December 2009

Laura.venice 790 xxx
photo by george billard

12.31.09 Auld Lang Syne

Days gone by. An opportunity to look back. And just like that, another decade draws to a close. I remember ringing in the millennium amid fireworks on a rooftop on Central Park West and then walking down Broadway in my blue cashmere dress, all the way to Times Square. Post-midnight, it was surprisingly empty with just a few dancers in spangled Native American costume still performing on a raised stage. A strangely poignant moment of anti-climax. I could hardly imagine what this decade had in store for me. Bottomless sorrow followed by the redemption of true love. Inspiring friendships. Explorations in food. The undertaking of a novel. Travels to Africa, China, Mexico, Thailand, Iceland, Morocco, Italy, India, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. Life in Los Angeles, New York City and now Sullivan County. I sit here, staring out my window at three enormous grackles hunting for birdseed under the first powdery layers of what promises to be a ski-worthy snowfall, and I am grateful: for the adversity that shows me I am strong; for the work that connects me to my passion; for the love that sustains me; for the joy of living that I can share with all of you. I wish you good health, good food and good times in 2010.
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Tagged — meditation, New Year
Raw chickens 790 xxx
illustration by janice richter

12.30.09 Asian Avian

Isn't there something faintly S&M about this illustration? I just love it. Kudos to Jan Richter for her great eye and accomplished technique. (And I happen to know she makes a mean coq au vin.) This is just the sort of plump organic bird you want to find when you're setting out to make any number of cold-weather dishes. G makes the classic Jewish penicillin when I get sick (about once a year, knock wood) but I often look further east for something therapeutic. This recipe tips its hat to a classic Hispanic arroz con pollo but shifts gears with anti-inflammatory turmeric; lots of warming, healing ginger; and a hit of fish sauce. I think it's similar to the Filipino arroz caldo. You keep cooking the rice so it's somewhere between risotto and congee, that perfect comforting texture. And the bright yellow color is like a ray of sunshine.
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Beans 790 xxx
photo by george billard

12.29.09 Brass Monkeys

As in, cold enough to freeze the balls off 'em. Love that British expression. Somehow a bit classier than the old witch's teat reference, still hanging on from the days of the Salem trials. My point being: it was damn cold today. We were out snow-shoeing in 13 degrees. I have a deep dread of slipping on the ice, but those metal teeth really do grip into even the slickest surfaces. Realized that the large and interesting tracks we had seen the other day and were sure were from a bear turned out to be our own. How embarrassing. Now I'm finally convinced that the bears are hibernating and so I can stop imagining Werner Herzog-worthy scenarios where one chases me into a snowdrift and mauls G who has run to my defense. Tromping on crusted snow, I could almost see the North Wind puffing out his cheeks and blowing an icy blast our way. It sent the delicate top layer of powder gusting through the air, like a frigid version of the apocalyptic ash that's always drifting down in Cormack McCarthy's brilliant The Road. (Read the book; skip the movie. Sorry, Viggo.)
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Gnocchi 790 xxx
photo by george billard

12.28.09 Take Your Lumps

Gnocchi means "lumps" in Italian. Not an especially glamorous name, and one that doesn't seem to fit something so ethereal in texture. This traditional Italian dish has been around for a couple of thousand years at least, spread through Europe by the Roman Legions and made according to whatever was at hand: potatoes, wheat flour, semolina, bread crumbs, ricotta. The French even make a version with choux pastry, but that's neither here nor there. I make mine with a delicious sheep's-milk ricotta and serve them with brown butter and a light sprinkling of smoked sea salt and tangy tomato powder. I suspect they may suffer slightly from the addition of gluten-free flour. They were perhaps not as light and springy as they will be for you, using unbleached all-purpose flour. Next time, I may try gnudi instead, as they call for even less flour (but also require that you drain the cheese and refrigerate the dough at several points), or perhaps just pair the gnocchi with a heartier sauce (roasted tomato? porcini?) that can stand up to the slightly denser texture.
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Mitts1 790 xxx
photo by george billard

12.26.09 Put 'em Up

What better day than Boxing Day to tell you about these silicone mini mitts over which I have been obsessing? These nubby little grippers are truly a perfect design. So far I've only seen them here, made by a company called Dexas. I love that they're available in 5 colors. They're sold singly, but I recommend you get a pair. Mine have put my leather potholders from the Demon (aka Dean & Deluca) totally out of commission. Just be sure you wear the mitts properly, with your thumb in the shorter part, otherwise things can get a little awkward.I can't think of how to work this in gracefully, but I have to mention the death of Vic Chesnutt. In the words of his friend and supporter, Michael Stipe, "We've lost a great one." An overdose of muscle relaxants put Vic into a coma earlier this week, and he died yesterday at the age of 45. An incredibly talented musician and poet, he had pondered suicide even before a car accident (he was driving drunk) left him paralyzed at 18 (though, amazingly, he still managed to play guitar). Vic was recently interviewed by Terry Gross on NPR's Fresh Air; listen to the man and his music here. Or go online and find his song, Flirted With You All My Life, off his album At The Cut. It's a beautiful expression of his conflicted yearnings for death. Among other things with which he struggled (depression, alcohol, drugs), Vic was apparently also dealing with a lot of debt incurred from his medical expenses. When will that refrain cease to haunt us? Thanks for staying with us as long as you did, Vic Chesnutt. May you rest in peace.
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Donabe 790 xxx
photo by george billard

