Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Pantry Orphans

I've mentioned a few times that I've been doing the Marie Kondo method of tidying.  (I'll probably do a blog post about the whole experience at some point.  I have lost my momentum at the moment.) According to Kondo, food counts as clutter and you must examine and toss your unwanted food the same way she wants you to throw away the clothes that don't spark joy.

Throwing perfectly good food in the garbage, doesn't seem like a smart thing to do, however, I did find all kinds of random foodstuffs cluttering the shelves.  The only way to get rid of it was to eat it, so I grouped all our "pantry orphans" on the dining room table and planned our weekly menus around them.

OMG, this picture is so terrible, and I can't recreate it because we have eaten most of this

Here's what I had to work with:
Oyster sauce
Half a bag of egg noodles that Seamus brought home from Germany
Rice noodles
Can of water chestnuts
Half a bag of black-eyed peas
Slivered almonds
Half box of lasagna.  (WHY can't there be lasagna packages that are just enough for one 9 x 13 pan?)
Can of anchovies
Small bag of mung beans
Quarter of a bag of butterscotch chips
Jar of roasted red peppers
Can of Campbell's tomato soup
Rosewater - noticed later that it expired a year ago.  But it can still be used as a "linen spray."  Bonus!
Chocolate "liquor sauce"
Pomegranate molasses
Partial bag of marshmallows
Asian egg noodles
Home-canned jam in mystery flavor
Home-canned pickled peaches
Home-canned pickled green beans
Home-canned chutney--jars and jars of it
Nutritional yeast
Korean hot pepper powder
Asian garlic/chili paste
Wisconsin mustard that I brought home from business trip
Whole wheat pastry flour (WHY did I saddle myself with this?)
Tiny amount of rye flour

So I realized that listing what I cooked with these things is actually even more boring than the list itself.  I made lasagna with the lasagna?  Genius!  In the end, we ate a lot of stir fries, a beef-Campbell's tomato soup-egg noodle dish that my mother used to make, hoppin John (with the black-eyed peas), and assorted cookies to use up the raisins, nuts, and the whole wheat pastry flour.  The marshmallows were so stale, we threw them away.  The rye flour, I incorporated into a pizza crust, and the jar of roasted peppers went into some delicious French-inspired baguette sandwiches.

We still have a few things we haven't eaten, such as the mystery jam, which I think is cherry butter.  I seem to buy a lot of condiments and sauces, which is super-wasteful if you buy them for one recipe and never need them again.  I need to stop doing that, although at this point, fish sauce and other Asian condiments have become staples in our house.

Rounding up and eating all the pantry orphans was a satisfying little project.  It felt like an accomplishment and it taught me a few things about my food-buying habits.  What would your pantry orphans be, if you went looking for them?

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The Bucolic Plague

As I've mentioned before, I have this fantasy of chucking it all and moving to a farm and living off the land.  To this end, I added several books to my list about people who have done just that.  Unfortunately, so far, none of these books has helped to firm my resolve and the people who wrote them had some kind of edge to help them succeed.  For example, Kristin Kimball, the author of The Dirty Life, (which I wrote about last year) was married to an experienced farmer.  And Josh Kilmer-Purcell, author of The Bucolic Plague, had money, a high-powered job in advertising, and a partner who worked for MARTHA FREAKING STEWART, and didn't even need to know much about farming because they hired a farmer to keep the farm going while they spent their weekdays in Manhattan.  And that's not the worst part.  The worst part is that despite having tons of money and their own hired farmer, it was still really, really difficult to make a success of their bucolic life.  So how in the world is a nurse/analyst, who has never lived outside of a city and who's afraid of her own chickens, supposed to succeed as a farmer?  (Okay, okay, they're not exactly my chickens, they're the communal chickens.  And I'm not exactly afraid of them, I just think they're icky and I don't like the twitchy one who pecks my ankles.)

So, Josh and Brent are this high-powered Manhattan couple, and one day, on their annual apple-picking excursion upstate, they stumble across an impeccable 200-year old mansion that just happens to be for sale.  It's expensive, but they buy it anyway, intending to use it as a weekend residence.  They're not planning to farm it, but then a local farmer asks if he can please stay on as caretaker, and oh-by-the-way, he has a whole bunch of goats who need a place to stay too. Then Josh decides to put in a garden and bam! they're farmers.  Sort of.  They continue to commute to the city, but gradually, the pressure of owning the Beekman Mansion starts to get to them.  First of all, Martha Stewart threatens to come up for a visit, which creates an enormous amount of pressure to keep the house and garden perfect at all times.  They start a blog, and a goat milk soap business, but these also add pressure to live a perfectly crafted life.  Then come the financial difficulties and relationship problems.

I don't want to give it all away, but ultimately they manage to keep the Beekman Mansion through the financial crash of 2009 and start a mercantile, Beekman 1802.  The Bucolic Plague is funny, mostly, but sometimes a bit horrifying.  The reader is also given an inside glimpse of Martha Stewart. I know this may come as a shock, but Martha is kind of a bitch. It just goes to show, just because you're a doctor and an MBA, and you work for Martha Stewart, and own one of the most gorgeous historic houses in upstate New York, life still isn't exactly a bed of roses.

