Thursday, April 30, 2009

A Child of the '80s (or, What a Nerd Am I)

Remember these?

Grover's puppy doesn't want to do tricks.

Yes, I actually put the camera lens to the eyepiece. That's what a nerd I am. My only defense is that Brendan has been rather obsessed with his "Sesame Street Fever" album lately...

Monday, April 27, 2009

Open-Faced Tacos (Meat-Free!)

Here's a recipe for the ultimate comfort food. (What is it about refried beans that makes me want to eat them straight from the can?) This was inspired by an open taco salad I had at Tonic while we were visiting Kate in Washington, D.C.
four medium potatoes
one large onion
two bell peppers
one or two red/green chilis
one can refried beans
3 cloves garlic
1 tsp. cumin
salt and pepper
a few tablespoons olive oil
soft burrito shells (wheat or corn)
one jar spicy enchilada sauce
sour cream
grated cheddar cheese
one package of soy mince or braised tofu (optional—or those of you who are omnivores could, of course, use the real thing)
Dice potatoes, onion, peppers, and chilis. Saute potatoes on medium-high heat for ten minutes or so, then add remaining vegetables and cook until soft. Stir in diced garlic and spices, then add mince/tofu if using. Preheat oven to 400ยบ. Add refried beans and mix thoroughly, lowering heat.

Glaze burrito shells with olive oil on both sides, and bake in oven until golden and crispy (10 minutes or so). Spoon filling onto shell, top with sauce, sour cream, and grated cheddar, and mash it all in so the cheese melts. (I've tried putting the finished taco back in the oven before serving, but if you do that the shell won't be crispy anymore.)

Makes four tacos (serves two). NYOM NYOM NYOM!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Contest winners! (and another vintage jumper)

Thank you to everyone who took the time to leave a guess! The guesses were mixed, although I bet that if I'd given you a good look at my face, pretty much everyone would have known her straight away. My grandmother is the young lady on the top left.

Clockwise, from top left: Dorothy (my grandmother), Joan, Patricia, Marjorie, and Mary. Special thanks to Betty Ann for giving my Aunt Eileen a copy of this photo in the first place, and for taking the time to write such a nice comment. I never would have guessed my grandmother was only seventeen or eighteen when this picture was taken—she looks so sophisticated with her red lipstick and chic dress! Her expression is kind of intense, too.

I had originally said that the first three to guess correctly would win a book, and then I thought I would make it five to keep the fun going a little longer. But it's been a week now, so I think I'll just leave it at three. Chris, Emily, and Geri—ding, ding, ding! Geri opted for Mary Modern in hardcover, and Chris and Emily are going to wait for Petty Magic. Thanks again to everyone who left a guess—it made me so happy to get so many comments and compliments! I think I'll do another little contest in the near future...a riddle, maybe?

So I think I've caught the vintage knitting bug. Check out this classy jumper:

It's another British pattern from the early '40s that a kind Raveler, celester, passed along. I'm using RYC Cashsoft 4-ply in Monet, a muted lavender. I found the perfect plastic pearl-like buttons out of my grandparents' rusted candy-tin (my grandparents on my dad's side) to fasten up the neck. I also picked up a new pair of #2 Addi circulars at the Brooklyn General Store yesterday for the ribbing. (I love this store—huge selection of yarn, gorgeous quilting fabrics, and great customer service!)

But first I'll be working on this hooded shawl from Twist Collective for my friend Shelley, who's getting married in Westport, County Mayo, on December 29th. This is the first time I've ever knit a wedding gift, let alone a piece that will be worn in the wedding, and I'm a teensy bit nervous...

Next blog entry—a recipe!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Little March Hare jumper, and a contest!

It's finished! HOORAY!

