Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas dinner: A figgy pudding

Figgy pudding

A few days ago, Donald said he wanted a figgy pudding -- like in the song, "We Wish You a Merry Christmas." Neither of us had any idea what it was. It became a days-long research project! We found info in Wikipedia and even a YouTube video of a cooking demo, which seemed like it used the Wikibooks Cookbook recipe. For all I know, the demonstrator was the same guy who supplied the recipe.

All these sources -- and in fact, most of the sources I looked at -- ignored or were ignorant of what we learned was the central feature of figgy pudding.

More of this post coming up soon!

Christmas dinner: Roast duck with spinach and shallots

Roast duck

We made some variations to the method given by Alton Brown on the "What's Up, Duck" episode from a few years back. A year or so ago, when we first made duck, we followed his instructions pretty much exactly. It's the only other time I recall ever having duck. Steaming and then roasting is a method that originated in China -- so I read in Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything.

Here's the five-step essence of Alton's instructions:

  1. Thaw
  2. Cut in quarters, reserving wings and backbone for later use
  3. Brine and season 1.5 hours (he gives a pine-orange juice and fresh sage recipe)
  4. Steam 45 minutes
  5. Roast in a cast-iron pan that's been heated in the oven. (leg quarters first 10 minutes, then add breast quarters and roast another 10 or so)

This time we made some variations:

  1. Thaw
  2. Cut in seven pieces, reserving wings and backbone for later use
  3. Rub with 2 tsp. salt, Italian seasoning and black pepper; fridge overnight
  4. Steam 45 minutes
  5. Roast in a steel (not stainless) restaurant-style frying pan that's been heated in the oven.

Delicious. I preferred this seasoning combo with the strong duck flavor over the pine-orange-sage that Alton recommended. Just a personal taste thing, I suppose, but I wanted to let the duck flavor speak for itself more. Especially since it's something I'm not familiar with. I got a much better sense this time of what duck is actually like.

We cut the duck in more pieces, because, really, who wants to sit down and eat 1/4 of a duck? Too much.

Spinach with shallots
Sauteed in the pan that we roasted the duck in. Simple. Marvelous.

Christmas 2007

Christmas! Last night we put out cookies and buttermilk for Santa, in a Santa head mug. Also a pot of water on the floor for the reindeer. I never heard of that, but Donald said they did that when he was a kid. I got up later to empty the water except for a little, make the cup look like someone drank it, and arrange a convincing spray of crumbs and cookie shards on the plate. And put out the presents, of course. Forever, I've been arguing against introducing a Santa Claus myth. But now, the first Xmas he's old enough to be aware of Christmas and Santa, I dove headlong in. It was just too much fun to resist.

Ulysses's "big presents" from us were a Kidizoom camera and a motorized Hot Wheel track that shoots the car up around a loop-de-loop and around the track with enough force to get it back to the starting point, so it can loop around again. Donald found that went he went out for presents a few weeks ago. The New York Times featured the Kidizoom camera a few weeks ago; we bought it from Amazon, and a week later they were sold out -- scalpers were selling them for three times the retail price! I guess it's a hot toy. We like it because it's a fun toy that lets a kid be creative, rather than something with close-ended "learning games." Ulysses also loves it. He immediately began taking pictures of everything, including his breakfast. And holding it at arm's length to take pix of himself. Just like a real art student.

For breakfast, Don made his famous sourdough pancakes -- see his blog for many more details. He set the starter out overnight, so it was all super-healthful fermented grain. What amazing, complex flavor. And so light and fluffy. Served with Wisconsin pure maple syrup.

For lunch, we had long spaghetti with Newman's marinara, fortified with local Usinger's Italian sausage and sautee onions and red peppers. Spaghetti might not sound so special, but in the context of our low-carb regimen that we've been following since March, it was a special treat! The same goes for the pancake breakfast.

Christmas dinner: see separate post.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Adorable Christmas anecdotes

We put up our tree and holiday decorations for the first time since Ulysses was born. He is just bubbling over with cuteness over it.


Yesterday, as Donald was clearing space for the tree, I brought out a Little Golden Book that we've had for years, Baby's Christmas, and started leafing through it with Ulysses. I pointed to a picture of the jolly old man in red.

"Do you know who that is?" I asked.

Ulysses nodded and smiled. "Candy Claus!" he said.


I showed U the box that the Christmas tree was in. "Christmas tree!" he said. It's the same box the tree came in, so it has plenty of pictures and descriptions of the contents. A six foot tree. We got it at Target in the mid-1990s, the first or second year the store was open there on Lien Road, on the site of the old Lien farm -- barn and all stood there, within city limits, right up until that time.

I opened the box and we took out the sections of tree together. We fitted together the stand and the three sections of tree. I began fluffing out the branches, which have to be pressed together to fit in the box.

"Christmas tree," Ulysses said, watching me work. "I'm happy."

"You're happy?" I said.

"Yes," he replied, nodding. Smiling. "I'm happy."


At first, Ulysses didn't like it when he saw Donald was clearing off his train table, packing up his wooden tracks and bridges, boxing up his toy trains. When he realized Donald was emptying that corner of the living room of U's toys, he jumped out of his chair and ran over in a panic.

"It's OK, Ulysses," said Don, "We're making space for a Christmas tree!"

"We're having Christmas," I said.

"We're putting up the tree for Santa," said Don. "He's coming with presents!"

Ulysses begin to cry. "No! Don't do that! No touch!" It was clear that he didn't get it. And he didn't want to listen anything we had to say about it, either. His voice rose to a scream. "No!"

