I just sat down to a plate of sliced tomatoes in my dining room. I say ‘sat down,’ but it was more of a plop, the kind that starts with a crack in the knees and ends with the jelly legs I typically reserve for after a road race. And because I was seating myself on one of the folding chairs that go with our card table (I’ll get back to that in a minute), my Cosmo Kramer-style sideways slam into the chair nearly launched my plate off the table. This is how it is this month; when I am done for the day, I am DONE.
Tomato season is barely in full swing, but I cannot inhale enough of them to get ahead of the anxiety I already feel about the tomato season ending, someday. I recall that the first year we were in Arlington, I planted cherry tomatoes at our rental house and could not believe how early those little suckers stopped ripening. Thanks to my friend Emily’s advice, I had a nice experience making my first batch of pickled green tomatoes, but I’ve still never quite gotten over the shock. Maybe that’s why I do so much canning of tomatoes now.
My current favorite heirloom is something I believe is titled ‘Sweet and Juicy.’ I also like another called ‘Red Defenders.’ Or something like that. I swear they have more names for tomatoes at Verrill Farm in Concord than there are children’s names in all of Boston—a typical class will have three Ryans, three Sophies, and, who am I kidding, at least a Charlotte or five. When I am at Verrill, I love the browsing ritual my canning comrades and I participate in together, heads down scrutinizing labels but occasionally also side-eyeing each other’s selections. I imagine our slow silent march around the table like a game of musical chairs at the old folks’ home.
Tonight I salted, oiled, and basiled my tomato slices while the girls were still playing outside. I didn’t quite plan on them staying out so long, either the girls or the tomatoes, but it ended up being a blessing, as the salt and oil and acid and herbs had somehow made its own translucent sauce that was out of this world. The girls had been playing outside with the plethora of neighbor children until nearly dark before I finally called them in to shower and eat. We now live (temporarily, in a rental) on a street with an actual official road sign that reads, just, “CHILDREN,” and that doesn’t tell you the half of it. And I had been feeling pretty satisfied about my life choice to let them keep playing—until, that is, I was standing next to a too tired, too hungry, wailing Charlie outside the shower that I had just let her older sister jump into first before her even though I had a few minutes prior said that she could go first. I tried to give myself a knowing look in the mirror, but it was too fogged up.
But then, luckily, Charlie was in very quick succession scrubbed, patted dry, jammied, detangled, fed, and tucked into bed, and the fire was thusly put out before it could get to full blaze. Tomorrow I’ll make spicy tomato chutney and sweet tomato jam, both from the best book there is, Food in Jars. Then maybe Saturday we’ll be off to look for a real dining table to replace the one we left at the Goodwill back in Atlanta, which is the reason I am sitting at this card table. But for now, it is just me and my tomatoes, and I can almost hear the tiny creak of the life choices scale tipping back to balanced again.
I posted yesterday, and now I’m posting again today! Posting every day is certainly not my new plan, but I hope to be back to posting about once every week or two. Thanks for encouraging me to keep posting podcast recommendations! I feel great knowing that even one person enjoys them. I still listen to about an hour a day of radio at least, so I have plenty of material to share.
honoring the end as much as the beginning by my friend Lindsey Mead, who among other things is the most consistent writer of wonderful things on her blog of any blogger I know (seriously, a great blog to follow) and who has the rare ability to look even more fresh-faced and happy-looking in person than in pictures
5 Books to Teach Kids Kindness by Cup of Jo—You probably know her blog already, but in case you don’t, I could have posted anything else I’ve ever read. Her curatorial ability is fantastic both for its breadth but also her steadfast devotion to a particular “Jo style.” Whether it’s a post about marriage, kids, movies, clothes, or books, I know I’m going to love it.
…when Leta says she doesn’t want to have kids I’m like WRONG. YOU HAVE TO LIVE THROUGH RAISING SOMEONE WHO IS EXACTLY LIKE YOU.
Sampler, a new Gimlet podcast, came out yesterday. I’m excited to have a podcast that features great clips from other podcasts. There’s only one episode so far, but it’s a doozie. I also like another new Gimlet show called Surprisingly Awesome, which is not 100% awesome yet but is getting there. Basically you can’t go wrong with any Gimlet show.
Song Exploder picks apart the making of a song with its songwriter. So cool! I’ve listened to these episodes twice, I liked them both so much: 1) Tune-Yards, and 2) The Long Winters (inspired by the Columbia crash).
