keeping the home | thanksgiving

Setting the scene: We'll be in Ohio with Ryan's family on Thanksgiving this year, so I hosted a little pre-Thanksgiving dinner of my own over the weekend for my side of the family-- partly because I wanted to see if I could actually do it, but mostly because I wanted the comfort of having my mom around on one of my favorite holidays. Prepping for the day took the better part of a week, but just in merry little bits here and there-- buying the turkey, picking up a few more cups to match what I already have, planning the menu, washing the napkins. The air was thick with festivity. I followed Ina's directions and set the whole table the day before, complete with sticky notes in the serving dishes. Linen fabric for a makeshift tablecloth, white dishes, thrifted brass candlesticks, grocery store eucalyptus, and leaves from the backyard. I made the stuffing the day before, nervous that it would turn soggy. (Tragically, it wound up too dry.) My parents arrived with a basket full of pies, and my sisters brought wine and cookies. My mom put her apron on and showed me how to remedy my too-salty gravy. Ryan took drink orders. Ralph and his cousins scattered toys.We sat down to eat and toasted to my sister and her family who live far away. My parents washed the dishes, and my sweet dad put them away in the wrong spots. A fresh pot of coffee was brewed before the pie was served. And when the day was done, a cup of tea, and in bed by nine.

Making this meal: A big, fat turkey soaked in this brine, then rubbed up with butter and herbs. Rosemary and garlic pureed potatoes. Bacon braised brussels sprouts. Stuffing, gravy, buttery corn, rolls. Mom's cranberries. Pie! Whipped cream!!!

Listening to: Sweet, simple, thankful hymns-- because in my mind, that's the closest thing to what the Pilgrims might have enjoyed on their first Thanksgiving. The Little Women soundtrack makes me feel sentimental and happy to be with the ones I love, and long for the ones I love that I can't be with, until it makes me a little too emotional and I cry during the music where Beth dies. On this particular day of the year, I'm happy just listening to "For the Beauty of the Earth" on repeat.

Working on: Dishes. Digestion. Naps. Christmas wish lists. Decking the Halls. Fa la la la la!


recipe | wilted spinach chicken salad

I acquired this recipe the old fashioned way. Remember before the internet, before cooking websites and food blogs and printable recipes, people used to watch cooking shows and write down what the chef was making, teaspoon by teaspoon? My grandma always did that when she would come to visit. In between cooking elaborate meals and shining up my mom's pots with ketchup and salt (that really works, by the way) she'd watch cooking shows. If she liked what she saw, she'd write it all down. Later on we'd find them, little pieces of paper with her cursive scrawl all over, almost always recipes that included vinegar or horseradish or bleu cheese, or something else with robust flavor, because she liked stuff like that.

A few Saturday mornings ago I saw a woman prepare this salad on TV. I wasn't sure of the name of the show, and knew I'd have a hard time tracking it down on the internet, so I grabbed a pen and paper and pulled a Grandma Esther. I wrote as fast as I could and I'm still not sure I copied it down completely correctly, but what I did get works really well. The mellow chicken and spinach leaves are brightened by the sharp vinegar and salty olives-- I've been eating it for lunch all week, and can't get enough. Robust flavor, I bet Grams would like it.

Wilted Spinach Chicken Salad

8 cups julienned spinach leaves
2 1/2 cups cooked and shredded chicken
1/2 cup chopped green olives
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup sliced scallions
1 1/2 cup diced tomatoes, fresh or canned
3 T red wine vinegar
1 T balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup cooked and chopped bacon, optional

1. In a large bowl, add spinach leaves, chicken, and green olives

2. Warm olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add scallions and stir until tender. Add diced tomatoes and stir for a minute or two more. Stir in the balsamic and red wine vinegar. Remove from heat and let cool for a few minutes.

3. Pour dressing over bowl, and gently toss to combine.


keeping the home | fall time

Setting the scene: Every year in Wisconsin fall blows in with blustery winds that shake all the leaves from the trees and smell like smokey, burning brush. Every year I forget how beautiful it is, until it's here, and everything is orange and gold and rusty red. The air has a bite to it, and I'm ready. I've washed the hats and scarves and put them all in one basket, with fingers crossed that we don't loose any mittens this year. Pumpkins have been scattered around the house, for festivity's sake, and also so I can hear Ralph's tiny voice say punkin over and over. We've been raking and crunching and jumping in leaves, picking one or two to bring inside each day. I throw them back outside when Ralph isn't looking. I'm knitting a green scarf with chunky, speckled yarn, and I'm trying to work in a row or two every night so I can actually wear it before the snow comes. It feels like I'll never finish.

Making this meal: Mexican Chicken Soup, warm and spicy, but not too heavy. Chips and guacamole. Ina's applesauce, warmed and with a dollop of sweet whipped cream for dessert. 

