cookiepalooza-2018

Cookiepalooza 2018

Jump straight to the Cookiepalooza 2018 recipe links.

cookiepalooza-2018

I will start by admitting that I love the idea of making cookies. I like the aftermath of making cookies, despite the temptation factor. (By the way, November and December are the essential months to get your 10,000 steps in by hook or crook or….whatever. Because: cookies.) 

But I don’t really enjoy making cookies. They seem like they’ll be so simple. Cream some butter and sugar, throw in an egg, add the dry ingredients. Voila! Cookies!

Except…..cookies. You gotta then actually form the damn things. 

Look, I don’t even attempt to come up with baking recipes. Cooking is one thing; it’s intuitive and in some ways, the less precise you are, the better. Baking is an altogether different bête.

That’s why people are generally one or the other: great bakers or great cooks. Yes, of course annoying pastry wunderkinds exist. But that super detail-oriented, tedium-friendly approach necessary for perfect swirls of icing and caring about things like crumb size….well, it ain’t me.

(Weird but true: Mom was one of the least detail-oriented people I ever knew, yet a dandy baker. I shall never understand this.)

Anyway, when it comes to baking, I slavishly follow recipes. Every year, all the magazines go crazy with page after page of cookie goodness, and every year, I’m all, whoa, cookiepalooza!! This week, I decided to make the first two recipes each from Bon Appetit’s and Cooking Light’s respective December issues. Cooking Light’s, by the way, features this complete bummer of a cover. 

And they still keep pestering me to re-up my subscription. So strange. 

Anyway, here’s the report, with links. Notice that if you go to the links, their cookies are TONS more beautiful than mine. Explanations below. Grades are my opinion of the recipe, but as one professor used to say, grades are completely subjective. Please pop on over to the originals and give them a whack on your own.

Cookiepalooza 2018: Snickerdoodles with cornflakes and toffee

cookies-2018

I completed this Bon Appetit recipe first. The resulting cookies are good, though not quite delectable enough that I’d make them again. Probably I should have used Skör bars like they suggested, but screw that, because I don’t even know where you get those. Also, you were supposed to sprinkle them with something called disco dust, and I refuse to spend 4 bucks on something called disco dust. I would rather just go the the disco already. Anyway, there’s not much to report with these. They’re fine, and I probably did something wrong, because they really seemed like a great idea. Crush the cornflakes more and you may have better luck. Also, when you jump to the link you’ll see that theirs are WAY prettier. Sigh.

Grade: B

Cookiepalooza 2018: Two-toned Chocolate Shortbread

cookies-2018

Ok, these were called “Zebra-Striped” in the original recipe. Guess who didn’t read the recipe carefully? Yep. I dumped all the dry ingredients in one bowl in one giant cookie assembly line of dry ingredients, then went to make them and swore loudly and with great despair. Because the originals are GORGEOUS. Seriously, click that link and check them out. Mine: not hideous, but not so special.

Rather than toss the whole thing—a thought I did entertain for a minute—I scooped out as much of the cocoa powder and about half the flour. Fortunately, they don’t have baking powder or anything. I ended up with these kind of two-toned chocolate critters. And by heck, they rock. I didn’t roll them in exciting sugar because, again, hell with that. I imagine you’re getting the picture: When selecting a talent, I did not go to the front of the baking line. Nor the bedazzler line. I was too busy running around to a half dozen other lines like an insane person, thus emerging as the hodge-podge that is moi. And which my friends assure me is Super Delightful. 

Anyway, even with the mishap, these turned out quite wonderful, super buttery, and really, how much chocolate is too much? Will this ever be answered? No. It will not. Also, getting these guys into that cool swirly thing is surprisingly easy.

Grade: A

Cookiepalooza 2018: Chocolate Peppermint Thumbprints

cookiepalooza-2018

Look, these totally worried me. (Original recipe over at this Cooking Light link.) For one thing, I made them in my big-ass mixer which weighs, I swear, one thousand pounds. I kinda hate that thing. It is SO hard to control the mixing. You just kinda have to hope for the best and stop and start it and scrape and do it again and again and I’m exhausted just at the memory. 

The dough emerged crumbly. I pressed it together so I could get a thumbprint. You know what? These taste really aces. You fill the center with 2 parts melted chocolate chips to 1 part melted tahini, and let me just tell you the recipe tells you to make twice as much as you need. Which is great, because: homemade Nutella, but it’s not Nutella. 

cookiepalooza-2018

Interestingly, Bon Appetit also has a cookie with a tahini/chocolate mix, so it’s an idea that’s making the rounds. Or they’re working with the same group of recipe creators who are all, ok, how can I make this just different enough? The BA version is more like the Linzer cookies below, but with the tahini spread peeking through the window. Meanwhile, they also have a thumbpring cookie, but they put a pecan in theirs. I think candy is more fun.

