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Archive for the ‘Seasons’ Category

Favorite Fall Recipes

Thursday, September 1st, 2011

In response to a couple of requests submitted in comments on yesterday’s post, I’m sharing my Chicken Chili recipe with you today.  Also, because it would just be plain mean of me not to, I’m sharing the recipe for Pump Cakes, which are more than a muffin, less than a cupcake, and highly addictive.  (Anna – The Pump Cake recipe comes from Pam F, so if you like it be sure to give her the credit!)

White Chicken Chili

Ingredients
½ C vegetable oil
1 C yellow onion, medium dice
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 jalapeño peppers, ribs and seeds removed, small dice
1/2 tsp. dry mustard
1 tsp. cumin
½ tsp. chili powder
¼ tsp. cayenne (or black pepper if you have a milder palate)
6 Tbs flour
1 whole chicken, roasted and cooled (or 1 store-bought rotisserie chicken)
3 cans low sodium chicken broth
2 cans white beans, such as Great Northern, drained and rinsed
Salt and pepper
1 bunch cilantro
1 cup sour cream

Procedure

  1. In a large stock pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat sauté onion in vegetable oil 3 to 4 minutes.  Reduce heat to medium and add garlic and peppers and sauté 5 minutes more.  Add spices and mix thoroughly. 
  2. Add flour and stir into onion/pepper mixture.  Cook roux 3 to 4 minutes until it turns slightly golden.  Meanwhile heat the chicken broth in a separate saucepan over medium heat. 
  3. Whisking constantly, add chicken broth to onion mixture.  Then add and beans.  Bring to a boil over high heat and then reduce heat to medium low and simmer.
  4. While broth is simmering, remove skin from chickens and pull meat off the bones.  Chop the meat into small dice and reserve in a medium bowl. 
  5. Add the chicken to the broth and beans and continue to simmer until it reaches your desired consistency – probably about 45 minutes.  It will start off at a runnier consistency than it should be, but will thicken as it simmers.  If it gets too thick, just add water back in, ½ cup at a time. 
  6. Add salt and pepper and adjust seasonings as necessary.
  7. Finely chop cilantro and stir into sour cream.  Serve alongside. 


Pump Cakes

These are a perfect autumnal snack.  A cross between a muffin and a a cupcake, they’re actually not that bad for you.  If you wanted to be really healthy, you could use raisins instead of chocolate chips (which my mother does…) but I think they’re much better with the chips. 

Ingredients
1 box spice cake mix
1 C canned pumpkin puree
2 eggs
1/3 C water
12 oz bag chocolate chips

Procedure

1.  Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl with a spatula or wooden spoon.
2.  Portion the batter into a greased muffin tin and bake according to cupcake directions on spice cake box.

Five Dollar Post – Pining for Fall

Wednesday, August 31st, 2011

Around this time each year I allow myself to start really pining for fall.  Here in the Midwest fall doesn’t really set in until early to mid October, so even though the start of September seems like it should bring a change of seasons, I actually have another month of patient waiting to endure before we can finally close the door on summer.  Nevertheless, we’re in the home stretch and it only seems fair that I reward myself with the daydreams of fall that I’ve denied myself these past many weeks.

With that, here is a little account of some of my favorite things about fall.

