• the quotidian (5.10.21)

    Quotidian: daily, usual or customary;
    everyday; ordinary; commonplace


    Scrap pie: two different rhubarb fillings plus some fresh, plus red raspberries.


    Frothy.


    Precarious.


    Blessed are the cheesemakers.


    With crème fraîche and lemon.


    Fromage blanc: too different to replace cream cheese, but I tried.


    Crème fraîche pound cake with crème fraîche and red raspberry sauce.


    Stocked.


    Sweet and crunchy.


    Even after scrubbing, the garden lingers.


    Neither of us can recall the reason for this weirdness.


    After the girlfriends left.


    First-time buyer: the produce auction.


    Water problems, again. Mid-shower: angry-dashing to the basement.


    An evening date to get ice cream (and that rhubarb).


    They build things.


    Ultimate shoes.


    Pranked.


    This same time, years previous: where in the world, an honor, Thursday snippets, tomato coconut soup, rhubarb crunch vanilla ice cream, immersion, black bean and sweet potato chili, the family reunion of 2012, getting ready, warts and all.

  • milk

    The day after Gimli was born (why yes, we do have a Lord of the Rings fan in our house), my younger son started milking Daisy: to learn how to milk, to accustom Daisy to being milked, and to help relieve the pressure from the excess milk [and here’s where All Women Who Have Ever Lactated wince and nod sagely]

    Oh, and to get some milk. 

    Except it was colostrum at first, of course. I thought the colostrum would disappear in a couple days, and I thought “colostrum” meant milk with colostrum — that we’d be able to see the cream and milk and the colostrum — but nope. The colostrum looked like milk, and it separated like milk and cream, but the stuff that rose to the top was thick yellow. 

    As the days passed, I kept waiting for a layer of cream to form between the milk and then yellow stuff, but that never happened. Instead, right around Day Five, Daisy switched from colostrum over to actual cream-topped milk, no more thick yellow stuff. 

    The colostrum didn’t deter my son: day two, he chugged a glass and pronounced it fabulous. 

    At first I was a little scared to drink the milk — I always feel this way when we make the switch from store milk to raw milk, or store meat to homegrown; there’s an “ew” factor I have to get over — but then I poured myself a wee glass and it was perfectly fine. Delicious, actually. 

    Since then, I’ve been making all sorts of dairy-licious products. As soon as Gimli appeared, I ordered a bunch of starters and rennet and cheesecloth. There’s the yogurt — sometimes I strain it for a bit to get Greek yogurt — which is so good with mixed with jam and topped with granola. It’s my new favorite breakfast. 

    I made ricotta, which only requires citric acid and salt. I think I over-drained it — it got a bit dry — but I stirred a bunch of cream back into it and it worked just fine in a raspberry lemon cake that I served to my girlfriends. (They were duly impressed.)

    I also made crème fraîche, some of which I used in a cream sauce for the asparagus I picked from my garden (gosh aren’t I domestic). 

    Straight up, the crème fraîche has a slightly farmy flavor, but in the sauce, that flavor disappeared entirely. I’m not sure how to use the rest of it — ice cream, maybe? quiche? — but I better hurry up and figure it out. More cream awaits!

    My son made a spot of butter, just to try it…

    And yesterday I made fromage blanc, a white cheese similar to cream cheese but without all the fat. It’s good, but I have a problem: what do I do with it?! I’m used to certain kinds of cheese that we eat in certain kinds of ways, so this deluge of unfamiliar, creamy, fresh cheese — soft and spreadable — doesn’t jive with our normal dietary habits. Maybe a veggie tart with an herby cheese base? Dip? I need ideas. 

    Mid-way through the straining process.

    Things I want to make next: cream cheese (though I should wait until I use up the fromage blanc, I suppose), clotted cream, ice cream, mozzarella, and lots more yogurt. 

    Which brings me to another problem: we can only eat so much cream and cheese and milk before we begin to swell up like little piggies. My son is getting about two gallons a day from Daisy — and this is before we’ve even begun separating her from the calf at night — which is about ten gallon more than we need a week. YIKES. (And yes I knew this would be a problem, no need to remind me.)

