Sunday, December 16, 2012

Reflecting on Newtown

Usually, it's so easy to post my thoughts, but the events of the past two days leave me with feelings of helplessness and confusion on so many levels. Even with CNN's excellent coverage, the more I watch, the more questions I have. How many of those questions will ever be given satisfactory answers?

Googling this town's name (which most people didn't even know until Friday morning), I learned that "the population was 27,560 at the 2010 census." CNN reported yesterday that the town had a single murder in the past decade. Even the official Newtown website (www.newtown-ct.gov) conveys a reassuring orderliness. It's almost Thornton Wilder's Our Town come to real life.

Small towns like this, and the schools within their municipal limits, seem to be the last hold-outs of old Main Street America, and what we more urban, sometimes world-weary folks nostalgically view as archetypes of safety and innocence. Any cherished, idealized views remaining in our collective consciousness seem to have been further compromised, if not forever.

I join in the mourning for Newtown, Connecticut. This town was tragically robbed of twenty children who were the future's promise. Also lost were six heroic educators, who, in the heat of the emergency, displayed the highest possible form of dedication to their students.

And what of the reported gunman, Adam Lanza and his mother? Aside from the observations that he was smart, a loner, and by some accounts, "troubled," what crucial problems slipped by unnoticed--or dismissed? If Adam was indeed diagnosed with autism, Asperger's, or a form of schizophrenia, what was being done to treat and support him?

I don't know how such a goal is to be accomplished, but this would be where communities could become another layer of oversight and support for individuals, families, and schools. Perhaps becoming one's "brother's keeper" needs to become a renewed mandate, even if such efforts might be perceived as intrusive. As I type that last sentence, I'm aware of how such a thing might be construed, especially in a country where we (including myself) cherish individual rights and privacy. My thoughts on this are still in process, and will appear in a subsequent post--so give me time to take a breath and formulate them.

Since the news of the shooting broke on Friday, we all seem to have gone into a determined search for meaning. So many experts, including those in criminology and forensic psychiatry, are grappling right along with the rest of us. To repair our sense of security, possible solutions are being put out there -- including gun control, temporary armed personnel at the Sandy Hook School, mental health resources. I have a great deal to say about the last one in particular, and am preparing for a follow-up in the next day or so.

Till then, I wish to join the world in offering my deepest condolences to everyone in Newtown, especially those who lost loved ones on Friday at Sandy Hook School. May the world's love draw around you in the days ahead.



Monday, December 10, 2012

Holiday Celebration Odyssey

This all started back in the late summer/early fall, when I pressed my long-idle crock pot back into service, began an active trolling of the food.com site, and found my past-midlife passion of cuisine.

Spurred on by personal circumstances, and a frustration over "what to get" various people on my holiday list, I've decided to make this a "merry little Christmas" with gifts from my kitchen. It's been quite a process, with some unexpected new insights and private thoughts.

The Cranberry Nut Bread was simple enough, and went over well at the family Thanksgiving dinner. Last Saturday, I was up long before sunrise, producing this recipe for its encore serving at a party of high school friends.

What was a test of my skill and patience was the Savory Tomato and Bell Pepper Bread. At 6 AM, I gave the downloaded recipe my usual cursory glance, and, fueled with several cups of black coffee, cranked up the opera volume on my kitchen radio, and started the process. How hard could it be?

Several steps in, I was shocked to realize I had everything but the sun-dried tomatoes. Also, skipping to the end, I was reminded that this bread called for a spring form pan, not the usual loaf-shaped one, of which I had several. Ransacking the cupboards did not produce the familiar old spring form pan. Did I foolishly get rid of it during one of my springtime cleaning frenzies? No matter, it's probably around here somewhere...

First, I called my next-door neighbor, a sweet Italian lady who routinely bakes and cooks from scratch, even for everyday meals. When that SOS did not yield the goods, a frantic run to the local store did, even when the obstacles of a non-functional automatic front door and a clueless shelf-stocking clerk. I was back at home in less than ten minutes.

I kept watching the kitchen clock, as if I could slow down the passage of time. Forty minutes for the first dough rising...thirty more in the pan...and then forty-five to bake. Cooling, then wrapping, and maybe, hopefully, I'd get to the party, which was more than an hour's drive away, on time. And where the hell was that spring form pan?


The dough was sticky and tacky, like a mix of wallpaper paste, Superglue, and flypaper. Kneading it was like an aerobic exercise. My housemate came out for more of her own breakfast fixings, giggling, and saying, "I really should have a picture of you right now." I love this friend dearly, but when she said that, I shot death-rays out of both eyes. Why do I get myself into such complicated projects when I'm going to a party, or having guests over? Why, why?

Time to call my neighbor again. This time, I snagged one of her spring form pans. Bless her.

Long story even longer, as my brother would say, I transported both breads to the party. I would have left the tomato and bell pepper bread home, but after the ordeal I went through, I wouldn't have been able to live with myself. It got eaten, but I was privately not satisfied.

Early the next morning, I was at it again. I've gotten so I can knock out the cranberry and nut bread without much thought, but wanted a second go at the tomato and bell pepper one. The latter turned out higher and fluffier. I sent both home with my gentleman friend, who said that his mother and brother made short work of them at their dinner time.

Encouraged by the second-time-around success, I'm going to use these recipes as gifts, presented in lovely, festive baskets.

And yes, I got a new spring form pan, in case I can't locate the original one.

The biggest surprise is that, while shopping for it, I got a look at some Kitchen Aid standing mixers. I was flooded with nostalgia, remembering my Mom's old white one, and the creations she whipped up with it. All of the sudden, I wanted one. The price for the mixer was too high for now, but on Amazon they're somewhat cheaper. So, it's on my wish list. And where else can you get a Kitchen Aid in 28 colors, including Bayleaf and Persimmon?

AND...I want to start wearing a pretty apron in the kitchen. Maybe I could have two, or even three. Goodness, at this stage in my life, I'm becoming a regular little domestic nester!