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October 26, 2011 / Cate

Of Mothers, Laying Hens, and More Fall Greens

Last week on the drive home from work, I was thinking about my mother’s upcoming birthday and how I was a little late sending the card and ordering her gift. 

Then I turned on the last half of NPR’s Fresh Air. Terry Gross was in the midst of an interview with Marie Howe, and I bounced up and down in my seat. I may have squealed. I’m sure the smile splitting my face looked ridiculous to anyone who pulled up next to me at the stoplight.

I adore Marie Howe; her poetry collection, What the Living Do, was one of my favorites in graduate school. (The poem by the same title is a classic, often anthologized. You can read it here.)  But then I lost track of Marie Howe, and years passed before she released another book of poems.

It was incredible to hear her voice, unexpected, on an October afternoon. Then she read her poem “My Mother’s Body,” from her latest (and phenomenal) book, The Kingdom of Ordinary Time.

I bawled all the way home.

I wanted to call my mom right then and there.  She lives eight hours away, and I miss her. But she was in the Caribbean, unreachable. For a moment, I felt what it will be like when my mother is gone from the earth.

And I cried harder.

The mystery of mothers is that even though you once lived inside a woman, were a part of her, drank from her breasts, and slept in the curve of her arm, you can never know her. It is the deepest of intimacies, one without shape. And once you realize the extent of the shapelessness, it is terrifying. Unspeakable.  

This, I think, is love.

If you do nothing else this week, listen to the poem. Just go to Fresh Air; the interview is here. The whole 38 minutes are incredible; the poem begins at 31:04.


Corny, all grown up.

Sunday morning E and I went to let the chickens out of the coop; we were a little later than usual, so the hens clattered and complained as we approached. As soon as we opened the door, they raced for the chicken tractor and fresh feed, but Corny plopped herself into the coop’s nesting box and refused to move.

Half an hour later, I went to check on her. Still there, and her body rippled and shifted with the effort of laying. She stood up, turned around, sat down again.  I hadn’t seen this before; somehow, I thought that laying involved sitting still and serene, maybe for 10 or 15 minutes, but definitely not the better part of an hour.

Silly me. I gave birth to two kids. It makes perfect sense that laying an egg is a painful, drawn-out process. And each hen goes through this every day, to pass an egg that will feed me, my family, my neighbors.

Thanks, chickens. Another lesson in giving and sustaining life. Gratitude. Another word for love.


I found the following two dishes on the Mariquita Farm CSA website. Mariquita (ladybug in Spanish) is out in Watsonville, California, and their incredible recipe index is my new go-to place for vegetable-based cooking. I found the following recipes under “Kale,” but easily substituted collards, Swiss chard, or a combination of substantial leafy greens.

Greens and Ricotta Pie. In honor of my chickens, I offer this twist on a crustless quiche. The ricotta lightens and moistens the texture, and I was excited about the stems from Swiss chard. No waste, plus added flavor and crunch – perfect! Red pepper flakes give the pie a fun kick, too, or leave out the spice for picky eaters … just serve with sriracha sauce for spice-loving adults. 6 main dish servings.



1 large head Swiss chard, collards, kale, escarole, or other greens – about 1&3/4 pounds (I used Swiss chard)
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 bunch green onions, sliced 1/4 inch thick
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
4 large eggs
1 container (15 oz) part skim ricotta cheese
3/4 cup low fat milk
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons cornstarch

¼ tsp red pepper flakes (optional)


1. Preheat oven to 350. Grease 9&1/2-inch deep dish glass pie plate.

2. Trim two inches from Swiss chard stems; discard ends. Separate stems from leaves, then thinly slice the stems and coarsely chop the leaves.

3. In nonstick 12-inch skillet, heat oil until hot. Add sliced Swiss chard stems and cook 4 minutes or until tender, stirring frequently.

4. Add green onions, salt, and pepper and cook 1 min.

5. Gradually add chopped leaves until wilted and excess moisture evaporates, about 5 min.

6. In a large bowl, with whisk or fork, mix eggs, ricotta, milk, parmesan, red pepper flakes (if using) and cornstarch. Stir in swill-chard mixture.

7. Transfer mixture to pie plate. Bake pie 40 minutes or until knife inserted 2 inches from center comes out clean.  


A cup of bulgur wheat ... the gratin doesn't photograph very well, so I give you this.

Greens and Bulgur Gratin. I was a little hesitant about this since I’d only used bulgur for tabouleh … and the 2 lbs of green stuff meant sure rebellion from E and Q. I’m all for having the girls try new things, their chorus of moaning over their dinner plates is a surefire way to transform happy-cooking-mama into mama-monster. So I steeled myself against the monster, took a deep breath, and hoped for the best. And happiness of happiness! The gratin was met with suspicious pokes of the fork, a first small bite, and E’s proclamation of, “Hey Mom, this isn’t so bad.”

Success tastes sooo good … especially because the dense bulgur combined with the cheese protein filled our bellies quickly. It’s really the perfect low-cost, healthy, and hunger-vanquishing dish.. Serves 3-4 as a main dish or 5-6 as a side.

Recipe adapted from Mariquita Farm and Gourmet, Sept 1995.


1/2 cup bulgur
2 pounds assorted greens such as kale, collard, escarole, spinach, Swiss chard, and/or mustard greens (for a less fussy approach, just use one kind – I used kale, and it worked out just fine)

6 large garlic cloves, minced

3 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan

1 cup whole-milk or part-skim mozzarella, coarsely grated

For topping
1/2 cup fine fresh bread crumbs
1 tablespoon olive oil


1. In a heat proof bowl, pour enough boiling water over bulgur to cover by 1 inch. Cover bowl with a
plate to trap steam and let stand 20 minutes. Drain bulgur in a large fine sieve, pressing out excess
liquid, and transfer to a bowl. (I didn’t have a sieve, so I used my hand-powered food mill. I just put in the bulgur, pressed gently with a spatula, and voila, the draining went along just fine.)

