Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Stinky cloth diapers...

If you need to know how to get started with cloth, you might want to check out this post HERE. Once you have the diapers in your hot little hands, you are going to want to know how to wash them. Washing cloth diapers freaks people out. There are no two ways about that but that does not mean you need to let the fear of washing cloth diapers keep you from using them. It is not nearly as hard as people think! Here are some common questions and how to handle them.

Do I need to rinse or soak my diapers?

I have a full post on soaps and detergents and washing cloth diapers (which you can read HERE) but here are some basic points to keep in mind.

1. Whatever you do, you do not need to soak diapers. It is just such a bad idea. If you use vinegar, it only adds additionally acids to the mix and wears the diapers out faster. If you use soaps or detergents, you can actually cause a residue build up on the diaper which will make them less absorbent. A less absorbent diaper is a bad thing! What you do need to do is try to wash twice a week. The longer you wait, the longer the acids in the diaper will have to eat through the fiber in the cloth diaper. Less frequent washing means more frequent replacement. Really.

2. You do not need to rinse the diapers of breastfed babies who don't eat solids. Breastfed poop is very liquid and dissolves readily in water. It is just fine. Start with a quick rinse in cold water without soap to finish rinsing the diapers and then wash on the most aggressive cycle with the hottest water and an extra rinse. Dry or sun the diapers.

3. Formula fed poo is a bit smellier and thicker but is generally okay to skip the rinsing. When you do wash, put it through a FULL cycle on cold with no soap to really get the poo rinsed out well. Then wash on the most aggressive cycle with the hottest water and an extra rinse. Dry or sun the diapers.

Do I need to strip my diapers?

When you strip diapers, you give them a really super aggressive washing. You might do this for a couple of reasons and there are ways to avoid it.

1. If your baby has a really bad rash that is just not clearing up, strip the diapers. You need to get those diapers clean. Until it clears up, dry them in the sun outside.

2. If the diaper is coated, there is a quick and easy test. Take a perfectly dry, clean diaper and pour 1/4 cup of very hot water over it. If it beads, runs off the sides or does not absorb instantly, your diaper needs to be stripped.

3. If the diaper reeks like hot diaper pail in July the instant it gets wet, this is a big sign. Try smelling the diapers as soon as they come out of the washer and see if you can smell the slightest bit of diaper pail. Also do that hot water test above and take a really good wiff. If you can smell pee, you have diapers that need to be deep cleaned.

4. You can reduce the number of times you will need to strip your diapers by avoiding using ointments. The oils in the ointments will stick to the fibers, which makes other things stick simply because oils resist water. When oils from ointments get into the fibers of the diaper only a really aggressive washing will get get them out.

5. Use fleece liners when you have to use ointments or when the baby is sick and the diapers are pretty acidic. Not only do they keep the acids away from the baby but they keep the ointments from the diapers. When these get super nasty, boil them in a big stock pot. If you can, boil them over a turkey burner outside. It is not pleasant! But it only takes five minutes. Then pull them out and you can wash them, dry them, and be on with it!

How do I strip my diapers?

You can boil diapers which takes time and I don't know that I think it works as well as people say. I heavy wash. It stinks, but it works.

1. Wash the diapers in the heaviest cycle on the washing machine with an extra rinse twice without any soap. If you can, take a peek half way through and see if you can see bubbles. Most residue is from using too much detergent or using soap. Dry the diapers completely through between washes.

2. On the third wash, use a teeny-tiny bit of dawn detergent. Like a teaspoon. It really works. Do remember to check to warranty on your diapers, in case your particular product does not recommend it.

3. If you can, dry them in the sun until completely dry. Even in the winter, if the day is sunny, you can kill a lot of germs with the UV light of the sun. If you can, try to line dry them in the sun at least once every other week. If you do not like the crispy line dried feel, dry them for half the time in the dryer and then hang them in the full sun. That will not only save on the electric (or gas) bill, but it will keep the diapers clean and baby's bottom healthy.

How do I wash the diapers to keep them clean?

It is not rocket science, really. The issue is using the right kind of detergent. I have a post all about the different ingredients in detergents and how they affect your diapers and you should check that out HERE. After you have a good detergent, you are ready to wash!

