Chaos on the door


  Buttermilk and Sriracha?                   Really?

Buttermilk and Sriracha?
Really?

The funny thing about vacations is the way they bring out my inner neat freak.  I mean, the luxury of all this time around the house inevitably has me cleaning closets, bleaching the under-the-sink cabinet, and scrubbing out the fridge.

And all this cleaning and organizing can lead to some interesting self-reflection.

For example, earlier this morning I found myself contemplating the door to my fridge.

Wow.  You wanna talk Chaos Theory?  Here it is in all its glory.

I think that the door of my fridge is like the junk drawer of my inner life.

All the important stuff (milk, chicken, cold cuts, goat cheese, apples, eggs…..) is in the main part of the fridge.  Some of them (like the fruits and veggies) even get their own special drawers and shelves.  I know where to go when I need to grab the yogurt or the bread or the salad ingredients.

The same can be said for the rest of my kitchen. I know exactly where to go to locate the flour, the sugar, the paprika.  I know where the bags of rice are stored (arborio, jasmine, brown).  I can find the peanut butter, the Nutella, the tea and coffee and the chocolate chips.  There is a set place for the pasta (spaghetti, rotini, ditalini, farfalle,orzo,lasagna,ziti, mostaccioli). There is a shelf for the canned foods (crabmeat, clams, tomato paste and beans) and a shelf for the snacks (cookies, crackers, rice cakes, popcorn).

Don’t even get me started on the spices.  Grouped by type, arranged on tiered shelves.  A place for everything, and everything in its place.

Until I look at the door of my refrigerator, and all bets are off.

What does it say about me that the bottom shelf of the fridge door contains a bottle of white wine, a half full quart of buttermilk, a jar of martini olives and three kinds of mustard? Move up a shelf, and you’ll find a squeeze bottle of Sriracha, a jar of pickled ginger, some hoisin sauce, a tube of harissa sauce and sweetened lime juice.  There is small jar of olive tapenade, a plastic bottle of horseradish, real maple syrup, two jars of yeast and a quarter bottle of Worcestershire sauce.  There’s butter (salted and sweet) and jars of strawberry, raspberry and apple jam.  A rolled up, halfway dried out cream cheese packet and three kinds of pickles.

As I looked it all over, I decided that I should throw some of it away.  So I spent the next hour taking things out and putting them back.  Blue cheese stuffed olives? You never know when I might crave a dirty Vodka martini!  Hot mustard, sweet mustard, horseradish mustard?  Well, we do have sandwiches for lunch most days.  Harissa…I hardly ever use it, but it reminds me of Tunisia. I want it!

Eventually, everything was cleaned up, the shelves were wiped and cleared and it was all put back.

So.

Does this…….creative display of oddball food items mean that I am an exciting chef?  Or a food hoarder?  Does it mean that I hate to waste or that I love to be adventurous in my eating?

Am I a slob, or a bon vivant?

I don’t know!  But as I make myself a lovely snack of olive tapenade with cream cheese on rye bread, I’d invite you to check out your own fridge door.  If everything is up to date and enormously useful in your daily life, please don’t tell me.  But if you find an interesting combination of pickled onions and maraschino cherries, drop me a note, will you please?

 

Defeated by Quinoa


I am a pretty good cook.

I can make homemade ravioli with four cheese. I can make a fabulous mushroom sage-butter sauce for pasta.

My meatballs have made grown men weep.

When I bake bread, the smell alone can change your view of life.

And yet.

I have been defeated by quinoa.

Red_quinoa

A few short years ago, I had never heard of this miracle grain.  I was perfectly happy to go through life without it, until I tried it at a High School Reunion Weekend.  My friend Karen made a quinoa salad that was so delicious, the mere memory of it causes “yummy noises” to emerge from my watering mouth.

So I asked for the recipe. Of course I did.  I am the woman who recreated a dinner of seafood risotto over smoked mozzarella after eating it at a local restaurant.

(Mine was better.)

So I tried to make the quinoa recipe.  Karen’s was crisp, and fresh and flavorful.

