2.16.2017

behind.

I don’t know about you, but I spend most of January stumbling through a gloomy funk. Somehow the daily grind gets much murkier when the snow on the ground is brown and the snow in the air is coming in sideways. Simple tasks that took an hour in September, can consume an entire day in January. The workload remains the same and yet I constantly feel overwhelmed. Why?

Here is how it works in my house:
There is October, and the lead-up to Halloween, the pumpkin-carving and fall decorating and whatnot. And then, there is ThanksgivingChristmasNewYearsValentine'sDay.

And then, there is now. Mid February. Hello.
By now, I've stopped trying to unravel how exactly this five-month time tunnel happens. It's not like I go whole hog on any holiday. I don't. I really don't. Okay, Christmas. I'll give you half-hog on that one. But beyond that? Simple simple. And this year was simple-simpler than most.

But there's a swirly vortex to it all, just the same. A momentum. I can't explain it. Probably, it's just my monkey brain, in any case, I've come to expect it, the sudden shock of emerging, again, on the other side.

Invariably, a few days after Valentine's Day, I tend to look around all blinky and off and easily startled. I squint and scan the (glitter-coated) horizon and try to figure out which way's up. And where I store the laundry soap. And what were my plans for this year, anyway?

 It's not unlike that other little vortex, commonly known as life. The one where you go into it, starting kindergarten, and emerge, some sixty years later, squinty and disoriented and in deeply unfashionable jeans, suddenly aware you have a Silver Sneakers card and creaky knees.

Don't get me wrong. The other side, it's a remarkable place. But it still takes a while to acclimatize.

As soon as the doilies and hearts are archived, I sort of sigh, shift gears, settle in. The living room furniture finally gets a proper going over and the floors are swept. Mornings are spent with coffee, journals and yoga, and all points in between. Afternoons are, incredibly, still given over to everyday, snow and rain playing tag. me? I'm bulldozing through that list I set aside for when "I have a minute." Apparently, there have been no minutes since September 30.

I love mid February.

Well, I don't love all of it. I don't love that all our produce is coming from far-flung places, for now.
But I so cherish the slow un-urgent pace of weekend afternoons. And I dig the way limited outdoor activities lead to neglected indoor activities. And naps.

So far in 2017, if there is one word to describe my life it is this: Behind.  No matter how many times I listen to my Headspace meditation app, no matter how much I try to prioritize and tell myself that this is just part of having a busy life, I still feel anxiously behind in a way that I haven’t ever felt before.  I keep lists going, and it doesn’t seem like anything ever gets crossed off.  There are things I want to do, there isn’t time, so I’m behind.  I’m in need of an ophthalmologist appointment as ageing constantly changes my eyes.  I’m desperately in need of a haircut.  I need to go to the dentist.  I have a long list of things that I need a dermatologist to do to my face since it is falling apart. I’m not talking major work; I just want the weird new bumps and red spots to eff off and stop multiplying.

I see Huffington Post articles and blog posts about gratitude, acceptance, and feeling blessed.  YES, I am grateful for many things, and NO I don’t have to fetch water from a communal well everyday or anything, but I’ll feel a lot more gratitude when I feel like I’m not so far behind all the time!  Aren’t retired people supposed to be relaxed?

I've done the normal amount of thinking about the new year in recent weeks. Like clockwork, I've decided to redecorate my house, give away all of my unused/unnecessary junk, buy new make-up and wrinkle cream, try a capsule wardrobe, reduce my sugar intake, and spend more time moving and/or reading. One or the other. Depends on the day.

I've gone so far as to push all the living room furniture in the center of the room with no after-plan in place.

I crave blank surfaces and white space and I decide the best way to achieve both is by redesigning my heart and soul. It works on paper but less so in practice. All I'm really doing is transforming physical clutter into mental and emotional static. Wouldn't I be happier if my house was more organized? Wouldn't it be inspiring to revamp...something?

