Commonplace Book

What is a commonplace book? For me, this is a space where I post interesting links, reflections on what I’m reading, and the newest recipes I’ve been trying out — a collection of miscellaneous micro-posts.

Note: OK, y’all, I’ve been letting this one roll for about two months, as you’ll see in my cattle call of cakes. Bear with me as I get caught up!Read More »

What Is Left of a Marriage

Ten years. In a decade, those fluffy towels have migrated to the basement, faded and threadbare. The dinner plates once registered for — the ones reviewers warned were fragile — have been shattered, one by one, as if methodically, and replaced with a mishmash you hate. The slow cooker died when its insert shattered; the toaster oven was given to a friend when it wouldn’t fit in the moving van.

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Linking Meals, Using Up & Making Do

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These are not my teacups. They’re my sister-in-law’s, because she is classier than I am.

“Now the aim of the good woman is to use the by-products, or, in other words, to rummage in the dustbin.” –G. K. Chesterton, “The Romance of Thrift”

First, let me say, there is nothing wrong with just having a meal plan rotation. I have recipes I use over and over and even a homemade cookbook of favorites. But I often find I have things to use up, and wanted to share my strategies for avoiding waste in the kitchen.

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Commonplace Book, 45

What is a commonplace book? For me, this is a space where I post interesting links, reflections on what I’m reading, and the newest recipes I’ve been trying out — a collection of miscellaneous micro-posts.

What I’m fixing:

What I’m reading:

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A Year in Meals

After Christmas 2016, without a lot of consideration beforehand, I bought myself a magnetic meal planning calendar. I’d done meal planning for a few years at least now, but this was a more visual means of organization — and besides, it was pretty.

I’ve kept most of the pages from this year, and in reviewing them, drawn some helpful conclusions: 2017 was a year of more meat. Lots of meals brought by sweet friends. Heavy reliance on the slow cooker. So often, nearly every week, so many changed plans, but still, in the end, I think the exercise was a good practice.

Here were some greatest hits that featured again and again:Read More »

Commonplace Book, 41

What is a commonplace book? For me, this is a space where I post interesting links, reflections on what I’m reading, and the newest recipes I’ve been trying out — a collection of miscellaneous micro-posts.

I’m soaking up “maternity leave,” which for a homemaker means having my husband home nearly full time and having meals brought almost every evening. We are still schooling and nursing and laundering and all the rest, but the pace is significantly relaxed.

I am also counting down to Advent and trying to resist getting a tree till Sunday. It’s not easy, especially since Pip remembered about the feast of St Nicholas and started asking daily when he’ll get candy in his shoes.

What I’m fixing:

  • Basically nothing. People are bringing us meals, which continues to be just the best. For Thanksgiving I️ fixed slow cooker green bean casserole (double the onions, of course), my mom’s chocolate chip pecan pie, and my mother-in-law’s cranberry sauce, and it was such a joy to cook again, no longer heavy-footed and heartburn-ridden, but I’m grateful that my holiday cooking was just a novelty in this season — it’s such a gift to have dinners taken care of instead of frantically attempting to cook with a clingy baby too small to fit in the Ergo.
Even cuter than the pie maker in Pushing Daisies

What I’m reading:

  • The Inquisitor’s Tale, by Adam Gidwitz. I️ don’t know if I️ loved it, but it was certainly awfully interesting:

“Life is a song, composed and sung by God. We are but characters in His song. […] If we could hear our own songs, if we could see God’s creation the way God does, we would know it’s the most beautiful song there is.”

  • Five Little Peppers and How They Grew: aloud to the kiddos. So far I’m meh, but I was looking for something in the spirit of Little Women and Little Men, which Pip loved as audiobooks, and then I found this at a Little Free Library. At least they’re loving siblings, which can sometimes be hard to find, and it’s very anti-materialist (a la Little Women), just as the Christmas greed sets in.
  • How to Pray As a Busy Family: A Beginner’s Guide — mostly stuff I’d intuited but handily collected in one spot.

This time last year:

  • Anosmia is a thing you probably didn’t know existed. Now you do.

In Praise of Animal Fats

J and I have never been vegetarian (well, I think J was one Lent), but for a very long period of time, we weren’t eating very much meat or many vegetarian dishes.

I’ve heard it called “flexitarian,” but for us it just translated to “can’t afford meat as main dish.”

Recently we celebrated our comparative prosperity and invested in a quarter of a cow. This led to a carnivorous celebration called “Beef Week,” but also made me think about how we used to stretch meat.

Thekitchn.com is historically a good resource for thinking about meat as a condiment, not the main event. Here are some of the techniques we accumulated over our grad school years:

  1. Chicken stock. Our mainstay. If you can’t roast a chicken yourself yet, you can save up a couple rotisserie chickens or ask to take home the turkey carcass at Thanksgiving. (You weirdo.) Then you chuck it in the slow cooker overnight or in a stockpot for a couple hours and you end up with something rich and salty and nourishing with basically no effort. Use it in soups, especially cheap simple ones like this polenta soup where it will really shine. Or make your rice fancy by using it instead of water. (And if you don’t know how to roast a chicken, consider this slow cooker method.) Store leftovers in the freezer in 1- and 2-cup bags or jam jars for easy thawing. (Bonus: the gelatin in a good bone broth is really good for you, though I can’t say the same about bacon grease.)
  2. Bacon grease. People are generally secretly excited about this. Bacon by itself is an excellent way to make an otherwise vegetarian meal special (as with lenticchie con ditalini, baked potatoes, many soups) but you can save the grease (call it “renderings” if it makes you feel better, you foodie) in the fridge and use it for salad dressings, greasing cornbread pans, giant skillet cookies, and sautéing greens with vinegar.
  3. Duck fat. J recently called this an “essential oil.” We like it for roasting vegetables especially. It can be hard to find, though sometimes it’s affordable on Amazon.
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Eat me with bacon fat. Or duck fat. Mmm.

