Failure and Success

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Tuesday was Maya’s 20th Birthday, and also Spring Break for the elementary school where she works, so she didn’t have work that day. Spring Break at her college was last week, so she did have school, but she decided to play hooky and spend the day with us, her loving parents. I love this kid. (Not a kid at 20, but still MY kid)

We recently watched the movie “Chef” on HBO. Have you seen that movie? It’s really cute, about a chef in Los Angeles who is working for a restaurant that is uninspired and doesn’t allow him to showcase his creativity, and he ends up quitting his job, flying across the country, and starting up a food truck, driving across the country selling Cuban sandwiches. Maya decided that for her birthday, she wanted to go into San Francisco and get Cuban sandwiches. So she went online and found a place that gets fabulous reviews, which is in fact a corner store that also has a little sandwich area. So off we went. When we got there, we discovered that it wasn’t a traditional Cuban sandwich like you might get in Havana, but is instead a Torta Cubana, which has ham, cheese, mayonnaise, chorizo, chicken, pickled peppers, sour cream, fried egg, milanesa, avocado, and hot dog slices. Way too much, when what we were looking for has roasted pork, ham, Swiss cheese, pickles, and mustard on Cuban bread, which is buttered and grilled in a press, like a panini. Failure

So I looked on my phone, and found another restaurant, known for the Cuban version (rather than the Mexican Torta). We drove across town, and when we got there, discovered they had shut down, permanantly. Looked for another place, also shut down. Clearly, our internet research skills are lacking.Failure

Ted had to go to work that afternoon, so we found a sandwich shop near his office, and had a late lunch there. No Cubans in sight, but it was nice nonetheless. Since Maya was born in Philadelphia, I had the Philly Cheese, which was quite good. Success (at last)

After dropping Ted off at work, Maya and I went to the Legion of Honor, so we could see a lovely painting by Raphael, Portrait of a Lady with a Unicorn. We do love the Legion of Honor…the views of San Francisco’s skyline and the Golden Gate Bridge, the smell of the sea, the gorgeous Cypress trees, and of course the beautiful paintings and sculptures. The current exposition is a collection of Pierre Bonnard’s paintings from around the world, which we very much enjoyed. Success

The following day, I saw a recipe online that looked pretty good to me, for Rajma, or Red Kidney Bean Curry, which popped up on Facebook, since I follow Smitten Kitchen there. In her post, she mentions a spice mixture that she found at Whole Foods and loved, and eventually figured out how to make herself. I thought that perhaps I might try it, and since sometimes spices in my cabinet can get a bit old, I’d just use the mix. So I went to the spice blend website, which said it was carried at both our local Whole Foods and at another local grocery store. So I went to Whole Foods (since I was in that neighborhood), and searched for the mix. Nope. Not in the Indian food section, nor in the spice section. I asked at customer service, and they said they had never heard of the brand. Sigh. So I went to the Indian spice shop across the street, where I was also out of luck. Failure I asked the woman at the spice shop, and she said the spices for Rajma are coriander, cumin, and garam masala. I had cumin at home that was fairly fresh, so I bought some coriander and garam masala and went on my way. I made the recipe for dinner and served it with rice, and it was delicious indeed. Ted said he could eat it every week, so I suspect I’ll be making it again soon. I varied the recipe in that I added a bit of garam masala, which the recipe did NOT call for, but the woman at the spice shop said it should. Really good. Success

Another recipe I tried this week was something that I saw on America’s Test Kitchen, which was lentils and rice with crispy onions, which included cumin and cinnamon. As they are known to do, America’s Test Kitchen tries the recipe several ways and tweaks it until they feel they have it just right. The recipe was supposed to be a pilaf type recipe, with tender lentils and fluffy rice, and crispy fried onions. When I made it, however, the rice came out gloppy and disgusting, and the flavors were blah. So Maya and I had bagels for dinner, and when Ted came home from work he had leftovers. Failure

Maya, as you know, has been attending our local community college for the last two years, in order to save money. Now she’s finishing up her Sophomore year, and is getting ready to transfer. She applied to one California State University, SF State (where Ted and I met!), and perhaps 6 University of California schools. She has heard from SF State, UC Santa Barbara, and UC Santa Cruz, and she is accepted to all three. YAY! She likely won’t hear from the others for a few more weeks. Her first and second choices are UC Berkeley and UC Davis, so we’re hoping for those. But if they don’t work out, she has some very good options to consider. Success!

