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Archive for the ‘Feast’ Category

I have dreams about this delicious stew.

I’ve mentioned before that I have been trying to limit my food waste for the last year, and I have had some pretty good successes. I used to throw out a lot of condiments. I would open a jar of salsa, for example, to eat with some chips, and the rest of it would sit in the fridge unused until it started to grow things. One might argue that another option is just to make salsa from scratch because 1) it’s so much better and 2) then I would only make as much as I need, but to make this argument one would first have to drastically overestimate my commitment to eating salsa. I’ve tried to pay more attention this year, only opening condiments when I have a plan for the whole container. It’s not perfect yet, but progress has been made.

I also used to throw out a lot of prepared food. I cook in big batches to save time and energy, but I always got tired of eating what I made on Saturday before it was all gone. I like leftovers, just not five times in the same week. This past year, I’ve been freezing leftovers so that they last longer, and it has completely eliminated my prepared food waste. I have included my favorite basic big-batch concept (the skillet meal) and variations of the recipe below. These have become my go-to staples, and at any given moment, I probably have a few servings of at least two of them in the freezer.

I find the peeling, chopping, etc., of fresh vegetables cathartic, and I’m so happy about the local produce available. But if you are short on desire, time, storage space, or access to fresh options, frozen veggies work beautifully in all of these recipes, too. I cook all of these things in my trusty, gigantic covered skillet. If my apartment were on fire, I’d save my grandmother’s quilt, the picture frame bookends with beloved photos from my childhood, and that skillet (not really – insurance would easily cover its replacement. But I do really, really love it).

Another thing to know about my cooking style – I rarely measure. This is why I need supervision when I bake, and I accept that about me. I may begrudgingly stick to a recipe the first time I try it, but then I do what I want until it “looks right” every time after that. I’ve included links to similar recipes for those of you who want a little more structure.

I also don’t like a lot of salt, so most people will want to add some to the seasoning step to taste.

Basic Skillet

  1. Sauté aromatics (onions, peppers, celery, garlic, etc.) until translucent-ish
  2. Add and cook protein/additional veggies (chicken, ground beef, beans, veggie crumbles, etc.)
  3. Add a large can of tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes or a mess of chopped fresh tomatoes from the market
  4. Add water (about three cups? Whatever roughly a large tomato can and a half is) and bring to a boil
  5. Add seasonings
  6. Add starch (enough to soak up the liquid, which will vary from recipe to recipe. Just make sure it is all thoroughly covered with room for stirring and you should be fine) and cover, stirring occasionally, until it’s done
  7. Add final touches and serve

Cheeseburger skillet – similar to Budget Bytes Skillet Cheeseburger Pasta – it’s essentially Hamburger Helper from scratch so it’s got the childhood nostalgia going for it. Onions and peppers (1), ground beef, veggie crumbles, or black beans (2), onion soup packet and fresh ground black pepper (5), your favorite small pasta (6), top with dill pickle relish (although I just stir a few spoonfuls into the big batch itself) and cheddar cheese to serve (7).

Chickpea stew (pictured above) – I can’t remember where I got this idea. I may have just had a lot of the ingredients in the kitchen and thought, “I wonder how that would taste together.” Onions, peppers (I used a poblano in this one and I highly recommend that), celery, and garlic (1), chickpeas (2), garam masala (5), top with raisins or currants (optional but delicious) to serve.

Cajun skilletanother Budget Bytes inspiration – really delicious no matter which protein option you choose. Onions, garlic, and bell peppers (1), chicken, sausage, or kidney beans…or all three (2), oregano, thyme, cayenne, paprika, red pepper flakes, black pepper (5), a cup and a half (ish) of rice (6).

