As Good As it Gets

I am finding my voice after the hours, days, weeks, and now months of my relentless and steadfast "YES!" Saying yes, literally and figuratively has transformed every cell, and they can feel it too.  An unspoken truth fills my lungs, and slowly but surely, with each breath I am becoming more aligned with the woman and mother I've always longed to be. It feels like here and now is my golden age, my season to thrive, my "good ol' days," that I pray I get the privilege to tell my great grandchildren one day. I never want to leave, I want to stay here and now, with them, forever. I ache knowing I can't. I am ripped open knowing I desire the insurmountable. I must feel too deeply, for surely a human heart can't hold a beauty so fleeting, a joy so evolving, a love this consuming. 

Vintage

I come from a long line of bakers, although my mother, bless her, is not a baker. The few memories I have of her in the kitchen are only sounds of frenzy, before the eventual deafening fire alarm. Rather I have memories of her situated at her sewing machine, coming alive late into the night, beside her latest creative endeavor. My childhood smelled like burnt toast and muslin, both of which still bring me comfort to this day. It should go without saying, I did not learn to bake from my mother. I have only spent my whole life hearing stories and witnessing a sparkle in both her and my fathers eyes when they talk about the treats their mothers baked. I grew up romanticizing these stories and knew that if I were to ever become a mother, a baker I must also become. 
This instinctual rhythm is my connection to the women I never knew, but whose blood runs through me. I get a glimpse of them and unravel another piece of me. The act of mixing, kneading, rising, waiting, slicing and serving, is my access to their heart. I inherit their wisdom every time I tie my apron. I hear whispers of truth passed down through the generations. I am most eager to share these domestic adventures, with the little lady at my hip and the one beneath my feet. I dream of them sharing this existence with their daughters, and their daughters, daughters. 
I want them to remember me with that same sparkle in their eye. I want them to remember me in the smell of cinnamon rolls, and loaves of sourdough. I want them to find me again and again in flour and time, in the mysterious transformation and the single-minded joy. Because it is in between the understood and the impalpable, where my watchful heart resides. They probably don’t know it just yet but the warmth I pull out of my oven is my eventual vintage heirloom, the gateway to my heart, long after I am gone.

Explore

"It is not down in any map; true places never are. " - Herman Melville 

My brave + bold Octave, may you never stop inquiring about this good green earth. May you always revel + delight in the smallest forms of life that others are so quick to overlook. May you always live this wild and free, full and completely found. 

Pork + Red Wine Lasagna

Lasagna from scratch takes patience and time. It’s for the committed lovers, the ones who are knee-deep in that unconditional love that can only reveal its depth after sleepless nights and crying babies. It’s for that love that is hard and messy but also transparent and true. It’s for us, learning love from the ground up.

Pork + Red Wine Lasagna

Recipe from What Kate Ate

12 ripe vine tomatoes

10 cloves of garlic, (8 left whole & unpeeled, 2 thinly sliced)

Large handful each of fresh basil, oregano & thyme

Salt & pepper to taste

10 oz ground pork

10 oz ground beef

2 tbsp. olive oil

1 large yellow onion

14 oz can of diced tomatoes

1 cup full-bodied red wine

2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar

2 1/4 cup water

1 cup of finely grated parmesan for final topping

Bechamel Sauce

5 tbsp. butter

1/3 cup flour

2 1/4 cup whole milk

1 cup finely grated parmesan

salt & white pepper

pinch of nutmeg

When I make my noodles from scratch I use this recipe.

Otherwise use 8 oz of dried lasagna noodles and cook as directed on package.

Instructions-

Preheat oven to 350. Cut tomatoes in half and place them on a baking sheet, cut side up.  Sprinkle tomatoes with half of the chopped herbs, salt and pepper.  Slice 2 cloves of garlic and place one slice on top of each tomato. Leave the rest of the garlic cloves whole and unpeeled and spread them throughout the tomatoes.   Bake for 90 minutes.

Meanwhile heat a large pot on medium heat with 2 tbsp. of olive oil.  Sautee onions for 3-4 minutes until soft and fragrant.  Add ground pork and beef and cook about 5-7 minutes until browned.  Add can of tomatoes, wine, balsamic vinegar and water.  Add a few generous pinches of salt and pepper and the rest of the fresh herbs.  Bring to a boil and immediately lower heat to simmer for 90 minutes, allowing the ragu to thicken.

Once tomatoes are roasted, place them in a blender or food processor.  Remove the peel from the garlic cloves and add to the tomatoes.  Blend until smooth.  Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.

Once ragu has cooked and thickened, add pureed tomatoes, and let marinate and simmer for 15-20 minutes while you prep your noodles (either from scratch or store-bought,) and then make the bechamel sauce.

Increase the oven temperature to 400.

In a small saucepan melt butter.  Add flour and stir to form a thick paste.  Continuously stir the paste for 2-3 minutes, being careful not to burn.  Very slowly pour in warm milk while continuing to stir until you have a thick creamy sauce.  Add salt, white pepper, nutmeg and parmesan, stir and set aside.

Finally layer the lasagna. Spoon a layer of pork ragu into the pan, approximately 13×9, and spread evening over the base. Next cover with a layer of the béchamel sauce, and layer with enough noodles to cover the area without overlapping. Repeat the layering process three times, finishing with the last layer of béchamel. Sprinkle with finely granted parmesan and fresh basil.  Bake for 30 minutes, or until golden and bubbling. Let stand for 15-20 minutes before slicing and serving.

