I have been meaning to read Tananarive Due’s The Good House from the moment that I closed the last page of Ghost Summer, which I thoroughly, delightedly enjoyed. My review for Ghost Summer wasn’t super in-depth or intensive, but about the book, I wrote the following:

These engaging short stories by Tananarive Due tick every box for what I want in a summer read. (I think I read this in September, so that still counts, as far as I am concerned!) A vast spectrum of supernatural business, characters that I care about, masterful writing that is emotive and nuanced but not super dense or difficult or inaccessible. It’s got everything!

Ghost Summer was previously my only experience with Tananarive Due’s writing, and though I believe that it was published more than a decade after The Good House, which I just read, it had all of the hallmarks that I’ve now come to expect from her work. I feel like it’s almost trite to say that a story or a book has “a lot of heart”…I mean, I say that a lot, but what does that mean, anyway? It’s the first thing that comes to mind when I think of this author’s writing, I am tempted to say “horror with a lot of heart.” I suppose what I’m trying to get across is that her stories seem to be written through an empathetic, compassionate lens. That her characters are fully fleshed out, down to their annoyances and imperfections, and their stories are treated in such a way that they’re wholly, profoundly human, and we really grow to care about them.

Also, Tananarive Due writes in such a way that you don’t feel punished for having read and connected with the work. I sometimes feel like a certain subset of writers must really hate us, the reader. That’s probably not true, but it’s easy to feel that way when you see your favorite, beloved characters brutally dismembered on the page before you. I just…never get a sense of that with Due’s writing. Of course, in her books, there’s horror and heartlessness and heart-stopping moments…but there’s also hope. I love that she gives us that, too. I guess that’s what I mean when I say a story “has heart;” that no matter what else transpires, no matter how big and expansive the horror and heartbreak is, she leaves the door open for goodness and hope, as well. I come away feeling good about what I read.

The Good House (unlike the House movie that I wrote about yesterday) is actually a pretty scary story in concept, and I did find myself a little freaked out while reading it. The home that belonged to Angela Toussaint’s late grandmother is so cherished and revered that the local townspeople refer to it lovingly as the Good House. All of this changes one summer when a terrible tragedy takes place during a Fourth of July celebration at the house, and both the Toussaint’s family history and its future is irrevocably altered. Two years after,  following her son’s suicide in the house, Angela returns and finally starts to unravel what happened and put things right.

Masterful storytelling combining multiple perspectives across different timelines, witchcraft and family curses, the burdens of inherited guilt, trauma, rich history, and mythology, and an overwhelming, palpable sense of stomach-curdling dread present from almost the very first page made this a vividly enthralling read and an intense page-turner, and I’m going to make it my mission in life to read everything author has every written.

Speaking of houses and homes–what’s more homey than a cozy bowl of porridge? Or steel-cut oats, to be more specific!
Here’s a little oatmeal bar I set up yesterday, with all the fixings: dates, pumpkin seeds and almonds, apricots, cream, and sugar. It was perfect for our 70-degree morning…which, if you live in Florida, you know that’s practically freezing, and about as close to autumn as we are likely to get! The little Halloween ramekins were a lovely surprise from Yvan, who picked them up for me from Le Creuset! I can’t seem to find them on the Le Creuset site (though he assures me there were quite a few in stock at the actual store and they weren’t exactly flying off the shelves) but if you are looking for them, it’s this set.

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10 Oct
2021

For some reason, I started thinking about the “soul pizza” moment in A Nightmare On Elm Street, Part Four: The Dream Master. Alice is sitting in a diner and Freddy sidles up to her and begins his gimmicky schtick–I actually love this surreal, schlocky music video of a film but Freddy has become an insufferable cartoon at this point– and there’s this whole thing with a meatball pizza. The meatballs are the screaming faces of Alice’s dead friends, and Freddy spears one of the little shrieking heads with his razor finger, pops it in his mouth, begins to chew, and just goes to town on it while Alice watches in horror.

My sister and I rewatched it last night, but I am afraid that by the time this scene rolls around I might have had a few too many margaritas and I don’t even remember watching it. Which is really dumb, because this 20 seconds was the whole reason I talked her into watching this film with me!

