Daybook for the First Week of Spring

Outside my window…


Sunshine is pouring down after a long stretch of cold gray days. [I wrote that two days ago. Now it’s gray and dreary, but at least it’s in the 50s]. We’ve had an odd winter with bitter cold and loads of snow in December followed by a snow-less January and February. Temperatures vacillated between frigid cold and balmy spring-like days. We even had a couple thunderstorms and a tornado watch in the mix. Flower buds popped out along the bare branches on our crap apples and daffodil shoots sprouted all over the yard. Now that it’s March we’ve had another four sticking snows and the kids finally got to use the sleds they received for Christmas. All the plants about to bloom have paused and hunkered back down looking a bit sheepish. If they had feelings I think they’d mirror the embarrassment one feels after standing up for a song in church, looking it up in the hymnal, then glancing around after finding the page to realize everyone else has remained seated. A purely hypothetical scenario not based on personal experience at all, of course. We moved into this house in June so I’m looking forward to seeing the yard in Spring for the first time.

I am thankful…


At the natural history museum. Only Josie seems to grasp the peril of their situation

…that the stomach flu continued on its way after afflicting only Jack. Poor Jack, but lucky us. [Update from two days later: apparently I jinxed myself. Reward: spending half last night up with a vomiting baby].

…for community. We’re glad to be closer to family  but have badly missed our old neighborhood, friends, church, and military community in North Carolina. We’re finally starting to build a few connections after many months of church hunting and it’s a nice feeling.

…for bigger kids. This is the last day of The Man’s latest stretch of ICU call. ICU is still exhaustingl and intense on the home front, but so much easier than it used to be. The Man came home late in the evening yesterday, glanced around the tidied-right-before-bed-with-the-kids house, and commented “You know, the house could never have looked this good in the middle of an ICU week a year ago.” It’s true. 4, 4, 2, and 1 is a very different state than 3, 3, 1, and an infant. When he’s gone for extended stretches it’s still (very) hard work but I don’t constantly feel like I’m scrambling to keep body and soul together. There’s just enough breathing space for little extras like a museum trip, park stop, or store run with all four in tow. I even made it to church solo with all four little kids this morning – a first! They can do things now like eat a picnic lunch in the car with (reasonable) tidiness, skip the occasional nap or snack, or delay a meal half an hour without imploding. Altogether, just a little more flexibility in our days.

I am thinking


about Spring plans outside and inside. Our home has basic landscaping but nothing more. We’d like to plant flower beds, a vegetable garden, some fruit trees, and a few berry bushes but will have to see what time allows. We’re also debating school plans for next year. Continue as we have with private school a couple mornings a week and low-key homeschooling on other days? Public special needs preschool? Full time homeschooling with more room for therapy? Another option?

Learning all the time…


with baking experiments. I love to cook and bake but can easily fall into a rut thanks to the basic necessity of feeding all these people all these meals on all the days. I really haven’t done much with yeast breads in the past. So, in place of the usual familiar dessert baking I’ve been experimenting this Lent with various yeast-based doughs: pizza dough, Smitten Kitchen’s Cheddar rolls (delicious, but I think better with tomato soup than for breakfast), and a couple batches of whole wheat/whole grain bread. Do you have a favorite recipe (or cookbook) for whole wheat bread, the perfect pizza dough, or something else? I’m all ears. We’ve had reasonable success but risen doughs are definitely a learned skill.

