Garlic Joy


As we were working in the garden today, Ellen said, “Mama, a nice thing about garlic is that you only have to buy seeds once.”

Yes indeed, observant Ellen.  And actually, in our case, we were given our first garlic “seeds” from dear friends, the Meadowlark farmers, years ago.  Just a few days after our wedding, Jeffrey and I took a brown paper bag full of garlic heads with us to Pittsburgh, and we planted the cloves, that fall, in a corner of our 20′ by 20′ community garden plot.  Our first crop of garlic came up the next spring, when we’d been married for six months — and we’ve harvested and planted garlic every year since.

What makes garlic a particularly nostalgic plant is that a piece of each head harvested in July is planted back in the earth in October for the next year’s crop.  In this way, the garlic that Amabel and I are separating today — running our hands over, counting, placing in the earth — these cloves have been growing with us for eleven years.  As long as we’ve been a family, this very same garlic has been a part of our lives.

Sitting in the warm October sun, separating garlic, I especially love the smell.  Not just the pungent, spicy scent that often fills our kitchen — but the smell of autumn soil.  It isn’t a fresh, spring earth smell, with busy earthworms and bright light.  It is a more mature smell: the scent of soil that has nourished six months of roots — greens, sunflowers, parsley, nasturtiums, scallions, cabbage, marigolds, carrots, radishes, calendula, dill, arugula — the roots of all these plants still mingling with dirt and insects.  It is the smell of soil that has already given so much.  This summer we ate it its fruits, used them to make pickles, made bouquets out of its flowers, blended its leaves into pesto, fed its leftovers to the chickens, provided food for the bees and butterflies and birds, soaked it into salve . . . all this from a modest patch of brown earth, now laid bare and ready to recieve cloves of garlic.

Jeffrey uses a broadfork to loosen the soil.  I smooth out the earth and make 115 holes (roughly 12″ apart) for 115 cloves to snuggle down during the coming season of cold.  As I put each clove into its hole, my large belly touches the earth.  The girls cover the cloves with soil.  Jeffrey covers the entire bed with straw.  And now this garden bed, which was a jungle awash in the colors of an abundant season just a few hours ago, is blanketed with a thick layer of golden brown mulch.

This is the first of two beds we intend to plant, but the second bed is still filled with tomato plants, peppers, and celery that we can’t bare to tare out just yet.  Will we plant a second bed with garlic before our baby is born?  I do not know, but having one bed planted at least feels like a sort of insurance — or reassurance.  I will sleep well tonight, knowing that we have put garlic in the ground.

Planting in October is a contemplative act.  Garlic roots me here to our little place on earth and to our family.  I think about years past as Canada Geese honk overhead; leaves fade and fall; and nearly everything around me has gone to seed.  Planting now, in this season, feels like reaching deep into a future we can only just imagine.  Spring, when the garlic shoots will emerge, is a whole winter away.  I know this all too well, and so I linger with gratitude in the smell of the garlic and in the smell of the autumn earth.


Little Bites :: Local Style

bowl of raspberries

Now and then we like to estimate what percentage of a given meal on our table is “local.”  This little exercise is inspired by our delight in sourcing our food as close to home as possible and the Northwest Michigan Food & Farming Network’s “20 by 20” goal.  By the year 2020 our Food & Farming Network envisions that at least 20% of the food consumed by Northern Michigan residents will be locally grown.  Possible?  As a family challenge we recently made pancakes that were at least 95% local.

little bites

In mid-July, Little Bites arrived in the mail . . . just a few days after Christine visited us!  Christine spends part of her summers in Northern Michigan and it was such a treat to spend an evening with her and her family.  And because local food is a natural part of her beautiful new cookbook, it seemed fitting that I should try a recipe with as many local ingredients as I could find outside my front doors and in my kitchen.

gt flour

My morning started with the Little Bites recipe for raspberry-lemon whole wheat mini pancakes; a bowl of raspberries freshly picked from the garden; and an egg from the chicken coop.  Then I pulled out whole milk from Shetler Family Dairy and flour from Grand Traverse Culinary Flours (relatively new on the local food scene).  I was thrilled to find Leelanau-grown flour at our favorite grocery store last fall, and I’ve been buying it ever since.  Christine’s recipe called for agave nectar, for which I substituted maple syrup.  So the only non-local ingredients I used for these pancakes were baking powder, baking soda, salt, and a lovely little lemon.

