I used to bake bread.

Really, I did!

Delicious, perfectly textured, yeasty, golden brown bread in gorgeous pottery loaf pans, scenting the house with a hint of heaven.

I loved the process.

Planning. Checking the pantry. Checking the calendar. Doing the math on mealtime.

I loved the mixing. Measuring just so, even though that’s not my usual thing. Everything in just the right order. (It matters!)

A bit of help with the kneading from the magical mixer. My shoulder singing its gratitude.

Mostly, I loved what came next.

Rising.

Helped out, according to the season, with a light bulb or an ever so slightly warmed oven.

Alchemy in my kitchen!

Then, what bakers refer to as punching down, which always struck me as a bit more assertive than necessary. The heel of one hand pressed into the puffy dough, deflating it before my eyes.

And then, hand kneading. Just a bit, with a smidge of leftover flour, silky, elastic dough on the way to loaf pans for more rising.

Baking, next of course. Fragrant. Comforting. And the torture of cooling.

Actual eating, almost (but not quite!) anti-climactic after a day of music for all the senses.

Take. Eat. Ritual as much as anything.

I used to bake bread.

And how my grandmother used to bake 40 loaves a week on a wood stove will remain a cosmic mystery for me!

Now, though, I am in a season apart from eating bread. (And pasta and most grains. Except for a bit of rice with really good sushi now and then.)

It’s not that I no longer appreciate them.

It’s just that I feel a lot better when I don’t eat them. I’m more mobile. Less limited.

These are great things!

Greater, perhaps, than actually eating the bread.

Oddly, the baking of the bread is still with me, even though only in my memory just now. In some unexpected way, I am changed by the bread I have baked.

By a commitment to the best ingredients I could get.

By finding time for an art form.

By rolling around in the process with all of who I am.

Do I have questions?

Well, yes. Conflicts, even, some days.

For now, though, I’m appreciating.

Appreciating what I learned baking bread.

Appreciating how I feel when I choose, in this season, not to eat it.

This is not an “all or nothing” kind of experience.

Instead, it’s something much harder.

An experience of making room for the many things that are true, even when they don’t always go together very well.

Harder, and still more helpful, I think.

Where have you had similar experiences?

What have you learned?

What difference might it make in your world?

I used to bake bread.

Bread is baking me still.

A Blast From the Past

In 1968, I lived with my parents, a younger sister, a springer spaniel and a golden retriever, in a west-side Chicago bedroom community called Wheaton, Illinois.

I was in the 4th grade while we lived there,  and then the first half of 5th grade.

Wheaton was a tiny town most known for a college made famous by Dr. Billy Graham. (And some fairly well-known relatives on my dad’s side.) There was a quaint downtown area, a couple of blocks square, with a commuter train stop.

What I didn’t know then was that, in the days when Dr. King was killed, leaders of the Civil Rights movement were helping black families settle in overwhelmingly white neighborhoods right there in Wheaton. A child of one of those families went to my school.

What I did know then was that I’d been the new kid often enough to be concerned for that particular new kid.

It would be reasonable for you to wonder why this story is rolling around in my head this day.

Perhaps it’s simply lack of sleep from last night’s bone broth marathon.

More likely,  it’s Turner Classic Movies’ showing of the movie, Yours, Mine, and Ours, complete with Lucille Ball, Henry Fonda and a young Tim Matthieson, who grew up to be John Hoynes on The West Wing.

Yours, Mine, and Ours was the first movie my sister and I were ever allowed to go see by ourselves. It was 1968.

The movie theatre in Wheaton was a tiny, vintage sort of establishment, just next door to a popcorn vendor, who claimed a space half the width of the adjoining alley. It was really, really, really good popcorn, complete with actual butter.

Mom and Dad dropped us off one afternoon with money for popcorn and for the pay phone when the movie was over.

Given the amazing fact that we were almost exactly the same ages that my girls are now, I have more than a bit of trouble imagining that felt safe even all those years ago.

I’m also oddly glad it did.

The news these days doesn’t exactly sound like Yours, Mine, and Ours. 

It didn’t sound so much like that then either.

So, tonight, I watch old movies while perfectly dry brined chickens roast in the oven with some basting help from Bill, and pray that the news will be better and the fires will stop and all the kids will be welcome and love will prevail.

Afterall, we’ve been working on it for a long time.

It may be time to work harder.

 

 

My Favorite Kitchen “Gadget”

Last night, I dreamed about soup.

