Sunday Dinner circa 1976

In honor of Throw-Back-Thursday …

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It’s Sunday dinner at Baddi and Graggy’s, my Mother’s parents.  (We call them Baddi and Graggy, not Grandma and Grandpa, or Nana and Papa, or any of the other countless variations that kids call their grandparents.  I’m not entirely sure why.  I know that my Mother called her grandfather Graggy, but Baddi?  Can’t even say for sure if that’s how you would spell Baddi, it’s not an actual word.)  We arrive after church and Graggy is just putting the roast beef into the oven.  Baddi and Graggy serve us roast beef every Sunday. They do this even though my parents are, at the moment, raising us vegetarian.  But for Sunday dinner we children eat (seconds, yes please!) Boston rump roast.  We also drink Coke at Baddi and Graggy’s, and eat potato chips, things never allowed at home.

Before dinner, we kids play board games with our Aunt.  A favorite is “Bottom’s Up” a drinking board game.  In the game, when your piece lands on certain spots, or when you miss a question or challenge, you are supposed to take a shot of alcohol.  We take shots of Coke.  Our Aunt drinks Pepsi, lacing hers with something, bourbon, I think.  We play these games up in the living room in front of the TV tuned to the Sunday Afternoon Movie – Doris Day and Rock Hudson, Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon.  At home we are only allowed to watch PBS.  We munch on ripples chips and French onion dip.

About a half hour before dinner, Graggy calls me to the kitchen.  He has pulled the roast from the oven and it sits, resting on the part of the counter which is a built-in wooden cutting board, in a pool of juice, it’s own blood.  He slices off the burnt, crusty end and offers it to me.  He does this because he knows it is my favorite part of the roast.  He slices it and offers it to me resting on the back of his carving knife.  I take it with my fingers and the juice runs down my hand.

I am then allowed, even though I am only 7, to help get the rest of the dinner ready.  I am sent down stairs to the basement to collect cans of vegetables from the seeming hundreds of them lining the shelves.  I think Baddi and Graggy must be very rich to have so much food on hand.  And in cans no less.  At my house we only have fresh fruits and vegetables, often things from our own garden or my other grandparents.  I think this is because we are poor.  But maybe my Parents were just way ahead of the curve on the whole eat local thing.

Back in the kitchen I use the electric can opener to open the corn and green beans and I dump them into pans and set them on the stove.  I can’t manage the jar of pearl onions myself, but once Graggy twists off the cap I dump those into a tiny saucepan, just the right size.  I warm up milk and butter in another pan and then fluff in the potato flakes which I have carefully measured from the box.  “That’s my Katie-did,” Graggy praises in his deep, deep voice.  He pulls baked potatoes from the oven for the adults.

My Mother and Baddi have set the long dining table for the grown ups and the mosaic-topped, kidn-y shaped coffee table for the kids.  We dish up plates in the kitchen buffet style.  My mother, on the seven-day wonder diet, takes only a baked potato and pours another glass of Chablis.  My Big Sister likes to take a bit of everything (except the baked potato) and cover it all with gravy.  Back at her seat she will stir all of it together into a mush and will eat it with a spoon.  My Little Brother will eat nothing but mashed potatoes.  He is three.

At the very last moment, my Uncle will stumble from his bedroom, often dressed in only a bathrobe, hair sticking out in all directions from the top of his head.  My Uncle is home from college.  He sniffs and squints and runs his fingers through his already thinning hair. Once seated, Baddi at one end of the table, Graggy at the other, we will pause and Baddi will ask for one of the children to say grace.  “God is great, God is good, let us thank him for this food, amen.”

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We have considered your application …

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It’s that time of year again, thin envelope, thick packet time (or not even anymore, now it’s website checking, system crashing time).  The time of year when countless children, from preschool to high school, and their doting, anxious parents await the news of which hallowed institution, from public kindergarten to elite private college, want them.  Ok, maybe those 5 year-olds aren’t waiting with baited breath, but certainly they can feel the tension when mothers cry and fathers rage (or fathers cry and mothers rage) about a school assignment in the Bayview when they live in the Outer Richmond (look it up on a map, it’s far, far away, in more than one sense of the word).

And so it is at our house.  I wrote a few weeks back that Daughter 1.0 found out she was offered a spot at one of her first choice colleges.  Daughter 1.0 didn’t have a top, top choice, at least not one she would admit to.  She has been somewhat guarded about this college process, protecting herself from disappointment.  She decided early on that she had no interest in the spring-of-Junior-year college tour.  She didn’t want to visit a school, fall in love, only to find out the school didn’t want her, that she wasn’t one of the distinguished 6000 students offered a spot out of the 100,000 applicants.  She didn’t want to trust her heart to what often amounts to a lottery.  Smart girl.

