Monday, November 27, 2017

Gift Guide 2017

Portland! (The Maine one.)
We are actually still digging out from under our turkey and catching up with work, even though what really want to do is see all the movies and binge-watch Stranger Things. But I do realize that the holidays approacheth. Thus, this annual Gift Guide! Please note that this year's gift guide will not result in an explicit donation, since we did all our 2017 charitable giving prior to filing the dreaded FAFSA [shudder]. 

But we are saving to send our kid to college [sob], so I promise we won't be, like, buying a Lexus if we earn Amazon link commissions.

Anyhoo. Maybe you were in the mood to *make* something giftish? Please allow me to offer a few ideas!
More in a kind of a *buying* space? Please allow me to offer my thoughts from the past:
  • Last year's gift ideas are here
  • The year before, here.
  • The year before that, here.
  • The year before that, here
  • And the year before that, here.
  • As always, the master list of games is here.
and the present:

Games and Puzzles

Don't Tip the WaiterWe don't have this game yet--or rather, it is in the house, but not yet out and about. I always like to give a silly game that kids and grandparents can play immediately without a lot of rules hoo-ha, and this one fits the bill. (The oddly-named Animal Upon Animal is the classic of this genre, and still the game I keep in my bag at all times.) Also, I'm sorry in advance if you fall into the Kikkerland rabbit hole.

Bounce-Off Rock‘N’ Rollz! So, everyone has been making fun of me for buying this because apparently it is kind of a *drinking game*! Who knew? But the truth is that I could picture Ben and all his crazy friends playing it all hours, and boy was I right about that. (They even play a hacked version where you have to bounce the balls in from a standing position.) But the four of us play it all the time too, especially at the end of the evening, when everyone is done with homework or needs a break from it. It’s just a brainless dexterity game of bouncing balls into a grid pattern on a tilty board, and you can play in teams or as single players, and it’s really fun and silly. I highly recommend it, with or without giant plastic red cups of beer.

Edited to add: Dutch Blitz Expansion pack! Because if you already have Dutch Blitz and you get the expansion, then you can play with up to 8 players instead of only 4! It is not unchaotic. And we ended up making a rule that if you finished a stack you were in charge of removing it from play to free up a little space. But it is really, really fun. I said this, initially, about the original game: Is it the vague Amish theme? The fact that it says "A Vonderful Goot Game" so campily on the box? I don't know--but make no mistake, this is one of our family's very most-played-ever games. It's got a very simple Solitaire-style of play (stacking consecutive cards) and is all about speed and concentration rather than, say, strategy. It's a great game to play a few rounds of if you've got just 15 or 20 minutes to kill, and it's good with 2, 3, or 4 people. We've given it as a present at least a dozen times. I'm never quite sure what makes it so much fun, but it is, and we continue to play it regularly.

p.s. Feel free to queer it up, if you like. That is, rather than the mandatory boy-on-girl style of play, play girl-on-girl and boy-on-by. Just saying.

Juxtabo is a game I recommended in the summer, and I'm recommending it again. The pieces are lovely and heavy, and it's quickish and engaging, which makes it a great game to play when people have odds and ends of time, but can't commit to a real board game. But what's it like? If I say a combination of Othello and Blokus and Colorku, will you think I'm a dork?

CodenamesThe company kind of adorably describes this as a "social word game," which is pretty much all my favorite things rolled into one! There's some kind of spy theme, but it doesn't really come into play that much. Mostly, you are working with your teammate (2 teams of 2 people works well, but you can play with bigger teams and that's fun too), hoping to give them one-word clues so that they'll guess which word cards from a 5 x 5 g rid belong to your team. 

You might say "powerful," hoping that your partner will guess that two of your words are "king" and "superhero," but then they might pick "kangaroo" and you will want to kill them, even after they explain about the animal's powerful leg muscles.
There's a picture version too, and a special two-player version. Please report back if you've played either of them!

