Too often when planning a meal, we limit ourselves to specific “ethnicities” (Mexican, Thai, Italian), and specific meals (breakfast food vs. dinner), etc.
Flavors, are what’s important. Use your senses, and recipes to guide your cooking. If you have an idea something might be good–try it. If it doesn’t turn out, you’ve also learned something: what doesn’t work–and that’s just as valuable as learning what does. (Also true in life sometimes, I’ve found…)
Rather than reading a recipe and going out to buy ingredients, research recipes containing ingredients you have on hand. What you don’t have on hand, find similar flavors.
When mistakes happen, remember: Salty (soy sauce, black bean paste, Braggs Liquid Aminos), Spicy (hot peppers, sriracha,), Sweet (honey, maple syrup), Sour (lemon/lime, vinegars–a little goes a long way–balance flavors of vinegar according to other ingredients; balsamic and apple cider are two essentials in my kitchen), help balance each other. Sometimes, all a recipe needs is balance.
Make connections between flavors based on other tasty dishes you’ve had that combined successful ingredients and tastes.
Example: Creamy Potato Soup with a Fried Egg–For Breakfast! (or any meal)
Think breakfast flavors: Eggs and Potatoes are delicious together—why not in this form?
Lazy Apple Crisp Recipe
Slice 9+apples into a saucepan. Add:
*Honey (or maple syrup), Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Ginger (fresh or ground), vanilla, a squeeze of lemon or a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar. Cook until apples are soft, stirring occasionally. Top with granola and vanilla ice cream (or Greek Yogurt mixed with honey/maple syrup).
I walk the property in deep dusk, with Bea a tiggered, bouncing shadow at my side. Mist hangs, ethereal—a gauzy veil—over apple orchard and south lawn. We enter the tree line—mostly cedar, scrubby pine, and the occasional towering old growth. The world goes from dim to black. The familiar trail becomes a new entity—roots and dips to discover. Trees are twisted silhouettes. Bea disappears, but I can hear the faint “ching” of her collar rise and fall against the river’s chuckling backdrop. Other than that, it’s silent.
I stand still, contemplating the old me that wouldn’t have stepped away from yard-light-safety-halo, let alone out of the yard entirely and into the dark woods. I’m aware, my senses heightened, but I’m not afraid. The absence of fear so recent I search it like tongue to pulled tooth. There’s a freedom here—freedom tickling against my breastbone like moth wings.
“Aren’t you afraid to be all the way out there, on that big property, in that old house, all by yourself?” Friends, family, students, ask me.
The lack of fear was hard earned. Born bloody, out of pain, anxiety, and fear of a different kind. These experiences teach us the real things to fear, rather than the imaginary that so captivate us and keep us out of the woods at night.
I’ve never seen so many mushrooms.
Humans continually speculate as to the reasons reactions occur in nature. For better or worse, we’re a meddling species, always poking and prodding; always postulating. I’ve heard many speculations about everything from the winter ahead: “It’s going to be an average winter.” To the prevalence of mice indoors this fall: “They’re cyclical.” To the sudden and varied explosion of mushrooms across the region. “Perfect ratio of heat to rainfall.” I like these hypothesis, empirically science and observation based—as much as I like the mythological explanations for such events: Poseidon’s wrath at fault for stormy seas. Coyote’s trickery for things going awry. Pele for erupting volcanoes.
Humans are meaning-makers. We seek answers. This aspect of our nature has led to both positives and negatives for both our species, other species, and the planet as a whole. Watching the Trump ascendency and listening to the rhetoric of his supporters, I cannot help but wish for more of this questioning nature across our population, and while I’m at it, the world. Perhaps we’ve become so inundated by our advertising/media/capitalist centered society, we’ve forgotten the importance of questioning, observation, careful analysis before reaching conclusions. On the other hand—and I’m debating with myself at this point—studying mythology shows that, despite scientific advances across thousands of years, humans haven’t changed at all. We still love, lust, grieve. We’re jealous, angry, and start wars. We’re fascinated with one another’s drama. We don’t know what exists before we’re born, and we don’t know where we go when we die. We still don’t know our purpose any more than did the ancient Greeks, Aborigines, Mayans staring up at the stars and making meaning out of constellations.
