Remembering Glory in March

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This picture was taken in the most vibrant weekend of October; two close friends had come to visit and we went to a park where people had used trees and vines to create an elaborate shelter that you could climb around inside. The weather was warm enough to not worry about a coat, but cool enough to not sweat in a sweater. There was no rain – you can see the blue sky peeking out behind all those leaves.

I need photographs like these on days when March, when mud has been the norm for months now and the variety is only in how much mud and how frozen the mud is on a given day. I need to remember how delightful the world can be when there are no thunderstorm warnings and my hair isn’t ruined in the wet. Lately, in days when rapidly shifting weather seems to leave me with a sickness every two weeks, I’m having to reach back to memories about positive things for gratitude.

Gratitude is one of the things that slows down my frantic mind – gratitude makes me able to take the time to make a home-cooked meal when panic would have me order take-out and eat it all in gulps. Gratitude is hard to muster on days when my boots are covered in mud, but I’m doing it, one step at a time.

What are your favorite meals during muddy March?

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Cannoli and Sharing

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Memory: a work lunch where, with my two co-workers, we order dessert. I very, very rarely order dessert at a restaurant, and no wonder; there’s enough calories in a dessert to be a whole meal, and I’ve already eaten a bowl of lobster bisque and half my sandwich and I really don’t NEED any more food.

Shared dessert is the perfect solution. The truth is that cannoli, a wonderful combination of crunchy wafer cookie and thick, ricotta-rich sweet cream with chocolate chips in it, is just too much for any one person. I am sure there are circumstances when cannoli, this particular pile of it, would be perfect to be relished alone, but it would have made me ill that day. 1/3 of it, however, was totally perfect.

That’s the thing about good, rich, sweet things in life: I’m so much worse at appreciating them when I’m alone. Instead, I need to look into another pair of eyes and share that bright feeling of “are you tasting this?” as we both dig in to something that has absolutely no vegetables in it. I can eat vegetables, fruits, and whole grains alone, feeling like I’m nourishing myself and thus the life I’m leading in community, but with dessert… mmm it’s just better to get 3 forks and dig in together.

Food Memory: A Port in the Storm

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In a month of health problems, grief, and overwhelming amounts of work, Husband and I took a weekend in a nearby city to cut the stress and try to recover a bit. I wasn’t feeling my best, but that is nothing that a plate of lemon ricotta pancakes couldn’t help. This memory is perfect for me – the most delightful crispy edge on the pancakes, the tart berry sauce they gave me, and of course the morsel of that amazing hash brown that I stole from Husband’s plate. Sometimes, especially on crazy Mondays, I like having pictures of past meals that have helped me to relax. This feeling of treasuring a sweet memory, a good moment in a good day, is so great for propelling me forward through the many tasks that lie ahead this week.

What homemade blankets mean as gifts (repost)

There is an author, Tamora Pierce, who created a young adults book series all about magic. One of the ways magic worked was that a character could weave the magic into a blanket or a quilt or a shawl, giving powers to whoever had it. It made for very imaginative writing.

I tend to think that a little bit of that magic exists in the real world with handmade gifts – I don’t make fancy blankets when I crochet, but they do require me to think through colors and styles, and keep the final product looking clean and tidy. When I was working on this blanket these past few weeks, I was thinking of M, and her new daughter G who is receiving it. G is so tiny and sleepy all the time at 6 weeks old, but M has taken to motherhood like she was born to it; the perfect mix of attentive and calm. I was thinking about how G will grow up in the same town as me, and maybe I’ll babysit her, or at least see her at the free concerts downtown each summer. All those thoughts for the future, and all my memories of M from the past, were on my mind as I made stitches.

When I visited M to deliver the present, she made a big deal out of it, even though as you can see, it’s pretty small and simple. She insisted that I take a big bag of basil, oregano, and jalapenos because she had more than she could use in her garden. We chatted about school and work and just the very existence of the blanket brought us a little closer. The same thing happens when you bring over food to a pair of new parents, or when you find a way to craft something for a birthday that leads to a lovely story. It’s intangible, but there’s a little magic in it.

Food Memory: Sparkling Apple Cider

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My family are not big partiers, and they don’t need a lot to keep them entertained. I have great memories of how we all often stayed up till midnight when growing up to watch music and fireworks and the Times Square ball drop on the television. Since my parents don’t drink, we would pour sparkling apple cider into fancy cups and cheers each other about each new year. These memories, simple and comfortable and without any need to impress anyone, created the level of love that I have for the holiday of new beginnings – there’s something undeniably hopeful about New Year’s Eve, when we are trying to be better than we were the past year, even if we hate resolutions. It’s worth a sparkly drink to mark the occasion.

43. Childhood “Loaded”Mashed Potatoes

As a kid, I was fascinated by state-changed foods. I thought that pancake batter puffing into soft, thick cakes was magical; liquid to solid was pretty common. More strange still was solid to liquid, when my mother and I would make mashed potatoes. I couldn’t imagine how those hard, brown lumps turned into the fluffy cloud-like mashed potatoes I loved.

When I was 10 or 11, my parents instituted a rule when I had to cook a meal every week during the summer – it was both to teach me, keep me busy, and help my mom a little. One of my first variations on my mom’s normal recipes was my idea for “loaded” mashed potatoes: namely, normal mashed potatoes full of onions, bacon, and cheese. I clearly have been a girl who loves rich food for a long time.

So, Husband and I were making salmon with potatoes as a side the other evening, when I realized I wanted mashed potatoes – salmon with a little mashed potato on the side was just EVERYTHING for a moment there. So, I boiled a bunch of sliced fingerling potatoes, fried bacon with shallots, and poured it all into my newly-acquired stand mixer. At first I was worried that leaving skins on the potatoes was going to ruin the look, but when I threw a bit of cheddar and a pat of butter in with them, the potatoes whipped up wonderfully. They were thick and had chunks in them, which isn’t nearly like the bright white potato-flake mashed potatoes of my thanksgiving memories, but they felt hearty and flavorful anyway.

It’s this kind of memories that are coming back when I cook more – sure, I love me a pile of take-out chinese food (hello crab rangoons) but it doesn’t hold as many home memories as getting in the kitchen and putting something together. My family only ate out as a treat when I was growing up, probably for money reasons, and while my young adulthood has been filled with eating in restaurants, I am really reconnecting to the way time in the kitchen calms me, employs the problem-solving parts of my brain, and saves me money.

No formal recipe for loaded mashed potatoes; I just recommend boiling the cut potatoes at least 20 minutes, and add proportions of “baked potato ingredients” to your mixer as you feel led.

What recipe have you re-discovered lately? Do you remember specific kitchen moments when you encounter a familiar ingredient or craving? Feel free to comment and tell me about it. 🙂

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So important to boil them long enough… then you get to go wild.

Food Memory: Mornings with an Infant

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My friend LJ graciously allowed me to stay in her home for 4 nights when I had a conference in her town; this graciousness was especially amazing because her first child was only 5 weeks old! She was a wonderful but frazzled mother; she now has two little ones and continues to impress me with her love and dedication all the time. The morning that we picked up a couple donuts together as we were out running errands, I got mine in this bag, which I photographed and then left standing on the counter, because mothers need to be reminded of what they deserve: they deserve donuts, and veggies, and hugs, and words of encouragement, and laughter and rest and love.