Animal, Vegetable, Miracle – Two-Minute Book Review

Title: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle – A Year of Food Life

animal vegetable miracle barbara kingsolver
READ ME

Author: Barbara Kingsolver, with Stephen L. Hopp and Camille Kingsolver

Other works: (by Barbara) The Poisonwood Bible, Prodigal Summer, Small Wonder, The Lacuna, The Bean Trees, etc.

Recommended by: Book Club! I also find that Kingsolver’s work recommends more of itself to be read.

Genre: Non-fiction/Cooking/Poetry (because honestly, everything she writes is full of poetic gorgeousness)

Main Characters: Her family – she, her husband, and two daughters – and the FOOD.

Opinions: I adored this book, as I expected to. I had read a bunch of her fiction, as well as non-fiction essays; Animal, Vegetable, Miracle has the added practical advice, recipes, and lots of horticulture that make it useful and educational, as well as just beautiful. I don’t remember all the opinions from the Book Club meeting, but it gets 4/5 on Goodreads.

A quotation I liked: “Human manners are wildly inconsistent; plenty of people have said so. But this one takes the cake: the manner in which we’re allowed to steal from future generations, while commanding them not to do that to us, and rolling our eyes at anyone who is tediously PC enough to point that out. The conspicious consumption of limited resources has yet to be accepted widely as a spirtual error, or even bad manners.”

What sticks with me: This book is not preachy, but it says a lot about sustainability and the realities of our food culture, especially in North America. It makes me think all the more often about where my food has come from, and whether I want to support the way it’s grown or exported. I also really really want to have dinner with the author.

Recommended to: Farmers, Gardeners, Foodies, Environmentalists, Poets, and people who don’t cook but want to start.

To sum up: Inspiring. Sometimes depressing, but mostly uplifting. Barbara’s writing is always full of compassion for humanity, and this book makes you feel like a friend in her warm kitchen.

***


 

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100 Happy Days – Day 36: Smiles

“See my new smile??” they ask. (And this picture reveals a love for three oranges! Well, clementines. AB was making an orange snowperson with them.)

croissant smiles

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100 Happy Days – Day 25: Black Lentils

I’ll be honest. This day was a hectic, somewhat crappy day. One of those days when my kids are simultaneously screaming before 8:30 a.m.; also, one of those days when I asked myself, “Why did I become a teacher again?” Sigh.

BUT.

There was this bag of mysterious legumes I’d accidentally bought months ago, thinking they were black beans. This was the morning I’d finally Googled “black matpe” and realized they’re just lentils.

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Which was important because A) lentils are my FRIENDS, and B) curried black lentil soup (usually called Tarka Dal) is one of my top three things to order at an Indian restaurant.

So I easily found this slow-cooker recipe for Black Lentils, and put them on to cook during the workday.

Sean got home before I did that day and actually texted me: “What smells like delicious in here?!” He was the one who cooked up some basmati rice for us.

When I came home, I had the same lovely feeling of walking into a warm house that smells like delicious – and dinner’s basically ready to go. And here’s what my not-so-mysterious lentils looked like: THE REAL DEAL. They cooked up creamy and flavourful with minimal effort.

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As it happens, I didn’t have chiles, cilantro, or mustard oil, and I used canned coconut milk/cream instead of whipping cream, but… IT WAS SOOOO YUMMY. And so easy. Not to mention vegan and gluten-free.

Happy.

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Please Don’t Wish Me “Happy Turkey Day”

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Turkey appears courtesy of my son.

Don’t worry: this is not an angry rant or even a grumpy one. A little persnickety, perhaps. It might not even qualify as a rant.

I would just like to ask that you wish me Happy Thanksgiving this year, instead of Happy Turkey Day.

I know y’all are excited about your turkey. Some of you look forward to your roasted bird all year long, and it’s your very favourite thing. That’s great! The more you relish the foods you love, the more they are worth eating.

But Thanksgiving does not deserve to be renamed “Turkey Day.”

{OMG. Is it me, or is the word “turkey” starting to look totally bizarre?}

It’s not just that I’m a vegetarian and haven’t eaten turkey since I was thirteen. I mean, sure, that does factor in; folks write about Turkey Day on their Facebook walls and I’m all, Don’t suppose you’d like to wish ME a Happy Lentil Pie Day? Because trust me, Lentil Pie is a very happy-making food. (By the way, if you are one of those FB “Turkey Day” rhapsodizers, no hard feelings. I still love you.)

