Yam and Chicken Bake

There is almost nothing I love more than sheetpan dinners. Salmon, broccoli and ginger all roasted together with a little soy sauce. Bratwurst, onions, and peppers with a dijon paste and olive oil. And this--chicken thighs, yams, onions, olive oil (be generous), cumin, salt, and chile powder, 375 for about 40 minutes. (That's your recipe. Sorry.)

It can go alongside rice or in tortillas. Or eaten with a few slices of avocado on top. I cooked this up today for a big family dinner we're having here on Tuesday. It's going to be the filling for enchiladas. I'll be able to come home from work and layer it with corn tortillas (I don't bother to roll them--just stack them like lasagne noodles), jack cheese, and enchilada sauce. And a sprinkle of cilantro and green onion when it gets out of the oven.

We are all about The Casserole at the MK house lately. Yancey's gone on his yearlong residency, and I am discovering just how unmotivated I am when there isn't another adult to cook for. The longer a casserole lasts, the better!

There were ominous storm warnings all weekend in western Washington and everyone who could stay home did. Our house ended up being Grand Central Station--my parents slept here, Loretta's (wonderful) babysitter was here most the weekend studying, many neighbors came and went, Wyatt and Loretta had friends spend the night. The power never went out, no trees fell on our roof, but we got all the benefits of huddling together. And, not for the first time, my dog modeled wisdom and community best. Here's a poem about that. (And thank you, Mary Oliver, for making poems about dogs its own art form. You speak to me constantly.)

Dog in a Storm

The winds have come,
just as the forecaster said they would.
You've picked up on my anxiety, it seems,
and want to come inside
the moment I let you out.
You press your nose against the glass,
follow my every move,
commence with whining,
wanting, as we all do,
to be let in,
to find the square of light
that even the worst of storms allow.

Making Do

Chanterelles from my sister-in-law's foraging. Some sweet red peppers from our produce box. A little white eggplant gifted to us from someone else's produce box. Onions, garlic from the pantry. And lots of olive oil and salt. Roasted at 400 for 45 minutes. Autumnal ambrosia.

This isn't the first time I've pontificated about pulling disparate parts together. About making do. It's one of the qualities I admire most in people. As the wisest people remind us, all we have is how we respond to circumstance. (Which is why the incessant talk of sailing your own ship, finding your passion, branding yourself gets tiresome. At some point, that falls apart. Death is the ultimate example.)

Our family has just started a big experiment in making do. Yancey has moved to Seattle for the year to do his paramedic training. We will see him in snatches a few times a month, mostly while he is sleeping. All the lists have been made, goodbyes said, and there's nothing to do but to do it. I've mostly been very upbeat about the whole thing and I really do consider this an adventure where all four of us will learn more about one another. But I read this poem at our little going-away party for Yancey. It's good to be sad, good to be missing each other. And good to tell you about it here.

Before a Year Apart

Let me be dramatic
just this once.
Phooey on all this
strength and optimism.

For starters,
what will I do without the mountain
of black t-shirts on your side of the bedroom,
their soft scenery smelling of you?

And coffee cups in the car,
in the garage?
They will miss their daily excursions,
now bored and cramped in the cupboard.

I'm worried the dog
will lie by the door all year.
As hard as I try,
he always wants you.

The grass will grow long
and I'll miss the surprise
of coming home to see you've cut it,
your jeans green on the fringes.

We've lucked out getting to spend
this life together--
laundry, carpooling, working,
dreaming, laughing, longing.

And we luck out again, when,
after 21 years,
we are blessed, bound, consecrated
in this bittersweet (God, I will miss you!) goodbye.


Quick Stone Fruit Preserves

stone fruit preserves

One pound (ish) of stone fruit (plums, nectarines, peaches, apricots in any combination), one cup of sugar, squeeze of lemon juice, pinch of salt. Bring to a boil for 10-15 minutes until the mixture hesitates to fall off your wooden spoon. Pour into a pint jar, screw a lid on, let set in the fridge. No pectin, no canning, so all-day affair. Just one beautiful jar of jam that will make you want to get up in the morning. And don't bother peeling any of the fruit. After it cooks, the peels will come off and roll up in little cylinders, and you can remove them if you want.

And another poem. One of my resolutions this summer is to read less on my New York Times app (though I love it so) and more actual books. I've noticed my attention span shortening the last few years, and even during a pretty brief, punchy article, I'll scroll down to find the bullet points so I can get on to the next thing. I took Loretta and my niece to the beach yesterday and resolved not to look at my phone. Instead, I took The Power of Myth, Bill Moyers' interview with the mythologist Joseph Campbell. It's been sitting on my bedside table, 70 pages read, for 3 months. I finished it in the sun, and I can tell it's going to work on me for a really long time. Here's a synopsis for you:

Joseph Campbell for Beginners

We have told millions of true stories,
and they are all the same one.

We are born, we die,
and in-between, if we say yes,
we know the ecstasy of living.

Suffering is here to stay,
and so is bliss,
and they grow together
like weeds and wheat,
nurtured in the same soil,

If we pay attention,
we'll hear a call to leave home,
and only those who leave
come home again.

Figuring out meanings of things
is a dead-end.
So why are we here?
For the rapture of being alive.

And if you want to know more,
find the poet or mystic or artist
journeying inside you.
Don't be scared of their light,
and get ready for odyssey.

Blueberry Drop Scones

Sometimes I sit down to write here and I have so much to say that there's nothing to say.

If I were only to talk about these scones, I would advise you to incorporate them into your repertoire and start making them your signature contribution to the world. They're like the softest, just-the-right-sweetness blueberry muffins, but with crispy edges and without the fuss of muffin liners. Loretta and I enjoyed them in silence this slow Saturday morning while Wyatt grew 3 more inches in his sleep.