It’s Raining, it’s Pouring…

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So happy about all of that beautiful rain we’re hoping for over the next several days*. We had a nice January, but February was dry dry day. And the ad at the bottom for slippers? I bought a pair of orthaheel slippers (not the Gemma, the Adilyn) and they are the most comfortable slippers EVER. They have arch support, not just a nice cushion at the bottom. Since I work from home, comfy slippers are important.

* I hope I’m not counting chickens before they’re hatched…we need a very wet March to make up for a very dry February. It hasn’t started raining yet, but having several days in a row coming up is a really good thing.

Braised Short Ribs

Picture from ATK website, because I didn't take a picture of ours. The picture on the recipe is what inspired me to make the polenta.

Picture from ATK website, because I didn’t take a picture of ours. The picture on the recipe is what inspired me to make the polenta.

Two recipes in two days. Sorry. I like to keep a lot of recipes here, in addition to printing them up, so I can find them when I need them. The thing with America’s Test Kitchen recipes is that only the current season episodes are free. For past seasons, you have to pay for a subscription. So there’s a time limit on them. Best to write it down somewhere. For me, that’s here.

I saw the cooks on ATK make this beef stew the other day, and I was intruiged. I am not a big fan of beef bourgenion, or coq a vin, so I don’t know why I wanted to try this one, but I did. You braise beef short ribs in Chianti, and you do it in batches to effect the flavor of the sauce.

I ended up using 2 3/4 lbs of bone-in short ribs. I’m estimating that that meant about 1 1/2 lbs of meat, or maybe 2lbs, I’m not sure. I halved the rest of the recipe. I’m not sure how different it would taste with boneless, likely just as good, or else they would have made the recipe with bone in ribs. I kind of wish I had made the entire recipe, because it was really good and I wish we had leftovers. I served it with polenta, which I sometimes like and sometimes do not. This time I liked it a lot. Also peas and carrots. So, without further ado, here’s the recipe. If you’d like a cozy meal, give it a try (it was almost 80 degrees yesterday, so who knows what inspired me.)

TUSCAN-STYLE BEEF STEW/Braised Short Ribs
Ingredients
4 pounds boneless beef short ribs, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces
Salt
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 (750-ml) bottle Chianti
1 cup water
4 shallots, peeled and halved lengthwise
2 carrots, peeled and halved lengthwise
1 garlic head, cloves separated, unpeeled, and crushed
4 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon cracked black peppercorns, plus extra for serving
1 tablespoon unflavored gelatin
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon anchovy paste
2 teaspoons ground black pepper
2 teaspoons cornstarch

Instructions
1. Toss beef and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt together in bowl and let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 300 degrees.

2. Heat oil in large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until just smoking. Add half of beef in single layer and cook until well browned on all sides, about 8 minutes total, reducing heat if fond begins to burn. Stir in 2 cups wine, water, shallots, carrots, garlic, rosemary, bay leaves, cracked peppercorns, gelatin, tomato paste, anchovy paste, and remaining beef. Bring to simmer and cover tightly with sheet of heavy-duty aluminum foil, then lid. Transfer to oven and cook until beef is tender, 2 to 2 1/4 hours, stirring halfway through cooking time.

3. Using slotted spoon, transfer beef to bowl; cover tightly with foil and set aside. Strain sauce through fine-mesh strainer into fat separator. Wipe out pot with paper towels. Let liquid settle for 5 minutes, then return defatted liquid to pot.

4. Add 1 cup wine and ground black pepper and bring mixture to boil over medium-high heat. Simmer briskly, stirring occasionally, until sauce is thickened to consistency of heavy cream, 12 to 15 minutes.

5. Combine remaining wine and cornstarch in small bowl. Reduce heat to medium-low, return beef to pot, and stir in cornstarch-wine mixture. Cover and simmer until just heated through, 5 to 8 minutes. Season with salt to taste. Serve, passing extra cracked peppercorns separately. (Stew can be made up to 3 days in advance.)

Onion Burgers

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photo from Cook’s Country website, because I neglected to take a picture of ours.

A few years ago, we tried a hamburger recipe that was inspired by an episode of Man vs Food, Louis’ Lunch Burger.  In that recipe, a bit of onion is smashed into the burgers before cooking, and then they are grilled on an antique grilling machine.  We don’t have an antique grilling machine, just a grill, and when we made it, most of the onion fell between the grates, which was a shame because they looked good.

