Southwest-style Corn Chowder

We’re straddling seasons right now. August screams “summer!” to me while September shouts “fall!” and, though it’s still technically August, one foot seems to be firmly planted in each.

We’re soaking up the last bits of summer while also preparing for the school year. I made an inaugural school supply run with Caden and Brooklyn last weekend. It reminded me of my own days of school shopping (also at Target, also in the cardboard bins set up all the way in the back of the store, though without those fancy Twistable crayons) and I envisioned the years we have ahead of this particular tradition. We’ve practiced using lunch boxes and next week we’ll see their classroom and meet their teacher.

The kids still have a couple of things on their summer agenda: a movie night, to visit the children’s museum, a day at the State Fair. But for the most part, we’re summer-ed out. Just yesterday the kids splashed in the pool in the backyard, set up for one last summer hurrah. It didn’t last long. Not even a half hour before they were blue-lipped and shivering, “Can I go inside and put my regular clothes on?” Seventy-seven degrees just doesn’t feel the same at this time of year as it did in July.

I told Tyson to drain the pool, to completely deflate it and pack it away for next year. Part of me screamed, “Not yet! Too soon! What happened to the lazy days of June?” and the other part of me is entirely ready to move on to regular schedules and routines, no matter how much they might be changing for us this year.

The days have been cooler lately, a completely welcome change as far as I’m concerned. The highs, while they’re still near 80 during the warmest part of the day, dip down into the 50s at night. I’ve been cozying up at the end of the day in my favorite pair of joggers which have emerged from their summer hibernation. It’s my favorite way to end any day. Let’s be honest, it’s hard to be any sort of cozy while wearing shorts.

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This soup straddles the seasons in the same way we’ve been. It can hold its own as we feel the first hints of fall yet features an ingredient associated with the height of summer. You can eat a bowl of this out on your patio wrapped in a sweater - provided it’s a lightweight one. (At least here in the Midwest. I know you southerners are still sweltering.)

I often find traditional corn chowders to be too sweet, especially when using corn at the peak of the season. I mean, it’s grown to be sweet, and while I love a cob slathered with some butter, salt, and pepper on it’s own, that flavor feels off to me in a soup. The added spice here balances out the sweetness. So does the acid from the lime. 

You can serve it with hearty bread to mop up all the goodness at the end. I prefer to eat it with tortilla chips and it basically becomes a dip. However you eat it, do it soon, before all the best summer sweet corn is gone.

(P.s. The kids still won’t eat soup, though Nolan will attempt it sometimes. I serve them a couple ears of corn, some chips, shredded cheese, fruit, and chicken nuggets and call it good.)

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Southwest-style Corn Chowder
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This chowder is basically a combination of this traditional corn chowder recipe and Smitten Kitchen’s elotes-style one. I pretty much mashed them together until I had what I consider to be the best of both worlds. And a San Antonio Margarita with a bowl of this never hurt anyone, either.

INGREDIENTS

  • 8 ears fresh sweet corn, preferably from the nearest Farmer’s Market, husked, silks removed, and kernels cut from the cob

  • 2 Tablespoons butter

  • 4-6 slices bacon, chopped (quantity depends on how thick they are…and how much you like bacon)

  • 1 medium red onion, diced

  • 2 cloves garlic, minced

  • 1 7-ounce can diced green chilies

  • 1 Tablespoon chili powder

  • 2 Tablespoons flour

  • 5 cups chicken stock

  • 1 lb. Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into thin chunks (1/4 inch or so)

  • 3/4 cup whole milk

  • 1/2 cup cream

  • salt and freshly ground pepper

  • Toppings (optional): shredded cheese, chopped chives or green onions, sour cream, sliced avocado, cilantro, a squeeze of lime (though this is not optional, in my opinion), and also don’t forget the bacon from earlier

  • Tortilla chips or bread, for serving

INSTRUCTIONS

  • Melt butter in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the bacon and cook, stirring occasionally, until crispy. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Set aside until the very end to top your chowder.

  • Turn heat to medium-low and add onion. Cook, stirring frequently, until onion is almost soft, about 5-6 minutes. Add the garlic, chilies, and chili powder and cook for a minute or two more.

