Nonprofit fundraiser, lover of words, student of theology, aspiring dessert chef.
When I look up the weather on my Droid, I see the forecasts for four places.
I have never been to Paris. I’ve never been to Europe, actually. I had the chance when I was in college, but chose to spend four months in China instead. I don’t regret that decision in the slightest. My time in China was one of the most challenging, formative times of my life.
But I still have this deep-seated desire to go to France, particularly to Paris.
Part of my enthusiasm comes from a deep rooted (like a Hobbit!) passion for family history. We can trace our roots back the farthest on the French side of my family—my mother’s father.My family doesn’t know much about its history and I’ve always been fascinated by family connections and the characters who populated the past. It’s amazing to be able to look at the family tree my mother has and be able to trace the family back for a substantial period of time.
That’s only part of my excitement. Paris, in my mind, embodies everything I could ever want out of a city. It snows in the winter but doesn’t get brutally cold. There are museum and theaters, and my favorite authors have all been expatriates there for awhile. It’s a city that’s walkable. There’s government health-care and you can retire before you die. This all says nothing of its fashion and—dear God—the food.
I admit that having never been there, I imagine Paris through rose-colored glasses. The impression that all the women wear Chanel and Louboutin and hurry home to have a cup of onion soup at lunch is outrageous and I’m sure that despite the weather forecasts for the past couple weeks, the weather in Paris is occasionally bad.
But here in Central Minnesota where it’s been snowing and cold for weeks and I’ve been stuck in the end-of-semester-finishing-my-thesis-and-writing-two-other presentations malaise; where I’ve been fundraising for my various non-profits; attempting to put together the perfect Christmas presents for my family; and still find time to cook a decent meal for myself, my shimmering, glossy vision of Paris becomes a bigger part of my life than it is normally. It’s something to imagine, to dream about, to keep me from losing my mind in the midst of this semester and year-end debris.
Earlier last week, I took myself to Paris via Julia Child and her onion soup recipe. It was rich and flavorful and the perfect way to balance an icy, snowy, cold week. It was perfect. The same way my vision of Paris always is.
1 1/2 pounds or about 5 cups of thinly sliced yellow onions
3 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon oil
A heavy-bottomed 4-quart covered saucepan
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon sugar (helps the onions to brown)
3 tablespoons flour
2 quarts boiling brown stock, canned beef bouillon, or 1 quart of boiling water and 1 quart of stock or bouillon
1/2 cup dry white wine or dry white vermouth
Salt and pepper to taste
3 tablespoons cognac
Rounds of hard-toasted French bread (see following recipe)
1 to 2 cups grated Swiss or Parmesan cheese (Deb note: I always use cave-aged gruyere)
Cook the onions slowly with the butter and oil in the covered saucepan for 15 minutes.
Uncover, raise heat to moderate, and stir in the salt and sugar. Cook for 30 to 40 minutes stirring frequently, until the onions have turned an even, deep, golden brown.
Sprinkle the flour and stir for three minutes.
Off heat, blend in the boiling liquid. Add the wine and season to taste. Simmer partially covered for 30 to 40 minutes of more, skimming occasionally. Correct seasoning.
Just before serving, stir in the cognac. Pour into a soup tureen or soup cups over the round of bread and pass the cheese separately.
My friend Andy likes to tease me relentlessly about two aspects of my cooking. The first is the timing of my meals (we never eat early than a half an hour after I say dinner will be on the table.) The second is my presentation. When it comes to making things look fancy, I get a F. My food usually tastes pretty damn good (ask me about my coq au vin sometime) but isn’t necessarily pretty.
(Yes, that is a bottle of holiday scotch in the background.)
This eggnog tart, adapted from Epicurious, got a thumbs up from him on presentation. It got a “meh” hand wave from me on taste. All in all I was a little disappointed by it.
Confession time. I love eggnog. I LOVE EGGNOG. My brothers and I drank unspiked eggnog through most of our childhood, starting at Thanksgiving and going through the new year. Grandma bought it for us. Mom bought it for us. Dad bought it for us. When I got older Mom and I started drinking it with whiskey when we made Christmas cookies and fudge. It’s creamy, sweet, spicy, and appallingly alchoholic. Hello, I love all of those things. So I was so stoked to make this tart.
I don’t know if “Eggnog Tart” is the best description for this dessert. It was more of a cheesecake, and the eggnog flavor didn’t pop nearly as much as a I wanted it to. The crust was not only plain but super difficult to get out of the pan. The recipe is unnecessarily fussy, calling for all kinds of insanity. I subbed out the tart pan for my trusty 9” springform and it worked delightfully. I also added ginger and cinnamon and a hell of a lot more booze than the recipe calls for. Next time I think I’ll make the crust out of gingersnaps and double the amount of booze that I put in last time (or will use dark rum instead of bourbon). Additionally, I’ll double the amounts of spices and probably halve the cranberry jam. (A side rant about jam. YE GODS. Every single jam reduction recipe I’ve ever read has had the time it takes to reduce the jam horribly, horribly wrong. What kind of stove top are these people using that they can make jam in 20 minutes?)
