• ippy

    For my older daughter’s birthday this summer, my husband and I bought her a small Instant Pot. With her long hours at the farm, I figured she might find it useful — pop something in the pot, supper is served — but for the first couple months, she didn’t use it. Said she didn’t know how. There are recipes and instructions online, I pointed out. Finally, after much prodding, she took the plunge and made some green beans.

    She hasn’t looked back since. 

    Listening to my daughter rave about her instapot, I started wondering: should I get one? It seemed a little unnecessary. Excessive, too. Did I really need yet another appliance cluttering up my kitchen? But I had the same questions pre-rice cooker, and now I absolutely love hat blessed appliance. 

    ***

    A few weeks ago, our Puerto Rican friends found, and bought, an adorable little house with hardwood floors and big windows and that weekend, we helped them move.

    There’s something magical about building a nest, making a home. It (almost) made me want to go find a new home so I could move, too!

    ***

    That new house triggered a whole series of guests and events. Her parents and brother(s) came for a week; we had them all over for supper one night and then, a couple nights later, they had us over for supper in the new house. They’d transformed the place. I flew through the house, looking in all the corners, oohing and aahing. 

    Right before we sat down to supper, they surprised us with a large wrapped box — a thank-you for helping them move, they said. 

    Inside? An Instant Pot!

    Apparently, she’d heard me chattering about my instapot questions the day we’d helped them move and remembered! Her thoughtfulness totally made my day.

    And then we feasted: Chiro’s chicken soup, mountains of tostones (because they’ve learned that, with our family, boatloads of tostones are a requirement), and s’mores over the firepit.

    Back home, I left the pot in its packaging. She’d kept the receipt in case I wanted to swap it for one with different features, so I needed to do more research. Plus, I had the rest of Thanksgiving week to get through.

    Backing up a day…

    ***

    Monday, my niece came work with me. A good while back, I’d invited her to shadow me for a day, but then the pandemic happened; now — vaccinated and free — she was finally cashing in on the offer.

    She egg-washed pie crusts, blended pumpkin pie filling, cracked eggs, opened cans, and washed dishes. 

    Up to my eyeballs in Thanksgiving pie orders, I was so glad to have her. 

    ***

    Wednesday morning, I was back in the bakery for the final push.

    photo credit: customer/friend Jen

    Also, that was the morning my son and his fiancé went to the courthouse for their marriage license and then stopped by the bakery to show it off. My coworker snapped a photo of our celebratory group hug. 

    photo credit: Rachel

    ***

    Thanksgiving Day, my husband, younger son, and I went to the bakery, lots of pre-made cookie dough in hand, and cranked out hundreds of wedding cookies.

    Fast, efficient, DONE. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to tolerate single-oven cookie baking again. 

    ***

    The cookies squirreled away in our home freezers, we drove back into town to celebrate Thanksgiving in our friends’ new house, along with half the Puerto Rican population (or so it seemed).

    photo credit: my younger daughter

    Her grandparents had come from Puerto Rico, her uncle’s family from Pennsylvania, and her other uncle’s family had flown up from Puerto Rico as a surprise (and stayed with us for some of the time). Also, an aunt and her husband, the realtor and his wife who’d helped them find the house, a friend from the dog park, us. 

    ***

    The next day, a friend came to make cheese: Bel Paese and fresh mozzarella.

    She brought me some fantastic mushroom jerky from ‘shrooms she’d foraged. My younger son went wild over it.

    Then in the afternoon, Thanksgiving at my parents’ house.

    My younger daughter and niece made the desserts. We played Take One, plus a bunch of variations. I planted myself in a soft chair in the middle of the action, drank coffee and ate pie, and moved as little as possible. 

    ***

    Saturday morning — I’m telling you: the week was a marathon — we (and some of our Puerto Rican friends) were back at my parents’ place for a woodcutting party. 

    We worked for a couple hours, splitting and hauling wood. I drove the truck (once) and tossed lots of wood and set up logs for my husband to split. No trees fell (directly) on anyone and only three mauls got broken. 

    And then my dad made pancakes for the multitudes outside in the freezing cold. 

    It was perfect. 

    ***

    The rest of the weekend, I sat in front of the fire, recuperating from all the people with a good book, lots of tea, some writing. 

    Oh! And researching instapots! My husband and I dove in deep, reading all the reviews. Did I want an eight-quart instead of a six? Would I wish I had the sous vide feature, and the yogurt maker? Did I really need an air fryer? Etc, etc. 

    We finally decided to keep it because: 1) I need to start downsizing my cooking, 2) I don’t really need to do sous vide, and cooking with plastic doesn’t sound healthy anyway, 3) I already have a good system for making yogurt, and 4) the air fryer unit is detachable so, if/when I’m not using it, it won’t be in the way. Plus, it’s a freaking awesome Ippy!

    My husband unpacked my new toy and together we did my first and only instapot cooking thus far: the recommended test run — a pressure-cooked pot of water — which involved much nervous watching, a good deal of arguing, and a few panicked texts to my daughter.

    Me: I’m so nervous.
    Her: It’s really simple!
    Me: It’s taking forever to heat water.
    Her: It doesn’t.

