Time of Reflection

Talking to anybody at the end of the year, you usually hear the terms stress, hectic, overwhelm, exhaustion … so I’ve decided to do the opposite. Today, I want to talk about what the past year was like, reflect on the good and the bad that it brought, and maybe think about what I’ve learned. You good with that? Then read on.

Not to be obnoxious, but I have to keep repeating (to myself, as well as to people around me) how lucky we were. The pandemic has not hit our country all that hard. We are now in the second lockdown of the year, and for good reason. I don’t even know what it will do to small businesses to have to close shop like this shortly before the holidays, hopefully they were smart and set up a web shop wherever possible. One of my favorite stores in the neighborhood is a lovely Italian lady who sells Polish pottery. She has a small, very tastefully set up establishment on a quiet street in walking distance from our house. Her (brand) name is Athéna Panni – go check out her online shop if you still need a cool gift :-). I know that many of our local restaurants have been starting to sell takeout food, which we try and get every once in a while. It’s not much, but we feel we should at least try and support them.

I was thinking of doing a month-by-month recap of 2020, starting with January. It was a horrible month, work-wise. I raced through a wonderful cookbook, instead of enjoying it like I usually do, to make time for a complete rewrite of a novel translation. The client was impossible to please, and I was actually worried she wasn’t going to honor our contract, for a while. Maybe one learning would be to steer clear of authors altogether in the future, and leave it to a publishing house to deal with these aspects of the business. Trying to find the most positive image for that month, I found this: It was one of my favorite projects this year, the baby blanket for young J, my friend M’s third daughter.

February brought my beautiful boy’s 18th birthday, and a new (nice and highly professional) client. For me, it was a month of recuperating, shaking off the awful past month, and putting myself back together. Also, it was the last time we traveled, when we went to see our new baby cousin-nephew, K.

March memorably brought the pandemic, the first lockdown, and home schooling. Also, we learned about social distancing.

And our dear old cat finally succumbed to kidney insufficiency, after a few months of hanging by a thread. It was heartbreaking to let her go.

April and May were two months spent away from the city. We lived at our small cottage, kids homeschooled up in the attic, my husband worked at the kitchen table, and I established a workspace in my small bedroom. Also, mid May, we brought home from the shelter my son’s much beloved, beautiful new old lady of a cat, Elfie.

June was the last month of school. My son graduated from the Waldorf school – with less fanfare than would have been customary and, sadly, no class trip to Rome due to travel banishment :-/. My daughter transitioned from elementary school to the Waldorf, after two frantic weeks of making up her mind. We had our first Covid scare, which luckily turned out to be only laryngitis.

July was a summer month in the country, spent at the leisurely pace nature dictates. I remember canoeing, hiking, rafting, mushroom picking and swimming. Lazy hours in the hammock or deckchair, crochet in the shade, and enjoying starry night skies, which I can’t show here because my lens is not cut out to hack that kind of visual. A lovely young photographer from Boston who does that kind of pictures is Abdul Dremali – check out his awesome website to have your mind blown here.

August was mostly notable for me breaking my damn elbow. Unprecedented, inconvenient and annoying, it slowed me down like whoa. I managed to heal in record time, surprising even my doctor. I tried to eat well, get enough sleep, and stress as little as possible. Typing with only my right hand became a new skill, and deadlines were kept, even though I was slow AF.

September was a busy month for everyone, kids settling in their new schools, working and me finally ditching the cast. Man, was it nice to be able to put up my hair, and to do crafts again. Also: mushroom season!

In October, my son got his license, and has been driving us around with enthusiasm and skill ever since. There was an anniversary (19 years, incredible!), a birthday (12 years, mind boggling) and a notable trip to the Baltic Sea, where our dog encountered salt water for the first time (wildly unimpressed with the ocean after tasting it, but graciously and generously digging holes in the sand).

In November, my daughter cashed in her birthday present and chose her cat. There was also a crafts extravaganza, that had to do with school, but mostly with my love for all things Christmas! Oh, and good call America, for voting the way you did.

And now, in December, the year had to end with an injured pup (damn the dog owners who are careless with their dangerous pets). Immune system and antibiotics did their thing though, and I guess it all could have been worse.