Mozzarella skilletessentially, cavatini (but mine is better) – this is one of my favorite meals from childhood. Mom made it with ground beef and pepperoni, but I usually make it vegetarian. It’s delicious both ways. Onions and garlic (1), ground beef, pepperoni, pancetta, and/or diced salami – alternatively (or additionally -just throw everything in), zucchini, eggplant, and/or spinach or whatever green you have handy (2), onion soup packet, oregano, thyme, basil, a little cayenne, black pepper (5), your favorite pasta (6). Then – take all the mozzarella you have (shred it first, of course – for scale, Mom made this in the small stock pot and put 32 oz. of cheese in there – do not skimp) – and stir it into the skillet until it’s melted and, frankly, glorious. Add shaved Parmesan on top to serve.

I typically eat these dishes as meals by themselves, but I suppose you could serve a salad and bread alongside them. If you simply must act civilized about it. But there’s something so comforting to me about tucking into one delicious bowl of goodness.

And bonus – they all freeze beautifully.

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Happy

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Coffee with friends = ❤

It seems like cheating to list happiness as a core value, so I’m not going to do that. While I’m sure that there are some people who don’t value happiness, I think most people probably list “happy” as something they’d like to be or as something they enjoy being. It also seems to be what a large corner of the self-help market tries to help us achieve. I don’t know how good most of us are at getting there without work.

I just finished Gabrielle Union’s audio version of We’re Going to Need More Wine, and a line stood out to me. “When you’re in a place where you don’t know what makes you happy, it’s really easy to be an asshole.” That makes a lot of sense to me. The times it’s easiest to be mean are the times when I’m in a fog or a funk and can’t find a way to get myself out of it. So for those times, I’m just going to leave this list of things that make me happy.

  1. Having dinner with people I love. Whether I’m having friends over or being invited over as a guest or eating with family, I love sharing meals with people. I like cooking for people and seeing them enjoy it. I also like not having to cook. Feeding people and being fed may be one of my love languages.
  2. Reading. That is, most reading. Occasionally, I will trudge my way through a book that tries to eat my soul, but most of the reading I do is relaxing. Even if it’s challenging or outside my typical comfort zone, those challenges energize me.
  3. Fresh, ripe peaches. They save the day during my least favorite season. All the oppressive heat of summer is worth it when I see peaches at the farmers’ market.
  4. Doing laundry. I know it’s weird. But I find it so soothing. I think it’s the sound of the dryer. Sometimes I wait to pop the last load in the dryer until I go to bed, just so I can go to sleep to the sound. I also enjoy that the ratio of effect to effort is larger with laundry than with other chores.
  5. Seeing something beautiful when I walk into my apartment. Whether it is a vase of flowers on the table, the Christmas tree lit up, or just an uncharacteristically neat living room, it immediately puts me at peace.
  6. A wide, open sky. Wine and sunset, coffee and sunrise, country drive or road trip, rain or shine. The sky is my favorite part of nature.
  7. My dad telling stories about his dogs. It’s Dad at his most animated. I think it makes him happy, too.

What would be on your list?

 

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Manners!

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Note to self: Find other time besides dusk to take photos. Need better lighting.

Also pictured: one of the cutest cups in the world.

I have a healthy throng of how-to books, particularly when it comes to cooking and entertaining. But scattered among them are a few guidebooks simply on how to be nice. I think I picked up one of the Miss Manners books from a library sale, but the others were gifts. I’m not sure what the gift of “Here, have a book on how not to be an ass,” says (you know…other than that), but I do enjoy thumbing through them.

Reading through Emily Post’s Etiquette: Manners for a New World is like listening to propriety lessons from my parents, particularly regarding my inclination to report various events to “The Internets.”  I love the wit in Miss Manners’ Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior. It reminds me of punctuation nerd conversations about the Oxford comma. And Don’t: A Manual of Mistakes and Improprieties More or Less Prevalent in Conduct and Speech is fun to read aloud to captive guests.

And that’s all I want for these manuals to be in my house- fun. Yes, it’s important to have good manners, or as Peggy Post puts it, “a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others.” It’s nice to be polite. But “good” and “polite” according to whom? In writing Feast, I have wrestled with this conundrum. What seems like good manners to some people is stiff, dull, and unnecessary to others. And to hold others to a standard of behavior that really speaks more to certain personality quirks, certain cultural norms (i.e., whiteness), and certain tactical preferences than to real other-awareness seems to accomplish exactly the opposite of what it claims to intend. Rude.

