Author: Luisa Perkins
•11:27 AM
As I mentioned in this post almost exactly a year ago, every December I make a list of The Best of Everything Important to Me. The categories change somewhat from year to year depending on how I've spent my time and energy. After considering what follows, I have to say that 2007 was my best year ever. That's saying a lot, since 2006 was pretty great.

Top Ten Books (new or re-read):
10. Alfred Lansing, Endurance
9. D.E. Stevenson, Anna and Her Daughters
8. Guy Gavriel Kay, Tigana
7. Dave Duncan, A Man of His Word (series)
6. Brandon Sanderson, Elantris
5. M.T. Anderson, Octavian Nothing
4. Yann Martel, Life of Pi
3. Wallace Stegner, Angle of Repose
2. Henry Eyring, Because He First Loved Us
1. Kelly Link, Magic for Beginners*

* So very brilliant, especially the title story and "Stone Animals," but dark, disturbing, and emphatically not recommended to my teen readers

Worst Book of the Year:
Karen Joy Fowler, The Jane Austen Book Club

Top Ten Movies:
10. Enchanted
9. Premonition
8. The Bourne Ultimatum
7. The Simpsons Movie
6. Ocean's 13
5. Disturbia
4. Dan in Real Life
3. 1408
2. Sicko
1. I Am Legend

Still waiting to see:
Amazing Grace
August Rush
Becoming Jane
Elizabeth 2: The Golden Age
National Treasure 2

Top Ten iPod Downloads:
10. The Veronicas, "4ever"
9. A Fine Frenzy, "You Picked Me"
8. The Innocence Mission, "The Lakes of Canada"
7. The Bobs, "Synaesthesia"
6. The Dukes of the Stratosphear, "Vanishing Girl"
5. Saint-Privat, "Oh-La-La"
4. The Fratellis, "For the Girl"
3. The White Stripes, "Seven Nation Army"
2. The Shins, "Australia"
1. The Killers, "Can You Read My Mind?"

Top Eating Experiences:
6. "Steam Roasted Goose with Gravy," Our House
5. "Jamesie's Jambalaya," Our House
4. "Southwestern Shrimp, Teriyaki Chicken, and Grilled Corn on the Cob," Our House
3. "Szechuan Dumplings," Shun Lee, NYC
2. "Frogs' Legs and Foie Gras Tempura," Picholine, NYC
1. "Poulet en Demi-Deuil," Chanterelle, NYC

Best Theatre Experience of the Year:
Richard III, Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival

Best Concert of the Year:
The Wailin' Jennys, Tarrytown Music Hall

Garden Produce of the Year:

Patissons Panache Squash

Yarn of the Year:
Tofutsies Sock Yarn (It's made out of crab shells and soy!)

2008? Bring it on, Grandpa! It's go-time!
Author: Luisa Perkins
•3:22 PM
The sweet and multi-talented Candace tagged me for the "Seven Things About Me" meme. She's gearing up for the Storymakers' Boot Camp in March (she and Tristi are in charge); her tagging me is clearly the equivalent of making me drop and give her twenty push-ups.

Have you read Centipost? Eight is Enough? Ten More, Really? Or any other post with the "Dancing With Myself" tag? Then, loyal reader, you already know it all.

But maybe not. All right, Candace, I'll give it a go:

1. When I was at BYU and managing the Backstage Café, I went out once with one of the waiters, who happened to be a gun enthusiast. We went up Provo Canyon and did some impromptu target shooting (aluminum cans) in the moonlight. The guns I remember using were an AK-47 and some James Bond-looking pistol. Both kicked quite hard. If any of my kids ever pulled such a stupid stunt, I'd be tempted to lock him/her in a closet for many months.

2. I get many of my most interesting (to me, at least) writing ideas from my dreams. Last night, for example, we saw I Am Legend (which I loved, but do not recommend for the faint of heart). I then dreamt about vampires all night and woke up itching to write down every fascinating detail.

3. The correct plural form of "Perkins" is "Perkinses." For example, if you wanted to brag (or complain) about coming to my house for dinner, you would write, "I'm going to the Perkinses' house for fondue tomorrow night." (Of course you are all invited.)