1. Do not soak.

2. Do not use soap to wash, do not use homemade soaps to wash, and definitely do not use fabric softener!

3. Put the diapers in without soap and run on a cold water wash to rinse them. If you have a breastfed baby, just do a short wash. If you use formula or the baby is eating solids, do a full cycle. If you have a low water use washing machine like I do, you will need to cheat to get it to add more water. Take a big bucket without holes in it (so not your regular laundry basket) and place a dirty bath towel in it. Fill it with the bath to get it seriously, sopping wet and dump it into the washer. Your washer will weigh the laundry and add water based on the weight. The water not only adds to the weight but provides additional water. More water gives more ability to rinse. It is all good but you have to add not just a damp towel but one that is so wet, it cannot be carried to the washer without making a giant mess. Use the bucket.

4. Run the diapers through another wash, this time the hottest and most aggressive cycle (whitest whites) with half the regular amount of detergent you would normally use and add an extra rinse cycle. If you have a low water washer, do the sopping wet towel trick. If you can't add an extra rinse cycle, come back and run in through with another quick rinse.

5. The low water washers can be difficult to deal with and will frustrate you unless you learn the towel trick and extra rinse trick. They are designed to be faster and use less water and you need to overcome this manufacture's design. I think they were engineered by people who do not actually wash clothes. Remember these tricks for the times somebody vomits on themselves. You do not want clothes or sheets that smell like vomit. What is more, is that no one else wants your clothes to smell like vomit either.

By the way, my super awesome friend with the GINORMOUS blog, Elia, is running a cool diaper giveaway. You need to go check it out. Bookmark her site, my friends, because she always has the coolest hook ups and gives loads of stuff away. And she is fun. A lot of fun. So, go check it out because it closes on the 30th! You can find the giveaway on her blog, Conservamom, HERE.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Finnish sour cream cake...

This is one of my favorite desserts. It always looks so beautiful on a buffet table!  This is my husband's grandmother's Finnish Sour Cream Cake of  Kermakakku. I usually make it with homemade Finnish sour cream which is thicker than American. You can make your own or you can use creme fraiche, it is thicker and has the higher fat content that you need. If you have some basic mesophilic cheese culture or a creme fraiche starter, use the heavy whipping cream to culture it. If you need some help in doing it, check out my tutorial HERE. This is a standard Finnish recipe so, if you are Finnish, I do know that you have one and it might be slightly different than this one. That is okay, really more than okay, if every cake was exactly the same, what would make your grandmother's cake stand out? This cake uses the classic trio of Finnish spices: cinnamon, cardamon, and white pepper. If you don't have any of it blended you can continue with the recipe anyway. If you want to have a bit on hand, mix two tablespoons of each and keep it in a glass jar. I use it so much baking that I make it 1/4 cup of each at a time. I make my own spice blends and have a tutorial on what spices go well with others and the recipes for some basic spice blends HERE and my super special taco seasoning HERE.

Finnish Sour Cream and Spice Cake

 Dry ingredients:
3 cups of unbleached, unbromated all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1 tablespoon of Finnish Thrice Spice (or 1 teaspoon each cinnamon, cardamon and white pepper)

Wet ingredients:
2 whole eggs
2 cups sour cream (see note above)
2 cups evaporated cane crystals
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (I make my own, see HERE)

Optional: Sifted powdered sugar for garnish before serving

Butter a bundt pan and sprinkle heavily with the cane sugar for the recipe, and pour the rest into the dry ingredients bowl. This helps the cake develop a good crust so that it will come out of the pan easily and it helps the powered sugar not to "melt" or absorb into the cake when it is served.  Preheat the oven to 350F. In separate bowls, whisk the wet and dry ingredients until well combined. One third at a time, fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients just until  combined. Pour into prepared plan and bake for 50-60 minutes or until a toothpick comes out almost clean. You want a few crumbs attached, if it is completely dry then your cake is overdone. Cook the cake on a rack with the pan side up. After ten minutes, the moisture between the pan and the cake will make it easier to unmold. Give it a small jiggle and remove the pan. Cool completely and serve.

I will be making two or three of these for the traditional Finnish coffee party we are planning for this spring. If you did not read about it, you can find out all about it HERE. If you are looking for more desserts, here are some of our favorites:

Coconut Cream Cake
"Emergency" Chocolate Cake

Apple Almond Tart
Chocolate Ganache
Adapt a Cake Recipe to Make it Nourishing

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Spring coffee party...

