Category Archives: Feasting

I am the Supreme High Goddess of the Temple of Meat.

Urban homesteading is, in part, about independence—learning skills that will decrease your reliance on systems and entities you abhor. But sometimes it’s about interdependence. And lucky for me, I have an amazing bunch of friends. Friends with superpowers, in fact. Beer-making, meat-curing, bread-baking, food-pickling superpowers.

A few weeks ago, my good friend Shannan (who is definitely invited to live at my house during the Zombie Apocalypse, because she makes bacon jam and can build useful, pretty things with wood and tools) formed a new obsession—meat curing. She read and researched and imagined and fantasized, and she posted her meat musings on Facebook. Pretty soon, there was a long thread amongst three of four friends about the hows and whys and wherefores of charcuterie, and the only thing holding them back was the where. While a closet will do in a pinch, what you really need, it turns out, is a basement, kind of humid, dark, good air circulation.

That’s when I chimed in. Since my Sweet Feller set up his brewery in the basement kitchen, things have gotten much more clean and organized down there. In fact, there’s a shower down there that isn’t hooked up to plumbing at the moment. It’s the perfect space to cure meat.

So Shannan, who is fiercely organized and determined once she sets her mind to something, set up a Doodle calendar so we could find a date for  meat hanging. She happened to mention, just in passing, that she had made some bacon jam recently, and would we like to taste it? (Of course we would!) I had visions of eating bacon jam by an open fire, so I suggested we start a blaze in the fire bowl in the backyard. Which brought about the suggestion of marshmallows. Then s’mores. Then s’mores with bacon jam. With John’s homebrew. (Like I said, superpowers.)

I had recently placed an order for blue dove oyster mushroom grain spawn and thought I might start the spawn that same afternoon with my friend Connie (maker of homemade tempeh — yep, superpower), who split the grain spawn order with me. The spawn didn’t arrive in time, however, but I told Connie she should come on over, anyway, since there was bacon jam and charcuterie. As it happens, she had recently come into a wild boar ham, so she was interested in attaining curing skills, too.

So here we all were—Shannan, Jen, Connie, Rachel, John, and me. Shannan had salted and seasoned a hunk of pork belly with salt and pepper, rosemary, and a bunch of other stuff and let it sit in her fridge for a week until it was firm to the touch. She wrapped and tied it in cheese cloth.

Today she brought it to my house. I had put a suspension rod over the top of the old shower stall for her use, and there it hangs. We discussed air circulation (she judged it to be adequate), temperature (just right), humidity (also good), and light (it’s quite dark in there once the light is out). She will check in on it every few days over the next several weeks to monitor its drying. Once it has lost 30 percent of its weight, it’s pancetta. All of this was just fine with me, on one condition–that she address me as the Supreme High Goddess of the Temple of Meat. When she had agreed to that, I gave her a key to my basement.

Then we moved outside into the backyard, where John had the fire going. We passed around the Charcuterie Bible and talked recipes, superpowers, and other possible things we could learn from and teach one another. Connie had brought a beautiful loaf of homemade bread, and Rachel walked in with two jars of her pickles. We opened the bread-and-butter pickles and ate them on top of slices of bread with bacon jam. Then we washed them down with John’s IPA and honey porter. A.Maze.Ing.

Bacon jam s’more. Photo by Shannan Palma

(Also amazing, it turns out, are s’mores with giant super-sized marshmallows, dark chocolate, and more bacon jam. Shannan burned her hand with a melted bit of marshmallow, but she finished her s’more before treating the burn. That’s how good they were.)

Jen’s happy meat clap

While I am secure in my status as Goddess of the Temple of Meat, Jen really is the Meat Goddess. Over the weekend, she bought a wine refrigerator on Craig’s List brand-new for practically nothing.

Duck prosciutto curing in wine fridge. Photo by Jennifer Kuzara

It’s perfect, she says, as a meat-curing chamber. She also owns a 19th-century cast-iron sausage press, and she has been using this baby for years to make savory goodness. It took no time at all for her duck prosciutto to go right in to its new chamber. When Jen talks about these things, she gets a rapturous look on her face and does a happy meat clap.