 

Commonplace Book, 39 (Week 36)

What is a commonplace book? For me, this is a space where I post interesting links, reflections on what I’m reading, and the newest recipes I’ve been trying out — a collection of miscellaneous micro-posts.

What I’m fixing:

  • I forgot to mention last week I FINALLY BRAVED THE INSTANT POT. And by “I,” I mean, a friend sent me a recipe for which I had all the ingredients, then I waited for J to get home from work and made him do all the seal stuff. The result was Indian butter chicken so good J proclaimed it better than anything I’ve ever made in the slow cooker (should I be offended, y/n) but also almost ended with us giving Scout steam burns. So. I’ll probably use it again but keep making J operate the pressure cooker bit.
  • BEEF WEEK. J bought us a quarter of a cow and brought home the goods Sunday, so we’ve been eating all beef all the time to celebrate. (And, you know, build my iron for childbirth? Can we justify it that way?) So far, I’ve made:
    • Taco salad: My MIL makes this for us. I used her recommendations of kidney beans and Catalina dressing, skipped tomatoes and sour cream, and used a slaw we had because I knew we’d have leftovers, and I don’t love wilted romaine.
    • Beef daube provencal: another recipe from the Indian butter chicken friend! Mine was the lazy third trimester version: no searing (does that even make a difference?! The jury seems to be out), slow cooker, dried spices. Also, I did not use the recommended wine because it cost $45. So much for a “princely dinner.” I’ll settle for a ducal dish with wine my sister homebrewed us last winter.
    • Best ever meatloaf with balsamic vinegar glaze: Because vinegar makes everything fancy. It’s basically BBQ sauce in the end, but SO GOOD.

What I’m reading:

  • I finished Gilead and as usual was left not knowing what to share. It’s all so perfect, right? I could copy out about 80% of it, the rest being bits I still don’t understand. Abbey wrote me out passages of encouragement for labor and the newborn days, and that’s even better, because it saves my waffling.
  • Ina May’s Guide to ChildbirthI still haven’t reread my Bradley book, but this one is helping me get in the zone just the same — some of the mantras from Spiritual Midwifery really helped me in Pippin’s labor. It’s ridiculous, and then I’m sure I’ll go into labor every night when I go to bed, but I’m hoping it’ll stick with me, even if I have another lightning fast labor.
  • O Pioneers! This is my third Willa Cather, and I’m really loving diving back into her peaceful world — it may be the gentlest transition from Gilead possible.

This time last year:

  • Rethinking Running: which you will perhaps be unsurprised to learn I have not rethought it in, you know, 36 weeks.
Getting a lot of mileage these days from park leaves

The Catholic Wendy’s Booth

Lately I’ve been reading Emily Stimpson Chapman’s The Catholic Table with a book club of women from my church, and while we were pretty divided over A Severe Mercy, I think it’s possible we actually all like this one. Way to go, Emily S.C.

So I’ve been thinking about what food means for our family in this season where I’m increasingly incapable of actually preparing it. (It doesn’t help that I’m pretty sure being on my feet to make a freezer batch of NOT EVEN GOOD chicken pot pies jumpstarted my last preterm labor.)

Anyway, it was a Saturday morning and J took Scout on errands. So it was just me and Pippin, and I miraculously convinced him to help me go through Roo’s closery and start getting things cleared out in there from the 1000 bins of hand me downs it’s housed since Scout’s reign. And it was actually super fun. He loved being the strong man who slid the bins into the hall for me, and he helped me pick out tiny outfits for the hospital bag, and spun around in my spiffy new glider.

Afterwards, I decided to treat him to a lunch at Wendy’s, his all-time favorite restaurant, even though it would mean a longish waddle across the park. But he’d helped me all morning! And the weather wasn’t awful. And you know what they say about 31 weeks…it’s only going to get worse from here.

So we stopped at every park bench on the way and I tried not to think dire thoughts about my fitness level as I hobbled along, pausing for him to gather leaves to toss in the creek, enjoying his chatter about the proper way to plant these things I’m not even convinced are seeds.

At Wendy’s, we ordered our usual and sat at the window so we could keep look out for police cars and fire trucks. Pip has such a fraught relationship with food that it’s just a relief to go someplace where he’ll eat his fill cheerfully and gratefully. But even though it wasn’t the kind of meal I envisioned when reading The Catholic Table, something like the meals Shauna Niequist is so good at describing, and which I occasionally succeed in producing on our own big dinner table, there did seem to be something sacred about this little treat with my firstborn.

Lunchtime, especially on weekdays, is usually a time of frenetic activity for me. We Skype my parents, I cajole people to focus and eat, I try to produce balanced meals with zero effort, I get up from the table 30 times for things I’ve forgotten or someone’s decreed essential. Or I read on my phone and encourage folks not to bother me as I eat my poorly microwaved leftovers. Or I try to start the slow cooker and change out the laundry as the kids eat their lunch painstakingly slowly. It’s not the worst part of my day, but I doubt it’s a time they’ll recall me shining as a mom.

But at this little spontaneous lunch date with my eldest, I left my phone in my purse. I didn’t cajole him to eat more because it’s all garbage, and I didn’t get mad that he wasn’t eating what I had fixed. We talked about who in our family loves fries most as we split an order. He coached me on assembling the windmill toy he got in his kids’ meal, and we spotted a fire truck with lights speed by. We said grace, we enjoyed our meal, we enjoyed each other.

What else is sharing the Catholic Table about?