Archive for November 2012


November 28, 2012

It’s a beautiful word, Shishigashira, the name of the lovely little maple by our front door. Its leaves shimmering in the cold rain, I’ve been watching it day by day. But not for the right reasons, I must confess. I’ve been watching, waiting, for those leaves to fall, so that I can decorate the green-trunked and leafless tree with red holiday ornaments.

What a fool I’ve been, really, to wish the hastening of the seasons. To wish these brave golden leaves dull and fallen. On a day when heavy Chinook-type helicopters have twice flown so low over the house that the windows vibrated, how could I wish any sign of life to meet its end?

All things fall, all too soon. The day I finally hang my Shishigashira with shining and sparkling balls, playthings for the December rains, should be a day of mourning as well as celebration. And in the meantime, I don’t want military helicopters shaking leaves from my tree, or anyone’s tree, or taking up space in the cool, wet sky. The rain is enough.

Gathered Round

November 24, 2012

The pies have disappeared, the guests departed. The house still looks festive, with berries and candles strewn about, and the fridge stuffed with the carcass of our 18 lb turkey (which shocked me by cooking to perfection in just 3 hours). Beppo is resigning himself to a life without a houseful of admirers, and Zazou is relieved to get her own private world back, free of intruders, however friendly. Shel and I are thinking that the house is very quiet, and that it’s time to start looking forward to Christmas.

It’s such a delicate balancing act, being empty nesters. It’s a joy to have a house full of people to feed and sit in front of the fire with, talking for hours, and it’s also nice to not have to get dressed if we don’t want to, and to not have to run three loads of dishes a day.

Since 2007 this is only our second Thanksgiving in America, all the rest having been spent in France.  So of course there was no need to substitute ingredients, which took a little of the sport out of it but produced reassuringly familiar results, or to explain the origin of the holiday, always a challenge when describing the relations between Pilgrims and Native Americans. No need to discuss politics at all, in fact, since we all agreed that the outcome of the election was splendid. We celebrated Washington’s legalization of recreational marijuana, and of same-sex marriage. As stimulating as differing opinions can be, it’s wonderful to be able to relax with like-minded folks, and in our case, free of any familial tensions whatsoever. It was kind of a charmed holiday, actually, and it didn’t even rain.

I could not ask for more.

Un Grand Merci

November 21, 2012

Thank you Shel, for staying on this planet with me for yet another rich and full year, and for sharing another Thanksgiving Day with me. And for washing the dishes three times a day for a week, without complaint, in pursuit of that one memorable feast with family and friends.

Thank you, American people, for seeing through the veil of hypocrisy and lies and giving us another four years of hope and change.

Thank you, Superstorm Sandy, however terrible, for putting the specter of climate change squarely in front of a brainwashed and doubting public (see thank you number two).

And thank you family and friends, old and new, near and far, in America and in Europe, for the love and support you’ve proffered throughout the year. You’re what it’s all about.

The One That Got Away

November 18, 2012

Tonight I made soup for a Thanksgiving starter, made of Jerusalem artichokes and celery root. It’s a very French soup, since topinambours and céleri rave are all the rage, but as I peeled and chopped I just couldn’t bring myself to cut this cute guy up, or it would have felt like cannibal soup.

Normally I’d make this soup with chicken broth, and you can too, but this time I need it to be vegetarian, so water’s the word.

The result is an ethereal little soup, savory, hinting of the dinner to come, but very light, almost a palate refresher. Which, when you think of it, is just what you want before the feast to come. That’s not to say that you can’t add some little crispy dice of pancetta, or a small dollop of crème fraîche if you wish, but keep it light, so that your guests will enjoy their dinner.

