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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
I’ve been walking a lot lately. I haven’t had a lot of interest in running, although I’m sure I will at some point, but right now, it’s about being outside and enjoying the peace that comes with exercise rather than any need to push myself. I make my coffee, lace up my sneakers, and unless it’s raining heavily, go as soon as it’s light out for about 3 miles. No music or podcasts, just my thoughts and the scenery around me. I never grow tired of the landscape around me, and every day I notice something new – the moss growing up a tree trunk, the way a tree leans over a small creek, birds. It’s a time for me to collect my thoughts and prepare for the day.
Before I go though, I log the day’s counts in my diary. The number infected in Massachusetts, the US, Globally. Recovered. Deaths.
I don’t do it to be morbid, I do it to ensure I remember. To hold myself accountable for my memory. Years from now I may forget how the body count doubled in just a week, how 1000 died in a single day here in the US, the terror I feel knowing my sister, a nurse, is treating the ill with a limited amount of protective gear, like so many other medical professionals. How completely exhausting it is to weigh every decision to go out as a matter of life and death. How, at the beginning it seemed like a slow threat, but then one that advanced so rapidly it was hard to figure out what reaction was correct at any given moment. How much time I spend praying that this horrific virus passes us by, and our loved ones, our friends, our community. How I got upset at my daughter for not helping make her bed, which wasn’t what mattered, it was my fear that maybe I wouldn’t be there to do it for her in the future. How much I fear that, most of all.
And how little control I feel about all of it.
It’s important to remember this stuff. Someday, when the veil of history comes down, and it’s ‘this happened, and people died’ it’s important to remember the stories of the people that were impacted by job loss and food insecurity, by illness, that died too early. To remember it as it really was, and to tell the story that way, not through the haze that time eventually puts on all of our memories.
But it’s also important to remember the moments. I admit, as stressful as it is for all of us to juggle work and kids home all the time, I love them being there. I love being home with my family every single day. In early March, as the virus closed in and schools started letting out to ‘disinfect’, ultimately to never reopen, my son and I went to the grocery store. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have brought him, but my memory of him grabbing his own basket and going to select the things important to him is one I love right now. I remember the worry and not a small bit of admiration at my fiercely independent 7 year old trotting down the aisle, determined to contribute. “Did I do good Mom?” he said, as he came back with ice cream, a couple bags of orange chicken, cups of ramen, and frozen edamame. “Yes, baby, you did perfect.”. He was so proud to have helped us be supplied with the things he liked. I’ve always loved grocery shopping, and it seems that I’ve passed that on to my younger child. We always come home with stuff I might not buy, but he views the grocery store much like I do, as an endless wonderland of options.
Only a few weeks ago, but it feels like a lifetime. I want to remember too, that the world still turned green, that the forsythia started to bloom, and daffodils appeared in the yard, that spring is here, regardless of the horror outside our yard. I need to remember the good things and the beauty as well, when the world paused for a while.
Tonight we start up a new tradition. Dinner and a movie, with the 5 people allowed in our world right now – Eli, myself, the kids and their Dad. I’m cooking Pumpkin Lasagna with Fontina and Sage, and we’ll grill Rosemary Ranch Chicken, add a salad and some cut veggies, and maybe make Pac Man cupcakes with the leftover frosting and cupcakes from Eli’s birthday. We might do a little Just Dance on the Nintendo. We will absolutely laugh.
Above all things, I want to remember how much gratitude I have for my amazing and limitlessly patient husband, for my children, for my life.
I will remember this, someday in a later time as one of pain and fear for all of us in the world, but also as a time when we remembered what really mattered. Each other.
February has settled in, and in the last few days brought with it breathtakingly cold weather. When I got up this morning, the thermometer hung at 5 degrees F. The bunnies took up residence last night in a rectangular bin in the dining room, because we had officially landed in rabbit hypothermia weather, and being responsible for our pets becoming rabbit popsicles is not part of my life plan at the moment.
Cold of this depth brings stillness. No one other than the birds are out right now. Keeping the feeders full is something that is going to have to wait another hour, but feeding the birds is part of our winter responsibilities too. Plus it is wonderful to watch birds I hadn’t seen since my grandmother’s time, like goldfinches and bluebirds, make an appearance. But the lack of humans and cars, and ambient noise of anything other than Mother Nature’s creatures is such a gift. Even where we are, in a sleepy town on a quiet road, this kind of silence is rare.
