Tuesday, August 11, 2020

a few good things

Back when I wrote about my searing eye pain, you all were very clear: go see a doctor — a different doctor — NOW. Doc Number Two said my eyes did show signs of dryness, but nothing that would warrant the level of pain I was having, and she suggested a better over-the-counter cream.

The next week, the pain grew to unbearable levels (not because of the new cream — I hadn’t started that yet) so I dialed up the new doc and together we mounted a multi-pronged approach to fixing my eyes: steroid drops, allergy meds, an eye mask, eye cream, and anti-inflammatory meds. The relief was almost immediate (probably thanks to the steroids?), and now my remedies have been streamlined to just the special, extra-thick and sodium-laced eye cream, and the eye mask.

bras for your face

Ah, sleep masks. When I put it on at night, it’s like pulling down the shades. Darkness — BOOM, I’m out.

Also, I have almost zero eye pain now. (Though sometimes, if the mask slips off at night, my eyes are sore when I wake up, so my hunch is that the fans in our room were drying out my eyes and the eye mask helps protect against the swirling, drying air.)


The Peanut Butter Falcon (Amazon Prime) is the best movie I’ve seen in a long time. (And it's new (2019) and I'd never heard of it, what the heck?) My older son discovered it and said we had to watch it. Like, immediately. We persuaded him to wait forty-eight hours until our Sunday family movie night, but afterward I told him he gets the award, hands-down, for best movie pick.

From the same makers (or whatever you call them) of Little Miss Sunshine (and I detected O Brother Where Art Thou vibes, too), The Peanut Butter Falcon is delightfully quirky, heartwarming, funny, and real — exactly the sort of movie I’d happily watch over and over again.

And I will.


A friend posted a photo of a cucumber salad on Facebook and I messaged her for the recipe. Since then, I’ve made it a bunch of times.

Reasons I like it:

*It uses a bunch of cucumbers.
*It easily absorbs other in-season veggies, like green peppers, red onions, and tomatoes.
*It’s a good make-ahead salad.
*It keeps well in the fridge so you can pull from it whenever you need a hit of veggies.
*It’s light, and tangy-sweet.
*It goes good with everything: beans and rice, mac and cheese, burgers, corn-on-the-cob, etc.

Tangy Cucumber Salad
Adapted from Roveen’s Facebook message.

for the veggies: 
cucumbers, peeled or unpeeled, and sliced thin
onion, sliced thin
peppers, any color, sliced thin (optional)
tomatoes, any kind, chopped (optional)

for the dressing, whisk together:
¾ cup water
¼ cup white sugar
¼ cup red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
black pepper and salt

Pour the dressing over the veggies and press them down to submerge. Refrigerate, stirring once in a while. Before serving, let set briefly at room temp until the oil de-solidifies.


This podcast, On Female Rage (NYTimes), is powerful, and a must-listen. “This anger [is] … about necessity: what needs to boil us out of bed and billow our dresses, what needs to burn in our voices, glowing and fearsome, fully aware of its own heat.”


When a friend mentioned that she had the boxset of March, John Lewis’ series of three graphic novels detailing his life, I immediately asked to borrow them.

My younger son devoured them — when he was partway through the first, and on the same day that Lewis was lying in state in the U.S. Capitol, he piped up, “I sorta wish John Lewis was alive right now so I could write him a letter” — and the girls are reading them now. They say they don’t like graphic novels but I’m making the books required reading.

I just finished the second one which focused on the Freedom Riders and the March on Washington. What stands out to me most is that the civil rights movement was such a process. I tend to see the movement as inevitable — a series of obvious steps that had to be taken to get from Point A to Point B — but it was anything but.

Rather, the movement was riddled with changed plans, mistakes, conflicting opinions, strong personalities, difficult decisions, life-threatening risk, negotiations, compromise, and set-backs.

Nothing about it was inevitable. Absolutely nothing.

My takeaways:
1. Change isn’t a given.
2. Uncertainty over how things will end is no excuse not to act.


My local grocery store finally started carrying champagne and sherry vinegars! (Also, they’ve gone from not wearing masks to posting an employee at the door to hand them out, hip-hip!)

I’ve been on the lookout for these vinegars for years, but, unwilling to go out of my way to track them down, I just slogged it out with the basics — apple cider, white, and balsamic — all the while knowing that a little vinegar upgrade might seriously improve my cooking. And now I get to find out! 

So far, I’m mostly just drinking (sipping) them straight and arm twisting family members into taking blind taste test. Which is actually quite entertaining. In fact, if you need a pandemic activity, I highly recommend pulling out all your vinegars and holding a tasting.

