Friday, November 28, 2014

November Ending: Found Family, Food, and Gratitude

November, colder than normal, brought a major snowstorm last week, forcing me to leave home last Sunday so I could be at my apartment near my small college on the hill when Monday dawned. And this is how that Monday dawned. Thankfully, we haven't had more snow and we actually had a mild day here last Friday when my husband and I took the dogs to a nearby park and were able to enjoy temperatures in the 60s. This is Ohio after all.

This week, of course, it was all about getting ready for Thanksgiving. My family doesn't usually visit on this day so for the past few years I haven't cooked but this year I decided I would take out my recipes and menus and invite some friends and a few students who don't get to go home for the holiday. I remember spending several Thanksgivings with friends when I was in college so I like the idea of paying it forward to those who don't get to be with family. After all, the family we make is as important as the family we have.

I started cooking on Wednesday, making the stuffing and cranberries and an arroz con gandules for my vegetarian husband and tried a New York Times recipe for a make-ahead gravy, which turned out to be a great idea. The turkey was 14.64 pounds, just big enough for everyone (we ended up with 8 people here, not counting us!). I seasoned it in the Puerto Rican tradition, with garlic, and olive oil, vinegar and herbs (tried Herbs de Provence this time and it worked out well).

I follow the Martha Stewart recipe, which calls for a cheesecloth seeped in butter and white wine (light butter and an inexpensive Pinot Grigio in this case). After the third hour of cooking the cheesecloth comes off and the turkey looks fantastic.

My husband turned on our fireplace (which doesn't actually work but we rarely get to light the candles that decorate it) and the sconces and the living room looked welcoming and cozy. One student said he was so grateful we'd invited him because "it was great to be at a home on Thanksgiving." That said all I needed to hear.

My sister texted me her famous sweet potato casserole recipe, which I assembled in the morning and cooked over the last 30 minutes, and it was a great hit. We sent the students home with a bag of leftovers to tide them through the reopening of the dining hall this weekend.

I'm not sure why I love spending two days cooking for a few hours of good conversation and companionship but I do. Maybe I like following in my grandmother's and grand-aunt's traditions since they always put up a feast for Thanksgiving and opened their homes to their families. I'm so grateful that I get to indulge in that love with friends and students and my beloved husband and furry children.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Icy November

When most trees in our small city had lost their leaves after the cold spells that November has brought, this maple still maintained its glorious radiance until yesterday, when it gave up the ghost and its leaves fell, turning the street into a carpet of crimsons and burnt red.

Meanwhile, the Cooper's Hawk that hunts at our feeder paid us a visit recently, scaring off every winged creature and lording it up for the phone camera.

I've been spending a lot of time in my home-away apartment near my small college on the hill, and Chiquita goes up there with me to keep me company so it's not too lonely. She likes to snuggle in this chair where she can keep an eye on me while I work.

She also likes to look out the picture window at the comings and goings outside, maintaining her self-esteem as a very effective guard dog, despite her tiny size.

Recently, upon leaving one of the many meetings I attend these days (I now know that it was no exaggeration when I was told administration meant a lot more meetings) the sunset put up quite the show as it set the sky on fire over the old cemetery in my small college on the hill. Simply breathtaking!

I'm still really enjoying the variety and challenges of balancing my teaching with my new job, but I'm very much looking forward to the break over Thanksgiving week. And then, when we return, it'll be just two weeks before the semester ends. It hasn't been an easy semester work-wise but it's been a breeze compared to last year when I was struggling with so many scary health problems. Being healthy is such a blessing that it provides quick and very good perspective on all other difficulties that might arise.

While it's not fun to think that winter is here again (and this November is feeling more like January!), it's inevitable so best to enjoy what we can and look forward to the spring of a new year.