Saturday, July 19, 2014

Waiting on the thunder

We’ve had a lot of fog in recent weeks and the English major in me (who wrote an incredible paper about the role of fog in early American lit (some one should be calling me about publishing it any year now)) can’t help but see it as a metaphor: I can see where I am right now but the near future, while not exactly mysterious, is impossible to make out from where I stand (or, sit, as the case may be).
Foggy commute #hydeparkchicago Despite grey days, the markets are bright with color. I’ve been disconnected from the seasons this year in a way that leaves me unsatisfied. My mind has been on July since November, making it difficult to stay present for the end of fall, winter, and spring. My thoughts wander into the foggy future ahead and I have to pull myself back to now. To berries. To basil. Happily, these flavors, smells, and colors have excellent grounding powers.
#greencitymarket haul
#greencitymarket haul — admittedly, I went a little wild with the stone fruits.#greencitymarket haul#greencitymarket haul I’ve survived my first week at home by filling my days with activities and projects. After many google searches (varying versions of “will I be bored at home quit job pregnancy?” (the Internet always knows)), I drafted a to-do list to determine if I’d have enough… to do. The list provided lots of structure and I completed seven of the eight tasks, focusing on doing simple things that will be harder with an outside baby and are manageable with this insider. I’ve been to brunches and lunches and dinners, seen a spontaneous movie, sat in the bookstore to read, consumed numerous decaf iced lattes (Alex says I make them look less like drinks and more like life-preservers), and spent the better part of a day watching Real Housewives and doing a puzzle. You know, important independent lady stuff.
#survivaltactics#ladiessummerbookclub reading @pleinaircafeIndoor Midwest picnicSnack time at @pleinaircafe with @maireadsTackling some things on my #todolist. Our apartment is also in an unparalleled state of order (a combination of items “3. Deep clean the house” and “4. Maintain dishes and laundry without wanting to die.”) And our freezer is packed. I’ve been putting up summer produce (a process that has rooted me in the summer season even though it’s all about preparing for winter)—freezing corn, pesto, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, peaches, and cherries—in addition to a large tray of stuffed shells for the Dark Times ahead.
#puttingup The nursery is done. My hospital bag is packed, though we still need a few more items, namely snacks for during and champagne for after. I was That Person on the labor/delivery tour who asked the nurse if the hospital was BYOB (results inconclusive and I am too desperate to be deterred by a mildly appalled face).
This is what you do while you wait. We’ll see how far I get into week two of unemployment before it’s time to really work.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

I am large, I contain multitudes.

My friend told me a story yesterday about a sloppy improv incident where a fellow player yelled, "CHLOROFORM!" shutting down the scene by taking a whole cast of characters out of the story. This seems an apt way to describe my recent actions as I am pretty sure I quit my job yesterday: I all but yelled "CHLOROFORM!" as I was leaving the office with a bag of Tupperware, shoes, and an appropriated Taylor Swift calendar. (That is, my personal effects.)



It hasn't quite sunk in that I won't be going to this place I've gone each day for the past five years—that I've shut down all these characters I've known and that storyline in my life is over. My mom says "life is in the details" and I guess I'm in the process of changing mine.



If you can't tell, I have a lot of Feelings lately. Because of which or why I'm listening to a lot of Death Cab remains unclear.



I'm nearing the end now—Salami seems strong from the inside while we seem prepared from the outside. The one pair of maternity jeans I bought have developed a hole. And I suffer the usual complaints of sleepless nights (despite a lap or two around the Point each evening) and lots of groaning when attempting routine motions. (I wrote this watching the sky lighten with the sun and then stall on a cloudy morning—a fitting metaphor for where we are in this Big Wait.)


So I've decided not to work but to spend the next few weeks bangin on me drum all day—where the drum is actually cleaning the bathroom floor (an activity I have not had the energy for but with which I am completely obsessed), putting up fresh summer produce for winter, and napping.



