Allium Green: 11.09


Smoke tales and chicken soup

Well, it's a Monday night after the holiday and I am listening to the (not-so) lovely sound of our shop vac. See, we're having wood stove problems. The kind that leads to a big belch of smoke that suspiciously does not make our smoke alarm go off but does irritate my eyes and dry out my throat. Should we open it up? Are we not burning it hot enough? It it getting enough air? Why does it smell like creosote? Shit.  We have a lot of conversations like this these days. We're no strangers to operating a wood stove and we've never had problems before. This is very frustrating. So Hubby armed himself with brushes, the aforementioned shop vac, a fan in the window, and some gloves to show the stove who is boss. And I am sitting at the kitchen table, trying to be quiet and not comment on the nasty smell of creosote, and the roar of the vacuum, and the chill breeze from the window. I have high hopes if only because I can't bear another night of smoke-irritated eyes. Triumph, Hubby, triumph!

Isn't the stove pretty inside? I've never seen this before.

And so this feeling of irritated mucus membranes made me think of chicken soup for dinner. I'd show you a picture except that we ate it pretty fast and I didn't think to take out the camera. It came from a whole batch of chickens that we bought from a colleague of mine at work. He raised 50 birds this fall and we bought 20 of them for the freezer. When we brought them home, it was a two-day butchering process with freezing cold fingers and more chicken parts that I particularly wanted to see. But we ended up with bags of chicken legs, chicken breasts, halved chickens, whole chickens, all stowed in our freezer; and here's to hoping we don't have a power outage, right?

This is part of that two-day process. Can you hear the crunch?

And worth noting is this: while I grew up vegetarian and have had a quasi-queasy relationship with eating meat in my adult life, I feel good about our freezer full of local meat. I don't want to get all preachy here, but it matters to me that the pork and the chicken we're eating this fall comes from animals raised by friends. I can attend a silly fundraiser cocktail party peopled by principled foodies, talking about the omega fatty acid balance in factory meat today, and not despair over the coming meal. I can read about factory farms and feedlot meat and not change my dinner plans. This is a good thing. And pairing it with veggies from our garden (Still! What is this November weather we're having? I still have lettuce in my garden!) makes me glad, glad, glad. I love this.

And so, back to the chicken soup. We took all the spare parts, so to speak, from all those chickens we cut up and made some killer chicken soup from them. And then (I hear swearing coming from the vicinity of the woodstove. I think this is not a good sign.) we froze a bunch of it in ziplock bags. And at the end of the day today, with my back aching - this is another story - and Hubby itching to get at that woodstove, that chicken soup from the freezer tasted like manna. It's nothing special, just carrots, celery, onions, chicken and chicken stock. But it honestly tastes better than just about anything else we've had in weeks. A salad of napa cabbage, cress, and tangerines, and this is heaven.

So, go make some chicken soup, preferably from a nice, fat, local chicken and see what I mean. And fear not, we'll not burn down our house, nor poison ourselves with carbon monoxide (I'm pretty sure that the carbon monoxide detector does work, in contrast to the smoke detector, apparently). I think that Hubby is slowing down in there- this is a good sign, I'm sure.


Another day of thanks

We've nearly finished our bottle of wine, the fire has made us lazy, we've eaten our third Thanksgiving dinner, and all is right with the world. The wine, 2007 Substance Syrah, pretty darn yummy. This is the first year it's ever just been Hubby and I and I'm appreciating the solitude. We roasted a halved chicken, made that amazing savory bread pudding (which is worth mentioning twice), gingered cranberry sauce, and corn relish. Lovely. Not over the top with a million dishes. And we cooked leisurely all day. Took a walk up the hill. Talked to family on the phone.

