27 things I learned at my first food-blogging conference.

  1. If you realize the day before you pack for the conference that you only have two suitcase sizes — a smallish duffle and a suitcase normally used for packing your entire family for a week — make a TJMaxx-run to get a cheap mid-sized carry-on. “All the swag” can fit into your computer bag. And if it can’t, it’s not worth bringing home.
  2. When you read tweets that talk about saving room in your bag for “all the swag,” keep in mind that “room” and “all” are relative terms.
  3. Be prepared for the fact that being dropped off at the airport alone, for the first time in years, can be a bizarre, panic-inducing experience. Have a list of mantras ready to repeat to yourself, things like “stop looking for your children,” and “no, the guy at curbside check-in will most likely not intentionally lose your bag because you forgot to tip him.”
  4. Remember to never again use curbside check-in.
  5. Be thankful that your husband is amused, not annoyed, when you call him “just to talk” 10 minutes after he drops you off at the airport.
  6. Contain your disappointment when the food served at the food blogging conference is less than stellar.
  7. When mid-morning hits on the first day, and you are crashing from your breakfast of a soggy croissant and over-salted bacon, already over-stimulated by all the extroversion, realize it’s probably best to take a breather and find some protein before handling a sharp knife in front of a video camera.
  8. When being prepped to film your video of “How to Cut a Mango,” observe that the knives on set are much sharper than your neglected knives at home.
  9. Try not to utterly die of embarrassment when you cut yourself on set of the Mango Video. Be reassured when they tell you about “the magic of editing.”
  10. Be prepared for a moment when you offer your business card to someone and they don’t reach out to take it.
  11. Even still, keep offering your card to people. The vast majority will accept it with a handshake and a smile.
  12. Don’t be afraid to skip the late-night dinner run with all those fun people and hit the sack at 11pm.
  13. Be thankful for Tylenol PM.
  14. Next morning, be thankful for caffeine.
  15. Keep in mind that the madness only lasts 48 hours.
  16. Don’t be surprised when you actually learn things in your sessions.
  17. Avoid coveting every iPad you see.
  18. When you are no longer able to control yourself, and finally walk up to David Lebovitz and say, “I’m a really big fan,” don’t be surprised when he awkwardly looks down at his shoes as if to say, “Really? That’s the best you could come up with?”
  19. Try not to focus on the absurdity of a scene where you are standing next to David Lebovitz at the Bay’s English Muffins booth feeling conspicuously gluttonous as you wait for your feta-and-jam-topped muffin while David requests “only butter” to let “the flavor of the muffin” shine through.
  20. Remember that no one cares what you eat on your english muffin.
  21. Take and enjoy every opportunity to have a conversation with a new person.
  22. Buy the hotdog from the street food vendor at the Sweet Auburn Market, even though you’re not hungry. One bite will be worth the price.
  23. Submit to hugging people that you’ve only previously known online.
  24. Go to the party on the last night of the conference.
  25. When you see David Leite, of Leite’s Culinaria, dancing to Blondie like a man moved by external forces, put down your plate of food and join in. The opportunity will not likely present itself again.
  26. Listen.
  27. Don’t take it too seriously. At the end of the day, we all just write about food.

I can’t write about Alinea just yet. So I’ll write about bread instead.

(Bet no one’s ever taken this shot before, eh?)

Yes, we went to Chicago, where yes, we spent a personally unheard-of amount of money on dinner. The short answer is that it was worth every penny. I still haven’t figured out a way to do the evening justice, so here’s hoping a longer simmer in my memory will help me find the words.

In other jet-setting news, I’m heading to Atlanta this week, for my first national blogging conference. While hopping on a plane in order to arrive at a destination where for several days the entire focus will be food and blogging is something I’m very excited about, I’m currently still in prep mode, making lists, stocking the house with groceries and meals, arranging schedules with friends in Athens, and in general acting like an agoraphobe. Mantra to self: I have left my family before, for more than one day, and the world did not end.

