Summer Diary; June 2016; Pasta Salad with Coconut Peanut Dressing



The Fish

by Elizabeth Bishop

I caught a tremendous fish
and held him beside the boat
half out of water, with my hook
fast in a corner of his mouth.
He didn’t fight.
He hadn’t fought at all.
He hung a grunting weight,
battered and venerable
and homely. Here and there
his brown skin hung in strips
like ancient wallpaper,
and its pattern of darker brown
was like wallpaper:
shapes like full-blown roses
stained and lost through age.
He was speckled with barnacles,
fine rosettes of lime,
and infested
with tiny white sea-lice,
and underneath two or three
rags of green weed hung down.
While his gills were breathing in
the terrible oxygen
—the frightening gills,
fresh and crisp with blood,
that can cut so badly—
I thought of the coarse white flesh
packed in like feathers,
the big bones and the little bones,
the dramatic reds and blacks
of his shiny entrails,
and the pink swim-bladder
like a big peony.
I looked into his eyes
which were far larger than mine
but shallower, and yellowed,
the irises backed and packed
with tarnished tinfoil
seen through the lenses
of old scratched isinglass.
They shifted a little, but not
to return my stare.
—It was more like the tipping
of an object toward the light.
I admired his sullen face,
the mechanism of his jaw,
and then I saw
that from his lower lip
—if you could call it a lip—
grim, wet, and weaponlike,
hung five old pieces of fish-line,
or four and a wire leader
with the swivel still attached,
with all their five big hooks
grown firmly in his mouth.
A green line, frayed at the end
where he broke it, two heavier lines,
and a fine black thread
still crimped from the strain and snap
when it broke and he got away.
Like medals with their ribbons
frayed and wavering,
a five-haired beard of wisdom
trailing from his aching jaw.
I stared and stared
and victory filled up
the little rented boat,
from the pool of bilge
where oil had spread a rainbow
around the rusted engine
to the bailer rusted orange,
the sun-cracked thwarts,
the oarlocks on their strings,
the gunnels—until everything
was rainbow, rainbow, rainbow!
And I let the fish go.


It’s summer and so there’s both more and less to write about.  I’m embracing the quiet and the activity, the water and the sun.  So this post…and probably all the summer posts…will be fragmentary and fleeting…

Every morning I try to come out to my deck and plug in my fountain and drink my tea and smell the large pot of jasmine I planted.  This morning my daughter ate her breakfast outside in the back yard on a beach towel with her dolls for company.  A hummingbird flew right past my ear, much louder than I expect a hummingbird to be, and alighted on our garnet red feeder and then was off again as quickly.  We’ve eaten a lot of tacos with homemade corn tortillas.  A lot.  And a lot of BBQ in the smoker.



“The Fish” is my favorite poem by Elizabeth Bishop, save “The Art of Losing.” I think of it every summer, when I’m thinking of my favorite a lot less.  Perhaps you think more of losing staring into that winter fire.  Summer has that knife’s edge of joy though.  You know it’s too sweet to last.  You have to savor the beauty and well-being…and then let go.


I’ve been watching a reading a lot of wonderful things.  The Simple Things, which is a really lovable British magazine.  The back cover is photographed here with a quote I associate with the movie Shadowlands.  On their blog right now is a recipe for homemade rose face cream.  I’m not even kidding.

We watched Roots on the History Channel.  I remember my parents talking about the original and I read the book long ago as a teenager.  It was a summer when I read many things, including Les Miserables and Chekov, though I didn’t understand the latter until college.

And Cooked on Netflix.  And all of Grantchester.  And a series called Home Fires in which the production of jam and the claiming of a cricket field to grow food for a village features prominently.

Today I started Black Dove, White Raven, which I hope will be as great as Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire.  It’s wonderful that Elizabeth Wein decided to write about female pilots during WWII.  I can’t imagine fiction I’d enjoy more than these books for young adults, so thoughtfully written.

This is a simple pasta salad I imagined and executed for our trip to the pool this afternoon.  We made summer bucket lists and one of the entries on mine was simply to take a different kind of salad to the pool every week.  When we came home from swimming this afternoon we agreed, just this once, to let our daughter forgo the ritual shower to get the chlorine and sunscreen off and instead be showered by the spray from the garden hose as her father watered the flowers and vegetables.  The water arced above her, making a rainbow in the sunlight.  And she squealed with delight and then yelled, “I can’t believe I did that!  I took a shower with the hose!  Under a rainbow!”


Pasta Salad with Lime Peanut Coconut Dressing


4 tbsp coconut cream

1 tbsp cider vinegar

1 tbsp siracha

zest and juice of one lime

2 tbsp peanut butter

2 tbsp finely chopped cilantro



2 cups shredded napa cabbage

8 oz quinoa pasta, cooked al dente and then drained plunged into ice water and drained again.

1/3 cup fresh, minced chives


Add all the ingredients for the dressing into a bowl and whisk thoroughly.  Toss with the cold noodles.  Serve on a bed of cabbage with the chives sprinkled on top for color and taste.  






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School’s Out Granola





The coach is at the door at last;
The eager children, mounting fast
And kissing hands, in chorus sing:
Good-bye, good-bye, to everything!

To house and garden, field and lawn, 
The meadow-gates we swang upon,
To pump and stable, tree and swing,
Good-bye, good-bye, to everything!

And fare you well for evermore,
O ladder at the hayloft door, 
O hayloft where the cobwebs cling,
Good-bye, good-bye, to everything!

Crack goes the whip, and off we go;
The trees and houses smaller grow;
Last, round the woody turn we swing; 
Good-bye, good-bye, to everything!

~Robert Louis Stevenson


Michigan.  I am four years old.  There are ducks in a pond by the small house where we live.  I feed them pieces of bread from a bag.  I have a favorite duck.  I name her.  Her name is lost in the sweep of years, but I don’t forget her.  Her feathers were different shades of brown, she had a husband, she had babies.  My grandparents come to visit.  My grandfather teaches me what snapdragons are.  Look, he says.  They are yellow and pink and white.  I am happy.

I am seven years old.  I swing on my swingset, I run around barefoot, I get stung by a bee. I have a secret place that isn’t all that secret, under a canopy of leaves.  I eat tuna fish sandwiches for lunch, my dad learns to make yogurt.  The last day of school I win a cake in a cake walk.  I go blueberry picking.  I have a big tom cat named Mittens.  He lets me put doll clothes on him while we play house.

Scotland.  I am ten years old.  The fishing village we spend the summer in is tiny and ancient and safe.  The buildings and houses are different shades of grey stone.  We spend lots of hours with our friend Chloe, walking down by the harbor where the fishing boats come in.  There are cockles clinging to the rocks.  We buy fish and chips in packets, we make daisy chains in the yard of the rented house.  I have my own room for the first time in several years.  It has a worn wood floor and wallpaper with small pink rosebuds; I read books there, words swirling around me and attaching themselves like delicate white moths; their impression lingers, pollen from their tiny limbs, changing me.  We play the old grand piano in the threadbare drawing room. We don’t have a television set.  I notice things about my parents I didn’t before, generosities and tensions and passions.  This isn’t just my mother, this isn’t just my father.  This is a woman, this is a man.

Indiana.  I am fifteen years old.  Every day I go to band practice in the morning and swimming with my friends afterward.  The humidity is relentless, but I don’t mind because I have nothing to do but this.  We bring snacks from home, we splash each other in the water and sit on the pool edge, wasting time.  There are shifting alliances, there are confidences we still carry, there are loyalties working themselves in deep.  We sleep in the sun, sometimes one of us wanders over to play tennis.  We don’t seek the shade; that’s for the adults.   There’s the smell of chlorine, the taste of root beer and potato chips.  At home someone is heating the charcoal grill, there will be hamburgers and fresh corn and iced tea, there will be people to talk to around the table.  It never seems to rain.  The sun is always out.  I have breasts, and hips, my body is womanly, but I’m just balanced perfectly on the edge of childhood, and I’m not rushing headlong anywhere. 




Granola with Dried Cherries and Chocolate Chips

2 1/2 cups rolled oats

1/2 cup almonds

1/2 cup sesame seeds

1/2 cup golden syrup, organic corn syrup, or honey

pinch of kosher salt

1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted

1 cup dried cherries

1 cup dark chocolate chips


Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.  Mix all the ingredients except the cherries and the chocolate chips in a large bowl.  Spread onto a baking sheet lined with parchment.  Bake for 50-60 mins, turning and stirring every 20 mins, until the mixture is a dark gold color and everything is toasted.  Let it cool completely on the pan and then stir in the chocolate chips and dried cherries.



