Tag Archives: family

How to Celebrate a Sunday Birthday

Thursday: Wear a fascinator to work and tell everyone that your birthday is coming. Feel childish in your excitement. Run with it.

Friday: Reflection, Kirtan, Goose Island Bourbon County Stout.

Saturday: Clean your apartment. Bask in the open space of your bedroom where, mere days ago, summer’s window AC units had been stacked, staring you down with their large-scale clutter. Go to the market. Cook food. Have people over, make punch, laugh a lot, adore whatever family and friends are around you. Soak in the celebration even if you have a little tummy ache.

It was a mellow party, a nice party, and it ended early enough for Shawn and me to do some cleaning so we weren’t faced with a mess this morning, music still playing, early enough to slow dance in the living room in a pretty dress and sock monkey slippers and new birthday earrings in the wee hours of the real birthday day, when the guests had all left or gone to sleep. What could be better than that?

Sunday: Birthday! Wake up to your little sister and her adorable boyfriend cooking eggs in your kitchen. Feel your heart swell even as you decide to keep your eyes closed a little longer, listening to the clatter of pans and coffee mugs in the next room. Talk on the phone more than usual. Open presents. Post a recipe from your birthday party that was requested last year, made this year, too, requested again.

Squash Lasagna

What Goes In:

  • 4 pounds or so winter squash (a couple medium butternuts or comparable amount other squash)
  • 6 Tbsp. butter (yep, lots of butter)
  • small handful sage, chopped
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 4 cups milk
  • freshly grated nutmeg, salt, pepper
  • 8 oz. or so gruyère, grated
  • 1 box oven-ready lasagna noodles

How to Do It:

  • Prepare squash: Cut in half, scoop out seeds, roast until soft, then scoop flesh into a big bowl.
  • Brown 2 Tbsp. butter in a pan. When the butter turns light brown and smells nutty, remove from heat, toss in sage, and mash into squash with some salt and pepper.
  • Make bechamel: melt remaining 4 Tbsp. butter, whisk in flour, slowly add milk, stirring lots to avoid lumps. Add some salt and pepper and a little nutmeg. Stir and cook until it’s thick.
  • Assemble lasagna: Put a cup of bechamel in the bottom of a pan. Layer uncooked lasagna noodles, bechamel, cheese, and squash. I had 4 layers, ending with bechamel only, with some leftover cheese.
  • Cover with foil, bake for half an hour or so at 35o. Remove foil, sprinkle on the rest of the cheese, cook until cheese is melted and browning just a little. Probably around 15 minutes.

If you are, say, making kale chips and decide to crank the heat to 400 instead of 350, you will most likely end up with a burned, crispy layer at the bottom of the pan. Some of your friends will claim that that’s the best part. Others will push it to the side but still ask for the recipe. Having done this two years in a row, I recommend just remembering to keep the heat on the lower side.

Enjoy your lasagna, friends! I am off to enjoy a walk on a gray day, tasty dinner cooked by a professional, and yet more good cheer.

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Year End Love

Last year, I posted a list of resolutions around this time: things to make, things to do, things, things, things.

Well, I still don’t have a cheese press, and I haven’t made soap from scratch with fats and lye, and I might even have to throw away a vegetable or two from the fridge today because I didn’t use them before they got funky, and I still don’t compost here in my city apartment with no outdoor space, though I did reach out to some local gardens and urban farms about taking in my scraps this year, so progress, right?

Last year, at my birthday time, the resolutions felt a little manic. It had been such a difficult year, a time of huge transition, trying changes, and all I wanted was to shed old skin, enter a new decade, be OK, and breathe. Being creative, writing down creative goals, was a way to celebrate that inner spark, to push it out to the surface a bit.

