Saturdays in the Kitchen

Picture of our walk – photo by Eli 5 Stone

As January rolled in with our first snowstorm and kid snow day, so did a critical phase of what Eli and I are referring to as our ’10 year plan’, our combined target of some big goals, like adoption, which we are just in the waiting phase on, and some really big house renovations, and a parallel track to financial independence. In order to achieve our goals it’s going to require serious focus. And in 2022, that means tightening our belts and evaluating all of our expenses.

I’ve found that spending less feels onerous without a goal, and only minimally painful with one (or more). And we are going for strategic use of our money, with travel a priority, but focused on trips where we can use hotel, airline and car rental points or the RV, as much as possible. Our recent loss of my brother in law, still fresh and painful, has taught us not to wait to make memories, but like with all things, balance and a plan for the future – a plan that there will be a future -is required.

I sat down to start this post the other night with a glass of inexpensive wine, and a bowl of Half Baked Harvest’s One Pot Hamburger Helper , which uses up a lot of my frozen shredded zucchini, as well as a bunch of the fancy leftover Christmas cheese and is filling and warm and yummy. I used cassava pasta instead of traditional pasta and added a splash of white wine for flavor, but this recipe is good, healthy and uses up what’s in the freezer and the pantry.

Because if you preserve something you really need to eat it. Past me was admittedly terrible about this, forgetting things in the freezer and fridge, current me is getting much, much better at it. For us, meal plans, batch cooking and planning ahead are the only things that work. And because our lives get so busy, cooking ahead saves us a ton of stress.

Yesterday Eli and I went to the grocery store and then I spent about 5-6 hours in the kitchen. I made Anadama Bread, a double batch of Butternut Squash Lasagna with Garlic and Rosemary, chipotle turkey stuffed sweet potatoes with spinach, and a pot of healthy Butter Chicken with mashed cauliflower for Saturday dinner. I also took some of the last of the beets we had from our farm share, and peeled and chopped them small, coated them in olive oil, salt and pepper and roasted them at 375 degrees until slightly crunchy. Roasted beets are a no-recipe recipe that both Eli and I love.

We have lunches now to take us at least until Wednesday, between the stuffed sweet potatoes and a pot of French Onion Soup I made on Friday night. We have a squash lasagna for the freezer, which will reappear on a night where no one has the time and energy to cook and provide lunch leftovers for a few days, and we had a great dinner from about 20 minutes of effort.

Later this morning I will return to the kitchen and prep tonight’s dinner and Monday as well. Tonight is a simple batch of parmesan-crusted chicken, with broccoli and popovers on the side, and Monday is likely the bulgogi I prepped and froze in December, with a side of couscous and edamame. Eli takes meal prep Tuesday and Thursday so the next time I’m on duty is Wednesday, but we’ll see how the leftover situation is then, we might need to eat down what we’ve made, or we may pull some chili from the freezer.

We’ve tried batch cooking and eating the same thing for days, but generally that isn’t popular here, and it doesn’t help us when we have highly variable meats that arrive from our local meat subscription, or when we have to plan around garden/CSA produce, also highly variable, so we try instead to rotate meals that we enjoy that allow us to use up the food we have. And I go looking (and get inventive) when I need new recipes for when we have something to use up. Right now our pumpkins and squashes need using, so the squash lasagna and stuffed sweet potatoes served multiple purposes.

We’ll be eating stuffed spaghetti squash probably once a week for the next few weeks too, as we have a plethora of them that we grew, and they won’t last forever. I’m holding on to some tomatoes that I froze in the fall to make a giant batch of sauce later this month, and that will turn into spaghetti and meatball dinners and probably lasagna and homemade pizza too.

Come February, it will be time to go to work on the sweet potatoes and keeping onions we bought back in October before they reach the end of their life. By early March, when we start our seeds most of the pesto will be gone from the freezer and we’ll be mostly beholden to the grocery store for our fresh fruit and veggies, although my plan is to plant some greens next weekend to supplement with lettuce for salads and greens for stir fry. In April and May the farm stands will open again, and we’ll maybe wander into Boston to Haymarket to supplement now and again if time allows. By then we’ll be back in the garden as well, and by June the garlic scapes will be turning into pesto again. But for now, the unhurried afternoons in the kitchen keep us warm and well-fed, and are part of what has become our annual cycle of food use here at Sithean.

Bird Feeder in the Snow by Eli 5 Stone

Comfort Food

Saturday Comfort Soup

Having a stomach bug followed by immense tragedy kind of sticks a fork, as it were, in food preparation. Other than the occasional piece of toast I didn’t really eat for several days again after our loss, but when I did get hungry again I just wanted soup.

Meanwhile, the food here was piling up. More than 20 spaghetti squashes, and several pumpkins, not to mention tomatillos were still ripening in the garden. My husband, daughter and niece came home from our last week of CSA with tons of veggies, followed immediately by an order from Azure Standard, placed long before we knew that we would not be hungry. And my lovely friend brought a half bushel of apples over. Add to that the food already here that had been uneaten for almost a week, plus the overflow of generosity that was emanating from my sister’s, and there was no way I could justify anything like take out.

