Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Love and loss and life, this Thanksgiving

We're Outer Banks-bound to be with family tomorrow. My Aunt Jill has been fighting cancer so valiantly for the last year and a half, and it's time for everyone to gather around her now. There's so much to say, and no need to say any of it, really. One thing, though: tell your families you love them. Just tell them.

Us at the FDR Memorial, last weekend. One of those shockingly beautiful fall days, where being alive feels like the craziest blessing there is.

Monday, November 22, 2010

A week of thanks

Early Saturday morning, I received the kind of phone call that immediately made me want to hurry home to be with my family. Only, we'd just landed in Connecticut to spend the weekend with T's family. I was still buckled in on the airplane, in fact; it was not yet safe to move around the aircraft. North Carolina wasn't going to happen.

The next two days were spent in a really beautiful way. In fact, for a "Fakesgiving" weekend, thankfulness was very much in the forefront for me. I'm thankful that my in-laws are not just people I've been forced to reckon with during the holidays; they're people I feel honored to have in my life. I'm thankful that during a weekend when I wasn't at my best, they gathered around me and sent love out into the universe to my family. They made me a stiff drink, they set me up on a stool during a fabulous afternoon of cooking, they snuck out with me for adventures in between meals, they made me one of their own. I wasn't sure on that airplane if I could get through the next two days, yet by Sunday night, I was sure I shouldn't have been anywhere else.

We'll be with my family this weekend, which I would love to hurry up and get here already. It's where we need to be; it's where we are needed. But in this moment in between our families, at the tail end of a year that has brought with it losses and illnesses and more than we bargained for, I remain grateful for all that I have, and so very thankful for the love surrounding me.

Sunrise from the guest bedroom
Guilford, CT

Friday, November 19, 2010

Have a golden weekend!

We're heading up to Connecticut to celebrate an early Thanksgiving with T's family, and I couldn't be more excited to ooh and aah at New England prettiness, hang out in the kitchen all day with family, and laugh late into the night. Next week I'm going to try to write a real recipe for a delicious posole I threw together last night with pork shoulder leftovers - stay tuned for as much lime and cilantro as you can handle. Until then, a nice reminder for us all, from one of my favorite letterpress studios, Studio on Fire:

Have a golden weekend!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Savoring the Season: Butternut Squash Soup

I love the feeling of eating a season in a bowl. Soups are particularly good for this. In the fall, my soups take a turn toward homey, savory, and earthy, and few soups achieve this balance as well as butternut squash. A few weeks ago at our favorite splurge-worthy restaurant, I wanted to marry the bowl of butternut squash soup I was eating, it was so perfectly done. Imagine my delight, then, when I discovered the chef's recipe on a local food blog. After a wee bit of tweaking to suit my tastebuds and access to ingredients, here's the version I came up with. Like all soups, this one is better the next day. I made it late-night to serve the next day for dinner and was wowed with the results. Slurp away!

Butternut Squash Soup
Adapted from J&G Steakhouse
Serves 5-6

2 pounds butternut squash, peeled and cut into chunks
4 cups chicken broth
1 ¼ cup whole Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons butter, plus dab
1 shallot, finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 cups shitake mushrooms, cleaned and halved
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 tbsp butter
2 tbsp chives, cut into small pieces

In a large pot, combine the squash and broth and bring to a boil. Lower heat to medium and cook for about 20-30 minutes, until the squash is very tender. Working in batches, purée the mixture in a blender. Return the purée to the pot over medium-low heat, and add the yogurt and butter. In a pan, sauté one finely chopped shallot in a small dab of butter until soft, then add to the soup. Purée the soup one more time in a blender* until silky-smooth.  Season with salt and pepper to your taste.

To prepare the garnish, go back to your separate pan and sauté your other finely chopped shallot in butter for 3-4 minutes over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms and sauté for another 3-5 minutes, until the mushrooms start to brown slightly.

