“Pop” goes the weasel

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‘My popovers? Not so much.’

First, full disclosure. The popovers portrayed in the photo at the top of this post are not of my making. They were produced by The Dude’s talented Cousin Christine, who is the daughter of the Best Cook — and Popover Maker — on the Planet Earth, Dude Man’s Aunt Eleanor.

Aunt Eleanor too busy enjoying a toast at her 90th Birthday Party to make any popovers

Why, back in the Olden Days, when I had first met The Dude, we would look forward all year to an Eleanor Christmas, when we would gobble up not only perfect popovers, but sublime roast beef accompanied by some crazy-good potato dish that was sort of like scalloped potatoes but on some whole other level of deliciousness.

(I could go on and on, but I promised I would write this post before lunch, and this is torture.)

I knew I couldn’t replicate the whole menu, but, silly me, I thought because Eleanor said that popovers were “easy” and that she “just threw them together” that I could make them too.

Dude, scanning the horizon for piping hot popovers. Er, make that piping plovers

Hah. I tried every recipe I could find, including — yes — Eleanor’s own. But my popovers flopped. They were wimpy and chewy and blech. Lucky for me, The Dude eats anything and everything so he didn’t really notice that my popovers were less than fantastic. Well, except for the time the oven caught on fire because the butter I’d greased the pan with overflowed onto the gas jets and burst into flames. That batch he noticed.

Popovers were not a Peterson Family Food Tradition. Lutefisk, yes. But I felt no compulsion to master that dish. See ‘Krampus is Coming to Town’ for deets

I stowed the popover pan in the cabinet on top of the refrigerator (where all sad utensils go to die) and tried to forget. It was actually pretty easy after Aunt Eleanor moved to Kentucky to live with her daughter, since no one else we knew made popovers. At least not when we were their dinner guests. Oh, I heard a rumor that her son Jack made a mean popover, but never got to taste any evidence. He lives in Florida most of the time; for all I know he’s whipping them up every night for his Palm Beach Pals.

Now pie I can make. After years of experimentation, I finally found the Holy Grail of Crust. And yes, Dude Man is having pie for breakfast here

So why, after all this time, did I try making popovers? Eleanor again. She moved away, true. But lo and behold, her daughter Christine turned out to be the apple that fell not far from the Culinary Tree. According to Eleanor, with whom I have frequent phone chats, Christine bangs out that roast beef dinner — complete with that heavenly potato concoction — on a regular basis. And makes stunning popovers to go with. (Again, see perfect examples in that photo up top. If you can stand it, that is.)

Something else I do know how to make. I can whip up a great batch of chili with my eyes closed. See ‘Paradise by the Kitchen Light’ for my secret

Eleanor: “Do you still have that popover pan?” Me: mumbling noncommittally E: “Well, you should get it out and make some popovers for The Dude (only she didn’t call him ‘The Dude’) for Christmas dinner.” Me: “I’m not sure I have your recipe anymore.” (Notice Lutheran Lie here; “I’m not sure I have the recipe.” Not “I don’t have the recipe.”) E: “Oh, don’t use that recipe. Christine found the perfect popover recipe on Cook’s Illustrated. I’ll get her to send it to you. But, oh. It won’t get to you in time.” (Aunt E still believes in clipping and mailing. She is an absolute dear, but doesn’t believe in technology like my internet-savvy mother.)

My Mom, not making popovers, but wielding her iPad and iPhone at the same time

“No worries, Eleanor,” I say. “I’ll google it.” “You’ll what?” “Never mind. I’ll find it. And I’ll text Christine when I do.” “What?

After some chat about books and politics and whatnot, we wished each other “Merry Christmas,” and after we hung up I set about googling.

Well! Turns out that one can find the Cook’s Illustrated popover recipe — and even read tantalizing portions of it — but one must get a subscription to get access to the whole thing. So I did. Signed up for a free trial subscription, downloaded the recipe and printed it out.

