Back where it all begins

On a scale of 1 to 10, becoming a parent has been about a 1,089, in more ways than one. Moment to moment, my heart can be bursting with love— for this innocent human being who is telling me that he thinks a bunny is singing the song on the radio— to frustration, for this wild animal who is dipping his entire hand into his bowl of milky oatmeal and licking the spillover off the cat fur-covered coffee table. The range of daily emotions— Half-moon’s and mine— is not for the feint of heart. I’m constantly wondering, how do people make this look so easy? A lot of my day is actually spent trying to answer questions. What happens when you die? Will Daniel Tiger die? Can I have a popsicle? How hot is lava? What is the point of you? Can I have a popsicle? Why do cats have whiskers? Why does that frontloader have two buckets?

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And one question I’ve been asking a lot— how do I regain some sense of self? I’m not trying to be super dramatic, but going on year four (five?) of being a full-time stay-at-home parent/ part-time everything else has left me feeling somewhat lost. How do I remember who I was? I catch glimpses sometimes. Riding my bike home in the dark from a night out with friends. Singing Whitney Houston at the top of my lungs at closing time in the kitchen at my waitressing gig. Swimming under water with my eyes open. But a lot of the time I feel like a shell who is missing its hermit crab (gotta love Eric Carle.) Not that I need to go back in time— and I wouldn’t trade quitting teaching to stay home with Half-moon for anything— but it’s silly to let go of the things that make you feel like yourself. Which leads me back to you. And me. And this blog. And tomatoes. I still love to write, I still love to read, I still love to eat. I happened upon this article in the New York Times this morning and it made me happy. And on the subject of tomatoes, this past weekend I made Andrea Bemis’ recipe for oven-dried cherry tomatoes and I think you might like them, too.

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Farmer’s Candy from Dishing up the Dirt

4 cups cherry tomatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon dried thyme
Pinch of fine sea salt

Preheat the oven to 225 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Slice the cherry tomatoes in half lengthwise. Toss them with the oil, thyme and salt. Arrange them cut sides up on the baking sheets and bake for 4 hours, rotating the pans halfway through cooking. The tomatoes are done when they are shriveled and dry but still retain a bit of juice. Use them within a couple of days or store them in resealable freezer bags for up to 6 months.

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Half-moon just reminded me that we need to go to the store to buy the ingredients for miso dip. He’s no longer satisfied having dried apricots in his lunch. I’m glad he loves to talk about food, too.

Cheers.

You say its your birthday

Hello from the other side of winter.

It always amazes me how quickly spring tiptoes in. One day you have a sneaky April blizzard and the next things are impossibly green. Slow down lilacs-turning-brown, you don’t need to be in such a hurry. You may have noticed (or not) that I took a break from writing here. It wasn’t intentional— I’ve been busy with a new freelancing gig and chasing Half-moon around. I had a blog about my Iowa grandma,  Harriet, planned for February and meant to share my way of making black bean soup in March. But I’ve been in good company— it seems some of my favorite writers are taking breaks too.

Since we last spoke I celebrated a birthday and if you are into numbers, you could say it was kind of a significant one.

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I had big plans for this birthday— I wanted to do something adventurous like fly somewhere tropical for a yoga retreat or run wild with the wolves. But it turns out that being a stay-at-home parent isn’t all the financially lucrative so I stayed home and celebrated with family and friends. An extended cocktail hour with spicy cucumber drinks led to a hazy and delightful late-night dinner— complete with ginger cake and a candle— with my bocce team. Two nights later my parents hosted us for a birthday dinner that included a slide show and one of my favorite meals- Cold Szechuan Noodles. And of course, coconut cake with coconut frosting.

The recipe for Cold Szechuan Noodles comes for our dear family friend, Susan. When I was in high school we moved into a new house in August. It was hot and I was starting a new high school and unpacking is unfun and Susan showed up with a huge batch of these noodles with all of its components in neat containers. In my mind we ate it for a week, never tiring of the spicy, peanuty sauce and crunchy, cool cucumbers. My mom put this recipe in a book that she made for me in 1999 and the introduction for it goes as follows: “As you know there are many salads like tuna salad, chicken salad and egg salad. There’s bean salad and marinated vegetable salads, tossed salad, rice salads etc. Oh, and jello. I’m putting one of your favorite cold noodle recipes under salads.” Is it any wonder I like to write about food?

