What’s doing?


When I was in college, I spent a summer working at a camp up in the Poconos. I hadn’t spent much time in the northeast, so I wasn’t really conversant with the regional idioms up there. One day, the girls’ camp director, Lois, asked me, “What’s doing?” I had to ask her to repeat herself. “What’s doing? What’s up? What’s going on?” she explained. Duh. Super self-explanatory.

So … what’s doing? Sorry to have abandoned the Downton Abbey recaps so unceremoniously. I got busy. Here’s how busy I got:

Jan 9: Interviewed for job, wasn’t too impressed with my performance in the interview.

Jan 14: Started spring semester, adjuncting at Concordia and St. Edward’s.

Jan 23: Offered a book contract from the History Press based on a proposal I’d written up over the winter break. Deadline: mid-July. (!!!!) Look, I even have a fancy blog button for it:

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Jan 25: Offered the job I’d interviewed for on Jan 9.

Feb 11: Started new job (still teaching my one class at St. Ed’s, but departed Concordia, which was AWKWARD).

Add to that the SXSW juggernaut and the start of the Big Kid’s baseball season and the Little Kid’s dance classes and my “I WILL lose 30 pounds before I get any further into my 40s” regimen, and you’ll understand why I haven’t been blogging.

So, briefly, the book is called Historic Austin Restaurants: Capital Cuisine through the Generations, and it’s a history of Austin told through its iconic restaurants. Some of it is really fun, because I’m getting to visit restaurants that I’ve not been to ever or in a very long time (The Tavern, Joe’s Bakery). Some of it is really depressing because I’m writing about restaurants that I loved and have been replaced by stupid corporate chains (Les Amis, Mad Dog & Beans). It’s really fun to have a research-based food-writing project that isn’t a dissertation (and that people might actually read!!!), especially now that I’m entering the interviewing-subjects phase.

So, in short, back in December, I was really depressed about the state of my career and decided that 2013 was going to be the Aways Be Writing year. In a staggering case of “be careful what you wish for,” I’ve now got a job that has me writing every day (maybe not within a context I find particularly interesting) and a book project that (ostensibly) has me writing every day.

The downside of all this writing (and everything else) I’m doing is that I haven’t been doing much cooking. I’ve been occasionally outsourcing dinner to the Soup Peddler with middling success. This weekend I’m attempting the “cook a bunch of stuff on the weekend and set it by for the week” approach. We’ll see how that goes.

So, that’s what’s doing with me. What’s doing with you?

Downton Abbey recap! Season 3, episode 5.


Previously on Downton Abbey: Isobel hired a hooker (to work as her maid/cook). Bates and Anna grokked Vera’s Evil Suicide Pie plan. Sybil had a baby girl. Sybil died. Violet sobbed raggedly. Cora blamed LG for Sybil’s death.

Dog butt.

Black-clad people depart from Downton Abbey. Matthew tells Tom that he and Mary want to help in any way they can. Tom, looking glazed and robotic (and, frankly, this is the first time I’ve noticed that he’s a Rather Handsome Man [TM]), says, “My wife is dead. I’m past help.” Weep weep weep. LG enters and tells Cora that some of their guests had been looking for her to say goodbye. Cora responds in a perfect blend of sweet curtness, “I was here,” then looks away. Isobel takes this as her cue to GTFO, as does Violet. LG offers that they stay for dinner, but Violet declines, saying, “Grief makes one so terribly tired.” (TRUTH. When my mom died, I slept forever. About a week after her funeral, I remember waking up one day long after Matt went to work, realizing it was noon and thinking, ah, fuck it and slept for another three hours.)

Violet advises Cora to try to get some rest, “now that it’s over.” “Is it over? When one loses a child, is it ever really over?” says Cora.

This calls for some Jeff Buckley.

Downstairs, Alfred mentions that grief seems to have given the upstairs folks a hearty appetite. “Tee hee,” titter some New Maids. “Ex-squeeze me?” says Carson, outraged at their cheek. Anna, ever the kind soul, explains to the New Maids that even the downstairs folk loved Sybil, so even though they’re the help, they’re sad too. Carson barks, “if you want to do well here, you should understand that without being told.” These kids today and their unwillingness to feel blind obeisance to their masters!

Actually, the conversation between Hughesy and Carson here is interesting. Carson: In the old days, their mothers would train them in the basics before they came to the Big House. Hughesy: Maybe their mothers don’t want them to go into service anymore. Carson: What are they supposed to become, bankers and lawyers? Hughesy: Why not? THE TIMES, THEY ARE A CHANGIN’. I think it’s cute that Hughesy thinks that the class system in Britain can be transcended; this moment is mostly meant to demonstrate that Carson remains an old fuddy duddy, while Hughes is optimistic and willing to change her attitudes with the times.

Thomas haz a sad. Jimmy says that Thomas’ sadness speaks well of him. Thomas gets touchy feely in response.

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Isobel tells Ethel, who identifies with Cora in her loss of a child, that she wants to have Cora and “the girls” over for a luncheon to help them with their grief. Ethel says she can cook something special, giving Isobel a start. “Well, we don’t have to decide that just now,” she says, panicked.

Mary and Anna talk about Bates and I don’t care.

Cora reads in bed. LG comes in and asks to move back in. Nope, says Cora. LG defends his choice to listen to Tapsell, who has a reputation as an expert. Cora counters with the fact that Dr. Clarkson knew Sybil’s history and, as such, was an expert on Sybil. “You believed Tapsell because he is knighted and fashionable. … You let all that nonsense weigh against saving our daughter’s life, which is what I find so very hard to forgive.” Cora makes it clear in no uncertain terms that the blame for Sybil’s death lies solely on LG. LG peaces out.

At breakfast, Edith asks after Cora. LG has no reply. Tom enters, Carson hands him a plate, rather than making him fetch it himself. Mighty big of you, Carson. Tom envies the baby because she has no idea what’s going on. Tom says he’s not staying, he’ll look for a job. Edith and Matthew wonder what’s the rush, LG says that Tom needs to think of making a life for himself. Edith says it’s time to think of a christening and asks what Tom would like to call the baby. “Sybil,” is his response. NOT MAUDLIN AT ALL, DUDE. (Side note: isn’t Edith being so sweet and lovely?) Tom also announces that because the baby is Irish, she will be Catholic. LG throws up in his mouth a little [I’m sorry; I know that phrase is so tired, but I think it applies here] and peaces out.

Ethel runs into Mrs. P on the street and asks for help with the menu for the lunch party. Mrs. P explains that Carson has forbidden folks from the Big House to consort with her. Ethel says surely Mrs. P doesn’t think she will be corrupted. “Of course not!” declares Mrs. P. “Then why not show a little kindness?” says Ethel. Side note: it was made clear to me this week that calling Ethel an unnecessary plot device is not fair or accurate. Rather, she is a depiction of the invisible casualties of war in the early 20th century, women whose lives were ruined by dalliances with itinerant soldiers. So, I now sort of like this storyline, which maybe recuperates some of these women’s fates and gives their communities a chance to redeem themselves, too.

Bates walks in circles and I don’t care.

Mary tells LG that he needs to unclench on the Catholic thing; also, she disagrees that it’s ghoulish to call the baby Sybil.

Isobel tells Ethel to just get some ham in town and make a light salad for the ladies’ luncheon. Ethel wants to make an effort to show their sympathies; Isobel wants to play it safe.

Violet wants to know what LG’s plan is for baby Sybil, and also what’s up with Cora and warns him that “people like us are never unhappily married.” Then what, wonders LG. “In such a circumstances, the couple is unable to see each other as much as they’d like,” says Violet. “Or she could go to New York and visit That Woman.” LG can’t make sense of any of it. Violet puts on her mom hat: “My dearest boy, I seldom speak of the heart because it is rarely useful to do so, but I know well enough how painful it is when it is broken.”

Alfred and Ivy and Daisy enact their little love triangle. Mrs P busts up the party. Jimmy says that Ivy isn’t his type. O’Brien will probably use this statement to her advantage in trying to convince Thomas to make a real move on him; if Thomas makes a pass and Jimmy calls the cops, O’Brien is shot of Thomas AND has her revenge for starting the rumor that she was leaving Downton.

Mrs. P brings some recipes for Ethel and a shopping list. Ethel is dubious about making salmon mousse. “Anyone who has use of their limbs can make a salmon mousse,” says Mrs. P haughtily. God, I love her. Mrs. P, c’est moi.

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Isobel invites Cora and “the girls” for luncheon. “Do I count as one of the girls,” asks Violet, previously unseen. Cora doesn’t want to come, fearing she’d bring her troubles with her. Mary and Matthew enter and Mary accepts the invitation.

Downstairs, we learn that Daisy is going to go visit Mr. Mason at the farm.

