30 November 2009

An All-day Holiday Meal

This year Thanksgiving dinner gave me so much more to be thankful than I already was. My sisters and I spent it at the home of wonderful M. & K. My sister G. and I met their family when she came to VA to be an au pair for a summer in 2006. Since we have moved here, they have been a brilliant presence in welcoming us to the area.

We started the day with mimosas and a cheese platter, and the celebratory tone was set for the day. When we moved into the dinning room, the food was quite simply amazing. The turkey was moist and perfect, the traditional sides were familiar and comforting, and the new flavors were truly inspiring. The cranberries were done in a compote with pears, a brilliant combination. And M.'s sister brought a sweet potato dish that was to die for. Seriously, if I hadn't been able to bring some home I think I might have cried. And even better, she shared the recipe! There was a creamy potato casserole that I had never had before and was perfect when combined with the bacon and green beans. And the desserts - Italian fruit tarts, cheesecake, chocolate cake, cherry pie, and of course, pumpkin pie. I had to wait a while for dessert though, because my eyes were bigger than my stomach when it came to everything else.

All day, the house was full of the noise of people enjoying each others company. The energy and positive emotion filled it to the brim. This was a place full of people celebrating the mere presence of those around them - whether they had met before or not, and several of us hadn't.

And did I mention that the food was fantastic. This is one of the the few Thanksgivings since I was 16 that I was not a major contributor to the table, and the first since before I was 10 that I didn't do anything at all to make it come out wonderful. All we brought was cheese for the cheese tray, and G. picked that out. I came away from that table thankful for more than just the food that was prepared for me. I now have fabulous new recipes to try for my relatives at Christmas. But more importantly I have new friends, and I can't think of a superlative that does justice to the quality of people who shared this holiday of gratitude with us - the family that opened their home and the friends that they brought into it along side me and my sisters. It was without a doubt a Thanks-giving day.

25 November 2009

A love note to tea...

My dearest tea, you are so lovely, just being with you makes my day better, completing a good day and making a bad day bearable. The words to describe the feelings you evoke in me are as fleeting as the steam that carries your soothing aroma. Your history fills me with awe and I long to be part of your tradition. Wars have been fought over the possession of your favor. You soothe, you comfort, you energize, you refresh. Oolong or Assam, Jasmine or Ceylon, the simple pleasure you impart can not be counted in ounces or cups. You bring joy to every moment I share with you. I will never tire of you as a companion and comfort to my soul.

Nota bene: you can get a heart-shaped tea cup here. I haven't tried them, but they are clever.

19 November 2009

Food revelations

I had a wonderful time at the Metropolitan Cooking & Entertaining show last weekend. One of the interesting results of attending, though, was the discovery that I would rather do it myself. I have always had a rather wide independent streak combined with a tendency towards pickiness. These traits are balanced by a bone deep laziness. However, the show made it abundantly clear that my laziness no longer balances my pickiness when it comes to food. Nearly everything I tried caused the same reaction - I like mine better, or I could do this myself, why should I pay you way more than it would cost to do it at home. It wasn't that it was bad, there were just very few wowers and the exceptions were invariably things that I couldn't do at home - a really high quality balsamic vinegar, a fabulous hot pepper relish (ok, I probably could do the relish, but I don't like working directly with things that can literally burn my face off). I came away with several good ideas, but very few purchases. I actually bought scrapbooking stuff, not food or cooking or entertaining items.

Even Giada's cooking demo - which I must say, was beyond fabulous - was more inspiring than instructive - not that she wasn't, but that her instructions were things I already knew. Still, an aisle seat 4 rows away from one of my favorite celebrity chef - it bears repeating: coolest sisters ever! The pasta she made was something I had been doing for a few years, only she used butternut squash and I use pumpkin. Several times I kept thinking things like, that's a good idea, but we don't eat pork, I wonder how it would work with chicken or G. doesn't like basalmic vinegar, so I would have to substitute a different acid. (By the way, we discovered this weekend that G. is not in fact crazy and does like balsamic vinegar - she had just never had balsamic vinegar that met her picky standards before.) I kept thinking how I would tweek her recipes to suit the tastes of the people I cook for, all the while being wonderfully entertained by her fabulous personality.

Really, what I took away from the show was a renewed confidence in my abilities as a home cook. I know the people I cook for, and that intimacy of knowledge allows me to create food that is more suited to them. And being able to walk away from the show knowing that, for the most part, my food tastes just as good as the jars and mixes that people pay for (sometimes way too much) - to me that is what being a domestic goddess is all about.

13 November 2009

Rainy Morning Comfort Food

The other day we discovered that we had an over-abundance of bread in the house. Apparently we had stopped eating sandwiches for lunch, for no apparent reason. My offer to make bread pudding was met with surprising enthusiasm - I thought I was the only one who liked it, but apparently my sisters both love it as well. Who knew.

So after consulting several variations here is what I did.

350g bread, roughly cubed (I used potato and oatmeal breads)
3/4 - 1 cup raisins
3 egg yokes
4 eggs
350 g or ¾ cup sugar
750 mL or 3 cups milk
1 ½ teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon allspice
1 ½ teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons mascarpone cheese

Grease a 2 qt. baking dish. Cut up bread and spread in dish; sprinkle in the raisins. In a bowl mix remaining ingredints until mostly smooth - the cheese was still in pieces about 1/8 inch and a little smaller. Pour over the bread and raisins; press down the bread with a spatuala or spoon until all the bread is covered and wet. Let it stand on the counter and soak up the custard for about ½ an hour/ Bake at 350º for 1 - 1 ¼ hrs, until puffy and firm in center. Let stand for 10 min to set. Serve warm or cold.

