Sunday Food

It looks like November outside, but it has remained unseasonably warm, a thing both enjoyable and worrisome. But what it does mean is that this morning I went out and picked a few tomatoes, peppers and the only butternut squash to survive drought, bunnies and groundhogs eating the garden, and rot.

A hard freeze is coming this week, finally, so I want to be prepared. By next weekend it will be time to rip out the last of the garden and prepare it for next year.

We spent a lot of of money on groceries and supplies this month. I don’t know what it is about November that leads me to stock us to the gills, but every year it’s the same.

This weekend I went to Trader Joe’s and Costco, borrowing a friend’s card for the latter, and stocked us up on bulk items I know we’ll use, plus a start of things for the holidays. I’m not even close to done for Christmas but I am picking things up here and there.

We literally have almost everything we need, except twice now I’ve forgotten to get garlic powder.

Next week comes Azure Standard – huge piles of squashes, canned tomatoes (since our garden really didn’t comply this year, largely because of drought), seeds for next year and some other pantry supplies. Also our meat share and the next drop of our CSA.

So at the end of this week we’ll be in eat-down mode again. After 2 back-to-back trips to my office in Michigan to meet with clients, I’m home for a month, with the exception of a weekend away with my oldest, just us.

We have a busy week ahead with lots of appointments, kid activities and things we absolutely have to get done, so this week’s meal plan was made with that, and the target of eating a lot of veggie varieties in mind.

Knowing that Sunday was my best day to cook, I made the meal plan and then headed into the kitchen. First up was using the last of the farm apples and making Spiced Apple Butter. If all goes well we’ll have enough to give away as well as use. My travel lately meant I was a bit behind on using up the apples, so we lost a few to rot. A couple cores went to our bunny, Marshmallow and the rest of them plus the peels to the chickens, who were very happy about it.

Tomorrow’s dinner is meant to use up the Tomatillos that are still coming out of our garden, so right after that I pan-roasted 2 Poblano Peppers, 1 Jalapeno, 6 cloves of garlic and about a pound of tomatillos at 400 degrees F for about 15 minutes. Taking that prep step out will allow me to do the rest of the cooking during small breaks throughout the day. The recipe calls for carrots and onions as well, so we’ll get a large variety of veggies into our diets tomorrow.

And then my son requested chocolate chip cookies again, so I went to my go-to recipe, which makes enough to eat and some to give away.

Tonight Sunday 11/13: Chicken Parm, pasta, garlic bread, broccoli & the last of the Shishito peppers from the garden roasted with olive oil and salt

Chicken Parmesan will make plenty of leftovers for lunches this week, and we still have a couple servings left of Thai Peanut Chicken Ramen for lunches too.

Monday 11/14: Instant pot chili verde, rice, salad. I combined a couple recipes to make ours, which I’ll post soon.

Tuesday 11/15: Eli Cooks, kid friendly, protein TBD.  Our monthly meat CSA comes today, so plenty of choices!

Wednesday 11/16: Simple garlic chicken, roasted Brussels sprouts and onions, pearl couscous

Thursday 11/17: Just Eli and I, possibly Clam Chowder. Great for leftovers too.

Friday 11/18: It’s pickup #2 of 4 of our winter CSA share. It’s going to be a cold one, so MYO pizza (dough is prepped on Wednesday and cold-proofed in the fridge) topped with tomato sauce or pesto, caramelized onions, sliced San Marzano tomatoes, the last few from the garden, fresh mozzerella, spinach and whatever anyone else wants.

Saturday 11/19: Busy day – High school open house in the AM, the Moms church fair PM.  Days like this call for the crockpot! Italian pot roast, noodles, salad.

Sunday 11/21: Home day!  Roast chicken with roasted veggies and maybe Parmesan Tater Tots, a house favorite. I might get motivated to make some meatballs for Couscous Meatball Soup on Monday

Sundays in the kitchen are busy but fun, and at the end of it the house smells wonderful.

Planting Flowers in a Year of Grief

One year ago yesterday, my brother-in-law of nearly 20 years died of a massive heart attack, the kind of which in the aftermath there is no pulse, no chance of revival, no going back with a lifestyle change, a stent, a caution to rest. After a reportedly very good day, it became a very bad night, for my sister, her 3 children, and all of us.