  • Add flour and stir together until it disappears and things kind of clump together. Cook another minute more, stirring frequently, to prevent sticking and remove any “flour-y” taste. Add chicken stock, corn, potatoes, and milk and bring to a steady simmer. (Not quite a boil: be careful with that milk!) Simmer, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes, until potatoes are tender and corn is cooked through.

  • Add salt and fresh black pepper to taste. Finish with cream, stir thoroughly to combine, and let simmer until thickened slightly, about 2-3 minutes more.

  • To serve, ladle into bowls and top generously with chosen toppings. My personal preference is for bacon, sour cream, shredded Monterey Jack cheese, cilantro, and a hefty dose of lime. Serve with tortilla chips on the side, or just use them to scoop everything up because chowder is essentially dip in a bowl.

NOTE

  • Yes, cutting the kernels off the cob is a pain but I promise it’s worth it. Do not use the frozen stuff - it’s not at all the same. My best advice is to cut one end off the cob (so you’re working with a flat surface), set it inside a deep, wide bowl, and chop straight down - no sawing motion here, unless you like finding corn kernels all over your kitchen for the next several days.

  • You could also sub jalapenos for the diced green chilies. And add cayenne pepper to taste. Or take the amount of chili powder up or down. Definitely a personal preference on the spice level here.

Rest and Routines and Afternoon Target Runs

“What about this silly thing?” became a game during the last five minutes of our Tuesday afternoon Target run.

“What about this silly thing?” one would ask, and then make a goofy face or point at something, like a rack of clothing, which looked innocent to me but sent all three kids into peals of laughter. The first twenty minutes of calm vanished almost instantly as their energy bubbled to the surface. They weren’t naughty per se, but they weren’t exactly model children, either. They were mostly loud. (As one might expect with two five-year olds and a three-year old who don’t suffer much from shyness.)

We made it through the check out lane (barely - one kid was banished from the cart aka banished from being in close proximity to his siblings) and out to the car. They were nearly hysterical with laughter at this point. I tried to map the quickest route to the dentist in my head, our next stop, as I loaded both kids and Target bags into the van.

“Guys!” I finally cried, pulling out of the lot, “Be quiet! I just need to think!”

Their giggles filled our minivan and set my teeth on edge. My fingers gripped the steering wheel tighter than was necessary. I took what I thought was the turn for the dentists office and realized almost immediately I’d turned one intersection too soon.

“Why did you go this way?” Caden asked, giggling now at my mistake.

“Because I can’t think!” I said. “You can run around and be loud when we get home but right now I need you to figure out how to control your energy!”

And that’s what they should have been doing before this dentist appointment: running around the backyard, being loud. Needless to say, an afternoon trip to Target is not a part of our normal routine.

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Our days have followed a pretty set pattern during the past five-and-a-half years. Routine anchors our days. I’ve read how rhythms and routines are so important for small children, seen how my own kids are thrown off when our groove is broken. Really, though, I’ve created these routines as much for myself as for anyone else. (Enneagram 1, anybody?)

The kids have glommed onto these rituals, too. They know that a 7 on the clock in the am means it’s time for breakfast, while at night it equals bedtime. An 8 indicates it’s time to get ready for the day and a 5 in the late afternoon means dinner is imminent.

They know the pattern of our days: eat breakfast, dress and brush teeth, outing or activity, home for lunch, nap/quiet time, screen time, playtime at home, dinner, bed. They know that Wednesday is grocery day, Saturday mornings are for video chatting with Grandma and Grandpa, that we eat tacos on Tuesdays.

Lunchtime is an important anchor in the day for us all. The kids eat before I settle them in their bedrooms with crayons, paper, puzzles, and LEGOs for quiet time. Occasionally, all too few and far between these days, Nolan takes a nap. I retreat back downstairs to sweep the crumbs off the counter and make my own lunch, sit down and read a book where there was chaos only moments ago. 

These fifteen minutes or so are all mine and I savor every bite. It’s the one meal each day where I’m not interrupted with requests for more water, or more pasta, or more of anything. There’s no spilled milk, no reminders to please sit on your butt facing the table, no pleading to eat just one more bite.