This attitude was born of the gut-wrenching experience of applying to high school.  In San Francisco kids apply for high school, even public high school has an application process.  Daughter 1.0 is an excellent student (yes, I’m bragging, but it is all her own doing; she works harder that anyone else I know).  In 8th grade she had her sights and heart set on a big Jesuit high school in the City.  She wanted to go there because it was the place in San Francisco that most closely resembled high school on TV.  Big! Lockers! PA system! Football! Homecoming!  I was not entirely sold on said high school, but it’s a good school; she would do well.  Given her grades, Daughter 1.0 seemed a shoe-in. OK, we are not practicing Catholics (only two out of four of us are Catholics at all) but Daughter 1.0 was baptized and my Husband had himself gone to Jesuit high school in LA, he had connections.  It seemed a no-brainer.  So certain were we of her acceptance that I planned a ski trip away with friends the weekend that the admission letters arrived.  I didn’t want my less that thrilled attitude about her choice of high school to color her joy.

Halfway to Kirkwood (best snow in Tahoe!) driving slowly through a snow storm, I got the call.  No thick packet.  Rejection.  Daughter 1.0 had locked herself in her room and was threatening to quit school all together.  My Husband couldn’t believe I wasn’t home.  The snow piled up behind us as we drove Northeast.  By the time we reached Kirkwood the road home was closed.  My Husband would have to deal with this crisis on his own, which he did, very well, with the help of a dedicated and kind high school counselor at Daughter 1.0’s middle school, a smart swim coach and some very good looking male high school swimmers.

Daughter 1.0 ended up at the high school my Husband and I preferred.  It has been a hard school, pushing and stretching her in ways the other school would not.  It’s been good for her.  It was Warren Buffet, wasn’t it, who wrote about the value of the thin envelope? There is value in letting go of the school that doesn’t want you and embracing the school that does (Mr. Buffet’s example has to do with getting rejected from Harvard and admitted to Columbia, not exactly a hardship, but still).

I thought Daughter 1.0 had internalized this lesson.  And when she called me to tell me that she had been offered at spot at that top choice school she cried, tears of joy.  We could all breathe a sigh of relief, raise our arms in victory, and move on, right?  Except, well, she wanted to wait to hear from the other schools, she said.

Why?

I did put all that effort into those other applications, I feel I deserve to find out if they want me.  I mean, I’m 99% sure I’ll go to that school, but still …

And so she has endured more rejection, and tears, and heartbreak, in this inexplicable, throw spaghetti at the wall, college process.  And maybe that’s not a bad thing.  She’s finding out she can survive disappointment. And we know life will be full of disappointments.  As parents we do our best to protect our children, from emotional as well as physical hurt.  It is so hard to let our children try, knowing they are likely to fail. But how will they ever survive in the “real” world if they never experience hurt?  We are raising bubble-wrapped kids, where everyone’s best is THE best.  But how can that be so?  Daughter 1.0 is a remarkable, and also flawed, young woman.  Not every place will want her, not every goal she sets will be achieved, she won’t always win, and that’s ok.  It turns out life can still be pretty good, even when you don’t go to Harvard.

Mussels and Clams with Chorizo

I made this last Friday night for my Husband and me (kids were out).

1 dozen mussels
2 dozen little neck clams
Olive oil
Spring garlic, white part sliced thin, green tops chopped for garnish
1/2 pound bulk chorizo sausage
1 healthy pinch of saffron
1 cup dry white white
Good country bread

