Tuesday, August 19, 2014

kale tabbouleh with tomatoes and cucumbers

August is the season where I serve supper and my husband weeps.

I’m not trying to make him cry. I’m actually being a conscientious, upright, in-tune-with-mother-earth-type person. In other words, I forage in the garden for what’s ripe and then slap it on the table. One night there was a delightful bulgur salad along with corn on the cob. The next night I served a mountain of corn on the cob and leftover peas.

The food was delicious—people pay big bucks for fresh veggies, you know—but throughout the meal my husband wore an aggrieved expression. Sure enough, a couple hours later I found him with his head in the fridge, rooting around for something to more to eat.

Me: You hungry?

Him: I need food, Jennifer. Food! I already made three eggs and I’m still famished. I! Am! Hungry!

And then he whimpered.

So the next day I went shopping for food. I bought snacks and apples and ham. I made big, husband-pleasing plans for pizza and pastas and taco salad. (The tomato sandwiches, pesto with candied cherry tomatoes, and roasted beets I’ll slip in around the edges.)

In the meantime, the leftover bulgur salad is all mine. I’ve been eating great mounds of it for my lunches. It makes me feel virtuous, energetic, and only a wee bit resentful that my husband isn’t as nuts about it as I am. Because it is the perfect lunch salad.

Also, regarding this food preference difference: is there actually a gender-based divide in taste preferences?  Is there truth to the stereotype that (more) men like wings, burgers, and pizza and (more) women like mushrooms, blue cheese, and kale? Is it sexist to even raise such a question?

Kale Tabbouleh with Tomatoes and Cucumbers
Adapted from Aimee of Simple Bites

for the salad:
1 cup bulgur
8-10 leaves of kale
1½  - 2 cups chopped tomatoes
2 medium cucumbers, peeled and chopped
1/4 cup minced onion
½ cup fresh parsley, chopped
½ cup mint leaves, chopped

for the dressing
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon balsamic vinegar
½ teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper

Put the bulgur in a bowl and cover with two cups of boiling water. Let sit until the bulgur is soft and the water is absorbed. (If there is any extra water, drain it off.)

Whisk the dressing ingredients together in a small bowl. Set aside.

Wash the kale, remove the tough stem, and mince the leaves. Drizzle the leaves with 1 tablespoon of the dressing. Using your hands, massage the dressing into the kale leaves until they are glossy and soft.

Add the kale, tomatoes, cucumber, onion, mint, and parsley to the bulgur. Toss with the rest of the dressing. Serve at room temperature.

Leftovers can be refrigerated for several days. They make perfect lunches (for the non meat-eaters among us).

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (8.19.13), basic fruit crisp, and thoughts on nursing.

Monday, August 18, 2014

the quotidian (8.18.14)

Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
everyday; ordinary; commonplace

Flower fun.

Irony: watching Charlotte hunt down, play with, and and then eat a rabbit.
All while holding a giant pink bunny.

(And angry at me for taking pictures instead of helping.)

Salted caramel ice cream, oh yes!

Giant exhale: the play is over. 

This same time, years previous: easy French bread, from market to table, starfruit smoothie, summer visitor, the beach, garlicky spaghetti sauce, around the internets, peach cornmeal cobbler and fresh peach ice cream, drilling for sauce, barley and beans with sausage and red wine, peach tart, and tomato and red wine sauce.

Friday, August 15, 2014

knowing my questions

I find myself in a weird place: rather busy—sometimes annoyingly so—and yet on the cusp of a lull. I can feel it coming, the slipping into cozy comfort, the sweet routines, the ordinary ebbs and flows, and while I love it, I also have an underlying need for more, more, more. A new project, maybe. Something to challenge my mind. It’s like a craving, this pulsating need to produce, stretch, experience, delight, thrill.


A dozen-plus years ago, I invited some high school girls to come hang out in my house to talk. Actually, I wrote about this in my (unfinished) book, so here. No need to write the same thing twice...

And then there are my high-schoolers.  The idea simmered on my back burner for quite a while before I sent out invitations to the girls at church to come to my house to talk.  I promised I would answer any questions they had.  I was open to all topics:  religion, family, eating disorders, and the hottest of all concerns, sex.  The girls started flocking to my house every other Wednesday night.  Very soon they dubbed themselves the Milkmaids because they were drinking large quantities of milk with my homemade snacks. 

