Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Solving dinner dilemmas...

Struggling with dinner is just one of those things that all people go through. Some of us have more to think about, or have fewer resources, and struggle more than others. I have been thinking about this a lot lately and I am thinking that I need to spend some time really concentrating on it. There are a few things that are on my mind lately and some things people have been asking me about and these are ripe for blogging.

We have been working very hard to follow very strictly the Eastern Christian Fasting restrictions as a family and without using any soy and reducing our grains. It is very easy to fill up carbs with the lists of foods that are out (meat, poultry, fish with backbones, olive oil, wine, and dairy) and it can be hard to get enough protein. Year round, we fast like this on Wednesdays and Fridays but there are four fasting periods through the year which are between two and seven weeks long which means that we need to constantly keep it in mind. A friend has kids who just won't eat beans and my kids are lentil resistant and I know that grains and nuts are out for some families. I am working on putting together some recipes and dividing them by meal type. I think that it needs to be hyper indexed to accommodate available ingredients, i.e. I need to find things that use the 25# of garbanzos I bought!

As an aside, please no emails about how you have the best bean or lentil recipe that I could modify. I bet you do get tons of compliments. I bet that involves olive oil or bacon or meat or cheese something fabulous that makes it not suitable for fasting and you will tell me to leave it out. It will not be the same. Also, my dad was Mexican. I can cook some beans. It is just that when you fast for long periods, you need to find ways of hiding the fact that the protein is beans or lentils again just to keep the kids from squawking about it all the time. But, if you have a vegan bean recipe with no soy or olive oil that is awesome, I am totally ready for it.

Oh, and a friend who is on GAPS with her husband and four kids recently started a blog (like yesterday) and I was thinking that I can ask her for a guest post about her journey. Let's be honest for a second and remember that GAPS freaks people out hard core. But, it is doable, people do it all the time. Not that it is easy, mind you, but it can be done. I think that if people heard more about how and why to start and how to maintain the rhythm, it might help them be less afraid. What do you think?

Another thing that is on my mind lately, is tooth health and diet. I have a friend whose son has terrible teeth and she needs a major diet overhaul and she is a bit nervous about it. I also have a daughter like that. I had a large volume of blood clots in both lungs and was on blood thinners until she was four months old. Now her teeth are a wreck. I need to be really intensive about her diet because I need her permanent teeth to form properly.

Are there things that are worrying you? Things that we can work out together? Let me know, I would love to help. If you have some great ideas, I would love to hear about them, too!

Last thing! I have my latest post up at CafeMom, you can read HERE all about the magic of the first time baby clearly recognizes you. It is an awesome moment. Check it out!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Thinking about the future...

I am definitely not pregnant, so nobody needs to ask, but a lot of my thinking involves babies right now. I am thinking about babies a lot because I am writing about baby's first over at CafeMom right now. It is a fun gig because I am moving beyond the baby stage with my youngest and it is a little bit sad. Claudia is now sixteen months and is pretty much a toddler now with her first steps a few months behind her and some distinguishable language cropping up. HERE I write about baby's first smile, which is total critical to mom's well-being. I also wrote about my son Greg and his first well baby visit, which is akin to my Big Fat Greek Wedding moment, you can see it HERE. I have some more to come and I will make sure that I link to them as they come up. Come on over and pay me a visit!

By the way, that photo there was taken with my new big girl camera (which I have no clue how to use yet) and it looks wonky because it is on a hill which sloped down towards the left side of the shot. I wanted to capture the long evening shadows but I think I just made it look like I was sea sick. The color is off and it looks like the horizon is tilted. I have a book now and I am working through it. I am honestly thinking of getting the Great Courses DVD on photography. I know, kinda silly, but really. If it helps, that's good, right? What do you think? Please, I really want some input! I am also thinking I need to invest in Photoshop Lightroom so I can fix things, you know. Not just throw them at you. But that will need until I get paid for my articles. Do any of you use Lightroom?

Also, the closet is going very, very well. It is the first piece in my multi-stage process of making more room in the house. There are a lot of people in this house and since I write from home and the kids are home-schooled, we are all together, all the time. We need to find some distance. The girls have a new closet in front of the old one and it takes up no real estate. That old closet was combined with the linen closet to make a huge storage closet. It is evening and the lighting is bad so tomorrow I take real photos. Plus, really, how do you photograph a small seven and a half foot square room from a narrow hallway? Do you need a fishbowl lens like they use in National Geographic for shooting things like Japanese hotel rooms? I was standing in the bathroom across the hall trying to shoot this from the sink and the kids were all like, "Close the door when you use the bathroom!" And I am using the bathroom but more like a perch, so, I need to keep the door open.

The rooms are all arranged for maximum floor space for playing, and I will be so glad for it when winter comes. The boys also have a new flat topped vintage chest for their games. This is one that can be used as a surface to play games on. I have also bought a cubby system for holding my yarn, yay!

