Happy Thanksgiving, dear lovely readers! It’s a good day to be alive.
I am spending Thanksgiving by myself for the first time ever. It sounds sad, and I was feeling rather sad about it until last night. My niece called me and we had one of our best phone conversations yet. Lydia is three and a smidge years old, so talking on the phone with her is a pretty big deal. I find almost everything she says or does to be unbearably adorable, such as when she asked me when I’m going to be there (December 18th!) or her response to my telling her that I’ve already bought her Christmas present (“What is it?”). I told her I was wearing a pink sweater, and she replied, “Ooh, I really really really like pink.” I love that she loves pink. And I swear I had nothing to do with her pink obsession!
Talking to Lydia cheered me up and today I’m not sad about being alone. I feel fine. I suppose I consider myself lucky that I enjoy my own company so much. I’ve always been a bit of a solitary creature, one who needs to retreat from the hubbub of busy, noisy life. I like to joke about my hermiting, the hours I spend alone, reading, daydreaming, walking, cooking, writing. In theory I should be miserable right now, alone on Thanksgiving, but I sit here on my blue couch, sunlight streaming through the blinds, the refrigerator humming, a faint trickle of water through pipes, my belly gently gurgling in anticipation of the afternoon snack, and I feel anything but miserable. I feel calm, happy, and a little bit hungry. For all of that, I am grateful.
While the oven preheats, let me tell you about a few other things that have made me happy lately. Feel free to borrow any or all of them if you aren’t feeling the Thanksgiving spirit as vigorously as you would like.
* Big birthday wishes this week. Tuesday was my 28th birthday, and in the past couple of days I’ve received a steady stream of phone calls, e-mails, birthday cards, and presents, bringing me happy thoughts. I love birthdays—and not just my own. To all my friends and family, thank you. You guys are the best!
* Fingerling potatoes, roasted with Aleppo pepper and a few stiff needles of dried rosemary. Rosemary, with its almost overwhelming piney scent, is an herb with which I take a light hand, but when combined with kicky Aleppo pepper and roasted on olive oil-slicked potatoes, it is marvelously good. I thank my big brother Charlie for the cooking inspiration last night. He’s Lydia’s da-da.
* Pugliese Artisan Bread, found—of all places!—at the grocery store just blocks from my apartment. Have you tried pugliese? My loaf was delicious, the crumb soft and chewy, the crust a little crisp with the same chewiness as the crumb. The whole loaf had the flavor of good French bread with the delicacy of a softer, rounder texture. I really liked it and I’m crossing my fingers they’ve got another loaf for me this weekend.
* Nigella Express reruns, watched on youtube. I find Nigella Lawson’s books to be very comforting; her prose have the same calming effect on me as a mug of hot chocolate. She’s just as comforting when she’s cooking on TV—almost addictively comforting! In the spirit of actually making something from this newfound internet pleasure…
* Nigella’s Red Pepper Hummus, from the Storecupboard SOS chapter of Nigella Express. This recipe makes a vat of hummus, so I’ve got to find a lot of ways to use it! Luckily, it’s delicious, light and permeated throughout with that unique, smoky, bright flavor of jarred roasted red peppers. My favorite way to eat this hummus is on top of thin slices of pugliese bread that have been toasted and slathered with cream cheese. The warm chewy bread, the rich tangy cheese, and the hummus come together to make one heck of a piece of toast. Yum.
* A kitchen ritual, remembered. I’m not a religious person, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate the comforts of ritual. Three or four years ago, my friend Shawn Marie and I went down to the shores of Lake Michigan, where I found a small stone for my kitchen. The stone was a gently tapered oval, a dull red with black speckles and a tiny bit of glitteriness. I went back home, scrubbed it off, and dabbed vanilla extract and cinnamon powder on it. At the time, I was deeply immersed in the prose of Witch in the Kitchen: Magical Cooking for All Seasons by Cait Johnson. I loved all the ideas for infusing your cooking space with magic and power; the whole thing resonated with my deep-seated need to nest. My Lake Michigan stone, properly blessed after its vanilla-and-spice anointing, made me feel happy and connected to my new home, inside and out. Yesterday, I walked to a park in my neighborhood and found my Texas stone. It’s smooth and oval-shaped, with speckles of purple and beige throughout. If you catch the right side in the sunlight, it sparkles. It feels heavy in my hand. Since last night it’s been hanging out on my stove, absorbing all the good Thanksgiving cooking vibes, and tonight I’ll give it a ritual of its own and place it next to the Lake Michigan stone.
The stone ritual isn’t really about magic in its supernatural form; it’s about emotional nesting and a sense of place. I make my place in the kitchen because that’s where I like to be. For now, I make my place in Texas because that’s where I’ve pinned my future hopes. The kitchen stones connect me to my past along the shore of Lake Michigan and my present in Texas. Without my knowing it, they may even connect me to my future. The Lake Michigan stone actually matches the countertops of my Texas kitchen!
* Cornbread, even tastier the second time around. Did y’all make your batches of White River Cornbread? Please do, because you are in for a treat. Those cornbread leftovers are perfect for Daphna’s Baked Apple French Toast. Their corny, toothsome crunch melds seamlessly with the sweet custard base and meltingly soft apples. I used one and a half cornbread wedges from a six-wedge batch for the French toast, replacing the wheat bread with cornbread. Really, I think many cornbreads would be great in this recipe, but I’m especially partial to the White River Cornbread because its texture is so lovely. This weekend, when you are staring at an army of leftovers from Thanksgiving dinner, remember this post and bake some French toast for brunch or an afternoon snack!
* The evening routine, revamped. I’m about to confess something really embarrassing: I am addicted to the internet. I feel comfortable saying it here because I suspect a lot of you struggle with the same habit. I find the internet to be very soothing—it fulfills a lot of needs for me in one fell swoop, which explains its power over me. I can’t exactly quit the internet cold turkey because my job relies on it, but I can attempt to reclaim my evenings from endless hours of clicking and staring. My new routine: computer curfew at 9 PM, followed by something calming, like yoga. All clean and ready for bed by 10:30, lights out at 11 PM. Now, my new routine hasn’t exactly become routine yet—I broke my curfew last night—but it is making me quite aware of my absorption in electronic media. More importantly, I’m noticing a striking difference in the quality of my sleep when I do obey the curfew: I feel much more rested and energetic when I wake up the next day. I’m going to keep working on making my new routine a set of habits. I feel better just thinking about it!
Dear reader, I wish for you peace, comfort, and joy this holiday season. May you always have enough of everything you need—vanilla, cinnamon, love, whatever. Take good care of yourself.