Monday, May 25, 2020

the quotidian (5.25.20)

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

I need more oven racks.

What to make?

Also eggs.

I hope my family likes Thai food. 

For mother's day.

My daughter came home with a coupon so I used it. 

Drinks on the deck, anyone?

Battle of the hoses.

Our neighbor in the little house.

I guess you can't be productive all the time. 

This same time, years previous: about that house (and some news!), snake charmer, a few fun things, in which we don't need the gun, the quotidian (5.25.15), rosa de jamaica tea, down to the river to play, the boring blues, chocolate-kissed chili.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

baa-baa fat sheep

Funny story.

Last year, my older daughter got a couple bottle lambs (one died) from a neighbor. Then last fall, some other neighbors gave us a ram. We kept the two separate, for the most part, and then, tired of sheep, my daughter gave the ram to a farmer friend. For months, she half-heartedly tried to sell the remaining sheep. Eventually, she found a farmer who said he could take it with his flock when they went to slaughter. He didn’t say if he would buy it from her or not, and she didn’t care. She just wanted it gone.

But then, when she was loading it into the truck to deliver it to the farmer, she called me on the phone: Mom, I think the sheep is pregnant. So I tromped down to the field and there was the sheep, trussed up and on her back, her bulging belly and swollen udder plainly visible.

My daughter was dismayed. "I just thought she was really fat!"

So she untied the sheep, let the farmer know her sheep would not be slaughtered after all, and made arrangements for a sheep shearer to come.

And then we waited. "Maybe she really is just fat," I said, as the days ticked by.

But then Thursday afternoon, the sheep started hunching her back and stomping the ground. That night my daughter penned her in the shed. The next morning, she ran down to check first thing. From the kitchen window, I saw her look in the pen and then immediately spin around excitedly to look back at the house.

"I think we have a lamb," I told my husband, slipping on my flipflops.

Down at the shed, I peered in and there, still covered with blood and goop, was not one, but two, new baby lambs!

We’d missed the deliveries by about an hour, probably. The female lamb is about half the size of the male, but they’re both active and eating.

And the mama is doing a fantastic job caring for them.

So much for my daughter’s plan to get rid of her sheep, ha.

This same time, years previous: stuffed poblanos, a problem, the quotidian (5.22.17), the quotidian (5.23.16), ice cream supper, Shirley's sugar cookies, the basics, the reason why, through my daughter's eyes.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

garlic flatbreads with fresh herbs

It’s marvelously dark and dreary today. Cold, too. I got up in time to go running before it rained, the clouds so low my head practically brushed against them. Now, my exercise gotten, I can actually enjoy the closed-up, cozy house.

I’ve been drinking lots of coffee, and this morning when I was writing, my younger son brought me a mason jar of steaming hot chocolate. I procrastinated on eating breakfast and ended up missing it altogether — but hot chocolate is practically a meal, right? — and then when I went downstairs around noon to check on the kids’ jobs and school work and pull out leftovers for their lunch, nothing appealed to me. Instead, I mixed up a batch of herby garlic flatbread dough — and I got a hunk of feta out of the freezer to thaw — before disappearing back upstair to my room with an apple.

Soon, though, I’ll go back downstairs and fry up the flatbread. I want to take photos so I can share the recipe with you. And I want to eat some. It’s nearly two o’clock, and I’m beginning to get hungry.

But first, let me fill you in on some ailments that I’ve been meaning to tell you about. Maybe you’ll have some advice.


Ailment 1
I have a problem with my eyes.

During the night, or after sleeping, it sometimes feels like the insides of my eyelids are covered with hard bumps that grate against my eyeballs. Sometimes this happens for weeks on end, and then I'll go for weeks with no pain at all. When it’s really bad — and by “bad” I mean it feels like my eyeballs are being scraped with a cheese grater, or an ice skater is waltzing over my retinas — I have to sit up in bed, unmoving and holding myself at a weird angle (I can’t lay on my back), until the pain subsides.

