Monthly Archives: February 2013


Sweet Annie/Artemisia annua. February 2013, Virginia.

Sweet Annie/Artemisia annua. February 2013, Virginia.

So grateful for this practice of noticing and remembering some really delicious stuff, here in the thick of the move. For National Margarita Day on Friday, which brought joy to my packing, and for our whole grain waffles the next morning, which brought joy to my belly. For a child who called out gleefully from the backseat, “Turn that up, Mama!!” when this came on the radio, and then “Dance, Mama!!” when I was too still at the wheel. For a fantastic coffee date where we really did fit in a fair amount of adult conversation, even with our little ones at our sides. For the moment when I showed myself a little compassion and tossed the dry lumps of whole wheat tortilla dough into the pig scraps bucket and pulled out the tub of white flour. (I still want to talk about my seemingly Sisyphean efforts to find the perfect whole grain tortilla recipe – but not today.) For last night’s riff on our favorite new one dish meal: baked bratwurst with cabbage, carrots, and sweet potatoes, inspired by Dinner: A Love Story. For Connie Britton. For sleeping in. For this berried breakfast cobbler (two suggestions: top it with yogurt thinned with juice from the orange you’ve zested, per the recipe, and use salted butter – it does something amazing to the crust), and for the wee boy who did all the measuring and mixing himself. For the blue skies and blinding sun, and for the coffee I drank while the boy dug in the dirt and (ahem) threw dirt at the chickens. For a long midday snuggle with an under-the-weather bub who needed his mama.

And for this:


Touched by your goodness, I am like
that grand piano we found one night on Willoughby
that someone had smashed and somehow
heaved through an open window.

And you might think by this I mean I’m broken
or abandoned, or unloved. Truth is, I don’t
know exactly what I am, any more
than the wreckage in the alley knows
it’s a piano, filling with trash and yellow leaves.

Maybe I’m all that’s left of what I was.
But touching me, I know, you are the good
breeze blowing across its rusted strings.

What would you call that feeling when the wood,
even with its cracked harp, starts to sing?

Patrick Phillips

(joining Amanda at The Habit of Being)

Sally Schneider’s Close-Roasted Pork with Ancho, Cinnamon, and Cocoa

December 2012, North Carolina.

December 2012, North Carolina.

Was it the way it felt to unfold ourselves from that long and rainy drive? Was it easing into that warm and laughing kitchen? Was it knowing that we’d granted ourselves leave, for one sweet week, to put all our complicated feelings about leaving our farm on a back burner? Was it because the roast came from our own pigs, raised outside in the sunshine and fresh air, with lots of room to run and root and plenty of good vegetable scraps and cracked eggs? Was it because we didn’t have to cook? Was it that long slow cooking is pretty much always the answer to our woes?

I can’t say for sure. But this slow roasted pork is one of the best things I have ever eaten.

Close-Roasted Pork with Ancho, Cinnamon, and Cocoa
from The Improvisational Cook, © 2006 Sally Schneider

This is really nice alongside some hearty rice and beans, and although I haven’t tried it yet, I am sure it would be phenomenal in a taco or burrito. You could also feed a lot more people with it that way. I can’t wait to try it that way this spring with some of our own cilantro, and maybe some avocado too. Oh, or how about shredded into a salad with lettuce, grapes or apples, chopped toasted walnuts, and maybe even some thinly sliced fennel if you have it?

In the original headnote for this recipe, Sally Schneider remarks that this is perfect for a dinner party because it’s so little work and it can be cooked ahead of time. True. But she also says it can feed eight people. If you’re not feeding ravenous farmers, and if you also have some fantastic sides on the table, that might be true too. But maybe double the recipe, if you can afford to. Because this stuff is INSANE.

Boston butt is the obvious choice for this recipe, but a picnic roast would also work well. The farmer’s wife in me feels compelled to encourage you not to neglect cuts of meat that are unfamiliar to you. After all, a pig is not made of bacon and ribs alone! The sooner you help your farmers work down their inventory, the sooner you get more bacon.

