• extraction

    I’ve always hated going to the dentist, and the older I’ve gotten, the greater my loathing. When the pain or discomfort is in my head, I can’t separate myself from it like I can with a smashed toe or burned finger. Mouth pain is too close. It feels crazy-making.

    So when I learned several years ago that I’d have to get my wisdom teeth out, I put it off for as long as possible. But last spring when I made like a two-year-old and began wisdom tooth teething, I pulled on my my big-girl panties and set an appointment with the oral surgeon. All the professionals said that the way the ruptured bottom right wisdom tooth was positioned, it would get cavities and eventually rot. Same as the top one. (The bottom left tooth wasn’t a problem since it was wedged under another tooth and might never emerge — messing with it posed a greater risk than leaving it alone — and I didn’t have a top left wisdom tooth.)

    At the pre-op appointment with the surgeon, he said there was a risk of nerve damage. (I thought “nerve damage” meant a life-long stabbing nerve pain in my jaw, so when the surgeon explained that “nerve damage” meant a tingling numbness, I was like, Oh hell yes, that sounds lovely.) The surgeon also said the surgery would cost a minimum of $1200. He said they didn’t prescribe narcotics because prescription Ibuprofen and Tylenol worked better, and they’d sent home a topical gel, too. The nurse said I could pick what kind of Ben and Jerry’s I wanted to take home. 

    The closer the surgery got, the more I relaxed. The decision had been made. So be it. To prepare for the tedious recovery, I ordered four books and made planned to sign up for a free Hulu trial when I got back from surgery. I cleared my schedule and cleaned my room. I filled all my prescriptions, swished with Peridex, and borrowed my husband’s sweats. 

    The surgery was marvelous. I adore surgery, really. There’s something so utterly divine about passing out so completely, so deeply. I had wonderful, unmemorable dreams for a couple of blissful seconds and then all too soon voices were asking me if I could hear them and, before I could even open my eyes, people were shoving me into the car.

    My husband had to hold my head up whenever he drove around turns, and when we got home, he drove all the way around the house to the front door so I wouldn’t have to go up steps. Which was smart because my legs kept giving out, much to the children’s enormous mirth. My son took photos, and in the one video he took (and that I just watched today), I flipped him off, ha!

    Surgery Day
    I was fine.

    I iced my face religiously. I made phone calls. My parents visited and brought bananas for smoothies. I ate the boxed mac and cheese they sent home (they didn’t send home the ice cream!), and binged Fleishman Is In Trouble and started read a bunch of Viola Davis’s book and took pain meds and slept.

    My younger daughter went to the store and sent me a photo of the Ben and Jerry selection and I picked out three kinds (so there, doctor’s office), but my numbed tongue made the ice cream taste hot so I didn’t eat any.

    She brought me flowers, too.

    Day Two
    I took the meds. I continued icing my face. I slept. I made smoothies. I ate veggie soup that a friend gave me ahead of time. I ate an egg. The tooth pain wasn’t bad but my brain didn’t feel like it was working. I had constant headaches and I felt woozy, probably from the meds. I read and watched Tiny Beautiful Things (which I don’t like — it’s overdone). I made a gingery curried chicken noodle soup

    Day Three
    I switched to heat compresses. I kept going with the meds. I filmed the making of a fenugreek-spiced Gouda and made mozzarella (my husband and kids did all the heavy lifting and dishwashing, and I didn’t talk to the camera — I’ll do voice over later).

    I visited the cows, and I ran errands with my husband.

    seltzer with a splash of sweetened home-canned grape juice concentrate

    I very slowly ate a piece of pizza. The pain began intensifying. My head was still hurting.

    Day Four
    I slept in the morning and in the afternoon.

    I read my book and watched Pain Hustlers which was fitting and also really good. I still had that constant headache and the tooth pain was worsening. I began to notice a pattern: after taking the Ibuprofen, it’d take 45-55 painful minutes to kick in, I’d get 3-4 hours of relief before it wore off, and then I’d have to wait another 3-4 hours until I could take my next dose. I felt pathetic, like Mrs. Dubose in To Kill A Mockingbird, counting down the hours till I could take my next pill. Tylenol and the oral gel didn’t noticeably help, but I took them anyway.

    I ate lots of chicken noodle soup and tenderly munched on chips (yay, texture!). My husband and I started watching season two of The Bear. We ate the Peanut Butter Cup (my fave) Ben and Jerry’s — he got the chunks and I ate the smooth part. I watched the newest season of The British Baking Show.

