Pretend Spring

I dunno, guys. It’s pretty weird out there. Even Eileen Myles, my personal heroine of wedding/welding toughness, vulnerability and smarts, thinks it’s the end of the world. The latest Republican debate might give transcriptionists a seizure, or maybe anyone trying to follow it. We’re all lobbing election-related memes past each other on Facebook. That’s where I follow Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, which lets me know almost daily about a kid the age of mine who has killed or been killed senselessly by an unsecured firearm. Plenty of people are talking about America like it’s jumped the shark. The constant stream of reports about police brutality and debt-driven incarceration mount to a din; my outrage and despair seem only numbed and paralyzed by the frequency. The number of migrants fleeing into southeastern Europe has tripled in the past 2 months, though it hasn’t been cracking the headlines. I’ve had to supplant my afternoon public radio news habit with loud music I can belt along to. There’s only so much one can take.

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If only we all had such good attitudes about crashing.

It feels strange to walk outside and find crocuses thinking about being themselves, chart the diversifying birds daring their way up to the feeder, check the sap buckets, smell thawing earth. How can this be the same world? But it is this world I lean on to rescue me from the solipsism and anthropocentrism of our media diets. We belong to both of these fragile worlds. And each offers glimmers of beauty each day, beauty that is bound up with the struggle, not separate from it.

Read Something Beautiful

The absurd position of mothers in the only industrialized nation without mandated maternity leave is something that felt invisible to me when I became a mother only 7 short years ago. People are talking about it now, loudly, and that gives me hope:

Amy Westervelt wrote this great piece about how Having it All Kinda Sucks

Melinda Gates is talking about unpaid labor and how it affects women AND men in the global economy.

Lidia Yuknavitch writes lyrically and movingly about life’s complications, how “all the beginnings have endings in them.”

Make Something Amazing

If you have even one maple tree in your backyard, you can distill some fortifying sweetness. Practical magic like this is so worth attempting in even the smallest quantities—it always, always lifts me out of headline-induced nausea and back to a state of wonder.

Check back soon for a tutorial on making your own homemade small-batch syrup!

 

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Syrup spokesmodel and fairy princess

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O What a Lovely Morning

At last we’ve got the coating of snow I’m used to here in New England, and it hasn’t yet turned all gray and impossible. In fact, fresh powder is magnifying today’s sun nearly to full sparkle mode. Even yesterday’s snow day was easy, since I already have Stella anyway on Mondays. The addition of Sophia meant they had each other to play with, and they happily traipsed upstairs and down, taking turns selling lollipops, mothering many dolls, teaching school, and being puppies. I could scarcely believe my good fortune. Minimal squabbling! We broke out the boo-boo buddy zero times! I mended a hole in a stuffed sheep’s armpit, drank coffee, folded laundry, mixed pizza dough, and roasted garlic. Later we baked cookies, read books, and had a singalong at the piano, like something out of Little Women. The whole time I’m thinking, What the hell? 

Getting a break from the constant uphill climb feels amazing, and scary, like the other shoe’s about to drop. But let’s not let the paranoiac win! Let’s just soak it up, bemused and wide-eyed and grateful. And let’s try to keep the ball rolling by starting tomorrow off with a good breakfast.


Pear and Almond Oatmeal

Serves 4 generously

2 cups rolled oats
4 cups water
1 large pinch salt
3 large ripe pears, peeled and diced
4 tablespoons sliced or slivered almonds
3 tablespoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons almond butter
1 tsp cinnamon sugar or cardamom sugar

Combine oats, water, and salt in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer about five minutes, adding the pears in the last minute or two. Meanwhile, toast the almonds in a dry skillet, stirring frequently, until you can just start to smell them. Stir the syrup and almond butter into the oatmeal and divide among four bowls. Sprinkle cinnamon/cardamom sugar and toasted almonds atop each and serve.

