Well, my show closed Saturday, and we spent Sunday and Monday striking the set and getting the costumes into bags to be washed or dry-cleaned, so I finally have a moment to report.
Wow, your cat is Madonna!
Come on, let's just face it: We are living in a material world, and Dusty is a material girl. So go ahead and thank your lucky stars—Dusty is the one and only Madonna!
Always desperately seeking attention, Dusty is multi-talented and savvy, not afraid to get her paws dirty and experiment with new methods of getting into the groove in order to reach her peeps. She commands respect everywhere she goes, a sophisticated traveler who insists upon the best—and more often than not, she gets what she wants. Appearance is everything for your true-blue diva and while her look may change as often as the Pellegrino in her water bowl does, her commitment to exercise is unwavering. Dusty's in tip-top shape, which makes her age in pet years a non-issue. Despite the hard fur and the no-nonsense approach, she's a softy when it comes to her devoted owner. It's fair to say that Dusty is, yes, crazy for you.
You probably haven't noticed that I haven't been around all that much since last year, since I'm not around all that much anyway, but things got either really wonderful or really complicated (depending on how you look at it) in the middle of October.
OK, here's my take on the current literary meme:
1. Wrapping paper or gift bags? Wrapping paper, with the biggest, fanciest bows I can manage…
2. Real tree or artificial? None – because of the cat. I did buy a 2-foot-tall tree made of paper pieces you link together, ‘cause I didn’t think Dusty could hurt that. But she chewed on it…
3. When do you put up the tree? Decorations go up sort of whenever… If I were hosting a party, we’d decorate for that and leave them up. The outside decorations aren’t up yet, either, ‘cause we’ve had rain… (Rain is a good thing – fire season should now be over – but putting out electrical stuff in the rain isn’t fun…)
4. When do you take the tree down? Again, whenever… We’re probably going to do brunch on January 6 (Twelfth Night…), and won’t get much decorating done before that, and will take everything down before the maids come the next time.
5. Do you like eggnog? Love it. Unfortunately, I’m the only one in the family who does, so there’s never any around.
6. Favorite gift received as a child? My parents gave me a hard-bound score of Handel’s Messiah when I was in high school and just starting my singing career. (I was probably about 15, since I was only 17 when I graduated. Yes, I was singing professionally that early.) I sat in the corner ‘reading’ it all afternoon. It’s still around here someplace, although a bit the worse for wear by now… (I use a newer edition to actually sing out of these days.)
7. Do you have a nativity scene? Yes. Sometimes, though, I make one out of gingerbread (with a chocolate-cereal-and-marshmallow-treats stable thatched in shredded wheat…) instead.
8. Hardest person to buy for? My brother – he usually just gets money
9. Easiest person to buy for? My SSOO. He has so many interests there’s always something that suits.
10. Worst Christmas gift ever received? Can’t remember any truly awful things. I’ve gotten some unlikely things that made me wonder who the giver thought they were buying for, but I guess I figure the important thing is that they thought enough of me to get something, anyway.
11. Mail or email Christmas card? Snail mail, almost exclusively. Although it occurs to me that I’d better come up with something for my Vox neighborhood, too. (Oops…)
12. Favorite Christmas movie? It's a Wonderful Life
13. When do you start shopping for Christmas? Whenever I start seeing things that would work for the various people I give gifts to. If that’s in August, OK. Actually, as of today, I’m done. (Don’t’ tell the SSOO – he declares there’s something wrong with anybody who finishes before Christmas Eve… 😎
14. Have you ever recycled a Christmas present? I admit it… Yep…
15. Favorite thing to eat at Christmas? My famous (or infamous) Fresh Mincemeat Pie. But even that’s not an official Christmas treat; I’ve made in in July…
16. Clear lights or colored on the tree? I’d love a real, green tree with clear, gold and silver ornaments, and lots of tiny clear lights. Not gonna happen, though…
17. Favorite Christmas song? I have no special favorite. But I love singing carols at the piano during my SSOO’s alma mater’s annual Christmas buffet party before their big Christmas choral program. We usually acquire some other folks, and end up with a small ensemble, and the pianists who volunteer are friends and enjoy having us sing along.
18. Travel at Christmas or stay at home? I've done both. Christmas in Williamsburg, VA, was wonderful the year my family did that. (I sent a box of cooking equipment and special ingredients ahead to the rented condo, so that we could have a big special dinner, and the programs Colonial Williamsburg put on for the holidays were great.) But at home, we have the University’s program, my professional choir’s Christmas program (and Messiah sing-along), the church’s activities including the children’s pageant (this year with actual flying angel – courtesy of the SSOO and his brother, former circus performer and rigger, respectively)
19. Can you name Santa's reindeer? On Dasher, on Dancer, on Prancer and Vixen/ Now Comet, now Cupid, now Donner and Blitzen… I have a headband with antlers and a name badge from the North Pole Enterprises Transportation Department – ‘Vixen’ – that I sometimes wear this time of year.
