happiness is the color red

marinated-dehydrated-tomatoes
Not my tomatoes, but those of the lovely Marisa of Food in Jars

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.

feed the Bern

23sourdough1-master768
From the NYT article, Sourdough Starter: America’s Rising Pet

Today I’m introducing you to our latest pet, the sourdough starter we named Bernie. I held off telling you about Bernie because I realize, even as I am typing this post, what a cliché hipster I’ve become. But whatever. Bernie lives!

Every day or two (or once a week, when I refrigerate him), I feed Bernie a heaping tablespoon of flour and stir. And that’s it. Easier than pie. If you’re a microbiology-loving nerd like me, you should totally try this at home too. It’s right up there with sauerkraut and honey wine with how easy and fun it is to make. I probably only use my starter to make bread or pancakes twice a month, so I end up throwing a lot of Bernie down the drain (if anyone wants to get some of mine, I’m happy to share!). But I no longer have a package of store-bought yeast in my house, and that is an amazing feat. I get my yeast from the air, y’all.

Today I’m making a loaf of sourdough using the easiest recipe imaginable. No kneading! It takes a grand total of 10 minutes of work and cooks in a Dutch oven, which is like making your own bread oven at home. So cool. Here’s what you’ll need to get started:

  • First read this NYT article, “America’s Rising Pet,” about sourdough starters
  • You can either get starter from someone else or make your own starter using articles on the Internet as a guide (here’s an example I like on the King Arthur website), or if you want to commit fully to falling down the fermentation rabbit hole, buy a Sandor Katz book. We have the original Wild Fermentation, but I’ve heard the much bigger and fancier Art of Fermentation is also great.
  • Original No-Knead Bread recipe, with a quick video, is here. Modified recipe using sourdough starter is here.
  • I haven’t watched Michael Pollan’s Cooked documentary series yet on Netflix, but after hearing an interview with him…somewhere…I’m looking forward to it. The NYT article refers to an episode that includes a discussion of sourdough. Pollan is generally too prescriptivist for my taste, but I do respect and honor him as having sparked my interest in home economics back in the days of The Omnivore’s Dilemma.

exhale

My desire to come write here again after a long break always begins with being annoyed. It’s something like trying to locate that hair inside your mouth. You absolutely can’t go on with your day until you get it, but no matter how much you fish around and gag and curse, it remains elusive. Ditto this experience. I can’t just sit down to write. First I have to torture myself with indecision about the topic I most want to discuss. Then I will finally sit down to write, but instead I will stare for half an hour at my list of half-finished posts (of which I always have between 15 & 20, it’s just how I keep track of interesting subjects), at which point I’ll have either run out of time or become so disgusted with myself that I rage-slam the laptop shut and go find something yummy from the pantry to soothe my aggravation.

But not today! Today, I finally have a chunk of time. I thought this hour was going to be filled with finishing a project for my microbiology class (my last nursing prerequisite, yay!), but because I ended up completing that task yesterday evening during the girls’ group violin class, I have a glorious unmarked hour in which to blab some things I’ve been pondering lately.

My quest to write this post started with this Instagram caption by Amanda Palmer:

amandapalmeri carried the child for six hours on a big jet plane to the other side of the country, where he is going to spend the next few weeks meeting his extended west coast tribe. i am not working here. it is hard. when I delve into despair, remind me that it is fine that i’m not working or touring and that i am a fucking new mother who is allowed to take six months off to nurse and cuddle a baby. my good friend @andrewoneillcomedy once told me something about our mutual hero Henry Rollins. Henry, he said, takes an inhale year (reading, learning, traveling, absorbing) and then an exhale year (touring, working, speaking, art-assaulting). if I ask you, remind me. this is an inhale year. this is an inhale year. over and out.

Inhale years and exhale years. What a cool concept, right? Henry Rollins! Who knew. A few weeks after reading that quote and pondering it, I read this post by my friend Kristen about her word for the year and immediately knew mine would be Exhale. If I had to give an official start to my exhale ‘year’ (thank goodness I don’t), it would probably be November 16th, the day I started my job.

But before I tell you about the job, first I want to back up and tell a quick story about how weird and small the world is. The first mom I met when I introduced myself to other parents in Vivi’s class was our neighbor (I’ll call her “Sue”) who lives in the house behind ours. Sue’s daughter and Vivi hit it off right away and are now best beds, and as fate would have it, Sue’s career is in public health, so we hit it off too (I would say, “What are the odds?” but this is Decatur, Georgia. Between CDC and Emory University, it’s the public health capital of the world).

