Monday, November 30, 2009

372: the end of meat

There have been a few things leading up to it: first, my body decided it. I respect and trust my body.

Second, I got a tattoo. I spent seven hours with some of my favorite vegans; when I came home, I confessed to Ryan: "Well..." And he said, "You are not becoming vegan."

Oh. Oh, no.

But: I'd been debating it by then though. Not veganism, not when I love milk-and-cheese-and-wool-and-honey, but stopping the meat again.

And there it was, a little something, a particle of something, a something that niggled and now, I'm taking that plunge, with more thought than I did for my first venture.

There are thirds and fourths and fifths and so much else influencing me:

:: Food, Inc.

:: Jonathan Safran Foer's new book.

:: The considerations of No Impact Week.

:: But most of all, last night, when we went for our last visit of my grandmother in the nursing home. The four of us piled into the car, Mom and Dad up front, and my grandmother's white kitty between us (oh, and: interesting dream, if you haven't read it), Ryan and I poking our fingers through the bars, cooing, calming, and suddenly there is that metallic sound, that crunch that is car-upon-something-big, something-frighteningly-big, and it wasn't my father rear-ending someone, but instead that slam that-is-a-body. My father has bagged his third deer, each roadside creatures, and this one, leaving that gritty red-upon-red, those quill-hairs in miniature, something that looks like an organ-bit or something-fatty. I sat still for so long, my fingers pressed against my mouth, my mother fretting over the trip back home (flat tires, radiator fluid leaking, what-could-it-be?) and the cat, silent, a few mewls from her kennel. My mother confessed: "If we were in Wisconsin, that deer would be yours" after the pondering of what might happen to the body.

Fortunately for my father, just around the corner of his home is the Wildlife Sanctuary, and he can make some kind of karmic retribution.

I hate to admit this, but I'm glad, of the four of us, that it was my father who hit the deer: he has the right distance from me for me to not feel the hot shame (Ryan), he feels the right level of guilt (me: I'd spiral out of control in sorrow) balanced with the right level of nervousness at the car's ability to get its passengers to the nursing home (my mother kept repeating her hyperbolic fears--whatifwhatifwhatif!)--but my father, my poor father, who has now hit three deer in his life (this is the second from visiting his parents), who hasn't wanted to hit any--he knows how beautiful these creatures are and how good it is to contentedly drive a hanging-in-there car--

Can I now? The biggest images will haunt me: the chicken whose breasts are too-heavy to hold the bird upright, the cow whose hind legs couldn't hold it upright, the chicks separated so aggressively, and now, the sound of the thunk of bumper-on-deer.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

371: from our hands to yours

This year, Thanksgiving is like some others in that: we drive for hours, stare at the familiar blankness of the Indiana tollway, witness the falling of the drizzle, eat in small + cramped spaces, eat in sticky places that should be closed for family time, put my fingers out the window to feel the air, think of Touchdown Jesus as we pass South Bend, sleep through the chaos of Chicago in the backseat.

We stopped to visit my grandmother, a moment that was eerily familiar to two years ago, when stepping onto the soggy grounds of a nursing home, but this time, the occupant was lucid, her ailment not Alzheimer's but a hip broken in not three places, but four. We had to wake her in the dark of her room to say hello, but she lit up and when Ryan walked in, uncomfortable at participating in the gentle rousing, my grandmother turned to him and said gratefully, "Ryan, you brought my girl!" Oh, to be my grandma's girl. I want to treasure that small moment, keep it safe and close to me.

Tonight is preparing for tomorrow's feast, which will include both of my parents this year, as well as me and my husband, my aunt and uncle, my cousin and his wife and five children, and another cousin:

Winning the husband lottery, we prepared:

:: Brine for the turkey, a first experience for both of us. Ours included plenty of kosher salt, sugar, sage, celery, cinnamon sticks, and carrots.
:: Cranberry, apple and walnut sauce with this recipe (and adding hunks of the orange we grated and minus the pepper as I forgot to get that ingredient):
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup fresh orange juice (about 3 oranges)
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 2 cups diced peeled Granny Smith apple
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons minced peeled fresh ginger
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper
  • 1 (12-ounce) package fresh cranberries
  • 1 tablespoon grated orange rind
  • 1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts, toasted

1. Combine first 4 ingredients in a large saucepan; bring to a boil. Cook 3 minutes or until sugar dissolves, stirring frequently. Stir in apple, ginger, pepper, and cranberries; bring to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer 35 minutes or until sauce thickens. Remove from heat; stir in rind. Cool; stir in walnuts.

