Thursday, December 8, 2011

Monday, November 21, 2011

Thanksgiving Preparations

This feeling has been building over the years and finally I recognize it for what it is: pure, unadulterated love for Thanksgiving. I just love it. I love planning out the meal, keeping in tried-and-true family traditions (coleslaw with shrimp? yup, it's an Arnold thing; apple pie? absolutely something from my side of the family), tweaking others (sweet potato pie instead of pumpkin), and adding something new (this year, parmesan-roasted butternut squash, and a toasted nut pie). I actually feel giddy as I spread out the books, old recipe cards, and dog-eared Gourmet magazines (sniff!).

I teach my last classes tomorrow before oral exams next week, which means at 10:10 tomorrow morning I can start preparations. It'll be three days of cooking but oh what fun when it all comes together!

The menu:

Turkey (of course), butchered today and will be picked up tomorrow
Mashed potatoes (nothing fancy, just lots of butter per the family request)
Sweet potato rolls
Cranberry relish with ginger
Coleslaw with shrimp
Carrots with shallots, sage, and thyme
Parmesan-roasted butternut squash
2 apple pies*
2 sweet potato pies*
1 toasted nut tart

*No, I'm not insane to make 5 desserts. We're having dinner at 1:00 to accommodate the grannies; friends are coming later for "second dessert" (closely related to second breakfast and elevensies, both widely celebrated by hobbits--my secret geekiness coming through there).

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Nostalgia, aka Pumpkin Muffins

This morning I baked my first batch of pumpkin-something of the season. Usually it's pumpkin bread but today I was starving so I made it quicker-baking-muffins instead. There's nothing particularly revolutionary about my muffins: good doses of ginger, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg; chopped walnuts; whole wheat pastry flour. If I didn't have a dried fruit hater in the family, I would probably add dried cranberries. Or bits of crystallized ginger (but that is for when the short people either get a little more adventurous in their palates, or move out). Sometimes to get the older one to eat pumpkin anything, I add in chocolate chips. Not my idea of a good muffin.

There is crunchy, partially melted snow on the ground, gray sky above (which I have discovered is really conducive to me feeling creative--nothing like blue sky to bring my brain to a halt), a stack of grading to be done, a final exam and final exam study guide to write, Christmas presents to knit, and a Thanksgiving dinner to plan out. Despite all of the above, or maybe because of it, I took refuge in homey pumpkin muffins this morning and found myself remembering all the pumpkin bread I baked while we were in Inner Mongolia. Although actually, it wasn't pumpkin but sweet potatoes, roasted on the open streets in front of our apartment. I had these giant sweet potatoes, a cross between our yams and sweet potatoes here, fresh walnuts, farm eggs. After a day of ice skating there was nothing better to come home to than a thick slice of this bread, a cup of hot cocoa or tea.

I don't particularly miss a lot of things about our 7 months in China, although looking back through my old blog I do feel nostalgia for my 6 and 8 year old kids, for the good food, the forced coziness of our little apartment, the concentrated family time--a raft to cling to when all else felt so bewilderingly foreign.

I guess this is what pumpkin bread means to me now (or the latest incarnation, pumpkin muffins): nostalgia in a little wrapper, warmth and spice and love and family.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Falling Leaves and Dropping Feathers

Leave it to Henrietta to get me writing. I've felt pretty much uninterested in anything the past month that doesn't involve my fuzzy pajamas, my wool comforter, and a mystery novel. Not that its been particularly cold of late, far from it. We're practically the Bahamas compared to what's been going on on the East Coast so I really can't complain about anything.

I couldn't get a good shot of her from behind where the skin shows through. Pathetic, no?

For the past week or so I've noticed Henrietta's feathers dropping off. We've owned chickens for about 18 months now and until now I've never witnessed molting. Boy, though, when it happens you definitely know it. Today I went out to look for eggs and was absolutely stunned by how pathetic she looks right now. We're talking bare skin. Bare chicken skin with "chicken bumps" instead of goose bumps. Just looking at her makes me cold. I've got enough feathers out in the yard that I should probably think about stuffing them into a blanket for her.

