Saturday, December 18, 2010

Easy Giving

My friend Laura wrote a post about my pumpkin rolls and about her personal canned food drive. For every comment left in that post, she's going to donate a can of food to our local food bank. With the terrible wind and low temps, utilities bill are going to rise and put even more of a squeeze on budgets. Leave a post and help stock the food bank for those in need!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Best Husband in the Whole Wide World

See- I promised you a shiny happy post!

I am married to, hands down, the best guy possible. Yes, he has his faults and during a certain phase of the moon I can enumerate them colorfully in three languages. But in the past 24 hours he has proven that mostly I'm a whiner. Except for that "doesn't listen to me thing"- that one is valid.

Last night in the wind storm, our roof started coming off. Apparently the guy who installed it didn't feel the need to use more than two screws per panel along the bottom edge and we're gusting to 75 here. So the metal roofing started to come loose at the bottom, blow up, and sheer off in places. In other places it just flapped up and down all night long. Who gets on clothes and goes out in the dark with a wind chill of 15 below zero to see what is happening? My hero. Who later today climbed a 30 foot ladder to install screws to prevent further destruction and another all-night thunder session? Same guy. Who then took Miss V to work (while I cooked supper without power) and then came home to figure out which battery in our stupid interconnected smoke alarms was causing them all to go off? Yes, him. To finally cement his super fantasticalness, he went back out to pick up both older girls because the car was out of the garage (power outages make automatic door openers very manual) and he was sparing me from the cold and the wind.

There was help today in the from our wonderful deacon who quietly takes excellent care of all of us (even from a snowcat on the hillside!) and Wilbur who brought the ladder and held it. Many thanks to you both.

I really can't ask much more for my daughters than that they find men like their father.

Failed Adoption

Warning: This is not a shiny happy post about Christmas cookies or Advent wreathes. I'll try to get to that next week when things are (hopefully) calmer.

So I mostly don't blog about kids and adoption and adoption issues. And even now, I'm not going to run through the litany of reasons why one of our adoptions has failed so totally. I'm just going to say right out here in public that it has. Debra Gray talks in Attaching In Adoption about adoptions that have failed but still exist in a legal sense. They are more common than you would ever dream. Most parents who have lived through it just don't talk about them. The kids grow up and move out, everyone is relieved, and questions from others are answered in vague ways. The kids find a series of new parents who are sure that they can succeed where others failed. The new parents judge the legal parents as selfish, cold hearted, and cruel. At least until they are in the position of finding themselves lied to, manipulated, stolen from, and generally used.  But when they start setting firm personal boundaries, it all blows up and a new set of kind strangers is found.

As miserable as the entire scenario is,  there is a great deal of relief when everyone finally calls a spade a spade and the pretending can stop. We're there. It's sad and yet, it's a gift. The freedom to look reality in the eye and just deal with it instead of maintaining a polite fiction and having every (supposedly) pleasant event in the cycle of the year overshadowed by guilt and ugliness is a bittersweet kind of joy and I am grateful for it.
I am grateful for the people who are currently and will in the future designate themselves substitute parents for the extremely damaged people with whom I'm unable to handle any relationship. I wish them all well- happiness, health, prosperity, salvation, a complete renewal and a joyful life. I just have to admit that they must have that life away from me and mine. One may forgive the person who harms without wanting them across the table every holiday. Some people can manage more but I'm not that special. I need to keep myself sane and healthy and fully functional to raise the kids for whom we are still responsible- and to protect those kids from negative influences or from being victimized.

If you know me (or the kids in question) and you just don't get it, consider reading some blogs where other parents have the courage to lay it all out there. Cindy  has been doing this longer and on a larger scale than I have and it's nice to know that I'm not the only one out there with PTSD- she's just nicer than I am.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Gobble Gobble

I survived Thanksgiving and it was much better than it might have been thanks to an invite from wonderful friends. HM and Miss V were both gone and it fell in the middle of what ended up being the longest weekend in the history of ever. (9 days people! and to think , I used to homeschool....) Good food, good company and pies...not to mention the Serbian Anarchist Raspberry Wine (not mine - no Serbs in the family). The previous year's vintage had been compared unfavorably to turpentine and I was one of only a few willing to try it.  " A fruity insolent bottle with hints of berry, watermelon, and lighter fluid" It was much improved by the addition of a little orange juice. Note to self: get this boozemaking thing down well before the apocalypse. The middle of a global collapse is no time to be without the makings for a smooth martini.

Yesterday I ventured out in search of a screaming deal on a fake tree. It eludes me still. I did pick up a couple sleds for T1 & T2 and fuggs for Este' plus the yarn for T1's much coveted pointy hat (T2's was completed last Sunday but the ice storm stood in the way of the acquisition of necessary supplies). After all that, I just couldn't face any more and we came home. Today we ventured out again for Volvo parts, skinny jeans, a hoodie, and a small costco run. The Volvo Doctor confirmed that I totally scored with my beloved 240 wagon- always gratifiying to have that sort of thing confirmed by an expert. He also liked my bumper stickers!

Having Miss V gone is kinda sad. I miss her face. However, she's having a wonderful time and I'm very glad of it.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Soaked Biscuits

sorry folks- no pictures. The camera is dead and a new one isn't in the budget this week.

Last week I rode out to the farm to show my friend Shelley the ropes of making the milk run for our cow share co-op. She's a biologist by training and shares my interest in nutrition and traditional foods. To be totally honest, I have resisted the whole soak-your-grains  thing. I tried it once, made bread like a door stop and went right back to grinding fresh and baking immediately. But on the ride Shelley told me about a guy who is a serious scientist and working on issues of the neurobiology of fat metabolism and other interesting and related stuff & convinced me that I should give grain soaking some more effort. I'm sure that I won't be doing it all the time- it takes a lot more prior planning and I draw the line at Christmas baking. Soaked whole grain sugar cookies just sound too gagtastic to contemplate seriously - not to mention sort of pointless. Still for daily fare, I'm looking for the best nutrition I can manage.

To inaugurate my soaked baking experiments I decided to try Jenny's Fluffy Soaked Whole Wheat Biscuits only mine are decidedly non-lenten. Yes I know that it's advent but my family is much more likely to eat whole wheat anything made with lard and real buttermilk. If this bothers you, pray that the angel of vegan cooking is sent to visit all of us!  Not only did I fail to soak 8 hours (5 was my limit - people were hungry), I altered the recipe. They are good. Really good. I may not bother to cook supper.

2 1/2 cups of whole wheat pastry flour (I used a fresh ground mix of whole wheat, spelt, and kamut, sifted 4 times to remove the bran)
6 tablespoons non-hydrogenated lard and/or raw butter
3/4 cup of real buttermilk - or a similar quantity of milk with whey or yogurt and water
1 tablespoon lemon juice or raw apple cider vinegar
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt

Dump the flour into a medium size bowl. Using a pastry cutter, or a fork and knife with a cutting motion, cut in the palm oil or coconut oil into the flour. (or  use the food processor!) When the fat is the size of peas or smaller, you are done. Add the milky liquid, and mix in until just combined. Leave overnight at room temperature, well covered. This mixture will be wetter then your average biscuit recipe. This is so we can more easily mix in the salt and rising agents the next day.

Please go to Jenny's version for good pictures of the rest of the process. 

I need to find a good loaf that my kids will eat, which makes good packable sandwich and isn't sourdough (they hate it).

What the heck is interesterified oil and why is it in my tortillas?

I was in Fred Meyer last week picking up some things for school lunches & I needed tortillas for black bean and pumpkin burritos. There were no tortillas in the organic section but I frequently buy non-organic tortillas frozen at Costco so I headed to the 'regular' part of the store. I located the tortillas and began reading labels. Since our government refuses to allow the peons to decide for ourselves whether or not we want our corn genetically modified I had to assume that all the corn, corn meal and corn flour included was GMO.  There were the usual unfortunate cast of industrial food players- partially hydrogenated oil, additives, preservatives, artificial flavors, corn syrup solids - but then I noticed something new: interesterified oil. I didn't know what it was and I wasn't going to experiment on my kids without some serious research. I ended up finding some minimally acceptable tortilla's in the fridgie section (white flour, safflower oil, salt) and went with those. Still not great but handmade tortillas were not in the cards that night.

After a week of having my life go swirling into crazy land (Miss V leaving for a trip, school stuff, big auction, nutso acting out and drama, knitting a stripey elf hat for T2) I finally got time to sit down and read up on this stuff. Yuck. I think I'll pass, thanks. The last thing I need is a new frankenfat that raises blood glucose.

