Blessed are the Turkey-Makers

There are serious post-holiday blog entries to be written about multi-generational interactions with family, making a difference in the world and whether you should make the same stuffing each Thanksgiving because your children and grandchildren will cherish the Proustian memories it invokes long after you are gone.

 I feel this way whenever I make sweet potatoes with marshmallows on top,

despite the fact that a certain person in my household scoffs at this paean to the Thanksgivings of my youth, even though he has a strong Proustian response to the ridges in jellied canned cranberry sauce.

I married him anyway and serve it beside the fresh stuff. (Our daughters diplomatically eat both “mom’s” and “dad’s” cranberry sauce, but let the record show that they LOVE mom’s sweet potatoes with marshmallows on top, a dish I am confident will be eaten by my great-great grandchildren, long after the desire to eat anything from a can has been bred out of the family line).

Ideas for my serious post-holiday blog entry have been bubbling to the surface like soup dumplings for the past several days and I have been looking forward to setting them down on my screen and weaving them together.

But not today.  Today I am sick in bed.  In fact, I am typing this from my bed.  If you knew me you would be shocked to hear that I am in bed, as I’m one of those people who rarely gets sick and if I do, I keep functioning at full throttle.

Years ago, I began referring to people like me as turkey- makers:  we roll up our sleeves and pitch in without being asked,

We also know how to improvise

we make chicken matzoh ball soup for sick family and friends, we volunteer as a matter of course and we sometimes forget to take care of ourselves.

Not all turkey-makers are women and not all women are turkey-makers but, just as there seems to be a gender-related pre-disposition towards watching football and waiting for pie, the same can be said about turkey-makers.

Even when I’m not sick, one of my favorite ways to spend the day is cooking and writing.  So as a way to heal myself, since there is nobody around to make or bring me soup, I’m doing just that, with intermittent stints in bed.  Here are the highlights from a day in the life of a sick turkey-maker:

6:15 a.m. – begrudgingly awaken so I can make breakfast and pack lunch for the middle-schooler, who will surely complain about the injustice of having to get up so early after four days off from school.

7:30 a.m. – eye the butternut squash that did not get used during Thanksgiving weekend and peruse my many recipes for butternut squash soup.  Though I am sorely tempted by one I have not yet tried – Butternut Soup with Pear, Cider and Vanilla Bean from Molly Wizenberg’s book A Homemade Life, we have no cider and the goal is to avoid a trip to the store.  Instead I settle on the butternut squash soup from The Vineyard Kitchen by Maria Helm Sinskey.  If you are looking for holiday gifts, I recommend this seasonally-organized collection of recipes that always seem to turn out well.  I also recommend Molly’s book, for the stories as well as the recipes, and her charming blog Orangette.

9:15 a.m. – buoyed by the fact that daughter #2 woke up and got ready for school without a fuss, I head off to aerobics class with plenty of tissues in my pocket.

9:45 a.m. – back home again after realizing that jumping jacks, throbbing heads and runny noses are an unfortunate combination.  I throw the butternut squash in the oven and get into bed with the Sunday New York Times and a mug of Darjeeling tea.

10:45 a.m. – I’m out of bed, the squash is out of the oven and I decide to finally get around to making the ginger molasses pumpkin bread from Food 52 that I’d meant to have on hand for our holiday houseguests. I’m hoping that this can be my new go-to pumpkin bread to replace Joan Mondale‘s pumpkin bread recipe that was given to me when I moved to Washington, DC in 1982.   I go back to bed with my computer.

11ish  a.m. – As the spicy smell of the pumpkin bread makes its way upstairs and manages to penetrate my blocked nasal passages, I feel as comforted as if there were a Jewish grandmother in the house.  The long-forgotten country- western song I’m My Own Grandpa comes to mind when I remember that I am both patient and nurse.

11:45 a.m. – The Food 52 recipe comments warn that determining the “doneness” of the pumpkin cake is deceptive and it is easily undercooked.  I leave it in for fifteen extra minutes and peel and slice the squash.

12ish p.m. – While the bread cools I make a package of instant Tom Yom soup bought and kept on hand for just such an occasion.  I notice the noodles are green and are made with morohetya, which I have never heard of.  I have a hunch, which is confirmed, that morohetya is another word for melokheya, also known as Egyptian spinach, and the eponymous garlicky soup, which is one of Egypt’s most popular national dishes and one of the world’s best soups.  I wish I had some now. (You’ll find two different recipes by clicking on the related links).

12:30 p.m. – My husband, who has many fine qualities despite his appalling taste in cranberry sauce, calls to say hi and when he realizes I am sick suggests I stop cooking and take care of myself. I partially follow his advice and call S., now fully recovered from  pneumonia, and ask her to bring daughter #1 to tonight’s soccer tournament game at the other end of town at rush hour.  I feel better already.

I’m pretty sure the pumpkin bread is overcooked.

Here’s where things get tricky for a sick turkey-maker. I got so involved in cooking and writing that I forgot to go back to bed.  The kids will be home soon, I still have to make the butternut squash soup and the biscuits I’d planned to go with them, which I forgot to tell you about and which may be overly ambitious, even for me.  I also need to put together the graphics and links for this post and manage to get some rest so I can head out into the world tomorrow and be a productive member of society.