This all started soon after I had that horrible case of pink eye several years back, so I just assumed that I had some scar tissue on my lids. Over the phone, I asked my eye doctor’s receptionist about the problem, and he said that yes, pink eye can leave scar tissue, but when I asked the doctor himself, he looked at my lids and said, Nope, no scarring, just mild eye dryness. And then he suggested I make moisturizing my eyeballs a part of my nightly regime.

Which I’ve done to little effect: It helps in the moment sometimes, but it doesn’t do a thing to ease the whole problem.

So now I’m thinking I either need a new eye doctor or eye surgery to remove the scar tissue that I don’t have. Or maybe I ought to learn to sleep underwater.

Ailment 2
Earlier this spring, I suffered a horrific case of allergies. For weeks, my sleep was interrupted with nose-blowing. I'd even sneeze while sleeping (except then I’d be awake). Over-the-counter, 24-hour allergy pills did little to help — I tried two kinds — and even Benadryl didn’t do much. Since nothing worked, we started wondering if I was allergic to something in our room. The pillows, perhaps? So I stopped sleeping with them. It helped, for a little, so I bought an allergy-free pillow. But then the sneezing and sniffling came back anyway.

At my husband’s routine appointment with the allergist, he asked about my situation. The doc brushed it off, saying that it’s very unusual that adults develop seasonal allergies — which surprised me. Is that really true?

Anyway, after a couple months, the problem disappeared and now I’m totally fine — no meds and back to sleeping with my feather pillows.

Humph. Maybe we need a new allergist, too?

Ailment 3
Last week I cut off the tip of my finger. I was slicing a hard crust of sourdough bread with the serrated bread knife and, well, then I wasn’t.

Hearing my shouts, my younger daughter came, took one look, and walked off, so then my younger son stepped in, ransacking the house for bandaids and helping me slap them on.

My finger (and thumb, because I’d nicked that, too) bandaged, I sat down in the rocker and, furious and hurting, began crying, which scared my younger daughter who then called my husband who was in the middle of lifting a wall and, upon hearing the tale, got woozy. He offered to come home but I told him no — since the tip of the finger had still been attached (I had contemplated tearing it off the rest of the way but, deciding that the wound would be less painful with a lid on it, I just put it back down and bandaged it on), I figured there was nothing to do. Either it would reattach, or it’d fall off and I’d have a permanently short finger.

(And then my older son got on the phone. "Hey Mom. I understand that being a new amputee can be hard. Would you like me to arrange a therapy session for you?")

That evening, when I rebandaged the finger with supplies my husband had bought at the pharmacy, I discovered that I’d taken off a part of my nail, too, and that actually, it ‘twas but a mere flesh wound, all things considered. Two days later, I started running again and it didn’t even throb.

And now it looks like the top of the finger may actually be reattaching, whoo-hoo!


Now, my ailments covered, how about some flatbread?

Ever since failing at Nadiya’s flatbread (why the hype over yeast-free flatbread when a little bit of yeast makes such a difference?), I’ve had a craving for the stuff. Yesterday I researched a bunch of recipes before landing on one that called for mixing fresh minced garlic and herbs into the dough. It was spectacular. Pliant and tender, billowy and flavorful, it's the perfect addition to any curry dish or Middle Eastern meal.

This afternoon, I ate it warm, wrapped around kalamata olives and chunks of creamy feta. It was truly sublime — the perfect afternoon snack — and so incredibly easy to make.

This recipe, I think, is one you’ll want to memorize. Get to it!

P.S. My younger son just came down and reheated the last piece, brushing it with butter and then sprinkling it with feta and drizzling it with lots of honey:

Um ... wow.

Garlic Flatbreads with Fresh Herbs
Adapted from The Minimalist Baker.

If you don’t have fresh rosemary, you can use fresh thyme or oregano or dill. Or use all dried herbs — they’ll rehydrate when you add the warm water. Basically, try to aim for a tablespoon of fresh herbs, and a pinch or two of some dried, if you want. But whatever you do, you must use fresh garlic. It’s what makes this bread.

