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Holiday Adventures

As a couple with a young baby a few years ago, we struggled with what to do with Christmas as a family. We knew that we wanted it to be a celebration of winter, of the darkness and return of spring, of gathering and family and beauty. We knew that part of becoming our own family was keeping some of what we grew up with, but also creating our own rituals that felt right for our home. I got really excited about the advent calendar because it made a little celebration of every day, not just a long, sweaty shopping marathon leading up to present-opening day. Last year, we made our very first advent calendar, composed entirely of paper bags and images cut out from catalogs and flyers that landed in the mailbox. Luckily, it survived enough to be used again this year.

Into this advent month, we throw a little bit of making, doing, and giving. There are things we already know will be traditions, and things we toss in to mix it up and make the daily grind a little more fun for everyone. I am a huge fan of celebrating the everyday, and here's a little of what's been going on around here:

Making snowflakes since we have none of our own
We took a trip out to a beautiful farm complete with bonfire, hot cider, homemade venison sausage and smores and cut our own tree down (not so romantic: getting that tree to stand upright in our house)

Some were smitten with that tree and its sparkly ornaments.

Others have been focused on decorating the house or creating the perfect fishbowl diorama involving a pirate on a wolf, a hatchet and a pipecleaner tree about to meet its end.

Yesterday brought St. Nicholas bearing clementines, nuts, masking tape and staplers. Of course.
Tonight, it was about sitting quietly with a .cup of cocoa and enjoying what we created together this week.


Dinner for 12: Shrimp, Cod, and Fennel Soup

I've been at this dinner co-op thing for three years now. There are the recipes I make that are stalwarts: delicious, simple and very amenable to upsizing. But every once in a while, I can't help myself. I get a little frisky, my eyes wander, seduced by the sexy centerfolds in magazine like this one. As a result on those weeks, there are a lot of people who get to be dinner guinea pigs. They will tell you this is not always a good thing. This recent meal was a cod and shrimp soup flavored with fennel and tomatoes in a light white-wine broth. I love a good fish stew, particularly one served with a dollop of garlicky rouille and a glass of Pouilly-Fume. But this was not that soup. It is light and delicate and maybe the perfect thing to cleanse the giblets and gravy out of your system. I served it with a green salad with sectioned oranges, fennel and beauty heart radish with a citrus-hazelnut dressing. And of course, the crustiest baguette you can find. This soup would probably also be delicious with a little feta crumbled into it for deeper flavor.

A note about the fish and shrimp: Anytime you're serving fish for 12, it's not the cheapest ticket in town. One great tip I learned is to buy the fish pieces sold at my neighborhood co-op for any fish stews. This time around, I got extra lucky since they were all cod pieces (ha! codpieces!). If you don't need full fillets, this is a significantly more affordable option. As for shrimp, I use it very judiciously, it's not the most sustainable seafood around. In this case, I upped the amount of fish and went low on the shrimp.

Shrimp, Cod, and Fennel Soup with Tomatoes (adapted from this recipe printed in Martha Stewart Living, Oct. 2011)

  • 6 tomatoes (I used my frozen paste tomatoes but canned will also work)
  • 3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 large leeks, finely chopped
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 small fennel bulb, quartered lengthwise, cored, thinly sliced crosswise, (I saved the youngest, tenderest fronds for the salad)
  • Coarse salt
  • Freshly ground white pepper
  • 3 cups dry white wine
  • 12 cups fish stock
  • 3 lbs skinless cod fillets, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 lb medium shrimp, peeled and deveined (tails left intact)


  1. Prepare an ice-water bath. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Score an X into the bottom of each tomato using a sharp paring knife. Blanch tomatoes until skins loosen, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Transfer to ice-water bath using a slotted spoon. Peel and discard skins. Core and coarsely chop tomatoes.
  2. Heat oil in a medium Dutch oven or a large pot over medium-high heat. Cook onion, garlic, and sliced fennel until fragrant and softened, 3 to 5 minutes. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon white pepper. Remove from heat, and add wine. Return to heat, and bring to a boil, scraping up brown bits from bottom using a wooden spoon. Cook until reduced by half, about 2 minutes.
  3. Add stock and chopped tomatoes. Bring to a simmer. Stir in cod and shrimp, and return to a simmer. Remove from heat, and let stand, stirring halfway through, until cod and shrimp are just cooked through, about 3 minutes. When serving, drizzle with additional oil. Garnish with reserved fennel fronds.


