• Thanksgiving of 2018

    You wanna know a trick for making your ordinarily-sized house feel enormous? Simply stuff it full of people for three days and then when they all leave — ta-da! — you’re swimming in empty space!

    It’s great wintertime therapy, really, both the intense people pick-me-up and the “my house is now HUGE” buzz you get afterward. So remember, when you’ve got a raging case of cabin fever come February, a monster sleepover for days on end is the cure. Easy-peasy.

    We’ve hosted lots of people before, but I don’t think ever for so long, or for so many, or during such cold weather. Well, my blog tells me that we did, indeed, host this number of people before (the same ones, in fact), but this was back when the kids were a fair bit smaller. Now, most of them are solidly in the teen category, bookended by two preteens and two young adults on either end. Plus, Cousin Kenton made a guest appearance the last night. A few of the cousins got to know him in Puerto Rico and demanded (okay, okay — politely suggested) that he come, too, so he did!



    oh, and there were two extra dogs, too

    How does one go about pulling off a three-day bash, you might ask? Well hey! HOW ABOUT I TELL YOU.

    What you do is this:

    Regarding readying the house…
    *Put your husband in charge of all the cleaning. I repeat, ALL the cleaning. As in, one hundred percent of the cleaning. Offer, as needed, tips, suggestions, pointers, and an outline of what needs to be done and when, but do not — I repeat, do NOT — do any of the cleaning yourself. (Except for last-minute room checks. It’s okay to do those.)

    *As far as sleeping arrangements go, fix up the kids’ clubhouse (insulate, drywall, paint) and then pack in as many teen girls as will fit (between six and seven, FYI).

    Regarding food (this is the fun part)….

    *Plan the menu, thinking through every single solitary detail. Balance heavy meals with light ones. Leave empty, no-cooking spaces in the day. As much as is possible, choose dishes that can be made ahead. Nix all snacking, limit sugar, and pile on the veggies.

    *Schedule about three, six-hour chunks of time to do massive batches of pre-holiday cooking. Excellent make-ahead foods include: ludicrous mashed potatoes, unbaked pie pastries crimped and then frozen (you keep oodles of pie pans on hand for this very reason, use them!), sausage lentil soup, braided bread, stuffing (prepped, except for the milk and egg, and frozen), roasted and peeled sweet potatoes, multiple batches of cranberry sauce, extra turkey legs (roasted, deboned, and frozen in broth to keep moist) for in case one 19-pound turkey isn’t enough, boiled and peeled eggs for salad, granola, raisin bread, baked beans, etc. It’s dreamy, having a freezer and fridge full of ready-to-go items. Makes me wonder why I don’t treat myself to such loveliness more often.

    *When people offer to bring something, delegate food items that travel well and that you’d otherwise have to purchase: hot dogs, fresh fruit, juice, coffee, chips, cereal. This cuts down on your grocery bill and, hopefully, simplifies their workload because they are, after all, the ones doing the dirty work of packing and driving (ugh).

    *To keep the kitchen tidy and reduce the risk of food getting eaten out of order, hide all food (that you’ve pre-made or that people have brought). Out of sight, out of mind!

    *Freeze all leftovers ASAP. This clears up precious fridge space and ensures that you’ll be eating like kings for days to come, whoo-hoo!

    Regarding activities….
    *Plan some! How and when will people get outside to burn off energy? What’s there to do if it rains? Do guests need to bring along sneakers for running and gloves for hauling wood (yes and yes). You might never get around to doing all (any?) of them, but knowing you have options reduces pre-hosting anxiety.

    our very own 5(or 6)K Turkey Trot


    free labor



    always playing

    preparing to crash my parents’ Thanksgiving party
    and ogle their food

    and sing to (with) them

    Regarding sanity-saving practices…
    *Don’t feel obligated to participate in everything. When everyone decides to go roller skating, it’s fine to stay home to vacuum the floors and read by the fire.

    *Since your entire house has now been taken over by a million talking, laughing, loved ones and you have no place to go, spend all your time in the kitchen, quietly prepping meals and cleaning up from them, all while enjoying the happy, and sometime utterly deafening, chaos that surrounds you.


    the competition is for real



    they had this weird obsession for group workouts


    all. the. time. 

