Wednesday, November 24, 2010

sweet potatoes baked with apple butter

Sweet potatoes are all very well, but this time of year they need all the help they can get--there's a lot of competition around the holidays for truly festive food. So here's what I'm doing with sweet potatoes this year.

Get yourself  bunch of sweet potatoes (I have a big family, so I've got eight monsters lined up).

Boil gently until the spuds are just tender,  maybe 20 minutes. Don't overdo it or you'll get mush, which will mess up the next step.

Let them cool off just long enough so you can handle them, or wear mitts, and peel the skins. They will usually just slide off the sweet potato with very little coaxing.

Slice the partially-cooked spuds about 1/4 to maybe 1/3 of an inch thick

Use some of that Pam-for-baking stuff or your usual shortening to grease a deep baking pan, and then put a layer of slices in there. Salt lightly, sprinkle maybe a quarter-teaspoon of lemon juice around, maybe a bit of pepper, maybe some nutmeg, and then top with a fairly thin layer of apple butter. Use the thick, brown, yummy kind. 

Repeat the layering  and sprinkling until the spuds are gone. Top with pats of butter (don't get too carried away) and bake about 25 to 35 minutes at 325.  

You can make this the day before the feast and reheat it in a 300 oven until hot clear through. It may look a little messy on the plate, but it's yummy.

Friday, November 19, 2010

A hole in the water

The mountain, unmoved
Ever since early October, the so-called music room in our house  has been filled with deck cushions, boat hooks, charts, logs, cruising guides, throw life rings, chafing gear, dock lines, bumpers, life vests, deck brushes, fishing gear, electronics, and even a large non-skid  mat that normally covers the floor of the pilot house. 

It gets worse. Underneath all these items is a very large blue plastic chest, a sort of monstrous Tupperware container the size of a Shetland pony. I don’t remember what it’s full of and it’s too late to find out now—there’s too much stuff piled on top. 

This minor mountain has been sitting there six or maybe seven weeks, ever since  a big Nor’easter came through and forced our boat (and many others), out of the water and up onto what’s known as “the hard.” (I’m charmed by this usage and deploy it in a showoffy way whenever I can. Like now, for instance.)

Of course we talk every now and then about putting  this great tangle of gear in the loft of the barn where it belongs, but we can’t seem to do it—for some reason we like it right where it is. 

It’s said that a boat is a hole in the water into which you pour money, and maybe that’s true. I have to add, though, that a boat, once purchased, costs quite a lot less than a horse, and the boat hardly ever goes lame or needs shoes more expensive than the ones I wear, and mine don't wear out every five to seven weeks.

I’ve also read that, when people are asked to name the one purchasing decision in their life that made them utterly miserable, buying a boat is invariably at the top of the list. 

I understand that—boats make you work hard, and you are often wet and anxious, sometimes hungry, and always  a long way from any sort of internet connection. Boats also attract insects at the dock and repel bass when you’re away from it. We have a fish finder, so I know this to be true. This instrument displays fish with great accuracy as they light out for the territories, and these vanishing edibles show up on the instrument display looking exactly like those little Pepperidge Farm cheese snacks; all that’s missing is the little baked-in smile. 

And yet we cannot move this pile of gear. 

It’s not laziness—we’re talking about two people who spent most of the past summer moving things in and out of storage boxes and up and down steep stairs to accommodate a major kitchen renovation. And it’s not sloppiness, either—my husband is as tidy as a cat, and the sort of person who unplugs toasters, alphabetizes sheet music, and folds laundry so swiftly and neatly I’m shamed by my lumpy halfwit efforts. (I do cook and wash dishes, but it seems inadequate penance.)

Here’s the honest truth: This mountain fills a hole in both of us, and the dimensions match  almost exactly the length and beam of Clancy's Jig. It seems likely that the mountain will not move until the boat comes off the hard and displaces the clean, sweet water of Champlain  again.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Ziggy experiment

Haflingers are a breed of horse named for a village, Halfling, that's now in northern Italy, although it used to be in Austria and most of the people who live there speak German. Things like this happen in Europe--I read once that the Dutch national anthem, "Het Wilhelmus," declares allegiance to the king of Spain.

Anyway. I bring this up because, for the past three weeks, I've been doing groundwork with a rugged, clever Halflinger named Ziggy, full name Sigmund Freud. Ziggy is a school horse, and like a lot of school horses he has some issues with the way he is ridden and handled--he is  nibbly, pushy, a pain to lead, and unfortunately knows his own strength, which he uses to snatch at hay bales and get in some unsponsored, stubborn grazing. Even for fairly skilled people, he's a major pain in the neck to handle, and a few years ago he dragged an inexperienced handler out the barn door and broke her collarbone.

His endless, anxious chewing means his reins are a slimy, toothmarked mess, and he's probably munched any number of cross ties down to a frayed nubbin. Plus sometimes when he's asked to pick up the right-lead canter he runs away, very fast, and scares the bejeezus out of his rider. 

But I can't help it. I like him. He is obviously intelligent and has figured out how to make his life easier with his rapid-fire resistance and his heavyhanded leaning and shoving. It's hard for me not to admire his resilience and his commitment to results, since one of the main outcomes is that no one really wants to ride him. He gets to loaf, which from his perspective is a pretty good arrangement.

But there's also more to Ziggy than I knew: Groundwork has let me feel and see his ferocious anxiety about whips and his defensive posture toward people in general, but at the same time I can also see he wants to trust, wants to be a contributing partner in a horse-to-human relationship. I think maybe he trusted once and still remembers--when I use ground exercises the right way and can get his attention and admiration, he becomes soft and yielding and instantly beautiful. We trot together, halt together, pivot, back up, set our safe boundaries, fool around with poles on the ground, and generally talk about what to do with pressure and how to make pressure go away. He's in the game and interested; I am convinced that Ziggy sees the point of the experiment and the value of what I'm trying to explain.

Today, about halfway through my session, my groundwork coach, Betsy, suggested that I could try gently manipulating Ziggy's tail while he was resting between exercises. I've never really monkeyed much with any horse's tail except to braid, so I carefully felt under his dock and noticed right away how tucked and stiff his whole tailbone was. With help from Becky, I slowly loosened the muscles around the bones so his tail actually arced slightly away from his haunches. As soon as this happened, he dropped his head, mumbled, and then made that little flutter noise that horses make when they have let go of something that worries them. 

Good boy.