One last thing: I decided to grind the candy canes in my little spice grinder and ended up with this sort of peppermint dust. While the busted candy canes look prettier, I like that there are no tooth-chipping surprises this way. 

Grade: A

Cookiepalooza 2018: Linzer Cookies

Ok, these were the simplest to make. Like the shortbread cookies above, the originals win cookie beauty pageants. Click this link and see what I’m talking about. But these were also the biggest pain in the ass to make. Lots of rolling. Then baking. Then cutting those little holes out after rolling out the top cookies, and I don’t have a one-inch cutter because: I didn’t check. I mean, doesn’t everyone have one of those? No. Everyone does not. I used a 1/2 teaspoon and a knife and you can see these are not pristine. The asymmetry, however, is intentional. It gives the cookies “a more modern look” according to Cooking Light. Dude, I so want to be modern. 

cookiepalooza-2018

I also ran out of jam, but I had….my trusty leftover fake Nutella! Hooray!

These are pretty swell, though I do have to know them down to a B+ primarily because I like super gooey cookies, and of course that’s not going to work in this case. Oh, I also forgot to sprinkle them with powdered sugar, because that makes a mess and to hell with that. 

Anyway, the recipe yields a lovely lemony sugar cookie that really isn’t anything like classic Linzer dough, which has ground almonds, not almond flour, and a sieved hard-boiled egg yolk mixed in for some reason. All that said, I pigged down a few. My son said these were his favorites.

Grade: A-

Cookiepalooza! 2018: Recipe Links

There you have them. Here are the links all in one place. And if you do pop over, explore the approximately 9 billion other cookie recipes as well. And you know, try at least one. This time of year, everybody loves a cookie. Even my carb-phobic husband. Ha! Gotcha, husband.

Snickerdoodle Party Cookies from Bon Apetit

Zebra-Striped Shortbread Cookies from Bon Apetit

Chocolate Peppermint Thumbprints from Cooking Light

Almond-Currant Linzer Cookies from Cooking Light

Also, the following sites are particularly wonderful on the cookie front. Over at Half Baked Harvest, Tieghan routinely blows minds. Lindsay at Pinch of Yum delights continuously (and check out her button-cute new baby, Solvi). Finally, Chocolate Covered Katie comes up with all sorts of original ways to be vegan and delicious.

flight-attendant-appreciation

Flight Attendant Appreciation Day

Flight Attendant Appreciation Day is long overdue, in my book. In fact, I’ve decided to basically declare it every day I fly. Allow me to attempt to persuade you to do the same.

First, a step back. I grew up in an era where being a stewardess was about the coolest thing you could be, next to “movie star” and “ballerina.” Alas, even before I reached my full 5’10”, I suspected I would be too tall. Stewardesses needed to be “between 5’2″ but no more than 5’9″, weight 105 to 135 in proportion to height.” But golly, it seemed glamorous.

flight-attendant-appreciation
For this and many more fabulous photos and lore, visit this link.

The draconian weight standards have been abandoned, although there appears to be a height cap at 6’1″ just so attendants of any gender can make it down the aisle. (I’ve scraped my own noggin on the ceiling of a smaller commuter jet more than once, given that with shoes I’m over 6 feet.) But getting rid of the weigh-ins didn’t exactly make being a flight attendant any easier.

Consider the schedule: rough and erratic, with lots of holidays spent en route to….somewhere. The pay: not great by any standards. 

Now add on the fact that flight attendants, unlike pilots, have to deal with more than their share of registered assholes. Pilots get more respect from their employers, and basically live in the cockpit, which is of course where we want them. FAs, on the other hand, have to field  questions from people who never listen. They deflect anger over things they cannot possibly control, like weather, equipment issues, other people’s crying babies, and the ground crew not providing enough sandwiches. And they clean up the nasty in-flight bio-mess as it occurs. I fly a lot. And most people act pretty chill. But man, one hissy fit clouds up the sunniest skies. It’s no wonder this happened.

Flight Attendant Appreciation Day: How to Be a Model Passenger

Despite the rather glorious entertainment value, I beg you not to inspire someone to exit via the emergency slide, lofting a bottle of champagne in each hand. Smile at your flight attendant. Lift your face from your phone for the 2 freaking minutes it takes to go through the safety demonstration. Because no matter how many times you’ve heard it, you haven’t heard it as many times as the flight attendants, and they’re still engaged.

