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Beans again. Rejoice.

Beans. Cornbread. Green leaves.

IMG_5268Comfort food.


You know that food doesn’t become comforting unless it is served up with reliable predictability, right?  Thus, turkey gravy and sugar-butter slathered sweet potato casserole are comforting at Thanksgiving; mayo-rich tomato basil pie is comforting at the end of summer;  a Fiesta Ware tea cup of ice-cream is comforting at any time; and even beans and their music are comforting because they come at least once a week.

Over the course of making beans, cornbread, and salad over and over and over again, my family has become attached to a meal that satisfies both their hearts and bodies.

I’ve cooked this food many times and gotten better at it over the years. I hope that you do the same.  Cook something for your family so often that it becomes reliably tasty and have some fun with it.

And now, despite my typical glee at poking fun of pretentious menus and recipe titles,  I’m going to sell this meal to you like a Southern Food Bistro Restauranteur™:

Savory Slow-Simmered Brown Beans With Petit Jean Ham Bone

Jalepeno, Corn, and Sharp-Cheddar Stuffed Buttermilk Cornbread

Autumn Harvest Spicy Greens with Tarragon and Mint and Dijon Garlic Honey Dressing


I started the beans around noonish during a break from homeschool.

I poured two pounds of rinsed, el-cheapo Walmart brand pinto beans and water into the dented 6 qt. Revere Ware dutch oven we received for our wedding from loving relatives and which has seen more meals than I can count and which will be passed on to a future generation because it isn’t Teflon.

I brought the water and beans to a simmer, put on the lid, added more water when needed;  seasoned with salt and black pepper closer to supper time when the beans were tender.  At some point in the afternoon I remembered that I had a frozen ham bone left over from Jackson’s graduation party in May and I threw that in.  Generally speaking, though, our beans are meatless because pinto beans have a luscious flavor even with mere salt and pepper.

Our family’s cornbread recipe comes down to us from the back of the Aunt Jemima Corn Meal bag.  I don’t know of a better basic recipe.  I make mine in a cast iron skillet.  I think you should, too.

This night I cleaned out the fridge and added some exciting things–spicy peppers that a local backyard gardener had given to a friend who didn’t know what to do with them, who gave them to me, who put them in the fridge unloved until they were on the verge of perishing, and then I had pity on them; a partial bag of frozen corn the kids had raided to do some experimental ramen noodle creations; a half-brick of cheddar remaining from the lake picnic, grated; the sad stubs of almost forgotten green and red salsas; an extra egg; milk spiked with a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar to make buttermilk; and

an entire stick of melted butter.

Quinn asked me if I set the timer when I put it in the oven.  I didn’t.  I just kept checking it and took it out when it looked beautiful.

After I put in the cornbread, and after the rain, I ran outside to harvest the kale, arugula and butter lettuce that has managed somehow to survive our hot, dry September.  Tarragon and mint jumped into my lettuce basket.  I told the family I did the best I could removing the pine needles and caterpillar caviar but they should be on guard.

The dressing I whisked up as Ed politely requested that the children come to supper.  He is so polite.  I just holler.  The dressing was an almost-Ceasar:  mayo, Kroger Brand Real French Dijon mustard, extra virgin olive oil, apple cider vinegar, honey, and minced garlic.


Those are not recipes, I know, but that’s what happened.  And it was good.

Please come eat beans with us.  If you come regularly enough, it will become your comfort food, too.





This refrigerator contains leftovers.

It’s really too bad that ‘leftovers’ has such a dingy, pouty faced cloud doggedly following it around.  It’s not always true that leftovers are bad; if a thief too hurriedly empties out a gold bouillon safe and there are leftovers, what is left over is gold, right?

On Mother’s Day, I was looking forward to some rather fabulous leftovers.  I thought that I was coming home from church to leftover Terri Lynn’s famous in-house smoked deli turkey, which I would pile on caraway seeded rye bread spread with hummus and spicy guacamole, topped with aged swiss cheese and a leaf of crunchy iceberg lettuce.

Instead, I found an empty, crumpled white deli paper embossed with the Terri Lynn’s Fat Boy sticker.  His bright yellow face looked up at me, giving me nothing now but a smile.

