The Thankful Thanksgiving Post :: {Brining your Bird}

I had another blog post in the works.  One about how I was paralyzed, and then I realized that it's actually really hard to write about that, even though I love talking about it.  But really, I'm just happy that I'm not paralyzed anymore and haven't been for twelve (twelve!) years.  I'm thankful for the doctors that made it so.

October was a dark, grim, bad month, and I've catapulted myself out if it, with sheer resolve, and a little help from my friends.  And what happens when you put your mind to something?  Lots.  Lots of ideas and creativity flowing out and about like crazy.  I've got worlds of ideas, as it were.

I want to get all the ideas out on paper, but I only know how to draw with my left hand.  Could I be twice as fast if I used both?  Right now I'm working on a poster called "I live here."  I figure, if I was the kind of kid who counted the steps of the Eiffel Tower as I climbed them, it might be of general interest to some kids to know how far away they live from the Great Barrier Reef, the Matterhorn, or the Chocolate Hills.  One of the things from my childhood for which I'm most grateful is that curiosity of other places and cultures was nurtured.  I want to give that curiosity to other kids -- in a poster!

Then suddenly tonight I thought that felt boards should no longer be relegated to the Sunday School room.  I mean, it's like velcro, but doesn't get hairs stuck in it!  It's like a puppet theatre, but you don't have to hold all the puppets in your hand!  Now I have to figure out how to make one.

Then there's the alphabet poster, which I have an idea for, of course, and toys!  Puzzles, architecture blocks, lacing animals...

I'm thankful that I have all these ideas.  I may never get to them all because my body limits me, but I wouldn't trade all the ideas in my head for a pain-free body.  I wouldn't even trade it for a pain-free body and a trip around the world. 

Most of all, as I write tonight, and as I'm about to draw some more, I'm grateful for a little group of friends that I have here in Staunton.  You might recognize them from their enthusiastic thumbs up to everything I post on the running snail & rainbow facebook page.  Thanks, ladies.  I'm lucky to know you all.


My Top Five Cookbooks

I have so many cookbooks, and I love all of them, despite the fact that I almost never follow recipes.  It's a carefully curated collection, most of which have been gifted to me by my mother.  Five years ago (with no baby and an employee discount at a gourmet grocery), the more complicated the recipe, the better.  The more steps and more dishes dirtied, the better.  The more obscure ingredients, the better.  Mind you, I still love cracking into a really involved dish with rare (read: pricey) ingredients, but these days, cooking has become more of a job and less of a hobby.  Money's tighter, having a kid and all, husband needs to be fed before he rushes out the door, and I have other things I should be doing.  I've even embraced leftovers.  My relationship to food has changed.

I enjoy the job of cooking, as long as I stick to my principles.  They are:
1.  We shall not eat the same thing more than two days in a row.
2.  I shall cook food from at least 3 different countries every week.
3.  We shall defy our mingy food budget by eating dazzlingly tasty food.
4.  We shall eat food that both makes us healthy and happy.  Sometimes these two things are mutually exclusive, and that's okay.  In the end, it all balances out.

Armed with my principles, here are the five cookbooks that I constantly reach for, every week, when I'm doing my menu planning/grocery list (which is the only way to stick to a food budget and also not go out of your mind at dinner time every night).  The trick to meal planning, I've found, is to pick one dish you're really excited about cooking, write down all the ingredients you need, and then base your other meals off of what you'll have left after preparing that meal.  For example, you might have half a head of cabbage left, or part of a box of chicken stock.  You get the idea.

1.  How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman: This is the book that should replace The Joy of Cooking in your cookbook library (unless you have one of the vintage versions with possum recipes inside).  My favorite thing about this book is that it's for all ability levels, it's totally straight forward, and most (if not all) recipes have several variations.  I know several people who have learned to cook from this book.  My brother, in fact, is one of these people, and he and his old house-mates used to refer to it as the gospel according to Mark.  It also comes in a vegetarian version, if that's your thing.

2.  The Italian Country Table: Homecooking from Italy's Farmhouse Kitchens by Lynne Rossetto Kasper:  This book is totally inspired, though it's not hard to guess why, given the subject matter.  One thing I value most in a cookbook is when there are recipes for things that I can't dream up on my own.  This book has that in spades.  Also, the author really teaches you about ingredients, wine pairings, and all that kind of food nerd stuff which I love so much.  This is the book that taught me about putting veggies in with your pasta water when you make pesto.  It also contains the only cake I have ever successfully made: chocolate polenta cake, laced with orange and insanely delicious (and gluten free!).  You didn't think you could eat like this outside of Italy.  You can, and the best part is that you made it yourself.