I was in the process of turning roaster chicken into chicken broth in my crock pot that will become Chicken Soup with Rice for Sunday dinner. The kids were with their Dad, and chicken rice soup is something we would only eat with them, so instead I turned to the the piles of butternut squash and sweet potatoes and onions we had brought home from New York, and started googling. And there wasn’t quite the thing. But a few ideas from other recipes and some of me just tossing things into a pot later, and what came out was all the right parts of dense, spicy, tangy, creamy, slightly sweet and warm in one. Cheap, healthy and filling too. But importantly it was comforting. There’s just something about soup that fills in not just on cold days but also in moments where you need to feel warm in your soul.

I roasted a butternut squash in the oven and then began to cut up onions and garlic, sauteeing them in olive oil. I then added a largeish sweet potato in chunks and a quart of chicken broth. Once that had cooked for a while, and the potatoes were tender, I scooped in the roasted squash, added 2 tablespoons of red curry, salt, a can of coconut milk, cilantro and a generous teaspoon of lime juice. I had no idea how this was all going to come out.

I cooked it all together for a few more minutes and spooned it into my bowl. I suppose I could have pureed the whole thing, but I liked the chunks of sweet potatoes swirling in the orange soup. I topped it with more lime juice, which added brightness and depth, some chives and then proceeded to eat more than my fair share. This is a meal you could serve to company or just eat in bed with a book and a cup of tea on the side, very carefully, as I did.

And then…I felt better. For the first time in days, almost myself. And then the sun came out, and Eli brought me tea.

Saturday Comfort Soup
1 medium butternut squash, halved and seeded
1 large sweet potato, chopped into spoon-sized chunks
3 onions, diced
2-4 cloves garlic, depending on the size
2-3 teaspoons red curry paste
1 can full-fat coconut milk
1 quart of chicken or vegetable broth
2 teaspoons fish sauce
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cilantro
Lime juice, to taste and more for topping each bowl

Oil a baking sheet and roast the butternut squash, face down until fork tender, about 25 minutes at 350 degrees F.

Meanwhile, saute the onion and garlic until soft. Add the broth and sweet potato and cook until tender. Add the fish sauce, salt, coconut milk, cilantro, curry paste and lime juice and let cook another 5 minutes or so.

Serve with a sprinkle of chives and a little lime juice for extra flavor. The good feeling that will spread through your belly comes free with the food.

Home Food

It was raining yesterday morning, so the sun didn’t rise for the last day of 2020. It went from black to grey and unsettled in the early hours, which seems fitting for this year. When the sun set, we were feasting on our tradition of homemade Chinese food, all from scratch, with a movie to accompany. It was simple, but it was home, and traditions are comfort. For all that we love to travel, home is the nicest word, and everyone deserves that feeling.

A lot of people don’t have it, and may never. When someone tells me that they aren’t political, I become puzzled. 40 million people sit on the brink of eviction due to job losses and economic instability from the pandemic, through no fault of their own. The only thing that is saving them, that can, is policy. We will in 2021 potentially be 8 billion meals short of feeding all our citizens without direct intervention.

Feeding and housing people shouldn’t be something of politics, but it is policy, and it is the basics. Think of the things that make you feel safe when life is uncertain. Food. This is why breadbaking became a thing this year. Bread is literally the staff -and the stuff – of life. That feeling of warmth, safety, and being fed and nourished. Family. ‘I just want to hug my people’ is something I heard over and over. And home. If we could all come together and agree on one thing, I would hope it is that everyone deserves a safe place to sleep and food.

Maybe someday we will get there.

2020 saw so many things, but what was interesting to me in these unstable times is how very much things like stocked pantries, vegetable gardens, and food security became important. The mass exodus from cities to find a home somewhere. I suspect one of the lasting effects of the pandemic is that people will be more rooted. Multi-generational households will be more common.

That sense of place, a touchstone in the madness is important. It’s why when I arrived here 4 years and 10 days ago, there was a clear decision involved – for me, and then Eli and I, Sithean is forever. We plan to be able to pass it to our children, whether they want it or not is their decision. We will leave the land better than we found it, with the soil enriched, fruit trees producing, a place for our beloved chickens intact. What happens after we leave this earth, hopefully a long time from now, isn’t up to us. But what we do with our time is.

Our focus for our property is a combination of making it more beautiful and doing critical infrastructure work. And continuing traditions as well as making new ones, so that the other humans in our little tribe, our pod, our family, associate it with the things that make home.

Last night that was homemade Chinese and Thai food. Some people grow up going out for brunch on Sundays, but not us. My father would take us for Dim Sum in Boston’s Chinatown. We would hold a handwritten number, with a chop on one side and number on the other, and they would call diners, seemingly at random but really based on table availability. If you were a small group, you would be seated with others at a large round table, and then the carts would start coming by. Bao, deep fried crab claws, shrimp-stuffed eggplant, Ha Gow, and my favorites, chive dumplings and turnip cakes. Of course, every kind of dumpling available. We would eat and eat and eat until we could fit no more.

