in the scene was happy and poster for movie Secretariatfeeling good about Secretariat and his prospects. The second use of it, in the ultimate race, I found distracting just because it was loud and I’d have rather just heard the hooves pounding on the track. Music accompanying that beautiful sound is gilding the lily. Not necessary, not an improvement.

Two reviews stood out for me. One is by Steve Haskin in Bloodhorse Magazine. This is a fair and insightful review both about the movie and the story of Secretariat and his connections. He points out a number of inaccuracies and glossovers of actual fact. One he doesn’t mention is that the coin toss which decided Secretariat’s ownership was actually more complicated and dramatic. To save movie time, I suppose, it was abbreviated. Still tense with drama, but if you want to read the real story, look for The Secretariat Factor by Tom Kiernan (Doubleday 1979). That’s where I read it, but I’m sure it’s also told in other books.

“Tea Party-flavored”

The second review is by Andrew O’Hehir in Salon. He says that he wanted his review to be provocative and well, yes, it is. His reading of Secretariat is as “Tea Party-flavored” propaganda for a mythical American past when all was well. For this, he holds the director and Disney responsible for perpetuating the myths of nostalgia and inaccurate simplification. That, I believe, is hardly news. O’Hehir for sure has read Critical Theory and wanted to be sure that we all knew he had. The argument is along the lines that popular culture is a particularly effective way to create political or ideological propaganda because the consumers are entertained primarily and therefore unaware that they are being fed propaganda. Ok.

Can you, as does O’Hehir, read Secretariat as Christian right wing propaganda? Of course.  Just as you can read iconoclast comic Dennis Leary’s tv drama Rescue Me as anti-Muslim propaganda. Everyone in North America developed a heightened pride in and respect for police officers and firefighters after 9/11. Leary became a well-known advocate for firefighters in thanks to them for their efforts after that tragedy. The tragedy was caused by anti-American extremists – Muslim extremists. So do the math the same way, and you can consider Rescue Me propaganda just as easily as you can consider Secretariat right-wing Christian propaganda.

The movie Secretariat and real-life

O’Hehir argues that the movie’s negligible mention of the social and political upheaval in early 70s America is evidence of its propaganda/mythologizing of the past. Maybe it is. Maybe, too, those events didn’t directly affect the lives of the people whose story this is except through the schoolgirl political activism that is shown. Like O’Hehir, I lived through that time period, but my conclusions on the inclusion of sociopolitical context differ from his. I don’t think you need to cram in historical context just because it exists. Not if it doesn’t fit with your characters’ story.

As a teenager at that time, I was aware of what was happening in the US. I was active about it at about the same level of political acuity as Mrs. Tweedy’s daughter. My social concern got about the same kind of attention from my parents as did hers. It wasn’t that my family was living in a rarefied zone of privilege and wealth.Nor were they unaware of political and social events. It was that they had their hands full just getting on with their own lives without worrying about other people and cerebral political notions.

I think perhaps the same thing would have been true for the Tweedy-Chenery family. It may not be any more complicated than that. Mrs. Tweedy was a housewife with four kids and ailing parents. She had enough on her plate. If I asked my mother, I think I’d get the same answer.

A story of horses

Jack at Secretariat statue, KY Horse Park, Xmas 2007Anyway, I loved the movie Secretariat. Steve Haskin said that the actor horses didn’t “capture the majesty and physical presence” of Secretariat but that there “isn’t a horse alive who could’ve done justice to him”. Secretariat is a feel-good story with a happy ending (except, of course, for Secretariat’s main competitor, the magnificent Sham, who made him run the race he did). And Secretariat’s story is not told in its totality in the movie. How could it be? What is told, however, is worth watching – and cheering and crying.

 

Waifs & Strays Christmas

Christmas dinner turkeyMy partner and I were alone one Christmas.  We realized a few of our friends would be too so we invited them for Christmas dinner.  As you do especially at festive seasons, we said “bring anyone”.  We thought we’d have about eight total.  That was about all we could comfortably seat, ten at a squeeze.  We had a big turkey and everything else we needed, including a home-made pie my partner had made.  It was red currant and gooseberry, from berries we’d picked from our bushes and frozen that year.  We’d said don’t bring anything, we’ve got it covered.

Late afternoon, guests started arriving.  Got the first ones seated and put eggnog in their hands.  Then more, bringing friends with them.  Got them seated and nogged.  And more arrived, and more – some we knew, some we didn’t.  Twenty-five or thirty people turned up.  We needed more seating and more tables.  Guests rummaged through the house, finding tables and chairs and moving them into the kitchen.  I found table cloths and rooted out more plates and cutlery.  Fortunately, some guests had brought something with them – a salad, dessert, buns.  I found serving spoons.

