Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Gift Guide 2016 (Now with bonus charitable fundraising!)

Charitable, in the post title, autocorrected to irritable, which made me laugh.
So. The holidays. Seriously? Seriously! Because I really don’t want my kids to remember this as the year they reached into their Christmas ( / Hanukkah) stockings and pulled out honorary donations to Planned Parenthood and the ACLU, a subscription to the Washington Post, a canvas NPR tote bag, and a book about Hitler’s rise to power even if, yes, that’s what all the grown-ups are getting. More than ever, though, I do want to support writers and artists and musicians: I’m paying for and giving music and books—even though there is the library and Spotify—because we need to invest in the things we care about. Also art and art supplies and, yes, board games. Because non-consumer activities are the key to our salvation. Also, because we like to play new games on Christmas like the good atheist gaming Jews that we are.

The charitable piece: If you click over to Amazon from any of the links in this blog, then I make a significant commission on everything you buy from that round of shopping, whether or not you buy something I actually recommended. We will be donating all that commission money at the end of the month. (I promise it will be way more than the Amazon Smile program would make for your organization—so don’t click over to that, even if Amazon tries to tempt you.) I’ll take a screen shot of the total on December 31st, and you can stay tuned and weigh in on where to give it. (I’ll take a screen shot of the donation too, so you don’t picture me secretly luxuriating in the Bahamas because you bought a jigsaw puzzle.) In fact, if you wanted to leave a comment about that now—where to give the money—I’d be grateful. Planned Parenthood and the ACLU and the Southern Poverty Law Center leap to mind, but there's also Partners in Health and other international organizations that might be suffering, donation-wise, because of our troubles at home. Please share your thoughts. (And for your own giving, this is a great post-election guide.)

Last year's gift ideas are here.
The year before, here.
The year before that, here
And the year before that, here.
As always, the master list of games is here.

Gift Guide 2016

Gifts for Kids, Artists, and Gamers

Cathedral makes a great gift because it’s wooden and lovely and seems kind of heirloomy in that nice holiday way. It's in the game family of Quoridor and Quarto and Gobblet—the games we refer to as "the wood games," as in, "I don't know. Maybe one of the wood games?" when someone asks you what you want to play, and there are only two of you playing. Logic + spatial relations = I rarely win. But I like playing.

photo from the League of Nonsensical Gamers website
Patchwork is another two-person game, which someone recommended here last year, and even though there’s a ton of strategy in it, it’s fairly quick and straightforward, with a fun Blokus-type quilt-themed puzzle element to it. Please note: the game box is depressingly ugly, like a quilt made by somebody’s misanthropic and colorblind great aunt, but the pieces inside are totally different and very attractive. (I am kind of a game aesthetics snob.)

Lanterns is a gorgeous tile-laying game also recommended here last year, by a reader named Amanda. I gave it to the kids last Christmas, and then we went away for two days and played nonstop for two days in our motel room. We’ve played a lot since, too. It’s a matching game crossed with a set-collecting game and, like all good games, every time you play it you feel like you're finally hitting upon the one true strategy—only to find, the next time you play it, that you weren't. It's super-pretty too, and not that hard to learn—certainly not nearly as hard as some board games (Agricola, I’m looking at you.)

My friend Asha’s husband invented the game Tiffin, and it’s a really good game. It’s a total gamer’s game, 2-4 players, fairly complex but not super-long. The (awesome) concept is that each player is delivering hot lunches by bicycle in Mumbai, and you need to make as many deliveries as you can to score points—but, that said, it’s pretty abstract while you’re playing, and it’s more about collecting and timing. It reminds us a little of the also-fabulous Ticket to Ride, if that’s a game you know.

Okay, shhhh, I’m giving Sushi Go Party to Birdy this year. We play a lot of the basic version of Sushi Go when we don’t have a ton of time and can’t think of what else we’d want to play, and that’s partly because it’s a clever, satisfying game, and partly because the cards are so cute with their sushi little cutie faces. This expanded version has more cute cards. I think that’s kind of it! But I feel like we need that in our lives, more cute cards.