1¼ cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup spelt flour, or whole wheat
2 teaspoons yeast
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon sugar
2 cloves garlic minced very fine
1 tablespoon of minced fresh rosemary (or thyme or oregano)
a pinch of dried thyme (or rosemary or oregano)
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for frying
¾ cup warm water

Measure all the dry ingredients and herbs into a bowl and stir to combine. Add the oil and most of the warm water and stir to combine, adding more water, as needed (I've never used the full amount). Turn the dough out onto the counter and knead for several minutes. Place the dough back in the bowl, cover with plastic, and let rise for an hour.

Divide the dough into eight pieces. Roll out each piece of dough into thin, flat blobs (circles, ovals, squares, rectangles, triangles, whatever).

Drizzle some olive oil in a hot skillet. Fry one of the flatbreads until it’s bubbling on top and kissed with brown on the bottom. Lift the flatbread, drizzle in a little more oil, and flip, cooking the other side of the bread until golden brown. Wrap the flatbread in a towel to stay warm. Repeat with the remaining flatbreads.

Serve the flatbreads warm, with curry, butter and honey, cheese, olives, hummus, fresh tomatoes, etc.

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (5.21.18), sauteed lambsquarters with lemon, after one year: Costco reflections, finding my answers, the trouble with Mother's Day, the quotidian (5.21.12), rhubarb streusel muffins.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

chicken shawarma

Back at the start of the pandemic, the pressure to cook all but disappeared. Feeding my family — just my family — required next to nothing of me. I missed the thrill of churning out large quantities of food. I missed the potlucks and parties and the people dropping by. It was boring. It was depressing.

Now, though, I’m beginning to relax into the easier routine. As I adapt to the rhythm of feeding six people three meals a day, I’m finally finding a balance. I refrain from doubling recipes so I have reason to cook more often. I add side dishes. I get creative with leftovers. I delight in shopping my freezers and pantry shelves. And whenever I manage to weave in the bits of produce that my daughter brings home from the farm or that I pull from my garden, I get a little tingle-zap of joy.

Monday's bundle

I try a lot of new recipes, too. Take Sunday, for example.

Inspired by Nadiya (that woman’s a gem), for breakfast I made spotted dick (aka Irish Soda Bread but come on, saying, “Would you like another piece of spotted dick?” is much more entertaining) and my younger son made homemade butter to go with.

Then for lunch, I made shawarma, flatbreads, and a broccoli salad with yogurt dressing, all from Nadiya. The flatbread was a bust — not nearly tender and pliable enough — and no one really cared for the broccoli salad. Also, in the process, I accidentally and violently threw a whole coffee grinder of coriander seeds on the floor.

And then I dumped the broccoli....

Somehow, though, and clearly in spite of me, the shawarma was absolutely outrageous. Fall-apart tender and juicy, and with an enormous kick of flavor, it exceeded my expectations by a long, long, looooong shot.

Shawarma, thin slices of meat stacked in a cone shape and then roasted, is typically served sliced off the cone and wrapped in flatbread (aka, gyros). This shawarma, though, requires no cone because — and here's the trick — packing pieces of heavily seasoned meat into a loaf pan and then baking it yields a surprisingly similar effect! The meat doesn’t shave into bits as nicely as the traditional shawarma (once turned out of the pan, my loaf lost all its shape), but quick run a knife over the whole mess and no one will ever guess it wasn’t roasted on a cone.

Note: if you’re going to save the second pan of meat for another meal, make sure the entire family knows not to touch it on pain of death. And then freeze it immediately, just to make sure. I stupidly stuck the leftovers in the fridge and then my older son, who claims he didn’t get the memo, took two pieces — TWO PIECES — in his lunch today. I am bitter.

Chicken Shawarma
Adapted from Nadiya’s recipe.

