Squash and Sage Soup

“Frugal Feeding” posted a Pumpkin and Sage recipe I’ve made several times with pumpkin, but I’ve also used a big green Kabocha squash. It’s delicious soup – savory and filling!

Frugal Feeding begins by peeling and cutting the squash into pieces to roast. I just cut it in half, scooped out the seeds, brushed on a little olive oil inside and out, and roasted the squash face down on a tray until a fork pierced it easily.

If you do this ahead, you can use the skin and seeds in stock – a nuisance but a wonderful thing. Flavorful stock does make a difference in this soup.

Saute two roughly chopped onions in a little olive oil, and while they cook, boil two halved potatoes until they are tender. (I add another potato if the squash is really big.)

The recipe calls for three bay leaves, and two or three whole sage leaves plus two tablespoons of finely chopped sage. Frugal Feeding adds the whole leaves and three bay leaves along with the roasted pumpkin to the onions. (I misread and added the chopped sage he intended as a garnish – which worked for me – but he might consider that too much sage.)

Stir in a quart of the vegetable stock, and salt and pepper to taste.

Simmer for 30-40 minutes, remove the bay leaves, and use an immersion blender to blend till smooth. If you still have them, put the finely chopped sage on top of the soup as a garnish. (My old friend who lives on Bainbridge brought turkey dressing decorated with sage leaves she’d cooked in olive oil with a little salt to Thanksgiving dinner – they were fabulous and would be perfect atop this soup!)

If you live in a chilly climate like Washington this month – where cupboards are cold and pottery very cold – it’s good to warm the bowls with a little boiling water before serving the soup.

Orange is a happy color in December’s red and green!

Paddington at ease

Joy – and Happy Happy!

One day during my early December visit to Downtown Abbey, Lady Baby and I sat at the kitchen table, slowly eating bowls of white bean soup and reading “Three Stories You Can Read To Your Cat” by Sara Swan Miller. In the first story, it rains and rains, and the kitty wishes for sun, so we started calling out to the gray Anchorage sky for “snow pease!” (badly needed).

Sure enough, when we finished the book, I looked up and pointed outside and asked Lady Baby what was happening? “Snowflake!” she said, and the “l” in snowflake or “mommy’s hair clip” is as amazing as the strong “s” at the end of “Yes!” which has replaced the everyday “yeah” – so precisely said. (I wish I could insert a sound bite here of how the word angel sounds in Lady Baby speak, it’s like her words for thank you, which melt my heart.)

She has some linguistic shortcuts for fact or emotion: “house” means just the living room, “happy happy!” loudly repeated in a pre-bath runabout, wearing just tennis shoes and nakedy body speaks for itself, as does performing a “happy happy” dance while holding the photos of her world’s important people.

You realize, or think you do, how related consciousness and language must be – or maybe it’s just like Mrs. Hughes said at Thanksgiving, Lady Baby’s been thinking all along, but now we understand better because of language.

And, in a difference even from Thanksgiving, something clicked with books this trip, and Lady Baby truly joined her family of readers. Revisiting so many books that had once seemed too long or complicated, we read and read.

“What Pete Ate” the delightful Maira Kalman book in which Pete the dog devours pretty much the whole alphabet became a huge favorite. (Lady Baby would request “Pete ate, Pete ate!”) Listening to Christmas music, we read Christmas books learning the iconography and vocabulary of rooftops and trimming and twinkling, of Dasher and Dancer, and covered the basics – the night before Christmas, the Poky Puppy’s skunk friend, and Clifford, the giant red dog’s first Christmas.

But we also learned a little about sad, the bittersweet part of loving to be with someone, loving someone. She takes me for granted during our weeks together, and then I disappear. The morning I headed to the airport was very hard for Granny Katy. I try to remember Virginia Woolf’s words to a very sad friend “Remember what you have had.” I’ve had joy.

And I wish you Christmas joy!

christmas tree

Christmas Is Coming!

And the WordPress snow should fall past the colors of the season – so here begins that promised happy potpourri – images from Christmas past (nothing to slow you down in this busy time), timeless perhaps, favorites at any rate, particulars of the season – and Lady Baby on Christmas Eve!

Like the old adage says: “Be of Good Cheer – for Christmas comes but once a year!”

red colander

Magic Days – “See-ta” Comes to Downtown Abbey

During a few strangely mild days in early December, I visited Alaska as Downtown Abbey transformed for Christmas – holly and lights, a fragrant wreath for the front door, and a Christmas tree!

The season began one weekend morning when we entered the favorite Christmas tree warehouse in Anchorage – with evergreen scents and happy bustle within. A wide-eyed Lady Baby watched while her parents chose their tree.

At home Mr. Carson quickly put the tree in its stand and gave it water, Lady Baby leaned down, curious to see the tree “drinking.”  We draped some colored lights for cheer, then got cushions and sat beside the tree, with Baby Girl and Boy, cups of tea (a little pottery cup with a tiny bit of water is tea), and books.

The day before the mother of my young friend brought Robert Barry’s “Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree” – do you know it? Mr. Willowby gets a huge Christmas tree, by special delivery, BUT the tree is too tall, even in Mr. Willowby’s palatial living room. His butler climbs a ladder, chops off the very top with a small ax, and takes it to the housemaid, who is delighted. But in her room in the eaves of the house the treetop bends, so she must snip it off with her scissors.

