Cook what’s there, from the garden to the back of the fridge Roasted potatoes with fennel, green beans, and old cheese

My cooking generally strikes a funky balance between super fresh things from the garden and whatever is about to grow hair in my fridge. I’ve enjoyed making food so much more since letting go of a strict adherence to recipes and learning to cook with what I have. The recipes I share are seasonal, adaptable, and non-judgmental.

Last year a friend traded me seed potatoes for strawberry plants. I have never grown potatoes because I was sure they would be covered in diseases and get eaten by evil pests, which would then proceed to eat the rest of my garden. Besides, I Knew For A Fact that eating potatoes was like shooting refined sugar straight into your veins. I threw the nightmare nuggets into a bucket of straw and ignored them for three months. The handful of (pink!) potatoes they grew (no diseases!) were delicious, so this year I dedicated a 3×8 bed to Terra Rosa, Purple Majesty, and Amarosa fingerlings.

IMG_0313

Now comes the reckoning. I have a ton of potatoes that need eating, but mashed potatoes is about all I’ve ever made.

I didn’t take any pictures of the prep because I thought it would be a horrendous failure. I don’t even know what to call it. After eating it reheated for the second night, the fennel, parsley, and garam masala seem the most important from a flavor perspective, but substitute whatever you need to!

This takes about an hour and a half to cook, but not that long for prep.

What You Need

  • ~3 lbs potatoes
  • 1 fennel bulb
  • 1 head of garlic
  • 1 bunch of leafy greens (chard, kale, sweet potato greens, Asian greens, spinach, arugula, whatever you have or can get)
  • 1 bunch of fresh parsley
  • 1 lb green beans
  • ~8 ounces of cheese of some kind
  • olive oil, salt, garam masala, citrus juice of some kind
  • tinfoil, casserole dish at least 9×13

What You Do

I kinda sorta peeled the potatoes where the skin was rough or there were eyes. Slice the potatoes about 1/3 inch thick, grease a big casserole dish, and lay the slices out. Preheat the oven to 350F. Peel the cloves of a head of garlic and drop them in whole amongst the potatoes. Chop the fennel and distribute it across the top.

IMG_20160721_152615

I harvested this just in the knick of time before it separated and went to seed.

In a bowl, mix 1/4 cup olive oil, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp garam masala (the ingredients are common so if you don’t have this you might be able to make it, which I’ve done in a pinch), a splash of lemon or lime juice. Or cider vinegar if that’s what you have. I had a nearly disgusting container of chévre in the fridge that I whisked in. Cream cheese would work fine, or something else fatty and creamy, or nothing. Pour this over the potatoes evenly. I then layered the top with pre-sliced cheddar cheese. I ran out so there were gaps. Any cheese is fine, though less if it’s a salty hard cheese like parmesan.

Cover tightly with tin foil and stick it in the oven for about an 1:15.

I shredded a pile of chard and some fresh parsley and set them aside to mix in at serving time. I like my greens just wilted so usually mixing them with hot food is enough. The beans are Cherokee Trail of Tears, which are an excellent multi-purpose pole bean for green beans, soup beans, or drying. Frozen green beans are a fine substitute. I roughly chopped the beans and sautéed them with a little butter just until their green deepened.

Fill bowls with the fresh greens and green beans and just add in the potatoes when they are done, and mix.

Just to be safe, take a last look in your fridge to see if anything else is fermenting back there that needs to be used. I found a bunch of sliced manchego that sat out all day at summer camp in my toddler’s lunch (because he only eats things that are crunchy and therefore only likes cheese that is hard and thank heavens for Costco). I pried apart the greasy mess and crumbled it on top of my bowl once everything else was combined.

Voilá! Of course I forgot my husband can’t abide goat cheese, but he ate it anyway, which is saying a lot. My children won’t touch it, so I get it all to myself!

Violent Fear and the struggle to raise peaceful men

Last night a mom friend wrote me, asking advice on resources to educate her 3 year old son about war without scaring him too much, but in a way that would head off romanticization of might, violence, and male warriorhood. I sighed. This is a parenting arena in which we have struggled mightily. It seems that no matter what we do our six year old is fascinated by bellicose activities. While it pales in comparison to some of what I see other kids his age doing, it’s still too much.

In the midst of the Trump nightmare, the epidemic of gun violence in America, the neverending spectre of sexual violence, and the ratcheting up of male rage, getting it right seems of monstrous importance.

We are pretty close to being pacifists and there is no violence or intentional shaming in our home. Until recently there were no toy weapons or media exposure to violence, either. Violence is a fact of life and we aren’t trying to pretend otherwise, but the natural world is full enough of life, death, and struggle without adding sensational, romanticized aggression into the mix. Yet our six year old son latches on to even the slightest reference with a vengeance. I thought Bed Knobs and Broomsticks was about a magical flying bed. He only cares about the five minute clip of zombie armor fighting nazis. We’ve read every Magic Treehouse book and what has stuck with him is a powerful fear of and desire to protect our family from nazis and confederate soldiers.

And yet this is an empathetic child who sings songs to the forest and reassures the poison ivy that it, too, deserves love. What drives this obsession with battle and war? It was easy to produce narratives about existential fear, abuse, or excessive media exposure before it was my kid, with none of those factors at play.