12.25.09 Joy to the World

Seven years ago, I made a Christmas picnic on top of the bed where my then-husband lay dying of cancer. He was home for the holidays, having just been released from the hospital after undergoing major surgery to remove a part of his spinal column that was infested with tumor. He was grateful just to be able to lie in his own bed and wolf down some foie gras on toast. (He was quite possibly the original glutton for life.) My gift from him that year was a watch, and I remember being painfully aware of the irony. On its face, I would measure the last moments of his life. I could not have imagined then what my own life would become. That I would discover a new fulfillment and joy, that I would marry again, seemed impossible at the time. But we must find a way to forge ahead, to believe in possibility and renewal.
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Jr crown roast 790 xxx
illustration by janice richter

12.23.09 Crowning Touch

For the first time in 5 years, G and I will be home for the holidays. After being in Iceland, Morocco, India and Vietnam in December, I'm really looking forward to relaxing in our own little cottage in the snow. (Though I'm still dreaming of Egypt. Next year, Inshallah.) The question, then: what to cook for Christmas? My mother was Episcopalian and my father was a Jew and, when they married, they both stepped gingerly away from their religious practices. My dad had a beautiful singing voice and on occasion acted as cantor of the local temple on the high holidays, and we often attended Passover seder at friends' homes. In our own, we celebrated Easter and Christmas, sometimes going to church but always with big feasts and wonderful music—Bach, Handel's Messiah, traditional carols—to which my mother lent her own beautiful singing voice. Tamales were a Christmas Eve tradition, stuffed with pork or chicken and purchased from a local restaurant, though we had all been taught by my mother's mother how to make our own. And always at Christmas, See's candies—nuts and chews, please. What I wouldn't give for a butterscotch square right this very minute. Or a piece of my grandmother's fudge with walnuts.
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Housecocktail 790 xxx
photo by george billard

12.22.09 The House Cocktail

I got into bourbon about 10 years ago, when a friend introduced me to Booker's. I had been a Scotch drinker up until then, and am still partial to a nice Glenlivet or occasionally something peatier. But I do have a bit of a sweet tooth, and love the vanilla flavors in a good bourbon. Made from corn mash and aged in charred oak barrels, bourbon has a smooth, smoky roundness, like liquid amber. I drink it on the rocks, with a couple of brandied sour cherries, or in my favorite cocktail that I make with the addition of just two simple ingredients. It's an ideal balance between sweet and tart, with a lingering warmth from the booze. I suppose it bears some faint resemblance to an old-fashioned, but don't quote me. I'll be shaking one up this evening, and sipping it as I gaze, tranfixed, into the fire.
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Ls snowshoes 790 xxx

12.20.09 The White Stuff

For nearly half the year, there is no activity in the garden. Unless you count the relentless piling of discarded vegetable matter onto the compost heap. Given how intense things become once the springtime thaw arrives, this hiatus is actually something of a relief. As a novice gardener, I am always in terror of falling behind, forgetting to mulch or weed or water at the right time. I've given up planting new bulbs because somebody (squirrels? voles?) seems to get them before they can bloom, and the ones that do come up always seem disappointingly sparse. I'm sure this is somehow my fault but I prefer to focus on the where I've actually had luck (thus far mostly limited to peonies, cucumbers, rhubarb and irises). And while the whole undertaking lies dormant, I look forward to getting outside to enjoy other pursuits. Up here, starting about now, this tends to involve snow.
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Tagged — nature, meditation, exercise
Whitehot 790 xxx
photo by george billard

12.18.09 Cloud Nine

Yesterday G and I saw "Up In the Air," Jason Reitman's film starring George Clooney, Vera Farmiga and Anna Kendrick. It was adapted from the novel of the same name by Walter Kirn. The credits feature a lot of amazing images of clouds, as you see them from an airplane; fields of them stretching out forever, impossibly puffy, pneumatic, full of air. The movie was not the sort of romantic comedy I thought it would be. It takes a rather more dim and realistic view of the human heart and shows how the very thing we imagine ourselves to be can turn out to be our undoing. It was actually kind of dark and poignant and unexpected. Clooney and Farmiga are both gorgeous and at the top of their respective games (for once Vera isn't playing an impoverished drug addict) and the new girl, Kendrick, is fresh and unmannered. Afterwards, we went to Union Square Café, to use an anniversary gift of a meal there we had received from G's parents. I hadn't been in ages but it's really the same as ever: warm, efficient, enjoyable.
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