Mine?

Mine was a bowl of slimy little wormy things with a few bites of cashew and some bok choy. The quinoa grains looked like baby sperm, with big heads and long tails.  YeeeeeUk.

My friend assured me that quinoa was easy to cook, and really delicious!  So I tried again.

YeeeeUk redoux.

I asked for some advice.  All the cool foodies were into quinoa. I had to figure this out!!!

My friend Maureen told me to make sure that I rinsed my quinoa  thoroughly before I cooked it.  So I did.

I ended up with a pot of slimy little wormy things sticking to the bowl and just waiting for some flavor.  I added salt. I added pepper. I added fresh basil.  And lemon. And nuts.  I took a bite.

I threw it out.   Bleh.  Blehblehblehblehbleh.  It was sticky and a little oozy and slimy and yuck.

What the hell?

So I decided to give it up. I was simply not cut out for quinoa. I returned to making brown rice with roasted veggies and homemade chicken stock.  Yum!

Then I opened my cabinets and found two bags of quinoa: one red, one white.  Oh, oh.  I had already paid for them!  I HAD to use them! So I did a google search. “how to cook quinoa without the slimy little sperm tails making it gross.”

Or something like that.

I found a recipe that said, “Do not rinse”. Instead, it told me to lightly brown the sperm  quinoa in olive oil before adding veggies and stock.  I tried it.

Huzzah!  It was delightful!  Dry and firm and packed with nutritious deliciousness!  Yay, me!  Paul and I enjoyed it alongside our roast chicken, feeling both healthy and hip as we swallowed it down.  I was feeling so. smug.

Until I tried the exact same recipe two weeks later.  Exactly the same.  Precisely the exact same ingredients, cooking technique, temperature, time.

Exactly.  The. Same.

And I ended up with a bowl full of slimy little spermy wormies. I took one bite, gagged a little, and gulped down a swig of wine.

What the hell.

This process has repeated itself four or five times now.  One delicious, healthy side dish followed by two dinners that were nearly ruined by the slime patrol.  Another fabulously nutty salad, followed by a couple of tossed in the trash slime-oh-rific followups.

So I have come to the conclusion that there is a vast international quinoa conspiracy, no doubt lead by left-wing activists who hate America. I have come to realize that all the little dry curled up quinoa soldiers send coded messages at night, telling each other about the latest plan to defeat the meatball maven.

When they get the signal, they all unfurl those super spermy little tails and start to secrete ancient Aztec slime sauce, thereby ruining any plan for a yummy dinner.  In this way, they surely plan to take over the world.

So I am hereby announcing that I am giving up the quest for the quintessential quinoa.  I am switching back to nice cheesy, fattening, compliant risotto.

I know when I’ve been beaten.

Razzleberry Dressing, Anyone?


Magoo Razzleberry Dressing

I’m sitting here in front of the Christmas tree on this cold Saturday morning.  The house is quiet.  Both dogs are asleep because…..well. Because they’re dogs, and there’s no food out at the moment.

My husband is asleep because he probably stayed up late watching sports last night.  My son, my youngest child, is home for the weekend, and he was out visiting with friends last night, so he is still asleep, too.

I am awake.  I am awake because I’m a teacher.  Teachers, especially “seasoned teachers” like me, crawl home on Friday nights, drink a glass of wine with dinner, then faceplant on the pillow as soon as the dishes are washed.

I slept for ten hours.

So now I am awake, and I’m thinking about Christmas dinner. There will be nine of us here for the day, which is just about a perfect number.  Enough to cook a feast, not so many that its overwhelming.  So I’ve been thinking about the menu this morning.  And I just found myself humming the line from “Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol”, where the adorable little Tiny Tim sings, “With Razzleberry Dressing!”.

Did you know that there is an actual recipe for “Razzleberry Dressing”? In fact, there are a whole bunch of them.  Some include hot peppers (what?), while others are based on any kind of red jello (shudder).  At any rate, I started thinking about Christmas dinners of the past, and the various triumphs and tragedies of the meals.

