To be practiced


For the last three weeks, any time I can’t find Lucas, I look for a trail of kishu peels – peeling is a recent development, and one he’s quite fond of. He is a well-known citrus lover in these parts, but still I have been astounded at the rate he consumes these tiny (they make Satsumas look massive) sweet-tart darlings. The citrus farmer at our Saturday market sells them by the pound, and each week I have purchased a pound more than the week before – but to date, they haven’t lasted past Tuesday.

This week, I have been looking for Lucas more often than usual. Not because he has taken to disappearing, but because I have taken to being distracted, by projects and also by people, both actually visiting and planning to visit. Today I was so distracted that I didn’t realize my two preschoolers had gone to the garage by themselves. It seems they took a run on the treadmill, and then opened a package of paper towels. At which point they unrolled all twelve of the rolls. Because, you know. (?!) Our garage is filled with paper towel, long waves that unfurled off the roll still connected to each other in 50-foot trains. These paper towels, under normal circumstances, would have lasted us through Memorial Day. I think I’m going to fold them up, and store them in paper bags. But really I’ve no idea. I haven’t gone back to look at them again, because they are the straw, the precise, proverbial one, that will destroy this here camel.


I am not an expert at patience. Parenting has made me, quite marginally, better at it. But I am not the mom who looks at the paper towel drifts in the garage and says, ah! Aren’t they clever! Studying cause and effect, utilizing teamwork, developing fine and gross motor skills, and so artistic with the draping! Let’s all gather round and clean together, while we sing a little clean up ditty!

No, no ditties here. I am the mom who says something else altogether, something that doesn’t bear repeating, something that I later apologized to them for. **

On our fridge, there is a little rectangle of paper that Jacob doodled on. He drew an alligator with a crooked grin, and above it he wrote LOVE. I keep that square because of the alligator’s smiling face, yes. But mostly I keep it because sometimes I need to be reminded, that we can always choose love. Loving our kids when they are warm and cuddly, when they are bright and shining, when they are smart and funny – that is as easy as breathing. What is trickier is finding that place of love when they are, say, peeing all over the wall in your bathroom, or gently and systematically pulling the threads from your favorite sheets, or tackling their brother onto the hardwood for no apparent reason.


Loving people is hard. Or I think what I mean is, it is hard to love people consistently. I love my kids when I am angry at them, I never doubt that – but in the moment, I’m not always centered in it. I suspect getting it right every time takes practice, more practice than I have had. We must be both flexible and firm as parents, often in the same instant; grounding ourselves in love for our kids seems the best place to start, but keeping both feet firmly planted there when that final straw comes can be daunting.

So. Today, I didn’t do my best. Tomorrow, I will try to do better. It takes practice. I’m all for that. In the meantime, if you’ll excuse me – I’m off to gather up the orange peels, and the paper towels, and the courage to face another day.


“Love has to be practiced. It has to find something to do. Love isn’t just a feeling. It’s an instruction: Love one another. That’s hard to do. It doesn’t mean to sit at home and have fond feelings. You’ve got to treat people as if you love them … Right livelihood would prohibit strip mining and building warplanes. And so would “Love one another,” if anybody took it seriously.”

– Wendell Berry in Sun Magazine. (This interview is from 2008 but I return to it again and again.)


Rosemary-Citrus Muffins (Okay, cupcakes.)
Adapted from Alana Chernila’s perfect yellow cake recipe in her book The Homemade Pantry and our favorite 1-2-3-4 cake by Alice Waters.

I made these one morning last week with Jacob and his friend Miranda. We took a bunch to school for the parent break room, and some also made it home with Miranda, and a few made it to the home of another friend that Miranda was playing with. Then, over the next 48 hours, I got five emails about them; ohmygodthosemuffins! was one of the subject lines. I think people enjoyed them so much because, for starters, we billed them as muffins when in reality they are birthed from a cake recipe. (Oh how I love a not-too-sweet cake.) Then there is that rosemary-citrus-butter thing, again, and finally there is the fact of the egg whites. Most muffin recipes, especially work-a-day muffins meant for a preschool parent room, don’t have you whipping egg whites into clouds of light and then gently folding them into the batter, just before baking. Most muffins don’t do this because most muffins, and I mean this sincerely, should be one-bowl affairs.

But there is an undeniable upside to taking your time with the egg whites. You get that added bit of lift, an airiness that works alongside all that butter (and those four egg yolks) to give you a crumb with the richness of a pound cake, but none of its heft. Let it be known that I love poundcake – but there are times when what we are after is balance: between the weighty and the weightless, the earthly and the etheral. Between the flexible and the firm, in crumb as in life.

You’ll let me know how you see it, but for me, this one is well worth practicing.

3 cups (12 ounces) all-purpose flour (have also had success with either 2 cups all-purpose plus 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour, or 3 cups cake flour)
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons finely minced fresh rosemary leaves (no stems)
1 tablespoon kishu mandarin zest (or orange zest, or lemon zest)
4 large eggs, separated
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup whole milk

Preheat the oven to 350 F, and line 24 standard muffin cups with papers (or, butter and lightly flour them.)

Combine the flour (or flours), baking powder and salt in a medium bowl, and mix with a fork.

In a small bowl, combine the sugar with the rosemary and orange zest. Rub them together for a minute with your fingers; the goal is to rub the citrus and rosemary oils into the sugar, as much as possible.

In your stand mixer or a mixing bowl, beat the egg whites with the whisk attachment (or a wire whisk) until they hold soft peaks. Transfer them to another bowl, and wash and dry your mixer bowl.

Put the butter in the stand mixer bowl, and mix with the paddle attachment until it is light and fluffy (about 1 minute). Add the sugar-rosemary-zest mixture and mix for another minute, then add the egg yolks one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add the vanilla, and continue to mix for another minute, until well blended.

In alternating thirds, add the flour mixture and the milk to the batter. Mix on low speed after each addition until just blended. Once all the flour and milk have been incorporated, add the egg whites: mix in in one third of them, then gently fold in the rest with a spatula.

Pour the batter into the muffin cups, filling about 3/4 full. Bake until the cakes are golden and a tester comes out clean, about 23-25 minutes (watch carefully for doneness toward the end).

Cool on a cooling rack. We love ours with a dollop of mascarpone cheese because, you know, they’re muffins, not cupcakes, and it’s cheese … not frosting.

** A throwback to 1993, when you could still rap about Niagara and not rhyme it with Viagara.

6 thoughts on “To be practiced

    • Hi Grace – clearly you have excellent taste, in writers and in herbs :) I’m glad that you’re enjoying the attempt here. It’s been interesting, and I guess I can give a cheer for being almost half way. Hooray!

  1. I had such a long, rambling, tangential comment written for this post but I opted not to post it because I worried that all your readers would think, “Who is this crazy lady hijacking your lovely post?” Suffice to say, it really got me thinking about simplicity and priorities and helped me get some things straight in my head. Thanks.

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