This weekend, Cook’s Country (do you watch cooking shows on PBS?  I love them) had a similar burger , which they said was from Oklahoma, and served at a hamberger joint on Route 66.  It’s similar in that it has onion smashed into one side of the burger before cooking.  It’s different in that it’s cooked in a non-stick pan on your stove.  I liked the look of that, so we had that for dinner last night.  The results are that it was a really good burger.  I think I’ll make my burgers the same way next time we have burgers, except maybe I’ll try one trick from the Louis’ Lunch Burger recipe, which was to use a combination of meats.  I had forgotten that when we made those burgers, we used 1/2 80% and 1/2 85%.  I think these would be even better that way.  The only changes we made from the Cook’s Country recipe are that their recipe makes 4 3oz burgers, and we made 3 4oz burgers, and I only used 1/2 of an onion, though it was a decently big (yellow) onion.

ONION BURGERS
adapted from Cook’s Country

Ingredients

1/2 large onion, halved and sliced 1/8 inch thick
Salt and pepper
6 ounces 85 percent lean ground beef
6 ounces 80 percent lean ground beef
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
2 slices Cheddar cheese (No cheese for Ted)
3 hamburger buns, buttered and toasted

Instructions

1. Combine onion and 1 teaspoon salt in bowl and toss to combine. Transfer to colander and let sit for 30 minutes, tossing occasionally. Using tongs, transfer onion to clean dish towel, gather edges, and squeeze onion dry. Sprinkle with ½ teaspoon pepper.

2. Divide onion mixture into 3 separate mounds on rimmed baking sheet.  Mix two types of beef, then form into 3 lightly packed balls and season with salt and pepper. Place beef balls on top of onion mounds and flatten beef firmly so onion adheres and patties measure 4 inches in diameter.

3. Melt butter with oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat. Using spatula, transfer patties to skillet, onion side down, and cook until onion is deep golden brown and beginning to crisp around edges, 6 to 8 minutes. Flip burgers, increase heat to high, and cook until well browned on second side, about 2 minutes. Place 1 slice cheese on each bottom bun. Place burgers on buns, add desired toppings, and serve.

Friday Randomness

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Have you seen the beautiful tribute to my first husband, David Bowie, at the BRIT awards?  This is the entire thing, I think, including a tribute by Annie Lennox, a tribute by Gary Oldmam, and a song by Lorde, backed up by performers who had worked with Bowie in the past.  I’ll confess, Lorde’s song brought me to tears.  I miss David Bowie being alive in the world.  It was a better place with him here.   Coming so soon after the Emmy awards, which included a tribute by Lady Gaga, of course invites comparison.  I’ll chime in and say that Gaga’s tribute left me feeling cold, didn’t move me at all.  Hers was an over the top performance, with her dressed to honor the glam rock Bowie from the 70s.  She did a fine job, but tried to squeeze in too many songs, and it sounded like she was trying to pitch her voice to match his.  Lorde instead did a straight up version of ‘Life on Mars?’ that was gorgeous and simple.  The video above is the whole BRIT tribute.  If you want to see just Lorde’s performance, it starts about 9 minutes in.

Speaking of Gaga, I read today that Joe Biden is going to introduce her at the Academy Awards on Sunday, where she will perform her Oscar nominated song about rape and sexual assult.  This comes in the wake of a court decision this week that Kesha, who was (allegedly) sexually assaulted by her producer, Dr. Luke, will not be released from her contract with Sony.  Kesha says she wants to break all ties with Luke, but Sony says they are unable to do so, because the contract belongs to Dr. Luke’s company, which has a deal with Sony.  What a mess.  This is just an injunction, however, and the actual trial hasn’t started yet.  So we’ll see whether she will be contractually required to create 4 more albums with her attacker.  I don’t know more about the case, but I’m glad it’s getting attention.  Sexual assult is hard to prove, and so often the blame is put on the victim.  We need to change that mentality.

How’s the weather where you are?  It’s stupidly gorgeous here, 70 degrees outside right now.  We’ve had a very dry February, though not as dry as recent years.  January was pretty wet, which was good, unless you live on a cliff in Pacifica.  But February is prime rainy season.  It’s not unheard of in an ‘el nino’ year for us to have a dry spell, so I’m hoping still for a wet March and maybe even April.  After that it pretty much dries up around here.  What we need are winter storms to drop a lot of moisture, and we’re just not getting that right now.  Ugh.

Did you watch ‘Freaks and Geeks‘ when it was on back in ’99-2000?   We did, though I think we missed it first run and watched in reruns.  The entire series (only 18 episodes) is available now on Netflix.  If you came of age in the early 80s, you should give yourself up to a good binge and watch the entire thing.  We just finished the other night, and it really held up well.

I thought the series finale of Downton Abbey was this coming Sunday, but maybe they didn’t want to go up against the Academy Awards.  It’s next week, March 6th.  We have the DVD, so we’ve watched already.  Clearly I’m not evil and I won’t spoil anything for you, but I will say I think they did a really nice job with it.

