Caring for a Rose

Ask anyone who knows me, and they’ll tell you that it’s only very recently that I’ve been able to take care of a plant for longer than three months without killing it. Beta fish went the same way in middle school several times. I love my cat because she told me (loudly) to feed her every morning while I was in high school! Mostly I just forget to water plants for too long, or stick them near a window that’s too cold, or never repot them…my poor plants.

This has led me to learn about some of the hardiest plants out there. I did keep a spider plant alive for almost four years; it sometimes weathered month-long droughts! (Sorry, spider plant…) Coleus plants are also fairly hardy; my AP bio project (round two, but still) is still living the bay window in Steamboat! (This could possibly be because Mom takes care of it now.)

And then Mom gave me a challenge. She got me ten different plants to keep in my classroom. Some of them were hanging plants; I have another spider plant that I love. Some were small and drape off the edge of things, and some were huge! As of today, I can say that nine are still alive. There was a succulent that succumbed to a combination of over-watering and over-interest from my students (they liked to pull the leaves off). And I have to say that one of the hanging plants is still mad from when I accidentally stripped most of its leaves off when I set another plant on top of it during the trip back to school this fall.

But the others look great!

And yes, it’s partially my student aides who help remember to water them. I have the best student aides.

Even my school plants are nothing on my biggest plant challenge. Last February, I received a miniature rose plant that I have desperately been trying not to kill ever since.

Roses are not the most difficult to grow, but they’re a big step up from the almost un-kill-able plants I’d previously killed. They don’t like being too dry. They don’t like being too wet. They’re susceptible to white fungi and aphids. They like a lot of light but not being cold. I can tell you all of these things because my rose has survived all of these things.

When I got my rose, there were five plants twined together in a single pot. This is common for commercial plants; it makes them look thick and healthy and gives you options for repotting. At first I kept the rose a little too dry; leaves near the bottom started to yellow and dry. One stem died off all together. Marilyn, who owns the house I live in and visits frequently, showed me how to soak the rose in a pot once a week to keep it happier.

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This worked for a while, until a white powder substance began to appear on the leaves. This white fungus coats rose plants and causes the leaves to shrivel up. Now my rose was too wet and fighting a fungus! I went to Home Depot and purchased some rose fertilizer/protector stuff with all sorts of warning labels all over it. I mixed it to the proper concentration and poured it over my rose plant.

Turns out it was not made for potted plants. This was nearly the end of my rose. Leaves fell. Stems turned hard and brown. I hadn’t had a single bloom since the ones that were budding when I got the silly thing.

Like a guardian angel, Marilyn swooped in with pruning shears. She cut the rose WAY back and put it outside in a pot with several other flowers. There was one sad stem left of the five I’d started with, and it didn’t have a single leaf. Both Marilyn and I thought that was the end of the rose. Ellen, who lives in the apartment in the basement, waters the outside pots all summer, so it would get water whether it was dead or not.

But there must have been some green left in there somewhere; all of a sudden there were little sprouts coming off everywhere on that stem. And then there were leaves. And magically, then there was a bud. And then there was a rose.

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Every time I managed to make it to Boulder over the summer, there were more leaves and more buds. My rose was thriving! I think it liked the long hot days and being with other plants and insects and such things. And I think it liked getting regular water from Ellen. It did grow a little wonky; the other flowers in the pot had a head start, so my rose had to grow kind of sideways and then up to get out from under them. But wonky or not, my rose grew.

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And then fall came, and it was getting around to the time to bring the rose back inside.

I carefully repotted the rose into it’s own pot, and left it next to its outside pot for another week. I wanted it to have the same sunlight it’d had before to hopefully ease the transition. After a week I brought it inside and set it next to the sliding glass door. I felt the soil every day to check the moisture and rotated my plant so it would grow a little straighter. Leaves turned brown. Leaves fell. I crossed my fingers that my rose was just transitioning. I forgot to water it once. A few more leaves fell. And then my dear rose stabilized and, though it still doesn’t look as happy as it did all summer, it was all green and blooming again.

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Until the day I went to pour the water in a realized it looked…fuzzy. I looked closer and realized my poor rose was COVERED in aphids! I sprayed my rose down (and carefully dried the leaves to avoid the white fungus episode of last year) and picked off any aphids that were still there. I became the predatory rose-mom; I checked it every evening and picked off any aphids I saw. I thought I had the population pretty much destroyed until I left for Christmas. When I came back, they were back in even stronger numbers than they had been before. Leaves were dropping. One sad bloom refused to open. One branch was completely denuded.

