Category Archives: Recipe

Santa Baby…

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Last week I saw that viral video of WestJet playing Santa Clause to a couple hundred of their travelers.  Here it is, in case you haven’t seen it:

Now, my first thought was, naturally, “What the hell?”  I don’t associate the airline industry with the Spirit of Generosity, to anyone but the 10 people traveling in First Class, anyway.  But then I considered the probable cash outlays involved here, and compared those to the cost of a major, and incredibly successful, advertising campaign with unbelievably deep market penetration, and realized that playing Santa is probably the less expensive option once all the bills are paid.  And, of course, it’s a massive investment in branding, a subject we discuss a lot in my classes.

After I settled this question, I went on to my second thought which was “So, nu, what would I have asked Santa for?”

And that is the one that is giving me all the trouble.  I can’t think of anything that I both really want and that is possible to obtain.  Here’s the stuff I really want.

I really want there to be a manufacturer of women’s athletic and technical gear that realizes that female athletes don’t come only in sizes “Tiny” and “Small”.  Being really active does not make you thin unless you have the right genes for it, and I don’t.  I was 9 lbs and 22 inches long at birth. And my mother didn’t have gestational diabetes, I just have Huge Person Genes.  I was an enormous infant, up over the 95th percentile for everything to do with size, and not much has changed since then.  I’ve written elsewhere about the absurdity of garment sizing in this industry.  All of the manufacturers run “small” and most of them run “super small”.  C’mon.  A size 12 or 14 is not an XL.  Heck, I don’t even care what it says on the label…I don’t have ego on that, I’d be willing to wear a bloody XXXXL ski jacket, if they’d make one.  But they don’t.  They just don’t.  So I get stuck wearing men’s ski gear, and to get it big enough in the butt, I get it super huge in the waist.  If I get it big enough in the shoulders, it has no waist at all.

So, Santa, what I want this year is a correctly sized and fitting shaped ski jacket, in red or black, I’m easy.  It should be a system jacket so that I can just wear it as a shell, or put the liner in.  It needs to have pit zips and a two-way zipper on the front.  I want a pair of matching ski pants, the kind with some insulation, but not so much insulation it looks like I’m wearing a diaper.  I like pants with a mid rise, and be sure there’s an elastic waist because I’m a different shape sitting down than I am standing up.  I’d love it if all this stuff had a tag with a size that didn’t make me feel like the Jolly Green Giant fallen to earth, but what’s most important is that it has to fit properly, perform, and be cute. I’m tired of the lifties calling me “sir”.

All of this goes double for boots.  Boot manufacturers think a 15″ round calf is “extra wide”.  If you’re 10 years old, maybe.  Or have genetically super-thin calves.  I want cute tall boots that aren’t made for Twiggy.  I want to be able to tuck my jeans into my boots like the women in the New York Times’ style section do.  Santa, I want a pair of tall Solstice winter boots from Smartpak that fit.  They should be a Euro size 41, and be built for a 17″ calf so that I will be able to fit my jeans in.  This will be a special order, because the regular boot is barely wide enough for me to get my leg in without even wearing a sock.

My clothes constantly get little oily spots when they go through the wash. This is because we wash all our clothes on cold, to avoid making them shrink and stuff.  I use a detergent made for washing stuff at low temperatures, but it’s not very good at it, since it leaves these detergent spots on the cottons.  I have tried all the stuff with cleaning the machine, we’ve tried a bunch of different detergents, but none of them work very well.  So, Santa, I want a lifetime supply of a real cold-water washing detergent, something that will not leave spots on my clothes.

None of this stuff is available from stores.  Here are the other things on my Christmas Wish List that you can’t buy:

Santa, I would like my horse to get sound and stay that way for a long time, until he dies.  I would really like it if would stop getting Mystery Injuries.

I would like a particle cannon mounted in the grill of my car so I can vaporize drivers who cut in front of me with 6 inches to spare at 70 miles per hour.  Might as well get one mounted on the back, so I can vaporize drivers who ride so close behind me that I can’t see the grill of their car, too.