And still to this day, these foods are comfort foods to me. With no Asian family history to speak of, I’m as comfortable with how to use Wonton wrappers as I am with making Sunday bacon. My kids don’t have the same childhood of enforced wandering around Boston’s historic sites every weekend, but the food is one I am determined they will grow up with. Which is why yesterday afternoon you might have found Eli and my daughter cheerfully making scallion pancakes from start to finish. Usually Connor is my dumpling maker, but yesterday he punted, so it was just me.

Early phases of pad thai

The thing about this food is that once you get the right ingredients, it’s not hard. Stunningly easy, actually. My dumpling recipe comes from a really excellent cookbook called Dim Sum by Ellen Leong Blonder, and between the detailed illustrations and the simplicity, it’s one of my favorites.

You will need:
1 package wonton wrappers (I use the round ones, but square is fine)
8 oz ground pork
8 oz finely shredded napa cabbage
2 tablespoons crushed ginger
1 (or 2 small) scallions, finely chopped
Salt
2 teaspoons soy sauce or tamari
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons rice wine
1 tablespoon sesame oil

Add the chopped napa cabbage (it has to be napa, regular cabbage is a little too thick) to a bowl with about a tablespoon of salt and let sit for an hour. After the hour is up the cabbage will be heavily wilted. Rinse it in a colander and squeeze out as much water as you can with your hands.

Meanwhile, make the dumpling mixture. Take all the other ingredients other than the wontons and mix well in a bowl. Mix in the drained cabbage. Lay out the wonton wrappers on a cookie sheet 5-6 at a time, and wet the edges with water (it helps to keep a small bowl of warm water for this purpose at hand). place a scant teaspoon of the mixture at the center of each wrapper and fold in half. Create 3 folds, or pleats in the top if you like.

Once you are finished with putting all of the dumplings together, you can start to cook in batches, or you can freeze them in baggies, being careful to keep each dumpling separated or they will thaw together in a giant lump – I tell you this from experience, not the cookbook.

To cook, coat a nonstick pan or wok in oil, and fry on medium heat for 2 minutes per side, then add 1/2 cup of water and let it cook off. Once the water is cooked off, let the dumplings sear for about 45 seconds on each side and then remove. Cook in batches of about 10 per batch. Serve immediately.

Dumplings Cooking in the pan

The warmth you feel in your stomach will spread quickly through your soul.
Happy New Year to you and yours.

Pancakes for Breakfast

Ends are always beginnings, be it storybooks or seasons. After our blast of early arctic weather for Halloween the days got warm, so warm that we could see family outside in upstate NY in early November and come home to work on the yard in relative comfort. I had not seen my sister and that part of the family in a year due to the pandemic, and those moments are precious. We won’t have another chance to see extended family for a while, given the spiking infection rates, so it was worth the quarantine time to do it.

We came home with bulk vegetables again this year – sweet potatoes, onions, butternut and Hubbard squashes, Crispin apples, which are my favorite. They will store for months as we eat them, and eat them we most definitely will. They, along with deliveries from Misfits Market will be the primary source of our veggies for the winter.

The dehydrator continues to produce apple chips for munching -and we do, in unmeasurable quantities. Given the half bushel of apples that came home with us last week the dehydrator will continue it’s work for a while, but otherwise the preserving is done. I admit a sense of relief about that – I love looking, not to mention eating – at our home-preserved goods, but it’s a huge amount of effort and time that now needs to go to other things.

The cold returns intermittently, even as a few last of the outside things remain to us. Last weekend Eli and I tore out the vegetable garden, planted a full garden bed’s worth of garlic, and put down a layer of insulation and feed for the garden -when Eli cleans out the chicken coop in the fall, that becomes garden soil topping and food for the soil. The ammonia smell has the upside of driving away most of the animals that want to burrow under the fence and eat the garlic as well, so I’m hopeful. A week later no animal yet has braved the smell.

We still have some yard cleanup to do, now that most of the leaves are down, and some last tulip bulbs to plant, but we are mostly done with outdoor work for the winter. Seven trees came down this week, all giant pines that were in the general vicinity of the tree that fell on the house in 2017. More have to come down in the spring, but for now, all the big-budget items are done for the year.

Which is just fine with me.

We have turned our energy inside to insulating windows, and then small indoor projects for the winter. Cleaning, organizing, maybe painting the kitchen. I am looking forward to the quiet of winter. The holidays will be small this year, in more ways than one, but I look forward to them nonetheless – this may be the last year my son is a believer in Santa, and so will relish the moments, while trying to accept that a different kind of holiday magic will take over after that. But first all the things – cutting our tree at the nearby tree farm that once upon a time was our next door neighbor, homemade cookies and peppermint bark, hiding gifts.

And there is always our New Year’s Eve, filled with homemade Chinese dumplings, scallion pancakes, and deliciousness. Everyone pitches in for that meal, and the eating of it is the culmination.