Feathers and leaves

Musing on Henrietta's poor exposed skin while out on my walk this afternoon I made the not-so-remarkable connection between dropping feathers and falling leaves. Today is really cold for here--mid 30s--and it has looked like snow all morning. (In fact, as I sit here I see the first half-hearted attempts at snowflakes are starting to fall). Anyway, leaves are all over the ground, sometimes as a mirror image of the tree from which they fell, as if they all came down at once. Which, mostly likely, is what happened. Walking through the neighborhoods and then down to the river, I try to keep from tripping because all I want to do is look up: up at the slate-colored sky, up at the geese flying overhead, up at the leaves drifting down to the ground. I think about trees giving up their leaves to go dormant over the winter, ready to bud out again when the days get longer and the air becomes warmer. According to rumor (again, having never witnessed a chicken molting before), Henrietta's feathers will come back more resplendent than ever. If she survives freezing her butt off, that is.

Maybe the urge to dig in, hibernate, sleep, eat, pare away all the extras, is my own sloughing off of leaves or feathers. Simplify. Get out in the weather every day (or go crazy--hmm, thinking of those ladies in igloos who run out naked in the middle of winter), create some loving meals, cuddle with family, get the work done that needs to be done, but none of the extra stuff that seems to come with warmer weather and longer days. This time of hibernation and regeneration makes all the busy times of spring, summer, and fall possible. I'm storing up energy to sprout new leaves or feathers. Some may say this smacks a little too much of winter blues but I'm willing to argue that embracing the cold, stripped-down-bare-chicken-skin-of-life one season out of the year is what provides perspective and balance to the rest of the year.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Dinner Part 2

Pure laziness (and a desire to not put those jeans back on, thank you very much) has driven me to make pasta from scratch tonight. I thought I was getting away with an easy dinner (after all that rhapsodizing about making dinner for the family, routine, etc. etc.) tonight by using a jar of TJs pasta sauce and some hamburger. Only to find that there is nary a twig of dry pasta to be found in my lovely built-in pantry circa 1948. The dilemma: switch out of sweatpants for a quick grocery run, or make it at home. I know, there is a certain perverseness in the whole situation--who thinks making pasta from scratch is easier than running to the store? Me, if it means trying to look presentable and having to drive at "rush" hour.

Sunday, October 9, 2011


Three weeks into the teaching quarter, my first head-cold of the season well underway, a house mostly moved into, the homework struggle with the oldest at an uneasy d├ętente, and finally a dip into lower temperatures and a spot of rain here and there... And what do I have to write about? My dinner for tonight.

I know, what I'm making for dinner tonight is not earth-shattering news for anyone. However, for the first time in weeks, maybe even months, I feel at home with my dinner routine tonight. I have a nasty cough and still a sore throat but I took comfort and, dare I say, pleasure, in pulling out my big 6-quart dutch oven this afternoon. White beans simmer in broth, onions, and garlic, flecked with rosemary and a bobbing parmesan rind. Carrots and kale from the market wait to go in towards the end; the chicken andouille sausage is browned and drained, also waiting for the beans to become tender enough to add. I'm not trying to be poetic, I'm just so glad to have a little return to routine.

I love making meals for my family. However, spending time in the kitchen has just not been part of my life lately. My husband has happily shouldered a lot of the meal preparation in the past few weeks as I have tried to adjust to teaching two classes a day, four days a week. I've spent an awful lot of time napping and grading and prepping the next day's class. I like the napping part, don't get me wrong. Frankly, I don't mind the grading or the prepping either. But I have really missed being in the kitchen, especially in my new kitchen that, instead of being galley-style, is square with lots of cupboards, lots of counter space, lots of room. I have half-heartedly baked cookies, assembled salads, and thrown together countless crisps during the whole move-in process. Making dinner as part of the usual rhythm of the day, however, has been conspicuously absent of late.

It's the meditation of chopping onions and garlic, sweeping aside the paper skins, arranging the carrots for later, and the smells of the herbs and spices, the gentle simmer of soup in my bright red pot--this is what has been missing from my life since before I left for Alaska in June. Adjusting to my homemaker life has always been a slow process upon my return from Alaska but this year it has taken that much longer due to the move and the new teaching load.

I've missed it a lot, to state the obvious.

I'm still not baking bread. I have had to make peace with buying loaves of bread at the store. I hate buying bread. But I can't do everything right now. I'd like to think I'm Superwoman but, well, we all know that kind of thinking leads to lunchtime martinis. Just kidding. I'm not baking cookies all the time, or knitting dishcloths, or practicing my banjo--wait, this is all starting to sound like the last post... clearly I need to address these holes in my life, too. One step at a time, though, starting with my White Bean and Kale soup.

The class prep can happen later.