    We are looking for a bottle calf to use up the excess (but no luck yet), and we could get a pig (which would be better than us becoming pigs), or we could just dump the extra milk, but it feels horrible to throw out something that’s so delicious and that takes so much time and labor to get. It takes my son about an hour — an HOUR — to get one gallon. Granted, he’s not the fastest milker, and he will get better at it as he goes along, but seriously, y’all, milking is hard

    I tried it the other day. Getting the milk out of the teat was easy enough, but directing the stream into the bucket? That was a whole other story. It kept shooting out in different directions or trickling back up my arm, and then I whacked my head on a board and my legs hurt and my neck was at a weird angle. When I quit after about five minutes, I just had a couple tablespoons to show for my trouble, so whenever the kid comes in with a full gallon of milk, it’s like he’s just won a gold medal. 

    Daisy’s turning out to be quite the good milk cow. My son reported that the other day she came up to the shed all on her own, leaving Gimli out in the field by himself. When my son was ready for her, she walked right in and just stood there, all ready to go. What a sweetie.

    This same time, years previous: an under-the-stairs office nook, freezer coffee cake, transition, Puerto Rico, the quotidian (5.1.17), a simulation, stages of acting, the quotidian (5.4.15), carrot cake with cream cheese frosting.

  • a few good things

    My younger daughter asked for overalls for her birthday and then she looked so cute in them that I ordered a pair for myself. I don’t think I’ve ever worn overalls, so I was unsure if I’d like them. Would they be comfortable? Would they look okay? Would they turn bathroom trips into a dreaded ordeal?

    Turns out, I love them. The fabric is lightweight, the fit comfortable, and bathroom trips are a cinch (though over-the-top sweaters do have to be removed prior to unbuckling). Bonus: never before have I gotten so many compliments from the hip young servers at the diner! There’s something freeing about a one-piece uniform: it makes me feel both put together and relaxed. I’d wear them every day if I could.

    ***

    Ted Lasso’s back!!!

    It’s amazing how ridiculously happy I get each time I watch this trailer. I don’t know if we still have Apple TV or not, but we will by the end of July, guaranteed.

    ***

    These photos of Julia’s kitchen are wonderfully fun to stare at. I kept enlarging different parts so I could better look at all the tools. I couldn’t even figure out what some of them were for! Ever since reading that article, I’ve been pondering the kitchens I work in and how they could be better. I don’t like clutter, but I do like efficiency. So often it’s the little things — a simple hook or a single magnetic strip or a new vegetable peeler or lamp — that make a world of difference, if I’d only take the time to think it through…

    ***

    I lost myself in this photo essay: Keeping Love Close.

    ***

    The other day I came home from the bakery with a bunch of rock-hard loaves of sourdough. I’d read somewhere (or maybe I dreamed it?) that stale bread can be rehydrated by dunking it in water, so that’s what I did: thirty seconds on one side and thirty seconds on the other. 

    And then I popped it into a 400-degree oven — straight on the rack — for 6 minutes. When it came out, the loaf felt soft and supple and crackly crisp, and it sliced up easily. The bread still tasted a bit stale and dry on the inside — it was the cutability part that I was fixing — but it was perfectly fine for toast and grilled cheese and whatever else. I bagged the sliced pieces and stuck them in the freezer. (And now they’re gone.)

    ***

    And now for some movies!

    My husband and I watched Whiplash the other week and what a movie! Completely engrossing — after it was over, I realized I’d hardly been breathing — and wondefully layered and nuanced. Days after, I was still thinking about it.

    Have you seen Crip Camp? We watched it as a family movie last week, and agree this inside look at the disabilities civil rights movement is a must-see.

    I Care A Lot was such a hoot! The first part made my husband so uncomfortable that I had to physically restrain him to keep him on the sofa. And then it got violent and I missed a whole bunch for staring at my hand in front of my face. And then the plot twisted most delightfully and I laughed and laughed. It was the perfect kind of light-hearted (yet dark) fun I’d been craving.

    And here’s the list of Oscar nominees, if you need more movie suggestions. I’ve already seen some of them (Sound of Metal is excellent), and I’m looking forward to watching Nomadland, Minari, and Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.

    Have a good weekend, y’all!

    This same time, years previous: mojo Cuban pork, graduated!, a Monday list, the quotidian (4.30.12), pot of beans, rhubarb jam.

  • strawberry syrup

    The last time I was at the library, I grabbed the two most recent issues of Cook’s Illustrated. Both of them had a bunch of good ideas and I printed off recipes to try from each, one of which was for a strawberry syrup. 

    We still have a fair amount of strawberries in the freezer, and now that strawberry season is right around the corner, I’m doing my best to use them up. Though that might not be the smartest move, since my husband took it upon himself to whittle the berry patch down to a strip the width of a piece of dental floss. Then, because he felt suitably horrified at what he’d done, he got a ton of plants from my parents and started a brand new patch on the other side of the garden. So we may have strawberries this year, or we may not. We’ll see.