Daughters

I have few memories of Octave being a still baby, even as a newborn. In hindsight I can see that the lack of memories has less to do with my memory and is more telling of her little spirit. Her energy was and still is big, loud, and kinetic. I can so clearly see and feel her desire to do more, see more, say more, feel more, give more, take more, be more.  So. much. more.  Her rest is seldom, both literally and figuratively.  Just her presence, let alone her words, beg me to dig deeper than I’ve ever dug and to see myself clearly.  She rocks me, shakes me, and leaves me upside down before she asks me to arrive at my fullest potential, every.single.day.  She is my mirror, my joy, my teacher of patience. This is such a beautiful blessing but usually after it is unflattering, hard and messy. I am most certain she heard me preach to the world all those years ago just how much I LOVE being taken out of my comfort zone, because that is exactly what she does almost every hour of every day. But oh how she melts me. She melts my heart deep and wide, making herself at home in the most untouched spaces inside these bones. No one can soften me the way she can, truly no one.

Bijou is only nine months old but her differences are obvious, even from the most oblivious passerby. When she was growing inside my belly I could feel her little spirit already teaching me something different from her sister. She came earth side and those words I swore I heard her whisper in my womb, became a little louder but only loud enough for the most steadfast ears. She is present, and rooted, exuding a comfort that I never knew until I knew her. She doesn’t question or ask much of me, she just looks into the deepest place she can find and wants me to stay there with her. Her spirit feels so familiar that when I look deep into her eyes I feel like I have known her my whole life. Yet sometimes I feel like I don’t know the first thing about her. She is equal parts mystery and transparency.

I’ve been told to be careful how I talk about and compare my daughters differences. Surely I understand and want to be sensitive, yet I can’t help but find it to be more helpful than harmful.  I think it would be lovely to be a grown woman reading words your mother wrote about you from the moment she first met you.  I think it would be empowering to look back over your life and see how some traits were so uniquely you, even from day one. I think it would be positive to teach your children that their differences are celebrated and needed, not only inside a nuclear family, but in this world.  But selfishly this sifting, organizing, and reflecting is good for me too.  I feel the need to articulate and understand how and why they grow me. It’s important for me to express that just because one might make me more uncomfortable or stretch me to my max, does not mean that I value and love her any less than the one who holds my hand right where I am at. Their differences are what I need, and even more, what the world needs. These girls are my daughters, but I am forever their student. It is from them I am learning the most complex, heart wrenching, visceral love I have ever known. Every morning I see my life lessons laid before me inside my bottomless cup of steaming truth, but I’ve only begun to take my first sip.

Honey Wheat Oatmeal Bread

Last week we rented a zipcar and headed into the beautiful Columbia River Gorge.  When we dreamed about moving back to Oregon, this is what we dreamed about.  It took us an entire year, almost to the day, but we finally did it.  We have some special friends who just bought a home, right in the middle of this dreamland.  Behind their home was a gorgeous waterfall to explore, and inside their home was the smell of potato bacon soup and freshly baked bread waiting to be savored.  Our time was short but our souls felt refreshed.

As we drove away a few thoughts danced around in my head.  One, when you don’t use a car often, it can become a romantic form of transportation, like train hoping or sailing. I never thought I would say that!  Two, after a year hiatus of baking my own bread, my bones are aching, and my tummy are longing for it.  It’s time my simple seeking, slow beating, dough kneading heart, come alive again.  Three, I have greatly underestimated the power of choice or lack there of.

When we chose to sell our car almost two years ago we had a long list of reasons why we wanted to do so. That list still remains, but I will admit that with the growing of our family, I’ve held it looser than ever before.  At that time finances felt really tight, but technically we could afford our car, we just had other things we wanted to do with our money.  Getting out from under our student loans, eating good food, and having date nights with not one, but two cocktails, always sounded more attractive than owning a car.  It still does!  However the financial reasons for living car free were never at the top of my list and they were never the motivation that energized my legs in 10 below.

About a year into living car free, and a year ago this week, we moved back to Portland and started over. From scratch.  We were at our rock bottom, with no job, no insurance, no midwife, and no home for our desired home birth.  I was six and a half months pregnant.  I’m sure in five years I will have a very different, perhaps more light hearted tone in my voice when I remember and share stories from the last year.  It was completely nuts, to say the least.  In any case, we spent the last year climbing ourselves up and out of our rock bottom but it has taken time and patience, and we are still climbing.  And so using a car share as much as we would like, or buying a car is not an option in our current situation.  Let it be known that we are not throwing in the towel, and we aren’t planning on buying a car anytime soon.  BUT, what if we did have a change of heart, and what if we did want to buy our own car?  The feelings that come from the reality of that answer have played games with my head and heart this last year.  Most days I really enjoy and believe in our lifestyle, I just never realized how much that enjoyment could be connected to the fact that it was once a choice.

I grew up thinking choice was a birth right and maybe it is when you grow up in white, middle class America.  For the majority of my life the choices I had and made did not leave me without, they just left me with something different.  But there is a difference between choosing not to spend your $5 on a latte and not having the $5 to buy a latte.  There is a difference between choosing to keep your holiday shopping simple and having to keep it simple.  There is a difference between willingly scheduling your C-section and being told you must have a C-section.  There is a difference between taking an hour and a half bus ride at 10 pm because you’re reminding yourself of an awesome date night that saved money allows you to go on, and taking that bus because there is no other option.  You have tangible choices until you hit rock bottom, then you have the choice to make the most of what you have, the choice to be content with your life.