Autumn in Pictures



Hello, November!

It's been a tough October around here, I'll admit. But to keep spirits up, I use a failsafe trick: remind myself of the good bits that the fall brought. And there was much beauty and goodness to this season. Um, can you spot the trend?


This week's Co-op menu: Sopes

This week's menu was inspired by the abundance of tomatillos in my garden. OK, what I really mean to say is that the tomatillos completely took over both my gardens this year, trampling everything in their path and weilding their cloaked fruit like some sort of demented weedy monks. The funny thing is, I remember thinking back in May, "Gee, I forgot to plant tomatillos. I'm bummed I won't be able to harvest any." Evidently, the tomatillo gods heard my lament. I have truckloads to harvest.

lime and charred jalopeno
And so this menu takes advantage of an abundant crop yet again. And I thought it would be fun to try my hand at making sopes, a dish that I had the privilege to learn to make with some friends from Mexico City a few years ago. Fair warning here: this was not a speedy dinner. There are a number of components to make but a few can be done the day before and the side dishes: rice and jicama-orange salad, are pretty effortless. And I love these kinds of composed dishes for a few reasons. They are modular, so there's almost always something even picky eaters will agree to. They can be vegetarian or not, and the meat is not the centerpiece, but rather a garnish. Finally, they are fun and delicious and a little bit festive and who doesn't like a little party in the middle of the week, right?

Sopes for 12 with black beans, chicken, salsa verde and queso fresco.


There are a few ways to make these and the video here is most like what I do: seared in a cast-iron pan, not fried in oil.

2 cups masa harina (found at any mexican grocery store)
4 cups hot water

1. Add the water to the masa and stir well. Cover and let sit for about an hour (Note: I found my dough stiff and dry, I would probably add more water or let it sit for less next time).
2. Heat a cast iron griddle or frying pan. I painted on a thin layer of oil but it isn't really needed.
3. Divide dough into 24 balls. Shape and flatten them and then toast them on the griddle about 2 min per side or until they are golden and crispy.
4. Remove from heat and let cool until you can handle them. Then push the edge of each sopa into a rim (watch the video if this doesn't make sense!). It's ready to fill!

Black Beans
I cook mine from dried beans, but you can also use canned.

2 cups dried beans, soaked overnight.
1 medium onion halved
5 cloves of garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
1tbsp cumin
bay leaves

1. Drain the soaked beans and then cover with fresh water to 3" above the beans.
2. Add all other ingredients and bring to a slow simmer until desired tenderness.
3. Add salt and pepper to taste at the end of cooking.

The beans can be prepared in advance and refrigerated, just rewarm before serving.

Salsa Verde
This is a loose and fast recipe because it's very forgiving of proportions.

Tomatillos (I made enough to fill the cast iron frying pan three times)
2 white onions, peeled and halved
1 jalopeno
1 bunch cilantro
2 limes
salt (I also use a vegetarian "chicken" broth powder that works great instead of salt)

1. Heat the cast iron pan. Add tomatillos, onion and jalopeno and char them on all sides.
2. Dump it all into a food processor, throw in the cilantro, lime juice and salt. Pulse to desired consistency (I like mine a little chunky).

Poached Chicken
This is entirely optional, the meal is really satisfying without it, too. I chose to simply poach my chicken but you can roast it. Or use chorizo, which is a more traditional topping. For this recipe, I used 2.5 lbs chicken total.

To assemble the full meal, place black beans, shredded chicken and salsa verde on your sopa. Crumble queso fresco (or feta) on top and garnish with cilantro and another squeeze of lemon.
Serve with white rice and a side salad of sliced jicama and orange wedges.
This is what dinner looks like

This is what a happy diner looks like


How to survive the work week tip #1: the dinner co-op.

If the Peanuts character Pig Pen were a time of the day, he would be my dinner time. That's what it most looks like when when we all crash land at home at 6pm. Amid dropped bags, clothes, and dirty tupperware, we try not break down while half of us need attention and the other half need dinner, and there is neither to go around. One day, a neighbor approached me with the idea of creating a dinner co-op: a few families would agree to share meal preparation for a few days a week. One day each week, each family would prepare the meal for the other two and deliver it.

