At Least I Can Make Dinner

My daughter said the other day, “We have like three things for dinner,” meaning we do not have enough variety in our dinner menu. This, despite that I just made rice with a homemade Yumm style sauce with peas and potatoes, something I had never tried before, which was, if I may say, even though I made it myself and may be biased or at least have a stake in that particular meal’s success, particularly tasty. Three things indeed.

My son really likes pizza. When my daughter is not around we have pizza at least once a week. What can beat fresh dough that can be garnished with a variety of sauces and toppings and cheeses? I mean, pizza is great, and fresh from the oven? It can’t be beat. So I was going to make pizza, since it has been a couple of weeks since we have had that (I’m sorry did you say three things?). But apparently pizza is one of the three things, so instead I made a pizza wannabe.

I guess you could call it a stromboli. Instead of dough with carefully scattered toppings, I mixed a bunch of stuff together–sauteed shallots and orange bell pepper, chopped spinach, cheddar and parmesan, and goat cheese. The goat cheese was the kicker. I rolled out a huge square of dough, laid out some tomato sauce and spread out the mixed stuff. Then I pulled in the corners and tucked them in to make a square pie. And baked.

And that thing was good. I had never made quite that same dish. I mean, I have wrapped up ingredients in dough and baked it, but never in a square. A square stuffed pizza/stromboli/new thing for dinner. It was hot and savory with a crunchy chewy crust and gooey yumminess in the middle. I may be crappy at other aspects of parenting/husbanding, but at least I can cook up a quality dinner. Dammit. I got your three things. Plus a whole lot more. You want some variety, kid? Bring it.

Stolen Fire Pit

We don’t see a lot of other people these days, at least in person. But we did find a workaround to help. My son had a friend over not too long ago, sort of. They hung out at the end of our long driveway, a good distance apart, but enough to have a long conversation. That worked well to get in some real face time. We have no close neighbors so it was just the two of them.

Not long after that we had their whole family over. The second time they came over we hauled our metal fire pit to the end of the driveway and put that between us. They were on the road side and we were on the house side and it was enough to have a shared experience. After they left we snuffed the fire and pulled the pit off to the side and went back to the house.

My daughter tried this with friends as well. We had three or four fires this way. Then my daughter had a plan to do it one more time. We grabbed some wood and matches and water to put the fire out at the end and headed down the driveway. But we got there and the fire pit seemed, well, missing. Hadn’t we left it right there? We had. It was gone.

There was a pile of cold wood coals. The fire pit was gone, as was the grate that we had set off to the side. Someone had come to our house, dumped the ashes, grabbed the pit with its grate, and taken it for themselves. We were a bit dumbfounded. Who would do that? Especially right now? I mean, I know people steal stuff, but to take it while we are home? During the day? That’s bold.

Missing the fire pit isn’t too much of a problem. It is just a thing, albeit one that brought a lot of joy. My daughter and friends had a fire right on the gravel of the driveway that night. In fact, we have a second metal fire pit. Years ago my wife and I both bought one to give to each other for Christmas. Hers was better so we have had been using that one. I pulled out the second one from the basement and, after way too much assembly, we have another one to use, although we have yet to christen it.

The problem is that someone stole this object that made a big difference during these days of isolation. It was a symbol of how we might come together even when we can’t come together like we would at another time. It allowed for real sharing, not virtual sharing–light across distance. Plus it was a gift, and we had shared many fires with many other people over the years. For someone to just take that? That ain’t right.

Luckily we do have a back-up. I guess we won’t be leaving it at the end of the driveway, however. And I hope that the one that disappeared ends up causing some joy for others, even if it is a soured joy. I hope the sourness wears off, and true enjoyment can be had from our old fire pit. That theft has put a ding in a lonely time for us, so I hope it can take a ding out of someone else’s.

Wild Leeks Soup

It is the season of wild leeks. That season is short. In the woods, green covers the forest floor. The bright new leaves pierce the dried maple and beech leaves that fell in the fall. When the sun shines through the bare branches, you can smell them.