Lately I’ve been so deep in family life and work I haven’t stopped to take a look around much, but this morning, as I look out the picture window I remember what a magical place I’ve come to. Just a house, to be sure, but not just a house either. Sanctuary, for birds, wildlife, and us. When we arrived here, I had no sense of how it would all work out, just that we belonged here, that I belonged here. It was like holding my nose while I stepped off a cliff, with not much but faith in….myself? The universe?, and the knowledge I could never uproot my kids again and so had to make it work to sustain me.
And oh boy we have made it work. I haven’t achieved all the goals by a long shot – I still have no idea how we’ll pay off the house before Connor goes to college. I’ve improved on our local food, but have by no means cut the cord from the grocery store. We definitely managed a significant amount more food preservation last summer than I had in previous years, but can we live on it? Nope. We’ve managed to build out plans for the much-needed renovation for this place over the last 18 months, but still haven’t figured out that one either. Still, we plan to break ground next spring, gulp. The house needs to be more airtight, we have to deal with water issues, and with 2 of us working at home, we need better spaces to handle it. I also could use a closet bigger than a shoebox.
But we have done so much, and we’re not just making it work, we are thriving.
Which is why last night, as the 4 of us sat down to a roast chicken dinner, complemented by our locally-retrieved sweet potatoes, onions and potatoes to have a Mario Kart competition (the kids absolutely trounced the adults) I took a minute to reflect on where we are. Like seeds with enough water and light, we took root here, first the kids and I, and then Eli. And while some of it is just that humans have a great capacity to get on with things, some of it is that this place tended to us, as we do to it.
Despite the cold, spring is starting to show it’s imminent arrival. Connor and I potted seeds for Sweet Peas, taking inspiration from My Country Life, as well as Hollyhocks and lettuce last week, and the first of the lettuce seeds are already poking up. We’ll start more in a couple weeks, as our last frost date isn’t until the beginning of May here. The chickens are still laying, but less these days. Still, we have plenty of eggs for cooking and eating, and lots to give away as well.
I have a lot of seeds this year. My plans are to complete the garden with Eli, finally! And to finish turning the front of the house into an herb garden. The kids want garden space too, and I’ve gotten a lot of flower to put in the front of the house, an oft-neglected spot. After weeks of relaxing weekends, I feel ready. While there’s still a long stretch of soups and curries, and cozy nights in front of the fire ahead, and putting the winter running gear away is a long time off, I’m getting excited about planting and harvesting again.
Spring preparations start slow, but pick up speed as we move into March. It may be a little ways off, but soon enough the windows will be open and the flowers blooming.
Sithean’s landscape turns to frosted magic when the snow falls, as it did this weekend, before turning back to January levels of bitter cold again. Our weekends have been unplanned and relaxed lately, and while we interrupted our spending freeze to go to the movies yesterday, it’s been mostly pleasant to be at home with little calling our attention other than the day to day chores around the house.
Sunday morning, after a great evening with an old friend and her daughter, complete with chicken parmesan and ice cream sandwiches made with Karen’s homemade chocolate chip cookies, I woke up to about 5 inches of snow on the ground and no where in particular to be. I fed the bunnies, curled up on the couch, and enjoyed the lingering warmth from the last night’s fire in the wood stove.
Today is busier – the roads are clear enough for me to run, and I head to the airport in the afternoon. But since it’s a holiday, it’s a quiet morning here, with a nice breakfast of bacon and eggs for everyone and no particularly pressing needs to be met. That doesn’t mean there aren’t a million things we could be doing – house projects, decluttering, but January is also the time to remember that we are human beings, not human doings. I’m a huge goal-setter, and I mostly measure a good day by how much I have accomplished, but there’s a very great deal to be said for just sitting and thinking.
As I watch the bird feeder out the living room window and think about nothing in particular, it’s a great reminder that my life is particularly blessed. I live in a place that takes my breath away. I have a wonderful family, great friends and health. Gratitude, something I practice actively, comes easily when the world is still and peaceful.
