Saturday
Sep272014

Dispatch from Family Life

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I have a friend who's finding her way out of cancer and months of chemotherapy. I went to see her and her husband for a blessed afternoon, celebrating with them their survival. They said they were sick of talking about cancer, and I said I had plenty of banal anectdotes from family life to enterain them. Thank you, God, that I do--that I'm not sick or depresssed, that our family isn't torn asunder, that war or contagious disease isn't part of our daily lives. As Jane Kenyon says, someday it could be otherwise. For now, here's some of the daily-ness I'm basking in:

Many apple crisps. We bought home a big box of apples from Wenatchee around Labor Day and since we had room for them in the garage fridge, they last FOREVER. I've made apples crisps for 3 different gatherings. My absolute favorite topping recipe these days, as crunchy as it should be: MIx 1 c. flour, 1/4 c. oats, 1/4 c. sliced almonds, 1/2 c. brown sugar, 1/4 c. granualated sugar, and 1/2 tsp. cinnamon. Add 1 cube (1/2 cup) melted butter to the mixture, stir, and drop irregular chunks over your apple/sugar/bit of flour mixture. 

"Soggy Chip!" I had a bit of uncharacteristic road rage yesterday because this guy really was an asshole. I said so with Loretta in the car. She said, "Mom! You said a bad word. You should call him a soggy chip instead." Where did that come from?! And I love it. That *&%#ing soggy chip.

Emily's visit. Emily had a spontaneous weekend up here, and she describes our friendship as "not flashy." She will paint Loretta's toenails while I clean out my fridge, and we are just as happy as can be, in each other's orbit. Love you, sister.

Elementary schoolers sitting in rows. I've had the chance to drop into a couple assemblies at Loretta's school lately. If 400 children sitting in rows on the gym floor doesn't give you a little twinge, what will?!

Yancey in Carhartts. He hates it when I post stuff like this, and since he doesn't read this, I"ll say "Damn!" He's hot. Especially when he's building a dining table for me, listening to Americana, and doing calculations with his carpenter's pencil.

And the most heart-tugging, Wyatt starting middle school. Lots of firsts there, and lots of moments that undo me. Again, a poem says it best.

Prayer for the first day of Middle School

Make his heart soft,
his body present and strong,
his mind open.

Run like a clear blue aquifer
under all his fears and thirsts.

Shine like a full moon,
lighting up his blackest nights.

But most of all, oh Love--
let him remember his locker combination.

Amen. 

Sunday
Sep142014

Coconut Rice Pudding

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Today was all about Loretta.

She begged for a doll and for rice pudding. She got both.

The pudding is a Tamar Adler recipe that I've made a few times before since I usually have cold rice in the fridge and coconut milk in the pantry. 

And the doll? It called for a poem.

Girl Power

Suddenly, after seven years of girlhood,
you wanted a doll.

In the toy aisle, there's Rachel, Tess,
Ashley, Star. They have horses, roller skates,
tea sets, electric guitars, and big price tags
next to your crumpled allowance.
You pick Phoebe
because her hair is long.
You're talking to her before we're home.

I forget how much love you have to give.

Now, on the living room floor, you're brushing,
humming, cooing, changing her shoes,
making her a bed. Something in me knows
this is the easiest
being a girl will ever be--
before rejection, scales, first love, 
before unraveling, tidal desires--
one suntanned, lively second grader
who wants only a doll, a Sunday afternoon,
and snacks all around.

Coconut Rice Pudding
I don't know how Loretta got rice pudding in her head, but she did. My kids have a one-track mind (treats!) just like their mother has a one-track mind (cheese!). Phoebe had some too, of course.  

2 c. cold cooked rice
2 c. coconut milk
1 c. heavy cream
1/3 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
grate of nutmeg
1 tsp. vanilla
lime zest if you like

Combine all ingredients except lime zest in a heavy medium saucapan. Stir and bring to a simmer. Turn to low and cook until rice has absorbed a lot of the liquid and pudding is the consistency you like. Tamar says 50 minutes--I did more like 25. Once done, spoon into bowls and top with lime zest, if you like. (or stewed fruit, cinnamon, toasted nuts...) Phoebe likes hers plain. 

Thursday
Sep112014

Make Turkey Kale Meatballs! (and other Good Ideas)

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Here we go with my favorite spiritual teacher again. (Richard Rohr, of course. I'm trying to figure out where I can buy a large poster of him and maybe get him to autograph it. He would be horrified since that goes against everything he's trying to teach. Sigh.)