It’s not that I wish we could talk more about Plymouth Rock and the Mayflower, or Puritans and Native peoples eating together (they probably ate at least as much venison as turkey anyway).

Mostly, I wish to be wished a Happy Thanksgiving because of the thanks-giving part.

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Appreciating simple gifts.

Let’s be honest: most of our mainstream holidays reek of commercialism at this point. Valentine’s Day is about chocolate, Easter is about chocolate, Victoria Day is about fireworks and drinking, Christmas is about shopping, Boxing Day is about shopping, and, in the U.S., Thanksgiving is about shopping too. Well, that and football.

I’m not saying we must all devoutly return to the religious and/or patriarchal and/or monarchist roots of each holiday. But, at the risk of sounding sanctimonious, could we just keep this one holiday, at least in Canada, for thankfulness?

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Autumn colours are good for the brain.

Yes, it’s undeniable that Thanksgiving is revolves around a certain amount of consumption. But ideally, it’s the simpler side of consumption – and one time when we all consume with reverence. When we think of words like harvest and plenty and gratitude, and really feel their meanings deep in our souls.

These days, most of us don’t do things like get our hands in the soil, or pray for rain, or reap the literal fruits of our labour. Despite this – or perhaps because of this – we need to keep in mind that being nourished is a profound blessing. It’s important to think of what it took for that food to be on our table.

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Seriously magnificent food.

I look forward to Thanksgiving because of those beautiful moments where gratitude is almost tangible. Walking in chilly autumn sun. Catching a glimpse of bright trees against sky that renders me speechless. Coming inside and having my glasses fog up in the sudden coziness. Smelling delicious things cooking (even the ones I’m not going to eat). Looking past candle flames at a feast of colourful foods, and a circle of people I love.

It’s good for our souls to not just notice, but cherish, our good fortune. Especially the simple gifts.

Thanksgiving is the point.

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Remembering What We’re Built To Do

sunshine through the trees
Image from http://www.ForestWander.com

When I was 18, a boy at Camp wrote a poem for me. Although I didn’t requite his crush, I still consider his poem one of the most romantic things I’ve ever received, because of its candour. The second line was “She’s just like sunshine through the trees,” and to this day I still feel kinda thrilled about that. Sunshine through the trees is one of my favourite things in the whole world.

A while back, I heard on CBC about a study showing that spending time in green space improves our mental health. Apparently, being in the presence of leafy trees actually makes us happier.

I think most of us can vouch for this. At the end of a long, white winter, I’m sure I am not alone in feeling an almost physical thirst for those luscious green leaves. It’s nice to get this confirmation: we are built to feel that way.

Family Camp at NeeKauNis last month was full of reminders of the things we are built to do and enjoy.

Here we are, in the age of modern medicine, where Westerners rarely worry about diseases that used to kill us in great numbers – smallpox and tuberculosis, for example – and we’ve handily encouraged a phalanx of new maladies all by ourselves.

We eat packaged food so far removed from its sources that we don’t even recognize the ingredients; then we wonder why we have troubles with our various organs and our energy levels.

We’ve surrounded ourselves with harmful chemicals in our food, clothes, grass, household products, and everything plastic; then we are devastated when opportunistic cancers have a field day.

We spend hours a day sitting, hunched over some screen or other, often sacrificing sleep for addictive overstimulation; then we realize – too late, sometimes – that our heart or lungs or joints or brains don’t work properly anymore.

We live in our container-homes, put in our earbuds so no live people can distract us, and avoid eye contact with the humans who serve us coffee or check out our groceries; then we shake our heads at the rise of prescription anti-depressant use.

I’m not speaking in self-righteousness. I do most of these things too. I’m not condemning modern medicine either, or technology in general. I really appreciate the benefits of ultra-portable computers, affordable antibiotics, high-speed transportation, laparoscopic surgery, and the wondrous capacity of the internet. I like Cheetos and Toaster Strudel, I watch TV on Netflix, I love Facebook, and as I’ve mentioned, I am very grateful for the existence of prescription anti-depressants.

