In her Mother’s newsletter Zinzi mentioned micro-seasons (“What new thing does a particular micro-season hold?”) and I wondered what composed midwinter for me. On the surface it feels exactly like a winter that rolls on interminably, with the darkness by dinner always, and the brusque of cold tight shoulders when walking to the car, always. But upon closer examination…yesterday’s walk outside, the fluffy snow had been blown off and left slippery, incredibly iridescent snow. And behind the house, the thick icicles hung out of our reach, looking like manmade glass waterfalls. This week I brought my handwritten order of six seeds to the co-op, where it will join many other orders and be bundled off to Maine. 20% discount and free shipping—that’s like two free seed packets right there. How often we listen to Ben Cosgrove’s The Trouble with Wilderness right now. How next week Vermont’s master gardener community will begin screening movies online at 10am on Fridays and we’ll hop on zoom and see each other’s dimly lit kitchen shelves in the background, and watch something that will remind us summer is coming and feel transcendent in that way. (The series begins with My Garden of a Thousand Bees, which is free for anyone to watch on PBS.) We’ve been sleeping deeply as a household—finally got through an odd stretch of someone always waking up at night and calling out—and despite the bright sunlight through the window in the morning first thing, I feel tugged back into winter’s sleep.
Right now the most curious blips of getting together pop-up—a drink at the nearly empty pizza place, late night zooms with old friends from my kitchen–staying up too late and drinking together from afar, a quick exchange of favorite recent books over lunch on the floor with our kids at the homeschool co-op. All of them carnations on a rosary beaded with more isolated days.
One of the things I have to note that I adore about this stage of winter is how everyone knows where their winter things are. They know how to get dressed for outside, and they know what they like to wear, and everything, at long last, fits!
I opened last year’s planner, just looking for a spot to make some notes to myself for the upcoming week, and realized I had done no less than three of the exact same things this week last year: made lasagna, visited the dentist, saw a friend to discuss poetry. Had I not looked, I would have seen my week composed by a random assemblage of “and so it was.” But instead I should see them all practically as traditions, given that this is the second year I’m doing them. Feels strange, but also comforting. In my emails, google will suggest text to finish sentences. If I type, “sounds” it suggests in faint, hopeful gray: “good.” While I don’t want my google calendar to do the same thing, I’m tempted by the idea of more cyclical planning in the micro sense. Not just holidays marked on the dot, but also observations, visits, check-ins and ideas allotted times of year, weeks, days.
It’s the time of year when the girls come down after bedtime and ask for a lemon hot; a mug drink made with a slice of lemon and a squeeze of honey and a generous pour of hot water. One of those things I made up once when looking for a placebo effect to settle listless-restless spirit syndrome. It worked and the cure stuck around. We’ll find the mugs only half drunk a few day later by their bedside, but the calming effect seems more than worth the effort.
The garden is full of dark reds, greens, sharp oranges, and sunny yellows, decay around one corner (the zucchini), and abundance (the tomatoes) around the other. Alma has asked me how many days it is until Halloween so many times that tomorrow we’re going to make one of our old fashioned hand-drawn calendars for the countdown. It is Joe’s absolute favorite season. Full of melancholy for me–am I that much of a summer person? must be.
a few favorite things lately…
+ Loved the chance to hear Wes Anderson talk about the inspiration for The French Dispatch. Don’t miss the bonus episode, listed below the interview, with cast members reading New Yorker essay bits aloud. (You can also find these episodes on spotify or itunes podcast.)
+I just recalled how much I love Dorie Greenspan’s Mediterranean shepard’s pie. The kids would love it better, they told me, if I left the butternut squash out. Make it for yourself the night before and take the day off why don’t you. I’m scrambling to use all my tomatoes right now, but dreaming of a loaf of pumpkin bread.
+ David Leibowitz’s dense newsletters. The guy is a great writer. Recently he reminded me of wonderful things we can eat here in his “Foods I Miss from America.” Have you ever purchased a mallomar in your life? I haven’t! must do.
warm things: These kids’ $20 soft top and pant sets are true to size, wash well, and get worn a lot around here. The girls layer the long sleeves under dresses and wear the pants both as a layer or on their own. The colors are nicely muted too. I first found these through Grace Patton, a shatterproof mom-of-eight recommender.