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A Week of Cookies For The Teachers








I come from a family of teachers. My extended family includes a director of a very fine children’s choir and a college president. My mother has a masters degree in early childhood education, my father was a professor of biblical studies for many years. I know teachers and I understand teachers and I love teachers.

So every year when it comes time for me to thank the teachers of my children I find myself at a loss for words. Because the truth is how do you thank someone for teaching your children things they will carry around with them all their lives? How do you thank them for loving your children in the hours of the day they’re with them and not you? How do you thank them for the hundreds of moments when they were there, in a kind of loving contract with you and your child to make their lives richer and more meaningful?

I believe in education. It’s something no one can take away from you once you achieve it and its most intangible gifts are often its most profound.

But there is nothing I believe in quite as much as an education in the arts.

This week I watched my introverted and bookish eldest child, the one who gets the word “kind” written so often on his report card, the peacemaker, the daydreamer, the quirky thinker, do something that took a lot of courage and gave him a lot of confidence. He auditioned for and got a solo in his choir concert. He was so nervous I could see him taking deep breaths beforehand but he sang alone into a microphone as parents and his peers listened and when he was finished I could see the pride on his face for what he’d done.

I could spend some time citing studies about the impact of the arts on education but I’m not here to debate that.  I want to talk about what I believe about keeping the arts in education, just as I try to talk about what I believe about food here, and books, and love.

The arts are about beauty and honoring the human spirit. The arts take practice and commitment to craft and bravery. The arts are inclusive in a way lots of other scholastic achievements and sports (though these are all fine things as well) aren’t. I watched a group of children from diverse backgrounds and ethnicities and physical and developmental challenges sing their hearts out.

If there is one thing I wish for us to preserve for our children it is this: use school to sing and draw and learn an instrument and write a story and take a photograph and read a poem and act in a play. Let the arts build the intellect and sense of cooperation and the deeper values of grit and humane thoughts about our fellow human beings in our children. We can’t let them down. We can’t let ourselves down.

This was teacher appreciation week and so I used cookies to let my teachers know a measure of how I feel about them. They got a different cookie for each day of the week. The biscotti recipe is one I’ve been working on a long time to make it excellent using gluten free flour. We had a four day week this time so the cookies were as follows:

Almond biscotti with White Chocolate. Brownie Cookies. Raspberry Almond Oat Bars. Double Ginger Cookies (adapted from a recipe by Ina Garten).


Raspberry Almond Oat Bars

1 cup gluten free rolled oats

1/2 cup Cup4Cup flour

1/2 cup almond flour

1/4 cup brown sugar, packed

1/2 cup vanilla sugar (or regular white sugar)

9 ounce jar of organic or homemade raspberry preserves. Cherry would be good too!

1 stick unsalted butter


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Melt the butter in a bowl in the microwave. Whisk the oats, flours and sugars into the butter.  It will be clumpy and crumbly.  Set aside a cup of this for the topping.

Lightly butter an 8×8 pan.  Then line it with parchment paper with the paper hanging over the edges of the pan.  This is so the bars can be lifted out easily for slicing once they are cooled.  Butter the paper well.

Press the oat-and-butter mixture into the prepared pan, keeping the reserved cup for the topping.  Spread the preserves over the base layer.  Sprinkle the remaining crumb mixture over the jam.  Bake for 30-35 mins until the topping is golden brown and the jam in bubbly.  Allow to cool completely before you lift it out using the overhanging parchment paper.  Slice into 8 pieces. 


Brownie Cookies

3 cups powdered sugar

3/4 cup cocoa powder (if you can find a darker flavored cocoa powder that is good)

1/4 tsp kosher salt

(opt.) 1/2 vanilla bean, split and the seeds scraped out with the edge of a knife (put the leftover pod in your sugar container)

1 1/2 cups of very dark chocolate chips ( I used Guittard)

2-5 large egg whites.


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.


In a large bowl, sift together the powdered sugar, cocoa powder and kosher salt.  Add the vanilla bean.  Add two eggs whites. Keeping adding egg whites one at a time if necessary until you have a thick, brownie-like batter.  Stir in the dark chocolate chips.

Using 2 teaspoons, drop six cookies onto each baking sheet, spacing them evenly.  They will spread quite a bit.  Bake cookies, one sheet at a time, for 14-15 minutes.  They will be crackly on the top and chewy when cooled.  Allow each batch to cool for at least ten minutes before removing them from the parchment paper.  They are kind of fragile.  You can reuse the cooled parchment paper until all the cookies are made.


I first tasted biscotti in the 1990s when I worked in a coffee bar as a barista in my early 20’s.  It was a small shop that has long since disappeared and the work was hard and my bosses were strange and the customers taught me a lot about human beings, and what kind of person I wanted to be.  Some were kind, and some were appallingly rude, and some told me a little about their lives, and some spent the interaction with a young woman in a laboring job to assert their status and superiority and to even demean the person standing in front of them.  I spent that year watching and listening and growing.  And at the end of it I decided I wanted to become a teacher of writing.  And that’s what I did.  

There was a large glass jar of imported biscotti on the counter that we sold for something like two dollars a cookie.  I remember having them rarely because money was very, very tight and I needed to pay rent.  

It took me a long time to figure out a gluten-free version of biscotti that sufficiently reminded me of the ones in the jar.  Many things that I longed for in those days came true.  And now I have my own glass jar to hold biscotti, and I have a very fine education from one of the best schools for creative writing in this country, and I have years of teaching behind me, and I have a good and loving home for my children, and the space to create things like this blog.

I remember those days every single time I order a cappuccino from a barista anywhere and I remember that the measure of me in those moments amounts to the way I treat the person on the other side of the counter, who is working a job with low wages, on their feet all day, trying to get by.  And I remind my children that we always have a choice about how we treat others.  I’m a mother, and your mother is your first teacher, and the one whose lessons last the longest.  


Almond Biscotti with White Chocolate

2 eggs

2 egg whites

1 tsp almond extract

1 cup almond flour

1 cup Cup4Cup flour

I cup pure cane sugar

1 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp kosher salt

3/4 cup toasted almonds

12 ounce package Guittard white chocolate chips


Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  In a large bowl, sift together the almond flour, Cup4Cup flour, cane sugar, baking soda, and salt.  In the bowl of your stand mixer, mix the eggs, egg whites, and almond extract together.  Set the mixer to a medium speed and slowly add the dry ingredients from the other bowl.  Stir in the toasted almonds with a wooden spoon.  The cookie mixture will be stiff and a little wet, a bit like the texture of bread dough.

Flour a pastry board (marble works best but wood is fine too) and scrap the dough out of the bowl onto the board.  Knead a few times with floured hands.  Using a pastry scraper, divide the dough into half and then shape each half into a rough log shape.  Transfer both halves to the parchment-lined baking sheet.  It is pretty forgiving and you can re-shape it on the baking sheet.  It will spread some.

Bake the loaves for 4o mins, rotating the pan halfway through.  Cool the loaves for 10 minutes on the baking sheet.  Reduce the oven temperature to 275 degrees.

Cut the loaves into long 1 inch thick slices.  Turn each cookie on its side and line them up back on the parchment.  They can sit pretty close together on the pan, it is fine.  Bake for 10 minutes, then turn the cookies over, one by one, and bake another ten minutes.  Turn off the oven and allow the cookies to crisp for another 15 minutes.  Remove from the oven and let cool completely before frosting.

In a microwave safe bowl, heat the white chocolate chips for one minute.  They should be starting to melt then.  Stir.  If they need more melting time, go very slowly, no more than 30 seconds at a time.  You want to have some unmelted pieces when you start stirring so that the chocolate doesn’t scorch and you can stir it and use the heat of the bowl to temper it.

Slowly pour the melted chocolate into a squeeze bottle with the tip cut off to make a fairly wide opening for piping.  Alternatively you can use a plastic bag with the corner cut but it won’t be as tidy and reheating the chocolate if needed won’t be as easy.

Pipe the white chocolate onto each biscotti.  It will harden quickly at room temperature.  These have a longer shelf life than most gluten-free cookies but they are never around long. 




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Marriage: Braised Artichokes and Arancini with Bolognese.


