Bringing Europe Home

So You Say You Want a Resolution?

A trio of three typical shot glasses

A trio of three typical shot glasses (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So you say you want a resolution?

Well you know, we all want to change our world…if only in the form of a promise made over a glass of champagne on December 31.

I eased myself, chilled, soggy, and worse for the wear into the morning of January 1, 2013, and the last thing on my mind was resolutions.  But ‘tis the season for making pledges; resolutions are filling the air around us, the way smoke fills a blues bar.  So I have formed a few thoughts on the topic.

Resolutions used to be an annual thing for me, like cleaning out my car. That was back in the days when I was young and in my 20s and life was spread out before me, full of promise and adventure like a massive trampoline that’s waiting to be jumped on.  I’d make my list of personal goals and improvements each January, figuring that I had a year to get it right.

Years have passed and become more precious, and the time I have to make changes is closing in on me.  If I’m going to make a change, I don’t want to wait until January to start.  Besides that, if I want to get something done, I’ve got about five minutes to do it in.  Really, I lost my taste for making New Year’s resolutions around the time I lost my taste for canned beer.  And for practically the same reasons.  I’ve since graduated to daily shots of hard intentions, if you will.  I know, I know… it’s the stuff of which a certain road is paved.  But good intentions coupled with constant reminders of what needs to be done can be a powerful force.

I want to be a more attentive mother.  Well, the kids are standing right there: talk to them.  I’d like these jeans to feel a bit less snug.  Well, don’t go for a second scoop of ice cream.  I need to be more organized.  Well, get off the internet and de-clutter this desk.  In a sense I am changing my world, one shot glass commitment at a time.

I understand about new leaves and new beginnings and the significance of writing a different date when signing a check, and I recognize the importance of sitting back and assessing things every so often.  But my January pledges always disintegrated by the time that new buds were appearing and then freezing on the dogwood trees.  So I’ve cut that out.  My personal promises have to be made and kept constantly, daily, with each decision.  It’s something of a race against time and my own memory; I have to meet that goal before I forget what it was.  For me, my own resolutions have become more about the minutia of the moment rather than the beginning of a year.

That’s all I have to say on the topic.  Now I’ve got to go clean out my car.

*This article was originally published in the January 16, 2013 issue of the Dekalb Neighbor Newspaper and its affiliates across metro Atlanta.

IMG_2354

Confounded by the Bird

Hello again, dear fellow bloggers! I took a break in order to write articles, and I’ve been true to my word.  I’ve been published in my local newspaper, the  Dunwoody/DeKalb Neighbor, and its affiliates around metro Atlanta, so I’m smiling about that. The column below was published yesterday. As my way of wishing Happy Thanksgiving to all those who celebrate it (and as just saying “Hey!” to everyone else), I’ve tweaked this article a bit and am posting it here.

It has nothing to do with Europe.

To Roast a Turkey

More often than not, I’ve been the two-sides-and-dessert purveyor when it comes to family Thanksgivings.  But this year, the grandparents are spending Thanksgiving in Florida and we’re forgoing the large extended-family gathering and opting to have a quiet family feast.

I’m thrilled by the prospect of cozying up with my kids while we watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in our pajamas, yet I’m confounded by the bird.  Now I will tell you that I have roasted my share of turkeys; it’s just that I haven’t done it often enough to be married to a method.  Suffice it to say that I haven’t gone there enough to have a go-to recipe.

A few years ago, I decided it was time to chart my own course, to claim my own technique, as it were, and I launched an investigative approach to finding the ideal turkey-roasting technique. Once I started my indirect polling of my friends and their recipes, I learned that cooking a turkey is as personal as a finger print.  And like snowflakes, no two methods are exactly alike.

For starters, the bird can be bagged or brined, tented or basted, fried or smoked.   Some of these methods, I eliminated immediately.  I have to schedule time to file my nails, so I am not one to brine a turkey—I know that about myself.  Likewise, I will happily pot a plant, but I have no desire to bag a twenty pound bird—it’s just not my style.

There is considerable cave-manly appeal to smoking a turkey or frying it in a vat full of boiling oil, but I am not a cave man.  Yet the benefits of these methods cannot be extolled enough:  enticed by the primitive allure of fire, the menfolk take over the turkey cooking, and the womenfolk have time to take a shower on Thanksgiving Day.  Sadly, there are no cauldrons or Big Green Eggs at my house.

So I am left with tenting and basting.  My mother uses the tenting method.  To be honest, I really can’t tell you more than that about how she roasts her turkey.  She uses all the basics—salt, pepper, butter, onions, celery, carrots— then covers the bird with foil and bastes it occasionally, and it comes out tender, juicy, and absolutely delectable every time.  I decided it was futile to try to replicate her recipe; my mother’s buttered toast still comes out better than mine, so who am I to think that my tented turkey will turn out as wonderful as hers?

