is this thing on?

Not only is it already March, but the month is nearly half over. Yikes! I got sucked into a black hole of sick household members and even less sleep than before that led me to not be able to type anything coherent but instead simply stare at the computer screen and try not to drool whenever I’ve had a couple of free moments to myself. I’ll try to do better.

What have you missed? I took the lazy man’s path and stopped doing the Dark Days Challenge when the host became unable to keep up with the round-ups due to circumstances in her own life. We continue to eat locally, I just am not making any effort to be creative or branch out from our regular recipes. I did plan to post about the soup I made in the summer that we recently ate from the freezer, and the recipe is this: make leek and potato soup, dilute with a bit more water, add pre-cooked chopped kale and a can of white beans at the end (and probably more salt; I use the mushroom seasoned salt that we get from our farmer). It’s good, and makes for more of a meal than regular leek and potato soup. I also made macaroons, since I was craving the ones I’d had in Portland with dried apricots, pecans, and a dark chocolate bottom. The macaroons were delicious, and I managed to make them last a whole week (!) by putting them in the freezer. I need to remember that option for future cookie cravings, because I love to make them but really don’t need to eat quite so many at a time.

What else? I managed to get outside and clean out the garden beds in the front of the house, so now the daffodil sprouts can actually see the sun. The crocuses are up, and I’m looking forward to seeing which daffodils bloom; you never know which ones will survive both the replanting and the hungry squirrels. I’ve been working on my garden plans for this year, but they really deserve their own post. (Stay tuned!)

Finally, politics are driving me a little nuts these days. On the local level, I was heartened by the way our surrounding neighborhoods embraced a rally in opposition to the Westboro Baptist Church (my favorite sign said, “Thanks for bringing the community together!). On the national and state level things are pretty sucktastic, as I don’t need to tell you because you’re an educated person who reads the news, right? Local delegates tried to play politics and sank Maryland’s equal marriage bill: I hope no one votes for anything those two people support for at least a decade (because I’m sleep-deprived, and that makes me surprisingly petty). All the money we have left after donating to NPR, Planned Parenthood, and the unions is being squirreled away so that we can live during the impending (Freudian slip: I nearly typed “impeding”) government shut-down. After using my energy taking care of the sprout, I have absolutely none left for filtering or using polite language: it’s gotten a little sailor-ish around these parts. Thank mother nature for oxytocin, I cannot imagine how much crabbier I would be about all of this without the mama hormones. (Of course, I’d have orders of magnitude more uninterrupted sleep, so maybe it would balance.)

And now: back to thinking about spring and daydreaming about the garden!

is this thing on?

Dark Days : local Christmas dinner

Christmas dinner: the table.

Christmas dinner: roasted chicken.

Christmas dinner: roasted sweet potatoes and squash, apple, and cranberry bake.

Christmas dinner: cornbread sausage stuffing.

Christmas dinner.

The meal for Week 4 of the Dark Days Challenge was surprisingly easy to come up with: it was our planned Christmas dinner. Because there were only three adults eating this year, I roasted a chicken instead of a turkey (although I was tempted at the last minute by some local heritage turkeys still available from a local farmer). The chicken was from Smith Meadows Farm in Virginia, and we added sides of roasted sweet potatoes (on hand from our CSA), butternut squash and apple bake (with the last butternut squash from our CSA and some of the remaining apples from Larriland Farm), and pecan-sage cornbread stuffing (with pork from Smith Meadows, Maryland cornmeal and eggs, and organic veggies, herbs, and nuts). The meal was rounded out by home-canned cranberry sauce and pickled beets from last year’s stores.

Christmas desserts: Mom’s dark fruitcake, Gran’s light fruitcake (made by Mom), jam thumbprints, mince tarts, molasses cookies (very soft wafers instead of chewy discs because I forgot half the flour), and lemony roll cookies (unglazed since that just never happened).

Two things that didn’t last long: my aunt’s toffee and our mince tarts.

We didn’t have local bread, but the desserts were on target: the mince tarts were made from home-canned mincemeat (one of last year’s projects) and included pear brandy made and estate-bottled by our friend’s German uncle. Need I say that they were delicious? The jam thumbprints were also reasonably local, using blueberry jam from our trip to Maine last year that had been languishing in our cupboard waiting for a good reason to be eaten. Besides those two contributions, organic and sustainable and using ingredients mostly from the Northeast is the best I can say for dessert. Well, and also that everything was addictively good!