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Cold Noodles- Szechuan Style

From Susan Connors- originally from Jessie Ho

Ingredients

1 1/4 lbs. noodles- Chinese noodles or thin spaghetti
2 Tbs. cooking oil
1 Tbs. sesame oil
1 cup cooked chicken (when I was 15- yes- now we leave this out)
2 cups chopped cucumber
1 Tbs. chopped peanuts
THE SAUCE:
4 Tbs. sesame seed paste or peanut butter (we always use peanut butter)
1 Tbs. vinegar
1/2 Tbs. minced ginger
1 Tbs. chili oil or paste
Szechuan pepper
1 1/2 Tbs. water
6 Tbs. soy sauce
1 Tbs. sugar
2 Tbs. chopped green onions
1/2 Tbs. minced garlic
1 Tbs. sesame oil

Directions

Boil the noodles- remove, drain and mix with cooking oil and sesame oil. Stir separating the strands as they cool so they don’t stick together (I seem to remember my mom using a fan to cool them?) Shred the chicken (if you are into that kind of thing) and chop the cucumber. Place individual portions of the noodles- add cucumber. Toss with peanut sauce and sprinkle with chopped peanuts.

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If you want to know more about the coconut cake with coconut frosting click here. I made these as cupcakes for Half-moon’s birthday last year and realized that I love coconut frosting more than most things.

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Happy spring. May your lilacs stay lavender a little longer.

 

Not a mom blog

It wouldn’t be a slight exaggeration to say that becoming a parent 18 months ago has changed things. As someone who wasn’t sure she was going to be a mother- and never paid much attention to babies- it’s fair to say I was, and remain, a bit blindsided.

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I’m lucky to have a supportive group of friends and family who tried to prepare me and continue to offer lots of advice and help, but unless you have spent a lot of your life around infants and little kids, there are just some things that you can’t prepare yourself for. There are simply some things that I didn’t expect.

I didn’t expect that it would take us an average of four hours and four minutes to leave the house. I didn’t expect that I would compose really catchy songs with titles like, “First We Put on the Bunny Leg Warmers and Then We’ll Read Moby Dick,” “Naps Help Us Be Our Best Baby Selves,” and “No No No Not Sad.” I didn’t realize spending money on toys is silly because his favorite toy in the world would be a coozie and I didn’t know that coozies can double as batting gloves when hitting dingers with your plastic bat. I didn’t anticipate that when we went to toddler story time at the library that while the other kids were singing songs in a circle, my child would be doing the worm in the corner and practicing his yelling voice.

I didn’t realize that spending 30 bucks on a whimsical hummingbird mobile and placing it above the diaper table would be a bad idea once he learned to stand (sorry about your beak, hummingbird.)

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And when I pulled this book out of the give-away bin at the school where I worked, and then apparently gave it to my parents to store for several years in their basement, I had no idea that in the not-too-distant future I would read it aloud at least 15 times a day.

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I didn’t know that he would always walk in the opposite direction that I wanted him to. I didn’t know that I could function on so little sleep. I scoffed when parent friends complained about daylights savings time on facebook. I didn’t know how easily I could give up on some of my germophobic tendencies when sometimes I watch him eat things off of the floor.

I didn’t realize that the tv was climbable.

I also had no idea that my heart would explode into a thousand pieces when he says my name. Or that we would be treated to nightly harmonica concerts which always end with him vigorously clapping for himself. Or that he would become fascinated with the moon. I didn’t know that I could be reduced to a puddle of goo by a laugh or a smile. And then it occurred to me that no one can prepare you for these things because these babies, these humans, are undpredictable, individual nuggets of personality. They are hilarious and trying and challenging and joyous. This is something that I can now tell you with all certainty.

And now, because the original intent of this blog was to be about food, let me offer a suggestion for lunch. Toast a few slices of good bread, spread some avocado on it, squeeze a lemon over it and sprinkle with (good) salt. I know it’s trendy, but it’s so simple, and so good, and you deserve a nourishing, easy lunch.

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Happy December, my friends. May you find joy in some simple things like toast and coozie batting gloves.