Asmodee Timeline: Inventions. The way this game works is that everyone has a hand of cards, and you take turns laying them in order, trying to get the chronology of different inventions right—once you play your card, you get to look at the date on the back. So you might lay “light bulb” between “mammoth-bone weapon” and “ipod nano,” and you’d be right! It’s actually subtler than that—it’s kind of a cross between trivia and deductive reasoning—and I like the inventions version (there are lots of games in the Timeline series) because if I don’t feel as stupid not knowing whether “hair dryer” comes before or after “electric toaster” as I would not knowing whether “Cuban Missile Crisis” comes before or after “The French Revolution.” Also, it’s a very tiny and portable game, and fun to keep in your bag for any waiting you might have to do.

I read about these Paper Games in some fancy gift guide, and got a set for the kids this year: five 150-page pads of tear-off two-person pen-and-paper games, including three-dimensional Tic-Tac-Toe, Dots and Boxes, Hedron, Nim, and Hex. (I think I only know Dots and Boxes!) The presentation is deeply attractive, and I love the idea of keeping a pad or two in the car and in my bag, since you can always draw or write on the backs of the pages.
This is a pad of “artist’s tiles,” which basically means perfect six-inch squares of high-quality paper that tear off perforatedly. They are so nice, and the pad is so chunky, and all in all it seems reasonably priced for such good paper that you can sketch on or fold up into cards or use for writing your elected officials.

And while you’re at it, this is an excellent set of black pens for the artists or writers in your life—a perennial favorite gift of ours. As far as colored pens go, we’ve given many sets of these in the past couple of years, and they are wonderful.

I am beautiful on the inside!
Forgive me if this is too particular/peculiar to be helpful, but Birdy has been wanting and wanting a long-throated stapler, so I am finally giving her one. If you’ve got a person in your family who is forever folding up paper into zines and books and pamphlets, but then they can’t figure out how to get a stapler to reach all the way in to the fold, then this is a gift you might consider.

I’m recommending my friend Kate’s book again here, because the world needs more of Kate’s books, and because it is a profoundly excellent book for anyone of any age: Rad WomenWorldwide. It’s a collection of mini biographies of extraordinary women doing extraordinary, bad-ass things—even more extraordinary than the ordinary things that all of us everyday women are doing so extraordinarily bad-assedly, if you know what I mean. Forty profiles—from the better-known 20th century Mexican painter Frida Kahlo to the lesser-known Grace "Granuaile" O'Malley, a 16th-century Irish sea captain—all illustrated with Miriam Stahl’s incredible paper-cut art. This is the team that brought you Rad American Women A to Z, so you know it’s good.

I also got The Gutsy Girl for Birdy, because even though it looks a lot like a tough-girl version of our belovedly ungendered Unbored, I can’t resist feeding that girl’s love of adventure and courage and independence.

Are you are giving gifts to very small people this year? I’m realizing that I’ve have never had occasion to recommend my three all-time favorite little-kid pretend-play presents, two of which are extremely inexpensive:

Guest check pads (10 for $8). Ben got a pad of guest checks as a party favor when he was a preschooler, and it added a great deal of pizzazz to years and years of the children’s pretend restaurants. This is either a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your tolerance for sitting on a tiny chair while somebody painfully writes the words “eg sallid sambwidge” on a pad, tears off your copy, and then brings you a plastic crab inside a tiny enamel pot, but still. A set of pretend money is a great accompaniment to this gift.

A roll of generic tickets (these come in lots of colors). Same as above, only for performances: concerts, circuses, magic shows, dance recitals, poetry readings, surrealist plays about LEGO and farm animals. The tickets always lent just the exact right detail of realism that the kids were craving. Again, use your discretion, since maybe you’re not looking to encourage your children to put on even more soul-crushingly meandering and infinite performances than you’re already enduring.

Play silks. Over many, many years of dressing up and making believe, this rainbow assortment of silky fabric squares has been everything to my kids: capes and skirts; rivers and forests in theatrical sets; doll slings and hammocks and curtains; tea-party table cloths and fluttering flags. If I were to calculate cost per use, it would be something like one gazillionth of a cent. And Ben and Birdy still use them.

Gifts for Everyone

Hamilton: TheRevolution. What can I say? We got the bug. We listen to the soundtrack day and night, the way normal people did a year ago. And even though this is an expensive book, it’s cheaper than trying to actually go to the show. Total savings: $3775.

These parachute-nylon hammocks are all the rage in our particular outdoor-themed world, and for good reason: they’re light, strong, pretty, comfortable, and super-easy to hang up. We love ours. It would make a great gift for campers or more domestic backyard types.