I’m always filing away food and meals from books and movies in my mental recipe folder, and I suppose because I have been thinking about attempting to make a sourdough pizza dough, this particular scene was on my mind. I didn’t want to recreate it, exactly. I mean…it’s pretty gross. And the details of those tiny faces would be complicated to execute.

…Pun intended, always!

So instead, we’ll just say that this very normal pizza that I made is, at best, loosely inspired by that scene? I used Joshua Weissman’s sourdough pizza recipe for the dough and the sauce, and it’s lightly topped with a blend of fresh parmesan and mozzarella, and tiny “meat” balls made from Impossible meat. I seasoned them with onion, garlic, and soy sauce, which is what seasoned the filling in one of Maangchi’s recipes, and I liked it so much, I just use it every time I have to add flavoring to a ground beef-like thing.

It turned out pretty well! We don’t have a pizza stone, so we baked a few versions of this in a large cast-iron skillet. It’s not perfect, but it gets the job done.

So, I found out that they made a sort of novelty toy version of this pizza, with its own take-out box! I can’t imagine who would have wanted one of these things, but who am I to judge. I also see where, if one was so inclined, one could buy what I believe is the actual pizza prop used in the movie. Again…who would want this? I cannot guess as to those reasons, but suppose I do think it’s an awfully cool thing that it exists.

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I did…not…enjoy Things Heard and Seen on Netflix. I will admit, the trailer captivated me, with its teasing of Catherine and George, a young couple and their child moving from the city to a ~quite possibly~ haunted old house in a small Hudson Valley college town. I already want to run away to an isolated farmhouse in upstate New York and bake bread and feed chickens all day (okay, Yvan can feed the chickens, I don’t really care about that part) so this appealed to me on a very base level.

But. With the exception of one character, I did not care for a single person in this film. As it turns out, and I’m not really spoiling anything here, George is not a great guy. You get a sense right off the bat that he’s a bit of a dick and he’s kind of sneaky, and he only gets worse. I don’t think the house would have gotten to him to such a degree if it wasn’t already a bad apple. And by the end of the film, you start to wonder about some things you learn at the beginning of the film and wonder if he wasn’t already rotten to the core.

I didn’t really love Catherine’s character, either. And maybe that’s not fair because I don’t know that we ever got a chance to know her, other than she gave up her art restoration career for her husband’s teaching opportunity, which is why they made the move to the country. And that she’s “the believer” in the family, as George asserts to a colleague who is trying to talk with him about Swedenborgian philosophies and spirituality. But other than his referencing of it, and the fact that she begins seeing and hearing strange, ghostly things, we don’t get much in the way of an explanation or examples of that, or any back story for her at all.

Oh, and a big-time TW here: We also know that Catherine suffers from an eating disorder. We know this has been going on for a while, because George references doctor visits, and weight gain shakes she is supposed to be drinking for meals. An excellent example of this guy’s assholery is how he’s always harping on her for not eating, almost as if he’s actually concerned. And yet. In a car ride home, after they have joined Justine, a fellow professor (Rhea Seehorn, who plays Kim Wexler in Better Call Saul!) and her husband in their home for dinner, George remarks that Justine “can really put away some lasagna.” With commentary like that, it’s not surprising that Catherine has some issues with food and with her body. “That was a really nasty thing to say,” she remarks about his casual cruelty. And it was. Fuck off, George!

Justine Solokof, professor of weaving (?!?!) is a QUEEN and I would love to eat some lasagna with her. She is the very best thing about Things Seen And Heard.

If I am being honest, I utterly tuned out about 20 minutes into the film as I began daydreaming about life in my lovingly restored and gently haunted murder farmhouse.  Crisp, clear nights with no light pollution or humidity and you can count every star in the sky and it’s so quiet you can hear the flights of bats and owls. Slow, chilly mornings warmed by endless cups of coffee and something cozy and autumnal to eat.

Like sourdough pumpkin pancakes! It’s 85 degrees in Florida this week, and the pancakes were the only part of this fantasy that I could recreate. I am not a huge fan of maple syrup, so I ate these with cream cheese and honey and they were delightful.

