This picture was taken in the most vibrant weekend of October; two close friends had come to visit and we went to a park where people had used trees and vines to create an elaborate shelter that you could climb around inside. The weather was warm enough to not worry about a coat, but cool enough to not sweat in a sweater. There was no rain – you can see the blue sky peeking out behind all those leaves.
I need photographs like these on days when March, when mud has been the norm for months now and the variety is only in how much mud and how frozen the mud is on a given day. I need to remember how delightful the world can be when there are no thunderstorm warnings and my hair isn’t ruined in the wet. Lately, in days when rapidly shifting weather seems to leave me with a sickness every two weeks, I’m having to reach back to memories about positive things for gratitude.
Gratitude is one of the things that slows down my frantic mind – gratitude makes me able to take the time to make a home-cooked meal when panic would have me order take-out and eat it all in gulps. Gratitude is hard to muster on days when my boots are covered in mud, but I’m doing it, one step at a time.
What are your favorite meals during muddy March?
In a month of health problems, grief, and overwhelming amounts of work, Husband and I took a weekend in a nearby city to cut the stress and try to recover a bit. I wasn’t feeling my best, but that is nothing that a plate of lemon ricotta pancakes couldn’t help. This memory is perfect for me – the most delightful crispy edge on the pancakes, the tart berry sauce they gave me, and of course the morsel of that amazing hash brown that I stole from Husband’s plate. Sometimes, especially on crazy Mondays, I like having pictures of past meals that have helped me to relax. This feeling of treasuring a sweet memory, a good moment in a good day, is so great for propelling me forward through the many tasks that lie ahead this week.
Because of a family funeral, I’ve been on the road for days now. One unexpected surprise, among many, was the visit to the Bob Evans Farm, which is in Ohio and is the original Bob Evans restaurant! We had a delicious meal after a long drive on a very overwhelming week, and I will remember for a long time how nice it was to sit down and be greeted and served here. The weather has been almost heartbreakingly pretty lately and I barely know what to do with February 70s, but I’m trying to take everything one moment at a time.
My boss is one of the people who initially inspired me to try Whole30. She takes it seriously in a way that I sometimes find intimidating; basically, she thinks that as participants in Whole30, we owe it to ourselves to stick with the program. She’s never going to shame someone for not sticking with Whole30; it’s more like she wants people to treat themselves to the real experience. She gave me my first RX bar, a clean-food energy bar that many Whole30-ers and Paleo folks swear by.
One thing that I realized, though, is that there are certain foods that Whole30 participants should be able to have, but current popular methods of production simply don’t make. A good example would be sausage or ham; both of these foods don’t need to have added sugar in order to be delectable, but pretty much all commercially available kinds do. So the other day, my boss walked into my office and gave me a single piece of ham in a plastic baggie. It looked pretty ordinary, and I looked at her with amusement, ready to hear a hilarious story.
It wasn’t hilarious though – she told me how she’d found uncured, no sugar added ham at a local market from a nearby farm. She was so excited to find ham that was still in a reasonable price range that supported local farmers, that she wanted to share that excitement with me. Instead of being amused, I was really excited.
I think that the presence of so many “celebration” foods at our fingertips may have had an unfortunate side effect; as Americans, we have a hard time seeing almost any food as rare or special. When you choose to make a lifestyle choice, like eating less added sugars or trying to buy more locally produced products, you create a kind of scarcity. This scarcity does lead to more expense most of the time, and often a little confusion or frustration at social gatherings where folks don’t share your passion, but it also leads to moments like this: someone found the hard-to-find item you were looking for, and shared it with you. I’ve seen this look when I made gluten-free cornbread instead of regular cornbread for a dinner with a friend who cannot have gluten without feeling wretched; it’s an opportunity to be there for someone. I still appreciate people who are flexible on their food intake, because it does make hostessing less stressful, but the opportunity to give someone exactly what will nourish them? That’s a pretty special gift.
In the wake of the Presidential election, I’m even more thoughtful about community building and neighborliness than before. It’s easy to assume the country is close and united when we have two moderate candidates in the running, but throughout this election cycle, I’ve been stunned by the differences in mindsets among the candidates, and by the closeness of the races: the country is divided.
I know that there are some disagreements that getting to know each other cannot solve. I know that being political is not a good way to run a food blog or host a dinner party or any of the things I claim. But I do think that talking to each other, knowing people whose experiences are different from our own, seems to be one of the only chances for getting out of this mess. Half of America is a stranger to the other half; they need to have each other over for dinner.
For this reason, part of my upcoming thoughts on the blog are going to shift toward discussing modern hospitality and how people talk to strangers around them. I want to keep talking about food, because I think we are all so united when it comes to food and wanting to belong. However, I think that the ability to be isolated and self-reliant but miserable is higher than it ever has been in the United States, and I want to be a part of figuring out where we need to come together. So many books talk about how we are desperate to connect to each other, that disconnection causes so much pain and ruin. I would submit there has to be a place where people are brought together who disagree with each other, who can eat together and maybe let down some of their most emotionally-held beliefs for a little while.
This blog has always been about forming community with my friends and family; I just think that this election cycle shows that I need to move beyond that, to strangers and political opponents and people I don’t understand. We all have to live together, after all.
