Sunday, December 14, 2008

An old fashioned range supper.

I hope that if you haven't, you will take the time to read the post that follows this one -"Home for the Holidays". Here's hoping that all of you are enjoying this special time of year. Love - Brigid

GLAZED HAM DINNER - For Christmas - or just some of your favorite people.

Like my Mom, I enjoy cooking meals for friends and family. I especially enjoy digging out her old cookbooks, and those of my grandma, like the Settlement Cookbook (where instructions to cook the chicken dinner, start with actually catching and killing the chicken). The great length and detail to which these meals were crafted then was mind boggling.

But if a loved one stops by while in the area, I can still put one together. No one ever "taught" me to cook. I just watched.

It starts with a 5 pound smoked, bone-in, ham, covered with a thin layer of orange sauce. The meat thermometer is vital (this one here just in briefly for a photo op) for all large cuts of meat. It was my Mom's and is probably 40 years old. Wrapped in foil it's going to cook at a low temperature (300 for about 2 and a half hours).

To accompany the meat, fresh green beans, and homemade cornbread stuffing baked in a casserole, full of sage and caramelized onions and yeast rolls. And of course garlic mashed potatoes. While the potatoes are cooking I'll check the temperature of the ham and baste it with more orange sauce.

Then time to smash - roasted Yukon golds, roasted garlic, caramelized onions and some sour cream and parsley. OK. . where's the smasher?

The bun warmer is identical to the one we had when I was a kid that I found at Vermont Country Store. The rolls are baked earlier in the day, then heated gently in the bun warmer.

Everything is ready.

The table is set. The wine is poured.

I think Mom and Grandma would approve.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

A Letter to my Representative

I'm increasingly appalled by where the dollars in the 700 billion dollar bailout appear to be going. This is my best recollection of what I said in a letter to my state representatives in Congress. Not sure if it was heard then. I certainly hope, with the auto bailout vote looming, that lots of people have written of their displeasure.


I ask, as a responsible homeowner, that you do not follow in the footsteps of Democratic senators and endorse additional bailout of the sub prime mess with tax dollars. As I write this, you are being asked to support using part of the seven hundred billion dollar federal bailout, which so far appears to be in excess of the entire cost of World War II (adjusted for inflation), to subsidize poor business decisions, deliberate risk taking and greed. Subsidize it with MY tax dollars.

The proposal to, among other things, bail out people in foreclosure, many of whom were sub prime borrowers, may seem humane on the surface, but it's wrong. And those begging for the bailout are saying we should do it for reasons like this:

KEITH ERNST(D) - Senior Policy Adviser - Center for Responsible Lending : "These are families who, in many instances, this house is their primary asset. It’s how they’re holding their wealth. It’s their nest egg for retirement. And those homes are a just tremendous jeopardy right now, and largely this is because of the shoddy underwriting that’s taken place in the sub prime market in recent years and these so-called mortgage resets, where a borrower’s interest rate could go from 8% to as high as 12% just two years into their mortgage. And this results in a payment increase of 30% to 40% on their mortgage."

You don't need a degree in economics to see the lunacy in this statement. He goes on to state that "1.4 million of these threatened sub prime homes are the owner's FIRST home purchase". Then he stated we should bail them out as it's their "primary asset". Most of those people bought those new homes with NO down payment. With no down payment and no principal being paid, they have no assets. They are paying the equivalent of rent for a home in which they have no equity. Even if the home is refinanced through this plan, it would be, in most markets, worth tens of thousands of dollars less than they owe on it. For a house to be a "primary asset", don't you have to have equity in it, or a reasonable chance to build some? The sentiment is humane, but the reasoning is flawed.

Certainly one would wish to help people who bought wisely, now in foreclosure due to their jobs being lost. But I ask that do not use my tax dollars to bail out greed and avarice, either in housing markets or banking and other industries that perpetuated their own situation with their own avowed practices.

Let's give an example.
For this I quote higher incomes, ones that some elected officials term "rich", if one is single. They are used for example only, $100,00 being easy to do the math on. Yet, cut the income quoted and home prices purchased in half, or by two-thirds, and the example remains true.

A person with an income of $100,000, whom I will call Brenda Doe, bought a smaller, older 3 bedroom, two bath home, priced at much less than the areas average house cost of $200,000. She put more than 15% down and financed the remainder at an interest rate of 6.4 percent with her good credit, with a fixed rate loan. Her monthly payment, including escrow for property tax and insurance, is around $1500 a month. That is about 30 percent of her take home pay after retirement contributions, leaving enough for repairs, food, transportation, small emergencies and student loans. This is her first home, bought after saving for years while living in a small apartment.