 

Of course, my haunted country home fantasy needs a rustic autumnal ensemble! Details on all of the items used can be found here; I’m feeling too lazy to list them all at the moment, but if you check back later, I may have done so.

And oh my lord people, you people with comments like “$12K for a bag, I would never!”Of course, you would never! That just goes without saying! We don’t have that kind of money! But what’s the point of daydreaming on a budget? No thanks, friends. If I’m gonna fantasize, even if it’s just a dream of making pies and knitting on a front porch rocking chair with no one in 50 miles in any direction to bother me, it’s gonna be dripping in luxury. You want a cheap murder farmhouse outfit, make it yourself.

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1 Oct
2021


10 years ago on September 30th, I rolled into my sister Mary’s driveway in Orlando, after a long drive from New Jersey. My car was packed with everything I owned, my baby sister Melissa, flown out from California to assist me, was driving. I don’t know how I talked her into driving the whole way, but of the two of us, I think I am actually the baby. I can drive, I just hate long stretches of highway driving. But she is so brave. Thank god/s and whoever else for her. Thank god for both of my sisters.

I had lived most of my life in Florida (though I was born in Ohio and spent a few years there as a small child.) But from ages 9-28 I lived in Florida. That’s where most of my small family was, and my friends, all two of them. I packed up and left all of that behind, everything I knew, in February of 2004, to move to New Jersey. That… was a bad idea. And for 7 years I tried to make that bad idea work, but ultimately it failed spectacularly. In February of 2011, over the course of a phone call on a lonely winter afternoon, Mary convinced me to come back home. This was a good idea. It was the Best Idea.

I spent the summer packing and divesting, Melissa flew out at the end of September 2011, we stuffed my car as full as it could be, and I left that place and never looked back. When we finally pulled into Mary’s driveway…that was one of the happiest days, most glorious of my life. And every day since, even the tough ones, even the impossible ones? Have been even better. I am so grateful for both of my incredible sisters, for their fearlessness and wisdom, and for their unflagging support of their eldest sister. I mean it in every way that you could mean such a thing: my life is better because of them.

Today (well, actually yesterday but October 1st sounds more dramatic) marks ten years since I have been back!

I made a cake (Nigella Lawson’s Rosemary Remembrance cake) to celebrate with Yvan, who has been at my side for the majority of the time I have been back in Florida, and he too makes my life better in so many ways. I never thought I would have a partner that I could laugh with and share my secrets with and who will enjoy all of my weird, experimental meals and compliment all of my perfumes and support my wildest dreams…but that’s him. I’m wild about him. Turns out he was a good idea, too. (Thanks, past Sarah for being the aggressor in this matter and asking him out on a date!)

Totally unrelated, but as it is October 1st, the first day of the very best month,  I’m going to attempt, in my typical lazy way, to participate in 31 Days of Horror. Now…to be clear here, I’m not going to try and fool you into thinking I’m watching and writing about a new movie every day. I mean, there are some days that I might do that! But I think I will be talking about some books and movies that I’ve watched earlier in the year, too. I’m tired, man. I’m burnt out. I just wrote a book. I may soon be starting another one (this is a thing that is super up in the air and not a sure thing, but it’s a possible thing!) So I haven’t got it in me to do 31 Days of Horror perfectly, but I’m going to do my best!

To start with, I am totally half-assing it, and pointing you to some horror-related things from the past! Hee hee! Classic Sarah! Check back throughout the month of October to see what else I think I can get away with!

Horror Inspired Perfumes
How To Wear Your Favorite Horror Film
Interview with Will Erickson of Too Much Horror Fiction

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I made a little video about getting out of my head when I am feeling bad, and spending time in the kitchen. I hope that you’ll give it a watch! It’s mostly me puttering and clanking spoons, but put me on in the background at a reasonable volume and we can keep each other company while we kitchen witch our crappy feelings away!

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I’ve written about bean soup before. Probably right around this time last year. Well, here it is again, friends. And thanks to the brilliant friend on Instagram who gave me the idea for this blog’s title!

