Cooking and Baking

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Today is my Grandma’s birthday. I am dancing to Motown and baking Biscochitos, some of her favorite cookies, in between great belly laughs at our shared memories and hearty sobs that she is not alive. Since I cannot call her to say Happy Birthday and am glad she was born, I talk to her in my head. I tell her that I miss her and that I love these pictures, that they capture her spirit and make me glad to have known her for so long. I tell her that I am well and the hubster, too. The neighbors put up their holiday lights, and the block looks so pretty. I tell her that it is raining, and November in Pittsburgh was the warmest since the Hoover Administration. I wonder, how old were you then? A teenager, maybe? Oh, and I’m trying something a little different with the cookies. Hopefully they’ll turn out the way I am anticipating. I’ll let you know. I love you, Grandma. Have a great day…

Happy Cyber Monday, peeps! Say hello to my annual Thanksgiving pecan pie, perhaps the most handsome I’ve ever made, and just as tasty, too. That’s me getting ready to push it (in what look like ginormous Doc Martens – I swear I’m a 6.5!) and our other food and beverage contributions down through Brighton Heights in our wacky wagon, so called because one of the wheels requires an occasional swift kick to remain on the straight and narrow. To those observers who may have thought we were treating a swaddled baby unkindly, you’ve been informed. Kristen, our great friend and hostess extraordinaire, mixes her don’t ask don’t tell gravy, which, along with everything else, was delicious and soul-filling. In true Thanksgiving form, I ate too much and lamented the fact that my waistband was not elasticized. Maybe next year…

Friday morning

broccoli and zucchini roasted with smoked paprika and sea salt

spinach salad topped with my favorite egg, caramelized apple, and fennel

The last of the fallen leaves on our front steps.

Under beautiful skies, the wing beats of a murder of crows, and a mere twenty-four hours after Thanksgiving, we feasted, yet again, at The Penn Brewery. The pretzels and cheese were the mere tip of the German-leaning culinary iceberg…mmmm.

Oh, and in true cyber Monday fashion, the kindly folks at Block Island Organics are having a crazy good sale. Get 30% off your entire purchase through tomorrow by entering the code THANKS30.

Heck ya! A real hodge podge today, huh? Have a great week…

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And the hills are kitted out in their beautiful best.  The mood changes with the whim of the wind and scudding clouds, leaving me to shiver or coo, hood up or eyes squinting at the the warmth of the sun. How lucky I am to be wandering this neck of the woods, to traipse loudly through ankle deep leaves, to hear the squawk and chirp and cry of every manner of bird, greeting me from on high, to know a bit more of the world.

And with fall comes the shift from the snap and crunch of giant summer salads to roasted vegetables and hearty soups, the house warmly scented. I am jiving on this combination, as of late: a winter squash and red grapes, dotted with butter and flaked sea salt. On days that I remember, I toss in rosemary from the garden for the last few minutes, and everything is elevated. Mmmm, yes!

How about that smile! Last Sunday’s walking adventure to St. George’s Ukrainian Church in Brighton Heights for their Ethnic Food Festival. We devoured more hearty fall fare, Stroganoff, buttery rolls, borscht (for the hubster, I don’t do beets), mushroom barley soup, pierogies, and sausage with the best cabbage I’ve ever tasted.

The scrape of metal chairs on linoleum and a wall lined with crooked pictures of Jesus and the saints sent me straight back to childhood and the countless hours spent at Our Lady of Grace. The church where my dad was an Altar Boy, and I earned my First Communion. The church where Father Moynihan taught me, with a wink and a smile, how to shake hands properly. The church where I saw my Grandma Frances in her Sunday best, gloved hands, lipstick, and the scent of Aqua Net. Oh, nostalgia, how you blur the tedium and frustration and shine a light on all that is fine.

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roasted carrots & peppers with orange, hazelnuts, & feta

smoky pinto beans, guacamole, and flash fried tomatoes with spicy cashew cheeze

farro and wild mushroom risotto with roasted asparagus

This afternoon, the hubster and I, cutting board shared between us, made lunch. Salad rolls with carrot, radish, red bell pepper, cucumber, a touch of cilantro, butter lettuce. I made peanut sauce while he sliced and diced, working happily, elbow to elbow. Alec Baldwin and Sarah Jessica Parker chatted away on his fabulous radio show, Here’s the Thing. We commented on it, our collective and separate day, the news of the world. It was one of those times when an initially seemingly everyday moment is recognized as its truly bigger, greater, and more wonderful piece of the whole. The essence of what truly matters. Being together, enjoying a shared task in the here and now, and I told him so.

I am both happy and privileged to have the hubster working from home since moving to Pittsburgh. Did I tell you this? The sum total of his commute is a walk from the bedroom to the office, or, on longer days, from the kitchen on the main floor. Sometimes I worry that this proximity further cocoons us, that we are too much of each other. And then I establish a perimeter, take off to a Meet-Up, walk to the library or the dangerously delicious cookie shop, write or read or draw, call my parents or Grandpa, all before recounting my exploits when we snuggle, as we always do, before drifting off to sleep.

It is sappy, true, true, true, but sappy trumps mean any day of the week. The truth is I am to the moon and back glad for his presence in my life, our shared lunch breaks and the meals we create. They are acts of love and appreciation, every last one.

Our bedroom looks east, and when there is sunshine, either blessedly clear or like the photo, striving to burn a frothy layer of clouds, it fills our eyes upon waking. We are enjoying having a very pared down space, with precious little art (my favorite Goodwill find of the sea!), a few trinkets, and all new furniture from Room & Board. It’s called Calvin and was made in Oregon, of all places. The ties that bind. The wall color is a pale and icy blue, and while we are most definitely in need of a new layer of paint, the shade will remain the same.

The heavens had a riotous pillow fight and the feathers fell as snow. We bundled and braved below zero wind chill to walk to the library and market in the bright white of it, dropping off movies that were too terrible to mention, buying an onion, a jar of pickles, and a 9-volt battery. It is a bummer to be awakened by a chirping fire alarm. It really is.

The onion was for green chile (recipe here – it’s been a while, Paris in the sweet hereafter, me a Pittsburgher, and the Powell Food 4 Less long gone!). This was¬†definitely one of the best batches EVER. I made pinto beans and margaritas, too. The hubster made guacamole. Everything was marvelous and gave our cheeks a rosy-pink glow.

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