Then there is Mary Doe, who is older, single with no children, and has an income of $100,000 as well. Mary went from her rental condo that she could afford, and opted for an opulent, five bedroom, four bath, 3,500 square foot, $400,000 McMansion in the same geographic area as Brenda Doe. Mary put just 5% down and financed the rest with a 2/28 ARM. This loan allowed her to pay a low (for her less than great credit score, she admitted) interest rate during the two year introductory period. After that, the full amount of the loan would be recalculated over the remaining 28 years with a new rate.

Her initial low interest, first two year rate of 7%, with a property tax of 1.25 percent and a PMI of .5, resulted in house payment of $3244. That's almost 60% of her take home pay. But Mary hoped (I prefer the word gambled) that the market would boom along with her home value, that she indeed she would get the promotion and raise that had been hinted at, or even that she'd get married and have someone to share the expense in that two years.
Of course, that adjustable rate mortgage "adjusted" (hence the name) in two years and also had a balloon payment attached,wherein when the remainder of the loan is due after the introductory period in one lump sum.

Mary planned on refinancing at this point, but that didn't quite work out. By living in a house she couldn't afford on one income and using her credit cards to buy necessary items, with the house debt on the books as well, her credit score diminished greatly. Mary was still single and her promotion never came through as her company cut back and even laid off some folks. With that, and other market factors, financing wasn't an option. At the end of the two years, her interest rate jumped to 11% and her monthly interest payment to $4392 and she went into foreclosure. Homes in Brenda Doe's neighborhood are selling, slowly, and at a loss for the owner. But they are selling, as they are still in reach for people coming into the area with equity to get financing. Homes in Mary's neighborhood are sitting vacant in large numbers.

Luckily for Mary, the government, with your vote as our elected official, is proposing stepping in and providing billions of taxpayer dollars to restructure her loan, such as getting her lender to reduce her interest rate to 3% for five years, deferred payment on $100,000 of the balance and extending the length of the loan to 40 years, all with the help of one of the new, government-backed rescue programs which will help her and protect some of the losses of the predatory lenders. That will reduce her monthly mortgage bill. with taxes. to $1,511, about what Brenda Doe is still paying for an older, much, much smaller home in the same area.

Mary will essentially be able to hang on to her palatial home with the help of Brenda's and others tax dollars. As important as some of you may say that it is to the larger economy, it's hard to argue that it's fair, or even smart.

Yes, some borrowers were taken advantage of by predator lenders; good people trying to get ahead and provide for their families. Some bought homes they could afford and then lost jobs or had divorce, death, or serious illness of a family member enter their life. For those individuals, I would wish that there was some help. Extending unemployment benefits is one step. Bringing back tech and manufacturing jobs shipped overseas would also make more of a difference than giving an out of work stockbroker or IT specialist a shovel and pointing him or her at a road that needs repair.

I have been unemployed, more than once, due to corporate bankruptcy. I've been there and I had to sell my house or downsize and rent a smaller place. But I never expected the government to bail me out. Nor do I wish the government to bail anyone else out with our money. Yes . . . . ours . For it's not the government's money, it's ours, the American taxpayers. It should not go to bail out poor decision making, gambling on the market or greed. Publilius Syrun, a Roman author of 1st century, BC said it better than I -"Poverty wants much; but avarice, everything
No one bailed out those who bought tech stock in the late 90's. No one bailed out the gambler who took the money he needed for next months bills and went to Vegas and promptly lost it. People take risks with their money. Some turn a tidy profit, many more lose their shirts. Bailing them out to the tune of billions of dollars of taxpayer money is not the answer.

The best way to have market based corrections to our housing market is to allow those who made poor decisions on either end to take their losses and let the market recover, thus sending a message to corporate America. A message that says "get greedy or provide less than competitive services, and we will NOT bail you out". The housing bubble was bad. My home has lost a great deal of value, and thus the equity I worked so hard to save for, is gone. But one sure way to ensure bubble after bubble, be it real estate, insurance, cars, or other industry, is to institutionalize what someone at the Wall Street Journal wisely called "the one way bet".