pancake stack

The result was a delicious stack of cakes throughly enjoyed by local breakfast taste testers.  We’ve since tried other recipes from this cookbook filled with “100 healthy, kid-friendly snacks,” and I highly recommend adding it to your cookbook shelf.  Christine’s photographs are vibrant, her descriptions are engaging, and the recipes inside are sure to please the little people (and big people) in your life!

taste testers



Staying Home


Yesterday I finished most of my office work before the girls woke up. And so I thought we might go out on an adventure. Or a picnic. But we stayed home instead. We picked cherries in the orchard. We sketched and painted Nasturtiums. We did a little reading and a little knitting. We gathered flowers and settled fully into the summer day.

little hands

painting table

Later in the evening I finished reading The Chosen. I remember it from years ago (did I read it in college?) and for some reason had been thinking about it earlier this summer. I even searched for it on my bookshelf but found I only had the sequal (The Promise). So when I happened upon an old hardback copy at the July library book sale, I gratefully brought it home.

Chaim Potok is every bit as wonderful a writer as I’d remembered! Each time I pull myself out of the world that is his book, I return to my kitchen — or my garden, or my children — with a deeper level of awareness. I linger in the details. I find myself narrating in my head: the scrape of the spoon against the side of the bowl or the shape of my child’s hand as she reaches up towards me.

summer reading

I love his writing because even as he weaves a story rich with imagery, Chaim Potok doesn’t shy away from taking up the question of truth in the context of the world’s contradictions. He inspires me to write with intention and courage.

In the middle of reading The Chosen, I was hit with sudden inspiration to rewrite my own young adult novel in first person. The new version of my story has taken on a life of its own, and (dare I say?) I finally feel like I’m doing justice to the characters. Thus I’m reminded again how good reading and writing are so inextricably intertwined. And now I’m looking forward to waking early again to write.

queen anne


Garden Jungle

green apples

Our garden is a jungle of beautiful, edible goodness.  Morning dew settles on flowering tomato plants.  Spiders weave webs among ripening raspberries.  Spiky, green cucumbers hide under sprawling vines, trailing beyond the straw mulch into the surrounding meadow.  Peas hang amidst delicate tendrils, reaching for a holding place.  Chamomile has taken over edges here and there — even sprouting and thriving in the chicken run.  More calendula blooms each day, making flowers faster than I can pick for bouquets and salve.


what are these


dasies in front

Daisies thrive in front of our house and along the fence line.  Onions do their thing.  Garlic swells under the earth, the edges of its leaves tinged brown among dozens of volunteer borage plants.  Bees swarm the fuzzy borage flowers.



Carrots grow — slow and steady — only the very tips of orange peeking out of the soil.  Parsley is abundant in all stages — young and lush, mature and flowering.  Marigolds smell slightly skunky as I kneel down among the vegetation to get a bug’s eye view.  Kale keeps giving and giving.  Celery loves its companion dill.


pink zinnias


I soak in the abundance.  I let it wash over me.  This garden, this little place on earth, is so good to us.  We give a little and we are rewarded one-hundred fold.  It is overwhelmingly wonderful in July — wandering through and eating out of this jungle of a garden.

picking together



Preparing :: Summer Artists Market

mouse and bear

little books

Inspired by this Wee Mouse Tin House pattern and her success last summer selling tiny polymer clay food, Amabel has been getting ready for the summer Artists Market.


I say Amabel is getting ready, but let’s be honest . . . I’m having as much fun as she is!  Amabel delegates a lot of tasks to me and also to Ellen who generally likes putting cinnamon on top of waffles and stuffing tiny mice.  But Amabel is the director around here.  And sometimes the slave driver!


She is so good with little details: tiny stitches, tiny food, tiny books.  It’s hard to say no when she has a vision for a project.  On Monday it was hamburgers and french fries.  On Tuesday it was chips and salsa plates.



Tiny food is pretty straightforward (she had a lot of practice and watched a lot of youtube videos last year), but making these little Altoids Box mice is much more invovled.  Expert seamstress Grandmommy even came over last week to sew with us.  We have been using freezer paper for the first time to help with cutting and stitching tiny pieces of fabric.  Ellen’s favorite part is stuffing the little pillows.


in the box bed

twins copy

There has been a lot of discussion about how much money to charge?  And which items will be the most popular?  Also, should the mice be sold seperately from all the accessories?  Or should we package each mouse complete with purse, book, and meal?  After watching Amabel go through the anticipation of the market last year, I’m enjoying the process of preparation much more this summer — and especially the conversation that happens during the making and working together.  I’m glad for the motivation and the deadline of the market, but the preparation just might be my favorite part.

Tiny Purses

Ultrasuede Mouse