Thursday, July 2, 2015

Garden Update! {7.2.2015}

We left town for a few days, and it rained plenty while we were gone, which means...

Coppertop Garden 30June2015

Coppertop Garden 30June2015

Things are looking a little more lively than they did when we left! Here are some closeups:

Coppertop Garden 30June2015

Coppertop Garden 30June2015

Coppertop Garden 30June2015

Coppertop Garden 30June2015

Coppertop Garden 30June2015

Above, the visible plants are radishes. Parsnips are still trying to germinate in the same rows.

Coppertop Garden 30June2015

Who knows what changes another week will bring?

Friday, June 19, 2015

Garden Update! {6.19.2015}

I'm so SO excited that I got a community garden plot for the season! Two years ago, I tried to grow a container garden on my rooftop, but it turned out to be a TON of work for not much payoff. There's no water source up there, and I needed to water basically every day to make sure all the pots didn't dry out. It was fun, but exhausting. So last year I did nothing, and I really missed it. This spring, I just barely missed the deadline for all the community gardens in my neighborhood, so when I got an email that a few plots were left at a new one, I pounced! I have a 4x8 plot with full sun, and I could not be more happy. We finished planting this morning! Here's what we're going to try to grow in our overly ambitious (because what other way is there?) garden!

Coppertop Garden Plan 2015

(Awesome kitchen garden planning tool from Gardener's Supply Company!)

  • Cherry tomato "Blondkopfchen"
  • Plum tomato "San Marzano" (2)
  • Beefsteak tomato "Brandywine Sudduth's Strain"
Lettuce "Crisp Mint" (Seed Savers)

Carrot "Calliope Blend" (Botanical Interests)

  • Purple Sweet Bell
  • Yellow Belle
  • Red Bell
  • Jalapeño
Parsnip "All American" (Botanical Interests)

Radish "Plum Purple" (Seed Savers)

Beet "Chioggia" (Seed Savers)

Cantaloupe "Hearts of Gold" (Livingston Seed Co.)

Pumpkin "Small Sweet Sugar/Pie" (Livingston Seed)

Cucumber "Russian Pickling" (Seed Savers)

Zucchini "Black Beauty" (Seed Savers)

Tomatoes and peppers (and some basil) were small seedlings, but everything else was just directly sown from seed! We'll see how they do. On the left side, I planted some Empress of India nasturtiums as a front border, and on the left, I sprinkled Red Marietta marigolds all over the place.


I planted lettuce and carrots in the same rows, and radishes and parsnips together too. Good space-saving technique I read about, since the carrots and parsnips take 2-3 months to mature, and radishes and lettuce just a few weeks.


Row markers: popsicle stick + sharpie.


My little garden helper. We have matching bike helmets!

Can't wait to see some little sprouts popping up soon!!

Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Comforts of Home + {Penne with Mushrooms, Asparagus, and Cream}

Penne with Asparagus and Mushrooms ::

We were away from home visiting family in Michigan for almost a week leading up to Memorial Day. I always forget how exhausting it can be to parent on location. Maybe it's just the inflexible, hormonal pregnant lady talking, but it's hard. We have wonderful families who love us and do everything they can to help out and make sure we're happy. And we always have a great time! But by the end of a longer trip, I am just aching to sleep in my own bed, walk out onto my own street, and settle back into my own routines.

Anne on the boat, Memorial Day 2015

A basic and foundational part of the way I live out my vocation is the ability (and responsibility!) to feed my family three delicious, nutritious meals a day. Away from my natural habitat, or otherwise deprived of this basic task, I sometimes feel like a castaway.


When I have to forage in a foreign fridge for my sustenance and my family's, it's amazing how quickly I realize that my idea of "staples" is not the same as anyone else's. Please don't misunderstand me: I don't mean to judge other people's choices. I would never expect someone else to have a fridge stocked just like mine would be. People prioritize differently, have different preferences and needs, and buy their food accordingly. But anyone knows that opening someone else's fridge can feel like walking on a strange planet. We have the industrial food revolution to thank for this dizzying variety of possible food choices, and sometimes I wonder if we would be better off without quite so many. But I digress.