These are my new details. At least until the baby arrives.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Living nicely

While Botany Pond maintains the consistency of a frozen margarita, something resembling spring has settled over Hyde Park.  A new café catered by our beloved Pleasant House Bakery has opened on campus.  I’m having a hard time not walking in and clapping for everyone’s attention, “FYI, fellow patrons! I will be raising my children here. This will be the spot of their future first memories…thanks.” (I get no response after this make-believe announcement; people just return to their conversations as my cheeks redden from speaking out loud to more than one stranger at once and I make my way to the counter to order.)  A declaration I do want to make is that the parfait, oatmeal, and biscuits are wonderful (and I’ll report back when I’ve been cleared to eat the ham sandwich).
These excellent local developments combined with my recent binge of Laurie Colwin novels—specifically, Happy All The Time, or My New Favorite Book Forever—has inspired something deep within me.  Holly, one of two main lady characters in HATT (one who I can’t help noticing shares many of Laurie’s personal designs on food), is strong, decisive, and complex.  Her “one ambition” is to “live nicely from day to day.” Which is just about the best thing I’ve ever heard—especially the implication of quiet, modest living. Living not grandly, or better than anyone else, just nicely. It’s the kind of phrase that sends me to the market for fresh flowers each week; to a new café in the neighborhood for a cup of tea and a biscuit with butter and jam; or to the bookstore to buy Laurie Colwin novels for the special people in my life.
Perhaps it’s that I’ve never been particularly career driven, more drawn to the conduct of the “domestic sensualist,” but when Laurie gives Holly the right to prioritize a nice life, I feel like she’s giving it to me, too. “Even Holly worked: she worked to make life sweet… she fought to keep the ugly chaotic world at bay and to keep a sweet, pretty corner to live in.” Yes. Yes!

If you read this and feel the world shifting into balance, we are truly kindred spirits. Letting your life be your work is a worthwhile, noble endeavor. Even in the last pages, after Holly reveals a hidden insecurity saying, “I don’t work. I’m lazy. I don’t do anything very important. I don’t even know how intelligent I am. I just live day to day enjoying myself,” she immediately returns to form, amending: “None of this self-criticism.” She too knows that what she does is good enough.
And I take this as permission to focus on enjoying myself and keeping things sweet; as a reminder that those are ambitions, too. We may be eating the same simple meals each week (sausage meatballs with peas over shells and chicken wings are in heavy rotation alongside ceaseless quesadillas), but neither the simplicity nor the repetition of meals is a failure.  What matters is that we take time to set the flowers in a vase, light a candle, and have a nice dinner.  This is our pretty corner to live in, and we are living nicely.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

On wintertime kitchen slumping


“Ohh—ah, hello! Do you, uh, do you come here often? I come here a bit. I come here from time to time.” This little moment (brought to you by Ben Affleck in Good Will Hunting) does not sufficiently explain my blog hiatus, but I don’t really have an explanation except: 1) I haven’t been cooking so good (discussed below). And 2) My laptop kind of smells like weird overpowering cumin? And I don’t like it.
Every winter I seem to forget how to cook. Or, maybe it’s that I forget how to shop. For groceries. I’m out of practice navigating the aisles of the grocery store. Since I spend spring, summer, and fall popping in and out of farmers’ markets, everything fresh, everything good, I’m not in the habit of having to ignore the calls from chips and cookies, conveniently placed at eye level. It starts right as the markets disappear, when the complicated season known as “the holidays” arrive. And for a month we’re out to eat, inundated with leftovers, celebrating, and thus completely derailed from any semblance of grocery store routine. When I finally begin stumbling into stores, my defenses are weak, my tastes impaired, and dark times are upon us. (Except for the really excellent eating we do at the really excellent restaurants in Chicago.)
This winter has been particularly tough, in part because I’ve been reading a lot. There’s a rumor started, no doubt by those jealous of my skills, that I can tend towards competitive. If this is true (Note: I’ve just finished a Tonya Harding documentary and thus am not convinced my own level warrants notice), it is true for group activities as well as solo ventures. The problem isn’t the reading, instead, that I am tracking my reading on Goodreads. I bandwagon decided to read one book a week for 2014. Every time I finish one and input the book, my percent complete rises and Goodreads calculates how far ahead of schedule I am.
If there’s one thing I learned from that [redacted period of time] my mom obsessively played Snood for an hour every night (before she deleted the game out of self preservation), it’s that your real competition in life is your own highest scores. (I’m sure my father would have taught me this as well if I’d ever taken to running—still the term “personal best” is one that sticks with me.) Mix this with my idealization of efficiency, and you’ve got a perfect storm of needing to prove to Goodreads how much further ahead I can get.
Add in my other quirk: a compulsion to finish books the same day I start them, and you can understand why, come 5:45 pm when I realize the fish is still in the freezer, I’ve got 70 pages of the fantastic Blue Castle left, and we’re woefully low on tortillas and cheese, I ask Alex to pick something up on his way home.