Do you like Spaghetti and Meatballs?  We do.  We’re especially fond of the recipe in my Alice Waters cookbook.  It’s fairly involved, though, and usually Ted makes the meatballs while I make the sauce and it’s a real team effort weekend type meal.  So I was happy the other day to see that Smitten Kitchen had an everyday meatball recipe.  And instead of serving it with pasta, she said maybe you might want to have it with garlic toast, as sort of an open face meatball sub.  So that’s exactly what we did, and gosh it was good.  I think I would have liked the sauce portion to be a bit more complex, maybe some onions or carrots or something in there, but for a quick sauce, it was quite good.  Happily, there are leftovers on the menu tonight.

Lastly in this rambling post, for some reason last night I was thinking about these TV dinners, Libbyland, we sometimes got when I was a kid, in Alaska.  They were made and marketed to kids, so there was a game or a puzzle or something on the box that you could occupy yourself with, there was a packet of Nestle Quick that you could mix with milk and have chocolate milk (maybe they even had strawberry milk with some meals, I’m not sure.)  TV dinners back then were cooked in the oven, and these for some reason often came with chocolate pudding, so that was hot.  Strange.  The food was definitely geared towards kids tastes, and was fairly gross.  But boy, I loved those things.  I think we would get those if my mom was going on a date, so not a nightly thing by any means.

 

Waffling

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image found here…dream interpretation of waffles…
Back in the 2008 primaries, the choice for Democrats was between Clinton and Obama. I looked at them as both too centrist for my taste, but if those were my choices, I wanted a woman President, so I voted for Clinton. I remember my liberal mother being displeased at this decision, as Clinton voted for the war in Iraq, and she was unwilling to let that go. I felt like the political climate at that time was such that it would be political suicide to vote against that war, especially if you were a Senator in New York, so I looked past it. Perhaps that says something not very good about me, I don’t know.

In those same primaries, Ted also looked at Clinton and Obama as centrist, and he wanted a President who was a person of color. So he voted for Obama. We pretty much cancelled out each others’ votes, but we didn’t care. It felt really good to vote for a woman and a black man.

This time, though, I’m having more trouble.  I keep waffling between Clinton and Sanders. I like Sanders’ ideas, and he’s NOT too centrist for me. The things he wants to fix, I sincerely believe need fixing. Our political system is mired in corporate money. Higher education is obscenely expensive. Healthcare is obscenely expensive. Clinton says she wants to fix these things, but so did Obama, and he didn’t get terribly far. Not far enough for me, certainly. So maybe I should vote for Sanders.

But then, I think Clinton is likely a better manager, perhaps better at getting things done. With the right pressure from the left side of her base, perhaps she could fix some of these things.  And Sanders voted against gun legislation that I would have liked to see, likely for the same reason that Clinton voted for war.  Because it kept him in office.  Politicians who piss off their constituents get voted down.

But then there’s this.  I still really, really want a woman president. I am convinced we will have one in Maya’s lifetime, and pretty sure we will in mine. But I’d like to have one in my Great Aunt’s lifetime, and she’s going to be 92 in April. She has given money to Clinton ($10 I think), because she wants a woman President. I think having a black man as President has brought a lot of the racism in our country to the forefront, and we, as a nation, are more aware and accepting that this shit really does happen. Maybe we would have been just as aware with a white President, since so much of what has been unearthed is through video cameras on phones.  But the hatred and disrespect (remember “LIAR!” during the State of the Union?) he has faced has boiled over into people’s consciousness.  And will Clinton be able to get things done? Depends a lot on the Congress. Bill Clinton’s Congress sure hated him, didn’t they? The current Congrss hates Hillary even more.  She may be hated as much as Obama.

So here I am, stuck between my ideals and my dreams. Those of you not on Facebook, this is a good time for that. My political Democrat friends are all posting, daily, their reasons why Sanders is a better pick, or why Clinton is the better choice, and no, it doesn’t confuse me, but it does get a little old. California doesn’t have our primaries until June, so I have a lot of time between now and then to see what’s going on, to think about this a little more, and figure things out. I’ve always kind of laughed at people who are undecided up until the last minute, thinking they weren’t paying attention. But I’m paying attention. I just don’t know what’s best…for me, for my daughter, for my country.

What about you? How’s your decision making process going?

Throwback Thursday

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Not much of a throwback, admittedly. This is Mulder on Christmas Eve, trying to be a good boy and waiting for Santa.