I have since wielded a soap spray with great efficacy, though I still check it and pull an aphid or two off every three nights or so. But my rose is green, and my bloom is opening. Yesterday I found a new one.

I love taking care of my rose. I like the way the leaves smell, I like watching the blooms develop. I love how weird the stems are since they keep growing towards the light. I even sort of like picking off aphids (though I would rather my rose not have to deal with them). I really like repotting and playing in the dirt. And the best part is my rose isn’t dead yet! It’s likely the hardiest rose to ever be tortured, but I’m getting better at it.

Maybe I’m ready for a vegetable garden!

Your homework: What’s one thing you struggled to be good at? Who helped you? Did your rose survive?

Hej då,

Jamie

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Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! I’m a little early yet, but I hope you’re all looking forward to a chance to be with your important people, eat something tasty, and get some extra sleep!

I’m home in Steamboat again, and every time I come back here I’m reminded of how much I love coming home. I’ve only been home for two hours and already my cat is underfoot, my dad is sharing ski racing stories and cookies with me, and I’ve settled into my spot at the dining room table to do a bit of grading. I love how easily I can settle into this place each time I come back.

For my family, Thanksgiving involves A LOT of cooking. Tomorrow Mom and I will make pies (pumpkin and pecan) and chop broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, potatoes and sweet potatoes. We’ll shred bread and celery for the stuffing and later in the evening we’ll set the sweet rolls to rise overnight.

In the midst of all of that, it’s also Scholarship day! Steamboat Ski Area likes to open the day before Thanksgiving with Scholarship Day; everyone, including season pass holders, buy a $25 pass and all the proceeds go to the local winter sports club. There’s only going to be one run open (the newspaper says five, but that’s because they name different sections different things) but it’s worth it to go out and get the first couple of runs in.

Thursday is another day of cooking extravaganza! I always stay elbow-deep in warm soapy water, washing the three spoons and two mixing bowls that are everyone’s favorite. I love being in the kitchen with Mom helping. I’m getting to the age where I know that someday I’m going to have to cook my own Thanksgiving dinner, but for now I’ll stick to dish duty and setting the table! I used to (alright, still) pretend that a queen or something is coming for dinner and I set every plate and fork and spoon just perfectly straight.

Friday is yet another tradition – it’s the day we go get the Christmas tree! We used to do this a bit later, in early December, but when I went to college we moved it up a bit so I could still go with everyone. My family drives way up Seedhouse Road, until Dad gets the car stuck (he always gets it unstuck too!). Depending on the year and the snow, we hike in to different spots in hunt of the perfect tree. We like to send Jeff off to the trees to have a scale for how tall they actually are – he also shakes them off (and gets covered in snow) in order for us to see the branches without the snow weighing them down.

Jeff and I take turns cutting it down; one of the two of us always manages to remember who’s turn it is. We bring hot chocolate and cookies and a tarp to drag the tree out with. I have some memories of being very little and getting pulled in on sleds – then on the way out Jeff and I would be on one sled and the tree on the other! My parents are way strong, and way cool for doing that.

Inevitably there is always at least one snowball fight, and Jeff tosses me in a snowbank at least once. He always wins.

In and among all of this, I do still try to get work done. It’s always so very desirable to walk out of break ready and prepared for the last three weeks of school…and it’s always so tempting to sit in front of the fire and knit instead! But I’ll start today by knocking out as much grading as I can, and we’ll see how far I get from there. In that regard, Christmas is my favorite break, because I refuse to leave school until every last final is graded and final grades posted. Is there always more I could be doing? Of course. But I’m much better at Christmas about setting it all aside and acting like I’m five again.

So far I’ve told you about how this Thanksgiving break will be the same, but this Thanksgiving was also extra special because I got two of them! This past weekend Jonathan and I had Thanksgiving with his parents in Golden. There was lots of tasty food, knitting and watching football, and a really lovely hike up Clear Creek Canyon. And then I got to bring him home with me, for yet more tasty food, playing outside, and probably some more knitting.

I have a lot of things to be grateful for, but as always my people remain at the top of my list. You all make my life so much richer by being in it. Thanks for that.

Your homework is completely cliché this week, but I see no need to break from this tradition. What are you grateful for? Which people can you send a little extra love to this week?

