The Long Pandemic Teatime of the Soul

I drink a lot of tea in the winter time. I do not like my tea very strong, and after I drink the first cup until it has cooled down – I do like it very hot – I often top it with water and reheat, sometimes over and over again. An old friend once referred to it as me liking ‘scent of tea’ and she definitely nailed it. I’ve never reverted to drinking hot water with lemon slices, but that probably would be fine with me too. It’s warmth from the inside, which is helpful because our house isn’t well insulated, and cranking up the heat isn’t a constant option.

Last week, after watching and reading about how new strains of Covid-19 are spreading and far more infectious, we decided to accelerate our big grocery stock up and so on Friday and Saturday, shopped like food and household goods were going out of style. We have some bulk items coming from Azure Standard – a test run of their co-op – in early February, and will continue our Misfits Market and Walden local meat deliveries, but the intention here is to have enough of our core needs to last about 60 days. Things like bulk pasta, dried beans and flour will last much longer.

And now that we have the storage space, it’s feasible to buy 5 lbs of Parmesan cheese at a time and freeze it in bags until we need it. And yes, we use it.

Associated, as it is intended to be, with desperately needed pantry and freezer inventory and organization, it offers us a chance to mostly take ourselves out of circulation other than school for the kids and occasional runs for fruit and milk.

On March 8th, we will have been in our new normal for a year. While Covid-19 just passed it’s 1-year anniversary as a human disease, it took a little longer for us. As I look back, in mid-February I started stocking up. At first, I, and others thought I was a little nuts. On the evening of March 8th I flew home from my last work trip, unmasked as we all were, as I chatted with a fellow passenger. No one was talking about aerosol transmission then. He shared his Lysol wipes with me, something that was already in short supply. I had a reservation to return to my office in Michigan in 2 weeks, but I was pretty sure by that time I wouldn’t be going.

By the end of the following week we were all in lock down. The schools closed for ‘deep cleaning’ never to reopen, at least for the rest of the school year. Stores were running out of absolutely everything, and toilet paper was the new hot commodity.

A year and more than 400,o00 deaths later, we are preparing for a potential lock down and shortages again. While I think that things will begin to turn a corner in the spring, we are mindful that it is going to get worse before it gets better. Whether we will see similar food supply shortages as we did in the spring is unclear, but we know that the pandemic is running unchecked globally except in a few select places, so I have to assume this will be an ongoing issue. While everywhere there seems to be the idea that we will be back to normal by summer, I hope so while planning for another year of plague.

So how to get through that if it comes, and what to do to keep you and us safe and sound and well is on my mind. We are taking a very conservative approach to exposure, and I don’t intend to change that. So here are the things we are doing to get through this endless dusk, when the lights are dimmer and the weather is colder and our days are filled with our missed connections.

  1. Routine is your friend. If you know what to expect of each day it’s much easier. If every Saturday morning it’s bacon and pancakes for breakfast, hold that line and make sure there is bacon and all the things. Routine brings relief and clear expectations. And that translates to activities – my son has an Outschool Roblox class on Thursdays while my daughter has a horseback riding lesson (well ventilated – actually freezing cold – barn, good social distancing), and knowing that Thursdays host ‘their’ activities helps.
  2. Nourish your body. Cook good, healthy food as much as possible. Generate excitement and ask for participation in food preparation with your household. As you have time and money, now is a time to experiment with new foods and to refine others.
  3. Get outside. As cold as it is here in the north, I still make a point to walk and run as frequently as I can. My son practices his bike riding skills. My daughter hangs with her chickens, Eli plays fetch with Teddy the Doggleby and he and I try to walk together whenever we can get out for an hour.
  4. Create some holidays. We celebrate Surprise Day here once a year – a day off for everyone where we go do fun things, and pre-Covid, we would celebrate Mama Pajama Day, a day where everyone stays in pajamas all day and we eat ice cream sundaes for lunch. During Covid, there has been a lot more pajama-filled days, but now that the kids are back in school we plan to spin it up again. And it’s probably about time to bring back France Day, created in response to our cancelled trip to Paris last April, in which we eat french food and do activities related to France. Last year it was a 3D Eiffel Tower puzzle, croissants and a french chicken dish. In the end it doesn’t really matter what you do (give your dog a birthday party? Celebrate the color blue?), just do a something.
  5. Make the everyday fun. For nights the kids are with their Dad, Eli and I often make a nice dinner, light a fire in the wood stove, and snuggle up for a movie. We don’t really care what movie, but having a thing that we look forward to makes it fun, and while we always miss the kids, we look forward to time together. If you live alone, maybe pick a night where you do something indulgent, like a glass of wine while in the bathtub.
  6. Give yourself a break. We are human beings, not human doings. If it all gets to be too much, it’s okay to shut down for a while.
Homemade Chicken Massaman Curry

