Tuesday, February 15, 2011

And Thanks for Your Friendship, Too, Loyal Readers

Still no new baby lambs. I am surprised.

We have enjoyed a spell of warmer days, so I s'pose the girls are waiting for some ice and snow into which they can birth some more lambs(Murphy's Law.)

Yesterday we muddled through Valentine's Day.

Over thirteen years ago we started a family tradition. I guess with a house full of babies and toddlers it was easier to make a nice candlelit dinner happen at home instead of out. Philip's mom was staying with us for a few weeks. She had a broken arm and needed care.

I made a french bistro dinner at home, decorated the table with candles, tablecloth and chocolates and candy hearts. Cooked up some steaks, made pommes frites, and we had such a nice dinner, it became the standard menu every year after that.

More children came. Occasionally Philip's mom would be with us. Philip would buy or make me a nice card and give me roses. The children would cut out their construction paper hearts and pen their sentiments of love.

But every year, more or less the same, I would decorate the dining room and prepare our gourmet feast.

Some years I had more energy and would make homemade valentine's day cards for Philip and the kids, placing them and the token presents at each place setting. Some years it would be a store bought one. Every year had chocolates and steak and those amazing french fries.

You see, for years I had tried to perfect the homemade french fry. French fries are one of my favorite foods. Next to ribeye, done medium-rare, close to the rare side. Mine always came out slightly to very greasy, kind of limp. Not so nice.

Then I bought a cookbook that changed everything. The Everything Tastes Better In Belgium cookbook. It gave step-by-step instructions on how to make the perfect pomme fritte.

Simple, really. Sort of.

Technique is simple; process is time consuming and messy.

Perfect, since I shouldn't eat french fries very often.

Basically, one uses a good starchy potato. Most people recommend russets. I use potatoes we grow on the farm. Yukon gold has such a great flavor. You cut them into sticks. There is an art to cutting potatoes for fries, but I keep it simple, use a sharp knife, and don't pay much attention to those kinds of details. If you want to go to the trouble, rinse them and dry thoroughly. Heat up your deep fryer, or wok, or big cast iron skillet with oil (I use coconut oil) to about 325 degrees.

Fry the potatoes in small batches, but NOT until they are brown. Set them aside, draining on a rack or paper towels. You can do this stage of the process hours before your dinner.

When it is just about time to sit down at the table, heat up the oil, but this time to 375 degrees or so. Put the once-cooked potatoes back into the hot oil, and fry until just golden. Salt with sea salt. You will be amazed at how NON-greasy this potatoes are.

Yesterday I didn't have it in me to make our Valentine's Day dinner. I can't tell you how unbelievable hard it is to get through all these firsts. The wind had blown open the door to the freezer, letting a package of frozen okra thaw out. Along with some peaches and some whole trout I had forgotten about.

So I asked Maggie to go to the basement to get a pile of potatoes. Potatoes that Thomas planted and harvested last spring. From potatoes that he and Philip had planted and harvested the year before. I called a girlfriend who would cry with me and chatted with her while I cut them up. Thank you, dear Kathryn. And after five minutes or less of tears, we then were able to laugh and talk about all sorts of other things.

I roasted the trout with garlic and lemon. Fried up the okra with cornmeal, just like the kids like. Double fried the potatoes.

Placed a tablecloth on the table, pulled out the candles that Stewart and Jason's folks gave me for Christmas. Scattered about the little candy hearts and set out the token gifts. Everyone got little boxes of chocolates, like always. No cards. Used pretty dishes. Even though it was just for us.

It seemed right to be eating all foods raised by us, or our friends. I didn't have much of an appetite. We gave thanks for each other. We gave thanks for memories of Philip, who gave us so much love. So much love to me and each of our kids.

It hurt.

We gave thanks for our friends who love us so much and share their lives with us. The kids gave me chocolates and sweet notes and cards. We had beautiful roses given to us by one visiting friend. A lovely bouquet sent to us by a special friend. For dessert we had homemade sugar cookies, made by my mom, decorated by my dad, and shipped priority. Along side, we had a peach soup made by Maggie with the thawed out summer peaches from the farm.

Emmylou Harris and Nanci Griffith were the comforting accompaniment.

We got through.

And it was plenty good to eat trout instead of steak this year. We might do it again sometime. But Rose echoed my opinion that steak and frites are a pretty good tradition. One we might just want to keep.

Figuring out which family traditions we want to keep and which we can let go is a tricky thing. An evolving process which requires grace, flexibility and patience. And most of all: time.

In the meantime, we muddle through and I thank God for the sweet little moments that brighten things up. And for love.

Love didn't die last February 25th.

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