With infections spiking everywhere, we start to make hard decisions about who we can see and how we can spend time. Outdoors, for walks and around the fire pit. But it is going to limit and isolate us to an extent, and there’s no real avoiding that. We are battening down the hatches for a winter as a small group again, and prepping for a likely lockdown. But I’ve learned the key is things to look forward to. Random invented holidays. Tiny surprises. Scavenger hunts. Going for walks with Teddy the dog, who still doesn’t quite get the concept of walking but is trying valiantly.

It doesn’t fix all of the things we’re losing, but it does help.

Now that the cold is here, pancakes and bacon on Sunday mornings are another important tradition to keep. My recipe is an adapted version from Allrecipes.com, and simple as can be. Warm, cozy, and the total effort is maybe 15-20 minutes. You will never need to buy pancake mix again.

Fluffy Sunday Pancakes
3/4 cup milk
1 tbsp vinegar (white is best but rice or cider works just fine)
2 tbsp butter
1 large egg
1 c flour (can supplement up to 1/4 c non-white flour such as wheat, spelt, etc)
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tablespoon sugar
dash of vanilla

Add the vinegar to the milk and let stand for 5 minutes. ‘soured’ milk functions like buttermilk for recipes. After 5 minutes it will be somewhat lumpy on top.

Melt the butter. Add the egg and melted butter to the sour milk mixture, and whisk together thoroughly.

Add the dry ingredients to a bowl and mix well. Add the wet ingredients and mix thoroughly. The mixture can be a little lumpy, but get out any big lumps.

Spoon into a lightly greased or nonstick frying pan on medium heat. When small bubbles appear on the side facing up, flip the pancakes. This should take about a minute, maybe a little less if the pan is good and hot. Cook on side two until both sides are lightly browned.

Keep warm in the oven and repeat until the batter is gone. Makes about 12 medium pancakes.


Warm Things

The snow came to Sithean, more than three inches of it, and stayed as the world succumbed to a deep freeze. When I woke up Saturday morning it was 21 degrees F and the world was coated in an icy white blanket, a cold finale to all the things that grow.

I can only hope that the baby fruit trees survive, since we ran out of time to wrap them in their winter covers. I had expected chilly and a few snow showers this early, but not a freezing snowstorm. They look okay, but time will tell.

We all stayed curled up under blankets for a while, but eventually the need to get things accomplished pulled me from my cozy spot, and I started my final round of food preservation. Kale chips, which are simply washed kale, pulled in bite sized pieces off the stems, tossed in olive oil and salt, and baked for 10 minutes at 350 degrees, are some of my favorite treats. I made that last batch of salsa verde – possibly my best batch to date – and put together a simple chicken broccoli pasta with pumpkin-shaped pasta and then roasted a bunch of root vegetables in balsamic vinegar and olive oil at 400 F for several hours while my amazing husband pulled together a Halloween Scavenger Hunt, since trick-or-treating didn’t fit our risk model this year.

Which is hard, because the kids were pretty sad about it. Still, we counted our blessings and at least managed a quick hello to our amazing nanny/teacher Lauren, who had bags of treats and hugs for the kids.

By this morning, the snow was gone, but the grey skies remained. November, and Daylight Saving time is upon us, and we are in a rush to prepare for the rest of the cold weather – insulating windows, putting cozy flannel sheets on beds, ensuring that the log holder in the living room is well-stocked for fires.

And the season for warm, cozy food is upon us. This morning I tested out Gingerbread Brioche Cinnamon Rolls, and while the dough was far too dense and heavy for me and the kids to really enjoy, the flavors are amazing. If you make it, start with a 1/2 cup flour less than the recipe calls for, and roll the dough thinner.

I’ll be perfecting this one over time.

Sunday dinner is a revisit of Instant Pot Beef Bourguignon. Add to that a little prep work on Italian Pot Roast that I will put in the crock pot tomorrow morning, and thawing some chicken meatballs to go in lemongrass miso broth and we are set for a while. My goal this week is to have enough leftovers to get us through lunches and at least one dinner.

The chill may be creeping into New England, but inside Sithean we are cozy warm.

Harvest

Photo by Eli5Stone

I woke up yesterday to a chilly morning, dark and 46 degrees F. It was cold enough Friday night that we brought the lemon tree into the house. Soon enough it will have to live inside again until May, along with the hibiscus trees, but not yet. Please not yet.

The garden seems to know that the end is coming. Pumpkins and squash are ripening faster, ready to be picked and cured for a few weeks – stored in a cool place before eating to let the sugars develop better – and the tomatoes require picking twice a day. Fall raspberries are producing in abundance, and the apple tree needs clearing off.

The dehydrator runs almost nonstop these days, mostly turning our cherry tomatoes into dried ones, to be packed in oil and used on our winter pizzas, pastas, and wherever else I can use them. My neighbors can the bigger tomatoes and the San Marzano tomatoes for me (I grow, they can, which is a fantastic arrangement).