Another note: This is not my recipe. I am adapting it scarcely at all from the way it was originally written, since I didn’t make it myself and can’t speak to the process. I have not (yet) gotten permission to reprint this recipe, so I’m linking to the Amazon page for the book rather than my normal link to Goodreads. Sally Schneider’s books are wonderful and something pretty out of the ordinary – really highly recommended.

2 1/2 tablespoons Mole-Inspired Seasoning with Ancho, Cinnamon, and Cocoa (recipe below)
1 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
About 3 1/2 pounds bone-in pork shoulder (try Boston butt or a picnic roast)
1 head of garlic, broken into cloves but not peeled

1. Season the meat. In a small bowl, combine the mole seasoning, salt, and sugar. Rub all over the pork shoulder and place on a plate. Marinate for 1 hour unrefrigerated, or 2 to 24 hours refrigerated.

2. Prepare the meat for roasting. Preheat the oven to 275°F. Place the pork in a Dutch oven or deep-lidded roaster just big enough to hold the roast snugly. Scatter the garlic cloves around the roast. Place a large piece of aluminum foil over the pot, then press the lid down securely. Alternatively, wrap the meat in a tightly sealed foil package (make sure the seam is at the top so the juices don’t leak out) and place the package in an ovenproof skillet or casserole.

3. Roast the meat. Roast the pork until very tender and practically falling apart, 3 3/4 to 4 hours. Transfer the roast to a platter and cover with foil.

4. Defat the roasting juices. Pour the juices into a sauceboat and place in the freezer for 10 minutes. Spoon off the fat that has risen to the top.

5. Serve the meat. Pull the meat apart with two forks or your hands. Pour some of the juices over and pass the rest. Save any remaining juices for heating up leftovers.

Mole-Inspired Seasoning with Ancho, Cinnamon, and Cocoa
makes about 1/3 cup

In a small bowl, combine 3 tablespoons ancho chile powder or sweet pimentón de la Vera (smoked Spanish paprika), 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar, 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, 1 1/2 teaspoons cocoa powder, 1 teaspoon ground cumin, and 1 teaspoon dried oregano.

Virginia, June 2012.

Virginia, June 2012.

I need some advice.

That is my fine fine father up there, sewer of more Halloween costumes than I can count, starting with a pioneer girl bonnet. A bonnet! Of course we had no idea in 1986 that I might end up knowing a thing or two about eviscerating chickens, keeping a wood stove going for days, rendering lard, or judging the ripeness of squash. I just loved my palest of pink dotted swiss dress with tiny ivory rickrack at the cuffs and trusted my dad could figure out the rest.

I have watched the man figure out a heck of a lot more in the almost 30 years since that labor of love. He was strumming real chords on my guitar not twenty minutes after picking it up for the very first time.1 He drove us safely from Düsseldorf to a gorgeous apartment building off the rue du Montparnasse in Paris one hot July afternoon in 1996, with only a little navigation help from me and only a little panicked yelling from both of us as we managed those winding one-way cobblestone streets in the days long before GPS. He can drive a tractor, throw a vase, soothe a fussy newborn, build a porch, roast coffee. I am pretty sure he still remembers how to use the dative case in German. Need a washer moved from Philly to the Bronx? A dance floor for your wedding? A cheesecake? No problem. My dad’s talent, cleverness, and generosity are a mighty triumvirate.

Needless to say, when I bought this 1961 Singer Style-0-Matic 328K off Craigslist from a woman named Wanda just a few months after my son was born, I turned to my dad immediately. He helped me wind the bobbin and set the tension and thread the machine, and together we sewed some simple big bottomed baby pants for one very cute cloth-diapered bum. That was also, sigh, the last time I sewed.

