Read Me a Story

My earliest memories of written language are buried underneath the thick and fuzzy blankets of time.  They go back- way back- to a bedroom with striped wallpaper, a stuffed mickey mouse, and the safe cocoon of home.  They are brought to surface, time travelled like atoms re-energizing-  a vaguely familiar shadow and then suddenly crisp and clear- by the vibration and timbre of a deep male voice.  The rhythm and cadence instantly cause me to remember the smell of a nursery, the feel of a soft mustard yellow bedding (a color that only the 70's could produce) in between my fingers as I worked the edge of the textile, abed in flannel PJ's, my daddy stretched out beside me on the bed leaning on his elbow, reading a story in the small light of the room while I am shored up in the cool pillows.  I am, in that moment, living in the story, eyes wide, breath shallow, mind forming the world he is narrating, conjuring a magical place with just some letters arranged on a page spoken aloud.  That love affair with story has only deepened over the years.  

In search of some season appropriate reading this fall, the boy and I have been reading short stories of the ghost and horror flavor aloud.  This is an expansive genre of reading, to say the least, and our research led us to some remarkable authors from the late 19th/early 20th centuries.  The language is rich and exotic on the tongue, taking a few moments to recalibrate your brain to the pattern, the intimacy of your lover's voice drawing you into a new place in the story together.  Once you are in, the stories take a hold and create the world that you are craving this season; one full of mystery, suspense, dread, and the ever present fear on the pages of not being able to return of sound mind from the mental strain of the revelation of phantasms and specters, undead in their tombs, walking their old homes, calling from the great beyond.  Good stuff.

 The following list is our very favorite of the ones we read.  The authors will be of no surprise to most of you.  Each of us read one each night, so we chose many of them over others based on length.  Also all of the older stories were available free online through our e-reader apps.  I have at least a dozen new ghost story collections that are wonderful.

"The Tomb", H.P. Lovecraft
"Some of Us Had Been Threatening Our Friend Colby", Donald Barthelme
"The Veldt", Ray Bradbury
"An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge", Ambrose Bierce
"Why Don't You Dance?", Raymond Carver
"Dickon the Devil", J.S. Le Fanu
"Greasy Lake", T. Coraghessan Boyle
"Chickamauga", Ambrose Bierce
"The Mask of the Red Death", Edgar Allen Poe
"The Legend of Sleepy Hollow", Washington Irving

We bid a forlorn farewell to the season of the witch as time marches on through fall.  We hosted Thanksgiving last weekend (Halloween and then Thanksgiving three days later.  Hold on, friends, it's moving quick) because all of our schedules are ridiculous until Christmas.  It was standard fare traditional Thanksgiving with a few new recipes.  Two new ones to share.  

The first is a Bourbon and Maple Glazed Sweet Potato Recipe that is to die for.  To. Die. For.  Whatever you are doing with marshmallows for sweet potatoes needs to go into the trash can.  Now.  This recipe has layers and layers of flavor that appeal to me on every level.  When you look at the ingredients it looks like it may hit you over the head, but once they have reduced, they become subtle and sophisticated, making those potatoes into something other worldly, full of the smoky and sweet fall flavor.  I skipped the almonds and also added butternut squash to mine.  I also used all of the sauce and could've doubled it.  It was a homerun.  Give them a try and see if you don't make it the new staple at holidays.  The original link can be found here.

Bourbon and Maple Glazed Sweet Potatoes
by Victoria Granof, Bon Appetit

1 1/2 cups strong hot coffee
9 tablespoons pure maple syrup
3 tablespoons (packed) dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon instant espresso powder
1/3 cup bourbon
9 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
5 pounds red-skinned sweet potatoes (about 8 medium), peeled, cut into 2 1/2-inch–3-inch pieces
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup chopped smoked almonds (or toasted almonds)

Stir coffee, maple syrup, sugar, and espresso powder in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat until sugar dissolves. Bring mixture to a boil; cook until thickened and reduced by half, 6-7 minutes.
Remove syrup from heat; add bourbon and 2 tablespoons butter. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until sauce is reduced to about 3/4 cup, 40-45 minutes (mixture should be thick enough to coat a spoon, but not sticky, and will thicken as it cools). Season sauce to taste with salt and pepper. DO AHEAD Sauce can be made 2 days ahead. Cover; chill. Rewarm before serving.

Arrange racks in upper and lower thirds of oven; preheat to 425°. Melt remaining 7 tablespoons butter in a small saucepan; pour into a large bowl. Add sweet potatoes and oil and season with salt and pepper. Divide potato mixture between 2 large rimmed baking sheets and roast, turning potatoes often and rotating sheets halfway through, until potatoes are tender and start to turn golden brown and crisp around the edges, 30-35 minutes. DO AHEAD Potatoes can be roasted 4 hours ahead. Let stand at room temperature. Rewarm before continuing.

Transfer potatoes to a serving platter. Drizzle some warm sauce over and sprinkle with almonds; serve remaining sauce along-side for those who want more.

I could eat brussel sprouts any way you want to cook them.  I love and adore them.  My favorite way to fix them is just drizzled with olive oil, salt and pepper, and roasted in a 400 degree oven until they are caramelized and lovely.  This recipe is a close second and dresses them up nicely for the holiday menu.

Caramelized Brussel Sprouts with Mustard and Bacon
by Jennifer Brian Cheek

2# Brussel sprouts, trimmed and halved
1/4 cup olive oil
4 Tbs Whole Grain Mustard
2 tsp ground mustard
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/2# bacon, cooked crisp and crumbled
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Place brussel sprouts in 9 x 11 pyrex and toss with 1/8 cup olive oil.  Salt and pepper to taste.

In a small bowl, whisk together whole grain mustard, vinegar, and ground mustard.  Add remaining olive oil and whisk together.  Pour over brussel sprouts, toss to coat evenly, and bake for 30-40 minutes or until tops are caramelized, stirring halfway through so they cook evenly.  Remove from oven and toss with crumbled bacon.  Serve immediately.

The coming weeks bring more holiday planning and an annual girls' trip to Chicago.  We are in the throes of fall and it's colors are trying hold on for a little while longer.  Soon all of the splendor will be replaced by the browns and sepias that usher in our dark and cold time.  In the meantime, I will be menu planning and bourbon shopping for all of the gorgeousness that has been released this season.  Stop by for a cocktail and let me know what is on your menus.

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