I don’t know why the mushrooms have appeared in such vast quantities this year, but I’m captivated by their shapes, sizes, colors, and prolific-stemmed-capped-cragged-horned-tilting presence. I’ve seen purple mushrooms, six-inch-tall table-topped Aminitas, brown and white puffballs like blown-bubbles on the lawn, and various eye-popping orange and red fungi that screams “poisonous” in all their fluorescent vibrancy.
They’re delightful, turning the woods and lawn into a there-and-gone fairy world overnight.
The Ancient Britons believed that stumbling into a fairy ring of mushrooms, one risked being taken to the land of faery, where you might never emerge, or, worse yet, emerge after only “one night” to find you’d been gone 200 years in real time. Many cultures have and continue to use certain mushrooms for their hallucinogenic qualities and ability to alter consciousness. Proponents across the centuries believe these characteristics reveal deeper meanings and truths than humans are able to see on a day to day basis.
I suggest a healthy dose for most modern politicians.
Cold Weather’s Coming
The change in season happens so gradually, I hardly notice. Subtle shifts in day-to-day routine are always the first clues.
Less skirts, dresses, shorts and more leggings and jeans.
The windows, always open at night, get lowered bit by bit until cracked just enough to hear the river as I fall asleep.
I’m hungrier than I was, as though, bear-like, my body’s preparing for cold.
Birds fly in chittering flocks, foraging together in preparation for a flight south I’m eager to imitate in December.
Fields turn green to gold, catching late-day sunlight in haloed reflections.
Days get shorter.
I hauled and stacked three face cords of wood yesterday. It felt like a lot, but I’ll need much more. “Wood warms you twice.” I hear my father’s voice as I bend, lift, stack, repeat. Sweat trickles between my breasts. Thunder rumbles and wind whips errant blond hairs into my eyes and across my lips.
Leaves swirl in colored tornadoes.
The cherry tree, first to acquiesce to coming cold, stands, a leafless profile against a gathering-storm-sky.
Tastes Like Fall
As the seasons change, my culinary fantasies shift from blueberry bursts, sweet corn and BLT bliss, and sugar snap pea sweetness to daydreams of bacon-wrapped-duck breast, apples melted with honey and cinnamon, and buttery-orange mounds of butternut squash.
Ideas and Recent Recipe Concept-Photos to Follow:
*Email firstname.lastname@example.org for Recipes and Ideas
Something elemental in me knows fall is coming on, without looking at a calendar. A flock of robins hurried, heavy-breasted above me this evening. The ditch-side weeds are fluffy and dry—going to seed and taking to the winds, switching directions like winging dragonflies. I crave corn—sweet and salty.
Sweet corn season catches me up every year. I wait all eleven or so months for a handful of tantalizingly-temporary meals containing fresh sweet corn.
I eat popcorn multiple nights a week at all times of year, but there’s nothing like the summer’s first shut-eyed, yellow-crunch, sweet-buttery bite of corn on the cob.
Corn in many incarnations comes our way on a daily basis, but in forms far removed from the yellow maize harvested by early Americans hundreds of years ago. We don’t recognize it any more, it comes in so many shapes and varietals—yet our idea of “corn” is still deeply entrenched in an image of a yellow, husked and tasseled ear.
Corn has developed a negative reputation in our culture—and rightfully so. Its large-scale farming destroys ecosystems; its processing is harmful to both environment and individual consumer; its production exists in a precariously balanced government subsidy program in which, ultimately, the farmers who risk their livelihoods to cultivate the ancient grain, lose—often sacrificing a lifetime’s health and finances.