After all that time, if one is lucky enough and puts the effort in, the in-law part drops, and one just has a brother. We weren’t confidants or buddies, but we adored one another, with our texts filled with ‘brother mine’ and ‘sister mine’. As someone who grew up without brothers, save for a brief stint with a stepbrother, having them via my sisters has been especially delightful.

The last thing I gave him was some of our homemade Garlic Scape Pesto, and this year I looked at the pile of scapes and let them rot in the refrigerator. I just couldn’t.

Maybe next year.

I describe it as a bomb going off in our family, leaving a smoking crater where there was once just level ground. Everywhere you look is smoke and blackness. A year later, the blast is tidied and no longer do waves of smoke rise from it, but it is still hard to look at. Eli and I brought yellow flowers to Billy’s grave under a tree, leaving them next to the mums from my parents, and then left a bottle of wine for my sister on her doorstep.

It’s been a busy autumn. The garden didn’t do so well this year, between drought and rabbits and groundhogs. There’s still some tomatillos, tomatos and squashes in there, and I’m hoping we have a week or so before a hard freeze in order to let them fully ripen. Our CSA ends this week but we’ve signed up for a winter share. Our usual trip to my sister’s to get our fall stockpile of veggies is going to have to wait a year. Our son turned 10, and we spent a brief few days in Florida celebrating. He has taken up trombone and the gardening club at school.

Work is busy and Eli continues to launch his work into the world. We have a teenager now, so we see her less, but are delighted at her friends and social life, delayed due to the pandemic.

The children are thriving after a tough couple of years

We prepare Sithean for winter as we always do. Our pantry is stocked, our freezer is full, and it’s time for fires in the wood stove.

But this year it’s also time to plant bulbs. Missing from Sithean’s legacy plantings were tulips and snowdrops, which are the first flower here, often appearing on a crust of snow, and now is the season. Over the next few weekends we will dig our bulbs in to the chilly ground, cover them, and hope that in the spring another area of the yard is covered in a profusion of oranges, pinks and purples, with a little bit of cream and some blue alliums tossed in for good measure.

When I arrived here the soil was dead and dust in most places. Each year, we amend it with compost and plantings and try to make this place better than we found it. With vegetable gardens and fruit trees for sure, but also with things that just exist for beauty and the benefit of the insects.

We’ll bring a few snowdrops to plant by Billy’s grave too, just because.

None of us know our time left, so our job is to fill it with life and joy and love. As for me, I’m going to fill my world with gardens.

When A Door Closes, A Window Opens

Hibiscus in bloom, Photo by Eli 5 Stone

Our summer of nothing and everything had more twists and turns than a miniseries plot, but somehow we landed in a peaceful Labor Day weekend.

The children are back to school – 4th and 8th grade respectively – and Sithean is off the market. There’s nothing to buy in our town, keeping the house show-ready was an exercise in exhaustion, and we may have the general lines of a solution on how we renovate without having to move out and to get the space we need.

We’ve jettisoned the architects, the builder we were talking to jettisoned us after we declined to go along with an out-of-control cost per square foot quote – lovely people all I’m sure, but not useful to us now, and we are starting the process of drawing and researching for a new builder.

We’ve taken the control back into our hands and it feels so, so much better, not to mention the relief we feel at no longer having people wander through our house on demand.

So what happens now is that we figure out the path forward without the stress of more architect bills, or without feeling like everything has to be a negotiation downward on a non-realistic construction quote. It’s freeing.

I mean, it wasn’t fun to be dumped by our builder, someone the neighbors raved about – but at the end of the day, he was never accessible, and non-responsive, so what he was to them was a different thing than what he was to us. And that’s okay, because in the end we need to focus on what we need. And what we need is reasonable and decent communication, for a start.

I do believe that sometimes the universe throws up walls in your way when you aren’t walking where you are supposed to go, and that happened here, over and over again. So much so that we started to believe the only thing we could do was move. Once we started to let go of some pre-conceived notions about what our options were things started to open up, in our minds and in the world.

For now, we’re staying put and getting estimates on our newly designed-by-us plan to get our needed space not by lifting the roof and flipping the stairs, a move that would require us to move out for 6+ months, but to go back and to the left, creating a bit of an L-shape for the house with a wrapping porch.

But for today, there’s pesto and zucchini fritters to make, and food prep for the week. For today, we can let go and let things play out over time.

