Tuesday, December 02, 2014

End times survival guide.

End of the semester, obviously. What did you think I meant?

Actually I'm reading some fairly apocalyptic police procedurals, and my colleagues are having their Zombie Survival Guide event in a couple of days. We're running pretty low on snacks. I'm just saying, the end of the semester might as well be end times, maybe?

No, no, we're going to survive this. Here is my plan:

1. I plan to be caught up. One way to make the grading go better is not to have to dig oneself out a hole of tragic, ungraded work. I am pleased to report that I am altogether caught up (although this is a moment by moment thing, since students are still weaseling late assignments in on Canvas like, oh, late assignment, nbd, Lisa will take it because she's a late assignment taker aka sucker). CHECK.

2. I plan to wear good outfits and comfortable shoes. Good outfits take everything from the "this is bearable" level to the "I will crush this" level. And my new no uncomfortable shoes policy has literally revolutionized my attitude. (Am I overstating? Possibly. But it's almost as if one's baseline well-being radiates out and up from the foot's kajillion tiny little bones and their companionate muscles, tendons, and nerves.)

3. I plan to keep reading fairly apocalyptic police procedurals, as well as any other damn thing I feel like reading.

4. I plan to recognize that no single friend of mine will lose his or her mind if I don't make them a bottle of homemade orange extract or some other thing that requires buying (a) bottles and (b) expensive spirits and (c) worrying that I didn't start the extraction soon enough and (d) other related gift-giving nonsense.

5. I plan to sleep, at least a little more than usual. At this point in the year, shouldn't I be hibernating like a French peasant anyway?

6. I plan to take a walk, to go to the gym, and to be on speaking terms with my dog.

7. I plan to give some of the stuff in my house away. Like books and clothes and food.

8. But above all, I intend to buy more and better snacks. Grading is hungry work.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Notes for December.

Here are the things I want to do in December so far.

See a billion movies.
Bake and eat cookies.
Make delicious wintry dinners.
Eat pancakes.
Get a Christmas tree.
Look at Christmas lights, the more colors and blow up figures and white-light-reindeer the better.
Go to Louisiana for college daughter's graduation!
Have piles of family fun with the folks around here, and those visiting.
Possibly take on an epic television program like (finally) Breaking Bad.
OR just watch a zillion episodes of Modern Family or so.

I would like to go for a wander downtown or around a neighborhood with my camera.
I would like to walk someplace where there is water.

This little listicle does not really comprise a story, it is desultory and generic. But I tell you, tonight while we were walking with Bruiser, we walked past a house that had a snowman with lights that changed colors, including all pink, and I thought: December, it is on. Bring me your everything: your evergreen, your wreath, your tangled strands with fizzly bulbs, your too much noise and crowds and excess of desire, your quiet and melancholy. Bring the darkest night. Bring your stars and bring the cold. Bring snow. I'm in the mood for a solstice and a nativity, for song and candles: let's sing and light them together.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

And the sauce shall have depth of flavor, and mystery.

This is a little culinary history. Well, a little of my culinary history.

I. In olden times. Back in the olden times, when I was a lass, and the Mormons had Primary during the week, my mother often left me in charge of dinner. Usually I had instructions. My mother made the best spaghetti sauce, which upon occasion I was asked to prepare. It was the sauce of the meaty variety--a bolognese, as some more sophisticated sorts may call it, but we called it spaghetti sauce and we liked it. It tasted dark and thoroughly cooked. There may have been a seasoning envelope, as folk were wont to use in those days. Or there may have been dried herbs in bottles. Whatever. The sauce was good. And the parmesan came in a green foil-wrapped cardboard dispenser.

II. The middle years. Back when I was a young person, I became a vegetarian. The meat sauce, she was no longer my gig. Instead, I assembled a variety of vegetables that made what I considered to be a pretty darn good sauce. It included chopped onion, garlic, mushroom, green pepper, and parsley, stewed in canned tomato sauce, or maybe bottled tomatoes that I had preserved myself. I loved this sauce. I would make it and give it away to people who had just had a baby, along with a loaf of french bread that I had also made myself. I thought this was clever and kind, because the sauce could be frozen and saved for a rainy day, when all the dinners had dried up and the baby was crying. I made this sauce for many, many years. I am still happy to make it, or something like it, to this very day.

III. The latter days. In which I learned to roast tomatoes, thereby creating an even greater depth of flavor, as the tomatoes took on a caramelized flavor from the roasting and the concentration of the sugars, etc. These tomatoes could be thawed and chopped and used as is, or they could be further stewed and made into a saucier sauce.

IV. A short note about noodles. Linguine, obviously. So suave. But also any of the long thin noodles. I am not a fan of fettucine. The broadness leads to uneven cooking. Maybe I'm impatient, which is why: linguine.

V. A short note about herbs. The advent of widely available fresh basil basically changed everything, of course, so much so that where, back in the middle years, I would move through a bottle of dried basil at a pretty good clip, now I don't have any dried basil in the house.

VI. A short note about chopped sauces. When it's summertime and the tomatoes are fat and luscious, it makes no sense to cook a sauce, to my mind. You just chop all the things that might go into the sauce, at a smallish dice, and put them on the hot noodles. They will melt a little and be the very glory of summer, especially if you have peaches for dessert.

