All Things Chocolate

Could you pass up a meeting like this? I couldn’t. Here’s where many sisters and misters from NorCal Sisters in Crime gathered last weekend:

Chocolate Seminar: Examining the myths, the realities, and the fantasies, as well as the usual suspects.

Tantalizing tastes presented by Janet Rudolph and Frank Price.

Frank Price, earning the title Chocolate Historian. Janet Rudolph is seated, far right.

Part One, just to make it clear that this was a crime writers meeting, Janet Rudolph gave expert advice on killing with chocolate, even providing a list of mysteries where chocolate is death, or at least a prime suspect. Here’s the Dying for Chocolate list — dozens of novels for your reading pleasure.

Tasters

Part Two, the lesson, from Frank Price. Chocolate is one of those nutritional pleasures that has become a part of the fabric of life for many. Chocolate is a finite resource subject to the pressures of weather, insects, over-cultivation, and political forces. At one time, worldwide, there were only a few companies who were “bean to bar.”  Now the number of “bean to bar” companies is growing as is the geographical, political, and manufacturing forces. And the ever-changing weather has caused the sourcing and manufacturing processes to become more intense and more complicated.

Consumers are becoming more demanding. Production techniques are more refined. Manufacturers are researching many different techniques to create a demarcation for their brand. Industry-wide experts guess that the supply of chocolate will be ever changing and the price for the basic bean will fluctuate in the global economy. At the same time that new manufacturers are popping up, there are many larger companies who are trying to add small artisanal brands to their portfolio so that they can launch products, packaging, and advertisement to fill various consumer niches from the everyday chocolate snacker to a more sophisticated palate, and to the baker, confectionary artist and restaurateur.

Part Three, when the fun (eating) began. We were treated to six different taste samples. (You can have your wine tasting; this is my wheelhouse)(although, port was provided for those who chose).
The samples: The presenters started us off with a 33% cacao milk chocolate, followed by darker pieces, up to 73%. Assembled tasters were asked to rank our favorites — the hands raised for each of the six samples followed a bell curve! Isn’t math great?

High School? Who remembers?

In June I attended my college reunion in Boston. (Too scary to say which one!)

But I will report on one of the conversations, the one that brought us back to high school.

Who thought that was a good idea? you ask. Probably someone who was Prom King. Or Head Cheerleader. Not me. But there were some good things about my time at RHS in Revere Massachusetts.

The old Revere High School

1. Miss Wiley. A math teacher who singled me out, with a few boys, for a special after school class in solid geometry. No one even bothers with that anymore; freshmen are too busy learning calculus already. But at the time, a century ago, solid geometry was considered “advanced math.” I often think of Miss Wiley, who must have had her own math education in the 1940s, without much feminine company. No wonder she decided to include a girl in the group. Lucky me.

2. Miss Mafera. An Italian teacher who stayed with us for 4 years, guiding us through L’Inferno of La Commedia in our senior year. We were oblivious to the fact that not every 16-year-old in a public school read Dante in the original. Later, in college, I had to read a translation whether I liked it or not.

3. Uncool Kids. Can you say cliques? At the time, I thought I wasn’t in one—the Cool Kids didn’t talk to me, wouldn’t have lunch with me, didn’t invite me to their parties.

Later I realized, I was simply in another clique—the Uncool Kids. There were enough of us, so I can’t say I was sorry being left out of the beer parties on the beach. (We went bowling. How Uncool can you get?)

Here’s a photo of me (center) with some of the Uncool Kids.

Champion bowlers

I’m sad to report that one of my best friends (far left) died 5 years ago. We stayed close over many decades. The leftmost guy, who wanted to be a doctor, died very young. I still get holiday cards from the middle guy. I wish I knew where the others in the photo are. If you’re reading this, please let me know.

LOW DOWN DIRTY VOTE

It’s still July, so I still have my red, white, and blue “things” around the house. That’s my also my excuse for repurposing a Fourth of July blog, which is also a voting blog.

Here it is.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt lived down the street from us in Revere, Massachusetts. He was the best friend our family had. Or so I thought growing up in the early 1940s.

“Roosevelt gave me this job,” my father would say, tapping a small brown envelope of cash, his week’s wages.

“If it weren’t for Roosevelt and the WPA, you wouldn’t be getting new shoes for school,” my mother would remind me.

I pictured a benevolent Mr. Roosevelt driving the old truck that picked up my father and his cronies, day laborers, from the corner of our street, taking them to the construction site of the day. I imagined the WPA, whoever they were, helping my mother shop for my school clothes.

My parents, as well as our neighbors and friends, were acutely aware of House Speaker Tip O’Neill’s All politics is local. My father’s (metal) social security card (below) was a prized possession.

