Wednesday, May 22, 2013

what we learned in our first year of freezing

We bought a deep freezer last fall. We intended to buy a small chest freezer and put up a few vegetable dishes and sauces for the winter. Naturally, that meant we ended up buying a massive upright model and freezing 80 pounds of tomatoes.

We threw ourselves into freezing. (Canning, while quaint and more energy-efficient, still seems a little too intense for us. Also, botulism.) We made three kinds of soup. We made six kinds of tomato sauce. We made pesto. We froze ratatouille. We experimented with salsa. We oven-roasted tomatoes, a multi-, multi-hour project that heated up our kitchen in the middle of sunny September. We dragged the table into the living room so we could spend the afternoon watching movies while peeling and seeding tomatoes. We were Into It. We were Hardcore. And, like I said, we wound up with 80 lbs. of processed tomatoes in our freezer.

Here's what we learned.

1. Don't put all your frozen eggs in one basket.

Two years ago, Derrick and I fell in love with an heirloom tomato soup recipe. It is truly a stunning soup, brimming with fresh tomato flavor and finished with a swirl of heavy cream. It's gorgeous. It's the perfect wintertime way to celebrate our favorite vegetable (yes, vegetable, science be damned). Last year, we put up a single tub of it in the freezer; we thawed it on our very last spell of cold weather. Readers, one sip of that soup and we were back in August. It was magical. It was like time travel. It also felt a little like cheating, to taste ripe heirlooms when there was still frost on the trees.

It was like summer in a tupperware. And when you live in New England, why the hell wouldn't you want summer in a tupperware? We dreamed of it sustaining us through the long winter, sipping tomato soup while the snow softly fell outside and the fire roared and we wore flannel or sang Christmas songs.

 So we froze two shoeboxes worth of tightly packed quart-size bags filled with tomato soup. And we ate about...6 bags' worth.

 Here's the thing: No one person can eat that much tomato soup. No one person can eat that much of any kind of soup. It's SOUP. Not crack.

 Looking back, I think we were at a loss of what to do with our tomatoes after we bought them. We had a recipe that worked. So we cooked the crap out of that recipe. And we suffered the consequences.

2. Pasta sauce is your friend. Make more of it.

 Neither of us particularly like taking in soup to work. Both of us love taking pasta to work. It's quick. It's easy. It's office-friendly. But we're running low on pasta sauces from the freezer, and lemme tell you, when it's 8:00 on a Sunday and you realize you have nothing to eat for the next week, you are not going to whip up a pot of marinara. Freezer sauces, bless them, are ready in as much time as it takes to turn on some hot water and stick a flat bag under the faucet 'til it thaws. Boom. Homemade lunch. Done. Let's go watch Game of Thrones. 

3. If pasta sauce is your friend, pesto is your red-hot lover. 

If you think you go crazy over soup, you will completely underestimate the power of the scent of basil in the middle of March. You will lose your mind. Plus? Pesto? Just as convenient as freezer pasta sauce, but infinitely more versatile. Put it on pasta! Put it on a sandwich! On couscous! In a wrap! Bean salad! Lentil salad! Pasta salad! Potato salad! Your dog! YOUR FACE!

Too far. Sorry. I just get really worked up about pesto.

Which is why I need to make a heck of a lot more of it this year.

4. Experiment with lunch-friendly food. In small batches.

Last year we put up eighty gallons of soup and one batch of ratatouille. We just thawed the ratatouille two weeks ago for a quick weekday lunch, and it was wonderful. It was a treat: the summer produce isn't in yet, but we were eating basil and tomatoes and summer squash. I'd like to have a lot more summer-fresh, lunch-friendly things and a wide variety of them. That way, next year I'll know what hit the spot, what failed, and what I want a whole lot more of.

5. Don't freeze eggplant (or find a way to do it right).

 Freezer eggplant is spongy and squishy. Enough said. If you have any tips, let me know. Likewise, I haven't had success freezing peppers unless you're using them as a base. Squishy limp peppers = sad.

6. Plan ahead. 

I'd usually end up buying more produce than we needed (with the intent to freeze) and then need to spend hours finding recipes on the internet before I could, y'know, actually make something with it. This year, I'd like to go the market with a list of what we need for freezer-friendly recipes: no waste, no scrambling.