    *Break your “I never give up my room to guests” rule, turn it over to the couple with the most seniority, and go sleep in your parents’ pristine, cozy, and very quiet house. Slip between the crisp, smooth sheets and wish a thousand blessings on your mother’s head, for she truly is the queen of gorgeous bed-making. (But then, when the sheets are so crisp that they crackle and snap in your ears every time you roll over and actually wake you up, fuss. Your mother will feel bad and offer new bedding, but you’ll be too lazy to upgrade the bed. No worries — by the third night of noisy sleeps, you’ll mostly adapt.)

    before hitting the road: one more round of this year’s theme song, Bring Sally Up


    proving his mettle

    *When everyone leaves, take advantage of the freshly emptied places and go on a cleaning tear. Thirty minutes of wiping down and vacuuming up and a tidy, HUGE house is all yours. Collapse on the sofa and read, read, read. Actually, you can probably play the “I’m recuperating” card for several days. Milk it, baby.

    Until next year!

    This same time, years previous: Chattanooga Thanksgiving of 2017, Chattanooga Thanksgiving of 2016, and of 2015!, the day before, kale pomegranate salad, monster cookies, butternut squash pesto cheesecake, all a-flutter, apple chutney.

  • the quotidian (11.26.18)

    Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
    everyday; ordinary; commonplace


    To counteract the holiday glut.

    The glut of which I speak, YUM.
    Ludicrous mashed potatoes deserve to get mashed ludicrously.
    Roasted and all ready to slip out of their jackets.
    Getting my puff on.

    Last-minute cramming: the guest quarters.
    Thank goodness for showers.
    November’s end.

    This same time, years previous: the quotidian (11.20.17), curried Jamaican butternut soup, apple crumb pie, apple raisin bran muffins, the quotidian (11.25.13), Thanksgiving of 2012, cranberry pie with cornmeal streusel topping.

  • the quotidian (11.19.18)

    Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
    everyday; ordinary; commonplace

    Sometimes I get hungry (there are beans and rice under there, too).
    Breakfast biscuits: self-rising flour, butter, sour milk.
    Taking peanut butter apples to a new level.
    Coming up: apple, grape, cherry, shoofly, etc…
    Cleaning out the fridge: a bit o’ rice, grilled chicken, collards, lemon, squash.

    Bread flour by the old-fashioned-ladies-with-bustly-butts tin.
    Sillies.

    Seasonal confusion. 
    Ice leaf.
    The wireless keyboard that I bought because my laptop keyboard stopped working 
    is now also breaking, whimper-sob.

    I have paparazzi. Therefore, I am.
    Also, this is why I no longer comb my hair when it’s dry.

    This same time, years previous: smoking success, spiced applesauce cake with caramel glaze, in my kitchen: noon, how to use up Thanksgiving leftovers in ten easy steps, red lentil soup with lemon and spinach.

  • guayaba bars

    This year, Thanksgiving’s at our place. At last count, there will be about eighteen people banging around our house. In an effort to preserve my sanity and reduce my pre-hosting stress levels, I’ve delegated one hundred percent of the cleaning (plus bedding/sleeping arrangements and all mass-living organizational tasks) to my husband.

    As for me, I’m doing the food. At this point, this means lists. Lots and lots of lists. There are shopping lists and will-you-please-bring-these-things lists and menu lists and what-to-do-on-which-day lists. Cooking for eighteen for three to four full days is not a big deal, really. It’s more a matter of organization … and space. (Right about now is when I start dreaming of duplicate large kitchen appliances. Anyone have an extra fridge they want to park on my porch?)

    Today I took advantage of the snow-and-ice day and did the following:

    *cooked three pounds of bacon (for just in case)
    *made the first of two (or three) batches of granola because remember: I still have a family to feed
    *mixed up a batch of Ranch dressing
    *made three batches of pie pastry
    *rolled out and froze four pie pastries
    *baked three loaves of cinnamon raisin bread, and, from the leftovers, a pan of raisin bread sweet rolls for our immediate gratification
    *I made the glaze for the rolls and icing for the bread
    *made hot chocolate … twice.
    *started on the cranberry sauce, but I haven’t finished it yet.