It seemed to me that every year was an election year, every election important to us. My mother especially was always campaigning, urging people to sign this or that petition, to vote, vote, vote. Our front window was never without a sign, RUSSO FOR MAYOR, AVALLONE FOR COUNCIL, SIEGEL FOR SCHOOL SUPERINTENDENT.

And it all came together on the Fourth of July. Independence Day and Voting Day were the biggest holidays in our lives, competing with Thanksgiving and Christmas, but better because there was no back-breaking food prep or lugging a tree up the stairs. My father died on July 4, 1981—I’ve always felt that he timed it that way, going up with the glorious fireworks on Revere Beach.

Following politics, debating issues, voting, are still a priority for me. Being invited to contribute a story to LOW DOWN DIRTY VOTE has been a highlight of my year. Thanks to Mysti Berry and the grand array of colleagues in this anthology!

I’m thinking of making a poster of the LOW DOWN DIRTY VOTE cover, and propping it on my lawn.

Good Job, and other annoying phrases

. . . where my dark side is revealed.

“Good Job” is my current least favorite phrase. Take a walk through a suburban mall and count the number of times you hear it—from a mother while she helps with personal care in a restroom; or from a father to a child who allows himself to be buckled into a stroller. One time I was stuck in elevator while a toddler insisted on pushing the button, though he was too short to reach it. Finally the mother lifted the child, he pushed the button, and—yes—”Good job!” the mother said.

In my day (this is a historical blog) “Good job,” if it was heard at all, referred to handing over babysitting money, and the tone was more like “there better be a bigger wad next time.”

An unsurprising corollary to “Good job” is preschool graduation, complete with tiny caps and gowns. What? All that fuss when all the kid did was allow himself to be driven to school?

While I’m on this tack, I might as well get off my chest some other phrases that, for whatever reason, drive me crazy.

No worries. This can mean anything from “I’ll take care of it” to “It’s okay that you ran into me.” It can also mean “You’re welcome,” which is the same number of syllables, so where’s the advantage?

Going forward. Admittedly, the person who uses this the most is a current (7/22/18) spokesperson on TV. She uses it instead of “in the future” (too vague for someone purportedly giving us specifics?) or “I have no idea when”.

The last time I accepted a "young lady" comment.

Young lady. When spoken to me (old, gray, sporting a cane) exclusively by men, young and old. No woman of any age has ever called me “young lady” – we know better. I wish I could think of a good comeback. “May you die young” is probably too harsh. What if I add “so you won’t have to hear this” — still too harsh?

Happy Mother’s Day. Another phrase that seems directed only to women. Personally, I have no reason to celebrate this “holiday” – I didn’t have a mother in the traditional sense of someone who loved me unconditionally, nor have I ever been a mother. I noticed no one wished my husband a Happy Father’s Day, even though he actually is one. Next year, I might respond, “Thanks. All my children are in jail.”

It is what it is. Just say “I heard, you but I have no advice whatsoever, and really don’t feel like hammering this out with you.” Just sayin’.

Where have all the flowers gone?

I’m tired of seeing this “poll question:”

If you could visit the past, whom would you have lunch with?

So I thought I’d answer it, once and for all.

If I could time travel, I wouldn’t waste it on the past. I’d go forward.

I’ve lived through a few decades of the past—I know what it’s like to get by without running hot water and electric knives and cellphones. And I’ve read enough about the days before plumbing and the zipper.

I’d like to know what becomes of women’s marches and noise-cancelling headphones.

I’d love to go away for a while and rest, and then come back and talk to the grandchildren of the Millennials. That would put us at around 2060.

PAPER, in widespread use in 2018 a.d.

Some questions:

1. What’s the official language of the United States?

2. Does Safeway still have two aisles of pet food and only half an aisle of cheese?

3. Did Jennifer Lawrence’s face ever wrinkle?

4. Does anyone use paper anymore? For what?

5. Did anyone stop the rain?

6. Did we ever give peace a chance?

What would you want to know?

All Hat

Note: this blog appeared earlier on Ann Parker’s website. Now there’s someone who has resurrected the Old West with her engaging Silver Rush series.

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I’m not the first person who comes to mind when delving into conversation about the Old West. Or even the New West, for that matter.
But I do have a stepdaughter who is a prize-winning horsewoman and here’s what she said about a newcomer to the ranch.
CC: He’s all hat and no cattle.
Me: Huh?
CC: You know, he talks big, but no action.

Camille, hat, and photobombed horses (courtesy CC and the Cable Guy)

So there it is. The West creeping into my personal lexicon. Here’s a bit (so to speak) of its history:
Originally used in reference to people imitating the fashion or style of cowboys. These people wore the hats, but had no experience on the ranch — thus, all hat, no cattle. Similar to talking the talk without walking the walk, also used in reference to wannabe gunslingers.