We are puzzlers of all kinds around here—crossword, logic, and, yes, jigsaw. I know I mentioned this puzzle briefly last December, but this year I’m putting it officially in the gift guide because it’s a perfect puzzle (and because its designer is a reader here). And lest I recommend some crazy puzzle with no cookie theme, this is another great puzzle that we did earlier this year during a multi-family weekend trip. Perfection.

Gifts for Grown-ups: Two Novels, Socks, and Cooking Stuff

Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad. If, like me, you’re having a hard time right now with reading matter that falls at all short of life-and-death importance, but you still like a good novel, then this is the book for you. I couldn’t put it down. Get it for yourself, but give it as a wrapped gift and ask to borrow it as soon as the person unwraps it.

After one of my most trusted reading friends recommended it to me, I got the new Zadie Smith book for my dad, in the hopes that I might borrow it more or less asap, as above. I’m sure it will be excellent.

I’ve been giving a pair of these socks to my mother every year because they are wool and they are gorgeous and they come with an unconditional lifetime guarantee. (Um, yeah, hi, I doused my socks in gasoline? And lit a match? And they burned up! So, like, can I get my money back?) I also like that this style is called “witch crew,” since they really do look like the legs sticking out after Dorothy’s house falls onto that wicked somebody.

Yes, this Whiskware Dressing Shaker is a total one-trick pony of a gadget, but I confess to loving it. For the past twenty years, our salad dressing has left leaves oily mason-jar rings on the counter every night. No more! This is a leak-proof glass shaker bottle that has a dripless spout and a weird metal ball in it that looks like a cat toy but pretty well emulsifies your vinaigrette. I know, I know. You’ve already got a free mayonnaise jar, and so do all your friends and relations. But trust me on this.

Mine look more like dirty rags now, but still.
Abeego Beeswax Wrappers. The big ones. My friend Nicole gave these to me for Christmas, either last year or the year before, and I use them every day. They’re great non-plastic bowl covers, yes, and you can wrap cheese in them or anything else, but what I mostly use them for is packing Birdy’s school-lunch sandwiches: they’re easy, reusable, and nontoxic, and they smell pleasantly of beeswax. If you have the kind of friend who would love a great solution to an everyday problem, this is the gift for him or her. Don’t give it to your dad, though, unless he’s, like, Sting. 

This is a huge splurge, but I bought it earlier in the year because Michael was still cooking eggs in a horrible old nonstick pan, and I swore that I would replace it with something that would neither poison us all continually nor be as needy and high-maintenance as our cast-iron pans. Voila. This is my go-to pan for everything. You have to follow the directions lovingly when you first get it—heating it gently with oil or butter, never dry—and then it will love you back, so that even eggs and tofu slide right out. Plus, it’s gorgeous: heavy and lovely, but not fussy. It comes in many colors (and sizes too, though 10 1/4 is what I have and love for a pair of fried eggs or a couple of chops) and is crazy expensive because Le Creuset.

This is the first year in a while that I didn't recommend you buy your *kids* some or other crazy knife! 
Years ago, I recommended a little Kyocera ceramic paring knife—which I stand by; it is a wonderful knife—and now I’m recommending the 5½ inch knife in the same series. I basically never use my metal knives any more because this knife is always sharp and great and exactly what I want to use. I love it, love it, love it, and recommend it as a gift for your cooking friends and family. Plus, it comes in lots of pretty colors!

One last thing: this calendar. I bought it for myself at Paper Source (my favorite store of things) and it was a huge splurge because for the past twelve years we've been using the free Norman Rockwell calendar from the bank, so every day when I go to write "root canal" or "set self on fire because of the election" I am stuck looking at a basket of puppies or a rosy-cheeked boy bent over so that the teacher who's scolding him can also be whapping his behind with a paddle. Suffice it to say: I am IN LOVE with this calendar. Every page is some perfectly gorgeous arrangement of paint chips, and it's huge, and it's very matte and lovely to write on. I bought one as a present too.

Okay. I'm excited. I hope you end up with some awesome gifts and that we end up with a lot of money to give too! To that end, please share this guide as widely as possible! <3 p="">

Monday, November 21, 2016

Three Kings. No, no. Gravies. Three Gravies. (Including a killer vegetarian one.)

This is still the recipe I use, that my mom dictated to me over the phone in 1993, when we were living in California.
So, yes, I make three kinds of gravy every year. That’s because 1) Gravy. 2) Having enough gravy. And 3) Gravy-making-wise, three different opportunities present themselves: the (ew) neck and giblets that come with (i.e. inside) the bird (ew); the scrumptious pan drippings left after the birdy is cooked; the fact that there are vegetarian mashed-potato eaters at our holiday table.