I hated my grandmother’s bean soup when I was a little girl. If I’m being quite honest I always cried when I had to eat it. I sobbed through every spoonful. There was nothing wrong with it. I just wanted something more familiar like a salami sandwich with yellow mustard. That was my favorite! Bean soup was just so…ugly. I hated looking at it. I hated smelling it. No thanks!

Anyway, I must feel awfully guilty about it these many years later, because anytime I am inspired to make a soup, it’s usually of the beany variety. Here’s a recipe, if you are interested and you’ve got some of these ingredients lying around. I’m really bad at keeping track of amounts, just eyeball it and make it soupy, you know? It’s still an ugly soup, but holy beans, is it delicious.

As they say, “beauty is in the eye of the beanholder.”

“I’m Sorry, Mawga” bean soup
-a bunch of beef of vegetable stock (from scratch is best.) Maybe 6-8 cups?
-a few cups of dried beans, whatever you’ve got, soaked overnight
-3-4 strips of bacon
-one onion, diced
-however much garlic you like, minced
-hefty squirt of tomato paste
-a few bay leaves
-sprig of fresh rosemary
-several leaves of fresh sage, chopped
-salt and pepper

Chop bacon and fry in a deep pot for a few minutes until some of the fat is rendered out. You don’t need it to be crispy. Toss in your onion and sauté for a few minutes until fragrant. Add the garlic, stir it up and sauté for a minute or so more. All of this is on medium heat, I suppose. Squirt in your tomato paste and stir around until everything is coated and let it cook for a minute. Add all of your both, beans, and herbs and bring to a boil for a few minutes. Reduce heat, cover and cook until beans are tender or to your liking. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

We served the soup with some focaccia that I’d made using a not-too-peppy sourdough starter and whole wheat flour, with a recipe from Pro Home Cooks. I mean… even mediocre fresh-baked bread is good bread, but I would definitely like to try my hand at this again, with better, fresher, more lively ingredients. Still, to accompany a humble bean soup, I think it worked well, and it was made tastier with a dollop of the compound sage butter I had made this past weekend with loads of fresh sage from the garden. GOOD LORD this stuff is good. Just make it and put it on everything.

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9 May
2021

I require an explanation regarding muesli. I was startled out of sleep last night when I realized that I didn’t know what the difference was between muesli and granola. At first, I thought muesli was basically toasted nuts and grains but without the fat or sweetener, like granola. Both then I see that sometimes muesli is just raw grains and nuts, soaked. Both seem to have the addition of dried fruits and various toppings at some point. So then… what’s the difference between muesli and overnight oats or even oatmeal? Is it all just semantics? Also, is “overnight oats” basically just a term that some dumb fitness blogger coined because they thought they came up with something clever, but in reality, it’s something people have been doing for a million years? Because I sure wish someone had said to them, oh, so you’re making MUESLI, then?

Anyway, if you can’t tell, this confusion is making me cranky and mean. And also I hate fitness bloggers.

The internet is confusing me with conflicting information and I swear I just watched Jamie Oliver dump half a damn can of cocoa in his wacky version so I don’t even know what’s what anymore. If you are a muesli eater and you can explain to me the difference, I’d love to hear it! And armchair muesliosophers, keep outta this–I don’t need conjecture, I need hard facts!
 
I have included a screen capture that confuses things even further, from the video I just watched.

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13 Apr
2021

I don’t think it’s possible to capture an egg salad sandwich in an attractive pose but the Japanese milk bread and accompanying egg salad recipe from Chef John made for an incredible tamago sando. It’s never gonna be in Vogue or whatever but I’m here to eat, not sell magazines.

While I actually like egg salad, I have a tough time eating it and not thinking of the decaying egg salad sandwich that Fry bought from a toilet vending machine in Futurama, whenever I eat one. It’s such a dilemma. Keep the space parasites that are making me the most amazing and best version of myself? Or get rid of the worms taking up residence in my body?

Sigh. 6am is too early to be thinking. Or eating egg salad, probably.

