Category Archives: Loving the Land

How to Celebrate a Sunday Birthday

Thursday: Wear a fascinator to work and tell everyone that your birthday is coming. Feel childish in your excitement. Run with it.

Friday: Reflection, Kirtan, Goose Island Bourbon County Stout.

Saturday: Clean your apartment. Bask in the open space of your bedroom where, mere days ago, summer’s window AC units had been stacked, staring you down with their large-scale clutter. Go to the market. Cook food. Have people over, make punch, laugh a lot, adore whatever family and friends are around you. Soak in the celebration even if you have a little tummy ache.

It was a mellow party, a nice party, and it ended early enough for Shawn and me to do some cleaning so we weren’t faced with a mess this morning, music still playing, early enough to slow dance in the living room in a pretty dress and sock monkey slippers and new birthday earrings in the wee hours of the real birthday day, when the guests had all left or gone to sleep. What could be better than that?

Sunday: Birthday! Wake up to your little sister and her adorable boyfriend cooking eggs in your kitchen. Feel your heart swell even as you decide to keep your eyes closed a little longer, listening to the clatter of pans and coffee mugs in the next room. Talk on the phone more than usual. Open presents. Post a recipe from your birthday party that was requested last year, made this year, too, requested again.

Squash Lasagna

What Goes In:

  • 4 pounds or so winter squash (a couple medium butternuts or comparable amount other squash)
  • 6 Tbsp. butter (yep, lots of butter)
  • small handful sage, chopped
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 4 cups milk
  • freshly grated nutmeg, salt, pepper
  • 8 oz. or so gruyère, grated
  • 1 box oven-ready lasagna noodles

How to Do It:

  • Prepare squash: Cut in half, scoop out seeds, roast until soft, then scoop flesh into a big bowl.
  • Brown 2 Tbsp. butter in a pan. When the butter turns light brown and smells nutty, remove from heat, toss in sage, and mash into squash with some salt and pepper.
  • Make bechamel: melt remaining 4 Tbsp. butter, whisk in flour, slowly add milk, stirring lots to avoid lumps. Add some salt and pepper and a little nutmeg. Stir and cook until it’s thick.
  • Assemble lasagna: Put a cup of bechamel in the bottom of a pan. Layer uncooked lasagna noodles, bechamel, cheese, and squash. I had 4 layers, ending with bechamel only, with some leftover cheese.
  • Cover with foil, bake for half an hour or so at 35o. Remove foil, sprinkle on the rest of the cheese, cook until cheese is melted and browning just a little. Probably around 15 minutes.

If you are, say, making kale chips and decide to crank the heat to 400 instead of 350, you will most likely end up with a burned, crispy layer at the bottom of the pan. Some of your friends will claim that that’s the best part. Others will push it to the side but still ask for the recipe. Having done this two years in a row, I recommend just remembering to keep the heat on the lower side.

Enjoy your lasagna, friends! I am off to enjoy a walk on a gray day, tasty dinner cooked by a professional, and yet more good cheer.


Year End Love

Last year, I posted a list of resolutions around this time: things to make, things to do, things, things, things.

Well, I still don’t have a cheese press, and I haven’t made soap from scratch with fats and lye, and I might even have to throw away a vegetable or two from the fridge today because I didn’t use them before they got funky, and I still don’t compost here in my city apartment with no outdoor space, though I did reach out to some local gardens and urban farms about taking in my scraps this year, so progress, right?

Last year, at my birthday time, the resolutions felt a little manic. It had been such a difficult year, a time of huge transition, trying changes, and all I wanted was to shed old skin, enter a new decade, be OK, and breathe. Being creative, writing down creative goals, was a way to celebrate that inner spark, to push it out to the surface a bit.

At a meeting the other day with some new ladies in my life, we talked about intention. Among many other things, we talked about what we thought intention was, how it differed from goals. I said I thought that goals were something that you work toward, and that intention was living in the work. This was a work meeting, mind you, and there is a chance this comment had more relevance in context, but I am always big on reflection around the time of my birthday, which comes just before the end of the calendar year. And it feels good to look back at that list of goals, things to do, and to realize that I’m not at all sorry about the things I planned to but did not create.

The desire to be creative, the intention set to make myself and others happy, the year of living inside my values, well these are just the best things that I could hope to have. Looking back and looking forward, I can say that the things I wanted most out of my thirtieth year have come my way: opening and settling, calming and centering. Breathing. I love the new shelves in our spare room. I love that there are shiny jars on these shelves, summer’s bounty preserved, labors of love to be given and shared this holiday season. But these things don’t compare to the comfort I feel in my own skin, newfound and gracious, as I enter this next year.

Tomorrow I will walk to the Grand Army farmer’s market in the hat a dear friend made by hand this time last year, chat with people who work the land around here, tote home bags full of vegetables, early winter harvest. Tomorrow I will cook for friends, break out some liqueur from the workshop party, celebrate the year that’s just passed and the new one coming the best way I know how.

