Thursday, January 16, 2020


I’ve been meaning to make pozole, the traditional Mexican stew, for years now, ever since I’d had it at a fund raiser dinner, but what with all the dried chiles and meat and assorted toppings and hominy (hominy? what even is that?), it seemed a bit involved.

But then David wrote about it and the recipe didn’t look nearly as complicated as I thought it’d be. A month before, I’d gotten over the hominy hump when I’d purchased a whole huge tin of the stuff for a sausage soup (spoiler: there’s nothing tricky or even very exotic about hominy) and now I had the leftover hominy stashed in the freezer. And, once I realized I already had hominy in the freezer, I remembered that I also had leftover Thanksgiving turkey and turkey broth down there as well. And then I checked my stash of dried chiles and, lo and behold, I had the exact ones the recipe called for! 

The soup came together super fast. Aside from the making of the red sauce — just soak the toasted peppers in water and then blend them into a paste), it was mostly just assembly. And boy, was it good — so nourishing and rich and tasty — and the second day it was even better.

Half the soup is condiments (chopped lettuce, radishes, avocados, sour cream, hot sauce, lime, tortilla chips, whatever) which means it's basically soup with a giant salad on top. How fun is that?

And! In the dead of winter, when we're craving soup and becoming increasingly desperate for crunchy greens, pozole is the solution. The best of both worlds, it'll do you good. Promise. 

Adapted from David Lebovitz’s blog.

4 cups cooked, chopped chicken or turkey
4-6 cups cooked hominy, rinsed and well-drained
2-3 quarts chicken or turkey broth
2 dried ancho chiles, stems and seeds removed
3 dried guajillo chiles, stems and seeds removed
1 smallish onion, peeled and rough chopped
6 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
lard or oil
salt and pepper

toppings: finely chopped iceberg lettuce or cabbage, sliced radishes, avocado, lime wedges, fresh cilantro, green onions, sour cream, hot sauce, tortilla chips, etc.

First, make the red sauce. Toast the chiles in a dry skillet over high heat until they are smokey hot and blackened in places. Place the chiles in bowl and add two cups of boiling water. Cover with a plate and soak for 15 minutes. Transfer the now-soggy chiles to a blender, add the onion and garlic, and blend, adding some of the soaking water as needed to make a thick, smooth paste.

Now, for the soup. Melt a generous scoop of lard (or a couple glugs of oil) in a large, heavy-bottomed kettle over medium-high heat. Add the red sauce and cook, stirring frequently, for about ten minutes — this deepens the sauce's flavor and removes the bite from the garlic and onion. Whisk in the broth, and add the chicken and hominy. Bring everything to a boil before reducing the heat and simmering  for about 20 minutes. Season as needed.

To serve, ladle the pozole into bowls and pile on the condiments to high heaven.

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (1.14.19), no-knead sourdough bread, the quotidian (1.15.18), the quotidian (1.16.17), cranberry bread, on kindness, through the kitchen window, GUATEMALA!!!, crumbs, vanilla cream cheese braids.

Monday, January 13, 2020

the quotidian (1.13.20)

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


Thrifted and white: how I like my dishes.

The Big Bedroom Switcheroo of 2020: dismantling his corner.

Poof and proof: Curls and brushes do not together go. 

Work spot.

Churchin' Murchitos.

What ewe lookin' at? (sorry)

Snow's a-coming!

Glory be!

All done.

A papa pep.

This same time, years previous: full house, scandinavian sweet buns, the quotidian (1.11.16), the quotidian (1.12.15), the quotidian (1.13.14), roll and twist, sticky toffee pudding, rum raisin shortbread, earthquake cake.

Friday, January 10, 2020

6.4 magnitude

While our younger daughter was in Puerto Rico over the holidays, there were lots of little, and some not-so-little, earthquakes. She told me that some nights everyone slept in the living room together (and just the other night I learned that our friends had lectured her: If our English suddenly stops working and we’re running, FOLLOW US, instructions which made me double over with laughter). None of it seemed to bother my daughter, though, so I didn’t worry. Besides, it wasn’t like I could do anything.

But the night before she was to arrive home, I jolted awake, adrenaline pumping. My first thought was that there’d been a big quake and she was hurt. I lay there, panicking, wondering if I should wake my husband so he could check his phone. I didn’t, though, and eventually the panic subsided and sleep overtook. (I later learned she had felt an earthquake that night, but it’d been several hours earlier and, again, she hadn’t been much fazed.) So maybe I was a little worried after all?

