‎"...a little 'trouty', but quite good" ~ Eve Kendall, North By Northwest

Friday, December 30, 2011

walking meditation

When we got married we got the usual boatload of gifts, which was awesome because although we had both lived on our own for several years and had our own stuff, all that stuff was worn out and gross. Now that I think of it, maybe that's why people get married every few years.

From our friends who had recently moved to Maine, we received a big basket of Maineness. It was full of things they had discovered and loved at their farmer's market - blueberry jam, hand-dipped candles, scone mix - all kinds of things. We loved it.

A few days later when I was putting things away, I realized that the brochure for Ivy Manor Inn, included in the Basket of Maineness, had a gift certificate tucked inside - good for two nights. We couldn't pack fast enough.

We adored Bar Harbor. We explored Acadia National Park and watched the sunrise from the top of Cadillac Mountain (where we also checked for phone messages, since it was the only place we could get a signal). We hiked the Jordan Pond trail and mourned that we were too late for popovers (which are legendary). We had breakfast twice each morning because we couldn't choose between restaurants.

We liked it so much, we gently toyed with the idea of moving there. If we lived there, we thought, we could explore all the things we were just catching glimpses of.

And then we came home and realized there was much to explore here. We have a state park near us that we knew nothing about. We have a wildlife sanctuary we had never explored.

I was in that sanctuary this morning, taking a walk and thinking about how it took a trip up Cadillac Mountain to get me off the couch and into my own backyard. It's not huge, but if I ever get tired of it, there are National and State Parks to explore nearby (although getting tired of it doesn't seem likely.) Going there never fails to clear my head. I think my Mass Audubon membership should be covered by health insurance. It's ... fabulous.

And it was right here, all along.

So, the moral of the story is: Don't open your presents so fast you miss the gift.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

12 explanations of how we ended up on the Nice List

One
We found the missing library book and returned it. Bonus points: It's been gone so long it increased significantly in value and now can go in the Rare Book collection

Two
We relocated several field mice from our house to the church down the street instead of smashing them to smithereens (the mice, not the parishioners).

Three
We did not release “Holiday Favorites on Solo Cello,” by me. You're welcome.

Four
We taught our children to say please and thank you and to not kick the seats in front of them at symphony. (If you need any tips for your own children, we used bribery, threats and an electric collar.)

Five
I did not change my mom's cell phone to Smells Like Teen Spirit, despite many opportunities.

Six
We support the arts, the plumber, and the auto body shop. Some more generously than others.

Seven
Chris didn't get any tickets for speeding or reckless endangerment this year.

Eight
We cleaned our house for company that one time.

Nine
Coming up with 12 things is harder than I thought

Eleven
We have nice friends and are banking on guilt by association.

Twelve
I've noticed that Santa has taken to cloud sourcing. It seems everyone has turned into Santa Claus. There's the fake ones, of course, who are just in it for the (cookie) dough, but I've noticed a growing number of real ones mingling in polite society. As the Bible says, “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained elves unawares.” (Hebrews 13:2, New Trout Translation)

I think this means you must have made the Nice list, too.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

In which the universe conspires to make me less grinchy

During pretty much every holiday, I am in splendid spirits until right at the end when I hit the wall. I look up and realize that I am doing everything and without me there would be nothing done that is done. And I get really grumpy about it. And yelly. Because what says "Happy Thanksgiving/Christmas/Ground Hog's Day/Friends Coming Over" better than a self-righteous outburst?

I hit that wall at 12:22 today.

Right in the middle of making chestnut bisque for lunch (fa! la! la!), I realized I had probably missed the post office, where the package from my sister and my ornament* were waiting for me. The package from my sister had a pile of gifts for the kids in it. The ornament was sure to be awesome and I wanted it on my tree. Pronto.

And then I got all shades of grumpy because honestly, why is all this up to me? Does no one else know where the post office is? Does no one else know how to make lunch?