Wool layer sets are fantastic for keeping kids warm as well. I’ve been a fan of Ella’s Wool in the past, but they’ve been sold out and haven’t restocked for a bit. My sister-in-law Hannah went ahead and stress tested a new brand, and recommends Simply Merino. Lovely natural colors and comfortable on the skin, not itchy at all.
Our wood floors get so cold with the cold weather. I get chills up my bones just stepping on them without slippers for a moment or two in the wintertime. Ugg as a brand has gotten very ritzy but the quality still seems excellent, so I’m not sure where that leaves me…their boots are astonishingly warm, waterproof, and expensive. But today I’m here to recommend these $20 sheepskin insole inserts that they make. You can slip them into slippers, or any other poorly lined boots, and the warmth factor for your toes increases dramatically. There are so many fun slipper options out there (see below!), but often they aren’t truly well lined, so a combo-hack like this is the best. And, if you already own well-made but worn-down boots or slippers, having a new insert can years of life to the shoe.
Slippers on my mind to try this year: overland, nootkas, uggs. Something like these Charix glove shoes would also be lovely. You won’t see a fully-opened back slippers, “slides”, on this list because I don’t like them. There’s something fragile about them; slides like that are not for cold houses with staircases. They are for warm deserts when wearing a slipper just sounds nice. I could see birkenstock birki rubber clog with a warm insole added though. That would work well. Can you tell I end up wearing slippers in the mud? I really like having some sort of rubber sole because I often tramp out to the compost in my slippers.
+ Two Halloween young kid books we love, to grab from your local library: The Witch Who Was Afraid of Witches and One Witch. Both clever and rhyming; we seem to read them over and over again.
+ Find a box of candy eyes so you can make this.
+ I ordered a number of things from Sezane to try. I was briefly swept away by a vision of myself with a seventies belt and far flung wide-leg jeans. And: those colors! However I was brought back to earth by texting my sister pics of my wildly petite self trying these things on. A few of their tops worked well for me though! They feel great for those days when I still want to dress comfortably but want it to feel special. This turtleneck sweater—love the row of buttons and the height of the neck, and this collared shirt–I didn’t risk the monogram, but that would have been fun.
Last time I wrote a favorites list in July I asked for a recommendation from you, and got some good ones. So: any good recommendations for nicely made children’s jewelry? I imagine Etsy has something like this? Perhaps a trusted brand you rely on? It’s so sad to watch the girls accidentally snap a poorly made necklace or have rings (bendable, I get it! but still) just break after one use.
What are you making for Easter? If you’ve followed me for any amount of time you are probably aware that I really admire and borrow from Jewish traditions throughout the year because they are often richer than strictly Christian traditions. Jewish traditions seem to involve sustenance, symbolism, repetition, and community. This habit could also be influenced by how much I liked The All-of-a-Kind Family series as a girl.
Either way, I was happy to learn this week about Easter/resurrection cookies–meringues made with egg whites, sugar, crushed nuts, a touch of vinegar, ingredients mixed together while reading aloud specific passages from the Bible, then the pan of cookies is placed in a warm oven and opened the next morning. It has all the marks of a lovely tradition. Going to try it on Saturday. This link is to a pdf with all the directions, but you can find lots of images online as well.
Definitely going to make this mustard sauce as well.
Nothing will quite soothe the longings to be back in the enormous ornate church with a choir waiting to sing. The bundles of flowers everywhere you look mixing yellow, white and green; all of the stems leaning toward the congregation in the pews. The rush to get dressed in the morning, managing to find a dress to fit each girl, not bothering to worry about clean hair or fingernails. Waiting to shout hallelujah! together. The electric excitement of children already fueled by morning jelly beans, lining up to see baby animals brought in that morning by a man from outside the city and now waiting in the library just off the sanctuary. And after that, watching as they find even more candy nestled within the nearly neon plastic eggs scattered in the church garden. You, drinking very hot but very bad church coffee, thinking maybe you might only ever dress your children in white, they look so nice.
Tartan Blanket Co.
Hawkins New York
a style post by my sister, Joanie Cusack
Rachael suggested blankets and I instantly had five favorites that I wanted to share. I use my throw blankets every single day, I love rotating them to mix things up. I like to throw (literally) them on my bed or wrap them around my shoulders while I read. A blanket and a candle go a long way to making a weekday evening of reading feel more like a trip to the spa. I always keep one in my car for outdoor occasions and you would be surprised by how often a car blanket comes in handy. I (along with the rest of instagram) am into quilts right now, the more colors the better. I don’t require all of my blanket to be super soft and cuddly. I also like the heavier ones too that lay nicely and can be used with vigor.