Speaking of the Columbia, Snap Judgment #601 “The Path” includes a story about an astronaut and his wife that raised the hairs on my neck. Ditto another story from that episode in which a mother becomes an expert tracker of missing children after tracking her own.
Fugitive Waves’ Walkin’ Talkin’ Bill Hawkins was touching. If you haven’t tried this show yet, I recommend it to go along with any activity that puts you in a meditative, relaxed mood. The voices of the hosts, who call themselves the Kitchen Sisters, are so rhythmic and soothing that I can nearly fall asleep while listening.
This American Life, Episode 577: Something Only I Can See. The segment I particularly loved was the one about Tig Notaro and her mother-in-law. I love Tig’s comedy, but the best part to me about this story was that I so identified with her mother-in-law! I am not a funny person by nature except by accident or self-deprecation, and I can clearly recall this one day I got the song “Ain’t We Got Fun” in my head while folding laundry (deeply sorry for getting it in your head just now), except instead of the title lyric, I sang to myself, “It’s laundry time!” Somehow I was so giddy with the humor of this lyric swap that I could barely get the words out when telling Nate. I don’t think I need to describe his reaction, but even so, I still laugh almost just as hard now at the memory as I did at the time.
What if my kid asks to try my beer (with audio!) by Casey of Life with Roozle — because of this post, my kids never ask us for a sip of beer any more! I also love that they know what a law is enough to be able to define the concept to others.
Gretchen Rubin offered a starter kit for people interested in starting their own Better than Before habits group. I love this idea (I’m an Obliger, no surprise there). Is anyone out there interested in starting a habits group with me? I’m thinking it could be online, just a place where we can cheer each other on and keep up accountability. I’m not that into Facebook, but I could see it working well there. Or are there “LinkedIn groups”? Someone please chime in who knows more about starting online groups. Thanks!
Making a Murderer, the Netflix original series everyone is talking about. I think folks are right that it’s similar to Serial except for being a TV program. I can only recommend the first episode, as that’s all I’ve seen so far. Honestly, I’m not sure I’ll watch them all. Ten hours is a long time for me to commit to TV, especially since I almost never watch TV alone, and Nate isn’t interested in seeing it. But I think the first episode is definitely worth watching, if only to remain plugged into pop culture; personally, it got me riled up so much that I am looking into volunteering with a nonprofit focused on prison reform. And if nothing else, I have some excellent articles to offer once you’ve seen the first episode. One is this article on The Rumpus by one of my favorite Boston writers (and Arlington Author Salon readers!), Lisa Borders, and the other is this New Yorker critique, which begins with interesting details about the Perry Mason crime writer that I never knew.
For something a little lighter, I recommend Reading Rainbow for parents and kids. That intro song really takes me back. I finally just had to put it on for the girls, who weren’t sold simply by a picture of a man’s face (ditto Mr. Rogers, whom they both also now love. Next up will be Pee Wee Herman). They love the 1st episode featuring “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie,” plus how bowling balls are made and a guy who sets up huge displays of dominoes and knocks them down.
I hope you follow Catherine Newman, aka the blogger behind Ben & Birdy and the advice columnist for Real Simple (and writer of a new book coming out soon that you can pre-order on Amazon!). I never chortle so much as when reading her blog (and just at this moment, her new website). Last night I choked on some sauerkraut while reading this post, which I’m putting under “Eat” because she gives the recipe for a delicious-sounding blueberry pie smoothie (and yes, I said choked on sauerkraut. Sauerkraut that I was eating out of the jar, that I eat every night out of the jar ever since Nate started fermenting our very own homemade sauerkraut. More on this development is forthcoming). Anyway, because I love Catherine so much, I will add my favorite quote of hers, which perfectly described my own second child, Charlie, at the age of two so much better than I ever could have.
“Even as a 2-year-old, she had the determined wrath and gait of a murderous zombie gnome — and my husband and I grimaced at each other, afraid, over her small and darkly glowering head.”
I still read her article from NYT Motherlode, where the quote originated, from time to time whenever I am worried about Charlie’s tendency to glower. Catherine reminds me that not only is it ok, it might even be a good thing. A writer who can do that is a keeper.
