Tuesday, May 26, 2020

There is Nothing I Don't Miss

Over the past few weeks, I've seen a few posts on Facebook to the effect of, "What did you expect to miss during the quarantine that you don't?" 

The first time I saw one, I paused and considered, waiting for a revelation. What had seemed important to me before that was now trivial? The "aha" moment I anticipated didn't come. A new, minimalist perspective did not awaken in me, as I sort of expected it to.

The truth is, there is nothing I don't miss.

There are some things I don't miss as much as I thought I would. I don't miss taking the kids on outings as much as I thought I would - but a part of that is that they don't seem to miss it as much as I thought they would. I thought we'd go stir-crazy, but it's actually been...fine.

I, of course, miss the obvious things. Chatting at preschool pick-up, browsing Target, taking the kids to a playground or library. Sitting outside at a restaurant on a warm day, chatty and relaxed, not worrying about dinner or dishes. Oh, and not calculating every move when I go to a public place, and not wearing a suffocating mask. And, boy, could I use a haircut. 

But, I also miss unlikely things like squeezing in frenetic errands during school time. Dragging Mister P to the grocery store or Costco, because of the traditions we had woven into these trips. The questionable sanitation, but undeniable fun of bouncy houses. I even miss the morning hustle, because its cacophony culminated the blissful calm of two kids at school.

Maybe...I don't miss the kid junk scattered all over the back of the car. Or paying almost $3 for a gallon of gas. Not that it matters too much, considering I'm down just half a tank over the last two months.

The perspective that has changed for me is that I've been reminded how important it is to celebrate human relationships. I was keenly aware of this my last year of high school; in fact, I wrote a college entrance essay about it. I knew that my time with my school friends was fleeting and coming to a close, and I wanted to hug that time close. Since the pandemic, I've realized how much "friend-time" (and family-time) I'd been putting off until later...when we're not so busy, when it's more convenient, when we get around to it...and here we are, with so much time, and not able to spend it together. 

I think about Mister P's last morning of preschool. I ran around, doing a thousand errands with my last 2 hours of unencumbered free time for who knows how long. It felt necessary. One of my stops was for a coffee at a local coffee shop, where I saw a group of moms from a class that had graduated from our preschool - I knew most of them. I imagine they will always be thankful they spent that morning together.  I wonder if I should've spent my morning differently. Probably. If only I’d known.

So, when the world comes safely back online, I’m doing all the things and seeing all the people. Hopefully, with a renewed sense of joy and gratitude.

Heart latte art

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Violet Syrup

Just this past week in Maryland, local strawberries finally started popping up for sale. Strawberries love the warm sun, and we just haven't been getting a lot of that, lately. If you live in a place where you can get local strawberries, do it. There is no comparison to even the reddest of berries bought in a clam shell from California or Mexico.  

I bought these, but here is a funny story - the first time I picked berries, maybe ten or so years ago, I had a romantic image of berry-picking. I pictured myself wearing a sundress, hat, and flip-flops, dropping berries into a darling little basket. Lucky for me, the day we went was drizzly and gross, so I wore jeans, a windbreaker and tennis shoes, and learned that fruit-picking was not a dainty activity.

I get why some people view fruit-picking as a ridiculously romanticized activity. I understand why people mock it as something Pinterest Moms insist their families do so they can capture those Insta-perfect moments, and maybe theoretically teach their kids a lesson about where food comes from. It can be hot, buggy, and time-consuming. But I actually really enjoy it. I don't love gardening, but I love gathering. One of the first days Mister P went to preschool this past September, I raced a half-hour to my favorite fruit farm to get in an hour of raspberry picking unencumbered. Once I start picking, it's really hard to stop. On the way out, I'm always picking just "one more" berry. The "gathering" heritage resonates with me, but I can see why it might not with everyone!

I got the itch to pick a few weeks ago, when I saw a friend post pictures of violet syrup she had made from foraged violets. Hmmm....our yard was carpeted with violets...

grassy field sprinkled with purple violets

I'd like to imagine myself as a dainty ingenue, again, wearing a delicate sundress and floppy hat, and wiggling bare toes in the soft, green grass as I gracefully pop the blossoms off of the wild violets in our yard. Perhaps you could imagine me that way, too, instead of a thick, middle-aged mother of two wearing jeans, a stained sweatshirt, and garden clogs.