And for another day, Sithean is home.

Farmlet Retreat

Twilight in Topsfield

At 3:46 pm a couple Friday nights ago, I decided to stop adulting.

The kids left for their Dad’s for the weekend. My husband was tired. Work had been relentless and my daughter had been sick most of the week. I had woken up with a headache.

So I cooked some frozen dumplings, put on pajama pants, and ignoring the sun and nearly 60 degree weather, climbed into bed under the blankets with a copy of a book I had previously read and loved, The Wilder Life, and decided that everything in the world could be dealt with – later.

I should have gone out to clean up the yard and weed. But I didn’t.

It felt glorious to just check out. And retreat into Laura World, which is what the author, Wendy McClure calls it. And yes, I know Laura Ingalls Wilder is complicated and there’s ugly parts of her books and opinions and perspectives, this is not lost on me. But when life gets too much, no matter my age, I find myself craving the simplicity of butter churns and cheese making, over 401k balancing and client issues. I don’t actually want to live a life where I sit on tree stumps for dining room chairs, but I do always feel a little wistful that I don’t want to be that person.

Most of all, I took the signs that my body and mind needed rest very seriously. I slept, I did some chores, ran, and went for a walk with my husband at twilight on a nearby trail. When Sunday arrived, I had a long list to cook, and some things to do before the kids came home, but I did just about all of it and then some. I went into Monday not fully restored, but better rested and with my batteries charged again.

When I returned to the world, so to speak, a transformation had taken place. Daffodils were in blooming, the apricot tree was starting to flower, and everything everywhere was green and in bud.

Daffodils in bloom on the front lawn – Photo by Eli 5 Stone

My seedlings are huge now and some are in need of transplanting. Eli and I are spending countless hours designing next year’s home remodel – from counters to paint to sinks and hardware, and everything in between – thousands of decisions to be made. I can’t wait to share how it will all look, as much art installation as house, in large part because of my amazing and talented husband.

The world continues to be unsteady around us, with the IPCC’s new climate report, war and famine in Ukraine, Yemen, Sudan, the bent to autocracy here in the US – we walk a fine line between aware and engaged, and trying to maintain our shields against a constant barrage of bad news, with nearly no mention of all the good in the world. Worrying about the explosion of weeds and how to manage them, or what to have for dinner is a relief, in a way. I can’t apologize for needing to retreat to Laura World or my garden or kitchen. My mind and home and family need tending to, and while I can participate in making the world a better place, I can’t change the course of world events, or only a little, so I do what I can and try the best to preserve space for joy and flowers and love.

And after a long, cold, sad winter for us, there’s starting to be all those things. But the honest truth was that despite all the joys of spring, I was just teeth-grittingly, bone-wearingly tired. It wasn’t even one specific thing, although work had been unusually stressful and more busy than usual, and crossing the 6 month mark of our loss of my brother-in-law Billy is a gut punch even now. The loss of him, the loss for my sister and her daughters, and the idea that we’ve now entered a phase of life where losing people may become common is is a cord that runs through our days.

And even renovation planning is tiring – as we make renovation decisions that will both restore and improve Sithean, the sheer daunting volume of them overwhelms.

So when the kids schools broke for vacation, we vacated our life in the most literal sense, and drove to the mountains, Eli, I, the kids and their Dad, for a few nights of escape. We cooked meals in advance, packed all the snacks and games one could possibly want, sent Teddy the dog on vacation to his grandparents (and original owners) house, arranged for the chickens and bunny, for we had lost Clover in early March, leaving only Marshmallow to be fed by my neighbor Melissa, watered the seedlings heavily and got out of dodge at 9 am on a Wednesday.

Despite the Jenga-esque efforts of packing coolers, 3 seasons worth of clothing for the ever-changing mountain weather and all the aforementioned snack foods, we arrived in Jackson NH just past lunch time on a Wednesday and breathed relief into the rented house. We heated our chicken parmesan with some garlic bread, salad and pasta and then I went off to nap.

When I woke up Thursday (my nap didn’t last that long, we did manage to have an evening) I felt somewhat restored. I love to travel, but the feeling of ‘I have to get out of here right now so I can rest‘ has become recurring lately at Sithean. ‘When did I lose that sense of sanctuary at home’, I not-infrequently wondered, along with ‘and how do I get it back?’. Maybe it’s just going to be more going to be more transitory until we’ve renovated and moved back in, late next year. Maybe home is a project, not a sanctuary for now, and I just have to ride that out.