We live in a townhouse, and have a teeny tiny living room, so this is the tree that fits.  It’s built for an entryway, is very small and thin.   It’s perfect for us.  Though maybe we need a new one next year, as some of the pre-set lights are out.  Or maybe we’ll just get some new lights.  I tried at the after Christmas sales, but I couldn’t find any.

Such Sad News

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I woke up to such sad news today, that David Bowie had died from cancer. Generally, I don’t feel anything when celebrities die. Especially since my mom died, I know how much the death of a real-life person you know and love hurts, and what an absolute hole it leaves in your heart. How can the death of a stranger truly matter.

And maybe it doesn’t.

But still, this morning’s news hurt. David Bowie was my first real celebrity crush. I remember when I was about 20, dreaming that he came to the hotel where I worked, and oh, by the way, he was my husband in this dream. I called him my ‘First husband‘ and ‘Maya’s step-dad’.

I think the first Bowie song I loved was ‘Space Oddity’, which could make me cry at almost any moment. So heartbreaking. My brother gave me his Bowie t-shirt with the picture from Changes One. My coworkers at Mr. Steak used to tease me for having a crush on him, saying, “Don’t you realize he’s gay?” As if that mattered in the least. I mean, what were the chances of me ever meeting him, and of him noticing me in any way and taking me away to be his wife? Zero. So I stuck by my guns.

I’ve not always been enamoured with his music. I love so much of it. But sometimes his more artistic works were not really my cup of tea. But sometimes they were.

I’m sad for his wife, Iman. For his children, the youngest who is younger than Maya. I’m sad for his friends. Mostly, I’m just sad that he’s gone.

I don’t know. What else is there to say? I found myself crying a little bit when this morning. Which surprised me, because as I said, why cry over a stranger? But my heart hurts for the loss today of such an artist, and my first husband.

Happy New Year – Friday Randomness

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Hey There Party People, what’s shakin’? December was a good combination of busy and lazy, and somehow in amongst the lazy I did not post even once. That’s pathetic.

In line with catching you up a bit, life here has been good, not crazy, not too different than it was before. We’ve had another month with dog-boy, Mulder, and he’s settling in so very well. We all adore him so much. He’s playful and loving and wonderful. He’s learning a bit of manners, learning to walk better on a leash, etc. He doesn’t jump on the furniture as much anymore. He doesn’t bark nearly as much anymore. He’s only vomited twice. He did wake us up barking Christmas Eve morning, maybe 1 A.M. Not good. But it turned out he was barking at the police officers who were here, because our neighbor’s house had been broken into. He didn’t bark during the actual burglery, but based on the layout of our houses, I doubt he even heard it. So he’s a good guard dog. And so darned darling.

Sometimes Ted and I get each other similar gifts, without knowing that would happen. One year it was cozy bathrobes. This year it was art for our walls, at least sort of. I say sort of, because while he bought me a photograph/print to frame and hang, I bought him a set of frames to hang record albums. This is big for us, because we have such different taste in art, we have a lot of trouble finding anything to hang on our walls. He likes abstract art, geometrical with contrasting colors. I like flowers and more girly type things. I have a theory that he likes the contrasting colors because he’s somewhat color blind, and I like flowers and portraits because I’m girly.  See the beautiful picture of San Francisco and the cloudy sky up there?  That’s the picture he bought me.  I love it. I think it’s contrasting enough for him and pretty enough for me, is why it works.  It was taken by a friend of his, who does great work you can find here, if you’re so inclined.

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I love Jacques Pepin and enjoy watching his cooking shows on PBS. He has a new one now, ‘Heart and Soul’ that I’m enjoying enough that Ted gave me the cookbook for Christmas. Yay! One of the recipes was this one, which is a deconstructed sushi. I decided to give it a try the other day, and it was delishious. Our favorite grocery store has a sushi counter (don’t they all?) and they sell the spicy sauce, wasabi, and pickled ginger, so I bought those to add. It was really good, but I think the trout roe that I bought was a bit too fishy for me, so maybe I’d save myself a bit of money and not use that next time. But overall it was good.

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What else…well, I turned 50. Ted threw me a lovely party with family and friends, and we feasted on delicious lamb curry, curried pumpkin, and roti. So so so good. My friend Marilee was in Canada and couldn’t make it to my party, but she sent me the most gorgeous bouquet of flowers. I don’t think I’ve ever seen orchids this way before, but aren’t they amazing? I love them. Here we are a week later, and they’re still stunning.

What else…We’re enjoying Downton Abbey, and I’m looking forward to getting the DVD in a couple of weeks so we can forge ahead and binge watch. It’s how I started watching D.A., and really my preferred method.

We’ll see if I end up posting here more than I did last year. I certainly HOPE that I do, but I’m not going to make it a resolution or anything like that. Happy New Year, everyone.

