27 February 2015

Seven Quick Takes

I
My favorite quote from this week: 

Little Bear, scoffing at my foolishness: "No Mama, there is not brain inside my head!"

II

It's been warm here lately—the deck thermometer, which isn't really getting hit by the sun so it should be pretty accurate, says it's 32 F out right now. Little Bear has had so much fun outside, playing in the snow, building snow castles (like sand castles), and sledding. We walked to the mailbox and back today, and since it was midafternoon and we never see any cars on our road, I got in the sled with Little Bear and we flew down our road two-thirds of the way to the mailboxes. I got out and started pulling the sled again before we reached the main road where our mailboxes are, just in case someone turned onto our street; it was so much fun! I know sledding is one of the (many) things pregnant woman aren't supposed to do, but pfft. There are enough things that make pregnancy not-fun; if I'm on a reasonable hill and know that I can control the sled and we're not in real danger of a spill, I'm going sledding with my kids.

III
Between the warm weather and having a corrugated metal roof, we've been experiencing a new-to-us snow phenomenon: as the metal heats up and everything gets melty, the entire foot-thick sheet of icy snow starts sliding off the roof. I knocked down a good three-foot overhang of snow and icicles over our front door before taking Little Bear out to play today!


IV
Lately Little Bear has taken to asking for "yogurt we made," "jam we made," "granola bar we made," etc. It's fun that he remembers helping to make the things that we're eating, and he gets really excited about making foods... and then very impatient to be able to eat them! Today we had "hard-boiled eggs we made" for lunch, and the first taste of a new batch of "applesauce we made" after supper.

V
Anyone have suggestions for a good Stations of the Cross book for little kids? Something with good pictures/artwork, and either elementary school-appropriate reflections or else just the names of the Stations? I'd like something that Little Bear can look at while we pray the Stations at home, but would prefer to avoid anything written specifically for a 2-year-old audience; too-simplistic text is worse than none at all, in my opinion. I have a tiny little leaflet that we used today, and it does have nice, classical artwork for each Station, but they're so small that he couldn't really see them well.

VI
It's 5:30pm, and still light enough outside that I don't have any lights on in the house. All of this daylight is wonderful! It creates an odd contrast, though; the past few months have conditioned us to associate cold and winter with darkness, and it's been hard to remember, when it's so bright and sunny outside, that we really do still need to burn at least one good fire a day.

Now it's 8:30, and definitely not light outside anymore. Soon enough it will be light later than this, though; we are already up to 10 hours of daylight (defined as from the bottom of the sun resting atop the horizon to the bottom of the sun touching back down on the horizon), and gaining quickly.

VII
I'm so grateful that it's the weekend! Do you have any big plans? There's supposed to be another winter storm blowing in by midday tomorrow; they're calling for an insignificant (for here) 2-5 inches of snow, but with 20 mph winds. We don't really get wind at all during the winters here, so we'll see how that goes. Matt and I are planning to go out tomorrow night, for the first time in I don't remember how many months; our house is two minutes from the restaurant is five minutes from my parents' house where Little Bear will be, so unless the storm is worse than we expect I don't think we'll have to cancel.

Stop by This Ain't the Lyceum for more quick takes!

26 February 2015

Meatless meals: Lent week one

It seems like I've fallen into this weird cycle of blogging steadily one week, then disappearing the next, and it's making me a little crazy because I need to write to unwind, but between Little Bear and Kit conspiring to keep me from ever sleeping, a larger-than-I-expected freelance job hanging over me, and an out of the blue project with a "really needed this yesterday" deadline for my dad's business, figuring out how to operate and advertise a rebate linked to an event that's happening way too soon... my brain's been a little fried. I don't think anyone suffering through the unusually-wintery weather in the rest of the country really wants to hear about our unseasonably beautiful weather, but I'm not sure I have the wherewithal to come up with anything much more interesting than observations on the weather, unless you want to hear about the fine print on rebate slips.