    (break)

    Me: I successfully pressure cooked water!
    Her: So proud. 

    And that, my friends, is a long, roundabout way of getting to the point of this post which is: what are your favorite Ippy recipes? I’m especially interested in all things pressure cooked (it’s a big new world, people!), like beef, veggies, and dried beans.

    I have an Ippy, yippeeeee!

    This same time, years previous: the quotidian (11.30.20), Chattanooga Thanksgiving of 2015, pot of red beans, butternut squash pesto cheesecake, steel-cut oatmeal.

  • the quotidian (11.29.21)

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

    ‘Tis the season for kale. Lots and lots of kale.

    After a short ride with these hotties, I smelled real nice.

    I begged a turkey carcas from my mom: mmm, broth.

    Milk buckets and the Moth podcast, which he is addicted to.

    It’s a lot heavier than it looks.

    Matchy-matchy: my neice and the Thanksgiving pies.

    Look who came to see me at the bakery!

    My son’s fiancé found her along the road.

    Insta show-and-tell.

    From my dad.

    I have no idea what his new toy is for, but he seems to like it.

    When the night sky takes flight.

    This same time, years previous: Thanksgiving in the sun, how we homeschool: Jen, 2019 garden stats and notes, Thanksgiving of 2018, Chattanooga Thanksgiving of 2017, Chattanooga Thanksgiving of 2016, apple crumb pie, the day before, kale pomegranate salad, monster cookies.

  • what I don’t do

    Recently, someone walked by me at an event and said, “Oh, I’m so glad to see you sitting down! You’re always doing so much, so it’s nice to see you resting for a bit.”

    I laughed a little, and probably said something about how I sit down a lot, not to worry, please, but as per usual, that comment got me thinking: how is it that I write so openly about my life, a life in which I am fiercely, vocally, and unapologetically protective of my down time (time that I measure in days, not hours), and yet people still think I’m go-go-go? 

    photo taken a couple months ago

    I’ve tried to set the record straight, writing about my boredom and the books I read and the unpressured hours spent in front of the fire tapping away on my computer, but it’s no use. People, including my own mother (but not my husband or kids — they know the truth) still think I’m crazy-nuts busy.

    Therefore, I’ve concluded that the only reason people think I do so much is because I write about The Things That Happen (because the things that don’t happen aren’t interesting, yo). BUT I MAINTAIN: If you wrote down all the things you did — told stories about them, took photographs — you, too, would look like a whirling dervish. 

    photo taken yesterday (the book made me angry, and not in the way the author intended, either)

    It’s all about the spin, see? Take Wednesday night this week, for example. That night when my husband came home, I was listening to French café music (because Kate said to), drinking red wine, parbaking a crust for a (future) quiche, making meat hand pies, pulling a baked mac and cheese from the oven and putting pans of not-finished granola back in, flipping the camemberts (take two), and salting a Tomme cheese. 

    Sounds busy, right? But here’s another perspective:

    When my husband got home, he stretched out on the sofa and listened to me rant about a (very strange) phone call I’d gotten that afternoon. Then, while we waited for the kids to come to the table for supper, I plopped down in the rocker to sip my wine while he read the post I’d written that day. After supper, my son vacuumed, my daughter washed the dishes, and my husband hunkered down at his desk for some computer time; I reclined on the sofa with a book. Later, my son and I played several games of Rummy (because he’d been begging for several days), and then I read out loud to the kids. The kids disappeared upstairs, I did some more reading, and my husband fell asleep doing the crossword puzzle. 

    Here’s the irony: If I’d written about and photographed those calm, do-nothing moments, it would’ve made them feel like Somethings. Documenting imbues things with an outsized (or maybe appropriately sized?) importance. THIS IS THE PROBLEM. 

    Maybe it’d be helpful to look at it another way.

    photo taken back in the Spring

    Yes, I do things like make cheese and write and manage the household and work in a bakery and stay at home with the kids (who aren’t home very much anymore) and keep a budget and go running and cook, but there’s a whole heck of a lot more I’m not doing. Some things, like not caring for young children or dealing with a health crisis are due to my current life stage and/or good fortune. Other things, like not working full time or mowing the lawn or maintaining the vehicles or cleaning the house is due to teaming up with the people around me and/or lifestyle decisions and/or good fortune.

    But it’s when it comes to my personal choices that the list gets really long. Some of the cool, fun, good, interesting things I don’t (typically) do include, but are not limited to, the following:

    *travel
    *listen to music
    *follow sports
    *sew
    *keep up with fashion
    *play an instrument
    *eat out
    *read the newspaper
    *stay up late
    *hunt and butcher
    *take classes
    *shop (except for groceries)
    *decorate the house
    *meditate
    *play with my kids
    *make my husband’s lunch
    *go to church
    *send birthday cards
    *get pedicures
    *dye my hair
    *comb my hair
    *floss
    *have many close friends
    *teach my (homeschooled) kids
    *fix things
    *go on dates with my husband

    While the first two lists are both humbling and grounding, there’s something sort of magical about making the third list. By naming what I’m not doing, I can better identify what I want to do. Also, it kinda creates a snowball effect: If I’ve made all these choices, then what are some other choices I might want to consider?