Leftover Turkey Chili

We were lucky enough to have some leftover turkey after Thanksgiving. We had some delicious turkey soup one night, a few turkey sandwiches, and last, some turkey chili. I had considered turkey chili for dinner, and the recipe I generally use is good, and calls for ground turkey. But Ted suggested we might make a recipe with the leftover roast turkey. That seemed like a good idea to me, but I wasn’t sure the same recipe that starts with raw ground turkey would work well with roasted turkey leftovers. So I found this recipe on Foodnetwork. I measured and I only had 1 1/2 cups of turkey left, so I halved the recipe. I didn’t fancy the idea of mashed potatoes or rice, so I went old school and made corn bread instead. I served the chili over a bit of sharp cheddar cheese, with a dollop of sour cream on top, and a bit of avocado to make it even better. Delicious.

Leftover Turkey Chili
Ingredients
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 small jalapeno, seeded and minced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 cup chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon dried oregano
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 to 4 cups leftover roasted turkey meat, white and dark combined, chopped or pulled into 3/4-inch pieces
One 28-ounce can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
Two 15-ounce cans pinto beans
Leftover mashed potatoes or cooked rice, for serving
Sour cream and chopped scallion, for serving

Directions
Heat the oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and bell pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are soft, about 6 minutes. Stir in the jalapeno and garlic and cook until they soften slightly, about 1 minute.

Stir in the chili powder, cumin, oregano, 1/2 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of pepper. Add the turkey and stir until well coated in the spices. Pour in the tomatoes and chicken broth and scrape up any spices that may have stuck to the bottom of the pan. Bring the chili to a simmer on medium-low and cook, uncovered, on until the liquid has reduced by a few inches and the chili has thickened, about 1 hour.

Drain and rinse one of the cans of beans; leave the bean liquid in the second can. Add all the beans plus the reserved bean liquid to the pot and heat until the beans are warmed through, about 10 minutes. Season to taste with more salt and pepper. Serve in bowls over potatoes or rice with a dollop of sour cream and sprinkle of chopped scallions.

Giving Thanks for Cranberry Sauce

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I’ve spoken here before about Thanksgiving, about how as a child, it was my least favorite holiday of the year.  (I should clarify that I am only talking about the years when I was in California…I don’t remember much about Thanksgiving in Alaska, but I’m sure it was lovely and fine.)  My entire family (on my mom’s side) is obsessed with weight.  My grandmother decided at a young age that she was NOT going to be fat like her parents and aunts, and pretty much has been on a diet ever since.  To the point where now, at age 92 and weighing in at about 88 lbs, she will still make comments like, “Well, since I ate that brownie, I’ll have to starve myself tomorrow.”  It’s digusting.  She raised her kids to be obsessed with weight as well, putting my mom on a diet when she was about 10.  It backfired, and the combination of her obsession and family genetics put all of her children into the overweight/obese category, though my aunt Colleen was much thinner than my mom or my uncle.

As might be expected, the conversation at family gatherings was often about dieting, about what one should and should not eat, what works and what doesn’t, on and on and on.  And all the while, of course, there’s turkey and stuffing and potatoes and candied yams and gravy and pie and fruit salad and cranberry sauce and rolls.  Please eat, enjoy…with an undertone of, you wouldn’t be so big if you didn’t enjoy quite so much.  Ugh.  Add to that the chain smoking by both of my grandparents, and throw in a big helping of my grandpa’s acid tongue and sarchasm, and you get the idea.  No family gatherings were particularly wonderful or happy, but Thanksgiving seemed to me to be about food food food, and with this family, that was not a good thing.  Plus most of the food wasn’t good.  Turkey was dried out, mashed potatoes from a box, brown gravy from a packet, cranberry sauce from a can, yams from a can.  Almost nothing was fresh.

I did always like the fruit salad and the cranberry sauce, canned though it was.  Actually, I liked the mashed potatoes and gravy from a box/packet, if truth be told.  It wasn’t until I was older and tried these things made from scratch that I realized that my grandparents’ cooking was like living in Plato’s cave, eating shadow versions of dishes, and there was a real world out there with delicious versionis of these same foods.