Clean and Cozy

Ah, the late-January reckoning with New Year’s resolutions. After a couple weeks of eating right and exercising and going to bed on time and organizing the craft cupboard (again), I wash up on the potato-chip covered shoals of chocolate island. I give up trying to do everything right and just try to find something binge-worthy on Netflix. Well, maybe not give up, exactly. But the idealism of early January shuffles humbly into the realism of February.

I’ll still contend that our resolutions are good for us. One leaf of kale has, like, 100% more vitamins in it than zero leaves of kale. Right? Though thank goodness for a little parmesan to soften the blow. Of just about anything, really . . .

Like many others, I wrote “Konmari the whole house” on my list, and have so far done five and a half things on my checklist of over 120 categories (thank you, Pinterest). IMG_5370But hey, the girls saw my dresser drawers and wanted theirs the same way, and they love it. It also means they can find their favorites without totally destroying the drawers, so it’s definitely a win. I’m not going to be thanking my purse anytime soon (though I do sometimes feel a little bad for the poor thing), but I am finding plenty to aspire to in Marie Kondo’s blockbuster home organizing book. I don’t follow the folding technique she details, but I discovered that for me, the important part is being able to see everything at once in my drawer, and if I just put an extra fold or two in shirts and pants, they’ll cooperate. It’s been a reminder that you don’t always have to follow things to the letter, and sometimes incremental improvement is just marvelous.

I also embarked on this Clean Eating Challenge, accomplishing almost a week of produce-and-prep-intensive menus before crying “Uncle!” and putting off Week 2 til further notice. I do want to get back to it, though. The menus are delicious and the portions plentiful! And the kids liked our rule that as long as they tried everything on their plates, they could ask for a grilled cheese instead. But man, that long grocery list was expensive! The Week 1 grocery list, multiplied to serve 3, ran us $350.

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Produce ahoy!

Zoiks! On the plus side, I’ve resolved to create my own Clean Eating challenge for a family of 4 that’s much less expensive but still nutritious, yummy, and kid-friendly. I’ll let you know when that’s ready.

This Clean Eating challenge was so expensive partly because of our truly messed up food marketing and distribution system, but let’s save that for another day. The other reason was that it’s geared for spring, so I was buying out of season produce that I normally get from my farmshare. Doh! We were eating nicoise salads for lunch on frigid days, which made them harder to fully appreciate. Clean eating for winter should be cozier, and this recipe fills the bill—and your belly.


 

Dal with Cauliflower and Peas

Adapted from this recipe at Better Homes and Gardens

2 tablespoons canola oil
1 cup chopped onion
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 tablespoons curry powder
2 tsp fresh ginger, grated
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon or garam masala
7 cups water (or use half vegetable stock and reduce salt to 1 tsp)
1 large head cauliflower, chopped in small florets (chop and include the white stem, too)
2 to 2 1/2 cups yellow lentils (sometimes called yellow split peas in the store)
3 cups frozen peas
6 to 12-ounce can coconut milk

In a large skillet or saute pan, fry the onion and tomato paste in the oil over medium heat until the onions are soft and the paste starts to stick a bit in places. Stir in curry powder, ginger, garlic, salt, and cinnamon. Add 1 cup water and scrape up the brown bits with a wooden spoon.

Pour all this into a slow cooker—or if you prefer to use your oven, make the whole shebang in a heavy dutch oven. Add the remaining 6 cups of water and the lentils. Stir and cook in your slow cooker on low for 7 hours or high for 4 hours, or in a 300 degree oven for 3 hours. The lentils will fall apart into a smooth soup when you stir. It’s self-pureeing!

Add the cauliflower, peas, and coconut milk and cook on low heat (whether slow cooker or oven) for another 20 to 30 minutes. This batch serves 6 generously and will probably give you some leftovers for weekday lunches too.

Serving ideas: This is great as a thick, hearty soup on its own, but can also be served over rice, with chapatis or nan, or alongside grilled chicken if you’re feasting. I’d love to serve this with grilled yogurt-marinated chicken, chapatis, and cucumber raita.

