Monthly Archives: November 2013

Giving Thanks

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The daughter of a very good friend has been making daily posts to Facebook this month, expressing gratitude for one thing every day. It’s very inspiring.

So is this:

So now there’s Science telling us that expressions of gratitude are the Fast Track to Happiness.

I’ll bite.

So here’s what I’m grateful for this Thanks-Giving.  In no particular order.

I’m thankful for what has to be the World’s Best Horse Husband, who understands that giving presents to the horse is giving presents to me, and says things like “I think that Huey ought to have regular massages.”

I’m thankful for Huey.  I always, always, ALWAYS wanted a horse.  And while the Horse Of My Dreams was shiny and clean and happy and always sound and made a special noise any time he (or she) saw me and we would ride for hours on rainbows…the Horse I Have has the personal habits of a hog, and is accident-prone and seems always to be on the DL and picks fights with the other horses and is about as Imperious as you get and is perfectly comfortable totally ignoring my presence unless he thinks I might have a treat…I wouldn’t trade him for the world.  And not just this world, which has been getting pretty dodgy of late, I wouldn’t even trade him for a Better World.

On that subject, I’m thankful for my barn owner, who lives right there with Huey, and puts up with all his crap, including his Imperious Attitude, his fits of temper when Some Other Horse Gets To Eat/Go Into The Barn/Go Out Of The Barn BEFORE HIM, cribbing, and filth-generation, and still seems to love him almost as much as I do.

I’m thankful for my cat Buster, in the last hour at least, when he’s been cuddly.  I’m not so thankful for his late-night zooming around the house, and I’m definitely not thankful that his favorite place to sleep is on my ankles or knees, which makes my back hurt.  I am, however, thankful that at Age 10 he still acts like a kitten.  And he has really amazing fur.  And I’m extremely thankful that when Animal Control brought him into the Dane County Humane Society in early 2004, badly damaged from a collision with a vehicle, the person on the receiving desk “had a feeling that he’d make a good pet” and decided to funnel him into medical care instead of sending him for a Merciful Release…which would have been totally understandable.

I’m thankful for my job, and especially thankful for my Department Head, the best manager I’ve ever had in my life.  He’s organized.  If you aren’t in Academia, you may not realize how rare an attribute that is.  I remember the first time I met the guy who would become my dissertation chair.  His office was bursting at the seams with cardboard boxes.  I said “Oh, you must have just moved offices” and he said “No, I’ve been here for years.  Why would you think that?”  And he was regarded as being Pretty Organized.  My department chair is incredibly organized, and – best of all possible worlds – he makes meeting agendas and then sticks to them, and he doesn’t call a physical meeting unless this is Absolutely Necessary.  Go ahead, talk to any college professor you might know, and just say one word to them:  “meetings”. It’s like that scene in Lion King where the hyena says “MUFASA” and everyone shudders.  Only no one in academia is ever going to say “Say that again!” about meetings.

I’m thankful for the town I live in, where people open their pockets freely to support Shelter Sunday to help the plight of the homeless and destitute.  I like living with people who care about what happens to other people, instead of living with people who blame those who have fallen on hard times for their misery.

I’m thankful for the trend I’ve seen over the last few years for marriage equality.  My own marriage doesn’t mean everything it could while people in loving, committed relationships are forbidden from having that commitment legally recognized.  Just say NO to Second Class Citizenship for anyone.

I’m thankful for my friends, who are spread out over the continent, and I’m actually thankful to Facebook for providing a venue where I can stay in contact with them much more easily than was possible previously. I’m thankful for the technology that has put me back into contact with people I’d lost touch with for decades.  I’m happy to have them back in my world again.

Of course, I’m thankful for the food on the table and the roof over my head and a car that starts when I turn the ignition key.

I’m thankful that circumstances led to my discovery of Skiing.  I’m thankful that I live an hour-fifteen from my ski hill.  I can’t imagine what it would be like to get to ski only five or six days per year.  I’m thankful for my Awesome Ski Gear, and I’m thankful that my ski hill is owned and operated by a family that cares about it, and cares about the employees, instead of just treating it like a cash cow and sucking money out of the local economy to line their personal pockets.  I would probably still ski there even if it were some kind of soulless corporate hell, but I’m deeply appreciative that it’s not.  I’m thankful, by the way, for their tremendous snowmaking capacity, which means that I’ll be able to go skiing over the Thanksgiving holiday.

