PAPA, YOU’RE STILL DEAD

This is an essay about grief.

You may not be grieving, but chances are, someone you are close with is.  Perhaps this will be their first Christmas without their husband, or first Hanukkah without their mother, or first New Year’s Eve without a best friend.  As joyful and celebratory as this time of year can be, it can be just as acutely painful when there are people missing.

I hope that some of you will see yourselves in this essay and that others may see grief in a new light.  As always, I am grateful for any feedback you are willing to share.

Back soon with a recipe,

Nishta

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PEAR BREAD

Thanksgiving is a week away, folks!  Whoopity whoop whoop.

If you’re like me, you have approximately 8,473 things to do before Thanksgiving gets here.  But, you know what?  They will all get done.  They always do.  And the light at the end of the tunnel is turkey-shaped and my-mom-is-coming-into-town shaped and new-Muppets-movie-shaped.

We’ve got lots to be thankful for around here.  Including you, dear reader.

Should you be traveling in the next week, or hosting folks in your home, I highly recommend whipping up a loaf or two of this here pear bread.  It’s become a favorite of mine, similar to a favorite “oh the bananas are a bit too overripe” banana bread recipe, this one is simple but winds up being much more than the sum of its parts.

I’ll be back again before the holiday, as it’s time to post a new essay, but if I don’t catch you then, I wish you a very fine Thanksgiving—full stomachs and full hearts.

The Governor’s Inn Vermont Pear Bread
from the King Arthur Flour Cookbook

Conveniently enough, this bread keeps well in the refrigerator so it’s a good choice for making ahead of time.  I think it would travel well, too, as long as it were well chilled and wrapped in a few layers of foil.

Given that pears, walnuts, and blue cheese make a fine combination, I also want to try this recipe with the sugar cut in half and whole-wheat flour substituted for all or most of the all-purpose.  I think the result might make a nice addition to an after-dinner cheese plate.

ingredients:

9 T unsalted butter, at room temp
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup buttermilk
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
½ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp nutmeg (I tend to use a wee bit more)
1 cup peeled and coarsely chopped pears (I used 2 very ripe D’Anjous)
1 tsp vanilla
½ cup chopped walnuts

oven – 350
pan—two loaf pans or one large tube pan

Cream the butter until light.  Slowly add the sugar, beating constantly.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition

Combine the dry ingredients thoroughly.  Add them to the egg mixture alternately with the buttermilk.  Fold in the pear and vanilla.  Pour into two lightly greased loaf pans or one large tube pan.

Bake for 35-40 minutes (loaf pans) or 1 hour (tube pan).  The original recipe calls for the bread to be cooled to room temperature and then chilled before eating, but I actually like the bread warm out of the oven.  It’s quite moist on its own, but a slather of pear or apple butter won’t hurt!

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DIWALI PARTY 2011

Below is the toast I delivered in our living room Saturday night during our fifth annual Diwali party.  We were blessed to have many of our closest friends with us—some of whom drove many hours to be here!—and beautiful weather in the backyard.  The gratitude Jill and I feel this year extends to all of you who read this blog and have offered us your love and support.  Thank you for letting us share with you and allowing us to be a part of your lives.  much love, Nishta

As many of you already know, I started throwing these Diwali parties after my dad died.  With my grief came a strong desire to connect to my heritage, both spiritually and in the kitchen, and ultimately, I just wanted to throw the kind of party that my dad would love being at.  I’m proud to say I think I’ve accomplished that goal.

This year, Diwali has an especially potent meaning for me and Jill.  You may know some of the mythology behind Diwali—one of the root myths is about the god Rama returning to his hometown after long years away in exile.  The villagers lit his pathway home with oil lamps, hence the name “Festival of Lights.”

Diwali is a celebration of victory—Rama’s mythological triumph over the forces of evil, but also the metaphorical victories that take place inside each human spirit.  Since last year’s Diwali party, Jill successfully fought cancer and that is one victory we are keen to celebrate tonight.  But even beyond that, I think the victory that we have been made most aware of in the last year is the victory of human goodness.