Upstairs, the youngsters grill Mr. Travis, who reckons there’s something “un-English about the Roman Church.” Tom’s response, being Irish: “and that’s a problem because …?” Travis has a problem with bells ‘n smells, and reckons it displeases God. Tom: So he’s displeased with the population of France and Italy? [And, uh, parts of England?] Edit: South America, Portugal? Mary: The Russians? The Spanish? Matthew: The non-Christians? The entire Indian subcontinent? Isobel: How about the British empire? [Some really fascinating troubling of British-Anglican national identity here, y’all.]

LG doesn’t think baby Sybil should be baptized into the wrong tribe. Mary reveals that Sybil wanted the baby to be Catholic. LG is flabbergasted. Cora says, “Not everyone chooses their religion to satisfy Debrett’s [a lifestyle guide for the peerage].” ZING!!!!

Downstairs, the staff discuss religion. Anna doesn’t want to talk about it.

Upstairs, Mary and Matthew discuss facing death and not taking things for granted. Matthew wants LG to see that he shouldn’t take Downton for granted. Mary says, “we should never take us for granted. Who knows what’s coming?” A giant anvil falls through the ceiling and lands at the foot of their bed. Matthew: “One thing I will take for granted, that I will love you until the last breath leaves my body.” Another anvil lands on top of the first one. Mary: “OMG, me too, darling. Totes.”

Boring stuff about Bates.

Ivy Alfred Jimmy love triangle + foxtrot.

Daisy arrives at Chez Mason. Mr. Mason wants to bequeath the farm to Daisy, who is dubious because she’s a cook and a woman and always thought she’d spend her life in service. Jaysus, Daisy, can you think outside the box for once? Do you want no good things to happen to you? Financial independence? Sheesh, I just want to shake her.

Violet tries to convince Clarkson to communicate to LG and Cora that there really was nothing to be done for Sybil, in the interest of their marriage.

Matthew consults with Tom about how best to make Downton more efficient, because “there’s a country boy inside the revolutionary.” These two are the future of Downton, I reckon, and it hinges on convincing Tom to stay there with the baby.

Ethel is grateful to Mrs. P for helping her with the luncheon. Carson sees Mrs. P leaving Crawley House.

Bates is boring.

Luncheon. Isobel is stressed because Ethel made real food, not ham and salad.

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Carson confronts Mrs. P about her helping Ethel, against his strict instructions to give the place a wide berth. Hughesy takes up Mrs. P’s case. Carson is outraged and speechless that Mrs. P would allow a woman of the streets to wait on members of our family! Hughesy reckons he won’t be speechless for long.

Matthew: bad management! LG: fiddle dee dee, we’ll think about that tomorrow. Carson: LG, we need to talk, now.

At the luncheon, the ladies are pleasantly surprised by how tasty the food is. Edith reckons she should learn to cook, which brings up the topic of the column, which gives Cora the opportunity to state her position that LG makes decisions based on archaic values. Mary says that she and Matthew support Edith in her writing career. LG bursts in and, underscoring Cora’s point, insists that the ladies leave, because Ethel is a filthy whore and they are being exposed to scandal. Just then, Ethel brings in dessert and Cora says, “Oh, is that a Charlotte Russe? How delicious.” Ethel explains that Mrs. P helped her with it. “I’m glad to know that Mrs. Patmore has a good heart and does not judge,” says Cora, glaring at LG. LG really must insist that they leave at once, but Cora resists, and Violet wants some of that Charlotte Russe.

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LG peaces out.

Bates walks in circles, boringly, then yanks his former cellmate out of the circle walking, holds a shiv to his neck and says, “don’t interfere in them finding me innocent or I’ll murderize ya, see?” Then he gets back in the circle and walks, boringly.

Carson and Hughesy discuss the luncheon scandal; Carson is miffed that none of the women left, while Hughesy sees it as a sign that the world is becoming a kinder place. Carson reckons it’s weakness and a lack of discipline. “Well, if the Dowager and Her Ladyship can visit Crawley House, I reckon you won’t mind if I do,” says Hughesy. Carson won’t forbid it, but he won’t like it. “But you disappoint me,” he says. “I didn’t think of you as a woman with no standards.” She shoots him a “ninja, please” look and departs.

Mary visits LG and asks how productive it was for him to throw a tantrum about Ethel at Crawley House; she reckons he’s just pissed because the world isn’t going his way. He’s also pissed that Matthew is taking over Downton, and also the christening. “I’m never against you, but you’ve lost on this one,” Mary says. She reminds LG that Sybil loved Tom very much and that they should honor her wishes as far as the baby goes. “I keep forgetting she’s gone,” says LG. “I’ll read something in the paper that would make her laugh. I come inside to tell her that her favorite rose is in bloom, and then suddenly…” Mary implores him to tell Cora that, but he doesn’t think she wants to hear it from him.

Mary and Matthew visit Tom and the baby in a totally stilted and awkward scene.

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Poor Molesley is shocked that the ladies stayed at Crawley House after they learned that Ethel had cooked their lunch. “Even Jesus ate with Mary Magdalene,” Hughesy reminds him gently. “We’re not sure of that, but we know she washed his feet,” replies Poor Molesley. “Well, we’ll have to tell Ethel she’s in for a treat, then,” Hughesy shoots back.

Jimmy plays piano, Ivy gets busted for wearing rouge (Mrs. P calls her “Miss Hussy”!), Thomas gropes Jimmy some more. “He’s always touching me,” Jimmy complains to O’Brien. “I’m going to tell Carson. I’d tell the police if it got him to stop.” O’Brien excuses herself to fetch some linen … and to scheme. Daisy tells Jimmy that the music is nice, but it makes her sad because it makes her think of William.

O’Brien runs into Thomas in the hall and tells him that she thinks Jimmy has a crush on him. “Well, he’s got good taste,” says Thomas.

Alfred asks Daisy to teach him the foxtrot. Oh, Daisy. Don’t give your heart – or dance lessons – away.

Anna runs across the grounds to Mary and Edith (really?) to let them know that Mr. Bates will be released and will be home in a couple of weeks. Mary encourages Anna to let LG know to raise his spirits.

Cora brings a note from Violet inviting them over, but she hopes that it’s not a lecture on marital harmony. LG chuckles, then realizes that she wasn’t kidding. They’ll go, but not stay long. “You look lovely today,” says LG feebly. “Don’t try and flirt with me, dude,” says Cora. Awkward. Exeunt Cora. Anna bursts in with Mary and Edith to report that Bates is coming home. LG practically squees.

Jimmy interrupts Daisy and Alfred’s dance lesson and calls out Alfred on only trying to learn foxtrot to impress Ivy. He then takes Daisy in his arms to show him how it’s done. (Does Jimmy like Daisy?) Of course, Carson walks in and tears Jimmy a new one.

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Cora and LG arrive at the Dowager’s house to find Dr. Clarkson waiting for them. Clarkson tells them that the chance of Sybil’s survival was “infinitesimal,” that eclampsia is almost always fatal, and that even if they’d done a C-section, she would have died and in great pain. LG and Cora embrace and cry, while Violet looks away discreetly. Poor Dr. Clarkson. Poor Cora.

The end.

Smitten Saturdays: Baked Potato Crisps with the Works


Well, hello! I meant to get this up last weekend, but it feels more appropriate to post it this week instead, given that I’d planned these as a good Super Bowl appetizer.

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Funny story about these potato crisps (which are delicious, by the way): I made them on Sunday night with the intention of having just a sample before moving on to a more virtuous meal of salmon and steamed broccoli. The best laid plans…

First off, this recipe makes a metric ton of baked potato crisps, and I didn’t even meet the stated yield of 42 pieces (more on that in a minute). My husband was a little overwhelmed when he saw the cookie sheets populated with these babies. And then we started eating them.

And eating them. And eating them. And eating them. Soon, the salmon was being packaged up into portable containers for Monday lunch (more on THAT in a minute!) because we each ate nearly a potato’s worth of crisps in under 20 minutes. (It didn’t help that we were starving. Also, bacon.) Even after our starch-dairy-bacon binge, there were still easily a dozen crisps left, which I also packaged up and put away for later.

Fast forward to noonish on Monday. I’m in my cubicle at the Adjunct Gig (soon to be former!) and I’m ready to eat lunch. I’m preparing myself for the salmon and broccoli I hadn’t eaten the night before, feeling right smug about my choices. Then I open up the tub — it’s the leftover potato crisps! DERP. I picked the bacon off the top of a few of them, but I just can’t bring myself to eat cold potatoes. (I ended up using my faculty discount in the dining hall and indulging in their addictive grilled cheese sandwich + a mountain of veggies from the salad bar.)

And it’s the coldness factor that informs my decision to NOT take these to the Super Bowl party we’re attending tomorrow night. These are absolutely gorge-worthy when they’re hot. But cold? Feh. It’s not the recipe’s fault, it’s the fault of the potato for being disgusting when cold. And you can’t really nuke these unless you want to melt the sour cream. Rest assured that if I were hosting a Super Bowl party, I’d be cranking these out without a second thought. And you should, too, if you’re hosting and are looking for last-minute, ridiculously easy and tasty ideas.