I am content with my life and I can’t remember the last time I was in such a sweet, peaceful place.  I am blessed beyond measure and there is not a day that goes by that I don’t wake up believing that.  But behind all this gratefulness has been the wrestling of these thoughts and emotions.  I find it interesting how one year to the next, our lifestyle can look the same on the outside and feel so very different on the inside.  You could assume that the last two years I didn’t own a car because I was a tree hugging hippie but this year I can’t afford one and that could place me under a whole other label.  Which brings up something else on my heart.  I am no longer interested in being defined by labels.  They once felt fun and empowering but quickly they can become divisive and toxic.  I don’t want to be a breastfeeding, baby wearing, organic, car free, bicycle riding mama.  I just want to be a mama who loves her babies, riding her bike and baking bread.  I want to enjoy things and do things, without being defined by them.  In this season, this year of living without a car, I’m learning that contentment is less about the end results and outcomes and more about the story upon arriving.  Our stories will always be more powerful than the text-book labels we try to put ourselves in.  And choice, it is a very powerful thing.

Whole Wheat Honey Oatmeal Bread

Slightly adapted from Girl vs. Dough

1 cup water

1 cup whole milk

2¼ teaspoons (1 packet) active dry yeast

3 tablespoons honey

2 ½ cups whole wheat flour

2 cups bread or all-purpose flour

1 cup rolled oats

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly

1 tablespoon salt

Topping:

Small handful of oats

1 tbsp. butter, melted

1 tbsp. honey

Heat water and milk in a small sauce pan until it is warm to the touch.  Pour into a stand mixer and add honey and yeast.  Let the yeast activate for 10 minutes.  Melt butter and set aside to cool.  After yeast mixture is proofed, pour in the butter.  Attach your dough hook attachment to your stand mixer. Combine all your flours, oats and salt in a medium size bowl and give it a quick mix with a whisk.  While mixer is on a medium speed, slowly add in the dry ingredients.  The dough should start to come together into a large ball.  It should be slightly tacky but you don’t want it to stick to the sides of the bowl.  If the dough appears to wet, you can add a tablespoon of flour at a time.  Knead for 8 minutes.

Place dough in a well buttered large bowl and cover with a tea towel.  Let rest for 1 hour, (or doubled in size,) in a warm draft free place. I like to place my rising dough in the oven with the light on.  After risen, punch down the dough and pull dough from the sides, bringing it into the center, until you have worked all the way around the bowl.  Generously butter your loaf pan then stretch out dough to fit the length of the pan.  Place the dough inside and cover again with a tea towel and let rise in a draft free place for 45 minutes.  While dough is rising a second time preheat oven to 400.

Once dough is risen the second time, pour melted butter and honey on top of the loaf and sprinkle with oats. Bake for 40-50, depending on your climate.  Let cool completely before removing from the pan.  From my impatience and eagerness to try the bread, I have learned the hard way.  LET IT COOL! Slice and serve honey butter.

Lemon Bars, For the Traveler (at Heart)

I’ve been cooking and baking my way through Green Kitchen Travels, a beautiful cookbook written and photographed by the same couple behind the blog, Green Kitchen Stories.  I’ve been mesmerized by their life, their travel inspired stories and the beautiful colors and images that fill the pages.  As I’ve read and eaten my way through this book, I’ve felt my heart yearning for more adventure, and more life.  There has been a lot of reflection on my part, and I feel as though I have lived in a constant state of reflection.  While I have a fierce longing to see, taste, touch and smell every square inch of this earth, this is not what I crave most.  I long to be the person I am when I’m traveling.  I want to be her now, as a wife and mother.  I miss the person who could lose her passport and plane ticket and not get too bent out of shape.  I miss the person who would sit with the sunrise and sunset and never run out of enough praise for such beauty.  I miss the person who would intentionally go on walks only to get lost and found and lost all over again.  I miss the person who surrendered to every moment and gave gratitude for it all.

Unlike every year prior, I have had little intention or focus for the year, only a mantra that has rushed in and transformed every cell.  A mantra that was once my, fake it til’ you make it, pep talk.  You know, the pep talk you give yourself when both children are melting down, you are running on a few lousy hours of sleep and you wake to dirty dishes, laundry and blueberry stained surfaces (ALL surfaces.) Give in, give gratitude, these words happened quite accidentally, after a rather rude awakening.  I was once a spontaneous, go with the flow, anything in the world could happen to me and you will still find me smiling, seeker of joy. But I woke up this fall a huffing and puffing, tired mama, nagging wife, an out of touch stealer of joy.  Seeing myself become these unattractive things was both humbling and earth-shaking.  I wallowed in this realization for a day, maybe two and then I took a good hard look at myself and I started to give thanks.  I listed, spoke and meditated on my gratefulness.  It just seemed like the most natural thing to do, a remedy for healing, a road to getting back home. I gave thanks until it became contagious, almost addictive.  Then, just like that, I woke giddy to find yet another thing to be grateful for.  The most simple things like an apartment facing east and babes who rise early, became something to celebrate.  My sense of awe and wonder was reborn.

I used to wonder why it was so much easier to surrender to even the greatest catastrophes abroad and so much harder to remain open and grateful for an equally growing experience back home.  I’ve found that it’s easier to surrender when your days feel numbered or when you know you will find yourself in a new place sometime next week.  Abroad or domestic, land or airborne it is all just as fleeting, but there is something about the day in and day out monotony of domesticity that can dull your senses, and tell you that adventure and life are found elsewhere.  The things that once sparked your attention and received your thanks become old news when you start to see that it will all happen again tomorrow.  It’s like saying, tomorrow I can celebrate, tomorrow I can give thanks.  But the spilling of shredded coconut out of eager helping hands, and another happy baby chasing her mess, or that mesmerizing sunrise, they only happened once in that unique way. Just once.

I’ve been given an informal invitation to take back the every day, to chase beauty and find joy in the little things.  I don’t need a new city or suitcase, in fact I don’t have to go anywhere.  I can even stay inside our little apartment because traveling does not have to be something I do, it can be a state of mind.  I believe more adventure and life are waiting for me in bubble baths and dishes, fort making and cookie baking.  This year I am giving in and giving gratitude. This year I’m becoming a traveler inside my very own home.