Modern Art is a game I recommended many years ago, but it's been out of print for ages until recently. It was our second-ever European-style board game, which is kind of funny because it is the most deceptively complex of them (for the record, Acquire was the first, and it is a wonderful game). What I wrote a long time ago was: "Of the mind-twisting games we play, this is the mind-twistingest. In fact, every time we play it, I say, 'Oh, wow, I think I'm only just beginning to understand this game now.' And we've played it, like, a hundred times." That is still true. In sum, it's an art-themed auction game that progresses over four rounds. The art is new in this version, but it looks just as ugly as it was in the old version. We hacked our game to make new art cards that we liked better. 

I don't assume that every family will share this inclination.
We did this neckties puzzle over Thanksgiving, and I can't think of a better puzzle I've ever done. It is gorgeous, for one thing, and just the right cross between challenging and doable. My mom and I spent many pleasant hours side by side with it.

This popsicle puzzle and this bookshelf puzzle are what I have on hand now--one for generalized  eggnog-fueled December puzzling, and the other for actual Christmas-Day puzzling, which is a longstanding tradition. Usually, I am in my nightie, working on the puzzle with my mom, when I suddenly look at my watch and say, "Fuck! I forgot to put the ham in!" 

(Quick question: Has anyone played this game? I am thinking of getting it for Ben and Birdy. . . Also, I'm adding a tiny unillustrated plug here for Kan Jam because we play it so much.)

Writing, Crafts, and Activities

Stitch Camp looks like a GREAT BOOK! But don't take my word for it, since I wrote it with my friend and it's filled with pictures of my daughter! Take Amazon's word for it, since it's on their official Holiday Toy List. (Right? I mean, even though it's not a toy.) It's a craft book for kids and teens and tweens that introduces all the main fiber crafts (sewing, embroidery, felting, knitting, crochet, weaving) and is filled with projects, many of which use recycled materials. If I were giving this book as a holiday gift, which I can't really do in good conscience given the aforementioned facts, I would give it paired with an excellent pair of sewing scissors--the kind that makes crafting so much easier, and that someone will have for their whole lives. These, for example. Or you could gift the book with a sewing kit, an embroidery kit, or a pair of knitting needles and some of our favorite wool.I can't bring myself to mention crochet supplies, because crochet baffles me.

My Rad Life is a journal filled with feminist prompts, quotes, and inspiration, and woodcut illustrations of women authors, athletes, artists, and activists. The publisher describes it as "An inspiring, empowering journal that encourages its owners to think, create, reflect, and explore their own radness." I know lots of people who could be exploring their own radness in journal form! My friend Kate Schatz created it with the illustrator Miriam Stahl, and it's a companion to their other rad books, Rad American Women A to Z, and Rad Women Worldwide.

I have written about Journal Sparks before, here, but this book would make such a lovely gift for any writer or artist in your life. And just because it has pages of really cute stickers at the back doesn't mean an adult wouldn't be thrilled to get it! (And while we're at it, Emily's first book makes a supremely wonderful gift for creative children.) Again, if you wanted to package the book with a related item, I might include this set of Flair pens, which is our go-to, pens-wise. Here they are in use by our Ava friend, on our perennially paper-covered coffee table:

Speaking of pens: we bought this Bullet Space Pen for a great friend of ours who is exactly the kind of person that needs a pen originally designed for NASA. It has a pressurized ink cartridge and can write upside-down, on wet and/or glossy surfaces, and under any conditions: extreme cold and/or heat, for example, should you find yourself trying to take notes in the arctic while being burned at the stake. Suffice it to say: he loved it. It also happens to be exhibited in the permanent design collection at the Museum of Modern Art, which may or may not speak to your snobbery, but it speaks to mine.
We also gave our friend this set of Expedition Field Notes, because if you've got a pen that can write in all conditions, you need a notebook that has waterproof pages. Also, they're super-stylish and cute. Please note that these are smallish notebooks (3.5 X 5.5). I love the idea of giving this set of pen and notebooks to more of our friends. It's kind of perfect.
When my kids were small, our sealing wax kit pretty much turned thank-you-note writing from a chore to a kind of fume-filled arsonist's fantasy. If you still have younger kids, or or giving presents to the kinds of children whose parents won't never speak to you again if you give them a gift that involves matches and fire and melting plastic, then I can't recommend this bit of old-fashioned and elegant fun highly enough. Note that you can pick your own child's initial, not just my children's! (Is it wrong that I want this anatomical heart sealing wax kit for myself?)