Also: It’s dark and cold and I’m lying down. And dishes.

When I do get it together to cook, there is nothing blog worthy about my endeavors. We eat a shocking amount of quesadillas. It seems I have double-booked “quesadilla night” for days starting with “T.” (That’s “T” for “tired,” and so many days start that way.) Alternating with frozen Pleasant House pies, of course.
But when an urge hits to get into the kitchen and make my mark—not in the rudimentary form of Queequeg-esque quesadillas—I make ricotta. Homemade ricotta is nothing short of magical. The sweet smell of hot milk. The straining of whey. The making of cheese! before your eyes. I’m super into it.
I use Ashley Rodriguez’s recipe (I think I’ve discussed this before?), which is based on Ina Garten. Ashley uses a 3 to 1 ratio of milk to cream. Ina goes 50/50. I think this is probably amazing as Ina Garten lives life well, but I stick to the 3:1. (I’ve tried using all milk, as Ashley says is a (not as appealing) option, but found the ricotta gets kind of… squeaky? As I’m sure is the professional cheesemaker term.) No special equipment required, just cheesecloth, which we all have on hand this time of year thanks to stocking stuffers. (That’s normal, right?)
You can’t tell, but I’m eating some incredible fresh ricotta, made nary a half an hour ago, on a crusty piece of baguette right now. Only slightly off-put by the smell emanating from my keyboard. It’s warm, and so creamy, and just plain perfect.  (Except for the smell. What is that? Can you make a genius bar appointment for weird smells? I’ve digressed.)

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The positivity diet

Today I realized the fatal flaw in my positivity campaign: it’s essentially a cold-turkey, don’t-touch-that diet, and, hence, unsustainable and destined for failure. I’ve turned negativity into a craving, a guilt-ridden indulgence. I’ve been slipping, and apologizing, but then slipping a little more—the negativity version of “just one cookie” turning into a full-blown junk binge, stopping to buy a bag of chips and eating it on the way home. The bag of chips is not part of the metaphor so much as what I actually did this afternoon. (Unrelated, I’m sure.)

I realized that I need to turn the positivity campaign into a lifestyle change that incorporates balance—negativity in moderation as a supplement to lots of positive thoughts and actions. I realized I’m going to have to try again, before I become a behavioral yo-yo dieter, obsessed with restrictions, unhealthy and unmotivated.

It’s just that trying is hard. And trying again is harder. And to keep trying is the hardest. Especially when not trying is so easy. That’s how I feel today about everything. See also: everything feels like the worst. 

So, to try to jumpstart the positivity campaign, I’m going to do what my mom always suggests when we are feeling low and write down five things that aren’t the worst, and are, in fact, pretty great:

1. We went to dinner at Nightwood to celebrate Alex having 59 more years left on our marriage contract. Unlike today, everything was the best. 
2. It’s Brussels sprouts season.
3. I made a dinner for friends and family that started with an Oktoberfest-themed cheese plate and ended with smores pudding pie.
4. It’s also pot pie season.
5. Travis rocked Chicago and I loved it. I loved every second of it.

This has been therapeutic. How much do I owe you?