Monday, February 15, 2016

February Appreciation

February is pretty unpopular as months go.  It's the time of year when people start groaning about how they wish it were spring.  It's also home to Valentine's Day, the most ambivalent of holidays.  Does anyone see any use for Valentine's Day, other than as an excuse to eat pink-frosted cookies and chocolate?  My high school, which was generally a pretty nice place, had a sadistic Valentine's Day ritual in which boys from neighboring schools could have flowers delivered to girls at our school, usually in the middle of class for maximum envy and sadness.  Another bad thing about February: Mardi Gras.  Oh sure, Mardi Gras is all fun and partying, but 99% of us are just irritated that we can't take a vacation in New Orleans.

February view from my window

All that said, in my opinion, February has some real assets.  It might be my favorite month.  First is St. Brigid's day, February first.  Even if I didn't have a daughter named Brigid, I would welcome the feast day of a patroness of Ireland and celtic goddess.  St. Brigid's day is associated with pagan festivals concerning the return of spring.

On February 3rd is St. Blaise's day.  Growing up, this was one of my favorite days because of the blessing of the throats.  Our whole school would troop into the church for mass and at one point would march up to the aisle to the priest, who blessed each of our throats with a pair of crossed candles.  Ash Wednesday follows soon after St. Blaise's day, and while it signals the beginning of Lent, it is still diverting.  I used to enjoy the Ash Wednesday service almost as much as the blessing of the throats.  And Lent isn't so bad.  It offers an opportunity to try to be a better person.

Finally, the number one reason that February ranks high in my book is because it is when the days become appreciably lighter.  I don't mind the cold and snow and other winter inconveniences, but I hate the darkness, particularly the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas, when it's already dusk when I leave work for the day.

I'm deficient in vitamin D (officially confirmed by labs) and even though I take a supplement, the lack of sun in winter makes me feel crazed and depressed and my psoriasis flares up worse than ever.  So February, as noted by the Celts, signals the return of the sun.  February is a month for reveling in the winter sunlight, making plans and thinking happy thoughts while still enjoying cozy winter things like knitting and hot drinks and hibernating.  And today, there is a fresh fall of snow, to remind us that it is still winter, which in my opinion is another point in February's favor.

I hope you are enjoying your February.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Appointment in Samarra

Every generation thinks it invented sex and drugs and rock and roll, the baby boomers in particular.  In John O'Hara's Appointment in Samarra, (1934) we see that perhaps it was our grandparents' generation that started the ball rolling in this respect.

John O'Hara was born in 1905, the same year as my maternal grandmother and this novel is about people of his generation.  Not that Appointment in Samarra is a generational novel.  I was just struck by the behavior of the characters, who, had they been real, would have been my grandparents' contemporaries.

Set in a small Pennsylvania town, at Christmastime, 1929; the Great Depression is just getting started and people, particularly those associated with the town Cadillac dealership, are worried about money. It deals with the inexplicable self-destructive urge that sometimes propels us.  We all do things that are harmful to ourselves, perhaps not understanding why, and yet unable to stop.  Julian English, the central character in Appointment in Samarra, opens the novel by tossing a drink into the face of the one man in town who might have enough money to carry them through the depression.  He does this at a country club party on Christmas Eve, setting off a gossip storm in the town.  One damaging act leads to the next, and Julian finds himself in a compromising position with the local mafia boss's girlfriend, and then estranged from his wife.  English's downward spiral leads to a swift conclusion, and the reader is left a bit breathless at how quickly an ordinary life can go wrong.

I read this novel back at Christmas, which goes to show how behind I am on my book posts.  I got it off of Modern Library's list of the top 100 books in English.  John O'Hara is certainly an American writer of note and I remember seeing his name on the spines of several of the books in my grandparents' and my mother's libraries, although I tend to confuse him with John Cheever.  Read Appointment In Samarra if you want to see what intelligent people were reading in the 1930s.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Knitting Therapy

I have been a bad blogger lately and I'm sorry.  My brain has been mostly occupied with learning my new job, so there's not much left for thinking up new blog content.  I mostly feel like this:

On top of learning a new set of skills, there was another big, scary upgrade,  a week of night call, (last vestige of my old job) and the holidays.  Then there was the morning I got up for work and discovered that Phoebe had redecorated the couch, living room, sun room, and upstairs landing with vomit and diarrhea. Also, Jon spent a day in the ER having chest pain. He turned out to be fine and we think Phoebe injured him on one of her walks.  Phoebe again! Cherchez la hound! One of my children was plagued for weeks with assorted ailments, which just the other day, after multiple doctor's appointments, we learned are caused by dairy and almond allergies.  And if that isn't enough, Matt Bellassai hasn't made a new Whine About It movie in weeks.  I need reassurance that I'm not the only person suffering from trivial things.

To cope, I took up knitting, but that quickly became another obsession and I am driven to finish the sweater I'm working on to the point of depriving myself of sleep to meet daily self-imposed knitting quotas.

What five weeks of obsessive knitting can do.
That's fingering weight yarn, by the way.