I miss that feeling of sanctuary though.

So it’s not surprising I needed to retreat into Laura World, even though it’s impossible to not see the grinding poverty and endless tragedies she endured as an adult. But maybe that makes it all the better – she went through all that and could still see the magic, and create her own Laura World. And maybe that’s the lesson – even when grasshoppers eat your crops and your house burns and you literally lose your farm, if you can still see the magic and the beauty in the world, you can create some for yourself.

Maybe that’s enough.

So I rested and was ready to come home to the sunshine and the flowers and my garden.

Springtime Grace

Moonlit Spring Night

All of a sudden, the bitter cold transitioned to something resembling tolerable, and we even had a day over 70 – concerning if you think about climate change, deliriously wonderful after 4 months of shivering – to cap it off.

Seed starting is in full swing, and so is planning for our renovation next year, with an infinity of decisions to be made, we’re starting now to reduce our stress later, and get a better grip on our budget.

But mostly we are focused on spring. The first of the seedlings have started to come up, which gives me a sense of hope, and the yard is slowly starting to turn green. I don’t have to travel for work again for a while either, which is nice. After 2 trips in 3 weeks, which was immediately followed by the annual butt-kicking that is Daylight Savings Time, I can rest and enjoy being home before the hectic spring yard work really kicks in.


Seed Starting is the Best Kind of Magic

There’s a bit to do now, as it’s time to mow down the trench bed, and Eli is removing debris, including a huge branch that took out some of our old lilac bushes after a recent wind storm. The lilacs were going to have to go in service to renovation anyway, so maybe in the end that will turn out to be a gift, Mother Nature taking them down for us so I don’t have the heartbreak of watching them dug up.

Next year, it’s unlikely we’ll have a garden, and even this year I’m shying away from planting trees or perennials, other than a commitment to start working on turning at least some of the front yard into a wildflower garden in front for my son and a few varieties of poppies, which I’ve been meaning to add for years.

We begin to use the last of the winter vegetables. A few remaining onions from our 50-lb sack, the last few of the half bushel of sweet potatoes, one of the last 2 spaghetti squashes. Once spring warmth comes they will not last any longer. We’re also walking the line between keeping stocked, with food prices soaring, and eating down our pantry and freezer space. As we eat through the last of the pesto and kale from last fall, we won’t be filling that space up again until after our big renovation. I have mixed feelings about that, as I view a full larder as an edible emergency fund, but it is the most sensible approach for us.

As we pass the 5-month mark of loss, the gut punches of memory are less frequent, but no less powerful.

Which is why my thoughts return to my 2022 mantra, Go Easy, and the idea of grace for myself and for so many others. The pandemic, climate change and Russian war-making, and the return of famine to the news have left me worried, angry, sad, stressed. Inflation is real, and has seen our gas, food and energy costs spike. We’re anxious about the costs of our renovation, even while acknowledging that the time has come for it. We’re grateful for warmer days, even while recognizing that perhaps it just shouldn’t be this warm in March.

But we are blessed with family, friends and a safe home, and my endless gratitude for it all. I’m grateful for the grace of today, and right now, that’s enough.

Meal Plan and Batch Cook Your Way Through Anything

There is always something lovely to see on my walks

The weather continues to be challenging – first a giant, but rather pleasant snowstorm, then rain, then sleet and snow followed by another drop in temperature. Saturday afternoon was warm enough for us to bundle up in snow gear and take Teddy for a walk on nearby Greenbelt land. Sunday morning I woke up to 5 degree temperatures, with the bunnies having to take up residence in the basement for the 3rd time in a month. If it stays above 10 degrees, their hutch & run, which is covered in a tarp most of the winter, plus their winter coats keep them warm enough. Below that and we’re likely to wake to bunny popsicles, so in they come, bunsicles being on no one’s list of favorite things.

Challenging these days is more than the weather as my uncle is likely to succumb to his cancer soon enough. We’ve lost a lot in the last few months, my family and I, but I am trying to appreciate and hold gratitude every day as a result, and hold on to all my people.