Here are some of our family's basic everyday necessities:

Half and half (for my coffee)
Whole milk
Plain, full-fat yogurt
Honey and/or maple syrup
Olive oil

The fresh fruits and vegetables change from month to month as the seasons change, but we almost always have those things on hand on any given day, and we use them up quickly. What things would you add? What does your list look like?

Spring salad ::

I'm so glad that the season of deciding what to eat based on what's at the market is back. It is infinitely more fun for me to cook this way, not to mention much more fun to eat. Here's an easy dish I made for friends a couple of weeks ago, based on what I could get at the market that weekend.

Penne with Asparagus and Mushrooms ::

Penne with Mushrooms, Asparagus, and Cream

1 pound penne
2 bunches asparagus, trimmed and cut into 1.5-inch pieces
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 yellow onion, chopped
1/2 pound cremini mushrooms, sliced
salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 package chicken sausages, split in half and sliced
3/4 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup cream
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
zest of one lemon

Cook the penne in boiling, well-salted water. About a minute before the pasta is done, toss in the chopped asparagus. Drain and set aside, saving a bit of the starchy pasta water in case the sauce needs thinning.

In a wide, shallow saucepan or skillet, heat the oil and butter over medium heat. Add the onions and mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and taking on an attractive brown color, about 10 minutes. Season with salt, pepper, and thyme. Add the sausages and cook about 5-6 minutes, until nicely browned on the sides.

Add the wine and scrape up all the delicious cooked-on goodies from the bottom of the pan. Cook until reduced slightly, 3-4 minutes. Add the cream and cheese, and stir to combine well. Stir in the hot pasta and asparagus, adding a splash of pasta water if the sauce seems too thick. Cook for a minute or two, tossing well to allow the sauce to thoroughly coat the pasta. Turn off the heat and stir in the lemon zest.

Serve with a simple green salad and crusty bread.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Rhubarb Streusel Pie

Rhubarb Streusel Pie ::

This is it. The best rhubarb pie in the world. Did you hear me? THE. BEST. Perfect crust. Tangy-sweet rhubarb flavored with vanilla bean. Crumbly, crunchy, nutty streusel topping. This afternoon I'm planning to make my fourth in a span of two weeks, because if I'm with people, I need them to be eating this pie. And I need to be eating it. I ate almost the whole first one by myself.

I mean, I had help. A little. In the person of a tiny baby girl who is making her presence known more and more each day with kicks and jabs to my abdomen.

Little sister

I'm a late sharer of pregnancy news online. I so love telling people in person and seeing their reactions; hugs and squeals of excitement and actual congratulations are SO MUCH BETTER than Facebook likes and comments. When mostly everyone knows, and it's starting to be visible no matter what, then I finally share the news online. It's a girl, and she's healthy! I'm feeling great.

{Apparently, I like to announce I'm having baby girls by sharing recipes for pink vegetables. Last time, Radish Pickles! And more thoughts about the weighty responsibility of raising girls into women. Head over to check it out.}

Rhubarb season is just warming up in the Midwest, so you have plenty of time to get some reddish pink treasure from the farmers market and make yourself and those you love an amazing pie.

Rhubarb Streusel Pie ::

Rhubarb Streusel Pie

I always, always use Heidi Swanson's pie crust recipe, and it is amazing every time.

5 cups (about 2 pounds) fresh rhubarb, chopped into 1-inch pieces
1 cup sugar
1/2 vanilla bean (or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste)
3 tablespoons tapioca starch (corn starch will also work)

1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
3/4 cup finely chopped walnuts
1/4 cup butter, cut into cubes
3/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup flour

Make the crust and refrigerate it until ready to use (making it a day ahead of time breaks up the effort required to make the pie, and ensures the crust is fully chilled - win-win).

