Home - is where I want to be / But I guess I'm already there /I come home -
she lifted up her wings /
Guess that this must be the place...
- Talking Heads, "Naive Melody"

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Goal Roundup: January 2011

One month into 2011 (that was fast):
  • Do Things: I have been letting the winter blahs get the better of me (considering buying a sunlamp). Going to see some friends in CT next weekend, though. I am trying to organize a get-together of the new supper club, since no one seems to want to take the initiative there. Hoping to visit the local Y today and see about joining.
  • Financial: Paid off credit card (thank you, Oracle) and all of our birth-related hospital bills--woohoo! Saving on target.
  • Food: 7 new recipes this month, and I made bread for the first time in forever. Not keeping on top of the blogging so far, though.
  • Writing: Queried 14 agents; six rejections so far. 
Can't complain too much. I'm even getting a bit of reading done. 

365 #18 This is how my living room usually looks, complete with blurred child

365 #19 We have gotten just a bit of snow this month; that is our van to the left

365 #20 I like tea, okay?

Bonus - Lydia doing her penguin impersonation

    Saturday, January 29, 2011

    Vegetable Barley Soup with the Taste of Little India (whew)

    So far, the soup project has been a success. It's a good way to build new recipes into my schedule. It has not (so far) been easy to do the same with the blog updates; for that matter, I have made quite a few new recipes that aren't soups, some of them quite good, and they haven't even gotten a mention here. But hey--baby steps.

    It has been a bit of a difficult month. January is a tough nut any year; this one has seen an astonishing amount of snow for our locale, which makes getting out and about seem like more of an effort than it's worth, and of course there's l'enfant to rob us of sleep. I veer back and forth between thinking that I'm depressed because I'm not getting anything done and because I'm trying to do too much. It's pretty annoying for someone like me to feel both harried and unmotivated. Here we are on Saturday morning, not even 7 a.m., and my weekend is full. Do I need down time, or time that produces something other than a momentary pause in the flood of disorder? I did do a lot of baking last weekend, and that felt good. It has been too long since this place smelled of fresh bread.

    Back to the soup. This is a good one. I have not historically used barley all that much, but I should do something about that. It's a hefty soup, brimming with the good things of winter, and you could easily add a few more if you wanted to--some ribbons of kale, or a potato. I love Indian spices and probably used a full teaspoon of each of those indicated. I like a thicker soup, and used less broth and a bit more barley than she suggests.

    1 Tbsp olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
    2-3 onions, chopped
    3 big carrots, trimmed, peeled, and chopped
    1 parsnip, peeled, cored if necessary, and chopped
    3 garlic cloves, chopped
    1 1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
    1/2 tsp turmeric, plus more to taste
    salt and pepper
    1/4 tsp garam masala, plus more to taste
    red pepper flakes to taste
    6 c chicken broth
    1/2 c pearl barley

    1. Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or soup pot. Add the onions, carrots, parsnips, garlic, and ginger. Season with salt and pepper, cover, and cook about five minutes on low heat. Add the spices, cover, and cook gently, stirring often, until the vegetables are soft but not colored, about 15 minutes.

    2. Add the broth and bring to a boil, then stir in the barley. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer until the barley is tender, which can take from 15 to 40 minutes depending on the type of barley. Adjust seasoning.

    Does it get any simpler than that? My only real quibble was with the lack of leftovers; next time I may make a double batch and freeze some.

    Friday, January 28, 2011

    Where I've (Virtually) Been

    Links from the past week, some of which prove that the entire internet is not entirely a vast wasteland, and in aggregate suggest I've been cat-waxing:

    Found Words

    Looking through Google Docs, which I use off and on, I came upon this three-year-old fragment. What's a blog for if not for publishing things one finds in odd corners?

