Commonplace Book 28 (ish)

So, my last Commonplace Book posted, but was backdated, and when I tried to fix it, I deleted it. It was all very livejournal circa 2004. So, picking up where we left off:

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:

  • Sausage barley spinach soup. (Slow cooker, obviously, or are you new here?) You can add the onions and garlic and sausage in raw, but I’ll warn you that the ground sausage will fuse into a strange puck you’ll have to chop haphazardly with a wooden spoon later on, so consider wisely…
  • Scallion pancakes. These are kind of a major pain, but not really hard: just labor-intensive. But the payoff! Almost exactly like the cheap Chinese dive version I love, but with a certain something reminiscent of the hot “chapat” we used to get at the hospital canteen for breakfast in Uganda, warm and wrapped in grease-spotted notebook paper. Is this not helping to sell them? Seriously. Delicious.

What I’m reading:

  • Anne of Green Gables, My Daughter and MeThis one is doubly personal for me, because a.) I am an Anne devotee and b.) I married into a family that also includes an adopted mother and adopted Korean little sister. I had expected to love the reflections on Anne but often I find them prone to dull summary, which may just be loyalty or jealousy  — I can nearly quote the original. But parts of the personal storytelling ring like Shauna Niequist’s essays, which is never a bad thing: sensory details and bustling families and warm, intimate friendships.
  • Dumplin‘: I had read a recommendation for this from, I think, Annie of The Bookshelf in Thomasville, Georgia (who I knew casually in high school, and who is now a real-like Kathleen Kelly), and audiobook is definitely the way to go on this. J doesn’t like the profanity emanating from my iPhone as I wash dishes in the evening, but the narrator, a prickly, overweight teenager from rural Texas named Willowdean Dixon reminds me of some of my favorite Southerner college friends.
  • Someone tell me if it’s worth reading all of The Well-Trained Mind right now all at once. I’ve made it to middle school and I’m losing steam because my oldest child is, in fact, four. But I’d like the big picture! Please advise.

Commonplace Book, 26

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:

  • It’s possible I’ve shared this before: pesto bread machine bread. I’ve found if you add something like pesto or pureed pumpkin to your dough, it often tastes less “bread machine-y” than a more basic recipe. Do you have any favorites?
  • Everyday chocolate cake from Smitten Kitchen. But I forgot to sift the flour, and it mattered.
  • Add to the vaguely ethnic slow cooker recipes: vaguely French slow cooker cassoulet.
  • Quick tip obvious to everyone but me: if you do a whole chicken in the slow cooker, if you stick it in the oven for a few minutes at 400 degrees before serving it, you will make the chicken-skin eaters in your crowd really happy, because the oven will crisp the skin, while the slow cooker leaves the white meat tender and lovely.

What I’m reading:

  • Minimalism gets it wrong: This is something I’ve been thinking about a bit since reading some of the Little House books with Pippin at the end of last year. It’s not that we should have fewer things because the material world and everything bodily is bad; it’s that we should have fewer things because we only acquire those that are good and useful and beautiful — not to pass the time, or keep up with trends, or any of the other reasons we accumulate junk. The Ingalls family values their meager possessions, from the beautiful impractical ones, like Ma’s china doll, to the direly essential ones, like the horses that transport their wagon. An orange, or scattered Indian beads, are noteworthy treasures for Laura, and as our Christmas approached, this struck me all the more. A truly lovely Catholic church, like my college church, manifests this truth: it is in no way minimalist, but there is nothing trendy or junky or extraneous, either. I guess Marie Kondo hints at this, talking about things that bring you joy, but that’s not quite the same, is it?
  • A Tree Grows In Brooklynthis is the first time I’ve read this, and it’s beautiful and lyrical but so sad that I’m not enjoying it as much as I expected. I wanted something like Shadows on the Rock or Little Women, with lots of light amidst its lyricism, and this is much grittier than I’d expected —

    “The sad thing was in the knowing that all their nerve would get them nowhere in the world and that they were lost as all the people in Brooklyn seem lost when they day is nearly over and even though the sun is still bright, it is thin and doesn’t give you warmth when it shines on you.”