At a meeting the other day with some new ladies in my life, we talked about intention. Among many other things, we talked about what we thought intention was, how it differed from goals. I said I thought that goals were something that you work toward, and that intention was living in the work. This was a work meeting, mind you, and there is a chance this comment had more relevance in context, but I am always big on reflection around the time of my birthday, which comes just before the end of the calendar year. And it feels good to look back at that list of goals, things to do, and to realize that I’m not at all sorry about the things I planned to but did not create.

The desire to be creative, the intention set to make myself and others happy, the year of living inside my values, well these are just the best things that I could hope to have. Looking back and looking forward, I can say that the things I wanted most out of my thirtieth year have come my way: opening and settling, calming and centering. Breathing. I love the new shelves in our spare room. I love that there are shiny jars on these shelves, summer’s bounty preserved, labors of love to be given and shared this holiday season. But these things don’t compare to the comfort I feel in my own skin, newfound and gracious, as I enter this next year.

Tomorrow I will walk to the Grand Army farmer’s market in the hat a dear friend made by hand this time last year, chat with people who work the land around here, tote home bags full of vegetables, early winter harvest. Tomorrow I will cook for friends, break out some liqueur from the workshop party, celebrate the year that’s just passed and the new one coming the best way I know how.

As the air gets cold and the winds turn bitter and as 2010 ticks into 2011, I wish you, nice readers, much coziness, much love. I wish gifts for you this holiday season, woolly hats and shiny jars changing hands, but mostly I wish you a cozy home, comfort in your skin, ease of breathing, ease of love. Thank you for being a part of this last year and all its wonders. I am wishing you the best in all that comes next.

Back to the City

The fourth of July was wonderful again this year: perfect days in Vermont, green grass, loved ones, cooking on campfire, dappled sunlight by the brook, and the coldest, clearest water.

I will catch up soon on kitchen projects, CSA plans. The fruit share started this week. It wasn’t supposed to start until next week, but the weather has been in the triple digits, and even peaches were plump and ready in early July, and we received a satisfying, handled bag of them with our share last night, accompanied by some wonderful berries, balms to sooth the re-entry, the easing back from three perfect days into heatwave, city grit, the grind of non-vacation life.

I will catch up on these things soon, for sure. In the meantime, I am savoring the peace still lingering from those recent, perfect days, celebrating summer and the glow of recent memories.



On an Unabashedly Personal Note


Married With Children fountain, Chicago

It took a while to find an appropriate photo for this post, a nice one of Shawn and me together (this one is rather silly, but that just might be fitting). There is a surprising dearth of pictures of us, given the amount of time that we have been together. What I did find were hundreds of pictures of places we have been, pictures of me holding his little nieces and nephew, my own little niece in his arms, infatuated. Pictures of his family folding me in and mine his, friends, too. I found pictures of our apartment when it was new, lovely and bare bones, and our old apartment cramped and packed full. Stunning landscapes. Farmers market veggies in the sun. A goldmine of terrible pictures of yours truly lolling about the apartment, making ridiculous faces in a variety of beautiful places, pictures I would never want to share, a testament to the fact that Shawn must really, really love me to think such moments are lovely and worthy of documentation. Ah love.

After all my big talk about Valentine’s Day, platonic love, being content to be single and surrounded by love on that day, after sticky buns and ruby rosas (my version of the mimosa — pink grapefruit juice and prosecco instead of OJ and champagne — holler if you have a better name for this beverage) and afternoon coffees, Shawn suggested that we walk across the Brooklyn Bridge before dinner. Always happy to walk, I jumped at the offer. The light on the bridge was crazy — bold and golden coming in off the harbor, stormy blue over Manhattan — and I made him stop to snap a few photos as we walked. When we got to the first support towers, the Brooklyn side, he asked if I minded stopping. It was very windy. It crossed my mind to suggest moving to the other side of the tower where we would be more shielded, but I did not get the words out. Even I was able to pick up on social cues and realize that it is impolite to suggest moving when one’s boyfriend is getting down on bended knee, fumbling in his pocket for your great-grandmother’s ring, asking you to be his wife.