    Oh, and I also made eggs and pancakes for breakfast, the pancakes with leftover ricotta because I’m trying to clean out the fridge (because I don’t think I’ll be getting a second fridge any time soon).

    While I worked, I listened to Thanksgiving cooking podcasts to keep me in the groove (I’m feeling minorly inferior because I’ve never spatchcocked a turkey; have you?), and now I’m feeling just a wee bit fooded out. You know, the bleary-blah feeling one gets when the skies are grey and the entire day’s been spent inside with drifts of sugar and mountains of butter. Before I started typing, I just sat on the sofa staring at the computer, my eyes glazed over. All I really wanted to do was watch movies. (Too bad it’s Thursday.) Maybe I should just close the laptop and go read for awhile?

    Perhaps, but first, a recipe.

    Remember Olga from Puerto Rico, the woman who brought us yummy treats made by her daughter-in-law? The last week we were there, Olga finally slipped me the recipes, but it wasn’t until last week that I finally got around to making the Panetela, or what I uncreatively call Guayaba Bars.

    My husband brought me the brick of guayaba paste when he went to Puerto Rico the first time — a last-minute grab from the airport gift shop. They eat it with cheese, he informed me.





    Which is true, I’ve since learned, but the paste never really lit me up … that is, not until I had Olga’s bars, buttery and dense with a strip of tangy-sweet jelly in the middle and a dusting of sugar on top: perfection.

    So, like I said, I made the bars last week. They are easy to make, and they look right sharp, too. Seems to me, they’d make an excellent addition to a Christmas cookie platter….

    Guayaba Bars
    Adapted from Olga’s daughter-in-law’s recipe.

    The recipe calls for a whole pound of guayaba (guava) paste but I used fourteen ounces and still found the jelly to be a bit overpowering in its thicker places. Next time, I’ll use just ten to twelve ounces.

    To make your own self-rising flour: mix 6 cups all-purpose flour with 2 tablespoons baking powder, 1 ½ teaspoons baking soda, and 1 ½ teaspoons salt. Toss well and store in an airtight container.

    1 cup sugar
    2 eggs
    1 teaspoon vanilla
    2 cups self-rising flour
    1 stick butter, cut in pieces and softened
    10-12 ounces guayaba paste
    Confectioner’s sugar, for decoration

    Cream together the eggs and sugar until pale yellow. Add vanilla. Add the flour and the softened butter and mix well. The batter will be thick, like icing.

    Spread half of the batter in a greased, square glass pan (lined with parchment, if you wish). Slice the guayaba paste and lay the pieces over the batter. Dollop the remaining batter over the paste and spread smooth.

    Bake the bars at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Cool completely before cutting into pieces (you can cut the bars sooner, but the still-warm paste will be a bit runny) and then dusting heavily with powdered sugar.

    This same time, years previous: Shakespeare behind bars, Thai chicken curry, the quotidian (11.16.15), I will never be good at sales, gravity, lessons from a shopping trip, the wiggles, why I’m glad we don’t have guns in our house, chicken salad.

  • the quotidian (11.12.18)

    Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
    everyday; ordinary; commonplace

    Pappardelle pasta.

    And what I made with it.

    Discovering delicata: tasty and pretty, but not as flavorful as butternut.

    Dishes done.
    Photo credit: younger son

    Voting is fun.

    First time: it took two trips to the station, though, since he forgot his license the first time around.

    Selfie at 14.
    Insulating the clubhouse for Thanksgiving because we make our guests sleep outside.

    Sunday evening at church: Kurdish (Filipino! Latino!) dancing and fantastic food. 
    At one point, my husband muttered something about our kids having a bit of a different church experience than the one we both had growing up, and I burst out laughing, Are they ever.
  • of mice and men and other matters

    Yesterday morning, I walked downstairs in the dark, barefoot. Crossing the living room, I stepped on something weirdly soft and squishy. I switched on the light and —

    HOLY HECK THERE’S A DEAD MOUSE ON THE FLOOR.

    I whisper-shrieked, cursed (my older son witnessed the whole sordid debacle and later soberly announced to my older daughter, “I will forever remember November 6, 2018 as the day I first heard my mother say the F-word”), and then hop-ran to the bathroom to scrub my contaminated toes.