Tomorrow will be a great deal more: bumbleberry pie from scratch, the turkey, of course, as well as Brussels sprouts, green beans, carrots, sweet potato and winter squash gratin, and pumpkin pie. My aunt is bringing the mashed potatoes, a ham, and the stuffing.

Have I mentioned this is my last week of poultry? I have a chicken and corn soup that is waiting for consumption at home, and after that, it's just seafood, and fortunately, there isn't a lot left, which means by Christmastime, I will officially be vegetarian again. I would have switched immediately, but because we have such a stockpile of "my" meal accouterments that my charming-but-finicky husband will not eat, I figured instead of wasting them, I would switch. I must confess, he had these beef sticks with cheese he picked up at the butcher that smell so good and every time I spotted them, I was incredibly tempted to cheat, until I remembered that scene from Food, Inc. in which a cow cannot walk on its hind legs naturally (instead, on what appears to be the "hocks," or what, in humans, would be the calves, where the tibia and fibula reside); then, my mind drifts to the chickens whose breasts are so immense they plop over like toddlers each time they stand up, and I think: I am grateful this is my last week of poultry; I cannot have these images in my head and morally consume on. (I must also admit: I am scientifically fascinated, and I love cooking whole birds, because I can then pull back layers and touch bones and see how it all fits together, which is why I am best at eviscerating the creature at the end, prepared to make soup and stock.)

But I don't want to leave a Thanksgiving post on this didactic note. Rather, I'm going to give you a few things, that, in-this-moment, I am grateful for:

:: smelling sage and oranges on my hands
:: the husband sleeping, waiting, helping me today and tomorrow (and always)
:: finding a few biographies on Robert Lowell, who is popping up in the book I'm currently reading and, of course, a major component to my Elizabeth Bishop study
:: my new slippers, which will get me through tomorrow's cooking without drastically exhausted feet
:: you, of course, in hopes of a lovely time spent with friends and family
:: (and to the tofurky-day I missed with my poetry-friends)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


I received some disappointing news at the doctor's office this week, and though it does not mean all is a failure, there are possibilities regarding the (lack of?) permanence of my affliction. Is this all veiled enough for you? In other words: a medication I've been taking isn't doing what it's supposed to do, which is scary and frustrating, but after Thanksgiving break, I go in again and they're going to examine me and raise the dosage to see if that works. I feel angry at my body for being a failure, a poor reflection on my self as a whole.

It's hard to not point out the cliche, the obvious: it's all becoming material. Foibles as fodder.

We made the first leg of our Thanksgiving journey late last night; Ryan "allowed" me to stay late on campus so I could spend time with my beloved poetry girl friends, dinner at a campus Thai restaurant, and I drove the whole journey from our corner of Minnesota to his parents' corner of Wisconsin. He slept in the back with Penelope; Zephyr kept watch in the front seat, where we spotted a doe and a few miles later, the most magnificent buck with an amazing rack, and the fog descended with a light drizzle and I sang lonesome country songs in my head.

Monday, November 23, 2009


So last night I was watching an episode of Northern Exposure with my husband, the episode where Ruth Ann hurts her ankle and Ed gets all freaked out at her turning seventy-five and he ends up throwing her a surprise party and her gift is a patch of land for her grave and before the credits, Ruth Ann says she wants to dance on her grave, because it's one of those rare opportunities, and so they do and the camera pans out and you can see all of that Alaskan glory, the pines and the lake and the great mountains.

The very next episode, by the way, opens with a handful of people (in an old-fashioned circus, bus broke down) walking down a wooded dirt road with a bear on a leash. I cannot handle how much I want to snuggle with one of these tame animals on the show--the elk, the deer, the brown bear. No worries, I still abhor the idea of wild animals as pets, but I still can't help but get squishy at the idea of touching one.