How are you getting through?

Taking Stock

Early mornings are my favorite time. Before everyone is up, there I am, with a book or my computer and my cup of coffee, enjoying the quiet of being alone before the world starts up around me.

Yesterday morning after I put a pot of eggs to hard boil on the stove, I sat in the living room, which was still cozy warm from the previous night’s fire in the wood stove, and illuminated by the lights on the Christmas tree. With just a few days to my favorite holiday, we are starting to slow down. There’s still much to do – I am late to getting the last few packages in the mail (this is true every year), we still haven’t gotten much wrapped and there’s some baking to be done. But all of our shopping is complete, Eli continues to create Elf on the Shelf magic with our house elf, Elphidelphia, most nights and other than a lot of wrapping still to do, which I actually enjoy, there’s just not a ton left to manage.

This year we will not spend our Christmas Eve with my parents or Christmas Day with my former in-laws. We can’t – we made the decision a couple weeks ago to put the kids into a school that is open and in-person 5 days a week, and so all semblance of assured safety for those around us is gone. It was the right decision, but it comes tinged with regret. Our cozy 9 month long bubble popped, and now we go out into the world again, just as infections rage all around me. I can’t say it doesn’t worry me, but I also know it’s what the kids needed. So we rolled the dice, and the outcome is now one of crossing our fingers and hoping that the other families there are as careful as ours.

So Christmas will be simple, with a lovely cheese board and a ham and some simple, pre-prepped side dishes for lunch. Eli, I, my ex and the kids are the sum total of the humans we will be with, and for this year that’s just fine.

Our winters are always quiet, but this one will be so much more so. But as much as I miss our people, I intend to enjoy it fully, with long peaceful walks and runs, time spent in the kitchen, Friday nights spent with homemade pizza and movies, and books. My garden seeds – although I need very few this year – are ordered because I know there will likely be shortages again this year, even though I am several months away from the potting bench taking up residence in the living room.

After re-engineering our spaces last summer to make room for more kids to arrive in our lives in 2021, we ended up with a lot of clutter in various places. Little by little, I’m going through and clearing it out. This week I tackled the top of our bureau, which has long been the resting place for unmatched socks, outgrown kid clothes, and various things that we don’t quite know where to put. Now it has just a few items on it, all carefully placed, and it’s a serene view for when I sit propped in bed with my laptop on chilly mornings. Of which there are a lot of these days. Decluttering – it’s what’s for winter.

Yesterday I did all my ordering of groceries from various locations, and stopped off at the Asian grocery store. From now until February 1, or maybe longer, other than milk from the local dairy, which we pick up 2x a month, and our Misfits Market deliveries, we’re on a grocery store & spending freeze. No going, no ordering. I stocked up this weekend because our holiday meals are important and there’s a pandemic on, but at the end of the day it’s time to get some daylight into the pantry and freezer, and one does that by eating it down.