Pour the soup into bowls, garnish with mushrooms, and sprinkle with chives.

*If you have an immersion blender you could of course blend right in the pot, but I found my real-deal blender to work better for achieving the texture I wanted. 

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Golden compromises

These were the shoes I really wanted. There is no verb in our language that accurately describes what I do when I look at this shoes. Swooning is far too gentle a sentiment.

But you know, priorities and being practical and feeling responsible-ish. So when I uncovered these from a table piled high with clearance sweaters and marked down 75%, I realized I'd stumbled upon a very happy compromise.

A girl's just gotta wear sparkles on her toes sometimes, right?

Monday, November 15, 2010

The dawn of a new day: Chicken Cashew Chili

This post is a big deal, but you don't know that yet. You clicked over to read not yet grasping the life-changing moment that was about to happen. The earth didn't shatter as a warning; the bowls in your cabinets stood still. And yet. Those bowls will never be the same, because this chili recipe is the dawn of a new day. The era of ground beef and green peppers is over. Triumphantly taking their place are the four Cs: chicken, cashews, chili, and chocolate. You heard me. Let's get started, shall we?

There are 4 Cs in this chili, and all of them matter.

The chile puree is the foundation for the entire dish. I can't stress that enough. Cook this chili with a whole chicken, and be conscious of what kind of chicken you buy (I buy free-range, hormone-free birds because I can taste the difference and it's important to me to support those business models). Maybe later you can shortcut this dish with a rotisserie chicken you shred yourself, but for the first time, just trust me and plan ahead, k? The cashews provide fantastic texture - both in the puree as a thickening agent and whole in the chili for a delicious, wholesome crunch. Finally: chocolate. Bittersweet chocolate, to be exact. Ruth Reichl calls this touch a "weeknight take on mole," and as usual, she's correct. I added my chocolate last, after tasting, and I honestly felt like it wasn't even necessary - the chili was already complex and rich and delicious. Stirring in the bittersweet chocolate, though, watching it melt and combine with the rich smoky chile flavor... it is a transformative, genius ingredient. There's no way around it.

Make this chili. Turn heads at the neighborhood potluck, freak out your guests during The Big Game, or make it like I did, quietly on a Friday night with a drink in hand, happily preparing a dish we'd enjoy all weekend long.

You can thank me later. And you will.

Chicken Cashew Chili
Serves 6-8 

4 dried ancho chiles
2 1/2 cups chicken broth
1 tablespoon canned chipotle chiles in adobo
1 1/2 cups salted roasted cashews
1/4 cup olive oil
2 large onions, coarsely chopped
6 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tablespoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons salt
1 (31/2 to 4-lb) chicken - rinsed, patted dry, excess fat discarded, and cut into 8 serving pieces
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 (14.5 oz) cans diced tomatoes in juice
1 ounce bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 (15 oz) can kidney beans, rinsed and drained

 Make the chile puree
Heat a dry small heavy skillet (not nonstick) over moderate heat until hot. Toast the dried chiles, one at a time, pressing down with tongs, for several seconds on each side to make them more pliable. Seed and devein dried chiles; discard stems. Tear dried chiles into pieces and transfer to a blender. Add broth, chipotles, and 1/2 cup cashews and puree until smooth. (Note: if you want a spicier chili, retain some of the seeds.)

Make the chili
  • Heat oil in a 6- to 7- quart wide heavy pot over moderate heat until hot but not smoking. 
  • Add onions and garlic and cook, stirring, until softened, 5 to 7 minutes. 
  • Add cumin and salt and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. 
  • Add chicken and stir to coat with onion mixture. 
  • Stir in chile puree, 1/4 cup cilantro, and tomatoes with juice. 
  • Bring to a simmer and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally to avoid sticking, until chicken is cooked through, about 45 minutes. 
  • Remove from heat and transfer chicken to a bowl.
  • Shred meat using two forks; discard bones and skin. (Note: I wasn't in a rush and waited for my chicken to cool and shredded using my hands; I find that much easier than using utensils.) 
  • Return chicken to pot and stir in chocolate, beans, remaining 1 cup cashews, and remaining 1/4 cup cilantro.
  • Cook over moderate heat, stirring, until chili is heated through and chocolate is melted.

