Pink peony from Christmas

I’m not sure I succeeded, but I tried very hard to avoid playing the dramatic Bridezilla role over the year-or-so when Mr. and I were planning our wedding. We are perfectionists about certain things (the amount of dust on our bookshelves isn’t one of them), and I am sure we annoyed a vendor or five with very specific requests or frowns at the available flatware. Throughout the process, I tried to remind myself that almost nothing could be guaranteed or set in stone, especially because some details, although arranged in advance, could only be executed in the final days before the wedding. While I admit I formed a few attachments along the way – the “disappearance” of some of the farm tables we rented for dinner was at the time, traumatizing – the one thing I clung to from the moment we began to plan the wedding was my hope to carry a bouquet of pale peonies. I knew from day one that  I was asking a lot, because the wedding date was set for July, a few fortnights past the season. On the other hand, it seemed to me that brides in magazines and blogs and albums managed to carry lush bouquets of out-of-season flora. I wanted to carry peonies because my grandfather, who’d died when I was a teenager, planted tall, vibrant bushes of them along the side of his house in Long Island while I was growing up. I have always thought they are the most beautiful flowers. They look as though they are just about to fall asleep.

As the saying goes, the only way to make god the universe, a wedding planner, a florist, or anyone with good sense laugh is to make (wedding) plans. The peonies were available up to and on the Saturday before my wedding, which was when we found out they would not be available for the following Saturday. Not from Holland, or any other place with fields of flowers cultivated at inappropriate times thanks to the miracles of modern technology, nor for all the tea in China the exorbitant price I had already decided each stem was worth. Instead, I carried pale pink garden roses. They were beautiful in their own way, and smelled luscious. I do not even like roses very much, but these were perfect roses.

A bridal bouquet shot by our amazing wedding photographer Amber Wilkie.

A bridal bouquet shot by our amazing wedding photographer Amber Wilkie.

And another, because they were really gorgeous flowers.

And another, because they were really gorgeous flowers.

This missing peonies, however, left me without a tribute to my grandfather on my wedding day. Pat was a very cool guy, with all sorts of talents, including being an excellent grandpa. He was the kind of person who chatted endlessly with children about children-things,  the type of man who was patient with kids, even when he didn’t seem so patient with grown up people. He taught me how to play poker and we gambled Equal packets at a kitchen table covered with one of those plasticky tablecloths adorned with great big black and white polka dots. At Christmas, he assembled one of those villages with ceramic houses and shops arranged on cottony faux snow. The village was an intricate creation, with little roads and lamp posts and trees and cars. There were lights in some the miniature houses. I’m not sure how he could stand it when we grandkids touched it, moving the little people around, driving the cars along imaginary roads. My favorite pieces were the little blue metal mailboxes. One year, he bought an airplane that could “fly” above the village on an invisible wire. It carried a handmade banner pronouncing his love for my grandmother (Pat loves Marie).

This girl loves that guy.

This girl loves that guy.

At Christmas we also had – like everyone else – cookies. And like everyone else, I think our cookies, the cookies made by Pat, were special. My stepmom’s family had owned a bakery in Williamsburg long before the burg was synonymous with cool, and our family cookie recipes are all Italian-American classics: sweet, lightly frosted “S-cookies,” butter cookies with candied cherries pressed into them, among dozens of others. These rainbow cookies were always my favorites. They’re not really cookies, but tiny pieces of dense, rich, almond-flavored cake, with a thin layer of preserves between each color of sponge, and bittersweet coating of chocolate. I meet people all the time who have never had them, but I know very few people who have tried them and disliked them. Even better, they’re extremely festive, yet easier to make than you might imagine.

It really bummed me out that Pat couldn’t see me walk down that aisle, or meet my really cool husband. I cried a little when I found out I couldn’t carry the flowers he loved down the aisle on that special day. But it was nice to know that on this very first Christmas season of our marriage, there was a little something to remind us of him at the table.

rainbow cookie

Rainbow Cookies

Family members, you’ll noticed I’ve changed the directions a little, but it’s more a matter of style than substance. These are Pat’s cookies.