It wasn’t until a few days after she’d returned home that they got hit by the first serious quake, the next day followed by The Big One. That morning when I came downstairs, my husband filled me in on the news (he’d taken the early-morning calls and texts): Six-point-something, tsunami warning, evacuation, island-wide power outages—

Abruptly I started crying, and my husband, confused, stopped his bad-news litany. “Well, I didn’t expect that reaction,” he said, and I half-wailed, half-shouted, “This upsets me!”

But truth is, my response startled me, too. I’m usually pretty even-keel and pragmatic and the facts were: our friends were fine, the tsunami warning was canceled, the devastation wasn’t nearly as bad as it could’ve been, or as it was in Hurricane Maria. But when friends are terrified, facts have less power to calm. The fact fact is, the island has been through so much, and now this.

For the last few weeks, the island’s collective stress — both physically and emotionally — had been building, taking a huge toll everyone, and now, even though scientists say that this was The Big One and everything should settle down, there are still dozens of tremors, making it hard to sleep and keeping them in a constant, elevated state of anxiety. They send us pictures of their mattresses all lined up outside, and emails filling us in on the details of a life displaced.

photo credit: Chiro

But as they gradually catch up on sleep (or at least get some), their energy, and their sense of humor, returns. One morning’s email was titled “Refugees Day 2,” and Chiro posted a video of his makeshift earthquake meter: a gallon jar of water atop a concrete pillar, eerily sloshing away.

A couple nights ago, I marinated thin slices of cube steak in Chiro’s pincho sauce. We had rice and refried beans, avocado and lime. Our local Puerto Rican friends braved the snowy roads (safe to us; deadly scary to them) to come eat with us and drink hot chocolate and tell us more details of the news from home.

This next week, MDS sends down a couple people to assess the damage and plan a response.

And so it goes.

This same time, years previous: boys in beds, homemade lard, our little dustbunnies, sourdough crackers, one year and one day, the quotidian (1.9.12), salted dulce de leche ice cream with candied peanuts, hog butchering!, baked hash brown potatoes.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

my new kitchen: pendant lighting

For weeks, we searched high and low for lights to go above the new island. They needed to be cheap and sturdy, provide clean light (I was sick of the yellow-green glow from our old hanging lamp), and probably made from something aluminum-ish, to go with the fridge and stove. I scoured the internet, poked my head into stores, discussed options with my husband, and asked around. Nothing.

And then one day I’d decided I’d had enough of the whole thing and off we went to town, me and my husband. We went to all the stores and looked at all the lamps. And then, in Bed, Bath, and Beyond, my husband jokingly picked up a metal dog dish and flipped it upside down. “I could make one,” he said.

“Yeah right,” I said. “That’s not nearly deep enough. The bulb would stick out.”

A minute later he resurfaced brandishing a colander. “How about this?”

And then, my brain slowly shifting gears, I spied some metal mixing bowls. “Or these?” Suddenly the options seemed endless.

We bought both a colander and a metal mixing bowl and, back home, we decided we liked the colander best — with directional lighting, there’d be no bright glare daggering our eyeballs through the colander holes — and my husband mockwired it. It seemed okay, so he went ahead and cut a hole in the bottom. If it didn’t work out, we'd only wasted fifteen bucks.

He sanded down the shiny stainless steel on the inside to reduce glare. We debated cutting off the handles, but then decided against it — if you’re going to use colanders as hanging lights, you might as well go all the way. (Our younger daughter suggested I dry my homemade pasta from the handles.)

Once we were sure we liked it, he bought a second one, wired them both, and that was it — our island had lights!

I’m still not entirely satisfied — the light feels a little too bright, and it doesn’t quite reach to cover all of the island’s surface (we might have to install a dimmer switch or experiment with different kinds of bulbs) — but for now it’s plenty good enough.

Besides, the fact that we’re using colanders as lights delights me to no end.

What a hoot!

This same time, years previous: the Baer Family Gathering of 2019, today, the quotidian (1.9.17), how we kicked off 2016, what it means, date nut bread, between two worlds, buckwheat apple pancakes, candied peanuts.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

moving out

This weekend my older son moved out of our house and into a basement apartment in town.

Now he’ll be close enough to school — he starts classes tomorrow — that he can walk or bike, which means he won’t waste time and gas driving back and forth to town and can take full advantage of campus life. Though I’m not sure how much time he actually have for extracurricular fun and games: rumors are the nursing program is intense.

The people renting the room to him — friends that we met when I was eight months pregnant with our son — gave our son the freedom to do anything to his room as long as it was an improvement, so the weekend was spent getting him set up.

