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 »

Commonplace Book, 38 (Week 35)

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:

Almost Certainly Inauthentic St. Michael’s Bannock


  • 1 1/4 c all purpose flour flour
  • 1/4 c old fashioned oats
  • 1/2 c rye flour
  • 2 Tbsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 1 scant c cream + 1 Tbsp plain white vinegar (to make buttermilk substitute)
  • handful of raisins — I used a mix.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Combine dry ingredients. Cut in cold butter as you would biscuits – with a pastry knife, two forks, or your fingers. Add buttermilk mixture. Mix until mostly combined. On a floured surface, knead the dough until smooth, then pat into an 8 inch round loaf, and bake on a greased cookie sheet for 40 minutes.

  • You can put french fries in the bottom of your frittata and it’s pretty good. This has been a third trimester PSA.
  • You can put olive tapenade on frozen cheese pizza and it’s also pretty good. This has been a third trimester PSA.
  • Things are rapidly degenerating here on the culinary front, obviously.

What I’m reading:

  • Baby’s cells can manipulate mom’s body for decades. Even with the potentially creepy sibling ramifications at the bottom of this piece, I just find the idea so comforting: that however briefly you get to know your child earthside, she stays a part of you. That even when your child is totally exasperating you and you feel such distance, you still carry evidence of him in your body. It’s beautiful, and worth remembering this month, Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month.
  • Vindication! Study says parents aren’t to blame for picky eaters.
  • The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings, which was given to us as a gift from Scout’s godparents last fall, and which we started to read aloud to each other, but then I got pregnant and sleepy (story of my life). Now I’m listening to it on Audible, and while there isn’t a lot that is revolutionary for me, Inklings nerd that I am, the passages on Oxford are dreamy and it’s nice to use my brain, at least moderately, in this sleepy chapter of life when I’m often reaching for the remote or just going straight to bed.
This is what happens when you take a nap and neglect the ciabatta dough.

Commonplace Book, 37 (Week 34)

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:

  • Ciabatta Pizza. I make good ciabatta. Everyone likes pizza. Which my family should have loved, but one kid wouldn’t try it and one didn’t like it. But you know what? That meant we grownups had enough leftovers that I didn’t have to cook the next day (and I could doctor it with kid-unapproved soppressata), so I’m going to count that as a win. Sort of. Picky eaters, phew.
  • Chicken pot pie. I thought this would be a good idea because it’s delicious and I needed to double a recipe for a friend with a newborn, but also I got v nervous halfway through since I went into labor with Scout on a day I was on my feet for hours making chicken pot pie. That time, the chicken pot pie was the first thing I was making to freeze for a postpartum stash, and it was undersalted with undercooked vegetables, and it seemed like we ate it for weeks after Scout’s arrival. Ugh. Ridiculous, I know, but I could breathe a little easier this time when it was all done, and it was good, after all. I use this recipe as a sort of basis, but change up a lot: I roast vegetables that look good (this time potatoes, carrots and mushrooms), often use rotisserie chicken, sub homemade stock if I’ve got it, etc.

What I’m reading:

  • I FINISHED MIDDLEMARCH. And it was good! I enjoyed it infinitely more than my endless reread of Brothers Karamazov. I don’t know that I will ever seek out George Eliot as fun, comfort reading as I do Jane Austen (not that she doesn’t have very wise and severe things to say herself, just that the huge scope and cast of Mm felt more demanding), but I also don’t think I’ll easily forget it, especially some of the truths mentioned here. (h/t Dominika, maybe? My brain is cheerios.)
  • The Catholic Table. I might write more about it later, especially as book club discusses it and those ladies bring their sage insights, but I’ve already done a little reflecting on it.
  • An Everlasting Meal. I’m not sure I’m an unpicky enough eater for this one (don’t talk to me about tongue, pls), but I enjoy many passages, which are almost Annie Dillard-y. But we disagree on food safety:

“No bacterial treachery lurks in vegetables once they have spent some time other than in the refrigerator or oven. Nor does it necessarily in anything that is a few days old, or spends the night on your counter. … I am fairly sure he wasn’t right, and I am completely confident he was spiritually wrong.”

I can’t help my indoctrination on food safety.

  • Gileadmy third go round. If I copied out all the passages I loved and savored, this would be a Gilead appreciation blog. But seriously. So good. It’s making me a better mother while my children appear to go through simultaneous pregnancy-related (?) regressions.

Last year I was thinking about:

  • Determining one’s trademark food — what one is known for serving or gifting.
Absolutely a standard uniform for him these days

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?

A Picky Eating Manifesto


Is my kid eating kale salad, or peanut butter? You guess.

I don’t have a lot of patience for adult picky eaters, among which I may or may not number. Margaret Kim Peterson agrees with me, writing scathingly, “Deciding what one will or will not eat becomes a primary means of defining one’s own individuality.” She argues that instead of this identity-as-pickiness, a good eater finds herself realizing that “partaking readily of whatever is offered can be a way of affirming that eating together is at least as important as whatever it is that is eaten.”

Or, as Cat says in that tome of wisdom, Little Bear

“Can you really cook? If you can really make it, I will eat it.”

When it comes to juvenile picky eaters, my parents had three principles. I have two.

  1. Make sure your kid is polite. They can’t ask for special treatment and they should eat heartily and compliment the cook wherever they can.
  2. Pack snacks. A peanut butter and jelly sandwich can get a picky eater a long way, and then the obligation to find something for your weirdo isn’t on the host(ess).
  3. Try things. We don’t enforce this. My parents tried and it didn’t really seem to speed up my transition into a functional eater. In the end, it meant a lot of fights. Helping Your Child with Extreme Picky Eatingwhich I highly recommend if your child is not just stubborn but hysterical and anxious about trying new food, urges parents not to make food a battle field, and so we’ve tried to follow that route, despite our frustrations.


For this recovering picky eater and child of a health inspector, potlucks are an act of faith and vulnerability, a chance to try new food, enjoy each other’s cooking, and, yeah, risk consuming out-of-temperature food. But I treasure the opportunity to engage in the social part of eating, and I’m trying to pass that down to two children who are both food-selective to varying degrees. When you eat something someone has made, it makes them happy. Be polite when you say you’d rather not have a slice of that. See if you can find something on the table you can enjoy. 

A recent personal victory occurred for me when we went to pick up a fellow parishioner for church. He’s Congolese and has some developmental delays and we think he speaks Swahili but it’s hard to tell because we do not. (It’s not common in Uganda as it is elsewhere in East Africa.) Greeting us in a mix of English and ?, he climbed into the car and handed me…Mandazi, I think, a little vaguely doughnut type thing. It reminded me of the Old Testament story: Manna being translated to mean, “what is it?” After decades when I would have gagged or demurred or both, I could finally accept his generosity and eat the damn thing.

And overcoming picky eating was, in fact, sweet as an African doughnut.

That’s what I hope for, in time, for my children.