But when I’m in a restaurant and see a family of four at the next table, not speaking, each absorbed in a separate hand-held device, my husband and I look at each other and quietly vow: That will never be us.

And at Family Camp, I remember that when those contemporary facets of life drop away for a few days, it does good to every layer of our selves.

It helps that there are children of all ages there. They’re all over the things that humans are meant to do. Just watching and listening to them is therapy.

built for 3

Children run and jump and climb and slide. They laugh their heads off, and cry hard when they need to. They sing and dance with joy. They build and knock down. They splash and spin. They scrunch their fingers and toes in the sand. They get dirty with real dirt. They want stories, hugs, their own little space, and their own accomplishments.

I want those things, too.

When I think about what really, actually makes me feel good, it’s mostly simple things. The things I’m built to do. The same things humans have been doing for centuries – or longer.

Dancing until I am out of breath.

Cooking for someone I love.

Making art.

Getting lost in a great book.

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Sitting in dappled shade. (Sunshine through the trees.)

Hugging.

Plunging into cool water on a hot day.

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Sipping a hot drink on a cold day.

Listening to music I love – or better yet, making some.

Hearing breezes, birds, crickets, rivers, waves.

Writing.

Looking closely at something beautiful.

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Reading to my kids.

Going to bed when I’m really tired.

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Walking in fresh air.

Laughing.

Eating something truly delicious.

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Sharing thoughts and feelings with a friend.

Doing a job well.

Having an adventure.

I know, they read like clichés, worthy of a curlicued garden tile. But there are reasons the inspirational-message market is so successful. Mostly, it’s because

1) It really IS good for us to dance as if nobody’s watching, sing like nobody’s listening, etc., because we’re built to.

And

2) We busy humans are remarkably good at forgetting the value of those seemingly easy things.

It’s so easy to get caught up in the thousand little jobs you have to do on a daily basis. I could easily spend all of every day doing small, necessary, basically mindless tasks. Which is not satisfying at all.

For me, I know, I need to think of those good-for-my-soul things as medicine. Taking my medicine is my responsibility, something I must do for my health. And in order to take it, I have to notice it. I have to be truly mindful and present.

That way, any time I can grab a bit of dappled shade or kid snuggles or good conversation, they will heal what ails me.

What precious things are you built to do?

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I am a square. (And such a fortunate one.)

This past Sunday, as you know, was Mother’s Day, and also my thirty-sixth birthday. It was pretty much as lovely as I could have wished for.

You also could say it started on Saturday, when I got to (1) take an impromptu nap on the reclining couch upon arrival at my parents’ house, while members of my family took my children outside to play, and (2) travel to Toronto, footloose and fancy(/kid)-free, get treated to dinner with my brother and sisters and Uncle D, and get treated to see Auntie Beth perform in a choir concert with Singing OUT.

Baby AB gave me my first Mother’s Day gift on Sunday by sleeping in until EIGHT a.m. before asking for mama-snacks. First time! WOOT!!

My children also gave me a new snazzy purple lunch bag as a gift (not at all orchestrated by my Hubbibi, who was offended by my old lunch bag which was slightly on the dingy side).

The rest of my birthday included:

  • both of my immediate families, in full, plus one of my cousins and two of my aunts;
  • the best weather we’ve had so far this year;
  • lots of Facebook-friend love, and a call from my mom-in-law;
  • brunch – is there anything better than brunch?? – and on the DECK, no less;
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Finally!! Outdoor eating!
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Cranberry-lemon coffee cake by Emi, fruit and yogurt, chips (instead of home fries) and Reese’s Pieces (since I don’t eat bacon, of course). CUZ IT’S MY BIRTHDAY. And I’m pretty sure the food groups are covered.
  • a nap in the hammock;
  • treats all day long;
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Smartfood and homemade strawberry spritzer by Beth. Brought to me like I was a princess or something. 🙂
  • getting to fix one of my costumes with hardly any interruption;
  • stories and playing and hugs and kisses with my living kids;

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  • quiet time to reflect on and remember the one I can’t hug;
  • a family walk along the trail to the boardwalk (during which we thrillingly saw dogs, birds, frogs, bugs, snakes, AND a surprise geocache!)
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A mama, two uncles, a wee hiker, and an auntie (photo by Luc).
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We like peering into the fascinating world of the marsh (photo by Luc).
  • attractive gifts with which to adorn myself;
  • a free massage from D (who is studying to be a naturopathic doctor and managed to give me more neck mobility than I’ve had in weeks);
  • barbecued Portobello-Swiss burgers with tomato and avocado, followed by peanut butter cup ice cream;
  • coming home to a very clean house, thanks to my Hubbibi.