Celebrating the liturgical year…


with a low-key Lent. I can’t say we’ve done anything specifically Lenten as a family though we continue as usual with daily Bible reading, prayers, and hymns with the kids. As adults it’s been a quiet but beneficial Lent so far. Not dramatic, but steady. While it’s not specifically Lenten, I’ve also been enjoying richer and more consistent scripture study since Christmas. We’re pretty consistent about reading the Bible as a couple but I’ve struggled with sticking to my own devotions. I’m a fast reader and often find myself skimming through the Bible when I sit down to read it. On the other hand, when I use a formal study the intellectual perfectionist side of me rears its head and I find myself writing exhaustive answers to each question and lost for hours on a section that’s designed to take ten minutes. That’s not bad except that I then get impatient and frustrated and abandon the whole thing. At the end of December I jumped (late) on an Advent-focused scripture writing challenge. I started a new one in January and found I really benefited from the forced slow pace and intense focus of hand-writing a passage instead of just reading it. At the beginning of February I decided to start copying an entire book by hand. I settled on Romans because it’s middle-of-the-road in length, theologically rich, and one I haven’t studied in a while. Because I know myself and my tendency to do things just to check them off the list I didn’t even break it into sections to tackle and check off. Every morning I just read the next passage (usually 3-6 verses), hand copy it, re-read it, then rapidly skim the book back up to that point to place it in context and make sure I’m tracking. I’m happy to say, after years of on-again-of-again personal study that I’ve missed only a couple of days since January first. I’m half way through Romans and am pausing to outline the first eight chapters and review. 6 weeks sounds like a long time for eight chapters but I’m flying compared to my childhood pastor who preached through Romans for two straight years. There really is such a thing as too much of a good thing.

From the kitchen…


as mentioned above, yeast breads. Also, a fair number of meatless meals like potato pancakes, leek and potato soup, salads, black beans, and pasta. I also made crepes for the first time using the Joy of Cooking recipe. I substituted 1/3 whole wheat flour for all purpose. My Mom used to make crepes and I love them so I don’t know why it took me so long to get on the bandwagon. They make a nice Lenten special family breakfast. I skipped the sugar in the batter, spooned warm applesauce down the middle, rolled them up, and sprinkled cinnamon on top. A hit with everyone. Were it not Lent that’d be cinnamon sugar, the way my Mom used to make them for us on cold winter mornings. After Easter there’ll be blintzes and crepes with Nutella and strawberries in our treats lineup.

I am creating…


a scarf. Very. Very. Very. Sloooowly. At this rate it will be ready just in time for the stifling heat of August. Knitting is not a “just like riding a bike” skill for me. I’ve learned and then forgotten how to knit many times: as a small child, an older child, in college, and again while The Man was deployed. At some point after the twins became mobile one crawled to the knitting basket and tangled my work-in-progress. I never finished it. Two more babies followed and all skills were again forgotten. I’m just now getting to the point where there’s a smidgen of breathing room for handcrafts. Courtesy of YouTube I’m now back to knitting Continental Style. I’m making this pattern without the contrasting center stripe or letters.

I am working on…


bits of spring cleaning, as time allows.

I am going


to lots and lots of therapy appointments. Physical therapy for me, feeding therapy for Jenny (the end is in sight after almost three years!), Speech, OT, and Behavioral Therapy for Annie. In addition there are specialist visits for various children and routine pediatrician and dental checkups needed. I don’t really like being a family that has someplace to be every day of the week but right now it’s necessary. Whenever possible I treat appointments as special 0ne-on-one time with a child. We chat in the car, play music of the kid’s choice, and read books or play one-on-one together in the waiting room. Often the long drives are also a good time for me to catch up on my podcasts queue or listen to an audiobook if the child isn’t in a chatty mood.

I am hoping


to prepare well in advance for a weekend trip to New York. Practically, though, who am I kidding ;).

I am praying…


for our three older kids and their first families. Adoption is complicated and messy. A blessing, yes, but also a tremendous loss.

I am pondering

Jack’s face of concentration. Ha!


special needs parenting. I’m reading as much as I can get my hands on. There’s a wealth of (often contradictory) information out there. It’s hard to take that flood of information in, filter it, and decide what’s best for a child who doesn’t yet have much say. Unfortunately many Christian parenting books take a one-size-fits-all approach to parenting that may work with typically developing children but is poorly suited to kids with neurological differences.  It’s humbling as a parent who thought I knew everything before having kids (and frequently judged others’ parenting) to realize that much of our kids’ behavior and growth cannot, and sometimes should not, be controlled by us. It’s a constant fight to focus on what a child really needs and not the way others around us are judging the child or our parenting.