There’s a reason for that and we’ll get there in a few minutes. For this morning, though, I fixed my first cup of lemon tea and pulled a quart of mixed pork and chicken broth (Brodo misto, if you’re feeling Italian!) and a quart of “veggies and meat for soup” from the freezer for lunch.

This particular lunch plan, however, began somewhere “in the way back machine”.

Years and years ago, at an outlet mall in north Georgia, I bought a stock pot. A massive stock pot. Stainless steel. The gallons-upon-gallons size. Complete with a spigot at the bottom so you can drain the broth off  without having to lift the whole thing when it’s full.

It is, without a doubt, my most prized kitchen “gadget”. And it just got even better.

It seems my friend, who is recovering from a major brain aneurysm, needs soup.

Let the record show that I made a couple of  gallons while I was in Florida. Now, according to a phone call last evening, we need more.

I’m honored. And a little blown away.

I’ve been making soup for quite a while. Good soup that starts with really good bone broth. It’s an oddly creative process for me. Alchemical, even.

I love the scent of simmering broth in the house.

I love the process of honoring the beings who feed us by using all the random bits to make food for as many meals as possible.

And, in this moment, I have a sense of coming full circle. Of why I’ve been learning broth for so long.

Today, calls to local farmers and artisanal butchers.

Freezer inventory.

Farmers Market lists.

I have three varieties in mind.

We need a lot of healing.

Onions and garlic. A bunch of both. Fresh bay leaves and thyme. As many veg as possible.

Roast chicken carcasses, plus necks and feet and other healing parts.

Halibut broth imported from the west coast, because I’m still learning this one. Delicious and healing.

Years ago, I bought a magic wand in a mystical sort of store in Black Mountain, NC. It’s a useful coaching tool but it doesn’t seem to make soup.

Somehow, I never imagined that this would be my particular magic.

It seems to be me. A gift.

And yet, not just mine.

Each pot of my broth is midwifed by sustainable local farmers. People who believe we can feed ourselves and our neighbors, and support the planet.

I still remember the day I bought my first pasture raised local chicken, standing in a parking lot behind an anonymous sort of box truck, maybe 10 years or so ago. Complete with a hug from the farmer!

It was kind of a scrawny little thing…no growth hormones there!

And, compared to the supermarket variety, it was pretty expensive. I decided to see how far I could make that chicken go.

When I was growing up, a whole chicken was one meal for our family of four. Sadly, necks, hearts, gizzards, and most of the bones ended up in the trash.

My experimental farm chicken wound up being the protein in 13 entre’ servings of delicious, clean food before I decided it was ok to quit counting and just be amazed.

Most of that was possible because of a stock pot.

I was hooked!

I’ve had many teachers along the way. I’ve even become one of the teachers!

My third book, Let’s Boil Bones…Grammy’s guide to bone broth and other yummy things! is available in Kindle books, with the paperback due out this fall.

For today, a bowl of leftover soup. Broth. A bit of pulled pork from a local event. Good, southern-style green beans. Some cabbage and a few tiny Bunapi mushrooms. Roasted cauliflower saved from dinner last night. All served over a bowl of finely shredded romaine lettuce, which is a great way to add healthy bitter greens and texture to soup. (Arugula, collards, turnip greens, etc. all work, too.) Spritz with a bit of fresh lemon juice and finish with good sea salt as desired. A pinch of crushed red pepper flakes would not be amiss.

Love, hope, and healing in a bowl!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Spot of Comfort

I’ve made it home from a flashback week as an ICU/med-surg nurse! There is much good news for my friend, and a few hurdles left to go. It is possible that she will go home tomorrow after an injury she was not expected to survive. There are no words to express how grateful I am for all your concern and prayers and healing vibes of many sorts.

We cried and laughed (both good stress relievers) and wore ourselves to a frazzle.

After Bill picked me up at the airport, the first two orders of business were food and sleep, both of which were in short supply last week.

I’m glad to report that there are beginning to be signs of bones in my ankles again!

My beloved chair, which is a huge improvement over the hospital variety, has welcomed me home. My knees and back are muttering rather than screaming.

I learned a lot.

And, I’ll be thrilled to see the beasties when they arrive home from Camp tomorrow. Suspect we’ll all need naps! And that reminds me that taking some food out of the freezer for them would be a very clever idea!

There’s homemade, healing, comforting soup for supper tonight. (And a freezer full at my friend’s house.)

We had a visitor in Florida on Friday morning. A deer. A young buck. Peering through the screens on the lanai at the tired women, huddled over coffee and telling stories just inside.

