More Light

By Lisa

Unknown to us, Caroline & I have the same advent wreath tradition.  We light ours, made with greens from the Redwood tree in our backyard and 3 tealights (3 violet, one rose for Gaudete (orRejoice!) Sunday) every night during this season.   So I will leave you with just this image and a poem by Wallace Stevens which has nothing to do with food, or Advent, but with the power of light in darkness. Which is something I think we all need, and something a candlelit table can sometimes help to provide.

Final Soliloquy Of The Interior Paramour
By Wallace Stevens

Light the first light of evening, as in a room
In which we rest and, for small reason, think
The world imagined is the ultimate good.

This is, therefore, the intensest rendezvous.
It is in that thought that we collect ourselves,
Out of all the indifferences, into one thing:

Within a single thing, a single shawl
Wrapped tightly round us, since we are poor, a warmth,
A light, a power, the miraculous influence.

Here, now, we forget each other and ourselves.
We feel the obscurity of an order, a whole,
A knowledge, that which arranged the rendezvous.

Within its vital boundary, in the mind.
We say God and the imagination are one…
How high that highest candle lights the dark.

Out of this same light, out of the central mind,
We make a dwelling in the evening air,
In which being there together is enough.

Friday Night Lights

by Caroline

My kids are fascinated by Hanukkah. Everything about the holiday, from its length, to the rituals, the candles and the games and songs, delights them. Eli checked a Hanukkah book out of the library and is working on composing a new Hanukkah song. Meanwhile, although I haven’t fried up any latkes, I’ve found a way to spin our new favorite baked good as a sort-of Hanukkah treat. We share Jewish holidays and traditions with many close friends, and tonight, at a friends’ house for dinner, they’ll get their first chance this year to light the menorah.

At home, we’ve been gathering around our own seasonal candles: the Advent wreath. Somehow we’d gotten out of the habit of candle lit dinners last summer (not only because we had a three year-old living with us, but because early, sunlit summer dinners make candles seem irrelevant), and forgot to bring them back this fall. But I’ll make sure to retain the candles this winter even after I pack away the Advent wreath.

I make one similar to the kind my mom has created for as long as I can remember: a shallow pottery bowl arranged with evergreens and four candles. Mine uses eucalyptus and rosemary from the backyard, and since I couldn’t find nice tapers, I bought tall beeswax votives from the market. Mine is a bit messy and haphazard, but it serves its purpose well. Each night in the four weeks leading up to Christmas, we gather at the table, pause before our meal, and light a candle, adding another one each Sunday. It’s a lovely moment of calm at the close of the day, a nice reminder to slow down.

Ham x (almost) 4

by Lisa

We’ve been taking a cue from Mark Bittman’s latest book around here and making meat even less of presence than it usually is on our table.   One of the things he suggests is to keep meat as a side course, not the focus of the meal. This is good for the eater and good for the environment.  This week, this strategy happened kind of by accident, but it was terrific: economical, efficient, and versatile.

Remember that ham steak? That’s half of it on the plate. The kids ate only half of that, and the husband and I ate the other half.  The following night, I cooked another quarter, choppped it up, and used it for our baked potato bar. Which was a big hit.

We still didn’t finish it, so the next night that leftover chopped up ham went into a country omelete with chives and cheddar cheese.

And we still had a 1/4 of the ham left.  Kory and I finished it a few nights later with a potato/celery root mash & the left over pan sauce (which I had kept in a glass jar for just this eventuality).  On the side we had roasted beets & puntarelle, and it was a perfect cold winter night’s meal.

That makes 4 meals (3 for 4 people, 1 for 2 people) for about $6 worth of meat, which in this house is an accomplishment.

Ham with country mustard pan sauce

by Lisa

Most of us have experienced this moment: You set the plate of food on the table. The kids eye glare at it with disdain.  They groan, or turn up their noses, or pretend-barf. They say, “I’m not a (fish/meat/chicken/potato) person” or “That smells bad” or “What’s that?” (meaning, how in the hell did you ever think to cook that disgusting mess of so-called food?).

This happened at my table the the other night, in reaction to something I’ve cooked many times–a simple ham steak with a really quick country mustard sauce.

I said, “Fine, you don’t have to eat it.” But I asked them to try.  And this has been my attitude of late:  I let them choose what to eat.  So far, they haven’t gone hungry.