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Place the sugar in a small bowl with the vanilla bean (if using), and use your fingertips to rub the sugar along the inside of the vanilla bean, scraping out the seeds and distributing them through the sugar. (You could also do this ahead of time - the vanilla flavor will be more pronounced if you leave the vanilla bean in the sugar for a while.)

Place the chopped rhubarb in a large bowl with the vanilla sugar (or sugar and vanilla extract/paste) and tapioca starch and stir to combine. Set aside for about 15 minutes, while you prepare the crust and topping.

In a small bowl, stir together brown sugar, walnuts, cinnamon, salt and flour. Add the butter, and use your fingers to rub it into the sugar mixture until well-combined.

Roll out the crust and fit it into a pie plate. Decoratively crimp the edges, and pour the rhubarb filling into the crust, being sure to scrape all of the sugar and juice out of the bowl. Sprinkle the topping evenly over the fruit (ahem, vegetable) filling and slide into the oven. Bake at 450 for 15 minutes, then decrease the heat to 350 and continue baking for 50-60 minutes, until the filling is bubbling, and the topping and crust are golden.

Cool at least 2 hours before slicing, and serve with vanilla ice cream.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Ham and Asparagus Quiche

Ham and Asparagus Quiche ::

I just finished reading The Hound of Heaven at my Heels, a fictional version of the lost diary of the great poet Francis Thompson, "a heart-breaking and soul-lifting account of his spiritual, psychological, and physical regeneration. It is the story of a young man who finally finds his soul and his vocation." (<-- taken from the back cover of my edition)

It includes Thompson's poem, "Daisy," an ode to a little girl he met as he walked one day. From the preceding section: "I spoke to her gently; she confidently spoke of the flowers, the birds, and brothers and sisters--nothing, surely, to interest any man, yet I listened, enchanted. How simple and strange and wonderful and sweet. All this exquisiteness ordinary men take for granted, like the daisies they trample underfoot, knowing not what daisies are to him whose feet have wandered in grime." Isn't that just how we feel now, having lived through the cold and dark winter, just to see flowers and grass, and trees with leaves budding again?

A lot of adults are intimated by (or think they hate) poetry, and that's probably largely due to the way it's approached in school - not a lot of appreciation just for the beauty of it, and tons and tons of picking apart and analyzing. In the latest episode of my favorite podcast, Julie Bogart talked about her marvelous idea of poetry tea parties - weekly sessions with her kids in which they share tea and treats, and each one brings a poem to share. I am not not NOT wishing away these sweet toddler years, but oh my goodness. I can't wait for poetry tea parties to be a part of my life!

Ham and Asparagus Quiche ::

Here's the whole poem, if you want a little more to savor.


Where the thistle lists a purple crown
Six foot out of the turf,
And the harebell shakes on the windy hill--
O the breath of the distant sift!--

The hills look over on the South,
And southward dreams the sea;
And with the sea-breeze hand in hand
Came innocence and she.

Where 'mid the gorse the raspberry
Red for the gather springs,
Two children did we stray and talk
Wise, idle, childish things.

She listened with big-lipped surprise,
Breast-deep mid flower and spine:
Her skin was like a grape whose veins
Run snow instead of wine.

She knew not those sweet words she spake,
Now knew her own sweet way;
But there's never a bird, so sweet a song
Thronged in whose throat that day.

Oh, there were flowers in Storrington
On the turf and on the spray;
But the sweetest flower on Sussex hills 
Was the Daisy-flower that day!

Her Beauty smoothed earth's furrowed face.
She gave me tokens three:--
A look, a word, of her winsome mouth,
And a wild raspberry.

A berry red, a guileless look,
A still word,--strings of sand!
And they made my wild, wild heart
Fly down to her little hand.

For standing artless as the air,
And candid as the skies,
She took the berries with her hand,
And the love with her sweet eyes.