I’m thankful for my near neighbors, who have a wood stove.  It means I get to have that wonderful Wood Smoke On The Cold Air experience…without having to deal with termite risk, tending the thing, or cleaning it out.

And I’m thankful for the entire State of Maine.  State of Vermont, too, while I’m at it.  Heaven on earth, and it’s only a few hours’ drive away.

I’m also thankful that I have the best pumpkin pie recipe on the planet.  And now you will, too.

Super Human Pumpkin Pie From Real Pumpkins

Makes 2 pies.

4 lbs pie pumpkin.  Do not use those honkin’ huge jack-o-lantern pumpkins.  The little ones are what you want here.
1¾ C sweetened condensed milk.  I know…but there really is no substitute, and you really can’t scale back on it.
2 eggs
1 t salt
Generous splash of vanilla extract
1 T raw sugar, or demerara sugar
pie crust for 2 crust pie
2 T flour
4 T raw sugar or demerara sugar
1 t ground cinnamon
2 T butter, cut into bits
1 C chopped pecans
1 C chopped walnuts

Heat oven to 375.  Cut pumpkin in half, remove seeds and weeds, and cut into large chunks.  Grease a roasting pan, put the pumpkin chunks in it, skin-side up, and cover pan tightly with foil.  Roast 90 minutes, remove foil cover, and let sit until cool enough to handle.  Remove skins and let sit, or put in fridge, until totally cool.  It is essential that this pumpkin have no residual heat before proceeding.

Heat oven to 425. Put the pumpkin chunks into a food processor and blitz until completely pureed.  Add condensed milk and eggs, and whirl until combined.  Add salt and vanilla extract and 1T of the sugar.  Whirl until totally combined.  The whole thing should have the texture of custard by the time you are done with this step.

Pour into the pie shells and bake for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, put the flour, remaining 4 T sugar, and cinnamon in the (cleaned) food processor and blitz until it’s the texture of breadcrumbs.  Stir into the nuts and mix it up well.  I usually have to use my hands for this step.

Take the pies out of the oven, turn the temperature down to 350, and sprinkle the topping over the pies.  Bake another 35 minutes.  Remove from oven, serve hot or cold or room temp.

The pie filling freezes beautifully, so I usually make it all even though I only want one pie at a time.  Freeze the rest, and pull it out for a Magic Zero Effort Pumpkin Pie later on.

Saturday Market

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It’s Mid-November And All Is Well…

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This is a great time of the year. Of course, my perspective on it is likely colored by the fact that my ski hill opened up for the weekend.  It’s all man-made snow, of course, but no one blows better snow than Mount Snow.  That’s why they call it that.  Mount Snow.  For snow, get it?  hehehe

Anyway, they’d been issuing threats via Facebook for days that they would open on Friday.  I know, I can hear you saying, “But you love to ski! Why would it be a threat to open a ski hill?  Wouldn’t you be happy about this?”

And to this I say, “Well, kind of.  But kind of not. And it frightens me.”

The translation here is that, as they say, any day with skiing in it is a better day than the one without skiing in it.  So in that sense, opening the hill is kind of good.  Because it means a day with skiing instead of a day with not.

But then…one must ask the crucial question about Conditions.  Because not all skiing is created equal.  Just ask my buddy Russell, who learned (day 1!) last year on lovely soft slow spring snow, only to be confronted on day 2 by a hill that had melted and then frozen as hard as a rock, and on day 3, it was raining.  He got three of the four Ski Seasons all rolled into one long weekend.

There’s a phenomenon known among Skiers as the White Ribbon of Death.  When a mountain opens absurdly early, as all of the ones in Vermont are doing this year, and there has not been snow from the sky, what “opening” means is not “opening the mountain! yay!” but “opening one run”.  The One Run that gets opened before any other run on the mountain.  The one where the snowmaking is focused.  The one white strip of a run out of an entire mountain of runs.  The only white one.  The white ribbon making its way from the top of the hill all the way down to the base.  The one run that every single desperate ski-starved junkie is planning to drift down, on legs that haven’t seen the like in seven or eight months.  The one extremely crowded and over-skied run.  The one crowded, over-skied white ribbon from the top of the hill to the base.

