My Gift Guide Took a Turn for the Weird

I'd wanted to do a gift guide where everything was "zero dollars or less!" But as that turned out to be (basically) impossible, and as I recently re-watched (re-enjoyed) Sleepless in Seattle, I decided to shift gears. See, as we were watching, I paused the computer screen on the moment above. Remember this scene? Annie (Meg Ryan) has taken the bold step to travel from Baltimore to Seattle in order to meet, errr, confront her radio-crush, Sam (Tom Hanks). At this point, she is in her Seattle hotel, has ordered room service, eaten it in bed, and is now talking to her best bud on the phone.

With the computer screen paused, I said to Matt, "I could do an entire gift guide based on this frame." (It represents everything I want right now: coziness, travel, a hotel room, good hair, confiding in a best friend over the phone!) And so the next day, I started to pull it together, only to quickly realize that apart from finding a comparable sweatpants and sweatshirt combo and linking to a hotel in Seattle, I couldn't really create an entire gift guide based on this insanely inviting image.

But, I'd also recently re-watched the 1995 documentary Unzipped, which is possibly the best documentary of all time. So then I began to think that maybe I could do a gift guide based on early-to-mid- 90s movies. I mean, there is something very charming about a big fat fur pant, right? (You must watch the below clip in order to understand this question.)

Isaac's mention of beast fur immediately made me think of another favorite film from the early-to-mid 90s: Legends of the Fall.
This led me to another one of my favorite early 90s movies, Reality Bites.
Which leads us to some actual gift ideas: coffee, lipstick, and a good t-shirt. (Why is it so hard to find a good, made-in-the-USA t-shirt?)

Which finally led me to (reluctantly) ask myself: but what about some non-90s-movies-inspired gift ideas? You got any of those, Amelia? And the answer is yes. Yes, I do.

1. If you're still thinking of my original idea (the zero dollar or less gift guide), what about offering a friend or family member one night of babysitting?

2. Another low-cost idea? Make a batch of peppermint marshmallows. Or maybe some crazy delicious ginger cookies.

3. There are so many books I want to read right now.
       a. The Great Floodgates of the Wonderworld: A Memoir (because of what Kara wrote about it) 
       b. The House of Mirth (because of what Edan wrote about it)
       c. Yes Please
       d. Friendship

4. Here are also a few books I recently read (or re-read in the case of the first one) and can whole-heartedly recommend as gifts.
       a. Legends of the Fall
       b. Americanah
       c. Delancey: A Man, a Woman, a Restaurant, a Marriage
       d. The Best American Essays 2014
OK, I'm off to go dream of hotel rooms and wide open spaces. See you next week!
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Video: Risotto with Radishes

I guess that so far season three is the season of very pretty recipes?

Risotto with Radishes adapted from Gourmet

For risotto:
7 cups chicken (or turkey) (or vegetable) broth
1 cup hot water
3/4 stick unsalted butter, divided
1 large shallot, chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 pound Arborio rice (2 1/2 cups)
1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano (or Parmesan)

For radishes:
1 tablespoon white-wine vinegar (or possibly a bit more)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound trimmed watermelon radishes (or regular radishes), julienned

Bring broth and water to a simmer in a 3-to-4 quart saucepan. Meanwhile, heat 3 tablespoons butter in a 4-to-5 quart heavy pot over medium heat, then cook onion, stirring occasionally, until just softened, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 6 to 8 minutes. Stir in rice and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add wine and cook, stirring until absorbed, about 1 minute.

Stir 1 cup simmering broth into rice and cook, stirring constantly and keeping at a strong simmer, until absorbed. Continue cooking and adding broth, about 1 cup at a time, stirring frequently and letting each addition be absorbed before adding next, until rice is just tender and creamy-looking but still al dente, 18 to 22 minutes. Thin with some of remaining broth if necessary (you will have some left over.) Remove from heat. Stir in cheese, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and remaining 3 tablespoon butter.

