Category Archives: Domesticity

It’s beginning to look a lot like GAAAAAH!

Look, I don’t want to freak anyone out here, but … it is the last week of November, y’all. There is officially less than a month left until Christmas. And je suis SERIOUSLY UNPREPARED.

Now, I love Christmas. Despite the family drama, the disappointments, the frenetic pace and hemorrhaging of funds from my bank account, it’s still my favorite holiday. Which has just about zero to do with the alleged birth of one Jesus H. Christ, who, even IF you accept him as a historical figure WAS NOT BORN IN DECEMBER do not get me started. It’s all about having a solstice celebration to get us through the darkest part of the year, and celebrating family rituals, and also OMG presents! Presents for EVERYONE! Which really is the awesome part, but also really can be the stressful part, in that I am neither a) Martha Stewart nor b) independently wealthy.

I don’t know if I mentioned in my introduction how many kids there are in my family. There are six of us in total. I’m the oldest, then my two biological siblings, then my three step-siblings. We span a range of 10 years; four girls and two boys. The whole psychotropic Brady Bunch situation we’ve got going not only made for some extremely interesting living arrangements, what with two couples sharing different joint custody arrangements with six kids, it also was a real study in the radically different way members of the same nominal tribe can construe the meaning of the term “family.” Like for example, I personally would say that I have five siblings and four parents, and I typically distinguish between “step” and “bio” family members only when it would confuse other people not to do so. I do not think that all the members of my family feel the same way; each person has their own way of thinking about that grouping, their own sense of who’s in and who’s out, and Christmas is often the time of year when that becomes most apparent. When we were kids it was pretty straightforward: you gave a gift to everyone. As we’ve gotten older and partnered and spawned it’s gotten more complicated. For a while we we came up with an insane gift-giving matrix that supposedly spread the financial and emotional burden evenly around, and didn’t require anyone to give a gift to anyone for whom it might be awkward. This quickly became untenable (for both logistical and sanity reasons) and for the past five-plus years we’ve been in a weird gift-giving limbo, where some of us sometimes get individual gifts for everyone, and some of us do family gifts, and some of the gifts are sort of token/Christmas ornament-type gifts and some do labor-intensive handmade projects and everyone feels vaguely weird about it. Or that could just be me projecting.

Anyway, a few years ago I decided that the only way I could think about the gift-giving thing without losing my ever-loving mind was to figure out what mattered to ME about the gifts. Like, was it important for me to give the same as I was getting? Did I have to give every person their own gift every year or would I be ok rotating? (annually, for example) How critical was it that the gifts I gave be something their recipients specifically asked for? And so on. Which, actually, I think these are pretty good questions for *anyone* to think about at the holidays, and maybe I’m late to the party, but anyway, what I came up with was, 1) I like giving gifts to everyone, every year. 2) This pleasure is not connected to *getting* gifts from everyone, every year. So, you know, I don’t have to have that “well, X didn’t give me a birthday present last year so are we not doing that any more or what?” conversations with myself. I have successfully removed any reciprocity clauses from my gifting platform. 3) I look at gifts as a way of telling the recipient that I’ve spent time thinking about them with affection. And the time and affection are the important things, not crossing items off a list or spending a given amount. 4) Once the gift is given, my part of the ritual is done. Maybe the recipient will cherish it for generations, maybe they’ll throw it in the trash first chance they get. Maybe I’ll get a thank-you note, maybe the person will never refer to the item again. Doesn’t matter. My job is to give with thought and affection, and that’s it.

Which is grand and all, and I really do think it’s the right approach for me and my family, but I tell you what: there are times when I really wish I could just win the fucking lottery already so I could hire a personal assistant to buy impersonal but wildly extravagant loot for my nearest and dearest. (Personal assistant would be third in line, after I hired a full-time, live-in housekeeper and a personal masseuse. Aw, yeah.) BECAUSE IT WOULD BE SO MUCH EASIER. Christ, the time. THE TIME. It flies, and I do not know what I am doing for people! Last year I decided in mid-October that I was going to knit every adult in my family a hat, goddammit, and that’s what I proceeded to do. I think some people probably wear them. I’m sure some don’t. But I make a decent hat, and it was fun picking the colors and patterns to match each person, and amazingly I did not get carpal tunnel from knitting two dozen hats in the space of a month and a half. Mostly that’s the kind of present I like to do: handmade, creative, personal, and functional. One year I did lino-cut prints; one year I made everyone felted things; sometimes I do jewelry.

