Category Archives: recipes

Three things (you should be making with sweet potatoes right now)

sweet potato slips

1) DINNER | Melissa Clark’s Chicken Curry with Sweet Potatoes (via Luisa at The Wednesday Chef) I would love to tell you my farm kids eat everything, but HARDY HAR HAR, says the universe, DID YOU THINK YOU WERE IN CONTROL HERE? But friends, they eat this. I don’t really have an explanation. I’d like to say it’s because it is over-the-top, knock-your-socks-clean-off, shout-it-from-the-mountaintops good (WHICH IT IS), but so, for example, is this soup, and my oldest won’t touch that with a ten-foot spoon. I’m learning not to parse these things for too much meaning and instead to just say thank you.

2) BRUNCH | These apple and sweet potato cakes with poached (or fried) eggs and a sweet mustard sauce (via Tasty Kitchen) This morning my son ate eggs and toast and clementines with my husband before he (the latter) went to work, and my daughter ate leftover roast chicken and roughly her own weight in pistachios. She ate those while sitting right in the middle of the dining room table because there are mornings when I have no fight left in me. This was after she emptied her whole bookshelf but before she dumped two giant bins of Legos when I thought it might be okay to pee alone and before she dumped the box of Christmas ornaments I may or may not get put away by April. This is how it came to be nearly eleven o’clock and I only had two cups of coffee in me. This is a long way of saying I love my my fine fine father, who FaceTimed with my kids so I could feed myself these.

3) BREAKFAST/SECOND BREAKFAST/ELEVENSES/AFTERNOON TEA/DESSERT | Nancie McDermott’s Sweet Potato Pound Cake (via our old farm blog, which is looking a bit rusty and which I need to dismantle but can’t quite) Always exactly what I want to eat.

This is not the writing I wrote about, not exactly, but like I said, I’ve been cleaning up a lot of Legos. Also kissing a lot of stubbed toes, homeschooling, moving (again), and watching the sun set over the salt marsh. It’s been kind of a lot.

I’ll be back here when I can figure out how to be. In the meantime, we’ve all got to eat. Make some of this good food! And tell me too how you’re warming your own belly and soul this winter.

sweet potato harvest

A simple pot of lentils

lentils

I found some pretty deep peace in a simple pot of lentils this week. It happened like this:

We’ve been hunkering down and making do/merry pretty well, all things considered – imagined Autobot space voyages to Pluto for magical ice, daytime baths, long read-alouds on the couch, good coffee and mugs of bone broth with ginger and cayenne – but it is also true that we’re still coming down from the joyous mayhem of presents and travel, that the weather outside is very grey and very wet, and that all four of us have massive, dizzying, ugly colds. To say I look forward to the moment when my husband walks in the door at the end of the day is a study in understatement.

Tuesday around 4pm: I get a text that a meeting is running long and he’ll be at least an hour late. I’m not mad, of course, but that doesn’t stop a knee jerk inner growl. I yawn and rub my temples, my daughter whimpers on my hip and wipes her snotty nose against my shoulder, and my son leaps off the table and lands with a ruthless thud. “Mom? What’s for dinner?”

Running on empty and knowing I’ve been by neither farm nor store since our return from the North Carolina mountains, I look in the fridge. Hmm. Lots of cheese. Very old milk. Three kinds of mustard. Pickle relish, yeast, simple syrup, tomato paste, miso, wrinkled grapes. Leftovers of indeterminate origin. It’s not looking good.

Popcorn and smoothies is not a terrible dinn– I begin to tell myself.

But I don’t want popcorn and smoothies I interrupt. I want something substantial and healing. I want protein. I want plants. Yes, you’re really tired. No, smoothies for dinner don’t make you a bad mom. Cook anyway.

I close the fridge. I think suddenly of the More-with-Less Cookbook, written by Doris Janzen Longacre and published by the Mennonite Central Committee in 1976 as an appeal to thrift in the kitchen and a call to arms against the global hunger crisis. I haven’t reached for it in a long time, but it is homely and modest and practical and that’s what I need tonight. I pull it down, find a recipe for Basic Cooked Lentils, and get to work.

