Friday, November 8, 2013

Getting Comfortable

There's something about settling in for the winter.

Don't get me wrong: I love spring and fall and the warmer weather.  Nothing beats being able to head outside without a jacket and go for a bike ride or a swim.

But once you face facts and realize, you live on the East Coast and winter will come, it really can be an enjoyable time.

So that's what this past week has been all about: getting settled for the winter.

The week actually didn't start off all that promisingly.  I started to feel a bit under the weather on Saturday night, and (foolishly) took an OTC decongestant.  It kept me up ALL night, in one of those medicine-head fitful states of non-sleep.

Guess it was the "non-drowsy" kind.  Because the non-non-drowsy kind puts me out cold for 12-14 hours, typically.  (This is what I was shooting for.)

Along about 3 a.m., however, I decided to make a virtue of necessity.  (Remember, it was daylight savings time, so this meant I got an extra hour of non-sleep that night.)  I decided that, if I couldn't sleep, I would doze and compose.  So I mentally thought through the sentences of the abstract I needed to write for an upcoming conference paper, until I dozed off again.  The abstract only had to be 100 words, so it was the perfect length to work on.  And at a few points, when I was just flat-out awake, I opened the iPad and read.

The next morning, I got up and wrote the abstract in an hour, and submitted it.  So, one job done.  With a little luck, I'll be heading to NYU next spring for a few days to present my ideas.  We'll see.

I didn't feel all that great on Sunday, what with the not-sleeping-thing, so I decided it was time to make some comfort food and get comfortable.

Several years ago, when I was on sabbatical and living in RI, I had a dinner party for my 40th birthday.  I've had various dinner parties over the years.  Some went quite well, some went less well, but I do enjoy giving them and I think most people enjoyed attending them (even the less successful ones).

Because, truth be told, I love to cook for people.  I don't know why.  I just do.  (Unless you're a jerk to me, of course, in which case I'll happily advise you of the location of the nearest Denny's and leave it at that.) 

This dinner party was one of my successes.  All kinds of good food and good conversation and just a generally enjoyable evening all around.  A perfect way to ring in my fourth decade.  It was during a tough time in my life in general (two years after my dad had died, two years before my mom died), so I savor my memory of that time, because it was a little emotional oasis in a sea of turmoil.

I made an apple-cake for that occasion that has since become one of my favorite cake recipes of all time.  Last week I decided, I had the fresh-picked apples, so what better way to use the Granny Smiths than by taking a little cake-walk down memory lane?

I probably should have taken a picture of the cake, but I didn't.  I just baked it and started eating.  I'm still enjoying it.  The temptation to eat it all in one sitting was nearly overwhelming, but I resisted.

I decided to continue the comfort-food theme on Sunday.  I have a recipe for homemade chicken pot pie that is beyond good, but it is also beyond time-consuming to make.  It consists of about 18 steps and until you get the hang of it, it can very well seem to involve the simultaneous use of absolutely every single pot and pan that you possess. 

But god is it good.  The best.  (Again, my apologies to the vegetarians.  I know.  I know.  But... it really is good.  I'm sorry.  It just is.)

So, about every year or two, I saddle up and make it.  And then I spend a week or so eating it.  Needless to say, this is the kind of week that will require regular trips to the gym and the pool, but it's soooo worth it.

The filling.

The filling, topped with crust and brushed with egg.  Ready to bake.

The end result: pure comfort.

While making the pot pie, I once again made a virtue of necessity.  Since you have to poach the chicken in vegetables and then use only the meat, I took the opportunity of putting the bones and vegetables in a pot with herbs and water and boiled it all for the remainder of the day.  So I  now have homemade chicken broth, ready to use for my next batch of Italian wedding soup.

And of course, all of this did the trick, and I felt much better.  The remainder of the week was spent getting the odds and ends done before the holiday busy-season hits.  I graded a small stack of papers.  I vacuumed.  I did laundry.  I caught up on various reading and writing projects for school.  I mulched leaves like a madwoman.

And I started to think about Christmas gifts.  My neighbors have been such great neighbors: she helps me with gardening advice, invites me to incredible dinners (she's a good cook), he helped me clean up my yard one winter after a major storm, the list just goes on and on.

Her daughter had a baby this year, so I'm thinking of a knitted sweater for the little grandson, to say "thank you!!!" for all of their kindness and help.

I started working on that this week, and although it's not in a condition to be photographed (if you saw it right now, you might wonder how it will ever turn out to be a sweater), I can't resist a little teaser.

These are the buttons I'll be using.  I'm not usually a sucker for cutesy-kid-things, but I do like these little buttons.  They're cute, but in a very understated way (like me! LOL).  And I think they'll look really good on the sweater itself.

So I'm enjoying that knitting project a great deal.  And, in an odd twist of fate, after all of the problems and struggles I had with the garden this year, even now, as I spend time mulching leaves all over the yard and covering plants and generally getting ready for winter, this is what greets me when I come inside:

Yup.  That's right.  I brought in a TON of green tomatoes that just wouldn't ripen and wouldn't ripen and WOULDN'T RIPEN out in the yard.

Finally, they were predicting a frost.  My neighbor (see above) advised me to bring them in.  She told me that if I did, and put them someplace warm but not in the sun, they would ripen.

Well, I tried that last year, and it was a bust.  But for some reason, this year, it's working.  (I think because I put them in a place that gets more light, but still isn't in the sun.  That may be key to this whole process.)  Anyway, they're ripening little by little, and it's actually working out really well for me, because instead of having a ton of them all at once, I'm getting a manageable batch every week that I can use in salads and on pasta and in omelettes.

So yes, it's November, and I'm eating fresh tomatoes from the garden.  Still.  Just goes to show: you never can tell what the future will hold.

"We will only understand the miracle of life fully when we allow the unexpected to happen."
--Paulo Coelho

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