our messy table

Category: Vegetarian

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.

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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.

red lentil soup and “normal”

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Here I am… thinking of all the ways I can get out of “real life” stuff this afternoon. There is something about the holidays – something about time spent away from work and instead spent traveling and being with family and friends. And there is something about my daily intake of sweet, caramelized food that makes me want to drift off to the sparkly land that inhabits all of my happy memories. It makes me want to pretend that the holidays will last forever.

But there are bills to pay, gosh darn it! And do I even care about my waist? It is time to deep freeze my toffee and chocolate-dipped-whatevers for upcoming bad days. It is time to starting thinking of ways to make kale taste good again. Time to look at my bank accounts and make grocery lists and lesson plans and actually fold that massive heap of laundry making itself quite comfortable on the bed. Oh, yes, and my toddler. Shouldn’t I have taught him to count to 10 by now? Shouldn’t my basement be organized and my closet color-coordinated and my next few months of meal plans freshly written out?

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Here is something you should know about me. I am a total loser when it comes to functioning outside of my routine. Some would refer to the horrid term, “control freak”, which always make me cringe. It’s the word “control’ that holds such negative connotation.

I only want control over myself and my son’s nap routine. And that is that, I swear. I have no desire to control other people or the choices they make. They can paint their own picture. Make their own story without me feeling remotely responsible for their success and failure. But my routine is very sacred to me. And here is why:

As lovely as they may be, the holidays do funky things to me (and my digestive system).Once you bring me back to reality, once you remind me of the cost of relaxation, I completely freak out. I floss my teeth excessively. I run 4 miles. I dig into the deep freezer for that sworn-off chocolate. Then I shut down. I think of ways to get out of “real life” stuff. Because life outside of the routine was easier.

So here I am.

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However. I had a very nice day with my son today. A day that felt almost “normal”… whatever that means for us anymore. As for now, I am choosing to believe normal is a day when my son plays with his toys and sings songs and gets mad at me for not turning on his new favorite movie… again. When he naps when he was supposed to and eats dinner and takes a bath and reads books and goes to bed when he us supposed to.

But know there is a human element to my need for control. Know that, as contrary as it sounds, I am grateful for this crazy life that I have no control over. I am so grateful for the crazy people who love me. And though I always freak out a little over the holidays, I am grateful for them as well.

I am grateful and humbled by the people who gave us so much when we do so little to deserve it. I am thankful for “normal”… and the lack thereof, so normal can be something to aspire for.

I am grateful for the roller coasters. For deep freezers. For naps. For family. Friends. And ,once again, for soup.

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We have made the soup quite a bit in the last year, and with several variations. We have used tomato paste instead of canned tomatoes, diced fresh garden tomatoes, thrown in cilantro, omitted the coconut all-together, added fresh ginger, golden raisins, substituted green slip peas for the rice, sauteed in diced carrots, I could go on! This recipe serves as a nice template for the creative soul, but tastes wonderful is it is typed below. We recommend good bread with each serving.

Coconut Red Lentil Soup

Yield: 6 servings

  • 1 1/3 cup split red lentils
  • ½ cup brown rice
  • 6 cups vegetable broth or water
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 2 Tablespoons butter, olive of coconut oil (we use butter)
  • 1 Tablespoon curry powder
  • 4 green onions
  • 1 14-ounce can coconut milk
  • 1 14-ounce can diced tomatoes

Give lentils and rice a good rinse – until they no longer put off murky water. Place them in an extra-large soup pot, cover with the broth or water, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and add salt. Cover and simmer for about 30 minutes, or until the split peas are soft.

In the meantime, in a small dry skillet or saucepan over low heat, toast the curry powder until it is quite fragrant. Be careful though, you don’t want to burn the curry powder. Set aside. Place the butter in a pan over medium heat, add half of the green onions. Saute for two minutes stirring constantly.

Add the toasted curry powder to the mixture, mix well, and then add this to the simmering soup along with the coconut milk and tomatoes. Simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes or so. The texture should thicken up, but you can play around with the consistency if you like by adding more water, a bit at a time, if you like. Or simmer longer for a thicker consistency.

We’ve been enjoying big ladles of this soup over 1/2 cup of warm farro or brown rice. Quinoa would be an interested alternative. Sprinkle each bowl with the remaining green onions.

