Baby Shower Tie Dye

Historically I have never loved baby showers. It should surprise exactly no one that the construct of most baby showers gives me (or gave my 22 year old self, anyway) the extreme heebie jeebies. All the cooing, all the fawning, all of the mandatory performative group gift opening resulting in a hat made of curlicued ribbons for a probably-already-somewhat-beleaguered-sober-woman-with-swollen-ankles-pounding-cake-at-10am. Also, where are the dudes? You call this a party?

Hearing my best group of (single, non-mother) girlfriends talk smack about an upcoming baby shower this spring in front of our 5 months pregnant friend (“God. They’re the worst. All the moms standing around looking tired just waiting for their gift to be opened and then saying (does awful high pitched voice) ‘I know it doesn’t look like much BUT HE’LL LOVE IT WHEN HE’S OLDER I PROMISE!’… “Oh yeah, oh yeah or like ‘THIS WAS A TOTAL LIFE-SAVER FOR US’… Seriously? BARF!”) makes me also think my 22 year old self was probably kind of a jerk. Sorry, Stacey + Ev!

That being said, there are aspects of the modern baby shower that definitely suck. And there are aspects of it that are totally and completely luminous, heart-lifting, and truly amazing. Under the latter file: bringing together a group of strong, fierce women at the height of their wolf-running-wisdom wherever they are on their trajectory towards (or away from) motherhood. Creating a kinship network of oral history and babe-rearing tradition based in experience and trust the likes of which would have existed if we all still lived in a village or on a commune but is now difficult to authentically muster from the smoking ashes of interdependent female communities in the age of distance and distraction. Experiencing the generosity of spirit and in-kind support at a time when you literally need a whole crap ton of stuff (did I need a gravy boat when I got married? nope. but when babe came along I sure as hell needed a car seat and thems expensive). Being given the opportunity to feel like the wondrous-yet-mundane thing you are doing—the thing that is at once as giant as the cosmos and as small as a pinprick of blood—is not a solitary, isolating pursuit relegated to bloated midnight lonelinesses and WebMD fear-cycles, but is actually an interconnected miracle in a long line of lady-power-history? That is incredibly potent. And, you know, love.

Chief among the legendary bummers at baby showers: no booze. GAMES.

I completely understand the desire for some sort of “activity” at a shower… after all, at a regular party there’s music and dudes and dinner and bonfires and shenaniganz and oysters and unpasteurized cheeses and someone might end up dancing on the picnic table so hard it breaks. At a baby shower? If you’re lucky, there’s ribbon hats and a diaper cake. Womp Womp*. If you’re unlucky, well, you might find yourself in a self-made hell of eating fake poop made of candy bars out of a Huggie. You can’t make this Baby Ruth up.

*(though, TBH, at Rav’s baby shower we did go through a case and a half of champagne and someone did end up asleep on the glider on the porch around midnight with a piece of fried chicken in her hand. IT CAN BE DONE).

Like everything in life (and in parenting, as ye being showered may soon discover) there can be a lovely middle ground for every dilemma.

Enter: TIE DYEING ONESIES.

As an “activity” it’s essentially perfect. It’s easy, it’s fun, it’s safe and non-toxic for babe (unlike paint or similar), there’s no fake poop (why is this even on a list), no one has to do it, it gives perhaps disparate strangers from different eras or circles in the mama-to-be’s life something to talk about other than their pregnant woman in common, someone is usually secretly (and perhaps surprisingly) excellent at it, and when it’s all said and done, the mama leaves with a ton of killer clothes for the little bohemian that, in addition to looking fresh to death, also do a great job at hiding stains. WINNING ALL AROUND.

Long story long (and the putative reason for this post) I’ve been point person for a few tie-dye-onesie extravaganzas at various showers (including my own) and subsequently, I’ve been asked for a breakdown of instructions and supplies multiple times since. After my dear one Reid wrote me this week asking for a rundown for a shower she’s throwing, I decided to just write it all down in one place. Perhaps the internet will find it and it may help like-minded souls avoid the slings and arrows of outrageous diaper games and nudge our collective inner-20-something’s feelings about showers from “BARF” to “actually, that was really so very lovely”.

Who knows, if there’s champagne we might make it all the way to “man, what a fun party!”

BABY SHOWER ONESIE TIE-DYEING

SUPPLIES 

  • White onesies– Gerber or Carters makes great standard onesies but WalMart also has a new in-house line of plain ones which are way cheaper/just fine if money is a concern (which it often is if you’re throwing the shower with a bunch of women in a group/sometimes all the time). If you’re fancy then you can buy organic ones from the local/sustainable purveyor of your choosing. If you’re really thrifty you can sometimes score plain ‘ol stained ones from thrift stores and that’s fine for this purpose. You do you. For people who don’t spend hours googling baby clothes, they call them bodysuits sometimes which can make it easier to search for them online. You’re welcome. You can explain Tinder to me some time.