The nights everybody descends on our house for our loud and hairy gabfests, I dim the lights and pile pillows around, and as the lone semi-mature adult I hear out their ecstasies and sorrows.   A single votive candle is my one attempt at order; the rule (quite loosely followed) being that only the person holding the candle may speak.  I throw out a question or an idea and they respond to it, taking however much time they need, passing the candle when they’re finished.  Much of the time is spent laughing hysterically, but it’s a rare evening that no one weeps.

I share this now because nearly a decade later, this group has reformed. It’s kind of funny how it started. A few weeks back, several of the girls came over to see the puppies. We sat in the yard drinking mint tea and ended up talking for three hours. In passing, I mentioned how it’s amazing that so many of the original Milkmaids are living in the Valley after all these years, and one of the girls said, “Yeah, we should do Milkmaids again.”

I laughed off her suggestion—that era is long gone—but that night in the shower I did a double take. Milkmaids again? Could that even possibly work? After a bunch of pondering and some consultations with my husband, I sent out an invite. A couple weeks later, Milkmaids 2.0 (until we come up with a better name) was in session.

In some ways, the group is different. We drink wine instead of milk. They have husbands, babies, and jobs instead of sports, homework, and youth group. With ten more years of experience under their belts, there is greater depth to their insights. The conversation is richer.

But in many ways the group is exactly the same. They all look just like they did ten years ago (they say I do, too—aren’t they sweet?). Tears and laughter bubble over willy-nilly. The nights run late. And I still open each gathering with a guiding thought.

The last time we met, I opened with one of the teacher’s precepts from Wonder: It is better to know some of the questions than all of the answers (James Thurber). After the candle had made its way around the circle, they asked me what my questions were. I confessed I hadn’t given it any thought and proceeded to bumble around for a bit before mercifully falling silent.


Since that night, I've been mulling over that precept. I think I've finally come up with my question:

How do I know when to practice contentment and when to push myself beyond my comfort zone? And what if contentment is beyond my comfort zone (oh no!)?

Maybe my constant desire for More is an addiction, a distraction technique, a hindrance to true joy. But maybe this aching itch means that there is more of me to be uncovered. Maybe it is My True Potential yanking at its collar, begging to be unleashed?

Discovery is what I want. Sometimes I dream about being discovered, but I think that would be, ultimately, unsatisfying. What I really want, I think, is to discover. To discover a good recipe, a new insight, a skill, a friendship, myself.

Most times, I feel like a walking cliche. Take it one day at a time! Know thyself! To every season there is a purpose! Think of others first! Love wins! Dare to dream! 

Perhaps it’s silly, this constant turmoil. But hey, it is what it is.

Do I practice contentment or do I push?
Do I do both?
And how?

This same time, years previous: not your typical back-to-school post, a piece of heavengrilled trout with bacon, lately, our life, kill a groundhog and put it in a quiche, and fresh mozzarella.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

spaghetti with vodka cream tomato sauce

Yesterday—Monday—I had nothing on the calendar.

No rehearsals.
No shows.
No canning.
No freezing.
No doctors’ appointments.
No nothing.

Since the weather was cool and overcast, I decided to spend my morning cooking actual food. I’ve had so many things on my to-make list, but what with all the Busy, I’ve only succeeded in getting by with the bare minimum. So while the children played, I caught up on my NPR shows and made granola, yogurt, a chocolate cake, and the base for salted caramel ice cream. It was just the kind of day I needed after the rush-rush of the last couple weeks. And then, to top off the perfectness, I made a supper worth writing about, whoo-hoo!

Two things:
1) When I was in NYC this past winter, I had ravioli in a vodka cream sauce at Carmine’s. The ravioli was nice, but the sauce was spectacular. Upon my return home, I researched recipes but none seemed right. The end.
2) When we were in Guatemala, one-pot spaghetti was all the rage. I tried it and hated it. The end.

Except not the end. Enter, just yesterday, a friend’s Facebook status update: We made a vodka-cream-tomato sauce...

Of course I begged the recipe, and shortly thereafter he obliged with a follow-up post that began with a sentence that could not have been more straightforward:  This is a post about how to cook pasta in one pot. After a flurry of questions and answers, I set about making the spaghetti to end all spaghettis.

My friend's method is direct, just like his opening sentence. Saute garlic and onion. Add five cups of liquid (stock, water, tomato juice), some tomato sauce/paste, chopped tomatoes, and seasonings. Boil. Add the spaghetti, and when it’s almost done, add the vodka and cream. Toss in the precooked meats, if desired, and add lots of chopped fresh basil. Transfer the whole glorious mess to a giant serving bowl, sprinkle with Parmesan, and serve.