Both kids are playing with the dog’s bowls under the kitchen table. I smile, put a couple cups of rice in the rice cooker, and slip out the back door, rummaging through our upright freezer out in the shed for some frozen chicken broth. I wrestle it out of its Ziploc armor, drop it into a big pot on the stove, and set the burner to high. I rinse a cup of lentils and as I agitate them in the sieve under running water I feel my mental fog lifting. The kids laugh and I hear dog food scatter and all I think is it feels good to feed my family. I add the lentils to the broth along with a bay leaf and a pinch of salt and turn everything down to a simmer. I look in the fridge again and surface with three leeks, shriveled and pretty gnarly but not rotten. Perfect. I put our big skillet on another burner and set half a stick of butter to melt in it. I peel away the (many) dried outer layers of the leeks and chop off their roots, slice them, rinse them well, and drop them in the skillet. My daughter clings to my leg with another soft whimper.

“Hello, sweet girl,” I say, hoisting her to my hip and kissing her forehead. “I know you want snuggles now. But I need to get dinner ready.” Like magic her brother appears with a big ball and a grin, and she turns to him with twinkling eyes, already wriggling free.

I step onto the back porch, where we often keep a crate or two of farm vegetables. I’m not hopeful because I know we haven’t filled the crates since our Christmas travels, but lo, there beneath a handful of wilted lettuce leaves sits one plump carrot – it looks a little tired, sure, but not so bad. I bring it inside, give it a quick scrub in the sink, dice it, and add it to the leeks along with another small knob of butter and some curry powder.

Miraculously – or perhaps because I am ignoring them – the kids don’t need anything. All the base components of the meal are cooking now, and I can turn to the tinier tasks of stirring, tasting, adjusting spices. My mind meanders pleasantly. I think of curries, of how little I know about authentic ones, of how much I love them anyway, of the lunchtime curries I ate at any of the half dozen little restaurants along East Sixth Street in the East Village and of the many approximations I’ve cobbled together at home. Almost seventeen years ago I bought two books from a man sitting on a quilt outside a train station in Chennai. One was Gandhi’s autobiography and the other was called Indian Cookery: for use in all countries, by E.P. Veerasawmy. For no good reason I haven’t cooked from it much (despite the back cover’s admonition that it “should be part of any cook-proud housewife’s library”!). But one big lesson from its first chapter has lingered with me for years: you must cook your curry powder or curry spices in the fat with your onions and garlic for several minutes, before adding any coconut milk or other liquids, to cook off their raw flavor. I’d like to learn more someday, I think, about how to really build layers of flavor in a curry. I think of the pact my husband and I make (and break) every year, to each pick a cuisine and cook from it once a week. Maybe this will be the year.

I think of my enormous cookbook collection. I think of what a thrilling time this seems for cookbooks in general: vibrant, clever flavor combinations; deep explorations of single ingredients or techniques; endless options for all kinds of eaters; and of course the beauty of the books themselves. I don’t get to do it much these days, but I love to sit with a stack of cookbooks and a cup of tea.

There’s a clear trend right now toward clean, wholesome cooking, whether you tend toward marrow bones and raw milk and home cured bacon or collard wraps and almond milk and meal-sized salads (or all of it, like me!). But there’s also a clear trend toward luxury in book design: heavy matte paper, breathtaking full bleed photographs, obvious care and cleverness in layout. It’s an interesting juxtaposition.

I think suddenly, absent any guilt or shame: what if I only had three or four cookbooks? I don’t mean what if I had to pick my three or four favorites from this crazy collection. I mean: what if, by choice or circumstance or culture, I just wasn’t into cookbooks? What if I was just a confident and unfussy home cook with a few worn references tucked on the counter between the coffee pot and the fridge? More-with-Less, maybe. The 1979 Fannie Farmer? A cookie book? What would that be like?