So since part of my prep this week was making bread, it seemed as good a time as any to cover the topic in a post. This is what I had in mind when I was trying to sell everyone on a kitchen scale for Mother’s Day — but no worries if you didn’t get around to buying one. I managed this morning to convert the weights to measures, as best I could.

This has become our regular sandwich bread. I know, I’ve said this before — but this one has stuck for a while. Having fallen under the influence lately of the methods touted in the Nourishing Traditions cookbook (I’m no purist, and have even come close to WPF blasphemy), I wanted to find a bread recipe that utilized the pre-soaking of flour, to help neutralize phytic acid, an anti-nutrient. This recipe does not do that perfectly, but it does do it to a point where I’m still happy with my loaf. Yes, in a perfect world, my family would only consume naturally-yeasted sourdough. But this is our reality, as it currently stands.

Two caveats. One, I make my bread using the dough hook in my Kitchenaid mixer. Two, I have a grain mill, so I can grind my own flour from whole hard white wheat berries. If you don’t have a mixer that kneads bread, you can absolutely do this by hand — but I recommend only trying this if you are experienced at making bread that way. If you don’t have a grain mill, then buy the freshest whole wheat flour you can find — probably in bulk at a health food store — make sure you taste it; if it’s bitter at all, it’s rancid.

Other notes:

  • I have read that the phytic acid in freshly-milled flour is neutralized very quickly, in just two hours. If you are using flour that is not freshly-milled, you might consider an overnight ferment.
  • I still use a very small amount of unbleached all-purpose flour (King Arthur is my favorite) in this recipe. I have found that it makes a huge difference in the texture of the bread. Feel free to substitute with all whole-wheat, but the texture will be different.


Soaked (pre-fermented) Wheat Sandwich Bread
makes 2 loaves

I usually start this around 8 or 9am, since the process start to finish can take 10-12 hours (hands-on time is about an hour, divided). If you’d like to do an overnight ferment, start the dough in the evening (through step 1) and let sit covered overnight before proceeding.

1) Make the sponge

In the bowl of a standing mixer, add:

  • 60 g whey or plain yogurt
  • 415 g warm water (no warmer than 110º)

(If using liquid measures, pour 4 Tbsp whey into a 2-cup glass measuring cup, and add enough warm water to equal 2 cups liquid. Pour this into your mixer bowl.)


  • 410 g (3 1/2 cups) whole wheat flour (if using volume measure, use the scoop method)
  • 40 g (2 Tbsp) honey
  • 20 g (2 Tbsp) olive oil
  • 1 tsp instant yeast

Mix using the whisk attachment on your mixer, for about 30 seconds. Scrape down the bowl, and mix for another 30 seconds. Dough should look like thick pancake batter.

In a separate bowl, combine:

  • 125 g (1 cup + 3 Tbsp) whole wheat flour
  • 150 g (1 cup + 2 Tbsp) unbleached all-purpose flour*
  • 1 tsp instant yeast

Mix together well, then spoon this flour mixture over the top of your batter in the mixer bowl. Cover the whole area so no batter is showing. It should look like this:

Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap, and let sit at room temperature (a warm spot if you have one) for 2-4 hours. During that time, the sponge will bubble up and burst through the flour layer. It might look like this:

2) Knead the dough

At the end of fermentation, sprinkle over the dough/flour:

  • 1 Tbsp sea salt (fine grain)

I usually pre-stir the dough a little, using the dough hook in my hand, to avoid giant flour splatters from the mixer. Attach the dough hook, and knead on low (2 on the Kitchenaid) for 10-15 minutes (I’ve kneaded, with pauses, for up to 20 minutes before gluten was fully developed).  This is what the dough looks like after kneading for about 5 minutes (not sure what happened to sound, but I’m quite sure I wasn’t saying anything important):

If your dough is not cleaning the sides of the bowl and forming a nice ball after a few minutes of kneading, add a little all-purpose flour, a tablespoon at a time, until both of these things happen.

