Tuesday, January 26, 2010


One of the great surprises to me about growing older is learning that you never stop learning. I admit it's a naive notion. Ever the late bloomer.
Way back when I was, oh, 20 or so, I recall saying out loud something like, "I can't wait til I'm all grown up." I'm sure I was thinking that that would just magically happen when I was 21 or when I graduated college.
Upon hearing this, instead of guffawing, my wise aunt, who was probably younger than I am now, said, "Oh, honey! You never feel grown up." How disappointing, I thought.
I now know what she meant, of course. You never feel "finished." There's always something more to know, learn, experience.
Then there are the unexpected surprises, like -- for me -- learning how delicious, and easy, roasted vegetables are! Why didn't anyone ever tell me!

I knew about roasted red peppers and have made them frequently, but, even though I'd read all kinds of roasted vegetable recipes, and have probably saved plenty -- somewhere -- I hadn't tried to make them myself. I really didn't see how a change in cooking method could make that big a difference. I probably thought something that easy couldn't be that great. But roasting at a high temperature really releases the natural sweetness of a vegetable.
It all started at Christmas time. I learned that granddaughter Emma's favorite vegetable -- of-the-month, I'm guessing -- was asparagus. (It used to be broccoli.) Now, I love asparagus, but usually steam it. And that just didn't fit with my game plan for the Christmas dinner. But I wanted to please her, especially since I thought she might not like the main course, a seafood lasagne. So I adapted and added asparagus to the menu. And I decided to try roasting.

While the lasagne rested, the asparagus roasted. I spread the trimmed asparagus spears, about 2 pounds, on a foil lined baking sheet and tossed them with a tablespoon of olive oil , a teaspoon of kosher salt, and some minced garlic. And they cooked in a 400 degree oven for about 12 minutes. (They were pretty thin stalks; thicker ones would take longer.) I tossed them just once during roasting. And they were just delicious.

And my roasting roll took over the next several weeks. There were roasted rutabagas, turnips, and parsnips. Then, broccoli and, my favorite, green beans.

Wait til Emma tries them!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Organized Beginnings

Organization is something that’s always eluded me. Much admired. So unattainable. Just like those magic eight (okay, maybe 10) pounds. If I’d just lose those, I’d be perfect. If I’d just be organized, my life would be so less stressed. I wouldn’t lose things. Stuff wouldn’t tumble out of closets, drawers wouldn’t get stuck. I’d find one of four instant-read thermometers I know I have in that utensil drawer, when I need it, not later. The picture I want to e-mail would be in the computer, appropriately filed. The missing receipt, in the right file, not crumpled up in a pocket. Nirvana.

I tend to think of organizing as an event instead of a way of life. And I tend to do it this time of year. Fresh start. New year resolutions and all that. And so, I go around the house attacking the worst of them. I have a big list. There’s my desk. Receipts, coupons, clipped recipes, are all living together in clothes-pinned clipped jumbles. (I read a clever hint somewhere, a Martha Stewart Living article about home offices, I think, that recommended using clothes pins with neatly lettered labels to corral stacks of papers. Didn’t work for me. Just looked like more stuff in the wrong place.) There’s receipts, statements, magazine articles, subscription reminders, donation requests, all in paper purgatory.

I figured my spice cabinet was a good place to start my annual “let’s get organized” quest. It seemed like a bite-size project. I could savor some success and then move on to the next drawer, cupboard or closet. It turned into a three-hour project. I was embarrassed to find three containers of ground black pepper and three jars of multi-colored peppercorns, although I do think at least one of the peppercorn jars was a gift. And what on earth was I thinking when I bought six ounces of poppy seeds?

Mustered with resolve, I totally emptied three shelves of the lazy susan. I opened and smelled them all, checked expiration dates, wiped off any stickiness. I combined the duplicates. And then I put many of the spices and herbs into the jars I’ve been saving for months preparing for just this very day. (Storing the motley collection of jars I’d been saving – pickle jars, bouillon jars, other spice jars – became a problem in itself.) And then started the labeling.

Something about that Martha article must have struck a chord with me, because I set about making the weird collection at least look somewhat alike by making new labels for many of them. I wasn’t going to just hand-letter. My calligraphy is wanting. I made a list, went to the computer, fired off my homemade labels, cut them and then used clear packing tape to affix them to my sundry collection, and Voila! I had (what looked like) organization!

It’s been over a week and it has indeed lasted. I’ll see what it looks like in a month after spinning the susan with floured hands, or being in a hurry (i.e., too lazy to get the stool my 5’3” frame needs to get to the third tier) and pushing the offending jar in front of whatever is in its way.

I’m approaching this blog with the same resolve as cleaning my cupboards. It’s a beginning.