And that explains March.

honk up kat's sourdough it's a girl winter rosemary mastsTwo months! I did not expect to stay quiet so long. The short version of events is that I spent February very pregnant indeed: exhausted, contemplative, huddled against the chill and snuggled up with my boy in our last weeks as a dyad. For a time it seemed I might be pregnant forever – but instead I had a baby, and that explains March, I think.

I don’t intend to write too much here about about the final weeks of my pregnancy (which were more intense than I expected) or my labor (which was more beautiful than I expected) or our first weeks together as a family of four (delicious, but also something I want to protect). But I’m home with just the baby this weekend, and the day is stretched out before me in a blissful haze of nursing and nuzzling and coffee sipping and probably a misty walk to the bay. I think I’ll have to wait for this sweet fog to dissipate a bit, or at least until some semblance of a nap rhythm emerges, before I return to writing here in earnest (I have so many ideas for this space!) – but I want very much to check in, and also to yoke a few words to these fleeting weeks.

I can’t think of a single thing analagous to bringing a baby into the world, and appropriately, I’ve spent a considerable amount of time in the last five weeks thinking Enormous Thoughts. Did I really grow AN ACTUAL PERSON inside my belly, again? Does my body really make food for her? Are we qualified to usher these tiny exquisite people through this scary and beautiful world for the next twenty years? 

Much of the time, though, I am just here. I hold my babies close, and I cheer on the melting snow, and I watch gulls soar high above the surf before dropping clams onto the rocks below to crack them open. In the evenings, I crack open one rich and malty porter and I lean against my husband’s shoulder and we start another episode of Breaking Bad (and I look down at the sleeping newborn on my lap and whisper to her: dream of mama milk and big brotherly love instead of a suspicious old RV in the desert outside of Albuquerque).

And I eat. Man, there is nothing like pushing a baby out of your body and then feeding that baby with your body to make food taste otherworldly. Here’s just some of what we’ve been eating:

  • this pulled pork with ancho, cinnamon, and cocoa, which remains one of the best things I have ever eaten
  • these lamb shoulder chops braised in garlicky tomatoes and a bit of white wine
  • this cauliflower roasted with thyme and parmesan
  • bowl upon bowl (upon bowl) of this oatmeal (I like it with yogurt and half an apple, diced)
  • these scones with prunes, caraway, and olive oil
  • these blondies (twice!)
  • an amazing pecan sourdough boule from Kathya, and many bowls of this popcorn on Sunday nights when we watch David Attenborough documentaries as a family (my mind is still completely blown by what I’ve learned about monotremes), and a not insignificant amount of chocolate sent in the sweetest care packages by friends who understand me
  • a freezer full of sturdy stews and casseroles – a true labor of love on the part of my mom and dad, who don’t even eat much meat, but who figured oh so rightly that the sort of dishes that usually grace a church potluck table would also be deeply appealing to a woman who just had a baby and her farmer husband

It’s a delicious, if fairly monochromatic, list. Hearty fare. The right sort of stuff to see us through The Winter That Would Not End. But I’ve been thinking about coaxing spring indoors with these pea shoots, and down at the farm, the greenhouse is filling with seedlings, and the chickens have started laying again, really laying. I’m really excited about fresh food. More importantly, I feel like I’ve made it through, am more or less on the other side of something really hard: leaving our farm, leaving New York, letting go of the pregnancy and birth I had expected, soldiering through a long winter. I don’t know what this spring holds, but I do like these blue skies.

Of late (and still not quite wordless)

needed

needles

mailbox

pup

clothesline

first robin

bike

holly thief

back inside

Last night I was looking through photos from the last week or so. There weren’t a whole lot. Most of them were of my son: digging in the dirt floor of the shed at the farm, or shucking oysters with his dad, or building excavator factories with blocks that are three generations old, or licking an ice cream cone here in the bleak midwinter minutes before his first game of pinball. All were exactly the sort of tiny exquisite moments I hope I’ll remember even a tenth of, but this blog isn’t the place for those images.