Which got me to remembering the Year of the Goose.  Since no one is awake to share the hilarity, I’m putting it down here. If I spell anything wrong, its because I’m laughing so hard.

The Year of the Goose was way back in about 2002.  I was involved in local politics at the time, and it was UGLY, to say the least. Our School Committee had fired one Superintendent, dealt with an interim and a hired a new guy, all while engaged in fierce verbal battles with our Town Manager, Selectboard and Finance Committee.  It was awful, to put it mildly, and I was losing sleep over the whole mess, and feeling so much pressure that even the upcoming holiday season seemed like it wouldn’t lighten the mood.

One day, just after Thanksgiving of that year, I was at the grocery store, furtively darting around the aisles, trying to fill my cart while avoiding any local people who might want to give me some unsolicited feedback about town politics. I hurried around one corner, and almost crashed carts with the Chairperson of the Finance Committee.  She was a woman about my own age, with teenaged kids like mine.  We had almost the same pile of foods in our carts, which now stood nose-to-nose.  I gulped, and managed to rummage up a small smile.  This lady and I had gone at each other in a recent public meeting, video of which was making its way around town, from what I’d heard.  I felt a little sick.  We greeted each other civilly, “Happy Holidays!”  and “Nice to see you!”.  I suddenly realized that she was flushed, and was fidgeting with the edge of her jacket.  Holy Moment of Clarity; she was as faked out as I was!

I decided that it was time for a truce, and so I asked her about her holiday plans, and what she’d be cooking.  You know, woman to woman bonding and all that.

Turns out that this woman was a very back to nature, old fashioned, pioneer spirit kind of gal.  She told me that her favorite holiday meal was fresh goose.

Really?  Visions of Razzleberry dressing began to dance in my head.  She assured me that it was the most delicious flavor, that it was one of the most authentic of American foods, that it was easy to prepare.  I was slightly startstruck.

I was also feeling slightly competitive.  I mean, never let it be said that the Fincom could outcook the School Committee! I’d lose every budget debate for the next five years if it ever got out that she made a fresh goose while I served a commercially farmed, previously frozen turkey!

I took the bait, dammit.

Now, we don’t hunt, and I honestly don’t know where you can find a last minute “fresh goose” without shooting it, so I had to settle for a frozen goose from the supermarket.

Did you even KNOW you could get a frozen goose at your supermarket?  Yup.

It looked nice and plump, but I’d been warned that geese contain a lot more fat than turkeys, and that it would reduce in size as it cooked.  I was prepared for that!

I looked up recipes and studied all about goose roasting for the next two weeks.  Then Christmas morning dawned, crisp and clear.  We opened out presents and oohed and aahed, and everyone settled down to read the new books, play the new games, eat the big breakfast and generally just loaf.

I got up, wrapped myself in an apron, and prepared The Goose!  I was so excited! I felt so sweet and Victorian, carefully rubbing the bird with salt and spices, slitting the tough skin of its breast and around the legs to allow the grease to escape, carefully placing it in a roasting pan surrounded by slices of fresh orange.

I placed the “drip pan” underneath it and set the oven on 350.  I checked the timer, poured some eggnog and sat down to relax and enjoy the enticing smells that would soon be wafting from my oven.  I hummed a little and smiled to myself.

An hour later, all the windows were open and Paul was trying to deactivate the smoke alarms.

My “drip pan” was a cookie sheet with half inch edges. It had overflowed and goose grease was smoking and splattering on the oven coils.  We pulled out the bird (yikes….it really was shrinking!) and carefully took out the drip pan. I replaced it with a huge roasting pan with 4 inch sides.  I crossed my fingers and replaced the middle sized goose.

About two hours after that, we sat down to enjoy our dinner.  We had coats on because the oven was still smoking, and the windows were still open.  The house smelled like burnt tires.

The side dishes were plentiful and delicious, thank God. And there was enough wine.