My friends who study spirit animals would say that the message from this visitor is to be compassionate with others and ourselves.

It’s a message that I think we all need.

My friend, in particular, is going to need compassion for herself in the coming days when “normal” is harder than she’s used to and driving is not allowed.

In the same way, we all need compassion for ourselves, which is often much harder than having compassion for others.

A few weeks ago I posted this fabulous article on my Facebook pages. Just in case you didn’t see it, or want a reminder, here’s a link to the Oprah network’s recent piece from Elizabeth Gilbert about caring for the small, soft animal within us all.

 

Elizabeth Gilbert: Practical Ways To Practice Self-Care
Elizabeth Gilbert explains how to care for the small, frightened creature within.

Tuesday, it’s back to business as usual.

For this moment, a message from the fuzzy guy in the picture above.

There is no place we can go where love and grace do not go with us.

All these years later, that particular bit of assurance is still the absolute best thing about trying to learn to read Hebrew!

 

A Trip to Another World

Deep in the winter of 1989, I went with a group of seminary students and one of our professors to visit the far away land of Hungary.

It was just before the old Eastern block fell. Free falling into a world of communist customs agents and Russian tanks thundering through what were once farmers’ fields beside the road.

It was cold. It was dark. It was so very, very different. (Which was, after all, the point.)

Alternative Context. A program designed to get wanna-be preachers outside the familiar worlds where they grew up and into the lives of those who seemed other.

Food was quite an issue.

Red pickled cabbage, the only vegetable we encountered.

Coffee so dark and thick it didn’t require a cup.

Something that resembled liquid peanut brittle for breakfast.

A fabulous bowl of fish soup on the shores of Lake Balanton. If you didn’t mind picking out the eyeballs.

And the infamous “pig jell-o” all gray and jiggly on a platter, full of suspicious chunks, at a village luncheon.

So much I didn’t understand, long before my days of local, seasonal food.

And so much I’ve learned.

We’re having a similar learning experience at our house.

The resident herd of Newfies are going species appropriate real food.

Controversial, perhaps, in some circles. The next logical thing in our world.

They have orthopedic and digestive and allergy problems I haven’t been able to solve so far. Problems that limit their lives.

We’re starting with turkey and, while we have some skill development to work on, it looks like they’re pretty thrilled.

My fears are disappearing.

There was the whole (perceived) germ thing, after years as an O.R. nurse. (Which is way more me than what they’re eating!)

And the hunting and gathering thing which I’m doing lots of myself, still complicated a bit by that recent fall.

Quantities. Timing. Keeping them from mugging each other for a chicken foot.

I started out anxious. And hopeful. And pretending to be confident!

Which is exactly how I’ve felt about every big change in my life.

My local farmer friends are thrilled.

Bill’s stocking up on dishwasher soap.

The ironic thing is that I’m feeding our dogs essentially what we eat. Clean, local, seasonal food.

Sources I trust.

Support for farmers I know.

The beasties might be feeling like they woke up in Hungary for a while. And there’s the whole thing about shifting to one meal a day!  Adjusting to that may take a bit.

I’m hoping they’ll be glad to learn new things. I’m still learning from that trip to Hungary.

And grateful now, more than ever.

Life is for learning!

 

 

 

 

 

MOTB – 3

Monday evening, we arrived home from a great weekend with our kids. Well, except for the whole flying thing! (I’m improving, but still not thrilled with sitting!)

I wasn’t thinking about my Make One Thing Better list when I wandered through the back door and glanced into the kitchen.

There it was!

A huge better thing we’d accomplished before we left. Actually, Bill did the accomplishing. I just did the international sign language thing for two inches to the left.

One day, a month or so ago, a plan sprouted magically in my head. I’ve learned to pay attention to those.

In this case, the plan was for re-arranging the part of our kitchen the early 1960’s builder would have referred to as the breakfast room. In our case “breakfast room” means the place where the refrigerator and two upright deep freezers rub elbows with our antique oak dining table.

We did a great job with the kitchen reno about 15 years ago, given the fact that we couldn’t change the footprint. I’d still choose most of the things we did, which is kind of a miracle.

The big exception for me was the way the multiplying major appliances had worked to close off the space by my favorite, free-standing wooden butcher block.

Our very sexy glass door fridge used to sit butted up against the left side of the butcher block, headed into the breakfast room. A stainless fridge, with black sides. It felt like this massive wall, sucking up all the light. And I spend a lot of time standing at that butcher block.

So, Furniture Yahtzee. Or, in this case, Appliance Yahtzee!