    That night, I woke up in pain an hour before my 2am alarm went off for my meds. I waited an hour, took the pill, and then waited another hour for it to kick in. While I waited, my husband rubbed my back (and then fell asleep), and I paced the floor and cried a little.

    Day Five
    I called the surgeon’s office and we increased the meds to the full amount: 3200 mg Ibuprofen and 3000 mg Tylenol. I worked out an around-the-clock schedule to best manage the pain. They also prescribed Oxycodone, which my husband picked up on the way home from work. The doctor said Days 3 and 4 would be the worst, so I tried to behave as normally as possible, hoping to pull myself through. I made a chocolate cake and washed dishes. I pierced my blue cheese and packaged some of the cheeses. I went for a very slow, very short walk. I visited the cows. I baked bread and made a big pot of spaghetti.

    Claire Saffitz’s recipe: the frosting’s a bust, the cake’s a triumph

    two-day-old bun


    bagging up

    That night after much hemming and hawing (I’m scared of drugs, my daughter had thrown up after she’d taken it, and my brother said it made him weird and grouchy), I took an Oxycodone and went to bed. I slept for about 2 hours, dreaming about being in pain the whole time, and woke up shortly after midnight, in. so. much. pain, pain that was all the more startling because I thought I’d pulled out the big guns and it wasn’t touching it. I took my regular prescription Ibuprofen, but it took two hours to kick in instead of one (probably because I’d fallen behind on pain management). The pain was deep — in my cheekbones, in my lower jaw and chin, my temple, my ear. I watched some dumb Netflix, cried, tried hot compresses, squeezed my husband’s hand for a long time, and finally fell into a fitful sleep around three. 

    Day 6
    I caught back up on my pain management and began functioning (I made pancakes and phonecalls, edited video, baked bread), but I was exhausted, emotionally wrung out from the relentless pain and the lack of sleep. I felt like an absolute baby for hurting so badly, or else a hero for hurting so much and surviving. I couldn’t decide. 

    And then I started worrying that I had an infection or dry socket or some other horrible problem. The doctor wanted me to come in, but I couldn’t imagine driving anywhere because I felt like crap or having anyone poke around in my mouth, so I called my husband and wailed about my woes — I’m sick of meds, I’m sick of hurting, I can’t do this, I’m sooo tired, I want to be normal, I hate taking medicine, I’m killing my liver, I miss exercising, my brain isn’t working, I can’t make decisions, I want someone to tell me what to do, when will this be over — and he reminded me that it’s fine to take tons of medicine for a week or so, so why don’t I just take one of my anxiety pills leftover from when I did the show and try to sleep? 

    So my daughter photographed the inside of my mouth and there was no visible bone, no inflammation, no puss, no weird redness, and I was like, That’s it. I’m totally fine. This just hurts so wicked bad because I’m not a teenager anymore — the NORMAL age for wisdom teeth extractions — and my face is freaking set in its bonehard ways. I am fine and I will make it. Period.

    And then I took an anxiety pill and passed out on the sofa for the rest of the afternoon. We went to my brother’s house for supper that night, and my face killed, but then I took another anxiety pill at bedtime, slept the whole freaking night, and woke up with hope in my heart.

    Day Seven
    Today. First thing, I tried to cut back on my meds because I’m kinda stupid like that, but 15 minutes later I caught myself (or the pain caught me, rather), took the full amount, and now I’m sitting on the sofa in front of the fire, fuzzy-brained and tired, but feeling okay because I know that I’ll be able to sleep tonight, a pill that works, yay!

    I am on the mend. I will be done with this soon.


    Final Thoughts

    • If you can afford it and if your dentist recommends it, get your kids’ wisdom teeth out when they’re teenagers. My youngest is the only one who hasn’t had his out yet and I’m gonna make sure it happens within the next year. 
    • I’ve lost my taste for coffee. I’ve tried to drink it twice and it tastes like crap. Tea’s good, though.
    • I miss miss miss feeling strong. Since I love being sedentary, the fact that I miss exercising — as in, I miss it to the point of pining after it — is a little surprising.
    • I have this Hulu trial for another three weeks: recommendations, please?

    This same time, years previous: seven fun things, the quotidian (11.1.21), a hallowed eve, egg bagels, lickety-split pizza crust, smoking, cilantro lime rice, listening, watching, reading, apple farro salad, stuffed peppers, instead of quiche, posing for candy.

  • scalloped potatoes

    The name is so weird, right?