Anyway, it was a fussy recipe for less-than-an-awesome amount of punch. I think my tried and true standby Dark Chocolate-Walnut-Pecan-Bourbon pie was infinitely easier (I barely have to look at the recipe anymore) and had a better flavor.
Pluses to this cooking endeavour:
Without any more adieu, the recipe.
For cookie crust
When I do this recipe again, I’ll probably cut down on time and ramp up the taste by buying a bag of gingersnaps, whirling them in the food processor, and using some butter and egg as a binder.
Pulse together all crust ingredients in a food processor just until a dough forms. (I mixed this by hand it and turned out fine) Press dough evenly onto bottom and up side of quiche pan with floured fingers. (Again, I was using my springform, so I just made the crust along the bottom. Retrospectively, I should have halved the dough recipe, because it just tasted like a thick, less-than-awesome sugar cookie) Chill shell until firm, about 30 minutes.
Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F.
Bake crust about 30 minutes. Cool completely in pan on a rack.
Reduce oven temperature to 300°F.
Blend cream cheese, crème fraîche, and sugar in cleaned food processor until creamy, about 1 minute. Add whole eggs, yolks, bourbon, vanilla, nutmeg, and salt and process until smooth.
Melt jam with water in a small heavy saucepan over moderately low heat, stirring until smooth. (I skipped this next step, halving the cranberry jam recipe and the tart was still overwhelmingly cranberry flavored.) Spread half of jam evenly over bottom of shell(reserving remaining jam in saucepan). Let layer of jam stand until set, about 5 minutes, then gently pour cream cheese mixture over it.
Cover edge of tart shell with pie shield or foil and bake until filling is set but still trembles slightly in center, 40 to 50 minutes (filling will continue to set as it cools).
Cool tart completely in pan on a rack. Reheat remaining jam over low heat, stirring, until pourable, then pour over filling and spread evenly with offset spatula. Chill tart, uncovered, until cold, at least 2 hours.
Just before serving, remove side of pan.
The “Unsexy Costume” Badge
There’s nothing wrong with a sexy costume because fun is fun, but there’s a something excellent in a chick who, on the boobsiest day of the year, shows up in a bear costume that covers her from head to tits to ass to toes. Like Cady Heron’s “Ex-Wife” and Britta from Community’s dinosaur, seeing a woman go balls to the wall on a costume that does not exist primarily to make people want to remove it is refreshing. Plus: fewer nip-slips.
If you’re stuck for ideas this holiday weekend, here are some unsexed-up costumes:
- Miss Havisham
- Jodie Foster in Nell
- Any and all full body animal suits (NO SPANDEX)
- Kelly McGillis in Witness
- Roseanne after a long day of work at The Lunch Box
- Harriet the Spy
- Mother Teresa
- Our impending mortality
- A serious business lady who values her job and does not want to be fired for dressing inappropriately
- Your own Nana
- A sea-monster
- Joan of Arc
Obviously any of these costumes can be made sexy by adding the word sexy and removing most of the top (your own Nana? Dude…), but that is a decision you have to deal with on your own.
Pin this badge to the ass of your two-person horse costume, and go enjoy some candy.
Do not try to make a sexy Cthulu costume. It usually doesn’t go over well.
Tonight the inimitable L.M. and I had dinner together. The recipe came from the cookbook Harvest Eating by Keith Snow. A Christmas present from my amazing old brother, this has quickly become one of my favorite cookbooks, quickly surpassing even my French cookbooks.
Tonight, Bowtie Pasta with Butternut Squash*
Prep Time 10 Minutes**
Cook time 20 Minutes
1. 16 Oz Box Bowtie Pasta
1. Butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1/2 pound unsalted butter***
2 teaspoons lemon zest
1 tablespoon fresh sage leaves****
1/4 teaspoon kosher salter
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, finely grated.
*I have contact dermatitis when I handle raw butternut squash. Apparently it’s pretty common. If you don’t want your hands to feel like they’re peeling off, I recommend gloves.
**This prep time is super ambitious. It takes me way longer to seed and peel a squash. I would double, at least.
***I actually cut the butter back to half of a stick. The pasta was a little dry, but the sage and the squash really stood out. I might up it to 3/4 of a stick next time.
****Double the amount of sage. At least.
Prince was on the radio tonight. Songs included:
Cross posted on my friend Mark’s blog.