I recently had an “aha!” moment that felt ridiculously obvious and earth shattering at the same time. I was extra sensitive because it was the day of the Orlando shootings and he was trying to get his toddler brother to kill big imaginary bad guys with sticks with him. I just couldn’t. I pulled up a photograph of two men embracing, tears streaming down their faces. I showed it to him and told him what happened in Orlando. I didn’t go into detail and I’d never show him violent imagery. But I wanted him to see the human impact of what I felt he was making a game of. His eyes grew wide. He sat quietly for a moment and said “Is it okay if I make some security upgrades to the house? I want to put in some cameras and booby traps to keep us safe.”

He says things in this vein not infrequently. I always deal with it by talking about how safe our world is, how uncommon violence actually is, and how having weapons in your home and behaving aggressively toward possible intruders just makes it more likely that someone will get hurt. He has never been hurt or seen anyone hurt or heard of any people he knows being victims of violence. He is unbelievably privileged.

But this time he said “But these bad things DO happen all the time” and rattled off everything I’ve shared with him over the past few years. It hasn’t been much, but I talked to him about the Charleston killings. That was the first time I ever discussed current events with him and it prompted a thoughtful few weeks reading about slavery, segregation, and white supremacy. He knows that white supremacists–KKK and neo-nazis–tried to kill my parents before I was born. I’m sure there has been more that I don’t remember because it wasn’t as poignant.

I have been careful not to expose him casually to terror, and there is plenty of it no matter what you do. But as the mother of middle class white boys, I also feel this powerful tug to make sure they don’t walk around blind to the world they need to help bring down if we’re gonna make it.

But in that moment I realized that it doesn’t take much to terrify a child. “Much.” When I write  down what I’ve told him about, it seems like a lot, but it’s only a fraction of the horror I know and absorb every day as a grown up in our society. My six year old is just like the fearful hordes driving Trump’s success. I can only hope that we’ll have given him better tools to cope with his worries by the time he’s of voting age.

His little human brain–that spent thousands of years evolving to kill or run–senses vulnerability and responds by trying to give him tools to reconquer his uncertain and scary world. All his obsession with war and weapons took on a new light. Yes, we need to dismantle that response to fear because this is not the world our human brains evolved for. But no, I don’t need to be scared that somehow I am raising a sociopath. He needs love, safety, and more love and more safety. And reminders of how good people really are. And promises that we will protect him because for six year olds, that’s what parents (should) do.

I felt like an asshole for sharing too much of the world’s ugly, too early. I thought I’d been so careful. But I felt a burden lifted, too. I had started looking at my child and feeling I couldn’t connect because I couldn’t understand his fascination. It’s fear. It’s always been fear. And if we are to be our best as a society we have to remember that even for the grown ones, it’s fear. That’s no excuse for becoming a terrorist–whether to your children, spouse, or everyone else–but to not reproduce these people we have to understand how they came to be.

So this morning my six year old came into the kitchen with tears streaming down his face. He looked at his father.

“Did you tell her?”

My partner had been out in the driveway with the kids and our eldest came over nonchalantly and informed his father he’d touched something that “looked like a slug, but wasn’t.” Pop’s parental instincts went on high alert. We live in the heart of copperhead country and I’ve already killed two babies this year and had two more get away from me. Sure enough, it was a baby copperhead and our son watched as his father killed it with garden loppers. At first he had asked to do the deed himself. He wanted to make us safe. But watching us take its life was too much.

He has been in mourning all day. He vows he will never tell us if he sees another one because he can’t bear the thought if it dying for no reason. When I killed a mother black widow last summer as she sat on her egg sack, we both went through the same sadness. But this time I saw it differently.

This is my small human, seeing something that could kill him and those he loves and feeling great empathy for it because it is alive and also deserves to be here. He buried it beneath a black walnut tree in our yard and made it a gravestone. And I feel hope for humanity.

“Snake died 6-26-2016”

Out of Time How bad family policy screws primary earners, too

My first year in college I ran for student congress on a progressive slate with a student body president candidate who was a woman, black, and queer. I learned a tremendous amount from that experience, but the conversation I recall most often was when she scoffed at someone talking about wanting equality for women. I was taken aback–because isn’t that what this was all about?

“I don’t want the shitty deal men have,” she said. “I don’t want equality; I want justice.”

I have spent years studying social policy and could say a lot about America’s pathetic and inhuman lack of supportive family policies–what it does to women and families, what it does to workers and our economy, how we waste the potential of mothers by pushing them into all-or-nothing career v. family choices because mixing the two is so awful, how leaning in is bullshit and leaning out is impossible for many…the list of what could be said is long.

But that’s not why I’m writing (one handed, while nursing).

I’m writing because when my spouse and I sat down last night to figure out what had to give for us to not lose our minds, we agreed sadly that I was the one who had to find a way to make more time. Me, the one who makes the food, buys the food, and grows the food. Who takes care of the kids all day, every day. The one who has no time for taking a class of her own and rarely gets time away from the children. Who showers once every 5 days and never gets to go to the bathroom alone. Who nurses all night and schleps the baby, changes diapers, ferries the big kid, tends injuries, mends clothes, maintains the family social network, and sometimes works for pay.

