Category Archives: Kate

Taking Stock

By Kate

Once upon a time I was a food writer. I was writing for Freedom Farms magazine and it was a rich and rewarding experience. I was working with a sustainable farming operation that I deeply believed in, I was able to drive out of the city and ride tractors and climb hay bales and get my boots muddy on a regular basis, and my children had the chance to spend time on a farm. Each month I listened to Lisa King, mother of ten children and incredibly talented cook, explain her philosophy of creating simple, nourishing, and unbelievably great tasting meals.

At the same time, I was struggling to balance my writing and my own household. I was regularly hyperventilating over a deadline about a farm fresh meal while tossing cold hot dogs to my own children, who were constantly in the midst of tearing the house to pieces. Eventually I had to take stock of my life, and to step back from writing and shift my focus to doing different work that allowed us to create a different, deeper family rhythm. (Literally, because we started a family band, but that’s a different story.)

It took years for me to begin to put into place the lessons I learned from Lisa King. At the heart of the message was to keep food preparation simple. Farm fresh, seasonal ingredients. One pot meals. Meal plans that please an entire household and automatically yield leftovers that do the same. Like so many seemingly simple things, the simplicity is deceptive in that it is refined by years of hard won experience.

Today I am making chicken stock. The simple recipe flows from the heart of the meal plan I’ve developed over the past few years. Once a week I roast a chicken. After it is carved and served and cooled, I save the entire carcass and the juice by placing it in a gallon size freezer bag, and sticking it into the freezer. I don’t roast chickens or make soup often in the summer, but now that the autumn frost and cold and flu season has arrived, I’m pulling out those frozen bags and turning them into stock.

Sometimes there is a great deal of meat left on it and sometimes it is almost picked bare, which is really the only thing that determines whether I’m technically making stock or broth. Technically, stock is made with roasted and simmered bones, while broth is made with both bones and meat. In either case, the end result is a nutrient rich, immune boosting, culinary staple that can be used as a simple soup or as the base for soups, risotto, pasta, dumplings, and a wide variety of other recipes.

Here is the recipe for my simple chicken stock.

SIMPLE STOCK

You will need:

-Chicken Carcass

-1 Onion

-6 cloves Garlic

-1 Celery Heart

-1 bunch Green Onion

-1 Ginger Root

-1 tsp Apple Cider Vinegar

-1 tsp Salt

-1 tsp Pepper

I use a crock pot because it allows me to simmer the stock slowly and safely without being tied to the stove all day. In the crock pot I place a chicken carcass, generally frozen and straight out of the freezer. (Keep the gallon bag handy, you can use it again to store and freeze stock!)

Roughly chop 1 onion, 6 cloves of garlic, and 1 celery heart.

img_20181023_085610501

Grate 1 knuckle of ginger root and slice green onions.

img_20181023_090157265

Add to crock pot, along with 1 tsp of apple cider vinegar, 1 tsp of salt, and 1 tsp of black pepper.

img_20181023_091408112

Add water to 2 inches below top of crock pot. Bring to a boil and stir. Check intermittently for pieces of skin, which will rise to surface. Remove and discard. After boiling mixture for ½ hour, lower heat and simmer for an additional 4-6 hours. At this point, pour the mixture through a metal colander. Discard all of the solids and allow the liquid to cool.

Store in an airtight container. Homemade chicken stock will keep for several days in the refrigerator. Depending on the size of the batch, I generally freeze some in freezer bags to use at a later date.

Stock serving suggestions: I like to drink broth for a light midday meal. I add red pepper flakes, thyme from my garden, and garlic powder. Some of my kids really enjoy homemade bread dipped into plain, heated chicken stock- but some of them will only eat chicken soup, which is another recipe for another day.

A Vagabond Song

In October I leave home, headed home. Seven hundred and forty one and a half miles lie between my yellow brick house on a hill in this city and the white farmhouse which still holds my roots and my heart. In October the leaves begin turn to flame and in the dark before the dawn I load my children into the van and set off, bound on a vagabond journey back to where I began.

As we drive across the green rolling hills of Ohio as they begin to turn golden, we read this poem:

There is something in the autumn that is native to my blood-

Touch of manner, hint of mood;

And my heart is like a rhyme,

With the yellow and the crimson and the purple keeping time.

 

The scarlet of the maples can shake me like a cry

Of bugles going by.

And my lonely spirit thrills

To see the smoke of asters like a frost upon the hills.