Here are several links on the subject. All more comprehensive than my description.


or here

or here

or maybe this one

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


This video, entitled "Stop Not Paying Attention to Things" is fantastic as it portrays how ridiculous we've all become about technology- until it gets to the part where it asserts that selling us another phone will rescue us from our phones! As they say in the commercial itself: really?

 Instead of one piece of overpriced technology 'rescuing' us from our previous overpriced pieces of technology, why don't we all just!!!! unplug, disconnect. When you sit down to a meal and you know that all the really core people in your life are safe and well, just turn off the ringer. Light a candle and breathe.  Talk to each other, Make something, sing something.

I'm thinking about my internet use (too much) and that advent is a perfect time to unplug, slow down, and draw the whole family inward. The question is: how much do I need to maintain the blog, volunteer commitments, and things like banking and bill pay & how much is mindless entertainment? I guess we'll find out. An hour a day?

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Feast of St Martin

Today I went in to school & took a friend to see the place and to be present in T1's class as they got to light their lanterns, eat their traditional breads, and sing the songs of the feast of St Martin. This was a part of their German language and culture class& the other kids will get to do it later in the week. T2 has it tomorrow and I think SCS has it Wednesday.

The mom who had volunteered to bring the breads had a baking fail, something with which I am all too familiar of late, so I ran to Three Bears and bought 28 mini-Danishes. They certainly weren't the traditional pretzel or goose shaped breads but they made children happy and hey: Denmark is next to Germany. I briefly contemplated croissants instead (St Martin was technically French) but they were more expensive and I knew the kids wouldn't like them nearly as well. Everyone left happy.

Since I have had recent experience with total baking disaster, I resolved to not dally in making the breads for T2s class tomorrow. If I were to totally mess up I thought I should at least have enough time to go to the store. Miss V assembled the dough for me while I took T1 to our friendly neighborhood wood working priest for some help finishing the birthday present Mom had messed up (and Fr. C assured me that the nails in the kit were just way too big and it wasn't really me. I think he was just being nice but I'll take it!) She used the recipe for Finnish Pulla in Baking with Julia and it worked beautifully and tastes lovely. Recipe at the bottom.
Each class gets their own little celebration as part of their German class. They have all made lanterns, learned some songs, and heard stories about both the man and the traditions. But they were not going to get the full experience of walking in a group with their lanterns on a cold evening with the fellowship of family, friends and neighbors. Then some brilliant person had the idea that we could hold a completely optional event outside of school so that anyone who wanted to do it, could. Wednesday evening as dark falls a group will walk a path lit by luminaries into the woods by Finger Lake. Children will carry the lanterns they made and sing the songs they learned and we will end at a bonfire where the story of the life of St Martin will be told. I'm super, duper excited.

The recipe follows. I shamelessly copied and pasted the recipe that  Kellypea at Sass & Veracity painstakingly typed in. She has pictures of the process and video so check out her post for helpful tips. You'll notice that my braid is just a touch lumpy looking. After I cut out the geese I took all the scraps, smooshed them together and made the ropes for the braid of that.Normally it would be all smooth and pretty but I needed geese ! Also, the 24 small geese and 1 large loaf are the result of a doubled recipe. I sprinkled the geese with sugar (Dehyrdrated cane syrup crystals) after the egg wash and their eyes are currants. I found that poking the currants in with the tip of the knife gave the little goosy faces a less deformed look.
Finnish Pulla from Baking with Julia by Dorie Greenspan

1 c. milk
1 T active dry yeast
1/4 c. warm water (about 110 degrees F)
1/2 c. granulated sugar
1 tsp. crushed cardamom seeds (about 7 pods)
1 tsp. salt
2 lg. eggs, slightly beaten, at room temp
4-1/2 to 5 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
4 oz. unsalted butter, melted
1 lg. egg beaten with 1 T milk, for glaze

  1. Heat milk in a small saucepan until small bubbles are visible around the rim of the pan.  Remove from head and let cool to between 105 and 115 degrees F.
  2. In the large bowl of your Kitchen Aid, whisk yeast into the warm water and let sit for about 5 minutes or until yeast is dissolved and creamy.
  3. Whisk in milk, sugar, cardamom, salt, and eggs at medium speed.
  4. Switch to the hook attachment and add 2 c. flour, beating until smooth, occasionally scraping around the bowl to incorporate all the flour.
  5. Add the melted butter, and then keeping count as you go, add flour 1/2 c. at a time until the dough is stiff, but not dry.  (My dough took 4-1/2 c. flour)
  6. Cover and let the dough rest for about 15 minutes before proceeding.
  7. To knead the dough, either use your machine on medium speed until dough is satiny -- OR -- turn dough out onto a lightly floured counter and knead until it is smooth and satiny, about 10 minutes.
  8. Shape the dough into a ball and place in a lightly oiled bowl making sure the top is oiled.  Cover with plastic and let rise at room temp until doubled in bulk -- about 45 minutes to 1 hour.
  9. After dough is done with the first rise, line a baking pan at least 14 " long with parchment.  Then oil a work surface.  The surface should be cool.
  10. To shape the dough, turn it out of the bowl and briefly knead it to deflate it.  Divide it into 3 pieces and roll each piece into a rope about 36 inches long.  Braid the three ropes pressing the ends together and tucking them under the loaf.  Lift the braid onto the parchment.
  11. Cover the braid lightly with plastic that has been lightly oiled or with a kitchen towel.  Let rise at room temp until puffy, but not doubled about 45 minutes.
  12. Brush egg glaze over the bread.
  13. Bake the bread in a preheated 375 degree F oven on the center rack for about 20 to 25 minutes until golden.  Let cool on a rack until room temp.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Pumpkin Rolls - updated with pictures!

Some of you may have noticed my obsession with pumpkin rolls. I start thinking about them in August and if I weren't too lazy to bake every other day, I would happily eat them for breakfast 3 or 4 times a week.

Sunday is T1's birthday so today he needed birthday celebration treats for school. The last birthday child had brought blueberry muffins and,the school being a sort of crunchy health food kind of a place where we're asked to bring treats that don't sugar them up too much, I was thinking pumpkin muffins. Matthew requested pumpkin rolls instead.

My last batch were done with fresh ground whole wheat flour and the texture was not nice. It would have been better if I'd sifted a few times but still- grainier than I wanted. I also have concluded that I don't like powdered sugar. It tastes like chlorine to me. So this time I tweaked the recipe and am really pleased with the results. When you look at the picture, you see some slices at the top of the platter are much prettier than the rest. Those are the ones from the frozen roll of the previous batch. If you freeze these and slice them frozen they will be much, much prettier.

In a small bowl, combine: 
1.5 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon pie spice
1 teaspoon salt
In your mixer bowl, beat together until fluffy
 6 eggs
2 cups succanat or organic cane sugar crystals
then add
1 small can organic pumpkin
1-2 teaspoons of vanilla

then mix in the dry ingredients until just well combined

Line two jelly roll pans (the big cookie sheets with a side on them) with waxed paper or very well greased and floured parchment paper. Pour the batter in and spread it evenly then bake about 15 minutes.

When the cakes are done, pull them out of the oven and quickly turn them onto either a lightly floured tea towel or another sheet of waxed paper and roll them up, towel/paper and all. Cool completely on a rack before unrolling to fill.


Whip together in the mixer bowl that you washed while the cake part was baking:

3 8 oz packages of cream cheese
1/2 lb of butter
1 cup succanat or cane sugar crystals
3 Tablespoons lemon juice
1 Tablespoon vanilla
1/2 cup buttermilk or sour cream

unroll the cakes, spread frosting and re-roll without the paper or towel. Cut off the ends to make it look prettier and eat the 'defective' end slices with a cup of tea for the baker!

These freeze beautifully. I should do several more for an emergency coffee hour stash but we always seem to eat them.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The FDA did not approve this post

Lord Love a Duck!!!! In the whirling craziness of an Alaskan summer, I thought "Well, I'll spend a lot of time sitting and relaxing in the winter". What was I smoking? There are kid's projects, performances, wants, need and trips; Christmas gifts that need to be done; teenager sewing projects that turn out to need more mom help because she chose the fabric specially knit by the devil himself to make a saint swear.

