A House Guest

Biscotti for the creme brulee.

Tomorrow I am expecting a house guest I’ve never met. I’ve been in rather a panic getting the house into some sort of order to receive visitors. To some extent, I’ve said screw it. But still. . .there’s a need for basic cleanliness and order.

I’m very excited. I didn’t have a lot of advance notice which is probably good. I’d have driven myself and everyone else mad.

Chef Boy ‘R Mine has arrived as well. He’s been cooking up a feast and helping to clean. The barn is pert near always two steps forward, one step back – improvement is made in tiny increments with each project uncovering a larger project. This has been no different, but since I’ve grown to expect such things, it doesn’t produce any extra stress. OK, not much extra stress.

[The mess in the plumbing closet was stressful, but I’m Scarlett O’Hara-ing it for the moment. You know – the old I’ll think about it tomorrow.]

Good food, but what a mess.

My house guest has never seen snow. If she’s never seen snow, it’s a given she’s never experienced this kind of cold. Florida born and bred, Guest O’Mine is in for a rude awakening. We’ve borrowed a 4×4 for the airport pickup to avoid her having to trek the hill (in the snow) dragging her suitcases behind her. We’re thoughtful people, we are.

The food, if not the surroundings, will be stellar. The kitchen, however, has been one step forward, two steps back. When I went to bed last night, it was OK, this is adequate. Hah!

Taking a break.

The kitchen is a mess.

The boy has sliced and diced, stirred and whirled, baked, sautéed, chopped, poured, splashed, dashed and whipped.

The food will be fabulous.

At present, we’re both taking a break. Mind you, there’s not any time for breaks. There is still much to do. Much. Much just to get to the minimum. He’s chatting away on his laptop, puppies happily nearby, and I’m blogging on my laptop. I think we both have a problem with priorities. Or maybe we don’t. Making connections with people is more important than ones with Mr. Clean.  Right?  Right.

[insert musical interlude here]

[I swear on my honor, that I wrote all of the above before the following event occurred. Scout’s honor. Honest. Absolutely. With no exaggeration or storyteller’s license involved at all.]

I’m now officially amused. I sent Child O’Mine up to the bathroom to help me switch out the toilet seat. There was a bolt I couldn’t get to budge. The bolt is held on by a plastic wingnut. We did this and then we did that. And there were a lot of exclamations of WTF! So we did some more of this and we did some more of that – all of it involving wrenches, needle-nosed pliers, flathead screwdrivers, and much cursing. Nothing. And it wasn’t that the bolt wouldn’t move – it moved all over the place. The top of the bolt could be turned in the opposite direction of the bottom part of the bolt. WTF?

[Things like this routinely happen in the barn. I’ll eventually get around to the thermostat story.]

We pondered things for a bit. Chef Boy ‘R Mine said, “Wait. I’ve got an idea.”

Now he’s been cooking up a storm. When he comes here, he brings the tools of his trade with him. Since he’s planning crème brulee, he had a kitchen torch – a twinkie torch by anyone’s standards – used to brown meringue and that sort of thing..

Creme brulee carmelizer or plumbing tool? It's both.

We melted that wingnut off. OK, he did. After I was sure the toilet wasn’t going to explode, I guffawed and told him he was genius.

 [He takes after me. I once solved a pesky countertop installation problem with a bread knife.]

A $20 Williams & Sonoma cooking torch as a plumbing tool – who’d have thunk it? Me and Chef Boy ‘R Mine, that’s who.

I can’t wait to tell the girlfriend, OOPS, I mean, houseguest this story.  (Damn, let the cat out of the bag.)

Now, I’ve got the giggles, but I’ve got to go finish that bathroom now.

[Giggle. Giggle. Guffaw.]

Crème brulee, anyone?

I had to jumpstart the coffee pot.

As my dad once said, It’s so cold out there, I had to jumpstart the coffee pot.

I’ve been known to say that sometimes coffee is just a caffeine delivery system and sometimes it’s a spiritual experience. Some days, it is both.

Coffee, is, and has been, my favorite beverage for decades. I drink it hot year-round. I drink a whole pot by myself before I ever step foot out of the door in the morning.

I cannot, and do not wish to ever, live without coffee. I even bought a gas grill for the primary purpose of being able to make coffee during power outages. I bought lots of BTU power, but it still takes forever to heat water.

I even have a spare coffee-maker to throw in the trunk on road trips. Those puny things in motels are all but useless not to mention the two little packets of coffee provided (1 regular, 1 decaffeinated). The travel pot also serves as the backup pot. This is how much I want and need coffee. There are always two.

I drink it black in a mug that is small by other coffeeholics’ standards. Like good whiskey, I sip my coffee. With a big mug, it’s cold before I get to the bottom.