If I were to talk about other things, I would say that my world is widening at the same time I feel very little need to establish my place in it. There is beginning to be a settled-ness in me that makes being 42 (and growing older) very sweet. Good old Richard (Rohr, of course) in his astounding book Falling Upward, says this:

We all tend to move toward a happy and needed introversion as we get older. Such introversion is necessary to unpack all that life has given us and taken from us...Silence and poetry start being our more natural voice...Much of life starts becoming highly symbolic and “connecting” and little things become significant metaphors for everything else. Silence is the only language spacious enough to include everything and to keep us from slipping back into dualistic judgements and divisive words.

Now don't get me wrong. I'll always love a stage. I'll always be making new friends or looking for the opportune moment to crack a joke. But I'm finding the territory of the soul so deep, so fascinating, so enough for me. There's more there than I'll ever need or discover, and that truth frees me from striving, from all the ways I I try to resist reality.

The Sufi mystics say that the body is the shore that the soul--the waves--crash onto. Isn't that lovely? So the territory of the soul necessarily includes this mystery of our bodies, and the whole of us--body, soul, heart, mind--gets to go along for the ride.

Hang Ten

Let me stop sorting all these scraps
into toppling piles--
receipts, bills, lists, books,
and even my idea of myself,

and let me go jump
into the limitless, living depth
that is You,
and You in me,
and the way we leave
every shoreline behind.

Blueberry Drop Scones
I suppose you could fit these all onto one baking sheet, but that will eliminate some of those crispy edges. I advise fitting them onto two and rotating them in the oven halfway through baking. And if you don't have frozen blueberries around? Use almost any other kind of fresh or frozen fruit. Or dried fruit and coconut. Or mini chocolate chips. Or whatever your holy heart desires! Makes 12-14.

2 c. flour
1/3 c. packed brown sugar
1 Tb. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
1 cube (4 oz.) cold unsalted butter
1/2 c. cream (plus a little more)
1 egg
1 c. frozen blueberries
sugar for sprinkling.

Preheat oven to 375 and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Combine dry ingredients in a medium bowl. Cut butter into flour mixture with a pastry cutter or fingertips until mixture has pea-sized lumps.

In a small bowl, combine cream and egg. Pour cream mixture into flour mixture, stirring just until combined and adding more cream if mixture is too dry. It should be the consistency of a stiff muffin batter. Add blueberries, taking care to stir gently.

Drop 1/4 c batter onto prepared pans to make 12-14 scones. Sprinkle the top of each with a little sugar. Bake until just golden on top, 15-20 minutes. Watch carefully.


Dispatch from the San Juans

Generally, Yancey and I don't do a great job of planning leisure time. We're pretty happy hanging around the house, taking the kids on bike rides, taking turns going to yoga. Often, living in Bellingham still feels like a vacation to us and we can't believe our good fortune in living here.

But we managed to plan a few days boating around the San Juans in the little work boat that Yancey and his dad got a few months ago. We hooked up with another boating family and were blessed with 4 days of very uncharacteristic April sun and calm. I've grown up around the San Juan Islands, but could only access them by waiting in long ferry lines. Being able to tie up at little obscure beaches and skim between the islands looking up at Mt. Baker was indescribably sublime. I read Oliver Sacks' On the Move and Garrison Keillor's anthology of poetry. I listened to Yo-Yo Ma on my headphones and took walks around the neighborhoods of Friday Harbor and was full to bursting. That's what this poem is about.

Listening to Yo-Yo Ma on my Morning Walk

Morning walk, the cello suite playing in my ears,
swelling to unbearable tenderness,
makes me want to be a better person,
to notice all the miracles that have been
standing shyly around.

I want to clean my desk,
type the poem I wrote last week,
return the dull phone calls.

And maybe write the first chapter
in the orphan book
living outside the door of my heart,
let it in though I'm terrified
of what it will demand.

The song is over, I pull my earbuds out,
and the vision of a clean desk is already fading.

Lord, you know I'll never be a virtuoso.

You see my great undone-ness,
how asleep I am to this dappled life.

Even so, let me take this day into my arms.
Let me pull its body to mine,
set my fingers on its strings.
Let me play with all the novice enthusiasm
this morning deserves.


I'm not the first one to write about parenting as falling in love.

And when you're in love, you just want to watch the object of your affection, whatever he or she is doing--drying their hair, unloading the dishwasher, falling asleep on the couch. That's how I feel about Wyatt right now.

Loretta and I got to his practice early yesterday and had a few minutes to watch drills. Later , I asked Wyatt what the drill was called. "Transitions." Isn't that the truth! We had family to meet for dinner, homework to do, the dog to let out, but I could have stayed there all night, marveling at this boy doing his thing, somehow transitioning into a 5'10" curious, earnest, witty teenager who makes me love the world more.


It's shirts and skins
when your sister and I walk in.
After nine offensive rebounds,
you finally make the shot.
i like to think it's because
this mother's heart wants everything
you want, but more.

You slap your teammate's back,
laugh at coach's joke,
take your time putting street shoes on,
forage for your water bottle,
run hands through a new haircut.
You turn thirteen today,
and all I want is to watch you forever.

A Little more of Life

Easter hasn't been my favorite holiday the last few years.

I grew up with a heavy-duty atonement theology, one that said I was a giant sinner. In fact, I was such a screw-up that God had to order his only son to come down to earth and die for my ass. Even as a child, that never made sense to me. That's love?! Now that I'm a parent, I wouldn't give my child's life for anyone or anything.

So I threw out my atonement theology and I've been trying to figure things out. If I had the energy right now on Holy Saturday, I could write for a really long time about what Easter is starting to mean to me. My church summed it it up best this week: "Crucified by fear, resurrected by love." Fear is what keeps us living small, focused on the ways we don't measure up, trying to get it right. Richard Rohr (God. How I love him.) says, "We grow spiritually much more by doing it wrong than by doing it right." Suffering, anxiety, death, disease, failure? They are here to stay. Resurrection means that we can still look our lives square in the face and find the Mystery there. Richard again: "Those who walk the full and entire journey...are always the ones who have heard some deep invitation to 'something more,' and set out to find it by both grace and daring."

And this is where Jesus comes in. I've very uncertain about the Deity of Jesus, but I'm in love with him right now. Jesus, in his crazy, loving, revolutionary life, was always asking, "What is the more?" More love, more justice, more truth, more intimacy. Last night at our Good Friday service, I was somehow, mercifully, released from stale stories about Jesus and dropped straight into a "You've got to be *&#ing kidding me" space. Mostly, I understood, for maybe the first time, how much Jesus must have hated to leave this world. How much he loved his friends, how high on life he was, how much he adored his mother, how many more meals he wanted to eat. (Come on. That's the most important.)

I think of Mary Oliver's poem "The Fourth Sign of the Zodiac" about her cancer. She describes seeing wilting, falling flowers one afternoon, and the next morning, "the shrubs were full of/the blue flowers again." And then, these beautiful lines:

....How, I
wondered, did they roll or crawl back
to the shrubs and then back up to
the branches, that fiercely wanting,
as we all do, just a little more of

So I wrote my own poem. (Not surprising.) And my prayer for you? That resurrection--total, unflinching awareness--breaks over you in bold and surprising ways. Happy Easter.

Good Friday Burgers

After church with my kids,
waiting in the drive-through line
for burgers, cold drinks with straws,
rustling of paper bags
and stacks of napkins.

Lord, how you must have hated
to leave this world!
Seeing your tribe fall asleep
in the garden where you cried,
wanting more than anything
to wake up with them,
have another ordinary breakfast,
count out change for coffee,
keep at your endless task
of loving away their fears.

The clerk hands our food
through the window,
we eat these suppers
like the total, precious, greasy sacrament
they are.

Dinner can Wait

Rob Bell told a story recently about talking with a friend who's a renowned mediation teacher. He asked her, "What's the thing that, if everyone understood, would really change them? Would make your work not necessary anymore?" She said, "You are enough."

You are enough. That's chalkboard-wall worthy. I've kept my chalkboard blank for awhile because I've been on a purging kick, taking down all the quotes I plastered around the house during the depressed winter months, hauling loads of things to Goodwill, getting rid of books that don't speak to me anymore. The empty wall reminded me to be patient, to wait, to treat emptiness as a presence, to trust that, in my favorite Denise Levertov lines, "Emptiness/is a cup, and holds/the ocean."

Last week, I heard two sermons on the Gospel story of Mary pouring perfume on Jesus' feet and wiping them with her hair. In the story, Jesus is sitting around before dinner with the people that know him best, and it seems like they are actually relaxing. I imagine a few folks napping (or starting to), that there are some inside jokes circulating. Jesus knows his days are numbered--he's been loving outcasts too much, doing too much healing, pushing against empire. He knows you can only do so much of that before it's over. (Like Ghandi, MLK, anyone whose vision of grace and love defies money and power.) But in this moment, the calm before the storm, everyone's taking a breath.

Then Mary does this. And, if I let myself hear it for the first time, it takes my breath away. As intimacy always should. When we know, in our deepest, most bedrock place, that we're enough, we give lavishly. We give and receive love, even if the moment is all wrong.

Dinner can Wait

Tonight, right when dinner is hot,
I'm at his feet, rubbing them
with precious perfume,
drying them with my hair.

Everything stops.

This isn't how people do things.
The energy is supposed to go toward
trying not to care.

But I want the goods,
the high-dive into intimacy,
spending everything on connection.

My brother! I am yours,
and you are mine!

The meal is growing cold,
I'll never get my money back.
These friends look away,
the dog sniffs the puddle of scent
on the floor.
My hair is wet, I fumble
with the bottle and cap.

Then you see me, you touch me.
That recognizing love
is everything I came for.



I've been having heart palpitations. Skipped heartbeats or heart beating too fast. Sometimes, I can see it through my shirt, working so hard.

I heard back from the doctor this morning. My EKG showed some very normal PVC's (premature ventricular contractions) and he encouraged me not to worry.

So I'm trying not to. When I notice it speeding up, I'm trying to see it as a sign of LIFE, a sign that, as Rumi says (and as my friend Cristina beautifully illustrated above), the water is pouring from the spring!

Just yesterday, I cried four times. First, with a friend about how hard I am on myself. Then listening to a client talk about work her organization does with orphans. Then, over a friend's story about being adopted and the fear of abandonment she carries with her all the time. Finally, for Loretta when she cried from the bottom of her little heart about feeling left behind. And I followed up on an assignment from my therapist, writing a Letter of Resignation for the duties and roles I take on that have become burdensome and unhelpful. No wonder I felt exhausted when I went to bed!

Remember a few days ago, my last post, when I said I wanted to feel it all? Sheesh.

But here's what I really believe--I can handle it. YOU can handle it! If we spend our energy avoiding the lows--our feelings of loss, grief, incompetence, fear, anger--then we don't get the highs either. We miss out on the goods. We miss out on really feeling our hearts beating, the blood and life of it all.

Don't I just keep saying the same things here over and over? About noticing, about being present to chopping the kale or feeding the dog, about connecting with one another even when it is scary, about having open, undefended hearts when the world is telling us to protect ourselves?

Something's welling up in me, and it's clear that the action's coming straight from the wounds. Not in spite of them! When I pay attention to my own healing, to my own shadows, longings, and fears, something happens. Something is happening. Plan on hearing about it.


If you let it, a time comes
when you step into the outline of yourself
and you fill it, joyfully, completely.
In spite of the tears,
there is nowhere, no one else
you want to be.

The first notes rise from the pit,
the orchestra that's been tuning,
warming up, your whole life.

You're in the light,
your face flush with what you know
and what you don't,
and everything belongs.

You take the stage
of your own heart,
ready to be more and more
of you.

Feeling it All

I just spent two weeks with engineers, largely helping them understand that feelings are important! Helping them experience the affective side of their interactions with one another and how perception-checking in the moment("It seems like you might be disappointed about that") is often the key to unlocking our relationships with one another.

In general, I'd say most of us suck at this. We blaze on through our lives with this idea that really dipping into those deep places is a distraction. And it's certainly not efficient. Or if we go there at all, we save it for the therapist.