Hej då,

Jamie

How to Read

As a child, I spent hours (and hours, and hours and hours,) reading fiction. Anything I could get my hands on, really. I tore through the Laura Ingalls Wilder series in a couple of weeks, the first three Harry Potter books in about a month. In elementary school we had a reading program where you could earn points by taking comprehension quizzes. The longer or more complex the book, the more points it was worth. I vividly (and somewhat bitterly) remember coming in first in my classes every year except for fourth grade, when one of my classmates read the three Lord of the Rings books and sneaked by me.

In middle school I received my one and only detention for reading outside and missing the start of class (by nearly a half hour…whoops!) and my only negative parent teacher conference for reading under my desk. In eighth grade I discovered the Redwall series by Brian Jacques, and I was reading a book a day.

My free-reading was somewhat curtailed in high school, when the school reading assignments became longer and more complex and my ski racing increased. But I still read, and frequently – in the van, while I was supposed to be doing my homework, curled up in front of the fireplace. This dropped off dramatically in college, when I was farther from a public library and had heaps of academic reading.

Academic reading became the bane of my existence. I hated how my mind would wander away and I’d end up rereading the same things over and over. I tried highlighting and taking notes and reading in small chunks and I could not, for the life of me, make nonfiction things stick in my head!

For a girl who usually can recall dozens of characters and plot lines and tiny details of stories, this was incredibly disconcerting. How did I all of a sudden not know how to read? What was I doing wrong?

I was also saddened and disconcerted to realize that biology, which had been my favorite class in high school, was no longer interesting to me. I struggled through my major classes and fumbled lab projects and flailed on exams. I felt like I was drowning in a sea of details I couldn’t keep straight in my head.

Turns out those things were actually related. What I was missing was the story, the connections between ideas.

In a fiction book, there is the main character and everyone is defined, at least in part, by their relationship to that main character. Let’s take Harry Potter for example. He has his best friends Ron and Hermione, his school nemesis Draco, his arch-enemy Voldemort, his mentor Dumbledore, his romantic interest Ginny…everyone can be related to Harry in some way.

And there is  a sequential story line. First, “Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number 4, Privet Drive, were proud to say they perfectly normal, thank you very much” and while they were being perfectly normal, they were also quite terrible to their nephew, Harry. Until, of course, Hagrid delivered his letter, which led Harry to Diagon Alley, which led to him meeting Draco and finding Hedwig, which led to his friendship with Ron and the Weasleys on the Hogwarts Express…without one step, the others don’t make sense.

I heard, once, that the writers of South Park storyboard their stories with two transitions. They either use “therefore” or “but” to get from scene to scene. More importantly, they never use “and then” as a transition. “Therefore” implies causality and lets the story line go along it’s original trajectory, while “but” changes the trajectory of the story. “And then” doesn’t give us anything to link to scenes together besides their proximity.

Let’s re-look at the Harry Potter story I told you. Mr. and Mrs. Dursley were horrible to Harry, but Hagrid showed up. Therefore Harry went to Diagon Alley, therefore he met Draco, therefore he was inoculated against Draco’s bullying ways and befriended Ron…the tale goes on from there.

In academic writing, there (typically) is no story line. There is a logic to the writing, for sure. It’s in a particular order for a reason. But I found the best thing I could do when I had academic reading to do was to read the table of contents, read the headings, and create a story. Who were the main characters? How was everyone else related? In lieu of a table of contents, I read headings, read the introduction, looked at pictures, anything I could do to figure out the organization and big ideas. My favorite reading technique became “reverse outlining,” where I would write a one or two phrase summary of every paragraph in the margin. Once I had the outline firmly in place in my head, the details had something to stick to.

It took me years to figure out how to read academic texts. But it’s taken me even longer to properly return to fiction.

Let me be totally clear – I never totally stopped reading. I love to reread, and I peruse the teen lit section every time I go home. I found out about fanfiction and spend hours reading that. But why I read changed. I was reading to search for advice, to avoid the things in my life I didn’t like or didn’t want to do, to give myself an escape. I particularly liked fanfiction because, as writers practiced their craft, few of them were good enough to cause serious emotional waves. Reading fanfiction is pretty safe.

Over the summer I draped myself across the porch swing and devoured a book called The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom. It took me two days, and at the end I didn’t want to close the pages. Three weeks ago I finished reading A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman. I laughed. I cried. I cried over the description what cars the man and is best-friend-turned-enemy drove throughout their lives, to be specific. (You know it’s a good book when somehow Backman got me with a litany of Saabs and Volkswagens.) It was so delightfully, subtly Swedish that I felt like I was looking through a window into a country I still miss.

