I slept fitfully last night and woke up to a power outage and heavy grey day that soon turned to a heavy, grey rainy day. My power went out twice this morning, first delaying my ability to make coffee, then stopping me in the middle of a work project and causing major delays as I didn’t want to reboot my computer until I knew it wasn’t going to keep getting zapped.
The dripping wore on me. I slogged through the mud and water to feed my chickens, feeling half awake, as though the fog and haze had taken up residence in my brain.
I needed a nap, some sunshine, some something.
A list of things to be thankful for? In the middle of my brain fog? In the middle of the drip? You’re asking too much now, friend.
But if it’s too much to be thankful in the middle of the drip, how can I be thankful in the middle of much more major life-rocking events? How can I practice this if I’m willing to give it up because of a little mud and drip and dark?
Ah, in a sentence she sums up what I’ve been working on in many ways this past year.
Slow down. Breathe. Be.
Escape from the cycle that’s so easy especially in our culture here in the States to fall into.
When did “keeping busy” become a virtue? The supposedly ideal answer to the question, “How are you?”
Busy is unavoidable for seasons, but if we fall into that mode permanently, busy robs us of experiencing our own lives.
And not experiencing our own lives is a great tragedy.
We want to live for the big moments. And the big moments are great! But they are 1) few and far between and 2) are in fact cumulations of all the little moments.
So if in fact we don’t learn to live in the little moments, to slow down, to really see and experience, we’ll be so busy rushing that we either will never get to the big moments, or we might miss those too.
Forget the New Year’s resolutions then… what’s one little thing you can do today that will make you smile to have it done at the end of the day? One little thing maybe you can do more days than not that will start a trend that makes you feel satisfied. For me lately it’s been cleaning up my kitchen as I go. I’ve been working on it all week, and now it suddenly seems to “keep itself clean” and if I keep this up, it will stay a sanctuary that I want to cook in.
And taking delight in moments, in little things can become little time sanctuaries in themselves.
Like enjoying watching the pancakes bubble till the bubbles pop very slowly and then you know it’s time to turn them over.
I’ve been on a cooking spree this week, so warning, the next few posts may be recipe heavy… I really do try to spread things out better, crafts, art, recipes, stories, and so forth, but sometimes, it just doesn’t work that way. This week is apparently Italian sausage week at our house, though no one planned it that way, it just sort of happened. Last night I made spicy Italian Sausage meatballs to go with spaghetti and a simple sauce, and today I’ve got a Spicy Italian Potato Soup slow cooking in my dutch oven, riffing of a friends concoction, but she doesn’t have a recipe, so I’m attempting to duplicate hers somewhat and get ingredients and amounts at the same time… I’ll post it tomorrow if it tastes as good as it smells right now!
I love making things from scratch and particularly with fresh local food. I’ve discovered I’m more apt to cook spring/summer/fall because I have fresh seasonal produce and that makes me excited. Winter is harder to get excited about because my produce once again comes from the produce section at the grocery store, and once you get used to fresh and local, it’s just not the same. But I’ve decided lately to be 1) grateful for produce all year round and 2) to learn how to can soon! (It’s been on my list for like 3 years now, but somehow, I’ve not made the time, this year might not be the right time either with Eli coming but we’ll see how it goes 😉 )
Regardless of where the the ingredients come from, however, there’s something sacred about food preparation. Seriously. It’s easy for it to become just another task, an annoyance, something that takes longer than we have time for, an irritant even that our bodies require nourishment 3 times a day or so, and how on earth are we going to get that much healthy food into us?
But if we start to look at dining together as communion, then I think the preparation of it takes on a different interpretation.
In church, we celebrate communion with wine and bread, or a little wafer, or a tiny cup of grape juice and a little cracker, or some variation on that, but the Last Supper where our Lord instituted communion was in the context of a whole meal, and indeed, that’s how communion was often practiced. We’ve sort of split it out.
Our meals can once again be communion though, it’s a matter of how we approach them.
And thinking of them this way, for me anyway, turns their preparation into something sacred.
Plus, it’s a joy to create something with my hands, in this sometimes overly cerebral and technological age where so much that is created, so much of our work is intangible in some ways.
Okay, on to the recipes for last night’s menu!