I would like my cat to stop ambushing me with his claws out when I go up the stairs.

I would like LL Bean to bring back their “Favorite Jeans”.  The real ones, with the nice thick denim and some stretch in it, that fit exactly like the old ones they made.  The replacement product is different in ways that make me crazy.  The edge on the waistband is sharp, and they don’t fit the same.  This is the only pair of jeans I ever found that really fit perfectly and I want them back.

I’d like a self-cleaning, self-maintaining, self-property-tax-paying ocean-front property on the Maine midcoast.

Santa, please make it start snowing a lot, soon, and no sleet or rain or ice until mid-April.

Those are all the things I can think of that I really want, and none of it can be obtained at a shop.  The only thing I could think of to ask Santa for is maybe an iPad, because it might be nice to have a new techie toy, or that pair of ski goggles Greg showed me with the heads-up display of speed and direction inside the lens.  Those would be REALLY cool.  In fact, that’s what I want, Santa.  The super tweaked out techie ski goggles.  Whew, that’s a relief, to know what to ask for when a random service provider gives me a single wish.

Now, on to things that most people would say they don’t want.  Or, a specific thing:  a fruitcake.  I made Nigella Lawson’s “Easy-Action Christmas Cake” last night, and what an experience.  It was pretty easy.  I had to stick around the house to babysit it for a few hours while it was baking, but that was no hardship at all, since after about a half-hour in the oven, it started sending out An Aroma.  In my minds’ eye, I’m seeing those little wavy streaks that indicate “smell” in a cartoon, raying out from the oven, filling the house, and basically all living creatures within a quarter mile chasing their noses into my kitchen.  The house smelled like a Hallmark Special.  It smelled like Christmas Morning at Bob Cratchitt’s house, after Scrooge has his epiphany.  It smelled like every single Good Holiday Thing that Yankee Candle mixologists have ever put into a jar.  It smelled like a groaning board and a clean kitchen and sharp appetites from making snowmen in the yard and going sledding.  It smelled like sneaking downstairs in the middle of the night to try to catch Santa coming.  It smelled like heaven.

Here’s my take on Nigella’s recipe.

Homemade Heavenly Fruitcake

dried mission figs, pitted dates, dried cranberries, and dried tart cherries to equal 6 cups. Do not chop the fruit.
1.5 sticks butter
1.5 cups dark brown sugar. Not light brown, but dark. You want the damp, gleaming stuff that has crystals big enough to see with the naked eye.
3/4 cup unsweetened chestnut puree. I make this every year when the chestnuts come in, and freeze it in ice-cube trays for later use.
1/2 cup dark spiced rum. I used black spiced rum from a bottle with a picture of the kraken on it. Captain Morgan’s would probably also work.
juice and zest of a huge navel orange
zest of a lemon
3 large eggs
1 2/3 C flour
1/2 t baking powder
1/2 t cinnamon
short 1/2 t ground cloves
1/2 t nutmeg

Put the fruits in a kettle, add the sticks of butter, the sugar, the chestnut puree, the rum, the orange juice, and zests of orange and lemon. Stir it all about and put the heat on medium. Give it a stir every so often as the butter melts. Once the butter has melted totally, and the whole thing is simmering, leave it to cook like that for 10 minutes, stirring every so often. Then turn the heat off and let it sit in the pot for a half-hour. Break the bigger fruit (dates and figs) up a little bit with the back of a spoon while it’s cooling. Preheat the oven to 300.

Get a 3 quart casserole dish. I used a Le Creuset braiser, which worked great. Take a couple of sheets of parchment paper and push them down into the casserole to line it. They will pop back up, but you can get them to stay if you put a large jar in the middle to keep them down. Make sure your sheets of parchment paper are long enough that they stick up past the edge of the pot by a few inches.

Beat the eggs with a fork in a bowl. Mix the dry ingredients in a different bowl. After the fruit has been cooling for a half-hour, add the dry ingredients and eggs, and stir it all up until everything is well mixed together. Then transfer it from the kettle to the parchment-lined pot. Flatten out the top a little with a spatula, and put into your preheated oven, uncovered, and bake it for 2 hours. Kick back and enjoy the way the house smells as it’s cooking. Yankee Candle should be so lucky.