Dark Days : local Christmas dinner

the holiday is upon us!

I started this post two weeks ago to say that holiday preparations had begun and were progressing nicely. In between now and then the sprout got his first cold and needed to be held all the time, making it oodles more challenging to get ready for Christmas and leaving no time for actually writing about it. So, here it is Christmas morning: I’ve brought Mr. Sneezy downstairs to nap so that my partner can get a bit more sleep before we spend the whole day opening the gifts that have been arriving for the sprout from near and far and I have time to recap all that led up to today.

I know some people put up their Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving, but I didn’t grow up in that kind of family. I was lucky to negotiate the tree going up for my birthday, and I still consider it a treat to have a tree up in the second week of December. This year the tree went up and stayed undecorated for a good week while we sorted out the lights that didn’t light on one side. Once the lights were replaced or repaired, I decorated the tree in spurts during the day (and then rearranged the ornaments at night, since when you are using tree decoration as a baby-entertaining activity, things don’t always end up where you’d like them). Even with (what seemed like) days and days of decorating, I still didn’t get all of the ornaments up: we use little metallic balls as tree bling (no garland, no icicles, no ribbon bows), and I just didn’t have the time or the desire to group them together on hooks. The tree is still very full, just not as sparkly as usual. Oh well. I also didn’t have the oomph to clear all of the side tables, so all of the freestanding Christmas decorations (the felt penguin, the frogs that croak Jingle Bells, the wooden snowmen) are grouped on the hope chest in the corner of the living room rather than being artfully spread about. I’m pretending it’s a diorama.

The main reason I had little time to spare for decorating is that I was using all the time I had to spare in the evenings to do the baking. Or maybe that should be The Baking, since there’s something of a canon that must be produced each year: roll cookies, spice cookies, meat pies, mince tarts, and cornbread for the stuffing (plus any other cookies I feel like making that year; this year we added jam thumbprints into the mix, using blueberry jam from our trip to Maine last year). I can rely on my mother for fruitcake, so I haven’t had to master those yet. Much of the baking can be done ahead, it’s just a matter of spending several evenings in a row making dough and sticking it in the freezer. That was last week; this week entailed thawing the dough out and actually making the cookies and pies. Despite a few mishaps (very soft molasses cookies as a result of only half the flour, for example) everything was ready for Christmas Eve! With Nana on hand, I was able to make cornbread, cookies, and tarts during the day, providing us with plenty for ourselves, friends, and Santa (who I am pretty sure was too tired to actually eat them before bed, after spending most of the day making runs to the store and wrapping presents while I baked).

Now it’s time to drink the coffee, get the sweet potatoes roasting, and try to get a shower before we all take turns opening the sprout’s (enormous) pile of gifts. Merry Christmas!

the holiday is upon us!

A December sampling of arts in DC

December is always busy for us, and this year is no exception. If anything, our choice to celebrate the season by attending performances of various kinds has heightened the schedule-juggling.

Our first event of the month was The Trumpet of the Swan, a reading of the book set to music that debuted at the Kennedy Center. The Trumpet of the Swan is one of my favorite books, and the actors and musicians did an excellent job of portraying it. I was excited to be able to see Kathy Bates and Fred Willard, and Washington local Edward Gero was perfect as Louis’s father. Attending this performance was my (early) birthday present, and I was glad to be able to share it with my partner, who had never read the book as a child.

The following Tuesday, we returned to the Kennedy Center to see the Martha Graham Dance Company perform Clytemnestra. Although I’ve seen many of the great modern dance companies perform at the Kennedy Center in recent years, I had yet to see a Martha Graham production. While I began to suspect that her version of Clytemnestra is something like the Ring Cycle of modern dance—by which I mean to say that we may not have risen to the level of knowledge or appreciation of other members of the audience—we were both fascinated. I found it particularly interesting given that it was first produced in 1958; I commented to my partner that you would have had to be terribly fashionable to attend this performance in its first run, as it was somewhat avant garde even for contemporary productions. The costumes and choreography were wonderful, and of course the dancing was superb. And now we can say that we’ve seen a show created by the mother of modern dance!

