Category Archives: summer

Neat little windrows

Rudbeckia bud

Black-eyed Susan/Rudbeckia hirta. New York, July 2013.

On Sunday we mowed the back lawn. It’s a gently sloping patch, roughly triangular, less than a quarter acre in size, limned by our house, a large block of tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant, and a very old stone wall spilling through a tangle of poison ivy, catnip, and multiflora rose into the marshland I have to come to love.

We’d ignored the mower for a month at least in favor of things like slow father-son oil changes, dinner on the deck, parenting thises-and-thats, and general weekend puttering. (We met seven years ago almost exactly. This is the first time in our life together that we’ve had Saturdays like people mean when they talk about Saturdays. We have taken to puttering like you don’t even know.)

And so when those mower blades tamed who knows how many kinds of grasses and sedges, they also took down cheerful shocks of black-eyed Susans, hundreds and hundreds of red clover heads, regal stands of Queen Anne’s lace. Knapweed, fleabane, cinquefoil, white clover, yarrow, chicory, Carolina horsenettle. So many more I don’t know yet.

I ran out and picked a fat bouquet and stuffed it in a green glass pitcher and then leaned on the deck railing, frowning a little. I do prefer this midsummer jungle to the neat little windrows the mower left behind.

But then again.

A tiny storm of seeds and insects billowed behind the mower as the grasses and flowers fell, and the barn swallows began to swoop, ever opportunistic and efficient. It was hard to stay sad, smelling that fresh cut grass. I lifted my chin from my palms and went back down to the lawn and took the clothes off the line. I buried my face in the pillowcases and t-shirts like I do every time, never not grateful for the way they smell like beach towels and bathing suits draped to dry on beach chairs in the summer sun in Cape May when I was 12.

Volunteer sunflowers are unfurling below the birdfeeder. The cherry tomato plants are teeming with ripe fruit, enough to sell out of 200 half pints at market and still have my fill any time I fancy. I’m putting them in a simple corn and tomato salad, and on top of pizza, and I should roast and freeze a mess of them, but mainly I just want to stuff my face.

Which is all to say: all those flowers were going to die soon anyway, weren’t they? With or without my moping. I am happy to be here, now.

bee, knapweed

Black-eyed Susan

Carolina horsenettle

spider, knapweed

Summer reads


When Sylvia of Artsy Ants posted her summer reading list a few days ago, my heart went into full-on carnival mode. Or maybe county fair mode? I’m talking lights, bells, cotton candy, Whac-A-Mole, carousel horses and giant Holsteins, demolition derbies and dripping ice cream cones on hot summer nights with nowhere else to be. I guess what I’m saying is I felt happy. Things have been Oh So Serious around here. Happy sure is nice.

Like Sylvia, I used to devour books. I was the girl who had to have a book with her in the car if we were going anywhere further than the stop sign at the head of our street. When I was 12 I could think of no greater misery than making the two mile trek to the grocery store while my book sat at home on the kitchen counter. When I was 12 I could not tell my grandma how to get to said grocery store, TRUE STORY, because I didn’t make that kitchen-counter mistake often.

These days, though, I’m still figuring it out. Five books by the end of the summer sounds pretty ambitious, really. But I just finished The Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times, by Jennifer Worth, and I guess I’m feeling a little cocky. I loved it, so much. It made me think about motherhood, and also about the family support work I did in Pittsburgh and Peru and New York City before coming to farming. And it was just a wonderful read. Being lost in a book is such a profound pleasure. I want more!

So here we go, in no particular order:

Cold Sassy Tree, by Olive Ann Burns. I actually started this one a couple months ago, but set it aside when I found The Midwife at the library. I can’t wait to get back to 14-year old Will Tweedy and his take on a family scandal in a small town in 1906 Georgia.

Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids, by Kim John Payne, M. Ed., with Lisa M. Ross. I was reluctant at first to put a parenting book on the list. I’ve been trying pretty hard recently not to read parenting advice (exceptions made for books and articles with a Buddhist or mindfulness slant). There’s just too much of it. And while plenty of it is compelling, I’ve grown weary of all these voices who seem to think they know best. I’m ready to quiet the din. But this one has been perpetually on deck for the last couple of years, and I’d like to give it a go.

A Circle of Quiet, by Madeleine L’Engle. I do love me a memoir. And I do love me some Madeleine L’Engle. This is the first book in a 4-part series.

Revenge of the Lawn: Stories 1962-1970, by Richard Brautigan. I picked this book up a few years ago mainly because of a Brautigan quote my friend Wesley had on her (former) blog: “Sometimes life is merely a matter of coffee and whatever intimacy a cup of coffee affords.” I really think it might have been that quote that first made me sure Wesley was someone I needed in my life. (I was spot-on, by the way. She’s wonderful. My life is so much better for knowing her. Let’s talk more another day about the good stuff that happens when people we meet online come into our real lives.)

Mastering the Art of French Cooking (Volume 1), by Julia Child. No, I’m not going all Julie and Julia on y’all! But I would like to know (at least some of) my (many) cookbooks better. There are so many I could pick from, but Julia seems maybe the best place to begin. She has never led me astray. And for all my confidence in the kitchen, I’m often struck by how many French basics I don’t know. I aim to try five new-to-me recipes from this book this summer.

I’ve stacked the odds at least somewhat in my favor, in that I already own all these titles, but this is a 100% guilt-free list. If I don’t make it through all five books, or if I get distracted by some other wonderful volume – so it goes.

What about y’all? Did you finish anything good recently? What are you reading now? What’s on your library hold list or bedside table?

