Sunday, January 03, 2021

My god of books

I believe in a god of books. This belief rests side by side with my devout atheism, illogical and yet true.

My god of books is a cranky god, with a heart in the right place. They are genderfluid--shifting their appearance between a woman and a man when they come to me. They are always wearing a soft, old favorite cardigan. They are old, hair graying, reading glasses perched on their nose, and eyes that also shift color--sometimes icy blue, sometimes a warm brown, sometimes an indeterminate hazel--depending on their mood and their opinion of me.

Yes, they have opinions of me. Sometimes they judge me harshly. Sometimes they see me with kindness. Sometimes they like to watch me squirm, not able to find anything to read that satisfies what I need from words. Then they will send me a generous burst and the books I most need to get through the day will arrive one after another after another. These are the blessings I receive from my god of books. This past year, it was Deacon King Kong, then Apeirogon, then The Night Watchman, and then Hamnet which arrived in a succession that felt like an intervention, to give my brain a reprieve from all the worry and fear that this world has thrown at us this year. I received them like a life preserver thrown to someone drowning. I can't imagine having functioned through those months without them. Some people read to understand themselves better. I do not. I read to escape myself because I think I understand myself a little too well. 

There are days when I would do anything to escape being me. And reading can do that--like a parasite I can latch onto someone else's thoughts and imagine the world looking out of someone else's bony eye sockets, such a relief after being trapped for most hours of most days looking out from my own. 

My god of books often does not care if I am uncomfortable. They withhold as often as they gift. I pick up and read the first chapters of one, two, three, four, five books and nothing takes. I put the book down and I am still me. I mutter incantations, I restlessly read book reviews, I keep my ear to the ground for recommendations--messages from my god of books--that I am supposed to follow. My husband has learned to recognize these times: I am squirrely and restless and prone to irritation. 

Sometimes re-reading a book will work. I don't know how I would have survived adolescence without my annual re-read of Steinbeck's East of Eden; I read it for the first time when I was about 12 and I am certain that it was a gift from my god of books, a time when they looked at my squirming, prickly, uncomfortable being and put the tome in my hands, saying, "Try this. I think this is the book you need." I wore out two copies of that book.

And sometimes re-reading doesn't cut it. This year I tried to escape into known good books and it rarely worked. The world was too cockeyed and I had the discordant sensation of sitting with my previous self and how I would have read the book before all the crises of the year rained down one after another. I was too envious of my previous self and thus, the known books could not whisk me away. Among those books that were pulled off the shelf with hope and then re-shelved were beautiful works like Hild by Nicola Griffith, Black Swan Green by David Mitchell, The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff and The Welsh Girl by Peter Ho Davies. I felt my god of books watching and tapping their foot. The books didn't fail me; I failed the books. 

Sometimes my god of books gives me permission to stop thinking big thoughts, to go relax into a comforting mystery like settling into a warm bath and just feel soothed for a while. Or, with a mischievous twinkle, they'll guide me to a book that makes me laugh out loud. Or send me on an escape to another planet to think about what it would be like to be an augmented human for a while. I am very grateful that my god of books is not a snob.

The latest evidence of this god's existence happened this morning. Yesterday evening I finished listening to the audio book of Ann Patchett's latest novel, The Dutch House, read by Tom Hanks. And then, this morning I found this amazing essay in Harper's written by Patchett about her link to Tom Hanks and what that link ended up gifting her in 2020. I cried when I read the essay, it's that beautiful. And there is simply no way to put down my discovery of the essay to chance: that was my god of books nudging a little something into my hands so I could start the year feeling the magic of existence again, refreshing and refilling my dried up supply of hope.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

26 blobs of future happiness

I have a new favorite cookie recipe. I realize this isn't ground breaking news, but it is comforting as hell and right now, with the world careening toward the abyss, I'll take what I can get. And while they aren't exactly good for you (2 sticks of butter and a lot of brown sugar in a batch that makes about 2 dozen large cookies) neither are they as bad for you as my previous favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe which had no redeeming nutritional value. These are stuffed full of nuts and seeds and whole grains, yet don't taste at all "healthy." There are pecans, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, flax seeds, sesame seeds, coconut, spelt flour and oats packed in there (along with the aforementioned butter and sugar and a generous quantity of chocolate.)