Clearly Fabulous Shot of Junk Piled onto Things and Not Put Away, Yet.
It is a little bit frustrating that each piece must wait for the next to go in so that I can reorganize each closet and each room. I have to empty the space out, which means piling it in the another room, and then getting the closets or shelves done. Before we go to bed, I have to get all that stuff just re-piled. But give me another month and it will be sweet. Next we are tackling the mudroom and getting some kitchen cabinets in there for storage and a closet rod for hanging all the coats. Having twelve people here all the time (since, *weep*, Joseph is at college) means that there are no less than two dozen of anything to organize. Two dozen coats, two dozen light jackets, two dozen sweaters, a scant dozen pairs of snow pants; then there are the scores of hats, gloves, balaclavas, mittens, leather chopper mittens, boots and other shoes. Oh, but then there are the basic tools that need to be kept in the house and the cleaning supplies and ironing board and washer and dryer and...well. There is a lot of stuff to keep organized. I love organizing. I am totally up to the challenge.

Last thing, I think we should do Haloumi cheese the first week of August. I will make it, photo it, and then I will write up the post. People keep asking about cheese and I think we should keep making it. I like making it, I like eating it, and I want other people to like cheesemaking, too. This is a basic, easy cheese. We can move onto harder cheese later. Thoughts? What have you wanted to make?

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Making room...

I have had this reoccurring dream for more than a decade that I find a room in my house that I never knew was there. Sometimes it is in the same place and sometimes it is in different places but it always leads to a whole new room of the house I never knew about before. The room is always full appointed and beautifully furnished and decorated. In my dreams I come to the room and think, "How did I not know this was even here?! Why are we not using this space!?" I thought I was the only person who ever had these dreams until I recently found out a long time friend and a new one both do this. Wouldn't it be great to find a whole other room? But it is only a dream.

Maybe not. Ben had this great idea to remove a wall between a hall closet and a walk in closet to make a giant walk-in linen closet. So, the great move began. I wrote about this HERE and we have finally dug right into it all. We are moving things from the mudroom and the hall way and our room as we shuffle all the boys into the girls' old room and the girls in to the boys' old room and making a new closet in that room so they girls have one. The kids did not need a walk-in closet and the linen closet just wasn't enough for our big family needs. It is a new addition, about a decade ago. No, it is no longer. I know it is a giant mess but in a 1800sqft house, there is not a lot of room for stuff. So it is hanging out there so that we can go to bed. Before it was moved, it was in our room.

You can see where the wall came out and all the closet appointments have been removed and what it is left is a small room of 8.5 feet by 8.5 feet making almost 70 square feet of awesome! The bifold doors will go back on and there will be a storage ROOM behind them! The hidden is room is real, man, really real. We are ordering some steel shelving units and all the linens, towels, toilet paper, personal hygiene goods and what not will have a home. So will all the dirty laundry which is now is bedrooms and bathrooms. I am going to have one bucket for each of the laundry categories so everything can go in sorted already, making starting a load a walk in the park. I have a laundry schedule that I use to keep it under control, you can read about it HERE.

I cannot wait to show you the whole finished affair! I also cannot believe that my unbelievably brilliant husband figured out how to carve out a storage room in this tiny house (1660 sqft if you do not include the mudroom). He is brilliant and he is all mine. And so is the storage room. Ben is literally making my dreams come true!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Things we have learned about ourselves...

People grow and people change. It is just a fact of life. One of the strangest things is when we become aware of the ways in which we change. We took that trip back home and it was still home and we are still us but there are definitely somethings that are different about us now. One of the things is the way that we have become accustomed to living in the middle of nowhere. We are surrounded by woods and there are no neighbors we can see let alone hear, the closest ones are 3/4 of a miles away. This means that we are used to doing things a little differently.

We don't close the curtain except to block light when it is shining too sharply at us. Who will watch us in our pj's? The bears? There is no one to watch us change or get up in the middle of the night to get a drink. This means that the children are used to seeing the stars outside the window. When we were driving from the farm to Denver, Cristina was a wreck. She said she could not sleep without seeing the stars. It was a tragedy to her to keep the  the motel window's curtains closed so that the truckers congregating the parking lot could not see us. But I was not leaving them open, no matter how upset she was!

We had also forgotten that planning to park the White Whale is a real issue in the city. You have to plan ahead and cannot be on the wrong side of the street because there is NO changing lines in the middle and the van doors have to face a sidewalk or the kids can't even get out. In order to get a space that was accessible to the van and with a grassy space on one side (so we could butt right up to it and have more wiggle room) and no one behind us so we could actually pull out meant that mom had to continually move her little white Honda out of the space just as we pulled up and then find another spot for that. It was the constant game of musical chairs. Here? We just park wherever. You can drive and park anywhere. You can't kill the grass. Really. Also, space is not an issue. You can actually back semi trailers on up to the pole barn without a problem and just park them. Or, people who know how to drive those things can do it.

Trying out my new big girl camera.
Something else that is changing: I just bought a big girl camera. I have a Canon now and a nifty little book so I can make good use of the new DSLR and learn how to make the most of the manual settings. I have a neat group of photog hobby moms who are all helpful and super nice. Now I am going to be taking better photos. Well, the goal is to take better photos. We shall see what happens. I just might turn into one of those people who spit out all the mumbo-jumbo with all those numbers and stuff that is supposed to tell you all about my process.