I was a bit nervous, starting out. Carmine’s vodka cream sauce was nectar-of-the-gods good, and that one-pot pasta was such a pile of muck. Turns out, I needn’t have worried. Each taste test along the way lightened my mood, and by the time I added the vodka and cream I was practically tap-dancing around the kitchen, pausing every time I passed the stove to slurp the sauce.

The family fought over the spaghetti. At one point, my husband even tried to steal my older son’s entire plate (no luck). There wasn’t one speak of pasta left over, but the delicious memory lingered well into the night when I dreamed, no joke, of Carmine’s. Except that meal, in my dream, was flavorless and cost 600 dollars, so I’ll happily stick with my new favorite homemade recipe, thank you very much.

Spaghetti with Vodka Cream Tomato Sauce
Adapted from Christian's Facebok Status Update. (He needs to start a food blog.)

The key is five cups liquid to one pound of pasta. I used water with chicken bouillon and the juice from a can of strained tomatoes. I added the drained chopped tomatoes and then a pint of pizza sauce for richness. You can play around with types and quantities of tomato products, but don’t mess with the quantity of liquid.

1 onion, chopped
5-6 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
5 cups liquid (water, broth, tomato juice, etc.)
3 cups chopped, canned tomatoes
1 pint pizza sauce
salt and black pepper, to taste
1 teaspoon sugar, optional
1 pound dry spaghetti, broken
1/3 cup vodka
2/3 cup heavy cream
precooked meat, optional (I added a couple pounds of meatballs)
½ cup chopped fresh basil
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan

In a large stock pot, saute the onion and garlic in the olive oil. When the veggies are tender, stir in the pizza sauce, chopped tomatoes, liquid, salt, pepper, and sugar. Bring to a rolling boil. Add the spaghetti. Cook for 8 minutes, stirring frequently. When the spaghetti is almost done, add the vodka and cream and return to a simmer. Add the precooked meat and fresh basil. Transfer the pasta to a large serving bowl and sprinkle with Parmesan.


A word about the play: people are really enjoying it! Comments I’ve heard include, “It’s really funny,” “This may be the best thing I’ve seen at Court Square Theater yet,” “Everyone was crying,” and “What a great story!” We’ve got four more shows this weekend! I hope to see you there!

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (8.12.13), and totally worth it.

Monday, August 11, 2014

the quotidian (8.11.14)

Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
everyday; ordinary; commonplace

Summer colors.

Peaches: roasted and sun-kissed.

Earning their keep.

Garden jewels.


Why, yes. I do let my children use knives. What makes you ask?

Slay me.

More fencing. Always more fencing.

Back from wilderness camp.

A couple weeks ago, helping me run lines. 
 The best part: letting her sound out the swear words and then laughing at her shock.

Cat and mole.

A Sunday nap.

Saying goodbye. 

This same time, years previous: getting my halo on, there's that, a bout of snarky, sanitation and me, how to can peaches, dried fruit, and orange-mint tea.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

a new friend

This last week we hosted our Fresh Air boy. We were supposed to get a girl, too, but last minute she decided not to come and there wasn’t time to get a substitute, so one child it was. My younger daughter shed some fiery tears of disappointment, but then she adjusted and adapted as children are wont to do.

This was, by far, our best hosting experience ever. Miguel (not his real name) was a non-fusser, super polite, easy going, a peace maker (between my squabbling offspring), and eager to try new things (except for food, but we’ll let that go). He's also trilingual: English, Spanish, and ASL, since both his parents are deaf. (This is how I communicated with his mother.)

I tried to get in as much swimming as possible. This was actually kind of hard, not because of our schedule, but because it’s been so cold this summer. (Seriously, the highs in the 70s? In August?!) We did make it to the river, twice. I was prepared for Miguel to be the typical Fresh Air child: hesitant and grossed out over slimy rocks and water bugs. But no. The child was fearless. In fact, he plunged into the frigid water with nary a whimper, and then proceeded to far surpass the country kids in bravery, endurance, and joyful absorption. It was a sight to behold.

The week flew by. When it came time for him to leave, I was actually a little sad. I was ready for him to go back, yes, but that was more because of other stresses (wash basket loads of beans, bushels of peaches, the play, etc) and less because of the extra child.

In fact, for the first time I could see how hosts might want to have the city child stay for the whole summer. It was that good.

This same time, years previous: best banana bread, crunchy dill pickles, elf biscuits, nectarine-red raspberry freezer jam, and granola bars.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

cheesy herb pizza

That picture I posted two whole quotidians ago—the one of the cheesy herb pizza—unleashed a firestorm of questions.

