We are all ephemeral

Virginia bluebells by Fritzflohrreynolds,CC BY-SA 3.0

My mom and her two surviving siblings live in different states from me and from  each other, but last weekend we were all together in the same place for the first time in about 4 years.  My uncle, the youngest among them, was clearly shaken by how the years have affected his sisters, and resolved to make more of an effort to travel.

Time is fleeting. Everything is temporary.

A friend has been fighting a particularly deadly cancer for a couple of years, and I thought she had beaten it back.  But today a package arrived in the mail that worries me deeply.  It contained memorabilia of the connection that we share, and no note.

More reasons to be mindful of every day, put away the phone, prioritize time spent with loved ones and doing activities that bring goals closer to fruition.

Cold Chocolate for Summer

Images from “Famous Recipes for Baker’s Chocolate and Breakfast Cocoa,”
copyright 1928, Walter Baker & Co., Inc.

Had I been born a century earlier, I think the odds are high I’d have been a home economist rather than an engineer.   My aunt, who had a chocolate party for her retirement and is the only other member of the family who really understands my love of chocolate, shared with me this tiny booklet, written by several home economists of the 1920s.  I enjoyed the simplicity and inventiveness of the recipes and was surprised by the lavish colorful illustrations in a small pamphlet of that vintage.  Did you know that cocoa nibs were available 90 years ago?

Everyone knows hot chocolate, but I have to say that when I saw the simple instructions for Iced Cocoa, all I could think was, “Why didn’t I think of that?”  A quick search found plenty of recipes, and, of course, it’s similar to but less rich than modern chocolate milk, but I like this version for its simplicity.  The ingredients are as written in the 1928 booklet, but instructions have been edited for brevity.

Hot or Iced Cocoa

4 T cocoa
2-4 T sugar
few grains salt
1 c cold water
3 c milk

Add cocoa and water to saucepan and stir while heating until smooth.  Boil about 2 minutes, then add other ingredients.  Heat until foamy, then beat well and serve.  Vanilla or cinnamon may be added prior to serving.

For iced cocoa, prepare hot cocoa in advance and chill, then serve over cracked ice in tall gasses, garnished with whipped cream if desired.


There’s also a cocoa syrup recipe that can be used in a variety of ways for summer beverages.  I haven’t tried this yet, but think the quantity of sugar is probably at least double the necessary amount since the ratio of sugar to cocoa is 4 times the above recipe.

Baker’s Breakfast Cocoa Syrup

1/2 c cocoa
1 c cold water
1/8 t salt
2 c sugar
2 tsp vanilla

Cook cocoa and water together, stirring until smooth.  When the mixture begins to boil, stir in sugar and salt and stir until dissolved.  Boil 3 minutes and add vanilla.  Refrigerate.

Chocolate Float:  To 1.5 T cocoa syrup, add 6 oz carbonated water and stir well.  Add cracked ice and top with whipped cream.

Frosted Chocolate: To 1.5 T cocoa syrup, add 4 oz milk and 1/4 c ice cream.  Add carbonated water.

Chocolate Milk Shake: Add to a glass jar 1.5 T cocoa syrup, 8 oz milk, and cracked ice.  Shake well.  (Very different from our modern definition of milkshake, but now the name makes sense!)

No variation was provided for mocha, but the rule seems to be 1.5T syrup to 8oz liquid.  Recipes from “Famous Recipes for Baker’s Chocolate and Breakfast Cocoa,” copyright 1928, Walter Baker & Co., Inc.

Shared with Weekend Cooking.


Reducing decisions in the kitchen

market_vegetables_carrots_artichokes_herbs_sage_thyme_radish-715590.jpg!dI am grateful for a week off from food responsibilities (having cooked in advance and left Thom well supplied while I travel). I always find summer to be difficult regarding meals – our big freezer is off, we’ve got unpredictable garden produce, it’s hot and I won’t use the oven, and every week is different due to travel and other activities, some of which arise at the last minute. After 6 weeks of summer, I feel like I’ve completely forgotten what we usually eat.