IMG_20150609_182747381

“the weekend”

Why? Because I’m the only one who can. Every moment of my partner’s time is already spoken for. He gets up with the kids at 5:30 and lets me sleep for an hour or two. He hustles to work after helping make lunches or doing a few minutes of reading with our 6 year old. He doesn’t get home until 6:30pm and the kids are in bed an hour later because, well, see above. That means he literally walks through the door and into bedtime routine. For a year all this included an average of six hours a day wearing our sleep-challenged baby, starting between three and four in the morning. When the kids are asleep we collapse to deal with grown up life–paying bills, making decisions about activities and scheduling, planning life. After I go to bed he stays up to clean the kitchen. He tries to play basketball Tuesday nights, but only makes it about once a month. Last week he had to work late. The week before he was sick with the the never-ending kid crud. On the weekends he vacuums and mows the grass, takes the kids to social engagements, lets me have some alone time with no one touching me, including him.

And his is an awesome deal that we are deeply grateful for. This is a privileged working parent’s normal life. He is lucky to have a stable job with flexibility enough that when I have mastitis or one of our kids gets injured, he can work from home or bail on a meeting. He is lucky to only have to leave us for work travel a few times a year. He is so very lucky to make enough that we can afford my choice to not work outside the home.

But when I had mastitis (the third time) a friend had to come over to care for our kids (with her kids in tow) because even though my husband was home, he was still working and I was in bed with chills and a sky high fever. In contrast, when my sister au pair-ed in Germany after high school and the mother (who was paid by the state and accrued social security because mothers at home with young children are also considered workers) broke her leg, the government provided a home helper 12 hours a week to do laundry and cook…because she couldn’t, and someone had to.

As weak as it may be, we do, as a society, have an accepted narrative critiquing the lack of support for employed and at-home mothers. The lack of paid leave, support for breastfeeding on the job, access to affordable childcare, leave to care for sick children, opportunities to advance at work without basically abandoning our offspring, etc. We sometimes extend this language to stay at home fathers, but we rarely stop and ask whether it’s okay for breadwinners–mothers or fathers–to have so little flexibility during their children’s formative years and to miss so much of it altogether. While half of both working fathers and mothers say they struggle with work life balance, twice as many dads say they are not getting enough time with their children.

We don’t talk enough about what mothers want and how to help them get it–whether the 40% who are at home with young children (in married families, 35% in single-mother households) or the 60% who are employed (Bureau of Labor Statistics). But we don’t talk at all about fathers, and 92.6% of those with children under 6 are working, and in over a third of heterosexual married-couple families are the only earner–in 62% the primary earner. It is rare that we question the notion that if someone is mostly home, someone else must be mostly working. Someone has to pay the bills. But what does that person’s life look like?

We have structured our expectations of breadwinners around the assumption that this person is peripheral to the beating heart of the family. We hear about it when women who have responsibilities for young children are also breadwinners, but we rarely ask ourselves what it means for the future of society that we assume it’s okay to ask this of non-mothers, as if somehow that person isn’t a real parent.

When we had our first baby my spouse’s employer gave fathers one day of paternity leave. One. Day. When we had our second they had given up the farce and eliminated even that one day of leave. You got a day off for moving, but not for your child’s birth. We felt lucky he had a couple weeks of vacation and that the birth was uncomplicated.

I sit here, raising boys with a full time working partner–a father who would give anything for more time with his kids, more time with me, more time with friends–and the palor of his days makes me ache. How do I offer this to my sons as a future when this is just about the best gig they’ll get, if they’re lucky? My partner gets snatches of our life when we are at our worst–tired and hectic. His time is not his own. He has handed it over to me with open arms because he knows my days are harder. He comes home and says “what do you want me to do with these 30 minutes? How can I help?” There is no give, no wiggle room. And that’s in a middle class family with a strong support network.

Last night my social media was overflowing with Donald Trump and the Stanford rapist. For months we’ve been drowning in the sick hatred of our North Carolina state legislators. We have a problem with patriarchy, yes, but the (mostly) men whose sense of impotent rage fuels that machine were children once and something happened to them. Yes, institutional racism and sexism. But we have been an economy that doesn’t care for families for a very long time and even in the Golden Age of the 1950s when white middle class families happily got by on one income, fathers were gone at work. For poor families everyone has always worked in one way or another. Mothers working across income levels has not given the other parent any extra freedom to be home with family more. Mothers working has simply meant more work done by the family, on average (58.5 hours of work a week between them in 2011, compared to 50 in 1965).

I am not arguing for simplistic explanations of major social problems, nor that women should be home. Quite the contrary–I am arguing that our public policies have failed to deliver equality, certainly, but have never even contemplated justice for families. There is no amount of money that would convince me to switch places with my spouse. I couldn’t anyway because me working the way he does wouldn’t free him from working the way he does. The jobs in his area–like so many white collar jobs–are not structured to allow for part time options. Because we don’t have equality, we couldn’t get by on my one income the way we can on his because I can’t make nearly as much. But we almost never ask what the costs are to primary earners, mothers or fathers, of this kind of economy. We almost never ask what it means for children to grow up with this view of their future. Sure, we talk about the glass ceiling (some of us, sometimes) and how to make sure girls see women in positions of leadership. But what are we really offering them?

It’s not a new question–in family policy it’s called American exceptionalism because everywhere else in the world that offers such horrendous choices for parents gets dramatically falling birth rates or female labor force participation. They watch us and wonder who on earth raises our children when we have no paid leave, no public daycare, and no public preschool. The answer is parents and grandparents whose lives have been stripped bare. Whose time has no give. And the price is paid in domestic violence, substance abuse, and lifespans shortened by stress and poor health–risk factors that are all exacerbated by the presence of young children. And let’s not forget generation after generation of children who see parenting as an exhausting slog that eats us down to our most vulnerable selves.

