Thursday, October 30, 2014

apple farro salad

When I’m my best self, I keep a container of cooked grains—quinoa, bulgur, wheat berries, brown rice, etc—in the fridge for fast lunch salads. When I’m my even better self, I turn the aforementioned grains into an enormous salad that lasts for an entire week of pious noontime feastings.

Note: these noble lunches are often followed by coffee and still-frozen chocolate chip cookies while slouched on the sofa writing braggy posts about righteous lunches.

Farro is sort of hard to come by. After an active search yielded nothing, I settled for Keeping My Eyes Open and occasionally thinking about ordering it from Amazon. Finally, months later, the stuff showed up at Costco (though I think it was a temporarily stocked item because I haven’t seen it in a while) and I pounced.

I pronounce farro like the title of an Egyptian king, but really it’s pronounced like I’ve-got-FAR-to-go-O. Either way, farro is a kind of wheat grain, similar to spelt and emmer, though its exact identity is unknown. It looks like wheat berries, but a bit larger. When cooked, the texture is chewy-soft, and the flavor is a mix between a hearty pasta-slash-brown rice. It’s easier to cook than quinoa (no rinsing) and rice (no tricky steaming). Also, it’s good for you.

This is the salad I ate this week: cider-simmered farro in an olive oil and cider vinegar dressing with black olives, apples, celery, parsley, etc.

It’s shockingly simple.

As most noble things are.

Apple Farro Salad
Adapted from the November 2014 issue of Bon Appetit

The recipe called for 1 part farro to 2 parts cider and 2 parts water. I thought it sounded excessive, and I was right—I ended up draining off lots of excess liquid. So I’ve amended the recipe. There’s no need to waste good cider.

1 cup farro
1 bay leaf
2 cups apple cider
1 cup (maybe less) water
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
1-2 ribs celery, leaves included, diced
1 small apple, cored and diced
1/4 cup minced onion
½ cup chopped fresh parsley
1/4 generous cup chopped black olives
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, coarsely grated
black pepper and salt

Combine bay leaf, apple cider, some salt, and water in a saucepan. Boil, reduce heat to medium, add farro and simmer, uncovered, for 20-30 minutes. Drain. Spread the cooked farro on a baking sheet to cool.

Combine the remaining ingredients before adding to the cooked farro. Mix well.

This same time, years previous: stuffed peppers, quiche soup, how to bake pie on the stove top, apples schmapples, hamburger buns and sloppy joes, and roasting pumpkin.  

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

the business of school

On yesterday morning’s drive to the orthodontist, I heard an NPR report about how employee reviews are ineffective and unhelpful. Apparently, rankings and number ratings do not enhance performance or boost morale. In fact, they squelch creativity and passion. As a result, some businesses are attempting to move away from “systems driven by compliance” to “systems that are driven by meaningful conversations and with the employees' benefit in mind.”

Right away my thoughts moved to schools. What are the parallels? If employee ratings are stupid (the interviewee’s words, not mine), then where does that leave the academic grading system?

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (10.28.13), the details, the quotidian (10.29.12),
under the grape arbor, and garden notes of 2009.

Monday, October 27, 2014

the quotidian (10.27.14)

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

Season's colors.


Not so classic: what my daughter requests for her work lunches.

Donut party hostess gift: amaranth—a.k.a. Love Lies Bleeding—in blue wine bottle.

Some sort of yard party.


The flock: Jessica, a yet-to-be-named female that my daughter got in exchange for Omri
and a visiting ram.

The awkward teen that's supposed to get the job done.


Morning science.

Actually getting along.



This same time, years previous: in the garden, the quotidian (10.25.11), sweet potato pie, the morning kitchen, signs, news, and daydreams, and pizza with curried pumpkin sauce, sausage, and apples.  

Friday, October 24, 2014

our cracking whip

Autumn is a pressurized time. Everything has to get done before winter hits. The garden must be put to bed, the yard cleaned up, the basement cleaned out, the barn rearranged, the fencing finished, etc.

Except for us it’s not the threat of winter that makes us jump. It’s the donut party. The donut party is our cracking whip. Our finish-line ribbon. Our mountain peak. After the party, it’s all inside cozy, rest and relaxation from there on out. Our summer is over. Welcome, Winter. Be our guest.

It always gets worse before it gets better. 

Sifted: twenty-four pounds of confectioner's sugar.

(Pre-washing, never fear.)

Potatoes: the (not so) secret to tender donuts.

