28 November 2013

A Cranberry Manifesto

I can't abide cooked, overly sweet cranberry sauce - you might as well put a jar of strawberry jam on the table with your turkey. I have no time for the cranberry sauce that plops out of a can, ridges and all. The raw cranberry orange relish? It's the only kind of cranberry sauce that graces my table. Cold, tangy, a nice biting edge, a good texture, it's the one I grew up on. See? Here's the recipe, in my mother's hand:

See her penciled notes? I can only assume - because I can't ask her - that once upon a time, cranberries came in a one pound bag. She had to adjust the recipe when they got downsized to 12 ounce bags, but you'll note that she dialed the sugar way back, catering to her own not-sweet tooth. It's better that way - brighter, bracing, an anti-dote to the heavy, rich gravy-mashed-stuffing-turkey assemblage on the Thanksgiving plate. It's why I like salad with my turkey - a bitter watercress and endive salad, dressed lightly with my favorite moscatel vinegar and some good olive oil, Sam Sifton be damned. (Also, Sam Sifton has never had Julia's purée de pommes de terre à l'ail or he wouldn't be all NO GARLIC IN THE POTATOES. I like a person with opinions, but I think he's got some funny ideas about Thanksgiving.)

Back to my mother and her cranberry recipe. Nowadays, you'd use a food processor, whirling electro-powered blades. But she says "food chopper". And what I remember is that she used an old-fashioned hand-cranked screw-onto-the-countertop meat grinder to make this, back in the day. If I were making the cranberry sauce, I might be tempted to dig out the meat grinder that attaches to the KitchenAid mixer, just to see, except that our mostly white kitchen would probably look like a crime scene afterwards. But I've no need, because my mother-in-law is bringing the cranberries - happily, she has no truck with the cooked stuff either.

Here's to you, and you, and you too. I'm grateful for all of you.

27 November 2013

The Aesthetics of The Innards

When you're rummaging around in your turkey tomorrow, see if you turn up one of these:

It's cool, isn't it? The farmer/lawyer/blogger we got our turkey from does his own butchering, and waxed rhapsodic about the loveliness of the gizzard.

When opened this way, the gizzard is an object of considerable beauty. The inner sac, with its ridged membrane, resembles a taupe-colored squash blossom. Once removed, the sac leaves behind a ridged slightly yellowy, flower-like impression, which contrasts with the deep red of the surrounding, pleasantly symmetrical muscle. The opened gizzard is as colorful and pleasingly symmetrical as any still-life subject—an opened fig, an oyster, or a skull by Georgia O’Keefe.

Alas, too often a supermarket bird comes without the usual innards: neck, liver, heart, gizzard. Besides being tasty additions to your feast, they're lovely and interesting. The neck reminds you that the chicken or turkey had a head, the neck reminds me that my grandmother always said it was the tastiest meat on the bird. The heart of a big bird? Feed your brain two ways, by poking it through with chopsticks or small fingers to figure out which chamber is which, and then by tossing it in your stock. And contemplate the beauty of the gizzard, and contrast that to its hard work of grinding: strength disguised.

Happy Thanksgiving!

25 November 2013

Gravewalking, Or, Maybe I Am An Inappropriate Parent

The girl's birthday was earlier in the month, and in a fit of madness, we took her and six friends up to my father's house in the Catskills for an overnight. A slumber party, if you will, but two hours away.

The kids had a delightful time - and actually? We did too. We fed three meals to the seven girls, they got back rubs from my father's masseuse (and I got a full-on hot-stone massage), we drove them up the valley (illegally!) in the back of the pick-up truck, they fed carrots to an elderly horse, they collected rocks in the stream, they went in the hot tub, I made them wander around a cemetery, and they had cake for breakfast.

Yeah, a cemetery. It's a small cemetery up the road a piece, old but still conducting burials - someone was planted there this summer, and Trowbridge Milk was born during the American Revolution.

trowbridge milk

I'd wanted to show them the grave I go back to visit at least once a year, the grave of an infant, born and died on the same day in 1857. So we located that grave and I got all didactic about infant mortality and antibiotics and modern medicine, and then they wandered off...


and found another unnamed infant, also born and died on the same day - this time in 1871. Said infant's grave marker included his/her two brothers. The siblings lived long enough to be named, Wesley and Gamaliel, but only lived about three weeks each, in 1874 and 1876. More didacticism. More reflection.

infant wesley and gamaliel

After that, the girls wandered off; they were the ones who found the woman who died in 2013, whose grave was marked with a modern granite stone. I looked at the beautiful, fading marble stones, like Eliza Middaugh's - look at the swooping treatment of her name, and "his wife" in italics, and "born" in boldface type. [Is it "type" if it's carved in stone?]

eliza middaugh

And I looked at the beautiful homely, practical repair on Ron B. Dunham's stone, metal braces unabashedly holding the top of the stone in place - though concealing his death date - sometime in the 1880s, eh?

ron b dunham

I think it's unlikely that any of the girls will remember anything about the weekend beyond the cake and the hot tub, but the cemetery is going to be an indelible part of my memory of my girl's tenth birthday.

w g van v

22 November 2013

Holy Bagumba! or, Small Delights.