Everything Good

between Men and



has been written in mud and butter

and barbecue sauce.  The walls and

the floors used to be gorgeous.

The socks off-white and a near match.

The quince with fire blight

but we get two pints of jelly

in the end.  Long walks strengthen

the back.  You with a fever blister

and myself with a sty.  Eyes 

have we and we are forever prey

to each other’s teeth.  The torrents

go over us.  Thunder has not harmed

anyone we know.  The river coursing

through us is dirty and deep.  The left 

hand protects the rhythm.  Watch

your head.  No fires should be

unattended.  Especially when wind.


receives a free swiss army knife.

The first few tongues are clearly

preparatory.  The impression

made by yours I carry to my grave.  It is

just so sad so creepy so beautiful.

Bless it.  We have so little time

to learn, so much…The river

courses dirty and deep.  Cover the 


Call it a night.  O soul.  Flow on.  Instead.


~C.D. Wright

“Everything Good between Men and Women”


Marriage is a private business.  Nobody else lives in the eye of the storm.  Or in the whispered conversation when one of you wakes the other in the middle of the night, because you’re sad, or sick, or hungry.

I have now been married the exact amount of time I wasn’t.  I married at twenty-two and now I’m forty-four.  From now on, after this year, I will accumulate more time with this one man than I had without him.  

There’s one thing I know for sure: only he and I know the true truth of our time together.  Others might have glimpses.  We might share confidences about our relationship.  But in the end only we know the mud and the butter and the glory, the highs and lows, the ways we failed each other, the ways we came through for each other, the loyalties and mistakes and satisfactions.

I could spill more of that dark, rich, matured wine here.  But whatever I wrote would only be a part of the truth.  

It would be easier if I gave you poetry, a series of moments.  The time he woke me in the dark with a thermos of coffee and a blanket so we could catch a glimpse of a meteor shower over the Mystic River in Medford, MA.  Or the way he scrapes the snow off my car here in Denver before he drives away to work.  Or the time I was so angry with the way he argues, I slammed out of our tiny one bedroom apartment with the galley kitchen and the fire escape in Indianapolis the first year were were married and drove out into the dark and circled the block for over an hour.  The time he came back from a 72 hour shift at the hospital during his pediatric residency and his eyes were glazed with exhaustion and he looked through me as if he didn’t know me, like an animal in a fever that has lost its way. 

His tastes and hungers.  He loves fried eggs, overeasy, and dislikes stroganoff.  He has a taste for the saltiness of cured meats, for all different varieties of sushi.  He has a taste for saffron, for coffee with milk, for my skin.  He likes his lamb chops medium rare.  He grills my steaks to order.

He almost always can be counted on to order the special, because he believes it is where the creativity and seasonal commitment of the chef resides; he is smart, he makes plans, he thinks before he acts, always.  He knows I don’t like runny egg yolks, or bananas, or mayonaise unless it’s been thinned with lemon juice.  He is the only other person in the world who can brew a cup of tea for me to my satisfaction.  

Once, in the middle of the night when I was breastfeeding my first baby in our bed he brought me a meal to satisfy my ravenous hunger.  It was toast with peanut butter and chocolate chips.  There was a present beside it of a tiny delicate necklace made up of gems like stars.  It got lost in the stormy weather of everyday life.  I’m wearing its replacement right now.  A moonstone on a thread of a gold chain, the links tiny and delicate, and somehow stronger than the sum of their parts.  I ate the toast in three mouthfuls to make more milk.  He stayed awake and kept watch.  We were a trinity. Parent-parent-child.  Everywhere you turned in the quiet dark there was love.  It moved in all directions.

The way we both have blue eyes but they are a different shade, reflected in the eyes of each of our children, and a metaphor for how differently we often see the world, balancing each other like playmates on a see-saw, imperfectly, so that occasionally one of us falls off and we get hurt. The way he makes better scrambled eggs than anyone I know and it’s sometimes the only thing I want to eat when discouragement and depression grip me, as they have many times in the past twenty-two years and how I try never to look into the black hole of a Michael-less world where my chief maker of scrambled eggs is gone.

The hundreds and hundreds of meals we’ve eaten together and made for each other, the times we’ve sat at a table and talked between bites, or let each other chew in silence, guarding our thoughts as human beings sometimes need to do, but not truly alone because we had each other. Even when we didn’t understand each other. Even when we were hurt or angry or bad things happened, we still got up together and went to sleep together, and ate together.  It wasn’t perfect.  It was a humble feast that more often than not soothed and satisfied.  It was enough.

I don’t know what sort of adult I’d be now without him.  The ways we shaped each other are profound and ordinary and so bound up in our everyday life and habits and values that there’s no true severing from the ties that bind us now.  We have been a family for twenty-two years.

But all this is just a taste.  To give more would be to let you past the veil, and I am old enough to know better and I hope wise enough to want better.  We undress for each other, he and I.  You can see the splatters from the mud and barbecue sauce and butter, and that’s the map you get.  The rest is ground as sacred and carnal as anyone else’s marriage.  You get part of the truth and story.  The rest is ours.

This meal is for my husband.  We had artichokes when were together in Rome and arancini with the meat sauce in the middle at a place called Mama Eat! in Trastevere.  We ate at a table outside on the cobblestone street.  He took this picture of me.  The servers were droll and kind.  A man came and played the violin across the alley from us.  A motorcycle went by.  We smiled at each other for the camera and kept smiling after it had been stashed away.  We bought gelato afterwards and ate it as we crossed the Tiber, walking back towards our hotel, hand in hand.  It was one of our best days.


Recreating some of the recipes from my time in Rome with Michael took time and commitment and a spirit of adventure.  I learned as I went along, a lot like the way we’ve grown up together the last 22 years.  

I won’t lie to you, I think the arancini are time consuming and for special occasions and weekends.  Part of it is that I had to make mine with meat sauce for reasons of affection and sentiment; that’s what we had in Rome.  So with the meat sauce that simmered for four hours and the risotto that had to be made ahead and chilled on a sheet pan on the top shelf of my refrigerator, and the deep-frying at my stove, this was a two day recipe.  But it was worth it to see the happiness on my husband’s face when I surprised him with this for dinner.  If you are too busy to try this, the bolognese sauce can be served over pasta with a simple salad and bread and that is a really wonderful meal for you alone or for your family on a Saturday or Sunday night.

Bolognese Sauce

1 pound ground beef

1 pint whole milk

4 oz pancetta, cut into small cubes

1 med onion

2 carrots, peeled 

2 stalks celery

1/2 cup marsala wine

2 large garlic cloves, smashed and peeled

28 oz can of Italian plum tomatoes

1 parmesan rind

2 tbsp olive oil


Chop the carrots, onion and celery into large chunks.  In a food processor fitted with the sharp steel blade, blitz the pancetta, carrot, celery, onion, and garlic until everything is ground into a uniform mixture.  It ought to be about the texture of the ground beef once it is cooked.  In a large heavy pot, saute the beef over medium high heat until browned.  Remove the beef to a plate lined with paper towel.  Drain the rendered fat.  Add 2 tbsp of olive oil to the pot.  Add the mixture from the food processor and cook over medium high heat until it is golden and fragrant.  Don’t let it burn.  Add back the beef and then the marsala wine.  Cook for three or four minutes until some of the wine evaporates.  Add the milk, tomatoes and parmesan rind.  Break up the tomatoes with a wooden spoon so they are in smaller pieces.

Let the sauce simmer at least four hours.  You can go a lot longer if you like.  If you aren’t going to be home, put the sauce in a slow cooker and let it simmer that way.  


Braised Artichoke for Two with Garlic and Clementines


1 globe artichoke

4-5 ripe clementines

Butter and olive oil

white wine or chicken broth


Preheat the oven to 350. Cut if half a large globe artichoke and immediately rub with a cut lemon or clementine orange.  Remove all the tough outer leaves..  You’ll feel bad that you’re wasting so much but put it in the compost bin and let it go; this part is inedible.  Peel off the tough skin of the stem with a sharp knife.  Now remove the inner choke with the same sharp knife.  It’s the fuzzy part.  If you need to, rinse off the fuzz lightly under the tap.