I didn’t – and don’t – have what I’d call grand ambitions for myself as a seamstress. But our life is very home centered and from scratch, more so every day. In the last seven or eight years we have replaced so many “boughten” (remember that from the Little House books?) and outsourced items and jobs with things we can grow or make or do on our own. I resisted this for a long time – not because I felt ill-suited to all the trial and error, but because I want to need people. I seriously worried that if we stopped buying vegetables at the store or going out to eat, we’d be standing on a very slippery slope – would we soon enough find ourselves living in a cabin in the woods fifty miles from anyone, well fed and hale but alone? But I’ve relaxed. I’ve learned there are a whole lot of ways to need people. Sometimes you pay them for a product or a service: other people pay us to grow their food, for example, and we pay other people to fix our transmissions, find our firewood, install our electricity. Sometimes you knock on their door and ask for a cup of sugar. Sometimes you put your baby in their arms and kiss them on the cheek and go out for a walk alone. Sometimes they bring you lasagna and wine when you have run yourself ragged with packing. Sometimes they are waiting for you to walk through their front door so they can pour your coffee. Sometimes they write a letter, or laugh at your jokes, or let you cry.

My point is, learning to do some things for ourselves has not made me need people any less. It has only made me appreciate all of us more.

My other point is, I need to know how to sew. And I need some advice.

A thought occurred to me two or three weeks ago, and it is so unlike me that when I said it out loud I think my husband almost wondered where his (nostalgic, dreamy, whimsy-loving) wife had gone and who this strange woman sitting in the kitchen was. The thought was: maybe I should sell this beautiful sewing machine and replace it with a new, or newer, model, one that will fit in a case, one that can be put in the back seat and carted to sewing lessons, one that can be stowed in a closet or on a shelf when I’m not using it.

I grimace thinking about it. My Style-O-Matic makes me smile every time I look at it. It is good to have simple beautiful things around. From the limited research I’ve done, it’s a solid machine, from a good era in Singer’s production history. It was well cared for by Wanda and by her mother before her. I still have our series of emails; she says her mother used it to make all her clothes when she was young, that it is super easy to use, and that it brought both of them many years of fun. I can almost see a seven-year old Wanda at her mom’s side, learning to oil the machine or sew a pillowcase. Can I really let it go?

And yet, our new house is so small. I don’t know where we’d put it. A more compact machine makes more sense in a lot of ways.

I don’t want to do fancy or involved sewing – not really thinking about clothes for myself.  I know – even anticipate – my ambitions might change as my skills evolve, but right now, I just want to be able to hem pants (I do not come from tall stock), sew curtains, chop up old wool sweaters I’ve felted and stitch them up into longies, sew basic farmers market aprons, make a duvet cover. Practical things.

I would be ever so grateful if the sewists among you would weigh in here. Keep the machine I have or get a new one? If I get a new one, what should I get?

  1. It should be noted I bought that guitar in 1999 and still don’t know how to play it. Will happily barter vegetables, cookies, or lard for lessons. []


Snow. February 2013, Virginia.

I am not a huge fan of snow. It wasn’t always this way. As a young child in Georgia, I only ever even saw the stuff once or twice, and it was pure fairytale when it happened. We moved north when I was still in elementary school, but the snow’s new commonness didn’t dull its magic. Even in my twenties, in New York City, I still fell for it hard – the way it softened the avenues, and in a way also softened us city folk to one another, as we all hunkered down with scarves and paper cups of coffee against the bitter winds on subway platforms, chastened for a spell by a force bigger than our busyness. As the thermometer dropped my first winter there, I took to walking everywhere I could; I’d had a rough winter the year before and figured the best path to a happy February was to be out there in the thick of it.

I don’t know where I lost the love. I just know that since leaving New York, when the snow falls – and here in central Virginia, sometimes that is every week or two during the winter and sometimes it is almost not at all – I am grateful for hot coffee and a blazing fire and the couch.

So. It snowed here this weekend. We were packing, furiously, and certainly I looked out the windows as I scuttled about the house with moving boxes and old letters and more coffee and more bags for Goodwill. That’s pretty I thought. Oh look I thought, it’s still coming down. But just as quickly I’d turn back to the boxes.

