Friday
The past week was exhausting, and ended in a meeting I’d been dreading, in which I got to sit through yet another round of listening to our Dean lecture the faculty at something just under a full shout, deflect the demand of a guest at the meeting that I change the agenda and forgo some crucial procedural matters so we could just get right to their concerns, then get accused of picking on and singling out one department–ironically, the one most closely allied to my own, and for whom I had just done a shitload of work, including fixing some of their required forms for them–because I raised an issue that has been bouncing around unresolved for close to a decade and that has caught up several other departments (including my own) at various times. The particular joys of that moment were 1) the marvelously passive-aggressive way it was phrased–“I feel like we’re being picked on”–to give the utterer plausible deniability about having actually accused me of picking on them (it’s just her “feels” after all), and 2) that as chair of the committee I felt it best to not say anything beyond demurring any targeting and pointing out other departments that had been negatively affected lest I appear churlish.

I was feeling churlish, of course. But a burrito, a beer, and a bourbon followed by three White Russians at the bar changed that.

Saturday
It can be hard after a week like this to have any motivation on the weekend, but I find it depressing if I go back to work Monday and haven’t done something on my days off–whether cleaning, taking the kids out out to breakfast, or, really, just about any activity that’s not sitting around watching TV or surfing the web. And the refrigerator really needed a good cleaning, so after some coffee I set out to clean it. It had been a while since we had, and it was so full that we couldn’t fit anything else in it; and yet it didn’t seem to have anything in it that seemed very useful to us. So cleaning involved finding old leftovers, sauces, salad dressings, and various other things that had been shoved to the back, out of sight out of mind, and gone bad; combining the multiple bottles of ketchup, and the multiple bottles of mustard (about four of each, and another unopened ketchup bottle in the pantry); and scrubbing all the drawers and shelving. When #3 daughter came down and opened it up to get some milk, I heard a loud exclamation, “Whoa, what happened to the fridge?” Yes, it was that noticeable.

Then it was haircut time. That may not sound exciting, but I had wanted to get a haircut before the term started, three weeks ago. It was also a family event, with all of us getting trimmed. We look good now.

I was exhausted, though, and nearly fell asleep at the wheel on the one-mile drive home. When we got there, a little after four o’clock, I went to lay down and…well, honestly, I remember heading to my bedroom, but I don’t remember laying down, I was out so fast.

Sunday
My wife woke me up, saying, “Should you get up? It’s getting kind of late, it’s after 6:00.” I didn’t understand. Why did I have to get up at 6:00 on Sunday? We weren’t going anywhere. This is our sleep-in day, dammit, and if she wants to get up early that’s her business, but I was sound asleep until she woke me up.

Saturday, again
Oh, it was still Saturday. I’d been asleep for two hours. I slept so deep I really thought it was the next morning. That’s very disorienting. I got up in time to watch the Oregon-Michigan State game at 8:00, but I only lasted until the early third quarter before I had to go back to bed.

Sunday, for real
I felt good when I woke up, better than since I was at my friend Dave’s cabin up north a few weeks before the term started. And I had a plan for the day. The top shelf of the spinning rack in the corner cabinet, where we keep our baking supplies, had slipped down again, so I was going to empty the shelves, combine duplicate items (three salts and three peppers I can understand, but how the hell did we end up with three jars of poultry seasoning?), scrub the shelves down to clean out several years of spilled spices, salad toppings and food coloring, then reset the shelf and put a brace under it so it won’t slip down again. I actually hesitated on the brace, because if the shelf never slips again, what’s ever going to motivate me to clean up that cabinet again in the future?

Simultaneously with all this, I was working on the good stuff, making applesauce cookies so I could send some to #1 daughter, off at college. If you don’t know applesauce cookies, your life has been an abysmal hellhole, whether you’ve ever realized it or not. This is a recipe my mom discovered when we were poor, and one day she was looking for some kind of cookie recipe that didn’t require eggs, because she wanted to do something nice for her kids and couldn’t even afford eggs. It’s the favorite cookie of all of my siblings as well as me, and, as it happens, of my daughter, perhaps the favorite of all of them.

But it’s a surprisingly tricky recipe; hard to screw up totally, but really easy to come up just a bit short of its true potential. And one of the things my mom and I have figured out is that store-bought applesauce doesn’t work well. It’s too smooth–a rougher, lumpier, applesauce is necessary to get the right texture. So first I had to make applesauce. I peeled and quartered them, then chucked them in the pan to boil, cleaned the shelves while they were bubbling away.