Birdy at the non-gravy-themed protest wall of the Union Square subway station. I love New York. I really do. 
Also, you probably know this story already, but one year we ran out of gravy. Yes, it turned out that Michael’s brother Keith had simply hidden the gravy mid-meal so there would be plenty for leftovers the next day, but still—it scarred me, the running out.

One photo for 3 gravies, and it's not even a good photo. I assure you: they all look more or less like this. 
 Have a wonderful Thanksgiving. I am so grateful for your presence, your beauty, your company.

Good Vegetarian Gravy
Let’s do vegetarian first, so the vegetarians can stop reading before anyone is sticking anyone’s hand inside anything dead, shall we? This gravy is all about salt and what I think of as the flavor brown. Nutritional yeast, miso, and soy sauce are my vegetarian umami trifecta, but if you were to use, say, only two out of three, I’m sure the gravy would still be plenty umami and good. Also, a spoonful of almond butter stirred in adds a certain richness, but it’s optional; sometimes it feels like one thing too much. (Also, I am returning to add: if Birdy didn't hate them, I would use mushrooms as the base of this gravy like a normal person.)

3 tablespoons butter (you can use Earth Balance)
1 shallot, minced
3 tablespoons flour (you can use gluten-free flour)
3-4 cups low-salt vegetarian broth or stock (or, what I use, which is 1 vegetarian bouillon cube dissolved in 3 cups water)
¼ cup each mild white miso, nutritional yeast, and un-oaky red wine (or apple cider)
1 tablespoon each soy sauce and maple syrup
1 tablespoon almond butter (optional)
1 tablespoon tomato paste (optional)
A shake of garlic powder
A small sprig of fresh thyme or a pinch of dried

In a medium-sized pot, melt the butter and sauté the shallot over medium-low heat until it is translucent and on the verge of browning. Whisk in the flour, and cook as long as you can stand to—from a minute to ten minutes, depending on how committed you are to giving the flour a little color and flavor. (I am usually in a rush, and cook it for just a minute.)

Whisk in 3 cups of the broth or stock or bouillon, and cook over low medium-heat, whisking, until the gravy is lump-free(ish). If it gets crazily thick right away, then add that extra cup of broth or stock or water.

Whisk in all the other ingredients and cook the gravy, whisking somewhere between frequently and constantly until the gravy is thick and the harshness of the wine flavor has mellowed. If at any point it gets too thick, thin it a little with stock or water. Taste it and decide if it needs anything else. You could add more salty something, need be, but more likely is that it might need a tiny bit of something acidic. A splash more of wine or apple cider, say, or a thimble-full of balsamic vinegar. Be very judicious—it may be perfect already!

Serve right away or chill and reheat at a later time.

Neck Gravy
Okay, this is more traditionally called giblet gravy, but for me and my dad, it’s all about that neck, and sharing the neck for our Thanksgiving-day lunch. I usually make this gravy the night before, when I am unwrapping the bird anyway to brine it. It is one less thing to do on the day of. (Get as much laughter as you can out of the Mr. Bean up-to-your-elbow-in-the-bird’s-bum moment.) It’s wine-ier and herbier than the classic pan-drippings gravy, and is some people’s favorite and other people’s second favorite.

The neck and giblet packet from your turkey
1 tablespoon each butter and vegetable oil
4 more tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
½ cup each diced onions, carrots, and celery (I probably use a little more than this: 1 large carrot, 2 celery sticks, 1 small onion)
6 cups chicken stock or broth
1 cup red or white wine (something dry and not oaky)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
3 parsley sprigs; 1 bay leaf; a sprig of fresh thyme or a pinch of dried

Evaluate what you’ve got from inside the inside-the-bird “packet”: ideally, a neck (feel around for this—it won’t be in that weird paper bag), and some assorted organs. You want the smallish thumb-shaped heart and the globular kidneys, but don’t use the larger thing, which is the liver, because it makes the gravy taste livery. (I cook it and feed a little bit to the cat.) Dry everything off with paper towels, and make a big fuss about how completely gross it is, so that everyone feels sorry for you.