It’s okay, I thought. IPhone pictures of my coffee and our food it is then! And truly that would have been fine. We all have to eat, after all. And while there’s not an enormous amount of farm fresh food in our kitchen right now, growing good clean food is how we pay the rent. And these days – the bay winds so cold, and the roads so slick, and me so pregnant – see us in the kitchen quite a lot. Sometimes the boys are making gumbo. Sometimes I’m making something with a bit less chopping but equal amounts of belly warming winter joy (over toasted day-old soda bread, with grated Dubliner and an egg over easy and coarse sea salt). Sometimes I am just peeling a banana and wrestling the lid off a jar of peanut butter. The kitchen is where it’s at, you know? And the dearth of outdoor photos this week is as accurate a marker as any of the season we’re in: it has not been a mild winter, and these late pregnancy hormones make me crave a deep hibernation.

But then! More snow! I confess sighing and grumbling when I looked out the bay window last night and saw the frosted street. But this morning I slept – a little late, while the boys ate breakfast – and then I hoisted myself and this babe we’re so close to meeting from the bed, and the day felt fresh. A little later the boy and I headed out with the dog, and we laughed, a lot, and we ate some snow, and I didn’t slip, and when we got home we saw scores of robins in the holly trees.

Will we meet the baby next week? Next month? Will I ever get to wear sandals again? Will I stop feeling guilty about using Netflix as a babysitter while I ignore the dishes and the laundry and just sit? What will we do for school? How hard will it be for my son to make room in his world for a sibling? How hard will it be for me?

This morning, for a while, I let it all go.

Of late

A new series? Maybe? I’ve always loved other people’s Wordless Wednesdays but something in me bucked at the phrase itself. But perhaps I can still play along. Perhaps some images once a week, or so, can be a gentle way to touch base – with you, and with myself.

I’d like to try.

stack

Make way!

thirsty

far, fog

green

wintergrass

refuge

hibernation soup

In the meantime!

birthday sillHey, y’all. It’s been a while! I sure would like to do some more writing here. Of course we’re just weeks away from meeting our second child. So … we’ll see how it all plays out here.

But! In the meantime! I was delighted when Shari of the art of seeing things asked me to join her and some other wonderful folks in talking about our favorite reads of 2013. My post is up today, if you’d like to read it – and then make yourself some tea, cancel all your commitments, and dig back through this month’s archives. So much good stuff there.

Three things: comfort and joy

tree top
Last night I slept terribly. My son woke briefly a little after 1 and after getting him settled again I found myself staring wide-eyed through the dark at the ceiling. I didn’t drift off again until after 4.

I can’t say for sure but I don’t think this is a rerun of last winter’s long insomnia. What I do know is that last night I was fretful about the baby. Moving late in a pregnancy is hard. I’m struggling, a lot, to surrender to some pretty enormous changes in my prenatal care and in our plans for how and where to welcome this baby.

The deep darkness of the wee small hours doesn’t do one’s fears any favors, of course. I lay there for a long time, panicky, miserable, begging for sleep, before remembering: sit up and be with this wakefulness. And so I did. I was immediately rewarded for that tiny act of surrender when I opened Pandora and this was playing. I snorted aloud before switching to a piano station and pulling The Zuni Cafe Cookbook onto my lap. A little later I slipped from under the down comforter and headed to the fridge for a big glass of milk.

I didn’t find any answers, but eventually a certain kind of peacefulness crept in and dulled the edges of my worry. With blessedly heavy eyelids I turned off the lamp and pulled the comforter back over my shoulders.

