The Leaning Tower of … Kransekake

“I think the kransekake is starting to slide a little bit.”

If Siri hadn’t glanced over at that very moment, our kransekake would have very shortly looked like one of this holiday season’s rain-soaked California hillsides.

CRACKS AND BULGES ARE IGNORED

From the start, the kransekake looked nothing like last year’s.  The rings were much more “cake-like.”  They had expanded in their trays while baking and we had to carefully cut them apart.  The taste was wonderful, but they were kind of puffy and had a very rough texture.  They really should be hard and chewy, and smooth.  Miraculously, Jerry was still able to assemble them into their tower.  What we didn’t realize was that the tower was immediately irregular and had already begun it’s “slide” just a few minutes later.

I hope you noticed that I’ve included myself in the making of the kransekake.  I don’t deserve much credit or, again, blame, but I did help skin the almonds after Jerry blanched them.  And I did remove most of the rings from the pans.  As a matter of fact, I did more than just help “cook” the kransekake.  After dinner, I also “cooked” tea for our friend Mark.  I placed the mug in the microwave and placed the teabag in the cup.  I did so twice.  Of course, when I made the first cup, I heard the microwave beep and asked Jerry what he had the timer set for.  It was very stressful.

A SLIGHT DIP GOES UNNOTICED

By the time Siri made her comment about the kransekake’s sideways momentum, it already resembled the shape of the Christmas tree in Whoville.  But we had all had a few glasses of Siri’s Swedish Christmas glögg, so everything in the house had that same basic look. 

FULL-TILT BOOGIE

Jerry carefully carried the kransekake back into the kitchen.  It continued to change it’s shape.  So, he  separated it into two sections that we proceeded to pick apart and enjoy.  It wasn’t pretty but it still tasted good.

PERHAPS A LITTLE OBSCENE?

So, Christmas cookies and kransekake were not successes this year.  But, Jerry’s famous lemon meringue pie and Norwegian Christmas bread (Bergensk julevørterbrød) were both perfect.  Next year, we’ll start some of our own Andalusian traditions.

Most importantly, thanks to Siri, we now know that everything looks better after a glass of glögg.

JERRY & MITCHELL’S ORIGINAL WHOVILLE KRANSEKAKE

King Kong’s Christmas Kransekake

This requires a bit of explaining.  First, Jerry is heavily into genealogy.  He’s 13th-generation Lowell in America.  His 10-greats grandfather arrived in the colonies from Bristol England in 1639; he had four ancestors on the Mayflower; another 9-greats grandfather (George Jacobs) was found guilty of witchcraft and hanged in Salem, Massachusetts in 1692.

“TRIAL OF GEORGE JACOBS, AUGUST 5, 1692.”

I had always been very impressed with this fascinating history until Jerry was able to dig even deeper and discovered royal lineage going way back.  Much of this traces through his Norwegian ancestry and I, wanting to know how His Royal Highness King Jerry should be properly addressed, looked up the word “king” in Norwegian.  I was surprised to discover that the Norwegian word for “king” is “kong.”  (So, the film title “King Kong” is redundant.)

I have a fondness for nicknames and at the time I learned about kong, I was partnering on some accounts at my then-job with a wonderful woman who also had a fondness for nicknames.  I had become known to her as MK (I’ll tell that story another day) and she had become known to me as Peege (and I can’t for the life of me remember why except that it evolved from the initials “PG,” which are not her initials).

Where was I?  Oh… as soon as I told Peege the Norwegian word for king, Jerry was blessed with a new name:  Kong.  But, I don’t call Jerry “Kong” very often — really only when Peege and I are talking about him.  Peege, on the other hand, now only thinks of Jerry as “Kong.”

So, that explains Kong and also King in the title of this post.  You have probably figured out the word Christmas entirely on your own.  Now for Kransekake (pronounced “krahn-seh kah-keh”).

CONSTRUCTING KONG’S (JERRY’S) KRANSEKAKE, CHRISTMAS 2009

In Norwegian, kransekake means literally ring (or wreath) cake.  It’s served on special occasions, like weddings and baptisms, Christmas and New Year’s Eve.  The first time we had it (or heard of it) was during the Christmas we spent with family in Bergen, Norway in 2004.  As you can see in the pictures, kransekake is created from a series of concentric rings that form a steep cone.  We’ve seen it decorated with little Norwegian flags and Christmas poppers.  But, since we did not plan in advance — last Christmas or this — Jerry’s kransekake is more simply adorned.

