I've relaunched my blog bigger and better at www.jenography.net.
Come see me there.
I've relaunched my blog bigger and better at www.jenography.net.
Come see me there.
I can safely say that until about a month ago I had never heard of the band Bowling for Soup, but suddenly I've heard about them from a couple of sources, which for me - in my "so not hip to the music scene" zone - is a LOT. (It might also mean that BfS is not cool. I find I'm OK with that possibility.)
In catching up with my blog reading, I found Him Up North's Musical Advent from Dec 11, which features this frankly awesome Mariah Carey song All I Want for Christmas by Bowling for Soup. This is a tune that unites the generations in our family. My daughter knows the words, I've watched the end of "Love Actually" just to see the performance of it (along with the scene when Emma unwraps the Joni Mitchell CD - watch it here in dubbed Italian!). It's even been known to set my husband's toe tapping.
I love that Mariah writes her own material and I love that Bowling for Soup totally rocks this song. What the hell - it's Christmas and I'm in a good mood!
I saw this video on @allisonpearson's Twitter feed and I was something like the 14,489,882nd person to see it, so I'm hardly on the breaking crest of its popularity. But the juxtaposition of the food court and the singers' clothes with the beauty of the song somehow really brings Christmas to life.
By "popular demand", I mean a nice visitor to my blog inquired about the Christmas sweet potato casserole I mentioned in this post about Christmas traditions.
I emailed my mother, asking about Aunt Sara's casserole recipe. Whoa, that was a mistake. I got this in response:
"I beg your pardon---that is my recipe via Quitique (by Turkey, Texas) Love, Mother"
I won't make THAT mistake again. (By the way, Quitique is pronounced "Kitty-kway", which I've always thought is a really cool name for a town, especially since it's situated near the home of the Bob Wills Festival in Turkey.)
So here is the traditional Howze family sweet potato recipe for your delectation. Also, check out my friend Claire's one-pan recipe - double potato, halloumi and chorizo bake, which looks amazeballs.
SWEET POTATO CASSEROLE
3 cups mashed sweet potatoes (fresh cooked or canned)
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup milk
2 tsp vanilla
1 cup brown sugar
1/3 stick butter, softened
1/3 cup flour
1 cup pecans, chopped
Combine sweet potatoes, sugar, salt, eggs, milk and vanilla in mixing bowl. Grease a baking dish (I use a 9 x 12 ) with butter or Pam (not shortening) and pour in mixture evenly. Combine brown sugar, softened butter, flour and pecans until well mixed. Spread on top of sweet potato mixture.
Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes
This can be made ahead of time and frozen.
Picture: fresh sweet potatoes, image courtesy of the Louisiana Sweet Potato Commission
For the first time in years I'm going to be celebrating Christmas in my hometown, the place I spent the first 18 years of life and frankly couldn't wait to leave after graduating high school. Now I'm absurdly excited about having Christmas there with my English family and also seeing my siblings and their families as well. But the other day at lunch I heard the first indications it might not be such smooth sailing with my posse.
"You know there won't be roast potatoes," I said matter-of-factly to my husband and the kids.
A stunned silence.
"What do you mean, there won't be roast potatoes? There will be! We'll make them," husband insisted. Step-son nodded vigorously.
Sensing a need to back-track, I responded, "Oh of course, you can make them." Then, because I never know when to quit, "But you'll be the only ones eating them. Everyone else will have mashed potatoes and sweet potato casserole."
"Don't be silly!" husband scoffed. "Of course, they'll eat the roast potatoes." He took another bite of lunch. "Will there be Brussels sprouts?"
For me, Christmas shopping really begins the day after Thanksgiving (Nov 24) - the time in America during which every single sentient being with a wallet and a credit card descends on the shops. Yesterday I put together my Christmas list. Today I actually went to the shops with the entire family (emphasis mine) and bought things for under the tree. But while shops decked out for Xmas are quite jolly, what I really love is a bargain.
That's why I'm thrilled to be one of the bloggers taking part in the eBay Mummy Blogger challenge.
