Monday, December 03, 2007

Rainy Day Musings

The rain is a solid mass falling from the soggy pile of clouds above. I had to drag my reluctant children through this watery onslaught into their daycare, then slog onto and off of the ferry to my office. I had an umbrella, but on the Seattle side, the handle broke, leaving me to juggle my Pumpkin Spice latte, my bag with my computer, and my lame duck umbrella, and with the ABBA song “Waterloo” playing an endless loop in my head (don’t ask—every morning some occurrence lodges an irritating long-forgotten ditty in my head and I spend the rest of the day trying to rid myself of the earworm). Now I’m sitting in semi-gloom, figuring out how long I have to stay in my office while people drag in and see me here, so I can get credit for showing up, before I could cut out and go home (somehow the homeward slog seems less…sloggish).

And what would I do when I got home? Well, read magazines, for one. I have a stack (which includes the last four issues of Gourmet, the December issues of both Sunset and Martha Stewart Living, and the November and December issues of Cottage Living, plus some extras like Dwell and Body + Soul), or I could read one of the four books I have going—“Alva and Consuelo Vanderbilt: The Story of a Daughter and a Mother in the Gilded Age,” “Edith Wharton’s Ghost Stories,” “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” and “Marcella’s Italian Kitchen” (a steal on the remainder table for $9.98--I may already have a copy of this that my mother bought in the 1980s, but I wasn’t sure so I grabbed it anyway; if I unpack and find I have it already, well, my sister-and-law will likely be offered the new copy).

I could watch Christmas movies. I simply adore Christmas movies, the sappier the better. Nothing depressing, please—no dark comedy (sorry, Tim Burton, but I really don’t care for The Nightmare Before Christmas). Give me sweetness and light. Give me boy-meets-girl-boy-loses-girl-boy-gets-girl-back. White Christmas, Holiday Inn, Christmas in Connecticut (bonus—this one is food-centric), National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, The Santa Clause, The Year Without a Santa Claus, How the Grinch Stole Christmas (animated and Jim Carrey), A Charlie Brown Christmas, Miracle on 34th Street (Natalie Wood version only, please).

I even love Christmas movies that are only tangentially Christmas movies—Meet Me in St. Louis (Judy Garland sings “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” to that precocious little snot played by Margaret O’Brien), Love Finds Andy Hardy (Judy Garland at age twelve with Mickey Rooney; the only thing Christmasy about it is that they decorate a tree—the events could have taken place any time during the year), Little Women (the first few scenes take place at Christmas, that’s it), Trading Places (again, the events could have taken place at any time of the year, but Eddie Murphy is a scream—“Beef jerky time!”)

What I could not do with any great success is cook. We have, you see, eleven days until we move into our new house, so we’re packing. Yesterday I packed most of the plates, all but one coffee mug (only because it was on a top shelf and I couldn’t reach it), most of the cereal bowls, and a few of the salad plates. I also packed the pizza pan, the broiler pan, several cookie sheets, and the huge aluminum bowl I use for rising when I make double and triple batches of bread. I suspect my kids are going to get a lot of delivery pizza the next few days.

But the more important questions hang heavy on my mind. First, how will I organize the new kitchen, and second, what will I cook first in it??

In mulling the second question, I was thinking of a book I read called “House: A Memoir” by Michael Ruhlman, who is also very well known for his books on chefs and the food world. This one (which I recommend—a fast, interesting read) is about his experience with the renovation of an old house, including the gutting of the kitchen. When the kitchen was done, he said the first thing he made was a roast chicken, feeling that a roast chicken is the homiest thing you can make.

I can see that, and I’ve toyed with roast chicken. Whatever it is that gets made, it must use my new stove (or range, as the appliance people say), and preferably the oven part. So roast chicken is possible, but if I make that, only Alex and I will be eating it. My children wouldn’t touch roast chicken because it’s not ground up, reformed, breaded, and (most importantly) dinosaur-shaped. If I could get a regular roasting chicken in the shape of a dinosaur, I’m quite sure they’d suck it down.

Real estate agents often encourage people to bake cookies before houses are shown to prospective buyers, on the theory that the homey smell of chocolate chip cookies makes the buyer feel like they’ve wandered into an episode of Leave It To Beaver. And there’s something to be said for that. So chocolate chip cookies are a maybe too. Those my kids would eat. But my husband just made chocolate chip cookies this weekend, so I’m feeling a little CCC’d out. However, we are talking about eleven days from now.

Bread presents itself. It’s elemental (as is the roast chicken), the smell is homey, it requires time and effort, but not too much (I do have to get ready for Christmas, after all). My kids might eat homemade bread (if I didn’t tell them I’d made it). But somehow bread just doesn’t tickle my fancy.

Or do I do something a little more complicated, but that my kids might eat? Homemade pizza, for instance. I could make the sauce myself (excuse to use the stovetop), and they’d eat it, I know. But I really want a pizza stone, and so far I don’t have one (Santa). Plus my kids will be coming off a longish spate of delivery pizza as we shut down one kitchen and prepare to open the other, so they may not want pizza by then. We might go crazy and give them hot dogs for their first dinner in the new house (wacky, that’s us).

Some kind of soup and maybe biscuits would be nice. Again, like the pizza this lets me use stovetop and the oven, the soup isn’t terribly labor intensive, and the biscuits are quick. My kids wouldn’t eat the soup, but they’d eat biscuits. The question would be, what kind of soup? It would have be something that used chicken broth, because I have about two gallons of it frozen right now, and I need to use it. I’d like to do a vegetable soup, and I have a butternut squash sitting on my counter. The downside to this is that my husband doesn’t like butternut squash soup. He thinks it’s too sweet. I know—I didn’t find out about this character flaw until after we were married. I might be able to make a nice cream of cauliflower or something, I suppose.

Of course, apple pie would be a good choice too. Or perhaps apple turnovers. We’re in the heart of apple country (well, OK, we live near the heart of apple country—still, apples are a local food by any definition), and I have a wonderful recipe for Shaker hand pies that I’ve been wanting to try. I love the Shakers (more on this in another post), because their simplified way of living was just what we should all aspire to anyway—eating close to home, using the freshest of ingredients to make simple dishes that are comforting and delicious.

Anyway, this is a long debate I’ve been having for some time, and that I will continue to have for the next couple of weeks (or rather, ELEVEN DAYS—not that I’m counting), and I’ll be spending plenty of time thinking of just the right thing to make first in my new kitchen. Something homey, basic, warm, cozy, yet something meaningful. The same kinds of things that suit a rainy day--soup, bread, pie, cookies, a nice roast--are all the same sorts of things to make for a "first ever meal" because they're satisfying, but without being complicated or requiring a lot of fancy tools or ingredients. So this grey, rainy day is the perfect time to give it this subject the attention it deserves. I'm off to surf the internet for ideas.

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