Books for Kids

If I haven't managed yet to pressure you into buying One Mixed-Up Night, let me take this fresh opportunity! If I were giving it to my kids, I'd probably include a gift certificate for an IKEA trip complete with bonus plate of meatballs, but maybe that's just me! (Besides, how lame would it be if I gave this book to my kids?) If you would like a signed bookplate for this book, or any other book of mine, please just contact me here, and I'll send you one. Edited to add: If you email me for a bookplate, please let me know the name, if any, you'd like me to dedicate it to! And please send me your address.

For an engineering-y kid, consider this young-reader's version of the Elon Musk biography. Ben read the original over the summer and was enthralled and inspired.

If you are giving books to younger kids, some of my favorites are in this post (along with the Maira Kalman book I still give to adults and teenagers at every opportunity). Other perennial winter delights include The Snowy DayOwl Moon, and The Mitten.

Books for Adults

What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons, Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong, and Less by Andrew Sean Greer are three wonderful novels that happen to be about loss. But so, so good, I promise. The Crooked Little Road to Semi-Ever After Happiness by Heather Harpham and The Bright Hour by Nina Riggs are two astonishing memoirs that happen to be about illness. Both fantastic and both utterly life-affirming, even as they skirt death or meet it head-on.

Dinner is the best new cookbook I got this year. I took it out of the library so many times that I finally ended up buying it. It's full of delicious, unfussy recipes that solve the main problem, which, as everybody knows, is dinner. It might be nice to give it with a wonderful pan, like this one that I recommended last year and still love.
I will also be giving the new translation of The Odyssey, which is by a woman. (YAY!) If you look at it on Amazon, it will say, "by Homer and Emily Wilson." And it will sound like it was translated by a married couple. Until you think about it for a second.


Even though we already have and love a regular angel-chime candle holder, I really want this Moomin one. (Also, kind of, all the Moomin things.)

Ben and Birdy went in together on this aromatherapy diffuser earlier in the year, and they love it. I feel like it would make a great gift for any stressed-out teenagers you happen to know, since it offers such a lovely opportunity for calmness and self care. My kids' favorite oil is rose geranium. (The price is alarming, but it lasts a long time.)

As always, our friends' beautiful cider products are the most intensely wonderful additions to your pantry or the pantry of a loved one. (Ew. But why? Because it sounds like "panty"?) And you don't have to take my biased word for it, since Ruth Reichl wrote them up! #superstars

I bought myself one of these teeny ramekins from Facture Goods, and I use it every day. It is crooked and rough and somehow just the most perfect thing in the world for olive pits or a bite of cottage cheese. I think it would make a special present.

Finally, okay, this is a gift only for you. . . Are you attracted to those Yoplait Oui yogurts because of the glass jars, but then you have these little glass jars, and you aren't quite sure what to do with them besides drink Limoncello? These Weck covers fit them! Not, like, tightly. But well enough that you can use them to store odds and ends of things in the fridge or on your countertop. You're welcome. 

But I can't even say that as a joke, because: Thank you. Enjoy the season. Light the candles. Call your representatives. Take care of each other. xo

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Thanksgiving Recipes

Photo credit Chris Perry. This was a couple of years ago, we think.
So, annoyingly, as you will see from the list of recipe links below, I have posted many of the less crucial Thanksgiving meal bits and pieces over the years, but very few of the absolutely sine qua nons. Like the stuffing, the mashed potatoes, the sweet potatoes (unless someone else brings them, I make these), and, of course, the turkey itself, which is below, with no pictures, sorry!