Covid-19 is also spreading really, really fast in Massachusetts and everywhere, and we’re hunkering down for the next few months as much as possible, so having less coming in from the outside world while we eat through our stockpile is a good idea.

This year we have done so very much. As I look at the patched, and still to be painted walls in the bedroom, I think about the gift that new pipes throughout was to us and the house. There’s still more trees to take down, and I get a little sad about each one as they are removed, but the 7 trees we took down posed danger to the house and us, and now we have the start of a clearing that might eventually become something. An orchard? We don’t know yet.

And then there’s the RV, which sounds like a way too big investment until I tell you how very much I love it. It’s like playing fort, only for adults (and the kids, but mostly it’s for us, ha!). The sheer coziness and contentment Eli and I felt in the mountains over Thanksgiving weekend was not something I think you can put a sticker price on, as we lit candles at the little table after a day of hiking, and sat down to a delicious dinner of homemade enchiladas that he had prepped at home. Moments like that, when you realize you have everything you need and then some, are an amazing gift. Twenty years from now I imagine it will feel exactly the same.

And there’s been so much else. The pleasure of knowing that an entire bed of garlic for us and our neighbors is tucked away under the snow in the garden. The freshly painted walls in the living room and a comfy couch that will seat all of us and then some. The fact that we are moving along in our adoption journey. Our kids. One another. 2020 has been a hard year to sit with, with illnesses and mental health issues and job challenges for so many we love, plus a pandemic and so many people at risk and in need. We have been incredibly lucky, despite me getting sick and our work and life load having exploded in intensity. This meant that Eli and I had to team up on a whole new level, ruthlessly prioritizing our time. We’ve settled into most of a routine based around our various strengths and weaknesses, and I think we’ll just continue to refine that over time.

Since this year we tended to some very expensive items, next year will be a little different. Our focus, other than replacing the super crappy electric stove in the kitchen and adding a few needed implements like a leaf blower and chain saw, is savings. We have our RV, which means for us now travel is cheap and awesome and comes with our own private bathroom, which is wonderful in a pandemic (we love tent camping but communal restrooms are a no-fly zone for us right now). We are a few months away from being adoptive-parent certified, we hope. And we’ve been taking steps to get a better handle on expenses, cutting as many as possible. We’re also knee-deep in a refinance, dropping the mortgage down to 20 years at 2.25%. Our target is to pay it off in way less than that, but carving off a full percentage point and dropping the term from 30 to 20 years for effectively the same monthly payment will save us a ton of interest over the life of the loan.

We still have a lot of big goals ahead of us – an eventual renovation, kids to college, and a lot of expenses to evaluate and cut over the next several months. That includes some recurring expenses but also our grocery spending, which is a little uhm….well…never mind. More on that later.

But the name of the game for 2021 is using and enjoying what we have. We have spent the last several years building the life we want, and now it’s time to slow down and live in it for a while.

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.

The Sanity-Saving Magic of Planning Meals

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This morning I woke up to snow outside, and my relentlessly blooming Hibiscus gazing out the window, as though it was longing for summer, not unlike the rest of us.  It’s May already, and Mother’s Day is tomorrow.

Fortunately the snow dissapated quickly – by the time I sat down to eat around 11 am, it was gone and the sun was shining, but there’s a frost warning in place for tonight, which meant we needed to cover up our delicate baby fruit trees and flowering shrubs.   I brought in firewood and sent my wonderful husband to the hardware store to get something to cover the garden beds.   We spent about 45 minutes tacking plastic over the trench bed, the front garden, and the baby snap peas and lettuce in the gardens, as well as covering our fruit trees.  It wasn’t work I planned today, but I’m grateful if it keeps my gardens safe.

This past week found me overwhelmed a lot.  Between work, kids and life in general, plus the fact that my energy levels nearly 5 weeks after last feeling truly ‘sick’ are not back to normal.   I have the energy to walk in the mornings, but after work and dinner, I’m wiped during the week.  I needed a reset.  So on Friday after a couple of morning meetings, I called it, signed off for the day, and proceeded to spend some time doing non-work things like housecleaning and spending time with the family.  

