2 New Year's gifts for my dear readers: a light hearted encomium to the sine qua non of home maintenance, and an easy recipe.
A couple of months ago Joe said, “I’d like a birthday party this year.” We only celebrate our birthdays in a big way every few years, so I told him if he’d give me the list I’d organize the whole thing. Then I forgot, and I think he did too, until eight days before the date. We went into high gear. He gave me the list, and some email addresses, and I sent forty invitations.
What about the menu? I suggested a big pot of chili, fried chicken from Publix, salad, and of course birthday cake. Over the years I have let go of the show-off cook, so I felt no need to prepare all the food for thirty or so people.Joe made it even easier. He wanted oysters, and he wanted to be in charge of them. He vetoed the chili, asked for deli sandwiches and fried chicken. And for everyone who asked “What can I bring?” the answer was salad.
After consulting with Luli, my sister and on-call food professional, I decided I could quadruple the Blitzen Kuchen recipe to make two sheet cakes without any unanticipated chemical reactions. (I did not consider the capacity of my stand mixer, and after beating the butter, sugar, and dozen eggs I had to transfer it to my largest bowl and mix in the flour by hand.)
The guests were all old (in both senses of the word) friends of one or both of us. There were clusters of guests - Joe’s poker buddies, his movie and football buddies, and the Muumuus - many with spouses. These were supplemented by a few outsiders who were welcomed by the different groups, including my middle-aged son - some of the people had known him as a toddler. And people saw old friends they had lost track of - there were warm reunions complete with pictures of grandchildren.
The weather obliged us. The sky was overcast and blustery, almost chilly, perfect for raw and grilled oysters out on the deck, with plenty of beer. As it got darker and colder, we moved inside to eat sandwiches and chicken by the fire, with Etta James on the stereo. Sitting on couches and folding chairs and coffee tables, people talked of books and movies and old affairs and (ugh) current affairs, which led Kristin to give us a song about Hitler’s (and Himmler’s and Goering’s and Goebbel’s) balls. She sings very well.
The party was well underway. Joe was basking in friendship - I’m not the only one who loves him. I was moving from place to place, checking on this and that, responding to the teenage girls’ boredom complaint with a look and then Netflix on my laptop, when Bruce said, “Liz, the front door won’t close.” “Whaaat?” (Translation: I don’t have enough to think about?)
It stood open about 18 inches, letting in the cold and letting out the cat. It wouldn’t go over the threshold. On our knees we discovered that the bottom of the door had come loose and slipped down. We agreed that this called for Larry, a retired cabinet maker with meticulous skills and a generous willingness to help. I went out on the deck and said, “Larry, please stop shucking oysters and come help with the door.” (We had bought a bushel and hired a shucker, but guys like to stand around shucking oysters and shooting shit.)
I went about my business while Larry and Bruce investigated, until Larry called for...duct tape. So much for the gifted cabinet maker. They jammed the bottom board up where it belonged and fastened it neatly. “To fix it you’ll need to take the door off the hinges. This is just a temporary fix,” Larry said. But I wasn’t so sure. Duct tape is a theme of our decor. The lovely silvery gray complements our lifestyle (I sneer at the brightly-patterned stuff they sell at Office Depot.)
Seven years ago Amanda was, to put it kindly, rambunctious. Sometimes it was a product of anger, but sometimes it was sheer exuberance. She was dancing in the shower one night when she slipped and grabbed onto the ceramic soap dish set into the tile. It broke off, leaving a gaping hole which exposed the pipes. (I still don’t understand how the weight of a slender seven-year-old could accomplish this, but that was her story.) Call the tile man? No. Get the duct tape. Joe, an ingenious - if not a handy - man, made a neat silver rectangle which has lasted to this day.
Three years ago Amanda had settled down and we had a slumber party for her 11th birthday. click This entailed moving all the living room furniture against the walls and laying down pads and mattresses. It was a lovely and boisterous affair, and after she had slept it off, Amanda was very cooperative in restoring the house to our standard of tidiness. Alas, in pushing the piano back into place she smashed the light switch plate and rheostat. Clearly a job for...Superduct!
This repair only lasted a week or two. I was uneasy about all the unprotected electrons shooting around behind their silver cover, and tired of not being able to turn on the lights, so I called a handyman.
I have written before about our low standards of tidiness and decor click. I love to visit my friends, their houses filled with beauty and the tranquility that comes from order, at least when they have visitors. Our disorder is a product of laziness, distractions, and perhaps most of all, the way messes become invisible as time passes - I no longer see the shoes in the middle of the living room, the pile of books waiting to be shelved.
Joe and I are fortunate to be well-matched - I can’t imagine a tidy person living with either one of us. It’s not that I’m proud to be a slob - sometimes I even think how nice it would be to be otherwise - but I’m no longer embarrassed. And in the way we all redefine our faults as virtues, I have created a new etymology for sLOVEnly.
350 degrees (325 for pyrex) 8"pan, greased and floured 25-30 minutes
1 C white flour
1 t baking powder
pinch of salt
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
3/4 C sugar
zest and juice of half a lemon
1/2 t vanilla
Cream butter well, add sugar and lemon zest, beat well. Beat in eggs, lemon juice, vanilla. Stir together the flour, baking powder, salt, and beat in at low speed just till blended.
1 stick butter
1 C powdered sugar
3oz unsweetened chocolate, melted (I do it in the microwave at 50% power)
Cream butter a LONG time, beat in sugar for a while, add vanilla and chocolate. If too soft to spread, refrigerate a while, if then too stiff, put in bowl of warm water and beat again.