I am reading


Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck as an audiobook read by Gary Sinise. It’s wonderful, and Sinise has the perfect voice for it. Even if you’re not a Steinbeck fan I highly recommend this account of his casual journey through 40 states. He combines dry wit and poetic description with detached observation and a warm interest in the people he meets. I love a good armchair travel book but frequently cringe at travel writer’s scornful summary of the people they encounter. I can’t imagine how the people Bill Bryson or Paul Theroux describe must feel at the authors’ sardonic assessments of their lives. Steinbeck manages to describe foibles without mockery and approaches others on his travels with warm interest. I’m also reading Madeleine L’Engle’s first memoir A Circle of Quiet which is enjoyable and thought provoking. She’s incredibly well-read so each page brings up some other book I should also read. Dangerous fodder.

I am listening to


Podcasts, whenever I can. When I was growing up my parents frequently had the radio on. Classical music, talk radio, or the news in the car, often Old Time Radio or Car Talk on Saturday mornings. I almost never turn the radio on but I think Podcasts are my equivalent. It’s nice to have a grownup talking to me about something interesting as I do the dishes or fold laundry. We’re also listening to classical music quite a bit as the kids usually request “singing” in the car and one can tolerate only so much of Elizabeth Mitchell or the OkeeDokee Brothers. Right now it’s Haydn’s masses in the car and Beethoven in the CD player at home.

I am hearing


The washing machine gently swishing, laundry tumbling ’round the drying, and an anemic burbling from our increasingly useless coffee maker. The baby spent half the night vomiting through multiple rooms so I’m in wash-and-sterilize-everything mode.

I am struggling


with my hair. Which sounds a bit silly and vain but I’ve never been a hair or makeup person. All my life I’ve just washed every couple days, combed or brushed, and tossed it back in a bun, braid, or ponytail without blow drying, styling, or products. The very hard water in our new home is wreaking havoc on my hair though and it constantly looks unkempt. Dry strands, frizz, and unevenness abound. The hard water doesn’t really bother us in any other way so I’m wondering if there are better product choices vs. investing vast sums in a water softener.

Clicking around


Well, not much really. I’m doing my best to cut back on social media in particular and screen time in general. Which, bonus, allows time for things like writing and reading!

Around the house…

SuperDad comforts four fussing children at once.

we’re making plans for painting a few rooms. We haven’t made any changes to the house and have only hung one picture since we moved in Hopefully we can get a few small projects done before warmer temperatures pull our living outside. We’re adding in some more consistent chores for the big kids now that they’re four. We’ve always had them help, but are adding in a few more regular jobs at regular times for them like vacuuming the dining room after meals and a set whole house cleanup every evening. They’re still at the age where it’s more work to supervise them than to do it ourselves, but it’ll be worth it in the long run.

One of my favorite things…


The quiet hour or two before the kids get up. I’ve been consistently getting up at 5:00 or 5:30 since New Years with only a couple of later days from illness or missed alarms. I consider the earliest hours my personal time. For this introvert it’s a key window to read, eat a quiet breakfast, do my Bible study, exercise, or knit. Sometimes I squeeze in a chore or two, but I don’t feel obligated to use that time for household purposes. I find when I start the day with something mentally fulfilling I’m a much better spouse and parent throughout the day.

A few plans for this week…

About typical for our “selfies for six” attempts. Seven if your count Annie’s beloved bear.

Therapies and specialist appointments. Dinner with the pastor’s family tonight. Sending off picture and email updates to the kids’ birth families.

A little peek at my day…


A sick baby overnight means a freshly-bathed baby with fabulous hair in the morning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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In the Kitchen: Pantry-Clearing Meals

Movers won’t generally ship opened packages of food, easily perishable items, or liquids so we’re in a pre-move push to eat up the pantry and freezer contents. My meal-planning this week centered around “stash busting” dishes.

Roast Pork with Dried Apricots from the (so far) infallible Williams-Sonoma Essentials of Slow Cooking. So good. So, so, so good. We sat down to this meal after a chilly afternoon’s hike with the kids and quite literally moaned from happiness over our meal. It’s fabulously flavorful and moist. I used the stovetop method, plus dried thyme and spicy brown mustard because that’s what I had on hand. Bonus, it used up the big pork roast I’d purchased on sale months ago and tossed in the freezer. The kids also liked it – served with…I forget? Definitely one to keep in mind for dinners with guests – it’s very low maintenance and hard to mess up.