In addition to making progress on the cute purple dress of the fabric of eternal despair, I also managed to make butter today. This isn't terribly unusual or difficult but, for a change, I remembered to weigh it all so that I could figure out how it compares in price to the organic or Kerry Gold butter from Costco. There was a nagging worry in the back of my head that I might be making the world's most expensive butter. Every few weeks, I get a gallon of cream from my cow share and just make it all into butter. At $16 a gallon, that's some expensive butter for just a pound or so.

Fortunately, I found today that my gallon of cream produces the equivalent of 3 boxes of Kerry Gold (3 8 oz bricks per box = 4.5 lbs total) plus 1/2 gallon of buttermilk So $16 of cream made me $24 worth of butter plus buttermilk. It's nice when better nutrition costs less! When we lived outside I met a guy who was selling contraband blackmarket raw butter for $10 per 8 oz container- and selling out every week. Bless him- it warms the cockles of my cranky little Libertarian heart. All that free enterprise and free choice and personal responsibility and farmers making a decent living without a subsidy in sight!

To make butter:

I use my Kitchenaid and break the gallon into 3 batches. You need your mixer bowl, a big bowl to drain the buttermilk into and a bigger bowl to wash the butter; the whisk attachment for the mixer; a mesh strainer; salt; paper towels or good, clean, fine linen; parchment paper.

pour about 1/3 of a gallon of the cream into your mixer bowl with the whisk attachment. Turn it on to about 7 and let it run. First you will have whipped cream. Let it keep going past the whipped cream stage until it breaks and separates into clumps of butter and liquid. Pour the contents of the mixer bowl into the strainer with another bowl underneath. The stuff that runs into the bowl is buttermilk. The butter solids now in the strainer need to be 'washed'. Dump them into your bigger bowl and run cold water over it and swish/squish the butter around in the water . Pour it all back into the strainer.

Next take the butter out of the strainer and squeeze it to push the water out of the fat. A last squeeze in a paper towel pulls out more. When you've got all the water out that you can get, salt your butter lightly and roll it into a log and wrap in parchment paper.

Repeat this process with the other 2/3s of the cream. I put two of my logs of butter into a gallon ziploc bag and keep them in the freezer, the third goes into the fridge for use.

If I had hogs or chickens to feed scraps, I would add my butter rinse water to the scraps to really milk every calorie and nutrient out of the cream I buy. Sigh. Soon. Hopefully this time next year instead of complaining about having to plow myself I'll be complaining about having to feed and water in the snow. And a few years past that I'll have been forced to find something new about which to whine since my beautiful New England style barn will be attached to the house, saving me from ever needing to get my dainty little feet snowy.

Monday, October 25, 2010

It's all my fault

The snow is dropping in fat white flakes. I had hoped for another year where we dodged the white bullet until November but today I opened my big fat mouth & suggested that HM get on with getting the Christmas lights up since next time he's home it will surely be snowy. He got out the ladders and started laying out the lights but then we had to get to school to finish a project there and retrieve kids - and of course the flakes began to fall. So I officially apologize to all my Alaskan friends. It's all my fault.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Chard in Lard

Tonight's supper was certainly not a Meatless Monday but, since we try to do our meatless meals on Wednesdays and Fridays I'm going to skip the side dish of guilt. That is what Lent is for...

The whole menu was roast lamb with garlic, rosemary, thyme, and marjoram; baked potatoes; roasted acorn squash; green salad; and chard in lard. If you are one of the dozen people who regularly read my blog, you may recall that I have something of a love affair with lard.

This is a super simple side dish, loaded with nutrients and flavor.

1 bundle of fresh organic red or rainbow chard
1 puck of lard (about 3/4 of a cup)
a clove of garlic, pressed or finely minced
a little butter to finish

wash and dry your chard, cutting off the biggest, woodiest pieces of stem then chopping it coarsely (I lay mine out on the cutting board all stacked up and hack it about every 2-2.5 inches)

melt your lard in a large skillet over medium flame. When the lard is melted, toss in the chard and let it cook until well wilted. Then add the garlic and salt. You want the garlic to cook but not burn. pop a pat of butter on top and serve hot.

Honestly, sometimes I make this just for me and eat the entire bundle. It's so, so good.

Gnocchi with Squash & Porcini

This is one of my "Failed to Plan" meatless favorites. Be warned: It takes advantage of a processed item- ready made gnocchi. As processed foods go, it certainly doesn't fall into the same category as something like Spaghetti-O's but it does come in a box and it does have a few iffy ingredients at the bottom of the list. One can make gnocchi from scratch and freeze them and, perhaps, on a day where I have an abundance of energy and the urge to be covered in flour I'll stock up on some. I've done it before and I love them but the work load and mess factor can get out of control. Maybe I should try again now that I don't feed 11 people every night and see if it's as bad as I recall.

All the kids love this, the squash hating husband even likes it. It's creamy and cheesy - what's not to love?

To feed 7:

3 boxes packaged gnocchi
1 bag frozen organic cubed butternut squash, thawed and drained
4-6 T butter
1/2 cup cream
3 T porcini powder
salt to taste
fresh sage
grated parmesano reggiano or grana padano cheese or some good raw cheddar

In a very large skillet, melt your butter and add the sage ( a leaf or two). Saute for a few minutes but don't brown the butter. Remove the sage.  Stir in the cream and porcini powder. Hold at a low heat.

Drop the gnocchi, a package at a time, into a pot of boiling salted water. When they float to the top, scoop them out with a strainer and let them drain for a second before adding them to the skillet and stirring gently, just to coat. Repeat with the other two packages. 

Add in the squash and stir gently to avoid turning the chunks into orange goo.  Check for seasoning and salt as needed. Top with grated cheese.

Serve with a big salad and a nice Reisling. As with nearly everything, the addition of pork products would be heavenly.

Linking to Laura's Meatless Monday

Hey What's For Dinner

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Why yes, I have lost my mind. Did you find it?

So the secret is out- I'm a freak all the way across the board. Not only do I disdain the standard American diet and purposefully (happily!) drive a 27 year old car, now I'm advocating a radical plan financially. You thought "No corn syrup" was nutty, wait until you hear this one: "No mortgage".

Yep. None.

I hope to sell our over-sized, over-mortgaged  house in the spring and downsize radically into something we can afford to actually own, rather than rent from the bank until just before we die. The plan goes in phases: first  build a very small cabin on bare land (like 16 x 20) for cash. As soon as the house sells, move all of our belongings except for the bare minimum into storage and move us into the cabin for the summer. Take the equity from the house sale and build like crazy, knowing there will be another infusion of cash in early October. If it becomes obvious that we're not going to have the house done and habitable before Christmas, then we can move into a rental for the winter & continue to build the following summer.

Why would anyone want to do this to themselves? Simple answer: Freedom. Security. As an example to my kids.

Right now, HM works 14 days at a time. 3 days for the government, 1.5 days for insurance and 401K , and 5.5 days for the house payment. We only get to really live on 30% of his earnings. There's little I can do about the government or insurance parts but we can free ourselves from servitude to JP Morgan Chase. We can build something on a smaller, more human scale and similarly reduce our contribution to the borough's tax account. We can spend less to heat a smaller home, have fewer electrical gee-gaws to power, be free of neighborhood covenants restricting chickens, live closer to friends and church, and let boys and dogs romp freely with other boys and dogs. We can say 'yes' to things like trips outside, musical instruments, visits to Kodiak, h2Oasis, and museum memberships. A few years of hassle, hard work, and sacrifice will buy us 20+ years of freedom and limitless peace of mind - not to mention a retirement where my go-to cookbook isn't "101 Ways with Alpo".

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

My Friend Went to BlogHer Food and All I Got Was Some Floury Hair....

I'm not even making this up. Last night as I was about to walk out the door to pick up said friend, T2 started hollering about how we had no peanut butter and how he hates that nasty healthy other butter (almond- little weirdo). I was certain that I had a stash of peanut so I went into the pantry to look for it. And there it was! On the top shelf, behind something else and mostly being hidden/squashed by the self reproducing 5lb/18 cf bag of dried apples*.

So I- being the tallest person in my house- reach up to get the kid his peanut butter. In doing so, I bump another container to the right which sends a plastic canister containing 5 lbs of flour crashing down on my head. We all know the lid didn't hold..... So then I  had to vacuum up the flour and then I had to go take a shower and wash all the flour out of my hair. Twice because the minute it got wet, it turned into paste. Makes me think those no-grains people may have something of a point.

