Fondue: Before and After

On the left, our Christmas Day fondue spread and on the right, our Boxing Day brunch casserole — made with the leftover bits from the fondue spread. First, the list of fondue items included: sourdough cubes, baked french fries (Trader Joe’s), cornichons, honey crisp apples, ham cubes and broccoli. My interest in fondue came from three distinct directions: 1) I am a child of the 1970s, therefore in some way fondue must be in my soul. 2) Every night, my daughter and I listen to Flat Stanley which has a reference to fondue (and poutine at some point) and 3) I found this lovely Swiss Emmi cheese in the market just downstairs — a fortuitous find in my quest to have an easy but fun Christmas meal for our small family (it’s our day to read and go to the movies, and we’re anti-travel on any major holiday).

The best part of the fondue journey was our trip to Target to find the pot — though my husband insisted that from his memory you could make melty cheese in any regular sauce pan (because melty cheese is pretty much sauce anyway), but I wanted the full-in 1970 experience including matching skewers. We arrive at Target, and because we didn’t see any pots near the regular crock-pot type area (which I assumed to be a close match) I ventured to ask the first associate I found. First, he kindly explained he only worked nights and then offered to help us find someone with the right scanner for electronic searching. On our walk towards this new person, he wanted to know what fondue was — so I quickly explained. Then he relayed this to our new person, associate #2 — who looked at my like I was nuts. A pot for melting cheese? She decided we better get associate #3 involved who quickly proceeded to start typing into his handheld device – but on second thought, asked me how to spell fondue. And, key the Property Brothers “aha lights” and we have a match in the Target database! And there is one, or several in the store, on the aisle directly across from where we are standing! Now, all five of us — me, my daughter and three Target associates are going to see the magical fondue pots. As we get closer, I pick up the pace a little because it’s at the end of the row and the shelf looks pretty bare except for a display model (with skewers) — now I can show everyone how fondue works, right here in aisle 29! And snag the very last one (boxed) from the shelf for our little celebration of melty cheese. I am pretty sure we still left our three associates a bit befuddled…I really thought fondue was making a come back.

First, fondue is easy. Second, the leftovers make this great casserole for brunch the next day along with four eggs, some milk and a little mozzerella for the top at 350 for 30-40 minutes. If there is left over Emmi or other fondue cheese (who ever has left over cheese?) that would work for the topping as well. There’s been a lot of coverage in the news recently about “adulting” classes — and I like to think of breakfast casserole as one of those essential adulting meals — you just know what to throw together, from what leftover, that will melt well together into a one-dish meal. Easy, breezy and I don’t know why schools obliterated home economics — I know it doesn’t meet an AP standard or raise SAT scores, but really it should be mandatory learning for all high school students to understand how to turn fondue into casserole. As a teacher myself, any student that can write out the instructions on this conversion will show me not only creativity, but the fact that they can survive on their own, and that will always garner a gold star from me.

Jólabókaflóðið = Christmas Book Flood

IMG_20181225_064318Jólabókaflóðið or Jolabokaflod (Christmas book flood) is the Icelandic tradition of giving books (and reading) during Christmastime, due to the fact that most books in Iceland (Reykjavík is a UNESCO City of Literature) are published during the autumn months. Our family adopted this tradition early on, since not only do we buy lots of books anyway, but it seemed like a good way to spend part of Christmas Eve anyway by stopping into a bookstore as part of our hygge-like celebration of the season. We’ve hit a variety of shops over the years from the local Barnes & Noble, to last year’s visit to the amazing Strand and this year to Politics & Prose.

Books are the backbone of this home – stacks are often found well outside any shelf, and really there are never enough shelves no matter which home we’ve lived in for any length of time. There are books in storage, in the basement, under beds and in closets. We also have three working Kindles (great for travel, audio books and music). If books decorate our home, a trip to the bookstore is a serotonin boost for us — to be near all of those words, with their stories (albeit some better than others), and to get a coffee and cake after perusing and buying the next treasure? Best days ever. No matter how we’ve often lived on academic salaries, lay-offs and what seems like an unending tide of medical bills — for books, while we may pace ourselves, we’ll find a way to buy what we consider friends and bring them home to be members of this otherwise small family of three. There is no such thing as too many books for us and here’s why — because these are our friends, we can always go for a visit — a favorite passage, or an entire round-trip visit, a quick view or an afternoon, doesn’t matter; like our human friends, some days we have more time to chit-chat than others. We love libraries too, more on that later.

Merry Book Flood one and all!