VII. The sauce I made tonight. Tonight, my grandson gave me a call to see if there was something good cooking over at our house. 'We were actually going to eat leftovers,' I said, truthfully. My grandson said, 'Couldn't you make something better? Like pancakes?'

Or noodles, I thought. So I bestirred myself to seek the provisions of my house, to try to rustle up some sauce.

First: I had about a third of a packet each of four different kinds of pasta. So: mixed pasta. This requires some deft timing of when you add which kind of pasta to the boiling water. You'll be happy to know that you can cook penne and mini farfalle together, as long as you give the penne about a minute and a half headstart.

Second: no parsley, no basil, no peppers. I had an onion, several fresh-ish cloves of garlic, six small portobello mushrooms, and some greens.

I chopped the onion and garlic and began sautéing in olive oil. Then I chopped the mushrooms with haste and anxiety, since many in my family are not fans of mushrooms, but I planned to blend the sauce, so the mushrooms would not be in evidence. If anyone saw them, though, all bets would be off. I chopped the greens and added them to the pan. Then I took a big can of San Marzano crushed tomatoes and started blending.

My blender complained a little bit, but I kept adding tomatoes and a little water and giving it a little prod now and then, and we got a good, no-chunks sauce flecked with green. I put it back in the pan and added a little more water, then a nice sprig of rosemary for something a little sharp in the background.

My daughter and grandkids arrived. My daughter said, 'Mmm, it smells good in here!' Oh, good, I thought. 'Good!' I said.

A minute later, she said, 'Are there mushrooms in the sauce? It smells like mushrooms.' And I was all, Good Lord. And then, dear reader, I briefly lied. 'No,' I said. And then, maybe fifteen seconds later, I retracted: 'Okay, yes. But it's all blended!'

VII. A short note about the other time I lied about mushrooms in a pasta dish. One time, I lied about mushrooms in something or other, probably a lasagne. My son asked if there were mushrooms, and I pulled the same logical shenanigans. Later, my lie was revealed and he has not let me forget it. Perhaps the memory of this mushroom-oriented untruth is what made me repent so quickly tonight.

VIII. A short note on pickiness. Other people's pickiness evidently turns me into a liar. I wish, therefore, for the greater good and for the strength of my own character that people would not be so picky. That is all.

IX. A conversation about mushrooms in the sauce. Then we had a lengthy discussion about the whole flavor and scent of mushrooms and whether this person and/or that person could discern the mushroominess within the sauce. I myself love mushrooms, and I wanted the flavor to have an earthiness to it. And let's be honest here: I wanted to make a sauce that was more than tomatoes and dried oregano.

X. The verdict. And if I do say so myself, it was good.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Scenes from the night before Thanksgiving.

1. At the noodle restaurant: New trainee at the cash register. The people ahead of us seem to have an extensive and very complicated order. One factor is that on this, the night before Thanksgiving, there appears to be no spaghetti, just penne. I spot one of my students, who comes over to say hi.  She's such a good student. We are both very pleased to introduce one another to our respective dining partners.

2. In my kitchen: I take the two-tined chocolate dipping fork that I bought that one year when I thought I would become a master chocolatier (nope!) and pierce two pumpkins and two squashes, then put them in the oven to roast. I consult the pumpkin pie recipe I'm considering. Actually, I'm making two pumpkin pies, one my regular with the candied ginger, then the other, still theoretical pie, with garam masala in it. This may be a bad idea. I'm still just thinking about it.

Anyway, I realize that I need a piece of ginger. Ginger itself. Which I don't have in my refrigerator, as it turns out. Gotta go to the store.

3. Outside the grocery store: there are two guys--father and son?--who are perusing the RedBox with serious intent.

4. At the grocery store: there are a lot of people, but there is a ton of ginger, ginger itself. Also, it occurs to me that I may need some non-nonsensical lettuce (I have two kinds of endive and a lot of arugula) for the salad I am taking tomorrow. So: some more organic greens of the non-pungent variety. And cherry turnovers also. Because there they were, looking eminently edible.

There are a zillion people at the store. The lady in front of me in line at the cashiers, like me, discovered a crucial missing ingredient. Turns out she had no corn starch, a necessity for the coconut cream pie she's making for dinner tomorrow.

5. Outside the grocery store: two guys still talking over the RedBox options.

6. At home: the kitchen smells beautifully of roasting squash.

7. Somebody: still needs to make pie crust.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014


Today, like many of you, I have been reading. Many of these pieces I first encountered on Facebook, for which I thank my friends and acquaintances:

Jeffrey Toobin, "How Not to Use a Grand Jury"

Carol Anderson from the Washington Post (August 29), "Ferguson isn't about black rage against cops. It's white rage against progress."

From Heather Armstrong, "A Syllabus for Thanksgiving Break"

Chase Madar from The Nation, "Why It's Impossible to Indict a Cop"

"Situation 6 from CITIZEN by Claudia Rankine in collaboration with John Lucas" on Vimeo.

Jamelle Bouie on Slate, "Justifying Homicide"

Syreeta McFadden in The Guardian, "Ferguson, goddamn"

Aida Manduley, "The Ferguson Masterpost"

It's not enough, not an adequate response, to read and repost and read some more.

Adding: "Why Ferguson Burns," from The Nation. 
"So yes, Ferguson is on fire. Black America, brown America, poor America is on fire. And these embers of rage will smolder and flare until our out-of-control “justice” system is thoroughly reformed."


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