Once out the door, 15 minutes late, wet hair, socks that don't match, I zoomed over and picked her up in my awesome new retro ride and then we jetted into Anchorage for 'old lady painting'. No, I am not painting old ladies as either subject or canvas. I went to learn rosemaling, an art now practiced pretty much entirely by little old ladies. I was told to come empty handed and Laura tagged along for a ride to the airport after. I'd been to the place once before but I'd had children and a GPS with me and come in from another direction. Finding it was a touch spotty this time since I had no GPS and the road was closed & a giant backhoe sitting in front of the building.

"Old Lady Painting" was just that. Laura just barely prevented me from being the youngest person in the room by 20 years. If you discounted the one lady in her early 60s, I would put the average somewhere in the mid 70's. Was I any good? Yes! I did exactly what I was told and I was brilliant at it!!! A triumph, in fact. Unfortunately, what I was told was to sit and watch what she did. No brush entered my hand. Next week, I get to sniff the paints.

After watching intently, trying to avoid offensive political discussions, and giggling over Laura's shock at a septuagenarian casually dropping an F bomb, we popped over to the airport so that she could run away for a fantastic week in San Francisco at BlogHer Food. Great food, bags of swag, and she gets to speak on the panel about feeding children, stay in a hotel room without children, and go to fabulous cocktail parties and schmooze with Food Network stars. Yeah. I'm jealous.

By the time I stopped for bread and yogurt and got home, it was nearly midnight. Miss V was trying to be disgruntled but you could tell she was amused over the antics of her small brothers earlier: T1 chased her around the house, squirting her with water from what we refer to as "the snot sucker" to make it look like she wet her pants while she tried to talk to her boyfriend on the phone. Not wanting to be left out, T2 started just tossing water from a cup. I suspect the boyfriend was unfazed- he's one of 7 brothers.

Lessons learned yesterday:

1. Relocate the snot sucker to an undisclosed location
2. Do not keep flour on the top shelf of the pantry
3. I really want to go to BlogHer Food next year

* those apples: I bought a 5 lb bag of apples last march (dried apple rings). I've tried to use them but I swear they magically replace themselves. Every time I use some, the bag just returns to its previous size. I am never going to get through them all. Ever. 

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Praise the lard and pass the ammunition!

Lard has a bad reputation. It's that old-fashioned fat used only by ignorant redneck grannies with no teeth in a holler in W. Virginia and by similarly uneducated Mexican women who don't know that saturated fat is bad, bad, bad. Civilized, educated people do lard. Epithets for the obese include terms such as 'lard-ass'.

Guess what? Lard is AWESOME. Really. It makes pretty much anything taste better. Pie crusts, biscuits, veggies, beans and, yes, tortillas. The problem is that the lard you can buy in the store really is awful. they've taken a good fat and screwed it up completely. Instead of using the fat from pastured and humanely raised animals, your store lard will come from grain fed confinement hogs who have never seen sunshine or rolled in the grass. It will be processed in highly questionable conditions and then it will be hydrogenized, deodorized, and adulterated with BHT and/or BHA.  Homemade unadulterated lard is believed to promote lower cholesterol, contain Vitamin D, discourage the formation of cancers, and is high in Omega-6 fatty acids.

The good news is that lard is really easy to make at home. For locals, Mt McKinley Meat and Sausage in Palmer will sell you locally grown leaf fat by the pound. $.99 per pound last time I got some. Take it home, and prepare to render. If you have a meat grinder, grind your leaf fat first. I was amazed by how much grinding sped up the entire process and reduced waste. Once your lard is ground, put a big pot on medium to low heat and toss a few (3? 4?) cups into the bottom. Stir it occasionally and when all your fat is melted, pour it off into the container of your choice and repeat with more fat. I rendered 10 lbs in about 35 minutes that way.

If you don't have a grinder, cut the fat into the smallest cubes you're willing to do and toss the fat into a pan or slow cooker and, again, wait for your fat to become liquid but take care not to burn it.

I pour my lard into my jumbo muffin pans and freeze it then pop out the 'pucks' for nice 1 cup portions. Others pour theirs into sterilized canning jars, fill it clear to the top and store it in a cool pantry until opened. I find my method more convenient from a cleanup and portioning perspective but if I had a bigger pantry I'd be willing to use the jars.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


I should be climbing into bed but I'm sure I won't sleep well tonight. The wind is screaming, the temp is dropping fast, and I know that my 'emerging view' will have emerged by morning. The idea of the coming dark is kind of a bummer. Already, the mornings are a little darker and the boys a little harder to wake (like I'm not...hah!) and by Christmas 'first light' will be around 10 and 'twilight' will happen at 4 or so. In spite of that though, I am excited about the change in seasons. Pumpkin bread, pumpkin rolls, squash dishes of all sorts, soups and stews and fires in the wood stove. The Autumn festival, St Nicholas Day, Thanksgiving, sweaters, cranberries, candles, the silence of an evening snowfall. I'm sure I won't be quite so sanguine about the cold or the wind or the dark or much of anything by mid-March but for tonight the wind only reminds me of the happy parts of an Alaskan autumn.

When a disaster isn't

I don't blog much about my kids directly. Parenting some of them hasn't been much like 99% of other folks' child raising experiences because of their early traumas, some of them also devastated neurologically by their biological mother's alcohol use. I have to say that I haven't exactly been a cheerleader for older child adoption the last few years. Living with the constant lying, sneaking, stealing, and destructiveness had me more than a little cynical.

Tonight we had a dinner disaster- the kid I had asked to put a chicken in the fridge mistakenly put it in the upstairs freezer. When I went to put said chicken in the oven at 5:30 tonight the fridge was quite notably NOT containing one. The freezer next to it was. 5:30, nothing thawed, and no plan B. I was frustrated and I know that my voice showed it when I demanded to know who had put that chicken in the freezer.

Instead of the usual "Notme" or "I dunno" or silence a little voice says "It was me. I'm sorry". It was like the heavens opened and angels sang. I hugged said child & thanked them. It was a little confirmation that all is not lost and that this thing we are doing is not always doomed to failure and misery. I also figured out the root cause of another little issue and discovered that the very simple solution solves more than one problem at a time.

Then, feeling very blessed, I popped out to the store and picked up a rotisserie chicken, some corn tortillas, and a few cans of salsa verde and made Chicken Enchilada Casserole for supper, got two days of kid lunches from it as well, and still managed to have everyone fed and in bed on time. It would be so nice if all of my disasters ended so well!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Settling into Fall

After the freak out (overblown and mostly unnecessary since my parents wanted to see us not the house...) of last week, the lovely busyness of their visit and finally getting Este' into school, I'm sitting and watching the yellow leaves drift to the ground and happily contemplating....nothing. I have some sewing to finish, a day of berry picking, an azure order coming in, but nothing huge. I can stay home and do laundry on my amazing new washer and dryer. My parents were stunningly generous and bought me a beautiful, brand new matching gonzo frontloader and matching dryer. Kenmore Elites with the extended service plan. This was my Christmas gift from them (and should cover the next 5 years I think!)

Christmas is still far enough away that I don't feel the need to start whigging out about that (yet). That might be because I mostly have a plan and have started collecting gifts. Also thanks to my parents' incredible generosity, I had a little extra wiggle room in the budget and was able to take advantage of a great deal on Craigslist: a 3/4 size Viola for SCS. We bought swords and scabbards at the fair & Battle Bonnets are underway. Mom's gift is finished & Dad's are in progress. I've even scored some things for HM and tucked them away. SCS is one of my hardest to buy for- she almost never asks for anything!- so having hers taken care of is a huge weight off.  We had expected to have to wait until next year to be able to buy her an instrument and she was being a very good sport about that. She's usually a very good sport though so it will be a huge treat to surprise her with something so big.

I missed summer, kind of dread the snow, but for the moment I can happily wallow in fall. Apple cider, knitting by the fire, and pumpkin rolls. Ahhh.

