It is incredibly life giving to be able to call a friend and tell her about how you were up six times last night with a fussy baby…about the grocery store line meltdown that happened despite the steady stream of graham crackers flowing from your diaper bag…about how your toddler just vomited all over the couch and you spent twenty minutes hyperventilating about killing a fake bug…and to have her sigh, or laugh, into the phone and say, “I totally understand.”
I am blessed with many friends, but only a few who are walking lock-step with me in the treanches of toddlerhood. Rachel is one of those friends, and she and I spend a lot of time talking about what it means to thrive in this season, significant conversations that are punctuated with urgent trips to the potty and requests for help climbing up the slide, but significant nonetheless.
This summer, she and I started scheming about a little day retreat. A day away from the diapers and dishes. A day of quiet. A day in nature. A day to reflect. And of course, a day to eat. And the amazing things is, we (with the help of our amazing baby-daddies) made it happen.
We set out on a Sunday morning, armed with coffee cake and a thermos full of good coffee large enough to sustain a small family through the apocalypse. We drove into rural Wisconsin, ending in Grantsburg at the Crex Meadows Wildlife Area, where we sat near a lake for hours, seeing only a handful of people while there.
Okay, so remember last week when I was all like “grill everything! summer forever!” and promised not to go all pumpkin on you yet?
Well. I caved.
And made you soup.
But you have to understand what happened. Last Thursday, it was eighty-eight degrees. And humid. I turned our air conditioner on.
But today? Today is cloudy, with a high temperature thirty degrees lower than that. We’re in that awkward time when it’s too cold to keep the windows open, but not quite cold enough to turn on the heat. So we’re dressing in layers at night like we’re camping and wearing socks again. Socks!
Can we just talk about September in Minnesota? It’s arguably the most beautiful month of the year here, with gorgeous temps and low humidity. Though changing leaves speak to us of fall, it’s still feels a lot like summer, and the farmers market tables are this cornucocupia of both seasons.
People begin to dress in layers, little pumpkins taking the place of their pupils for a few weeks. And that makes sense. I’ve been there. But this year, I’m clinging to summer with death-grip knuckles. Perhaps it’s because school started here, and the high schoolers are back to walking down our sidewalk, yelling expletives as though they want me to have to explain to my two-year-old what the F word means. Perhaps it’s the fact that today is not slated to be more than 68 degrees outside, with a dreary gray sky and rain to boot. But winter, you guys. It’s coming. And I’m kind of dreading it.
On a Road Trip, A Week Before our Month-Long Sugar Fast Began:
Me: I want Dairy Queen.
Eric: (drinking Mountain Dew) No, no we don’t need that stuff.
Me: Fine, I’ll settle for gummy worms.
Eric: Here, have some Mountain Dew…it’s basically liquid gummy worms.
Owen: (rifling through our diaper bag…finds wrapped sanitary pad and triumphantly holds it up) Hey! This is a present for Milo’s birthday!
(…a few hours later…)
Owen: (finds same pad) Hey! This can be a card for Granpa Ron!
You guys are food people, right? I assume because you read this blog that you, like myself, might also be the kind of person who watches the Food Network. We don’t actually have cable, but due to a free-Hulu-trial-turned-3-month-subscription (darn you, Master Chef Junior binge), I’ve been watching a lot of culinary TV.
The other day, I was folding laundry and decided to give Throwdown with Bobby Flay a try. I thought…I like Bobby Flay, and mmmmmm let’s watch a half hour of tikka masala.
Why didn’t you guys warn me? Throwdown with Bobby Flay might have the worst premise in all of TV. Here’s a breakdown:
Both Eric and I were born country mice. We grew up in homes surrounded by space and corn fields, few neighbors, and an impossible amount of trees. We grew up to the sounds of rushing creeks and the occasional coyote and stern warnings about watching out for deer as we grabbed keys and headed out the door at night in high school. We grew up where dogs were let out the back door to do their business where they pleased, usually and courteously near the edge of the woods.
Now, we, and our children by default, are city mice. Instead of acres of backyard, we have city parks with playground equipment and splashpads. We are within minutes authentic Indian curries, Greek falafels, and Vietnamese pho. We take city buses and can listen to different languages spoken in our grocery store aisles. We hear sirens and fireworks and planes that fly low overhead, and we could go and see good live music almost every night of the week.
