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HYGGE

I am sure you have read about this. Pronounced hoog uh. The art of being cozy when things are cold, grim, and bleak out there. Here in the United States, we have never needed hygge, but boy oh boy do we ever now.

Hygge is practiced in the places where people have had to stay inside for months during long, dark winters. In the Scandinavian countries, for instance, where it is dark for long stretches in the wintertime. There may only be an hour or so of daylight. Or Alaska, where it isn’t only dark outside, but those igloos are so dim.

What these people do is get totally cozy. They light fires. I think there are fires even in igloos, but I am not sure about that–you can Google it. They have candles everywhere. Wool throws and blankets draped over all the sofas. Again, not sure about igloos and sofas.

They take part in cozy activities, such as cribbage games, chess, and in more modern hygge homes, probably Fortnite. They drink grogg. I am not sure what that is. So maybe tea. I read about people in small Alaskan villages who go to the community center for dances, chanting, and food. Not so much now, with the pandemic and social distancing, so I guess they stick closer to the igloos. It strikes me that this isn’t politically correct–I am sure that many Alaskans live in houses, not igloos. But the hygge thing still holds.

Other hygge activities are crafts like knitting, candle-making, and simmering huge caldrons of bone broth. This might be a bit tough for vegetarian hyggians, but they must just do more knitting. Other activities for coziness include long, intimate conversations, reading sonnets to one another, and figuring out what to do with all of the bone broth.

As we face what Dr. Fauci has called “a long, dark, winter ahead,” I am eager to embark on a hygge adventure. So I told my husband all about it. This was his reaction: “If you can do all of that stuff by yourself while I am at my studio practicing the accordion, have a blast.”

I was dashed. Because

It takes two to hygge.

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EVERYONE IS COOKING

Winter is coming. Another pandemic winter. We are cooped up. Even Ina Garten can’t cheer some of us, because cooking is what everyone is turning to to keep us healthy, happy, and occupied.

I hate cooking. I have always hated it. Despite the fact that both of my children tell me that they really appreciated the fact that I tried very hard while they were growing up, and they both marvel at the fact that we had salad with dinner every night (I had no idea that this calls for accolades, but I take them wherever I can get them), I never loved meal preparation.

It takes a long time to make a good dinner, and it disappears within minutes, and then, as those wise women throughout the ages have whinged, you have to clean up, scrub the pots and pans, and immediately start planning for tomorrow’s meals.

I have no right to complain, especially since I watched a documentary series about a group of people who actually volunteered to spend one year living as Victorian Farmers. The woman who did all the cooking had to use a coal-burning stove, she had to boil almost all of the food, including mutton, for God’s sake, and she had to kill the turkey before she could cook it. She didn’t want to boil it–who would blame her. So she had to set up an entire rotisserie sort of contraption involving a cast-iron semi-circle thing to hang the turkey from. This involved a wind-up thing to turn the bird, and she had to cycle back (while she was boiling the laundry and using lye soap and a beating stick) every ten minutes to rewind the turkey turner. And by the way, the turkey was indeed free-range from out in the dooryard, but it was scrawny and most likely was the origin of the expression “tough old bird.”

So back to me, the privileged woman in her kitchen full of labor saving devices who only has to open a can of cranberry sauce. I still have to come up with dinner every night. It has to be nutritious and should be delicious. It often isn’t either, because I have cooking fatigue (thank God that woman on the Victorian show doesn’t know me; I hope she doesn’t follow me on Instagram). I like the idea of grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup. I also like omelets, but as you all know who read this blog, those are verboten over here.

So my husband looks at me wistfully and asks if we might be having fish tonight? He loves fish. I hate it. Salmon looks delicious, but it is so damn fishy. Why is it so popular? I answer, “Yes, if tuna salad sandwiches and chicken noodle soup count.” They don’t.

So here are the things that I have perfected during this god forsaken year of COVID-19:

  • Macaroni and cheese not out of a box. I have become an expert at cream sauce, can you believe it?
  • Spaghetti and Rao’s Famous Sauce. Easy-peasy, although my husband is getting sick of it.
  • Having pizza delivered.
  • Frozen chicken pot pies with baked potatoes.
  • Tater tots.
  • Door Dash.
  • Tater tots.
  • Tacos from the restaurant downstairs.
  • And yes, tuna salad sandwiches.