I’m drafting a post about turning 36, which I am happy about sharing next week. For now, here’s some interwebs goodness for all your holiday gaming needs. Some notes on this list: I just viewed it on my phone for the first time, and ack! Horrible design aesthetic. As a result, I’m going to try not bulleting the list in case it reads easier that way.
In other post-improvement news, I’m doing my best to figure out which podcasts I love that I haven’t mentioned yet. In case you find it easier to get into one with a recommended episode, I try to pick an episode that stands out, but you can also just jump in with the most recent.
My nervousness crescendoed as she squeezed my skin together. Her fascination had nothing to do with anything related to body image or fat, it was entirely about creating something from nothing that entertained her. It felt almost as if I were a witness to it, rather than a participant and I saw it for what it was; love.
Tomorrow I am giving a talk on conflict resolution at a university! That is all.
My good friend Caroline and her daughter Edie are in the National Journal! The article is called “Outdoor Preschools Take Children into Living Classroom.” I’m putting it under the “See” category because there’s a video that goes along with the article. Caroline makes some great points, my favorite of which is below, about the importance of giving kids an early introduction to nature.
“I think I’m really conscious of that in these years, that she can spend a lot of time outside and gain an appreciation for it. When she does go to kindergarten, I think she’ll have that sense in her body that she knows, ‘OK, when I go outside, I feel better, I get exercise, I get fresh air, I can use my imagination,’” Pettit said.
Have you tried a cocktail mixer called a “shrub” yet? A shrub is a drinking vinegar that I recall first reading about last year in Edible Boston. Why it took me a year and a half to try is beyond me because I was in fact one of those “closet vinegar drinkers” she refers to in the article. When I was a kid, I used to hide in the fridge and drink the pickle juice, ducking because I figured it was somehow a bad thing to do (I also used to eat sticks of butter and take swigs of maraschino cherry juice, but I’m still waiting for those odd childhood eating habits to be vindicated by the modern hipster culture scene. I can only assume I was also that baby who loved to suck lemons). Anywho, the shrub I purchased at the DeKalb Farmer’s Market came from a company—McClary Bros.—that just happened to have been featured on a recent Shark Tank, which I just happened to watch for the first and only time in a hotel room a few weeks ago. I mixed their signature apple pie flavor with a spicy ginger ale and whiskey, and the results were delightful. I declare it to be the perfect holiday cocktail, and I have no doubt it would be tasty in a warm beverage too. I’ve since tried a funky soda made of just shrub and sparkling water, and I LOVE it. What can I say, I’m a weirdo. For me, it can’t get sour enough.
My friend Kristen tweeted about yogurt the other day, which got me chatting, again, about making my own. Making yogurt is my most beloved soap box kitchen topic of all time, next to my general obsession with supporting local farmers. She said she wanted to make her own, so I decided to revisit the topic again here (I grabbed a post from last year and spit-shined it for y’all).
A quick aside: Are you listening to the Happier podcast? It’s by Gretchen Rubin and guest-stars her sister, and it’s a fun way to get an inspirational boost to establishing better habits. They open with a “Try this at home” segment that I love, so my post title is a nod to their show because this post felt very advice-y along those lines.
Back to yogurt. The first time I made yogurt, it was after reaching a tipping point of friends cheering me on and reading the Urban Farm Handbook, which I recommend checking out if you like to tinker with local food. A year into my experimentation, my favorite food radio show the Splendid Table covered yogurt-making, and since then I’ve perfected my technique.
Warning: you will lose some milk in this learning process, but if you look at it as just that—a process—you will likely lose less sleep about how the finished product turns out. The longer I make it, the closer I get to 100% success. Virtually the only thing that ever goes wrong now is that I forget I’ve made a batch and leave it in the cooler too long, but you’re probably less of a space cadet than me, so you’re good. Give it a try, and let me know how it goes!
p.s. Don’t forget to stick a piece of key lime pie on it every now and then.
1/4 c. (4 Tbs.) plain yogurt with active cultures, at room temp. (NOT containing pectin; see notes)
large heavy-bottomed pot
two clean quart Ball jars or three clean spaghetti jars (sterilization isn’t necessarily, washed in the dishwasher is fine)
2 c. liquid measuring cup
bath towel or blanket
a few rags or dishtowels
Remove the starter yogurt from the fridge and let it come to room temperature during the next steps.
