Mid-July 2015

For the last month and a half, I’ve had a note on my to-do list that reads, “Apt. 2024 post.” Each time I rewrite the list, I carry it over to the fresh page and work away at all the tasks around it. Still, I keep it there as a reminder that this blog is here, waiting for me.

When I do eventually make it to this space, I am grateful and feel such relief in allowing myself to tumble onto this virtual page.

The last few months have been intensely full (substitute the word years for months and that statement would still be true). I turned in the first draft of my next cookbooks in early May and have now made it through two rounds of edits and the photo shoot. I have one last bit of editing to do and then I won’t see it again until galleys.

There is a part of me that still can’t quite believe that I’ve now written three books. The person I was when I started this website would be amazed at the future that lay in store for her.

Scott and I are still living in the apartment, but have been looking for a house to buy in West Philly. The market is tight and inventory is low, so I keep my eyes peeled for possibilities and hope that they don’t go under contract before we can see them.

I feel like I function on two levels these days. On one plane, I am focused on all the things I hope for – a bigger space, the chance to grow a human, the opportunity to write more books without quite so much hustle in the selling. But on the more mundane level, I let all of those hopes go in order to be satisfied with where I am and what I have. It’s a tricky balance to maintain, but works nonetheless.


50 years

Our apartment building is turning 50 years old this year, and to celebrate, the board is throwing a party. Invitations have gone out and nearly every time I ride the elevator, someone turns to me and asks, “Are you attending the anniversary gala?”

Each time, I smile, nod and say, “Yes! My husband and I are both looking forward to it!”

The questioner is always satisfied by this answer and then goes back to sorting their mail or digging their keys out of a pocket or handbag.

However, each time I’m asked, there’s always a longer answer that wells up inside of me. It’s too much information for an elevator ride and truly, these people don’t want the long answer because they’re really just making conversation. But this is what I want to say.

This building is inextricably linked to my family history. Five generations of my family members have walked through the lobby (from my great-great Aunt Sue to my nephew Emmett). There has never not been a moment in the life of this building when I did not have a relative (or two) living here.

My grandmother lived here for more than 1/3 of her life (from 1966 to 2002) and now I’ve done the same (2002 to 2015 and still counting). My mother lived here when she was in college and you can still see traces of the orange paint she slapped on the bathroom walls during a period of mono-induced psychosis. My Uncle Wallace, who at that time was called Robbie, lived in the den when he was going to law school.

Throughout a big chunk of my childhood, my mom brought my sister and me to Philly each summer for a week or two (and once for seven). We slept in the den, road bikes down the hallway, and went to summer camp at 4th and Pine. You can still see the spot on the carpet where I spilled cantaloupe soup in the hallway.

I realize I’m just one cog in the larger machine of the building, but it has been instrumental in shaping me into the person I am. Of course I’m going to the party.

The Great De-Fuzzing

the defuzzer

There is currently a seasonal capsule wardrobe movement afoot. All across the internet, bloggers are editing their clothes down to just 25 or 30 pieces and then sharing all the different outfits they can create with the pared down selection. It’s an exercise designed to create freedom through limitations and remind one that more isn’t always better.

I applaud those who are able to winnow down to two or three dozen items. In all honesty, I probably don’t wear much more than that on a regular basis, but there’s something about creating restrictions where none are necessary that makes me chafe. And so, this blog post isn’t about my decision to pare down. It is, however, about one small thing that I gleaned from all this capsule wardrobe reading I’ve been doing.

In a nutshell, one thing people are discussing is that an inevitable result of narrowing your available items of clothing is that more pressure is put on the garments that remain in rotation. The pieces you are wearing will need extra care. But that’s okay, because in the end you’ve still got less to tend for. That means there’s time for things like hand washing, overnight airing, and fuzz removal.

March 6

Now, like I said before, I’m not trying to do a capsule wardrobe. But the idea of spending just a little bit more time taking care of the things I have struck me. And so, I’ve been making a point of hand washing some sweaters that were long overdue. I’ve done a bit of mending (a pair of socks with a year old hole took three minutes to repair). And I’ve mercilessly tackled all the pills and fuzzies that dot my knits and woolens.

To that end, I bought myself a brand new fuzz shaver. I had a travel sized one years ago, but it was of limited utility. This new one is like a race car in comparison (though the fuzz collection space could be bigger). I’ve been shaving fuzz from everything within reach.

I groomed a beloved sweater I’ve had since college and it looks much revived. A new thrift store find got the treatment and now looks like it’s straight off the rack. And this morning, I didn’t let Scott leave for work until I ran my little fuzz shaver over the pills dotting the cotton zip-up he was wearing (it’s surprisingly effective on occupied items).

It’s the little things that please me most.

No Sign of Spring Yet

sitting in the sunny spots

I walked to Rittenhouse Square earlier this week with my camera, hoping to find some sign that winter was on the way out and spring might soon be on its way. All I found was ice, snow, and thin patches of sunlight. Despite the cold, I found that I could still take pleasure in being outside on a day when the sun was shining.