4. The kids and I use Eco-Dent tooth powder instead of toothpaste. The cinnamon flavor is the best, though the mint and lemon-lime are also popular choices. Eco-Dent is unfortunately not paying me for this endorsement.

5. One snack I love is canned fruit cocktail packed in 100% juice. Yummy: I think I'll go get some right now.

6. I think it's going to take me at least another year to knit down my stash. I made great progress in 2007, but I still have a Rubbermaid tub full of yarn to be used. So many projects; so little time....

7. I'm expecting our sixth child. S/he is due on or around June 15th. We're all very excited, and so far, this has been my easiest pregnancy ever. How's that for some news? Thanks, Candace, for providing an easy format for our announcement.

Since almost no one responded to my last meme tag, I'm not going to tag anyone this time. But if you would like to do this meme yourself, consider yourself "it" and go for it. I'm also officially declaring myself meme-immune for the next six weeks; it will take me at least that long to accumulate more randomness.
Author: Luisa Perkins
•3:16 PM
Last night we hosted our annual church Christmas Open House; we had about 70 people show up with lots of holiday treats to share, and everyone seemed to have a grand time. The highlight for me was lighting the candles on our Christmas tree and singing carols with all of our friends. There's nothing like the sound of that many voices to fill up your living room; it was glorious.

I went to bed happily exhausted, mentally running through the next hurdles on our Christmas journey. All the presents wrapped: check. Food items to bring to the in-laws' house on Christmas Day afternoon: check. I looked forward to the fact that Christmas Eve would be just the family, with maybe some quiet games, a puzzle, and a movie or two to while away the peaceful hours while Patrick completes his annual Christmas Eve Day Manhattan shopping extravaganza with a couple of old friends.

Suddenly I realized that I had no plan for Christmas Eve dinner. What to fix? Nary a clue. Patrick jokingly suggested hot dogs, but I was officially stumped. I decided that I would figure it out in the morning.

This morning I pulled out my trusty copy of The Way to Cook, knowing that Julia Child would give me guidance. I flipped through many tasty options: Designer Duck, Beef Wellington, Lobster Thermador, etc., but I kept coming back to the Steam-Roasted Goose page.

Goose: of course. What could be more Dickensian? Julia recommends steam-roasting for duck and goose in order to render out a lot of the fat that lies just under the skin of these particular birds. It sounded pretty straightforward. Sous-chef James and I set out together to Adams, the Hudson Valley's gourmet supermarket, to see what we could find. I had a rough Plan B in mind--Oyster Bisque--in case there was no goose to be found.

But there was! She was an eleven-pound, free-range, all-natural lovely from Whetstone Farm in Indiana. The only wrinkle was that she was frozen solid. James and I decided to gamble that we could do a quick hot-water bath defrost to have the bird ready for go-time. We put her in the sink at about 11:00 a.m. 2:20 p.m. The goose is thawed, praise all the saints. Julia recommends some preliminary surgery to make post-roasting carving easier; I remove the wishbone, cut off the wings at the elbows, and dislocate the remaining stumps. Then I dislocate the legs and truss the bird as directed. I know the goose is too long for my covered roasting pan (a necessary accessory for steam-roasting), so I bone the legs. I've boned a duck while leaving the skin intact for a pate recipe before, so I know it wouldn't be hard to bone the legs, tie off the stumps, then break the bones and remove them. Here she is, all ready to go. No, your eyes do not deceive you, knitters. I ran out of kitchen twine, so our girl is trussed with some Sugar n' Cream cotton yarn in the Arc-en-Ciel colorway:
Houston, we have a problem. Even with the leg bones removed, our girl is too long for the roasting pan. I remove the tail, hoping to cross the legs into the vacated space; she still doesn't quite fit.

Radical idea: I butterfly the goose. I've butterflied many a chicken and every turkey we've roasted for the past five years; I know that this is a space-saving solution. But will it work for a goose? Only time will tell. It won't be the picture-perfect Cratchit goose at this point, but hopefully it will taste good.

4:04 p.m. The house smells great. The goose is done steaming on the stove top; I take her out to cool for a few minutes. Meanwhile, the neck and other discarded parts have been roasting and are now simmering to make the stock for the gravy. My sister Stephanie calls from Utah; she's deglazing her turkey pan and thinking of me (in our family, that's a compliment). We have a nice chat until I've done everything I can do one-handed; I regretfully ring off and get back to work.