One of my maxims this year is NO LIFELESS CONVERSATIONS! That doesn't mean everything has to be serious (yawn), but, if I'm bored in a conversation, my intention is to start the kinds of conversations I want to have. And not to be scared of where they might lead or if I'll be rebuffed. Life is too short to spend it hovering on the surface, holding back, making nice. (For total inspiration, I love this article, The End of Small Talk. The story of a man on a business trip who decides to ask his colleague how he and his wife fell in love. Such a beautiful example of being present instead of checking out.)

I'm glad my clients haven't installed hidden cameras in my house. I'm less than stellar about making space for Loretta's emotions sometimes. I used to have a scrap of paper on my fridge that said, "You can't discipline an emotion." The only thing to do is to be with it. I'm slowly learning and, as always, it's usually poetry that helps me. Here's something I wrote this week after some parenting fails.

Feeling it All

Lately, the slightest things undo her--
another reminder about chores,
her big brother going off to another
Big Brother Extravaganza,
favorite shoes or coat lost around the house.

Today, sadly, I scolded, launched straight
into a lecture about flexibility, maturity,
throwing a T.V. threat in for good measure.

When I'm awake, though,
when I'm remembering the child I used to be,
I get down on the floor
in her muddled pile.
I take her in my arms if she'll let me,
I let the cookies in the oven burn,
I hold her for all the tears I should have cried.

I believe her sadness,
the total perfect fucked-up-ness
of this moment,
and how the best, the only thing to do
is feel it all.

In Praise of Sunday Prep

I've been gone for a couple weeks for work--the longest I've been away from my kids. We missed each other, Yancey held down the fort more than capably, and I had a great time geeking out on work, not making lunches, and concocting all sorts of resolutions like, "Have Loretta do her own laundry," and "Don't take on any more volunteer roles this year."

Strangely, though, I did kind of miss Sunday Prep. Today, it went like this:

  • Sift through the fridge before church and make a shopping list. Note that the fresh tumeric and parsnips weren't big hits while I was gone.
  • Look at the calendar and decide it's going to be a rice and beans week--too many meetings and basketball games to get very creative.
  • Wonder during church whether it's a Trader Joe's week or not. Decide "yes." They do not sell dried beans, but you know me. I have a huge bag of them.
  • Leave the kids doing chores after church while I run to TJ's and brave the Sunday parking lot.
  • Resist the potted succulents at the entrance.
  • Buy too much ice cream because I'm a sucker for making Wyatt happy.
  • Have Wyatt carry in the groceries and Loretta help me unpack them.
  • Sort fruit bin and make sauce from the soft apples and bruised pears.
  • Cook up a giant vat of pinto beans.
  • Roast TWO heads of cauliflower that have somehow ended up in my fridge. (With olive oil and harissa powder.)
  • Wash greens. (Always. Never-ending.)
  • Cut up the carrots and celery that should have been dealt with last week.
  • Make a batch of our favorite chile and garlic condiment.

Thomas Moore says, "To the soul, the most minute details and the most ordinary activities, carried out with mindfulness and art, have an effect far beyond their apparent insignificance."

Thank you, Universe, for an uneventful Sunday of unloading the dishwasher, singing in church, and cleaning the fridge. Thank you for the neighbor girl knocking on the door, an apron tied around my waist, and the parsnips that still haven't lost their crunch. Thank you that my two children wandered through while the applesauce was cooking and hovered near me until it was done. Thank you for our souls, which persist through increments and through explosions, and for the endlessly interesting odyssey they are on. Thank you for Sunday Prep and for all the moments that can't be prepped for. Amen.

Getting Schooled

Kid birthday parties are a bitch.

Loretta and I got in a fight making the #$%ing evite. She was trying tell tell me what to do, and I proudly don't collaborate with almost-nine-year-olds! And then Loretta got up early every morning to check the evite and pronounce who was still a "Maybe" and could I call their mom today and see why?

Driving Loretta to school the morning of her party, she reminded me to get the balloons. I got mad and said I didn't need reminding.

She taped a birthday wish list to the lamp over my desk so I smacked into it when I sat down to work.

She started creating countdowns around the house two months ago, which gave me an opportunity to procrastinate planning her party and not think about whether it would be swimming, at home, just girls or boys and girls, invite sent with the dreaded evite or just a text, grandparents too (or should that be separate?), tons of candy or a self-righteous attempt at carrot sticks.

In the end, I was "God-slapped," as Emily and I like to say when we wind up being loved and and taken care of in spite of ourselves. As we were waiting around for the last kids to arrive so we could go on our scavenger hunt, I had a little tiny panic: "Oh no! I didn't think of an activity for this liminal time!" Loretta picked up one of the balloons on the floor, starting batting it around in the air, and that was that. When we were getting ready to trek to the park, I was worried the kids would be cold so I hauled out every extra sweatshirt in the house. The rain lifted, they ran around all flushed, and I ended up holding every coat I'd insisted on. Yancey looked at me and I could see the amused "I told you so" in his eyes.

I'm normally not a worrier. And I really try to practice the idea that I'm not responsible for my children's happiness. That's out of my scope! My job is to consistently love them, live out my values, teach them to work hard and how to make ethical choices. But then the damn birthday party comes along and exposes all my insecurities, fears that somehow my children won't really know how precious they are, and my total ineptitude at going to Michael's and picking out party ware.

What I fell into instead was Pure Grace. If ever there was anything to celebrate, isn't it the fact that your daughter was born? And that she's lived to see another year? And that knowing and loving her reduces you to your fragile Essence everyday?

We adults like to pretend we don't need much, and certainly don't fuss over us on our birthdays! And if we have a party, absolutely don't bring a gift! That's BS.

When I see how much Loretta celebrates herself, without false modesty or self-consciousness, I'm reminded that's how we're all meant to feel about ourselves. And that's how the Divine feels about us! Completely enamored with who we are and who we are becoming.