Things I Like to Make for Dinner

January 2

Despite being surrounded by restaurants (I can count eight on our physical block alone), Scott and I eat dinner at home most nights. The reasons for this are the standard ones. It’s cheaper, it’s healthier, and we generate less waste with home cooked food.

As the primary meal planner, I sometimes start to run dry on dinnertime ideas (it happens to the best of us, even those who make a living inventing recipes). Many years ago, a blogger I followed posted a list of her favorite dinners, in an attempt to create a well of ideas that she could turn to when she hit a wall.

After years of thinking it would be a good thing to do for myself, here is my list. The things we like to eat for dinner, in no particular order.

  • Turkey burgers (good side options include roasted sweet potatoes, roasted carrots, steamed and buttered broccoli, or cauliflower puree)
  • Turkey meatloaf
  • Teriyaki salmon with broccoli
  • Joy’s chicken and ricotta meatballs (eat over braised kale when being healthy, over pasta or polenta the rest of the time)
  • Roasted chicken, preferably on a bed of carrots and onions
  • Chicken soup (typically made the same week as the roast chicken above)
  • Ground beef soup
  • Chicken or beef fajita salads (topped with the roasted corn salsa from my first book. So! Good!)
  • Turkey tacos with cumin slaw
  • Oven-roasted nachos (that’s what pictured up at the top of this post)
  • Shredded chicken or ground turkey chili
  • Broccoli or cauliflower and cheese soup
  • Carrot soup with ham croutons
  • Sausage, kale, and white bean soup
  • Quinoa salad with lots of vegetables and feta
  • Beef meatballs with feta and red onion
  • Ranch steaks (they are little, quick-cooking steaks that I get from Meadow Run Farm and keep in the freezer. They defrost quickly and are perfect for nights when I didn’t plan well) with whatever sides are around
  • Broiled turkey kielbasa with braised cabbage with leeks and lemons
  • Pulled pork (braised in one part jam and one part apple cider vinegar)
  • Sauerkraut soup (If you have leftover pulled pork or braised brisket, use that instead of the bacon)
  • Split pea soup
  • Curried red lentil soup (I only make this when Scott is out of town, as he’s not a curry fan)
  • Tuna salad on salad greens
  • Beef stew
  • Pot roast (delicious and when I make it, I use a ton of vegetables and serve it on top of braised kale for extra greenery)
  • Mexican rice bowl bar (best for when we have guests who have different dietary needs. Line up brown rice, beans, crumbed beef or turkey, chopped lettuce, salsa, grated cheese, sour cream, and avocado on the counter and let everyone build their own)
  • Cauliflower mac and cheese (sometimes made without the mac and with a tiny bit of bacon [turkey or otherwise] for a lower carb version)
  • Kale salad with avocado (this is another one I make only when Scott’s not home for dinner)
  • Fried rice with a ton of vegetables (made almost exclusively with leftover rice from Chinese take-out)
  • Spatchcocked chicken with Dutch oven broccoli (that Whole Chicken Project is a gold mine of useful recipes)
  • Tamale pie
  • Chicken pot pie
  • Shepherd’s pie
  • No-cook pasta sauce
  • Pizzas made on a sunflower seed crust (these are a favorite when Scott is avoiding carbs)

And here are some things that aren’t currently part of my regular rotation, but I’d love to pull them in to our dinner hours occasionally. Though I’m not sure any of them will appeal to Scott.


January 8

It is brutally cold outside. According to my phone, it is currently 18°F and it will drop down to 16°F before the day is done. I ventured out earlier today to meet a friend and pick up a few groceries wearing my second heaviest coat (the very heaviest one is hard wear while walking) and have no intention of setting foot outside again today.

I am drinking hot, milky tea, have put on a heavy, army green wool sweater that has been with me since college, and have even turned the heat on for a little while (the heat that drifts in from our hallways is often enough to keep the apartment comfortable).

I feel intensely grateful for the tea, the sweater, the heat, and while we’re at it, the cozy home. May we all be so lucky.

January 5

much-needed veg

You know all those resolutions I mentioned over the weekend? Forget ’em. My real resolution for this year is simply to keep up with the dishes. I cook a lot and so the tide of dirty things in my sink seems never to end (and I’m even in possession of a functional dishwasher).

Because my kitchen is small, I have no option but to clean as I work. If I don’t, I quickly run out of places to put things and my ability to make dinner or test recipes for the current blog/book/freelance project quickly grinds to a halt (you have not lived until you’ve seen me spinning in circles with a hot pot and no place to put it. Truly, it’s a sight).

I do a fairly good job keeping up with the daytime flow. The place where I falter is with the final round of dinner dishes. So often, by the time we’ve eaten, I’m just done with the kitchen. One answer might be to get Scott to do some dishes, but that doesn’t always go as hoped (we occasionally have different definitions of the word clean). And so in my late night haze, I leave dishes in the sink to deal with the next day.

Trouble is, I hate waking up to a pile of dirty plates and pots. This comes in large part from my early childhood training. My mom couldn’t go to sleep until the sink was emptied and the counters were wiped. While I’m not as severely afflicted as she, I do end up indulging in a little self-flagellation on the nights when I leave pans to soak.

