Thanks

flight

“Thanks”

Listen
with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow for the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water looking out
in different directions

back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you
looking up from tables we are saying thank you
in a culture up to its chin in shame
living in the stench it has chosen we are saying thank you
over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the back door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks that use us we are saying thank you
with the crooks in office with the rich and fashionable
unchanged we go on saying thank you thank you

with the animals dying around us
our lost feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us like the earth
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is

W.S. Merwin
Rain in the Trees

Enormously gratifying (also: eggnog!)

Regarding my progress in my seven posts in seven days challenge, this is post #4 on day #6. Not perfect, but not bad. Onward and upward!

steam

I’m thinking back on the wintry drinks of my childhood, and I think I can sum up my happy memories in two telling words: Swiss Miss. There was the occasional waxed paper cup of hot cider after a haunted hayride, to be sure, and I only have to close my eyes to see my dad’s green Stanley vacuum thermos of coffee bouncing on the black vinyl passenger seat of our sky blue Volkwagen Beetle on the occasional thrilling dirt road shortcut to KinderCare. But it was really all about the Swiss Miss: Swiss Miss to warm fingers and belly after caroling, Swiss Miss halfway through my frostbitten gig as a shepherd in our church’s live nativity, Swiss Miss from the snack bar during the third quarter of high school football games (when we marching band folks were permitted a short break), Swiss Miss after marching in our town Christmas parade.

What was it exactly? One packet was never really enough to make a satisfyingly creamy drink with 12 ounces of water – and that water was always either lukewarm, requiring Sisyphean effort with a plastic stirrer to dissolve the lumps of powder, or scalding, and you never could make yourself wait, rushed as you were to feel the tiny marshmallows on your tongue before they melted completely, so then you’d burn your tongue and it would hurt for two days. None of this diminished my love for Swiss Miss in the slightest. And I’d wager to guess that in another twenty years, my own son will recall his packets of hot cocoa mix at our favorite deli with at least as much fondness as our nights in front of the stove with real milk and a box of cocoa.

Let’s not beat around the bush: mainly it was the sugar. Rare is the kid who can resist it. But there was also something enormously gratifying about how fast you could turn something that looked like powdered tempera paint into something that smelled of cake and snowfall and Christmas break. It was like magic.

And so eggnog – the stuff in the carton with its musty nutmeg and slimy mouthfeel – really didn’t stand a chance with me in 1989, but a quarter century later, the real stuff has my heart. We make it a couple times every December. Sometimes it’s on offer at a small solstice gathering with friends, and I like to sip it when we decorate the tree too. It is, of course, lovely with bourbon, or rum, or brandy, but there is little that compares to the gleam in my son’s eyes or his frothy mustache when he drinks it, so I usually hold back the booze and we adults just add it to taste, if at all.

sunny eggs

 (seven posts in seven days)

Eggnog
adapted from Alton Brown

About the ingredients: lucky as I am to have such easy access to such high quality ingredients, I’m often reluctant to suggest you use “the best you can afford.” Most people can’t afford that stuff, and I feel strongly that a wholesome family life doesn’t depend on pastured eggs. But because eggnog is raw, taste and safety matter enormously here. Make sure you feel good about where your eggs, milk, and cream are coming from.

4 eggs, separated
1 tablespoon plus 1/3 cup sugar
1 pint whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
generous grating fresh nutmeg (about 1 teaspoon, or to taste)
3 ounces bourbon, rum, or brandy (optional)

Using a stand mixer or handheld electric mixer, beat the egg whites to soft peaks. Add 1 tablespoon sugar and beat to stiff peaks. Pour the whites into a small bowl and set them aside. You don’t need to clean your mixing bowl.

In your mixing bowl, beat the egg yolks on medium speed until they begin to lighten. Add the rest of the sugar and beat until dissolved. Add the milk, cream, nutmeg, and optional liquor, and mix on low until just combined. Gently whisk in the whipped egg whites.

This is best served right away, but leftovers can be stored, tightly covered, for about a day in the fridge. You’ll need to shake the jar before drinking leftovers.

Serves 4-8, depending on serving size.

