Monday, April 9, 2012

ManorFest 2012: Growing Pains

I'm making Mom's Best Peanut Brittle.  Don't get excited, it's just a recipe title.  We're testing out some of the suggestions from last week's ManorFest 2012 Planning Seminars.

When Fred and I take up scrapbooking, we are going to have whole pages dedicated to the ManorFest 2012 Planning Seminars.  So many fun mementos.  To me, these things are keepsakes, little plastic and paper memories to cherish, garnished with cheap metals.  To Fred, they are trophies. "In lieu of a Death Certificate," he says, the jokester.

ManorFest 2012 Planning Seminars were sponsored by Haddock Home and the logo was therefore imprinted on every leaking pen and environmentally disastrous styrofoam cup. (Corporate is still trying out monikers... I think Haddock Home is superb, very inviting, non-threatening.  Infinitely better than Hail,  Haddock, the Captain's favorite, or Hershey, Haddock, & Heinz, Inc, the top choice among the pungent Venture Capitalists down at the end of the conference table, right next to the main garderobe drain, the one that empties directly into the familial cesspit.)

Haddock Home name tags, alone, could take up a whole section.  You know the kind with the clear plastic cover that won't stay folded over, with the hot-glued pin that's usually a bit askew?  No, not the easy self-adhesives.  Or the new magnetic do-dads.  Not even the ones with the swiveling clip, for those days when you're not covered in pockets, or when your one badge-bearing pocket is right over your left nipple.

So much frustration, so early in this doggone post!

Don't you love finding the right words?  Those name tags were "pin-style name badges."

Yes, I did spend five minutes in the world of office supply terminology, but then, Abbot Truffatore and The Boys are in the mail order office supply business... so I have an advantage.  I get to sample their Monastery Fudge, along with a cup of their Monastery Coffee, whilst pumping the novitiate for the mystical secrets of staples, paper punches, and correction fluid.  It turns out there is no great incense-imbued Catholic Office Supply Doctrine of Transubstantiation. The Papal Bull on the topic is simple and clear:  Buy Bulk.

Photo from Home Sweet Homewrecker 
Crap.  Speaking of transubstantiation, I decided to use already roasted peanuts in the brittle... Oh, stop laughing.  Yes, I burned them.  Okay, so next time, they won't be added until my candy thermometer hits 250.  Now, what do I do with 40 gallons of burned brittle?

We are still -- as in always -- repairing walls in certain medieval sections of Marlinspike Hall.  Maybe in some of the drier areas, we could substitute my burnt brittle for daub -- you know, the classic wattle and... brittle?  Fred and Sven Feingold have come up with some amazing innovations in our efforts to maintain The Manor in authentic ways without killing ourselves in the process.  You will remember from your last encounter with the wattle and daub technique that the final lime plaster -- a lime and sand mix -- sometime refuses to adhere to the daub.  Bianca Castafiore once ended up with a weekend pass to the Mental Hospital as a result.  Well, Fred and Sven, Bianca's latest Domestic Interest, discovered that adding cat hair to the mix roughens it up enough that it sticks, and even looks naively artistic, kind of Country Bumpkin Cool.  There is, of course, a story behind the discovery, but since the cat in question survived the dip-in-the-daub encounter, healed up nicely, and, with therapy, will overcome his stress-induced flashbacks, we'll settle for naming this new and improved building resource Dobby Daub.  You remember Dobby, yes?  He is the little star-faced one, here seen in his Early Runt Days, when any cat could take a casual chew on his ear.  He's never quite lost that look of quiet desperation, and since the Daub Debacle, it's only become more pronounced.

We're trying to get Haddock Home, or whatever they end up calling themselves, to market Dobby Daub, but the most we're getting from their R&D Division is the offer of a table at ManorFest 2012, where Sven can give trowelling demonstrations and The Castafiore can show off her parging techniques -- who knew she had such a sense for texture?

As for me, my role is as the much ballyhooed Cat Hair Collector, which is what I think I've always been, anyway, except that now I have to carefully wash, dry, trim, separate by donor, and then store the silky feline contributions, a process which may soon get me my own weekend pass to the Mental Hospital.

No, You Smarty-Panted Reader, we cannot substitute the hair from any of the OverSized Herds for that of the Feline Three. (As the Hair Collector, that was my first thought, too!)  It has to do with both aesthetic and maintenance issues, as well as the hair's behavior around various oils.  A long, thick hair from Marmy Fluffy Butt's tail, for instance, can absorb twice its weight in wattle oils (an odd mix of timber resins and termite sweat), whereas an even thicker strand of Big Bo-Buffalo hair will *repel* the gooey mélange, resulting in something comparable to a curdled custard.

Forgive me if I seem obsessed with Things Culinary.  The ManorFest 2012 Planning Seminars have imparted a new, laser-like precision to my thoughts.

Unbeknownst to us, ManorFest 2011 was evaluated by the research firm Press Gainey, which is broadening its area of expertise from Optimizing Health Care Delivery Systems to Mucking Up Obscure Regional Celebrations  So it was that Haddock Home reps informed us that, according to Press Gainey results, it's not enough to offer slabs of beef, piles of fried chicken legs and our famous grilled gizzards, alongside samples of all that can be stuffed into the pork chop of an oversized pig.  Our festival goers are a famously hearty people, but we've left them, they tell us, intellectually hungry.  Now, according to The Wrinkle-Free Suits, it's the "experience" we are supposed to offer, not just a wealth of artery-clogging proteins.  Open kitchens.  Demonstrations of technique.  Celebrity cooks (we cannot afford chefs).