I would like to hear more diverse voices in the area of etiquette.

I am writing 31 Days of Shelfies.

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My Book

This is my favorite picture I’ve taken in a long time. I’m not sure what I was trying to do here, but it makes me laugh and laugh.

I do know where I’m pointing, though. On my shelves, that’s where my books – the books I’ll write – will go.

Like the books of the authors on the L Shelves, I will want to keep my nonfiction and fiction together. You can’t see it in the picture, but I’ve already left some space on this shelf for Tolkien to shift on down when I have my first published book in hand.

(I enjoy that my book gets to sit next to Tolkien on my shelf.)

I have two manuscripts started. This month, I’m working to finish Feast, and I will be starting back up in December writing more on Fishbowl. I have a story I wrote during NaNoWriMo one year called Emma Jane, which Maggie helped me realize was actually two stories, so I’m going to pick up one of those again (I guess the Emma portion) after I finish Fishbowl.

But in November, I’m going to take some of the Jane character and rewrite/add another dimension to her story. Or I may (read: most likely will) start over with that character and a whole new story line. Either way, I’m excited to get another story started.

“But Suzanne – doesn’t that slow down your writing process?” you ask.

Yes and no.

Yes, it takes longer to write two or three books than it does to write one. But – and this is why the process works for me – when one story is getting stagnant, I can turn to another, read a little bit of it, and write it with fresh eyes.

I do some of my best work that way.

And I promise, someday it will show up in that space on my shelf.

I’m taking (sometimes ridiculous) pictures of myself and my shelves and writing about it this month.

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Let’s Dish

Our prompt this week in the writing community at Andilit was “your favorite dish.”

My favorite dish is not actually mine at all. It’s Mel’s. And it’s adorable:

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I kept it for her after we shared an apartment for a couple of months before she got married. She was downsizing to move into her apartment with Adam, and I was happy to look after her peas-in-a-pod serving dish.

This dish is not merely a dip holder; it’s a conversation starter. Prompted by this dish, guests in my apartment have discussed:

  • Decorating
  • Entertaining
  • Weird dishes our families pass down (and the stories behind them)
  • How adamantly one of my friends hates peas (which I do not understand at all)
  • Gardening
  • The importance of color-coordinating food and dishes (there may have been an excess of wine involved here)
  • Gift-giving (or specifically, how if someone gave her something lovely like this, she wouldn’t have to work so hard to pretend she liked it)

A good dish or a good recipe is one that sparks commentary. While I find compliments unnecessary in other parts of my life, there is not a quicker way to my heart than to compliment my cooking, my coffee, or my presentation. I put a lot of care into creating a good dinner experience for guests, and cute crockery makes it easy.

When I’m alone, I still like festive dishes. Aunt Gale gave me part of her old school Fiestaware set, and I love them.

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(Not pictured – cream and sugar set and gravy boat)

I swear that everything I eat off these plates tastes better. The colors are vibrant and cheerful. These plates are also sturdy. I dropped one of them on the kitchen floor once, and it remained intact and didn’t even chip. They remind me of my family – strong and stubbornly optimistic.

These pieces are little artifacts of my life. Ideally, I would like every item in my kitchen to tell a story or serve as a reminder of a loved one. Perhaps one day, they all will.

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Invitation to Breathe

I’m working on Feast this month. I’ve changed the title to “From Fret to Feast: Entertaining for the Socially Reluctant,” because that seems to be the theme of most of the essays. There were other perspectives I’ve toyed with – entertaining as a single person, entertaining in small spaces, entertaining on a budget – and those perspectives are present in small doses. They weave their way into several of the snippets on party activities and stress.