    In the mean time, I’m still using up what’s in the freezer. 

    The syrup caught my eye because, along with sugar, it called for only one other ingredient: citric acid. The citric acid, they said, intensified the flavor and thickened the syrup a bit, and since I’m a sucker for a good food science experiment, I was all in. 

    It was easy. Just ome thawed berries and a boatload of sugar, mashed and macerated, and then mashed some more. After it was sufficiently juicy and goopy, I poured it through a sieve, pressing on the bits of fruit to make them relinquish all the lovely red drops of sweet goodness. The leftover pulp, about a quarter cup, I saved for smoothies, and to the juice, I added the citric acid. 

    And you know what? It did brighten the flavor and thicken the syrup!

    I added some syrup to seltzer — 5 parts seltzer to 1 part syrup — as they recommended, and it was lovely.

    And then I remembered the mix of fresh-squeezed lemon, lime, and orange juice that I had leftover from making triple citrus pies in the bakery. Margaritas!!!!

    I followed this recipe for the margarita mix, using the leftover citrus blend and subbing in the strawberry syrup for the simple syrup and it was dangerously “oh wow this is good” delicious. 

    (The syrup is also good on ice cream. Just sayin’.)

    Strawberry Syrup
    From the March-April 2021 issue of Cooks’ Illustrated magazine.

    They say that other berries, like raspberries and blueberries, would also work well. (I wonder about lightly poached and strained rhubarb?) If the fruit is fresh, freeze it overnight and then thaw in the morning — this will make it release more juice. 

    12 ounces strawberries, fresh, or frozen and thawed
    10½ ounces sugar
    ¾ teaspoon citric acid

    Mash the fruit. Stir in the sugar. Let rest at room temperature for about thirty minutes, occasionally mashing and stirring. Strain, pressing on the fruit with the back of a spoon to make it release all of its juice. Discard the solids (or save to add to smoothies or yogurt), and stir the citric acid into the juice. Store in a jar in the fridge.

    To serve: use in place of simple syrup in cocktails, add to seltzer, or drizzle over ice cream.  

    This same time, years previous: the coronavirus diaries: week eight, the quotidian (4.29.19), besties, back to normal, church of the Sunday sofa, Sunday somethings, juxtaposed, shredded wheat bread.

  • a birth party

    For days we’ve been watching Daisy like a hawk. First thing each morning, I’d look out my bedroom window to see if she was still pregnant. As long as she was still eating, good. If she was laying down, I’d have to stare harder. Was she straining? Were her legs sticking straight out? Was her head thrown back? Sometimes I’d even walk down to the field myself, just to check on the state of things. Multiple times throughout the day, I’d ask the kids: Did you check her behind? Any liquid? Mucus? I spent lots of time at the kitchen window, just watching.

    When she hit her Friday due date and still no calf, I gave up. She’s never going to give birth, I announced despairingly. But then on Saturday she appeared to be waddling more. Her udder was huge, my son reported, and really, really hard. And when he squeezed a teat, gross brown liquid came out.

    Sunday morning, she grazed noticeably less. She walked more, and slower. There’s watery stuff coming out, the kids reported. Wonderful! We’d get to see the delivery! I’d been hoping she’d go into labor when we were home, it was light outside, and the weather was nice. This would be perfect. 

    We decided we probably had enough time to drive into town for Ultimate — our first time back since the pandemic started, whoop! — so we left our younger son at home along with strict instructions to watch Daisy and to let us know if we should come home. 

    One hour into the game, he texted us a photo.

    “She is in labor,” he wrote. 

    We came straight home, only pausing for a quick stop at the grocery store where I bought — I kid you not — a gallon of two-percent milk, a half gallon of lactose-free milk, and a quart each of whipping cream and half-and-half. It felt ridiculous to buy milk when we were on the verge of having our personal milk machine swing into action, but we were nearly out of everything and it’d be several days until she switched from colostrum to milk. 

    As soon as we got home, I raced down into the field ready to watch the show, and what a show it was! For a good two hours, we sat at the bottom of the field in a semicircle around Daisy’s enormous bulk, arguing and talking, taking video and photos, and shivering. 

    A Calving: In Three Parts
    Part One: Water and Mucus
    First to come out was the amniotic sac. Or part of it anyway. Each time Daisy bore down, the bubble of sac got progressively larger. And then, it began to swell at an alarming pace and we, suddenly realizing that we might be in for an unwelcome bath, beat a hasty retreat. When the sac burst, Daisy lunged forward, startled, and fluid whooshed out.