Our post-quiet time TV-watching emerged from my reluctance to let go of the quiet. To return back to Earth and the chaos so suddenly once the clock gave them the go-ahead to stampede back downstairs. Instead I turn on the TV and they watch a show or two to ease our return to the real world. I often join them on the couch again with my book or (reality check) some laundry to fold.

 I hold tight to these daily rhythms, afraid that if I let them go I’ll lose myself altogether.

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Target became a part of our afternoon on Tuesday after Nolan acquired the fifth and final sticker on his quiet time chart, earning him a LEGO set of his choice.

“Let’s go to Target! Let’s go! Let’s go!” he cheered. I couldn’t deny his excitement, especially since we had the time before their dentist appointments. And Target is only a four-minute drive from the dental office, after all.

That Target trip/dentist combo wasn’t the only thing to disrupt our schedule this week. Our routine was also thrown off by afternoon swim camp. Combined with two nights of early evening t-ball games it feels as though our days have both been cut short (dinner at 4:30!) and stretched out longer (bedtime at 7:30...if we’re lucky). I’ve been scarfing my lunch down with the kids, quiet time has been nonexistent, the book I’m reading sits abandoned until I fall into bed at night. 

“I haven’t had any time to myself this week!” I told Tyson on Wednesday night, overwhelmed with writing deadlines and grocery orders and emails - things I usually tackle after lunch during the remainder of quiet time. Instead I was with the kids (including a particularly unruly three-year old) from morning to night without even a screen time break. The only time I had to myself (theoretically) was during swim lessons, where I kept one eye on my two swimmers in the water and another on Nolan in the adjacent activity room while also attempting to create a grocery list with the swim school’s spotty Wi-Fi.

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I realize now that I’ve structured our days to facilitate rest, both for myself and for the kids, to help prevent any of us from getting burned out. The middle part of our day is so important: the lunch/quiet/screen time part. A breather from the morning hours before tackling the afternoon witching ones. Our routine gives me stability just as much as it does them. When these habits are interrupted it throws me off, as though my very center is off-balance.

This week showed me that my fear is a valid one: once I let go of our daily anchors my day does become unhinged. And so do I.

I had a professor in college who would remind us, during particularly challenging courses, that the semester was only sixteen weeks long. “You can do anything for sixteen weeks,” she would tell us.

It’s only for this week, I remind myself. I can do anything for a week.

And I can. I did. We made it to Friday. The next couple of weeks sit heavy in front of us, without much on the calendar before school begins and we fall into an entirely new routine. But at least in the next two weeks there will be time for regular lunches, normal quiet times, and even — glory hallelujah — daily doses of screen time.

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This post was written as part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to read the next post in this series "Rest."


What Writing Looks Like

“Mommy,” Brooklyn began, as I helped her get dressed. (In a jumpsuit. Five-years old and those can be difficult.)  Her hands were on top of my head, even though I’ve told them all 432 times to use my shoulders for balance instead. “Mommy, when we press on your head, does it push all of your ideas out?”

I laughed and said no, I still had my ideas. She grinned, crinkling up her newly-freckled nose, gave me a hug, and scampered away. 

I thought more about her question as I carried a load of laundry downstairs. Small, marker-stained fingers in and of themselves don’t push out my ideas. Though sometimes it feels that way.

It’s hard to explain writing to someone who isn’t a writer. The struggle to pull together a sentence, add a period, the debate to use a comma vs. a semicolon. The drafts and the edits and the agonization over word choice. I’m not sure I know of a single writer who actually, really, truly enjoys the writing process itself. It’s arduous. To do justice to a story, plodding forward in an attempt to tell the truth, to get to the essence of an idea; it’s work.

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Jen Hatmaker has talked on her podcast about how writing is like dredging up words from the bottom of the ocean. Anne Lamott, in her book Bird by Bird, says that the act of writing looks like this:

“You put a piece of paper in the typewriter, or you turn on the computer and bring up the right file, and then you stare at it for an hour or so. You begin rocking, just a little at first, and then like a huge autistic child. You look at the ceiling, and over at the clock, yawn, and stare at the paper again. Then, with your fingers poised on the keyboard, you squint at an image that is forming in your mind -- a scene, a locale, a character, whatever -- and you try to quiet your mind so you can hear what that landscape or character has to say above the other voices in your mind.”