 

There is something in October sets the gypsy blood astir;

We must rise and follow her,

When from every hill of flame

She calls and calls each vagabond by name.

-Carman Bliss 1861-1929

IMG_20181009_141125832

 

 

 

Where the Wild Things Are

by Kate

Growing up, I was a wild child. All nine of us were fairly savage, often found barefoot in trees with uncombed hair, and it would be fair to say that we were a bit uncouth. My mother often said that her goal was to raise children who were free, and in that she most definitely succeeded. So have her free children, as they make their way into the world. Somehow the time we spent running wild though woods and pastures and the pages of a thousand books formed thoughtful, articulate, and hardworking adults.

I often think about raising free children, ideally with brushed and braided hair and decent table manners. So far, I am excelling at the freedom part, with a pretty spotty hair brushing record and a plan to implement better table manners very, very soon. My husband suggests that I learn some first, and I suspect he may be right.

Of course, unlike my parents, I do not live on a high ridge falling into a woods and a valley, with a huge willow sheltering a junkyard crick. I live in the heart of a city and glimpse skyscrapers through a canopy of branches. But I do live in a city of hills, ravines, and rivers, and when I have trouble breathing remembering the free feeling of running through the back pastures and hills of home, I head out to find the wildness hidden only minutes from my front door.

Outstretched arms and muddy hands and feet are not off limits for city children.

river girl pittsburgh

And a river anywhere is full of wildness and cannot be tamed. Ours is a gift full of mystery and wonder- along with some industrial debris, Canadian geese, and pairs of hungry ducks.

river adventure

I am working out a theory that the most important thing is not living in the city or the country, but to open the eyes of your children to the wonder and the wildness of the world around them…

city walk

wherever that might be.

For here we are, and here we shall remain, looking for the wild places and trying to tame the tangles in our hair.

kate stapleton sweet ridge sisters

Frank’s House

by Kate

This is the story of a man named Frank, a man who was generous and gentle and kind and possessed an extraordinary collection of fine ties. This is Frank’s birthday week. Frank’s birthday fell just before St. Patrick’s Day. I always thought this fitting for this man who loved to celebrate life with good food and song and conversation, a man whose blue Polish eyes welled up with tears at the sound of an old ballad. Four years on St. Patrick’s Day I put my tiny baby Olympia in a sling and hauled my harp across the gravel driveway and up the steps into Frank’s home and played a private concert for him as a birthday present. He wasn’t well, had battled heart trouble and cancer and lung problems for years, but he cried at all the ballads and laughed at all my jokes and somehow from his battered leather armchair he made me feel like the much more important artists he had hosted in his early days, when he was a dashing young bachelor managing the Stanley Theater in downtown Pittsburgh, the theater that would later become the Benedum.

Frank and his wife Catherine loved Olympia. They married late in life, well into their 50’s and 60’s.They met when Catherine moved in with her aging mother two doors down from the home Frank had shared with his mother, and somehow Frank the eternal bachelor was finally induced to take the plunge into matrimony. Of course, they had no children of their own. We met Frank and Catherine in a miraculous manner just before Olympia was born. We were living in an apartment above a loud and smoky bar and our baby was due in two and a half months. A chance meeting led us to tour the house they had for rent just behind theirs, with two bedrooms and a washer and dryer and a huge yard with space for a garden and a clothesline. It was a perfect home for newlyweds and a new baby. The new baby was a great source of delight for Frank and Catherine, who were delighted to have the unexpected chance to act as Grandparents after all.

Olympia was a constant presence and joy for Frank in the last year and a half of his life, as his health declined. When he died, I stood with Catherine beside his bed, holding his hand. Olympia slept quietly in the sling while Frank’s wife and I sang Old Man River one more time, told stories, laughed a little and cried a little more as his life slipped away. It was a quiet passing and a peaceful one. A few days later Frank was buried on a high windy hill while a long bagpipe keened a haunting and beautiful lament, but his great generosity has remained a powerful force in our lives.

First of all, there are the ties. The hundreds of designer ties and finely woven, sharply cut collection of dress shirts and suit coats and overcoats too. At six five, my husband couldn’t quite fit into this finery, so at Catherine’s request, the bulk of his collection was delivered to the farmhouse at Sweet Ridge Farm and distributed there to all the men in the family, from my father down to my youngest brother James. These days, weddings, holidays, and formal gatherings of any sort guarantee that Frank’s finery will be sported by one if not all of the Slattery men.

