little things

At not-quite-the-end of a long week of work and deadlines, The Fella came home from work around midnight and sat down with a blank look on his face, getting ready to write the weekly newsletter.

“You look a little beat, hon,” I said. “Did you have dinner?”

“Not really.”

It took me all of three minutes to whip up something simple for him to eat. As I gave him the plate and a beer, The Fella took my hand and quietly, earnestly said, “Thank you. Thank you for marrying me.”

Today is our second anniversary, and The Fella’s hatched some secret plans. (Nothing big, he assures me. Just secret.) The first item on the agenda: he got me an enormous coffee. Number two on the agenda: he’s doing laundry.

This guy gets me.

* [The Fella, don't hover over the links!] update Now that I’ve given The Fella his gift, I can describe it here. We’re going to have a mid-year variation on our Valentine’s day tradition of staying in with cheesy horror movies and pizza.

For the cotton anniversary, I gave The Fella the abominable-looking Lady Frankenstein, starring Joseph Cotten. Yeah.

Because it’s too hot to heat the oven, I’ll be picking up fantastic take-out pizza from Otto.

Wait for it… cotton.

I toyed with plenty of other gift ideas. For example, I thought about getting a really luxurious set of sheets, which we kinda need. Or towels, ditto. But I dismissed those as gifts for me, not for The Fella.

What did The Fella give me? A really luxurious set of sheets. And a really luxurious towel. Did I mention: this guy gets me.

single-handed in the kitchen

My injured finger is healing up just fine, but the odd position and length of the cut (and the swelling and pain from the tetanus shot) means my right (non-dominant) hand was useless for a full week, and not much better the second week.

This long stretch of one-handedness fell inconveniently during a busy celebrating season, with two birthdays and several other parties to cook for. To my delight, I discovered that a little ingenuity and planning makes it easy to entertain one-handed; a trip to Trader Joe’s makes it even easier.

These are recipes — heck, not even recipes, just templates and ideas and products — that I plan to use again and again when time is tight or inspiration is lacking. Here’s just a few of the festive dishes I whipped up with one hand tied behind my back.

for The Fella’s birthday party, a twelve-hour open house:
- goat cheese with store-bought tapenade, served with grape tomatoes, roasted red peppers from the grocery store’s olive bar, and crackers.
- store-bought hummus topped with Trader Joe’s eggplant & garlic dip, served with pita bread, cucumbers, and olives.
- brie topped with a palmful of brown sugar and a sliver of butter, then baked until bubbly and served with baguette, water crackers, and cold grapes. Also good with dried cranberries.
- Trader Joe’s spanakopita triangles, spread out on a baking sheet, not crammed into their tiny tray, brushed with olive oil or melted butter, sprinkled with coarse salt, and baked much longer than instructed, until deep golden brown and crispy. They weren’t as delectable as homemade spanakopita, and no reasonable person would expect them to be — but they were pretty darned good.
- pulled pork. The Fella diced up the fixings for a taco bar, and I contributed a big mess o’ pulled pork, which required me to open 1) a butcher’s packet; 2) a bottle of BBQ sauce; 3) a tetra pack of cheap red wine. It is fannnnnntastic.
- marble cupcakes. (Yeeeah, this one was tricky to do one-handed, but it’s not a birthday without cake. I didn’t make the cake from scratch, just bought one packet of chocolate cake mix and one packet of yellow cake mix, whipped them up with cooled melted butter in place of the oil, and spooned them into the cupcake tins, then swirled with a skewer for delicate marbling.)
- ganache for frosting: just heavy cream brought to a boil and poured over good chocolate, then stirred until smooth. My professional-baker fancy-pants sister even gave me instructions for whipping it (much better instructions than Cooks Illustrated cookbook, by the way), but in the end I realized that dipping cupcake tops into the warm ganache would be faster and easier than any other method.

For a birthday dinner:
- baked brie again, because WHY ON EARTH NOT?
- more store-bought hummus spiked with lemon, topped with eggplant spread, and then sprinkled with the last of the tomatoes from the taco bar, seared with olive oil and chili powder, served with pita.
- my simplest, best black bean soup. (Instead of mincing an onion, I whacked one up roughly and processed the entire pot of soup, then added some reserved beans at the end.)
- oven-baked frittata with frozen spinach and caramelized onions, using up the last of the onions from The Fella’s taco bar.
- a perfectly simple salad: greens topped with cranberries and toasted almonds and tossed with good balsamic vingar, superb olive oil, cracked pepper, and Polish finishing salt.
- a half-baked loaf of bread (from TJ’s again), finished in our oven.
- buttery cake (on The Fella’s birthday, I baked the excess yellow-cake batter in tiny loaf pans and froze it), stabbed with a fork and soaked with orange syrup (simple syrup spiked with OJ and triple sec, reduced until thick), then glazed with the last of the ganache. I served three tiny slices on each plate, fanned out and drizzled with another spoonful of orange syrup… and I am converted: syrup-soaked cakes from now on!
- a final dessert garnish: chocolate-covered orange jelly sticks.