When the two hours is up, take the pot out of the oven and put it on a rack, or if you have a gas range, just put it over one of the burners. Important thing is that air circulate all around the pot. Take a skewer, or a meat thermometer, and poke some holes all over the top, and then pour another quarter-cup of the rum over to soak into the cake. Then leave it alone until it is  totally cool.  Once it’s cool, put a plate over the top of your casserole and flip the lot over.  The cake will fall right out of the pan, and you will be able to peel the paper right off it.

Theoretically, at this point, you melt some apricot jam over low heat on the stove in a small saucepan until it melts, and then you paint the fruitcake with that, stick on some of those glacee fruits or some nuts, and slick another layer of melted jam over the top.  At my house, what happened is that I started to get the jam, but I was entirely overwhelmed by the fragrance rays shooting off my cake as it sat on the plate, and I had to eat a slice right away.  It tasted every bit as good as it smelled.  I wrapped it up in some parchment paper and aluminum foil, to preserve it, but mostly to make it kind of a hassle for me to get another slice, because I’m afraid I will overcome and eat the whole thing right now.  It’s that good.

Serves: 1.  Or 100, if you are very, very generous.

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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

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

The Changing Of The Clothes, or Rumble In The Rubbermaids

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If ’tis the season of the pumpkin run,
And ’tis the season of the festival of mums,
And ’tis the season of the cider donut,
Then ’tis also the season of the changing of the clothes.

This is one of those Northern Things we didn’t have in Texas.  In Texas you can tell that the seasons changed because people start whining about the weather.  In the summer, there’s no point to whining about the weather – it’s hotter than the fiery pits of hell, and stickier than a piece of used chewing gum, and, well, if people could rustle up the energy, then tempers would be mighty short.  Besides, if you start whining about the heat and humidity of the eight-month-long Texas summer, then when would you ever stop?

Fall is different.  They call it “fall” because the leaves fall off the trees.  In New England, they turn amazing colors and provided a major tourist draw before they fall down.  In Texas, they pretty much just go straight from April, to Dead.  Unless it’s mountain cedar, in which case it goes from pollen cycle to pollen cycle, sickening thousands with every blast of tree sperm.  Mountain cedars pollinate with cold snaps too, which just adds insult to the existing tremendous injury.  Texans have a sick sense of conflict when the weather map shows a bright blue spiky line diving down from Canada.

On one hand, Texans are thinking “Yahoo!  A cold front!!  It’s going to get down into the upper 50s at night!  Turn on the electric blankets, break out the hot chocolate, and someone get a fire going!  We’re having winter!!!

And on the other hand, the same Texans are also thinking “Ah, shit, a cold front.  Means the trees are gonna pollinate.  Better hit the pharmacy for a refill of my steroidal nasal spray and get it going before my sinuses back up so hard my ears pop when I swallow, and it feels like fire ants are crawling all over my skin and scalp. Damned cedar.”

I know, I know.  There’s you, thinking “oh, yeah, another one of those Tall Texas Tales.  hay fever so bad your ears pop when you swallow.  that’s a good one.  pull the other finger, it’s got bells on.”

But, I swear it on a stack of Bibles, it’s perfectly, totally, literally true.  I know this because it happened to me every winter before God Gave Us Flonase, the only allergy drug that works for something like this.  I had it so bad one year that my sense of taste was completely gone – not that I wanted to eat much anyway, what with my ears popping every time I chewed or swallowed – but it was so bad.  How bad was it?  It was so bad that I loaded up a baked potato with sour cream that was way the other side of its grave, and the only way I could tell was that it was dead was because of the weird grainy texture from all the curdling.  Yes.  Allergies so bad you can eat rancid milk products and not even realize it.

That’s when I Found Flonase.  That stuff was a real godsend to central Texas, too, because before that, with every cold front you’d have maybe 30% of the population wandering about like the most miserable pack of zombies on the green earth, all stoned out of our beans on Benadryl…and still suffering.  Yessir, Flonase Saved Civilization.

