“Whatever” is usually my first thought when the question is “What’s for dinner?”
Not that that is what I say…
For almost forty years, I’ve been the frontline person in the house for shopping and deciding what is for dinner.
It’s not one of my favorite tasks. I’ve tried at various points to enlist help and can sometimes get an answer if I give people a few choices of what is on hand. There have also been stretches of time when I did hand off meal planning to other household adults, especially during the illnesses of Nana and Paco when I was too overwhelmed to deal with such things – or even to care much about food.
While I have been trying to be better about menu planning and execution recently, I’m still struggling. I think part of it is that I’m still alternating between not feeling like eating or even thinking about food and just wanting to eat anything in sight but not caring much about what that is. It’s likely related to grieving and part of the more general problem of still having limited energy and decision-making capabilities. It’s still difficult to make myself do things.
Or maybe that’s just an excuse or rationalization.
Here in the US, this past weekend was a major event for lots of folks. Sunday was the Super Bowl, which football fans watch for the game and lots of others watch for the innovative commercials and the halftime show. It’s a long period of time so there tends to be be lots of snacking with chips and dip and wings and pizza and beer and such. Some people are binging on winter Olympic viewing, instead of or in addition to the Super Bowl. Many people also moved their celebration of Valentine’s Day to the weekend, encouraged by restaurants who are still trying to re-build their business as the pandemic (maybe) winds down or, at least, this most recent wave.
Things were pretty quiet at our house, though.
We aren’t big football fans. We have only been watching limited amounts of the Olympics, mostly figure skating, and often via DVR so we can watch the events without all the ads and commentary. I admit that I usually watch more Olympic coverage but the complications of Chinese politics and the bizarre participation of Russia with the doping problem still hanging over them make me less enthused about these particular games. The threat of Russia to Ukraine is also casting a pall, especially since Russia has previously used the time of the Olympics to take military action, hoping the world was too preoccupied to notice.
We did observe Valentine’s Day, but quietly at home and on Monday instead of over the weekend. As I am at a point in my grief process where planning celebrations is still difficult, spouse B did the lion’s share of the work, with daughter T contributing thoughtful cards and candles for the table. I did bring home a pot of mini-daffodils and some dairy-free chocolate for B and T, a token nod to the tradition of flowers and chocolate for Valentine’s Day.
B planned and executed a lovely dinner for the three of us. He made individual Beef Wellington with mushrooms rather pâté, served with fresh sautéed green beans. For dessert, he made white chocolate mousse, which was rich and delicious. He chose that because I can no longer eat cocoa but still enjoy the luxurious melt-in-your-mouth-ness of cocoa butter.
A sweet and quiet Valentine’s Day suits me.
Thanks to B, it was what we were able to celebrate.
Earlier this month, I wrote about June birthdays and mentioned B and my 38th wedding anniversary while writing for Stream of Consciousness Saturday here.
Our celebration of our anniversary was different this year. We usually try to go away for a couple of days, usually to a small inn in an historic, picturesque location where there are nice places to stroll and good restaurants.
This year, B did get to take most of the day off from his now-working-from-home job. We did go out briefly for a couple of socially distanced errands and an afternoon visit to the walk-up window at a favorite local ice cream shop, but we made dinner at home with T and had a quiet evening in. All of which seemed right for this somber time.
Thirty-eight years is a respectable amount of time for a marriage and gives me hope that, if we can keep life-threatening disease at bay, we will be able to celebrate our fiftieth anniversary, as we were able to do with our own parents.
Perhaps because we are hearing so much about people changing the date or plans for their weddings, I find myself thinking about B and my wedding, the changes in plan that it entailed, and how it was perceived.
Because B and I were planning to marry shortly after I graduated from Smith College, my mother and I did most of the planning the summer before my senior year. Those were still the days where the tradition of the bride and her family doing most of the wedding arrangements (and paying the costs) was still observed, especially when the bride was young and not established in a career. I chose to be married at Helen Hills Hills chapel on the Smith campus. I had been involved in the life of the chapel throughout my years at Smth, as an organist, choir member, and accompanist and was close to Sister Judith, the Catholic chaplain. The reception would be at the Alumnae House, a short walk down Elm Street from the chapel.
There was no resident priest on campus, so an associate from one of the Northampton parishes presided at mass on Saturdays. I asked him to preside at our wedding ceremony and he agreed. In January, he was re-assigned to a nearby city and decided that he would not come to the wedding. A young priest who was assigned to the University of Massachusetts-Amherst was filling in at Smith for the spring semester became the default priest for our wedding.
This turned out to be very problematic.