I am slowly rediscovering how incredibly necessary it is for me to immerse myself in other people’s stories just to explore them. I need to be able to connect to stories and characters, and also to tell stories.

Your homework: What are your favorite stories, and why? Also book reccommedations please!

Hej då,

Jamie

Seeking New Knitting Projects…

Hej everyone! I have good news! Remember that baby blanket I was knitting when I went adventuring to Yosemite? Well, I finally have it (nearly) finished! Good thing, since the baby it was for was born in June.

In case you ever want to make a super simple blanket, I start by casting on between 120 and 150 stitches, doing ten rows in garter stitch, and then using garter stitch for the first and last ten stitches of every row while doing a stockinette stitch for the center of the blanket. I finish the blanket with ten rows of garter stitch. The garter boarder keeps the blanket from curling, as typically happens with stockinette stitch, but you still get that classic stockinette look.

My other favorite baby blanket pattern is to use a vine lace pattern (pictured at the top). You cast on stitches in multiples of nine, plus four. So for example, I typically cast on 139 or 148 stitches. The pattern is a four-row repeat:

  1. Row 1: k3 [yo, k2, ssk, k2tog, k2, yo, k1] K1
  2. Row 2: purl
  3. Row 3: k2 [yo, k2, ssk, k2tog, k2, yo, k1] k2
  4. Row 4: purl

I struggle to use markers with this because of the yarn overs, slip-slip-knits, and knit two togethers. But if you pay attention, it makes an absolutely beautiful pattern.

In these last couple of weeks, I also knit a pair of baby mittens for a colleague. That pattern goes like this:

  • Cast on 29 stitches. Arrange on three dp needles.
  • Start by knitting the first two stitches together. [k1 p1] rib for the first ten rows.
  • Row 11: k1 [yo k2tog] k1
  • Row 12: [k1 p1]
  • Row 13-26, alternate [k1 p1] for two rows and [p1 k1] for two rows.
  • Row 27: knit
  • Row 28: purl
  • Row 29: k1 k2tog k8 k2tog k2 k2tog k8 k2tog k1
  • Row 30: k1 k2tog k6 k2tog k2 k2tog k6 k2tog k1
  • Row 31: k1 k2tog k4 k2tog k2 k2tog k4 k2tog k1
  • Row 32: k1 k2tog k2 k2tog k2 k2tog k2 k2tog k1
  • Row 33: k1 k2tog k2tog k2 k2tog k2tog k1
  • Pull yarn through remaining loops and tie off.
  • Cast on 80 stitches; knit one row and cast off. This is the tie at the wrist (it goes through the holes created in row 11)

These are super simple; they take a little over an hour to work up but they’re very cute!

So now the question remains…what should I work on next?

I have a pattern for a baby blanket that does stars and moons in stockinette and reverse stockinette, and a super pretty buttery yellow yarn. I have a heathered purple and grey yarn that I’m planning on using in a vine lace baby blanket. I have some feathery black and white fun yarn that I have no idea what to do with, and a beautiful turquoise varigated yarn that would make a lovely simple baby blanket like the one I just finished. And that’s just the blanket options! There are mittens and yoga socks and fingerless gloves and scarves…I’d like to practice cables again…the options are endless!

I probably have about another hour yet to go on the current baby blanket, so I have a bit of time to decide. But if you have any thoughts, do let me know!

Your homework: Do you do anything with your hands that is soothing? I love the rhythm of knitting, for example.

Hej då,

Jamie

 

Transparency

With a title like transparency, I could be writing about almost anything. I could tell you stories about my colleague David, who still uses his overhead projector to (very effectively) teach biology and AP Environmental Science. We make fun of him constantly, until the day when we need transparencies and wet erase markers and he has everything we need.

I could also be telling you a story about house-cleaning, which is something that makes me oddly happy. Marilyn had the annual window-cleaning done last week, and it makes the whole house sparkle.

But this week, I’m going to tackle something a little bit more, and talk about emotional transparency, honesty and vulnerability.

My mom has told me for as long as I can remember that I am entirely too transparent for my own good. Literally everyone around me knows exactly what I’m feeling because it’s written all over my face. Sometimes this is a good thing; people know I’m genuine and I never surprise anyone with sudden bursts of seemingly random emotions. I’ve been told I wear my heart on my sleeve, I inspire people to tell me their stories, and that my caring is infectious.