My husband and I helped him clear the room out. My son, with the help of a couple of the kids, painted it. My husband and I went shopping with him for a rug remnant cover the tile floor and to lighten and cozify the room. We gave permission (in certain cases, begrudgingly) for him to make off with bits and pieces of furniture from our house: lamps, mattress, bedding, twinkle lights, a chair, etc.

And now the room’s all set up and lovely!


“Are you sad I’m moving out?”

“Not exactly sad,” I said, slowly stirring the white sauce for the macaroni and cheese. “More” — I paused, searching for the right word — “more verklempt.”

“Verklempt! What’s that?” and, without waiting for a response, my son pulled out his phone and googled it. “Overcome with emotion? Unable to talk?”

“No, no, not that. I thought verklempt meant sad, but in a happy sort of way. Melancholy, maybe.”

Because this is good, his moving out, studying, getting a job, working. I wouldn’t want him not to move out, right? But still….

“I’m excited about your adventures,” I explained, “it's just, I’m going to miss hearing about them all the time.”

Arapahoe Basin, Colorado: here's a video of the trip
photo credit: friend Theo Yoder

It’s almost cruel: just when kids grow up enough to be interesting, they leave.


It used to be that when the kids were little, I was constantly bored and overwhelmed and frazzled. Forever in search of meaningful projects and conversation, I seized every opportunity to escape.

But now, it’s flipped. The older the children get, and the more they strike out in search of their projects and work and relationships, the more I feel a pressing need — correction: desire — to be present. Now’s when I need to be available, to listen and support and coach.

The coaching (read: lecturing) is intense — one child recently asked me why I didn’t pursue a career that required me to lecture full-time; she wasn't even being sarcastic — and oddly enough, much of the things I enjoy (the movies, games, Ultimate, conversation, food) now involves and includes my children. Being with them is often (but not always) both fun and satisfying.

In other words, I’m experiencing a complete reversal of the early years with them.

What a pleasant surprise.

I was recently telling some friends about this shift, kind of puzzling over it because most of the people I know do the opposite — stay home and then return to work when their kids reach their teens — but my friend said that she had a friend who worked out of the home when her kids were little but, once they hit middle school, she quit her job and stayed home because the middle and high school years were when she felt most needed.

So I guess maybe I’m not the only one who feels this way?


Sunday night, after our family night movie, he loaded the last of his stuff into the car, I gave him a candle (because candles make a place home) and, laughing, we hugged good-bye.

We’ll still see lots of him, of course — he was back the next day to do some chores, eat lunch, and have coffee, and he’s called a number of times to fill us in on his adventure stories, and there have been texts and emails (You got any ideas for some non-time-consuming meals I could cook…?) — but it’s different. We no longer have four kids in the house.

The balance is shifting.


In recent months when I’d come downstairs in the morning, my son would often be slumped in the soft swivel chair by the bookcase, or maybe curled up on the end of the sofa in front of the fire, carefully cradling a cup of coffee in his hands. There’d be nothing to occupy him — no phone, no book, no nothing — just the slow, steady, meditative slurping of his coffee. Sometimes he’d take so long to drink it that he’d have to reheat the mug partway through.

My husband and I teased him that he’s a stodgy old man already, methodical and routine rigid, but truth is, both my husband and I were quite fond of our coffee-drinking mornings. In that seam between night and day, the gray, early-morning light filtering through the windows, the three of us would chat and tell stories and bicker and make plans. It wasn’t perfect, but it sure was special, and I’m going to miss those moments.

the last morning

I'm going to miss him.

This same time, years previous: high-stakes hiking, Christmas cheese, marching, high on the hog, 5-grain porridge with apples, breaking the fruitcake barrier, when cars dance, headless chickens, cranberry sauce, baguettes.

Friday, January 3, 2020

my new kitchen: the computer corner

The final bits of the kitchen remodel have been trickling in. There are still a few more little projects waiting in the wings, but mostly it’s done. (Or as done as things get when you’re married to a carpenter who doesn’t always feel the same level of urgency as one might wish...)

For my little corner workspace, my husband said he had a gnarly piece of old chestnut out in the barn. One side was curved, which my husband thought was a strike against it, but I was like, “I love that crooked side! Let’s showcase it!”

And so he did.

I love the wood's textures and flaws, how it's already worn down and settled. It's like finding that pair of jeans at a thrift store, a pair that's already broken in and fits perfectly.

