about bliss

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

soup for a winter's night

Sometimes I please and surprise myself in the kitchen, when I try something new and it turns out fabulously. As the temperatures dip, and flurries fill the sky, I crave luscious, hot soups--the perfect balance of warmth and faux heartiness. I love that soup can be virtually fat-free and yet taste utterly voluptuous. I came home from work *early* (if 4pm is early after arriving at work at 7am...), set some frozen roasted butternut squash pieces out and went for a very short walk. I came home, enjoyed coffee and couch time, reading my new *Cooking Light* magazine, and then headed to the kitchen.

I sauteed diced carrots, celery, and onion in a little canola oil. I added chunks of the still frozen squash, water, a bay leaf, dried sage, black pepper, and salt. I cooked away until the squash was thawed and the other veggies had a little give. I used my stick blender to roughly mash the soup, preserving some rustic chunks. I ladled a bowl full, drizzled honey on top, and ate with a wedge of Zingy's Paesano bread with olive oil. Yumm. The veggies and spices give the soup a thanksgiving flavor, and the honey draws out the sweetness of the squash.

Christmas baking beckons...my cooking magazines are filled with delicious new recipes, like Chai shortbread, and chocolate sandwich cookies. Or how about a Chocolate Cake layered with homemade peppermint ice cream, enrobed in ganache? Any takers? What are your favorite holiday treats?

Monday, November 26, 2007

post for a winter's night

I'm cuddled up in my pink fleece blanket, the same one I take to movie club when we watch scary/violent movies like *Braveheart*, and skimming *The Dharma Bums* for class tomorrow. Yes, I said skimming...sadly, it's been long enough since I've last read the novel that even my copious marginalia seem new, or, reflect early beliefs/impressions I don't quite hold anymore.

The maple bourbon pecan pie turned out deliciously, its success hinging on my lackadaisical and imprecise and rather generous sprinkling of Maker's Mark (from a ginormous jug, the dregs of bourbon left over from my famous PhD graduation Pink Party) into the filling mixture. Boozy, caramelly, and nutty--a most lovely combination.

My weekend in Michigan hinged on relaxation--I went to a vigorous yoga class on Friday morning, visited the historica Cappon House with Mom and Grandma in honor of Grandma's birthday, drank a lemon martini in the happening New Holland Brewery with my family on Wednesday night, and shared a traditional Thanksgiving feast with my family.

The train trip seemed to stretch out into giant interminable swaths of time, the seats crowded with train *amateurs,* as my friend M once said about airports, and my wide-eyed reflection gazing back at me from the dark train windows.

Now, a flurry of holiday activity and an overwhelming mass of grading awaits...and then it's back to Michigan to *finally* see my dearest friends who I haven't seen in MONTHS, and to spend more time with my dear family.

I'm reading Amy Bloom's critically acclaimed novel *Away* and very much enjoying the story and her writing style--evocative but not effusive, stylish but not spare.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


Tonight I watched my very first Japanese Anime film, *My Neighbor Totoro,* by Hayao Miyazaki, which was utterly delightful. The landscape animation radiates peace, calm, and beauty. The littlest girl in the film is simply adorable, and the expressiveness of all characters, their vivid imaginations, the presence of the spirit world (represented by the fluffy, bunny-esque Totoro), and family sadness is palpably expressed in deceptively simply characters/animations. We (the intrepid movie club) dined on cookies and milk, and all I needed was my pink fleece blanket to feel totally kid-like and comforted!

Tomorrow I make my way back to Michigan for Pie Day! Hoorah! I'm taking the Amtrak, my new favorite method of travel. I have four brand new magazines to keep me entertained on the long-ish journey around the lake.

Have a lovely feast and a delightful break, everyone!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

pie-day preview

If my memory serves me correctly, last year I wrote about pie-day--what others call Thanksgiving, I like to call pie-day, named in honor of my favorite part of the feast (well, except for all the gorgeous vegetables, and the delectable mashed potatoes) and nicely shifting attention away from the problematic mythos of the holiday (about which I was just reading in preparation for my class tomorrow). Today I made a rustic apple tart that I'm taking to work with me tomorrow. I made the crust yesterday, a standard all-butter crust, and let it sit overnight in the refrigerator. It seemed a little "stretchy" today, but it baked up nicely flaky. I sauteed the apples in butter, brown sugar, and then added a touch of vanilla and cinnamon. I lined the apples on a rectangle of dough, folded the excess dough over the fruit, sprinkled the entire creation with large grained Turbinado sugar, and baked it until golden. A little preview of pie day, a little practice with pastry!