Fa. La. La.

I skidded into the post office parking lot, ran inside and was astonished to find the package pick-up window open. When I thanked her for staying open, she said "we usually close at 12, but I figured people need all the help they can get."

Amen, sister.

And then I came home and ripped into my ornament, finding not only a handmade, drunk, wry snowman (which is completely our holiday decorating theme) but an ornament made especially for me.



The wall of holiday bitterness and taken-for-grantedness crumbled.

And the chestnut bisque was not ruined despite being abandoned - with the immersion blender standing up in the pot - when I ran out the door.

Chestnut Bisque
10-12 ounces chestnuts (peeled - I buy them in bags at the grocery store, all ready to go)
olive oil
1 small onion
1 leek
2 cups vegetable broth
2 cups almond milk
pinch cardamom
pinch nutmeg
palmful dried thyme
salt to taste

Saute the onion and leek in olive oil in a saucepan. Add the broth and chestnuts and simmer for 30 minutes. Add the almond milk, cardamom, nutmeg and thyme and blend thoroughly (as mentioned, I use an immersion blender because I'm lazy and it's my favorite thing ever.) Salt to taste. Sing about chestnuts roasting on an open fire. Eat.

*I am part of the most Superior Ornament Exchange Ever, hosted by Jett Superior. As luck would have it, Jett herself drew my name. I win at Christmas.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

flocks of doom

So there I was, minding my own business at the dining room table, when I noticed about eight different kinds of birds in what would be the garden if all the plants weren't dead. There were two kinds of woodpeckers, some cardinals, chickadees, a tufty-headed thing, a bunch of bluebirds and some other things I couldn't identify. Honestly, you're lucky you got that much information. Is there a phone app that has facial recognition for birds? I used to have a book, but looking up birds in the bird book is like looking up a word in the dictionary to find out how to spell it. Yes, it must be done - but where do you start?

It was the bluebirds that really got me. I never see bluebirds. Don't they know it's December? Don't the other birds know? This wasn't the usual assortment of ornithological drabbery we generally get at this time of year. This was a veritable Hallmark card of songbirds.*

I sat there wondering what cataclysmic meteorological event had driven them into my yard. That's the only possible explanation - like when all the woodland creatures take flight in Bambi. They weren't bluebirds of happiness in my yard. They were bluebirds of imminent doom.

This new outlook is either a sign that a) the End of Times is truly near or b) I have lived in New England too long.

I grew up in Colorado, where people are less cynical.

Colorado: "Look! Really, really fuzzy caterpillars! It's going to be a great ski season!"
New England: "We'll probably lose power for six weeks, maybe more. If not in this storm, surely the next."

Things were generally more upbeat and optimistic in Colorado. I blame the altitude and resulting lack of oxygen to the brain. I don't know what to blame the pessimism of the northeast on. I'm going with either the Puritans or higher education.

When I came here, people knew I was from Somewhere Else. I have lived here long enough so now instead of auspicious signs, I see omens. I fit in better now.

But it's hard not to find the birds weirdly reassuring. Four of them piled into our birdbath and splashed around - two bluebirds and two something-elses. They didn't seem panicked or rushed. There was nothing about their frolicking that signaled an approaching tsunami. They were... pretty.

In the early fall we had a... swarm? herd? flurry? ...of dragonflies in the garden. There were probably a hundred of them. I think it's technically impossible to signal global tragedy with dragonflies. Ditto ladybugs. We get a lot of those, too.

Maybe the take-away is that beautiful things show up at unexpected times. Maybe it's that we'll all find a place to land when we need it.

Maybe it's that I don't know a thing about birds. Maybe this is the normal time to migrate and all the different kinds were just carpooling.

Maybe I just don't look up often enough.