Cookie glamour shot

My version comes from this base recipe for Anytime Chocolate Chip and Oat Cookies though I made a few tweaks to suit my tastes. The base recipe is very flexible with lots of possible substitutions in the nuts/seeds/whole grains department that I imagine yield a wide spectrum of different tastes and textures. While I intend to do some experimenting--I'm thinking of trying a batch with buckwheat flour, walnuts and sunflower seeds--I'm sure that it would produce a very different cookie. The recipe at the end of this post is a winning combination that has been validated by my 17 year-old (who ate an insane number of these) and a group of friends who gave them the thumbs up. 

This cookie took a trip to Lake Michigan and made a delightful pairing with a Honeycrisp apple

They are the kind of cookie that you don't make in the moment when you desperately need a cookie to keep your sanity because they take a little time, first resting the dough in the fridge before scooping and then freezing the scooped cookies until solid. They bake up to the best texture when they go directly from the freezer to the oven. I made one tray with refrigerated dough and they spread a lot more, still tasty, but less chewy. But the positive side of all this resting and waiting is that you can have a supply in the freezer which promises fast future happiness: 10 minute to preheat your oven + 16 minutes bake time and you have my idea of heaven in a cookie.

Ready for the freezer: 26 blobs of future happiness.

Nutty Seedy Chocolate Chip Oat Cookies
makes about 2 dozen large cookies

1 C (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1/2 C chopped pecans
1/4 C raw pumpkin seeds
1/4 C raw sunflower seeds
1T whole flax seeds
1T whole sesame seeds
1/4 C unsweetened flaked coconut
1 C (125 g) all-purpose flour
2/3 C (83 g) spelt flour (or swap in whole wheat)
1 t kosher salt
1 1/4 t baking soda
1 1/2 C (300 g) light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 T vanilla
8 oz chocolate chips (I like the Ghirardelli 60% Cacao chips because they are a little bigger and a little more bitter than regular chocolate chips)
1 C old fashioned oats
  1. Brown your butter. Melt butter over medium-low heat and patiently wait until it turns golden brown and nutty smelling. Remove from heat and cool slightly (you can dump it in the bowl with the brown sugar if you are worried about it overbrowning in the pan). And if browning butter is among your least favorite things to do then you can just melt it. I made one batch with melted, not browned, butter and they were excellent cookies, just not quite as amazing as the browned butter ones.
  2. Toast your nuts and seeds. I do this in the toaster oven but a regular oven is fine. Preheat to 325, line a tray with parchment and spread out the pecans and toast for 6 minutes until fragrant. Transfer to a plate to cool (I pick up the edges of the parchment, slide off the nuts and then reuse the parchment for the next step). Spread out the pumpkin, sunflower, flax, and sesame seeds and the coconut on the parchment and bake for about 5 minutes until the coconut is golden. Transfer to the same plate as the nuts and cool. 
  3. In a small bowl, mix together all purpose and spelt (or whole wheat) flours, salt and baking soda.
  4. In a large bowl measure out your brown sugar and add your slightly cooled browned (or melted) butter. Mix on high until it is thick and smooth. Then add the eggs and vanilla and mix on high until it is pale and silky smooth. 
  5. Add the flour mixture and mix until fully combined. Fold in the nuts/seeds/coconut mixture. Then stir in the chocolate chips and oats until everything is evenly distributed. 
  6. Cover the bowl and chill the dough in the fridge for a few hours (or over night) so it firms up and is scoopable.
  7. Scoop the chilled dough (I use an ice cream scoop) into blobs (about 2T sized) and place close together on a parchment lined baking sheet. Freeze for about an hour and then either bake a batch or pop them into a freezer bag and feel the delightful security that you have a stash of amazing cookie blobs ready to go when things get dire.
  8. When you decide to bake: preheat the oven to 350 and place about 8 cookies on a parchment lined baking sheet; they will spread so give them space. Bake for 8 minutes, rotate the pan, and bake for 8 more until deeply golden at the edges but still a little squishy in the middle. Cool on the baking sheet.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020



I was away for a few days and this was this morning's haul from the garden: two zucchini, a bag of wax and romano beans, dill, chard, lots of tomatoes (green zebra, carmelo, brandywine and a container full of sungold cherry), one green and two red peppers, and a bundle of sunflowers

This is what August looks like around here and I could not be happier. 