Listening to: Gusty winds blowing outside, leaves skit-scattering across the street, geese honking south. Inside we're playing all the Nickel Creek albums, because banjos and fiddles feel just right in the fall. Christmas music on the sly.

Working on: Improving this house's laundry situation. You know it's bad when your husband can't find his favorite jeans because you actually folded them up and put them away. I'm cleaning out the creepy basement laundry room, folding and ironing and putting away, and easing the pain with episodes of Gilmore Girls while I work.


recipe | deep dish chicken pot pie

Before we begin, let's just make one thing clear: if you decide to make this recipe, don't put your pie in the oven and then go outside to play without thinking a thing of it until you hear the oven timer beep. If you do, you might forget to cover the crust of your pie halfway through baking, and then the edges will burn. And then you might say some dirty cuss words because this was for the blog. Oh well.

Despite thoroughly toasted pie crust edges, this is my chance to tell you all how much I love making chicken pot pie, and I'm going to take it. Oh man, I really love making chicken pot pie. I love rolling out the crumbly pie dough on my kitchen table while Ralph, just tall enough for his little face to peek over the top, watches with curiosity. I love standing at the stove and stirring the pot full of vegetables and herbs and flour and broth, waiting for the gravy to bubble and thicken. I love easing the dough into a dish, crimping the pie closed with my knuckle, and poking steam holes into the top with a knife like I watched my mom do so many times,

This wasn't supposed to be a deep dish pot pie on purpose. It happened that way when I read the original recipe wrong a long time ago, and ended up making enough filling for two pies instead of one. Of course I had only made enough crust for one pie, so into a casserole dish it went. More gravy-coated veggies, less crust-- I like it that way. If that's not your thing, cut the filling recipe in half, and you'll end up with a traditional pot pie that fits perfectly into a standard pie dish.

Beyond the 'deep dish' title, this is not fancy pot pie. It has no special ingredients. There's nothing in it that you don't already have in your fridge and pantry. It's good, stick-to-your-ribs, pour-a-glass-of-wine-and-use-up-that-leftover-baked-chicken pot pie. And it's just as comforting to make as it is to eat.

Deep Dish Chicken Pot Pie


2 packages refrigerated pie pastry (I love Trader Joes' dough,) or your favorite double crust pie dough recipe (I love Martha's basic pie dough)
2 cups diced and peeled potatoes
4 medium carrots, peeled and sliced
1/4 cup olive oil
1 large onion, diced
1/2 cup flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
3/4 teaspoon pepper
4 cups chicken broth
4 cups cooked chicken, cubed
1 cup frozen peas
1 cup frozen corn

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place potatoes and carrots in a large saucepan, and add water to cover. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cook, covered, for 8-10 minutes or until vegetables are crisp-tender; drain.

2. In a large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onion, and cook until tender. Stir in flour and seasonings until blended. Gradually stir in broth. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly, until thickened. Stir in chicken, peas, corn and potato mixture. Remove from heat.

3. Roll out half of your pie dough and place into a round casserole dish, pressing the dough up the sides of the dish. Add chicken mixture. Roll out remaining dough and place over filling. Seal and flute the edges. Cut slits into the top of the pie to let steam escape.

4. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until lightly browned. Crimp aluminum foil around the edges of the pie to prevent burning, if necessary. (!) Let sit for 10 minutes before cutting.


for the birthday boy

Our little Ralphie is turning two on Wednesday, and I've got birthday on the brain. Planning for his day this year has been noticeably different from last year, since I'm less concerned about making things picture perfect and much more interested in making his eyes light up all day long. We don't have too much on tap for the day-- his favorite breakfast (bacon, oranges, and oatmeal with sprinkles,) a long hike to see the fall colors, and a family dinner in the evening.

Ryan and I are fairly certain that we could give him the toy vacuum of his dreams first thing in the morning and call it a day, but being that he's our only dear child who deserves the moon in our eyes (You want the moon, Ralphie? Just say the word and I'll throw a lasso around it and pull it down, etc.) we've of course bought a bit more than that. Just for fun, I put together a little list of the gifties we've gotten (and a few things that I wish I could get) for our sweet boy.

wooden firetruck, complete with a ladder, steering wheel, and-- the very best part-- a tiny hose. | A sweet keepsake to tuck into his baby book. | A darling old-fashioned hat, to keep small ears warm, and to pass down to future siblings. | The toy vacuum of his dreams, so he can stop pretending with a plastic cart and a loud "eeehh" sound. | A new book, so we can practice our animal sounds and how to lift the paper flaps gennnntly. | A train set, because I couldn't resist. | His very own pair of fuzzy slippers, so he'll stop stealing mine every morning. | A wooden rocking horse for singing rousing renditions of Pony Boy on, after mom's knee gets too tired. | Beeswax birthday candles-- just two-- for making wishes.