The fridge went where the smaller freezer was.

The smaller freezer went where the metal shelving was.

The metal shelving went where the fridge was.

Bill, who believes we can’t move fewer than seven things in one of my MOTB games, was amazed. We moved three things and made a huge difference. As in, let there be light!

Light from the french doors to the deck. Light not soaked up from the black sides of the fridge.

And sight lines through to the wall murals I worked so hard to paint back in the day. Along with a couple more inches of traffic pattern.

Perhaps best of all, my treasured stock pots, even the biggest one, are much easier to reach.

Would I double the square footage of the space if I could? You bet!

Does it feel bigger and more open and more welcoming? It does!

There’s more room for chopping since I moved the knives.

And, it makes me happy.

I’m still sorting what goes where on the shelves. That really never ends around here.

And setting some stuff aside for donations.

There are also some changes in our routine coming up which will probably require more adjusting.

Seriously, though, it’s a whole lot of better for a couple of hours and no money.

And, since I’m thinking about money in terms of investing, rather than spending, these days, I’m pretty excited.

What’s tickling your mind in this moment?

It might be worth paying attention!

 

 

 

Winner. Winner.

It’s been a while since we’ve done a recipe.

Part of that is because I’ve been busy recomposing my list of go-to ingredients over the last year or so. It’s been a bit of a challenge, as most new things are. Then I remember how much better I feel and I get up and do it again the next day.

Growing past a few personal tendencies toward food fundamentalism has been the biggest challenge for me. I’ve discovered, deep inside, how to join together the new things I’ve learned and the individual quirks I bring to the journey, all in relationship with a gluten-free, diabetic husband who’s fond of 1000 Island salad dressing in a jar!

Learning where it works to wander occasionally toward the fringes, and where it really doesn’t, in light of the future I long for.

We made a bit of a trip in the direction of  the fringes on the 4th of July.

I wanted fried chicken. It’s probably a genetic thing. (At least a recent one!) I did not want belly aches and swollen ankles. I did not want carb cravings or chemicals or trans fats.

Homemade was clearly in order.

The best wings I could buy. A few extra for the stock pot. Some research and a new theory for the dredging part of the plan. An extra set of hands in the kitchen.

It worked!!!

Sadly, I did not take a picture. When I suggested a do-over “for artistic purposes”, Bill immediately volunteered to go to the Farmers’ Market. So, here, just for you…

Grammy’s Best Wings Ever

Serves 2-3 adults for a main course.

Preheat oven to 400 F.

1-1 1/2 pounds chicken wings per person. Local, pastured, sustainably raised, wing tips removed and discarded if needed.

1 c. organic brown rice flour. (Or white, if you prefer.)

2 tsp. aluminum free baking powder.

2 tsp. good Celtic sea salt, plus extra for finishing.

1 tsp. freshly ground black or mixed peppercorns.

1 tsp. dried thyme.

1/2 – 1 tsp. ground chipotle pepper, if desired.

1 – 2 tsp. lemon zest, if desired.

Good, imported olive oil or other oil of your choice for frying. (You really can fry in olive oil!)

About 1/2 hour to 45 min. before cooking, remove wings from fridge and bring to cool room temp.

Mix all dry ingredients, plus lemon zest, if desired, in a medium sized bowl, adjusting seasoning as desired.

Heat about 1 inch of olive oil in large skillet, preferably cast iron, over just less than highest heat, adjusting to avoid smoking.

Toss about a quarter of the wing pieces in flour mix to coat.

Place wings in sieve and tap off extra flour.

Using tongs, add wings to hot skillet. (Be careful. They’ll pop!)

Fry until nicely golden brown and turn to second side. Continue to fry until golden brown.

Remove to sheet tray lined with parchment paper and a rack, if desired.

Continue coating and frying wing pieces until all are finished. (I used 2 trays with racks for this amount.)

Roast wings in hot oven for 10 minutes.

Remove, checking a larger piece for doneness. Roast an extra 1-2 min. if needed.

Re-season with good sea salt.

Sprinkle with hot sauce if desired.

Enjoy!

This is not the way my mom made fried chicken. Nor the way my grandmother did it. It is a way that meets all those same sentimental, emotional needs for me, and Bill loves it, too.

Juicy. Tasty. Oddly hospitable.

Serve with lots of veg!

No guilt. No belly aches. No hobbling around the morning after.

Or, as my Food Network buddies would say, recalling historic Las Vegas: Winner, winner chicken dinner!

Next, we try fish!