Prepare radishes:
Whisk together vinegar and oil with a few pinches of salt and pepper. Toss radishes with the dressing.  Serve risotto topped with radishes.
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Roasted Heritage Turkey / Thanksgiving 2014

Teddy’s been sick this whole holiday weekend, and while it’s sad to see him confused as to why he can’t run around and play every waking hour of the day like he normally does, it’s also been insanely rewarding to feel him gently rest his head on me (or my leg) and to receive hug after sweet, lingering hug from him all day long.
The only problem with fielding that many hugs was that it didn’t leave us with a lot of time (or desire) to get too clever with our Thanksgiving spread. Not that we’ve ever veered too far from the traditional turkey-potatoes-stuffing-gravy path, but in the past, there have been pretty cranberry jelly molds, cranberry cocktails, savory bread puddings, and just about always some kind of newfangled variation on a pumpkin pie. 
But this year we didn’t even make a pie. Instead, I threw together a humble (though still delicious) apple crisp. This year, I mashed a giant pot of Yukon Gold potatoes with butter and cream and then stirred in an entire bunch of fresh chopped parsley. I also made Ina Garten’s gravy and roasted some Brussels sprouts. Unspecial highlights? Our stuffing came from a bag: Whole Food’s Organic Stuffing Mix Traditional Recipe With Chicken Flavor. And our cranberry component came from a jar—Knudsen’s, I believe. Our turkey, however, was special. 

Because of work, we haven’t been able to meet up with our east-coast-based family for Thanksgiving for a number of years now. And for all of those years, since it was usually just the two of us, we’ve always just roasted a chicken. But this year, we decided to go big. We ordered a 10-pound Heritage turkey and decided that would be the meal’s highlight. And thanks to Matt (thank you, Matt!) who made it, it definitely was. As was the turkey stock he made, which we’ve already used up in a super delicious risotto (recipe forthcoming next week) as well as a critically-acclaimed turkey noodle soup with carrots, fennel, and parsley.
As I write this, it’s raining here in Los Angeles—the first serious rain we’ve had in what feels like forever; it’s a lovely evening and a perfect end to a quiet but great Thanksgiving weekend. 
p.s. I picked up The Best American Essays 2014 a few weeks ago, and the day after Thanksgiving, I happened upon this particular essay, which I decided to read just because of its title (Thanksgiving in Mongolia). It’s one of those pieces of writing so compelling and moving that I can hardly talk about it. Instead, I’m just sending it to everyone I know. Read it when you have a slow moment.
 Roasted Heritage Turkey adapted from Martha Stewart

1 whole fresh or thawed frozen heritage turkey (about 10 pounds), neck and giblets included
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
12 thyme sprigs
6 sage sprigs
3 dried bay leaves
2-4 apple cores
2 onions, quartered
1 lemon
2 cups water, plus more if needed

Rinse turkey inside and out; pat dry with paper towels. Transfer to a large roasting pan fitted with a roasting rack, and place breast side up. Bring to room temperature, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 475 degrees, with rack in lowest position. Tuck wings under turkey. Gently separate skin from breast, and rub butter under the skin on each side. Season outside of turkey generously with salt and pepper. Fill cavity with herb sprigs, bay leaves, apple cores, scored lemon, and onion; tie legs together with kitchen twine. 

Scatter apples and onion around rack. Place neck and giblets in pan. Add water to pan.

Roast turkey for 20 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 400 degrees. Baste with pan juices, and tent with foil. Roast, rotating pan, adding more water if pan is dry, and basting halfway through, until a thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh reaches 150 degrees, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours more. Let turkey stand for 30 minutes before transferring to a platter and carving. Reserve pan with contents if making gravy.
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Almost Famous Women + Pineapple Pie

I’ve been thinking about my grandma a lot lately. It's to be expected as the past week marked a year since she died. But still, it’s been surprising to see the extent to which she’s crept into my consciousness. I’ve thought of her as I’ve monitored the ripeness of the lemons on our tree in the backyard; when she visited us last year it was the end of October, and she’d wanted to make something with the lemons, but they were still too green. Now in the middle of November, just like last year, they’re ready to go.

When she stayed with us, I noticed how her balance was off, how she walked down our hallway with a totter and sometimes a little step backward to catch herself. It’s exactly how Teddy walks down the same hallway one year later.

