Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Squash on the brain today …

S sent me the email that her coach sent to her, saying that her practices would alternate weekly, 6:30-7:15 pm one week, then 3:30-4:15 pm the next. A new challenge in creative scheduling! Practice started yesterday, and not surprisingly, S really likes it: while she was working on her geometry homework, she sighed and looked at me and said, “I’d rather be playing squash.” Of course, there are probably lots of things she would rather be doing than geometry.

To be helpful, I googled “squash rules” (not “Squash Rules!”) and uncovered yet another whole new world. I downloaded a segment on squash for idiots (S is not easily insulted), a brief overview of the “new rules,” and a somewhat lengthy history of the sport itself. With her love of things British, I expect S will read it enthusiastically. Once her geometry is done.

Bob posted a comment on my “Useless Tidbits” entry (thanks, Bob! You’re #2!) and wished me a happy Thanksgiving, provoking my recurring feeling that I should have written, either before or after, about my Thanksgiving. Since I’m, well, not too busy right now, I will try to write something interesting about my Thanksgiving holiday. Let me know if you find anything:

A few weeks ago, I thought Thanksgiving was going to be a little different this year: last year, J, S and I rented a minivan and drove from CT to MN to visit my sister and her family, stayed for the weekend, then drove from MN to west TX, to visit J’s family for the actual meal. Then, back to CT via Roswell, Little Rock and Memphis. (It was pretty awesome. I sometimes can’t believe we did that, but I have pictures!) See here for some impressions of that trip.

This year, my ex-co-worker Sid (a whole post, no, a whole blog in himself!), who has gone to graduate school to become an money-grubbing, capitalist-pig, bad-Buddhist investment banker on Wall Street (his description, not mine) was supposed to be coming to dinner at my sister’s, mostly so that he could run in the Manchester Road Race (held on Thanksgiving, of course), which is right around the corner from where I live. Many people also walk the race, which I had intended to do as well, along with S – although she would run ahead of me and meet me much later at the finish line. However, Sid has made lots of new friends at his new school, being the AJ Soprano of Rochester, and so decided to give thanks with them, and skip the race. It’s just as well – it was about 30 degrees and snowing on Thursday, which he wouldn’t have liked, and so I didn’t go either. New this year – the police put up temporary no parking signs all along our street and the ones around us. In years past, since the race starts at 10 AM, around 9, as I would sit in the living room, drinking coffee and reading the paper, I would notice sprightly figures pulling up in front of my house, and all down the street, locking valuables in their trunks, securing their car keys somewhere about their person, and then running off in the direction of Main Street. The normally quiet sidewalks would populate with cheerful, energetic people, dressed for the weather in bright jackets, talking and laughing and blowing steam out of their mouths, an optimistic and happy parade of runners, joggers and walkers. It made me feel like brewing lots of coffee and maybe hot chocolate and setting up a stand in my front yard, or maybe just posting a big sign that said, “Happy Thanksgiving – Welcome to Manchester!” But this year – red and white signs that said “NO PARKING TEMPORARY POLICE ORDER.” We wondered if some people hadn’t got the message, if they would pull into the driveway and make the universal hand motions for “OK if I park here for a few hours?” but no one did.

I was pretty tired Thanksgiving morning because M was home from college, and we had been up until 2:30 AM cooking and baking. Dinner was at my sister’s, a wonderful and accomplished hostess, and a gourmet cook, too, like the rest of my family. In keeping with my gray sheep status (the more I see of the rest of the world, the more I realize I am a lot like my family), I am not a gourmet cook, but I do make the big effort when it comes to holidays. Since Li’l Sis would not be joining us from MN this year, the dinner crowd was somewhat smaller, but I was asked to make an appetizer, a vegetable and a dessert. I decided to embrace these tasks and give them my own special flair (!).

I spent a few hours online looking up recipes, and decided on “piggy pies” - spicy pork empanadas for appetizers, butternut polpettone (like a squash quiche/casserole, kind of) for the vegetable, and torta di ciocolatto (flourless chocolate cake) for dessert, all courtesy of foodtv.com.

After I got out of work on Wednesday (after getting The Call from my soon-to-be new boss, offering me The Job – yay), I baked the squash and started cooking the pork with many spices! and making the dough for the empanadas. The kitchen smelled very good. (I have started making Mexican things for holidays, to give my husband a taste of “home” and to prove that I can, and because it’s interesting to make different things every once in awhile.) I realized that I did not have any rum in the house – shame on me! – and so I mentioned that to J and he donned his coat and went out for the fifth time that week, to the store. What a guy. No wonder I make empanadas for him. M and S ran around, giggling and shrieking and getting in the way like children will (they’re 21 and 14), until I set them to work: M separated eggs while S greased and floured the pans; S chopped the almonds while M stirred the sugar and yolks. J wandered in, apparently thinking that we were having too much fun, so he was made to scrape the squash from the outer skin and stir the pork filling. All in a galley kitchen, my friends! We are a close family, literally and figuratively.

We must have eaten dinner that night, but I don’t remember. If we did, it was standing up in the kitchen, working on our dishes, or collapsed in the living room. Maybe we got Chinese. I just don’t know.

