Friday, January 28, 2011

Dutch treat

The tension was more than he could bear. As soon as Mrs. Hall had come down that morning, Mr. Hall knew things were going to be bleak. Her terse little remark about the anemic color of the morning brew, the way she flicked the newspaper as she perused the published obit she had written the night before; even the way she stood and looked down, in that disappointed way that she had, at her usual morning bowl of bran and blueberries- all these were signs Mr. Hall knew and recognized. All was not going to be right at the Hall. He put down the WCNY programming magazine he had been reading (the one with the bio of the Halls featured in it) and gently suggested that perhaps Mrs. Hall would like to take a personal day today, and stay home. A wave of relief seemed to float over her and she said that perhaps, yes, she would.
As soon as he left, she had engaged in a flurry of household activity, but by 11:00 am Mrs. Hall decided it was time for A Little Something. A couple of weekends ago, Mr. Hall, while scanning a recent copy of GQ, had run across a recipe . “Isn’t this thing called a ‘Dutch Baby’ what you ordered in Chicago last summer?” he asked. Mrs. Hall swept the magazine out of his hands- it was indeed the recipe for one of her favorite breakfasts, the raison d'ĂȘtre for its inclusion in the men’s quarterly being its ease of preparation. So easy, in fact, that it (loosely) implied that even a gentleman who was perhaps the worse for an evening’s entertainment, could make it and impress his breakfast companion(s), while still in the throes of recovery. She had purchased the issue on the spot.
“Mmm…. Dutch Baby….” Mrs. Hall let the idea simmer in her head for approximately ten seconds before she hastily began assembling the necessary ingredients. For years, Mrs. Hall had been shelling out considerable scratch for her breakfast fix at the few dining establishments in Chicago that actually made this specialty. She had assumed it was some keenly held and long guarded family secret, known only to trusted employees who had been sworn to lifelong secrecy (presumably involving some sort of blood ritual, but that was the romantic in her). She was aghast to find that with the merest collusion of egg and liquid she, too, was able to create kitchen alchemy. It was an epiphany long desired.
The aroma emitting from the oven was a Tantalus; she struggled to busy herself with other chores downstairs where she might not be subject to her desire to open the stove every five minutes and disturb its progress. With the reverence of an Asian tea service she carefully laid out the requisite lemon wedges and powdered sugar. At last, the timer blared and in a puff of heavenly fragrance, the Dutch Baby appeared: brown and airy and perfect.
In the custardy stupor that followed, all sense of time and worry dissipated. Pharmacological progress over the last hundred years may be judged to have taken strides undreamt of by our forefathers, but nothing within the annuals of medicine could have transported her like the Dutch Baby. It was the perfect opiate.
When Mr. Hall returned home that evening and inquired of her day, she found that while she could recall, in detail, the events of the morning prior to the indulgence, the rest of her day remained an impenetrable blur. “Probably fighting off a cold,” he shrugged, as he hung up his coat. “It’s a good thing you stayed home. Would you like me to get you an aspirin or something?” but she waved him off. “Better not to over-prescribe,” she slurred. Floating upstairs to her room, she left Mr. Hall deeply puzzled.

For the Gentle Reader's own enjoyment:

The Dutch Baby
2 tablespoons butter
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt (optional)
Pinch of ground nutmeg
Garnish: Lemon wedges, powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Put the butter in a 9" or 10" pie plate, place it in the oven, but remove as soon as the butter is melted. Mix the remaining ingredients together with a whisk; pour into pie pan. Immediately return to oven. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes until even browned. Remove (you should be able to just lift the pancake directly out of the pie plate easily), squeeze some fresh lemon juice over the pancake and sprinkle with powdered sugar. Slice (or tear, if you wish) and serve immediately.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Getting through the winter is snow big deal

“You blow the bubbles and I’ll hold the camera.” Mrs. Hall threw on her fur vest over her ski sweater and handed Mr. Hall the jug of bubble solution. The weather guessers on the television had just announced what Mrs. Hall had suspected already; despite the bright sunshine, early morning temps had been hovering around the -10 degree mark. Perfect weather for freezing soap bubbles on the patio and she was determined to get it on film this time.

“I’m cold and it’s impossible to shoot clear bubbles on a dark white background,” grumbled Mr. Hall, as he went along with her. Several unfortunate attempts at filmmaking later, they returned, with Mr. Hall surpressing an 'I told you so.'
“It’s too warm now,” sulked Mrs. Hall. “Who knows when we’ll get back into the minus temps again?” “With any luck,” Mr. H. muttered under his breath, “we won’t see them again until next December.” He hung his coat up and returned to the morning news.

