Having a Miscarriage Plan

(An important caveat: I did the Bradley birth thing for my first three kids. I am a planner and I like to research the heck out of things. I read books set in the place I’ll visit before a trip, and I read birth stories when I’m pregnant, and pestered friends and strangers alike about their homeschooling decisions before starting that particular adventure. It is just how I feel most comfortable. If you don’t find yourself nodding in agreement, this post probably isn’t for you.)Read More »

Reasons Why You Don’t Brave the Library (And What to Do About It)

 

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Shh! — slightly scary

 

Here is a real thing we learn about in library school: LIBRARY ANXIETY. It turns out that many people get nervous about going to the library, and especially about asking for help. It seems quiet! And organized! Everyone else knows what they’re doing! You’re just some weirdo bumbling around with your small herd of children trying not to break into a cold sweat.Read More »

Don’t Let Hand-Me-Downs Get You Down

 

Excellent hand-me-down winter wear

When I was eight months pregnant with my firstborn, I was on my way into the university health center with J when we ran into a very slight acquaintance of his. Upon learning we were expecting a November baby, she exclaimed, “I had a November baby last year! Come by my house! I’ll leave bags of clothes outside for you.”

I was floored that someone I didn’t know would gift this poor grad student so generously, and still more so when I arrived at her porch to discover heaping trash bags full of lovely little things. I hadn’t yet learned the rule of motherhood: stuff, stuff, ever going in and out of the house.

Since then, I’ve learned to embrace the constant inflow and outflow of Stuff. I try to pass along things we are done with, and in turn, to accept and make good use of what we are given. A lot of that has to do with organization, so I thought I’d outline my approach.Read More »

Dear College Student

A few years ago, I was walking on a New England college campus in spring and came upon a cherry tree in blossom which, upon closer examination, was decked out in tiny paper cranes. It was striking for its senselessness and beauty, two characteristics closely associated, in my mind at least, with college.

Now, as I drive through a college campus on a cold Tuesday morning in spring, I’m confronted by students who seem hardly present, just going through the motions. These students slump along, eyes on their phones, carelessly decked out in workout wear, seemingly oblivious to their surroundings.

And let me tell you: college is for many things, but most of all, college is for caring. Read More »

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.

Read More »

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.

 

Things I Feel Like I Have to Tell You

Ok, so you’ve probably done all these things and you are probably still alive (ghosts, please stop reading this blog), you argue. BUT! Have you ever had a case of food poisoning at the same time as the rest of your family and had to have friends deliver more toilet paper and Gatorade to your house? (Hint: It’s the worst.) Are you at a stage of life where you frequently cook for pregnant or nursing mothers, or adorable but vulnerable small children? Here are some things I feel like I have to tell you. I’m the daughter of a health inspector. I’m sorry in advance.

Slow cooker safety

  • You shouldn’t put things in the slow cooker still frozen. It doesn’t reach safe temperatures quickly enough. I’m sorry. I didn’t know for a long time, either.
  • You shouldn’t leave the leftovers in the insert and put it in the fridge. It doesn’t cool down to safe temperatures quickly enough. This sucks. I agree.
  • If you forget to turn on your slow cooker for an hour or more, you have to throw the stuff out. Go ahead and cry. I just lost some pesto chicken and I’m still mad about it.

Learn more depressing slow cooker safety facts from the USDA and University of Minnesota Extension.

Meat thawing safety

  • Leaving things out to thaw. Don’t do this!!! Let the National Center for Home Preservation school you on safe methods so you can live long and prosper! My speciality is the 30 minute cold water bath, but you may find a different way that works.

 

What rules do you feel compelled to tell people, or worry about in secret? I have a friend who asked me how often I changed my dish towel if I also used it for hand drying and…I have no idea? But I guess that’s gross?

What are your personal food-related terrors? Stinky sponges? Years-expired salad dressing? Chicken snugglers?

 

The Case for Photo Books

I’m a big believer in photo books. I make them a couple times a year, and have tried several different services.

The process is a mixed bag. The software or site can be clunky to use, and it’s tedious to sift through the thousands of pictures I take in six months and the hundred more restrained J manages. (A friend says she’s set up Dropbox so the photos from her phone and her husband’s both automatically import there, so I’ve got a new goal.) I usually spend a few evenings sitting beside J on the couch with our matching laptops, something inane on the TV, and crank out another photo book to add to our stash.

But the end result is alchemical: something magical out of a mess of poorly focused shots, duplicates, blurry snaps of children in motion. Looking back at these books reminds me there is good in every season, no matter how morning sick it was. Recently I pulled one volume from the shelf to show Pippin the winter he and J made a snow fort in the backyard, and suddenly I found the kids immersed in photo albums, Scout reverently whispering, “Baby” as she pointed emphatically at photo after photo.

I’ve used Shutterfly, Blurb, MyPublisher, Mixbook and Pinhole Press (this one just for board books). Of these, probably MyPublisher is my favorite for prettiness (cloth covers!) and Shutterfly/Mixbook are cheapest and easiest to use. (I just read MyPublisher is closing up shop, though. Figures.)

Along the way, I’ve assembled a stack of photo books that vary in size and quality but all serve to tell the story of our family. It’s easy to snag one off the shelf to show a neighbor how impressively bald and round-headed Pip was as a baby, or to show Pip what our old house in Granby looked like. Sometimes he’ll ask for one to be read to him as a story book, or Scout will page enthusiastically and violently through one. I remember my own childhood fondness for those static-page photo albums of the ’90s and so I soldier on with clunky software and crashing websites, building up the Grimm Bowers family record one photo book at a time.

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Toddler Pip sharing memories with his uncle