our messy table

bear with me

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Bear with me. I feel a little rusty when it comes to writing. It has been too long since these fingers have clicked away at anything other than a schedule, email or lesson plan.

But now that I have put my son down for a nap, and the kitchen has been wiped clean of ketchup finger prints and Legos have been stored in their rightful place and laundry is spinning in the dryer and I do not have to write any lesson plans because it is SUMMER VACATION and all is well with the world… I felt it was time. Time to share a recipe.

. . .

Endives are sparse to come by in this part of the Midwest. So when I spotted them a few months ago I was quick to scoop them up. I was reminded of their scarcity when the cashier had a difficult time pricing them. They could not find the word “endive” in their system, no matter how many times I spelled (E-N-D-I-V-E). Finally, the cashier called for a manager who found the item immediately because “endive” does not begin with “D”…

My husband and I laughed about it the whole way home.

And we made this immediately for supper over a plate of hot brown rice.

My son, who is two and no longer eats anything green (please let this be a short phase!) picked over the butter-wilted leaves and went straight for the rice soaked in butter sauce.

And though there are certainly more healthy ways to prepare endive, with all its nutritional value and sharp, bitter qualities, this is by far my favorite.

I came about this recipe from Molly Wizenberg over at Orangette, where she sources Jennifer McLagan’s Bitter: A Taste of the World’s Most Dangerous Flavor, With Recipes.

. . .

May this be the start of a summer filled to the brim with weed pulling, exercise, swimming, penny pinching, safe travels, family time, health, book reading and potty training stickers. And of coarse, a good many recipes to come.

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Belgian Endive Bathed in Butter

Yield: 2 servings

  • 3-4 Belgian endives
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced
  • Table salt or sea salt
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 300°F.

Wipe the endives with a damp cloth, tear away any leaves that have gone bad, and trim the stem end, if needed.

Choose an ovenproof skillet with a lid, one that’s just large enough to hold the endives in a single layer. Place the skillet over low heat, and add the butter. When the butter is melted, raise the heat to medium, and cook the butter, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan from time to time, until the milk solids begin to brown and the butter smells nutty. Add the whole endives and lower the heat. Turn them to coat with butter, and season them with salt. Cook, turning occasionally, until they are lightly colored, then pour in 2 tablespoons of the lemon juice. Cover the pan, and place it in the oven for 1 hour. Remove the pan from the oven, turn the endives carefully, and then cover it again and return it to the oven. Cook for another 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until the endives are limp and very, very soft.

Before serving, taste a little of the pan juices, and if you’d like more brightness, add lemon to taste. Serve hot, with more salt at the table and freshly ground pepper.

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.

10 things

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I cannot recall a time when I wasn’t a painfully self-conscious person. I remember as an elementary student that something in my body physically hurt whenever I was made to answer a question in front of the class. I remember the white streak of panic when I didn’t know answer. I remember feeling hot shame when the next person to be called on did know because it was apparently an easy question.

I am learning more and more that I am hardly alone in being painfully self-conscious as a kid. And it has been interesting to see how insecurity plays out in the adult world.

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. . .

I remember during a developmental psychology class in college when we were asked to make a list. On the list, we had to write 10 things that came to mind when we thought about ourselves. The room went quiet as we all got to work. I struggled a bit. Finally, I think I wrote something along the lines of:

  1. Insecure
  2. Confused
  3. Impatient
  4. Sinful
  5. Yada… yada…

You get it. I wrote down things that were bad.

When the class was asked to share what we wrote, I kept my hand glued to my side. Our professor called on the other eager students, and I was surprised by their answers.

A lot of the guys said:

  1. Funny
  2. Athletic
  3. Friendly

…. Things like that.

A lot of the women said things like:

  1. Nice
  2. Smart
  3. Christian

…. Obviously, our lists were quite different.

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That class period was a turning-point for my way of thinking about identity. As I listened to the students in the room sharing their very positive lists, I realized I didn’t have a healthy view of myself – that I was dragging around my insecurities like ball and chain.

. . .

It has been about 6 years since taking Developmental Psychology and learning that most people don’t and shouldn’t hate themselves. And during the 6 years, my personal identity has undergone a few shifts.

I have been influenced by strong and gracious people. I have had to overcome challenges and loss. I have had to eat dirt, be humbled, and let people help me when I needed it. For all of that I am a different person.

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Today, there are situations in which I feel quite confident. And there are also days when I am so self-conscious that I feel like a second grader all over again.

At any rate, the words on my list are different. They are no longer quite as ego-centric. But rather, my list is constructed of words given to me by the people in my life – the people who shape me – who depend on me – who give me a lot to feel confident about.

  1. Spouse
  2. Mother
  3. Sister
  4. Daughter
  5. Friend
  6. Teacher
  7. Artist
  8. Fearful
  9. Understanding
  10. Strong

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Maple, Peanut Butter and Oat Chocolate Chip Cookies (GF)

From: Cookie and Kate

Yield: about 30 cookies

  • 2/3 cup natural peanut butter
  • 2/3 cup maple syrup, preferably grade B
  • 4 Tablespoons coconut oil, melted and cooled slightly
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 ¼ cups rolled oats ground for 30 seconds in a food processor
  • 1 ½ cups rolled oats
  • 1 cup (6 oz) semi-sweet or bitter sweet chocolate

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit with two racks in the middle. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper (if you don’t have parchment paper, lightly grease the baking sheets).