On this particular night, my son braved the food first. “Huh,” he said.   “It tastes better than it looks”

That was all the encouragement his sister needed, who agreed with him about the taste.  I didn’t think it looked particularly bad, but I suspect it was the grain of the mustard that looked weird to them

I’m not really sure exactly what I’ve done to get my kids to be moderately brave about food. Certainly, some of it is how their wired, but I suspect some of it is habit and expectation.  Certainly, it works in my favor that they like and trust each other. If one likes something, the other is more willing to try. I set things in front of them over and over and over again. I don’t argue or pander, but I give them a range of good choices.  I never force them to eat, but I do ask them to try small bites of new food.  Seasonal eating helps too–they expect certain things at certain times of year, and while there is sometimes a re-acclimation period (witness the ham, which I never cook in the summer), their memory is downright Proustian.

This ham is one of those fast weeknight dinners that I don’t cook too often, but it’s so easy, that probably I should.

Ham with Country Mustard Pan Sauce

  • Ham steak
  • Olive oil
  • Shallot, chopped finely
  • Country Mustard
  • Beer–a lager or light ale works well
  • Apple cider  or apple juice or water
  • Butter
  1. Fry the ham steak in a large skillet until warmed through, just a few minutes on each side.
  2. Sautee the shallot in a few tablespoons of olive oil until soft.
  3. Deglaze your pan with a few splashes of beer.
  4. Swirl in about 1 Tablespoon of mustard
  5. Add about 1/4 cup of cider, juice or water. The cider or juice will make it sweeter, but water works too.
  6. Simmer until the pan sauce reduced to about a 1/4 cup. Taste and adjust seasoning.
  7. Add in 1 T butter (optional).
  8. Return ham to the pan and simmer to warm through.
  9. Serve family style, with sauce.


by Caroline

Wednesday afternoon, after lunch. We’re hanging out, starting to think about, maybe, some Thanksgiving dinner prep. My brother-in-law calls; he’s on his way, but can’t stay as long as he expected. He’ll leave after lunch on Thursday, instead of staying through dinner.

Hmm. Thanksgiving dinner is always, in our family, in the evening: at dinner time. But we have been planning to share the meal with the boys’ West Coast Uncle Fun. We briefly consider a midday Thanksgiving meal, but that’s just never been our style. Special meals should be in the evening, with candlelight. Plus, we don’t want him to have to eat and run. It is after 1 PM. Could we get Thanksgiving dinner on the table in just five or six hours? We take on the challenge.

And so I am thankful. Thankful for the friend who loaned us her son for the afternoon so our boys were happily occupied (she thought we were doing her a favor, babysitting so she could care for her stomach flu-y daughter. I’ll keep letting her think that.)

Thankful for my mom, from whom I learned how to make brown & serve rolls, which are always ready when I need them, and who taught me to keep a light touch on the pie crust.

Thankful for my sister, who posts favorite recipes on her blog (like I do) so that we could easily produce her delicious cranberry chutney.

Thankful that no one wanted turkey. This year, after experiments with stuffed mushrooms (very good), polenta-topped roasted vegetable pot pie (excellent) and even lentil-mushroom timbales (meh), we’ve even decided to dispense with the notion of a “main.” All any of us really wants, when we get right down to it, is stuffing, gravy and cranberry sauce. Plus of course rolls and pie. I insist on something green (you should see my son put away the kale salad). And then we make various other things to put under the gravy. It’s a lot of chopping, but nothing needs the oven for four or five hours like a turkey does. The pans of pie, vegetables, and rolls, go in and out of the oven all afternoon.

Thankful for my brothers and my dad, siblings-in-law, niece and nephew, none of whom had much to do with this particular meal, but always figure in my thinking about food, family, and celebrations. I’m looking forward to our next big feast together!

And most of all, thankful for my husband, who has no problem cooking any meal, any time, but really kicked it into gear Wednesday to produce Thanksgiving dinner a day early. He started our in-no-particular-order to do list to make sure we got everything onto the table:

We sat down to dinner at 6:30, at a table decorated with Eli’s flower arrangement, and — so happy to have the meal on the table and my family gathered round — I did not think to take a picture of the spread. But trust me when I say it was delicious, and I hope yours was, too.