Lemon Cashew Date Bars

Recipe from Green Kitchen Travels

Makes 6-8 bars 

1 cup raw cashews

15 soft fresh dates, pitted

1/2 cup of shredded coconut

1/4 cup of lemon juice (about 1 small lemon)

Place all ingredients into a food processor or high-powered blender. Pulse for about 20-30 seconds or until the ingredients turn into a thick, slightly tacky dough.  Press the dough firmly into a small 4 x 6 rectangle pan, or a mini loaf pan, like pictured above.  Leave in the fridge for at least an hour or overnight.  Cut into bars or using a knife small butter knife, gently pop them out from the molds.  Wrap in parchment paper and keep in the fridge for up to a few weeks, (they probably won’t last that long!)  

Surrendered

It’s 2 am, or something like it, when she sneaks into my room filling our bed with four warm bodies, leaving me the smallest sliver of space.  She kisses my face, tells me she loves me, and just wants to snuggle.  The tired inside these bones starts to shift and breakdown.  The tears start flowing, and suddenly uninterrupted sleep seems so unimportant when it’s traded in for this.

Soon they are all sleeping sound, except me, the one who might need it most.  I could be bitter,  I used to be bitter.  I could be tired, I used to give in to the tired.  But in this quiet vulnerable space, side by side with my tiny tribe, I see myself.  I see my mishaps and regrets, but  I also see a heart that has doubled in size and overflows will a fierce and selfless love. Sometime after becoming a mother of two my heart has transformed and redefined itself.  I’ve given in, surrendered, and said yes.  I’ve said yes to it all and in return this heart has fallen deep, deeper, deepest, into the most joyful heartache I’ve ever known. Interestingly, I didn’t feel like a mother the day I learned there was life growing inside of me.  I am not so sure if I felt like a mother the day I birthed Octave into this world.  It is now, almost three years later that I can confidently claim my name as a mother, and even better, their mother.  There’s not too much I really need in this life, just keep me where the light is, and where they are.

 

Orange Honey Wheat Rolls

I turn my back briefly, and then turn back around to find her this way.  It’s probably safe to say that there are few 2 year-old staging photographs of their dinner rolls.  It’s far too precious to disrupt, even if she is moments away from potentially breaking one of my few prized possessions.  I chuckle and grab my phone to take a picture of her, taking a picture.  When we are in the thick of rainy season, with a heavy dose of cabin fever, I find myself saying yes to almost anything that peaks her curiosity, and keeps the peace.  Baking is our go-to, meltdown free, domestic adventure these days.  Especially if I surrender and trade in cleanliness and precision for destruction and independence.

These rolls are the BEST homemade rolls you will ever taste!  They are so close to perfection that I am forgoing sharing a heartfelt story because it’s almost Christmas and you must make these rolls.  The dark circles beneath my eyes are begging for some beauty sleep and my thoughts are too scattered to come together in a timely fashion.  The story can wait, but the rolls cannot.  I have made them three times, first on Thanksgiving, once on a Tuesday and again last night.  They are most definitely worthy of scheduling your life around them, even with two small babes.  Start the dough the night before you want to eat them, and your extra effort will not go unnoticed.  Merry Christmas friends!

Make Ahead Honey Orange Wheat Rolls

Recipe from The Faux Martha

Makes 9 large rolls

3/4 cup whole milk

2 1/2 tsp. yeast

4 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted

3 tbsp. sugar

1 tsp. salt

1 large egg

2 cups all purpose flour

1/2 cup whole wheat flour

1/4 cup potato starch

Glaze

2 tbsp. butter

2 tsp. honey

Squeeze of orange

*Serve with Orange honey butter.  All three times I forgot to document my ratios.  I suggest you use high quality butter, raw honey and a few squeezes of fresh orange and just go with it, because with these three ingredients you really can’t go wrong.

Directions:

Heat milk on the stove top until it reaches to 110 degrees. Sprinkle the yeast on top of the milk and set aside to proof for 10 minutes.

Combine all purpose flour, wheat flour, and potato starch in a medium bowl and set aside.

In a stand mixer with the dough hook attachment beat butter, sugar, egg, salt, and the milk and yeast mixture on medium speed.  Slowly add the flours and potato starch until the dough starts to form into a ball.  The dough should be soft but not sticky and should not stick the sides when mixing.  Mix for 8 minutes to activate the gluten.  Place the ball of dough in a large lightly oiled bowl and cover for 2-3 hours or until doubled in size.

After the dough has risen I like to use a butter knife to cut the dough horizontally, vertically and then twice diagonally, making 9 equal pieces, resembling a small pizza.  Use your hands to pull apart and shape into little balls.  I pull the dough from the sides and pinch them into the center until I have gone all the way around the edges.  Place the pinched sides down into a lightly oiled 9 inch pan (I love using cast iron,) but any baking dish will do.

Cover with serran wrap and place in the fridge overnight.  The next day, about an hour or two before you want to eat them, remove them from the fridge and let sit at room temperature.  Preheat the oven to 375.  Drizzle the glaze over the rolls and with a pastry brush or your hands make sure rolls are evenly covered.  Bake for 18-22 minutes or until golden brown.  Enjoy warm with orange honey butter.

Our Happiest Place

Before I was able to ride my bicycle with both girls, I had a handful of less than desirable experiences with public transit.  I will admit that I was doubting just what the heck we’ve been trying to do here.  But then about seven weeks ago I got back on my bike and I felt the magic all over again.  I realized that all my huffing and puffing is less about how we’ve chosen to transport ourselves and more about the season of life we are in.  Navigating the city by car, bus, bike, or foot, with little people, is just challenging.  Usually getting out the door, is the hardest part.  But when we eventually do, we are well on our way to our happy place.  I know that once we all get to our cargo bike, everything is going to be okay.  More than okay.  In fact, I’ve never had a mood too cranky or a body too tired to resist the joy of riding my bicycle.  At the very least it’s functional and fun, at best it is life-giving and transforming.  Most days it’s the latter.

