Tuesday, December 16, 2014

December 16

Our long, winding, dead-end street has been transformed; despite its relative isolation, the road is unabashedly festive. The house with green lights switched to blue this year! The new family hung luminous red globes from a tree in their yard! In the last of the light I exchanged greetings with a neighbor on a stepstool, tie loosened, tacking lights into shrubs in a zigzag pattern.

Nelly ate her first candycane and her first bar of chocolate, both of which she ingeniously found in envelopes atop gifts under the Christmas tree. Thankfully, it was milk chocolate - not as dangerous for canines, I learned, as dark chocolate - and I’m very relieved to report she’s fine.

In three days, my sister and her family will arrive. My gift to myself is getting completely ready for Christmas, inside and out, before they get here. Our cards and gifts have been mailed and distributed and a constant stream of news and greetings arrives. This afternoon we found meringues sandwiched with Nutella and a Christmas mixtape CD left for us on our porch.

E.B. White's Christmas Greeting (via Elissa)

And a little something for you:

White Chili
adapted from Bon Appetit

This comes together quickly, and I can't imagine anyone not liking it. Perfect for a weeknight or anytime. I put some from tonight's dinner in the freezer for another time; maybe a lunch during my sister's visit.

1 pound skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into 1” pieces
Kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 poblano chile, seeds removed, chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
2 teaspoons ground cumin
4 cups chicken broth
2 15-oz. cans cannellini (white kidney) beans
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
Sour cream, cilantro, and lime wedges (for serving)

Season the chicken with salt and pepper, and then cut it into 1 inch pieces. Heat the olive oil in a Dutch oven or small stockpot over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and cook, turning occasionally, until it is browned all over, about 10 minutes. Transfer the chicken to a plate and set aside. Add the onion and poblano chile to the pot and cook over medium heat, stirring often, until the onion is softened, 8–10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the oregano and cumin and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the chicken broth, beans and their liquid, bay leaf, and chicken and bring to a simmer. Season to taste with salt and pepper and cook, partially covered, stirring occasionally, until the meat is cooked through and tender and the liquid is slightly thickened, 30–35 minutes. Season with lime juice and more salt and pepper. Serve with sour cream, cilantro, and lime wedges.

Yield: 6 servings

Thursday, December 11, 2014

December 11

I daydream about my home looking like this over the holidays.

I miss my grandparents all the time in all sorts of ways. Today I missed the box of pecans my grandmother Lorene used to send, from her tree, for the holidays. The thought made me then miss Alexi’s grandfather, who always sent maple syrup from his property in New Hampshire.

Nelly manages to make it Christmas all year long. The UPS truck inevitably begins tailgating us on our mid-morning walk as it stutters its way down the street. She won’t budge once she spots it; the driver always has a milkbone for her. She waits expectantly for him to catch up with us and then, bone in mouth, briskly trots toward home. If we happen to encounter Mr. UPS again she shamelessly double-dips, dropping the one he gave her earlier. He spoils her relentlessly. The neighborhood raccoons probably feast every night on our yardfull of buried bones.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

a gem

I seem to be working toward eating my body weight in citrus. This December habit of mine reminded me of a gem of a cake; if you were coming over, I’d bake it for us to share. I hope you won’t mind making it yourself - all you'll need is a hand whisk, a bowl, and a few ingredients.

rustic olive oil cake with (or without) honey syrup

slightly adapted from Dahlia Bakery Cookbook by Tom Douglas

This is one of the best cakes out there. Its crunchy top crust and rich, citrusy flavor are sublime. I don’t usually bother with the syrup; it really doesn't need embellishment.

vegetable oil spray, as needed for the pan
2 cups (243 grams) all-purpose flour, plus more for the pan
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 ¼ cups (285 grams) whole milk, at room temperature
¼ cup (2 ounces/57 grams) Grand Marnier
¼ cup (2 ounces/57 grams) freshly squeezed orange juice
Grated zest of 1 lemon
3 large eggs at room temperature
2 cups (381 grams) sugar
1 cup (213 grams) extra-virgin olive oil

Honey Syrup
½ cup (196 grams) honey
½ cup (127 grams) sugar
½ cup (113 grams) water
1 clove
1 strip of orange or lemon zest, about ½ x 4 inches, cut with a vegetable peeler

sweetened whipped cream

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Spray a 9-inch cake pan with vegetable oil spray. Cut a circle of parchment paper to fit in the pan, spray the paper, and then place the paper in the bottom of the pan. Flour the pan, shaking out the excess. Set aside. 

In a medium sized bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and baking soda. Stir in the salt. Set aside.