  1. Pumpkin and butternut squash are everywhere.  They’re inside raviolis and risottos on restaurant menus.  They’re in ice creams and lattes.  They’re roasted as side dishes and whipped into purees with cream and butter.  Mmmm.
  2. The color brown.  I’m all for jewel tones year round, but in the fall I love wearing clothes in shades of brown.  Everything feels warmer and cozier (specifically sweaters) when it’s brown.
  3. Marshmallows.  I have a sort of embarrassing habit.  In the fall and winter I have a penchant for roasted marshmallows.  I stick a couple of big ones on a fork and roast them over the gas burner of the stove.  They’re really good in hot chocolate, but sometimes I just eat them plain.
  4. Football season.  I don’t even like football.  I can sort of follow a game, but what I know about the sport is vastly outweighed by what I don’t know.  Even so, I love the ambiance of a football game.  I love being curled up in our basement in jeans and a sweatshirt watching IEP practice hiking the ball and listening the GAP hail the glories and woes of his fantasy team with each game.
  5. Baseball playoffs.  Baseball is my sport.  I haven’t followed the regular season much this year, partly because my team is in the toilet and partly because pregnancy has greatly diminished my capacity to focus on much of anything.  But I always love the postseason.  I love seeing fans bundled up in coats and earmuffs.  And I love keeping track of each series and who is winning.
  6. Bundling up.  Jeans, sweatshirts, and thick socks.  I love seeing my breath when I walk the dogs each morning.  I love the way IEP looks in his ear-flap hat.  And I love the feel of cozy clothes that are well broken in.
  7. Chili.  I’m a fan of most chilis, but I’m especially a fan of my own chicken chili.  It’s a recipe I made up out of thin air years ago and I’ve tweaked and perfected it over time.  Last winter it reached new heights of deliciousness, and I can’t wait to dust off the recipe this year.
  8. Raking leaves.  Actually, it’s not so much raking leaves that I love (because I don’t).  It’s really watching IEP jump into piles of leaves and laugh at himself.  There’s just nothing about it that ever gets old.
  9. Prancing dogs.  Our poor dogs are not cut out for summers like this.  Anything over 80 degrees is really unpleasant for them.  Over 90 is dangerous.  And over 100 is sheer torture.  They were made for winter and I love seeing their animated spirits bounce back as soon as the morning air brings its first chill.
  10. Wine.  This really has nothing to do with fall itself.  It’s just that for me this year fall means I can enjoy a glass of red wine again, and I’m very much looking forward to that.

Now I just have to wait until all my little dreams come true.  The great thing about these dreams, though, is that I know they all will come true.  Perhaps not as quickly as I’d like, but in due time.

Just Peachy

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011

Something about this time of year makes me value simplicity.  Last year around this time I dedicated a series of posts to some of the little things in life that bring me joy (namely scalloped tomatoes, nightgowns, and TV reruns).  This year it’s peaches.

Every summer of my childhood sometime in late July my mother drove to a nearby small town that is very nearly paved with peach orchards.  She would come home with peaches by the bushel.  She spread them on the kitchen island, breakfast table, and counters to ripen.  It seemed that every flat surface on the first floor of the house was covered in peaches.  And when they hit that perfect moment of ripeness – usually all on the same day – the house smelled of peaches from top to bottom.  It was heavenly.

Many related memories tie into these moments of peach season.  I remember becoming adept with a paring knife as I peeled fresh peaches, eating them at the kitchen counter as the juice dripped down my hands because I ate each slice as I cut it, not bothering with forks or plates.  I remember watching my mother stand over a pot of boiling water to blanch and peel quart after quart of peaches to be sliced and frozen for winter consumption.  And I remember eating those peaches through the cold months, thawed on top of cereal or oatmeal and enjoying a taste of summer when the world outside lay dormant.

Last weekend I went to a local farmers market and loaded up on peaches.  I didn’t buy them by the bushel as Mom does – she chided me affectionately for only buying two half pecks – but I bought enough to put a few pints up for the winter, to make a pie, and to eat them sliced on top of my cereal for days on end.  As of this morning I have half a peach pie left, and a couple dozen peaches at the perfect stage of ripeness for peeling, slicing, and freezing.  I will put them up tonight, and then likely make a repeat trip to the farmers market for a second batch to make another pie and some peach butter.  My goal is to completely indulge – to make myself totally sick of peaches now so that when mid-August rolls around and the peak of the season is behind us I will feel fulfilled by the triumph of such perfect fruit, and not jilted by the brevity of the season.

