our messy table

Category: Healthy dinner

a good fight

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After completing a family weekend trip with a toddler and infant this last weekend, my sister told me that she was never going to get married or have kids.

I had to laugh at her honesty. Because I can only imagine what my college-aged sister and high school-aged brother think of my married/child-rearing older brother and myself.

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We had spent two nights in a hotel and were all pretty much at the mercy of the little one’s sleep/eating schedules, which is the norm for my husband, brother, sister-in-law and me. But from where the two bright-eyed youngsters stood, the view of 4 arguing, sleepless young parents probably looked nothing short of miserable.

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I had to laugh because I forget about the perspective of my two youngest siblings. Their oldest sister: cursing her helpless husband for everything from our son’s mismatched clothes to the weather… as I fidget with guilt and strain to make every simple decision.

And I have to love them for it, because I forget.  Meaning, they don’t even let me know how crazy I look because I guess they love me anyway.

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My youngest siblings never avoided the extra responsibility of playing puzzles with my son as I got dressed or look for a room key. If anything, they held the baby, swam in the freezing pool with the water-crazed toddler, and made me very proud to be their older sister.

My message to them: It’s the good fight, young ones. And it is all worth it, regardless of how it looks on the outside, or from the depths of a freezing cold hotel pool.

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Thanks to my mother and father for treating us this weekend, and my mother and father-in-law for watching our naughty dog. We had a very very blessed and memorable Easter weekend (to say the least). And to you readers, I wish you all the same.

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 Deb’s Kale Salad with Apple, Cranberry and Pecans

Adapted slightly from Cookie and Kate

Yield 4 servings

Salad

  • 1/2 cup roughly chopped pecan halves
  • 8 ounces curly green kale
  • 4 to 5 medium radishes
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1 medium granny smith apple
  • 4 ounces goat cheese

Dressing

  • 3 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 1/2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 Tablespoons smooth Dijon mustard
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons honey
  • sea salt and fresh ground black pepper
  1. Pull the kale leaves off from the tough stems and discard the stems. Use a chef’s knife to chop the kale into small, bite-sized pieces. Transfer the kale to a big salad bowl. Sprinkle a small pinch of sea salt over the kale and massage the leaves with your hands by lightly scrunching big handfuls at a time, until the leaves are darker in color and fragrant.
  2. Thinly slice the radishes. Add them to the bowl.
  3. Coarsely chop the pecans and cranberries and add them to the bowl. Chop the apple into small, bite-sized pieces and add it to the bowl as well. Crumble the goat cheese over the top.
  4. In a small bowl, whisk the dressing ingredients together and pour the dressing over the salad. Toss until the salad is evenly coated with dressing. Serve immediately, or for even better flavor, let the salad marinate in the dressing for 10 to 20 minutes beforehand.

service engine soon

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On the current property we are renting, buried deep in one the barns is a lawn mower that works 20% of the time with a blade attachment made for snow removal. Here in the Midwest, when the ground gets very cold, the earth tends to shift. This is a problem. Because in our situation, the winter has shifted a slab of cement in front of the door of the barn so that we cannot open the door to access this mower.

We have a very long driveway, and we have a great many drifts of snow blockading us from the road.

As you may have guessed, this leaves us with no way to remove the snow so we can easily make out way to work every morning.

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My husband has spent roughly 1 hour and 1/2 a tank of gas the last few evenings driving one of our vehicles hap-haphazardly through the snowdrifts (with its blinking “service engine soon” light) to make tracks for his flimsy little car  to make it through in the morning. Then he spent another 20 filling up said flimsy little car’s routinely deflating tires with air.

And sometimes… sometimes it feels like we just don’t fit the mold a smooth-functioning life. Like our life can be summed up to a puzzle with pieces that got sucked on by a toddler then lost under the couch for 8 months. And now we are doomed… doomed to function. Doomed to create a neat and perfectly finished picture.