Oatcakes

Beginnings are slippery things. We hold our just-born babies close to us, sniffing them (I wanted to lick mine, like a mama lion). We gaze deeply into their dark puffy newborn eyes, looking for clues about the person they will become. As I write this, I have no idea how this blog may propel and companion my thinking, but hope is always a good reason to begin.

I have to start with oatcakes for a few reasons: First, my eldest daughter Sophia (she’s 7) and I have made them together so many times, I’m no longer permitted to make them without her assistance. She loves to cook with me, and I’m always looking for recipes where she can have a role. It’s a great bonding time for us, and a huge source of pride for her to eat, and give to others, food that she has made. She never gets tired of it. Oatcakes, she says, are “our specialty.” And they are.

Oatcakes also make me think of Boston, and chemo. We put this recipe into especially heavy rotation when my husband J was making his daily journey to Boston for radiation treatments, and simultaneously taking chemo pills. The schedule for his meds meant there was a very small window in which he could—and definitely needed to—eat before being strapped into the amazing contraption which would shoot protons at his brain, hopefully eradicating any rogue tumor cells that his amazing surgeon had not been able to excise. These nubby, yummy oatcakes fit the bill, completely portable, delicious enough to tempt even a chemo-wobbly stomach, full of healthy sustaining goodness–with plenty of sweet stuff. You know, for luck.

We are happily on the other side of those treatment days, and hope to be for good. Every six months we cross our fingers and receive the “all clear” again from J’s doctors, and let out a breath we didn’t know we were holding, and plunge back into daily life, which now includes another daughter, Stella, born just before J finished his chemo regimen. I’m hoping that another thing you’ll find here is honest coping, celebrating, and meeting the day’s uncertainties in good company.

We’re on equal footing here, my friends. None of us knows what lies ahead, but we do know we need each other on this journey, and we know that no matter what the day brings, we still gotta eat.

IMG_0350Make yourself some of these fantastic oatcakes, and you will always have breakfast in your hand. Freeze them, individually wrapped in plastic, and throw them in your bag on a rushed morning. You can hand them to carseated people, though maybe not while you are also searching for the requested Mister G CD at the morning’s first stoplight. I guarantee this will make you feel like one of those always-lipglossed supermoms. Nevermind the spit-up on your yoga pants! The false glow of perfection can be yours for just one morning! Then bask in a heroic aura when you give these by the dozen to a new mom who needs dense one-handed food (the oats are good for her milk supply!). Although I confess, they are hard to part with, even when you’ve made a double batch.

Sophia loves to mix the dry ingredients (when she was a little younger, she loved to luxuriate in the dry ingredients all the way up to her elbows) while I melt the butter and sugar portion of things together and toast the nuts. We always make a double batch, since they freeze so well and disappear so fast. Use a large ice-cream scoop, the kind you squeeze to make the little sweeping thing cross the scoop—it kicks the sticky dough out into a beautiful round lump. If you run out of room in your muffin tins, you can quite successfully deposit your scoops right on a greased or parchment-lined baking sheet; just be extra vigilant so they don’t burn on the bottom.


Oatcakes

adapted from Heidi Swanson, from her book Super Natural Every Day

Makes about 15 oatcakes

I reduce the amount of maple syrup called for, mainly just to economize, but I don’t miss the extra sweetness. These are a bit expensive to make, but you can substitute what you have hanging around (see variations below), and I often buy just the amount of fixins I need from the bulk bins at the co-op.

3 cups rolled oats

2 cups flour (I prefer whole wheat here, Heidi recommends spelt, but even plain old white flour works in a pinch)

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1/3 cup flax seeds (I like the golden ones)

3/4 cup walnuts, toasted in a dry pan and chopped

1 cup dried cherries, chopped

1/3 cup extra virgin coconut oil

1/3 cup unsalted butter

1/2 cup maple syrup (Heidi uses 3/4 cup)

1/2 cup sugar

2 eggs, lightly beaten

Preheat your oven to 350 (325 if you are using baking sheets instead of muffin tins), and spray or butter a muffin tin.

