Friday, January 28, 2005

Curry Debacle

Tonight I decided to fix a pot of curry from a recipe in a newspaper column that I rather enjoy, "Table Talk" by Anne Kapler. It was a good recipe, and the only problem was that I live in a rural area. I went to the grocery store today, and they didn't carry coconut milk. In fact, the kind stock worker had never heard of coconut milk. The closest thing they had was coconut cream, which is a sweetened coconut designed for making pina coladas. I managed to find a can in which coconut was listed as the first ingredient, rather than sugar, and I decided to try it.

Once again, my willingness to try anything once got me into hot water. I was hoping the jalapenos might counter some of the sweetness, but I ended up with curried cauliflower, potato, and chickpea DESSERT. The worst part was that it smelled absolutely fabulous, exactly the way it would smell if it were made with unsweetened coconut milk. It smelled like I had made something good, and it turned out to be terrible.

When I reheat the leftovers, I will try adding plain yogurt and lemon juice. I think the fat squirrel in the back yard would be the perfect finishing touch for this curry debacle, but I would need my friend Elantu to kill it and dress it for me, because I am too squeamish.


Thursday, January 27, 2005

Magdalena: Mittelmont

Magdalena entered a low, rambling white building. It was as institutional on the inside as it was on the outside. It could have been a school or a medical clinic, except for the pairs of skis leaning up against the walls at random intervals.

Magdalena peered around feeling lost, not sure where to go or whom to look for. Much to her relief, a slender, middle-aged woman glided out from a side door to greet her. She wore a white knit pantsuit; the jacket had large white plastic buttons down the front. Her high-heeled white leather ankle boots had a narrow trim of real fur. Her platinum blond hair was meticulously styled and sprayed into place. All of her jewelry was white gold and extremely conservative.

“Why, hello! Welcome to Mittelmont Lodge. My name is Amanda Wynn. Please call me Amanda.” She shook Magdalena’s hand warmly, holding on until Magdalena let go.

“I’m Maggie Wegian. I’m so pleased to meet you. I learned you were opening a ski resort here, and I wondered if you could use some help.”

“My, such initiative! I’m delighted to meet you, Maggie. We have openings for ski instructors, custodial staff, and servers at our snack bar. All of our positions coordinating ski rentals and lift tickets for our guests have already been filled.”

Suddenly Magdalena noticed there were no snowboards, but she continued the conversation without mentioning it. “Oh, I have waitressing experience! I worked in a family restaurant, promoting a comfortable and welcoming atmosphere!”

“That’s just wonderful. Why don’t I find you an application? Here, let me show you to the employee kitchen.” Amanda placed her hand behind Magdalena’s elbow and guided her through an unmarked white door into a small room containing a breakfast table with three chairs, a large beige refrigerator, and a sink and countertop with a microwave. Amanda stepped out, and Magdalena took a seat at the breakfast table and started reading the brochure sitting on it, advertising “The Midwest’s Most Challenging Slopes” and “Highest Quality Rescue Services.”

A tall, wiry, dark-haired man with a weathered face entered. “Hello, my name’s John, you must be new here,” he said, looking her over in a manner that displayed a little too much interest.

“I’m Maggie. Nice to meet you.”

“Nice to meet you! Are you here to help with the clean-up?”

“Ah, no, I’m applying to work at the snack bar.”

“Oh. Well.” He paused briefly. “Good luck!” He pulled a Pepsi and a ham sandwich from the refrigerator. During the lull in the conversation, Amanda popped in.

“Oh, hello, John.”

“Hello, Amanda. I was just taking my lunch break.”

“That’s fine,” she said, and turning away from him, went on, “Maggie, dear, here is an employment application for you. Why don’t you just fill this out, and I’ll come back in a few minutes to talk with you about what you might like to do for us.”

“Thank you so much, Amanda!”

“Oh, thank you.” She turned her head and added in a stiffer tone, “I’ll see you soon, John.” John nodded, and Amanda glided out.