    Now your turn. What’s on your don’t-do list?

    This same time, years previous: fight poem, the quotidian (11.18.19), the quotidian (11.19.18), spiced applesauce cake with caramel glaze, in my kitchen: noon, sock curls: our latest infatuation, the quotidian (11.19.12), orange cranberry bread.

  • cheese tasting: round two

    After I screwed up my camemberts, I emailed a person who, I heard through another friend, makes white mold cheeses. I wondered if she might be willing to tell me about her process? She wrote back, How about we start a cheesemakers club? and the very next week, we held our first meeting. (I joked we should call ourselves “Blessed,” as in “blessed are the cheesemakers.”) 

    There are five of us — FIVE cheesemakers! what a wealth of resources! — but only three of us could make the first gathering. No matter. We talked fast and hard for over two hours and ate enough cheese for about a half dozen people: mozzarella, Colby, Caerphilly, Monterey Jack, ricotta, Gouda, year-and-a-half Asiago (which was delicious and tasted of … Time), and a couple marinated soft cheeses, plus some fails — rubbery jalapeño cheddar (mine) and bubbly feta (not mine) — because none of us are uppity and this is all about the learning. Also, there was wine and gingery lemonade and chutneys and crackers, etc. 

    Seeing the host’s cheesemaking operation was both fascinating and liberating. The differences between us — for cultures, she uses mostly kefir (rhymes with deer, I did not know this!) and yogurt and buttermilk, rather than freeze-dried powders; she lets her cheeses age in a wine fridge, uncovered and unwrapped, for months — were inspiring. I left feeling emboldened to trust myself more. People have been making cheese for years. This is not rocket science (though we all agree it is magic).

    her mozzarella is incredible: buttery, and with the characteristic string cheese tear

    Before I show you some of my recently-opened cheeses, a couple notes: 

    *I’ve noticed that our milk has changed flavor dramatically: almost all traces of farmyness — what I think of as that distinct raw-milk flavor — have vanished. We’re treating the milk the same, so my best guess is that it’s either because the weather is getting colder and the grass is changing, or because Daisy’s at a different point in her lactation. Or maybe both? 

    *And an update on the freeze-dried yogurt culture: The second batch of yogurt I made using culture from the first batch turned out perfectly fine. It may have been ever so slightly tangier, and maybe a touch looser, but it was hard to tell. So there you go!

    Dill Havarti (Number 1)
    This was my first cheese, made on Sunday, September 29. (To date, I’ve made 37 aged cheeses.) I forgot to let it set for forty-five minutes after adding the mesophilic culture, and I thought I might not have added enough salt, and it got bounced around a good bit, temperature-wise, since I was still in the middle of setting up my operation — aka The Murch Method: “Commit first, figure it out later” — but it turned out okay.

    Not great, but passable: light, chewy, dilly, mild. There were bits of orange around the edges, but I shaved them off and there was no weird flavor. 

    It definitely needed more salt which makes me wonder: even though it’s already aged, could I soak the remaining cheese in a saturated salt brine for several hours, air dry, and repack?  

    My favorite way to eat this one is with crackers and chicken salad.

    Stirred Curd with Jalapeño (Number 6)
    For this cheese, I simmered 3-4 tablespoons of jalapeño in some water, added the water to the milk (three gallons) at the start of the process, and then added the cooked jalapeño when I added the salt, after milling the curds.

    There was a distinct jalapeño flavor but hardly any heat, which was disappointing.

    See those white streaks running down through the cheese? I have no idea what that’s about. Also, the texture was rubbery and chewy.

    Before aging: do the bits of white curd signify anything, like they were too cooked?

    It’s edible, but only just. What a bummer. 

    Caerphilly (Number 25)
    Oh goodness, this one is good.

    Caerphilly is a high-yielding, Welsh cheese; the recipe I used came from Gavin. The method is easy — a sort of cheater’s version of cheddaring in which the curds are cut into slabs and then briefly stacked on top of each other, and then there are a lot of rapid-fire rounds of pressing and turning during which the top and bottom gets salted repeatedly. The cheese only ages for three weeks which, in the world of cheesemaking, is no time at all.

    The results are, as I already said, fabulous: salty and creamy, with a deliciously mild flavor and slight tang. My notes read: MAKE MORE! 

    clockwise from top: caerphilly, farmhouse caraway, butterkäse

    When I pulled this out for a pre-supper snack, my husband couldn’t stop eating it, and for several days straight, I ate this cheese for lunch tucked into a leftover Magpie biscuit, with ham and mustard. 

    It doesn’t get much better than that.

    Butterkäse (Number 19)
    Again, this is one of Gavin’s recipes. I made it with four gallons of milk and a quart of cream, as is my custom since our milk is lower in fat. Partway through the aging process, my cheese developed little black spots on the top and bottom; they wouldn’t wash off, so I just let them be.

    Turns out, they’re flavorless and no one died, so cool-cool. (And Gavin said — because, yes, I went to the top dog straightaway — those spots are actually brown and totally harmless.)