I was not a little girl who dreamed about my wedding day. I have always been rather opposed to the wedding industry, the vast quantities of money spent on one day, couples starting married life in wedding debt. And yet, and yet…the past 10 days have been a flurry of phone calls, emails,  DIY blog-reading, general daydream scheming. I am super excited. This will be a hippie, crafty, DIY affair. It may be a potluck, because I love potlucks, because I believe strongly that food is love, and because I want my people involved.

Time will tell. Crafts will be documented. I will do my best not to turn this here blog into a forum about how I’m obsessed with wedding planning (I vow not to go Bridezilla, but I can totally see how that happens now). But some people have been wanting a story, and this seemed as good a place as any to lay it out. So there you have it. After 4 years of co-habitation, 5 years of being together following less than a year (but my oh my did it feel like more) of being new BFFs (the kind where the boy was secretly in love with the girl), after baby-faced travels, hundreds of small adventures, amazing and heartening lessons learned, Mr. Shawn and I are opting to hold onto this relationship, this feeling of home and boundless support, this love, for the rest of our lives.

And that, my friends, is where my head has been.

Sweets for my Sweet

I imagine that, for most people, the holiday season is a pleasant, if somewhat faded, memory by now, that gifts have been given and received, put into use or set aside in some secret corner for good will donations or future regifting. Though my cozy time at home with family is behind me, I’m still working on the gifting aspect, at least as far as my guy is concerned. Last year, Shawn and I were not together on Christmas, so we started a mini-tradition of exchanging gifts on New Year’s Day instead. Even though we spent Christmas together this year (eating my momma’s farmer’s cheese pancakes, walking in snow with hilarious dogs running rampant, feasting with family and sweet, familial friends…an excellent day, really), we liked the idea of exchanging gifts on another special day, back in the quiet of our Brooklyn apartment, just us two.

Exchanging gifts later also bought us a little more time. For me, that meant more time to think and think about what to make for Shawn and, for the most part, to come up short. Somehow, there was nothing in my crafting repertoire that seemed quite grand enough for my very sweet and supportive boyfriend, and I did not really have the time to embark on a great big project for him anyway. Eventually, I opted for a collection of smaller things, a booklet of monthly IOUs, things I could make or things we could do together, most of them free or very affordable (I don’t really have to shell out for anything in the book until October). He’s no great lover of grandeur anyway.

closed book

open book

I borrowed the matchbook style of the book from Laura at Betula ‘Loo, whose Giveaway Day giveaway I was lucky enough to win. She fills hers with blank paper and bills them as mini-scrapbooks, and I won two of them along with some other lovely paper goods, and they are adorable.

First up in the year of goodies: Homemade peppermint patties. Shawn loves peppermint patties, and I stumbled across a recipe recently and knew he had to have them. I love the idea of making typically packaged goodies at home, without the addition of unpronounceable ingredients. I read through several recipes online and modified slightly, and Shawn and I were both pleased with the results. They took a little bit of time, but only because it’s a good idea to let the filling set up a little before coating them in tasty, tasty chocolate.

Homemade Peppermint Patties: Ingredients

  • 2 1/4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp. butter
  • 3 Tbsp. evaporated milk
  • 1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp. peppermint flavoring*
  • 8 ounces dark chocolate
  • a little dab of shortening (optional)

*I actually purchased peppermint flavoring for this, which is basically peppermint essential oil thinned out in a vegetable oil base. I was worried that using straight essential oil would be too strong, but I ended up gradually increasing the flavoring to at least 2 teaspoons. If you have essential oil on hand (make sure it’s real essential oil, safe for food, and not some kind of house fragrance oil), I think it would be fine to use that here. Start with just a couple of drops, taste, and add more as needed.  Also, I used vanilla. I thought it would be good. In the end, these things are so minty fresh that I’m really not sure the vanilla adds anything. Skip it if you want.