My beloved Garland Stove. Julia Child had this stove. Not this specific one, but still. Note two, count ’em two, ovens. One for the pot roast, the other for the popovers

I can’t ethically reprise it here, but suffice it to say that, even though Eleanor had sworn it was “easy” and had “only three ingredients,” this recipe reads like a chemistry experiment. The butter must be melted and “slightly cooled.” The milk must be “low-fat” and heated to “110 degrees.” (Who takes the temperature of milk?) Bread flour is called for, which my IGA does not stock. (Well, not true. In theory they stock it; it’s just never there when I am.) One must whip eggs till “frothy and light.” One must let the batter “sit for one hour.”

Well. I did it. Made those darned popovers. For insurance, I also made pot roast. I know how to make a fabulous pot roast. See “This Christmas is Going to Pot(roast)” for my method

The popovers turned out so well that I decided to make them for New Year’s dinner too. I swear I did everything just the same but, you guessed it, they were flops. (I would say “flopovers”, but they didn’t rise high enough to flop.)

Another shot of the successful popover batch — before they got devoured

And, to add insult to injury, when I tried to cancel my free Cook’s Illustrated trial, I had to do so by phone. And the wait time on hold — I kid you not; they told you this — was twenty minutes. Hah. Was I daunted? I put that phone on speaker and spent my hold time finding photos for this post. So there! And when the Nice Lady asked me why I was canceling my free subscription, I told her the truth: That I wanted that popover recipe, got that popover recipe — and that’s all she wrote.

Lunch. At last.

Amagansett, New York. January 2021

 

 

 

This Christmas is going to pot (roast)

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‘It’s high time to bring back that classic.’

As I wrote in my sort-of-whiny and somewhat-navel-gazing post last week, I’ve practiced a rather opt-out attitude toward the Holidays in the past few years.

Some years my “decorating” consisted of switching the turkey napkins for the reindeer ones

I remember only too fondly and well the famous Marilyn Christmasses celebrated at my late great Gramma Peterson’s when I was a kid. Nat King Cole on the stereo. Gumdrop tree on the table. A luxurious evergreen so bushy and tall Aunt M would often have to crop it so it’d fit in the living room. (We believed her when she told us the top, complete with angel, was in the bedroom overhead.) 

A Marilyn Christmas Classic: The Cousin Lineup

After that, during Dude Man and my Early Married Years, there were the amazing Aunt Eleanor Christmasses: lobster, shrimp and, if you saved room, an incredible roast beef dinner complete with popovers. Gramma Whitmore, who made it till a week before her hundredth birthday, would hold court while Eleanor cooked, champagne glass in hand.

Festive Whitmores live it up at an Eleanor Christmas

Then, when The Child entered our lives, we marked the Season with our Tree Trim Party. (See “(N)o Tannenbaum”) Where, like Tom Sawyer, I tricked my friends into doing something I didn’t enjoy (substitute tree decorating for fence painting), then rewarded them with a pot roast dinner with all the trimmings. This Seasonal Highlight was repeated for nigh on 15 years.

Christmas Crackers were deployed — and crowns worn — at Tree Trim

Time, as is its wont (a favorite word, “wont”) marches on. And those Christmasses are gone. With all those wonderful traditions haunting my memories, it’s hard to muster the proper spirit to establish a new one. So, instead, we’ve focussed on Thanksgiving, and sort of glossed over Christmas. Some years Dude Man and I even fled the country.

In a rare year that we did not flee the country, we got Chinese Takeout for Christmas Dinner

Last year, though, I managed to rustle up some pot roast for The Child and the BF (now The Beau, praise the Lord) before we left for Christmas on the Amazon. I hadn’t made pot roast in years — had to call my Mom to remind me how to do it. But it turned out so well that The Beau begged me to make it again when they (safely; pandemic precautions having been made) visited this summer. Me: “Sorry; I adore you, but pot roast is just not happening in August.

Last Christmas, when we had a tiny tree and a large pot roast

In fact, The Beau loved the pot roast so much that I “gifted” him my cast iron pot roast pot. (I just had to say “gifted,” a term I find vaguely hilarious. Why not just say “gave,” a perfectly good word that already exists?) He likes to cook, and, besides, we were downsizing. Now, ironically, that same cast-iron pot, after having been lugged to Boston in a backpack on a train, got lugged right back here this summer and stored in our attic for the time when The Affianced Couple is no longer living in an RV. (See “Her Personal Truck” for cozy details.)