"Abort mission!" I told Don. "We'll pick it up again later."

But Don wasn't ready to give up. "I'm going to get the Christmas train from the closet," he told Ulysses. He headed towards the office. Ulysses continued to protest. "No, Tata! Mama! No!"

The Christmas train is a toy Donald and I bought at least ten years ago. Maybe it was the same year we bought the tree. It's decked out holiday style; it plays loud, electronic carols; instead of coal, the car behind the engine brims with presents. Every year before U was born, we had set up the track to circle the tree.

Earlier this year, U noticed it -- in its original box -- high on a shelf in the office. Just a corner of the packaging was visible, but it was enough for train-crazy Ulysses to recognize it as a train, a fun, colorful train, that for some reason we weren't allowing him to play with. "That's for Christmas," we would say. Every once in a while, he would head to that closet, or simply point towards it from wherever in the house he happened to be. And beseech whichever of us was around: "Train! That train!"

It had been months since he had mentioned it.

I watched U's face as Donald walked into the office and turned towards the closet. I wanted to see if he would figure it out. He did, while Donald was still out of sight. It was a terrific payoff.

His brows were knit together and his mouth was pursed in a frown. Then all at once, his brows shot up, his eyes went wide, his jaw dropped. Just as suddenly, his face lit up in a smile.

It was finally happening! The forbidden train! It was coming out!

Donald emerged carrying the train box. He set it down near Ulysses. He went back to work clearing the toys and trains and train table from the Christmas tree corner.

He got no complaints.

Eight glasses of water myth

Several years ago I found an article online about a researcher who debunked the eight glasses myth. Since then, I've tried and tried to find it again. Finally, here's a reference to it!

From the Web site of the British Medical Journal, a publication of the British Medical Association:

Revealed: The seven great "medical myths"
Fri Dec 21, 2007 10:19am ET

An excerpt of the article:

People should drink at least eight glasses of water a day

The advice to drink at least eight glasses of water a day can be found throughout the popular press.w1-w4 One origin may be a 1945 recommendation that stated: A suitable allowance of water for adults is 2.5 litres daily in most instances. An ordinary standard for diverse persons is 1 millilitre for each calorie of food. Most of this quantity is contained in prepared foods.w5 If the last, crucial sentence is ignored, the statement could be interpreted as instruction to drink eight glasses of water a day.w6

Another endorsement may have come from a prominent nutritionist, Frederick Stare, who once recommended, without references, the consumption "around 6 to 8 glasses per 24 hours," which could be "in the form of coffee, tea, milk, soft drinks, beer, etc."w7

The complete lack of evidence supporting the recommendation to drink six to eight glasses of water a day is exhaustively catalogued in an invited review by Heinz Valtin in the American Journal of Physiology.w8 Furthermore, existing studies suggest that adequate fluid intake is usually met through typical daily consumption of juice, milk, and even caffeinated drinks.w9 In contrast, drinking excess amounts of water can be dangerous, resulting in water intoxication, hyponatraemia, and even death.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

I thought the fourth bro was Zeppo?

Get this. I made a spontaneous joke at work and the punchline was "Marxist."

Everyone laughed except a (college grad) 25-year-old woman who said she had never heard that word.

People said, "You know, like Karl Marx?"

"Karl who?" she said.

Long white beard? Changed the face of planet earth? One of the two or three most influential people over the last 150 years? In response to which the entire foreign policy of America and much of the domestic policy revolved for most of the second half of the 20th century?"

She had no idea. NO IDEA! Who we were talking about. It should go without saying that how anyone in the room felt about Marx one way or the other is irrelevant -- in fact, it didn't come up. The point is, how can an American adult be this blasted ignorant about something that important?

When we were in the trying-to-jog-her-memory phase, I said, "You know, like Lenin?"

"Well, I've heard of him!" she answered, a little hotly. Defiantly.

"Not John Lennon," I said.

Everyone laughed. She didn't say anything. To this day, no one knows whether or not she truly had been thinking of John Lennon at that moment.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

The iPhone Musical

Our TiVo picked this up back when it originally played last summer. I greenlighted it because Ulysses loves it so much.

We hadn't watched it for months. Then, yesterday, our copy of Readers' Digest came in mail. On the cover is an iPhone-like gadget, equipped with cartoon devil horns and tail -- to show that all this technology and connection is bad, bad, bad. Ulysses recognized it as an iPhone.

It's the first brand name I've ever heard him use.

The only place he's seen one is in the pictures within The iPhone Musical. So we flipped to the video and watched it over and over and over last night, and this morning, Ulysses joyously singing along, and mimicking Pogue's moves.

All very cute. Even the part when U broke down into earnest, quiet tears when he realized that we don't have an actual iPhone. I told him, "iPhones are just in the song!" and that seemed to cheer him up. I know that method's not going to last much longer. I sure am glad he doesn't see commercials! (Thanks, TiVo. And DVD.)

Favorite bits for singing along to:

  • When the kayaker shouts, "What the...!"
  • When Pogue sings, "But God! This thing is sweet!"
  • When the wavy-haired singing guy says, "Cool!" with his thumbs up
  • When Pogue's voice is distorted while he sings, "AT&T"

When U was younger -- this summer, that is -- he also loved these parts:

  • When Pogue drives off in the car (U'd say, "Beep! Beep!")
  • When Pogue looks at the store display of batteries (U'd cheer, "Barries!" recognizing them as those wonderful things that make toys go.)