And at the end of the day, I already know the truth. Inspiration is only meaningful if it's enduring. Happiness can really only be felt in the presence of  a bucket or two of sadness and longing. Without the contrast, happiness becomes one more layer of white noise. Its very own shade of gray.

I spoke with my besties for several  hour recently. We kicked the can back and forth. I think they've  grown used to my wild ideas and the neurotic way I insist on sharing all of them, even and especially when they're still misshapen and scattered. They're spring-loaded snakes in a can, and just knowing they're in there makes me anxious to tear off the lid. Let's get this over with. Go ahead and scream.

Conversation was light and laced with enough honesty to keep me trusting and engaged. Toward the end, my voice cracked just shy of actual blubbering. "No matter what I do next, I just want it to be necessary. Not to everyone, but to someone."

This has come to matter deeply to me, particularly over the past few years.
But "necessary" takes different shapes, because I take different shapes.

It feels less and less necessary to boss you or myself around, (though I guess I still reserve the right and am not making promises.) I'm equally less and more sure about the stuff that keeps me up at night. I've almost cleanly lost the ability to believe I have any power over change here at all. At the the same time, I'm more committed than ever to risk being wrong.

I'm not as inclined to detail the lives burning bright around me. More often, as you know, I end up talking about the way my heart has blistered from my nearness. It's all sort of normal now, this low and beautiful place where I have slowly settled in. But I wonder, do I say enough about the good stuff happening? Do I see it clearly enough? Am I still letting it change me by the day?

Along the way I've come up with a few other things I'd like to tweak.

I can't help myself.

* I'm not buying more books until I shorten the stack growing precariously on my night stand. It's a safety hazard at this point, and there's plenty of good stuff waiting. I won't buy more. I won't buy more. (Unless it's an emergency.)

* Last spring I recognized my tendency to do certain things just so I could say I did them. I was keeping score with myself, sweating blood trying to win an invisible game where I was my only opponent. This is nothing new. Nor is it a surprise to me that I reacted by swinging wide in the opposite direction.

* I'm going analog whenever possible, and this includes, of course, cooking from my beloved, cumbersome recipe binders whenever possible.

*I'm making (another) concerted effort to not speak sarcastically to people. THIS IS VERY HARD. Here's why. Me: "Mom, you have a doctor's appointment at 2:00 today."  Mom: (directly in ear-shot) "Sweetie, do I have a doctor's appointment today?" I can't. I CAN'T. I field this line of questioning no less than 38 times a day. and bear in mind that my mom is still pretty sharp. She know things, but pretends she doesn't. She cannot wrap her pliable brain around the idea of commenting on something rather than pretending she is in the dark. But where I usually get extra irritable and say something like, "What did I just say, Mom?" I'm trying to simply say, "Yes." In the scheme of things, along with being much nicer and a better person/daughter, it's actually easier.
Meanwhile, I'm still just me, currently obsessed with a morning cup of coffee and a slice of sourdough bread, toasted, lightly buttered, and with a skimming of raspberry jam.

I would still pick a sad movie over one that makes me laugh. (hello a Dog's Purpose).

I still prefer mornings to late nights.

I still spend too much time in my head.

But maybe I'll be just a bit softer, just a bit more present, just a bit more at peace. I pray I'm the one running toward communion and community, and I also hope I manage to straighten up my messy closet and get to bed earlier.

just sayin'.

 
Endive, Oranges and Beets + Hazelnut-Sesame Smash (Sunshine for One)

with thanks to Amy Thielen, The New Midwestern Table, for the dreamy beet/hazlenut/sesame combo
This is a tidy salad, set to serve one. That said, I make the hazelnut-sesame smash in larger quantities, per below, and fling it on everything from sliced hard-boiled eggs (!!!), roasted vegetables (mmmm, cauliflower...), whole yogurt + maple syrup (dreamy). Simply scale up the salad, to feed more mouths.
I have a jar of 1:1 vinaigrette on my counter at all times, equal parts vinegar (sherry, white whine, cider, whatever's on tap) and olive oil, plus a good hit of kosher salt + fresh pepper. You'll only need a tablespoon here, but shake up a bottle, and you're set for the week.