Steak with Chimichurri Butter. I received a free subscription to Martha Stewart Living after taking a survey this winter. The most recent volume included this mouth-watering recipe for Chimichurri Butter. I just used some steak from the freezer, pan fried it, and served with the Chimichurri and a big salad. Delicious – I deeply regret waiting this long in my life to discover Chimichurri sauce!

Chicken Thighs with Leeks, Potatoes, and Spinach. This was a good dish! It’s simple but tasty. I used ground coriander and bigger potatoes cut up. I enjoyed using the multi-stage approach to cooking an entire meal under the broiler. The lemons are really key – they provide a large part of the sauce’s freshness. Served with rice to soak up the sauce.

Louisiana Red Beans and Rice. This was also a nice recipe worth making again. It’s another one that used up lots of ingredients from the fridge and pantry. Some recipes for Louisiana red beans call for ham hocks. We didn’t have any on hand, but this version was still delicious. I more or less followed the recipe except for not measuring, using red pepper instead of green, and throwing in some oregano since parralel recipes called for it. Delicious served with rice. Nice flavors, but still mild enough for the three-year-old contingent with just a touch of background heat. If we didn’t have young kids I would increase the spice.

Also cooked recently: waffles for a big waffle breakfast with friends, smoothies to use up our frozen fruit, a so-so double chocolate skillet cookie from Martha Stewart Living for Bible Study, and chicken nuggets (also pretty unexciting thanks to really tough meat).

In the Kitchen

We’ve had more seat-of-the-pants meals and fast food dinners than we’d prefer lately. As things settle (we accepted an offer on our house this week!) it’s been satisfying resuming normal scratch cooking routines and predictable family dinners.

We had a lot of hard boiled eggs in the fridge after Easter egg dyeing. A friend recommended this recipe for olive oil-braised chick peas. Delicious! I used dried chickpeas and dried thyme because that’s what we had on hand. Al dente savory chick peas, tangy capers, warm smooth olive oil, sharp creamy feta, smoky hot paprika – it’s such an amazing flavor medley for a simple dish. We had it on crusty bread paired with hard-boiled eggs the first night, then with salads the next night.

Baked Italian dishes with ricotta are among my favorite comfort foods. I loved this recipe for baked manicotti. The assembly is less fussy than lasagna or stuffed shells, but the flavors are just as lovely. Four out of four kids loved it, as did their parents. I started a quick marinara with sautéed onion and garlic, 28oz whole tomatoes, 28oz diced tomatoes, dried basil, salt, and pepper, then simmered it while prepping the rest. I increased the ricotta to 2 cups (perfect), used half fresh and half frozen spinach (I didn’t ice after cooking – it was fine), stuffed the manicotti with my fingers, and sprinkled some extra mozzarella on top for a nice browned crust. 30 minutes at 375. Addictive comfort food.

I’d made this carrot cake before, tweaked it again this time, and will alter it further next time. I like the base recipe because it has a wide variety of spices that create lovely complex flavors. I double the batter so it filled two round cake pans (adjust cook time to 25 minutes) but there’s no need to double the frosting. I reduced the frosting sugar by about 60% – it’s still plenty sweet. I substituted unsweetened applesauce for pineapple in the batter. I may try the pineapple one of these days. The Man doesn’t always like nuts in desserts so I substituted raisins. That ended up being too many raisins for the cake – next time I’ll try half raisins and half finely ground nuts. I only had vegetable oil, but it would probably be awesome with the recommended walnut oil.

As I’ve whined “discussed” before, the slow cooker and I have a fraught relationship. I want it to work. It smells so nice cooking all day, you don’t have to heat the oven, you can leave the house, it’s low maintenance… Then every time I use it the meal is flavorless or rubbery or just plain strange. I’d previously tried a recipe for crock pot shredded taco chicken that someone had raved about (“just throw some chicken in with a jar of salsa for four hours on high! It’s fabulous!”). No. No it was not. It was flavorless, dry, rubbery, and a complete waste of my meat budget. I really do want to find at least a couple good crock pot meals for our family for days when we’re out all day and hosting a crowd, so I tried this recipe instead. It was good! I think good slow cooker meals demand extra seasoning because the technique dilutes any seasoning’s flavor impact. The meat also just doesn’t do well cooked on high, no matter what recipes says. While this recipe does use some pre-made ingredients, they’re of the fresh flavor variety vs. the can o’ soup and a ranch seasoning packet variety. I followed the recipe except for chopping four cloves of garlic instead of using the jarred stuff. It’s pleasantly spicy, but not too hot for our little people. We had it with corn tortillas, tomatoes, sour cream, cheese, and salsa verde. It would also be good with rice and bean bowls. The recipe is worth doubling and freezing. As written it only filled our crock pot a third full. I may play around with the seasonings in future for more depth of flavor. Oregano? Cumin?