My fellow challenge-er, Sian at Mummy-tips.com, described the challenge well:
Five bloggers, each with £250 to spend on eBay in the run up to Christmas. We need to spend wisely, bag some bargains and pull in all the help we can from fellow eBayers in order to win the challenge.
Of course there's something in it for you too. We each get to pick our most helpful supporter who will then be rewarded with a £100 PayPal credit to spend how they please!
The challenge runs until Dec 12th - so I need your suggestions for great bargains on eBay as well as your votes. The other bloggers are off and running - see all our activity on this groovy Facebook app.
Until then, I'd love your suggestions on:
* Cool stocking fillers for a 12-year-old who mainly seems to want apps and Nintendo games
* Stocking fillers and cool little extras for a 7-year-old tomboy who doesn't like pick anymore, mummy, so don't buy anything else in that colour!
* Cool, perhaps British, gifts for a Texas grandmother who likes art, beautiful clothes, good books and pretty jewellery
* Brit gifts for Americans - if it's cool, quirky and you can't get it Stateside, I want to know about it!
If you see anything on eBay that fits the bill - or if you just see something fun, strange or interesting - suggest it to me by clicking on the "Suggest a Gift" tab on the Facebook page. Because Christmas is all about giving, and it would be great to give you £100 to spend on whatever you'd like!
Throw out the knitting and spit out that Humbug. There's a new granny role model in town. Check out these pictures that French photography Sacha Goldberger shot with his 91-year-old Hungarian grandmother to cheer her up.
Now they are cheering up thousands of people. The project has gone viral with everyone from Boing Boing to the Huffington Post to Harvard Press writing or Tweeting about it.
Check out the story and the photos. (Hat tip to The Bloggess.) You still have 3 days to see the exposition in Paris, or you can buy the book for the supergranny or grandpa in your life.
Today is Thanksgiving and this week I discovered the special "Thanksgiving" tab on Ocado shopping. I've never been so horrified in my entire life. I was expecting turkey and fresh green beans and pumpkin puree for pies, and they did have those things. But otherwise this special section doesn't reflect very well on us Americans.
Instead of potatoes, hams and yams, Ocado has Marshmallow Fluff (I don't even know...), Stove Top brand instant stuffing, Jollytime microwave popcorn, Pop-Tarts, Froot Loops - all the traditional E numbers enjoyed by the Pilgrims and Native Americans.
Still, whenever I get high and mighty about anti-American snobbery, I'm reminded of my strolls through American supermarkets which yield a cornucopia of intriguing "food" stuffs: aisles and aisles of convenience-ised, "fun"-ed up, hydrogenated products that seem just this side of edible. Yet I have a bit of a soft spot for all this weird food. I grew up on it, or grew up desperate for my parents to buy it instead of whole wheat bread and okra. It represents the triumph of industry over common sense.
You can't get these kind of items over here (I imagine they violate Health & Safety rules) so I won't be partaking of them. But today, I give thanks for these very American foods:
* Sno-Balls - Hot pink round balls - made of cake perhaps? - and rolled in coconut. As my friend Nancy from Park Slope Parents remarked, sadly they don't taste as good as they look.
* Twinkies - A classic that's so ingrained in the American psyche that a writer wrote a book about the ingredients, even going 1,600 feet underground to see where one ingredient is mined (you read that right), which in turn inspired a photographer's Twinkie ingredient project.
* Betty Crocker spray icing - It really does what it says on the tin.
* Jimmy Dean Blueberry Pancake and Sausage on a Stick - This is not a satiric breakfast meal...but it could be! A sausage nestled in the warm embrace of a pancake sprinkled with blueberries, then the whole thing is jammed onto a stick, so you can easily eat it in the car on the way to your arteriogram.
* Eggo Real Fruit Strawberry Granola Pizza - The last time I wandered round the HEB grocery store in Austin, I was agog at the sheer number and variety of frozen waffles alone. Now I discover that Eggo, the king of frozen waffles, has expanded into sweet pizzas? It's almost too much to take in. A pizza base, topped with strawberries and, er, granola.