    As for the cheese itself, my notes say, “Buttery, small holes, soft, delicious, soooo good!!! MAKE MORE.” So I guess I will.

    Farmhouse Cheddar with Caraway (Number 20)
    With the caraway, I followed the same process that I did with the jalapeño: cook the seeds in water, add the water to the milk in the beginning, and add the cooked caraway along with the salt.

    the other cheese is butterkäse

    The cheese was nice, mild and somewhat dry (firm?) with a distinct (and delicious) caraway flavor. (Again, I felt like the texture was ever so slightly on the side of rubbery. Not sure how to fix it…)

    This makes a great snacking cheese. I kept thinking it’d go great with pretzels and apples and beer.

    Derby (Number 15)
    I made this British cheese (similar to cheddar, but easier) with the Jersey milk and the mesophilic whey leftover from making a gouda. It’s supposed to be aged for six months, but it can be eaten as early as four weeks. My notes say, “At first, farmy. On second thought, okay. Dry, lots of holes … actually quite good!” 

    But then when my husband tasted it, he was like, “That’s on the edge of off.” [eats more cheese] “Nope, that’s definitely off.” And it did taste off, I agreed, but it also tasted quite good. Or at least I thought so. The texture, anyway, is awesome. I had it today in a meatloaf sandwich. (Building it, I got a little carried away.)

    But about this cheese: I think I need more opinions. Feel free to swing by and give it a taste!

    Gouda (Number 7)
    Rubbery (ARGH), with good, but mild, flavor. 

    Derby on the left

    About this rubbery issue: what am I doing wrong? Best I can figure, it’s either because I’ve added too much rennet (but I really don’t think this is the case since I’m meticulous with measurements and most of the cheeses are not rubbery) or because I’m heating the curds too high or too fast or too something. But I’m temping and timing every step, and my notes don’t even make mention of any weird variations or screw-ups. So what’s going on?

    a spot of harmless mold

    Look at the Gouda (right) compared to the Derby (left):

    They’re both made from three gallons of milk, but the Gouda is so small and tight. Grr. Is it because the Derby was made with the Jersey milk? Or because the Gouda’s curds were misheated somehow? The Derby might have a funk but at least it looks nice. Humph.

    (I have several more Goudas aging right now. They feel quite different from this one — softer, fatter, more voluptuous — so maybe they’ll be better?)

    This same time, years previous: change, sourdough English muffins, guayaba bars, success!, Thai chicken curry, the quotidian (11.16.15), the quotidian (11.17.14), lemony lentil goodness, so far so good.

  • the quotidian (11.15.21)

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

    Sedentary stabbing.

    Korean meatballs no one liked.

    Carrot smiles.

    Soup base.

    Got a good spice combo for mulled cider? Hit me up.

    Fact: there is no such thing as a good sweet cherry pie. Prove me wrong.

    Colby.

    The Milkmister.

    Mmmm, pie!

    The one-trip girl: lazy or smart?

    Little kid(s), big mess.

    “If you know, you know,” as my younger daughter says.

    Friday night, my son’s fiancé made supper: the tater tot casserole she grew up with…

    …and we introduced her to Napoleon Dynamite.

    This same time, years previous: my new kitchen: the refrigerator, Shakespeare behind bars, enough, for now, gravity, lessons from a shopping trip, the wiggles, why I’m glad we don’t have guns in the house, chicken salad.

  • perimenopause: Laura, age 48

    After I published that post about menopause, there was a collective “we need to talk about this more!” response. My solution? A series of posts — this is the first — in which perimenopausal women* share what they’re going through (because perimenopause is, I think, the stage that’s talked about the least). To the generous, gutsy women who have weathered my (very) personal questions with such grace and humor: thank you. Through you, I am gaining a better understanding of myself, my body, and what it means to be a woman.

    *All names have been changed.

    ***

    So…perimenopause. How’s it going?
    I feel like I am in the middle of my perimenopausal journey. I say this without any formal hormone testing, but just by understanding my own body and being aware of signals. I still have regular periods, but I feel hormonal shifts and my periods are changing (mainly getting lighter and shorter and darker in color). The last year has been incredibly challenging for many reasons and, probably because of family stress and the pandemic, I minimized what may have been going on for me internally — which definitely was impacting my experiences with the larger factors going on in my life.

    When did you notice that things were changing? 
    Honestly, no one ever talked to me about perimenopause. I knew menopause had happened to my mom and grandmother, but I never knew that there were YEARS building up to that. So when at age 46 I started noticing a change, it never occurred to me that these changes could be hormonal. I felt emotional — sometimes invisible to my family and friends — and I felt a sense of increased anxiety, especially worsened phobias and worries about loved ones. 

    Are you still feeling emotional?
    Strong emotions have been the primary symptom for me. Also, I’ve had increased anxiety, or maybe it’s a lessened tolerance for anxiety. I need more time alone, and more quiet time. My frustration tolerance is significantly reduced. At the same time, this anxiety is usually about something bad happening to my children or other loved ones. I am not worried about myself; in fact, I feel more confident.