Cooking Notes – June 2014

He approves of being fed

He approves of being fed

So far it appears to be the month of Jamie Oliver and Pasta…not a bad month to have, if you must pick a theme.

Marcella Hazan’s Rice and Smothered Cabbage Soup Simple and delicious. A friend who’s an excellent cook shared the recipe – her recommendations never send us wrong. Served with a salad of sliced tomatoes sprinkled with salt and pepper and drizzled with olive oil and balsamic.

Fresh Tomato, Basil, and Brie Pasta An old favorite from The Silver Palate Cookbook. Made for our church small group’s wrap up dinner and served with salad, Jamie Oliver’s Yogurt Salad Dressing, and bread, plus this cheesecake from the Joy of Cooking (we always skip the sour cream topping, which we don’t like), and a sauce made of raspberries cooked down with sugar and a smidge of water and corn starch.

Pasta with Lemon Cream and Prosciutto Everyone from babies to adults loved this dish – a banner day since the Man usually doesn’t like dishes with citrus flavorings. I only followed the recipe loosely based on what we had in the house. 1 shallot (though more wouldn’t hurt), no orange peel, fresh baby spinach instead of peas, no mint, whole wheat pasta. Sauteed sliced chicken with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and a squeeze of lemon at the end and put a few pieces on each pasta serving. Only used 1 slice diced prosciutto (about right – more would make it too rich in my opinion). Nice balance of fresh, creamy, and spicy. Could substitute other lemon-friendly veggies for variety.

Mini Shell Pasta With A Creamy Smoked Bacon and Pea Sauce by Jamie Oliver. No, we didn’t eat all these pastas in a row. I threw this together for a quick dinner after returning from vacation. It was good, but the first Jamie Oliver recipe I haven’t fallen head over heels for. The kids didn’t particularly like it at first try, though I’m sure they would after repeat exposures.

Chicken Fajitas, another from Jamie Oliver. Tasty with lots of nice fresh veggies. I ended up using a pre-made guacamole from the grocery store deli, but much prefer homemade. This dish was primarily memorable for the epic cleanup required on the griddle – my husband is a saint. Both kids liked the meat, and Annie enjoyed chowing down on the peppers as well.

Asian Chicken Noodle Broth from, you guessed it, Jamie Oliver. This dish has become a staple in our home over the last half year. We have it about once a month, varying the technique and ingredients every time. It’s a great way to use up leftover bits of veggie or nice scraps of meat. I use vermicelli noodles made from brown rice for a bit of a healthy boost, and we both like to squirt a bit of hoisin sauce on when serving. Just the noodles on their own, cooked as they are with ginger, broth, and chile, are very nice. This dish is a touch spicy for the kids so far, but they’re working up to it with pieces of meat and veggie from our bowls.

Cooked Turnip Greens with Cornbread, both recipes from Joy of Cooking. I grabbed the greens at the farmers market, cooked them low and slow with some leftover ham from the freezer as well as bacon, and served with hunks of cornbread for dipping in the sauce. Delicious. I’ve never really liked most “mess o’ greens” dishes we’ve had in the South, but I think the problem has been cooking method (too short, resulting in chewy bitter greens). These were melt in your mouth and delicious.

Crock Pot Yogurt Not a dinner, but my first attempt at homemade yogurt. I’d never realized you could make it in a crock pot until Sarah at The Provincial Homemaker posted about it. Very easy, very delicious, and very inexpensive. I used 1/4 cup of Stoneyfield plain whole milk yogurt and 1/4 cup of Greek Gods Plain Greek Yogurt for starter. Even with organic milk, making this yogurt at home worked out to about $1.25 per 32 oz container compared to $3.79/$4.00 for the storebought stuff. I chilled the whole crock pot insert full of yogurt in the fridge for 6 hours at the end of the process for a little extra thickening. Next time I may try straining through cheesecloth for a greek yogurt texture.

