Archive for the ‘Day in the Life’ Category

I confess. I didn’t clean my floors.

I spent the weekend shoveling. Which is underfoot, so that sort of counts?

It’s strange being housebound by yourself. The last time this happened I was 21 years old, it was 1977, and even though I had a roommate, she was never there. Eventually in that epic winter storm (60 inches of snow over the course of about a week, air temps lower than -20 (that’s Fahrenheit folks), I had to dig my way out and spent the week squatting in a university art studio.

I got to the end of the internet. I watched Netflix. I watched the season premier of Downton Abbey, reminding myself of the fact that I stopped watching it because of the telegraphed plot and sluggish writing and direction, despite the absurd number of simultaneous storylines. (Downton hate mail in 3…2…1…)

I made rugelach.

But a large part of the day I pulled a chair up to my back window and just watched the storm. Here in Chicago we got twelve inches on top of the twelve already on the ground. It snowed last year, too,  but this “was not the same snow. This snow came shawling out of the ground and swam and drifted out of the arms and hands and bodies of the trees; snow grew overnight on the roofs of the houses like a pure and grandfather moss….”

I felt like I was living inside the story, which I know by heart, because I have read it aloud to someone every year for decades, and when I didn’t have someone to read it to, I read it aloud to myself.

I left the house dark except for the last of the holiday lights, draped with greenery in the bow window. Snow like this muffles the sound of the city, with just the occasional rattle of the wind chimes next door– they rattle instead of ringing because they are filled with snow.

I sat because I was sad; it’s no fun being housebound alone when you’re used to having someone with you, to share the thoughts, and the boredom and the rugelach. But after a few minutes, the view becomes hypnotic and your mind empties. It’s not so much that you’re not sad, or not thinking, but that you’re just a vessel, filling up like the garden with the beautiful, blowing, soft and drifting snow.

Read Full Post »

The average, healthy, well-adjusted adult gets up at seven-thirty in the morning feeling just plain terrible.  ~Jean Kerr, Please Don’t Eat the Daisies, 1957


I (Alexandra) actually love the morning. If I’m not up by 7 I feel like I’ve lost the best part of the day.




I (Sincerely, Emily) enjoy being outside in the morning. Things just seem a bit more quiet and tranquil at that time of day (and also a lot cooler which makes it more enjoyable if I am working out there!)


What do you love about morning?

Read Full Post »

On days like this I wonder why we greet the first day of spring with such glee, yet dismiss fall’s first day as just the awful downturn into winter. The spring equinox is muddy, cold, and grey and the trees have no leaves; fall is brighter and warmer, green and gold and full of food and life. It is the second harvest (the first is Lammas in early August) and the promise of a healthy winter. At Spring the stores are low, at Autumn they are bursting– I’m running out of shelf space.

By common law tradition, the autumn equinox is a “quarter day”– Michaelmas or the feast of the angels, a time for fairs, marriages and pay day.

I sit here writing this at approximately the moment of Equinox (and by the way, when did we start thinking of the Equinox as a “moment”), looking at the astonishing blue of the sky and the clarity of the light. There is nothing like the clear intensity of light on a cool autumn day.

I run my hands through the beans drying on the counter, loving the gentle music they make. The rattling of beans on the vine is one of those sure signs of autumn. Every year I face the dilemma– mix all the varieties together, or separate them? This year I’ll separate by color only- reds in one jar, whites in another. I grew Christmas Limas for seed for Peterson Garden Project; they’re all supposed to go to next year’s garden, but I think I’m going to need to siphon off a half cup to cook (for science, ahem). Plus 25 to grow in my own garden. The rest will go back into the project (pinky swear).

It was such a Sconeday— crisp and still– so I made scones– a rolled raspberry version made with half white and half oat flour. It seemed appropriate to use the last of summer’s raspberries, frozen since July, for the first day of autumn. I flavored them for the memory of summer-with orange zest, orange extract and coriander, and glazed with a little bit of peach preserve left over from the peach syrup I made a few weeks ago.

The afternoon will be spent transplanting two small caryopteris bushes to a sunnier spot in a friend’s yard, where I think they’ll thrive better than in the shady spots they inhabit here. She’ll get some divided white iris and phlox as well. I’ve run out room to divide in my own yard, and can’t bear to just toss them. The weather is slated to warm up later in the week, the perfect transplanting formula.

I’ll walk to the lake, as always, towards the end of the day, to honor the horizon and to hear the sound of angels’ wings that is the waves rolling onto the beach.