Yield

Depends how you cut them, I get around 30 cookies per batch (5 rows of 6 cookies)

Special Equipment

Stand or electric hand mixer

3 square cake pans

Waxed paper or parchment paper

Three cooling racks and a scale are nice to have, but far from necessary

Ingredients

4 large eggs

2 sticks of butter, melted and slightly cooled, plus additional for greasing pans

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup all-purpose flour, plus additional for flouring pans

1 jar good-quality preserves (we like cherry, but raspberry is traditional, and apricot is good too)

6 ounces bittersweet chocolate (I use these)

1 tablespoon oil

Red, green, and yellow food coloring

To Prepare

1. Preheat the over to 375 degrees.

2. Grease and flour three square cake pans, making sure to tap out any excess flour.

3. In a stand mixer (or in a large bowl, using an electric hand mixer), beat eggs until fluffy. Add sugar. Beat. Add flour, melted and cooled butter, and almond extract. Mix until just combined.

4. Separate the batter into three bowls. This is where, if you are obsessive about getting the layers perfectly even, you might consider using three identical bowls and a scale. To the first bowl, add eight drops of red food coloring, to the next, eight drops of yellow, to the final one, eight drops of green. My father-in-law has suggested, for those interested in an all natural approach, making homemade natural dyes using chlorophyl, saffron, and beet powder. If I try that next year, I will let you know how it goes. For  now, I don’t mind a teensy bit of food coloring for the sake of tradition. Mix the food coloring into each third of the batter thoroughly.

Almost cookie time

5. Pour batter into prepared baking pans. Tap pans vigorously against counter to release air bubbles. Bake for 10-12 minutes.

Festive batter

6. While the cakes cool, spoon the preserves into a saucepan and warm over low-to-medium heat until loose enough to spread. If your preserves have chunks, use the back of a wooden spoon to break them into rather small pieces, so as not to make the layers of the cookies uneven. If your preserves are very thick, you can thin them with a bit of corn syrup; I did not find this step necessary this year, and I think it makes the preserves too sweet.

7. Turn the first layer out onto a sheet of waxed or parchment paper (which color goes first does not matter, except I save yellow for the middle, and if I am remembering correctly, so does Lidia Bastianich). Pour or spoon some melty preserve on top, and spread using a butter knife or a small offset spatula. Place the yellow layer on top and repeat. Top with the final layer, and press down gently. You should now have a little three-layer almond and jam cake. If the edges are slightly burned, or if you’d like to have a treat to put out in a dish on your kitchen table while everyone waits for dinner, trim the edges. Here is what mine looked like with trimmed edges:

Rainbow cookie insides

8. In a heat-proof bowl set over a shallow pan of simmering water (you can use a double boiler, but I hate them), melt the chocolate, stirring regularly. Add a scant tablespoon of oil. I left the oil out this year, which helped me realize the (really obvious) reason the recipe calls for it. Without the oil, the chocolate sets up quite hard, and the cookies do not cut as neatly. If you are a chocolate purist, go ahead, but know you’ll get prettier cookies if you put even a small amount into the chocolate.

9. Pour or spoon a little more than half of the chocolate onto the miniature layer cake. Spread across the top and along the sides, using a butter knife or small offset spatula, as though frosting a cake. When you are satisfied with your work, place the whole the in the fridge, or on a very cold windowsill, until the chocolate sets. When set, flip the cake onto a second sheet of waxed or parchment paper, and repeat on the opposite side, so that the entire cake is enrobed in chocolate. Allow this layer to set as well. If you cannot eat chocolate, I’ve seen successful variations with the white chocolate confection that’s actually not chocolate (read carefully), but honestly, I like these almost as much without the coating.

10. Use a sharp knife to cut the cake into five bars, and then to cut each bar into six cookies. Or, cut them however the hell you like them. Store in an airtight container in the fridge. Mr. and I like these best quite cold. They keep for some time, but they never last that long.

All wedding pictures in this post were taken by the wonderful Amber Wilkie.

What are your holiday cookies of choice? How do you honor or remember loved ones who are no longer living? 

 

Almost anyone who would be reading this knows that Mr. has not been entirely well, which is one of a few things that have kept me from documenting our lives here for some time. 1L would be another one of them, as would the sun’s awful habit of abandoning its shift a little earlier each day.