But this year, I did a show, which just closed. Which means my crafting season got cut down to 1/3 its normal size. And all my siblings have partners. And most of them have at least one kid. Plus parents. And in-laws. Also kids’ teachers. And probably some friends. Plus broke, plus kids to take care of and classes to teach. (At least the holiday cards are done. Thank you Costco for your sweet, sweet cheapiness.)

I mean, it’s the usual stuff, right? Just the usual holiday crap. And of course I’m grateful even to be in the position of fretting about gifts, and not, say, salvaging the remains of my material goods from Superstorm Sandy, or something. So anyway, I’m not looking to get out of giving the gifts this year (attention family and friends: do not, repeat NOT, post comments telling me not to give you anything. I mean it.) But I am wondering what other people do on the gift-giving front, and what good ideas and advice you smart people might have. Also Pinterest. Pinterest will have some ideas…

Autumnal Yumminess

Happy Day-After-Thanksgiving! Did you stuff your face appropriately yesterday? I not only stuffed my face, I worked it so that I only had to make two dishes for this year’s meal, while my awesome stepmother made the rest of the food, including dessert, which was chocolate bourbon pecan pie.


I mean, I totally won Thanksgiving this year. So, while I realize that nothing that doesn’t have chocolate, bourbon, and pecans in it will sound at all appetizing at this point, I did get some requests to post the recipes for the dishes *I* made, and since they turned out pretty yummy, I am happy to do so. We’ll do the savory dish today, and the sweet one tomorrow.

Roasted Butternut Squash & Caramelized Onion Tart

Clearly I need to work on my foodie photo skills.

I only recently came to appreciate the delectable qualities of butternut squash, a situation that I blame on my childhood, during which I was repeatedly made to eat sliced, fried winter squash, something I did and still do detest. Bleccchhh. It wasn’t until grad school that a roommate of mine introduced me to the wonders of acorn, butternut, and spaghetti squash, and I was all, the GOURDS! They are more than just an awesome alt-country band!

Anyhoodle, last year, for a new year’s eve party, I made this butternut squash tart from Epicurious, and it was OK, but I also thought it was kind of bland. So this year I decided to see if I could tweak the recipe to where it tasted more OMG and less Meh. So here’s what I did:

1 unbaked tart shell or 9″ pie crust (good recipe here)

1 1/2 lb. butternut squash
2 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
2 medium yellow onions
1 egg + 1 egg yolk
1/3 c. heavy cream
1/2 c. smoked Gouda, diced into 1/4″ cubes
1/2 c. goat cheese, crumbled
1/2 c. Fontina cheese, crumbled
1/2 c. Parmesan, shredded
1 Tbsp. fresh thyme, minced
1 Tbsp. fresh rosemary, minced

Preheat oven to 400F.

If using a whole squash: Cut squash in half lengthwise (use a rubber mallet – it really helps! Plus how fun is it to use a mallet in the kitchen?), and scoop out seeds & fibers with a spoon. Brush cut sides of squash with 1 Tbsp. oil, and sprinkle cut side with salt and pepper to taste. Place squash on baking sheet, cut side down, and roast until soft, about 40 minutes. Let squash cool a bit, and scoop out flesh into a large bowl.
If using pre-cut squash: Toss cubed squash with 1 Tbsp. oil, a generous pinch of salt and pepper, and pour onto baking sheet. Roast until squash is tender, approximately 25 minutes. Remove from oven and put into large bowl.

While squash is roasting, quarter onion and slice into thin crescents. In a large skillet over medium-low heat, saute onions in remaining 1 Tbsp. olive oil, stirring occasionally, until soft and golden, about 20 minutes.

In large bowl, mash roasted squash until of even consistency. Add whole egg, egg yolk, cream, and stir until blended. Stir in smoked Gouda, Fontina,  and goat cheese (it will be nice and chunky), thyme, rosemary, and salt and pepper to taste.

Spread caramelized onions evenly across the bottom of the tart or pie crust. Pour cheesy squash filling into shell, smoothing the top. Sprinkle shredded Parmesan evenly across the top.

Bake tart in middle of oven until filling is set, about 40 minutes. Cool tart in pan on a rack for at least 10 minutes. Serve warm or room temperature.

Now, you might say anything with that much cheese and cream in it will taste pretty amazing regardless, and of course you would be right. I mean, you could pretty much just throw all the dairy ingredients into my mouth at the same time and I’d be a happy camper. But there’s something about the smokiness of the Gouda combined with the nutty sweetness of the squash and onions and the sharp taste of the fresh herbs that is … mmmmmm. In fact, I think I might have to go heat up a leftover piece for my dinner right now.