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.

maple popcorn

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It seems impossible to even think… but after all that comes with school and life, I might be creeping toward some sort of finish line.

I am a person who finds validation in finish lines. I love the feeling that comes with finishing a long and tedious race. But as I said… to even think about it seems a little delusional. I don’t want to get too comfortable in the triumph. Because if there is anything I have learned, it is that the triumph of finishing is fleeting. And finishing one long and tedious race often promises another. And another. And another…

. . .

My husband and I had to make an out-of-town trip on my son’s second birthday. We packed him a little over-night bag and left him with my parents. And while we were gone for just a 24 hour period, it seemed like he grew up a little. When we came to pick up his wired little body from my parent’s house, and he didn’t seem to have missed us in the least, the stunning realization hit: he turned 2 without us.

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. . .

There is this illustrated bedtime book we often read about a baby girl with tussley black hair whose parents are going about the bedtime routine. The little girl is putty in their hands… through clean-up time and bath-time and snuggle-time and book-time and finally, sleep-time. And the whole dang time the parents are smiling at their toddler. They seem totally engaged – as if nothing more is on their minds than giving her tender loving care. And, I know it’s dumb, but I often feel very envious of those illustrated people. I want so badly to align with the idealistic image of a contented and controlled parent. I want so badly to arrive at the end of each day and have nothing more on my mind than enjoying the company of my family.

And I can’t stop feeling in awe of my 2 year old son. That he didn’t need me there to hold his warm little hand for the transition.

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. . .

To celebrate our son’s birthday, the three of us went out last night for cheap spring rolls. To follow, we went to see the downtown lights display.

Today, after his nap, my son and I are making a little birthday cake. There will be finely ground graham crackers, cinnamon and lots of brown sugar. There will probably also be some confusion and spilt buttermilk and broken eggs. Either way, I am going to try and breathe easily about it. Because whether or not I am exhausting an old race or beginning a new one, whether I am thinking about a million things at once or able to zero-in, I am going to breathe. Because my son is healthy, and loving, and 2. And there is a lot to be thankful for in that.

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. . .

I thought you could all use a recipe for a little something for a holiday party. I love this recipe because there is a) no butter, b) no corn syrup, c) no refined sugar and d) is still perfectly addicting and delicious. Also, I often detect a funny artificial flavor with many homemade caramel corn recipes, and I really don’t know why that is. But let it be known, this recipe is perfect. It is quite sweet given the amount of maple syrup. Yet, with its hint of natural peanut butter and sea salt it tastes like real food – not just candy. You could easily play-up this recipe by adding ¾ a cup of peanuts, toasted almonds, coconut or a combination of all three.  Due to the lack of corn syrup as a preservative, I would recommend keeping this popcorn refrigerated until serving-time. This keeps it fresh and crisp.

Maple Popcorn

Once again, from Cookie and Kate

Popped popcorn, yields about 6 cups

  • ⅓ cup popcorn kernels
  • 1 Tablespoon extra-virgin coconut oil or extra-virgin olive oil

Maple caramel corn

  • 6 cups popped popcorn
  • ½ cup real maple syrup
  • 3 Tablespoons natural peanut butter or nut butter of choice
  • 1½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • ¼ teaspoon sea salt, plus more for sprinkling
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon, plus more for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

To pop the popcorn, place a large mixing bowl near the stove. Pour the oil into a large, heavy-bottomed pan with a lid. Turn the heat up to medium, add 2 kernels of corn, and cover. Once the kernels pop, remove the lid and pour in the remaining popcorn kernels. Cover the pot and give the pot a little shimmy to distribute the kernels evenly.

Cook over medium heat, shaking the pot occasionally. Crack the lid just a bit so the popcorn stays crisp, and cook until the popping sound slows to about one pop per every few seconds. Remove the pan from heat and dump the popcorn your bowl, taking care not to pour in any unpopped kernels at the bottom of the pot. If necessary, pick out any unpopped kernels that made it into the bowl with a spoon.

To make the caramel sauce, in a small, heavy bottomed pot, bring the maple syrup to a boil over medium heat. Keep a watchful eye on the syrup and continue boiling for 2 minutes and 30 seconds, reducing heat only if necessary to prevent overflow. Remove the pot from heat.