I don’t know why this time of year finds me reveling in life’s simpler pleasures.  I’m sure it has something to do with the proverbial bar being lowered by day after day of god-forsaken heat.  Scorching temperatures aside, I sort of like this time of year.  There are no holidays.  No big plans to make.  Little to occupy me beyond my typical work-a-day existence.  It’s a comfort, really, to enjoy a stretch of days when the biggest thing going on in my life is the daily enjoyment of a perfectly ripened peach.

Saucer Magnolias

Friday, March 25th, 2011

The saucer magnolias are in bloom.  I look at them and I see the front yard of the fraternity house.  His fraternity house.  And also my fraternity house.  The one where he courted me, in that casual college way.  I see the saucer magnolia off to the left, its purple and white petals on the ground like confetti. I see college guys in t-shirts, cargo shorts, and flip flops with a beer in one hand and a frisbee in the other.  I see us on the porch, procrastinating, before eventually caving and walking to our corporate finance class together even though we both want to sit on that porch and continue to flirt with each other.  I see us return from class and drop our backpacks on the ground sliding back into conversations that we left behind 50 minutes ago.  I see myself looking back over my shoulder as I leave, headed to the dining hall for supper, walking through fallen petals across the yard.

The Bradford Pears are in bloom.  I look at them and I see my high school.  I see its brick towers and pitched roofs.  I see high school kids filtering out through the gymnasium exit to the parking lot, uniform shirts untucked since the bell has rung.  I see track practice in full swing.  I see myself linger in that parking lot, spinning my car keys around my index finger, not wanting to go home for fear of missing something important to an insecure 17-year-old.  I see the Bradford Pear trees lining the drive, and I smell their scent.  They are not sweet, but strongly pungent in a way that is only pleasing based on connotation.  Yet my connotations never fade, and I love the smell of Bradford Pear blossoms.

The forsythia are in bloom.  I look at their gangly yellow branches and I see the side yard of my childhood home.  I see the triangular flower bed in the corner of the yard with the un-pruned forsythia limbs hanging in arcs.  I see my mother’s vegetable garden, dug in the shape of my home state, partly because my dad has a sense of humor, and partly because he got sick of digging.  I see the shed attached to the side of the house that my dad built with help from church friends.  And I see my handprints in the concrete ramp that was built for the riding lawnmower.  I see my mother explaining to me for the eighteenth time which one is forsythia and which ones are photinia.

The daffodils are in bloom.  I look at them and I see every tree in my parents’ yard surrounded by daffodils.  I see them cut in vases on our breakfast table.  I see the little ones in bud vases on my mother’s bill-paying desk.  I see myself smelling them, knowing that they don’t smell like much, but wanting to believe that they do.

The hyacinths are in bloom.  I look at them and I see my son’s first spring.  I see the day that our nanny was sick and I spent the day at home with my five-month-old baby.  I see myself sitting on our front porch with him, holding pieces of mulch so that he could feel them.  I see myself pick up a broken hyacinth bloom that had fallen under the weight of its own petals.  I see him reach for it, grasp it, and carry it to his mouth.  I see myself take a series of photos of my baby with a pink flower.  I take the bruised blossom from him and smell it, knowing that these smell the way I think spring should smell.

The saucer magnolias are in bloom, and they bring with them an avalanche of memories.

The Seasonality of Self

Monday, March 7th, 2011

To be interested in the changing seasons is a happier state of mind than to be hopelessly in love with spring.

- George Santayana, Reason and Art

Spring is not yet here.  Try as I might to will that it be so, I have no such powers.  So as I twiddle my thumbs until mid-April finally arrives, I am prone to consider why it is that I get so itchy about the seasons this time of year.

I love experiencing seasons.  Even more so I love the change of seasons.  I love the feeling of anticipation (and even sometimes the frustration) that builds this time of year when I’ve long since quenched my desire for jeans and hooded sweatshirts and I yearn for sandals and sundresses.  I love knowing that something lovely is on the horizon.  Something about the change itself – not just what’s on the other side of that change – excites me.

