Reading Twilight

Well, it’s bedtime, but I don’t feel like going to bed. Dave’s doing the taxes and I’ve been reading Breaking Dawn, the last book in the Twilight series. My friend Emily started this by passing around the first book. I was thinking about reading it anyway, because everybody on the bus has been reading it and I like to keep up with the book of the moment. I won’t say too much, because my friend Stu has written a delightfully incisive post about the whole series on his blog, here.

But I’m halfway through the fourth installment: it’s even broken into books, and I’m staring down Book Three. And now I know why Emily grinned superciliously this morning after church, when I ranted about what I thought was going to happen. I was SO wrong. And what seems to be happening is perfect! It’s the only way to solve the problem without making me feel betrayed. How in heaven’s name do people come up with this stuff? Why, why, why do I not wake up having dreamed about vampires and werewolves and write a series that makes us millions? My imagination is rusty. And, quite frankly, I’m not sure I can write the grown-up, slightly misogynistic, sexually-charged conversations this book relied upon. And what’s up with the titles? They relate to each other, but not to the content of the books. Weird.

These things are candy for the brain. They give Nora Roberts (my favorite vacationing-with-Elaina author) a run for her money. A serious, Leah-fast run for her money. The guilty pleasures are the most fun, aren’t they?

Chiles Rellenos

Dave had to work on Friday, so I got up and did some video exercising. I had a project in mind—cleaning up my home e-mail (1193 messages in the inbox!)—so I worked on that along with emptying the file folders that hold our bills and paperwork for the year. It’s nice to start a new year with the house cleaned up and everything ready for a fresh start. Around noon I took my bike to the grocery store to buy groceries for the next few days, since I was planning to cook several good meals. We get so busy during the working weeks that we eat whatever’s fast instead of trying new, slow food.

I wanted to try cooking chiles rellenos, one of my favorite Mexican dishes. Dave and I both enjoy watching Rick Bayless on PBS, so I found his recipe online and bought the ingredients. I read it through once and took a deep breath—it sounded pretty complicated. But then I just dove in, hoping for the best.

Sauce and pork filling cooking on the stove.
Sauce and pork filling cooking on the stove.

I had planned to make only cheese rellenos instead of the pork-filled ones, but I hadn’t divided up the ingredients list and had bought some supplies that were only needed for the pork filling. “Shoot,” I thought, “I could do half and half, but I don’t have any pork.” Maybe you’re ahead of me here, but I was pretty impressed with myself when I realized we’d had pork for dinner the night before. I chopped up some of the leftovers—they wouldn’t be as tender as fresh ground pork, but they should work fine. In fact, I made several changes to the recipe. Albertson’s didn’t have any poblano peppers, so I used Anaheim chiles. My raisins weren’t as tender as they’d been if they hadn’t been at least a year old. Rick said to use “high quality” canned tomatoes, but I just couldn’t stomach paying an extra $.50 per can to get Hunt’s. And I used regular old cinnamon instead of canela. I started cooking at 2:00 p.m. and didn’t finish until we ate dinner at 6:30 or so! (I did take a break while the stuffed peppers were in the freezer for an hour.) I gulped down some lunch—my favorite, cold spaghetti—standing up in front of the kitchen sink.

Cold spaghetti lunch.
Cold spaghetti lunch.

This recipe called for several steps. The tomatoes for the sauce had to be blended and reduced for 45 minutes. The pork filling had to be cooked. Then part of the sauce went into the pork and chicken stock went into the rest of the sauce. More cooking.

Peeling the skin off the peppers.
Peeling the skin off the peppers

Meanwhile, the peppers had to be fried in hot oil to blister the skins, which had to be removed. The peppers were sliced and a finger inserted to remove the seeds (the pepper juice inflamed a burn on my finger, swelling up a small spot just above my knuckle).

Then the peppers were filled with pork (two) or cheese (two). The recipe was for eight peppers, but I halved it for just the two of us. The stuffed peppers were closed with toothpicks and frozen for an hour. I went back upstairs to hang a shelf and pass paint out the window to Dave. (He’d arrived home and was repainting the spot he’d previously gouged with the ladder. See this post for details.)

Stuffed peppers, ready for batter.
Stuffed peppers, ready for batter.

Once the peppers were adequately frozen and I’d repainted a few spots of red in the back of the house that had peeled off with the blue painting tape (multitasking!), I got ready for the next step: frying. Luckily, it was a warmish day with no precipitation, so I could do the frying outside on the gas burner part of the grill. (Dave gets nervous about having hot oil inside. Dangerous—and messy.) First you have to make the batter, which involves beating egg whites and salt until they’ll hold a stiff peak. I’m not much of a baker, so I was impressed by that. Then you beat in the yolks and a bit of flour.