And so, my short list of thanks:
Hubby on the couch beside me
Maizy the kitty, lolling on her back, all four legs splayed out in cat-contentment
That bottle of syrah
A kitchen full of good food
Family and friends on the phone
A whole month of mild weather in November
The chocolate candy with ground hazelnuts and tangerine peel that I made this morning
Three more days of holiday weekend
Willie Nelson's Teatro
Votive candles in mason jars
The red table cloth from our wedding


A week of giving thanks

Well, it's Tuesday and I've been celebrating Thanksgiving since Friday afternoon. Our annual Thanksgiving meal at work is something that we all look forward to. Held the Friday before Thanksgiving, at an organization essentially devoted to food, we take this holiday seriously. The turkey roasts all afternoon. We have cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, mashed and roasted potatoes, Molly Wizenberg's bread pudding (my new favorite recipe), roasted roots, mac and cheese, two kinds of pie. It was lovely. 

The next morning, I flew to Newark where Hubby and his father picked me up and we drove to Vineland, NJ, home of Hubby's family on both sides. Along the way, we drove through the pine barrens, a beautiful, stark landscape that I would have loved to spend time in. Signs of a recent burn were all over, the streams flowing through were dark brown with tannins; this landscape is so dissimilar to my northern hardwood home.  It was hard to pass through so quickly.


We stopped for lunch at the Columbus Farmers Market, a beast of a market that sprawls out over what feels like acres of parking lot. The vegetables there were beautiful, especially the pears, and we took our time taking photos and searching out the best looking escarole for that night's escarole soup.

And then 36 hours of making food, eating food, talking about food. We stayed in the home of Hubby's maternal grandmother, the house she's lived in since 1947. And I watched the house full of people gathered for an early Thanksgiving, revolving around Grandmom in her chair. This woman who was so accustomed to taking care of people, now cared for by everyone else as she nears the end of her life. And how she chafes at this care- just as my Grandmother did when she could no longer care for herself. 

The meal was held at Hubby's Aunt and Uncle's house- and I realized I'd never spent Thanksgiving with his family before.  We've been together nearly a decade, and we've always spent this holiday with friends, avoiding the chaos of holiday travel. So it was a process of learning a new set of family traditions and catching up with a side of the family we don't see often.

When the actual holiday finally arrives, Hubby and I will not be eating a third turkey. We'll maybe roast a chicken or make tamales, maybe eat that bread pudding recipe again. But a third meal with mashed potatoes and gravy and all the other stuff, well, I don't think so. Though I did just see a recipe for gluten free pie crust that actually looks like real pie crust, so we'll see. Perhaps we'll have some pie.

(My Adaptation of) Grandmom's Escarole Soup
As usual with my recipes, all measurements are estimates. I really do this by look and feel. If it seems like you'll need more or less chicken stock, be my guest. If you'd rather season your meatballs some other way, not a problem. I can't remember whether I use two or three eggs, so use your judgment there. I know this is anathema to recipe writers, but honestly, it's the way I cook. Let me know how it goes. 

1 med. onion, sliced thinly
2 carrots, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1# ground pork
handful chopped parsley
8 c. chicken broth
1 lg. head escarole, washed and coarsely chopped
2-3 eggs
handful of grated Parmesan cheese

Saute sliced onion, carrots, garlic and a bit of salt in olive oil until soft. Add chicken broth. Bring to a simmer. 

Using your hands, gently mix ground pork with salt, pepper, and parsley. (Sometimes, we add garlic powder, too.) Again, using your hands, pinch off small meatballs, about the size of the end of your thumb, until you've used up all the ground meat. Add these to the broth. Allow to simmer a bit until you feel like they're almost done. Then add escarole. Simmer until the greens are wilted. 

Whisk together eggs and cheese and add to soup. Simmer for another minute or two. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot and raise a toast to Grandmoms.  

Pear photograph is Hubby's. All others are mine.


Holding winter at bay

I've been considering the on-coming winter a lot lately. The last week or two has been beautiful. Sunny all day and warm (well, except for this weekend, which is about what you expect at this time of year). And it looks like it will continue for a bit.

I am storing all this sun for darker days. In that spirit, I went out this afternoon and took some photos. The sun was setting, the light was nice, and I forgot to increase the pixel size on Hubby's camera. So what you get is a series of lovely pictures that you probably shouldn't enlarge. They're a wee bit pixelated. Apologies for that.