Monday, September 13, 2010


That, my friends, is the sound of me running about like a recently decapitated chicken and screaming randomly. Posts have been and will continue to be sparse because my parents are coming. You see, the sordid tale of my life is this: Martha Stewart and Oscar Madison had a love child in the late 60s but Oscar was an idiot and a cad and Martha was raising the child on her own until she met and married Mr Clean. The child is me. I would like to be an ultra organized neat freak and I'm certainly a lot closer than I was in my 20s but really- I live with small mess making people whose standards of cleanliness would warm Oscar's slovenly little heart. Most of my furniture is embracing the 'distressed' mother's house looks like a Better Homes & Garden's shoot. All the time. Really.

this is the first time in over 10 years that we've had few enough kids for them to actually be willing to stay with us so I've been running around cleaning, painting, fussing at kids, yelling at kids (at what developmental stage do they grasp the concept of 'all' as it relates to cleaning?), and generally freaking out. I love my parents. They would never knowingly cause such uproar. And I am thrilled that they are coming. I just need an extra week, two handymen, and a spare $3000 to make things as I think they ought to be. I guess they'll have to live with my reality instead. See ya'll on the other side!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Fair Food Reviews

The Alaska State Fair ends tomorrow and various members of my family have been more than once. Some of them like to pretend they can't remember what they ate or that they didn't when quizzed about what they had and how it was. Apparently I'm not smart enough to be able to figure out that such statements are code for "I ate nothing but kettle cork, cotton candy, and Red Bulls but I know you'd blow a gasket". Um..sure... I'm going to believe that you went to the fair and ate no junk because I'm over 40 and therefore completely stupid. Gotta love teenagers. Lets stop right here and say that almost nothing served at the fair is remotely compatible with Nourishing Traditions or healthy eating in any way. The fair comes once a year and half the fun is the food.

Given the lack of info forthcoming from the teen who has been without me, I'll have to stick to the booths I tried.

Chocolate Covered Bacon on a Stick- I was totally prepared to love this. It sounded suspect but I had to try it. It could have been a match made in heaven- and heaven knows how I feel about chocolate covered potato chips. Alas, it was awful. At $3 a stick (that is one single chocolate covered piece of bacon on a shishkabob skewer) I expected something other than "ew!". I won't be repeating that next year.

The oyster booth- I love the oyster booth and not just because they are good for you. I. Love. Oysters. If they could serve beer there and you could hop onto a bar stool with a Glacier Brewhouse IPA and 2 dozen raw with some saltines and cocktail sauce I could spend my entire day (and fair budget) in one spot. Miss V had the fried oyster sandwich ( very good ) and I had some raw plus some of the sour cream parm ones. They put the oysters under the broiler for a minute, then pull them out and plop some sour cream and some shredded parmesan on them and put them back under the broiler to melt the cheese. Very, very good.

Tamales- Good, probably the healthiest thing we ate, more than a touch overpriced- even for fair food. We opted for the pork one with black beans, rice, and all the trimmings. It would be easier to eat if they would take the corn husk off before they dump the stuff on it.

Fried Cheese curds- always a treat. I don't even want to think about what is in that fryer oil. Those little curds are irresistible. I can't get excited about the pork chop on a stick though.

Cream Puffs- people rave about them but I don't get it. Yes, they are big. If you're trying to induce diabetic ketoacidosis this is a fine choice. The pastry is pretty good but the toppings are canned and nothing special and the creamy filling left a lot to be desired in my opinion. I admit to being a pastry cream snob- if I can tell that it came from a can or it reminds me of cool whip in any way I'm done.

The cookie booth- so good we did it twice. Fantastic chocolate chip cookies, organic milk available, friendly staff and they donate $.25 of every cookie to charity. Plus you can play with their hoola hoops. There was no sharing at this booth.

Bushes Bunches - The peanut potatoes. I was expecting something more like tiny fingerlings but what I got were more traditionally cut french fries. They were hot, salty and excellent. I'm sure the dipping sauce is full of things that are horrible for you because it was really tasty and addictive.

The Pasty booth- I love these. It's like a full meal of comfort food in a little pocket.

Elephant Ears- Every bit as good as I recall from my childhood. We had one with just honey and it was great- far more flavor than powdered sugar. I mentioned to the man running the booth that they are fantastic with nutella and he promised to have it there for next year. I plan to hold him to it.

Buffalo Burger- in one of the cabins next to the midway. Not bad. Plastic cheese but some decent flavor to the burger.

Pizza- kids ate it, I didn't. I did munch the crust though and it was good. The pepperoni looked greasy but doesn't all pepperoni? Possibly the cheapest way to feed a kid and keep them happy at the fair.

And no- just to clarify, I did not personally eat all of that stuff. Most of it was shared between 2 to 5 people. Otherwise I would need one of those little skylark carts to haul my fat(ter) butt around.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Real Food for Rookies

I've been trying to mentally compose this for a few days and failing but I wanted to get it out there because I've mentioned it to people: Kelly the Kitchen Cop has put together an incredible online class about how and why to find and use real food. I'm taking it and I'm making Miss V take it and I think it would be immensely helpful to so many of the other moms I've met lately who have said "I want to change how we eat but I just don't know how to put it all together!"

Kelly will be covering label reading, fats and oils (what is really good and what is disease in a bottle), meats, dairy products, grains, sweeteners breads, and more. I'm making Miss V take the class because I think it is so critically important that she understand how to protect and maintain her own health and the importance of her diet in building the bodies and brains of her own future children. Kelly is going to be teaching stuff beyond what I've learned- and it has taken me 8 years to get to about half as far along the real food path as she is by my own reading /trial/error process.

You can sign up by going here.  4 payments of $35- $10 a class. I think it is a great bargain. I've wasted more than that over the years buying the wrong things and making 'healthy' food that was rejected or genuinely inedible.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Vegan...and good?

Who knew this was possible? Certainly not me. My general philosophy of cooking is that anything can be improved with the addition of sufficient quantities of pork or dairy products. Butter? Bacon? Cheddar? Yes! Please! This impulse is at odds with the practices of our church about 170 days out of the year- most every Wednesday and Friday, Advent, Lent, and a few other fasting periods dictate vegan (shellfish OK) or pescatarian meals(dairy free). Honestly, I've never made it through a fasting period and usually I'm doing well to just cut out meat. I have maybe two good recipes that I trot out to every potluck during those periods. Nobody is ever going to nominate me for the "Babushka of the Year" award.


Tonight I tried something new because a friend raved about it. Dal. Swore her kids ate it by the bowlful. It was fast, cheap, and I was without a better plan on a Wednesday. It totally rocked. Miss V was running an errand for me while I made it and when she came home and started to chow on her bowl she asked me three times if I was sure I hadn't used chicken in it. This stuff is so incredibly chicken-y that even I was shocked.

I served it over brown rice, mine also got a dollop of my homemade super-low-sugar apricot orange jam, a sprinkling of dried cranberries, and some slivered almonds for crunch. I ate it all. Then I made another bowl to photograph (yay- the camera is fixed!)and ate that too. Chutney just moved to the top of my list of things to can and I may have to try my hand at making Nan for a more authentic Indian experience. The original recipe was for a smaller quantity and included things that I left out. This was very mild and was happily eaten by small children (who said it tasted like chicken nuggets?)

2 cups small red lentils
1 medium onion
1 cup coconut oil
spices: 1 teaspoon cumin, 1 teaspoon coriander, 1/8 teaspoon cardamom, 1/4 teaspoon cayenne, 2 teaspoons ginger, 1 teaspoon salt

Wash your lentils! If you've planned ahead and can do so, soak for phytate nutralization

Cut up onion,place pieces in a pot, cover with oil -be generous with the oil they should swim in it. Let all of it simmer, about 5 mins. Add lentils, stir.

Add spices, stir, add water to cover. Cook at medium to medium high. Check and stir often to prevent scorching. You will probably have to add more water periodically.

This took about 35 minutes total and my recipe served 6 people with a bit of leftover (and I pigged and ate two bowls). Next time I want to add some chard for color and nutrients. There will definitely be a next time!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Bulk Food Ordering Update

Our first order has been delivered! It was quite the learning experience for me and there were some bumps along the way. Happily, all the grains for the Kindergarten classes arrived as ordered and most of the stuff mislaid by the shipper was mine. If I'm very lucky, they will have found it and it will be on a truck out tomorrow. I'm going to be really upset if my pickling cucumbers go bad before they find them and get them to me!

My gingergold apples are tasty but the peaches really stole the show. They are so sweet and juicy.

The next ordering window will begin September 13 and end at 10 AM September 17th. Food will leave the warehouse on Sept 21st and should arrive for delivery on the 28th of September. They charge your card the day it ships from the warehouse! Shipping came in a little lower than expected this time but please figure $.35 per pound just in case. The shipping charge is paid to me the day prior to delivery so that I can pay the driver.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Pimento Cheese

If you're from the south, skip this. You already know.