1 head endive, coarsely chopped
1 medium beet, roasted*, cut into wedges
1 large orange, sectioned
handful feta, crumbled
2 Tbs. hazelnut-sesame smash (see below)
oil + vinegar
kosher salt + pepper
For Salad:
Arrange endive, oranges, and beets on a plate (or platter). Dress lightly with vinaigrette, then scatter feta and hazelnut-sesame smash generously, over all. Eat immediately, while dreaming of seed catalogs or drinking up the overcast, as appropriate.  
Hazelnut-Sesame Smash
1/3 cup hazelnuts, toasted
2 Tbs. sesame seeds, toasted
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
Toast hazelnuts in a 350° oven until fragrant, 10-12 minutes. Let cool completely. Toast sesame seeds in a dry skillet over medium heat, stirring steadily, until palest beige, shiny, and fragrant, 4-5 minutes. Allow to cool. When nuts and seeds are cool, chop hazelnuts roughly, then place in a small bowl. Add sesame seeds, and salt, and stir well to combine. Use with abandon.
*To Roast Beets: Fill a pie plate with 1/2" of water, add beets, and cover tightly with foil.  Bake for 45-90 minutes, at any temperature between 350° and 450°, until the largest beet is easily pierced with a knife. Beets bake happily alongisde whatever else you are cooking: roast chicken, bread, cookies, casseroles. Just slip them in on another rack, and test them occasionally for doneness.

2.10.2017

highly unlikely.


Things have been tough lately. But, at a certain point, I'd like to think that I'm still full of it.  Life, I mean, and my grab bag of outrageous is still slung over my shoulder.  It's lovely, this bag, and I imagine myself reaching in every now and again, casting little bits of absurd and incredible, scattershot, Johnny Apple Seed style.  

I got to thinking about this in earliest January, on a short day trip. We'd stopped off in a quaint little town dear to my heart, in search of a certain spectacular Restaurant.  It was closed, as it happened, so we settled instead for a rainbow.  A whole rainbow.  In January. A sight I'd always filed under the same basic header as unicorns, mermaids and flattering stirrup pants. And while I guess I was never taught as much outright, I left grade school certain the only full arcs I'd ever encounter would involve crayons and Leprechauns with pasted-on pots of gold.  To see one in real life?  Highly unlikely.  And yet, there it was, one-hundred-and-eighty degrees of unlikely.  So ever since, I've been sort of taking notes, noticing those funny little wrinkles in Life where reality and Serendipity rub shoulders.  And darned if they don't keep cropping up. 

also...
I remember to laugh.


I remember to eat chocolate.
I remember to enjoy the occasional snow days.
I remember to meet my friends for lunch.
I even remember to fold the towels.
Correlation, causation, you decide.


Chocolate, of course, doesn't depend on snow days, nor does it guarantee good results.  Although, if it's this chocolate, it at least guarantees good spirits, and that is at least half way there. This homely slab may be a hard sell.  I realize this.  It's dull, drab, brown.  It has all the curb appeal of an old sock.  An old sock that guaranteed won't last forty-eight hours.

This particular old sock is the Dense Chocolate Loaf Cake from my beloved, dog-eared, batter-splattered How to Be a Domestic Goddess.  It's a real curiosity of a cake. It contains almost twice as much sugar as flour (!), and yet has a mellow, understated sweet. How is that even possible?, every crumb positively pulses with chocolate, and yet there are only four ounces of the stuff.  The batter is unlike any I've made, thin, sloshy, the weight of light cream.  This would be because it includes a cup and change of water.  Water.  Who adds water to cake?  (All the smart people, actually.  Jess does it.  Joy does it.  David Lebovitz does it, too. The finished loaf sinks miserably, minutes after leaving the oven, more pothole than pageant winner.

But man, what a pothole.  