Remember winter, guys? Remember when my baby was born and it was -25* windchill outside the hospital room window? Remember the first time you heard the words Polar Vortex?
And now, here we are, in August. And really, I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed summer weather more than what we’ve had this summer, amIright, fellow Upper Midwesterners? That same Polar Vortex has given us unseasonably cool weather. Low heat, low humidity. I think we’ve turned our air conditioners on twice.
The days have been just warm enough that you’re still fine in a skirt and tank top but not hot and sticky to the point that you seriously consider sleeping in your spider-filled basement. It just hasn’t been the kind of heat where you want to punch something in the face.
It is a rainy Friday morning, and I have spent the last twelve hours waiting for Owen to throw up.
He woke up from his nap the day before with a pretty high fever, and now I am playing vomit roullette as to where he would strike first..in his bed? on the couch? all over the carpet? It is, of course, the perfect time for him (and subsequently the rest of us) to be sick because we have house guests – Eric’s brother David and his wife Julia – sleeping upstairs, with more coming in a day or two, plus a family reuinion to travel to later the next week.
The definition of listless, Owen is sitting on the couch with his beloved monkey, as Daniel Tiger sings, over and over, that it’s okay to feel sad sometimes. Elsa is fed, and I have literally just poured my coffee when he starts to cry.
I run over to the couch, and last night’s milk is all over him, the monkey, and the cushion he’s on. I gag briefly as I enter into that special moment of realizing that I am the one who has to clean this up.
He is crying as I pull him off the couch, and I am mentally calculating just how much vomit is sinking into the couch cushion as I rip his shirt off and run to get him some water. Owen is briefly pacified, so I turn to the couch to rip off the cover. I get the front corner removed and then move the couch a few inches away from the wall to do the back corner.
That’s when I see it.
So here we are in August…coming up to the tidal wave that is tomato season. And you and everyone you know will be eating bruschetta for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, while I will be sitting in my kitchen trying not to resent you for my fresh basil allergy.
It’s really only bruschetta that gets me. I see the bright red tomatoes sitting on my counter, and I can actually almost hear them asking me to make them into bruschetta – the ultimate goal of every tomato out there.
I never thought that I would be the person who purposely sought out shade at the beach. I’ve always had a love affair of sorts with the sun, but now I’m the first person to push my stroller and six months’ worth of graham crackers, diapers, and sunblock right under a tree to lay out the blanket.
I never thought that I would be this behind on our mail and laundry. Seriously. I used to be on top of things. I had systems. And time. But now? Our mail is in an unsorted heap roughly the size of a small dog. And the unfolded baskets of laundry have basically become additional pieces of furniture in our living room.
I never thought that would enjoy coffee. I have a very specific memory involving my dad’s thermos and a long road trip and an hour spent begging for a drink before being offered a taste from the dented, warm thermos. I tried it, spat it out, and briefly convulsed. But now, I look to it as my lifeblood most mornings.
What’s worse than being sick?
Being sick in the summer.
You guys, my kids and I have had it all the last few weeks. We’re like an ice cream truck of germs…we walk down the street, and every kid that approaches us leaves with some form of illness we’ve had over the past month.
What’s that you want, sonny? A runny nose with an additional deep chest cought?
Coming right up.
Say, little girl, you ordered a high fever with some vomit and an unexplained rash?
Be right with you.
Well, ma’am, you’re in luck – we just got a fresh batch of persistent sore throat in back. Buy one, get a sinus infection free.
It’s been ridiculous. I mean, this is summer. And despite the germs, I think we’re trying to make the most of it…but really, we’ve been sick for most of July. Something’s gotta give.
Me: I wonder if he has an ear infection. He keeps tugging at his ears.
Eric: Owen, does your ear hurt? How does your ear feel?
Owen: It smells like bugs.
Eric & Me: (confused…reaching for more coffee)
If you know me at all, you know that the way to my heart is through a good pun. There is a tiny portion of my brain that virtually never turns off, which constantly filters the words I’m hearing for pun potential. I’ve literally had a friends text me puns they’ve thought of…or (pre smart phones) call describe a fabulous billboard pun they’d passed. It’s my love language.
So when I first heard of Amaize Sweet Corn, it immediately earned a special place in my heart. Amaze. Maize. You see where this is going. And I’m pretty sure I’d love its creators - George Crookham and Bruce Hobdey – who, after over 22 years of developing this unique sweet corn, named it something so utterly clever.
I’ve literally always been a list person. As a young kid, I would meticulously pour over the toy catalogs that came in the mail just after Thanksgiving and then write a thorough list of all my Christmas hopes and dreams, detailing exactly which Rock Tumbler set and which color Pow-Pow-Power Wheels jeep I needed.
So naturally, when Pinterest came around, I did what any normal 29-year-old would do and made myself a visual Christmas list, cleverly titled Want. For the past two years, the cookbook Extending the Table has been on that Pinterest board, and for two years, nobody’s gotten it for me. I knew I’d love it…it’s in the same family of cookbooks as my beloved Simply in Season, as well as More with Less.
I entered the workforce around the age of 14 as a proud busser/hostess at Scuttlebutts – a restaurant in my hometown of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. It was there that I learned the finer points of clearing tables, refilling drinks, and through gritted teeth, patiently telling demanding patrons that no, there was nothing I could to bump them up the list on our 40-minute wait.
You see, Lake Geneva is a town of about 8,000 people that swells to close to 20,000 in the summer, when droves of upper-class Chicagoans descend on the small town, hauling speed boats and jet skis behind their luxury vehicles. It was as obnoxious as it sounds.
Yet, those tourists were my bread and butter as I eventually became a waitress at Scuttlebutts. It was a good job that I held over many summers, but those were also some of the longest, hottest summer days of my life. Our tiny kitchen had no AC, so working there was an exercise in controlling back sweat. And one of my favorite ways to refuel while waiting for an order to be ready was to take in a huge spoonful from our industrial-sized cans of whipped cream.
I used to be afraid of double crust pies. Pies are already high maintenance enough, and so to add a crust to the top seemed like a fool’s errand. It could rip. It could be chewy. Worse…it could burn.
And so I stuck to crumble-topped pies. They seemed somehow safer, more predictable. Plus…who doesn’t love more flour, butter, and sugar on top of pie filling, right?
Last week, on June 27, I turned 31.4 years old.
So, naturally I celebrated my 10π birthday…with 10 pies.
Left Top to Bottom: Cream Cheese Fruit Pie, Coconut Cream Pie, Chocolate Coconut Cream Pie, Apple Crumb Pie, Gluten Free Berry Pie
Right Top to Bottom: Cherry Pie, Strawberry Galette, Peach Pie, Key Lime Pie, Lemon Tart
Here’s the ridiculous backstory:
When I tell people about this blog and its focus on seasonal eating, often they will ask me if I’m one of those locavores who only eats things grown within the state. And my reply is no…because I live to eat clementines in the winter in my attempts to avoid scurvy.
Their next question is usually: So, do you have one of those CSA farm shares? And I tell them another no as all of the credibility seeps slowly out of my words. We’ve never done a CSA before – mostly because I like to garden (when I’m not newly pregnant or having a newborn, which is basically never), and because I LOVE going to the farmers market.
On the tail end of our honeymoon (seven years ago!), Eric and I stopped to have breakfast with a friend who lived in the city we were flying out of. She took us to a little breakfast spot that I remember very little about other than its phenominal omelettes. See, up until that point, if I was going to have eggs, they were going to be matched with cheddar, ham, and bell pepper, because that was what should be.
But on a newly married whim, I decided to order an omelette with…what’s that you say? Mozzarella. Spinach. Asparagus.
And it was sort of life-chanaging. The earthiness of those greens with the creaminess of the melted mozzarella…with eggs, was well, perfect. And that omelette has stayed with me ever since, quietly but haughtily setting the bar for every egg I’ve had since.
An Introductory Note: Owen turned two last week, and we celebrated his birthday with a bunch of friends and their kids last weekend. In the weeks prior, Owen and I had perused Pinterest together, and out of dino, dog, and truck cakes, he wanted a tractor cake. The design of the cake came from this pin, but I figured out the cake & frosting combination and assembly. And this post? It’s portions of my regular letters to my kiddos (you can read the whole letter & all the others) here.
You’re two. You. My baby. You’re two. How did that happen? Your baby rolls and dark hair have been replaced by a little boy who is muscular and lean and summertime blonde all year long. A boy who climbs on the furniture and runs down the sidewalk and talks from morning until night. We are beginning to see who you are, and we say this at least once a day: you are passionate. Your days are full – of emotions, energy, experiences – your highs are high and your lows are low, Owen Bowen.