It was time-consuming, but really pleasant on that warm spring day. And the violets looked so pretty!

collection of violet blossoms

To make the syrup, I looked at a few different recipes. Many say to remove the calyx, the green thing at the bottom of the flower that holds the petals on. I had just spent an hour picking two cups of violet blossoms; I was not inclined to spend another one dissecting them. I may have been able to do it more easily when I initially picked them, but didn't realize I should, so...oh well. I did find a recipe or two that said it was fine to leave them on. So I did, and made a violet tea that sat overnight.

I strained it, and cooked it with sugar to make the syrup. It wasn't really a bright purple, but adding in some lemon juice brightened it up...it's hard to see, but...

The verdict: I think it smelled kind of grassy instead of sweet, which is probably due to those stinking calyxes. So, I might have been biased from the get-go, but I didn't think it had much of a flavor...just mostly sweet. Maybe I could've tried next to a batch of plain simple syrup to see for sure. I did use it in lemonade and also to make a violet soda with our SodaStream.

Not bad with a little gin and a squeeze of lime. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Friday, May 1, 2020

This, too, shall pass...

Right around one month in to this quarantine, I noticed a shift. At first, it was just at our house. Mister P was especially sensitive and needy, wailing over seemingly little things and wanting to talk to someone almost every waking moment. I was getting tearful everyday, alternating between being lonely and wanting to be alone. Then, I saw it in my Facebook feed, too - lots of parents reporting that their kids' behavior was breaking down, and moms admitting their sadness, as well. I looked at our family, and looked at my friends and acquaintances online and realized that one month seemed to be some sort of milestone for a quarantine - and maybe other types of stressful times, as well. Did the novelty wear off? Were realizations sinking in?

I'm sharing what I noticed to let you know that, if you felt like things starting to fall apart around the middle of April, you, for sure, are not alone. 

I'm hesitant to share what continues to make me tearful everyday, when I know that others have far worse situations. Our family has so much to be thankful for, always, but especially now - Kevin is able to work from home, I am able to wrangle/teach the kids, our immediate family is low-risk, we have a yard for the kids to play in...I'm well-aware. 

Friends, I'm super-sad about my little boy missing his last months of preschool.

We have been a part of the amazing community at Forest Hill Nursery School for the past four years. It is a cooperative preschool, and as a stay-at-home mom, I have loved the chance to be in the classroom to see my kids socialize and learn. I love all those kiddos, the teachers, the routines, and the other parents. For the last two years, I've been on the executive board, and, maybe most of all, I have loved being able to work with grown-ups and use the grown-up part of my brain. 

Since Mister P is my baby, I know all the things he is missing now. Getting psyched for kindergarten. The field trips. The class parties. The special year-end traditions. Coming into the part of the year when the kids are mature enough and close enough to really play together and flourish. These kids have always loved to play together outside after school, no matter the weather. The last day they played together, Friday, March 13th, was a warm, sunny day. If I had known how likely it was to be the last day, I would've let him play until it was time to get Miss A off the bus. 

He doesn't really know what he's missing. But I do. And I cry for all those special memories that we won't make. I know, I know - we are making other memories. And, it's just preschool, and in the long run, he will remember very little of it, anyway. Here's the thing - I'm really sentimental; I would've cried, anyway. But this is not how this stage of our life was supposed to end. I want those end-of-year rituals to give me closure, to help me transition to the next part of this road to adulthood.

But, as I sit here, crying, I think of the high school seniors who are missing this most special part of their high school career. I know not everyone has a good high school experience, but I did, and this would have devastated me. And I think of the essential workers and the medical personnel, and people who can't weather this as well...and people who were suffering before this, like the homeless and refugees...and I get frustrated with myself for feeling so sad. We will move on and be okay, but not everyone will. I guess we (I, really) need to make the best of our situation, and do we what we can to support others.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Easter on Lockdown

This Easter was the first holiday we have spent as a family in our own house since Easter 2013. As much as we missed spending time with family, it was nice to not have a long drive and to cook a holiday meal in my own kitchen. We worked hard to make it special for the kids, since they wouldn't be seeing either set of grandparents this year.