Let's see, with one night's preparation, we got three nights of food (and leftovers).I was sold.

It's been four years we've been doing this now. And it wouldn't be an overstatement to say that this changed our days dramatically. We come home on dinner co-op nights and can play together, sit and read books, whatever else besides scramble to burn rice while two children sob at my feet. It's sane, it's lovely and I can't recommend this enough to other families scrambling to juggle kids, jobs and some semblance of healthy eating.

And did I mention delicious? Because that's the bonus: this food is good. Really. Damn. Tasty.

A few friends have asked what I cook for dinner co-op so I will start posting my weekly menu and link to recipes when I can.

This week's co-op meal: Navy Bean, Goat Cheese and Artichoke Casserole and Oven-roasted fingerling potatoes and brussels sprouts. This casserole is savory and rich and has a limited lifespan because the ingredients can be pretty pricey when not in season. But the herb garden is still producing and leeks are abundant at the market now and I cooked the beans from scratch which is a good way to make this a little more affordable given that I was cooking for 12 portions. As for brussels sprouts, what can I say? I have a love bordering on unhealthy for crucifers and these ones are cute. There's no resisting a cute crucifer.

Navy Bean, Goat Cheese and Artichoke Casserole
(adapted from this recipe and modified to serve 12).

4 ounces bread crumbs
2 cups dried navy beans, soaked overnight, cooked and left in their liquid (or alternately, 4 cans of beans)
4 teaspoons chopped fresh or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
4 teaspoons chopped fresh or 1/2 teaspoon dried rubbed sage
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
8 garlic cloves, minced and divided
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
6 cups chopped leek (about 6 large)
4 teaspoons chopped fresh or 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 (14-ounce) cans artichoke bottoms, drained and each cut into 8 wedges
10 ounces crumbled goat cheese


* Preheat oven to 400°.
* Drain beans in a colander over a bowl, reserving liquid. Add enough water to liquid to measure 2 cups. Combine beans, thyme, sage, pepper, and 2 garlic cloves.
* Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add 6 garlic cloves, leek, rosemary, salt, and artichokes; sauté 4 minutes. Stir in bean liquid mixture. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat. Spread half of bean mixture in two oiled 11 x 7-inch baking dishes, and top with half of goat cheese. Spread artichoke mixture over goat cheese; top with remaining bean mixture and remaining goat cheese. Combine the breadcrumbs and 2 tablespoon oil; sprinkle over goat cheese. Bake at 400° for 25 minutes or until lightly browned.

beans, beans, the magical fruit...

Oven-roasted fingerling potatoes and brussels sprouts.

This is more guidance than recipe but I trimmed and halved two pounds brussels sprouts and put them in a pyrex dish with a healthy glug of olive oil and sprinkling of salt and pepper. In a second pyrex I did the same with tiny fingerling potatoes and roasted both at 400°, Brussels sprouts for 25 minutes and potatoes for 35 min. I sprinkled the sprouts with lemon juice and mixed the two together.


Can it be a month already? We sit on the back patio tonight, watching lights wink on around us. It's been an incredible adventure to pack ourselves up and go for the month. We dove headlong into the challenge and the beauty of adventuring as a family. And I'll admit, sometimes we were in over our heads. Some days, the goal was to survive. But on other days, many other days, it was sublime. And mind-expanding. Even as we settled back into city life, there's still so much to see. I'll confess to a guilty pleasure: strolling through the neighborhoods, peeking above stone walls and through wooden gates to hidden garden spaces, peeking into home interiors, admiring tin roofs (five colors in view just outside this window). Now my son joins me in this fantasy game. Which house would you want to live in? What's your favorite door/garden/bicycle? Couple that with a promise of an ice cream cone and I have a co-conspirator for hours. We work our way through the city like this. In our herky-jerky sort of way, we end up seeing a lot more.

morning walk in our Reykjavik neighborhood.

