Friday, November 18, 2011

November's a Turkey.

November is a Turkey.  

A fickle creature who hides in the background for most of the year and then suddenly starts running around ubiquitously, flaunting all sorts of colorful, once-hidden feathers, fattening itself - and you - up for a closely-guarded and fiercely-defended couple of weeks a year.  One day it's Halloween, all pumpkins and skeletons, and the next there's flocks of surprisingly nimble birds with a waddle wreaking havoc on rural roads while subconsciously also conjuring images of crispy roast skin and giblet gravy to go a-dancing sugar-plum-style inside our little heads.  The world seems to, overnight, go into orange-yellow-red-and-brown overdrive.  The trees are holding on for dear life and yet screaming with colors you would otherwise swear couldn't exist in nature (at least not on "dying" leaves anyway) and it's sensory overload with the crunching and raking of leaves and the howling of the dry autumn wind and the herds of squirrels hoarding acorns and chestnuts for the winter to come.  There is no desert here (well, technically there is) - and Roman seems perfectly happy to allow himself to be overwhelmed and full submerged into the many splendid colors of this cozy month, leaving Abu Dhabi full and firmly in the past.  

I must admit the whole thing is paradoxically nostalgic for me.  I grew up Mexican in a place where the leaves go from green to dead in a month's time.  Nothing pretty about it.  And the last Thanksgiving we had was in a desert where we were outnumbered by Brits, Kiwis and Arabs and it was probably 80 degrees outside (no trees there, for the record).  And yet, to me, November is always, absolutely, a Turkey.

This year we are hosting Matt's parents at our house for Thanksgiving.  I am so excited - and not because this is the first time I'll be cooking up a Turkey Day meal by myself, but because it's the first time I'll be doing it for Matt's family since we've always celebrated at his parents' house when we're in the States (if I wasn't at home).  Matt's parents are excellent cooks and have sophisticated appreciation for good food, so the heat is on.  And they also have the advantage that they are native New Englanders: there's just something so authentic and true about the way New Englanders cook Thanksgiving.  It almost feels like a natural extension of the way they normally eat - as if the Pilgrims and Indians have breathed a special breath of true-ness to the food that grows and is eaten here.

I've had a lot of fun decorating the house for Thanksgiving, with a little help from Roman.  I went cheesy and did the Thanksgiving Hand-Turkey with him one day as a craft project.  I kept one for myself and sent one to the grandparents.  Now I need to teach him to gobble and print out one of those color-your-own-Indian-feather-band things for the night-of. :)

* * *

The Menu

For my part, I've decided to go hardcore this year: I am buying a Turkey from a local Maine farm (Alewive's Brooks Farm in Cape Elizabeth) that grows them free-range.  It's not a heritage bird or anything but they only raise 200 a year and, hey, at least it's a slight deviation (improvement?) from my usual grocery store Butterball.  I'm interested to see if it really does taste better, especially given that it costs 5-times as much.

To make sure I don't ruin the bird, I am using my tried-and-tested method of religiously following Delia Smith's "Turkey Timeline."  For those of you who don't know Delia, she is the British Julia Child.  And even though her article is for Christmas Turkey (the Brits don't celebrate Thanksgiving, duh), it is such an easy, step-by-step timeline and ensures I am totally organized the day of.  You can use her traditional recipes (I love the use of bacon rashers to keep the breast moist) or substitute your own recipe.  Either way, it always works perfectly.  Take note, newbies.

Otherwise, I'm attempting to do a combination of Southern and Northern classics with the menu.  Here it is in theoretical form.  We'll see how much I actually manage to pull off well but at least I know that nobody will go hungry on my watch. :)
* * *


Homemade Pork Rilletes * (adapted the recipe) served with
Baguette Toasts
some stinkily delicious Pont L'Eveque
and some Raclette for good measure

Cocktails / Drinks:

Lemon-Herb Roasted Turkey & Giblet Gravy

Kentucky Corn Pudding (the not-so-secret "secret" recipe)
Mashed Potatoes
Texas Roadhouse Rolls (yeah buddy!) & copious amounts of their cinnamon butter

The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies Ever. Period.

*Asterisks denote recipes I've never tried before.  Say a little prayer for me.
Follow Me on Pinterest

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Mornings in Paris. And Women With Big Eyes.