    Whenever I hear someone say “scalloped potatoes” I always think “scalped.”

    Though it wasn’t until just now when I said that that I realized scalped is not the same as scalloped, ha! Turns out, “scalloped” is derived from the English word “collop” which means to slice thinly. Thanks, Google.

    Anyway! I’ve been digging scalloped potatoes. They’re a little intensive on the front end — all that slicing and all, though a mandolin does simplify the process considerably — but once assembled, they’re hands-off and super duper accommodating, pairing well with almost any meaty main dish, as well as making a fantastic addition to your morning breakfast eggs.

    a wee bit of flour

    Scalloped potatoes can be barebones simple — just a little flour, S&P, butter, and milk — or gussy them up with grated cheeses, sliced onions, thinly sliced cabbage, browned sausage or crumbled bacon, herbs, whatever. Chef’s choice.

    cheesin’ this batch up real good

    smacking on some quark

    mmm, milk

    Scalloped Potatoes
    My mother’s method, more or less.

    potatoes, sliced thin
    2-4 tablespoons butter
    plenty of salt and some black pepper
    3-5 teaspoons all-purpose flour
    2-4 cups milk

    Generously butter a sided baking dish. Arrange a single layer of potato slices in the bottom of the pan. Sprinkle a teaspoon of flour over the potatoes. Salt well. Add a grind of pepper. If using cheese/meat/veggies, layer them in at this point as well.

    Repeat, filling the pan with three to five layer of potatoes. Don’t fill the pan more than three-fourths full because if filled too full, the milk will bubble over and make a smokey mess of the oven. After the final layer of potatoes, skip the flour, sprinkle with S&P, dot with the butter, and then pour several cups of milk over the whole kit and kaboodle. The potatoes don’t need to be submerged with milk — just enough to keep them pleasantly saucy.

    Cover with foil and bake at 375 degrees for 60-90 minutes or until the potatoes are fork-tender. Remove the foil and bake for another 10 minutes or until the top is nice and toasty brown.

    This same time, years previous: the quotidian (10.24.22), the quotidian (10.25.21), snowboarder cake, 2017 garden stats and notes, the quotidian (10.24.16), our cracking whip, random, the first teenager, aging.

  • the quotidian (10.23.23)

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

    Eggs to quiche.


    The key to a good broth.

    Before it goes blue.

    His birthday gift to me but it was actually for him (he said so himself).

    Sauce and broth.

    What is it with my kids and their passion for motorcycles?

    A new set of oinkers!

    Introducing The Cow Who Refuses To Give Birth.

    High Knob.

    In his dog’s eyes: a self portrait.

    October light: it’s a whole Thing.

    This same time, years previous: vote!, the soirée of 2019, the quotidian (10.22.18), the quotidian (10.23.17), impressing us, winter squash soup with corn relish, field work, the reading week, breaking news, a silly supper.

  • four fun things

    I finally got new slippers

    I’d picked them out last year when I asked you for recommendations but then I never got around to buying them. I mean, my slippers still worked, technically speaking, so why spend money if I didn’t have to?

    I’d heard really good things about Glerups, and even though I was a little nervous about all-wool slippers, I knew that my other wool shoes are some of my all-time favorites (and they are $20 off right now!). So I decided to risk it and wow, do I ever love these slippers! 

    my husband says my feet look like they’re wrapped in carpet padding

    The material feels soooo good (I don’t wear socks), and there’s no sweating: my feet stay warm but not hot. The slippers aren’t clunky; once they’re on, they’re on. The first few weeks, I had to manually pull them on, but now I can wiggle my feet into them without using my hands at all. The leather bottoms are sturdy enough that I can wear them outside. 

    The only problem is that the top edge rubs the back of my ankle a little. It’s not enough to be an actual problem, but that’s the only part that doesn’t feel quite right. Maybe the mild irritation will fade over time? Maybe not?

    It’s okay either way — I just want to be completely transparent in case you, too, are in the market for new slippers. 


    Now that there are only two kids at home, and they’re often gone with school, work, and evening commitments, family suppers are a bit sporadic. Same with lunches. So I’ve been making an effort to make a decent “real” breakfast several times a week: pancakes and sausage, eggs and toast, oatmeal and smoothies, etc. Days they have classes, I often pack my son’s lunch, too, along with my husband’s (my daughter prefers to pack her own). 

    Making breakfasts and lunches is my way of “moving food” — making sure the homemade leftovers are getting used up in a timely manner, and in creative ways. Like for both the Dutch puff and the vanilla pudding, I added some extra eggs yolks that were leftover from making the Italian meringue buttercream for my husband’s birthday cake, which gave me a productivity buzz.