I’ve also been told that I’m overemotional, that I care too much, that I’ll be taken advantage of. I’ve been told that I have to be professional, to not let my students so close, to set up some boundaries already. I’ve embarrassed others by the ready emotions that play across my face.

At various times in my life, I’ve tried to learn to hide what I’m feeling. It is unprofessional to over-share. There are people who have taken advantage. Feeling too many things is exhausting. And in one of my early college lectures about leadership ethics, I learned about “emotional flashing,” which is sharing too much too quickly with someone with the desire to make a real connection. The lecturer was a professor of engineering who lived in the honors dorm with his freshmen, and he saw it frequently among his students who were, for the first time usually, displaced from their support systems and trying to find their place in their new worlds.

But despite my many attempts, I remain transparent to those around me. And rather than trying to change that about myself, I think it’s time I embrace it.

In her first TED talk, Brené Brown talked about vulnerability, empathy, and human connection. It was, like emotional flashing, an idea I didn’t really ponder until my freshman year of college. Likely many of you have watched it, or part of it, at some point in your life. I rewatch it on a regular basis because, like many true things, it’s really hard for me to remember. The Cliffs Notes version is that in order to have any true connection, we have to have empathy. And in order to have empathy, we have to be able to be vulnerable. Unless I can show you what’s really going on in my head and in my heart, you won’t be able to show me and we’ll be stuck in this metaphorical walking-past-each-other-wihtout-seeing-each-other forever.

A lot of the time, being so open and honest that it feels brutal is the best thing that can happen in a relationship. Unspoken expectations and half-remembered old hurts spring up at the most inopportune moments and cause all sorts of havoc. I’m always scared to have super honest conversations; I like to think up all the ways the person I’m talking to could react and most of the time I don’t imagine good things. But usually it goes incredibly well. Usually the other person is honored to listen and sees the courage in being vulnerable. Often one person’s vulnerability inspires others to some level of honesty, and the relationship becomes more grounded in reality.

And then there are the painful awful moments where the other person doesn’t reciprocate, or refuses to see the story I’m telling. These are the moments when I share something and I’m told that I’m wrong, that what I’m feeling or thinking isn’t real or isn’t valuable. These are the moments when the other person refuses to see me or hear my story. Or worse, when the other person misinterprets what I said so badly that we end up in a worse place than when we started. Conversations like this have ended multiple friendships in my life. Being transparent in a world of people who don’t have to be can leave me feeling always-on, always exposed, always judged.

But I think those moments are worth it. The friendships that I have are stronger for how honest I’ve been. My relationships with my family are stronger for our ability to talk to each other. In my classroom, my students know when I’m frustrated and trying not to show it, and I find it much more successful to be honest with my kids. So, as I have before in the past, I’m recommitting to accepting my transparency and trying to see it as a benefit rather than a hindrance.

In an effort to be transparent with you all, I think you can tell that I’ve had a hard time posting on Sundays this semester. This is, in part, because I’ve been committed to using my weekends to balance out the overwhelming nerd-ness of being a teacher. This weekend I spent the whole weekend knitting with my mom and Granny, and we went school shopping together (something which happens about every three years). I’ve been hiking and biking and camping and visiting all over, and I’ve loved it. But I always hate getting in to bed on Sunday evening and realizing I didn’t post anything for you all.

In light of this, I’m going to change my official posting day to Mondays. Usually it won’t be Monday before school like this, but after school. So when you’re winding down from whatever your Monday entails, you can come here and read. If you have thoughts about this new schedule, by all means let me know!

Your homework for this week (you didn’t think you were off the hook, did you?): Who do you feel safe being vulnerable with? How transparent are you normally? Do you think that’s a help or a hindrance?

Hej då,

Jamie

Tea and Snacks

Aragorn: Gentlemen, we do not stop ’til nightfall.
Pippin: What about breakfast?
Aragorn: You’ve already had it.
Pippin: We’ve had one, yes. What about second breakfast?
[Aragorn turns and walks away]
Merry: I don’t think he knows about second breakfast, Pip.
Pippin: What about elevenses? Luncheon? Afternoon tea? Dinner? Supper? He knows about them, doesn’t he?
Merry: I wouldn’t count on it.