7. Label with dates. 

Follow the rule: First in, first out. Your non-freezer-burnt taste buds will thank you.

9. Oven-dry your tomatoes like they're going out of style.

Yes, oven-dried tomatoes can be a pain (they take several hours on a low, low oven). But these buggers are little godsends: throw them in salads (especially grain salads), in pasta, on pizza, in sauces, or just eat them plain. They have all the convenience of canned or sun-dried, but with better, fresher flavor. Smaller tomatoes work best, and cherry tomatoes taste wonderful, are relatively quick to roast, and are conveniently bite-sized (no prep work needed).

10. Freeze for spring, not for winter. 

To be honest, I didn't feel the need to thaw tomato soup or eat corn in the middle of winter. I was happily munching away on winter foods: long braises, roasted meats, legumes, grains, and as many potatoes as I could fit into my body. But as soon as temperatures rise above 50 degrees I am ready for fresh produce, dammit. Seeing the trees bloom makes me want to eat every green thing in sight. Even the poisonous ones. Especially the poisonous ones.

Having fresh foods in the spring keeps me sane (and saves me the trouble of memorizing the Poison Control Hotline). Yes, there are still a few weeks 'til the farmer's markets open. Yes, even though there are flowers popping up and buds bursting from the trees and you want nothing more than to bury your face in a giant bowl of lettuce, there are no (edible) greens in sight. Comfort yourself with dried tomatoes and frozen vegetable-stuffed ravioli. The time for cuddling bunches of arugula and pea shoots will come. Until then, there's pesto in the freezer. 

Do you freeze or can? What have you learned? Share the love!

Monday, April 29, 2013


What is there left to say to you, my dears,
what is there left for me?

What words are left to me? Which ones haven't been stolen, scrapped together and shoved at you?

What haven't you seen? 
By now, what haven't you heard?

Nothing, I'm afraid. I'm afraid you've all been so oversaturated with Boston, so goddamn sick of Boston, and here I am, worrying over a sore spot like a dog with a bone.

But here I am. In Boston. Moving forward, moving in general, putting one foot in front of the other. There is healing in the broken land. There will be more.


I had visitors after the lockdown. The day after. Out-of-towners off to see the city, my city, and they cheerily headed into town, onto the T, past the sights,  and they were so normal. So unbelievably, casually normal.  I couldn't believe it. I couldn't grasp that outside of my city limits there was normalcy to be had. I felt strained, stretched too tight. Everything was in boxes. I had no groceries to feed them because of the lockdown. I had spent the entire previous day glued to the news, watching my friends and co-workers get evacuated, seeing SWAT teams on their roofs, watching the city watch in disbelief. And 24 hours later, the tourists still came to see and marvel. And why shouldn't they? Life moves on, no? 

And it does. And I move on. But that day, that visit, it hurt to fake it. And I wondered about the Boston they were seeing as they moved through the city. I wondered what I would've seen differently, where I would have seen the healing and the hurt and the paranoia where they simply saw streets and buildings and passerbys.
I wonder if I would've seen nothing at all. 


We moved the weekend before the marathon. My first day commuting to the office from the new house was Marathon Monday. By right, the house should've been too new, too foreign to provide any comfort when I finally made it out of the city--my instinctual home should've still been my quirky 1950's rancher in the suburbs, not a cold, boxed-filled house across from, of all things, a goddamn cemetery.

But that house works magic, I swear to you. It is old, a 1920's house with old bones and a new face, and I swear there is magic, or there is something in the trees, or the water out back, or else it's just the serene, unbelievable quiet that comes from living across from a literal final resting place. The sun slants through the trees--real trees, woods, even; the sun catches the water of the pond out back, and there are birds and grass and turkeys and deer and everything, I think, a human being needs to heal.

A turkey was courting a female out front in our yard. The water sparkled. The trees moved. The house was brighter than any four-walled roofed structure had a right to be. And I realized many things, I think: that we had chosen the right house; that I never again wanted to live without trees surrounding me, and that it amazed me I had gone seven years without it; and that we would be okay. Okay tomorrow, okay the weeks after, okay in general. We'd be okay. And, largely, we are okay. Better, I think.

Macabre, perhaps, but it seems fitting that our immediate neighbors are both a cemetery and a garden center. Across the street there are thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of corpses, and the living come to grieve, solemnly plodding down our street in funeral processions with flashers on and tissues out. We deal with death every day here, indirectly, yes, but we face it--quite literally, in fact--every time we look out the front door.