first snowfall

While flurries have danced throught the sky on several occasions this past week, last night they stuck. I stayed up LATE reading an old Jenny Crusie novel, *Tell Me Lies,* that I found at the library. Before finally falling asleep, I peeked outside and saw a thin blanket--make that a cotton sheet--of snow on my car top, rooftops, and even on the grass. It was pretty and magical and I remembered everything I love about winter--mainly, the sense of "hibernation" with a good book and hot chocolate. I carved out some time from work duties and student needs to do just that this weekend, and I feel refreshed. Now, the sun streams in the windows and quickly melts the snow into common moisture, and beckons me outside for a brisk, bracing walk before facing today's tasks: reading the Beats for class on Tuesday, planning a continuing ed course with my friend B, and baking cookies (for students) and an apple galette (for friends/colleagues).

Saturday, November 17, 2007

fun times with the VP + the Beard

Last night my gang and I celebrated the end of another long week, jammed full of special presentations and observations, with a little trip to She-town for pizza and conviviality at Il Ritrovo. Once we had bread and water in our starved and parched bodies, conversation flowed, laughter reverberated, and fun reigned. I was pleased to make an appearance with friends rather than dining alone yet again. And I even garnered a flirtatious wink from the ever-amiable host.

This morning the rain turned into snow (which makes me think of that Dan Folgeberg song about meeting an old lover in the grocery store...that song breaks my heart every time I hear it). I've stayed warm inside, doing laundry and tidying my home. And--to my utter amazement--watching the downstairs neighbors pack their giant UHaul truck! They're moving!

My thoughts turn to Christmas, to gifts to make, and warm thoughts to share, to delicious treats to create. I think it will be a truffle year--hoorah! This, of course, necessitates an order from Chocosphere. With the snow and grey skies, it's also the time to stock up on SAD-staving-off chocolate bars. A little Cluizel, a handful of Pralus, and something new awaits me.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

a funny thing happened on the way to the grocery store

An elderly gentleman, decked out in camo jacket and hat, stopped me in the Copps (where does the apostrophe go?!?) parking lot, and said, "You look nice. You look like a lady."

I was wearing my favorite Ann Taylor suit--a wool boucle suit with cream splotches randomly sprinkled across the fabric--black hose (which I didn't want to wear, but was having a Bridget Jones' -esque situation with tights and hose this morning), and my favorite classic black pumps (not nearly as swanky as the Cole Haans, but still nice), and--ugh--my puffy white down coat, because IT WAS SNOWING this morning. Little tiny pellets of snow. Cold, brisk wind. Layered grey skies.

Anyway, it was a sweet comment that warmed my heart on a depressingly winter day.

if the shoe fits and you can't buy it

Besides reflecting on place, home, and loss while walking around Lenox Square mall, I also engaged in retail pleasures. I spent several hours in Bloomingdales, trying on cashmere sweaters (and buying a classic black turtleneck, with slightly puffed sleeves at the shoulders), shoes, and boots. I tried to slip my foot in a size-too-small Cole Haan black patent pump with Nike Air cushioning just to see if these shoes would provide the comfort and springiness for which Nike is famous. It's hard to say since my whole foot was smooshed and losing sensation. The shoes are beautiful--with clean lines and a classic, more substantial heel than is often found.

And the boots, oh Lord, the boots. I've been on a boot mission for several years. Most boots are too wide in the calf for me (as one annoying salesman told me, I need to get bigger calves. Like it's me and not the boots that are problematic). I told the friendly Bloomie's salesman about my quandry and he brought out several different boots, ranging from a Franco Sarto with synthetic uppers, to an all leather zip-up Stuart Weitzman, to the stunningly gorgeous all leather stretch Cole Haan boot in a buttery, caramelly leather, that skimmed my calf and nicely scrunched but didn't slide down my leg as I walked around the shoe department. I wanted to live in these boots. But, even with the special promotion of 20% off, the boots would be a *major* investment that I just can't make now. I pretended I didn't like the pull-on feature of the boots, and the salesman told me that this was the most classic, beautiful boot on the market now, better than anything by the more upscale Gucci. I believed him. I gingerly packed the boots back in their large box, patted them goodbye, and headed toward the cosmetics department in search of more affordable luxury.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


The airplane glided over the twinkling lights of metropolitan Atlanta, and landed with a jolt and a jar to the system...I stepped out of the plane into an airport that reminded me of so many trips between my significant places, back when I called Alabama/Georgia and Michigan home. Light traffic on I-85 made the trip from the airport to Buckhead smooth and speedy, and within no time I was hopping in S’s car and we were making our way to Mellow Mushroom, an old favorite pizza joint from grad school days. The Buckhead location is more polished and less hippy-deadhead-chic than either the Auburn or Carrollton locations that I frequented “back in the day,” but the food tasted the same. As I sipped sweet tea from a red plastic Coke glass as big as my head, I listened to the strains of “Curtis Lowe” and “Honeysuckle Blue” welcoming me back home to the South. Since it was Thirsty Thursday, loud trivia and crowds of just-out-of-college grads surrounding us. I felt old.