Read Full Post »

1. Move to a farm, so there are actually things to do at 5 a.m.

2. Check the garden to see what the rabbits destroyed overnight.

3. Check the weather report at 5 or 6 different sites, to see if they agree.

4. Depending on your mood, believe either the worst or the best of them.

5. Try to go back to bed.

6. See if you can identify how many robins are currently singing.

7. Get up and wander around looking for something to do.

8. Realize if you were a slightly better person you’d wash the dishes you left in the sink last night.

9. Admit that if you were a much better person, you wouldn’t have left the dishes in the sink last night.

10. Discover that early morning talk radio is even more awful than midday talk radio.

11. Go back to bed

12. And NPR’s not much better.

13. Decide that the basement is still too creepy at this hour to go and fold the laundry.

14. Absolutely, positively DO NOT CHECK YOUR EMAIL, for pity’s sake, you are pathetic.

15. Check your email

16. Realize that if you brush your teeth, it means you’re not going back to bed.

17. Brush your teeth.

Read Full Post »

I couldn’t have chosen a better week to be sick as a dog, because the U.S. Figure Skating Championships are this week. So fortunately, I only had to do one thing all week- watch the live stream.

There’s nothing more boring than being kinda sick. If you’ve got the full out flu, you feel like you’re going to die, but at least you sleep through most of it. Illnesses like this one– low grade fever, general lethargy–don’t even come with a loss of appetite and I always say what the hell is an illness good for if you don’t even lose any weight. Of course, I probably lost weight anyway, because my husband kept forgetting to feed me.

So here are some things to keep you from being completely stir crazy:

1. Technology
What in the world did we do when we were sick before there was broadband? In addition to figure skating, I’m pretty sure I got to the end of the internet. Also, you can still talk to people, even when you can’t talk, via chat and texting. Forget the tv– that’s so last century.

2. Rooms
As in, move from one into another. Fortunately, I just finished upgrading my kids’ rooms into guest rooms, so I spent the week moving from my bed, to the side bedroom to the front bedroom to the living room and back again. At least the scenery was different.

3. Complaining about the nursing
This is easy in my house, since they all learned their nursing skills from me (see above, re: meals), and I’m the world’s worst nurse. I am also extremely crabby when I’m sick, not that it’s all that easy to tell the difference.

4. Georgette Heyer novels
Just respectable enough to not be embarrassing to buy, but trashy enough not to require too much brain power.

5. Baths
Okay, while technically not “in bed,” you’re still prone, right? Don’t do this if you have a high fever, because it will raise your core temp, but it’s fine for a low grade fever, and again– change of scenery. Plus, sweetie, you know I love you, but after 3 days in bed, you’re a little ripe. Get your nurse, such as s/he is, to change the sheets while you’re in there.

6. Make lists
I always keep a pad of paper in the nightstand, on the theory that I can jot stuff down in the middle of the night so I don’t forget in the morning. Things like “Don’t forgetl;kajdao[kerh” So helpful. While you’re lying there semicomatose, however, you can take the opportunity to mentally walk through the house and write down all the projects that you’re not going to do when you’re better anyway.

7. Get your own damn dinner
I’m sure he meant well, but seriously, somebody fix meals for the poor patient. This is the major drawback of a whole foods (no, not Whole Foods) diet. You always have to cook, because there’s no prepared foods.

What do you do to entertain yourself when you’re sick?

Read Full Post »

We are all experiencing more light with longer days and the “Dark Days” seem, almost, like a distant memory. Winter truly isn’t over, although for many of us it sure seems that way. The participants who live in the northern parts know all too well that even though Spring is in the air and days are warming, that it can be a a false sense of security. Snow can make an appearance at anytime, even in May! (Sorry about that) The “dark” from the Dark Days is fading fast, and technically it is Spring now, it is nice to see some participants are still finding local foods in their areas and supporting local farmers.


South Region (MD, VA, NC, SC) with Emily from Sincerely, Emily

Susan (VA) from Backyard Grocery celebrated St. Patrick’s Day with a classic – venison con queso and chips. Ok, maybe not! Susan did a cooking demonstration this week based on foods found at the market where she did the demonstration. The challenge was coming up with a dish that she could make in one pot. The store carries a lot of local foods and she tweaked hrer recipe based on what was in stock at the store, along with locally made tortilla chips. This recipe can be found in Susan’s published cooked book. You can find out details on her demo along with other information on her blog.

