29 November 2010

The Art of Letters

Because sending a letter is the next best thing to showing up personally at someone's door.
~ Brett McKay

Recently I joined The Letter Exchange. It has been a wonderful experience thus far ~ I have several new correspondents. This evening I was answering a couple of their letters and I casually browsed the 'net for more on my favorite subject. I came across two delightful websites, each with an old post about the lost art of letter writing. My dears ~ do visit The Art of Manliness and Red Ravine ~ both are absolutely inviting!

All I can say is that Kate McKay is one blessed lady! They do not make gentlemen like Brett McKay anymore. Well, actually, they do...for there he is! Are there any more like him out there? Good heavens, gents, stand up and be counted ~ and drop me a line! ;)

Now off to finish my correspondence.

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

It's a Commercial Christmas, Charlie Brown

Look, Charlie, let's face it. We all know that Christmas is a big commercial racket.
~ Lucy Van Pelt, A Charlie Brown Christmas

I think Charlie Brown would fall over in a dead faint if he could see how truly commercial the holiday season has become. Now I remember why I have avoided shopping malls for the past few years. I feel sorry for the sales people and am a push-over for a good sales pitch ~ a combination which puts retail companies in the black and me in the red. I should leave my wallet at home!

A friend and I were discussing how simpler Christmas shopping was when we were younger. Ten to fifteen years ago, there were only four large shopping malls to choose from here in the greater D.C. area, and most of our shopping was done at local stores in real yet quaint historic downtowns. And that was fine. We were satisfied. We didn’t feel deprived, we didn’t feel rushed and the gifts we gave and received were unique and personal; chosen with love and care and opened with genuine joy and thanks. [Yes, even the socks!]

Now, everything is gargantuan; the large shopping malls of fifteen years ago seem small and paltry compared to the ones that take up several city blocks. The stores have become like some macabre side show: each trying to entice shoppers with their Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals. “50% off!” “Free shipping today only! Buy now!” And all the commercial hoopla has increased at an exponential rate. Seriously ~ it really was not this harsh fifteen years ago. But what is truly frightening are the attitudes that have crept into our souls, in part, as a result of it.

For one thing, gifts are impersonal: “tell me what you want or I’ll just get a gift card so you can get what you want.” Not to toot my own horn, but most people enjoy my gifts because I take the time throughout the year to listen to them, dialogue with them. Inevitably I found out what their likes and dislikes are; what new hobby has intrigued them; what they wish they had. I listen and remember and usually I find something that is uniquely them [and within my budget.]

Not so with most people. There is no interpersonal dialogue. In our super-techie world, we have gained the ability to talk to anyone, anywhere and in a myriad of ways. But we have lost the ability to communicate, to connect, to be intimate. Technology is only partly to blame ~ the human psyche in pain will always find ways to hide, ignore or run away from itself and those that cause it pain, real or imagined. [More on that later.]

The second attitude is truly insidious: if you can’t find something at one store, you can drive all over creation to another big mall and look for it there. Even if you do find it, there is something inside that says: “I bet I could get it for less at such-and-such a place.” And the reason this attitude is so wretched is that it has crept outside of the retail boundaries and into our personal lives. “Well, this was fun, but you bore me now; I’m going to look and see if I can find a better “deal” somewhere else.” “Someone better might come along, so why commit now?” Or my personal favorite as a hostess: “There are so many events happening that day ~ I’ll wait to RSVP until I decide which one offers me a better networking / dating / fun venue.”

Both attitudes lead to dissatisfaction and aimlessness. At some point, you have to make a choice, you have to make a decision. If you keep wandering around looking for a better “deal” and never commit to anything, you wind up with nothing.

This holiday season, stop running around looking for “a better deal.” Unplug, unwind and truly listen to your loved ones. The gift of intimacy and reciprocity ~ your emotional and physical presence ~ is the gift that is wanted and remembered most.

And the one you need returned the most. :)

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

25 November 2010

Heritage Turkeys: A Breed to be Thankful For

Cooking is one of the oldest arts and one which has rendered us the most important service in civic life.
~ Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin

is the season for eating. Starting with today’s groaning buffet table ~ loaded with a perfectly basted turkey, butter and cream mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, bacon-sauteed green beans and pumpkin pie ~ there is something about this time of year that makes even this serious foodie extra gleeful.

And this in spite of developing an intolerance for dairy products of any kind! But just because I can’t eat it, doesn’t mean I no longer cook it. After all, a real chef does not live to cook just for herself ~ although I confess there have been times I have bought and prepared and eaten in luscious solitude some delectable items that most of my friends would not have appreciated fully.

Generally speaking, however, this time of year is about practicing the culinary arts in order to feed others. Honestly, I can’t get that excited over a melt-in-your-mouth tenderloin unless someone else is there to eat and moan over it with me. Good eating is a lot like love or sex ~ meant to be shared with someone in order to reach maximum pleasure and emotional health and growth. Doing either alone is just. . .well, sad.