Dehydrating tomatoes is easy – slice in half, coat in olive oil and salt, and pop in the dehydrator. Mine takes about 24 hours to turn into dried tomatoes but every dehydrator works a little differently. As soon as I get the next jar filled with dried tomatoes I’ll switch to making apple chips – adding a little lemon juice before drying keeps them from turning brown, but apples need no other help.

Our weekends are busy beyond compare these days, as we still work on cleaning and organizing on top of preserving, still finishing the projects we started in July and we have also started homeschooling, after determining that remote school wasn’t really going to work out for the kids. There’s more things to do than there is time, so we do as much as we can in priority order, jettisoning the things lower on the priority list for now.

Food preparation on weekends doesn’t get us through the whole week, but it does get us through several days each week. Today I’ll be making a double batch of Chicken Parmesan and thawing sausage for Lentil Sausage Soup. On top of that I’m going to finally make these treats for the kids, preserve some zucchini, which is still, unbelievably, producing in the garden, and start the process of making grape jam. My neighbors have Concord Grape vines, and there were more than they needed this year.

Despite all the things to do, the nonstop motion of our lives is winding down. In just a few more weeks all the preserving will be done. While housework, laundry and errands never end, we are beginning to see the end of the major reorganization and home improvement projects as well. This weekend, as we completely cleaned out and reorganized the living room and hallway closet, I could start to see the the light at the end of the tunnel. Sure, there will always be organizing to do, but the big stuff is getting knocked off. Soon enough, I’ll stop writing blog posts about how much we are doing and focus on one or two things (with recipes) to share again.

Even our newest household member, Teddy, is settling in. Teddy came to us from some family members, and is, even for me, who has never necessarily been a ‘dog person’ a fun addition. That he likes to canoe with us helps a great deal.

Teddy the Canoe Dog

But even despite that, we took the time to have a great dinner last night together, and watch a movie. In a few weeks we’ll take some time to do some fall camping. If the garden doesn’t get cleaned out and readied for the winter until November, and the laundry doesn’t get folded today, oh well.

When there’s everything to do, the best thing you can do is decide to focus on what you can, and avoid any pressure – internal or external – on your priorities. Through all this I try to remember the wise words that we are Human Beings, not Human Doings. And I rest, between whirs of the food processor. I hope you can too.

Zucchini Rainstorm

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It finally, finally rained. Our part of Massachusetts is officially in drought, and while we need more, I’ll take every drop I can get.  As I watched the grass brown and the dirt turn to dust where we weren’t watering,  I worried more and more.  When it rains, I feel like I can breathe again.

My garden is mostly faring well, although a family of hares and a groundhog made short work of most of our snap peas, the last of the lettuce and quite a few cucumber plants.  I’m hopeful that the cukes will recover, but it’s questionable.  I go out to check the garden regularly, and I find the groudhog especially bold – he just looks at me and keeps munching until I get close, then finally scampers off, to come back right when I stop looking through a hole in the fence.

I shout and scare him away, feeling part Mr. McGregor and part Beatrix Potter, because the animals are adorable and I like them here, although I wish they would do just a tiny bit less chomping.  My life is a storybook in more ways than one.

The weekends fly by here, with so much to do and not nearly enough time to do it in.  I’ve managed to keep the Potager mostly weeded, and am making inroads into the trench bed.  I took my turn picking up veggies at our CSA this week, and picked some herbs in the gardens there – basil, sage, thyme and lavender make a lovely scented bouquet and taste wonderful as well.   Yesterday I cleaned off the porch, which had collected just a little too much mess,  and began to store some clothes – with our upcoming re-engineering of spaces, some things just have to go into storage.  If I don’t miss them, they can leave permanently, but I often find when I purge too fast I end up replacing the things I let go of, so I’m more cautious about it these days.  Still, an inch at a time we get closer to where we want to be.

July is just about here.  This year is flying by.  Zucchini is ripening in abundance, and it leads me to one of my favorite simple dinners – Zucchini noodles and cherry tomatoes in pesto.  It’s simple, fast, incredibly healthy, and right about now starts being local food.  You can put chicken or salmon on top, a bit of Parmesan, and you have an amazing dinner.   My pesto recipe is here but you can always buy some.  Still, fresh is so easy, and so delicious.

You will need:

2 medium zucchini (can we please call them courgettes, like they do in Britain?)
A couple handfuls of cherry tomatoes
A pan with olive oil swirled
Some pesto
Salt and pepper to taste

Slice or spiralize the zucchini, and saute until soft.  Add the tomatoes midway, and allow them to get soft as well.  Season with salt and pepper.  Remove from heat and stir pesto into the hot pan, coating everything thoroughly.  Sprinkle with Parmesan.

No need to measure a thing, just cook to taste.

Serves 2

 

 

 

 

 

Enchilada Mango Cooking Math

IMG_5584
Photograph by Eli 5 Stone

I’ve never really understood mangoes.  Oh, don’t get me wrong, I like them, immensely, and in almost anything.  In salad, as salsa, in my breakfast smoothies, as a sweet offset to savory Asian food of almost any variety, you name it, mangoes always make it taste just that much better.