Gregory Boyle tells a story in his book Tattoos on the Heart that I've read aloud to groups many times. His friend Bill was taking care of his ailing father, and would read him to sleep each night.

Bill would read from some novel, and his father would lie there, staring at his son, smiling. Bill was exhausted from the day’s care and work and would plead with his dad, ‘Look, here’s the idea. I read to you, you fall asleep.’ Bill’s father would impishly apologize and dutifully close his eyes. But this wouldn’t last long...This went on and on, and after his father’s death, Bill knew that this evening ritual was really a story of a father who just couldn’t take his eyes off his kid. How much more so God? Anthony De Mello writes, ‘Behold the One beholding you, and smiling.’

Behold the One beholding you, and smiling. Happy Birthday to all of you.

Date, Avocado, and Quinoa Salad

I told you it was Salad Month. For this one, if you've prepped on Sunday, you can tear up some washed greens into a bowl. (Here's it's butter lettuce, kale, and arugula). Then dice half an avocado over the top and sprinkle some cooked quinoa. (I do mine in the rice cooker with half the amount of water most recipes call for. 1 c quinoa to 1 c water.) Chop a couple dates, add some of the broccoli you roasted when you got home from the grocery store, and scatter some roasted hazelnuts and homemade dressing over the top. (In this case, yogurt ranch, made from Greek yogurt, garlic, fresh herbs, lemon juice, olive oil, and a little bit of mayo.) There is also some rose petal dukkah on there, but that's just ridiculous.

And if you want to keep reading, of course I have things to say that have nothing to do with salad.

I'm on a Rob Bell kick lately, and listened to this podcast yesterday on my walk. He talks about the difference between good and perfect, and isn't that something we all need to hear? "Good" is the word used in the creation poem at the beginning of the Bible: "God saw that the light was good." It's used to describe the whole messy cycle of creation and death, life and the end of life, beauty and chaos. "Perfect" is the term popularized by the Greeks--Plato's ideal, achieving a state where there isn't anything left to improve upon. Yuck! Who wants that? But in our epidemic of comparison, shelter magazines, celebrity culture, and self-help addiction, it's perfection we want sometimes.

Rob talks about birth--how it's the messiest endeavor ever. Full of blood, pain, uncertainty. It's not some airbrushed vignette. As John Kabat-Zinn would say, it's Full Catastrophe Living! It's the torrent of reality that includes the highs, and lows and all the noticing in-between. Cheers to that.


Holy, grimy, astounding world,
you make me want to write.

I've been carrying a poem inside all week,
but it can't decide what to praise.

The orange primrose I planted on my porch,
prematurely bright, presumptuous in winter.

The old man in line at the grocery store,
slowly putting his four items on the belt--

Tea, milk, steak, onion, pulling crisp cash
from his billfold with wobbly precision.

Let them be birthed,
all these fledgling poems!

However messy, however unplanned,
however painful or unbearably real.

Holy, grimy, astounding world--
what else can I do but witness?

Salad Mania

Friends! I am very much alive! My site has been under the weather with some updates, and it's safe to say I've been under the weather a bit, too. No colds or coughs, but some sadness and a lot of winter hibernation. In my conversations with friends the last few months, I've discovered I'm not alone. There's something in us that wants the quiet, something that wants, like Jan Richardson's prayer, "to enter the cave/in the seasons of slumber,/to lie down defenseless/in [the] gathering dark." 

When it's hard to get up in the morning and the longest night of the year seems to be cursedly every night, I've got a choice to either numb out (Hello, Netflix!) or to pay even more attention. I haven't numbed out once. Ha! Not true. I'm no Dalai Llama over here. I've enjoyed my fair share of Broad City and Master of None. And my friends are now officially annoyed that I'm a bonafide NYT subscriber. *&#$. Stop with the links already. I have a plan for everyone else's life. NYT Modern Love column? Preach it. 

So when I'm not watching Netlifx, I'm trying. I'm trying to pay attention. To what my body wants to eat, to how much it wants to sleep. To the poetry on my nightstand that, unfailingly, keeps the best company. To crying without knowing why, to saying a gentle (or emphatic) "No!" to invitations that aren't part of my calling right now. I took a three week social media break over Christmas, and I'm not the first to notice that it takes those kinds of extremes to hear our own voices again. George Mumford, meditation coach to athletes, says this about stillness:

“It’s about bearing witness to what’s happening. Just being there and settling back into a state of receptivity, allowing whatever you’re observing to speak for itself and not interfering. We’re always focusing on what’s happened or might happen and very seldom on what’s happening right here in this place and time. But that’s a muscle and you can train it.”

When I opened my produce box yesterday and saw the total riot of color in there...yes. I bore witness alright.

And after the onslaught of sugar during the holidays, it's Salad Time. My biggest tip lately is to make a jar of dressing on Sunday. Don't buy it!! This will take you 3 minutes, you'll know exactly what's in it, and it will taste immeasurably better. Toast some nuts, wash some greens, roast some veggies, try to have some avocados around, and you're set.

Thanks to my sister Naomi for her cheerful work on my site. She's a rock star, I hope she knows it, and I'm so lucky to have had her in my corner all my life. 

And since this is my inaugural post, here comes a poem. That's what happens to me when I get quiet--so much bubbles up. Happy New Year, friends. Wherever you are and whatever you're doing, may you be met on the Spirit Highway.

Prayer in Spite of Everything

I won't pretend it's easy, but I'm trying
to give myself over it,
the whole imperfect mess
of being a fixer who can't fix things.

The pantry, once labeled and orderly,
now bulges with three opened boxes
of baking soda, a labyrinth of grocery bags
and stale crackers.
Thank you.

The inbox, bastion of procrastination,
standing in for everyone I'm letting down
and every time I will say the wrong thing.
Thank you.

The dog, with his unwashed ears
and unwalked restlessness
and loving me anyway.
Thank you.

The torrent of mistakes, judgements, 
thoughts, fears, plans, goals,
ideals, regrets, embarrassments
that love to pretend they are me.
Thank you.