He didn’t know me – that I had been serving as a Catholic church musician for over seven years, that I took my faith seriously, and that I had also studied the history of Christianity in the United States and around the world. He also didn’t trust me, which was hurtful. When I met with him to do the questionnaire that is required, he made me swear on a bible to tell him the truth, as though I was going to lie to a priest.
In May, during the reading period before my last-ever final exams, the priest and I were taking a walk on the Smith campus to finalize some of the details. Because B is not Catholic, we were having a ceremony, not a mass, which should have made things more flexible. The priest, however, would not allow any changes in wording, would not allow Sister Judith to read the gospel or offer a reflection, which should have been allowed outside a mass. As we were finishing the walk, he said to me that he thought I would be more comfortable being married in a non-Catholic ceremony.
I was devastated. It was six weeks before the wedding and I didn’t have a member of clergy to preside. I went to the chapel offices in tears. Sister Judith wasn’t there, but Rev. John, the ecumenical Protestant chaplain was. He immediately offered to preside and gave me some different prayer books to look through to find a new ceremony to follow. We had to file dispensations of place and form so that the Catholic church would recognize the marriage and the priest would still read the vows, although they would be from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer. The best outcome was that Sister Judith delivered a beautiful reflection.
People often say that their wedding days are perfect and they wouldn’t change a thing, but there are some things I would change if I could. I would have made a recording of the ceremony because Sister Judith spoke without notes, so I have only memories and not a record of what she said. I also would have ignored the advice of the wedding gown shop and not worn heels and a headpiece that stood up on my head. Because B is about ten inches (25cm) taller than I, they were trying to make me look taller, which seemed silly at the time and even sillier now. Most of all, I would change the trauma and drama of the clericalism that led to my not having a Catholic wedding, the clericalism that still infects the church and causes so much damage.
Our wedding and reception were designed to be an adult affair, so we didn’t invite children. This wasn’t unusual at the time, but didn’t set well with a family member who wanted their grandchildren to be invited. I’m still sorry that those young cousins had a very boring day.
Some of the adults were bored and upset, too, although I, thankfully, was not aware of it at the time. The Alumnae House could serve wine but not liquor, which upset some people who somehow thought they were owed an open bar. We also did not have dancing; neither B nor I enjoy dancing and Alumnae House is not set up for it. After dinner and our delicious spice cake with buttercream icing, a break from the super-sweet white cake with white frosting that was traditional at the time, B and I went from table to table, visiting with our guests. Strangely, after we talked to people at a table, most left, so that, by the time, I changed to leave for our honeymoon, only immediate family and a few close friends were left to wave good-bye.
I don’t regret our reception choices, which reflected our personal style and preferences. I was sad that some guests gave my mother grief, although I didn’t realize that was happening at the time; it was very rude. I was also sad that people were putting their expectations over our true-to-ourselves choices.
My biggest take-away in looking back on the not-entirely-perfect wedding day that B and I had 38 years ago and in hearing so many stories of couples re-defining their own weddings due to the pandemic is that, while weddings are important days in our lives, they are just one day in a marriage. The accumulation of those days, each presenting joys and challenges, is what is most important.
The fourth Thursday of November is celebrated as Thanksgiving Day in the United States.
With so many changes in our family in the past few months, our Thanksgiving was quiet, with just spouse B, daughter T, and my dad Paco here for dinner. B did all the cooking – turkey, two kinds of dressing, mashed potatoes, rutabaga, acorn squash wedges, baked onions, and cranberry orange relish, with apple and pumpkin pies for dessert. It was a lot of food for four people, but we all enjoy having the leftovers. We are in the process of making turkey stock with the carcass and vegetables, something I learned from Nana growing up which has recently come back into food-fashion.
We ate midday here and, at almost the same time, daughter E was eating a Thanksgiving dinner, five time zones away, in London. She had made turkey and trimmings and pies for her daughter ABC, spouse L, and his parents with whom they are making their home. It’s nice that E and L want to keep some United States traditions to pass on to ABC, along with British ones. She is a dual citizen, at least until adulthood. It will depend on the rules in place when she turns 18, whether she will have to renounce her US citizenship to remain in the UK.
Still, she will always be able to celebrate Thanksgiving and remember the Thanksgiving celebrations of her childhood.
On the CBS Saturday morning news show, they always have a segment called “The Dish” in which a chef makes their signature dishes for the show’s hosts. There is an interview on their history, restaurants, and cuisine. At the end, they sign a plate and answer the final question, “If you could share this meal with anyone, past or present, who would it be?”