This Thanksgiving break Mr. and I flew down to Washington, D.C. to see my in-laws. We love Thanksgiving as much if not more than any of the other holidays. New Year’s Eve is amateur night, loud, exhausting, and expensive, and when Christmas’ sugar-and-consumption rush wanes, I always feel a little moody. Thanksgiving requires no stressful gift giving, unless you count bringing a dish to share. It fills a home with enticing aromas for hours. It provides for conversation, for napping, and for leftovers. The only downside I can imagine is there’s only one Thanksgiving per year, which means we cannot see all three of our families on this delicious day. While we sat around three (!) tables in my mother-in-law’s dining room, sharing a meal with sixteen friends-and-family-members-and-friends-who-basically-are-family-members, I certainly thought of my loved ones scattered along the East coast: my mom, having a rustic Thanksgiving in the mountains of Pennsylvania, as she and my stepfather always do; my dad and stepmother, in Long Island with my grandmother, sharing traditional Italian-American specialties, like butter cookies, that my grandpa used to make; my other grandmother, eating Puerto Rican food in the Bronx; our aunt and uncle in Massachusetts, cooking a feast for forty-two people. It was a rich Thanksgiving all around, and Mr. and I would have felt fortunate to sit at any one of those tables.

We ate unbelievably well for the weekend. While most of you were having pizza the night before Thanksgiving (an awesome tradition in its own right) I was spoiled with oysters, pasta, and lamb. And while I never actually enjoyed Thanksgiving food when I was a vegetarian, Thursday’s supper of stuffing, mashed potatoes, buttered brussels sprouts, two kinds of turkey (one in the oven, one on the grill), gravy, and cranberry relish was the perfect fall meal. A full Thanksgiving plate will always mean a lot to us, because four Thanksgivings ago Mr. took me home to meet his parents, even though we had only been dating for a few weeks.

When we reached our apartment in Massachusetts last night I could not help but feel a little cold. Mostly because the temperature is a few degrees lower here in Cambridge than in the District, but at least partially because our home was missing and assortment family members, cooking aromas, and a fridge full of memories leftovers. Well, we could fix at least one or two of those right off. Having already booked a Zipcar, Mr. and I rushed off to Whole Foods to stock up our fridge, and came home to make pancetta, white bean, and chard potpies from Deb Perelman’s new Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. The book was an early Christmas present we picked out at D.C.’s excellent independent bookstore, Politics and Prose. We obviously could not wait to try a recipe or two.

By the time we were done, our house smelled amazing.

Here’s one suggestion I have for this recipe: if you have access to really beautiful pancetta (my father-in-law makes this for his restaurant), use it; if you only have access to insipid, floppy, deli counter pancetta, do yourself a favor and just buy really awesome bacon.

I am one of those people who believe that a new apartment doesn’t smell quite right until I cook some onions, celery, carrots, and garlic in the kitchen. Of course, the garlic hasn’t joined the pot yet here.

Winter greens.

Butter on its way to becoming a roux. Foamy butter mesmerizes me.

By the time the filling looked like this, I was starving, and not because it took long to make.

The finished pie had a super flaky crust. There is a little bit of sour cream in the dough, but the main aromatic component was butter. Oh dear. These were hearty, and I ate about half of one, even though we made them a little smaller than Deb does in her recipe. Oh well, that means more servings of gorgeous potpie!

How did you spend your Thanksgiving? What do you make when you’re seeking comfort? This was my very first potpie – if you like potpie, what sort do you like? Chicken? Lobster? 

A few awesome moments from the week:

I made these pumpkin cinnamon roles using a recipe from Smitten Kitchen. Sweet, gooey, spicy fall goodness.

Mr. and I joined a friend for some cocktails and wine at Eastern Standard. It was my first time “going out” since the surgery, and it was really fun. I had the Old Cuban, which was really well balanced and had sparklies in it. This is Mr.’s whiskey smash.

I no longer have to use my passport as my primary form of identification. My replacement license came!

+ I went back to class.

+ I already miss my mom (who came and camped out on the couch to take care of me when I was sick recovering), but luckily, my in-laws are visiting this weekend. So excited to see family!

*In the young adult novel Uglies, the superficial Pretties describe events and objects by their effects on the actor/perceiver’s mental state. For example, that lengthy case for Leg Reg was confusingmaking. How delightfully honest.  

How was your week? Any standout positive moments? Do you have any guilty-pleasure young adult fiction favorites?

When I was a kid I used to run out of books to read pretty often. I no longer have this problem because I always, always have homework to do, and when I’m somehow done with that homework, there is always an interesting book around that my mother-in-law has recommended (or even sent in a care package).

Thanks! An embarrassment of literature!