Now the goose needs to braise in the oven breast down (she steamed breast up). I pour off the steaming liquid; look how much fat we've rendered out so far. That's all golden goodness to be saved for Fabulous Dishes Future. I put the fat in a jar and pour a bit of the steaming liquid back into the roasting pan along with some white wine. The rest of the steaming liquid goes into the stock.

I saute a carrot, a celery stalk, and an onion in some goose fat, then put these aromatic vegetables in and around the goose with a sprinkling of thyme. After a double layer of heavy-duty foil and the lid, she's ready to go back in. I add a couple of blocks of soapstone on top of the lid to help keep the braising liquid in.

5:03 p.m. I think we'll be eating closer to 7:00 than our usual 6:00. No matter; I've got veg and dip and Brie and crackers to stave off the masses in the meantime. Now it's time to get everything else ready: blanched, sautéed green beans, roasted beets, and mashed potatoes. If I have time, I'll make a salad as well.

5:40 p.m. It's good that we're eating late; Patrick is just now leaving the City. The goose is done braising now; she's breast up again and entering the final browning stage. This should take about another half hour.

6:06 p.m. Ahh, there's nothing like dismembering an animal, then cutting up raw beets to make a girl feel like Sweeney Todd. And at the risk of sounding like M. Stewart, I have to say that having two ovens is a Good Thing. The beets are roasting, the goose is browning. The potatoes are boiling, and the blanched green beans are waiting for their sauté in butter and finely chopped onion. So far, so good. Knock on some wood for me, would you?

6:11 p.m. The goose, while smelling fine and having arrived at the proper temperature, is not brown. I've taken off the lid and I'm giving her another ten minutes.

7:18 p.m. Success. The breast meat was slightly dry (perhaps brining next time would fix that), but the legs were tender and delicious. The meat is very rich, as is the gravy; a little goes a long way. The rest of the meal turned out great; everybody gobbled it down in a hurry. I would definitely make goose again.

"There never was such a goose. Bob said he didn't believe there ever was such a goose cooked. Its tenderness and flavor, size and cheapness were the themes of universal admiration. Edged out by apple-sauce and mashed potatoes, it was a sufficient dinner for the whole family; indeed, as Mrs. Cratchit said with great delight (surveying one small atom of a bone upon the dish) they hadn't ate it all at last! Yet every one had had enough, and the youngest Cratchits in particular were steeped in sage and onion to the eyebrows." -- Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

God bless us, everyone!
Author: Luisa Perkins
•8:27 AM
But first, look at the cake Hope decorated last night at the church's Activity Night! Her great-grandmother would be so proud; we certainly are. Many thanks to fondant genius Shona for making this activity possible.

Here are some talks Daniel and I have had in the past few days:
Me: Daniel, what do you think Santa will bring you?
Daniel: A green candy cane!
Me: Anything else?
Daniel: Umm...a red candy cane?
Daniel: Mom, can we make some dangerbread cookies?
Me: Do you mean gingerbread cookies?
Daniel (enunciating carefully): No, Mom. Dangerbread.
Me: Uh, sure, honey.
Daniel (looking at a Nativity picture book): There's Baby Jesus.
Me: That's right.
Daniel: Is that Elizabeth?
Me: No, that's her cousin, Mary.
Daniel (closing the book): The. End. Mom, is that heavenly ever after?
Me (misting over): Yes, sweetie. It is.
Author: Luisa Perkins
•9:30 AM
I'm sure you'll remember in the movie Elf, when Buddy says, "Santa's coming! Oh, my gosh--Santa! I know him! I know him!"

Yeah--that was pretty much my reaction this morning as I watched the video that follows this post. Patrick and I were there at the world premiere of the opera (on my birthday in 2005), so it was both a thrill and a fond reminiscence to watch it again.

It's a short scene from a gorgeous opera called The Book of Gold. I know the composer (Murray Boren) and the librettist (Glen Nelson); I know the soprano singing the role of Emma Smith (Metropolitan Opera star Jennifer Welch Babidge) and the baritone singing the role of Joseph Smith (her real-life husband, Darrell Babidge). Oh, the stories I could tell you about these four. They are all astonishingly talented people, and I feel blessed to call them friends.

