Christmas is over and the seed catalogues are arriving! I pushed the remains of the Christmas baskets aside, cleared out the last of the cookies (the Pastura were particularly good, although the dogs got into them, and since chocolate is not good for dogs, well, it was a very fragrant Christmas eve around here), and have been happily perusing seed catalogs, dreaming of new varieties of endive and chicory, searching for an insect-resistant bean that won’t get skeletonized, musing over asparagus crowns and the idea of artichokes. Hmm. What to order?
I’ve been sort of following this story for the last couple of weeks, and today comes the sad news that they found Charlie Fowler’s body on a peak in China. I didn’t know Charlie well, but for a couple of years, he was my next door neighbor in Telluride. He was a kind, softspoken guy who was a little older than we were and who had climbed a whole bunch of impressive peaks in Asia and South America. I lived next to this big blue house full of climber guys — it was an ever-changing group. This was before Telluride got so fancy, when there still were big blue frame houses, leaning a little to one side, that a bunch of raggedy climber guys could rent. When I was in grad school, one of my friends went to Mexico to climb over Christmas and came back gobsmacked that he’d met someone at a high camp who knew me. It was one of the guys from the big blue house. It sounds like Charlie had found a great partner in Christine Boskoff, and while it’s a cliché, there has to be some consolation that they died on the mountain, together, doing what they loved — exploring a new peak, way out in the backcountry, in the gorgeous Himalayas. Like I said, I never knew him well, but he was a good neighbor, a sweet softspoken guy, and someone who lived for what he loved. He was a real climber — when I knew him I don’t think he owned much more than his climbing gear — he was only bunking in the Big Blue House between trips — the kind of guy who lived for the next adventure. I hope whatever this one is, it’s a good one.
The holidays are bearing down on LivingSmall like a freight train of fun — unfortunately, not only was I travelling last week (the storm in Denver today makes my 7 hour layover there last week look like a bargain this morning) and not only do I have to work this week for the Big Corporation — I have a whole lot of stuff to get done. And I’m taking next week off then going to California in early January to train my group in the stuff I’ve learned in these seminars I’ve been travelling for, so there’s that low-level anxiety thrum running through my week.
And all I want to do is bake. I’ve been so busy that I haven’t had time to make these delicious-looking Baci di Nona, nor these really fascinating Pastura, which are filled with chocolate and unblanched almonds (Michael Chiarello’s Aunt was adorable on the episode where they cooked these — more chocolate! she kept saying. They need more chocolate!). Then, over at Domestic Goddess, I found these 24 cookie recipes, about six of which I want to make. Oh, and then there are Clothilde’s Ginger Biscuits which would be perfect for those 2 packages of Reeds Chopped Candied Ginger I found in my local baking aisle. I’ve been just opportunistically buying stuff in the baking aisle — candied ginger, candied orange peel, lots and lots of chocolate, nuts: hazelnuts, almonds, walnuts even some chopped peanuts that looked perfect for Thai food I’m not even making right now.
So who knows — Saturday might just have to be a cookie blow-out here in my little kitchen. My pretend kids are back in town (the kids are perfectly real, they just aren’t mine — but I pretend they are). My four beautiful girls are home and I just want to hang out with the kids and their parents who I love and the Mighty Hunter — all of us eating nice food and drinking good wine and watching the kids run around and do their thing. I just hope I can get all the cookies done in time — I come from a Christmas Eve family — Christmas Eve is Christmas as far as I’m concerned. It’s night, and there are candles and dinner and if we can keep from drinking too much and the spirit moves us, maybe even Midnight Mass. If not, we’ll just make ten year old Miss Sophie of the perfect voice sing Adeste Fideles to us (in the pretty voice, not in the I’m-trying-to-drive-you-crazy opera voice).
Everyone in my world is getting baskets this year — jam I made last summer, cookies, nice cheese, perhaps some wine — we’ve all got enough stuff — so I hope for you and yours that the holidays are full of good food and good company. Ho Ho Ho ….
I was noodling around (okay, wasting time this morning) over on the fabulous new website, Serious Eats, when I found this sweet little piece over on The Ethicurean about farmer’s markets and the way having a good one can encourage you to eat foods you might have thought you didn’t like. It reminded me of when Patrick and I first moved in together in California — I discovered beets. I went a little mad for beets for a while — there were such gorgeous ones in the farmers markets. I too was one of those people who thought I hated beets — I’d only ever had the canned ones which were terrible — slimy and metallic and weirdly sweet — but in the farmers’ market I discovered fresh beets. Once I learned how easy it was to roast them and slip them out of their skins, well, we ate a lot of beets. I was particularly fond one winter of salads with roasted beets, walnuts and blue cheese (especially after I discovered the fabulous Point Reyes Blue). Patrick was bemused by my beet fascination. He’d come in after work and I’d be making yet another beet salad. "Oh," he’d say. "Beets again, eh?"