But, back to my childhood…I used to read pretty much anything I could find between trips to Barnes & Noble or the public library or the library at my high school. As a result, I read such scintillating classics as Dr. Atkins New Diet Revolution (almost every adult I knew was on the diet at the time, so there were copies around everywhere to read). Once in a while the public library or school library would have one of those boxes of rejects sitting outside, and I would pick up a couple of those to read just in case I ran out of something I had actually chosen for myself. Those books were on an assortment of topics that were totally random, but I didn’t mind because I like to read that much. That’s how I ended up with a copy of What Southern Women Know (That Every Woman Should). This is the sort of book that has advice on how to control your significant other by doing things like returning your new dress if he says he doesn’t like it. Brilliant.

Anyway, I only bring it up because I think that book is the first time I remember learning about the criticism sandwich. I think the author made reference to a dish of southern origin called vinegar pie? Of course, I read it so long ago that I could be wrong about learning it from that book; I could be recalling a passage from an etiquette book (I have a small collection of them too) or maybe from one of those American Girl magazines. Either way, I always liked the concept of the criticism sandwich, where you say something nice, then slip in the thing the person could use some work on, and close up with something nice again. The compliment “bread” softens the blow of the hefty criticism “filling.” I bet there is science somewhere that would say it’s actually easier to take criticism when you’re feeling fluffed up from flattery, but I’m not going to go find that science right now. Instead, for evidence I’ll say that it worked well for my students, both with teacher feedback and peer feedback. Like this:

You should be so proud of yourself for finishing this draft on time!

I can’t figure out how the information in your third and fifth paragraphs helps prove this argument.

If you use the same concluding sentence structure from your really clear second and forth paragraphs in the third and fifth paragraphs too, your reader will definitely be able to follow your argument more easily.

I’m clearly having trouble remaining on topic today because the reason I mention any of this is that I wish scary information at the hospital were delivered in a kind of bad news sandwich. The hours between being admitted to the hospital and going into surgery were terrifying. I was in a lot of pain, the kind where intravenous drugs dull the ache without quelling it. Anxiety about missing school and not doing work actually crept up while I lay there agonizing about everything from scarring to infertility.  My husband was tired and missing school and I felt guilty for burdening him. My belly groaned in hunger and had no idea when I would be allowed to eat. Bad news, or the promise of it, kept coming and coming and coming.

Doctors said things like if it’s malignant (cancer!) we’ll have to bring in specialists from another hospital. Or, since it looks like the cyst is twisted around your ovary, the ovary might be necrotized and gray and then we’ll have to take it out. I became more panicked as I considered each additional data point about my condition from the worst-possible-scenario-perspective. I felt even more exhausted and afraid. 

I don’t blame the doctors for shooting straight, of course, because they need to provide patients and loved ones with information about what could possibly happen. It would be worse to go into surgery expecting everything to be quick and easy, and find out afterward that a complication the doctor could have reasonably predicted actually did occur. Some people anticipate loss to mitigate grief.

Still, I could have used some good news wrapped around my bad news. I’m not a doctor, so I don’t know exactly what good news there could have been, at least until after the surgery. But maybe they had eliminated the possibility of something particularly insidious, and could have shared that tidbit with me.  Maybe they had done very similar surgeries before many many times and could have mentioned that, we’ll need to do surgery right away, but we have done this type of surgery on similar cases ten times this year and it is often successful and without complications before discussing the complications. I don’t know what would have worked, but I remember clinging pretty tightly to one nugget of information that seemed vaguely promising, cysts are relatively common, even in young women. How bad could something normal be, even if it had expanded and grown beyond average proportions?

I’m going to try and remember, whenever giving really bad news from now on out, to try and frame it with some good news too. I’m sure there are some other people, like me , who could benefit from a little support in keeping back the anxiety beast.

How would you like your bad news delivered? Do you use the criticism (or bad news) sandwich? Have you ever had vinegar pie? 

No surprise, yesterday Mr. and I stayed home all day. I am still recovering, so most of my time is spent either on the couch or in bed. I am no longer in a lot of intense, constant pain, but I do get worn out very quickly, I feel dizzy when I stand up too fast, and reaching/lifting/excessive bending are still off-limits.