    (We still have no idea how a dead mouse materialized on our floor. Best we can figure, it sprung one of our traps — occasionally we find them sprung…and empty — got injured, and then finally, days later, gave up the ghost.)

    Now I’m scared to walk around the house in the dark.

    *** 

     

    This morning I fell while running. I was chugging up the gravel road when I heard a large dump-truck approaching the upcoming intersection. My younger son was riding his bike up ahead, so I had looked up to keep an eye on things. Suddenly, my foot nicked a rock and I hit the dirt, skinning my knee and tearing a hole in my leggings in the process. It’s only a small hole — a pinprick really — but still, it’s POP: Proof of Pain.

    *** 

    My computer is dying. When we were in Puerto Rico, some of the keys stopped working so I bought a wireless keyboard. But now the wireless keyboard keys are beginning to stick. The backspace key, especially, is cantankerous. I have to pound on it with all my strength (think manual typewriter-type pounding) which makes the already painful process of backspacing just that much more demoralizing.

    Just so you know, this is what my face looks like when I’m type-pounding:

    ***

    Have you seen Five Foot Two, the Netflix documentary about Lady Gaga? I’d barely known who she was — just some singer sporting outrageously ridiculous clothes — but then I (and my husband, too!) watched the video and now I can’t stop thinking about it.

    I have so many questions, like:

    *In the midst of such pressure and chaos, how does she tap into her center and find space to create? 

    *How can a person live in multiple houses and ever feel at home?
    *How can she continuously put herself out there and still have a sense of self?
    *She’s a singer. She smokes. WHY.
    *How can a person dance all over a huge stage, and up and down stairs, in sky-high stillettos and not break her ankles?
    *Doesn’t she ever get cold waltzing around in her tiny t-shirts and super short shorts?
    *And about those short short shorts: are they even comfortable?

    That night after watching the movie I was so plagued with questions that I had trouble sleeping, no joke. 

    *** 

    Earlier this week we hosted a Salvadoran man for a couple nights. He was part of an advocacy group that’s traveling across the country in a bus, educating people about the plight of immigrants with Temporary Protective Status. Our town was the last stop before the group’s final destination, Washington DC.

    I didn’t get to visit with our guest very much — both nights he arrived at our house shortly before bedtime, and in the mornings I left for work before people got up (and after crunching on dead mice) — but my husband did. Later, over supper, he filled us in on our guest’s history of attempted forced military recruitment, asylum seeking, police brutality, prison sentences, etc. — so many experiences that I can’t even begin to comprehend.

    The kids reported that he made himself right at home, digging through the fridge for the butter, heating up the pot of beans I’d left on the stove. The first morning, he made them eggs for breakfast and then washed up the dishes afterwards. The second morning when I got back from work, our guest was already gone. Looking around, I noticed he’d emptied the trashes, scrubbed the bathroom sink, made his bed, and, once again, washed all the breakfast dishes.

    As I fixed lunch for the kids and me, the lingering scent of our guest’s cologne stinging my nostrils, I found myself wondering: Who was this man who’d been thrown in prison multiple times, twice fled his beloved country, chattered to us in Spanish without pausing to draw breath, and made my children breakfast?

    Suddenly, the quote that hangs on my wall by the dining room table, the one linking hospitality and strangers with the entertainment of angels, popped into my head, and I chuckled to myself. Oh yes, I thought, but of course.

    Go well, stranger-friend.

     ***

    This same time, years previous: the quotidian (11.6.17), the quotidian (11.7.16), for the time change, “How are you different now?”, yesterday, let me sum up.

  • the quotidian (11.5.18)

    Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
    everyday; ordinary; commonplace
    Tomatoes in cream, with toast.

    To sweeten knobby, bitter carrots, an oven-roasting does wonders.  
    Words become her.
    Squashed.

    A countertop facelift.


    Practical love, rain or shine.

    When jokes backfire.
    I stick a beet tail in the trap and no one notices. Days later, my husband says, “Look what we caught!” I glance down, see my handiwork right by my bare toes, and scream bloody murder. 

    This same time, years previous: old-fashioned apple roll-ups, meatloaf, musings from the coffee shop, awkward, bierocks: meat and cabbage rolls, cheesy broccoli potato soup.