Sometimes it feels like we are metaphorically my husband’s flimsy little car, and that our life-obstacles are the snow drifts in our driveway and we are just trying to make it through somehow… with a blinking “service engine soon” light and a flat tire.

Its a little scary how quickly the little things can build me up and tear me down. These little things, for me, metaphorically assemble the puzzle of our life;  a finished picture that illustrates where we are. And when it doesn’t come together (which it often doesn’t), I begin to feel defeated. Sometimes depressed. Sometimes angry and like I am completing losing control of myself.

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And sometimes I retaliate against our bad luck. I clear out the basement so our son has a place to ride his bike. I drive to the grocery store and buy ice cream for 3. I paint with my toddler.  I stay home all day making actual meals and spending actual time with my family. I chose to win in the ways that I can.

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Hopefully, with time, the pieces will come together and make sense.

Hopefully, with time, the earth will shift again so we can… you know… get into the barn.

Hopefully, with time, we will get a better grip on things. And when that happens, I sort of hope we miss the old puzzle – the assembled pictures that didn’t quite fit.

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Warm Green Lentil Salad

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, finely diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, very thinly sliced
  • 2 medium carrots, very thinly sliced
  • 1 celery stalk, very thinly sliced
  • 1 cup green lentils
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 4 teaspoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper, plus more to taste
  • 1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley or cilantro to top (optional)
  • fried egg, to top (optional)

Put a kettle or a pot (containing about 4 cups water) on the stove and bring to a boil.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion and cook until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for an additional minute. Fold in the carrots and celery.

Add the lentils to the saucepan and stir to coat with the onion mixture. Pour the boiling water into the pan and stop when the level is about ½-inch over the top of the lentils (should be roughly 3 1/2 cups of water). Bring back to a good boil, reduce the heat to low, cover the pot and cook the lentils for about 20 minutes. Stir in the mustard, vinegar, salt and pepper and cook an additional 10-15 minutes – or until lentils are tender but still slightly chewy.

Remove from the heat and let sit for ten minutes. Taste and season with additional salt and pepper.

Serve warm – with a lightly-fried egg and a sprinkling of parsley on top if you’d like. Leftovers can be covered and refrigerated for an additional 4-5 days.

roasted squash toast

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There was a time during our first 10 months of marriage where my husband and I would come home from work, stare into each other’s eyes and dreamily ask, “What would you like to do tonight?”

Most often the evening consisted of long, luxurious walks by the lake with our dog. Others were spent renting multiple Redbox movies and eating frozen pizza. Sometimes we would invite friends over to brave an experimental meal. Or we would just go out for food and drinks.

We were young with a small income to burn… or so we thought. But it didn’t matter that our priorities were self-indulgent. After we clocked out from an 8-hour shift, we were responsible for no one until 6:30 the following morning.

Don’t get me wrong. It has only been about 3 years … I will make it a point to say that we are still young. Alas, 3 years, 3 moves, several job changes and a baby later, our evenings are a bit more tied-up.

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If you would have asked me 3 years ago if I was ready for evenings as predictable as ours are now – evenings that consist of a pattern of events that result in half-eaten dinners and a very early bedtime – I would have probably, I don’t know, taken an oath of celibacy.

Yet, I am grateful to not be that person anymore. Our evening routine is deep in our bones. We all find comfort in it. And all 3 of us place a bit of our identity in it, too.

Often I have to take a moment to pause in gratitude for the fact that we can come home to each other each night. That my son can expect me to read to him after his bath, before he goes to sleep. That he can hear my voice rhyme to “Llama, Llama, Time to Share” as he slowly nibbles a graham cracker. That my husband can build him a “big, big barn!” out of Legos while I empty my head during an evening jog. That we can eat together in the messy, scattered, imperfect way that we do.

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. . .

It seems like we fall into familiar cooking patters this time every year; lots of roasted potatoes and root vegetables, mushrooms, broccoli, rice and eggs. I decided last week that I needed to rekindle some of that pre-Thanksgiving spirit by bringing back a meal that frequented our table in October and November; a meal consisting of roasted squash, caramelized onion, cheese and toast.