Don’t interpret this as a cry for help and start emailing me recipes. Really. I mean it.

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THE VIRTUAL THANKSGIVING

This year, many of us will be forced by COVID to stay home for both Thanksgiving and Christmas with just the people who live with us at our mailing address. For those who have children still at home, nothing will change. For us grandparents, it looms as a dismal season, lonely and with the prospect of turkey and sad berry sauce.

The concept of the upcoming holiday season is therefore dispiriting. My husband and I haven’t had a holiday that consisted of just the two of us in nearly fifty years. As a matter of fact, I can only remember one sad and lonely Christmas that we spent together. We were just married, lived in a freezing cold, ancient farmhouse, and we opened our presents three days before Christmas in our bedroom in front of the coal fire because I couldn’t wait; and the living room in that house was like a meat locker in winter. As a result, the actual Christmas day was as depressing as hell. We probably had turkey TV Dinners.

But wait. My newsfeed has the solution. Have a virtual Thanksgiving dinner this year! You know how to Zoom already, so Zoom the dinner! You can still eat your turkey together! This gave me a surge of happiness until I broached the subject with my husband.

ME  Hey, guess what? We can still have Thanksgiving with the family! We can Zoom it!

HIM  Huh?

ME  It’s in all over the news. They are saying there is no need to be isolated! We can still eat together virtually!

HIM  We Zoom on our phones. So how would that work? You hold your fork with one hand and your phone in the other? Do a selfie with the stuffing?

ME  Can’t you fix it so we can Zoom on the TV? Everybody else does it that way. So then we could see the family on the big screen.

HIM  Our TV is in the study. You are suggesting we haul all that food and gravy in there? How would we do that? We don’t even have TV trays. If I so much as dripped one tiny bit of gravy on your new chairs, you would have a fit.

ME True. So we could lay beach towels over the chairs.

HIM  And in our laps? Cutting turkey? Where would we put our knives in between bites? Wouldn’t they slide off our plates onto the floor?

ME  I could lay a sheet down. Or the shower curtain liner. Spills wouldn’t be a problem then.

HIM  This is sounding more and more like a nursing home by the minute. And would everybody else be having their dinners nursing home style, too? Won’t that be sort of a mood kill? Would you make me wear a bib?

ME  Ok, then do you have another idea?

HIM  Just drinks. We could all toast each other on The Zoom and then leave to eat like normal people.

ME  Just a bunch of toasts? Then we would be left to eat our meager dinner by ourselves after the toasting? All alone, just us, the small, lonely turkey breast, and the Stove Top stuffing? And by the way, nobody calls it THE Zoom. It’s just Zoom.

HIM  Stove Top stuffing?

ME   Why would I make the real thing for just two people? I was planning to scale it down.

HIM  No leftovers? Turkey sandwiches?

ME  You talk about turkey sandwiches every single year. But you never actually have one, because you are too full on Thanksgiving, and by the next day, you say the turkey is all dried out. So it’s a NO on the sandwiches. I am getting a small turkey breast.

*he sighs*

HIM  So we can all get soused making the toasts, then. Your downscale dinner won’t seem so depressing after multiple toasts. I’ll get a few bottles of wine to have on hand.

ME  If you make a toast, it better not be anything like the grace you gave that one year at Thanksgiving when you wished for “bountifulness to fall upon us.” Because that was the year you had a stroke and our other friend at the table was diagnosed with cancer. Leave having bountiful things befall us out of your toast, ok?

HIM  I will be more specific. But can we at least have Pepperidge Farm stuffing?

We are still working out the details.

 

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THE HOBBYIST

Another pandemic winter looming. Last winter was tough, because I wasn’t prepared to be locked in. Nobody was. So I vowed this year would be different. I need a hobby!