And so it goes, as increasingly (or decreasingly), tiny tops of Christmas trees find homes with bear and fox and hare and finally a mouse family. (I tended to forget the animal recipients but not Lady Baby.) By the third reading, she could tell me which animals got treetops, and she particularly loved the final page spread – Mr. Willowby’s living room, the mouse hole in its wall warmly lit by tiny tree.

So we were primed for the real magic when Mrs. Hughes opened boxes of ornaments, some new and beautiful, felted treasures she made for this season and many made by her mother for their family tree in years past – a glittery owl, stars and straw hearts, a silver angel, birds of paper and wood, and kitcats of all shapes, familiar things like rocking horses, stockings, and a space man. And the central figure – “See-ta” – the guy in the red suit who is suddenly everywhere!

One day we had a lovely afternoon with my young friend and her mother, drinking tea, eating tangerines, and admiring their mantelpiece crowded with nutcrackers and candles. My young friend – now 14 – first decorated our Christmas tree when she was three – so to see her holding Lady Baby now and introducing her to Jane the cat – shared moments from Christmas past and Christmas present.

It’s the small moments that make the season – I hope you can enjoy them all!

O Christmas Tree

Thumbprint Cookies (Vegan)

Thumbprint cookies might be my perfect Christmas cookie (and a fair number have been consumed with no holiday excuse). Tasha Tudor’s thumbprints used to be my favorite, made with white flour, lots of butter, and dollops of sugary strawberry jam.

But recently I found this recipe made with barley flour, which adds to the nuttiness, and oil rather than butter. I printed it, used it, but didn’t attribute my paper copy. Wandering websites looking for the exact recipe, I finally found Blythe Danner’s (she makes them often for her grandchildren). Thank you Blythe Danner!

These are a one-bowl cookie (a big bowl, though I have cut the recipe in half very successfully): combine all the ingredients: four cups of barley flour, three cups of raw whole almonds (crush in a food processor in about 10 two-second pulses), one teaspoon fine salt, one teaspoon ground cinnamon, one cup of canola oil, and one cup of real Vermont maple syrup.

Stir. Form into balls (about tablespoon size) and place on ungreased cookie sheet. Make the signature indents with a digit and fill with a spoonful of jam.

They are so good these cookies, and a perfect way to use up any bits of jam in the fridge (or the really beautiful blueberry jam made with honey by my friend who lives down the bluff). The jam with honey gets a little sticky and chewy, but it sets off the nutty dough just perfectly. (Some blogs I read in my tracing-the-recipe search suggested using ganache, if you like a chocolate-filled thumbprint.)

It takes about 20 minutes for the cookies to be evenly browned. Cool. Eat. Enjoy.

Let holiday cooking begin!

Joanna plate with thumbprint cookie-1

Happy Happy Words (and Yellow Owl Stamps)

When we said our gratefuls around the Thanksgiving table, Mrs. Hughes spoke of her pleasure at getting to know her child in a new way, because now (at nearly two) Lady Baby can express herself.

She lets us know what she thinks – she can say an adamant “no way” when a suggestion fails to meet with approval (when prompted she can also say “no thank you”). And she strings words into efficient, article-less sentences to tell a story: “Frances kit kat hssss!” (Frances had a hard couple of days, being very accustomed to her particular routines, which were completely upset).

Though Lady Baby can count to 10 in English and also in Spanish thanks to her friend RoRo, she cherishes the number two above all others. In a favorite game, I ask how many eyes, ears, knees, heads – getting two as a response (with a laugh for head, she knows better). A fondness for two led to the “Unc Tutu” moniker for her uncle – her holiday’s favorite person. And, of course, the two baby dolls, Baby Boy and Baby Girl, made the trip from Alaska with her.

In a great discovery, she realized that I was her father’s mother. She’d look at her mother and me and repeat “two mommies, two mommies” with such pleasure – and then point out whose mommy we were.

We were 20 people around the Thanksgiving table – including Lady Baby and three other really sweet little people. Two little girls spent the night, and the next day were identified as “two friends!” One of them, a talented eight-year old, agreed to help me illustrate this post.

Last spring as a gift, Christine Schmidt of Yellow Owl Workshop (I wrote about her here) sent me a little box with a selection of her ready-made stamp sets. Learning that Christine has just published a new book, “Yellow Owl’s Little Prints: Stamp, Stencil, and Print Projects to Make for Kids,” I was reminded to get the stamps out. (It’s a really fun book, full of ideas, and I love Christine’s little narratives with each project, as she describes her transition from artist/businesswoman to mom/artist/businesswoman.)

I watched my young artist friend tackle the set of “Beach” stamps. She made her own scene, didn’t follow the one on the box cover. She took great care choosing colors (Yellow Owl has tiny, juicy, stamp pads that make changing colors easy), placing the individual stamps (sand, waves, lighthouse, cottages, and whale) exactly where she wanted them, and then requesting colored pencils to add birds and a sun!

Thank you BTB for your illustration – let’s do it again some time!

BTB stamp print