This is a cleaning method for clams and mussels that I learned from the Terra Restaurant Cookbook. It’s very effective.
As soon as you get home from the market, put the mussels in one bowl and the clams in another. Add a handful of salt to each of the bowls and shake the shellfish to begin the cleaning process. Rinse the clams in cold water then cover them with fresh cold water, adding a healthy amount of salt. Put the clams into the refrigerator for an hour. Rinse the mussels in cold water, removing any barnacles stuck to the shell, but leaving the beard intact. Cover the mussels with a wet dishcloth and put into the refrigerator until ready to cook.
Pour a couple of tablespoons of olive oil into a large heavy saucepan or dutch oven. Add the sliced white parts of the spring garlic and saute over medium heat until soft. Add the chorizo to the pan, breaking it up with a wooden spoon. Cook until the choizo is done and starting to caramelize a bit. Add the saffron and stir the pan. Pour in the wine and allow to bubble while you get the mussels and clams ready.
Remove the clams from the fridge and drain and rinse a couple more times under cold water. Discard any clams that are open and don’t close when run under water. Add the clams to the pot and cover. Turn up the heat to high.
Remove the mussels from the fridge and pull the beard away from the shell by gripping it and firmly pulling it back and forth until it gives way. Discard any mussels that are open. Add the mussels to the pot and cover. Cook until all the mussels and clams are open (this should only take a few minutes), discarding any that do not open.
Cut thick slices of the country bread and put into the bottom of a wide bowl. Ladle the mussels, clams, chorizo and broth over the bread. Sprinkle with the chopped green tops of the garlic and serve.

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They Say It’s Your Birthday? It’s My Birthday Too, Yeah!

It was my birthday last week which means it was Daughter 2.0’s birthday as well. Her sweet sixteenth. On the very same day as mine. Daughter 2.0 arrived on my 30th birthday (I’ll let you do the simple math) ass backwards (literally), usurping my day, taking it for her own, little stinker. What a great birthday present! people will inevitably say when I tell them we share a birthday. Best ever! I chime back enthusiastically. And yes, she was, best ever; and not, little stinker.

All through my pregnancy with Daughter 2.0 I was certain she was Son 1.0. All the way up until the day before she was born and we discovered she was breech, rock hard ass, fully engaged. (Really, her buttocks was so hard and round that the venerable, older OB who checked me just before it was discovered, by ultrasound, that she was pointed the wrong direction proclaimed, with confidence, that the head was fully engaged, wouldn’t be long now.) That was when I knew, with complete certainty, that I had been mistaken, and she was a girl. Only a daughter would make things so interesting. Even during the eventual delivery, in the wee small hours of the morning I turned 30, when the resident who had the privilege (and it was a privilege, they sent out a general page through the hospital for anyone and everyone to watch the vaginal breech delivery – standing room only in the OR), of squatting between my legs to cradle and catch my baby’s bottom asked my Husband if he wanted to see his son’s scrotum (turns out swollen labia look a lot like scrotum when presented to the world ahead of the rest of the body), even then, I knew the resident was wrong, I knew she was a she.

And so my birthday became her birthday. It has it’s advantages. I am someone who has always LOVED my birthday. I love a day (ok, there were times I insisted on an entire month) of being fussed over. My Mum always made birthdays special, even half birthdays, which I happen to share with my Big Sister’s birthday. Getting older, celebrations around birthdays diminished, no parents planning parties, no homemade paper mâché pinatas or lemon birthday cake. So the advantage of sharing a birthday with your kid is that you can inform (remind) people that it’s my birthday too. Parents dropping their children at Daughter 2.0’s birthday party would stay for a glass of wine because, did you know? it’s my birthday too?

Boy, the birthday does seem to be all about me still, doesn’t it? Could be Daughter 2.0 resents having to share HER special day with her MOTHER. Perhaps she too wants a day (month) all her own? Seems to be a thing these days, all the adults, parents, grandparents, finding it hard to get out of the way. Will the Babyboomers EVER retire? And in our never-ending pursuit of longer, healthier lives, when will we (or our parents?) ever step aside for the next generation? How will we know when it’s time to fade quietly into the background? And really, how will we ever afford to, living to be 85, 90, 95, 100 years old? And how will our children, grandchildren, ever step into the spotlight when we can’t seem to find our graceful exit? And I don’t mean death, just, like maybe water aerobics and golf instead of holding onto that full time ruler of the world position.

It was my Little Sister who came up with the way to make Daughter 2.0’s birthday special this year (it was her sweet sixteenth after all). We surprised her throughout the school day with 16 items (balloons, packs of gum, tulips, packs of Swedish fish). It was fun, and all about her. As for my special day, there’s always Mother’s Day.  Or wait,  maybe that’s supposed to be all about my Mum and Mom-In-Law?