This morning I woke up refreshed, and decided that I needed to better plan to get more control over my time and energy.  Key to that is a meal plan.

I made a menu through next Saturday.  I tried to focus on the things we have, but even then I needed some additions.  So then a grocery list, and even found a store with a pickup window for this morning.  I’ve been experimenting with delivery, as well as going to the store, and drive-up-and-they-put it-in-trunk style grocery acquisition, and I have to say I like that last one best.  I’ll still need to go in stores occasionally, but the combination of meat and vegetables delivered every few weeks plus a few trips out seems to be keeping us well-stocked.

And honestly, while I don’t want to over-buy and reduce what’s available to those that need it, making sure our pantry, refrigerator and freezer stay full is part of my plan now.   We are in uncharted territory from an economic and disease perspective, and I am behaving as though an abundance of caution in almost every aspect of our life is necessary.   We are in for a long road, and my eternal optimism is becoming tempered.  Food, we will spend money on.  The garden too – we planted 2 cherry and 2 apple trees this year, and Mulberry and Witch Hazel trees are both on the way.  Add to that my lemon tree, which I will work to keep alive during winters in the house, the existing fruit trees, chickens and the garden, and we start to become just a tiny bit more self-sufficient every year.

To our Walden Local Meat subscription, as well as Misfits Market, we now get bread flour on subscription too from One Mighty Mill.  Sustaining a more local food supply is necessary, even as we see more and more supply chain interruptions.  True, it can be expensive, but right now it’s an expense worth extending for.  For those of us who can afford to weather the storm right now,  local food and farmers are great places to put dollars.  I don’t like to indulge in fear-based thinking, but I also don’t think there’s a fast path out of this.  None of us will be unscathed at the end.

But if this is a long-haul situation, anything that gives a sense of control is good.  And to that end – the meal plan I mentioned.  It helps in myriad ways – I can do food prep early in the morning to ensure that food is ready at dinnertime, just as I am wrapping my work day, rather than stepping away from my desk and staring vacantly into the fridge, as if hoping that amongst the peppers and tofu is a tiny, chilly Oracle with an idea of what we should eat.  It means that we’re typically eating healthier, as from-scratch food is almost invariably healthier than packaged.  And it means we’re working our way through the vegetable drawer, which is critical to conserving dollars and preventing waste.

So what are we eating this week?

Tonight, a pot of chili, some popovers, and veggies.
Tomorrow my husband is in charge of food, with me trying to do as little cooking as possible
Monday through Wednesday it will be just Eli and I, so one night we will have fish with tumeric-roasted cauliflower, and another night sticky chicken meatballs and sauteed veggies with salad, and then a bbq chicken Cobb salad saved for whatever night is warmest
Thursday and Friday will be kid-friendly, with spaghetti and meatballs taking center stage one night, and homemade pizza another.  Either Friday or Saturday we’ll do our once-every-few-weeks takeout.  So far, Indian food is the greatest hit, but we also got all the ingredients to make Onion Pakoda, and we’ve mastered butter chicken and saag already so maybe we’ll opt to skip the taking out.

In a world where every choice we make is possibly deadly to our loved ones and to our wallets,  simplification is important, as is controlling what we can.

May you stay safe and healthy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the Land of Suspended Animation

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It’s been a chilly, wet spring, with very occasional days of sunshine interspersed with mostly cold and rain, even snow far past the point of normalcy.

Normalcy.  I think up until mid-March, I could probably define what that is.  Now, I’m not sure.

Eventually, we humans normalize everything.  And so it is here, as we, along with so many others, have adjourned from most human contact.  We venture out very little, and when we do it is masked, gloves and with cleaning wipes in hand.  It’s nearly impossible to imagine that just 2 months ago we were sharing food with friends and socializing.