Spring is coming and though it is just about freezing and overcast outside, it has been sunny and above freezing leading to a lot melt. Hundreds and hundreds of inches take a while to melt, which is good, because we have 315 inches and if we had them all melt at once, well. It would be pretty bad! So when the children's 4H leader asked about spring activity ideas, my children were ready to celebrate. Maria had the idea of doing a traditional Finnish coffee party sometimes called a "coffee table" or a "bread and butter" table, which is what it is literally called. In Finnish it's called voileipäpöytä but I cannot help you pronounce it!

The concept is the basic buffet with a wide variety of dishes with more or fewer dishes depending on whether it is more or less formal. The basic foundation of the buffet starts with bread and butter, it is after all called this, and is built out from there. In America, buffets are usually very informal events and there is little structure and the food is both laid out all at once and eaten in the same way. The Finnish affair is far more structured. The least formal coffee tables with feature just nisu and butter with two cups of coffee. Nisu is a sweet, dense cardamon flavored bread. Somehow I have never covered how to make nisu! This coming week, I am going to be covering some basic Finnish dishes like this and the most incredible Finnish spice cake.

Above is the Finnish spice cake freshly dusted with powdered sugar and with a bit pinched by one of the kids. This cake is a sour cream based yellow cake that is spiced with the basic Finnish combination (I call it Thrice Spice because it rhymes) of cinnamon, cardamon, and white pepper. I know what you are thinking, the white pepper seems a little strange. It is flipping amazing. Next time you are making snickerdoodle cookies, mix up this spice blend and then cut it half and half with evaporated cane crystals and roll your cookies in that. You will blow people away. There is something in there that they cannot identify and it is spicy but sweet and they love it. People will beg for your cookies, I know by experience.

When Finns serve coffee table, it can be a really casual affair like the farm meal above (and written about HERE) or it can be a very formal affair such as a wedding. We actually had a coffee table for our wedding reception. Ben's family understood exactly what we were going for there but most everybody else just enjoyed it American-style. At a very casually affair, you might sit and hold your plate, picnic style. At a very formal affair, you would go to a table set with utensil and condiments.


But back to the structure of a coffee table. Coffee must always be served. Period. You can offer tea and even lemonade for children and perhaps small beer at a very large affair, but coffee is a must. If you are looking for fun, sparkling drinks to have a functions you can find some really great recipes HERE. I put these in blue swingtops and bring them (in a cooler with loads of ice) when we go out to parties. It is fun, never steps on people's toes, and gives you something to drink other than soda.

The Bones of the Coffee Table

Nisu and butter, real butter, must always be served. There are many cute ways to shape the dough. I have done large crowns and lovely crosses. Each dish following this must compliment another dish. The first addition is a cold fish dish, like a smoked fish, which is paired with a savory bread such as rye or fresh cheeses like juustua (recipe coming this week).  There are seven categories of food which can added to this but for each category, there is a complimentary dish to be added.
1. Breads: starting with nisu and expanding out to savory breads with a fare variety between soft and chewy and crusty breads. Bread is always served with butter and in more complex meals, with jellies and jams.
2. Cold fish and meat dishes: starting with smoked or cold cooked fish, pickled fish, fish spreads, pâté and tourine  with complimenting cheeses.
3. Warm fish and meat dishes: ham, cold cuts, sliced roasts, and baked fish with complimenting cheeses.
4. Hot hors d'eouvres: things like meatballs or small meat or vegetable filled pastries.
5. Main course: meat and potato dishes, casseroles, and egg dishes.
6. Salads and fruits: this are cold affairs with only fruits and vegetables in them. If this is last course of a more formal meal, alcoholic beverages may be served but are not always served. Often instead of wine, small beers and the sparkling fruit juices are served instead.
7. Desserts: additional sweet breads and cookies and cakes. If not a very formal affair, the fruit dishes serve as a dessert but it is possible to have a simple luncheon with a cake or cookies and only branch into the cold fish and meat dishes. This is a bit flexible. If this is final course of an elegant meal, alcoholic beverages may be served but are not required.
Order of Service