KONG’S COMPLETED KRANSEKAKE, CHRISTMAS 2009.

I’ll post photos of Jerry’s 2010 kransekake once he’s made it.  I’ll also post the recipe for the serious bakers out there.  This is not for the novice.  If you believe you can make a vanilla cake by buying a box of chocolate cake mix and just omitting the packet of chocolate powder, this recipe is not for you.  If you see no reason to separate yolks from whites when you discover they’re all going to be mixed together at the end anyway, this recipe is not for you.  And if you believe you can cut baking time in half by doubling oven temperature, this recipe is absolutely not for you.  (This recipe is not for me.)

In the meantime, Kong is busy right now kneading the dough for his Bergensk julevørterbrød.  And he bought a really fine bottle of Andalusian sherry to help us get in practice for next year in Seville.

Wishing you god jul; feliz navidad; and merry Christmas.

Cookie Tulip, Social Security Cards, and the Pineapple Express

In 1969, I knew a person by the name of Cookie Tulip.  She was not the daughter of hippies; she was herself a hippie.  As far as I can remember, that was her name by birth.  I do clearly remember that her parents’ names were Saul and Bess Tulip.

The only reason I mention Cookie Tulip is because I wanted to use her name in the title of this post.  Other than that, she has nothing whatsoever to do with this post, except for the fact that her first name was Cookie and Jerry and I just baked cookies.

Initially, I thought I was going to write about this, the last time Jerry and I would bake Christmas cookies for our last Christmas in the USA.  Then, I thought, ‘Well, that’s depressing.’  I don’t like the idea of “last times.”  There are, of course, exceptions.  I was very pleased that the first time I had my wisdom teeth pulled was also the last time I would ever have them pulled.  It was a relief to know that George W. Bush’s last state of the union address was his LAST state of the union address.  But, in general, I like to leave the door open.  So instead of writing about our last time to bake Christmas cookies in the USA, I decided instead to write about the FIRST time Jerry and I would bake Christmas cookies in Irvine since we didn’t bake cookies our previous Christmas here.

The cookies turned out to be such a laughable disaster that we’ve decided we’ll be baking another batch this week to redeem our Christmas cookie integrity.  So, after all my “last” issues, they didn’t end up being possibly the last cookies we would bake here anyway.

Since I don’t cook (and baking falls under that blanket category for me — as does nuking a bowl of instant oatmeal), I don’t really have to take the blame for the “spritz” cookies that wouldn’t spritz out of the manual cookie press I bought for Jerry (at his request) from Williams Sonoma a couple of years ago.  But I do enjoy decorating cookies.  And since, after about two hours, we managed to produce only about three dozen almost passable little cookies that I then proceeded to make even more hideous with my trimmings, I finally do have to share some responsibility.

Jerry thinks he figured out what went wrong with the cookie press.  So, ginger bread spritz cookies are still to come.  Keep a good thought for us… and the cookies.

SOCIAL SECURITY CARDS

We can check off another couple of items on our to-do list.  We drove over to the Social Security office in Mission Viejo today.  When the Social Security Administration went electronic some years ago, a data entry error was made and the spelling of Jerry’s name was changed.  We can’t have any confusion when we submit our visa applications, so Jerry had that corrected today.  At the same time, I thought it might be a good idea to order a new card for myself since my existing card was issued when my parents opened my first savings account.  The split goatskin has yellowed and the corners are frayed — not to mention that when I was in college I wrote a girl’s phone number on the back.  OK, it’s not really goatskin, but it is yellowed and dog-eared.  And by the way, Claudia Harfenist, I tried your number and it’s been disconnected.

FDR SIGNING SOCIAL SECURITY ACT…  THIS WAS LONG BEFORE I WAS BORN.
PINEAPPLE EXPRESS

OK.  The rain has become a bit boring… not to mention extremely depressing.  We saw a break in the nearest layer of clouds today.  Sadly, all it revealed was the next layer of clouds.  That’s as much “sun” as we’ve had in a very long time.  I think we’ve had half our annual allotment of rain this past week.  I may be exaggerating, but not by much.  Apparently, there’s what is described as a “conveyor belt of moisture stretching all the way to Hawaii.”  It’s called the Pineapple Express.  It sounds so much sweeter than it is.  Well, from my perspective, at least it’s not snow.