Things are slowly winding down now. Jobs lined up for the next few months: check. Christmas mail packages wrapped: check. Christmas cards made: check. (Not written, yet, though). Plans for the holidays: check. Tree bought: check. Bills paid, invoices sent out: check. Since the stores are closed anyway, there’s not a lot more to do but deep clean the house, mail the parcels, put up the tree and decorate, and if I feel up for it, do a bit of baking.

All in all, I’m happy enough to see 2020 go. I had high hopes for it, right after New Year’s, but that really did not last. It feels like all year round, it was just one damn thing after another. What the pandemic will do to society remains to be seen. People died. Jobs and livelihoods were lost. So many businesses closed down. Social distancing makes people weird, and lonely. Some families couldn’t withstand the strain of closed quarters, and relationships broke under the pressure. Political change, extreme parties finding more and more followers, not to mention the crazies (pandemic deniers, anti-vaccinationists, conspiracy theorists) … Humanity has suffered a blow, in every respect. It’s up to us now to adapt, and to prevail. Be more thoughtful, kinder, and more patient. Take better care of one another. A coach friend of mine whose website I translated a few years back suggests that every crisis also provides a chance. It might be worth while to think about what that could be.

… And that is a wrap on the ruminations on the past 12 months.

On a lighter note, I’d really like to show you this year’s Christmas cards now. As you know, I’m usually a knit and crochet whiz rather than attempting any other crafts disciplines, so I’m really pleased. I like the simple design, inspired by a DIY project I saw online. The crafter was using a lint roller and shapes cut out from rubber foam, and I used – well, vegetables ;-)!

I had only ever used potatoes for this kind of thing before (did this a lot with the kids when they were younger). But today, I found a thick wedge of celeriac and a big carrot in the veggie drawer, so decided to give those a go. I let them dry for a while after carving, and went out to buy a few sheets of a lovely thick off-white cardboard. Then I did a test run on printer paper, tried out a few shades of green (from my daughter’s water colors), and cut my cards to size.

This is what the cards look like. Came out nicely, didn’t they?

The celeriac gave the print a lovely textured look, very different from what a potato would have done. Some of you (you know who you are) will probably receive one of these cards early next week ;-). Other readers, I encourage you to make your own, I promise it’s an easy and gratifying li’l project.

Is it too early to wish you guys happy holidays? Not sure. I might come back and post next week, or not. In case you don’t hear from me again before Christmas, merry merry to all of you, and thank you very much for reading this wall of text. Enjoy my favorite Christmas carol, sung by an angel with a huge voice.

December Already!

Making an advent wreath has become an annual ritual that tells my lizard brain to catch up and understand that the year is drawing to a close. Of course, there’s still the holidays to look forward to, and I always enjoy those. Christmas this year will be a quiet affair, as will New Year’s, seeing that we’re confined to our homes – not the worst place to be, when it’s cold and dark outside, and we’re warm, have food and our loved ones. These things are not to be taken for granted, and it bears remembering that every once in a while.

Like many others, I have a tendency to fall into the pre-Christmas trap, the mad rat race of consumerism. Buying things just because, and ultimately confusing the indisputable joy of unwrapping gifts with holiday cheer. Mind you, I do like presents, receiving them and giving them. Nevertheless, I’ve been trying to downscale material needs and stick to my mantra for this year: I have everything I need.

I am trying to give a few hand made presents this year. (Wherever practical. For transatlantic gifts, unwilling to pay ridiculous postage, we’re resorting to Jeff Bezos‘ enterprise, and creative as I may be, I am unable to crochet a functional Switch game ;-)). I have a mere 10 days left for finishing my projects, but I’ve done 1,5 of 3 knit hats already, and my daughter’s sweater only needs finishing – which requires a steady hand, decent morning light and peace and quiet. That will have to wait until the weekend.

So the Covid scare remained just that – thank you for asking. Thank goodness! It’s a mystery how my son managed to not get infected after he and his girlfriend spent a whole weekend wrapped up in each other. Some say it’s his blood type (he’s an 0). But at this point, I’m just grateful we were spared, again.