It did not include:

  • dishwashing (by me);
  • meal preparation (by me);
  • housework of any kind (by me);
  • or a single diaper change (by me).

IT WAS AWESOME. I couldn’t ask for any more. Thank you, sweet family.

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Toddler Tracks: Baby AB and the Snackalicious Journey

Dear Baby AB,

Here’s another chapter of the Chronicles of You at One Year and a Half. This one’s about food!

You and food have a great relationship. I’m really glad I read Child of Mine by Ellyn Satter (thank you, Leslie) and Baby-Led Weaning by Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett (thank you, Megan) before you started solid food, because you are quite a flexible and enthusiastic eater of all kinds of great things. I sure hope you stay that way!

You have enjoyed lasagne and chili and vegetable stirfry and spinach omelette. You showed a liking for curried vegetables and lentils before you were even one year old. Most recently, you delighted in some quiche with red peppers and kale, and some potato leek soup.

It is such a relief to have a kid who eats a variety of foods. (No offense to your brother, especially because I partly blame myself for his pickiness, but his rigidity regarding food is exhausting.)

There are a few things you won’t eat so far – cauliflower and avocado come to mind – but you’ll try almost anything.

Of course, you have your favourite things – things that you get vocal about. Pancakes and pizza are two examples. You see a pizza box and you go all “Pizza! PIZZA! PIZZA!!!” Like a kid from a commercial.

Also, you munch on seaweed snacks like they’re going out of style, and your preferred cooked veggie is broccoli (which you originally called “boppily”).

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Broccoli roccs!

And you love chocolate. I don’t even know if we’d given your brother any chocolate by this age, but you first tried it many months ago, and fell directly in love. You only have it in very small amounts, but you’d eat lots if I let you. You always demand, in your most authoritative voice, “More chockit.”

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Mmm. Chockit cookie.

And I’m going to have to watch out, because you’ve already been known to help yourself to foods that are within your reach. What a go-getter.

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If someone accidentally leaves the crackers in the living room, said crackers will be claimed.
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And if not, Baby AB takes matters into her own hands. Bonus: cupboard-sitting!

Mostly, it’s just fun watching you deal with food. Rice vermicelli is particularly funny.

And just lately, you really want to do it yourself. You’re surprisingly good with peas and a spoon. Yogurt and a spoon makes a big ol’ mess, but it’s hard to say no to your gusto (and I’m sure yogurt’s soothing on the skin). And I suppose your hair has probably benefited from the various greasy things you rub in there on a regular basis.

My most cherished hope, when I watch you relishing a meal, is that you will always have such a wonderful and healthy relationship with food. That you will always feel free to love eating, and enjoy all different kinds of cuisine. That you will be unafraid to own your appetite – and that, consequently, your appetite will never own you.

And just so you know… the most delicious thing in any room, at any moment, is your adorable self. *SMOOCH*

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An Unabashed Christmas Post

Now that my li’l family seems to be out of the woods for now, sickness-wise (yes, my kids did trade germs with each other), it’s time to get FESTIVE!

I’ve realized something, as an adult: Christmas to me, now, is all about the season.

It was a fairly gradual shift from being super-duper-mega-crazy excited about PRESENTS (as a kid) to… you know, enjoying presents but being much more excited about other things.

Such as food!

  • Clementines – we only buy them when they’re really good (even though these days they’re in grocery stores well past their peak).
  • Cookies made specifically for Christmas… they’re just specialer. I’ve been lucky to be part of a cookie exchange for several years now – so all the more special cookies!!
  • Egg nog – but ONLY President’s Choice World’s Best Egg Nog. No other kind is as good. (Well, maybe Organic Meadow.) And don’t even get me started on fat-free egg nog… A travesty.
  • Nutcracker Sweet Tea – we can’t find it in stores these days, so my sister kindly smuggled some over the border facilitated an Amazon order for me. It’s heavenly with the egg nog mentioned above.

nutcracker sweet

  • Christmas meals – some are different every year and some are recurring favourites, but I get stoked about them, and I don’t even eat turkey. (Posting recipes soon.) Folks bring their A-game dishes on Christmas.