For my family here in Pittsburgh, ties are the tip of the iceberg. Last August, Casey and I bought Frank’s house. For fifty years, Frank lived in a stately yellow brick house high up on a hill, overlooking the hundred year old trees of Arsenal Park and through them the glimmering skyline of downtown Pittsburgh and beyond that Mount Washington, the Incline, and the famous Bayer sign. It’s a beautiful house, but it had been cut up into apartments and after Frank’s devoted (and very business savvy) mother died, it was quite the bachelor pad. Frank lived on the second floor, and his devout and good tempered but untidy hoarder friend occupied the first in a dark, dingy warren full of dusty heaps of books and high unsteady piles of videocassettes, DVDs, and CDs.

Frank always wanted us to have his house. He thought it would be a perfect place to raise a family, something that for one reason or another had never happened in the hundred year history of the house. He loved the idea of Olympia growing up in his home, but when Casey and I stopped in to check the house out we were overwhelmed by the vast size of the place, the filth of the first floor, the pink tiles of the 1950 time capsule kitchen, the amount of money it would take to buy and renovate the house and the amount of work that needed to be done. Once and then twice we looked at Frank’s house, then literally ran down the hill to our safe, solid, 950 square foot apartment and there we stayed, perfectly content until the day suddenly arrived when our cozy little home seemed far too small for a growing family with a legacy of great height and wildly enthusiastic movements. After long months of conversation with Catherine and many requests for aid and counsel sent heavenward to Frank, we took a deep breath and worked out a deal to purchase Frank’s house.

This February in the icy wind and driving snow, exactly four years after moving into the perfect little house behind Frank and Catherine under the same conditions, we moved a block and a half up the street and into a different world. Frank’s house is a strong, sturdy, and stately home. It’s a lifetime kind of home- a place to settle into and live from.

frank's house

This house is a comfort and a joy, and I can’t express the gratitude I feel for the fact that we were able to move in here.

Both Casey and I believe that Frank was directly involved. I know that he would be glad that we are here- and in fact, Olympia has inherited his room and the antique bed his mother purchased for him long ago.

This is a hundred year old house, but instead of ghosts I believe it is full of the communion of saints. I am daily reminded that our stories continue long after we are gone, that death is not the end of life, and that love lives on beyond the grave.

Happy birthday, Frank. Thanks for giving us a new beginning.

Change

by Kate

Tonight my sister is leaving on a midnight train. She’ll leave the bright city lights far behind and head for the hills of home. After two weeks in the city she’s ready to see her horse and her apartment tucked into the corner of a barn and to gather her arms full of nieces and nephews and to experience some blessed solitude under Wisconsin skies.

wisconsin ranching

She’ll be back though. She has to. I’ve got a magazine to write, and I need her to help me do it. My sister is a farmer and she belongs to the land of southwestern Wisconsin in a deep and abiding way, but November has come and soon a blanket of snow will cover her fields. This gives her the freedom to pack up her ancient yet impeccable 4Runner and head to Pittsburgh for the winter.

I hope it will be exhilarating. I know it will be terrifying.

Change is hard. I know this. I’ve moved across the country alone more than once in the past, and the culture shock of a different place can be overwhelming. The city is different than the country. One state is different from another. Perhaps most importantly, when one grows up in a large loud family with a culture all it’s own and then steps outside its boisterous confines, the silence can be deafening. It’s startling to have time and space and silence in which to define the self as a separate entity outside the clan.

It will be challenging for my sister to spend time on her own here in the city, and yet of course she is not entirely alone. I am here too. There is still a sister to explore the city with, to fight with, to drink wine with, to tend the children of. I am alternately sweetly encouraging and bossily berating in my attempts to support Mary in her move, and she is returning the favor as she attempts to make some order in my home. My life is very full, and so is my laundry bin. In fact, when Mary arrived there was less of a bin, and more of a vast all encompassing heap. My days often consist of a breathless rush between farmers and sequined dancing and elderly ladies, all with two extremely energetic young children in tow. Mary waded into the chaos and ruthlessly cleaned and culled and created order. Change is hard. Sisters are good. Mary’s house cleaning was painful and necessary and in the end it was freeing. I hope that her winter in the city will be too.