Heat 1 tbsp butter and 1 tbsp olive oil in a 10 or 12 inch skillet.  Add two coarsely chopped cloves of garlic.  When they are golden put the artichoke halves cut side down in the skillet.  Squeeze in the juice of one ripe clementine.  Add slices of 4 clementines, arranging them around the artichoke halves and the garlic.  Pour in 1/2 cup of white wine or chicken broth.  Immediately cover the skillet with foil and place in the preheated oven. Braise for one hour.  You may need to add more liquid so it doesn’t all evaporate and burn.  Remove from oven.  Divide onto two plates.  Serve warm a first course.  It’s really best to eat it with your hands.

These are very different than the more authentic roman artichokes I had as a first course in Rome.  Those are made with white wine and sometimes mint.  But clementines were what I had in my kitchen and needed to use.  I really liked the way the dish turned out.


Deep breath.



1/2 recipe of leftover risotto

Marinara or Bolognese sauce

string cheese 

2 eggs

1 cup flour

2 cups fine fresh bread crumbs

Large bottle of good oil for frying.  I used canola oil.


First, you need  to roll up your sleeves and make risotto.  I’m going to confess right now that I have a fancy device I bought at Williams Sonoma for way too much cash that makes risotto without too much stirring and ladling.  Don’t judge.  But don’t just go out and buy one of these.  I really love risotto and I have a fondness for slow cookers, and this functions as both.  I don’t have a lot of one-function appliances in my house but this is something I use almost once a week.  

To learn how to make risotto you need a recipe that explains it well.  There is some technique involved, and I’m not the one to teach it to you.  Because, see above.  I used to make it without the aid of my fancy dancy risotto cooker but we all compromise in life in order to be our happiest and most content selves. Some people get their hair colored at least six times a year. I have a weakness for books and pricier baking chocolate and don’t care if my hair is grey.  Do what makes sense to you. Shoulder pat.

You will need about 2/3 of this recipe reserved for your arancini.  So eat some for lunch some weekend and spread the rest on a parchment or wax paper lined baking sheet and put it into the fridge to cool all afternoon. 

When you’re ready, prepare a station for making the risotto.  Put the flour in one bowl, beat the eggs in another.  Place the fresh bread crumbs in a pie plate. Slice two string cheese into 1 inch pieces.

Shape the arancini in your hand into a kind of half ball, making a small well in the center.  Pour in a tbsp of marinara or bolognese and top with a piece of cheese.  Pack more risotto over until you have a ball.  These are pretty big, the way I made them. They were served to us in a kind of sausage shape at Mama Eat! You can make smaller ones but you might want to leave the fillings out in that case.  If I was making them for a party, I think I would try for smaller.

Take the formed arancini and dip it in the flour, then the egg, then the bread crumb mixture.  They are fragile but they really do stay together just fine once they go into the hot oil.  Place them on a plate until they are all formed.

Heat about 3 cups of the oil in a medium sized heavy pot to 375 degrees.  Using a metal slotted ladle shaped spatula, carefully lower the arancini one at a time in the hot oil.  Cook for about 6-7 minutes, turning once.  Keep warm in a 250 oven until they are all made.  Serve with a little marinara or bolognese sauce on the side for dipping the pieces in.













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Birthday Cake with Karyn Hlad Miller

I invited my friend Karyn to create this guest post.  She is a photographer and pastry chef, and one of the best cooks I know.  We have a long history together, beginning in college, and patched together later by visits in different cities: an afternoon in Boston when we ate pasties on Tremont Street, and had hot chocolate at LA Burdicks in Cambridge, a girlfriends weekend in Columbus Ohio when I ate tacos with her and her two luminous daughters after everyone else had gone home.  She’s one of the most adventurous eaters I know, a great reader, and one of the best people to wander a city with.  And as long as I’ve known her she’s done two other things exceptionally well: made the most nourishing and perfected baked goods and taken beautiful photographs. So I had to ask her to do that once more for my blog.  You can see for yourself why I’m not sorry I did.

I hinted to Karyn early in this process that I wanted her to create a gluten-free birthday cake for me for my birthday on the 28th of March.  See what happens when you ask someone who loves you for your heart’s desire?  Believe me, you won’t go wrong with this recipe. We are all very safe in her hands.

I make cakes from scratch and have for so long now that I assume everyone else, when they need a cake, does the same. Only when I pass by the shelves at the grocery that are stocked bottom to top with boxes of cake mixes am I reminded that that there are other options. I used to go to that very spot to select what I thought to be the best mix and its best coordinating tub of frosting. I would follow what the instructions on the box told me to do, adding in the two eggs and the oil or the water or the milk and end up with a sufficient, if not tasty, cake. What was left of the grainy, stiff, and overly sweet frosting (after I ate it by the spoonful straight from the tub) was spread over the cake. It was enough at that time to fulfill whatever need that cake was filling. It marked a moment in time as something to be noticed, be it a boyfriend’s birthday, or family gathering, or just something to do after school with a friend. But being a curious maker, the cakes made from a mix soon became inadequate. I was motivated to create desserts from real recipes in actual cookbooks just to see if I could. This curiosity and effort became its own form of insubordination against the norm of the box mix in my small town world.

Years on from those initial days of experimenting with recipes to satisfy a curiosity, or fill the open ended hours of my youth, making cakes and bread and many other pastries became how I made my living and how I identified who I was. It got me out of bed and to the bakery hours before the sun rose. It paid off the student loans. It gave me an answer to the question “So, what do you do?” I loved the systems in the professional kitchens where I worked, the methods of the recipes, the checking off of the to-do list everyday, and the chemistry of making something beautiful out of all those ingredients. As exhausting as the work could be I would still come home and bake for myself, or for a brunch I would host, or for out-of-town visitors, and always for birthdays.

I don’t need much of a reason to make a cake, but birthdays rightfully demand them. What better reason is there for making a custom cake than to celebrate the life of someone you love? Growing up my brother always requested that Mom make a Boston Cream pie for his birthday, my sister a Texas Sheet Cake for hers, my Dad a Key Lime pie (these, even though we lived in Ohio). I make a German Chocolate cake for my husband every year. My eldest daughter wants a chocolate cake, and my youngest will require something with lemon. We all have our preferences. And if there is any day when we should get what we desire, it is our birthday.

So happy birthday, Gwen! This is your (gluten-free!) birthday cake. Seeing as how there are a couple thousand miles between us you will have to trust me when I say that it was delicious.




Sour Cream Citrus Cake
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  1. 1 3/4 cup gluten free flour mix (I used Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free 1 to 1 Baking Flour)
  2. 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  3. 1/2 teaspoon salt
  4. 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  5. 1 1/4 cup natural cane sugar
  6. 1/2 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
  7. 1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
  8. 1/2 teaspoon finely grated lime zest
  9. 12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  10. 1/2 cup sour cream
  11. 3 eggs, room temperature 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Prepare one 9x5 loaf pan or one small (six cup) bundt pan by slathering on way more soft butter than you think you should. If you make this in a small bundt pan you will have enough batter left to make yourself four cupcakes. Set aside.
  2. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda in a medium bowl. Set aside.
  3. Mix the sugar and the zests in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the butter to the bowl and with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar mixture together on medium high speed for 2 minutes until light and creamy. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl and the paddle with a rubber spatula to make sure all the butter is well mixed.
  4. Add the sour cream and mix until combined. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing in between additions. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl again. Add the vanilla extract and the dry ingredients. Mix until combined and smooth. Spoon the mixture into the prepared pan and bake for about 35-40 minutes if you are using the small bundt pan. The loaf pan will take five to ten minutes longer.
  5. Test the doneness of the cake by sticking a toothpick into the center of the cake. If it is clean when you pull it out, the cake is done. Let the cake cool on a wire rack for 20 minutes, then turn it out onto a cooling rack and let it cool for another 15 minutes or so. Glaze the cake when it’s room temperature but not too cold.
  6. Citrus glaze
  7. 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
  8. 1/4 teaspoon lemon zest
  9. 1/4 teaspoon orange zest
  10. 1/4 teaspoon lime zest
  11. 2 to 4 tablespoons lemon or orange or lime juice
  12. Whisk all ingredients together in a bowl until smooth (start with 2 tablespoons of juice and see if it needs more). The glaze should be thick yet pourable. Pour the glaze over the cake while it is still on the cooling rack set over a rimmed cookie sheet. Collect the glaze under the cooling rack and pour it over the sides of the cake. Let the glaze set for a few minutes before cutting into the cake.
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Saturday Night Supper: Pot roast, Colcannon, and Irish Soda Bread


When I was a child and teenager the family meal that was sacrosanct was Sunday dinner.  It was often at my grandparents house but my mother hosted it too.  We’d have guests sometimes, and in college I often came back since I went to school nearby, and brought friends with me.  We used the china, we used the silver, we had flowers on the table, the napkins were cloth.  All the rituals asserted an important message: this is important, this family is important, you are important, these moments are important.  Don’t rush through your life.  Stop, and breathe deeply.  Live.