Look what I bought for our home! It just arrived a few days ago and I can't stop looking at it; it's even prettier in person. Thank you, Heather. I love those two words too: hope and seeds. I have it in my living room, waiting to eventually be framed, and it's reminding me to keep myself with head-above-water, with glass-is-half-full, with love-in-my-heart. Yep, it does all of those things.

Inspired by Shari, I've decided to declare this winter the winter of Russian writers: Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Anna Akhmatova, maybe a little Dr Zhivago. Russia seems quite perfect for hibernation and thick quilts, for snow-filled days. Suggestions, of course, are always welcome.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

367: no impact week, days six + seven + eight

Day 6: Water. We're pretty low water users as it is, though I admit, my showers are probably longer than most (I shave every day, which makes me strange, I know). The largest waste of water is when we homebrew and bring the temperature down using a garden hose, though in the summers, we use jugs to fill up quickly and I bring them out to the garden. In the winter, it's a bit trickier and I can only make sure the largest buckets are full (to use for the pups and the indoor plants). Otherwise, we only run full loads of clothes and dishes and because it's just the two of us, it takes a while for that to happen.

Day 7: Giving Back. Today wasn't about taking out the checkbook, though I can say I do what I can (my two most recent donations were to an anti-smoking campaign and Julia's work, both in honor of people I care about). Instead, today, for Ryan and myself, it was about the garden. We took it down, harvesting the last of the Brussels sprouts and broccoli, and we built our very first ComposTumbler! It's already full, but I'm hoping we will be able to work our way through composting fairly quickly in comparison to the pile method I had earlier (which, actually, worked quite fine). We also mulched in the vermicompost and leaves from the gutters, all rich and gooey, and I started the worm compost bin over with the handful of remaining worms and brought the bin in for the winter. I'm surprised any worms survived the cold and the snow we had in October, but they are strong and I'm hoping they'll make baby wormies and fill the bin with more rich worm poo. I promise to take better care of them.

Day 8: Eco Sabbath. Here I am, writing on my laptop, getting ready to take a shower, Ryan is mopping in the kitchen, we will be making fish for dinner as I am hosting book club along with boiling vegetables and using the refrigerator to cool the wine, Ryan is going to leave soon to go to Meat Heads, our local butcher to which his mother gave us a gift certificate, and on. I cannot have a sabbath today; not with guests coming and Thanksgiving around the corner and this week being a big one for school. But I do fully respect the spirit of this day. I admire the concept of the idea of celebrating staying at home, not consuming, family game night, crafts, whatnot.

I'm making decisions and small changes that I hope will more permanently reflect how I feel about this earth. When we get to that children-having point of our lives, I hope to fill the house with toys that are eco-conscious, those sweet wooden options and repurposed goods. I want the emphasis in our home to be on handmade and being mindful and loving.

I think this week wasn't entirely about "no impact" as much as it was about "scrutinizing options to make yourself lower impact." Small shift, small steps, better planet. And I admit, sometimes writing or talking about these choices I've made, especially with those who haven't made the same choices, often makes me feel uncomfortable. I believe strongly in living more ecologically-mindedly, but I always feel those choices have to belong to someone. I may tease some for shopping at Target, but really, we do what we feel comfortable with; I have never felt comfortable with telephone fundraisers or faith converters or anything of that ilk. I think, instead, I'd rather live by example, even if I'm more often more a shoddy example than anything else. I include my husband in these choices--he may peripherally feel the impact, but I never want to make him feel uncomfortable, and it always makes me a little glowy when he makes concessions for me without my request--buying organic eggs instead of standard or bringing home fruit from the farmer's market.

Friday, November 20, 2009

366: no impact week, days four + five

Image: from Redwoods Sapling Trio on Organic Bouquet

A little while back, I wrote of how my grandmother has been spending time in a nursing home environment for rehabilitation for her hip, which she broke in three places after a tumble from an examining table at the doctor's office. Tonight I began a little something for her, a get-well gift I hope to be done with before I leave her home over Thanksgiving break, but I've been thinking about the act of sending someone flowers--in celebration, in sympathy, in best wishes. I found this website: Organic Bouquet. It's so beautiful I snuck one of their images to put on my blog, a thing I don't do so very often; I also am in love with the idea of the Yule Tree to Be and there's blood orange and olive and rosemary--what better way to express your sentiments? The bouquets are organically grown and sustainable and look gorgeous and full. And wreaths! I am in love with the six herb wreath and the simplicity of the rosemary is nice too (minus the calla).