As it happens, the cool weather had put my wife in the mood for pumpkin pie, so while the apples were boiling on the stove, the pie (store bought; we’re not perfect) was cooking in the oven. Soon the kitchen was full of the homey aromas of apple, pumpkin and nutmeg. It smelt like fall. We called daughters #2 and 3 in, just to watch their faces as the delicious scents enveloped them. Bliss.

We also polished off a bottle of wine while we were working. My wife and I, that is, not the daughters. We were just cleaning, cooking, drinking, and enjoying each other’s company, and it was the nicest day I’ve had in a long time.

But wait, there’s more. We still had to make the cookies, and my lovely daughters did most of the work while I supervised. Then we cooked successive batches at the same time as my wife was prepping and cooking a filling of meat, onions, and spices for stuffed grape leaves. Once again the kitchen was suffused with the most delicious scents. We were actually preparing the grape leaves for a meal later in the week, but the filling smelled so good we couldn’t wait.

This was a day. What a day should be. A day I can wake up from Monday morning and feel that I made good use of the weekend.

__________________________________
Applesauce Cookies

  • 1 cup shortening
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups unsweetened applesauce (or use sweetened, but reduce the sugar. Note: smoothly blended store applesauce does not work well; get a rougher applesauce or make your own).
  • 4 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon cloves (Note: be generous in your cinnamon and cloves; a little extra can be the difference between decent but bland cookies and the Platonic ideal of the applesauce cookie.)

– Preheat oven to 375o
– Cream shortening and sugar together.
– Blend in applesauce.
– Add baking soda, salt, cinnamon and cloves to flour and mix well.
– Add flour to the wet mix a little at a time and stir in well.
– Drop cookies from a table spoon onto a greased cookie sheet, about 2-3″ apart. (Notes: 1) they will look small, but resist the temptation to use a bigger spoon, as this will produce just the right size cookie; 2) you may need to re-grease the sheet between batches, as these cookies will stick.)
– Cook for 12 minutes. (Notes: 1) these cookies will burn fast if you overcook them, so keep a close eye on them. 2) it’s a good idea to do a small test batch first–they should plump up to a nice dome shape; if they flatten out a bit add just a few light shakes of flour to the mix to firm them up.)
– Give them to your kids and watch their face glow as they eat them.


Category: Kitchen

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7 Responses to Loverboy

  1. Mike Hunt Ray Rice says:

    BTW, did you ever finish that book that you were going to post chapter-by-chapter Over There?

  2. Murali says:

    Are the cloves ground, chopped, or added whole? Except for my parents, the rest of us don’t like to bite into a whole clove. And if we don’t like cloves, would it be better to skimp on it?

    • jhanley says:

      Ground, so it distributes evenly through the mix. You do not taste them separately, so I would not skimp on the cloves, although you could ignore my advice to be generous in your measurement of them.

      I forgot to note that you can also add nuts, if you like nuts. As a kid we frequently added walnuts (small pieces) to them.

  3. Murali says:

    Speaking of recipes, I used the following recipe to make my fiancée brownies for the anniversary of our engagement. Credit to http://www.food.com/recipe/perfect-chocolate-brownies-15072 from whom I modified the recipe using my sister’s advice.

    3/4 cup cocoa powder
    3/4 cup unsalted butter
    2 3/4 cups sugar
    4 large eggs
    2 teaspoon vanilla essence or 1 teaspoon double strength vanilla essence
    1 1/4 cups flour
    1 teaspoon baking powder (or 2 teaspoons if your baking powder has expired and you use it anyway)
    1 teaspoon salt
    1 cup chopped walnuts
    1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

    Melt the butter in a saucepan over low heat and stir in the cocoa.

    Mix in sugar and vanilla then mix in eggs one at a time.

    Stir in remaining ingredients then stir in nuts.

    Line baking pan with baking sheets and bake for 30 minutes at 350 Fahrenheit or 175 Celsius. Wait for it to cool completely before cutting and serving.

    • Murali says:

      I forgot to add: after stirring in the cocoa, remove from heat! This is the most delicate part of the process and the cocoa can burn!

  4. jhanley says:

    Maybe I’ll make that the next thing I send to my daughter.

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