 

 

 

 

Cue the seagulls

Here’s the funny thing about summer- it always seems like it’s going to last forever. You think this, this! will be the summer that I _______ (fill in the blank.) And now with the September page of the calendar looming, you look back and think, “Where did all that time go?” And here is the other thing- as much as I like to think that I am this free spirit who revels in freedom, I have to admit- I sort of like structure. Unless I’m traveling, I do much better with a bit of a schedule. And sometimes I wonder if I love the idea of summer more than I really love summer. My dad and my sister, they really love summer. My dad considers the summer solstice to be the saddest day of the year because it marks the height of summer- the days only get shorter from there-  and my sister records the crickets on her phone to listen to all year long. My mom on the other hand, really loves sweet corn but she misses football and a sense of normalcy. I can see it both ways. But summer is really bittersweet, I think. The world is your oyster, yet there is so much pressure to do it right. Around the beginning of August I start to hear the seagulls from The Boys of Summer in my head on repeat and feel regret for what could have been. But, at some point, it’s important to take stock of reality and think about what was possible, what you actually got to do, and the fact that you can’t live every moment in a perfect Instagram photo with an amaro filter. No other season makes me feel this way, but I still love you, summer. You are sneaky and wonderful and happy and sad. You are snap peas and mosquito bites and screen porches and swimmer’s itch. You are sweet corn and ragweed and swimsuits drying on the line.

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This summer I may not have started a Shovels and Rope cover band or made pitchers of sparkling rhubarb cocktails every day or even blogged once (not once!), but I did some awesome stuff, gosh darn it. I got to go hiking with some dogs and write about it.

I got to drink a few cocktails and write about those, too. I lost a lot of bocce games with some good friends at the East Side Club. I vacationed in Blanchardville, Wis. population 823, with the fam, and learned that it’s acceptable to eat salad for breakfast.

I went for lots of bike rides with Half-moon, traded three hours of labor a week for vegetables, and created this really delicious salad, but forgot to write down the recipe.

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I kayaked a few times, and canoed a couple of times. I ate dinner with my sister in a field.

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I vacationed in northern Minnesota with my family where we (some of us) worshipped the sauna. I checked out a stack of books from the library and never read them. I did some yoga. I let vegetables rot in the fridge and snuck them to the compost pile in the dark of night. We took Half-moon to Iowa, and fed him sweet corn.

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So, it turns out, we did all right.

Just like that

And just like that, Half-moon is one. And in love with pushing things around, like plastic lawn chairs, his stroller and empty beer bottles.

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I’ve been feeling really nostalgic this week about the week he was born; mainly for how unbelievably incredible it was to bring a human into the world (and the people who helped make this happen) and for all of the iced coconut lattes I drink that week from Indie Coffee while we were in the hospital. I had one latte on his birthday and I plan on having at least two more before the weekend.

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We celebrated Half-moon’s birthday with some of his favorite foods, including pickled beets, watermelon, Batch Bakehouse bread, and cucumbers. My mom made carrot cake cupcakes (YUM) and I made a farro salad with asparagus, kale, peas and lemon. It couldn’t be easier to make (don’t bother cooking the asparagus, use frozen peas) and it’s even better the next day with some shredded Parmesan cheese.

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Farro Salad with Asparagus, Kale and Peas

Ingredients:

1 cup cooked Farro*
1/2 pound asparagus (raw), chopped into bite-sized pieces
Several kale leaves, torn into bite-sized pieces
1 cup frozen peas (thawed)
Parsley
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
Juice of a lemon
Splash of white wine vinegar
Salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:

Cook the Farro (*cover Farro with water in a pot and cook at medium-high until water is absorbed- 25-35 minutes. Add more water, if necessary, until Farro is cooked to your desired texture… I like mine a little chewy.) Let Farro cool.
Mix olive oil, lemon, parsley, and vinegar in a large bowl. Add asparagus, kale, and peas and allow to marinate in vinaigrette for 30 minutes or so. When Farro has cooled, add it to the vegetables. Mix up the salad and add salt and pepper, if you like.
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Cheers.

 

Turning a corner

It feels like we’ve turned the corner. Suddenly everyone is smiling on the bike path, shedding off the damp, gray cloak of winter and turning faces toward the sun. The trees are budding and the water in the lake is moving again; always a startling, impossible sight after so much stillness. It hasn’t exactly been easy to live in Wisconsin the past few years, for a number of obvious reasons for those of us who believe in logic and reason, nature, public education, fairness, humanity and snow in the winter… you know, those things. But the past few days serve as a reminder of why we do it. There’s that day. The one where everyone is outside and everyone is beautiful and everyone has a speckled cattle dog and all of a sudden you remember what green looks like. And all you want to do is get your hands in the dirt or sit in your friend’s backyard in the sun, beer in hand, soaking in the warmth. And walk for hours. And remember that there are people who put dinosaurs in their yard and knit electrical poles; the kind of people who help you remember that you are not alone in this fight to feel like things can be right in the world again.

