In like a lion

Ah, March. Historically I’ve had a bit of hard time with this month, and I know I’m not alone in this. It feels like everyone you know is off somewhere warm and green, eating local citrus fruit, sipping cocktails out of coconuts and diving into impossibly blue water. I know this isn’t true, but it’s where your mind goes when you find yourself staring at your own walls and messy cupboards. I remember one March in college when I housesat for a dear family friend who was taking her annual trip to Mexico. While everyone else in the world was on vacation, I sat on the floor of her glassed-in front porch with her black lab, Puccini, and wrote a poem about a dying fish who belonged to my best friend’s roommate. This fish floated sideways in it’s tank going up and down, up and down, and I wrote some lines about trying to find your equilibrium. I bet I could find this poem if I looked around, it has become the thing that I now think of when it becomes March.

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But March is also a time of renewal and rebirth, and even if we can’t see it through the rain-snow and mud, warm, green days are on the way. And if you can’t get out of dodge, one way that I have started to look at March is as an opportunity to shake things up a little bit and maybe get out of a few ruts. A few years ago, inspired by one of my favorite yoga teachers, I decided to create my own version of a “cleanse” right around the time of the spring equinox. For about 12 days I gave up coffee, dairy, sugar and alcohol and I ran most mornings before work. I started each day by drinking warm water with lemon and I cooked vegan dinners by night. As a vegetarian who cooks most meals using whole and mainly organic ingredients, this wasn’t too much of a stretch and I didn’t feel very different at the end of the 12 days, but I did learn that you can put avocado in smoothies instead of yogurt, that I could live without coffee and beer and that even though getting out of bed 40 minutes earlier- in the dark- is rough, that it feels really good when you get home from your jog and the sun is just coming up. And I also discovered some new favorite recipes and a blog that I still love to this day. So, I’m going for it again. I’m not giving up coffee this time (let’s not get too crazy here), but I did drink it black this morning, instead of with my regular heavy pour of 1/2 and 1/2. I’m going to keep making overnight oats with whole milk for Dan and half-moon, but I’ll have my oatmeal plain with raisins and walnuts. And I’m going to cook dinners from the extensive- and underutilized- collection of vegan cookbooks sitting on my shelf.

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I’m not going to buy dairy alternatives like fake cheese or almond milk- the strange list of unknown ingredients weirds me out- but hell yeah I’ll make walnut + lentil loaf with ketchup on top. Last night I made chili, that just happens to be vegan if you don’t add sour cream or cheese on top.

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It’s still cold and damp outside, so warm, hearty meals are in order- but this is a good time to cook farro for the first time or try a new recipe for new soup. Or go to a different yoga class or buy a new plant or finally get those three empty jars of honey out of your cupboard. Instead of writing the whole month off, do something that helps you look at the world with fresh eyes, even if from your own kitchen. If you get creative, there are seemingly small things you can do to help you look at the world a little differently. March is your oyster.

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Pinto and Black Bean Chili

Ingredients:

1 cup dried pinto beans
1/2 cup dried black beans
Olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 onion, chopped,
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 cans tomatoes (diced or San marzano style- or combination)
2 cups water or veggie broth
Salt
Chili powder
Cayenne pepper (optional)
Toppings:
Fresh squeezed lime juice
Cilantro
Green onions

Directions:
Presoak beans for a couple of hours in a big pot, and then bring to a boil and let simmer for a couple of hours until cooked and water is mostly absorbed. Place the beans in a bowl, and then add olive oil to the pot. When the oil is warm, add the garlic, onion and celery and sauté for a few minutes. Add the chili powder and cayenne, if you like the heat, and salt, and sauté for another minute. Add the beans back to the pan, and add the tomatoes and broth. Bring to a boil and then let simmer for a few minutes (or longer) before serving. Taste for salt and cayenne. Top chili with lime juice, cilantro and green onions.
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Do you have a way that you like to “celebrate” March? I’d love to hear it. Happy almost spring, my friends.

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A spot of tea

This will be all about muffins and tea. If you don’t like muffins or tea, it’s okay if you want to read this instead. Or this.

img_7570All right, all you muffin and tea lovers, let’s get started. This winter I had the pleasure of writing an article about herbal tea for Edible Madison magazine. I grew up with a Scottish grandmother who drank tea every night after dinner, so I have fond memories of family dinners when the tea pot and china cups would come clinking out of the kitchen, someone would pour me a cup of black tea and I would fill it the rest of the way with milk. But when I received the Edible Madison assignment, I didn’t know much about the subject of tea, so this article was a hoot to research and write. I also got to hang out with some interesting tea people at some delightful places like Anthony at Macha on East Johnson St.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago, when I received a message from a farmer named Tony who was wondering if I would be interesting in sampling his “living” herbal teas that he grows on a farm in Mondovi, Wis. I have a soft spot in my heart for farmers, and a new appreciation for tea, so I of course said yes. A few days later I received some Sacred Blossom tea in the mail.