Friday, November 12, 2010

CSN Giveaway Winner

And the winner of the $45 CSN gift certificate is....

Congratulations, Emily! I loved your answer, and I know you'll have fun with the guilt-free shopping!

Thanks for playing, everyone!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Flowers with purpose

Everyone remembers my super-fabulous wedding invitation designer ABCD, right? (Let us pause for a moment to celebrate letterpress.) Amy offered up a flower-arranging tutorial on her blog the other day, and I couldn't wait to try it. I buy flowers almost every week, but I never have any rhyme or reason as to how I arrange them. Some weeks, they look great. Other weeks, a wee bit sad. Having a blueprint for the first time was fun and illuminating. Please excuse the minor holes - by the time I realized I needed more flowers, the market felt really far away. But regardless, for my first try at a "real" arrangement, I'm lovin' it!

You know, as soon as I read Amy's post it occurred to me that I need to take a "class" on flower arranging from the Flower Whisperer herself, my mom. Her arrangements are always amazing, and a real lesson would be fantastic! Do you have an opening for your holiday session, Mom? And perhaps we can blog about it?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

CSN Giveaway Time!

Time for another giveaway from CSN, folks - that one-stop shop for everything from children's luggage to baby bee outfits to kids' riding toys! Why do I have kids' stuff on the brain tonight? Because I've checked the first Christmas gift off my list, so early for this infamous procrastinator. My nephew Liam's present arrived today.... check! Here's your chance to get into the early bird holiday spirit yourself with a $45 gift certificate from CSN Stores, applicable toward any of their 200 online stores.

Here's how to enter:

1. Visit CSN's Ultimate Gift Finder and tell me this: who's the first person you'll be buying a gift for this year?

2. Make sure your e-mail address is included in either the text of your comment or your blogger profile, so I can get in touch with you if you're the winner.

3. Entries are closed at 11:59 on Thursday, November 11. I'll announce a winner on Friday morning.

Good luck!

(Adorable Early Bird letterpress found here.)

Monday, November 8, 2010

Hockey fan (M), meet blogger (T)

I think I'm still high on happy from this weekend. It was epic. Not in the "party down while shedding leaves" kind of way, but in the "sleeping is the best thing in the world and oh my goodness we just got an extra hour of it for FREE" kind of way. Mellow magic, you might say.

It all started Friday, with my first-ever Caps game. So you know, attending hockey games (much less sort-of knowing what's going on and cheering) is fairly new for me. When I left NC to go off to college in the brrrrrcold Northeast, my home state didn't yet have a professional hockey team. I don't think I'd ever even seen the sport played on television. I went to a few games in college not so much because I was interested, but because our pal Alan got so riled up yelling at the refs from the stands that we basically went in order to laugh at him. But you know, the Beanpot does have a lot of charm, and it's tough not to be at least a little intrigued by the icy rivalries.

Flash-forward to 2006 when I met an ex-goalie and came to realize that our life together would be more fun if I developed at least a passing interest in the sport. Not to mention, by falling for a North Carolinian, T had to surmount his personal hatred of the state that stole his beloved Hartford Whalers, so I felt I owed it to him. There's more: T's former teammate is now married to his sister and playing in Europe, so there really is no escaping hockey in this family. I paid my dues doing things like attending Men's League games in suburban Dallas at 10 pm on a Monday, so these days, watching the Caps is a total treat.

So Hockey Is Fun, what of it? Well, this entire preface is actually a long-winded excuse to brag about T's new blog 50 Mission Caps. See, there was me, Mate of Hockey Guy. And there was T, Mate of Blogger. And in a stunning display of "maybe we like each other a little too much," Girl now enjoys hockey while Guy takes up blogging ... genius!