The lingering warmth in the living room from the fire was lovely, as were my cozy blankets, but I had spent much of Friday afternoon and Saturday morning running errands, primarily food related – Costco, Trader Joe’s and Market Basket, plus our local dairy for a week’s supply of milk, and then the Co-op for bunny food and treats, and suet cakes for the birds. At this time of year, there’s not much for the wild birds to eat, so we try to keep our feeders full. By the time I was finished I had spent $518.41, which is the bulk of our grocery budget for the month. I’ve lately been returning to my old habits of buying most of our groceries at the start of each month, and supplementing fruit, veggies and milk in.

We’re also coming to the end of stock-up shopping, as we’re going to renovate the house next spring, and that requires us moving out completely for a while. Moving some food is inevitable, but it’s time to start emptying the pantries and freezer for real. I tend to view a full larder as an edible emergency fund, and that thinking has served me well, but it will be kind of fun to start to see empty spaces too.

To do that we’ve got to eat what we have and carefully manage our inventory and stockpile. Some things we simply can’t run out of – coffee, cereal for my son, olive oil and spices, things like that. Others I want to make sure we see how long we can go before we need any more. And to eat healthy and stay within a reasonable food budget, meal planning and batch cooking.

I’ve also made the commitment to make 1 dinner and 2 lunches each week for my younger sister – she’s still dealing with the death of her beloved husband, and while I can’t make the loss easier, I can ensure that once a week she and the girls have a hot meal, homemade bread, and that she’s got a couple lunches to take to work each week. Sometimes I add cookies or a treat, sometimes I don’t. But it’s forced me to be a creative and thoughtful cook, since variety and healthy is very important. And it’s making me way, way more efficient in the kitchen. It’s a small thing, and my target is 12 months of food delivery, once a week. Eli helps too, last week we sent over a big pile of his homemade Empanadas. My take is that their life is hard enough, and a little help is sometimes the difference between being able to tie a knot in your rope and hang on, and not having enough rope left to tie.

This week’s meal plan is varied, healthy and yummy, and I’m excited about it.

Pre-prepped Lunches
Lemon Cranberry Quinoa Salad topped with chicken – this stuff is so, so good and filled with fruit and veggies. I subbed in the apple since the store didn’t have jicama
Falafel and Tzatziki

Dinners
Sunday: Roasted chicken and vegetables, homemade dinner rolls
Monday: Creamy sun dried tomato pasta for our family and for hers (this is also an insanely good and easy recipe, just use a very deep skillet)
Tuesday: Beef Bulgogi (I made a triple batch, with 2 in the freezer for later)
Wednesday: Salmon over cauliflower rice with Garlic Scape Pesto I froze last summer
Thursday: Eli cooks, always delicious
Friday: Homemade pizza in the oven or chicken soup with rice, depending on moods and motivation
Saturday: Whichever one we didn’t make for Friday

While I’ve made all sorts of breads and baked goods, I’ve never made a dinner roll. This week I decided to tackle that gap with a recipe for Scotch Baps. I took the recipe from one of my oldest cookbooks, one I got in my early 20s, called Soup and Bread, by a writer and chef with the worlds coolest hippie name, Crescent Dragonwagon. Soup and Bread is a contemporary of The Moosewood Cookbook, a cookbook I bought about the same time and proceeded to hate every recipe I tried from it. Some I made twice thinking it was me, and never have I disliked a cookbook so consistently.

Maybe it’s me though, because it was a bestseller. If Mollie Katzen, the author, taught me anything, it was that it’s okay to be disinterested or even loathe things that everyone else seems to like, which is perhaps why I was always so comfortable disliking Sex and The City. I tried – and by that I mean I toughed it out through 2 episodes – and always thought that show would be improved by all the cast being taken out by a wayward Zamboni.

By 11:30 on Sunday the Baps were in their final rise (more on them in a moment), everything else was either made or in the oven and my wonderful husband had rescued my too-damp falafel in the air fryer.

So about that cookbook, and those Baps, Soup and Bread (and if you want to have a splurge to the tune of $4.59 you can have a wonderful read and a happy belly) – Baps are a dense roll, with a butter and milk base. I think I would use less flour than the recipe calls for, maybe 4 cups total for the rolls and more for dusting, and they really weren’t terribly photogenic, but these things are good. It’s my understanding in Scotland they are morning rolls, toasted with butter and with some sausage on them, but we’ll eat them with our roasted chicken for dinner.

