I'm Behind...

An experiment in using Pinterest for holiday gift lists.
The earliest I have ever bought anyone a Christmas gift is August. This year, it's nearly December, and I've gotten nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch.

...On Holiday Shopping
I'm behind on not just shopping, but also wrapping my head around a game plan for shopping. Sure, I've thought about budgeting for the holidays long enough to write about it, and have booked not one, but two car rentals for the holidays. (I made the reservations early, no money down, to lock in a decent price while not totally committing to which days I'm going to travel, and gave myself some flexibility in the car size because I'm not sure how many people are coming with me yet. I'll cancel one of the reservations in the next week or two.) And yes, I did initiate a collaborative wish list for gifts with my sisters way back on November 1. But that doesn't mean I feel ready for holidays one bit.

Nor do I have a clue what I'm going to buy.

Seeing as I don't know what to get, I couldn't take advantage of Black Friday or Cyber Monday, although it seems as if Cyber Monday is going to get extended into Cyber Week, so perhaps there's still time if act fast.

...On The Whirlwind That Was Thanksgiving
The Thanksgiving Day holiday, which I've taken to calling American Thanksgiving because Canada celebrates her own special day of the same name in October, was tiring and sapped different kinds of muscle than the ones I'm used to flexing.

Boyfriend and I flew to San Francisco Wednesday morning -- the same day his mother moved back into her own home after spending three weeks in the hospital (cancer and cancer complications). We were all thrilled to see her come home, but she's not exactly "recovered" as it were. We knew we would have to minimize excessive smells, like a roasting 30-pound bird, as well as any undue commotion, like too many people dropping by to say hello. Boyfriend's family is one of he most social I've known. Someone is always dropping by, whether it's Thanksgiving or St. Patrick's Day or just a Tuesday evening in June when the baseball game is on (go, Giants).

Their/our close family friends offered to cook an entire Thanksgiving meal for his family and me and bring it over so we wouldn't have to do really anything at all other than clear off the dining room table. We took them up on it, and I know everyone was extremely grateful for their generosity. It removed a huge burden and to use the same phrase twice in one post, a number of trickle-down problems.

And did I mention the dog?

Not my dog. The other dog. Thanksgiving morning, we arrived at Boyfriend's mother's house and saw a black and white Border Collie mix licking the sidewalk. She looked thin and friendly. I was on the phone with my mom. "Hey mom, I'm going go. We just found a stray dog, but she definitely looks like she belongs to someone."

She came when called, and sized us up as to whether we had any food. Someone got a bowl of water. She drank it down. We checked her collar, but it had no tags. She was thin and hungry, but clean and obedient. She sat when told and exposed her belly when I started to scratch her hind quarters. The scoop of cat food we set before her disappeared within seconds.

Lost Collie San Francisco
Lost Collie mix, female, found in San Francisco Thanksgiving Day.

So we stayed outside, sure that her owner would come charging down the street hollering her name at any moment. But no one came. I posted her photo on Facebook and Craigslist, and looked for any other posting of a lost dog that fit her description. No luck.

We jumped in the car, and she hopped right in, too, and brought her to an animal clinic that was open. The staff person scanned her neck for a microchip, and again, no luck.

So we drove all the way downtown to the Animal Care & Control center and signed her in for a room. Everyone said her owner would most likely claim her, since she clearly belonged to someone, but we left a phone number just in case.

That all took place Thanksgiving morning, mind you, when no one wants to work and no one wants to figure out what to do with a stray, but very sweet and well-trained, dog.

...On Fixing Up The Dang House
From left to right: refrigerator, oven, dishwasher,
box containing new kitchen pantry, all
encroaching on my dining room back in September.
I'm also behind where I would like to be fixing up the dang house. We moved into our apartment seven months ago. For the most part, we have what we need and are comfortable, but there's still more to do. I knew it would take a while to get the kitchen disaster in order, which it now is, but I neglected to consider the trickle-down effects. Remodeling the kitchen wiped out my savings, and thus, I have no money to spend on a new rug for the living room, chairs for the dining room, or all the shelves, bins, paint, curtains, and other odds and ends that, you know, tie the room together.

