Monthly Archives: November 2010

Recipe: cranberry orange relish

I was about 6 when I had my first real cranberries. Ocean Spray Cranberry Sauce was the staple “cranberry” food at Thanksgiving, an opaque cylinder you would slide from its can, slice into half-moons, and place on a glass plate as a garnish, next to the “spanish” and black olives.

We would have two dinners on that Thursday: the first at my mother’s mother’s home, and the second at my father’s aunt’s home. Grammie’s (the former) was a more familiar place – the same town, more frequent visits, etc. But my father’s aunt’s home was something a little more exotic. Aunt Gertie had married a 1st generation German man (we were irish-italian mutts) who had a catering business. Their home and land ran along a busy residential street in the adjacent town. On their land, they had a pear tree, a concord grape arbor, bankings overflowing with blackberries, always a vegetable and flower garden, a chicken coop, and a bed of the most lovely lilac-colored lily-of-the-valley.

Aunt Gertie was a very gentle, kind lady who loved me and my brother. We were the youngest children in the family for some time, and she would put everything else down when we came through the mudroom. She would find the cookies for my brother, and find a slice of Roman Meal bread for me. (My first brown bread; I’ve been hooked ever since.) I remember laying in the garden, Black-Eyed Susans resisting my attempts at gathering, and imagining the grape arbor as a new home.

But this is about Thanksgiving and cranberries and Gertie. When we arrived at her house in the early evening, we would be mostly full on turkey and soft vegetables, but my father and mother would each take a plate. And the six-year old saw a little dish full of wet rubies on the dining room table.

“What’s that, Aunt Gertie?”

“It’s cranberry-orange relish, Jan. Would you like to try some?” I nodded.

Aunt Gertie was a petite lady; her reach might not have been much  more than mine. But she took my plate and next to the slice of Roman Meal bread, she dolloped the deep relish. I had never seen anything so red and sparkling. It had three ingredients: fresh cranberries, navel oranges, and white sugar to taste. She made it with a food mill, and let it sit so the red juice from the berries and sugar colored everything but the tiny bits of orange zest. It was gone in an instant; and then another spoonful.

After that, Aunt Gertie set aside a small bowl of the cranberry orange relish and a few slices of the bread for our arrival, just as she made sure there was freshly sugar-sprinkled buttered bread for my older cousin, and coffee made from a saucepan for my dad. She knew the worst suffering any mother could ever know, but bore it silently. I never knew of her first daughter’s death until my dad told me the story. And yet, whenever one of the “children,” my father included, walked into the house, she welcomed us as if we were hers, and had come home. Aunt Gertie, if you were still here, my kids would love you too.

Cranberry Orange Relish

It’s so simple, and beyond delicious. Much better with a day or at least a 1/2 day to rest.

  • 12 ounces (a generous 2 cups) fresh cranberries
  • 1/2 heavy navel orange, scrubbed and cut into 4 pieces
  • 1/2 cup superfine granulated sugar (you will not need it all, I assure you)

Wash and pick through the cranberries. Pour into the bowl of a food processor fitted with a large blade.  Place the top on the food processor and turn it on, full speed. You can use the pulse function if you want to take your time.

Once the berries are chopped, add the orange wedges. The juice from the oranges will start to bring down the cranberry pieces into the blades, which is what you want. You want to grind the oranges – there should be no big chunks of orange rind  Now sprinkle some of the sugar through the feeding tube. What was choppy and stiff  should now roll with the movement of the blades. Stop the food processor, remove the lid, and taste the relish. Add sugar to taste, and blend again.

The texture is going to be wet and mushy – if you’re there, you’ve got it. Now, scoop the relish into a container with a lid and refrigerate until 30 minutes before the meal is served.

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Why I nearly hate Boden

Okay, I said it. That catalogue full of playful, colorful clothing for women? I am almost at the point of hating it. Not because I don’t like the clothes – no, they’re lovely pieces. What I don’t like is how they came about, and the guiding philosophy of its founder, Johnnie Boden.