I thought of her when I placed our order for a Heritage Turkey—the total cost of which will be around $100—by far the most money I’ve ever spent on a single grocery item. I know that Grandma, a purchaser of frozen Butterball turkeys—is rolling in her grave.

And I thought of her just this morning when I wrote the plumber a check for more money than I’ve written a check for in years. Grandma didn’t call service people to come fix things for her. She went to Rolliers, the local hardware store in the suburbs of Pittsburgh where she lived.
But I thought of her most while reading an advance copy of Megan Mayhew Bergman’s Almost Famous Women, a short story collection that explores the lives of talented and gutsy almost famous women throughout history. (To name a few: Lord Byron’s illegitimate daughter, Allegra; Oscar Wilde’s niece, Dolly; Edna St. Vincent Millay’s sister, Norma.) For the most part, these are women of or very close to my grandma’s generation. And as I read, I kept thinking of how capable and resilient they were, two words that come to mind when I think of my grandma (and the opposite of what comes to mind when I think of myself).

And then I got to the story about the reclusive and unapologetically miserable painter Romaine Brooks. The story opens with an epigraph, a quote from Brooks’s notebooks: “We are what we can be, not what we ought to be.”

At which point, I abruptly decided to cut myself some slack.

Because I wasn’t born in 1919. I was born in 1981. I can’t, in good conscience, buy, let alone eat, a Butterball turkey. And I don’t know anything about plumbing. Well, I know now about the water shut-off valve that’s connected to our toilet, which broke, or rather, disintegrated late one night last week, and how water flooded into the bathroom like a hose on full blast that we couldn’t stop up or turn off; it was so shocking that Matt—a pretty handy guy with loads of tools—initially wondered if we should call 911 before he collected himself and ran into the basement to shut off the main water line to the house. (If this had happened while I was alone with Teddy, the house would have surely floated away.)

We are what we can be. And what I can be is a baker of an incredibly delicious pineapple pie.
See, my favorite story out of the collection, “The Siege at Whale Cay,” centers on “Joe” Carstairs, a speed boat racer and Standard Oil Heiress—I’m italicizing the ess to emphasize that Joe is a woman.

The story takes place on Joe’s private Caribbean island and involves a love triangle between three women. There’s also some great food scenes as there is a cook on the island, who at one point is “frying johnnycakes on a pan over a fire, popping pigeon peas into her mouth. Everything smelled of fried fish, blistered peppers, and garlic.”

But when the cook serves roasted pineapple for dessert one night, I immediately knew what I wanted to Bon Appétempt as companion piece to the story: this pineapple pie, which came to me by way of Tim from Lottie and Doof. (Plus, it’s Thanksgiving season and I thought that maybe one of you might want to be an iconoclast and show up at your family or friend’s house with this decidedly-not pumpkin pie.)

Or maybe you want to make it because it’s delicious? The egg, sugar, rum, and lime juice create a custard that surrounds the bites of pineapple, and then this is encased in flaky, golden, buttery pie crust.
Look! My pie slid to one side, just like Tim's!
For the recipe, go to Lottie and Doof! To pre-order a signed copy of Almost Famous Women, go here!
I close with an apology for the lack of new posts and videos. When Matt and I aren’t dealing with Teddy and plumbing emergencies, we’ve been working on publicizing the book and creating really great (you be the judge?) content that we’ll be sharing a little closer to the book’s February 3rd launch date. We’ve even got dates set for our little book tour! If you’re in LA, Pittsburgh, or Raleigh, please please please mark your calendar. The events are going to be fun, I swear. We’re trying to have product to give away (bon appé-tote bags!). Matt is promising to try out some never-before-seen stand-up material. And Teddy may even show up! So, I’ll see you there, right?

Skylight Books (Los Angeles, CA) on 2/3/15
Barnes and Noble (Pittsburgh, PA) on 2/11/15
Quail Ridge (Raleigh, NC) on 2/14/15 (More details to follow)
(Possibly more dates to add, depending on all sorts of things.)