Pre-Thanksgiving, every time we placed this dish before our toddler, he would sort of scooch the squash and onion off the toast. Then we could proceed to eat the cheese and the toast… but not the squash or the onion. As you can imagine, it was quite annoying. But this last week my son lapped up the whole thing and finished with a, “Mmmm, thas goo, mommy”.

I was pleased and dumbfounded all at the same time. So much so, I thought it was time this recipe found a home on “Our Messy Table”.

Please forgive the awful pictures. This is a popular evening meal for us – hence the lack of natural light – and we never have leftovers for lunch-time photos! I will note that we typically use butternut squash since it is easier to peel. But any kinds of squash works and the additional peeling step is not necessary. This dish also serves well with rice or another hearty grain.

Roasted Squash Toast with Caramelized Onion and Ricotta

From Smitten Kitchen

Yield 4 servings as a main, 8 as an appetizer

1 2 1/2- to 3-pound butternut or other yellow-fleshed squash (such as delicata, acorn or kabocha)
1/2 to 3/4 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon dried chile flakes, more or less to taste
Coarse sea or kosher salt
1 yellow onion, peeled and thinly sliced
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
3 Tablespoons maple syrup
4 slices country bread, 1-inch thick
1/2 cup ricotta, goat cheese, feta or Parmesan

Heat oven to 450. Prepare a large baking sheet. No need to peel your squash, just halved, seed and cut your squash into 1/4-inch thick slices. Toss with 3 tablespoons olive oil, 1 to 2 teaspoons salt and chile flakes until evenly coated. Transfer mixture to prepared sheet and roast until tender and slightly colored, anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes, flipping once about 2/3 of the way through. Once tender, you can cut the flesh from the skin and discard it. Leave roasted squash on the tray.

Meanwhile, heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions and 1 teaspoon salt and cook, stirring frequently, until onions are softened and beginning to brown, about 10 to 15 minutes. Add vinegar and syrup and reduce heat to medium. Cook, stirring, until onions are jammy and broken down, another 10 to 15 minutes.

Pile onions on top of roasted squash, still on their baking sheet. Use a fork to gently half-mash the mixture; I like this best when the mixture is not uniformly combined. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil per slice of bread, and cook bread until just golden brown on both sides. Drain on paper towels. Spread cheese on toasts, heap with the squash-onion mixture, sprinkle with coarse salt.

 

risotto with radishes

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Tonight, I swept the dust off my old, decrepit-looking watercolor cakes. I dug out a few crappy brushes and printer paper. As my husband made chicken noodle soup, my son and I painted. I painted a heart and a funky-looking castle and a shark. My son painted blue and green and a little bit of every leftover color from the meager assortment. He said he was painting a “scary monster”.

He dipped his brush thoughtfully into each cake and watched as the colors slowly blended and ran into a dark, feathery mass over the cheap paper. It was charming to see how careful he was being. How engrossed he was.

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Our son has been sick the last few days and is being treated for influenza. I took him back to the doctor today to learn he also has an ear infection. We have a date with 13 milliliters of medicine and a nebulizer machine later tonight. You can imagine our exhaustion excitement.

It felt good to turn off the TV (aka Dinosaur Train) and paint tonight. It felt good to walk away from the same toys and puzzles and make something new. To hear the chicken broth bubbling. To smell the fresh parsley. To be entranced by the movement of water and color pigment. To let go.

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No, no… this is not another soup recipe. Though it just occurred to me how much soup we have been making and eating lately. Instead, I am sending you a recipe for a most delicious and simple way to serve risotto… which always sounds so good to me on cold days like this. My sister and I made it for lunch on a recent cold and snowy afternoon and it was perfect.

The risotto is very creamy and rich while the radishes offer a refreshing, earthy snap. We ate this with nothing but a sprinkle of salt and black paper, but you could also serve it with additional Parmesan or fresh herbs.