Heat the 1 tablespoon each butter and oil over medium heat in the pot you have that will be least inclined to allow the gravy to stick and burn. Sauté the neck and giblets, turning frequently until they are deeply browned. Remove them to a plate as they’re done; the neck will take the longest. (If anything has burned, stop at this point and scrub out the pot; otherwise, proceed as below.)

Now add the 4 tablespoons of  butter and the vegetables to the (dirty) pot and sauté until the onions are translucent and everything is going a nice, rich brown. Add the flour and stir, then whisk in the broth and add everything else, including the browned “meat” and bring to a boil, whisking rigorously. Or stirring with a wooden spoon, if you can’t whisk around the veggies et al.

Cook the gravy, covered, over very low heat, stirring regularly, for 2-4, until the neck is falling apart and you feel like the gravy is going to be all evaporated if you keep cooking it. (I feel like this would more sensibly done in a crockpot, but I’ve never tried.) Make sure the gravy is not secretly sticking to the bottom of the pot and burning. If you have more stock, you'll probably want to add some every now and then; as it is, this does not make a ton of gravy. After two hours, taste it. Does it need a splash of wine? A little more salt? More cooking? You want it to be really, really good-tasting.

Strain out the giblets, vegetables, and herbs and, if you like, put the veggies through a food mill back into the gravy pot—or add them back in and blend it all up with a stick blender. This will make the gravy thicker and sweeter and less refined, so you will have to guess if that’s going to be your cuppa or not. Serve right away or chill and reheat at a later time.

Eat the neck. Yummmm.

Pan-Drippings Gravy
This is more of a formula than a recipe. It is delicious. The only thing that’s a pain is the fact that you have to make it after the bird comes out of the oven, which means that you likely already have a houseful of people. No worries! I like to whisk the gravy with a glass of wine in my non-whisking hand, while various guests come and talk to me. It’s not as anti-social as you might think. Make sure you have a 1-quart box of stock handy before you start. (I use all the fat, always, to make as much gravy as I can.)

Once the bird is removed to the carving board, measure your pan drippings, ideally in the kind of measuring cup that will also separate the fat from the juice. (Or use a ladle to separate them as best as you’re able.) Put all the fat in a medium-sized pot over medium-low heat and whisk in an equal amount of flour: ¼ cup, say, for ¼ cup of fat. Whisk until the flour-fat mixture bubbles, then whisk in all of the reserved drippings plus enough purchased (or homemade) chicken or turkey stock to equal around 2 cups of liquid per every ¼ cup of fat. Cook, whisking more or less constantly, while still agreeably putting people’s side dishes into the oven to warm, until the gravy is as thick as you like. Taste the gravy for salt (its saltiness will depend on whether or not you brined your bird), and add a splash of (un-oaky) wine or apple cider if it needs oomph.

Note: if there is a lot of good stuff in the pan that doesn’t simple pour out—nice browned bits and the like—then you can deglaze the pan with a little stock, cooking it gently and loosening the browned bits, and then use this stock in the gravy. Strain it first or not, depending on whether you do or don’t want the bits. 

Friday, November 18, 2016

Classic Pecan Pie

This year, my parents will come up for the holiday, like they always do. And we will feed a lot of friends, like we always do. And my mom and I will cook together, like we always do. Only this year, it will be a balm to my soul, this action of turning the radio to American composer Aaron Copeland on NPR, of putting our hands to beautiful ingredients, our minds and hearts to shared purpose. 

My mom will do all the hard tasks, effortlessly and uncomplainingly: she will make and roll out the pie crusts while I stir eggs and nuts in a bowl; she will trim all the horrible Brussels sprouts and peel the fifteen pounds of potatoes, while I do the easier high-profile roasting and the mashing in of outrageous gobs of sour cream and butter. I will ask her to reach into the turkey hole to retrieve the giblets--but I will be only kidding. She is so lovely! I would never. That one gross thing I will actually do myself. 

We will have a small glass of wine and start a jigsaw puzzle while the bird roasts, and then we will try to get it put away well before people arrive, though I am famous for looking at my watch and saying, "Fuck! I'm still in my pajamas!" before darting around to light all the candles and change into something festive. People of all ages will come. The evening will be heavenly. 

And then, the next day, I will be back at it: calling my elected officials and demanding justice and safety for all of us living inside these borders, on this piece of land.

(Please note, because I am a font of weird juxtapositions: I'm going to post some gravy recipes early next week, including one for a really delicious vegetarian gravy. If you're going to want to make it, and you're shopping this weekend, you'll need: veggie broth/bouillon, shallot, butter, flour, red wine, nutritional yeast, miso, soy sauce, maple syrup, thyme, and garlic powder.)