The worst part (or perhaps the best part?) is that this ain’t that hard to fix. In 2000 the Netherlands passed a law requiring employers to permit all workers to be part time if they wanted–with proportional losses in pay and benefits, more or less (here’s a nice lay person’s summary). Overnight a quarter of the population went part time. Women AND men. The Dutch choose less work and less income and so would much of America. And they are really happy. Hell yeah, I’d like for us to pay mothers salaries and provide free high quality public childcare from age 0-6 and do a million other things to support breastfeeding and early child development. We need those things. But if we aren’t going to be Sweden, we could still be a way better America and vastly expand means tested benefits for those who really need them and make part time employment options mandatory. Oh, and mandate paid leave for new parents like nearly every other country in the entire world, for crying out loud.

Families come in all shapes and sizes. My circle is full of amazing combinations of multiple mothers, multiple fathers, all one or the other, grandparents and cousins and friends who could be blood. Families where fathers are home with children and families where everyone is employed. Family is what we make it. But this country is failing itself by not acting like our families matter, on so many levels. I want something better for myself, yes, but I also want something better for my full time working partner because he wants to be the parent that his kids deserve. And he could be…if only he had the time.

IMG_5712

today. orlando. emily doe. the big things and small things, always together

Today my kid’s morning plans fell through because his friends were sick. Mama hustled, rustled up some buddies, and forged ahead. At the museum he ran away from us and got lost. Luckily (I guess) he found a friend and mooched lunch off his Grandma and gave her my cell. She was taking care of three kids under five but fed and rescued mine. Only 30 minutes spent searching the 84 acre park. Could have been so much worse.

I was freaked out and angry and frustrated. He should have known better. But he was scared and hungry and tired. It wasn’t anyone’s fault, but I was exhausted. Getting a lecture from your six year old that when they get lost is the least appropriate time to get mad will take you down a notch. He was right. I felt like an asshole.

Then his afternoon plans fell through. His friend canceled at the eleventh hour. I spent 45 minutes (while stuck under a sleeping toddler) trying to arrange an alternate playdate. He was disappointed and crying. I felt great sympathy and told him how hard I was trying and how sorry I was. But it was almost dinner time. Sometimes life gives you lemons.

In his ferocious sadness he took a swipe at one of our house plants, uprooting it by accident. He came and told on himself, like he always does. Just a fucking house plant. One my dad had nurtured for decades and that I’d brought to my home when he died of cancer. I felt burned for my efforts and utterly unappreciated. It all seemed so trivial and yet so all consuming. My super mama powers were failing miserably.

Maybe some music would help. Some random bluegrass station. It was all stalker music. I tried a different station. Also stalker music. Apparently every song every written is about women ruining men’s lives just by being. They know where we live and know if there are lights on someone’s home. They talk about our bodies and how it’s all our fault that they can’t help themselves for being out of control “in love” with us. I couldn’t do it, not today.

Everything felt like shit. Today’s problems were small but the world’s problems were big. Fifty people dead in Orlando. A world full of assholes running free after ruining women’s lives. Over and over again.

So I put on the wild super mama cape my kid made as a gift for me during quiet time (before he killed my plant), made from stapled together fabric and ribbon with a pocket for putting things. I turned on some Bev Grant and The Human Condition. Her song about Clifford Glover played softly. That was 1973 but it seems like nothing’s changed. I cried.

Then I went next door and told my mother in law about my day. It was like dredging the bottom of a dirty river looking for a dead body that you maybe did or didn’t want to find. She smiled at me and said “You know, parents have to be therapists all day long, but they never get to be the client.”

I watched my son sitting in the yard picking clover flowers, the late afternoon sun shining on his bent head. He brought me a sweaty handful and kissed me. “These are for you mama.”

Challenging rape culture at home It's never too early--or too late--to practice consent

Like most mothers, I imagine, reading about rapists like Brock Turner unleashes deep fears I could never have imagined before having children. What can we DO to keep our children from perpetuating rape culture?
 
We search for books that set good examples and have talks with them about body autonomy. I have already spent years changing sexist language in our children’s books, talking to my sons about consent (a message they hear from both parents), and mindfully ensuring that their media exposure is as un-sexist as possible. We use the real names for body parts and when they have questions we answer them unflinchingly and honestly, even when we are dying of embarrassment on the inside.
 
But then you have a moment where you find yourself yelling at your kid not to yell at their sibling, or roughly snatching something away from them that they just roughly snatched from another child. Your stomach does a flip flop as you realize this happens all the time. Counteracting rape culture is both harder and more within our control than we might think because rape culture is our culture, at all income and education levels, in all types of households.
 
It’s the norm of forcing kids to do what we say because we are in charge, of dragging and hauling their protesting bodies to where we want them, no matter how they object, of giving them no say in the big decisions that impact their lives. We do these things casually–they are completely accepted and normal. It was done to almost all of us. Even spanking is considered okay by a majority of Americans. But these are the roots of dehumanization and powerlessness that can grow into bitterness and a desire to control and take from others to feel whole, respected, or in charge (for some intense and excellent reading on the roots of violence in early childhood, see Karr-Morse and Wiley’s Ghosts from the Nursery or the works of Alice Miller, such as For your own Good
 
What is desperately needed, in addition to all the important work on changing public culture, is for us to overcome our own hurts and hurtful habits and parent our babies and young children as if they were whole humans, as deserving of respect and autonomy as anyone else.
 
