Category Archives: winter

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)

Enormously gratifying (also: eggnog!)

Regarding my progress in my seven posts in seven days challenge, this is post #4 on day #6. Not perfect, but not bad. Onward and upward!

steam

I’m thinking back on the wintry drinks of my childhood, and I think I can sum up my happy memories in two telling words: Swiss Miss. There was the occasional waxed paper cup of hot cider after a haunted hayride, to be sure, and I only have to close my eyes to see my dad’s green Stanley vacuum thermos of coffee bouncing on the black vinyl passenger seat of our sky blue Volkwagen Beetle on the occasional thrilling dirt road shortcut to KinderCare. But it was really all about the Swiss Miss: Swiss Miss to warm fingers and belly after caroling, Swiss Miss halfway through my frostbitten gig as a shepherd in our church’s live nativity, Swiss Miss from the snack bar during the third quarter of high school football games (when we marching band folks were permitted a short break), Swiss Miss after marching in our town Christmas parade.

What was it exactly? One packet was never really enough to make a satisfyingly creamy drink with 12 ounces of water – and that water was always either lukewarm, requiring Sisyphean effort with a plastic stirrer to dissolve the lumps of powder, or scalding, and you never could make yourself wait, rushed as you were to feel the tiny marshmallows on your tongue before they melted completely, so then you’d burn your tongue and it would hurt for two days. None of this diminished my love for Swiss Miss in the slightest. And I’d wager to guess that in another twenty years, my own son will recall his packets of hot cocoa mix at our favorite deli with at least as much fondness as our nights in front of the stove with real milk and a box of cocoa.

Let’s not beat around the bush: mainly it was the sugar. Rare is the kid who can resist it. But there was also something enormously gratifying about how fast you could turn something that looked like powdered tempera paint into something that smelled of cake and snowfall and Christmas break. It was like magic.

And so eggnog – the stuff in the carton with its musty nutmeg and slimy mouthfeel – really didn’t stand a chance with me in 1989, but a quarter century later, the real stuff has my heart. We make it a couple times every December. Sometimes it’s on offer at a small solstice gathering with friends, and I like to sip it when we decorate the tree too. It is, of course, lovely with bourbon, or rum, or brandy, but there is little that compares to the gleam in my son’s eyes or his frothy mustache when he drinks it, so I usually hold back the booze and we adults just add it to taste, if at all.

sunny eggs

 (seven posts in seven days)

Eggnog
adapted from Alton Brown

About the ingredients: lucky as I am to have such easy access to such high quality ingredients, I’m often reluctant to suggest you use “the best you can afford.” Most people can’t afford that stuff, and I feel strongly that a wholesome family life doesn’t depend on pastured eggs. But because eggnog is raw, taste and safety matter enormously here. Make sure you feel good about where your eggs, milk, and cream are coming from.

4 eggs, separated
1 tablespoon plus 1/3 cup sugar
1 pint whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
generous grating fresh nutmeg (about 1 teaspoon, or to taste)
3 ounces bourbon, rum, or brandy (optional)

Using a stand mixer or handheld electric mixer, beat the egg whites to soft peaks. Add 1 tablespoon sugar and beat to stiff peaks. Pour the whites into a small bowl and set them aside. You don’t need to clean your mixing bowl.

In your mixing bowl, beat the egg yolks on medium speed until they begin to lighten. Add the rest of the sugar and beat until dissolved. Add the milk, cream, nutmeg, and optional liquor, and mix on low until just combined. Gently whisk in the whipped egg whites.

This is best served right away, but leftovers can be stored, tightly covered, for about a day in the fridge. You’ll need to shake the jar before drinking leftovers.

Serves 4-8, depending on serving size.

* * *

Mark Twain said, “Too much of anything is bad, but too much good whiskey is barely enough.” Does that mean I can keep talking about eggnog?