I spent one desperate afternoon looking for one. Here are the things I researched and the reasons why I rejected them:

  • Knitting and crocheting. My daughters both do that. One of them is at the “expert” level. She can knit or crochet Christmas stockings, sweaters, gorgeous throws for the sofa, and my God, she even crocheted little pumpkins for her daughter’s daycare (socially distanced) Halloween party. So why learn this? Gilding the lily.
  • Puzzles. I have a kitten.
  • Wood burning. That consideration lasted only a split-second. I thought of the west coast wildfires, and didn’t want to be responsible for midwest wildfires.
  • Felting. But the description mentioned that there would definitely be what they euphemistically termed “a learning curve.” No way.
  • Building kits. What would I build? Would this require math skills and/or precision use of an Exacto knife? Dangerous and also way above my ability level. I know myself.
  • Macrame. Oh, my God. I would be lost in the 70’s forever.
  • Beading. See “kitten,” above.
  • Painting kits. I would LOVE to do that! To paint silk scarves, make wrapping paper, and wall art. Then I realized that I live in a beautiful apartment with pristine floors and counters. Paint drips and splatters would be frowned upon.

I did find a kit I will try. It was on the Crafts for the Little Ones area of my Amazon app. I got a dozen sheets of stamped beeswax and twelve accompanying wicks. All I have to do is roll them up, and voila, CANDLES! This will kill a good twenty minutes!

The quest continues.

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GETTING BY

The pandemic surges on. Although I see people on the streets, and my Instagram feed is full of scenes of folks enjoying socially distanced meals at outdoor restaurants, many of us remain inside, still warding off the virus at all costs. Safe at home.

I don’t like to go into stores, so I shop online. This is not something to take lightly. Here’s the thing: if you are actually IN the store, you don’t have to know very much. You walk up to the produce section, and you see, for instance, grapes. They are in bags. You see a bag that looks promising, you reach into said bag and try a grape. Is is sweet? Seedless? Ok, then. You put that bag of grapes into your cart.

I, on the other hand, am sitting on my sofa. I put the word grapes into the grocery store search bar, and a nice photo of a cluster of grapes appears. I click “add to cart.” But then a screen pops up that asks me how many grapes do I want? A quarter pound? A half pound? Two pounds? I try to envision what a quarter pound of grapes looks like, because  grapes can’t possibly weigh very much. Confused, I decide to choose the quarter pound. When I pick up my curbside groceries and unpack them, I have a sum total of thirty five grapes.

So, the next time I shop, I remember this. I am ordering tilapia, and I am not going to be duped! When I add the fish to my cart and that little box pops up, I boldly click two pounds. Ha! I won’t be fooled again! How much tilapia did I get, you ask?

Too much tilapia.

I have wrestled with this for months. I thought I was getting a fair supply of Tylenol, and the tiny bottle in my grocery bag had a mere thirty pills. That little Bota Box of Cabernet I ordered, just for a nice Sunday pasta dinner for the two of us? It turned out to be one of those party boxes. We have been having Cabernet now for about two weeks. It is getting a little vinegary for my taste, but my husband soldiers on.

It’s a skill. It takes practice. By the time the pandemic is over, I will be able to tell you how many fluid ounces constitute just enough laundry detergent to do a reasonable amount of loads, and how much to order if you work in a prison laundry.

I will be able to advise you that you should just order the small jar of pickles, and that it is better to tell the store exactly how many apples you want, rather than estimating how many pounds of them you can actually consume in a week.

But here is my most valuable advice:

Learn what items are sold separately, and which ones come in packages of two or more.

Because I ordered one box of “lunch size” Fritos for my husband. It was from Costco, but still. At curbside, the box did look sort of big, but I didn’t worry too much until I got home to discover that my husband would be having

FIVE DOZEN BAGS OF FRITOS.

A word to the wise is sufficient.

 

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TO ANYONE WHO HAS EVER WRITTEN A BOOK

Dear Author of every book,

I would like to thank you. Do you have even an inkling of what you are responsible for?

You are the one who removes us entirely from our own bodies. We enter the souls of your characters. We want the best for them. Yet sometimes we hate them so much that we would like to call you on the phone, the one who invented them, and shout at you with frustration. Why are these people so horrible? Why did you make them so evil? But then we realize that hating somebody on the page is preferable to despising a real person. We have to remind ourselves that those villains are not real. Even if they are based on actual villains. But they help us forget the actual villains, if only for awhile.