    Knocking out a big meal in the morning takes the pressure off for later in the day; if supper is just popcorn and apples, then so be it. 


    It takes me forever to get through a bottle of wine. My husband doesn’t drink alcohol, and contrary to appearances, or the fact that I freaking make the stuff now [puffs chest], I don’t actually drink that much. And re-corking a bottle of mead once it has been opened has thus far proved impossible, forcing me to settle for sealing the top with a piece of plastic wrap.

    So! You can imagine my delight when I discovered that there exists a little thingy called a wine saver.

    I know! Thrilling, that.

    I bought one right away — it came with the air suction thingy, plus four stoppers, and it only cost 14 bucks. To use, just pop the rubber cork into the bottle and then pump the little pumpy thing about 8-15 times, or until there’s a little resistance, and that’s it.

    To use, just flick the little needle sticking up in the center of the cork and — tssss — the seal releases.

    Every time I pop out the wine saver and pour myself a drink, I’m equal parts:

    1) pleased that I have it, and
    2) horrified that I only just learned that it exists.

    Buy yourself one.

    You’re welcome.


    When I was on cross-cultural in Guatemala when I was in college, one of the guys in my group made a fresh salsa.

    I begged the recipe — more a formula, really — and it became my go-to emergency salsa: stir together chopped roma tomatoes, some minced onion and jalapeno and a bit of garlic, a fistful of fresh cilantro, S&P, a hefty squeeze of lime, and some olive oil, if you want. 

    A couple weeks ago, I made a bowl of it to go with mountains of cheesy tortilla chips for supper. 

    And everyone was happy. 

    This same time, years previous: a day in the life of a baker, soft sourdough bread, a hairy situation, back in business, a Dell-ish ordeal, the quotidian (10.20.14), the reading week, autumn walk, a pie party!, moments of silence.

  • bottling mead

    One late September evening, my husband and I finally got around to bottling the sour cherry mead, mead I’d started mid-June and racked at the end of August.

    We washed and sanitized the bottles, briefly soaked the corks in Star San, and then my husband began filling bottles.

    Getting them filled to the correct level was a little touch-and-go at first, but we eventually got the hang of it. There was one major hose-down-the-kitchen-with-mead event, but we had spread a bath towel on the floor ahead of time so that soaked up the worst of it (and since our kitchen floor is perpetually in a state of Please Wash Me, it’s always grateful for an excuse to get a good scrubbing — there are worse things).

    The corker thingy is an absolute must because there is no way we could’ve gotten the corks into the bottles without it. It’s not great for big bottling projects, though — it’s a little scarily wobbly, and my husband said it made his hands hurt after a while — but for our little outfit, it got the job done. I think we ended up with 22 bottles, or 25…can’t remember.

    The mead is drinkable at any point though it should be aged a full year for best results. At that point, the flavor should become more mellow, they say. But I actually really like it as it is now. Like, really, really like it. I don’t know what the flavor compares to. I’m no wine expert, and I was a little shy about sharing the mead with people at first because one) I didn’t want anyone to have to pretend they liked it, and two) I didn’t want to suffer the giant soul crushing of a negative review. But then one girlfriend had some and requested to buy a bottle, and I took another bottle to a gathering and it got all drunk up that very night, and when I have guests over, I notice people helping themselves to seconds, so . . . all good signs, I guess?

    I do have one problem, though: where to store it? Our old farmhouse is skimpy on storage space, and what with all my cheesemaking and now mead making, my projects are eating into our living space something fierce. (And I thought I’d have all this extra space once the kids left, ha!)

    I guess we’ll figure something out eventually, considering necessity is the mother of invention and all…

    This same time, years previous: making the bed, menopause: seven stories, curbing the technology addiction, practical and beautiful, where the furry things are, the quotidian (10.19.15), rich, no special skills, how to have a doughnut party, part 1.

  • pork!

    One evening a few weeks ago, my husband loaded Fern and Petunia onto the trailer, and the next morning, he dropped them off at the butcher shop, along with my cut sheet detailing a dreamy variety of deliciousness. Since we were getting some smoked cuts, it’d be about two weeks, they said.