A month after I met Sue, she started a new job at the Task Force for Global Health, a nonprofit under Emory’s umbrella that is focused on eradicating diseases of poverty. When I would ask her for updates, Sue always told me how swamped she was and how she wished they would hire extra project management help temporarily. That general complaint became more focused as the weeks went on into how they should hire ME temporarily. She knew I didn’t want to work full time, certainly not in a permanent position, but she twisted my arm to apply for the job. And even though I told them I only wanted to work 30 hours a week, they hired me!

It’s been great being back in the working world. My house is a mess, but no one cares but me and Nate, so I can handle that. I won’t underestimate the kids’ sadness at not having Mommy give them  her undivided attention full time, but to be honest, I needed a bit of a break so that I could appreciate how much I really enjoy taking care of them. And I do miss knowing as much as I used to about all the little minutiae of their days. It’s not like I can’t still ask them questions, but much more often these days I’m too tired to make dinner, let alone grill my kids about their social activities and composition of that day’s cafeteria lunch. For example, tonight’s dinner is comprised of spaghetti-o’s (might I add that they are leftover spaghetti-o’s?) and dried pears. Yum!

After the inhale year of getting ready for the move, the move, and recovering from the move, I am looking forward to doing some exhaling. I hope lots of that will happen here. And I hope there’s still at least one human out there listening! I promise I will try to listen as much as I talk. Even though I’m exhaling, I can still inhale too.

Cheers, xoxo

I learn slowly

So many times I have thought of coming here to tell you how much I love The Summer of the Great-Grandmother by Madeleine L’Engle (well, I suppose I did, if you follow Literary Mama’s Now Reading). I came across this passage tonight, stared blindly at the ceiling for a long moment, and then lurched out of bed to come share it with you:

“I learn slowly, and always the hard way. Trying to be what I am not, and cannot be, is not only arrogant, it is stupid. If I spend the entire day hovering around Mother, trying to be the perfect daughter, available every time she asks, ‘Where’s Madeleine?’; if I get up early with my grandbabies and then stay up late with my actor husband and get no rest during the day; if I have no time in which to write; if I make myself a martyr to appease my false guilt, then I am falling into the age-old trap of pride. I fall into it too often.”

  

read * hear * say * see * eat

read * hear * say * see * eat - heirloom mothering
Mom: The Designated Worrier, via NYT SundayReview

 

I am getting our house ready to sell, but I’m here anyway because there was some stuff I was excited to share—particularly the link to recipes at the end—and I didn’t want to leave you hanging another week. Happy Mother’s Day!

Read

  • Ann Patchett holds a place on my metaphorical “Who would you ask to dinner?” table. I have many reasons for my choice, not the least of which is that she would give me a good book recommendation, and I’m always in search of those.
  • My friend Anjali wrote an introspective piece for Bloom last year about becoming a writer after having a life; they republished it as part of a “Best Of” series.
  • Ellie Kemper writes for McSweeney’s! How did I not know this? I love her new show (see “See”), and it turns out she’s a great writer too.
  • Robin Abrahams broke down the latest episode of Mad Men and its tense workplace politics for The Boston Globe.

Hear

  • I’m digging the Southern Foodways Alliance podcast called Gravy. Even if you’re not from the South or don’t particularly care for Southern food (though I’m sure I can remedy that misunderstanding with an invitation to supper at our home), there are many other reasons to love this podcast, especially if you’re into topics like social justice and environmental stewardship, to list but a few.

Say

  • Have you heard of The Drum? I learned about it at the Muse conference (more about that soon!). It’s a “literary magazine for your ears.” They are currently accepting submissions for poetry, essays, and short fiction that you submit by reading aloud on the site.

See

  • We’ve been trying out the new Netflix show, Unbreakable Kimmie Schmidt, starring Ellie Kemper (see above) and written by Tina Fey. I’ve heard it takes a few episodes to find its rhythm, which is true of many shows we loved (notably, Parks & Rec, 30 Rock, and The Office) so we’re hanging in there. I’ll warn you that it’s weird, but I also burst out laughing at least once an episode, so there’s that. I loved the “You can do anything for 10 seconds” episode. Even if it was meant just as a joke, I took that advice to heart! I think the word I’m looking for is sincerity, and even when overdone, it’s so refreshing to see instead of cynics and zombies.