Day 4: Food! I've begun to slowly transfer more regular shopping to Simple Abundance, our local health foods store, which carries organic and local options as well as plenty of holistic healing options. For my new recipe this Wednesday, I picked up over half the ingredients on my list and purchased my free range turkey that I will cook for our Thanksgiving feast. I hope to make Simple Abundance a weekly stop, especially for Ryan's meats. We usually buy Lorentz, which is located twenty minutes away and mentioned in Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma in a positive light, but our local grocery store seems to have stopped carrying their products. We were purchasing wine for book club and I weighed the options: organic versus local? We wound up picking local as it fits better with what I'm serving.

Some websites that have helped me in the past with local eating:
- Finding a CSA at Local Harvest
- 100 mile diet and 100 foot diet
- freedom gardens

Day 5: Energy. Oh, all of our energy-sucking computers. I have put some lights on timers, particularly since I hate going upstairs in the dark. If I go to bed at a regular hour, I know the timer will click off the lamp a few minutes after me, which is a relief on two levels. We've gotten good about the heat and air conditioning, mainly because Ryan likes to save money--the temperature is constantly kept either too low or too high for comfort, which results in our learning to dress properly and in winter, pile on the blankets and wear fuzzy slippers. We've also recently gotten an HE washer and dryer (last winter?) and love it, using less detergent and energy as we clean.

My biggest energy suck will always be in transportation and I thank Emily for pointing out the fact that I cannot compare myself to those in different circumstances. I simply don't live near work, won't sell this house to move to the Twin Cities, and when I'm done with my graduate degree, plan to go by the date as opposed to the mileage when it comes to oil changes. For now, I do what I can within my comfort zone. I'm afraid if we go outside our comfort zone, we might burn out, become bitter, start shopping at Wal-Mart and eating fast food because we crave that convenience we are lacking in our everyday lives. And me? I'd rather not burn out. I'd rather continue to make small adjustments so everyday becomes greener without frustration or exhaustion.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

365: no impact week, days two + three

Yesterday's theme was trash.

I'm the sort whose house is incredibly cluttered because I keep thinking: I could probably use this for... I have tons of mailers from etsy purchases that I'm hanging onto, waiting to mail out my own set-of-letterpress-cards-shaped mail. I have handouts from all my classes. I have fabric and yarn and books I need to read and give away. But I think what I need to do is begin to learn how to de-clutter. A messy house is often the source of my anxieties, getting ready for guests, or even just sitting down to getting something done--not possible when every surface has a stack of books, a half-finished knitting project, the holiday gifts in sorted boxes, waiting to be wrapped and tucked away. (Speaking of which, some people are getting holiday gifts in wedding bags this year; I saved mine, of course, and I am desperate to get rid of them.) I don't think I'll ever need to or will buy another gift bag or wrapping paper; after this, I'm going to use other resources for clever wrapping, and I have enough friends and family who don't mind the re-purposing of bags, so we often see the same ones over and over. Fortunately, we have people like Kelly, who introduce adorable bags into the cycle.

This kind of consciousness is exhausting because it's easy to always second-guess yourself. I grew up in comfort, where we didn't scrutinize packaging, and thus, I'm not used to thinking overtly of the layers we protect things in. I think my solution is less to scrutinize the garbage a product creates, and I think I'm mostly thinking food here, as that is the product we most often bring into our home (with books coming at a close second, and they require no packaging), and if I'm eating "better," then I'm automatically eating with less garbage created--TV dinners, highly processed meats, these are the objects I think of when I think of large amounts of garbage, and they're no longer entering my home with my own purchasing.

Of course, with food, I can proudly add that Ryan and I will soon be the new owners of a CompsTumbler, the little back porch sort, and I am also a vermicomposter. We homebrew, we garden, and I truly can say I love making with my hands.