Or two, to be exact.

Basically, a couple of you just wanted the recipe.

The first drizzle—it needs a  bunch more around the edges.

It can hardly be called a recipe, really. It’s simply a cross between focaccia and pizza, with some fresh herbs thrown in because SUMMER.

Actually, Luisa’s the one who gave me the inspiration. She did a post on focaccia in which she wrote about generously pouring olive oil over the dough so that it fries while it bakes. I haven't actually made her recipe yet—it seemed so similar to my five-minute dough that I let that part go. The olive oil trick, though, that I snatched up right quick.

Photo shoots are dangerous. 
I ate a quarter of the pizza while Getting Just The Right Shot (which I didn't get).

Cheesy Herb Pizza

I’ve been using dried oregano and fresh basil, but by all means go full fresh if you're so inclined. Also, I didn't measure anything for this recipe. The amounts are suggestions.

1/3 of a batch of five-minute dough
1/4 - 1/3 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
½ cup minced fresh basil
1 cup grated mozzarella cheese
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
cornmeal, for dusting the pan

Drizzle a baking pan with olive oil and sprinkle with cornmeal.

Roll your dough to the desired size and thickness and lay it on the pan. Drizzle more olive oil over the dough, paying close attention to the edges. Sprinkle the dough with the dried oregano and then the cheeses.

Bake the pizza on the bottom rack of a 450 degree oven for ten minutes or until the cheeses are golden brown and bubbly. When the pizza is finished, immediately brush the edges with more olive oil. Sprinkle the basil over the pizza and dig in.

This same time, years previously: corn crepecakes, horses, hair, and everything else under the sun, the quotidian (8.6.12), why I am recuperating, dishes at midnight, quick, quick, quick, and quiche.  

Monday, August 4, 2014

kiss the moon, kiss the sun

Thursday, the play opens. Which means I’ve been gone from home nearly every evening for the last two weeks. I’ll be gone even more this week, my husband is about up to his eyeballs with my wacko schedule, and I'm about shot.

In my lab coat.
(Ignore the weirdly positioned hand.)

But right about now is when things start to get fun. For the first month of rehearsals, we met in a little church. The going was tedious: line memorization, getting accustomed to the other actors, interpreting the director’s directions, puzzling through the play’s nuances, etc.

Then last week we moved into the theater and added costumes, props, music, and lights.

View from the wings.

Now the lines flow without thought (almost) and the focus is on nailing the transitions and getting comfortable in the new space. I have an actual desk to sit behind and a swivel chair with wheels from which I dispense sage medical advice while hoping I don't roll backwards off the stage.

Running lines.

I like this play. It’s funny, poignant, and earthy. The characters have depth, the set is minimalistic, the dialogue is punchy (in other words, PG 13). The plot line is this: 1) a single woman finds herself pregnant and alone, 2) she becomes friends with an intellectually-challenged young man, 3) life happens. The first time we ran the whole play off-book, back in that little church, I cried (watching it, not acting—the doctor doesn't cry). It’s good stuff.

Doing what I do for most of the play: sitting on the red sofa waiting for my two little scenes.


Showtimes are Thursday - Saturday, August 7-9 at 8:00 pm; Thursday - Saturday, August 14-16 at 8:00 pm; and Sunday, August 10 and 17 at 3:00 pm at Court Square Theater in downtown Harrisonburg. Get your tickets here!

This same time, years previous: babies, boobs, boo-boos, and bye-byes, the end, a birthday present for my brother, gingerbread, dam good blackberry pie, caramelized cherry tomatoes, dimply plum cake, Indian-style corn, tomato bread pudding, down in the peach pits, hamming up Luke, and seasonal regret.  

Thursday, July 31, 2014

a pie story

My parents have been slogging away at finishing up their new house. They’re down to the floors, now. It’s slow-going, but the place is stunning. They show up on our doorstep every 24 hours or so to mooch off our internet, food, carpentry knowledge (my husband’s, not mine), but most of the time, they’re up at the property, their noses to the grindstone.

Now, as it turns out, their woods are full of blackberry bushes, so for a while there my mother turned her attention from oiling floors to picking berries. One day she invited my children to pick with her. I dropped them off with promises of blackberry pie ringing in their ears. The children returned with enough berries for a pie and a quart leftover for a cobbler: blueberry and raspberry, I think—my mother already dubbed my future creation “Black-and-Blue Cobbler.”

