September 8, 2016

They Shape You Instead


I was recently talking to a friend who is expecting her first baby in a few months. She mentioned that she didn’t want everything to be about the baby, which is totally understandable. Pregnancy is unique and special and yet totally mundane, an ordinary occurrence of biology and a small miracle that I hope she will celebrate a little bit. We all have our own experiences but there must be few parents who think, I hope everything changes. Maybe none. The rest of us keep telling ourselves that everything doesn’t have to.

Somewhere in the midst of the changes, the mourning of the life you had before the baby came, attempting or succeeding at keeping up with the things that are important to you in addition to parenting, you find your new normal. At least, I think you do, but I am still finding mine. While you are busy settling in and accepting that things have changed or trying not to admit that things have changed, the change happens. I still do a lot of cooking, most of the time with my three year old side kick standing on a chair pulled up the counter. No more than two inches away from me, sometimes pulling on my skirt, he is always eager to help stir and would like to taste everything. Often we are serenaded by the baby, bouncing in her seat on the floor. It won’t be long before she wants to be at the counter, too.


The kitchen is still my primary creative outlet. Yesterday, over several hours, we made sourdough bread, pesto, granola bars, buttermilk dressing, and blueberry cake. But most of our meals are simpler than when I used to cook without interruption. I still occasionally take on a post dinner and bedtime kitchen project, but I’m not planning to do any canning this year. I know I’ll do more in the future, but I do feel that sense of let down that I’m not living up to my pre-babies life. I am officially a master food preserver but I really hadn’t thought about doing any food preservation this summer. Our garden, however, had a different idea. Two weeks ago we picked close to twenty pounds of tomatoes and I’ve made nearly every zucchini recipe that looks good. Before the plants slowed way down, I managed to tuck some of the abundance in the freezer.

So much of life is realizing that you are not in control. You can a years supply of salsa and then, pregnant, you are repulsed by anything with tomatoes. The garden does better than you could imagine one year, the next many of the crops could fail. You do your best to be a good parent, hoping to shape your children and your life but they shape you instead: pushing a bit there, softening here, rubbing the hard spots raw, pinching, stretching.


If you have an abundance of fresh summer produce and a shortage of time, freezing is an ideal way to store it. It's not as romantic as canning but it is much easier. Here are a few tips to help keep your frozen produce fresher and tastier.

Get your freezer ready Food stored at 0 degrees F will keep for a year but the warmer your freezer is, the faster the quality of the frozen food will deteriorate. At 10 degrees F it will only keep for three months. Make sure your freezer is set to 0, you can check the temperature with a simple instant read thermometer. A full freezer is more efficient than an empty one. Add a gallon jug full of water to the freezer to help keep it cold in case you lose power. You can safely freeze about 2-3 pounds of food per cubic foot of freezer space within 24 hours.

Get your food ready Some foods freeze better than others. Freezing changes the texture of fruits and vegetables so they won’t be the same as fresh. Most berries and fruits can be frozen as is. They will be softer when you take them out, but flavor will not be compromised. Most vegetables need to be blanched before freezing to ensure that they will be completely mushy when you want to eat them. Some things, like lettuce, are not meant to be frozen. Freeze only what you know you will use, otherwise you are wasting time, energy, and freezer space.

Get the right containers I often freeze produce in quart mason jars, just make sure to leave a little head space because things expand as they freeze. I also use plastic freezer bags but you can use anything that is airtight, moisture and vapor resistant, and easy to mark with the contents and the date you froze them.


Know what’s inside
In addition to labeling containers of frozen produce, I try to keep an updated list of what is in my freezer. It is helpful to know what you have in there so you can make the best use of it and use it up within a year.

A few other ideas You can freeze raw tomatoes whole in an airtight container. After frozen, you can run them under water to remove the skins. They can be used for soups, sauces or any other way you would cook tomatoes. Freeze grated raw zucchini for use in soups or sauces or, as I do, for enchilada filling. I freeze my pesto in jars so I can use one at a time but you can also spread a thin sheet in a freezer bag which takes up minimal space and allows you break off just the amount you need. When I buy fresh summer corn, I always buy a dozen ears, cook them all, and cut the corn off the uneaten ears to freeze.

The National Center for Home Food Preservation is a great resource for specific freezing instructions. 

What do you put in your freezer?


August 24, 2016

August


August evening. Amos is making trains and mailboxes with his tegu blocks. He constructs something that he is using to pretend to cut grass on the rug. He asks me for a bucket, a pretend bucket. Here it is, I say, placing a pretend bucket near where he is working. Is it a tall one or a small one? He asks. Tall. I’m chimping the grass, he says. He likes to make up words and I am amused that his make-believe revolves around yard work.