I woke a few hours later to the sweet smell of hash browns in the skillet and the sweeter sound of dishes being put away. In the muted light of early morning I felt a little better, which seems to be how morning works. I found my slippers, made my way to the kitchen, hugged my husband, and thought with delight about some things bringing me quite a bit of comfort and joy:

1) Heather of Beauty That Moves just announced her latest online workshop! Heather writes: “Hibernate is a self-paced, four week, online retreat – a place to celebrate the pause that wintertime brings. A place to linger through the dark and quiet, to welcome stillness, and allow time to enjoy home and hearth.” Each week will offer ideas to nourish, gather, refresh, create, and rest. I cannot think of something more appealing. I’ve participated in Heather’s 30 Day Vegan and Whole Food Kitchen courses, and I think what I love most is her gentle, non-dogmatic approach and her heavy focus on self care. This course begins January 13. Lots more details here.

2) Nicole of Gidget Goes Home is running The Motherhood & Jane Austen Book Club in 2014 – a chance to read or reread all six of Jane Austen’s novels though the lens of motherhood. Nicole notes that the novels are “chock full of interesting mothers, mother figures, absent mothers and young women who we imagine may become mothers later. We will discuss these characters, how they affect the plot, how they make us feel as mothers, how they relate to mothers we know, and more.” First up is Pride & Prejudice. I can’t wait.

3) Throughout all of that – and also as soon as I post this – I plan to drink a lot of chai. I’ve made a lot of versions over the years, all delicious, but my current favorite method comes from Jess at Witchin’ in the Kitchen. I like my chai spicy and not too sweet, so I’ve been reducing the honey by a smidge, upping the ginger, crushing cardamom pods, black peppercorns, and a star anise pod to add to the garam masala, and using some cardamom-flavored tea in place of straight black tea. For a decaf version I bet rooibos would be nice! Delicious, gorgeous recipe here.

 I’d love to know what’s bringing you comfort and joy these days.

The dust begins to settle.

A week ago we moved into a little green cottage by the sea.

fog

For real.

To say 2013 has been a wild ride is putting it mildly. It’s been just over a year since we announced our decision to put our Virginia farm on the market, and less than nine months since our move to the Hudson Valley. In many ways they haven’t been easy months, but for a long while we enveloped that stress in a kind of peace. Moves are difficult, we reasoned. Let’s not pretend otherwise, but do let’s try to be patient. Let’s keep digging in this good earth. Let’s have margaritas on the back deck and watch the fireflies. Let’s take the train into the city lots. Let’s make popcorn and start watching Planet Earth, and let’s go out for breakfast because hey! we finally have Saturdays off, and let’s build a sandbox. Let’s make a baby even.

We did all that, and we laughed, quite a lot, but we couldn’t really shake the feeling that some things weren’t getting better. About three months ago we realized: this is not the stress of transition – it’s the stress of a bad fit. And so we started looking, again.

I lived in Virginia for seven years. It would be dishonest to say I felt at home there right away. But love made me stay, and then a bigger kind of love kept us going, gave us the strength to marry, to buy a farm, to build a business, to bring a child into the world, to weather financial uncertainty, and then, to walk away. By the time we did that, Virginia felt very much like home indeed.

Leaving was really hard, and as I’ve said, so was adjusting to our new farm. Our new region, though, felt really good right away. Partly it was moving to a part of a the country so dense with resources. The Hudson Valley is beautiful, for one: I took to its rivers and its glaciated ridges and its mossy forests zigzagged with old stone walls with a child’s sense of wonder and delight and freedom, my own child at my side on every expedition. (Three turns out to be a pretty fantastic age for daytrips.) And so many people! Some have called the area home forever. Others came to be near New York City, and still others left the city behind – but not too far behind. They still needed to buy the things they knew, and to earn a living from making the things they knew, and to sing their songs and fill their bellies and teach their children. Which meant: Diners! Bagels! Playgrounds! Festivals! Farm markets! Creative approaches to school!

I loved it. I loved all that. Our immediate situation was not really working, but more broadly, I was settling right in. Until we moved to New York, I didn’t realize how much I missed the Northeast. And in truth, for all its riches, it’s not that it’s more special than anywhere else. It’s that I grew up there. So even as things were really very hard, I was steadied by the familiar.

