Monday, October 14, 2013

Love People. Cook Them Tasty Food.

A few weeks ago, my sweet friend Caryn left me a gem of a present in my mailbox. Just a word about Caryn- she has a habit of leaving me gifts, usually including dark chocolate and books or magazines. The kind of indulgent little things I wouldn't usually buy for myself but make me incredibly happy and feel like I just got a sneak love attack. This particular gift was a book called Bread and Wine by Shauna Niequist.

In a nutshell, it is a book about food. Making it, sharing it, loving it, fighting with it, but most importantly using it for what it is. Nourishment. Comfort. Celebration. Sustaining. Sorrow. Food is elemental to human life and thus cannot be ignored and should not be over used. There are foods for different occasions and seasons. Food is an equalizer and a barrier breaker and a conversation starter. Food is a gift or an apology or an invitation. There are people who will sit around your table that would never go with you to church. Very few things make the statement that you care about a person like inviting them into your home and sharing a meal with them. I have a bumper sticker from Penzey's Spice Shop on our refrigerator door that says "Love people. Cook them tasty food."

I originally bought that bumper sticker for my friend Bec who knows how to open her door and invite strangers to her table like no one I have ever met. She and her husband Bill custom built their kitchen and I have washed dishes in the gorgeous black stone sink many times. They know how to open a bottle of wine and get people to start talking. Bec doesn't bother with fussy cooking but everything I have ever had in her kitchen has been amazing. Whether we are sitting around the table or leaning against the counter with our forks in the leftovers. I decided to keep the bumper sticker for myself because I felt I needed the reminder more then she did. She already does it so brilliantly.

The book is part cookbook part autobiography part instruction manual. It was an easy read but I found myself going back to re read certain parts because I felt I had missed some hidden nugget, which I usually had. She is raw and honest but hopeful.

I have written so much about my evolving love affair with food. I have gone from being a tortured soul bulimic who hated food so much I made myself throw it up, to a vegan who lived for 6 months on only brown rice, soy milk, almonds and cucumbers (don't ask me why, some kind of self discipline exercise), to a vegetarian who agonized over online restaurant menus to make sure I could order in under 10 minutes, to a person who just EATS- anything and everything, but has a special place in my heart and gut for bacon.

I love how Shauna writes about food in her book. The glorious ways in which food can enrich the lives of people and how beautiful it is when it is made to share. The responsibility of treating it well- respecting ingredients and recipes and traditions. How feeding guests with dietary restrictions is a way to show you care about them. Dealing with your aversion to messes and chaos and focusing on the beauty of a house and table full of people- strangers or friends and everything in between.

My grandmother spent hours with me in the kitchen teaching me how to bake. She made amazing things like ebilskievers and crepes and challah and Danish puffs. But baking didn't take with me. I can make a halfway decent dutch oven bread and flip pancakes like a champ. But I like the freedom to riff in the kitchen, and baking is not conducive to riffing. I have taught myself to cook by reading blogs, watching Food Network, reading cookbooks like novels late at night while Grant is reading The Economist in bed next to me, patiently letting me read ingredient lists like the ultimate literary climax, and sitting on the shoulders of others in their kitchen while they teach me some technique or method. I am definitely a novice chef who finds nothing crazy about tackling a hollandaise sauce for the first time- with a table of 10 new friends waiting to eat. I call it ballsy, others might call it foolish. My bravado is probably a bit of both. And I am definitely still learning.

I still cringe when I think about the lentil spinach soup I served to a young couple at our home in Bellefonte. I thought that if a little spinach was good, more would be better and the texture was something close to what you pull out of the sink after the garbage disposer has backed up. Slimy, stringy, off-putting green color and so thick every bite left an indent in the soup left behind in the bowl. I wish I had been confident enough to call it the culinary disaster it was, but I bravely pretended like the emperor was wearing beautiful clothes. A few years and lots of learning later, I burned a huge pot of potato soup that I was serving to our best friends. I forgot to stir all the way to the bottom of the pan and the cream-based soup turned into a steaming cauldron of ash-tasting liquid. While our friends cackled in the background at the odds of burning a soup, I called the local pizza place and opened a bottle of wine. Food is a journey, not a destination.