Christmas dinner relay fashion

The room was long and narrow with furniture on both sides.  Four tables were placed end to end, table cloths thrown over them.  They weren’t all the same height so care had to be taken where they met.  Chairs, stools and wooden boxes were placed along either side.  People filed into place, human legs found their way around table legs.  When the food was ready to serve, I stood at the end nearest the kitchen and passed the bowls and platters to those at that end of the table.  They passed them, relay fashion, down the length of the table.  As the bowls were emptied, they were passed back up.  There wasn’t space to leave serving dishes on the table.

Probably their turkey was cold by the time people got their gravy and potatoes.  But the turkey always goes cold – it’s a law of Christmas dinner.  The gravy simmered on the stove so gravy boats and bowls could be refilled quickly.  Everything else that fit sat on the woodstove near the tables so they kept warm and were handy for refills.  After dinner, we couldn’t go anywhere else.  There was too much furniture to move and people were too full.  So we cleared the table as best we could, piled everything in the kitchen, and sat around the table for several more hours.

It was chaotic and crazy, and I can’t think of a better Christmas dinner.  The food was wonderful, the laughter even more wonderful.

Here’s the recipe for The Perfect Roast Turkey (pictured at top).

Coleman Stove Stir Fry

beef and tomato stir fry - dinner partyThis is a success story, a risky entertaining move that worked. Years ago when I knew something about cooking but not a lot about having dinner parties, I wanted to have one.

My then-partner and I were renovating a house. The living and dining rooms had been drywalled, the floors were bare boards not yet sanded. The kitchen was totally ripped apart. The refrigerator was in the hallway, the sink worked but there was no countertop. There was no stove. We cooked on a two-burner Coleman stove.

My partner talked about having a big party when the renovations were finished. I was terrified by that idea. I felt safer having a gathering while work was in progress. That way, expectations would be low. If anything was edible, people would be pleasantly surprised. To his credit, my partner agreed to this rather insane plan. We invited ten or twelve people. There was no furniture in the house, so we laid a hollow-core door across saw horses. We dug out big cushions for seating around the table.

Stir fry for a dinner party

The only thing I could think of to cook in a large enough quantity to feed a dozen people using only 2 burners and an electric rice steamer was a stir fry. I made beef and tomato with peppers, both red and green, onion and water chestnuts. I’d done all the chopping and slicing beforehand, had the rice washed and ready to go. People had pre-dinner drinks while sitting on their cushions or walking around looking at our construction site. I put the rice on to cook, brought everything else to the wok and the Coleman stove sitting on a board on sawhorses in the dining room and began stir frying. When it was done, people helped themselves to rice straight from the steamer and I served the stir fry straight from the wok. It was delicious – everything hot, tomato chunks slightly softened, other veggies slightly crisp.

It was an evening that was talked about, in a good way, for a long time after. I also never did a planned dinner party like that again. I figured it had worked once and best to quit while I was ahead.

Here is a recipe for beef and tomato stir fry. The Amazon link below is for a round bottom wok, which can be hard to find and are preferable to flat bottom ones in my opinion.

 

Meal plans

When you’re making a meal, buy the right parts and remember all of it. I learned this one New Year’s Eve. I cooked dinner for three friends.
round roast beefI’d decided to make roast beef with potatoes and carrots roasted with it, gravy and green beans.  I bought an eye of round roast.  It looked beautiful in the butcher shop.  It had no fat, a plus for me since I dislike meat with fat.

In my opinion, a roast is the easiest thing in the world to cook.  Put it in a roasting pan, brown it maybe, pour red wine over it, cover it until the juices start flowing.  Leave it there for a few hours and it’s done.  Magic.  Well, don’t do that with a round roast unless you add fat to it.  And don’t put the vegetables in with it.  You need fat in the meat to make the juice, and you need lots of meat juices to cook vegetables with the roast and have anything left over for gravy.

Roast beef with no pan juices – uh oh!

Well into the cooking time, I realized I had a problem.  A roast roasting away, with no pan juices.  So no lovely browning vegetables.  Just carrots and potatoes slowly drying out alongside the roast.  I added wine liberally, poured some oil over it, took the vegetables out to cook separately, kept the lid on the pan.  That generated enough juices to make a sort of gravy sauce, with the addition of sour cream and flour to the vegetable stock.

In the panic of dealing with the roast that was not cooking itself the way I’d expected, I forgot there was another pot sitting on the counter beside the stove.  I’d topped and tailed the green beans earlier, put a bit of water with them and put them aside, with the lid on, ready to steam.

While eating the passable roast beef with a sour cream and red wine sauce, sautéed carrots and mashed potatoes, I kept thinking there should be something else.  The others complimented me on the food.  But something’s missing, I thought.  There shouldn’t just be carrots.  Then I noticed the small covered pot sitting in the kitchen.  The green beans.  It was too late in the meal to introduce them then. So we laughed about it, drank more wine, and said “green beans sure would be good with this!”

The next day, I cut up the leftover roast beef, stewed it for a couple hours with the leftover carrots, added the rest of the gravy sauce.  Served on rice, with green beans, it was a fabulous meal.  Too bad our guests weren’t there for it!

Here’s a recipe for top round roast, as pictured above