I introduced T's blog to you by joking that it was a blog perfectly suited to Virgo hockey goalies, which is to say, probably not well-suited to many of you. But I couldn't be prouder that my favorite guy's analytical think pieces about Caps goaltending are getting linked to throughout the Caps and hockey blogosphere. There is an audience for this guy of mine, and it thrills me to no end. (Though you wouldn't know it by comments... links are the currency in his blogging world, it turns out.) We actually have a J&G dinner riding on possible blogging outcomes of the Caps season, so I'm quite invested in his success. I mean seriously, over brunch yesterday I caught myself asking him informed hockey questions about team goalie management. INSANITY.

With any luck, we'll one day become that annoying Blogging Couple who attends blogging conferences together, ignores our children, and burns dinner because we're too busy live-tweeting election returns and the Oscars (me) or the stock market and the NHL draft (him). Who needs real jobs when we could just sit at home and expound instead, right? Heck, maybe we'll just morph into the same person. Pretty soon you'll be asking him for a new cleanser recommendation (Bliss Clog Dissolving Cleansing Milk, even though the product name is incorrectly un-hyphenated) and me what the current ranking of the house college hockey team is (#3 in the country).

By the way, all future Obnoxious Couples Tweeting will be done with this phone, which Blogger is demanding that I display vertically for some reason:

That's right ...  a near-dead Blackberry combined with my previously explained need for keys pushed me toward a Droid 2 this weekend. It only took months of hand-wringing and a 30-minute bout of paralysis inside the store. Maybe I'll even issue a hockey tweet or two on it soon. Time can play funny tricks on a person, after all.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Shrooms with Georgia O'Keeffe (you heard me)

I cooked mushrooms for dinner last night, per my "gorge on foods that T doesn't like while he's traveling" rule. Yep, dinner consisted of a huge plate of mushrooms. Not just any mushrooms, though: Francis Lam's mushrooms, a guy whose writing I enjoy immensely. A guy who begins his piece about mushrooms like this:

"Look, no offense, but chances are your sautéed mushrooms aren't very good." 

I respect that sort of approach. In "How to Sear and Saute Mushrooms," Lam breaks down for us the things we do wrong when we cook mushrooms, and how to do it right. The technique seemed surefire, so I was on board immediately. But it was Lam's style that made this post memorable for me, caused me to seek it out last night as I was going through my mental salmon/olives/mushrooms/tomato selection process. The way Lam speaks directly and makes gentle fun of the reader: hot. But the way he sprinkles in things like "I might as well baby them with some sweet, touching caresses beforehand, too": doubly hot.

And so I cooked Francis Lam's mushrooms, using two pans so as not to crowd them, turning up the heat so high it's a miracle my smoke alarm didn't go off, and no doubt making the neighbors salivate with the smell. And you know what? They were the best mushrooms I've ever made, hands down. They were meaty, full of smoke and flavor, and begged for red wine.

Not one to disappoint the perfectly cooked mushrooms, I got after the wine a little bit, and in my night of going solo did what any self-respecting girl does on rare night home alone: watched chick flicks*.

Let's talk about Joan Allen for a minute here. This woman can do no wrong in my eyes. Didn't she scare the hell out of you in Nixon? Didn't she impress the hell out of you in The Contender? Didn't she woo the hell out of you in Off The Map? I thought so.  This woman is a force. I love her role choices (The Ice Storm to the Bourne franchise?), I love her intelligence, I love her face. How fitting, then, that'd she play the woman with my all-time favorite face: Georgia O'Keeffe.