In the old tradition of my CSA hauls, here's what I plan to do with some of it:

Sunday, August 09, 2020

Dessert for breakfast and other things of joy in this absurdly stressful time


The world is a shit-show so let's all tear our eyes away from the news and latest catastrophe and share a few things that bring us joy. There should be a little something for most people who find their way to this blog. Please chime in in the comments if you have suggestions for things that are getting you through because I could use as much joy as I can drag over the threshold.

Culinary Joys

Fruit Desserts for Breakfast
Based on what I've been eating this month, it might be hard to believe that I don't really have a sweet tooth. I do, however, love the process of baking and I love summer desserts that are made from fruit whose season is fleeting. One of the benefits of having picky eater kids (yes, still...) is that there is usually left-over dessert that I can enjoy for breakfast. 

Lately, I've made these three recipes and they are all freaking fantastic as dessert but also can be enjoyed the next morning for breakfast:

(scroll down to the third recipe in the linked article)
The only change I made was to use my own single pie crust recipe and I put all the crushed blueberry mixture on the cream cheese to bake while the original recipe reserves half to have a mix of raw and cooked (why? I have no idea. The raw squished berries looked kind of gloppy and unappealing so I just tossed it all on the cream cheese layer.)
I used more peaches than the recipe called for, about 4 cups sliced, and I didn't peel them. I also served it with heavy cream rather than ice cream. Brown butter, peaches, cream, and absurdly easy.
Italian Lemon Almond Cake with Honey Lemon Peaches and Honey Whipped Cream
I followed this gluten-free recipe to a T and added my own spin by serving it with diced peaches that had 1/2 a lemon squeezed over them and a spoonful of honey stirred in and about a cup of heavy cream whipped up with another spoonful of honey.

(For those of you thinking, "Wait, this is the only recipe that's gluten free but not that long ago Kate said she was avoiding gluten," well, I have an update on that at the end of this post.)*

Visual Joys

I use Instagram differently from any other form of social media: it is where I curate my retreat from the world so there's a lot of joy there and not a lot of news. I follow recipe developers and knitting designers and people who post beautiful photos of far away places that allow me to dream of traveling again someday. Lately, I've been following lots of illustrators and two in particular have on-going projects that I look forward to and which bring me joy.

Watching a cephalopod poster come to life by artist Kelsey Oseid (@kelzuki)
Kelsey Oseid started a project last week to draw and paint 31 creatures from the order Cephalopoda (that's right! Octopuses, squids, cuttlefish, nautiluses!) to create one of her beautiful "Creatures of the Order" posters. It is simply magical to watch a sped up time-lapse video of a strawberry squid come to life. I already own a print of her Creatures of the Infraorder Cetacea (whales and dolphins) and am looking forward to purchasing a companion print when she completes this one. 
Transmundane Tuesdays prompts by artist Carson Ellis and the resulting submissions
Artist and illustrator Carson Ellis posts a prompt made up of 3 random phrases on a Tuesday and then people submit their creations. The results are absolutely stunning and create such a sense of shared humanity: there are professional artists who submit, there are little kids, there is everyone in between. I look forward to her curated display of the previous week's prompts and am contemplating becoming more than just an observer and trying my hand at it even though words, rather than visual art mediums, are more my thing. This week's prompts were: 1. has a long beard 2. has butterfly wings 3. wearing glasses. The prompts always surprise and send my mind down myriad paths that aren't our current reality. One of my past favorite weeks was 1. is a baby 2. is made out of mud 3. is wearing a helmet. You can follow her feed @carsonellis where she has stories featuring some of her favorites of the week's submissions, follow the hashtag #transmundanetuesdays where all the submissions for all of the weeks reside or follow a tag for each individual week: this week's #beardedandwingedinglasses has some absolutely stunning works in there (a papercut! an embroidery! one that is made, I kid you not, entirely from pressed flowers!)

