Tuesday, February 16, 2016

On hardy winter carrots

As winter takes its last few roars before slinking into the shadows, I think it is a good time to give some love to carrots.  And not the pretty slim carrots, all fresh and new with springy, curly tops and possibly available in a rainbow of colors.  Those are, of course, wonderful.  But those are a discussion for another day.  I am talking about those strong and hardy ones we have in winter. Possibly available by the kilogram in plastic bags.  Those ones.

Winter can be a haunting time.  Some days, the world becomes alien and unfamiliar.  Color is drained from the sky, the forests, and the earth, leaving behind only a scale of gray.  Darkness lurks behind every corner.  And sometimes, it drags a bit of sadness with it.

Fun rituals can help, however.  Every Wednesday we have "Super Cozy Science Happy Hour," in which we try new beers, light candles, and watch astronomy/physics shows on YouTube.  Tackling a new project also helps - I am currently trying to needlepoint a table runner with constellations. Because dork.  And food definitely helps.  Definitely.

Almost all of those warm and comforting foods - the meals that are a refuge for a winter-weary soul - start with carrots. From beef bourguignon to spaghetti bolognese to shepherd's pie to coq au vin - those classic dishes all have carrots.  Those long, thick orange root vegetables, once cooked, become the basis of winter's sanctuary right there in your own kitchen.  Their buttery soft, orangey sweetness becomes part and parcel to home.  A beacon of hope and love in the darkness.

Monday, February 8, 2016

On a cute little bird

I had been walking from the bus stop to the kita to pick up Max.  I was just about to turn into the parking lot when I happened to see a bird on the ground.  It caught my eye, as it was such a beautiful one.  So small, with blue and yellow coloring on its feathers.  I am generally not at all observant, and would miss an asteroid falling from the sky because I wasn't looking in the right place, but it was impossible to not notice this bird lying on the gray cement. I had never done this before, but I gave the bird a moment of silence to mourn it, as I had assumed it was dead.  

I continued my stroll.  I hadn't gone very far but found myself checking on the bird again and that is when I saw the legs of the bird moving.  

I should point out that I have basically zero experience with anything "nature-y."  I wasn't sure what I should do.  I was wearing gloves, so I picked up the bird and held it in one hand while pushing a stroller with the other.  It didn't appear to be hurt, but it seemed to like resting in my hand.  This is the closest my life has come to reenacting a scene from Beauty and the Beast. 

Once I got to Max's kita, I wasn't quite sure what I should do.  I could put some cloth in one of the cupholders on the stroller and put the bird in the holder.  But then what?  Do I now have a pet bird? Life hadn't prepared me for this bird situation.

Apparently, the bird was telepathic and chose that moment to fly up into the branches of the tree next to us.  I felt like had been part of something special and beautiful, even if I can't figure out the meaning of it all. 

I was in a lovely mood when I walked into the kita to retrieve my son.  Who chose that day to unleash a fit of epic proportions because... it was January?  It was a Thursday?...who knows.  I had been hoping that if life were to give me another scene from Beauty and the Beast it would involve a personal gigantic library including sliding library ladders.  Not one of the Beast's tantrums.

Monday, January 25, 2016

On Baerchen Paerchen

What are Baerchen Paerchen?  Only the greatest gummi candy in the entire world.  Okay, that is not true - that is an epistemic problem I am unable to get into.  But they are good.  Oh so good.

They are gummis made by Haribo - and they come in pairs of bears (hence the name).  One bear of the pair is sweet and the other sour. They are just so extremely well done - each bear so flavorful and delicious. Here is a link to these marvels of candy, in case you were interested-  https://onlineshop.haribo.com/haribo/fruchtgummi/331/baerchen-paerchen

I feel a bit embarrassed admitting a fondness for such a brash, prepackaged food.  We live in a climate in which only the virtues of the "natural" - whatever that even means - are to be extolled.  But life needs gummy candies.  It needs the fun, the naughty, the mesmerizing.  It needs gummy candies made with pure human ingenuity.  With all of the the chemicals, the flavorings, the coloring agents, that go into them.  All those witch-like shenanigans that come together to make a delicious candy.

How wonderful it is to live in a world in which people decided that we need squishy candy shaped like pairs of bears holding hands, in flavors like lemon and cherry and orange and apple and currant and blueberry.  Sometimes we need our food to be fun, not precious.  Sometimes we need something to eat in bed that won't leave crumbs while watching through the series Deadwood for the third time. Sometimes we need to pack a happy snack for nibbling in our purse - and want something that won't get squished.  In fact, these even held up in a package shipped to the U.S.  Yay for preservatives!

There isn't a "natural" equivalent of these.  That perfect texture and the bright happy colors and the adorable bear shape.  Perfection.  If you tried to pick up a pair of actual bear cubs you would be eaten.  No one tries to eat you when you eat these. Unless you have taken the last one in the bag.

On fortune cookies

One of the most wonderful things ever invented is the fortune cookie.  Ever.   I mean, yeah, of course items like computers and cell phones and life-saving/life-improving medical devices and coffee makers and televisions and Zojirushi thermoses and Nutella are ahead of the fortune cookie. But the fortune cookie is definitely up there.

One finishes his or her meal and then is presented with a tiny package to open.  And this package is given (basically) each time one orders from or goes to a Chinese restaurant!  We should be going to Chinese restaurants ALL the time!  And this package has two(!!) components to it - a sweet crispy cookie to end the meal on a sweet note.  And literally a note, supposedly fated to end up in your very own hands! How is this not one of life's most exciting experiences?

