deborahjross: (Deb and Cleo)
"As a child, my family's menu consisted of two choices: take it or leave it." -- Buddy Hackett

Just about everyone who reads this smiles, but actually I think they should be screaming. Either/or choices and black-and-white thinking serve none of us well. Either you get an A+ or you are a total failure. Your book is either #1 on the New York Times Bestseller list and wins both the Nebula and Hugo Awards, or it is an abysmal flop. Your marriage is either the stunning example to all humankind or it's crap. Exaggerated like that, it's easy to see the ridiculousness of perfection-or-nothing. But how many times do we see ourselves and our lives through a perfection-tinted lens?

Years ago, when my children were small, I agonized over my many, many lapses in maternal perfection. At times, I was sure that a single moment of inattention or crabbiness had ruined my beautiful babies forever. A friend (who, interestingly enough, was childless herself) gave me a book in which I read that it isn't necessary to be a perfect mother, only a good-enough mother. Was I good enough? Even in my darkest moments, I knew that I was. For all the black marks, I could look at a thousand time more of games played, books read aloud, lullabies sung, trips to the zoo, mommy and me classes in everything from gymnastics to piano, walks along the beach... (And my daughters have grown up to be amazing, strong women, for which I take an eensy amount of credit, the rest being all their doing.)

I've also learned to relax about my cooking. I'm a good cook, although not given to following recipes too closely or attempting anything too fancy. My general approach is to grab a bunch of fresh produce, mostly from our garden, and not overcook it. But from time to time, the results might be edible but are unlikely to be requested again. Then there are the spectacular disasters. I am notorious for burning things in pots, which is what happens when plot ideas strike in the middle of preparing dinners. My best weapon against perfectionism here is a sense of humor. If I can laugh at the inedibility of an experiment (and follow it up with a 30-minute-or-less-from-pantry-staples dish) then it becomes a shared source of merriment. Silly, rather than tragic.

Why then is it so much harder to cut myself some slack when it comes to writing? In my saner moments, I know that no piece of prose is ever perfect. It works or doesn't work or sort-of works or works for some folks but not others. We say "perfect" when it carries us away so completely, we are oblivious to any flaws. But the flaws are there, and another reader (or viewer, or listener) might well find them looming large.

What would it take for me to say, "This is the best I can do right now"? To remember that, as Paul Valery wrote, "a poem is never finished, only abandoned."

Can I trust my creative instincts to know when to let a project rest and come back to it later, when to keep working away, or when to release it to the world, warts and all?
deborahjross: (prancing horse)
I love winter squashes. They're delicious, versatile, and packed with nutrients. Some varieties you can find in markets pretty much all year round -- acorn and butternut, sometimes chunks of banana squash or Hubbard, with specialty or health food markets carrying kabocha and a few others, too. Others are seasonal. Pumpkins are easiest to find in the fall, and I think it's a tragedy that so many end up rotting when their decorative days are over. Delicata doesn't store well, so grab it while you can. Then there are the heirloom varieties, oh my. We've hardly begun our exploration of them.

Favorites so far: buttercup, carnival, blue Hubbard, Tennessee sweet potato squash (with a delicate but distinct sweet potato flavor); pumpkins like Cinderella or Musquee de Provence, small sugar pumpkins. Not so fond of tromboncini, but that could be that it's better as a tender summer squash.

This year, our garden produced about 200 lbs of winter squash. A large fraction of that was the Tennessee sweet potato squash, as the plants are as prolific as they are robust. Then we saw a stand of pumpkins that looked like Musqee de Provence and a similar, smaller white variety, at a local market. They were marked down to $1 each, although many of them weighed 15 lbs or more. I suspect they had been displayed for Halloween and never sold. We bought almost all of them and have been working our way through the enormous pile. The pumpkins had been roughly handled and set on concrete, so we had to scramble to use the damaged ones first. If the skins are intact and you wipe them down with dilute bleach to kill mold spores, they'll happily keep all winter.Read more... )
deborahjross: (Default)
We have an extravagance of winter squashes this year. Here's a new one for us, an heirloom variety called Tennessee Sweet Potato squash.