On seeing past the end of my dinner fork

The following post first appeared over at Southside Kitchen Collective, a collaborative (and fairly sporadic) project on families and food that I ran for a little while. As we prepare for our move away from Southside Virginia, I’ve imported a few SKC posts into Coffee in the Woodshed — the more personal ones I wrote, about our experiences cooking and eating with our young son. I think they belong here as well.

Oh, friends. Can I tell you about this evening? Can I tell you about the amazing meal my husband made with a certain two-year old and his end-of-the-day sillies while I was getting some work done in a local cafe? Can I tell you about the killer Caesar salad with homemade dressing and croutons he made from a local baker’s bread and our own lettuce and cherry tomatoes and eggs and garlic and chicken? Can I tell you about the cheesy grits full of delicious butter and cheese? Can I tell you about the two-year old who screamed, “I don’t like grits I DON’T LIKE GRITS IDON’TLIKEGRITSICAN’TEATTHEM!!!!!” for a very long time and then proceeded to eat a giant plate full of Caesar salad covered in garlicky anchovy dressing?

This business of toddlers and food is a tricky one. Sometimes I want to pull my hair out. Sometimes it is so stressful I completely lose sight of the Big Picture, the one where this too shall pass, the one where I remember how important these power struggles are as our little people become bigger people, the one where I know he and we will survive his toddlerhood just fine.

I think that in those times where I can barely see past the end of my dinner fork, it is important to remember it’s not always like this. In that spirit I am reposting something I wrote a couple weeks ago over at our farm blog. I think it fits perfectly here.

As we ate these outside at the picnic table last night, in a spell of blessed cool after a quick little thunderstorm, I realized it was the fifth time we’d eaten them in under two weeks. I think that means they’re a winner. I think that means y’all need the recipe.

There’s a very small amount of grating and chopping involved, but really these fritters could not be easier. You grate a summer squash or two – I’ve learned that yellow squash, zephyr, and pattypan work best for our family and for a certain particular two-year old right now, but zucchini fritters are particularly pretty. You squeeze the excess water out of the squash with a dishtowel or paper towels – this is the one picky step, but it only takes a minute, and having tried skipping this step, I think it’s worth doing. You chop an onion – mince it, if you’re living with the same two-year old. Then you mix it all up with some flour, some cornmeal, an egg, some cheese, some salt and pepper, and you shape them into patties, and then you pop them in the oven while you set the table.  Easy peasy!

A word on picky eaters: we have one. It’s been humbling. I thought because we have fields and countertops and a fridge and two freezers all full of delicious vegetables, that he’d take to them right away. And in his first six months of exploring solid foods, he did. But then he started having strong opinions, opinions like: white and brown foods like milk, yogurt, butter, bread, cheese, crackers, pasta, oatmeal, and eggs are really quite sufficient when it comes to one’s diet. And you know what? I want him to have opinions. I want him to be able to disagree with me. I want him to figure out what he loves and what he doesn’t love. I think he needs my guidance, but I also think he needs my patience and my trust … trust that he’ll survive toddlerhood just fine, trust that he is doing what most two-year olds since the dawn of two-year olds have done, trust that he is developing just as he should.

When I was pregnant I proclaimed I’d never “hide” vegetables in food, but I’m coming to realize it’s more complicated than that. In addition to all the independent toddler stuff going on, I think little people have a very acute sense of taste and texture. I think maybe we need to take it easy on them sometimes. And if that means choosing yellow squash over zucchini sometimes, or mincing the onions instead of chopping them – well, I can do that.

I’ll add that our son loves to help me make these. “Mama, I want to grate!” he says, and so he does, with some help. “Dad, I can break the egg,” he offers, and so he does, and pretty well at that! “Let me squoosh it up, Mama!” he demands, and so he does.

And so we make fritters. Sometimes he eats them. Sometimes he just licks the ketchup off his plate. “Like a dog!” he says.

You should make them too.

Baked Squash (or Zucchini) Fritters with Garlicky Yogurt Sauce
adapted just a bit from The Yellow House

Kid-friendly! Quick! And easy too to make gluten-free – the flour in this recipe just serves as a binder, so replace it with your favorite gluten-free flour and you should be good to go. One friend replaces the flour with masa harina – that sounds really good to us! Also, while parmesan is particularly tasty in these, feel free to use another kind of cheese. We used mozzarella the first time we made these because that’s what was in the fridge, and they were still very good.

These are great with ketchup (our son’s favorite), a fried egg (my favorite), tzatziki, or the quick garlicky yogurt sauce below.

2 cups grated summer squash or zucchini, pressed between layers of a clean dishtowel or paper towels to absorb some of the water
1 small onion, minced
1/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour (or other flour – see note above)
1/3 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1 egg, lightly beaten
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.

In a large bowl, toss the squash and onion with the flour, cornmeal, and cheese. Add the beaten egg and some salt and pepper, and mix until everything comes together. Use your hands if you like; it’s fun! It should have the consistency of meatloaf.

Using your hands, gently form the mixture into small balls (about 3 tablespoons of mixture for each fritter). Place them on the baking sheet and use your hand to flatten them into small patties about a half-inch thick.

Bake for 15 minutes, until golden brown on the bottom. (If making the yogurt sauce below, make it now – this will give the flavors time to meld a bit.) Then broil for 2-3 minutes longer. The fritters should be a lovely golden color. Good warm or at room temperature. Serve with ketchup, fried eggs, tzatziki, or the garlicky yogurt sauce below.

Makes 6-8 fritters.

Garlicky Yogurt Sauce

3/4 cup yogurt
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 clove garlic, minced

Stir all ingredients together in a small bowl. Taste, and add more salt if you think it needs it. Allow to sit for at least 20 minutes if possible to allow the flavors to meld.