As we roll into another busy week, the peace of Sunday afternoon with warm food and loved ones is something I treasure. The cooking is done, the preparations are complete, and there’s nothing left but to sit and enjoy the last of today’s sunshine before twilight comes again.

After the Storm

26″ of snow later…

A giant snowstorm hit New England this weekend, just as Omicron paid a visit to Eli, I and my son – my daughter was spared, and is spending our 5 days of isolation with her father. We were feeling neither very good nor horrible, just middle of the road crummy , which led to doing a lot of nothing, in and around Eli and I working.

Saturday I felt better, and the storm was in full force, so other than some shoveling and a bit of playing outside for my son, the only thing to do was to putter around the house, make meal plans, drink tea and cook – dinner last night was Half Baked Harvest’s One Skillet Greek Meatballs & Lemon Butter Orzo, one we’ll definitely make again.

Snow Day Dinner

I contemplated a nap but it was a little bit late in the afternoon before I considered it, so I skipped it, opting instead for a long sleep into Sunday morning, when I woke up to cold and over 25 inches of snow having fallen in 24 hours.

It was profoundly lovely, although cold enough that the chickens decided that even their run was a little much.

The chickens were having none of it and hid inside

Despite Covid leaving us tired and coughing, and the frigid temps, we all got outside for a little bit and enjoyed the snow. Teddy the Doggleby especially enjoyed it, despite the snow being taller than him in most places.

Teddy watches as Connor uses the driveway as a sledding hill

Tonight’s dinner is Instant Pot Carnitas in taco form, adjusted just a little to reduce the spice by omitting the chipotle powder along with some broccoli

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Just over 3 months ago, our lives changed utterly when my brother-in-law, more brother than in-law, died suddenly. The loss reverberates daily – in our missing him always, and in small things, like making sure my sister has someone to plow her out for her shifts in the ER, to which I can only say that John, who plows me out has taken it upon himself to make sure she’s okay, even heading back to help clean off cars after a bit of a snafu at the beginning of the storm. I say it a lot, but it is so true – we’re lucky ducks, even when bad things happen. A new normal is starting to knit itself out of the tear in our hearts and lives, one that involves being there to help his loved ones hold up the sky.

As I went out to bring the chickens some scraps and overripe grapes, I watched the cold January sun sink down through the trees, illuminating our house like a Maxfield Parrish painting, and just felt grateful for this lovely place, for our family and friends, and all the blessings around us.

Holiday Lights

Twas the Night Before Christmas….

“I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had no where else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for that day.” – Abraham Lincoln

Right after Thanksgiving, we went to cut down a Christmas tree. My husband lit up the house beautifully at my request to have all the lights, and we began to celebrate the season despite the underpinning of grief, and the news that my uncle was hitting new lows in his cancer battle.

And I found myself unable to write or really, make clear decisions about almost anything.

It was a little like the final guitar wire snapped, 2 months after the bomb that was the loss of my brother-in-law detonated in our family, as we tried to navigate our grief and a way to live with it. I found myself tired constantly, forgetful, and disorganized. The kids were just…off. No one could concentrate. I would buy groceries and forget to use them, couldn’t for the life of me remember what to make for dinner, and wander into rooms and just stare. The Omicron variant blew up some of our plans. “Why do we even make plans?” I wondered not infrequently.

Grief, they say, is disorienting, but I found it to be more along the lines of dislocating. Something is not where it belongs, and the ripples of that strange ‘gap in the system’ mean that nothing quite makes sense, which in turn made my brain feel like it was wearing a sweater most of the time.

But we are blessed, and the greatest way we are is in that our people just keep showing up. My best friend, tired of hearing me cry from 1500 miles away, hopped a plane and joined us for a weekend in the mountains, surprising my children and creating a sense of normalcy and fun, then extended her stay a few days when my daughter wasn’t ready for her to go. My next door neighbor showed up with a bag of dog food for Teddy (also, he keeps eating their dog’s food, so this was partially an investment in brokering peace on earth and goodwill between dogs) and checked in frequently. My husband took over much of the cooking and mostly adapted to a weary, forgetful wife, perhaps preparing for what it might be like 30 years from now.

