• brisket in sweet-and-sour sauce

    About six weeks before my son’s 21st birthday, his housemates rang me up. We don’t know what you’re planning, but we have some ideas, they said. One wanted to make a family favorite — tuxedo cake — and the other had just ordered some fancy wine from South Africa and wanted to break out a bottle (oo-la-la!).

    But we need a red meat to go with it, he said. Do you have any steak left over from your steers?

    Sure thing, I said, happy to share the party prep. And I’ll make the sides, too. 

    But then a week before the birthday, I ran down cellar to check the beef supply and — no steak!

    I did have a brisket, though, and a few weeks before I’d seen a recipe in the NYTimes for a braised sweet-and-sour brisket that looked promising. Problem was, when I’d gone back to the link to get the recipe, I could no longer access it. I’d checked with a few friends who I thought might have a fancier subscription than mine, but no luck. Apparently, the recipe was not to be mine, so I let it go. 

    But now with a birthday looming and no steak in the freezer, I circled back. Surely someone had to have access to the NYTimes recipes, right? But nope, not the news junky friends, not the hip bloggers, and not the local university library, humph.

    Feeling mildly desperate, I suggested to my husband that we maybe ought to buy a fancy subscription?

    No! he barked, alarmed. (I have been known to lay down good money for recipes.) So I started to think about other birthday supper options. Meatloaf, maybe? But somehow meatloaf just didn’t sound 21st birthday celebrationy enough. 

    Then, as a last Hail Mary, I put out an SOS on our church’s women’s Facebook page. And wouldn’t you know, within minutes — maybe even seconds? — someone messaged me a screen shot of the recipe followed by a PDF. I quick printed it out before the recipe disappeared again (one can never trust the internets entirely) and did a little happy dance. We’d have birthday brisket after all!

    Turns out, the recipe was totally worth the search. It was easy to make — braise for six hours in a sauce, chill overnight, and then prior to serving, trim, slice, and reheat — and the final product, oh my.

    You should’ve heard the groans. Melt-in-your-mouth tender and so, so flavorful. It was swoony, stuff-your-belly-full good. Between the ten of us, we nearly ate the entire thing.

    Happy birthday, kiddo. We love you!

    Brisket in Sweet-and-Sour Sauce

    Adapted from the New York Times.

    If you have any left over, consider shredding the meat and tossing it, and the sauce, with pasta, a bit of pasta water, and loads of Parm for a quick, fancy-ish supper.

    There’s no salt in the recipe, but — surprise, surprise it didn’t really need any.

    1 6 to 7-pound brisket

    1 medium onion, peeled and rough-chopped

    generous 2-inch piece of ginger, peeled and chopped

    6 large cloves garlic, peeled

    1 cup ketchup

    ½ cup red wine

    ¼ cup cider vinegar

    ¼ cup soy sauce

    ¼ cup honey

    ¼ cup dijon mustard

    1 tablespoon black pepper

    ¼ teaspoon ground cloves

    1½ cups Coke

    ½ cup olive oil

    Let the meat stand at room temp for 30 minutes before baking. 

    Put everything but the Coke, olive oil, and meat in a blender and blend until smooth. Transfer to a bowl and whisk in the Coke and oil. 

    Place the meat, fat side up, in a heavy baking pan. Pour the sauce over the meat, cover the pan tightly with foil, and bake at 325 degrees for 3 hours. Turn the brisket over, cover tightly with foil, and bake for another 2-3 hours. Cool at room temp and then store in the fridge overnight.

    An hour before serving, transfer the brisket to a cutting board. Trim off the fat and slice the meat against the grain (as best you can — the grains crisscross, making it hard to figure out what “against the grain” is, but don’t obsess. It’ll be fine). Transfer the sliced brisket to a clean baking dish.

    Remove the layer of chilled fat atop the sauce and discard (the fat, not the sauce!). Put the sauce in a kettle and heat. If it’s thin (mine wasn’t), reduce it a little. Pour the sauce over the meat, cover the pan with foil, and bake at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes, or until heated through and bubbly. 