Ready to eat!
Ready to eat!
Outside, once the oil had heated up to 350°, I dredged the peppers in flour and then in the egg mixture. They looked like real chiles rellenos when they came out, fluffy and golden! Finally, after frying, they had to be baked for 15 minutes, during which time you reheat the sauce. Yes, I felt like I had used every appliance in the kitchen and dirtied every dish. But when I ladled sauce into the bowls and added two rellenos apiece, one cheese (Monterey Jack) and one pork mixture (pork, cinnamon, slivered almonds, raisins, and tomato sauce), I felt like Rick Bayless. It was a lot of work, but the recipe was perfect— everything worked just like it was supposed to and the ingredients were proportioned perfectly. I’ve cooked enough now to know that’s not always the case. This dinner was a delicious advertisement for Rick Bayless’s books and TV show. I’ve been thinking about buying Mexican Everyday as my next “international” cookbook, and this tricky recipe made me think that his easier recipes are probably terrific too. I’ll need guinea pigs, of course, so invite yourselves over…

New Year’s Eve and Day

Dave and I spent our weekend off doing more or less nothing, except having fun and storing up energy for 2009. We spent New Year’s Eve with Andrew and Maggie, Andrew’s parents and sister, and assorted friends. It was a really nice evening—plenty of good drinks and several great conversations, including one about authorly integrity that I particularly enjoyed. Andrew’s mom, Cheryl, is a journalist in Amarillo, and two of the assorted friends were also journalists. We got to talking about A Million Little Pieces, a subject about which I feel strongly, especially after a drink or two. The journalists tended to think that authors should be honest about their writing—either it’s a memoir, and therefore all true, or it’s a novel. I pointed out that five people watching an accident will tell five stories about what happened. So what’s true? And I pointed out “New Journalism.” Hard to tell if the feelings described in In Cold Blood were really experienced by the characters, but the book is clearly intended to be “true.” I read The Executioner’s Song not too long ago, and while I was enamored of it for many reasons, one of the things that impressed me was that Mailer built an extremely complex character out of various writings and interviews—a character who was real. Yet I had the sense that Mailer could’ve described Gary as a monster with equal veracity. I really disliked journalism in college, mainly because I was far too shy about interviewing people and I hated to edit my precious words down at all. (After writing 599-word book reviews for a year, I’ve come to see the value in starting longer and editing down, but it’s still painful!) But I’m also annoyed by the failure of imagination that causes us to feel cheated and lied to if events are portrayed as true and then turn out not to have happened. What about Truth?

The first sunrise of the year, from the bedroom window.
The first sunrise of the year, from the bedroom window.
New Year's Day dinner.
New Year's Day dinner.

Oy. I meant to tell you that we had a nice time on New Year’s Eve. The next day, we woke up to a gorgeous sunrise. I slept in and Dave made scrambled eggs and bacon for breakfast. We watched some bowl football, sat at the coffee shop, and headed into Boulder to go to REI and Bed, Bath, and Beyond. We ate a wonderful, traditional New Year’s Day dinner of pork roast, potatoes, onions, carrots, and sauerkraut with apples.

Jess making a duck beak out of oplatky.
Jess making a duck beak out of oplatky.

We drank some of our favorite wine and Dave broke off some oplatky for each of us. The candle flickered straight up, not choosing either one of us to be absent next year. (We’re likely to be out east visiting family, actually.) All in all, a very nice start to the new year, complete with rest, continued traditions, and the two of us enjoying each other’s company.

Merry Christmas!

Dave cooking in his robe.
Dave cooking in his robe.

I repeat, Merry Christmas! We went to the 11:00 p.m. Christmas Eve service at church last night, so we got to start our celebration in the car as the new day turned over. It was an interesting service, meant to be contemplative, so it didn’t have as much singing as we would’ve liked. But it was also nice to celebrate in prayer. I remembered and prayed for some of the people and causes that a shinier, more exciting service would’ve left in the background. It brought a new feeling to the words “holy night.”

Of course, I missed riding home with Mom after “babysitting” the Linden kids while they slept and their parents went to the late service. I can’t believe it’s been so many years! And I missed hearing Dad sing the men’s part of Joy to the World. (Dave has filled in—how smart of me to marry someone with a beautiful voice!) Dave and I have developed our own traditions—a mix of his, growing up, and mine. Attending the very late church service is his contribution. I play Santa’s helper. (I bolted awake at 4:00 a.m. and padded downstairs to fill the stockings with candy, an orange, razor blades, socks, and new toothbrushes. We’re grown-ups, for sure!)

Dave tossing his orange.
Dave tossing his orange.

Dave cooked bacon and eggs while I made coffee. We showered and then opened the masses of gifts that were piling up under the tree. We’re very well loved!

Tree with presents.
Tree with presents.

We got lots of great gifts this year. Money is always welcomed, and we got some other really thoughtful presents. Everyone knows us so well. All of the clothes, games, and books are terrific. Martha even sent some oplatky. She knows that I miss all of those Mazak traditions! We’ll be sure to make duck beaks in her honor on New Year’s Eve.

Dave got me some wonderful gifts—kitchen stuff, including a new cutting board and a whetstone. Who knew that I would ever be thrilled with culinary presents? He also got me a book I’ve been wanting, without knowing that I’ve been wanting it! I buy him socks for every holiday, so he got socks and a fleece jacket with Gore Windstopper. He’s been planning to read James Joyce’s Ulysses—probably so he can brag about it—so I got him a hardcover version (he’s fussy about paperbacks).

Jess and her new cutting board.
Jess and her new cutting board.
Dave's new jacket.
Dave's new jacket.

This afternoon we’re headed over to Greg and Emily’s to enjoy a meal with them; the Bronskis; and some new young adults from church, Katie, Todd, and baby Henry. We hope you’re all having a wonderful holiday.

(To read a post about our Christmas preparations, click here: Getting Ready for Christmas)