Pandemic Bonus: vinegar has antiviral properties and it beats drinking bleach anyday.


When a real-live interview is more hilarious than a late-night comedy show.

The emperor has no clothes indeed.

Watching Jonathan Swan deftly cut through the buffoonery is pure gold.


And to conclude, two things:
*This chilling Fresh Air interview with Stuart Stevens, a GOP strategist. Brace yourself.

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (8.12.19), Mondays, riding paso fino, fresh peach pie, tomato bread pudding with caramelized onions and sausage, the Murch Collision of 2015, spaghetti with vodka cream tomato sauce, the quotidian (8.12.13), grilled trout with bacon.

Monday, August 10, 2020

the quotidian (8.10.20)

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

Kachumber, aka the drink with the name that sounds like a sneeze. 

Purchased: because ours are for the birds (insects, chickens, worms, whatever).

To skillet fry with oregano, feta, and tomatoes.

Salsa making with a side of Schitt's Creek.

Another day, another load.

Soft shelled.
photo credit: my younger son

The polar bear my older son is dogsitting.

I accidentally (and literally) composted my cell phone. 

In hopes of cutting down on the ant problem. 

Sourdough: most goes to the diner, but we usually have two or three loaves for sale first thing.
photo credit: Baker Rachel

Friday, August 7, 2020

black pepper tofu and eggplant

One of the perks of having a child who works at a vegetable farm is that she brings home produce. Towards the end of the work day, my daughter will often call to see what I want and I’ll say, “Carrots, please, and two green peppers.” Or, “A couple of the red juice tomatoes, beets, and some red onions.” Or, “Nothing today, thanks.”

And then there are the days she calls and says, “When you pick me up, bring the van.” Because the haul — all the unused produce that she's allowed to just take — is so great that it won't fit in the car.

It’s incredible really. The bins and crates spread across the picnic table, we marvel at our good fortune. And then I take what we’ll use and we share the rest with friends.

The day she brought home a bushel of eggplant, though, I wasn’t sure whether to gloat or cry.

I hadn’t grown up eating eggplant (my only eggplant-oriented memory is of my mother “secretly” dumping her plate of eggplant parmesan under the picnic table), and besides a one-time foray into baba ganoush (which we liked), I really didn’t know how to use it. Or rather, how to use it in ways that my family would find acceptable.

So I posted on Facebook: “Best recipes for eggplant. GO.”

And the recipes and suggestions came pouring in. Turns out, people really, really, really like their eggplant! I had no idea.

Since then, I’ve cooked eggplant a bunch of different ways:

Grilled: I dipped each slice of eggplant in a sauce of olive oil, chopped parsley and oregano, salt and pepper, and raw garlic and then grilled them until golden brown. I also applied the same treatment to thick slices of sweet pepper and red onion.

To eat, I made a veggie stack: a round of eggplant, feta, eggplant, mozzarella, onion, pepper, tomato, salt and pepper. Then I grilled a hamburger bun, slathered both top and bottom with mayo, and added the stack of grilled, cheesy veggies.

It was amazing.

(The rest of the family ate their slices of grilled eggplant plain and stuck beef burgers in the buns.)

Moussaka: The Greek equivalent of lasagna, moussaka is made by layering a) roasted (or grilled) eggplant, b) a meat sauce seasoned with oregano, cinnamon, nutmeg, and paprika, c) sliced potatoes, and then d) topping the whole thing with a creamy mixture of feta, ricotta, and yogurt.

While my family liked the flavor, they reacted to the big slices of eggplant in the bottom layer so next time I’ll grill the eggplant, chop it into small pieces, and add it directly to the meat sauce.

Barbecued lentils and eggplant: I served this on buns like sloppy Joe’s — aka Sloppy Judy’s — but we all agreed we’d prefer it over rice. (Later I ate some of the leftovers spooned over a cheesy burger patty atop buttered sourdough toast, swoooooon.)

My favorite, though, was the black pepper tofu and eggplant, tofu being another food that I've hardly ever eaten and thought I mostly didn't like.

Which is kind of funny, really: that the combination of the two most un-like-ly foods combined to create something utterly delectable is why cooking never ceases to intrigue and amaze me. Hit it just right and it’s pure magic.

This afternoon I’m getting more tofu so I can make it again. My family wasn’t keen on this dish (inexplicably, they’ve never really taken to Asian flavors), but I don’t even care.

I’ll be more than happy to eat this for days on end.

Black Pepper Tofu and Eggplant
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen (recipe recommendation from Anna via Facebook).

I got my tofu from our local co-op: the Wildwood brand.