These are the people you want to know anytime, because they are so cool, but in an apocalypse, you really want their skills and knowledge. That is why we are calling today Session 1 of the Apocalypse Academy. Today we covered meat curing. And next time, we grow mushrooms. When it’s the End of the World As We Know It, we’ll feel fine.

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Filed under Community and Citizenship, Feasting, Putting Up

A More Cordial Relationship

About a year ago I reported on a number of significant flops in my urban homesteading efforts—one of which came to be known as the “blackberry rude,” because my attempt at a blackberry cordial was such a spectacular failure.

I am pleased to report that the half-liter of blackberry rude that has been languishing on a shelf in my basement has been restored to cordial status. This happened last weekend at a reception I attended. The caterer, the marvelous Star Provisions under the leadership of the fabulous Anne Quatrano, served a blackberry cordial. Of course, I had to try it.

I watched the server pour a splash of black-blue liquid into the bottom of a short glass over a handful of ice and top it off with seltzer. He then added two fat, juicy blackberries speared on a toothpick. He handed it to me and I sipped–cool, sweet but not too sweet, refreshing. Also, yummy vodka-soaked blackberries. Let me tell you, this is not Marilla Cuthbert’s cordial.

I told the server my tale of woe, and he explained that their cordial was merely a blackberry-vodka-sugar concoction. I thought my mistake had been adding the cloves, which had resulted in the cough-syrup flavor (although the Sweetie has said all along that he likes the flavor).

But then. What if I gave my blackberry rude the seltzer treatment, along with a squeeze of lime juice? And maybe a sprig of mint? Or lovely purplish Thai basil?

The next day I gave it a try. And guess what? Not only is it not cough syrup, but it is downright delicious! I served it up to the sweetie and a visiting friend.

Then I remembered what I had done earlier this summer with my blackberry hoard, and I opened a jar of a blackberry-bourbon-maple syrup and gave it the same treatment. Even more delicious, because it’s bourbon! This is especially exciting because iI also preserved whole blackberries in this concoction, thinking they would be great on ice cream and cheesecake or really any ole cake. But now I think I will also add a couple of boozed-up berries to the drinks.

I don’t know if this is actually true, but I feel like I have invented a cocktail. It needs a name, however. Suggestions?

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Filed under Feasting, Making Things Up, Putting Up

Dog-Eared: My Favorite Urban Homestead Reading

Many years ago I picked up a little green book called Noah’s Garden, by Sara Stein. I have written here before about how that book transformed my relationship with my garden. Before reading it, I thought I had to attack the soil with my rototiller, then defend the conquered earth against the onslaught of weeds the tilling then cultivated, only to have to repeat the entire battle over again the next year after my labors had tamped the earth into a hard pack. After reading Noah’s Garden, I traded the sword and the ploughshare. Instead, I mulch deeply with layers of organic matter and let the worms do all the work. My soil stays more microbially rich and aerated as a result.

I thought I’d share a few more of the most beloved titles from the collection that guides and inspires me. Some are very practical how-to’s, some are philosophical manifestos, some are just damn fine stories.

Pragmatics

Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day, by Zoe Francois and Jeff Hertzberg. I heard a segment on The Splendid Table about this book in 2010, and I don’t think I have bought bread in a store (except for when we were in Italy, duh!) since. It is the easiest, quickest thing in the world to make bread with this method, and the variations are endless. I have made pita loaves, hamburger buns, olive bread, pizza crust, ciabatta, plain white loaves, wheat loaves. I have loved this book to pieces — literally. The spine has cracked in three places.

The Backyard Goat: An Introductory Guide to Keeping and Enjoying Pet Goats, from Feeding and Housing to Making Your Own Cheese, by Sue Weaver. A very practical and detailed guide to acquiring, caring for, breeding, and benefitting from goats on a very small scale. It was just the thing I needed to show me that this is, perhaps, a project for my retirement, when I have lots more time.

Keep Chickens! Tending Small Flocks in Cities, Suburbs, and Other Small Spaces, by Barbara Kilarski. When the idea first hatched in my head in 2004 that I wanted to keep a few chickens in my backyard, this is the first book I acquired. It was a great and accessible introduction to the ins-and-outs of flockkeeping, and I have loaned it out and referred to it time and again over the years.

