We’ve rounded the corner into November. Last Sunday we received our extra hour, which is my favorite morning of the entire year. That ‘falling back’ hour assuages my work-ethic addled mind. It’s a gift! A free hour in which I lounge. Soon, there will be a plethora of great movie choices in theaters. It’s chilly enough to tuck into my favorite mac & cheese recipe, the fire is going, and Manhattan makings are fully stocked. Here’s some ideas to cozy up.
Do you ever reread a favorite book? Oh my gosh, as I’m writing these sentences I am filled with eager anticipation to dive in…
Howards End, by EM Forster, is a favorite of mine. I can’t wait to meet up once more with the Wilcoxes, and the Basts—oh dear…Leonard with his plot-driving stolen umbrella, Jacky, whose fortunes are chained to men’s perceptions of her and the limited choices society lays at her feet. The Schlegel sisters! Upright Margaret, and Helen, the beating heart of the book, who says of Mr. Wilcox, he “says the most horrid things about women’s suffrage so nicely.”
This novel of class and culture feels incredibly à la mode, so appropriate to read on the eve of our election. Pretending class isn’t an issue in the United States had much to do with the outcome of the 2016 election. Forster’s insights into socioeconomics, class, and the belief systems that trap us definitely illuminates politics in our place and time. Henry Wilcox, who behaves as if he is above reproach, says at one point, “The poor are poor. One is sorry for them, but there it is.”
If you do choose to pick up the book, you have three delightful spur trails to follow. First, I highly recommend the Merchant Ivory film with Emma Thompson, Helena Bonham Carter, and Anthony Hopkins, which is available on Netflix. Next, you can read Zadie Smith’s fantastic novel, On Beauty, which is a retelling of Howards End, set in a genteel Massachusetts college town. And finally, you can watch Kenneth Lonergan’s mini-series which is streaming on Amazon (I know…).
It’s NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month. Anybody participating? I’m not, though I do always toy with the crazy notion of writing a novel in a month. Just to loosen up, right? To unhook from the idea that you have to write beautiful sentences from the get go. I was perusing the site the other day and they gave the terrific idea of changing the color of the font on your laptop to white, that way you can’t look back over your sentences. Give yourself a word count goal, and just keep your eye on the accruing words. You can fix it on the next round through.
The NYTs had a little lead up article recently, giving good ideas and resources for your writing project, one of which was this link to NaNoWriMo Prep. There are some great templates for ways to spark ideas, develop characters, think about setting, support your writing hygiene (like sleep hygiene, which is a thing) and generally get going.
The most apt metaphor for me in search of a new project? My sweet little blind dog, Leo. Like him, I run into walls, walk the perimeter of the room seeking my water bowl, sit an inch away from the dishwasher, curious about the sound and the warmth. This seeking is my least favorite part of writing. Once I’ve latched onto a character, a problem and a yearning, I’m better.
How about you? Any generative tips you can share with me?
I mentioned it’s been chilly. I mentioned Manhattans, with their particular icy, elegant bite. And now I’m giving you my favorite new recipe for some cheesy, gooey delight. I’ve adapted this from a New York Times recipe.
Natalie’s Almost Healthy Mac & Cheese
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for greasing the pan
2 pounds yellow or Vidalia onions, peeled, halved and thinly sliced
1 med size kabocha squash, pre-baked whole at 325° for about 15 minutes, just to make it possible to peel and cut ½ inch cubes
2 Tbs olive oil
1 bunch Lacinato kale, washed, striped from spines and juilliened
5 sprigs fresh thyme, plus more thyme leaves for garnish
1 pound fuselli pasta
½ baguette, cut into 1/2-inch slices (I used bruschetta which I bought, pre-made, at the grocery store.)
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar, red wine vinegar or white wine vinegar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 cups whole milk
12 ounces Gruyère, grated (about 5 cups)
12 ounces white Cheddar, grated (about 4 cups)
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Butter 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Preheat oven to 450°.
- In a deep skillet, melt 2 tablespoons butter over medium heat. Add the onions, thyme sprigs, and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until deep golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes. If the onions look dry, add a few tablespoons of water at a time to prevent from burning, scrape up browned bits stuck to the bottom of the skillet.
- Meanwhile, toss squash cubes in olive oil, salt, and spread out on a sheet pan. Bake for roughly 25 minutes, checking at about 20 minutes. You want them to be VERY tender. ALSO, cook the pasta till two minutes under cooking time. You want it just under al dente. Drain and set aside.
- When the onions are a deep golden brown, discard the thyme sprigs and add the kale. Stir until the kale is wilted and deep green/black. Remove to a LARGE bowl.
- Deglaze the skillet with the vinegar until evaporated, scraping up browned bits as you go. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons butter. Once melted, add the flour and cook, stirring, until the flour begins to stick to the bottom of the pan and has turned a light golden brown, about 3 minutes. Slowly whisk in the milk and season with salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer, whisking often. The bechamel should thicken slightly, just so it coats the back of a spoon. Stir in all but one cup of the cheeses. Mix till melted and delightfully gooey.
- Add cheese mixture to the onions and kale. Add the squash cubes, which should be tender enough to fall apart, add the pasta and stir, stir, stir.
- Pour into prepared pan, top with baguette slices and sprinkle with the reserved cheese. Season with pepper and back, on a sheet pan to catch bubbly overflow, for 10 to 15 minutes.