for assorted other events:
- goat cheese with good balsamic vinegar —the thick, expensive syrupy kind — and toasted slivered almonds, served with crackers or baguette. I made this twice, and not the same evening as I served the goat cheese with tapenade.. and by “made it,” I mean “tore open a packet of goat cheese, poured balsamic over it, and toasted some nuts.” It’s crazy-easy and crazy-good — so crazy-good that I made it twice in the last two weeks to take to some pretty ritzy doings.
- various permutations of hummus-with something: hummus with lemon and roasted red peppers and olives, hummus with tapenade, hummus with eggplant spread and tapenade, and so on.

and a few ideas I brainstormed up but never did try out:
- mushroom caps rolled in olive oil, filled with spoonfuls of frozen spinach souffle and baked.
- Whole Foods dumplings or gyoza warmed in sesame oil and scattered with scallions.
- vegetarian meatballs heated with chili sauce, red currant jelly, and white wine. (I’ve made these retro darlings with frozen actual-meat meatballs and people go INSANE for them.)

These last few ideas sounded so good it’s a shame we didn’t get to try ‘em. Oh, well, maybe the next time I inflict a horrible injury upon myself, we’ll get around to these.

Jehosephat, it’s Christmas! II

As Christmas comes hurtling toward us, I’m getting geared up for baking and cooking and baking and cooking. Also, some baking, and then some baking.

I bake sandwich breads and sweet almond bread and cinnamon rolls. I make caramel corn and Chex mix. I make dips and paté and savory jams to take to parties and family gatherings. I make butterscotch sauce with bourbon or brandy. I make brittle (peanut brittle, natch, but last year I also tested out chili-spiced pumpkin seed brittle and a garnet-colored Shiraz and almond brittle) and chocolate-covered almond toffee.

And then there are cookies.

Every year, I envision giving friends and families beautiful platters all kinds of cookies and sweets… and every year, I end up making one giant batch of biscotti and calling it good, and then I daydream about next year, when I’ll surely make chocolate sandwich cookies and jam thumbprints and frosted sugar cookies and shortbread and and and…

If you, like me, dream of a giant platter with a half-dozen kinds of cookies but always run out of time and patience, consider a cookie swap as a way to amass a cache of cookies without all the planning and the work and the cursing oh the cursing. (… or is that just me?) Continue reading

The ‘Ploob on the Prom

Welcome to Maine, The Way Life Should Be!

The Bitwrathploob arrived from Bulgaria late this summer for an extended stay with The Fella and me. For the first few weeks, we stayed pretty close to the hearth, the ‘Ploob gracing our living room from a position of prominence on his shelf. We’re homebodies, but eventually I realized I had to start taking ole ‘Ploobie out and showing him the sights. After all, the little guy is a world traveler; he doesn’t want to sit around our living room watching “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”*

We kicked it off on Labor Day when friend AC suggested a picnic on Portland’s Western Promenade, and promised to bring along A) her fantastic peach sangria with basil, B) her partner JE, and C) her Italian greyhounds, Turk and Pal. (Turk and Pal, who are delightful companions even for a dog-skittish type like me, evinced great interest in every passing dog, squirrel, hippie, child, bicycle, skateboard, bocce ball, and shirtless fellow, but — happily — no interest at all in a buck-toothed rope-armed troll-haired pantsless wood bear. Phew.)

For a modest outing, it offered plenty of excitement. In addition to the delicious food and drink, the Ploob witnessed a drum circle, a dreadlocked dog the size of a horse, the furtive intercourse of strangers in the underbrush, and all manner of inappropriate shirtlessness. Thanks for coming to stay with us, Bitwrathploob. I hope we can make your visit a happy one!

*Yeah, but he’s going to. And he’ll like it.

signs of spring

Lately I’m seeing undeniable signs of spring. Oh, I’m not talking about daffodils, Easter bonnets, or robins trilling on a budding branch, though those are heartening, too. Here are a few reliable signs that spring has sprung:

- Various Peeps atrocities.

- Passover Coca Cola with the yellow cap. [Previously on macbebekin, though the images are stripped.]