* * *

Mark Twain said, “Too much of anything is bad, but too much good whiskey is barely enough.” Does that mean I can keep talking about eggnog?

Alton Brown’s recipe really is everything I want in eggnog: it’s rich and festive and worth waiting for, super easy to make, and delicious with or without booze. But Molly’s great-grandfather J. P. Hartt’s boozy eggnog was the first stuff to open my eyes to a world beyond the carton in the supermarket dairy aisle, close to ten years ago now, and if you’re having a party, you should consider it. Also, two years ago I made this vegan eggnog. You won’t confuse it with the traditional stuff, but it’s really very good in its own right. But wait; there’s more! I had written off storebought eggnog completely until my friend Abbie – who farms in Vermont with her family and knows a thing or two about good dairy – encouraged me to check out Organic Valley’s eggnog. Whoa! Game changer! Real food ingredients! Pastured cows! Really worth seeking out in a pinch or if you just don’t fancy making your own. But if, perhaps, you do fancy more kitchen experimenting … has anyone ever made aged eggnog? Three years! Whoa again! I want to do it. And finally, convention be damned, I really want to try this rose and cardamom eggnog (and everything else in that post).

What did you love to drink as a kid when the weather turned or during the holidays? What do you love to drink now?

solstice

Only on Sundays

eggs, quiet

The day begins a little before 7 in a tangled, laughing pileup of pouncing baby and garrulous older brother and bleary-eyed parents, the late November light creeping through the blinds a merciful pearly grey. After a few minutes I take a deep breath and throw back the quilts, one child on my right hip and the other at my left side, hand in mine. We close the door behind us and slip out into the world of coffee and Legos. (Only on Sundays; the rest of the week my husband is the one wrangling the early birds and scrambling eggs and unloading the dishwasher, and I am the one burrowed deep under the covers stealing a blissful bit of uninterrupted sleep.) I plug in the waffle irons (we have two!) and put on a Christmas record even though it’s not yet Thanksgiving. I am almost 37 and I find myself pleasantly loosening my iron grip on these sorts of things. I sip my coffee through a smile and marvel at these two children playing amicably, needing little more than my nearness.

Before long my husband joins us, taking my spot on the couch when I rise to make the batter and set the table and put on the kettle for another cup of coffee. I pull buttermilk from the fridge. We never used to keep buttermilk around and now we do and I find myself reaching for it all the time. I smile at this too. Some eggs, some butter, some flours. Quiet whisking. I think to slice some apples into a small pot with a knob of butter.

I call everyone into the kitchen. We’re easy and merry. The baby is ravenous recently. I think she’s growing. After nine months of not really napping she’s napping, and maybe it’s just for this week, but I’ll take it, because she is also nursing like a new piglet all night long. At the table she reaches for everything, stewed apples and red pepper hummus and pork roast and buttery carrots and, because I am trying to chill out a little, a couple bites of her brother’s waffle, pre-syrup. She slaps the table and yowls out for more.

Our mornings are not always like this, not by a long shot, but sometimes they are.

holly

(seven posts in seven days)

Whole Grain Waffles
adapted from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone

I didn’t post yesterday but I do have waffles to share. I hope that counts for something. We love breakfast around here. Growing up, we all had to be out the door pretty early for school or work most days, and so it was usually, and happily, cereal and milk, maybe a Brown Sugar Cinnamon Pop-Tart. These days we mostly do oatmeal or scrambled eggs with toast and fruit. But I do love a Sunday morning, the one day we’re all home. We take it very easy and we usually up our breakfast game, just a little. Scrambled eggs with scones or muffins instead of toast, often. Tara’s berried breakfast cobbler. Dutch babies and bacon. My dad’s French toast (which is really his mom’s French toast). Or waffles! I’ve tried so many recipes over the years and while I can’t say I’ve ever met a waffle I didn’t like (except for the one time I tried using organic vegetable shortening that had been sitting in the cupboard for who knows how long; those tasted exactly like plastic), I kept coming back to two Deborah Madison recipes – these and her yeasted waffles, which I make with a blend of white whole wheat, millet, and buckwheat flours. Really, really good, but you have to remember to start them the night before.

(See note below on substitutions.)