The list of things we must say “no” to is inescapably long and the list of things babies and young children cannot control for themselves is even longer. Recognizing their body autonomy and right to make decisions about what they do and how they do it is the earliest and most important step in overcoming rape culture. 
 
It’s relatively easy to put respectful parenting into practice with babies, even if it’s the most counter-intuitive. It’s very satisfying because you immediately see their independence and capacity expanding. It’s also not hard to step in when my older kid overpowers his sibling to get what he wants. We do a lot of work on consent and body autonomy in the context of the sibling relationship.
 
My biggest challenge at the moment is stopping those wrongs against the younger sibling without doing the same thing to my elder child that he was doing to his brother, all while I feel angry at the injustice of what’s happening. It’s so hard and I fail often. Then I apologize, ask forgiveness, and commit to trying harder to deal with my anger in a less hurtful way. 
 
This is not about parenting without limits–quite the contrary. Limits are crucial. But it is about setting the same standards for ourselves that we set for our kids and enforcing important limits with empathy and respect. It’s really really hard, but it’s key to giving our kids the self esteem and grounding they need to not take their hurts out on others as they grow up. Or, perhaps more accurately, it’s about not breaking the natural sense of self worth they were born with. 
 
My mother just walked through the door. My kids haven’t seen her in 3 weeks and have been asking non-stop when she would arrive. They adore her. She could have come in and swept them into her arms, knowing their relationship is one of trust and love. But because their relationship is one of trust and love and respect, she did not. She said “I’m so happy to see you, may I give you a hug?” Our parents have done tremendous work to heal the hurts of their own childhoods; it hasn’t been easy. It inspires me daily to keep working on all this.
 
If you need a hand, organizations like Hand in Hand Parenting are incredible resources. A friend gave us their pamphlets when we became parents. We go back to them regularly and loan them out often. While I sometimes find the RIE resources overwhelming, they are also a helpful tool in my toolkit and I go back to them whenever I’m feeling like I’ve gotten out of sync with my values as a parent. I have no affiliation or ties to these sites or organizations, they are just places I have gotten help when I needed it. There are plenty of others. 
 
We can do this.

Growing ginger and turmeric in the home garden an easy crop for new and seasoned gardeners

It’s the first week of June–the perfect time to plant your own ginger and turmeric! These two are some of the hardest to get truly fresh anywhere other than your own garden and are also expensive. I have a bad habit of wanting to grow everything, even if it’s far flung, but this was one of those that turned out lovely. I’ve been growing my own ginger and turmeric for three years and it’s easy and satisfying. They are pest and disease free plants that don’t even need full sun.

IMG_20151017_193829891

turmeric from the garden, ready for eating or preserving

As long as you have a decent summer (probably Zone 7 and up), you can get a good crop in one season outside. The pros overwinter it in a greenhouse (by nature this is a tropical plant so letting it get cold is a no-no), but it works fine to plant around the time you’d put sweet potatoes in and then harvest before the first frost.

Ginger and turmeric like humidity, moisture, good drainage, and filtered sun. If you have spots in the garden too shady for full sun crops, these will be happy there.

Conventional turmeric and ginger rhizomes may be irradiated, which makes them hard to propagate, so buy organic or from a farmer.  Our local natural grocers carry both, as does a vendor at our local farmer’s market.

What you need

  • healthy (not shriveled or moldy) organic ginger and turmeric rhizomes with lots of happy “eyes”
this ginger isn't perfect, because i'm not perfect and i was busy with other parts of life and left it in the fridge too long. but if it has a nice eye like this it'll do.

this ginger isn’t perfect because i’m not perfect and i was busy with other parts of life and left it in the fridge too long. but if it has a nice eye like this it’ll do.

  • a sharp knife
  • large pots or garden bed with rich, well drained soil (3:1 organic potting mix and compost works well for pots)

What you do

  1. Cut the roots into pieces at least one inch long with at least one eye, ideally two. It’s tempting to cut them too small because they are so expensive, but if none of them sprout you lose the investment anyway. Eight ounces of turmeric provides 20-30 eyes, ginger a little less because usually the roots are fatter.oh look, i said that and then i still cut them too small. oh well, i did this last year also and they grew anyway.
  2. Plant them 3x their length deep. They are slow starters so give them a month to show above ground. I often add hardwood mulch to keep down the weeds while you wait.
  3. Keep them well mulched, weeded, and watered.
  4. To harvest, gently loosen the soil with a digging fork as late in the fall as possible before first frost.
  5. Separate big rhizomes from those too small to be useful. Repot the small ones in a large pot and put it somewhere out of the way. Water about once a month and next spring you can jump start planting with these little buggers.

    rinsed, with roots, and ready to be processed

    rinsed, with roots, and ready to be processed

IMG_20151017_200212097Wash harvested rhizomes and eat fresh, without peeling. They’ll last a few weeks in the fridge wrapped in paper towels. To preserve longer, cure by leaving out for a day or two inside, then store in brandy. This also gives you turmeric/gingered brandy to flavor soups and sauces or take as a tonic for colds.