Risotto with Radishes

From Bon Appetempt

Yield about 4 servings

For risotto:
7 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 cup hot water
3/4 stick unsalted butter, divided
1 large shallot, chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 pound Arborio rice (2 1/2 cups)
1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano (or Parmesan)

For radishes:
1 tablespoon white-wine vinegar (or possibly a bit more)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound trimmed radishes julienned

Bring broth and water to a simmer in a 3-to-4 quart saucepan. Meanwhile, heat 3 tablespoons butter in a 4-to-5 quart heavy pot over medium heat, then cook onion, stirring occasionally, until just softened, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 6 to 8 minutes. Stir in rice and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add boiling water and cook, stirring until absorbed, about 1 minute.

Stir 1 cup simmering broth into rice and cook, stirring constantly and keeping at a strong simmer, until absorbed. Continue cooking and adding broth, about 1 cup at a time, stirring frequently and letting each addition be absorbed before adding next, until rice is just tender and creamy-looking but still al dente, 18 to 22 minutes. Thin with some of remaining broth if necessary (you will have some left over.) Remove from heat. Stir in cheese, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and remaining 3 tablespoon butter.

Prepare radishes:
Whisk together vinegar and oil with a few pinches of salt and pepper. Toss radishes with the dressing.  Serve risotto topped with radishes.

Tomato Soup with Fennel

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I wanted to drop in one more time before the Christmas… before our daily routine turns into a wild, roller coaster ride of social events, powdered sugar and too much coffee. The roller coaster is a good analogy for us this time of year, as it is for so many others. Yet as I pondered it this morning, I realized that lately the roller coaster ride has felt a bit like “the new normal” for us. I also pondered over the fact that I don’t like roller coasters.

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So I am savoring this day before the first drop (again with the analogy). All my paper work is (FINALLY) submitted so that my teaching license can be processed. My exit portfolio meeting has been completed. All my required writing and reflecting has been done, done and done again. I have a long-term substitute teaching job coming with the end of Christmas-break, and goodness knows there is much to be done before then. But I am home with two toddlers today, one who is supposed to be napping but is instead watching Thomas the Train. And I am eating leftover soup with a crumble of goat cheese. And steam is pouring from the rim of my favorite coffee cup and I just want to sit here and not think about the roller coaster anymore.

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. . .

I put Molly Wizenberg’s second and newest book, Delancy on every single one of my Christmas lists this year. I and am feeling very hopeful. So as I await the splendid affair that is Christmas, I will pay tribute to her first book, A Homemade life, with the recipe for the very soup I am enjoying right now.

This rustic soup is very easy to make. And like most soups, it gets better with time as the flavors meld. We served it last night with toasted baguette and a light spread of goat cheese. For my toddlers today, I served the leftovers with grilled cheese. I should note that vigorous dunking occurred. In the future I will try serving this soup with parmesan or a drizzle of olive oil. Any way, this humble soup has become my new tomato soup go-to.

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Tomato Soup with Fennel

Adapted slightly from A Homemade Life

Yield 3-4 servings

• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• ½ large white or yellow onion
• 1 medium fennel bulb, trimmed and quartered root to stalk. And thinly sliced
• 2 medium garlic cloves, finely chopped
• 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
• 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
• 1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
• Water
• Sea salt, to taste
• Sugar, to taste
• Red wine vinegar, to taste

Warm olive oil in a Dutch oven or large soup pot over medium heat. Add the onions and sliced fennel. Stir to coat and allow to cook for 5 minutes. Add the garlic. Allow another 5-7 minutes of cook-time until fennel begins to soften. Watch that the garlic does not burn.

Next, add the canned tomato juice. Use your hand or the lid of the can to hold the tomatoes back. Next, use a fork to break up the whole tomatoes into craggy chunks. Add the tomatoes to the soup. Fill the empty can with cold water and add that as well. Add fennel seeds, thyme and a pinch or two of sugar.