Knit from Rowan RYC Cashcotton 4-Ply (chartreuse, 6.5 skeins) on #2s and #3s, lovely pale green iridescent buttons from Hickey's in Galway, and too many froggings and modifications to mention. Knitting from a vintage pattern is even more challenging than I expected—apparently the young ladies of sixty-odd years ago were built like paper dolls, because a person would have to be two-dimensional to fit her head through the tiny hole that's supposed to be a neckline. At any rate, it was well worth all the math and tinkering I did to make this jumper fit right. Squee!

I was knitting the first sleeve at the family kaffeeklatsch one Saturday morning after Christmas, and my aunt and uncle were interested to see what I was working on. When I showed my uncle the pattern, he remarked that it looked like something my grandmother would have worn. Then somebody remarked on how most women's wardrobes back then were much smaller, but all the articles were of higher quality and would last longer than today's garments generally do. So with that in mind, I'm going to make a little contest. My aunt Eileen gave my mother a framed copy of this picture last Christmas:

This is a rare photograph of my grandmother with her four sisters. They were separated among relatives—and later foster families—after their mother's death, so this studio portrait would have been a major occasion. Can you guess which of these lovely young ladies is my grandmother? Leave a comment with your guess (I don't mind if you take into account what other people have guessed). The first five people to guess correctly will win a signed copy of any one of my three books (your choice, of course): Moon Ireland, Mary Modern (hardcover or paperback—the paperback edition has an additional essay at the back), or the forthcoming Petty Magic. (If you choose Petty Magic, you'll have to wait at least six months for the galley, but I like to think it'll be worth the wait.)

I was going to give you a good look at my face, but I think that would make it way too easy...

I'll have to think of another contest for the majority of people who read this blog (i.e., people who know which girl my grandmother is because a, they are related to me, or b, they're a good friend and have seen her portrait on my desk.)

Now guess away!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Barna Wood

(A view from the prom, at the start of our walk.)

One of my favorite spots in Galway is Barna Wood, which is the closest thing to an enchanted forest I've ever seen. Gnarled old trees, gurgling streams, great mossy rocks, the ground carpeted with dead leaves, a glorious really is a magical place.

It's only a half-hour walk (perhaps less) from the promenade! Just keep walking west, turn right at the caravan park, make a left back onto the road out to Spiddal, and keep walking 'til you see the entrance on the right side of the road.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

In Despair, or in Cahoots?

They've been called "the drinking man's Coldplay," but Elbow are in a league beyond that much more famous British pop/rock band. (As Brian Boyd wrote when Elbow won the Mercury Prize last year for The Seldom Seen Kid: "A band such as Coldplay will happily confess to you that they put filler on their albums in the knowledge that there are enough big, anthemic songs around the filler that no one will really notice or care. Chris Martin has fessed up to 'borrowing' from Elbow's Grace Under Pressure song to help him with the writing of Fix You." Listen to those two songs one after the other, and Coldplay's debt becomes remarkably obvious.)

So please, let me indoctrinate you into the greatness that is Elbow. Here's a link to a BBC video Brendan's sister Aileen posted to Facebook yesterday:

Oh, kiss me like the final meal / Yeah, kiss me like we die tonight

Doesn't it make you feel happy to be alive?

Music can really inspire me when I write. It sets the mood in a scene, of course—I used plenty of Nina Simone lyrics in Mary Modern, and my Petty Magic heroine sings a wistful Berlin cabaret tune, Irgendwo auf der Welt ("Somewhere in the World"), during a pub session. The best lyrics inspire as well, perfectly evoking a scene with only a handful of words. Take these lyrics from Fugitive Motel:
Curtains stay closed
But everyone knows
You hear through the walls in this place
Cigarette holes for every lost soul
To give up the ghost in this place
It's all there—the despair, the isolation, the claustrophobic shabbiness of a highway lodge advertising cable TV and ceiling mirrors in every room.

Or take this single line from Switching Off:
Early evening June, this room and a radio play
Can't you just see the fluttering curtains, the trees outside casting dancing shadows on the unmade bed? Can't you just feel the cool breeze wafting through the window and the tinny voices coming from the radio on the dresser? The character in the song re-lives these memories so vividly that it puts the listener there in that moment as well. Switching Off has another of my favorite lines:
You, the only sense the world has ever made
You can see why this music makes me want to be a better writer.