I enjoyed making the empanadas – you roll out the dough, cut 3 inch circles out of it (with a tea cup), paint a little egg on the outside edge, put a spoonful of spicy pork in the middle, fold it over, then crimp the edge with a fork. For some reason, I got 27 out the recipe, and by the time I got to the 27th one, I was quite good at it, if I say so myself. Since the back porch is unheated, it was like a refrigerator out there, and that’s where I left the empanadas for the night, right on top of the piano. (Yes. I have an orange piano on my back porch. I loved that piano. It’s a sore subject.)

I decided that that squash thing was going to be very easy – just dump everything into a bowl, mix and bake – and I would do that Thursday morning, so it was on to the torta di cioccolatto.

That was another chemistry experiment: cook egg yolks and sugar over steaming water, add cocoa and ground almonds and rum. Whip egg whites, fold them into the chocolate mixture. Bake. Yum.

In the meantime, M had discovered the second breadmaker J had been given by a co-worker of his, who was so grateful that he came and got the ficus tree that she no longer wanted, that she insisted he take the breadmaker that she no longer wanted either. Should we have called the suicide hotline? Who doesn’t want a ficus tree and a breadmaker? I had a boxed mix of bread-making stuff called “Cinnamon Sunrise,” so we decided, what the heck? We’re in the kitchen anyway, and wouldn’t it be nice to have cinnamon bread for breakfast on Thanksgiving? M plugged it in and set it all up and realized that it would be done around 2:30 AM … and that, friends, is why I was up until then.

A LOOOONNNG way to go to find out why I was tired on Thanksgiving. Thanks for coming along.

And we haven’t even gotten to the dinner yet!

And the squash! Thursday morning, while the street was unusually quiet for a Thanksgiving morning, I baked the squash thing – polpettone – I like to say it “pol-pi-to-nee” (rhymes with “baloney”), but I don’t know if I’m saying that correctly. I have no Italian blood in me at all, but I do enjoy some of their recipes. I made this same recipe a few years ago, again for Thanksgiving dinner, and “everyone” (Mom and Dad and Big Sis) loved it, so I made it again, but this time instead of store-bought bread crumbs from a cardboard cylinder, I MADE the bread crumbs after I had a flashback to my childhood when my mom would make meatloaf, and would make bread crumbs by putting slices of bread into the blender. I was amazed that the blender does an excellent job of turning regular bread slices into crumbs in seconds! I also used some bread crumbs on the side of the springform pan to keep the polpettone from sticking to the sides. Instead of store-bought parmesan cheese, again from a cardboard cylinder, I used freshly-grated parmesan in the recipe, and it made a big difference, so keep that in mind, you squash-hounds, when you make your polpettone.

The piggy pies needed baking, but first a coat of egg wash. I wish I had taken a picture – they were golden brown and lovely and smelled wonderful. J and I split one before we left – quality control, you know. Not as spicy as I thought they would be, but still muy bueno.

I was hoping that the roads wouldn’t be too slippery by the time we had to leave for my sister’s house, and the gods smiled on us and the 20-minute trip went fine. It was the first time the whole family rode in my new car. I was happy, and I didn’t make J listen Dylan or Clapton; in fact, I left the radio off. We saw an accident on the Bulkeley Bridge, and I remember remarking to my family, “That’s got to be the worst – getting in an accident on Thanksgiving. You probably end up missing dinner.”

We had a very nice time at my sister’s. Her husband, BIL, also loves Mexican food and was very happy to see the empanadas. Big Sis served a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, with one nice addition – we had a first course of some quite delicious squash soup. I know it must have had a poetic name as well, but it didn’t matter. The kids turned their noses up at it, while J loved it and ate BIL’s, too.

After dinner, my mom urged us all to get up and go for a walk – that’s my mom for ya – so we did, in the cold rain. The Girls and I cut it short and went back to dry off.

Later, friends came over and we had five different kinds of pie, plus my flourless chocolate cake, and coffee, and then we were through. The kids played Scattergories and BIL and his friend looked up tickets to Broadway shows for a December trip they are planning, and others watched some football, and the women-folk sat in the dining room with our pie and coffee and solved the world’s problems.

For the record, I am not a Black-Fridayist. I get the creeps after being in the mall for more than an hour on a regular day, and there is nothing that I want or want to buy that I am willing to go through that kind of agony for.

Instead, on Friday, we went to an artists’ center in Avon and walked through many studios, admiring their paintings and sculptures and jewelry and pottery. I was hoping to see some fabric or textile artists, but there were only a few scarfs and some felted wool objects. S and I bought two lovely handmade pottery teacups. It was a nice day.

I could probably recount each breath I took on Saturday and Sunday, but what would be the point of that? I think a blog needs a little mystery, don’t you?

I suppose, looking back, that my Thanksgiving was one of excesses, politically incorrect in this day and age, but there it is. We meant no harm by it. I neglected to mention, speaking of excesses, that we are drawing names this year for Christmas gifts, so a lot of excess money and time and shopping just got wiped away. Thank you, Jesus. Li’l Sis - the original Material Girl - was the last holdout on the switch to this procedure, but she took it quite well. On Thanksgiving, Big Sis dialed her up on the speakerphone to wish her a happy day, and we all drew names out of a large bowl . . . actually, a funny thing happened then: one of my crazy aunts had come over for dessert, and she secretly took all of the scraps of paper with our names on it out of the large bowl and made a bunch of scraps of paper with her name on them, and put those in instead. It was quite hilarious. I didn’t have my glasses on, and when I picked my scrap of paper, I was sure that it was my name, but it wasn’t quite . . . oh man. Good times.

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