What homemade blankets mean as gifts

There is an author, Tamora Pierce, who created a young adults book series all about magic. One of the ways magic worked was that a character could weave the magic into a blanket or a quilt or a shawl, giving powers to whoever had it. It made for very imaginative writing.

I tend to think that a little bit of that magic exists in the real world with handmade gifts – I don’t make fancy blankets when I crochet, but they do require me to think through colors and styles, and keep the final product looking clean and tidy. When I was working on this blanket these past few weeks, I was thinking of M, and her new daughter G who is receiving it. G is so tiny and sleepy all the time at 6 weeks old, but M has taken to motherhood like she was born to it; the perfect mix of attentive and calm. I was thinking about how G will grow up in the same town as me, and maybe I’ll babysit her, or at least see her at the free concerts downtown each summer. All those thoughts for the future, and all my memories of M from the past, were on my mind as I made stitches.

When I visited M to deliver the present, she made a big deal out of it, even though as you can see, it’s pretty small and simple. She insisted that I take a big bag of basil, oregano, and jalapenos because she had more than she could use in her garden. We chatted about school and work and just the very existence of the blanket brought us a little closer. The same thing happens when you bring over food to a pair of new parents, or when you find a way to craft something for a birthday that leads to a lovely story. It’s intangible, but there’s a little magic in it.

The Ripening of an Interesting Year

I was visiting the community garden and saw this plant, big and lush and green, but until I got down at grass level, I couldn’t tell that there was indeed a big purple eggplant growing under there.

I’m sure, if you are like me, that sometimes, you don’t feel like you have seen any fruit for all the efforts you’ve put in. Maybe you are a blogger and you feel like not a lot of people are reading your work; maybe you are a student who has yet to receive stellar feedback from faculty members; maybe you are a cook whose toddler looks at every meal with suspicion despite the many times you have fed them delicious things. It can take a long time to see results from many worthwhile endeavors.

Yesterday, I visited with a former Professor of mine, who asked me questions about my future. I hadn’t had any questions like that in a long time – where was I going, did I want to stay at the place where I worked, what did I want to do next? It seems that in the hustle and bustle of getting married, starting first jobs, getting to know a new community, I had been let off the hook for future plans for a while. Now, as the beginning of the semester seems to be finally settling into a pattern instead of non-stop new demands, it seems that the future is something to be asked about.

It makes me think about the future of my writing and my cooking, but it also makes me feel like here and there, I’ve found some “surprise eggplants,” some fruit. I have written a few articles for websites, which I hadn’t done previously. I have a rough, but complete, draft of my novel. I’m running, for better or for worse, a 10K tomorrow. There are little displays of results, if I’m willing to look.

It makes me want to know what I’m looking for in the next few years, though. I think it’s easier to identify your successes when you think about where you want to go and where you’ve been sometimes. What goals are you setting for yourself lately, cooking or writing or otherwise?

The Way Running Makes me Feel about Food

I experience cravings more often than I experience hunger. I’m aware that living in the United States with a good steady supply of food, I generally can get to sustenance if I really need it. Instead, I experience the desire for something specific: a crunch, a sweetness, a richness, or a watery juiciness.

When I’m running, I am usually so focused on not stopping that I don’t experience hunger or cravings. I’m focused on so many parts of my body: knees that are reminding me how many times I’ve already ran this week, a stitch in my side, showing the outlines of all those inner organs I rarely think about, feet that absorb the shock of the hard ground for me. I’m focused on moving forward, and I’m focused on how disgustingly sweaty I am, and once in a while I focus on how much I’d like a cool drink of water. It’s after the run, when I feel like I’ve either quit a little early or I’ve totally used every ounce of energy, when I start to feel like I need some food.

I’ll drink water for a while (there is no worse headache than a post-run headache where you didn’t replenish with water) but then I usually want something fresh and wholesome: a salad, a hearty soup, a sandwich on good, chewy bread. It’s the time when it feels like my body takes over the static of my brain (which wants candy, junk food, soda, quick jolts of good feelings) and really demands nutrition.Running hurts, but it does make me feel pretty alive, and it’s now finally the right temperature outside that one would reasonably want to run outdoors. It’s a nice side benefit that running makes me excited for my butternut squash soup or a good salad prepared by Husband (never with mushrooms though).

 

Seasons Changing, Seeds for the Future

My friend N recently mentioned that she likes having two new years, because she’s still in school and gets a new school year and a regular new year. My job operates on the school year calendar, and so I get that too. Strangely enough, the weather has gotten the first whispers of cool in it the past couple of days, and school begins tomorrow. The tomatoes are still coming in strong, though less strong than last week, and two more squash are still on the vines, but five have already come in. We’re past peak summer, we’re into ebbs and drips of remaining heat.

I’m excited to pull out the tomato vines when they stop yielding and I hope to put in a few more spinach plants to make salads for us till first frost. I’m excited to save the squash seeds I’m painstakingly rinsing and use them in the spring to create another lush bed of vines that will, eventually, be pulled out so that Husband can actually mow the yard again. I’m excited to drop a few more carrot seeds into the ground and just see if maybe, some of them will grow.