In our house, evening begins the minute Ryan arrives home from work. As soon as Ralph hears Ryan pull the car into the driveway, he gallops to the back door, shrieking with laughter and pumping his arms into the air. Nothing I do all day long receives that kind of reaction from him, yet it happens every time Ryan walks through the door. Sound the trumpets, dad is home!

Sometimes I imagine Ryan having to take a deep breath before he opens the back door and steps into the kitchen. Like a box of chocolates (or something) I don't think he ever knows what he's gonna get. Some days the room is warm and lived in-- lights are on, pots are steaming on the stove, toys are scattered on the floor and Ralph and I are waiting for him with smiles and a Hi Daddy! How are you? Other days I have two babies in my arms, chopped onions and garlic sit on the counter-- that's as far as dinner has gotten-- and the little hairs on the sides of my head have frizzed out from juggling housework and children all day. Sometimes he walks into a dark kitchen that looks the same as it did when he left that morning, only messier. On these days he is usually greeted by a face that says Please take the baby, let's get out of this house, I don't care where, I'll go anywhere, especially McDonalds. 

Ten minutes later, Ryan is changed out of his work clothes and I am still in the kitchen, trying to salvage supper. This is when things get rowdy. I wait until I can't ignore the bumps and thumps and squeals coming from the living room any longer, and then I yell Go outside! feeling very much like a mom.

I call the boys back in once supper is on the table, and then begins the nightly struggle of trying to get Ralph to eat more than three bites of whatever I have lovingly (or hastily) prepared. This part of the night never goes very well. I won't elaborate.

When we're finished, we give thanks for our food, and then Ryan gives Ralph a bath while I tidy up the house. I pick out small, soft pajamas for my baby to wear. We laugh while he runs through the hall, bare bottomed and delighted about it. We get him dressed, we pick out a book to read, we snuggle, we talk, we laugh, we sing songs, we say prayers, we kiss his cheeks and lay him down. We turn off the light, we close the door. We high five.

Most nights there's a little energy left to do the dishes and talk in the kitchen, just the two of us. Now that cooler weather is here, we call it a night pretty early. Ryan likes to watch TV or read, and I usually head upstairs for a shower or a bath with water hot enough to make my skin itch. Sometimes I knit. Sometimes we watch Jimmy Fallon and have drinks and stay up late. I scroll through my instagram feed and try to keep my eyes open. When one of us starts to fall asleep on the couch, we decide its time. And then we go to bed, always together, every night.

read about our morning, here.


recipe | olive oil potato gratin

Here's a secret. I'm not all that patient when it comes to cooking. I burn things a lot. I like to blame it on the fact that most evenings I'm cooking while tripping over a tiny toddler who likes to pull all the pots and colanders out of the cupboards and onto the floor before opening the refrigerator door over and over while saying, "hmm, thupperrr." I also like to blame my inadequacies on my gas stove, because it never seems to get low enough. Simmering is not an option. It's low boil, or boil over. Nothing in between. But, no, the truth is that I'm just not patient enough. I don't like to stand at the stove and wait, and flip, and test, and wait some more. Ryan, my dear husband, has unmatched diligence in the kitchen, which is why he is in charge of cooking any expensive cuts of meat we happen to have. He's also the boss of making bacon at our house, and working pizza dough into the most perfect circular shape. I can throw together a mean soup without messing anything up, and lasagna is totally my jam, But you don't want me caramelizing your onions or anything.

Except I really love caramelized onions.

Which brings me to this: Olive Oil and Potato Gratin. It's an easy yet hearty side dish, with just a few simple ingredients. Not super rich or creamy or cheesy like most potato gratins, but it'll warm your toes just right. The hardest part is standing by the stove and stirring those onions into sticky, garlicky sweetness for 15 minutes while your child pulls all the cucumbers out of the fridge drawer and rolls them across the floor. And then empties your purse till he finds the tic tacs. At least, that's how it was at my house yesterday. I did not burn the onions though. Progress!


And now, the recipe, changed ever so slightly from the America's Test Kitchen version. I served ours last night with a roasted chicken stuffed with onion and lemon, and some steamed peas (Ralphie's fave.)

Olive Oil and Potato Gratin


1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
2 onions, halved and sliced thin
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme
1 cup chicken broth
3 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and sliced 1/4 inch thick
salt and pepper

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease a 9x13 baking dish.* Combine Parmesan, 3 tablespoons olive oil, panko bread cumbs, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Set aside.

2. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a skillet until shimmering. Add onions, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and cook, stirring frequently, until browned (about 15 minutes.) Add garlic and 1/2 teaspoon thyme and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add 1/4 cup broth and cook until nearly evaporated, scraping up any browned bits. Remove from heat and set aside.