Starting with clean jars, place them on top of a rag in your pot. The rag keeps the jars from jangling around enough to annoy you and/or crack. Fill the jars with milk, leaving 1-inch headspace at the top (the yogurt you add later will take up room). Fill the pot three-quarters full with water.
Put the pot on the stove. Add the thermometer to the milk. Heat over medium-low, stirring milk once or twice, until the milk is at least 180ºF, preferably 185ºF. This will take a good hour or so. It is important not to heat the milk too fast, both for the risk of scalding and because fast heating leads to grainy, odd-textured yogurt. You aren’t heating the milk to kill any bad bacteria; the heating process just gives you a thicker yogurt. In fact, the longer you leave it at 185º, the thicker the end product will be, but even if you take it off the heat right away, it should be plenty thick.
When the milk is 185ºF, you can either remove the jars from the pot to a dry dishtowel on the counter, or just turn the heat off and let them cool in the water (option #2 takes longer, but I do it when I’m home all day because it produces the best texture to cool slowly). Cool the milk to 115ºF. (Note: If you use jars, putting them in an ice bath could cause a crack.)
When the milk is 115ºF, pour 1 c. milk into measuring cup and add 2 Tbs. tablespoons of yogurt (for a spaghetti jar, one Tbs. will do the trick). Whisk to combine, then pour milk back into jar and whisk again. Repeat with second jar.
Screw on lids and place the jars in a blanket or towel-lined cooler. Tuck the jars under the towel like a baby taking a snug nap, and leave the jars in the cooler for at least 6 hours; I leave mine for 7-10 hours, depending on what time I notice the cooler sitting there. The longer you leave it, the tangier it will be. Transfer the jars from the cooler to the fridge to cool completely; it will thicken a bit more as it cools.
Starter yogurt: I have never bought any “yogurt cultures” that are sold specifically for making yogurt at home. I began my batches with commercial plain yogurt (up here we have a delicious brand called Maple Hill Creamery, but Fage works well too). Look for a brand with just milk and active cultures, i.e., no artificial thickeners like pectin. Read the labels. Now I just make sure to save a 1/4 cup of my last yogurt before starting anew. You can also freeze a bit of yogurt as a back-up in case you forget to save it; the freezing process does not kill the active cultures.
Milk: Ultra-pasteurization is a process that heats the milk to an extremely high temperature very quickly, which results in a more shelf-stable product. The problem is that the heating process also changes the whey proteins so that yogurt will not set up properly. Simple pasteurization is what you’re looking for. We use whole milk from a local farm; because it doesn’t travel far, it is even cheaper than national brands of organic milk.
Two difficult but important interviews with the same writer, Barry Estabrook, who just published a book called Pig Tales about how pigs are treated in America. I recommend listening to both interviews: Fresh Air and Splendid Table
Another reason to look forward to moving to Atlanta is to sign up for a paper (yes, paper) newsletter featuring worthy restaurants; it is created by a French woman, who was interviewed for an episode of Gravy, the Southern Foodways Alliance podcast
The One You Feed podcast featured an interview with Carol Dweck, a psychologist whose work I’ve been following since I read NurtureShock, about the growth versus fixed mindset.
Happy Friday! I’m recovering from a second gum graft today, but don’t pity me. A day spent relaxing with my girls, reading my book and introducing them to The Princess Bride, won’t be bad. Hope you’re weekend is grand. xoxo
Editor’s note: I finally figured out, thanks to editor friends at Literary Mama, that there’s a little box to check when adding links that will open them in a new tab. The wonders of WordPress!
I believe it should be a rule never to apologize for not posting to a blog, unless you can do it as well as Alice of Finslippy. Go for Bradley, FTW!
The 2015 Pulitzer prize winners, via NYT, including this great quote: “‘The research was so harrowing,’ said Mr. Doerr, 41, who lives in Boise, Idaho. ‘I thought I would never finish the book, and then I did and now a lot of people are reading it, and it’s so weird.'”
Lindsey republished her great list, “10 Things I Want My Daughter 10-Year-Old Daughter to Know” over at The Mid. I enjoyed reading it again.
Favorite tweet this week…
What sick creep put “Landslide” on my work out playlist? Are you happy? Now I’m crying. Spinning in circles waving invisible scarves.