And music. I could listen to Christmas music nonstop for all of December, but I think I’d drive my Hubbibi crazy. So we strike a balance, I think. As I’ve mentioned, traditional carols are my preference, but I like a lot of non-carols too. Some of my favourite holiday albums to listen to are:

  • David Francey’s Carols for a Christmas Eve – Just simple and cozy and, well… I just adore David Francey. Luckily, so does the whole family. (Good King Wenceslas is my favourite on this one.)
  • Canadian Brass’s Sweet Songs of Christmas – And anything else Canadian Brass does about Christmas. Those guys rock. We saw them live once, and if you’ve never seen a tuba player “melt” while playing Frosty the Snowman, you’re missing out.

xmas canadian brass

  • Les petits chanteurs du Mont-Royal’s Christmas Around the World – It took me a while to get used to the unfamiliar carols in different languages, but now I love them.
  • Kevin Ramessar’s Acoustic Christmas – Beautiful guitar arrangements of Christmas carols (Away in a Manger is my fave). I would love this album even if Kevin weren’t a (wickedly talented) university friend of mine. Ahem-hem.

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  • The Barra-MacNeils’ The Christmas Album – A Canadian-Celtic folk album, with unusual versions of carols – some Gaelic (Christmas in Killarney is my fave).
  • Steve Wingfield’s Sleigh Bell Swing – My mom sent me a cassette tape of this as part of a care package when I was in university, and I still use that tape – it’s worth it. (It IS on iTunes, though. Silver Bells is my fave.)
  • Three Quarter Ale’s Shall We Gather By the Fire – A Renaissance Faire trio with an album that runs the gamut of styles from cheesy to sublime (Ding Dong Merrily on High is my fave).

christmas three quarter ale

Also, there are a few individual songs that make me cry, in a good way. I think it has to do with connecting Christmas and motherhood.

And of course there are holiday movies that must be enjoyed. Our family collection includes:

  • Mickey’s Christmas Carol (including the short with Chip and Dale’s shenanigans in Mickey’s tree)

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  • The Grinch Who Stole Christmas (animated version with Boris Karloff)
  • Miracle on 34th Street (1947 version)

Miracle on 34th

  • White Christmas (the best things happen while you’re dancing)
  • It’s a Wonderful Life (still breaks my heart every single time)

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  • The Family Stone (I always laugh out loud, even though I know what’s coming)
  • Joyeux Noël (again with the FEELINGS, man oh man).

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And of course there’s The Holiday and Love Actually – not exactly Christmas movies, but they get an in for being set at Christmastime.

Plus there’s

  • Pretty lights
  • Christmas trees and wreaths and boughs and whatnot (this image – and the design behind it – is from my friend Ardis at Rustic Retrievals)

greenery at rustic retrievals

  • Snow (I hope – it still makes me happy for the first couple months)
  • People singing together (I wish that happened more in life)
  • Wood fires (at my parents’ house at least)
  • Games and silly times with people I love
  • Reminiscing
  • Spending lots of time in pajamas
  • Giving gifts that turn out to be perfect
  • Everything reflected in the shining eyes of children – especially mine.

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Things to be grateful for when travelling with small children

Travelling with little kids is tough and stressful. As such, it would be easy to kvetch about the monkey wrench in our travels to my cousin’s wedding in New Mexico last weekend – the storm that delayed our flight from Buffalo, meaning the folks at Washington Dulles didn’t have our gate ready, meaning we missed our connecting flight to Albuquerque, meaning we had to stay overnight outside DC and had to take an itinerary “through” L.A. to get to NM the next morning, meaning we missed almost a whole day we could have spent relaxing with family members we see far too rarely. I can’t deny it was a shame that we missed that time.

