The days, years, weekends and Miette gingerbread

This rainy, Joaquin-the-hurricane-no-show weekend ran its course about six hours ago.

My nails are crusted with an aromatic blend of garden dirt and gingerbread batter, the house looks like a war-zone despite regular efforts (both willing and forced) by all of us to clean it, I have a zit on my forehead, and although I had grand plans for an epic beef stew dinner tonight, I managed to make the best-quality, most-average beef stew possible. 

It's a good thing I also made five precious little loaves of stellar gingerbread from the Miette cookbook I bought yesterday while on a date with Ol. Jack was at French and then heading to a sleepover, so Ol and I walked Percy in the slightly spitting rain and then decided to drop him off and walk to Starbucks and Crate & Barrel for hot chocolate and a look-see. 

I found this beautiful cookbook, from the eponymous San Francisco bakery, on the clearance rack and couldn't resist the scalloped-edge pages and photographs of perfect layer cakes. Even though it will likely join its neglected kin on my crammed and dusty étagère that charmingly holds all its spontaneously-bought and rarely used relatives, I don't regret buying it.

The gingerbread is superb. Why did the middle of each loaf sink?

People, do you know that pithy parental saying, "The days are long, but the years are short"? Yes, that often feels so fucking true, and I understand why the expression stuck. However, we need to acknowledge that sometimes, the weekend days are long and the weekends are long. 

As a phrase, it doesn't sound nearly as rosy, but I feel certain that 98% of parents would agree with it completely. 

Even when nice experiences are peppered throughout, weekends can compromise the most psychologically-stable of us. And when one of your kids freaks out and cries boulder tears because you refused to allow all the new modeling clay to be used for a "city" which in no way looks like anything more than mountainous boogers and mashed ones, then stomps up the stairs throwing a shit storm of shit behind him and then gifts you with these visuals of your lovelessness and badness, well, you get my drift. 

Tom and I nearly wet our pants.

Mom and Dad are no longer loved.

Mom and Dad are no longer loved.

I think it was at that point that we turned on Jaws as a thrilling distraction. Because we are excellent parents. The children were utterly nonplussed.

When one of my chatterboxes asked if we could play a family game tonight AFTER having cleaned the yard, ridden bikes, made gingerbread, watched TV together, acknowledged that neither child had nearly enough sleep last night, kissed 800 different injuries largely stemming from said sleeplessness, and eaten average beef stew together, Tom and I could not bring ourselves to say yes.

I swear I saw sparks come out of Tom's ears, and I felt an irregular pulse through my largest aortas. 

We said no.

I read some of The Mysterious Benedict Society to us all, and then we ushered the children to bed with a fair amount of enthusiasm. 

Monday, you are coming, and I fucking love you.

On a positive note, Ol and I ate our way through the farmers market this morning and had such a blast. I think we bought all the food. 

the freshest Brussels sprouts

the freshest Brussels sprouts

Animal, at Studio Theatre

Ooh nelly, yesterday was one big treat. I had a two hour lunch with a dear friend I've not seen in entirely too long and last night got to get all gussied up and head out for a night at the theatre. 

A woman (now lovely friend) I met when she attended a pickling class I taught years ago invited me to the Studio Theatre's Fall Benefit. It included dinner and drinks, the world premiere of a new play, and a sit-down with the studio's artistic director, playwright and director.

I'd not been to Studio Theatre before and really like the space. Perhaps an aesthetic nod to Studio's emphasis on contemporary theatre that doesn't shy away from edginess, the building casts a modernist look over a corner of 14th and P Streets Northwest, in Logan Circle. Painted in sleek blacks and whites with vibrant splashes of orange, Studio houses four theaters, none of which seats more than 225 people.

Last night's preview was of Animal, a play commissioned by Studio Theatre and written by British playwright, Clare Lizzimore. Studio is committed to doing its part to remedy the fact that currently, fewer than 1 in 4 produced plays are penned by women. Animal is opening now, not accidentally, during DC's Women's Voices Theater Festival, a tremendous joint effort of more than 50 DC-area theaters.

I had no sense of the play before taking my seat last night, a position I often prefer to take with theater, film and museum exhibits because too much information can bias my expectations.

As I learned during the conversation among David Muse, artistic director, Ms. Lizzimore and GT Upchurch, the director, Animal was written to be performed in Studio's black box theatre, an intimate space known as Stage 4 that can hold no more than 120 people. The play, an often-intense drama about mental illness and women, both enhanced and was strengthened by the spare, dark nature of Stage 4: the almost complete lack of set made it hard to do anything but train your eyes entirely on the actors on stage just feet from the audience.