It'll get there, I know. But right now there are so many other things vying to be made a priority: going to the gym, food shopping, work, blogging, creative writing, cleaning. Some of the things I'd like to catch up on require more focus, though. I either need to set aside the small stuff and tackle Christmas shopping or home decorating full-on, or let them slide a few more days while I take care of the more habitual stuff.

Putting It Off 'Til It's Perfect

"Let's have a dinner party," I said. Our kitchen, at the time, looked something like this:

"Okay. When?" Boyfriend answered.

"Early October," I said. It was the end of September.

"You sure you want to count your chickens like that?" The kitchen had just been gutted to the studs, and the biggest point of progress was that it now had a floor. The anticipated finish date was Friday, September 27. When we started the project, our anticipated completion date was end of the summer. We were both cautiously optimistic, but also highly skeptical, that we'd hit the deadline.

"I don't care!" I was perkier than usual. I hardly ever use exclamation points when I talk. "It'll be done. Or it'll be done enough. I don't want to put off having a social life waiting for the kitchen to be 'perfect.' Nothing in life is perfect. No one expects things to be perfect. If we put it off because the kitchen may not be finished, then we'll put it off again and again... 'because we don't have the right furniture,' 'because it's too cold and no one wants to come to Queens when it snows,' 'because our budget is too tight to buy dinner for six people.'" I stopped. Our budget was too tight to make dinner for six people.

"It'll be tapas. That's so inexpensive. And we'll make it pot-luck style. Everyone can bring something. We'll make tortilla, which is basically just eggs, and little pinxons, a big salad, a loaf of bread. Someone will bring wine. People always bring wine. We'll buy two or three bottles. It'll be fun!"

"Okay," Boyfriend said. "I support you." That phrase is code for, "Seeing as you're going to do it anyway, let me remind  you that I'm on your team, but you are steering this ship, not me."

On Thursday, September 26, the kitchen workers told me that they realized one of the cabinets was the wrong size. "We'll rush order a new one, but it's going to take two weeks."

"I've waited long enough, I can wait two more weeks for a cabinet," I said.

On Friday, September 27, Boyfriend and I got an email saying the tile we picked for the backsplash had only just that day shipped. It would arrive October 3. I called the contractor, who called the tile installation guy, who said he'd have to take a look at his schedule.

On Friday, October 5, we had our friends over for dinner anyway. The kitchen had one big empty space where a cupboard should have been. the entire back wall behind the sink and counters was bare. Two boxes of tile sat in the dining room.

And you know what? I don't think anyone minded. We fired up some shishito peppers (all the Padróns were finished for the season) and left a few huge wedges of cheese on the table with some baguette. We cut fat triangles of tortilla and let it hang out at room temperature. Someone spilled an entire glass of wine that sloshed all over the floor and up the wall, and someone else caught the wine glass miraculously before it smashed on the ground.

Sometimes friends or family will talk about how they want to travel or have children or taking some other step in life, followed by, "But first I'm going to wait until..." "we have more time," "I make more money," "things finally settle down with..."

And it never happens. It never gets easier. No one ever has the right amount of money or the right amount of time.

Sometimes you have to just shut up and charge forward with "enough." Otherwise, you'll put it off forever. Our kitchen still isn't painted (we got as far as priming and picking a color, then got sidetracked by more important matters) and we still need to spackle over a couple of nail holes. But it's all done in the sense that I don't have to worry about the little things, like nail holes and paint, any more. It's done "enough."

Broccoli, Broccoli Rabe, Broccolini: What's the Difference?

Broccoli rabe (mustard family)
Has anyone else noticed that commercially grown broccoli rabe (also known as rappini and broccoli rapé) is starting to look an awful lot like baby broccoli?