Despite the fact that all of the food is laid out all at the same time, it is not eaten at the same time. The order can a bit flexible for a casual affair with only a few dishes, in that case everything but the cake or the cookies can be taken in the first pass, the dessert will eaten last. It is also completely appropriate for even formal events like weddings to have a potluck where specific food categories are planned and assigned. Informal events have two cups of coffee and the formal have four that are drunk at the meal and what is taken with each cup varies. The desserts are either segregated on the table or on another table all together. Pay attention to the changing of the plates, because there are very strongly flavored dishes like pickled fish, if you do not change plates, you might not enjoy your fruit and dessert quite so much. Make sure that there is water available at either the table with the coffee or on individual tables. Eating is thirsty work! Also, a smaller tea cup size of coffee is usually drunk rather than a large coffee mug though the mug is not inappropriate just far more casual and better suited to a "two-cup table". What really defines the formality of the party is the main dish. If there is a main dish
First cup: With the first plate and first cup of coffee the bread and butter and cold fish dishes are taken, if there are any.
Second cup: At a less formal meal, take a second place and a second cup of coffee, then have the dessert whether it is fruit or cake and cookies. At a more formal meal, enjoy the the warm dishes or "small bites". In America, the appetizers are eaten before the main courses but might substitute for the main course at a coffee party. At very large functions, there will be both.
Third cup: Using the second plate, take a third cup of coffee, and enjoy the main dishes (if there are any), salads, and egg dishes.
Fourth cup: Taking a final plate, take a fourth cup of coffee or another beverage and enjoy the dessert. The dessert is served on very small plates, just like in America. If the fourth cup of coffee is not drunk with the dessert, it is offered afterwards and might just be drunk as it is with no accompaniment.
I have only done the "two cup affair" though we've had elaborate American style dinner parties with soup, main, salad, and dessert. Most Americans, and even American born Finns, aren't familiar with the complexities and elegance of a four cup formal affair. Since this is a very Finnish community, we are planning a formal, four cup affair, for the whole community so that the children and the older folks can teach others about how they function. It's a fascinating slice of culture and history which will disappear if people don't do it. Culture was meant to be lived not just remembered.

This has me thinking about what you all might have as traditions in your own families and cultures. I would love to hear about them and the kinds of foods you enjoy at them. So, please, don't just read, jump in and let me know!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Spring is coming...

 I think it is finally here! This really might be the real deal, some real sun, some real warmth and finally some real melt! It is slow going, how long does it take for 26 feet of snow to melt? Seriously, that is actually how much snow we had this winter so far (see HERE). The sun was out and there was so much melt happening that today ended up being a bit celebratory. It started out with brunch and the making of some very lovely party hats.

The children made them and they used cardstock, a school compass, and some yarn. We have no lack of yarn but given my unrealistic attachment to it, I was a bit picky about what they actually used. The kids had a great time with them and even made one for the dog. She would sit very quietly while they put it on her but as soon as it was on, she would shake it off. I tried to get a photo, but it was all blurry. In the end, Kuki did not want a hat and we were not going to make her wear it. Instead, it is rather fetchingly sported by a stuffed rabbit. Since it is still in use, the children are pleased.

All this melt makes us giddy but perhaps foolish. Some of the boys hiked out into the orchard in order to walk around and became hopelessly stuck. They sank it to their hips and waists in the soft snow and were not able to get out. Poor Ben had to hike out there past the pond, which I don't need to tell you they needed absolutely to avoid, and save one boy and then the one who had come to do the saving. In the end, they were all wet and cold and needed to change clothes and dry out boots. We have new rule about how far from the house we are allowed to go right now. The rule applies even to me because I went out and got stuck in the snow taking a photo for the blog this winter. You didn't read about that? HERE you go.

Speaking of the orchard, the very long and very cold winter (we had February highs in the single negative digits) and the snow fall beat the orchard down. There are several trees which were buried under snow and now that it is retreating, we can see how many branches are broken and damaged. One tree is completely split into the trunk and will need to be cut down and replaced. It makes me sad because it was a tree that has been here since my father-in-law was a child. The tree in the very center of the shot was the one that I took especially for a post on winter coming (see HERE). It is hard to believe that this is the same orchard but it is and it will be just like that again.

But now my favorite apple tree is broken and needs to be replaced. With scores of acres upon acres of apples trees, why should this one bother me so much? It is very close to the house and over the summer I went out to pick apples for salads or snacks. Now, it is broken. In the end it was very old, and I knew that it would need to be replaced at some point but since there is not another producing tree to replace it, I just was not ready to see it so broken. It is far enough that I can't easily get to it now and probably won't be able to for another month.