    Once upon a time there was a woman who wouldn't write. She was daily beset by fearful imaginings, and hesitated to give them even mediated life through the page. She was also an incorrigible editor. The merest sentence, should it be written, would be fodder for a hundred or more rewrites. Surely to write badly was worse than not writing at all? There were too many bad writers in the world, what need to add to their number? Melodramatic, infantile, without redeeming merits, escapist, a cherisher of the familiar who knew that she would blaze no new paths, only tidy the borders of ancient gardens a bit, if that much. Was there any value in that to the world? To herself? What if, after some time of tidying, it turned out that she might after all find some new flower growing to one side of the path? It was then that the thorns of Time would rise up and wind around her ankles, drawing blood.

    The cat stared intently at a sound. It could have been the house settling, or a child moving in its sleep. It could be something worse....

    Thursday, January 27, 2011

    365 Update

    I have missed a few days and didn't always keep track of when a shot was made. Must try a bit harder to find interesting items. I like this camera a lot - it's a big leap forward from my old one.

    365 #12 Falling Snow

    365 #13 Train Graffiti

    365 #14 Foggy Boston

    365 #15 Godzilla working on bread dough

    365 #16 Miriam 3 Months

    365 #17 Downtown Crossing

    Saturday, January 22, 2011

    Where I've Been

    Stuff I thought was cool:
    And that's it for the week.

    Spiced Squash, Fennel, and Pear Soup

    All this babbling about writing lately, I never got around to posting last Sunday's soup recipe. This is definitely one that I want to keep. You can make a perfectly acceptable squash soup with many fewer ingredients, but this one is really good. The hint of ginger does wonders.

    A note about garlic. Dorie subscribes to the French theory that you must split the clove and remove the green germ, because it's bitter. I tasted the green part when I made this, out of curiosity, and found it didn't register as bitter at all, so from now on I'm not going to bother. You may now cast stones.

    Yet again, I failed to take a picture. It's squash soup, you can probably guess what it looks like.

    Spiced Squash, Fennel, and Pear Soup
    Dorie Greenspan, Around My French Table

    3 lb whole squash (Long Island Cheese Pumpkin, acorn or butternut) or 1 1/2 lb peeled and cut
    about 3 Tbsp olive oil
    1 large Spanish onion, coarsely chopped
    1 spring onion or 1 shallot, coarsely chopped
    1 medium fennel bulb, trimmed, cored, and sliced
    2 celery stalks, trimmed and thinly sliced
    1 large garlic clove, sliced
    1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
    1/2 tsp ground cumin
    1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
    fresh ground pepper
    5-6 c chicken or vegetable broth
    2 ripe pears, peeled, cored, and coarsely chopped
    2 strips orange or tangerine peel, pith removed
    1-2 lemons
    creme fraiche or heavy cream for serving (optional)
    toasted salted pumpkin seeds for serving (optional)

    Preheat the oven to 425F. Line a baking sheet with foil. If using a whole squash, cut it half, scoop out the seeds, and rub with olive oil. If used peeled and cut squash, toss with a little oil. Sprinkle squash with a pinch of salt and roast until tender (45 minutes for cut, longer for whole). Cool, peel, and cut into chunks.

    Warm 2 Tbsp olive oil in a Dutch oven or soup pot over low heat, then stir in the onion and spring onion or shallot. Season lightly with salt and cook 5 minutes until starting to soften but not color. Add fennel, celery, garlic, and a pinch more salt, and cook, stirring often, 5-10 minutes or until soft but still pale. Add spices and roasted squash. Pour in 5 c broth, increase the heat, and bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer. Add pears and orange peel. Partially cover the pot and simmer about 20 minutes or until soft enough to mash with a spoon.

    Puree (blender, food processor, or immersion blender). Adjust salt and pepper. Add more broth to thin if necessary. Reheat until hot.

    Ladle into bowls and finish with lemon juice, garnish with creme and pumpkin seeds.

    Wednesday, January 19, 2011

    Writing Update - Ups, Downs, and Alongs

    "Ups and downs" meaning that I have started the uniquely masochistic process known as querying agents. I have sent out five queries, gotten one form rejection and one request for the first five pages. I have heard that this agent requests many partials which are later rejected, but it gives me hope that my basic query letter and synopsis are acceptably written.