But there is a distinct moment in the planning stages of every party I host. While I’ve never regretted having people over, and I usually have a great time when I do, I know there is going to be a time when my introvert heart digs her heels in and says, “Nope.” There is a moment during planning that I just want to scrap it all. There is a point where I throw my hands up and say, “What am I doing? I don’t like swarms of people. What am I thinking? Why am I doing this?!” I have even been known to rant to myself (or my co-planner) aloud.

This freak-out passes pretty quickly, but it always happens. So I am basically writing a manual to talk myself (and others like me) down when it does. Step one of talking myself down is to breathe.

The freak-out happened this week. I’m not even planning an event. I’m just writing a book about planning events. Last night, instead of writing, I poured myself a glass of wine and ranted, “I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m never going to finish this. It’s so dull. I am running out of time (which is ridiculous, because my timeline is pretty fluid).” Then I went to bed and dreamed of dancing chocolate bars, which I think is an appropriate metaphor for my life right now. It’s chock full of whimsical, random, WTF moments.

So now is the time to breathe.

When I’m planning a party, a breather looks like taking a shower and going to a movie or going out to dinner. In writing, a breather looks like a break. I’m going to put Feast aside for a week and a half (until Sunday, July 26, to be exact). I am going to use my normally scheduled writing time to read, schedule some blog posts, and take care of some things in my personal life that I really want to be present for. I may jot down notes or play around with menus (spoiler alert – eight meals and general party ideas to go along with them will be a part of Feast, which I think is the most exciting thing of all), but mostly, I will be focused elsewhere.

Is there an area of your life where you need to breathe? I invite you to do so. What does that look like for you?

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I am renewing my lease today for another year at my apartment. My tiny apartment in the crowded neighborhood with terrible parking. I thought I would be out of there by now. I’m not sure that I planned to make that happen; it was just a meandering thought.

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(It looked so huge…when it was empty)

So here I am again, facing another year in a space that makes having people over particularly challenging.

When I had been in the apartment about a year, a friend who used to come to all my parties said, “You haven’t had a party in a while. When’s the next one?” And I didn’t have an answer. It didn’t seem like a big deal to invite 15 people over when I had a big kitchen and an extra bedroom for books and television. But with the office and the kitchen overflow and the living room all crammed into one room, we start tripping over one another when there are just six guests. There were only four of us Sunday night, and I still had to hop up on the couch at one point to let someone pass by.

The thought of the cookie party where at one point we had forty-something people present makes me want to crawl under the table and hide.

I am not willing to go another year without a party, though, so I’ve been thinking – what if the parties were all-day, come-and-go affairs instead of events with a beginning, middle, and end?

For example, when Maggie and I had Pie Weekend, we told people to come over any time. Sure, there were times that were busier than others, but we got to host small groups of people throughout the weekend, and it was fun. As an added bonus, people just ate whatever we had available at the time they visited (and we literally baked pies all weekend), so the pressure of having enough was off. Having enough was not a problem.

I’ve already started brainstorming the types of parties I would like to have:

  • Hemingway Day – Held on or around July 21 (Hemingway’s birthday), the menu would be simple but good (like his sentences) and laden with alcohol (like…well…Hemingway).
  • St. Patrick’s Day – A day of Irish food and drink, but really just an excuse to start my birthday celebration a day early.
  • Cookie Weekend – Some weekend in early-to-mid-December, combining my favorite things about cookie party (dress up, bring your own tin, and for the love of all that is holy take these cookies!) with my favorite things about pie weekend (communal baking and drinking).
  • Write-ins – Bring your work in progress, whether it’s a story, poem, art piece, etc., and spend some time on it, drinking good coffee or tea and eating delicious things while you work.

So we will see what this next year brings. It could be a failure. But it could be wonderful.

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Grieving injustice. Fighting the patriarchy. Talking to the kids about issues, ideas, and intersectionality.

You know – the usual.

Another April down. That’s a relief. I gave it the good college try with the April Love Instagram challenge, but I have missed the last week or so. I sure do have a lot of pictures of blankets on my Instagram. My MeMaw would be so proud.