I remember the first time I tried cranberry sauce that wasn’t canned.  It was 1993, and Ted and I were newly married.  My mom had moved to Alaska that summer, though Richard and his wife had not moved up there yet, and were still in California.  Richard and Kathy were married the Saturday after Thanksgiving, and my mom had flown down for the wedding.  Generally we have Thanksgiving at Ted’s parents house, but we decided that year to have Thanksgiving at our apartment in San Francisco.  Kathy asked what she could bring, and I don’t remember if she brought pie or something else, but I do remember that she brought cranberry sauce.  It was a revelation. SO good.  Not overly sweet.  Fresh tasting.  I begged her for her recipe, and she looked at me, stunned.  “It’s on the back of the bag”, she said.  “1 cup water, 1 cup sugar, cranberries….cook over medium heat until the cranberries pop.  Chill.  That’s it.”   I think she felt that day about the same as she did when she told Richard they were going to make mashed potatoes, and he grabbed the box of powdered potatoes, while she grabbed fresh potatoes from the produce aisle.

Ever since that year, I’ve made this version of cranberry sauce, with a few exceptions.  One year I tried a savory version, which I did not care for.  One year I added a pinch of salt, which was fine but not really any different.  This year, for Canadian Thanksgiving in October, I tried a new recipe.  I don’t know what motivated me to do so, but I did.  It’s very similar to the one on the cranberry bag, but has less liquid.  You start out over low heat with the sugar, cranberries, and only 2 tblsp of water instead of a cup.  When the sugar dissolves, you have plenty of liquid, so then you turn up the heat to medium and cook until the cranberries pop.  I found the recipe on Food Network, and they added a strip of orange peel, which I don’t fancy.  Some commenters used 2 tblsp OJ instead of water.  Result?  A lovely cranberry sauce!  Not adding as much water gives you more concentrated cranberry flavor.  Also, I used a bit less than a cup of sugar.  Maybe more than 3/4 of a cup, I’m not exactly sure.  Delicious. So this is the cranberry sauce recipe that I’m making for today’s Thanksgiving feast.

I’ll be thinking of Kathy, and thanking her for introducing me to fresh cranberry sauce.  I’ll be thinking of my mom and all of the years when she would come to California for a month, and Thanksgiving was during that time and she would spend a week with us.  I wish we were able to do that this year.  I’ll be thinking of my grandma and how much I love her, even if a visit with her means coming home smelling like cigarettes.  I’ll be thinking of my grandpa and how much I loved him, even if he was a mean old man.  I’ll be enjoying a lovely day of delicious, freshly made food, laughter, music, wine, and fun with our new dog, at Ted’s parents house.  I do have a lot to be thankful for.  (I considered changing that to the more gramattically correct, “I do have much for which to be thankful” but I don’t like it, so I didn’t.)

I’m also making my Grandma’s fruit salad, sweet potato pudding, and as an appetizer, shrimp cocktail.

If you’ve not tried fresh cranberry sauce, or if you have only tried the version with 1 whole cup of water, give this one a try.  It’s delicious.

Cranberry Sauce
Ingredients:

12 0z cranberries (fresh or frozen)
3/4 cup sugar
2 tblsp water or orange juice
1 strip orange or lemon zest, optional

Directions:

Put all ingredients into a saucepan.  Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves and the cranberries are soft, about 10 minutes. Increase the heat to medium and cook until the cranberries burst, about 12 minutes.

Puppy Love

Mulder the day we met him. So sweet, a bit shy and overwhelmed.

Mulder the day we met him. So sweet, a bit shy and overwhelmed.

I am most happy to introduce you to our new teen-puppy, Mulder!

Mulder is 7 1/2 months old Keeshond teen-puppy.  Teen-puppy is my term for his age, because he’s almost fully grown (30ish lbs now), but still a puppy in so many ways. Our sweet girl Genevieve was 1/2 kees/1/2 Sheltie. We got her from a local Keeshonden rescue back in 2002, when she was 4. She was such a good dog, and when she died in early 2012 (can you believe it’s been that long?), we were heartbroken. As time went by, we eventually decided we were ready to open our hearts and our home to another dog. We thought we’d like to get another Kees from the same rescue, so last December, we put in our application. Then we waited. And waited. And waited. About 6 weeks after putting in our application, having heard NOTHING, I emailed the rescue and asked if there was something wrong with our application. The reply came back, no, nothing wrong, but for better or for worse, NO DOGS are currently available for adoption. She said in her 20 years, they had never had such a long dry spell. I follow the rescue on Facebook, so I had seen several lovely dogs come and go in the last year, and indeed, there had been nothing in the last few months. So we tried to be patient. Every once in awhile we’d get an email…we have a dog…but we were hoping for a young dog, maybe 4 years or younger, and at least mostly healthy, so we wouldn’t be starting off with an old sick dog. We know that part is in the future with any pet, but we didn’t have the fortitude to start out that way. So we continued to wait.

Mulder on Sunday, looking very mature and calm.

Mulder on Sunday, looking very mature and calm.