I then discovered the Martha Stewart Cheesecloth Method.  I chose this recipe because it calls for a bottle of white wine.  You simmer the wine with a cup and a half of melted butter and then soak the cheesecloth in that mixture, so the house smells ridiculously fantastic at 8:00 in the morning.  I have used this recipe for a few years, and I admit that during those years the prospect of that aroma was all that had been getting me out of bed at dawn on the fourth Thursday of November.

But I will also admit that, although the bird would come out of the oven looking positively Norman Rockwellian, it still didn’t approach the flavor that my mother manages to conjure with some foil and a thirty year old basting brush.

It was back to the internet with me.  I decided to explore the intriguing yet unorthodox method of upside down turkey roasting.  I happened upon a website called “Serious Eats,” and that title alone should have been sufficient warning to me.  I scrolled through the community conversation until I started reading words like “spatchcocking”–at first glance, thinking that they were typos but then realizing, unfortunately not.  These cooks are clearly over my head, and perhaps the upside down is over my head, too.

Now, here I am surrounded by links, print-outs, and recipe books, each method promising perfection.  I am still confounded by the bird.

I don’t know which recipe I’ll end up trying this year, but there is one thing I can promise you: come 8:00 on Thanksgiving morning, I am opening a bottle of wine.

DSC01461

Petering Out

This post started out as a “Quotes from the Masters: Barrie.” James Matthew Barrie was the author of Peter Pan, so straight away I am giving you a bad pun (and really, aren’t all puns bad puns?) but I couldn’t help myself.  The truth is, I have been petering out.  This is my first post in two weeks, and I have not been spending much time playing in the blogosphere lately, either–I’ve barely managed to push a like button every now and then.  So I decided to finally and formally announce a small sabbatical; I am taking some time to focus on other writing endeavors.  Still, I’ll pop by your site every now and then, and I’ll be back to the posting on my own site, eventually.

In the meantime, dear readers, you have told me that you’ve been enjoying this blog’s foray into Scotland of late and that you have been enjoying the weekly quotes as well, so I’m going out with some quotes from a Scot and some photos of the Scottish Highlands. (In fact, I think that this photo was taken near a whiskey distillery, and that’s about as Scottish as you can get).

One of the genuine pleasures of doing my Quotes from the Masters series has been the reading of so many wonderful lines and sayings by truly brilliant people, and reading through the J.M. Barrie quotes have been particularly delightful for me.  I have learned so much.  Did you know, for instance, that “When the first baby laughed for the first time, its laugh broke into a thousand pieces and they all went skipping about, and that was the beginning of fairies,” or that “All the world is made of faith, trust, and pixie dust.”? (Both quotes from Peter Pan) 

So, I was having difficulty choosing a quote from Barrie.  I could have used something whimsical, or I could have moved towards something inspirational.  In Barrie’s story The Little White Bird (in which Peter Pan made his first literary appearance,) one character offers a now famous suggestion, “Shall we make a new rule of life from tonight: always try to be a little kinder than is necessary?”  In this story we are also told that “The reason birds can fly and we can’t is simply because they have perfect faith, for to have faith is to have wings.”

But, this ended up as not quite a Quotes from the Masters post, but more of a Quotes before Vacation post, and I am reminded that “The life of every man is a diary in which he means to write one story and writes another…” (J.M. Barrie).  So for now, I leave you with that.  I am off to write another story.

IMG_4965

Linked-In

I don’t know much about golf.  I know that it’s “a good walk spoiled.”  I know that my dad shot his age several times and made a hole in one twice, and that those are plaque-worthy accomplishments.  I know that golf originated in Scotland.  What I didn’t know is that there is a difference between a regular golf course and a “links course,” which my oldest son was astute enough to point out during our family’s visit to Spanish Bay at Pebble Beach, California.

WHAT IT IS

The Pebble Beach website explains that “Links is an old Scottish word for sandy wasteland, usually near the sea, with bristly grasses and ever prevailing wind.” Thus, around five hundred years ago, the enterprising Scots found a sporting use for their sandy, salty-aired wasteland ridges and developed the game of golf.  The words “golf course” and “links” have been bandied about here in the U.S. until they have become almost interchangeable.  As I understand it and traditionally speaking, if a tract of land is buildable or farmable or fit for a multitude of uses, it can be developed into a golf course.  If it is good for absolutely nothing, except perhaps as the location for a sandy, windy, salty-aired picnic along the sea, it can become links.  But that’s just me.  What defines a true links course has become more elusive, and golfers, both expert and amateur, continue to debate the terminology in books and articles and over beers at the club.  It all boils down to opinion.  Some say that playing a links course has to do with the experience itself, and some maintain that this is an experience which can only be attained in the British Isles.