I am not a chef, but I’ve thought about whom I would choose as dining companions – Rachel Maddow and Stephen Colbert. I’ve watched them both on television for a long time. They are both smart and earnest and have a good sense of humor. Like me, they were raised in the Catholic church. I think that we would have a very interesting conversation.
Today, the United States celebrates Thanksgiving. We are celebrating with a traditional turkey dinner with two kinds of stuffing, mashed potatoes, rutabaga, baked squash and apples, spiced cranberry-orange relish, and apple and pumpkin pies.
We are doing most of the cooking at our house and bringing everything up to Nana and Paco’s apartment for dinner. In past years, we either hosted them here at our house or joined them for dinner in the dining room at their senior living community, but Nana doesn’t have the energy to be out of the apartment, so we are bringing Thanksgiving to her.
We are very grateful to have Nana and Paco with us for another year of celebration and, for the first time, to have baby ABC with us! She is too young to eat any of the Thanksgiving dishes, but she will certainly bring many smiles to our day.
B and I are also very thankful to have both of our daughters with us. Given that E and ABC will be moving to the UK, possibly in the spring, we are unlikely to have them here at Thanksgiving time again for a long time, if ever. We are hoping that T will find a job in her field that is within driving distance, so we may be able to have her join us for the holiday on a regular basis, but, like everything in the future, it is a bit of a mystery.
But this Thanksgiving, six for dinner – with a baby being bounced on knees and cradled in our arms and playing on her floor quilt – is the perfect number, for which we are all filled with gratitude.
I had planned to take her and Paco out to supper; B had a business dinner he had to attend, so he could not join us. Unfortunately, late last week, Nana came down with a horrible chest cold and we decided that I would get takeout from the restaurant instead.
We were lucky in that her cough improved enough that she was more rested and comfortable for her birthday. She got calls from my two sisters and her three grandchildren who are stateside and a special youtube rendition of “Happy Birthday to You” from my daughter E and her husband L, who are currently visiting his family in London. There were lots of birthday cards, too.
I was happy to see that Nana had gotten some of her appetite back when I arrived with the dinners at 5:00. She and Paco really enjoyed their main course, but did save room because I had brought a surprise dessert.
I had made a side trip to one of the local Italian restaurants to buy panna cotta for Nana. They change the flavor they offer on a regular basis and the day’s offering was cappuccino with hazelnut. I hoped Nana would like it.
She did! Usually, when we get it when we dine out, she shares it with someone else, but, for her birthday, she ate it all herself! It was great to see her enjoying it, especially as her appetite had been so low the few days prior.
Just to clarify, I also brought a carrot cake for Paco and tiramisu for me, so we all had a treat.
Nana said it was one of the best birthday dinners she had had in a long time, so mission accomplished.
Best wishes, Mom, for your 85th year! Thank you for making our family what it is and for showing us that something as simple as dinner and dessert together can be a great joy!
It’s Saturday morning and I just now looked at Linda’s prompt. I was so excited that the prompt was “food”! Maybe Linda is psychic, because it is exactly what I would like to write about today.
B and I are on a getaway for a few days and food was a very important part of the plan. On Thursday, we travelled to Deerfield, Massachusetts to stay at the Old Deerfield Inn. We had never stayed there before because it is pretty pricey, but we had discovered that on a weeknight in the off-season, it was affordable.
We had, however, eaten at their restaurant, Champney’s, before, and that was a big factor in deciding to go there. B had chicken piccata , which was a special that night, and I had a steak and ale pot pie, which was made with a local beer and local root vegetables. It was totally amazing. And very hot, because it came baked in its own little iron deep-dish. It took a long time to eat because it stayed very hot.
One of the reasons we love to eat at Champney’s ,though, is that they make an excellent Indian pudding. As people who read Top of JC’s Mind may recall, we have a thing for Indian pudding. It’s a tradition in B’s family and I have even written poetry about it! (Poems here, here, and here with recipe here.) Being pretty full after our main course, B and I savored a serving of Indian pudding together. Amazing!
Like most inns, breakfast in the morning was part of the deal. I had fresh local yogurt with fruit and homemade granola and a half order of French toast with local maple syrup. B had French toast with scrambled eggs. Then, we ambled out for the day.
We were heading to Lenox and went via Northampton, where I attended Smith College. We had some lovely soup in Thorne’s market – potato leek for me and sausage lentil for B – but then moved on to the real place I want to eat – Herrell’s Ice Cream. Herrell’s was new to Northampton when I was at Smith in the late ’70s – early ’80s and makes astonishingly good ice cream, or, as New Englanders are wont to say, wicked good. I chose malted vanilla, which is one of my all-time favorites. I was afraid B, who is lactose intolerant, would have to settle for sorbet, but they had a couple of “no-moo” flavors, so B got to have peanut butter no-moo. Yum!
