Eating my way through the weekend.

I’d like to apologize to the world for how crabby I was last week. I don’t know why, exactly, but I was not my usual sunny self. (Hey! Stop snorting!) Anyway, for the weekend, I went with some women from church to Smith Mountain Lake, where we ate delicious food and drank wine and watched movies and football. That was actually pretty much all we did. Well, there was a lot of sitting around and talking, too. What I’m saying, though, is that there was not a lot of activity. We did take a quick walk before we left today, but other than that, we were pretty stationary.

To be honest, on Friday I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go. I was just so crabby that I couldn’t really entertain the thought of leaving. When I don’t feel well, I just want to stay at home. Mike convinced me that wasn’t really an option, though, so I packed my bag and met up with my friends. We got to the lake without incident, and being around friends did help. As we sat and talked, I was able to be myself without focusing on myself. That’s something that used to be a challenge for me, and it was good to see that’s changed.

Recipes and further thoughts on the weekend below the cut.

Saturday breakfast: Baked French Toast, Sausage, Bacon, Eggs to order

Baked French Swirl Toast

1 loaf (16 oz.) Pepperidge Farm Cinnamon Swirl Bread, cut into cubes
3/4 cup dried cranberries or raisins
6 eggs, beaten
3 cups half-and-half or milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Place bread cubes and cranberries in greased 3 qt. shallow baking dish.
Mix eggs, half-and-half and vanilla and pour over bread cubes. Cover and refrigerate 1 hour or overnight.

Uncover and bake at 350 degrees F. for 45 minutes or until golden brown and set in center. Sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar. Serve with butter and syrup.

Saturday morning, I got up fairly early and went downstairs to chat with a couple of ladies who were already up. We had breakfast and coffee and waited for everyone else to start appearing. I don’t know what we talked about, exactly: recipes, husbands, babies, but it was nice to be sitting around in our pajamas eating and drinking coffee. No plans, no responsibilities, just . . . being together.

Saturday lunch: Corn and Cheddar Chowder, Pumpkin Bread

Corn and Cheddar Chowder

4 bacon slices, cut into 3/4-inch pieces
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 teaspoons ground cumin
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 cups chicken broth
1 large boiling potato, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice
1/2 cup heavy cream
10-oz package frozen corn kernels
1/2 lb sharp Cheddar, grated

Cook bacon in a 3-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat, stirring, until crisp and transfer with a slotted spoon to paper towels to drain.

Add onion and butter to fat in pan and cook, stirring, until onion is softened. Add cumin and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add flour and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Whisk in broth and bring to a boil, whisking occasionally. Add potato and simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, until just tender, 8 minutes. Stir in cream and corn and return to a simmer. Add Cheddar, stirring just until cheese is melted (do not let boil), and season generously with pepper.

Serve topped with bacon.

Cranberry-Walnut Pumpkin Bread
Dense, moist, and delicious, this bread is great as a quick snack or with a bit of whipped honey butter for afternoon tea.

2 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup canned pure pumpkin
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2/3 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup dried sweetened cranberries
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter 9 1/4×5 1/4×3-inch loaf pan. Line bottom and 2 long sides with waxed paper. Whisk flour, pumpkin pie spice, baking powder, salt, and baking soda in medium bowl to blend. Using electric mixer, beat butter in large bowl until fluffy. Gradually add 1 cup sugar, beating until blended. Beat in eggs, 1 at a time. Beat in pumpkin, then vanilla. Beat in dry ingredients alternately with buttermilk in 2 additions each. Fold in cranberries and nuts. Transfer batter to pan. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon sugar.
Bake bread until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 1 hour 10 minutes. Cool bread in pan on rack 15 minutes. Cut around bread at short ends to loosen from pan. Turn bread out onto rack; peel off waxed paper. Cool bread completely. (Can be made 2 days ahead. Wrap and store at room temperature.)

Makes 1 loaf.

Saturday lunch came WAY too soon. I ate a lot of sausage and bacon at breakfast, is what I’m saying. hehe. After lunch, I took a nap (chowder makes for good naps) and the girls who’d been considering going to the vineyards decided just to hang out around the house. Two of us had brought work, so there was some of that going on as well. I tried to read but gave it up in favor of conversation and then a quick trip to the local creamery to get some ice cream to go with the apple tart we were having that evening. We had football on, but I watched the scrolling scores more than the game that was airing.

Saturday dinner: Roasted Red Pepper and Herb Goat Cheese Lasagna, Salad

Roasted Red Pepper and Herb Goat Cheese Lasagna [I think this one’s from The Joy of Cooking, and she used 2 jars of sauce instead of making sauce as well as two large and one small jar of roasted red peppers]

The goat cheeses available in stores vary so much, from dry and crumbly to smooth and creamy, that you may need as little as ¼ cup or as much as 1 cup heavy cream to make the filling in this recipe spreadable. This meatless lasagna is easily assembled ahead of time and is ideal for buffets.

Have ready:
1 ½ recipes Simplest Italian Tomato Sauce Marinara, p. 305
6 large red bell peppers, roasted, peeled, seeded, and coarsely chopped
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese

Combine in food processor:
1 clove garlic, chopped
3 scallions or ½ small onion, chopped
¼ cup packed mixed fresh herbs, such as basil and parsley, or 1 T mixed dried oregano and parsley
2 ten-to-eleven ounce logs fresh mild goat cheese
Up to ¼ cup heavy cream
Salt and ground black pepper to taste

Process until creamy and smooth. The filling should be easy to spread. If it is too stiff, add up to ¾ cup heavy cream.