Pimento cheese (pah-men-ah) is one of the great regional contributions the south has made to American food. It ranks next to (and pairs well with) sweet iced tea. As a regional specialty, there are probably as many recipes as there are cooks. Some people are happy with the tubs in the supermarket just like some people are happy to eat pop tarts. I'm not among them. Some people put strange things like jalapenos in their pimento cheese- I'm not with them either. Others argue the merits of hand grating versus food processor or blender. On that point, I can go either way- but the food processor is just easier.

Pimento Cheese, once made, has a variety of uses but the classic presentation is on a sandwich of white bread. This makes an appearance at most weddings as some people believe that a marriage solemnized below the Mason-Dixon line is not valid until the pimento cheese finger sandwiches (crusts removed) have been served at the reception. It is heavenly on grilled hamburgers. It makes wonderful grilled cheese sandwiches (especially with bacon!). It turns grits from blah to wow. I once had deep fried pimento cheese- little balls of the stuff frozen, dipped in beer batter and deep fried. It might be the most dangerous fair food in the world since you just can't stop yourself from eating the whole plate and washing it down with an icy coke. I know that coke, 'veggie' oil in a deep fryer, and white flour are bad, bad, bad and usually avoid them but I last tasted those cheese balls 25 years ago and I still remember them.

To try your own:

1 cup mayonaise
1 lb sharp cheddar (please- for the love of all that is holy, do not use any cheese whose name ends in 'eeta')
1 large jar diced pimentos- do not drain, use the juice too!
1 t celery seed
salt to taste

to shred: shred the cheese either by hand or in a food processor then mix in the remaining ingredients

or not to shred- cut the cheese into chunks, toss all ingredients into the food processor and puree.

If it is too dry, add more mayo. If it is too wet, add a little bit of cheese. You may want a touch more celery seed. The flavors blend and it improves after a day- if you can keep your family out of it.

Linked into Meatless Mondays at Hey What's For Dinner Mom?

Hey What's For Dinner

Friday, August 27, 2010

Cheaters Chicken Congee

After this morning's lunch fail (a 7 AM trip to the store for lunch stuff!) I realized that I had to get back on the wagon and actually plan meals and implement the plan! To accomplish that, I tossed a pair of whole chickens in the roaster pan, sprinkled on some sea salt, olive oil, fresh rosemary and greek spice mix and popped them in the oven. I also had about 1/3 of a rice cooker full of sushi rice. What I lacked was a burning desire to really get elaborate and 'cook'.

When the chickens came out of the oven, I pulled one out of the pan and picked half the meat off. I plopped my cold sushi rice in a saucepan and poured all the chicken juices from the roaster pan onto the rice & set that to heating.

Next into the pot was: 1 cup of frozen diced mango, 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro, about a tsp of pureed ginger, a T of wasabi paste, some soy sauce and a T of sucanat. Then I added in the picked chicken bits and 2 cups of frozen corn kernels and a splash of lime juice.

There are no pics because my camera is dead and, honestly, its not much to look at but oh my is it good on a cold rainy night. We all added varying amounts of sirachi sauce because we're freaks who love sirachi on most anything. This stuff is creamy and comforting and packed a lot of nutrients for very little cost. I think I would love it with chard in it or as a vegetarian dish with coconut milk instead of the chicken juices. It worked  out to be right at $1 per serving, all organic ingredients except the mango which is on the 'clean 15' list anyway.

To further stretch the nutrients from those two birds, all the bones went back into the pot (after I had picked off the rest of the meat and refereed a fight over the skin) with some carrot pieces, a few spring onions, sea salt and vinegar plus plenty of water. By morning, I'll have at least 1/2 a gallon of beautiful, nutrient dense gleaming chicken stock. I also have meat in bags for a batch of chicken salad and a pair of pot pies.

I've linked this to Pennywise Platter Thursdays at  The Nourishing Gourmet. Check it out some great ideas on how to pinch a penny 'til it screams without sacrificing nutrition.

How Do I Love Thee

No, this is not a sonnet for His Majesty, love him though I do. This is for the kids' school: Birchtree. How I do love it!!!

My children go there and they get to do incredibly fun things; they spend the day with wonderful, gifted, positive teachers; they learn things; they make music and art; they move and sing. Then they come home and there is significantly less bickering and destruction from T1 & T2. They're happy and occupied and learning.

I never would have believed that I would be so delighted to be dropping my kids off at school, especially a public school, in this country. The environment and the atmosphere in this school are so hugely different than what we experienced in our local 'regular' middle school last year. That school reminded me of a low security prison - it was dark and a little decrepit feeling, cinder block walls and dented lockers and florescent lighting (we are stuck with some florescents at Birchtree too but there is just so much more natural light!).

(note- the pic above was shamelessly lifted from the school's blog run by my friend Laura who is speaking at BlogHer Food! because my camera has shuffled off it's mortal coil. The class in the pic is not one that my kids are in but theirs are similar in size and feel and general wonderfulness) 

Off the Face of the Earth

It's been a busy week. School is in full swing for the younger kids, Miss V returned from Kodiak which required an overnight trip to Homer to fetch her, we got to do battle with a flea invasion (those things which allegedly don't live in Alaska) that included shampooing all the carpets, the Azure order went in, we're still trying to get Chase to fix their mess-ups and bring our escrow payment back to a reasonable level, and Estee didn't get to go to school where we expected so that is it's own set of challenges. I've run out of good options, OK options, and am hurtling towards bad options. Doing nothing because of lack of other options is the current bad option we're experiencing.

The fair yesterday was fun, expensive, and let me know that my new shoes really don't cut it for 8 hours on pavement. HM, V, and I went during the 'get in for $2' hours and slurped oysters, shared a tamale, and gorged on milk & cookies and sweet corn. Miss V got a pair of very on-sale Carharrt bibs to make into a jumper and a cute scarf that reminds me just a bit of Yasser Arafat . We scored cool wooden swords with leather scabbards for T1 and T2's Christmas (to go with the knitted battle helmets and tunics/surcoats). The weather was beautiful , the mid-way obnoxious, and the barns a little disappointing. It still managed to make me really, really miss my chickens.

Azure delivery should be Monday so I'm going to be cleaning out my pantry and doing some baking for the freezer. I was so wiped after the fair last night that I did nothing and made a 7AM run to Fred Meyer today for lunch stuff. Failure to plan and prep on my part.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Healthy Homemade Granola Bars

I came across this recipe for the fruit and oat bars which have replaced chocolate chip cookies at the White House. I'll be making some changes to it- notably using sucanat instead of the dark brown sugar & coconut rather than grapeseed oil- and a lot of dried apples (because I ordered 25 lbs of them.... what was I thinking? Does anyone need any dried apples? dried date pieces?)

These could be a really nice snack to send for school treats since they could be done with GF oats and don't contain nuts. On the other hand, for folks without nut issues, you could add some nuts and up the protein.

This is my doubled and altered version of the original recipe

3/4 cup coconut oil, plus extra for brushing pan

4 cups rolled oats

1 cup mixed seeds, such as pumpkin, sunflower and sesame

1 cup honey

2/3 cup sucanat

2/3 cup maple syrup

Generous pinch of salt

3 cups mixed dried fruit, such as raisins, cherries, apricots, papaya, pineapple and cranberries (at least 3 kinds, cut into small pieces if large)

2 teaspoons ground cardamom or cinnamon.

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line a lasagna pan with parchment paper or foil, letting a few inches hang over side of pan. Brush with oil.

2. Spread oats and seeds on another baking pan and toast in oven just until golden and fragrant, 6 to 8 minutes, shaking pan once.

3. In a saucepan, combine oil, honey, brown sugar, maple syrup and salt. Stir over medium heat until smooth and hot. In a mixing bowl, toss together toasted oats and seeds, dried fruit and cardamom. Pour hot sugar mixture over and stir until well combined.

4. While mixture is warm, transfer to prepared pan, pressing into pan evenly with an offset spatula.

5. Bake until brown, 25 to 30 minutes. Transfer pan to a rack and let cool completely. Using the overhanging foil or paper, lift out of pan and place on a work surface. Cut into bars, about 1 1/2 inches by 3 inches.

Bulk Food: Ordering problems!

If you've tried to order with us through Azure, please know that there is a problem- they put us on the wrong truck route. I am working with them to fix this but you will need to go back into the azure site, modify your order, and re-check out. You will know that the problem has been fixed when there is a drop box giving you the option of using "C1- August 24th" as a ship date. IF they don't get it fixed in time we may end up having our ship date pushed back a week. I will update here and on the Birchtree Facebook page as I learn more.

Thanks for your patience. We will get this straightened out and subsequent orders should go much more smoothly.