Careful. We Wouldn’t Want to Learn From This.

ADDITIONAL ADVENTURES IN THE GREAT OUTDOORS

If you’ve read my earlier posts “Why We Will Never Live in a Tent,” parts 1 and 2, you know that Jerry and I were both well and poorly prepared for our first camping adventure in the lush and verdant (i.e, soaking wet) Green Mountains of Vermont.

THE FORGOTTEN FOX

Returning home damp, tired, and somehow still happy, we determined that our next camping trip would be a complete success.  We were confident that Jerry would actually sleep in the tent.

We began looking for a larger tent.  Did you know that you can get a tent with three rooms?  Imagine.  Jerry and I could each have our own room.  Overnight guests.  Endless possibilities.  But we finally decided to stick with our 3-person tent — as long as it was just the two of us.  If we were going to share with anyone else, we would then buy a larger tent.  We did however pick up a battery operated table lamp for Jerry.  It would double as a bedside reading lamp and a nightlight.

So, we made plans with Blair and Marie, avid campers and fully equipped themselves, to head up to Maine (they from Boston, we from Guilford) where they reserved adjoining campsites at campgrounds right on the Saco River.  They had been there before and loved it.

ON THE SACO RIVER

We met in town and drove over to the campgrounds together.  The owners lived in a little house right on the property.  It was a charming place and much less wooded than our digs in Vermont, which meant Jerry would feel much less claustrophobic and stressed.  Our campsites were large and perfectly located.  We could walk our canoe down to the river in minutes and be peacefully away.

Marie and Blair knew the perfect local place to hit to pick up our fresh steamers (clams) and lobster.  So, we planned out our meals.  Steamers the first night.  Lobster the next.  After that, it really didn’t matter what we had.  The weather was perfect.  Comfortable.  Not hot.  The mosquitoes were healthy. But we had a 10 x 15-foot screen house and I had about a dozen cans of Deep Woods OFF.  This time, we knew we were ready for anything.

THE ALL-IMPORTANT S’MORES

Blair and  Marie were also extremely well prepared.  They couldn’t take any chances.  The last time they were there, Marie had put a bit of a fright into the owners of the campgrounds.

Marie is Boston born and raised.  And sometimes – just sometimes – her way of pronouncing things can be a little confusing to non-Bostonians.  During their first stay on the Saco River, she and Blair had purchased fresh lobsters and prepared the perfect meal.  They thought they had brought everything they needed, including all the side dishes.  To their dismay, just as they sat down to eat, they discovered they had forgotten one very important element; and they couldn’t possibly enjoy the meal without it.  So, Marie, headed over to the owners’ house to see if they had what was needed.

When the woman answered the door, the effervescent and ever-charming Marie, quickly explained about their beautiful meal of “lawbstuh and drahn buttah” and wine and everything else.  “We remembahed everything except the fox,” she said.  The woman took a step back and just stared dumbly at Marie.  Marie noticed that the woman seemed confused, so she tried to explain again.  “Imagine, we planned it all.  We even baked potatahs and vegetables on the fiyah.”  How can you have lobstah and vegetables without any fox?”  This time the woman took another step back and looked toward the other room, obviously trying to find her husband.  They had fox-eating lunatics from Boston staying at their campgrounds.  Then Marie thought, ‘this woman doesn’t appeah to undahstand what I’m saying.’

She tried again, very slowly, while acting it out with her hands, “You know, like KNIVES and FOX.”

This time around we had plenty of knives and FORKS for anyone who should happen to drop by and Marie was happy to slip by the owners’ house without being recognized.

MARIE AND FRIEND

Blair and Marie also warned us about the animals that wandered the campgrounds.  We needed to be vigilant and keep our food securely stowed.  There was a donkey that made the rounds during the day.  He and Marie were of course good friends.  And she didn’t even have to give him any food for him to like her.  She just has that way about her.  But the raccoons were voracious and extremely clever.  We assured Marie that she didn’t need to worry about us, we would keep everything safely locked inside the car (the one with the matching canoe on the roof).