In other health news, my dog was bitten by a fellow canine two weeks ago. We’ve been in and out of the vet’s, there were shots, and antibiotics, and fevers, and swelling, and no doubt considerable pain. He’s been very clingy, and he’s been sleeping a lot, even more than his usual 17-18 hours a day. It was a horrible, traumatic experience altogether. Why people with dangerous dogs insist on walking them without a leash, I’ll never understand. Charlie’s still on antibiotics, and the vet says if these bites get infected, it’s sometimes necessary to have surgery to get rid of the necrotic tissue. Yikes. Hope with me that the antibiotics will take care of it!

It was difficult not to feel like I let my dog down. I wasn’t fast enough to save him, and I feel I should have been. Also, I must confess that the place feels haunted to me now. It was only yesterday that I dared to go back. First, Charlie wasn’t up for longer walks, and now that he is again, I find myself shying away from that spot. Yesterday my husband took us, to exorcise the ghost, as it were, but I have yet to go by myself. I know I need to. That place is one of our favorite hikes, and I’m determined to be able to enjoy it again. Acknowledging the trauma is a first step. (The dog seems to be less affected by this than I. He seemed quite happy and unfazed yesterday, to my relief!)

In the meantime, I learned to appreciate our little park close by, once more. The Gingko tree is always the last to shed its beautiful foliage, and I’m grateful for the final dosage of yellow of the season.

As I told you, we were cooking Thanksgiving dinner the weekend before last, and this seems as good an opportunity as any to share the stuffing recipe I love. It’s great for turkey, and it was equally yummy for a chicken:

It’s the simplest recipe, and this is probably the reason why even my daughter appreciated it. It’s also pretty cool because it uses Johnny Cash’s cornbread recipe :-).

Cornbread Stuffing

1,5 cups cornmeal

1 cup flour

1 TSP baking soda

1 TSP salt

2 TSP sugar

1,5 cups buttermilk

1 large egg

4 TBSP vegetable oil

1 onion (or 2 shallots), diced

Mix ingredients together, pour into a baking dish and bake approx. 30 minutes.

Other cornbread recipes I’ve made use melted butter, some call for more sugar, or more eggs. I find the combination above particularly good. If you get the ratio right, it’s soft and a little bit moist, and can be enjoyed with a bit of butter, or avocado, or bacon, the next day. It’s the onion that gives it a distinctly savory character – which other types of corn bread don’t necessarily have. I love corn bread, can you tell?

After baking, let cool and wrap. Use no earlier than the next day, or bake 2 days in advance.

On the day of cooking, dice:

2 celery sticks

2 onions or 3 shallots

Add 1 tiny (or 1/2) parsley root, chopped

2/3rds of the cornbread, cubed (1 cm)

Prepare about 300 ml vegetable broth.

Chop 1 small handful fresh sage leaves, and pull off the tiny leaves from a good 6-7 large twigs of fresh thyme.

In 1-2 TBSP butter, sauté the vegetables. Add the herbs and cook for a few minutes until onions are translucent. In a large bowl, combine all ingredients. Careful with the broth. You want the mixture to be soft and moist, but the bread cubes should keep their shape, so don’t add too much liquid. Season with salt & pepper. You can be generous, because when you stuff your bird, you won’t have to season it from the inside. I’m not too fond of touching the uncooked meat, so to me that is a bonus :-).

To roast the chicken, stuff it and put it in a fireproof dish of your liking, brushed with oil. Season with salt & pepper. Leave in the oven for about 1,5 hours. Basting every 20 minutes is key for a crisp skin, which looks prettier as well. Your meat is done if a clear liquid runs out when you poke a thigh with a skewer.

Trimmings in our case consisted of a very modest spread (in comparison to what I’ve seen people do). Cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, corn, a salad and corn bread. It was lovely, simple food, and it pleased both kids so much that we decided to make the same thing for Christmas dinner.

Dessert was more elaborate than I usually do: I made my first ever layered cake, a Torta al Pistacchio.

There it is, and it looked impressive, I thought. It was very good, too! However, next time, I will try making the frosting a little less fluffy and moist, and use buttercream instead, maybe with mascarpone, but definitely without whipped cream (like this recipe called for. If you’re interested, it’s on the same food blog I recommended a few weeks back, unfortunately only of use to those who can read German, mi dispiace!)

That was it for today, I think. I wish you a peaceful, happy, and most of all healthy final month of the year.

Thank you for reading.