    With perimenopause has come sudden and severe weepiness and deep sorrow. This could look like me crying unpredictably in a public space (not where others are crying) and/or me sobbing for the woes and ills of the world. One night I was crying so much I felt as if I might die from sorrow. This was such an intense and scary feeling. I did not feel suicidal. I thought the sadness would literally kill me. I discussed this with my partner, and then later with my doctor, because it was unlike any other feeling I had had before. When I woke up the next morning, I was surprised to be alive.

    Have you had other symptoms?
    A symptom (which my doctor has yet to find a solution to) is itchiness in my inner thighs and around my vulva area; the itchiness is so persistent that at times it wakes me up. My doctor has prescribed various creams including cortisol, but nothing seems to work. The itchiness very much correlates to my cycle; I can tell when I am ovulating, or when I am about to begin my period, because the itching starts again. I am very self-conscious about this symptom and frustrated that there does not seem to be any clear solution. In fact, when I explain to my doctor that I think it is hormonal, she minimizes it.

    One unexpected symptom has been an increase in sex drive. I can honestly say that it is the one time in my almost 30-year-old marriage where I want sex more than my partner does. I always assumed that this would be reduced in perimenopause but for me it had the opposite effect. It was not uncommon for me to want sex every day or multiple times a day (this has subsided now so I wonder what was going on).

    Insomnia. It sucks.

    I read in a book that perimenopause is kind of like puberty in reverse. This was helpful to me in that it gave me permission to not fully understand what was going on with my body. There will be changes I don’t understand: it’s okay to simply be curious about them and just ride it out. Whenever I notice something different in my body I think, “Oh, well that’s weird.”

    Have you talked to your children about what you are going through?
    I wrote a letter to my husband and children to try and explain to them what I was experiencing, and to explain the frequent weepiness and my sense of feeling invisible. It was helpful to me to explain it to them in that way. One of my daughters responded with “Yay for reverse puberty!” I think my son just said he loved me.

    In what ways has your perimenopause correlated to (or not) your periods? Have you noticed any patterns? 
    I have always had very heavy periods with strong PMS symptoms, so I assume this may be in part why I am experiencing significant symptoms in perimenopause. At least when I have checked in with some friends it seems that they did not have as many issues as I have been having. So yes, to me there seems to be a correlation. 

    Has perimenopause impacted your body image?
    This is also weird but I think my body image has actually improved. (My worry had always been more about my own body image — not at all about what my partner was attracted to.) I have had steady weight gain over the past twenty years but, while I still have moments of feeling self-conscious, I have just decided to not worry about it, or even really try to change it anymore. Now, I am much more comfortable lying in bed completely naked when previously I would want to cover up with a sheet or something. 

    What about sex?
    My partner is very open and listens to me whenever I want to talk about this. Interestingly, he reports that my body (specifically the inside of my vagina) feels different to him during sex — and that this is a good thing. I am not sure what that is about but it seems like something has moved, or changed, in a way that is good. I don’t feel that difference from my end.

    I waited until my mid-40s to purchase my first sex toy, and I think it has made a dramatic difference in helping me with perimenopause. It is an external stimulator that is truly amazing. I had never really been into masterbation much — probably a combination of shame from my childhood and also the societal message that I needed someone else in order to feel good in that way — but now I am able to control when and how I have orgasms, and I think the frequency of these has been incredibly helpful for my perimenopause symptoms. My partner is totally in favor of this new “hobby” and finds it attractive and healthy. I wish I would have bought one in my 20s.

    What has surprised you about this experience? What do you wish someone had told you?
    Another thing I had never used until my mid-40s was weed. I started to self treat my emotional issues with a microdose of indica combined with CBD (gummies): Lume, Ripple, in powdered form, and Colorado’s Mountain High gummies, which were the best ones I ever had but have not been able to find them since. This was very helpful and I can’t believe I waited so long to use it. I have rarely taken an amount that makes me feel “high” but instead have noticed reduced anxiety and improved sleep/relaxation. I wish I would have started that a long time ago. I think it is funny that sex toys and weed have been my most effective “treatment” of perimenopause symptoms, but it’s absolutely true.  

    Any other resources to recommend?
    I really enjoyed the book What Fresh Hell Is This. In the book, they mentioned THC-infused lubricant, but I have not been able to find it at any dispensaries. (I did try to make my own with THC tincture and coconut oil, but it did not work.)

    What are you learning about yourself? 
    I am craving more connection and knowledge about these changes from women who have experienced it before me. For that reason, I am really glad you are doing this project. Once I hit menopause, I hope to have some kind of a ritual with friends to mark the era and celebrate. 

    ***

    This same time, years previous: introducing how we homeschool: a series, my new kitchen: the island, the quotidian (11.12.18), George Washington Carver sweet potato soup with peanut butter and ginger, butternut squash galette with caramelized onions and goat cheese, refrigerator bran muffins.

  • six fun things

    When making a large amount of soup for like, say, a wedding(!), freeze the base without the liquids to save freezer space. For example, this is the start of six gallons of soup.