    This same time, years previous: the quotidian (10.29.19), nourishment, the young adult child, growing it out, reading and ice cream evenings, apple farro salad, random, the details, sweet potato pie.

  • vote!

    For weeks, we’d planned to go to the polls together as a family. Both the older kids would be first-time voters in a presidential election and I wanted to make a little party of it. The way I wanted it to happen was: we’d go get our flu shots, vote, and then get ice cream. 

    But then my older son told me he’d already gotten his flu shot and my husband said he didn’t want to leave work early, and then the pharmacy said they couldn’t vaccinate anyone under 18, so. No flu shot party. (Though my older daughter and I did end up going ourselves.) And then, to top it all off, the day we were supposed to vote, a construction crew accidentally cut through a fiber optic cable which temporarily shut down voting for the entire state of Virginia. So there went that

    I grumped for a minute, and then, a couple days later, we went for Plan B: we’d all meet at the polling station. My husband and I came straight from work, my older son came from his hospital clinicals (he got to see a c-section!!), and the three younger kids drove in from home. 

    I’d never done early in-person voting before and had no idea what to expect. Turns out, it’s dreamy. People greeted us curbside. A person stationed right inside the doors gave us sample ballots to study. We stepped into the main area and practically glided through the steps: ID check, collect the ballot, vote, done. Mission accomplished.

    I forced the family to pause for a we-just-voted family photo — they weren’t happy about it and then we hopped over to Kline’s for ice cream. 

    So I got my little party after all!


    This week I had my first day of training to be a poll worker. The woman had told me to come in at 7:30 in the morning and to pack a lunch. I wouldn’t be able to leave until five, she said.

    I’d thought training would involve a presentation of some sort, and maybe some role playing and a test, but an all-day training and we couldn’t leave? What kind of training was this? I wondered.

    The morning of, the woman in charge introduced us newbies to the rest of the gathered group. Everyone signed a form so we could get paid, and we took the pledge. And then the woman assigned each of us to different stations — I was to be on the computers gave a few instructions, and announced that we’d be opening in a few minutes.

    Hang on a sec, I thought. We’re working?

    Worried I’d gotten my wires crossed, I sidled up to the lady in charge. “Um, I think there’s been a misunderstanding. See, I’m here for the training and—” 

    “This is the training,” she interrupted cheerfully. “This is how you’ll learn.” Which actually made perfect sense, I thought.

    At the computers, I dove right in. I learned how to:

    *deal with address mess-ups (one voter had a current address different from registered address different from license address, whew!)

    *how to help a person switch from absentee voting to in-person voting (the voter has to turn to the mail-in ballot over to the election chief and then the chief does a computer override) 

    *what to do when a registered voter has no ID on them (have them fill out a form stating that they are who they are)

    *what to do when a person needs assistance (the person assisting either someone who brought them in or a poll worker fills out a form) 

    We rotated positions every two hours. As ballot officer, I got to sit at a desk and hand out ballots (there are ten different ballots for the county), give voting instructions, and hand out “I voted” stickers and pens. 

    At the polling booth station, I seated people and instructed them how to feed their ballots into the machine — but never touched or looked at their ballots! — and sanitized after each person went through.

    For curbside voting, I sat outside and when cars pulled up, ran in and out, ferrying IDs and ballots in special folders so their votes stayed private.

    Lunch break: they say we probably won’t get a chance to eat on Election Day.

    I didn’t particularly enjoy the work — office-y work isn’t really my thing — but I did find the steady trickle of people to be fascinating:

    *the young mother pushing two sets of young twins in a plastic-covered wagon (“our COVID wagon!” she said)

    *the voter who quietly asked for assistance because he could neither read nor write

    *the person who didn’t speak any English and needed an interpreter

    *the person who gave me a bad ID just to see what I’d do (flag the person, I learned)

    *the in-a-rush people

    *the skeptics (Do I get to put the ballot in the machine myself? Will my vote really be counted? How do I know this is for real?)