    For the record, it feels exactly like getting a call-back on a resume:  elation, followed by anxiety that I'll screw it up through an elementary error, followed by a reminder to myself that often these things don't work out, and it's no one's fault. I've done a fair amount of job-hunting in my life, been to many an interview that didn't pan out. I can handle this. The threat of rejection brings out my inner teenager, but of course one can't let that old version of oneself call the shots.

    For the "alongs," I am working more earnestly on Fury's Flight. I am not sure whether I will try the entire snowflake process. Filling in spreadsheets is not my idea of a good time. I had a few ideas last night, and I think I've got a way to fill in the plot hole the book plunged into as I was finishing NaNoWriMo that year. I'm anxious to get with the words.

    365 - Catching Up

    I have been dutifully taking pictures, but not posting them. Have been in something of a funk, to tell the truth. It might just be the weather, which has been outstandingly miserable for a week now.

    365 #6 Snownami in Progress

    365 #7 Morning after snowstorm

    365 #8 Pet me NOW

    365 #9 Menu planning process
    365 #10 I build 'em, the kids play

    365 #11 Boston

    Monday, January 17, 2011

    Writing Update

    Important step on that "real writer" business today--I sent off a query email to an agent. Still makes me feel sick, but it has to get done.

    Last night I finally opened the two crits I have on the first chapter of Fury's Flight, and found some very useful commentary and suggestions. I will probably have to axe the initial scene, but it's only a couple of pages. Better than axing 16 years of backstory like I had to last time.

    I've started writing down the FF plot on index cards, looking for places I can add to it. There's a lot of digging to do if I'm going to make it the book I think it could be. For the moment, I think I will try to just get all of the events in place.

    Where I've (Virtually) Been

    Not much of a list this week:
    And that's it for today.

    Saturday, January 15, 2011

    Halfway Through January

    This was supposed to have been published on the 15th, but autopublish seems to be borked right now. Anyway, goal accountability time - how are things going?
    • Do things: Plans made to visit good friends early in February.
    • Financial: Paid off credit card. 
    • Food: 3 new recipes.
    • Writing: Finished my polishing run on the old book; sent the first chapter of the new book to another writing group friend (who is currently distracted by most of her country being underwater); worked on/obsessed over query letter. 
    The year is off to a smashing start.

      Wednesday, January 12, 2011

      365 #5

      Wellington T/bus stop, Snownami Eve

      Leek and Potato Soup

      This marks the start of Project Soup, and I chose it purely because I had two beautiful leeks in my refrigerator. The supply of those tends to be spotty; when I see good ones at the supermarket, I buy them, then figure out what to do with them. Which usually means soup.

      I don't usually make this soup to a recipe, but thought that I ought to start the project off right. The results were certainly different than I would have come up with; my L&P soup is much, much thicker, and less seasoned. I like my soup to be just this side of mashed potatoes; I believe next time I will use a method more like hers, but with a different balance of liquid to potato.

      I have not yet gotten back in the habit of photographing my dinners. I took this picture at work. It will have to serve double-duty as my 365 pic, because it's the only one I took that day.

      Leek and Potato Soup

      2 Tbsp unsalted butter
      1 large onion, preferably Spanish, chopped (or 1-2 more leeks)
      2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
      Salt and freshly ground white pepper
      3 leeks, white and light green parts, split lengthwise, washed, and thinly sliced
      1 large russet potato, peeled and cubed
      6 thyme sprigs (I used dried)
      2 fresh sage leaves (optional)
      4 c chicken broth or water
      3 c whole milk or water*
      optional toppings: minced fresh parsley, sage, tarragon, or marjoram; snipped fresh chives; grated Parmesan or Gruyere; croutons; truffle oil

      Melt the butter in a Dutch oven or soup pot over low heat. Add the onion and garlic and stir until they glisten with butter, then season with salt and white pepper, cover, and cook 10 minutes or until soft but not colored.