Anyway, when the dewpoint drops to a bone-dry 65 degrees, and the nighttime temps go down to 59, you know it’s winter in Texas.  And that means that you bring out the sweater.  And the jacket.  And maybe you go into that drawer where you keep the oddball items like bathing suits and cycling shorts, and you find the long-sleeved t-shirt.

All of that notably singular.  Because in Texas, winter comes in 2-day long increments.  You get winter for two days after a front, and then it goes back to being April.  Maybe another three weeks later, you get another two days of winter, and then four weeks of April.  Somewhere in there, everyone throws on a jacket and changes out of the sandals into closed-toe shoes and goes out shopping for an Xmas Tree. Because, you know, on some visceral level it is generally known that shopping for an Xmas Tree in a t-shirt, shorts, and pair of flip-flops is wrong.

That, however, is pretty much the extent of the Seasonal Wardrobe Changeover.  That, and trying to remember where the umbrellas went when the dry spell fired up last May.

In New England, it’s a different matter.  Sure, I still have that oddball drawer full of off-season stuff, because I know there will be warm days in the spring, or cool days in the fall, but not enough of them coming together consecutively to warrant the full Changing Of The Clothing.  In the north, and I learned this good and proper when I moved from College Station, Texas to Madison, Wisconsin, and discovered that not all sweaters are made of cotton, I discovered that the points of overlap between the Summer Wardrobe and the Winter Wardrobe are minimal.  Mainly consisting of a waterproof slicker, and a pair of leather boat shoes.  Beyond that, there’s no points of similarity.

The Summer Wardrobe has t-shirts and shorts, and lightweight cotton sweaters, and thin hoodies, and linen slacks and jackets, and silk shells. It has Birkenstoks and canvas boat shoes and sandals and huaraches.  It has thin, stretch riding breeches, and a whole stack of disreputable short-sleeve t-shirts only ever worn to the barn (and any place I have to stop at en route). It has cotton dresses and thin white cotton tunics.  It has capri pants and fabric skimmers. It has a waterproof slicker and a pair of leather boat shoes.

The Winter Wardrobe has waffle-weave and rugby shirts, stacks of wool sweaters (with a few silk blends thrown in for variety).  It has mock turtlenecks in every style under the sun, and corduroys.  It has heavy woven dress jackets and thin silk turtlenecks for layering.  It has a rainbow of clogs, to keep one’s feet out of the inevitable muck, and a whole shelf of boots.  It has coats – light coats, technical coats, wool coats, long dress coats, short sports coats, and a disreputable flannel-lined water-resistant duck-cloth woven field coat for the barn.  It has flannel-lined pants, pants made from high-tech mystery fibers spun from recycled soda bottles, and more cords. It has flannel pajamas and a drawer full of silk thermal underwear.  It has thick knee socks and fur-lined slippers with non-skid soles. It has thick jeans, dress shoes that can only be worn when there hasn’t been a heavy rain or snowstorm in recent history.  It has duck shoes in six different colors, because once winter really sets in, these are the only things to wear, assuming you don’t want to ruin your good shoes.  It has a waterproof slicker and a pair of leather boat shoes.

The Changing of the Clothes requires the logistical skills of General Patton, and a willingness to crack the whip, because otherwise, the house will be littered with rubbermaid totes in partial stages of unpacked-ness until May, and everyone in the house will be perpetually cranky because nothing can be found.  It is additionally complicated in my house by the fact that my house, and I love my house, has four stories, counting the basement.  The basement is where out-of-season clothes live.  The top floor is where Roy’s clothes live, and the floor behind that is where my clothes live.  So any rubbermaid totes full of vestments have to be hauled up a minimum of two narrow flights of stairs, unpacked, repacked, and hauled back down again.

A long while back I found that the only way to do this that doesn’t make everyone hate each other for weeks is to do it in one huge marathon.  It’s not a fun day, but there’s nothing quite so satisfying as the sight of a closet with the upcoming season’s clothes all neatly stored, the vision of rubbermaid totes stacked neatly back in the basement, and the knowledge that this wretched chore will not have to be done again for six months.