Literary Joys

I've read a string of amazing books lately that have been balm to my soul in very different ways. If you are looking for some fiction to get you out of your present reality, maybe one of these will also appeal to you. I think all will make it onto my "best books of the year" list:

Deacon King Kong by James McBride
The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich
Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell
Apeirogon by Colum McCann

My reviews are posted both on my Books Read in 2020 page and on my Goodreads account.

Fiber Joys

I'm knitting two sweaters right now that bring me great pleasure: not only are the patterns well-written, but the two yarns I'm using are so different and both so lovely.

First up is the Wave of Change Jacket by Denise Bayron that I'm knitting in a linen tape yarn called Kestrel. Linen isn't the easiest fiber to knit with because it has little to no stretch (I likened the last time I knit with linen to the sensation of knitting with dental floss...) but this tape yarn is way better: the construction means that there is a little bit of give to it and the pattern uses big enough needles that it won't be an endless project (I still have a linen t-shirt that I started 3 years ago and didn't finish--fine yarn, little needles and just really not enjoying the process. I'll finish it someday, but not someday soon!) The linen is cool in my hands on a hot day and has a lovely sheen.

Here is a picture of the stunning designer wearing her linen version (the pattern is also written for chunky wool and my friend Carol is making a version so I'll get to see my jacket's winter sibling!)

And I also just cast on to make this Bronwyn sweater:
I'm using different yarn than what is called for in the pattern, Kelbourne Woolens Germantown in the color Natural; it's less expensive than the yarn pictured above and has really lovely stitch definition that should make the cables pop! I'm thinking of this as practice since one of my kids requested that I make them a version of Chris Evans' Aran sweater from the film Knives Out (the link takes you to a New Yorker article that discusses said sweater. Yes, it is a phenomenon). I found this pattern which looks pretty damn close to the movie sweater. We'll see if I'm burned out on cables when I finish the Bronwyn sweater (this is a pattern that I'll need to pay close attention to so I don't criss when I should cross) or on fire and reluctant to stop!

Please share your joys in the comments. I'd love to know how other people are coaxing their brains out of daily panic mode!

*The status of gluten.
So I started going gluten-free at the beginning of February and I felt better: less joint pain, less digestive upset. I kept it up for a good 4 months while the world went fucking nuts. And then I decided to see what would happen if I tried gluten again. I made a batch of our favorite pasta al limone (fantastic recipe) and had a big bowl. And I didn't notice any difference. I went a few days, then tried gluten again with a big slab of my dad's homemade bread (he's an amazing bread baker.) Again, no difference. Huh. So what was going on that I had felt better when I went GF? A bunch of things I think. Placebo effect most likely contributed: I had felt helpless in the face of pain and discomfort and felt better because I was doing something. That feeling was probably compounded during the helplessness of the initial COVID-19 shut down when everything felt out of control (not that everything is hunky dory now, but at least we have more information so I don't feel quite so afraid of everything.) I also made some substitutions while GF that were probably pretty healthy: eating more whole grain brown rice and cornmeal instead of items made from white flour probably helped out both in the digestive realm and in controlling inflammation. I also frankly had the time and energy to focus on getting good at GF baking and welcomed the distraction from endless worrying. I am glad that I learned a lot about GF cooking and particularly baking since it led me to invest in ingredients that I didn't usually have around and to learn how to make safe, delicious foods for my GF friends. Going forward there will probably be some featured GF recipes here, but not exclusively GF. 

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Let's make Breakfast Salad a thing

The lettuce bounty from my garden continues and has transformed my morning consumption habits. Now, I eat this pretty much every morning and I am here to testify it is simply the best breakfast:

There's lettuce, quinoa, walnuts, hard boiled egg, feta, tomatoes and dill fronds on that pile.  Low carb, high protein and best of all, tasty as hell. It'll give you plenty of energy to put your hand to fixing this fucked up world. The above photo was taken when my lettuces were still in their more diminutive state. Now they look like this monster pictured below:

I didn't plant you, but I welcome you. 

Breakfast Salad
(quantities for each serving)
pile a plate high with lettuce (and/or spinach, arugula, baby kale)
top with: 
1/4 C chopped walnuts
1/2 C quinoa*
1 medium tomato (or a handful of cherry tomatoes), cut into wedges
1 hard cooked egg, cut into wedges
about 2T crumbled feta
some dill fronds if you have them
drizzle on your favorite vinaigrette

Eat your breakfast salad and then relish the energy that you have, no mid-morning carb crash coming for you, my friend! You are well-fed, fired up and off to change the fucking world! 