Anyway, this dough was such a joy to work with. It was so plush and luxurious! I couldn’t stop fondling it! Ok, stop being weird, Sarah. Also: loaf of milk bread? Or corgi butt? It’s hard to tell, right?

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Bon Bon cookies via Vintage Dish and Tell

I must have been thinking of Daft Punk when I came up with the title for this blog post. The end of an era. Dang. But the following thoughts have absolutely nothing to do with the legendary Parisian dance music duo, so enough of that.

I’ve been in a cake-making mood, lately. I don’t even really like cake, although I do have preferences (and none of them are chocolate because apparently, I am some sort of perverse contrarian weirdo.) I don’t want to make a cake every day, but I decided I was going to make a sort of cake-a-month challenge. And you may laugh at my reasons.

I don’t want to eat cake. I want a visual document of a cake I made. I just want to take pictures of my cakes.

 

1-2-3-4 vanilla cake from The Baker’s Appendix

Flipping through my grandmother’s Betty Crocker cookbook was one of my favorite past times when I spent weekends visiting my grandparent’s home as a child growing up in our tiny Ohio town. I would park myself in an old armchair with a stack of them on my lap and flip through the pages, tracing the photographs with my small fingers, dreaming of making these delicious desserts myself.

Often times on those weekends, my grandmother would bake a pie* and I would “help” by rolling shapes out of the leftover crust, sprinkling them with sparkling sugar, and baking them up in the still-hot oven, after the pie had finished its time there. I was always rather disappointed that my creations looked absolutely nothing like the colorful confections in the pages of those books that had inspired me so.

*Speaking of pie, I found this image yesterday and I have been cackling about it for the past 24 hours.

 

Birthday bundt cake fail. We couldn’t get it out of the pan, so we piled on pillowy mounds of espresso icing and ate it straight from the vessel with large spoons.

As I grew older, I never completely lost my love for cookbooks but found myself more frequently drawn to food blogs on the internet, where I had begun to find recipes to experiment with. When I created my own blog (not this one, but its very distant cousin) back in 2002, one of my biggest inspirations and motivations was to one day feature delectable images on my website that rivaled the beauty of those that had captured my imagination. This, as it turns out, was no easy feat for a person with no eye for design and no photography skills or training. I mean…that’s a lot of work. And not necessarily work I was interested in investing in what is basically just a personal blog.

As we’ve talked about here before, I want to be the best! No work, only best!

 

Cranberry oatmeal bread (I’m not sure what recipe I used for this?)

I eventually came to the conclusion that I was going to have to learn something if I wanted to improve my cake pictures. And while I won’t pretend I put a lot of effort into it,  I did watch a class on Skillshare that I do think was pretty helpful and I think I’ve actually leveled up a tiny bit! I’ve shared pictures willy-nilly throughout this post, and none of them are in any sort of order, chronological or otherwise–but I think you can spot the few that I did post-video classroom.

Now please remember, I am coming at the subject from someone who knows next to nothing, so obviously if you’ve got some of these skills under your belt already, then there’s probably not much insight to be had here. I watched Olena Hassell’s course on photography, composition, and styling but there are probably free videos on YouTube that may share similar tips, tricks, and techniques. It was actually a YouTube video that convinced me to pay money for Skillshare, ha! I am too easily influenced.

 

Italian plum and almond cake

I’ve obviously got quite a ways to go, and I’ll probably never get there, where ever “there” is. That’s fine. I think I have reached a point where some of these photos are exactly as good as the photos on those cooking blogs of yore that I was so enthralled with. But that’s just my opinion, and even if they’re nowhere even close, I am pretty excited to continue trying my hand at it and sharing beautiful photos of cakes, while fobbing off on someone else the actual cakes themselves, for purposes of digestive disposal.

Next month: Hatteras Fig and Whiskey Cake? Parsnips and Peppercorn cake? Whatever it is, I can’t wait to show you!