Add the nut butter, vanilla extract, salt and cinnamon to the pot of maple syrup. Whisk until well blended. Drizzle the mixture over the popcorn and toss with a rubber spatula or big spoon until well mixed. Pour the popcorn on the parchment-covered baking sheet and arrange it in a single layer.

Bake the popcorn for 6 minutes, then rotate the pan and cook for another 2 minutes. Remove from oven and sprinkle with additional cinnamon and salt, to taste. The popcorn will continue to crisp up as it cools. Once it’s cool, break the popcorn into pieces and serve.

 

on baby books… and cornbread

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Last night, I took my son out in the snow for the first time this year. When I set his booted feet down in a freshly fallen blanket, he stood there, frozen, with a worried look on his face. “I stuuuuuck…” He said nervously, raising his arms to be carried out of what he possibly assumed would cement him there forever.

Once I gently eased him into walking in the snow himself, he reminded me much of Bambi. He raised his feet high with each step. He looked around, memorized by the glistening trail of footprints as we made our way through the yard.

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Suddenly, he pulled off his mittens, stuck his hands directly into the fluff and threw it in the air. A look of exuberance lifted from his small, rosy face. And then, as I imagined, he panicked. He held his hands out to me and said, “hot!”.

I quickly came to his rescue. Cupping my hands around his, I breathed until the snow melted.

It was a simple moment. But one I wanted to remember it.

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I decided to record the endeavor in my son’s baby book.  That night, after my son went to bed, I slid his baby book out from the book shelf, brushed off the dust with a few good swipes and opened it in search of a page to record something like “reactions to new discoveries”.

Much to my horror, bleak pages with blank lines danced before my eyes. It turns out that I was supposed to be recording a lot of what has been going on in the past 6 months…

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Milestones such as getting his last tooth is a date that has been forgotten. There have been funny translations (“poot” for “poop”, “lelele” for “elephant”), first sentences (“That’s a mama whale! That’s a baby whale!” or… “Iroh eat the apple”) cute grammatical errors (“It’s a pink” instead of “It’s pink”), first time counting (“2…..4….”), color matching and singing his ABC’s (“A,C,D,D,D,”) have come and gone without being recorded.

I could no longer tell you how old my son was when he first tried to put his shirt on by himself. The exact date he decided that he was capable of brushing his own teeth (he decided, meaning, I still wish he would let us do it… but that ship has long sailed). I can’t remember if it was last week for the month before when he started noticing when my fingers covered the pictures of his books (and pushing them out of the way in annoyance). I don’t even know how tall he was at his 18 month doctor’s appointment.

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Upon realizing this frightful reality – this act of pure negligence – I spent the next lamenting hour tossing and turning in bed. What kind of mother with only one child forgets to record the first time her toddler brushed the dogs teeth with Daddy’s toothbrush?

Today, I am trying to sort through these forgotten milestones and rekindle the hope to ever becoming an adequate parent. I am referring to my digital albums (which I might say are very organized, month by month) for guidance. And in doing so, I stumbled across pictures from a weekend not long ago when we made this amazing cornbread.

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It only seems appropriate to dig out a cornbread recipe on a day like this – when the snow has collected in thick blankets over the trees and is illuminating your whole house with the brightest of light.

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This recipe has all kinds of good things in it: chia seeds, corn flour, quinoa and parsley… Its tastes amazing as a side to any warm soup or on its own with a slice of sharp cheddar for a snack. We personally recommend it with my husband’s wildly spicy chili after a night of being “stuck” in the snow.

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Quinoa Cornbread with Parsley

Yield 12 muffins

Adapted from My New Roots

Remember to rinse your quinoa. Without this step, your quinoa will taste very bitter. I simply drain mine over a fine mesh strainer with a coffee filter inside. I run waster over it until the water runs through clear, swirling it around ever so often (picture above shows this). Also, if you do not have corn flour, spelt or whole wheat flour will substitute nicely. However, it will no longer be gluten-free.

  • 1/4 cup corn meal
  • 1 cup corn flour
  • 1 cup cooked quinoa
  • 1 Tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp. sea salt
  • 1 cup milk, dairy free works fine
  • 3 Tablespoons chia seeds + 9 Tablespoons water
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 Tablespoon honey or agave
  • 1/2 cup parsley leaves, chopped

Preheat oven to 400. Put 12 muffin liners in a cupcake pan.