I love these teas, mostly because they are so beautiful when they are steeping (and they taste really delicious, too.) But also because it’s obvious that these herbs were grown with a lot of love and care. Please check out Tony’s website and his kickstarter campaign to support a Wisconsin farmer who is doing something really special in the world of teas.

And while that tea steeps, start making some muffins! My parents found the recipe for these Morning Glory muffins in the New York Times. I made them last weekend and baked another batch yesterday. I am in love with them. They are a little finicky (you need to shred carrots and apples, toast walnuts, melt coconut oil, etc.) but I think it’s fun and they turn out really well. I consider myself to be a lousy baker, but I’ve been having luck lately with muffins. I will post the recipe as appears, not as I did it, because if you followed my directions it would be something like this: Measure flour, (don’t) measure cinnamon, spend nine minutes looking for baking powder, realize half-moon is sitting on the television, read Reggie Jackson, read Reggie Jackson, read Reggie Jackson, read the Bunny Book, read Reggie Jackson, read Reggie Jackson, realize you were supposed to use the large mixing bowl for the wet ingredients, measure the baking soda, read Reggie Jackson, abandon muffins completely and run out the door to meet a friend for happy hour when your significant other gets home from work, remember the next day after yoga that you started making muffins, locate (wrong-sized) bowl of dry ingredients, locate left-for-dead carrots in veggie drawer, make a cup of tea, finish mixing batter, bake muffins, eat most of the (still warm) muffins while standing at the kitchen counter.

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But here’s how the newspaper said to make them:

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Morning Glory Muffins

From the New York Times

INGREDIENTS
1 cup/120 grams all-purpose flour
¾ cup/85 grams whole-wheat flour
1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¾ cup/177 milliliters whole milk
¾ cup/160 grams packed dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
¾ cup/90 grams shredded carrot (from 2 medium carrots)
½ cup/77 grams shredded apple (from 1 medium apple)
½ cup/57 grams unsweetened shredded coconut, toasted
¾ cup/90 grams finely chopped walnuts, toasted
¾ cup/112 grams raisins
½ cup/118 milliliters melted coconut oil

PREPARATION
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line a 12-cup standard muffin tin with paper liners.
In a medium bowl, whisk together all-purpose flour, whole-wheat flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda and salt. In a large bowl, whisk together milk, dark brown sugar and eggs until smooth. Stir carrot, apple, coconut, 1/2 cup of the walnuts and 1/2 cup of the raisins into the wet mixture. Stir in the melted coconut oil.
With a large rubber spatula, fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients until just combined. Do not overmix. Divide the batter evenly among the prepared cups. Sprinkle the remaining walnuts and raisins evenly over the tops of the muffins.
Bake until puffed and set and a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Transfer the muffins, in the tin, to a rack to cool for 5 minutes. Then remove the muffins from the tin and let cool completely on the rack. Once cool, store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days.

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And while it feels like spring out there today, I am hoping for more winter days with a steeping cup of hot tea and a batch of muffins in the oven. Happy Saturday.

An alternative universe

It feels a bit like we’re living in some sort of parallel universe right now. I’m spending a lot of time on the internet switching between reading headlines and looking at photos of marches and emailing senators and drooling over the flavors of doughnuts at my favorite recurring pop-up event. Things feel like they are trying to be normal- but they’re not. We alternate between statements like, “Did you know what he did today?…Is it even possible to place a media blackout on the EPA?,” and “We have to make sure to get to there in time to get a pineapple doughnut.”

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But it finally snowed today. A wet, sloppy, heavy snow- but it’s still snow- and it feels a lot more normal than the foggy, rainy 40-degree days we’ve been experiencing. So I started building a snow fort using one of those plastic brick molds that I haven’t used in about 30 years (but the fort has since collapsed.) And Dan is finishing up a project for the cats that he started a few weeks ago. Half-moon discovered shoveling and had his first cup of hot chocolate, and we ate leftover curry for lunch… life as we know it in this alternative universe.

After looking up some curries, I made up this recipe the other night when I happened to have a can of coconut milk and didn’t want to run to the store (I’m trying to break my “visit-the-co-op-everyday” habit.) It turned out really well and I’m happy to add it to the regular rotation. Served over brown rice, it’s bright and hearty and full of whatever vegetables you can find in the fridge.