But I’ve never quite gotten the hang of how to dissect one (yes, yes, I know, there’s almost certainly some tiresome YouTube guru who can teach me this in a four minute twelve second video if I just took the time. Being perfectly honest with you, I almost certainly will, but I don’t really want to) and I’m completely mystified about how one end of a mango can be completely ripe, if not over-ripe, and the other end can continue to be hard as a rock.  It’s not like they are that big, just over the size of a softball in most cases, so it’s not as though each single fruit is ripening in multiple growing zones.   Also they have the biggest pits – a huge chunk of the mango is actually the pit part.  Pit overachievers, are mangoes.  So I just peel them and slice off a bunch that isn’t pit, and it seems to work out.  But I’m sure there’s a better way that, in all likelihood, I’ll never actually be curious enough to discover.

IMG-2985

This is the funny thing about adulthood.  It’s almost as much about what you aren’t willing to do as you are.  There’s those things you have to do, and those things you do because you like to, and the things you do because it’s what responsible people do, like making sure your children bathe on the regular, even if sometimes you care a little less than you are supposed to about whether they washed behind their ears properly (they look and smell clean, ok?).  There’s also the things that you would do, as time, money and opportunity present themselves, like exploring Fiji or reading a Bill Bryson book while tucked up in bed with a glass of wine, which is a great way to spend a Saturday evening.

And then there’s the things that you jettison because you simply don’t care enough.  For me, this includes skiing, which everyone around me seems to enjoy, but from my perspective seems just a lot of up and down in cold weather (this from the person who can run for miles without a goal of actually getting to any particular place), watching informative videos, which would bore met to tears but are too boring to elicit that much emotion, or going on cruises, which I’ve always viewed suspiciously, and now that they are Covid-19 hotbeds of infection, seems to be validating my general skepticism of why anyone would want their hotel to be swimming in the ocean when there’s perfectly good land nearby.

So my list of things is almost certainly not yours, and that’s all good.  But one thing we should probably agree on is that the idea that everyone needs to master cooking before actually doing some cooking is just silly.

The average life expectancy of an adult in the United States is 78.4 years.  If you remove the first 18, in which it seems likely that others do the bulk of the cooking, that leaves 60.4 years in which you need to feed yourself, on average 3 times per day.  That’s just over 22,000 meals you have to eat, and if you happen to get married and have a couple children, that’s a lot of food.  And look, I like a bowl of Cheerios for dinner as much as anyone, but there’s only so much of that you can do before you have to do something with food that requires heat and seasoning.

Let’s skip the math of servings for 40 years of marriage and 18 years of kids plus college summers and all the friends of your teens that come over and eat the pantry empty and dinner parties for a bunch of people in which you make 6 kinds of taco fillings because it seemed like a good idea when you were planning the party 2 months earlier but then partway through you realize you never want to eat another taco as long as you live or at least for a week or two, because who gets tired of tacos, really?

Still, you have to feed yourself at some point, and while you can outsource that pretty well, having mastery of at least a few dishes is a great confidence builder.  After all, no one other than your spouse needs to know that you only really know how to cook 3 things, and presumably your spouse likes you for other reasons.

So if you cannot cook do not rush out and try to overachieve, and master some intricate meal with expensive, single use ingredients.  Am I going to tell you to roast a chicken with mascarpone?  Or how to bone a duck?  No, no no.  You should first master enchiladas.  And if you are so inclined, a quick mango salsa to go on top.

Why?  Because enchiladas are incredibly filling, and equally incredibly forgiving.  You can modify almost any part of the recipe.   And mango salsa is delicious and super classy looking.  These two things together will wow a potential date, future in-law, or colleague, and you can post them on Instagram and everyone will ooh and ahh.  Who cares if you haven’t actually folded laundry in 2 years?  You can still achieve Kitchen Godhood.

This is a photogenic meal.  One that a single person could eat for days on.  I just ate some leftovers for lunch and it’s just as delicious the next day.

I need to stop and note here that my husband is the enchilada maker in the family.  His are so good that I don’t even bother trying.  These are not fancy food, they have simple ingredients like enchilada sauce from a can – yes, you can make your own, but that’s an endeavor for later – taco seasoning and cream cheese.  This is accessible cooking at it’s finest, and that’s the first step into the more complex stuff, should you so choose.  It’s simple, it’s pretty, it’s affordable, and it’s cheesy.  What more can you ask for?

Simple Mango Salsa 
2 mangoes, medium sized, peeled and chopped
1/3 of an English cucumber, chopped small
1/2 medium red onion
1 lime, juiced
Couple dashes cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper to taste

Chop everything, put in a container with a lid, shake well.  Let stand about 2 minutes and shake again before serving.  Also, start with this.  Once you are done chopping and you have a pretty bowl of salsa in front of you, you will probably feel as though you have superpowers.  Whether you put on a cape is up to you.  I don’t judge.