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Words

It was a slow reading month but a good writing month. I finished the books for two of my three book clubs – Nora Webster and Unbroken – and I read Tara Owens’s Embracing the Body and Lauren Winner’s Mudhouse SabbathI enjoyed them all, especially the latter two. I wrote almost 35,000 words on Feast, which was not as many as I wanted, but I’m satisfied and still on schedule to finish in May!

Part of the reason that I wrote more slowly than planned is that I am at the stage of writing where I usually start getting better ideas for titles, which is to say that I’m having a lot more fun with it. What started as simply “Feast” has finally taken on its personality. I am currently sitting at “From Fret to Feast: Entertaining for the Socially Awkward.”

I’ve hosted a couple of people for my Invitation to the Table series, and I would love to host more. Submissions are still open!

Wellness

This week has been consumed with Nepal and Baltimore. There is so much &%^#%@ in the world. I am grieved and angry and anxious and restless, and so is my body. I need to find a way to engage and listen and process and still be able to sleep and keep food down. Haven’t done that very well this month.

Watching

The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Hilarious. And awful. But awesome. I’m not sure how I would feel about it if I had escaped from a cult myself. But I watched the whole season in one sitting.

I have also enjoyed the Felines of New York. As a fan of Humans of New York and cat pictures, I am surprised that I didn’t think of this first.

And last, but certainly not least, there’s this weird thing. I’m not saying that I would actually text a goat picture to someone. Nor am I suggesting that anyone else do such a ridiculous thing. But if I were to get a message with a goat picture and a caption that said something like “Have a goat day,” I would not be sad about it.

Please don’t text me goat pictures. It would be funny the first time (okay – the first ten times. I really do enjoy goats.). But I can see it going into overkill very quickly.

I’m linking up with Leigh Kramer. Join us and tell us what you are into this month!

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Rooster

Yesterday, I was planning today’s invitation post and put out a casual call to my fellow writers in the Coterie and the Andilit community for suggestions of books on entertaining/hospitality or cookbooks written by people of color, and they delivered. So now I’m buried in books and having the best time, and I’ll get back to you on that next week. Today, the group prompt from Andilit ties in nicely to invitation.

Somewhere in my neighborhood there lives a rooster.

He crows every morning between 6:30 and 7:00 a.m. He might crow at other times, but I live around ten thousand college students who think they have to yell any time they’re awake (apparently), so if he does I don’t hear it. But at 6:30 in the morning, it’s blissfully quiet, and that’s when I hear him.

During the week, I’m already awake by the time he crows, but on Saturday and Sunday, he wakes me up. On those days, I lie in bed with my eyes closed and pretend that I live on a farm.

I imagine first that the hint of sunlight-to-come teasing the edges of my curtains is coming to me from across a field or a grove of trees instead of fighting its way over the top of the monstrosity of a building next door.

I imagine that my bedroom is in a farmhouse and look forward to having my morning coffee on the back porch.

I imagine what the view from that back porch would be. It’s a conglomerate image of my parents’ farm and vineyards and friends’ gardens and maybe it would look a little like this:

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And once I had finished my coffee, I would go back inside, and there would be my favorite thing about living in a real house with real space and room to entertain.

My dining room table.

This is the best part of my morning dreaming.

I picture elaborate meals I could serve. I see people sitting around the table.

I see myself dusting off all my serving platters to host parties again. I remember times when I met some of my favorite people for the first time at one of my own parties. I picture the get-togethers I used to have – having as many people as I could cram into the space available – encouraging guests to bring their own guests, because there was plenty to go around.

I miss throwing parties.

I miss having the space to welcome a lot of people.

I miss my guests having somewhere to park.

I miss the peace and quiet after they all left.

It would be easy to forget how much I miss living in a place better suited to my soul.

It would be easy, except for the rooster. He thinks he is inviting the morning, but he’s also inviting me to make some space to welcome people in again.

I am still taking submissions for my Invitation to the Table series. Email me your thoughts!