BRING IT HOME

But maybe you don’t live down the bonnie lane from St. Andrews.  There are a number of links courses in the U.S., and two of them are in the Pebble Beach community:  the Pebble Beach Golf Links and the Links at Spanish Bay.  The Links at Spanish Bay course is relatively new to the game, having opened in 1987, and often gets lost in the shadow of Pebble Beach’s spotlight.  But the Spanish Bay links course was designed specifically to utilize the wind, the atmosphere, and the lay of the land to create a true links-style experience.  For those of you who care about such things (and if you do, you probably already know this), I will tell you that the Links at Spanish Bay was designed by Robert Trent Jones, Jr., Tom Watson, and Sandy Tatum, who took great care in making it as authentically Scottish as possible.

But we didn’t go to Spanish Bay to golf.  We went there for the sunset and bagpipes.  Our day trip along the Pacific Coastal Highway ended with the Seventeen Mile Drive along the Monterey Bay peninsula and coincided—just barely–with the appearance of the 5:30 bagpiper at Spanish Bay.

We were also hoping to see a glorious sunset, since our drive along the coast consisted entirely of sunny, blue-skied weather and views like this.

And this.

When we arrived at Spanish Bay, however, a mantle of clouds had already enclosed the place with a cold misty gray, and the ambience was uncannily similar to that of the Scottish Highlands.

(Genuine Scottish Highlands)

We commandeered some seats on the benches around the outdoor fire pits where a crowd had gathered in anticipation of the bagpiper and the hidden sunset.  Waiters and waitresses took drink orders and passed around blankets to fend off the damp chill.  We chatted with the others who were gathered around the fire pit with us (and who, I suspect, were chagrined to see the previously empty spots become occupied by a family of six), but they warmed up to us as we all warmed up beneath blue flannel blankets.  One couple among us was there with their daughter and grandson, so that eased my comfort level.

Finally, the whining strains of the piper could be heard, and we saw his beanied head appear amidst the sandy wasteland and bristly grasses.

The Links at Spanish Bay employs the Scottish tradition of calling in the golfers at the end of the day by means of a roving bagpiper.  I’m not sure how effective it is for the golfers, but it is extremely effective in calling the guests and tourists to run hither with their cameras and ithings at the ready.

I took enough pictures, myself, to create my own flip book feature of the bagpiper.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I was taken by this statue of a man and girl sitting on a bench.  I thought it was depicting some celebrity golfer and his granddaughter, but evidently it is not, and is called simply “A day in the park.”  If you’re in the neighborhood of Spanish Bay and have a few hours to spend, try cozying up on the benches around the fire pits in the park near the links while an honest-to goodness Scottish bagpiper entertains you.  You might even catch a sunset.

Want to know more?  This is what the PGA has to say:http://www.pga.com/golf-courses/quick-nine/best-links-style-courses-in-us-quick-nine

Here’s a Wikipedia link to the Links, in the U.S. and elsewhere.

PA00001237955

Sunday Post: Road

Do you know Jake?  He’s the host of the blog Jakesprinter, and a photographer, graphic artist and creator of some very impressive computer images. He posts a new challenge theme each week and introduces the theme with a written definition and his own snazzy graphics.  I’m joining in this week’s challenge, “road.”

 

This solid, stone lined road leads to the Eilean Donan Castle in Scotland.  I hope that it also leads you to Jake’s site and that it paves the way for the next destination on this site.

DSC01792

Quotes from the Masters: Plato

With the onset of the Games of the 2012 Olympics, I’m sending an appreciative nod across the centuries to ancient Greece.  I’m also nodding quite fervently at the multitude of athletes who, through the ages, have continued to astound us in their ability to go ever “Faster, Higher, Stronger,” still.

 

View of the Caryatid Porch of the Erechtheion, on the Acropolis in Athens, Greece.

I admit that while I’ve been fervently nodding, I’ve also been fervently perusing possible quotes relevant to The Games.  I have finally decided on an improbable one, but it is attributed to Plato (I wanted a Greek).

“Never discourage anyone who continually makes progress, no matter how slow.”  Plato

These Olympic athletes have shown us very vividly that with slow, deliberate, determined effort, the ability of the human body can be pushed to the limit…and yet progress beyond that.  I watch in extreme admiration of this assembled group of athletes and in admiration, as well, of all those who came so close in the trials—of those who even qualified for the trials—of those who even attempted to qualify–and I say, “Go, Human Race, GO!”

“Quotes from the Masters” is a category of posts that I (usually) publish each Saturday.  Because of my proximity to Augusta, Georgia, I must add the disclaimer that it’s not about golf.  What it IS about is gleaning the best quotes I can find from European masters of literature, philosophy, theology, music, and the visual, performing, and culinary arts.

I’m offering this category as a blogging challenge.  Feel free to use the quote as an inspiration for your own post this week and interpret it as you like, using a photograph, a story, a reflection, a poem, a flower, a song, a recipe, a cup of tea –whatever! Please title this one, “Quotes from the Masters: Plato” and please add the link to this page on your post.  I’d be delighted to see a link to your post on the comments section of this page, too.

%d bloggers like this: