Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Let There Be Light

We woke up to yet more rain today--and a rain gauge topped to overfilling at 5".

But now the rain has stop and there is light in a still overcast sky, the brightest its been for days and days.

Just in time for Easter . . .

The Joy of a Scale Victory!

Yay! Losing almost 3 lbs this week, I totaled a loss of more than 5% of my original body weight!!!! (and yes, I left the kids in bed and rushed there early to weigh in this morning before school because of appointments and holidays on my other meeting days). I am so excited . . . and definitely need this as we head into yet another feasting holiday.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Start Your Wheat Berries!

I don't know where I first saw the project of growing your own Easter grass--I know it involved wheat berries and a bucket and that it was easy to do quickly. So I just bought the wheat berries and now can't find the magazine with the project instructions. So, thank heavens for the internet because I have found numerous sites with the instructions, which are, basically:

  1. Get a container, potting soil (or just plain dirt), plastic wrap, and wheat berries (which are at our local health food store).
  2. Fill the container with potting soil and completely cover with wheat berries.
  3. Water.
  4. Cover with plastic wrap and keep warm.
  5. Check moisture each morning; water if necessary.
  6. Remove plastic wrap when grass begins to grow and place in sunny spot.
  7. Trim grass with scissors if necessary.
  8. Decorate container for Easter.
I'll let you know how it goes. We'll start tomorrow and hopefully have something by the weekend. Maybe.

Our Gang

Just as an op ed appeared about "recess coaches" and the loss of childhood not only in the U.S. but in many industrialized nations, our kids have been rediscovering, with the thawing of the weather, the neighborhood kids down the block. These kids are mostly older--mostly late elementary but with one kindergartener and one preschooler--and have grown up together, gone to the same school, carpooled, shared meals, had sleepovers. It's a wonderful group of about 12 boys and girls. And it reminds me a lot of the group of kids I ran with, playing ball in the street or "Little House on the Prairie" and Star Wars in the yard, putting on plays, sharing carpooling or later bike rides to and from school, our families having weekend parties; I even think we vacationed with a few of the families at the beach once or twice. It was one of those idyllic childhoods, the kind we wanted for our kids.

But my kids are mostly on the outside fringe of this gang, not only because we live around the corner but also because the they don't have older siblings as an entre or go to the same schools as the younger ones. Not that they've ever been excluded: these are the kids who took Sis and Bud snow sledding this winter. And everytime Sis and Bud appear down the street, they are welcomed and included. Last week, it was an invitation to join the other boys and girls climbing around the rocks of the nearby creek. Then there was a game of basketball, some rides on a scooter, and always lots of jumping on the trampoline. Sis and Bud are always a bit hesitant but the older kids always help them out, by holding their hands as they traversed the rocks of the creek, by giving them a turn with the basketball or scooter. Sis and Bud, in turn, have shared their tricycles, which intrigued the older kids one afternoon because the trikes are so small (nostalgia in elementary school?) and also brought over their flying discs for a game of toss.

You can tell, though, that Sis and Bud aren't perfectly comfortable yet. First, I'm the only parent hanging around, the others inside trusting their kids to both behave and watch their younger siblings (besides, these are parents with older kids, much more experienced in this, not as "helicoptering"). Though, I try not to get involved unless it's a safety question (like when the older kids wanted to climb through the storm drain tunnel last week). Second, my kids just don't know these kids as well, and vice versa, so that my kiddos are a bit reserved and shy, unsure, despite the encouragement from all sides. In the end, Sis and Bud need to learn to navigate the gang by themselves. As Elkind writes in that article,

For children in past eras, participating in the culture of childhood was a socializing process. They learned to settle their own quarrels, to make and break their own rules, and to respect the rights of others. They learned that friends could be mean as well as kind, and that life was not always fair.

Now that most children no longer participate in this free-form experience — play dates arranged by parents are no substitute — their peer socialization has suffered. One tangible result of this lack of socialization is the increase in bullying, teasing and discrimination that we see in all too many of our schools.

And so, we keep an eye on when the older kids are in their yard, an ear to their laughs and squeals, now that it's warm enough to play outside for extended periods, and we head down the street to play. Once I get them to the group, I sit on the steps and try to disappear, not quite ready to join the other parents inside--the kids aren't the only ones getting used to this.

Just think of this idyllic (and idealized) childhood as the human version of "Franklin" or "Little Bear": the friends have great adventures together, learning about themselves, each other, and the world around them; no parents appear unless there is a crisis, which is then always easily fixed; and they don't watch television! Because you can't have a childhood through tv. And with schools dropping recess for academics and kids spending 7 hours or whatever a day by themselves in front of various electronic media, having even some traditional childhood is more important than ever.

(For the parents, too!)

It's Still Raining

And not just a soft spring pitter pat but this amazing torrential downpour of sheeting rain. While our basement isn't in need of a sump pump yet, there is water soaking in through the side basement door because the (sad excuse for a) driveway pools right there. The kids are handling, what is it now, full day 2 indoors with aplomb, playing Brother Bear earlier this morning and then switching to knights.

At least we're not trying to look for eggs in this mess.

And, again, at least you don't have to shovel rain!

Tidbits

Yesterday at school, the teachers explained to the kids that they will be gathering gently used books to give away to kids who don't have any books. One girl said they had a lot of old books at home that they could give away. But my kids said, "We have a lot of books. But we read them ALL!" Surely amid the hundreds and hundreds of books, we can find a few to part with. Or, we'll just go to the store . . .

-=-=-=-=-=-

Another book tidbit: apparently, they were reading Madeline in school and ours were the only kids who identified the Eiffel Tower. I wonder what kindergarten goal that meets?

-=-=-=-=-=-

And today, we have been watching it rain and rain and rain. Just now, when a flood warning beeped across the tv, if it was flooding here. Or in Venice. Well, Sis, it is starting to look like Venice outside.

-=-=-=-=-=-

And I didn't want to raise precocious children. . . .

(Though, the preschool teacher calls them "worldly!")

Monday, March 29, 2010

Rain, Rain

We're expecting 4.5 inches today.

At least you don't have to shovel rain, a preschool parent noted about our March weather optimistically.

True enough.

Busy weekend--Mama at her college friend's memorial service Saturday, our visit to Babysitter's restaurant, church, our first whole family visit to my favorite vegetarian restaurant, a trip to the bookstore, lots of drawing and reading--leading up to an even busier holiday week, with Mama off on Friday. I ran errands during preschool instead of making all phone calls, sending all the emails, and writing all the posts I have in mind. Got the oil changed, found out the battery was dying, and so had that replaced as well (and was inspired by reading the current Shambhala Sun while I waited) and ran more errands. Made soup lunch and reheated homemade rolls on this dark and stormy Monday. Meanwhile, thinking of all the steps in the various recipes for Saturday's family Easter dinner, and when I need to get started, from quiche crust to jello, etc etc etc.

Now, it's time for me to go draw some dragons and Easter Bunnies.

More on it all later.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

A Shout-Out to Cousin S

. . . and many thanks for the story and the recipe! I'll definitely post about my first attempts at making your French bread, which is now top on my list.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Rise Up: Embracing the Bread

Unitarian Universalists (UUs) across the continent are expanding Earth Day’s 40th anniversaryon April 22, 2010 to last 40days, from Sunday April 18 to Thursday May 27. How? By committing to small and large daily actions over the 40 days, for the sake of the Earth and all who live here. Some UUs are even taking small lifestyle changes for 40-day “test drives,” knowing that our personal choices affect many aspects of global environmental justice.

And I'll be making bread. Not just for fun occasionally with the kids. But all of our family's bread--sandwich bread, cinnamon raisin bread for toast, rolls, any buns we need, also any pie crusts and all baked goods like baked doughnuts and quick breads and cookies and cakes for celebrations (pretty much the only thing with wheat that I will not be responsible for is pasta! And maybe tortillas . . . ). No knead, hand-kneaded, bread machine, whatever it takes. For 40 days.

And I'm really excited. First, because I've considered being our sole bread provider (that's literal, not figurative!). I mean, it's so easy to make bread in my machine and it's so much better for us--who needs all that HFCS and preservatives in bread that never seems to rot? And the baking of homemade bread smells so good! Second, of course because I love to bake, especially with the kids, even if it is just putting ingredients in my bread machine and watching it do the work (I am not, obviously, a snot about bread machines, though I'll be trying it the traditional way too). Third, I'd like to expand my skills. I've had some successes with bread, like last Easter's braided cardamom loaf (oops, confession: that dough was started in the machine). But also some major failures, like Rev. M's bread gone bad (I talked with her about it; she's flummoxed but thinks it must have been a yeast-proof problem. So, Rev. M, I mean, I know you're busy and all with your wedding, but would you like to come bake bread sometime?! Even after the 40 days . . . ). And fourth, there are some recipes I want to master. Like pie crust. How come I'm scared of pie crust? And I want to try Bloodroot's oatmeal and seed bread, which I love. And I have a Dutch oven to do the no-knead recipes in. And I want to find a wheat bread that is good tasting and good for us so we're not just eating (divine) cakey white bread (because, another Pollan food rule states "the whiter the bread, the quicker you're dead!"). And I'm going to figure out how Bertucci's makes those rolls, which long ago replaced Olive Garden breadsticks as my restaurant bread of choice.

Now, luckily, we don't eat a ton of bread as it is. So one loaf a week (freezing half after it cools to thaw later in the week--homemade bread just doesn't last--in more ways than one! I like mine with butter and marmalade; Sis prefers honey or apple butter; Bud likes honey or strawberry jam; Mama will eat all of the above!), plus usually another baked good, is all we're really talking about. Though, I'm guessing that those of you who live near me will benefit from this project as I will unload family extras--our freezer just isn't big enough to house it all. And I'd hate to waste it.

It was a proverbial sign from heaven as I was sitting in my minister's office talking about church school and Passover that I spotted two pamphlets on UU breadmaking rituals (more on that in a later post)! I mean, really, bread and spirituality have gone hand in hand for millennia. What better way to celebrate the earth and ethical eating and church (especially for a very Lent-like 40 days)? And then today, Whole Foods had featured on the end of an aisle the new King Arthur Flour's organic bread flour. So I bought a bag, no doubt my first of many.

Keep an eye out for future posts, under the "Rise Up" title. And send any bread recipes you think I should try.

Whole Food

We have a new favorite apple: Cameos, available at our Whole Foods and grown organically in Washington. We ate three yesterday and went back to WF this morning for more, 14 more. That's just one apple a day per child for a week, none for the adults, which looks like a lot but is only 1/5 of the produce they need for a week, if you think about it that way. Which is why we also bought strawberries and grapefruit, another new favorite of Bud's.

Yep, we're trying to eat our colors, to encourage fruits and vegetables (though, I haven't successfully explained that brown is not exactly what I'm aiming for. Maybe it should be "eat a rainbow."). And to try to eat whole food. But how do you explain that concept to a preschooler? We play a game: guess where it came from. If they can name where a food came from, picture it in their heads, then it's probably a whole, natural food. If they can't, it's not "bad"--there are no bad foods in our house (and we don't talk about diets or losing weight or negative body images; I go to my "food class" but they only know it's about learning more about healthy eating, which essentially it is, even if it's called Weight Watchers)--just something we don't want to eat a lot of. And it really works. They can picture apple trees and strawberry bushes but not a cupcake tree. Though, this backfires sometimes because they know how to bake and can tell me what goes into a cupcake, i.e. flour, from wheat, which is a plant! Same with ice cream . . . from milk from cows!! And Sis completely understands that chocolate starts out as a bean. So, we're working on "treat treats as treats." Which doesn't go over nearly as well. Especially, when, well . . . . see below.

Anyway, we went to WF today and bought those apples and other fruits, some yellow split peas to make soup (after an incredible soup I had at Bloodroot for their anniversary dinner on Wednesday; more on that later), and then they wanted to find the samples lady who gave them juice last week. This time, however, the freebie was pie: lemon almond pie. This was incredible. It was like a traditional lemon bar (but thicker and not translucent like lemon meringue pie) in a pie crust with this almond-topped not exactly crust layer similar to how my buttermilk pie bakes up. And it was amazing. We all thought so. But no way it will keep until next week for Easter. And they aren't sure how many they'll have in stock. And weren't sure if it'd freeze. But, well, I splurged--lemons grow on trees, right? and crust is made from wheat, which is a plant!--and bought a pie anyway. I figure I'll send some to Ma and Gong via Mama tomorrow when she goes to the memorial service of her college friend and joins them for a meal (you'll love this pie) and then keep some for us and for sharing at church on Sunday. That should give me just enough exposure to it to figure out how to make it myself! Which is another Pollan rule (right up there with the colors and "where does it come from" and treats): if you want fast food (as the rule goes, I'm expanding it to treats), make it yourself. Because you won't as often.

Or at least that's what the rule implies . . . .

A Pox on Us

The kids almost didn't go to school this morning. At breakfast, Sis showed us her itchy belly covered in 10+ red spots, like ant bites. Oh, goodness--with the recent fever, could this be chicken pox? I had it, what, 3 1/2 decades ago, and can't recall the progression. So we looked on various trustworthy medical sites: Fever? Check. Red spots? Check. Itchy? Check. No school. But we did page the doctor just to be sure and to see what to do next. Which is when she called back, humoring us. Apparently the spots arise during the fever, are extremely itchy (Sis's weren't), start on the face, and spread like wildfire. This wasn't that. And so the doctor thinks it's some kind of contact dermatitis or other kind of contact rash, especially because her last temp was Monday (5 days ago) and said they were okay to go to school. Which is exactly where they were about 15 minutes later . . . .

Mind Like a Sieve

So we're at the store yesterday shopping for items to go in the Easter basket of a young boy living in a shelter whom we had chosen through church to give to. And the kids were doing really well picking Easter treats and other toys for him, including our new, all-time favorite flying disk (which Bud spent yesterday afternoon almost landing on the roof! Not the boy's, Bud and Sis got one too). But they did keep pointing things out that they would like and wanted to take home and I kept saying, "No, I'm not buying you a _____ (insert chocolate bunny, chocolate gold posts toy, bunny stickers, whatever). The Easter Bunny does your shopping." (which, by the way, struck me as ridiculous as soon as I said it--do we imagine that the Bunny goes to the store?). Then it hit me. I'm the Easter Bunny. And Easter is just about a week away. I'm going to need to do some shopping. (Hi kids! If you're reading this in 5 years time, I hope you already know this already. :|) For their baskets. For Easter dinner. For the whole shebang. Pronto.

So just guess where I was this morning as soon as I dropped them off at school?!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Stitch-N-Smile

I'm renaming our church's craft club, at least for this blog, since I need to get out of calling it by its real name in case one of the kiddos inquires what exactly a bitch is. But there was more smiling than bitching at the get together last night, where several knitters, crocheters, and one cross-stitcher gathered to ply our crafts. I've just started work on a new prayer shawl in bold somewhat autumnal colors (Gommie said they would be great), for a kind woman who has made many things for the kids and needs some love and prayers right now. Hopefully, it doesn't take me until the colors are again in season to finish the thing!

Scale Victory!

Yeah, I hit another magical number! Still aiming for that 5% though. And then 10% . . . . You know what they say about Rome.

Even better, there was an asparagus recipe in the little booklet we now get at every WW meeting (which, being a paper-hoarder and recipe hound thrills me to no end. It's one reason I go every week, which I'm sure is half the point). I've been craving asparagus for about 3 months (at least since planning the Christmas menu) but avoiding all of the ones in the store because they have traveled more food miles to get here than I have in my life! But pretty soon there's going to be local asparagus! (and by that I mean local from this continent! And eventually from my region . . . . ) I can't wait. Send on those asparagus recipes . . . .