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It’s a Dog’s Life

The Dog has been a wreck!  The pack has been entirely unruly – coming and going, missing members, separate houses.  Poor Dog can’t keep track, tried to chew his way through a door to follow Daughter 1.0 one evening.  I can totally relate!
For five weeks our house was full.  My Little Sister arrived from Baltimore on January 4 and stayed with us until her house (our other house, the one down the street that we are calling the Beach House) was ready for her to move into (tenants out, painting done, kitchen and bathrooms scrubbed clean of chicken grease and nicotine).  While she stayed with us she roomed with Daughter 2.0, sleeping on a twin blowup mattress.  This suited the Dog just fine; he loves my Little Sister, and Daughter 2.0’s room.  He could rest easy.
And then Daughter 2.0 went to Laos.  Yes, Laos, to the tiny village of Ban NongKhuay (don’t try to find it on GoogleMaps, it’s not there – close to Luang Prabang) to work on building an eco-bungalow.  The Dog has a special place in his heart for Daughter 2.0.  She lets him sleep on her bed.  He always sinks into a bit of mourning when she is away.  Good thing for him he doesn’t understand the concept of distance.  It is disconcerting to send your not quite 16 year old daughter half way round the world.  To take that little piece of yourself that is her and watch it walk through security at the international terminal.  As I write this she is on her way home, hurtling through the thin air high above the vast Pacific (don’t think about it too much).
I had one communication from her when she was “in country.”  I woke to a text message Wednesday when they were back in urban Luang Prabang saying that she thought she had strep.  The teacher chaperone had looked and seen the telltale white patches on her throat.  7500 miles away and my baby is sick.  After a quick internet search and a text exchange with our friend the doctor, I texted back that she should take the Azithromycin that she had with her.  It would kill whatever was ailing her.  So will being home, which she will be, in about 8 hours (who’s counting?).
So Daughter 2.0 disappeared on the Dog, followed soon after by my Little Sister packing up and moving a block away.  To the Dog, one block and 7500 miles are the same.  Gone is gone, and he doesn’t like it.  He should be grateful his English is limited because talk in the house is shifting to where Daughter 1.0 will end up in the Fall.  She heard from her top choice school yesterday that she was accepted!  Now I knew that she was going away to college.  I knew because she did not apply to any colleges within 500 miles.  And she had already gotten into a few schools, one as far away as Miami, Florida (the moon!), but somehow getting into her top choice college makes it all the more real.  She is going away to college!  The pack is splitting up, my pack, the one my Husband and I made.  I’m as anxious and distracted as the Dog, trying to keep track of them, knowing I can’t.
You think this time in your life will be so long, this time when you are a mother and your kids are at home.  People will tell you it goes by fast, older people, people with adult children, and you nod and agree but somehow you don’t quite believe it, until they are going and gone, and suddenly you can’t breathe because you’ve misplaced the baby and toddler, the ones with the lisp and giggle and drool on the chin.
The pack will be back intact tonight and will stay that way, more or less, for the next 6 months.  I don’t think there is anyway to prepare the Dog for the next transition.  Poor Dog!

Grilled Swordfish with Red Peppers and Onions

Four swordfish steaks
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
Lemon olive oil
Smoked paprika
4 small red bell peppers, cored and sliced
One white onion, peeled and sliced
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
Piment d’Espelette

Rub the swordfish with olive oil and sprinkle both sides with salt and pepper.  Preheat the grill to medium high.
Put a generous amount of olive oil into a large sauté pan and heat over medium high heat.  Add the onions and peppers and cook, stirring, until the vegetables begin to caramelize a little, about 10 minutes.  Add the vinegar to the pan and allow to boil almost all the way away, stirring and scrapping the brown bits on the pan.  Add Piment d’Espelette to taste.
Grill the swordfish about 3 – 4 minutes per side.  Sprinkle the cooked fish with the paprika and drizzle with the lemon olive oil and serve topped with the peppers and onions.

We served this with good crusty bread and sautéed broccoli rabe.

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Try Caviar, Please!