If you have a spare 6.5 minutes, watch the video; I can almost guarantee it will give you chills.
Author: Luisa Perkins
•9:26 AM

Author: Luisa Perkins
•1:18 PM
Josi, author of the great suspense novel Sheep's Clothing, has tagged me for the 10 Random Facts meme. I think memes are great fun, but in preparation for answering this one, I had to go back and scan all of my previous meme posts (tagged "Dancing with Myself," in case you were wondering), because I've done a few of these in the year I've been blogging regularly, and I hate the thought of repeating myself. After reading them over, I'm convinced that any regular reader of this blog knows just about everything there is to know about me. But let's try to scrape the bottom of the barrel and see what we find:

1. In my opinion, bell peppers besmirch, befoul, and generally ruin anything and everything they touch.

2. Geniuses I admire include Alice Waters, Rhonda Vincent, and Abu-Rayhan al Biruni.

3. I've committed to reading The Bible in 90 days as of January 2nd along with Pezmama (who explains the program beautifully in this post) and some other fine people. Let me know if you'd like to join us; there's room in the group at the moment.

4. I like the thermostat in my car to read either '68,' '70,' or '72.' Odd numbers in digital temperature readouts (except for numbers ending in '5') really bug me.

5. I'm a big fan of the Harvard comma.

6. I can't wait to see I Am Legend. And not just for Will Smith's much-touted pull-up scene, either (though I won't be averting my eyes).

7. I don't like extra virgin olive oil; I find its strong taste overpowering most of the time. I prefer regular olive oil. Or butter.

8. Half-finished books in a pile beside my bed include James Dashner's The 13th Reality: The Journal of Curious Letters; Kelly Link's Magic for Beginners; Doris Lessing's The Golden Notebook; Fred Hoyle's October the First is Too Late; Kim Stanley Robinson's Sixty Days and Counting; and Angela Carter's The Magic Toyshop. I plan to finish all of these by the end of the year.

9. There are other half-finished books in my pile, but one I know I won't be finishing this year is Remembrance of Things Past. I do plan to finish re-reading it eventually, and maybe someday even updating my poor, neglected second blog, Tea and Madeleines. But that will have to wait until after the 25th.

10. This is the first year I've been successful at keeping a list of all the books I've read. I've tried this for many years, but I usually start forgetting to write them down by about March. I've read 59 as of today; if I finish the six listed above, I'll be up to 65. My goal for the year was 80. Oh, well; maybe next year.

Now I must tag 10 of you. Shall we go with Alice, Torie, Mary, Goofball, Jon, Kim, Brillig, Anjmae, Jenna, and Catherine? Do let's.
Author: Luisa Perkins
•9:24 AM
Author: Luisa Perkins
•10:23 AM
Back in November, Jen at A2eatwrite was interviewed, then offered to pay forward the favor to any of her readers. Since Jen and I have this hopefully long-term mutual adoration thing going on, I immediately volunteered myself, promising that I would answer her interview questions after November was over. She immediately came up with some good ones for me; here they are, along with my responses.

1. You seem like a very self-disciplined person: how do you fit your writing into your daily life?

Oh, Jen. So sorry to disappoint, but the sad fact is that I am as lazy as the day is long. A self-disciplined person wouldn't have a desk, a perennial border, and an ironing/sock-matching basket that look like mine.

As far as the writing goes, it's all about choices. I have come to terms with the fact that I can't do everything I want to do; I only have time to do the things I want to do most. My 'mosts' can vary from day to day, but writing is nearly always at the top of the list (ironing, weeding, and de-cluttering are consistent low rankers).

I write in the mornings while Daniel is playing or in the early afternoons while he is napping. In a good week, I can write three or four hours per day, five days per week. But that doesn't always happen.

I write very well in the evenings, but those are usually devoted to Patrick and the kids instead. An exception to that is Tuesday nights, when Patrick takes the older kids to the church for youth activity night. Once the two little kids are in bed at 7:00 p.m., I have three whole hours to myself to blaze away on my laptop. Tuesday nights are usually very productive for me.