Lastly, I'm very excited about the possibility that chain restaurants will be required to provide nutritional information by the new health care bill (a la the law in NYC, which really does make you think twice about buying that scone!)--so many do it selectively or not at all, which makes it hard to plan ahead. And you know the calories/fat are worse than you can possibly imagine, which is why we try not to eat out (operative word is "try" because the whole family loves eating out and chains are often more kid-friendly that local places, though I'm not sure why). I just want to know what goes into those Bertucci's rolls!

Tidbits

(Okay, so I should quit adding to this post, but this is too funny). While preparing chocolate cherry clam shell tarts, the young chefs in my yard uncovered an ancient Chinese terracotta warrior in the sandbox. Sensing their true callings, they have abandoned the restaurant business and have founded the "Museum of History, which has, you know, old stuff from a long time ago." They also found a white rock, most likely of "ritual significance" (my term, not theirs), that has been enshrined on the museum's shelf. They are now archaeologists (a word I'm proud they know without asking; "artifact," too!) digging in the dirt under the swings in hopes of finding more artifacts.

-=-=-=-=-=-

I'm waiting for the Tavern in the Yard to open, as the two chefs busily prepare their seasonal offerings. Featured on the menu today: "cherries," which have fallen in great numbers from our great silver maple. I can't wait 'til they open.

-=-=-=-=-=-

They were both standing on the swings in our yard, helmets on (they love to leave on their bike helmets when playing in the yard after tricycling; I am not a crazy safety mom). They swung back and forth. And I said they look like ships' figureheads. But they didn't know what those were so I explained that they were sculpted figures at the head of a ship that sailors believed protected them from danger. And so the kids embraced and explored the idea: "Mom, can figureheads do this? Can they go back and forth? Do they kneel?" We talked about how ships almost literally fly through the water, with figureheads soaring above the surf. And I'll show them pictures (and later the collection at Mystic Seaport), but for now, they're sailing around Cape Horn, I think . . . .

-=-=-=-=-=-

Bud has a new shirt with the tail of a whale on it. Sis has one too. But she thought she should have the whale's head so they could stand next to each other and make a whole whale.

-=-=-=-=-=-

Currently, they love tire swings. They like to sit on the top, hang in the middle, stand in the middle, spin around, swing back and forth, you name it, they do it. Except we don't have tire swings at home, only at school. Too bad this tire swing love didn't start before I had to get all new tires for the van!

-=-=-=-=-=-

For our last snow (I think), Bud said the snow was like a big blanket.

Sis said it was like thick frosting.

-=-=-=-=-=-

Two for One

I was so excited to see Joan Nathan's article about the Iranian Passover seders in the NYTimes this week. First, I love reading the recipes for Seders (as well as the High Holy Days in the fall) because I am fascinated by such an intact and strong albeit very diverse food culture (recognizing now, since reading Pollan and Kingsolver, that this might be because we don't have much of a traditional "American" food culture remaining). Secondly, and this is much more recent, I have such a better understanding of the history of the region and why there would be Jews in Persia beginning 2500 years ago. Besides, who could pass up Almond Cake with Cardamom and Pistachio? Encapsulating my thoughts on exploring other food cultures in an article on pomegranate molasses, John Willoughby writes "we’re going to exercise a little benign culinary imperialism, appropriating ingredients and adding them to our larder. No one gets hurt, and dinner becomes more interesting."

Off to School

Yes, they're off to school. Both of them. Though Sis was exhausted and grumpy yesterday, a fever never materialized. And she is happy this morning, which means she gets to go to school, about which she is very happy. There for a bit I thought Bud might be coming down with it too but I think he was just hitting a slump. He's happy this morning as well. Which of course means I'm happy, because often the opposite of the cliche is true: when everyone is happy, Mommy is happy.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Veggie Love


Okay, I think I might have gone round the bend: I've become obsessed with vegetables. I used to laugh at my friend "Church Miss L" when she said the same thing, but I can now see how it happens. I'm getting ready for spring produce appearing in the grocery stores and even more importantly to CSA season. And I'm literally dreaming of vegetables. Sure, I'm a vegetarian and one would think that implied veggie-love, but, no, you can definitely exist as a vegetarian on pastas and grains and beans and dairy. I did that the first year. But now, entering my third year as a vegetarian, and having been introduced to good produce through the farm and to ethical eating through Pollan and Kingsolver et al, I can't get enough vegetables (and fruits, I should say). Which will probably strike my mom as funny, being that I look back on what I wouldn't eat as a child and the list is legion, most of it the colors of the rainbow (I did like broccoli, as long as it had some cheese, and some greens and green beans but only very cooked, and of course corn and peas--and I liked limas!!--but never lettuce or tomatoes or carrots or peppers or mushrooms or zucchini or eggplant, much less all the vegetables like leeks and kohlrabi, which I've only recently discovered). And now I can't get enough. I'm even planning my vegetable-season strategy, which includes planning my new, bigger garden in back (after we pull out a huge invasive burning bush) as well as sorting interesting recipes by main vegetable ingredient in advance--so soon, you'll see an asparagus post, dandelion greens, garlic scapes, whatever (soon is relative). And because it's me, it goes without saying that I'm obsessively hording vegetable recipes.

Which is why I thought of this tonight. Because I was at a craft club meeting at church--more on that tomorrow because it is really late (and then only if both kids go to school which seems iffy right now)--and the people working on the service auction were there. And there was this gift box of books called The Vegetable Box, which was organized by different vegetables and contained different little recipes books for each vegetable. Heaven help me (and thank goodness I'm a UU), I coveted my neighbor's recipes. So I offered the auction organizers a check there and then and I got it for much less than it sells online right now. It's a cute little set and the recipes seem eclectic, as the writer has Scottish, French, Spanish, and Italian influences. And maybe the quirky box will get the kids more interested in cooking with vegetables too.

Come on, vegetables!

Thanks, Y'all!

Mercy, I must usually be perky on this blog or else that last post was excessively negative because people came out of the woodwork to wish us well.

Thanks to Lambeth, for his cheering international call and dose of perspective.

Thanks to Mama Teacher, for calling first thing to see how Sis was.

Thanks to Gommie, because, even though we didn't pick up, entrenched in blanket castles, we were glad to know you called.

We have transformed the entire living room into some kind of medieval village, with two huge castles made of couches, tables, pillows, blankets, and heavy books. And we had an early lunch of their favorite dumplings, a whole cantaloupe, and ice cream. Both activities have contributed to our improved moods. Even Mama sounded better on the phone just now, when I called to tell her that the upsetting kindergarten rumors were unfounded. And the cats have gone to sleep for the day.

Thank you!


Grumpy

The kids are grumpy, both tired of Sis being sick.

Mama is grumpy from too much to do and too much on her mind.

I'm grumpy from all of the above plus my own stuff, such as worrying about kindergarten.

Even the cats are grumping about various things.

Everyone wants something else and no one is getting it.

You would've thought we all would've learned by now . . . .

(And what is it we're to have learned? In NVC, that I choose grumpiness as a reaction to unmet needs; I don't have to be grumpy. Or in Zen Buddhism, as I understand it, letting go of our attachment of what "should" be and living what we have. I know it, but I have a lot to learn.)

Monday, March 22, 2010

Eating for Easter

Thinking on my Easter menu, which will probably be served Saturday with family is here:
  • deviled eggs
  • dip with veggies or chips or both (hummus? salsa?) or a baked brie?
  • ham
  • homemade rolls
  • macaroni and cheese (probably from a box, as the kids reject my fancy stuff)
  • green salad or green bean casserole or both
  • asparagus? brussel sprouts? some other vegetable?
  • noodle kugel or quiche or frittatta--something with eggs
  • orange monkey bread or other orange-ish dessert (well, that's what I'd want; doubt it will be anything other than strawberry jello and brownies, though not together)
Though, re-reading 2009 (I can't find any recipes or menus from 2008!!??) gives me lots of other good ideas.