The fairest things have fleetest end,
Their scent survives their close:
But the rose's scent is bitterness
To him that loved the rose.

She looked a little wistfully,
Then went her sunshine way:--
The sea's eye had a mist on it,
And the leaves fell from the day.

She went her unremembering way,
She went and left in me
The pang of all the partings gone,
And partings yet to be.

She left me marveling why my soul
Was sad that she was glad;
At all the sadness in the sweet,
The sweetness in the sad.

Still, still I seemed to see her, still
Look up with soft replies,
And take the berries with her hand,
And the love with her lovely eyes.

Nothing begins, nothing ends,
That is not paid with moan;
For we are born in other's pain,
And perish in our own.

Ham and Asparagus Quiche ::

Ham and Asparagus Quiche

I got a 10-pound ham for Easter dinner, and there were 3 adults and 1 toddler in attendance, so you can imagine that we have eaten a lot of ham lately. Let me be clear: this was totally intentional, and is in no way a complaint. I made the obligatory (and awesome) split pea soup, and lots of sandwiches, and lots of ham 'n' eggs, but this was my favorite use for the leftovers. Maybe because it's light and springy, or maybe because it can be eaten at any time of day, or maybe just because it was so delicious. Make it, and you can decide for yourself!

One 9-inch pie crust, store-bought or homemade (I always make this recipe)
4 large eggs
3/4 cup half and half
salt and pepper
1 cup cubed ham
1 bunch asparagus, chopped into 1-inch sections
4 ounces grated Swiss cheese
2 scallions, chopped

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Whisk together the eggs, half and half, and salt and pepper. Stir in the ham, asparagus, scallions, and cheese, and pour into the pie crust. Bake 50-60 minutes, until filling is set and golden at the edges. Allow to cool slightly (or completely) before slicing. Serve with a simple green salad, dressed with oil and vinegar or lemon juice.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Beauty That Changes You (+ Unstuffed Cabbage Casserole)

Unstuffed Cabbage Casserole ::

I am one of those people who keeps an absurd number of unread emails in my inbox. I scan the list of new messages, click open one or two that are actually personally relevant to me, and then just move on to something else. Mostly, the unread emails are promotions I'm not interested in, newsletters and notifications I don't remember signing up for, that kind of thing. But once in a while a message pops up from a voice that never fails to be uplifting and refreshing, and I find myself glad to see them, like having coffee with a good friend after a long time apart. The Blessed is She reflections. A notification from Sarah Mackenzie that a new episode of the Read Aloud Revival podcast is up! Anything, just anything from Tsh Oxenreider.

Lately, I've been working through Tsh's Upstream Field Guide: an online course "to help you discover who you are, find your life's purpose, and take daily action so that your life makes more sense." It is jam packed with great stuff - podcasts, downloads, Spotify playlists to get your journaling juices flowing. I have been enjoying every minute I spend with it, and loving the fact that I can do it at my own pace. One of the journal prompts asked me to list some things that I find beautiful, and it has really stuck in my brain. As I go about my days, I'll find myself thinking, There. There is something that is beautiful.

Unstuffed Cabbage Casserole ::

In a homily last week, one of our parish priests reflected on the crucifixion. He knew an artist who tried to describe the balance of emotion that goes into a painting or other depiction of Christ's Passion. Pain, of course. Agony. But also ecstasy. Because He joyfully offered Himself on the cross, it was not only pain and suffering. He knew exactly what He was doing, and why. And for whom.


What tremendous beauty there is in such a sacrifice; a willing self-donation. Joy and love transform pain into beauty.

All through this week, I expect to find myself dissolving into tears as I witness - again - so many stunning displays of a love that transforms, that heals, that saves. In yesterday's Gospel reading, a woman pours out a liter of costly oil - a LITER! - on Jesus' feet, and dries them with her hair. How can you witness an act of such bold humility and striking sacrifice, and come away unchanged? Imagine the smell in that house - filled with that fragrance. Imagine the gasps of those watching, the tears on Mary's face as she loved Jesus with abandon. Let this beauty sit in your soul and change you.