      Add the remaining ingredients, increase the heat, and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat and simmer, mostly covered, 30-40 minutes or until vegetables are soft. Adjust seasoning to taste. Puree (or don't) with a blender or immersion blender, or just mash it all up a bit, serve and garnish.

      * Really now - isn't there just a slight bit of difference in the results depending on which you use?!

      Tuesday, January 11, 2011

      365 #3

      An entirely unexpected Christmas present from my mother: beautiful Guy Devrenne flatware.

      Sunday, January 9, 2011

      365 #2

      Spent the day in Bedford, NH, with relatives of my husband. The table keeps growing -- we've had two babies and an engagement in the family since the last holiday gathering!

      Friday, January 7, 2011

      Water Tracks

      Today was my first visit to North Station since they redid it (several years ago now, I believe). I was pleasantly surprised. Waiting for the Green Line over to Lechmere with the intent of treating myself to Finagle a Bagel, I was drawn toward the tracks, where the water that had pooled between them looked like a window, not a reflection. I didn't manage to get a shot that picked up on that before the train arrived. There were only three other people waiting. I couldn't even tell you the last time I took a Green Line train.

      Walking down First Street, I made my usual stop to look in the window at David's Shoes, and the usual promise to myself that someday I will buy some cool boots. At least, it used to by my usual stop, back when I parked the car up in the commuter lot there; I haven't been by since we moved. Continuing on, my nose going numb from the 20 degree temperatures, I decided that I liked it that way, that I really wouldn't want it to be warm all the time.

      The bagel was quite good, also.

      Thursday, January 6, 2011

      Where I've (Virtually) Been

      I often see a post or page, think it's something cool, and then never go back to it. So much for bookmarks, of which I have far too many; this is intended as a slightly more focused aide memoire. Not an original idea, I know, but worth trying.
      In a similar spirit, I've finally updated the blog list to reflect sites I'm actually keeping an eye on these days. Shocking, I know.

        My Day in Pictures

        Wednesday, January 5, 2011

        2011 Recipe Project

        I had off the Monday after New Years, and took the Tuesday as well, so had some time to kick around at home after getting most of the post-holiday tidying done (and giving up on Super Mario Bros in frustration). I pulled my recently acquired copy of Around My French Table off the shelf -- I see blog and bulletin board posts referring to it constantly, and thought I ought to give it another look as I considered what to do with my cooking goal for the year. I opened it to the Soup chapter, and there I found my goal.

        Or at least, a goal. I often think that I don't make soup nearly often enough, and when I do, it's one of three fairly basic recipes. We have many months of cold weather to go. So for the first two months of 2011, I will try to cook one new soup a week from Ms. Greenspan's book. This may require a bread subtheme, or actual sandwiches (and perhaps some nice bowls...). This will almost certainly have to happen on Sundays, the only day when I can be more or less certain of having some time to myself (the next four Saturdays are already booked with social events, which is certainly A Good Thing, but there are also errands and cleaning to shoehorn in).

        We shall see what transpires, how much time I can find, and whether I enjoy having this kind of focus or long for my old scattershot ways.

        I got a new camera!


        Monday, January 3, 2011

        Out with the Old...

        ... holiday catalogs, and 500 first-grade math worksheets. Out with the tree, having served its purpose. Out with toys no longer played with ("out" meaning "into storage until Mimi is old enough for them"). Out with the old ownership of my company, and in with A Wholly Owned Subsidiary of Oracle, Inc. Out with cold, grey days, in with more of the same for three more months.

        Out with 0-3 month clothes, in with 3-6 month. They do grow quickly. She's found her hands; last night I saw her staring at her fist with an expression I can only call astonished.

        Dave took the kids out to a museum in the afternoon. I cleaned the kitchen, put together dinner, and played Super Mario Brothers while Mimi napped.

        This is the recipe I intended to make, Braised Beef Short Rib with Salsa Verde and Feta. I was planning to cheat on the salsa, mind. At the last moment I decided that there was no reason to dump salsa on these lovely ribs, and served them as they were, with the vegetables from the sauce (which I rough-chopped in a manner that would have gotten me thrown out of Ms Goin's kitchen at once) and a simple risotto. I love risotto, and I never get around to making it so often that I get tired of it. I'm sure the sauce would have been better had I done it her way, but the ribs were gorgeously silky with their big chunks of carrot and onion, and I have no regrets.

