Everyone is out on the weekend dancing to the banjo man at the farmers markets, celebrating Spring. You’re not the one we’ve been holding out for, but you put up a good fight, so gallant and lanky amidst the new and delicate green, never apologizing for your tartness or your withered nobs. Your arrival in the stalls and tents signals that winter has finally gone to rest and that there are so many good, new things to come.
I’ve taken some notes from you this season, notes on owning it. Not being bossy. Not being prideful. You just show up as you are. Like, hey, I’m not strawberries, but that’s cool that’s not what I want to be. Folks are like WTF sometimes when you gawk about too close to the beets and fennel but you shake it off, you already know that the ones who see your potential are who you want to take you home anyway. Those special folks gussy you up, simmer you down, muddle you with booze, coat you in sugar and butter. You end up really getting the royal treatment when it’s all said and done.
You won’t be around much longer, Rhubarb. Basil and summer squash will burst onto the scene and most will forget you. I won’t. I’m going to think of you all summer. Owning it. Loving it. Not trying to fight any of it. Showing up and being real. I will try my best to just come as I am, what do you think? That’s all one can really hope to do in this life, right?
Actual vanilla bean is clutch for this recipe. Extract won’t suffice. Treat yourself.
Vanilla Bean Rhubarb Oatmeal
1 lb rhubarb
1 large orange, juice and zest
1 vanilla bean
4 tbsp water
1/4 cup raw sugar
1-2 cups old-fashioned (thick cut) oats
1/2 cup chopped almonds
Preheat oven to 400.’ Cut rhubarb into 1″ chunks and place in a glass baking dish. Cut open and scoop out the seeds of the vanilla bean onto the rhubarb. Toss in the emptied pods too. Coat with orange juice, zest, sugar, and a bit of water. Mix to cover evenly with sugar, juice, and vanilla. Bake for 15-20 minutes until soft.
Prepare oatmeal to your liking (I use part water part coconut milk for the liquid portion). Scoop a serving of oatmeal into a bowl, cover with rhubarb with a bit of juice, and sprinkle with chopped almonds.
I love this season. It’s cold. There are lights. There is hand holding. There is fellowship among strangers. Joy elevates the mundane, and cultivates memories to satiate and linger through the early months of another year, a new year. The blankets come down from the closet, there is ample excuse to bake, and we somehow find time, make time to connect.
For no particular reason, there are some days when I am shaken by the absurdity of my blessings. I learned at a young age that the holidays are not all gingerbread and champagne for everyone. I remember that when everyone seemed to be getting out of school and taking time off, my mom’s private practice was just ramping up. While the “other moms” were planning progressive dinners, she was helping the mourning, lonely, and lost to navigate the hardest part of their year.
There can be just as much sadness as there is joy associated with this season. I try to remember this everyday. While I indulge in the sweet embrace of loved ones next week, I know that someone, somewhere, is alone. Someone, somewhere, is piecing together a semblance of celebration after deep, confusing loss.
It’s startling, to witness your own luck. How mind-blowing it is to have so much, again, another year.
Of course there are moments throughout the season that frustrate. Our relatives can make us crazy. You’ll bump into that person from high school you really would have rather avoided. You’ll feel obligated to attend certain neighborhood functions. Your partner will exceed the 50lb baggage limit. You’ll be late to work. Someone will forget to change the roll in the guest room. There will be thousands of crazy, maddening moments and interactions this season.
Remember that someone, just like you, somewhere on this planet doesn’t get those crazy, maddening moments. They have no one to burn the biscuits for. They are trying to understand the meaning of tradition when there is now an empty seat at the table.
Here’s the thing… I want every single crazy moment that comes with this time of year. I know that one year, if I am not so lucky as I am now, that I will cling to the taste and the touch and the sounds of all these moments and how they made my life so rich and full. I want to do the things I don’t want to really do, I want to see the people I don’t really want to see, I want show, express, and appreciate every bit of it.
Roasted Chestnut Spread
1 lb Chestnuts
1 1/2 – 2 cups water
1/2 cup + 2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp vanilla
Roasting and shucking chestnuts is more fun with a partner, so grab a partner and tell them to set the oven to 425.’ As the oven preheats, begin working with the chestnuts by cutting a large x on the rounded side of each shell. Place flat side down on a pan. I cover mine with parchment because it’s a bit “seasoned” if you know what I mean. Pour a cup of water over the cross-hatched chestnuts and roast for about 22-25 minutes.
Remove from the oven, the skins should have peel back a bit by now. Let cool for about 10 minutes before getting started on the peeling process. You’ll need to discard the tough, dark brown shell as well as the thin brown skin that coats the actual soft nut. From all my research, each nut has a different story. Some shells and skins are a nuisance while others come off quite easily. It’s a tedious job, but definitely worth it. Toss naked chestnuts into small pot and cover with 1 1/2 – 2 cups of water, depending on how many nuts you ended up yielding. I usually come out with a few nasty moldy dudes and some that crumble apart when I’m trying to peel, so my best guess is that I have about 8-10 ounces of actual nut when it’s all said and done. Add sugar and vanilla. Bring to a boil and stir, allowing to simmer for about 15 minutes.
Remove from heat. Let sit in the pot for a bit before transferring to a food processer with the blade attachment. Process for about 5 minutes, adding a tiny bit of water or warm milk to the mixture to help things along. Transfer to a jar or serve immediately with crepes, toast, or apple slices.
Recipe adapted from Jennie. Cowl/Scarf made by Melissa. Find more music by the amazing (22 year-old!!) Ben Howard Here.
My kitchen is a few things, but sophisticated is not one of them.
Most of my dishes, pots, pans, and silverware are hand-me-downs from friends and family. I bought my Kitchen Aid stand mixer on craigslist three years ago for $50, and except for a few pieces of glass Tupperware and a purple Le Creuset cast iron pan that were gifts from my Mom, everything else was acquired on the cheap. Wooden spoons, a spatula, and a few good knives go a long way in preparing a wholesome and heartfelt meal.
My kitchen is not sophisticated, but it is enough. Everything has a story, and they fill the space with a tender and humble energy that I think makes everything taste better. When I think about it, the basic and eclectic contents of my cupboards model the minimalism and contentment I am seeking, practicing, and striving for in all aspects my life.
Accordingly, it was a rare occasion last week that I found myself in need of a specific gadget for a new recipe. I recently learned that I am intolerant to dairy products and (quite oddly) almonds; meaning the almond milk I’ve been drinking for the past five years hasn’t actually been a healthy alternative after all.
A fine-mesh sieve (strainer) is required for rice milk, and it’s a lovely (and still humble) addition to my collection that I think will be put to good use for years to come.
All you’ll need to make your own dairy-milk alternative is a strainer, a pot, blender, brown rice, and water. Simple, delicious, affordable, and tummy-happy.
Homemade Brown Rice Milk (makes one liter)
3/4 cup brown rice
7 1/2 cups of water, divided
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
In a saucepan, bring rice and 3 cups of water to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, and cook for 45 minutes, adding water if the pan dries out. When rice is soft, remove from heat and add 4 1/2 more cups of water and the vanilla. Stir, then let sit for an additional 45 minutes. Transfer soaking rice to a blender or food processor to mix for 3-4 minutes. Strain through a fine mesh sieve or cheese cloth into a mason jar or pitcher, and enjoy for 4-5 days.