On my bicycle, I am the laid back, patient and present mama I’ve always wanted to be.  I am so present that sometimes we don’t make it to our original destination, because we find birds to chase, roses to smell and strangers to wave to and mingle with.  It’s a time and place where we are completely unplugged.  Having uninterrupted and meaningful conversations together feels effortless.  Octave can inquire about the world around her and we aren’t going so fast that I miss all the scenes that inspire her questions.  My head is clear and my heart is happy and pumping from a load that is quite heavy, albeit full of good things.  Our bicycle is one of the few places where there is little to no crying and we can almost always bet on a nap if and when our apartment fails us.  It’s how and where I get most of my exercise these days, but it serves a purpose AND it’s free!  Even with winter and rain drawing near, most days it’s one of my favorite places to be.  I am beginning to think that pedaling my family through our days might be the most simple and rewarding adventure I’ve embarked upon.

Pumpkin Waffles

I’ve been sitting on a gold mine of thoughts but I’ve had little to no mental space to sort them out on paper, on-screen or preferably with a good friend.  My heart is growing and evolving, in need of unraveling and sharing, it’s just been hard to grow enough energy to do so.  I suppose this is my attempt.

Friday night I took a dance class from a friend, mentor and inspiring teacher from my past.  Being his student again was refreshing and good for my soul.  For the first time in a long time I was not teaching, giving or serving.  I was taking, absorbing and feeling. I was learning, observing and focusing on something outside of the daily grind.  There was time and space for me to sort out the intangible.  Movement has always been the catalyst for unlocking the truest parts of myself, while connecting all my missing links.  It’s also brought out a critic, full of expectations and judgements. But two babies and some years later, I have dropped my judgements. It feels as though I have nothing to prove, even to myself, only much to feel and everything to experience.

I am not sure whether it’s age or motherhood, time or exhaustion, but perhaps one or all have given me freedom.   Some of the things that seem to stir up conflict, create a heated debate, or leave me feeling like I have to prove or explain myself, have come and gone.  My babies have been born and there is no more talk of how, when and where they will be born.  There are only stories. The decision to vaccinate or not vaccinate has already been made, and our car has been gone for well over a year now.  Whether some think it is innovative, sacrificial or just plain crazy, we already survived living in a one bedroom apartment.  All four of us.

My lifestyle choices are commonly found in the minority.  My beliefs and decisions surrounding faith, childbirth, parenting, transportation, consumption, food, and money are often under scrutiny.  In the past I’ve been quick to react and I’ve felt the need to defend myself.  But now being on the other side of a few big milestones I see how silly and exhausting it is to keep up with worrying how my life choices are going to be perceived by others.  I’m settling into a humble confidence, probably because nothing has ever begged me to know myself more than motherhood.

These pumpkin waffles have little to do with my thoughts, and more to do with the season in which I am redefining myself.  Its fall and I am letting go of the things I don’t need, and creating more space inside my head, while eating lots of pumpkin waffles and diving head first into the pumpkin craze.  Pumpkin ale, pumpkin chips, pumpkin ice cream, pumpkin butter… how have I underestimated pumpkin all these years? Sometimes it feels good to join the masses and surrender to the seasonal indulgences, especially when they taste this good.  Happy Fall friends!

Pumpkin Waffles

Makes about 16 waffles

Slightly adapted from Smitten Kitchen

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/3 cup dark brown sugar

2 1/4 tsp, baking powder

1 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. sea salt

2 tsp. cinnamon

1 tsp. ginger

1/4 tsp. ground cloves

4 eggs, separated

2 cups whole milk

1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted

1 tsp. vanilla

1 cup packed pumpkin puree

Spray oil for waffle iron

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 250. Combine all dry ingredients in a large bowl.  Separate eggs.  Combine yolks with milk, pumpkin, vanilla and melted butter. Whisk the egg whites together with a stand or hand mixer, until soft peaks begin to form.  Gently fold the egg whites into the batter until everything is fully combined.  Spray your waffle iron with oil of choice and cook as directed by your waffle iron.  As waffles cook, place them in the heated oven so they can stay warm and crispy.  Serve with maple syrup.

Bruschetta

Bruschetta was the very first recipe and story I posted on this blog.  It seemed so fitting that it would be the very beginning, because it was the very first thing I ever made, unless you count cinnamon toast and cereal.  I learned to make Bruschetta from my cousin Jane, on my first visit to Italy.  I was sixteen, eager and impressionable.

The last few weeks I have missed her dearly and so I went back into the archives to re read my very first post.  I found nothing.  Somehow it got deleted and now there is no memory of her in this collection of recipes.  It is heartbreaking when anything gets deleted, but this story is especially unsettling.  It was a good one!  And seven years ago Jane died of cancer, leaving behind a husband and two beautiful little children.  One day I wanted to give her children my collection of recipes and stories, because their mother was the very first person who inspired me to cook.  Not only that but she opened up my entire world and now after becoming a mother myself, I have more respect and understanding for Jane than ever before.

Last weekend I arrived to a potluck with this bruschetta after a bus ride from hell.  I was already stressed about taking the bus for an hour, by myself with the girls.  I was annoyed that I wouldn’t be able to serve my appetizers on pretty dishes.  I was upset that our bike was not yet set up to safely ride with both girls and taking a cab or a zipcar in this instance would not have been an affordable option.  It was 10 am and I was already having a pity party about the reality of my transportation options.  I could either take the bus to my potluck, or I could stay home.  I opted to take the bus but not without admitting to my husband how much I wish we had a car.  (I should note that this was the second day within our second year of living car free that I completely questioned and then doubted our lifestyle.)  After some reflection I can see that those feelings come up when I feel stuck, and I usually feel stuck when I unable to ride my bike.  Still, those feeling were real.  Very real.