    For the next fourteen days, I thought about that pork daily. Maybe they’ll call today? I’d think, and a happy buzz would zip right through my brain. I thought about it so much that one night I even dreamed about bacon. Since this was the first time we’d raised New Guinea Hogs (the other time or two, we’d raised just the standard fast-growing variety of pig), I was itching to see if we could detect a noticeable flavor improvement. Was the smaller, slower-growing, lardier breed actually worth the extra months of feeding? The promise of a new flavor adventure made me positively giddy with excitement.

    Two weeks and one day after my husband dropped off the pigs, we got the call: our order was ready.

    $845 for a truckload of meat, fat, and bones

    As the kids and I sorted the boxes between freezers — bones and fat in one and all the meaty cuts in another — I pulled out various packages for thawing and sampling: two kinds of bacon, some sausage, a ham.

    what I call “Little Red Henning It”:
    homemade sourdough, homemade cheese, homegrown ham, CLUCK-CLUCK

    For the smoked products, we got Canadian bacon (from one pig), regular bacon (from one pig), and smoked hams (in quarters, and from one pig). We did the celery powder version of smoking (uncured), and it’s quite good, though the traditional bacon has a sweetness to it that I wasn’t expecting, and I’m not sure I like.

    We also got boneless Boston butts (from one pig), all the fat (divided between kidney fat and regular fat), and the bones for broth. I discovered a bunch of packs of short ribs that I didn’t order which is kinda fun. And as for the sausage, we got it all ground: 50 pounds of Classic, 50 pounds of Italian, 50 pounds of Breakfast, and 16 pounds plain ground pork. Yes, that’s correct: we got zero pork chops, an omission which apparently horrifies people in the pig-butchering world, but listen: we like sausage.

    to go with our Einkorn and whole wheat pancakes and yogurt smoothies

    I spent that first week frying up bacon, slicing ham for sandwiches, making spaghetti sauce and breakfast sausage patties, simmering broth, and rendering lard.

    an outdoor broth-making station to keep the porky smells out of the house

    I’ve tried a variety of methods for rendering the lard — stove top, oven, hand-chopped, ground — as I attempt to streamline my system. Chopping my way through mountains of semi-frozen fat is a blister-inducing feat of sheer madness, which caused me to kick myself for neglecting to ask the butcher to grind it for me, o woe!

    But then my husband dug our (never before used) hand-crank meat grinder from the attic and I worked up a wicked sweat grinding up all that fat (which is only a small fraction of what we have in the freezer), which was still very miserable but way better than chopping it by hand.

    Some of the lard got a little too cooked, which gave it a porky flavor, but it turns out that the porky lard is sublime for roasting potatoes and making lard-butter crusts for quiche. The good lard, the snow white stuff, is as smooth as an Italian Meringue buttercream and an absolute dream to use. I plan to put it in cookies, biscuits, pancakes, bread, and on and on. (Thus far, I’ve only made lard from the back fat — I can’t wait to see how the fancy kidney fat turns out!)

    Lard rendered from one box of fat. I think we have eight.

    (I also tried crackins — both plain and in biscuits — and they’re pretty terrible, we all think. Maybe I’m doing them wrong? But I can’t really bother myself to care. I mean, the chickens are huge fans and it’s not like we don’t have enough fat already.)

    a bandage-wrapped cheddar: the lard is so silky-soft, I didn’t even need to melt it before applying

    And as for the answer to my big question: is this variety of pig worth it? YES. Absolutely and unequivically.

    This pork is freaking amazing.
    Like, ridiculously flavorful. 
    Like, absolutely-worth-the-long-growing-time delicious.
    Like, we need to get two more pigs STAT. 

    To that last point, my husband is dragging his feet WHICH MAKES NO SENSE WHATSOEVER, especially considering that we’re about to have TWO cows in milk, so while he dilly-dallies about, I passive aggressively punish him by making him dump the buckets of whey on the raspberries and asparagus, whey which, I point out sweetly, we could be feeding to a pair of snuffly little piggies…

    This same time, years previous: simplest sourdough bagels, my travails as a self-proclaimed kid environmentalist, three things, kitchen notes, practical and beautiful, the quotidian (10.17.16), a list, the adjustment, grab and go: help wanted, that thing we do.

  • gingerbread to build with

    As promised, let’s talk about the gingerbread part of that cake.

    I’d never constructed anything with homemade gingerbread, and I did zero recipe testing ahead of time, so I was feeling pretty nervous at the start. However, the process soon started to feel like old hat — mostly because I got lots of practice because I kept messing up (dang math!), but also because the recipe was so darn fantastic.