I suppose this is a book report/treatise on my feelings about food. Why I love it. Why I think it matters. Why inviting people to dinner in my house is like inviting them into my life. Sometimes it isn't magic and we all say a polite goodnight after an hour or so. And sometimes one hour turns into two turns into putting the babes to bed and making another run to the six pack shop before they close so we can curl up on the living room couches and continue the conversation we started over appetizers. Some people find that chemistry over board games, book clubs, local pubs, playgroups, etc. In the Martsolf home, we try to create community around the table.

Love People. Cook them Tasty Food.

I am trying my best.

Friday, October 11, 2013


I keep thinking my daily life is nothing more than a series of decisions that go something like this.

Either I can go out with the babes today and have car seat battles and cries for juice water from the back seat where of course I can do  nothing about their spontaneous parching thirst and requests for the Avett Brothers album AGAIN and feats of strength in the cheese aisle of Trader Joes in front of a dozen hipsters who have sworn off children for the exact reason playing out in front of them


I can stay in with the babes and try to fold laundry or empty the dishwasher while keeping one eye and ear on my wonderfully precocious children who while I was pulling my jeans on this morning learned how to open the child safety latches on the cubbord where I keep the extra bags of flour and dried beans and pretend to love playing play doh when really I just get angsty when I watch all the impossibly tiny bits get ground into the rug while Pursy is making "spaghetti sauce" for the off-green ribbons of play doh that are the main course.

Either I can go to bed at 10, leaving a not tired yet Grant on the couch watching old episodes of SNL because I forbade him from watching Nashville without me and lie in bed wishing I were still downstairs reading and doing something to prevent my marriage from dissolving into pieces because I didn't have the kindness to stay up for one more hour and talk about our dreams for the future because I wanted to get up at 515 and go to the gym by myself.


I could stay up later and sleep in until 630 when Pursy puts her face in my face and says something dreamy and lovey like "Mama will you help me go poop?" then spend the next 2 hours trying to put shoes on Knox and get a banana into both of them before piling everyone into the car and going to the gym at nine when the Kids Gym opens and I can drop them off while I go to the Cardio Theatre and watch Avatar for the 10th time so the meat market that goes on at urban gyms doesn't get in the way of my sweat fest. Not that I ogle or am ogled but watching spandex clad humans check each other out distracts me from the immediate firming of my glutes that I imagine happens the second I look at an elliptical machine.

Either I could deal with the headache and frantic feeling that something is missing from my morning routine and push on through the third floor of the Children's Museum clapping my hands with delight every time Knox puts together the PVC pipes and water shoots out the top while mentally flogging myself for not taking three minutes to make a French press before leaving the house or stopping at McDonalds and accepting that fast food coffee is better than no coffee.


I can stop at a real coffee shop where I can feel better about what I am putting into my body and enjoy the rich top notes of a Jamaican Blue Mountain drip with a splash of cream while Pursy is grabbing at every breakable ceramic coffee mug on the display and repeatedly asking for a biscotti and Knox is climbing out of the stroller and army crawling around the floor tripping up a line of hipsters who have sworn off children for the exact reason playing out in front of them and my perfectly brewed roast is splashing out of the tiny hole on the disposable lid as the double stroller is wheeled as quickly as possible away from the counter and out the door.

Pursy has a book of either/or scenarios that is, I suppose, to teach her about making decisions and thinking through options. Every time I read it to her and we choose the red curved block to make the roof of the house instead of the green triangle I think of how lucky she is to be so successful in her choices. And with hardly any angst at all.

Life with kids is full of situations where the choices are not life or death, good or bad or even right or wrong. Sometimes its all about thinking each situation out to its logical conclusion. And deciding how much you can handle if everything goes to pot. Sometimes when you have lined everything up to have a perfectly successful day and at the door of the gym you realize you forgot the diaper bag and your diaper clad son has soaked through his diaper and raccoon one piece outfit and your daughter is begging to go to the coffee shop rather then the gym play place and your new gym shorts have a rip in the back and you realize at that moment you didn't wear underwear that day because you were in a hurry to get dressed and out of the house in time to work out before your volunteer shift at the non profit you decided to be involved with...