It’s a funny thing, the call of home. Sometimes, when I’m feeling very out of place, it’s a high and lonesome sound, a plaintive cry I can’t soothe. But more often, it’s a lullaby. It’s the thing that takes my fears and worries and eases them back into place among all the good and hard that I am living.

feather

It has been a very strange year: unsettled, uncertain. My mind has often been with the families I grew close to during my years in New York City. Many of them were quite expert at dealing with the chronic ache of insecure housing. They said too many goodbyes to dear friends and neighbors. They dealt with the incredible red tape of transferring school records. They crowded in with relatives or friends where it was a challenge to find a pillow to call their own, let alone the quiet to take a centering breath. Or they navigated the city’s complex shelter system, where most often they were crammed into tiny apartments and where dozens of people made rules for them about when and where and what they were permitted to eat, and about where and how they could spend their time, and about who they were allowed to welcome. The shelters provide a place to sleep, and the best of them have patient and respectful staff, but none of them are easy, peaceful places to live.

What advice would the families have for me, I’ve wondered? I think they’d remind me that it’s okay to feel angry and sad. I think they’d remind me that you do get through stuff. I think they’d remind me not to go it alone – to call my mom, to have a meal with a friend, to laugh with my kid. I think they’d remind me that at some point the dust begins to settle.

morning dune

Will I miss the Hudson Valley? Badly. I will miss our long drives, fertile farmland spilling away from the open road in every direction. I will miss the dairy we drove to every three or four days – the way the new calves stretched their necks as I scratched their jaws, the no-nonsense stare of the Jerseys as they grazed, the clink of the glass jars as I wedged them between the carseat and a bag of books. I will miss mornings with a kindred spirit, frying bacon or chopping tomatoes or rendering lard as our boys squabbled and played and sorted their way to sweet companionship, and our afternoons too, foraging wild blueberries or fording creeks or talking about our midwives. I will miss living so near to one of my oldest dearest friends, and the way she’d arrive on a Friday after work with ice cream and freshly roasted coffee and (before I got pregnant) my favorite porter. I will miss the deep joy of living near my aunt and uncle and cousins – the sweet company of people who have known me all my nearly 36 years, and the reassuring rightness of seeing my boy get to know his own cousins. I will miss my kind and wise midwife, and the plans we were making to welcome this baby. I will miss cider donuts and real New York bagels. I will miss walking across the back deck and down the steps and across the backyard to pick eggplants for dinner or sun golds for now. I will miss running out of eggs and wrapping myself in a scarf even as I’m already halfway to the chicken coop.

That last one is so big. I didn’t grow up on a farm, and for close to ten years before meeting my husband I was a very content city gal. But we’ve lived on farms our whole life together. And all those even rows and freshly tilled fields and wide open spaces and cedar windbreaks and border streams became, well, how I parent. When we were grumpy from too much time inside, there was no searching for keys, for shoes, for diaper bags, for pants even! There was only opening the door and unfolding into the wide and busy world out there. When he was a baby I laid a quilt beneath the giant sycamore just east of the house, where he napped (a little) and nursed (a lot) and grabbed fistfuls of grass and clover. As he became more mobile we’d collect eggs, or look for frogs and snakes in the creek, or visit his dad and the crew as they seeded carrots or snipped garlic or dug potatoes. For someone who grew up in the suburbs, and then lived all those city years, never craving escape, the power of those fields and woods to shift our perspective and to ease open those tired and lonely hours of new motherhood was startling and deeply soothing.

And now, for the first time in eight years, we are living off-farm. When we were searching for a better spot we cast a pretty wide net, looking as far afield as Oregon and Minnesota and Georgia. Many farms didn’t offer housing – what a shift from something that had come to seem part and parcel of my definition of home. How could I give that up? It was too much.