The picture below is a testament to the deliciousness of the menu by the complete absence of the food. I had been sampling, and got so excited about eating it, that I forgot to take a picture of it all assembled and plated…
Spicy Italian Meatballs
Prep time 10 minutes. Cook time 10-12 minutes (before adding to the sauce).
1 lb spicy Italian sausage (we like Pernell’s Old Folks brand if you’re getting it in the grocery store, it’s somewhat local to us as it’s produced in Kentucky)
1/2 cup bread crumbs (I simply crumbled a thick slice of my honey whole wheat bread)
1 small onion, diced
2 tsp garlic minced, or 1-2 cloves
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp dried parsley, or 2-3 tsp fresh parsley
Olive oil to coat pan
Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix with your fingers.
Form meatballs (I got about 15).
Heat pan on medium heat, add olive oil (note: not extra virgin as the smoke point is lower, regular ol’ olive oil is better for cooking like this) and heat until a drop of water sizzles when flicked into the pan.
Brown meatballs on all “sides” (see pic at top of post), about 10-12 minutes.
When all are browned add to sauce.
Simple Spaghetti Sauce
2 28oz cans of diced tomatoes (do not drain)
1 large onion, diced (or 2 small ones)
2 Tbsp garlic minced (or 3-4 cloves)
2 tsp basil
2 tsp oregano
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Sea salt to taste (I like grey sea salt!)
Place all ingredients in Dutch oven or other heavy bottomed stock pot (including the juices from the canned tomatoes!).
Heat all ingredients till steaming, then pass 1/2 of sauce through a food processor or blend half with an immersion blender. This thickens the sauce.
Simmer on low heat.
Add meatballs when finished, simmer all together on low heat for at least 20 minutes, but longer is better as the flavors blend better! Husband got held up and this simmered for over an hour, and in the future, I’ll plan it that way on purpose.
So… if you’re going the slow cook method, make the bread sticks now while the sauce simmers, but if you’re going for the faster method, make them first and get them in the oven. They take about 10 minutes to assemble and 20 minutes to bake.
Also at this point, cook pasta to package instructions to Al Dente. I like Trader Joe’s organic whole wheat spaghetti.
3 cups unbleached bread flour (I like King Arthur Flour)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp garlic powder
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 cup of milk, plus 1/4 cup of milk
1/2 cup of butter (1 stick)
3-4 tsp minced garlic
1 Tbsp dried parsley
1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan
Preheat oven to 425.
Mix flour, salt, garlic powder, and baking soda in large mixing bowl till thoroughly mixed.
Add 1 cup of milk and mix. Add additional milk 1 Tbsp at a time until dough forms a cohesive ball in the bowl. It should hold together, but not be sticky.
Knead 5-6 times by hand in bowl.
Place 9 x 13 pan with stick of butter in oven until butter melts.
Transfer dough to counter top and roll out to approximately a 9 x 13 rectangle (it’s never a perfect rectangle so don’t sweat it too much).
Remove pan from oven when butter melts (Don’t let it burn!) and tilt to coat pan.
Place dough rectangle in pan and slice with sharp knife or pizza cutter. I slice in half width-wise and lengthwise, then 6 more times to form 16 bread sticks, but some people might like longer ones, in which case slice in half, then each half in half and again.
Spread minced garlic over the top, and sprinkle with parsley and parmesan (Note: I don’t stick exactly to the measurements, I just sprinkle the top with parsley, and then grate the parmesan over the top until it looks right to me, so have fun!).
Bake for 20 minutes, or until top and bottom are golden brown (the bottom will be more so because of the butter, but see pic above for how brown the top should be).
The outside will be crunchy and the inside chewy! And they’re so easy, people won’t believe it
Side Salad with Dijon Vinaigrette
Okay then, so while your bread sticks are baking, arrange a baby spring mix on plates (I like either the organic spring mix at Kroger, or the Organic Girl brand spring mix, though my all-time favorite is the spicy mix that my friend Peggy plants, but most of you can’t get to that 😉 )
Make vinaigrette (I can’t spell this dang word, I have to keep typing an equivalent and spell checking it… I’m getting closer though!)
1-2 tsp Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp minced garlic
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Sea salt to taste
Combine mustard, vinegar, and garlic, and whisk while drizzling in olive oil.
Grind some black pepper and sprinkle in a little sea salt, and whisk again, taste testing by dipping a leaf from your salad into the mixture.
Drizzle on salad greens just before serving. Grate parmesan over the top if desired.