But I don’t want to leave you without a recipe. Before we had kids and had to ration our cooking of spicy foods, our favorite recipe to cure almost all ailments was Armenian Chicken and Lentil Soup with Dried Apricots.  We used to keep a supply on hand in the freezer all winter in Tupperware containers labeled ACS. I think I got the recipe from the Washington Post in 1994 or so.  The bit of recipe sleuthing I just did (instead of going back to bed) indicates that this recipe may have come from a book called Chicken Soup Cookbook by Janet Hazen.

And in case you were worried, I managed to salvage the pumpkin bread by spreading it with Peach Preserves with Vanilla and Bourbon, made by Deluxe Foods and purchased at our very own Ballard Sunday Farmer’s Market.  Check out their website for holiday gift ideas (they ship) and places to purchase.

For all the turkey- makers out there, this one’s for you.

Armenian Chicken and Lentil Soup with Dried Apricots

1 large onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 1/2 tablespoons sesame seeds

2 teaspoons each ground mace and cayenne pepper

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup dried red lentils, sorted and washed

12 cups chicken stock

1/2 cup minced, dried apricots

2 cups shredded cooked chicken

1/2 cup lemon juice

salt, pepper to taste

In a heavy-bottomed 6-quart saucepan, cook onion, garlic, sesame seeds and spices in olive oil over moderate heat for 5-7 minutes, stirring frequently.  Add lentils, chicken stock and apricots and bring to as boil over high heat.  Reduce heat to moderate and cook 40-50 minutes, until lentils are very tender. Add chicken and lemon juice and cook 5 minutes longer.  Season with salt and pepper and serve.

A well-loved recipe

Freeing My Inner Gloria

This weekend I had the honor of participating in the Ballard Writer’s Book Slam, featuring 22 writers from our neighborhood (must be all the coffee shops) reading for three minutes each as well as delicious food and drink.  The event was organized by Peggy Sturdivant, neighborhood champion and author of the At Large in Ballard column and blog.  We had a great turnout.  I encourage you to check out these fine authors.  

Sri Lankan Love Cake - as sticky and delicious as love itself. (you'll find the recipe in my previous post)

Here’s my three minutes of fame:

Shortly after I turned 50, I began taking a Zumba class at the Sonny Newman Dance Hall in Greenwood.  Taught by an infectious Peruvian woman named Ida, the participants come in many shapes, sizes, ages and nationalities and even include one 60 year-old transgender person in pink sweats. While we attempt a series of complicated salsa and meringue steps and the cha, cha, cha, Ida carries on a running commentary, translating the meaning of the songs. “Oh,” she wails.  “It is so sad!  He loves you, but he cannot have you, because you are promised to another.  But he says he will always wait for you.  Now esqueeze your butt chicks!”

I am intoxicated by the music, my classmates and especially by Ida, whose voice and personality remind me of Gloria, the passionate, outspoken buxom Colombian trophy wife played by Sofia Vergara on the sitcom Modern Family.  We all are. When a hip -hop band commands “If you’re sexy and you know it, clap your hands,” everybody makes some noise.

Not long after I began dancing Zumba, I found myself in the bathroom, brushing my teeth side-by-side with my husband, who had been away on a business trip.  He looked fondly down at me, in my cheerful green pajamas, and said “My wife, the pickle.”

Not me


He called in our twelve year-old daughter.  She is savvy enough to bank brownie points whenever possible, so when she saw the frozen look of horror on my face she said, “Actually mom, I think you look more like a snap pea.”

I’m pretty sure that was the moment I decided to liberate my inner Gloria.

The original plan was to dress like Gloria, talk like Gloria and act like Gloria solely for the benefit of my family, waiting for them when they came home from work and school.

My friend L, who is going through a divorce and knows a thing or two about personal transformation, had other ideas.  “You need to be Gloria all day.  You have to go to the grocery store as Gloria, pick the kids up from school as Gloria …”

I imagined myself in the organic produce section of the Ballard Market, leaning forward to reach a zucchini, in stiletto heels and a buttocks-hugging pencil skirt, ample cleavage spilling out of my tight blouse, calling for help:  “Excuse me, can you get me a tickitini???”

Though Ballard has its share of artists and tattooed moms and restaurants worthy of review in the New York Times, it still bears more than a passing resemblance to Lake Wobegon.

I couldn’t go through with it.

So I settled on being Gloria for Halloween and I started a blog instead.

As all of the writers in this room can attest, putting your work out there can be as intimidating as pretending to be Gloria in the Ballard Market.  There will be editors and agents and critics and inner voices who may tell you that your work isn’t good enough or that your book can’t be marketed to fit into one of today’s popular genres.

But as Michael Schein said at this gathering last year, if you want to write, write.  Don’t worry about whether anyone will read what you write, just write.

And if you think you are sexy enough, then dance the meringue, even if you are a 60 year-old transgender person in pink sweatpants or a 50 year-old minivan-driving mom who looks like a pickle.

Revel in your crunchy, sassy, half-sweet, half sourness and don’t forget to esqueeze your butt chicks with passion and with pride.