But just prior to our departure, I had finished reading Little Bee, by Chris Cleave. It’s about a young girl who escapes to the U.K. from war-torn Nigeria and then spends two years in a refugee detention centre and then escapes from there illegally (don’t worry, I’m not telling you anything you don’t find out straightaway). Great read, and it really puts things in perspective. It reminded me how easy things like travelling are for me, being legal, Canadian, white, financially stable, etc.

And overall, even with the glitch, things went well.

First, a few Things I Was Grateful to Have Along:

  • Travelling companions. On the way to New Mexico, our kids had two aunts, two uncles, and two grandparents around in addition to their parents. This made unexpected waiting times in airports MUCH more manageable.
  • The Ergo (baby carrier). Honestly, I don’t know what we would have done without it. Baby AB napped in it many times in five days, and even when she was awake, it would calm her down to be in it. LOVE our Ergo.
  • Baby Mum-Mums. I can’t deny they work in a (hungry/fussy/wiggly) pinch: distracting and edible. And she’s neater with them these days.
  • Other airplane snacks. The penguin crackers, trail mix, etc. ended up being even more important than we’d predicted, since we had that much extra airplane and airport time. And a very picky four-year-old.
  • The iPad. E spent a rather excessive amount of time playing Angry Birds, but it sure smooths things out when you have an immediate activity that requires no other equipment (doesn’t even need a tray table) and completely engages the little guy.
  • The regular pad. I am very much torn when it comes to screen time for kids (but that’s another blog post). Suffice it to say, I was happy E spent some time with his notepad and coloured pencils too.

Other Stuff I Was Grateful For During Travel:

  • My parents – and grandparents – who made it affordable for us all to come.
  • My dad, who organized and booked almost everything, figuring out best options for hotel and car rental, and braving the cruel arbitrarity of flight prices.
  • Nice border guards – in both directions – who wished us well as we crossed with zero hassle.
  • E’s enthusiasm, which really kept us all going when things went wrong. He was a total trouper, despite a couple of short nights in a row. It’s hard to be too upset when your preschooler is hopping with joy at the moving walkways, escalators, shuttle trains, and – oh yeah – airplane rides. All the airports’ decorative elements (art, rainbow walkways, light-up floors) are worth double with a little kid. Even at 11 p.m. on the bus to the hotel in DC, when Baby AB had finally had enough and indulged in a good howl, E was comforting her: “Isn’t this amazing??” When we finally arrived in NM, having spent most of two days doing the plane thing, he said, “I wanna go on some more planes!!” He is now an expert. He can talk with ease about departure gates, and refers to planes as “aircraft”.
  • The charismatic rationality and politesse of Uncle D, who, when we missed our flight, decided not to bother with the giant grumpy Customer Service line, and instead charmed vouchers for food and hotel from some staff at the United gate. (They were going to say it was on us, because it was a weather-related delay, but he diplomatically pointed out that if our gate had been ready, we could have made our connection.)
  • A voucher-funded cheese quesadilla at Fuddrucker’s, served by a sympathetic staffperson even though it was closing time.
  • A voucher-funded stay at the Westin Washington Dulles, a seriously swanky hotel with pillow-top mattresses, leaf-shaped soap, and lovely-smelling lotion that lasted me for the rest of the trip. Even if we only had about seven hours to enjoy the place.
  • My endearing baby. She was a trouper too, beyond all expectations. On every flight, people commented on how well she did. You know how air travel can be a tricky-yet-boring exercise in pretending other people aren’t in your personal space? Impossible with a baby. She stared directly into the eyes of my seat-mates, sometimes even reaching out to caress or whack their arms, and they all succumbed. Don’t know how I got so lucky.
  • The Magic Boobs. They helped immeasurably with avoiding screaming-baby syndrome. TOTALLY worth any awkwardness at whipping out the nipple in very close proximity to strangers.
  • The Sky Mall guy. I think Baby AB got a crush on him. She told him “Hi!” a bunch of times, and then there was some pretty heavy licking. She learned to look for him in the seat pocket on every flight.