Our own little family straddles these questions of abundance and scarcity every day really: work that means access to the highest possible quality of produce and eggs and meat, smashed up against a pretty spartan budget everywhere else. Hmm. It’s a lot to think about, and tonight I am grateful to be muting the chatter and making some simple food with what I could rustle up.

I check the vegetables. The carrots aren’t quite done, and over in the pot, neither are the lentils. I scrape the curry mixture into the lentils and pour in another cup of broth. My phone buzzes again: another hour late. I put a lid on the pot, turn the heat to low, and gather my children into my arms.

Wishing you and yours a joyous new year. May your bellies and hearts be as full as mine.

* * *

A Simple Pot of Lentils
adapted from More-with-Less Cookbook, by Doris Janzen Longacre

I like this over rice or another grain. If you do too, get that started first. Then combine 2 1/2 cups broth or water and 1 cup rinsed lentils in a pot and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and add a bay leaf and a pinch of salt.

In a large skillet, melt several tablespoons butter or warm several tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Add an onion (chopped) or a large leek (sliced and very well rinsed) and anything else that sounds good or is lying around threatening to go to waste (chopped small) – a stalk of celery, a carrot, a red pepper, a few turnips maybe. Sauté until the vegetables begin to soften. Add some chopped garlic and continue to cook for another minute. Now add some spices or herbs. A tablespoon or two of curry powder is nice. Or try some thyme or rosemary and some black pepper. Italian flavors work great. Don’t skimp. Saute for a few minutes more and then scrape the vegetables into the pot of lentils. Add more broth or water if things seem dry. Taste the lentils. If they’re done, simmer everything for a few minutes more. If they’re not, bring everything back to a simmer, put a lid on the pot, and go read with your kids.

Adjust seasonings and serve over grains. Top with a dollop of yogurt or a squeeze of lemon juice and some chopped parsley, if you like.

(seven posts in seven forty-two days)

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?

Nothing says, “I miss you!” like garlic breath.

No, I do not think the world needs another tzatziki recipe. But it is, at least here in the Northern Hemisphere, the right time of year to eat it. My friend Wesley and her family recently returned from a trip to Crete, and her ten-year old daughter made tzatziki for us all when we went to dinner at their place in North Carolina last week. When I got home our little raised bed garden in the front yard was a gorgeous jungle, with plenty of sweet little pickling cucumbers ready to go. I remembered I’d shared my own recipe on our farm blog back in our Virginia days. I dug it up, and we made our first batch of the season tonight, and we put it on burgers and on top of roasted eggplant too, and it was so damn good. What the world needs, I thought, is more ten-year olds who know their way around a kitchen. What the world needs is a way for all of us to eat this well and to eat this happy.

Last summer I started migrating a few of my farm blog posts over here. I didn’t get very far with that project, I don’t think – but as I licked the food processor bowl clean tonight, I thought, heck, let’s try again. Let’s show up here a little bit and then figure out how to show up some more. Nothing says, “I miss you!” like garlic breath, right?

chooks in cukes

(I’m reposting this recipe almost exactly as I wrote it for our farm blog in 2011 – I’ve taken out just one or two confusing references, but am otherwise leaving the words as is. They speak to a different time in my life, and as I continue to explore what and who make a place a home, here on this site and in my life, it feels valuable to look back on where I’ve come from, even if I’m just talking about cheesecloth and lactobacilli. The nearly word-for-word repost also explains all the first person plural pronouns.)

Tzatziki is a classic Greek appetizer made from strained yogurt, cucumbers, garlic, and herbs, and similar dishes are made all over the Middle East and Mediterranean.  It manages somehow to be both refreshing and substantial at the same time, which is exactly what I’m after these days.  Heavy braises and long slow roasts make me sweat just thinking of them – but these hot sticky midsummer days are tiring, and a girl needs some fuel!  Enter tzatziki.

