Friday, July 18, 2014

Birthday Week



Every year I get a little bit better at keeping the birthday blues at bay.  My tip for this year -Start Celebrating Early.  Take your "birthday week" seriously.  Open presents when they arrive.  Go to Trader Joe's with a couple of recipes in mind and stock up.  While you're there pick up a twelve pack of Whale's Tail Pale Ale and say to yourself -it's a whole lot cheaper than going to Nantucket.  Next, unabashadly and unbegrudgingly make your own birthday cake.  This year I'm making a pavlova because I've always wanted to and because Yvette van Boven is a hoot and it's her recipe.  If I ever write a book, I want it to be as personal and as lovable as hers.  Also, my mom made this killer lemon meringue pie -it was truly a masterpiece, and so every time I have egg whites beating I think of her.  I miss her dearly this week.  I find myself asking why, why all over again, but that is a question I'm getting comfortable with.  This question I ask best to my sister.  She asks the same question back to me.  Then we spend as long as we need to in the subjunctive.  We play out various and wonderful what-if scenarios and start many sentences with, "Can you imagine if..."  After our dwellings we walk about in disbelief critiquing our shoes and discussing where we want to end up for a drink, completely aware of the gift we have in each other.  We decided on Drink.  It's like a nugget of NYC tucked below a rather ordinary, wide street in Boston.  We decided on this place as we both declared we would be on the Acela to that very city if mom had any say in it.  The bluefish spread with warm, lightly charred bread was the best thing I've tasted in a long time.  There we laid out plans for the coming year -how to squeeze out every ounce of this life, how to rein in our wildest dreams and how to peaceably take over the world.    

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Ginger Baked Beans

On my stove right now sit simmering, bubbling baking beans.  Last night I soaked a bag of pinto beans.  Today I added all of the extras -molasses, garlic, salt, a little ketchup and ginger.  Minced ginger is my secret ingredient.  It adds a sweet spice and an interesting flavor to a very simple dish.  I've made it a few times already this summer.  Once we put them on a salad.  The next time we put them beside a hot dog.  Today we will bring them to a going away party for a friend.  You can cook them with bacon if you are feeling up to it.  You could use tomato paste instead of ketchup.  In years past I always thought of these beans as too sweet and syrupy, but if you make them at home they can be just how you like.  


Recipe:

1lb dried pinto beans or any white bean.  
molasses 
ketchup or tomato paste
2 or 3 cloves of garlic minced
tablespoon or so of minced ginger
1 1/2 teaspoon salt, and more to taste
a few grinds of pepper

If you can, soak a pound of beans overnight after bringing the water to a boil for a moment.  The next day strain and set aside some of the bean liquid until they are just barely covered.  Bring the pot to a boil and then lower the heat to a simmer.  Add 1/3 cup of molasses -more or less depending on your taste.  Add 3 tablespoons of ketchup or tomato paste, the garlic and ginger.  Let cook until the beans are tender -about 30-45 minutes.  Ina Garten says salting beans early can make them tough so I add it towards the end.  That's it really.  It can be tweaked forever but at some point they are good enough.  

:)

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Meal Plan | 06.23.14 | A Little Bit of Everything

It's starting to click.  Oh yeah.  Summer is easier than I remember.  It's just that ornery New England Spring that confuses me.  But summer means effortless snacks of blueberries by the pint and strawberries for the picking.  Summer means pesto!  Praise God.  I love pesto.  I made it tonight and sliced and salted heirloom tomatoes to top.  It was a good moment.  

Today was one of those days that just worked.  I think it was anchored by thoughts of pesto.  We all have those days that unfold in ways you couldn't have foreseen.  A day when there is no one peak arriving approximately at 10 o'clock in the morning, but simply a day placed against a backdrop of contentment and emotion.  Or something like that.  Anytime when you can pass the 4 o'clock hour with short people underfoot and not question the meaning of life you are in the lead.  Gorgeous weather really does help.  So does beet juice.  The beet and carrot and apple and lemon juice that I u-turned for was well worth it.  I had more energy today at 4pm than I have had in a long while.    