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Coconut Curry with Kale and Carrots (or whatever veg you have)

Ingredients

1 tablespoon coconut oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 onion, sliced
Some fresh ginger, grated or minced
1/2 or 1 whole bunch kale
2 carrots, sliced
Additional veggies optional (I used leftover bell pepper and cauliflower florets)
1 can regular (full fat) coconut milk
2 cups veggie broth (I use vegetable base bouillon + hot water)
Curry powder
Salt to taste

For serving:
Cooked brown rice (or quinoa)
Lemon juice
Cilantro
Chili flakes

Directions

Melt the coconut oil in a heavy pot over medium heat. Add the garlic, onion and ginger to the pot, and cook about 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the carrots, kale and any other veggies, a pinch of salt and cook about 3-5 minutes more. Add curry powder, coconut milk and veggie broth and taste for salt. Bring to a simmer, then lower heat and cook 15-20 more minutes, paritially covered. Serve over brown rice with a generous squeeze of lemon juice and top with cilantro and red chili flakes, if you like. Then consider making a donation to the ACLU.

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Although things seem really, really wrong right now, I like this resistance movement that continues to heat up. And as my incredibly insightful and inspiring yoga teacher made us all declare last Saturday morning, “We’re in charge.” At least in how we handle ourselves and what actions we take in these next few months. It’s time to keep fighting back, my friends.

A misplaced effort

There are times when a food blog seems like the most trivial thing in the universe. Now, for me, is one of those times. Tucked into my tiny, warm space drinking kombucha and listening to Dire Straits while the baby naps, I feel grateful but helpless. It feels as though much of the world is crumbling. And writing about food seems like misplaced effort.

But then… I’ve been reading Sarah’s blog for several years now, and I found her last post particularly eloquent. Here is an excerpt:

When bad things happen, there’s a bizarre insistence from other conscientious folks that we stop talking about flip things like what’s for dinner, but the fact is that we all still eat, and that the bad things are there, every single day. Similarly, the work never, ever ends. Timeliness of our response is important. Consistency, though, and settling in for the long haul, is paramount. We have to be able to, every single day, keep our brains and hearts open enough to fight injustice where you see it and drive yourself to work and take care of your babies or your health or your girlfriend and sometimes to eat dinner. These things are not of equal importance. But there they are, all contained in the span of the same 24 hours.

Read more: http://casayellow.com/2016/12/06/what-to-eat-when-things-arent-going-so-well/#ixzz4Sq5zgdQ7

Reading her whole post made me realize it’s okay to keep talking about and preparing food, but that staying aware and taking some sort of charitable or political action on a regular basis is important, too. My inclination the last couple of years has been to shy away from the news as much as possible- I turned off NPR four years ago this month and still haven’t been back- but I don’t think that ignorance is the answer now.

So I can tell you that I donated to this organization this morning and also that I made some really delicious sweet potato muffins a couple of days ago. I called Paul Ryan’s office a few weeks ago (202-225-3031) and voiced my opinion on the Affordable Care Act. And then I made lentil soup. I plan on participating in the Women’s March on Madison on January 21 and I intend to keep making the Moosewood Cookbook lentil soup at least weekly. This fall we adopted an “unadoptable” cat from Friends of Ferals with frost-bitten ears and only half his teeth and I will keep sneaking him a couple of bites of Half-moon’s scrambled eggs. And I’ll keep reading my favorite food blogs and I’ll continue sharing nourishing recipes and stories here, but I’ll also keep thinking of more ways to give. More things I can do. But right now I have to feed a muffin to a baby, and maybe a little to a cat.

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The sweet potato muffin recipe comes from one of my favorite blogs, Dishing up the Dirt. I will post the recipe the way it was published, but I will tell you that I used whole milk instead of almond milk, I omitted the cloves (didn’t have them), I made nine muffins instead of twelve, I oiled the muffin tin (no muffin wrappers in the house) and I never made the frosting because we ate them all before I got the chance. But they were delicious all the same.

