Thursday, January 28, 2010

Enjoying That "Old-Fashioned " Feeling

Lately, with rumors of turbulence afoot at Eric's place of employment, he and I have been commenting on how nice it would actually be if one of us was a stay-at-home spouse. Now, of course, that would only ever happen if by force - but we both think it would be kind of awesome.

Well, alright - the less money thing would definitely suck. But not having our nights filled with chores because the house is already clean by the time the other person comes home from work? Ohmygodthatwouldfreakinbeawesome.

Let's stop right there.

If there are any of you who are already in this lovely type of relationship where one of you stays home while the other works:
  1. You likely have children, which means that the one who's at home is definitely still working.
  2. You're probably laughing your butts off at the idea that the house will always be clean by the time the person working away from the house comes home.
But a girl can have her crazy daydreams, right?

Despite the fact that both of us work 40 hours a week, I've still been feeling like a housewife from the 1950's a little bit lately - in a good way. After I come home and walk the dog, I put on my apron (oh goodness, I love my pretty little apron), turn on the Swing/Big Bands radio channel on, and start preparing dinner. And I love it! All of the fresh ingredients, the chopping (sidenote: I haven't cut myself in ages! Practice makes, uh...not bleeding!), the sizzling sounds, the smells... Ahhhhh. Then Eric walks through the door and I greet him with a chipper, "Hello, Honey! How was your day?" Alright, maybe not always that last part, but you get the drift.

Of course, the down side to this is that we usually end up eating dinner between 7:30 and 8 p.m. (because fresh, healthy meals don't make themselves, you know). But it's just so satisfying to sit down to a home cooked meal made with fresh - and these days, usually local - ingredients. Last night I made a good old standby recipe (courtesy of Real Simple) of sausage, spinach and gnocchi and this time the only ingredients that weren't from the farmers' market were the garlic and the Parmesan cheese. (Fresh - no powdered sawdust from a green can for us. Trust me - once you have fresh grated Parm, you will never go back.) It honestly tasted fresher than it ever did when I made it with ingredients from Giant.

Eating well doesn't have to take hours, though. We bought wild greens and an apple from the market, and when I added some walnuts, blue cheese and balsamic vinaigrette to those - voila! A super easy, super delicious, healthy lunch.

Now don't get me wrong - I know I'm no Healthy-Local-Seasonal-Food Saint. I'll be the first person to tell you that I still make unwise food decisions. Last week in a moment of weakness (and frugality!) after a lunch hour workout (I seriously crave chocolate after I exercise), I walked through the Rite Aid that I pass on my way back to the office and convinced myself that the 14 oz. bag of peanut M&Ms would be a good idea. Certainly more bang for my (4) bucks than a smaller "single serving" bag! And maybe, just maybe, I even ate a few of said M&Ms earlier this week prior to 10 o'clock in the morning because I knew they just sitting up there in my desk cabinet, calling my name. (From now on, I think the wallet needs to stay locked up in my office when I go to the gym.)

But back to the 1950's housewife thing. Maybe that's not something I should aspire to be like. I found an article from Good Housekeeping, printed on May 13, 1955 that is titled, "The good wife's guide". Here it is, for your reading pleasure - with comments by me in italics.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 

* Have dinner ready. Plan ahead, even the night before, to have a delicious meal ready, on time for his return. This is a way of letting him know that you have been thinking about him and are concerned about his needs. Most men are hungry when they come home and the prospect of a good meal (especially his favourite dish) is part of the warm welcome needed.  Okay, not too bad...

* Prepare yourself. Take 15 minutes to rest so you'll be refreshed when he arrives. Touch up your make-up, put a ribbon in your hair and be fresh-looking. He has just been with a lot of work-weary people. Nothing wrong with caring about your appearance. Indeed. But ribbon? Really? Guess I'm going to have to raid the gift-wrapping bag! I hope it looks pretty with fleece sweatpants.

* Be a little gay and a little more interesting for him. His boring day may need a lift and one of your duties is to provide it. I have heard that some guys are into that... Eric?

* Clear away the clutter. Make one last trip through the house just before your husband arrives. I actually do this - I think every appreciates a tidy house, no?

* Gather up schoolbooks, toys, paper etc and then run a dustcloth over the tables. What's a dustcloth?