Allow soup to cook uncovered over medium heat until the fennel is melty and soft and the soup has thickened a little. This could take 30-40 minutes. Season with salt to taste. If the soup tastes a bit bland, add a splash of vinegar.

defeat, and tomato soup

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A few nights ago, I was digging through a large box stored away upstairs. This box is large enough to hold all the parts of a twin bed frame, but for the last 4 years, has kept what is left of my college art work.

I was looking for old prints to show a student in my class the following day. And during my search, deep in the bottom of the box, I found old pictures.

My husband doesn’t really like when I look at old pictures. Probably because of how they make me feel. Something about looking into the face – the beaming eyes of a young girl who used to think she had a lot of control over her life and where it was going – makes me feel a bit sad.

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That night, we had just put my son to bed. As soon as I closed his bedroom door I allowed all the bad feelings of the day to flood over me. And my husband was right. It was not a good idea for me to look at those pictures. The pictures of the girl in a cross country uniform standing so fittingly within a group. Her face flushed and triumphant after finishing a race.

Of the girl swinging from monkey bars when she should have been studying for finals. Her ponytail a wavy, yellow mess. Her eyes closed.

That night, after a particularly bad day, it seemed like no matter how hard I tried or hoped, how thin I stretched my abilities, I was not very good at anything. Not a great teacher. Not a great mom. Not a great friend or spouse, housekeeper or artist. And all I wanted to do was isolate myself from everyone. To cement my walls, guarding my vulnerabilities. Keeping me safe from this feeling of defeat. Clasping the old pictures to my chest.

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Yet time, as always, is a funny thing. A frustrating and perfect thing. Because it heals. It grants experience. Wisdom. Perspective.

But it makes us wait.

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And today. Days after that night of low, bad feelings, I am writing about how hope comes in unexpected forms. How, the next day, I saw a student reach out to another in complete, unexpected kindness. How another student, through trial and tribulation, thanked me for helping him complete a project he was proud of.

How my 21-month-old son woke me up this morning by kissing me on the lips… over and over again.

How people really do need each other. For encouragement. For understanding. For direction. For love.

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I often envision myself tightly surrounded by layers and layers of brick, holding old pictures, wishing to be that elusive girl again.

But through the serendipitous roles I have fallen into, as a mother, a spouse, a sister, daughter, and very recently a teacher… through time and perseverance, personal defeat and faint glimmers of hope, the bricks don’t seem as necessary. The walls feel less like a heaven and more like a cage. Something to slowly, but surely, break free from.

. . .

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As fall weather makes its debut, our garden churns out the last of its tomatoes. We are relishing every last one.

Roasted Garden Tomato Soup

Yield 4 servings

  • 3 pounds plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 large or 4 small cloves garlic, unpeeled
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme leaves
  • 3 teaspoons grated lemon zest
  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock

Preheat oven to 400°F. Wrap garlic cloves in a tight foil packet. Place tomatoes, cut side up, on large baking sheet. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Drizzle tomatoes with olive oil. Add foil packet of garlic to tray. Roast until tomatoes are brown and tender, about 1 hour. Cool slightly.

Unwrap garlic packet and peel cloves. Transfer cloves, tomatoes and any accumulated juices to a blender or food processor and pulse machine on and off until tomatoes are a chunky puree. Transfer tomatoes to medium pot and add thyme, grated lemon zest and stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook, uncovered, for 25 minutes. Remove from heat and adjust seasonings to taste.

Serve with toasted corn tortillas (as we often do) or toasted sourdough bread. We usually top this soup with sharp cheddar.

20 months

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I have been a stay-at-home mom for the past 20 months of my son’s life, which is his whole life, if you were wondering.

Next week he embarks to day-care full time while I begin my semester of student teaching. I will spend 7 weeks at a high school, then 7 more weeks at an elementary school, thus completely my long drawn-out education endorsement.

When I decided to finish my teaching license, I imagined that by the end of the summer I would be  ready. I imagined that I would be ready to drop my son off at the babysitter everyday so that he can play with kids his age. That I would be eager for educational stimulation in areas not involving toddler tantrums.