We make it on the bus.  Octave is terrified by some incredibly colorful riders and so for the first time in her life, she is quiet.  So far so good.  Until right around the time my motion sickness goes into full effect, and a homeless man spills his bottle of booze all over the girls and I.  It’s 11 am and we smell like a bar.  A few minutes later a woman boards the bus and sits across from us with a big bucket boldly labeled “potty pail.”  I have no idea what that means, and I don’t want to know.  As if that weren’t enough, the  next 20 minutes consist of me, (motion sick, hot, boozy, and uncomfortable,) listening to an older man unfold a tragic story of his twin brother blowing his brains out last week.  Look, I love hearing people’s stories, in fact usually I ask for them, but clearly my hands are full and there is no room left in these bones to engage.  I am barely hanging on here people.  I had enough and I pulled the cord early.  Two miles early.  I walked in 95 degree heat with Bijou on my chest and Octave in the stroller.  I watched the cars zoom past us and tears started rolling down my cheeks.  Who’s idea was it to sell our car?  Oh yeah, that was actually mine.

As I pushed my stroller with bruschetta, and a few extra huffs and puffs, I thought of Jane, and not just because I was bringing a part of her to my potluck.  I had flash backs of watching her mother her small children, and while I didn’t get to be around her day in and day out, I saw enough over my many visits to know that in that moment she would have identified with me deeply. Living as a foreigner and raising small children in the heart of Naples, was most definitely not easy.  And while I may not be raising my children in the heart of Naples, raising them in North Portland, (where it often feels like children are despised,) and sans automobile can some days feel like no easy feat.  And truthfully some days I feel like a foreigner inside my own city.  Some days I am not sure where I belong.  If Jane were still alive I would write her a handwritten letter, all the way to Italy, only to say…I get it!

I remember one night after a long day of whinny babes, Jane and I escaped for gelato.  She almost always walked or took public transit, but that night she stormed out the door, quicker than I could keep up, jumped behind the wheel and exhaled the biggest sigh of relief.  She cursed and then exclaimed “I just want to feel like a normal human being. I just want to get in a car and drive.”  Of course, the act of driving cannot or should not make someone feel human, but now I can understand exactly what she meant.

While I realize normal is a relative term and is largely shaped by our culture, in this moment I couldn’t help but want to feel “normal.” I just wanted to arrive to the potluck in an air-conditioned car, somewhat put together, with my food on pretty dishes. I didn’t want to be so exhausted from the journey that I couldn’t enjoy the actual event. I also wanted to arrive wearing clothes that actually fit me, but that is a whole other story.

Now that it’s passed it all seems rather silly when I think about Jane.  Even the hard days and bad bus experiences are beautiful because they are spent with my girls.  I am alive to love them well.  I’m sure Jane would live a thousand days on that bus, and endure many bottles of spilled booze if it meant she could still hold her babies.  I was with her in her last days, holding her hand, massaging her feet.  I am thankful I was not yet a mother and was not capable of comprehending what her heart was feeling.  Surely it would have taken my breath away.  It does, right here and now.  They say, time heals, but the more time that passes, the deeper my heart breaks.

As I navigate my kitchen and motherhood, Jane floods my memory.  I remember  how she was practical and wise and far less emotional than I.  She was strong and grounded, and so dang smart.  She was passionate and serious but when she laughed I felt so accepted and welcomed into her life.  Oh how I wish we could sit across from each other and talk about New York and dance and art and books.  I wish I could hear her complain about how horrible italian television is.  I wish I could hear her vent about the cheapness and roughness of  the toilet paper her mother in law would stock her apartment with.  I would laugh so hard I would snort, but she never laughed because it really bothered her.  I wish I could introduce her to my husband and babies.  I wish I could bake her loaves of bread. She would be so proud of me.  I wish I could vent to a woman who could understand the complexities of my heart. I wish I could hear her cheer me on and support the way I’ve chosen to live.  I can almost hear her… “brava bella!” And it would mean the world, because she was one of the most incredible women I ever had the privilege to know.

Jane’s Bruschetta

1 baguette, thinly sliced (or ciabatta cut into slices and then halves)

1 pint of cherry tomatoes, sliced in half

1 large clove of garlic, minced

2 tbsp. finely chopped red onion

3 tbsp. chopped basil

1 tbsp. oregano

1 tsp. sea salt

Fresh ground pepper to taste

3 tbsp. good quality olive oil

1 1/2 tbsp. balsamic vinegar

*1 clove of garlic for rubbing

Usually I use ciabatta bread, cut into slices and then halved but because I was trekking this across town, I chose to use smaller baguette and assemble once I got there.

Cut tomatoes in half and place in a medium size bowl.  Add all other ingredients, oil, and vinegar. Mix until combined.  Let marinate for at least 20 minutes, but the longer the better.  Meanwhile, slice bread and place on a large baking sheet.  Jane would rub the clove of garlic on top of each slice of bread.  Depending on my commitment to my bruschetta, I may or may not skip this step.  Depending on size of bread, scoop 2-4 tbsp. of tomatoes on top of bread.  Broil in the oven for 5-7 minutes or until tomatoes are slightly blistered and bread is toasted.

Lemon Blackberry Olive Oil Cake

I’ve had the image of picking berries with my family all spring and summer long.  I’ve pictured us in the good evening light that shines just before sunset.  I would wear a flowing vintage summer dress, and a sun hat providing just enough shade to keep my eyes on the ripest berries.  There would be just enough warmth, just enough breeze, a lot of laughter and buckets of berries.