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  • The kindness of strangers. The lady who let Baby AB play with her bracelets, the young woman who held her when I needed to find something in my bag, the different men who brought out their inner dads to flirt with her, the guy who changed seats so our family could sit together, the flight attendant who chatted with E and gave him a set of gold pin-on wings to match the blue ones Grammie gave him. People were really, really nice. It made everything easier. (MOTL.)
  • The vigilance of Donna, sole flight attendant on the little plane between L.A. and Albuquerque. Thanks to her, we now know ALL the rules: no carry-on straps in the vicinity of feet for takeoff/landing (lest they become entangled during taxiing); baby cannot be in “harness” during takeoff/landing; if you’re at the front of the plane with no seat in front of you for stowing things, overhead bins are the only option; baby must be in (the lap of the person in) a certain seat because of something about oxygen masks, and if you forget and start to pass the wiggly thing across the aisle to Daddy to give your arms a break, DONNA WILL REMIND YOU. NO BABY-PASSING. We were SO SAFE on that flight.
  • Arriving at our destination! Especially after the slick L.A. airport, it was a relief to get to Albuquerque where everything’s all granoladobe. (That’s my new term for the appealing mix of New Mexican and hippie culture.)
  • On the way home, getting to see Kevin McDonald (of Kids in the Hall fame) was a thrill for us – no question, it was DEFINITELY him – even though we couldn’t get up the gumption to talk to him. Shoulda put Baby AB on the job.

Other Stuff I Was Grateful For:

  • Wonderful extended family – both genetically related and assimilated – who make it worth the trip. You are fantastic and I love you all.
  • Staying at the America’s Best Value Inn (four stars) on Alameda, not the one on Paisano that Sean and I found first (three stars and quite sketchy).
  • Not being actually sick. I felt really ill on the Saturday morning and had visions of trying to sit through a wedding with a stomach bug, but then I had a nap with my daughter and felt all better. It must have been exhaustion/stress.
  • Hot tub and swimming pool at the hotel, where we all got to witness Baby AB going French.
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Stylin’ baby suit.
  • Bugs Bunny, for giving cachet to the concept of making a wrong turn in Albuquerque. Because by Jove, every time we went anywhere, that’s what we did. (Well, almost every time.)
bugs bunny albuquerque
Yep, you shoulda.
  • Albuquerque’s charm. It’s not like I know the city well, but I was immediately captivated by the colourfulness. From parking meters to license plates to whole buildings, stuff is painted fun colours. (Or colors. Or colores, I suppose.) Then there’s all the adobe and an obvious effort to make things harmonize with the New Mexican style. Also, having lots of Spanish names to say is fun.
albuquerque rainbow fence
Rainbow fence (photo from flickerhivemind.net) that made me think of popsicles, obviously.
IMG_4290
You think it’s someone’s living room… but it’s our gate at Albuquerque Sunport.
  • New Mexican food! And Old Mexican food. I love real corn tortillas and pinto beans and red chili sauce and cheese. We got a ton of delicious, authentic food from El Modelo and now I really wish we had such a place where I live.

    IMG_4261
    What to look at while waiting for Mexican food.

 

IMG_4259
Chilies and ivy at El Pinto – a very pretty restaurant with apparently so-so food that we passed up in favour of El Modelo.
  • A lovely wedding. Even though it’s harder to relax and enjoy an evening celebration with (jet-lagged) kids in tow, it was a moving ceremony, with a personal blessing from each of the parents, followed by original, individual vows from bride and groom – each of whom has a wonderful way with words. They are clearly an amazing team. Plus, thumbs up for the delicious dinner, beautiful private space, decorations, dancing… And the rain even held off.
  • The seemingly effortless friendship between E and his birthday-buddy cousin (their birthdays are one day apart, and this year she happened to be exactly twice his age): tag, hide-and-seek, exploring, pillow fights, and a trip to the zoo = best buds.
  • A bit of quality time with some of the best people I know, whom I am proud to call family. Especially great getting to know (a little) the bride, the groom-to-be in the upcoming September wedding, and the mama of the next baby cousin-to-be. Extraordinary people.
  • My amazing husband. This trip was a LOT of stress and hassle to deal with for such a brief weekend. Wonderful as my family is, he is not as dearly attached to them as I am. He never complained about the delays, the heat, the things that didn’t go right… On Father’s Day, he stayed behind with the napping baby so I could hang out with my relatives at the post-wedding brunch, and then he took his son to the zoo (which was apparently fascinating but also sweltering and very crowded). He’s a fantastic dad.
What a guy.
What a guy.