And it all must be done by the dictates of Value Based Purchasing.  We are literally fighting over who gets to attend the four-hour long VBP webinar.  The Abbott and I are of the opinion that Fred ought to have the honor, as he was the only one in our Management Tier to know what ROI stood for.  Bianca blushed when she was asked, thinking of Antoine Rigaudeau ("le roi"), her longtime love interest, now retired, and true source of her basketball expertise.

(Ah, my affection for the out-of-context!)

Anyway, what it all amounts to is that Haddock Homes is smiling at us with big, white teeth, and dictating major changes in how we do things in festival season, using our beloved audience of locals against us.  During a multimedia Press Ganey Performance Solutions presentation on expanding the cultural minutiae of the ManorFest 2012 Food Court, we heard, in a hundred different ways, all bulleted in lists,  that watching meat turn on a spit was hardly entertainment.  What the...?

Our rallying cry, back in the privacy of the Medieval Kitchinette?  Mais où sont les neiges d'antan?

And we threw our plastic name tags down upon our eco-friendly tamped earth floor and gnawed on cold turkey drumsticks!  Well, Fred and Sven did.  La Bonne et Belle Bianca and I had ginger tea and scones.

Given no choice by the Powers That Be, we're adapting.  We're coming around.  We're getting with the program, seeing the light, and learning the words to the anthem.  (But if you suggest to Fred that we are becoming "team players," you'd best run for the monastery, and hope there is enough room for you in the sanctuary.)

The peanut brittle is actually a good product to promote -- we're using preferred local ingredients, from the artisinal processed white sugar to the hydroponic vanilla bean pods. (We make some striking naturopathic vanilla extracts using vodka. Who needs vaccination when you could have vanilla vodka?)  But preparing sticky brittle outside, in the heat of our high summer?  Do you want to answer people who inquire about the black specks in their portion?  Shall we add an entomologist to the staffing for that exhibit?

We could always go gourmet, and claim it's chunky black pepper.

I made the mistake of wondering out loud about the feasability of brittle during a mindnumbing afternoon ManorFest Planning session, and a corporate wonk spoke up, as if in response, suggesting that we also take on chocolate covered Big-bottomed ants for the kids.  She bolstered her argument with a handout touting insects as low in fat, high in protein, and tasty as all get out when toasted.  I could have kissed Fred when he said, "Yeah, well, there's an obesity epidemic among termite eaters!"

It's tough being clever in mindnumbing late afternoon conditions.  Surrounded by wonks.

Er, the termite is a fatty snack, in comparison with its edible brethren.  Chewier, too.  It's even possible to extract termite oil.  We're thinking of making that a Marlinspike Hall Cottage Industry during the cold winters.  If we ever have another cold winter...

It's also something that may be therapeutic for the recovering Cirque du Soleil and Carnie Addicts who are housed in one of our best barns, now an accredited rehabilitation facility.  Termite oil, bottled in sapphire blue miniature carafes, might be a way for the Rehab Barn to become self-sustaining.

You know, in case they ever weary of Haddock Corporation "guidance."  Sigh.  Growth is hard.

Meanwhile, back at the ManorFest 2012 Planning Seminar, we continued to devolve in our discussion of Insects as Food.  Foreheads glistening with excitement, looking very much like they'd like to prendre une pause and go mate in the corner, the Haddock House team began making the cost analyses that would "drive" our production.  Nary a thought seemed to be given to Quality Control -- that piddly detail would be left to us, of course.

Meaningless issues like safe storage and preservation. How long can a Japanese Beetle be kept on the shelf without becoming so dessicated as to lose its cloying flavors?  Should we value texture (meaning crunch, mostly) over depth of infused flavors?  (Think garlic, anise, and papaya marinated worms, because, let's face it, worms are pretty flat, flavor-wise.)  The Abbott swears by a Mexican delicacy, caballito del diablo, dragonfly larvae, consumed alike.  That's a whole nother ball of wax.

Ethical issues, too, were blithely tossed aside by Corporate reps, you know, things which pretty much separate the toss-the-screaming-lobster-in-the-boil versus the stab-it-first-with-the-ice-pick crowd.

Bianca had to leave, nauseated merely at the thought of spending all of June catching and parboiling enough local social insects to feed the throngs in July and August.  Hand clasped to the base of her throat, The Castafiore teetered out of the room on her red-soled signature Christian Louboutin's -- the 140 mm., of course.

I'm not a fan of the round toe, and decided to sit and think about that, hoping that my colleagues would construe my far away look as one of dedication to the ManorFest Cause.  I may not be able to sport shoes any more, but no one shall rob me of the capacity to daydream about five-and-a-half inch heels.

O, God.  That's another bug, of sorts.  The Cause.  (Not the heels.)

We are to be aligned with A Cause that is yet to be determined.  None of our suggestions even made it on the White Board. (Fred and I stuck with our favorite cause, Personal Wealth.  The Abbott suggested a fund be established, in perpetuity, for the maintenance of the Holy Foreskin, which the monastics are charged with protecting. Before she wove her way back to our quarters, Bianca voted for joining forces with Save The Operatic Ta-Tas, a charitable organization dedicated to big-chested operatic sopranos. You know, the Brunhilde types, whose "body habitus" prevents decent mammography.

We were not invited, however, to the Vision Quest Seminar where The Cause will be chosen.

Harrumph, and pass the vanilla extract.

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