*in order to always have quinoa on hand, I recommend making a big batch, cooling it and freezing it in a big gallon ziplock bag. When you need some, you pull the bag out of the freezer, whack off a lump, nuke it for a minute or two, and then put it on your salad. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Growing (and not growing!) things

This year, at the end of March, right when the quarantine was about to kick in, it occurred to me that we wouldn't be going anywhere for the near future and that tending a garden would feel therapeutic rather than like I was letting something (else) down.

A vegetable garden at my home is not an option. We live on a tiny lot: our back yard is 20 feet deep and 10 feet of that is a deck, while the rest is for our darling Molly to use as a dog run. Our house faces north so our tiny front yard is almost all shade, except for a rain garden that I love dearly. I used to have a vegetable garden that was located in my mother-in-law's back yard which I had mixed success with. She only lives a few blocks from us but I still had trouble getting over there often enough to be a responsible plant-steward. Sometimes I got a crop of something I planted and sometimes I didn't. By the second or third year, it was clear that the fast-growing tree in her neighbor's yard wasn't going to be pruned and it cast shade over much of the garden. So I haven't had a real garden in about 10 years. Since then, I have filled my gap of longing for fresh produce with CSA shares from Tantre and Homer Farms (pretty well documented here on the blog; click the labels on the right if you want to go re-live those days), trips to the Ann Arbor Farmer's Market (which is now open for pre-order pick ups) and Argus Farm Stop and, frankly, by being pathetically grateful when people bestow their extra garden produce on me. One of Brian's friends who has a huge garden told him he'd never seen someone get so excited by a bag of vegetables after he surprised us with his extras. I wasn't faking it: I really do get that excited by free zucchini (and then I make massive double batches of my favorite Turkish zucchini pancakes!)

Last year, a dear friend signed up for a plot at one of our town's community gardens and it occurred to me that this year, I could join her. I checked on March 28 and there was still a half-plot available and I jumped on it.

I am not a terrific gardener and my lack of the perfectionist-gene is pretty obvious if you survey the 11 plots at the garden. Some people have been creating beautifully laid out beds, little paths between their plantings and even geometric patterns. I weed, I loosen the soil and dig crooked rows, scatter some seeds and hope for the best! So far, something has eaten half of the pea seeds I planted and a bug has started decimating my kale leaves. Or maybe those are radish leaves? I didn't label the rows so we'll see. Anyway, I don't really care because anything I get out of this garden will be a plus and it will still be the best $80 I spent in a loooong time to rent the plot for the growing season. Now I have about 375 square feet in which to plan and feel hopeful and (very important) play with worms. Oh, and it also gives me a destination to get the hell away from my family when they are driving me crazy.

I also got really lucky in that the plot I was assigned has a ridiculous number of self-seeded lettuces growing on it. Here are a couple of views of all the bounty that I inherited from last year's gardeners and am happy to enjoy:

Yesterday, I thinned these out (there are still a ton left) and brought home a big bag of baby lettuces.

Which last night became this addition to our dinner table:

I cut up and marinated a few store-bought tomatoes in balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper, crushed garlic and chopped up basil and chives and then tossed them with olive-oil dressed greens and topped it all with a torn up ball of burrata cheese. It was fantastic.

And about that basil: there's a story behind it. It may surprise no-one that I am not the easiest person for whom to purchase a gift. Most of the time I suggest to the people I love that we do something together rather than having them make purchases and which I genuinely enjoy more than accumulating stuff. But Brian really loves giving gifts at Christmas and this year I found this thing under the tree:
When I unwrapped it I thought it was the dumbest piece of garbage. If it worked (a big "if" in my head) it would just provide green stuff for our cats to consume and puke all over the goddamn house (the only houseplants we have are succulents which the cats leave alone. Every other time we've tried to have plants in the house the little furry fuckers have made us regret it). So I saw what was intended as a lovely gift as a sign that I'd soon be cleaning up even more colorful puke than usual. I tried to convince Brian to return it. He did not, just tucked it away in a closet. And we forgot about it.