Before the pot roast pot got stored in our attic, it did pandemic duty as a no-knead-bread pot

Incidentally, The Child just texted me wanting my pot roast recipe. She’s up in Canada chez Beau’s Clan after having successfully quarantined and I guess she wants to impress them. Fingers crossed she can locate a suitable pot. The one in the attic is way too heavy to ship.

Meanwhile, guess what I picked up at the IGA just this morning? Yup, a nice chuck roast that I plan to “pot.” I decided it was high time to resurrect that Holiday Classic. Who cares if it’s just the two of us? The leftovers taste mighty fine. If we have any, that is.

We will certainly have no leftovers of this

Amagansett, New York. December 2020

 

 

It’s beginning to look a bit like Christmas

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‘I Holiday Cheer myself up with a (very) little decorating’

I flunked Plank.

“No no no! my indefatigable PT instructor Jennifer cried, while Zoom-watching me flounder on the floor demonstrating my form, such as it was. “The Plank is not for everyone,” she added, hoping to soothe my fragile ego as she deleted it from my program.

Toned-by-Jennifer Me, decked out in Tracksmith duds

I may have flunked Plank, but still I’m set to graduate from PT at the end of the month. I should be thrilled that I have made such fantastic progress. I can now rock a pair of Tracksmith tights like nobody’s business. (And my back? Oh, it’s better.) But I have bonded with Jennifer the PT Girl; she’s seen me sweat and “squeeze my bootie.”

The Dude shows off his Holiday Bootie

“I already miss you!” I cried at the end of our session last week.

There’s was only one thing to do: decorate.

Let’s start in the kitchen, where I dragged out the Christmas Plate. And put the one remaining almond rocha on it to drive The Dude crazy. (I hid it last week after he’d polished off the rest)

Those of you who’ve followed me over the years know that I hate to decorate. So much so that I used to have a party where I would treat friends to champagne while they decorated the tree — then reward them with a big ole pot roast dinner when they were done. (See “Deck the Halls with Bough of Holly” for scrumptious details.)

The reward for decorating my tree

That’s how “I” decorated until Her Childness left for college. Then I basically didn’t bother. She didn’t get home for Winter Break until basically the Night Before Christmas, and no, I didn’t want to have one without her — either the Party or the Tree.

Candle(s) as Tree. A theme repeated many times

So we got by with slapdash decor for years, reverting to our Little-Tree-in-a-Pot formula we’d followed before The Child’s advent. Honestly, the Amagansett property, which belonged to the Whitmore Parents back then, is studded with ex-Christmas Trees in Pots.

And in the City? Well, some years it was just Bowls of Shiny Objects or maybe, just maybe, Lights on The Mantel.

Last year’s decor was particularly spare. The apartment was Being Shown to prospective buyers, and it had been staged beyond all recognition. (See “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” for sordid details.) When I mentioned to our real estate agent that I’d bought a tree, she asked, “How big is this tree?” Then went on to suggest rather strongly that we do no further decorating. (“Twist my arm,” I thought, but did not say.)

Can you find the Christmas Tree in this picture?

I must admit that all those years of bare bones stripped-down Christmasses didn’t really bother me, partly because (again, as you Readers know only too well) Thanksgiving is the Holiday I really love. (See “Turkey Shoot” for irrefutable reasons why.) In fact, some years we even skipped Christmas by going on a trip. (The Child was fine with this arrangement once she met The Beau and had his family to celebrate with. See “I’ll Be (at Somebody Else’s) Home for Christmas” for *sniff* details.)

Christmas on the Amazon River. Yes, fish was served. But also turkey! (And champagne)

But this year Thanksgiving was rather a wash. Oh, it was lovely, what there was of it. After all, what’s not to like about a turkey dinner with all the trimmings? (Turkey trimmings being much more my style than Christmas ones.) But it was, well, kind of sparse.