Eat

  • One of my absolute favorite cookbooks is from our local farmstand, and I just learned their recipes are online. These are family recipes, y’all, and they are delicious. If you’re vegetarian (and even if you’re not!), this list’ll just about change your life. Now I know it is overwhelming, so I recommend starting seasonally with spring vegetable strata (which I’m about to bring to a new mom as a welcome home dish) and anything strawberry or rhubarb.

read * hear * say * see * eat

read * hear * say * see * eat {9} - heirloom mothering
The Secret History of “Eeny Meeny…” in Paris Review, found via Lit Hub (thanks for the head’s up, Kristen!)

A great week of sunning, greeting, and catching up was had over here. I hope yours was nice too! Happy weekending. xoxo, j

Read

  • There is so much to love in this David Sedaris New Yorker article about a family trip to the beach, I don’t know where to begin. The turtle porn, his dad’s hammertoes and Cherokee headdress and the way he snaps when happy, his mother in the locked bathroom wishing for five minutes of peace, the way he casually mentioned calling his beach home the “Sea Section”… Read it twice to catch all the gems.
  • April’s issue of Literary Mama is out, and I guess you could accuse me of bias, but who cares, it’s really good.
  • If you’re following the Anti-Vax movement, you might enjoy this honest article by a mom whose seven children contracted whooping cough this year. I empathize with her struggle to decide what to do, and I’m a broken record for saying so again, but I personally loved Dr. Sears’ The Vaccine Book.

Hear

Say

  • I attended a talk on Wednesday evening, sponsored in part by the Social Action Committee at my church, which featured Nicholas Kristof. He spoke about using A Path Appears (see The Boston Globe book review here) to promote social justice in Belmont. The event deserves its own post, which I will follow up with soon. But for now, I’ll sum it up by saying it was inspiring to see four teens speak in public about issues important to them.

See

Eat

  • Well, beat my biscuits! Of the many reasons to love Ruth Reichl, none compare to her sharing my odd habit of collecting old cookbooks. Snap up your chance to learn more about cooking in Virginia, circa 1957.

read * hear * say * see * eat {8}: morning glory muffins

read * hear * say * see * eat {8}
I hung on every word of this NYT Motherlode story.

I’ll be honest; it’s been a tough week. But it’s been good too, and I hope you’ll enjoy some of the things I encountered this week. And feel free to share your own finds in the comments!

Read

  • A prison inmate wrote a persuasive essay in the NY Times about why more prisons should have education programs.
  • I loved this interview with Marian Cannon Schlesinger, via The Atlantic.
  • 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?

Hear

  • 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.
  • Superfan alert! On Point interviewed Mary Norris, famed copy editor at the New Yorker.
  • NPR: Fun story (to read or hear) about doppelgangers meeting each other and finding out they have tons in common, except ancestors.

Say

  • 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?

See

Eat

  • The Splendid Table: Pozole verde, via Diana Kennedy, and Buddhist nuns teach Eric Ripert
  • 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

Ingredients:
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

Directions:
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.

something so right: a podcast love story

Hello everyone! Today I have an article up at Mamalode, Podcasts are your Next True Love (A Top 5 List). Go check it out! No really, I’ll wait. If you like it, SHARE it! And if you have a favorite podcast I didn’t list, please let me know in the Mamalode comments section.

When I was 24 years old and about to be married, I couldn’t find a job in our new town of Madison, Wisconsin. I ended up at a temp agency, and they immediately found me a place to work. The catch? I would come home reeking of hotdogs and failure.

I only worked in the HR department of a meatpacking plant for a few months before finding a job I loved—if your bologna has both first and last names, you know the place I worked—but I will never forget that pit of despair. Remind me some time to tell you about the demoralizing fog that enveloped me after having to tell a sweet older man he couldn’t get a job packing meat at 2 o’clock in the morning because he had a felony older than me for growing a small pot plant in his uncle’s basement. Or on second thought, maybe don’t ask me about that.

I was in a funk. Full in the throes of a quarter-life crisis, I listened to Paul Simon’s compilation album, Negotiations & Love Songs, every morning on the way to work to soothe me before the crazy day ahead. I learned Paul Simon had been married to Carrie Fisher, and that the song “Train in the Distance” was about her, so I bought all of her books to jump further into their world. I fell in love with their story woven through memoir and song. It’s the first time I remember using someone else’s tales of suffering to relieve me of my own, though I may not have realized I was doing that at the time.

Eleven years later, I still love oral storytelling. A few years ago I fell in love with podcasts, which are an easy, free, organized way to listen to all the stories I could possibly want. Now that they’re taking off in popularity, there are more podcasts to get lost in than I have time to listen.

something so right (my love of stories) - heirloom mothering
New “Dear Sugar” podcast starts today!