Get an array of sizes/sleeve length. Ravenel somehow worked out exactly how many short sleeved vs. long sleeved onesies in appropriate size ranges for babe age at the given season (e.g. my Lois Rose was born in February so we had long sleeved newborn onesies, then a few long sleeved 3-6 monthers and a lot of short sleevers for that spring>summer, then a few short sleeve 6-9 monthers and a lot of long sleevers for summer>fall)… we had enough/still do for the babe to be outfitted in tie dye basically until she’s done with onesies/is in high school.

From divine mama Meags, here’s the exact breakdown of what they got for a winter babe:

3 Pack Long-Sleeve (0-3 Months)
5 Pack Long + Short Sleeve Variety Pack (3-6 Months)
5 Pack Long + Short Sleeve Variety Pack (6-9 Months)
3 Pack Long-Sleeve (12 Months)
3 Pack Short Sleeve (18 Months)

  • Dye- I love Procion dyes which are brighter/more colorfast, but do require a bath in soda ash fixative prior to dyeing. Rav bought AMAZING COLORS (turquoise, cobalt, green, and hot pink) for me, but this kit has primary colors which can be mixed. I ended up loving the prettier colors so it was definitely “worth it” to buy the colors individually.
  • Soda Ash Fixative: The “soda-ash” in the aforementioned kit is sold in a tiny cellophane bag like it’s diamond dust. It is NOT PRECIOUS. This Arm & Hammer Washing Soda (which is sold at most grocery stores in with the laundry stuff) is the same thing for like one dollar.
  • Large bucket or pot for the ash pre-soak.
  • Gloves- I bought a pack of these nitrile gloves for this purpose and have since become addicted to having them on hand for dealing with bones or skulls when I find them (or, you know, whatever you use fine touch plastic gloves for).
  • Squeeze Bottles You can dip the onesies into pans of the dye (and I use disposable tinfoil roasting pans for this purpose) but it’s also cool to be able to direct the stream of the dye to have more control over what goes where. Especially useful if there are any people in attendance who are secretly super good at this kind of thing you’ll get, like, five from that person with hearts and stuff shibori’d into it.
  • Rubber Bands- For tying up the knots/making the patterns
  • Individual plastic bags- Having a big stack of plastic grocery bags is super useful for separating individual onesies out when they are done being dyed so they don’t drip dye all over each other in a big pile and ruin everything. The onesies are also supposed to “set” overnight, so it’s nice to just have a paper bag full of the plastic bags corralled and not making a mess anywhere.
  • Aprons, plastic tablecloth, newspaper, etc– nice to cover the area/floor if doing it inside. Do it outside if you can.
  • Bring other stuff to tie dye if you want! Swaddles, crib sheets, or boppy cover for the mama, or old t-shirts/stained throw pillow cases/whatever you have lying around that’s old and tired while you have the dye stations set up it’s NBD to slap a new coat of many colors onto a tired old thing. Keep all of the things separate.

INSTRUCTIONS

Obligatory duh warning: dye will dye clothing and stain things. Use a plastic tablecloth with newspaper over it and gloves, but people should be mindful of their clothing. The squeeze bottles will also sometimes burp little toots of color.

  • Fill canning pot or large bucket with hot water and stir in 2 cups of washing soda/dye fixative.
  • Soak onesies in hot water with fixative for at least 15 minutes before dyeing. Washing the onesies first makes them more receptive to the dye but, honestly, not enough that it’s a deal breaker if you don’t get around to it. It’s a party! Relaaaax.
  • The ash water is not caustic or harmful, but some people find that it dries their skin out, FYI.
  • Mix dye powders in squeeze bottles to desired colors using hot water. Use at least a teaspoon of dye per bottle. More dye=more saturated color. Enjoy deep discussions re: primary vs. secondary colors/favored colors/gender normative color assumption.
  • Squeeze ash water out of onesie, tie/twist/fold and rubber band into your desired design, squeeze or dip dye onto onesie in desired location.
  • Place each finished onesie in its own plastic bag and corrall them all in another bag so whoever is in charge of processing them (the mama, someone else) can grab them and bounce when the party’s over.
  • Once the onesies are dyed they can just chill in their plastic bags until processed. At least overnight and not so long that they get moldy.
  • To process: Officially, the best practice is to rinse the onesies in cold water with their rubber bands still on and then rinse them under warm water while removing the ties before machine washing… but parties have happened where one or both of those steps have gotten skipped with fine results. How intense you want to be with it is up to you.
  • Wash onesies with detergent in the washing machine with hot water and a cold rinse. Et voilà
  • It’s nice to clean up soon afterwards so the dye doesn’t stain the squeeze bottles/any other thing. FYI, procion dye is fine to pour down drains in newly glazed porcelain/enamel sinks or metal sinks but may stain old porcelain sinks/tubs.

