December 26, 2008

Anticipation Is The Key

I have come to the realization that Christmas dinner in and of itself is enjoyable, but it's the preparation and anticipation of it that brings me the most pleasure.

This year we spent the GNP of a small third world country on a succulent cut of beef loin (filet mignon). Five and one half succulent pounds. It was daunting to say the least. I would be responsible for creating a masterpiece of culinary delight. I have cooked many a tasty steak on the barbie. I've flipped a darn good burger over an open flame, but never have I baked a loin in the oven. Certainly not five and one half pounds of anything!

I sifted through a plethora of recipes in countless cookbooks and Food Network links. I followed links of links to sites like Cooking Light , and I came to the conclusion that all recipes for cooking a beef loin have at least two ingredients in common;
1. Olive Oil
2. Spices

After you get past that epiphany, it's all downhill from there.

The only information I needed after my conversion on the road to Damascus was cooking times and temperatures. That was easy enough to find. All told I must have wasted two days fretting over "the recipe". They all had variations of the same ingredients. Some had butter, others had mustard, one had teriyaki. You get the picture. Pick your herbs and spices, load 'em on top and throw it in the fridge overnight. Iron Chef here I come! My choice of seasoning was a prepacked grilling/roasting "bouquet". It contained fresh sprigs of Thyme, Sage and Rosemary. Seemingly cliche, these herbs are truly a miraculous combination. Chop several cloves of garlic, which you can never have too much of, some salt and pepper and olive oil and you're off to the races.

Mrs. Farfromgruvin was intimidated with my choice of meat. Neither she nor I had ever attempted anything so brash, so outlandish a Christmas dinner. The usual ham or turkey was tossed out the window (figuratively of course). This pathway into the abyss was enough to have her hand the reigns of meat control over to me. She did not want to take the fall for a possible leathery, skunkweed smothered, disaster. Feeling rather emboldened I accepted the coronation, grabbed my sceptre and dove headlong into the task.

Our house was built in 1963. I believe only circus midgets and Amazonian pygmies dwelled in the United States at that time. The fabulous design and architecture of our kitchen allows nearly two people to be in the kitchen at the same time. Heaven knows there's only supposed to be one pregnant woman in there, in a pair of slippers if she's lucky. The close proximity of the confined quarters makes choreographing meal preparation a necessity. It goes something like this; I'll be doing task "A" on countertop "B" while Mrs. F uses countertop "D" to perform task "C". She will move stovetop item 1A to the sink for draining while I switch fresh chopped bowl of items 3D to pot on burner 4G. This frees up burner 5F for the incoming pan of sauteed items 6A and 7B. Once burners 4G and and 5F are vacant, tray 2C from the oven can occupy, temporarily of course, those burners during the turning and basting. Alerting one another to our next movements, we flawlessly (hmm) perform our ballet-like meal preparation throughout the day.

Christmas music played in the living room. The smooth and silky voices of Bing Crosby, Dean Martin, and other classic crooners hung in the air. The dog and cat lay patiently near the kitchen waiting for stray morsels to tumble onto the floor. The aroma from the stove and the oven infused the entire house. Fresh coffee, hot apple cider, herbs, scented candles. It was all so idyllic. We anticipated the arrival of family as we cooked. We talked, we laughed, we lived.

Dinner was grand. The meat turned out wonderful. The company was special.

Just as I anticipated

December 22, 2008

Christmas In The Nest

The empty nest, that is.

While it is my favorite time of the year for friends and family, meals and drinks and gatherings, this year is very different than all the rest. This year I do not work Christmas morning. Only the fourth time in twenty one years that has happened.

This year I won't worry about rushing home from work as soon as I can after punching the clock. I will not quietly open the front door or step lightly down the hall avoiding the dog sleeping by the bedroom doors. This year there will be no delighted little ones scurrying to the fireplace to dive in to the goodies in their stockings. Actually those "little ones" haven't been around for years, but it's a pleasant thought anyway. This year I can sleep in if I want to, which I don't. This year it will be just me and Mrs. Farfromgruvin.

The morning will be quiet. We'll have the Christmas music on. The fresh, piping hot pot of coffee will be brewing in the kitchen spilling it's fragrant aroma throughout the house. Maybe there will be cinnamon rolls in the oven or eggs on the stove. Slices of cranberry orange bread on the table with a selection of jams and jellies. The tree with it's warm glow in the early daylight will complete the scene. Everything will be perfect. Perfect except for the absence of our kids.

Both son and daughter are out on their own now. Both starting new lives as independent adults. Doing the daily adult routines, working, paying bills, cooking meals (maybe not that one!). No matter the age they will always be "the kids".

It's been a sobering month. The realization that "the kids" will never again jump out of bed and scramble into the living room to see what Santa brought them has dampened spirits in the household. Not soaked, only dampened. There are still nice plans for Christmas dinner with my folks. My brother-in-law and his girls are coming as well. My son should be there for a short stay. He says he has plans with friends and can't stay too long. My daughter will be in Los Angeles with her fiance's family. In the end, it will still be a wonderful and memorable Christmas. They always are.

December 21, 2008


In 1978 my family took a trip to New Jersey to visit relatives. My father's side of the family was spread around the state. I believe we were there because my grandmother was going to have surgery on her optic nerve. She was very active with friends and traveled all over the world. Most of her travel was by rail and the majority of it back in the 1930's through the 1960's. The heyday of rail travel. It was extravagant and lavish. Service was the centerpiece of the experience. She knew I had a fascination with trains from a young age and gave me a number of documents and souvenir's from her travels. At the time I wasn't overly enthusiastic. I was a fourteen year old kid that just got a bunch of "old stuff" from his grandmother. Granted it was old train "stuff", but it just didn't have the pizazz that a fourteen year old boy is looking for. I do recall enjoying the look of the publications and the musty old smell of the pages. I really had no clue as to what they would eventually mean to me in the future.

