April 15, 2013 § 30 Comments
I wrote this post yesterday, before the horrifying explosions in Boston, and I’m posting it anyway as it is, but I cannot not start by saying that my heart is sobbing for Boston. For the past seven years until this year, every marathon Monday I have either been cheering near the finish or running the marathon, and so many people I care for were nearby today, though they are all safe as far as I have been able to discover. The Boston Marathon is such a joyful pageant, a show of camaraderie and of the amazing strength of the human body. It is tragic, it is unbearable as always, to see such goodness attacked. That’s the very essence of an act of terrorism, I guess, to attack something good and meaningful to try to frighten people out of participating in the goodness life has to offer. I often don’t actually feel strong enough to keep hoping and living joyfully in the face of such uncertainty, pain, and cruelty. I am overcome with sorrow. I pray for strength for Boston, and for all of us.
I’m in the process of working on a redesign of this site (and it will in a couple weeks be moved, finally, to fiveandspice.com, woohoo!). And when I say I’m working on it, I really mean that the wonderful and talented Melissa and Erin of Wooden Spoons Kitchen are doing the heavy lifting, and I’m pelting them with questions and thoughts, and they’re helping me and making sense of it all admirably. I can’t wait until it’s ready and you all can see it!
In the redesign process, I’ve had to spend a lot of time thinking about what this site is about and what makes it unique, while also spending lots of time looking at other beautiful blogs to guide the redesign and show what I like and don’t like in a look, and voice, and so on. This, I’m sorry to say, sent me into a nice little bout of comparison, which is a worthless way to spend your time. Comparison is the thief of creativity, and yet is nonetheless something that I am horribly prone to. When I go down the road of comparison, I forget that I exist as anything except as how I stack myself up against others (and I never ever stack myself favorably).
There are so many cooking blogs, I wailed to myself. So many are so gorgeous, clever, unique, thoughtful, creative, have well-tested recipes. What am I even doing trying to participate? Am I just adding to the clutter of an already crowded space? Just adding noise to the din of the argument about what and how we should eat? I’ll never be the best (wah)! What’s the point?
I worked myself into quite a sad, sorry state of worthlessness. And then of course I ran into some nicely lettered quote on pinterest that said something like, “The forest would be a quiet place if only the very best songbirds sang.” Which was totally annoying to see in that moment because I wanted nothing to do with sage advice, or with the truth, or with being reasonable at all. I didn’t want to be an adult! I wanted to wallow!!!! I wanted to fester, to poke at my (self-inflicted) bruise!
And then I had to laugh at myself. Because as soon as I could admit that my ego really just wanted to throw my own little pity party with me as guest of honor, I could see the pointlessness of that behavior, and how utterly true that “annoying” quote was. We exist totally separately from how we compare to others. We each exist in our own remarkable uniqueness. We each have our own voice, and adding that voice to the chorus, if we are singing true, will never be adding clutter. « Read the rest of this entry »
March 14, 2013 § 24 Comments
I’ve been going through a spate of soup-mania lately. Vast quantities of soup have been making their way from the kitchen to my lips. It’s practically all I want to eat.
I mean, I always like soup, but right now something about the world, the liminality of so many things – not the least of which being the season – is making soup particularly appealing. When you’re in between winter and spring as well as all sorts of projects, just waiting (and waiting (and waiting)) for people to get back to you about pesky little things like edits and comments, what better to do than a little slurping? Soup is there to oblige all slurping needs. Also, I have a private theory that I’ve been dehydrated because of the dryness in the air, and my body is trying to make up for the fact that 10 or so cups of water a day just isn’t quite enough by steering me towards eating liquid food as well. Is that even possible? Not sure.
Anyhow, I’ve had avocado soup for lunch for about 5 days in a row. We’ve had sourdough tomato soup, and Norwegian fiskesuppe (with some extra parsnip and tiny arctic shrimp added), and creamy squash soup, and pho. To name just a few. I also just had the sudden flicker of a memory of a spinach and pine nut soup that I used to make for dinner parties in college (because I hosted dinner parties in college. With no kegs or even drinking games. Because I was that cool.). I’ll have to make that some time soon because doesn’t that sound good?
This soup, though, I consider the culmination of sorts (though not the sort of culmination that signals the end. No way. More soups to come, so if you’re a soup person you should come on over…). The soup to rule all soups, you might say. A soup so filled with wonderful things that it is a considerable stretch to call it a soup. It should be eaten with a fork. Indeed, it should be so thick a fork should stand right up in it. « Read the rest of this entry »
February 26, 2013 § 17 Comments
This past weekend Joel and I were in Wisconsin for the American Birkebeiner. The Birkie, as it’s called, is the largest Nordic ski race in North America and the third largest in the world. Every February, thousands and thousands of skiers descend on the tiny town of Hayward, Wisconsin to subject themselves to over 50 kilometers of hilly, sometimes icy, always beautiful, and invariably intense cross-country ski racing.
From those not used to it, I’ve heard it’s really a cultural experience.