        Sunday, January 2, 2011

        Gearing Up for the New Year

        The office last week was tomb-like, a handful of us sprinkled through the big room, trading "sure is quiet" "yep, sure is" comments when we passed. I have been tidying up old projects and giving some thought to new ones. Home has been noisier, but with nothing much going on in terms of the holiday. It's been an exciting year, and we just weren't ready yet to go out and do anything major.

        The Weekly Recipe Project is giving me trouble; when I look at it under that name, it seems impossibly limited. Only 52 recipes? I probably have that many online recipes bookmarked, never mind a hundred-odd cookbooks and binders of clippings. How to approach the task of selecting my pool? I browse through blogs, look at files I have saved for years, visualize my bookshelves. Perhaps I should restrict the project to soup recipes, or bread, or desserts? Take one recipe from a different cookbook every week?

        I was up early New Years day--for creatures that sleep so damn much themselves, cats don't grasp the idea of sleeping in--and decided to get the grocery list/menu planning out of the way. I already had one new recipe lined up for later in the week, but in the spirit of starting the new year right, I grabbed my new copy of At Home with Madhur Jaffrey and started with the fish chapter.

        I made this pretty much as written, except I don't have any asefetida and my fenugreek is ground, not whole. I added more cayenne than specified, but that was by mistake--the result was intensely hot, and made me wish I had some naan. I served this with rice alone, but it would make a nice component in a multi-course meal. It came together quickly and without much fussing, and made a nice change from my usual fish standbys.

        Fish and Peas in a Fennel-Fenugreek Sauce

        1 lb fillet of cod, hake, or halibut, 1/2 to 3/4 inch thick
        1 tsp salt, divided
        1/2 tsp cayenne, divided
        1/8 tsp ground turmeric
        3 Tbsp mustard, olive, or canola oil
        1/8 tsp ground asafetida
        1/4 tsp whole mustard seeds
        1/2 tsp whole cumin seeds
        1/4 tsp whole fennel seeds
        1/8 tsp whole fenugreek seeds
        3 Tbsp plain yogurt
        4 medium tomatoes, coarsely grated (I used a can of tomato sauce)
        1 c fresh or frozen and defrosted peas
        1. Sprinkle the fish on both sides with 1/4 tsp salt, freshly ground black pepper, 1/4 tsp cayenne, and the turmeric. Set aside 30 minutes or longer, refrigerating if necessary.
        2. Put the oil in a frying pan and set on medium-high. Put in the asafetida, then the mustard, cumin, fennel, and fenugreek seeds. 
        3. As soon as the mustard seeds start to pop, add the yogurt. Stir until it almost disappears.*
        4. Add the tomatoes, 3/4 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp cayenne, and more pepper if desired. Stir and cook for five minutes, until tomatoes thicken slightly. 
        5. Add the peas, stir, and continue to cook another minute on medium heat.**
        6. Lay the fish down in the sauce. Spoon the sauce over the fish and bring to a simmer. Partially cover and poach fish on medium-low heat until just cooked through, 7-10 minutes. Add water if the pan dries out.
        * Mine did not disappear, but left little spongy bits like tofu behind. I used Greek-style yogurt, so maybe it had more solids.
        ** I added the peas near the end. Why would you cook peas for 10 minutes?

        No pictures because my five-year-old camera died last week. I am trying to decide between size and features with a new one.

        I am in the middle of a four-day weekend, trying to get the place back to some semblance of normality. More tidying than cleaning, trying to find homes for new things and continue whittling down the old.

        On other resolution-related fronts, I sent Empire off to Dragon Moon Press, which was having an open sub month, and have put together a list of agents to query. The first chapter of Fury's Flight went to the writing group for crit, though I haven't psyched myself up sufficiently to read the feedback yet.