I cannot begin to really do justice to the ways we were cared for in this last year, by all of you in this room and so many others.  We got really clear about just how powerful love is.  There’s a verse in the eighth chapter of Song of Solomon, which I read from at my friend Kristen’s wedding this summer—“Set me as a seal upon thy heart, for love is stronger than death, passion fiercer than the grave.”  Love IS stronger than death, and life is very, very good.  Thank you all for being here tonight, and for being in our lives.  Together, let’s toast L’Chaim, to life—

Diwali 2011 Menu
(Please let me know if you’d like me to blog about any recipes that aren’t linked!)

snacks:

roasted chickpeas (this time seasoned with cumin, salt, & a little cayenne)
keema hand pies
vegetarian hand pies
grilled halloumi cheese
sliced radishes & cucumbers with Indian black salt

dinner:

winter vegetable sambar
grilled eggplant bharta
lamb koftas with rice
saag with homemade paneer
paranthas made by my mom!

dessert:

Alice Medrich’s seed cookies
homemade masala chai

drinks:

beer—Allagash White, Dogfish head Indian Brown, SKA Modus Hoperandi, Brooklyn Lager, Lefthand Milk Stout

wine—Guardian Peak Syrah, SA Prüm Essence Riesling, various sparkling

(we had nonalcoholic drinks, too!)

I have to say, this year’s party was easier than ever to plan thanks to my Diwali Pinterest board.  If you’re not already using Pinterest, I highly recommend it as a fine method for culling visual ideas and inspiration, not to mention collaborating on projects and events; if you’re already on Pinterest, please find me so I can follow you back!

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SWEET POTATO BISCUITS

November’s here, which means we can at last turn our attention to that best holiday of all, Thanksgiving.

I am especially biased about this year’s Thanksgiving because it happens to coincide with my twenty-ninth birthday.  There will be food, and celebration, and football, and food, and probably a nap or two, and wine and reading uninterrupted in a comfy chair for at least an hour, and food, and good satisfied contented feelings, and laughter, and these sweet potato biscuits.

Amen.

SWEET POTATO BISCUITS
from Gourmet online, August 2008

I don’t need to sell you on these, do I?  I mean, come on!  Sweet. Potato. Biscuits.  Has there been a lovelier combination of three food-related words in the history of the English language?

Okay, so I tend towards hyperbole, but to be perfectly honest, these really are delicious.  And they disappeared in about an hour when I made them a few weeks back.  Some friends had brought over slices of fantastic, local Black Forest ham, so we layered that onto the biscuits as part of a brunch spread.  I urge you to do the same!

Also, I think that these would work quite well at the Thanksgiving table, wrapped up in a napkin in a basket and slathered with butter and/or honey.  They’d also probably work wonderfully in building one of those “leftovers sandwiches”—cranberry jelly + turkey + sweet potato biscuit = I’m betting on a win.

ingredients:

1 lb sweet potatoes (that’s about 2 medium-to-large potatoes)
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
2 T sugar
2 T milk
1 T baking powder
½ tsp. salt
1 stick cold butter, cut into pieces

oven: 425°

NOTE—You will need to make the sweet potato puree & let it cool before you can make the biscuits, which will take about two hours.  Feel free to do this step up to two days ahead, to save time.

Prick the sweet potatoes all over, then bake on a baking sheet until they are very soft to the touch, ~1 hour.  Let them cool before halving the sweet potatoes and scooping their contents into the bowl of a food processor.  Puree until smooth.

The biscuit recipe calls for only 1 cup of the puree, which is almost exactly what my two sweet potatoes yielded.  If you have extra, stir it into pancake or muffin batter, or use it as homegrown baby food!

Stir the 2 tablespoons of milk into the 1 cup of sweet potato puree, and let the mixture cool for at least 30 minutes before using.

When you’re ready to bake the biscuits, heat the oven to 425° once again.  Grease a baking sheet.

Whisk the dry ingredients together, then blend in the butter with your fingers or a pastry cutter until the mix looks like coarse meal.  Stir in the sweet potato mixture to form a loose dough.

Drop the dough onto a greased baking sheet, spacing them at least 1” apart.  Bake the biscuits until they have browned a bit and are firm to the touch, approximately 18-20 minutes.  Transfer the biscuits to a rack to cool, and serve warm.

 

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