Such is the price of living in an Historic Home.  I know, from pictures, that the Victorians wore a stunning amount of clothing at one time, but damned if I know where they put it when it wasn’t on the body, because it sure as hell didn’t go into their closets.  I don’t think the closets in my house would hold even one crinoline, let alone a couple of them, and a big fluffy dress, let along more than one change of clothes.  It’s really a mystery to me.

Another matter the significantly complicates the Changing of the Clothes in my house is a certain disparity in the size of our wardrobes.  Roy’s entire winter wardrobe, without the collection of outdoor boots, fits in five rubbermaid totes.  My entire winter wardrobe, without the collection of outdoor boots, requires thirteen rubbermaid totes.   I can’t feel it at all fair to make Roy sherpa those thirteen totes up two narrow flights of stairs, so I do it all myself.  And, because no one can drag their heels harder or longer over the hassle of the Changing of the Clothes than Roy, I usually wind up hauling his five bins too.  I found that if I stack them up so that they block the stairs leading up to his study, he will usually get the idea to carry them up the rest of the way, and once there, the notion to actually unpack them and extract his next-season clothing usually strikes.

I won’t say that it’s an easy time in the house.  But at least it only usually takes a few days from start to finish, and at least, it’s over until next May.

To celebrate the rumble of the rubbermaid totes, I have this amazing dish of apples and cherries. It’s extraordinary.

1¼ C old-fashioned oats
a generous cup of packed brown sugar
¾ C flour
a generous sprinkling of ground cinnamon
¼ t salt
¾ C butter
1 C sliced almonds, toasted in a pan, and chopped
½ C chopped crystallized ginger
4 pounds tart apples, peeled, cored, and sliced
1½ C dried tart cherries (NOT the sweetened kind)
½ C sugar
juice of one lemon
1 T flour
liberal dash of ground cinnamon

The easy way is to use the food processor. Mix oats, brown sugar, flour, cinnamon and salt in large bowl. Put the almonds and crystallized ginger in the processor and pulse until chopped up. Add the butter and pulse until it gets lumpy. Add the dry oat mix, and pulse until you get a crumble consistency. Put into the fridge while doing the next step.

Preheat oven to 375°F. Grease a 13×9 baking dish. Combine apples, cherries, sugar, lemon juice, flour and ground cinnamon in large bowl and mix it up well. Put into the baking dish and flatten out a little. Sprinkle topping over apples. Bake until topping is browning, about 55 minutes. Serve warm with ice cream, or just eat directly out of the pan with a spoon. It all just gets better with age, too, so you can nibble on this out of the fridge for several days.

Pumpkins

One of the many Sincere Pumpkin Patches in my neck of the woods.

The National Cuisine of a New England Autumn

Standard

It’s now that Most Wonderful Time of the year in New England: early fall.  The farm stands still offer up the last fresh corn of the season, bursting with sweetness; the last fresh tomatoes of the season, round and juicy; and without a freeze, the basil plants are still yielding up their best –  but to this mix they’re now adding the glorious treat of winter squash.

The leaves are starting to blaze with color – the reds of the sugar maples launching fire into the sky.

The days are warm and sunny, the nights bring on a chill.

New England cooks are warming up the roasting pans, the cocottes, the slow cookers, and still the grills are going.

The National Costume of New England is manifesting on the streets:  shorts, loafers, and long-sleeved shirts and light jackets.

The Wild Horse Wind has been blowing and lashing Huey, who is old enough to know better, into extending challenges to all comers – paddock races and bucking contests.

The long shadow cast by Johnny Appleseed over western Massachusetts brings us acres and acres of gnarled, twisting trees, fully loaded with ripe red fruit, ready to fall off into the hand.

Festivals and harvest fairs are breaking out in every small town and rural district, filling the air with the scent of popcorn and grilling meat.

The corn mazes are at a state of perfection.