If nothing else, apply a little bit of common sense and thoughtfulness. Give good feedback online. Be prepared, particularly when you’re bringing kids with you. This post from a flight attendant offers an inside view from that side of the aisle. (The comments provide overwhelming ugliness, btw; one even says the writer should stop lamenting his “cast” in life. First, it’s caste, idiot. Second, the caste system is considered to be a hideous remnant of a time in which certain people were, simply because of the accident of birth, destined to lives of unmitigated drudgery and pain while others scooted around in their high caste privilege. Third, isn’t the guiding principle of every belief system on earth “don’t be a dick”?)

Flight Attendant Appreciation Day: The Extra Sky Mile

I recently asked a flight attendant how she felt about people who drop off chocolates, something my mom routinely did when she flew. I’ve thought of it but always felt it was a bit weird. How do you time the drop off? Is it weird to give food in this day and age? And kind of bribe-y? “I don’t eat the chocolates,” said the FA, “but some people do.” She told me the nicest things she’d received were small containers of hand sanitizer or wipes, Starbucks gift cards (for one coffee), or just single dollar bills so they can tip drivers.

Caveat: this concept of tangibly thanking people for doing a hard job gets some ugly heat (just google it). “Why give someone a present for DOING THEIR JOB???” shout the commenters. Yo, shouters. Ever spoken to a flight attendant? or worked in the service industry? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

I tip baristas, who are just doing their job, for the same reason. They work hard while I’m out spending too much money on coffee.

This post from CN Traveler argues my way. Huzzah!

In other words, if you want to go the extra mile, do it.

Flight Attendant Appreciation Day: The Swag

I stopped off at Big Lots and picked up the following: mentos, small lotions, lip balm, single facial masks, little packets of matcha tea. Everything was in an individually sealed packet so the FAs wouldn’t have to worry about the motives of this random smiling tall woman bearing gifts.

flight-attendant-appreciation

I divvied the swag up between a couple of ziplocs. It seemed a little excessive to be awarding swag on my first short flight, and this was also my first flight attendant appreciation day rodeo. So I figured I’d save the extras for upcoming trips, and try the concept for my SLC to DTW journey.

Total cost to me: about 6 bucks a bag—one hell of a lot less than I spend on crap at the airport, which I didn’t spend because I was prepared. (I took my own advice and brought my own damn food this time.)

Above all, just be kind. You’re flying! It’s a miracle. You’re going someplace fun, or your company is paying for you to not sit in your office. Or a plane and its crew are getting you somewhere you really need to be, safely and in relative comfort.

I’ll report back on how my initial foray goes over. And I warn you: if you leave me nasty trolling comments, no one will see them but me, and I’ll just think you’re a dick. Thoughtful comments are, of course, always welcome.


palm-springs

Palm Springs: Mid Mod Mad

I came to Palm Springs to visit a friend, and not because I am midmod mad. I know a lot of people who are, and I like the midmod ascetic quite a bit. But unlike my sister Becky, who tosses about phrases like “Sputnik lamp” and “kidney table” like so many bougainvillea petals, I enjoy midmod—that’s mid-century modern, for those of you who haven’t ever seen the truly glorious Atomic Ranch magazine. I just don’t freak out at the possibility of seeing clean lines upon clean lines, decorated with spiky plants.

palm-springs

The domestic architecture is stunning, with house after house a variation on the themes of straight lines and color pops…

palm-springs

My friend lives in the same neighborhood as the house Sammy Davis Junior had built for himself. It’s an easy walk from the Racquet Ball Club, one Mr. Davis could stumble down when drunk off his butt. (That, btw, is not gossip but an actual directive from Mr. Davis to his builders.)

Then there’s the downtown, which time warps me back to the California of my youth. My pal drove me by Suzanne Somers’ home (big gates, boxy) and once bumped into Barry Manilow emerging from the back of a grocery store. There are stars in the sidewalks of the main street Palm Canyon Drive, people like Monty Hall, Rock Hudson, Tab Hunter, and a woman whose name I forget but who was “Hostess to the Stars!” There’s a  statue of Sonny Bono that I thought was of Pat Boone, causing my friend to howl with mirth. But…really? That doesn’t look anything like Cher’s ex, does it?

There are crazy, swoopy Jetsons-type buildings, like this bank.

palm-springs

Palm trees with hula skirts….

When you keep your eyes open, you find little visual amuses bouche all over the place, like this steel fence thing….

palm-springs

…and LOTS of kitsch.

Typically, when I’m someplace new, I walk around and just try to observe and pick up any particular vibe. But, as my friend told me, Palm Springs is shopping, eating in restaurants, midmod architecture, and gay bars. And that’s all good, but none of those things are so much my thing. Now my friend had told me about the Palm Springs museum, but I just wasn’t feeling a museum, because I really wasn’t feeling Palm Springs. It just seemed so….I dunno, people don’t really stride anywhere with purpose. They’re kinda like shoppy versions of people around the slot machines in Nevada casinos.