With all the snow melting, there are puddles everywhere. In this shot Ben is out in front of the house trying to cut a channel in the ice to help it drain. When we ran out of wood this winter (that was scary) we bought a logging truckload of whole logs with about 11 cords of wood. We have gone through half of it. All that saw dust has insulated the ground around it and the ice is not melting. First the ice must melt and then the ground underneath it so that it can really drain away. The ground was frozen down 80 inches last month which means that there are road restrictions limiting the size of vehicles that can drive on the roads. The roads are fragile at this point and the road base can shift. It must first thaw and then drain so that it is not washed away by driving on them.

Cristina just turned five and was ready to get out and help Daddy. She grabbed a little beach shovel and went to work. Cristina mostly just threw the tiny shovelfuls of snow into the puddle which is like bailing out a ship with a teacup but her heart was in the right place. It was 44F and we were all just happy to be out in the warmth and the sun and listening to the snow melt.

The spring melt is know as mud season here and for good reason. All that snow is now melting away into puddles and patches of deep mud meaning no one goes out except in muck boots. I had shared some photos on Facebook of some warmer and sunnier days in the high thirties and realized that even though I told people there was so much melt, that it didn't look like it. Now it looks like it. The banks are crumbling and shrinking and there is ground visible, though that ground is just pure mud. Still, as long as the snow is melting we are pretty happy.

Eli was feeling brave and went out in shorts and athletic slides to walk up and down the driveway and examine the direction of the runoff. He was one of the boys who had gotten stuck and was under strict orders not to go out in the deep snow or to splash in the deepest (18 inches) puddles. He did not go in the snow but did go in the puddles, dressed like that, and came in cold and shivering but at least he was happy. He did not get into too much more trouble but that is probably because he had earlier been in so much trouble!

Veronica came out barefooted and watched as her father and sister moved water. At least, that is what she said. I think she was looking for the beach sand pails which she had filled with sawdust and was keeping on the porch. We looked like we lived in a barn with a porch covered in litter because she kept bringing it onto the porch to sift. The buckets are gone, the saw dust is gone, the porch is swept and she was told not to bring any back. I know she understands and will happily listen to us...until tomorrow.

Last but not least, I told you we had brunch. This is what we had: coconut macaroon French toast. It was so good. The maple syrup came from down the road and was gloriously dark and smokey. It was good day, a very good day. *Sigh* I really needed spring.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

I might be crazy....

Really, there is a solid chance that you are following the blog of a cray-cray lady. What you see here is a super delicious falafel slider, which we had for dinner Friday night, a day late. Maria's birthday was Thursday and this is what she wanted for dinner. I really wanted to do it, I really did. But we had to agree to have it for dinner Friday instead. This is because I was so overwhelmed already. We had a freaky storm blow in and so on Thursday we needed to get to the store and pick up the farm milk. There would be no getting out for a couple of days. The thought of making the sliders and the cupcakes was just too much for me. Why? Why not just do it? Because, again, I am a one woman crazy show. How so? Well, when someone says they want falafel for dinner, I start a sophisticated countdown as if I am planning a NASA launch.
"Okay. Falafel. I need get that sourdough freshened and soak some garbanzos in some water with kefir. Then I need to get those beans cooked and drained and get all the prep done for the garlic, onion and parsley. Darn, I need to toast that cumin seed. Sigh. I have not done that yet. Then there are rolls to make...mayo. We need some mayo and some guac and... then you wanted cupcakes. Got to get started on the ganache so it can cool and then there are the cakes. Ice cream? Do I have time for that? 
Girl, we need at least 48 hours lead time on this."
Why am I not a normal person who buys bread and canned beans? Two words: crazy and show. Well, that and perhaps BPA and soybean oil. But that is three, if you count the acronymn...well, same idea, right?

So why even bother? Well, I am really worried about the BPA and the soybean oil and the crazy show is in my veins. And it could be that the weather is really getting to me. Maybe if I pretend that it is as warm and sunny as in Mediterranean climes, I will be able to convince myself. While everyone else is starting gardens or sitting in the sun and otherwise not swimming in deep snow, this is what we are doing:

That 24 hour storm blew in (exactly as promised) and sucker punched us (exactly as promised) and in just 20 hours dumped  more than 18 inches of snow! After digging out our front steps, Ben dug out part of the furnace. Then he went around the farm yard and measured and measured and we took an average. Depending on place, he got between 21 and 22.

That's okay, it can snow all it wants. We have some red wine and lots of food. I am thinking I need to make something spicy tomorrow. Better get started right now.

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