Still, my mind wanders to spring. Will the bulbs Eli and I planted come up around the Seckel Pear? Will the baby fruit trees survive the winter? Should I try for 2 plantings in the garden this year, even though I only managed on last year? I want to do more companion planting as well, and work on truly turning the front garden into a sea of herbs. A plan is required, as it always is, and it’s never something that I come to quickly.
As I get older, I appreciate winter more. I’ve come to realize the point of January is daydreams, sleeping in, plans, sitting with one’s thoughts. Spring will arrive, as it always does, with a frenzy of planting and work, and I’ll be lost in it. But for a few fleeting weeks, there’s a breath in the business of life, and while I may never enjoy being cold, I have learned gratitude for this necessary point in the year that reminds me that respite and rest are just as much a part of humanity as accomplishing things.
It’s freezing this morning, at about 18 degrees F, and the house feels like it – I woke up this morning to the igniter having gone off and the house was very, very cold. A simple reset got it working, but the house will take a while to warm up.
The other night we arrived home from our wonderful Thanksgiving road trip to visit my sister, brother-in-law and their family in upstate New York with a lot of Black Friday loot. Mostly for us, although we did bring home a little extra on request. This isn’t your typical Black Friday shopping – we did it all at a place about 30 minutes from her house called The Carrot Barn, a family farm that has a wonderful little sandwich and baked goods counter, local meats, candles and pottery, and a lot else besides. But the thing that had us going an extra 26 miles west before turning to come home was their bulk vegetables – priced, for the most part, infinitely cheaper than I could ever source here, and locally grown. Our haul includes 20 pounds of onions, 10 pounds of carrots, 5 pounds of turnips, 25 pounds of potatoes, and a bushel each of butternut squash and sweet potatoes.
We tossed in a Christmas wreath, some garlic, a spaghetti squash and a few other goodies, but the majority of what we spent yesterday is an investment in warm meals for the future. Besides the carrots and the turnips, these are all ‘keeper foods’ these will winter over in the kitchen by the back door in their boxes or bags, and slowly – or less slowly – get used up. Last year the onions lasted until February, and the sweet potatoes longer than that. I guess that’s a perk of our old, drafty house, that the kitchen stays cool enough for vegetable storage.
The first squash became Butternut Squash Lasagna with Garlic and Rosemary for our second round of Thanksgiving last night with my other sister and family. Today, aside from some holiday decorating, we’re almost 100% dedicated to storm preparation, as 8-13″ of snow and ice are due in starting later today. This means clearing the pumpkins from the porch by saving those that will become future meals in the kitchen and giving the rest to the chickens, who love a good pumpkin for a treat. We’ll also be bringing in firewood, and making sure there’s extra water in case we lose power, as well as firing up the wood stove just for the general coziness. The animals will be warm and safe – Eli had already cut a tarp to cover the bunny hutch, so they will be protected from wind and weather, and we’ll shut up the coop with the two heat lamps for the chickens. Add to that a pot of soup on the stove and some homemade bread or popovers, and we’ll be about as prepared as we can be.
But back to those vegetables, and the nearly 8 hours of driving in 2 days to get them. Why, when we can just go to the store around here? Farmstands abound near me, absolutely true. Well, for one, we got a lovely overnight and holiday with my sister and her family, who I adore. And while it’s probably true I could get the carrots and the potatoes for the same rock-bottom price around here, it’s not quite the same thing. For one, I can chat with the farmer who grows them while I shop there, about how business is and his 23 grandchildren. I know there’s nothing on this food he would worry about his family consuming. For another, small farms are failing in the US, and if my dollars can help support one or a few, great. Honestly though, it’s just good food, and we’ll eat it. I love sweet potatoes in nearly any form, same for squash. If I had thought we could go through them in time I would have bought a bushel of Delicata Squash too, but they don’t keep as well as the Butternuts.
It is the sweet potatoes though, that I am most excited about. I eat them in almost every form except that which they are the most known for – candied with marshmallows on top (just ick). Sweet potatoes are incredibly versatile, and often serve as my Paleo starch when I’m not eating bread. I love to just slice and roast them with olive oil, salt and pepper, but the options are near-infinite.