But then…..I walked past the Palm Springs Museum Architecture and Design Center, which is right on the main drag, and thought, well, come on, Bauer. At least check it out. Maybe it’s free. And since it was only 5 bucks (close enough), I took a gander.

Man, what a cool building—which, alas, I didn’t take a good picture of, because I was kind of swoopy architectured out at that point. The docent explained that the building had been a bank, restored to truly dazzling midmod glory. The main exhibit featured reusing materials—saris, in the case of these works by artist Christina Kim.

It’s the detail of the work that takes it beyond a display at Anthropologie.

And naturally, a gift shop.

Well, ok. I’d gotten a little more open to doing a museum, and the admission at the design center gave me 5 bucks off going to the Palm Springs Art Museum proper. It’s massive…

…and a genuine treasure inside. First stop was the downstairs gallery, which featured some pretty swell contemporary work for sale, including this crazy painted tansu, apparently a Japanese version of a credenza.

Titled “The Fox and Persimmon Tansu” and created by artist Georg James, this featured some of the most ridiculously amazing trompe l’oeil I’ve seen. I mean, those aren’t drawers. That’s a painted flat surface.

The gallery is flanked by two separate sculpture gardens. My favorite, the Elrod, could charm the most manic Type A into a puddle of bliss.

The current main floor exhibit, “Unsettled: Art on the New Frontier,” deals with colonialization, displacement of indigenous people, and American mythology as relating to both. This piece, “Erasing the Border,” is represented on the exterior of the museum. By Mexican artist Ana Teresa Fernández, it’s a joy to behold, big and powerful, and accompanied by a film where a woman dressed like the one in the picture paints over a fence.

This massive arrangement of spices in bowls, “Campo de Color” by Bolivian artist Sonia Falcone, beautifully introduces the film beyond it. A docent came over while I was looking at it. “Can you smell the spices?” I inhaled. Faint turmeric, pepper, a little coconut. “It’s never overwhelming,” said the docent, “but it’s there if your nose knows to look for it.”

Leaving those behind, I headed to the second floor and stopped in my tracks.

I’m not a Chihuly fan. I think his stuff is massively kitschy and I just don’t feel all that yellow. But seeing this piece in a midmod setting—be still, my heart.

If all Chihuly pieces were displayed singly and against this type of architecture, I’d be a big old fan. I mean, here it is again with a little more architecture in the shot. I seriously have about 30 pictures from different angles, I was just kind of blown away.

Also a delight to see a work from Azerbaijani artist Faig Ahmed. I’d seen one of his works at ArtPrize in Grand Rapids.

He creates a carpet design, manipulates it in Photoshop so that it looks like it’s melting, then has weavers reproduce the new version.

It’s like a waterfall of color, and such a fresh way to visualize this ancient art form getting poured into the 21st century.

There’s tons more cool stuff in the Museum, and I left with some bounce restored to my step. But it was a slow step. Appreciate Palm Springs at a saunter; it’s not for the power sightseer. Just suck up that bone dry, crisp blue air, feast your eyes on the surreality of it, and realize that sometimes, staying on the surface is the best way to swim. Especially when the surface shimmers like this one.

autumn road food

Autumn Road Food: 2018

A road trip in autumn requires autumn road food. (I had to write that sentence or my search engine plug-in gives me a crappy score. You have to basically state your title in an artful way somehow in the first paragraph. Usually, that’s easy, but today….aw, hell with it.)

autumn road food

S and I pack up our Toyota this week to see some family on the western side of the state. And we like to be well-equipped gastronomically. Look, I enjoy a jolt of toxic shock courtesy of a MacDonald’s breakfast as much as the next Baby Boomer. But those occasions are rare and private, and I throw the trash away in a public garbage can so that no one knows my shame. Steve is not so big on the toxic shock thing. So we bring along some healthy organic stuff that I make the day before, which is how I spent my Monday. If you have to get on the road for Thanksgiving, it might work for you, too.

Autumn Road Food: Breakfast/Brunch

I do love me a good quiche and/or frittata. A couple of weeks ago, I bought some potatoes to riff off a Cooking Light recipe, Potato Gratin Quiche with Spinach Salad. Browned potato slices stand in for a wheat pie crust, a fine idea. But instead of serving the spinach on the side in a salad, I just chopped up some leftover arugula and tomatoes and mixed them right in with eggs and cottage cheese. Honestly, I didn’t really follow the proportions too closely. The end result’s more of a portable frittata than a quiche. But it’ll give the man and I a brunchy snack, much better than the crappy breakfast burritos we’ve been getting on the road.

autumn road food fritatta

Autumn Road Food: Dinner

You know that autumn greens salad I’ve been making such a fuss over lately? That’s going on the road, topped with some salmon, manchego and walnuts.