Mid August we finally make our way to Sauvie’s Island.  It’s noon and there’s no breeze.  It’s the hottest time of the day on the hottest day of the summer.  I’m wearing a dirty (always dirty) frumpy black dress.  No hat and thirty extra pounds of baby love. My tired brain pretends to listen to the farmer as he verbally guides us to the blackberry fields.  I can’t seem to listen, so I just smile and nod.  I assume that finding the berry fields is fool-proof, but I am wrong because forty-five minutes later we arrive at the vines, sweaty and flushed, confused and cranky.  I wonder why I picked today of all days.  Bijou is hot, probably too hot, crying and hungry.

Just as I start to get in a tizzy I look for Octave and find her, bucket in hand with her summer hat on.  I see her eyes captivated by blackberries in their purest state as her mind fills with wonder.  All my preconceived notions start to dissipate and I decide maybe today is just right.  I notice we are completely alone because it’s Monday and everyone else knew it was too hot.  My children feel me let go.  Bijou stops crying.  Octave has never looked so smitten.  I am still sweating.

When I look through my lens I don’t see or feel all of the mornings mishaps, I just see my daughter and her perfect, untainted joy.  With no expectations she gives herself the gift of being completely present.  Full of expectations, I want what she has.  I capture these sweet moments and then I tuck away my camera, out of sight.  I want to be present.  I want to share in her joy, not just observe it. We eat sun-kissed berries that are so hot I can taste them before they ever hit my tongue.  Our fingertips start to show signs of our fun.  We stop before they stain, because we only pick what Octave can carry.

On our ride back home and in between talking with Octave about what we should bake, I wonder why picking berries with her was so important to me.  All summer I felt as though my soul could not rest until we did this.  I am honest with myself and I admit that my life feels out of balance.  Very little about the way we live as a society feels normal to me and yet I keep going along with it, because I don’t know what else to do.  I just want my babe and babies in the good evening light, without my phone and all its notifications, emails, texts, and reminders taking me everywhere but the present.  I want more wild.  I want more free.  I want more of my life, unplugged and free from meaningless distractions.  What is this need to connect with an online world I cannot see or touch? Why does it feel like I am missing something if I don’t.  And why do I feel empty if I do?   Am I cultivating a life that is rich enough for me and my classic pen and paper?  I miss my pen and paper.  I miss my photo books.  I miss the tangible.  I miss the feel.  There are still things I keep near and dear, sacred and secret, but it doesn’t feel like enough these days.  Perhaps this is why I crave moments away from the chaos and grind of life, and why I daydream perfect scenes of my family in berry fields.  It’s not the berries that I want, it’s a connection to the earth and an intimacy with the present that I crave most.

Lemon Blackberry Olive Oil Cake

Inspired by Local Milk

3 cups flour

1.5 tsp. baking powder

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1.5 tsp. flaky sea salt

3 tsp. herbs de provence

2 cups sugar

1 cup olive oil

1/2 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice

1/2 cup whole milk

1/2 cup whole milk plain yogurt (european style)

3 eggs

1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

1 1/2 cup blackberries

Glaze

1 1/4 cup powdered sugar

2 tbsp. lemon juice

2-3 blackberries

1/8 tsp. vanilla extract

Zest of 1 lemon

Pre heat oven to 350.  In a large bowl combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and herbs.  In another bowl combine olive oil, lemon juice, eggs, milk, yogurt and vanilla.  Whisk together well.  Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients, being careful not to over mix.  Gently fold in the berries.  Oil your pound cake or bundt cake pan with olive oil.  Pour in batter and bake for 60-65 minutes or until cooked all the way through.  Test with a knife or toothpick.  Let cool for 15 minutes before turning over onto a plate or cake stand.  While cake is cooling, whisk together all ingredients for the glaze.  Put icing into a piping bag or ziploc bag (cutting a tiny hole in one side.)  Drizzle icing across cake. Slice and enjoy.

 

Roasted Corn + Tomato Blue Cheese Salad

A friend in our apartment building made this salad and left a portion of it outside my door.  I ate it up within minutes and went to her that same day to get the recipe.  A few days later we received tomatoes, basil, and sweet onions in our farm share.  I immediately went to the store to get the few other missing ingredients and made this salad during nap time.  I was happy.  Happy that I had the energy and enthusiasm to be back in my kitchen, wrapped up in the magic of creating colors and shapes that will nourish my body and make my heart sing.  Happy that it was summer and that I wasn’t pregnant.  Happy that I have TWO healthy beautiful girls and that they were BOTH napping, and without a fight from a very passionate 2-year-old.  I was so happy that I started making faces with the tomatoes and opened up a beautiful gifted bottle of white, at 4:15 pm.

I have had this salad three times now and I can’t seem to get enough of it.  I am confident that when I taste it next summer, it will remind me of this current one.  Tastes do that, they take me back and saturate my senses, leaving me reminiscent of the good, bad and indifferent.  And the funny thing I’ve just recognized about the seasons in my life…once it’s past, I miss all of it.  Every single moment.  Like, biking in subzero weather while pregnant and nauseous, or walking the entire island of Manhattan because I did not even have $2 for transit fare, or more recently,  laboring and pushing out a baby.  The challenging moments in my life that can consume me, and some days eat me up, will truly be missed.  Knowing this gives me a new sense of freedom.  It gives me the freedom to be deep in the present moment, regardless of my circumstance.  Even when the days are long and tiring or when the evenings are lonely, without my husband who is working around the clock trying to make us a better future.  Surely, I’ve always known I would miss all the joyful happenings in my life, but knowing I will miss even the darkest hour, shakes me to my core and screams, be here now, live now, love now.