But I’m also pretty happy, today, with where I am. I haven’t been good at that, most of my life, but gardening, especially what I would call a bounteous harvest season, has taught me that all the steps seem to be joy-full. I don’t need to be looking to fall crops to be happy, or looking to winter to construction of a window box for herbs, or to spring for new sprouts. Now is good enough – soup on the stove is good enough, the heavy smell of curry and squash mingling. The hum of bugs outside, and the knowledge that tomorrow will be a very busy day, are all enough. I’ll enjoy these first gulps of fall weather and not hurry myself to whatever comes next.

The Ritual of Slow Coffee

Coffee starts in fields, in trees, in beans. Coffee arrives, however it is grown, in bags of green beans from Ethiopia, sent to Husband by a roast-your-own-coffee company.

Coffee gets roasted on our back porch, in a used popcorn popper, while Husband pokes at it with a wooden spoon handle and listens for the telltale crack that means it is ready. I sit with him, enjoying the roasting smell and crocheting something, usually a square for a quilt.

Coffee gets stored in a pan while it cools, then in a mason jar, then in the coffee grinder’s reservoir for the day or two before we use it. I stumble into the kitchen, freshly dressed for work, and press the big start button. 30 seconds of loud whirring later, the freshest of coffee is ready.

I wash the french press while the kettle vibrates on the stove. I pour the rush of boiling water over the grounds and wait impatiently for it to steep. Husband gets out of the shower and joins me.

We are not as slow with our coffee on weekdays as we are on weekends, when one french press pot of coffee can turn into two while we read books or clean the house or plan our days together. But those 5 or 10 minutes, lingering over the quality coffee and maybe a bagel or some recent pastry I’ve whipped up, they are what make all the hard work that is poured into this simple bean juice worth it.

I certainly drink coffee for fuel, to power me through long days and to get the live-wire buzz of caffeination to make me feel like my ideas are good ones and that I should keep working working working. But I would do all the steps in the coffee making process at home even if it was decaf. It’s a ritual, but I love it.

How the Kitchen Became my Favorite Room

Husband and I are still, relatively, new to the house we live in – it’s comfortable and in a nice location close to our town’s downtown, meaning we can walk to the farmer’s market and we see some of the same folks at a lot of meetings of folks interested in improving their town. But this summer has been exceptionally good for my understanding of the house; I cleaned intentionally, I figured out the configuration of furniture that I liked, and I even spent time in all the rooms of the house, just to switch things up. Still, when I’m overwhelmed or bored or in-between in any of a million ways, I return to the kitchen.

This morning I woke with a start realizing we’d left the GoSun, with cut bell peppers in it, out in the yard – thank goodness it wasn’t super sunny on this Saturday morning, so they were just pleasantly cool. As with one out of every four dishes in the GoSun, finishing them off in a pan is fine if you just don’t have the time or the sunlight. But almost instantly, even though I was super sleepy running downstairs, being in the kitchen reoriented me. I’m noticing how all this sounds scary in something like a “traditional family roles” way, but it’s not like that – I don’t have a problem with anyone’s way of dividing labor in a household, and Husband and I are definitely still figuring it out. What I have found in the kitchen is a long-term project: there’s usually something to clean, something gross to throw away, something to prepare or freeze for the winter, or a cupboard I can gaze at, thinking of the possibilities for the day’s meals.

We’ve had a lot of guests lately, so I have been eating out, making frozen pizzas so that we can all sit and chat in the living room, generally not forcing my guests to try things I’ve never made before full of unfamiliar ingredients, but I’m setting a weekend intention to start writing out all the sweet recipes I have received from fellow bloggers via this post (and any new ones that arrive!) and start trying at least one a week. I’ll still be posting about the garden and the cooking life, but I’m getting back into the main goal of this blog: connecting with people over the recipes they share with me, and enjoying the way that using my kitchen for that kind of cooking brings me joy.

Picture is not mine – this beauty was taken by my friend E, of one-pan pasta fame. 🙂

Sister’s Gouda and Butternut Squash Casserole

So the main stop on my road trip this summer has been to visit my sister, and last night, she cooked for us! I realized that I appreciate more than ever the space of my own kitchen, and it has translated into giving my sister space to cook the way she wants. She cooks like a person who works in a real kitchen: quick and high-heat and occasionally messy but always producing stunning food.

She made us a variation on this recipe: https://www.blueapron.com/recipes/baked-butternut-squash-gouda-pasta-with-brussels-sprouts-chestnut-breadcrumbs which she got from her Blue Apron subscription. With us, she substituted a few things: chestnuts were replaced with slivered almonds, the spice blend was her own (lots of rosemary and garlic), and there were no brussel sprouts. I know someday I will grow up enough to like brussel sprouts, but this day was not that day.

The result was a brimming full casserole dish with truly wonderful, grown-up macaroni-and-cheese feel: it had sweet bits with the squash, savory gouda and parmesan, and just the right crunch with the almonds. If I made it, I’d probably have done a little more sauce so it could fill each rigatoni tube, but honestly, her way was healthier so I should probably stick with her genius.

Watching my sister cook made me realize how far I’ve come: my sister has been interested in high quality cooking for a long time, but my experience with it is still new; these six months of blogging have taught me a lot though! I’m pretty excited to be rounding the bend on half a year cooking and blogging, and it’s neat to measure myself against someone whose cooking will always be better than mine, but who I now can almost keep up with in terms of knowledge of techniques, even if my results will always be less magical (at least a little bit). I am definitely trying this at home though!