Our only caveat is that you need to plan ahead here.  The recipe is straightforward and easy, but you’ll need to strain your yogurt, and salt and drain your cucumbers.  And ideally you stick it in the fridge for a couple hours after you mix it up, to let the flavors blend.  So it’s not something you can whip up at the last minute for a potluck or to accompany a Sunday dinner outside by the grill – although it would be right at home in either of those settings!

cutting cukes

Tzatziki

1 quart yogurt (preferably full fat with no added stabilizers or sweeteners – just cultured milk; or, substitute 2 1/2 cups Greek yogurt and skip the yogurt straining step)
2 large cucumbers (or 3 picklers), peeled, seeded, and chopped (instructions below)
1 tablespoon salt
juice of one lemon
one clove garlic, chopped
1-2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill or mint or both
additional salt and pepper to taste

First, strain the yogurt. We use a nylon nut milk/sprouting bag like this, but you could also use coffee filters or cheesecloth.1 If using a nut milk bag, hang it into a large jar (a half gallon or one gallon jar works well) and secure with a rubber band.  If using coffee filters, line a colander or large strainer with two coffee filters and set the colander/strainer inside a large bowl.  Cheesecloth can be used either way. Carefully pour the yogurt in.  Whichever method you use, you want to leave room for the whey to drain out of the yogurt, so be sure the bottom of your bag or filter isn’t touching the liquid as it drains out.  Some whey will drain out immediately, but be patient; the longer you can wait, the creamier your tzatziki will be.  You could probably use the yogurt after 45 minutes or so, but wait about two hours if you can.  Or strain the yogurt the day before you make the tzatziki and store it in the fridge overnight. When we use a quart of Dannon All Natural Plain Yogurt, we end up with a little over two cups of thick strained yogurt and a little more than a cup and half of whey. We’ll try straining our own yogurt later this summer, and anticipate the ratio of yogurt to whey will be a bit different.

(Don’t pour that whey down the sink! It’s full of good healthy stuff including lots of Lactobacilli, which are said to be good for gut health and general immune health. It will last for about forever in the fridge. You can add it to a smoothie, use it in place of water or other liquids in baked goods, use it as a starter culture for all kinds of lactofermented fruits and vegetables and beverages, use it in soaked grains like overnight oats … most recently we’ve been using it in a our daily almost-no-knead bread and in a pickle recipe.)

Next, prepare the cucumbers. This process takes about 45 minutes, largely unattended.  We pick our cucumbers quite young and of course never wax them, so we rarely peel or seed them for any recipes.  However, tzatziki really does benefit from cucumbers that have had a lot of the liquid removed.  First, peel the cucumbers.  Then seed them.  You can cut them in half lengthwise and run a spoon along the seeds, scooping them out.  Or quarter them lengthwise and use a small paring knife to cut out the seeds.  Next chop up the cucumbers and place them in a colander, place the colander in a large bowl, and sprinkle the cucumbers with about a tablespoon of salt.  Toss.  The salt will draw water of out of the cucumbers.  Let them drain for about half an hour.  Press to release any remaining water, and then pat them dry with a paper towel.

Now you’re ready to mix it all up! Put the strained yogurt in a large bowl.  In a food processor, blend the cucumbers, the lemon juice, the garlic, the herbs, and a few grinds of black pepper until well blended.  Add the cucumber mixture to the yogurt and stir to mix.  Taste to see if you need additional salt; we don’t find it necessary. Tzatziki tastes best if you put it in the fridge for a couple hours to allow the flavors to meld. But we won’t tell anyone if you dig in right away.

* * *

Serving ideas: Use tzatziki as a dip for vegetables like carrots or cucumbers.  Spread it on crackers or nice bread.  Use it as a spread in a sandwich with other summer vegetables.  Add it to falafel in a pita.  It’s also a great side dish or dipping sauce for meats and fish. (2014 update: So good on top of beef or lamb burgers. Great on bean or grain based patties too, like these little quinoa patties, or fritters like these. Delicious on salmon. Perfect on top of an eggplant roasted until charred and meltingly tender and split in two lengthwise.)

  1. I actually prefer using jelly bags like these now. []

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.

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