Tucked away in a seemingly forgotten corner where old, flat industrial buildings mingle with new artistry, Floataway Cafe didn’t disappoint me in terms of warm ambience (a really wonderful blend of polished stainless industrial and cool, calming earth tones and natural fibers giving a wispy, cloud impression), impeccable (and flirtatious!) service, and seriously good food. I was disappointed with the vegetarian options--I could have sampled the unlisted vegetable plate, but it include such cult veggies like Beets (which I detest. Dirt, Soil, Earth: that’s what I taste when I deign to eat Beets). I selected a small dish of marinated Tuscan olives, a slippery, salty, and savory counterpoint to my Lemon Gingersnap Martini. Next came a simple arugula and parm salad dressed with lemon juice and olive oil. The long slivers of parm perfectly rounded out the peppery bite of the greens. Finally, I selected the pizza margherita, which would have been wonderful, all San Marzano tomatoes and fresh mozzarella topped with trendy microgreens, except that Il Ritrovo has spoiled me for any other artisan pizza.

And then we were off to the Chocolate Bar in Decatur. I ordered a San Pellagrino and coffee to accompany my Caramel Ganache dessert: one thin, small round of chocolate genoise, topped with a perfectly voluptuous egg of dark chocolate ganache, garnished with edible gold leaf and fleur de sel, next to a thin, crispy, nutty, spicy chocolate wafer topped with a smooth egg of medium chocolate sorbet. The contrasting textures and ingenious use of shapes, temperatures, and variations of chocolate delighted my discriminating chocoholic soul.

Saturday night S and I dined at Tamarind Seed Thai Bistro, my old favorite relocated, spiffed up, but still serving my favorite Thai Dishes of spring rolls and Mixed Vegetable Curry with Tofu. A glass of crisp Jewel Viognier nicely cut through the lush heat of the curry. My tummy was happy for awhile, but mystified by the presence of fried food (a real rarity in my diet).

On Saturday afternoon S went back to the hotel room to rest, and I wandered Lenox Square Mall on my own and remembered previous visits. The time I bought my Farewell to the South Dress. The time I talked to H. on my cell phone in the Ann Taylor dressing room. The time I had a Bobbie Brown makeover. Before I even left Wisconsin for Georgia I wondered what my emotional response might be. For my ‘Sconnie friends reading this blog, and my Michigan friends and family who are close by, you’ll be happy to know that I couldn’t see myself living in the ATL metro area. Despite the delicious food, the temperate climes, the fantabulous shopping, and the beautiful people everywhere, I just didn’t feel at ease. To live anywhere near there (which I would’ve been had I accepted a different job offer), I would have to be a different version of myself, and though I don’t doubt that she would be wonderful, I think the version of my self that my current small-town life demands is more true-to-form. M- may be small, and the men (and women) may have mullets, and the winter may be grueling and inescapably long, but I know we won’t run out of water, and I won’t be hemmed in by towering edifices of glass and steel. I can drive to She-town in the time it took me to drive 5 miles in ATL. I can walk out my apartment door and breathe clean, fresh air not polluted by so much car exhaust (though I may smell algae stink from Lake Michigan).

Maybe I really am a Midwestern Girl after all. Maybe I like Chicago better than Atlanta, in that it’s a true walking city...and a Lake front city, and a city that I’ve experienced not alone but with my family and friends. So many of my Atlanta memories seem to magnify the loneliness I often felt during those late grad school and early post-grad days. Upon returning to Wisconsin, I couldn’t shake the feeling of being alone in the world--here I was leaving a supposedly familiar place and returning to a place that’s just not home yet. My “re-entry”--a term I learned to apply when moving back and forth between two homes during grad school--startled me with its intensity and melancholy. I used to agree with writer Gretel Ehrlich that “home can be many places,” but I’m starting to think that home is a more complex intersection of geographical place, memory, mood, adjustment, people, and comfort. This *can* exist in many places, but those places change as one or more of those factors change. For now, M- isn’t home, and home is still rather abstractly and defiantly Michigan, and for that reason I can’t wait to go “home” next week...but I also can’t wait for the day that M-too is home. I know that day will come (though you’ll never see me sporting a mullet or dating anyone who has one:)

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

all my bags are packed, i'm ready to go...