I record this because sometimes my melancholy folk music mental state allows me to mostly write about the sullen.  

If you are feeling a little sullen listen to this song.  Follow it up with some pesto and we can be twins.  

This week we are headed to the Blue Ridge Mountains.  We are going the long way.  There isn't a short way.  But we aren't racing is what I mean.  We aren't going to try to beat our record from last summer.  I have lots to do before then, mostly get excited.  But that will come once I see the hills and slip off the grid for a bit.  

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Betty

Have you ever heard a south Jersey accent?  It's the accent of a clammer, of someone who's spent most of his days on the bay digging in the sand.  It's the accent of salt water and sail boats, of callused hands and skin leathered by a life spent in the sun.  You say wuder in place of water.  Philly is your city.  Blueberries, corn and tomatoes can be bought no place else.  Vinyl siding now dots the landscape, but so do the massive and lonesome Pine Barrens, and the shore.  Oh the shore.  Tacky, rustic, Beautiful.

My grandmother died a week ago yesterday. The phone rang and it was my mom's youngest sister saying she had sad news.  Then she blurted it out.  "Grandmom died this morning."  There wasn't a long enough pause for me to rifle through my mind and guess what that news might have been.  If I had had the extra second, I wouldn't have guessed that.  And anyway, she was Gramma West to me.  It was just recently that I learned it was always her intention to be called Grandmom.  She told me that the last time I saw her.  All these years, all my life I've been calling her by the wrong name?  The younger tribe of cousins got it right, but aren't they supposed to follow the lead that we the older grandchildren set?  They were told otherwise in a whisper tone, I wager.  Isn't that odd?  Maybe, but its telling of the complexity that surrounds my mom's family.  Her family, that is the family I love.


My grandfather told me to weep, but not to mourn for her.  The Herringtown Poet he is.  A Texan who married a Jersey girl.  He was in the Coast Guard and she was in nursing school.  They met on a blind date in Atlantic City, back when that was scandalous and back when that city was exciting.  She was a Mayflower descendant.  Her father owned a marina.  She was very close with her own grandmother; we always heard stories and sayings from Granny.  We also have the stories she told us on repeat of when we were children.  I will never forget her pantomiming me tell her as a child while I was chewing that I could now chew with my mouth closed.  I have all these little facts, these stories and I have her letters.  We spent our summers on the Jersey shore and on the off season we wrote letters.  Lots of them.  She saved all of mine and had begun to send them back to me.

We also have her house.  It was Granny's house before it was hers.  As a child she dreamed of living there and she got to.  A wonderful old farmhouse with a screened-in back porch, a musty smell and bad plumbing.  There is a swing out back and the remnants of an old playhouse my mom and aunts enjoyed as children.  There are chickens out there and there's a big pile of clamshells too.  My grandfather has told us all he wants them to cover his grave.  Maybe he told us that as kids so we'd keep out of them.  They were always worried about us getting bit by a tick.

That's where we head this week.  Back to that farmhouse.  Our bologna sandwiches are ready to go in the cooler.  When we get down there we will busy our hands with making a chicken pot pie.  That will help a small bit.  

Blessings to you.

Monday, June 9, 2014

The Meal Plan | 06.09.14 | Salad Week

The Meal Plan is back this week after the hiatus that a long weekend and out of town family afford.  The warm weather is finally curbing some appetites, particularly the youngest and roundest member of our family.  So with that in mind we are going to keep it light.  I hope to make a few salad dressings and put whatever we are planning to eat over some greens.  