As the air gets cold and the winds turn bitter and as 2010 ticks into 2011, I wish you, nice readers, much coziness, much love. I wish gifts for you this holiday season, woolly hats and shiny jars changing hands, but mostly I wish you a cozy home, comfort in your skin, ease of breathing, ease of love. Thank you for being a part of this last year and all its wonders. I am wishing you the best in all that comes next.

The Best Laid Plans…

I think that August is, by far, the juiciest month. Mine was filled with luscious peaches, tomatoes about to split with ripeness (and some that were not caught in time). July was juicy, too, hot early this summer season, our fruit CSA sending us home every week with at least one heavy bag of stone fruit. We’ve moved into apples now, and we even had pears last week, but the peaches persist despite the weather turning autumnal, handfuls of juicy brightness for these newly crisp days and cool nights.

July and August were full of other things, too, of summer colds and vacations and papers to write, of finishing school and taking a state licensing exam and waiting (I am still waiting) for the results, of cooking and canning and making some cheese, taking pictures of kitchen projects with every intention of blogging (the best laid plans) and then getting caught up in other things just long enough for those photos to feel untimely.

But I will be back with some pictures soon, recaps of things that feel worthy of recapping, new projects in the pipes to busy my hands as this waiting drags on, pictures and posts to make up for the unplanned hiatus at the juiciest time of year.

Back to the City

The fourth of July was wonderful again this year: perfect days in Vermont, green grass, loved ones, cooking on campfire, dappled sunlight by the brook, and the coldest, clearest water.

I will catch up soon on kitchen projects, CSA plans. The fruit share started this week. It wasn’t supposed to start until next week, but the weather has been in the triple digits, and even peaches were plump and ready in early July, and we received a satisfying, handled bag of them with our share last night, accompanied by some wonderful berries, balms to sooth the re-entry, the easing back from three perfect days into heatwave, city grit, the grind of non-vacation life.

I will catch up on these things soon, for sure. In the meantime, I am savoring the peace still lingering from those recent, perfect days, celebrating summer and the glow of recent memories.

Happy Birthday, Little Blog

SMS visitors, please note that the giveaway is the next post down…

It seems it’s been a year since I set to blathering about the greenmarket, little pieces of nature here in the city, things that heal my heart nestled in between the brick and mortar and concrete of this city.

Since that time, I’ve watched a lot of things I love about the city continue to blossom, and the title of this blog has felt like more of a misnomer as farming, DIY-ing, canning, fermentation, and similar activities have continued to tear along the path of returning to city life, folding into Brooklyn more and more, becoming truly urban pursuits. I still pine for big old open roads, for trees towering higher than buildings, but, a year on, I’m still so happy to be here on my block of brownstones, doing things I love to do, sharing them on this blog.

To celebrate the blog’s first birthday, please scroll down to yesterday’s Giveaway post to win a little something from me.

Or just enjoy these snapshots, taken on a recent Brooklyn stroll. These are some of the aforementioned heart-healing snippets, the bits of blue sky or gray, the green expanses that help the city breathe and me along with it.

Ha — in the last year, I have also stopped making Shawn take pictures of projects and have become handy with the camera myself, slightly obsessed.

Faux Holiday, Real Thanks

Last year, Shawn and I hosted our first faux Thanksgiving. We had hosted the real deal the year before, and it had felt a little like playing house in the best of ways, card tables set up in our living room (we are lacking a dining room) with my family piled around, and, as much as I loved going home to Momma’s last Thanksgiving, I missed the opportunity to cook and cook in my own kitchen, a slightly different ambition. And, while my Momma’s vegetarian Thanksgiving is inarguably the best vegetarian Thanksgiving around, cooking in our own little home provided an opportunity for some slight menu variations incorporating some of Shawn’s favorite things ever: a slightly adapted version of Bryanna’s fake turkey and stuffing.

Late last February, in the dark and dragging days of winter, some friends came over to feast. One friend who was in the same boat as me (having hosted the previous year, missing cooking) cooked a duck for the meat eaters. Another brought an amazing carrot soufflé. I cooked all our favorite Thanksgiving things, and we all drank wine, and there was much merriment. It was great to have the opportunity to cook and to give thanks with friends in a family-style setting, especially in those short days when winter had just about worn out its welcome. I promised Shawn we would do it this year, too.

Spring came early this year, then disappeared, then experienced a resurgence. The strongest effect of the earliest sunshiney days on me, personally, is that I found myself practically skipping off to the farmer’s market every week, eager to behold the springy delights that had surely sprung up into these warm days, ultimately crushed to find only last season’s overwintered apples kicking around. This weather has stirred a deep, almost crazy-making asparagus craving in me, and, while I would have preferred lemony roasted asparagus to sagey roasted carrots (I would prefer lemony roasted asparagus to pretty much anything these days), there was none, and this year’s faux Thanksgiving took on another level of meaning: celebrating overwintered (and the non-local, shipped up variety that I try to avoid) vegetables, autumnal bounty carrying us into these early days of spring.