2. Preheat oven to 400F and lightly oil a 1 1/2-quart gratin dish or other shallow baking dish.

3. While bulgur is cooking, trim, tear into bite-size pieces, and thoroughly wash your greens. Drain in a colander. ***If using a variety of greens, keep each variety of green separate during the trimming, tearing, and draining process.

4. Put coarser greens (kale or collard) in a 4 1/2- to 5-quart kettle and steam in water clinging to leaves,
covered, over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until wilted, about 4 minutes. Add delicate greens
(escarole, spinach, Swiss chard, and/or mustard) to coarse greens and steam, covered, stirring
occasionally, until just wilted, 3 to 4 minutes. Drain greens in colander, pressing out excess liquid.

5. In a large heavy skillet cook garlic in oil over moderate heat, stirring, until softened but not golden.
Stir in greens and bulgur and season generously with salt and pepper. Stir in Parmesan and remove
skillet from heat.

6. Spread half of greens mixture in dish and sprinkle evenly with mozzarella. Spread remaining greens
mixture over mozzarella and smooth top with a rubber spatula. Gratin may be prepared up to this
point 8 hours ahead and chilled, covered.

7. Make topping: In a small bowl with a fork stir together bread crumbs and oil until crumbs are evenly moistened. Sprinkle topping over greens mixture.

8. Bake in middle of oven 25-30 minutes, or until bubbling and top is lightly browned.

The gratin, step 5.


And finally, here are five more blogs to whom I send The Versatile Blogger/Cherry on Top Awards. Today’s blogs aren’t necessarily devoted to food. Instead, each blog has given my life something extra – laughter, poetry, community, gratitude, possibility.  I hope they do the same for yours.

A Bit on Poetry. A Bit on Whatever. In my last post, I mentioned that I’m a poetry nut. Marshall is, too, and his blog is a great place to find out about the arts community in Philadelphia. But he also writes great posts on human rights issues, privacy, and the irony of veggie burgers at Burger King.

Andilit – Maintained by a former colleague, this blog is for anyone who’s given up everything ‘normal’ (ie., job security and health insurance) in the pursuit of their dream. In Andi’s case, the dream is writing.

Bump in the Road – Funny, heartbreaking, inspiring, and honest, Mia chronicles her battle with non-Hodgins lymphoma (now in remission), and the after-effects of aggressive cancer treatment.

Mama O’s Musings – This mom of two wacky boys takes on the hard stuff:  religion, depression, marital discord … you name it, she’s not afraid of it. And dear god, it’s funny. I dare you not to laugh, even when you want to cry.

My Pantry Shelf – Annie, a loyal follower of One Hundred a Week, mentioned this blog as a suggestion for the award, and I knew I’d heard the name before. I just couldn’t remember where. But when I went to the site, I realized this was the same My Pantry Shelf who won Food52’s “Best Dirt Cheap Dinner” contest last spring … the same week this site was reviewed there.  Small world, this local-food blogging community! So head on over to My Pantry Shelf, and don’t forget to check out that dirt-cheap Sausage and Kale Dinner Tart. I’ve been meaning to give it a go, and now I definitely will. It looks divine – a great addition to the ‘sneak in greens wherever possible’ recipe list.


Leave a Comment
  1. Becca / Oct 26 2011 12:34 pm

    I just got off the phone with my 84 year old mother and then read this post. Thanks for reminding me how lucky I am to be able to speak with her and see her everyday🙂 I am not familiar with Marie Howe, but am off now to check out her work.

    And the quiche has made me incredibly hungry. I’ve scuttled my plans for a soup lunch and will substitute a spinach and feta omelet (and pretend it’s a crustless ricotta and kale quiche!)

    So glad I found my way here via Andi’s recommendation.

    • Cate / Oct 26 2011 1:27 pm

      Hi Becca – Thanks so much for reading – so glad you enjoyed the post. And can I join you for lunch? Spinach and feta omelet sounds incredible!

  2. Annie / Oct 26 2011 6:00 pm

    Ah. That’s how I found you! I was voting for Karen’s Sausage & Kale tart on Food52, found your blog review, and have been reading it ever since. I’ve made several of your recipes. I love getting ideas from other like-minded moms with little kids. My mama-monster has been known to make appearances from time to time so it’s good to know what other kiddos accept. My four year old son has been known to make his own ham sandwiches when dinner is “Bleh.”

    • Cate / Oct 26 2011 10:52 pm

      Annie, that’s too funny. Ham sandwiches are the default around here, too!

  3. Michelle / Oct 26 2011 11:32 pm

    Another great blog! I look forward to listening to Terry Gross’s interview. I am not familiar with Marie Howe, but from your description, her work sounds wonderful. Oh and I am humbled by your kudos to my blog! Seriously, I am really grateful and don’t feel like I am anywhere near the same league as you. So thank you so much. Let’s get together soon!

    • Cate / Nov 11 2011 8:48 am

      Hi Michelle – Great to hear from you … and yes, we need to get together soon – miss you!

  4. Mia / Oct 27 2011 9:22 pm

    Thanks for the shout out, Cate! I love to read your posts. Hopefully one day we’ll get to catch up in person. XO

  5. Karen @ My Pantry Shelf / Nov 10 2011 3:00 pm

    Thank you so much for honoring me with your award! Your recipe for Greens and Bulgur Gratin looks delicious. I love that combo. Last weekend I ate the Sausage and Kale Tart again, yum!

    • Cate / Nov 11 2011 8:46 am

      Hi Karen – You’re very welcome! Great to hear from you 🙂

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