My family has been going to the Birkie for as long as I can remember. There’s a children’s race, called the Barnebirkie (which is Norwegian for “child Birkie”) the Thursday before the big race, and my brothers and I started skiing it when we were still so little that my mom had to walk beside us the entire length of the 1 km toddler course. My parents would then do the grown up race on the weekend.
I started skiing the half Birkie in high school, and I did the full a couple of times while I was in college. But then I up and moved to the East Coast and was never able to make it back in February (much less train for it, anyway), and so the glorious Birkie weekend full of the excitement of a giant challenge and the fun of meeting up with and staying with friends, comfortably sharing tons of good food and wine and swapping war stories after the race is over, became something I just heard about over the phone each year.
But now we’re back in the upper middle of the country! And one of the first things I did upon arriving at our new home in Northern Minnesota was to register both Joel and myself for the Birkie.
So then we had to start training like mad. Trail runs and hikes followed by skiing and skiing and skiing as soon as there was snow. Sadly, fate conspired against me and last week I found myself feeling substantially under the weather and completely exhausted. Things didn’t get any better going into the weekend, so I had to bow out of skiing the race (small strangled sobbing noise). I still went with and did part time cheering duty and full-time relaxing duty at the cabin where we stay, listening happily to everyone’s excited stories of how terrible it was this year (tough conditions make for even more satisfying suffering). Next year, though. Next year I plan on being fully well enough to ski. « Read the rest of this entry »
January 28, 2013 § 11 Comments
Ever since eating salad while admitting it was stew weather, I haven’t been able to shake stew off. Stew has been following me, or more accurately I have been following stew, chasing it into every manner of manifestation in my kitchen and out onto the table, beef, pork, lamb, venison, chicken, simple, spiced, something in between. It’s been stew all of this last week.
Or, if not stew itself, a member of the stew family. That is, tagines, curries, chilis, and so on. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, all of those are really stew masquerading as something exotic. And, of course, to those who grew up eating these others as their comfort food, stew is the exotic one.
And so, because once you can make a stew you can make all of its spicier cousins, let us go over some basics of stew construction, plus variations on how to transform your warming pot of meat and vegetables into a tagine, curry, or chili.
Stew is basically slow cooked pieces of meat (or it can be beans or another protein source) with vegetables in liquid of some sort. It’s thicker – less soupy – than soup, and the pieces of meat are smaller than the one (or several) large pieces in a braise. The steps in making stew are approximately these:
Start by cutting a couple pounds of a tough cut of meat into 2-inch cubes (stew beef, lamb, or even pork tend to work well; you can also stew chicken thighs, but they’ll take a bit less time in the final cooking process) and sprinkle them with salt. If you wish you can also toss them in some flour, which will help thicken the stew, but which is by no means absolutely necessary. Follow this by browning all your meat bits in butter or oil in a large heavy pan. Do this in batches so as not to crowd the pieces of meat because if they’re crowded they’ll steam rather than browning. Once nice and brown on all sides, transfer the meat to a plate. « Read the rest of this entry »
January 2, 2013 § 35 Comments
Happy, happy New Year to you all! Did you ring in the New Year in style?
I know we did. Much more stylishly than we really are, in fact. But if the holidays aren’t a time to up your style game, when is, right?
Perhaps it’s the crash after the high of holiday activity, perhaps it’s that the New Year always makes me nearly as nostalgic as October does, but I’m now left feeling quietly morose. “Another year,” a voice somewhere inside of me sighs, “another year, and I still don’t understand.”
So I’m sitting in our living room now, which feels dark as the Christmas twinkle lights have all been put back into boxes, wondering to myself, ‘understand what? What do I so yearn to understand?’
The answer, I’m sorry to say, is anything and everything, as far as I can tell. The answer is Life.
Day by day life happens, intermittently glorious and terrible, and I don’t understand any of it. At all. Not a bit.
I’m suddenly remembering a quote my mother told to me earlier this year (I’m not entirely sure of its origin), “this thing of which we speak cannot be found by seeking. But only seekers will find it.”
I don’t entirely understand the quote either, but it speaks to me about life and meaning on a level separate from understanding. I feel somehow like that’s it. Like maybe trying to understand won’t get you anywhere. Life just is, it isn’t an entity to be dissected and understood. You have to get out of your own way, but at the same time seek and make that daily effort to get out of your own way. « Read the rest of this entry »
November 28, 2012 § 18 Comments
Fair ladies, kind gentlemen! I bring you: more broccoli!
Yes. More broccoli. Consider it another delicious stepping stone on the cruciferal march toward that cauliflower with harissa cream that I mentioned, and I swear I am working on, and it will appear any day now.
As a reward for your patience (or a way of buying it, perhaps?) though, this gratin is none too shabby, at least that much I can promise.
But first and foremost, for those of you who had Thanksgiving last week, how did it go? Are you still stuffed? Ours was quite the gathering, the most rollicking Thanksgiving I’ve been to in years, perhaps ever.