Pay attention to the dough, making sure it doesn’t just spin on the hook. If this happens, it’s not really kneading, and gluten is not being developed:

If your dough spins on the hook, you need to reposition it in the bowl. Afterward it should be back to normal:

Kneading is complete when the gluten is developed. You can tell this is the case by the stretchiness of the dough, as in this picture, where the dough pulls in a long line off the hook (rather than breaking off quickly):

3) Let the dough rise

Place dough into a large, oiled bowl, and then spray a little more oil on the top of the dough. Cover tightly with plastic wrap, and let rise until doubled in size, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Dough immediately after kneading:

Dough after rising:

4) Rest and shape

Divide dough in half, and knead into two balls. Let rest, covered loosely with oiled plastic wrap, for 10-15 minutes to allow the gluten to relax (this allow for easier shaping).

In the meantime, thoroughly grease your bread pans — I use Spectrum shortening. After the dough has rested, shape your loaves: roll out into a large rectangle/oval, then give a business-letter fold. Roll out into another rectangle/oval that’s as wide as the length of your pans:

Then roll this up into a log, pinch the seams, and place seam-side down into your pans:

5) Final proof

Cover with oiled plastic wrap, and let rise until the dough rises about an inch over the top of the pans (about 1 1/2 hours). About halfway through rising, preheat your oven to 350º (oven should preheat at least 1/2 hour). Place your rack second from bottom, and remove rack above. If you have a rectangular pizza stone, place it on the rack before preheating.

6) Bake

When dough is sufficiently risen, place pans directly on stone in hot oven. Bake for 45 minutes. Do not open oven door for first 20 minutes of baking.

Remove pans from oven, and loaves from pans. Loaves should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom — or if you prefer more accuracy, and instant-read thermometer inserted into the middle of the loaf (from the bottom) should read about 190-200º. Let loaves cool completely on a rack before slicing.


This post was linked up to Simple Lives Thursday, via Spain in Iowa.

When your husband’s dusty online poker habit is encouraged.

happy anniversary to us!

Back in the early years of our marriage, Tim and a few of his friends got into online poker. Not like my friend Angie’s husband, who was good enough at it to play for a living — but just enough to make me grumpy.

I didn’t like it. For a variety of reasons, the biggest one being that my husband is quite competitive, and could get sucked into games for hours on end, staying up later than he intended, perhaps losing more money that he’d hoped. I envisioned a future that included a gambling-addicted-husband-slash-grad-school-dropout, our life savings flushed down an online toilet (because things go that far in a relentless pessimistic imagination).

To be fair, he never used our money. He would start a game with the incentive cash available on most sites (before the whole online poker thing was shut down a few weeks ago), and play until his purse was empty. Every once in a while he would withdraw a chunk of cash for us to do with as we pleased (read: pacify his wife).

That was then. At some point, he just stopped playing. Hadn’t played in years, until one night about 6 months ago. His mood was confessional one morning, as he told me that he’d gotten into a game of “speed poker” online the night before. Before the un-acronymed words behind WTF had left my lips, he sputtered out, “AND I WON EIGHT HUNDRED BUCKS AND I THOUGHT WE COULD USE IT FOR OUR ANNIVERSARY.”

Well, then. Why didn’t you just say so.

He promised to immediately withdraw $500, and have the rest in his purse. Short story shorter, he lost the rest that night, in about 15 minutes.

That safe $500 has been sitting in our bank account since then, virtually marked with the word Alinea. Because that’s what the whole shebang will go toward.

It’s not a weekend getaway, not a B&B. Not a jewelry store, not a spa package.

It’s a restaurant. And we will eat there on Friday, and we will give them just about every cent of Tim’s poker money.

Have you seen Babette’s Feast? Where a woman spends all she has to offer people who have no idea how to enjoy food the opportunity to do that, for just one night? I am thankful to say that $500 does not comprise our entire life savings; but it is probably the most we will ever spend on one night of food (you can read here about our 6th anniversary — the last time we spent a personal high on dinner, then in the able hands of Ann Quattrano and her crew at Bacchanalia in Atlanta — and it was worth every penny). Because — really, let’s be honest here — it’s ridiculous. Many of our friends and family will not understand why on earth we would drop that kind of cash on dinner. That’s two nights at a nice hotel — it’s a 3-day pass to Disney World. It’s a plane ticket, it’s more than our Christmas budget. It’s 7 months of cable tv, it’s a mortgage (for some lucky ones).