    She settled back down and began licking the ground, either to get the milk that was squirting out of her teats, or to lap up the amniotic fluid. She did this for the entire labor: she’d pause for contractions and then, once it was over, resume her licking. 

    Soon my parents arrived, bringing their lawnchairs and blankets. Is there any better entertainment for a leisurely Sunday afternoon than a calving? I think not. The only thing that wouldn’t made it even better was if we’d had David Attenborough on tap to narrate….

    A second bubble of of liquid began to emerge.

    Probably another part of the amniotic sac, we decided — but what if it was twins?! (It wasn’t.) This one was less taut and kind of drooped from her backside like a saggy water balloon. Oooh, look! Hooves inside! And they’re in the right position, yay! 

    When it burst, a large part of it splatted onto the ground, and Daisy immediately set about slurping up the snot-like sac, much to our delighted horror.

    Part Two: Active Labor
    Now Daisy began to strain in earnest. For the longest time, it was just the two hooves.

    And then— Hang on. What’s that? A tongue?

    I quick texted our farmer friend: Tongue sticking out. Is that normal?
    Yep, he replied. 
    Whew.

    Each time Daisy finished another round of pushing, she’d snort and huff, spraying mucus everywhere. Come on, Daisy, we said, all of us now bovine doulas. You can do it. Push! Our eyes were fixed on those two little hooves. The hair on the legs was red, just like our farmer friend (and owner of the stud bull) had predicted. The hooves just moved! someone would say. Or, The tongue! I saw it wiggle!

    And then — I see the nose! 

    Bit by bit more of the nose emerged, and then the head — An eye! I see an eye! IT BLINKED — and then the whole head was out, and most of the body.

    Daisy lay there for a minute, quiet, before standing up, and the calf’s hind feet slipped out the rest of the way. 

    For a minute, Daisy casually nibbled grass before turning around to sniff the soggy calf.

    And then, SNAP. It was like a switch flipped. Suddenly she was licking the calf all over, sucking on its ears, nudging it with her nose, and gently lowing. 

    Part Three: Standing up and Eating
    The calf was out but the show wasn’t over. Now I wanted to see it stand up and drink. I facetimed my daughter so she could watch. My older son showed up. Our neighbors came over. My brother and kids popped in. With each new arrival, Daisy would hold stock still and stare. It was almost menancing, the way she eyed us, and I found myself wondering if she might suddenly charge us. (She didn’t.)

    I mused to my daughter how it seemed strange that sheep only have two teats when they typically have two or three lambs whereas cows, who only have one calf, have four teats (and in Daisy’s case, two extra little nubs as well). My daughter said, “See that little guy right there…?” It took a second for me to catch the Napoleon Dynamite reference (my husband got it right away), and then, without missing a beat, our neighbor, who I barely know, piped up from behind me, “This one tastes like it got into an onion patch,” and we all busted up laughing. A bunch of people in a cow pasture bonding over movies quotes — that, right there, is some seriously good movie power. 

    It took a surprisingly long time — like a whole thirty minutes — for the calf to stand up. I’d thought it’d be mere minutes, but it took more like thirty, and with a lot of false starts. Each time he lunged forward, he’d tip over, toppling onto his head and then collapsing into a gangly heap. Dazed and tired, he’d rest for a bit and then try again.

    All the while, Daisy kept circling him, licking and nudging and mooing. The first time he made it to his feet, he fell right over. The second time, though, he stayed upright and we all cheered.

    But then each time he wobbled towards the udder, Daisy would lift her foot to kick him away. This I had not expected. What was wrong with her!

    She kept kicking and spinning in circles, but he spun right along with her, staying upright and focused, and soon he was slurping loudly. 

    We all headed up to the house then. I’d hoped to see the placenta but I was too cold to wait around. My son never found any sign of it in the field, so I imagine Daisy ate that, too. 

    This same time, years previous: the quotidian (4.27.20), full disclosure, the quotidian (4.27.15), roasted carrot and red lentil soup, the Monday rambles.

  • the quotidian (4.26.21)

    Quotidian: daily, usual or customary;
    everyday; ordinary; commonplace


    Tulips have their own version of cut-off jeans, who knew!


    Mediocre one-pot meal: rice, spinach, and turkey meatballs.


    My son is testing spice combos for a bunch of new popcorn flavors: taking recommendations.