Mornings in Paris; Exchange St., Portland ME
 Roman goes to school three mornings a week, and lately I've been feeling really dissatisfied with my lame use of the precious 12 hours of me-time I am allotted each week.  I started feeling embittered each time I found myself mopping floors, pairing socks, or even cooking when I could have been basking in the Autumnal sunshine or reading War and Peace (which Matt currently is) instead.  Being a woman of infinite self-possession and determination, I decided to take matters into my own hands and simply force myself to go and interact with the world (as Matt had constantly encouraged me to do) rather than sit at home and be faced with the never-ending list of chores that, no matter what I do, is absolutely always there waiting for me.  Finding things to do outside of the house that don't involve grocery or unnecessary-random-stuff shopping is sometimes difficult for me to do here in Portland because I feel a little disconnected knowing that we'll be leaving next year.  I haven't made many friends because I don't want to deal with short-term attachments, and truth-be-told, being a pathetically warm-natured person I can't bear the thought of being outside in weather that's below 75 degrees now that it's Autumn and around 40 degrees every day. :)

I find myself nostalgically dreaming of my European jaunts - traveling alone, reading and writing at will.  Stopping for an espresso here and there in off-the-beaten-path cafes full of old-world charm and strangers.  Indulging in angst-ridden moments of romanticism and self-over-analysis and eating delicious food way-over my student budget simply because I couldn't do without it.

Luckily, when Carla visited me in August, we discovered a wonderful little cafe on Exchange Street in Portland.  It is called, much to my delight and infinitely appealingly, Mornings in Paris.  It is just the perfect combination of European charm mixed with large-mugged
Cafe Au Lait-zy
American-style-wannabe-French coffee.  They sell delicious Macarons, croissants, my favorite banana bread and, of course, Maine Potato Donuts.  It takes all the self-control I have to only get a medium Cafe Au Lait everytime I'm there (but I've promised myself I'm getting a donut next time).  The place is charming, has wonderful warm morning sunlight and despite the questionable choice of ochre yellow and black decor and the sometimes angsty barista, I find it highly aesthetically pleasing and welcoming.  The owners are French so there is a semi-legitimate row of European-style bistro tables lining the wall facing the coffee counter, looking out on the passersby of Exchange St.  All the seats are labeled with Parisian street names and I've chosen to sit at the same one each time - Place de La Concorde.  Right next to Notre Dame, fittingly.  Sometimes it's taken by the Japanese tourists that seem to flock to the French-themed locale, but I usually just bide my time and then move once they've left.  The music is hit or miss - this morning it was Willie Nelson followed by some kind of Radiohead-esque intense rock, but other days it's all Edith Piaf-Billie Holiday greats.  I don't mind that too much because it's pretty and I can get parking right outside of it at that time of day - after the breakfast rush but far before lunch will begin.

It has become my new morning haunt on days when I am Roman-less, though I don't think I'd be considered a "regular" yet - something I aspire to.  I love the coffee, the people-watching and the shamelessly indulgent aspect of being able to do nothing, or at least not anything of great productive value with regards to la vie quotidienne.  These days my "nothing productive" has come in the form of two things: knitting a sweater for Roman to work through my stash and reading a book.

The Book is called Mujeres de Ojos Grandes or Women With Big Eyes.  It is a series of vignettes that take place in Mexico, each about a different woman (the author's "Aunts"), presumably with big eyes.  This particular edition includes the English and (far superior) original Spanish text, which I am completely obsessed with.

The book was a gift from a co-worker in the English Department back in my teacher days in Upper Manhattan.  I discovered it a couple of weeks ago after almost 5 years of lying dormant in our book collection with a criptic but appealing inscription on the inside: "for you with the big eyes from Me."  I guess it's one of those happy coincidences - the book didn't appeal to me in the least when my friend gave it to me in 2006, but today it's exactly the kind of read I was looking for.  Easy to pick up, easy to put down, and yet absolutely engaging.

Besides being about Mexico, the book is beautifully written in a style that is both humorous and touching.  I've found myself so utterly absorbed in some of the stories about these women in the early 20th Century - imagining somehow that they are similar to my own Mexican grandmother and her sisters - that I've laughed too loud and cried too openly for being in a public place and haven't cared one bit.  The stories evoke childhoods I never had, and Mexican memories I never made, having left the country of my birth very early on in life and rarely going back anymore these days.  It's an easy way to romanticize a part of my culture and my family's heritage without digging into ugly truths or unpleasant realities.  In short, I am thoroughly enjoying it.  
It's just the thing for a girl with big eyes and her Mornings in Paris.
Follow Me on Pinterest

Friday, November 4, 2011

Channeling My Inner-Matisse.