I had taken the Goose out of the oven with joyful anticipation, picturing a golden, crisp bird like the ones in all the old Dickens novels.  As I reached in and slowly, carefully drew out the roasting pan, what I found instead was a dark brown, shriveled piece of shoe leather. It looked like it had been mummified, except that it was literally swimming in grease.  The drip pan was full, the roasting pan was full, the bottom of the oven was a lake of grease.

I put the tiny blob of leather on a dish and tried to dress it up with oranges.  I put it in the center of the table. The kids looked slightly horrified, but they’re good sports.  We got out our hugest serrated carving knife and everybody got a piece of the bird. It took all of our strength and skill to carve it. “Tough” does not begin to describe this meat.

Picture this: three teenaged kids and two middle aged parents, sitting around a brightly decorated dining room, gamely chewing.  And chewing.  And still chewing.  Heads begin to swivel back and forth, and eyes send slightly desperate messages. Cups are raised to grease-coated lips in an effort to help get the mess down.

Finally, with some hilariously audible sounds, most of it is swallowed.

We all put our forks down.  We all looked at each other.

I didn’t know what to say!

“Well”, my honest daughter began. “That was interesting.”

“Kind of like eating a huge mouthful of rubber bands,” added one son.

“Only less tasty”, added the other.

I felt my face heat. I looked at my lovely table, at my freshly baked bread and piles of creamy mashed potatoes.  I looked at the greasy mummy.

“I was duped!” I cried.  “Pass the Razzleberry Dressing.”

Perfect.


SONY DSC

Today was a perfect day.

I didn’t plan to write about it, but as the day draws to a close, the perfection of it all demands to be heard. Words are bubbling up in my brain so quickly that if I don’t write them down, something up there just may burst.

It was that kind of day.

This was the first weekend of the school year.  I came home on Friday, after a mere 2 1/2 days of teaching, completely exhausted and thoroughly exhilarated.  It’s still early, I know, but I get the feeling that this is going to be one of those years when I just fall in love with my class.  I can’t really explain how or why it happens, but there are certain collections of children (for lack of a better word!) that simply reach right out and touch my heart.  This group seems to be that way.  Already.

So I came into the weekend with a lot to do, but a happy soul.  Yesterday was mostly errands and chores around the house.

Yesterday was also the sixth day in a row where the temperature went almost to 90 degrees and the humidity was nearly the same.  It was an uncomfortable, breathless, sweating, nasty day to be shopping and cleaning, but I did what had to be done.  In the evening we weathered a tornado alert and a huge, torrential thunderstorm, and I went to be praying for the stickiness to dissolve.

And we come to this morning.

I woke up at 7 to a cool breeze.  I went into the living room, trailed by my faithful doggies.  I stepped onto the deck and into a world of golden beauty.  The trees were drenched, but as they dripped, the sun shone through every drop, as if they were coated in diamonds.  The breeze blew, and a shower of sparks came down through the woods, lit up from within with a rainbow of incredible fire.

Paul woke up and we started the day with a long soak in the hot tub, breathing in the cool, crisp scent of almost-fall, and drinking our coffee as the steamy water eased the kinks out of our backs.

I had a lot of school work to do, but I was excited to be doing it.   Right after breakfast, I jumped into those tasks. I scored some math tests, prepared tomorrow’s math lesson, read some student folders and started a vocabulary sheet for our first science unit.

As the day went on, I realized that I was also determined to enter the upcoming week as fully prepared as possible.  I did all of the laundry, thinking that I would need enough clean clothes to see me through to Friday.  I washed the floor and cleaned the bathrooms: I knew I wouldn’t be doing that on a Wednesday morning any more!

And I cooked.  The coolness of the day, and the adrenaline of the new school year, combined to push me into full on Italian-woman mode.

I boiled six eggs for easy breakfasts; they were local eggs, but were two weeks old!  On Friday I picked up 2 dozen fresher chicken eggs as well as six beautiful duck eggs.

I marinated tempeh for this weeks lunches: we’re trying to cut down on the meat, but I am determined that its still going to taste good! Marinated tempeh in spring roll wrappers it is.