Minced green onions would be a lovely and delicious garnish. Also, consider serving this with grilled onions and sweet peppers (ones that were dipped into herby, garlicky olive oil prior to grilling), as seen above.

A full half cup of soy sauce was too salty for my taste; thus the reason for subbing in with a bit of water.

This is one of those dishes that, while you can eat it immediately (and you will because it’s impossible to wait!), actually improves with time. After a day or two in the fridge, the flavors meld and intensify. Consider your menu planning accordingly.

I think I’m going to try oven roasting some extra eggplant and then freezing it so I can make this dish in the winter. Eggplant Experts: do you think it will work to roast, and then freeze, eggplant?

1 large eggplant (about 1 pound), trimmed and cut into cubes
14-16 ounces extra-firm tofu
1 tablespoon cornstarch
¼ cup neutral oil, like canola, divided
4 tablespoons butter
1 red or yellow onion (about 1 cup), cut in half lengthwise and then thinly sliced
½ cup thinly sliced sweet red pepper
5 cloves garlic, minced
2-3 tablespoons finely minced ginger
soy sauce and water to equal ½ cup (I used 6 tablespoons soy sauce and 2 tablepoons water)
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper, and maybe even more

Set the tofu on a paper towel-lined plate. Put more paper towels on top. Let drain for 5-10 minutes, partway through replacing the wet paper towels with fresh and setting a second plate on top of the tofu since removing all the moisture helps the tofu fry better. Cut the tofu into cubes. Toss with the tablespoon of cornstarch and a bit of salt.

In a separate bowl, toss the chopped eggplant with a tablespoon of oil and a bit of salt.

Heat the oven to 400 degrees and put a large,sided baking sheet in the oven. Once the oven is hot, remove the pan and coat the bottom with 3 tablespoons of oil. Tumble the eggplant onto one half of the pan and the tofu onto the other half. Roast in the oven for 20 minutes. Turn the pieces (try to get color on at least two sides of each piece, but it doesn’t have to be perfect) and roast for another 5-10 minutes.

For the sauce: In a large saucepan, melt the butter. Add the onions, garlic, ginger, and sweet pepper. Reduce the heat to medium low and cook for 10-15 minutes or until the vegetables are tender and beginning to caramelize. Add the soy sauce, brown sugar, and black pepper and simmer for several more minutes. Add the tofu and eggplant and cook for another couple minutes. Add more black pepper.

Serve hot over white rice. Pass the hot sauce.

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (8.5.19), in the kitchen, the quotidian (8.6.18), Murch Mania 2017, knife in the eye, glazed lemon zucchini cake, cheesy herb pizza, the end, the quotidian (8.6.12), caramelized cherry tomatoes.

Monday, August 3, 2020

the quotidian (8.3.20)

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

Color wheel.

Pesto torte: now that's checked off my list. 

High summer. 

Only "needing" a Belgian maker to round out the collection. 

Our green beans were the pits this year. So glad my daughter works at a veggie farm!

Apparently the potato gun spits fire. From now on, goggles required.

Driven to fix.

The training continues.

Rain, glorious rain. 

This same time, years previously: a fantastic week, fried, the quotidian (8.1.16), kiss the moon, kiss the sun, babies, boobs, boo-boos, and bye-byes, a birthday present for my brother, gingerbread, damn good blackberry pie.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

on putting up a BLM sign

Two days after we put up that yard sign, someone climbed our fence and stole it. So we put up another one.

damaged fence, new sign

Then that afternoon when we were all outside getting ready for the wedding, a man we didn’t know walked by shouting that all lives mattered. His aggressiveness was so startling — so utterly bizarre — that I almost laughed. Some people.

A little later, my older son left to run an errand. Almost immediately, he called us. The man was walking back, my son said, and when he’d driven by him, the man had yelled, flinging his arms wide and then lunging towards the car.

It was like he wanted to hit me, my son said.

We could hear the man bellowing all lives matter before he even reached our house. Without thinking, I walked into the yard to meet him. I had no idea what I’d say, but I knew I couldn’t cower in the shadows while he yelled us. I needed to see him, and I needed him to see me.

As I approached the fence, I called out a greeting and asked his name.

“It don’t matter what my name is,” the man blared. “You read your Bible!” He stepped closer and jabbed his finger at the sign. “Read your Bible! Quit being a hypocrite. All lives matter, not just freakin’ Blacks!”

“Of course they do,” I said quietly.

“You’re damn right they do! So quit supportin’ ‘em. Stand up for your damn self!”