The weatherman said the rain and the wind today
are the result of a bomb cyclogenesis, which means, I think,
that even the clothes under my slicker will be soaked,
that my galoshes will fill with water from the top down,
and that I will shiver for hours when I finally get inside.
How comforting it is to know that a little further down the road
is a friend’s front door, windows already steamed,
buzzer ready for my shivering fingers. And inside?
Soup on the stove, a glass of brandy,
and of pair of dry socks he’s been saving for me.
American Christians Believe Church Teachings Contribute to Negative Messages of Gay and Lesbian People
by Anne Breckbill, associate web developer
Our recent show on civility with Evangelical leader Richard Mouw elicited many impassioned responses from our listeners, especially on his comments about homosexuality. Some questioned whether Mouw can truly strike a civil tone and see LGBT people as “a work of art by the God whom I worship” while still condemning homosexuality as a sin and opposing laws that would grant the same rights to same-sex couples as heterosexual couples currently receive.
Last Thursday, the Public Religion Research Institute released findings from a poll showing that two-thirds of Americans see a connection between the negative messages that come out of places of worship and the suicide incidence among LGBT youth. The pie chart above illustrates how Americans view the relationship between negative religious messages about homosexuality and the incidence of gay suicides.
This same poll shows that less than one in five Americans believe churches have done a good job dealing with homosexuality. Who feels that they do the best job in handling this issue? I found those results particularly interesting:
“Of all religious groups, white evangelicals are most likely to give their own church high marks for handling the issue of homosexuality. Three-quarters of white evangelicals give their church an “A” (48%) or “B” (27%). Among white mainline Protestants and Catholics, only about 4-in-10 give their church an “A” or “B.” Catholics were most likely to give their churches negative marks, with nearly one-third giving their churches a “D” (15%) or an “F” (16%).
If you’re interested, you can view the topline questionnaire on the PRR website.
Does anyone else have a family Bible?
My mom does. When my uncle passed away last January, she inherited it and this summer when I was back in Milwaukee for a visit she showed it to me. It’s a King James Translation and coming to bits in her hands. But the front cover has a record of family births and deaths, all written in my mother’s handwriting. Some of the pages are dog-eared from where my grandmother would pause from reading it to attend to one of her nine children. Holding this bible is holding a piece of family history in my hands. My grandmother died when I was still very young and my grandfather passed a few years ago, but when I open this bible I can discover what passages meant something to them—I can see where they turned for help or comfort when they needed it.
Can you imagine not having those stories?
The truth is that we are losing stories like this. Public Radio International did a report back in August on the rapid disappearance of the world’s languages. UNESCO reports that nearly half of the world’s languages will be lost before the end of the century. This means, very practically, that these languages are not being taught to children. This in turn means that somewhere in the world, there’s the equivalent of my family bible that is being rendered useless. A piece of family history, of cultural memory, a part a person’s identity is being lost. The PRI report runs about seven minutes and can be found here.
The disappearance of these languages matters because the loss of a language means the loss of a culture, a history, a memory. This interview reminded me of a project in Kerala, India, where the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library is working to preserve the manuscripts of the St. Thomas Christians. Some of these manuscripts are written in a rapidly disappearing dialect, which our digital technician Mohammed Shareef is learning while digitally archiving the manuscripts. The project ensures not only that the manuscripts will be preserved but that the key to unlocking their traditions, stories, and wisdom will be preserved as well. Those manuscripts are the theological equivalent of a family bible, a piece of memory and history that should be cherished and preserved, and not just as an unreadable artifact in a museum, but as a living part of the tradition.
L’esprit de escalier: (French) The feeling you get after leaving a conversation, when you think of all the things you should have said. Translated it means “the spirit of the staircase.”
Waldeinsamkeit: (German) The feeling of being alone in the woods.
Meraki: (Greek) Doing something with soul, creativity, or love.
Forelsket: (Norwegian) The euphoria you experience when you are first falling in love.
Gheegle: (Filipino) The urge to pinch or squeeze something that is unbearably cute.
Pochemuchka: (Russian) A person who asks a lot of questions.
Pena ajena: (Mexican Spanish) The embarrassment you feel watching someone else’s humiliation.
Cualacino: (Italian) The mark left on a table by a cold glass.
Ilunga: (Tshiluba, Congo) A person who is ready to forgive any abuse for the first time, to tolerate it a second time, but never a third time.
saudade (sow-da-jee) (Portugese, Galician) the feeling one gets when realizing something one once had is lost and can never be had again
Another fun one:
Sgriobn: (Gaelic) The itchiness that overcomes the upper lip just before taking a sip of whisky.
Also should be included: Refudiate.