You make us hungry sometimes. For scones, hot thick soup on a wintry day. For toast, with crumbs left behind in the sheets. You make us wish we had a green thumb or liked to hike. You remind us to lock the doors. You sometimes make us wish for sex or even simple romance. . We look at our own partners and wonder “How on earth did I end up with them?”

Sometimes, when we are so very lucky, you transport us altogether, and we forget who we are, where we are, if we had breakfast, lunch or dinner, and if we need to go to the bathroom. Your characters whisper, shout, sing, or simply talk to us in language our souls can understand.

You make us mourn when the book is finished. Or sometimes, you make us laugh so hard that it is a relief that the book is over so we can catch our breath. You give us hope, dash those hopes sometimes, but you never leave us without a lasting impression.

Some of you do this better than others. Some of you have the sort of genius that the rest of us envy and wish we had. Some of you are so brilliant that your words will speak to people who have not even been born. Your work lives perhaps even after you yourself have died.

Some of you are not great. Maybe you aren’t even good. But you invent a story that is so compelling that your ability to tell it well can be overlooked in the simple thrill of following the threads of your plot until the surprising or twisted ending. We can forgive you for your lack of brilliance stringing words together, because you came up with a damn good story.

But those of you who can tell a story as well as thread it with the brilliance of your words–you are the masters, and we are all thankful that you exist, that you write, and that you enhance our lives with every word.

Times are very uncertain right now. You know who is saving us? It’s those magnanimous writers who share their souls with us and keep us sane, enlightened, hopeful, heartbroken, happy, scared out of our wits–all that and more. We are grateful.

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FLOATING

Another week has passed. My thoughts are many and varied

  • I want to buy all of the items that are advertised on Instagram
  • I watched the Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma and immediately got off Facebook, but now I will never again know what every single person around the world had for lunch
  • I read an article before I left Facebook that said there are only three areas you need to wash daily, and so you don’t need to take so many showers. You know two of them. But who would have guessed that FEET was the third thing?
  • I feel sorry for the catalog people who continue to try to convince all of us who have worn nothing but leggings, sweats and pjs for months that we need to buy blazers
  • Today I put on some makeup and was stunned at how good I looked
  • This was a relief, since I thought I had aged ten years since the pandemic, when it was merely the absence of foundation and eyeliner
  • Every single person who lives in a studio apartment and has stayed there during the pandemic deserves some sort of huge award
  • Graham crackers are vastly improved with butter spread thickly upon them
  • I think Dr. Fauci sounded much more manly before he had that node removed from his vocal chords
  • My husband and I are definitely running out of things to talk about
  • I have fruit flies and so I guess I have to give up bananas
  • My husband still hates omelets
  • Pretty soon we will all run out of shows to watch on tv and will be forced to learn how to play Pinochle
  • Getting groceries online is a great way to reduce coronavirus risk, but this week I got a spaghetti squash a big bag of kale. This was a complete surprise. I wonder what the person who received my extra large bottle of Ibuprofen and the six pack of White Claw is thinking right now
  • Businesses who have had a tough time because of the Corona virus: movie theaters. Businesses that have boomed: all the Tractor Supply and Farm and Fleet stores
  • They won’t let me have a chicken in this apartment complex
  • I wish Judy Woodruff would broadcast the PBS Newshour from her kitchen instead of her study

Stay safe out there.

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MID NIGHT

The pandemic keeps us up at night.

When it affects me, I try to sort my thoughts into constructive sequences. I think about all the others out there who are probably awake, and I take comfort in the fact that I am not alone.

Yet I am alone. We are all alone in this. Perspective helps us when we remind ourselves that we haven’t lived through WWII and never experienced The Holocaust. The Great Depression was what our parents or grandparents knew. Most of us escaped polio. I myself escaped/survived two serious cancers, one of which required three surgeries to rebuild my face. Perspective and privilege. I have the privilege to wait out this pandemic in comfort.

Perspective is hard to come by, though, at three in the morning.

So I think about the two children in the photo above, and though I haven’t seen them in months, and may not see them for months more, they are part of me; and I am so thankful that in these days of technology, I can have face to face (almost) conversations with them often, and I can write them stories and record myself reading those stories to them.