It’s Sunday afternoon.  No football.  Everyone’s home and we are all together.  I am going away Monday night, for one night, to Sacramento, for a fundraiser.  I’m staying at the Holiday Inn.  I will be out of the city and away from my family for less than 24 hours (19 hours to be exact).  “What’s your plan for our dinner tomorrow?” my Husband asks.
“I won’t be here so I hadn’t planned a dinner,” I say.  “Maybe you could pick something up on the way home?”
“I get Daughter 2.0 late tomorrow, I don’t want to stop on the way home,” he grumbles.
“Ok, maybe you could order something?  TryCaviar?”  Caviar (we call it TryCaviar, that’s the URL) is an amazing service!  Check it out.
“Can you do it now?” he asks.  Yup!  No problem!  I open the website on my iPad.  “Ok, guys,” I say to the girls, “what do you want for dinner tomorrow?”
“I don’t want TryCaviar,” Daughter 1.0 says.
“You have a car, you can pick up something for yourself on the way home from school,” I suggest.
“I don’t want to,” she whines.  “I guess TryCaviar is ok.  I want pizza, Tommaso’s”
“I hate Tommaso’s!” Daughter 2.0 pipes in.  I’m scrolling through the restaurant choices for Monday night, no Tommaso’s.
“No Tommaso’s tomorrow anyway.  How about pizza from somewhere else?”
“I don’t want pizza,” Daughter 1.0 says.
“But you just said …”
“I only want Tommaso’s”
I sigh and continue to scroll through the choices.  “What about Blue Plate?”
“Where?” Daughter 1.0 asks.
“We’ve eaten there, the place on Valencia, with the good macaroni and cheese?” the Boyfriend offers.
“Oh yeah, I liked it,” Daughter 1.0 says.
“I love macaroni and cheese,” Daughter 2.0 says.
“Great,” I say and start loading the online cart.  “They have fried chicken,” I say to Daughter 2.0.
“Yum!” she says.
“Do you want a side of mac and cheese and a salad?” I ask Daughter 1.0.
“I don’t want Blue Plate,” she says.
“But you just said you liked it.”
“Yeah, but I don’t want it.”
“I don’t want it either,” my Husband says.
I glare at him.  “I don’t know why this is my problem,” I say.  “When was the last time you went out of town and I asked you to arrange our dinner?”
“Never, but I make sure to deposit my pay check into the bank.”
This is an old button, a tender nerve that gets pushed and poked every once in a while.  I have not earned a paycheck since 1996, the year Daughter 1.0 was born.  Well, there was that $1000 I earned for “modeling” in a print IBM ad; and those 5 minutes when I thought I could be a realtor.  I got my license and started practicing in the fall of 2007.  Don’t blame me for subprime mortgage meltdown or the bottom falling out of the real estate market; I swear it wasn’t my fault.  I did manage to make two (small) commissions as a realtor before my manager told me they were going to have to let me go.  I was fired from a job that didn’t even pay me!  Turns out I’m not a very good salesperson.
When my Husband and I moved to San Francisco with our 3 week old baby, we both assumed I would go back to work.  I had always earned money.  I babysat from the age of 11 (different times) for $1.00 an hour.  I got my first official, tax-withheld job as soon as the law would allow (age 13) scooping ice cream at Brigham’s.  I temped summers through college and worked as a babysitter and bartender during the school year.  When my Husband and I got married, I worked while he went to law school.  I paid my own way (and my Husband’s), until I became a mom, and my Husband got his first lawyer gig.
For years my Husband would ask when I was planning to go back to work.  When would I find a high paying job, one that wouldn’t interfere with my ability to manage the household and care for the children or impact his life too much?  When?  I know it’s hard to be the sole breadwinner for a family of 4, I do.  It’s stressful.  But my Husband is one of the lucky ones who is very good at his job, and he really likes it, and it pays very well.  It pays more than the combined income of most two working-parent families we know.  I happen to be really good at my job too, and I really like it, but the pay sucks.
Before I say something I might regret I leave the kitchen.  I call the dog and take him for a walk in the park.  In my mind I run through my frequent fantasy, the one where I take the kids and move to some small town (New Mexico?) and get a job (waiting tables?) and we live in a one bedroom apartment and shop at the Goodwill and eat red beans and rice but are happy, because I would once again be paying my own way and teaching the girls the value of the dollar.  I could do it, I can live on very little, I have in the past, I could do it again.  It would be honest.
When I get home my Husband apologizes.  He’ll sort out dinner, don’t worry.  I didn’t worry, and I tried not to feel guilty.  I did get a call from my Husband the next evening.  He needed the TryCaviar account password.

Souvlaki Pork or Chicken with Pizzeria Greek Salad, Tzatziki and Pita Bread

3 halves boneless skinless chicken breasts or 1 pork tenderloin
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoons fresh oregano chopped or 1 tablespoon dried
1 tablespoon fresh thyme chopped or 1 teaspoon dried
3 cloves of peeled and chopped garlic
3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and black pepper

Cut the chicken or pork into cubes that can be skewered.  Whisk together the remaining ingredients and toss with the cut meat.  Allow to marinate in the refrigerator for a hour.  In the meantime make the tzatziki and salad:

1 1/2 cups whole milk greek yogurt
1 cucumber
2 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon fresh mint chopped
Salt and black pepper to taste

Peel the cucumber and slice in half the long way.  Using a spoon, scrape out the seeds and discard.  Slice the cucumber into thin half moons.  Put the cucumber in a bowl and sprinkle with salt.  Peel the garlic cloves and grate them over the cucumber.  Add the mint to the bowl along with the yogurt and stir to combine.  Taste and correct for salt and pepper.  Place the tzatziki in the refrigerator until ready to use.