We set up camp, pitched our two tents and our screen house, and we headed to the local clam shack to buy a load of what turned out to be the best steamers we had ever had.  We had a perfectly relaxing evening and then at around 11 p.m., we settled down to sleep.

Zip.  Zip.  Zip.  Zip.  Zip.

I was in my sleeping bag with my back to Jerry — to avoid the glare of the battery-operated nightlight.  But I couldn’t ignore the constant zip and unzip.

Zip.  Zip.  Zip.  Some muttered curses.  Zip.  Zip.

Then he unzipped his sleeping bag completely and I heard him make his way to the tent flap.

Zip.  Zip.  Zip.  Zip.  Some more loudly muttered curses and back to the sleeping bag.

Zip.  Zip.  Mutter.

A very noisy stumble to the tent flap again.  Zip. Zip.

Back to the sleeping bag.

Zip.  Mutter.

“Are you having a problem?” I sarcastically queried.

And then Jerry sat up, stared right at me, and let fly with a litany of profanity.  ‘How could anyone be this…!  “I’m not a mummy!”  “What the…!”  “There’s not enough room in this … bag!” “Why in…”  “I’m either too hot with the bag zipped up or too cold with it zipped down.”  “I can’t bend my legs!”   “There’s no air in this… tent!”

Jerry, who always said, “Oh fudge” when he was annoyed was using words I didn’t think he even knew the meaning of.

Amazingly, he didn’t jump in the car.  We talked a bit about what we would go out and buy the next day.  Jerry had a brilliant idea.  He could zip our two mummy bags together and then he’d have a really nice sleeping bag that would allow him to sleep in any position he liked.  We would then just have to get a new sleeping bag for me.  And I wasn’t picky (well, everything is relative).

We talked for a few hours and finally fell asleep.  We know we fell asleep because we were awakened some time later — it was still dark — to the clattering of pots and pans.  It sounded like a rowdy group was having a party.  There was a lot more noise.  We heard Marie’s raised voice and a bunch of scurrying.  “It’s OK, Blair,” she called, “I got it fixed.”  So we went back to sleep.

HE LOOKS LIKE A CAMPER

The next morning, we were entertained by Marie’s story of the raccoons’ late-night raid of our screen house.  Jerry and I had kept all our food locked in the car.  Marie and Blair had left their huge cooler in the screen house.  But, they figured it was safe because they had stacked on top of the cooler the heavy boxes filled with pots and pans and other cooking gear.  The raccoons wouldn’t be able to move all that.

Maine grows strong and robust raccoons.

The gang knocked over the boxes and threw pots and pans everywhere.  It looked like they had used the Tupperware lids for frisbees.  They then easily lifted the lid of the cooler and had a party.  Marie found empty containers of gourmet dip scattered all over the woods.  The chips were gone too, but it didn’t look like they had been eaten together.  What a waste; the pairings had been so carefully planned.

We had one of those amazing camping breakfasts, eggs, bacon, muffins.  We went into town and bought me a really ugly, rectangular, cotton flannel sleeping bag — it was all we could find.  We had lunch in town.  When we got back, Jerry zipped the two mummy bags together and modeled for us.  He looked like the Michelin Man (or a blue Pillsbury Doughboy).  But he felt comfortable and knew he would sleep well that night. We canoed in the afternoon.  It was a perfect day that culminated with the best lobster dinner (no fox).  And s’mores.

We headed off to bed just as it started to rain. We hadn’t been expecting that. Oh crap!  But, our campsite was level and clear.  No puddles formed.  No mud trails.

Jerry, however, had had enough.  The rain made him feel even more claustrophobic.  He remained calm, but said he just couldn’t do it.  He was going to find a hotel for the night and come back in the morning.  I could handle that.  He was behaving rationally.  The weather wasn’t that bad.  The roads were wide open out here and there were plenty of places to stay.  So I wished him well as he drove off and I went back to a very comfortable night’s sleep.

Now, I haven’t mentioned this, but for a few years at that point, I  had been having a problem with bursitis.  It was worst in my hips.  It was just one of those things I developed young and struggled with for a number of years until I learned how to exercise it into abeyance.  This camping trip was during the time the flare-ups were at their most annoying.  Damp ground could be a problem.  Well, I woke that morning and could barely walk.  I moved like I needed both hips replaced.