I love to listen to bird sounds while I work, particularly if I’m in creative non-fiction mode. Is that weird? I used to listen to webcams of birds or to a Youtube of bird sounds, but this week I discovered “In a Quiet Park” by Songza, which is a fantastic music site to browse if you haven’t yet. It asks you what you’re doing to figure out what music to play.
My aunt sent me this duet from The Pearl Fishers, a lovely reminder of my first opera 20+ years ago (at which I learned I needed glasses because I had to use binoculars to see).
We’ll be in Atlanta just in time to catch Anthony Bourdain’s tour (not sure why he’s not hitting up the NE corridor). Apparently it’s heavy on the Q&A, which should be interesting. Bourdain is Nate’s big-time man crush, and I’ve warmed up to him over the years, particularly since “Parts Unknown” began airing. Who knew CNN would ever be worth watching again?
We watched Wild last night On Demand. I thought the screenplay adaptation was excellent work by Nick Hornby; I can think of one or two nits to pick, but I will say it’s very good just as it is, definitely worth watching.
I apologize if you saw my link to Force Majeure on Netflix last week and decided to watch it because of me. We watched it after I posted the link, and all I can say is I will be screening films before putting them here from now on. Yikes.
Speaking of Netflix, I’m not sure why they haven’t figured out how to let us know properly when they have a new month’s offerings, but as this is the case, here’s a list via Thought Catalog.
Thank you, Molly, for sharing this recipe for half/whole wheat scones with dates. YUM. (Not to mention the fact that I TOO love to purge books and keep only one shelf of them. Okay, two shelves, but you know).
I’m reading Gretchen Rubin’s new book Better than Before and planning to review it officially soon, but for now, I’ll just tell you I’m enjoying it and taking notes. I’m also reading old posts of hers (like this one about abstinence versus moderation) to gain insight in how she came to decide to write the book. When I read Gretchen’s definition of habit, I was reminded of this Brain Pickings post from a few months ago about the difference between routine and ritual.
I had not read the Food Babe website prior to this week; here’s a NY Times article about her. I’m interested in a trend in the harsh judgment people (particularly moms) get and give each other over how/where they acquire health information. Do you have thoughts on this subject?
This American Life: I waited a few months to listen to the two-part Cops See It Differently series because I was waiting for a time in which I could listen to both hours in a row. I’m glad I did, but it was as hard to hear as I imagined it would be. Still, I recommend it highly.
Maybe you’ll accuse me of burying the lede, but if you follow me on Instagram you might already know: We’re moving to Atlanta this summer! I found this article listing spoken-word venues in the area. ATL friends, do you have a favorite place you’ve been for a reading?
Have you ever heard of a Morning Glory Muffin? Next to lemon ginger scones, they are my favorite treat at our local café. I decided to look up a recipe and seem to have discovered the original one from a restauranteur in Nantucket. They are basically the carrot raisin bran muffins I’ve been making for years, except a better moniker and one majorly delicious addition: coconut. I adapted my recipe (see below) to feature the new ingredient.
morning glory muffins makes 15 muffins
3/4 c. white whole wheat flour
3/4 c. all-purpose flour
3/4 c. flax seed meal
3/4 c. oat bran (or Bob’s Red Mill Cereal)
1/2 c. packed brown sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups shredded carrot (or: zucchini, summer squash)
3/4 c. chopped and toasted nuts (walnuts, pecans, or almonds)
1/2 c. raisins or dried cranberries/currants
1/2 c. shredded coconut
3/4 c. milk, buttermilk, or thinned yogurt
1/2 c. applesauce (or: grated apple, mashed banana, or crushed pineapple)
squirt of molasses
2 Tbs. maple syrup
1 tsp. vanilla
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1. Preheat oven to 350 degF. Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl, making a well in the center. Add carrots, nuts, dried fruit, and coconut.
2. In a medium bowl, combine wet ingredients, stirring well with a whisk. Add wet ingredients to dry, stirring just until moist (lumps are okay; don’t over-mix). Grease muffin tins or line with paper cups; spoon muffin mix evenly in the cups.
3. Bake for about 15-20 minutes until it passes the toothpick test. Cool 10 minutes in the pan, then cool completely on a wire rack. I like to eat mine smeared with butter or coconut oil.
4. Store up to three days in an airtight container, or wrap individually in foil or wax paper and freeze in a ziplock bag.