    Here, let me count the ways:

    • It’s a snap to make.
    • It’s easy to roll and cut.
    • It holds its shape while baking.
    • It’s tasty.
    • It’s sturdy.
    • It has a great shelf-life.
    • It’s fun to use!

    The dough is super simple — no eggs or leavening agents — and once mixed, it gets stored at room temperature. In other words, there’s no finicky chilling/warming to mess with the dough’s usability. Once made, it’s ready to go.

    Thanks to all the spices, the gingerbread is pretty yummy, and while it’s baking it makes the house smell like Christmas, but the texture is wonky — a weird tacky snappy that’s probably a result of all the corn syrup. But that didn’t stop me from dipping countless bits of the crispy gingerbread into the bowl of cream cheese frosting!

    To shape, roll the dough out on floured parchment, cut the shapes you want (templates makes this step a breeze), making sure to leave a little dough around the outside edges to prevent the cut pieces from spreading. And then — this is the important part — immediately after pulling the gingerbread from the oven, re-cut along the scored lines with a knife or pizza cutter.

    If you don’t, the dough will quickly harden into a rock, making any tidy last-minute trimmings an absolute impossibility.

    Trust me. This I know.

    Once baked, cut, and cooled, the pieces can sit out at room temperature, uncovered, for days. I noticed a slight softening after a few days, but it was still firm enough to be absolutely trustworthy.

    Now that I’ve jumped into the world of gingerbread construction, I keep thinking of other things I might build: mainly, pimped-out gingerbread models of actual structures I know and love. Now that might be a baking project my husband and I could do together.

    No, I take that back. We don’t work well together so we’d each have to build our own structure. Ooo, how about a merry marital Christmas Construction Competition?

    hot caramel is sticky and messy. . . and scary

    Though considering he’s an actual builder, he’d have an unfair advantage.

    random ginger-beam supports because fondant is heavy

    Gingerbread To Build With
    Adapted from Serious Eats.

    A single batch makes a very small amount of dough — enough to fill one cookie sheet. I recommend making at least a double batch, and maybe a quadruple or more, depending on the size of your structure. 

    A half teaspoon of black pepper would be a nice addition.

    175 grams all-purpose flour
    56 grams brown sugar
    2 teaspoons cinnamon
    1 ¼ teaspoons ginger
    1 ¼ teaspoons ground cloves
    ⅛ teaspoon salt
    45 grams butter, room temperature
    115 grams corn syrup
    7 grams vanilla

    Mix all the ingredients together. Cover with plastic and store at room temperature

    Lightly flour a piece of parchment paper that fits the cookie sheet you’ll be using. Put the parchment on the table and the dough on the paper. Flour the top of the dough. Roll it to a ¼ inch thickness (or thinner), adding more flour as needed.

    Place the templates on the dough. Using a paring knife or pizza cutter, cut around them. Peel away the extra dough, leaving a small amount around the cut shapes so they don’t spread while baking. Scraps of dough can be re-rolled or mixed with a little water to make it pipe-able and then piped onto parchment in a variety of finicky shapes, like for porch railings and fancy curlicues and window frames, etc, and then baked.

    Transfer the parchment paper to the cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 12-20 minutes, depending on the thickness of your dough, until the gingerbread is golden brown and firm to the touch.

    As soon as the gingerbread is done baking, cut along all the pre-cut lines (they will be faint, since the gingerbread puffed a little while baking). Cool completely. Remove the pieces from the pan and store on a tray, loosely covered with a towel, at room temperature.

    Adhere shapes together with sugar caramel: melt sugar over medium head until runny, and then dip the ends/edges of gingerbread into the caramel and then to each other. OR, use royal icing (or so they say — I haven’t tried it). To adhere fondant to gingerbread, use piping gel. To adhere gingerbread to foil base, use sugar caramel, and lots of it.

    This same time, years previous: after two years, show and tell, the quotidian (10.12.20), the relief sale doughnuts of 2019, English muffins, the relief sale doughnuts of 2017, home, roasted red pepper soup, old-fashioned brown sugar cookies.

  • barn cake

    I knew I wanted to make a novelty cake for my husband’s fiftieth. I’ve made each of the kids a special cake — a snake, a snowboarder mountain, a chicken, and three shining dragon eggs — so it was my husband’s turn. But what to make? Everything I could think of was either too simple (a hammer, saws, ladders) or too complex (a pickup, a house) or too generic (a hat, work boots).

    About a month or so before his birthday, I mentioned my cake dilemma to my mom. “And I don’t know what to get for him, either,” I said. “The things he really wants, like to get his barn finished, are too expensive.”

