Monthly Archives: January 2013

Three things :: 1

Hakurei turnips. November 2012, Virginia.

Hakurei turnips. November 2012, Virginia.

I do so love a good list of links. But I’m also sensitive to what a mad racket we’ve got going inside our brains in this age of easy sharing. Stuck, I turned to my mom and best friend, and blog reader par excellence. Without hesitation she said: “Keep the lists short.”

1) Curried Sweet Potato Soup with Goat Cheese Biscuits from Joy the Baker :: I made both these a couple nights ago and both are out of this world. The soup is warm and wonderful, and surprisingly complex for the pretty minimal effort involved. The biscuits are phenomenal. I’m going to be making them a lot. Also, use what you have! I used up what I think was the last of our turkey broth from Thanksgiving in the soup, and I used lard instead of butter in the biscuits.

2) The Slow Web from Jack Cheng :: This is a long(ish) and deeply worthy read. What he says about how the randomness and frequency of the updates (in our inboxes, dashboards, feeds) stimulates the reward mechanisms in our brains really resonated with me … but really, so did every other paragraph. Yes, I say. Yes.

3) Homespun Mom Comes Unraveled from Shannon Hayes :: An oldie but goodie, I share this one as often as I can. Shannon went on to write the powerful Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture after this essay, and I can’t wait to curl up with a warm drink and her newest book. But that will have to wait until some spring week when I can explore the libraries near our new home. In the meantime – always – I can turn to this piece. She writes: “Somehow, on our paths toward this noble life, one more group of girls has fallen prey to another impossible feminine ideal. And I, for one, am crumbling under the pressure of Über-Momming. Our gardens are a mess, my kids are throwing up on the way to the market, my fingers ache from milking the cow, we’re running out of homemade soap, and attachment parenting is causing my back to ache.” (Also I like what she has to say about gin.)

Here’s to July.

I was going to write about our tractor today. I watched it disappear down our quiet country road this morning as my husband and son headed a few hours north to deliver it to the friends who are buying it from us as we liquidate our farm. Somehow, although I know melancholy to be kin to the endings of things, the fresh grief of that moment was not what I expected as I buckled the boy into his carseat and kissed them both goodbye.

And maybe I will write more about that. There’s lots on my mind. I’m reflecting a lot these days on what our ambitions looked like six or seven years ago, and on my first three years as a mother too. The tractor’s all tied up with all of that.

But right now? You know – the sun is beating down on my shoulders like it wants to be late May. My scarf is too heavy. The chickens are warbling and the dishwasher is running and my belly is full of curried sweet potato soup. I think I’m gonna chase this feeling.

Sunflower. July 2012, Virginia.

Sunflower. July 2012, Virginia.

On my drive home from the library not an hour ago, I was listening to the latest The Kitchen Hour podcast. About halfway through, Meagan and her guest, yoga teacher and coach Kate Hanley of Ms. Mindbody, speak about the retreats Kate leads. Kate mentions trying to see yourself on your best day six months from now. And damn if that wasn’t exactly what I needed to hear.

I believe very strongly that feeling more peace is not about getting to the (totally imaginary) day where all my stress is gone, that I’ve got a whole lot of tools in my stress-reduction arsenal right now. My favorites, which I employ with seriously varying degrees of frequency and skill, are: eating real food, getting sleep, taking walks, meditating, practicing gratitude, dancing in the kitchen, and drinking lots of coffee with my friends. I think even when I can’t change a dang thing about what’s going on, these things are huge. I guess that’s when they’re hugest. It’s also when they’re hardest.

Things are hard right now.

But Kate mentioned six months from now and this image popped into my head, simple and crisp. It feels so lovely that I kind of want to just quietly tuck it in my pocket. But I’ll write it down and put it out there. With footnotes, because maybe the edges of this image aren’t so clearly defined if you’re not me:

It’s maybe 4:30pm on a clear late July Tuesday. I’m on our back deck1 with my son and we’re grilling2 whatever is growing then3 and maybe also some home-raised chicken. The peach and blueberry pie we made earlier is cooling inside on the kitchen counter. I’m happy because all the financial loose ends from our old farm have been tied up for a couple months now. I’m happy because later in the week I’m taking the train into the city, solo, for a People’s University where I used to work. I’m happy because my husband will be in from the fields in another hour and we’re going to eat this food and drink some cold beer while the sun goes down and the fireflies appear4. I’m happy.

