19 November 2009

in defense of an old geezer, dressed all in red

Please forgive me. I'm tired of writing about food. Don't worry, we're still eating it. I just feel uninspired by it at the moment. So please indulge me while I move on to other topics...

I feel like I should be writing in to "This I Believe" instead of posting this on my blog. But they'd never publish me anyway, so I'll have to settle.

I believe in Santa. Passionately, with a few reservations. With Christmas season upon us and few of us ready for it, I too am dismayed at the gobs and gobs of crap that started popping up in the stores even BEFORE Halloween's ghosts started haunting our doorsteps. Yes, the materialism of Christmas is sickening, and Santa has, and always will, be a part of that.

Yes, Santa is a part of Christmas that encourages a lot of the greedy "gimme gimmes" from good little girls and boys all over North America. And for this reason, or perhaps due to the cynicism of my generation, a lot of people I know with young kids are choosing to forgo the Santa myth, saying they don't want to lie to their kids. They'd rather craft their own family holiday traditions, and leave the materialism of a Coca Cola crafted Santa out of the picture. I get that, and I respect it. But I'm not choosing that for my kids.

why do I love Santa? Simple. He's magic. I love that giddy excitement he brings out in kids, that "I can't sleep, but I HAVE to sleep, oh HOW CAN I SLEEP when there could be a fat man in a red suit tiptoeing in to leave candy and presents for me in the next room?" craziness of Christmas Eve, that look of wonder, eyes wide when we talk about how reindeer can FLY, find nibbled carrots, cookie crumbs and an empty glass of milk (or bottle of beer) on Christmas morning. I love the reverence Jules has for the bearded guy as he walks up to him carrying a book for the two of them to read while I snap photos. I even love, sadistic as it sounds, the souvenir photos of my crying babies on Santa's lap. And I'm willing to bet that they'll love it, too.

I can tell you that I did not have the easiest childhood, but I did have Santa, and I will always be grateful for that. Santa got me through some pretty rough Christmases, otherwise marred by things like divorce, poverty, alcoholism and sometimes worse. And when I grew old enough to "know better," promoting the myth of Santa for my younger siblings was its own little bit of magic for me.

And now, having young kids of my own, the magic is back for me, full on. Before having kids, Johan and I had pretty much stopped celebrating Christmas. Sure, we bought a tree more years than not, I baked a batch of cookies every once in a while, we attended holiday company parties, went to friends' houses and drank gluhwein, and tried to inject as much holiday cheer as we could into our DINKy lives without, you know, going
overboard. So we bought a few presents for family members, but stopped giving gifts to each other, instead spending our money on one "big" item like a piece of furniture for our household, usually in February. Christmas was a much more sober affair for us. Kids changed all of that.

First, we found ourselves in the position of having to choose between Christmas traditions. In Belgium, Santa isn't much more than a hokey theme park-like character, dubbed
Kerstman (Christmas Man), who makes appearances in shopping malls and grown-up parties and such. Nobody believes he's real. All the kids get giddy over Sinterklaas instead, a more regal character who brings his presents on December 6, with the aid of his little black helper, Zwarte Piet (Black Pete). Right after Jules was born, we celebrated both Sinterklaas and Santa, but after attending a holiday party for Jules's Dutch preschool when he was just shy of two and seeing him shake with fear as all the black-face Zwarte Piets entered the room, I just didn't have the passion for promoting what's always been to me a blatantly racist stereotype that should have been ditched long ago.

I know many (maybe most) of Johan's friends and family think I'm my own version of Scrooge, since Zwarte Piet, despite his black-face, gold hoop earrings, big red lips, curly black afro and threats of stuffing naughty children in his sack and bringing them back to Santa's home in Spain (SPAIN? Really?!), is really jovial and sweet. But I just can't go there. And I'm probably being extremely hypocritical in this regard, since my own Santa and his origins are suspect as well. But there it is.

So bring on the toys, bring on the stockings, bring on the candy, cookies and sweets and treats. I choose my Santa, and con my kids into believing in him, and my Belgian partner into backing me up on it, even though it's foreign to him, and in the end, I inject (at least I hope I do) a little magic into all of our lives, just when we need it most in the bleakest days of winter. And for me, that's enough of a reason to believe in Santa Claus. Maybe now I'll go bake a cookie for the guy.