Broccolini (trademarked hybrid of broccoli and kai-lan)
I spotted this trend maybe a year or two after seeing Rachel Ray cook with broccoli rabe on 30 Minute Meals (there should be a hyphen in the title of that show; there isn't). Let's presume that was 2005 or 2006, back when I lived in San Francisco and spent a lot of time watching The Food Network while working out at a nice gym that had television screens on every cardio machine. I watched a lot of Rachel Ray back then. Don't worry. I'm over it now.

Broccoli rabe tastes like a dark, leafy, bitter green. It's in the mustard family.

Broccoli, marked by unique blueish-green florets, is related to cabbage.

Before 2006 or so, I'd buy broccoli rabe and occasionally find one or two broccoli-like florets among the greens. But they were rare. You'd easily mistake them for "baby broccoli," or Broccolini—yes, capitalized because it's a trademarked name. It's a man-made hybrid of broccoli and kai-lan (also known as "Chinese broccoli" and, similar to broccoli rabe, is actually a dark leafy green), according to Wikipedia. Sometimes kai-lan is called "Chinese kale" which seems to me like a more descriptive way to put it to Americans.

Broccoli (cabbage family)
I'd buy broccoli rabe and find one or two "bloomed" florets, and I wasn't even sure if I was supposed to eat them. With broccoli rabe, it's all about the leaves and the stems which become tender quickly when steamed or sautéed.

More recently, though, the stuff in the store is half florets and half leafy greens. If I had to guess, I'd say the vegetable gained popularity a few years ago, but because of the name, Americans expected it to be somewhat similar to broccoli. And so the growers made that happen. Again, I don't know if that's true, but it's my guess.

Today I went to the Green Market (New York City's farmers' market) and tada! Real broccoli rabe! If you're looking for the real deal, that wonderful bitter green that sautées up nicely with a bit of minced garlic and some olive oil, try hitting up the famers directly. They know what broccoli rabe is supposed to be.

Recipe: Homemade Corn Bread

Homemade corn bread: flour, cornmeal, sugar, egg, milk, canola oil, baking powder, salt.
You know who makes the best corn bread? Trader Joe's. I swear! I'm all for making things from scratch, but the dry corn bread mix at TJ's is awesome. It's sweet and has little kernels of sweet corn that rise to the top when it's cooked and get kind of crusty on the edges.

But you know who makes the second best corn bread? I do. Effective yesterday. I finally found a recipe and tinkered with it until it came out very much to my liking.

Simple and sweet, this recipe doesn't use any special-purchase ingredients, like buttermilk, or any two-step ingredients, like melted butter that's then beaten into oblivion with sugar. I love recipes that use only things I already have in my pantry and refrigerator, or that are fast to whip together. This recipe is both. Enjoy!

Sweet and Simple Corn Bread
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
2/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons white sugar, divided [I subsequently tried scaling back the sugar to 1/2 cup plus 2 to 3 tablespoons for dusting with good results]
1 teaspoon salt
3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup milk
1/3 cup canola oil (or vegetable oil)
1 egg, lightly beaten
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. If you have a convection fan, turn that sucker on.

Grease (butter, shortening, lard, cooking spray, or whatever you have) a 9-inch round cake pan and sprinkle 1 tablespoon sugar inside. Tilt the pan to thoroughly coat the bottom and sides with sweet, delicious sugar.
Homemade corn bread, which is almost as good as Trader Joe's corn bread from the mix.

Sift or whisk together the flour, cornmeal, 2/3 cup sugar, salt, and baking powder. Dump in all the wet ingredients at once and mix. It can be a little lumpy, but not as lumpy as muffin batter. It's fine if the batter is smooth, but somewhere in between is ideal.

Pour the batter into the prepare cake pan. Tap the pan firmly on the counter to force the batter even. Then sprinkle the remaining tablespoon of sugar on top.

Bake for about 20 minutes on the top rack until the crust cracks (or until a toothpick or butter knife comes out cleanly, if you like that trick). Let cool or you'll burn your freaking fingers and tongue. Serve warm or at room temperature, no butter required. It's sweet! To store wrap it loosely in foil and set in a dry place or in the refrigerator. If you wrap it in plastic wrap or an air-tight container, the corn bread will get mushy.