~The Fellowship of the Ring

I’m a Harry Potter girl, for sure, but I have read all the Lord of the Rings books and I’m quite fond of the hobbits and the Shire. Since I claim hobbit-ness as one of my characteristics, it should make a little bit of sense!

For those of you who aren’t familiar with this scene (or are having trouble placing it), Merry and Pippin are two hobbit friends of Frodo’s who join him on his adventure to destroy the Ring. Aragorn (who at this point in the story is usually called Strider) is a human who agreed to be their guide. Merry and Pippin aren’t quite yet…adjusted…to the rigors of travel, and Aragorn is, perhaps, lacking a bit of patience for them.

Many people joke about second breakfast and elevenses, but as I begin teaching again I’m finding that snacks are an integral part of my routine. I eat breakfast around 5:45am, so by the time 9:30 roles around, I’m hungry again. Time for second breakfast! I snack again around eleven, and then eat lunch at 12:35. Afternoon tea is yet another snack at 3:00 when school lets out, and then I eat dinner when I get home (any time between five and seven). Out of all of those mealtimes Pippin listed, I only miss one!

I don’t remember snacking this much when I was in high school – perhaps I ate larger lunches and dinners – but I can’t function if I don’t snack now. I pack fruit, nuts, granola bars, chocolate, carrots and hummus, crackers…anything is fair game.

One of my colleagues has a planning period during my sixth block, when I sneak into my back office and grab a handful of something. He laughs at me and tells me he could set a clock by my snacking. But the days when I miss my snacks, I really do find myself getting cranky.

The other integral thing I imbibe is tea. I like any kind of tea with one glaring exception: hibiscus teas. Mom used to make the Celestial Seasonings Lemon Zinger when I was sick, and I have never ever liked it.

The first tea I ever did like was also a Celestial Seasonings tea; their Tension Tamer. I always have a box of this around for when I get a sore throat or want something in the evening. My senior year of high school I got on a kick with green tea, and my sophomore year of college I added black teas to my repertoire. Now I seem to go through phases; last fall I drank Good Earth’s Sweet and Spicy tea almost exclusively, and last spring I possibly drank more jasmine green tea than water. This fall I’ve cycled back to Twining’s Lady Grey tea, although I’m also very much in love with a lavender chamomile I’ve discovered.

I got spoiled my sophomore year of college, when my roommate worked at Celestial Seasonings. She would bring home two to four boxes of tea a week and we would try all sorts of different things. We almost always had iced tea in the fridge! Even now, I have six different kinds of tea at home and three at school, for whatever tea moment I might be having.

I’m extra fortunate because Marilyn, whose house I live in, also has a major love affair with tea. She travels to India on a regular basis and knows more about Darjeeling and Assam and tea grades than I ever thought it was possible to know. I’ve learned that Assam is a lowland tea with a stronger flavor, while Darjeeling grows at higher elevation and has a milder flavor. As for the grades of tea, the names are absolutely hilarious and you can check them out on Wikipedia.

I like tea because of the wide range of flavors, and because it’s warm, but I also like the ritual of making tea. Different teas steep for different amounts of time, and hearing water is a process that simply cannot be rushed. It forces me to slow down in the craziness that are my days.

Your homework: How do you replenish throughout the day? What’s your favorite snack?

Hej då,

Jamie

Cooking for the Fall

Ok, it’s not really fall yet. Sometimes I think the beginning school gives me minor seasonal displacement  – I think the leaves should turn as soon as the first bell rings and stay colorful until the end of October, which is not actually how it works! But despite the calendar and the temperature telling me it’s still summer, class has started and that means my energy is being sucked up by my already incredible to-do list.

After spending all day pacing my classroom and kneeling to look at student work and projecting my voice and my presence in a room full of thirty other humans, the last thing I want to do when I get home is cook dinner! I usually avoid this by cooking family-sized meals on Sundays and eating the same thing all week long. This works brilliantly – I can go to the store once a week and have tasty, healthy food every day (although I will admit I am developing a serious bias to foods that keep well in the fridge).

That is, it works brilliantly until the weekend I’m not home. And knowing that I’m planning on making an effort to adventure and get outside more this school year, I thought I’d better plan ahead a little bit more. So this weekend, I’ve been creating meals-in-a-bag that can live in my freezer until the moment I need them.