Last year’s extremely non-sparse, extremely fun Thanksgiving

I think The Dude felt the same way; he came home last weekend with not only a Christmas Tree (small, in a pot, but still) but also a poinsettia of rather monstrous proportions.

Holy poinsettia! No decorations needed (!)

So I went up to the attic and dug out the lights and some other festive stuff.

There’s that bowl of ornaments again. (Oh, and the Christmas Tree — there in the distance)

Voila!

Oh, and lest we forget. The Ken and Barbie House got its own small (but festively effective) infusion of the Christmas Spirit. And we didn’t have to lift a finger — except to turn it on.

Thank you, Elf Theresa, for a much-appreciated surprise

Amagansett, New York. December 2020

 

Right party, wrong hosts

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‘The strange case of the Other Erica and Kevin’

Thanksgiving was (sob) over, which always makes me sad. But we were starting to get intriguing Paperless Post invitations in our inboxes, which always makes me happy. I do so love a party, especially a holiday party. (Say, maybe I should rethink my choice of Thanksgiving as the World’s Best Holiday. No one ever throws a Thanksgiving Party.)

Thanksgiving’s no turkey, mind you, but it does rather lack in actual Paperless Post-style parties

But back to those invitations. I’d just clicked on the little birdie to “view invitation,” and said to The Dude, “Remember that nice Erica and Kevin? They’ve invited us to a Holiday Party!” “Gee, that’s great,” responds Mr. Man, peering at the address listed on the invitation. “I guess they moved back to New York. Gosh, it’ll be fun to catch up!” “And, hey. We get to go to a party!” I added.

I do love a party. Here I am with Fellow Revelers at some event festive enough for champagne, feathers — and a tiara

I was excited, so I added a little note to our positive RSVP: “It’ll be great to see you and catch up!” To which Erica replied, “So much to celebrate!”

See, Erica and Kevin are this couple The Dude went to Dartmouth with way back when. So “way back when” that Erica was one of the first women admitted to Dartmouth. (It used to be an all-male institution, so notoriously “all-male-ish” that it inspired the movie “Animal House”.) When Erica and her five or six equally brave fellow female students entered the institution in their sophomore year, their fellow (male) students called them, not-so-affectionately, the Co-Hogs.

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A Merry Minimalist Christmas

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‘And a Happy New Decade’

Yes, yes. I’ve told you enough already about the Downsizing. (For those of you out of the loop, blogwise, The Dude and I are soon to move from a normal-sized New York apartment to what I call The Ken and Barbie House. Which is itty-bitty, to say the least. And I do mean the least.)

Floorplan of K & B House. Yes, that’s a 6×6 kitchen

But have I told you about the Staging? In order to move into the teensy apartment, we have to sell our normally-sized apartment. And, in order to sell it, our arms were twisted to Stage it. “Staging” means you, basically, get rid of anything in your home that gives any clues to your personality: photos, artwork, memorabilia. This also (at least in our case) meant getting rid of anything that provides comfort and coziness: carpets, pillows, lamps.

Stripping the living room. Only things left are the piano and the cat bed

“Our” living room, after the Stagers had their way. Sigh

Living in a staged apartment is rather like living in a hotel room. The stuff isn’t yours (those are rented couches; the coffee table isn’t ours either) and god forbid you spill anything. It’s also rather echo-y and noisy, what with the carpets and curtains gone. And don’t get me started about where on earth to put a cocktail — all my end tables were banished.

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“Hey, Aunt Marilyn! Everybody’s up!”

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‘Missing the Most Marvelous Aunt the World Has Ever Known’

The quote serving as title of this story came from the wee toddler lips of my Oldest Younger Brother Scott. When he was very small he would march into our Aunt Marilyn’s room very early in the morning and announce that “everybody” was up — “everybody” meaning him.

That’s my Aunt Marilyn standing in front of my Mom. She wasn’t much more than a toddler herself in this photo. But I bet she was a lot of fun, even then

See, when Aunt Marilyn was in the house you wanted her up and around and with you at all times. She was that much fun. So much fun to be around that we kids would actually fight over who got to sit next to her at family dinners. (I only realized years later that we were unintentionally hurting our other perfectly-good aunts’ feelings — not to mention our very fun mother’s — by doing this.)