The White Ribbon of Death.

I’m very conflicted about the WROD.  On one hand, any day with skiing… On the other hand, of Death.

I tried to hold it off.  I really did.  Because, you know, it’s just not a Good Idea.  Of Death, and all.  I even appealed to my Online Ski Support Group for assistance in helping me keep the demons from the door.  A fat lot of good they were, too.  I mean, Ski Support Group, you’re thinking they’re going to be providing support for managing the problem. Right?  No.  They just provide Support for Skiing.  Trying to talk yourself out of buying new skis or boots?  The Ski Divas will make sure that this purchase goes through.  Thinking that it’s not such a great idea to go Heli-Skiing?  The Ski Divas will fix that for you.  By the time the Ski Divas finish with you, you’re going to have your own private ski waxing and grinding salon set up in the basement.  Don’t have a basement?  Get one by moving!  As someone said earlier this week, you don’t have “too many skis” unless they won’t all fit in your garage.  That’s a paraphrase, but the gist is accurate.  So when I appealed to them for support on my decision not to ski the WROD this year, you can imagine what happened.

Yep.  Saturday morning, nice and early, and I’m dropping three pairs of skis off at the shop to get the summer wax scraped off.  I can hear you say “Three pairs?!?!”  And to this I say, “Yes, because I couldn’t fit all six into the car at once. Besides, one of them belongs to Roy.”

I spent the entire trip up to the hill preparing myself for Truly Awful Conditions.  Rocks.  Ice.  Bare spots.  Crowds.  Everything but Yellow Snow.

To my vast and unequaled surprise, what I got instead was an (admittedly narrow) strip of pure white packed powder,  charming, friendly, soft, and accepting of turns and edges.  Not quite Hero Snow.  But not too far from it, either.

The other shocker was that there weren’t crowds, at least, not at 8:45AM.  What there were was a generous handful of Ski Freaks, like myself, who just had to get in some turns.  I had the rare, possibly unrepeatable, experience of seeing the run occupied by nothing but competent, experienced skiers.  Usually, at least 10% of the people on the run have absolutely no business venturing off the bunny hill.  They go there because they don’t know about the bunny hill, and this run is the obvious run to take.  It’s the White Ribbon of Death for a reason.  Or maybe they are there because Experience Ski Boyfriend has talked them into it, assuring them they can do it, without regard to actual skills development.  Or maybe they’re just full of beans.  But the fact is, they’re out there, trashing the surface of the run, getting frightened, stopping and standing still in the traffic, or sitting on their snowboards and having a picnic right under the lip of a drop where you can’t see them until you’re ten feet above them and moving fast.  Just the experience of skiing on a run where everyone was competent and experienced was worth the trip alone.

I’d like to say that I skied until my legs fell off.  Well, I did.  But that was only four (4) runs.  I don’t know what happened to my ski muscles.  I’d be willing to swear it was only a week or so since I went last.  But man alive, were my thighs burning after those four (4) runs.  My brain was all “WOO-HOO!! LET’S DO SOME MORE!!” but my thighs were all “Hell, no.” and somewhere in between I had a small, very small, Voice of Sanity saying that it was much better to stop one run too early than one run too late, and that everything would be crappy if I skied too long and wiped out and got some kind of orthopedic injury…on the White Ribbon of Death.

And so I stopped.  But everything is just groovy as hell right now, because I skied.   I give this another 3, maybe 4 days before my mood turns foul because, well, because I haven’t skied since Saturday.  That’s why I was afraid of the WROD: because I knew it would Unleash The Beast.  The beast that I keep locked up where it can’t haunt me over the summer.  It stays locked up – although all those warnings about the imminent opening were really rattling the bars on its cage – until my feet hit the boots and the boots hit the ski and the ski hits the snow.  After that, it’s all over.  I’ve had Ski Dreams every night this week.  Now they’re OK. but if I have to go for a week or more between skiing, they will turn into torture.  God forbid, sprinkle salt, spit, and make that Gypsy Sign to Avert The Evil Eye with my fingers, it won’t be like last year where the snow wasn’t decent until nigh on to Christmas.  phht. phht.  finger flicks.

