what’s on the mind

puff pastry with spinach

This is going to be the one of the fastest post I’ve written here: I’m giving myself 20 minutes, start to finish. GO!

OK, so that picture above—the one of the beautiful puff pastry?—is from Ina Garten, one of those people I wouldn’t mind being more like. She’s so classy, isn’t she? I love watching her and her little husband, Jeffrey. They’re like the wealthy aunt and uncle I wish I had. If Ina were writing this post, she’d probably have something more interesting to say, unlike me, who, I’m embarrassed to tell you, still (STILL!) has very little else on my mind than the weather. (THE GORGEOUS WEATHER!)

If you’ll permit me: This morning, I drove to work with my windows cracked open, fresh, crisp air whipping inside my little Jetta, and I wore my bright-green spring jacket, not the parka or even my dressy wool coat. Everything was so perfect temperature-wise that I actually left the house early so I could stop at Dunkin Donuts and pick up coffee, as a celebration. I’ve decided it’s good to celebrate things like these, which might seem small to other people, just an increase in temperatures and some melting snow, so what? But to me, while I cruised through puddles, Ella Fitzgerald crooning, this was possibly the best day ever.

In the office, where we still haven’t turned on A/C (hello? it’s February?), we had to plug in the upright fan and point it on us while we worked, donning short sleeves and sipping ice water. At lunch, I swear, I was sweating when I got back into my car. The weatherman said it reached 61 degrees today, two short of the record. But let me tell you, walking down my street, you’d never have believed it.

Anyway, while I was driving home tonight (and there was hardly any traffic!), I realized that days like this are the good stuff worth savoring. After all, I’m too eager to tell you when my commute doubles or the snow makes me late. Shouldn’t I rejoice a little when everything’s completely wonderful?

And that brings me to now, when here I am, sitting at the computer, trying to think of what to tell you about the puff pastry, which is really lovely, but all that comes out is weather. What can I say?

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summer around here

stracciatella ice milk

I can’t stop talking about the weather, which I guess isn’t very new to you all. I tend to do this a lot, and I think maybe I should have been a gardener or a botanist or something. I am so aware of what’s going on outside. The two years I belonged to the Morton Arboretum in Lisle, I literally went every week, sometimes more than once, just to be outdoors, away from big buildings and heavy traffic, to sit in grassy fields with a book or walk through forests of fallen leaves. I’ll admit too that I feel this insane sense of wonder at the changing seasons, that watching days of rain and gusts of wind turn autumn into winter amazes me every year and that the first warm days of spring, which hint at winter’s end, are enough to make me powerfully optimistic in areas of my life that have no connection whatsoever to the weather. Even though I know what’s coming in some sense, the fact that it does and that I have absolutely no control over it makes me feel hopeful, happy to trust that which is greater than I.

Here in Chicago, we are having the most gorgeous February days I can remember—warm breezes, melting snow, the need for light jackets and not hooded parkas. I drive down the street to people jogging—wearing shorts, no less! And even though I know this can’t last, I also know we’re near the end. We are climbing down the hill of winter, with much more momentum (or at least more daylight), and I am thrilled. It’s enough to make me waltz into the produce section of the grocery store and pick up two celery roots, having no idea what their price was, let alone what I’d do with them (and then later just to chalk it up as a learning experience that one was rotted). It’s enough to make me clean and organize a bunch of files on a Saturday afternoon. And that same Saturday, while I wore a tank top and jeans and sat next to an open window, it was enough to inspire me to make ice cream.

I recently came into possession of an ice cream maker, complete with its instructional guide, and I don’t know what I was expecting, other than that it would be difficult to use. It wasn’t.

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But for These

fingerling potatoes

Daylight hours, to me, are the ultimate luxury. Getting to choose your activities in the middle of the day—particularly between the hours of nine and five—is the kind of freedom I dream about and the kind that makes me look out my office window longingly sometimes, wondering where the passing cars are headed to at 2:30 in the afternoon. It’s a classic grass-is-greener lie I’m telling myself, I know, but nonetheless it’s there.

That’s why I really love having a day off in the middle of the week. And today, there were plenty of things I could have done—my last haircut was October, people—but instead, I ambled around, playing with my blog HTML (then panicking when I had all but destroyed it), going to the post office (again!), calling and recalling my accountant, running to the library (and wasting too much time there) and going to the grocery store (really, who are all these people that shop in the middle of the day?).

Why is it that when I want time to pass quickly, it doesn’t, but when I want a day to linger, it disappears? This was my day to enjoy hours of free time and my choice of leisure, but before I knew it, it was past 5 PM and the chickens in the oven hadn’t even finished roasting. I’d also burned some kale, dropped everything from utensils to bits of garlic and developed a major strain in my neck from talking on the phone while trying to put together a recipe. In many ways, this would have been a failed day.

But for the potatoes.

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something in return

chocolate panna cotta

Well, I don’t know how things are looking in your neck of the woods, but around here, they’re all bright and sunshine, despite what Punxsutawney Phil’s shadow said. I mean, yes, it’s cold. Oh wow, it’s cold. However, I do wake up to rays of streaming daylight now, and my drive home happens just as the sun sets, and this weekend’s temps are projected to be in the 50s.

Actually, February’s looking better than ever, wooing me with the anticipation of springtime. My eyes have stopped itching, so I can wear my contacts again. LOST is back. I have the day off tomorrow. And, yesterday, I bought 250 white bakery boxes for less than $35, through some online wholesaler that beat all the competition.

As far as the 250 bakery boxes—I probably should explain, shouldn’t I?—I have a few secret plans in the works, and I’ll tell you about them as soon as things are more finalized. For now, though, just know big things are brewing, and cross your fingers for me. Please? The very idea—or really, the possibilities before me—make me giddy with excitement. I don’t want to jinx anything.

Now, since it’s a little mean to tease you like that and also because you were all so nice about my lumpy hummus made with canned chickpeas and no tahini, I feel I ought to give you something in return. You’ve earned it. So I will.

And boy, this is something. Panna cotta.

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happy reunion


I don’t want to sugarcoat this for you, so I’m just going to say it: I am not a patient person. Some of you are, I bet. You’re the ones who wait in line at the post office, on your half-hour lunch break, with a package you’re mailing to your military friend, and when the clerk charges your credit card but doesn’t (!) stamp (!) your package (!) so that, days later, it gets sent back to you, you go right back to the post office with a smile on your face, explaining the situation while you wait for 20 minutes again to get the OK to mail the letter you already paid for.

I want to be best friends with you people like that. Or at least, I want to be patient like you. (And I want it RIGHT NOW.) This is a slow journey, you can tell.

One redeeming factor—if you can call it that—is what impatience does for my eating habits. Like this weekend, I had hummus.

I don’t remember the first time I had hummus, but I can almost guarantee I didn’t like it, not right away. Hummus is different than other appetizer-like spreads. It’s not dairy-based like cream cheese or sour cream, and it’s not exactly a dip, per se. You don’t stick potato chips in it—well, you could, I guess, in the way that you could stick sesame sticks in chocolate pudding (not that anyone here does that, ahem) but you probably wouldn’t.

hummus closer

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