Here is a collection of some favorites:
a. Tartan Blanket Co.
a. Somehow this blanket manages to be waterproof which makes it the ideal thing to stash in your car for park and beach trips. And you can’t go wrong with a tartan blanket, it will forever be in style. Also, I love this shop in general, they are a florist in New York and have great curation.
b. Hay is a favorite shop, they have a fun mix of things and it’s a great spot to find gifts. This wool blanket is a on sale right now and I love the deep green.
c. If you haven’t noticed yet, checkered print anything is all the rage right now and this blanket is really working it. It’s alpaca which means it’s very soft but don’t make the mistake I made and wash it, you will end up with a very small baby blanket.
e. Happy Habitat
f. Hawkins New York
d. I love all things ribbed and this blanket looks like a very glamorous sweater. Everything I own from Parachute Home has held up really well, I recommend.
e. I really love happy habitat blankets. They have an incredible selection so many fun prints and colors. Their blankets really hold up and they are machine washable which means you can bring them to the park and get them dirty without stress. Hard for me to pick a favorite but I like this happy print.
f. A more expensive option but it this more of a bed spread. I love Hawkins New York, they have the prettiest things. This terra cotta quilt is 100% linen and would be a happy addition to your bed in the warmer summer months.
g. Kaufmann Mercantile
g. I’ve already confessed my love for pint and i think this tonal blanket is very chic. We have a very conservative gray couch in our house that could benefit from the splash of color.
h &i: My ebay obsession is the perfect match for finding vintage quilts. We recently got one and it has been my blanket of choice for movie watching. There are so many good ones but here are a couple favorites, this one is pricy but that color is so vibrant and remember, always make an offer when that option is available! I like how classic this one and this are, they’re both asking to be used at a summer cottage, left in stack by the door for picnics and fireside chats.
I don’t think there’s a blanket in my house that isn’t regularly dragged out and cuddled with. They are all so loved! Thank you Joanie!
notes on a spring theme
We went out today and walked across the snow that is still frozen thickly enough to hold you up. Down by the road a stream is frozen on top but fresh melted water gurgles below, bubbles of it looking like puff creatures from a Miyazaki film, slipping underneath the crunchy raft of ice. The girls stomped on the ice layers and brown water emerged mixed with glittering silt that looked exactly like gold dust. Must have been gold dust.
The snow is everywhere so the 100 daffodils Joe planted last fall haven’t even had a chance to feel their soil be sun-kissed yet. No signs of spring flowers at all on our hill. But dinner is later, and the sun feels bright at 5pm, which means a lot. Avocado is our one loyal delicious green in the kitchen, Samin’s avocado slatrix from Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat refreshing my memory of uses.
The sap has not been dripping into the buckets tapped onto trees by Joe and the girls (primarily Joan this year) because the temperatures have settled primly below freezing on most days. I called down to the town office to ask about a few things and quizzed the clerk as to whether others were getting much sap. Whether to reassure me or because it was true, she told me she hadn’t heard it was flowing well yet for anyone.
One of my favorite spring things to think about is this passage from Edna Lewis:
I remember when I was very little, our neighbor Mrs. Towles came over one bright afternoon and invited me for tea as she often did. As I walked along the path behind her, we came upon a nest of colored candy Easter eggs. I had never seen anything so beautiful in all my five years of life.
The unexpected gift of color, a thoughtful neighbor, a tradition and ritual–so much delight in one passage.
Few people are better on spring than Edna Lewis’s chapters from her A Taste of Country Cooking. She writes about the whole year of meals at Freetown, the community founded by emancipated slaves in Virginia where she was raised. Her writing is precise, firm, and rich with details. The community she describes sounds like heaven.
Just as an example, about coffee she writes…
Coffee also separated people by age. As I said, we children weren’t allowed to drink it and aged aunts, uncles, and grandparents never drank coffee from a cup. That was a waste of time. Every aged person in Freetown drank their coffee from a bowl.