You just head back to the car and share a bag of goldfish crackers with your wonderfully precocious children. And call it a day.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013


I do my best to avoid processed or boxed foods. Experimenting with how to make sauces and batters and cereals and other things out of all their components has led to some fabulous discoveries. Tailoring recipes to what I like- less garlic, more vanilla, hold the olives, double the rosemary, definitely more red pepper flakes- makes cathartic cooking time in the kitchen deliciously worthwhile.

With one big exception. When the shelves at Trader Joe's are overnight transformed into a pumpkin smorgasbord of delicious sweet and savory options, I buy everything I can get my hands on. Sometimes multiple boxes, in the case of the pumpkin bread mix.

I know, I know. I can make most of these things myself with some canned pumpkin and ingenuity. But the truth is, part of the beauty of these things is the simplicity. Just open a package, stir a bit and toss on the griddle or in the oven (or right into my mouth). And it's perfect every time. Like autumn junk food, anticipated for its lack of year round access and the way it compliments chilly mornings so deliciously. Pumpkin and cinnamon and cloves and apple cider... Happy October, y'all!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Between the Posts

Sometimes the space between blog posts means I don't want to share anything and sometimes it means I don't have anything to share. Usually when the former season is over, I write a long essay detailing the journey my heart has been on while I navigate the crazy parade of my life. The latter season usually ends with something beautiful or different or wonderful that broke up a series of boring days or weeks. Having the particular three and two year old that I do, we don't have many boring days at all. But then the excitement can sometimes be too much and I spend my spare quiet moments slamming down another cup of coffee or an episode of New Girl instead of sharing some tasty life nuggets with y'all.

In this case, the last few days are all going to be documented together as one big mess of a beautiful thing. Filled with mystical encounters that resulted in house guests, large rubber ducks, 12 hours with my Japanese dwelling older brother, Greek street food, and throwin' rocks in the river. Glorious doesn't even begin to describe it. Photos of our visit with the giant rubber duck floating in the Allegheny are on my Instagram feed at lenore27

Naked Painting. Our Mama would rather wash bellies then shirts.

Almost two year old painting.

3.5 year old painting.

Here is the beginning of how this family ended up at our house. Grant and I were on vacation in Asheville NC over two years ago, I was pregnant with Knox and Purslane was a tornado of a 16 month old. We walked into a church on Sunday after a tremendous fight and I sat in the back of the room crying and probably thinking a bit more about hating Grant then loving Jesus. As we hurried out of the service that morning, a guy ran after us and said something to the tune of "Hey, I have never seen y'all at church here before but you look like you are having a rough time. Are you alright?". We were in no position to deny it, so fessed up that we were struggling and he didn't have time to do much more then give us his phone number and some encouraging words. It was enough. He cared. Three years later we got a phone call that he and his family were coming to Pittsburgh for a wedding and needed a place to stay. The family of Christ is beautiful. And so is this family. Aaron, Grace, Woodrow and Gloria.

Grace and Gloria.

Our babes learning about Community and Lowly Worm

After the B Family left, we went up to the cabin. It was supposed to be four days...we left after 24 hours. A great decision, really. Our babes are just the right age to be killed by so many things, particularly camp fires, rivers, top bunks, sharp sticks, etc. Fortunately there are mud puddles and river banks and canoes and s'mores.

My second favorite guy and I walking down to the river.
Throwing Rocks

Getting hit in the head with rocks

Splashing in the River

Such a Kid

River Nymph

S'more assembly

Lighting our hundredth marshmallow on fire

Sweet Success

Of course we made s'mores before dinner

Hot Dogs!

Possibly an error on my FitnessPal app? Although maybe I am not eating enough calories...

"Don't worry son, Daddy will keep you safe."
This fantastic picture is the result of an amateur photographer accidently using a very slow shutter speed. I dissolve into giggles every time I look at this photo. On the right side of the picture is a serene, loving paternal moment. On the left, terrifying disaster.

Make your own fun, kids.