I remember this as most of all something I could count on.  And now that my children aren’t babies or toddlers or preschoolers anymore, and my extended family all lives far away, a fact that is increasingly true for all of us, I’m trying to think very intentionally about the ways I can make that sense of constancy and special mealtime again, but make it my own.  Not because I want a pinterest-perfect, magazine-worthy spread every week.  But because I want to give my family a sense of reverence about the everyday, I want them to feel important and special, and as adolescence looms I want them to have things they can count on.

So I’ve designated Saturday night as the time for the special family meal. It works better for our lifestyle and my husband’s work demands, but this is the meal that requires more care and attention and some slow cooking and some lingering at the table. The meal that is an occasion, imbued with the ritual and meaning and artfulness that often seems to me to be eroded from contemporary life, save the eye candy photo spreads in magazines.  

I didn’t get the silver out and polished this time (I inherited my grandmother’s) and the china is still in it’s protective quilted bags, but I did use some special plates and the good glasses and we ate in the dining room even though it was just the four of us.  But I came away, though tired out from the work it took, inspired to do it again.  Next week we’ll have guests over to join us.

Over St. Patricks Day we had a choir concert and a child recovering from a cold.  So we did some celebrating over this mealtime.  We’re not Irish as far as I know on either side, but my kids think any holiday ought to be observed.  And I like trying traditional foods from other cultures.  But I don’t really care for corned beef so we did pot roast and colcannon instead. I made a pot of gold rainbow fruit salad that was really silly and fun and delighted my children and my husband stole a lot of the rolos I used for the pot of gold and my daughter wanted to make a meal of the mini marshmallows that were supposed to be clouds at one end of the rainbow because this is a real family and she doesn’t like pot roast.

And I made an Irish Soda bread that I am still eating as I write this.  I got the idea of soaking the raisins in whiskey from Adrianna Adarme at A Cozy Kitchen but the rest of the recipe I developed myself because I have to use gluten free flours and I feel those recipes need a lot of fat to bolster their self-image so they can succeed.  You can’t strip down a recipe when you’re already missing gluten.  So this recipe for Irish soda bread has buttermilk, butter AND sour cream.  And it turned out amazingly well.  It also gave me an idea for making whiskey caramels at some point but I’ll save that for another post.  

The recipes for the bread and the colcannon, which is a dish of mashed potatoes with green onions and cabbage or sometimes kale, are ones I developed myself.  The pot roast recipe I got straight from the Wednesday food section of the New York Times, which I buy in its paper version every week. You can find it here. I never went to culinary school and though I’m a good home cook I see no reason to reinvent the wheel every week and not rely on people who have studied and know their business.  This is a great recipe, and appropriate because pot roast is what I most remember eating growing up for Sunday dinner and this chef, Gavin Kaysen of Minneapolis says the same.  It’s home food, family food, but I wanted the best recipe I could find for it.




Colcannon with Tuscan Kale
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  1. 1 bunch tuscan kale, woody stems stripped, and finely chopped
  2. 4-5 medium large yukon gold potatoes, cut into cubes
  3. 1/4 cup chive cream cheese
  4. 4 tbsp butter
  5. 1/4 cup milk, gently heated
  6. salt and pepper to taste
  1. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add potatoes and boil until almost tender. Add chopped kale and continue cooking until the kale leaves are wilted and the potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork. Drain and add bake to the hot pot. Add cream cheese, butter and milk and mash together. Serve with a small dollop of Irish butter on top.
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Irish Soda Bread
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  1. 3 1/2 cups Cup4Cup gluten free flour blend (or regular flour)
  2. 2 tsp baking powder
  3. 1 tsp baking soda
  4. 1 cup granulated sugar
  5. 1/2 cup crimson raisins
  6. 1/4 cup whiskey
  7. 1 1/2 cups sour cream
  8. 3/4 cup buttermilk
  9. 8 tbsp unsalted butter, cold, cut into cubes
  1. Put the raisins in a small bowl and pour the whiskey over it. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit overnight. In the morning, drain off the whiskey. If you put it in your coffee I will tell no one.
  2. Preheat the oven to 375. Butter a round 9-inch cake pan generously.
  3. In a food processor mix or a bowl with a whisk, mix together the dry ingredients until combined. Add the cubed butter and pulse until you have a coarse meal (alternatively you can use a pastry cutter). Add the sour cream and mix. Slowly add the buttermilk until the dough comes together. Add the raisins and mix until gently combined. Turn it out onto a floured board and knead a few times. Scrap into the buttered pan and use a sharp knife to score the top with an X. Bake for one hour. You may have to cover with foil partway through so the top doesn't burn. I did this at about 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and gently slip out of the pan onto a wire rack. Serve with salted butter and maybe very sharp cheddar cheese.
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Early Spring: Chocolate, Dark and Sweet


You do not have to be good.  This is my late, dark and sweet valentine to you.  And to myself.


“You do not have to be good,” is how Mary Oliver’s poem “Wild Geese” begins. And this argument never fails to stop me in my tracks. I’m arrested and humbled. I don’t? Mary, I don’t have to be good?


I try to be good. I try to be a good mother, and good citizen, a good friend. But sometimes my desire to be good, which propels me forward at a sometimes furious pace, makes me stumble with the speed, makes me forget to be wise, or happy, or loved.


It was a few weekends ago. All I wanted was a perfect, memorable holiday weekend for my children. That’s all. I wanted perfection. I confess it. I wanted to be good. And the trouble with always wanting to be good, is that you really need other people to help you do it, by being their best selves too. And no one can do that all the time.


I was tense. I fought with my husband. I said things I didn’t mean. I felt moments of anger towards my family, and moments of self-recrimination for the expectations I was placing on them. I felt at turns headstrong and vulnerable, an inner conflict that might as well be illustrated in full painted glory beside my profile picture. This is an interesting creature, at turns headstrong and vulnerable. Despite its soft feminine appearance, approach with caution.


One of my teachers and mentors, the poet Gail Mazur once told me when commenting on the themes of my work in my twenties, “Sometimes our job isn’t to be good. It is to become.”


I’m a worrier. There’s another Mary Oliver poem that I feel describes me so well the poem is like a mirror. It begins, “I worried a lot.” And I think there are things to worry about. One of the reasons I long ago committed to family supper as many days a week as I could manage is because I was influenced by CASA’s assertion that regular family mealtime can help protect against a whole host of problems as children develop their sense of self in a very complicated and painful world. My husband, who knows something about young people in crisis, contends that the consistent mealtime is a reflection of family connectedness. And though I lose perspective and my priorities get confused at times, ultimately my value is that we will connect as a family, consistently, and that will be part of what gives my children what they need to navigate the world. Most nights we sit down for a meal at our round wooden kitchen table. We go around and share what we are thankful for which is our version of saying grace. And lately we started doing the wave with our joined hands right after that. One of the kids came up with that and it makes me smile every time I think about it.


I’m not sorry we do this. I think it’s shoring up all kinds of things we need. It’s a good thing we do, and it takes commitment, and I’m proud of it. And I protect it. I deliberately do no overschedule my children on weeknights so other things don’t encroach on our family dinnertime. It’s hard to do this and you have to say no to things, but I do.


I try to be good. So you can see how I might stumble, how I might make myself and the people around me a little crazy with unrealistic expectations.


On this weekend when I stumbled we went to see an exhibit at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. It was about chocolate. The way is it cultivated as a plant and turned into a crop. The history of it, and the way that history intersects with other events and developments for human beings.


Chocolate, as it turns out, has an interesting and storied past. Surrounding its use by human beings is everything you can think of. War and oppression, slavery, class issues, culture clashes, beauty, art, migration, sacrifice. It is both sweet and dark, and its story has lessons if we care to pay attention.


Did you know, for instance, that virtually all the chocolate people in the United States had access to during WWII was rationed to the troops? It was neither accessible, nor common in those years. It was a treasure, a luxury, something to sacrifice.


I stood in the exhibit with my husband and children and found myself unexpectedly moved, as I often am when I learn about the past.