Magdalena began to write out her employment application, but as she wrote, John still leaned against the countertop, crossing his long legs, slowly and thoughtfully eating his ham sandwich, and watching her intently. She could tell that he badly wanted to make conversation. She preferred to write her job application, but she felt rude about ignoring him. She decided to acknowledge him with a polite question that should elicit a short response, and one that would tell her a little about Mittelmont. She would not use his name, not wanting to encourage any feelings of intimacy. “What do you do here?”

John looked relieved, and tumbled immediately into slightly halting but gregarious speech. “I do the grounds work here. I plant gardens in summer. In winter I shovel snow, and I’m gonna run the snow machine this winter! I think that’s funny, I add snow in some places and take it away others. I pretty much do anything that needs doing. I cleaned the toilets yesterday and mopped the floors. I really like working here. I only work here part time. I’d like to work more hours, but I have to be in town. I’m being charged in a court case. I didn’t do nothing, but I have to stay in town a lot until the case is over. I got me a lawyer. It’s my ex got me into this. We were at this bar drinking, and she yelled at me, and I yelled at her, and now she says I abused her. But I didn’t. I’m innocent. I got witnesses. She’s just mad at me ’cause we’re not going out no more. So I’m gonna get through this court case, and then I can come work here full time.”

Magdalena tried to appear composed. She nodded sagely and continued writing out her past job experience. After a while she said soothingly, “I’m sure they’ll clear everything up for you.”

“Yeah, it’s just such a pain in my ass, excuse me, it’s just a pain. I can’t work as much as I want, and I have to pay this lawyer, and I hate to be cooped up in one town. Wish I hadn’t dated that b--, uh, that awful woman.”

Magdalena continued to write. She was almost finished. “Well, breakups are painful.”

“Sure are. Well, it was nice talking with you, I guess I’d better go, got, um, snow equipment to fix.”

“Bye! Maybe I’ll see you around.”

John finally left, and Magdalena breathed a sigh of relief. She finished her employment application and moved on to the proofreading. Magdalena was very careful to proofread because she had heard she could lose a job because of a single misplaced comma. She hoped her interviewer wouldn’t think that a properly placed comma was actually wrong. She tried to avoid commas.


Sunday, January 23, 2005

Magdalena: Journey

Magdalena set out Saturday morning, grateful for a weekend without snow, picturing herself struggling to climb Mittelmont in her small and vulnerable, aged Corolla. Once she got a job, she would buy snow tires.

With the car packed with emergency blankets, chemical hand warmers, sand, salt, a snow shovel, and of course a flashlight, Magdalena carefully slipped into her dirt-encrusted car without staining her flowing skirt. She pulled on her sunglasses and drove smoothly down the county road in the glaring white light of the winter day, orienting herself by the single peak visible throughout the entire region.

The closer she got to Mittelmont, the whiter her surroundings became. As the car started to climb, she realized she was no longer engulfed by a white light, but by white fog. She took off her sunglasses and tried to pick out where the snow ended and the fog began, but it was impossible to tell. How odd, she thought. She hadn’t seen any fog on the way here!

She knew she had arrived when she reached a parking lot. There were only a handful of other vehicles in the lot. She chose a space and got out of the car with her purse and an envelope containing a list of references and her general purpose resume.

523105 226th Ave.
Outaway City

• Attentive, customer-centered attitude
• Good written and verbal communication skills
• Organizational skills, attention to detail proven in work at public library
• Computer literacy
• Energy, friendly personality, dependability


Library Assistant
• Serve customers over telephone and in person
• Maintain orderly reference system
• Page and shelve books
• Request books via Inter-Library Loan
• Chosen to represent staff at select community events

FAMILY TRUCK STOP AND KAFE, Outaway City, 1994-2000
• Waited tables, operated cash register
• Promoted family atmosphere for travelers and local customers
• Always wore smile and put customer first
• Honored as Employee of Month five times

Student Assistant
• Greeted all visitors to museum
• Represented museum to patrons, answered their questions cheerfully and patiently
• Commended to supervisors for going out of my way to help patrons find parking, find Admissions Office, etc.