But you know? We’ve been here a week, and already I’m reminded that a farm is hardly the only sweet environment in which to raise a happy inquisitive child, to create meals and messes and connection in the kitchen, to find peace. It’s hardly the only place to make a home.

For all its gifts, a farm can be a lonely place for someone like me. For the most part, in these last eight years, I’ve staved off the worst of it by getting out there in the middle of things – exploring with my son, hanging out with our crew, hauling the harvest back home to the kitchen – and by knowing when to get off the farm too. But it was always with me, that loneliness.

Last weekend I drove to our new town from the mountains of Western North Carolina, where I’d spent some sweet days with my family before the move. It was a long drive for a very pregnant woman and a 4-year old, but gorgeous too – the smoky blue ridges of Appalachia and then gently rolling farmland, punctuated by small towns and big cities, and then at last the broad coastal plain of our new home. There is so much to learn and say about the sea so near, and about the new farm, fifteen minutes south of our little green house. But what struck me most as night fell last Saturday, our new address at long last looming close on the GPS, was commerce, density, stoplights. It could not have felt more different from the rural expanses I have called home for so many years. But what I felt was certainly not loss. It was a giddy good cheer. Has all the open space and abundant unspoiled nature and quiet of the last near-decade profoundly impacted my parenting and been deeply restorative? Yes. Have I felt it in my bones? Yes. And do I madly love a human landscape? I do, I do, I do! Here, there are neighbors raking their yards and calling out, “Welcome to the neighborhood!” There is a 7-Eleven a mile and a half up the street, a sweet blessing indeed those first three mornings here, when I rose early for coffee and writing and searched the mountains of boxes in vain for my own beans. There are Christmas lights twinkling sleepily at me and the dog as we head to the bay for a walk every morning after my husband and son wake. I know that any given day might hold some leaf pile jumping (a brand new experience for our little guy – one does not do much raking on a farm), or a trip to the library (one mile away!!!!), or a second and perhaps third visit to the beach, or a visit to see Dad at the new farm. It’s all so close at hand.

Here’s to home.

morning flight

I’d like to sip my cider.

It is hard, when the walnuts are cracking and rolling underfoot, and when the skies are one day so blue it hurts and the next like soft grey flannel, and when the leaves bank against the porch steps and the Virginia creeper goes ruby, not to get a little nostalgic. Are any of us immune?

walnut

I do miss things. I miss the crackle of the woodstove, and the pile of shoes drying out next to it, and the way my toddler learned to swing a hatchet at the woodpile under the watchful and loving tutelage of his father. I miss the dappled canopy of the walnut trees behind our house. I miss autumn potlucks, all kabocha squash and braised pork and cold beers. I miss the call of my goats from under the majestic old oak that stood sentinel on the hill, nodding its quiet reassurance north to where I was hanging laundry behind the house and west to the crew snipping winter squash from their vines. I miss the goats’ winter coats too, less shiny than their summer sheen and thick almost overnight with a cashmere undercoat. I miss the carpet of leaves and pine needles crunching underfoot on long walks through our woods with my child, and the moss and dirt under his fingernails as he plunged into the shallow creek in gleeful disregard of the growing chill. I miss the color of wild persimmons against an October sky, and our fire pit, and our fall carrots. I wonder how many leaves our young sugar maple, the one we planted up near the mailbox, put out this year.

fall carrots

wild persimmons

But it is also nigh on impossible to ignore fall up here in the Hudson Valley. It crept along quietly for awhile. Way back in early August I drove north along the Taconic to Rensselaer County and had to squint to be sure I was really seeing a few red leaves. One day in September I went to buy some corn for dinner at our local orchard’s farm store and half gallons of their first cider, pressed the night before, beckoned from an icy bin. When I drive to pick up my son from his preschool on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, I am often stopping behind elementary school buses, and kids hop to the pavement under slow-motion showers of ochre leaves. Most mornings call for jeans and a sweater, but by noon we can still trade our slippers for sandals. It won’t be long, though, before we dig through the closets for our boots and winter hats.