So we took it out on a walk up to the mailbox and I played with it. I took photos of flowers and trees and the woods and the dog running out of the woods to us. I had stopped to fiddle with the camera when my husband said, "Hey, is that a stick that the dog has or is it a leg?"

I briefly glanced up and back down and said, "Seriously? Of course it is a stick because it is definitely not a..." and then I looked again. It was totally a deer's leg. Actually, we are pretty sure it was a fawn's leg. Oh. My. Gosh. She was just walking around with it like it was nothing. There are a lot of coyotes around here and some neighbors (being people who are relatively close but actually live miles away) have seen a pair of wolves around so there are plenty of things to kill a deer. It is not uncommon to come across a carcass. What is uncommon it to have the dog run around with a leg like that, one that was, uh, less than fresh. I would show the photo of the dog sitting on the gravel on the drive up to the road, leg held firmly in the mouth, but it might freak people out. I will instead show a close up that doesn't show it in all it's gravedigger glory.

There. If it freaks you out, sorry. Kuki is an animal afterall. She totally has no manners.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Lavender cream biscuits...

Our lavender plants are blooming beautifully and it smells gorgeous when we pass by! Usually the lavender goes in to herbes de Provence but I had something different in mind. I have been wanting to use some of the lavender in something, something like baked goods. Not only does it smell gorgeous when it bakes but then it's fabulous when you eat them. Cream biscuits are by far my favorite delicate baked good. I use them for scones for tea and for light tender biscuits for shortcakes or very small ones for filling for hors d'eouvres. I have a sprouted flour version HERE, which is all real food, and you could add some lavender to those for a delicious and floral addition to your table but these are white flour. I wanted something fancy and I have to be honest, there is something a bit utilitarian and farmhouse about sprouted flour. These are less farm fare and more white tie. Sure, it is an indulgence but I think that a little indulgence is alright now and then.

Strawberry Festival Parade
This past weekend was the annual Strawberry Festival complete with a crowning of a Strawberry Queen and a parade featuring at least sixteen firetrucks from all the areas around here. We packed in with a couple thousand of our far flung neighbors and watched as the boys participated. The came marching down the street handing out candy to thrilled children, but since we were in the back, the girls missed out. I think I am okay with that! While the local strawberries are really not quite at their peak yet, it will likely be about a week, they are still pretty good. Here, everybody loves strawberry shortcakes and at the festival they are available at scores of stands. Every version is strikingly similar with only a few variations. Almost always they are made with the yellow sponge cake cups, mashed berries, and non-dairy whipped topping. I just can't. If I am going to eat, it had better be worth eating.

Bad shot of good shortcake.
Here's the thing. Start with fresh berries and slice them, don't mash them. Sprinkle liberally with sugar, I like to use granulated Mexican sugar which is less processed and a lovely pale brown color. Add the sugar to the surface of the berries and stir, but wait a minute before you add more. You want to add sugar until water beads on the surface of the berries. When you sugar berries, you put science to work. The water is drawn out of the berries and the water-soluble flavenoids (flavors) and pull them out and they will thicken with the sugar mixture creating a lovely sauce. Adding a small (really, really small) pinch of salt will intensify the sweet flavor without adding more sugar. I also like to add a small splash, probably only a half teaspoon, of vanilla because the alcohol pulls out alcohol-soluble flavoids and the vanilla flavor is nice complement to the berries. Don't forget to use real whipped cream, not non-dairy whipped topping. That plastic tub goo just gives bad mouth feel and lacks the softness and delicacy of real whipped cream. We are in the country, let's eat like it.

For our shortcakes after the parade, I made these lavender biscuits. I topped them with the macerated (not mashed) berried and the freshly whipped cream sweetened with local raw honey from a friend. It was amazing and we loved them. So much better than store bought cakes and non-dairy topping.

Lavender Cream Biscuits, yields 12

  • 1 1/2 C Cake flour (I like King Arthur's)
  • 1 1/2 C All purpose flour, use unbromated and unbleached
  • 1 Tb Baking powder, use aluminum free
  • 3/4 Tsp salt
  • 1 TB chopped fresh lavender blossoms (or use 1 1/2 tsp dried)
  • 1 Tb Honey
  • 2 C Heavy cream

Line a baking sheet with either a Silpat or a sheet of parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 450F. Mix together the flours, baking powder, salt, and lavender. Pour the honey and half the cream over and stir lightly until combined. Then add the rest of the cream and work into a smooth mass. Turn out the dough and give twenty turns on a lightly floured counter. Roll out to about 3/4" inch round depth. Cut ten rounds with a 2 1/2 inch round cutter, combine remains and divide into two additional biscuits. I like to press them into the cutter to yield as a round a shape as possible. Alternatively, you can shape two even rounds also about 3/4" deep. You can cut six even wedges from each round for a total of twelve. Bake for 14-17 minutes until golden on the top but still pale on the sides.

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