But for us, it’s one chance, to eat for one night, at perhaps the only Michelin 3-star restaurant (only 81 in the whole world, and 26 are in France) we will ever visit. Our only chance to eat at The Best Restaurant in North America, one of the Top 10 Restaurants in the World. It will be an experience unlike any we’ve ever had, nor will we likely have again. It’s our version of parasailing, hang-gliding, deep-sea fishing, canopy-camping, race-car driving, island-beach-laying.*

It’s the fact that my husband came up with this idea, all on his own. I’d never even heard of Alinea before he found it — too steeped in the world of diapers and home-cooking to keep up. He found it, he won the purse, and he’s taking his wife to dinner.

Fifteen courses. Plenty of time to reflect on a decade.

*To Keep it Real, we’re heading to Chicago on the Megabus. Here’s hoping for a drama-free ride.

Little bites

About 8 or 9 years ago, I went with Tim to a conference in Chicago. We ate at a little place, in some hip (in that gentrification kind of way) part of town, called Lula’s. Our meal was solid. Outside of the fact that it was pouring down rain, I can recall no details about dinner, save one: a dark chocolate cake with sage ice cream.

It was the first time I’d had an herb ice cream. Since then, my world of out-of-norm ice cream has opened like a spring flower; thanks in part to my well-worn and milk-splattered copy of The Perfect Scoop — but credit due as well to a few other restaurants and some guys in a shotgun house in Georgia who are now semi-famous (our dessert that night: a trio of cheese, bread, and pickle ice creams).

I’ve come to a personal conclusion (in what may be a well, duh! sort of way): when it comes to ice cream, non-traditional flavors only work in very small amounts.

Take David’s Honey-Roquefort version. I made this last summer, and could only eat a few bites at a time before some distant alarm began sounding in my brain: blue cheese + cold + sweet = ERROR. Does not compute. My brain will entertain the combination for just a bit, but then says, no really — let’s not do this schizophrenic dessert thing; pick a cheese course or a creme brulee, and then stick to your guns.

Last week I made the Honey Lavender ice cream from The Perfect Scoop, and it was my contribution to dinner at a friend’s house. The process itself was a bit ethereal — you steep lavender flowers in warm honey, and use the infusion to sweeten the cream. More steeping of flowers in the finished custard, and then all is strained before churning.

And as usual while churning, I took a bite (or ten), and thought it both delicate and rich. It wasn’t until we served up heaping bowls after an outdoor dinner of well-constructed pizzas that the flavor got tired, and quickly. Tim was (of course) the first to say it: he couldn’t get past the thought that he was eating frozen shampoo. My synapses had not yet made the leap from mmmm good to enough, but it wasn’t three more bites before that happened.

It needed to be served on top of something. Maybe, like sage, it would shine as a petite scoop melting atop a dark chocolate cake. Or perhaps dotting a delicacy like the tender, gluten-free almond cake we ate a few weeks ago at H2O Sushi. Something to bear the weight, so the lavender could be the perfume it seemed to want to be.

But this idea isn’t limited to herbs, cheese, and ice cream. To bring a post full-circle: Thursday is our 10-year wedding anniversary, so this weekend we’re headed back to Chicago. This time, I won’t be wandering the streets alone while Tim sits in break-out sessions on green infrastructure. We’ll do vacation-y things, like go to museums and the spa in our fancy hotel. But the pivotal event will be a meal: dining Friday night at a place where we are served fifteen courses.

That’s right, fifteen. Five more courses than years we’ve been married.

The plates will be small. With flavors and combinations we’d dare not try at home; things we wouldn’t want to eat a plate-full of. Sweet herbs, savory cakes, deep-fried grasses, and (here’s hoping!) some liquid nitrogen.