Meghan Daum’s The Unspeakable: and Other Subjects of Discussion is so blazing in its honesty that I have to put it down and read something lighter in between essays. Acerbic, poignant, raw: those words might not make it sound pleasant, but it somehow manages to be.
A new column in The Rumpus about love started off with a bang. “…everyone I know feels like they’re walking on unsteady ground. Falling in love with someone, building a life, working toward something we may or may not achieve. We are always throwing ourselves into the unknown, hoping that things will work out, that we’ll be happy, that our story will make sense in the end.”
Ann Patchett’s new book is getting great reviews, but I am starting with one of her earlier publications, Truth & Beauty: A Friendship. It’s fantastic so far.
I can’t exactly explain my fetish with 1850’s lit, but every now and then I like to pick up a book from that era and flip through. Maybe I just like to see if I can figure it out. This week at the library I grabbed Oliver Wendell Holmes’ The Autocrat at the Breakfast Table, a collection of essays from The Atlantic, which I think he helped start (?). I skip through the sluggish parts and find that no matter where I open the book, a passage catches my eye, especially this description of rowing on the Charles River: “When I have established a pair of well-pronounced feathering-calluses on my thumbs, when I am in training so that I can do my fifteen miles at a stretch without coming to grief in any way, when I can perform my mile in eight minutes or a little less, then I feel as if I had old Time’s head in chancery, and could give it to him at my leisure.” If that doesn’t make you want to get out on the water, then I just don’t know what.
If you have been listening to Fresh Air a while, I think you will agree with me that Terry Gross is so totally gaga for Bradley Cooper. Do you remember that scene in You’ve Got Mail when Meg Ryan watches Greg Kinnear fawn over his interviewer? It’s just like that! Smitten, I tell you. Maybe it’s because he’s from Philly? The dude is super smooth, I’ll give him that much, calling her “Terry” at every opportunity. (Her interview with Ann Patchett is also a must listen)
Just in time for Valentine’s Day (which a friend of our family once famously called ‘VD’), check out the episode of Death, Sex, & Money where Anna compiles all the footage about love. I’ve also listened to each of those interviews in their full length; they are all great.
Thanks to Hannah for reminding me to check out Ira Glass’ series about storytelling. Ira says it’s what he’s most famous for on the interwebs, and I can see why. I got out my red notebook and scribbled though the whole thing.
Our snow menu features heavily in Pioneer Woman comfort recipes like mac & cheese and cinnamon rolls (but whoa baby, back off on how much sugar you sprinkle on the dough if, like us, you don’t have a monster sweet tooth).
I’ve perfected my cocoa recipe over the past four years. I added it below. I tend to like it better than mixes, which often add yucky powdered milk for some reason. Keep in mind, everything in moderation. 😉
the perfect hot cocoa serves 8
1/3 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 c. white sugar
pinch of salt
1/3 c. boiling water
3 1/2 c. whole milk
big splash of vanilla extract
1/2 c. heavy cream, whipped until stiff with a bit of sugar and vanilla
whiskey as desired
Combine cocoa, sugar, and salt in a large saucepan. Whisk in boiling water and bring mixture to a boil, while stirring constantly. Simmer 2 minutes, then stir in milk and heat until hot but not boiling.
Remove from heat, add vanilla and whiskey at will, pour into mugs, and top with whipped cream. Note: I make this recipe for the four of us to have twice and put away the extra in a mason jar in the fridge. The chocolate will settle at the bottom but mixes back in once heated again.
I have a few articles lined up to appear elsewhere, and I’m excited to tell you more about them when they go live starting next week!
(Gah, I hate when writers tease like that, sorry).
For now, I’m taking a break from words and getting straight to the goods. I made this salad for Nate to take to a Friendsgiving last weekend. When he returned home with the empty bowl, he reported it was a big hit. Which I knew already, of course. I realized when reviewing it that I’d made enough changes from the original post to share it with you again. I changed its name from “resolution salad” to “winter potluck salad” because it needed to be bumped up earlier in the rotation. It’s perfect for a winter potluck because so many dishes are heavy, and this is a refreshing sight to behold on such a carb-loaded table. Plus, it is oh so adorably festive with the red and the green. I’m making it again for a potluck I’m attending next week.