I think about them racing down the halls of our apartment building, throwing their stuffed animals to see which one can throw farther. I think of them shouting off the balcony, and riding the elevator down to the club room to get hot chocolate out of the machine. And I laugh to myself remembering the time Birdie pushed the emergency button and two fire trucks arrived in full regalia.

They will be back. They will be older. It might not be so fun to run down the halls. But they will be back. Families will reunite. Turkeys will be roasted. Presents will be opened. It may not be in 2021, but it will happen again for all of us.

In the meantime, in the darkness, I think of those two faces as I finally drift off to sleep.

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BEHIND ALL THE WINDOWS

We are all still in. Maybe not all of us all of the time, but most of us most of the time. How many of you are sighing right now? Looking out your window into the evening darkness, wondering what all the other people are doing? Let’s talk about stuff you might do out there in COVID land tonight. Not OUT out there. You know what I mean.

What are you cooking? Bread is so yesterday. Nutrition is the one constant that we all rely on to sustain us through this. That and masks. I don’t make masks. I have bought hundreds of them, it seems like, but most of them fog my glasses. This is a digression from the topic sentence. Ahem. So. What am I making?

My partner, who  I am married to, but “partner” sounds so current–is getting tired of pasta. I cannot understand how any human can get tired of pasta. As a result, I am looking for other things to have for dinner, and I found the best recipe for Welsh Rarebit ever. Since fresh tomatoes are so plentiful right now, this recipe goes so well with them on what Ina Garten would call “good toast.” If we ate bacon, I would put that on the toast first, then the tomato slices, then the rarebit. But it is just fine without the bacon.

Serve it with what Ina would also identify as “good salad greens.” Now, in my case, since I am ordering my groceries online, I take whatever greens I can get, good or otherwise. Furthermore, since I don’t excel at salad dressing, sometimes I skip the whole salad idea and move on to frozen peas.

So. Here is this recipe, and you can send me hundreds of emails using the contact form on this blog to thank me.

WELSH RAREBIT

2 T butter, they say unsalted, but really, I am not Ina–use any kind

2 T flour

1 t Dijon mustard, and yes, the Poupon

1 t Worcestershire sauce (spelling that took three tries)

1/2 t salt–Ina would just throw some in, and it would be Kosher salt

1/2 t freshly ground “good” pepper–my pepper is just average, to be honest

1/2 porter beer–my husband hates porter beer, so I just use beer

3/4 cup heavy cream and DON’T USE HALF AND HALF OR MILK HERE

6 oz. or 1 1/2 cups shredded sharp cheddar, and yes, Ina, good cheddar. Here I just have my husband grate a small mountain of cheddar and use it all

2 drops (come on–3 won’t kill you) of hot sauce

Toasted rye bread or any kind of GOOD bread you like. But I can tell you that Wonder Bread does not cut it in this recipe

 

Melt the butter in a saucepan on medium heat. This is so confusing if you just moved and got a new electric stove. These stoves are SO DAMN HOT. So be careful not to get it ramped up too high, or you will burn everything. Gradually stir in the flour, and I mean GRADUALLY, or it will clump all up and make you so nervous. Cook the flour paste for some seconds so that the raw taste goes away. Ina says to do this, so I do, but actually I have no idea how long it takes for flour/butter to not taste raw, because I DON’T TASTE IT.

Now. Gradually stir in the beer. Let that sort of thicken around. Gradually add the cream, and bring to a simmer until the entire sauce is thick. Add the mustard and the W sauce, which I am not going to spell AGAIN. And the hot sauce. And the pepper. Cook for a while, until you think it is time to add the cheese. Add that gradually as well, and stir until it melts. Sometimes I add in a Sargento cheese stick or two as well, for the whole thoroughly cheesy, melty experience.

This stuff will be very thick. So thick that you might be worried that you went overboard. You didn’t.

Butter the toast, put on the tomatoes, and ladle the rarebit over that. Dish up the peas along side, unless, of course, you are a salad maven.

We have wine with this, but of course it’s Bota Box. Ina would have Cabernet or something.

Try this. It will make your evening at home. Afterwards, look out your window and gloat.

 

 

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