So here we are, it’s mid-November, Thanksgiving is around the corner, my stash of winter squash is holding up, the skies are clear, I’m still riding The Wonder Horse, and I’ve already gone skiing.  How could it get any better?

It could get better with this amazing dish that I made last week.  Holy jamoly.  I thought it would be good when I saw the recipe wherever it was that I saw it.  But I didn’t have any idea until I tasted it on my plate.  Even during preparation I didn’t realize.  And while the first time I ate it was good, the second time, for lunch the next day, was heavenly.  I bring you a Chicken Cassoulet.

6 chicken thighs, bone-in, skin-on
1 t salt
½ t pepper
3 T olive oil
1 lb garlic and herb chicken sausage, cut into chunks
1 large onion, chopped
3 large garlic cloves, minced
2 19 oz cans cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
14 oz can diced tomatoes with herbs
½ C chicken broth
1 bay leaf
1 T dried thyme
1½ C breadcrumbs. I used cornbread crumbs and they were brilliant. I wouldn’t recommend panko.

Preheat oven to 300.  Sprinkle chicken all over with salt and pepper.  In large skillet over medium high heat brown meat in 2 T olive oil, on both sides.  Remove from skillet and set aside.  Brown sausage in skillet, remove and set aside.  Add remaining oil to skillet.  Add onion and garlic, and cook until translucent.  Return chicken and sausage to skillet.  Add beans, tomatoes, broth, bay leaf, and thyme.  Give it a good stir to blend. Bring to boil. Take from heat and sprinkle with a cup of the crumbs. Cover and bake for 2 hours.  Uncover and sprinkle with remaining breadcrumbs and bake 20 minutes longer.  Remove bay leaf before serving.

Theoretically feeds 6, but only if they’re all on a diet. Otherwise, feeds 2 with leftovers for tomorrow, or 5 tonight.

Bird House

Cranking The Torment Up To Eleven

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Today is November 11, 2013.

It has been exactly 220 days since I last went skiing.

Specifically, it has been 220 days, 2 hours, and 6 minutes since I last went skiing.

I’ve mentioned before that – purely as a matter of self-preservation – when I ski off the hill and carry my sticks into the shop for a summer wax, I stuff my ski season into a little lead-lined compartment constructed in my brain specifically for the purpose of holding Skiing.  All of Skiing.  How it feels, what it’s like.  It all goes into that compartment, and the door gets closed on it, and a set of combination locks worth of the Gringotts’ vaults are spun, and then the whole thing is caulked, just to make sure nothing can get out, no tiny little leak, not even an Atom of Ski Season can possibly escape.  And then I saran-wrap the whole thing in about sixteen layers, just to make sure.  Because I have to.

This is all very effective, too.  Because all I know – the complete and absolute totality of it – right now, is that I Like To Ski.  Having said that, I have said everything.  I know, intellectually, that I Like To Ski in the exact same way that I know, intellectually, that when I was a little girl, I Liked Pink Ruffles.  I remember asking Santa for pink ruffles, I remember that the little girl next door had a pink ruffled dress that I envied.  But I don’t actually remember what it was to like pink ruffles.  And I remember that I like skiing, in much the same way.

must like skiing.  I have five or six pairs of skis that are stowed in various bags and tubes behind the television, where they have been since 3pm on April 7, 2013.  I have a huge backpack with boots in it, and about fifteen technical jackets and tops.  I have an extension for Chrome that tells me when Steep and Cheap cranks up a new auction, and I nearly bought a pair of Zeal goggles from it this afternoon, but decided not to because I recalled that I have two pairs of goggles already.  My Thermanator boot heater has been tucked into the corner of my closet floor since April 8, 9:35am when I put it away.  I must like skiing if I have all this stuff.  But I don’t remember liking it.

Roy offers me assurance on this.  “You don’t like skiing” he says.  “You don’t even love skiing,” he says. “You have some kind of relationship with skiing that goes way the heck beyond love.  I don’t have a word for it.”