We started early with a special breakfast Saturday. Kevin had a sleepover with Mister P in his room Friday night, and I guess I had promised pancakes at some point. It worked out, because one less complicated thing to cook on Sunday.

I mentioned in my grocery store post that I am an absent-minded shopper...meaning that I often forget things, like whipped cream for this little bunny's tail. Luckily, I had picked up this the last time I was at Trader Joe's a few months ago - shelf-stable whipping cream! It worked out well. I added some maple syrup for sweetness, and probably could've added a little more.

Saturday was a big cooking/baking day. I started working on this Samoa Bundt Cake. It calls for dulce de leche for the frosting, which I also forgot to add to shopping list. So, I spent 2 hours and 4 cups of milk making my own.  It wasn't hard, but time-consuming, and using all that milk made me a little anxious.

Cooking down milk and sugar into dulce de leche

I also adapted the cake recipe, because it called for two different batters to be a marble cake. One of the reviews, though, said that the textures of the two different cakes were a little odd together, and since we have people in our house with strong opinions about textures, I opted to just double the chocolate batter. And then, I also only had to make one batter. ๐Ÿ˜€With toasted coconut and chocolate drizzle on top, the cake was a hit.

I also spent Saturday baking Pascha bread, an Eastern European Easter bread. We had read a book about Ukranian Easter eggs, and a lesson I found to go with it suggested making it and included a recipe. It looked complicated and time-consuming, but what else did I have to do? But, then, my cousin posted that she had also been making Pascha bread, and when I mentioned I was going to, she shared her grandma's Slavak recipe. Swoon! Passed down grandma-recipes are the best. And, while I'm not sure it came out the same as the Ukranian version would have, it was much simpler and still delicious!

The Ukranian version also called for a sweet glaze, but I figured we were having enough sweets.

The final (actually, the first, because I made it on Friday) "fancy" thing I made was Smitten Kitchen's Cacio e Pepe Potatoes Anna from her second cookbook. It's like a scalloped potato cake, or, galette, if you like to be fancy. Other than me being terrified of using a mandolin (I enlisted Kevin to help), these were actually pretty easy and came out really well. I substituted some garlic olive oil for part of the butter, which I think added I nice contrast to all the other "simple" foods we had. It really didn't need a lot, though - if I had used more, it would've been too much. The trickiest thing is that you need to flip it twice - once out of the pan onto a plate, then onto the serving plate. I took a picture in the pan, because I had my doubts that the flipping would go well, but I guess there was enough butter and oil that it slipped right out.

So, dum-de-dah-dum....here is the completed meal, with local ham from Andy's Eggs:

And daffodils and grape hyacinths picked from our yard!

Lest you think all we did on Easter was cook and eat, the Easter Bunny came with baskets and hid Easter eggs. He also brought a LEGO bunny for Mister P, and paint-your-own ceramic bunny for Miss A. Perfect projects for these two! 

I also insisted they watch the 1996 Walt Disney World Happy Easter Parade (our marching band was in it!), and remembered how annoyed I was that the hosts talked over most of the song. Oh well. Mister P was unimpressed. 

We hope that those who celebrate Easter had a beautiful day with their families, and those that don't are enjoying the blossoming of Spring and the rebirth around us. Or, at the very least, are hanging in there during this unusual time.

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Adventures in Grocery Shopping

Last week, I went grocery shopping for the first time since Maryland's stay-at-home order. I had gone one other time since school's closed, but it was before the order, and at a smaller, less-popular store. This time, I went to Wegmans, which is huge and in our well-traveled shopping corridor. When I came back, I felt as though I had been on a quest to a strange land. I am typically one of those slightly-unusual people who enjoys grocery shopping, but even I felt battered when I returned. I found it so stressful to try to buy enough groceries for two weeks at one go. Because I have favorite places to get certain items, and am also an absent-minded and spontaneous cook, I often go 2-3 times a week...especially since Patrick has been in preschool. So, trying to imagine what would get us through the next few weeks was daunting.

Me, in the store:

"There's not much peanut butter here. There's no limit, but how much do I need, really? I don't want to be a jerk...Limit 4 bags of flour...that's a lot of flour...I don't need four bags of flour; I'll just get two...half and half...only two left...I should really only get one...but if I don't have half and half for my coffee, I'll be sad...really sad...ok I'll take the last two..."