This is part of our winter stockpile, and we’re just about done. The freezers and pantry cabinets are full to bursting. Our meal plan for the week includes homemade Clam Chowder, French Onion Soup, a roasted chicken, and a favorite keep-us-warm standby, Thai Peanut Chicken Ramen. Food, that central part of human existence, is one thing we do right here. As the winter weather sets in, our home – and our stomachs – will be warm. I wish the same for all of you.
It happens like that. The things that are far away all of a sudden arrive. The days go from hot to cool. School buses start to make an appearance. And for us, the day we had been planning for since the winter – the wedding.
I write this a just over a week later, on a quiet Sunday morning. Everyone is asleep except me, and we’re finally starting to truly rest.
Everyone started arriving Thursday, and slowly the list of things on my to-do list started to get checked off, and new ones stopped being added. The weather was due to be perfect. And it was. The sunflowers were in bloom everywhere and we covered our house and the wedding venue with them.
I drove to the airport to pick up my best friend and Matron of Honor, Liz, and her husband Joe, and got a much-needed hug from both of them. The two of them are part of my life’s bedrock, having seen me through some of the hardest things, and that they were with me for one of the happiest things seems only fitting. They immediately dove in to help, and even gave us space for a quiet moment a few hours before the ceremony.
Falling in love again in your 40s is a supreme act of faith. Making a second-time-around promise in front of 75 people is a public act of affirmation. For us, this was the thing that was always supposed to be, and our family and friends showed up to support. Our neighbor Jay played and sang the kids and I down the aisle, and Melissa, his wife and one of my closest friends, officiated. My sister made the beautiful cakes, flavors like vanilla with blackberry lavender filling. Joe and Eli put it all together. Our family surrounded us, and friends we haven’t seen in years, plus those we see all the time.
It was beautiful. We started all in a rush because Statler, our flower chicken, decided to try to escape her basket, and chicken-chasing wasn’t built into the schedule (flower chickens being an as-yet insufficiently tapped wedding trend) to walk down the aisle.
“It’s Time” Candice said.
On December 21, 2016 I started over at Sithean. On August 30, 2019 I started all over yet again, but this time it’s we, not me. I can’t wait to see what’s next…..
I admit it – as much as I love summer, love salads with fresh lettuce from our CSA, love making pickles and picking berries, and love getting away to the mountains as we do every year, I’m ready for fall. Which means on some level, my garden enthusiasm for the year is starting to slowly wane. It’s funny, I get like this every year just as the preserving, which I truly enjoy, ramps up. It’s as though I know if I power through a few more weeks of Salsa Verde, Oven-canned tomatoes, and homemade salsa, I can start to rest on the literal fruits of my labors.
Of course, there’s the garden clean up to do in late fall, and this year we finally need to finish that last fence section, but in about 6 weeks the only thing left to do will be to pick the last pumpkins and squash and put the garden to bed for the winter.
I finished off the pickle making with one last batch of the bread and butter type.
We have enough pickles to put jars on every table at the wedding, and plenty for us as well. There’s more pesto, to make, of course. Canning tomatoes and tomatillos is coming, but not quite yet – our harvest is increasing by the day but the volumes aren’t there yet. I am ready for chilly nights, pumpkins on the porch, and no more weeding. I want roasted vegetables, a pot of soup on the stove, and lazy weekend mornings followed by apple picking. I want to be able to put on a pair of jeans without them sticking to my skin, and a pair of boots.
I love the 4 seasons. I used to think I hated winter, but then I moved to South Florida for a couple years and while I loved so much about it – Florida is so much more than Disney and hot – it wasn’t home. Since then I’ve come to like winter – the stillness of it, the softness of falling snow, even the ice. I work from home more than half the time, which makes it easier – when the weather is bad I don’t have anywhere I need to be, and if I’m traveling, it’s hotels and no shoveling. Winter is peaceful. We don’t rush off to ski every weekend – I don’t ski at all – and often the most exciting thing to do, other than training runs for me, is to plan what’s for dinner.
Spring is exciting – there’s seeds to plant and outside to be excited about. Every time the first of our crocuses bloom, I get a thrill. I still remember the first year here, watching the gardens unfold into flowers and greens. That excitement never changes, nor does my optimism about my gardens.