Fried Rice using a recipe from the Man’s step mother. I used up leftover pork from a church pig roast (delicious!) plus egg and odds and ends of veggies like broccoli, scallions, onions, garlic, etc. Used a mix of low sodium soy sauce, hoisin sauce, and sriracha sauce for seasoning. This was a treat for the Man for Father’s Day. Jack loved it, while Annie was initially hesitant but ate most of it in the end.

Cooked Beet Greens with Cornbread, both recipes from Joy of Cooking. I hadn’t intended to make greens twice in two weeks, but a friend gave us a bunch of lovely beet greens when cleaning out her fridge for a move. I cooked these a bit less long than the turnip greens since beets are more delicate.

Flatbread Pizzas using naan and this shortcut recipe from Jacques Pepin (look for “Lavash Pizza” halfway down the page). Great, and loved by everyone from adults to toddler. I sauteed diced portobello mushrooms, sprinkled them over the oiled naan, layered with very thinly sliced tomatoes and shredded basil from the garden, then topped with shredded parmesan and thinly sliced fresh mozzarella. The only problem is that it’s a bit soft in the middle due to all the layers. Next time I might cook the oiled naan for four or so minutes first to crisp it before adding the toppings. Also, fresh mozzarella has more moisture than the regular grocery store variety.

Roasted New Potatoes with Portobello Mushrooms and Rosemary, Baked Zucchini with Parmesan This was such a nice summery meal, all from local farmers except the mushrooms. I scrubbed the potatoes (halving or quartering any bigger than an inch or so, parboiled them about 10 minutes in salted water, then tossed them in a baking dish with cleaned portobello mushrooms. Sprinkled everything with sea salt, pepper, diced garlic, diced rosemary from the garden and a bit of olive oil, then tossed. Roasted at 425 for 25 minutes with a stir in the middle. At the same time I thinly sliced yellow and green zucchini, arranged them in a thin layer in a pan, sprinkled with salt and pepper, topped with shredded parmesan, and drizzled with olive oil. Popped them in alongside the potatoes for 20-25 minutes. After liking zucchini all winter the kids are on strike. Ah well, the adults loved it.

Chicken Nuggets An easy-peasy recipe from childhood. Cut chicken thighs or breasts into 3/4 inch chunks. Roll until well coated in a flour/salt/pepper/paprika mix. Fry until browned in olive oil. Served with barbecue sauce and a bowl of cumin mixed with mayo for dipping sauce (curry mixed with mayo is also nice), and a side of cucumbers from the Farmer’s Market.

Perfect Roast Chicken from Jamie Oliver’s recipe, served with the roasted veggies, bread, and sliced seasoned tomatoes.

Cobb(ish) Salad Leftover roast chicken, diced ham, spring greens, sliced tomatoes, sauteed sliced portobello mushrooms, blue cheese dressing.

Asian Chicken Noodle Broth (again), this time using up the last of the roast chicken.

Cooking Notes – November 2013

My standard cure for falling into a cooking rut is finding a few interesting cookbooks at the library. A favorite from recent weeks is The New Portuguese Table by David Leite. We’ve enjoyed everything we’ve tried so far. After a few dull weeks in October it’s turning into a pretty good food month around here.

Azorean Kale, Sausage, and Bean Soup: From The New Portuguese Table – a really fantastic soup. We loved it! Have you looked at the Azores on a map lately? They are a very long way from anything, out in the middle of the Atlantic (take a look on Google images, too – what a gorgeous place). However, it turns out they’re home to awesome Portuguese food. I could not find Portuguese dry-smoked chouriço and only found linguiça a week later, so I used regular raw soft Mexican chorizo instead, draining off most of the fat. It was awesome – I might just stick with the Mexican kind because it made a perfect soup. I love that this soup is fresh and healthy yet filling. Pureeing a third of the beans is a nice touch. Served with bread or Whole Wheat Cream Biscuits from The Joy of Cooking.

Dried Cherry Cream Scones: A standard favorite from The Joy of Cooking, prepared for a ladies’ tea hosted by a friend.

