The thrill of an organized life

unnamed[1]When my sister-in-law Teresa saw my face after I opened my Christmas gifts, she knew she’d made a slam dunk. In my hands were three books that were, essentially, going to make me a better person.

The anchor of the three is a binder containing plastic sleeves into which you insert recipe cards. The goal of these cards is to create a go-to place that documents how to make your fave dishes.

My mom had one of these and, throughout my childhood, I loved paging through it. Actually, flipping through it more like, as her plastic recipe cardholders were pasted in two descending columns inside the book. I loved looking at the spills and stains on the cards, the different handwriting belonging to people who had given my mom their recipes. There was something remarkably comforting about the book, this bible of sorts, and not just because its pleather cover was 1970s brown.

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Kitchen Salvation

20120103-185714-GFTues-Croque-Monsieur[1]It was a croque-monsieur that finally yanked me out of my bad mood last week.

It was a cold, snowless night and we were at a friend’s house for dinner. All four of us chatted comfortably around the kitchen island for a while, and I was reminded of the joy of small gatherings as opposed to the giant blow-outs we hosted over the holidays.

Then the woman, whose name is Hannah, started making a béchamel sauce, and layered fresh ham on slices of toasted brioche. Once the milky sauce had thickened, she poured it on the ham, topped it with another piece of bread and sprinkled grated gruyère cheese over everything. Then she popped it in a hot oven to let things get bubbly and golden.

As I cut into my beautiful French sandwich, which was paired with a simple salad, I felt renewed. The kitchen. The kitchen is what I needed to inject myself with the inspiration of a new year.

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Out the window

IMG_0424I’ve spent a lot of the last two days looking out the window. Partly because I am thinking, but partly because I am wishing it were different out there. So far, the winter weather has been pretty cheesy. Lots of precipitation when it’s strangely warm, lots of sun when it’s cold. This has resulted in no real snow and, frankly, it’s getting depressing.

I think I am feeling this way, however, because I am fat from Christmas and I am facing three good months of the Usual Routine. “Dum, dum, dum,” that phrase should be followed by. Every time I say it, I am reminded of John Bailey’s Usual Muck. Until we all boycotted it, we would eat this on our skiing trip every year. It was basically a stew with yesterday’s leftovers combined with a few fresh ingredients. John would add cumin and mustard and some other random stuff and then we would sit and eat. For the first few days, it was kind of fun, made you feel like you were camping. But after day three? Take me to a restaurant or take me back to Kentucky — I am sick of muck.

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A bagel Christmas

bagelsOur house is fragrant with poppy seeds, sesame and dehydrated onion right now, and I am trying desperately to contain myself. The source of this loveliness is three firmly folded paper bags containing, as far as I’m concerned, the equivalent of food gold.

A few months ago, we met our newest best friends, Becca and Rick, who happen to be two of the best cooks I’ve ever met. A few weeks into our friendship, Rick presented us with a warm bag of bagels that he’d made himself.

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Joyous voices sweet and clear

IMG_0423Gabrielle is off to school, William is off to work, now what’s for me to do? Turn the carols on, of course. It just isn’t the holiday season without Bing, Burl, Dean, Kenny and Dolly, Nat and Karen, is it?

When I was a kid, my mom would turn on the carols the minute Dec. 1 rolled around and, after smearing on an application of Nice ‘n Easy, would clean her way through the entire house on Saturdays belting it out to Anne Murray and Roger Whitaker.

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The olive oil caper

olive oilIt was just like any other errand day in Lexington. I’d driven up first thing in the morning and spent the rest of the day stocking up on everything from hoisin sauce to organic flour to gin.

After considerable debate, this time I added Costco to my errand list. I had long mulled over whether or not the membership was worth it. What sold me was the olive oil.

While cooking, we go through a ton of it and I wince every time I have to buy another bottle. I would save up my Kroger coupons and buy the biggest bottle possible, but still, the extra virgin was steep. Finally, in talking to one of my foodie friends, I was told you can get a two-liter bottle of Kirkland brand olive oil for $12.99. Moreover, the Kirkland EVOO scored very high in a comparative study done by the University of California, Davis. The good score and the steal, and the fact that their balsamic is very good too, pushed me over the edge.

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Heels for the day

heelsThis morning, the UPS man delivered the most ridiculous pair of high heels I’ve ever bought. I’m sitting here with them on right now, despite the fact that I am wearing pilled yoga pants and the oldest T-shirt I own. They are about one foot high. They may be ugly and they may be fantastic — I haven’t decided yet.

I ordered these suckers on a whim. I have a new dress that is black and gold, and I needed a new pair of shoes to go with them for an upcoming party. I started hunting around on Zappos and saw the shoes that I have on my feet right now. I showed them to my husband, who loved them immediately.

“No way will you buy those,” he said. “And if you do, no way will you wear them.”

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The luncheon of all luncheons

10348391_10153380068748975_1004306591516893963_nIn the middle of every November, about six girls show up at the extension service office to line up. Always, it’s a cold day, made all the more so by the blue shade that lives against the building at 10:30 in the morning this time of year. But these girls, they bundle up, chatter enthusiastically and shake their legs in a vain effort to produce heat.

Always, in the middle of November, the wait is worth it.

That’s because we’re talking about the Annual Homemaker’s Tasting Bazaar.

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Clean as a whistle

irish springWhen it comes to shopping, I would say my brand loyalty is fickle at best. But there are a few staples in my house that will always be stocked in our cupboards: Pantene shampoo, King Arthur flour, Red Gold tomatoes, Weisenberger grits and Irish Spring soap. I was looking at a cake of it this morning in the shower and realized just how many memories are embedded in that little bar.

I.S. and I go back, way back to the early 1980s when I was about 4. It all started with the Irish Spring commercials. They would feature a man and woman who both had singsong Irish accents. They would be riding horses, walking a springer spaniel while competing in a dog show or doing something else that likewise required a certain amount of pedigree. These people were attractive, well dressed, so happy they were nearly giddy. Then they’d pass by one another and — woo, wooo — whistle at each other. The somehow asexual sexual tension was amazing.

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Documenting thanks

dining tableThis week is all about preparing for our annual Canadian Thanksgiving feast, which we are celebrating with 17 of our friends this Saturday. I love hosting this party, not just for the cooking but for the time I get to spend with friends. As I am brining, rolling, pinching, dicing and stirring, I am thinking about all the things I’m thankful for this year and, because I think it’s important to document, I thought I’d do that here.
So here is my list. I am thankful:
• That my husband is healthy.
• That I don’t feel like I have to automatically knock wood if I say my husband is healthy because I don’t feel that superstitious anymore.
• That his health scare made me understand gratitude.

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