To Give Thanks

 

I don’t know why but I always find the silence during heavy snowfall deafening.  It’s a wonderful time for reflection.

Amy moves about uncomfortably in the hospital bed.  I look down at the pulse monitor on her forefinger.   It is a bright red beacon in the darkness.  On her arm closest to me I let my eyes follow the faintly lit trail of her IV line to where it disappears into her taped and bruised hand.  This time they only had to stick her with the IV needle four times before they found a vein that didn’t collapse.

A gray and black leopard patterned blanket, a blanket Lynnie gave to her mom for good luck, covers Amy’s legs.  Three days of treatment again, but this is day three, 4 more hours to go and then we are done for the year.  Every set of completed treatments feels like an accomplishment, no more waking the girls up early to get them to before school care, no more waking up at 2am, panicked, and thinking I overslept and we missed an appointment, or watching the EKG machine obsessively, knowing what each reading means but we are done and in a few hours Amy will begin to come out of it.

I pull the car into the driveway and park.   It won’t be long before Vivian gets off the bus.  I have enough time to get Amy into bed so she can sleep, the treatments are exhausting .  An hour after Vivian gets home Lynnie will get off the bus.  Today is really no different than any other day, the ketamine treatments are a part of our life now.  We get through each day as any other family might and like everyone else we jump each hurdle as it presents itself.

It’s in the passing moments of mindlessness that I find myself reconciling our new life, and much like someone stuck in an abusive relationship I am constantly creating ways to make it livable while ignoring the obvious.

Vivian is upstairs reading and Lynnie is playing with her guys, she is having an interesting conversation with them but I am only sort of listening.   

In the pantry I collect up ingredients.   I load up my arms, a Cambro full of flour, another of sugar, on top of them I lay a bag of brown sugar and a jar of green and red Christmas sprinkles.   When I get everything together I call the girls and we begin measuring ingredients.  It’s time to make some Christmas cookies.

As 2017 exits, we are ending the year much as it began.

I try to give Amy’s days structure.  It is around 1:30 in the afternoon when I wake her.  I bring her coffee in her favorite Klimt mug, sugar in the bottom until it forms an Appalachian sized hill, half and half to cover, and to the top with strong, hot, coffee.

This afternoon I don’t have the time because we are making cookies, but on the afternoons when I don’t have lots to do I lie in the bed next to Amy while she sips her coffee and we talk.  We relish these afternoons.  Sometimes we talk about pop culture, on others it’s about something we read, there are days when we laugh hysterically, some afternoons are spent bringing her up to date on the kids school stuff but it’s on the days we talk about how lucky we are, even in this worst of moments, that we both feel fortunate.  We know that with a few simple turns of fate our situation could be wholly different.  We know we are the exception and not the rule, the fact that I can stay home with Amy while, we hope, she begins to recover is a luxury, that her illness hasn’t depleted our savings is because we have and can afford good health insurance.

We also know we have an amazing family always at the ready to help in anyway but on top of that we have great friends who continually call or text to ask if we need anything.  I will likely turn down the help but it is more with the knowledge there might come a time when we will need it rather than we don’t want it.  Besides when you reach out it lets us know there is a world outside of Amy’s disease and on bad days sometimes it is the best thing that happens.

It is still snowing, it is a lighter snow, and I am thankful.

 

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Dinner Rolls and a Bonus Southern White Loaf

I have been, and will continue to be a believer in simple good recipes that follow great technique.  I often feel as though complicated directions and hard to find ingredients set us up for disappointment and failure. Don’t get me wrong.  I understand the law of diminishing return.  That today’s worlds best recipe will be boring tomorrow.

We need to search out new tastes, techniques and flavors but it is also important to return to the classics.  For me, I also like to share my childhood favorites with my children.  These rolls are a part of me.  They connect me to my past, and by sharing them, they connect me to my children. Continue reading →

5 Resolutions to Make You a Better Home Cook (+ Pot-Roasted Collard Greens )

_TJH6714 (1)To be honest I lost interest in New Year’s Eve a long time ago. If memory serves me, the last New Year’s Eve I celebrated was sometime late last century. For that matter, I am not sure what year it was that I last made it to midnight.

It doesn’t mean I don’t celebrate, I do, I am just not in a rush to do so as the bell tolls. I guess I prefer to ease into it casually, like when my eyes pop open after a good night’s rest.

But let me just add: I am skeptical of New Year’s too. Maybe because we try to inject new vigor into failed promises, or because we also act as though eating a particular meal, either cleansing or lucky, is going give the rest of the year promise. The whole holiday feels dubious to me, with one exception: collard greens.

The caramelized smear on the bottom of the pot is an indication you collards are cooked perfectly.

The caramelized smear on the bottom of the pot is an indication you collards are cooked perfectly.