In the back corner of the desk, he drilled a hole through which to funnel all the cords and wires, and then, just a couple weeks ago, he added a narrower undershelf, made with a bit of knotty oak. Above the desk, he hung a kitchen cabinet which holds my office supplies, wine glasses, and extra dishes. I like that I can tape notes to myself on the inside of the doors, like a hideaway bulletin board.

He mounted the bluetooth speaker that the kids got for my birthday several years ago above the window — the sound wraps around the kitchen much better at that angle — and I hung twinkle lights by the coffee pot. (And speaking of the coffee station: I LOVE IT. It’s one of my favoritest spots in the whole entire kitchen.)

Yet to be found:
*a swivel bar stool with a back (something like this but from a thrift store, please)
*a small, cozy desk light that takes up next-to-no room, something like this, maybe, or this, or this attached to the bottom of the cupboard (would it even give enough light?)
*perhaps some art work or shelving for the walls, depending...

I’m still getting a feel for the space, deciding what I absolutely must have and what I can do without.

This same time, years previous: Lebanese dried lemon tea, the quotidian (1.1.18), 2017, Christmas, quite frankly, constant motion, cranberry crumble bars, the quotidian (1.2.12), loose ends.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

2019 book list

Here's what I've read in 2019:

*The Wife, by Alafair Barke. A page-turner with a little too-much legalese and a surprising twist at the end.

*Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi. Absolutely fantastic! A great book to read prior to going to the National Museum of African American Art and Culture. (I had my older daughter read it, too.)

*Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Art of Good Cooking, by Samin Nosrat. Samin is awesome!!! I totally have a girlcrush on her. Also, buy the book. It's entirely, wonderfully, practical. (If you haven’t seen her Netflix show, DO.)

*An American Marriage, by Tayari Jones. Interesting.

*The Best Cook in the World: Tales from my Momma’s Southern Table, by Rick Bragg. Captivating and humorous. Fun story-telling, interesting culture. Good recipes. Finally mastered collard greens and ham and beans!

*Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism, by Drew Hart. A bit tedious, but some helpful anecdotes and insights.

*The Diary of a Young Girl, by Anne Frank. More depressing than I'd remembered.

*The Diary of Anne Frank: the play, by Francis Goodrich and Albert Hackett. Being Mrs. Frank was more fun than I thought it’d be.

*It Happens Every Day: An All Too-True Story and A Year and Six Seconds: A Love Story, both by Isabel Gillies. Stellar. I read them both in a rush.

*Just Mercy: a Story of Justice and Redemption, by Bryan Stevenson. Intense, painful, eye-opening. Made me want to do something, like become a lawyer or something equally improbable.

*The Female Persuasion, by Meg Wolitzer. A pleasant read.

*Girls Burn Brighter, by Shobha Rao. Well-written, but disturbing and not very satisfying. I had to force myself to get through it.

*Heartbreaker, by Claudia Dey. Odd, but okay.

*Girl in Translation, by Jean Kwok. An easy, enjoyable read.

*Deathtrap: A Thriller in Two Acts, by Ira Levin. Fast and fun. (I read it because I was thinking of auditioning for the play, but then I didn't.)

*Lunch in Paris: A Love Story, with Recipes, by Elizabeth Bard. Good writing with a so-so story. I didn’t feel like I gained new insights, and the recipes didn’t tempt. 

*Disgrace, by J.M. Coetzee. A tightly-woven and well-told story that touches on a staggering number of complicated issues.

*Where We Come From, by Oscar Casares. About the current immigration situation: a close-up, compassionate look at one small piece of the story.

*Three Women, by Lisa Taddeo. This is a book that begs to be discussed: if you have a book club, put it on the list.

*Ask Again, Yes, by Mary Beth Keane. Super good and refreshingly understated.

*Slow Man, by J.M. Coetzee. So many words and soooooo slow. I’m amazed that I had the patience to read it, and even more amazed that he had the patience to write it. I'm still not sure what it was about.

*I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman, by Nora Ephron. Easy and entertaining. I like her writing style — it loosens me.

*White Walls: A Memoir About Motherhood, Daughterhood, and the Mess In Between, by Judy Batalion. Excellent book (that did drag on a wee bit too long) with great writing that made me feel inferior about my own.

*I Remember Nothing: and Other Reflections, by Norah Ephron. Fun.

*Travel Light, Move Fast, by Alexandra Fuller. Good book with a devastating ending.

*The Heart’s Invisible Furies, by John Boyne. Started super strong; drug on forever: meh.