Classic Pecan Pie
Serves 8
Active time: 30 minutes; total time: 1 1/2 hours

If we didn’t make this, then my dad would go crazy. And if we didn’t have leftovers, then my day-after holiday pie breakfast streak would be broken. It’s the quintessential pecan pie, with a thick, sweet filling that is salty and crunchy with butter-crisped nuts. If you want to use a store-bought or cheater pie crust, please do! Or if you want to make this crust with all butter, go ahead. We always make two pies at a time, and I am glad.

For crust:
1 1/2 cups of flour
3/4 teaspoons kosher salt (or half as much table salt)
1 stick of butter (mine is salted), cut into 1/2-inch cubes
3 tablespoons of shortening or lard
1/3 cup ice water (put some ice in the water, and when you're ready to use it, fish out the ice and measure the water)

For filling:
3 eggs
¾ cup white sugar
¾ cup dark corn syrup
3 tablespoons butter, cut in bits
1 teaspoon vanilla
a large pinch kosher salt (or half a large pinch table salt)
1 ½ cups pecan halves

To make the crust:

Food processor method: Combine the flour and salt in the bowl of your food processor, then distribute the butter and shortening over it. Pulse for a second or two at a time, 5 or 6 times, and then check to see what it looks like: you want to see a mix of butter sizes at this point: some should be the size of peas or even a little bigger, like, hm, the tip of your thumb, say, and some should be mealy and crumbly looking. If you see giant pieces of butter at this point--the size of dice still--then pulse a couple more times. Those butter pieces are going to create the flakes, though, so be judicious. Now dump the mixture into a large bowl, and proceed from the asterisk, below.

By-hand method: Combine the flour and salt in a large bowl, and distribute the butter and shortening over it. Use a pastry blender or your fingertips to work the fat and flour together. For the former, you're on your own, since I've never used a pastry blender; for the latter, you want to lift handfuls of the mixture up out of the bowl, then gently let it fall through your fingertips as you rub it lightly together. Eventually, you'll have a bowl full of clumpy lumps, some the size of peas or fingertips, some the size of fish-tank gravel and cornmeal, and this is perfect. You don't want to spend too long doing this, or the crust will be tough and unflaky; nor do you want the fat left so big that when you go to roll out it sticks all over the place and you curse me.

* Now, whichever method you've used, drizzle the ice water over the flour and fat mixture, and stir it with a fork until it starts to cling together in shaggy crumbs. Gather a little clump in your hand and squeeze: if it creates a shaggy dough, you're good to go; if it seems to dry to stick together, then drizzle another tablespoon or two of water over it, stir, and try again (this part's a bit tricky: too little water, and the dough will crack and break as you try to roll it; too much and your crust will be tough). Dump it onto your clean countertop and gently gather it into a ball, squeezing and pressing and very slightly kneading just enough to hold it together. Flatten the ball into a disk, wrap it in plastic wrap or wax paper, and refrigerate it while you prepare the filling.

To make the filling:

Beat the eggs in a large-ish bowl. Add the sugar, corn syrup, butter, vanilla, and salt, and stir vigorously. Stir in the pecans.

To assemble the pie:

Heat your oven to 350 and roll out the dough:

Sprinkle your clean, dry counter with flour, put the unwrapped disk of dough down, sprinkle it with more flour, and use a rolling pin to roll it thin. The thing is, this is more dough than you'll actually need, so the size is less important here than thinness. It should be about as thick as, geez, metaphors are eluding me. Glove leather? I don't have leather gloves, but I once did. About an 1/8th of an inch is what you're going for. Roll from the center out to the edges, pressing as evenly as you can to make a roundish shape, and checking to be sure the dough is not sticking beneath; sprinkle more flour as you need to, but cheat it as much as you can (sticking is a disaster, but too much flour will make a tough crust). If the dough tears, wash your hands and dry them, sit on the couch for a minute to take a few deep breaths, then patch it as best you can.

When the dough is rolled out, fold it loosely into quarters, center the point in the bottom of your pie plate, and unfold it. Now lift the edges as you use the flat of your hand to press the dough down into the pan--that is, you don't want to just press down, or you'll tear it, so you want to offer it some slack and a certain generosity of spirit. When the plate is lined, use a pair of clean scissors or a knife to trim it, leaving about an inch of overhang. Tuck the overhang underneath itself all the way around the crust to make a thick lip, then flute the rim by pressing it with your thumbs and index fingers all the way around. (You could crimp it with a fork instead, which might be a look you have some affinity with from your own childhood.)