BTW. Baby AB cut her sixth tooth on the trip, AND invented a new smile. She is now favouring what I call “the squinchy smile”. She practiced it on a young guy eating a hot pretzel in the Houston Airport, and as he grinned back he commented, “That’ll make your day.” Then she used it on a twentysomething couple at our gate in Chicago, and she and the guy ended up making all kinds of cool tongue-faces at each other. (She has good taste. He looked remarkably like Ryan Gosling.) ALSO, the clan taught her to say “Bye-bye.” It’s winsome.

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Creamy Spring Cauliflower-Cheddar-Sorrel Soup

Our family is lucky enough to be able to buy super-fresh, uber-local veggies from gardener friends of ours. Our first batch included pea shoots, green onions, rhubarb, and sorrel.

sorrel
Image from urbancultivator.net – but it looks just like our sorrel.

To my knowledge, I had never cooked with or even eaten sorrel. It sounded like something from Outlander. But I figured, sorrel is a green leafy thing, must be good.

And it is! But rather strange, too. I was warned that it’s “tart”, and it is. Sour, actually, in a yummy way, but strong enough that I don’t think I could eat a whole salad of sorrel. We sprinkled bits of it in our salad the other day, but would take a long time to use up all the sorrel we have at that rate.

So yesterday, I looked up sorrel recipes, and read that cooking the sorrel tones it down a bit. I found some recipes that sounded all right, especially soups, but ultimately decided to wing it.

This is how I tend to cook: winging it. Like my mom and siblings, I rarely use a recipe except to bake. And I’m not good at recording what I do when cooking, at least not with any meticulosity. But when this particular soup turned out really well, some friends asked if there was a recipe. So here is something approximating a recipe.

  • I coarsely chopped up a medium-large onion and two large cloves of garlic and sautéed them in melted “better butter“* on medium-high heat until they were getting brownish.
  • Meanwhile, I chopped up two smallish potatoes (skins on) and then threw them in and crumbled half a head of cauliflower on top.
  • I had some frozen vegetable stock (2-3 cups) so I put that in to melt into everything with the lid on.
  • I took two big handfuls of sorrel, barely chopped them, and added them a few minutes later. The stock had melted and was a nice brown colour from the onions.
  • Once the cauliflower was tender, I took out a couple pieces with one piece of onion and mashed it with a fork to feed to the baby. (This step is optional. I did notice that, with cauliflower for dinner, her night diaper a lot stinkier than usual, despite being just pee. Just in case you do have a baby and follow this step. Hmm. Was that an overshare?)
  • By this time, all the veggies were tender and the sorrel had turned brown (the Internet warned me about this – it’s because of the oxalic acid). I added some whole milk (maybe a cup?) and then took The Wand (immersion blender) to the whole thing.
  • It was a bit thick so I added a bit more milk and some water (probably another cup’s worth at least) until I liked the look of it, you know, sort of a restauranty consistency.
  • The last thing to add was about a cup-and-a-half of grated old cheddar, which I stirred in until blended.
  • Then I tasted it, and I was like, “Where’s the sorrel? I don’t even taste it!” So I took another modest handful of the sorrel and chopped it more finely and put it in and did not blend it. It quickly wilted right in and made itself at home.
  • I added salt to taste. (Our salt is actually ground butcher salt, which contains soupçons of rosemary, sage, thyme, and marjoram, which were very pleasant but not necessary.)
  • We also added fresh black pepper at the table.
Creamy Spring Cauliflower-Cheddar-Sorrel Soup
I didn’t serve it like this originally. These are the leftovers we had today, shamelessly studiously dressed up for y’all.

Done!

Everyone at the table over the age of 4 called it delicious. I was frankly surprised that my experiment worked so well. We agreed it was very nice with the extra bits of sorrel, which still have an acidic kick but somehow work anyway. I like to think that the blended sorrel provided the context for them to shine.

Creamy Spring Cauliflower-Cheddar-Sorrel Soup
Looks pretty good?

Try it y’self! Tirrah!

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*My mom introduced our family to “better butter” ages ago: you soften some salted butter in a container and add vegetable oil in equal proportion, then (carefully) Wand them together. It cuts the saturated fat and salt of the butter while retaining good flavour; it’s cheaper than pure butter all the time; and most importantly, it’s much more spreadable.

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