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Spiced Sweet Potato Molasses Muffins

From Dishing up the Dirt
PREP TIME: 15 MINUTES COOK TIME: 40 MINUTES SERVES: 12 MUFFINS

1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1- inch cubes
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup almond milk
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
2 eggs
2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger
1/2 cup pure maple syrup
1/2 cup blackstrap molasses
1/4 cup walnut oil (or another neatural tasting light oil)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Maple-Cashew Frosting
1 cup raw cashews, soaked in warm water for 30 minutes
2 tablespoons coconut oil, melted
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 cup almond milk

Preparation
Preheat the oven to 375F. Line a standard muffin tin with paper liners and set aside.
In a large saucepan cover the sliced potatoes to cover them by at least 1 inch of water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until the potatoes are fork tender, about 15 minutes. Drain the potatoes and place them in a food processor and process until completely smooth and creamy. Measure out 1 cup of puree and set it aside (save any leftover puree for another use).
In a large bowl stir together the flour, baking soda, spices and salt. Set aside.
In a smaller bowl vigorously whisk together the almond milk and apple cider vinegar and let the mixture rest for 5 minutes (this will create a dairy free buttermilk). Whisk in the eggs, freshly grated ginger, maple syrup, molasses, oil, vanilla extract and sweet potato puree. Mix until everything is well combined. Pour the wet ingredients into the bowl of the dry ingredients and stir until just incorporated. Spoon the mixture into the prepared muffin tin and bake in the oven until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted in the center of a muffin, about 20-22 minutes.
While the muffins bake prepare the frosting. Drain the soaked cashews and place them in the bowl of a food processor with the remainder of the ingredients and process until completely smooth and creamy, scraping down the sides of the processor as needed. Taste for seasonings and adjust as needed.
Let the muffins cool in the pan for 10 minutes before gently removing them to a wire rack to completely cool before adding the cashew cream.

*Store any leftover cashew cream in an airtight container in the fridge for 5 day *Keep muffins at room temperature covered for 3 days.

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Please share any organizations you support or ideas that you have for staying connected and helping the world crumble a little less. Wishing you peace this holiday season.

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.

 

 

 

 

Light a fire

I wrote my first blog post here on November 14, 2010, so it’s almost been six (six!) years. Wild.

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I may have been neglecting this space a bit lately, but I’m happy it’s still here. And if you just read that last line, then I’m happy you’re still here, too.

It’s been a really beautiful, warm fall. We took Half-moon to his first pumpkin patch a couple of weeks ago (as of press time, the pumpkins remain uncarved. Maybe it’s better late than never?) We had a delicious picnic dinner  in Tenney Park from the Underground food truck and Sitka Salmon folks and discovered that Half-moon LOVES smoked salmon. I went catting with a notorious Madisonian (more on this in this coming week’s Isthmus) and we’ve been enjoying late afternoon happy hour fires. I have also been making lots and lots of rice bowls with veggies and tofu. The funny thing is, I was inspired to make these bowls by a meal that we had in Seattle about five years ago when we took the train to visit my sister. One night my old roommate from Wyoming, Brett (who had since moved to Seattle) and his wife, Kate, had us over for a super fun dinner where we created our own bowls with rice, salmon, and vegetables- I remember shredded beets- and a delicious, herbaceous sauce.

So I found myself thinking about this meal one morning about a month and a half ago, which turned out to be the same day Brett found me on Instagram, after having not communicated for at least over a year. Cosmic energy, my friends.

And from checking out Brett and Kate’s instagram pages, it turns out that they know the farmer behind one of my all-time favorite blogs, so I need to get to that bottom of that, too. All right, rice bowls. I had a realization sometime in the last couple of years that I am not very good at making stir-fry- it always ends up too greasy for my liking. Instead of sautéing veggies, I prefer them raw (or cooked separately ahead of time- like roasted brussel sprouts) served with a salty, umami-y sauce + fresh herbs (like cilantro) + sesame seeds or peanuts. Here is how I like to make rice bowls:

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Rice Bowls with Tofu and Seasonal Vegetables

Ingredients

Brown rice (cooked according to directions- about a cup uncooked rice for 2-3 people)

Vegetables: any combination of shredded napa cabbage (really good marinated in sesame oil- reminds me of the wok seared sesame noodles from when I worked at Noodles and Co.), green beans, shredded beets, sliced radishes, green onions, thinly sliced kale, brussels sprouts, etc.

Baked tofu (see this blog post for marinade and baking directions)

Sauce: Play around! Here are a couple of combinations to try-

soy sauce + (dark) miso + sesame oil + lime/lemon juice + chopped cilantro

gochujang (fermented chile paste) + soy sauce + water

Toppings: peanuts or sesame seeds, (more) fresh cilantro

Directions

Place cooked rice in bowl. Top with tofu, vegetables, sauce, peanuts or sesame seeds and fresh herbs.

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Tonight we’ll have to light a fire to embrace the early darkness. Happy fall.

 

 

 

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.