Mix chia seeds and water in a small bowl and set aside.

In a large bowl, sift dry ingredients together. Add the cooked quinoa.

Check the chia gel to make sure it is thick a gloppy (it should take 15 minutes or so to obtain the right consistency). In a separate bowl, whisk wet ingredients together, including the chia gel.

Add the wet to the dry and combine in as few strokes as possible. Fold in the parlsley.

Spoon batter in to muffins cups and bake until the edges are golden brown and they pass the toothpick test, about 15-20 minutes

curried cauliflower soup

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It is possible that I have been reading too many blogs as of late. It’s my guiltiest pleasure… to read the stories of women who have written successful, fresh blogs and therefore have written books and have been traveling on book tours… sitting in hotels in different cities with their husbands eating chocolate covered almonds and drinking cocktails. Sitting in airplanes and ho-humming the in the soft, afternoon light as they post about smart, enlightening articles they just stumbled across in the terminal on their way to somewhere impressive. Successful, gifted women in planes and hotels writing and being successful and eating almonds.

Reading these posts has made me sigh.

Especially this time of year, when everything is supposed to be so beautiful but it instead smells like animal manure. And loud machinery rampages on around our home at all hours of the night. And scared little mice have decided to make our home theirs.

Yet this evening, as I walked in the driveway after a run with the dog, I saw through our kitchen window my son and his father sitting around the table. They were surrounded by a warm glow, eating soup from the night before. My husband was holding his spoon that funny way he does. Our son was head banging to no music and chewing a piece of bagel.

And they made me so grateful that I was about to walk into the house to them. That our son was going to come running to the door as I walked in and wipe out when he crashed into our dog. That I was about to help him put cream cheese on his next bite of bagel and talk to my husband about the show he is watching (and I am half-watching).

That I was about to wrap our son in a warm towel after his bath then read him books until my feet fell asleep under his little butt and his yawns became very long and slow.

Very thankful that they are my home. And this blog is just the humble thing it is. Just a place for me to tell you how much I love my family. And to give you recipes like this.

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Curried Cauliflower Soup

Hardly adapted from Cookie and Kate

Yield: 4 Servings

  • 1 large head of cauliflower, broken into small florets, stems chopped
  • ¼ cup melted coconut oil or olive oil, divided
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons Thai red curry powder
  • 1 small lemon zested (about 1 teaspoon zest)
  • ½ cup white wine*
  • 1½ cups vegetable broth or stock
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • ½ teaspoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ cup chopped green onions/chives, not shown
  • Hot sauce to serve, optional

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Toss the cauliflower with enough coconut oil to lightly coat it Spread the cauliflower in a single layer on a large baking sheet and roast until the tips of the cauliflower are golden brown, about 25 to 30 minutes.

In a Dutch oven or large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat, sweat the onion with 1 tablespoon coconut oil and a dash of salt until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the curry powder and lemon zest and stir to incorporate. Raise the heat to medium-high, add the wine, and cook, stirring frequently, until most of the wine has evaporated.

Add all of the roasted cauliflower stems and half of the florets to the pot. Add the vegetable broth, coconut milk and sugar. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the soup is warmed through. Remove from heat and stir in the vinegar. Use an immersion blender to blend until smooth. (Or transfer the soup in small batches to a blender, blending until each batch is smooth. Beware of the steam escaping from the lid.)

Add salt and pepper to taste. Ladle the soup into 4 bowls. Top each with ¼ of the cauliflower florets, a sprinkle of green onion and chives. Serve with hot sauce.

Notes:

* I have substituted the wine for vegetable broth with good results

 

walnut banana baked oatmeal

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Hello people! I tell you. I sat down to write this post a handful of times over the past month. And if I learned anything from that stream of failure, it is that sitting down to write after baby is bathed and wrestled into pajamas and read about 50 books (a mild exaggeration) then tucked sweetly into bed… after the dishes have been washed and dried and put away and all the odds and ends dispersed randomly throughout the day are set back in their places…. after my evening jog and shower and my cup of tea found its way warmly into my hands… sitting down to write put me to sleep. And I tell you, those were some very good nights of sleep.

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Today is Saturday. And baby is napping. And I probably should be doing other things. But I feel like being here.

That being said, this past month of blogging failures has taught me something quite valuable I wanted to share.