3.  The Mediterranean Kitchen by Joyce Goldstein:  This is not a completely authentic Mediterranean cookbook, but the author skips around the rim of this flavorful region, touching on all the great dishes, putting her spin (and a healthy glug of olive oil) on them, and offering thoughtful cooking methods and years of expertise as a chef along with them.  This book will really teach you how, say, Turkish flavors differ from Spanish ones, and I've learned, as a result, how to improvise on these different cuisines.  For example, the chicken tagine dish I shared with you is a riff on her lamb tagine with lemon and olives.  Everyone loves Mediterranean food, and this is a great place to start.

4.  World Vegetarian by Madhur Jaffrey:  Just because you love bacon doesn't mean you shouldn't own this cookbook.  We all need to be less meat-centric in our meals, and with the huge, satisfying flavors that Jaffrey offers, you won't miss the meat.  I credit this woman with teaching me how spices really work, how they work together, how much to use, how to grind, store, shop for, etc.  And once you know how spices work, literally worlds unfold in your cooking.  It might seem a little daunting and expensive to collect all those different bottles of powders and seeds, but if you do it slowly over time, and maintain a good stock, you can make most of these dishes with very inexpensive ingredients.  The chapter on beans, for example, is brilliant because each and every recipe tastes so different.  A lot of the recipes are quick to make, too, and they're all healthy, colorful, and delicious.  This cookbook helps me stick to principle number two (see above).

5.  The Food Matters Cookbook by Mark Bittman:  I really didn't want to have two books by the same author on this list, but after waffling around for ages, I've finally admitted to myself (and you) that this is a really important book to have.  As soon as I cracked it open, I was thrilled to see that basically what this book is, is the way I try to cook all the time: economically and healthily.  Instead of having to flip quickly past the giant steak recipe, wiping the drool from the pages, I get chapter after chapter of recipes I can a) afford to make, b) want to make, and c) should be making.  My refried bean recipe offers a suggestion of putting kale in your burrito.  That's from this book.  I think he actually might be able to impact how America is eating, and that would be a wonderful thing.

Honorable Mention: Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child:  I own this book, and there are some things that only Julia should teach you how to do.  But let's face it, we shouldn't be eating this way all week, as much as we might want to.  Kudos, Mrs. Child, for all you've done for cooks across America, and here's to many artery-clogging generations to come!


The Frog Prince :: {Red Pasta Sauce}

I was the girl in high school who painstakingly crafted mix tapes, who got to school at 7am for string ensemble practice, and who never didn't have music playing in the background.  Favorites of mine in high school included pretty much anything from the 70's, thanks to the influence of the ganja-smoking art room crowd with whom I shared all of my time (unless I was in the music room).  We all ate lunch in the art room, too, using the batik wax-melting device to cook grilled cheese sandwiches.  Our art teacher knew we needed somewhere to be, and she didn't mind, as long as we cleaned the burnt on cheese off of the art supplies.  She let us play music, too.  We all took turns bringing our favorite albums.  As my parents' luck would have it, I was friends with the non-ganja-smoking minority group of the art room crew.  The most trouble we really got up to was rearranging people's lawn ornaments or planting cans of Campbell's Chunky Beef Soup around the town when it was below freezing, so the soup would expand and explode out of the can.  Chunky Beef was chosen because it looked the grossest, of course.  So we clean cut art-room folks listened the hazy 70's music and totally thought we had all been born in the wrong decade, man.  But we also listened to swing music and crooner stuff.  The nineties were actually a great time for that, and we wore wingtip shoes, took swing dancing lessons, and sang Frank Sinatra songs in the car as we cruised around with our cans of soup.

These great standard songs still have their appeal for me.  When I'm not sure what I'm in the mood to listen to, usually a little Frank Sinatra or Bobby Darin does the trick.  So as it happened, as I was finishing "Fill My Heart with Song", I was listening some crooner playlist or other, and "You're Nobody til Somebody Loves You" came on.  The rest is history:

"You're Nobody 'til Somebody Love You" -- especially if you're the frog prince.


Do-over :: {chili oil and cure-all carrot salad}

The best thing I did in the entire month of October was stuff a bottle full of habanero peppers and smashed garlic cloves, cover it all with olive oil, and let it sit on the window sill.

The rest of the month was a mixture of saddening, angering, demoralizing, painful occurrences.  We had (in no particular order) a death in the family, a job loss, an ambiguous medical diagnosis...and then at the very end of the month it snowed.  In Virginia.  Maybe it was just a weird month.  I suppose there were bright spots, too.  I mean, I know there were, but I also had four colds over the course of the month, so the chances of something lovely happening at the same time as I had a cold was high, if not guaranteed.  I want a do-over.

I think it was the aforementioned chili oil that finally cured me of my colds, though.  After a month of wallowing and getting nothing done and feeling stuffy and achy and out of control, I picked myself up, went in the kitchen, grated myself two gigantic carrots, doused them with the chili oil, a clove of crushed garlic, the juice of a lemon, and some chopped fresh ginger and plenty of salt.  I ate my carrots, cleaned all the dishes, swept the kitchen floor, and looked forward to a new month.
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