And when you get home from that walk, you need to eat. Something nurturing but light, something simple but delicious. I have been making these broccoli melts from Smitten Kitchen at least once a week. Broccoli or broccolini lightly steamed and then doused in lemon, garlic and red pepper flakes, covered with provolone and lightly toasted on good bread; served with a slaw of red cabbage, shaved carrots and celery, it makes a perfect light spring dinner.

I have made the recipe from memory several times, but I recommend following the directions at least once- it’s really good just the way it was written.

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Broccoli Melts

From Smitten Kitchen

Yield: 8 small-medium open-faced melts

1 pound broccolini or regular broccoli
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
A few pinches red pepper flakes, to taste
Finely grated zest, then juice, of 1/2 lemon (juice before zesting only if you enjoy being grumpy)
Coarse salt, to taste
1/2 cup finely grated aged pecorino romano cheese
8 thin slices totally unfancy deli provolone
8 slices bread of your choice

If using broccolini, cut it into 2-inch segments. If regular broccoli, peel the stems with a vegetable peeler first so that they cook evenly, and cut the rest into large chunks.

Pour about 1-inch puddle of salted water into a large sauté pan and bring to a boil. Add broccoli and cover with a lid and boil/steam for 2 minutes. Drain well and pat dry on paper towels, wringing out as much extra liquid as possible. Chop into small (roughly 1/2-inch) bits.

Wipe sauté pan dry and heat over medium. Add olive oil and let it heat for a full minute. Add garlic and pepper flakes, cooking for 1 minutes, or until the garlic is just beginning to turn golden. Add the broccoli and cook 1 to 2 minutes more, seasoning with salt. Transfer mixture to a bowl and add lemon zest, juice, pecorino and more salt and pepper flakes to taste.

Heat broiler.* Arrange slices of bread on a tray and lightly toast on both sides. Scoop broccoli mixture onto each slice of bread, lay a slice of provolone over it and run under the broiler until cheese has melted and begun to blister. Eat. Repeat.

*We’ve been using our new toaster oven- thanks, mom!

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I hope today finds you knitting an inanimate object or digging in the dirt or simply walking, in awe of the buds and basking in the warmth. Happy spring.

Not a food blog

I talked to my mom a couple of days ago and she said she really enjoys reading my blog but that it doesn’t always have to be about food. “You used to write about other things, too,” she said. “Like… Two Rivers.” So this is not a post about food (but doesn’t everything always go back to food?*), it’s a post about pictures.

I have always had a thing for pictures. Growing up my dad turned all of his kodachrome film into slides (thousands and thousands of slides) and one of my favorite things was our family slide shows. We would gather in the living room for the event. I remember the excitement I felt as my dad clicked the tripod screen into place. I remember the whir of the projector as it warmed up and the dust particles that danced in the lightbeam. My dad would sit on a chair next to the projector, beer in hand, and click the slide tray into place. My mom, sister and I gathered on the couch with popcorn. There was usually a theme: “Moscow, 1977,” “sunsets through the years,” “birthday parties,” “camping trips,” “California,” or “road trips.” I’m sure I always begged for one more tray of slides when the screen went blank.

At some point I got my first camera and my parents happily supported my new hobby, even as I had a habit of overshooting the same subject. I remember developing an entire roll of film of the Statue of Liberty, looking approximately the size of a flea in the photos, that I shot from the deck of the Staten Island Ferry. There was also the time that my dad paid upwards of $40 a roll to develop my pictures for me when we were in Slovenia (thank goodness I now use digital.) I still have a tendancy to fixate on certain subjects with my camera, like the time I took 300-400 photos just of the golden retriever at a family reunion in Montana.

But I love photography, as amateur as I may be. I love taking pictures of floors and what’s under my feet.

 

I love taking pictures of my feet.

 

I love taking pictures of other people’s pictures.

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And recipes.

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I love taking pictures while traveling.

And closer to home.

Apparently I love taking photos of blue stools.

And I love taking pictures of food (*see- it all comes back to food).

This past weekend I had the opportunity to attend a food photography workshop at Drunk Lunch led by freelance photographer Paulius Musteikis known around Madison for his beautiful photographs often gracing the covers of Isthmus and Madison Magazine. Paulius, a self-taught photographer, offered lots of practical advice, like read your camera manual- something I have not yet done, and more artistic advice- where is the light coming from? What shapes do you see? What is the story your photo is telling?

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I loved his presentation and then enjoyed playing around taking lots of pictures of these plants.

And what I learned is, I have a lot to learn. But isn’t that true for most things? I feel lucky that my family instilled the love of pictures in me. Just like writing, it makes you look at the world differently. We all have a story to tell.