Monday, December 31, 2012

the prisoner wishes to say a word

In my favorite episode of The OC, Seth Cohen’s horrible aunt Hailey tells Ryan Atwood, “You know what they say? The way you spend New Year’s Eve is the way you’ll spend the rest of the year.” I wholeheartedly hope she is as wrong about that as she is about EVERYTHING. Because I’m sick today. And can’t do anything but lie around watching a mangled version of Braveheart on TNT because I’m too weak to get our DVD out of the chest (and definitely too weak to get the two-tape box set from the basement (old-school what?!)). Every few hours I have enough energy to try an internet cold remedy, but after the last attempt’s peppermint steam burned through my lungs and eyes giving me a pretty good idea of what Alex felt when he was OC sprayed (a form of pepper spray not to be confused with the aforementioned television series), however not alleviating my congested nose, I think I’m better off watching William Wallace be purified by pain instead of enduring it myself.
I guess we just had too many great things happen in 2012 to allow for one more night of champagne, celebration, and laughter with friends. Alas, it seems I’ll be staying home with Alex. He lucked out on his first week with both Christmas Eve and Christmas off, day shifts, and a three-day weekend, and is making up for that now working today and tomorrow.
On Christmas Eve we took in our favorite brunch—his and hers huevos rancheros a Nana—and enjoyed all the traditional family events through the holiday.
I’m trying to remind myself that his schedule won’t always be so easy and convenient, but so far the only change to our routine has been that I have a lot more time to get dinner on the table. The first night I cooked with the same urgency I became accustomed to using when Alex was home at 2:30 pm, waiting for dinner, and planning to go to bed promptly at 6:30 pm—and dinner was ready an hour before he walked in the door. Now that I’ve realized I have an hour and a half to cook when I get home from work, I’m ready to start using it.
Instead of the go-to vegetable hash and eggs (the quickest-cooking protein of all time), I branched into classic winter dinner food: bangers and mash with a thick mushroom gravy. It went really, really well.
We picked up the sausages from the Pleasant House Bakery stand (!!) at the farmers’ market. I don’t know what they put in those links, but the amount of fat rendered was astounding… deliciously so… too good to pour off… and ultimately made for a rich and tasty gravy. With this kind of nutrient-rich diet, it’s a wonder I’ve fallen ill.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

On support, and also on mushrooms

I met Alex's police academy friends this weekend. It was pretty exciting to finally have faces for names, but I was caught off guard when a few of them dove right on in to the hard questions. 

"Were you always supportive of Alex wanting to be a cop?" "Do you worry about something happening to him?" 
I'd like to think I answered well enough, but I was a few deep before entering the bar on account of our Saturday night custody arrangement (half with your friends, half with mine--and my friends serve champs like Niagara serves water). I tend to dwell on words, rewriting conversations that have happened, might happen, couldn't happen in my head as I go about my day, so I feel the need to share my thoughts on those hard questions here, more eloquently than when I answered the first time, with a sloshing glass of Two Hearted and fingers sticky from beer.

I was always supportive of Alex becoming a cop. I've loved him since we were sixteen years old and I know the difference between when he's being stubborn and (now ironically) rebelling against authority, and when he's made up his mind about something he believes in. When he told me he was going to try to become a cop, he wasn't telling me a possible solution to a problem (that he didn't want a desk job), he wasn't telling me an option. He was telling me that he wanted to be a cop, he was telling me what he believed in. So I didn't need to waste time helping him figure out what to do about not wanting a desk job, I didn't need to give him options. He wasn't asking for my ideas or permission, he was asking for my support. And I gave it, because I didn't need any options either.

As for worry, I'm not prepared to answer at this time. He graduates tomorrow. Will probably be on the streets sometime early next week. I don't think I'll know worry until the first time his shift runs late and he can't call. Or the first time I hear sirens at night and know they might be his. Let's wait on that kind of worry and for now worry about the normal things, like what we're going to have for dinner.
I've got an easy answer for that: mushrooms. Garlicky, buttery mushrooms and a nice baguette to soak up the juices. Add a spinach and toasted pecan salad with fresh cranberry dressing and you've got a meal. We've been into these mushrooms since November, and I can't see getting sick of them. Which is something some of you readers might be shocked to read me write.
I used to be a very picky eater. White and orange foods only. Rice? My nightmare.  My mother told me once when I asked her to take me with her to Poland that she wouldn't take me until I learned to like mushrooms. Well, I'm officially eating mushrooms, Mom. I hope you are prepared to eat your words.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

What Fall Tasted Like, or What we ate when I wasn't blogging, or Whoops, it's been almost two months. My B.