It’s strange, how human intervention so drastically changed the corn plant—how, as Michael Pollan illustrates in his book The Botany of Desire our desire for certain traits from the corn plant irrevocably transformed corn’s evolutionary trajectory.
Corn was and is a staple diet of many segments of ancient and modern America. U.S. culture visualizes corn as the yellow and white symmetrical rows with green husk and frilled tassel. In reality, there are dozens of strains, in various shapes and sizes. Corn was sacred to many early American societies, particularly in the South Americas. Each variety and function corn represented was respected and even worshiped.
Its significance as a staple crop was recognized and celebrated.
We’ve deviated far from understanding our mutualistic relationship, and that lack of consideration has compromised our health, ecosystems, and connection to a symbiotic plant-human relationship that is crucial to human well being and survival.
I find it odd to ponder that the corn syrup found in soft drinks and candy is produced from the same plant that formed the well-salted, butter-dripping ear of corn clasped between my thumbs and forefingers. It truly is a wonder how humans invented ways to manipulate the natural world. Whether many of these manipulations are bad or good remains to be seen—we’re human experiments.
What concerns me is how often we stop to ask, “Why.” It seems an important question, that’s too often overlooked.
Corn on the cob is delightfully messy to eat. It’s a sensual experience, sweet and salty, butter dripping between fingers and across lips and chin. It’s a meal that requires full physical involvement—chewing, picking teeth, licking fingers, wiping chin, sucking sweet juice and butter soaked cob, and then having just one more.
My favorite summer meal is a BLT and corn on the cob. I’m blessed to have had this meal every summer I can remember because my parents raised my sister and I in a dreamy, hard-work-harvest, food landscape. Food and food production plays in most good memories I have.
The corn crop is a passion-project for my father. He puts up electric fences and works tirelessly to keep birds, chipmunks, squirrels, deer, and raccoons from destroying the tempting plants.
The summer I was fourteen, we worked as a family propping up corn stalks after a flattening wind and rain storm almost destroyed the harvest. We crawled on our hands and knees in the black, rain-wet dirt—my mother, father, sister, and me. The sun was hot, and it was humid beneath the tasseled corn-tree-trunks that towered above my bent back. Dirt crawled up my fingernails, and slugs slumped away from my patting hands, as I propped and packed, propped and packed. It was boiling and hard work, but a camaraderie developed between siblings and parents. When the rows stood straight again, we swam, the four of us, washing away dirt, laughing, brushing corn pollen from our hair.
I’ve had a lot of delicious BLTs, but those made in the Mills household will always be the best: my mother’s homemade bread, bacon, fresh-picked tomato, crisp garden-lettuce, and tangy organic mayo. My sister and I were usually given the task of shucking the corn, which we did with gusto, enjoying the squeak and pull as husks loosened and tore. We brought the glowing ears to mama, who lowered them, careful not to splash, into waiting boiling water.
She always knew exactly when to remove them (3-5 minutes).
As soon as the corn was ready, it was time to eat. We rolled steaming, golden-rowed, summer-incarnate ears in butter; salted, peppered, and ate.
It all comes together in flavors that, for me, hold the essence of summer and family. It’s a connection to the ancient grain that binds peoples and generations across this giant American continent, and now, in our global world, across the planet.
I mow approximately an acre. With a push-mower. I understand the lawn isn’t, technically, necessary. However, it helps keep the bugs down, or so I tell myself. In Deerton, bugs are a constant battle. I will also argue the lawn was mowed this way before, and it’s easy to follow the yard line. I also love how it looks. Untamed wilderness at the lawn’s edges makes a startling contrast to thick, impenetrable brush and trees forming a border around the yard line.
I learned how to use both a push and riding lawnmower when I lived with my husband. I liked the rider, as I could have a beer or glass of wine and enjoy my yard one, ever-smaller, concentric circle at a time.