One note: some of your smaller crisps may not like the 25-30 minute baking time:

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Baked Potato Crisps with the Works
from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman

3 T butter
3 russet potatoes, unpeeled and cut into 1/2-inch slices (the cookbook says “should yield about 14 slices”; if I had been editor of this cookbook, I would have suggested a clarifying “per potato” to the end of that phrase)
salt
ground black pepper (the cookbook says freshly ground, but whatevs. You do you.)
1/2 cup grated cheddar (I used bagged Mexican blend because that’s what I had on hand)
1 cup sour cream
4-5 slices crispy bacon, chopped
3 T minced fresh chives

Preheat oven to 425. Line two baking sheets with foil (no muss, no fuss!) and butter each sheet. (I used Pam. Again, you do you.) Arrange the potato slices on the sheets and brush with 2 T melted butter. Season with salt and pepper to your taste. Roast for 25-30 minutes (keeping an eye on them; see the above image) until the bottom side is golden brown. Flip them over and roast for 10 more minutes.

Sprinkle each slice with a pinch of cheese and bake for 5 more minutes. Top each slice with sour cream, bacon, and chives. Serve and marvel at how quickly they are devoured.

Everyone’s Crying Forever: Downton Abbey recap (S. 3, Ep. 4)


Welcome to the saddest episode of Downton Abbey ever.

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Sad dog butt.

Dr. Clarkson is checking on Sybil while Cora, Mary, and Ethel look on. He gives her the all clear, all are relieved. Dr. Clarkson explains to the menfolk, all standing in the hall with rumpled hair and clad in shiny robes, that the pains were simply “the womb preparing itself for birth.” LG, because he is apparently not a GROWN ASS MAN, turns a little greenish, prompting Cora to interject: “Dr. Clarkson, Lord Grantham doesn’t enjoy medical detail. Can we go back to bed?” Yes, all can go back to bed. LG informs Dr. C that Sir Philip Tapsell will be around in the morning. (My memory for details like this is not so great; Dr. C looks irritated by this information, which leads me to believe that there is a tension there. Anyone?)

Tom needs reassurance that nothing is wrong with Sybil. He narrowly misses being struck by the anvil that falls out of the sky and lands on the floor behind him. “Pshaw, Paddy,” says Dr. C. “She’s perfectly healthy and everything is PERFECTLY NORMAL I MEAN IT.”

Downstairs, baby talk. Or, rather, don’t talk about having babies at the dinner table. Oh That Thomas smirks lasciviously at The Mentalist Jimmy, while O’Brien looks on. Carson declares that Sybil is in a delicate condition, so everyone use your inside voices on the gallery. Meanwhile, Daisy is being a total bitch to Ivy, the new kitchen maid. U mad, Daisy?

Matthew kvetches about when to talk to LG about the mismanagement of the estate, and tells Mary that in order for them to enjoy Downton and for their kids to enjoy it, they have to be good stewards of it, which is not currently happening. Mary takes breakfast in bed; cut to Cora receiving breakfast in bed. Someone explain this breakfast in bed thing to me. Once you are a married woman, your legs stop working and you don’t have to shift your arse out of bed to lift some tea and toast to your exalted lips? Sitting in bed like a passive lump, waiting for a jangly tray filled with hot liquids and sticky things just waiting for me to spill them all over my skin and my sheets, just does not sound all that awesome. I mean, they didn’t even have Morning Joe back then, so what would they do? Just sit there alone and eat? How about a crossword puzzle? Words With Friends? You have to eat breakfast in isolation in your nightie while everyone else gets to go downstairs and have adult conversation? YO NO LO COMPRENDO.

Anyhoo. LG wants Sir Philip because he has doctored His ‘n Her Highnesses; Cora worries that Dr. C will be offended, and not to discount his expertise just because he misdiagnosed Matthew’s war injury. Oh, and he also totally missed the warning signs that Lavinia’s flu would take a turn for the deathy. Whatevs. The dead can’t sue for malpractice, and Matthew’s weiner works again, so everyone wins! (Well, except Lavinia, of course.)

The Mentalist has been asked by Carson to wind the clocks, which O’ Brien says is a good sign that he will ascend to first footman rapidly. The Mentalist doesn’t know the first thing about clocks (really? Nothing? Don’t they just have a key that you turn until it gets really hard to turn and then makes this really horrific clicking noise and then you walk away really fast?). O’Brien, ever the schemer, suggests that The Mentalist enlist the help of Oh That Thomas, because he used to wind the clocks. In fact, The Mentalist would do well to keep in with OTT, since he has LG’s ear. I see what you did there, O’Brien.

Upstairs, Sybil explains to Mary that her back hurts, her ankles are swelling, and her head aches. “Honestly, I can’t recommend this to anyone,” she says. Mary’s all, “Whatevs! I can’t wait to get knocked up, myself! I know I will just KILL being pregnant!” Sybil goes on to tell Mary that she wants Baby Branson to be christened a Catholic per Tom’s wishes, since she doesn’t really believe in God but she super loves Tom and wants what he wants.

Oh That Thomas gives The Mentalist an incredibly creepy lesson in clock winding. Meanwhile, in prison, Anna and Bates FINALLY suss out (two episodes after the rest of us have) that Vera deliberately poisoned herself in order to set up Bates. At Crawley House, Ethel explains to Isobel that she’s had a hard time finding a jeorb because of her history as a prostitute. Isobel offers her a job helping out Mrs. Bird. Back at prison, Bad Guard and Evil Ex-Cellmate scheme against Bates some more, because that worked out so well for them before.

Mary and Matthew stroll the estate, Matthew explaining beep boop boop boop there’s been no investment blergh. Matthew reckons LG doesn’t give a good gosh-darn about the way Downton is being managed because it’s so very middle class. But because Matthew is middle class, he will SAVE DOWNTON. Starting with setting up a Kickstarter and a Cafepress t-shirt shop.

At dinner, Sir Philip turns out to be a total blowhard who thinks that it’s not necessary to have the local doctor present at the birth of Baby Branson, as he is an Expert at Birthin’ Babies. I WONDER HOW THIS WILL TURN OUT. After dinner, Matthew pulls Sir Blowhard aside and asks whether he may have any residual fertility issues from his war injury (a bruised spine); he is concerned because he and Mary have been knockin’ da boots for a few months and nothing seems to stick. Sir Philip says that if they would just relax already they would get pregnant. ORLY? says every infertile couple everywhere.

Anna tells LG that they’ve figured out Vera’s plot; I assume that he’ll pull whatever strings the gentry pull in order to free their valets from prison. Edith gets a letter offering her a column, LG says hell to the no, Matthew says unclench already, LG says “when you’re a father, you’ll understand the urge to protect your children from making a fool of you themselves.”

So, as an aside, I think the major theme of this episode is parenting.

Mrs. Bird is quitting because she feels that working with a prostitute is beneath her, and that she may be thought of as also being a prostitute. Lie down with dogs, fleas, etc. “No one could look at you and think that,” says Isobel. Snerk. Isobel tells Mrs. B that she’ll get a month’s wages in lieu of notice (bounced!); Mrs. B says she’ll go to Manchester to be near her sister, and that there is plenty of work for a plain cook there. “And they will find one in you,” says Isobel. OH DAMN!!!!!

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Meanwhile, Alfred and The Mentalist flirt with Ivy. Love triangle, y’all! Daisy comes in, bitches at Ivy, and leaves again. During dinner prep, Alfred – who has grokked that Ivy fancies The Mentalist instead of him — deliberately curdles the hollandaise sauce in order to give Ivy the chance to look good in front of Daisy and Mrs. P (who gently advises Daisy that Alfred won’t like her more for bullying Ivy).

Upstairs, the family is unimpressed with Edith’s new career prospects. (Damn those women and their typewriters! I blame Mina Harker.) “When should we expect her debut on the London stage?” snarks Violet. Poor Edith. And, true to form, one of the other sisters takes precedence as we learn that Sybil is Officially In Labor.

Dr. Clarkson is concerned because Sybil’s ankles are swollen and she seems … muddled. Sir Philip asks Dr. Clarkson to step out into the hall. The Granthams talk about the tension between the doctors. LG is in Sir Blowhard’s corner, while everyone else wants to be respectful of Dr. Clarkson. Meanwhile, Sir Blowhard and Dr. C have a medical pissing contest in the hall. Sir Philip tells Dr. C to bakdefukup.

Sybil is in labor, going back and forth between lucidity and hallucinations. Everyone in the room is deeply concerned, apart from Sir Blowhard. Naturally. Dr. Clarkson, suspecting a problem, wants to test Sybil’s urine. He reports to LG that there are too many warning signs: the swelling, the small size of the baby, the confusion, and a high amount of protein in her urine. He wants to transfer her to hospital and deliver the baby by C-section. Sir Blowhard says that this is all malarkey, that pre/eclampsia is very rare, yadda yadda. Mary’s all, “Shouldn’t the decision be up to Tom?” Word.