bumble

seconds

tawny

But I’m in no rush. Last winter was extremely hard. And there’s no getting around it – the one that’s coming promises to be pretty intense as well (I’m working on another post about it all; I’ll share it as soon as I can). And so I’d like to just hit pause for a spell, thank you very much. I’d like to curl like a cat in the warm lap of these golden afternoons. I’d like to kick through the leaves with my son. I’d like to sip my cider and scratch my head as I figure out how to make his requested pink furry mouse costume with a complete lack of sewing skills. I’d like to eat more cider donuts.

ochre

kabochas

I will even take a month of todays. It was cold and wet. We slurped soup in a diner while, back home, the steady rain cleaved the gravel driveway into tiny canyons. We dried off while we bought our groceries and when we pushed the cart to the car the rain had tapered off to a sweet drizzle, but in the 90 seconds it took to return the cart something shifted up in the clouds. I was soaked through to my skin when I climbed back in the car. We sat in the parking lot for a while, chuckling and waiting for the rain to let up enough to drive home.

Later he woke from his nap and climbed onto the bed where I sat writing. I closed my computer and I put my empty mug on the windowsill. He climbed into my lap and rested his head against my growing belly. I grinned in unspeakable delight to realize my two children were nearly cheek to cheek, and the littlest one even gave a swift thump, but I didn’t say a word. These are the last months when he doesn’t have to share me.

Then we trudged through tall wet grass to the basement for a butternut squash, and over to the barn for some onions and garlic. He curled up on the couch to watch some excavator videos (“With a grapple, Mom, but no operator, okay?”). I made this soup. It is like a fresh pot of coffee, or a handwritten letter, or the Amélie soundtrack, which is to say: always perfect.

Winter Squash Soup with Curry and Coconut Milk
adapted from Better Homes and Gardens

You can use almost any kind of winter squash here – butternut, kabocha, red kuri, hubbard, anything sweet and tender. I really like the little kick this soup gets from the chili sauce, but you can certainly leave it out if you like. If you’re making this early in the fall from local squash, there’s a chance your squash hasn’t fully cured yet. It will still work, but the sugars won’t be as concentrated, so you might want to add another tablespoon or two of sweetener – taste before serving and adjust as needed. Finally, if you have a low- or no-salt curry powder, you’ll need to salt this soup. Taste just before serving and add additional salt as needed.

1 medium or large onion, chopped
1-4 cloves garlic (depending on your feelings about garlic), minced
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 winter squash, about 2 pounds, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 14-oz can unsweetened coconut milk
2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 tablespoon brown sugar, whole cane sugar, or maple syrup
1 tablespoon fish sauce or soy sauce
1 teaspoon Asian chili sauce (like Sriracha) (optional but recommended)
1/2 cup red lentils (optional; these give the soup a nice protein boost and cook quickly, but I often leave them out)

Warm a couple tablespoons of olive oil, coconut oil, or the fat of your choice in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onions and saute until they begin to soften, about five minutes. Add the garlic and cook another one to two minutes. Add the curry powder and saute a minute more.

Add the squash, the coconut milk, the broth, the sugar, the fish or soy sauce, the chili sauce, and the lentils if using. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook until the squash is soft, about 30-40 minutes.

Puree the soup until it’s smooth and velvety. An immersion blender makes this easy (and safe!), but you can also puree the soup in batches in a food processor or blender – be careful! Or you can use a potato masher; the soup won’t be quite as smooth but will still taste delicious. Taste for salt and sweetness and adjust if necessary. Ladle the soup into big bowls, top with a dollop of plain yogurt or sour cream or a squeeze of lime juice, and serve with lots of bread!

(Want to make this in the slow cooker? Easy peasy. I actually wrote about this soup before.)

butternuts