AnnieRei (MD) from AnnieRei Unplugged went hiking at the Conservancy trails near her home and guided a group. She planned ahead and started her meal in the crockpot before she left home. She used center cut pork chops in the crockpot with collard greens, sweet potatoes and a sauce made from local ingredients. She used homemade turkey broth in the crockpot also. All local. All good. Head over to Annie’s blog to see all the great places she found her local ingredients.

Victoria (MD) from The Soffritto was inspired by an Epicurious recipe she saw. She had all the local ingredients on hand and made a beautiful egg noodle torte.  She used oyster mushrooms, chard, basil egg noodles, eggs, milk and dill cheddar cheese all from local resources and her torte is beautiful.  This recipe is perfect, because you can switch out many ingredients and make it your own, using what ever is in season in your backyard or at the farmers market. Stop by Victoria’s blog to see the recipes and her resources.

Rebecca (VA) from Eating Floyd is in the same situation as many of us with warm weather and the itch to plant. She is busy working outside and looked to her preserved items from last year to make up a quick meal. She used a jar of home-canned asparagus soup and also made up a bed of spinach to hold scoops of roasted red pepper hummus and chicken salad. To finish the meal with a nice sweet treat, she opened a jar of canned peach halves in earl grey tea syrup. Visit her blog for recipes and local ingredient information.

Jessica (SC) from Eat.Drink.Nourish. has her spring garden already planted and is looking forward to what it will bring. This week she talks about her experiences with the challenge and how it has changed their family (in a good way.) They fired up the grill this week and made grilled fillets over natural (wood) charcoal and served it with a kale salad. Jessica has eaten kale many times, but this is her first raw kale experience and she loved it. Head over to her blog to read more about her DDC experience and her local ingredients.


with The Other Emily, from Tanglewood Farms

Once again, I find myself incredibly inspired by the beautifully written posts from Karen (NJ) over at Prospect: The Pantry . I also find myself jealous that she can get local saltwater fish over on the coast. Her first post was a birthday dinner of Monkfish on Braised Cabbage that looks delicious; I love the way she garnishes things!

Her second post, Oxtail stock with Borscht, is a great account of her exploration of oxtail stocks and oxtail stew! She has been a fantastic Dark Days participant and I fully intend to keep an eye on her blog from this point on, as it always stirs me with it’s beautiful photos and unique recipes.


Read Full Post »

Radio food

On Sundays I listen to the radio.

All day. I turn on NPR and cook while listening to Krista Tippet, then Weekend Edition, then the local Chicago gardening show The Mike Nowak Show.  After Mike I’ll haul my little portable radio out to the porch, crank up the volume and garden while listening to Bob Edwards, then Tavis Smiley, then Marketplace, then back into the kitchen for more cooking to the BBC and All Things Considered.

It’s my favorite day of the week.

On hot days my husband walks into the steaming kitchen after church (he’s a church musician–how’s that for irony), looks at my sweaty hair, turns on the exhaust fan, and disappears to cooler climes. On cool days I wonder what I was thinking when I made jelly two weeks ago while it was 90 out.

Last week I baked–crackers, scones, pita, and cobbler. This week it’s stovetop and preserving.

Freezing tomatoes with Krista Tippet
“On Being” had the usual thought-provoking discussion, this week about the political life of the observant Jew. While having my mind bent in unexpected ways (a hazard of this program), I processed some of those end-of-season tomato dribbles, when you don’t have quite enough to making sauce. Boil a pot of water, and blanch tomatoes a couple at a time by dropping them into the boiling water for about 20 seconds. Cut them into handle-able chunks, slip off the skin and scoop out the seeds. Then just throw them in quart-size freezer bags and stick in the deep freeze.  A quart is about the right amount to throw into a stew or pan gravy in the dead of winter. Now, you could throw those seeds and skins into the compost, but you can also run them through the food mill; you’ll get about 6 oz of lovely fresh tomato juice for every quart or two of tomatoes. I was going to save this morning’s cupful for risotto, but I ended up drinking it instead.

Apples and Mike Nowak
The Mike Nowak Show was apple processing, while learning about tree keepers, climate drift, mulch, and compost. All responsible gardeners, of course, throw their vegetable scraps on the compost. My neighbor in fact just tosses scraps over the side of her porch; a little disturbing but fortunately they appear to be vegetarians, so they aren’t tossing any bones.