UPDATE - Azure is having some computer issues. They said to go ahead and submit the orders as going on the c-4 route on the 14th. The guys in the warehouse know to pull the orders manually for our group and they WILL ship next Tuesday.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A Simple Request

Could we please, as a society that allegedly values tolerance and individual freedom, embrace the idea that a human's inherent value is not tied to the possession of a college degree? That a person can be 'smart' and choose not to go into big debt for a piece of paper that attests to one's mastery of irrelevant (to that person) subjects?

Call me a nouveaux hippie but I still have crazy ideas about how fame and fortune aren't necessarily relevant to happiness or satisfaction or a life well lived. I resent the implication that I am leading my children to doom by agreeing that a degreeless future need not be one of misery, social isolation or grinding poverty. I even have the audacity to believe that people with low intellectual functioning shouldn't be encouraged to want 'the college experience'. Not everybody can work at NASA. Not everybody wants to. The guy with the degree from StateU who is now frantically peddling plastic crap made in China to cover his $45,000 of student loan payments plus the $2500 credit card balance he ran up buying 'professional' clothes needed to land his $30K a year job is, according to the current mindset, a more valuable member of society than the guy who shows up to fix my plumbing when HM is away? Ummm...No. Flush toilets and hot showers trump My Little Pony or a Snuggie or a Ginsu Knife set any day. Every day.

I could rant on this for a while. Days maybe. But here it is: My brilliant daughter who I pushed and nagged through 3 years of college before she was 18 doesn't want to do any more of that and I think that its her choice and that she's more capable of making the best decision for her. Colleges aren't going to be vanishing from the earth and if she changes her mind, she can always go back. For the time being, she has chosen to spend these days of her life in a place that brings her joy, strengthens her faith, and encourages her to develop traits like patience, thoughtfulness, compassion, and diligence. I consider that a superior education and support it wholeheartedly.

Update about comments: I pulled them all down. It was starting to look too much like a public family squabble (not yours Anna, but I figured I should just take them all down, mine included)

Saturday, August 14, 2010

In which I hide in my room, typing furiously

to avoid some really regrettable parenting moments. T1 just threw a rock. A large rock. At a high rate of speed. He threw the rock in spite of many repeated past warnings about throwing rocks. Warnings in which he heard of the dire things that can happen. Head injury. Putting an eye out. Breaking a window on the house. Breaking the $942 +installation hatch back window on his sister's car. Yes. He did.

So I am hiding because if I hide and type I don't yell, scream, explain the financial doom forthcoming. I just pound little plastic keys and count to myself. He's fallen asleep on his bed. I'm still counting. But I'm getting better. When I'm all better, I will wake him up, reassure him that he is loved and that we will all forgive him, and figure out how he can make restitution for this. I think I know who is going to be stacking all the fire wood....and taking up the carpet tack strips....

Boys just aren't like us.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Frutti del Campo

No- that isn't nutcases on a camping trip. In Italian, it's  fruits of the field which seems more appropriate than the more usual frutti di bosco since most of my goodies came from a field rather than the woods (currants being the notable exception). This isn't to imply that we have not ever been nor will ever be nutcases on a camping trip, simply that such a scenario would be a different post than this.

Got the canner out and going last night. The Williams-Sonoma Preserving book recipe for Apricot Orange preserves is fabulous!  I think I want to do it again but as a jam. If only I had discovered it earlier in the season when I could still get organic apricots at a reasonable price...Could it be done with dried apricots? Maybe we will find out this winter. The cardamom and vanilla are such amazing flavor additions to this preserve. 6 pints was just nowhere near enough.

I also canned up some jam from the currants we picked up at Moose Creek with my new foraging friends plus some blueberries Laura brought me from a trip I couldn't make. To those I added strawberries, raspberries, and some knudsen Organic Berry Nectar to stretch the berries. I went fairly low sugar but am out of honey and low on sucanat so I used organic sugar crystals for sweetener. This also came out nicely with a beautiful ruby color.

Pictures? Maybe someday but the camera seems to be dead.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Bulk Food Series- Part 8, Ordering Details

So now that you've suffered through the endless boring details of food prep at our house, you'd like to know how to actually order.

1. Go to . Set up an account for yourself and start putting items into a shopping cart but don't check out before August 16th! If you do check out and finalize your order on, say, the 12th your order will be shipped all by itself and your shipping charges will be ugly.

2. Your azure shopping cart will give you two totals- one is a dollar amount and one is a weight total. Plan on about $.35 per lb for shipping. You will pay me the shipping directly by the 27th so that I can pay the delivery driver when the load is delivered, probably on the 30th. Our Drop number is 2781. You will be asked for this number as you are checking out with Azure.

3. Deadline for the first order is the 20th of August at noon. That means that you need to have checked  out and completed the order with Azure. Please send me an email when you have completed this step so that I can be sure that everyone is accounted for in the master order.

4. Our order will be delivered to Birchtree Charter School. The truck usually arrives in the valley from the American Fast Freight terminal around 10 but I have no way of knowing if our stuff will be at the front of the truck or the back. Most probable delivery date is August 30th.

5. We can set up a tarped area out of the regular traffic pattern to sort and distribute orders. It all comes off the truck as one big jumble! A few volunteers to help with distribution would be much appreciated.

6. We are not charging any coordinator's fees. The idea is to make healthy, high quality food accessible to everyone in our community.

7. If there is enough interest, a local farmer who raises chemical and hormone-free pastured beef is willing to also bring his coolers of frozen cuts of meat to pickup day. You would purchase directly from him but if you would like for him to come, please email me so that I can give him a rough idea of what to bring.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Starting to damage my calm

Laura was blogging about stress. About how maybe it makes us fat. I think it is also contributing to making us dumber, sicker, and more mentally unstable. Then, it is stressful to live with stupid unstable people who hate what they see in the mirror. So we become more stressed and less peaceful which leads to the consumption of more Ding Dongs, Cheetos, coke and take-out pizza. Which makes us fatter and sicker and dumber. rinse. lather. repeat.

My peace was disturbed (about a 6.5 on the richter scale) today when I opened the mail. There in our little Chase statement was an "Escrow Account Disclosure Statement". It's hard to tell through all the happy corporate-speak but it appears that my Escrow Account Disclosure Statement discloses that the folks at Chase are idiots. My previous experience with them also supports that conclusion. Not only am I a disgruntled customer, I was once a contract employee! Of the mortgage division. In IT.

Chase is a huge corporation. They have a lot of money. They make a lot of money. They got a lot of bailout money. One would think that an organization with so much money could afford the very best in IT infrastructure and intellectual capital.

I wish.

They paid my property taxes twice, decided that this caused a shortage in my escrow account, and then sent a letter demanding $4K (immediately, if you please) and announcing a 35% increase in my monthly payment. They also simultaneously reminded me that Chase's systems are not set up to accept split payments and informed me that I could now pay via an iphone app. Now on Monday, hours of my life will be spent on conference calls with some Chase flunkie in Bangladesh, a line of supervisors who will (hopefully) speak increasingly better English, the Borough tax folks, and maybe my bank. Plus my husband who is about as freaked out as a bird dog at 4th of July fireworks. He's not sure if he should bite someone or hide under the bed- and I'm right there with him!

I'm reasonably sure that this can all be worked out as just a minor inconvenience over the long-haul so I'm going to view it as a blessing. Just a little reminder that we need to be progressing toward the real goals and stop spending money (which is simply a fiat method of exchange for portions of my dearest's very life) on things of no lasting benefit or value. This does not, of course, include canning books!

Anybody need to rent a 5 bedroom, 3 bath house with a view ?

Friday, August 6, 2010

In which I rationalize blowing all my fun money....

on payday. This is why we pray "and lead us not into temptation": because we can find ourselves!!!! Or at least I can.

I went for the Costco run and to see if the shoes on sale at Lands End were similarly on sale at Sears in town. But since Sears is so very close to Barnes and Noble and I had a little money left on a gift card plus my teacher card, surely I should pop into B & N and pick up the less expensive of the two preserving books I wanted? You know- to save on gas money. So I left with a copy of  Well Preserved for a mere $9. Look at me! Aren't I thrifty! Snort.