But fall is by far my favorite season, with all it’s New England-y assets. There’s the colors of the leaves, and the crunch of the way they feel under my feet. There’s hot apple cider with cinnamon sticks. The way the air smells, clean and crisp. For us, there’s the Topsfield Fair, which for 10 days in October every year turns our town into candy apple-covered mob scene, complete with giant pumpkin contests and fried whatever-on-a-stick.
The garden will wind down , the wedding and all it’s associated planning and projects will be over, and once the fair comes to an end, there’s nothing other than starting to get ready for winter to be done. For us that’s firewood delivery – we’ve used up most of the viable firewood the previous owner left us, insulating windows and doors, and making sure storm windows are ready. A brand-new firewood rack for the porch should be here soon too, something we’ve been needing to get for a bit now.
For today though, sunflowers are in bloom at the farms nearby and the temperature hit a high of 89 degrees – it’s hard to imagine being cold again. The idea of no fresh-picked salads, no sweet corn, no roadside farm stands is almost impossible to contemplate. I want the fresh food to linger while the days cool, an impossible feat.
That said, I’m hearing small complaints of boredom with the grilled-chicken-and-salad-with-side-of-corn-on-the-cob repetition, which are probably the smallish people’s way of communicating their readiness for a change in seasons as well, or maybe just Mom’s lack of inventiveness on the subject of dinner. So tomorrow we are having taco night, complete with Instant Pot Carnitas, homemade guacamole, and all the toppings. I know when my ratings are dropping, and clearly, action is required.
Still, we’re in the home stretch of summer, and I might throw in some grilled corn just because I can.
This evening my daughter is off to a wedding with her father and grandparents, and my son stayed behind with Eli and I – he’s a little young as an attendee for evening weddings yet, and mostly happier to be left behind.
He dug his own little garden and planted, telling me that while he’s not sure yet he wants to be a gardener, he might be so he’s giving it a try. And maybe we’ll get some late season flowers and wax beans as a result, which never hurts.
I spent most of the afternoon in the kitchen, canning and preserving. Pesto, pickles, and a start at tackling the bounty from our trip to pick blackberries, which typically ripen around now, just in time for my birthday. I’m not quite sure yet what we’ll do with the ones we don’t freeze, but I’m leaning towards Blackberry Financiers, which are a favorite and store and freeze well, for a summery treat in the cold and dark of winter. I have some wild Maine blueberries too – the net of this is that in and around the tasks we have in the final 12 days leading up to our wedding, there’s a lot of food to put up.
Which is why lunch was a simple arrangement of tomatoes and cucumbers from the CSA, basil from the front yard, and red pepper and feta spread with mozzerella from the farm we picked the blackberries at. Simple, tasty and absolutely beautiful, as summer food should be.
Dinner was slightly more involved, but only slightly – Rosemary Ranch Chicken, fresh corn, couscous and salad, but still one of those fresh summer meals that fills without leaving you feeling too full. I’m sitting and listening to the cricket chorus, and our sunflowers are in full bloom, both sure signs that summer is coming to an end.
We are just a few days away from the wedding, and deep in the throes of both house projects and of food preservation for the summer. So far we’ve put up several kinds of berries and made pesto and canned pickles – both the bread and butter and dill kind – and blanched and frozen kale. The tomatoes, peppers and tomatillos are just starting to ripen, which means September weekends will be filled with sauce-making and salsa verde.
Summer meals are best when light, leaving the intracacies of cooking for the colder months. Eli is always ready to grill, and we have a salad to complement our meal most nights.
Summer is, when done right, is easy and delicious. Soon it will end, and with that ending comes the chilly nights and more complex meals and flavors – curries, roasts, soups and root vegetables. But for now, I’m grateful for the bounty of the season, for the pleasure of picking my Sungold tomatoes for the season and adding them to our butter lettuce from the CSA. This is the time of year where everything is delectable, right outside the door, and for far too short a time, readily available. I love all the seasons, but I will miss the summer lettuces and cucumbers, even when I happily trade them for squash and pumpkins.
For now though, I am reveling in the bounty that our warm season brings. I hope you are as well.