Category Archives: family

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 keep 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.)

1/4 cup (half a stick) butter
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups buttermilk or 1/2 cup yogurt stirred into 1 cup milk
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?

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)

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. In a chapter of my life when I’ve known a lot of loneliness, in a world where so many people are displaced by disaster or avarice, in a time when so much online grandstanding and so many incomprehensible injustices make it feel easier and safer to retreat than to reach out – I choose belonging.

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.

The thing that matters

A few days ago I sat at my computer, skimming recent photos, intending to join up with Heather in the new This Week in My Kitchen blog hop she’s hosting. The blog hop could not be more appealing to the totally-not-creepy-I-promise voyeur in me, the eater in me, and the can-we-sit-on-your-front-porch-in-rocking-chairs-drinking-sweet-tea-and-shelling-peas-? neighbor in me. And here’s what I noticed: we sure do eat a lot of eggs. cooling Farming for a living does something a little funny to a family, I think. You might assume we never buy strawberries from California or grapefruits from Florida and Texas, but that’s not quite the case. For one, we have to eat in the winter, and we are not great at putting up lots of our summer harvest. Also, we have a four-year old who is only just emerging from his beige food stage, and I am telling you, if it is real food and it has a color and he is willing to eat it, I will buy it. And also, frankly, we’re not in the most lucrative line of work. We shop where everyone else shops when there’s no food from the farm to eat. You’ll find plenty of conventional produce in our fridge and on our countertops, particularly in the winter and early spring. (I have a lot more to say about this, I think. Hoping to find the time, and the words, and the pluck, to write it down here someday.) pullets Animal products are trickier – tricky in general, and trickier still now that we don’t have our own land and are living in a beach town. Meat and dairy and eggs produced with respect for the animals and care for the land cost quite a bit more than their vegetable counterparts. And our grocery budget is very tight. But we don’t feel comfortable eating conventionally produced animals products regularly. I’ve said before that our fridge and pantry are an embarrassment of riches, and that was probably nowhere more true than when it came to the meat, dairy, and eggs we ate when we were farming our own land. We kept goats for milk; they were given to us by some neighbors who were thinning their herd, and as ruminants, their feed costs were quite low. When our goats weren’t in milk, we knew where to find other fresh milk. We always had laying hens. Some years they numbered in the hundreds, when we were selling eggs, and we kept the cracked eggs for ourselves. Other years we just kept a homestead flock. Either way, we never worried where our eggs were coming from. Most years we raised 50-75 Cornish Rock chickens for meat. That worked out to about one roast chicken a week, plus some extras for potlucks or for thank yous to farm sitters and neighbors. We always threw the bones from our roast chicken into a big freezer bag, and once we had enough, we’d make bone broth. Sometimes we had venison in the freezer too, also from our land. We kept pigs for two years, and although we couldn’t afford to eat our more expensive cuts, we always had sausage and ribs available, and pork belly for making bacon, and fatback for lard. These things saw us through the year quite well. Sometimes we traded tomatoes for ground beef at market, or we’d till a garden for our livestock farmer neighbors in return for a lamb shoulder. This is how we lived beyond our means.

Here, in our beautiful beach town, we’re learning a new normal when it comes to this stuff. We don’t have our own land, so there’s no way to easily raise our own meat. And this is a resort town, with a huge summer population that turns over weekly and very sleepy winters. So it’s a tough place to be a market farmer selling most of your products retail, and therefore a tough place to find raw milk or grassfed beef. So what does this mean for us? Well, first, as the freezer stock we brought with us dwindles, it means we are eating less meat. It also means we compromise. We buy organic milk at the grocery store, but we don’t know where it comes from or how the cows were treated. We can’t trade for amazing cheeses at market anymore and so we buy from Miss Linda at the deli counter. She and my son are becoming fast friends. We usually buy Dannon yogurt. stacked But eggs. For some reason, I can’t relax about eggs. Why? There are many, many reasons to eat locally produced foods in season – some of those reasons matter quite a lot and others, I am starting to think as the years go by, are perhaps overplayed. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration, though, to say that fresh food tastes better. The lettuce you picked at 11:30 to eat in a salad at noon? Those dead ripe, still-warm-from-the-vine Sungolds? Broilers you raised in your backyard whose grain was supplemented with daily kitchen scraps and June bugs they chased down themselves? It’s really no contest. But when it comes to eggs, maybe I’m wrong.

I don’t know. Maybe it’s personal. I have washed I don’t know how many thousands of eggs over the years. There were times I thought my brain might rot from the endless, changeless hours of scrubbing, but sometimes I really found peace in the rhythm. (Either that or I found a bottle of tequila and mixed myself a margarita, after which everything looked cheerier.) wash Here’s what I do know. I know there is not much farm fresh food to be had before May in this part of the country. I know I am only two months into learning how to mother two children and there is no elaborate or inspired cooking going in. I know eggs are fast and healthy and always delicious. (We are big, big fans of not really cooking dinner around here. Scrambled eggs and toast ranks just after popcorn and smoothies and just before a baked potato bar on our Effort Scale.)

The best thing I know? My kid will always crack an egg. I think this matters to me more than whether or not he’ll eat one. We have cooked with our son since he was just a few weeks old. He started in a sling on my hip as I stirred stock or sliced tomatoes, and he perched on my husband’s shoulder a few months later as they flipped pancakes together. When he was steady(ish) on his feet, he graduated to a beautiful homemade learning tower we received from a friend in trade for one of our CSA shares. We taught him more than two years ago how to crack an egg, and how to scramble it too. He has a preferred whisk. He can safely use a sharp knife.