Well-Preserved: Recipes and Techniques for Putting Up Small Batches of Seasonal Foods

Then I went to Summit Spice and Tea. This is dangerous. Their web site is sad and blah but the store certainly isn't. I knew that a re-stock on Tea and Spices were both in order so this part of my spending wasn't quite as injudicious as it might have been but did I really need a jar of raspberry curd, a second small infuser, or the little cup of duck demi-glace reduction? Uh, Not really. As I was cringing my way through check out, the nice clerk assured me that I was nowhere near the point of her feeling it prudent to do an intervention. I had used all the restraint I could muster - and I bribed my children with the promise of Carl's Jr.

Yes- for those of you sure that I serve only organic local veggies with beef I raised and killed myself - I bought drive-thru burgers today. And there was silence for 5 whole minutes and it was good. Until the war of the kids meal toys began and I paid for my sins.

During the actual Costco part of the day, which was the reason I went to the city in the first place, I was again being very restrained. There was a lot of whining about the total absence of organic fruit of any variety. The children also complained. I flirted with the idea of picking up some of the organic ground beef because the price is $2 a lb less than my local farmer but stopped upon reading the disclaimer saying that it contained meat from cows from the US, Canada and Argentina. I recognize the irony of doing this as a Carl's Jr burger was digesting in my belly, really I do. But I decided that I would rather spend a little more and vote for local. However, my chickens won't be ready until October 1st so I grabbed a pair of organic whole chickens and some of the chicken breasts then some wild caught shellfish to make Thai curry for the now-canceled Birchtree potluck.

All was going well until I walked into the crack den...I mean book section. There at the top of a tidy pile was the book, the one I really really wanted, which I had just virtuously passed by at B &N because I could get it more reasonably on Williams-Sonoma the Art of Preserving. $ 18.
Williams-Sonoma The Art of Preserving

As that book was jumping (all by itself! I swear!) into the cart and I was for the 14th time denying T2 permission to sample a Gogurt or some other sugary thing, I spotted Fun Stuff Silly Snacks and decided that it would be so very useful for lunches. Or something....

Fun Stuff Silly Snacks Cookbook

The good news is that Sears did not have the on-sale shoes so I had extra budgetary wiggle room. The bad news is that I partially melted my everyday, knock around shoes when we went fishing but I slunk home without replacing them this afternoon so that I could get lost in my new cookbooks and a cup of tea. The Lady Grey is excellent and I am dying to get my hands on some good apricots and meyer lemons.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Rice and Beans and Eggs!

Miss V is heading down to Kodiak tomorrow to participate in the annual pilgrimage to Spruce Island and then share her mad Irish Dance skills with the folks at St. Innocent's Academy. This is a big deal for her since she's afraid of boats and large bodies of water. I'm going to miss her a lot but I know that she is going to have a wonderful, wonderful time there and its one of those growing-up adventures that a girl needs to have.

In addition to her little (huge) case of aquaphobia, she also gets an upset stomach from foods with a high sulfur content. This means that I don't get to indulge in some of my favorite low-budget, high nutrition dishes without making her something else. While she's in Kodiak (where she will likely be served beans and where, she says, she will eat them with a smile on her face because I raised her right) I will be making a lot of rice and beans, refried beans, black beans and squash, baked eggs, quiche, and some more rice and beans. I hate cabbage as much as she does- as well as its cruciferous relatives cauliflower, brussels sprouts, kohlrhabi, and kale - but beans will be in daily rotation. My freezer is fairly barren (don't cry for me- its on purpose because we have a side of beef and 20 chickens ordered plus I'm getting more salmon and need another half of a hog) and the pantry is emptying out in preparation for the big azure order plus we're in the Dormition Fast so this is the perfect time to use what I have on hand and indulge my beany little desires.

Here's a great link to a bunch of suggestions for theme and variation on 'rice & beans'. My personal favorite is refried black beans over rice with a little shredded cheddar and big chunks of cooked winter squash or grilled zucchini.  Yum. Beans fried in coconut oil are great but the ones done in lard have even more depth of flavor. Leftovers make lovely lunch burritos.


Soak beans overnight, drain, rinse

Put them in the crock pot with some homemade bone broth if you have it or enough water to cover the beans by several inches, a chopped onion, a fresh seeded jalapeno and then cook them low & slow. Got whey? Use some of that too! 10 hours if you can manage it.

Melt a good half cup or more of coconut oil or lard in a big cast iron skillet. Chop or press a few garlic cloves into the fat and give them a minute to cook, being careful not to burn the garlic. Pull out a lot of your beans, leaving most of the liquid in the crock pot, and fry and mash them until they are very thick and pasty. Add in more whole beans and the bean liquid until you are happy with the consistency. Salt to taste then wait about 15 minutes and taste it again.

While your beans are cooking......

Chop the winter squash of your choice in half and scoop out the seeds. Oil the exposed flesh, place on a cookie sheet and bake until tender. Time will depend on the size of your squash. When the squash is cooked, pull it out of the oven and let it cool to room temp or at least a comfortable temp for handling. remove the skin, cut your squash into chunks and season to taste. Salt, pepper, maybe a little cumin?

Cook some rice. Brown rice is the best (unless, of course, one child left the bin of organic short grain brown rice open while another failed to clean out the cat box resulting in the very involuntary throwing away of your entire now-disgusting brown rice inventory leaving you with only arborio or sushi rice). If you have an abundance of stock, cook your brown rice in that and it will taste heavenly.

When your three components are done, put rice in the bowls and top with the beans and the squash and some shredded cheddar. I suspect some sauteed rainbow chard might make a wonderful addition but, alas, I ate all of ours.

In a hurry and need to cheat? Drain and fry canned black beans, heat some cubed butternut squash from the freezer section and you're all set.

Now please excuse me while I go put some beans on to soak!

More on Lunch

I promised my oldest daughter more details on packing lunch and I've been procrastinating because this is a topic that is tougher than I thought it would be!

First, good containers make everything easier. We have some of the 4 tier melamine tifffins sold at Target this summer and those are good but...they're too big for daily use. They were OK for camp because I was also sending snacks but I think that just for one person's lunch they are simply too much. They also aren't going to look very 'professional' and my son-in-law is in a very status conscious industry. Having a couple of options also allows you to vary lunches so they don't get boring. I like the look of the stainless tiffins,carrying cases, and reusable bamboo utensils at Happy Tiffin 

A laptop lunch set in a dark neutral color could be good:

and Bento boxes come in a variety of sizes, shapes, and colors. Zojirushi even makes a "Mr Bento" line for guys who don't want to go to work with Hello Kitty or Spiderman

Another nice and very masculine looking option from katachiware 

Since packing a lunch has become more mainstream and less 'blue collar' more options have appeared. Once you have a few good containers (and smaller containers and thermos-type things for hot items) then you can tackle the issues of keeping foods at their most appealing temperatures and creating an appropriate, attractive, and enjoyable menu.

Temperature: Currently in the school supply sections of both Walmart and Target I've seen little mats with cubes of blue freezer coolant fluid that you could (carefully!) cut to fit your containers. Hardware and building supply stores sell a very thin silver insulation product that can also be cut to fit to line or surround containers.Tiles from the building supply store can be heated in the oven and packed with the lunch to keep things warm (not a concern in a Chicago summer, I know- but winter comes eventually). Some foods handle being frozen and serve as natural ice packs. Yogurt does very well and lunch meats and cheeses often do too. For a wrap or a sandwich you would freeze the meat and cheese then pack it separately from the veggies, condiments and bread.

Menu choices: Google bento, low carb bento, and low carb lunch ideas. There so, so many options. With someone who isn't excited about raw carrots and celery, think of ways to put the veggies in the food. Shred them and put them in things.  It doesn't matter how good for a person something is- if they don't like it and there are other choices (Hunny Bunnies, Lara Bars, vending machines!) the more desirable thing will be chosen. Rice is nice because it is versatile, freezes well, and its so easy. For a guy who likes to graze all day, small rice balls (onigiri) can be filled with things that are good for him and yummy- take those veggies, mix with some meat and terryaki for instance. Thai spring rolls can be made without the rice noodles and using butter lettuce for a wrapper with no loss of taste. Steamed chicken and veggies with some soy sauce on a bed of rice is calorie conscious and more attractive than the raw carrots. Burritos and tortillas are good. For people who already spend half the GDP of Zimbabwe at Whole Paycheck, why not use some of their healthier hot bar items in a thermos? A tiffin would be great for a big chef's salad but guys usually don't feel that they have had a full meal with a salad as a main course. When the weather turns, chili or stew in a thermos is filling and comforting and an easy way to get veggies in someone. Hard boiled eggs pack well and are loaded with protein. Bagels with smoked salmon and cream cheese are another option.

Happy packing!