And I cooked down ten fresh and gorgeous tomatoes, adding spices and wine and homemade meatballs. Dinner for at least one night this week!

When everything was done, and tonight’s dinner was still waiting to be started, I sat outside on my deck, turning my face to the sun.

I am acutely aware that very, very soon, my afternoons of sunshine will be gone.  My garden-fresh foods will disappear under a layer of ice.  My casual soaks in the hot tub will be replaced with a frantic run between the hot water and the house.

Everything comes to an end.  Even this wonderful summer.

And so I am stocking up on everything I need to get through another long, cold New England winter.  I am stocking up on love for my class and on jars of fresh tomato sauce.  I am freezing fresh and local peppers and corn, and making refrigerator pickles out of those crisp and delightful little cukes.

And I am writing down the memory of a perfect September Sunday, so that I can pull it out in February, when the winds are blowing and the noses are running, and when winter feels as if it will never ever end.

 

I am so crunchy and healthy……


I am SUCH a crunchy granola aging hippy!  I tell ya.

I recently wrote a post called “Abbondanza” where I wrote about how excited I was at the incredible bounty of fresh foods at my farmer’s market.  I was thinking about the fact that pretty soon it will be the dead of winter, and we’ll be reduced to eating canned tomatoes and frozen peas.  Yechhh.

I saw this.

I saw this.

So this morning I woke up and thought to myself, “I’m an Earth Mother type!  I should buy and can a whole bunch of tomatoes!”  I was overcome by the image of my healthy woman self whipping up a delicious lasagna in February, using those vibrantly delicious tomatoes, onions, basil, garlic and oregano from the summer.  Mmmmmmm, good!  I could just picture my grandmothers, great-grandmothers and great-great grandmothers nodding in approval.

And I pictured this.

And I pictured this.

I was psyched!

I headed off to the local farm stand.  I was about to grab a whole bunch of fresh, perfect tomatoes.  I smiled at the farmer, and announced “I’m going to can tomatoes!”  She looked at me like I was insane.  “You can’t use THOSE!  You’ll go BROKE!”  She hustled out the door of the stand and grabbed a huge box of slightly imperfect tomatoes.  “You want THESE.”, she announced.

Oh.  OK.  I quickly chose a bunch of other ingredients and grabbed the big box of “canning tomatoes”.  I was so impressed with myself!  Heading home to “put up” vegetables for the long winter!

“Bring back my box!”, the farmer called as I pulled out of her driveway.  I waved in response.  She’s a little scary.  I’ll be bringing that box back tomorrow.

I got home, and spread out all of my treasures.

Holy healthiness! Look at this!   I was so excited.

I breathed in deeply, smelling the golden late summer air.  I felt just exactly like “Ma” in “Little House on the Prairie.”  I thought about putting my hair into a long braid, or a nice little bun at the back of my neck, but I had just had a hair cut, and it was only about an inch long.  Still, I felt pretty wholesome as I wrapped myself in my organic, sustainably raised cotton apron.  From “The Kitchen Store”.

I began by chopping up huge piles of veggies.  I’ve done this before! I hummed to myself, thinking of the millions and millions of women who have come before me, seeing the incredible richness of summer as a time to prepare for the long, cold winter.

I decided to get myself fully into the mood by listening to some old folk songs.  Just like all of those women in those healthy olden days, I thought that music would ease the burden of all the hard work ahead of me. Feeling one with my ancestors, I popped my iPhone onto the dock and booted up Pandora.  Bluegrass music enveloped me as I dropped the chopped veggies into my Cuisinart and hit “high”.

I pureed the entire box of tomatoes, plus two fresh onions and ten cloves of garlic.  I added in the organic basil and my own garden fresh oregano.  I let it all simmer on my electric stove, thinking of all the women before me, forging a new life in a new land, facing untold obstacles.

Even though I was pretty sure that I knew how to do this safely, I decided to be extra cautious.  After all, I am a Mother! This food will no doubt be used to sustain my family in the harsh winter!