Throw in picking up your phone to scroll through Instagram for awhile and this is 1000% accurate.

Glennon Doyle talks about a famous writer who was asked if she loved writing, and her response was, “No, but I love having written.”

That sounds about right to me.

Anyway, back to those small children with their sticky, dirt-covered hands who ask about pushing ideas out of my head.

Sometimes writing looks like trying to put words down on a page but my brain has absolutely no ideas and it is all the children’s fault, not because they used my head to balance, but because the only thing I can think of is the LEGO Movie 2 The Second Part Original Motion Picture Soundtrack because it’s on repeat at our house and even when it’s not playing the children are running around singing it at the top of their lungs: “THIS SONG’S GONNA GET STUCK INSIDE YOUR HE-AAAAAD” and it is, it IS stuck in my head and I haven’t had an original thought for two straight weeks.

Writing looks like sacrifice. It takes time and energy. Sometimes it takes money in the form of a writing class or an editor. More often it’s in the form of a $5.35 latte. Mostly, though, it’s time. Since I am not, never have been, and never will be a morning person this often looks like rushing out the door at 6 pm right after dinner until the coffee shop closes at 9:00. It’s time on the weekends when I would truly rather be lounging around the backyard or going on a family adventure but if I don’t take advantage of the next two or three hours who knows when I’ll get a decent stretch of writing time again.

One of my writing spots is a coffee shop, just a five-minute car ride away. It’s quiet. Not that it isn’t busy, but the overall atmosphere is studious. I realized recently that there are virtually no children there. Like, ever. One day I saw an eight-year old in line with his mom and it dawned on me: this is the first time I’ve seen a kid here. Mind. Blown.

I’m not against kids (I managed to have three of them) but they’re not exactly quiet. If I could concentrate with small children around I wouldn’t have to leave the house. Their babbling words interrupt the ones I’m working to construct in my head, so it’s hard to concentrate on things like writing an entire coherent sentence

I do enjoy watching the high school students who congregate here, though, the teenagers who are thoughtful and friendly, showing their friends their latest Snapchat (or whatever, I mean I don’t really know) and giggling. They sit with their large extra-pump-of-caramel frozen concoctions at their sides because they don’t need to worry yet about ingesting that amount of caffeine or sugar at 8:30 pm.

Other times writing looks like heading to my favorite spot in downtown Minneapolis. It looks like double-checking that I’ve locked my car because there are signs warning me to: “LOCK YOUR CAR. HIGH PROWL AREA”. But it’s worth it because then I enter into the most magical workspace in town, where they make chocolate croissants as big as my head and the eggs benedict is the best combination of salty/sauce-y/butter-y I’ve ever had and it takes all of my restraint to not order everything on the menu. (Those days writing costs me about $18.46.)

Writing looks like creating my very own writing nook. I’ve been sitting here often now, despite the children, instead of heading to the coffee shop. Sometimes a little boy sits on the floor next to me and plays with his LEGOs, and every time he starts to talk, I say, “Mommy’s working remember?” and he says, “Oh yeah I forgot” in a whisper.

There used to be times when writing looked like typing up words at 2:32 am, since I was awake anyway and it didn’t matter whether it was 2:32 in the morning or 2:32 in the afternoon, I was probably nursing a baby, either way.

Sometimes writing looks like rushing home from the store and abandoning the groceries on the kitchen counter so I can rush upstairs to type up the narrative I’ve been constructing in my head the whole way home. It looks like not being able to keep up with the rush of words and hoping I get them all down on the page in the exact order they came to me on University Avenue in my minivan.

Other times it looks like not being able to abandon the groceries, because they really do need to be put away so we can eat lunch, and by the time I get to a computer hours later, they’ve completely vanished. “I’ll remember this later,” I lie to myself. But I never do.