    Happiness in the bean bucket: a coworker went on a trip and left everyone hidden messages.


    First time trying Tillamook: we’re fans.


    I asked him to stop by the store for a box of cones.


    Her one and only wisdom tooth, gone.


    Dog ballet.


    While doing road clean-up, he gleaned a few (roadkill, presumably) teeth.


    Dirt road, sunshine, top down.


    Overdue and ready to pop: my older daughter’s recommendation, “Stick a pin in her.”
    (But then….)

    This same time, years previously: that fuzzy space, an ordinary break, life can turn on a dime, thank you for holding us, taking off, the newest addition: Jessica, mango banana helados, beware the bed sheets, cauliflower potato soup, drama trauma, the perils of homemade chicken broth.

  • what we ate

    When I was scrolling through photos for the quotidian post, I realized that I had an extra large amount of food photos which, I decided, deserved a post all their own. So, without further ado, here’s what’s been going down the hatch in recent days.

    ***

    Tamales, with extra red sauce and curtido.

    Speaking of tamales. Last time I was at Costco, I noticed they had chicken tamales, 15 for sixteen dollars. They looked good, but without the samples (I miss samples!!!), I hesitated. Can anyone vouch for them?

    ***

    At the bakery, we made Basque cheesecakes for Easter. While they might be a cinch to make at home, learning to make them in the bakery was a whole other story. I’d bake four at a time: first in the diner oven to get the color, and then in the bakery oven to get them baked through without scorching. It required careful maneuvering of hot trays and lots of temperature checks and some occasional mild cursing.

    It was worth it, though. 

    ***

    Trying to nail down the cheesecake bake process, I went through about six test cakes which meant there were lots of not-perfect cakes that needed to be eaten (poor us). Then one day I got a brilliant idea: cheesecake ice cream! I mixed up a batch of vanilla ice cream (which already has cream cheese in the base) and then, when the ice cream was almost done churning, I broke a couple pieces of cheesecake into it. 

    So if you ever find yourself with a bum cheesecake on hand, now you know what to do!

    ***

    I am not a chip person but a couple weeks ago I discovered the best chips in the world.

    My husband and I ate a whole bag in a single sitting. Twice.

    “These are my favorite chips for the rest of my life.” (If my life had a sound track, trumpets would’ve sounded.) “If you ever want to get me a treat, get these.”

    (And now I want more chips, waaaah!) 

    ***

    The kids stopped at the store to get treats on their way home after choir; my daughter got yogurt, bananas, and blueberries, and my son got a head of lettuce and a tomato for his beloved sandwiches. 

    (Don’t worry, they’re actually quite normal. Typically they get chips and gummy candy.)

    ***

    Our Puerto Rican friends invited us over for supper: fricase de pollo con jugo de uva (chicken marinated and cooked in grape juice and served in a broth with other veggies), rice, salad, tostones, and mayo-ketchup. 

    Frying the tostones is disasterish, but man, are they good.

    ***

    I made a riff on my standard red lentils: added a sweet potato and a white potato, chopped small, and threw in a whole box of chopped spinach. Lemon, too, of course. I thought it was delicious, but the entire family revolted — they said it had a weird flavor. 

    ***

    Here’s one of the plates I fixed my son for a lunch: beef fajitas (just the meat), beans and rice, red lentil riff, kale, and cherry delight.

    He’s pretty amenable about different foods, so he gets a spread.

    ***

    And here’s another one of his meals. 

    Leftover chicken salad and a cabbage slaw thingy from the diner, leftover rolls from Easter, and his store-bought lettuce. 

    My version:

    Half a leftover roll, buttered and then grilled, leftover sloppy joe meat, and the cabbage slaw. Note: grilling the bun makes all the difference. #magpielessons

    ***

    In my current household, no one else really goes for avocados. I cut one in half and wrap the half with the seed in plastic and stick it back in the fridge. It usually holds for a couple days that way.

    Also, a couple of our jars of salsa unsealed but still smelled good. My younger son, a bonafide salsa freak, couldn’t bear to throw them out, so he ate some. I waited, like a good mother, to see if he got sick. When he didn’t, we all dug in.

    ***

    A friend posted a photo of a pepperoni roll on Facebook, or what the news source was calling a pepperoni roll, which, in their case, was basically just some sticks of pepperoni jabbed through a lump of (what looked like) government-issued white bread. She was appalled, I was scandalized. “THAT is an abomination,” I wrote. And then I couldn’t shake the idea of pepperoni rolls so I made a batch.