Not Cannibal Soup 
1 lb Jerusalem artichokes
1 lb celery root
filtered or excellent-tasting water
3 T butter
1/8 tsp ground coriander
tiny pinch of each: garlic powder and onion powder
ground sumac  (or substitute paprika)

Fill a pot halfway with water. Peel the Jerusalem artichokes with a small sharp knife, cut each one into 3-4 pieces, and drop them immediately into the water to prevent browning. I don’t kill myself peeling all of the little knobs, I just cut them off and go for the center of the tuber where it peels more easily. Peel, slice, then dice the celery root, again dropping the pieces immediately into the water to keep them white. When all the vegetables are in the water, either add or remove water so that your vegetables are covered with 2 inches of water. Boil them gently until tender, about 25 minutes, skimming foam as necessary.

Once the vegetables are tender, remove the pot from the heat and purée everything with an immersion blender to a fine velvety texture. If you’d like the soup a bit thicker, just simmer to reduce. If you’d like it thinner, add a little water. Now begin to season it carefully with salt, tasting as you go, until the celery flavor pops out at you. Add a very small amount of onion and garlic powders, and the coriander. Add the butter and stir until it melts. Now taste again. You want to be able to taste the vegetables, with the spices being just the merest hint of extra flavor. Adjust the seasonings to suit yourself. Serve with a little sprinkle of sumac, which adds just a whisper of tartness. Lemon doesn’t work the same way, so if you can’t get sumac, just use paprika for color, since this  soup is a very delicate celadon color and will thank you for giving it a little brightening up.

Punkin’ Chunkin’

November 14, 2012

Every year our son Eric asks, dreamily, wistfully, for the pumpkin pie I used to make when he was a teenager: Non-Dairy Pumpkin Pie with Olive Oil Crust. And most years I have some reason not to make it, like I’m craving something creamier and richer, or I think some guest wants a more traditional pie. But I no longer eat pie, so what I crave doesn’t count, and it’s all family this year, so I’m granting Eric’s wish.

This pie, although not rich with cream, is truly excellent. I spent years perfecting the exact spice balance, because it’s made from fresh pumpkin it has a special sweetness and texture, and you can serve it to all of your lactose-intolerant friend, who will beg you for the recipe. The filling can be made in advance and frozen, as I’ve already done, and the crust takes all of 5 minutes to prepare, with no chilling of the dough.

I don’t vouch for this made with canned pumpkin, although you’re welcome to try. The real deal is to get a small sugar pie pumpkin or two – you’ll need two cups of pumpkin altogether, so how many depends on the size of your pumpkins. Heat your oven to 350° and set a Silpat or a sheet of parchment on a baking sheet. Cut your pumpkin in half around the equator and scoop out the seeds and stringy goo. Save the seeds for roasting, and set the pumpkins cut side down on the tray. Bake until the pumpkin collapses when you poke it, about 30-40 minutes, depending on the size of your pumpkin. Scoop out the cooked pumpkin and set it in a fine mesh strainer for an hour or so. You’ll be surprised at how much water drains out of it, even after roasting. Okay, now we’re ready to make pie.

Non-Dairy Pumpkin Pie with Olive Oil Crust

For the crust
1 cup white flour
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
5 T olive oil (I use a very light one like Bertolli Light)
3 T rice, soy, almond, or coconut milk
1 tsp sugar.

For the filling
2 cups pumpkin
2 eggs
1 cup rice, soy, almond, or coconut milk
2 T molasses
1/4 cup white sugar
6 T brown sugar, packed
1 tsp ginger
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp ground allspice
1/8 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 375°

In a medium bowl mix all of the crust ingredients together with a fork. You will have a soft dough, but it won’t be sticky. Roll it out on a lightly floured board and set it in a 9″ pie pan.

Make the filling in the food processor. Whiz the pumpkin until smooth, then add the eggs and get it all smooth again. Add the rest of the ingredients and whiz it this time until it’s really velvety. Pour it into the crust. Bake at 375° for 10 minutes, then lower the heat to 350° and bake for 40 more minutes.

You’ll find this surprisingly delicious, if Eric does say so himself.