ENJOY ENJOY ENJOY BEST OF LUCK WITH YER BABES + YER PARTIES!

ps. Here’s Lois this week in her tie dye in the same raised bed with the same gardener (Ann Marie, tending bounty with grace, always) as in the first shot. Time flies when you’re making things grow. as an afterthought because the world be crazy especially ab babies:

I am a plebeian layperson. While the information herein is carefully researched and checked for accuracy, the author makes no warranty regarding the content of this website and will not be liable for any loss, damage, or injury arising from the use of any information on the site.

I am not a medical professional and the advice on this site and newsletter should not be taken as such. It is not the business of the author to render professional opinions or medical advice. Readers should always seek professional medical advice from their pediatrician, OB/GYN, or midwife, blah blah blah.

Thanks to lucieslist for the language.

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Be kind and generous with yourself

Recently my mother and I were on an email chain with a dear friend who is (hopefully) at Battle-of-Yorktown-status in her own journey through a serious illness. By this I mean that the last major engagement has more than likely been fought and won, the commander pissing in a hidden cave somewhere, not daring to show his face, but it’ll take a while for the news of victory to reach the outlying provinces and so there will more than likely be minor skirmishes and bummers throughout the colonies for the next little bit until armistice is declared and earthworks abandoned in favor of picnicking. This absurd off-the-cuff metaphor brought to you by your friends at Growing Up In Colonial Williamsburg™. Onward.

This dear friend is a real person. The kind of woman who is totally authentically herself at all times and has a sort of luminous power that she carries everywhere like a torch. She is a bringer of light. And she was telling us that this whole thing has made her feel… not quite like her old self. I answered that we’re never our same old selves, only who we are in the present and that there is a strength there. But my very own ever-lovin’ mama up and responded with this…and I quote:

What I now know for sure is that these extremely difficult (unasked for and definitely unwanted) experiences that show up in our lives provide us with an opportunity, if we are very brave and stand up to them, to become expanded versions of our previous selves. It’s the tempering of our minds and bodies as a result of going through hellish times that can introduce us to our most authentic selves: stronger and more resilient than we ever knew we could possibly be.

Also, it’s been my experience that the sense of fragility and feeling unmoored that arises when we have no choice other than to accept how much isn’t (and never was) in our control that helps us to become more compassionate of others because even though everyone’s story is unique to them, nobody makes it through life unscathed.

Be kind and generous with yourself in all things and try let it all unfold without undue worry. You are doing great.

And if that isn’t something to hold dear to your heart always and re-read in times when one feels at loose ends in the chaos and terror of the universe then I don’t know what is. This is an opportunity, dear ones, to stand up and be brave. Live with compassion. And in all else, be kind and generous with yourself. You are doing great.

*Those are also mama’s hydrangeas up top. They’re seriously like 15 feet tall.

This (very) little light of mine

Plants and I haven’t always seen eye to eye. One needs to be in a certain place (both literally and figuratively) to set down roots, to care for something other than yourself, to nurture a thing that takes years in the offing and may or may not say “goodbye cruel world!”, committing herbicide in a strong crossbreeze or going all brown-fronded if you decide to take a few days extra vacation. In my last days in New York City I was *getting* nearer, intellectually, to that place where I yearned for green things and it was perhaps this gentle metamorphoses that finally drew me out of the city and back down south. In that final Brooklyn apartment, a “garden apartment” (read: deepest darkest basement), I kept a tired philodendron right up next to the window. Every day the sun’s slow march up the narrow skyway of our block had the plant pressing its leaves against the wavery old window panes like a little match girl in reverse. What warmth and light there is… out there. City darkness descending at 4pm had me dreaming lustily of golden mote-filled southern farmhouse afternoons surrounded by blooming Meyer Lemon trees and gardenias in winter as if “The South” was some sort of magical giant tropical jungle (which it kind of is) and “my farmhouse” was some sort of airy glassine hothouse (which it decidedly is not). Our house was built in 1895 and, in the manner of houses built before the advent of electricity or running water, it is sited on the highest natural elevation of our land and oriented exactly due east/west. These simple, profound spatial choices make it so that any water runs down and away from our house (no flooding, ever) and that, since the sun travels directly overhead, our house is often 10 or 15 degrees cooler than it is outside. This is just the sort of brilliant old-fashioned use-case practicality that thrills my soul when I encounter it in the wild. How fascinating! How ingenious, you builders of yore! How fortunate we are when the power goes out, say, for a week in an epic summer storm, and we sit, cool as cucumbers, as modern houses with their giant south facing windows and sturdy retaining walls heat up like peeps in a microwave.