And then he received the directive to work at home. It was just around the same time as I was looking at the community garden plots when Brian pulled this gadget out, set it up in his office (the door is closed most of the time so the cats don't get in there very often) and soon little things were starting to sprout. It was really sweet to see him so excited about his little seedlings, but I was still sure that it would prove to be a disappointment.

Boy, was I wrong.
Not only do we have basil, Thai basil, thyme, dill and mint growing like crazy (the only thing that didn't germinate was the parsley), but we have also been able to move it out of his office and into the kitchen where I can actually use it easily and the cats are leaving it alone! I've tried to have indoor basil before and it was always mauled and masticated but they give this thing a wide berth.  I have no idea why: maybe the LED lights scare them off?

I've already done some pretty significant harvesting of all the herbs and it has been wonderful to be able to pinch off some basil or dill to toss in an omelet or some sauce or a blended salad dressing or to make a Thai tofu vegetable curry with a ton of Thai basil in it. The thyme might need some more aggressive pruning because my demand is not aligned with its over-zealous supply (ideas for using lots of thyme welcome!)

The other really nice thing about this gadget is that Brian has taken ownership of it: he checks the water level and the root-health and pays attention when to add the liquid plant food. I just get to use the glorious stuff which, like the lettuces in my garden plot where I reap the bounty of someone else's efforts, is the best of all possible worlds. Whether I succeed this year in growing anything doesn't really matter.

Monday, May 11, 2020

I (almost) finished something!

Last night, while watching Little Miss Sunshine (my pick for a perfect mother's day movie), I finished knitting the final sleeve on my SiMPLE SOMETHiNG sweater. 

Ta da! 

This was a really fun knit: the construction is simple but the use of doubled sock yarn means that you get to make lots of choices about which color to bring in and when to change colors or add a little pop. If you are at all interested in making this sweater, I urge you to go to Ravelry to check out the original and the many unique color choices that people have come up with. There are so many stunning versions. Mine is on the subdued side, with gray and cream and pink as the main colors (I used this as a stashbuster and had the most of these colors already) and I striped it rather than attempting an ombre shading; I am really tempted to try to make one with darker and bolder colors someday.

The sweater is shaped a lot like my favorite sweatshirt and because it uses primarily superwash wool sock yarn, it should be about as soft and comfortable. It'll also be pretty low-maintenance in the care/washing department. I have plenty of sweaters made of more delicate fibers, so it's kind of a relief to have a sweater that can take a little abuse now and then and not fall apart or look like crap.

Of course, all those color changes means there are lots of ends to weave in, so it'll probably be properly finished and blocked in, say, a week if I cue up the podcasts and just make myself do it.

This is the wrong side of the sweater and you can see, I have my work cut out for me. Luckily I don't mind weaving in ends; I'm just a little impatient because we're having a cold snap right now and this would be very cozy to wear.

Of course, I still have plenty of sock yarn left so I'm thinking that maybe the next way to use some of it up should be with this Tin Can Knits Snap Hat pattern that uses FOUR strands of sock yarn at a time!

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Crackers? Crackers!

Crackers are not something that I thought I'd ever get excited about. They mostly serve as a way of getting something else delicious, cheese or spread or dip, to your mouth without filling you up as much as bread. But I am now excited about crackers.

When growing a sourdough culture there's a decent quantity of what's called "discard," the bubbly starter that you remove before you feed the remainder and maybe, in times of plenty, people threw the stuff away. But when flour is in short supply and gluten free flours are absurdly expensive, you better believe that that stuff is not going in the trash. There are all kinds of recipes out there to use up sourdough discard; pancakes are by far the most popular way to use it up but people chuck it in everything: muffins, crumpets, even cakes. My favorite thing to do with it is make crackers.

I might not be quite so motivated if I was eating wheat right now because there's a good selection of high quality, affordable, wheat-based crackers, even in stores where the shelves of beans and pasta have been wiped out. There's really only one type of gluten-free cracker that I like (thankfully it's one of my favorite crackers with or without wheat). These babies:

But they are expensive and lots of regular supermarkets don't carry them. So my motivation was high to try and make my own crackers and the results make me almost as pleased as the almond flour chocolate chip cookie recipe I recently shared.