Each night, I set up coffee for the morning, hit the timer button and toddle off to bed. This insures that the coffee is raring and ready-to-go when I stumble down the stairs trying to orient body and mind to an existence that seems more dream-like at 6 a.m. than my dreams.

Yesterday, on Facebook, a friend happened to mention that she’d gotten a brand new Cuisinart coffee pot and did I want her old one which was a snazzy red. I told her no, because I have a snazzy white Cuisinart albeit an older model.

Her original status update had to do with why she poured in 12 cups of water, but the reservoir only showed 10. We also discussed why, even after topping off the reservoir, 12 cups of coffee only produced 10 cups.  (Presumably, if we didn’t top off the reservoir, the brewed amount would be 8 cups.)

It’s one of the mysteries of the universe. It’s not just this particular brand of coffee-maker, but all of them.. I’ve never had one that produces the same amount of brewed coffee as water I pour in.

The immediate supposition is that two cups are lost as steam during brewing. Two cups is a lot of water. Really, I think I would notice two cups of steam collecting under my kitchen cabinets. I mean, really, wouldn’t it drip from the cabinets?

I have no suppositions about the reservoir.

Another mystery is why every single coffee-maker carafe dribbles. ‘Tis near impossible to pour a cup without having to immediately grab paper towel and wipe up the mess on the counter. I do pour carefully. I pour slow; I pour fast; I pour medium. I pour from great heights and I pour with the lip of the carafe touching the cup – there’s always that dribble.

For a long, long time, I was uncommonly fond of, and unapologetic of, Maxwell House French Roast coffee. All that fancy, schmancy stuff in coffee shops was wasted on me. And don’t even get me started on Starbucks. The first time I had it, I gave the cup back to them and told them they needed to make another pot because that one had gone bad. They did. The second cup was worse.

I did develop a fondness for Columbian coffee (though not Starbucks’). However, with the quantities I drink, it was hard on my stomach. I returned to Maxwell House French Roast.

And then they new-and-improved it to the point where it was undrinkable (unless that was the only coffee I had). I fumbled around in the coffee aisle at the grocery and eventually switched to Folgers.

With a twist of fate, I discovered Tanzanian Peaberry. Now there’s a coffee bean a girl could love. I bought 5 lbs of beans from a mailorder place and reached coffee nirvana.

At times I would run out of the Tanzanian and at other times I just couldn’t afford it. Folgers was the old standby.

During the course of yesterday’s Facebook conversation, we discussed the penchant for Cuisinart’s built-in grinders to gum up. Mine will be fine for weeks and weeks. Then, one morning, I will wake to half-a-pot of semi-brewed coffee and half-ground beans all over the countertop. This is not an event that provokes a good morning.

Wouldn’t you know it – shortly after closing Facebook, I made a new pot and the damned thing gummed up, overflowed, and thoroughly messed up the counter I had just cleaned.

So cursing and stomping (and calling my friend names because she jinxed it), I cleaned up the mess. I unplugged the pot and began cleaning out half-ground beans. There was one spot near the top of the brewer that I couldn’t get to. I turned that baby upside down and used the sink sprayer attachment.

Since I had the damn thing all torn apart, I decided to clean it. I poured in vinegar and I poured in water and I turned the pot on to brew. Nothing. No lights, no camera, no action.

I checked the breaker box – fine. I plugged the coffee-maker into another outlet just to be sure. Nothing.


I dragged out the backup coffee-maker – a Melitta that never did grind right – and got out the Folgers. All was more or less well, though I was still mad.

This morning, I stumbled down the stairs and realized I’d forgotten to set up coffee last night in the excitement of Chef Boy ‘R Mine’s 10 p.m. arrival. It took a minute to register and without thinking, I hit the power button even though the Melitta was sitting next to the Cuisinart. (Neither maker is particularly small and only an early-morning fog explains this.) The Cuisinart saluted, slipped into gear, and brewed me a nice pot of vinegared water.  The supposition here is that the electronic parts had gotten wet and just needed drying time.


I poured water and Folgers into the Melitta and hit brew.

The Folgers is right tasty this morning. I only got 10 cups and there’s coffee dribbles on the counter, but still I have cup of coffee and all is right with the world. Sometimes coffee is just a caffeine delivery system and sometimes it is a spiritual experience. Today it is both.

Good thing. It is so cold out there, I had to jumpstart the coffee pot.

Feliz cumpleaños

Casa Blanca

Casa Blanca

I’m turning 50 later this year and there are big plans in the making. I’m not privy to some of them, but it looks like I’ll be celebrating in West Virginia – my favorite place on the planet – with HM O’Keefe – my favorite man on the planet. (I still think of Chef Boy ‘R Mine as a boy – something he would vociferously debate, but I’m the mom and I said so.)