The thrill is gone, however, absurd nostalgic feelings of superiority short lived, when one realizes that what this sunshine situation ALSO means is that while our house stays easy breezy day in and day out, direct sunlight shines in the front windows for only an hour or so after rising until the sun meets the roofline and then again for about an hour in the back windows as it retires for the evening. Needless to say that isn’t NEARLY enough to support my own personal citrus grove (I know, I know,  a concerto is played on the world’s tiniest violin). But it IS enough to support a hearty menagerie of general shade lovers wrangled by myself by hook or by DIY crook into the few areas that are treated to the brief patches of sunlight that meander across the walls throughout the day. Several feet of a patch of wall perpendicular to a window in my bedroom gets a generous slant from noon onward… so I built a vertical hanging shelf based on this tutorial using some super old boards and rope that happened to be lying around in the shed.A row of Sweetheart’s tiny succulents and divisions of happy shady growers stands at attention in a motley collection of narrow vessels on the windowsill in the laundry room, gilded for a brief but adequate time in the 3pm-ish range.My search for vertical solutions led me down vintage-style hanging planter rabbit holes, which led me to discover that even the simplest ones were selling for, like, $50 on Etsy, which led me to my first attempt at macrame (decent! I should have gotten special string for the purpose, the twine I had on hand is a little… hairy… but considering the whole thing was basically free? Bon.) using a turned wooden bowl I inherited from Rav as the base……gets suspended in the small patch of diffuse light by the kitchen sink, alongside a mother-in-law’s-tongue (still there, happy…actually very much like my own mother-in-law, these little pals are lovely + easy going and have the best time quietly doing their thing pretty much anywhere where no one will bother them), a prayer plant cutting (no longer there, not bright enough), and a basil start (never had a future there other than as pesto, finally deposited into the herb garden/in my belly):***Note: these are not blog photos! Well, they are, I guess, exactly that, by default of being en blog, but, they aren’t, like, “styled” or whatever that is or means, that striving perfection that might keep people from posting in places for years at a time because oh look at that it’s actual life… see: drying dishes, old tupperware, soda stream, Sweetheart’s aeropress (not the photogenic Chemex set there, just so), an ancient sponge used only for wiping up babe’s post-prandial mat, and the cluttered little hook under the cabinet where I hang recipes from a butterfly clip when I’m cooking to keep my v. limited counter space free from books + papers (from this picture it looks like I was last making an almond cake). Eff it. ***The little landing at the top of the stairs gets the best light in the house, doubled and reflected off the white standing seam roof of the front porch, it’s the only actual direct sunlight we get all day, and it’s absolutely glorious in this slender little zone for a few morning hours. Three plant stands, a small plant table, a terrarium on the floor, and the cat (obviously) soak up any rays they possibly can while they can. It’s like plant YOLO. This is where I put green things that maybe, possibly, just perhaps are inching towards that tropical dreamscape of higher light + care requirements… palm types, jungle types, and an eight year old fiddle leaf fig impulse purchased from the Ikea in Elizabeth, New Jersey. The Fiddle Leaf Fig just put out a new branch WHILE WE WERE OUT OF TOWN.

Oh ho ho! My how the tables have turned! I find myself completely surrounded by green things, each with its own distinct personality, each thriving in its own special zone, each chosen to thrive despite perhaps less-than-ideal conditions. Like all things: you might not always get the heady jasmine and winter clementines of your dreams, but finding what fits where and working to make beauty green up and grow in the space you have… well, that’s pretty darn nice too. Or, like someone once said better than me: once in a while you get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right. Or, perhaps even more to the point: you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you just might find, you get what you need.

The Five Year Journal


I’ve never really kept a diary. Younger versions of myself have eternally been enamored of the idea: a tiny special book with a tiny special lock and a tiny special key the trappings of which would enable one to spend daily meditative time alone exploring the wild, wonderful, and occasionally dark recesses of your own beautiful mind and noting them for posterity. I ended up with a few physical diaries in my early days, most quite pink, with gilt edged pages, and inevitable unicorn motifs and the key (! a key for fairies ! a key for setting magic boundaries as if with a tiny spell !) that I would immediately put in one of the series of tiny boxes I have been obsessed with for my entire life and then… forget about. Any attempts I ever made at putting down *feelings* always came out cringingly upon revisiting them even hours later. The ritual of the diary, the strained self-reflection seems… terribly self-involved? (she says from these pages which are wholly about her own self and srsly what is this dern whole blahhhg thing anyway if not a dang diary? We’ll leave that there).