Following close on the heels of this performance, we went traditional on Friday and attended a reception at the Swedish embassy celebrating Santa Lucia Day. A highlight of the evening was Mats Carlsson, a ‘rather well-known up-and-coming Swedish opera singer’ as we were told by one of our fellow guests, joining the girls for a lovely solo. Our hosts were very gracious, the hors d’ouevres were excellent, and the Glögg was wonderfully potent. Maybe next year we’ll get invited to the gala and I’ll have a chance to wear my wedding necklace! (A girl can dream.)

The next night we headed back down to Foggy Bottom to see the Christmas Revels at GWU. We don’t go every year, but this year’s program had a French-Canadian theme that I just couldn’t pass up. We had a wonderful time; there’s something about being knee to knee and elbow to elbow with strangers while belting out holiday tunes that creates an incredibly festive atmosphere. The evening had the added bonus of exposing my partner, who never studied French in school, to the joys of Alouette, complete with popping out of our seats to point at the various body parts as they became relevant (et le bec!). We particularly enjoyed the operatic flourish with which the young child a few rows in front of us bowed at the completion of the last round of the song.

We wrapped up all of this celebrating by hosting our now-annual holiday cookie party on Sunday night. It’s always fun to sample the variety of confections, and this year was no exception. We had quite a mix of styles and cultural origins this year, with a nice representation of classics in the form of chocolate chip, oatmeal, and sugar as well. Word of a party with nearly unlimited access to sweets appears to have gotten out among the under-8 crowd, and the children-to-adult ratio tilted quite dramatically this year. We are pleased to report that our friends, colleagues and neighbors are doing exceptionally well at instilling manners in their (many) young offspring; our household fabrics thank you, and you and yours are welcome back any time! In addition to being just a general good time, the party spurred us to finally deal with all of the furniture and household goods displaced through various acquisitions and basement trouble this year. After a whirlwind of preparation, it’s wonderful to look around and see shelves, tables, and sideboards in their proper places, and to have boxes of our family treasures stored in tidy piles in the (clean!) attic rather than in the center of our offices. It certainly doesn’t hurt to have tins of cookies on those tables, either.

Our plans for the coming week are quite tame compared to all of this. We’ll be celebrating the solstice with our gift exchange on Sunday, and I have a couple of surprises planned as part of our weekend festivities. (They’re surprises; you will have to wait to learn of them.) In the meantime, I will enjoy quiet evenings that involve neither dressing up nor rearranging furniture.

A December sampling of arts in DC

persimmon cookies

Wild persimmons.

Last year we foraged wild (American) persimmons from an undisclosed location in our county. All the hippies we know seemed to be wild about the fruit, and having stumbled across a few trees we decided to give them a try. Persimmons being extremely astringent when not quite ripe, it was hard to gain a sense of what the fruit actually tasted like. But I collected them, made sure they were soft, and mushed them through a strainer (a process that took several hours to glean a total of two cups of pulp, making me suspect that the thrill of the chase has more to do with their underground popularity than any aspect of the fruits themselves).

Having collected the fruit in that way, I stuck the pulp in the freezer and tried to find out what to do with them. There seem to be two ways to use persimmon pulp: (1) in an English-style Christmas pudding and (2) in cookies. Because the pudding recipes I could find were heavy on the milk and best served with whipped cream, I was hesitant to go there. I didn’t want to waste my hard-scavenged persimmon pulp on a modified recipe that risked being terrible, but neither did I want to commit to something that I wouldn’t be able to eat. Also, cookies seemed kind of boring.

I stayed in this persimmon limbo for a year, and finally decided that I needed to make something with the pulp, if only to decide whether to forage again this year. After scouring the internet — by which I mean ‘using Tastebook‘ — I came up with two recipes for my first attempt. One is an English-style pudding, liberal on the brandy, which I’ll test when it gets cold and possibly make for my birthday (just as soon as I figure out how to rig up the steaming container). The other is a spice cookie recipe, advertised as ‘an old family recipe’ which I am hopeful means it was designed for use with native persimmons. The cookie recipe I made last night, with much effort — I locked up my touchy shoulder mixing up the dough; I recommend a mixer — and not a small amount of trepidation. The cookies turned out well, though, much to my relief. Substituting in canola oil and egg beaters worked fine; the persimmon flavor is not strong, but the texture is nice so even just as a spice cookie they’re enjoyable.

Persimmon cookies.

persimmon cookies