A little follow-up to the shopping post: I found this blog post via Stephanie Congdon Barnes' blog about the ways in which building community becomes a factor in purchasing. It's fitting since yesterday I went into her shop, and I cannot help but love those pine cones. (Can you blame me?)

Today's theme is transportation, which is a bit of a shameful subject for me. I commute an hour to campus.

The story is this, for those who don't know it: Ryan and I had been dating forever. We knew we were going to continue to do so, and we were sick of the long distance relationship. When he had a job in Winona and I got my first teaching job in Lakeville, places two hours apart, we decided to find somewhere halfway and instead of commuting one weekends to one another, commute daily to our jobs. Ironically, a few months after we bought our house at the halfway point, he got a new job in St Paul, which is close to Lakeville, a suburb of the Twin Cities. We've owned our house for four years now, love our community, and both don't particularly feel like leaving. I also don't know what will happen to me when I am done with graduate school--I may teach closer to home, I may try finding a job in the community, I may get lucky enough to simply write at home (yeah right, I hear my husband humming). As I write this, I am on campus and my husband is a few miles away in his cubicle at work; because of our dogs and our schedules, we don't get a lot of opportunity to carpool, so we will both be driving the hour home separately. I have a sneaky feeling Angie, who is doing this challenge as well, can easily brag that she has put no miles on her car these past three days, whereas when I parked my car this morning, I glanced down at the odometer (the trip one, which I started at zero just for this challenge, so I could report in the exact miles at the end of the week) and I was creeping up to 300. That's right, in three days I've put three hundred miles on my car, and I have one more campus day left for the week. Of course, this week is a bit unique in that I had to come up on Sunday for a reading party for the literary magazine I am poetry editor for, but generally speaking, three days a week with an occasional extra (book club, knitting group, poetry collective, literary reading, etc.) thrown in. My car, which is eleven years old, is at nearly 200,000 miles and chugging along (it's a Toyota Camry, in case you are curious, and according to the family-owned mechanics I've taken it in to, they swear it probably has another 100,000 miles left, which is fortunate, because I'm passing it along to a friend in the next few months as my mother is passing along her hand-me-down, a 2003 Toyota Camry). At least the little-impact here is that the cars we drive are driven to their last mile and then some. And the graduate student in me is grateful for the reliability of a car that can do that and can make it fifty plus miles in the dark after class with nothing but corn fields and corn fields and fallow fields and maybe a few cows.

When at home, most of what I need is accessible by foot: the library, the post office, the book shop, the health foods store, and I can say, if it's not stopping on the way to or from campus, I do manage to walk the dozen blocks to downtown, to the Mississippi River. Walking has that added bonus of meditation, I believe, and thus, it's a peaceful act for me to travel by foot to run my errands, my favorite canvas sacks tipped over my shoulder.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

364: no impact week, day one

Oh, timing; as I got into the car to drive up to the dislocate reading party, a song called "Recessionista" by the Mood Swings was on The Current. She was singing about buying from flea markets and thrift stores and whatnot, and even though it was economically driven, it did fit into day one of No Impact Week.

So this week I'm joining Angie in a little No Impact experiment, using this guide to scrutinize my habits and consumption.

Today's theme is shopping. This is a tricky one for me, as my priorities have shifted. It's important to me to shop local and support mindful shops, so we've cut out places like Target and Wal-Mart permanently. This has, consequently, cut out a great deal of that impulse shopping that cursed me, particularly when Target was a regular part of my weekly rotation.

However, I've been gearing up for the holidays; this year I've got three nephews to attend to, and a great list of handmade gifts I'd love to tackle. I also have a mild book addiction, and for now, I protest the Kindle and Kindle-like offshoots, though like vegetarianism, I restrict my snobbishness to my own consumption; if Ryan were to embrace the Kindle, and he says he wouldn't use it and thus it is not worth it, then I would, reluctantly, accept it.

Anyone who has been to my home knows there is a slight overload of books. I celebrate the support of authors, I celebrate the support of local and independent bookstores, I celebrate the act of learning. I still use the libraries, mainly for those kinds of escape books that sell intense amounts of books, and for books on CD for my long commute (oh, transportation day, how I dread you). I'm a consumer of books, mainly.