Here’s to July.

  1. We have a real deck at our new place! []
  2. It’s silly but I’m afraid of grilling; hoping this year is the year I get over that. There’s a fantastic double-page spread in Dinner: A Love Story (the book) where author Jenny Rosenstrach confesses her fear of grilling to her husband Andy in the form of a letter, and he writes back with a sweet and simple primer. You can get a taste over at this blog post on the same topic. []
  3. Zucchini and onions, maybe? []
  4. Are there fireflies in the Hudson Valley? Someone please tell me yes! []



There’s no denying this weekend had its share of strain. Disappointing news. Frayed nerves about the coming year. Temperatures too low for harvesting Brussels sprouts or cabbage. And two of us a bit poorly while the third was gone all day at market.

But sometimes – when we’re lucky – illness can be its own kind of nurse. Sometimes it’s life arriving with a pot of tea and a pile of blankets and firm orders to Take It Easy.

So we did. Paperwork: ignored. Gallant parenting ambitions: abandoned for Netflix, applesauce, and back rubs. The boy napped early and long. I watched three episodes of Downton Abbey and drank four cups of tea. We were both in bed before 8.

Morning found us much renewed, and Sunday was all waffles, sausage, coffee, pajamas sticky with maple syrup and fresh-squeezed-by-the-boy clementine juice, a warm fire, a slowly diminishing pile of dishes at sink’s edge, and frequent dance breaks with Frankie Valli, Bill Withers, and the Bee Gees. A few hours of work now while the boys run errands and get bagels, and then an afternoon at the bowling alley with a mess o’ friends! A bracing tonic indeed, all of it.

How was your weekend?

(joining Amanda at The Habit of Being)

Grace in a muffin

In a month – perhaps a bit sooner than that, certainly not much later – we are leaving our farm in central Virginia and moving to a new-to-us farm in New York. We have been farming on our own for seven years now, and when we bought our own land five years ago, we had every intention of staying for the long haul. We built a business and worked our soil and had a baby and picked a lot of tomatoes and had a lot potlucks and really dug our feet in. We love what we built and the vision we had for our life here.

The decision to leave was very, very hard, but I don’t mean to write about that just now. Some months have passed since we decided. Our grief has faded, as it does. Our excitement is mounting, as it will. And in between … well, the devil is in the details, and right this moment? BLLLLLAAAAAAARRRRRRGH!

But I believe there’s grace in a muffin.

Pear chocolate nutmeg muffin


It’s hard, when you’re in the trenches, to act with all the perspective and poise that come so easy when things are … easy. Your fuse is short and your to-do list is a mile long and your worries pile up like so much dirty laundry and who knows when it’s all going to sort itself out? Who knows when things will feel calm again?

I guess these muffins say: “How does right now sound to you?”

Partly it’s that they’re so reliable. So many muffins sit at one extreme or the other: dry and regrettable, or loaded with oil and sugar and heavy enough to prop a door open. These aren’t like that. They’re lovely and toothsome, just sweet enough, with a perfect crumb – owed entirely to the leftover oatmeal, I believe.

But mainly it’s that if you get out your flour and your eggs and your milk and you begin measuring and whisking and stirring and scooping, you pretty much have to stop thinking about your mortgage. (You may have to think about how to get eggshells out of the batter if your kids are with you, but that’s a distraction I highly recommend.)

So maybe it doesn’t have to be muffins. It could be applesauce, or mayonnaise, or a soufflé. Or pie! But for me, this week, it’s muffins.

Leftover Oatmeal Muffins

We make these muffins a lot – two or three times a month. They’ll cater completely to your whim, the season, or the contents of your pantry. We most often use blueberries or mixed berries, frozen, for our extras. Sometimes we add the zest of a lemon too. Other nice combos: toasted fennel seeds plus raisins or currants (plump them first by soaking them in very hot water for about 10 minutes; then drain and add to the batter); dried apricots plus fresh and/or candied ginger; chopped apples plus chopped toasted walnuts; dried cranberries plus chopped toasted almonds plus a little almond extract … be bold! This week I upped the ante and used about a half cup each of frozen mixed berries, coarsely chopped chocolate, and coconut flakes. Yup, that’s more than the cup of extras I suggest below, but I was feeling a little brash – although I was pretty certain those flavors would complement one another nicely. They did. And the muffins were big! My point is, throw in what sounds good.