06 November 2009

muffin me morning glory

This recipe is a knock-off of my favorite bakery muffin, made by the bakers at Macrina in Seattle. They make luscious desserts, killer sandwiches, the tastiest bread in Seattle, if not on the planet, but whenever I make it in there, I find myself ordering the same thing: morning glory muffins. If it weren't for the trek out in the rain to get to them, and for my pocket book, and, well, for the satisfaction of mixing something up with my own two hands and smelling its sweet smells wafting from my oven and filling my house with cinnamony goodness, or for having a big stash of them in my freezer, then I would be perfectly content to just let the bakery provide them to me. But I'm not content. So yesterday, I made my own. And while they weren't as good as a Macrina muffin, they held their own. Be sure to dice, and not grate, your apple. That way the juices save themselves for you, popping open and streaming out when you chew. A delightful eating experience.

Morning Glory Muffins
1 cup white flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3 large eggs
2 cups grated carrot
2 small apples, cored, peeled and diced
1/2 cup apple sauce
3/4 cup vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease muffin tin with cooking spray.

Whisk first 8 ingredients (through cinnamon) together in a large bowl and set aside.

In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs and oil together, then add the grated carrot, apples, apple sauce and oil. Pour the wet ingredients in with the flour mixture and stir until just combined.

Fill muffin cups about 3/4 full. Bake for 20-25 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center of the muffins comes out clean.

Remove from the oven, let stand a few minutes and then place on a wire rack to cool.

Makes 12+ muffins.

the chicken died for our sausage

Jules has become extremely curious of late about where his food comes from. For the most part, his concerns are meat related. When we eat bacon, he wants to know not only IF the pig died so we could eat it, but HOW he died. I've tried to brush him off with a quick answer, like, the farmer cut the pig's throat, or broke the chicken's neck, or something like that. But Jules is never satisfied with this amount of information. He wants every gory detail, and if it's not provided, he manufactures it himself. "I think the pig was shot in the head. He lived on the farm and one day the farmer decided to eat him, so he got out his gun and..." -- you get the idea. While Jules 's curiosity has made me contemplate becoming a vegetarian, he is unphased. The fact that meat comes from a dead animal is just a fact to him, like hail comes from the sky, or Kuku is a baby.

The line from last night's meal was priceless. We were eating chicken sausages, roasted over delicata squash (no, I can't get enough of the stuff), and served with what turned out to be a putrid chanterelle mushroom risotto (I blame the white truffle oil, a last minute splurge that the recipe called for). When told the sausage came from a chicken,
Jules became quiet and thoughtful for a moment. Then, quite matter-of-factly: "the chicken died for our sausage..."
Then a bite. Then another, until it was all gone.

And I have to admit, it was great sausage. And the sausage drippings over the delicata squash? Yum.

The chicken (that) died for our roasted sausage over delicata squash (adapted from this recipe from Orangette)
6 chicken sausages (mild Italian, or other)
1 delicata squash, seeded and sliced into 1/2 inch crescent moons
olive oil, for drizzling
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 475 degrees. Heat a heavy skillet over moderate heat and cook the sausages until browned all over, about 8-10 minutes.

While the sausages are cooking, seed and slice the delicata squash. Place in a bowl and drizzle about a tablespoon of olive oil over, salt and pepper to taste, and then transfer into a baking dish big enough to hold the squash and the sausages.

When the sausages are browned, place them on top of the squash and slide the baking dish into the oven. Roast for 20-25 minutes, turning everything about halfway through, until sausages are cooked through and oozing some of their juices. Serve hot.

04 November 2009

fast food lunch

Not a burger. Not a sandwich slapped together, quickly. I've been throwing together a lot of these kinds of lunches lately, trying to get more of the good stuff in my diet. Good for me, good tasting. Better than a burger, if you want to know the truth. My kids wouldn't touch it with a 10 foot pole (I'm working on that), but I enjoyed it very much.

Onions, sauteed until very very soft, add thin-sliced garlic, halved cherry tomatoes and cook until tomatoes begin to pop and release some of their juices, then add just as much baby spinach as you want and cook, stirring, until just wilted. Salt, pepper. Top with a gooey fried egg. Would also be good with a little shredded cheese, or a squeeze of lemon, but tasty all on its own.

What was in your lunchbox today?

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