I also enjoy indulging those I love. I've enjoyed shopping at places such as Etsy, Nova Natural, Uncommon Goods, and Imagine Childhood for the wee ones; my shopping for the holidays isn't taking the tone of the frantic Black Friday but instead something more mindful and meaningful. And truthfully? Many of my gifts are by hand this year, but most, truly, are from independent printers and sources that celebrate using sustainable resources (no plastic for me, thanks) and whatnot.

Of course, there are daily bits that could be adjusted. There always are. Here are my only two items of garbage I created today and eco-alternatives I found, which I will track a total for this week as well as the exact number of miles I drive in my car, which will be astronomical in comparison to others:

:: Q-tips: I'm one of those who washes my hair every day, shaves every day, and must follow my morning routine, even if it is truly low-maintenance. One garbage-producing step is cleaning my ears, which, I know, I know, I shouldn't really be doing anyway. I found a post on eco cotton swabs, which remind us that cleaning our ears daily isn't so wise anyway. This blogger's tip was Simply Organic Cotton Buds, which will help my neurosis.
:: Facial Pads: I use cotton pads, but it makes complete sense to find some sort of washable alternative, as one finds with cloth diapers. Here are a few on etsy: crocheted circles + crocheted flowers. There's also these organic towelettes and the bear naked wipes, which benefit polar bear habitat.

Saturday, November 14, 2009


(Image: Bodies: The Exhibit website)

Tonight Ryan and I met our friend Mike at the Mall of America {shudder} for the Bodies Exhibit, which was incredible. One wanders through the galleries, men built back up after death, skeletons and peeled back muscles, organs exposed, the nervous system carefully laid out on the table, veins filled bright red hovering in display cases and amazingly intricate, and all along, I'm hopping about, wondering where the women are, wanting to peer into the cavity of a woman, see how all the bits line up, those places the doctors poke and prod and declare wonky. It was amazing to peer in and beyond, to learn little facts on the wall, and after, we browsed the bookstore while waiting for a table at a restaurant, and I picked up a few books for the holidays as well as a few for myself: Itty Bitty Toys (look at that giraffe!) and Vintage Knits for Modern Babies because it's time for me to keep moving beyond the square and from the clearance section, Accidental Vegetarian, which may have recipes even Ryan will try. And dinner, always, of course, dinner together in good company.

Friday, November 13, 2009

362: new recipe... friday

I think one of the best things one can do for oneself is to not be strict about challenges: my daily walk can take a few days off, maybe I want to walk quietly without my camera and without the pressure of posting; maybe I have to be back on campus on a Wednesday and cannot try a new recipe on that exact day. But I catch up. I re-embark on photo walks and bring a recipe in on Friday.

I've decided to work hard at cooking more seasonally. I've also decided I want to try a new ingredient as often as possible, and I don't believe I've ever had turnips before.

This week's recipe is Potato, Turnip, and Carrot Gratin with Garlic-Herb Bechamel Sauce
from The Vegetable Dishes I Can't Live Without by Mollie Katzen

• It's easiest to warm the milk in the microwave right in its measuring cup.

• Good bread crumbs are made by hand from good bread. Try either a home-style whole wheat or pumpernickel. Make your own bread crumbs by drying out some of your favorite bread, then crumbling it either by hand (in a plastic bag, so it won't go all over the place) or in a food processor with the steel blade (a few spurts).


2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 1/2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups warmed milk
1 bay leaf
Salt, to taste
Nonstick cooking spray
1/2 pound unpeeled Yukon gold potatoes
1/2 pound turnips
1/2 pound carrots
1 cup minced shallots
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 cup coarse bread crumbs
1/2 cup grated Swiss cheese (Gruyère or Emmenthaler)

1. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over low heat, adding the garlic and thyme when it is melted.

2. Whisk in the flour and keep whisking for a minute or so as it forms a thick paste.

3. Keep whisking as you drizzle in the warmed milk, keeping the mixture moving until there are no lumps.

4. Add the bay leaf and turn the heat way down. Cook, stirring frequently, for about 5 to 8 minutes, or until smooth and silky. Remove from the heat and remove the bay leaf. Stir in a dash of salt and a few shakes of white pepper, then set aside.