When presented with the options, Tom – who is an idiot, at the end of it all – is frozen with indecision. He wants to keep Sybil safe and is confused by the conflicting reports from the doctors. Sybil cries out, and they all rush to her. It’s too late – baby’s coming.

Waiting, talking, Mary announces that the men and Violet can come up, that the baby is a girl. Sybil is sweaty, the baby gurgles, Tom loves them, Sybil is tired. Cora is glowing. Sir Blowhard declares that everyone should go to bed. Downstairs, Carson declares that everyone can go to bed. Oh That Thomas is chuffed, which surprises The Mentalist. Thomas explains that he and Sybil worked together in the hospital and that she is a lovely person. He then manhandles TM in a creepy way, then leaves. TM tells O’Brien that Thomas is awfully familiar. She says that it’s a good thing, but she hopes he’s not suggesting something unseemly is going on. The Mentalist, knowing what’s good for him, and also knowing that he is now between a rock and a hard place (tee hee), says, nope, G’nite!

Later that night, Mary bursts into Cora and LG’s room and says something’s wrong with Sybil. She is in distress, hallucinating and crying out in agony with pains in her head. Dr. Clarkson explains that this is eclampsia. Sybil starts seizing. Sir Blowhard tries to save face. Dr. Clarkson says nothing can be done. Tom and Cora are begging Sybil to breathe. This part kills me, they’re both so desperate. Sybil goes still. Everyone else just stands there, stricken. Dr. Clarkson checks Sybil’s pulse; when he turns away, we can’t see his face, but Edith can, and that tells us everything we need to know. The baby cries in another room.

The people downstairs are heartbroken. Thomas in particular is gutted. Nice of the writers to endow him with some humanity. “The sweetest spirit under this roof is gone,” says Mrs. Hughes. Weep.

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Cora sits alone with her youngest daughter, promising her that they will take care of Tom and the baby. To me, this is the purest expression of the bond between mother and daughter, and I don’t even care that they ripped it off from Steel Magnolias. Mary pops in and tells Cora that she should go to bed. Without taking her eyes from Sybil, Cora tells Mary that she’s not done saying goodbye and also that LG should sleep in the dressing room.

LG’s lawyer (?) arrives to talk to Anna about the Bates situation. Matthew wants to talk to him later. Totally appropriate.

Mary and Edith say goodbye to Sybil before the funeral home people take her away. I have to admit that the “let’s love each other now, as sisters should” exchange between M & E clunks a little here, but I get the idea behind it. Sybil was who made those two beasts human, and now she’s gone. Tom says goodbye to Sybil, too heartbreaking to even dwell upon. Ugh, I can’t.

Mary walks in on Matthew discussing the issue of the management of the estate with the lawyer and flame broils him for it, rightly so.

Mrs. Hughes reports to Carson and Mrs. P that a woman in the village will nurse the baby, and the Mrs. P will feed the baby according to the percentage method. Everyone is so desperately sad. Especially when Violet arrives. “Carson, we’ve seen some troubles in our time,” she says. “But nothing could be worse than this.” “Nothing could be worse, m’lady,” he replies. And then Maggie Smith gets her big Acting Moment: she walks slowly, black-clad, across the foyer (and because I am Southern, I want to spell that the way it sounds in my head, “foy-yay”), stopping to brace herself on the wall while she sobs, her cane tapping softly on the rug. She lifts her black veil before entering the sitting room.

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Stuff about the baby nurse, stuff about Tom, who “wants his wife back, which is the one thing he can’t have.” Mild-mannered Cora is on the warpath, mild-manneredly. She gets up to go write a letter of apology to Dr. Clarkson, because if they had listened to him, Sybil might still be alive, but Sir Blowhard and LG knew better and as a result, Sybil is dead. LG is almost suitably chastened. Violet tells him not to blame himself (HE SHOULD TOTALLY BLAME HIS PATRIARCHAL SELF), that Sybil has died in childbirth like too many women before her and all they can do is cherish her memory and her child.

Shot of Tom in the window, holding the baby, looking out the window mournfully.

That is all. I am throatsore and tear-drenched. But maybe you might be interested in reading this. See you next week. Weep, weep, weep.

 

 

 

 

Downton Abbey recap: S3, Ep3! (Better late than never!)


It’s Friday night at the end of a long and very eventful week. My friends came over to drink wine and play cards and eat brownies, but now they’ve gone home. My family are all in bed. I’m sitting in my living room, eating Bugles (lord, the SALT!) and finally grabbing a spare moment to re-watch and recap last Sunday’s episode.

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(Why am I eating Bugles at 10:30 on Friday night? Here is what I’ve eaten today: a little bit of pear-apple-cranberry crisp for breakfast, two vaqueros on corn from Tacodeli for second breakfast, a pulled-pork torta and a small piece of homemade carrot cake for lunch, two Thin Mints while tidying the house this afternoon, a bacon cheeseburger and fries at Five Guys for dinner, plus a bushel of peanuts while waiting for MA and BK to meet up with us, a brownie, and two small glasses of prosecco. There is absolutely no reason for me to be eating Bugles other than that they are here, being crunchy and cone-shaped and salty and tantalizing. I’ve had so much salt today I can barely bend my fingers. STOP ME BEFORE I BUGLE AGAIN.)

Anyhoo. Downton. Dog butt. Downstairs, Anna is hurt because she’s not gotten a letter and even stupid Thomas has one. “Nothing for me, Mr. Carson?” “No, Anna, yet again, nothing for you.” Geez, Carson. Way to tact.

Prison: No letter for Bates. Bates has a sad.

Matthew and Mary beep boop boop boop Anna stiff upper lip.

Mrs. Crawley visits Mrs. Hughes downstairs and explains that she’s seen Ethel the Unnecessary Plot Device again; Ethel has been working as a prostitute. Mrs. Hughes recoils at the word because Victorianism  and says, “My my, that’s not a word you hear in this house every day,” she pearl-clutches. Oh, come off it Hughesy.

Upstairs, Carson wants to know if he has two daddies now. Matthew explains that he’s merely made an investment in the estate, but nothing else has changed. Carson wants to get the staff back up to snuff, bringing on a housemaid, a kitchen maid, and a footman. Matthew walks back his previous statement and puts his oar in about the relevance of a large staff, prompting Carson to climb up on the cross. “Well, I would like to return to my duties as a butler, but if you would prefer for me to continue also doing the work of a second footman…” LG defuses the situation, smoothing Carson’s ruffled feathers.

So, apparently some time has passed because the big dinner with the archbishop referenced in the previous scene is now the same night. Edith is having breakfast with Matthew and LG; Matthew asks why Edith isn’t taking breakfast in bed. “Because I’m not married,” she whines. Really? Is that a thing? Does marriage entitle you to breakfast in bed? If so, I am owed a LOT of back breakfast-in-beds. LG reads in the paper that Tennessee is going to ratify the 19th amendment, giving women the right to vote. “Boy, I sure wish I could vote,” says Edith. “You should write a letter to the Times,” teases Matthew. “Maybe I will,” says Edith, the Accidental Feminist. Here’s my problem with this: Edith only seems to be turning toward suffrage because the whole marriage thing hasn’t worked out. It’s like, Plan B. To my mind, feminism isn’t something you take up because you weren’t able to follow the script. It’s an ethos, not a punt.

Mary has summoned Matthew to the nursery, which she has commandeered for their sitting room. Matthew was confused, because Mary had been to the doctor earlier and now they are meeting in the nursery. Nope, hay fever meds. “But what shall we do for a day nursery, should the need arise?” he asks, suggestively. Mary looks mildly alarmed, but brushes it off. TENSION, Y’ALL.

Edith has brought Violet a bottle of perfume. Violet’s worried about Edith after her jilting, and suggests that she keep busy. “There must be something you can put your mind to,” says Violet. “But what?” whines Edith. “Gardening?” “Well, no, you can’t be as desperate as that,” Violet retorts (this caused me to guffaw). “Then what?” “Edith, you’re a woman with a brain and reasonable ability. Stop whining and find something to do!” Violet just took Edith to CHURCH, y’all!

Carson is taking Alfred under his wing. Anna is weepy because she zzzzzzzzzz. In prison, Bates’ ally explains that he’s a target or whatevs. Bates is just relieved to understand why he’s not been getting letters.

Back at Downton, Alfred can’t even tell the difference between a soup spoon and a bouillon spoon. WHAT A MAROON.

At Crawley house, Ethel tells Hughesy that she wants to give up Charlie for adoption to his paternal grandparents (remember that Ethel’s babydaddy was an officer convalescing at Downton in S. 2, then went and got himself killed near the end of WWI). Mrs. Bird, Mrs. Crawley’s maid, refuses to help Ethel with her coat. Mrs. Crawley says, surprisingly pleasantly, “Some manners wouldn’t go amiss.” Have I mentioned that I LOVE Mrs. Crawley? She’s my second-favorite character behind Violet.