Also, thanks to Amanda for the original recipe and the heads up about using leftover oatmeal. That’s really where the genius lies in this recipe.

Update 11/2/16: When I first posted this recipe I called for two tablespoons of baking powder. That always seemed a little, hmm, alarming? We continue to make these muffins regularly and I find the leavening amounts in the updated recipe to work well.

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
1 cup cooked oatmeal
1/2 cup buttermilk or milk or milk substitute, room temperature (or gently warmed on the stovetop or in the microwave)
1/3 cup maple syrup, honey, or sugar
1 egg, room temperature if possible (try warming it in a bowl of hot water for a few minutes)
1-2 tablespoons melted lard or butter or coconut oil (other oils would be fine too)
about 1 cup extras

Preheat the oven to 400°F/205°C. Generously grease a 12-cup muffin tin, or use liners.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, salt, cinnamon if using, and sugar if using. Add oatmeal, milk, maple syrup or honey if using, egg, and lard or butter or oil. Stir until combined but try not to overmix.

(I used to mix the wet ingredients separately and then gently combine them with the dries, and this is probably a good idea if you’re worried about overmixing the batter. But I’m an utter tornado in the kitchen, and for love of my chief washer of dishes I’m trying to use fewer bowls where I can.)

If you have a child who does not like extra stuff in his muffins, scoop one or two muffins’ worth of batter into your tin now. Fold your extras into the remaining batter.

Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin tins, filling each about 3/4 full. I find an ice cream scoop is perfect for this. Bake about 20 minutes, until lightly browned on top. Cool for just a minute or two in the pan and then pop them out and eat them warm, with or without butter, or let them cool on a rack.

Makes 12 muffins.

Jon Kabat-Zinn made me do it.

Eastern red cedar/Juniperus virginiana. January 2013, Virginia.

For years (truly) I have brushed away a pining to create my own space online. My doubts hung thick like fog:

I’m mothering and running a business and doing my share of keeping a home. And I want to learn how to do so many new things. How would I make the time?

If I’m going to take time away from family to do this, I should try to figure out a way to be compensated financially, right? But then I’d need to commit to regular, meaningful content. I already struggle with this on our farm blog and in some other online places. I struggle with discipline in many parts of my life, frankly. Why would this be any different?

How do I honor and respect my husband’s private nature and my child’s right to grow up well away from the public eye?

Will this make me too proud? Will it be too much navel-gazing?

I don’t want to inspire anyone. It can be a slippery slope, right, that space between sharing my joys and making people feel inadequate? That scares me.

And does the world need another blog? It can’t possibly.

But quiet and tenacious as the rising sun, that pining to write just kept showing up.


I’ve decided I’m done with feeling tortured.

I’ve decided to name the notion that I can predict what and who will come into my life because of writing here for what it is: hubris.

I’ve decided – looking back over the last six or seven years of showing up on Flickr, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, our farm website, some other projects I’ve been a part of – that the net effect of all this showing up has been overwhelmingly positive. There has been more connecting, more compassion, less suffering, less feeling alone.

I’ve decided I want more of that connecting, and also a place where I can challenge myself to dig a little deeper, work a little harder, say a little more, ask a little more.

I’ve decided to be here.

I hope I can manage to walk that line between honoring my family’s privacy and talking about what it means to be in a family with grace. I hope I can welcome imperfection. I hope to celebrate these days that are the good flesh continuing and then to be able to look back on them too. I also hope I can manage to not take myself too seriously. That’s perhaps funny to say in a post like this, but it’s the truth.

This afternoon I was listening to Krista Tippett interview Jon Kabat-Zinn on On Being. That show regularly makes me weep, and today was no exception. I was listening, but my monkey mind was also thinking about this maybe-space of mine, and about how we are all enough, right now, right here, and can reminding one another of that be the main thing we do? Then toward the end the interview, Jon Kabat-Zinn read a poem by Derek Walcott. I burst into tears. Then I pulled into my driveway and sat down at the computer.

“Love After Love”

The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

Derek Walcott
Collected Poems, 1948-1984