But this year, it’s not just that. I’ve been trying for years to have Thom and Mari take more of a role in at least planning meals, and I am tired of shouldering this myself. My efforts to grow, purchase, and prepare healthy foods feel largely unappreciated, with both Thom and Mari reaching for the few packaged foods in the house rather than the cornucopia of fruits and vegetables. Cooking used to be a big creative outlet for me, but for months I’ve just had little interest in putting my energy there, and my audience is not particularly appreciative of creative meals and would probably be happy if I would just make homemade pizza every night. Although I don’t intend to do that, I think I will try rotating basic, quick meals, such as

Monday          Black bean burritos and raw veg/salad, or tacos with lentil filling
Tuesday         Curry with chickpeas and greens (extra rice for Thom’s lunches)
Wednesday   A noodle dish (pad Thai, soba, or lo mein) with tofu and veg
Thursday       Leftovers or salmon with potatoes and veg
Friday             Pizza and raw veg/salad
Saturday        Veggie burgers, soup, or spanakopita casserole
Sunday           Chili or pasta in some form (leftovers for Mari’s lunches)

This accommodates all their favorites and leaves plenty of latitude for adding random ingredients and using seasonal vegetables (eggplant, for instance, can hide sufficiently for them in the burritos, curry, veggie burgers, or chili). There are enough nights featuring legumes and greens, those markers of a longevity-friendly diet, to make me happy, and enough nights featuring bread and pasta to keep them happy. My last-minute emergency meal of veg-filled omelet doesn’t appear, so that can fill in occasionally when needed. All of these will work around late evenings at work or school, being friendly to microwave reheating and allowing prep that can be done the night before. And the weekend meals would be acceptable to most of Mari’s friends should we happen to have unplanned guests.

The weekend meals are intentionally basic.  While some families traditionally have a fancier meal on the weekends, I know that I will be getting groceries and preparing breakfast and lunch foods for the coming week.

Meal planning for the indefinite future: check. We’ll try it out in the coming month and optimize before my return to work.  I’m glad to have a plan for reducing mental energy  in the kitchen.

How do you reduce time and mental energy on household routines?

Terra Incognita

forest_path_stoneyman_trail_shenandoah_national_park_virginia_usa_trees_outdoors-530679.jpg!dIt was nearly a year ago that I sat on a porch in Ithaca, NY, listening to the evening and not needing to be doing anything. Those non-busy moments are really rare, but I’m having another one tonight. I’m again traveling, visiting my best friend from forever, my first solo vacation in years. At the moment she’s working out at the gym, and I am sitting on her lovely deck, surrounded by flowers and trees taller than you’ll ever see in Minnesota, listening to a constant chorus of insects and birds.

It’s bittersweet, though. It’s partially solo because Mari has finally reached the time of teenagerdom when she would rather Thom and I were somewhere else, all the time – rather like the Peanuts parents, completely invisible. Despite that, I think she had some homesickness, being at her first away-from-home camp this week, and the joy of seeing my friend is compounded by the relief that I am completely distracted from worry most of the time (save 3A.M.).

I haven’t done much writing at all for several months. I thought the summer break would give me time to contemplate and peruse and think, but here it is 60% over and there’s been only a handful of thoughtful moments. There’s been visits to my family, to Thom’s family, a little sightseeing that included several waterfalls and some beautiful hiking, a much-anticipated musical, lots of driving to and fro, gardening, walking, and all the usual responsibilities. There was some pizza on the grill, reading with my unofficial therapy cat, and a little kayaking.  Time speeds by. I knew of all those plans and summer routines, but to be honest the main thing that kept me from prioritizing thinking time was mostly useless: Worry.

I worried a fair amount when Mari was younger. Toddlers often seem bent on killing themselves in one way or another, and then there are all the various illnesses, and as they grow there are different things to worry about. But for us, the tween and early teen years were about as close to carefree as I think we’ve been. And now they’re gone, and replaced with worries that I should have anticipated but did not. So many things to worry about with teens, and so difficult to find the right amount of rules, guidance, assistance.

This transition has been so strong in our household that it feels like the healthy and mindful habits that I worked to build over the years have evaporated for all of us. We have lost equilibrium.

My priority for the remainder of my break is to regain my own balance, and to be patient as Mari continues to whirl out of balance. The most difficult part of my job is to trust that she will find it, that the support, love, ideals, and principles we have lived will stay with her, and that she will be safe until the spinning stops.

Simple Summer Pleasures

Windows open for days on end
Listening to the frogs and owls at night
Flowers, bees, and butterflies
Biking somewhere, or biking nowhere in particular
An afternoon at the lake
Line-dried sheets
Leaving the house without outerwear for so many months that we forget about it
Long daylight hours
Grills fired up all around the neighborhood
Garden bounty
Outdoor festivals
Farmers markets
Greenery everywhere
Less laundry to do with reduced bulk of summer clothes
Sitting by the campfire
Increased unscheduled time
Outdoor concerts