At the dinner, LG tells the archbishop that the Catholics are like foreigners. Wha? Edith takes a cryptic phone call from Sybil. Someone knocks on the door. It’s Tom. Mary sends him upstairs and covers for him back at dinner. Ok, I’ll be honest: I am not following what’s going on with Tom and setting someone’s house on fire and … LG shouts and makes Tom cry? I know it has something to do with the Irish war of independence, and to do with the fact that Tom is a Republican, but really, zzzzzzz.

In other news, Hughesy has treated herself to a toaster. Carson is scandalized. Meanwhile, a handsome young man who looks like that guy from that show arrives to interview for the footman job. The maids all look like this:

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Thomas comes in, peeps Jimmy, and is like:

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Only Hughesy has it together enough to move things along. We learn that Jimmy had worked for some dowager who’d moved to France and begged him to come along. Jimmy;s a player!!

Ethel gives up her boy. This was a hard scene to watch. Not quite sure why this storyline was in here. (Although it looks like Mrs. Crawley hires Ethel next week, which I’m sure Mrs. Bird is really excited about!)

Sybil arrives at Downton. Cora, wearing a hella-dowdy hairdo, fusses at Tom for abandoning Sybil. If you ask me, of all the Grantham girls, I think Sybil is the most suited to shift for herself. She ain’t no hothouse flower. Mary is pissed at Tom because he burned her some other debutante’s house down. A telegram arrives from LG; Cora and her bad hair tell Tom and Sybil that they are not to leave Downton.

Thomas comes upon Jimmy getting dressed (Jimmy manscapes!) and does an unsubtle

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(My friend Elizabeth wondered on Facebook why the villain on the show a predatory gay man. I had the same thought; it’s such a lazy trope and it seems like we’re in a progressive enough moment to think up new, more responsible ways to portray gay people. Apparently, the issue is resolved in later episodes.)

Matthew tells Mary he’s been going over the numbers and realizes that the running of Downton could be much more efficient and less wasteful. Beep beep boop boop whatevs. Tom can’t return to Ireland. Violet wonders why all the Irish rebels are so well born. Tee hee. At dinner, the family is mildly scandalized to learn that Edith has written to a newspaper. LG doesn’t think it will be published. The upstairs folks are amused by how handsome the new footman is. Matthew gingerly tries to tell LG about how badly the estate is being run, but is brushed off.

Prison. I skipped over the part earlier where Bates got his revenge on his cellmate for planting drugs in his bed. This gets Bates back in the guards’ good graces and is handed a hefty packet of letters from Anna.

Toaster shenanigans. Silliness

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Sybil takes a stand with Tom and insists that they stay at Downton for their baby’s sake. Edith’s letter has been published in the paper denouncing the limitations for the women’s suffrage bill. Matthew and Tom are impressed and supportive. LG is incensed. Carson grunts his disapproval. (Ugh, Carson. You turd.)

Daisy’s about to confess to Alfred that she lurves him, but Mrs. P brings in Ivy, the new kitchen maid, who is cute. Alfred is googly eyed and Daisy is disappointed.

Matthew seeks advice on how to handle the mismanagement of Downton from Violet. Violet advises him that there’s no way he can address it without misaligning people’s noses. The only way out is through, I guess. I smell a showdown at the Downton Corral!

The episode ends with Anna and Bates reading their backlog of letters. Aw, bless. GET OFF MY TV YOU MOST BORING PEOPLE WHO EVER BORED ME.

Ok, that’s it for this week! Look for another recap soon (Tuesday?), unless I die of a salt overdose between now and then.

Downton Abbey recap: Week 2!


Previously on Downton: Matt and Mary got married. Anna is contacting everyone in Vera’s address book to see whether she was suicidal, in hopes of exonerating Mr. Bates. Matt is Reggie Swire’s heir, but doesn’t want to profit from Lavinia’s death. Shirley Maclaine popped in and out, was American. Edith gave the Crypt Keeper his life back.

DOG BUTT!

The house staff are preparing Downton for Edith’s wedding. Flowers are being arranged, floors are being scrubbed, a carpet is being rolled up. Edith twirls around the house, smugly observing the goings on. “Something happening in this house is finally about me!” (Marsha Marsha Marsha! etc.)

Mrs. Hughes is worried, Carson overhears her talking with Mrs P about how she hasn’t heard anything from the doctor. Carson haz a concerned.

Thomas suggests to Poor Molesley that O’Brien will soon be vacating her job as Lady Grantham’s maid, in retribution for O’Brien’s dress shirt shenanigans. I want there to be a Downton spinoff, a sitcom called, “Oh, that Thomas!” imagesThe opening credits would be jaunty, with cuts of him looking cheeky and mischevous, sneaking out of cupboards and whatnot interspersed with O’Brien looking annoyed and/or cunning and Carson looking vexed. The end of the opening song would end with a female chorus chiming, “Thom-as!”

The upstairs folk talk in the library about putting Downton on the market and taking over a smaller adjacent property in the village. “Let’s take a picnic to Downton Place!” chirps Cora. Poor Molesley wants to put forward a candidate for O’Brien’s spot; of course, none of the staff will have jobs soon! *sad British trombone*

Tension between Matt and mary about the Swire fortune. *yawn*

Lord Grantham and Cora talk about Edith’s upcoming marriage to the Crypt Keeper. Cora sees the bright side, natch, and LG gripes that she’s giving up her life to nurse a one-armed corpse old man.

Downstairs, Daisy is on a fishing expedition about Alfred’s attitude toward progressive, modern women. “That Eyebrows sure was forward, eh?” “Sure,” sez Alfred. “I liked that so modern. She said what she thought even though she was a woman.” “Maybe I should be more like Eyebrows,” says Daisy. In a conceit I am blatantly ripping off from my friend Pete, I give this scene 1 out of 5 Gloria Steinems. Image

Meanwhile, Carson pumps Mrs P for information on Mrs Hughes by suggesting that they lessen her workload. “Don’t say anything,” says Mrs P. I WONDER IF CARSON WILL SAY ANYTHING.

LG intimates to the Crypt Keeper that he ain’t so thrilled about the upcoming nuptials. The subsequent exchange between CK and Edith underscores their age difference. Edith exlains that she loves CK because of his disability, and that she intends to make caring for him her life’s work. I give this exchange half a Gloria Steinem.

The disgraced maid comes to Mrs Crawley’s Shoppe of Fallen Laydeez. Boring, for now. This storyline will obviously develop further, later, but forr now, whatevs.

Picnic time! But first Mary must shame Matt some more about the money, honey boo boo child. Carson hips Cora to the fact that Mrs Hughes is ill. UGH. This is like an unfunny Three’s Company episode.

Bates-gate continues apace. Anna pays off some fishwife who knew Vera. (For a split second I thought the fishwife was Judi Dench, but no such luck.) In the prison yard, a prisoner tips Bates that he’s due for a cell check and he needs to stay a step ahead of the guards because he’s being set up. The fishwife tells Anna that Vera was acting frightened and strange aheard of Bates’ final visit, that she was about to post a letter, and had just made a pastry (arsenic pie!) and was scrubbing her hands vigorously. Dun dun DUN! Fishwife heard the next day that Vera was dead, so she was sure it was Bates what dunnit.

At the Downton Place picnic, the family discusses how the new, smaller (but still palatial) home will only require eight servants and will be more economical. Violet reckons she’ll open a shop and trade in good manners and lively conversation. “You’ll do a roaring trade in minutes,” says Mrs Crawley, whose hat I LURHVE.

Back at DP, Carson confronts O’Brien about her imminent departure. Thomas escapes, having successfully sown discord betwee O’Brien and Poor Molesley. “You’re in the soup,” says Daisy somberly to Poor Molesley. “I wouldn’t be in her bad books for a gold clock.” Poor Molesley is gobsmacked. Oh, that Thomas!

ImageEdith gloats about her upcoming honeymoon to Italy. Violet advises her to go to bed so she won’t look tired and slutty on her wedding day. “I won’t sleep a wink,” says Edith. “Tonight or tomorrow,” Sybil says slyly, slurping tea. “Vulgarity is no substitute for wit,” chide Violet. “You started it,” smirks Sybil. I give this scene two Gloria Steinems.

Meanwhile, Mary took it upon herself to read the letter from Reggie Swire that Matthew got from his lawyer. Turns out, Lavinia had written a letter to her father from her deathbed, letting him know that Matthew had been willing to marry her even though he didn’t love her. Regardless of that fact, Reggie wanted Matthew to be his heir because deus ex machina. Matthew refuses to believe that Lavinia wrote any such letter, and Mary refuses to believe that her husband is such a drama mama. As such, she goes downstairs to see if any of the help had mailed Lavinia’s letter for her (recall that Lavinia died at Downton). No one knows anything, but WAIT! Daisy comes in and is all, oh, “I mailed that letter. Me and Lavinia were tight.”

People are heading out for the wedding, and Carson is being particularly, obviously solicitous of Mrs. Hughes. “I wish people wait to find out if I’m dying before boxing me up!” she cranks.