But my children, most of all, grounded me. Because my son still fiercely and fully believes in all the magic of Christmas. Elves on shelves, magical appearing candy and surprises in Advent Calendars, and Santa in all his magic. He made lists and planned surprises for all. No matter what, all the enchantments that are the holiday season needed to appear, and so they did.

Every morning, finding Elphidelphia, our Elf on the Shelf, and checking the advent calendar for treats or treasures, but most of all, as my husband strung the house with lights, he decided to make me a lighted North Pole for the yard with my husband as a gift. My daughter made us all homemade Ramen for dinner.

Our Christmas was filled with love, and then a multi-day playdate/sleepover with the kids down the street capped it all off. I took some days off and started to catch up on sleep. I cooked all day on Christmas, the kids loved their gifts, and suddenly joy crept back in, like vines that flower through cracks in the pavement.

Tempered of course, with sadness and worry about those whose loss is greater than ours, but joy and hope nonetheless. I wish the same to you and yours.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s

Just as all the October busyness came to an end, our son caught a cold (thankfully, just a cold) that lingered and we got it too, but in the adults it was a weird cold/stomach bug thing that apparently is floating around. For the first time since I had the Norovirus in my 20s, food was not only the last thing on my mind, but the worst thing I could possibly think about. Thankfully Eli and I tracked about 36 hours behind one another, so while I was down for the count other than work meetings he was taking care of kids and animals, and when he needed to be let off the hook, I could take over, even for a little while.

I returned to life after days with little energy and no appetite for the bounty of fruits and vegetables that fills our home, other than the apples. When I could eat though, I recognized that we needed something simple, filling and with nutritional density, so I pulled up the recipe I’d seen pre-illness of Homemade Hamburger Helper. Sure enough, I still had some shredded zucchini in the fridge from last year, and I dumped the whole frozen block of it in the pot to cook, and got at least some nutrition into everyone. Casserole-type dishes aren’t my usual, but the do have their place. I would modify this one next time, making it a bit thicker, maybe cooking the noodles separately, but as comfort food goes, this one hit the spot. It also used up some things in the fridge and freezer, so it will get some tweaks and be moved into the ‘save for cold winter night‘ column.

HalfbakedHarvest.com’s Homemade Hamburger Helper

The weather is scheduled to finally cool in the next several days, but has been unseasonably warm for weeks. A few more tomatoes, and lots of squash are still ripening, and the weather has allowed me to leave the tropical plants outside longer than usual, but it’s now time for them to make their trek inward.

Around all of this democracy in the US continues to undergo earthquakes, the earth is on the climate brink, and the pandemic, while abating for now, is raging it’s way across the earth. Illness dogs one of my dear uncles. All of it has an effect of destabilization, giving the sense that there’s nothing to hold onto. My missives of apples and flowers and weather and dinner seem small in comparison. We live in stormy times, but what else is there to anchor to if we don’t hold to the firmament of home?

When your stomach wobbles, the world shrinks – you can’t make a meal plan when food is anathema, you can’t plan your day or even know whether a cup of ginger tea is going to help or create more unpleasantness, and you muddle through responsibilities, doing only what needs to be done, skipping everything else. So too when the world wobbles it distracts, throws us off, creates anxiety and an inability to make solid plans as well. We’ve all had a lot of stress in the last few years, and a little grace is important.

Oddly, one of the things that makes me most hopeful is articles about the tiny intricacies of home life. The Washington Post has a home maintenance series that talks about how to clean your gutters or preserve kale and potatoes. The reality is we all want our food to last longer and need the gutters cleaned. Food Network is explaining what certain food items are and how they are used, like evaporated milk. Everyone has recipes, but these are useful bits of information that actually help people, instead of wondering what some politician or celebrity is doing. They center their writing on us, not them, and are something we all can use.

The next thing we need is how to play certain card games and start local clubs. Mass media would do a lot worse if they talked about how to bring a supper club back into vogue (and of course everyone who can should be vaccinated, because that’s how you also invest in your community, by not spreading disease by accident). We need to start borrowing one another’s tools, bringing a casserole by, and hosting Supper Clubs and maybe we should all learn Whist. This is not a lyrical wax of the poetic to olden days when women wore high heels to breakfast and half of people were shut out of things on the basis of color or sexual orientation or all sorts of other things. It’s a hearkening to what’s been lost and what we all need – community. I don’t really want to learn Whist, but we do need to get back to talking to one another and the only way to do that is at ground level.