5. Preheat oven to 375ºF. Lightly spray a 2-quart gratin dish with nonstick spray.

6. Cut the potatoes, turnips, and carrots into very thin slices (about 1/8 inch). For the carrots, do this on the diagonal. Spread the cut vegetables (including the shallots) together in the prepared pan to make a single mixed layer. Sprinkle lightly with salt and black pepper.

7. Pour the béchamel sauce from step 4 over the top of the vegetables and cover the pan tightly with foil. Bake in the center of the oven for 1 hour, or until the vegetables are fork-tender. Remove the dish from the oven and remove the foil.

8. Heat the broiler. Sprinkle the bread crumbs and then the grated cheese on top of the vegetables. Broil until the cheese is melted and beginning to form a crust. Serve hot.

Here are some changes I made:
- I am no expert at cutting, so my pieces were more like half an inch thick.
- No shallots, but instead green onions.
- I also added broccoli and our tiny brussels sprouts from our garden.
- I didn't measure the vegetables, so we likely had too many, which meant I needed to adjust the cooking time.

Edit to add: Ryan wouldn't even touch it but made himself a frozen pizza instead. Silly boy and his fear of vegetables. I personally put too many potatoes in; I liked the addition of the bits from the garden. It was awfully dry--it seemed to want some sort of sauce, but I'm not sure what. I'll finish the leftovers, though I couldn't promise following this exact recipe again. After all, there are many new ones to try!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


New recipe Wednesday will actually occur tomorrow; I have had some things in my schedule unexpectedly get jangled, but I ought to be straight enough tomorrow. I have a little recipe my mother-in-law passed along to me on our last trip through town that I've been itching to try.

Instead, I wanted to share a little music today. I have an hour commute, and usually I listen to books on CD, but lately I have felt a little restless and have had the need to get lost in my own mind. My favorite radio station is MPR's the current, and I'm always glad to be introduced to new musicians.

Here are a few songs I just can't get out of my head:

Happy listening!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


Yesterday I received a phone call from my dad: my grandmother fell while at the doctor's office and broke her hip in three places. From what I've heard, the surgery went well, and she's recovering. I don't know much more--how long rehabilitation will go, just how risky this is for an octogenarian, if she'll have to spend any time in a nursing home, who will take care of her, why I can't just drop everything and go to her.

The especially unfortunate detail is that she was at the doctor's office to see if her veins could handle a shunt that would ease her regular dialysis for end-stage kidney disease. She technically has above 15% kidney function, so she's not dialysis-stage yet, but nearly.

You already know how much she means to me. Keep her in your thoughts, OK? Hope for a quick and smooth recovering and a return home.

Monday, November 9, 2009

359: my first felting project

I glanced at a few coin-purse patterns on the internet and adapted to make one of my own. This isn't meant to be a guide for others felting, but rather, a chronicle of my own journey--my first felting project, which turned out as any first project usually does--a charming failure.

However, if you want a guide, Knitty has a really excellent one!

With a worsted-weight wool, I cast on thirty stitches and worked in stockinette stitch for about six and a half inches. I used size six needles (bamboo are my favorite), which was likely too small for felting, but still, a part of the process and learning experience.

(PS: That clean floor? I would say it was a birthday present, but really, it's because one of our dogs [ah-hem, one guess--why, yes, it was Z] got into something and was sick all. over. the kitchen floor, and I suppose Ryan not making me clean it on my birthday was a kind of gift.)

When I got to where I roughly wanted to stop, I began to decrease using k2tog and p2tog, one on each end to create the flap. I love the way st st rolls--it reminds me of a little gnome hat in this stage.

In retrospect, if I try this particular project again, I'd slow the flap down; when you see the final project, you'll note that the flap is incredibly mealy looking, and I doubt any coins would stay inside this little thing. Perhaps one could consider it a film case (rolls would fit nicely in there) or chapstick / lotion holder.

I matched up the two sides up and sewed. I opted to put purl-side in because other patterns I've seen with mixed wool and acrylic will show the knit side, but this is also the side the lip curls out with, which adds to the lumpen final appearance.