But you don’t really need to compost vegetable scraps, or at least not yet. Any fruit or vegetable scrap can be used for stock. Right now, I’ve got a two-quart pot of apple peels, fresh sage and green peppercorns going. I’ll use it to make risotto tonight. On the other burner, apple sauce. I used 2 Early Golds, 4 large Granny Smiths, and 6 (8? oops) Cripps Pink. The Cripps are really too delicious to cook with-they have an amazing honey sweetness, but this is what I had so into the pot they went. Juice of one lemon, 1/8 teaspoon of salt and a quarter cup of honey.  Then just simmer until the apple pieces have broken down. Can it as is, or run it through the food processer  for a smoother, chunk-free sauce. I still had nearly a pound of peels and cores, so those are going into a bag in the freezer for a future stock, maybe for a potato or squash soup.

Bob Edwards helps with the Salsa Verde, eggplants and heat canning
It’s raining, so Bob Edwards is inside today, talking to an author of fantasy books. I shelled and halved about a quart of tomatillos, halved a jalapeno and scooped out the seeds (so the salsa won’t be too hot), peeled and halved two medium onions then broiled them for a few minutes, just until they started browning. Once cooled, the vegetables, a quarter cup of cilanto, and jalapeno peppers all went into the food processor with the juice of half a lime. Process for about a minute, or until the pepper is chopped very fine.  Salsa verde is not just for chips, either. It makes a wonderful ingredient in meat loaf or chili, as a sauce for chicken (fantastic mixed into the pan gravy), or as a pizza topping.

The salsa and the apple sauce went into a heat bath. I tend to can in tiny batches; not very efficient or sustainable I suppose, but I don’t get the harvest necessary to do giant batches all at once. So I tend to do six to eight pint and half-pint jars at time. This time I had two pints of apple sauce and two 1/2 pints of salsa, plus a 6-oz jar of salsa to eat right now, with my contraband tostitos (don’t tell October Unprocessed).

The eggplants I just roasted for freezing.  Using a cookie sheet with raised edges, quarter or slice the eggplants, dredge with olive oil and bake at 350/170 for 35 minutes. Allow to cool, then skin, and freeze, one eggplant per 1 quart bag. Mid-winter fresh eggplant for risotto , bharta, or baba ganoush. The freezing breaks down the cell walls too much, so this is not as effective for something like lasagna or ratatouille.

As soon as the jars are done, I’m heading off to see some urban chickens. Thanks for listening to the radio and cooking with me!

Read Full Post »

Gardeners like to plan things. Despite the wild appearance of some gardens (ahem), and the tendency of plants to have their own ideas, we’re an orderly lot. We plant things in neat rows, or square foot grids. We weigh and measure, label and stack. We plan our days, and color-code our calendars. We map our vacations and set our alarms.

But the world is full of the unexpected. A broomcorn tassel emerging from a storm-damaged stem. A forgotten plant. Too many cucumbers. A missed turn that leads to an alpaca farm, or a wind farm, in the wilds of Illinois.

Or you might meet Mrs. Rice, the 94-year old proprietor of an enormous “antique mall” in Freeport, Illinois, encountered only because we were waiting out the rain, and hear about an Illinois farm girl going to “business school” in 1934, in the building that she now runs as a flea market-cum-museum.

Take the wrong turn every now and then. You never know where it will lead.

Read Full Post »

I’ll take you on a walk. Down those paths maybe. Close your eyes and imagine you enter through a tall wooden gate, painted with flowers. The neighbor rebuilt his side, which my door is hinged to, and now it doesn’t close properly. My daughter says the sound of gate pulling open gives her goosebumps. One of these days I’ll pull out the wood plane and fix it.

The gangway–that narrow walk between the buildings that is so typically Chicago–is dark and spidery. I always think about Dorothy and friends stepping out of the forest into Oz– “step out of the dark step out of the woods step into the light”– because once you get through the gangway there is no more shade. This is a full sun garden despite being surrounded by trees. An accident of arrangement means that the shade misses everything but the house. I often think I’m a gardener purely by accident, because if I’d had shade, I’d probably never have tried it, since no one in my family ever gardened.

As you step out of the gangway and past the cellar stairs, you first hear and then see the pond. It’s supposed to be inauspicious to have a water feature at an entrance, but the only other place to put it was in the wealth bagua, which is worse (my children are shaking their heads in despair at this point).  If you like, come around the end of our “puddle” and sit in the one shady corner (but only after 4 p.m.). Just a couple of old porch posts set up as a bench, where you can listen to the water running and try to spot all 5 fish.

Up a path past pond and cottage garden, down a path past cottage garden and berry patch (still new–just mulch and seedlings pretty much. Is that a strawberry?) Down the sidewalk, and peer into the tomato patch to see if anybody’s red. This bed is Fort Knox of Chicken Wire in an attempt to keep our resident rabbit from eating all the beans. Two pastes, 5 slicers, 4 types of cherries. Some basil and some zucchini, stupidly planted in the shade of the tomatoes, so it isn’t very happy. Who plans these things anyway.