Living with Chickens: Everything You Need to Know to Raise Your Own Backyard Flock, by Jay Rossier and Geoff Hansen, was my next acquisition in the chicken care library. Also very practical and accessible, and offers much more detail than the Kilarski book, including butchering advice. For 200-level flockkeeping studies.

Chicken Coops: 45 Building Plans for Housing Your Flock, by Judy Pangman. I own a copy of this book because I helped the author with one of the designs. She uses the coop at the Oakhurst Community Garden (now the Wylde Center) in Decatur as one of her plans. So I connected her with some information, and my neighbor Bill contributed some photos. It’s an excellent resource — another that I have loaned out several times.

Clark Howard’s Living Large in Lean Times: 250+ Ways to Buy Smarter, Spend Smarter, and Save Money. Okay, I know he isn’t exactly Mr. Back-To-Nature Homesteading Make-Your-Own-Granola Man, but I am a total Clarkhead. He is the ultimate penny-pincher, and if you have read any of this blog, you know how I love me some frugality. This is the man who will make one disposable razor last an entire year by drying it off after every use (it turns out that it’s moisture more than use that dulls a razor). And yes, I now dry off my razor.

Manifestos

Small Wonder: Essays by Barbara Kingsolver. This marvelous little 2002 volume predates her better known Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, but for me, it was the more important book. It’s an unflinching but loving and holistic look at the earth in all its glory and woe, from the Grand Canyon to Kingsolver’s vegetable patch. One essay in particular, titled “Lily’s Chickens,” was especially inspirational for me, and it helped me understand and articulate the reasons large and small I wound up helping to start a chicken revolution in Decatur.

(I also count the aforementioned Noah’s Garden amongst my favorite manifestos . . . manifesti?)

Damn Good Stories

A Mess of Greens: Southern Gender and Southern Food, by Elizabeth Englehardt. Read this book not just for the damn fine stories but also for some serious scholarly illumination on the complex issues that weave together women, food, health, power, class, race, and region. There’s moonshine, cornbread, biscuits, and more. I especially love the chapter on tomato clubs. In fact, I want to start a tomato club. Who’s in?

Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer, by Novella Carpenter. I have written here before about this delightful tale of how Carpenter took over a vacant lot in a sketchy part of Oakland, California, planted an insane overabundance of fruits and vegetables, and started keeping chickens, bees, ducks, turkeys, rabbits, goats, and pigs. I think of her when I need to remember why I want goats — and why I should never, ever want pigs.

What’s on your bookshelf?

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Just Kale Me Now

After I mentioned a few weeks back that I have been putting my overabundance of kale into smoothies the past several months, a few readers asked for a recipe for this concoction. There are myriad wonderful and healthful ways of making “green” smoothies, and I wouldn’t say mine is the most authentically “green.” But it is a straightforward affair and quite tasty to boot, so here I present

The Kale Smoothie, Illustrated

Makes two smoothies

Ingredients

  • 1 small handful of fresh kale (I prefer the tenderest “baby” leaves that are no more than about 3 inches wide)
  • 2 bananas
  • 1 1/2 cup kefir* or plain Greek yogurt
  • 1/3 cup walnuts
  • 2/3 cup orange juice

*I have typically used Greek yogurt, but recently a neighbor gave me a kefir culture. There is now a bottomless pitcher of kefir in my fridge, most of which has gone into smoothies.

Steps

Divide all the ingredients between two large glasses, or put them together in a small pitcher or blender.

Using either the full blender or an immersion blender in the pitcher or the glasses (my preference), puree all the ingredients.

Lately I have been adding a handful of strawberries because they are ripening in my garden. They turn the smoothie a lovely pink.

Enjoy! The sweetie demonstrates.

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On My Wish List

It isn’t like I don’t have enough to do, between a full-time job, a house, several gardens, ten chickens, a hyperactive Australian shepherd, a rather demanding and expressive calico cat, and a whole nother life as a musician. But I catch myself daydreaming about the same “I wants” over and over again. Some of them will come sooner and some in far-off futureland, but they all will become, at one point or another, part of my little claim in the homestead realm.

Honeybees: This one may come sooner than later. I’m still getting educated and will have to make some investments in equipment and bees, but I’d like to install a hive at my house, especially for the pollinators, and another one at my parents’ house up in the mountains where I grew up, so that I can have my sourwood honey. No, I haven’t discussed this with them. (Hi, Daddy! What do you think about some bees in the orchard?)