I love O'Keeffe's handsomeness. I love the lines in her face, the strength implied in it. Years ago at a photography exhibit of her life at the O'Keeffe Museum, I marveled at that face for what felt like hours. The grin on the back of a motorcycle, riding through the desert. The smirk that seems to carry a secret message just for you. The wise eyes, sizing up her work. The humbled eyes, unable to size up the vastness of the high desert. Maybe it's because I look the opposite of O'Keeffe in so many ways - I curve where she stretches straight across, my cheekbones have never quite seen the light of day, whereas hers could cut glass, she shrouded herself in black while I blanket myself in color, I could go on here - but looking at O'Keeffe, that face is the embodiment of being a wise woman to me. It's the look I'd love to have as a fierce old broad with a big laugh doing whatever the hell I please.

And that's the other thing about O'Keeffe that gets me: her commitment to a place I love so much, her inability to get it out of her system, her eventual decision to give herself over to a place. I cherish my five years in New Mexico as a sacred time - full of mistakes and hilarity and growth, but in so many ways the best time I've ever had. I know I left at the right time for me, but I'm only now realizing the extent of what it means to carry it with me always, wherever I go. O'Keeffe understood this about New Mexico.

So Joan Allen as Georgia O'Keeffe, then? It works. And yes, it's a Lifetime movie, whatever. It's available on Netflix. I admit to wishing there was a Part II - to forget Stieglitz and New York and to just stay in New Mexico with her friends, to be with her in her favorite place a while, to relish in this thing I like to imagine we share.

As a girl power signoff, I offer the painting at the O'Keeffe Museum that always stops me in my tracks. It's "The Blue Flower," and in person it looks like it should be made of velvet. I'll let you interpret as you will.

Note to Self: Need to get serious about booking a trip back to New Mexico.

*In my liberal interpretation of "chick flicks," I'm counting a Georgia O'Keeffe biopic and a documentary about industrial design. It takes a lot to make me watch a rom-com. Like, one or more characters from my fantasy island and no small amount of witty banter.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Honoring Grandpa

Today belongs to my grandfather, Clyde Miller. My Grandpa Miller is a World War II veteran. In 1944, he went ashore at Omaha Beach with 175 men. Only four of them made it home. Today is my grandfather's day because he took part in the Triangle Flight of Honor, which takes North Carolina WWII veterans to Washington DC to visit the memorial constructed in their honor. I jumped at the chance to meet him there, and am so happy to have had the opportunity.

He's on a plane right this minute, arriving back in RDU after a day of tours and speeches and memories. There's a welcome party in wait, the rest of my family on the other end with signs and cheers and love. As I often do, I wish I could be in two places at once. All the same, I'm so very happy that I was here in DC today.

UPDATE: Great local news coverage of the event!

First up, a look at the DC tour and hearing from some of the veterans. You can see us in the background near the end - look for my plaid umbrella!

Next, check out the huge reception the veterans received when they arrived home tonight! My grandpa appears at 2:33 in this video, characteristically speechless... and then the reporter ends the piece by telling his story.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Night of Leafy Goodness

The infamous "Michael's Bag Of Crazy":

Why yes, I did staple my dress together while watching the Project Runway finale. This baby was ready for the runway. ("Looks inexpensive," Nina would have sniffed. "I don't understand," Kors would protest. Heidi would at least appreciate its shortness.)

Presenting... "Autumn!" 
(who feels supremely un-put-together next to Joan Holloway)

Ashley Schaeffer broke away from the dealership to join us.

 And some teabaggers came over, fresh from ridicule at the Rally to Restore Sanity. Their details were impeccable - down to my pal Dan's tapered jeans.

The teabaggers sneered at the oh-so-French escargot, who took adorable to an entirely new level.

And Margot and Richie sneered at all of us.
(It's impossible to be as cool as these two.)

Don Draper brought his Don Draper-ness to the evening. 

Autumn gently lost her leaves throughout the night - and grew an extra chin!

And then we saw the team of Chilean miners, and realized the night belonged to them. As it should.

Hope you all had a fantastic Halloween!
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