I’ve long believed (based on nothing but my own certitude) that as human beings we have some emotional need for seasons; that there’s something in our biorhythms that demands the cyclical nature of our seasons.  Some amateur internet sleuthing on this topic quickly disappointed me.  Our seasons have nothing to do with anything but the tilt of the earth’s access.  And we don’t technically need them for any emotional purpose.  People who evolved in cultures located at the equator have no innate knowledge of seasons and don’t “need” winter, spring, or fall any more than I “need” the 365 days of sunshine per year that they have.

Apparently it’s all in my head.

Comedian Daniel Tosh understands this.  He does a bit in his stand-up routine (which you can catch occasionally on Comedy Central) that pokes fun at people like me.  To paraphrase:

Why wouldn’t anyone want to live in LA?  I don’t get those people who say, “Oh, I could never live in LA.  I just need seasons too much.  I could never live in a place that didn’t have seasons.”  Well, to them I say, “I love seasons too.  That’s why I live in a place that skips all the crappy ones.”

That line about needing seasons?  I’ve said it a few hundred times in my life.  And I know many people who share my sentiments.  There is a chance that my “I need seasons” hang-up is just my way of justifying why I continue to live in a place where winter is cold and crappy, and summer is hot and humid.  But I’ve known more than a few people who moved to milder climates and hated it because they could no longer experience the changing seasons.

So what is it then about our human nature that causes us to crave these changes?  If it isn’t biological must it be learned?

Harvard and UCLA psychiatrist John Sharp’s book The Emotional Calendar delves into this question.  And while I haven’t read the book in full, the synopsis of it that I have read nevertheless intrigues me.  Sharp asserts that numerous factors – seasons being chief among them -  influence our “emotional calendars.”  He also points out that when our emotions don’t correspond with the traditional feelings associated with a season we experience an unpleasant dissonance.  But they are the emotional markers – personal experiences that are forever tied to a time of year – that are the greatest influencers of our relationship to any particular season.

For me, though, the seasons themselves still hold meaning.  Something about the smell of a hyacinth blossom or the crunch of fallen leaves under my feet keeps me tuned into the passage of time.  I like that each month feels different than the one that precedes or follows it.  I like the feelings of anticipation at the start of a season, and the feelings of relief at the end.

Sometimes research backs me up and sometimes it doesn’t.  But, as my sister is fond of pointing out, some things don’t have to be fact in order to be true.

Indian Takeout and a Paradigm Shift

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

I love the Indian restaurant near our house.  I love it for its proximity to us.  I love it for its creamy kormas and potent curries.  I love it for its lunch buffet.  And I love it for its very friendly (and kid friendly!) staff.  But last night I loved it for the gentle, but completely warranted, reprimand that the owner gave to me.

After running another errand I stopped in to pick up a quick supper for GAP and myself.  When I walked in all of the usual aromas hit me – a heady mix of nuts, curries, tomatoes, and naan.  I commented to the owner that his restaurant smelled even better than usual tonight.  I continued, saying that it must be because it’s so cold and miserable outside.  Then he surprised me.

In heavily accented English he reminded me that we had a long and beautiful fall this year, and that I should not complain about the cold.  He said, “You go home.  You eat your curry.  You have big fireplace.  Then you have hot coffee.  And the cold doesn’t seem so bad.”

And you know what?  He was right. 

Even when the days run short and the mercury drops and the sun hides behind thick clouds for days at a time I should not think about the way the winter season plagues me.  I should think about the things about it that delight me.  I love bundling up in pajama pants and hooded sweatshirts on winter evenings.  I love steamy mugs of hot chocolate (my Indian friend doesn’t know I’m not a coffee drinker…).  I love fires in fireplaces.  I love time spent curled up inside without having to make excuses as to why I’m not out enjoying the beautiful weather. 