3 eggs
1 1/2 cups buttermilk or 1/2 cup yogurt stirred into 1 cup milk
1/4 cup butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup white whole wheat flour, whole wheat pastry flour, or all-purpose flour
1/4 cup each of four additional flours or meals (try cornmeal, millet flour, barley flour, buckwheat flour, oats whirred into coarse flour in the food processor or blender, even a cracked grain hot cereal blend)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat your waffle iron and melt your butter.

Whisk all the wet ingredients except the butter together in a bowl. Whisk the dry ingredients in a separate bowl. Add the wet ingredients and the butter to the dry ingredients and whisk or stir to combine. The batter should be fairly thick but shouldn’t get stuck in the whisk; if it seems too thick (and it might, depending on which combination of flours you choose) add another splash or two of milk. Cook in your waffle iron until nicely browned!

(A note on substitutions: we love these waffles on a Sunday, when I relax a little about starting the day off with whole foods, but I’m happy to make them on other days too, because there’s only white flour in them if you want it; they’re fantastic without it. Feel free to play around with the flour combination. I’ve found the recipe quite flexible, although I find rye flour does make them a bit heavy. I have not worried too much about the percentage of gluten flours. These are easy to make vegan by subbing in flax eggs for the regular eggs, any milk alternative plus a splash of vinegar or lemon juice for the buttermilk, and oil for the butter.)

waffles

PS If you’ve made it this far: who wants to weigh in on this?

Tonight

bread

Not long after breakfast I was tucked quite comfortably into a corner of the couch, nursing the baby (who will be nine months old in a couple days, whaaaaaat?) and surveying the detritus of life with little people and stealing sips of my second cup of coffee, when wham! I knew exactly what I’d write about today. There’s this thing that’s been a real haven for me in these early years of motherhood and I think this might be just the time and just the spot to talk about that.

The post nearly wrote itself: when I was nursing the baby down for her naps, and when I drove to the library and then again when I drove to pick up pizza, and when I was giving the kids their bath. Do you do some of your best writing like this too?

Hoping hard that post will still be up there in my head waiting for me in a day or two. Tonight I’m going to bed full to bursting with thanks, for hot breakfasts and good coffee and another cup whenever I want it. For the way the back of my baby’s head fits into the crook of my elbow. For my five-year old’s morning hair. For apologies and deep breaths and do-overs. For librarians. For a hungry hungry baby and cooking with my boy and his exploding interest in math. For four phone calls a day with my mom. For clear night skies and Christmas records and hot cocoa. For wind on the bay. For Legos. For bread. For Henry and Mudge. For Cheers on the couch and a splash of bourbon in my cider and my husband at my side.

(seven posts in seven days)

In any case

flames

Monday started sweetly enough: steel cut oats piled high with yogurt and apples and drizzled with maple syrup, and coffee of course, always coffee, and then the family yoga class we’ve been joyously starting our week with for a couple months now. But Monday also started with some deep yawns. It felt less like the beginning of the week and more like the next in a long string of long work days for my husband. Farming is like this: lots of weekend work and lots of last minute demands. I think I surrendered to it more easily though when it was our farm and when it was happening a field away. Work and family life were all mashed up together. In any case, the day was cold and wet, and we passed lots of it bouncing off the walls inside, and when late afternoon rolled around I was very, very ready for the music class we’ve also been loving this fall. We dashed through the parking lot in the rain to find the walls of the music room torn to pieces, drywall and plaster dust and exposed lumber everywhere, with nary another confused family in sight; I’d clearly missed, or misplaced, the memo. My pocket buzzed: a text from my husband saying there’d been a delay with some equipment and he wouldn’t make it home until two hours after bedtime. I took a deep breath. We dashed back to the car, and I buckled the kids in, and I slid into the driver’s seat. “Well,” I said. “Shall we see if anyone’s Christmas lights are up yet?”

And so we drove around this beach town for an hour, listening to Elmer and the Dragon on Audible and looking for lights. It was perfect. And when the baby wouldn’t sleep and we all had a Prince dance party in the living room instead, waiting for my husband? Perfect too.

(seven posts in seven days)

Write anyway.

sit. write.