3. Toss potatoes, remaining 3 tablespoons oil, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and remaining 1/2 teaspoon thyme together in a bowl. Arrange half of the potatoes in prepared dish, spread onion mixture in even later over potatoes, and arrange remaining potatoes over onions. Pour 3/4 cup broth over potatoes. Cover dish tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 1 hour.

4. Remove foil, top gratin with reserved Parmesan mixture, and continue to bake until top is golden brown and the potatoes are completely tender, about 15 minutes. Let cool for 15 minutes. Serve.

*It should be noted that instead of a 9x13 baking dish, I used 4 small individual baking dishes (a fun Christmas gift from my sister, purchased here.) and an 8x8 baking dish. I reduced the baking time a smidge, but otherwise followed these directions.


keeping the home | late summer, early fall

I'm trying something new here on The Homebook, a little series called "Keeping the Home." At this point in my life, being a stay-at-home wife and mother is my one, wonderful, profession. And since blogging is a part time gig that I enjoy very much, I'm blending the two trades. With this series I'll pop in every now and then around the changing of each season to talk about how I'm setting the scene at our house. I'm not an expert, just a wife and a mother who enjoys keeping her family happy and her home sweet and tidy (and sometimes festive.) I'm excited to show you how I do it.two

Setting the scene: September is a funny month-- warm days and cool nights, not quite summer anymore, but not quite entirely fall. The harvest moon has come and gone, and it's time to start bringing the outdoors in. Our vegetable garden is starting to fade, but the tomatoes are in their prime, so every day I pick them and perch them on my kitchen window sills just like my mom has always done.  Bunches of herbs are being hung up to dry. I'm filling bowls with apples and pears and setting them in easy-to-reach places. Candles are lit in the evenings. Throw blankets have been pulled out of the linen closet and tossed onto chairs, just in case.Things are getting cozy over here, but we're not even close to hunkering down quite yet.

Making this meal: Sausage and lentil stew, bread with butter, chopped tomatoes and arugula with our favorite dressing, beer for the grownups.

Listening to this: The Felicity Soundtrack, for getting us in a back-to-school mood. The perfect background music while Ralph and I play all day long. Nick Drake's Five Leaves Left, my old autumn standby. Makes me want to grab my Art History textbook and walk to the library to cram for a test. Good for playing while Ralph naps and I sip coffee, preferably on a rainy day. Chet Baker Sings. This one plays on the nights we clean up the kitchen together after putting Ralph to bed. Open windows, open wine bottle.

Working on: Meal planning. Lazy summer days have made me, well, lazy. Making sure there is something warm and good for the boys to eat every evening is what I'm striving for.


notes about summer

In my head I've been calling this summer The Summer of Country Music, which sounds kind of dumb, but let me explain. Ryan and I went to a small high school full of farm kids, and country music was what almost everyone listened to. It was blasted through the speakers of boys' pick up trucks, and it played in the background at all the bonfire parties. Guys wore cowboy hats to school dances, and nothing got the crowd jumping faster than (unfortunately) the old Save a Horse, Ride a Cowboy tune. That's just the way it was. When we went off to college, we stopped listening, because we were college kids who listened to better music than that.

And then in the beginning of the summer my sister mentioned that they were listening to country music again, and it's not so bad, she said. Like a true younger sister, I had to try it out too. At first Ryan and I were quick to roll our eyes, because is this guy really singing about getting drunk on a plane? But by August, we had the windows rolled down and were shouting along, buying drinks for everybody but the pilot, it's a party! There's just something about listening to songs about beer and whiskey and corn, and summer and swimmin' and fishin'. It feels like cheesy, sentimental sunshine. Come to think of it, this whole dang summer has felt like cheesy, sentimental sunshine with my little family.

There was a night back in June that I keep thinking about. We had just gotten Ralph down to sleep for the night, and there was still plenty of light for a walk in the backyard to look at the garden. After a little while it started to rain. And then it poured. And instead of running into the house, we leaned against the garage door, under 12 inches of roof shelter, and watched the rain come down for a long time. The air was warm, and everything looked so green. In the middle of January, when it's cold and grey and dark by 4:30pm, this is the night I'm going to picture in my head.

These pictures were taken the weekend before last, at the beach in Kohler. We walked far enough away from the crowds that it almost felt like we had the beach to ourselves. We let Ralph work some energy out in the waves, but after awhile he grew tired and settled into the sand to dig hole after hole. He was still enough that Ryan and I sat down and let the water splash into our laps. We kept scooting further and further in, getting sand into the bottom of our suits with every wave, and the whole thing was hilarious to us for some reason. After a few hours, we brushed the sand off, packed up, and headed back to the car. We stopped for ice cream cones and drove through some camp grounds, peering into different sites and taking notes for next summer. Ralphie fell asleep in his car seat, so we turned on some country music and drove home. It was good. Cheesy, sentimental sunshine.