Because the story of chocolate is not glossy perfection, a catalog of perfect sweets, formed carefully, the cream never curdling, the chocolate never seizing. The story of chocolate is the story of human beings. Perilous, messy, changing, conflicted, delicious. People carried the cacao seeds on their backs, guarded by mercenaries, preyed on by bandits. People hoarded them and shared them. People were good, people were bad. They got rich, they struggled in times of poverty, and famine, and warfare, they ate chocolate, they baked bread, they lived and died.


Somewhere in the distant past, a woman served hot chocolate in these cups and had a fight with her husband. About the house, the children, the price of milk, the politics of the day. She went to mass, she prayed to be better. She was selfish, she was kind, she was a good mother and a bad cook, or maybe sometimes she was a good cook and a bad mother.


My good mother friends, one who reminded me of her mantra regarding her children’s adolescent years. This is for hard mothering times of self-doubt: “I have three goals. They go to college. They don’t get addicted to anything. They don’t get pregnant or get anyone else pregnant. Everything else we can deal with.”


Or my other good mother friend who reminded me during one virulent stomach virus season. “Keep everyone fed and out of traffic. Let everything else go.”


Thank the merciful heavens for the good mother friends, the bread and butter of civilization and contemporary motherhood.


Life is not a box of chocolates. Life is a sack of cacao seeds we have to carry on our backs, the raw material of goodness and humanness, of love and faith, pleasure and loss.


Spring is coming. Go watch the movie Chocolat. Let your children skip their homework once in awhile. Contrary to some sources their educational future is not at stake from the result of one skipped math problem or session on Spelling City. Teach them to live and not just achieve. Sometimes have a day where the objective is not to do, but to be. You don’t always have to be good. Let them know: sometimes your job is not to be good; it is to become.


At the end of our time at the museum my daughter started to melt down. So I took her out of the exhibit we were in and sat on the floor with her and talked to her.


“What IS the matter?” (With no little measure of exasperation)

“I’m scared.”

“What are you scared of?”

“The dinosaur bones.”

“But they’re not real. They’re reproductions. And mommy is here.”

“I want to go to a different exhibit.”

“Okay. I will take you to a different exhibit but then I want the whining to stop. And Daddy and your brother want to be in this one. If I take you to a different exhibit, then will you be happy? Because we came here to enjoy ourselves.”


And she stopped and thought about it and she said, “It’s good enough to be at the museum together. That’s fun enough. I want to go back to where they are.”


And I found myself looking into her tearful cornflower eyes and wondering at the maturity she was displaying. Not in feeling frustrated and disappointed. But in deciding what she was going to do about it, and what kind of perspective she could achieve. And I realized that she was doing far better than I was. I might as well have been talking to myself. Then will you be happy?


And so we walked back hand in hand through the bones of prehistoric creatures until we found her real heart’s desire. Her father and brother. My husband had his hands on my son’s shoulders. They were talking in soft voices about whatever they were looking at.


My job in that moment wasn’t to educate her by taking her to a stimulating place like a museum where she can learn about science so she’ll do well and achieve and get into a good college (sigh). My job wasn’t to make her happy either. My job was to teach her to be part of a family. Not even to teach her. Just to be her family. At some point, long after the fact, I realized my mistake in the way I talked to her about her unhappiness at the museum. It was wrong to place the expectation on her that she should be happy. I can see now that this was the tension in the air all weekend, the unspoken struggle, the humanness. It was floating around like dandelion seeds, and my children were catching hold of those delicate floating emotions. Be happy, be perfect, be good.


No one can be happy all the time. Happiness comes and goes, like sunshine. No one can be good all the time. And if we think we can be, it doesn’t take long for us to fall instead into self-righteousness and lose our compassion and understanding. I know because like many conscientious people, my fatal flaw can be self-righteousness. It makes you brittle like a hard candy that can break your teeth, when what you want to be is warm and flowing, and accepting of others, including yourself.


After all of this angst and confrontation, all of this worry and tension, my kids prepared to go back to school after the long weekend.


And as he was putting his shoes on that morning my son exclaimed in a very sincere and happy voice, “What a great weekend that was!”

I paused in what I was doing, startled.

“I’m glad you enjoyed it bud,” I said.

“It was great,” he replied. “We went out to brunch, and you took me to go see Star Wars again, and we went to the museum and we spent time together as a family.”


When you’re doing your best, don’t be surprised that your best is indeed good enough. Especially where your children are concerned. Don’t be surprised that when you ask for wisdom, and happiness, and love, that it appears and all you have to do is accept it and recognize it when it does.

I made two chocolate recipes in honor of this exhibit and the lessons I learned from my life and family.  One was a spicy chocolate truffle recipe with cinnamon sugar I developed, inspired by the history of people adding hot spices to chocolate.  The other was a recipe for a slow cooker chicken mole.  I love my slow cooker for family meals.  I made the recipe here.




Spicy Dark Chocolate Truffles with Cinnamon
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  1. 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  2. 9 1/2 oz bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  3. 2/3 cup heavy cream
  4. pinch of ground cinnamon
  5. Mixture of cinnamon sugar for dusting
  1. Heat the cream gently in a saucepan until hot but not boiling. Place the finely chopped chocolate in a heat proof glass bowl. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and stir it until it's melted and the cream and chocolate are mixed together. Stir in the cayenne pepper and the pinch of cinnamon.
  2. Cover the bowl in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm. You might have to give it about 10 mins at room temperature before you start making the truffles. Take a heaping tsp of the chocolate mixture and roll it in your hands. They don't have to be perfectly round. Roll each one in the cinnamon sugar mixture. Store in the fridge. Enjoy in front of a warm fire with coffee and someone you love.
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It’s the quiet part of the year. Opening softly, like a wardrobe door revealing a world of magic and snow. I’m grateful to live in Colorado, where winter is majestic and beautiful, and the natural world sparkles and keeps living.


This is wintertime to me and it lasts a long time here before the wildflowers come. I’m headed to the mountains this weekend. Last year I saw this fox in the Fraser Valley and it put me in mind of one of my favorite sequences of poems, about a fox, by Lucille Clifton. This one is called “a dream of foxes.”


in the dream of foxes

there is a field

and a procession of women

clean as good children

no hollow in the world

surrounded by dogs

no fur clumped bloody

on the ground

only a lovely line

of honest women stepping

without fear or guilt or shame

safe through the generous fields



Safe through the generous fields. I hope that for us all in the New Year. The election seems ugly and crass, there is so much sadness in the world, and so much conflict. There is so much work for us to do and it’s so hard and so important. And sometimes what we must do is gather our strength for a weekend or a few days, as the ground does in the winter. Make some soup, read something you think is beautiful, look at the flames of the wood fire.


I was explaining to my daughter the reason things die. She was looking out at the winter landscape of our back yard and she was sad that our vegetable garden and her little potted fairy garden was all shriveled and covered in snow. And I explained that when things die, they go back into the ground and become part of the soil, feeding it so new things can grow.


She seemed a little unsatisfied by this answer. My children are traditionalists, like a lot of children under twelve seem to be, and they like things to stay the same. They don’t like impermanence or shake-ups. And I see part of my job to be that I provide the love that they can count on even when I’m not present, and part of my job is to explain why sometimes we take risks, and sometimes we don’t. We crave adventure but we work hard for a sense of place and security. The earth turns over. Living things die and new ones grow in their place.


I’m in a quiet place. Winter helps me work. I can write in the fallow time, quite well. I hope things are turning over for you too. And you’re finding good things to cook and eat. I hope you remember if you are a writer or an artist, that we all need fallow times when we don’t produce. I’ve learned the hard way that you have to make your peace with the times when the words don’t come. Give it time, read and think, be patient. If you do that, then you’ll be ready to bring in the harvest when the time comes.


This is one of my absolute favorite winter dishes to eat. It’s from the Whole Foods Market Cookbook, and really is best made out of white beans you’ve cooked yourself the day before. You can cook them all day in the crockpot and use them the next day for this casserole. It is economical too and doesn’t need much more, in my opinion, than toast. I like to eat a lot of grapefruit halves for dessert during the winter. They are so sweet-tart and refreshing in season and the pink ones lift my heart.