A note on the enchilada recipe – this is a consolidation of my husband’s notes and my editing.  All pictures are by him.

E’s Enchiladas
2 pounds of chicken breast cut into 2-3″ chunks
4 ounces of cream cheese, more or less
Taco seasoning, half packet
2 10 oz. cans red enchilada sauce  (we go with mild, because children)
1 yellow onion
2 plus cups shredded cheese, Mexican blend
5 to 8 flour tortillas
Salt & pepper to taste
Olive oil as needed 

Chop an onion somewhat fine

In a well-oiled pan, place chunks of chicken breast and cook over medium-low heat.

When they are cooked most of the way through, one at a time, remove them to a cutting board and shred with a couple forks (you can also cook them in the instant pot with some broth to make them shreddable, about 12 minutes if, like wife, you have no patience for this step)

Put chicken back in the pan, and repeat with each chunk until all chicken is shredded.  Toss in your onion, a bit more olive oil, cream cheese and taco seasoning.  Once everything is cooked together, toss in a handful of shredded cheese.  If you want to add some herbs, jalepenos or some other veggies like peppers, now is the time
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While chicken finishes cooking and cheese is melting still on medium heat, coat a baking dish with olive oil. A 9×12 baking dish is great, but enchilada sizes are flexible so your dish can be, too. Just remember that metal will heat faster than glass, so keep an eye on your dish as it cooks andreduce heat by 25 degrees if using metal.

Gently pour in one can of enchilada sauce over oiled dish, set aside.  Using a clean baking sheet for work surface (cutting boards also work) place a single tortilla on the pan, and fill and roll.

 

 Note from E: I wish I could say there was an art to rolling an enchilada, and maybe there is but I don’t care to learn it. Just put a blob of gooey chicken mix toward one end and roll toward the other. Just remember to place them into the baking dish seam side down. 

Place each rolled enchilada in the oiled, enchilada sauce-filled pan as you go.

Now that your enchiladas are all in a row or the shape of a series of poorly cut floor boards in the baking dish, (and your pan and cutting board are soaking in the sink), pour the second can of enchilada sauce over the top. You can coat the whole surface for maximum goo factor, or leave some exposed tortilla, up to you. Sprinkle the remainder of your shredded cheese over the entirety of the dish. Use as much as you like, the “2 cups plus” noted above is just a suggestion. We love cheese, so Eli goes wall to wall with it.

Bake at 375 for 30 to 40 minutes, covered except for the last 10 minutes.  Remove from oven when cheese is browned at the edges and bubbling.  Devour.

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For the Love of Food

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The other night, my husband and I were alone and simultaneously not consumed by work taking up our attention 24/7 for the first time in weeks.  Spring is exploding all around us, even as the worldwide deaths climb to nearly 250,000, 65,000 in the United States alone.  Massachusetts is a hot spot, and we remain in lockdown until at least May 18, but perhaps longer.  As we hear the news around us, and continue to isolate from the people we love, we are trying to focus on the things we can control – working hard, taking care of the kids and the house and yard, tending our animals, each other.

And like so many others, our focus is often in the kitchen.

Since we were alone and wanted time together more than anything, I made Beef Burgundy in the instant pot, and we settled in to start watching Julie & Julia, a movie I hadn’t seen in nearly a decade and he hadn’t ever, and we realized something – Julia Child’s obsession with food was much like my own, and Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci’s portrayal of Julia and Paul Childs reminded us of ourselves to an almost silly degree, only I’m not as tall or permed or talented as the amazing Julia was.

But the love of food, on that matter, there’s no question.    No matter what is going on, if I settle down to fresh eggs from our chickens or a delicious home-cooked meal, it invariably makes it better.

I love food, the process of making it, the magic of turning flour, water and yeast into the most delicious bread imaginable, the delight of mastering a new recipe, the joy of when someone says “More please!”.

Almost everything I do is surrounded by food.  Hence the regularity with which I exercise.  And also, while so many people around me focus their charitable dollars on medical research and other important things, for me, it’s making sure children and families eat.  All the places we can put our dollars matter, but for me, it’s the basics.

Without food, we cannot thrive.  Without food, our brains don’t develop or function correctly.  Food is a basic requirement of our survival, and so many lack it.  Food is literally right there with shelter, water and bathing.  It’s a basic building block for all of us.

Yesterday while talking to a neighbor I may never agree with politically, we both worried about famine as a result of our new reality.  Here.  Food is something we can all agree on –  we all need it.  In a polarized world, food may be a common ground we all can share.