My cabin didn’t come with a mower, so I went down to a dealer in Skandia and looked for something used, aka in my teensy-tiny budget. When I walked into the show-room a gentleman was in the process of buying the only used one available, but changed his mind at the last minute, and for $150 the mower was mine.
I arrived home, unloaded the mower, and surveyed the waving grass blades and bobbing daisy heads. I had just purchased my first lawnmower. Before me were hundreds of laps around the rocky yard, a lot of bug bites, and moments of deep satisfaction, sipping wine and surveying the results of my efforts.
The work is hard–the yard dips and plunges. It’s full of rocks, and unexpected tree stumps popping out of tall grass to quickly stop a mower blade. The bugs are horrendous: black flies, mosquitoes, horse flies, deer flies. I’ve often eaten as many as five mosquitoes in a couple hours just opening my mouth for a deep breath.
But somehow, I don’t mind that much. Perhaps it’s doing it myself; a sense of accomplishment; stubborn pride; single woman goal achievement; forced exercise; a chance to touch each inch of the land I own and inhabit.
The lawnmower wasn’t my first triumphant act, and it certainly won’t be the last.
I learned how to use a weed wacker, switch the propane tank for the two-burner stove, change the water filter, build stone walk-ways, swap my brakes (with assistance), and carpentry work will soon be an addition to the list.
My education came out of necessity–I don’t have money to hire someone to do these things, and I’m perfectly capable of learning. But the honest truth is: I probably wouldn’t have learned if I didn’t have to.
My mother asks: “How can you stay alone there, night after night?”
Because I have to. Because it’s my home. Necessity.
I lost my fear of the dark. I lost my fear of being alone. Because I had to–either that or leave my home–give it up to fear.
Many times, I’ve thought of my dear friend Dorothy who lived alone in a cabin in the Canadian woods after her husband passed away. Children grown, she stuck it out there for several years before moving closer to town. She lived rustic, created a garden, hauled water, and enjoyed her space–her solitude.
It becomes something you wrap around yourself. Something you own. Out of what is, sometimes, the agony of necessity, comes strength to walk across the pitch-dark yard without a flashlight, and never consider needing one.
Breakfast can be greatly improved by a bit of inspiration. Oatmeal, granola, eggs–they don’t have to be boring. The addition of/pairing with nontraditional ingredients makes this meal more delicious and interesting.
I love to make a big breakfast for a room full of people–scrambled eggs with everything from the fridge–everyone crunching on toast and bacon. Coffee steaming. I also love to make oatmeal from the odd grains at the back of my cupboard, dab on Fage Greek Yogurt (full fat please) and mix and match fruits (frozen, dried and/or fresh), nuts, granola, seeds, milk, honey/maple syrup. Sometimes jelly or jam. Nutmeg or cinnamon.
Many of my tastiest ideas are inspired by photos. I hope this gallery will help provide inspiration. I will keep posting as inspiration occurs!
When you trace the days back, skip over calendar squares like spaces on a game board, reversing: events, choices, moments, does it overwhelm you? Do you look back to a month, three months, seven, a year ago and pause for a moment, wondering what the hell happened?
It’s a dizzying spiral that can, too often, lead down a rabbit hole, rehashing events we can’t do anything to change, but somehow find the need to comb through endlessly.
Lying in bed, mowing the giant lawn, working around the house, my thoughts slip easily into this well-worn groove, like tires into a rut. The past whispers, and soon I feel the tight, familiar ache in my jaw, as I begin to clench. Sadness, anxiety, twist in my chest.
I take a deep breath. Work to close the lid over my Pandora’s Box of worries I can’t change right now, or ever.
I’m used to cooking for another human every day. I find inspiration in their tastes, the mood, and what we’re craving.
“What are you hungry for?” Is, it seems, a much more interesting question to ask other people, but not so much yourself. These days, my answer to myself is usually, “rice pudding.” I go to the container in the fridge, dump on some nutmeg and cinnamon and plop/lean, eating wherever I am in the house. When I’m sufficiently shocked at how much rice pudding I’ve consumed, again, in one sitting, I return container to fridge.