Alton Brown’s recipe really is everything I want in eggnog: it’s rich and festive and worth waiting for, super easy to make, and delicious with or without booze. But Molly’s great-grandfather J. P. Hartt’s boozy eggnog was the first stuff to open my eyes to a world beyond the carton in the supermarket dairy aisle, close to ten years ago now, and if you’re having a party, you should consider it. Also, two years ago I made this vegan eggnog. You won’t confuse it with the traditional stuff, but it’s really very good in its own right. But wait; there’s more! I had written off storebought eggnog completely until my friend Abbie – who farms in Vermont with her family and knows a thing or two about good dairy – encouraged me to check out Organic Valley’s eggnog. Whoa! Game changer! Real food ingredients! Pastured cows! Really worth seeking out in a pinch or if you just don’t fancy making your own. But if, perhaps, you do fancy more kitchen experimenting … has anyone ever made aged eggnog? Three years! Whoa again! I want to do it. And finally, convention be damned, I really want to try this rose and cardamom eggnog (and everything else in that post).

What did you love to drink as a kid when the weather turned or during the holidays? What do you love to drink now?

solstice

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.

Of late (and still not quite wordless)

needed

needles

mailbox

pup

clothesline

first robin

bike

holly thief

back inside

Last night I was looking through photos from the last week or so. There weren’t a whole lot. Most of them were of my son: digging in the dirt floor of the shed at the farm, or shucking oysters with his dad, or building excavator factories with blocks that are three generations old, or licking an ice cream cone here in the bleak midwinter minutes before his first game of pinball. All were exactly the sort of tiny exquisite moments I hope I’ll remember even a tenth of, but this blog isn’t the place for those images.

It’s okay, I thought. IPhone pictures of my coffee and our food it is then! And truly that would have been fine. We all have to eat, after all. And while there’s not an enormous amount of farm fresh food in our kitchen right now, growing good clean food is how we pay the rent. And these days – the bay winds so cold, and the roads so slick, and me so pregnant – see us in the kitchen quite a lot. Sometimes the boys are making gumbo. Sometimes I’m making something with a bit less chopping but equal amounts of belly warming winter joy (over toasted day-old soda bread, with grated Dubliner and an egg over easy and coarse sea salt). Sometimes I am just peeling a banana and wrestling the lid off a jar of peanut butter. The kitchen is where it’s at, you know? And the dearth of outdoor photos this week is as accurate a marker as any of the season we’re in: it has not been a mild winter, and these late pregnancy hormones make me crave a deep hibernation.

But then! More snow! I confess sighing and grumbling when I looked out the bay window last night and saw the frosted street. But this morning I slept – a little late, while the boys ate breakfast – and then I hoisted myself and this babe we’re so close to meeting from the bed, and the day felt fresh. A little later the boy and I headed out with the dog, and we laughed, a lot, and we ate some snow, and I didn’t slip, and when we got home we saw scores of robins in the holly trees.

Will we meet the baby next week? Next month? Will I ever get to wear sandals again? Will I stop feeling guilty about using Netflix as a babysitter while I ignore the dishes and the laundry and just sit? What will we do for school? How hard will it be for my son to make room in his world for a sibling? How hard will it be for me?

This morning, for a while, I let it all go.

Of late

A new series? Maybe? I’ve always loved other people’s Wordless Wednesdays but something in me bucked at the phrase itself. But perhaps I can still play along. Perhaps some images once a week, or so, can be a gentle way to touch base – with you, and with myself.

I’d like to try.

stack

Make way!

thirsty

far, fog

green

wintergrass

refuge

hibernation soup

On bright blue days delight comes easy.


bootssilofinding color where i cancattailsskunk cabbageleap

At three and a half, our son seems to be doing that “kids are adaptable” thing with aplomb as he settles in up here amongst the stone walls and glaciated ridges. At three his feelings are also acute and immediate, and this long winter of preparation and packing was not easy for him. But now that we’re here and our days have some semblance of normalcy to them again, he seems to be taking in stride the loss of so much that was familiar. He’s so here, so now, and has just gotten right to work building up a brand new familiar. Of course the move means enormous changes for my husband too. But his days here are busy and new, and he’s the first to say he’s very much looking forward to a year without his nose buried in QuickBooks.