It's not just about the economy. It's about greed. It's about living beyond our means, both as individuals and as a nation. This living beyond our means has been made possible by borrowing money we don't have, reducing current and future generations disposable incomes to heal something that has no immediate monetary band-aid. Heal it with resultant millions that will be unaccounted for, ending up in the personal pockets of those people who structured the problem in the first place.

Taking needed disposable income from working tax-paying American is simply throwing hard earned money at the very people and companies who should get as little as possible, thus structurally incorporating moral hazard to the long term economic debacle.

I'm not an economist. I'm not versed in banking or financing or real estate. What I AM is a taxpayer, who worked inordinately hard in school and life to get what little I possess, both in assets and earning power. I gained it through competitive hard work and honesty. As a taxpayer, the only economic stimulus that I would ask of you to uphold, as my elected representative, is to let the economy remain one of conscientious capitalism.

Dr. BD.

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Meme that wouldn't die. . . . . .

The batphone has rung so for tonight, a short post that I hope will make at least one or two of you smile. . . .

The meme going around. 100 things I've done. Those in bold, are it.

1. Started your own blog.

2. Slept under the stars.
3. Played in a band. (clarinet)
4. Visited Hawaii. (Not vacation, work trip.)
5. Watched a meteor shower.
6. Given more than you can afford to charity.
7. Been to Disneyland. (The old original one.)
8. Climbed a mountain. (well ,technical hike more than climb, Mt. Hood, much younger with better knees.)
9. Held a praying mantis. (What are you, nuts?. . the females eat entire cars and their boyfriends after mating.)
10. Sang a solo. (People will pay me not to.)
11. Bungee jumped.
12. Visited Paris. (Not for a holiday, a quick stop and go while going elsewhere.)
13. Watched a lightning storm at sea.
14. Taught yourself an art from scratch. (Does making brownies count as "art"?)
15. Adopted a child. (No, but was the birth mother of one.)
16. Had food poisoning. (All airport food tastes like chicken.)
17. Walked to the top of the Statue of Liberty.

18. Grown your own vegetables.
19. Seen the Mona Lisa in France.
20. Slept on an overnight train. (it's on the "bucket list")
21. Had a pillow fight. ( I'm the only girl in the family, think pillow massacre.)
22. Hitch hiked. (Not smart. . I know.)
23. Taken a sick day when you’re not ill. (I was sick of meetings, that counts.)
24. Built a snow fort.
25. Held a lamb. (They ARE tasty, though.)
26. Gone skinny dipping. (Is that like chunky dunking?)
27. Run a Marathon. (I did ride my bike 50 miles to raise money for diabetes once.)
28. Ridden in a gondola in Venice.
29. Seen a total eclipse.
30. Watched a sunrise or sunset.
31. Hit a home run. (But I caught a fly ball at an Texas League game once.)
32. Been on a cruise. (Ugh - no thanks.)
33. Seen Niagara Falls in person.
34. Visited the birthplace of your ancestors. (Scotland, I love it there.)
35. Seen an Amish community.
36. Taught yourself a new language.
37. Had enough money to be truly satisfied. (My needs are simple, friends, food, a fire, a dog, my guns and books)
38. Seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person.
39. Gone rock climbing.
40. Seen Michelangelo's David.
41. Sung karaoke. (Only once and it involved bourbon. I was in south Florida -the song I chose was Willy Nelson's "blue eyes crying in the rain", but I sang it as "blue hairs driving in my lane", or so I'm told.)
42. Seen Old Faithful geyser erupt.
43. Bought a stranger a meal at a restaurant.
44. Visited Africa.

45. Walked on a beach by moonlight.
46. Been transported in an ambulance. (Got life flighted once.)
47. Had your portrait painted.
48. Gone deep sea fishing. (With my Dad.)
49. Seen the Sistine Chapel in person.
50. Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
51. Gone scuba diving or snorkeling. (Snorkeling yes, and it was grand.)
52. Kissed in the rain.