So what did you serve today? Turkey? Ham? Roast goose? A Filipino friend of mine and his family had salmon for their Thanksgiving dinner. My family usually has both a turkey and a ham. As a foodie who is also into sustainable and organic living, I constantly research and read up on sustainable agriculture and what products to avoid in the supermarket when I can’t buy from local farms. This year, I found out some horrific facts about turkeys. And although you have already bought yours and are busy consuming it, I hope that you might think twice before cooking a turkey for Christmas.

Have you heard of Heritage Turkeys? Aha! Didn’t think so. Neither had I ~ until I read an article in the Boston Herald online. It profiled a couple of Heritage Turkey farmers in the northeast and provided some interesting and horrifying facts about the turkeys that will be gracing the majority of American tables today.

“The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy, an organization devoted to preserving historic breeds of farm animals, defines a heritage turkey as one that grows slower, lives longer and — perhaps most importantly — can mate on its own without human intervention, something the mass-produced turkey can no longer do.”

Wait. Did you just say that the turkey we are eating today can’t mate on its own anymore? That’s right. Since the 1960s, the Broad Breasted White turkey has been genetically engineered to produce large amounts of white meat in a short amount of time: Broad Breasted Whites mature in half the time of Heritage breeds. And since they are mass-produced, most aren’t organic or free range. Well, how could they be ~ they can no longer run or fly, much less mate!

Forgive me, I have a great respect for science, but not when it plays with my food. An animal whose very genetic make-up has been messed around with so that it is essentially trapped in its own body and can’t even reproduce on its own is just plain wrong, not to mention unpalatable. Fortunately, a stalwart minority of turkey breeders were rescued from the Matrix and are now working hard to bring back the Heritage breeds: Narragansett, Bourbon Red and the Standard Bronze to name a few. Because of them, these breeds are experiencing resurgence.

But the real test is in the eating. I for one will be ordering a heritage turkey for my 2011 Thanksgiving feast and I hope you will too. Visit Heritage Turkey Foundation, Heritage Food USA and the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy for more information.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

21 November 2010

The Seventh Annual St. Cecilia Arts Festival: The Party's Over

St. Cecilia, Matthew Alderman

For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.
~ Romans 7:15
St. Paul was a smart cookie. The evil I did this morning that I did not want to do was wake up at 7am ~ after going to bed at 2:30am. How my exhausted body managed this feat, I have no earthly notion. Yet here I sit, a mug of spiced herbal tea in my hand, watching the sun pour his honeyed essence through the windows.

Last night was a great success. Over one hundred forty guests attended the Seventh Annual St. Cecilia Arts Festival in Old Towne Alexandria and we put on quite a show for them. Faure, Bach, Broadway show tunes, poetry readings, comedic monologues, Monty Python, even a couple of Polish nightclub art songs.

The highlight was our Featured Artist: Michelle Jacobeen. Not only does Michelle have an incredible voice -- strong, passionate, and lyrical -- but she has a wonderful stage presence and an engaging personality that reached out to the audience and won them over. My favorite was Taylor, The Latte Boy. While not a Broadway tune per se, it reminded me of Adelaide’s Lament from Guys and Dolls. "Bring me java, bring me joy!" Ah yes, young love. What a hoot!

Now, I see you tapping your foot and asking “That’s all very nice, Mikaela, but what food did you serve!?” Fair enough. Some of the recipes you are already familiar with: Bacon-Wrapped Dates, Rum, Whisky and Baileys Chocolate Truffles. They have become standards and I cannot escape from having to make them. I tried, but one of my volunteers refused to help out until I promised they would be attendance!

This year, we added chicken skewers. Every other event where I have had them the chicken was dry and almost always served with peanut sauce. Zzzzzzz. Oh, I am sorry ~ where was I? Oh yes, boring chicken. Well, this year I decided to make up my own recipe. I wanted to do a Southern Fried Chicken Skewers [with fried okra in between ~ mmmm!] but my Assistant Caterer laughed at me. Sigh ~ yankees will never understand the sweet siren call of okra!

Instead, I opted to cut up the chicken into bite-size chunks and marinate them in basil, tarragon and wine. In between I placed mushrooms, roasted red peppers, sun dried tomatoes and artichoke hearts. Heaven on a bamboo stick!

This year, we served our now traditional Cranberry Punch, along with Warm Spiced Cider. A new addition were four wines from Loudon Valley Vineyards. A few close friends and I had made a day trip out to Virginia Horse and Wine Country. One of the wineries we stopped by was Loudon Valley. The 2009 Route 9 Red was fabulous, as were the 2008 Classic White and the 2008 Viognier. And the 2005 Legacy after dinner wine is a luxurious mix of musty oak and dark cherries.

For dessert, in addition to the tipsy truffles and miniature pumpkin pies, my friend Leslie, who is an incredible baker, brought three delectable type of cupcakes: Lavender Lemon Vanilla Crème, S’Mores and Salted Chocolate Caramel. And no, she doesn’t bake for a living, so your only hope is to either be her good friend or attend next year’s Arts Festival. Mark your calendars now for 19 November 2011!

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela

P.S. Seriously, I am going to make the Southern version just for myself this weekend! What do you suggest with the okra - hush puppies? Corn fritters? The possibilities are endless! Cheers!