• introducing how we homeschool: a series

    photo credit: my younger daughter
     

    Over the summer a friend (no idea which one — sorry, friend!) suggested that I write a blog series profiling homeschooling families. With so many children being educated from home, she said, it might be helpful to hear from experienced homeschoolers. 

    At first I was hesitant. In the beginning when Covid hit and schools shut down, it bugged me to hear everyone refer to themselves as “homeschoolers.” For me, homeschooling was an intentional lifestyle choice rooted in freedom, not to be confused with being confined at home all day washing our hands nonstop. This parenting-in-a-pandemic thing was not normal for us, either. 

    The whole situation got my panties in such a twist that I even wrote an op-ed about it. Being forced to stay at home full time with one’s kids because of a pandemic is not homeschooling, I ranted: It’s parenting in the midst of a global crisis. And supervising school-mandated assignments is not homeschooling; it’s helping with homework.

    Nobody snatched the piece up though (sniff), which was probably just as well because then, a few weeks later, I was like, “Hang on. If anyone’s homeschooling, it’s these pandemic homeschoolers because they are, quite literally, doing school at home.” If anyone was misnamed, I realized, it was us, the pre-pandemic homeschoolers, aka the dinosaurs. (What should we be called? I’ve been pondering this for ages, and have no idea. Help me out, people.)

    And even while I was getting all worked up about our fringe lifestyle getting co-opted, at least in name, by the mainstream — Who would’ve thunk it! — I knew I wasn’t being entirely fair. The divide between schooling and homeschooling has never been clearcut. Schooled kids study at home with their parents’ help. They learn via all sorts of nonschool activities like clubs, community volunteering, jobs, and voracious reading, same as homeschooled kids. And homeschooled kids, in turn, often enroll in actual school courses.

    There’s no one right way to homeschool. 

    So here’s the thing: As Covid has drug on, more and more parents, worried about contagion and frustrated with the switch to virtual learning (and its accompanying many hours of screen time), have bailed on school — some just for the year, others maybe for longer. Some parents are even beginning to question the value of school, an institution they’ve always taken for granted. They’re starting to ask hard questions about what they want their children’s learning to look like, and to make changes accordingly.

    But should I host a blog series as my friend suggested? The more I thought about it, the more I liked the idea. Homeschoolers are a wildly diverse bunch, and showcasing a few of them might help make the transition to homeschooling easier for all these newcomers. If nothing else, interviewing a bunch of interesting people would be a heck of a lot of fun for me.

    And that, my friends, is how my new blog series — that I am oh-so creatively calling “The Homeschool Series” — was born. 

    If you’ve signed off of school-sanctioned learning temporarily (or indefinitely, or forever, whatever) OR if you’re considering doing so OR if you’re just curious about what life without school looks like, this series is for you. I’ve got a bunch of people queued up for the next few weeks and months, ready to tell the nitty-gritty of homeschooling.

    Stay tuned! 

    This same time, years previous: study stills, the quotidian (11.12.18), enough, for now, George Washington Carver sweet potato soup with peanut butter and ginger, butternut squash galette with caramelized onions and goat cheese, refrigerator bran muffins, sparkle blondies.

  • the quotidian (11.9.20)

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

    Sweet ‘taties and beans.

    Satisfaction.

    They don’t like mushrooms; I made it anyway: with white wine, bacon, and leeks.

    Breakfast for one.

    You know you work in a bakery when you discover you’ve been carying around a disk of pie pastry in your purse for the last two days.

    Community organizing with a side of pie.

    Obsessively checking the results.

    Laundry-folding party.

    For the steers: farm compost.

    Happily hurling the eggplants.

    Sweetening up the beef.

    She can hardly contain herself.

    Our valley, our home.

    This same time, years previous: what we ate, of mice and men and other matters, unleashing the curls, the quotidian (11.7.16), the quotidian (11.9.15), for the time change, maple roasted squash, pumpkin cranberry cream cheese muffins.

  • wait for it

    Today, I joined the noonday silent vigil downtown. 


    For half an hour, we gathered: young adults, retired folks, teenagers, whole families, children. Spread out along the sidewalk around the courthouse, some people held signs and others just stood quietly, watching the cars pass. 







    A few drivers honked and waved, but most just ignored us. There was no heckling. Other days, I’ve been told, some people have pulled over to talk. Sometimes they push to find out which candidate people in the group have voted for, but we don’t talk about that. This group Hold the Line is nonpartisan. It’s about respecting the democratic process. It’s about counting all votes (in case you didn’t catch that from the signs, ha). 

























    Yesterday when I was taking my turn at monitoring the ballot box, I had to keep telling people to wait while the machine processed their vote. The light has to switch to green so we know it’s been counted, I’d say. Married couples were the worst since they’d approach the box together and try to slip in their ballots in quick succession. Then I’d have to yell No no no! and explain the process yet again.  

    All the explaining felt cumbersome, and awkward. Standing there, whiling away the minutes (900 of them, to be exact), I racked my brains, trying to think of a better, more concise way

    And then I recalled the video clip a friend had sent me the night before.


    From then on, a gentle “Wait for it” was all I needed to get their attention and make them pause. 
    The process matters, people.



    Wait for it. 

    This same time, years previous: the quotidian (11.4.19), the quotidian (11.5.18), meatloaf, musings from the coffee shop, the quotidian (11.4.13), bierocks, piano lessons.

  • #holdtheline2020

    photo credit: my younger daughter

    This morning I couldn’t sleep. When I woke around two (or was it three? the time change has me kerfuffled) to go to the bathroom, my mind started racing. I forced myself to stay in bed for a bit, but eventually I gave up, went downstairs, and fixed myself a pot of coffee.