G. and M. cut into it as soon as the cooling timer went off, so I didn't have time to make the Amaretto sauce I was going to pour over it (or take pictures of the whole pan), but it turns out that was ok. They loved it as is and so did I. The sauce would have been tasty, but the pudding was tasty on its own. Maybe next time.

07 November 2009

On Researching...

I love research. I spend hours online chasing information and moving through the web of connected facts (no pun intended). When I get a book from the library or a bookstore, I always check out the shelf around it to see what interesting information might be waiting for me nearby. Reading news articles sparks journeys into weather patterns, cultural histories, imports and exports of foreign nations, languages spoken, religions practiced, and - of course - what is eaten.

No, my writing problem is not in the research. It is in the argument. I struggle to get from "hey, look at this cool stuff I found" to some sort of meaning. It is not that I don't make connections and synthesize the information that I love to gather, I do. But articulating the connections I see, and the kicker - proving them textually, that is hard for me. Maybe it is because I am such a non-linear thinker, so research webs work for me, but an organized argument cuts off all these really cool possibilities. Or maybe it is my lamentable tendency to feel that if I can see it, every one can see, and why should I have to prove the obvious?

Sometime I think it might be easier if I wrote fiction instead, but I don't really think it would be. In fiction, there still needs to be a narrative arch. So much of the cool information that leads to building real and believable characters never makes it in to the story. At least with academic writing you get the footnotes for tangents. Either way I am still left with the problem of turning a fascinating matrix of thoughts and information into a clear, progressive argument or narrative.

06 November 2009

PCA Conference Paper Proposal

So, weeks after I had planned to I have finally put together my PCA national conference paper proposal. I am really excited to write this paper, as I have been increasingly interested in the connections between food and religion. I think as I talk about some of my other paper plans you all might see a trend...

Recipes and Rituals:
Food and Religion in Nora Roberts’s Three Sisters Island Trilogy

Many religions involve the use of food both on a symbolic level and on a practical level. After celebrating the Eucharistic meal, Catholics meet in the fellowship hall for coffee and doughnuts. The Passover Seder combines ritual and nourishment to create community with Jews from centuries ago. Baptists’ Wednesday night bible study follows a potluck supper. Wiccans record their Sabbat ritual spells along side family recipes in their Book of Shadows. Food is used in all these cases to both cement common beliefs and to establish and maintain community. These elements of a shared belief system and community are necessary elements for an emotionally satisfying and believable love story. The religious aspects in Nora Roberts’s Three Sisters Island Trilogy demonstrate food as an integral part of the foundations of community and belief. She also shows food to be just as essential to the relationships that develop over the course of the books.

Roberts sets the three love stories against a background of a struggle for good and evil. This timeless conflict is acted out in terms of three good hereditary witches facing progressively stronger evils, and the community of couples fighting evil forces comes together over food. In this paper I will look at how and why this group comes together over food. What is it about Modern Pagan Witchcraft that lends itself to the incorporation of food? What do these stories tell us about why people share food? I plan to explore the questions of how food factors into their struggle to win over evil and how it shapes the relationships that develop along the way.

What do you think, sound interesting?

05 November 2009

Resolutions and a change

Daylight savings time, in addition to making it feel like winter is really here, has for the first time ever succeeded in completely ruining my lazy sleep schedule. So much so that I wake up, without the benefit of an alarm before 8 am. I wasn't even sure a before-8-am existed prior to this - I thought it was a myth. This change has been wonderfully constructive, and I am going to attempt to keep it up. A fitting resolution for the Celtic new year. I have actually been getting things accomplished, and I want to spread that productive spirit to this thought repository.

So, in a fit of creative determination, I have decided to combine the two blogs that I have created. I update with lamentable infrequency, and spreading those posts over two blogs reduces their numbers even more. So from now on there will just be this blog. All my food post will be here, all my scholarly posts, all my pop culture posts, all my random posts... well, you get the idea. This does shift the theme of my postings somewhat, but really it fits with this blog completely - food and books and pop culture and complete randomness are what les pensée de la fleur contain, and as such are what should be reflected here - not divided and relegated to a separate space. And sadly I am no longer feeding the flock, the flock has scattered, everyone going their own ways and starting their own enclaves of irreverence.

This change will hopefully let me be less splintered in both my writing style and my online presence in general, though I don't delude myself into thinking that it will make me an internet celebrity or anything like that. Which is fine. I have always said that I would rather be rich than famous anyway, and I don't think that bothersome fame will arise out of these nebulous future posts. And the reality is blogging is not what makes you rich, sad but true.

Instead I will - hopefully - get a creative outlet, and - again hopefully - this outlet will help me to focus and create a more disciplined writing habit. Now those of you who know me probably just laughed out loud to see discipline in reference to me (if you've stumbled here by mistake, it's true - I am a slacker of the first order). However, I do want to write - papers for my classes, articles, eventually my dissertation, and maybe a book some day. These all require that I write with some consistency, possibly even regularity. So I think that creating a writing habit will be easier, and let's face it- I am reliably all about easier, if that habit had a locus, a central depository. I am not going to make any wild promises about increased updates or daily posts, but I am putting my aspirations out here, publicly, in an attempt to motivate myself to achieve those aspirations. Goals, not guilt...

Well, we'll see...

ETA: I imported the posts from my food blog, so all the food and recipes are on here now. I am in the process of going back through the archives and working out the duplicates. I also plan on working out a recipe list page.