I cannot take credit for much of his awesomeness, but I do think that keeping him right alongside us in the kitchen is one of the better calls we’ve made as parents. They say that when your kid cooks with you, he’ll be more likely to develop a broad palate – that hasn’t been our experience. But, and I say this with a hard-won and bittersweet clarity: that is almost beside the point. My children do not belong to me, and I can no more easily dictate what they will eat now than who they will love later. What I can do is give them skills – how to use that knife, how to know when cupcakes are done, what to do with a few wilted carrots and an onion – and I can also give them my time. It’s the thing, you know. The thing that matters.

I had a baby two months ago. She has rosy cheeks and big eyes. She sleeps a dream, for now. She loves to watch her brother talk, and she loves it when we sing the Mighty Machines theme song (or, oh my gosh, in French!) to her during diaper changes. She gasps when the bay breezes rush over her shoulders. And she nurses the day away. I love her, hard.

I also miss my boy.

But you know, thanks to those damn farm eggs, we’re finding our way back to one another.

baking

Classic Vanilla Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting
cupcakes adapted from The Fannie Farmer Cookbook, Twelfth Edition (1979)

I am not kidding when I say we made these cupcakes a totally immoderate three times last week. Partly it’s that we had a lot of leftover frosting from a cake we’d made the week before, and what were we going to do, give it to the pigs? I don’t think so. Partly it’s that they’re just so good, and we found we didn’t like being out of cupcakes. Mostly, it’s that something really good happened when I tucked my sleeping baby tight against my chest in the sling and invited my son into the kitchen to mix up the second batch. He leaped from the couch with an enormous grin, after a week of furrowed brow and clenched fist. He chose the eggs he wanted to use and watched, rapt, as I showed him how to separate the whites from the yolks. He turned on the mixer, and he measured and added the ingredients as I read him the recipe, and he taste tested the batter every step of the way (because that’s how you get good at this, right?), and he spooned the batter into the muffin tin. Later, when he ate his cupcake from the top down and asked for a second layer of frosting when the first was all gone, I wanted to say, “My beloved child! You have no idea how much I’ve missed you! We spent four years walking through our days hand in hand and now we have to make some space in our togetherness and I believe with all I’ve got that your life is going to be better because your sister is in it but it’s really hard for me right now and YOU CAN HAVE ALL THE FROSTING!” But instead I just handed him the spatula.

The cupcakes were my idea, by the way, and not his. I bake quite a lot but didn’t have a go-to cupcake recipe. I avoided looking for one online altogether, knowing how many I’d find, and instead I stood quite thoughtfully in front of my cookbook shelf, considering. I wanted something simple and classic. I was willing to put in a little effort, but I dismissed any recipes that insisted on cake flour (we don’t usually have it around) or a different number of egg yolks and whites (yes, there are always ways to use leftovers of either, but again with the new baby – I knew I’d just give any leftover egg to the dog). When I pulled my Fannie Farmer off the shelf and read the recipe for Boston Favorite Cake, I knew I’d found what I wanted right away. That Marion Cunningham. She knew a thing or two.

(A note on the frosting: I used a cream cheese frosting because I almost never want anything else, but a basic buttercream would be good too. Or play around – add some almond or lemon extract, or some citrus zest. Mmm. It might be time for a fourth batch of these babies.)

For the cupcakes:
2 eggs, separated
6 tablespoons/85 grams butter, room temperature
1 cup/200 grams sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups/245 grams all-purpose or cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup milk

For the frosting:
1 8-oz/226 gram package full-fat cream cheese, room temperature
1 stick/113 grams butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups/250 grams powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C. Line a muffin tin with cupcake liners (recommended) or generously grease and flour the tin. (This recipe makes an awkward 14 cupcakes. You can either find two small oven-safe bowls and put an additional two cupcake liners in those, or you can grease and flour a ramekin and make a very tiny cake with the extra batter.)

Make sure your mixer bowl is very clean. Using the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites on fairly high speed until they are quite stiff but not dry. Scrape them gently into a medium bowl and set aside.

Switch to the paddle attachment, but don’t worry about cleaning the bowl. Cream the butter for a few seconds and then add the sugar slowly, beating until the mixture is light. Add the egg yolks and the vanilla and beat until well blended.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. With the mixer on low, add about a third of the flour mixture to the butter/sugar/egg yolks and beat until just incorporated. Add about a third of the milk and beat until blended. Repeat twice with the remaining flour mixture, following each time with a bit of the remaining milk. The batter should be smooth at this point, but be careful not to overblend.

Add about a third of your egg whites to the batter and mix on low until incorporated. Remove the bowl from the mixer and fold in the remaining egg whites by hand with a spatula. You don’t need to be too gentle – you’re not making a soufflé. Fold well enough that the egg whites are thoroughly incorporated but still light and fluffy.

Spoon the batter into the muffin tin and other pans of your choice (see note above), filling each well about halfway. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the cupcakes are lightly browned on top and spring back when you touch them. (These consistently take 18-19 minutes in my oven, but I confess that since our move I haven’t confirmed my oven temperature with a thermometer, which I really do recommend.) Cool on a wire rack, in or out of the tin (these don’t seem to suffer from being left in the tin to cool).

Meanwhile, make your frosting. Using the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and cream cheese until fluffy. Beat in the vanilla extract. Add the powdered sugar a bit at a time, beating until smooth and thick.

Wait until the cupcakes are cool to frost. Or frost them as you need them. You’ll have more frosting than you need. The cupcakes keep well at room temperature for about a week in an airtight container or zippered plastic bag, and the frosting keeps for about a week in the fridge, or for quite a long time in the freezer.

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.

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