Meat’s in short supply, as you’ve probably noticed. Chicken, especially, is hard to come by. Now, whenever I go into a store, if they have my favorite — boneless, skinless thighs — I snatch up the allotted amount, regardless of whether or not it’s actually on my grocery list. (Also, we’ve put in an order for meat birds — gonna raise ourselves some chee-kin!)

The recipe called for two tablespoons (!!) cayenne (on the TV show, Nadiya chirps, It’s not too much, I promise! Cayenne’s sweet!) but no, I’m not buying it. Also, I dialed back the salt a fair bit and it was still plenty.

3-4 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
¼ cup vegetable oil, plus more
¼ cup cornstarch
2 teaspoons cayenne
2 teaspoons turmeric
2 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground cloves
green onions, chopped, for garnish
fresh cilantro or parsley, chopped, for garnish

Trim off any big chunks of fat and cut the thighs in half. Coat with the oil. In a small bowl, stir together the cornstarch and spices. Sprinkle over the meat and toss to coat.

Smear a little oil in the bottom and up the sides of two loaf pans. Divide the chicken between the two pans, laying in one piece at a time and pressing them down as you go. Drizzle a little more oil on top. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes. 

Allow the chicken to rest at room temperature for about ten minutes before inverting onto a cutting board. Slice the chicken into thin(ish) pieces, and top with green onions and herbs. Serve with flatbread or rice.

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (5.20.19), rocking the house, pinned, moo, campfire cooking, the quotidian (5.19. 14), the quotidian (5.20.13), baked brown rice, my favorite things.

Monday, May 18, 2020

the quotidian (5.18.20)

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

Cosmos for two, and then The Godfather.

Four cheeses and double the butter.

Buster came to visit.

She dyed her hair auburn and it looked no different than normal, ha!

Weeding, tilling, planting, mulching. 

For the tomatoes.

His new digs.

From the other angle.

They wouldn't stop stupid arguing at supper so I sent them away from the table until they quit.

This same time, years previous: flying, flashfloods, and fireballs, the quotidian (5.14.18), inclusion, surprise!, the quotidian (5.16.16), chocolate peanut butter sandwich cookies, the quotidian (5.18.15), help, 'twas an honor, caramel cake.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

the coronavirus diaries: week ten

a still from a video we sent to a graduate


That store I mentioned last week? The one whose employees weren’t wearing masks? Well, apparently I’m not the only one who noticed. A number of people, I learned, have called in and/or started boycotting the store.

Last week, I decided that I needed to hear the store’s policy for myself. I first spoke with headquarters and then received a follow-up call, at my request, from our store's manager.

I’ve noticed your employees aren’t wearing masks, I said. We want to shop at your store, but we need to prioritize our family’s safety.

We’re following CDC guidelines, he said. We have the PPE for staff but we can’t require them to wear it.

Now, I’m not familiar with store policies, especially not the big chains, but I do know that there are a whole bunch of stores (hello, Costco!) that are doing everything in their power to keep their employees and customers safe. 

So now we’re actively boycotting Food Lion.


Church is weird. Each Sunday, we plop down on chairs to listen to the service. The first couple Sundays, we listened to, and watched, the services in their entirety, but not any longer. Once we skipped the service entirely, and we’ve even begun fast forwarding through different parts.

I feel a little guilty about this. I’ve chaired worship commission before — I know how much thought and planning goes into the services. I know everyone’s scrambling to adjust to this new beast we’re living with. They’re doing their best, and their best is good! And I’m well aware that people have different needs: just because something isn’t working for me doesn’t mean it’s not working for them. 

One of my sisters-in-law shared in a group chat that her preschool daughter didn’t want to have anything to do with her class’s zoom meetings. She got really upset when her teacher didn’t respond to her when she spoke, my sister-in-law said. Eventually it got so my niece would refuse to even look at the screen.

I’m not four — I get how technology works (more or less) — but I kind of feel the same way. With online church, I’m consuming, not participating. No matter how many thoughtful spaces are created to welcome my participation — the prayers and silences and songs — I’m still not there.