On other days though, leftovers are just leftovers.  Yesterday, I opened the fridge at noonish and performed a meal called, “This Is Your Lunch.”  This event consists of me setting out on the kitchen counter certain foods—particular leftover foods—and then having gathered my darling ravenous wolves, I give the following speech:

“Of these foods (pointing to the counter) you may eat.  But of these foods (pointing to the refrigerator and pantry), you may not eat.”

Every time, every time, the young hungry wolf people look at me in a consternating kind of confusion.

Does this happen to real she-wolves, I wonder?

“Here pups—gnaw on this leftover llama.”

Inconveniently, just then, a herd of puffy white bleating lambs toddles by.

“But can’t we have those?  Please?”

“No, eat the llama.”

“But whyyyyyyyyyyyy?”

The she-wolf holds her growl.  She is wise.  She knows they are just baiting her, hoping that their whimpers will change her mind or buy them enough time to come up with an actual argument in favor of lamb chops.

The lambs bleat louder.  The puppy wolves whimper.

She holds up her paw so that she may count her claws for them.  “You shall eat the leftover llama because 1) wasting food is wasteful 2) being greedy is greedy 3) I’m too tired to chase a herd of sheep for you because I’m tired and 4) I said so because I said so.”

Though not pertinent to the needs of the she-wolf, I say to everyone else, that if you ever pick up a classical homeschooling book on why should you spend precious time teaching your children about logical fallacies, such as circular reasoning, just put it down because you should put it down.

But if the she-wolf wants to move on from chasing her tail of an argument just because she’s chasing her tail, then I think she’ll give a reason for eating leftovers that goes something like this:

We’re having leftovers today, Wednesday,  because I took you to the lake on Monday.  While we were there, your brother, the hunter-biologist, caught a large quantity of minnows and tadpoles and also a newt that I didn’t know about, and asked to bring home the schloshing bucket full of them.

“I promise the bucket won’t tip over on the drive home,” he said.

I loaded all of you up, including the bucket of fun, and we gently schloshed our way down Highway 10, enjoying the sunset in the rear-view mirror.  I, feeling weary, noticed the clock telling me that it was too early for your Father to be home, and I didn’t want to deal with you end-of-day-people at home by myself.  But I didn’t say that. I merely decided to stall for time by suggesting we stop at the bridge “to watch the sun go down on the river.”  It was a lovely sunset and it could have been even lovelier without me shrewishly nagging you all to quit walking back and forth past the infrared-people-counter so you could watch the number dial click up instead of enjoying the sunset.  After 45 seconds of attempting a peaceful moment at vespers, back to the vehicle we trooped.

Successful entrance and egress from vehicles by large families should be a trophy sport.  Alas, there will be no trophies for us because Rose kicked the bucket.

She is still alive, of course.

The minnows, however, started dying quicker than Rose and Quinn could scoop them up, so for the fish it was a very real kind of bucket-kicking experience.

I asked you all the right questions.  Was the murky pond water contained to the rubber liners?  Did you find all the fish?  Did you get it cleaned up?  Do you need any help?  But like an overworked and underpaid case manager staring blankly out his gray and mauve tweed cubicle on a late TGIF afternoon, I didn’t follow through.

On the third day, after striding past a protesting Martha who cried that there would surely be a stench, I opened the door to my vehicle, my vehicle which had become a tomb, owing to the tragedy that some of the fish had been…..left over.

To your credit, dear children, you did bravely clean up when asked.  I myself felt more like fleeing, but courageously you donned overly big blue latex gloves and plucked the carcasses of five moldering fish things from the auto carpet.  You “wanted to retch,” you said.  I was trying to feel your pain, but secretly I was proud over your excellent use of vocabulary.  I gave you a box of baking soda to sprinkle, to thus soak up the spectacular smell.  I turned to go water my flowers in the clean spring air and behind my back you decided that the thing that baking soda needs most in the world is not time to soak up offensive odors, but rather vinegar spray.


I love you all, my young wolves.  We’re just going to have quick and easy leftovers today because we have an entire vehicle to clean.  And that’s why we’re having leftovers.