Behold, the sourdough discard cracker:
This batch was made with a sourdough starter which was primarily brown rice flour and I added some nigella seeds for their mild, onion flavor. 

The next batch of crackers happened a week or so later, and by then I'd switched to feeding my sourdough starter quinoa and teff flour (which it loooooves: bubbles right up and almost coos with happiness) so the resulting cracker is more multi-grain and toasty tasting. I mixed in nigella seeds again (of which I am inordinately fond: you can buy them here) and some black pepper.
Sturdy enough to make an excellent hummus delivery device

These are so good that I'm going to be feeding my sourdough more often than it really needs it just so I have an excuse to scoop out a 1/2 C of "discard" to keep myself supplied with crackers.

Sourdough discard crackers

1/2 C sourdough discard (regular or GF)
1/2 C flour (AP or a GF flour mix that has some xanthan gum, or use a different gf flour and add about 1/4 t xanthan gum for each 1/2 C of flour)
1.5 T olive oil
1/4 t salt
(optional) 2 t seeds of your choice (sesame, nigella, poppy, caraway, cumin or a mix)
(optional) 1/4 t dried herbs or spices of your choice (rosemary, black pepper, herbs de provence)

Mix everything together until it forms a ball, add additional flour or water by the tablespoon to get the right roll-able consistency (some starters are very wet and others are drier so start with equal quantities of starter and flour and then adjust accordingly.)

Wrap dough in plastic wrap and rest in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.

When you are ready to bake, preheat oven to 350.

Cut the dough into 4 equal pieces.

Put down a sheet of parchment paper and dust lightly with AP or rice flour, roll out two pieces of dough directly on the parchment, getting it as thin as you can/as thin as you like. Slide the parchment onto a baking sheet. Get out another piece of parchment and do the same thing with the last two pieces of dough.

You can score the dough lightly with a knife or pizza cutter if you want the pieces to break apart evenly, or leave them un-scored for rustic crackers.

Brush the dough with water and a little sprinkle of flaky sea salt, if you have it. Regular salt is fine too, just use a light hand, or leave it off.

Bake for about 15 minutes--time will vary depending on how thin you rolled your crackers and how toasty you like them. Flip and bake the other side for about 5 minutes (unless they are done enough for you already). If they are still a little doughy, put back in for another 5 minutes.

Break into pieces and when cool, store in an airtight bag or container.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Book Give Away: Round 3 (with a kitty!)

I have lots of books in lots of genres to give away so have a good scroll down and see if anything catches your fancy. As a plus, all the photos feature our scaredy cat, Mooney. This is the cat who many people who have been to our home for years have never laid eyes upon because he is terrified of the world (I think some friends suspect that the second cat we keep mentioning is actually a figment our our collective imagination, so here's proof for the doubters). I was veeerrrry careful to make sure not to startle him while taking these photos and was successful until the very last photo (when he woke up, gave me a glare, and was out of there in a flash.)

There are comments on some of these, not on all but that doesn't mean they aren't good books (it just means I don't have anything clever to say.) You know the drill, if you are local and want one or more books, say so in the comments or use the contact me feature in the side bar. If a title has been crossed off, it has been claimed.

Graphic Novels
Angel Catbird, Vol 1 by Margaret Atwood and Johnnie Christmas: yes, Margaret Atwood can do anything, even graphic novels.
March, Book 1 by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell: you can watch a video here of their talk that took place at Hill Auditorium in 2017 as a part of the Penny Stamps Speaker Series. It was a lovely event for a wonderful book.
The One Hundred Nights of Hero by Isabel Greenberg

(some of these might have a little underlining in them)
The Annotated Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (annotations by Alfred Appel Jr for whom I was a TA at Northwestern and whose son was a writer and producer of The Simpsons--there's your useless trivia tidbit for the day.)
All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren
Sula by Toni Morrison
The Odyssey by Homer (Penguin Classics edition, translated by E.V. Rieu): a prose translation
The Odyssey of Homer translated by Richmond Lattimore: a poetry translation  
Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf 

A Little Non-Fiction
Jane Austen by Claire Tomalin: one of the best literary biographies I've ever read
The Soul of an Octopus by Sy Montgomery: a big time cephalopod love fest
Alex & Me by Irene Pepperberg: I dare you not to want an African Grey Parrot after reading this. Maybe don't give it to your kid whose birthday is coming up unless you want them to beg for a pet that they'll have until they are 80.