There are so many reasons I don’t write here much. I’m sure the list is familiar to lots of you: I have two young kids and I cannot figure out when to shower, much less write. I still can’t decide how much is okay to write about my family. I expect a lot out of my own writing and have not been very open to sometimes posting tiny plumes of words. And finally, the big one for me maybe: is writing about myself this much too self-indulgent? When all is said and done, will I wish I had directed this energy toward something broader, toward building loving community, here on my block and out there in the world?

But writing here flexes my storytelling muscles and sends up smoke signals – of distress, yes, but also the sort that say, “I’ve found good food and shelter from the storm; come join me!” – and opens up all kinds of doors. Writing here has been my respite during some tough years, and even the sporadic posts have become a record I would otherwise have lost. Also, the satisfaction of seeing a thought through to its natural end – a deep pleasure I took wholly for granted in my 20s – should not be underestimated. All this from crumpling up that list of reasons not to write.

And so I’m issuing myself a small challenge: seven posts in seven days. Public accountability does not generally light much of a fire under my rump (to wit: my Year of Mornings 365 several years ago, which took me a full two years to complete) and sometimes it even makes me downright irritable, but I think I can do this. I was pretty sure I was going to, and then I read Janelle’s awesome post yesterday on Renegade Mama, Twelve Easy Steps to Doing Creative Work While Parenting, where she said, “Write anyway write instead write because of write when you can’t write.” And apparently that did light a fire under my rump, because here I am. My aim is to keep the posts short, and since ’tis the season, I’m going to focus on gratitude.

See you here tomorrow!

October strawberries

farm stand

For two or three months this spring and summer I kept my camera close at hand in the kitchen and on the farm, with every intention of joining back up with Heather and others in the This Week in My Kitchen blog hop. I love the idea of these simple everyday photos of what’s happening in our kitchens – a record of what we’ve been cooking and eating, and inspiration for times when I have no idea what to cook. For someone who loves to cook and whose family pays the rent with farm income, truth is, those times strike pretty often. And as to my memory of what we cooked for dinner four days ago, much less this time last year? Burned off like so much early morning fog. Even a partial log of what we ate, of what worked and what didn’t, is truly helpful.

Thing is: I post here so infrequently. If I joined up with the blog hop every week or or even every other week, this website would fast become less about that hoary search for home and belonging and more about my abiding love for pancakes, frittatas, porters, and roasted anythings.

Still, I snapped away. And – inspired in equal measure by the blog hop, by the food logs I kept for my midwives during both my pregnancies, and by Jenny Rosenstrach’s dinner diary – I started keeping a list of our meals and snacks. I am not highly organized or disciplined, and I suspect this effort will fall by the wayside soon enough. But that’s okay. The blog hop photos I’m not posting and the food log have taught me a lot. I’ve learned we eat a lot of mid-day breakfast sandwiches at our favorite deli, where they know us all by name and come to chat with us at the counter when the lunch rush is over. I’ve learned I really do drink a lot of coffee. I’ve learned I don’t have much of a grip on lunch. I’ve learned rock star days in the kitchen beget more rock star days in the kitchen. I’ve learned that salmon no wait just-picked strawberries no wait pulled pork no wait homemade bread no wait tomato sandwiches with mayo and basil no wait a giant bowl of buttery salty green beans with a poached egg on top no wait PEPPERONI PIZZA is my favorite thing ever.

Also, I learned that I did not squander strawberry season, which made me very cheerful.

Alice Medrich's buckwheat shortcakes

Some of you might remember that last year we lived on a farm with vast quantities of rhubarb that I looked at longingly but didn’t manage to eat very much of. When my dear friends from Norway were visiting we made a simple rhubarb grøt (Porridge! Delicious plain or with a little cream. We spooned leftovers on top of Molly’s everyday cake and that was very, very good.). I half-remember making a pie for the Fourth. I know I drank a startlingly good rhubarb buttermilk soda when I was out to dinner once, one I wanted to try to recreate at home, but instead I just think about it all the time. I digress. Last year was very hard and despite the fields of produce staring at sad old me at every turn, I just didn’t manage to dig very deep.