How to Make Your Own Peppermint Patties:

Beat together your butter, evaporated milk, vanilla (if using), and peppermint. If you’re going the essential oil route, put in just a little peppermint. You can always add more later. Add powdered sugar a little at a time to make sure it incorporates well, and beat it until it’s smooth. If you need to tweak the flavoring amounts, go for it. I have never made fondant, but I imagine the texture is very similar to the final filling made here. It looks like this:

OK, so that looks like it could be ice cream. It’s not. It’s room temperature and rather firm. I used a little cookie scoop to dole out teaspoon-sized portions. If you don’t have a little scoop, just use a couple of spoons. They’re going to get flattened out, so don’t worry about how pretty they are. I put mine on some parchment paper, but I’m sure you’d be fine with foil, wax paper, a plain pan, etc.

low-light scooping

I then put them in the fridge to chill for a bit, put on a pair of creepy latex gloves, and rolled them into little patties. You don’t absolutely need gloves for this, but I found that the warmth of my hands without the gloves melted the filling a little, and things got messy fast. I put the little disks in the freezer for about 15 minutes and melted some chocolate with a dab of shortening. I read that the shortening would make the chocolate easier to work with, keep it shiny, etc., but I didn’t see any great benefit. Next time, I’ll just use straight chocolate and temper it the easiest way I know how — microwave until not quite melted through, then stir until all melted.

I’m not the tidiest dipper in the world, so I’ll spare you the photos of me dipping the disks in the chocolate. I used two forks and transferred the finished patties onto a separate baking pan, lined with wax paper. It looked a little like Jackson Pollock had guided my hand at times, but no matter. I wound up with an immensely satisfying tray of shiny chocolate patties.

gleaming, again in low light

I’m sure they would do just fine on the counter top, but I was feeling a little impatient, so I popped them in the fridge to set up fast. Or was it the freezer? I stuck them in just long enough to forget about them — they were ready by the time Shawn asked where they’d gone. We’ve been keeping them in the fridge, their numbers dwindling, on account of the butter in the filling. I suspect they would be OK in a regular cupboard, especially in this chilly weather.

Shawn was pleased with his peppermint patties, and he has been kind enough to share them with me. I haven’t had a York in ages, so I can’t say for sure how they compare, but Shawn claims that mine taste less processed, more purely minty-chocolatey (not his exact words). There’s a chance this is merely the power of suggestion, but I’ll take it. Make some yourself, and let me know how it goes.

Happy New Year!

It is a blue moon tonight, New Year’s Eve! I hope that you stay warm and cozy this evening and that you are able to catch a glimpse of the moon, fireworks, Times Square ball drop, or whatever lights in the sky suit your fancy.

A Facebook friend updated her status today to thank this past year for hard knocks and good times, both of which have felt abundant to me in 2009. Those simple words rang very true.  So good-bye 2009, with your pitfalls and pleasures, and good-bye first decade of me playing grown-up in this crazy world. Thanks, 2000’s, for teaching me so much about life and for sending me into the next decade armed with skills, dreams, excitement, and the support of some ridiculously terrific people.

May the coming year and the coming decade bring peace, good food, love, and many exciting craftables our way, and may the hard knocks grow fewer and farther between. Happy New Year!

Raclette

Every summer, loved ones and I convene in New Hampshire to reunite and swim in a lake and rejuvenate in various ways and, most importantly, to eat some amazing cheese. OK, the cheese is not quite as important as the loved ones and the reuniting, but it is pretty damn special.

I was blessed to grow up, from the age of four on, in a wonderfully tight-knit neighborhood. There were single people and families, kids with whom I learned to ride bikes on my dead end street. There was the beloved bachelor professor who lived downstairs from me. There were roommates and people who lived down the block, flitting in and out of the weekly dinners that were a constant for the rest of us, and then there was Colleen. Colleen was just about the most beautiful and sophisticated person I could imagine. She lived next door to us with a family of friends, and they had all met in Switzerland. Colleen had lived all over Europe. We called her driveway “piazza,” strung with twinkle lights and decorated with a small gondola. She traveled the big world and broadened my littler one with exotic chocolates and mementos and enchanting stories. Once she phoned me from an AIRPLANE for goodness sake. My mind was blown.