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Nonetheless, my heart has been throbbing with all kinds of sentiment this final week. Our mornings have been consumed by long, cozy cuddle sessions and book reading. Our afternoons have been filled with sweet, impromptu kisses and grasshopper chasing. And the truth is, I love being home with my son.

I find great pleasure in spending long hours organizing my kitchen. I love wondering around outside with my toddler’s hands grasping mine and tugging me here and there. I love looking at ant hills and feeding leftover crackers to the bunnies and pushing swings and making lunch for two. I cherish our afternoon trips to the library and quick stops to the grocery store where my son has to stop and smell the petunias by the entry way every. single. time.

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Don’t get me wrong. I am not suggesting that my 20-month-old and I are best friends and have great conversations all day (you know.. one word conversations..). I want to allow him all the grace he needs to be a little kid. I don’t want my messy adult world to squeak into his toddler world. So our worlds are very defined here. Meaning, I am his mom and decide what is best and he is the little boy who plays with sticks in the mud. I clean him off, give him kisses and tuck him in for a nap. And this is a relationship my introverted nature is so content with.

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But this little boy of mine is ready. He is ready to sharpen his independent nature in a new environment.  Ready to play with other kids in the mud. And I am confident that he will do extremely well without me.

And though I do feel ready, I fear the loss of time with him. The loss of our familiar and comfortable routine. I fear the changes that will inevitably take place. And I fear the guilt I will feel every day for the first few weeks away, then the guilt that will come when I don’t feel so guilty anymore.

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There really is no knowing in this situation. We are welcoming a force of changes that will make up our learning experiences, and therefore, our lives. There is no way to know at this point whether I will be sobbing in bed every night or anxiously awaiting a new day with my students. And likewise, there is no way of knowing if my son will be the sweet daycare peacemaker I have built him up to be in my head or the kid that pushes down the kids smaller than him….

I guess we just have to have faith in each other. And cherish this last week, this beautiful end to 20 precious months. And eat this lunch at least twice more.

. . .

I have long thought about posting on our typical lunch menu for two. And this seems to be an appropriate time (cue the sentimental tears*).

My son and I love sweet potatoes, and this lunch is a hearty, protein-filled staple that can fuel a busy afternoon. It reheats well. But if I want to reheat it for tomorrow’s lunch, I usually stick with the sweet potatoes and farro and leave out (or eat the rest of) the eggs before refrigerating. A reheated scrambled egg is always an overcooked scrambled egg. The sweet potatoes and farro can be easily reheated over the stove in a small knob of olive oil and still be delicious the next day.

We have served this with a bit of salt and black pepper, fresh mozzarella, a slice of avocado and a squeeze of lime or lemon, chopped cilantro or spinach… there is definitely room to get create with this dish. Let me know how it goes for you!

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Sweet Potatoe, Farro and Egg Scramble

Serves one mama and one baby

  • 1 medium sweet potato, peeled and diced into ½” cubes
  • 1-2 Tablespoon olive oil
  • Sea salt to taste
  • 1/4 cup semi-pearled farro, cooked
  • 1-2 large eggs

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Toss the prepared sweet potatoes with olive oil and salt. Arrange in a single layer and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, tossing halfway, until the sweet potatoes are tender and caramelizing at the edges. Remove from oven and set aside to cool slightly.

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, warm a knob of olive oil. Add cooked sweet potatoes and cooked farro. Gently scramble them together to coat.

Crack the egg(s) over the mixture, then with a wooden spoon or heat proof spatula, push around the sweet potatoes, farro and eggs until the eggs are fully cooked and scrambled. Remove from heat.

Allow to cool enough for baby before serving.

 

 

surely

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We are a bit late this year. But finally, our garden had been planted.

We had an incident with our starters (they… um… blew away), and our tiller (it… uh… broke) and then there was the issue of where to plant the garden. We are due to move from our rental home at the end of this month. The question, “where to” still begs an answer. But we needed a garden, I declared. We needed fresh vegetables and something constructive to do under the sun. I wanted my son’s little hands to be busy picking beans and watering tomatoes and nurturing things to life. So, my parents were kind enough to let us use their yard for our mass of summer squash, winter squash, beans, dark greens, tomatoes and peppers. We planted carrots and beets in pots, and our herbs rest along the window sill, safety in my kitchen, away from the maddening winds of Iowa.