We have 8 of them, weighing about 15 lbs each. The shells are so hard, [ profile] davetrow needed a meat cleaver to chop it into quarters. I wrestled with one of them and then microwaved the chunks -- a delicate taste like the yellow sweet potatoes; doesn't need seasoning or sweetening to taste very nice indeed. The other quarters I roasted and then scooped into containers to freeze or use in soup or even just mashed.

Coming up: Cinderella pumpkins, butternut, buttercup, carnival, kabocha, sugar pumpkin. and a very strange volunteer that looks like a tromboncini that curled itself into a circle. We had some delicata but ate them first as the skins are fragile and they don't keep well.
deborahjross: (Default)
The calendar may not know it, but the miner's lettuce sure thinks it's spring! We use it as a wild cover crop, and it has erupted everywhere. Some of the leaves are well over 2" in diameter. I gathered a bunch, washed and dried it, and served it dressed with raspberry vinaigrette and topped with defrosted blackberries from last summer. Whatever endorphins are released by fresh greens after months of winter slog are currently flooding my system.

Dave says there's some baby arugula, too. It's naturalized in our garden, so it's everywhere, but I have to pick it when it's small and tender, so as to be not-too-bitter. Spring salad, part 2, coming up!
deborahjross: (bench)
I love polenta but hate standing over a simmering pot for 45 minutes, so I gave this new approach a try. The result is not quite as creamy as the traditional method, but soooo much easier. I suspect that if you make it in advance and let the rice cooker keep it warm for a bit, you won't be able to tell the difference.

Use 4 cups of water for 1 cup dry polenta. Add a little salt (what's a little? depends on your taste; I don't care for overly salted foods, so I suggest 1/2 tsp.) and some olive oil (the recipe I followed called for 3 T; I used 1 T, and suspect it may not be necessary except for taste) and any other ingredients you care for (parmesan, herbs, you get the picture).

Throw it all in the rice cooker, set to Normal/Basic White Rice. You can stir it from time to time if you're nervous. That's all!!! Then you can pour it out on a platter, let it set, cut it and fry it or whatever you like to do with polenta.
deborahjross: (Deb and Cleo)
People are often amazed when I say I cook gluten-free vegetarian meals for my sweetie, so I'll be posting some scrumptious recipes on Book View Cafe blog. Some vegan, some with dairy and eggs. Here's today's, a creamy vegetable and chickpea "curry" made with coconut milk and ginger. Meat-eaters have never complained, it's so satisfying.!/profile.php?id=1785427065
deborahjross: (teddy bears)
We -- or rather, Dave, using a long-handled picker, harvested the last of this season's grapefruit. The amount came to around 80 or 90. Some went to our Quaker meeting, but the rest are washed and awaiting the next exciting step. I think I can store some in the refrigerator, but most are so ripe, the skins are soft and they won't keep for any length of time. Therefore, I will spend this afternoon canning and creating marmalade. Grapefruit marmalade is amazing stuff, but tedious to make. This time, I'll try buzzing the peeled outer rind in a food processor instead of using a knife to create thin strips. It's also possible to make crystallized grapefruit rind and chocolate-dipped grapefruit rind, but candy is not what we need more of!

Canned grapefruit turns out a bit soupy, but is okay for non-grapefruit-season. It retains enough vitamin C to be worth eating.
deborahjross: (Deb and Cleo)
I persuaded [ profile] davetrow to reserve a little of the grape must for me to strain into fresh juice. He gave me about 1/2 gallon, mostly skins and seeds. I poured it into a ricer set over a large bowl and off we went to midweek Quaker worship. Came back, squeezed out the last of the juice and took a sip.

Oh. My.

The taste-endorphin part of my brain wonders how much of this would actually make it into wine if people only knew...

Now, it was just a tad sweeter than "pure," because Spousal Vintner had added sugar to the right level to keep the yeasties happy. Not much -- he figured 1 lb for 8 gallons. So it's a tad on the sweet side for drinking in any volume. But the flavors are wonderful -- not one-note like Concord, but multi-layered. A thing to be sipped and savored.

Next year, we'll remove the juice-tithe before adding sugar. It would also make stellar jelly, but again, would have to be set aside before the pectin-enzymes are added. I'd use a low-methoxyl pectin (not dependent on sugar to set) and probably wouldn't need any added sugar at all.

We still have about a quart and a half of juice...


deborahjross: (Default)
Deborah J. Ross

May 2017

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