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When I talk about invitation, I tend to focus primarily on the responsibilities of the person doing the inviting. The reason for this is that they tend to have most of the power in this conversation, so they have most of the responsibility.

There are other people in this conversation, though, and they also bear some responsibility. Like all relationships, the host-invitee relationship is two-sided.

Today we are focusing on what it means to show respect as the person invited.

It basically boils down to two things:

  1. Respond.
  2. Having responded, be true to your word.

Regarding response –

RSVP. Do it. Yes or no. It’s just not hard. Here’s the process:

  1. You receive an invitation. Congratulations! Someone wants you around for something!
  2. You answer the question – “Do I want to attend?” Be honest. If your answer is “meh” or some deep-seated feeling of dread, go ahead and say no unless it will ruin this relationship to do so (and you also care whether or not you ruin the relationship). If you are already feeling wishy-washy in what is probably that first, most-enthusiastic-you-are-ever-going-to-be-about-it moment, go ahead and decline so that you are not tempted to back out later (i.e., flake – see below).
  3. You answer the question – “Am I able to attend?” Pull out the calendar (and the budget, if necessary), and see if you are available. All the desire to attend in the world is moot if you cannot feasibly make it happen. For example, I might really want to go to my friend’s baby shower in Seattle, but I probably cannot afford the airfare. Or I have a wedding that same weekend in Dallas. So the answer (sadly) is that I must decline.
  4. Answer yes or no. I know that Facebook provides a maybe option. And I confess that I have been guilty of using it. But from the host’s perspective, maybe is a useless answer. That tells them nothing. You have basically said, “I see your request for a response, and I am intentionally not responding in any helpful way.” If the answer really is maybe – i.e., you have to check on something and get back to them – it’s probably better to leave it blank until you can confirm a real answer. Please do so as quickly as possible.

It really is that simple. Yes or no. Make your choice, and the earlier you can make it (so that they’re not having to scramble to go to the store when you suddenly say yes the day before), the better.

After you have made your choice, stick to it. We have all been on the receiving end of a flaky friend, so we all know how much that experience sucks. Respecting the host means trying not to be the cause of that experience.

First, let me be clear on what flaking is not.

It is not flaking to call and say, “I have to cancel. I’m sick.” This is presuming, of course, that you are actually sick. Otherwise, not only are you flaking, you are also lying. You’re flyking, which is the worst possible way to flake.

It is not flaking to text and say, “I have to cancel. ______ is throwing up blood, so we’re going to the ER.” That is an emergency. Please skip my dinner party to take care of that. Also, when you get a chance, text to give me updates, because I’m a worrier. Also, don’t text and drive [/end PSA].

Depending on the event, I would even go so far as to say that it is not flaking to OCCASIONALLY say “I am sorry. I had the worst day at work today, and I cannot be around other people one second longer.” Because there are some people who insist on rigidly sticking to a schedule, even though they come into it knowing that they will have a terrible time, and these people often ruin the good time others could be having with their obvious sullenness. Don’t be that person. You get a pass. Go have a nap or a beer with your TV.

You do not, however, get a pass every week. Frequent flaking inevitably sends a negative message. The message might differ slightly depending on various factors (e.g., type of relationship, length of relationship, etc.), but it ends up sounding something like, “You are not important to me, and I do not respect your time.”

[Aside – frequent declining might also give this impression. If you want to avoid that, but you really cannot fit their specific plan into your schedule, propose a counter offer. Pick another time to hang out so that they know that, while you can’t make their specific event, they are still important to you.]

Basically, the encouragement to not be a flake comes down to respecting your host and respecting yourself. Decide who you want in your life and behave accordingly. If you are making plans out of obligation rather than desire, please reassess your decision to do so. Contrary to popular belief, it is not nicer to string someone along, making and canceling plans with them until they magically pick up on the hint that you really don’t like spending time with them. Some people will never get that message, and the ones that do will resent you for it, because in the long run, it’s really a jerk move. It’s better to make a clean break, even though it might not feel better at the time.


What tips would you give to the person on the receiving end of an invitation?

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