 

Molasses gingerbread cake with cooked cream cheese frosting

 

Downeast Maine Pumpkin Bread

 

Persian Love Cake garnished with pistachios, rose petals, and candied ginger

 

Gâteau au Yaourt

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24 Jan
2021

Weekend offerings: 

1. A marvelous sourdough loaf with loads of encouragement and everything bagel seasoning suggestions from @clockedoutandcookin on Instagram. Original recipe from the foodbod blog. I had made a few loaves of sourdough earlier in the summer, and at the time I thought it was a really tedious, stupid, shitty process and that maybe it just wasn’t for me. But something finally clicked yesterday as I was folding the dough for the umpteenth time, and I realized that every time I approached the bowl, I was actually looking forward to working with it, to gathering portions and pulling it up and over itself, with feeling the texture gradually change from shaggy and sticky to bouncy and bubbly. That was an unexpected revelation. Isn’t it great when you realize you’re not too stuck in your ways to change your mind about something?


2. Ostropel de Oltenia, a tasty stew of chicken and polenta dumplings in tomato sauce, the recipe for which can be found in Carpathia: Food from the Heart of Romania by Irina Georgescu (who also has a blog with some amazing looking recipes on it!)

We were a frozen pizza and Hamburger Helper household mosts night while I was growing up, and we definitely never had any type of formal Sunday dinner, so as an adult, I guess I get a kick out of doing something a little fancy on Sunday nights. And while I suppose it could be argued that stew isn’t exactly haute cuisine, it sure beats Digiorno’s.

 3. And lastly, chocolate chip cookies made with a hefty dollop of sourdough starter discard. Although this made for some really freaking incredible raw cookie dough, it resulted in very… fluffy cookies. Which, if this is your thing, then you might really enjoy these lil puffers. But I don’t love cookies and I especially don’t love cakey cookies, so eh. Not a fan of this version. They can’t all be winners!


From the time I was old enough to have a job, I have always worked weekends. As a teenager, starting out as bottom-bun girl and working my way up to cashier at Checkers (yes, that was my first job!); working both as a staffing manager AND a weekend caregiver for a home-care company in my twenties; working two jobs for nearly a decade in my thirties, full time in an office during the day, and part-time in a health food shop in evenings and on weekends. When I moved back to FL, my weekends were *almost* free there for a few months, but I quickly realized my elderly grandparents were not doing so well, and so my Saturdays and Sundays again became consumed doing all of the things for them that I did not have time to do during the workweek. All the while, every second, every breath in between, writing, writing, and writing some more. Scribbling for various venues, and for my own blog, which I’ve had in various incarnations for the past twenty years. And though I enjoy writing (mostly, ha!) this too, is work.

All of this is on my mind today. Someone recently remarked to me, in an off-hand yet weirdly skeptical-bordering-on-suspicious sort of way, “why would you spend all weekend cooking? That’s so much WORK.!” No, friends. I know work. And I have spent a great many weekends working. Most weekends of my adult life! But, for me, cooking is never, ever work*. Days spent hovering over simmering soups and yeasty bubbling bread dough, chopping, mixing stirring, sprinkling, concocting something delicious and heart-warming and filled with love, these are sacred acts of the most joyful magic. This is time well spent –best spent!–  and I cannot think of a better way to spend my Sunday.

*I sometimes feel a little weird and not…self-conscious, exactly….but I begin feeling some kind of strange, shy, sheepish way when I share my excitement about how much I love cooking. I understand that not everyone enjoys cooking, or even gives a fig about it. I personally know some of these people (and I might even be related to them.) And I worry I might be coming across as self-congratulatory, like LOOK AT HOW GREAT I AM AT THIS THING THAT YOU CAN’T DO/DON’T LIKE TO DO. And that’s not my intent! But I guess I am always worried, all the time, about inadvertently making someone feel lesser-than. And so I downplay or diminish or sometimes completely secret away the things that I love or find important or…that I’m good at. And that really sucks.

But it is okay that I like something you don’t, that I do something you don’t! There are plenty of things that other people like to do that I can’t be bothered with in the slightest. There are all kinds of people in the world obsessing about all kinds of stuff, and the way I feel passionate about making soup is maybe how someone else feels super jazzed about whittling spoons or hula hooping or playing the accordion. And what a wonderful world it is, full of all of us, enthusiastically just doing our things. And anyway, people who like to cook have got to have people to cook for, so I think it all works out.

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