Sometimes it’s leaving myself a voice message of an idea I’m certain is genius and then listening to it later and wondering what on Earth I was talking about.

Some of the best times are when I leave a draft for my friends, the fiercest, strongest group of women and mothers I know, and they leave me comments and edits. And depending on the piece, sometimes I hate them for awhile and I abandon writing for awhile (forever, if I get dramatic in my head) until I come back to it and realize they were all so very right. Entire essays have been born because of them. Entire essays have been saved because of them.

There are nights I can’t wait to escape, where the day has been long or a deadline is looming or a story is in my head and it’s all I can do to not plop the kids in front of the TV to type up some words.

Other days all I want to do is stay home, to do the bedtime routine and snuggle them in. To answer questions like, “Is the sun always a star?” and read their books. Sometimes writing looks like being surrounded by children and stuffed animals as I take note of the rhyming patterns in “Rosie Revere, Engineer” or the foreshadowing in Harry Potter.

Those ideas in my head get pushed in and poured out all the time. Sometimes it’s like grasping at air to try to reign them in, to put them down on the page to create something meaningful and intelligible and maybe even beautiful. And sometimes those ideas are initiated by a little freckle-face five-year old wondering if she’s pushed all the ideas out of my head, and instead I can say, no — you’ve added to them.

Read, Watched, Listened

I love reading just about everything (okay, you won't see any mystery or sci-fi picks on here), watching things that make me think and especially if they make me laugh, and wholeheartedly embrace the podcast. I also enjoy hearing about what other people are reading, watching, and listening. Here's my two cents worth.

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READ
Goodbye for Now
The only thing I kept thinking while reading this book was, “This is so weird.” Not exactly the deepest thought, but here we are. The main character, Sam, creates a powerful algorithm to match people together on a dating website, After meeting his own soul mate, he puts his technology to even greater use to allow people to communicate with their dead loved ones. It was a powerful exploration of technology (it all seemed very plausible) and also just straight-up bizarre.

Falling Upward
Deep, thoughtful, life-changing. I’ve been listening to Richard Rohr on podcasts and have been receiving his daily e-mails for a long time now, but this was the first book of his I’ve read. In this book, he describes the idea of there being “two halves of life”: the first to explore who we are (often lots of black and white thinking) and the second to explore where we find meaning (a more nuanced look at the world). I wish I could go into more detail here: the idea is so fascinating and complex. Tyson and I have now incorporated this language into our everyday and often talk about people or organizations as being “first” or “second half of life-ers”.

Shameless
We need a sexual reformation in the church, and Nadia Bolz-Weber is here to lead it. Of particular interest to me was the section that discussed when the Christian Right began using abortion as a political tool. Hint: Evangelicals haven’t always believed that life begins at conception. insert mind-blown emoji here

The Atlas of Love
This book was…fine. I didn’t love it but I didn’t hate it, either. It speaks to some non-traditional family dynamics, namely a group of college friends who decide to live and raise a baby together when one of the young women finds herself unexpectedly pregnant. I guess I didn’t truly love any of the characters and that’s a deal-breaker for me; it’s hard for me to get into a book otherwise.

Accidental Saints
Another Nadia Bolz-Weber book. (Continuing the trend of holds by the same author coming up for me at the same time.) This book was wonderful. Bolz-Weber walks us through many of the people she’s met, both in her congregation and outside of it, who don’t quite seem to fit in with the church, but who help to re-enforce her faith anyway. She speaks candidly about faith without getting preach-y.

Nine Perfect Strangers
Okay, I kept seeing this book everywhere and it is SO GOOD. Nine people together in the same house on a wellness retreat and it is not what I expected at all. This book was the definition of “I couldn’t put it down”.

City of Girls
Everyone said this was the perfect summer read and they were RIGHT. I don’t usually buy books (thanks, library) but I purchased this one right before our lake vacation and it was WORTH IT. A story about showgirls in the 1940s? Yes, please. Sit in a lounge chair with this and something iced and booze-y to sip: summer perfection.