We proceeded to Lenox to stay at the Cornell Inn, where we have often stayed on getaways. We had made a dinner reservation at Alta, one of our favorite places in Lenox. B and I shared a salad that featured candied pecans and fried Brie and moved on to our main courses. I had trout, which was excellent. B thoroughly enjoyed pork cheeks braised in cider and served over squash and other seasonal vegetables. If it weren’t a Friday in Lent, I would have sampled it. He said it was great. We wondered if they were really pork cheeks, but I think they must have been as Alta is very particular about all of their menu items.
This morning, we enjoyed breakfast at the Cornell Inn. Breakfast is a highlight of any trip here, as there is always a lovely variety of homemade options. Today’s selection included broccoli fritatta, berry crisp pancakes and cinnamon french toast, mixed berry and oatmeal blackberry muffins, and fruit plate with yogurt on the side. So good!
Now, I am writing this post, but, in a bit, we will check out and head up to Williamstown to stay with a high school friend. Her husband is a (mostly) retired chef, so more great food is on the agenda!
Today, Catholics celebrate Epiphany, commemorating the visit of the magi to the infant Jesus. Technically, it should be celebrated on Jan. 6th, bringing to a close the famed twelve days of Christmas, but Epiphany gets moved to a Sunday in the modern liturgical calendar. Also, the liturgical season of Christmas extends through the celebration of the Baptism of the Lord the following Sunday. (Can you tell I spent many years serving in liturgical and music ministry?)
I posted about our Christmas Eve and Day, but haven’t filled in much of the rest of our Christmas observance. We do try as much as possible to observe Advent as a time of waiting and preparation, even though culturally in the US, most of December is packed with Christmas festivities which end on Christmas Day rather than begin there.
One of the things that helps us extend our celebration of Christmas is the arrival of my sisters and their families after Christmas. This year, they arrived on Dec. 26. We met at my parents’ apartment for food, fun, Christmas cookies, and gift exchange that afternoon and evening, followed by a big dinner at our house on the 27th.
We inherited the making of family dinners when my parents first moved to an apartment about ten years ago. Part of the inheritance came in the form of the electric rotisserie that I remember from my childhood, on which we made a traditional rolled beef rib roast. We served mashed potatoes, gravy, popovers, rutabaga which my parents prepared, baked onions, Aussie-style bread which our son-in-law made, and fall vegetable chili, which is made with carrots, parsnips, sweet potato, onion, tomato, and red and white kidney beans.
For dessert, we had four pies: apple, pumpkin, apple blackberry, and cranberry meringue, an addition to our pie repertoire made by our older daughter and her husband. Four pies may seem like a lot for fourteen people, but we always want to have some left over for breakfast the next morning!
Unfortunately, work schedules and threatening weather intervened and both sisters and family had to return home on the 28th. That left us two days with our older daughter E and son-in-law L before they had to fly home to Honolulu. We went out to lunch at a couple of our favorite local eateries, spent time with the grandparents, and enjoyed quiet times at home.
On the morning of the 29th, we were all up at 4 AM to get ready to bring E and L to the airport for a 6 AM flight to Newark and then on to Honolulu. We wished they could have stayed longer, but were very grateful to have them with us for a week.
Epiphany is traditionally the day that we take down our Christmas tree, although we were late putting it up this year and it isn’t dropping needles, so maybe we will wait until next weekend. B returns to work on Monday and next week’s calendar is filled with appointments, so it is back to reality, or at least what passes for routine, tomorrow.
This post is part of Linda’s JusJoJan initiative. Join us! Read more about it here: http://lindaghill.com/2016/01/03/just-jot-it-january-3rd-frozen/
I think we are finished baking Christmas cookies. B did the bulk of the work, with assists from me and T.
gingerbread with frosting
cranberry pistachio biscotti
We also have homemade fruitcake which is made with dried fruits rather than candied.
There is still a batch of fudge to make to be ready for Christmas dinner dessert.
Lasagna will be the main course. We started making it for Christmas Day when my daughters and I were involved in choir for children’s Mass on Christmas morning. Lasagna was an easy thing to prepare ahead and pop in the oven after church so we could still have dinner at noon. We always make the lasagna using the recipe my mom used to make. Because she grew up in an Italian immigrant household, she always had Italian food for Christmas, so we appreciate making that our tradition, too. It’s even more special that she is here to share in our Christmas dinner, along with my dad and B’s mom.
This year will be even more fun because daughter E and her husband L arrived today from Honolulu. We are so excited to have both daughters and our son-in-law here to celebrate with us!