Despite (or due to) its odd ratios and ingredients, this bakes up into one wickedly addictive loaf.  Partial credit goes to that pile of dark brown sugar, one of chocolate's best, least recognized sidekicks.  Brown sugar ups chocolate's game every time, expanding its range, amplifying its tone, transforming its soprano off-the-shelf sweet deep into baritone territory.  I don't know how that works.  Only that it does.

And dude, the molasses makes chocolate man up, somehow. 
 
The soft sugar also girds against dry, that dreaded fate of so many loaf cakes. The cup-plus of boiling water?  Catapults this cake into a world where ... dry?  What dry?  Indeed, it's the texture of this thing that astounds.  Damp and airy and rich and light, it behaves unlike any other cake I've eaten.  It is heavy, literally, heavy in the hand, with a weight that is real, and palpable.  But it isn't dense, or fudgey, or squidgy, or even particularly rich.  It's heavy, but not heavy.  you know?
Custardy.  It is custardy.  Chocolate custard, convinced to play cake.

Two last things.  Saturday, after a lunch of apples and peanut butter, I acted on impulse and added a schmear.  No butter, no sugar, no frosting pretensions, just salted creamy, straight from the jar.  HOLY COW! It was either my worst or best idea, ever.  Check back in March, see how many slabs I've pounded.  (Don't say I didn't warn you.)

Also, I call it Brownie Bread.  You bake it in a loaf pan, after all.  Plus, I first baked it years ago, after sampling something so named in a shop in San Francisco, and wanting to make it again at home.  This bread isn't really like that bread; it's infinitely better, and what stuck around.  Dense Chocolate Loaf Cake is accurate enough, but doesn't sound half as reasonable.  You, of course, can call it what you choose.  But for my money, I rather like being able to offer up a snack of tea and "bread".  I suggest you just go with it.

just sayin'.


Brownie Bread
adapted from How to Be a Domestic Goddess, by Nigella Lawson
my loaf pans are slightly oversized, with an 8-cup capacity, which is ideal for this loaf.  If yours are smaller (6- or 7- cup capacity; measure by filling with water, to the very top), you may wish to divert some of the batter into a custard cup, muffin pan, etc., to prevent spill-over.  

1 cup salted butter, at room temperature
1 2/3 cup dark brown sugar
2 large eggs, beaten
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons instant espresso or coffee granules
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
4 ounces good, bittersweet chocolate, melted
1 1/3 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons boiling water

Preheat oven to 375° F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment or foil to catch drips.  Butter or spray a 9x5" loaf tin, and line the width with a strip of parchment, overhanging the long sides by a few inches on each side (handles, for easy removal later).  Measure vanilla, salt and coffee granules into a small bowl, and stir to dissolve.  Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and brown sugar.  Scrape down sides, add one egg, beat well, then add the other, scraping and mixing again, to combine.  Add vanilla mixture, and mix to combine.  Scrape sides, and fold in melted, slightly cooled chocolate, just to combine.  Add flour and baking soda, and mix, just to combine.  Add boiling water carefully, slowly, scraping sides a few times, until incorporated.  The batter will be very, very loose, thinner than pancake batter, closer to light cream.  This is right.  Place lined tin on the lined baking sheet, pour batter into tin, and carefully place in preheated oven.  Bake for 30 minutes, then turn heat down to 325° F, and continue to cook another 15-25 minutes.  It is done when the center is no longer shiny, loose and wobbly, but instead matte, just set, and smelling wonderful.  A knife in the center will not return the standard dry crumb, but neither do you want a long streak of batter—very damp crumbs are ideal.

Remove tin to a rack, and leave to cool completely, or at least one hour.  The center will cave.  This also is right.  Remove from tin, either by inverting, or gently removing with parchment "handles".  Peel away parchment, slice into thick tiles, and apply peanut butter only at your own risk.
Brownie bread keeps brilliantly for 4-5 days.   


1.20.2017

men in stitches.


Let’s be clear on this: I love to knit.