I’m accepting of our new normal, but I miss our family and friends.  And as I find my energy again I’m torn between loving some of this pause in the eternal busyness of my life, and wishing it would get back to normal for all of us.

Whatever normal is.

Despite that wish, there are so many joys in what I call the Land of Suspended Animation.  Finding a free weekend day for yard work is no longer a problem.  Feeling overbooked, or too busy other than my current work schedule is a nonissue.  Since even a trip to the grocery store is a fraught experience, and up until recently no one could go anyway because of quarantine, we’ve opted for delivery for the last month, saving us time and energy, if costing more in tips for the hardworking Instacart delivery folks, to whom I am profoundly grateful.

Eventually we’ll have to venture out, but not yet.

Despite the odd pause that much of humanity is taking, Mother Nature is not.  The world continues to bloom around me, despite the ongoing chill.  The birds begin to sing in advance of dawn every morning.  While the heat is still on inside, outside is becoming a riot of color.  Myrtle is blooming everywhere, with tiny purple flowers among the deep green leaves,  and naturalized daffodils and violas spring up in the strangest places. I check daily in the hopes of one tiny stalk peeking up, the harbinger of Asparagus season kicking off.  And yesterday, there it was.  It will be a few days before we can harvest, but there’s nothing like it to tell me that the world is moving on whether humanity is or not.

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Spring is my best reminder of how many lifetimes Sithean has seen.  The asparagus was planted over 60 years ago, the peach trees are older than that,  It’s almost impossible to know how long the trench bed has been there.  It may have been part of the original gardens back in 1850, long before the house moved to it’s current location, about 200 yards from where it was built.  It gives me perspective on our relative impermanence here in the world, and how humanity is just a component.

This is just a moment.

My seedlings are getting big, and I transplant them to larger pots and containers at every opportunity.  The tulip bulbs Eli and I planted last fall are starting to come up, including the checkered tulips, or Fritillaria meleagris that my neighbor and I were enchanted by during an outing for her birthday last year that bloom with their heads hanging down.  I searched for until I found some for both of us, and we planted them last fall.  “They’re up!” captioned a delighted picture from her a few days ago, so I went hunting for mine in the rain.    I think I’ll add some more this year.   It’s hard for Eli and I to get excited about digging into the rocky soil here in the chill of fall, but it’s worth it as each spring more and more flowers bloom because of it.

But despite all the movement and growth, here we sit.  For as long as it takes, without having any idea of how long it will take, like hedgehogs in a perpetual winter hibernation or caterpillars in their chrysalis  .  Unlike hedgehogs though, our heart rates are fast, and anxiety is often high.  Still, we have adjusted to the confines of our smaller world.  I remind myself always to enjoy these moments, for they too, shall pass.

We cook.  We talk.  We work.  What comes next I don’t know and there’s much I can’t control.  But the garden will still grow and the flowers will still bloom, and for that I am grateful.  This place is our stability from the storm, which may last far longer than all of us hope for.  There’s so much I miss, but I find myself so grateful for this place and my family with me.   We are tethered to this tiny piece of earth and one another, and it fills me with hope, always.

I wish the same for you.

 

 

Springtime Chill

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Despite the fact that we woke up to snow Saturday morning (which was then sleet and finally rain), the sun came back the next day, just in time for springtime preparations here on the farmlet.  Sunday we spent a good chunk of our morning in the yard, cleaning up leaves and debris, planting some snap peas, and a few other projects that have been lingering.

Like every year,   there’s good news and bad news.  Only one of the two baby apricot trees made it through the winter.  The fig tree didn’t survive either, but we have 2 new apple trees and a couple cold hardy cherry trees as well, and a mulberry tree on the way.  On the good news front the Seckel Pear tree seems to be budding, all the bulbs Eli and I planted last fall are coming up, and my hibiscus trees, bought on discount last year as I went to order wedding flowers, thrived in the dining room over the winter.   Which has indicated that perhaps I can also keep citrus trees that way, so I ordered a Meyer Lemon tree in a mad rush of optimism.