- And, courtesy of Jagosaurus, a harbinger of spring in our nation’s capital: the appearance of the National Cherry Festival mascot… Paddles The Beaver. No, really: Paddles The Beaver.

satellite

Two astronomical Valentines today, for geek love.

First, Ann Druyan reflects on the message she contributed to the Voyager Golden Record. [update: the original Radiolab broadcast dates from May of 2006, but I see that Morning Edition and Radiolab have replayed it as a Valentine's Day broadcast. The rebroadcast is available here, but I recommend listening to the original broadcast in all its meditative, lyrical beauty.]

Second, Jonathan Coulter’s I’m Your Moon:

I’m your moon
You’re my moon
We go round and round
From out here, it’s the rest of the world that looks so small
Promise me
You will always remember who you are

Getting around to it

Um, hi. Remember me, Elli? What’s it been, a year? Well, it feels like it. Yes, I will admit to procrastinating a fair bit here and in other areas which can lead to a violent overcompensation. Be ye forewarned.

I just got back from my first real vacation in three years. It was cheaper and quicker to fly to Bali than the other side of Australia, thus making our decision quite easy. Neither JM or I had ever been there, nor are we likely to go again, however we did have a pleasant enough time. The area surrounding our village reminded me somewhat of New York — the smells, the many taxis, the honking, the street hawkers who don’t shout, but rather fall in step along side and try to sweep you into their stores every few hundred feet. I felt most comfortable tucked away in our villa where I spent the majority of the time either swimming in the private pool or in a comfy chair reading a book. I could pretty much do that at home though (especially if I had a pool.) We also attended a cooking class, but most of the work was done by an efficient team of Balinese women, which can take the fun and the harm right out of it. So my only injury was a slight sunburn on the back of my neck from the harsh equatorial sun on day one when we went out exploring on foot and I almost got run over by one or two of the millions of scooterists. No really, I had fun.

Now we’re back and I’m faced with the usual onslaught of thoughts including should I or shouldn’t I finally have that parathyroidectomy? When you read the words “end stage organ failure” in a doctor’s report it really makes you think. Sure, he’s merely referring to the fact that I have osteoporosis of the wrist, but it’s dramatic enough to make me think, hey, this isn’t getting any better is it? And worrying about the potential falls I could have had on the myriad of stairs in Bali really made me muse some more. So there’s a phone call I’ll be making tomorrow to my surgeon for an appointment.

Ah, now I need another day to recover from all this vacationing which is just what the procrastinator ordered…

Thanksgiving at home

It’s official: this year, The Fella and I are celebrating Thanksgiving at home, just the two of us. We’re having a modest vegetarian feast, and because many omnivores wonder what the hell to serve to vegetarians at traditional holiday meals, I thought I’d outline our menu here. Continue reading

pie

Halloween is over, and Thanksgiving is on the horizon. The good folks at Apartment Therapy’s The Kitchn have posted five tips to help you prepare now for Thanksgiving; I have to admit that you’ll find the most useful hints in the comments, not the article.

This year, both our families’ Thanksiving plans are uncertain, and The Fella and I miiiiiiight have the chance to celebrate the holiday on our own, with a modest vegetarian feast and a cuddle on the couch. We’ve been cautiously daydreaming about the menu, each dish something special that one of us especially loves, and with The Fella’s squash galettes as the centerpiece.

mini pie pansDo you want to know the clincher, the moment when I went from idly daydreaming to hope-hope-hoping? It was during the conversation about pies: he wants pumpkin, I want blueberry, and neither of us wants a whole darned pie. And then I remembered my mini-pie tins, tucked away in a remote cabinet. This year, I want to be thankful for teeny tiny pies.

ahhh, needed that

After three spring-like days all in a row my spirits are substantially lifted. And to boot, I found a new sweater and top which I plan to wear for my 40th birthday coming up in three weeks. I’ve got the what-to-wear, now to figure out the what and where. I don’t think we’ll be able to top the 30th when JM took me to the Matterhorn, but I’m sure something will occur to me.

Neighborhood park

I’m also getting in some great walks around my neighborhood and enjoying all the old houses and tall trees. Perth, I think I love you. There are so many little parks, two within a stone’s throw from my house. I could get used to this if only we had central heating during winter…

Happy Swiss Day! To celebrate I made nachos because, hey, melted cheese, and I bought some Lindt chocolates. Mmm. Isch fein gsii. I really should have bought bread and fleischkäse as well, but I’m too tired after all this walking to hoof it to the speciality store to get it. En guete y’all.