My May and June 2014 food log tells a different story, I am happy to report: Alice Medrich’s buckwheat shortcakes with sliced strawberries and maple sweetened whipped cream. Strawberries with granola and yogurt. Strawberries on waffles, on pancakes, on French toast. Strawberries in salad. Roasted strawberry buttermilk ice cream. Strawberries on my mother-in-law’s famous poundcake. Runny but perfectly good strawberry jam on toast with coffee (PSA and Note to Self for Next Spring: making jam in the slow cooker is awesome, especially if you have little people about, and Pomona’s Universal Pectin is awesome, but ne’er the twain should meet, because the Pomona’s needs a boil to set the jam). Strawberry cake, twice, at my son’s utterly disarming request. Strawberries in my Gordon’s Cup. Strawberries straight out of the quart box in my lap on the drive home. Strawberries straight out of the fridge at the farm stand. Strawberries straight off the plant. Strawberries for daaaaaays, and days and days and days. It was awesome.

Strawberries!

The story of how I came to farming has a lot of threads. For the purposes of this post it’s pretty important to tell the part of the story that begins along a sunny stretch of chain link fence in the courtyard of a shelter in southeastern Queens, where for a few months in 2004 I ran a gardening project with some families. We grew tomatoes and flowers and herbs in containers along that fence, and the kids conducted taste tests to compare supermarket and farmers market produce. The most formative part of the experience, for me, was the interviews the kids did with one another, with their families, and with some of the staff at the shelter. As they took careful notes about favorite foods, childhood gardens, and old family recipes, I began to understand that the dangers of food insecurity swell far beyond the physical. When families lose the intimacy of the family table for weeks or months or longer, when parents can’t teach their children how to make their famous rice and beans because they’re not allowed in the kitchen, when no one has the chance to ask for seconds or thirds of something delicious because dinner is always a thawed tray from an institutional freezer, warmed by someone who may be kind but is never family – the damage can be quite severe.

I began to wonder: is there a confluence of the family support work I’ve been doing and, well, growing stuff? Can gardening or farming support families who are struggling? I’d spent years working alongside families, but my ability to judge the maturity of a zucchini was about as refined as my ability to perform a root canal, teach Arabic, or gut a chicken, which is to say, I was completely incompetent. I decided to take a sabbatical. I wasn’t sure how it would all play out, exactly, but I imagined I’d spend a year – two, tops – working for farmers, before returning to the city to try to bring all these experiences together into some kind of job. I spent the spring of 2006 helping out on some smallholdings in France and Ireland and then landed at a working vegetable farm outside of Washington, DC.

I still remember the sweltering August afternoon when I walked out of the repair shop with some tool I’d been sent after, probably another nut driver or some hose clamps for an irrigation repair. I glanced north toward the hoop house, where this guy who was leasing some land from my bosses worked with his crew, sorting pony baskets of sweet peppers for the next day’s market. His brown arms moved fast and his easy laughter carried across the lawn. He worked with dispatch and good cheer and I realized how little I’d understood about the satisfaction of physical labor. Uh oh, I thought.

Gordon's Cup with strawberries

Leaves fell. Snow fell. The next spring I found a job on a livestock farm the next county over. By the end of that year we’d decided to marry and to become business partners, and a few months after that we closed on our own farm. We built a greenhouse, and laid out our fields, and hired a crew, and started a big CSA, and sold at markets, and had a baby, and watched him grow, and fed him from our fields, and put down roots, and wondered if the deep joy of building a community around our own farm was worth the financial struggles. I never forgot about the kids in Queens. But helping to keep our business afloat and parenting very small children took everything I had.

And now, well into my ninth year on a farm, I am finally catching my breath. My children are still quite small, but I’m not working on the farm anymore. I’m looking at it all – my plans, our plans, the merits of local agriculture – with a little bit of distance. And I am beginning to think we place too much import on seasonal eating.