    The meatballs are frozen separately, in bags. Come Crunch Week, I’ll thaw the base and add the remaining (gallons of) chicken broth and tomatoes.

    I was explaining my soup plans to one of my friends (who stopped by to chat and ended up helping with the meatballs)…

    … and she, impressed, said, “How did you know to do that?” (meaning, freeze the base and add liquids later), and I had no answer! I mean, my mom sometimes does it, so maybe I learned it from her? I kinda thought everyone knew this, but maybe not?

    Do you do this?

    ***

    From Kate, I learned that a stainless steel fridge is a perfect writing surface for dry erase markers, so now I’ve upgraded my weekly meal planning to the fridge door, as per her methods. 

    This works so much better than keeping a menu on paper for one huge reason: I see it. The menu is right there, in my face, keeping me on track. 

    I never realized how much brain energy goes towards thinking about a menu I already made (and jotted down on a piece of paper). So many times, throughout the day, I start pondering the menu and then, a quick glance at the fridge, and I’m like, “Oh yeah, already solved that one” and then I move on. 

    Bonus: the whole family appreciates knowing what’s up. Having the menu posted makes them feel a little more included, I think.

    ***

    Lately, I’ve been making gallons of yogurt at a time. Since I don’t want to run the risk of spoiling such a large batch with subpar starter, I always using fresh culture. This means I have to remember to buy little containers of plain Danon yogurt from the store and then there’s the yogurt containers to throw out (and I’m getting sick of plastic, plastic, plastic). But then I discovered a video that Kate posted in which she compared two kinds of freeze-dried yogurt culture: Yo-Cult versus ABY-2C. The ABY-2C sounded, and looked, so good that I decided to spring for it.

    I got the large bottle (which is actually small and quite pricey — about 60 dollars, I think) but it’s supposed to culture up to 500 gallons of milk, there’s no plastic waste, and, since it’s stored in my freezer, I never have to think about running to the store for starter culture. Plus, I can use some of the yogurt to re-culture two or three more batches, which will stretch the starter even more. (Here’s a smaller container, if you want to try.)

    The first batch set up beautifully and tastes delicious: mild, sweet, creamy. Round two, using some yogurt from the first batch for culture, is incubating now. 

    I’ll keep you posted.

    ***

    For our family Sunday night movie, we watched CODA, about a hearing (and singing) girl in a deaf family.

    The actors who played her parents and brother are actually deaf, and the girl had to learn sign language for her role. The storyline is solid — simple, nuanced, funny, real — and the acting is fabulous. Highly, highly recommend. (AppleTV)

    ***

    Ever since last week, I’ve been going on daily walks. Sometimes I walk with a friend, and a couple times I’ve carted along my phone in my boob holder so I could chat with my older daughter, but more often than not I go phoneless, by myself.

    At first, without using that time to connect with another person and get my extrovert fix, the time spent walking felt like a waste. A whole hour, mindlessly tripping along — what a time suck! But now I’m beginning to look forward to being unconnected, quiet and alone save for the passing cars and the occasional deer, with nothing but my thoughts to occupy me.

    ***

    Every winter when I go to dig out my twinkle lights, I inevitably discover that I don’t have the right length strand, or the lights are burned out, or I can’t find the the lights I KNEW I packed away. And then I have to go through the tedium of tracking down the right kind of light (soft white) except by the time I go looking, Christmas is practically upon us and the shelves are already half bare and all that’s left are the obnoxious multi flashing lights, or the retina-scorching LEDs. So last year, I made a note on my November calendar to ORDER 3 STRANDS OF TWENTY-FOOT LIGHTS. 

    It was still complicated — the Amazon options overwhelmed me and my husband had to help me click my way through the choices because I am pathetic — but now I have them! I also ordered a short strand of lights; just one strand to make sure they were the right length and correct kind of light (because I never actually trust the description). Turns out, it was just what I wanted, so I ordered a few more.

    Now I have one strand of twinkle lights above the jelly cupboard, another on our clothing wardrobe in our bedroom, and several more stashed away, just waiting to light up some dark corner. It’s amazing how such a simple thing can add so much warmth to a room. Go, team twinkle!

    This same time, years previous: the quotidian (11.9.20), of mice and men and other matters, unleashing the curls!, the quotidian (11.10.14), maple roasted squash, pumpkin cranberry cream cheese muffins, mashed sweet potatoes.

  • four meal deliveries: what I learned

    The logistical challenge of preparing a home-cooked meal and then delivering it has always made my head spin. I much prefer to feed people at my house where the distance from stove to table is measured in feet, not miles. But back when Delta was surging and medical staff were struggling (and they still are, I think), I decided it was time I got over myself. For a month of Wednesdays, I’d make lunch for our local hospital’s critical care unit. 

    Turns out, making that decision was seventy-five percent of the battle. Once I committed, I no longer spent all my mental energy waffling. Instead, I could focus on the task at hand: cooking.

    Below are the four meals I made, plus my notes. Having a record of this will, I hope, make it a little easier for me to cook for someone in the future. Here’s what you did, Jennifer. Remember? The hard work of thinking and planning has already been done! Now get off your duff and go cook.

    Or something like that. 