WATCHED
My Next Guest Needs No Introduction
The new season dropped and we are HERE for it. The one with Melinda Gates was by far my favorite episode. (True confessions: we skipped the one with Lewis Hamilton.) (Also, we had no idea what Kanye was talking about the entire time. He might be a musical genius but he’s as incoherent as a certain president of a certain country that will not be named.

Wine Country
This movie, about friends who take a trip to Napa to celebrate one of their 50th birthdays, was a DELIGHT. Just watch it.

Always Be My Maybe
I don’t know. It was…fine? I’m here for the resurgence of the rom-com but this one didn’t quite do it for me. The scenes with Keanu Reeves were fantastic but the rest of it fell kind of flat for me. Everyone else keeps raving about it but maybe we’re just that desperate for more rom-coms.

Five Foot Two
This has been on our “to watch” list for awhile and Tyson and I agree it’s one of the best documentaries we’ve ever watched. I don’t know exactly what made it so phenomenal other than it just seemed so raw and real. We also went down a Lady Gaga rabbit hole by watching her Super Bowl halftime performance and “Shallow” duet with Bradley Cooper at the Oscars immediately afterward, and I then played “Lady Gaga radio” on our Google home for the next week. I’m not mad about it.

Brene Brown: The Call to Courage
This talk is good, yet it was also repetitive for anyone who is familiar with Brene Brown’s work. She repeats stories from her books and past talks. It’s not bad - I seriously think I need a five-minute pep talk from Brene each and every morning - but I also didn’t feel like I had to pay attention the whole time.

LISTENED

Armchair Expert
Dax Shepherd is SO GOOD at interviewing people. Note that these podcasts are a commitment because most run about two hours (though I personally think you can skip the “fact check” of the last half hour or so - it falls flat for me). But the conversations he has are fascinating. My favorites so far have been with Elizabeth Gilbert and Hasan Minhaj - one about writing, the other about immigration, race, and luck.

Note: any links to Amazon in this post are affiliate links.

Not A Summer Bucket List

I’m a One on the Enneagram and an ESFJ always and forever according to Myers-Briggs. I’m your typical straight-A, type-A firstborn child with a penchant for meal plans and lists. In fact, I specifically researched and then purchased a very particular paper calendar because it had a built-in spot for daily to-do lists. I like a meticulously crafted schedule, boxes just waiting to be checked, recipes with instructions to be followed. I’m a born planner, through-and-through.

So you might think a summer bucket list - a specific collection of summertime “to-dos” - would be right up my alley.

In reality, it stresses me out.

I love the idea of a summer bucket list in theory. In theory, it sounds like fun to create a list of places to go, things to see, foods to eat. I can picture the list in my head, meticulously crafted with multi-colored sharpies on brown kraft paper, hung on our pantry door with rainbow-colored Washi tape, peeking out now and then in the photos I post to Instagram. (I’m such a planner, I’ve even planned out the thing I’m refusing to ever make. I seriously can’t make it stop.)

The truth is I know my rigid, planner-by-nature type would adhere to that thing like there was no more summer tomorrow. What’s that kids? You want to get ice cream today? Well, too bad because this list (which may as well be written in stone) says we’ve already eaten ice cream and today we need to fly kites!

I would feel compelled to carry out every activity to the Nth degree. I’d carefully research each destination and determine whether to pack or purchase a lunch. I’d prepare matching outfits and appropriate snacks. I'd run out to purchase multiple graham and chocolate options for s’mores night and refresh the weather forecast to find the perfect rainy day for a movie.

(Can I just add here that I’ve seen on Pinterest that some people actually write their summer bucket lists on popsicle sticks and put them all in a jar and they pull a random one out each day? And then they go do the thing it says? The idea of surprise summer bucket sticks freaks me the heck out. I need a solid four days just to wrap my head around taking three kids to the zoo. But I digress.)

What I’m trying to say is that it’s hard for me to let loose when there are lists involved. A list - even of the bucket sort - is a sort of challenge for me. Let’s jam-pack this schedule of ours. Just how fast can we complete this list? First to get all their boxes checked wins!

All this research and planning is just the opposite of the relaxation that is supposed to be summertime.

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Read the rest over on the Twin Cities Moms Blog.