* Over the cooler months of the year you should prepare and light a fire for him to unwind by. Your husband will feel he has reached a haven of rest and order, and it will give you a lift too. After all, catering for his comfort will provide you with immense personal satisfaction. I'm a little surprised that they are actually instructing a WOMAN to prepare and *gasp!* light a fire! Isn't this "man's work"? Well, fine then. But I'm doing this BEFORE I go get the freakin' ribbon.

* Prepare the children. Take a few minutes to wash the children's hands and faces (if they are small), comb their hair and, if necessary, change their clothes. They are little treasures and he would like to see them playing the part. Minimize all noise. At the time of his arrival, eliminate all noise of the washer, dryer or vacuum. Try to encourage the children to be quiet. When I imagine this, I think I would be freaked out by the silence. I find the sound of the washer very soothing - it's working while I am free to do other stuff! Like wash those filthy children!

* Be happy to see him. It's very telling that they felt they had to add this instruction.

* Greet him with a warm smile and show sincerity in your desire to please him. Make sure you have dried your tears and put the Chardonnay bottle in the recycle bin, as well. (Remember: a tidy house is a happy house!)

* Listen to him. You may have a dozen important things to tell him, but the moment of his arrival is not the time. Let him talk first - remember his topics of conversation are more important that yours. "Um, Honey?...Yes, of course, no, please - tell me about your day....Mmm hmmmm, right. Fascinating. What flavor cake did they have to celebrate Bob's retirement?...Sounds delicious. But, um, Honey?...Yeah. The house is sort of on fire. I'm sorry, I apologize - go on. You were saying? Cake, right."

* Make the evening his. Never complain if he comes home late or goes out to dinner, or other places of entertainment without you. Instead, try to understand his world of strain and pressure and his very real need to be at home and relax. Or out at the strip clubs, whatever. Go right ahead, Sweetheart!

* Your goal: Try to make sure your home is a place of peace, order and tranquility where your husband can renew himself in body and spirit. After you're done building that fire, build a rock garden with a fountain, too.

* Don't greet him with complaints and problems. Right. Would you tell your boss your personal problems? Of course not. Just keep in all inside and grab another glass of wine.

* Don't complain if he's late home for dinner or even if he stays out all night. Count this as minor compared to what he might have gone through that day. Like boinking his secretary? Yeah, sure. Stay out all night, Hon. You had a hard day, you might as well party all night. I'll just stay here with the fire and the clean children and the rock garden and cry myself to sleep.

* Make him comfortable. Have him lean back in a comfortable chair or have him lie down in the bedroom. Have a cool or warm drink ready for him. Cool OR warm?!? How am I supposed to know? Am I allowed to ask him? AHHHH, the pressure is too much!

* Arrange his pillow and offer to take off his shoes. Speak in a low, soothing and pleasant voice. Is this your husband or a 6 month old baby we're talking about here?

* Don't ask him questions about his actions or question his judgment or integrity. Remember he is the master of the house and as such will always exercise his will with fairness and truthfulness. You have no right to question him. WOW. Just...WOW.

* A good wife always knows her place. Well, we sure do now!

    Tuesday, January 5, 2010

    More deliciousness...

    So continue my tale of holiday cooking goodliness, let me tell you about the freshtastic veggies (and dead animals) that we picked up at the farmer's market.

    Behold! Seasonal, fresh Virginia produce! (Okay, Pennsylvania and West Virginia produce. But you try finding room for a farm in the DC metro area.)

    l to r: mustard greens, baby portabella mushrooms in the paper bag, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, potatoes, sweet potatoes, parsnips, white onion, and rainbow chard!
    (Not shown: grass-fed beef, leg of lamb, and buffalo sausages) 

    We picked these up on Saturday night but had plans with friends that evening, so we only got around to using some of it on Sunday evening. It was then that Eric made a beef stew that was out of this world. He used beef, onion and potatoes from the market, plus a bunch of (not bagged) carrots and some frozen peas from Trader Joe's and Whole Foods, respectively. Oh, and French wine from the Saint-Émilion region of Bordeaux. So not an entirely local meal, of course, but we're trying. It was pure heaven.

    Doesn't it look like something you might draw in art class?
    Fresh food is so gorgeous!

    See my new enameled cast iron pot in the back there? Thank you, Target! Me loves this pot!