But wait! Don’t compost those green stems. They are lovely dried or fresh in teas or soups, or sautéed fresh with veggies.

St. Louis a surprisingly special trip

When we decided to visit St. Louis for four days over Memorial Day weekend I wasn’t over-the-moon excited. I was looking forward to some quality time with dear friends we hadn’t seen in years, with their baby we’d never met. I knew next to nothing about the area except that racist cops got away with murder there and no one who knew the place seemed particularly surprised. And we are not baseball fans.

But we love to travel and there’s always something exciting about going somewhere new.

All trips with kids are "special." I call this one "trying to rent a car with kids."

All trips with kids are “special.” I call this one “trying to rent a car.”

It turned out to be an incredible trip and we came away with a few tidbits to share. We spent time in the county and walking around downtown. We explored Forest Park and the zoo, the state history museum, the Wabash, Frisco, and Pacific Railroad, City Garden, the Gateway Arch, City Museum, Union Station, the St. Louis Transportation Museum, and the Laumeier Sculpture Park (kind of). We missed the botanical gardens, which was supposed to be cool. We rode the Metrolink and went to Sauce on the Side (twice. omg).

This is a great city for families. You should stay downtown and go on a holiday weekend. St. Louis is not, at the moment, a major tourist destination so on holiday weekends it experiences a net loss of population. You’ll have the town more to yourself and things like the arch and the zoo that are often crowded or hard to park at on the weekends will be more accessible.

IMG_0009

the area below the arch is being transformed into a museum and public space to be completed in the next couple of years.

Some things to watch out for:

  • You can drink anywhere, just about. Including in the front passenger side of a moving car, for example. While it’s nice to be somewhere that you can carry your beer around while chasing your kids, it’s also good to be aware of if that would pose difficulties.
  • People don’t breast feed in public so if you aren’t used to that and are a nursing family, be ready to perform a “protego” shield charm around yourself (as my mother says) and get your guard up. I mostly just got dead eyed looks from exhausted mothers of newborns who had just come out of the bathroom after nursing their baby on a toilet and didn’t know how to deal with me sitting there with my tatas al aire. I almost cried but just gave long distance hugs.
  • St. Louis is highy segregated by race and income. Most of the major investments in public infrastructure and up-and-coming public spaces are on the western/southern side of town. We spent a fair bit of time in these spaces as well as downtown, where most of the people we interacted with were people of color. Those were the richest, warmest, and most memorable interactions we had during our trip. St. Louis is one of the most segregated cities in the country and if you are paying attention (or if you aren’t white), you’ll notice. You can read more about the history of segregation in St. Louis herehere, and here, as well as many many other excellent places.

The Zoo

IMG_20160528_124825541_HDR

It’s free! My friend announced jovially as we entered “socialism at its best!” (she’s a political theorist). The two ladies who I thought were there to tell me where to pay (but were really there to help if I needed to find things) looked unsure whether to call Homeland Security or not. We moved on.

It has trains. And animals. The Forest Park that surrounds it is lovely and walkable and we did it for a mile and a half with kids in strollers. Parking is normally horrific on the weekends but was fine for us, no lines or crowds either.

IMG_20160528_145126700The History Museum

Its restaurant is fancy but the café has coffee and normal food and there are a set of tables out of the way of everyone else so if you–like us–choose to park there with babies for several hours of napping and boobying, conversation, and coffee, you can be pretty anonymous.

It’s not a children’s museum (even though there is a section for little kids) and if your kids start running people will give them the stink eye and tell them to chill. Your spawn may or may not take heed.

Time to go! My, what a nice fountain they have out front!

Citygarden 

This recently renovated downtown space was our absolute favorite. It’s beautiful, accessible, alcohol free, well supervised with life-guardy type city employees, and really diverse. When our 6 year old tore up his leg running across the stepping stones, parents we’d never interacted with came to check in with us and wish him well. We went two days in a row. Every city should do this.

Gateway Arch

It’s as cool as you would hope but might worry it wasn’t. Order tickets online at the website, they leave every 10 minutes. It’s very retro and funky inside and there are all kinds of opportunities for exploring engineering with kids as you go. Looking out from the top is neat and you feel sort of like you are on a space ship.

Union Station

We walked from our hotel to the Metrolink and took the train to Union Station. There are stroller-friendly elevators and everything was easy to manage. The trains aren’t super frequent…it’s not a city whose population today would merit a subway system. But the city and its infrastructure were designed for a lot more people.

Union Station in St. Louis is considered one of the most beautiful central stations anywhere. It was turned into a mall in the eighties and is currently a hotel. But it looks like a freaking castle and is enormous. Renovations are currently underway to shift toward restaurants and entertainment, which should be a more vibrant use of this incredible historical space.

 

City Museum

This place is unreal. Really really unreal. If you have a toddler you may ask yourself whether it is a good idea. Do it. You might give yourself a concussion trying to keep them from doing something ridiculous, but you won’t regret it. If you can remember it.

The brainchild of sculptor Bob Cassilly, this place was built from salvaged materials all over the city. And by salvaged materials I mean things like the enormous marble façade of a school. It has a very Tim Burton-esque feel about it. If your kid is afraid of heights or loud noises, this is probably not the place for them. The more likely scenario is that your children will be in heaven and you will nearly die of sensory overload. The place is meticulously constructed and you will not find a spot where a small person could fall through, but everything is made of metal so any bumps or knocks will be hard. If it’s raining the roof top will not be open. They don’t do reciprocal memberships and it’s often packed. But this was the most unique and memorable thing we did.