Pour in the filling and, if you like, top it with little cut-out shapes from your leftover dough.

Bake the pie in the middle of the oven for 30 minutes, then check it to make sure nothing bad is happening. Go ahead and bake it another 15 minutes, until the bottom is golden, and the top is set. Cool on a rack, then serve with whipped cream or ice cream. Refrigerate leftovers.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Against the Apocalypse (+ macaroni and cheese)

Well. I am totally heartbroken. I imagine you are too. It’s hard to find the strength and light, although there is so much of both, of course. But, then, Birdy. Birdy who has had a fever since Friday, wept in our arms yesterday, she raged and grieved, and then got up, dried her tears, and filled out an application to be a volunteer conversation partner for people in our town who are learning English. Humbled and inspired, I thought about changing out of my pajamas. I wasn’t actually able to accomplish that— changing out of my pajamas yesterday. But today I will

Because, among other things, Thursday is my lunch shift at the survival center here. If you aren’t volunteering any of your time, I cannot recommend it enough as an antidote to despair. I’ve been serving lunch once a week for four years, and it is one of the best parts of my life. Also, people actually flirt with me there, which is refreshing. Plus, I get to be reminded of the precariousness of our lives, our circumstances. Service is the road to happiness, I swear to you.

Relatedly, we can support the most vulnerable people in our communities, either in established ways—volunteering with organizations that serve youth and queers and the poor and the elderly and other people in need who need our time; involving ourselves in local politics and issues; donating money to local causes we believe in—or in creative ones. My friend Kate Schatz posted a photograph of a bouquet of flowers yesterday, and wrote this: We just brought this to the Islamic Center of Alameda, across the street from our daughter's school, and we're doing the same in Oakland. The card expresses love and support and solidarity, and pledged that, as white parents, we will always teach our daughter to stand up for her friends and to love and respect people of all colors and faiths. I urge everyone to do something similar in their communities today--find a way to show love and solidarity to the communities who are most vulnerable right now. Black and brown children are afraid of being hurt, being deported. What can you do to show them you'll protect them? I am so inspired by her. I am thinking of making a similar gesture towards the Black Student Union, Asian Student Union, Latinx Student Union, and Gender Sexuality Diversity committee at my kids' school. I want to say, "I honor your rage. I've got your back."

Brown people, black people, immigrants, Muslim people, our LGBTQs, indigenous people, we are circling the wagons. We are going to make sure that respect and compassion and kindness and courage guide all our actions, our interactions. We are going to remind our children to do the right thing. We are going to go to bed every night with integrity in our hearts. Right? If you live in a Trump town or a border town or a place where you feel isolated or afraid, we are sending you the extra courage you need to do this precious work. We are circling the wagons.

Let me also remind you that the 2018 midterm elections are not far off. A third of the senate will change hands. Let’s make sure we’re working to elect our democrats.

And can we look at the bright spots? Hillary Clinton won the popular vote. That means that, yes, less than half of the voting population supported Trump. California’s Kamala Harris became the second black woman ever elected to the senate. In Minnesota, Ilhan Omar won a state House race to become the first-ever Somali-American legislator. In her hijab. In a place where Trump had been spewing his usual xenophobic bullshit. Maggie Hassan, a champion of the earth and reproductive rights, won in a close race in New Hampshire, where Birdy and I canvassed [shrugs modestly].

Hey, the people in England feel less Brexit shame now that we elected a xenophobic billionaire reality TV star for president! So there’s that bitter little silver lining.

We’re going to stretch financially—to continue our global efforts by donating to Partners in Health, like we always have, but also to redouble our efforts to support our most important domestic institutions. Planned Parenthood. Public Radio. The National Immigration Law Center. Jezebel posted A List of Pro-Women, Pro-Immigrant,Pro-Earth, Anti-Bigotry Organizations That Need Your Support” here, and it’s useful and inspiring both.

We are trying to smile and make eye contact with strangers. We are trying to find compassion for the disenfranchised citizens who expressed their despair by voting for bigotry, misogyny, and xenophobia. (Not super-successful so far, given that we’re kind of torn between Love Trumps Hate and burn everything the fuck down.)