Keypers

I couldn't figure out where my keys were.

Bud and I had left Sis and Mama at the ped's and gotten home about 15 minutes earlier. So, my keys--the ones with my car keys--could only be lost at home.

Bud had wanted to play outside, to chase around the purple balloon that was tied to the velcro on his tennis shoes. And he had me chase him around trying to catch the balloon. It was then I transferred my keys from my right, swatting hand, to my left hand around the ring finger.

But now we were in the backyard on the deck and the keys were gone. Had I put them down to tighten the laces on my shoes? No. Had I put them on the porch when I fetched my phone? No. Had I put them down when I relocated the Texas windsock on the laundry line? No.

Gone.

I told Bud he could have all the change in my purse if he found my keys. As he raced around, I called Mama to tell her not to go fill any prescriptions they might get but to call me first. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Not in the grass, not in the car, not on the deck, not on the porch. No keys.

Mama showed up; she and Sis, with her own pink balloon tied to the velcro of her tennis shoes, joined the search. Though, Sis didn't think it was fair that I give all my change to the finder. "You won't have any money, Mom." Soon, Mama handed me a keyring, wisely devoid of keys, and had me retrace my steps. The kids watched, enthralled. I put my purse and our tote on the porch. I chased Bud around the yard. I tightened the laces on my shoes. I pretended to move the windsock on the laundry line.

"No, really do it." And so I hauled in the windsock.

And there, caught in the strings attaching it to the laundry line, were my keys, dangling above the yard.

None of us could believe it, both that I found my keys and that retracing my steps really worked.

"But who gets the money, Mom?" Sis queried.

And so I let them split it.

But I should've given the coins to Mama, who wisely entoned, "Tracing your steps works if you actually retrace all your steps."

Inconclusive

The doctor's visit revealed that Sis's temp was 102 and that she had neither an ear infection or tonsilitis. As strep is going around, she endured the dreaded throat culture (as did the doctor, nurse, and Mama it took to restrain her--our appointment was late, late in the day and Mama came to meet us), which was negative. At least the quick one was, so we'll await the lab one. Sis has perked up with more Tylenol and then dinner. Now, we're headed to bed, though Mama has headed back out, for a preschool meeting about kindergarten. Not sure what we'll do about school on Wednesday, but I'm guessing the fever will be back tomorrow making the decision for me.

Too Soon

I spoke too soon--Sis isn't feverless anymore and I'm on hold with the doctor's office to see if we can check ears and throat. Poor thing, the older she gets, the more miserable she is when these fevers hit. She's even refusing her usual comforts of a bubble bath or television.

One is a Lovely Number

The kids split up today: Sis at home, feverless but still officially sick for another 24 hours since her last fever, and Bud at school, with no signs that he was going to be ill. This was a first for all of us. In the beginning, Bud was heavily resistant, wanting to stay home, while Sis was packing his snack for him and locating his jacket! But apparently, at school, Bud settled right in and never asked about Sis or expressed any discomfort or sadness at her absence. In other words, he was just fine. She wasn't, though. She spent a lot of time wondering what he was doing, if he would make her a picture or bring home extra craft project supplies for her. She wanted to buy him a snack at the coffee shop and even insisted we make him a treat. So we went to the store for Strawberry Bread makings, clearly his favorite and not hers (though, she got a chocolate bar, some bubble bath, and two spring dresses). That said, we still managed to have a fine morning, reading several Curious George books, cuddling on the couch, plus baking bread and talking on the phone. But she thought it was over too soon. It always is.

Then we picked him up--and he did have extra craft project supplies for her (well, he'd forgotten but I asked and they gladly obliged)--and headed for lunch. Eating "crunchy chips," we all shared the details of our day (though the exact identity of the strawberry bread was not revealed, only that we made a treat) and drew "The Great Green Room" from the puppet show yesterday.

Sibling rivalry resumed when we got home--was her fever back? was she tired from the morning? was she just tired of him after a taste of singlehood? There were tears and complaints that he wasn't playing with her the way she wanted. No compromise in sight. So, we're taking a quick tv break, to ease them back into twindom . . . .

Feeling Thankful

Sure, spring just started on Saturday, but now I am really looking forward to Thanksgiving!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Epiphany

I was lying in the bathtub, flat on the bottom, perfectly content. And I suddenly realized something (else) about my body: the new diagnosis of lordosis, or flat upper back/straight spine where it should curve, explains why I sit bolt upright in any car seat (almost at a right angle), am comfortable in church pews (as long as I have a cushion to sit on), and am never comfortable in "supportive" curved chairs like recliners or airplane seats or stadium seating in theaters.

Who knew?

Now, if I could only figure out why I just can't be comfortable in denim, even if the jeans fit.

Non-Scale Victory

I bought summer shirts this weekend, realizing I was too warm on these spring days in my turtlenecks and having nothing leftover from last summer that would do (it's amazing how stained my clothes get!). And the shirts were a size smaller than last year! Now, they're a tad tighter than I like, but then I know I wear my clothes too lose most of the time anyway. And I'm hoping they won't be tight for long. Because I'm really aiming for a scale victory in the next few weeks: 5% of my body weight gone! Keeping positive, trying to keep on track.

Get Well Soon!

Sending get well wishes to Mama Teacher's son CJ, who sprained his foot on a trampoline today. Hope you're running around again soon!

(I should also mention that Mama Teacher's brother and his SIL, his wife's sister, have had some trauma this week and need our virtual wishes as well. It's some kind of awful family hat trick.)

Weekend Update


This isn't everything and I've forgotten the cute tidbits from the last several days that I try so hard to record. But it'll have to do.
  • Saturday: After our big school picture, we all headed to a book sale, where the kids got to choose 5 books each (luckily, Mama and I had no such limit!). Sis got several Clifford the Big Red Dog books (he's one of her favorites, in books and in tv); Bud got a variety of non-fiction, on knights, pirates, and space. Then we went to look for a new mattress for our bed, believing that to be no small contributing factor to recent aches and pains. The kids were great, though we did notice Sis sinking--after testing at all the beds in the beginning, she eventually just curled up on one and sniffed Shirt. Yep, sick. Tylenol and lunch revived her a bit but then we headed home for the rest of the day.
  • Sunday: Sis still has a fever and so we shortened our plans for today, keeping only the main one: a puppet show based on Margaret Wise Brown's Runaway Bunny and Goodnight Moon (see some video here). It was amazing! The first section was done with rod and table-top puppets of the bunnies, recreating almost exactly the mood and look of the book. I think we all liked the bunny-as-bird section just because watching the bunny flap his wings and fly was amazing! The second section was done in black light, with the puppeteers, whom I found fascinating to watch, even donning face masks. The room was the Great Green Room, but come to life--with a huge cow jumping over the moon, the bear escaping from the frame to play with the bunny, and other imaginary happenings. And the "quiet old lady who was whispering hush" was not as odd as in the book--she even played with the red balloon! By this point, Bud kept asking if we could make the entire scene and all the puppets when we got home! (Luckily, it was a "no-shushing" show!) Though, during the question and answer period--during which he wanted to ask to see the flying bunny again and was disappointed not to be called on--they mentioned that each puppet takes a month to make out, with 7 people helping! Sis was entranced but probably not feeling well enough to enjoy herself totally, though she clutched Amy the Bunny the whole time (and Bud had Meg, who is now a boy bunny). Afterwards, we came straight home.
  • Monday: they won't be going to school so I won't be going for coffee. We'll probably be going to the pediatrician instead to check on strep or ear infection.
  • Stay tuned for the rest of the week . . . .

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Guess What

Sis has a fever, hit her mid-morning, while we were shopping for a new mattress. 101.9. And she's fairly miserable and tired. Ear infection? Strep? Tonsilitis? There are no symptoms, just the fever. Which means we're in sick-kid mode over here now.