He turned abruptly and I, unwilling to let him walk away without some sort of rebuttal, called after him, “I hope you learn to let other people talk, too —”

“No, I’m not!” he said, cutting me off. “I’m tired of this bullshit!” He flapped his hand at me in disgust and stormed off, and I headed back to the house.

I'd almost reached the porch when, suddenly overwhelmed and short of breath, I sat down in the yard. What had just happened? What kind of a person screams at complete strangers?

My older son pulled into the drive then — after he’d called us, he’d circled back — and my older daughter held up her phone. She’d recorded the whole thing.

Within minutes our collective flabbergasted silence soon gave way to incredulity and indignation and, with emotions soaring sky high, we turned on each other.

Someone should follow him.
No, let it go.
But we need to know where he lives!
No. He could have a gun.
That’s crazy.
You saw how he acted!
He's not going to do anything.
You don't know that.

In the end no one went anywhere, but I was reminded of the Beautiful Trouble seminar the two older kids and I had taken a couple years back where we’d learned tools to effect change through nonviolent means.

“We put that sign in our yard because there’s a problem,” I said. “What just happened proves it. Of course there’s going to be trouble. It doesn’t feel good, but racism doesn’t feel good either.”

I was shaken and unmoored. What was the right way to respond in this situation? How should we proceed? I had no idea, but one thing was clear: For this sort of backlash, we were entirely unprepared.


The next morning I woke early, my mind racing. Should we have reported the incident? Was our family in danger? Was it safe for me to go running by myself? And then—

Oh no! That man had been standing only inches from my face and I hadn’t been wearing a mask!

Aw, heck.

Downstairs, I opened Facebook and shot a message to a friend who’s been active in the BLM protests. I needed some coaching. How were we supposed to respond to this sort of aggression? When should we engage? When should we hide?

It felt a little nervous, sharing what had happened. Would he, like my husband, think me foolish for getting so close to an irate stranger? Would he tell me I’d worsened an already volatile situation?

I needn’t have worried. My friend wrote back without even a hint of reprimand. Instead, he took what happened seriously — more seriously than I even had. There’d been a few cases of harassment (even death threats) since the protests and he named specific trends to watch for. He pointed out that tampering with a sign is not just a minor inconvenience (as I’d framed it in my mind) but an actual crime. He parsed the video, pointing out the ways in which the man’s language reflected the ideology of white nationalists.

And as to how we should respond? Take down license plate numbers, he said. Figure out where people lived, if possible. Film all interactions, and do so openly since being filmed tended to keep people from doing anything too stupid.

It was basic information, really, but just knowing what sorts of things to look for, and how to collect the necessary information, reduced my anxiety tremendously. If this happened again, at least I’d have a plan.


When that man yelled at me, part of me felt stricken. Raised in the Mennonite peace tradition, it’s been hammered into me that the correct way to solve conflicts is through peaceful means. We dialogue. We speak calmly. We listen. We reconcile and forgive. We are supposed to make peace, not goad complete strangers into apoplectic fits. Clearly, I’d done something wrong.

In the moment, my immediate gut reaction was to de-escalate the situation and find a way to have a productive, rational conversation. And afterward, I felt ashamed. It was all my fault. If I’d been better prepared with the right words — the right logic, the right expressions, the right tone, the right body language — maybe there could’ve been a better, more constructive, outcome.

And yet why should I expect anything different? Since when does speaking out against an injustice go over well?

Having that man's rage trained on me was transformative. The fear and bewildering confusion I felt in that moment were both illuminating and galvanizing. I’ve never doubted there is racism, but discussing it in measured tones — in my Sunday school classes, writing groups, anti-oppression equity task force meetings, and blog posts — is one thing.

Feeling it is another thing entirely.


This story has no tidy ending. I'm still conflicted. I worry that putting up a sign worsens our country's deepening divide. I worry that things are already too fargone. I worry about what may happen if we don't take a stand.

So to close, here are a few gems that have helped ground me….

*Bryon Stevenson on how America can heal. (The Ezra Klein Show) I’ve listened to this podcast twice, once by myself and then a second time with the rest of the family. If you can only pick one thing from this list, let it be this. It’s long but it's so good that I wish it was longer.

listening while snapping

*The documentary John Lewis: Good Trouble is well worth it. We watched it as a family the other night, with lots of stops and starts so we could explain and discuss. (And today the NYTimes published his last writing: Together, You Can Redeem the Soul of Our Nation.)

*Rednecks for Black Lives (NPR) gives me hope.

*Regarding the Portland BLM protests, here's a short documentary about the Wall of Moms and their switch to Black leadership.