    *the first-time voters

    *the elders

    *the young couples

    *the business folk 

    It was inspiring, really — all these people taking time out of their day to add their voice. A little over four hundred people voted that day, and I heard that as of the beginning of that week, about twenty percent of all registered voters in the county have voted. 

    Then yesterday I went with Leryann for her first time voting in a presidential.


    Listen, people. Please, if you have the option of early voting in your area, do it!!! Election day is going to be crazy. For example, every single precinct in our area will have the option of curbside voting which is wonderful but it does complicate things. (After running back and forth with folders and ballots, this I know.) 

    But whatever you do, however you do it, just do it. Please. GO VOTE.


    And if you won’t listen to me, maybe you’ll listen to Inigo Montoya?


    The other morning when I first discovered that clip, I watched it several times in a row — laughing all the while — before heading out on my run. As I jogged along, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Something about the couple, the way they related to each other, their zest for life, their ordinary fabulous humanness, something, struck me as exhilaratingly inspiring.

    Also, the guy seemed familiar. Thoughts of Princess Bride and Inigo floated through my mind, but no, I told myself, it couldn’t be.

    Then back home I looked it up and whaddaya know, the guy was Inigo Montoya!

    Which made me ridiculously happy.

    The end.

    This same time, years previous: the soiree of 2019, the quotidian (10.22.18), another farm, another job, back in business, winter squash soup with corn relish, field work, the adjustment, breaking news, a silly supper.

  • the quotidian (10.12.20)

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

    For my birthday, I made my own cake: London Fog.
    photo credit: my younger daughter

    Breakfast of champions: a stale croissant, sliced, griddled,
    and stuffed with ham and sharp cheddar.

    Sometimes I text my family photos of my working meals just to be mean. 

    A little of both.

    I’m having trouble keeping up.

    Open-air study.

    Fall days.

    The kid wanted a bird-feeder so he put one up.

    For my husband’s special day.

    The cake (made by my younger daughter) was delicious.
    photo credit: my older son

    This same time, years previous: English muffins, the relief sale doughnuts of 2017, the quotidian (10.10.16), salted caramel ice cream, home, party on, old-fashioned brown sugar cookies.

  • khachapuri (georgian cheese bread)

    A few weeks back, the diner had a brunch special I’d never heard of before. Khachapuri, they said, was a Georgian cheese bread. 

    Georgia like the state? I said. 

    No, like they country, they said. 

    Oh, I said.

    And then I had to go look it up, of course, because cheese bread. Need I say more?

    I never got a chance to sample any of the diner’s khachapuri (though I did help make a batch of the dough, I think), but back at home, I read a bunch of recipes and cobbled together my own version. I’ve made it twice now, once with a sourdough pizza dough and once with a regular yeasted dough (the regular yeasted dough was softer and paired better with the cheesy filling). 

    Striking the perfect balance between playful and easy, novel and delicious, it’s a fun meal to make. Like so: roll out a simple pizza dough and then bury it with a mix of cheeses.

    Roll up two of the sides — with lots of cheese tucked inside, oo-la-lah — and pinch-twist the ends together to create a boat, of sorts.

    Bake the boats, and then, just before they’re done, crack an egg into the center of each one.

    Bake for a few more minutes and — voila, Khachapuri! 

    To serve, smack the pans down in the center of the table and watch the masses tear into it like wild dogs.

    Khachapuri (Georgian Cheese Bread)

    Adapted from a variety of recipes (but mostly this one), and with inspiration from Magpie.

    The recipe called for onion salt in the cheese filling, or dried dill; I didn’t use either.

    Also, the second time around, I experimented with beating an egg into the cheese mixture to make it more creamy, and adding in a little sauteed spinach; it was fine but I think I prefer the straight cheese version. (I can’t help thinking that browned sausage would be a good addition, though then it wouldn’t be authentic Khachapuri, I suppose…)

    I didn’t have chives, so I used green onions — stick with chives.