2. When you have free time with your family, what do you all like to do? (Other than heat the whole neighborhood?)

We do excel at heating and cooling the whole neighborhood. But we make our own fun in lots of other ways, too. We love to put on loud music and dance around the house, lip syncing and playing air guitar all the while. We read aloud. We play games like Carcassonne and The Great Dalmuti.

All this year, we've sat down together as a family once a week and worked our way through the original Star Trek series on DVD; hopefully Santa has something else in mind for us this year, because we are almost through the lot, and this has been a lot of fun. We also like to take walks in the Greenbelt behind our house, along Foundry Creek to the Civil War Foundry archaeological dig, then on beyond to Constitution Marsh. We love going to the City together, but we don't do it nearly often enough.

Before, during, and/or after nearly all these activities, we strive to uphold the Perkins Family Motto, which is "Perkinses eat a lot." Cooking and eating are two of our favorite pastimes.

3. Who is the biggest influence on you as a writer and who is the biggest influence on you as a cook?

As a writer, I count two great authors as my biggest influences: Louisa May Alcott and Madeleine L'Engle. Alcott's writing experiences, as fictionalized in her character Jo, have been inspiring me since I first read Little Women when I was about eight. I read Jo's publishing adventures over and over and thought, "That is what I want to do."

I had the great privilege of meeting Madeleine L'Engle twice, hearing her speak at The Cathedral of St. John the Divine once, and seeing her around our mutual Manhattan neighborhood countless times before we left the City and she left this mortal realm. What a great woman. She completely belied the stereotype of the tortured artist; she found her life supremely fulfilling, and her joy in it was infectious. I love her fiction, but it is her book Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art I re-read most often.

As a cook, I have had two huge influences: my Grandma Ybright and Julia Child. My grandmother taught me that the time and energy put into cooking from scratch were an expression of love and gratitude. She also taught me to savor the joys of fresh, high-quality ingredients cooked and served simply. When anyone complimented her cooking, she would scoff good-naturedly, "Anyone who can read can cook."

When Patrick and I got married, my mom gave us a copy of Julia Child's The Way to Cook; it is the most-used cookbook on my shelf nearly 18 years later. Julia took what Grandma taught me (haste makes waste; keep it simple; butter and cream make everything better) and extended it to a whole new level.

4. What is the part of your religious life that you love the most?

Such a good question, Jen; I spent a lot of time pondering it. I love most having the sure knowledge that God is mindful of all His many children, that He has a great plan for my life and yours, and that all my experiences-- painful, tedious, or wonderful--work together for my good. This knowledge brings me peace in my darkest moments of doubt or despair. Just this morning, the family and I read one of my favorite passages of scripture, Hebrews chapter 11. Verses 13-16 read:

These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.
For they that say such things declare plainly that they seek a country.
And truly, if they had been mindful of that country from whence they came out, they might have had opportunity to have returned.
But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.

Ah, my poor kids. It's so embarrassing for them that those verses make me cry every time. Even typing them gets me more than a little choked up; they express so beautifully how I feel about my faith.

Thanks, Jen! If any of you other blogging folk would like me to come up with four interview questions for you, let me know; I'd be happy to pass on the love.
Author: Luisa Perkins
•10:05 AM
We got this handy-dandy snowball maker a couple of Christmases ago for the kids; it works great. But Daniel has discovered an additional use for it. He runs around the house, scissoring the device open and shut in a syncopated rhythm. Guess what it sounds like.

That's right: two coconut shells being clapped together.
Author: Luisa Perkins
•7:21 PM
True confession: I own over forty Christmas CDs. That may seem excessive to some; this I acknowledge. Whenever I feel tempted to judge someone for his/her shoe fetish or other acquisitive hobby, I remember my drawer of Christmas CDs and realize that I live in a glass house. I'd be hard pressed to give up any of my CDs, but if forced at knife point, I would whittle the collection down to the following ten (not in any particular order).

Mariah Carey: Merry Christmas
No, Mariah's not my favorite person; I wouldn't want to be her pen pal, or anything. But this album is genius. Brace yourself: I can only abide the songs "Silent Night" and "O Holy Night" as sung by two people; Mariah is one of them. (Who is the other? Read on.) I defy you to be in a bad mood after listening to "Jesus Oh What a Wonderful Child."