A few months back while looking for something buried deep within the black hole that is most peoples garages (unless you are one of the sicko's that parks a car in there!!), I came across an expandable folder with an elastic closure. I recall having had a few of these style envelopes with keepsake type items inside. They were being discarded at my fathers office and I felt they had a few more miles in them before they were relegated to the trash heap. I knew one folder contained all of my Naval discharge paperwork. Assuming this was that envelope, I casually opened it just to confirm before it placed it back into it's makeshift tomb. The first thing that caught my eye was a large 9x12 envelope. It wasn't the envelope itself that caught my eye, but what was printed on the outside. A blue Nickel Plate Road logo! I knew I was in for a treat. Some 30 years ago, my grandmother gave me some memerobilia and souvenir's that were now in the envelope I held in my shaking hands. I recalled the mild disinterest when she gave them to me thirty years ago. I also remember thinking I would someday come to appreciate their meaning. "I suppose that someday is here", I thought. I had a slight sensation of giddyness. That Christmas morning as a child feeling. I was grateful that my grandmother was able to see the interest within me for railroads, to part with souvenir's of magnificent trips and memories of a lifetime. I slid the envelope out of the folder and saw this.

Some vivid memories came rushing back. I recall looking through this very envelope at the pictures from her trip to Promontory, Utah in May of 1969 for the centennial anniversary of the Golden Spike Ceremony. That celebrated the completion of the transcontinental railroad. There was a recreation of an original poster on the wall of that room with "old west" style fonts announcing the "Great Event".
"Through to San Francisco in less than four days, avoiding the dangers of the sea!"

The room had a reddish wallpaper with some sort of design, probably paisley. There were toys from her childrens youth and some from her parents. An old wicker baby carriage, handmade dolls and clothes. The poster was placed in a way that it was a centerpiece for the wall.
"Pullman's Palace Sleeping Cars run with all through passenger trains."

Opening the envelope I gingerly removed the contents. Just beneath the envelope there was a dated publication. It was a Burlington Escorted Tours summer 1935 tour book. It described 20 tours ranging from seven to twenty five days in length.

Inside the cover of the tour book was a pocket itinerary

On the front page is the name of the Burlington escort, T.W. Coover. The itinerary was for tour "P". I didn't put two and two together at first. Later I realized the tours in the tour book were given letters. The pocket itinerary matched that of tour "P" in the larger book. The itinerary description...

What I found amazing, this twenty day trip had a maximum price of $321. Folded up further inside the tour book was a passenger manifest as well as a Southern Pacific passenger ticket for August 29th.

I looked on Google calendar to see what day of the week August 29, 1935 was. It was a Thursday. Looking at the pocket itinerary, they would have arrived in in San Francisco by ferry from Oakland that day. It's possible she took the Southern Pacific commute train that went down the peninsula to some location for the evening. Her ticket was punched for one zone only meaning she didn't travel very far. CalTrain currently uses the same type of zone ticketing. Your fare is determined by the number of zones you will be traveling through.

Digging deeper into the stack of discovery, I found a Pullman brochure from the 1939 World's Fair in New York. This page showing the average fare for a three hundred mile overnight trip.

I wish I could post each page of every item I looked through. They brought back wonderful memories of my grandmother and enjoying the same pages as a child. Unfortunately there is not enough time in the day to blog about all of life's simple pleasures. More fond memories of relatives and childhood will have to wit until another day.

You can see all of the scanned items on my Flickr page!

December 14, 2008

Remiss In My Duties

It's been 10 days since I posted. I've been on vacation so I guess I really have no valid excuse. I will say that I have the Christmas tree finally completed. Now it's a battle to keep the cat from destroying it.

I haven't been completely devoid of doing anything meaningful. Sunday 12/7 Mrs. Farfromgruvin and I went down to the Santa Clara CalTrain station to see the holiday train. It was a nice change of pace.

The station was open so families had their kids inside looking at the model railroad display in the historic building. Coffee, hot chocolate and cider were for sale. The Salvation Army had carolers and a band playing. Toys For Tots had a big toy drive going on.

Wide eyed kids all over the place. They were expending energy at a phenominal rate of speed. It's been awhile since we've been around a cluster of young'uns like that.

It was just brisk enough to have a wintery feel to it. It has been uncommonly mild this December (NOT due to global warming). I will definitely be placing this activity on my annual Christmas event schedule. More importantly, we have dibs on the grandbaby!! Probably not this next year since he will only be about seven months old. But Christmas 2010...

December 04, 2008

Atheist Plaque Next to Nativity Scene in Washington

The post title links to the article of the same name posted at The paragraph that jumped out at me and makes an incredible amount of sense is the following;
“I don’t believe in unicorns, so I just go about my life as if there are no unicorns. You’ll notice that I haven’t written any books called The End of the Unicorn, Unicorns Are Not Great, or The Unicorn Delusion, and I don’t spend my time obsessing about unicorns. What I’m getting at is that you have these people out there who don’t believe that God exists, but who are actively attempting to eliminate religion from society…There has to be more going on here than mere unbelief.”

That's a quote from Dinesh D'Souza in an interview for Salvo magazine. My buddy Joe would disagree with the premise if I'm not mistaken.