    He’s actually jumping up and down with glee. You just can’t tell. He’s a very controlled man. (snort)

    I don’t know what my friend’s version of a pepperoni roll is, but mine involves stirring chopped pepperoni and grated parmesan into the no-knead dough and then rolling it out and stuffing the squares with lots of pepperoni and, in this case, chunks of fresh mozzarella.

    I need to make another batch.

    This same time, years previous: what it’s like to write full time: an experiment, creamed honey, out of character, ailments, my lot, honey baked chicken.

  • the coronavirus diaries: week 59

    Exactly two weeks to the day after my second vaccine, my older son picked me up in his snazzy convertible and drove me to my parents’ where I celebrated my full immunity by hugging my mom and dad maskless for the first time in over a year. 

    My mother was doing a lotion treatment when I arrived — thus, the duck hands.

    It was a token gesture — it’s not like the two-week date is the day — but still, it felt good to mark it. 

    ***

    By the end of May, most people in my social circles will be fully immunized which means that soon we can get together, indoors and unmasked. Even though I’ve known this was coming, the realization feels semi-shocking. I’ve gotten so used to physical distancing that, in order to cope, I’ve refrained from thinking, dreaming, and planning about getting together with other people. And now— 

    Now?

    NOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Let’s have a doughnut party! I say to my husband. Everyone will be vaccinated so no masks, and it’d be outdoors so that’d help people relax. Unvaccinated people know the drill — stay masked and keep distant — but everyone else would be just fine, right?

    But — I pause — what about children? And are there laws about outdoor gatherings? What if people look at us wonky for being risky — would it be risky? I don’t think so, but maybe? Darn. A doughnut party might be pushing it… 

    And just like that I slip right back into the same old swirl of confusion that’s characterized this pandemic: what science to listen to, how to be respectful and gracious, how to take precautions and live without fear. It’s such a muddle, and it’s all terribly draining.

    Bottom line? Hooking back up with civilization is gonna be tricky. 

    ***

    The other day the bakery was closed to the public and, since all of us have been vaccinated, no masks. No longer muzzled, I ate and talked and laughed with wild abandon. And I couldn’t stop staring at mouths! So much expression! So much nuance! So much glorious mouthiness! It was fabulous.

    And yet, I couldn’t shake the feeling I was committing a crime. Each time I walked from bathroom to bakery, or ate something and then went back to work, and didn’t pause to put on my mask, I felt a pang, like I was missing something important. Like at any moment I was going to get in trouble.

    Was this maskless thing really okay?

    ***

    Gearing up for a visit from out-of-state friends, my mom told me that, even though they were all vaccinated, she wasn’t sure she felt okay sitting down together at the table for a meal. “Maybe we’ll just eat in the living room,” she said. “That way we can spread out.”

    “But you’re all vaccinated,” I said. “You can eat together!”

    “I don’t know…” she hedged.

    “Just set the table and then do it,” I said. “Rip off the bandaid. It’ll get easier after that.”

    And then the NYTimes ran an article titled “Why do so many vaccinated people remain irrationally fearful?” which I forwarded to my mom. Summary: vaccinated people can still get (mildly) sick, but you have a greater chance of getting in a car crash, and we ride in cars all the time. When there is a new risk — like Covid — people tend to perceive it as really big. But once that risk has been around for a while, it becomes normalized, like driving in cars.

    They ate at the table.

    ***

    Last weekend, we went on a hike with friends. As we tromped up the rocky trail that zigzagged back and forth over a small creek, we talked about kids and work and Covid, and then my friend asked me if I’d been working on the book. 

    I sighed and explained that no, I’d given it up during the pandemic. Already trapped at home, I didn’t want to sequester myself up in my room so I could slog along on a painstakingly hard task that made me even more isolated and emotionally worn out than I already was. Once I could get back into coffee shops, I explained, then I’d consider starting up again. 

    “But you’re vaccinated now,” she pointed out. “Doesn’t that mean you can write in coffee shops?”

    I stopped walking. “Oh.” [stunned silence] “Um, I never….”

    So far this week, I’ve gone to two different coffee shops. 

    It’s awesome.  

    ***

    The other night after shooing the kids off to bed and settling down on the sofa next to my husband, I said, “So what do we do about people who choose not to get vaccinated?” 

    He looked at me blankly.

    “I mean, now that we’re vaccinated, is it okay to have unvaccinated people in our home? Do we ask them to stay masked? Should we stay masked? Do we limit our visits to the outdoors?” 