Hummingbird Heaven

November 11, 2012

It’s mid-November. It’s gotten cold, it’s gotten rainy, but for some reason, undoubtedly related to climate change, my pineapple sage is still hanging in there, to the evident delight of the Anna’s hummingbirds.

While other local hummers, like the Rufous and the Black-chinned hummingbirds, have long since headed south to Texas and Mexico to pass the winter frolicking in warmer climes,

even though it’s thousands of miles of flying and they’re just feather weights,

the jewel-toned Anna’s, like this lovely little lady bird, manage to stick around throughout the damp and dreary Puget Sound winter.

Normally the pineapple sage would have long since given up the ghost, or I would have picked all the flowers to put in a salad, but this year the blooms are still going strong,

and I stopped picking them altogether when I realized that the hummingbirds were still dining early and often on our deck. They’re often the first thing I see when I open my eyes in the morning, and speaking of vision, if I’m out on the deck they’ll sometimes come and hover just in front of my face, fierce long bill pointing right between my eyes. I don’t know whether they’re being territorial and trying to scare me back inside in front of the fire, where I belong, or whether they’re thanking me for having so heavily fertilized the pineapple sage last spring. They speak in little clicks, and I haven’t mastered that language yet.

But even though I can’t fully understand their story, they’re definitely my model for strength in the face of adversity, artless beauty, and eating well in every season. Go pineapple sage!

The Yes-Yes Bird

November 4, 2012

Our first spring in this house we heard a bird saying “yes yes.” It was a metallic, almost mechanical-sounding trill, “yes yes.” We had no idea what bird it was, so naturally we started calling it the yes yes bird. I asked birder friends, no one could think of a bird that said yes yes. I Googled yes yes bird, bird call sounds like yes yes, and anything else I could think of, all to no avail.

And still they came to our yard, although we never saw them. Their call would come from high up in the Douglas firs and cedars, and we never saw so much as a feather. Some years we’d say “wow, there are a lot of yes yes birds this year.” One year we never heard any, and worried about whether climate change had driven our yes yes birds further north.

Then, this spring, I heard one that was very close. I’d suddenly had it with the not knowing, I wanted to see that yes yes bird and I wanted to see him now. I grabbed a pair of truly terrible binoculars and went outside. Finally I was able to track my yes yes bird into the crabapple tree, and I saw it. It was a spotted towhee, I was pretty sure, but remember, I had lamentable binoculars in my hand instead of a good camera. So I went in and found images of a spotted towhee online, and yes, that’s our yes yes bird.

So I formulated this quasi-scientific cockamamie theory that since we only hear them in the spring, they must be migrating through here then. And promptly forgot all about it. Until yesterday, while I was sitting right here at this very computer, a flashing and fluttering in the madrona outside my window caught my eye. Hey, wow, there was a yes yes bird right outside my window, flitting around like mad from branch to branch. My camera was on my desk, I grabbed it, and got exactly one shot before he flew off. A shot taken through the dirty window and the window screen, so hurrah camera. That’s the shot you see above, the one where he’s looking right at the camera, as if he’s saying “Look, it’s me, I’m the yes yes bird you’ve been seeking.”

He didn’t really say that, of course. In fact, he didn’t say anything. It’s November, and in November the yes yes bird says nothing nothing at all. His agreeable song is a springtime fling thing.

I can understand that, I don’t feel like saying yes yes all the time myself. The election season makes me say no no. Shel’s cancer makes me say help help. It’s easy to fall into the ambient existential anxiety, “la morosité ambiente.”  But I’m trying to get myself more in a yes yes kind of place. And since I love the holiday season, I mean to immerse myself in that source of warmth and cheer.

In French there’s a verb, positiver. It means to be optimistic, to maintain a positive feeling. It doesn’t translate exactly, but it kind of means “be more of a yes yes person.” If I were in France right now someone would tell me “il faut positiver” to mean be more yes yes-ish. Funny how it took a silent American bird telling me for me to get the message.