Combine the oats, flour, baking powder, salt, flax seeds, walnuts, and dried cherries in a very large bowl—a great job for small hands.

Meanwhile, melt the coconut oil and butter in a saucepan with the maple syrup and sugar, whisking occasionally, until melted. Pour the hot mess over the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly.

Add the eggs and mix through—the whole thing will be very sticky and heavy. Pack firmly into ice cream scoops (or olive-oil your hands and make firm balls), and deposit each in a muffin spot. Bake approximately 25 minutes.

Cool in the pan on a rack about 30 minutes, then use a paring knife to help you remove them from the pans (they come out really nicely!) and dig in. Cool leftovers completely and store, individually wrapped in plastic, on the counter for up to a week, or freeze for about six weeks.

VARIATIONS:

Instead of using flax seeds, walnuts, and dried cherries, try:

toasted almonds and coconut chips, and chopped dried apricots, or

toasted pecans and dried cranberries or raisins, or

toasted pepitas, brazil nuts, and coconut

These are flexible enough to accommodate most granola-inspired variations. Just make sure your mixture is sticky, without any dry patches, and they’ll turn out great. If you need to add a drizzle of maple syrup or an extra egg to make it work, go for it.

Hot Days, Cold Noodles

I adore roasted vegetables. My kids like them raw. I love a good one-dish meal and have been known to deposit my eggs over medium directly atop an order of biscuits and gravy just to cut to the yolky chase. My girls? They like things separated out so they can regard each morsel with proper suspicion. More control that way. (Where did they get this control thing? Oh.) It’s August, which means they want to keep slacklining and pouring endless tea parties in the backyard until the moment hunger pangs morph them into hangry zombies and hurl them toward me. By which time the humidity has likely made me drippy and grumpy as well. But this dish—thank heaven!—works for us.

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As an experiment, I made sure to show it to the girls in this form, before we tossed everything together. The crisp and colorful (and easily separated) ingredients overcame their predilection for separateness, and besides, I brought out their chopsticks, so they can still ferret out one favorite bite at a time. And slurp up the tiny rice vermicelli noodles. Permission to slurp! Always a winner.

I love the flexibility, too–almost anything from the week’s farmshare can make its way into this Vietnamese-inspired cold noodle salad, dressed with herbs from the kitchen garden and yesterday’s leftover grilled chicken.


Summer Salad with Rice Vermicelli

Adapted from this recipe for Bun Chay at The Kitchn

8 ounces rice vermicelli

1/4 cup fresh lime juice (2 limes)

1/4 cup tamari or soy sauce

2 cloves minced garlic

2 T sugar

1/4 cup water

1 T toasted sesame oil (optional)

1 bunch scallions, white and green parts, thinly sliced (3/4 cup)

6 cups chopped greens and julienned vegetables: romaine, carrots, cucumbers, daikon or other radishes, hakurei turnips, sugar snap peas, zucchini, celery. Choose a variety of whatever you have on hand, looking for contrasts in texture and flavor.

2-3 cups cooked chicken, shredded or sliced into strips, OR

1 pound extra firm tofu

1 to 1 1/2 cups fresh herbs: mint, basil, cilantro, torn and/or chopped

1/2 cup salted peanuts, chopped

Cook noodles according to package directions (boil 3-5 minutes) and cool thoroughly under running water. Drain well and fluff with tongs to separate.Transfer to a large serving bowl. Whisk lime juice, tamari, garlic, sugar, water, and sesame oil (if using) together and pour over noodles, tossing to combine. Mix in the scallions.

If using tofu, slice into bite-sized strips and press with paper towels to remove excess moisture. Fry in 1/4 cup canola oil in a skillet until golden. Drain on paper towels. I like to drizzle these with a little soy sauce or Memmi.

Pile greens, vegetables, herbs, tofu and/or chicken, and peanuts atop dressed noodles. Toss before serving, with sriracha or gojuchang on the side.

Serves 4-6.