    “Who cares?” he said. “I don’t ask people if they’ve had the flu shot, so why would I ask them if they’ve had the covid vaccine? I’m just going to go about my life.”

    That didn’t answer my question — are we welcoming unvaccinated people into our home and, more pointedly, is there anything we should do to help hold people accountable, because the longer people dilly-dally about the vaccine, the greater the chance that variants will go hog wild and then this thing will never end SO GET THE VACCINE ALREADY PEOPLE PLEASE — but he made good points: take care of myself, follow CDC guidelines in public, and just chill the heck down.

    Just as when the pandemic started, now that it’s lifting, we’re once again on a steep learning curve. The situation is constantly shifting — just today a new report came out that says there’s hardly any evidence of outdoor transmission; it’s the indoor events that cause problems — and the situation will probably look quite different even just a few short weeks from now. If I’m patient, if I just hunker down and bide my time a little longer, many of my questions will probably work themselves out.

    Or that’s my hunch, at least.

    In the meantime, I’m stocking up on oil and confectioner’s sugar. You know, just in case we decide to fry a few hundred doughnuts some afternoon….

    ***

    P.S. Thursday morning update: an opinion piece on how to handle vaccinated adults and unvaccinated kids. Like I said, the situation is evolving at a rapid clip.

    This same time, years previous: making pie: I have a system, both ends, the best fix, in the night air, with an audience, let’s pretend this isn’t happening, the quotidian (4.21.14), nutmeg coffee cake, therapy, bacon-wrapped jalapeños.

  • sunshine cakes

    Recently, I’ve taken to making wee little cakes filled with tart jam and vanilla cream whip. I call them Sunshine Cakes because they’re so bright and light, and because they make me happy. 

    I made my first one for Easter.

    No, wait. Actually my first one was the week before. I’d scored a container of leftover passion fruit curd from the diner so I built a cake around it: curd sandwiched between layers of hot milk sponge and then vanilla cream on the sides and top.

    I ended up giving most of it away because, in the face of such tart and creamy lusciousness, I could not control myself.  

    Then there was the Easter cake: two layers of hot milk sponge — this time baked in six-inch pans (and the third layer wrapped in plastic and stored for later) —  split in half and filled with tart red raspberry jam and vanilla cream whip. I iced the outside with the vanilla cream whip and then mixed in some of the berry jam for an ombre effect. 

    A few days later I got some carrot-ginger curd and cinnamon whip from the diner, so ba-bam, another sunshine cake.

    And then, most recently, I made a little cake with lemon whip between the layers (thanks, diner) and some blackberry jam.

    A couple girlfriends and I met in a little grove of trees on the top of the world for a picnic — the cake was my contribution.

    I’m really quite fond of my small cake pans. I like how a single layer, split in half, somehow manages to be a completely whole cake, easily serving six, and then a two-layer affair (like the Easter cake), while still dainty, can totally feed a small crowd. It’s kind of miraculous, really. In fact, if they’d have offered a dessert course at that big outdoor bash at Capernaum, these sunshine cakes would’ve come right after the loaves and fishes. 

    Sunshine Cakes
    Components gathered from my lemon cream cake recipe, and, for the red raspberry jam, from Chelsweets.

    Sunshine cakes can be any size, but I like them small. I’m thinking of getting some four-inch pans for baby cakes, perfect for tea parties and coffee dates. Oh! And they’d make some pretty sweet doordrop gifts, too, don’t you think?

    The vanilla cream holds up well on the cake but, over time, it begins to feel a little less light and whippy and more thick and cheesy. Which is still good! Just, different. If you want less cheesiness, cut the cream cheese by half — it will be less noticeable but will still stabilize the cream.

    These are sweet cakes, so the tarter the jam, the better. Red raspberry is great (and is the recipe I’m going with here), as is lemon curd, passion fruit (be still my beating heart), and probably other fruits like rhubarb, and citruses like grapefruit and lime. 

    for the hot milk sponge:
    ¾ cup milk
    6 tablespoons butter
    3 eggs
    1½ cups sugar
    1½ teaspoons vanilla
    1½ cups flour
    1½ teaspoons baking powder
    ¾ teaspoon salt

    Put the milk and butter in a saucepan and heat until butter is melted. Remove from heat and add the vanilla. Combine dry ingredients in a small bowl. 

    Cream the eggs and sugar for about 5 minutes. Whisk in the warm milk mixture. Whisk in the dry ingredients.