Acknowledging my frilly inability to keep a journal in the traditional sense, a slightly more grown-up version of myself then became enamored of the idea of the 5 Year Diary. Seeing the sturdy little volume on Miss McKay’s beautiful desk in her sun-slanted Oxford studio, delineating quick’n’dirty what she did on that day today and, at the beginning, projecting 4 blank days of possibilities into the future, and (if you kept it up) at the end, a referential document on how you spent your days and seasons for the previous 5 years. Surely I could manage to keep up with that? If I did it I’d be creating a tangible physical record of who did what where when and just the remembering of the event, daily-reminder-style, as I wrote in today’s reveries, would bring with it again the feelings of June’s first cascade of fireflies, of dipping into the coldest water I ever did dip into at the Lac d’Ayous, of eating oysters in Tomales Bay, of making dinner with Sweetheart after a long day of work on the random quotidian Wednesdays in that brief but wonderful season (hello, January, 2015) when we were completely obsessed with making ramen from scratch.

So I got a 5 Year Diary and it was my constant companion, on my bedside, in my carpet bag, getting delightfully care-worn with the juices of roadside berries and pages crimped from salt air mists. And I kept it religiously, every day from January 21st 2014 through November 15th 2015.

Then I fell off. The diary went into the mouse hole in my old desk (which, since the last known record, has moved south six states, is now painted dove grey, and holds my ever-expanding-collection of birds nests).

This coincided with, perhaps obviously, me falling off here, writing in a flurry of monthly and/or seasonal recaps as if to say “hello! I’m here! the dream of the diary is alive!!”. After all, part of the reason I started writing here was to capture those parts of diary-keeping that were compelling to me. Less angsty poetry, more exercise in examining the rhythms and contours of my life and to have a place for remembering and reminding myself of the true beauty and history of life lived well, of annotating of the living of the dang thing. With pictures.

I last posted here two years ago TODAY (see what I’m doing here?), but I started my record keeping again in earnest last February, when my father gave me his own version of a diary that previous Christmas, a University of Virginia 2017 Day Planner with the inscription:

“Merry Christmas wonderful girl! Perhaps you will want to write a short summary of your daily activities for the first year of your life with Thunder Babe! Or not…”

Classic and perfect, Daddio. He was (as he almost always is) definitely correct. In fact, yes indeed, I would, yes please, so very much like to record the daily activities of my first year with my Thunder Babe, the electric spark, the elemental shift, the Pisces, born in late February 2017, the day my camellia bloomed for the first time, my brand new daughter, my Lois Rose. Or not… you know, if it doesn’t feel right, that’s ok, too. “Be gentle with yourself, wonderful girl”.

But, the same dreamy desires that compelled me to attempt to capture the fleeting joys of summery afternoons and footloose roadstrips of adventure-seasons past surely would take a brand new power and potency when documenting A WHOLE NEW LIFE. So I kept a new Journal. A new way of being. A new…everything?Lois’ diary (like everything about Lois) was different. The wonders of these days were, on their face, smaller and quieter than the sweeping vistas of grandiose “before” adventures, simultaneously more mind-blowing and miraculous and more achingly mundane. Every time she did something for the first time I put a box around the word “first” so that reading back on it my heart expands with the simple wonder of the continual stream of “first” things. First dog (Finn), First sunset stroll, First time wearing my work overalls again since being pregnant (me), First time wearing shorts ever in her whole life (her), First Passover Seder, First roadtrip, First time sleeping in a new place, First time meeting her cousins, First trip to Manhattan, First run-in with the NYPD (hai, Papa), First time on a beach. And that was just the week of 4/10/17-4/16/17! Six weeks in the world and already been to Sahadi’s!

My mind explodes with the possibilities on what to write here about Lois Rose, but that’s dangerous territory. The multitude of feels and potentialities of things to share (and things to keep close to my heart like a tiny burning ember that I alone have nurtured in serene darkness) makes it almost impossible to begin. That kind of massive collective synapse gap can keep someone from writing ANYTHING for, oh, about two whole years.

But the diary? What happened? That’s simple. And the constant reminder to be aware of newness, to slow down to acknowledge the wonder of something like never even knowing a dog existed and then… meeting one! And having that dog be Finn-dog!? Or, conversely, the subtle push to be present in the beauty of the simple daily ritual: the walk to the end of the road and back, the shared breakfast on the porch, the daily summer afternoon swim, the endless hours the cat spends under the woodstove… those things are basically the “cinnamon raison d’etre”, as R.S. used to say. The miraculous in the mundane. Who doesn’t need more of that?

When every single day of Grandaddy’s Day Book was filled up with all of the tiny-massive goings on of 2017, I was at an impasse. Do I get another Day Book? Do I stop keeping a record at all and count on my memory (and the rose-colored-glasses version of my memory immortalized on Instagram) to be enough? Will I feel guilty if I don’t use a sliver of my precious free time to record an entry or can I let it go since quiet spots of time are like diamonds these days? Will I regret this later? What is time? Who am I? Did someone just say “mama”?… and then January 1st, 2018, Lois Rose took her first bath in the square tub of my childhood and swum on her belly like a tadpole and I took the path of most/least resistance, got my 5 year Journal out of purgatory, and wrote it all down. Again and Again and Again. Every day up to today and again tomorrow.