Happy listening, y’all.
xoxo j

summering {+ popsicles}

We lived in Houston for the first few years of my life. Because it never really got cold in Texas, I am not able to tell you the actual season of my first memories. It was warm, I can tell you that much. It was always at least warm, or maybe I just imprinted memories of climate differently as a child. Could my brain have mollified the sweltering, oppressive heat (or likewise the frigid cold) into softer weather? Maybe. Whatever the reason for the warm climatic backdrop, all my happy memories of early childhood have a summery feel to them. Below are a few snippets of those days.

summering {+pops} - heirloom mothering
Evidence that it wasn’t always as warm as my memories would suggest. But note we are still at the beach.

…#1…

I am two-something, I think, which would make it 1982-ish. Mom and I are at a garden (Ours? I don’t know). As she’s weeding, she plucks a beautiful pink orb from in the ground, dusts it off, and takes a bite.The resounding crunch mystifies me. It is a radish, she tells me. I think she is brave to eat it! Her superhero status is elevated further when she picks up a garter snake to show me. She hands me the tiny green creature, which writhes slowly in my hands. It is smoother and less slimy than I imagined, and its powerful tickly slithering makes me laugh.

…#2…

I am in the kitchen with Mom. A record is playing in the background while we finger-paint the kitchen floor. Even at three, I feel this activity is special. I am a conservative kid, not one to make a huge mess. [A few years later I will attach a shimmery butterfly sticker to the VCR, but I’ll honestly believe it improves the look of the hulking gray box.] The idea of painting on the floor is at once both exhilarating and scary. When we’re done, Mom brings out a mop and cleans up the mess quickly while dancing a little jig to the tunes (like it never happened, as Nate is fond of saying). Whether it’s playing jacks with my dad or helping my mom kneed bread dough, I like being in the kitchen.

…#3…

I am with Dad in the driveway. He is building something. There is music playing again, probably the Dead, and he’s singing along. I can hear his voice even over the loud buzz of the circular saw. The sawdust flies toward me and the air fills with the scent of pressure-treated wood. I am holding some nails for him and trying not to drop them because this task feels important. I am a good helper, he tells me. I feel proud.

…#4…

I am enjoying an orange sherbet Flintstones push pop with my grandmother while we walk back from the convenience store up the street. She is asking me to keep up, but I am only half listening. I am lost in a panicked moment of trying to stop the goo from melting onto my hand. I hand it to her to fix, which she does easily. Then she gives it back to me all tidy and right, and she takes my moist, sticky hand in hers for the walk home. I feel loved.

******

Though we were probably fairly poor by modern standards, I never lacked in toys or adventures. Because of that modest start, I am aware that the very best pleasures can be simple and try to give my kids the gift of simple pleasures when I can. Knowing firsthand that a pot and spoon can make great toys, I see anything from a cardboard box to a pile of sticks as the key to a great adventure.

One such adventure–a kitchen project that’s both easy and delicious–is making popsicles (I refuse to capitalize eponyms, despite my spellcheck’s desire to do so). Thanks to Molly of Orangette for reminding me how fun these treats can be to make (and, oh man, now she’s got fudgesicles on my mind). I hope my kids will someday recall the whir of the blender and the smell of the fruit juice with that particular fondness a summer memory can contain.

The geese and changing leaves tell me it is more fall than summer here (except for the sudden spot of humidity yesterday, gah), but I am not yet resigned to decorative gourd season. I will go on making frozen pops until we need to break out the hoodies. Below are two recipes for pops we like, an adult version and a kid version. These recipes will make two and four pops, respectively, which in my family fits our tastes and six-pop Zoku mold perfectly.

Irish Coffee Pops for Grown-Ups (adapted from this recipe)

makes 2 pops

Ingredients:

1/4 c. TJ’s iced coffee concentrate
1/2 c. whole milk
2 Tbs. Bailey’s Irish Cream
sugar as desired

Directions:

Stir together ingredients in a glass measuring cup. Taste and sweeten with sugar as desired. It is sweet enough for our taste as is. Pour into molds. Freeze as directed (6-8 hours, usually).

Fruit Creamsicles for Any Age (adapted from this recipe)

makes 4 pops

Ingredients:

3/4 c. homemade or store-bought fruit juice (we used Trader Joe’s 100% cherry)
3/4 c. whole milk
2 Tbs. heavy cream
2 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Directions:

Stir together ingredients in a glass measuring cup. Pour into molds. Freeze as directed (6-8 hours, usually).