The winter blues were settling in somewhat earlier this year at the Hall. Hancock International in Syracuse had reported about 103 inches of snow already since winter “officially” began, and Marcellus, having been more directly in the path of the lake effect, had seen probably 20 inches or more of the white stuff, beyond that. The Halls were not immune to its effects. Last Tuesday, after a particularly dull day at work, Mrs. Hall declared she had had enough. Announcing herself to be in the throes of an unfathomable ennui, disgusted that the treadmill needed repairs and that their coffee lacked both flavor and finesse, she decided to call it a day and attempted to persuade Mr. Hall to agree. To her infinite surprise, he acquiesced almost immediately. Within the hour, they found themselves immersed wrist-deep in a greasy tub of popcorn and watching “The Green Hornet” (in 3-D!) at the local cinema. “And for heaven’s sake, recycle the 3-D glasses this time,” he said, as they left. (Mrs. Hall was notoriously frugal.) “We’ve got tons of them at home already.” "I know that that Chyrsler Imperial can't hold a candle to the Big Black Car, but do you think there's any chance we could look into getting a turn table in here, like in the movie? We've got a ton of vinyl in the catacombs downstairs and it would be way easier to just spin those platters the way they are, instead of taking the time to convert them all to MP3s." Mr. Hall gave that suggestion the full 30 seconds it deserved, and then declined.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Hall night long

“Have you cleared your schedule for this evening?” asked Mrs. Hall, as she waltzed into the office. Mr. Hall nodded, barely looking up from his desk. “We don’t want to miss our show; it’s going to be on tonight!”

Last October, the Halls had been watching WCNY one evening and made note of a promotion they were touting. If a viewer donated over $500 to their “Fill the Vault” campaign, they would be entitled to introduce a movie of their choice. Mrs. Hall pointed out that they had made a substantial donation just that summer and wondered aloud if that would qualify them. They swung by the studios the following day and spoke to Rosie Taravella, the woman in charge of the campaign. The Halls explained that they were hoping to recreate a Saturday morning block of time, where viewers could see old Roy Rogers’ shows, some Sky King episodes maybe or even some old cartoons. However, after a series of emails back and forth with Rosie, the film director recommended an old Gene Autry series called “The Phantom Empire.” Mrs. Hall did a little research on the series and was immediately intrigued. She wrote a two minute introduction to the 12 part serial, and designed a little diagram known as a “Hall-O-Graph” to illustrate the convoluted plotline. A week or two later, the Halls slipped into the studio to film their introduction.

The whole crew at WCNY had been wonderful and made the filming very easy. With the help of some skillful editing, the staff made the piece truly entertaining, and they sent a DVD copy of it to the Halls, for their scrapbook. “It’s four hours worth of old time fun,” said Mrs. H. “I’m making a boatload of popcorn and Colleen’s flight has been delayed because of bad weather. We can spend the whole evening together watching cliff hangers and cheering on our hero!”

(Ed. Note: The Gentle Reader is encouraged to check their local listings for time and channel. In Syracuse, New York, listings for WCNY can be found here, and “The Phantom Empire” will be shown beginning at 8:00 pm Wednesday evening, on January 12, 2011. )

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Boogie Knights

There were still Christmas lights up and the city glittered and shone. Mrs. Hall unbuttoned her white winter coat and looked out of the windows of the parking garage elevator as they descended. The rain had stopped and it was warm and unseasonably mild. Even though it was still early, couples in formal attire were already converging at the Oncenter for the New Year's Eve party. Pulling a freshly cleaned and sparkling big black car out of the hanger, Mr. and Mrs. Hall had left Mistress Colleen and a few of her friends to celebrate quietly in front of the fire with board games and pizzas.
As they rode the escalator down to the main lobby, the pink spotlights lit the columns dramatically over the silent auction display. About a month ago, the Halls had met with the organizers of the party for a brainstorming luncheon (the Gentle Reader can click here to refresh their memory) and now it was finally coming to pass. The band was rocking the house already. "Let's check our coats and get a drink."
"I hope you wore your dancing shoes," said Mrs. Hall, over her shoulder as she shimmied to the dance floor. She was met on the floor by Rosie, the V.P. in charge of the event, wearing a bright red dress and no shoes, clearly already enjoying the evening. The band struck up a disco party favorite from 30 years ago and the crowd hit the dance floor en masse. “Com’n and prepare to shake yer booty,” said Mrs. H. "Apparently we're going to party like it’s 1979!”
Jumbo-trons on both sides of the ballroom displayed the simultaneous television broadcast that was going on, on WCNY that evening. All night the TV cameras moved about the room, interviewing the party-goers and bringing the event to the hundreds of housebound voyeurs, unwilling or unable to brave the hoards of "amateur night" drivers. Mrs. Hall slipped out and placed a bid on a rare Syracuse Chiefs scorecard, signed by pitching phenom Stephen Strasberg, while Mr. Hall checked out the appetizers.
Just ahead of midnight the waitstaff brought out flutes of champagne and the countdown began. Thousands of balloons dropped, there was a short break while everyone cheered each other, and then the band began anew.
"My feet hurt," said Mr. H. "Ah, okay, " replied Mrs. Hall, and they wandered past the gourmet pizza stations in the lobby. "I have to see if I won anyway," said Mrs. Hall, and she flagged one of the Oncenter minions, who shimmered and flitted away. The Halls talked movies with one of the advertising execs while they waited. (Mr. Hall, who was friends with the director, invited him to their table. "Believe me," he had said, "at 12:31, I'm sitting down and having a beer!") "Yes, you won it!" said the helper, when she returned, gingerly holding an envelope. Mr. Hall pulled out his wallet. He had made quite a killing on slots the previous Christmas evening at the Turning Stone, and was in a generous mood.
It was evident by the thinning crowds that it was time to head on home. Wishing the remaining (awake) party goers at their table a hearty happy new year, they gathered their coats and noisemakers and returned to the night, the big black car and a quick trip home.

Tell your friends!