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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The Longest Shortest Month

I’m not from here. It always comes up in February, when I’m mystified by the hardy native New Englanders who are skating on the pond (isn’t that dangerous?!) and throwing themselves down the sides of mountains (ditto?!) all giddy and rosy-cheeked, while I am cursing the impossible curbside piles of filthy snow that send me face-planting into parking meters when I am just trying to put quarters into them. I’m from Ohio, so I did grow up with real winters, but we’re in another category ovah heah.

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This springtime farmshare haul seems like a pipe dream.

Ah, February, home of some of the most disgusting, outright unfriendly weather the year has to offer! Those of us who don’t get to flee to the tropics during school vacation week get to juggle playdates with cabin-fevered kiddos and nurse our conspiracy theories about February vacation week being some sort of winnowing plot to make the non-natives lose their already-sweaty grip on the cliff-edge of sanity. Or maybe it’s a conspiracy to sell lots of wine—a fellow parent made the convincing argument this week that we should be allowed to hook up to an IV drip of Rioja until at least March 1.

IMG_5009All of which is to say that it’s totally bonkers that it’s Lent right now. PSA: it’s February. Don’t Give Up Anything. You need it all. And also to say, on the Pollyanna side of things, that soon the sugar shacks will open, their steamy barns overflowing with pancakes and flannel shirts, and the bulb show will open, redolent with hyacinths and weirdly sexy tulips. Not yet, but soon. Until then, I bring you: bacon, butter, and cheese.

 


 

Roasted Vegetables with Polenta and Poached Eggs. And Bacon.

Adapted from this recipe at The Kitchn, with amazing Crack Broccoli from Catherine Newman.

2 medium heads broccoli
1 lb cremini or baby bella mushrooms, halved
3.5 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 cup polenta
2 cups water
1 cup milk
3 tablespoons butter
1 cup grated parmesan or romano cheese
8 eggs
1 lb sliced bacon

Cook bacon:
Heat oven to 375. Place a metal cooling rack atop a rimmed baking sheet and lay your strips of bacon out on the cooling rack. (Yes, really! This works better than a broiling pan.) Bake about 12 minutes, depending on how thick your bacon is and how crispy you like it. You don’t need to turn the bacon, really! Hands-free bacon. Set it aside to cool.

Roast vegetables:
Turn the oven up to 475 and place a rimmed baking sheet in to heat.

Cut broccoli: The stems are fabulous here, so I like to do it this way: Peel the broccoli stem with a vegetable peeler. Trim off the woody end. Cut the stem in half, and trim the top into long-stemmed florets. Cut the remaining stem into french-fry-sized pieces. In a large bowl, toss the broccoli with 3 tablespoons of the olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon sugar. (Don’t leave out the sugar, it really helps with caramelization.)

Slice mushrooms in halves or quarters so they’re about evenly sized, and toss them with another 2 teaspoons olive oil in a separate small bowl.

When the oven is up to temp, carefully pull out the hot baking sheet and dump the broccoli onto it. Use tongs to quickly spread them out, maximizing stem-to-pan contact where you can. Stick it back in the oven for 6 minutes. Toss the broccoli with tongs, then add the mushrooms and return to the oven for 3-4 more minutes.

Make polenta:
In a medium saucepan, bring 2 cups water to a boil with 1 teaspoon salt. Pour polenta into the simmering water, whisking all the while, add milk, and turn to low. Let the polenta slowly blubber and plop on the back burner with a lid half on it for about 15 minutes, whisking occasionally. Add 3 tablespoons of butter and the cheese. Stir until melted.

Make eggs:
Fry or poach eggs to your preferred doneness.

Serve:
Scoop out some polenta and roasted vegetables on each plate. Add bacon. I like to plop my eggs on top of my polenta. Maybe let the kids have some juice, even if it means they’ll bounce off the walls like ping pong balls. Serves 4.

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.