There is indeed a season for everything.  And I should enjoy those seasons as they come.  We’ve barely shut the door on autumn.  To start pining for spring already just seems silly.  It’s time to enjoy winter for what it is: a season that moves slowly; a season that is marked by afternoons filled with books and movies; a season that begs us to lie fallow.  Spring will be here soon enough with its thunderstorms and crocuses.  But longing for those things now will only cause me to lose my appreciation for the blessings brought on by winter. 

I’m feeling better about winter already.  Happy December 1st!

Seasonal Attitude Disorder

Monday, March 8th, 2010

It’s usually sometime in January when we start hearing stories in the news about Seasonal Affective Disorder.  (Apparently January 18th was the most depressing day of the year for 2010.)  We read articles about light therapy.  And we collectively grumble about the long stretch of winter in front of us.

I am of a different ilk.  Call me crazy, but I like the dormancy of January.  I’m not sad that the holidays are behind me.  Certainly there’s a happy anticipation that they bring about.  But untold amounts of work come along for the ride.  January, conversely, is a low maintenance month.  I don’t love the bitter cold or cabin fever.  But I do love seeing white space on my calendar and hot chocolate in my hand.  It’s not all bad.

It’s February, on the other hand, that makes me cranky.  It swoops in with its 28 days, acting harmless and innocent.  It teases us with the preposterous idea that spring might show up early if an oversized rodent doesn’t run into a hole.  Then it tries to woo us with roses and chocolates.  But there’s always one thing I want in February that it will never have to offer me:

Sandals.

I’ll even extend the list to include sundresses, sunglasses, baseball, daffodils, blooming Bradford Pear trees, outdoor café tables, and the smell of freshly cut grass.  I’d take any of them.  But February always leaves me hanging.  One grey day after another I check weather.com with hope and anticipation, only to find disappointment and a dismal forecast.

For me, February requires a major attitude adjustment. 

So imagine my delight last week when we got to close the book on February.  Truthfully, Monday didn’t act that much differently from Sunday.  Still grey.  Still cold.  Still filled with more darkness than daylight.  But something felt different.  Maybe it was because during my visit to my parents’ house over the weekend (where spring arrives about three weeks earlier than it does here) bulbs are already popping up.  Maybe it’s because I’m starting to hear buzz about March Madness and I can envision myself winning the office pool (which actually happened once).  Maybe it’s because I have a new challenge in front of me, distracting me from the last few days of winter.  Maybe it’s because 40 degrees, while still chilly, feels positively balmy after weeks of highs in the teens and twenties.  Or maybe it’s because I know that by the time this month ends the lion will have gone and the lamb will be here.

It’s probably a combination of those things.    

But for all of my complaining about February (the shortest never-ending month), I need it.  Without February, March – and better yet April – wouldn’t be so glorious.  Spring, and the renaissance it brings, is brilliant on its own.  But its greatest triumph is that it delivers us from the doldrums that preceded it.  It is this contrast – not just flowers and sunshine – that moves me.

I’ve heard many many people sing the praises of living in places like San Diego and Miami.  They brag about wearing shorts and flip flops in January.  They have green grass and waving palm trees year round.  They don’t have to suffer through the dead of winter or the dog days of summer that the Midwest so lovingly doles out.  But such climates don’t come without a cost:  They don’t have seasons.

The first day of spring; the first time your ankles go bare; the first daffodil you see; the first day you wear short sleeves; the first time you pull out your grill; the first day that you turn off your furnace; the first day the season really arrives can never feel truly, overwhelmingly perfect if it’s no different than the day that came before it.  It is change that I need, as much as anything else.  The same is true of sweaters and cider and turning leaves in the fall.  Only after summer has lingered into September and long overstayed its welcome can I be wholly invigorated by the first chilly morning that makes me reach for a fleece. 

Yes.  It’s change that I need.

We are barely a full week into March, and yet I’m feeling better.  I feel lighter and happier.  I feel excited and optimistic.  I feel eager and capable.  I’ll go ahead and say it… I have a spring in my step!