    I’m worried about the election, friends. The elections, ha! This process I’ve hardly ever even thought about (besides, you know, who I’m gonna vote for) is actually keeping me up at night. The situation in our country right now is truly alarming. Basic principles — every vote counts, majority rule, the loser concedes, and there is a peaceful transfer of power — are being threatened. It feels surreal, but make no mistake: it’s real.

    About a month ago, I took an unarmed accompaniment training. Over the last year, I’ve repeatedly bumped up against the violent underbelly of our culture, and the people who fuel it — the 2A meeting, the youth-led BLM rally, books, the learning tour of Charlottesville, the shouty neighbor, Walk the Walk — and, what with all the hate speech and anti-democratic rhetoric coming from the White House, I thought it might behoove me to ground myself with a few techniques. 

    Then I took another training from Choose Democracy led by George Lakey and, right around that time, I met with a few other local people who had also taken the trainings and wanted to talk about ideas and discuss possible next steps. Someone brought a recently-released manual called Hold the Line to the meeting and, after some discussion, we decided to adopt it as our guide. 

    And that’s how our local Hold the Line team was born. 

    Currently, over a hundred people in our area have signed on. So far, we’ve focused on establishing communication channels with our local media, legislators, district attorney, sheriff, and election officials. We’ve also gathered outside a congressman’s office to ask him to denounce the president’s dangerous rhetoric that undermines the integrity of the elections, and to counter any voter intimidation or manipulation of election results. And we are hosting daily noon vigils at the courthouse from now until whenever. It could be a while.

    What are the lines we are holding, you ask? Well, let me tell you!

    Line 1: All votes must be counted, without interference or intimidation.
    Line 2: Incidents of fraud, voter suppression, or other election irregularities must be investigated impartially and remedied as appropriate.
    Line 3: The true election results must be respected, regardless of who wins. Preserving democracy is more important than any individual candidate.

    It’s basic stuff. But if these lines are crossed, then we’re in coup territory. 

    HTL’s premise is simple: elections must be free, fair, respected (regardless of who wins), and safe. The strategies are also simple: as citizens, we have power and we will use it nonviolently — this is hugely important — to make sure that these lines are not crossed and to challenge them when they are. 

    Last night, one of my son’s housemates sent me a TED talk. I watched it this morning, while the wind thumped against the house and the rest of the family slept. If you’re just now becoming aware of the danger our country is in, this is the place to start.

    I don’t know what’s going to happen in the next few months. Maybe nothing? I sure hope so, but I don’t believe it, not for a second. We’re humans, like every other human in the world. Our country is not exceptional (let’s kiss this self-destructive myth goodbye), and democracy is fragile. These next few weeks and months are critical. Voting is not enough. As Van Jones says, prepare to get active, and prepare to get loud.

    Let’s go. 

    ***

     

    More Information

    Hold the Line Basics

    *If you’re local, sign up to be a part of the Harrisonburg and Rockingham County HTL chapter here. We meet Monday nights at 7:30 by zoom.

    *Hold the Line National is also hosting weekly assemblies on Sunday nights at 6:00. Sign up here.

    *The HTL Handbook: read it!


    Other Useful Links, lifted from HTL and other places

    The Street Medic Handbook: zero in on page 9 and 10 for a RIVAL activity to prepare for protests and actions. (I’d like to take a virtual training, too.)

     

    How to Talk about a Contested Election.

    Online Handbook on Nonviolence and De-escalation Guidelines

    A few things I learned from the Lakey training regarding how to handle violence: 

    1) minimize the likelihood of violence through building connections with power holders and thoughtful, strategic planning 

    2) meet violence with de-escalation: sloooow things down and, when in doubt, sit

    3) if violence happens, expose it, contrasting it to the nonviolent protestors.

    Backfire Basics: 5 nonviolent tactics to make violence backfire.

    Protect the Results: sign up for actions on November 4 and November 7.

    Each voice matters!

    ***

    And now the family’s waking up. Gotta go… xo!

     

    This same time, years previous: old-fashioned apple roll-ups, cinnamon pretzels, 2015 garden stats and notes, cheesy broccoli potato soup, sweet and sour lentils.

  • a hallowed eve

    When I learned that my younger brother and his family would be at my parents’ for the weekend, I suggested to my older daughter that she, and the rest of my kids, throw a dress-up party for the little cousins. What with Covid and all — not to mention my kids all going and getting too huge for trick-or-treating — I figured it’d be a fun way to do something fall festive-ish. Plus, it’d give my kids something to do. Social activities have been few and far between, and outsourcing the planning (and the event, thanks, Mom!) to the kids in the name of Family Togetherness seemed the sort of thing one ought not to miss out on. 

    My older daughter jumped at the idea and scurried around buying candy and little toys, planning the activities, and issuing invitations. 


    The plan was for the big kids to run the show, adults not included, and I was looking forward to an evening at home with just my husband after a full day at the bakery. But then, watching my kids dress in their costumes and waltz out the door laden with bags of food and oodles of candy, I suddenly felt left out. The sun was shining and my family was all together without me? No thanks. 





    When we arrived, the kids were tromping around in the woods searching for treasure.






    My kids had even dangled bags of hot dogs and buns from tree branches (that they then had to retrieve themselves). 



    Then: supper at the fire pit! 






























    My husband and I left soon after — it was cold and I still haven’t gotten the hang of dressing for the weather — but my dad built up the fire and the kids stayed on. 



    And now it’s November!


    This same time, years previous: egg bagels, sour cream coffee cake, apple dumplings, chatty time, posing for candy, why I’m spacey, Greek yogurt.

  • 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.
























    Thrills!

    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?



    Backstory…

    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. 


    Pause.

    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.