Two sisters and their mom, my Gramma P

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Sitting Pretty

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‘I have a seriously addictive Thing about chairs’

Right now, there are twenty-one chairs sitting (if it’s not too silly to think of a chair as “sitting”) in my apartment. Which, speaking of sitting, means a lot of places to rest one’s weary bones. The extremely cute bird-themed perch in the photo at the top of this post — the one with the extremely cute kitty enthroned thereupon — isn’t one of them, since it isn’t a chair, but a hassock.

Another shot of Wombat with that hassock. This was when Wom was a baby and the hassock had tassles. Three guesses why I removed the tassles

No, a chair has a back, and legs, and sometimes even sides — and it seats one person (or one pet). I also have a couple of benches in this apartment. Which don’t count either, since two people can (in theory, anyway) sit on a bench.

Nope. Not a chair. This is a bench with a lion sitting on it. Well, a lion on a pillow. That’s a chair in the left background

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Chop Phooey

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‘All I got for Christmas was egg foo young’

We were in a cab the afternoon of Christmas Eve when we saw Santa driving home from a hard day of ho-ho-ho-ing. We’d just seen Free Solo, which is an absolutely amazing movie about this guy Alex Honnold who climbed 3200 feet up the sheer face of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park using just his hands and feet — no ropes! no nothing! — but even after that it was still pretty exciting to see the Jolly Old Elf himself in all his red-suited, white-bearded glory at the wheel of his Chrysler mini-van.

Another Santa we saw this season. This Santa was spotted in his driveway, having just ridden in on the back of a Corvette convertible

No doubt Santa was thinking about the nice home-cooked dinner he was going to have that night in his North-Pole-like outpost in Queens (he was in the traffic lane for the Bridge) before heading out in his sleigh.

We Whitmores were also looking forward to home and our traditional pot roast, a small version of which we three (yes, The Child was home this yearwere planning to polish off before opening presents and hanging out by the fire. (Being of the Swedish persuasion, I’ve Swedishly persuaded The Dude that Christmas Eve gift opening is more fun than the Christmas Morning version.) Continue reading

A very Marilyn Christmas

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‘A Holiday Tribute to an Aunt I bet Yule wish was yours’

I was feeling a touch of the Christmas Blues the other day. Remembering The Old Days and how we kids used to peer out the car windows at the Christmas trees lighting up the picture windows of the houses in the small towns along Route 50 on the way up to Gramma’s house. And how, once we got there, we’d run as fast as we could to the Tree to see just how big it was and to shake the wrapped presents to guess what was in them.

I think I liked pressing my face against windows. Here I am smudging things up at Gramma’s

When Christmas Blue, what do you do? Well, I called my Mom. (Thank goodness I still have one.) She knew exactly what I was talking about, and exactly what I was missing: The Marilyn Christmas. Continue reading

“Life is short. Eat dessert first.”

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‘Words of Wisdom from One Who Is Older Than Dirt’

Yesterday I was with some super-swell women friends at a really nice Christmas lunch — the kind of Christmas lunch where your plate has a festive little foil-wrapped treat placed right there next to your fork by your thoughtful holiday hostess.

Well. The oh-so-elegant and beautifully-dressed woman seated next to me reached right for her shiny red-and-green-befoiled peppermint bark, unwrapped it, and ate it — not only before eating her lunch, but before she’d even ordered.

I must say that I was very impressed.

See, I’m the kind of person who promised myself when I was young that when I finally grew up I would eat dessert first and have sex every chance I got.

Needless to say, I haven’t kept either promise. Not very well, anyway.

The not-eating-dessert-first part had to do with wanting to maintain a svelte silhouette, something that mattered to me more as a matter of economics than vanity. I reasoned that, if I didn’t change size, then I wouldn’t have to go shopping. (I hate to shop, not having inherited the Shopping Gene from my loves-to-shop mother.) This worked pretty well for years and years. It got so that people recognized me from party to party not because they remembered my name or even my face — but because they remembered my dress. Continue reading