I’ve analyzed my reliance on the side-food group “Pudding” and I think it hearkens back to comfort food of my childhood.
Grandma Betty Harkness made my sister and me the most delicious rice/vanilla puddings. We got to eat them from her company-special, cut green glass goblets. Our spoons clinked against emerald glass, creamy pudding swirled along fluted edges, and the morsel lingering in stemmed bottom had to be reached with our pinky fingers when no one was looking. The sweet, velvety pudding was both a treat and a comfort. Special glasses, cream and sugar, Grandma’s cozy kitchen.
While the pudding from the food co-op is delicious, it imparts little of the comfort I crave.
Impulsively, I invite various friends and groups of friends for dinner. Before confirmations, I begin planning and cooking. The energy focused on holding down the box lid on my trunk of worries, I divide, to focus on meal planning. In the morning, as I finish the lawn, instead of running the hamster wheel of apprehensions, I categorize ingredients in cupboards, shelves, fridge, and freezer. My mind adds and subtracts ingredients—grouping, arranging, rearranging.
Venison: the protein. Simple buttery polenta: the base. Fresh herbs: the green note. Frozen cauliflower from my father’s garden: the creamy, garlicky sauce. Roses are blooming on the cabin’s south-side, and a long-ago gardener’s rhubarb legacy peeks elephantine-ear leaves through tall grass. Roses, Honey, and Rhubarb: the sweet.
The sun moves through its longest days’ orbit and apologetic cancellations and rain checks for “dinner next time” trickle in.
It doesn’t matter. The meal’s underway in my mind. I have something else to focus on, and I leap from hamster wheel to kitchen counter with desperate relief.
The meal comes together throughout the day. I give myself up to familiar rhythms: chopping, mixing, spicing, stirring, seasoning—decisions weighty enough to satisfy and calm my anxious mind.
One person to cook for would be enough, and dear friend Ryan arrives. He doesn’t simply arrive, but walks through the door bearing a bag of fresh clams, mussels, and conch from Maine.
We steam the seafood, filling the cabin with a briny, tide pool aroma unfamiliar to Laughing Whitefish River shores.
We eat shelled delicacies in the screen tent, near the river. Maple leaf shadows stipple the tabletop. River water chuckles over stones, nearby. Finches, robins, and meadowlarks fill the insect-humming air with melody.
I can’t help myself, and chuckle aloud, as garlic-herb butter drips down my fingers.
It’s all still here—the worries, fears, anxieties—but distant now. Like the far-away whine of a mosquito you know you’ll have to deal with eventually, but for the moment, you’re safe.
I’ve been in two, serious, back-to-back, long-term relationships since I was 19. I’m 32 and six months single.
I came of age as a cook, and as a writer, with a partner. Cooking for someone else at least five nights a week sincerely influenced my culinary decisions. It challenged me to find ways to make two very different men like vegetables more. It pushed me to impress, both my men and extended friends and family, with my culinary prowess. It was a way I attempted to show two very differently, indifferent men, that I loved them. Every meal I put in front of them, I handed a little piece of myself to be taken inside them. Love, infusing food I’d made with these hands, now, a part of my love.
Unfortunately, good food and love need more, to keep a forever-relationship, forever.
For the first time in my adult life, I’m really alone. One room cabin, 40 acres. Middle-of-nowhere-Deerton-Upper Peninsula wilderness-alone.
In the past, when single people have talked to me about challenges cooking for themselves, I fear I’ve been a bit flippant in my response. “I love cooking for myself,” I’d say with just a hint of disbelief and a total lack of context. “I cook something delicious just for myself, and it’s a treat. I’m glad to give you some recipe ideas,” I would finish with what I fear might have been a hint of bothersome self-assuredness. I couldn’t fully understand their perspective, because I’d never been in that position.