One of the fun things about dating the MH is that he’s deeply omnivorous — he’s fun to cook for because not only will he eat just about anything, but he really likes a lot of different foods —
My dear friends Bill and Maryanne lost their beloved (and enormous) golden retriever Moja this weekend. Moja was a very special dog — one hundred and twenty five pounds of big yellow love — and he died quite suddenly of a twisted gut. It was beyond awful. There were big gulping sobs and tears all around.
All I could think to do was drive home from the vet’s office and pull the emergency stash of pot roast out of the freezer. I made it ages ago, and there was too much for just the two of us, so I froze the rest. Good thing I did. Bill and Maryanne were too upset to even think of eating until last night, when Maryanne put the frozen pot roast in to warm up. The smell of started to fill the house. Maryanne ate a little and felt better. Bill wandered into the kitchen and managed to eat a little bit. The new pound puppy they brought home because the house was just too empty watched them eat pot roast. Everyone started to feel just a teensy bit better.
And my faith in the restorative power of pot roast is reconfirmed. There is so much we can’t fix in this world. People and animals we love die suddenly and unexpectedly. Winter comes. All seems bleak. And then the smell of something warm and beefy, perhaps with a few greens thrown in, sneaks through the house to remind us that all is not lost.
My trip to Chicago for Thanksgiving featured any number of family heirlooms — my grandmother and I went through a boatload of old family photos from the turn of the century, including piles of heartbreaking condolence letters received when her grandparents went down on the Lusitania, and a whole album of her own baby pictures (naked baby granny playing on the farm was pretty adorable). And then my mother gave me not only my great-grandmother’s silver flatware (more about that later) but this aluminum roaster.
I love this roaster. The very first thing I remember learning to cook for myself was pot roast in this very pot. I was in seventh grade, and Mom had gone to work as a travel agent. I remember coming home from school and calling Mom so she could talk me through how to make a pot roast. I was so proud of myself as I chopped up carrots and onions, then put them in this big pot with the meat (we always liked the 7-blade chuck roasts with the bones but we were always broke those years, so we bought whatever was big and was cheap). Then a packet of Lipton Instant Onion Soup Mix, a can of tomatoes, and a can of beef broth. In the oven at 350 until Mom came home from work and we had dinner.
I’ve written before about the restorative power of pot roast, it was pot roast that saw me through bereavement. And it was pot roast that my dear friend Nina cooked that first night while we waited for everyone to show up at my house. “We need meat,” she said after I’d managed to get through to my father in Europe. ‘What?” I asked. Meat? Wasn’t the first thing that came to mind, frankly. “There will be people coming over,” Nina said shooing me down my front steps. “You’re be sitting shivva — I mean, you’re not Jewish but it’s the same thing. We need meat.” So we went to the Albertsons, where I stood somewhat stunned in the florescent glare and Nina, who is married to a very large man, bought enough meat and vegetables for two pot roasts (and a pack of cigarettes — the emergency clause covered cigarettes). We picked at those pot roasts the whole week, and it’s still the first thing I cook when I’m feeling blue, or winter descends, or I just want to feed my loved ones something warm and beefy that I know will make it all better. I don’t make it with Lipton onion soup mix any more, but I’m just so thrilled to have the big pot roast pot that feels like home.
Big game season ended yesterday, and the Mighty Hunter didn’t get his
elk this year. He got antelope and deer, so it’s not like any of us
will go hungry, but no elk, which is too bad. I like elk. This morning
I went over to check New West Network and found this terrific piece on the intertwined pleasures of hunting and providing for oneself and one’s family: “The Thrill and the Meat” by Greg Lemon. I realize that in most parts of the country that hunting is an anathema, but out here, a lot of people like Lemon rely on the fall hunting season to make it possible to live a little lower on the economic ladder. Montana has one of the lowest wage rates in the country, and most locals aren’t hunting for trophies — they’re after a winter’s worth of food. It’s been fascinating watching the MH butcher these past
weeks. I have to say, if you’re going to eat meat, then there’s really no better way to know what you’re eating than to go out and hunt it, kill it, drag it home, hang it in the garage, skin it and butcher it yourself. These are the antelope that the MH
and his son killed earlier this year, hanging in the garage waiting to
be cut into manageable sizes and wrapped for the freezer. Gross? Only in the eye of the beholder. I think they’re
really sort of beautiful.
And although I’m still a long way from my
goal of being able to live small enough to quit my Corporate Job and
freelance like Greg Lemon’s done this year, knowing that the MH can
provide meat (I tease him that I only date him for his freezers, but
really, the duck confit he whipped out from the back of the fridge on
our first date was very very sexy), and that I can grow and put up a
lot of vegetables makes it seem like more reasonable goal than it might be in a lot of other places in the country.