For the salad dressing:

1/3 cup and teaspoons olive oil
3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
3/4 teaspoon dried oregano
3/4 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon Dijon-style mustard
1 tablespoon mayonaise
1/3 cup red wine vinegar

Combine all of the ingredients into a glass jar with a cover.  Cover and shake hard to mix.  Toss the following ingredients together in a large salad bowl:

1-2 heads of romaine lettuce, washed with outer leaves discarded, chopped
One large cucumber, peeled and cut into 1 inch chunks
One pint cherry tomatoes halved
1/4 cup (or more) sliced pepperoncini
Half a red onion peeled and thinly sliced
1/4 cup (or more) pitted kalamata olives chopped
1 cup crumbled feta cheese

Add the dressing to taste and toss again.

Remove the pork or chicken from the fridge and bring to room temperature.  Preheat a grill to high or preheat the broiler in your oven.

Peel two red onions and cut in half length wise.  Cut each half into quarters.  Thread the meat chunks onto a skewer alternating with the wedges of red onion.  Grill the skewers for about 15 minutes, turning frequently, until the meat is done.  Remove from the heat and squeeze a lemon over them.

Serve the skewers with the tzatziki, salad and pita bread.  We like to make pita pocket sandwiches.

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The Story of Us

It’s been more than a month.  A month that included carols and trees and cards and food and champagne and presents and wrapping and travel and family and friends and general good cheer.  Followed by two weeks of the Bon Appétit Food Lover’s Cleanse.  Happy 2015!  I’m back …
I love the holiday season.  I love decorating the house and baking cookies and listening to Christmas carols (I have 10 hours and 50 minutes worth of merry tunes on my Christmas play list).  There was that year I cancelled Christmas.  That was the year my Daughters began Christmas wish lists in September and started to get upset thinking about what they might not find under the tree.  That’s not the spirit of Christmas!  Come on girls, don’t I read the Grinch over and over every year?  Haven’t you learned the lesson that “What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store”?  Don’t expect much under the tree, I told the girls.  You have everything you could possibly want and need anyway.  And then I told them about my childhood of meager possessions and how Christmas was so special because it was the one time of year (save our birthdays) when we got stuff.  And we didn’t get a ton, just one “big” present that was left unwrapped under the tree and maybe a book.  (Ok, I exaggerated a little, but I was trying to make a point).  I’ll show them the true meaning of Christmas, I thought, and signed us up to help serve dinner to the homeless at St. Anthony’s Dining Room on Christmas Day.  It was a strange and, I thought, wonderful experience.  And maybe a little scary for my 8 and 11 year old Daughters.  We followed that year up with annual Christmas Day visits to shut-in seniors through a program at Little Brothers.  This was a little more to the girls’ liking.
Traditionally we host some (not all) of the holiday dinners.  For years we traded hosting Thanksgiving with good family friends, dividing the cooking work load.  As my Daughters got older, and proximity to their bedrooms and stuff got ever more important, we became the default host house, but the cooking has always been a joint effort.  Our numbers at dinner can range from 12 to 24, friends and family.  We have oysters and champagne in the backyard, traditional Thanksgiving feast served buffet style with plenty of good wine, all nine kinds of pie Harold likes best with port and Sauternes.  We insist folks Uber, Lyft or cab it.
We used to host Christmas Eve dinner and then went to friends’ for Christmas Day, the same friends with whom we share Thanksgiving.  This was the perfect set up for us.  My Husband would plan an elaborate, indulgent, multi-course, sit down dinner; Daughter 1.0 and I would make a bûche de Nöel; everyone got Christmas pjs (adults too) and changed before heading home; my Husband and I would stay up to the wee small hours after the girls were in bed, cleaning the kitchen and fulfilling our Santa duties (sorry girls, it really was us eating the cookies and carrots and drinking the milk for all those years).  On Christmas Day after the madness of opening presents, we took our bleary-eyed selves to our friends’ for prime rib and Yorkshire pudding.  Perfect!  Merry Christmas to all!
Three years ago, independently, both families made plans to be away for Christmas.  They went to New York, we went to Maui.  And while I love Maui, (who wouldn’t?) where the hardest decision of the day is whether to have our beach chairs set up in the corner by the rocks or right in the center of the beach and whether 11:00 am is too early for a Mai Tai (no!), I missed being home for Christmas.  But our friends really like being in New York.
My Husband put his foot down – he would not cook both Christmas Eve and Christmas day dinner (not to mention Thanksgiving!).  Last year we went to friends for Thanksgiving, went out to dinner Christmas Eve and my Husband cooked (pork roast) for Christmas dinner.  And while Thanksgiving was incredible at our friends’ house, and the restaurant meal was superb, I missed having the dinners in our home.  My Husband didn’t.  He seemed to be relieved not to cook.  And this made me sad.  You see, cooking for people has always been a part of who we are.  It’s the story we tell of us.  We feed people – in college, in law school, in our grown up life.  And my Husband is a cook.  I fell in love with him for his killer Caesar salad and because when I had to have my tonsils out in college, within months of meeting him, he fed me (soft food).  Cooking and feeding feel synonymous with love.
This year, somehow (oops!), we ended up hosting all three holiday meals.  And yes, it was a tremendous amount of work, but it made me happy.  And I would argue that it made my Husband happy too.  I could see it watching him shuck oysters and fuss over his barbecue turkey.  I could see it when he went to the cellar and brought up a bottle of beautiful Sine Qua Non wine.  I could see it when he artfully plated his perfectly cooked Christmas Day quails.
I promised my Husband I wouldn’t make him host all three dinners again, but I have 10 months to work on him.