Roasted Corn, Tomato & Blue Cheese Salad

Serves 4-6 as a side

6 corn on the cob

1 pint of cherry tomatoes, halved

1 large heirloom tomato, cut into bite sized pieces

1 large sweet onion, halved and sliced

1/2 cup chopped basil

4 oz. blue cheese crumbles

1/2 cup olive oil

1/4 cup rice vinegar

1 tsp. sugar

1 tsp. sea salt

1/2 tsp. fresh cracked pepper

Directions:

Place corn on grill and cook for 15 minutes, turning often until all sides are chard.  Once cooled, use a large knife to cut corn off of the cob.

Put grilled corn, sliced tomatoes, sliced onions, chopped basil, and blue cheese in a large bowl.  Mix olive oil, rice vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper in a small bowl.  Pour dressing over ingredients and mix well.  Let the salad marinate and sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before serving.  This salad can be stored in the fridge in an air tight container but is best when enjoyed the same day it is prepared.

 

Movement + Light

I am captivated by the way she moves.  I am moved by the light that dances in her, with her and around her.  I am tickled with the beauty that’s born from the simplest act of pouring cream in my coffee.  Little goes unnoticed, nothing goes without praise.  

I am lost and then found, or perhaps, found, forever lost, but these moments are enough.  This life is more than enough.

Make Ahead Burritos

I’ve been a mama for over two years now but I seem to wear it so differently than before.  There are signs of motherhood all over me.  Maybe they’ve been there all along, or maybe I can just appreciate them in a whole new way.  I can see my beautiful girls in the dark crescent moons beneath my eyes and a mark on my belly that whispers, life was here.  I can see them in the bizarre thinning of hair that frames my face. I can see them in all the new happy lines that frame my mouth.  Some days I am knee-deep in spit up and overflowing milk, while diffusing tantrums, and hoping scotch, but I am bathing and sometimes drowning, in the most beautiful love story I’ve ever known.  My tired body and eyes might not look so full of life, but each night I lay my head for rest with the fullest heart I’ve ever known. I am loving this season and slowly but surely I am getting the hang of it.  Most days.  Or at least I think I am until six o’clock comes around and I have no inspiration for dinner, in fact I had not even thought about it.

It turns out, I am not alone.  I’ve asked a lot of other tired mamas lately for some ideas and inspiration.  When I ask how they make dinner happen, most of them laugh and say, “i don’t.”  Mac and cheese and take out are their dear friends.  Quite honestly, if our budget allowed that I would be taking full advantage, especially since we live on a street with some of the best food Portland has to offer.  But that is not an option in this season of our lives and I really do find so much joy in cooking for my family, I just need a little creativity these days.

And so, the tired mama’s burrito was born.  I have made these twice since Bijou was born.  I cook and prepare them one day out of the week and freeze them for later.  When reheated in the oven they become perfectly crispy and then topped with avocados, salsa and sour cream they suddenly become attractive.  The best part is that they taste great and require very little effort on the day you actually eat them. They also happen to be budget friendly, working out to be a little more than $2 a burrito (using all organic ingredients.)  You can follow the recipe or make it your own. Any type of meat would be great. I also think adding grilled corn and sliced olives would be super yummy. You get the idea. The burritos themselves are pretty simple, and I feel so tempted to want to make them fancier but I suppose simplicity is the point here. And the concept of freezing them is worthy of sharing.

Tired Mama’s Burritos

Makes 10

10 flour tortilla’s

4 cups of cooked brown rice

1 lb. chicken breasts

1 tbsp. olive oil

1 large red onion, chopped

15 oz. can of black beans

1 cup of salsa

1 small bunch of cilantro, chopped

Juice of 1 lime

2 packets of simply organic taco seasoning

4 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese

Directions

Bake, grill or boil chicken until cooked. Let cool and shred chicken into small bite sized pieces. Set aside.

Meanwhile cook your rice as directed on package.

In a large skillet on medium heat, saute onion in olive oil until soft and translucent.  Add shredded chicken, drained beans, salsa, lime juice, rice and cilantro.  Mix until combined.  Mix the taco seasoning with water (see ratios on package) and pour into large skillet.  Mix until everything is saturated in the taco seasoning.  Turn off heat and set aside.

Shred your cheese, place in a bowl and set aside.

Arrange your ingredients in a way that is easiest for you to build your burritos.  I keep the skillet on the stove, place the bowl of cheese and tortillas near by on my counter and prepare  the burritos one at a time and on a large plate or cutting board.

First start with the cheese.  This is important because it is the top of your burrito and will keep the cheese from melting out of the bottom.  Sprinkle a large handful of cheese, top to bottom inside your tortillas.   You want to leave about 3 inches on the top and bottom of your tortilla so you can wrap it well.

Next scoop out your chicken beans and rice and spread on top of cheese, top to bottom.  I have not ever measured the exact size of my scoop but I would guess it’s about 1 cup.  There really is no exact science here, you can build them as little or big as you want, however the bigger they are, the harder to wrap and keep together.  Just experiment as you go.

Fold the top and bottom parts of your tortilla into the middle.  Next bring in the sides.  Let the sides fold as needed to make an even rectangle.  It will freeze in the position you wrap it and this ensures the filling will not come out once it is reheated in the oven.  After each burrito is wrapped, transfer them, (folded side down) to a large baking sheet and place them side by side.  Repeat this process with all 10 burritos.

Place baking sheet in the freezer for 1-2 hours.  This keeps them from freezing to each other.  Once they are completely frozen you can place them in any sort of storage you prefer.  I used large ziploc bags.

On the night you want to eat them...preheat your oven to 400.  Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until slightly golden and crispy.  Serve with sliced avocados or guacamole, sour cream, and salsa.  Of course you can also microwave if you are in a hurry but I prefer how the oven makes it nice and crispy.