 

Wild Places

by Kate

My sister Mary loves her horse.

portrait of mary and horse by nicole slattery

 

She loves our family, and the big white farmhouse high on a ridge where we grew up.

slattery farmhouse sweet ridge farm

She loves sunlight.

autumn horse back ride sweet ridge sisters

She loves solitude and silence.

nicole slattery photography portrait horse wisconsin

These pictures were taken a week ago by my lovely and talented sister in law Nicole, as Mary soaked up some of the last autumn sunlight in Wisconsin before boarding a train to the big city of Pittsburgh. The light of autumn is pouring down upon this city too, but the buildings are packed together and reach toward the sky, and the traffic roars down city streets.

pittsburgh cathedral saint paul

For my solitude and silence loving farm girl sister, it’s a bit of an adjustment- even with an enthusiastic city bred niece ready and willing to show her how to embrace the world of the city.

carnegie library trees pittsburgh

I’ve worked hard to raise my daughter as a confident city child who is equally comfortable running wild in the country.

running the hay bales

I know that Mary will never be a city girl, and I wouldn’t want her to be. But it is my hope that during her stay here (no matter how long or how brief) she can find in this stone city the wild places she needs to feed her soul.

morning glories and a castle pittsburgh

Whereabouts

by Kate

This morning felt like fall. The air was chilly, the leaves scarlet and swirling down against a grey sky, and the park was full of small children in brightly colored sweaters.

autumn arsenal park

It’s been a long hot entry into autumn here in Pittsburgh, but this morning it was clear that the seasons have shifted. I am adding extra blankets to the beds, drinking more coffee in the morning, taking more time to curl up on the couch and read to the kids while across the street an avenue of trees blaze into fiery color. There may even be more time to blog. Somehow this is preferable to other time consuming possibilities, including but not limited to catching up with the laundry. The laundry situation has hurtled out of control here in my home. Browsing through the photographic record of the past month or two, I begin to see why.

Life has been a bit of a roller coaster ride. There was samba dancing at Kennywood Amusement Park.

kennywood samba dancer

There was the addition of a brand new chicken coop and three elderly laying hens to our urban backyard, bringing a sweet peace to my farmgirl soul.

urban chicken coop pittsburgh pa

Speaking of farming, I’ve spent a lot of time with a camera around my neck…

farmer's market northside pittsburgh

at the farmer’s market and way out in the country, taking notes and photographing the Farm Kings for their new magazine, which you should head right over and subscribe to. They’ve been shooting the new season of their reality show, which makes things particularly interesting in their neck of the woods.

farm kings behind the scenes

The day of the Farm Kings tomato field shoot, I sprinted across those hay bales to get some shots, jumped down, drove back into town, and got all gussied up in red lipstick and rhinestones to play the harp…

rhinestones and red lipstick

for a spectacular, high society style Downton Abbey fundraiser at the WQED Studios here in Pittsburgh. It was pretty stunning.

downton abbey fundraiser WQED

Watching young ballerinas from the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre rehearse quietly before the madding crowds arrived, dripping with jewels and sophistication, was one of my favorite moments of the night.

pittsburgh ballet theatre school

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to dance myself at a huge party comprising the entire Cultural District of downtown Pittsburgh, to welcome the Giant Rubber Duck to the city.

Pittsburgh Downtown big rubber duck sunset

It was a fantastic evening. The kids got to have a dance party in Katz plaza and see one of the largest Rubber Ducks in the whole wide world, and I got to work with some truly lovely women on a bellydance flash mob, and also had an excuse to wear bright red harem pants in public.

harem pants style downtown urban chic

Here in my own neighborhood, I had the privilege of spending an afternoon in my neighbor’s sunlit garden, playing the harp for the Lawrenceville House Tour.

pittsburgh harpist kate stapleton

I am both exhausted and exhilarated by the various gigs I’ve had in the past few months, but it is possible that the most tiring thing I did was go on vacation for three days, with four women and six (small! loud!) children. Here is a picture of the sweet peace and sunlight that actually eluded us for the entire three days we spent laughing and snorting, occasionally crying, staying up far too late, and shivering because those were the only FRIGID three days of the entire fall. Holy cow was it cold.

lake trip rowboat

Also? I am shockingly inept with a rowboat. It was still great though. And I saw Lake Erie, and heard the thunder of waves upon the sandy shore.

lake erie

Back in Pittsburgh, there have been impromptu picnics….

pittsburgh picnic pirate's umbrella

many wagon rides…

wagon ride

and a lot of walks.

out for a walk

Back in the park with the leaves swirling down, something about the change in the season makes me realize I am ready to sit down on my wooden stool and spend a bit more of my time here, on this blog. Come on over- you may just find me here. And then maybe, just maybe, I’ll get started on that laundry.