This year, we will be hosting A Very GF Thanksgiving with Very Vegetarian Options. This is not a hardship for me, as I, weirdly, appreciate the challenge of restrictions. Also, neither constraining factor affects my excellent mashed potato recipe, which is this: boil 10 pounds of peeled, halved yukon golds in very salty water until very tender. Put them through a ricer or food mill, then stir in 2 cut-up sticks of butter, 2 -3 cups of sour cream, and enough whole milk or 1/2 and 1/2 to keep everyone loose and happy. Salt the potatoes as you go. Scoop them into a buttered casserole dish and dot heavily with butter (like, another stick, sorry), then cover. These can sit on the counter for up to 4 hours or so (don't refrigerate them). Around 30 - 45 minutes before you plan to sit down to eat, pop the covered dish into the oven to heat (whatever the oven is at is fine). Uncover and pop under the broiler for a couple of minutes until the top is browned and sizzling.

I am always embarrassed when a guest seems my neurotic holiday to-do list, but dude! It's a lot of things to remember to do. 
Okay, here are some other potentially useful recipes, and then the turkey below. I dearly hope you know how grateful I am for your company, some of you for many, many years. Have a wonderful holiday. Try to add an act of resistance or two to your to-do list!

I am still using this annoying fake photo of cut-out magazine pictures because I never think to take pictures during the actual holiday. Mostly because I am too busy whisking gravy and drinking and eating, and then whipping cream and cutting pie. And then eating pie. Trust me, the below turkey comes out looking fantastic.
How to Make a Thanksgiving Turkey
First, buy a turkey. Then, ewwww, dig out the bag of things and the neck (make gravy with the nasties!) and brine the turkey, ideally for 2 days, but one is fine. Here is my brine recipe (enough for a 24-pound turkey): Dissolve 2 cups of Diamond kosher salt and 1 cup of sugar in 1/2 gallon of warm water. Then stir in the other half of that gallon of cold water, a second gallon of cold water, a handful of bay leaves (let's say 6-12), the zest of 2 lemons in strips peeled off with a peeler, and a quartered onion or 2. Put the turkey inside a large ziploc bag inside a plastic bucket, and then carefully pour in the brine in and seal the bag. If this contraption will not fit in your fridge, you can definitely do just the bag. I don't only because it makes me nervous and revolted.

An hour or two before it's time to roast it, take the turkey out of the brine and arrange it on a roasting rack inside a roasting pan. Heat the oven to 425. When you're ready to roast the turkey, rub it all over with a softened stick of butter, scatter some chunked carrots, onions, and celery into the bottom of the pan and stuff some into the turkey along with a sliced lemon and a handful of fresh thyme. If you're going to make gravy from the drippings, pour a cup or two of water into the bottom of the pan, so that they don't burn. Roast the turkey for 1/2 hour, then turn the heat down to 350 and roast it until it's done. 4 1/2 or 5 hours total seems to be the necessary time for a 24-pound turkey.; replenish the liquid in the pan as necessary, adding a splash of hard cider or wine towards the end, if you like. Try to have it coming out of the oven an hour before you plan to serve it, so that it has time to cool and firm up a bit. Make gravy with the pan drippings.

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Charred Broccoli with Mint and Pink Pickled Onions

I picked a fight with Ben. It's hard to explain what happened, exactly, because parenting him is so easy-breezy. He's practically an adult, and all you need is the lightest touch--just plenty of food, a credit card number for his standardized tests, the willingness to listen occasionally or offer the barest thread of guidance. Mostly he just wants to hang out and be the best person to have a conversation with, or bring his crazy caramelizing friends over so they can blow-torch various items in the kitchen after sprinkling them with sugar. 

I am putting this in a Snapper caption: I wrote this, over at Full Grown People. And my parenting-teens advice column has, I'm thrilled to report, moved over to Motherwell! Please send me your questions.
But this was like one of those dreams where you're on a giant trike, riding merrily through a meadow of wildflowers, only it's not a tricycle, it turns out, it's a steam roller, and you hear the crunching sound of glass Christmas tree ornaments behind you. 

Do you know what I'm saying? Because one minute we were having a conversation, and the next minute we were having a wrenching conflict, and I felt terrible and confused. A bit later I called my friend Nicole, who lovingly said back to me the thing I always say to her: "Just because it feels bad doesn't mean you're doing something wrong." Which really is sometimes true and, in this case, either was or wasn't.