Time Off

Just a quick post to say it's been a busy few days and it will be a busy few more, all good.
  • Thursday: Ma came for a visit during her own spring break--she and the kids had fun with fairy houses and then we all went to a Thai lunch. Mama registered the kids for kindergarten (yes, it's true; I didn't help). I went to my PT eval and can bend 17.5 cm to my right but only 10 cm to my left. That night, Mama and I went out to dinner with friends.
  • Friday: a usual school day plus a trip to the Whole Foods for yummy things. Then, I had a Mom's Night Out with friends--recipes for Chocolate Monkey Bread and whatever Mama Teacher calls those yummy veggie triangles soon!
  • Saturday: full school pic in just a few minutes, then family errands.
  • Sunday: morning consultation with tree guy about some clean up then another family outing
  • Monday: coffee with a church friend and that night a school meeting about kindergarten
  • Tuesday: a church meeting
  • Wednesday: restaurant outing with friends
-=-=-=-=-=-

Chocolate Monkey Bread

2 rolls store-bought buttermilk biscuits (or homemade bread dough)
1/2 cup white sugar
1 tablespoon cocoa
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup brown sugar

Preheat oven to 350F. Spray Bundt or similar pan with cooking spray.

Combine sugar, cinnamon, and cocoa in a large zipper bag or bowl. Cut buttermilk biscuits into quarters. Shake or toss biscuit quarters in the sugar-cinnamon-cocoa mixture. Distribute them evenly in Bundt pan. Sprinkle evenly with chocolate chips (note: you can also try to stuff 1-3 chips in each quarter of dough. But this is time consuming. The chips don't burn and the bread is not messy if you just sprinkle, especially if you do one layer of dough and then chips and then dough and then chips again).

Melt butter and brown sugar on stovetop or in microwave. Pour over dough in Bundt pan.

Bake approximately 30 minutes or until dough is puffy and brown--check for doughy, uncooked bits and continue cooking in 5 minute increments until done. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes. Turn out onto serving plate. Pull apart to eat.

Mommy Hungry

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Mama Teacher's Veggie Triangles
**my guess at her recipe with her edits in red!

1 roll refrigerator crescent roll dough
sour cream
mozzarella cheese
red/yellow/orange pepper, in tiny slivers
broccoli florets, also cut very small (were these precooked?) - no not precooked - just cut very small
were there little bits of carrot? - no

I used red/orange pepper and broccoli - in the past i have used all different colors of peppers and broccoli
Preheat oven to 350F?? yes

Unroll crescent dough, tear into premarked triangles, and cut into thirds or quarters. Spread lightly with sour cream and sprinkle with cheese. Place bits of vegetables on top.
I try and get 4 - 5 out of each triangle - depending on my crowd - i like to have some big pieces and some little pieces.

You need to bake the triangles just until lightly brown - let triangles cool slightly then spread sour cream on top - again depends on my crowd as to how much i use - but it really takes so little *** i have also made them using cream cheese instead of sour cream.

Put veggies on top of sour cream then sprinkle with cheese ***i liked your idea of Mont. jack cheese - might be good

Bake until cheese melts

Mama Teacher

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Cutting O' the Green

Happy St. Patrick's Day to ya!

We've got "Riverdance" on in the background and are wearing our green shirts (well, two of the four of us are. Sis and I don't have any green!). Now we're cutting out green shamrocks to decorate the house. Plus corned beef dinner, soda bread, maybe colcannon and watching of the NYC St. Patrick's Day parade, and we'll have celebrated in fine style!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Quiche. Crepes. Frittatas. Oh, My!

We had Dutch Baby Pancakes last night for dinner and, as we were devouring them with a side of skillet apples and some scrambled eggs, it occurred to me that the kids would probably like other eggy, breakfast-like foods for dinner. Like quiche, crepes, and frittatas. It helps that the first two are French, which automatically have the imprimatur of the sainted Mme. M, of pain au chocolat fame. Besides, Sis was excited to hear that quiche has crust, like pot pie. And I can add vegetables to taste, which is a big plus. And at least for the crepes, we can make sweet or savory ones, to please both kids. A side of fresh fruit or a salad, and we have dinner!

Only downside: I don't have road-tested recipes for any of those and there are hundreds to choose from. So, if you have a relatively-simple favorite recipe for any or all, please send it along to me either via comments or email.

Bon appetit!

Diabetes Research

For everyone I know who follows the science of diabetes, check out these two:

  • Good news: a new drug--an inexBulleted Listpensive anti-inflammatory--has amazing sugar and heart effects and might open up a whole new understanding of diabetes.
  • Bad news: three different diabetes treatments actually might cause more problems, particularly with the heart.

Tip O' The Day

Inspired by my cousin S's tip about opening foil-sealed container on the edge of the counter, I have a few tips:
  • To clean a vase or other narrow-necked container: forget those fancy brushes! Just add some uncooked rice, water, and soap and then swirl around.
  • To remove smells in the fridge, put a bag of activated charcoal, which can be purchased wherever fish tank supplies are sold (i.e. Petco), in there. Stays fresh for a long time.
  • To pick up lots of bits of paper off the floor without a special vacuum or dust machine, roll a piece of tape, sticky side out, around your hand. Kids love it!
  • To keep cooking spray from getting everywhere when you spray a pan or tray, open up the (presumably empty or dirty) dishwasher and spray over the door. It'll be cleaned when you wash it next.
  • To clean the dishwasher of crud (which can form when you aren't using petroleum-based toxic cleaners), put 2-3 packets of lemon Kool-Aid (the unsweetened small packets) in the soap dispenser and run the empty dishwasher on a normal cycle.
I know there were others, but that's it for now.

Midnight Musings

A long coughing fit 45 minutes ago has left me wide awake, despite throat spray and cough drops and water. In sympathy, Sis woke up coughing too, but a fresh cup of water has sent her back to slumber. At least my coughing finally abated, with the help of a spoonful of honey. I have it right here in case the cough comes back. I shouldn't complain, though, as coughing is always the last phase of my colds, meaning I should feel much better, even if a little tired, tomorrow.

And so I'm up, listening to Mama breathe and the cats snore, while I read about an ancient cemetery in the Tarim Basin (ah, another Central Asian-Silk Road connection I wouldn't have understand a month ago) that is full of phallic and vulva symbols because the people celebrated procreation (I kid you not). And about a lovely turn-of-the-20th century apartment and its genteel owners. I'm definitely avoiding reading the AP wire about the sick tigers in the Chinese zoo and won't even link there. I don't want to know, especially at this hour. Ugh, I just came across an article on teenagers with cancer. I think I'm going back to sleep.

Monday, March 15, 2010

In the Paper


Plus more on the Femivore's Dilemma in a later post so be sure to read it (to catch up, also see here and here)!

And apropos of this very blog, an article and then a Motherlode explosion and follow-up, all about the commercialization and professionalization of the "mommy blog." I'll comment here later.

Needs, Me, and NVC

(Mercy, I write all this and it sounds just like some kind of New-Age cult. But it clarifies my thinking, even if it doesn't sound clear at all. And so I write this mainly for my own edification. For past, perhaps more explanatory posts, see here and here and here and here).


I had thought I would spend this very rainy Saturday with the kids while Mama worked from dawn to dusk on an important project; instead, her project was postponed and I got to attend the NVC workshop I'd organized.