My son and I popped into the woods late in the afternoon. We each had a trowel. We dug up some leeks. Drive the trowel straight down, pull it back to loosen the soil and shake out some leeks. They are sort of similar to leeks you might buy in a market, but much smaller, smaller than typical scallions. And they are softer, more fragile. We made a small pile, enough to hold in one hand. Bright green on one end, covered in dark dirt on the other.

I washed them in the sink. I collected quite the pile of soil in the trap, mixed with a few dried leaves and grass stems. I had a clean bunch in the end, ready to be made into soup. I cubed several potatoes and sliced the leeks, tossed them with butter and olive oil, and sauteed. I added some water, some stock, some salt and pepper, and cooked it all into a soup.

I also made dinner rolls. I hear yeast is getting hard to come by. We always have a lot on hand anyway, so we are good to go for now. Dinner rolls are like the lazy bread–make some dough and knead it and let balls of the stuff rise in a pan. Then bake it and… fresh rolls, easy and quick. Soup and bread–pretty standard dinner around here.

Oddly, by the time the soup had reduced and gotten thick, it turned a bit green. I mean, the leeks were green but I have never had them turn other stuff green. And this new green was much darker–not the bright green of the fresh leeks. So it had a bit of an off color, but it was dang tasty. Those cut leeks smelled strong before they cooked down so I admit was a little nervous that I had put in too many leeks, but my fears ended up being unfounded.

Our wild leek window is small so I need to dig up some more before they fade away. Omelets? Quiche? Pizza topping? I’ve got lots of options. Especially if I want some green food.

Pancakes for Dinner

I have been cooking dinner pretty much every night these days, what with being home all the time. I don’t have a drive home after working later than I should and then a day’s worth of fatigue to dissuade me. Instead I close my laptop and head to the kitchen.

I used to make pancakes fairly frequently. Saturday morning I would whip up some batter and fire up the griddle and, once everyone was up for the day, I would cook up some pancakes. Maple syrup and berries and bananas and nuts and whatever we had that seemed appropriate to top of them off–that was the extra prep work. But now that our kids are older, they sleep in. Pancakes for breakfast? More like pancakes for lunch.

Since that morning rise time is unpredictable (could be 9:00, could be noon) and since it is rare that everyone gets up at the same time, I just don’t make pancakes anymore. It isn’t as enjoyable to eat them alone and the batter doesn’t last for hours. It is a breakfast that just doesn’t make sense these days.

But we do eat dinner together. And I have been wanting pancakes. So we had a marriage of convenience last night. And that relationship was one to savor while it lasted. I made yeasted batter and while it rose I sliced strawberries and washed the few blueberries we had left and cut a banana into discs. I heated some maple syrup, as well as the griddle and off we went.

We enjoyed dinner. I mean, pancakes are great, especially these yeasted pancakes. I did not make them with buttermilk, which really makes them excite the taste buds, but one has what one has. Dinner together–that works. We pretty much never have breakfast together so this was a bit of a throwback.

I did polish off a half gallon of maple syrup and cracked open the next one–our last one I am afraid. We never got down the road to the sugar shack to get more this spring. I am sure they still have some as their season was cut a bit short. I need to give them a call and set a time to stop on over to get more. Everyone wins with that deal. And it means we can have pancakes for dinner another night. I am sure we will have the chance. We will be stuck at home at least a month more yet.

Saturday Bagels

In the past I have gone with the overnight rise. Make the dough, shape the bagels, let them rise in the refrigerator overnight. In the morning? Boil and bake. Bagels for breakfast. I went the standard route yesterday, however. I made the dough in the morning, let it rise, then shaped the bagels. One more rise, then boil and bake.

I tried something new with this batch. I have made plain bagels and I have made cinnamon raisin bagels. This time I used some whole wheat flour along with all-purpose flour where I have used just bread flour in the past. Flour is in short supply these days, what with all the quarantine baking happening, so I added whole wheat flour to increase the gluten content. And I also added toppings.

I have to admit I had a bit of a fear of toppings in the past. Wouldn’t they burn in the oven? Or fall off? But this time I added Everything topping (King Arthur makes a quality mix) to some, and grated parmesan to others. And I left a couple plain as well.