Eowyn is in her bouncy chair, singing with all the might of her little lungs. We stop and look at her and she makes a sound like laughter, her first, although she seems to be laughing at nothing and we can’t get her to do it again. Outside the golden hour is approaching, so much earlier than it was a few weeks ago. Crickets chirp their steady background music.



Some days I am parched and thirsting for that elusive five minute of peace. Other times, Amos is outside cutting the grass with scissors or playing with beans on the kitchen counter (handily contained by a large plastic bin) and I can feel my whole being relax a bit with this break from answering questions or responding to pleas for help. Its not all bad, I do what I can to really appreciate the moments that are good. These moments are mixed into ever changing and ever lingering challenges swirled with never ending doubt (am I doing this right? I may never know).

I am happy to have a kitchen table full of food that we have grown. By grown, I mean we stuck some seeds and seedlings in the ground and let the heat of the summer and an occasional squirt with the hose do the work. But we have braids of onions hanging by the windows and I may even end up canning some of the tomatoes that are so abundant this year. We scattered a second planting of lettuce seeds and I hope we’ll be eating it in salads soon. I’ve come to realize that I feel happiest and most alive when surrounded by things I’ve made myself. I’ll be sad when the fall and the frost leaves us with nothing more in our garden plot.



I lose track of the days and hope summer will last at least another month until I see the calendar and it finally sinks in that September is next week. A new page of days doesn’t mean summer is over, no one in our house is going back to school, but I’m not ready to let go of this season. Time really does go by so much faster every year, summer seems just a blink between months of winter.

Until then there are more perfect breezes and blue skies to be enjoyed. 

July 11, 2016


For the first time in several years, I am growing food for myself again. We have a ten by ten plot in a community garden about a mile from our house. We have planted and tended this little plot as a family and I wanted to share a bit about the satisfaction and joy of growing some of our own food. But, at the same time, I have been thinking and feeling a lot about the state of the world and the heartbreaking events that seem to happen again and again. 

I am sure that much of the heartbreak doesn't even make the news but so many people are suffering, so many people losing loved ones unnecessarily, so many people unable to find a better way.  I have always always believed in the importance of finding joy and peace in the small things I can do with my own hands. But I also believe that we must be the change we wish to see in the world. Sometimes this means planting seeds and taking a moment to appreciate that you know exactly where your salad came from and who grew it. Other times it means educating yourself and your children on how to be better citizens of the world and this country and finding ways to take action instead of feeling like you don't know what to do or say. 

There is hope in these tiny seeds that become so much more. But we have to nurture the things that we want to grow.






July 7, 2016

Cherry Vanilla Popsicles



Summer Summer Summer.

I really am trying to soak it all in. Windows open all the time, a hint of salt in the air. The morning and evening light. The heat of the day and the cool night air. Trips to our community garden plot before the sun gets too high when we marvel at how much the plants have grown in just a few days. Salads that taste better than anything we eat in the winter. Lying in grass in the shade enjoying the cool breezes. Amos' constant in and out, digging holes in the front yard and making mud puddles. He rings the doorbell and leaves mud on the floor. Trips to the beach for wading in the water, watching snails, more digging in the sand. Sandy feet and sandy floors. Letting go of the clutter and things undone, reminding myself that it's just summer taking over, or the new baby in the house. Berries and cherries as much as we can. Popsicles on the porch almost every afternoon. Sticky fingers and faces.

I make most of our popsicles by throwing any fruit into a jar with yogurt or coconut milk and whirring it with the immersion blender until it can be poured into the mold. I was inspired, though, by the many great recipes in Icy Creamy Healthy Sweet, Christine Chitnis' beautiful book of frozen treats, all of which can be made free of dairy or refined sugar. Cherries are a sweet treat in themselves, but I used her recipe for a simple cherry compote and then went off book, swirling them with yogurt and vanilla. I sometimes question Amos' popsicle a day routine, but then I decide that fruit and yogurt with a touch of honey is as good a snack as any.

Sweet, cold, melty, sticky, summer summer summer.


Cherry Vanilla Popsicles
Inspired by Icy Creamy Healthy Sweet by Christine Chitnis
You can, and should adjust the amount of honey and vanilla to your taste

2 cups pitted fresh sweet cherries, cut in half
2 teaspoons honey
2 cups plain yogurt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Combine the cherries and honey in a small saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil and let it cook for a minute or so. Remove from heat and let the cherry compote cool. 

Mix the yogurt and vanilla together. When the cherry compote is cool, swirl it into the vanilla yogurt. Pour into your popsicle mold and freeze.

Makes 8 large popsicles.




July 1, 2016

Exploring



Summer has finally arrived in Maine, filling the sky with blue, warming the air to the perfect temperature, and leaving everything else astoundingly green. It is such a short season here, sometimes I start to panic (it's already July!!) and worry that we won't get to do all of the things that seem essential to a wonderful summer. Luckily, we've already made it to the beach a few times, picked piles of strawberries, and taken a spontaneous trip on the mail boat run around the sparkling water and islands of Casco Bay. That leaves plenty of days for walking and biking to a playground, eating popsicles, working in our community garden plot and feeling the perfect breezes through open windows.




Here on the Maine coast, not all summer days are sunny and warm. Foggy days give us a break from slathering on sunscreen and a chance to be enveloped in a completely different palette of colors. We welcome the sun when it returns.

I try to get Amos, Eowyn, and myself out on a small adventure most mornings. Adventure is probably too strong a word for simply getting out of the house and going somewhere. Although we aren't really out in the wild, we can easily reach many beautiful trails, parks, and beaches. We find pockets, patches, and swaths of nature all around.




Amos is happy exploring anywhere outside. We watch birds and ants, throw rocks, dig in the sand or soil. He often hands me the flowers, rocks or pine cones he collects and I quickly lose them. My solution was to sew a collecting pouch that he can bring on adventures to carry the treasures he might find. I used a bit of muslin from my dyeing experiments and appliqued it with some wool felt that I got on a visit to Purl Soho. I'm sure it will see many more adventures before the summer is over. Where are you exploring these days?





June 17, 2016

Here


Our daughter, Eowyn, was born on May 3. She's growing so fast.  Amos is madly in love with his little sister and we have been getting the hang of life as a family of four.

I am eager to get back to writing and creating but, except for some cooking and baking, I have found less and less time when I can do these things. But, as I sit on the porch under the big maple tree, rocking one baby and watching the other dig in the dirt, I am so very aware that this period of time is finite. It is not easy, but when I can appreciate what I have, I do.

Most days feel as exhausting as a long day of planting seedlings in a field, bent over, moving awkwardly down the rows. As soon as I close my eyes I am in a deep sleep but if somebody needs me, I'll be up and going. This feeling of physical endurance is accompanied by the small satisfaction that, more or less, I can handle the task. Rarely is it pretty or graceful but we make it through the days mostly intact.

Eowyn has only been here for a little over six weeks but I have come to know her sounds, her expressions, and her rhythms almost without realizing it. It surprises me to know her so well since I can't often give her the full focus that I could with my first child. While I am in no hurry for her to grow up, I do wonder about what this little seed of a human holds and how she will sprout and grow and blossom, what she will be like and look like.

I will say it one more time and you don't have to believe it or feel it, but right now I do: this time is so fleeting. It is the longest shortest. I want capture every moment and my many many thoughts before they disappear in a cloud of exhaustion and I want to be in it without trying to pin anything down, knowing it really will never happen again. Inevitably, I will be left with blurred memories but for now I try to mostly feel grateful that I am here.

April 21, 2016

Blueberry Oat Scones


How do you like your scones? I like mine sturdy, craggy, and a little bit chewy. They don't need eggs or cream, sugary glaze or extra adornment. I have, of course, found many great bakery made scones, but I love them best when I can mix them up on a morning's whim. That's exactly what I did today. 

Perhaps it is misguided of me to think that something freshly baked, sweetening the air as it rises and browns, could make the day more special. But, giving just a few extra minutes to pop them in the oven on a regular morning is a nice way to stray from the ordinary. My mornings don't usually reach a level of hectic. Considering it can take hours to convince, cajole and encourage Amos to pick out clothes and get dressed, I can get a few other things done.  If, for you, time is ever precious, these are ideal for a weekend or day off, too.


Blueberry Oat Scones
This is based on a recipe from the bakery where I used to work. There are many many variations and additions you could try (dried fruit or nuts instead of berries, buttermilk instead of regular milk etc). I used frozen wild blueberries but when the season comes these would be great with fresh berries, too. 

2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/3 cup sugar plus more for sprinkling
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter
3/4 cup blueberries
3/4 cup milk or buttermilk plus more for glazing

Preheat the oven to 375'  Combine flour, oats, 1/3 cup sugar, salt and baking powder in a medium bowl. Cut the butter into small pieces, toss with flour mixture and use your finger tips to break up the butter and work it into the flour. Continue working until the butter and flour make small crumbs with a few larger chunks of butter. Add the blueberries and toss with a fork to distribute. Pour in the 3/4 cup of milk and toss again with a fork to evenly wet the flour. Knead in the bowl, folding over the dough several times. 

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Lift up the mass of dough and dump any dry flour from the bottom of the bowl into the middle of the baking sheet. Place the mass of dough on top. Pat into a circle about 7 inches wide and an inch thick. If your hands are sticking, rinse them in cold water and, with wet hands, press the dough so it comes together and is mostly smooth on top. 

Use a knife to cut the circle into 6 even pieces and separate them onto the baking sheet. Brush the top of each scone with milk and sprinkle them with sugar. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until they are a nice golden brown on top (this will insure that they are not underbaked on the inside). Let cool for 10 minutes before eating.