Or food. I can talk about food. Three meatless nights a week has been harder to plan for than I expected, and in different ways. When I make the weekly menu regularly, I try to vary the proteins and starches so we never have too similar of meals right close together: if I make chicken on Monday, we'll have a different protein Tuesday (and preferably Wednesday as well). If Tuesday is a pasta night, no more pasta before Friday or Saturday. With all types of meat off the table for Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, though, it's been much more of a challenge to keep up the variety. Tuesday has to provide leftovers for Wednesday's lunch, Wednesday for Friday's lunch, so I have to make sure all three nights' suppers are distinctly different and that Tuesday and Wednesday's suppers will be good reheated for lunches.

This week, it's worked out okay:

Tuesday: vegetarian chili and cornbread
Wednesday: noodles with broccoli and carrots in an Asian peanut sauce
Friday: Parmesan tilapia, green beans, and Cuban bread

One meal with fish, one with beans, one with something else (eggs, cheese, quinoa, nuts, etc): it's a simple enough formula, if I can think about it that way. Making the menu on Sunday afternoons instead of last thing before going to bed might help with that.

Monday afternoon, I realized that I didn't actually have a recipe for vegetarian chili for Tuesday, and I didn't want to blindly trust the internet to find me a good one because neither a)soup for lunch nor b)meatless meals are Matt's favorite, so it had to be a really good recipe. My best friend is Russian Orthodox and has years of experience doing the strict Lenten fast (no meat, fish, dairy, eggs, restricted use of olive oil...), so I figured she had to have some good recipes. She definitely did! Her vegetarian chili recipe was delicious, easy, and fell into the "more like guidelines, really" category: my kind of cooking.

Sophia's Vegetarian Chili
1 onion
Garlic
Salt
Oil
14 oz can diced tomatoes (or larger) OR 2 tomatoes, diced
A few splashes of vegetable broth
Spices
15 oz can black beans, drained
15 oz can kidney beans, drained
Frozen kernel corn

Sauté the onion in oil with salt and garlic. When translucent, add tomatoes and vegetable broth. Simmer and add spices. (I used hot Mexican chili powder, marjoram, cumin, and paprika, and didn't really measure any of them; just use whatever your family will prefer.) Stir in beans and frozen corn. For a heartier meal, serve over cooked rice or stir in one cup of cooked rice before serving. I let Little Bear have a little grated cheddar cheese on top too, but I liked it just fine without the cheese.

I thought I took a photo, but now I can't find it. You can imagine how bright and colorful it was, though, with the corn, beans and tomatoes!

22 February 2015

Crazy February weather

As I've been glorying in the beautiful warm weather we've been having recently, courtesy of the latest "polar vortex"—40 degrees by midday Saturday!—I conveniently forgot about one aspect of warmer places' winters that we don't like borrowing: ice storms.

It's 36 degrees right now. Freezing rain has been coming down since early this morning, and the roads are pretty much impassible. Our pastor had trouble making it five miles between the rectory and the church on flat city streets, in his built-for-off-roading jeep, so it would definitely be imprudent for us to attempt the drive in from where we live in the hills north of town. My parents live one hill closer to town than us, and had seen at least five cars in the ditch by 8:30 am.

This morning we lit a blessed candle while we read today's readings, along with the reflections from the Magnificat Lenten Companion and Fr. Robert Barron, since making in in to town for Mass wasn't possible. We're down to less than half a gallon of drinking water in the house, though... we'd planned to stop and fill the water jugs on our way home from Mass. Once the road crews get some sand down, we shouldn't have too much trouble making it to my parents' house, as long as we don't try to go down the other side of their hill, and we can fill the jugs there for this week.

Despite today's ice, the warm weather is still enjoyable. Yesterday Matt hauled wood—we're still lighting a fire in the evenings, although with the warm sunny days (and all the baking I've been doing) the house stays warm enough until then by itself. Five minutes after going outside, he stuck his head back in the door to let me know it that it was too warm for him to wear a coat. I dressed lightly myself, and put Little Bear in a lighter hat and mittens, but kept him in his winter coat and snowpants so he wouldn't get soaked playing in the snow.