This November light has a quality to it that I think I have never appreciated before. It's been dry this month, unusually so, and the opportunity to appreciate the bare landscape hasn't escaped me, as it usually does. The light is so low in the sky right now that everything appears backlit, almost all the time. How did I never notice this before?



Popcorn at the Savoy

It was Friday night and we were in Montpelier to celebrate Hubby's birthday. A 45 minute drive from our house, we do not come here often. But Hubby loves the town and so we braved the soft, wet snow and headed out for a movie and dinner. We arrived early and so spent some time ambling around downtown, shivering in the cold. A fire dancer drew a crowd on the steps of the Lost Nation Theater. An unexpected gallery opening pulled us in for a while for a showing of Vermont artists' imagining of the future of our state. Later, we climbed the steps to the Black Door Bistro and sat in their art deco bar for a pre-movie martini. The bartender stirred my martini- no shaking here- and gave me three olives which immediately made me love her.

At quarter after six, Hubby and I walked less than a block down the street to the Savoy Theater. Opened in 1980, Casablanca was the first film shown on this theater's tiny single screen. They continue to show classics, art house, and independent movies. And that's nice enough, right? There aren't many places in Vermont to see independent films these days, but I'll bet that there's nowhere within driving distance that melts butter on a little two burner stove in a cast iron pot to ladle onto hot popcorn behind a wooden counter. Real cultured butter... did I emphasize that? And not only that, the girl behind the counter filled our popcorn bucket half way then ladled some butter on it, then filled it up the rest of the way and added a second layer of butter. This was inspired, truly. It left us both with greasy fingers and was exactly the thing to tide us over until our post-movie dinner. The shaker of nutritional yeast on the counter only adds to the aging hippie feel of the place and this reminded me of why I love this theater. 

The film, A Serious Man, is the Coen Brothers' most recent movie and it was excellent. Even better than the movie, however, was the man sitting three or four rows in front of us with the laugh that filled the tiny room with huge, rolling guffaws, uncontrollable and impossible not to laugh along with. Helplessly, Hubby and I giggled, snorted, and snickered along with him as the serious man progressed from one tragi-comic event to another. Even later, at dinner, the snickering continued each time we'd think of it.

Sadly, this lovely theater is up for sale now. The customer base for the Savoy is aging- Hubby and I were without question the youngest in the crowd- and apparently competing with Netflix and the host of multi-plexes popping up all over hasn't been easy. Whatever happens to the Savoy in the next couple of years, I very much hope they keep their real-butter popcorn.


Saving daylight

 Colorado springtime light, 2009.

I know that there's exactly the same number of hours in the day today as there was on Saturday. But then why does it feel so much harder to fit everything in? Coming home from work, my drive is now in the dark. Making dinner feels like it takes so much longer now and by the time it's over, it's time to think about going to bed.

 Morning light in the kitchen, 2009.

It really feels like this fall has been the source of too much bad news. The news of a friend's recent diagnosis with Parkinson's disease has shadowed the last week, coinciding sadly with the progressive loss of light and color in the outside world. It has left us wondering how to express our sympathy and how to best be helpful to them in this dark time.

Ralph's photo, perennial blooms back-lit in summer 2009.

A cousin's divorce finalizing the rift in our family likewise casts its shadow. Does all this happen in the spring too? Is there just as much sadness then as there is now? It doesn't seem that way, but I think it might just be easier to deal with sadness when the world is full of light.

Back-lit Colorado blooms, spring 2009.

In the midst of all this, it is very sweet to come home to Ralph making Indian food for dinner. Bright, full of vegetables, spice, and color. It is the perfect meal for a couple whose refrigerator is full of condiments. Plain yogurt, mango pickle, Major Gray's chutney, coconut chutney, garlic pickle. It is our meal of choice when we don't feel like doing anything complicated. We buy jarred curry sauce, saute veggies and chicken, make some rice. It is vibrant and keeps the taste buds awake, despite the dark. It was so spicy tonight that it made my ears hurt. Does anyone else know that feeling?

Ralph's version of the Colorado sky, spring 2009.

So in the spirit of appreciating light, I have reached into the photo archives for scenes from a brighter season. All are mine except where noted.

More of that luminous Colorado light, spring 2009.