I googled “canning tomatoes” and watched three You Tube Videos to make sure I was getting it right. Yup. Just like a Pioneer Woman. I knew what to do!

So here I am, five hours after I started.  A real, honest-to-God, back to the earth, all natural hippy granny woman. All I had were my hands, my local farmer, Michael’s Crafts for the mason jars, the internet, YouTube, an electric stove, a thermometer, a set of oven mitts, some “can grabber” tongs and my internal drive and innate knowledge.

I ended up with this.

I ended up with this.

I. Am. Amazing.

What a self-reliant, simple, back to nature woman I am!  I can’t wait to google some awesome recipes for all this deliciousness!

 

Abbondanza


My son Tim came home today.  We had a wonderful time chatting, catching up on news, having a bit of lunch.

Then we headed off to our local Farmer’s Market, just to grab a few goodies.

HomePic_5

Wow.  We drove up the hill, into the small town center.  We parked along the town green, parking on the grass across the small road from the old white houses and rambling farms. It was raining hard, for the first time in several weeks. Tim held an umbrella over our heads, but the rain streamed down over us nonetheless. We were chilly and wet by the time we got to the first vendor’s tent.

As we stood shivering under our small umbrella, I gazed at the incredible array of fresh, organic, locally grown foods.  There were baskets filled with beets, kale, onions, garlic, red and gold potatoes, lettuce, beans, carrots, cucumbers, zucchini, summer squash, turnips, parsnips and fennel.  Tim and I chose a few items to take home, chatting and laughing with the young man behind the counter.  No need for garlic or tomatoes, or carrots: I grew those at home! No need for beets or onions, I just bought those at the farm stand in town.

We chose some eggs, some lettuce and small, crisp cukes.  Some broccoli and a few sweet red peppers.

As we walked around the rest of the market, we bought some fresh, colorful eggs, a loaf of crisp fresh bread and a local package of goat cheese.

We stopped at the freezer truck where our friend and local farmer was selling fresh sweet corn and all kinds of local organic meats. We bought a dozen ears of corn and two pounds of freshly ground beef.

As we headed back to the car with our treasures, I kept telling Tim that I was feeling overwhelmed by the bounty all around us.  We had enough money to buy as much fresh, safe, healthy food as we could use. We had a choice of fresh foods that was almost an embarrassment of riches. I wished that I could buy and save enough of this wonderful food to see us all the way through the winter.

And two things struck me then: One is that I absolutely CAN buy and preserve enough fresh food to last until next spring. I only have to put in the effort to cook and can or freeze it all.  The second thought was more profound: how is it that I find myself surrounded by more food than any of us could ever consume, when the world is filled with so many hungry families? I thought of people far away, suffering in Syria and Iraq and Gaza and Ukraine. And I thought of people in my own community, young families with hungry children, who are unable to access the incredible bounty of the summer in New England.

I don’t know how I can share all this wealth. I don’t know how I can manage to feed those hungry children.  But I do know that I am committed to buying, saving, cooking, eating and sharing as much of this fresh, nutritious food as I possibly can.  And I will do whatever it is that I can do to bring these wonderful treasures to hungry people wherever they may be.

In praise of local farmers, who work so hard to bring us the beautiful gifts of summer!

 

Is this normal?


At least its neat.

At least its neat.

So its a lovely summer day, and here I am at home alone.  I mowed the grass, pruned some trees, threw in a few loads of wash.  I walked the dogs and read for a while.

Its the third full week of summer.  I’m running out of things to keep me busy.  You know?

So I did what any self-respecting bored middle aged lady would do.

No, I didn’t eat a gallon of ice cream or indulge in a day time martini.

I cleaned out the kitchen cabinets. The ones where I keep my essential ingredients.  You know the things that allow me to glance at the clock at 5 and put a delicious meal on the table at 6.

I guess I’m slightly neurotic or something, because I always have enough food on hand to survive a nuclear winter without leaving the house.   I have a dozen boxes of various pastas, cans of peeled tomatoes and tomato paste, boxes of broth. I have jasmine rice, brown rice, risotto, couscous, soba noodles, buckwheat noodles, quinoa and bulgur wheat. Who doesn’t have those, right?