And this passage on breakfast and dandelion wine…
Breakfast was about the best part of the day. There was an almost mysterious feeling about passing through the night and awakening to a new day. Everyone greeted each other in the morning with gladness and a real sense of gratefulness to see the new day. If it was a particularly beautiful morning it was expressed in the grace. Spring would bring our first and just about only fish—shad. It would always be served for breakfast, soaked in salt water for an hour or so, rolled in seasoned cornmeal, and fried carefully in home-rendered lard with a slice of smoked shoulder for added flavor. There were crispy fried white potatoes, fried onions, batter bread, any food left over from supper, blackberry jelly, delicious hot coffee, and cocoa for the children. And perhaps if a neighbor dropped in, dandelion wine was added.
Edna Lewis had her niece, who was 12 and had taken a typing class, type up the manuscript for her! All those beautiful sentences, brought into print to begin by a twelve-year-old niece. I loved learning this fact because I’ve had typewriters on my mind lately. The girls recently inherited one from Joe’s grandfather. We haven’t even managed correct typing for the 9 yr old yet, to say nothing of the 7 yr old. They are just pecking at the keys like birds so far.
But I’m mentally collecting a list of writers who began on typewriters as kids. Ann Patchett is now on the list, thanks to her mention of it in this warm essay about cleaning and giving things away.
* photo of hamburger buns from the Bread, Toast, Crumb cookbook. She has not posted the recipe online, so I can’t share it.
mood: Loré Pemberton illustrations
It’s the season when I can scroll through photos of summer on my phone and stare in awe at the colors in our summertime backyard. We get used to the sight of it by July, but looking back, I realize it’s a rolling lawn of green with verdant jungle-like trees lining the edges. The noise of the wind ruffling through the leaves comes back to me, along with the way the air feels when its both damp and warm in the morning.
To experience the same feeling about the current season we’re in, I have only to look at Loré Pemberton‘s illustrations. The warmth, the fading light, the weary affection, the shambled chaos that often doesn’t feel cozy, but can be seen as such, if only you step away from it for a moment. I just love her work! I would love to see some older children’s books revisited by her, like Noisy Village, Ronia the Robber’s Daughter, and The Railway Children. Puffin Classics if you’re reading this: call Loré up! Interesting note: Garth Williams, the illustrator for the Laura Ingalls series, was hired to illustrate her first books after they were already bestsellers. I feel lucky to have met the words and the illustrations at the same time.
I found Loré on Instagram, where she is wonderful to follow, but she has many prints, a printable calendar pages, and $1.50 coloring pages available from her shop throughout the year.
PS: This week I published my ninth homeschool newsletter, you can read it right here. If you read one thing this weekend, make it Mary H.K. Choi’s essay about intimacy and sickness in the pandemic.
“She puts flowers on everything.”
The brand new shows produced by Chip and Joanna Gaines are available to stream for around $7 a month, please choose the ad-free $3 upgrade for your own precious clarity of mind. Right now only the premier of Floret’s show is available (it is SO good). Almost the whole season of the show about Erin French and her restaurant in Maine, the Lost Kitchen, is available to watch. Both shows have tremendous positive energy, I’m just astounded by them. The producers managed to get to the heart of these woman founders who hustled so studiously after their dreams. And the talent in them! Wow. It’s like they had a sense of the visions and abilities they’d been given, so they pursued them, but no one else around them was really clear on what was happening, or how they’d been caught up in this talent vortex. Pretty amazing to get to watch.
The shows are obviously taking a note from the British Baking Show and have very little worry/scary plot twists throughout. They are beautiful, educational, and calming to watch. The Lost Kitchen episode 2 ends up being a primer in fried chicken and biscuits–what could be better! If you fall in love, Erin’s cookbook is another way to learn from her recipes and perspective.
Highly recommend for your February.
a month of so off instagram & energy bites
Deleting instagram off my phone ended up being a delightfully simple switch-up for January. My thumb hovered over the vacant spot for the first couple of days. Soon my reclaimed moments seemed to accrue and I found myself finishing more books. I read so many good books that I am now posting my recent favorite reads on the sidebar of this blog! If you click on any of them, you will find a 1-2 sentence review on my bookshop page.
I also discovered that Libby, the e-borrow service that most libraries use, has a “Lucky Day” feature where requested books popup for quick rental. That was how I was able to read Samantha Power’s The Education of an Idealist, for which I had been on a seemingly endless waitlist.