It’s going to be hard not to overuse this newly learned phrase.

It’s a Grand Old Flag

I think there’s a song about that.

Largest American flag in the world: 90 feet x 160 feet. (from the Library of Congress, Harris & Ewing Collection)

Happy Fourth everyone. How about a quiz to help you prepare for your Fourth of July party. What? No party? Well, there’s no excuse now.

(No, this is not a duplicate of the quiz in my newsletter — separate questions; separate prize!)

1. Who is the artist of the painting printed on the $2 bill?

(a) John Trumbull;  (b) James Whistler;  (c) Winslow Homer

2. Who wrote “God Bless America?”

(a) George M. Cohan; (b) Irving Berlin; (c)Francis Scott Key

3. What creature did Benjamin Franklin recommend for our national symbol?

(a) bald eagle; (b) beaver; (c) turkey

4. Who was the first president to be born in the United States?

(a) James Polk; (b) Martin Van Buren; (c) John Quincy Adams

5. Who was King of England when the Declaration of Independence was adopted?

(a) Edward II; (b) George III; (c) William IV

Send answers BY JULY 4, 2018 to camille (at) minichino (dot) com, subject JULY 4 BLOG QUIZ.

A Book by Any Other Name

Some claim the e-reader dates back to 1949, when a Spanish school teacher, Angela Robles, wanted to ease the textbook-carrying burden of school children by spooling text into what she termed a “mechanical encyclopedia.”

Jumping ahead, Sony released its e-reader in 2004; the first Kindle appeared in 2007. Enough time for them to be welcomed into the world of readers.

There are many reasons to prefer e-readers to hard copy books, and vice versa. We have issues of eyesight, or cost, or the weight and manageability of one versus the other, for example. But I’m always amazed when I still hear this argument for a paper book:

“I like the smell and feel of a book. No one wants to curl up with a computer screen.”

The smell and feel. If you’re in the Morgan Library, maybe, where you can smell and feel fine leather from ages past.

From the Morgan Library, printable version

But inventory in the bookstores I frequent is made of fragrance-free paper, the same paper as a boarding pass or paper towels. The most you can count on is a bit of bling on the covers.

Fingering pages that used to be a tree seem important to some people, however, and I imagine taking taking a long, long time to get through a Harry Potter as they stop to fondle each page.

Curling up. Except for My First Book Ever, books are not soft and cuddly, but rather a constant source of paper cuts.

This nostalgia for technology past isn’t surprising. We see it with each new invention, that then becomes threatened by yet a newer invention.

I suppose there was a gathering of horsemen around the turn of the twentieth century, all bemoaning the arrival of the automobile.

“I miss the smell of manure,” one might have said.

“And the feel of the saddle under me,” from another.

“There will always be horses,” from a horse trader.

And they’d have been right. But stairs and elevators coexist, along with automobiles. And, yes, we still have horses, though you don’t find them used much for commuting any more.

My e-reader, with an old-time cover. The best of both worlds?

Assorted Quotes

We’re a puzzle/quote family. My husband (aka The Cable Guy) and I do puzzles together and separately—crosswords, acrostics, jumbles, cryptograms, word games.

Many of the solutions end up as quotes. And some of those quotes end up with a permanent place on our walls.

Here are a few favorites:

There are two kinds of truth, small truth and great truth. You can recognize a small truth because its opposite is a falsehood. The opposite of a great truth is another truth. — Niels Bohr

The obscure we see eventually. The completely obvious, it seems, takes longer. — Edward R. Morrow

• My only concern was to get home after a hard day’s work. — Rosa Parks

• I’m astounded by people who want to ‘know’ the universe when it’s hard enough to find your way around Chinatown. — Woody Allen

• Women are the largest untapped reservoir of talent in the world. — Hillary Clinton

And one of my all-time favorites (winter person that I am):

Every year, back Spring comes,

with the nasty little birds

yapping their fool heads off.

– Dorothy Parker

Home Again

Revere, MA post office, site of one of my college jobs

Who says you can’t go home again?

I know, Thomas Wolfe for one. But I just did, last week – went home to a college reunion in Boston and to many smaller reunions with family and friends in Revere and environs.

Unlike Wolfe’s fictional George Webber, I did not meet with anger and death threats, even though I’ve set several novels and short stories in my home town.

Here are some photos to show what a great welcome I’ve gotten over the years.

THEN:

Book signing at Revere Public Library, c. 1998

NOW:

My undergrad math teacher greets me with a tiramisu cake!

A "cool" greeting!

My cousins twice removed, and the tip of a cannoli, lower left!

Chris, a forever friend, once removed.

Home-again view from my room; looking out at the Charles River (Chahles Rivah)

All in all: a great trip! Thanks everyone!