Edith looks very pretty in her wedding dress. “All of us married, all of us happy, and the first baby on the way,” she coos. “I know, let’s preserve this AUSPICIOUS DAY via the Imagephotographer!!! WE’RE ALL SO EFFING HAPPY, RIGHT?? RIGHT?!?!!?” Meanwhile, the Crypt Keeper is at the altar looking like, well, he’s “waiting for a beating from the headmaster,” says Violet. Edith walks down the aisle and adorably greets the Crypt Keeper with a breathy, “good afternoon!” “Good afternoon, my sweet one,” creak the Crypt Keeper’s jawbones.

We all know where this is going. The Crypt Keeper peaces out, knowing that marrying Edith is, as we say in our house, a “bad choice.” Edith leaves, weeping, and later, when Cora, Mary, and Sibyl enter her room to console her, we see that marrying the Crypt Keeper wasn’t really about loving him, but about having internalized the marriage plot, so to speak. “Look at them,” she sobs through her tears, her hair askew. “With their husbands! Sibyl pregnant, Mary probably pregnant! Go! Get out!” I give this scene negative one million Gloria Steinems.

I’ll just leave this here.

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LG goes for a walk while the house staff unroll the carpet and replace the furniture. Matthew catches up with him and lets him know that he’s going to save Downton with the Swire fortune because of course. Bro hugs!

At dinner, Matthew wonders how to help Edith. “You can help her by giving her something to do,” says his mother. Cue thoughtful looks.

Downstairs, Daisy and Anna are having a talk about women’s role in society. Daisy wonders whether women should be able to speak their minds about romance and stuff. Anna reckons that the times, they are a’ changin’, and the vote won’t be long now, so they might as well get used to the wimmins and their infernal mouths, but Anna, we learn, is a bona fide Rules girl and warns Daisy that boys don’t like to be courted. (Cue Alfred popping in and snitching something crunchy and delicious.) (He really is adorable. What’s not to love about a too-tall ginger?)

Upstairs, Edith has decided to embrace her role as a spinster, and spinsters get up for breakfast. So, I think what I’m picking up here is that, in some ways, feminism and equality is more of a reality for the downstairs women because they aren’t quite as

Imagebeholden to the rigid social structures imposed upon the upstairs women? Am I understanding that right? I think I will award myself a Gloria Steinem in a bunny suit.

Mrs. Hughes and Mrs. P go to the village to learn the test results. A grim-looking nurse escorts Mrs. Hughes in to meet her doom, who prefers to go in without her buddy.

O’Brien swears to Thomas that she will have her revenge, one way or the other.

Mrs. Hughes doesn’t have cancer. Carson is happy and sings. The end.

Smitten Saturdays: Slow Cooker Black Bean Ragout


This will be a very quick post because I am in the thick of finalizing (read: writing practically from scratch) four course syllabi for the spring semester, which starts on Monday.

(Side note: I am terrified by how much preparation a couple of these courses I’m teaching will require. I will definitely not be getting paid enough for my services this semester.)

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This week’s recipe is the Slow Cooker Black Bean Ragout (p. 137). I didn’t make the spaghetti squash and black bean tacos as anticipated because I just couldn’t do that to my family. But I loved this recipe (beans in a slow cooker? What’s not to love?). The spices were perfectly balanced and the beans tender and not at all mushy. Maybe an entire large onion was unnecessary; I’d probably go with a smaller one next time.

I served these beans with taco fixings, even though my husband and I were the only ones who ate them (when the Big Kid complained about the beans having onions, my husband said, “well, I don’t even like beans,” which was news to me). This means that I’ve got several servings of black bean ragout for my lunches this upcoming week (I’ll freeze them and space them out over the next few weeks for everyone’s sake), and that’s totally okay. I’ve got a heap of corn tortillas (and a neglected spaghetti squash) and a busy schedule ripe for a grab-and-go lunch. Some lettuce, a little dab of guac and sour cream, plus some sliced olives and jalapenos added to the beans make for a healthed-up (read: no fried, edible bowl) taco salad. Or you can just heat up the beans and eat them with a hunk of multigrain bread for a wholesome peasant’s meal. Black bean ragout: Versatile!

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Next time: Baked Potato Crisps with the Works (p. 296), which will a dry run for a potential contribution to Sally and Chad’s annual Super Bowl commercial-watching potluck!

Downton Abbey Recap!


As part of my “write every day” project, I’ve decided to recap Season 3 of Downton Abbey. Won’t you watch and read along?

Laura Linney is way too excited to be introducing the two-hour season premiere of Downton Abbey. “We have been waiting for news about them ever since Matthew and Mary kissed under the stars in 1920.” Yes, we have been waiting 82 years and change to see what happened to them. Linney gushes on, “Tonight, we come back to the spellbinding magic of Downton Abbey.” Spellbinding magic? Who writes this crap?

Aaaaaand, here we go. DOG BUTT!!

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We open in the church, where the Crawleys are rehearsing for Mary and Matthew’s wedding. For exposition’s sake, we learn that Sybil and Branson aren’t coming to the wedding because they’re skint, but Lord Grantham is cool with that because it is quite a scandal in the county that Lady Sybil has eloped to Ireland with the help. “What’s the big deal?” wonders Matthew’s mom, Isobel. “These country folk don’t have much to get excited about, Mom, so yeah, it’s a big deal when the earl’s daughter runs off with the chauffeur,” explains Matthew. “Well, they’re just going to have to get used to it,” says she. Truth.

Cut to Downton Abbey. Downstairs, Carson thinks that Mrs. Patmore has made a perfectly satisfying treacle tart. O’Brien looks sour (so, the more things change…). The servants are discussing the fact that Anna is preparing the Bates house to rent out, and Thomas thinks that it’s stupid that it hadn’t been seized when Bates was convicted. Carson gets all uppity, as you do when you’re Carson, and says, “in this house, Mr. Bates is a wronged man seeking justice, and if you don’t like it, you can eat in the yard.” OH SNAP.

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“The family must never be a topic of conversation.” Image by toadbriar

Cut to Matthew’s house. Cora and Violet are explaining to Isobel why it’s better that Sybil and Branson aren’t returning for Mary’s wedding. “The family must never be a topic of conversation,” explains Violet, even though she doesn’t agree with Lord Grantham’s opinion that they should stay away. “If we can show the county that he can behave normally, they will lose interest in him. And I shall make sure he behaves normally because I shall hold his hand on the radiator until he does.” Hee hee! Violet, you’re so saucy. Isobel thinks Branson is an interesting addition to the family and reckons she’ll send them the money to attend the wedding. “Hell to the no!” says Cora. “It is forbidden by our Lord Grantham!!! He’ll be furious and eat our faces!”

Cut to Lord Grantham on the phone. Something’s up and he’s off to London first thing. Mary is concerned. [Lord, the way they splice together these episodes for broadcast in the States makes me feel like I am being forcefed ADHD. We are not all imbeciles over here, BBC! You don’t have to cram everything together and make it like the Fast and the Furious!] Downstairs, Anna and Mrs. Hughes have returned from London. O’Brien is sat in the same spot she was at lunch, still looking dour. (Is that what she does all day, sit at the table sourly? I do that for free. I didn’t know that could be a paid gig.) Carson is short a footman (RIP William), and O’Brien interjects hopefully that she’s had a letter from her sister inquiring after a job for her son. Carson interrupts with, “We are about to host a society wedding, I have no time for training young hobbledehoys. [Bell rings.] Her ladyship is ringing.” Cut to Cora’s room, where we see that O’Brien has gone behind Daddy’s back and asked Mommy for what she wants instead. Lord Grantham enters and Cora says, hey, we need a footman, O’Brien has a candidate, and because he’s distracted, Lord Grantham’s all, whatevs. I’m headed to London in the morning.

Cut to the Prison of Grayness. Anna has found an address book of Vera’s, blah blah boringcakes. Anna and Bates want to prove that Vera committed suicide so that he can be exonerated and they can go back to their footloose and fancy-free lives waiting on the aristocracy. That is all I will say about Anna and Bates in this recap.

Lord Grantham arrives in London and learns that he invested … and lost … nearly all his money in Canadian railways. Downton is in danger of being lost! Oh noes!

Poor Molesley askes Matthew whether they’ll be living in the Big House after the honeymoon, then gets his hopes of being Matthew’s valet after the marriage dashed when Matthew explains that he’d always thought of him as a butler helping out as a valet. Poor Molesley. That’s got to hurt coming from the guy who was too above accepting help from Molesley either as a butler or a valet when he first arrived at Downton. I’m not sure how these relationships work, but it seems like a particular insult to Poor Molesley when Matthew tells him that he’d rather live more simply and leave the servants to his mother. Ouch.

Lord Grantham is chagrined to learn that Carson’s hired a new footman. O’Brien’s extremely tall nephew, Alfred. “None more shall pass!” he screams. “Turn off those lights! Close the door, are we air conditioning the whole neighborhood?! DO YOU PEOPLE THINK MONEY GROWS ON TREES?!?!?!!!”