  • Housekeeping (audiobook) because I think it’s the only Marilynne Robinson novel I haven’t read yet. I don’t love it as much as Gilead but that’s not to say I don’t love it, if you see what I mean.
  • Helping Your Child with Extreme Picky Eating because, you know.

Commonplace Book, 23

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:

  • You’re overdosed on fancy Thanksgiving stuff, I get it. But that’s all I have to report: the yearly construction and consumption of my annual pumpkin praline trifle. Because if someone gives you a trifle dish as a wedding present, you might as well employ it.
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Thanksgiving ain’t over till you cook down the bones.

What I’m reading:

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“Helping” the artist

 

 

Commonplace Book, 21

This picture is fancy because it was taken by a more skilled photographer at the baby shower I threw last weekend.

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:

  • Daddy brownies. I said I’d post it, so here goes:
1 c butter
4 Tbsp oil (I KNOW. You can use coconut oil if it makes you feel healthier.)
4 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 c cocoa
2 c sugar
1 c flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 c nuts (optional)
1 c mixed chocolate chips 

First, this is one where it helps to use a metal pan or even aluminum, and to make the brownies a day before. It’s hard to get them to set well enough to cut cleanly and these precautions help. Or else embrace gooey falling apart brownies and serve them with ice cream. Who am I to judge?

So grease your 9 X 13 pan and preheat to 350. In a big pot over low-to-medium heat, combine butter, cocoa and oil, stirring constantly. 
Remove from heat. You can transfer to a bowl at this point but life is is short and death is coming (LOOK AT ALL THAT BUTTER) and why make more dishes for yourself? Add sugar. Cool slightly. Add eggs, beating till well blended. Stir in vanilla, salt and flour. Add nuts and chips. 
Bake 30-35 minutes. The toothpick test doesn’t really work. As the old recipes say so infuriatingly, “Cook until done.”
  • Freezer-Friendly Frittata Sandwiches: because I like to have frozen meals ready to go for J’s lunches. Not because he’s incapable of making himself a sandwich, but because he may actually be in capable of making himself a sandwich AND remembering it all the way to work.
  • Bread Machine Naan. It needed more butter and salt, but frankly, what doesn’t?

What I’m reading:

Teaching them how to design lives brimming with meaning, connection and value is a monumental challenge. We’re still learning how to get there ourselves.

Commonplace Book, 20

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:

  • Crispy Asian Brussels Sprouts, which have turned at least one brussels-hater into a brussels sprouts fangirl.
  • Roasted Brussels Sprouts and Potatoes with Bacon. And I used duck fat instead of olive oil because Pippin’s godparents and my godson visiting from New England made it a feast. (Would the youth say “YOLO” here?)
  • Uncle Jack’s Slow Cooker Mac and Cheese. Because what else would you bring to a potluck featuring pot roast? Nothing else, that’s what. Because we all brought mac and cheese, as it turns out, and the college students graciously et it all.
  • Daddy Brownies for a baby shower I’m throwing tomorrow. I don’t have time to type up the recipe at the moment, but it may be the best thing my family makes.

What I’m reading:

Commonplace Book, 19

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:

  • Roasted garlic ciabatta. I linked to my basic ciabatta recipe here but if you add roasted garlic after the initial mixing, you get little chunks and ribbons throughout the whole loaf, and it is so good that I made it twice this week and used up all the roasted garlic in the house. (Hint: you can make a ton of roasted garlic at once with a bag of garlic bulbs from Costco and your trusty slow cooker.)
  • Beefy butternut squash chili. Still more or less like this, but this time with carrots and celery instead of zucchini, diced fine in the hopes J wouldn’t notice it was in there. (He did, but he didn’t mind.)