I don’t know what made me really see it. I was standing at a sink, drying my hands. I was looking through a west-facing window, at the giant oak near the house and at the old Paulownia and younger redbuds behind it and at the greenhouse behind them all. It was all very pleasant. But then my gaze fixed on the flakes not two feet in front of me, and then – it was all very quiet. I wasn’t thinking about how much there is to do in the next two weeks. I wasn’t wondering when the farm will sell. I wasn’t daydreaming about paint colors in the new house. There was only snow. I put down my hand towel and watched. The flakes were big and they were coming down hard, swirling just like maple seed pods.

The weekend – indeed, the whole last week – has been like that. That is: we leave in two weeks and there is much unresolved. Some of it will feel settled the minute our small caravan pulls onto the highway that first Monday morning in March. But we are months away – at best – from a truly clean start.

And yet: grace. Grace in the tireless focus and good cheer of my mother, who must have packed forty boxes of books single-handedly in addition to helping me turn all my mountains into molehills. Grace in the rusty nails and old linoleum and grace in every trip my father took to Lowe’s for more moving boxes, more plumbing supplies, more lumber. Grace in the laughter of our friends who came midweek bearing lasagna, bread, salad, and wine. Grace in the pot of soup shared with more friends the following night. Grace in the unexpected box of so-very-much-needed treats in the mail. Grace in our little guy’s sudden calm about the move. Grace in the smiling arrival of an old old friend who will farmsit for us for the next several months. Grace in Season 1 of Friday Night Lights. Grace in a pint of Newcastle and in paper trays piled high with chicken wings. Grace in the hum of the dryer, the warble of the coffee pot, the rising of the biscuits, the quiet of the snow.

(joining Amanda at The Habit of Being)


On Thursday morning I got in the car around 7am and drove away for a three-day work commitment. It was only a couple hours away, but it was the first time my son and I were separated overnight. Quite a rite of passage, for the both of us. And it was alright. He and his sweet papa held down the fort (farm) quite well without me, and I was so bone tired from the long days of work that there scarce was time to think too much about how strange it was. I think I feel proud of us both. I know that the look of joy in his eyes when we were reunited Saturday afternoon was one of the best things I have ever seen.

The weekend was full up with other gratitudes as well. The days passed so differently from my usual ones – no mothering, no cooking, no talks with my husband about our son or the move or Terriers. Just work, and lots of new and delightful faces, and many cups of coffee. I was expecting the long days and the thrill of helping to pull off a big project with many moving parts. But – I had forgotten about the perspective that can come with even just a little bit of distance. It’s a pretty special thing to get to peer through the warmly lit windows of your own life like that.

I thought about my life before farming (lots of sitting at a computer, lots of dreaming and planning and solving and trying with many kindred spirits) and I thought about my life now (lots of sun and mud and fresh air and cooking and mothering and doing, days and days of seeing just my family). I thought about working away from my family and I thought about spending every day with my family. I thought about talking for hours with adults and I thought about talking for hours with my boy. I don’t know what I’m going to do with all those thoughts, but I’m grateful for the chance to think them.

On Saturday night I was out like a light before 9pm with my boy. And on Sunday we had ourselves a city day, full of grilled cheese sandwiches and fallen nests and old stone steps and swings and skylines and skateboards and bell towers.

And now we pack.

(joining Amanda at The Habit of Being)



Well, here I am ready to reflect on the weekend and it is already the dark and cloudless end of a Monday, and only barely at that! It’s a good measure of how time has passed for me of late. Mostly, and particularly since I became a mother, our days here on the farm unfold in a way that’s not unlike our land itself: muddy sometimes, bruised knees for sure, but also rolling, green, expansive. But I’m staring down these last few weeks here like I’m shuttling through a tunnel on a high-speed train.

It’s okay. There’s a lot to do, and not much time, and there it is. But it makes me ever more grateful for the pockets of calm.

This weekend, although there was a very chilly market and furious house cleaning and showing the farm and lots of mama-has-to-work and too much Netflix for the boy, there was also: a coffee/bagels/One Morning in Maine date with the little man, pizza night for the first time in ages, dancing in the kitchen with both my boys, dreaming up the things we might grow in Orange County’s lush muck soil, chickens singing loudly at the blue skies, a long slow Sunday breakfast together, soup. And many clementines!

(joining Amanda at The Habit of Being)