Hook a left past the original bed, shaped like a half circle. There are no straight lines in my garden, or my life. The garden, like the gardener, zigs and zags, never really settling on anything. The half circle bed has corn this year, in a Three Sisters bed, although the rabbit has pretty much taken ownership of the beans. There are skinny little paths through here, too so I can groom and harvest, but my paths are never as wide as they should be–I just hate to give up the space where I could be growing things. Tomatillos, parsnips, carrots, black beans, leeks, Swiss chard and Brussels sprouts in a skinny box and potatoes in a SmartPot®.

There’s a patio, ringed by bell peppers in pots, with an umbrella table; I’m expecting the squash to start climbing the umbrella at any time. The squash is a volunteer, way too big for my tiny space, with a sister taking over the compost pile. The fruit is oblate and yellow; some strange hybrid.

Leave the vegetables and wander into Narnia, so named because my children were constantly trying to find the magical entrance when they were small; I told them if they went through the trellis entry to this path in just the right way they’d get there. To prove it, I placed Aslan against an old stump. Out through the trellis and you’re back in the vegetables–a serpentine bed (lord, more curves, don’t tell Mel Bartholomew). Onions, eggplants, turnips, shell beans, dill, cucumbers, more chard, broccoli, beets.

Turn one way and find a tiny grassland with a glass brick path; turn the other and glass bricks lead you through an herb garden and into the other gangway.

The whole walk can talk 5 minutes or 5 hours, and it’s how I start every day. Thank you for joining me!

Read Full Post »

Originally posted on Sconeday in 2010

Last year, I lost weight by eating.

You heard that right.

I lost weight by eating. I never set out to lose weight, and didn’t care that much, as I wasn’t terribly overweight for someone of my age (BMI 29, now down to 26). But in March of last year, because of this very blog (before I joined the team!), I started eating SLOW- seasonal, local, organic, whole. I actually increased the percentage of animal fat in my diet, without increasing the amount of animal products I eat. So- whole milk and whole milk products, grass-fed beef, sustainably farmed chicken, with !gasp! the skin on, and free range, organic eggs. I stopped buying food with ingredients, and started making my own everything: crackers, salad dressing, bread, jam, mayonnaise, you name it. I have not been eating any less.

By eating SLOW and other efforts (walking a lot more, expanding my garden) I reduced my family’s carbon footprint by an entire planet.

When I tell people this story, the responses are predictable– too expensive, don’t have time, don’t know how to cook, my kids won’t eat like that (why, do they have an independent income for their own food?) and on and on. So here is MY challenge– change your eating one day a week. Just one day.

Do you eat out all the time? Start cooking from scratch one day. I’ll let you buy pasta, but make your own tomato sauce, and buy your lettuce in a head instead of a bag. Use oil and vinegar instead of additive-rich purchased dressing. Just for one day a week.

Do you already cook from scratch? Pick another day, and eat only seasonal, whole foods that day. I’ll let you go to Whole Foods (if you must) or another aware market, and buy strawberry preserves in March, as long as they’re organic. I’ll let you buy pasta, but read the label and make sure it says “semolina flour, water” and nothing else.

Already doing that too? Make bread. Or jam. Or crackers (they’re ridiculously easy, look for my recipes over on the Mahlzeit blog).  Go to a U-Pick-It and get enough fruit to make preserves. Don’t worry how it turns out the first couple of times, you’re only doing this once a week, remember?

Do you bake a lot? One day, don’t use the mixer-save the electricity and do it by hand. How often do you go to the grocery store? One day a week, right? Go to the local, organic market instead, or the nearest farmers’ market. Too expensive? It’s only one day a week!

Or are you like me, and way into this already? You can change yourself, and your family, and your planet one day a week as well. Eat vegetarian one day a week. Already doing that? Eat vegan one day a week (that’s where I’ve gotten). Already doing that? Eat raw one day a week.

If you’ve taken your food as far as you’re comfortable, then take your one day a week and walk everywhere. Use your day to donate time to a community or school garden, or a political action group. Plant a tomato- that’s way less effort than one day a week, and then use your day at harvest time to preserve the bounty. Use your day to write your elected officials and demand recycling, the end of Big Ag subsidies and work arounds, and fair rules for small family farms. If I can lose 25 pounds with literally no effort toward that goal, then we can save the planet.

After all, it only takes one day a week.

What will you do one day a week?

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: