On Sunday I read an entire book cover to cover. It was a cooking memoir, not terribly substantial in length, but as someone in a near monogamous relationship with audio books, it was quite the weekend scandal. When halfway through the day I realized this was an entirely possible feat, I committed myself to the task in earnest, reading at the edge of Gus’s bath and as I made my way from room to room. I scratched my scrolling media itch with a few paragraphs every time I started to pick up my phone, and, of course, I did little else other than read. Then, at the end of the day, I had a finished book in my lap- a book I had been eyeing at my secondhand bookstore for months and that I had finally gotten in my hands through an inter-library loan for a whole $2 postage.
The day it came in, I picked it up from my local branch semi-sure I would return it without having made a real dent in it. (It’s a source of personal shame that I am a well-meaning library patron with really terrible completion rates. Now you know and can judge me appropriately.) But then I read a whole book in the span of a day, something I haven’t done since the great Hunger Games Binge of Fall 2011. It isn’t something I can imagine pulling off regularly now that I know I can! - I have a family I like to look in the eyes and spring is thumbing its nose at the snowy forecast - but the experience did get me thinking, about how much energy I put where and how I go about making those decisions. A whole book in a day! What magic! Also of importance: how many of my hours am I bungling while calling out no time! no time! no time! ..?
At one point on Sunday I briefly re-entered the family atmosphere to sort seeds and loosely plan the garden with Craig. After last year's abysmal yields we have decided to very dutifully stay the course of Focused and Manageable. Craig consented to only one variety of watermelon while I laid down my multi-year fava bean bullheadedness. Then we enabled our shared inclination to grow all-the-squash-pests-be-damned. You are familiar with this variety, yes..? Our meeting ended with the shortest seed order list to date. Two items, potatoes and rutabagas, the first a given and the second a new addition thanks to a Deborah Madison recipe we’ve been enjoying lately with lentils and a red wine sauce. Oh, I am looking forward to the practical garden of 2017 with it’s wild and crazy experimental rutabaga crop! I really do think this year will be good, though my working theory is that the garden will always look its best in February, safe in the mind and dressed exclusively in hope.
As we plot our way into our fifth (!!) growing season here, we’ve finally entered the acceptance stage of trying and failing to do it all. Some manage it but we can’t (or don’t want to?), and that’s the short story of how heads of lettuce and rows of beets were unceremoniously culled from this year’s garden. The more we build our homestead the more I realize for us it isn’t so much about creating a life absent of needs beyond what our land and hands can provide, but rather cultivating a deep understanding of our choices and their impacts- environmentally, bodily, spiritually. Last summer I looked at my son and wondered what we owed him in this life he didn’t choose. I saw him spending too much of his time nipping at the heels of his parents’ never ending to do list and it felt terrible. Even then I was moved to ask about the hours I was bungling. This year I’m moving into the sun ready and grateful to lean on friends who do what they do spectacularly and humanely, as I would hope to do myself were I a do-it-all type. I really am going to plant that sunflower house for Gus this year. There’s time, there’s time, there’s time.
WINTER SALAD WITH CITRUS, FETA + PISTACHIOS
adapted ever so slightly from Delancey: A Man, A Woman, A Restaurant, A Marriage by Molly Wizenberg
I made this salad yesterday while a blizzard slid in sideways and the boys alternated between sledding and snowshoeing. Some might have thought it more practical to get the evening's pot roast simmering but they didn't say so outrightly and I shared my plate to make just-in-case amends. Marriage! (Also: Parenting! Because I offered up the leftover citrus juice swirled together in a jelly jar for the little one whose dinner was still a bit off.)
You know, I think the thing about this salad is that you can't skimp on the feta. It isn't pretty or tasty to scrooge away your dairy, particularly your salty dairy when working with unsalted pistachios, citrus, and winter greens. And for taste's sake, don't use the above picture as a guide. I took that before I added enough feta and made all the winter salad difference. In absence of champagne vinegar, as the original recipe calls for, I used kombucha. Fire cider, ACV or even balsamic would be fine substitutions as well. And if your husband's godfathers left you a bottle of lemon infused olive oil in their annual fall pantry clean out before their snowbird flight to the BVIs: use it.
Fair warning about this recipe: it has a real sort it out yourself quality when it comes to quantities. The dressing should dress about 4 salads, and using a handful of unsalted pistachios and the un-juiced other half of the grapefruit I used for the dressing, I was able to make a nice personal salad. Enjoy the free-form nature of a salad with few rules (aside from do not skimp on the feta).
1 tablespoon kombucha (or alternative vinegar)
1/8 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/8 teaspoon grated orange zest
1/2 garlic clove, microplaned
pinch of salt
twist of cracked black pepper
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed orange juice
1/2 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup lemon infused olive oil (or olive oil of your choice)
radicchio, thinly sliced
unsalted pistachios, roughly chopped
Add all dressing ingredients to a lidded jar and shake vigorously until thoroughly combined.
Plate salad with all ingredients. Dress to taste.
I spent Wednesday orbiting the stove like a lovesick planet. A much cooked in (read very dirty) patchwork apron fixed around my soft middle and untied moccasin slippers on my feet. If you’re familiar with The Tale of Two Bad Mice, I lived as Hunca Munca might, had the dollhouse been stocked with real food and working appliances. Just a sweet tempered mousy lady, living in a house she adored, shuffling across the floor on a chilly morning and tending to the bubbles for the ones she loved. Three soups, two dye baths, one loaf of bread, and countless tea kettles made the final tally. Now two days out, Gus will be thrilled if he never sees another soup pot again and Craig wondered aloud last night if this is how old people eat..? The soups are delicious, we at least agree on that, but I think we could all be served by something with a little more chew at lunch and dinner's next arrivals.
Lately I've been splattering the pages of Broth and Stock (see above soup habit), finding comfort in centuries old kitchen wisdom and the ease with which I can shop from my own larder for many of the recipes. A bit of self-reliance and long endured traditions do a little witchy woman good, I think. In an increasingly unsettled world, I am so profoundly grateful to have the space, time, safety and ability to cultivate the opposite in our home. These simple acts of love- making, tending, stewing, baking, mending - the great ings of a rumored simple life - they are foundational, elemental. Recently in what felt like my millionth impotent conversation on What Comes Next, a dear friend expressed that we can't lay down our day to day as if those things aren't essential to our survival and sustained activism. The way we run our homes and livelihoods are rebellion and resistance in their own right, if we’ll have them that way.
Today, Inauguration Day, is the first in a long line of long days ahead of us. I’m posted up in my kitchen, as usual, with Gus at my feet building a spaceship from the scraps of protest signs. The internet skipped out on us about an hour ago and we consented to the live streaming news of today’s events falling silent, the tipping point from Informed to Overstimulated likely reached hours ago. I want to go real-to-the-events-of-her-story Hunca Munca and trash the metaphorical house. Crash the plates to the ground and chuck the ladies’ best out the windows. It’s a real head trip when the world around you falls so glaringly short of your expectations. Instead though, we live. We march, we call, we talk, we write, we live our lives in such a way that other’s may live their lives, too. We bake bread for the little ones who so sweetly request sandwiches in their school lunches and we don’t worry about whose agenda the bread man bankrolls with our dollars. We pull ham hocks from the depths of our barn freezer, knowing our family will be nourished and absent from a food system that’s wreaking havoc on our earth. And above all, we choose life as resistance, as often as possible, our voices and fists raised collectively for a better tomorrow.
Spicy Sausage and Vegetable Soup with Avocado and Pinto Beans
I remember most of my grandmother's cooking in the shape of breakfast, cake, or pineapple mayonnaise sandwiches. The names of her best dishes always preceded by her own (Mama Joyce Eggs, Mama Joyce Pound Cake); her approach always simple and to the point. Some of these bits of her cooking are so thoroughly worked into the fabric of my own kitchen that the lines between what's hers and mine have softened, making way for eggs and cake that call me by own name. The fruit and mayonnaise sandwich will likely be left to her own legacy, though. But out of all the non-dinner dishes I remember, there's a vegetable soup that rises up into my mind from time to time. The memory of it is short, incomplete. But I remember feeling so curiously in awe of a woman who just knew how to make a standard vegetable soup. She didn't follow a recipe or open a can, it just came out of her. It felt nothing short of alchemy.