Seeing the World in a Grain of Rice

Last week was one of sugar highs and lows.  Halloween on Monday, resulting in way too many Snickers bars lying around the house in plain sight,

disheartening presentations on education reform Tuesday and Wednesday, and the early morning discovery of a dead rat at the bottom of the stairs,

The guilty party

an exhilarating Thursday (culminating in a satisfying European Chicken Night featuring a simple recipe for Chicken Dijon, courtesy of the October issue of Food and Wine magazine) and a dismal, rainy Friday in which we learned of the passing of our dear friend, Kim.

Saturday morning was brighter than expected. I headed to Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood to Book Larder, a new community cookbook store, to see Adam Gopnik, long-time New Yorker writer, and author of the new book The Table Comes First  Family, France and the Meaning of Food, a book he says is about how food comes to us from our hearts and minds.

Book Larder has gotten a lot of well -deserved press since it opened last month. Born from the passing of another Kim, Seattle book impresario Kim Ricketts, it’s a place for people who love food to come together and is an important addition to our city’s independent booksellers.

Adam Gopnik’s Paris to the Moon is one of the books that transformed me. I’m not sure whether Gopnik or one of his reviewers said it first, but his writing is about seeing the world in a grain of sand.

The book came out in 2000, when I was the mother of a toddler and soon-to-be- mother of a new baby and the way I viewed the world was already in the process of transformation. On our refrigerator hangs a Get Out of Jail Free Card, Good for a Reading by Adam Gopnik, placed there by my husband Jeff, who was watching me struggle to navigate the passage from world-traveling career woman to stay-at-home mother, and noticing how the small moments in life suddenly meant the world to me.  I’ve made use of the card every time Adam Gopnik has been to Seattle ever since.

You should know that Adam Gopnik comes across as a genuinely nice guy. Earlier in the week, I had attended a book presentation by another erudite East Coaster, who was arrogant and insulting to his audience.

Though Gopnik has been criticized for the denseness of his prose and smugness of his lifestyle and was even the subject of a New Republic book review with the opening sentence, “I sometimes wonder if Adam Gopnik was put on this earth to annoy,” in Book Larder’s intimate setting he confessed to reading recipes in bed (there were nods of recognition from around the room), admitted his kids eat junk food, and made it possible to believe that he, too, might possibly confront a dead rat at the bottom of the stairs and eat a Snickers for comfort afterwards, though he would then probably write about the origins of comfort food and reveal that the concept was the brainchild of Louis XIV.

The Sun King’s perfect Saturday included chocolate, shopping for shoes and kicking back with some chick lit.

Our friend Kim was a ruminator too, not the neurotic New York variation, but an outdoorsman, teacher and world citizen. After he was felled by a stroke and confined to a wheelchair, in near constant pain and with compromised vision and speech, eating was a chore for Kim.  One meal could take hours and no sooner was it cleaned up, then it was time for the laborious process to begin again.  Yet eating became one of Kim’s pure pleasures.  He cut a dashing figure in the serape he wore because he was always cold, wheelchair anchored in a patch of capricious Pacific Northwest sunshine, reaching with his good hand into a pouch around his neck where he kept a stash of chocolate.

When we visited Kim and his wife Judy, we would often bring food, and the ceremonial meals we shared became the highlight of our time together. At the table, Kim’s irreverent wit and keen intelligence trumped his physical incapacities. The essence of our friend remained unchanged.

The last time we saw him, we dined on smoked salmon, bialys, blueberries, Judy’s brownies and Kim’s favorite — oysters. Jeff reminded me that oysters were also the last food we shared with Kim shortly after he and Judy returned from doing peace mediation work in Africa, and a week or so before his stroke of lightning, four years ago.

Tomorrow night I will participate in an international potluck dinner at my daughter’s school, an event I conceived eight years ago, after a chance conversation with a Mexican father about chilaquiles, one of my favorite comfort foods, reminded me that food (like children) is the great equalizer.

The above link will take you to a recipe by Marilyn Tausend, author of the fantastic book Cocina de la Familia, and to whom I owe a huge public apology for never returning the back issues of Sunset magazine that she lent me many years ago.  I hear Ms. Tausend is working on a new cookbook.  I hope when it comes out, she’ll be hosted at Book Larder and I can make the proper amends.

I’ll be making Sri Lankan Love Cake for the international potluck, in honor of Kim and everyone else I’ve shared meals with.

You may feel about Adam Gopnik the way some people feel about oysters, but there’s no accounting for taste.

The important thing is that the people around your table touch your heart and your mind.

Rest in peace, dear friend

By now you’ve probably noticed that I don’t create my own recipes, I just collect them (think of me as the Arianna Huffington of the recipe world).  I am happy to have found a way to share my favorites.

I’ve added two new food-related sites to my blogroll:  The Garum Factory (check out their method for separating kale leaves from stems.  It was the most fun I had all week) and Food 52, Amanda Hesser’s online food community.  I got a good look at the new Food 52 cookbook and several other enticing food tomes and am hoping that anyone in my family at a loss for what to get me for Christmas, will give me a gift certificate to Book Larder.