Also, on the off chance this post wasn’t enough to tide you over for a week, here are some other cool things going on around The Net:

An interview I did with the new site, The Short Bread!
My friend Corinne recently launched a new literary journal: The James Franco Review where the goal is "to publish works of prose and poetry as if we were all James Franco, as if our work was already worthy of an editor’s attention." I love this concept and their opposite-of-snarky approach so much. Please read the about section for more info!

Until next time!
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Perhaps the thing I've missed most about my life before Teddy is the dawdling, the puttering, the flipping through magazines and cookbooks, the spontaneous decision to bake a cake in the middle of the afternoon, the long neighborhood walks with Mavis. In short, the leisure time. 

When Teddy is napping, my priority tends to be checking my email, or brainstorming ways to publicize my book, or cleaning, or getting started on dinner, or watching a couple of gymnastics videos on youtube (to center myself), or maaaybe, if there’s time, writing. On the days I have a nanny here, this impetus to mark things off my to-do list is even worse. (How could I pay someone to watch my kid so that I could dawdle? I need to create something great right this second!)
This lack of dawdling is probably why I'm bringing you another recipe I made on my brother's suggestion; I am outsourcing my curiosity, apparently. And by suggestion, I mean that my brother sent me a subject-less email with this link (and nothing more) in the body: http://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1016814-picadillo.  
But in the past few days, I've made a point to get a bit of puttering time in, and honestly, it's been borderline healing. Today, I listened to an old episode of On Being titled, "The Science of Attention." I’ll copy and paste the synopsis of the show now (italics mine):


"What Adele Diamond is learning about the brain challenges basic assumptions in modern education. Her work is scientifically illustrating the educational power of things like play, sports, music, memorization, and reflection. What nourishes the human spirit, the whole person, it turns out, also hones our minds."
Our oven door handle has become a bib-drying rail.
Which begs the question: how many times will I have to continue to learn the same lesson? That you can only push yourself so hard, that some tasks aren't helped along by that encouraging (but more often berating and suffocating) inner voice telling you that you can do it (if only you'd try harder). [Ironically, just now, I looked up the definition of the word leisure and found this: “(leisure for/to do something) opportunity afforded by free time to do something: writers with enough leisure to practice their art.”]

Speaking of voices: I'm set to record the audio version of my book at the beginning of next month. When my editor first asked me if I’d do it, I was really excited. But soon thereafter, I remembered how one of my old bosses hated my voice. How do I know? He told me so! To be precise, his words were: "Ughhh, that voice!" said in the way you might say, "Ughhh, my bulging disc!" But then, I came across this video and now I feel better.
So, here's to puttering! (Or pottering, if you're English.) Both of which are defined thusly: to "occupy oneself in a desultory but pleasant manner, doing a number of small tasks or not concentrating on anything particular."
p.s. The picadillo was great. I don’t love raisins, so substituted dried apricots, which I think worked really well. My favorite bites were ones with an olive in there, so next time, I think I’ll chop the olives into halves or quarters so as to spread the love. Also, we served this with homemade flatbread! Hopefully, we'll post a video how-to soon. They were so easy and fun to make. 

Picadillo adapted from the New York Times
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium-size yellow onions, peeled and chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 pound ground beef
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 ripe tomatoes, chopped, or one 28-ounce can whole tomatoes, drained and crushed
2 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 bay leaves
Pinch of ground cloves
Pinch of nutmeg
⅔ cup dried apricots, chopped
⅔ cup pitted (inexpensive) pimento-stuffed green olives

Put the olive oil in a large, heavy pan set over a medium-high flame, and heat until it begins to shimmer. Add onions and garlic, stir to combine and cook until the onions have started to soften, approximately 10 minutes.

Add the ground beef, and allow it to brown, crumbling the meat with a fork as it does. Season to taste with salt and black pepper.

Add tomatoes, vinegar, cinnamon, cumin, bay leaves, cloves and nutmeg and stir to combine. Lower the heat, and let the stew simmer, covered, for approximately 30 minutes.

Uncover the pan, and add the dried apricots and the olives. Allow the stew to cook for another 15 minutes or so, then serve, accompanied by some manner of flatbread or white rice.
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