Lots of my friends knit. I like knit wear. I like knit people. I like knit shops. For me, mere knowledge of someone’s knitting ability will spark my interest in them as a friend. I like people who knit almost as much as I like people with dogs. And that is a lot. On the rare occasion I should meet someone who enjoys knitting and dogs, they are instantly recruited into a special club of my own creation, complete with hats and secret handshakes. A club so special, so exclusive, nobody knows of its existence except for me. And. now you. And all the other crazy dog ladies wearing rainbow-plush eyelash yarn scarves that would put Beverly Goldberg to shame. We are the Free Masons of homespun craft goods. I could get cut out just for talking about it on the internet. Shhhh….

Did I mention we have hats? 

But, you guys. I know you guys. I know there are knitters out there in my silent reader rough. Perhaps you haven’t joined my secret club yet, but believe me, I know what you like. You like chocolate. You like crafts. You like nachos. You like sexy men who knit.
Let’s talk about it.
 

Everybody knows that crafty ladies love Ryan Gosling. Maybe it’s because he is so handsome. Maybe it’s because he starred in The Notebook. Maybe it’s because he is waaaay wholesome and counts Mormons and Mousketeers as family. Maybe it’s his Rad As Hell early 90’s dance moves. Hard to say. But knitting most definitely has something to do with it. Gosling picked up knitting on the set of Lars and the Real Girl while spending the day on set in a retirement home surrounded by old ladies.

Okay dude, seriously, for a second here, try to imagine you are sitting around your nursing home one day and all the sudden, Ryan Gosling, in all his buffed out arms and peanut butter hair glory, comes up and says, “Hey Girl, teach me to cast on.”

Swoon.

And Ryan ain’t the only one…
 
 
 
Russell Crowe. Y’all, did you see Les Mis?
Everyone I knew was all HE CAN’T EVEN SING! Why did they cast him?! He should just go back to being a gladiator, that sadass Russell Crowe. It broke my heart. This man sung his little Australian guts out and everyone was being so mean because Hugh Jackman looked better by comparison. Poor Russell Crowe. I like him. I like his voice. I’ll bet he likes dogs too. And he knits.Ughhhh, I just want to give him a hug and make him soup. Some reports indicate Crowe took up knitting as a way to deal with anger management issues, while others report it’s just a rumor that resulted from the photo above.


  

Did you know David Arquette is an avid knitter? So much so, he graced the cover of Celebrity Scarves 2. And here I was blown away by literary force that was Celebrity Scarves 1.
Odd Fact About David Arquette: In addition to his acting chops, he is a WCW World Heavyweight Champion. Yes, a wrestler who knits. Who knew?

Here are a few other famous men who can knit (or, at least they have been seen knitting one time or another). Including but not limited to; Tom Hanks, Cary Grant, George Lucas, Ewan McGregor, Rosey Grier, Jacques Plante (hockey player), Laurence Fishburne…the love never ends!


So there you go, my friends, sexy celebrity men who knit. Mind = Blown.
Next time, maybe, Sexy celebrity men WHO CROCHET.
just sayin'.

chocolate sugar cookies
 
1 c butter, softened
1 c vegetable oil
1 c sugar
1 c powdered sugar
1 Tbsp vanilla
2 eggs
4 ½ c flour
½ tsp salt
1 tsp cream of tartar
½ c cocoa powder
1 tsp baking soda
  1. Combine butter, oil, sugars & vanilla until smooth. Blend in eggs.
  2. Add flour, salt, cream of tarter, cocoa & baking soda until blended in.
  3. Refrigerate dough 1+ hours.
  4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  5. Roll dough into large golf ball sized balls. {6/cookie sheet}
  6. Bake 8-9 minutes watching carefully as to not over bake.
  7. Allow to cool on cookie sheet & thoroughly before icing.

1 c butter, softened
5 c powdered sugar
¼ c milk
a few drops red food coloring
  1. Beat butter until smooth.
  2. Gradually add powdered sugar, followed by milk.