    And then my mom said, “Oh, we’re gonna be giving an early inheritance to each of you kids. Let me check with your dad and see if we could do that now.”

    Long story short: without telling my husband, I made an executive decision to put our early inheritance toward a barn, and once that decision was made, I knew exactly what the cake needed to be.

    But first! To fully understand this cake, you need to know the backstory.

    About thirteen years ago, my husband started building a new barn inside the existing structure.


    He poured a concrete floor and framed up the walls. He built stairs leading to a second story, installed windows and doors, and sided the outside, all within the old structure, like a Russian nesting doll. And then we ran out of money.

    The main thing that remains to be done is tear down the original barn’s ratty aluminum siding, tear off the old roof, raise the second story, and slap a roof on the whole thing.


    So obviously, I needed to build him a cake of his new barn emerging from the old one.  

    And then I hatched an idea for the third part of his present: plans to actually get the barn done via a work day birthday celebration. I contacted the organizer for the carpenter’s guild my husband’s been a member of for years — a group of carpenters that volunteers one day a month to do projects for each other as well, as community individuals and nonprofits — and asked if it might be possible to schedule a barn raising. Great idea, the coordinator said, so I emailed him an invitation to include in his email to the guild which, at my request, would be scheduled to be sent out at 7:00pm on Sunday night, the night we’d be celebrating my husband’s birthday.

    What most stressed me about the cake was that I didn’t know what I was doing.

    I had hoped to find a detailed template or tutorial that I could use as a guide, but nope. I couldn’t find any cakes that were barns or construction projects or just buildings in general (aside from gingerbread houses and kids’ cartoon-ish barns). I did find some tutorials on making fondant aluminum siding and wood, but that was it. I tried to think of everything I might need and sketch it out as well as I could, but I knew I’d be figuring things out in the moment, adapting and changing and creating as I went. 

    I baked three sheet carrot cakes and ordered silver luster dust, edible glaze spray, and brown matte powder. My older son took the barn’s measurements and texted them to me. I made a double batch of fondant and a batch of Italian meringue buttercream and a double batch of cream cheese frosting. I found a gingerbread recipe that was touted for being sufficiently sturdy for construction projects (more on this later) and made a couple batches. I found instructions for using sugar caramel as glue, and last minute I made a batch of piping gel for adhering fondant to fondant. I ran calculations, called my dad to have him check my numbers, made templates, baked the gingerbread, discovered mistakes, and then made a whole new set of templates (and gingerbread) all over again. 

    And then it was time, ready or not, to start construction. Saturday morning, I kicked my husband out of the house and worked straight through until evening, barely pausing to eat (and we wouldn’t have had supper if it hadn’t been for my younger daughter stepping in and fixing a pot of spaghetti). 

    photo credit: my younger daughter

    the sliding door entrance to the garage section

    Sunday, I worked on the cake some more, finishing up the wooden siding and adding more torn aluminum, and photographing the final cake while there was daylight.

    The birthday evening was a highly choreographed affair. Once all the kids had arrived, I released my husband from his upstairs bedroom chamber banishment and the party started.

    “Your present’s in the truck,” the kids told him. They’d gone together to get my husband a second-hand bed slide for his truck, my older son fixed it up, and then Sunday afternoon he’d borrowed the truck (under the pretext of needing to haul something) and he and my older daughter had installed it. My husband opened the truck and there, at the very back, was a bag of pistachios. Oh, and the sliding bed to pull them out on, ha!

    My parents joined us halfway through our meal of Costco pizza, veggies, and rootbeer, and then my brother’s family showed up on the doorstep, caroling their happy birthday greetings. And then at 6:45pm . . . drumroll . . . the cake!

    photo credit: my older daughter

    After much oohing and aahing and photographing and discussing, I began pouring the coffee, but I didn’t want to cut into the cake just yet — there was more cake-related fun to be had and I wanted to savor my creation for a wee bit longer — so I told everyone to hang on just a minute. 

    At about five minutes before seven, I handed him his gift: a big box with the inheritance check inside. When my husband saw it, he had to sit down. Literally. We all waited quietly as he collected himself, slowly pieced things together, and then collected himself again.

    “One more thing,” I said. “You have email on your phone, right? Pull it up.” 

    “Nothing’s here,” he said, utterly bewildered.

    “It’s 6:59,” the kids pointed out, so we had a countdown, but at 7:00, still no email. “If the email went out at 7:00,” my dad said, “it might take a minute to arrive.” So my husband began serving up slides of barn while my older son obsessively hit refresh on his phone.