BOOKS ON WHEELS, Outaway City, 1998-present
DOLPHINS WOMEN’S ARTS CLUB, Outaway City, 1995-present
• Delivered multiple presentations on varying topics, including Frida Kahlo and women’s self-portraiture, art of the American West, and a brief history of mystery novels
• Helped establish community flower garden


Saturday, January 22, 2005

Magdalena: At Home

Magdalena lived modestly in a small, rented home five miles from the nearest town, Outaway City. The house sat by itself on a small lot surrounded on three sides by a bean field. One oak stood in the yard, and, trying to stand but not really making it, sprawled the rusted-out remains of a swingset that Magdalena intended to convert into sculpture once she found the money to take a welding class. She thought a stegosaurus would do nicely. Perhaps if she got really good at welding, she could turn it into a swingset-themed custom chopper, but she would have to practice a lot.

The house had a small porch, and in summertime Magdalena would sit there, careful to distribute her weight evenly across the rotting boards and supplemental two-by-fours. She would gaze past her peeling blue paint and watch the corn grow on the other side of the county road, the fourth side of her rented plot. When drivers passed, she would raise her index finger calmly and deliberately, and they would raise theirs in return.

Upon opening the rickety, cartoonishly saggy screen door and kicking in the sticky interior wooden door, one reluctantly set foot on the peeling tiles of the kitchen floor. The kitchen was clean and cheerful, and it generally smelled of cinnamon. In wintertime the tiny windowsill above the heavily stained ceramic sink was choked with herbs in small, decorated pots. The rusted metal kitchen table teetered perilously but was covered with a cheerful cotton tablecloth. The bathroom, similarly stained but clean and cheerful, opened off the kitchen.

To the right was a doorless passageway into what might charitably be called a living room. Atop this room's matted green carpet rested a prickly, burnt orange three-cushion couch dotted with colorful hand-knitted blankets, a brown leather recliner that was missing several buttons, a green three-legged footrest, a side table supporting an 11” TV with a built-in VCR, and a folding chair and card table with an outdated computer, printer, telephone, and piles upon piles of paper, much of it also outdated. The walls supported unframed drawings and paintings, some by Magdalena, some by her friends. A Wandering Jew houseplant hung territorially from the ceiling: the man of the house.

The back room was the bedroom, which contained a full-sized bed, a dresser, two antique lamps, a filing cabinet, a dwarf hemlock tree, and more artwork. The bright side to having only a few small, almost windowless rooms was that it kept the heating bills down.

Magdalena supported herself with a half-time job as a library assistant, but although she did not like to think of herself as materialistic, she had higher aspirations. She wanted to work full time. She had a dozen resumes, each tailored to a different career path: receptionist, short order cook, data entry clerk, waitress, seamstress,... It puzzled her that she had found nothing in nearly a year of searching. She was well liked by her parents, grandparents, landlord, and three friends. She dressed well, in clean, black full-length dresses with bright jewelry. More than that, she was a responsible person with a kind disposition who deserved to be able to take a welding class.

Reading a newspaper during her break at the library, Magdalena learned that a ski resort would soon be opening at Mittelmont, the only substantial hilly outcrop in the area, apparently somehow created by glaciers. A ski resort would have to hire workers. True, Mittelmont had a reputation for strange occurrences, even disappearances, but beggars could not be choosers. She needed a second job, and she was determined to try every possible avenue.


Wednesday, January 12, 2005


I got out of the house Monday to audition for a community theatre play, and I won the largest female part! The play is "Bless Me, Father," and I play a disapproving nun. I get a bucket of water dumped on my head, something many people from my home town should pay good money to see. My father seems even more dismayed about me pretending to be a nun than about me appearing in my friend Elantu's artwork as a sword-wielding, tattooed Celtic warrior woman. Well, I have to do something to keep myself busy until somebody finally caves in and hires me.


Friday, January 07, 2005

Movie of My Life

My trip to town was so exciting, they had to make a movie about it.

Tina Turner: Wow, these corduroys make my famous legs look... ordinary.

She smashes her fingertips in her garage door, ruining the polish on her long and elegant nails. She skids dangerously up the driveway, finds herself stuck, stops to sand and shovel, then peels out of there and cruises to town in her convertible, her long hair flailing in the wind, snowflakes making her eyelashes sparkle.

She arrives at the grocery store, but those corduroys! They have to go! She strips to her black stockings, micro miniskirt, and stiletto heels, and struts through the aisles, picking up canned goods suggestively.