    First up, here are a few pointers I gleaned over the last several weeks.

    Contact Person
    I had a staff contact, which was tremendously helpful. I could text my questions — how many people would I be feeding, did they have a freezer for ice cream, should I send along any plates or utensils — as well as my arrival time. At the hospital, I simply called the CCU and someone ran down with a cart. I’d load up the food, explain it, and then home again, home again, jiggety-jig!

    Scale Up
    They told me there’d be about 8-10 people at lunch so I tried to plan for about 12, but I actually have no idea if the food ran short or they had tons leftover.

    Variety
    I didn’t cook for special food needs (or even really inquire about it), but I did try to have a couple items without meat each time. I figured not everyone would actually eat all the components.

    Labeling
    I tried to label each item, either with a piece of written-on tape, or by writing on the foil directly. I also included include a piece of paper listing the entire menu. Sometimes, if the components weren’t entirely obvious (like with quiche), I jotted down the ingredient list.

    Cost
    I tried to plan my meals around what I had on hand. What I could easily make. What was economical. Fancy, special food was off the metaphorical (and literal) table).

    Containers
    This is important! As much as possible, I tried to use containers that I no longer needed: junk plastics I’d collected, bags, and old, thrift store dishes. (The few items I did eventually want back, I labeled.) I also stocked up on assorted, purchased foil containers, but even so, by the end I had almost nothing left. From now on, I’m going to try to stay supplied with to-go items, like rolls of aluminum foil, extra tea towels, cheap plastic trays, random baskets, small jars for condiments, and bulk lidded containers like pretzel tubs and mayo and peanut butter containers, etc.

    Time Commitment
    It takes time to make up a full meal like this, which kinda surprised me since I’m used to casually cooking large quantities of food on the reg. But having a deadline, and needing to plan each detail — no jumping up from the table last minute to grab the ketchup! — was time consuming. However, even though I spent each Wednesday morning cooking, it really wasn’t that bad. Bonus: Wednesday nights we ate well.

    Repetition! Repetition!
    The first meal was the biggest hurdle. Everything was new: cooking in the morning, making a noontime delivery, learning the route, calling the desk, etc. The next times were much easier. So if signing up to make one meal delivery, might as well agree to doing several. Eventually, the process becomes familiar and doesn’t feel like such a big deal.

    Menu Number One: Quiche

    Spinach and sausage quiche (3)
    Brown butter green beans (about 2 quarts)
    Hot buttered rolls, butter and jelly (20-24)
    Applesauce (1½ quarts)
    Key Lime Pie Bars (a bunch, cut into small pieces)

    *I used second-hand, washed, foil pie pans from the bakery for the quiches. (Probably used bakery pastry scraps, too.)
    *I parbaked the pastry crusts and made the sausage spinach filling the day before. 
    *The key lime bars I’d made awhile back (from surplus bakery pie components) and stuck in the freezer. Sending them along was totally an after thought. I wasn’t even going to take dessert.
    *Remember to take a cloth to cover the hot rolls. Transporting fresh bread, uncovered, in a hospital probably isn’t good protocol (oops). 

    Meal Number Two: Meat and Potatoes

    Mini meatloaves (20-ish)
    Hashbrown potatoes (1 big foil pan)
    Ketchup
    Cole Slaw (a Costco-sized mayo container full)
    Single layer chocolate peanut butter cake

    *Mayo containers are fabulous to giving away food — save them!
    *Hashbrown potatoes don’t get sufficiently crispy in foil pans.
    *Muffin tins are great for little meatloaf balls.
    *I felt like this meal was a little too down-homey. Maybe I should’ve added fresh bread?

    Meal Number Three: Brown Rice Bowls 

    Brown Rice
    Red beans
    Corn
    Chopped lettuce
    Tortilla chips
    Sour cream, salsa, grated cheese, lime wedges
    Avocados, uncut
    Grape Pie (1)
    Vanilla Ice Cream

    *I could’ve called this “taco salad,” and I could’ve added ground beef, but I decided to keep it simple. 
    *Except there’s nothing simple about a meal with lots of different components!
    *Grape pie is so rich that a little bit goes a long way, so I only baked one and made a note so they’d know to stretch it.

    Meal Number Four: Soup
    (Shucks. I forgot to take a photo.)

    Sausage and Lentil Soup with spinach
    Braided Bread, butter and jelly
    Fruit salad
    Blondies

    *I always struggle with finding a veggie (that’s not salad) to serve with soup. In the end, I just added a pack of frozen, chopped spinach to the soup for a hit of green.
    *For the fruit salad, I shopped my pantry and freezer for nectarines and peaches and sweet cherries and then pulled out a couple store bought tins of mandarine oranges and pineapple chunks to round it out. 
    *Braided bread is too big for plastic bags, so I stuck the loaves in a brown paper bag.

    After I dropped off my first meal, my contact person texted me this photo of the team: 

    Those sparkling eyes! I couldn’t stop smiling.

    This same time, years previous: wait for it, old-fashioned apple roll-ups, cinnamon pretzels, meatloaf, when your child can’t read, the quotidian (11.4.13), awkward, chatty time.