Since we moved to Cambridge, we eat homemade food at home, I think, much more regularly than we have at any point in the last few years. Mr.’s family, with whom we lived in D.C. for the summer while we prepared for the wedding, eats at home most nights, which was wonderful. Still, when you have a wedding around the corner, there are always celebrations and meals out. Before that, in New York, our friends would say that we cooked a lot, and I guess we did, because our favorite answer to “What should we do this weekend?” is usually “Why don’t we…try that new ravioli filling/bake bread/perfect our french fry technique/learn make a giant Korean-style roast/you get the idea.” However, except for a long stint when Mr. would make frittatas on Sunday night that we would portion out for a week of breakfasts, most morning meals were toast and/or a medium boiled egg eaten at the kitchen counter. We usually took packed lunches to work. We prepared dinner most nights, but not every night. We succumbed to mediocre Thai delivery at least every other week. And when you’re surrounded by amazing restaurants, it’s pretty easy to convince yourself that you deserve a night off from a messy kitchen. Sometimes it’s just easier to leave the dishes for another day. There were many weeks when we took almost every night off.

I would be lying if I said that now that we’re in law school our lives are far less busy and exhausting. I am very very tired almost every night. I do not always sleep well because the stress of processing what I have learned seems to cause odd dreams. Each day is a balancing act of homework, class time, and extracurriculars. I do think, however, that the student life is far more amenable to eating at home, together, on the couch or at the table, several times per day.

For example, we cook and eat breakfast together every morning, something I never would have imagined possible. You know how on television shows (Breaking BadI’m looking at you) the mom-dad-kids all sit down at a table and eat bacon and eggs together before work and school as though they have nowhere to be? I always thought that was a television fiction. My mom used to make me breakfast and leave it for me before she went to work. Her workday started at six am. When we were teaching, Mr. and I had wildly different morning schedules because my commute was much longer than his. (Also, I am a morning person.) I would get up, eat, shower, dress, pack, and leave, often before he had even woken up.

Right now we are lucky enough to have similar enough schedules that we actually sit down at the table and eat breakfast together before class almost every morning. Once in a while one of us has to be somewhere extra early, but otherwise, we eat something hot, drink coffee and tea, take our vitamins, and quote New York Times articles to each other while we shake off the morning brain fog. Sometimes we review the work for a class. On the weekdays we eat pretty basic breakfast foods: scrambled eggs, little egg sandwiches with out homemade chicken sausage, omelettes, french toast occasionally.

On the weekends, we make brunch, usually a cooking project like this one.

That plate of gooey-sticky-yumminess is chicken nachos, made with homemade (baked!) chips, leftover shredded chicken reheated with stock and spices, half a can of black beans “refried” with some onions and chilies, white cheddar, cilantro, and green onions. Every time we make something like this at home, I feel retroactively disappointed about almost every single plate of nachos I have ever eaten in a restaurant.

I am really going to miss it whenever our schedules no longer coincide for breakfast every day. There will always be (crossing fingers here) dinner, though, and Mr. is a real star at dinner time. He has many talents, and knowing his way around an ancho chile is one of them. I know it’s in his nature/nurture, because his father is a chef and his brother is learning to become one, but that does not keep me from feeling impressed. There aren’t quite as many restaurants here in Cambridge to try out as there seemed to be in Manhattan, so even though we’ve already worked our way a heaping handful of them, we’re not tempted to go out whenever we’re feeling lazy. It’s not like there’s a line of yellow cabs outside our apartment building waiting to take us to Marea because we’ve had a bad day. Perhaps fortunately, most takeout/delivery around here tends to shut down around 10, which means that on the kind of late nights when we would default to ordering, it’s not an option anyway. After realizing this, we stocked our freezer with homemade basics we can easily combine for meals, and stay home for dinner as often as we can. It’s better on the student budget anyway.

Last night Mr. and I made a last minute celebration. Celebrating what? I’m feeling much better. The farmer’s market still has beautiful things to eat. We didn’t need to go to the grocery store. We had some shrimp and homemade chorizo in the freezer, plenty of unctuous homemade chicken stock in the fridge, and a big pile of end-of-season fresh cranberry beans from the market. I shelled the beans.

Which was only arduous because the pods were getting a teeny bit slimy. I think it’s because we stored them near the potatoes for a day or two. Whatever evil thing potatoes do to onions, maybe they do it cranberry beans too.

And then I read articles from the current issue of Cosmopolitan magazine (which our good friends brought over as part of a care package that include the most amazing thing ever, a bicycle horn with which I can summon my chivalrous husband to my distressed-damsel-side) out loud to him while he worked kitchen alchemy. By the way, do you happen to read this column, which exposes the various sex tips in men’s and women’s magazines for their general ridiculousness? A friend of mine writes it, and it’s genius. While we laughed and laughed, Mr. was somehow able to turn our pantry ingredients into this.