By now—after roughly ten years of donut madness—the party is no big deal. We know what time to get up in order to make the six batches of donuts and still get to church on time (5:00 am—it’s not that bad). We know when to heat the oil and when to add a second pot to the mix. We know how many paper cups to have on hand (roughly 175). We know how many apples (½ bushel, though I always get a full bushel), and how much cider (8 gallons) and coffee (60 cups worth). We know how much stress we’ll feel beforehand (a steady pressure—manageable but still enough to be draining). We know it’s normal (though not justifiable) to panic roughly one hour before start time because surely this year no one will come. We know not to expect to have meaningful conversations during the party and—as a result of staring at a pot of oil for four hours—to not have any clue how the party was received, so we’ve trained a few understanding friends to give us candid rundowns post-party. In other words, we pretty much have the donut party down to a science.

Chilly weather + open windows = a proofing room!

Thawing. Sort of.

The cut-er-ers.

Awaiting the onslaught. 

My station. 

Still, something always goes wrong. This year, for some reason, the coffee pot made the coffee but didn't keep it hot. The cider didn't thaw in time. The donut scraps refused to roll out thinly and the final donuts were disgusting globs of yuck. Not that this stopped anyone from eating them.

People really chow down on those donuts. The unbridled donut-eating enthusiasm never ceases to amaze and delight me. And best as I could tell, the morning’s sermon on healthy eating—I kid you not—did not appear to deter a single soul.

This same time, years previous: random, the quotidian (10.12.12), breaking news, the first teenager, I couldn't stop, a silly supper, aging, boy in a blue dress, tales of terror and woe, party panic, brown sugar syrup, buttermilk pancakes, apple tart with cider-rosemary glaze, and not what I planned.        

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

field work

Late afternoons, my daughter often heads out for a ride. I follow, my son’s tripod in one hand, my camera bag (i.e. old cosmetic bag thingy that I lifted from my bro’s house) slung over my shoulder. I set up mid-field, facing into the setting sun.

It’s quiet out there. My daughter’s voice floats across the field. She keeps up a constant chatter with Isaac, alternating between heated scoldings and enthusiastic praise.

She’s constantly on the lookout for Isaac Triggers: galloping horses in the adjoining field, groundhog holes, dogs on the loose. (My husband told me that he was watching when a dog wandered into the field. My daughter was immediately off Isaac and standing by his head, holding tight to the reins...or whatever it is that you hold at the head.) She’s completely fearless and deeply cautious. It’s a sound combination.

Once as she came cantering by, she was laughing hysterically. I couldn’t see anything out of the ordinary, but when she got to the bottom of the hill, she told me that Isaac was almost galloping.

If you can’t control the situation, laugh. It’s a good motto.

Periodically, Isaac tries to buck her off. This doesn’t frighten her. It just makes her irritated. “He’s being a jerk,” she says.

A couple days ago, I read how to handle bucking horses in Jeanette Walls’ book Half Broke Horses, information which I then shared with my daughter. You’re supposed to yank back on the reins to pull the head up—the horse has to lower his head in order to kick with his back feet—and then whack him on the rump to make him move forward.

“Yep, that’s what I do,” she said.

So okay, then. Guess we got that covered.

At one point, she simply sat on Isaac’s back for an extended time, just looking around. I finally called, “Are you scared?”

“No,” she yelled back. “Just thinking!”

On one of her passes by me, she parked Isaac directly in front of me and launched into a horse story complete with dramatic interpretation. I didn't hear much of what she said; I was having too much fun watching her.

When I head back to the house, my daughter enjoys following me on Isaac. But she doesn't just follow behind—she follows right behind. You know that my-ankles-are-vulnerable-so-kick-your-feet-forward-and-jump panicky feeling you get when you're being followed by a too-fast, too-close shopping cart? Being followed by a horse is worse. Way worse. Especially when that horse that is frothing green at the mouth, breathing heavily, and has a giddy rider.

This same time, years previous: the reading week, a pie party!, moments of silence, classic cheesecake, pumpkin-sausage cream sauce, rhubarb cake, and love, the Tooth Fairy.  

Monday, October 20, 2014

the quotidian (10.20.14)

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

Breakfast? Breakfast? Is it time for breakfast?


Fresh cider by the bucketful.

Generous neighbors! 
(And a photobombing cat.)

This photo from the recent Bon Appetit was in stark contrast to 
the typical sleek, pristine kitchens flaunted in foodie mags. 
I could stare at it for hours.

The perks of having grandparents only three miles away.

Birthday chocolates: MINE.

Puttzing along.

The week of rain got to all of us.

But we made it through. 

This same time, years previous: the adjustment, grab and go: help wanted, the quotidian (10.15.12), rich, autumn walk, that thing we do, no special skills, would you come?, how to have a donut party, part III, sweet onion corn bake, apple cake, Italian cream cake, the stash, deprivation, and keeping my hands in the toilet.