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Before my last post, I was beginning to feel increasingly strained in my day-to-day life. I felt distracted and mildly chaotic all the time, which can be stressful when you are trying to help a 22-month-old down a ladder or into his winter clothes. So I made a choice.

I wanted to allow myself the grace to be in-the-moment. I decided that if I had the time and energy to post a recipe, I would post. And if not, then I wouldn’t feel bad about it. Overall, I wanted to be more conscious of my time spent looking into a screen.

I didn’t cut myself off from staring into a screen. That didn’t seem very realistic. I just tried to be more conscious of that time. More disciplined.

This may seem like a no-brainer. But it was difficult for me to not feel that pull toward facebook in every free moment.

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While following through, something very nice happened.

I didn’t feel the rush to get here and record a proud moment. I tied my kid’s shoes calmly and watched his facial expressions as he examined a caterpillar and looked into his eyes when he talked to me. I made dinner more slowly. Spent more time outside with the three of us. Made new friends.

The crunch of leaves under feet seemed more clear and crisp. My dog seemed like less of a nuisance…

I felt at peace with myself.

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And overall, I learned that I do not need your attention to feel that my life experiences are meaningful.

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Understand that I am so grateful for your reading eyes. I love to write and hear your feedback, especially when you try our recipes. But my separation from this space, and even from social media and pinterest and other media-things I will forever love, made me feel more… I don’t know… mentally stable. Less anxious and strained. More observant of my family and the precious time we have.

I don’t want to contribute to the mass of eyes fixed on glowing screens. I want to encourage everyone to do much less of that. I want our eyes to be on our little ones… even if they are just playing or sleeping. I want our eyes looking into the faces of our friends while talking over coffee. I want them staring out the window, finding all the fall colors in one tree.

That is not to say that writing here is futile. Or that I am old-fashioned (well, maybe a little). All I am asking is that we pay better attention to what is around us. Talk to your neighbor. Make a connection with someone new. I promise… it’s more interesting, more clear, more beautiful than whatever is happening here.

But, you, know. With a grain of salt. The recipe I am about to share is pretty kick-butt.

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My son and I are all about oatmeal. I pack oatmeal with yogurt and honey every morning for his day care breakfast. And on Saturday mornings, after my husband has left for work, my son routinely pushes a chair to the counter and we get busy with some kind of baked oatmeal. Last Saturday, our breakfast involved toasted walnuts and bananas. It filled our house with the smell of warm cinnamon and honey. Each mouthful tasted like amazingly textured banana bread. The recipe made quite a lot for two, so we were able to store it for future breakfasts and served it with yogurt for quick snacks. We hope you love it as much as we did.

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Banana Walnut Baked Oatmeal

Yield 6-8 servings

• 2 cups rolled oats
• ½ cup pumpkin seeds, toasted and cooled
• 1 cup walnuts, toasted, cooled and coarsely chopped
• 3 Tablespoons ground flaxseed
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• 1 ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
• ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
• 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
• 1 ½ cups whole milk
• ½ cup buttermilk
• ½ cup applesauce
• 1/3 cup honey or maple syrup, plus more for serving
• 1 large egg, beaten
• 1 Tablespoon vanilla
• 3 ripe bananas cut into ½-inch slices
• 3 Tablespoons coconut oil or butter melted, plus more for greasing pan
• Flaky sea salt (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Grease an 8-inch square or pie dish with a little coconut oil or butter. Fully coat the bottom and sides.

In a large bowl, mix together oats, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, flaxseed, baking powder, spices and salt. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together 1 cup of milk and the buttermilk, applesauce, maple syrup or honey, egg and vanilla. Add to the dry mixture and fold quickly until just combined. You don’t want to stir too vigorously because you will break up the oats and they will become mushing when baked.

In the prepared dish, spread an even layer of sliced bananas (about 2 bananas). Then evenly spoon half the mixture on top of bananas. Top with remaining bananas and then the rest of the oat mixture. Pour remaining ½ cup milk on top and drizzle with coconut oil. The mixture will seem really wet at this point. Don’t worry. The oats will soak it up.

Bake until oatmeal is bubbly and has a golden top, about 40 minutes. Let cool for at least 15 minutes before serving to allow the oatmeal to set. Serve warm and drizzle with honey or maple syrup and falky sea salt. Cover and refrigerate leftovers for 4 to 5 days,

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.