A solar-powered pump for my rain barrels: I love my 220 gallons of the wet, which I run into my garden via soaker hoses. But sometimes I’d like those hoses to flow with a little more oomph. And in my never-ending quest for energy independence, I want my oomph off the grid. Here’s the little gadget I long for. Look for it on a rain barrel near me before this growing season ends!


Angora Rabbits: You can hold them and snuggle them and comb and brush out their long, beautiful fur, which can then be spun into the softest yarn you’ve ever touched, which the can be knitted into the softest garments you have ever worn. Also, did you know that bunny poo can go straight from the bunny into the garden as an excellent fertilizer without risk of it being too “hot” for the vegetation? Bonus! I’m still doing my homework and research, and plus I probably should learn to spin.

Nigerian dwarf dairy goats: This one may be a longer-term project, like after I retire and therefore have plenty of time to care for and milk dairy goats every day. There are some definite challenges with goats, but then there is milk, cheese, more excellent poo, and general adorableness. They aren’t going to get scratched off my list any time soon.

What’s on your wish list?

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Put an egg on it.

Our hens are happy. They have lots of room to scratch and roam, a safe, comfortable, clean place to sleep at night, and an organic and very varied diet—especially right now, when they are getting lots of weeds and other goodies I have pulled from the garden. They also get regular affection, praise, and kitchen scraps from me.

Five yolks I used in some ice cream recently. The darker yolks are the result of lots of greens in the chickens' diet lately.

Happy hens lay excellent eggs. And because our eggs have been especially beautiful and delicious this year, I’ve been putting them on just about everything. Here’s what I mean.

You may remember this one from before–our post-Italy minestrone.

Homemade barley minestrone topped with grilled bread and lightly poached egg

This was back in the fall.

Bruschetta with my homemade baguette, toasted and rubbed with garlic. Topped with chard from the garden blanched and sauteed with a bit of garlic, then topped with gruyere and a poached egg and chives (from the garden).

This was back in January, right after I brought home some smoked salmon from a work trip to Seattle.

Slice of homemade bread with a schmear of cream cheese, smoked salmon, a soft-boiled egg, and capers

And this was two weekends ago.

Salad of mixed greens from the garden, topped with toasted pecans (from a tree near my house), pancetta from Pine Street Market, some fresh cheese, a vinaigrette of balsamic and olive oil we got in Italy, a poached egg, and a slice of homemade bread.

And this was just last week.

Salad of mixed garden greens, toasted pine nuts, parmesan cheese, same vinaigrette as above, oven roasted sweet potato spears (from Decatur Farmer's Market) with garlic, slice of homemade bread, and soft-boiled egg with black pepper.

Put an egg on it!

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The Southern Urban Homesteader Goes to Italy

Where have I been lately?

The short answer is in Italy. Last month, my sweetie and I took eleven days to eat and drink our way across Tuscany and Umbria—a trip I have been fantasizing about for years. It wasn’t until a few months ago, however, that the stars finally aligned: timing, travel partner, finances.

One of the many lovely things about my sweetie is that he is as food-centric as I am, so the decision to fly into Rome and then immediately leave the city behind to find deliciousness in farms and villages was quick and easy.

So was the good eating itself. Our first stop was Orvieto, where we stopped into a small market shortly after we arrived and bought salami, bread, fruit, cheese, and wine, thinking that this would cover us for lunch for a few days. The proprietor smiled when we saw our purchases and poked a bit of gentle fun at the Americans: “Il cibo pronto, eh?” Ha. Yes, fast food—the only way to do it in the birthplace of Slow Food.

And so it began. Our pattern quickly became to grab a pastry and a caffe latte in the mornings, nom on our market goods throughout the day, and then either find or prepare a feast for dinner. That is where it became interesting. I found myself bringing my own habits from home to our routine in Italy: what could we find that would be fresh, in season, inexpensive, and absolutely delicious?