I get it now. It’s damn hard to cook a nice meal for yourself when you live alone. By nice, I mean put the time and energy to buy groceries and create something delicious and soul-satisfying, just for yourself. When we cook for others, we’re aware of many things: the need to impress, nourish, sustain, and nurture those we’re feeding. We put all of that into the food, and the flavors, etc. answer. But there isn’t always incentive, to do that for ourselves. Food becomes fuel when you’re alone. You eat standing, perching, laying down, but not sitting around a table. At the moment, I don’t even have a table.
I try. I’m a food writer. I love food and flavor is really important to me. Every aspect of good eating is important to me. But somehow, other things take precedence. I don’t eat as regularly. I read or watch a movie, trying to remember mindfulness with each bite. Trying.
Why are we less likely to nourish ourselves, than others?
In a rural setting, it becomes an interesting challenge. The closest grocery store is a solid 25 minute drive away. When I’m hungry at home, I’m also all the way home, and not likely to jump in the car just to get myself a meal. So I end up with interesting concoctions and combinations of snacks and half-meals that I often consume standing, then sitting, then walking around as other agenda items momentarily take precedence over eating. It’s not like that, when you eat with others. You focus more, on the meal, atmosphere, conversation, their reactions, the play of light across food, wine, faces.
Mindfulness. Mindfulness. Mindfulness. I chant, a mantra. But before I know it my eggs are getting cold, and the buttered toast, chill. However, I’ve managed to sweep, play with the puppy, and hang clothes on the line, so there’s always a tradeoff.
Sit down and eat your damn eggs. I remind myself in something approximating a mental-stern-mommy-voice. They’re still good, even cold.
I’ve learned that eggs are a single person’s best friend. They’re a simple-to-cook, locally sourceable, healthy, versatile protein option. They’re adaptable to any cuisine theme. They’re comfort food.
***All recipes are adaptable to adding many more people to your meal!
Soft-Boiled Eggs and Toast—Arguably, the Ultimate Comfort Food (Shailah, I know how you feel about yolks)
2 local eggs
Good bread for toasting
Salt/Pepper to taste (I also like to use garlic salts, dill, tarragon, turmeric, etc. depending on what flavor mood I’m in)
Bring a small pot of water to boil. Slowly lower in eggs, one at a time, careful not to jar. Let boil for approximately 4 minutes, depending on how runny you like the yolk.
Run eggs under cold water and carefully remove shell. Sprinkle eggs with desired flavors.
Toast bread, and then butter. Cut into dippable/scoopable slices.
Eggs and Greens
2 local eggs
Good bread for toasting
Large handful of greens (chard, kale, spinach, micro greens, mustard greens, arugula, wilted lettuce, etc.) –The greens melt down into next to nothing, so use a generous handful.
Minced Garlic (Add garlic towards the end of cooking process for a more full flavor)
Salt/pepper/spices to taste
Braggs Liquid Aminos/ Soy Sauce
Water—not always needed, but might be necessary to keep greens from sticking. Sometimes, I also just add butter.
Melt greens in oil with spices and Braggs/Soy Sauce. When greens are melty, make a well in the center and add eggs and garlic. Cover, making sure to keep a bit of liquid in the bottom, and cook until eggs are sunnyside up (whites are cook and there’s a film over the yolk, but yolk’s still runny). Scoop eggs, greens, and pan juices into a bowl.
Other Egg Meal Ideas:
Sometimes, I cheat and use packets of Indian curries our food coop carries. The ingredients are good and healthy, and they don’t have a bunch of preservatives. There’s different options, and you can add to them. Ditto with the organic ramen/noodle packets. I add cabbage, peppers, zucchini, seafood, leftover sausage/chicken/venison/beef/pork, chopped nuts, etc. And of course, eggs. They can be cooked however you’re craving eggs, and added to the curry/noodle dish.
Hard-boiled, or even soft-boiled (using the yolk as part of the dressing) eggs are delicious on most salads.
Plain old eggs, bacon, and toast is a perfect comfort food.