Ben is a sunny and forgiving person; we made up quickly. But he is tired and he is working hard, and all I have to offer sometimes is a really great meal. Our resident vegetarian was at a friend's house, so I made these ribs and the famous plum cake--GF, natch!--with plums I'd had the foresight to freeze when our tree was laden, and this here broccoli salad.

The plums sank, but the cake was delicious. I subbed in 2/3 cup King Arthur GF flour and 1/3 cup almond meal. No, as we like to say, xanax gum.
It's really extraordinarily good. Tender and crunchy, herby, spicy, and sour, and flecked with plumped, jewel-like chile flakes that have gone syrupy in the sweet-tart dressing. Also, it's gorgeous. Ben, because he is a darling, claimed to be the best broccoli he had ever eaten in his life. And, because I wanted to, I believed him.

Here is the broccoli, NOT BEING STIRRED BY ME. #restraint

Charred Broccoli with Mint and Pink Pickled Onions
This is loosely adapted from the fab Myers + Change At Home recipe for Sweet-and-Sour Brussels Sprouts. This would be so, so good with the called-for pound of halved Brussels sprouts, but I had broccoli from the farm share, so I used that instead, and then it was so good that I got more broccoli and made it again. I think that salty roasted peanuts would make a phenomenal addition to this dish, but we don’t have any at the moment. (Also, if you wanted to start with Crack Broccoli, and then just add the sauce, onions, and mint, I’m sure that would be good too!)

¼ cup sugar
¼ cup white or unseasoned rice vinegar
2 teaspoons red pepper flakes
1/3 cup vegetable oil (I bet coconut oil would be perfect for this, but I used sunflower)
1 medium-sized bunch of broccoli, stems trimmed and peeled a bit, and everything cut up bite-sized
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Pink Pickled Onions (below)
½ (or ¼) cup coarsely chopped fresh mint (I bet cilantro would be good here also/instead of the mint)

Combine the sugar, vinegar, and red pepper flakes in a small pot (use the dirty one from the pickled onion brine) and bring to a boil over highish heat. Turn the heat down and simmer until the sauce gets syrupy, around 3-4 minutes (or until you remember that you forgot about it because of the house filling with choking smoke). Set this aside. 

In a wok or large, heavy, flat-bottomed skillet (I use the latter because my crappy wok sometimes makes everything taste like you cooked up a big batch of nickels), heat the oil over high heat until it’s shimmering, about 1 minute. Add the broccoli to the pan (it will spatter), and sprinkle with the salt and pepper, and then leave it alone for 2 to 3 minutes. Myers + Chang actually recommends walking away so that you won’t be tempted to stir or otherwise fuss with it, and I think this is great advice!

Once they’re charred on the bottom, cook them another 3 or so minutes, stirring a bit every minute or so, until they’re charred all over and the oil has more or less disappeared. If the broccoli is crisp tender by this point, great. Otherwise, add a couple tablespoons of water and cook, shaking the pan, until it’s cooked to your liking.

Put the broccoli in your serving bowl and toss it with the sauce, the onions (drain them first), and mint. Serve right away, or wait a bit, or serve it cold out of the fridge. It’s really, really good.

Pink Pickled Onions
The original recipe calls for shallots, and unseasoned rice vinegar. Whatevs. I figure that, because I don’t want to wait for the liquid to cool down, I can put an ice cube in it and thereby cool and slightly dilute it simultaneously!!!

¼ cup white vinegar
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 garlic clove, smashed and peeled
1 smallish red onion, halved and thinly sliced (or 2 thinly sliced shallots)

Combine the vinegar, sugar, salt, and garlic in a small pot and heat over medium-high heat just until everything’s dissolved. Let it cool, or dissolve an ice cube in it, then pour it over the onions which you have put in a mason jar, then stick this in the fridge for at least an hour, but ideally more like 4 hours, and up to a week. It may not look like enough liquid, but when you check back a bit later, you can shake it around, and it will probably have become enough. (Metaphor! But what for?)