We began with lessons from the pros. The region is having its coldest winter in about three decades, and it had been snowing like crazy. Most of Orvieto was closed—either because it was the low season or because no one could get to work. Staggering a little from the combination of jetlag and icy cobblestones, we tromped around until we finally found an open place—Ristorante Piazza del Popolo. A gentleman seated us, took our order, poured our wine, went into the kitchen and prepared our food, and served it to us. We were the only guests in the restaurant, and Jostino, the owner/chef, was the only one working. The menu and the staff were limited due to the weather, but the meal was simple and perfect—I had a fennel and orange salad on greens, followed by a tagliatelle pasta with cinghiale, the local wild boar meat. The flavors were fresh and uncomplicated and light-handed. There was no garlic (a surprise to us—we thought garlic was the defining flavor of Italian food).

So we learned: find fresh, don’t overcomplicate, don’t worry about the garlic. And a couple of days later, in San Gimignano, we picked up pancetta, an onion, tomatoes, pasta. I had bought some fresh pecorino with black truffles in Pienza earlier in the day after reading somewhere that the pecorino of the region is creamier this time of year because the sheep are eating grass instead of hay. I stole a sprig of rosemary off a shrub on the side of the road during a walk (yes, still a forager!).  We had a small apartment with a kitchen, so we put it all together – complete with the olive oil and balsamic vinegar stocked in the kitchen.

We had a few more blowout restaurant meals (especially worth noting was the incredible seafood feast we had in Bracciano with a friend of mine from college and her family), but we enjoyed our self-catering just as much. Apples, pears, more cheese, cinghiale prosciutto, fresh bread, spinach, mixed salad greens, more pasta, more wine. We would just dig out whatever we had — sometimes even just sitting in our tiny rental Fiat Panda, to stay warm — and picnic.

At some point during our indulgences, I remarked to my sweetie that the way we were eating on this trip was not all that different from the way we eat at home—fresh, local, seasonal, unprocessed. The main difference was the flavors we encountered by virtue of the locale. The cheese was fresher and creamier, truffles were much more plentiful and affordable, and cinghiale is certainly not easy to come by in Decatur. 

But since we returned home we have taken a definite Tuscan and Umbrian turn in the kitchen. I found my old pasta maker, dusted it off, and put it into the sweetie’s hands, along with some all-purpose flour and a bunch of my girls’ eggs.

He figured it out and cranked out some fettuccine, which we combined with fresh kale from the garden and some local sausage I had in my freezer (nope, no garlic).

We walked up to the farmer’s market on the square, too, where I picked up some carrots and cabbage for a minestrone with barley and some aged pecorino with black truffles from Antico Mercante, purveyor of cheeses and cured meats from you-know-where. (I tried out my Italian on Franco. He didn’t seem terribly impressed.)

I used the rind of the cheese in the minestrone. Then I grilled a slice of homemade bread and poached an egg to go on top—just like the soup we had in a trattoria in Orvieto.

  

Buon appetito!

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Time to Eat

In the past week or two the sheer volume and scope of food rising out of the earth has exploded. One can literally make a meal standing in the middle of the garden, picking, and eating.

Lots of what is ready in my garden never makes it into the house (the strawberries especially), but I did manage to get enough basil into my basket to makethe first batch of pesto of the season on Monday, tossing some into some cappelini and fresh sugar snap peas and freezing the rest. On Wednesday I harvested kale, cilantro, more sugar snaps, and mushrooms for a stir-fry with ginger and tofu. I have also picked six pints of strawberries this week; two went into the freezer for ice cream I’m planning to make for a special party the week after next, and the rest will go into some jam.

The mulberries are starting to come in, too, and a lot of folks have been picking them off the trees that hang heavy over the streets in my neighborhood and making pies. I picked about three cups today during my long morning walk with Caleb, and when I got home I decided I wanted to try making some scones. I modified a recipe I found for oatmeal scones, adding a touch of orange extract and using the mulberries instead of currants, and here is the result. In a few minutes I will  take a few of these next door to my neighbors.

The sugar snaps are copious and remarkably sweet this year. I love them in the pasta and stir fry, but I also love them fresh and crunchy, right off the vine.  That’s the experience I had in mind when I took a platter of them to a little farewell gathering this week for a friend who is moving away. I mounded some hummus in the middle of them, tossed on some kalamata olives and feta cheese, drizzled it all with olive oil, and sprinkled salt. Here’s what the platter looked like.

Enjoy this lovely day! I’m going to pick more sugar snaps.