I should be revising/proofreading my conference paper, but as my friend and fellow panelist S. says, "that's what plane rides are for!" One of our friends once infamously wrote her entire conference paper in the hotel the night before her presentation! As for me, well, I don't want to waste potential meal and shopping time, so I'll be writing changes in the airport and on the plane. Nevermind the mind-softening effects of Dramamine:)

As I sit here shivering in 2 layers of clothes, I'm practically giddy at the thought of sunshine and relative warmth. And the company of friends I haven't seen in nearly a year! And the culinary adventures I've waited years to have...

So far, our tentative eating spots:
Floataway Cafe (a definite, with reservations)
The Chocolate Bar (what's not to like with a name like that?)
Mellow Mushroom (a nostalgic fave)
Tamarind (Thai, though now it has a new name and a new location that I can't remember)

I was chatting with a senior colleague at work today and showing him the pile of google maps on my desk, printed out, highlighted, and ready to go, and my still-unfinished presentation draft on my computer screen. He assured me that my priorities are spot-on.

My suitcase is nearly packed, and can you believe I'm only taking two pairs of shoes? The ridiculously fashionable brown patent leather peep toe mary janes for professional activities, and my new favorite patent/suede/nike nylon cole haan mary janes for casual wear (think: shopping).

I can't wait to go into Sephora and smell the mingled scents of a hundred perfumes, and to see every possible shade and shine level of pink lip stick/gloss/stain/glass arrayed in front of me. To walk through the wide, white tiled hallways of bloomingdales, and try on dresses that have no rational place in my small-town life. To say hello to the Manolos and Jimmys and Kates at Neiman Marcus. To purchase new stationery at Crane's, and think of my dear friend M, who first told me about the store, and who I haven't talked to in ages as we both (and his wife B) started new jobs and made big moves this summer...ahh, the power of memory, and the thrill of creating new memories. Long chats with my friends about life, love, and babies (theirs, not mine:). A respite from my daily life, which is becoming increasingly cluttered with more and more piles of papers everywhere.

Look for a full report of the eats when I return--I promised B some post-prandial prose to tide us through til the VP makes a break out of this small town and hits a big city (an event that needs to happen sooner rather than later!).

Sunday, November 04, 2007

sunday evening

I have now successfully smuggled chocolate ganache glazed chocolate cupcakes into our local Starbucks, to fortify the tummies of the VP gathered for a weekend session of gab. I know, I really live on the edge here! The highlight of our time there was a smiley, cute 6 month old baby, whose mother handily passed him over to my friend C. to hold so she, the tired mom, could drink her coffee.

Today I said "bon voyage" to my neighbor M., who's moving to California and leaving her apartment ready for ME to move into in the New Year! I can't wait to settle into the new space and take advantage of the amenities, which include a jacuzzi bathtub, a brand new dishwasher, a cute porch, and a real garage. Two particularly sunny rooms, with windows on three sides, have me convinced I can grow indoor plants. Well, that, and being friends with a plant biologist...

I've been reading and re-reading Wallace Stevens' poem "Sunday Morning," one of my all time favorites, in preparation for class on Tuesday. It will be a challenging read for my students, but I hope also illuminating. "Divinity must live within herself."

This week will bring the first snow flakes and also my return to Georgia for a conference. A week of contrasts, of present and past...of new friends and old.

fall back...

A glorious "extra" hour of sleep is a gift on these too-short weekends! Unfortunately, I awoke to ominous grey skies that hint at the winter to come...and the much cooler temperatures and flurries that will dance across the region in the next few days.

Here's a poem I'm working on (of course, the poem, and all content here is copyrighted, so please don't run off with my halting words and broken images:)

As of Yet Untitled

Just another Carrie Meeber
riding the rails, seeking adoration,
material comforts, and a pair of
snug blue jeans.

The train winds past Chicago warehouses
filled with so many hairless, naked
mannequins--rigid limbs askew,
preternaturally pert breasts pointing skyward.

Grandeur meets squalor meets expanses
of grain: corn and soy stretch from highway
to railway, eclipsing views of Lake Michigan,
as Illinois sighs into Wisconsin.

Vast expanses of emptiness between
sunglassed sadness and the gazes of passersby.
Eyes limned with tears, iPod buds in her ears,
a crumpled Vogue thrown on the vacant seat.

One bulging suitcase above, an overstuffed
shopping bag below, and a silent cell phone stuck
in her green purse. Miles to go before she’s home:
clutter, forgotten work, laundry,

and no rocking chair. Nowhere yet to dream
the happiness she hopes to know.