Friday, April 3, 2009

The Ghost of Anne Boleyn

Have I mentioned lately the trove of wonders that is Charlie Byrne's? You never know what interesting old tome you'll discover. Awhile back I found Haunted Britain by Elliott O'Donnell, published in 1948. Seeing as the only copy available on is going for $101.75, I figure the €8 I paid for it is a bargain. It's a charming old book, and I thought you might like to read some of the highlights. This is from a chapter entitled "The Tower of London Ghosts":
A very ubiquitous and restless ghost is that of Anne Boleyn. In addition to haunting Hever Castle and Blickling Park, down the long avenue of which she rides once a year in a hearse-like coach drawn by headless horses, with her head in her lap, she periodically haunts the Tower of London.

She was seen there as recently as February 1933. The unfortunate being who saw her was a guardsman on night-sentry duty near the Bloody Tower.

He was standing motionless amid his gloomy surroundings, no doubt wishing to goodness his time there would end, when, with startling suddenness, there appeared before him, seemingly rising from the ground, a white something, shadowy and indistinct. It was not until it had approached nearer to him that he saw to his horror it was the luminous figure of a headless woman. He promptly fled. The post being well known to be haunted, he was merely reprimanded...

How a headless ghost, seen at night, in inky surroundings, by scared-stiff sentries can be identified as the beautiful Anne Boleyn is somewhat difficult to explain. The only warrant for the belief would seem to be that of the proximity to the place where the hapless queen was incarcerated before her execution.

Seemingly easier of identification is the ghost that, with its head in its conventional position, haunts the Church of St. Peter ad Vincula, where Queen Anne Boleyn, Queen Catherine Howard, and Lady Jane Grey were all three buried.

A certain captain was one evening going the rounds when he saw a strange light in this church. Much astonished, he asked the sentry on duty outside the church the meaning of it.

"I don't know what it means," the man replied, "but I've often seen the light and queerer things of a night here."

Determined to ascertain the cause, the officer procured a ladder and, mounting it, peered into the building. What he saw thrilled him to the marrow. Slowly down the central aisle, with noiseless tread, moved a procession of men and women in Elizabethan costumes, headed by a lady who reminded him very strongly of portraits of Anne Boleyn. After having repeatedly paced the chapel, the procession and light suddenly vanished. Then, and not till then, did the gallant captain fully realize that what he had seen was not of this earth.
You can listen to three more stories by Elliott O'Donnell on Librivox.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

April Fool's

According to the Chambers Dictionary of the Unexplained, April Fool's Day may have originated with the introduction of the Gregorian calendar. Those who had gone along with the change—celebrating New Year's on the first of January—"began to make fun of those who persisted in celebrating New Year's Day on 1 April because they either had not yet heard of the change or stubbornly refused to adopt it...over time this evolved into a general tradition of playing tricks on people and sending them on fool's errands on 1 April."

The entry also offers a few traditional dos and don'ts. "Any joke or trick must be played before noon; after that, it is said to rebound on the trickster. Anyone who takes an April Fool's Day joke in bad part is thought to risk bad luck, while a more optimistic belief holds that if a trick is played on a man by a pretty girl, he will be compensated later by her marrying him. Getting married on 1 April is not recommended for men, however, because it is believed that a man who marries on this date will be ruled by his wife from that day on. It is also said that children born on April Fool's Day will enjoy good luck in most respects, but will be disastrously unlucky gamblers."

Lastly, the entry mentions a BBC documentary on the "Swiss Spaghetti Harvest" that aired on April 1, 1957. In a black-and-white photo, a girl plucks strings of spaghetti that are hanging from a tree. She is admirably stone-faced. (Click here for the original clip on Youtube. Spaghetti weevil! Bwahahaha!)