White Bean and Kale Gratin
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  1. I bunch of kale, washed and heavy stems removed
  2. 3 cloves of garlic
  3. 1 tbsp olive oil
  4. About 30 oz of white beans like great northern, either cooked yourself, or from 2 15 oz cans. If you use cans the finished dish will be drier and have less sauce.
  5. 2 cups very sharp cheddar cheese, grated
  6. 1 tbsp tamari
  7. softened butter for greasing the casserole dish
  8. lots of slivered almonds...about 3/4 of a cup
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Fill a 3 qt pan with water and blanch the kale until it is still bright green. Drain and rinse in cold water. Chop roughly. Heat the oil over medium heat in a small skillet and saute the garlic, not letting it burn.
  2. In a mixing bowl combine the white beans, cooked kale, garlic and oil, cheddar cheese, and tamari. Butter a ovenproof casserole dish generously. Spread the bean and kale mixture into the buttered dish. Sprinkle a nice layer of sliced almonds over the top. Bake for 20 minutes.
Adapted from The Whole Foods Market Cookbook
Adapted from The Whole Foods Market Cookbook
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Ode to a Leek



I first encountered leeks as a child in Scotland. It’s a very British food, and despite what people quip about the food in Britain there are some things I remember Scottish cooks doing really well. One was fish. Another was lamb. Potatoes. Oh my goodness my sister and I can still recall in the most vivid detail the second window at our Scottish primary school where at lunchtime, daily, there was a vast metal container filled to overflowing with hot, freshly prepared, bronzed with fat, roasted potatoes.  I can go into a kind of ecstatic trance just remembering them.

It’s a good week to think about the things I love about Britain. We lost two very fine British gentlemen in David Bowie and Alan Rickman. Britain is a good country and a proud and ancient one. I have memories from my life there that still sustain me. And part of that was the food. And part of that was the simplicity of my childhood years there. I know I idealize it sometimes, as we do when we have nostalgia for the things we cherish from childhood. But there are still some lessons I gather from my life there.

Leeks are deeply flavorful. Like onions and garlic they add a foundation of flavor to your cooking. But leeks have a complexity of flavor that onions sometimes lack. Don’t get me wrong. Onions are rock stars in the kitchen and I could never do without them and they are often all you need. Plus, onions are cheap and easy to find. I personally don’t think we consider simple and inexpensive ingredients thoughtfully enough as contemporary cooks.

A revelation to me was taking the SNAP challenge several years ago and the way that set me on a path to examine my own privilege surrounding food, the ways our food system is broken, the increasingly wide gap between rich and poor, and the ways I could and should be more mindful of how and what I eat and where it comes from. In many ways, that simple challenge led me to begin this blog.

Consider this poem by Pablo Neruda, a poet so deeply concerned for the working and poorer classes in his homeland of Chile and the way he found something to elevate in the humble ingredient of the onion.


Ode to the Onion

Pablo Neruda



luminous flask,

your beauty formed

petal by petal,

crystal scales expanded you

and in the secrecy of the dark earth

your belly grey round with dew.

Under the earth

the miracle


and when your clumsy

green stem appeared.

and your leaves were born

like swords

in the garden.

the earth heaped up her power

showing your naked transparency.

and as the remote sea

in lifting the breasts of Aphrodite

duplicated the magnolia.

So did the earth

make you,


clear as a planet,

and destined

to shine,

constant constellation

round case of water.


the table

of the poor.


you undo

your globe of freshness

in the fervent consummation

of the cooking pot

and the crystal shred

in the flaming heat of the oil

is transformed into a curled golden feather.


Then, too, I will recall how fertile

is your influence

on the love of the salad,

and it seems that the sky contributes

by giving you the shape of hailstones

to celebrate our chopped brightness

on the hemispheres of a tomato.

But within reach

of the hands if the common people,

sprinkled with oil.


with bit of salt,

you kill the hunger

of the day laborer on his hard path.


Star of the poor,

fairy godmother


in delicate

paper, you rise from the ground

eternal, whole, pure

like an astral seed.

and when the kitchen knife

cuts you, here arises

the only tear

without sorrow.


You make us cry without hurting us.

I have praised everything that exists,

but to me, onion, you are

more beautiful than a bird

of dazzling feathers,

you are to my eyes

a heavenly globe, a platinum goblet,

an unmoving dance

of the snowy anemone.


and the fragrance of the earth lives

in your crystalline nature.

 I’m trying hard to use simpler ingredients and make them count. There’s a kind of literacy to cooking that I think I’ve achieved, as I grow older. I know how to look in the refrigerator and think about what I have and make something nourishing from it, using up the things I have. There’s a connection between simplicity and elegance, and literacy and intellect is what can bring those two values together. Sometimes you have to prepare in order to make something beautiful and satisfying. It doesn’t just happen by instinct. You have to read and look and think. And prepare.

I’ve done that a long time with my cooking. This recipe came together from looking at what I had in a dwindling pantry and fridge and what I know you can make from staples. I usually tell people who don’t feel as confident in the kitchen, “This is not that hard; you could totally do it.” But I’m thinking about changing what I say. There is a lot of pressure on mothers to be the cooks. And the truth is, I wouldn’t say feeding my family is easy. It takes some thoughtfulness and mindfulness at the very least. And some discipline. So what I want to say instead is this: we can all change our expectations surrounding food and mealtime. We can work towards a simpler and more elegant approach, and perhaps a little austerity can be part of that. It’s a hard balance to find but a place to start is by valuing each ingredient for what it brings to a dish and valuing the fresh ones most of all. You could aim for a home-cooked meal as a family once a week and I’d still think you were a hero. I believe in you if you’re cooking and being mindful of your food and family at all. You’re making the world turn my friend, on love and commitment to all the good things life has to offer. It’s not a small thing and if all you come up with is a pot of beans and some rice for your loved ones, you’ve done something important and don’t think otherwise.

This tart had flour, butter, salt, pepper, 1 leek, and 1 butternut squash. Its biggest extravagance was the cheeses. You could make it without those if you are vegan or dairy-free. I needed to use up some goat cheese I bought for a different recipe and had a lot left afterwards. I went to my cookbooks and the food blogs I love and read for some inspiration. This tart is a combination of a recipe from Ina Garten (her’s is a zucchini tart) and a squash galette from Smitten Kitchen. You could be in no more competent hands than those of these two terrific women cooks. When I want to create something simple and good in my life, I look to the women I can trust. People like this are making the world turn, artists and makers as important to me as the poet Pablo Neruda. They are shaping something nourishing and true.  There is no more basic need than hunger.  And the people who grow and cook and prepare food matter very deeply.


Butternut Squash and Leek Tart with two cheeses
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  1. 1 and 1/4 cup flour
  2. 10 tbsp cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
  3. 1/2 tsp lemon juice
  4. 5 tbsp ice water
  1. 1/2 cup goat cheese at room temperature
  2. 1/2 cup extra sharp white cheddar cheese, grated
  3. 1 leek, halved and thinly sliced, cleaned carefully and dried
  4. 2 tbsp olive oil, divided
  5. 1 tbsp butter
  6. 2 tbsp canola oil
  7. salt and pepper
  1. To make the tart dough: In a food processor attached with the flat dough blade, pulse the flour with the cubed butter and lemon juice until the texture is a coarse meal. Add the ice water slowly through the feed tube just until the dough comes together smoothly. Plop the dough onto a piece of plastic wrap and form it into a flat disk. Chill for 30 minutes.
  2. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Toss the cubed squash with the canola oil and put on a baking sheet. Roast for 25 minutes, turning once. Salt and pepper the squash and try not to eat it all right away.
  3. Heat a skillet over medium heat and add the butter and one tbsp of the olive oil. Saute the leeks until soft and golden.
  4. Roll out the tart dough in a large circle. About 12-14 inches. Put it on an ungreased baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Spread goat cheese over the inner 10 inches of the crust. Sprinkle the leeks evenly over the goat cheese. Heap on the roasted squash. Fold the edges of the pastry over to make a free-form tart. Brush with the remaining tbsp of olive oil and sprinkle with the cheddar cheese, making sure some of it gets on the outer crust. Bake for 40 minutes at 400 degrees until the crust is golden brown.
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I'm a writer in the kitchen. Please come in and stay awhile. We can tell each other stories and break bread together.

The girl strapped in the bare mechanical crib

does not open her eyes, does not cry out.

The glottal tube is taped into her face;

bereft of sound, she seems so far away.