    Seconds later, the email arrived. My husband read it, once again turning speechless and teary while we all waited quietly. And then he handed the phone to me and I, also unable to read it, handed it to my older son read it out loud.

    photo credit: my younger son

    photo credit: my younger son

    That evening after everyone left, we sat together on the couch — me giddy with relief and my husband still shell-shocked and stunned — and I gave him the rundown of all the goings-on of the last few weeks. I showed him the burn on my finger from the hot caramel. I expounded on the many difficulties of building a barn from cake: I built knee walls! I even sided the back of the barn that isn’t visible! Measuring is hard! I told him about all the sent-and-then-quickly-deleted emails so he wouldn’t be able to find them, and I showed him the text our older son had written with disappearing ink. 

    He was full of wonderment and questions. When did you know…? How long ago…? Who did…? 

    “I had no idea,” he said, shaking his head. “No idea at all.”

    photo credit: my younger daughter

    This same time, years previous: the quotidian (10.10.22), mushroom salt, Belper Knolle, fig walnut biscotti, khachapuri, if you ask a puerto rican to make a pincho, the quotidian (10.10.17), happy birthday, sweetie!, the boarder, contradictions and cream, clouds.

  • the quotidian (10.2.23)

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

    They made me a cake with pigs and cows!

    Grape juice with seltzer: best eaten on the deck with fat, crunchy, sourdough pretzels.

    An abomination: how my kids eat their mac and cheese.

    Back at it.

    We kept running out of mayonnaise so I bought a gallon of it.

    My bubbling babies: rhubarb-red raspberry, grape, sour cherry.

    Dough dump.

    It’s wool sock weather: both my soles and my soul are happy.

    I found a stick. Will you throw it to me, please?
    photo credit: my younger son

    This same time, years previous: sunflowers, the quotidian (10.2.18), a different angle, the soirée of 2014, a lesson I’d rather skip, the quotidian (10.1.12), because reading books is dangerous, Sunday cozy.

  • wanna place bets?

    Soon after Charlotte arrived, I began to wonder if she might be pregnant with twins. I mean, she was due after Emma, and yet she looked so much bigger.

    Charlotte’s third pregnancy was twins (she miscarried them when she was about six months along), and when some quick Googling revealed that about five percent of dairy cows give birth to twins (which is about three times more often than beef cows), and that cows are more likely to have twins if they’ve had twins before, I reasoned there was a decent chance she might, in fact, be carrying twins again.

    So I set up an appointment for the vet to come out to check her. I wanted to get a more exact due date, find out how many calves we might be dealing with, and stock up on any emergency birthing supplies we might need. But when I told my husband, he said, “What’s the vet gonna tell us? Either Charlotte’s carrying twins or she isn’t.”

    I texted Charlotte’s former owner. “She’s a wider cow than Emma,” he texted back. “She looks pregnant even when she isn’t.”

    So I canceled the vet appointment and dropped the issue. But then just a couple days ago, Charlotte’s former owner swung by. “Oh,” he said, when he saw her. “Um, yeah, she’s huge. She might be carrying twins.”

    The earliest Charlotte’s due is (was) September 20, but since that date came and went and she’s still showing no signs of bagging up, I’m thinking her due date is more like October 15-20. That’s a few weeks yet, but even so, I’m edgy. How much bigger can she get?

    My husband lays eyes on her every morning and evening, but is he really looking at her, I wonder? So this morning when I noticed she was parked like a tank on stilts in the pasture up by the chicken coop, I ran down to check on her. She looks healthy and acts normal — she’s eating well, she’s alert, she’s curious — but I just can’t get over how big she is! I doubt she could squeeze through the door of the milking shed, and I’m almost positive there’s no way she could fit in the milking stall.

    I snapped a whole bunch of photos, trying to capture the enormity of her, but it was only later when I was back in the house going through the photos that I realized how lopsided she is.

    Her left hip is lower and more apple shaped while the right side is higher and dramatically pear-shaped. What does this mean? Any experts out there who know how to interpret a cow’s pregnancy just by looking at her?

    Anyway, we’re all making guesses as to how many calves are inside her. I think two. Wanna place bets?

    This same time, years previous: wedding buns, church, the quotidian (9.28.20), for my birthday, hey-hey, look who’s here!, you’re invited…, welcome home to the circus, the myth of the hungry teen, the quotidian (9.29.14), chocolate birthday cake.