They were not ready for breakfast, but they were just right for a hot afternoon snack. We had no cream cheese (also out of stock these days) but hot bagels are great any time, if you ask me. And the toppings worked like a charm. So good. Will definitely do that again.

I have said it before, but bagels are easy to make. Letting them rise overnight makes them easy, no doubt, but when you have the time, letting them rise on the counter is just as simple. I am pretty sure my family enjoyed them. My wife almost burned her fingers and her mouth she was so eager to eat one. So quarantine bagels? Doing that again.

School at Home

Way back a lifetime ago, meaning a few weeks ago, Vermont’s governor gave a Friday press conference saying schools would not be closed. There was not a need right then, but the situation could change and the administration would continue to assess what needed to be done to address the coronavirus’s spread. The following Monday he gave another press conference closing schools until April 6th. A week later, on March 26th, the governor ordered schools closed for the rest of the academic year.

School is not out, mind you. Students and staff are not going to school but they are trying to keep the business of school moving forward. At first the idea was just to “maintain learning,” to make sure students didn’t forget everything by the time school started back up again. Now, however, the idea is to keep teaching, and learning, and generally doing school.

This, of course, has not been a simple task. At my son’s high school every student gets a Chromebook, so they all have a device to connect with others. My son logs in and connects with his advisory at least once per week. They check in, using Google Hangouts, give each other advice and share stories and maybe even get some ideas about how to generally do school. They vent a little and they reassure each other. At other times he gets online for actual “classes.” This does not look like a typical in-person class but might include a lesson or review or help with an assignment that was posted to their online classroom page.

My daughter had been away at school, far from Vermont. She came home early for her March break. Once that break ended she stayed home. Her school is closed as well. They are trying to hold more formal classes online. Sometimes those classes are 90 minutes. That is a long time to focus when meeting on Zoom, especially for challenging high school subjects.

Yesterday my daughter was in her room, online for pre-calculus class. In the middle of it she texted “lots of algebra” and the above photo. Pre-calculus is not an easy class. It requires paying attention and, for most students, asking questions. That is all upside down in this online classroom, especially for a teacher who does not have a lot of experience teaching online and had little time to prepare for that shift. That photo exemplifies the challenge.

Students everywhere are making it work as best they can, but many are just not logging on, and many simply can’t. We are lucky. Our kids are responsible, for the most part, and we have reliable internet access in a safe home. Not only do we have plenty to eat, but I am cooking more than ever now that I am not commuting to and from work. This is a game changer for education on all levels. School will never be the same, and no one knows yet what that means.

My children are not going back to school this year. Will they be in school in the fall? If so, what will that look like? What will this mean for graduation requirements, or for college admissions? Or for the future of higher education? Students ask “When will things get back to normal?” but, sadly for them, they won’t.

We will get through this, of course, and we will all be changed, and good things will come from this very bad time. As the head of my daughter’s school said in an online town meeting, “This stinks.” Unlike the virtual whiteboard in pre-calculus class, everyone with any connection to education understands that.

Peepers and Moonrise

The sun sets and the moon rises. Tonight it rises, full, directly over Camel’s Hump, the moon so bright it shows the snow on the mountain’s summit. Peepers sing from the pools. Wood Frogs too.

Three Woodcocks call out before each of them ascends and dances in the just-light sky, circling until they drop back to the field. A Snipe whistles past. A Song Sparrow offers one last song for the day.

In the pink moonlight, the brown of the dead grass can’t be seen. The dirt left by the snow isn’t visible. The limb from the ash that fell this winter–it looks sculpted.

The cooling air smells of spring, of mud and maple buds. Over the hill a wood fire sends its smoke our way. Even the smoke smells of spring, stretching its heat as if to last until the fall.

The Barred Owl calls again. It has called all day. It cannot get enough of its bold pronouncements, calling in the light, at dusk, in the dark. Does it rest in spring?

I will settle in early tonight, my sleep restless lately, with worry and fear. Owl, put me to sleep. I will leave the window open a bit to hear you. And to let in the pink moon.