Cheers to little bites. Details to come.






Three things you need in your kitchen, even if you don’t yet know it.

Hey, Mother’s Day is this Sunday!

(You probably already knew that. Unlike me — because, since a decade ago I got married on Mother’s Day weekend, I always think it’s right around my anniversary. And since we’re celebrating our anniversary next weekend in Chicago, I’ve been thinking that’s when Mother’s Day will also occur. I have obviously been wrong, as discovered last night. Related: sorry Mom, but you won’t be getting a card from me today, or tomorrow. But maybe next week? It will never be said that your birthed a punctual middle child.)

In the spirit of having an impending day that often includes gift-giving, I thought I’d share my recommendations for a few (mostly) inexpensive things that are — in my mind — near-indispensable tools in the kitchen. You might not have time to request them for yourself, but if you are a mom, and your weekend plans include some shopping time to yourself, perhaps this is a good time for a self-gratifying splurge at Target (where you can possibly purchase all of these things, last I checked).


1. Oven Thermometer: $6

If I could make a set of rules for the kitchen that everyone in the world had to live by (that should happen at some point, right?), one of the first ones would be to require an oven thermometer in every single oven. No matter how fancy or expensive the oven in your kitchen, you need one of these. The vast majority of household ovens do not accurately display the oven temperature. Frequently, an oven will tell you it’s preheated when it’s not yet up to temp. And then, it will over-heat, often up to 50º higher than the setting. In a best-case scenario, you have to wait 10 extra minutes for your scones. But more often, you’re taking burned food out of the oven. And all of this can be fielded by using a $6 oven thermometer.

I don’t assume my oven is adequately preheated unless my thermometer tells me so. I also check it during the cooking process, and adjust the knob as necessary to keep a relatively even heat. For a while, I gave one of these as part of wedding gifts, even if the bride didn’t request it (I know, I was one of those annoying people who went “off-registry,” probably leading to the return of dozens of oven thermometers across the country — but at least I tried). If you don’t have one of these in your oven, put it on your list. You and your baked goods will never be sorry.

Also, plan to buy a new one every year or so — if you’re like me, yours will get so splattered with cooking food that after that length of time you will no longer be able to read it.

2. Instant-read Thermometer ($3-$10)

These run a range of prices. For many years, we used a cheap analog version ($3) which works great, especially if it’s that or nothing at all. But a couple years ago I splurged (seven more bucks) on the winner of the Cook’s Illustrated equipment reviews, the CDN ProAccurate quick-read digital ($10). I love this thermometer.

Last week, on my infamous day of inconvenience, I took it with me to Emily’s house to read the temperature of our grilled steaks. Her adorable 18-month old dropped it in the grass, and it stopped working (I hold no one responsible but myself, since it was my thermometer, and something of mine was just bound to break that day). I chalked it up to a used-up battery (we’ve never replaced it), and brought it home to deal with later. This week, no less than three times, I needed that thing. I had no idea how often I reach for it — to check the temperature of everything from warm milk in yogurt-making to warming custard in ice-cream making. Not to mention cooking sausage, roasting chickens, grilling steaks, etc. Cooking meat well requires a knowledge of internal temperature — it’s not just for Thanksgiving turkeys!

Tim checked the battery on ours last night, and it must’ve just needed to be tightened, because now it’s working like a charm. I like the pricier CDN for it’s speed and digital accuracy, but even the $3 ones will make any cook a more accurate one.

3. Digital Food Scale ($40-$50)

Ok, I know, I just threw a $50 one in there, like it’s nothing. But if you know me, you know I don’t spend $50 on much of anything — so it must, for some people, be worth it.

My first kitchen scale was purchased at a yard sale for $2. It was plastic, with an old-fashioned red line that marked the weight. For weighing out pounds of potatoes, apples, dried beans, etc. in recipes, it was just fine. Accurate, but not down to the gram. Which is what you need in baking.