 

You can take the girl out of the rain…

IMG_20171116_075658...but you can never take the rain out of the girl. Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, rain is a constant; we have 90 ways of describing the gray-ness that envelopes the city, lowlands and coasts — and the words differ depending on your location. In my current near-South location, autumn is rapidly coming to a close and yet, the sun still shines — and it’s not that I don’t appreciate the sun, but I miss the life-giving force and comfort of the rain, despite the fact that when I live in the Northwest I must seek the healing power of acupuncture and high-intensisity lights to work through my seasonal depression. When I find neighbors still watering their lawns here, I’m aghast at the wastefulness — for in such a dry climate, how could one use this precious water for such luxury, when we have no idea when next we’ll see it in the sky? If my skin is so parched that no amount of water consumption or moisturizer makes a dent in my appearance or well-being, how must the land feel? It doesn’t take much historical reading to learn that crop failure is routine in the Mid-Atlantic due to weather conditions — early writings of Thomas Jefferson amongst other historical figures clearly indicate the financial boom and ruin of the region based on rain’s presence or absence.

As a Northwesterner, you learn as a child that rain and then snowpack define your level of water-usage throughout the year — no rain and no snow indicate “hold back” and most folks I knew growing up never watered their lawns — this obvious waste of a natural resource was forbodden. You learn to crave the rain, even when it causes traffic snarls, afternoon letheragy (an abundance of caffeine and chocolate cures exist to assist) and an obsession with the latest fleece styles. I suppose it’s possible that those of us that grew up with constant water in the sky are both blessed and cursed with the love of mist, dew, drizzle, sprinkle, downpour (usually only during November i.e. many famous Thanksgiving Day storms), pineapple express, el nino, el nina — and the list goes on. According to The Weather Channel, most PNW cities have less than five days per year with more than one inch of rain — but it rains at minimum, 150 days per year. To compare, New York receives about the same amount of average rain — but 30 more dry days (120 or so wet ones).

As the season of Advent unfolds, thoughts of light, darkness and shades between allow a bit of time for ponderance. Does my ever-watering neighbor continue in their pursuit of a lush lawn because their faith is stronger than mine? It’s a question worth asking, because my faith generall falls to go-slow, ponderous yet sporadic methodology. Does their watering timer provide the comfort of knowing that moisture, will be restored and that light will always follow darkness? Is my lack of watering, a lack of faith that the skies will once again open to reveal both skin and land-saving drizzle or even all-out stormdrain clogging, fat, lucious drops of what we Northwesterners call liquid sunshine?

This I know — I now dream in rain, because it is missing from my soul — the same rain that often tortures me, is part of me — it allows me a freedom that endless sun and heat do not. Rain provides the mental and intellectual respite for which sun is the opposite — sun drives, it does not rest. So until I return to greener roots…

 

 

Pennies from Heaven

IMG_20171120_093357.jpgFrom late summer and as this autumn progresses — it seems like the constant theme is loss. While the wild colors of fall leaves in the mid-Atlantic are glorious as always, this year each falling leaf is accompanied by a sadness that a once beautiful, green, living life has passed onto the other side — the whithering side where memories grow dust in the farthest reaches of the mind. Grief and mourning are constants in life of course — there can be no birth without its opposite of death; it is also at this time of year when temperatures turn colder and cozy scarves abound that songs on the radio proclaim as ‘the most wonderful time of the year’ are endless. Autumn serves as a not subtle reminder, that to move towards rebirth we must plunge into darkess — and thanks for daylight savings time, darkness comes ever so early during this season.

On the day of the most recent human passing, pennies appeared at nearly every turn on my daily walk — my cousin has reminded me regularly since the death of her brother in August how pennies rain down on us from heaven. Bing Crosby sang ‘Pennies from Heaven’ in a 1936 film of the same title; other famous artists of the time recorded the song as well including Billie Holiday and Tommie Dorsey — a decade later Frank Sinatra, then Tony Bennet, Rosemarie Clooney — the list is long, and a list I never would’ve thought to look for, had I not been nearly tripping over pennies. The Sinatra version can be heard here: http://www.metrolyrics.com/pennies-from-heaven-lyrics-frank-sinatra.html — the most poignat lyric, “If you want the things you love, you must have showers.” And so must we have autumn — with all its sadness. While working towards the light and all its meanings from religious to earth-bound and metaphorical — the real movement is finding the beauty in those dusty memories that contradicts the raw placidness of falling leaves. Autumn is death in living reality. It is often said that memory fades with time, or that memories are enhanced to inaccruate levels of enlightened delusion — but perhaps not so, perhaps memories are the lights that carry and sustain us (however contrary to historic record). What is light if not manifest joy? What is a scuffed, or shimmering penny in the wane light of a fall afternoon, if not a tiny speck of light tossed into our path for remembrance?