    The recipe calls for one pound of your favorite pizza dough. I used a recipe from Food Network that makes two pounds (recipe included). ‘Twas excellent. 

    for the dough:

    1 tablespoon sugar

    1⅓ cups warm water

    2½ teaspoons yeast

    3 tablespoons olive oil

    3¾ cups all-purpose flour

    1½ teaspoons salt

    In a small bowl, mix together the sugar, warm water, and yeast. Set aside for five minutes to let the yeast bubble and foam. 

    In a larger bowl, stir together the flour and salt. Add the yeast mixture and olive oil. Stir to combine, knead briefly, and then return to the bowl and cover. Let rest until doubled. 

    for the filling:

    1 cup feta cheese

    1 cup ricotta cheese

    2½ cups mozzarella (I used a mix of grated and fresh)

    5 eggs, divided

    4 tablespoons butter

    everything but the bagel seasoning

    minced chives

    red pepper flakes

    black pepper

    to shape and bake:

    Mix together the cheeses.

    Divide the dough into four balls. Roll each ball into a 9-inch circle, more or less. Spread ¼ of the cheese on each of the dough rounds, going almost all the way to the edges. Roll up two of the sides, keeping the cheese in the dough, as though rolling sweet rolls. Pinch-twist the ends together. The dough should look like giant eyes, or boats. Add more cheese to the center of the boat, if you want. 

    Transfer the khachapuri to two parchment-lined baking sheets. Brush the edges of the dough with a beaten egg and then sprinkle with everything season. 

    Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and, using the back of a spoon, make a little crater in the cheese in each of the khachapuri. Crack in an egg, one egg per khachapuri. Tuck bits of butter into the cheese — about 1 tablespoon per khachapuri. Return to the oven and bake another 5-8 minutes, or until the egg is mostly set but still runny in the middle. 

    Sprinkle with chopped chives, red pepper flakes, and lots of freshly ground black pepper. Eat while still hot, tearing off bits of the crust and using it to dip up the melted cheese and egg. 

    This same time, years previous: the relief sale doughnuts of 2019, the relief sale doughnuts of 2018, the quotidian (10.10.17), pasta with chicken, broccoli, and oven-roasted tomatoes, o happy!, catching our breath, it’s for real, clouds, green tomato curry.

  • fig walnut biscotti

    You know, these deliciously chilly nights and crisp days are giving me a serious hankering to bake. 


    Did you know that eating certain foods at certain times of the year is not a universal concept? Back when Melissa was living with us, she observed one day that we didn’t eat much soup. 

    Her comment stopped me in my tracks — because I love soup and didn’t think of myself as a non-soup eater — but then it dawned on me that she was right: we didn’t eat much soup . . . because it was summer!

    So then I explained the idea of seasonal eating: how we eat more hot soups and casseroles and rich food and pie in the winter and summers are for lots of fresh salads, grilled meats, ice cream, and watermelon.

    To Melissa, it was a new idea, and to me it was a new idea that it’d be a new idea. I mean, I knew this (I’ve lived in Central America and eaten my fair share of hot soups on sweltering days) but still, when something I take for granted bumps up against someone else’s normal, it always throws me a little. Funny, that.

    Anyway, what was I talking about? Oh, right. Biscotti. 

    To me, biscotti is wintertime food. Twice baked — with the second baking being low and slow — biscotti is the perfect project for warming up a chilly kitchen. Plus, since it’s often heavily seasoned with citrus, nuts, and spices, biscotti makes the whole house smell cozy and rich, like Christmas.

    This biscotti, to me, has the ideal texture: dry and crunchy all the way through — no soft middles for me! — but softly hard, not break-your-teeth rock hard. It’s sweet, but not overly so, and, thanks to the nuts and fruit, it’s delightfully wholesome, in a French farm kitchen sort of way. (French, not Italian, and don’t ask me why.) Eating it, one feels practically virtuous. 

