The Comforts of Routine

Darcy Scott once again, coming to you on Arbor Day with a post that has nothing even remotely to do with trees. April is normally the time we begin readying our sailboat (read summer home) for her annual mid-May launch—a long month of cleaning, waxing, system repairs and upgrades, and all the provisioning necessary for a summer of cruising. All of which is officially on hold this year until we figure how Maine’s current stay-at-home order, with all its social distancing and attendant precautions, is going to play out for the state’s boating community. No use trying to live on the water, we figure, if all the services, boat yards and marinas are going to be closed, not to mention our favorite shops and restaurants. The thought of even writing about this grueling process (my original plan for this month’s MCW blog contribution) is far too depressing. Sooooo, I’m instead opting for a healthy serving of self-indulgence to mitigate my disappointment and hopefully ease some of what we’re all collectively going through.

Being officially retired from a career in all manner of business writing, I’m pretty much able to pursue whatever grabs my fancy. This is both a good thing and a bad thing. I’m a creature of habit, a lover of established routines (many of which were home-based long before Covid-19 came to call), and despite all the changes of late, I’m still a very busy lady between the research and writing of my next Maine Island Mystery, the phone/video conferencing relating to said pursuits, and keeping up with friends and family in the virtual sphere. 

I admit that by the end of that first disorienting week of forced at-home-ness, I was a bit out of control—serial-napping and binge-vacuuming as I struggled to get my bearings. After a week or so of this nonsense, culminating in several bizarre, hours-long “Words With Friends” benders, my normal routine was shot to hell. Get a grip, I remonstrated; learn to relax into it as I might, say, an extended sailing trip—embracing lots of time for creativity, cooking and deep contemplation, without the self-imposed feelings of guilt for not being constantly producing. In other words: Just. Slow. Down. It’s become my new mantra. Did I mention the cooking?

I’ve been at this long enough now to have settled into a newly pared-down routine that’s not half bad. Thought I’d invite you to my place for a look-see—take you through the highlights of my new normal, peppered with a couple recipes for my favorite comfort foods. After all, what’s more relaxing than having friends to your home for a hearty meal, if only virtually? So welcome!

The Nook

First up is breakfast, of course—something I admit I never really spent much time on, seeing it as nothing more than a necessary start to the rest of my day. But with all the recent changes, I find myself taking time to actually cook (see recipe for “Goggy’s Wicked Easy Homemade Waffles” below—Goggy being me), and then chilling for a half hour or so in a sunny corner of the kitchen my husband and I call “The Nook,” where comfort literally surrounds us in the form of thank you notes and birthday cards from the various grandchildren and great nieces/nephews who so joyously people our lives.

Goggy’s Wicked Easy Homemade Waffles

(Make the batter 12-24 hours beforehand to allow it to “breathe.”)

1 ¾ cup milk (whole, low-fat or skim)

8 Tbs. unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces

2 cups unbleached flour

1 Tbs. sugar

1 tsp. salt

1 ½ tsp. instant yeast

2 large eggs

1 tsp. vanilla extract

Heat milk and butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat until the butter is melted.  Cool mixture until warm to the touch. Meanwhile, whisk flour, sugar, salt and yeast in large bowl to combine. Gradually whisk warm milk/butter mixture into flour mixture until batter is smooth. In a small bowl, whisk eggs and vanilla until combined, then add to batter and whisk until incorporated. Scrape down sides of bowl with spatula, cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate 12- 24 hours before cooking.

If it’s a chilly morning, I might lay a fire after a second cuppa and settle in for a bit of a read—a calming ritual that sets me up for my daily hours of writing and research. I find it hard to sustain focus when I’m anxious (which seems to be most of the time these days), so I’ll take a two-mile walk up the road sometime before lunch to mentally process the morning’s work.

After lunch (more greatly relaxed meal prep), I’ll grab a quick, or maybe not so quick nap before going back to the writing, random bouts of housework, more reading, and hour-long stints in the garden. This takes me to around 5:00 when I call it a day and rollout the mat for a streaming yoga class, often as not taken in my pjs. 

Finally, no post about the pleasures of routine would be complete without an easy dinner recipe that’s both self-indulgent and ultra-flavorful, if not particularly good for you. Here’s one of our favorites, ultimate comfort-cum-pub-food perfect for that Zoom dinner party or a repast before the fire on a rainy night. Serve with a loaf of ciabatta bread sliced on the bias and grilled for dipping. 

Cheesy White Bean Tomato Bake

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

3 fat garlic cloves, thinly sliced

3 Tbs. tomato paste

2  15-ounce cans white beans

½ cup boiling water

Koasher salt and black pepper

1 cup grated mozzarella

1 loaf ciabatta bread, sliced on the bias and grilled

Heat oven to 475 degrees. In 10-inch ovenproof skillet, heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Fry the garlic until it’s lightly golden, about 1 minute. Sir in the tomato paste (being careful of spattering) and fry for 30 seconds, reducing the heat as needed to keep the garlic from burning.

Add the beans, water, and generous pinches of salt and pepper, stirring to combine. Sprinkle with the cheese and bake until the cheese has melted and browned in spots, 5 to 10 minutes. Serve at once, with the grilled bread on the side. Enjoy!

Darcy Scott (Winner, 2019 National Indie Excellence Award; Best Mystery, 2013 Indie Book Awards; Silver Award, 2013 Readers Favorite Book Awards; Bronze Prize, 2013 IPPY Awards) is a live-aboard sailor and experienced ocean cruiser with more than 20,000 blue water miles under her belt. For all her wandering, her summer home and favorite cruising grounds remain along the coast of Maine—the history and rugged beauty of its sparsely populated out-islands serving as inspiration for much of her fiction, including her popular Maine-based Island Mystery Series. Her debut novel, Hunter Huntress, was published in Britain in 2010.

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