Detail of "Limonata San Pellegrino"; Acrylic on Canvas
Because I studied Art History I was sure I knew something about art.  I could tell you, if given the chance, about the techniques that are used, the lighting, the colors and how they do or do not work.  I could pontificate on different schools of thought, widely-hated critics, different philosophies, and even make pretentious jokes about obscure movements that make me sounds super-pretentious but smart.  I could proudly contextualize the particular painting into a dazzlingly complex network of historical events and personal experiences that may or may not have influenced the artist during the time it was produced, leaving you with an impressive knowledge of pre-industrial France or post WWII Spain and far too much information on what artists had STDs and slept-around or cared about the rights of hay-harvesters.  It's all very impressive conversation at dinner parties.  But take me out of the museum, put a canvas in front of me - or, actually, you don't even have to go that far - put a piece of paper and pencil in front of me and tell me to produce a piece of original art and I clam-up completely.  Painfully.  Cluelessly. 

I realized about 5 years ago when I was teaching ESL at a high school in Upper Manhattan that I had zero knowledge of actually making art myself, despite having devoted the better part of my college education to studying finished artistic endeavors.  Irony.  And as I sat in the art room at the High School for Law & Public Service (don't get me started on the absurdity and complete randomness of school names in Manhattan) trying to imitate a Japanese ink-drawing along with my students, I realized how the last time I'd actually taken an art class was in 4th grade.  Mrs. Allen, to be exact.  We did some "perspective" if I recall (an old western town with a big long perspective-filled street down the middle) and patterns and basic things like drawing shadows on a drawing of a wonky little cube.  And I was pretty bad.

So in 2008 I decided to teach myself how to watercolor - something that is, let me tell you, much harder to do than it sounds.  I used some amazing watercolors we'd bought in Mexico several years ago as my guide and actually did some decent amateurish work while on vacation in Greece.  Nothing to write home about, though (even though I did, of course, pictures included :)).  I will, however, gladly brag that a German couple offered to buy one of my paintings as I sat doodling it on the beach in Rhodes.  I was so taken with the fact that someone would actually like something I created as a memento of their vacation that I resolved to give it to them free of charge (they offered me $30 in case you're wondering).  I never saw them again, so it's now hanging in my bathroom.  Good times.

But my watercolors were kind of boring and after further ruminating on my lack of artistic skill for another couple of years, I finally took the leap and decided to take a semi-real art class this fall: Acrylic Painting.  I figured I probably had a good chance of not being the absolute worst person in my adult education course (being given, fittingly, at an arts high school here in Portland) because of my highly-developed aesthetic sensibilities and all that. :)  So now I've been going every week to a class of about 10 people consisting of the most motley crew I've ever seen.  And thinking of it now, I'm not even sure I'd be considered "the normal one."

Anyway, we produce something every week and some people bring their own stuff to work on.  It's truly amazing how much of a window into the soul a person's art is.  It's scary when the super-put-together-scientist-power-mom can't draw a simple tree.  It's also pretty humbling when the otherwise seemingly-bourgeois overweight businessman paints the most beautiful still-life or landscape. Who knew all that was floating inside that mind?  Not me.

The best / most challenging part of the class for me is making the rounds to look at other peoples' work and having them do the same to you.  It's like a therapy session where no matter how horrific what you're doing is, everyone gives positive reassurance - including our hilarious little ancient teacher who looks like a fully-dwarfed Salieri from Amadeus.  Fitting, given that with a stroke of his paint-brush he could literally annihilate my pathetic-little budding-artist's-self-esteem.  But Charlie wouldn't do that, no matter how much he hates my penchant for pinks, corals and bright-ass greens. :)

I've done some of the "exercises" Charlie has given us and I've branched out as well.  I figured it might be fun to document my progress or lack-thereof on my blog what with it being a blog on supposed aesthetics.  Here are my first works.  Matt tried his best to be a "fan" but asked that I wait until my later, more "developed" works to actually hang them in the house.  I, of course, then quickly ran around sprinkling pathetic artwork in random places all over our house.  :)

* * *

Exhibit A: The Monster
This sat in our reading room for the whole first month of my class.  I think Roman said he was scared of it at some point.
"The Monster" as Matt called it; our first "exercise" in painting with basic colors.  Yikes.

Exhibit B: "Bougainvilleas in Guanajuato" & Detail of highlighting
This was taken from a photo I took in Mexico several years back; I am really proud of my flowers and the bright colors, but I hate the building.

Detail of my bougainvillea: notice the use of yellow and blue to highlight. 
Very exciting.

Exhibit C: Limonata San Pellegrino

I am toying with the idea of doing a series of paintings of San Pellegrino drink cans.  I take one with me to class every single week, so why not.  The blood orange is up next.  I am obsessed with my lemons and their "shading / highlighting."  See detail above.

Follow Me on Pinterest