    Fig Walnut Biscotti
    Adapted from Smitten Kitchen

    Consider doubling the recipe: it’s a good biscotti.

    1 cup walnuts
    1 cup dried figs, quartered
    6 tablespoons butter
    ¼ cup white sugar
    ⅓ cup brown sugar, packed
    2 eggs
    1 teaspoon vanilla
    zest of one orange
    2 cups, minus 2 tablespoons, flour
    1 teaspoon baking powder
    1 teaspoon cinnamon
    ¼ teaspoon baking soda
    ¼ teaspoon salt
    ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
    ⅛ teaspoon cloves
    1 egg white, lightly beaten until frothy
    More white sugar, for sprinkling

    Toast the walnuts in a 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes, or on the stovetop in a skillet. Remove to a bowl and cool to room temp.

    Place the walnuts and figs in a food processor and pulse until ground (some larger pieces are okay). 

    Cream together the butter and sugar. Add the eggs, vanilla, and zest and beat to combine.

    In a separate bowl, stir together the dry ingredients. Combine with the butter mixture. Add the nuts and figs and stir until just mixed.

    Chill the dough for at least one hour before shaping into a log — long and skinny, short and fat, whatever you like — and placing on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush the top and sides with the beaten egg white and sprinkle liberally with white sugar (or raw, if you prefer). 

    Bake the loaf at 325 degrees for 20-30 minutes, or until the top is firm to the touch and has little cracks. Remove the loaf from the oven and cool for 30-40 minutes. Using a serrated knife, slice the loaf. Arrange the slices, cut side down, on the baking sheet and return to the oven for another 20-40 minutes, flipping the pieces once halfway through, or until the biscotti is dry and lightly browned (it will harden as it cools). 

    Store the cooled biscotti in a pretty glass jar atop. It will keep for several weeks, at least.

    This same time, years previous: if you ask a Puerto Rican to make a pincho…, the quotidian (10.8.18), happy birthday, sweetie!, twelve thousand doughnuts, the soiree of 2014, a lesson I’d rather skip, one foggy morning, at least I tried.

  • sunflowers

    The other day when I ran out the door to go on a walk with my sister-in-law, I was wearing my BLM

    shirt. For a brief second, I paused. Was it safe? 

    Oh, don’t be ridiculous, I told myself. Of course it’s safe. I’ll just smile real big at everyone who drives by so they don’t run me over.

    There seemed to be an awful lot of pick-ups on the road that day. Was it my imagination, or were they shooting daggers at me with their eyes? My sister-in-law must’ve sensed the negative vibes, too, because after one truck drove by, she looked at my shirt and said, “Feeling brave today, eh?” 

    I laughed, but then after we split at the corner (and the same pick-up passed me for the second time, um… yikes?), I did zip my jacket and jog the rest of the way home. No point in being stupid about things. 

    Nothing happened — spoiler: this is kind of a non-story — but just the feeling that I might be at risk left a lasting impression. 

    “Have you seen the photos of the fires out West?” my older daughter asked me one evening. “Everything glows red.” 

    “Yes,” I said, but that was only a half-truth. I’d seen some things on social media that evening — the light in one photo an eerie demonic red — but I avoided looking too close. I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep if I looked at them right before bed.

    I feel this way about much of the news. It’s so heavy, so dark and troublesome and unsettling. Every issue feels like a full-blown crisis: the rising COVID death toll, QAnon conspiracies, climate change, revolutions, police violence, the relatives devoutly hanging on our unhinged president’s every word. 

    Listening to the radio, scrolling through Facebook, reading family emails, skimming the NYTimes headlines, I get a knot in my stomach. 

    Is there something we should be doing? I ask my husband. 

    Like what? he says.

    I don’t know….

    My voice trails off as my mind ticks through the typical end-of-the-world shopping list of generators, extra gas, more firewood, medicine— 

    But no. It’s too much work to think this way. Besides, those are the superficial things. The things I feel I need to prepare for — but what? how? — go much, much deeper.

