25 August 2009

One-Dish Dinners as Nights Grow Colder

Part of me longs to be a sophisticated woman of the world, but another part of me is rather proud of my humble roots in a community that is largely blue collar and prides itself on being down-to-earth. Dollar stores thrive here and so do restaurants that offer down-home cooking. Most people here would rather drink beer than wine. If you grew up here, chances are you grew up eating casseroles.

As the daughter of a chef, I grew up in both worlds. Some nights I'd come home to lobster and other nights, we'd scarf down casseroles. Some meals were elaborate affairs: Italian night, French night, Chinese night, even Titanic night. Picnics in winter, on the floor of the living room. Made-from-scratch pizza on Saturday nights, with leftover sloppy-joe meat on top.

My husband grew up eating casseroles and meat-and-potato meals. His mother worked as a bookkeeper, and the way he tells it, meals were easy to prepare and vegetable were from cans.

There's nothing we enjoy more than a meal in a really good restaurant, whether it's a fancy French place or a steakhouse. We like meals at home just as well, and more often than not in fall and winter, that means a one-dish meal. Our favorite is browned Italian sausage, often cut with ground chuck, stewed tomatoes, onions and roasted red peppers with some sort of pasta. There's usually a dash of thyme and a dash of herbes de Provence. The meal is often accompanied by an easy salad of mixed greens and a humble merlot.

When I was a kid, my mother made a ground-beef-and-potato casserole with cream of chicken soup and onions. I can't think of a better comfort food! I love this stuff.

We often need comfort as the summer makes its slow slide into fall. While I am usually content to be home at nights during the winter months, this time of year I don't look forward to the long dark time ahead. It's dark enough at 8 p.m. now. We turn the lights on early these days, and we are sleeping under comforters and quilts. I feel out of place wearing whites and linens.

I feel a craving for hearty dishes already. Think I'll make that casserole tomorrow.

What about you?

07 August 2009

Night Noise

At night our neighborhood takes on a completely different persona.

It is no longer the leafy, hilly grid of late-19th century streets where people walk their dogs and their children, using the street, not the sidewalk as a walking path because not all the blocks have sidewalks. The mix of professors, teachers, bankers, laborers and health care workers who live in the houses here are sleeping (or like me, they are trying to).

But someone walks the streets dragging things around. And someone else yells things into a bullhorn.

The dragger first: For nearly a decade, on odd nights all year round, I hear the rattle of something that might be a wagon or cart being dragged or pulled down the street. It starts to the south and moves north toward the river. It is loud enough to wake me, and sometimes it takes a while for me to realize it is what I've come to think of as The Night Noise that has interrupted my precious sleep.

Someone is moving things at a time when they are likely to be unnoticed. Or, as I once suspected, perhaps someone is scavenging for things.

I cannot jump out of bed and rush to the window. Well, I could - were I lucid enough - but the cedar trees block my view. By the time I am awake enough to comprehend that The Night Noise is back, whatever is making the noise has traveled farther north and is out of view.

The Bullhorn is something else entirely. We have heard it all year round and at all times of evening or early morning. There was a time when I thought it was coming from a large mill located up the river, but the words projected by the bullhorn are not words that would be said over a public address system, if you get my drift.

I've asked neighbors about it. Apparently, my husband and I are the only ones who have heard it and it was only last year, or perhaps the summer before, when my husband finally heard The Bullhorn for himself.

Living as I once did in a series of urban apartments, I have heard many odd and alarming sounds at night. But these noises baffle me, and I won't be happy until I discover their source.

Tired as I am after a night of sleeplessness last night, I did see "Julie and Julia" tonight. It's been a long time since a movie has engaged me that much, even though I knew the outcome. See it, if you have not.

The photo is from May 2007: Rue de Monttessuy, 7th arr., Paris.