The truth is, right now we’re not together, and for me, trying to recreate a sense of togetherness by modeling it on the components of a customary Sunday morning service is disorienting. Sometimes I wonder if it’d be better if I just let go of all patched-together connections — not just the church services, but anything that I’m doing to cobble together the sense of normalcy I can’t have. Would I feel freer? More contented?

I don’t want to do that, though. Not really. I love my church family. So, what is the answer? I don't know, but here's what does work for me:

Example #1
One Sunday, my younger daughter’s friend did the children’s story. I forget what it was about (curses on my sieve-like brain) but it had something to do with animals because the entire time she was talking, she was playing with the animals: holding a chicken (and dropping it), petting the cat, running the dog while riding a scooter, etc. It felt intimate and comfortable, real and delightfully funny, like we were there with her, listening to her tell a story as she tromped about in her everyday clothes, chattering away.

Example #2
I’ve been watching Nadiya’s cooking show. Warm and bubbly, she talks straight to the camera, sometimes literally whispering her secrets. I know everything is set-up and highly edited — it’s a TV show, duh — but still, I feel like I’m with her in her kitchen, and afterwards I’m often inspired enough to try out a recipe or order a new ingredient (marmite!).

Nadiya-inspired egg rolls

So regarding church, maybe we need a pivot from participatory worship — because we can’t — to practical teaching and personal storytelling?


Recently I heard somewhere — an NPR report maybe? — about the importance of doing something tactile for mental health. It’s not just the act of creating but the actual feel of the thing — the puzzle shapes, the bread dough, the yarn, the crayons, the fabric, the dirt — that counts. There’s something soothing and meditative about it.

And then a friend told me about a free online art class that she took with her girls and how it felt so good to spend that hour or so focused on drawing.

And then another friend introduced me to mandalas. She’d recently spent hours painting a table top with a mandala. It felt like a lullaby, she said. After our conversation, she sent me some links for how to draw mandalas (this and this), so the other week I gave it a go. She was right! It was fun, a soothing blend of mindless and focused, relaxed and alert.

Just the other day, I spent a good portion of the afternoon drawing.

Always eager to do something with me, my younger son grabbed paper and plopped down at the table across from me. We sat there until early evening, listening to episode after episode of Fresh Air and quietly drawing.

The time felt slow and heavy, like a luxurious Sunday afternoon nap.

A couple days ago, I started a flower doodly thingy.

In the middle of the night when I had trouble sleeping, I soothed myself by thinking about the different designs, and I’ve actually woken up in the morning actively eager for downtime when I’d be able to just sit at the table and draw.


Real conversation from today...

Me (modeling my going-to-town jeans and shirt): Does this look stupid? 

Older Daughter: No...why?

Me: I haven’t worn real clothes in so long that I don’t know what looks good.

Younger Son: Well, if Mike Pence sees you it won’t matter because he wears his mask over his eyes.


I read this article to my family at dinner the other night: We have begun the dreaded third quarter of isolation, when — yes — things get weird.

According to the article, the three stages of extended isolation are increased anxiety, a settled routine with a side of depression, and, finally, anticipation peppered with “emotional outbursts, aggressiveness, and rowdy behavior.” (Like long car rides! my older son burst out, and I was like, Yes, yes. That’s it exactly.)

My takeaways...
*The third stage is relative to the length of the trip or mission, usually striking at the two-third mark. Pandemic-wise, we are in the third stage, but with no clear ending in sight, and yanked around by lots of false hopes, this third phase will drag on much longer.

*Despite the difficulties, people who experience long stretches of isolation often repeat the experience. Which shows that, even though isolation is uncomfortable, it can often be a positive, stretching experience.

*Men and women tend to respond to extended isolation differently. Men become more open and relationship-oriented; women become more confident and independent.


And finally, a few other gems…
*This Fresh Air interview with Chef Tom Colicchio, about the food chain and restaurant industry, is insightful.