The End.


It’s Not My Kitchen


I came downstairs before 8:00 and found my thirteen year old busy at the stove.  She’s not known around these parts as a morning person, but today the sun came up and she decided to make homemade coffee cake and scrambled eggs with cheddar and ham.  It was a tasty meal; served up, of course, with a side of bitter animosity barked at annoying younger siblings and some unnecessary shoving over plate placement, but the surprise was sweet so I thanked her for a lovely effort.

On Saturday, my ten year old decided that since the man-of-the-house-pancake-maker was out of state, that he himself would take up the task.  On his own he made a double batch of homemade whole wheat pancakes which included a Blue Plate Special of cinnamon apple.  The eighteen year old stumbled downstairs about 10:30 to eat the pancakes.  “Who made these? They are really good.  They’re fluffy and the flavor is perfect.”  Dear son, that would be your younger brother—the one whose indoor pet crickets torment you at night.  They are good pancakes.  And if we’re all lucky, before he started cooking he washed his hands from the morning garden check, the cat-fish-tank check, the turtle-tank check, the compost-worm-farm check, the mating-toads-in-the creek check, and the squirrel-feeding check.

This is the eighteen year old working on his own most recent kitchen triumph:

IMG_3415raised cinnamon rolls.

The sixteen year old made a first-time chocolate pie for Pi Day that far exceeds the glories of any pie I ever made.

The twelve year old is on a kool-aid popsicle making kick which is really about to drive me up the wall.  But there are worse things than sticky floors and eternal pink moustaches, I suppose. Maybe.  I really am bothered by sticky floors.

The eight year old regularly gets up in the morning and makes her own applesauce.  She makes a horrendous mess as well, truth be told.  She cuts up her apples with a real knife, turns on the stove, and uses the stick blender to puree the mixture.  If you turn me into child protective services for this I will make fun of you for your pre-teen’s inability to open a cheese stick plastic wrapper without weeping.  Or, I will invite your kiddos over and let my eight year old teach them how to cut veggies.  She’s got experience teaching the other neighborhood kids how to slice and dice, I’m sure we can help yours.

Look, everybody knows that when I can’t find my favorite spoon or the location of the kitchen scissors is in question, that the kitchen is my kitchen.  If I’m trying to get a giant meal on the table and beloved son wants to wash fish guts off his hands, it’s my kitchen.

But the kitchen isn’t really my kitchen.  It’s our kitchen.  The dirty dishes and pots and pans are our dirty dishes and pots and pans.  The microwave, which currently rivals Jackson Pollock for splatter art, is our microwave for us to clean. The food we eat is our food.  We share the food and the work.

It would be a terrible disservice to my children if I cooked all the food and cleaned it all up. It would be devastating if I let them grow up without understanding that being a grown-up means you can feed yourself and you can feed others and you can clean up the mess without whining about it.

Embrace the reality of your humanity.  We must all eat and eating makes messes.   Give that prickly-cactus-fact of the real world a giant sloppy hug.  As many as are able should cook and clean up.  

Whole roast chicken, taters, gravy, chicken stock. And Next Day Chicken soup.

I left home not knowing how to roast a whole chicken.  Nor how to make mashed potatoes.  Or gravy.

Let’s chalk that idiocy up to me not asking.   But I did humble myself in my 20s and 30s, finally consulting the Fanny Farmer cookbook my mom wisely gave me, “Cooks Illustrated,” the publication of the 1,000 step recipes of American’s Test Kitchen, numerous unreliable internet recipes for roasting poultry at high heat for the express purpose of testing out the home smoke alarm, Kathleen Flinn of “Kitchen Counter Cooking School,” and Mark Bittman of “How to Cook Everything“.

At some point along the way, from someone, I learned this most important piece of wisdom. This is given to you in paraphrase, as I did not commit the sentence  to memory:

After you roast about 30 or 40 chickens, you’ll be able to tell when the bird is done by looking at it and poking it a bit. 