Remember the pop song Breakfast at Tiffany’s ? It’s about a couple about to break up because they have nothing in common, except they both liked the Audrey Hepburn film. It’s also a seemingly good articulation of where we are as a society. I don’t know that big sweeping things – these are important, of course – are the only thing that can save us. We need to talk to one another too, even if the only thing we can agree on is that the food needs more salt.

The size of our worlds may get smaller, but the horizons may grow much larger than we think.

No-Recipe Recipes

It’s almost impossible to imagine that it’s already mid-October. Time seems to keep jumping forward at impossible speeds. We watched our local Fair open and close, and even braved it a couple times ourselves at not-so-busy times, rang in the number 9 for our son and went to visit my sister and her family in upstate NY, all within the month.

Ferris Wheel in the distance

The garden is still producing spottily so I’m letting it run it’s course for a few more weeks. I have this weird aversion to ripping it out if even there’s a tiny chance of something ripening. And there are still – mystery squash, made mysterious by me forgetting what variety I planted and then proceeding to forget to go look in my seeds for the all-too-findable answer, are readying themselves in abundance, which is just fine with me, and a few lingering tomatoes and peppers still appear. With another week of 70-degree days ahead I expect a little more summer food out of it yet.

A trip to my sister’s invariably means a trip to the Carrot Barn and bulk fall foods to store and preserve. This time we came home not just with squashes and onions and sweet potatoes but also with half a bushel of tomatoes to can and slice. Not feeling like steaming the skins off and pureeing them, I instead decided to oven roast them before freezing.

Oven roasted is simple. Slice the tops off, slice them in half, and place on an oiled baking sheet. Roast them at 450 for 30 minutes and set aside to cool.

Peel the skins off and remove as much of the seed pulp as possible – squish them in your hand a little, then place in bags to freeze. When you defrost them they turn into sauce quickly (recipe to come). The key is to deal with them quickly, because hyper-ripe tomatoes go south fast. You can slice off any localized soft or black spots in tomatoes safely and still slice or roast them (really, you can) but typically you have about a day to use them.

I ended up with about 8 tomatoes left to use as slicers this week, so we’ll be eating a lot of tomatoes. Which is just fine with me, as everything I want these days is flavored with autumn.

Despite the warmth, it was time for roasted vegetables and a bit of creative, October-ish use of veggies, what I call the no-recipe recipes. Things that you just throw in the oven or in a pan, using what you have. Doing this is frugal, creative, and seasonal, plus healthy – all the things. One sweet potato I cut was the size of my forearm, and half of it remains in the fridge

We had 2 cabbages, so I sliced up one in an oiled pan with 4 onions and 2 Gala apples, and topped it with a bunch of sausage sliced in half. I added a few pats of butter and 1/4 cup of apple cider and roasted it for about 2 hours. I covered the pan with foil for all but the last 20 minutes or so. When you cook cabbage like this, it ‘melts’ into an ever-so-sweet and savory bed for the sausage, onion and apples.

Add to that a pan of beets, turnips, sweet potatoes, onions, leeks and carrots drizzled with olive oil and about 1/3 cup of balsamic vinegar and a sprinkle of rosemary, then roasted at 375 degrees F for about 4.5 hours and you have a tray of deliciously caramelized veggies that can be eaten with just about anything. Roasted veggies are remarkably filling and flexible and you don’t need to have a mix – try baking whole onions that way, or just a tray of whatever you have.

With a lightly salted plate of sliced tomatoes and a bit of leftover naan, Monday’s dinner dinner was simple, filling and we ate no less than 8 kinds of vegetables. Not to mention the turnips really needed to get eaten, so it was helpful in more than one ways. To eat seasonally and not waste much food takes work, but the work is so satisfying.

We bought fresh yellow and orange peppers in NY, so tonight Eli is making stuffed peppers with our Walden Local ground beef, and that too is an amalgamation of ideas – meat, sauce, cheese, cauliflower rice, put in the air fryer, which is a handy little tool we acquired for free from someone who didn’t want theirs.

Our food abundance is also a race against time to use up the things that need to get used, and that drives all our meals for a while. We’ll get back to intricate recipes in winter, but fall produce, commingled with the last few tastes of summer calls for use-what-you-have eating in it’s simplest form.

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