So a couple years ago, I bought one of these using birthday money — and have never looked back. I would replace it in a heartbeat if it broke, for by now I can’t imagine my kitchen life without it. The reasons why:

  • bread-baking
    For years — and I mean at least 10 — I baked bread using cup measures. I fluffed and scraped, just as recommended. And for each and every one of those years, my bread dough was different every time I made it. I chalked it up to humidity, to living in the deep south — and even scoffed at books that told me accurate measurements would mean consistent bread dough. They don’t live in the South, I’d say, eyes rolling at their NYC-ness. 

    And then one day, I bought this OXO scale on yet another Cook’s Illustrated test recommendation. And I kid you not, my bread dough is always the same, every time I make it (it might bake a little differently, based on weather, but the bread dough is consistent). I’m so wed to this contraption, I’ve put off posting my new-and-improved pre-fermented sandwich bread recipe because I just don’t want to figure out the measurements by volume (so do me a favor, and if you bake bread, ask for one of these for your next birthday, so I can then post the recipe w/o suffering a backlash of frustrated non-scale-owners).

    No exaggeration: if you bake bread with any regularity, you need one of these.

  • all the rest of your baking
    Even when I’m not making yeast bread, I’d much rather use a recipe that uses weights rather than measures. For no other reason than the fact that I only dirty one bowl. No measuring cups to wash, no butter knife for scraping flour. I put my mixer bowl on the scale, and add my ingredients one-by-one, zeroing out the scale between additions. It’s a thing of beauty. And my kids like to push the buttons.
  • your ebay & etsy goods
    Wanna skip the post office? Your kitchen scale will weigh, down to the ounce, the crap you sell on eBay — so you can buy your shipping label online and arrange for a carrier pick-up. Save your gas money, baby — the scale will pay for itself (make sure you get the 11-pound capacity for those bigger boxes).

So go, ye, and purchase! Spend $3 or $65 for one or all three — no matter your list, your kitchen life will improve. And just so you know, the links above are affiliate links — so if you use the link to purchase an item from Amazon, I will add your pennies to my virtual change jar, saving up for that Kindle (which according to my calculations I should be able to purchase in the summer of 2016). Of course you can also get them all at Target (perhaps not that version of the OXO scale) or your local kitchen store.

And if you’re a mother, happy day on Sunday! Work it for all you can — unless of course you are my Mom, with a forgetful daughter, and then you can just be looking for videos of cute grandkids in your inbox.


The one that was supposed to be about cultured cream cheese.

Last week was just one of those weeks, you know?

I was supposed to write about making yogurt cheese. I even took pictures of the process, in preparation for the post — but it just would never come out, it just felt tired and a bit meaningless.

Last week was hard in pragmatic ways. Tim left town for the week in the wee hours of Tuesday morning, and before his plane landed in Seattle I had taken my Little Man to the ER for stitches in his cute, pudgy ring finger, a toy box lid having closed like a door onto its tip, sheering off much of the fleshy pad. When it happened, my friend Emily had stopped by — just for a few minutes — to help me choose a paint color for our kitchen. Instead, within 10 minutes of being here, she found herself helping me try to stop the bleeding of a finger that my son would let no one touch, and watched me fade into a fog of disillusion over the realization that a bandaid was not going to fix it.

So she scooped up her two kids and my 2-year old, threw them all into her 8-seater, and coaxed me and the injured to the backseat. She then drove us (all the while, my son screaming) to the ER, dropped us off, took the rest of the kids to kill time at Trader Joe’s and a thrift store (appropriate, if you know Emily), and then came by to pick us up again after the lidocaine and stitches had been painfully administered (one friend asked if they had to velcro him to the bed, and I replied that no, I was the velcro — fun times).

That afternoon, without going into the comical (in a comedy of errors sense) details: in an effort to pick up two tickets to the Arcade Fire show I’d won in a twitter contest the night before, I managed to also pick up a $75 parking ticket in downtown Indy. That’s the kind of monetary scenario that keeps me up at night, replaying a movie screen of decisions and choices, of blame and cynicism, until all joy from the initial slate of victory is wiped clean.