I’m technically done with quarantine, but taking it very slowly as I re-enter the world, and of course we’re doing that as little as possible.  I’m still exhausted a good chunk of the time, weeks later.  Still, I and my family got lucky to be minimally impacted, and I’m grateful.

While I had to pace myself, gardening and yard work is somewhat meditative for me, and I find it more relaxing than tiring, even though I could clean up the yard for months without stopping and there would still be more to do.

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Still, after 2 wheel barrels full of leaves and debris, and some snap peas in the ground, it was time to take a break.  Alice the chicken apparently thought so too.

Monday was back to chilly and grey, and I got up early to go for a walk and get dinner into the Crockpot.  This time of year, when it’s warming up but all too slowly, it’s the perfect time for a Crockpot meal.

I took a 3-lb pot roast and sprinkled it with salt, and pepper and then pan-seared it, before putting it into the crock.  Using the same pan, I added more olive oil, chopped a couple onions, 4 cloves of garlic and a carrot, and sauteed them until soft.

Then I took a large can of crushed tomatoes, a cup of red wine (cooking wine works just fine here) a teaspoon each of Allspice and Cinnamon, and a half a teaspoon of ground cloves, plus some salt and pepper, let that cook for a few minutes to meld flavors, and then poured it over the roast in the Crockpot and let it cook for 8 hours.

The kitchen smelled amazing – the combination of tomato and red wine with spices more frequently used for baking is not to be missed.

I served it over cauliflower mash, and honestly, it was just the thing to start the week off.  Today is due to be warmer and there’s plenty of pot roast leftovers, plus some chicken soup with rice to finish off as well.

I hope you and yours are staying safe.

 

 

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.

 

 

Remembrances

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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.

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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.

 

 

 

How to use the Grocery Store During a Pandemic

Early on in the C19 panic-buying days, which was only about 2ish weeks ago, people were doing some super-crazy things, like buying out entire stores supplies of toilet paper and meat.  It was awful and greedy, and impacted a lot of limited-income people.

I’m an advocate of keeping a full pantry, fridge and freezer, but I want to differentiate between what is a ‘good’ stockpile and a ‘bad’ stockpile.

Here’s some helpful hints on how not to be a jackass at the grocery store.

Good: Buy extra so you don’t have to go out more than once every few weeks.
Bad: Strip the store of things you don’t even need and more than you can eat, or with the intention of reselling at crazy prices.   Feeding off people’s fear isn’t good business, it’s icky.

Good: Buying things you like to eat so that you can eat them over the next couple weeks
Bad: Buying things that are WIC eligible when you can buy another brand (they literally cannot) and stockpile shopping in the first couple days of the month when SNAP benefit recipients, who likely never have enough food anyway, are in dire need of resupply.  Sure, go to the store if you need a few things, but save your big shops for later.

Good: Thanking the people who are going to work every day so you can eat.
Bad: Voting against policies that would give them increased job security, benefits, and living wages.

Good: Buying what you need.
Bad: Grabbing the last thing on the shelf because it’s there, even if you don’t need it.

See?  Not complicated.

 

Home Bound

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Photo by Eli 5 Stone

 

As I write this, 664,000 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19.  Over 30,000 have died.  When in a matter of days it was reported that an otherwise healthy 17 year old and an infant died, my calm shattered and ice water ran through my veins.  We are still on the uphill slope of this, the curve that everyone is now trying to flatten is a mountain, and we are less than halfway up the side.  2 of the 4 of us have compromised immune systems.  The only thing we can do is hold the line, stay home, sterilize everything, and hope for the best.

As I drove my children to their Dad’s house for a couple days, I passed a church that summarized, even for those of us that aren’t particularly religious, the correct direction:

No Services
Keep Praying

And so I am, for all of us.