Because I was still recovering from the sniffles this morning, Husband set up my present for me before I came downstairs: a cookbook! It looks wonderful and I wanted to share it with you all. Her website is here: http://www.simplebites.net/my-cookbook-brown-eggs-jam-jars/ While making a cookbook isn’t one of my aspirations, it’s always so lovely when a fellow blogger realizes this dream. Check it out!
Every year does not give me breaks in February, but this year, I needed them. Yesterday, rather than being buried under snow and ice, we had breezy 63 degree weather and sunshine over the river that runs through our small city. We didn’t really need the coats we compulsively put on because it’s February. I saw kids outside in shorts, playing quick pick-up games of soccer and basketball just to get their legs stretched out from the long winter slumber.
I need a break sometimes, and if I don’t take it on purpose my body tends to give it to me – sometimes in the form of a 5 hour long headache where I curl up on the couch and don’t emerge till twilight. In the years of being an adult, I’ve gotten better and worse at listening to my body, but I am starting to really appreciate any day when my body works well, lets me produce the things I need to produce each day, let’s me clean and cook and work and write. I think often of those who are confined to their homes because of long-term illness and I pray that they too have their forms of breaks, because I am often so unkind to myself for my body’s inabilities. We have a lot to learn from the patience of those who have to move slowly by no fault of their own.
When the pain goes away, though, and when the sun breaks through in February, I don’t dwell on the long to-do list that I am now far behind on – I usually revel in the joy of being better, of being warmer. For a few hours yesterday after my headache, Husband and I took a long walk and got meatballs for dinner at an outdoor food truck by the river. I didn’t move quickly because I still felt weak, but every moment that I wasn’t curled up on the couch was a miracle. These rises, these returns, are some of the most pure feelings I ever have.
Saturday morning has been like the breath after a storm lately, the only time of the week when I don’t notice how long I am working on something, or how long I have to get up and get ready and go go go. This morning, I googled pancake recipes (I liked mine but didn’t love it, so I recommend just going with your favorite; I do recommend lots of vanilla extract and butterscotch flavoring if you have it!), heated frozen strawberries, and added dots of cream cheese to each warm pancake. I will say, I’ve been really impressed with “white whole wheat flour” (I have King Arthur brand, but I haven’t tried any others yet) – it makes the recipe a little grittier and darker than average whole wheat flour, but still works up with the consistency of white flour. It’s a good compromise, especially for Husband who does not deal with whole wheat well.
These pancakes, let me tell you. It wasn’t fancy, or beautiful (I attached a picture pretty much just to show how non-romantic my photos were) – I was honestly quite grouchy and unpleasant, and Husband did the thing where he went fairly quiet and fairly upbeat just to weather my mood. But man, the combination of sweet and tart fruit, wholesome pancakes, and just a rich morsel of cream cheese will melt even the most stubborn giant.
Pancakes, even when they are a little charred with the first batch as the pan gets going, are a little like love, which has on my mind with Valentine’s coming. It’s our second Valentine’s in marriage, and while I still feel like I’m learning constantly, I’m starting, very slowly, to see that this is what life is: messy, requires adjustment, but is so surprisingly sweet so often. I cannot tell you how lucky I feel to have him around me, to have him weather the days with me. I love that he delves into his food and grins and says “good pancakes, hon” and asks me what I want to do today. Messy, but unbelievably sweet.
A gave me this recipe as part of her wedding gift, which was a recipe book with pages to add all sorts of recipes to it – one of my goals, though not one I’ve been able to complete yet, is to put all the recipes I love onto the extra cards and fill up the book so I have it handy in the kitchen. A is Husband’s cousin, and she represents so much of what I love about his family: she’s a free spirit with an amazing sense of humor who is constantly going on adventures. She travels frequently and whenever I see her I get the biggest hug. Her sense of style is on point but also not like anyone else – she’s one of the most confident people I’ve ever met.
Her chili recipe was exactly what I needed the week before our trip – I needed something hearty and healthy, so I cut up a gazillion veggies for this dish as I listened to a podcast on the benefits of a plant based diet. Granted, I also threw the ground beef in there, but percentage wise, it was a very plant based dish. After two hours of cooking, it was one of the best entrees I’ve made – rich and flavorful but with most of the flavor coming from the veggies and spices and slow cooking, not from a bunch of butter and oil, which tends to be my go-to.
It took all week to finish the big pot, but unlike with most leftovers, I was happy to keep noshing on it throughout the week, happy that when I only had 20 minutes for lunch between engagements I could slip into the house, heat up a bowl, and feel warmed and fed. Good recipes seem to do that, though I’ll caution: this recipe is not for someone who wants the exact same results each time; there are almost no measurements, and while she uses bacon and steak, I used ground beef.
2014 was a hard year for my in-laws in some ways, because of losses of beloved members of the family. However, there were also ways in which the year was incredibly sweet, because in loss they bonded around each other fiercely, becoming closer than ever through creating memories and sharing evenings together on back porches. One especially perfect September day stands out – J had been getting Husband and I to look for fondue pots all over town and we’d gotten enough of them to have a blow-out fondue night for the family – look at this spread! The dessert fondue was double dipped – you could spear a marshmallow, dip it in caramel, and roll it in graham cracker crumbs… to die for! What was more wonderful, though, was the way we lounged outdoors all evening listening to music and periodically dancing to the 80s jams, and the way the chimenea was stocked with wood to keep a fire going all evening. It was the way this family rallies around each other to create joy; in no small part, this joy convinced me that joining this family would be a wonderful choice (Husband himself had something to do with it too 🙂 ).