* Cheez Whiz, Velveeta, American cheese - Like the French, Americans love cheese...if by "cheese" you mean a kind of oil product dyed orange. Let's be honest, though, I have served dishes made with this type of cheese at innumerable dinner parties and they have even the most snooty eaters rubbing their bellies and rolling their eyes in pleasure. The trick is not to reveal the ingredients (which, with these cheese, nobody knows anyway).
* Easy Cheese - Again with the aerosol food. Easy Cheese, the convenient cheese-product-in-a-spray-can, is the ne plus ultra of American cheese inventions.It's shorthand for American junk food the way deep-fried Mars bars are shorthand for bad Scottish food. In case you're not too disturbed by the image of squirting "Cheddar" onto your cracker, there's also a Cheddar 'n Bacon flavour.
Got any interesting American foods of your own you want to share?
Avril Lethbridge was disenchanted with Christmas seasons animated by the latest Nintendo or Apple accessory. As a result, this granny decided to do something about it. “I dreamt up this very silly idea of a walk around trees, which are lit, and the trees tell you their stories.”
A simple idea: to create a holiday experience connected to nature and storytelling rather than frenetic stores and shopping. And she’s realised it with Britain’s big-time, brand-name thespians and theatre-folk, all to benefit charity.
In the gathering darkness of the evenings of December 1 -4, guides with lanterns will lead groups round the grounds of Henley Business School, along paths that lead to trees festooned with lights. At each stop, the tree tells its story, via short clips recorded by a host of talent. Barry Humphries voices the spirit of the old oak tree. Mark Rylance, the actor, theatre director and playwright, recounts a Cherokee story of why some trees are evergreen. Bill Nighy, Andrew Wincott from the Archers, Zoe Wanamaker, Miriam Margolyes, Lucy Fleming, and Rolf Harris, among others, have volunteered their voices to the project, which benefits KidsOut Charity as well as Oxfordshire Playbus.
“Each person feels that they’re talking to them,” Lethbridge explains. “I hope that one day someone looks back and says ‘Do you remember when that tree spoke to me?’”
In addition to the trees there are also Christmas-themed mise-en-scene: a nativity scene (Natascha McElhone tells a French nativity story), elves working on toys and pretend reindeer.
Everyone is a volunteer, Lethbridge says, including the lighting designer, Mike Atkinson (he’s also in charge of lighting at a little thing called the National Theatre).
The program runs rain or shine and booking is essential. Tickets are £2.50 each, free for under 5s. The entire walk takes about 30 minutes. There are still slots available but act fast. While it was created with children in mind, Lethbridge says they’ve even had adults booking their tickets to experience an evening of magical storytelling on their own.
“If you don’t have children, borrow some or let the child in you take over,”she says.
Stories by Starlight 1 - 4 December, 2010
01525 385 252
Henley Business School, Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire RG9 3AU
If you're interested in Stories by Starlight events, contact Avril Lethbridge at avril (dot) lethbridge (at) googlemail (dot) com.
Nobody enjoys hearing the wail of a child on an airplane - it wakes you from your fitful uncomfortable doze, it drowns out even the sound of the engine, sets your teeth on edge and makes it hard to watch the reruns of Frasier. For parents, the problem is figuring out not just to keep your child happy but to keep them from making others unhappy.
Is the solution segregating passengers with child-free flights? An article this past weekend in the NYTimes quoted child-free passengers extolling the perceived virtues of such an arrangement. (Guess what, there's a Facebook group for it.) Of course, as a parent, in theory I'd love to have a special area where kids could talk loudly, walk the aisles without my worrying about them bodging people, play on the floor. The NYT article quotes an industry expert who's sceptical anything like that could come about, with an industry fighting for its life and the associated logistics problems.
Feministing suggests what we need isn't child-free flights but family-friendly culture, where everyone amps up their tolerance levels and acknowledges that kids cry (you did too, when you were young). That's a good rule to apply to everyone onboard - some people stand in the aisles, clueless, during boarding; some people hog the armrest; some people carouse during the universally acknowledged "sleeptime". It's easy to feel self-righteous about the person ruining "your" flight - although depending on whom you fly with, the airline might have already beat them to it.