And Again, I am here. I don’t think I’ll be up to writing here every day, but I want the record to live. I want more places for wonder in the world. I want the tiny key in the tiny box and I want the tiny babe to have it all, SEO’d with pictures, and so here we are. I see you. You are seen. This all happened. We are together. We are alive.

 

A Cold Brew Revolution

coldbrewcoconutwater

Let me now interrupt the regularly scheduled summer programming of not writing new blogs, but yes swimming in new swimming holes, picking new peaches, and stockpiling new honeys to bring you a quiet revolution you didn’t even know you needed until this very moment:

THE COLD BREW COCONUT LATTE

I was up visiting Miss Rav in Cleveland (what what, Cavs!) and her miraculous twin babies, taking them for afternoon strolls on the town, hanging out with my favorite fatty bear dog (above right), and of course, getting coffee. Rav’s favorite place, Phoenix, is like a perfect version of the classic hipster-Brooklyn coffee joint, except that it’s in Cleveland so the baristas are sweet and funny and kind and know her and the babies by name and are super friendly and cool and everything is, like, $4. IS THIS SHANGRI-LA? Considering the following revelation, maybe.

Perhaps you will recall my obsession with Cold Brew, we started drinking it almost a decade ago (wtf), before it became gloriously ubiquitous, its inky goodness our primary weapon in the war against central air being waged in our old tenement and continuing in our old farmhouse. I’ve made and drank it religiously every summer since, only upgrading my metal-bowl-multiple-seive-mess-making-factory to the Toddy system when I received one as a wedding present (it is totally worth it). My usual get down is: insulated cup (like this one), full of ice, 2-3 fingers of cold brew, milk to the top. I didn’t think there was anything really wrong with this set up, though I don’t really love drinking tons of milk, but the cold brew is too strong to drink straight. Jitters for dazzzeee.

On the menu at Phoenix: the aforementioned Cold Brew Coconut Latte. It was INCREDIBLE. I asked lots of questions and upon returning home immediately got the goods to make it for myself.

COCONUT COLD BREW OF DREAMZ

• cup full of ice
• 2-3 fingers of cold brew coffee
• CHILLED COCONUT WATER almost to the top
• A splash of half and half (Rav prefers Almond Milk)

The result is subtly sweet and fresh and lovely and refreshing and non-jittery and non-heavy-dairy. Sweetheart says it tastes like a milkshake.

Time to go make myself one.

That’s all.

Wild Geese

 

WildGeese

Just this time last year the world was frozen and deeply, softly, quietly covered with snow and Ann Marie was here, snowed in, I hoped, forever, but really only for a few days. We left the embrace of the woodstove and went out to the spring-fed pond, a small park nestled in a deep valley, to stretch our legs and rosy up our cheeks and be like children or wild animals for a hot second and revel in the just-being-outsideness of it. We went when the sun was getting long in the sky, that slanted winter light that—even if just for the single minute of 4:36-4:37 pm in February—is richer than any Provençal golden hour, perhaps made even more precious by its fleeting gilt. The little park has miles of trails, most of them impassable in the snow, so we just took the one that circumnavigates the pond—spring fed and running, but frozen solid nonetheless. Cold. Out on the ice, 30 or so wild geese sat all facing the same direction in the sun, like chess pieces, utterly still, utterly silent, and we could see them through the trees from our various vantage points around the water. As time passed, the sun gilded the ice, the snow, the geese, covered in that thin winter gold. We made it almost to the very end of the loop, around towards the back of the pond, immediately opposite the setting sun, at that exact moment that it began dipping under its ridgeline, the bones of naked trees stark against it, that all at once and definitely by some mysterious and ancient signal the geese took off in a collective rush of feathers and, once they reached altitude, put their harsh and joyous cries out into the stillest cold. AHHHHH. Time goes, wonder stays, this year it is lush and green instead of still and cold, but the geese still call overhead, wild and mysterious and constant like the sound of the high lonesome trains in the distance, and I am always reminded of this, from Mary Oliver.