But today I read, "Mystics [or lovers] do not love concepts. They love the concrete and the particular." For me, I immediately think of how settled, how grounded I feel in the kitchen. Yesterday, after a frustrating day of doing lots of work without much to show for it (Why does sitting the computer feel that way? I do not love coordinating sometimes.), I put on my apron at 5:30 and immediately felt better. I was going to produce something! There would be something to show for my 60 minutes of work! And it would make me and my family full and happy.

Yancey got some incredible organic meat from his co-worker and ground turkey was part of our package. I asked him to get more since I can think of about one zillion uses for it--meatloaf (drool), spaghetti sauce, burgers, taco salad (drool squared), breakfast sausage patties. It might not be sexy, but it's deliciously lean protein, especially these turkeys who were loved all their waddling little lives. 

But it was meatballs last night, this time dropped into a simple tomato sauce, served over linguine with chives from the garden and some Asiago on top. The kids have stalwartly put up with a lot of salads lately (LOVE that), so I enjoyed hearing Wyatt slurp and moan. The concrete and particular.

Here's a few other things that I do or have seen others do lately that help with this business of loving the concrete and particular:

  • I keep a tea tray ready all the time for myself or guests--teapot, tin of loose tea, sugar, small pitcher, spoon, and spoon rest. I love the ease of making myself tea when I'm overwhelmed or feeling low or being able to bring a tray out to someone sitting in my kitchen.
  • Turning phones off when going to the park with kids, being with friends, or exercising outside. Increasingly, we are so busy documenting that we're not living and noticing anymore. I recently read about Digital Burnout and how folks are now going to retreats to detox and come back to their lives.
  • I have a "gift stash" in my office, a shelf that's full of little things that most people (especially women) would like--candles, soap, chocolate, vases for flowers. I pick these things up while I'm doing other things (shopping for toiletries at Target or browsing Goodwill) and look for chances to give them away with a little card telling folks that I love or appreciate them. 
  • My friend Molly declared August "Corn Dog Month." She's got 4 boys (four!) and was tired of all the cooking and snack prep she was doing this summer and wanted to give everyone a break. She bought some huge bags of prepared food--burritos, mini corn dogs, pizza pockets--and didn't cook all month. Her kids now think she is Christ Jesus, they had a lot of fun, and she's already planning on doing it next August. (Do you see why Molly is one of my favorite people?)
  • Sending mail. Real mail. Emily and I both have boxes full of the things we've sent one another over the last dozen years. Boxes, plural. Someday we'll make a beautiful book, I hope. When I open my mailbox and see Emily's writing on an envelope, it almost doesn't matter what else has happened that day.

Happy Meatball-Making, friends! Put on that apron! (And if you don't have an apron you love? You've got to fix that.)

Turkey Kale Meatballs
You can put these in tomato sauce or do so many other things with them, and they'll freeze beautifully or keep in the fridge for a few days. Put them in pita pockets with veggies and a yogurt sauce, slice and fry them up with eggs in the morning, break them up and put them in burritos or on top of nachos, use them atop a salad with feta, pita chips, cucumbers, and tomatoes. 

2 lbs. ground turkey
2 Tb. olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 bunch kale, washed and finely chopped
1/4 lb. mushrooms, washed and finely chopped 
handful chopped fresh herbs--parsley, basil, oregano, thyme or just parsley if that's what you have
1/4 c. grated parmesan
1/2 c. bread crumbs (I just keep a bag of them in the freezer for things like this)
1 egg, slightly beaten
lots of salt and pepper

Heat oven to 425 and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Heat 1 Tb. of the olive oil in a large skillet or wok. When shimmering, add garlic, kale, and mushrooms. Saute with a little salt until it's wilted down to practically nothing and all the water has evaporated. Set aside to cool a bit.

Dump the ground turkey into a large bowl. Add herbs, bread crumbs, eggs, salt, pepper, parmesan, and cooled veggies and mix with your hands very, very gently.

Form small balls (about 2 Tb.) and space out on the two cookies sheets. Drizzle with remaining 1 Tb. of olive oil and bake in the oven for about 12 minutes, until they're golden and cooked through.

Monday
Sep012014

Back to School Baked Ziti

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I have been gone from here a long time. I've been hiking and swimming with my kids, making endless snacks, doing the barest minimum of work, and cooking only when I have to. (Not including roasting hatch chiles. When I see them piled up at the grocery store, I cancel all my plans.)

All of that is about to change, and I'm okay with that. Isn't it amazing how we pine for summer, and then we are so ready for it to end? 

To celebrate the last night of summer, I made something I knew the kids would scarf down. No chard or kale, no whole grains, no spicy chiles. Just soft tubular pasta, tomato sauce with sausage, and the most beautiful, bubbly cheesy top. 