    And thank you also to my mother, who provided us with this fantastic cookbook when she came down to visit for Thanksgiving. It is called The New Best Recipe and we have been using it for all sorts of things, including this beef stew. It's really useful in explaining how they came to their methods of cooking foods and it even has helpful illustrations. (I can't believe I had never thought before to cut "stiff" greens like kale down their stems with a knife! Duh!)

    Here is Eric's masterpiece:

    Plus,  I decided to go nuts and bake rolls from scratch! After my minor success with the focaccia, I was pumped up enough to try some more yeasty treats. Again, they burned - this time only on the bottoms (I'm going to blame the crappy oven, not myself...yeah...) but I actually did create edible little rolls! Woo hoo!

    Who knows what I'll try next! (Now to just not burn it...)

    Monday, January 4, 2010

    Alles Gute im Neuen Jahr!

    That's "Happy New Year" for all of you non-Germans out there!

    It's been a great two weeks. With the snow storm on the 21st, my self-imposed day off on the 22nd, then our trip to North Carolina for Christmas followed by me being sick (boooo!) and then New Year's, there has been minimal work occurring and lots of relaxation - just how I like it!

    There has also been a lot of cooking, naturally.

    I had been putting off making bread because the recipes in the book I had purchased off of their discount rack at Barnes & Noble (the first book I've purchased in AGES thanks to our town's awesome library) always seemed to call for white bread flour, which is different from all-purpose. (If you care to know what the difference is, read here.) So in the spirit of utilizing the local town's independent businesses, I called up the local natural foods store that I've been meaning to visit but never have.

    It was 5 pm on New Year's Eve and I asked the woman who answered how late she planned to be open. She replied that she was just trying to figure out that out; they'd been slow all day. I asked if she had the bread flour and she checked. She did. I told her that if she could wait 5 minutes, I'd be there to buy it from her.

    I threw on some shoes and drove right over. The owner had a customer at that point, but had left my flour on the counter. Once she was free to chat with me, she informed me that they don't usually sell that flour to the public but they use it in all of the baked goods that they sell. As I gazed around the store to see what else they sold, she brought me a ginger cookie that they'd made with this flour and said it was on the house. They'd been slow that day and it would go bad otherwise.

    I finished my walk around the small store and ended up picking out a few other items to keep my new organic bread flour company: some fantastic organic pumpkin hand cream that smells so good that it makes me want to start licking my own hands, plus a dozen white eggs from an Amish farm up in Pennsylvania that set me back a whopping $1.89. After chatting with the owner for a few minutes about natural foods and how 2010 is looking like a good year for real food to return to the American diet, I practically skipped out of there. Why can't every shopping experience be so fulfilling?

    On New Year's Day, I made crêpes - although (I'm ashamed to say) from a box. When I'd seen the mix in the German store, it was just after having had one of the AMAZING crêpes from our farmer's market and I guess it had impaired my brain. (Damn Nutella!) So I paid close to $4 for the mix, only to realize when I pulled it out of the cupboard on Friday morning to see that it only contained flour, salt and...sugar? I can't remember. But let's just say that it was something ridiculously basic and I felt like an idiot.

    Nonetheless, I proceeded to add egg and water to the mix and voilà!...a too-thick crêpe that more closely resembled a pancake than the thin slices of heaven that are served at the market. Grrrrr.

    Try #2 was a bit more successful but still not quite right. I think I need one of those fancy little crêpe batter spreaders that the girl at the market uses...

    We spread some sugar-free blackberry "jam" (which I put in quotation marks because there was not one chunk of fruit in this "jam" so I'm pretty sure that it should've been called "jelly") on the crêpes and sprinkled them with powdered sugar. Not perfect...but pretty tasty. I still have one more packet of crêpe mix to use up so we'll see if those turn out better. From then on, though, I'm making it from scratch.

    To redeem myself, that afternoon I took my first shot at making bread from scratch. With my 100 Great Bread recipe book in one hand and my new bread flour in the other, I set out to make Potato Focaccia Pugliese. I ended up over-baking it because I got distracted while it was baking and let it bake the entire 30 minutes, but despite the fact that we had to use a saw to cut through it, it was pretty good! I mean, at least it resembled bread!

    A big thanks to our neighbor for letting us cut a branch off of her rosemary bush any time we need one. Couldn't be any fresher!

    Okay, this is getting a bit long. I'll write more soon about all of the beautiful vegetables we picked up at the farmer's market on Saturday...