*It's okay, I don't know what a Hallmark card of songbirds looks like, either.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Great Pecan Pie Experiment

A few years ago I thought it would be a swell idea to try a bunch of different pecan pie recipes until I made The Perfect Pie and I'm just now getting around to it. I should mention right off the bat that I don't make pie crust, so that was not the issue. Not that there's an issue. I just want a delicious pie.

It's Chris' birthday, so I got him a chainsaw and made him a birthday pie. No, they are not related. We have a woodstove now (not the one that was in the driveway) and Chris has been going around tidying up friends' fallen trees. Thanks to fallen trees, we haven't turned on our heat yet. Every time the oil truck drives down our street and doesn't stop at our house, I feel weirdly victorious. Anyway, his Polly Pocket Little Helper Chain Saw wasn't doing the trick, so I went to the hardware store and told them I needed a chainsaw for my husband for his birthday. They promptly hoisted me onto their shoulders and marched me through town with a big "Wife of the Year" banner waving over my head.

It's been a busy day.

I didn't have dark corn syrup, so I switched up the recipe a bit. And pecan pie can get a little teeth-itchy, so I tried to tone down the sweetness with a substitute that would still do the trick. Finally, don't put birthday candles into a pie that's fresh from the oven unless you like eating wax. Things they never told me in Home Ec.

Pie Number 1:

1 unbaked pie crust (I get the rolled-up kind)
3 eggs
1/3 cup corn syrup
1/2 cup rice syrup
1 cup brown sugar (scant)
1/4 cup melted butter
1 teas. vanilla extract
1 cup pecan halves

Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Beat together the eggs, corn syrup, rice syrup, brown sugar, butter and vanilla.
Roll a pie crust into a pie pan and make it look like you made it.
Dump the pecans into the pie crust and shuffle them around so they cover the bottom.
Pour the egg mixture over the pecans.
Bake for 1 hour or until you can stick a knife in and pull it out clean.
Allow to cool before adding birthday candles.

Mine didn't spill over, but if you want to avoid having your oven catch fire, put foil on the lower rack. Trust me on this.

The verdict? We're looking for something a little beefier. I'll try a fourth egg (overkill?) to make it more of a custard.

Any suggestions?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Small things

One
Our chickens aren't laying. We got kind of a complex about it, so we asked around and it turns out no one else's chickens are laying either.

But then our upstairs neighbor said that maybe they were off because the Grande Dame of egg laying had perished and they had all forgotten about eggs. He suggested I put an egg decoy in the nesting box to remind them.

Having no egg decoy, I wrote "decoy" in pencil on a hard boiled egg and stuck it in the nesting box when they weren't looking.

It worked.

Two
Our other upstairs neighbor brought down a plate of lemon squares just before the kids went off to school. Sugarplum took a long look at them before she left so she could describe them on a poster if one went missing.

Three
We've been trapping mice in the have-a-heart trap and driving them down the street to their new home. Since we've been dropping them off at a church we're hoping they're a tax deduction.

Four
I am going to sing in the Messiah. I have a vision of the other singers walking out in the middle, muttering "there is no God."

Five

Six
I kicked coffee and now I can't remember why. I can't remember why because everything's all hazy and muffled and I can barely keep my eyes open.

Seven
Chris has about 97 billion songs to turn into music videos for various bands he's recorded. Turning them into videos requires lots of playing and replaying as he gets all the cuts in the right spots. Therefore, the song he chose to make a video of was "I want a goat for Christmas."

He'll get nothing and like it.

Eight
House Rule: You are not allowed to pick just the things you like out of the Chex Mix. If you want a handful of pecans, dive accordingly. Appearing nonchalant is the key to success.

Nine
Housekeeping tip! While low light is the key to making your home look like you may have cleaned it, super-super-duper energy-saving lightbulbs in your bathroom fixture will make it look like a crack house.

Ten
Christmas is when you move all the extraneous crap out of your house so you can put all the Christmas-related extraneous crap into your house. New Years is for putting away the extraneous holiday crap so you have a clean slate to fill with new extraneous crap over the course of the year.