The still center I've fallen into once or twice,
the one that shines because of darkness,
the one we only find when we're lost--
thank you for that, too.

Everyday Vinaigrette
Since I never measure anything, here's an actual recipe adapted from my new America's Test Kitchen cookbook, 100 Recipes. Double or triple or quadruple or quintuple this.

1 Tb. wine vinegar
1 1/2 tsp. minced shallot, onion, or garlic
1/2 tsp. mayo
1/2 tsp. dijon
3 Tb. extra virgin olive oil

Combine vinegar, shallot, mayo, mustard, and 1/4 tsp. salt and pepper in small bowl. Whisk until mixture is milky in appearance and no lumps of mayo remain.

Place oil in a small measuring cup so it is easy to pour. Whisking constantly, very slowly drizzle oil into vinegar mixture. If pools of oil gather on the surface as you whisk, stop addition of oil and whisk mixture well to combine, then resume. Vinaigrette should be glossy and lightly thickened with no pools of oil on its surface. Refrigerate for up to 2 weeks, whisking before using.


Creamless Creamy Tomato Soup

America's Test Kitchen (ATK) mailed me their new cookbook and asked me to make something. Twist my arm. 

I get loads of solicitations in my inbox, and I say no to 99.9% of them. I don't want to clog your feed with product placements and fake enthusiasm for cookware or food novelties that no one needs. Practice is really the key, not expensive pans or specialty food items. And ATK espouses that so beautifully. I've learned so much from letting those 50 test cooks do the work and then tell me about it!

America's Test Kitchen 100 Recipes has countless gorgeous photos and the rationale behind every recipe. The back page says, "Master twenty recipes in this book and you will have earned the right to call yourself a great cook." I love that. It's not about novelty or creativity. Just getting in the kitchen and doing it. (And knowing a good recipe when you see one. Or letting ATK take care of that for you.)

When I get a book like this in my hands, I'm always looking out for one thing--something to answer the perennial question of family dinner. For me, that's got to fit this criteria:

  1. 30-40 minutes
  2. Kid-friendly (thankfully, that's pretty easy with my kids)
  3. Not a heavy reliance on meat. I tend to use meat more as a flavoring than a main dish, and the more I read, the more I want to eat lower on the food chain.
  4. Bonus if I don't have to go to the store.

This soup fit the bill. And as it happens, people will be eating at three different times tonight (basketball season is upon us), so something that can be easily heated up is even better.

This soup gets its creamy mouth feel from olive oil and bread that becomes a silken puree in the blender. And the croutons are good, old-fashioned full-of-butter cubes of loveliness which I'll need to hide so they don't get devoured without the soup. All it needs is a salad or some grilled cheese sandwiches. Or both, if you don't have to make six trips to the Boys and Girls Club gym.

In this week of giving thanks, it occurs to me how many millions of people might not be in the mood, and how underservedly lucky I am to have a stove to cook on, a pantry that's filled, and a bed to sleep in. It's always cold somewhere, and I hope the love I give today, in the kitchen and elsewhere, warms this world up a little bit. Happy Thanksgiving, friends.

Creamless Creamy Tomato Soup
Serves 6-8. Make sure to purchse canned whole tomatoes in juice, not puree. If half of the soup fills your blender by more than two-thirds, process the soup in 3 batches.

 1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
pinch red pepper flakes (optional)
1 bay leaf
2 (28-oz) cans whole tomatoes
3 slices hearty white sandwich bread, crusts removed, torn into 1" pieces
1 Tb. packed brown sugar
2 c. chicken broth
2 Tb. brandy (optional)
1/4 c. chopped fresh chives
1 recipe butter croutons (see below) 

Heat 2 Tb. oil in Dutch oven over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add onion, garlic, red pepper flakes, if using, and bay leaf. Cook, stirring frequently, until onion is translucent, 3-5 minutes. Stir in tomatoes and their juice. Using potato masher, mash until no pieces bigger than 2 inches remain. Stir in bread and sugar. Bring soup to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until bread is completely saturated and starts to break down, about 5 minutes. Discard bay leaf.

Transfer soup to blender. Add 1 Tb. oil and process until soup is smooth and creamy, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and repeat with remaining soup and remaining 1 Tb. oil. Rinse out Dutch oven and return soup to pot. Stir in chicken broth and brandy, if using. return soup to boil and season with salt and pepper to taste. Ladle soup into bowls, sprinkle with chives, and drizzle with olive oil. Serve with croutons.

Butter Croutons
Thick-sliced bread works best. Do not use thin-sliced. Either fresh or stale bread can be used. If using stale, reduce the cooking time by about 2 minutes.

 6 slices hearty white sandwich bread, crusts removed, cut into 1/2" cubes (about 3 cups)
salt and pepper
3 Tb. unsalted butter, melted

Adjust oven rack to upper middle position and heat to 350. Combine bread cubes and salt and pepper to taste in a medium bowl. Drizzle with butter and toss well with rubber spatula to combine.

Spread cubes in a single layer on rimmed baking sheet. Bake croutons until golden brown and crisp, 8-10 minutes, stirring halfway through baking. Let cool on a baking sheet to room temperature. (Crotouns can be stored at room temperature for up to 3 days.) 

Masala Chai


Yancey and I went to Vancouver last weekend for his birthday, and every second was divine. Including the Kashmiri Chai we drank from Vij's food truck in the middle of Olympic Village and the chai from Granville Island Tea, both drunk in the full-on October sun with the man I've been in love with for 26 years. (Nuts. We met on a school bus on his 16th birthday. So I guess the "in love" part is maybe 25.9 years. It didn't take long. Thank you, teenage self, for having a decent head on your shoulders. And thank you, sheer circumstance and fate.)

So when we came home this week to full-on wind and rain, it seemed a good time to make a batch to warm us up and hold on a little longer to our magical 24 hours in Vancouver. I'm not big on the chai served in most coffee shops--too sweet. Making my own lets me add as much fresh ginger and as little sugar as I want. And have some to give away.