I think for a moment.  “Is it like I am with Huey?” I say.

“Yes,” he says.  “Like Huey.”

And yet, it’s still all locked up in that air-tight, waterproof chamber.  We should be so lucky to find such a good way of disposing of spent nuclear fuel, it’s that good.  And I know, in the same way that I know I like to ski, that it’s an absolutely terrible idea to go poking around in there.  I remember telling myself, when I did this, that it was Important.  I might have Ski Dreams if I don’t.  I’m not sure what would be so bad about having Ski Dreams, not if I like skiing, but I have to trust my April 7 self to know what’s best.  So I leave that closet completely undisturbed.  I let dust build up on it, no less.

Roy, blast him, has been doing his best to jimmy the lock.  I don’t know why he wants to do this.  He doesn’t usually take pleasure in messing with my head.  But he’s been working and working away at it.  Bless his heart, he broke his arm last year and only had about a month worth of decent skiing.  His thing is cross-country, but he does downhill too.  And right now, he is PUMPED about the advent of downhill ski season.  I’ve never seen him like this before.  It started when we went out to the hill before Columbus Day and took a scenic chair lift ride.  Every since then, he’s been talking about skiing nonstop.  I caught him doing parallel turns in the shower week-before-last.  I’ve never seen him like this.

It may have something to do with our plans to Go West this spring and take a few turns at Steamboat.  We did have to do some major planning for that, so maybe it worked into his brain.

Lately, he’s becoming nearly unbearable.  Every morning, it’s “Did you see the snowmaking blog?”  and “Did you look at the snow report?” and wanting to lay bets on when opening day will be.  We had a strange, warm fall for the most part, but there’s been a nice tidy cool-down for the last week, and yes.  My Facebook wall has lots of tiny little land mines scattered through it, as the ski hill posts pictures of the snowmaking starting up, and the light dusting the hill got the other morning.  It’s like trying to walk through a yard where six dogs and a skunk have been living for the last week.  Or like walking through a lego field at midnight.  The thing in the lead-lined hermetically-sealed compartment, Skiing, has started to wake up.  I can hear it.  I had a dream last night that I was dickering with the guy who runs the ski storage service over the price of storing a second pair of skis.

Now, I have the worst possible news.  They’ve made so much snow that they’re going to open the White Ribbon of Death.  On Friday.  Day after tomorrow, Friday.  I don’t want to ski the White Ribbon of Death.  I don’t feel like dying, for one.  But now the thing in the closet is starting to mess with the locks.  It may be impossible to get into the vault from outside, but what happens when the gold decides that it’s time to get out?  Friday.

The weather here is so unpredictable.  They may open on Friday.  And Saturday.  But Sunday is supposed to be warmish.  And what after that?  I know, from past experience, that the simple act of clicking my ski boots into my ski bindings causes every lock and seal on that closet to vanish in a puff of smoke, and that once it’s out, it doesn’t go back in so easily.  If I ski on Friday, and then the weather goes to shit, and it’s the middle of December before I can go again, there’s no way I’ll be able to cram the monster back into the box.  My April 7 self is saying “Be careful.  Don’t let that out until it’s really Ski Season.”  and I have to trust that.

But the monster is starting to rattle the door.

Un Spectacle De Cuisine L’Automne

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We had a Moment in the household this afternoon as Roy informed me that 1) we will be attending his mother in Manhattan this year, for Thanksgiving…only to immediately crush my soul with part 2) no, we will not be going to The Parade.

Je suis desolee. Making a special trip to Manhattan for Thanksgiving Day and not going to see The Parade?!?!?!  How can one endure this?

The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is on my long-term bucket list.  As a child, I would roll out of bed on Thanksgiving, awakened by the sound of my mother wrestling the turkey in the kitchen, and I’d cadge a small breakfast to eat in front of the TV.  I’m not really much of a TV fan in general – I’m one of the few people in the northern hemisphere who has never seen a single episode of Lost, Survivor, So You Think You Can Dance, or the Real [insert noun] of [insert locale].  The closest I come to regular TV watching is recording episodes of Grey’s Anatomy on the DVR just so I can watch them without Roy, which always makes him furious.  Knowing his mom and brothers as I do, I would never have expected him to be a Communal TV Watcher, but he is.  And boy, oh boy, does he get lit when we record Grey’s Anatomy and I don’t wait for him to watch it with me.