Monday, September 16, 2013

two days


This weekend, I cut up watermelon while cinnamon wafted from the oven where apple muffins baked—this juxtaposition the epitome of seasonal transition. Saturday was sunny, warm. I ate a heavily relished banger dog and ice cream al fresco.  (Jeni’s just opened in Chicago and the brown butter almond brittle is nothing short of life changing.)
On Sunday, it rained and I wore pajamas. And I took that as a sign to do the kind of cooking that makes a house feel warm and glowy against a grey day. Leftover muffins to start, a traditional Welsh breakfast for lunch, and coq au vin for dinner.  Is there a better smell than wine cooking? Can you eat too many mushrooms in a day? Is there anything cozier than a tuckered pooch all curled up in a big chair? My answer to all three: I don’t think so.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

With autumn closing in

Sitting on the edge of Amy’s tub, washing a thick, dusty layer of would-be mud off my feet was not how I wanted to start fall. One more night in her tiki-lit outdoor living room, eating hot, warm, and then cold grilled asparagus with my fingers and coaxing lovable cat pal Bobo out of the rose bushes was a welcome event, but it’s time now not to have to get quite so red-faced and sweaty dancing to Robyn. It’s time to be able to attend a favorite outdoor beer, cooking, and music festival and meet another Top Chef-testant with a scarf wrapped jauntily around one’s neck. It’s time not to have to worry about chipped toenail polish. It is time to wear moccs with socks.
At least while the heat stretches out, the produces follows suit. I’ve become particularly fond of the sweet little cherry peppers that Nichols has been making available. The tiny bells seem to have the same volume of seeds as the standard variety, despite being a fraction of the size. This poses a challenge to both my rudimentary knife skills and my big dumb thumbs, which I try jamming into the little peppers only to cause widespread scattering as the seeds escape to the apparent safety of the maple floorboards. “Safety” as I don’t vacuum or sweep nearly as often as would be threatening to seeds or appropriate for other human beings. Once I’ve successfully popped the seed clump out of the pepper, or at least relocated the seeds across the counter, I like to fill their little bellies with a wedge of sharp cheddar and a cashew for crunch. This makes a satisfying, bite-sized snack that works well on a cheese plate, picnic, or as something that you carry to the couch and eat directly off the coffee table.
While I’ve got a stock pile of puff pastry in my freezer, ready and waiting for pot pies on a nippy night, I don’t want to go back to a world without tomatoes. Those of you scoffing at my locavore antics should know that I’m most dramatic about grocery store tomatoes—AND HOW THEY MIGHT AS WELL BE MURDERERS. WOULD YOU LET A MURDERER INTO YOUR HOME ON A COLD WINTER NIGHT? I DIDN’T THINK SO.
Is this digression? I’m still planning to talk about tomatoes, so perhaps not. Ina Garten has a great recipe for tomatoes. That’s my point. Cherry tomato gratin, otherwise known as “what to do with tomatoes when you are tired of eating them raw or as sauce (which I know is never, but please can we just pretend?).” Talking points include: it’s delicious. Maybe I use that word too often because of my American penchant for making things seem great to convince myself of my own good fortune and worthwhile life—EVERYTHING IS AWESOME—but delicious is the right word for conveying that something tastes really good. The tomatoes go to that juicy saucy place, but maintain their shape and acidity, not getting too sweet. Also, note the toasty garlicky breadcrumb topping. Lastly, this dish is vegan in that surprising way that makes you remember that veganism isn’t all swapping in soy-rizo and forgetting to put cheese on pizza.
So, I’m conflicted, enjoying these last few weeks of warmth while hoping that it will soon please be boot weather, please. Ice cream cookie sandwiches, icebox banana cream pies, rainbow cones, and sunny rooftops competing with an overpowering urge to be inside of bookstores—a lifetime of fall-time conditioning. This year I’m working on a positivity campaign as a way to productively focus the back-to-school energy that arrives as a Pavlovian response to each September and no longer has an outlet in organizing new notebooks and pens. So far, I’ve retitled my to-do list with the heading: “Good things.” And though it wasn’t on the list, washing my filthy feet in Amy’s tub Saturday night was a decidedly good thing. Moccs with socks can wait.

Notes: 

  1. Sometimes writing these posts feels a lot like the conception of “Singin’ in the Rain,” except instead of a list of songs to work into a narrative, I’ve got an instagram feed.
  2. I wasn’t sure this post could recover from starting with a Bob Seger lyric, but it went okay, I think!