What's snow got to do, got to do with it?
What's snow, but a sweet old-fashioned notion?
What's snow got to do, got to do with it?
What's snow, but a secondhand precipitation?

Customers dressed like the Michelin Man gape in astonishment. Margo is politely escorted to a hospital in the next county. The white-coated men are smiling. "Ma'am, you've got a great pair of legs for your age." The film terminates abruptly.

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We just had our first big snowfall of the winter: 14 inches over a 24-hour period, the most in 50 years. We actually don't get a whole lot of snow around here, not like the Sierras! Still, 14 inches is not to be sneezed at, and I have a really long driveway. I was valiantly shoveling away when my friendly neighbor drove up in a John Deere mini-tractor outfitted with a cheerful yellow steel blade, and he cleared my entire driveway and carport.

Needless to say, I was plenty grateful. I decided to bake cinnamon roll bread and take a loaf over to him and his wife, along with a bottle of my dad's beer that I don't drink.

I make this bread by finding any pulla recipe and adapting it. Pulla is a very rich, delectable Finnish bread made with cardamom. My favorite pulla recipe is Elizabeth's high school boyfriend's recipe, but I don't have that one here! I adapted a recipe from the Moosewood cookbook instead. What follows is not a Moosewood recipe, but if you want a sweepingly beautiful pulla braid with some stunningly elegant possible variations, that's a good place to look.

Cinnamon Roll Bread

Dissolve sugar in water, then sprinkle on yeast:
1/2 c. wrist-temperature water
1 Tbsp. sugar
2 packages dry yeast (2 scant Tbsp.)

Let the yeast proof (bubble). Meanwhile, mix, and warm to lukewarm:
2 c. milk
3 Tbsp. sugar
1 t. salt
1/2 t. ground cinnamon

Pour both liquids into a large mixing bowl, and mix them well. Add the following and beat:
4 eggs, beaten (reserve 1 Tbsp. for making glaze later)
1 c. whole wheat flour
4 c. white flour

Now add:
1/2 c. (one stick) melted butter
Leave a little butter behind at the bottom of the cup, and pour it into a very large, clean bowl to use for the bread's rising.

Stir in approximately 4 more cups of white flour, as much as the dough requires. Knead the dough on a floured surface for 5-10 minutes. It doesn't require a whole lot of kneading. When it's fairly springy, place it in the large buttered bowl, and turn it to coat it with butter. Cover it with a damp cloth and put it somewhere warm to rise until doubled in bulk, 1-1 1/2 hours.

Prepare the filling:
1/4 c. brown sugar
1 1/2 t. cinnamon
butter optional

Punch down the dough (this is fun, it deflates really dramatically) and divide it into thirds. Flatten each third into a long oval. Divide the filling among the three ovals. Roll each one into a loaf by starting with the short end and rolling up, then sealing the edges with your fingers. Put the loaves in baking pans, cover with a damp cloth, and let rise again until almost doubled in bulk, 30-45 minutes.

Make glaze by beating together:
1 Tbsp. egg
2 t. milk

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Brush glaze over loaves. Bake for about 25-30 minutes, until the top is golden and the loaves sound hollow if rapped with the knuckles.

I gave the best loaf to my neighbors, kept half a loaf out to eat, and cut the rest into slices, which I froze. I'll be able to pull out a couple slices at a time and toast them for breakfast.


Monday, January 03, 2005


I went to the doctor today, and he confirmed that I have acute sinusitis. I have never been so congested in my life. I'm not even sure this is my life any more. Maybe it's somebody else's. I'm on so much medication, how would I know?

Now, in addition to Maximum Strength Contac, I am on a prescription expectorant. I drive on icy roads in this condition.

I decided to make some powerful soup tonight. I'm sure every corner of the house reeks of this soup, but I cannot smell it unless I put my face directly over the pot and wave the fumes up my nose. It is a basic soup with beans, tomatoes, carrots, potatoes, and whatever celery I could rescue from the crisper, but also with a whole bunch of onion, garlic, ginger, and cayenne pepper. I expect it will clear my head even more than my new prescription strength medicine. I will eat it with a box of tissues at my side.