 

Wabash, Frisco, and Pacific Railroad

We are a family of train lovers, so we always seek out train activities anywhere we travel. This 12 inch railroad runs live steam and diesel on Sundays, May through October. It’s lovely and unlike many of these types of railroads, the trip is long enough to really be worth it. Also good for putting babies to sleep. The line can get long so try to get there for the first train or so.

 

St. Louis Transportation Museum

My husband waited until we were on the way to drop the bombshell news that this museum has a Union Pacific Big Boy. There are only 8 remaining of the original 25 and we’ve been waiting years to see one. The museum is a bit outside town and there’s not much else there. It’s in full sun so try to go first thing in the morning. While some of the locomotives are under a covered shed, that was even hotter. They have a garden railway and bumper/pedal train for kids, which were all fun.

The collection is first rate, with the best signage I’ve ever seen. For nerdy engineering types, you can actually see all the locomotive parts well labeled. If you care, they have cars and airplanes too, but our kids were singleminded.

Our toddler cried bitterly when it was time to go, wailing “choo choo!” in the saddest way. His big brother (who has never let him touch one of his G-scale electric trains) decided to gift him his Polar Express. We didn’t really believe it would happen, but it was the first thing he did when we got home.

Laumeier Sculpture Park

We parked there to nurse through a 3 hour car nap. The kids refused to leave the car when they woke up, but it looks neat from the parking lot and has clean bathrooms.

Where we stayed

We stayed at the downtown Hyatt, which is literally under the arch. Hyatt’s are our favorite in general because they focus on quality food, with quite a few local and organic ingredients (every one we’ve been to grows its own culinary herbs–this one in a hidden spot on an interior roof I only found because I was looking for it). We travel on reward points and the Regency at the arch is an awesome deal. It’s only listed as a Category 2 so we could get an executive suite for cheap. The layout was great and very toddler friendly.

The lounge serves amazing food with healthy options so we ate many meals there for free (lounges vary tremendously hotel to hotel and this is the best one we’ve used). The lounge also has a spectacular view of the arch. Everyone there was great and the brew pub downstairs keeps local drafts on all their taps (beers in the lounge were $3 craft brews!).

St. Louis for the win! We can’t wait to go back.

The Gardener’s Mantra

It was like a horror film slowly playing out, with one shock after another sucking the juice from my adrenal glands.

One day there were nibbled pea shoots. A bunny or mysterious insect perhaps? Then the strawberry leaves. The defoliated mulberry gave it away. The squash and melons that mysteriously never came up but had nuzzly nose prints in the holes and dainty hoof prints beside the bed.

IMG_9820

I had thought I was safe. We’d taken all the precautions and for three years never had a security breach. The 7 foot fence around our land received regular inspections and had 3 foot welded wire reinforcement at the bottom.

I tromped down the yard furiously with a fresh roll of fencing under my arm to raise the barrier at a spot that looked jumpable, tears welling as the image of my sweet, innocent strawberries–decapitated with cold hearted viciousness–swam across my vision. My fists clenched at the thought of those soft hearted suburbanites who croon over them and post pictures of their babies on Facebook. The rage begins to take over. Okay, okay, reign it in mama. Deep breaths. Do your mantra.

They are also alive. 

They were here first. 

They are feeding their babies, just like you. 

And you will kill them all when you learn how to shoot with a bow and arrow. Vengeance will be yours. 

I breathe deeply to drown the blood lust and nearly stumble over her. My little blue Orpington looking frazzled and missing feathers on her back. “What has your sister done to you?!” These two had gone broody and been moved into a light-weight tractor in the yard for a few days to keep them off the eggs. Maybe they were fussy about the move.

She looks at me with head cocked to one side. “What sister?” she seems to say. I gather her up in my arms to return her to her tractor…the tractor that is not where I left it. The tractor that has been dragged in a semicircle and is full of feathers, but no hen.

What sister, indeed.

I follow the piles of feathers in their meandering path into the neighbor’s yard and out into the driveway. I trace little tufts of sadness toward the woods until I can find no more.

IMG_9842

It isn’t even 8 o’clock in the morning.

I feel a strong desire to burn down the forest, so I tell myself wise stories about how we share the world. Time for the mantra again.

How my homesteading is a healthy engagement with the natural world that forces me to be humble, to remember that we are out here at nature’s mercy.

How the choice to be here in deer and fox and coyote and owl and hawk territory means so many good things.

How I love looking up at the sky and watching graceful hawks circling…and smile when a murder of crows chases them off.

How I listen to the coyote pups calling to each other at night and marvel at how happily unconquered the wilds really are, no matter how we try to fool ourselves.

How the spring peepers sing us to sleep after long spring rains.

Mostly, my mantra works. l say the right things when it’s time to explain it all to my children. I’m sure life will go back to normal, it always does. I am a loving person. A kind person. Yes, I am.

Deep down I believe my mantra. This is all a balance and we humans have taken more than our fair share.

But you, deer and you, eater-of-hens, you are real damn lucky I don’t know where you live.

In the mean time, we are perfecting our barriers. As I walk the fence with my father in law he says out of nowhere, “Now this is something Trump would actually be good for!” I doubt it, but the image makes me smile.

Neighbors and family together, moving the offending mulch mountain and raising the deer fence.