Johnnie wants us mommies (or mums) to know he really cares about us, and our bodily insecurities . He wants us to feel pretty, to feel like we’re not “mutton dressed as lamb.” So he makes delightful, not-too-threatening clothing in terms of silhouette, palette, and implied intelligence, with the idea of making happy, pretty wives, happy to stay at home with children, or if we deign to work and deprive our children of the healthiest possible family structure, to communicate a sense that we’re really not all that important. We’re decorative, and we’re happy to be that way.

His career in helping slummy mummies began when Wall Street kicked his sorry arse back to the UK. And yet, he remains enamored of American capitalism. Evidently, a welfare state is to blame for people not picking up after their canine pets tend to their business streetside. What I wouldn’t give to see the trigger of his ire to be pure Tory.

Yes, I have flab, Johnnie, and yes, I don’t feel good about it.

But I feel a hell of a lot worse about being dismissed because of my gender; that there is nothing more threatening in our english-speaking culture than a woman who knows she is intelligent and isn’t so interested in hiding it, particularly if it might hurt some man’s feelings. I feel much worse about living in a neighborhood where placing priority on feeding your mind, particularly if your mind is awash in estrogen, might be about as evil as starving a baby. I feel much worse that your business is based on the premise that a pretty empire-waist frock will make me forget the things that genuinely vex and trouble me most.

In the end, I don’t hate clothing, and the catalogue itself has become better since they dropped the child-playmate q & a descriptors for each model in each layout. But I hate that it’s offered with a pat on the head and a “there, there” from someone I could easily think under the table.

p.s. this essay owes a great deal to Blue Milk’s dead-on Yummy Mummy post; here’s hoping to approach its thoughtfulness and writing.

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Mini epiphanies

It’s no secret that some things have taken longer for me to understand than others. Reading, no. Dating, yes. Understanding power, no. Making peace with what’s beyond my control? Oh, yes.

But when the puzzle piece finally finds its slot, because of or in spite of my best efforts, there’s no chance to go back. You know it – whatever that it may be – and there’s no way to unknow. Forgetting is different; it’s the gift of distraction. When reminded, your knowledge is again front and center.

In the same month I felt my heart like newly crushed gravel in my mouth, I discovered that I loved teaching young children about art. The rest of the world moves past the bloody rocks and mini-Matisses , like you do, but I know and will always know where one it ended, and another began.

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Three years

Three years ahead, behind me. Thicker, softer, more tired. Wiser, more careful with language, more understanding. Less money, from child to children.

Some things, like the children, aren’t plus-one experiences. It’s beyond increments. Transformative. But others are matters of degrees. Some are realizations which turn your perspectives permanently on their respective heads (true does not trump cruel, for example), while others are baby steps, formimg new habits, muscle memory rewrites.

But it’s been three years since I last met with my former colleagues, and the three years make all the more clear what was meaningful and valuable to me.

The local environment plays no small role – very few of the neighbors of “I’ve Got Mine”-ville share (ha!) what I treasure. My children remind me how much joy is in learning, discovering, and solving problems… Or how important it is to reach out to others without patting oneself on the back.

The workplace wasn’t utopia, except for the largely shared priorities and principles. The idea that money wasn’t capital. And that there was a time where respect was given to others, even if at times it was begrudgingly. I miss the reluctant but honest respect, or at least the chance to earn it, as well as anyone else.

It sounds great, doesn’t it? An environment where mutual respepct wasn’t an oxymoron. And that doesn’t begin to describe the people who made it so – their languages, their stories, and the chances we had to write, tell and listen to them together. For once, there was an entity which could accurately be described as a community.

So much has changed, in silken and sinewed degrees, and yet the positions, temperatures, none of these change the compass inside. The magnet of learning, of connection, will pull through the local scrambling, even if it’s not soon enough for my liking.

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