One way I convinced my Husband to host Christmas Eve dinner, in addition to Christmas Day, was to assure him that I would make it, and that it would be easy and casual.  My Husband’s sole responsibility was to pick up the focaccia bread from Liguria Bakery (turns out the line was 3 hours long, so he did worked for it, but if you have ever had Liguria’s focaccia, you know it’s worth it!).

Christmas Eve Lasagne Two Ways (red and green)

For both lasagnes, I used fresh pasta sheets (store bought).  I rolled the sheets in a pasta maker to make them extra thin.

For the red:

One package of fresh pasta sheets
Freshly grated reggiano parmigiano cheese
Butter

One batch of Bolognese (we often double or triple the recipe and freeze it):
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 tablespoons butter
Small yellow onion, chopped into small dice
2 celery ribs, chopped into small dice
2 large carrots, peeled and chopped into small dice
1/3 pound ground chuck
1/3 pound ground pork
1/3 pound ground veal
1 cup whole milk
Whole nutmeg
1 cup dry white wine
1 28 ounce can whole San Marzano tomatoes, drained

Put the oil, butter and onion in a large pot over medium heat.  Cook until the onion is translucent, stirring occasionally.  Add the celery and carrots, cook for about 2 minutes, stirring the vegetables.
Add the ground meats to the pot with a large pinch of kosher salt and a few grindings of black pepper.  Crumble the meat with the back of a wooden spoon and cook until it has lost its raw color.
Add the milk to the pot and adjust the temperature to a gentle simmer.  Simmer until all of the liquid has bubbled away.  Add a tiny grating of fresh nutmeg and stir the pot.  Add the wine and simmer until all of it has evaporated, stirring occasionally.
Add the tomatoes, crushing them in your hand as you add them to the pot.  Stir well to combine all the ingredients.  When the sauce begins to bubble, turn the heat down as low as possible and simmer very very gently for 3 hours.  Add water (1/2 at a time) if the sauce appears to be drying out.  Taste and correct for salt.

Béchamel Sauce:
3 cups whole milk
6 tablespoons butter
4 1/2 tablespoons flour
1/4 teaspoon salt

Heat the milk just to the verge of boiling.  In a separate pan, melt the butter over medium low heat.  Add the flour and cook, stirring, for about 2 minutes.  Slowly add the warm milk to the flour/butter mixture (the roux).  Add the salt and stir until the sauce is the texture of heavy cream.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Smear the bottom of a lasagne pan with butter and spoon in some béchamel sauce to coat the bottom.  Line the bottom with a single layer of the pasta
Combine the bolognese sauce with béchamel sauce.  Spread a layer on the pasta.  Sprinkle with parmesan cheese.  Add another layer of the pasta and repeat, layering, until all of the pasta and sauce are gone.  Finish with a thin layer of sauce on the top layer and sprinkle with cheese.  Dot the top with butter.
Bake in the top rack of the oven for 10 to 15 minutes.