And yet, despite my fantasies of running away to European countries, I know we're at the end. As darkness creeps back in to our days, life back home creeps back in to our reality. There is the rest of my life waiting for me, pieces I love and miss and need to get back to.
The little ones have (finally!) giggled themselves to sleep, enjoying the new normal of shared bedrooms and even beds. Jake and I reflect for a moment in the welcome quiet and even now, in the thick of fatigue and sleep deprivation, we are overwhelmed with gratitude at having this opportunity. It's too easy to think of all the things we couldn't do the way we were used to as travelers. But then, I think about the little boy who is learning to love travel and beginning to understand how much world there is beyond his city, I think about how we've learned to be together as a family, I've seen a little girl discover that, while she still hates baths and showers, she rather likes geothermal pools. I've seen the start of the friendship between siblings that hopefully will last a lifetime. And that's in addition to volcanoes, glaciers, whales, puffins and geysers. And, oh, we've gotten to see a lot of those. Just a few more photos to tell the story of the last few days of our road trip from Myvatn to Rejkyavik. Like paradise. If your paradise runs on the icy, volcanic side, that is.
turf home of the highest altitude farm in Iceland

Seyðisfjörður in the distance. We fought the urge to break into "The Sound of Music" when we stopped here.

The culture house at Seyðisfjörður

The glacier lagoon, Jokulsarlon

The famous Dettifoss Falls

The eponymous Geysir.


ordinary moments in an extraordinary place.

Only fifteen days ago we arrived on this litle farm tucked into a spectacular peninsula ringed with pseudocraters and lava pillars. It's not at all an exaggeration to describe this place as other-worldly. In fact, a couple of nights ago, a film crew was flying helicopters over our farm taping footage for an upcoming Ridley Scott movie about life on another planet. Accordingly, these last 15 days have felt like a surreal dance between ephemeral and eternal. In some ways, our life has been no different: we wake up (too early, always too early), feed everyone and the kiddos and I play, plan, work and argue together, along with the other three children staying here until last week). We all have lunch together, then there's some version of nap, reading, quiet time. Then dinner, play and sleep. Some days, Jake calls a family day and we get in a car and travel for the day to hike, explore and relax together. It's the everyday rhythm of life with two children under 5.

Only with a twist: our daily outings have been hikes to volcanoes and Dr. Seuss-worthy lava fields. Snack is frequently dung-smoked char on cave-baked bread or skyr with rhubarb sauce. The rhubarb sauce is homemade from colossal rhubarb growing by the lake behind our house. Milo can identify the species of midge that lands on his sweater (Plumosus, look at his antennae, mama!). The neverending daylight and all the vaulting ambition that comes with it. When I hang laundry to dry, I have to make sure the sheep won't eat it.

Today, we hiked over a couple of hills before dinner to catch up with "our" sheep, the mama and her lamb, and chat with them for a while, feeding them stalks of fresh angelica. Then we headed to some of the students' experimental plots to check on how many midges were in the traps. We walked along the lake, nibbling on wild sorrel leaves and looking for the arctic tern chicks that were patrolling this stretch of lakeshore last week. Kyra picked buttercups and put them all under her chin. She doesn't know why yet, she has just seen us do it. It was magical, in some ways exactly what I'd hoped for this trip to be: an opportunity to be out in nature a lot, to feel a relationship with a place and its plants and animals. To let them wander outside without our needing to hover nearby. To get used to walking and hiking. I watch these children seemingly growing before our eyes at the dinner table, brimming with these new experiences. I feel grateful and awed that we can do this together as a family.

And yet, it's required moments of digging deep for reserves of patience. Rainy days are hell when you live in a place where children lying on the floor skeeves you out and the sofa smells suspicious. While I have joked about wanting the farmhouse life, pitching headlong into 24-7 children, with jetlag, 15 other roommates and days of laundry, breadmaking and child-tending stretching before me left me feeling occasionally, oh, insane. And that's with an amazing husband who has been working hard to balance the field and the family (I do not envy him that task). But, I knew those days would probably happen, and we have been trying to go easy on ourselves when they do. Bad parenting moments definitely didn't get left at home...

In two days, we roll out of here to tour the country along its famed ring road and then land in Reykjavik for another three days. I am already starting to miss it here and yet am excited we get Jake to ourselves for a whole week. And there are glaciers to see, parks to play in, swimming pools to visit, strange foods to eat. And a lovely flat with a not-terrifying bathroom in a beautiful city. But most important, there is adventuring to be done as a family.