Jerry returned happy and refreshed.  He pronounced, “I’ve decided I am going to sleep here tonight no matter what.”

I said, “Well, I was about to tell you that my hips are killing me. I had planned on joining you in the hotel tonight.”

“Oh, good!” he said.  He didn’t even try to hide his relief.

Thanks to Jerry, I have at times over the years appeared to others to be “the calm one, the sane one, the one who doesn’t sleep with a nightlight.”  (Yes, I am actually quoting here.)  That is one of the reasons — among so many better reasons — that I stay with Jerry.  He can make me look calm, sane, and in no need of a nightlight when, in reality, he has been my nightlight for more than 29 years.

THE BLUE PILLSBURY DOUGHBOY

I Have Not Failed

I’ve just found several hundred ways that won’t work.

I have closed up shop.  For good.  We are applying for retirement visas, so I need to retire.  I had, however, imagined myself selling ToldemArt (the business) for millions and retiring in style.  Instead, I will save some jewelry samples as souvenirs and mementos and I will donate the rest to charity.  This is my “How Not to Succeed in Business” post.

LOVE

Although under-capitalized, ToldemArt was off to a rousing start in 2008.  Early in the year, I was working with a trendy retailer in L.A. who thought ToldemArt was the greatest idea she had seen.  She was affiliated and — to my eventual dismay — enamored with the Hollywood tabloid set and was convinced they’d all wear (and give to their mothers) inexpensive gold-plate enamel jewelry with fake gemstones.  (OK, the concept is unique — designs created using the letters of the words they illustrate — but it is what it is… good-quality, inexpensive jewelry; not something the tabloid princesses have been known to fancy.)  We finally had a parting of the ways after the mother of a tabloid-princess bride decided that the jewelry she loved a day earlier wasn’t expensive enough to remain in the gift bags for the bridesmaids the day of the wedding.  The mother was everything she was reputed to be in the tabloids.  My day job was giving me no pleasure.  My trendy retailer was giving me no pleasure.  Solid gold and real gemstones might have made all the difference, but that wasn’t a possibility.  Besides, my trendy retailer had already cost me enough money.

KA CHING

Later in 2008, I got my Good Luck Collection placed at MGM Grand and Bellagio with the potential of expanding to all MGM Mirage properties in Las Vegas.  The jewelry sold like hotcakes (not that I’ve ever sold a hotcake) for the first four weeks.  A solid future was “guaranteed.”  Then, the economy tanked.  Everything stopped selling.  No new orders could be placed.  Two months later, the corporate buyers left the corporation.  When the economy finally recovers in Las Vegas, we’ll have been living our Spanish adventure for a good long time.

I spent part of 2009 creating The ToldemArt Zoo.  I had a a great time.  The doodling of designs remains a complete joy for me.  I sold the collection retail while developing wholesale opportunities.  Finally, in 2010, The Zoo was placed in two large venues, again with the potential of expanding to many properties — this time, around the country.  But, the economy continued to be uncooperative.  The corporate buyer remained confident, but the orders are not pouring in, and that visa application awaits.

Another Great Idea

I have an idea for my next career.  I will become a business consultant specializing in start-ups.  If you need to know if it’s a bad time to start a business, you can check with me.  If I’ve just started one, it’s a bad time.  (Well, so much for that.  I just gave away the entire premise of my business consultancy.)

I’m not finished having fun with my word-play designs.  They’ve been floating in my head for as long as I can remember.  I’ve kept a few sites at zazzle.com where I can see what the art looks like on a variety of products.  They are zazzle.com/ToldemArt, zazzle.com/BlockLetters, and Zazzle.com/TalkTrashy.

Oh… TalkTrashy.  I didn’t mention that I had a less wholesome line of designs.  Since my blog is G-rated, you’ll have to figure out these last two images for yourself… although I have included hints-like-bricks in the captions.  Wearing one or the other of these discreetly beneath my shirt and tie — during my last miserable year or two working for someone else — helped me make it through the worst days.  And looking around in meetings to see one or another of my colleagues wearing the same was definitely reassuring.

But now, no regrets about the many careers that never had enough meaning or the businesses that didn’t make me rich.  You have to move on.

AND THE HORSE YOU RODE IN ON
IF THEY CAN’T TAKE A JOKE