But I have some really strange stuff up on those top shelves, too.  Like sugar cubes (what?).  And oat bran and two cans of evaporated milk.  I started to pull everything out so I could see what had been pushed to the back to make room for new stuff. And I found three boxes of jello!  Jello?!  Seriously?  The last time I made jello was probably ten years ago.  I grabbed the trash and started tossing.  I tossed a lot, lemme tell you.

Some things made me smile.  Like the half package of striped birthday candles and the dried up tube of red icing.  Memories of the old days, when the kids were still here.

Some things made me grimace. Like the package of Cream of Wheat. Blech. It reminded me of the time we all had strep throat and that was our Christmas dinner.

But a whole bunch of things made me scratch my head and wonder, “Where the heck did this come from?”  Like two bags of lentils, one green and one yellow.  And the jar of green olive tapenade.  And the can of coconut milk.

And then there is my spice cabinet.  Yikes!  I know that most cooks have sugar and cinnamon and probably some basil and oregano, right? But can other people reach into the cabinet and pull out black peppercorns, green peppercorns, crushed red peppers and ancho pepper flakes?  Can other people easily get their hands on turmeric, garam masala, five spice powder, star anise, whole nutmegs,  yellow curry, green curry, red curry, cumin, coriander, cilantro and lemongrass?  How about red wine vinegar, white wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar and apple cider vinegar? Huh? Sesame oil, corn oil, extra virgin olive oil, peanut oil and red chili oil?

Wow.

Is it normal to have cream of tartar, corn starch, arrowroot powder, vanilla beans, and four kinds of sugar?  I mean, I don’t even bake very often!

Am I crazy for having a cupboard that holds celery seeds, fennel seeds, sesame seeds, poppy seeds and caraway seeds?

I’m a little worried.  And I’m left with a few intriguing thoughts about all of this.

First of all, I never knew a person could be a food hoarder, but its clear that I am.               Second, I must crave international foods more than I realized.                                             Third, I should be a much better cook than I am.

Curry anyone?

Why I will never be thin. Ever.


I am a pretty healthy eater, over all.

I love my fruits and veggies.  I only buy locally raised, organic meats and eggs.   I love whole grains.

It’s just that I am struggling to keep my mood upbeat, you know? Life can be stressful, and its easy to feel overwhelmed.  Sometimes the combined pressures of home and work make me feel as if my life is careening out of control.  I feel like I am just buffeted by the winds of the world, and that I bounce back and forth between demands on all sides.

And when I feel like that, I find that I can’t sleep.  I am awake for hours, worrying about all the things that are happening without any input from me. My heart thumps, my mouth goes dry, and I lie awake as rigid as a board.

And when I get up in the morning, after a night of worrying about everything from a nuclear Iran to the new math standards, I find that I am irritable and short tempered the whole next day.  I snap at poor Paul, I yell at the news, I grumble at the dogs. If I’m at school, I am snippy with the kids.

This is not good.  Not at all.   So what’s a cranky, middle aged lady to do?

Today I tried the usual mood lifters.  I went on the elliptical for a half hour.      Ended up crabby and sore.

I soaked in the hot tub. Now I was crabby, sore and hot.

I took a long walk with the dogs and Paul out in the back woods, in the fresh spring air.  You guessed it, crabby, sore, hot and covered in pine needles.

I don’t want to turn to a glass of wine; that is a slippery slope that I’d rather avoid! When it comes to altering moods, a drink feels like a very bad idea.

So what could I do?  I had no choice.  It was noon on Sunday, with a very busy, very stressful week looming ahead.

I did what any crabby old Italian lady would do.

I baked.

Lemon Buttermilk Cake.I will NEVER be thin.

Lemon Buttermilk Cake.
I will NEVER be thin.

Sigh.

This is why I will never be thin.  But at least when it cools,  I might be more cheerful!

Thankful


It’s late on Sunday afternoon.  The sky is the darkest blue, almost navy.  No stars have yet come out.  The air outside is cold and sweet.