Early morning foggy wading.

Pursy's first canoe ride with Daddy.

A fleet of Amish canoers. Some of our friends will understand the irony.

Pursy swam all the way to the big rock. She was so proud.

Pursy waiting for Gramma and Uncle Daniel to come.

Introducing them to What Does the Fox Say? (Anna and Bede, I really want to thank you for this little gem)

One of my favorite pictures of our day with my brother. He was smushed into the back seat between the two car seats, bravely drinking hot coffee while dodging kicks to the face.

One round of Monster Game before bed.

Oh my heart.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Dinner Party Guests

Today as I sit in front of this computer in my pajamas listening to Purslane rearrange the furniture in her bedroom during "rest time" and Knox complain loudly in his crib about nap time, I realize that instead of frustration or annoyance I just feel amused. And I want to document this because as the mother of two young babes, frustration is my go to feeling when I have provided the perfect soothing milieu and both my children reject my efforts.

Why don't you appreciate what I do for you and respond correctly??


But I realize that the reason I am smiling peacefully while I listen to my children exercise their free will and fabulously precocious personalities is that I am content. Not just in this moment wearing pajamas after noon or eating cucumbers and dark chocolate mints for lunch, but in a truly holistic sense, I am content.

We spent the past weekend in State College with some of our dearest friends and their children. Because we were at Penn State for 5 years while Grant worked on his PhD, these people knew us pre, intra and post Purslane and Knox. Before we had kids or completed degrees, we road tripped and stayed up too late talking and drinking, had whiskey tasting parties and celebrated every excuse to wear a costume. We sat in church together and had dinner group on Thursday nights. They walked through pregnancy with us, were the first ones through the door of the hospital after both babes were born and brought us food and drink in the first few months of being new parents. They helped us pack up our house when we moved to Pittsburgh and have come to visit multiple times since then. They are our family, our community, our confidants, our sounding boards, our favorite dinner party guests, our fellow concert attenders, our babysitters, our sous chefs- in other words, these are our people.

And now some of us have children, some of us are returning to school, some of us are job seeking... life keeps evolving and on Saturday we sat around a fire pit in the Parks' backyard and talked about our crazy days and weeks and months. We took turns holding the two newest members of our family- Everett and Catherine Portz. 10 weeks old and breathtaking. Two families were noticeably absent, but at some point that evening both commented on Instagram photos we were posting of our reunion. Ah, social media to the rescue again. Alex, Becki, Mark and Kim, we missed you.

So back to Pittsburgh and instead of feeling lonely and regretful and looking at jobs for Grant and I back in State College (my usual post-Happy Valley funk)  I was just overwhelmed with gratefulness that these people exist and being together is as normal and comfortable as when we lived down the street. I feel happy that as life has moved on we can catch up and fall back into rhythm- even for a weekend.

One crazy thing to me is that I didn't bring my camera. I took pictures on my cell phone for Instagram, but did not have my Canon on my hip where it lives most days. Maybe I recognized that I didn't need to frantically document this trip with these people. I just lived in the moments as they happened. Would Freud say my Id was controlling my subconscious desire to be present not behind the lens of my camera? I can't remember how those fighting subconscious elements work... (Dr Brinkman, a little help?? :)

But Pittsburgh is home now and we are building memories and community here. As I'm sure some of you are aware, Grant and I are huge Pittsburgh Pirates fans and after 20+ years, tonight is a playoff game at PNC park. We are in the playoffs. We have a babysitter, I switched my regular shift and worked last night (Pittsburgh is a city of sports fans and when I called my boss and asked to work Monday instead of Tuesday her response was "Go Bucs!" and said no more) and Grant and I are heading to the ballpark at 645 to watch history be made. I also have a lineup of fantastic new friends willing to hang out with Purslane and Knox should the Pirates continue to advance to the World Series.

Dinner parties are a little different now. Instead of people walking in the door and taking over my kitchen- helping themselves to serving spoons, sour cream, hot pads, stovetop burners- we have new friends who don't know where things are and are still just bringing the salad. But they will learn. And soon dinner parties will be the hullabaloo they were in State College.

I can't wait.