Mary Anoints Jesus

This Holy Week, I decided to dedicate myself to decluttering, sprucing up, and using up the food that's in our house - preparing our home and our hearts for a big celebration. As I realize what a huge task I've embarked upon, I'm starting to think toward next Lent - maybe a big de-clutter in the kitchen during the first week of Lent, and then meal-planning to use up what's there, in an effort to simplify, save money, and be a good steward of the generous gifts God has given me. We are still using up things and eating up leftovers this week (gotta make room for a feast!), and this "unstuffed" cabbage was a great, easy way to do it. Hope you enjoy it!

Unstuffed Cabbage Casserole ::

Unstuffed Cabbage Casserole

1/2 head cabbage, shredded
4 slices bacon, chopped
1 pound ground beef
1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon dried mint
1 teaspoon dried parsley
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 tablespoons tomato paste
1/4 cup red wine
1/2 cup plain whole milk yogurt

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees, and butter a 9x13 (or equivalent) baking dish. Toss the cabbage with a teaspoon of salt, and let it sit while you prepare the filling.

Sauté bacon until crispy. Pour off excess fat, leaving about a tablespoon in the pan. Add the beef to the pan and brown it, breaking it up as you go. Add onion, garlic, and seasonings and cook 3-5 more minutes, until onions are beginning to soften. Stir in tomato paste and wine. Remove pan from heat, and stir in the yogurt.

Spread half the cabbage in the buttered dish, and top with beef. Repeat with remaining cabbage and beef. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes, then remove the foil and continue baking for another 15 minutes. Enjoy!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Maple Tapping at Growing Legacy Farm

A couple of weeks ago, I saw that Dwija and her family were tapping the maple trees at their new house. Never one to miss an opportunity to engage in a seasonal activity, I decided to do a little investigating into our options for seeing a maple-tapping, sap-boiling operation. By investigating, I mean that while we were in Traverse City last week, I asked my mom if her friends, who own a farm nearby, tapped maples. They do! They were doing it last week, and invited us to come by and check it out.

Fred and Barb Weber started Growing Legacy Farm seven years ago because they wanted to give their grandchildren the opportunity to see where their food came from, to live close to the land, and to be in community with family all the time. They started small, raising broiler chickens, and more recently purchased their current farm, where they have been expanding and improving every year, adding goats, more chickens, a no-till vegetable and herb garden, and grass-fed cattle. They converted their farmhouse so that they have semi-private residences (they live downstairs while their kids and grandkids live upstairs), and their passion for what their doing, not to mention the joy they are experiencing in living out this particular dream just radiates from them.


When we arrived on the farm, we were welcomed inside for a brief history, and then Fred took us on a little tour of the farm while Barb stayed inside to finish baking bread. First we visited the chicken coop, where the girls were chattering happily and staying warm. We saw the goats, then walked across a field to the main attraction: the maples! They have 40 or 50 trees tapped this year, each outfitted with plastic tube that diverts sap into buckets. The sap looks just like water, and we all dipped our fingers in for a taste, which was like barely maple-scented water. Not sticky at all!






After we collected a bit of sap, we brought it back to where they boil it down to make syrup. It takes about 40 gallons of maple sap to produce 1 gallon of syrup! After a pass through a filter, we added our freshly-gathered sap to the boiler, took a peek at the blazing wood fire they use to heat it, and then headed inside for a little taste of last year's finished product.



On the way, my sister took Anne to the chicken coop to collect some eggs! Anne was absolutely delighted, and proudly brought her little bucket of eggs to show us all.


It was a fantastic outing, and we're looking forward to coming back when the farming season is in full swing. If you're in Northern Michigan and you're looking for sustainably-raised meat and eggs, please check out Growing Legacy Farm!