    The Sunday after the 2016 election, our pastor reminded us that our hope, as Christians, is not in our nation’s elections, and then she cautioned us against taking on the weight of the world: To think we are in charge is to make gods of ourselves.* 

    Strong words for a group of progressive thinkers and doers, those. To me, it felt like a rebuke.

    Also, a release.

    I’ve been thinking about that sermon a lot recently. No one (and certainly not Jesus) ever promised things would be easy. People the world over deal with horrible injustice daily. Why would I think I wouldn’t be touched? 

    Also, I am not in charge. Fixing this [gestures expansively] is not my responsibility. 

    But at the same time, I believe that I need to — I want to — do what I can to make the world a better place. 

    What’s the line between the two? How to strike a balance? How to keep perspective? 

    Sometimes I wonder if I have a touch of PTSD from that march I did

    PTSD is, of course, too strong of a word, but I’m not sure what to call this rawness, or heightened sensitivity, paranoia, whatever. 

    It didn’t feel that disruptive in the moment, but it’s one thing to hear about the negativity and hate in the media — it’s another to see it made manifest, to feel it.

    It’s scary.

    In a recent NPR report on the trauma of ongoing covid quarantining, an expert explained that trauma is best survived by:

    a) refusing to complain and/or getting stuck in an endless loop of negativity, and

    b) by focusing on the things we do have control over, and being grateful for small pleasures. 

    These people, the expert said, are the resilient ones. 

    Back when I was having my BLM sign dilema, one of my friends said, “Even asking whether we want to deal with whatever happens by putting up a sign is white privilege…. Do we want to deal with the outcome or not?”

    “Of course,” I said. “But does that change anything?”

    I still have to make my choices. I still have to stand up for what I think is right. I still have to take care of my family, of myself.

    So here’s what I do.

    I check on my BLM sign every morning. It makes me smile. 

    I corner the younger kids and make them listen to yet another chapter of Little Women — the book is taking us forever to get through. I wipe up the mouse turds on the window sill and frown at the empty mousetraps. I go for my runs even though I’d rather not. 

    Weekday mornings, I force myself to march upstairs to my room to write about what I know: that our children’s learning doesn’t have to be nearly as disruptive, fraught, or disconnected from daily life as we’ve been led to believe.  

    I turn the radio off.

    I watch Schitt’s Creek before bed — only happy thoughts before sleeping! This is my second time through, and this time I’m bringing (read: forcing) my husband along for the ride. Also, I’ve learned how to do GIFs on my phone, and my older daughter and I have entire conversations with Schitt’s Creek GIFs, Ew, Deevid!

    I spend a lot of the time sitting out on the porch drinking wine (or coffee or hot chocolate) and reading. (This book is a game-changer. READ IT.) 

    I bake my heart out, collapse into bed early, and then pop awake in the middle of the night thinking about orange zest and soggy bottoms. 

    I mail in my paperwork to be a poll worker. I have no idea what being a poll worker entails, or even if I’ll be needed, but since it’s always older men and women sitting behind the folding tables in our voting station, and they certainly shouldn’t be out and about when we’re in a pandemic hot zone, I figure I might as well step up. 

    This year my dad used the bottom half of our garden for their corn and sweet potatoes. Midway through the summer, I noticed that he’d planted a bunch of sunflowers, too. They were brilliant, a bright wall of color rising up out of the gnarly knot of our late summer garden. 

    “I didn’t know you were going to grow sunflowers,” I said. 

    “The corn didn’t all come up,” he said, “so instead of replanting, I just stuck some sunflower seeds in the empty spots.” 

    And that, I think, is about as good a plan as any: when things don’t go as hoped, reach for the sunflower seeds.

    *I’m paraphrasing wildly, and my pastor may not even have saidthose things, but that was my takeaway.

    This same time, years previous: the quotidian (9.30.19), hey-hey, look who’s here!, welcome home to the circus, the myth of the hungry teen, chocolate birthday cake, dumping: a list.