Everywhere you turn, you find a roadside stand selling the National Fall Flower of New England: the mum.  In reds, and oranges, and whites, but – mostly – in yellows.  Three for ten dollars, plant them now, and they’ll overwinter and bring a blast of color to the garden next year too.

The pumpkin patches have erupted.  Beyond the traditional pumpkin patches that one encounters elsewhere in the country – with massive ripe orange gourds begging to be carved into a frightening face and lit from within – there are uncountable types of other decorative gourdes, enough to make Martha Stewart swoon with envy.  And the culinary squash, too, has arrived. Giant Blue Hubbards.  Sugar Pumpkins. Delicatas. Butternuts. Acorns. Kabochas. Kuris. Dumplings. Turbans. Buttercups. Carnivals.  Bins of them at every major farm stand.  Crates of them loaded onto the paneled farm trucks rattling down the roads.   Flat bed trailers piled high with every sort of pumpkin known to Man.  Heaps of decorative Indian corn, wired for hanging on the doorposts. Straw bales, corn shooks, all ready for creating a Festive Fall Display on the front lawn.

Everyone does it.

And so it was that Roy and I made our Annual Mum and Gourd Run this weekend.  It is my habit to kill two birds with one stone, buy buying a massive quantity of beautiful winter squash…and then storing it by heaping it decoratively about the house.  My Interior Decor shrinks by the month.  Of course, we also have to get the mums (three for $10)…and then there’s the vitally important difference between Inside Pumpkins and Outside Pumpkins.  Inside pumpkins are there to be eaten, by us.  Outside pumpkins are there to be stolen by degenerate hipsters, or eaten by the squirrels.   Mums are to stay on the porch all season, but – and this is important – MUST be tossed out before the hard freezes set in consistently.  Otherwise, they freeze onto the porch and will still be there in the spring, looking vastly the worse for wear.

Roy is a tremendously good sport about all of this.  I don’t know whether he cares that the porch has pumpkins and mums. But he knows it’s important to me, and he hires himself along as the Brawn.

Besides.  It’s pumpkin and apple season and the other thing this means in New England is CIDER.  Specifically, Cider Donuts.  As they say in France, the specialite de la region.  So as we carouse from farm stand to farm stand in the quest for the perfect squash and mums, Roy is on the quest for the perfect Cider Donut.  It is at our last stop that he sees the Holy Grail.  Not only do they have homemade Cider Donuts…but this farm stand is also one of the neighborhood’s Sugar Shacks – source of all things sweet and mapley.  Which means they also have Maple Soft Serve.

As I execute the purchase of approximately 80 pounds of winter squash, Roy discovers that the marriage of the Cider Donut and the Maple Soft Serve is one that was surely made in heaven.  And, because he is amazing, he must share this with me.  Right now.  Despite the fact that my hands are coated in earth that has rubbed off from the hundreds of squash I am inspecting carefully for breaks in the skin and bruises.  So, bless his heart, he breaks off a piece of the donut, dips it into the soft serve, and holds it out for me to eat from his hand.  And here I thought all that time spent teaching him how to feed treats to Huey was wasted.

He was right.  It was insane, this combination.

Come to New England and find out for yourself.  In the meantime, here’s what we had for dinner last night.

Roasted Sausage and Squash
a good solid pound and a half (or more) of winter squash of your choice, peeled, seeded, and cut into small chunks.
2 big tart apples like Paula Reds, peeled, cored, and cut into smaller chunks than you cut the squash
1 onion, chopped
1 1/2 lb chicken sausages, fried up and cut into slices about a half-inch thick
a head of garlic, broken into cloves, and peeled
3 T olive oil (I use the butternut squash seed oil from Zingermans)
palmful of chopped fresh rosemary
a generous tablespoon of chopped fresh sage
short palmful of chopped fresh thyme
salt and pepper to taste
generous drizzle of balsamic vinegar

Heat oven to 450°F. Toss everything but the vinegar together, and load up into a large roasting pan that has been generously greased. I usually need two roasting pans. Roast until squash is tender about 30 minutes. Drizzle with vinegar. Serves 4.

Saturday Market

Yeah, that was right down the street.