  • sour cream coffee cake

    I have a weakness for coffee cake. (I also have a weakness for fresh sourdough bread, pricey cheeses, and Swedish fish, but let’s stick with coffee cake for right now, okay?) I think it has something to do with the name: coffee cake. Coffee and cake, two of my favorite things in one title, win and win. Or maybe it’s the idea of a cake made specifically to eat with coffee? I don’t know, but whenever I spy a recipe for coffee cake, I have to read it. It’s a compulsion.

    However, in spite of my abiding love and affection, coffee cakes are often (usually? always?) either a little too dry or a little too fluffy. Coffee cakes, according to moi, ought to be dense, heavy almost, and very, very moist. And even though coffee cakes are fashioned from a string of ordinary ingredients — butter, vanilla, cream — those ingredients are (verily, I say unto you!) some of the best things in the world, and their flavors ought to sing through loud and clear.

    So anyway, the other week when cool weather struck, I got hit with the need for coffee cake. Or wait — maybe I got the idea for coffee cake when I deep-cleaned my pots-and-pans cupboard and discovered a handsome tube pan hanging out in the back corner? Ah well. Either way, a coffee cake craving was sparked.

    Reading through recipes, I discovered an as-yet-untried coffee cake recipe in my hefty Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook. True to (their) form, the method seemed unnecessary complicated, but then I read this:

    Rather than creaming the butter and sugar, which made the cake too light and airy, we cut softened butter and some of the sour cream into the dry ingredients, then added the eggs and the rest of the sour cream; the result was a tighter crumb.

    Well then.

    The cake was what I was after. Like, exactly. So dense, so rich, so flavorful! The only problems were 1) I trashed the kitchen in the process, and 2) the cinnamon sugar mixture partially sunk so the swirly effect got lost.

    In an attempt to solve the sinking sugar issue, I made the cake again. (I also made the book’s cream cheese coffee cake which I did not like at all.) The second time around, the problem was even worse. Almost all the cinnamon sugar sunk to the bottom, creating a bottom layer of chewy caramel. Which isn’t necessarily a tragedy. In fact, some might even consider cake bottom caramelization an asset.

    I still haven’t solved the problem — am I beating the batter too long? should I reduce the amount of cinnamon sugar? increase/decrease the oven temp? — but I’m gearing up to make it again. If I learn anything new, I’ll update.

    Sour Cream Coffee Cake
    Adapted from the Cook’s Illustrated Cookbook.

    for the streusel:
    ¾ cup each flour and sugar
    ½ cup packed brown sugar, divided
    2 tablespoons cinnamon
    2 tablespoons butter
    1 cup pecans

    Put the flour, sugar, cinnamon, and ¼ cup of the brown sugar in a food processor. Whirl to combine. 

    Remove 1¼ cups of the flour-sugar mixture, and transfer it to a small bowl and add the remaining ¼ cup of brown sugar — this is your streusel filling.

    Add the butter and the pecans to the mixture that’s still in the processor and pulse until pebbly — this is your streusel topping.

    for the cake:
    2¼ cups flour
    1¼ cups sugar
    1 tablespoon baking powder
    ¾ teaspoon each baking soda and salt
    12 tablespoons butter, cut into chunks
    1½ cups sour cream, divided
    4 eggs
    1 tablespoon vanilla

    Stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the butter and ½ cup of the sour cream and beat gently until the mixture comes together. Add the remaining sour cream, eggs, and vanilla and mix just until combined. (If you beat it longer, the cake will be lighter — not what we want here.)

    Pour about a third of the batter into a greased tube pan. Sprinkle in half of the streusel filling mixture. Another third of the batter and the remaining streusel mixture. Pour in the last third of the batter and top with the pecan streusel.

    Bake the cake at 350 degrees for 50-60 minutes. Let the cake cool in the pan at room temp for 30 minutes before cutting around the sides with a table knife and gently inverting the cake onto a plate, streusel side down. Remove the tube pan, set a cooling rack on top of the cake and flip again. Allow the cake to cool completely before transfering to a serving dish.

    This same time, years previous: apple dumplings, cinnamon pretzels, 2015 garden stats and notes, chatty time, posing for candy, why I’m spacey, homemade Greek yogurt.