53. Played in the mud.
54. Gone to a drive-in theater. (My Dad took us once when I was really little.)
55. Been in a movie.
56. Visited the Great Wall of China.
57. Started a business.
58. Taken a martial arts class.
59. Visited Russia. (Tonight's dinner menu - horse and cream!)
60. Served at a soup kitchen.
61. Sold Girl Scout Cookies.
62. Gone whale watching.
63. Got flowers for no reason. (There is ALWAYS a reason for flowers, it's just not always apparent,)
64. Donated blood, platelets or plasma. (I'm O negative, the universal donor, they like me to show up, I've been known to take bribes of extra Oreos to show up as I do not like needles in me,)
65. Gone sky diving.
66. Visited a Nazi Concentration Camp.
67. Bounced a check. (I was 17 but most of Congress has, what's one more,)
68. Flown in a helicopter.
69. Saved a favorite childhood toy.
70. Visited the Lincoln Memorial.
71. Eaten Caviar. (Ewwwww - bait!)
72. Pieced a quilt.
73. Stood in Times Square. (Not without my concealed carry I won't,)
74. Toured the Everglades. (It would have been more fun if I'd got to drive the airboat.)
75. Been fired from a job. (I was 18, it involved wearing an elf costume, Santa and the mall, don't ask,)
76. Seen the Changing of the Guards in London. (Saw the guards, didn't have the patience for the change,)
77. Broken a bone. (Arm twice, rib, nose and fingers.)
78. Been on a speeding motorcycle.
79. Seen the Grand Canyon in person.
80. Published a book.
81. Visited the Vatican.
82. Bought a brand new car. (Jeep years ago.)
83. Walked in Jerusalem. (No, I'm all for history but I prefer outdoor cafes without exploding things on the menu.)
84. Had your picture in the newspaper
85. Read the entire Bible. (Most of it, but not all.)
86. Visited the White House. (Got invited to the last two inaugurations but wimped out because I'd have to get all dressed up - doubt I'll see an invite to this one.)
87. Killed and prepared an animal for eating. (Thanksgiving 2000, 19 pound jake.)
88. Had chickenpox.
89. Saved someone’s life. (Not directly.)
90. Sat on a jury. (Got called once but given my job, I was disqualified.)
91. Met someone famous. (Wasn't impressed.)
92. Joined a book club.
93. Lost a loved one.
94. Had a baby.
95. Seen the Alamo in person. (It's wedged between these two giant buildings, sort of sad to look at.)
96. Swam in the Great Salt Lake. (Remember The Far Side "Slug Family Disasters!")
97. Been involved in a law suit. (Only as a witness for one side - I do that a lot.)
98. Owned a cell phone.
99. Been stung by a bee. (African or European?)
100. Read an entire book in one day. (Usually Robert Parker, they're one day books but I enjoy them.)

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Maple Bacon Gravy

Serves three to four: (pictured over mashed potatoes and peppered tenderloin)

You will need:
maple syrup
7 large pieces of bacon
chicken broth
Penzey's Mitchell Street Seasoning or Old Bay
crushed red pepper
olive oil (may not be required)
Parsley for garnish (optional)

For ease of assembly:

In one coffee mug place 1/4 cup chicken broth

In a second coffee mug place 1 cup plus 1 Tablespoon milk as well as  1 Tablespoon plus 1 and 1/2 teaspoons pure maple syrup. (note 1 and 1/2 tsp is 1/2 Tablespoon)

In a third coffee mug place 1 Tablespoon plus 1 and 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch, mixed well with 1/4 cup milk, 1/8 teaspoon Penzey's Mitchell Street Steak Seasoning (Old Bay is a close equivalent of spicy and savory) a pinch of crushed red pepper, and a small dash of salt and pepper.

Fry up about 7 pieces of Amish or thick cut bacon. (The Amish bacon, if you can find it, is generally less fatty, and fries up in thicker, bigger pieces).

Remove bacon to a paper towel to drain, and roughly chop into small pieces, set aside..

In your fry pan, pour off all but 3 tablespoons of bacon grease (if you can't eyeball it, pour off to measure but leave the browned bits in the pan).

If you have less than 3 Tablespoons of bacon drippings, add olive oil to bring it up to that amount.

Add chicken broth to the 3 T. of hot bacon drippings/oil in pan, lowering heat slightly so it doesn't spatter and whisk to deglaze the pan, stirring up the little brown bacon bits. Add the cup of milk/maple syrup mixture from the second coffee mug , whisking frequently over medium heat , just until it comes to a boil.  Reduce heat just slightly to maintain a simmer, and SLOWLY stream in the cornstarch/milk/spice mixture, whisking constantly, and continue to whisk as it bubbles at a simmer for about 7-8 minutes, until thickened. Add another Tablespoon of milk if you wish thinner gravy,

 Add bacon in, stirring to heat bacon and then SERVE IMMEDIATELY. 

Great on chops, tenderloin, chicken, waffles, biscuits.