20. Do you have an angel on top or a star? I have a lovely Madam Alexander tree-top angel (not, unfortunately, gold, silver or crystal). But no tree…
21. Open the presents Christmas Eve or morning? Christmas morning
22. Most annoying thing about this time of year? Never having any time to enjoy the season between rehearsals and performances. (Don’t ever try to schedule a musician for anything between Hallowe’en and New Year’s…) But I love doing it, or I wouldn’t, so I can’t realistically complain.
As you may have figured out by now, I love to cook on week-ends, usually some sort of brunch. This may have to do with having to be at work at 0-dark-30 during the week (I leave home between 3 and 4 am), or just simply that I like the sort of things that one usually has for brunch.
Years ago, when I used to do a flight school’s books to help pay for my flying time, there was a terrific little bistro-ish restaurant just across the street from the airport. The guy who owned it had some sort of association with the flight school – I think his girlfriend was one of our pilots, but I don’t really remember – and the crowd started going there because of it. It was also convenient to my home, and I’d go there on Saturday mornings sometimes, just because.
My favorite dish was the Gnocchi With Browned Butter and Caramelized Onions. I would have it at the restaurant with a couple of lovely big sausages in natural casings, with fresh orange juice and hot black coffee. (This was before Starbucks had introduced us all to cappuccinos and lattes, which I think would be excellent with it.) Over the years, I have remembered that breakfast/brunch fondly, but I moved away and don’t even know if the restaurant is still there –frankly I would guess it’s not; it’s been that long.
And somehow, in all that time, I never got around to trying to make it myself.
But I was in Trader Joe’s this last Saturday morning, to pick up some stuff for what I was planning for dinner, and my eye fell upon a package of Whole Wheat Gnocchi in a vacuum pack, imported from Italy. I knew there were onions and butter at home, and I was hungry… (You know what they say about shopping when you’re hungry!)
So I grabbed a couple of packages and used one of them to make my version of that long-ago food memory.
And I nailed it! It was so good that the-kid-home-for-the-week-end insisted I make it again for Sunday supper so that a friend from high school, who was hanging out with her, could taste it.
We didn’t have the sausages, nor did I dig out the espresso machine, but ordinary drip coffee and fresh orange juice still complement it nicely. This makes small-adequate servings for three or ginormous ones for two, and neither batch had any leftovers.
Gnocchi with Browned Butter and Caramelized Onions
2 large yellow onions, or 1 yellow and 1 red
about 1 oz thinly sliced pancetta (5 – 6 slices)
5 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 tsp kosher salt
2 – 3 large cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp fresh thyme leaves
500g package gnocchi (about 1 lb, frozen or vacuum-sealed)
¼ cup pine nuts
Grated Parmesan cheese
Cut off the ends of the onions, peel them, halve them top to bottom, and slice thinly. It will look like a lot, but will cook down.
Melt 1 Tbsp of the butter in a large, heavy skillet or sauté pan and add the pancetta. Cook until the meat is crisp. Remove the meat, drain on paper towels, and set aside. Leave the melted butter and rendered fat in the pan.
Add the sliced onions to the pan and toss to coat in the fat. Sprinkle with salt and cook slowly over low-medium heat, stirring occasionally. The onions should soften and release their moisture before even starting to brown. Stir more frequently as they cook down. When the onions are just starting to brown, sprinkle in the minced garlic. Continue to cook until the onions are a rich caramel brown. They will have developed an amazing sweetness from the concentration of their natural sugars, particularly if you have used a red onion. Remove them from the pot and set aside.
Cook the gnocchi according to package directions (generally just until they float). Drain but don’t rinse.
Melt the remaining butter in the same pan. Watch – and sniff – carefully and cook until the butter is lightly browned and smells deliciously nutty. It is perilously easy to burn butter instead of browning it, so constant attention is essential. When the butter is ready, throw in the thyme leaves (stand back – they’ll spatter!) and cook for just a moment. Add the pine nuts and toast for a moment more; watch carefully, as they also are easy to burn.
Add the cooked gnocchi to the pan and toss them in the browned butter sauce. Add the onions. Crumble the crisp pancetta into the mess. Cook over low heat just until everything is evenly warmed.
Serve sprinkled with Parmesan cheese to taste. (Personally, I don’t think it needs much.)