Wild Geese
Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

The Larder

IMG_0466A little while back, having just moved in with t.l.o.h.l.* darling Miss Molly wrote asking me for a “quick list of your kitchen essentials…what ingredients do you have to have on hand at all times…maybe a blog”. Dearest Motown and t.l.o.h.l. are both excellent cooks and t.l.o.h.l. is possessed of a fabulous apartment in what just might be the last-real-building-in-New-York-full-of-squatters-who-turned-their-squat-into-a-co-op-just-by-staying-there-for-a-few-decades-and-who-haven’t-been-bought-or-driven-out-yet. This apartment also boasts an appropriately authentic tiny kitchen. The fact that Miss Mo considered that I might be a resource in this land of ever-precious-pantry-real-estate is both an honor and a privilege. One that I’m not 100% sure I’m worthy of…Sweetheart and I do cook all the time and, like many people I know, we talk about food and cooking constantly and joyfully. Our favorite thing to do is to talk about what we’re going to eat for lunch while we’re eating breakfast and then talk about what we’re going to make for dinner as we’re eating lunch. We aren’t fancy cooks, we aren’t precious. We’re good at it because we like doing it, the act itself is a pure pleasure, and making good food for yourself and for those you love is the exact definition of sustenance. People have written a lot (and better) than I can or could about this most simple and glorious of human truths. So I’ll just say: Cooking is just the best. Apron on, glass of wine, some sweating onions and I’m happier than pretty much anywhere. I also really love my pantry. And the idea of stores. Ever since the existential dilemma of one’s chosen “Oregon Trail” career path dictating how much you had allotted to spend in the beginning on salt pork and cornmeal and ever since Manzo’s bad sisters ate the whole barrel of store-bought white sugar when their parents are out of town in “Farmer Boy” I’ve been enamored of the larder. The mere existence of the concept of “provisions” dovetails exactly with my desire for comfort, certainty, security, order, and beauty. Does this qualify me to wax poetic about basic kitchen necessities? Perhaps…

*the love of her life

IMG_0463Our old farmhouse has a pantry. A separate room the size of a walk-in closet with its own door and an ancient porcelain door-knob and whitewashed beadboard walls and exposed beams and an old schoolhouse light-fixture and walls full (full!) of glorious, glorious shelves. I didn’t build this pantry, but if I was going to build one, I’d build it just like this. It is the stuff of dreams. When we first moved down to our farmhouse from our Brooklyn apartment (which, by New York standards actually had a MASSIVE kitchen but still, le sigh) I used to go into the pantry and shut the door behind me and simply marvel at the thing. The rows of orderly jars and tiny bottles and places for multiple ice buckets and fermentation crocks and braided-tail hanging garlics and mysterious tonics steeping in a “cool dark place” and whatever else my strange new-witchy-barefoot-country self could imagine. I guess in this sense I am worthy of making a list of my “pantry staples”, in that sometimes I literally go into the pantry and stroke my stores of meals and flours lovingly and am constantly taking stock of the cans, jars, pickles, honeys, vinegars, oils, sauces, and spices to make sure that the world can be our oyster, whenever we decide to make them. My sister-in-law was telling me about this terrifying book she was reading where everyone in the world suddenly goes blind and everyone freaks out and starves because nobody can find any food and the first thing I thought was “I’d probably be ok for a while with the pantry and all”.IMG_0468

So, I’m by no means an expert, but, for Miss Motown and my own personal edification, here’s my pantry get-down. Lots of this stuff is super personal, but why not, here we go!

Ok, for those with space limitations, here are the absolute barest bones of what I think every kitchen must be stocked with at all times for the bare minimum of doable cookery. Oil, Vinegar, Salt, Pepper, Onions, Garlic…Wine.

Olive Oil: I just use Extra Virgin for everything. If someone wants to give me a $30 bottle of hubba-hubba finishing drizzling oil, I’ll definitely take it (seriously), or if you prefer a lower quality oil that smokes at a higher heat, I get that, but I think of Extra Virgin like the Goldilocks of cooking oils. Juuust right. I keep mine in a plain, refillable bottle with a speed pour on it at hand near the stove.

Vinegar: If you only have room for one, I’d pick… Champagne (surprised?). A light enough acid to counter greens (cooked or fresh) without the heaviness of a balsamic or the specificity of cider.

Salt: Cooking and finishing.  For cooking I use Diamond’s Kosher Salt (though I try and use salt less and less during the actual cooking and add on the necessary zing at the end with the finishing salt…). Kosher salt is great for cooking, but not all kosher salts are created equal. My chef friend taught me: DO NOT USE MORTON’S. It is often the only “kosher” salt on lots of grocery shelves, but the rabbi has nothing to do with what’s actually in it. Morton’s Kosher Salt ingredients: Salt, Yellow Prussiate of Soda, Anti-Caking Agent. Diamond’s Kosher Salt ingredients: Salt. Nuff said. Finishing salt is a matter of super preference. My favorite is Le Saunier de Camargue Fleur de Sel.

Pepper: Get a grinder.

Onions + Garlic, always on hand, always. Any recipe that doesn’t start with these old pals in a pan sweating it out together in a little hot oil is immediately suspect (not to say that those recipes can’t be great, but it’s cause for pause). When Mama would start to make dinner when I was little I remember coming downstairs following the smell and say “WHAT are you making!?” and she’d say “It’s just the onions and garlic”.