It's rainy. And gloomy. But warm. Which is good because apparently it's going to be frigid in a day or so and there might even be SNOW for Thanksgivukkah. And I'm finding charming things left and right.

1) My father's girlfriend sent me an email. This is remarkable because he does not email. Or text. He still loves his fax machine and has no computer or internet access or smart phone. I was oddly delighted to get her email.

2) On the downtown train, when the doors opened at 34th Street, in wafted the dulcet tones of a steel drum playing "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da". I've been humming it happily ever since.

3) I splurged on set of cunning twinkly lights - little light-up lumps on delicate copper wire. I shoved them into an amphora-shaped wedding present vase that lives on the mantel and it pleases me enormously even if it is rushing the season a tiny bit.

4) There's a cheese encyclopedia on line! I was looking up my favorite cheese so I could send a link to someone, and there it was: The Cheese Library. Swoon. I love cheese.

5) I think I'm completely alone in this, but I rather love the deeply subversive and quite demented portrait of the Danish royal family.

6) My sister-in-law sent a book to my daughter for her 10th birthday. It's called Flora and Ulysses, and it's by Kate DiCamillo, and it is completely wonderful. I've been reading it aloud to the girl, and I'm captivated by how nicely the words flow off the tongue. You should put it on your shopping list, assuming you have a 9 to 12 year old who needs a present.

What are you finding charming these days?

14 November 2013

Dirty Little Secret

It snowed the other day. Not a lot, not so much that oh my god we have to shovel the driveway or yes you have to wear snow pants today, but enough. My sister whined on Facebook that she was having snow envy, not having any snow where she was, so I posted a picture to her, captioned "the view from my bed".


Of course she asked me what I was doing in bed. Well, first of all, I wasn't really in bed - I was standing at the window with the phone pushed right up against the glass - though if I'd backed up about eight feet I'd have had my head back on my pillow. Second, moments before I took that picture, I had been in bed, because my dirty little secret is that every morning I get up, go downstairs, eat my breakfast, and drink some coffee. Then, I fill up my coffee cup and head back upstairs "to get dressed". But really? I get back in the still warm bed just for a few minutes and fart around on Facebook or play Words With Friends or delete unnecessary email until oh no, I really need to get dressed and leave right this very minute.

It's gotten worse, too. It used to be that I'd leave for work before the kid had to get to the bus, but now, now that's she's in middle school? She's out of the house about an hour earlier than I am, which means less guilt about all that lounging about.

What I ought to do is take the screens out of the windows. I mean, it's not like it's flying insect season anymore.

little yellow house in the snow

Maybe tomorrow morning.

10 November 2013


Happy birthday to my favorite baby.

How did she get to be ten?

05 November 2013

Leaves...of Absence, of Trees, of Books

Last week, I went to a seminar, a day long thing on human resources issues for non-profit organizations. Because, in addition to being one of the accidental techies in my office, I am also the accidental HR person. And, while most of the time, I'm good with making it up as I go along, sometimes I think I ought to have a bit of practical knowledge.

It was useful enough.

But my absolute favorite moment during the day was an unexpectedly poetic PowerPoint slide title:


Is that not beautiful? All around, the leaves are changing falling crunching swirling, falling swirling crunching changing, and now it is darker earlier earlier, and soon it will be winter. Of course, they were talking about a different sort of leave altogether.

* * * * * * * *

I've been reading a lot. Right now, I'm in the middle of three books, one fiction, two not. As happens, as it always happens, there are odd parallels and coincidences among them.

Though I'd read Tracy Kidder's profile of Paul Farmer in the New Yorker, oh, 13 years ago, I'd never gotten around to Mountains Beyond Mountains. Wow. It's kind of fabulous and now I feel a little bad that Partners in Health went on my bad charities list because they sent me way too much mail. Paul Farmer's administrative partner in Partners in Health is Ophelia Dahl (as in, daughter of Roald, but that's just an interesting aside). And because I am easily amused, I find it funny to be contemporaneously reading Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls. There's no real connection between the books, other than the Ophelia, but how often do you run across an Ophelia in your day to day life? The fiction rounding out my current reading is The Poisonwood Bible, and it ties closely back to Mountains Beyond Mountains - it's in the Congo, everyone is poor, lots of people are sick. But it also resonates with Reviving Ophelia, what with those four daughters, growing up.

* * * * * * * *

Books. It comes around. My sister-in-law is helping raise money to buy books for a children's library in Africa, Zambia, to be precise. Clearly, my current reading and her current project have a connection - books, children, Africa. "It is a proven fact that higher levels of literacy are associated with the availability of classroom libraries with a sufficient quantity of books, providing children with the opportunity to read." Won't you help? Melissa set up an Indiegogo campaign, which you can get to by clicking the photo, right there, to the right.

And when you're done, you can have a book for your troubles. My friend Emily wrote an irreverent guide to Disney World called Princess Wishes and Monorail Dreams. She's giving the book away - but asking that people donate to charity in return. So I've got it a little backwards here, by asking you to donate to charity and then go "claim" your copy of her book, but I think we're on the same page in spirit.

* * * * * * * *

Books. Each page is a leaf. Turning leaves, turning pages, and so the circle continues, unbroken.