It’s also why I’m endlessly driven to the garden, to find yet another local food source, to source from another local farm.  Because as much as I love the grocery store, and oh,  I do, I also know our food chain is fragile, dependent on shipping, low-paid workers, and the continuation of farms that we need but seem, as a society, not to value nearly enough.  For those of us who can, diverting our food dollars – even a few more than we usually spend, to local food makes a huge difference.  It ensures a safer food supply – Tyson doesn’t need your dollars, but these guys do.  Find someone near you at LocalHarvest.org.  So does Onemightymill.com, who grinds wheat in Lynn, MA, right down the road from me.  And WaldenLocalMeat.comhas been supplying our meet for 6 months now.  It’s honestly some of the best meat we’ve ever had.  That Beef Burgundy?  Made from there, with the produce mostly from our Misfits Market box.  I love my MisfitsMarket.com box – they rescue organic produce that the grocery stores think looks too imperfect to sell.  We use them in the winter now, while our CSA and garden aren’t producing.  While it isn’t as local as I would like, it’s preventing food waste, and they are trying to add SNAP to their list of ways to pay.  I like a company with morals like that.

We are about to enter the season where food is plentiful in the northern states.  Snap peas and lettuce are peeking out in the garden, and either today or tomorrow we’ll harvest the first asparagus.  We’ve been relentlessly planting fruit trees.  I’ve begun hardening off our seedlings on the porch, and dropping extras to friends.  We have several friends and acquaintances on our regular egg consumption list.  I cannot feed the world, but I can provide a dozen fresh eggs to a short list of people every couple weeks.  And help out our local food pantry.  And start extra seedlings.  For me, feeding people gives back.

I can cook for my family –  a physical demonstration of love for them.

Tonight, I stir fried ground beef with rice noodles, onions, broccoli and fresh chives from the garden, which are always amongst the first things to come up.

I added to that Connor’s fresh bread, and if anyone gets hungry later, we have leftover chocolate pistachio cake, dropped off as part of the Mom’s weekly baking program, and sliced strawberries.  Sometime this week I’ll take my parsnips, sweet potatoes and turnips and turn them into latkes.  I have several mangoes lying around, so I’ll make a simple mango salsa.  What are we going to put it on?  Who knows, maybe the latkes.

I haven’t thought that far ahead, but maybe we’ll grill some scallops in brushed with Chimichurri sauce.  As soon as there’s enough up, I’ll make Half Baked Harvest’s Sesame Roasted Asparagus with Whipped Feta.  I drool just thinking about it.

The love of good food and cooking is one of the best ways I can think of to cope with the loss of normal life.  Getting lost in the growing of it, and the creating of it is, to me, a reminder of the infinite blessings we have.

And if you want to feed those in need around you, here’s some ways.

 

 

 

 

Breadmaking in a Time of Pandemic

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It seems like everyone has re-discovered their kitchen these days.  With lots of time at home and a need to limit contact with others, cooking and baking are on the rise.  Here’s some simple things you can make in quarantine, with things you probably already have in the kitchen.

I’ll talk more about my own experience with C19 later.   Let’s just leave it for now, as I still waffle between bursts of energy and profound exhaustion.  Still,  I finally found myself back in the kitchen, profoundly grateful to be able to be where I was.  While I recognized that my relative youth and good health were in my favor during my comparatively mild experience, there’s nothing like a bout with a virus that has killed over 100,000 people in a couple short months to give you a reality check.

I felt nothing but blessed to be back amongst my cookbooks and cooks tools.  And given the challenge that finding flour is, I was deeply glad I buy mine in bulk.  We had the better part of 20 pounds of organic white flour (I buy 30 lbs at a time) lying around, plus a few variations.  Still, if you need some, I highly recommend One Mighty Mill, right down the road.

Connor and I, who have been reading the Little House books,  with the intent to make everything in the Little House Cookbook as a result (He hasn’t been into homeschooling.  Food, he’s into, so I decided it was better if Mohammed goes to the mountain, so to speak) dove in to his first recipe of homemade bread.  In this case we veered off of the Little House so for something simple that might pique his interest, and it did, and then some.  On and off for well over a decade I’ve been making the recipe from Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day, and it’s a great starter recipe for anyone who hasn’t got tons of experience with baking.   Years ago, Kiera titled it ‘Mommy Bread’ but now it’s officially ‘Connor Bread’.  His pride in his breadmaking skills is profound.

I veer off the recipe link in a few ways.  One, we add different flours.  Typically about 1 cup of the 6.5 cups in the recipe are a combination of whole wheat, buckwheat and oat flour.  This is healthier and richer than plain white bread.  The other is that I use a regular old baking sheet sprinkled with cornmeal to prevent the bread from sticking.

We ate it with Rosemary Ranch Chicken, salad, couscous and another so-easy-anyone-can-do-it recipe, pickled onions.  Pickled onions have been something of a trend in the last couple of years, but they are very easy.  All you need is cider vinegar, sugar, salt an onion and some time.

You will need:

1 red onion, sliced thin (you can use white too, but you won’t get the awesome pink color)
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt

Mix vinegar, salt and sugar until the sugar is dissolved.  Add onion slices.  Let sit for a couple hours, until soft, periodically stirring.  Eat.

Today, we’re going to prepare for Easter by making birdseed eggs for our bird feeders.  These are a great project for kids too, and super easy to do.  A bit messy, but that’s not bad, if you can take the mixture outside, all the better.  Birds can then help you clean up the mess.

Keep safe all.

 

 

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