autumn-greens-salad

Autumn Road Food: Snack

Finally, I really dig these matcha biscotti. They’re supposed to be topped  with drizzled chocolate, but I was too lazy. These are pretty much verbatim from this Cooking Light recipe. Warning: Mine are PLUG UGLY. That’s because our matcha is a weird olive color, partly because it has some turmeric, which you really don’t taste, but which is supposed to be healthy or something.

autumn road food biscotti

The magazine version found a MUCH prettier matcha, one closer to pistachio green than the rather ghastly color that our matcha yielded. 
Guess what? They look so much worse before you give them a turn in the oven. Another note: the magazine recos 20 minutes of toasting at 300º. I achieved a more classic biscotti texture at 250º for about 45 minutes. I like my biscotti really, really crunchy, the better for dipping.

autumn road food

Last step was to sear that salmon on both sides, then give it a quick stint in the oven. But of course, if you’re vegan, you could use tempeh or tofu or more nuts.

So that’s it. We got our Autumn Road Food (see what I did there, search engine plug-in?). We enjoyed our quick trip safe and secure in the knowledge that I would not have to wince while Steve asks the server if the salmon is farm-raised and she looks at him like he’s got an alien bursting out of his head, and then gives me a look of, who the hell is this guy, and I sort of shrug and smile sheepishly. As for you, my muppets, just remember: sturdy salad with protein, tasty baked good that’s still somewhat healthy, and quiche goodness, and you will not have to stop someplace and get a heart attack.

clare-bauer

For Mom with Love

My mom, Clare Bauer Berding, had crystalline blue eyes, perfect bone structure, and a light-up-the-room smile. Yet she never considered herself to be pretty, let alone beautiful.

She was her parents’ third child and second daughter. They named her sister Betty—not Elizabeth, but Betty plain and simple. Mom got the downright fanciful moniker of Claremae. She told me she thought she’d been named for an opera singer; I believe that her favorite aunt, the glamorous pretty youngest sister, was also named Clara. But the kids—in this case, my mom and her siblings—couldn’t pronounce it, so they called her Lolla.

Anyway, my mom was born Claremae Clouse.

Dad always called Mom Clare, but my uncle Dave, her brother, called her Claremae up until the last time I saw them together, when he and Mom were in their 70s. I’m not sure if she switched formally at some date, but she was always Clare to everyone else. The name suited her. I never knew another Clare growing up. It means “bright,” “clear,” and even “shining” whether you spell it the French or German way, and even with Mom’s hybrid spelling, the definition was perfect.

Still, I don’t think she felt bright and shining growing up. We are fortunate in that Mom wrote about her childhood, if only briefly, in her book Some Through the Waters, which she later published with the title she preferred, Designed to Fail. But the details are sketchy. Mom did not like to speak, particularly on the record, ill of her parents. After Grandma died—another book, When I Grow Too Old to Dream, documents that—Mom would talk, tentatively and ultimately with more conviction, of her father’s alcoholism and cruelty. She managed, as a third child and a girl, to avoid the physical abuse, if not the verbal.

Though maybe she didn’t. One or two times, she mentioned a horrible encounter with a WWI veteran, who I gathered was a friend of her father’s, who insisted on kissing her. She regarded French kissing with complete disgust, and over the years, I realized that the childhood incident was at least one, if not the reason. I always sensed her father’s lurking presence; at the very least he didn’t protect her, but I came to wonder if he’d somehow encouraged it.

And then there was her mother, Meta. Mom always insisted that she was beautiful; I find her handsome and strong, but Mom was the beauty in the family, something she could never see. Meta, I think, did not believe in Mom, even though Mom always defended and believed in her.

I have never seen a photograph of my mother as a child, but I imagine she must have been especially pretty, with her white curly hair, bright  eyes, and sunny disposition. In the 2 pictures I’ve seen of her as a teenager prior to her marriage to Dad at 17, she is looking away from the camera, as if blinded by the sun, with the true expertise of the introvert who has learned to hide even in plain sight.

As a kid and teenager, Mom escaped her grim environment in her love of books, stories, and music. She then escaped it physically by marrying my dad less than three weeks after her 17th birthday, despite Grandma point blank telling him that he’d be better off with Betty. Grandma had met her match. Dad fell hard for Mom. She was, I think, too young to know how to reciprocate or even process my dad’s love, but she accepted it. They were a team.

There was a sense I always got from my parents that it had been them vs. the world for quite a while. My grandmother did not like her eldest son with my grandfather, aching always for the son she’d had first with a previous husband, one that my grandfather had made a promise to accept after the marriage. He reneged, almost immediately. I’m sad for them both—the mother who longed for a missing son, and the son who longed for his present but missing mother—though in later years my dad told me that he remembered tender times with his mom, of her reading to him and his brother Charlie. Nonetheless, his mom told Dad one day that he needed to take Mom and their two daughters, my sisters Julie and Becky, away. Bob, her first son, was coming back.