We are safe and sound here, as much as we can be.  I just stocked us up again on groceries, and our meat deliveries continue.  Eggs are an abundance that we can share by leaving cartons on the front porch for friends and neighbors.  To our monthly meat deliveries I’ve added Misfits Market, until the garden and CSA start producing.  I’ve learned the local cheese shop delivers as well, so if we find ourselves in need of cheese, we have options.  I know that what we are experiencing is positive luxury, and my gratitude is boundless.   I also know we’re helping keep some local businesses in play, and for that I’m happy as well.

Knowing that our intentional isolation is the only way, and that still there is risk to us focuses me in on what matters.   I am content to just be home.   I plant, I work in the yard, clean the house, and cook.  Oh, and Eli and I juggle work – which is impossibly busy for me and very much the same for him, plus homeschooling kids.  There’s no relaxing or boredom here, no need to think up things that will fill our time.  We take it day by day, trying to balance all the things, sometimes succeeding, sometimes failing.

There’s a lesson in all of this – there is only now, and we have to take advantage of it, live our lives.  Nothing is written.

The other night a surprise snowstorm blew in, and Eli and I went for a long walk in it, coming home soaked and chilled to the bone, but pleased to have had the outside world to ourselves. We try to walk as much as possible these days, needing the fresh air.  My son has even taken to occasionally disappearing to the play set in the backyard, sometimes accompanied by his iPad, just to be outside.  And probably away from us, as there’s a lot of togetherness happening.  Still, the kids are happy about my prolonged grounding at home.

Spring came back right after our snowstorm, with a few daffodils showing up in the yard, and the lilacs turning green with buds, and the snow melting by morning.    Yesterday we started clearing out the trench bed.  Asparagus Season is only a few weeks away, and the yard needs a great deal of work.  We haven’t figured out where the bricks to finish the garden beds are going to come from if we can’t go buy them – there are old, crumbling bricks in back of the garage that we can use as placeholders at least.  We would like to paint a bedroom, but that, too, requires a trip to the store no one should risk.  We definitely need a lawn mower, rather than a service this year.  At some point we may have to manage that, but not quite yet.

So we putter with what we have, like so many generations before us, only with infinitely more resources.  And we rest.  This morning, I watched the rain.  I woke up early and started some seeds, when it was dark enough that I still needed a lamp to see by.  I read, and I wrote.  I sat, at peace with where we are right now.  My children were asleep upstairs, so too my husband.  The world begins to green around me.  Thus far, we are only touched by isolation, not illness.

And I cook.  We still have some onions, butternut squash, and potatoes from our Thanksgiving stock up, but these need to be used quickly now.   The onions will go into some French Onion Soup this week.  We have 2 small pumpkins hanging on as well, ready to turn into Pumpkin, Sage and Fontina Lasagna.  Eli’s birthday is coming up, so we’ll need to celebrate that as well.

For tonight, it’s simple.  Stuffed Spaghetti Squash – simple and delicious.  Serves 2, just double the recipe for more.
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Here’s how to make it:
1 medium spaghetti squash, halved and seeded
Small container of pesto
2 oz goat cheese
1 lb ground turkey or lamb
2 small onions, chopped
1 garlic clove, finely minced
salt and pepper to taste
Parmesan, to top

Preheat oven to 400
Oil a baking sheet and put the halved squash face down on the sheet
Bake until tender, about 40 minutes

While the squash is baking, saute the ground turkey, onion and garlic in a pan until turkey is cooked through and onions are soft.  Add salt and pepper and set aside.

Remove the squash from the oven and flip until they are rind-side down, let cool slightly

Mix the cooled turkey mixture with the goat cheese and pesto until well combined.  Load up the squash ‘boats’ with the mixture, and top with Parmesan, Asiago or another grated hard cheese.

Return to the 400 degree oven for 15 minutes, until heated through and cheese is melted.  Serve immediately.