Cheers & happy holidays, y’all! Hope your winter parties are all smash-hits. xoxo j
winter potluck salad serves 8
2 c. farro
1 c. dried cranberries or seeds of 1 pomegranate
large handful (about 1/2 to 3/4 c.) flat-leaf parsley, chopped (basil or mint works too)
1 c. edamame beans, defrosted & shelled (optional)
1 c. pecans, chopped & toasted
1 c. soft crumbly cheese, like goat or blue
Citrus Vinaigrette (from Bon Appetit):
3/4 c. light oil (I like grapeseed & sunflower, but olive oil works)
1/4 c. vinegar (I prefer white or red wine)
zest and juice (2-3 Tbs.) of 1 clementine
zest and juice (2-3 Tbs.) of 1 lemon
1-2 tsp. salt, plus pepper to taste
1 shallot, minced finely or grated
1. Cook the farro according to your package’s directions. I put a big pot of water on the stove, salt it well, let it come to a boil, drop in the 2 c. farro (don’t bother washing it, you can skip that step), and cook it for about 25 minutes. Taste it to be sure it’s al dente. Then drain and rinse well with cold water to cool it off faster. Let it sit in your colander while you do the next step.
2. Toast your pecans while the farro cooks, then let the nuts cool. If you’re using frozen shelled edamame, take it out now so it can defrost. Crumble your cheese and set it aside.
3. While the farro cools, add all your dressing ingredients to a small mason jar and shake well. Taste for salt and adjust as needed. Pour slowly over the cooled farro, cranberries or pom. seeds, parsley, and edamame in a huge glass or ceramic serving bowl; go light with the dressing at first because you won’t need to use it all now (but it’s great on arugula later). You’ll be surprised how much the farro soaks up; I usually end up with about 1/4 c. left. Toss salad, and let it chill in the fridge covered with plastic wrap for at least an hour.
4. Meanwhile, if you’re bringing the salad to a potluck, put the nuts in their own container, ditto the cheese. You will want to toss those in at the last minute, or else your cheese will dissolve into a pink mess, and the nuts will be soft. Just trust me.
Have you seen Home for the Holidays? It has become our annual tradition to watch it sometime the week of Thanksgiving. Just like the best family reunions, the film is neither totally comedy nor drama. It describes complicated family relationships with varying precision and dizzying caricature (it’s based on this essay). Though the aunt who wears a fruit loop necklace might seem on the surface too zany or improbable, I love the cheeky nod to how reunions can make you feel loved and trapped, bearing credible witness to the search for how you could be related to the people you love but might not like so much.
I believe there’s a dark thread running through the fabric of any family celebration, no matter how perfectly merry and bright it appears. If I pull the thread enough, it unravels, displaying the holes in my joy, such as my concerns over doing what is right and my insistence on making sure everyone is comfortable above all else.
I used to attempt to sew up these holes. When awkward pauses or disagreements presented themselves in conversation, I interjected. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I even pinpointed how difficult it has been for me to allow others to be subjected to unpleasant experiences. The older I get, the more I see we can’t spare people from suffering, and maybe we shouldn’t try. It could be that a little suffering goes a long way to teaching a lesson, and if I intervene, I rob the sufferer of their due education.
Wise philosophers, spiritual or otherwise, point out with certainty that suffering happens because of desire. To end suffering, you must stop wanting. Whenever I am suffering, I try to pick apart why this dictum cannot be true, why my suffering must be different. Eventually I come back around to the idea that we suffer when confronted with our lack of control. But our sense of control is an illusion to begin with; when I remember the illusion, I can begin the difficult task of letting go. “Just float,” as Holly Hunter says.
These days I see the beauty in leaving our messes the way they are. I make room in my comfort zone for pain amidst the pleasure. At my best, I neither unravel nor mend. How about you? How do you feel about suffering and family relationships? Are you gearing up for a Thanksgiving gathering this week? Just remember what Robert Frost wrote: “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.” And if your aunt wears a necklace made of fruit loops, I hope you’ll tell me all about it. I’ll pull up a chair and cut you a slice of heaven.
I’ll leave you last with this clip of an old McSweeney’s: “Everyone talks about the bickering relatives and the burnt yams, but few talk about taking a weekday to eat and nap and gossip with a sibling about another sibling. No one owns it. No focus group studies it. Just you and a mostly empty bowl of stuffing and no clean utensils, so use your fingers already.”
Happy Thanksgiving, y’all!
Author’s note: Pieces of this post appeared in an earlier blog post from 2011.