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Things that make me go “Yay!”

All of these photos were taken over a three day period. Everything is waking up!

Baby apple tree with new growth

Parsley by the mound

Fungal goodness

Stir fry with my broccoli and mushrooms

 

Big, fat, hairy chives

Arugula without end

Sweet potato-apple muffins (my sweet potatoes, dad's apples)

Camelias on my table

Good egg production on organic feed

Yoga socks (what a great idea!)

A giant pot of wheat straw pasteurizing on my stove (for more mushrooms)

Salad greens and cilantro

Flats of seedlings in my house, away from marauding rats

The last of last fall's collards

Sugar snap pea sprouts

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Eat • Play • Love

It’s early evening on a Sunday. I have been in my kitchen all afternoon, and four mounds of homemade pizza dough sit rising in a large bowl covered with a towel. The counter is arrayed with a bounty of toppings: mushrooms from my mushroom growing project, a bowl of sauce made from tomatoes I canned last summer, local chevre, pesto I made from my basil and froze in August, prosciutto and Italian sausage from a nearby charcuterie, onions, peppers, olives, more cheeses. I have also made an enormous salad with arugula and radishes I harvested from my garden that afternoon.

The sideboard is loaded with stacks of plates and napkins, and two big tumblers hold knives and forks. Several bottles of wine stand open on the counter bar alongside rows of glasses, and a cooler in the floor is brimming with beer. There’s a gallon of my specialty, mint iced tea, in the fridge.

Folks start to arrive around 7 o’clock, their arms full of desserts and more drinks, instrument cases slung over their shoulders. I help unburden them. We set the desserts on another counter corner, and jackets and instruments go in the living room. We gather, of course, in the kitchen.

By the time a dozen or so people are chatting and laughing, drinks in hand, I have pressed out the first of the pizza doughs onto a peel and have invited a few of the hungriest ones to load it up with their desired toppings. Into the oven it goes, followed shortly by a second one, then a third, then a fourth. A half an hour later, with steaming plates piled high, we are seated at the bar counter and around my broad square maple table, laid out with the red, yellow, and blue straw placemats I picked up in Mexico not long ago and some camellias I cut from the bush out front and tucked them into a cluster of bud vases.

This tastes good.

Flavor, to my palate, is about more than ingredients. It’s about the environment around the food as it comes into being, the emotions of the cook who is preparing the meal, the mood of the room in which it is being served. Our awareness of all these things, I believe, affects how food tastes, even how it nourishes one’s body during the rest of its journey.

Now, I love to fix myself a solo dinner and tuck in with my veggie and noodle bowl and a cold beer, my doggie or kitty, and a movie in my big kitchen chair, but one of the joys of my life is sharing the Southern Urban Homestead bounty with friends. We gather, we feast, we take pleasure in the rich and subtle flavors of the food lovingly prepared, company warmly welcomed.

On this night it’s pizza and a dozen folks, but it could  be venison chili (thanks to my neighbor, the hunter, who is willing to barter game for eggs) and eight people. Or it could be a frittata with my girls’ eggs and my garden veggies for two or three people. But the ritual is the same: after we have eaten our fill and rested our full bellies a little while, we complete our celebration of good flavor with a kind of sonic dessert.

Many of my friends are musicians, and they are good, appreciative eaters, too. Our spirits are high from the meal and congeniality of this loving group of people. Our resident piano player has recently acquired an accordion, so we launch into a raucous rendition of “Mama’s Got a Squeezebox” in its honor: guitars, basses, ukuleles, harmonicas. Warmed up and tuned up, we then settle into an around-the-kitchen routine of taking turns at leading a tune.

We play for several hours–some of our original songs, some covers so beloved we’ve practically worn grooves into them. Because we’ve played most of them together before, everyone falls easily into their parts. For the others less familiar we take a moment to teach and learn. The house is full of music and the lingering good aromas from dinner. Caleb is asleep in the middle of everything, adding his sonorous snores to the din.

Around 10:00, we stand up, stretch, nibble on leftover cold pizza and the chocolate chip oatmeal cookies someone brought, and start to pack up instruments. Warm hugs farewell, talk of gigs coming up. A few folks linger to chat and help load the dishwasher. The house is quiet and empty by 10:30, but my heart is full.

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