These notes generally are of two types - the descriptive and the prescriptive/predictive.  I take the "fortune" in "fortune cookies" quite literally and harbor extreme disdain for the descriptive kind.  The kind that says "you are nice to everyone" or "you have made a decision."  We, as recipients of the fortune cookie, already know ourselves and we don't need a cookie to tell us what we already know. We want the cookie to tell us something that we DON'T know!  The most apt description presented in a cookie will always be quite inferior to a prescriptive/predictive kind.

The prescriptive/predictive kind uses phrases like "you should" or "you will."  Even when an alarming sort of fortune is predicted, these are still vastly superior to the descriptive kind.  For example, my most recent cookie said that I will be going to many parties.  Most people would probably not mind this fortune.  However, I, as an introvert, found this to be an ominous, anxiety-inducing nightmare situation to think about - I truly hope that my future does NOT involve me needing to go to parties!  I think those parties would be much, much better off without my awkward weirdness, out-of-date cultural references, and misanthropic tendencies mucking up the atmosphere. And yet, receiving this was more preferable than a description!  Because at least it was an actual fortune.

I submit to you two propositions - 1) all the notes in fortune cookies should be actual fortunes.  This is the harder of the two propositions because it is the part we don't control.  and 2) lets all eat more often from places that give us fortune cookies.  This is much more doable.  Life should have ever-more fortune cookies involved.

Hopefully we do not get the worst of all the fortune cookies - the ones that come with no fortune at all.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

On creamy baked eggs

You know that feeling you have when you put on a warm robe on a cold winter morning?  Instantly, you go cold and miserable to happy and toasty.  And just a bit smug - for some reason, putting on a robe feels so indulgent, like you have just done something naughty.  And then you prance around joyously in your comfort, parading back and forth through the hall like the puffy queen of terrycloth that you have become.

Baking eggs in cream are like putting on that bathrobe.  All you need to do is place three tablespoons (yes, I believe in three.  at three, this becomes dip-like and oh so delicious.) of cream in a ramekin.  Then add a squirt of citrus juice.  Then throw in some herbs, salt, and pepper.  Then crack that egg into that glorious mess.  Bake at 200 C for about 10-15 minutes, until the whites have set but the yolk will be runny.

Then you take a hunk of crusty bread and do one of two things.  You either dip it right into your ramekin.  Or you spoon the mixture right onto the bread.  And now you have the bathrobe of breakfasts.  A most pleasing sensation for a world-weary soul.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

On clementines

It has been said that beer is proof that god loves us and wants us to be happy.  Perhaps so - as an agnostic, I suppose I could find the reasoning compelling!  But if it is indeed true that there is a god, then I submit the existence of clementines as proof that said higher power has a profound appreciation for beauty.

The clementine possesses an exquisite beauty - so wonderfully deep and orange and vibrant (especially when one finds them with the leaves still attached), standing as a contrast to the season's quiet darkness.  Amidst the fog and the mist and the snow and the darkness, these small orbs of joy remind us that color and sun will be returned to us.  It is this contrast of life and stillness, color and lack thereof, joy and sedation that makes one convinced that it had to be planned.

Clementines not only possess beauty, but taste and ease and portability.  Only a perfectly ripe clementine can give one that delicious rush of sweet and sour juice, a most energizing and invigorating force.  And it arrives in its very own packaging, it is so easy to peel and take anywhere without worrying about it becoming mush at the bottom of your purse - this is, without a doubt, a most special kind of fruit.

A world without clementines would be a bit dimmer, a bit less vibrant, a bit less delicious, a bit less marvelous.  At the end of the day, I can't actually know that a higher power exists just based on the presence of clementines in our world.  But I like the idea.

Monday, January 11, 2016

On buttermilk biscuits

I was going to sit here and extol the virtues of the two-in-one nature of buttermilk biscuits.  On their chameleon-like ability to morph between savory and sweet with the right backdrop.  Serve with whipped cream (scented with vanilla or lavender to make this particularly lovely), berries, butter, honey, and jam - and you have a sweet breakfast, snack or even dessert.  Serve with cheddar, deli meats/sausage/bacon, Dijon mustard, butter, snipped chives, and slices of radish and cucumber -  and you have a savory breakfast, snack, or dinner.  Serve it with all of those, and you don't even have to choose between savory and sweet - you get to have both!

But isn't this so self-explanatory that it isn't even necessary for me to remark upon it?  I suppose it is.  However, I can't stop myself - I feel particularly defensive about buttermilk biscuits.  

I love them, oh how I love them.  So buttery and pillowy.  So wonderfully golden-brown on the outside and dreamy soft in the inside.  And did I mention buttery?  I love them plain and fuss-free.  I love them with a pat of butter.  I love them loaded with accoutrements - both the sweet and savory kind.  My love for them is unconditional.  Yet I feel a bit prickly and anxious near a mention of them.

Because I love them and their chameleon-like quality, I have served these for overnight guests.  And while some have shared my enthusiasm and love, building up my confidence and hosting skills, and making me feel at ease,  others have not.  Others have brushed over the effort put into the serving of these treats and glossed over their inherent deliciousness, leaving me feeling exposed, vulnerable, and ashamed.  And my cheeks burn with embarrassment as I remember those feelings of pride and happiness in sharing a beloved dish being blown into smithereens.

So now that I have acknowledged the source of my defensiveness, perhaps I can finally let it go.  And return to the uncomplicated and simple joy that buttermilk biscuits necessitate.  These are, after all, a two-in-one dish.  Not a two plus heaping side of defensiveness and embarrassment dish.  Two is plenty.