At dinner, Alfred bends over in half to serve Violet some potatoes. “Are you really that tall? I thought you might be walking on stilts.” We learn that Alfred’s got a bit of a learning curve transitioning from a hotel to the private dining rooms of the aristocracy, not realizing that in this context, the diners prefer to serve themselves from the dish he’s holding. Bless. And Isobel is so kind about it. I just love her and her gracious efforts to humanize the servants, even though it is a bit less subtle than the way Violet and her kin do it. In this same scene, we learn what’s at stake if Lord Grantham loses Downton: the village depends on the estate for employment. “An aristocrat with no servants is about as much use to the county as a glass hammer,” quips Violet. Lord Grantham goes a bit green around the gills.

Another hasty edit shows a car pulling up and a (supposedly pregnant) Sybil gets out, rushes to Lord Grantham and says, “please tell me you sent us the money.” “What money?” he grumps. “DID SOMEONE SEND THESE PEOPLE MONEY?!?! WHAT DID I TELL YOU?!?!?!” Face eating commences. (Not really; Cora makes a sweet gesture in welcoming Tom to Downton, Carson gives him the cold shoulder, etc.)

At Crawley house, Matthew explains to Isobel that he may be the heir to Lavinia Swire’s father’s fortune (“a huge amount” of money). He’s third in line, the first guy’s dead, and they can’t find the second candidate because he’s conveniently disappeared in India (as one does). I WONDER WHERE THIS STORYLINE WILL GO.

At dinner, the family and servants torment Branson by asking about whether he owns a morning coat (why the hell would he own a morning coat? Last I checked, most journalists, especially those from a working-class background, don’t have much need for extremely formal wear, and Mary, you turd, why do you think he would be able to afford to buy a “Downton wardrobe” to have on hand for the rare occasions they travel to England? THEY COULDN’T EVEN AFFORD TO MAKE THIS TRIP!!!! I like Mary, but the willful, classist ignorance she displays in this scene is infuriating, if only because it’s wildly insensitive to Sybil). Meanwhile, Carson holds the serving platter too high for Branson to serve himself. Ugh. This whole scene is just nasty. Branson goes downstairs to pay his respects to his former coworkers: Mrs. Hughes and Anna are gracious, Carson is imperious and, after Branson exits, is incensed that he had the nerve to refer to Mary by her name. “He’d better learn to play by their rules.”

Matthew and Mary discuss whether he will keep the Swire fortune if he is indeed the heir. This is really already a tired source of conflict for these two. Meanwhile, Lord Grantham reveals to Cora that her entire fortune has been lost and breaks down crying. “Don’t worry about me, I’m an American. Have gun, will travel,” she says soothingly, even though that might be more confusing than comforting.

Cut to village, with Matthew coming upon Branson exiting the local pub, where he’s checked in because he feels too alienated to stay in the house. Matthew convinces him to come back to the Big House because “we’re brothers-in-law with high-minded wives. We’ve got to stick together.” I sort of love this alliance, and I hope that the writers show more of this relationship over the course of the season.

It’s night and the Granthams are enjoying cocktails. Matthew’s best man has fallen ill. I WONDER WHOM HE WILL ASK TO REPLACE HIM? Branson is chatting with young Gray, whom Sir Anthony the Ancient observes slipping something into Branson’s drink that makes him belligerent at dinner. “Mr. Gray has given my brother-in-law something to make him appear drunk,” announces Mary, the sharpest mind in the room. “Is it drink?” murmurs Violet, who wins this scene. Quite frankly, this whole scene is ridiculous and I feel embarrassed for everyone involved (apart from Violet’s obligatory zinger). Of course, this provides ample opportunity for Matthew to announce that he wants Branson to be his best man. I mean, I love their burgeoning bromance, but this scene sucks. The following scene in which Violet and Isobel force Branson into a morning coat, despite his opinion that it is “the uniform of oppression.” Now this scene is a charming reminder that both Branson and Matthew, even as a team, are no match for The Grantham Rules.

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Back at the Abbey, Shirley Maclaine arrives in an astonishingly gorgeous and modern gold-and-black fur-trimmed overcoat and coordinating hat. I read in Entertainment Weekly that the way Mrs. Levinson is dressed signals that she looks to the future, which, unfortunately, the script reminds us again and again and again and again. Conversely, the way Violet dresses signals that she adheres to tradition and the past, which the script reminds us again and again and again and again. I wish the writers of this show would give its viewers a bit more credit in terms of things like semiotics and critical thinking. But that’s not what soaps do, I reckon. (She’s also brought Eyebrows the Maid with her, who is nearly as uppity as she is.)

(Speaking of costumes, as a middle-aged lady with a spare tire, I am extremely glad that the dropped-waist style of the ‘20s is not in favor these days. This show reiterates that only the willowiest among us can pull off that look.)

Matthew and Mary quarrel over the fact that he refuses to accept the Swire fortune, even though it would save Downton. Super melodramatic. Meanwhile, Violet and Mrs. Levinson greet each other, Mrs. Levinson saying, “The war has made old women of us both!” “Oh, not me,” says Violet. “I stay out of the sun.” This is a joke that gets carried through until they suck all the joy out of it.

Branson goes to talk Matthew into reconciling with Mary. They say something along the lines of “Blah, blee, bloo, blah, blah, bloobity, blah, bloop, remember?” and kiss with their eyes closed (because seeing each other before the wedding would be bad luck). EXCEPT MARY TOTALLY OPENS HER EYES, YOU GUYS. I WONDER IF THAT WILL COME BACK TO BITE HER IN HER TINY BUTT!!

Mary-and-Matthew-Crawley-Wedding-downton-abbey-32428302-3000-2000

Wedding day! I was intrigued by the three little girls Mrs. Hughes and O’Brien were escorting to the car (Hughes being her sweet and nurturing self, O’Brien barking, “Settle down!”). Are they village girls? Was that a thing? Anyhoo, Mary looks skinny and sort of dull in her wedding finery. Despite this, both Lord Grantham and Carson are awestruck as she walks down. The composition of this shot is quite interesting, because Carson is in the center of the screen, while Lord Grantham is in the left third. When the shot is on the two men, the eye is drawn to Carson, which I think privileges his emotional reaction and therefore his relationship with Mary, rather than that between father and daughter. It’s not been a secret that Mary and Carson are close, but so are Mary and Lord Grantham. I almost think that this places Carson and Lord Grantham on equal footing as far as Mary is concerned.

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Mary rides through town as the villagers cheer. There is super-cute bunting in the trees. I love bunting. Mary walks down the aisle, she and Matthew engage in murmured repartee and … that’s it. The end of the wedding scene. THE HELL?!?!?! This is the moment that the series has been building up to and WE DON’T EVEN GET TO SEE THE DAMN WEDDING?!?!?!! Surely there was more of this scene in the UK broadcast. This is just unforgivable.

Cut to Chapter 5, Matthew and Mary return from honeymoon in a flash car. “How was the honeymoon?” asks Lord Grantham. “My eyes have been opened,” murmurs Matthew. “Don’t I know it,” replies Grantham. EW EW EW EW EW EW EW.

At dinner, Mrs. Levinson hoovers dessert while everyone else waits; she natters on about how she loves the sun (“That we can see,” cats Violet, then suggesting under her breath to her son that “no guest should be admitted without their date of departure set.”). Downstairs, Edgar reports that not only did Mrs. Levinson eat the offal Mrs. Patmore prepared, that he reckoned she’d eat anything set before her. “What a gob,” he exclaims, before realizing that Eyebrows is right behind him. (People are always being caught out talking smack about the person — or their representative — who just happens to be walking up behind them.) Meanwhile, Daisy alerts Mrs. Patmore to the fact that the oven is malfunctioning. “It’s a bad workman who blames his tools,” clucks Mrs. P. Which makes this the second time in a week I’ve heard this expression (the other time was on the TWoP boards in re: Top Chef). Mrs. Hughes pops in and asks Mrs. P to spare a moment for her.

Word is beginning to spread among the family that the estate is in trouble. “If only we had some coal or iron or tin,” laments Violet. “Well, I can think of someone who has plenty of tin,” says Mary, giving the hairy eyeball to her American grandmother Levinson. And thus commences the campaign of the two ladies Grantham to convince Mrs. Levinson to fork over more cash for Downton. Bo-ring.

Back downstairs, we see that Mrs. Patmore has just confirmed that Mrs. Hughes has a lump in her breast. Mrs. P informs her friend that it must be seen to and that she won’t be alone if she doesn’t want to be. “And then this expense,” sniffles Mrs. Hughes. “Well, if you’re going to pay money, better to a doctor than an undertaker,” is Mrs. P’s totally endearing and pragmatic answer. I just love my Mrs. P., and it’s when the show portrays friendships like this that it truly shines.

Blah blahblah Edith and Sir Anthony the Ancient, and blah blah blah Anna and Bates. Here is Edith with googly eyes:

googlyeyes

Matthew discovers that Edgar has accidentally burned a hole in his tails, which means he’ll wear a less formal jacket to dinner. I only mention this because it becomes a joke later. Mr. Carson fusses at Mrs. Hughes, who is grappling with her own mortality, and tells her to pull her weight, woman!