As I’ve written this, I’m starting to think that maybe the solution is just to come to grips with my imperfections instead of holding myself to an impossible standard. Who knows. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some dishes to do.

January 2

20th Street

It’s the beginning of January, which means it’s the time of year to open fresh journals, attempt to start new habits, and take to the internet to declare the many ways in which you want to change yourself in the fresh, new year.

I am not immune to this instinct to resolve. This blog turns tens years old next month and it includes an impressive archive of hopeful, goal-oriented posts published on the first or second of the year (2008/2009/2010/2011/2014).

I’ve spent the last week or so thinking about my intentions are for the coming year, and I realize that more than anything, I want to keep it simple. I deeper into the specifics I get, the more opportunities for stumbling I create.

  1. Focus on the goodness – I am the type who can get a barrel of praise but still manages to fixate on the one negative comment. I’m working on turning that around.
  2. Let go – Of physical stuff, obligations that no longer serve, comparisons, and shame.
  3. Enjoy – I worked really hard over the last year, had a number of really amazing experiences and successes, and didn’t manage to relish it nearly enough.
  4. Move – Keep walking, running, and stretching. Not to lose weight or get fitter (though if those things happen, great), but simply to feel good and get more oxygen into my lungs.
  5. Create – Writing is my work, but it started as something I did because I loved it. Time to do a little more of it for me (here, perhaps?).

Thoughts on Being Jew-ish

Last Sunday, I participated in a Jewish Food Festival. I taught two workshops, one on making jam with honey, and another about quick pickles (the room overflowed in that one). I also sat in the marketplace and sold books when I wasn’t teaching. And I thought a lot about my own connection with Jewishness.

My mother is Jewish, which means I am too. However, she grew up in a family that was strictly secular and so during my childhood, my exposure to Judaism was limited to the All of a Kind Family books and the Passover Seders hosted by our Unitarian church.

When I was 22, I moved to Philadelphia and started to reconnect with my Jewish relatives. I gathered with them for Rosh Hashanah, Hanukkah, and Passover, and learned to make the right food (I am our official brisket maker). I still don’t know any of the appropriate Hebrew prayers, but I have always figured that silence works just as well.

Most of the time, I feel like being Jewish is an established part of my identity. The only time I feel less so? When I’m in a large meeting room full of Jews. This is in part because I don’t have any outward markers of Jewishness. I have straight light brown hair, fair skin, and blue eyes. When my sister and I were young, strangers would often ask our dark haired, olive-skinned mother if we were adopted. My last name is McClellan. There is nothing about me that communicates the fact that I am half Ashkenazi Jew.

On Sunday, after I’d taught my workshops and was back at my table in the marketplace, one of the women who had sat through my pickling workshop walked up to buy a book. She chatted excitedly about how much she had enjoyed the demonstration and how much she was looking forward to going home and making pickles.

After she bought a book and I’d signed it, she looked at my quizzically and asked, “So. McClellan. How did you wind up at a Jewish Food Festival?” I explained, “My mom is Jewish. Before she got married, her name was Susan Klein.”

I could see her scanning my face, searching for features that could back up my claim. She must have seen something that satisfied her, because she let out a small Ah! and gave me an even brighter smile.

Of course, the welcome in that smile raises a whole host of other issues for me (chief among them being the fact that I chafe at the idea of one group being a Chosen People), but in the moment a part of me was soothed by the acknowledgement.


Lessons from a Six Month Book Tour

empty jar

Preserving by the Pint has now been out for nearly three months and I’ve been promoting it actively since March 14 (a whopping 11 days before it was “officially” published).

The lessons from this book cycle have been many. As I am perched at the mid-point of the tour, I thought I’d take a few minutes to write down some of what I have learned in the hopes that I don’t have to learn these exact things again.

  • Free grocery store demos aren’t a good use of my time. They take up at least half a day and no matter how much I smile and offer samples of jam, I end up talking to just a few people and selling no more than four copies of the book.
  • People will sign up for classes at grocery stores like Whole Foods, but it’s time to stop doing them for free.
  • Farmers markets, on the other hand, are nearly always a success, particularly in the earlier part of the season.
  • A morning show demo a day before a farmers market is an amazing way to move 40+ books in a 2-4 hour period.
  • Libraries almost always make good partners. Best of all, they often have programming budgets (and even if they don’t, I still like supporting what they do).
  • Whenever possible, include a copy of the book in the price of an event.
  • Contact bookstores at least four months in advance of the tour.
  • Before pulling away from an event, make sure to inventory all equipment. This prevents me from leaving behind frying pans and wide mouth funnels.
  • Unless I’m traveling through a distant part of the country on a dedicated tour, no week should contain more than 4-5 events.
  • If a weekend has events on both days, commit to taking off either Monday or Friday. Otherwise it stops being fun.
  • Remember that it’s okay to say no. It is impossible to make everyone happy all the time. And when I try to please the world, I am the one who suffers.
  • Pay heed to the gut. If someone approaches with an excessively pushy attitude or treats me without basic respect, do not work with them. It will not be fun.
  • Remember that not every waking hour should be a working hour. Leave time to live, read, eat, and move.