I'm really feeling the changing seasons this year, marveling at how it happens despite global warming, despite not receiving an edict from the White House or a buyout from shareholders. We live under the shadow of Mt. Baker, and my favorite bumper sticker from the last few years is, "Vote No Eruption of Mt. Baker!" There are so many things we can't control, so I'm always coming back to what we CAN control. Creating microclimates of kindness around us, asking for forgiveness when we haven't, making the bed in the morning (have I already told you how revolutionary that's been for me?), getting back to people who ask something of us, remembering that we come from love and are born for love. So yes, more poetry. Lots of love to each of you.

Every Year at This Time

In last light, before dinner,
the oak is resplendent
with half-dead leaves,
full of spaces to hold
the autumnul glow.

A cat crosses the alley,
sure-footed on wet pavement,
and kitchen lights blink on. 

The season is turning,
as it does, as it should,
every year at this time.

I'm witnessing it
for the forty-first time,
finding again
that we--me, the cat, the tree--
were made for change,
to shine, let go, die
and be born again.

Spiced Milke Tea (Masala Chai)
I quadrupled this. As long as you're going to the work to grind spices and steep things, might as well make some for later. I store it in quart mason jars in the fridge, reading to be warmed up for a crowd in a saucepan or in microwaved mugs. This recipe is from "Gourmet Today," one of my big Gourmet cookbooks that I treasure. I subbed fresh ginger for dried, and you can use any "plain" tea. They call for loose tea, but I just throw some PG Tips in there. Lipton or English Breakfast would be fine. And I'm sure you could sub non-dairy milk. Serves 4.

10 green cardamom pods, cracked, seeds removed and pods discarded or 1/2 tsp. cardamom seeds
1 1/2 inch piece cinnamon stick
4 peppercorns
1/4 tsp. fennel seeds
1" piece of fresh ginger, very thinly sliced
2 c. whole milk
3 1/2 Tb. packed brown sugar, or to taste 
1/8 tsp. salt
2 c. water
4 Lipton or PG Tips teabags

Grind together cardamom, cinnamon stick, peppercorns, and fennel seeds with a mortar and pestle or spice grinder.

Bring milk just to a simmer in a heavy saucepan. Stir or whisk in brown sugar, salt, spice mixture and fresh ginger. Reduce heat to low and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes to infuse flavors.

Meanwhile, bring water to a boil in another saucepan, add tea, and steep for a few minutes. (I like mine extra strong.)

Add tea to hot milk mixture and strain the whole thing through a fine-mesh strainer into cups or jars. 

Roasted Yam and Black Bean Dip

Black bean, feta, and roasted yam dip

My motto for myself for the last few months has been, "Out of the juicer and into the cup."

I got a juicer for my birthday, and I let everything swirl together in the cannister before I open the cap and watch it splash into a glass. Crazy mixtures of bright things--fresh tumeric, tangerines, ginger, carrots, apples; beets, beet greens, celery, cucumber, lemon. Stuffing all that produce down the shaft, it occurs to me every time that too much input will result in a big mess. And no juice to drink! At some point, all that beautiful, bright juice has to be let out. 

And, as Elizabeth Gilbert says in her new book, letting out what's inside us, unleashing the "big magic," isn't about being a virtuoso in something. It's not about quitting our day jobs. It's about befriending our fears but never, every putting them in the driver's seat. 

For me, one of the clogs in the juicer lately has been writing. The more writing I consume in books--articles, on Facebook--the more I labor under this seductive, false idea that I don't have anything to say. That it's all been said. Wow. That really lets me off the hook. Meanwhile, that juicer is spinning, and the liquid is getting dangerously close to exploding all over the place. So here's to letting it pour out. To my health, and yours!

Meanwhile, if I'm aware, my eyes are always open to the moments and people in my life who are figuring out how to let their juice fill the cup.

My friend, a single mother of 3 special needs kids, has taken in another needy young adult who's been abandoned and needed someone to love her and show her how to do laundry. Another case of that universal reality, that those with the least are often those who give the most.

Our new 4th grade neighbor girl (Loretta is in heaven--girls in the neighborhood!) who, after meeting Loretta, wrote her a card and made her a gift: Can we have a play date sometime? (Ladies, we have a lot to learn from this. Risk. Vulnerability. Letting women know we LIKE them.)

Cristina, who bravely moved to start a new job and listen to her calling even though it meant change and uncertainty all over again. (The silver lining for me, though I miss her terribly, is that my mailbox has been full. My love language, for sure.)

And my mom, who retired from her job of 24 years and knew when it was time to go. I see so many folks who malpractice, who stay somewhere much longer than is good for them and their patients, clients, students, co-workers, customers. I had a party for her, and 50 (mostly) women from the home store she's worked at over the years were at my house. We had a toast for her, and half the room was crying. (Me first, of course.) So energizing to see how she's continually paid attention to and loved those around her, and what beautiful juice has filled the cup.

I made this dip, and I've made it a few other times, too. A few weeks ago, I was on my way home, remembered I had to bring an appetizer somewhere, did a mental inventory of my pantry and fridge, and had this concocted by the time I walked through the door. It turned out to be a keeper. And I love it when that happens.

P.S. Here's a poem I wrote putting fear into the backseat where it belongs.

Get Started

Who am I to do this?
Who am I to find the burning bush,
and then to step closer?
To dare conversation with God,
take off my shoes,
tell the story of deliverance?
You try ignoring
a burning bush. 

Roasted Yam and Black Bean Dip
You could easily leave the cheese and sour cream out of this. If you do that, add a little more lime juice, olive oil or water to the bean mixture to make sure it's smooth enough.

2 cans refried black beans
1 tb. olive oil
one large onion, thinly sliced
1/2 c. sour cream 
juice of one lime
1 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. (or to taste) chile powder
1 c. shredded white sharp cheddar
1 very large or two medium yams or sweet potatoes, skin on and diced into 1/2"
more olive oil 
2 Tb. interesting seeds (chia, amaranth, buckwheat groats, sesame, poppy, flax)
handful chopped fresh cilantro
1 large or two small avocados, diced

Preheat oven to 375.