Neighbors and family together, moving the offending mulch mountain and raising the deer fence.

UPDATED:

For two more days this deer breached the fence, but with vigilance and team work we patched the holes and got her out again. The third day she appeared with her brand new baby fawn beside her. It was very very very cute. If I’d had my camera I would have shared pictures. The mantra is good.

After polling the neighborhood my brother in law informed me he’d seen a fox crossing our driveway with a “chicken sized something” in its mouth. Mystery solved!

The Farm’s tofu dip: an old spring recipe revisited

When I got married I had my mother in law make a batch of this amazing tofu dip and pack it up for me with cucumber slices. I knew I wasn’t going to get to eat much of the mouth watering Allen and Son barbecue as we made the rounds, talking to our loved ones.

No, we aren’t even close to vegetarian, but this is my favorite dip. It has become lunch many times as I chase wild children and can’t stop to make food, and it keeps forever in the fridge (several weeks, you’ll see why). When I made my most recent batch we were all recovering from months of nasty colds and I realized it’s also a tremendous immune boosting food, when made with the fresh ingredients listed below.

I had her write the recipe down for me and she told me it was from her old The Farm cookbook. This has become a family favorite in the springtime when the snap peas are in full swing. This version is more nourishing and less sweet; I’ll explain the substitutions as I go. It’s just about the easiest thing I make.

IMG_9697

even delicious with the sliced cucumbers your toddler spits back out–see above

What You Need

  • One pack of firm tofu, which is about 2 cups (I get a sprouted organic tofu that is still only a few bucks at the HoFo)
  • One smallish onion or half of a big one (I found some long forgotten perennial bunching onions in an overgrown corner of the garden and used one of those!)
  • As much garlic as you like (the original recipe called for 2 tsp garlic powder but I use 3 big fresh cloves)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4-1/2 cup olive oil (love me some Costco EVOO…and I usually end up using closer to a cup but start with less to get the consistency as you like it)
  • 2 tsp soy sauce (I use more like 2 table spoons)
  • 1/4 cup vinegar (the original recipe calls for white vinegar, who knows why. I use spring tonic when I’m lucky enough to have some of what my mama makes me each winter in good cider vinegar, but plain cider vinegar is also delicious)
  • A handful of fresh herbs. This isn’t in the original recipe and it’s fine plain, but I like to toss in a handful of something–basil, thyme and oregano, whatever is growing in the yard. It makes a pretty green color and spices it up a bit.
  • The original recipe calls for a pack of stevia, which I leave out because I am a savory kind of gal.

What You Do

  • Put the liquidiest and mushiest ingredients in the blender first and just dump it all in. Blend until it’s smooth. I break the tofu into chunks but if you have a good blender it really doesn’t matter.

If my toddler leaves any snap peas for the rest of us, they are perfect for dipping.

Happy spring!

Ten years of that life

A decade ago, today, I went to a bar I really hated. My sister was celebrating graduation from university and I wanted to support her. A blue cups bar with cheap beer and undergraduates; it was as awful as I expected, except for the company. My sister and her childhood best friend were celebrating together.

You were there because my sister’s childhood best friend is your sister.

I have known you, from afar, for about as much of my life as I can remember. Mostly I knew your family and your home, because video games were your life at age 11 and hanging out with your sister’s friends was so not cool. I remember hot dusty drives in our un-air conditioned station wagon down the long gravel road to your house in the woods. I loved that house.

I had a dream about you once and a crush on you for, like, at least two weeks in middle school. I asked you to dance to Stairway to Heaven at a middle school dance. You said yes to be polite, but you were a foot taller than me and the song was 7:58 long. You recused yourself partway through and I was mortified for at least 30 minutes.

For fifteen years I forgot about you except for some vague awareness that you grew up and did something with computers. But before the graduation party I had seen you one other time, six months before. I was out on the town with our sisters and we ran into you, out on the town with your friends.

I told your sister you were hot.

She told me you were getting married in May.

I reluctantly forgot about you again.

But on May 9, 2006 there you were, looking sweet. I laughingly told your sister so, with an eye roll in honor of your impending nuptials. She turned to me with an expression I couldn’t quite interpret and smiled. “Well you know, he’s not getting married anymore.”

I’m sure I excused myself politely. I can’t remember. I do remember the shirt you were wearing. And what a kind smile you had.

And there we were, you and I, wrapped up in conversation for the rest of the evening, all my senses on high alert. I could feel it.

Then the evening was over. I didn’t have your number. My sister was moving to Japan in a few days. I had no excuse to see you again.

Yet somehow out of a stadium full of 75,000 people we stumbled across each other two days later at graduation. That kicked off a week of unlikely, just barely possible chances. And we took every one of them and spun them into a life as fast as we could. We had both been on pause after long spells of not-quite-right with someone else. We were ready for the life we wanted. A life I still think isn’t quite possible and can’t really believe is mine.

A life back on this marvelous land, in the home I loved as a girl. A life with you. With the babies we made together. With our families. A life of commitment with one of those maturing marriages that I’d heard of but never witnessed in person. The ones where you fight less over time and help each other become better. I always thought those partnerships were some kind of gigantic hoax.

Then, not long ago, I realized I was in one. May 9th was when we began.

It’s not always pretty, but damn, it’s good.

IMG_0498

Lake Atitlán, Guatemala, on our honeymoon