Wine: for yourself, always, for the dish, sometimes.

THAT’S IT FOR THE ABSOLUTE BAREST NECESSITIES EVER.

Now. You know that can’t be it. That’s all well and fine if you’re living off the grid or with a single hot plate or in The Scamp. But, like everything worth a damn, the good kitchen contains multitudes. I contain multitudes. Here’s a second pass at things you should really consider having on your shelves. Quick, dirty, off the cuff, true for me, maybe not for you:

Fats
Coconut Oil: Perfect for cooking down Indian/Sub-Continent/Asian/Jamaican/Caribbean-flavor-profile hard greens and the best possible thing for popping popcorn at home.
Vegetable Oil: For frying. Latkes especially, or Okonomyaki and the like. Perfect for any kind of “cakes”. Except crabcakes, which get fried in butter.
Butter: Unsalted. As the chef friend says, why let the butter company pick the quality of salt you’re going to eat (see: Morton’s)
Cooking Spray: For greasing the grill or for easily greasing/flouring baking sheets/cake tins.

Acids
Balsamic Vinegar, Apple Cider Vinegar, Red Wine Vinegar, White Wine Vinegar, plain White Vinegar, Champagne Vinegar, Rice Wine Vinegar, Ponzu, Lemons, Limes.

Dry Goods

Baking: White flour, rye flour, stone ground corn meal, masa harina, white sugar, brown sugar, confectioner’s sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cornstarch, cocoa powder.

Pantry: White rice, wild rice, arborio rice, basmati rice. Rolled oats, quick oats, Irish oats, granola. Pecans, walnuts, almonds, cashews, sesame seeds, popcorn, peanuts, pine nuts. Raisins, craisins, crystallized ginger, figs, dates. Dried red chinese chiles, dried adobo peppers, dried mushrooms. Red lentils, green lentils, french lentils. I have never had luck with dried beans.

Coffee, sweet moses, coffee.

A note on jars. Putting all of your stuff in jars isn’t some hipster affectation (though it does end up looking mighty swell). All it takes is one round of those terrible little pantry moths all up in your crumply bag of flour (and then, subsequently, in everything else) to make decanting all of your ingredients into jars make, like, the most sense. Also, then you can see everything you have at a glance. To maintain this system, a wide-mouthed canning funnel is an absolute necessity (Mama gave me mine a decade ago and I just gave my dear friend with a new pantry of her own to stock one for Christmas). It’s one of those things that once you have one you don’t know how you lived without it. For dry goods that all kind of look alike (confectioner’s sugar or rice flour? masa harina or cornmeal? rye flour or buckwheat?), once I put the contents of whatever packaging into the jar, I trace the jar top over the label, cut it out, and put the label between the lid and the ring.

Spices

Whole seeds/spices: cumin, fennel, cardamom, caraway, nutmeg, cloves, saffron, bay leaves, peppercorns.

Ground spices: cinnamon, coriander, turmeric, curry, ginger, oregano, crushed red pepper, cayenne pepper, chili powder, garlic powder, celery salt, and (the absolutely weirdly necessary/perfect) Rendezvous-branded seasoning from the rib joint in Memphis.

Fancy extras: aleppo pepper, smoked paprika, sichuan peppercorns, pink peppercorns, garam masala, ras al hanout, herbes de provence, Spike…any spice blends anyone awesome gives you.

Sauces: molasses, cane syrup, pomegranate molasses, maple syrup, honey. Tabasco, Sriracha, Crystal/Trappey’s Red Devil.

Man, oh, man. This could go on forever! I HAVEN’T EVEN STARTED ON CANS. Or weird Asian sauces. Or mustard. Or mayonnaise! Or pickles. Molly, is this adequate? A moment of calm quiet after Christmas and before New Years and I’ve fallen down the presumptive rabbit hole of virtually counting all of my jars… what a pleasure. But the truth is, I’ve got to go start making dinner this very minute. What on earth should we have?

 

 

ps. Diced tomatoes and bullion cubes in the pantry (or homemade broth in the freezer), eggs, carrots, and celery in the fridge + all this other jazz and you can pretty much literally make anything, ever. Maintaining a pantry like this makes trips to the grocery literally just be cruising the produce + protein sections and picking what’s fresh and/or cheap.

pps. secret best ingredient of all time: Chiles in Adobo Sauce. Found in a can with the Goya stuff/international aisle in every supermarket. Chop them in a soup. Add them to onions and garlic at the beginning of a braise. Beef up some beans. Take some of the sauce and mix it with mayonnaise for the best, spicy, smoky, easiest “secret sauce” ever. And the La Morena brand has a badass, vaguely suspicious, sassy (naked?) woman on it who is kind of like my personal kitchen spirit animal.

ppps. ok gotta stop.