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We are treading through a transitional time, which isn’t a comfortable process for me. I like change. But the act of changing throws me off. It makes me feel unstable. Like the ground my feet were planted firmly, the ground that I trusted, split into earthy plates and drifted mysteriously away.

After spending the fall, winter and spring babysitting another little boy, my son and I are home alone for the summer. I have been taking advantage of the flexible time, the ability to just pick up and go. But  my son and I miss his play mate. And I miss the predictable routine we had wrapped ourselves into.

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Also, I plan to go back to school full-time in the fall. I have arranged for a babysitter and have been connecting dots and jumping through the hoops that school and life require. I feel excited and ready, but unsteady at the same time. I want the hoops to be lower. The dots to be closer together. And I want immediate answers to the lingering questions only time can answer.

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. . .

I have been thinking a lot about place lately. How the place you chose to live shapes you.

It is clear that my nearly 18-month-old has lived most of his life surrounded by open space. He knew every farm animal sound before he could talk. When he plays outside, the 30 mph wind flapping around his hair and clothes like desperately floundering fish hardly phases him. To him, large bodies of water are astonishing. Boats are mysterious-looking trucks. And probably, mountains are a little scary.

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I know my son will love this garden. And I am really grateful we don’t have to explain the concept of “moving” to him yet. He is still so resilient. So resourceful. And all he needs are my arms to know where home is.

I want to be more like that… you know, more trusting. More resilient. I want to believe home is where the three of us are together. And I think I am getting there. Slowly. But surely.

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. . .

I am pretty addicted to these lentils. I have made them approximately 4 times in the last 2 weeks… wrapped in a whole wheat tortilla, spread over my favorite and easiest bread recipe, and straight from the fridge. My son likes to eat them with a spoon alongside me, but due to the choking hazard, I make sure to leave the walnuts out of his portion.

Lentils folded into Yogurt, Spinach, and Basil

  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts, chopped to the size of lentils
  • 2 cups baby spinach or arugula
  • 1 cup fresh basil leaves
  • 1 cup cooked lentils
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 cup Greek or plain yogurt
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • fine grain sea salt
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, shaved

With a sharp knife, gently slice the spinach and basil leaves into bite-sized pieces without bruising them. Otherwise, tear by hand.

Place the lentils in a bowl and mix in the spinach and basil. Squeeze the lemon into the lentils (mindful to omit the seeds), mix, and then fold in the yogurt. Mix again, and then pour in the olive oil, stirring, as you do, to combine. At this point, taste the mixture, and season with salt, and two good grindings of pepper. Finally, fold the nuts into the dish, and finish with a drizzle of oil.

The lentils and greens will keep in an airtight jar in the refrigerator for at least three days.

When you’re ready to assemble, bring the lentil mixture to room temperature. Give it a taste, and adjust with more salt or some lemon juice. It can go on toasted bread, in a wrap, over salad or plain. Finish with some Parmesan shavings.

a powerhouse

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When I re-stock our groceries every two weeks, I have my list clenched between my thumb and index fingers, my phone out to calculate costs (because you don’t want to know the truth about my mental math abilities), and my wild animal sliding back and forth in the cart’s seat, pointing at all of the round, ball-resembling objects proclaiming “baah!” and wagging his index finger accusingly at the other shoppers chanting “no, no, no!”.

We don’t buy lavish or random things because we live by a rather tight budget. And it works really well for us.