I also experienced a faint untethering. In my mind I felt suddenly self-sufficient, wholly encompassed, like a human on a walk through a forest, or a swimmer on her own in the waves. Mentally things felt quieter and more expansive. It is the case with social media on handheld technology that neither the developers nor the users understand what exactly is going on. There is no easy division between participation and absence. It feels like we have to be aware of our own state, and make decisions on an ongoing basis for ourselves.
I did miss keeping up with people, in an old fashioned way—moves, babies, marriages, the news of their lives! I definitely felt less connected to certain people and missed having a visual, present sense of what their lives looked like. One evening I logged onto my browser, hoping to catch up on news, and I was flooded with posts from business accounts. It took ten minutes just to see another individual human that I followed. That surprised me–had I just been scrolling past these accounts all along? I unfollowed a bunch of those accounts on the spot.
In similar bite-size capsule theme, I want to share with you a recipe from the new Mennonite cookbook, Sustainable Kitchen. Sustainable Kitchen came out in September, and I purchased it right away because the authors are Vermont neighbors, and Mennonite cookbooks have had a place on my shelves ever since we were given four copies of More with Less when Joe and I married.
Sustainable Kitchen is a remarkable book. The authors intended it it to work as a stand alone resource, no background googling needed (in fact, one of the authors makes a point of not having internet access at her home). There are recipes for making your own tortillas, nut butters, tahini, basic canning techniques, and a guide to beginning a compost pile. It is a plant-based cookbook, and none of the recipes use white sugar, only a few use white flour.
The authors also make a strong case for valuing what you eat as an effective everyday way to impact climate change. The more I read about carbon sequestering and watch documentaries like Biggest Little Farm and Kiss the Ground, the more I realize how the time I spend thinking through menus and ways to waste less each week IS important and worth it.
I’ve made these energy balls a few times and dropped off jars of them alongside children for playdates, as a thank you snack for gluten-free, dairy-free friends. They are very kid friendly, but adults looking for a smart snack may very well eat them first. The touches of sweet, cranberry and mini chocolate chips, are absolutely delicious, and the texture is perfectly balanced.
flowers ordered (2021)
Black Eyed Susan
Strawflower Silvery Rose
Cosmos Double Click
Zinnia Candy Mix
Ordering seeds is a bit like ordering vitamins because the ordering is the easiest and most optimistic part of the whole relationship.
Some of these are already sold out from Floret, so I share what I ordered this year more as documentation than insistence to buy (though I am using her photos and thus of course linking to her store!). Floret does have an excellent Email When Available feature for some of their seeds–that option worked for all the ones, pictured above, that I wanted to buy this year.
Keep in mind too that you can discover a flower through Floret, and if she’s sold out, you can still try that variety from another flower seed vendor, like Johnny’s or FedCo or someone local to you. It won’t be as perfect as what Floret has sourced and evolved (what can we say, she’s dialed in!), but it will still be a lovely happy flower.
You can also find someone who sells seedlings in the early summer. These are plants that they successfully got from seed to happy plant, and now you get to plant it! The poppies I bought as seedlings had a wonderful year, the poppies I tried to start from seed didn’t have a chance.
Last year I struggled with poppies of all varieties (honestly it felt like raising orange trees), bachelor’s buttons, celosia, globe amaranth (should have potted it), sunflowers (squirrels), and bee balm! I’m sure these things could be overcome, but this year I wanted to order what worked really well for us last year.
shepherd’s pie for tomorrow
I mentioned in my homeschool newsletter last week that Wednesdays are peak-energy days for us. From the earliest crest of morning I am loading up the car with all sorts of things for the class I teach, reminding the girls not to forget their things, changing Esme into new, post-breakfast clothes and for once washing her face well, packing a group lunch and separate snacks, jumping into the car with my coffee half drank and chilled (but preciously, preciously saved for the drive). The day carries on in this way like a merry rattling wooden cart driving through a parade until we pull back in to our drive around 5pm and spill out, papers and crafts asunder, into Joe’s arms.
At which point I am ravenously hungry, tired, proud, and socially spent, already eager for 7am the next day when I won’t be getting out of bed.
In acknowledgment of the vortex of Wednesday, I’ve been treating myself (the cook) and us (the collective household) by making its dinner the night before. I make it alongside whatever I’m making Tuesday night. It’s twice the dishes, twice the sizzling pans on the stove, and often feels it, but then two dinners are done.
I’ve been making: Dorie Greenspan’s mediterranean shepherd’s pie.