We were not only my family but also Joel’s, and on top of that not one but precisely six Norwegian students, here in Minnesota studying at various universities and connected to my mother in various ways.
The turkey was gargantuan, the gravy flowing, the Brussels sprouts piled high, and the pies numerous and flaky. The conversation was sparkling. Also, loud. Norwegian Americans may be reticent, but Norwegian Norwegians generally aren’t. Nor is my family. Plus, my grandmother was in the midst of everything exhibiting her talent for handwriting interpretation (mine = hard to read) and discussing Project Runway. Always a kick. « Read the rest of this entry »
November 6, 2012 § 30 Comments
Hey! So, it turns out there’s an election or something going on in the States today. Who knew, eh?! (Joke.) Some part of me feels like I should talk about it, as it’s a weighty issue, hot discussion, trending topic, etc, etc, etc. I mean, I sure know what I believe. But, I can’t really try to force my beliefs on anyone else. Actually, that’s false, I totally could try to force my beliefs on you!
But, not to worry, I won’t!
Instead I’m going to preoccupy myself thinking and talking about a creek.
There’s a little creek within spitting distance of the house where I grew up. I think I may have actually mentioned it before, though I can’t keep track of these things.
It’s a wonderful creek.
There’s nothing jaw-dropping or awe inspiring about it. It doesn’t have a magnificent or majestic sort of beauty about it. But it does have the most miraculously quiet, serene beauty to it. The angles of the rockbeds, the arc of the branches, the ripples of the water, to me they are lyrical in an other-wordly and yet entirely this-worldly sort of way. It’s one of my favorite places on this earth, and I think one of the most beautiful as well.
I grew up going for walks there all the time. My mother would take us walking there when we were little for teddy bear picnics and to look for minnows. I went walking with friends there, making believe we were explorers in a lost forest. The creek was on the way to and from our high school, so we would hike up and down it in a hurry to get to classes and sports practice. I walked there with my boyfriends, feeling terribly romantic. I walked there whenever I was having boy troubles, alone with my thoughts and terrible indecisiveness. I, of course, took Joel there on his earliest visits to Duluth, to show him what a special place it is. « Read the rest of this entry »
October 19, 2012 § 28 Comments
A few summers ago, I did an internship at the photography studio at Stonewall Kitchen up in Maine. I was just starting to really dig into my PhD work, and the pressure I was putting on myself because of it had started giving me panic attacks and making me sick. Things weren’t going at all as I’d planned, so I decided to take some time off to recover and learn better how to deal with, well, myself really.
At that point I had just barely picked up a camera and started aiming it at foodstuffs. I hated every photograph I took, but I adored the process of taking the food photos, so when a friend connected me with her friend who was the photographer for Stonewall, and she offered me a summer internship, I jumped at it. It was like being in college again. A weird summer internship! Barely getting paid! Exploring new pursuits, things I enjoy, rediscovering myself, yippee!
I learned all about f-stops and shutter speed and ISO numbers that summer. I learned a lot about what I liked and didn’t like in food styling and lighting, and I gained the confidence to start experimenting. I learned that I totally loved spending the whole day in a photo studio, even if I was holding light bounces and washing dishes most of the time.
I also learned that I did have the mental fortitude to stick with things that are tough, things that I suck at, and improve little by little. Even though I kind of wanted to stay in the photo studio forever, it helped me feel like I could stand up for the research I wanted to do and ideas that I had, and I would finish my PhD. (Um, though that part is still technically TBD. IthinkIcanIthinkIcanIthinkIcan…Give me a few more months.) « Read the rest of this entry »
March 16, 2012 § 33 Comments
This is where I am right now: it has been quite a week. Actually, to be perfectly honest, and for lack of a better way to put it, it’s been a pretty terrible week. It could have been a worse week, and for that I’m thankful – that it wasn’t worse – but, it has still been the sort of week where, at the end of it, you need a really effing huge (and I almost never use fake expletives, so you better believe I mean this) glass of wine to salvage any vestiges of sanity and good humor you may have hiding somewhere.
The week before was a rough week, but it was merely busy. It was just work. I can handle work stress with a tearful breakdown only every couple of weeks (crying is how I seem to let emotions out. Any emotion. Happy, sad, angry, stressed…It’s not convenient, but it’s how I work.). But this week it got personal as well.
January 17, 2012 § 17 Comments
The first thing that Joel and I did together that could be classified (however questionably) as a date involved sitting at his kitchen table for 6 or 7 hours stuffing envelopes. Not exactly romantic in the, ahem, classical sense. In fact, I’m still trying to sort through exactly how he convinced me that that would be a worthwhile use of my day. But, it did give us plenty of time to talk, and talk and talk and talk. About literature, our personal histories and scandals, politics, friends, hopes and aspirations.
He learned about me that I have trouble telling apart left and right, probably due to a brain lesion that I somehow acquired without even realizing it. I had to use this to justify the fact that I accidentally put the stamp in the wrong corner of a stack of something like 100 envelopes.
I learned about him that he considered himself a connoisseur of macaroni and cheese.