Sorcery, I tell you. And since he spent his study breaks making bread yesterday…

we also had garlicky olive oil toast to sop up all that gorgeous broth.

It’s pretty cold outside at night these days, and to be honest, I think it’s going to be a little while before I feel like spending a whole day out of the apartment. So on days like this, I am grateful that I like to cook, that my husband enjoys preparing meals (and is a far better, and more patient cook than I am), so that when I feeling at my worst, I don’t have to rely on delivery or frozen convenience foods that would make me feel even worse. Between my mother roasting a chicken for us last week while she was here, and Mr.’s insistence on preparing several intensely flavorful, nourishing meals, I’m starting to think dinner might be the best medicine.

What do you like to eat, if anything, when you’re feeling under the weather? What influences whether to eat at home or go out or order in? What are you having for breakfast this morning? 

This is the unbelievably sweet get-well card my classmates signed for me.

One week ago my husband called a taxi-cab at three am to take us to the hospital. This was our third or fourth trip to the ER in the past eighteen months; actually, in the four years since we’ve met, we’ve each suffered a handful of decidedly random health crises. The last time I ended up in the hospital was a few days after being accepted to Harvard. I caught my husband’s stomach virus and couldn’t keep any fluids down. A few bags of saline and some anti-nausea medication later, we were back on our couch slurping popsicles and lamenting the low quality of the movie rentals available through our cable’s On Demand service. We had missed a dinner reservation at new restaurant in Brooklyn.

I thought this trip would be  identical. The symptoms suggested food poisoning – sharp pain bisecting my abdomen, nausea, bloating. On the other hand, the pain was so bad that it was intermittently challenging to talk. After we wrestled with it for three or four hours, Mr. resolved to call a car and we were sitting in the hospital waiting room twenty minutes later.

The hospital I visited in Massachusetts seemed worlds apart from the ones I’ve seen in NYC. This is not to say that all NYC hospitals are the same; on the contrary, there are hospitals I would choose to be rushed to in the City, where the relative affluence of the surrounding neighborhood ensures downright cozy, brisk service, and others where the care is sporadic, the security random, and the staff brusque. In the City the ER waiting room has always meant a parade of tragedies and oddities; a trimmed off finger wrapped in blood-soaked towels, a wailing man reeking of garbage, two twenty-something women drunkenly chastising themselves for eating from the vending machine. The only time I ever experienced a quiet hospital waiting room was when not-yet-Mr. and I hailed a cab to Lenox Hill the evening Hurricane Irene hit New York. While they waited for his test results, the nurses discussed whether they would accept the hospital’s offer to remain in a hotel for the evening.

But here in non-urban MA, at three-thirty in the morning just one other person sat at the bank of peach leatherette chairs by the intake station. His sweatshirt had been pulled taut around his face, Kenny-style. The man declared that he was waiting for daylight to strike so he could walk home. A passing maintenance man advised him to take the bus and not worry about the change, the bus driver would take him anyway, “Mr. Obama will pay for it.” When I was finally taken into the emergency department and given a bed, the space was private, away from the coughs and domestic disputes of my fellow patients. A relatively unharried assortment of nurses and nurse practitioners sipped coffees and shuffled around at steady pace. A physician lent Mr. her iPhone charger.

Last night before bed Mr. and I were reflecting on the time in the ER before they admitted me. I told him I thought we were in the ER for twenty hours, which he quickly demonstrated impossible. Whenever I am in an emergency room, either as patient or nervous companion, whether in a terrifyingly busy or dead-quiet facility, I am always surprised by the slow progress of emergency treatment. I mean no insult, I received excellent, and mostly personable, care throughout my hospital stay. I only mean that for whatever reason – because I have watched too many medical dramas, perhaps, or because “emergency” sounds a lot like “urgency,” – time in an ER seems like the perfect exercise of hurry up and wait. Anticipation, anxiety, and pain conspire to expand each second. Each hour feels like two while you wait for the EKG or the MRI or the ultrasound or the consult or the transport or a wash of plain relief. I am reminded of a passage from one of my very favorite novels, Virgin Suicides* by Jeffrey Eugenides:

On the morning the last Lisbon daughter took her turn at suicide – it was Mary this time, and sleeping pills, like Therese – the two paramedics arrived at the house knowing exactly where the knife drawer was, and the gas oven, and the beam in the basement from which it was possible to tie a rope. They got out of the EMS truck, as usual moving much too slowly in our opinion, and the fat one said under his breath, ‘This ain’t TV, folks, this is how fast we go.’ (Emphasis added.)