Contrary to the evidence on this blog, I have been cooking. Just not writing about it. (Partially because most of my written communication lately has been in the form of emoji, and the food-related emoji have some distinct discrepancies. Partially because this is my favorite time of year and I'm enjoying just being in it.)
Nevertheless, we find ourselves behind here. And we have a choice to make. There's no way I'll get through individual posts on all the things I thought I'd share with you from the last two months, but I can do a round up, right here, right now, to catch us up and help us move forward. Frodo and Sam have reached the eastern shore, their fate no longer in our hands. But we will not abandon Merry and Pippin to torment and death. Not while we have strength left. So here's what I cooked this fall (also, you should know that I'm pretty pumped about our upcoming annual LOTR marathon):

Tacos:
Whether embracing the winter produce with a roast squash and lentil filling, or negating any potential health boosts by beer battering and frying fish (topping with raw carrot and cabbage slaw), we have tacos for dinner at least one night a week. Tacos are always in season and tortillas are always cheap. It's a winning combination. I love charring the tortillas over the stove's open flame, even if it takes me two burned fingers to start flipping with tongs.
Rich, seasonal side dishes:
Above: Sweet potato and swiss chard gratin from Smitten Kitchen. If you're looking to make a two-dish meal feel fancy, pair this gratin with a simple protein (our go-to is roast chicken), and enjoy. It's potato, it's cheese, it's greens, it's baked until bubbly and brown.
Above: Spaghetti squash with sausage meatballs. This is only a side dish inasmuch as garlic bread is a main course. 

My latest trick when Alex requests meatballs (a seemingly simple dish that I find tiresome to deal with (egg yolk, breadcrumbs, ain't nobody got time for that)), is to brown up balls of de-cased sausage. Matched with roasted strands of spaghetti squash (tossed in the sausage drippings and a little oil, garlic, lemon, parsley, and pecorino), the fake meatballs make a flavorful dinner that doesn't leave Alex one wanting.
Above: Butternut squash risotto. Bubbly isn't just for book club. It's also for risotto. I highly recommend this recipe. Again paired with roast chicken, risotto makes Sunday dinner satisfying. I especially like the addition of half the squash as puree, and the other as roasted cubes. Texture is my game.

One note on the recipe: this blogger doesn't mention much about salt or pepper, but obviously those things are necessary. Also, she doesn't tell you quite when to add the squash, I did it with about 1.5 cups of stock left (three ladles from the end). Aaaaand I doubled the cheese. At least. I guess that was three notes. But it was delicious.
Roast chicken and deja food:
You might have seen this coming, based on my suggestions above that you pair every one of those dishes with a roast chicken. But we're really into roast chicken around here. Most recently: spatchcocked. (When you cut out the spine and lay the bird flatter in the pan so it cooks quickly and gets all sorts of crispy on top.) Here you see that I've taken advice from the smitten kitchen cookbook that says to let little yellow potatoes cook and brown in the juices released by the chicken. It was excellent advice.
And what are you gonna make with all that leftover roast chicken? You've used most of the stock on risotto, but there's a bit left over. Pot pie it.

I like to start with bacon. Three-ish strips. Get them crisp, release that fat. Remove from pan onto a set-aside plate. Add in mushrooms, to soak up all that fat. Waste not, want not. When they've done their job, shrunken up and drunken up all that bacon juice, reunite the mushrooms with the bacon on the staging plate. A garlic clove, small yellow onion, three carrots, and three parsnips are next. Chopped how you like, but bite sized. Season and soften, then add a few tablespoons of butter, a few tablespoons of flour, and cook for a minute before adding in a little more than a cup of stock. When the stock has thickened into a gravy, add in however much leftover chicken you have (or none), the mushrooms and bacon, and 1/2 a teaspoon of thyme. Or try with cauliflower, curry powder, and cilantro.

Bake in ramekins topped with puff pastry for 20-ish minutes at 375-ish degrees. No matter what you've done to the filling, the flaky, buttery pastry will make this dinner worthwhile.
Baked goods:
Above: Alex's favorite cookie, dark-chocolate chip and hazelnut. I make a double batch of the dough and freeze half in a couple of saran-wrapped logs so I can make quick small batches whenever the urge hits. It's probably the only thing I don't forget is in my freezer.
Above: chocolate-chip, bourbon, banana muffins. I think those words speak for themselves.
Above: Cranberry orange pecan loaf (I skipped the crumb topping and thus the "coffee cake" aspect of the original recipe on account of an exhausting weekend-long, nine-months late, three-months early spring cleaning project that I completed moments before making this quick bread).  But it was worth it. Cranberries. How great are cranberries? This loaf makes a really top-notch breakfast... and mid-morning snack... and after-dinner snack... and then again breakfast.
In Real Life accomplishment news: I ran shuffled through a 5k, successfully scored Taylor Swift tickets while simultaneously hitting the low point of my marriage (it was a very stressful half hour), and completed watching "Friday Night Lights." So if I disappear again for a while, just know I'm doing really impressive stuff. As Tim Riggins says, "Let's make some memories."
(Anyone interested in what this autumn sounded like should make a playlist combining the Lumineers album, T. Swift's RED (excepting "sad beautiful tragic" because it's a real dud), and this amazing k pop song. You are welcome.)