It must also be said that Colleen is from the Midwest, all American charm and stories of swim meets and big families and having too long legs as a girl. She grew up spending summer days on a lake with brothers and sisters and cousins, water-skiing and swimming and all kinds of neat things. When I was about six, she bought a house on a lake in New Hampshire, in large part so that she could share that experience with her loved ones. It is a fantastic house, and she fills it with fantastic people throughout the summer.

Because a few cornerstone members of our neighborhood crew first met in Switzerland, we took to spending Swiss national day, August 1, at the lake house and, though the date has varied over the years, the tradition of celebrating with raclette has not.

Raclette is an amazing thing. It is a semi-firm cheese, and also the dish named for the cheese, traditionally served melted with fresh ground pepper and boiled potatoes and cornichons and little pearl onions and cold cuts (though I traditionally forgo those last two things). It is a washed rind cheese, and I thought it was offensively stinky as a kid, but now I find it somewhat mild. My palate is either more sophisticated or rather more dull than it was twenty years ago. Go figure.  In any event, the raclette is creamy and smooth and just the tiniest bit stinky-cheesy and one of the best things that you could ever hope to eat.

 

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Raclette with potatoes and black pepper. Shown not with the traditional cornichons, but with homemade pickles that I added to the mix.

 

Nowadays, it is possible to purchase various types of electric raclette grills to make melty cheese in your own home. Many of these little grills have individual pans to melt down individual slices of raclette. While I would never say no to my own little portion of melted cheese, and while I’m sure raclette tastes phenomenal under any circumstances, it’s worth pointing out that the name raclette comes from the word “racler,” to scrape, and I am both pleased and unduly proud to consume raclette prepared the old-fashioned way every summer with some of my very favorite people.

Here is how it’s done.

Step 1: Procure half a wheel of  cheese. Not a sliver, not a wedge. An entire half wheel of cheesy awesomeness is required. Place the cheese with the cut side facing a fire. Our traditional racleur was not able to make it this year, but he rigged up this system years ago — a contained fire with a grill grate against which coals can be stacked to maximize heat exposure while keeping the cheese safe from flames and ash — thus enabling us to forge ahead with our cheese-loving ways with relative ease.

 

the early stages of the half wheel
the early stages of the half wheel

 

Step 2: Scrape-a-scrape! The racleur flips the cheese for even melting and watches, with a keen eye, to see if it is ready. Once the outermost layer of cheese has melted, the racleur removes it from the fire and uses a special flat knife to scrape the melty goodness onto a waiting plate. Inevitably, there will be some excess along the sides. This is scraped upwards and inwards, onto the flat surface of the cheese, for additional melting and eventual serving. The crispy, rindy bits are known as the religieuse after the nuns to whom this part was relegated until other people caught on that it was awesome. At least that’s what I was told when I was a kid. Maybe it’s called the religieuse because eating it makes you feel close to God? That seems entirely plausible. Would someone less ignorant and better with French please step in here and clarify?

 

mid-scrape
mid-scrape

 

Step 3: Repeat. Repeat until everyone is fed and happy, and until someone else dons the apron and gives the racleur a chance to eat. 

Step 4 (Optional, but recommended): Let me have a go! Cheese lover that I am, I was thrilled, after 22 years of this wonderful tradition, to get behind the cheese for the first time.

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taking the cheese very seriously.

 

Step 5: Wrap leftover cheese in foil, refrigerate, and make rösti in the morning. My mom handles this part, frying leftover potatoes with grated raclette until crispy and brown, while I make a big pan of eggs that inevitably takes way longer than it should, and eventually we all sit down to one of the best breakfasts of the year in a sunny spot on a lovely lake, and I, for one, feel blessed and happy with hot food and cold juice and lazy days with friends who feel like family.

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