For the green:

One package of fresh pasta sheets
Freshly grated reggiano parmigiano cheese
Butter

Pesto with Ricotta:
2 parts basil leaves to 1 part Italian parsley for a total of about 2 cups, loosely packed
1 – 2 cloves of garlic peeled
3 Tbsp pine nuts
1/3 a cup or so of freshly grated reggiano parmigiano cheese
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup good olive oil

3 tablespoons of butter at room temperature
1/2 pint of fresh ricotta cheese

I make my pesto in a food processor.  If you use a blender be sure to put the oil in first followed by everything else.
  Put all the ingredients except the oil in the bowl of a food processor.  Process for a few seconds then add the oil through the food tube and continue to process until all the oil is incorporated.  Scrape the pesto into a bowl and blend in the butter and the ricotta.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
Thickly smear the bottom of a lasagne pan with butter.  Line the bottom with a single layer of pasta.  Spread a thin layer of the ricotta pesto on the pasta and sprinkle with parmesan cheese.  Add another layer of pasta and repeat the process, layering until all of the pasta and sauce are gone.  Finish with a thin layer of pesto and sprinkle with cheese.  Dot with butter.
Bake in the top rack of the oven for 10 to 15 minutes.

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Goodbye Allegra

Just a quick post today, no recipe.  May I suggest take out for dinner?

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We said goodbye to our cat Allegra last week.  We had had her for nearly fourteen years.  I remember going with my Husband and our Daughters to Pets Unlimited to find our kitten.  We had hoped for a tiny, brand new baby kitten, one tiny kitten.  We came home with two seven month old litter mates.  They were not brand new or tiny, but when one of them was a silver tabby Daughter 1.0 didn’t complain.  She was 4 years old, nearly five, and loved a Magic Charms book called The Cat Next Door which featured a silver tabby named Clover (and a silver charm necklace in the shape of a cat; what joy!).  The big kittens were already named – Sticky Mango and Satay.  We weren’t all that fond of those names and told Daughter 1.0 that she could name one of the cats. She panicked, maybe with the responsibility, and couldn’t remember the name Clover.  She reached for the name of a character in a book and came up with Charlotte (the famous spider).  My Husband and I named the other kitten (Daughter 2.0 had only just turned 2) and landed on the name Allegra after a cat we had cared for briefly just after college.  The original Allegra was Siamese and this new Allegra had Siamese in her.
Allegra was a noisy girl.  She loved my Husband best.  She would climb into his lap whenever she could, purring, crumpling papers or sitting on his laptop.  She would roll around on his dirty clothes (when he didn’t remember to put them in the hamper which was often) exposing her tummy and acting entirely undignified.  She loved her sister Charlotte.  Charlotte was quiet and tolerant and a terrific hunter (the perfect cat in my opinion).  She allowed the girls to pick her up and move her around.  I always thought of the book Olivia by Ian Falconer – In the morning, after Olivia gets up, and moves the cat… and brushes her teeth, and combs her ears, ….and moves the cat.  Allegra was less tolerant, would sometimes snap at the girls when she was annoyed by the manhandling.
Charlotte died a little over two years ago from cancer.  I liked Allegra more after Charlotte was gone.  Allegra was a very good cat.  She had suffered by comparison to the most excellent cat that was Charlotte.  We got a kitten, Charlie, six months after Charlotte died.  I thought it might be too much for our old lady cat Allegra, but it was the best thing that ever happened to her.  She had a Cocoon-like response to Charlie, playing like a kitten herself.
Allegra’s decline was quick.  On Monday she had little interest in eating; by Wednesday night she had trouble breathing.  Our kind and gentle Vet on Wheels, Dr. Bolivar, came on the day of the #hellastorm (yes, they cancelled school for rain!).  My Daughters were here with me, and the Boyfriend.  Dr. Bolivar ran through the possible causes for Allegra’s sudden decline and the possible treatments.  Her prognosis wasn’t good, any treatment would involve a trip to the animal hospital.  In the best of times, Allegra was terrified to travel to the vet’s.  It distressed her so much that she would pee on herself in the carrier.  We thought that putting Allegra through that kind of ordeal would be cruel, especially at her age, and decided to let her go.  We cried and Dr. Bolivar said a prayer and quietly she was gone.
As I write this, Charlie is sitting next to me in the spot where Allegra always sat, on top of the cable box.  Maybe he’s missing her.  Or maybe he just likes the warmth of the cable box under him, like she did.

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