Jamie Oliver’s Perfect Roast Chicken. Yes, again. Served with crisp-roasted brussels sprouts.

Chicken Soup: No recipe – just the carcass from the roast chicken plus scraps from the fridge like carrots, celery, onions, garlic, etc.

Black Olive Risotto: From The New Portuguese Table. This is a great risotto, cream and flavorful and filling. We both really liked it. Served with Broiled Tomatoes with Parmesan. Could switch the chicken broth to vegetable broth to make this a completely vegetarian meal.

Pork Shoulder with Sauerkraut and Apples: Very very tasty – pork, onion, apples, thyme, wine, sauerkraut, brown sugar and caraway seeds cook together into the perfect tender and savory fall meal. This recipe came from another library book I really love, Williams-Sonoma’s Essentials of Slow Cooking. I used pork butt with the fat trimmed because that’s what I had in the freezer – we tend to shop meat sales and stock up when we find them. I also added an extra apple and used whatever varieties we had on hand. I love that this cookbook offers both a crock pot and an oven variation for each slow cooking recipe since I usually prefer the texture of oven-cooked meats. I prepped this up during the kids’ nap and left it in the oven to slow cook all afternoon. I’m not big on sweet with my savory so next time I might cut the brown sugar. Served with hot rolls. Funnily enough, our girl, who has lately been refusing some of her favorite foods like tomatoes and oranges, gobbled down serving after serving of sauerkraut like it was cake. Odd child.

Spicy Korean Chicken with Fresh Cabbage: From, you guessed it, another library book: The Korean Table. A nice mix for warm, cold, spicy, fresh, soft and crunchy. Big hit in our house. Half a head of cabbage makes a lot of cabbage paired with just a pound of chicken. Might want to reduce it a bit and save the rest for something else.

My Mother’s Carrot-Cabbage-Cheddar Soup: A fall classic my mother’s been making for as long as I can remember – a bit of bacon, onions, shredded cabbage and carrots, broth and cheddar cooked together into more than the sum of its parts. Fair warning it does look like puke when finished…pretty sure my siblings and I were each dismissed from the table at least once for asking my mother why she’d served us vomit, so brace yourself if you have any 8-12 year old boys in your house.

Chorizo and Potato Tacos: Very easy and delicious with a little salsa verde and sour cream. Usually I add egg to potato and chorizo tacos but they were very nice without it. I also liked the addition of the chile. Used the leftover chorizo from the Azorean soup above.

Almond Chicken Soup: Fantastic! I roasted butternut squash and a few chicken thighs in advance, and used kale instead of collards. Flavorful and filling.

Sausage and Egg Tortilla:This is a tortilla in the Spanish sense, meaning more of a baked egg dish like a frittata. The recipe came (again) from The New Portuguese Table. Delicious, though a bit salty. Also, I’d never cooked linguica sausage before – beware that it dries out easily. Best eaten with something light and fresh like salad greens.

Cream Scones

My mother’s been baking scones for as long as I can remember, but before the advent of the local Starbucks nobody else we knew ate them outside our house. Friends considered Mom’s scones an exotic British treat. [Truth be told, even after the first Starbucks arrived, it was better known for the olfactory similarity between its coffee and skunk spray than its baked goods. Next time you walk past a Starbucks, stop, take a deep sniff, and think about it. Delicious coffee with aromatic overtones of skunk. I’m right, aren’t I?]

I used to always use my Mom’s standard scone recipe – the classic kind that calls for butter blended in with a pastry cutter – but switched over to cream scones a year ago after realizing how easy and delicious they are. Cream scones are my standard recipe when a friend drops by for a visit or I need a quick dish for a brunch. These only take five minutes to mix together, and another 12-15 minutes to bake. Stir them up when a guest pulls into the driveway and you’ll have a treat ready by the time everyone’s shaken hands, kissed the babies, and poured a cup of coffee.

CREAM SCONES

from The Joy of Cooking

Preheat oven to 425.