Indeed. Though it can induce handwringing misery in a patient, emergency requires an even pace, methodical, measured decision making. Unless a patient crashes, it is probably too easy to cause harm in a rash rush.

What have your ER experiences been like? How have you passed the time while the doctors figure out what is the matter with you or a loved one? Are you afraid of doctors or needles or illness? 

*Why do I call this book Virgin Suicides rather than The Virgin Suicides, as is printed on the cover? During my senior year of college I saw Mr. Eugenides at a reading and interrupted his conversation with a bunch of serious, well-known, very cool authors in order to ask him to sign my copy. He immediately opened it and crossed out the article. I am probably getting this all wrong, but I like to imagine there was some kind of debate with an editor over whether the article was necessary.

Yesterday evening we had friends over for dinner. We moved our dining table into the living room so that we could extend it to accommodate platters and place settings, then set the table for “real” for the first time in this apartment. I set the table every morning for breakfast, but we very rarely sit at the table with napkins, water glasses, wine glasses, and so on for dinner.

After seeing the table set, I missed our apartment in New York City for about five minutes, because we had enough space there to keep the table at full size all the time. Then I remembered all the things I love about our apartment here, like how we have enough room to fit the table in the kitchen, and I felt better.

All day long, Mr. tended to our roast pork, basting every hour until it was gloriously crisp and charred on the outside.

I neglected to take any pictures of the meat after we cut into it. It was so tempting that we devoured it without a shred of regard for photographic evidence. The pork was sweet and tender and I ate far more of it than I intended.

This roast started off as a beautiful six-and-a-half-pound pork shoulder from Savenor’s Market. Although there were only four diners, by the end of the  evening the leftovers were relatively modest. Right now I am feeling really appreciative toward the gentleman who butchered the pork, because he was more than willing to cut it down from nine pounds. A roast that size would have never finished cooking, which would have lead to a dinner party disaster. At just two-thirds of the size, this one took about six hours in the oven.

Mr. and I will be having Asian Taco Night at some point this week, but at least it won’t be like the-time-we-made-bo-ssam-to-practice-and-had-five-pounds-of-leftovers-to-eat all-week. Which was immediately followed by the-time-we-also-made-bo-ssam-for-book-club-and-were-actually-already-sick-of-sweet-salty-roast-pork.

Our guests brought cheese. It was the gooey kind you eat with a spoon, and it was fantastic. We were really sad we hadn’t baked a loaf of bread, because  this cheese would have been amazing with some of Mr.’s wonderful homemade bread. There is no need to feel sad for us though, because it was also wonderful on a spoon.

After dinner, everyone ate homemade ice cream. We churn ice cream using a Kitchenaid mixer attachment, which is pretty awesome. We make the ice cream on the living room floor when we’re roasting meat in the kitchen, because the heat from the oven can ruin the ice cream’s texture. The recipe is in this book and it is the only book of ice cream recipes you really need. (Although, there is one major omission in that book – an excellent recipe for pistachio ice cream – but David Lebovitz has his reasons. You can find his instructions for pistachio ice cream here, and we’ve made it, so I know it’s also really good.) Here’s our non-pistachio bright green ice cream spinning in the mixer:

It’s neon green because it’s green tea ice cream, which is in my top three flavors for ice cream. (The other two are salted caramel and pistachio, if you happen to owe me a favor.) Also, I may have chosen an instagram filter that made it look even greener, because I thought it looked cool, like slime from a certain Nickelodeon show of my youth. It takes just three four teaspoons of matcha powder to make the ice cream that green and give it extraordinary green tea flavor. Even better, we now have enough matcha powder to make green tea shortbread cookies this week.

Everyone ate at least two little cups of ice cream. Some of us ate three. There’s still some in the freezer. I’ll need to invite some friends over to eat it soon or else I will eat it all by myself.

This was a very indulgent meal, but it was so full of love that it was clearly worth it. Since we’re so far away from family, it means a lot to us to do the things we love (cook and eat and talk and laugh and drink wine) with people who love them as much as we do. It makes me feel at home here.