I’ve gotta say, apart from the Mrs. Hughes storyline, this part of the premiere is kinda dull. Mary and Violet are planning an extravagant dinner (“Nothing succeeds like excess,” says Violet) to prove to Mrs. Levinson that Downton is important and worth saving, and the narratives will all converge on this event: O’Brien takes revenge on Thomas by stealing Lord Grantham’s dress shirts, Matthew’s tails don’t return from London in time for the big dinner, and the failing stove gives out completely on the night of the dinner, leaving the party with no food. Both Matthew and Lord Grantham are forced to wear black tie instead of white tie, and Mrs. Levinson saves the party by throwing a picnic! In the house! Because she is PROGRESSIVE!!!

Meanwhile, Mrs. Hughes’ test on the the cyst are inconclusive, Eyebrows and Alfred steal a kiss, and Edith is thrown over and then reconciled with Sir Anthony the Ancient. Mrs. Levinson, who is PROGRESSIVE AND FORWARD-LOOKING informs Mary and Violet that she can’t touch the capital of her late husband’s money, but that these large houses like Downton are relics anyway. But Mary feels entitled to be the mistress of Downton Abbey, not Downton Lovely Craftsman Bungalow. Downsizing and belt-tightening are not in her cards, thankyouverymuch! An interesting line of inquiry for a show about the aristocracy, written in an era of austerity measures around the world.

Okay, that’s all the news that’s fit to print. What did I miss? What did you notice? I’d love to hear your thoughts/comments/responses/observations in the comments.

Foodie Field Trips, Denver Edition: Lucile’s Creole Cafe


Hello, and welcome to another edition of Foodie Field Trips! Today’s post is the first in a series of FFT posts dedicated to our summer trip to Denver, where we ate a lot of really good food guilt-free because when we weren’t eating, we were hiking our butts off!

While it’s no Houston or Chicago or New York or Los Angeles, Denver has a pretty interesting food scene. Its position in the landlocked Rockies in the middle of the West means that while there aren’t a ton of fresh seafood restaurants, there is a lovely cultural patchwork quilt of foodways. There are Native American restaurants, truly legit Mexican restaurants, Vietnamese places, and fantastic breweries and coffeeshops and bakeries (my friend Kelli swears by the Spring Fling cake at The Market). That said, the presence of major professional athletic teams means that there is also a preponderance of dude-bro sports bars trafficking in overpriced burgers and fries (in general, my rule of thumb is to avoid restaurants situated near Coors Field).

Today I want to talk about Lucile’s Creole Cafe, one of my longtime Denver/Boulder brunch favorites. (Full disclosure: I have never dined at Lucile’s for lunch. It’s only ever been a breakfast/brunch place for me.)

I was first introduced to Lucile’s when I was in graduate school on Boulder, when my friend Aaron took me there for breakfast one day. I was completely wowed by the delicious chicory coffee and the towering buttermilk biscuits that could, quite frankly, constitute an utterly satisfying breakfast, especially when slathered with butter and the housemade strawberry-rhubarb jam served in all-you-can-squirt squeeze bottles on the table.

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Helloooooo, gorgeous.

Now then, prices at Lucile’s are rather dear, but everything is a bit pricier in Denver than in Austin, where we live. There’s always a bit of sticker shock when we go up there and see that they’ve got no problem with asking $10 for Eggs Benedict. Then again, you get one of those massive biscuits with your meal, so there are some value-adds. I usually opt for Eggs Eisenhower, a very simple breakfast of eggs and homefries ($6.25; add bacon for another three bucks) which, if eaten around 10 or 11 in the morning, provides sufficient fuel for a few hours of hiking in Chautauqua or Flagstaff Mountain.

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Lucile’s is rather busy, especially of a weekend morning, so expect a wait when you go (this applies to the Boulder, Longmont, and Denver locations, and I assume the Ft. Collins location experiences similar traffic). While the Zydeco and jazz music and Mardis Gras beads hanging from every spare corner lend the restaurant a festive feel, the hectic pace means that you might not get as many coffee/tea/water refills you might hope for or expect from a calmer environment. Even though there are some frustrating elements to the Lucile’s experience, I can’t go to Colorado and NOT eat there. It’s just too ingrained in my experience of the place.

Next time: Pinche Tacos. The best margaritas in Denver or the best margaritas EVER?

The Cookbook Project: Artist Recipes


Hello, and welcome to another installment of The Cookbook Project! It was my intention, when I started this project back in September, to make this a twice-weekly series, but my teaching schedule made life pretty much catch-as-catch can. That said, now that it’s the new year and my teaching schedule involves a LOT less time spent shuttling between campuses on the extreme north and south ends of the city, I plan to post here more regularly, with fun new features in addition to this one.

So, in my last post about Sampler, I told y’all about the cookbook’s “starring artist,” LuAnn Barrow. The next few installments will center on the recipes themselves. The Table of Contents is divided into discrete categories: Artist Recipes, Appetizers, Beverages, Soups, and so on through every conceivable course through “Miscellaneous Desserts.” I have personally divided the Artist Recipes section into the following two categories: Legitimate (as in, “I can see myself making this”) and Jokey-Joke/WTF?!?

While I am tempted to start with the WTF?!? category, I think I’ll start with the Legitimate ones because I think they do some interesting work, the first being that they are pretty well gendered (all of the WTF?!? recipes were contributed by men) and they also reflect the food trends of the era.

Naccios

Let’s start with Gay Fay‘s recipe, the first in the book, for “Naccios,” an “Italo/Yuppie version of nachos,” which placed second in the Second Annual Pesto Cook-Off in Austin. A couple of tries with the Google machine yields no information about this alleged pesto cook-off, but those of you who were alive and cognizant of food trends 20-30 years ago will recall that pesto was HUGE in the yuppiefied ’80s and well into the ’90s, so it doesn’t surprise me that the same generation of Austinites responsible for SPAMARAMA also yielded a pesto cook-off. (These days we like to make pesto out of anything that stands still long enough to get tossed into the food processor; I reckon the pesto mentioned here is the bright-green, basil-pine nut-parmesan variety.)

Another recipe, “Autumn Soup,” contributed by Peggy Byars and which “loses no nerve when ‘too busy too cook’ times arrive,” calls for “brown bouquet sauce,” something I’ve not heard of before. Have you? It is apparently a sauce you use sparingly to add brown color to gravies and the like. Wikipedia tells me that bouquet sauce (Kitchen Bouquet) was advertising in the 1903 Boston Cooking School magazine (what’s up, Fanny Farmer!), so it’s been around for a good, long time. It’s also basically caramel coloring and sodium, so it’s no surprise that it has fallen out of favor by now. In fact, I can’t find any other recipes in this cookbook that calls for bouquet sauce (but I do see soy sauce and tamari creeping in), so it may have even been in very limited use by 1986. Side note: Byars describes herself as “coming of age” in her career in 1986, but I will reflect more on the artists’ biographies in a later entry.

Finally, I’d like to talk about “Chicken Paprika,” contributed by Annette Morris. This recipe stands out to me because of the “granny story” attached to it, providing a personal etymology of the recipe and tracing it through a matrilineal line.

chickenpaprika

I’m also intrigued and thrilled to see that the granny in question is described as “German-Texas,” because I’m guessing that, based on speculation on Ms. Morris’ age in 1986, her grandmother might have been a first- or second-generation German Texan. Unless, of course, this particular line of German-Texans arrived in 1830. Then she’d just be a regular old German-Texan. But the reason this thrills me is that I feel like so much of the discussion around ethnic Texan foodways centers primarily on the cultural influences of Mexico, leaving the Czech and German influences holed in their little Hill Country enclaves; does anyone beyond Central/Southeast Texas know about the Czechs and Germans in Texas? I know I never heard of, not to mention eaten a kolache until moving to Houston. Anyway, German-Texas grandmother. Yes. I am a bit befuddled by the connection to Syria, though, as it seems like this dish more closely resembles paprikash (all that cream and butter!) than any of the Syrian chicken dishes floating around out there. I’m also charmed by the fact that Morris shares the components/sides that make this the “perfect meal,” probably because I’m sort of obsessed with compiling all the “perfect meals” I’m able to pull off at my house (they are few and far between, trust).

On the whole, I see that many of the Legitimate recipes come with descriptions of feeding families, references to how successful a recipe is in terms of feeding a busy family (regardless of the sex/gender of the contributor), and even how the recipes fit into the artist’s/contributor’s sense of community (see: “Roberta’s Ratatouille,” which is described as the perfect dish for dinner party guests to contribute because “a pound of zucchini or a small onion or eggplant was not too much to ask of a friend,” particularly when feeding a passel of starving artists).

Up next: Chicken fried rattlesnake and bologna cups, or WTF?!? recipes that suggest a few artists might be poking fun at the audience for this particular cookbook.

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