Repeat for another hour and 15 minutes, substituting other items. This internal dialogue exhausted me. But, my kids were thrilled to get these giant marshmallows when there were no regular-sized marshmallows.

I am lucky that I have a hearty immune system and try to be a rule-follower, because my brain is not wired for the kind of vigilance we are supposed to have now. It seems like most people I know are good at being vigilant; I am not. I see people posting about being very conscious of how close people are at the grocery store; I only was when I remembered I should be. Luckily, Wegmans was very good at prompting me to keep my distance and sanitize my cart and hands.

I know these things, but they are not always at the front of my mind. Not to say that I wandered around, completely oblivious, but I just think I'm not as conscious of it as some others. And I won't even go into the stress of decontaminating everything when I got home.

With all that, I still forgot some things. Which is why I spent two hours on Saturday condensing 2% milk in to dulce du leche. But, more on that next time.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Quarantine 15

Most people are familiar with the "Freshman Fifteen." A student goes off to college, and faced with unhealthy all-you-can eat cafeteria options and countless late-night pizza (and other) parties, gains 15 pounds their first year. Of course, not all first-year college students gain 15 pounds. I am sure many people will take this time at home to cook healthier foods and focus on their exercise routine. As for us, I am cooking more...but not necessarily healthier ("Hey! Look at this cake on Pinterest! Heck, don't have anything else to do today, might as well bake it!"), and not walking to the bus stop or running errands is definitely cutting into my step count. So, after two months of tracking my diet using Noom (more on that another time, maybe) and being somewhat successful, I fear I am looking into the face of the QUARANTINE FIFTEEN (and yes, I know we do not truly have a quarantine, but that's what everyone is calling it, and it rhymes). Or, as I've also heard it called, of course, the COVID-19.

For me, personally, things feel stressful enough without having to decide between wine or dessert, or fretting about what snack to have. I'm not looking for a pep talk; it is what it is.

In that spirit, here are some of things I cooked last week. I'm running a week behind; it turns out having two kids at home all the time has really cramped my style.

  • GF Irish Soda Bread - my mother-in-law's adapted recipe. One with raisins; one without. It came out pretty good!
  • Corned Beef and Cabbage - I started making Pioneer Woman's Corned Beef and Cabbage a few years ago, and it would take a lot to convince me to make it any other way.
  • Loaded Potato Waffles - I didn't do so much loading, just popped a fried egg on top and served it with Tomato Jam from Food in Jars, which I actually canned two summers ago.
  • Poultry Stock - While cleaning out our freezer, I found a chicken and turkey carcass, so I boiled them with some veggies and herbs to make poultry stock. I later made regular and GF chicken noodle soup with it. Calling it just "chicken" soup to keep it simple for the kids. 
I also found a stash of meat in the freezer when I was cleaning it out. I have a thing with buying "Special Today" meat and throwing it straight in the freezer, but it turns out I had quite a backlog. So, for no special reason, we had filet mignon with hasselback potatoes last night. 

So, we're eating well for the time-being. I'm thankful we have everything we need on hand or accessible at the moment. 

Friday, March 20, 2020

The Other Side of the Doorway

I look at the bouquet of flowers on our dining room sideboard that I bought during my last grocery store trip last Friday. Just something to brighten things up during our two-week quarantine. I feel like I bought them in another lifetime. It was the same when, yesterday, I pulled a receipt out of my pocket from eating lunch out with Mister P last week after shopping at Costco. Or when I look at the shirt I bought there a little more than a week ago, when closing school seemed like a vague possibility, but not something that I really expected to happen; at least, not so soon. These things are like relics from "before," and I wonder when everything will be from "now."

I have a vivid memory of, a few days after Miss A was born, standing in our kitchen, overwhelmed and delirious with exhaustion. I had the distinct feeling of having walked through a doorway that I could look, but not pass, back through. I saw an enormously-pregnant, but relatively well-groomed woman using her brain at work, casually shopping, laughing with adults, cooking, and chatting with her husband after dinner. I missed being her so much, I cried. I wanted to go back through the door, but here I was. I could only look.

I feel like we all have passed through another doorway. I'm not sure what this new dimension holds, yet. It seems so unsteady. I didn't know then, either, but I know now that that moment was the lowest, or close to it. I guess my fear is that we are not there, yet, or even close to it.