While the parts were exhausting (from set up and clean up to my head cold and sitting for 8+ hours), the sum was exhilerating. Not only did I learn more of the approach of NVC, I did some difficult personal work on communication and connection--let's leave it at there is a person with whom I know I don't communicate well and I would like to try again, with improved skills that will allow for, I'm hoping, a better connection between us. In fact, it would be hard to adequately summarize the effects of the day, so I'll focus on outlining what I learned.
  • Honest expression, or Observation/Feeling/Need/Request (OFNR), is the core of NVC as I understand it. Practicing these honest expressions is at the heart of many of the workshops I've attended (this was my 5th). But this time, we did the NVC dance--pieces of paper labeled with the steps and we moved between them bodily as we considered a communication issue we were having. Funny that such physical movement would change the way you conceive of and construct an honest expression, but it allowed me to more fully clarify what I was considering. Then, the workshop leader added a question at the front--"Intention to Connect?"--which urged us to consider, very basically, what our intentions were in even considering an honest expression. And there I sat wondering if I really even had an intention to connect, if I really wanted to improve things. When the answer was yes, I could more clearly proceed. Then, our small group leader removed the "O," realizing that we were all getting bogged down in pinpointing an observation that precipitated our need to connect. This also freed me up from cataloging things and allowed me to get to the heart of the matter without any burdens or baggage. Confused yet? Just go with it . . . .
  • Then we went through several other exercises--considering a trigger (an interaction that, in this case, provokes difficult emotions), providing empathy for ourselves in response to the trigger, providing empathy for the other person (so that we consider the other side)--and mind you this is all imagined--that allowed us to consider ways to communicate and the feelings that might arise in advance (or, even if we never, ever had these conversations, to explore our needs and feelings).
  • This all lead to a new concept for me, "honoring the beauty of the need." This is basically the idea that having needs, even those that are unmet, attests to something beautiful in the human condition. Let's say I have the need for community that is unmet, meaning I haven't managed to connect with a group of friends. Regardless, the fact that I desire to participate in a group for mutual friendship and support says something positive about me and I should celebrate that, even if I'm having trouble satisfying that need. Does that make sense?
  • Anger as an ally: what makes you angry? (oooh, non-NVC alert: nothing makes us feel some way; we are triggered and choose are feelings and responses). Look carefully at what when you get angry and you will most likely see a need that is unmet (this is similar to jackal voice of blame and judgment pointing you to a need. This leads to "make friends with your jackal--jackals are just giraffes with a language problem!). This is particularly important because that curiosity about the unmet needs leads you away from the "blame game" of figuring out whose fault something is. I had thought I would spend the day parsing out small incidents with Mama that make me see red, but really, those are simple, because when I look at them, they all have one thing in common: I feel angry when I need support in my efforts of be a good mom and to keep the house in order. Which I've told her and she heard and accepted. But then we're strongly connected and communicate well. Challenge addressed.
  • Okay, more rhetoric: "emotions put us into motions for getting needs met"
  • And another, "meet one need, mourn the other." This is about regret, when you try to meet a need and are unsuccessful. Regret not only points you in a direction for meeting future needs (i.e. by alerting you to unsuccessful strategies but also to how much you need something) but also points you towards self-empathy when a need is not met.
  • Have to vs. choose to. Rosenberg, who founded NVC, has said that "should" is the most violent word in the English language (I have said elsewhere that I think "still" and "yet" are. But it's the same idea.) Basically, this is another core tenet of NVC: that you are responsible and have agency--no one makes you feel or do anything. You choose. Sure some of the choices are quite obvious (i.e. aren't "real" choices, like pulling your child away from running into the street), others have difficult consequences (like not paying taxes). But by recognizing that everything is a choice, you realize what your needs are, your priorities. Like, let's say I moan about "having" to make dinner. I don't "have" to make dinner. Someone else could or I could buy it. But perhaps I am committed to making dinner, perhaps I "choose" to make dinner, even when I don't really want to, because I value my contribution to the family or my need for healthy foods or saving money. Then the burden of making dinner isn't foisted upon me but is my choice. So choose and enjoy your choice. Let go of regret, move from resentment to acceptance. Your energy will change.
  • On "street giraffe" or how to take all this awkward-sounding, New-Age cult language and make it sound normal to people unfamiliar with or suspicious about NVC: words are just a strategy. Once you understand the ideas, you can use other lingo, like for "need" use "it's important," "meaningful," "value," "wish/hope for," "care about" or for feelings use "what's going on" or just "you are ____." For "would you be willing to tell me what you heard me say/how you feel about what I said" try "how does that sit with you?" or "what comes up for you?"
  • Finally, for gratitude, which is how we end every session (after starting the session with introductions focused on "what's alive for you?"): "thank you" is like "I'm sorry" in NVC and is seen as not an effective communication strategy, in the sense that if you just say "thank you" (or "I'm sorry") in many instances, you aren't explaining how you feel. So instead, you work through OFNR again to express gratitude, really outlining how we were affected. Take my "thank you" email to our organizers, which basically said "I feel so happy about the workshop because it met my needs for community and learning." It's much more constructive, and even meaningful, than "thanks a lot."
Despite the rain, we all enjoyed the community of connection we created in our mutual goal of learning. This was enhanced by the food, the majority of which was made by my friend Rev. M (the soups I brought weren't such a success and I didn't get a chance to bake this time). She believes in the power of good food to complement and reinforce a learning experience (and I would add, any occasion), to nourish the body and soul thereby creating a sense of community and connection. Certainly, it is a highpoint of the day, if also because by not actively engaging in NVC practice we are able to assess and absorb what we've learned. But then, for me, the whole day was a highpoint.

-=-=-=-=-=
Dried Cherry and Almond Muffins

¾ cup milk
3 Tablespoons milk
½ cup dried sour cherries
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch ground ginger
½ stick (4 Tablespoons) unsalted butter, cur into small pieces
1 ½ cup all-purpose flour
½ cup sugar
2 teaspoons double-acting baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
1 lg egg, beaten lightly
1/3 cup slivered blanched almonds

In a small saucepan whisk together ¾ cup milk, cherries, cinnamon, and ginger. Simmer the mixture for 2 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in the butter, stirring until melted. Let the mixture cool.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Into the cherry mixture whisk the egg, almonds, and the 3 Tablespoons of milk. Pour the wet mixture over the dry mixture. Stir the batter until just combined.

Spoon the batter into a buttered 1/3 cup muffin tin, filling them ¾ full. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes, or until they are golden and springy to the touch. Let the muffins cool for five minutes. Turn them out onto a rack.

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Cream of Celery Soup

4 cups celery, 1” chunks
3 cups potatoes, 1” chunks
4 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup celery, very finely minced
1 cup onion, minced
¼ teaspoon celery seed
¼ teaspoon salt
3 Tablespoons butter
1 cup milk
¼ cup or more sour cream or heavy cream
(white) pepper to taste

Bring chuncked celery, potatoes, water, and 1 teaspoon of salt to a boil in a saucepan. Cook, covered until soft. Puree in blender. Transfer to soup pot.

Saute minced onion with ¼ teaspoon salt until translucent. Add minced celery and celery seed. Saute until tender. Add to the puree in the soup pot.

Whisk milk, heavy cream or sour cream into soup about ten minutes before serving. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Do not cook the soup—just heat to serve.

-=-=-=-=-=-

Lentil Soup with Spinach, Tomatoes, and Cumin, Vegetarian
(Makes about 6 servings, recipe slightly adapted from The Sugar Solution Cookbook.)

1 T olive oil
1 1/2 tsp cumin seeds (not ground)
1 large onion, chopped small
4 cloves garlic, minced (about 1 T minced garlic)
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
fresh ground black pepper to taste
1 tsp. paprika
1 1/2 cups brown lentils
4 cans vegetable broth or water (about 7 cups, original recipe called for 5 cups water)
(could probably substitute chicken stock if you don't have vegetable broth)
1 can (14.5 oz.) diced tomatoes with juice (I use Muir Glen organic canned tomatoes)
2 cups chopped spinach (tightly packed)
salt to taste (I didn't use any salt since I used canned vegetable broth)

Put olive oil and cumin seeds in large heavy dutch oven and cook over medium heat until fragrant and starting to pop, about 3 minutes. (Stir a few times so they don't burn.) Stir in onion, minced garlic, ground coriander, and black pepper and cook, stirring frequently, until onions are softened, about 4 minutes. Stir in the paprika and cook about 1 minute more.

Add lentils and vegetable broth, reduce heat, and simmer uncovered about 30-40 minutes, or until lentils are quite tender.