What I’m reading:

  • Instagram, Social Media, and Keepin’ It Real — It is fashionable to trash social media, and while Instagram is probably responsible for my relentless pursuit of good light and tidy surfaces (one succeeding more than the other), I always think back to a photo album I made a couple springs ago. The pictures were all taken during the fall and winter I was pregnant with Scout, an era that felt long and dull and monotonous, when Pip watched a lot of tv, I ate a lot of cheese (and threw up some of it), and we waited for snow to melt and life to move forward. But the album of that time is beautiful, chronicling the day I strapped on my lower back support and took Pippin to the arboretum’s bulb show with friends; the slow mornings we spent reading and wandering around the apartment; my proud and hopeful face over a blooming belly in the photos I shot in our little dated bathroom. That’s the power of photography: to wrest the good moments from the chaotic and messy and hard.
  • All the Light We Cannot SeeI read it while I was pregnant with Scout, and liked it very much, but I probably wouldn’t be re-reading it if not for Well-Read Moms. So thanks, WRM, because I’m enjoying it all over again:

Open your eyes, concludes the man, and see what you can with them before they close forever, and then a piano comes on, playing a lonely song that sounds to Werner like a golden boat traveling a dark river, a profession of harmonies that transfigures Zollverein: the houses turned to mist, the mines filled in, the smokestacks fallen, an ancient sea spilling through the streets, and the air streaming with possibility.

  • Queen of Shadows, now that I’m done with The Raven King, which had beautiful passages but kind of a flat, tone-deaf ending, I thought: more like the strained optimism and normalcy of HP7 than the haunting LOTR-esque melancholy I would have expected. I don’t know.
  • Present Over Perfect. My least favorite of Shauna Niequist’s stuff, which is not to say I didn’t like it, because she’s wonderful. But I was discussing it with the friend who first introduced the author to me, and we agreed that the shift from primarily narrative to primarily addressed to “you” felt a little self-help-y and less rich than some of her other books.

I now leave you with a picture of Scout and fall leaves, lest you worry that I only photograph my firstborn with autumnal foliage.

Commonplace Book, 18

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:

Basic Cottage Pie Template

Ingredients

  • 1 lb ground beef or lamb (if lamb, then congrats, it’s shepherd’s pie)
  • 1 1/2 – 2 c beef stock
  • about four peeled potatoes (+cream, milk, butter, shredded cheese or whatever you put in your mashed potatoes)
  • 1 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 Tbsp flour
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp basil
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • carrots/parsnips/etc., chopped
  • frozen peas (+corn if you’re gross)

Instructions

When I’m on top of my game, I break this up over the course of a day or two, or else it’s a long process. Roast your chopped vegetables (onions + root veg), or boil the root vegetables in stock. Preheat oven to 400. Sauté your onion and cook your ground meat in a skillet. Make mashed potatoes in a third pot. When the onion and meat are brown, add herbs + roots + flour + broth + tomato paste and cook till thick (about 15 minutes). Mash your potatoes, spread on top of the meat mixture in either the skillet or an oven-safe dish. Add cheddar cheese if you’re cool. Bake till browned and cheese is melted.

I feel like I’m explaining this poorly. There’s kind of a lot going on, but it’s pretty intuitive.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, you can take these ingredients and follow this recipe as a template to make it in the slow cooker. Still pretty good.

What I’m reading:

  • I FINISHED BROTHERS K. NO ONE CARES. Otherwise, I’m reading the same stuff as last week, and enjoying it markedly more now that Alyosha & Co. aren’t looming over me all the time.
  • Endangered American Slang Needs Your Help“: Who knew I’d ever come across the DARE outside of reference class in library school? Let it be known that I claim whistle pig. (h/t: Prufrock)
  • Pippin’s godmother showed me this just when I needed it: How We Can Reclaim the Awesomeness of Motherhood From a Culture that Thinks It’s Awful. This is a struggle for me, to strike a balance between gratitude and transparency. Does my blog do that? I hope so. I am so grateful for my beautiful, sweet, merry little children, and so often tired or frustrated. I hope I have more, and sometimes I wonder how I will possibly survive more. I need to remind myself:

“Parenting is hard, for sure; but the difficulties don’t have to be dreaded. The point of parenting is to teach other, smaller, people how to live well and be happy. We cannot teach what we, ourselves, don’t know—so if we aren’t happy doing it, then we’ve got it all wrong.”

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My Halloween baby is way into fall spirit, yes he is.