They packed up and headed to California, and made a new life, with Lisa next, then me, and finally Jon, adopted after 4 valiant attempts to create a male heir. Mom and Dad both documented their journey well once they became public speakers: in Sunday school classes, at churches, at men’s and women’s groups. Those gigs came as a result of the fact that, when I was 4 and Jon barely a year old, they came to accept Christ as their personal savior, as fundamentalist church doctrine states it. Mom and Dad were both superb speakers, charismatic, funny, with tremendous timing and presence. I don’t know where they got it, though I expect they fed off of each other. They were two highly intelligent people who hadn’t been able to go to college, and they found in the Bible an outlet for study that delighted and inspired them both. I learned a tremendous amount from watching them. The content, much of it, I simply can’t agree with, and particularly since my dad died, I have been saddened that I’ve been unable to talk about my beliefs in religion or politics with my mom without a blow-up. But the tremendous style, the wit, the compassion that they expressed when they spoke: I’ll never stop being grateful for those lessons, those genes.

While my memories of my parents’ public personae dominated for years, over the decades, I’ve remembered much more—particularly about Mom. Because until adulthood, I barely knew my dad and vice versa. I recall dressing up in her crinolines—she had them for when she and Dad would ballroom dance—and pretending to be Cinderella. Mom had to play all the other parts: stepmother and sisters, fairy godmother, and even the prince, roles she played with that half attentive but sufficient engagement that busy mothers master.

And I remember once hiding a pack of playing cards under the couch; I don’t know why. My imagination tended to be pretty rampant, so I probably had some reason that made perfect sense to me, maybe to feed a lost invisible tiger or something. Mom came out with a switch in her hand, eyes blazing, to punish the culprit. My own eyes must have been saucers behind her as they met Lisa’s. Fortunately, Lisa covered for me, saying she and Beck must have done it when they were playing. Mom put down the switch without further ado and it was never mentioned again.

I’m often haunted, though, by a family movie taken on my dad’s Super 8 camera. I am probably 3, and am marching around the family barbecue, with a toy gun in my hand. Mom is deep in thought, her hair swept into a smooth French twist, her beautiful chiseled profile downcast, her eyes hooded. She holds the match to my pistol. She looks both sad and sedated, occasionally glancing over at her family with a bottomless weariness. Out of frame, I get her attention by apparently aiming at her. She shakes herself, smiles, and shoots me back.

I know now that at this time Mom was severely depressed. A friend, one with small kids even younger than some of her own, had committed suicide, something she wrote about. What frightened her was not the act. It was the fact that she understood it as a viable option.

3 daughters in adolescence at the same time with two younger kids couldn’t have been easy for anyone. But I do think we kept Mom around. And in me, the dreamy one who escaped into books, stories, and music, the deep disappointment to my father’s wish for, at last, a son, she saw herself. Mom, I believe, decided she would give me what she never had: someone who believed in me no matter what, my champion who would not see the unlikely odds of my success, but who instead believed in my greatness.

For that, I am forever grateful. I cannot change that my older three sisters didn’t have that experience. I can only express thanks for what I myself received.

Shortly after that Super 8 movie, Mom became a Christian. Her life changed. I escaped the temper that she admitted had driven her for years; she said “the Lord took it away from her.” That ended up not being true—if only it were that easy—but through her daily prayers and study, I know she gained perspective and some self-acceptance. There’s no question that I benefited from the kinder, gentler Clare.

And the six-year gap between me and my nearest sister, Lisa, also gave me a rare gift in having Mom in large part to myself through my own adolescence. Julie, Beck, and Lisa each got married at 19, escaping our move to idaho, my dad’s return fantasy fulfilled. I never realized that, much as I hated the move, Mom hated it more. She stayed positive, never telling me how badly she had wanted to remain in California, and we stuck together.

So I did not have the typical teenage angst and battles with Mom; like she and Dad so many years before, it was us against the world. When I didn’t get asked to the prom, Mom took me for a weekend to Salt Lake City so that I didn’t even have to be in the neighborhood. We rode bikes together. I played piano for her. We shopped, gossiped, dreamed, and I told her pretty much everything, even when I would cut class to go skiing.

In college, away from home, the road got dramatically rockier. Yet the storm clouds always passed; we’d end up close as ever. When I met Karl, she was happy for me. When he got sick and we had to move, she came to visit us countless times. She was there when he died so that I didn’t have to go through it alone. When I called her a little over a year later—asking if I could come live with her and Dad because I was pregnant and things weren’t working out with the baby’s father—she welcomed me home.