And then next door there is life, so much life, with bright-colored flowers bursting out of their pots, herbs straining to reach the sun, plants heavy with blossoms and new limbs. There are children playing in the garden and women talking over vegetables and husbands leaving with flowers to bring home to their brides. And amidst this display of both life and death, we have the turkeys picking the crickets from the graves, the fish eating the gnats on the water, the plants stealing sun from the sky to feed the insects to feed the birds to feed the hawks; and we have the dogs and the sky and the water and the lush, green grass; and in the center we have us, the starry-eyed lovers in the middle of it all, moving forward, moving on.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

the house hunt is over but the zombie hunt is just beginning, y'all

I don't even know how I got here, readers. I know March and the end of February were utterly consumed with house-hunting. I know I spent every waking hour scouring Craigslist, realtor sites, and apartment search engines. I know I wrote more emails in 30 days than I had in six months. I also know that I dealt with more absolute idiots in those 30 days than I had in my entire lifetime. And 90% of those idiots were realtors.

Hi, my name is Nicki, and I'm looking for rentals with private yards and private entrances, preferably single families. I have two dogs, both about 70 lbs. each....

Ten minutes later:

Hi Nikki, here is a downtown studio apartment let me know what you think please...


Hi Nick, here is a townhouse, small dogs only, can you see it today?


Hi Niki, dog-friendly rentals are hard to find in the city, is there someone else who can take them?

Yes, city-dwellers, I know the fastest way to go certifiably insane is to deal with a realtor. Especially a Boston realtor, where apartments are snapped up faster than you can say granite countertops. But we were looking for a yard--and preferably a house--so we found ourselves in a lion's den. 
A lion's den of grammatically challenged young males with snappy names and several restraining orders.

And then there were the dogs. My God, I love them, but finding housing for two 70-lb. dogs in a city notorious for being one of the least pet-friendly cities in the country is a little like trying to shove a bloated elephant through a pinhole. Add the fact that one is a German Shepherd and it becomes like trying to shove a registered sex offender elephant through a pinhole in a daycare center. As in: it wasn't happening. 
We found ourselves scheduling meetings, running the dogs like mad beforehand, parading our dogs before landlords as if to say: See? They aren't dangerous, child-eating killers! They play fetch! They can sit! They can shake! For God's sake, they just want their belly scratched!

It was exhausting. And every day I'd send out twenty emails, and every day I'd get twenty nos. Or, more accurately, I'd get five nos, two I'll call the landlord and never get back to yous, twelve no-but-here-are-twenty-other-apartments-that-don't-meet-your-search-criteria-at-all, and one sure that got my hopes wildly up before turning into yet another no the next day.

One day, after having our house-hunting hopes and dreams crushed yet again, we spotted a perfect little house with a perfect little Home For Rent sign out front. A perfect little house about five minutes away from where we currently live. A perfect little house that, thank God, was not posted on Craigslist or in the grubby clutches of a realtor.

So we did what any reasonable house-hunter in the modern age does: we stalked the crap out of that house on Google Maps. And saw that had a backyard for days. And that the backyard was all woods. And that there were no houses nearby. And that it was about five minutes from our current house. And it was across from a cemetery, so hey, quiet neighbors. (Cymbal crash.)

And so Derrick called. And who should answer...but the cemetery.

And lo and behold, the cemetery had no problem with dogs. Even large dogs. Even German Shepherd dogs.

And so we found ourselves renting a darling little house from...a cemetery.

And so we find ourselves moving in to a darling little house across from...a cemetery.

Which sounds pretty sweet in itself-- the cemetery landscapers cut our yard and remove our snow, non-nosy neighbors, quiet nights, no chance of having the cops called if we have a party--until Derrick pointed out that we will be royally screwed when the zombie apocalypse starts.

So we're moving in. We're covering the hardwoods to protect them from our dogs' wrath. And we're stocking up on ammunition.

Because the way I see it, when the zombie apocalypse happens, we can all hole up and get trapped in our homes, Night of the Living Dead-style, or we can all arm ourselves with instruments of destruction and head to the Winchester, Shaun of the Dead-style. The choice is yours. But I know my choice is going to be the one with beer in it.

(Pictures coming soon.)