Black Christmas: Spirituals in the African-American Tradition
This album would still be worth its weight in gold if it boasted only the four tracks sung by Thomas Young. His butter-rich tenor voice on "Rise Up, Shepherd" and "Sister Mary Had-a But One Child" gives me chills each and every time.

Handel's Messiah--Helmuth Rilling and the Oregon Bach Choir
After many long years, my quest for the perfect recording of Messiah has ended. For a time The Academy of Ancient Music's version worked okay, and Leonard Bernstein's recording with the New York Philharmonic has considerable (if quirky) charm.

But these days I'm blessed to be friends with a member of the Grammy-winning Oregon Bach Choir, and she gave me this CD a couple of years ago. Rilling is a stickler for diction and precision; his discernment and discipline serve the intricate counterpoint of Handel's masterpiece beautifully. Thomas Quasthoff, one of my favorite singers in all the world, is the glorious bass. And soprano Sibylla Rubens's cadenza at the end of "I Know That My Redeemer Liveth": unqualified perfection.

Ralph Vaughan Williams: Hodie/Fantasia on Christmas Carols
Oh, how I love my Ralph. He is to Christmas music what Dickens is to Christmas literature.

Benjamin Britten: A Ceremony of Carols
Otherworldly. Transfixing. Gorgeous.

Stephen Cleobury and The Choir of King's College, Cambridge: A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols
There is nothing more satisfying to my rampant anglophilia than this double CD. Highlights include "Riu, Riu Chiu," Thomas Adès's "The Fayrfax Carol," Boris Ord's "Adam Lay Ybounden," and David Humphries's reading of The Fourth Lesson.

Ella Wishes You a Swingin' Christmas
Though at times I enjoy me some Bing and Nat, some Donny and some Harry, I'm not really much for secular Christmas songs in general. This album is an exception; Lady Ella can do no wrong. The purity of her tone, her flawless style: she slays me. I can only hope that if I'm very, very good, in the next life I'll be able to sing like Ella Fitzgerald.

John Denver: Rocky Mountain Christmas
I've loved this album since I was about ten. John Denver's crystal-clear voice and gentle guitar arrangements are infinitely soothing. He's the only other person who, when he sings "Silent Night" and "O Holy Night," makes the experience enjoyable rather than mind-rendingly torturous for me.

The John Rutter Christmas Album
John Rutter has been writing and arranging brilliant Christmas carols for decades; he is surely one of Britain's national treasures. He conducts The Cambridge Singers and The City of London Sinfonia on this CD, a compilation of many of his best-known compositions. A favorite of all in this house is "The Donkey Carol," written in 5/4 time to symbolize Mary's bumpy ride to Bethlehem.

Andrew Parrott and the Taverner Consort: The Promise of Ages
Andrew Parrott rocks my world. Who else could weave together an album of carols spanning 600 years into a cohesive whole? The Consort goes from ethereal to rollicking with nary a blink. Favorites include "I Wonder as I Wander," "Staines Morris," and "Lo! He Comes With Clouds Descending." Can't get enough.

Here's my Christmas wish: for Brian Stokes Mitchell to release a Christmas album next year. I actually just went to his website and sent him an email with that very request. Just color me fannish, 'cause I'm crazy like that.
Author: Luisa Perkins
•8:34 AM
The Annunciation, John Waterhouse (1849-1917)

The Annunciation

The angel and the girl are met,
Earth was the only meeting place,
For the embodied never yet
Travelled beyond the shore of space.
The eternal spirits in freedom go.

See, they have come together, see,
While the destroying minutes flow,
Each reflects the other's face
Till heaven in hers and earth in his
Shine steady there. He's come to her
From far beyond the farthest star,
Feathered through time. Immediacy
of strangest strangeness is the bliss
That from their limbs all movement takes.
Yet the increasing rapture brings
So great a wonder that it makes
Each feather tremble on his wings.

Outside the window footsteps fall
Into the ordinary day
And with the sun along the wall
Pursue their unreturning way
That was ordained in eternity.
Sound's perpetual roundabout
Rolls its numbered octaves out
And hoarsely grinds its battered tune.

But through the endless afternoon
These neither speak nor movement make,
But stare into their deepening trance
As if their gaze would never break.

- Edwin Muir, 1887-1959