We always keep beans, a kind of grain, vegetable or chicken broth, canned tomatoes, rolled or steel-cut oats and peanut butter of stock. We buy the kiddo’s favorite cheese for snacks, tortillas, milk and eggs. Yogurt, sweet potatoes, whatever onion is cheapest and garlic. Applesauce, our standard flours, yeast, honey and maple syrup. I’ll grab whatever fruit is one sale, though blueberries and grapes are easiest. Sometimes I buy chicken hind-quarters. Usually we have to re-stock on cooking oils and butter. On a good day, I get Annie’s Graham bunnies as road food.

We have our standard greens to live by too: broccoli (usually frozen for our purposes) or cauliflower, whichever is cheaper that week. We usually get carrots, cabbage, and frozen peas. And our staple dark green: spinach… since my husband really does not like Kale.

Except sometimes this all gets very boring. And though I am a meal planner who likes to have her ducks in a row when it comes to food and money (since the two very much go hand-in-hand), I also sometimes get so sick of routine and spinach that I would sooner chuck it out the window before adding it to my soup, eggs or rice ever again. I would sooner set a field of spinach on fire. Line it along a kitty litter box. Use it as toilet paper for my toddler’s (I mean, my wild animal’s) number two’s!

And there I was at the grocery store the other evening, shopping by my lonesome. I tell you, for me, there has never been a more invigorating experience. My husband was home with the animal, and I was getting out and indulging myself in what odd activities keep me feeling sane and in control … sorting through my grocery list, analyzing prices and getting what food we needed without worrying about my son throwing himself onto the Gouda samples. I even organized the items in my cart just the way I thought they should be organized without a finger piercing the wrappers and jousting grapes.

And then I saw it, Chinese cabbage, and I remembered reading about it a few weeks back. I had often stopped and stared at its sensual shape and soft, dark leaves. And just like that, I threw it the cart (well.. I actually stacked it neatly in the veggie corner of the cart. But that’s beside the point, isn’t it?).

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. . .

Like its trendy, dark-leafed counterparts, Chinese cabbage, or bok choy as it is more commonly known, is a powerhouse of nutrition. It contains large amounts of Vitamin C, A and K. Vitamin C (I always think of Tang chimpanzees…) is an essential nutrient that protects the immune system. It is also believed to prevent prenatal problems, cardiovascular disease and even skin wrinkling. Vitamin A is essential to a functioning immune system, and Vitamin K for building strong bones and preventing heart disease.

Bok choy is also a source of calcium, magnesium, potassium, manganese and iron.

Because bok choy is mostly comprised of water, it’s important you make use of it roughly 2-3 days after you purchase it, before the head becomes wilty. The high water content also makes it lower in calories than spinach or kale.

Bok choy is light and slightly spicy in flavor. It is makes a delicious addition to stir fry and holds up particularly well in soup. Due to the gloomy and gusty weather as of late, we decided to make chicken soup with a small loaf of cornbread a few nights ago. I added a few heads of diced bok choy several minutes before the soup was done cooking. The finished product was pleasantly warm and mildly spicy. And though my wild animal kept the chicken to himself and fed the bok choy bits to me, I think that deep down he appreciated my grocey-shopping spontaneity.

Chicken Soup with Bok Choy

Yield: 2 as main dish, 4 as side

• 4 cups chicken broth
• 2 cups water
• 2 ribs celery, diced
• 1 large yellow onion, diced
• 4 cloves garlic
• 1 tsp ginger, peeled and diced
• 1 lb. skinless chicken , I used breast**
• 3 heads bok choy, diced
• 1 ½ tsp soy sauce
• Squeeze lime juice
• Sea salt

Combine broth, water, celery, onion, garlic, and ginger in a medium saucepan; bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium, add chicken, and cook at a bare simmer until a thermometer inserted into thickest part of meat reaches 160 degrees, about 13 minutes. Remove chicken from broth. When cool enough to handle, tear or cut into pieces. Set aside.

Meanwhile, add bok choy to broth. Simmer until just tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in soy sauce and lime juice. Season with salt and add chicken pieces. Serve.

Notes:
*Vegetarians can withhold the meat and replace it with mushrooms, egg noodles, carrots and so on…
*You could also use chicken thigh, I imagine, and strip it from the bone.