White Christmas!

 

I wrote this in a message last week after I got to Alabama: “Another Life Skill I’ve developed for Coping with a Polar Climate is fleeing. I have been outside on a patio in Alabama this afternoon in a long-sleeved t-shirt (What!) tapping busily away on my computer. I even took my shoes off for a little while, not because it was that warm, but  really just because I could.”  Clearly I spoke too soon! We drove about an hour north to my parent’s in Georgia for Christmas and it’s snowing! It’s the first white Christmas I remember for a long time.

 

 

We had Christmas with my family this year, with four children at my parent’s house and my absent sisters in North Carolina and Vietnam via Skype. With all of us living all over the world, it’s hard to get everyone together in one place at the same time, but technology definitely helps keep us connected. We opened Vietnam presents on Christmas Eve here, Christmas morning in Saigon, and had a look at the stuffing Grace was making. She sent me a purple silk scarf from a factory she visited where silk went from silk worm to scarf right on site.

When we finally rolled out of bed late Christmas morning, my youngest brother Peter made all of us a Christmas brunch of sesame seed bagels with cream cheese, capers, red onions and smoked salmon. It was gorgeous and delicious. Peter is probably my most culinarily experienced sibling; we’ve been cooking together since he was about 12 and it’s not unusual to get a call from him that begins “Hi Christine, I’m in the grocery store and I was wondering…”. He remembers my making his birthday cake when he was 4 or 5 and being “very generous with the beaters.”

 

 

I got  a red spoon with  a little face in it for Christmas. I made giblet gravy and carved the turkey, burned my knuckle. I’ve been watching Cat play with a snowflake ornament on the Christmas tree and watching snowflakes fall outside. We are making a piñata for our Dad’s extended family reunion tomorrow, tearing up strips of newspaper and smearing them over a big balloon. Israel is trying to make it impenetrable since most of the cousins are extremely fit 20 somethings and is coming up with all kinds of concoctions to make the flour paste stronger. The rumor is that it’s going to look like Lord Voldemort. We’ll see what Peter comes up with.

 

We’re going to spend the day with my dad’s parents, lots of aunts, uncles, and cousins tomorrow. It’s a yearly event I always hope to be able to attend and look forward to. Then we’ll head into the slow pre- New Year week. Should be chill (and chilly).

 

I hope you all had a lovely Christmas.

 

 

 

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After the after-after party-

I’ve had quite the busy and momentous few weeks since last I posted! My sister and her lovely new husband threw a sweet and wonderful wedding weekend at a fabulous cabin in the Appalachian mountains, complete with beautiful sunsets, velvety-black skies perfect for lying under on the driveway while watching the meteor shower above us, wonderful time spent with both families, great company, food, and music that we danced all night to. It was a perfect and intimate wedding, exactly them.


We’ve also settled on our new digs in the meantime after an exhausting whirlwind apartment search. Just when I thought we were going to have to settle on a tiny dark shoebox, the clouds lifted and I found a place that has (wait for it ) a KITCHEN WINDOW! I know! I can hardly believe it myself! As with all urban apartments, there are trade-offs, which we are making in the form of multiple flights of stairs, but did I mention the windows? We’ll be moving in mid September and I can’t wait to get my saucepans and skillets unpacked.

Hot on the heels of that exciting turn of events, Grace visited on her way through town, our first visitor since the move. It was especially sweet since she is moving to Vietnam for a year’s adventure with the aforementioned lovely new husband and we won’t get to see her for a while. We had a wander ’round my new neighborhood and then Scott took us out for an Indian dinner in Greenwich Village. We caught up on what we didn’t have time to at the wedding and I introduced her to Italian ice and a cannoli. Seeing her off in the train station was bittersweet- although a tiny  and slightly acerbic portion of my brain was telling the weepy me that it was being made all the more poignant  by the drama of waving goodbye to a loved one in a choo-choo train station; goodbyes don’t come grander than that. I will miss her ridiculously. I’m sure we will be putting skype through its paces.

One really nice thing about the wedding was that we all cooked together, chicken and vegetable skewers, salads, corn on the cob, boiled peanuts and watermelon, sangria and my mom’s cheesecake. I made a favorite salad of mine that was really good. Here is the recipe.

Black Eyed Pea and Rice Salad

1/4 cup seasoned rice vinegar

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)

2 cups cooked short grain brown rice, still warm

2 cups black-eyed peas (if canned, rinsed and drained; or fresh, cooked until tender; frozen, cooked until tender)

1 medium cucumber, peeled and diced

1 mango, diced small

1 avocado, diced

1 red onion, diced small

1 red bell pepper, diced

1 can diced green chiles or a hot pepper (jalapeno or serrano perhaps)of your choice, minced

large handful of cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped

In a bowl large enough to toss all of your ingredients, mix the salt, cumin and rice vinegar until the salt has dissolved. Tumble the still-warm rice into the bowl and gently toss the rice in the vinegar until the rice has soaked up all of the liquid. Taste the rice and add a bit more vinegar at a time if needed until there is a distinct but subtle twang throughout the rice. Gently toss in the black-eyed peas.If you have flame proof hands like mine, use your fingers to lightly mix everything so the rice and peas don’t turn to mush; otherwise, a pair of forks, if wielded gingerly, should work very well. Set the bowl aside and allow the mixture to come down to room temperature.

Meanwhile, all of the other vegetables can be cut up; I like to dice everything to roughly the same size as the black-eyed peas so that no one flavor overwhelms the forkful. While a ripe and juicy mango and guacamole-ready avocado are usually preferable, in this case it is better to err  toward a slightly firmer fruit in order to keep them from dissolving into the salad. While the cucumber and onion provide the pleasant contrast of crunch and the mango and red pepper are bright notes of sweetness, the avocado should be buttery nuggets of richness in lieu of oil in the dressing.

When the rice and peas are cool, add all of the vegetables, chilis and cilantro into the mixing bowl and, again, gently incorporate until thoroughly combined. I prefer to allow the flavors to mingle for at least an hour before eating, but it will keep well for several days. Since it is most flavorful at just cooler than room temperature, it is ideal for picnics or a one-dish lunch at work.

Something to remember about the type of rice you choose: long grain rice like Basmati or Jasmine has a different type of starch than shorter and stickier rice. One characteristic of long grain rice is that it is very firm when it is chilled- almost crunchy. For this reason, I usually use short grain rice for this recipe, since it is usually eaten when at least slightly chilled. The sciencey version of why this happens is explained here.