Bring to a rolling boil in large pot:
8 quarts water
2 T. salt

Add and cook until barely tender:
1 lb. fresh lasagna or 1 lb dried

Preheat the oven to 375o. Lightly oil a 13x9x3-inch baking or lasagna pan.

Spread a thin layer of the tomato sauce over the bottom of the dish. Cover the sauce with a layer of pasta, overlapping the noodles by ½ inch. Spread with one-quarter of the cheese filling and top with one-quarter of the red peppers. Ladle enough tomato sauce to just barely cover the layer and sprinkle with one-quarter of the parmesan cheese. Repeat the layers 3 more times until all the ingredients are used, finishing with tomato sauce and Parmesan cheese (4 layers total). Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake until bubbly on top, 20 to 30 minutes for fresh pasta, 45 to 50 minutes for dried pasta. Remove the foil for the last 10 to 15 minutes of baking. Remove from oven and let stand for 10 minutes before serving.

After dinner, we decided it was time for movies, and we started Sense & Sensibility, which only about half of us had seen. At some point during the movie, we were served our dessert:

Warm Cinnamon-Apple Tart with Currants
Sophistication in a snap. Purchased puff pastry takes most of the work out of making this beautiful tart.

2 tablespoons sugar
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 sheet frozen puff pastry (half of 17.3-ounce package), thawed
1 egg, beaten to blend (for glaze)
8 tablespoons apricot preserves
1 Golden Delicious apple
(6 ounces), peeled, cored, very thinly sliced
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Dried currants
Vanilla ice cream

Position oven rack in middle of oven and preheat to 400°F. Mix 2 tablespoons sugar and 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon in small bowl. Unfold thawed puff pastry on lightly floured baking sheet. Brush some of egg glaze over 1-inch border of pastry on all sides. Fold 1-inch border over to form raised edge on all sides; press edge to adhere. Using sharp knife, make 1/2-inch-long cuts all around pastry edge, spacing 1/2 inch apart. Pierce center of pastry (not edge) all over with fork. Spread 2 tablespoons apricot preserves over center of pastry. Arrange apple slices atop apricot preserves in 3 rows, overlapping apples and fitting tightly together. Brush pastry edge with some of egg glaze. Sprinkle cinnamon-sugar mixture over apples and pastry edge.
Bake tart until apples are tender and pastry is brown, about 30 minutes. Transfer tart to rack.
Meanwhile, mix remaining 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, remaining 6 tablespoons apricot preserves, 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice and 1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter in small sauce-pan. Stir apricot sauce over medium heat until melted and hot.
Lightly dab some of apricot sauce over apples. Sprinkle with dried currants. Cut warm tart into 4 squares. Top each square with scoop of vanilla ice cream. Drizzle remaining apricot sauce over ice cream and serve.

4 servings

We ate it with the previously purchased vanilla ice cream. We ignored the fat content and focused instead on the fact that we were fighting osteoporosis. Hehe.

After Sense & Sensibility, we watched Party Girl (didn’t go over so well, but still makes me laugh) and then decided to go to bed. I called Mike, thinking it was almost 12, but he reminded me that, no, with the time change, we were getting an extra hour. So four of us stayed up and watched Say Anything and ate more ice cream (further fighting osteoporosis!). One of the girls had never seen it, and the rest of us had so much fun introducing her to the greatness that is Lloyd Dobler.

On Sunday, we spent the morning eating all the leftovers. Several of us had soup for breakfast, hehe. We cleaned up, took some pictures, and left.

One of the nice things about the group of women who went was that it ranged from a woman whose oldest daughter is a freshman in college to a 23-year-old grad student. We all knew each other to some extent, but there were definitely women I hadn’t spent much time with, and it was nice to get to know them better, to find out who’s a morning person, who can’t function without her coffee, who takes short showers, who smokes cigars . . . We got to hear stories about how people met, learned a little more about each other’s families, and laughed a lot.

At one point yesterday, I thought, “This kind of feels like all those retreats I went on in college.” On the other hand, it was a drama-free weekend, and those retreats always seemed to feature crying women (and sometimes that would be me – I used to be more . . . volatile that I am now). Part of the difference is that . . . we’re not a bunch of 19-year-olds, which is nice.

It was interesting to think, though, about how much of the difference is in me. I think that, in the past few years, we’ve made some decisions that have given me confidence, that have made me more secure in who I am. I see that come out when I’m in situations that would previously have been hard for me – I didn’t worry about pressure to act a certain way. I just did what was best for me. After all, that’s what everyone else was doing, and it worked out just fine.

I don’t know exactly how to say what it is that I feel about the weekend – it was a growth experience for me, something I don’t do all that often, going and staying with a bunch of women I don’t know all that well in a place I’m not completely sure about. It was a lot of fun . . . even more than that, I think, was the feeling that we’re all so different, and I didn’t have to act a certain way to be accepted. We got up early and stayed up late, so Saturday was wonderfully long (and full of food). I felt like we really took advantage of our time together, which was nice.

Now it’s back to work, and I’ll admit to being discouraged about a few things that have happened since I got home, but . . . that can’t completely negate how nice it was to get away for a while.

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