Of course it’s meaningful. A tomato I picked right before lunch, an egg my chicken laid this morning, or the lettuce your farmer woke up long before dawn to pick in time for market really does taste better. And while, officially, the jury is still out on the matter, for me there’s no doubt that the nutrition in that dead ripe tomato I just picked is superior to the nutrition in a tomato grown in a hothouse in California, picked green and hard as a rock, shipped across the country, and gassed with ethylene so that it is a uniform deep red when it’s unloaded in the stockroom of my local ShopRite. The strawberries I ate in the field in early June made me smile the way you do when you remember a kiss. The giant strawberries in the 2-lb clamshell my son reaches for now at the supermarket taste flat and make me grumpy.

What a privilege! I can put the clamshell back down and tell my son October strawberries don’t taste very good, and we can drive to the farm where my husband works and pick sugar sweet Nelson carrots right out of the ground, or select a couple butternuts from the farmstand for our favorite soup. Or, for Pete’s sake, maybe I’ll just buy the damn strawberries. I’m sure the nutritional gap between those perfect June fruits and these October understudies is just a sliver, compared to the chasm between either one and the donuts or Goldfish he would also be quite content to wolf down. Do I fret too much?

It’s impossible to avoid these flights of contemplation as I survey the autumn bones of our garden or walk the farm, coffee in hand. Summer’s dewy flush is long gone. A few tomatoes will hang on until first frost, but their leaves are yellowing with blight. Most of the fruiting crops have been mowed and turned back into the soil, and my husband is planting grasses and legumes, to hold the soil in place, replenish nitrogen, suppress weeds, and improve tilth. The farm, so lush not two months ago, is about to get very brown and very muddy. Even so: autumn eating is my favorite. I could eat my weight in winter squash and sweet potatoes and kale. Stews and roasts and braises fill me right up. On the days when I manage to think about what’s for dinner before 5pm (which, frankly, is pretty hit or miss), I can start that soup in the slow cooker, or put a roast in the oven, or spend five minutes chopping cabbage and carrots for this braise (throw some chicken thighs and drumsticks in there too), and then boom, dinner cooks itself. I love that!

for roasted strawberry ice cream

It seems silly to ignore the pleasure that autumn ingredients and cooking methods bring me. It seems silly, too, to ignore the easy bounty of fresh produce that is always available to us. I think all families can provide something wholesome or formative for their kids, something that comes easy. Maybe you live in the woods and only have to open the door to get outside. Maybe you live in the city and there is no way for your kids not to take in all those bodies and colors and voices and kisses and think of them as normal. Maybe you have a great relationship with your in-laws who live across town and they watch your babies while you work. Maybe your husband is a farmer and the countertops are always heaped with whatever is growing. You know?

Also: I’m deeply proud of my husband’s work, and I deeply miss what our family life looked like back in our Virginia days. Eating the vegetables my husband grows, when he grows them, is a way to celebrate him and also the way we became a family.

This food feeds us, belly and soul. I know that. And yet – I don’t think it can feed everyone, and I know I feel uneasy about that. Without turning this into a sob story, I think it’s worth acknowledging that most small scale farmers struggle to make ends meet. But we’ll always have food on the table, which is just not true for so many people. Right now I have way, way more questions about food and hunger and community than I came to farming with.

Look: I know I’m speaking from a somewhat ragged place. We left a farm that couldn’t pay our bills, and I’ve written over and over again about how hard it was to leave our land and the rhythms our family life took on there. But I lost my community too: CSA members, farmers market customers and staff, fellow farmers with whom we shared equipment and shipping costs and pest control strategies and so, so many meals. I think I’m only just now understanding the cost of losing those daily relationships.

Because that’s the thing, isn’t it? The thing that’s so hard about moving, the thing that makes it worth forging through six pounds of CSA eggplant week after week, the thing about teaching your kids how to make your famous rice and beans: we belong to each other.

And so today I went to the grocery store with my kids and I bought some coffee and cheddar cheese and three kinds of Halloween candy. And then we stopped by the farm for carrots and sweet potatoes and leeks and turnips. We drove home, and as we turned onto our street, we could see our friends from New York, here for the weekend, unloading their car. We hugged and carried the babies and groceries inside. My husband grew some delicious food, and tonight I put it in a pot with some oil and salt and heat. My friends handed me some braised beef they’d brought with them, the last roast from their own cow, and I added that too. Later we moved the pot to the kitchen table, grabbed some bowls, grabbed some beers, and ate. Together.

No fretting.