Add diced tomatoes and juice and chopped spinach and simmer uncovered 20-30 more minutes, until soup ingredients are well blended and lentils are starting to break apart. Season to taste with salt and serve hot.

This printable recipe from KalynsKitchen.com.

Vale

It is with sadness that I received an email just now announcing that one of my college professors, a man who brought humor--sometimes quite scatological, the grosser the better--to the study of the Roman Empire, has passed away after a brief illness. I took numerous courses with this Oxford-educated man, whose delightful Nottingham accent was so entrancing to my young Texan ears (once first asking if anyone spoke it, he said of Welsh "that it was an absolutely beastly language." Lambeth, I think he was the first Brit I had ever met. You would have really liked him.), but most importantly traveled with him to Tunisia, as part of a team of archaeologists, and excavated a Roman bathhouse in Carthage. My memories of that trip--at the dig site, at the team house especially at our large shared lunch around the big table on the porch, and traveling around the country most notably to Dougga where he gave us a tour of the "breadbasket of the Roman Empire"--as well as all of our classes and Classical Studies department activities, are permeated with thoughts of his pink cherubic face (maybe not an angel, but I thought of him as some kind of mischeivious elf because he was shorter than I am), white beard, easy laugh, entrancing tales both historical and modern, and wicked tongue.

Requiescat in pace, Magister.

Beans, Glorious Beans

One of my treats this weekend, of which there were two (the other was my NVC workshop, about which I have yet to write, needing more time than I've found to do so), was attending a bean-cooking class at my favorite vegetarian restaurant, Bloodroot. As you know, I love beans. And so, when the restaurant-owner kept telling me about her new fabulous olla de barros, clay bean pot from Mexico, I knew I had to try it.

So yesterday found me in the restaurant kitchen (which was rather like entering a shrine to me) watching her prepare several varieties of heirloom beans: Good Mother Stallard, Dutch Bullets, and Yellow Indian Woman (Lena Cisco's Bird Egg beans are some of her favorites but she was out of those. She gets her beans from Rancho Gordo, from which I have ordered beans that I really like, or Iowa Seed Savers, which I'll try too!). And they were all outstanding, either straight up or refried. Some tips I learned from the class:

  • She puts salt in the soaking liquid, which breaks a cardinal rule not to salt beans until they are almost done. But she read about it in Cook's Illustrated and believes it not only doesn't affect the texture of the bean but gives them a lot more flavor. So, I'll be trying that next time.
  • Also, she only makes a bit at a time, instead of a whole pound like me. I figure if you're going to make beans, do them all and freeze them. She thinks that messes up the texture (which I've never noticed). But it might solve my lack of freezer space problem if I do, say, a half pound of beans at a time, especially because I'm usually the only one eating them.
  • I noticed that she uses a ton more olive oil (a Greek kalamata oil) when she sautes the onions/carrot/celery than I ever would, which she says makes the beans more creamy. Well, I believe her but I can't eat the calories of that much oil, even if it is good for me, but I will try using a bit more than I do. And she sautes it longer on a lower heat than I usually do.
  • She cooks the beans in the soaking liquid, which I always had poured off. She says that when using heirloom beans that the soaking liquid doesn't get as funky as it might with less-fresh or bulk beans. Hmmmm. I'd also heard that pouring off the soaking liquid also reduces gas problems, but since I eat beans everyday, I don't have that problem much anymore. And it does give them more flavor.
  • Another bean tip: only add the acids--tomatoes, lime, lemon--at the end.
  • Also, watch to see if you need more water and never add cold water to cooking beans as it shocks them. Use warm or even boiling water.
  • Of course, being a restaurateur and cook, she uses more salt than I would at the end. But it was tasty!
  • It seemed to me, though it might not be true, that the beans cooked more quickly, maybe because of the olla, maybe because they were heirlooms.
  • She said you can add epazote or 1-2 avocado leaves to the beans for a different Mexican flavor, or try bay leaves for a Greek taste or even sage. I asked about Chinese or Asian bean recipes and she enlightened me by saying that most beans are new world food so you won't find them in Asian cooking so much, beyond mung or maybe fava.
  • She also recommends the Rancho Gordo cookbook Heirloom Beans, both for general information and recipes. I have it but only just got the heirloom beans and haven't tried any recipes beyond the basic. She also has Paula Wolfert's book on clay pot cooking (though there are only a few vegetarian recipes).
  • She rounded out the meal with guacamole (with broiled tomatillos) and pico de gallo, from recipes from the Mexican Grocer, and altogether it was a scrumptious meal. Plus tortillas warmed on the griddle and tortilla chips made from triangles of tortilla baked until crisp in an oven with grapeseed oil and kosher salt drizzled on top.
I can't tell if the olla produced better beans because a). it's a great pot or b). they were great beans to begin with or even c). someone else made them, but of course I bought one, along with two packets of Good Mother Stallards. I need to season it with some advance soaking but imagine I'll be eating beans tomorrow night!

-=-=-=-=-=-

Basic Beans in a Clay Pot

Soak 1-3 cups of beans overnight.

Chop 1 carrot, 1 onion, and 1 stalk of celery fine. Add a seeded jalapeno, if you like. Saute in the olla in a few tablespoons of olive oil. Stir occasionally until vegetables are soft and beginning to brown. Add beans and their soaking water. Raise heat so that the beans are bubbling, then lower heat, cover and let cook for 1-3 hours. Taste beans for doneness. Add salt to taste.

Bloodroot
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Refried Beans

Use a small frying pan to dry toast 1 teaspoon whole cumin seed and 1/2 teaspoon whole anise seed over low heat until fragrant. Immediately add 3 tablespoons olive oil, half of a chopped onion, 2 sliced garlic cloves and half a minced jalapeno. Saute until softened. Add a ladle or two of cooked beans and their liquid. Use a potato masher to mash coarsely. Taste for salt. Tuck into a warmed tortilla for breakfast!

Bloodroot

Ditto

The "bad DST" sucked even more this morning when, a few minutes passed 8 a.m., I had to wake the kids up to start getting ready for school--only the first time this school year that I've had to do that! (They are usually awake hours before we need to go). They whined and curled up into little balls, bleary-eyed with wanting more sleep. I think it's just going to be one of those kinds of days. But at least they got to go to school with Mama, who was the "parent participant" today for a special activity at school--the aquarium people were visiting with animals in tow. Should be lots of fun, until Mama has to go back to work.

As for me, I had a wonderful 2-hour coffee break with my dear friend Mama Teacher, whose school is closed today because of weather damage across the district. We caught up after several weeks of just email. That, plus what seems to be the diminishing of my cold (helped along by my most wonderful Neti Pot--I won't gross you out with the details except to say that I can breathe again after a very stuffy night.), started my day off wonderfully.

Smiling Eyes

Sure, it's not officially St. Patrick's Day yet, but we're not really sticklers for strict observance of holidays, ours or other people's. And while there is no Irish blood in our household, our Chinese-German-French-English-Scottish-Welsh eyes have been smiling. So, this weekend, we found Ireland on a map, talked about Irish things the kids could identify (this was a very short list of shamrocks and Riverdance. I have never read How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill), listened to bagpipe music (which then confused Bud to no end so that now he thinks the Irish are Scottish!), and ate typical holiday fare, mainly Corned Beef dinner with potatoes, carrots, and cabbage and Irish soda bread (alas, no colcannon, though I have the ingredients to make it later this week). And they loved it! Mama even had to go back to the store to get a bigger piece of corned beef, as the kids devoured it and begged for more (iron deficiencies? beef-deprived? hungry from the time change?). We made four little Irish soda breads because, mainly, I don't like caraway seeds in mine and Bud wanted dried berries instead of raisins and Sis wanted none of that and Mama wanted it all! But it worked well in doling out portions of who's who's. Most of which is all gone. So, there's still the long NYC parade to watch and the actual wearing o' the green (or else you'll get pinched, in my childhood's annual ritual) but for us the holiday has officially started.


