“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

 

 

 

Silver linings in a Covid Cloud

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‘I count my blessings instead of sleep’

According to my new Apple Watch (which, incidentally, does everything except the dishes), I slept 10.1 hours the other night. I mentioned this dubious figure to Dude Man the next morning.

“I didn’t go to bed until around 2, and then I got up before sunrise. So what’s with this 10.1 hours of sleep?” “It’s counting all the sleeping you do during The Crown,” he said, going on to explain that good ole Apple can tell when I “nod off” on the couch and adds that time to my total sleep. I, like my mother before me, am rather famous for my ability to “sleep read” or “sleep watch” without spilling a drop from the glass of wine clutched in my somnolent paw.

Latest creation-in-progress. Yes, I can do this while Crown-watching

And while I think Apple counting upright sleep is totally cheating, I suppose I should feel somewhat comforted knowing I’m getting more shut-eye that I thought I was. Ever since The Corona Craziness, I, like many others, have had trouble getting adequate Zzzzzs. All that wondering what the heck to cook for the 269th straight dinner, not to mention when in heaven’s name I’ll get to hug my Mom again will do that to a person.

Sometimes when tossing and turning, I try to think of some good things that have come out of this time of Conflict with a Capital C. Now, with New Year’s coming, it seems like a good time to count them up.

Here, in no particular order, are some silver linings, the first of which is actually silver:

(sings) Sil-ver Hair…silver haaaairr…it’s Christmas Time in the City

Embracing the Gray. Oddly enough, when I couldn’t get to my Hair Person anymore, and let it go, Dude Man didn’t even notice. So even when the Hair Care Ban was lifted, I decided to skip coloring. Which is awkward because Colorist Girl is married to Haircut Guy. Oh well. So I look like a silvery shaggy dog. No one sees me except on Zoom.

Embracing the Guy. I used to dread the time when Dude Man would retire and we would be Spending More Time Together. I had my life pretty organized, and couldn’t imagine how he’d fit in on a more-or-less 24/7 basis. But I’m happy to report that he doesn’t get on my nerves too much. Besides, he’s awfully entertaining. Mostly unintentionally so. (See photo of him at the top of this post blowing leaves in his wetsuit.)

Dude Man ignoring Danger Man while on one of our many Covid hikes

No more excuses. As you may know, “Lutheran Lying” means that you never lie; you edit. Back in the Before Times when a person I wasn’t particularly interested in hanging out with would ask, say, to have lunch, I would respond with something like, “Oh, I have plans that day.” Said plans could be eating a sandwich at home while reading a book. Now I don’t have to Lutheran Lie since nobody makes dates to do anything anymore.

Typical scene from our Family FaceTime calls. Thanks, Scott!

Last, and definitely not least, I’m spending more time with my family than ever before. True, this is not in-person time — see wish for Mom Hugs, above — but it is real. We five sibs gather on FaceTime every Sunday night to chat with our mother. At first the conversation was somewhat stilted; the technology was glitchy, the cameras pointed oddly, sound cut in and out. But as time went by, we relaxed to the point that we’d talk while cooking, while knitting, while walking down the street or riding in the car.

Well. I must say that wasn’t a very long list. But I bet if you think hard — sipping a glass of wine at the same time helps, though do try to stay awake — you’ll come up with a few silvery side-effects of your own Lockdown Life.

Staying inside has its upside

In the meantime, from my isolated little heart to yours — best wishes for a Happy (and Better) New Year.

New York City. December 2020

 

 

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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Paradise Lost

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’It’s true: you can’t go home again’

The Amazon Basin is truly a magical place. Though I wish its magic extended to beaming us home with a wave of a palm-frond wand. The name of the tour we are on (or just ended, depending on how you want to look at it) is “Paradise Revisited”. Our guide told us it had something to do with how they used to visit this part of the Amazon in the Good Old Days, then stopped when air service got spotty. Or maybe it was because once you see the Amazon, you just have to go back. Or something else travel-romantic like that.

The Rio Marie. Sigh. Tempting to go back, for sure

But I’m betting on the spotty air service theory, since that’s what we encountered at the beginning of our Adventure. We went to the airport three times (two of which were failures) in order to fly from Manaus to this remote spot on the Rio Negro called Sao Gabriel da Cachoeira. We were there so much that we teased our guide by suggesting the tour be renamed “Airport Revisited”. Turned out that the airline (MAP) that was to fly us there got bought by some bigger outfit and all its planes in this neck of Brazil (not just ours) got rerouted to more profitable airspaces.

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The Gate Nazi at JFK

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’Forced Bag Check. Even worse, forced Caroling’

I didn’t take a picture of the Gate Nazi (I was way too intimidated to try), though in retrospect I probably should have. Instead I am showing you a picture of where we went so you can see that the bullying we experienced at the very start of our Amazonian Adventure was worth it.

The scene at the top of this post is of a river trip taken on the afternoon of the first day we arrived in Brazil — yes, less than 24 hours after stepping on a plane in New York, we were seated on a small boat on a small tributary of a medium tributary of a larger tributary of the mighty Amazon River. The miracles of air travel are definitely worth every agonizing moment along the way. Even the agonizing moment I’m about to tell you.

Another small-boat moment. Crossing the Amazon, where the White Water meets the Black. Called, natch, “The Meeting of the Waters”

We were nice and early at our gate, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and eager to start. We had planned to carry our duffels and backpacks on board, in fear of losing our gear. (Clothes don’t matter on these trips; it’s all about the gear. I found this out the hard way on our first trip, to Kenya. I came down to dinner in a cute little sundress, much to the amusement of our birding cohort.)

The Dude and our current birding cohort confer with our guide

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Thanksgiving Turkeys

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‘The worst Thanksgivings are still pretty darned great’

Those of you who follow along with me each week already realize — no doubt because I’ve told you way too many times — that Thanksgiving is my very favorite holiday. (Speaking of giving thanks — thank you for reading, Favorite People.) See “Turkey Shoot”, “In the Kitchen with Dad (and the Coal Miner’s Daughter)”, “Flipping the Bird”, and “My Breast is in no need of a rub, thank you very much” for pieces stuffed with reasons why.

Is that a banana, or am I just glad to see it’s almost Thanksgiving?

And it’s not just me. I grew up with a whole passel of Thanksgiving Lovers. Why, one year we invented a holiday called “Veteransgiving” just so we could get together, calendar be darned. (I bet we’re one of the few families who’s celebrated Veterans Day Weekend with turkey and pie.) It was held at my Favorite Sister Laura’s, and it was One Fun Time.

I don’t have a photo, alas, of Veteransgiving. But here’s one from a Christmas during that same era, also chez Laura

Although Veteransgiving was a little unusual, I wouldn’t necessarily call it a “turkey”. No, the Thanksgiving “turkeys” of my memory were these (in no particular order):

The Thanksgiving with the Sad Little Game Hens. Dude Man and I were freshly hitched and, for some reason which I cannot recall, did not decamp to a Family Unit for the holiday. (Maybe we didn’t get enough time off? Maybe we couldn’t decide which family to invade? I honestly can’t remember.)

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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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