*This is a local report on the deepening divide in our area: A Valley Between Them. (The Harrisonburg Citizen)

*And, oh hey! Sign solidarity! (The Harrisonburg Citizen)


This same time, years previous: the quotidian (7.30.18), iced café con leche, the quotidian (7.31.17), injera and beef wat, my deficiency, a pie story, joy, blueberry torn-biscuit cobbler, a quick pop-in, Indian pilaf of rice and split peas.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

the coronavirus diaries: week whatever

Monday morning, my older son woke up not feeling well. He had a sore throat and headache. I slapped a mask on him and called MedExpress.

Yes, we have tests, the woman said, but only a limited number so come in as soon as possible.

At the doctor’s office, they ruled out strep and ran a Covid test. We should get the results in two to five days, they said. However, based on all the firsthand accounts of testing, I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s closer to two weeks.

Back home, we banished my son to the clubhouse — he’s been sleeping there, but he avoids being out there during the day because of the heat — and I borrowed an AC window unit from a friend. My younger son helped him prop it in the doorway and nailed up a heavy blanket as a makeshift door. Now we've renamed the clubhouse "The Refrigerator."

I spent the morning rearranging my week: canceling a dentist appointment and a pool playdate, letting the bakery know, and emailing everyone he’s been around.

It’s two days later now, and he’s almost completely normal. He had a fever at the doctor’s office but, even though I make him check throughout the day, he’s never had one since. No one he’d been in contact with has had any symptoms. Probably it's just a cold.

I’m sort of kicking myself for reacting so swiftly. I had to miss Magpie's opening day — I was so excited to be there, too! — and now we’re doomed to waiting, at the mercy of the sluggish testing system. Even then, he could have a false negative. I can't help thinking: when so many covid-positive people are asymptomatic, or with symptoms so mild they don’t even notice them, isn’t physical distancing and mask-wearing our only real defense anyway?

On the other hand, if it is covid and I hadn’t reacted responsibly, I’d feel terrible.

So there you have it. Thanks to Coronavirus, I’ve turned into the sort of mother who freaks out over a stupid little cold. Next up, I’ll probably do something equally uncharacteristic, like dye my hair platinum, mount a flatscreen TV above the woodstove, or put my kids in school.

Oh wait — can’t do that.

Damn coronavirus.

Update: He got the test back: it's negative!

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (7.29.19), hill of the martyrs, in the kitchen, dance party, the story of a trusty skirt, do you strew?, heading north, the boy and the bike ride, July evening.

Friday, July 24, 2020


Back in the spring, a few weeks before the coronavirus struck, I was invited to consider a part-time baking position at a new, soon-to-be-open bakery. I interviewed, said yes, and then everything went on hold for a few months while they finished renovations on the building, the old, triangular Big L Tire garage.

It's a pretty cool place. Magpie Diner — the main attraction — is on the first floor, along with the inhouse bakery and a coffee roaster business, and then the second floor (and part of the first) is coworking space. (Remember The Hub? Now it’s The Perch.) Basically, the entire building is a funky one-stop dream spot for writing and other office-y work: fabulous coffee, fresh bread, and lots of quiet space to create.

Last Monday was my first day of work.

The two full-time bakers had already been working round the clock for several months, first in a rented space and then in the actual bakery, so they had a good rhythm going.

The other part-time baker and I have been taking turns shadowing them, learning to program the ovens, laminate pastry, pound butter, monitor the proofing box, grind grain, shape croissants, roll the cinnamon swirl loaves, and so on.

assessment and documentation, always

Next week, we’ll switch roles: the part-time bakers take charge and the full-time bakers shadow us. Right now I’m working three shifts a week, but once things settle down, I’ll cut back to one or two per week — just enough to feed my extrovert soul but not enough (hopefully) to detract from my writing.

One of my favorite things about the bakery is the windows. There are huge glass windows at the front that let me keep tabs on the outside world, and there’s a large window between the bakery and the diner which lets us feel part of the diner hubbub and allows customers see how their bread gets made.

from the bakery window into the diner: servers in training

The bakery specializes in sourdough, several kinds of daily bread (milk, multigrain, seed and nut), croissants, and pies, most of which goes directly to the diner. But until the diner opens, we’ve been selling our test bakes out the front door. (When we briefly opened Tuesday morning, a line of customers stretched down the sidewalk for about forty-five minutes, at which point we sold out!)

Magpie Diner officially opens Tuesday, July 28. Stop by for a coffee and fresh croissant (my children like the vanilla braids; I’m partial to the ham and cheese) and say hi!

This same time, years previous: happenings, the best one yet, the quotidian (7.24.17), all practicality, on his own, curry potato salad, we're back!, pumpkin seed pesto, how to beat the heat.