All this, in just 7 hours. So Emily said, hey, come to my house tonight. We can grill burgers for the kids, and we’ll pour you wine, grill you a steak, and put some sauteed morels on top. At first, out of sheer exhaustion, I said I’d have to think about it, as all I wanted to do was put everyone in my house to bed and fall into a forgetful sleep. But then I asked myself what could be difficult about someone else cooking for my family while drinking wine and complaining to sympathetic adult ears about my horrendous day?

(And, of course, there were the morels. Something I’d never had before, but will most definitely have again, even if I never find out where Emily foraged for them and have to pay the going rate of $35 a pound. Morels, they are the subject of another post. They are, in a word, magical.)

The rest of the week held highs and lows (a high being the Arcade Fire show, which I attended with my existing purchased ticket, and also sold my two prize tickets for exactly $75 in a moment of nervous [perhaps-illegal?] deal-making that is also the subject of another post; a low being Little Man’s diagnosis with both strep throat and a double-ear infection on Thursday). But the thing that effectively sealed the lid on my ability to write about yogurt cheese was a single day of horrendously bad weather that slammed into the south late Wednesday.

It seems that everyone has a distant disaster with which they might especially resonate. While I feel for the victims of earthquakes, tsunamis, and wildfires, I have very little personal experience with them, so they feel other-worldly. With tornadoes, I know a thing or two. I grew up in tornado alley, where multiple times each spring and fall we found ourselves listening to sirens from the central hallway of our house, a mattress pulled over our bodies. When I was very small, we even had a full-blown tornado shelter embedded in our backyard, and when the threat was especially high we were carried through rain by our parents into the wet steel bunker.

In all those years under mattresses, I never once saw a tornado. One might hit the next town over, or hover in our area but never touch down. And it became tiresome, all that hiding from storms. But after spending a few days looking at images from Smithville, Tuscaloosa and Birmingham, I now realize that hiding in a bathtub really does save people’s lives; but also that sometimes no matter where you hide, the tornado wins.

I look at those images, wondering what it must be like to be hunkered down in a closet, to hear a deafening roar for less than a minute, and then look up to find your house torn from around you. In mere seconds, an entire town is left in ruins.

It’s a bit mind-blowing. Simultaneously putting things in perspective (my week? I was losing sleep over a parking ticket?) and wondering how these people will manage to put lives back together. Of all our friends and family in the South, no one I know was hurt — but we know the places, and in a sense we do know the people there. They were the people that grew up all around me, they are the lives of small towns and college campuses.

I was reading this morning, about people going to Tuscaloosa, the town that suffered the most devastating death toll and damages, to offer help. One group went to a hard-hit area, and brought pancakes. Homemade pancakes, to offer to those who were cleaning up the remains of their lives. The reason being that they thought the folks could use some comfort food.

Pancakes. We might initially think that these people don’t need pancakes, they need clothes and shelter and bulldozers to scoop up what’s left of their entire lives — and that is true. But, in a moment that brought me full-circle back to the steak and morels offered to me after a difficult Tuesday, it seems to me an entirely appropriate thing to give. We can’t snap a finger and undo what was done; we can’t in one fell swoop repair so many devastated lives. But the offering of food, of something warm and made with caring hands, brought to a place where there isn’t much left of comfort, is much more than the calories or nourishment or fullness it provides. It is a recognition that we are all helpless, at times, that our humanity gives us that feeling to share. It’s about giving time to the preparation of a meal, and offering it to someone who can’t spare the effort. It’s about bearing one another’s burdens, even when the burden feels big enough to crush a community.

Now living in Indiana, I can’t be like my sister Angie, and collect a truckload of clothes and supplies at a local club and then drive it 45 minutes over to Smithville. But I can be like Emily, and offer a meal and glass of wine to a friend who’s had a (relatively) horrendous day.

Perhaps also, after making all these connections and getting my priorities and inconveniences back into some sort of adequate chart of relativity, get back to making yogurt cheese. Because thankfully, graciously, activities that mundane are the ones that most days are made of.