As always, combine collards with beans and rice and you can feel as though you are entering the new year at a low with nowhere to go but up. But there is another way of looking at it too. In my family, collard greens are not a one-hit wonder only to be served once during the year. Nor are they a fad. They are steadfast and as honest as the day is long. Sure you could hang out with the pretty people and eat kale, but kale isn’t collards. Neither are mustard or turnip greens. For me, because they are like the brainy girl who likes to read, collards are far more interesting. So much so that you want them around all year and with collards around there is no need to go up.

But, as always, sometime between Christmas and the new year I will put on the horsehair shirt, become all monkish and reflective, and try to set a direction for the new year ahead. I can assure you, in the kitchen, collards will act as a reliable compass.

 

Five Kitchen Resolutions for the New Year to Make You a Better Home Cook

1. Try to follow fewer fads and learn more technique. Take collards, for example. I had always simmered them in the typical manner with pork, pepper flakes, and liquid. While I still love cooking them this way, it wasn’t until I learned to pot-roast them vis-à-vis Thomas Keller that I picked up a new technique. And, I might add, one I am grateful to have in my tool kit.

2. It has been a battle this year with getting the kids to eat what is put in front of them, but, rather than forcing them to try new things, I am going to make more kid-friendly meals (that doesn’t mean junk) with the expectation they eat other meals without complaint. I also have this notion that if I feed them exotic foods all the time they will have to deal with the law of diminishing returns in that they will become bored with food. I also suppose I want them to have things left to explore and look forward to as they grow older.

3. Break out of your routine and explore other cuisines more often.

4. Choose three new dishes to master and do so. You know some say it takes cooking something a thousand times before you really understand how to cook it. While this might be a little extreme, I do like to be able to cook a dish multiple times and have it turn out the same each time. This takes practice.

5. Search out and explore five new ingredients.

Pot-Roasted Collard Greens ( Recipe adapted from Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home )

Serves 4

8 cups collard greens, stems removed and leaves chopped into 1-inch squares, then rinsed twice and dried
1/2 cup bacon lardons
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

  1. Heat the oven to 300˚ F.
  2. Place a heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven (with a tight-fitting lid) over medium heat. Add the bacon and let it start to render, then add the butter.
  3. Once the butter has melted, add half of the greens. Season them with a heavy pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper. Stir and turn under the greens so they are coated with fat. Add the rest of the greens and repeat the seasoning and turning.
  4. Cover the pot with the tight fitting lid and slide it into the oven. Roast for 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes. Remove from the oven, remove the lid, and stir. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Put the lid back on and let the collards set until ready to serve.

Gugelhopf

Gugelhopf

   I love this kind of yeasted cake. They aren’t too sweet but the smell is oh so yummy and they taste really good. A perfect holdiay cake, something special that you will always associate with Christmas or New Years. I would serve it with champagne or better yet, Inniskillin Vidal Sparkling Icewine. ( I used a 9 inch gugelhopf mold )

SERVES 8 TO 10
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1 cup whole milk, warm but not over 110 degrees
2 tablespoons honey, mild flavored variety
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/2 sticks of unsalted butter, slightly softened, plus more for the mold
4 egg yolks
4 egg whites, beaten until stiff
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier
2 1/2 teaspoons orange zest
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon cardamom
1/2 teaspoon fine grind sea salt
3 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 cup raisins or zante currants
1/2 cup sliced almonds
confectioners sugar for dusting

1. For the starter you want to combine the milk and honey and sprinkle the yeast over the top and let it bloom. Once all the yeast is hydrated add 1 cup of the flour and mix to combine. Cover and set aside for 30 minutes.

In the bowl of a mixer fitted with a paddle cream the butter with the sugar. Once it is smooth add the starter and combine it.
2. Scrape down the sides of the mixing bowl. With the mixer running add the egg yolks one at a time only adding another after the previous one is blended in. Add the Grand Marnier, vanilla, cardamom, salt and orange zest.

3. Add two cups of flour and mix to combine. You want the dough to be stiff enough to just pull away from the sides. It should look like the gugelhopf mold in a sense in that you should see pleats of dough with shiny bowl spots. If you need to add flour a 1/4 cup at a time. you should see strands of gluten forming. Mix in the egg whites which will make the dough more like a batter. Mix in the raisins

4. Butter the mold with lots of butter and then sprinkle in the almonds along the sides and top. Add the dough to the mold making sure it is evenly distributed. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and set aside.

5. Pre heat the oven to 350 degrees. Once the dough has risen to about the 3/4 mark on the sides of the mold slide it into the oven and bake it for 30 minutes. Check it and if the exposed cake is browning to fast loosely set a piece of foil on top. Bake another 30 minutes.

6. Remove from the oven and invert the mold onto a cooling rack and lift the mold. Let the cake cool completely. Dust with powder sugar and serve. It is best served the day it is made. If there happen to be leftovers it makes great French toast.