A few weeks ago we had entered the bi-weekly standoff between pantry and family. It's the well worn space in which we've grown accustomed to making peace with making do, all in the name of using it up. Soup is often where we find ourselves at this point, and this evening was no different, but the pot was a sad swirl of celery, carrots, and sausage. Not too terrible, of course, but not too great either. Eventually I worked the below pottage out of the pantry and my grandmother, and her wispy memory of a vegetable soup, came to mind. We've made it again twice since and Gus declared, I'll never call another soup the best soup! So, from our kitchen to yours, by way of a woman whose soup alchemy comes by inheritance.
Notes: I prefer a chicken stock in this soup but just recently only had what I needed on hand for a homemade vegetable stock. It performed beautifully. Use them interchangeably. If you prefer to use canned beans, one can of pinto beans will suffice. And if you have an eater whose palate isn't so agreeable to spicy foods, just avoid the meatballs and give them an extra bit of beans and/or avocado. The broth does develop a hint of spice, but it's fairly mild.
heaping 1/2 cup dried pinto beans, soaked overnight
12 ounces spicy Italian sausage, casings removed
2 tablespoons of lard (or olive oil)
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 head garlic (around 8 cloves), ends trimmed and cloves halved
2 large carrots, peeled and chopped
4 celery stalks, cut into 1/4 inch slices
8 cups chicken stock (or water)
18 ounces crushed tomatoes
Pinch off about an inch of sausage at a time and roll into balls.
Heat lard in soup pot over medium heat. Add sausage balls in to brown, stirring occasionally to avoid burning and ensure browning on all sides, about 5 minutes.
Add in onions, garlic, carrots, and celery. Salt and pepper to taste. Sauté, stirring regularly, until onions are translucent and celery begins to soften.
Add stock, tomatoes, and soaked beans. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook until beans are tender, about an hour.
Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper once ready to serve.
Top with slices of avocado.
We thawed so in earnest this week that the whole place smelled of dirt and Luella. I ran out to put the sheep in one afternoon and spring had cometh- lest we forget life on the other side of the seasonally imposed tundra. Now we're happily back to bundling and skating and begging more layers onto our child like the good people of winter do. Craig has the impression that January Thaws (capital J, capital T.) are a thing of my own invention but we're working through it: him by taking polls when I'm not around to explain myself, and me by reading articles from the web aloud, emphasizing words like January and thaw.
The friendly debates of Winter People, eh?
I made almond milk today, an act of such sacrilege that you likely don't need to ask if we're milking. (We aren't.) Gus raved as he sipped some straight from the bowl. Five minutes later he confessed that it was all an act to make sure his dad tasted the homemade milk, too. He has hope that he'll like it once it's "refrigerator temperature". Prior to tasting the milk, I watched Gus eat roe straight from the belly of a fish he was cleaning and gutting with Craig. No wincing or hesitation, not even a rinse on the first egg to be honest. His palate, it seems, is as complex as his web of nut milk deception. And as for me, I'll admit to taking comfort in wild-caught, nutrient dense food floating to the top of today's dietary heap.
Worms are coming in a few days, chicks sometime mid February. We're also taking a cow to the butcher for the first time this week. It's a heavy relief, a complicated right choice. I think Gus and I have settled on a Valentine's Day craft to hand out to his mates at school, and I'm watching youtube Tartine bread baking videos with the fury of someone who actually intends to get better at sourdough baking- though, in standing with the past, I make no promises to anyone. All in all, it is winter as usual. We're worried about hay and happy to have a semi clean, fully warm house where we can enjoy each other. Dye baths and stock pots bubble on the stove and there's always a pair of mittens in need of drying out. Speaking of mittens, I have none and have also managed to misplace (hopefully not lost) Craig's. The winter woolen needs don't quit and for that, for the most part, I'm glad.