Sunday, September 19, 2004

Cool weather, warm meals

I don't know what it's like where you are, but it's cold here. I'm sitting at the desk with a (now-cold) cup of coffee, wearing jeans, a long-sleeved shirt and a sweatshirt. Socks and warm slippers. AND I've got a blanket on my lap. Darren said it looks cozy. Me? I say it's absurd. It's still September, and we've got all the windows closed and I'm still chilly.

But the good thing about this weather is that it prompts me to start thinking about the warm, hearty meals of fall. Yesterday, on a rainy, cold day, Darren and I had lunch at a local BBQ place. He had a pulled pork sandwich; I had a bowl of chili - the serious kind, with nothing but meat, jalapenos, sauce and some grated orange cheddar on top. None of those frivolous beans or anything. As we left, I was bemoaning the fact that so many of our good friends are vegetarians. Darren and I used to be - I more seriously than he. I didn't eat meat for five or six years. Now I cook chicken, pork and beef - which we eat medium-rare - and I LOVE sausage. I love the meals we make with it - a butternut squash and sausage soup from Emeril, of all people, and a pumpkin, sausage and sage sauce for pasta... also from someone on the Food Network. But when our beloved vegetarians come over for dinner, such dishes are verboten.

Tonight, though, it's just the two of us, so we're having sausage and peppers over pasta. We have an abundance of peppers from the farm that we have to eat today. They're a little bitter raw, but I've found that after sauteeing they're just fine. I plan to cook them slowly, with plenty of garlic and some olive oil, so they'll get soft and sweet and yummy.

Along with the cool fall weather, though, comes the conversation about Where We Will Go For the Holidays. In the past we've avoided this particular fight by settling on a simple, annual rotation: Each year, we will celebrate Thanksgiving with one set of parents, and Christmas with the other. We've alternated year after year. So, according to the schedule, this year we're supposed to see my parents, in New Jersey, for Thanksgiving, and celebrate Christmas with Darren's family here in Maine.

The schedule works, in general. But there are some major flaws, not least of which is the sheer misery of traveling around Thanksgiving. The last time we did turkey in NJ, it took us eleven hours to get home. Eleven. For what is typically a six- to seven-hour drive. The other flaw is that this schedule entirely lacks a holiday celebration for our own little family, just the two of us and Rocky.

So this year I had dreams of an alternate holiday. We would do Friends Only Thanksgiving at our house - more like a dinner party with our close friends than some treacherous, nostalgic family affair. My sister and her boyfriend would be invited, but no other family members would be allowed. We'd do Christmas Eve and Christmas with Darren's family, and then, on the 26th or 27th, we'd go to Jersey for some festivities with my family.

But of course this ain't easy, either. D.'s youngest brother and his wife, who live in North Carolina, put themselves on our holiday schedule when they got married, so we'd all be celebrating Christmas in Maine on the same year. So we can't make our plans to go to NJ without finding out when they're coming up, and for how long. And then there's Darren's work schedule, which is problematic to discern this far in advance. And on top of it all there is the pressure from my mother to let her know what we're planning right now so she can get the appropriate time off from work. It's a lot of balls in the air all at once.

Somehow, Darren and I started discussing all of this at F. and S.'s house for dinner last night. And, needless to say, the "discussion" quickly degenerated into a very tense near-argument about how we are going to handle the holidays. The room was silent when we were done; I had to physically get up and leave the room. Not good. We put a damper on the entire evening; I apologized to F., S., and A., the other guest, last night; Darren called them all again this morning. Oops.

Luckily, if there is one thing we all have in common, it is domestic squabbles concerning holiday travel. At least that's what F. told us. And even though she's a vegetarian, we've chosen to take her at her word.