*Fuck the Bread. The Bread Is Over. (Paris Review)
"What does it mean to be worth something? Or worth enough? Or worthless? What does it mean to earn a living? What does it mean to be hired? What does it mean to be let go?"
*Why Liberals Are Wrong About Trump.

*The Risks — Know Them  Avoid Them. I read this out loud to the family tonight at supper. The bottom line: For infection to occur, it's "dose plus time." Things to consider: number of people, length of time, and airflow. Steer clear of churches, office spaces, restaurants, and theaters. Not as worrisome are the outdoor interactions and short shopping trips. And as always, wear masks and wash your hands.


This same time, years previous: the quotidian (5.13.19), driving home the point, Captain Morgan's rhubarb sours, crock pot pulled venison, people watching and baby slinging, lemony spinach and rice salad with fresh dill and feta.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

when there's "nothing" to eat

What do you make for supper when it’s 4:50 pm, there’s nothing thawed (and no ideas brewing because ZERO forethought), and everyone crashes through the door growling with hunger?

This was the situation I found myself in Friday last week. It wasn’t like I didn’t have food in the house. I spent 500 dollars several weeks back and we were still well-stocked with the four main starch bases: pasta, rice, bread, potatoes. However, we’d worked our way through most of the leftovers — the spaghetti and meatballs, the sausage lentil soup, the sweet potato and egg bake, the never-ending mojo pork, etc — and it seemed there were no readily-apparent and easily-accessible moving parts to glom onto.

Back and forth I paced, between fridge and pantry, fridge and pantry, what to make, what to make, what to make. People moaned. I studied the the pile of assorted veggies my daughter had brought home. People sighed. I opened kitchen cabinets and pondered. People headed for the showers. And then, whilst standing in front of the fridge and staring at the pile of cold baked sweet potatoes leftover from the previous night’s potato bar, I got an idea.

I slipped the potatoes out of their jackets and cut them into thick slices. I smacked two cast iron skillets on the stove and wacked in some butter and bacon grease. Once the fat melted, I arranged the potato slices in a single layer and salted them heavily. While they sizzled and browned (I flipped them once), I opened two cans of black beans into a kettle, added some cumin and smoked paprika (and maybe a couple other spices that I can’t remember), and set them on the stove to heat.

I sliced a couple of the green onions and a handful of radishes that my daughter had brought home and dumped them in a bowl with a chopped avocado (yay, it's not rotten!), the juice of a half lime, and some salt. I plucked a few green leaves from a rotting bunch of cilantro and tossed them in. I stuck a spoon in the jug of salsa and another spoon in the almost-empty jar of sour cream, and I dug a container of leftover grated cheese out of the cheese drawer. Supper was ready.

What’s this? everyone wanted to know.

"Sweet potatoes with black beans and toppings," I said. "Here's how you eat it," and I fixed a plate so they could see. "It’s like rice and beans but without the rice."

No one thought much of the meal — it was food, it was good, the end — but I was enormously pleased with myself. It was so ordinary — leftovers and canned beans and a hodge-podge of random bits — and yet it was creative and healthy and original.

And to think, only a short time before I’d felt like there was “nothing” to eat, ha!

What rabbit-out-of-hat dinners have you made lately? Enchant me, please. It'll still be at least a couple days before I'll get to the grocery store...

This same time, years previous: prism glasses, on getting a teen out of bed in the morning, the quotidian (5.12.14), maseca cornbread, the quotidian (5.14.12), rhubarb cream pie, hummus.

Monday, May 11, 2020

the quotidian (5.11.20)

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

A working child's contribution. 

Standard spring fare.

And then I added eggs. Or maybe rice? I can't remember.

Another coffee drinker is born.

She didn't need the antibiotics.

I love getting rid of stuff.

Training her to heel.

Cow couch.

Progress is messy.

Comfort is subjective.


This same time, years previous: our sweet Francie, an honor, the quotidian (5.9.16), tomato coconut soup, the quotidian (5.11.15), immersion, black bean and sweet potato chili, happy weekending, one more thing, getting ready.