Until a few years ago, I didn’t do much to celebrate the yearly event. My family is low-keyed about birthdays. Once we left childhood, birthdays weren’t particularly a big deal. They were celebrated, oh yes, but not in any grand style or with much hoopla.

Turning 50 is not particularly bothering me, but it does seem like a time to be reflective. First and foremost, it’s mind bending to think I can be that old. The essential me doesn’t feel any older than I did at 25. At 13, I felt older than 10. At 25, I felt older than 18. From then on, it’s as if mind and spirit quit aging. (The body is in rapid decline, but we needn’t talk about that. Today, for example, my knees feel like they’re 72.) I’ve gained wisdom and experience since then (presumably), but I don’t feel as old as my birth certificate would indicate. Of course, there are almost 5 months between now and then, so maybe in August I’ll wake up with some dramatically different perspective. I don’t think so, but I’m wrong about half the time.

HM O’Keefe is largely responsible for the hedonistic bacchanals that are now my birthday celebrations. I’ve come to appreciate his point of view – birthdays are special days and should be not just be feted, but should be set aside and celebrated to their core.

I caught on pretty quick, hedonist that I am. The day became a week. The week became a month. One cycle of the moon should be enough for anyone, but we’ll see.

Today is his birthday.

While we haven’t always been together on his birthday, we’ve managed to see one another within a few weeks of it. Not this year. I can’t get to Boston and I won’t let him come here. (And he’s disappointed with me about that, but it’s a long story and rational people would agree with me.)

So, I’ve been thinking about his birthday and how to celebrate it. And damnation, if it hasn’t had me stumped. The man is impossible. This year, it’s like he’s going out of his way to make it even harder. Plan A fell apart. Plan B was far-fetched at best. Plan C was just dumb. Plan G seemed workable, but then the man who has a deep abiding belief that birthdays should be celebrated and honored made his own damn plans.

Five Star Meals.

Five Star Meals.

Plan A was to take him to Mexico – one of his favorite spots on the planet. He celebrated his 50th there. Mexico is my second most favorite spot on the planet, so it wasn’t like I was being all passive aggressive or something. But the lawyers and the doctors and the economy all conspired against us.

From there on in, it was downhill.

The next best thing to Mexico is a great gift, right? A thing of some sort. Ah.

I pondered. I mused. I thought really hard. I even made a brainstorming list. I’m anti-stuff these days, but I don’t think that’s it. He’s just really, really difficult to buy for.

In truth, he’s impossible.

Books. You would think books would be a good idea. I had more books than anybody I know and then I met him. I’ve got a 1/100th of a shot of getting him a book he doesn’t already have. Scratch that idea.

Orange blossoms! There we go. First of all, he likes getting flowers. Second, during our courtship and his convincing of me to celebrate birthdays with wild abandon, he told me how growing up in Southern California his birthday was always scented by the spring blossoming of the orange groves. It’s a fond memory for him.

It seems that orange growers can’t be convinced to lop off future fruit and mail it to Boston. I asked. I pleaded. I groveled. They said no. Often rudely. (I’ve been calling florists, orange groves, and fruit exchanges for a few years now. I’m getting good at groveling and they’re getting better at saying no.)

Clothes. Well, that’s another problem. Don’t ask – definitely too much information. Scratch wardrobe enhancing.

Isla de Mujueres

Isla de Mujueres

He really likes Mexican talavera. West Virginia isn’t exactly bursting at the seams with Mexican pottery -or orange blossoms, for that matter. Choosing something online is daunting especially when they tack on “item shipped may not look exactly as pictured due to artistic variations.” I’m fussy. Ask anyone. He’s worse.

I think he’d like a super-duper camera – you know – the kind that would make all the camera geeks drool. But, um, well, I’m poor.

He’d like more time with his daughter. I’d like more time with my son. You raise your kids to be independent, responsible, and fully engaged in life and damned if they don’t up and do it. Some of them sooner than later. Besides, I can just picture that phone call. “Listen, hon, I need you stop what you’re doing, get on a plane and go spend your dad’s birthday with him. It’s the only thing I can think of to give him for his birthday. . .What?. . Oh. . . A visit from you.. . . Am I paying for what?. . . Um. No.”

So you see what I’m up against. It’s even worse than all that. He’s very talented at gift giving. It’s always perfect and often it’s something I didn’t know I wanted until he gave it to me.

some place warm

some place warm

So, there is this – a love letter of sorts. The guy is wired nine ways to Sunday, so between the Blackberry, the laptop, portable hard drives, thumb drives, and the desktops, he can read it anytime he wants, anywhere he goes. Web 2.0 has gotten out of hand. It’s only fitting. Really.

We met online.

If you’re still here, y’all can quit reading now.

Te amo, Dragonman.. Next year, Mexico (or West Virginia, I’ll probably still be poor).