I wrote and sent a thank-you note to Hillary Clinton, and it made me feel better. I really recommend it. Write one to her, or to Barack or Michelle Obama, to whomever is inspiring you now, whose work you believe in, whose leadership you’re grateful for. Encourage your kids to do the same. And while you’re at it, send five emails to friends and colleagues you’re thankful for. Tell people you love that you love them, and why. {Edited to add: my friend Katie's organization offers free gratitude themed ecards here, if you need a little more encouragement to write one. . . }

Finally, if you need to, remind your kids that the constitution is the revered foundation of American politics, and people don’t just get to enact all their craziest ideas into law. I have been comforted by hearing the comforting things that Michael and I have been saying to the children.

Listen to music, make art, cuddle your pets, and cook up a pan of homemade macaroni and cheese, because you deserve a little comfort.

Macaroni and Cheese
This is my favorite macaroni and cheese, and it’s adapted from the Cook’s Illustrated The Best Recipe cookbook. I love it because it makes mac and cheese that’s like the Stouffer’s kind—just shy of too unctuous, too tangy, too cheesy. I don’t top it with buttered bread crumbs, like the recipe recommends, because then it’s not like the Stouffer’s one, which just has the browning cheese. Yum. (But you could.)

I have to note: my mother makes a fantastic and more refined macaroni and cheese that is Birdy’s favorite thing to eat in the entire world.

2 eggs
1 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk
½ teaspoon Frank’s or a similar red-hot sauce
1 teaspoon kosher salt (or half as much table salt)
1 teaspoon dry mustard dissolved in 1 teaspoon water (I sometimes skip this)
¾ pound (1 ½ boxes) elbow macaroni
4 tablespoons butter
1 pound grated cheese: I use half sharp cheddar and half cubed/diced American or Velveeta. (The original recipe calls for 12 ounces, but only ½ pound of macaroni, so. . . )

1. Beat the eggs, ½ of the evaporated milk, the pepper sauce, the salt, and the mustard in a small bowl.

2. Cook the macaroni in salted water until it’s just tender. Drain it and return it to the pan over low heat. Add the butter and toss to melt.

3. Pour the egg mixture over the macaroni along with ¾ of the cheese and stir until the cheese is starting to melt. Gradually add the rest of the milk and cheese, stirring constantly, until the mixture is hot and creamy, about 5 minutes.

4. Pour it into a greased broiler-safe dish and broil until the top is as browned as you like it. 

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

Tell me

Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious vote?

(h/t Mary Oliver)

Birdy and I were in New Hampshire on Friday, walking house to house to talk to people about their vote, and that line above appeared, and then stuck, in my head. "Your vote is so precious," is what we were basically saying, all day. It's the very reason we were there.

I know you are voting or already voted. But email or call or text one person today who you think might not, for whatever reason. Remind them how precious that vote is, how precious they are.

I am, as always, so grateful for your being here with me on the planet.

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

A little bit of this and that

It turns out I LOVE having a giant houseful of big kids! I just didn't so much love having a giant houseful of little kids, back when they were all so small and picky and imperiled and exhaustingly putting on some kind of terrible magic show I had to watch every second.
Hello, my loves! I have just a little bit to share today.

One is something I wrote over at the lovely Motherwell. Sigh. It's very, you know, same old, what with the grief and the preemptive grief and the fear of grief. Sorry! This "Cat Costume: 3 and 17" diptych might be the perfect illustration:

Recipes: I've been making this lentil soup again (it really is so good) and also this chile tortilla eggbake, which, if you should happen to have a horde of ravenous teenagers waking up in your home, is the perfect, easy make-ahead breakfast (make two). It is the biggest crowd-pleaser I know (but I reserve the right to say that about a different recipe some other time).

Books: Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad was phenomenal start to finish, and I can't recommend it highly enough. I also just finished Stephanie Bishop's riveting and beautiful The Other Side of the World, and now I'm reading the weird and wonderful Hot Milk and totally loving it. Soon I will have news about my middle-grade novel that comes out next fall! Please stay tuned.

I got the most incredibly charming package in the mail from the lovely person whose business is this fabulous online card and notebook shop. I won't show you what was in it. You have to go to the website and look especially at the notebooks. I love them so much!

And PLEASE: If you can vote early, please do! And if you can't, then please make a plan to vote on November 8th. Between now and then, ask 2 people about their voting plans--people you feel are in danger of not voting. Will you please? Take good care of yourselves.