The button is one of those extras you get tied to a new dress shirt, and though I love my button collection, I don't think I'm yet ready to deal with functional buttons on felted objects. But because of the end-product, it wouldn't be difficult to slip something into the project without even opening the meager flap.

Above, with a few washes to go.

I think, with this one, I'll use it as a kind of wrapping for a real gift. I hesitate to throw it out (what a waste!) but it's not worth keeping, so this is my compromise.

I've already cast on to make another attempt, another variation, and the person who receives this lumpen wrapping paper can know that tossing it is OK, and that this person will be the receiver of actually nice felted objects in the not-too-distant future. But this one is still given with love. As wrapping.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

358: barn bluff at noon

Ryan surprised us all with a tennis ball in his jacket pocket; the dogs loved chasing it along the wooded trail. I loved taking photographs of them flopping around in the air. I had a strawberry shake afterwards, then took a nap, and now--grading. I put it off until Sunday evening, which is depressing, but one lovely trade-off is that I will only be on campus this Monday and Tuesday. The rest of the week, I plan to chip away at the house, cleaning, reading, knitting, cooking.

357: three-oh

For my thirtieth birthday, we filled a string of tables with a dozen of my good friends and family. It was exactly how I wanted to spend the evening.

I had chocolate cake. Kelly took a photo of me blowing out the candles. Angie requested I post the picture. Sigh.

We went to the Happy Gnome after, which has the largest tap selection I've ever seen. Tasting Crispin was tempting, but I opted out, realizing just how my stomach would reject any more than a taste of alcohol.

At the Happy Gnome, Colleen C asked me what my top five goals for my thirties were. On the spot, here they are:

1. To get a book published. (I asked: "Is this allowed? Is that a goal I can have?" and everyone nodded and smiled at the silly girl.)
2. To have "chitlins," as I put it. Kids, you know. Family expansion.
3. To go to Ireland. (It was where we almost-honeymooned. Alaska was a good replacement.)
4. To knit a sweater. (This one elicited some giggles, but I see a great cabled sweater as the holy grail of knitting. I also bought the super-expensive imported yarn for this sweater a half dozen years ago and, of course, need some warm-up sweaters, but am definitely looking forward to gifting it to a certain non-boyfriend-cursed man of mine.)
5. When we are ready for a bigger house, because, you know, those chitlins will need space too, I hope for acreage (originally called "a big yard," I was reminded by my apartment-dwelling friends that my yard is big--I suppose it's all relative)--lots of space for the dogs and kids to run around, lots of trees, neighbors at a distance, and slopey roofs on the second floor. Maybe some chickens. For the eggs.

Friday, November 6, 2009

356: honeybees, and other good things

Tomorrow I turn the big three-oh, which I think is supposed to leave me panicked or flummoxed, or both, but instead, I feel fairly indifferent. To the number, anyway. I'm definitely looking forward to the day. Some good things:

- I'll be eating my birthday dinner at Cafe Brenda, which is a gourmet vegetarian restaurant in the Twin Cities. Fourteen of my close friends and family will be keeping me company.

- A slide show featuring White House Honey. I love that the Obamas now have a kitchen garden and unprocessed honey on their south lawn, and I love the way this slide show is executed--like listening to NPR but with stunning accompanying photographs, making me wish I could keep bees too.

- This weekend, I decided to teach myself to felt. I think I'm already going about it wrong, using too tight a stitch, but I've also decided this: it's about the process. That's what brings me the most pleasure. I haven't yet kept anything I've knit or quilted or crocheted, and I think this is why. Its time with me is in the making.

- Though my new medicine is twisting my stomach into even worse knots, I'm looking at it as a part of the journey, and that's a good thing. I'm on my way to wellness, making good choices, and feeling good about those choices.

- Speaking of choices, I'm joining my dear friend Angie in No Impact Week, which is just a week away. We'll see how I do.

- More signs point toward me returning to my vegetarian roots, just as soon as the meat is used up in the soups and freezer (that my husband won't eat). Read this article in The New Yorker about Jonathan Safran Foer's newest book, Eating Animals.

Have a lovely weekend. And to those I will see tomorrow: I look forward. xo