    Pour the batter into three greased, parchment-lined, 6-inch round cake pans — approximately 300 grams of batter in each. Bake the cakes at 325 degrees for about 20-25 minutes. Cool for ten minutes before inverting onto a wire rack to cool the rest of the way. Cakes can be wrapped in plastic and stored at room temperature for a couple days, or frozen. 

    for the vanilla cream whip:
    8 ounces cream cheese
    ½ cup sugar
    1 teaspoon vanilla
    1/8 teaspoon salt
    2 cups whipping cream

    Beat the first four ingredients together (if using a stand mixer, use the whip attachment) for a couple minutes. Turn the mixer to low and slowly pour in the whipping cream. Increase the speed and whip for about two more minutes or until stiff peaks form. Cover with plastic and chill until ready to use. This is best used the same day it is made, though if you must wait and it gets a little slumpy, you can rewhip it (I think).

    for the red raspberry jam: 
    4 cups frozen (or fresh) red raspberries 
    ¾ cups sugar
    1 tablespoon lemon juice
    ¼ cup cornstarch
    ½ cup water, divided

    Put the berries and sugar into a saucepan, along with ¼ cup water, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Strain the mixture, pressing on the berries with the back of a spoon so you get all the juice. Toss the seeds in the compost and pour the berry juice into a clean kettle. 

    In a small bowl, stir together the cornstarch and remaining ¼ cup of water and then add to the berry juice along with the lemon juice. Cook over medium heat, stirring steadily, until bubbly and thick. Cool to room temp before using. Note: this makes a thick, sliceable jam; if you want a runnier jam, reduce the cornstarch by 1-2 tablespoons.

    for the assembly:
    Slice cake layers in half with a serrated bread knife. Spread one layer with raspberry jam and then vanilla whip. Repeat layers as needed, ending with the final cake layer. Frost the sides and top with vanilla whip. Refrigerate to set. Once the cakes are cut, press plastic wrap up against the cut cake, but not over the top.

    to create an ombre effect: 
    Mix a little berry jam with some vanilla whip and frost the bottom half of the cake. Apply plain berry jam to the bottom, blending it in as you work your way up the cake. (If the berry jam is pretty solid, it will leave little specks/clumps in the frosting, as you can see in the photos above. I don’t mind — to me, it just looks like some seeds — but if you want it completely smooth you may either need to make a runnier jam or beat it back to its former, smooth sauciness.) Reapply fresh white vanilla cream whip toward the top, if needed. Pipe rosettes onto the top of the cake, or leave plain, or pile high with fresh berries or flowers. Whatever you want!

    This same time, years previous: the coronavirus diaries: week six, the quotidian (4.15.19), gado-gado, right now, wrangling sheep, cheesy popcorn, crispy almonds, the qotidian (4.16.12), sundry tales.

  • do you fight with your spouse?

    I’ve always known there were some couples who claimed not to fight, but I dismissed them either as weird or dishonest. There was no way a married couple could co-exist without flying into a rage on occasion, I thought.

    However! Just in the last few months, two different friends told me that they don’t fight with their husbands. When I pushed them on it, they were like, “Well, why would we? What’s there to fight about?” and then I was like, “What’s there NOT to fight about!”

    There’s so much that can go wrong! A different perspective on how money should be spent (or not), a less-than enthusiastic endorsement of a goal, a disparity between energy levels or libidos or shared interests or parenting agendas or personality traits or moral compass — need I go on? That some people don’t get blistering mad every few days over some slight or miscommunication or — oh horrors — intentional disregard was incomprehensible. 

    It made me wonder. Did the non-fighters just not care as much as we do? (I doubted it.) Were they more similar? (Perhaps.) Were they nicer than we are? (Probably.)

    But then my one friend explained that she just feels terrible when she gets upset and yells, and I was like, Wait — seriously? 

    OOOOOOOOH.

    Because, see, I feel good when I yell. Shouting releases all my pent-up frustration and rage and negative energy. Putting the problem OUT THERE IN ALL CAPS makes me feel better.

    But if yelling didn’t make me feel good, then maybe I wouldn’t do it?

    Anyway. I’m intrigued. Do you fight with your spouse?  

    I got mad at my husband for not finishing his serving of cake, a cake I’d so lovingly made, so then he angrily stuffed the whole thing in his mouth and promptly burst into laughter.

    My younger son, thinking fast, documented the moment.

    This same time, years previous: the quotidian (4.13.20), feeding my family, the quotidian (4.13.15), deviled eggs, I went to church with a hole in my skirt, Easter chickens.