For lunch today we brought egg salad sandwiches here to picnic.  Verity tried to get up and run around the block between every bite.  So there's that.  Otherwise it would have been really relaxing.  What's the saying?  Eat like a king in the morning.  Eat like a prince for lunch.  And eat like a pauper for dinner.  I'll at least be getting the last bit of that right.  :)

Tonight:  Black beans, avocado and tomatoes over salad greens with a vinegar dressing.
Tuesday:  The Weekly Lentil.  From 101 Cookbooks again.
Wednesday:  Roasted Vegetable Salad with Toasted Cheese Baguette Slices
Thursday: Grilled Shrimp and Potato Salad
Friday:  Pizza and a chopped salad for us.

Any holes will be filled with ice cream.  A little rusty getting back into it.  




Friday, May 30, 2014

Tiananmen Square


I have blurry memories of watching the protests in Tiananmen Square on television.  My mom is coded into these memories somehow.  The voices are muffled with age, but I can remember being told what was unfolding on the screen before me.   I understood that history was being made.  And then there is nothing.  It goes blank.  I know now that the nothing marked the Chinese government's crackdown and then their whitewashing campaign.  That kind of stuff works really well on an eight year old American.

It's surprising the break it affords me to look at the big picture and remember what happened in that Square twenty-five years ago in a country so far away.  What a relief it is to step outside myself and to consider what life was like for those students.  It's easy to get caught up in the rat race that life can be when you do it next to so many other people.  The questions I ask myself seem weighty at times.  Do I have enough children?  Do I have too many children?  Am I teaching them enough?  Am I doing enough?  But when I remember these people I never met, whose lives were so short, the same questions seem so lighthearted and also insulated.

Springtime in Tiananmen Square, 1989 is the article I read yesterday.  So aptly named.  So much can happen while the sun shines down on you.  This June will mark the passing of seven years since my mother was alive.  I don't know if that is a short or a long time.  There are still a few items I have of hers that carry her smell.  I still have a number of the things she gave me over the years.  My watercolors.  An old swimsuit I can't throw away.  And there are things I have that should still be hers.  Her jewelry box.  Her china.  I know that Naomi's "naturally curly hair" was for her alone.  And Verity.  Well, at least she would be trying to pull up all the plantings in Marmie's garden instead of mine.

The years that have passed have brought great and slow change.  It's taken many years to begin to see her again without the backdrop of what took her from us.  It's taken me this many years plus a few more to look forward to seeing her again.  It's all taking a really long time.  Maybe longer than I expected.  Certainly longer that the world allows you.  On my good days I can see how blessed I am.  And on my bad days it goes downhill really fast.  I'm still learning from her and learning about her, I know.  On most occasions when I'm going crazy about one thing or another I know she would tell me not to worry about it.  I'm trying awfully hard not to.   

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Meal Plan | 05.19.14 | No Big Deal


Monday:  Cauliflower Fritters
Tuesday:  Baked Beans with Cornbread 
Wednesday:  Curried Split Pea Dahl over Rice.  Again.
Thursday:  Kusheri -Egyptian Lentils and Rice topped with a Red Sauce and Sauteed Onions
Friday:  High hopes for burritos made by somebody else.  

Eric will probably call to check in before he boards his plane to come back home.  I'm hoping for a text.  Because I have nothing to say.  I've envisioned answering the presumed call sounding upbeat and entirely positive, like it's been no big deal doing a weekend plus a Monday on my own.  But I can't do that because I'm tired and I'm really bad at pretending otherwise.  It's in part a tribute to how helpful he is.  It's in part a tribute to the age and stage N and V are currently at.  I will never be the person that says motherhood is the hardest job in the world.  But it is an endless job, and most of the time a thankless job.  I don't mean that I want more flowers on Mother's Day.  I mean that practically speaking when your daughter is crying at 4:30 in the morning because she is sleeping in a puddle of pee and she wakes up her roommate and by the time you get back in bed you realize the birds have begun to sing, no one is going to thank you for doing such great work.  This is why God gave us coffee.  To reward us for doing such great work.  

Regardless of all that, today is a great day because this afternoon we are planting our garden!  Tomatoes, basil and flowers in abundance.  And for experimentation, I'm also scattering a mix of mesclun seeds!  I'm most excited about that.