Pour the peanut butter and maple syrup mixture into a mixing bowl. Add the melted oil and whisk until the mixture is well blended. Use your whisk to beat in the egg, scraping down the side of the bowl once it’s incorporated, then whisk in the vanilla, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Switch to a big spoon and stir in the ground oats, rolled oats and chocolate chips until they are evenly combined. Drop the dough by the tablespoon onto your prepared baking sheets.

Bake the cookies, reversing the pans midway through (swap the cookies on the top rack with the cookies on the lower rack) until they’re barely set and just beginning to turn golden around the edges, about 12 minutes. Remove the cookies from the oven and let them cool completely on the pans.

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.

 

morning glories

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Our son is recovering from a spell of influenza, an ear infection, and with our luck, probably a few other things. However, the little guy seems to be in the home stretch. His night-coughing has eased. He has regained the energy to do more than doze off at any given moment. And I am no expert. but you would think that the flu shot should count for something?

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Anywaay… I was scheduled to start my first week of work on Monday, the morning after my son started showing symptoms of being sick.

Time, this week, seemed to be on our side. Due to early-outs and late-starts and school cancellations, I was able to guiltlessly spend time at home with my sick baby. On the days school was not canceled, my sister, in her last week of Christmas vacation before returning to college, was able to play nanny in my house. It was wonderfully lucky. My husband and I were spared the misery of hulling an un-well child outside in the negative 60 degree wind-chill. And after work, I was able to come home to healing child in a mismatched outfit with watercolor running out of his nose.

Thanks, little sister.

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You would think with all the unanticipated time-off, I would have been a picture of productivity. I had a to-do list the length of my freezer mounted in plain sight along with additional preparations for school. And yet, there is something about a snow-day, something about unanticipated time off that depletes my sense of urgency. For instance, on Thursday (a full snow-day), after I put sick baby down for nap, I took a bath while nibbling bittersweet chocolate. I took a second bath the following morning (a late start and baby still asleep) while drinking two cups of very hot coffee and finishing a book. From where I now sit, the thought of this is shocking. This is something I can never bring myself to do on a Saturday… mind you… anticipated time-off. Halfway through these bath-taking processes I wondered, “…. Who am I ?!”

Now that my son is on the mend, and the winter weather is supposed to regulate, I am both excited for and leery of a promised routine.

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I mean, I really enjoyed those baths. There was even one night where my husband and I got lost in Netflix like we used to. It felt like summer in January… in negative 60 degree wind-chill…

I want to wish my Midwest readers well as we all re-enter the time of routine. I hope you all are warm and safe and healthy. And since the weekend is upon us, I though a recipe for a hearty breakfast cookie would be a great way to start.

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. . .

I picked up on this recipe after a friend served them to us while we stayed with them for a weekend. This friend also introduced me to Sarah’s blog, My New Roots, from where the recipe originated.  I put my own spin on things when I make these cookies, omitting the anise and grating in orange zest, sometimes adding a splash of vanilla, sometimes not. At first I was puzzled by the ingredient list. Why pureed beans and an egg? Can we swap the brown sugar for honey or maple syrup? How about gluten-free flour? I have tried all of these options, all yielding very different results. I would trust Sarah on the original. The listed recipe is a reliably good one. But feel free to tinker around.

Like Sarah, we affectionately call these breakfast cookies “Morning Glories”. They go very well with a cup of coffee or earl gray tea. If you are a toddler, yogurt-dunking is mandatory. Yogurt dunking, and also your new favorite fox cup filled to the brim with water.

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Morning Glories

Adapted from: My New Roots

Yield 1 to 1 ½ dozen breakfast cookies

  • 2 cups rolled oats
  • 1 cup whole grain flour (we use spelt)
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. taking soda
  • 1 Tablespoon orange zest
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 15-oz. can white kidney beans, great northern beans or navy beans, rinsed and darined
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 cup firmly packed brown sugar*
  • 1 large egg**
  • 1/4 cup chopped dates
  • 2/3 cups sesame seeds

Preheat your oven to 350F degrees and place a rack in the top third. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

Pulse the oats in a food processor (or blender) until they resemble a very rough flour. Transfer the oats to a large mixing bowl and whisk in the flour, baking powder, baking soda, orange zest and salt.

Pulse the beans and olive oil in the food processor until they are creamy. Add the sugar, egg, and vanilla extract and pulse until smooth. Add dates and pulse a few times until chopped and incorporated. Scrap down the sides of the bowl once or twice along the way.

Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients and stir until the ingredients start to come together. Stir until everything just comes together.

Place the sesames seeds in a bowl. With a tablespoon, scoop out some dough about the size of a golf ball, then roll it into a rough log shape. (Yes, the dough at this point is very wet, but it becomes very easy to handle once coated in sesame seeds.)

Roll the log of dough into the sesame seeds, remembering to dip the ends too. Set each log on the prepared baking sheet and with the palm of your hand flatten the dough just a bit, into a bar shape. You want the bar to be the same thickness all the way through – do not make the ends flatter than the middle. Repeat with the remaining dough, leaving at least an inch or so between each bar – they’ll spread a bit, but not much. Bake for about 15 minutes or until the sesame seeds around the bottom start to get golden.

Store in an airtight container for a week, if they keep that long!

Notes:

*Swapping brown sugar for a natural sweetener, such as maple syrup or honey has yielded, for me, a very messy and wet batter I didn’t like working with. Give it a try if you want!

** I have swapped out the egg for a vegetarian binder such as pumpkin or apple sauce with success.

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.