When I envision Mom, she is always smiling her beautiful smile. We talked at least twice a week over the last years, and I only cut back from once a day because she was so busy. I was delighted, especially once she moved to Oregon, to have her not answer; I’d find out the next day that she’d been off with friends. I can’t count the number of times over the last few years that she would tell me, almost a little breathless with disbelief, how much she loved the community of Sisters—how embraced she felt, how loved, how deep the connections were in such a short time. It’s always surprising to me that Mom was herself surprised by how warmly people responded to her. She projected friendliness, openness, even if she didn’t always feel it. My friends nearly always hugged her on meeting her; they always remarked on her youth, her beauty, and just how darn much fun she was.

And in her relationship with her second husband Drew, my mom learned how to communicate better than she ever had before. Dad would not push back with Mom. Drew would. They both had a lot to learn. They gutted it out. Game, I think, was the middle name Mom never got. She loved to learn, more than anyone I ever met, and I am so grateful that she passed that on to me. She loved stories, she loved people, and she loved to laugh.

My regrets with Mom are small. I planned to visit her now, in July; I hoped maybe we could talk in person about some of the things we disagree about, though honestly, it probably wouldn’t have happened. When I heard she’d had the stroke, I kicked myself for writing “don’t open til Mother’s Day” on the card I sent. Fortunately, Mom, impulsive to the last, ignored it; when I arrived in Oregon, there was the card, open on the table. I wish I’d called her on Sunday night, instead of waiting a day; within 12 hours, the massive stroke that took her away had happened, and Mom never talked again.

Mostly, I just really, really miss her. In talking with my sisters, brother, and husband, I’ve realized that for every 10 conversations you had with Mom, 8 would be fairly rote, with her not paying that much attention. But one would be fun, and you’d laugh. And one would be absolutely wonderful: connected, listening. The best of Mom. And that was pretty great.

If Mom could’ve written her own death, she would’ve picked the one she got. No dying slowly to painful scourges. No greater and greater lapses into Alzheimer-fog, which had taken her own mother and frightened her, even though she showed no signs of it even at 86. We’d all miss that last conversation with her, that last hug. But Mom not losing her abilities: that’s huge. The word “blessing” is horribly overused. But Mom’s death truly was one, for her, and for the people who loved her and didn’t have to see her decline. We just have to realize she’s not there. Of course it’s hard, but it’s a bargain I accept.

M  y second to last conversation with her was one of the one in 10. She expressed tremendous joy as she looked out at the ocean, where Drew was flying a kite. My last conversation, while Steve and I waited to board the plane to Germany, was one of the fun ones. We spent a 32-hour day to get back to her. She was still alive when we got there, curled on her side, sleeping peacefully. I held her feet—she loved a foot rub—and then knelt beside her and held her hand. She was warm. I kissed her and whispered, “Mom, you finally get to say of course.” It was one of her favorite C.S. Lewis quotations, that our first words when we get to heaven will be “of course.” I told her to sleep well, and that I’d see her in the morning.

Within five hours, she was gone. People said she waited for me. I don’t doubt that, but I remain eternally grateful that she knew I would come.

Oh, Mom. I miss you so much. But I will see you in the morning. Which in your case, is now perpetual.

I love you.

mom-me-wedding

I don’t usually write about my mom. But she loved this site, and served as an excellent recipe tester. So if you’d like, please subscribe to the mailing list to see more. Thank you kindly.


<!–End mc_embed_signup—>

 

green-beans

WTF, CSA? Green Beans

Here’s the thing with fresh green beans: You can’t buy just a handful.

green-beans-bagged

These are roughly 2 pound bags that I recently saw at Whole Foods. Whole Foods’ idea is that you will buy this entire bag, no questions asked. And of course, you can just remove what you want—even just a handful—with impunity.

But optimally, your idea should be to avoid bagged green beans altogether, because frankly, you have no idea what could be in there.  You can also see how lumpy those beans are, which means: tough. You’ll be much happier with your purchase if you seek out this type of display. Hey, wait a sec! Those aren’t cucumbers! LOL, Larry.

green-beans-in-the-store

You can see that many of the stems are still intact, a sign of freshness. Turn a bag inside out over your hand and grab what you need. (Do wash these when you get home, because people have been running their hands through those things All Day.)

Point being, when green beans rain, they pour. Your CSA box may be fair to bursting with beans one day. What’s a cook to do?

Well, first off, snap off those stems. This, I find, is the most satisfying green bean experience. The stems snap off with a nice snappy pop; maybe even the teeniest bit of water pops out when they’re super fresh.

green-beans-snapped

You can also cut them, which is speedy. You just line ’em up, chop one set of tips, then line them back up the other way and repeat. This works if your green beans are maybe a little less fresh; again, not optimal, but still edible. Bonus: Beans make a great first cutting project for a beginning cook. You can practice your monkey claw, and complete the job in 2 quick cuts per pile of beans.