But a box on the stucco wall, wired to her chest,

televises the flutter of her heart —

news from the pit — her pulse rapid and shallow,

a rising line, except when her mother sings,

outside the bars: whenever her mother sings

the line steadies into a row of waves,

song of the sea, song of the scythe


— From “Song and Story” by Ellen Bryant Voigt



It is Epiphany and I have been reading this, one of my favorite poems by Ellen Bryant Voigt. As it was Epiphany last year, the first time I ever posted something for this blog. It’s been a good year, one of the best of my life. It’s been filled with wonder, and beauty, and healing, and time for my work. My children and husband are thriving. There have been rooms with views, in the mountains here in my adopted home state of Colorado, and extraordinarily in Italy.


There has been love, and the mistakes that go along with it, and that is all part of my good life.


I saw the Pieta in Rome. In fact, I saw two pietas. One in Orvieto that was also remarkable, and I could get close enough to touch. And Michelangelo’s Pieta, which was at a little distance, and behind glass, and still took my breath away.


I thought of many things. The universality of suffering and grief, the injustice of tyranny, the oppression and endurance of women, the beauty of sacrificing oneself out of love of others. I thought of my splintered religious faith, and how different it is than the faith I had as a child, but how I cannot go backwards, and must only stand humbled before the pietas that I witness from now on, and see them in the only way I’m capable of.


I thought of motherhood and the way it breaks your heart. Our tour guide at the Vatican told us that Michelangelo’s Pieta conceived of the face of Mary, and the face of her son being the same age. And this could be seen as a statement about Mary’s acceptance at the moment of his birth that he would suffer and die, as the Lamb of God.


And the mother in me rebelled at this idea, and shook her head. And I wondered if there is anything I would give my children’s lives for. Not freely. I don’t think so.  I don’t claim this on behalf of anyone else. Clearly there are some things we appear to be able to sacrifice our children for, in general as human beings. Otherwise there wouldn’t be wars, and young bodies sacrificed to them. And I understand that there might be some ideas people feel strongly enough about that they are willing to give their children to that cause. I humbly question if I am one of them though.


But the guide also pointed out that Mary’s hand is open. In acceptance and graciousness. And as I reflected more I also came to see a new thought blossoming in me. And that is that we do give birth to our children with the knowledge that suffering will come to them. As it does to every living creature, in one form or another.


There is one person, and one event, that, more than any other, shaped my own struggle to understand suffering. He was born when I was twenty-five years old. His name was Clay, and he was my nephew. He never walked, or spoke, or learned to feed himself. He was profoundly mentally and physically disabled and suffered from cerebral palsy. He died very young. But the story of his life is something I can offer, and I do sometimes offer, though I will tell you (in the gentlest voice I can manage) that profoundly disabled, suffering children are a puzzle many people cannot look at with clear eyes.


And what I can offer, decades after his birth, and years after his death, is my particular and quiet truth, though it’s not an easy one.


There is no ready meaning to be found in the life and death of Clay. I remember he had beautiful blue unseeing eyes, that his muscles never seemed to relax from the palsy, even with medicine, that I rarely saw the inside of his hands. I remember the seizures that seemed so much a part of his daily living at first it was hard to bear. I remember his voice, hoarse and sometimes otherworldly, and my own longing to use the currency of our family…words…to reach him. I remember how he spent most of his days in his wheelchair, and later in his hospital bed, and the softness of his shirts and the music his parents would play for him. I remember my gentle, artistic sister’s courage and her love.


Suffering doesn’t have a meaning. It simply is.


pain has no music,

pain is neither beautiful nor wise,

pain is not a song: it is a story

scratched with a stick in the dust around the well.

It starts, Eurydice was taken from the fields.

She did not sing — you cannot sing in hell —

but in that viscous dark she could hear

her lover singing on the path, the song

flung like a rope into the crater of hell


I heard many sentiments and easy answers given by well-meaning but profoundly wrong people during his life. That God only sends such children to very special people (he doesn’t and we aren’t) or that there’s a reason for everything (there isn’t) or that Clay was sent to be a lesson to others about how sacred and precious life is (life is precious whether a child has to suffer needlessly or not).


None of this is true. Not for me. Clay suffered a lot, and his physical care was sometimes a difficult burden, however lovingly borne, and his death left us bereaved and empty.


But I have come to understand what meaning there was to be found in his life. And it was this. Clay was a human being. And his humanness came, not from achievements or his own consciousness even. It came from our compassion for him, and our commitment to easing his suffering in the ways we could. His humanity came from our love for him. We make each other human. We can’t be human by ourselves.


People will suffer. That innocent baby you rock during his first breaths, that you feed from your breasts, that you watch smile for the first time…someone will be cruel to him someday. That little girl you love for her joy and confidence…her heart will break just like anyone else’s. That is perhaps the best you can hope for as part of a good and fortunate life. Those simple kinds of sufferings. And their precious little bodies aren’t safe from illness and death. Because they are human. And humans live and grow sick or get injured, and die. And as much as you love them, you will fail them too. Human beings fail each other. We can work to end injustice but we can’t be more than human.


Sometimes you can’t save another person. You can only love them. There is no greater profound truth I extracted from the life of my nephew, and this is what I saw looking at the Pieta. Only this. Our love for him was the sum of his life with us. It was all we could offer and it was what defined him, and in turn us. We sang to him, because he couldn’t sing for himself. And that act shaped and refined us into finer human beings. But it was the only choice afforded us. To love or not to. We chose love.


In the midst of your own life, when you come across other people who are suffering as Clay did, and his family did, I hope you will think of the pietas, and of my words here. One of my greatest lessons of this life for me has been that people in pain don’t need answers or platitudes. Or judgments. We need someone who can endure beside us. Someone to hold us when we bleed, someone to understand us, to listen to the harder truths, to bear witness to the singing we do beside the hospital bed, standing in front of the grave, facing the traumas of the past, choosing love when we could turn away. Sometimes our own bodies are the burdens we carry, as Clay carried his. And in that case, we can be Mary, as my sister was, holding her injured son with one hand, the other open and not closed. We can choose gentleness instead of bitterness.


It’s the day after Epiphany now as I finish this. It’s snowing. It was bitterly cold the day we buried him. I remember at the funeral the way so many good people came, and they stood as we, his family, walked down the long stone church aisle where I was married, and my sister was married, and my grandparents’ bodies were carried after they left the world.


I remember the respect in their faces for what we had done, and my faith in human beings beating, a steady heart I carry with me always. I remember we put his ashes in the grave with my grandparents and I patted his headstone with my hand, as I used to pat his shoulder as he sat in his chair, and how sad I was to let someone so precious go, and how glad I was that his suffering was over.


The one who can sing sings to the one who can’t,

who waits in the pit, like Procne among the slaves,

as the gods decide how all such stories end,

the story woven into the marriage gown,

or scratched with a stick in the dust around the well,

or written in blood in the box on the stucco wall —

look at the wall:

the song, rising and falling, sings in the heartbeat,

sings in the seasons, sings in the daily round —


Keep loving. Keep living. Walk with people. When they can’t walk, hold them in your arms. And sing.




This post was a difficult and costly one to write. So I offer something to cook that makes me happy every year. This is the recipe for our annual potato pancake day. Usually at New Years, but just sometime over the holidays, we make this recipe and have it for breakfast with homemade applesauce. It is one of my favorite days of the year. This year we had prosecco and grapefruit juice with them too and I thought of the citrus trees that lined the streets near our hotel in Rome, and the smell of them when I returned from St. Peter’s Basilica and the Pieta. A little bit of sunny Italy.

New Year's Day Potato Pancakes
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  1. 6-8 yukon gold potatoes, grated, wrapped in a tea towel, and squeezed dry of their liquid. (We grate ours in a food processor)
  2. 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  3. 3 tbsp flour
  4. 4 tbsp cream
  5. sour cream
  6. 5 scallions, thinly sliced
  7. salt and pepper to taste
  8. bottle of vegetable oil
  9. As soon as you have twisted the grated potatoes in the tea towel to remove their excess liquid add all the other ingredients except the sour cream, scallions, and oil. Mix well.
  10. Heat the oil in a large skillet (not non-stick). When the oil is hot, scoop the potato mixture in small mounds in the pan, about three at a time. Mash down to flatten with a spatula or fork. Cook these until nice and brown on both sides. While you're doing this, make the scallion sour cream by mixing a cup of sour cream with the scallions.
  11. Keep the potato pancakes in a warm oven while you make the rest. Serve with the scallion sour cream and applesauce. Make a mimosa. Happy New Year!
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