Here is what we made:

  • Mustardy cheddar gougeres
  • Green salad with pecans, market apples, and blue cheese
  • Garlic mashed potatoes
  • Momma’s mushroom gravy (the best chunky veggie gravy ever — a recipe will appear here one of these days)
  • Fake turkey (but with more flavor, done up in the slow-cooker)
  • Roasted carrots, celery, pearl onions
  • Cornbread stuffing (recipe to follow)
  • Sweet potato pie
  • St. Louis gooey butter cake (So! Much! Butter!!)

It was one of my favorite parties in recent memory, due largely to the fact that, finding myself slightly overwhelmed with cooking tasks and suspecting that I had bitten off more than I could chew a few hours before party time, I was able to successfully remind myself that only my friends would be coming, that I love cooking with my friends, that none of the lovely people slated to arrive would take issue with having a drink and standing, chatting, at the kitchen island while I scurried around. This is surely true of all our parties, but letting that realization sink in made the day of preparation and the party that followed exponentially more joyful for me.

Friends came bearing plants that brought wonderful, springy smells into our home. They mixed drinks, scooped gougeres, chopped mushrooms (thanks, Gary), told stories, ate and ate, paid compliments, and, at the end of the night, Shawn and Gary somehow managed to clean every last dish, pot, and pan that had been used, thus marking the first time in my adult life that I have hosted a party and woken up to a spic and span apartment the next day. I cannot overstate how wonderful it was to see that stove top gleaming in the morning sun, all that clear counter space. And thus, for the second year running, faux Thanksgiving provided many small opportunities for gratitude. In these early spring days, I am grateful for fall foods, dear friends, clean dishes, and the chance to create tradition and celebration at any time of year.

I am also extremely grateful that, in the week  and a half following faux Thanksgiving, I have attended a barbecue, eaten ramps, visited flowering trees at the botanical gardens, and taken many a long and breezy stroll. Spring is springing, the CSA is starting soon, and fresh asparagus is right around the corner!

On an Unabashedly Personal Note

Married With Children fountain, Chicago

It took a while to find an appropriate photo for this post, a nice one of Shawn and me together (this one is rather silly, but that just might be fitting). There is a surprising dearth of pictures of us, given the amount of time that we have been together. What I did find were hundreds of pictures of places we have been, pictures of me holding his little nieces and nephew, my own little niece in his arms, infatuated. Pictures of his family folding me in and mine his, friends, too. I found pictures of our apartment when it was new, lovely and bare bones, and our old apartment cramped and packed full. Stunning landscapes. Farmers market veggies in the sun. A goldmine of terrible pictures of yours truly lolling about the apartment, making ridiculous faces in a variety of beautiful places, pictures I would never want to share, a testament to the fact that Shawn must really, really love me to think such moments are lovely and worthy of documentation. Ah love.

After all my big talk about Valentine’s Day, platonic love, being content to be single and surrounded by love on that day, after sticky buns and ruby rosas (my version of the mimosa — pink grapefruit juice and prosecco instead of OJ and champagne — holler if you have a better name for this beverage) and afternoon coffees, Shawn suggested that we walk across the Brooklyn Bridge before dinner. Always happy to walk, I jumped at the offer. The light on the bridge was crazy — bold and golden coming in off the harbor, stormy blue over Manhattan — and I made him stop to snap a few photos as we walked. When we got to the first support towers, the Brooklyn side, he asked if I minded stopping. It was very windy. It crossed my mind to suggest moving to the other side of the tower where we would be more shielded, but I did not get the words out. Even I was able to pick up on social cues and realize that it is impolite to suggest moving when one’s boyfriend is getting down on bended knee, fumbling in his pocket for your great-grandmother’s ring, asking you to be his wife.

I was not a little girl who dreamed about my wedding day. I have always been rather opposed to the wedding industry, the vast quantities of money spent on one day, couples starting married life in wedding debt. And yet, and yet…the past 10 days have been a flurry of phone calls, emails,  DIY blog-reading, general daydream scheming. I am super excited. This will be a hippie, crafty, DIY affair. It may be a potluck, because I love potlucks, because I believe strongly that food is love, and because I want my people involved.

Time will tell. Crafts will be documented. I will do my best not to turn this here blog into a forum about how I’m obsessed with wedding planning (I vow not to go Bridezilla, but I can totally see how that happens now). But some people have been wanting a story, and this seemed as good a place as any to lay it out. So there you have it. After 4 years of co-habitation, 5 years of being together following less than a year (but my oh my did it feel like more) of being new BFFs (the kind where the boy was secretly in love with the girl), after baby-faced travels, hundreds of small adventures, amazing and heartening lessons learned, Mr. Shawn and I are opting to hold onto this relationship, this feeling of home and boundless support, this love, for the rest of our lives.

And that, my friends, is where my head has been.