And that’s it.  Just start roasting chickens and keep doing it until you get it the way you like it.  Honest to Pete, I don’t think there is any other way to learn to roast a chicken proficiently.  No Walmart temp tester is going to save you from Salmonella without giving you dried out cardboard chicken.  No recipe, no oven, no timer can give you the exact time and heat you need to roast that chicken.

I am currently enjoying Mark Bittman’s suggestions for roasting a chicken, in high heat, in a pre-heated iron skillet.

  I present to you now, the general process for making roast chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy, chicken stock and on the following day, chicken soup.  In pictures.


So, here it is:  Send child out to snip herbs.  Herbs currently available at our house are sage, rosemary and thyme.  Dress the bird and lovingly place in hot oven.  Take bird out when you think it is done.  Put it back in if it isn’t.  Meanwhile, peel potatoes and boil.  Take out chicken for the second time and transfer to plate.  Cover and let rest.  Observe that the temperature in the kitchen is now 85.  Ask son to make gravy for the first time.  Receive dire warning information from son that his carpool ride has vaporized and he now needs an emergency trip across town in less than 20 minutes.  Give him too much flour (we should have stuck with 1/4 c.), make a roux of the lovely chicken drippings, pour in hot milk.  Stir.  Drain taters.  Mash with milk and sour cream, season with salt and pepper.   Serve the potatoes in a bowl and put the pot in the sink to soak.  Why?  Because that’s what Grandma Helen did.  Take another phone call explaining to the other parent the new carpooling emergency.  Interrupt that call to receive call that carpool ride is back on track.  Serve dinner to hungry children.  Listen to children offer thanks.  Beg them to save some for Dad who will be home late.  Send lad out the door to catch his ride.  Send the troops in to wash the dishes.  Send some troops back out again because that is too many kids in the kitchen.  Tell the five year old I am going to make chicken stock and I will have to have the bones.  Look at him and see him nearly start to cry over losing his chicken bones.  Promise to him that I will save the bones for him.  Place chicken carcass in the cleaned tater pot, fill with water, simmer for 2 or 3 hours.  Don’t add carrots, celery and onion, I want to,  but I can’t spare the veggies for stock making this week.  Know that it will taste wonderful anyway.  Strain the broth through a tea towel and strainer.  Pour the golden broth into wide-mouth glass jars.  Save bones for the boy who wants to be an archeologist.  Sleep.  Next day make homemade noodles and use the fabulous chicken stock to make great chicken soup, even if there isn’t any actual chicken in the soup.

The End.  The End of That Chicken.

Butternut Squash: No, I won’t make you eat it because I’m happy to have it all for myself.

Do you know what grows well in Kansas?
acorn, butternut, yellow, spaghetti……..
Oh squash, how I love you, but there is something here, in the ground, in the air of Arkansas that does not love you. How can I grow you on this north-facing, rocky, forested, sled-sliding hill I call a yard?
Can we ever find a way to get together on reasonable financial terms?
Are there people out there trying to get rid of you?
Please, please, come to me…
I will eat you. With butter.

The basics.

I have not written to you all in a while. We have mourned, are mourning, the loss of my infant niece in August.

In this sadness, love has comforted us in meeting our most basic needs–companionship and food.

On the first day when the news was still raw and fearful, I found myself going to the grocery store.  I starting sobbing at the checkout counter and got a hug from a cashier I’ve now come to know as a friend. In a day cut off from physical contact with any other dear friends, her hug helped me so much.

When we drug ourselves back to Little Rock from the long funeral journey, waiting at home for us in the fridge was a meal from friends. Sometimes love is a quiche. And love is most certainly a quiche with homemade butter crust.

There isn’t any magic potion to cure the hurt.

But if people are going to live, to heal, to thrive, they need love and they need food.  What a comfort when love and food are gently combined in a medium sized mixing bowl.

Lunch today.

Today we cleaned out the refrigerator. Ed got an odd. I got an end. The kids divvied up the middlins.

Cost: 1 minute and 40 seconds of microwave reheating. Also time invested in deciding who gets what.

Payback: The creative part of your brain gets a gold star. The delayed gratification part of your brain will get a gold star……on Friday when you go to the store and have enough money left in the budget to buy a nice end of the month splurge.

Bon Appetit!

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