After a dreamy summer, I am full of reflections about life, about parenthood, about how fast time goes. I've read some great books, re-established my meditation routine, slept in more than once, and fretted about my low client load, the inequality in this rich country, and how I ignore dirty laundry. What I've come to (no surprise--it's always the same) is that all I can do is love well every day--love my family, my dog, my neighbors, people that drive me *&$ing nuts, strangers, clients, and the people I have yet to meet. We are not on this earth long enough to do otherwise. We've got this one, slippery, fleeting chance.

Back to this casserole. America's Test Kitchen contacted me and asked if I'd cook a recipe out of their new cookbook The Make Ahead Cook. I ignore most promotional offers in my inbox unless I really believe in them. I listen to the ATK podcast every week (Christopher Kimball. Love.) and am a fan of anything that helps home cooks get in the kitchen and start cooking with confidence. I always joke that I'm a "measure-once-cut-twice" type of gal, and that's why I need people who are otherwise. ATK is a "measure-a-million-times-cut-once" kind of outfit. When you follow one of their recipes, you can be sure it will turn out perfectly and you'll feel like a million bucks. 

What I like about these recipes is that they are tested with the premise that they will be sitting in the fridge before they are eaten or cooked. This pasta, for instance, is cooked just 5 minutes before you drain it and assemble the casserole. I would have cooked it much longer (and got mushier results) without these meticulous test kitchen folks. And the best part? We were gone all day and just had to pop this in the oven when we got home.

Happy Fall, friends. May you be blessed in all your comings and goings.

Baked Ziti with Italian Sausage

1 lb. ziti or other short, tubular pasta
1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil
1 lb. hot or sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 15 oz. can tomato sauce
4 oz. mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/4" pieces
2 Tb. chopped fresh basil
8 oz. (1 cup) whole milk or part-skim ricotta cheese

To finish and serve:
4 oz. mozzarella cheese, shredded (1 cup)
1 oz. Parmesan cheese, grated (1/2 cup)
2 Tb. chopped fresh basil

To prep:
1. Bring 4 quarts of water to boil in a large pot. Add pasta and 1 Tb. of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until just beginning to soften, about 5 minutes. Reserve 1 1/2 c. cooking water, then drain pasta. Rinse pasta with cold water and drain again, leaving pasta slightly wet in colander.
2. Dry now-empty pot, add 1 Tb. oil, and return to medim-high heat until shimmering. Add sausage and cook, breaking up meat with wooden spoon, until no longer pink, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in crushed tomatoes and tomato sauce, bring to simmer, and cook until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Let cool to room temperature, 30-45 minutes.
3. Stir reserved cooking water, pasta, mozzarella, and basil into cooled sauce; transfer to 13 by 9-inch baking dish. Combine ricotta, remaining 3 Tb. oil, 1/2 tsp. salt, and 1/4 tsp pepper in bowl; cover.

To store:
4. Wrap dish tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate zit and ricotta separately for at least 8 hours and up to 24 hours.

To finish and serve:
5. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees. Unwrap dish and cover tightly with greased aluminum foil. Bake casserole until beginning to bubble around edges, about 20 minutes. Remove foil and dollop rounded tablespoons of ricotta mixture evenly over top. Sprinkle with mozzarella and Parmesan and bake, uncovered, until casserole is hot throughout and cheese is melted and begins to brown, 15-20 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes. Sprinkle with basil and serve.  

Sunday
Aug102014

Ross Lake 2014

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I have a confession to make.

Hearing the blow-by-blow of anyone's vacation (including my own) bores me. "We went there, and then we did this. Then we had that for dinner, then we did this." I don't like what this says about my own curiosity, attention span, or social skills, but there you have it. 

So I won't do that to you, but I'll throw out a few (possible) profoundities. Sigh. You know me too well.

Mostly what I have to say is that every day with the people I love is precious. There might be moments of boredom or drama. There might be miscommunications or dashed expectations. I might come off looking like a jerk and then have the next 4 days, stuck on a dock together, to wish I was kinder and gentler and more zen. 

But at the end of my life, I won't wish I had worked more. I won't wish I had said "no" to snuggling with my dog, swimming with my children, or dropping everything to see a movie with a friend. I won't wish I had been right more often. *&%$! That's always my problem. To hell with being right. I'll wish I had been more present. For the last 5 days, I have been. And I'm high off it. Lots of love to my Kangas/Walker family.

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 Dave and Kelly Ross Lake 2014

Yancey Ross Lake 2014

My BG Ross Lake 2014