Animal is small, a cast of six, three of whom play important but somewhat secondary characters. The lead is Rachel, incredibly well played by Kate Eastwood Norris, a gifted actress who has worked in prominent theaters in DC and beyond. Animal marks her Studio debut and does so in a big way. She has an enormous number of lines and is rarely offstage, a feat made even more challenging by there being no intermission during the play.

The lack of intermission is critically important to Animal, in my opinion, because the energy and trajectory the actors develop is never interrupted and thus never needs to be brought back up to speed. I wish Hamlet, despite its length, had omitted its intermission; the second half suffered for the break, and even Hamlet's and Gertrude's strong performances couldn't totally resuscitate the energy lost during it.

Norris' real-life husband, Cody Nickell, plays her husband, Tom, on stage in this production. He and the other male lead, Joel David Santner (who plays a doctor), were both very strong and gave us complex performances that seemed authentic and deeply human.

All six actors are American and yet used British accents masterfully. It was really striking actually. How many times have you seen famous movie stars try to carry an accent through a film and succeed? I catch accent breaks and poorly done accents all the time, and it is SO distracting. There was none of that last night, and it was impressive. 

I don't want to say more because the play is suspenseful and there is a reason for that. It's uncomfortable at times, and I like that. It's great to see a work focus in serious, unvarnished fashion on a difficult topic. A spoiler would be a tremendous disservice to an excellent work and a truly enjoyable theatrical experience.

Animal runs through October 25, so get your tickets now

Tomatoes fresh, tomatoes canned, and some pumpkins too

Before waxing rhapsodic about tomatoes and pumpkins, I first want to say thank you to all who wrote here, on Facebook, via email and via text in response to yesterday's post, Time's Determined March. Any writer who feels her words resonate with and impact others is fulfilled, and my heart is full and appreciative today.

Now, food. I was en fuego yesterday, y'all. Pumpkin puree, roasted pumpkin seeds, tomato and white bean soup, roasted tomato jam, chocolate chip banana bread...and scene.


Let's begin with the pumpkin puree and seeds as those are both shockingly simple, and pumpkins are just showing their happy autumnal selves at area markets.

I like to make pumpkin puree -for cheesecakes, breads, pies, ice cream, muffins; anything you'd otherwise use canned pumpkin for- from sugar pie pumpkins. These are exceedingly round, bright orange squash that are much smaller than those you'd use to carve jack-o-lanterns from. 

Simply wash each pumpkin, cut it in half and remove the seeds. Rinse the seeds and remove any chunks of pumpkin flesh. Set them aside if you want to roast them, or discard/compost. Place the pumpkin halves cut-side down on a rimmed baking sheet and roasted in a 385° or 400° Fahrenheit oven until the flesh is soft and easily pierced with a knife; there should be NO resistance. 

Once cooked, let the pumpkin cool before scooping out the flesh and putting it through a food mill. This will remove any seeds you didn't remove before as well as any overly fibrous flesh. I then portion out and freeze the puree in one-cup increments. 

Later, I roasted the seeds I'd cleaned and reserved but learned something new as I prepped. Boil the seeds in salted water before roasting them in the oven. This ensures that the salt seasons both the interior seed as well as the exterior shell. Thank you, Elise Bauer, for sharing your  mother's wisdom.

Tomatoes fresh, tomatoes canned

Before tomato season calls it quits, I wanted to make one last batch of roasted tomato jam, so I bought three pounds of beefsteaks and got busy. This recipe, from Amanda Hesser, is really spectacular. I love the slight pepper kick and the cinnamon and fennel seed undertones, all of which deliciously buttress the sweet tomato base.

roasted tomato jam

roasted tomato jam

Meanwhile, I was in the mood for tomato soup and so used some wonderful canned tomatoes that I put up over the summer to make the tomato-white bean soup that my whole family loves. It's a recipe I've developed over time, and I think it's now pretty perfect. Saffron, basil, peperoncino, shallots, garlic, lemon zest and an all-important Pecorino (or Parmesan) rind stew together magically with tomatoes and white beans. The recipe is now posted in Soups.

a pumpkin pot for tomato soup

a pumpkin pot for tomato soup

It's a one-pot vegetarian meal that won't take more than forty-five minutes. Make some grilled cheese sandwiches or toast some bread for the side, and you'll be in heaven. 

tomato and white bean soup

tomato and white bean soup