In a small bowl, combine the milk, Grand Marnier, orange juice, and lemon zest. Set aside. 

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs and sugar with a balloon whisk, by hand, until well-combined and smooth. 

Gradually add the olive oil in a steady stream while whisking the egg mixture, as if you were making a mayonnaise.

After you have emulsified the oil into the egg mixture, start adding the dry ingredients in three additions, alternating with the wet ingredients in two additions, beginning and ending with dry. As you make each addition of dry and wet ingredients, whisk by hand just until the batter is smooth, without overbeating, before adding the next. Scrape down the bowl as needed. 

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Give the pan a couple of taps on the counter to settle any air bubbles in the batter. 

Bake the cake until it is a deep golden brown, slightly domed, and probably cracked on top, about 70 minutes. A cake tester should come out clean of batter but with a few moist crumbs. Err on the side of baking too long than too little; if in doubt, leave it in a few more minutes.

While the cake is baking, make the syrup, if you plan to use it. (The syrup can also be made in advance, stored in the refrigerator, and then reheated to room temperature for serving.) To make the syrup, combine the honey, sugar, water, clove and citrus zest in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar and adjusting the heat as necessary to keep the liquid at a simmer. Simmer until reduced by almost half and as thick as a light syrup, 10 to 12 minutes. You should have about ¾ cup of syrup. Remove the pan from the heat and pour the syrup into a container to cool to room temperature. Remove the clove and zest and discard. 

Remove the pan from the oven and allow to cool on a wire rack for about 15 minutes. To unmold, run a small knife around the edges of the cake. Place a plate over the cake pan and invert the pan. The cake should slide right out. Peel off the parchment circle and invert again. Allow the cake to cool on the wire rack until it is only slightly warm or at room temperature before slicing. 

To serve, drizzle each slice with honey syrup and a dollop of whipped cream.

The cake will stay moist for few days. Cover only the cut end to avoid losing the crunch of the top layer.

Yield: one 9-inch cake

Saturday, December 6, 2014

December 6

I just got a new phone. I don’t care about technology for its own sake and I’m not curious about upgrades and new features, but my battery stopped holding its charge. I read all the time on my phone; I always seem to be waiting for something to start or end and my water bottle, wallet, keys and phone are all I can reliably manage to bring with me. I bought one with a bigger screen to improve my reading experience. I love it.

Yesterday evening I dropped Abbott off to dance the night away, or at least a couple of hours of it, and then parked in the alley behind the school to wait for him. It was surprisingly joyous absorbing what made its way through the walls: kids loudly singing along to one song after another; a raucous, giddy chorus. I felt an overwhelming sense of well-being as I settled in with my phone and a few of Molly's recommendations. It felt like Christmas. Alexi and I happened to live in that same neighborhood over a decade ago, and as I caught fleeting glimpses of sparkle and glamour in the shivering passersby in holiday attire I recognized my life of more than a decade ago, but I didn’t miss it.

I set an alarm using my new device and chose a new-to-me ringtone, By the Seaside. I woke with the feeling that today had a carnival air to it, and it lingered all day long.

Monday, December 1, 2014

December 1

After a breakfast of leftover pie we headed to school subdued, as we always are upon returning from a holiday, blinking like moles as the sun rose and then glittered blindingly on the sheen of snow lightly blanketing everything. In the car we've been listening to All the Light We Cannot See, a continuous juxtaposition of darkness and light; this morning I realized what an advent story it is, if ever there was one.

I stopped at the grocery store on the way home, and when I saw the produce clerk stocking grapefruit from Texas and leafy satsumas, I felt like cheering.

Happy December.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

November 26

The scent of butter emanated from my hands as I drove Abbott to school this morning. I made pie crusts before I scrambled eggs and toasted cornbread for our breakfast; later today Cal, who doesn’t have school this week, will help me make pies. Yesterday we made cranberry chutney, and the cornbread we'll use in our stuffing.

My family moved from Texas to Alaska the year I started school. That Thanksgiving, in addition to the craft my school-aged maturity allowed for  – tracing a hand on construction paper and then fashioning the shape into a male turkey flourishing his tail feathers – my Alaskan classmates and I shared a simulation of the first Thanksgiving. I think I even wore some semblance of a pilgrim costume to school for the occasion, though Native American attire would have been just as historically accurate for me, given the few odd Cherokee relatives on my dad’s side. I ate salmon for the first time that day, but I thought it was deer. Who knows what I thought the deer on my plate was. After school I told my mother, “You'll never believe what I ate at school today. Did you know deer meat is light pink?”

Why we say grace.

Best wishes to you and yours. xoxo