  • chai tea concentrate

    Hello, frenz.

    I’m sitting here on the couch, conducting mental warfare against the tin of caramel popcorn “hiding” atop the jelly cupboard. I want to eat it all. I shouldn’t. I probably will anyway. Self-control is hard. 

    A few gallons of milk are [new word alert] rennetizing on the stove top for a batch of Butterkäse, and soon I’ll have to pop up off the sofa and go cut the curd— 

    Speaking of large kettles (in a roundabout way, I suppose, since saying “a few gallons of milk” is the same as saying “I’m using a large pot”): I have been asking around to all my friends, searching for a 6-8 gallon pot to borrow for cheesemaking. I could buy one (like this), but I’d really like to try a big batch of cheese to see how it works before spending the money. I thought that surely someone would have a big pot banging around their attic, but no. NO ONE has a large pot. I mean, everyone has large pots, or at least they think they do, but then they go check and it’s only a four-gallon pot, like the one I have which is, apparently, the largest size that homecooks tend to use. So I guess I’m condemned to making cheese in four-gallon increments. 

    There’s also a pie in the oven — sweet cherry with an almond coconut crumb topping (I’ve yet to find a sweet cherry pie I like) — and there are two pans of half-baked granola sitting on the table waiting to pop back into the oven. Also, there’s a batch of chai tea concentrate cooling on the counter, and my younger son is washing up the first big round of dishes from today. 

    It’s a cozy, deliciously dreary day and, once the butterkäse is in the press, I’m gonna go for a walk because I read this post and now I’m feeling inspired so I better quick take advantage. 

    But first, back to that chai tea concentrate.

    Last week I made a gallon batch, as per the instructions, but even though I cut back on the sugar, I still found it too sweet. Plus, it wasn’t spicy enough. So I made it again today, this time in a smaller quantity, with less sugar and more spice. Once I get back from my walk, I’ll fix myself a chai to sip while I make supper. 

    Except: what to make? I’ve been consistently bumping up against this problem so maybe, prior to making anything, I should sit down, cup of chai in hand, and map out a menu for the next few days.

    Yes, that’s what I’ll do. 

    I started with two full quarts. A bunch of water boiled away,
    so next time I’ll start with a little more water to account for evaporation.

    P.S. The popcorn’s all gone.

    P.P.S. The cheese is pressing.

    P.P.P.S. I went on the walk and visited on the phone with my older daughter for a couple of those miles…

    P.P.P.P.S. Pie’s baked!

    P.P.P.P.P.S. Supper’s gonna be a tinned beef stew (I found in the pantry) over rice, peas, Magpie biscuits, pie and ice cream.  

    P.P.P.P.P.P.S. Just realized, sipping this tea, that it didn’t taste much stronger than the first batch and then I realized I’d forgotten the ginger, ha! (It’s still good, though.)

    Chai Tea Concentrate
    Adapted from Kate’s recipe from Venison For Dinner.

    Since I want to have this tea as a bedtime option, I made this with decaf. I would’ve used loose leaf, which is more economical, but our grocery didn’t have any.

    Been reading up on additions. Some ideas: use honey or brown sugar instead of white. Add star anise. Try some allspice, or some fennel. Maple syrup. Vanilla. I feel like that’s straying pretty far from the original stuff, but if you like it, does that really matter?

    2 quarts water (plus a couple extra cups, since some will evaporate)
    4 cinnamon sticks
    20 whole black peppercorns
    12 whole cloves
    ⅓ cup cardamom pods
    ⅔ cup chopped fresh ginger
    ½ teaspoon salt
    12-16 decaf black tea bags
    ¾ cup white sugar

    Rough-crush the cinnamon, pepper, cloves, and cardamom pods. It doesn’t need to be a powder, but break them up enough that they release more of their flavor. Working in batches, I used my little mortar and pestle.

    Put the water in a kettle and add the spices, ginger, and salt. Bring to a boil before reducing the heat to low, lidding, and simmering for about 45 minutes. Add the tea bags and sugar and simmer another 10 minutes. Strain the tea concentrate (discard the spices and tea) and store in jars in the fridge. 

    To serve: heat a mixture of milk and tea concentrate in a saucepan — I use about a third cup concentrate and two-thirds cup milk, but you can do less or more, according to taste — and then pour into a mug.

    This same time, years previous: #holdtheline2020, egg bagels, sour cream coffee cake, apple dumplings, 2015 garden stats and notes, cheesy broccoli potato soup, sweet and sour lentils.

  • the quotidian (11.1.21)

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

    Morning’s greetings, all the way from Massachusetts. (With some Magpie sourdough.)

    In the bakery this week: lemon.

    My stack.

    The Battle For The Ball: it’s neverending.

    Pocketbook.

    Gatekeeper.

    VOTE.

    “What have I told you about putting your body on the internet? Never! Never without proper lighting.”

    Happy November First!

    This same time, years previous: a hallowed eve, sweetness, lickety-split pizza crust, smoking, listening, watching, reading, apple farro salad, stuffed peppers, posing for candy, apples schmapples, why I’m spacey.