Meal 1: Cajun Shrimp and Rice

When Safeway has 2lb bags of frozen shrimp for buy-one-get-one-free, this is always a good choice. I chopped up 2 plum tomatoes, 2tbsp parsley, and 1 bunch of green onions and tossed them in a gallon bag. I also minced 3 cloves of garlic and put them in a small zip lock with 2 tsp of Cajun seasoning.

When the time comes to cook this up, I’ll make 3 cups of cooked rice (which starts as 1 cup of uncooked rice), heat the spices and garlic in 1 tbsp of butter and 2 tbsp of olive oil, and cook the tomatoes, green onions, and 1 lb of thawed shrimp together before tossing all that tastiness in with the rice.

Meal 2: Quiche

Whenever I try to make quiche, I end up making enough for two fillings and I have to freeze some of it anyway. Doing that one weekend last year inspired me to always have some quiche filling and pie shells on hand for a super easy dinner. The only caveat with quiche is that it still takes about an hour to bake.

I chopped 3-4 carrots, 3-4 sticks of celery, a box of mushrooms, a yellow onion, a ham steak, and cleaned a bunch of baby spinach. All that became the “solid filling” bag. Of course, the variations here are endless. Bacon, crab meat, artichoke hearts, asparagus, and various other left-over bits and ends have all made it into my quiches before.

I also shredded smoked cheddar, Gouda, Jarlsberg, and and Fontina cheese. I will totally admit that I splurge when I get cheese for quiche. It’s totally acceptable to use normal Swiss and cheddar instead; I just also like snacking on the cheese. This should total four cups of shredded cheese delicious-ness. The cheese does need to go in a separate bag than the other goodies. (Note that this is all to prepare two nine-inch quiches; I’ve also seen this amount of filling used to make one deep-dish quiche.)

When I go to make the quiche, the things I need to have on hand are a pie crust (sorry Mom, I definitely buy them frozen from the grocery store…), 4 eggs, and 3/4 cup heavy cream. Once everything is thawed, the cheese gets mixed in with the beaten eggs and cream, the veggies and ham get tossed in the pie crust, and the egg/cheese mixture gets poured over the top. I cover mine in foil so I don’t toast the crust too badly, and I bake it on a tray for when the egg rises over the top, at 375F for about an hour.

Meal 3: Chicken Enchiladas

This was a huge favorite at home, but I almost never make it on my own because of the effort of shredding the chicken. Mom used make the filling ahead of time and freeze it to avoid that conundrum. Like quiche, this takes a while to bake even if the prep is done ahead of time.

This starts by boiling 3 chicken breasts for 15 minutes and then shredding them with a fork. Yes, it takes time. Yes, it’s worth it. Then I go on to chopping an onion, a red, yellow, and green pepper, and saute all of that together. I mix all of this with a large can of chopped green chiles, a cup of green salsa, 4 tsp of cumin, 1/2 cup chopped cilantro, and 4 cups of shredded Mexican cheese. This is what lives in the gallon zip locks in the freezer until later.

When later happens, all I need to add are eight tortillas, chicken broth, and cream. I don’t ever remember how much chicken broth and cream, of course, but I do know they get mixed in equal parts and poured over the top of the enchiladas until I can see it at the edges. I bake this at 350F for about 45 minutes. If I’m feeling fancy I’ll have sour cream, salsa, and/or avocado to put on top when they come out of the oven.

Beyond the relief of having something to eat when I’m starving and exhausted, I love preparing food against hard times later. Last spring I re-read Little House in the Big Woods, and a significant portion of the story is taken up by Laura describing how her family preserved food for the winter. Their attic was full of vegetables and jams and cured meats.

None of the recipes I described today particularly take advantage of the seasonal vegetables, but I have done some other projects that do. Some ideas include: baking, pureeing, and freezing pumpkin or squash (which is handy for anything from scones to soup), canning jams, jellies, apple butter, and/or tomato sauce, and cooking and freezing spinach (this happens in the spring but is awesome for making saag).

Last year I wrote a bit about canning apple butter; the apples we got were from a friend in Steamboat whose apple trees went crazy. They didn’t know what to do with so many apples! But this year, a late frost killed all the flowers, and this fall there won’t be any apples. We had an interesting discussion about how it can be impossible to predict the weather and thus the crop production of years to come. Years ago, people just had to preserve as much as they could and hope it would last. Preserving food helps me tune in to the seasons and the environment, as well as our history.

Your homework: How do you usually use food to take care of yourself? What’s one thing you can do this week, related to food, to take care of yourself?

Hej då,

Jamie