Me? In truth I half feel like I’m still treading water. I’m not melancholy. It’s nothing like October, when the decision to leave our farm was still so raw. But it’s not July yet either.

Case in point? This Hudson Valley winter. This, friends, is going to take some getting used to. No, it’s not Arctic. It’s not even New England. But it is COLD. And brown. And icy. And long. Perhaps I’ve been coddled by too many easy Virginia winters – because I did grow up in Pennsylvania, and I did live in New York City for much of my twenties. I’m confident that in time the heady southern springs will be less the thing I yearn for come March and more just a part of how we tell our son about the place where he was born. I remember that in the first months of my pregnancy in 2009 I thought I might burst with vernal delight, that clamor of blossoming trees and all that green seeming to cheer on the tiny new life in my belly. I suppose that bit of magic did set the bar for spring pretty high.

But I’m confident too that, soon enough, the northern bellwethers will come to be just as comforting as those Virginia redbuds and dogwoods and wisteria. Look at that amazing skunk cabbage in the marsh, two photos up – do you know it makes its own heat, upwards of 60°F above air temperature, melting its way through the frozen ground, confidently and without complaint, to thrust its speckled burgundy spathe through the mud?? Geese are everywhere, filling the skies with their glorious racket. And who could’ve expected I’d come to be so enamored of mud? If our boots are crusted with it and our floors splattered and smeared, can it be too long before I linger with my coffee at sunrise on the back deck?

If I’m half homesick, missing blossoms and Kaffeeklatsches and our land, well then, I am also half drunk on my own delight in all that is new. When were those stone walls built? What kind of rock are those cliffs carved from? Those evergreens are enormous – what are they? If these hardwoods ever get leaves again, will I know them by sight or will I need to go on long walks with my Peterson guides? What’s this – oh, ouch! It’s a chestnut! Right there in the yard! And look at those marshes! And all those ponds! And those vast black dirt onion fields! Of course there are people here too. They run diners and ice cream shops, and they know how to make the kind of bagels and pizza I’ve been missing for years, and they invite us over for breakfast, and they tell us where the playgrounds are, and the good Indian lunch buffets too, and how on this sweet green earth one can procure a library card. (You might think this would be easier to procure than, say, raw milk, but you would be wrong.)

From such diverse and abundant raw material we are beginning to piece together our days. Sometimes the skies are too grey and the winds too fierce, and my resolve to get us outside in all kinds of weather just doesn’t stand a chance against my kid’s grumps. On those days we bake, or we keep unpacking our books, or we take long and winding drives. But sometimes the skies are blindingly blue and so we tug on our boots and zip our coats and off we go. I tell him about cattails and we laugh as the dogs leap the creeks and I swear one day last week we startled a pheasant up out of the rushes. We stop at luncheonettes for bagels and coffee, and the waitress at one already knows that my kid would like two crayons, one red and one blue please, and she cuts the straw down to size for him special. We are missing our own vegetables like the dickens, but we need to eat fresh vegetables just the same, and it’s lots of fun trying new cabbages and squashes from the big Asian market. There is a great spot for coffee just down the road – I have not had a lovely little luxury like that since my NYC days. We’re looking up swim classes (what with all these ponds), and while I haven’t found a great spot yet for bulk grains and spices, buying fresh milk is as easy as going to the farm and paying for it. We’re trying out a weekly parent-child class at a small Waldorf school. On weekends we sometimes stick close to home but more often, so far, we are taking advantage of what seems like unbelievable good fortune: living within easy driving distance again of family and old friends. If things work out here, my son will grow up knowing his cousins and with loads of aunties both kith and kin.

So here we are. On bright blue days delight comes easy. On harder days I am trying to take cues from the skunk cabbage, burgeoning through the frozen mud, and of course also from my resident bodhisattva, who cries when he is sad, eats when he is hungry, laughs when life is funny, and gives the best hugs.