When we thought maybe we weren’t going to get a Keeshond, we went to the local animal shelter a few times. There were some sweet dogs, but none that we fell in love with. We went to another rescue, for a husky, but that dog was a bit too much for my arthritic hands to manage. A sled dog is perhaps not what you want if you don’t want to be pulled. Perhaps we could have trained her out of that habit, but she was SO high energy, and not so much what we were looking for. So we tried some more to be patient.
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And obviously, our patience eventually paid off. Late in October, the rescue contacted us to say they have a dog! Younger than we were wanting, almost 7 months old, but very sweet, healthy, and would we like to meet him? So off we went to meet him, and we fell in love right away. He had to stay at his foster home for a few weeks, so he could see the vet, be fully evaluated, and then neutered. Then we could bring him home. Last Saturday was the day, so we’ve had him for just over a week now. He is certainly a puppy, and he has to learn our confusing and weird rules, such as, no dogs on the beds. No dogs on the sofa. No dogs on the recliner. Very strange for him, as he was allowed full access to the furniture at the foster home, and perhaps at his last home before that as well. He has to learn that sometimes we leave the house, but that we will come back. He has to learn to rest in his crate when we’re gone, because we’re not thrilled with the idea of him chewing up our house while we’re not here to supervise. He has to learn to walk nicely on the leash. He has to learn to not bark at EVERYTHING. He’s learning pretty well. His barking has decreased substantially, he rarely tries to get on the furniture now, and he likes his crate (as long as he’s not locked in…that he doesn’t care for). He’s in his crate right now, playing with one of his toys, though the door is open. We’ll close it at some point so he can get more used to that. He’s playful and sweet and SUCH a good boy. We’re really enjoying having him in our home. So please, say hello and welcome to Mulder.

In other news: Today is my 10 year blogiversary. I had several real-life friends and family with blogs early on, and I met many new friends through blogging. I have enjoyed coming here, and coming to your blogs, and seeing the world though a bit of a different lens, over these last 10 years. My involvement has certainly waned as of late, but that’s OK. Maybe I’ll get more into a daily blogging groove again someday, maybe not. But I’m happy to be here, happy to share this part of my life with you, happy to have these friendships. Happy blogiversary to me.  P.S. My spell-check knows how to spell ‘blogiversary’.

A Little Life

A Little Life
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara is supposedly the story of four friends, but is instead the story of one broken man and his friends.

It is the story of Jude, a man who has unquestionably had the worst childhood imagined. Orphaned as a baby, raised by abusive monks, who beat and raped him repeatedly, he runs away as a child with one of the monks, who says he will love him as a son. But only a horribly abusive father would do to Jude the things Brother Luke does. And of course, things get worse from there on out, until Jude is about 16, and goes to college.

From that point on, it is the story of Jude’s friendship with 3 fellow students, Willem, J.B., and Malcom. Willem gets some time telling his side of the story, J.B. less so, and if Malcom had more than one chapter I’d be surprised. These four friends finish college and do astoudingly well in life. Jude is a corporate lawyer, who finds the parental love he has always craved by being adopted as an adult. Willem is an actor who starts out in school plays, and by the end of the book is a star of the screen and stage. J.B. is an artist, whose work focuses on his three beloved friends, and whose work is immediately regocnized for how amazing it is. Malcom is an architect, and is amazingly successful. The four of them jet around the world and live a fairly glamourous life, though they deeply appreciate all that they have and never take it for granted. They are somewhat happy, except for J.B.’s descent into drug addiction, and Jude’s inability to recover either physically or emotionally from his childhood.

Jude is easily the most tortured character I’ve ever come across. The abuse he suffered was complete, and for awhile there, every person he turned to for help would then abuse him as well. It’s like he was marked. He had some fairly common survivor issues, where he blamed himself for a lot of what happened to him, and felt that it somehow his own fault. Even in his fantasies, where he changes his fate and thus avoids some of the worst abuses, he is still living at the monestary, being beaten and raped as a small child. It’s horrific.

The book reminded me of nothing more than an opera. So overblown and dramatic. So intricate and detailed. There were long passages when, difficult as the subject matter was, the book really clicked and I enjoyed it. I liked the characters and wanted things to go well for them. By the end, though, it went on far too long for me, and I was relieved to be done with it. I had stopped caring about the characters, which is probably a good thing considering how things turned out. At 720 pages, I think it could have lost at least 300 pages and been a better book for it.

I don’t remember where I heard about this book. It was shortlisted for the Man Booker prize, and was at the top of several best seller lists for awhile. I borrowed it from the library, and I’m happily returning it today.