Anyway, I’m not a big TV watcher, but an exception to that rule is, without a question, The Parade.  I’m a parade junkie in any event – I love a parade.  Marching bands, baton twirlers, people with horses, and floats.  I adore floats.  I know, in my secret heart of hearts, that I was born to ride on a float in a huge spangled dress, and wave graciously at everyone on the sidelines. Then, with The Parade, there’s the balloons.  Who doesn’t love those??  As soon as Despicable Me 2 came out, I started daydreaming about a 40-foot-tall Minion Balloon, with Special Effects like a turning head, or an eye that glows.

So every Thanksgiving Day in my memory found me parked in front of the TV, glued to the Action.  My earliest memories involve Shari Lewis and Lambchop narrating the show.  I knew of Columbus Circle before I know what the heck a traffic circle was, and I wasn’t too sure about Columbus either.  And Macy’s?  How could The Parade be any better than TV? If not for…Maureen O’Hara, and Edmund Gwenn, and Natalie Wood?  The first time I ever saw Macy’s I thought “So this is it!!”  I wanted to go see their Santa for myself, but the line was unbelievably long, and Roy – while generally indulgent of these whims – Has His Limits.

I have wanted to be one of the freezing, stamping, slugging cocoa out of a themos, insulated millions lining the streets of Manhattan for as long as I have known of Manhattan.  Actually, before, since back in the day it was just “New York”.

Be in Manhattan on Thanksgiving and not go see The Parade?!?!? Yes, I know about having to schlep Family Members along, and get the train and all, but really?!?!?

There is No Joy In Mudville tonight.  Or any night for the foreseeable future, I’m thinking.   Be In New York on Thanksgiving and not see The Parade.  harrrummph.

I consoled myself, sort of, with some Fine New England Fall Cooking tonight.  Which I will now share, having made the necessary edits to these recipes.

Chicken and Apples

3 Granny Smith apples (no substitutions. I don’t care how tart your apples are, if they aren’t rock hard to start with, they won’t hold up to this dish)
Juice of 1 lemon
4 T butter
1 T demerara sugar (brown sugar or raw sugar will work)
2 whole boneless chicken breasts
1 large yellow onion, sliced (Vidalia sweet onions are best)
¼ C apple cider vinegar
½ C chicken stock

Peel, core and and slice the apples into ½” thick slices.  Toss apple slices with lemon juice. Melt 2 T butter in skillet on medium-high and add apples.  Sauté 5 minutes.  Sprinkle with sugar.  Raised to high heat and caramelize.  If you used anything but Granny Smiths, they won’t caramelize, they’ll melt. What will caramelize is the pan. This is not exactly catastrophic, but the prep and cleanup are easier if it is the apples that caramelize, not the pan. Remove apples to bowl and keep warm.

Flatten chicken breasts to a uniform thickness with a mallet. Melt remaining butter in skillet on medium-high heat. Add chicken and cook 3 minutes each side.  Remove to plate.  Add onion and cook until tender and caramelized.  Raise heat to high, add vinegar, and cook down to a syrup.  Add stock and stir.  Return chicken to pan and cook 5 minutes.  Place chicken on a warm platter.  Return apples to skillet to warm up, then spoon onto chicken with juices.

Serves 4

Maple Walnut Acorn Squash

2 acorn squash, quartered and seeds removed
2 T olive oil
3 T butter
3 T maple syrup
3 T chopped walnuts

Take a tiny slice off the top and bottom of the squash halves so that they will sit up like cups. Preheat oven to 400. Place squash, skin side down, on baking sheet lined with foil. Drizzle with oil, season with salt and pepper to taste. Roast until tender, about 1 hour. Thinner squash will cook in a shorter time.

In small saucepan, melt butter and maple syrup. Turn over to broil. Brush squash with mixture and place a few walnuts on top. Place under broiler until deeply browned, about 2 minutes.

Serves 4