Toss diced yams with olive oil and a little salt. Spread out on a single layer on a baking sheet, and bake until just tender, about 20 minutes. 

Meanwhile, sauté sliced onion in olive oil until caramelized (or almost.)

In a 9x13 baking dish, mix beans with caramelized onion, sour cream, cumin, lime, chile powder, and salt to taste. Spread evenly into the bottom of the dish.

Top bean mixture with shredded cheese and roasted yams. Bake in the oven until the whole thing is warm and bubbly, about 20 minutes. Remove from oven and top with seeds, cilantro, and avocado. Serve with tortilla chips.

Hot Chiles for my Hot Firefighter

Chile Crunch

I started making this condiment a few months ago, and we are addicted. When we run out, there's a lot of malaise, scrounging through the fridge for something that might approximate it. Sriracha? Too sweet. Tapatio? Too musky. Chile oil? Not crunchy. So I finally went to Cash and Carry, bought embarassing quantities of the ingredients, and once a week I can be found frying dried garlic and chiles in my wok, Wyatt walking up the stairs and asking hopefully, "Are you making that hot stuff?" He never eats a sandwich without it, which warms my heart.

And Yancey is even more nutso about it, putting it on almost everything. You may have heard that the central part of Washington is engulfed in flames, and Yancey and a crew of firefighers from his station have been sent to help. 3 men died earlier this week, and I'm just heartsick for their families. And for the evacuees, the pets and wildlife, everything and everyone in the path of this insatiable fire. I've been flooded with love, check-ins, and well wishes and have been passing those onto Yancey, and I don't feel worried. I'm not a worrier. But I do feel a deep sense of reality, like the veil has been lifted for a bit and we can see into the nature of things. We are not in control, we're always on the verge of catastrophe, and we'd better learn how to be present to one another now, without waiting. 

And I'm disporportionately nostalgic about things that remind me of Yancey--chile crunch, his tools in the garage, his little pile of keys, receipts, and flashlights by his bed. My neighbor and her infant daughter are without their husband/father for a year because he's been called up to the Army reserves and is serving in Afghanistan. This week is giving me the tiniest, teensiest idea of what it must be like for her, reading the news, checking Twitter feeds, looking for texts or emails. There are millions of people who, for many reasons, know they are on the edge all the time, and I'm appreciating them this week. (Thinking a lot about the anniversary of Katrina, too. For a great window into New Orleans then and now, I recommend my current favorite podcast, Death, Sex, and Money, its fabulous host Anna Sale, and her beautiful series on New Orleans.)

I've been fascinated by some studies I've read about collective trauma, and that part of what saves people is being about to do something with their bodies in the wake of diaster or in the middle of anxiety. That's probably why we cook for funerals and probably why I'm in the kitchen more than normal this week, makiing chile crunch, roasting hatch chiles, making granola, keeping my brain just busy enough and my body connected to the ground. I wish the same for you wherever are. xo

Crunchy Chile and Garlic Paste
This won't taste quite right at first and needs to sit for about 24 hours to let all the flavors meld. So if you taste it right after it's cooled, you might be non-plussed. Be patient. It will reveal itself to you. And it keeps forever in the fridge. 

1/2 c. dried minced garlic (not garlic salt or garlic powder)
1/2 c. crushed red pepper flakes
2 Tb. dried onion flakes
1 tsp. salt 
1 c. canola oil 

Mix all ingredients together in a wok or heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring often, for about 5-7 minutes until oil is sizzling and garlic is just beginning to barely turn color. Turn off heat, let cool in the pan, and scrape into a glass jar. Cover and refrigerate.

Brown Sugar Choco Chunk Cookies

Brown sugar choco chunk

The kids are at camps this week, which means lunch-making has ensued. This morning's was pretty meager and I found myself scrounging for some Kirkland fruit snacks that I have hidden in the basement. Time for cookies. These are my usual, changed a bit with all brown sugar instead of white, chocolate chunks instead of chips. Yum.

I thought of posting some "let's-get-real" summer photos here. My dried up herbs and brown, bolted spinach on my peeling deck. The damp towels in piles everywhere, the tower of neglected paperwork on my desk. #$*&!! you, Pinterest! 

For the longest time, I had some rules posted on my bulletin board when the kids were younger. One was "Go outside whenever possible" (still the wisest rule I've ever made for myself). Another was "See my world (and messy house) through eyes of love."

Eyes of love. So, I bless you, old fraying beach towel. I bless you, softening once-perfect organic apricot that I should have used for something amazing. I bless you, 6 dozen half-used bottles of ancient sunscreen in 27 different obscure locations. I bless you, shedding dog, who adds 3 hours of housework onto every blessed week. I bless you, turning earth, and your persistence in providing for us no matter what we do to you.

Here's a little poem I wrote about the ordinary things in my pantry. I hope that, somehow, your ordinary becomes extraordinary this week. xo

Prayer of Thanks for Pantry Staples

For the black turtle beans,
hard, a little dusty, even,
half-filling a cannister in the back
of the pantry, and how,
after two hours in the pot,
they are creamy, soft,
warm, salty, filling this family
for a dollar. For them,
and all the daily ways
water becomes wine,
thank you.

And here's those cookies. Don't act like you didn't skip over the damn poetry for them.

Brown Sugar Choco Chunk Cookies

1 3/4 c. flour
2 c. old fashioned oats
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1 1/2 c. brown sugar
1 egg + 1 egg yolk
2 cubes (1 cup) unlsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 tsp. vanilla
1 pkg. chocolate chips or chunks 

Mix first 5 ingredients together. Add egg mixture, melted butter, and vanilla. Stir until just combined. Add chocolate chunks, and refrigerate dough for a couple hours (even better overnight).

Form into balls and bake on parchment-lined sheets at 350 for 9-10 minutes, until just set. I like to do little ones, fitting 15 on a standard sized jelly roll pan.