Just as with all vegetables, you have a few options—though limited somewhat by the ways of the bean. Prior to any veggie recommendations, it’s important to note that acid turns your beautiful bright green beans a downright fug olive color. Add acid, should you need it, to any preparation of green beans—particularly raw, steamed, or blanched—at the very last minute, and the dish will look fine for the next half hour or so. But leftovers are likely to look a bit sad. More on that below.

Green Beans: Raw

ONLY if you have just picked them out of the garden, and if they are the super skinny haricot vert variety (the ones so thin they look like needles). Even so, they don’t call ’em beans for nothin’. While green beans are actually a flower, they’re a little starchy. A quick dunk in a pot of boiling salted water or a light steaming preserves their bright jade color as it brings out the fresh green flavor, and makes them a little easier to digest as well.

If you do opt for raw, just rinse them well and snap off the ends. If you have to cut off the ends because they’re not snapping cleanly, they’re not fresh enough, in my book, to go on the plate without a little further cooking.

Green Beans: Steamed or Blanched

These methods are interchangeable and provide serious versatility. To steam, put your steamer basket filled with green beans in a pot with an inch or so boiling water. Cover the pot, steam 1-2 minutes, then refresh with cold water.

green-beans-steamed

To blanch, simply dump the beans in a big amount of boiling salted water. More water works great because you want to cook the beans quickly, 1-2 minutes; in a big pot, the water comes back to the boil almost immediately. Pour into a colander and refresh with cold water so the beans don’t continue to cook.

You can pre-cook all your beans either of these ways, and then have them on hand for salads and other dishes throughout the week.

Beans love fresh herbs. Dill and mint get called up the most often, but pretty much any, in any combination work. This bean salad link provides step by step instructions and an actual, adaptable recipe if you like precise amounts.

Feel free add some butter or a tasty oil to your barely cooked green beans, because Fat = Yum. Fresh steamed or blanched beans with butter, salt and pepper are completely awesome.

Green Beans: The Steam Sauté

Green beans love some fat. Stir-fry or saute them raw, then add some liquid for a brief steaming. Alternatively, steam or blanch the beans before steaming. If raw, you may want to consider the so-called French cut, i.e., slicing them lengthwise.

green-beans-julienned

It’s a pain in the ass, quite frankly, but it does serve its purpose; it was invented to help out some of the bigger and consequently tougher beans that often get to market.

As for optimal pairings: Native to the Americas, green beans at this point in time are part of nearly every world cuisine, and consequently go with all sorts of things, like….cherries!

green-beans-cherries

In case you think that’s weird, there’s also corn and some feta cheese added to the mix. I swear, it worked beautifully.

green-beans-greekish-salad

They’re wonderful in a big Asian-inspired stir-fry. I adapted this Mee Goreng recipe from Yotam Ottolenghi barely at all (other than to not be tremendously slavish about amounts, and swapping the sprouts for radishes and the iceberg for radish greens, because I had them on hand).

green-beans-mee-goreng

And, with apologies to non-meat-eating friends and readers, I must report that green beans and bacon are quite wonderful, as this take on a classic southern recipe can attest. (The recipe does provide links to vegan “bacon” alternatives, so fear not.)

Do know that, since acid of some kind is usually added to a saute—lemon juice, vinegar, or tomato—leftovers will turn that dismal color. Additionally, while there are many, many recipes I’ve come across that advocate adding green beans to a long-simmering braise of other vegetables and protein, my personal preference is to keep them and crispy and green as possible. If you dig eating olive drab, go for it, and report back.

Green Beans: Roasted

Green beans can be roasted or grilled, though frankly this prep feels a little gimmicky to me. As always, you do you. The basic vegetable roasting techniques apply. Just toss in oil with salt and herbs. Then roast for a brief period, say 5-8 minutes before giving a good stir, followed by an additional 5-8 minutes.

Green Beans: A Few Cool Options

Having steamed and/or blanched green beans on hand benefits your kitchen throughout the week. You can add them to salads, either green or grain based. You can toss them in a soup for color at the last second, stir them into pasta or rice dishes, and dip them in hummus. Chopped up and mixed with a cooked grain—quinoa, barley, a plump short-grain rice—you can then form them into patties and make cute little cakes; I’m currently experimenting with an old Bert Greene recipe to this effect and will post when I’m happy with it.

Best of all, you can either dip into them through the week—they’ll keep nicely in your produce drawer as long as they don’t get wet, for several days—or steam off the whole bunch the day you get them and just throw in a little bean confetti as the inspiration strikes. Chomp away, mes amis.

Like this post? Subscribe to our mailing list to see more AND get free downloads as they become available.