I was baking the promised pie on Saturday afternoon when Suburban Correspondent came to visit. It felt kinda cruel, baking a pie and not giving her any. But it would’ve still been hot and therefore too soupy. Besides, there was chocolate chip cookies and mint tea. Though—full disclosure—we ended up talking so long that the pie probably had plenty of time to set. But I kind of forgot about it by then. In fact, I kinda forgot about everything, so lost in conversation was I. I didn’t even think to feed them supper.

A word about meeting blogger-friends. Earlier this month, I met half of Mama Congo from, well...The Congo. Then, like I said, there was Suburban Correspondent from Suburbia. Mavis from out West pops in every now and then (last time she brought me a fifty-pound sack of potatoes from Lancaster). And this weekend we get to host the gang from Thrift At Home again. It’s so special—kind of magical, in a way—when virtual friendships cross the line to face-to-face ones. (I was going to say “real” ones but more and more, the line between virtual and real is looking pretty ragged.)

Anyway, the next afternoon I called up my parents and asked if we could come over with pie and milk. They said yes (because they are not dummies). Dad made coffee in their outdoor kitchen, and I got to have a tour of the place. Tours involve removing our shoes, standing on old rags, and then slishing across the floor, sopping up excess floor oil. It’s complicated. Mom showed off her dish-washing set-up (running water!) and I went around back to check out their outdoor sleeping quarters.

The kitchen. 
Notice the jars of canned blackberries on the counter.

Can you spy the running water? The stove? 

How we slish.

Go on. Pinterest it. I know you want to.

Windows for light, an open door.
(If you sang that caption, you might be Mennonite.)

Above the stairs.

He's wearing clean socks (I think), so it's okay.

Then we ate the pie.
In ten minutes flat.
And that was that.
The end. Goodbye.

This same time, years previous: joy, blueberry torn-biscuit cobbler, and chocolate beet cake.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

do you strew?

Strew, according to Wiki: scatter or spread (things) untidily over a surface or area. 

I’ve heard about strewing through a number of sources, but most recently through my reading in relation to unschooling (or self-directed learning). Simply put, parents scatter interesting materials around the house so the children (and adults, I suppose) have a wide variety of fascinating things to grab their attention. It’s a way of introducing ideas and information without being imposing. The decision to seize on it (or not) is up to the individual.

I am not adept at strewing. I often guess wrong at what might snag, and then I get discouraged when my carefully laid plans get ignored. It’s too much bother. Better to just send them outside to play with sticks.

But then two things happened. First, I read an article about how homes (the lived-in ones, anyway) are like museums: chock full of collections, stories, projects. Suddenly I saw my home through different eyes. Look at all the amazing stuff we have here to learn from! do! experience! explore! How can I make it even more interesting? Second, my younger children are playing more with the written word, and my older son begun to read the magazines and newspapers we have laying around—his interests are broadening and deepening.

A couple years ago, we inherited 30-plus years' worth of National Geographics in mint condition. Lacking an immediate shelving solution, we stuffed them in the attic. Ever since then, we’ve been brainstorming where to put the collection. It drives me slightly crazy that the magazines aren’t sitting at the ready in the main area of the house. All those intriguing topics and issues, not to mention the incredible photography (fact: it takes an average of 20,000 photos for one National Geographic article) just hiding out in the dark.

Several weeks ago, the stars aligned (at least, the ones in my brain did) and I got the brilliant idea to strew them. I set an old plant stand by the toilet and on the stand I set three magazines. Each week, I switch them out for three new ones. Days go by when they don’t appear to be ruffled, but then one will walk off and show up in a different corner of the house, by a bed perhaps.

My strewing is extending beyond the National Geographics. At the thrift store, I happened upon a book of interesting facts. I bought it and set it on the throne’s stool. It disappeared almost immediately. (In fact, I don’t even know where it is anymore.) My son claims he’s read the entire thing. He’s been quoting random bits of weirdness ever since.

By no means am I an expert at this strewing business. Now, however, my antenna are up. Mind games and puzzles, casually placed on the art table, might be fun, as well as more fact books, I think. And maybe some magazines artfully opened to some human interest stories, yes? Some items I might buy new, others I can pick up at the thrift store, and still others I’ll lift from my own shelves and cupboards. It’s the same idea as rotating toys, just on a slightly more evolved level. And it feels like a game—one that involves observation and crafty, hush-hush maneuvers. It’s also one in which everyone wins.

Do you strew? What, from your experience, makes for good strewing?

This same time, years previous: heading north, the quotidian (7.30.12), a quick pop-in, shrimp, mango, and avocado salad, and summertime pizza.