*Consent: A Memoir of Unwanted Attention, by Donna Freitas. Too long and wordy — would’ve appreciated more of a story — but eye-opening.

*Olive, Again, by Elizabeth Strout. Perfect and wonderful and lovely. I'm an Olive fan (though I don't really like her).

*Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant: Confessions of Cooking for One and Dining Alone, edited and compiled by Jenni Ferrari-Adler. An enjoyable, behind-the-scenes look at what food writers eat when they're alone. Made me happy.

*A Life of My Own, by Claire Tomalin. A fascinating life told tediously.

*The Girl With Seven Names, by Hyeonseo Lee. I learned loads about North Korea.

*I’m Lying But I’m Telling the Truth, by Bassey Ikpi. Excellent, up-close look at mental illness (though I did get a little lost at the end….)

Right now I'm hurrying to finish The Hungry Ocean since it's way overdue. Next up: Permanent Record, The Dutch House, and Nothing To See Here.

What have you been reading?

Got anything good to recommend?

More on books....
2018 book list
2017 book list
2016 book list
2015 book list
2014 book list

Her: Conspiracy, for the third or fourth or fifth time 
Him: Crown of Midnight, for the second or third time

P.S. I'm in dire need of good read-alouds to share with my younger son (almost 14). Preferably, I'd like to skip the war-and-disaster-and-sex books in favor of well-written comedy and/or the meaningful ordinary, books like Anne of Green Gables or Harris and Me or Holes or Where the Lilies Bloom or Counting by 7s. Both old-time classics and new gems welcome, please and thank you! xo

Monday, December 30, 2019

the quotidian (12.30.19)

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

This year's spread was improved upon with guests from Eritrea, Tunisia, and Sudan.

The ordinary made festive.

Flaming burger balls: not exactly what he was going for.

Burger vs TMJ. (The burger lost.)

Finetuning and tweaking.

Everyone needs a Mavis in their life.

We're on a Rook kick: anyone up for a game night?


Crash course in auto mechanics, courtesy of Necessity.

Rain or shine, Sunday afternoons are for playing.
(photo credit: my older daughter)

Our pastor invited him to read his statement during her sermon.
(photo of photo by Jim Bishop)

This same time, years previous: a mistake-based education, family magnified, our apocalypse, chopped locks, tamalada!, one step above lazy (maybe), eggnog.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

a Christmas spectacle

When I asked my younger son what he’d like to do on Christmas to make it special since we don’t do presents, he said, “Do presents.”

“Ha,” I said. “Besides that.”

“Make something and take it to the neighbors on Christmas morning,” he said.

We used to make Christmas deliveries but several years ago, when it started to feel like just one more thing I had to do, I'd dropped it. But if a child wanted to do it, then fine, yes, okay. Never mind that it’d take more work. Never mind that the other kids weren’t thrilled. Never mind that knocking on random doors and giving people things makes my husband feel like crawling into a cave and ceasing to exist. If this was what my younger son wanted, we’d do it.

So I dug out my Christmas tin collection and gave them a good washing. A couple days before Christmas, my younger son popped multiple batches of corn, helped measure the ingredients, and stirred the caramel. Christmas morning, we made little “Merry Christmas! Love, The Murches” cards and taped them to the tins.

“How about I take Coco?” my older daughter said.

"The dog stays home," my husband said.

"If Coco goes, then we have to take Charlotte," my daughter said.

"No dogs," my husband repeated firmly

"Let's take the donkey!" hollered my older son.

"Yes," my daughter said, ignoring, for once, her brother's taunting. "Let's take Ellie!"

"NO," my husband said. "We are not taking a horse around to the neighbors'!"

"Aw, come on," I said. "Why not? She’s cute."

And then my older son appeared, decked out in his leather jacket and pink plastic sunglasses, his guitar slung over his shoulder.

Husband: You have got to be kidding me.

Me: Um, hon? That might be a bit much.

Older son [singing loudly]: Jingle, jingle happy bells, Jesus is born!

Me: Oh good grief.


And off we went, dogs, horse, grumpy husband and all!

I alternated between pleading with my son to tone it down a little, snapping at my husband to stop fussing at the kids (dogs, Life In General, whatever), giggling uncontrollably, and shaking my head in disbelief at the staggering extent of our spectacular freakishness.

It was so worth it.

This same time, years previous: right now, balsamic-glazed roasted butternut squash and brussel sprouts, 2016 garden stats and notes, old-fashioned sour cream cake donuts, remembering Guatemala, cheese ball, hot buttered rolls, bacon jalapeno cheese ball.