Inside the house, the woodstove has been burning all day, and even the floor is warm.  The smoky heat makes me feel safe.  I draw the curtains.

Today I am so thankful.

My family will be here on Thursday, to celebrate and to eat.  I am thankful that I will have a whole big crowd to cook for! Sisters, nieces and nephews, loved ones and friends, a brother, an Aunt and Uncle, my Mother, all of us eating, laughing, squeezed together in this too-small house.

I have made my lists, and will spend the next few days baking, brining, roasting. I know how lucky I am to be able to buy all this food, to have a nearly endless supply of good things right here, and the means to have everything that we could want to make our feast.

Of course, I’m most thankful that I will have all three of my children here for the afternoon! For the first time in months, we’ll all be together, at least for a while. I know too well how lucky we are to still have each other. I know how fragile families can be, how quickly everything can change.  So I’m thankful.

And I am truly thankful that I am lucky enough to live in a place where the threat of bombs and tanks and guns does not exist.  Today I read the news, and thought of families on both sides of the Gaza/Israel border.  I thought of mothers there trying to protect their children from forces beyond their control.  How do they do it? How do they get up in the morning, and make breakfast for their kids, and put them to bed at night knowing that weapons of all kinds are aimed at them even as they sleep?  How do they go through life feeling that every minute there are people “not like” them who are planning new ways to kill them?  I grieve for all of them.  I am thankful for the peace that I have always known.

And because I am grateful, I have to promise myself that I will always do what I can to bring these gifts to others. To people who are no worse, no less kind, no less intelligent, no less deserving than we are, but who have not had the overwhelming luck that we have somehow stumbled into.

Happy Thanksgiving, to everyone, everywhere.

Food is love


I’m an Italian Mamma; food is my creativity, my outlet, my gift to those I love.

When the kids were small, I mastered the fine art of home made chicken nuggets.  I learned to make baked macaroni and cheese.  I made delicious home made soup.

When they grew up, I mastered chili with green salsa, chicken parmigiana, chicken pot pie.

As the Mamma, I considered it my job to provide meals that nurtured both the body and the soul.  I cooked what they wanted.  To quote an old friend, “Food is love; love is food.”

Now, though, my babies have grown up, moved away, and established kitchens of their own.  I no longer rush home to make the meals that will hold them close to me.  Now I am feeding only two.  The delicious pressure is gone.  Now dinners are smaller and freer and easier to create.

Now food is love for my first true romance, my honey, my partner, my friend.  Now dinner is lamb chops or home made ravioli or locally raised beefalo steak.  Food is still love, but many a night that love is made of leftovers from the night before.  Pasta, pizza, pork roast, beef stew; it all heats up as a filling meal the next day.

But one thing that has not changed with the advent of the empty nest is that dinner is never, ever a meal of fish or shellfish.

When the kids were small, they didn’t like fish very much.  As they grew, Matt learned to love shrimp, but no other seafood.  Tim was allergic to shellfish, so this devoted Mamma never even considered cooking it.

And the love of my life, my husband of 34 years, will eat fish if I make it, but he doesn’t enjoy it.  As a good Italian Mamma, that means that I don’t ever cook it!

Tonight I am at home alone.  Paul is having dinner with an old friend who is struggling through a difficult time.  The kids are in their own homes, making dinner for themselves.  I am here, all by myself, in a house that is empty of anyone needing love or nurturing.

Anyone other than me, that is.

Today I went to the grocery store to fill the larder for the week.  Apples and orange juice, mouthwash and wheat bread; I filled the cart with everything that we would need to get through another work week.

And then I came to the fish market.   And I saw the blue mussels.

Tonight I made homemade wheat bread, more coarse and less sweet than what my family likes.  I steamed a pound of mussels in butter, garlic and white wine, a meal that no one else would have eaten.  I poured myself a cold glass of white wine, dipped the hot bread into the luscious buttery broth, and popped those garlicky mussels into my own grateful mouth.

Tonight, I fed myself.