Whisk together

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 Tbsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Stir in:

  • 1/2 cup dried fruit (chopped sour cherries, cranberries, chopped apricots, raisins, blueberries, currants, etc.) Alternatively/additionally, you could throw in some chopped nuts or chocolate chips. I use cherries most often. Currants are traditional, but good luck finding them anywhere around here…

Stir in, just until dry ingredients are moistened:

  • 1.25 cups heavy cream
  • [Optional] 1 tsp grated orange zest

Gather the dough into a ball, and gently knead it against the sides of the bowl 5 or 10 times to collect loose pieces. Transfer to a lightly floured surface and pat into an 8-inch round about 3/4 inch thick. Cut into 8 or 12 wedges.

[Optional] Brush tops with 2 to 3 tsp cream or milk. Also optional, sprinkle the tops with cinnamon and sugar. I usually leave the tops unadorned for simplicity’s sake.

Bake on an ungreased baking sheet until the tops are golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Best when served warm with butter and jam or honey. These also freeze nicely for busy weekday breakfasts.

Easter

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We had a very pleasant Easter – egg dyeing using thrift-store ties on Saturday, church on Sunday morning, neighbors over for Easter dinner, and a very non-Eastery James Bond Skyfall viewing in the evening after a movie and TV-free Lent. For Easter dinner we had:

  • Glazed ham with homemade mustard sauce
  • Cream cheese mashed potatoes
  • Asparagus broiled with butter and parmesan cheese
  • Shredded carrots in vinaigrette
  • Salad with olive oil and balsamic dressing
  • Hot rolls with butter (I made my life simpler by using frozen Sister Schubert’s yeast rolls)
  • Carrot cake with cream cheese frosting (this recipe was fantastic – I doubled the batter, substituted raisins for nuts, and used 1/4 cup applesauce instead of pineapple. I poured the batter into two round cake pans and baked about 25 minutes. The frosting does not need to be doubled)
  • Chocolates
  • Drink options of wine, water, milk, and apple juice (for the kids), followed by coffee with dessert

This was by far the largest number of dishes I’ve ever made for guests. My mother loves to set a beautiful formal table and create elaborate special meals for guests. It’s a gift that she’s perfected into both a hobby and a skill. It took me a few years to realize that following the Biblical command to practice hospitality doesn’t mean I have to follow it in exactly the same way. Everyone has their own hosting style, and what’s fun for her is stressful for me. I love to cook, but the key difference between cooking a meal just for our household vs. for guests is that I’m an introvert. Having guests saps a lot of energy. Having them arrive when I’m already drained from two frenzied hours in the kitchen means I dread their arrival and have a hard time summoning social energy to make them welcome.

Eventually I realized that I needed to create my own style of hospitality – something that would enable us to freely and frequently welcome guests with bounty but simplicity.  We set a goal for the number of times we’d like to welcome guests into our home each month, and went from there. Usually I cook a simple but homemade meal that works no matter how crazy the day. Often that means a big pot of soup, a salad, and bread, along with a quick tidy of the kitchen. Sometimes I mentally plan what to serve, then deliberately cut out one dish. More often than not dessert is just chocolates, if anything. The nice thing about a generation raised with terrible fast food and frozen dinners is that guests are delighted to have plentiful home-cooked meals. Once, we knew we wanted to invite a large group of neighbors over. However, the house badly needed a cleaning after busy work weeks for both of us, nd I didn’t have time to cook for that many. Instead, we had an after-dinner ice-cream social on the back porch: I whipped up a pan of brownies, brewed a pot of coffee, and guests made themselves sundaes with brownies, ice cream, and a few no-prep toppings like berries, nuts, and fudge sauce. It was fun and relaxing for guests and hosts alike.

All that to say, a meal like this is not the norm when hosting guests, but it worked. Our neighbors graciously had us over for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners when Carl worked both holidays this year. We wanted to create something truly special, both for Easter and in thanks to them. We prepped everything we could the night before and I wrote out a quick timetable since three different foods needed three different oven temperatures. Once the cold foods were prepared and everything else was boiling and baking I still had time to sit and read with the kids on the couch before guests arrived. After doing the dishes, I think Carl prefers the simpler three-dish dinners though!

What hosting tactics work for your household and personality?

Edited to add: learning to feed guests hasn’t been a perfectly smooth process. There was the episode of greasy ham and too-dry cornbread, the burned soup where we should’ve just ordered a pizza, and a few meals where I didn’t make enough and had to scramble. Practice makes progress.