 Maybe these will work for your family...(because they did jack shit for mine)
The Joy of Mathematics by Theoni Pappas: Lots of great visuals in here that should get kids interested in how math applies to life. Note my use of the word "should."
Math Doesn't Suck  by Danica McKellar: pitched at middle school girls, the period of time when many girls decide they hate math. The tone would probably appeal to kids who are a little more mainstream. It is written in a very accessible tone and I appreciated some of the frank talk about stopping negative self-talk when it comes to math. My kids didn't relate to it because they are pretty quirky.
Cleaning House by Kay Wills Wyma: the subtitle of this book is "A Mom's 12-Month Experiment to Rid Her Home of Youth Entitlement." While I can't say that I got that outcome in our house (still plenty of youth entitlement to go around!) it does present good info and ideas on how to teach all the crap you think your kids should know how to do but that (bafflingly!) they don't.
Barron's Strategies and Practice for the NEW PSAT/NMSQT: one of my kids did about 2 of the exercises in this book, the other refused to crack the cover. With Khan Academy SAT prep (that I've heard is very good though neither of my kids cared to avail themselves of it) I'm guessing that books like this are not in demand, but if you have a kid who prefers paper to screen, this book is almost unused.

Blank Books
Two pristine blank books, one lined, the other not. Great for journals. (My resident artist rejected the unlined one for drawing because the paper is sort of rustic/not smooth like a sketchbook.) Let me know if you want the Cat book or the Leaf book.

Visual stuff
3-D Planet: The World as Seen Through Stereograms by Hiroshi Kunoh and Eji Takaoki
Magic Eye: A New Way of Looking at the World by N.E.Thing Enterprises: both this book and the one above might entertain a bored kid or (if you suffer from a lazy eye) are good for training binocular vision
Metropolitan Cats from the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Mooney approves)

Humor(?): Maybe these will make you, or a kid in your life, laugh?
I Could Pee on This and other poems by cats by Francesco Marciuliano (Mooney does NOT approve of this title. He prefers the title which is much more applicable to his daily life:  I Could Puke on This)
Zombies Hate Stuff by Greg Stones

Stand alone: PLEASE NOTE, MOONEY IS AWAKE AND AWARE THAT HE HAS BEEN PHOTOGRAPHED AND IS NOT PLEASED (there was a gray streak as he fled seconds after I snapped this)
I forgot to include this copy of A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle in my previous YA book give away, so here it is. It's the edition they released after the recent film so there are some photos from the movie in the middle of the book, if that makes a difference to you.

Friday, April 17, 2020


I finished a lot of things today.

I finished painting my office and moved my desk back in.
My office will never be this tidy again.

I finished the knitting on this sweater which will take up residence in Kerrytown once Spun reopens.
I still need to weave in the ends and block it. 

And I finished spending time with Thomas Cromwell.
I held my breath while reading the last pages and then immediately re-read them. 

Normally I enjoy the feeling of accomplishment when I finish things, but these are strange days we're living through and I'm left thinking that a more aware person would have staggered their projects and made sure they didn't all end on the same day.

I was aware of a reluctance to finish all of these things while I was doing them: I'm not the fastest knitter but I avoided this sweater for the past few weeks because finishing it would make not being at Spun (which is an utterly delightful place to work) feel more real. I am a fast reader, but I intentionally did not let myself gobble down this book because I didn't want the trilogy to end. At the end of a section, I set it aside for a few days and thought about it and once I started the next section, I only allowed myself a chapter a day. And I took way more time than I normally would in painting my office, from the sorting and culling of the bookshelves (there are more books to give away coming soon) to how carefully I taped off the woodwork and cut in the corners, because I didn't have to notice how weird the world has become if I was worrying about paint drips.

Tonight, to comfort myself and distract from these melancholy thoughts, I'm going to pour a glass of Irish whisky and finish one more thing:
The last slice of a gf chocolate cake I made earlier in the week, topped with raspberry jam and whipped cream. At least this finish will be sweet.