Corned Beef
(I need to get the exact iteration of the recipe that Mama used, based on The Joy of Cooking.)

corned beef
water
6 large carrots, peeled and quartered
10 small onions, skinned and quartered
6 medium potatoes
1 head cabbage

Cover corned beef with water in large pot. Bring to boil. Reduce heat to simmer. Keep checking water level to make sure corned beef is covered. Cook approximately 1 hour per pound.

About 45 minutes before end of cooking time, put in carrots and onions.

About 30 minutes before end, put in potatoes. Check if meat is overcooked (it will start to fall apart); remove if necessary.

About 10-15 minutes before end, put in cabbage.

Note: Do not BOIL. Simmer only.

Finish cooking until vegetables reach desired tenderness.

Serve with yellow mustard.

Mama Hungry, via Joy of Cooking

-=-=-=-=-=-

Irish Soda Bread
We baked four different mini-loaves placed apart on a silpat-lined cookie sheet for about 40 minutes.

4 cups flour
½ cup sugar
3 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2-3 handfuls caraway seeds
1 cup raisins
2 cups milk
1 tablespoon melted butter

Generously grease a large iron skillet (or use a pizza stone). turn on oven to 350°F. Mix together dry ingredients. Add milk and butter. Bake 1 hour.
Note: You might need to add extra milk.

a friend of my MIL

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Colcannon
4 medium to large all-purpose potatoes, such as
Russet, peeled and cut into chunks
Coarse salt, for
boiling water
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 head dark curly kale, chopped
2 tablespoons butter
3/4 cup whole milk, eyeball it

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg, fresh or grated (I don’t
remember adding nutmeg)

1 teaspoon ground thyme
2 scallions, sliced
A handful of fresh parsley, chopped

Boil potatoes for 15 minutes in salted water. Drain
potatoes and return them to the hot pot and mash.

Heat stock or broth to a simmer. Chop kale tops,
discarding tough stems. Add kale to broth and cover.
Simmer 10 to 12 minutes.

In a large skillet over moderate heat melt butter and
add milk. Season with nutmeg and thyme and add
scallions to the pan. Remove kale from cooking liquid
to the milk and butter mixture using a slotted spoon.
Stir in 1/2 cup of cooking liquid. Add mashed potatoes
to milk and kale and stir until combined and creamy, 1
or 2 minutes. Stir in parsley and season with
salt and
pepper
, to taste.

(I also made a well on the top and added butter, just
in case you needed more butter ;)

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Time Changes Suck

It's 9 p.m. and my kids aren't even tucked in bed yet. The time change has thrown them off completely. And us too. Blah.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Light and Dry

Sending hopes for restored power and drier weather soon to my NVC friends (more on today's workshop later) today who are without power and near flooded roads.

Also, to my in-laws, who lost power as we were on the phone with them.

Of course, y'all won't know we're thinking of you until you get your power back!


Friday, March 12, 2010

Monkeying Around

We had a dinner party tonight with four of our regular playgroup friends (the ones who met on Mondays over the summer) coming over to keep us company because Mama was working late. Preparations started this morning before school when I put the minestrone in the slow cooker. Sis helped pour in the broth and stir things around. She was very concerned that I was going to do other cooking while she was at school but I told her that our friends were bringing the rest. She apparently talked about the dinner party--and the friends bringing everything else!--all through school (one of her classmates is in the playgroup with us). I'm just relieved she didn't invite the whole class!

When they got home, I had a surprise for them: I'd purchased a flat (i.e. not fluted) Bundt pan at the store, as well as fixings for Monkey Bread! Now, we'd never made the famous sugary-buttery pull-apart bread (which I now have discovered was probably made famous, and certainly perfected, by Texas's own Julia Child, Helen Corbitt, whose cookbook my mom once gave me), but we did have it at Mama Teacher's house once. And I thought it would be both a good rainy day activity and a nice treat for our friends.

And I was right on both counts: Sis and Bud loved rolling the quartered biscuit dough (alas, I did not make the dough from scratch. But I will next time) in the cinnamon-sugar and then especially enjoyed watching me pour the melted brown sugar-butter mixture on top of the dough balls. I mean, really, what's not to like? The bread was ready just as people showed up and we all tore into it right away. I think it was only the serving of dinner and the presentation of triple-chip cookies (more on that if I can get the recipe) that kept us from eating the whole thing.

Then one of the moms told me she had made monkey bread with apple slices. Which got me thinking, what else can you do with monkey bread? I immediately thought of my orange biscuit recipe, which could so easily be translated into pull-apart form. And so I went looking all over the internet for variations. And this is pretty much what I discovered: the exact dough recipes (when a variety of pre-made biscuit doughs aren't being used) vary some, as does the ratio of butter to sugar, but the result seems pretty much the same, and the add-ins are endless, from chocolate to apples to marmalade/other jams to bananas to blueberries to raisins/nuts to maple syrup, etc etc etc (plus the whole arena of savory breads, which interested me tonight not at all). I found whole wheat doughs, bread machine doughs, and a list of different pre-made biscuits far beyond the familiar Grands buttermilk. (For a variety of recipes, see Recipezaar or Allrecipes. For an intro, see the LATimes article).

And so, I imagine it's not the last you've heard of this monkey business.

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Mama Teacher's Monkey Bread

1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 cans (16.3 oz each) refrigerated buttermilk biscuits
1/2 cup chopped walnuts, if desired
1/2 cup raisins, if desired
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
3/4 cup butter or margarine, melted

1. Heat oven to 350°F. Lightly grease 12-cup fluted tube pan. 2. In large plastic food-storage bag, mix sugar and cinnamon. Separate dough into 16 biscuits; cut each into quarters. Shake in bag to coat. Arrange in pan, adding walnuts and raisins among the biscuit pieces. 3. Mix brown sugar and butter; pour over biscuit pieces. 4. Bake 28 to 32 minutes or until golden brown and no longer doughy in center. Cool in pan 10 minutes. Turn upside down onto serving plate; pull apart to serve. Serve warm.

Pillsbury website

Bake Sale!

Virtually support concerned NYC parents who are outraged by the city's ban on homemade baked goods for bake sales in favor of junk food like Pop Tarts and Dorritos: submit your favorite bake-sale recipe here. And keep checking the comments for more delicious recipes. I sent in Tex-Mex Chocolate Sheet Cake.

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Tex-Mex Chocolate Sheet Cake

This is super-popular (both in my home state of Texas, where it is a staple, and now transplanted here in CT) and cuts very easily into squares once it's cooled. Can be made without the nuts, as those are often banned at bake sales. Freezes beautifully. This particular recipe comes from my mom.

1 stick margarine or butter

1/2 cup vegetable oil

2-1oz. squares unsweetened chocolate or 6 tablespoons cocoa

1 cup water

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 cups sugar

1/2 cup buttermilk or sour milk (to sour regular milk, place 1 1/2 teaspoons white vinegar in 1/2 cups measure, fill with milk)

2 eggs, beaten

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350°F. Combine margarine, oil, chocolate and water in a saucepan and heat until chocolate is melted. Combine flour, baking soda, sugar, milk, eggs, cinnamon and vanilla in a large bowl, then blend with first mixture. Pour batter into a greased 12 x 18 sheet cake pan and bake 20-25 minutes or until cake is done (top springs back when touched lightly). Leave cake in pan and frost with icing while cake is still warm.

Icing

1 stick margarine or butter

2-1 oz. squares unsweetened chocolate (or 6 tablespoons cocoa plus 2 tablespoons

of margarine or butter)

6 tablespoons milk

1 lb. powdered sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

½ cup chopped pecans

Combine margarine, chocolate, and milk in a saucepan over medium-high heat until bubbles form around the edge. Remove from heat. Stir in powdered sugar, a little at a time (this is important). Stir in vanilla and pecans. Beat to a spreading consistency. Spread warm icing on warm cake.