We played outside for at least an hour, and Little Bear didn't want to come in!



I hope that whatever wintery weather you've wound up with, you're enjoying your weekend!

20 February 2015

Seven Quick Takes

Seven very quick takes tonight, joining the party at This Ain't the Lyceum.

I
Surely the second-trimester energy surge can't be gone by 23 weeks. I am exhausted. Constantly. And Little Bear is either also tired or is picking up on my tiredness and saying to himself, "Mama doesn't have the energy to make me behave, so let's see how much I can get away with!" Trying to deal with which makes me even more tired... Maybe that's not fair; he's a great kid most of the time, but lately when he does act out, it's been more overt and overwhelming than usual. We're still waiting on his top two-year molars, so maybe that fun is beginning?

II 
I don't understand the 40 bags for 40 days thing. I mean, I understand the idea; you take one bag of stuff out of the house (donate/get rid of) for each day of Lent, physically decluttering the house alongside our spiritual decluttering. But I don't understand where people come up with 40 bags of stuff. I love decluttering, so the idea was really appealing, but then I thought about it and walked around the house, and I don't think I could find anywhere near that amount of stuff without, I don't know, paring us all down to minimalist wardrobes and getting rid of all the clothes I have saved for the new baby. Maybe the fact that I just said "I love decluttering" should have been a clue that it wouldn't work for me... I don't think I ever go to the used bookstore without bringing some books to trade in for credit, or to the thrift store without a bag of clothes or household goods that we don't need or use. BUT, this time around I'm more confident in my "babies really don't need much stuff" stance, and I now have a pretty good idea how much clothing Little Bear actually wore/wears between laundry days. There's a part of me that does still say "but what if we need that?" for all three pairs of not-quite-identical overalls, so going through the kid-clothes-boxes would probably be a good way of making myself say "no, we don't need that" along with "Lord, I trust you" this Lent.

III
Maternity support belts. I'd never heard of them until yesterday, and it sounds like a gimicky piece of unnecessary "stuff" that women have survived pregnancy without for thousands of years... But my chiropractor said she thought that wearing one would really help my sciatica. Everything goes back into place easily when I get adjusted, and then it just as easily slides back out; apparently my left leg was a full inch longer than my right this week. She thought that using a maternity support belt would help keep things in place longer. Anyone have experience using one? If you had sciatica, did it help?

IV
Our jeep spent this week in the shop, and now has a very shiny new rear door and lots of new underpinnings that we can't see but I'm sure are worth whatever the other people's insurance had to pay to have it fixed. It's been a month today since we were hit; I'm so glad that at least the physical damages have been taken care of! The other people's insurance has not yet done anything that I can see toward paying for my ER visit and ultrasound after the accident, but now our auto insurance is involved (we tried so hard to not involve them, since we weren't at fault and we really didn't want them deciding to up our premiums), so maybe they will be able to get the other insurance to hurry up.

V
Driving a rental all week definitely cemented some key characteristics of our next vehicle, whenever our jeep finally dies. Basically, we want not-a-2014-Jeep-Patriot: it needs to be something higher off the ground, with a bigger engine, heavier, no hatchback, more carrying space... a crew cab pickup was mentioned as a possibility, as was (jokingly, at least for many years) a 12-passenger van. It was discouraging paying attention to other vehicles around town and noticing how low to the ground so many SUVs are anymore; it was scary being so low! You can't see over snowbanks, or sometimes even where the edges of the road are.

VI
Tonight's supper was supposed to be tuna noodle casserole (or tuna tetrazzini, if you want to be fancy-sounding). I cooked the pasta this morning and stuck it in the fridge, knowing that we'd be out from 11:30ish until 5 and wanting to have a head start on supper. I over-did things this afternoon, though, and standing over the stove making a white sauce just did not sound like something I could do, so I took advantage of the chilled noodles to quickly turn supper into a tuna pasta salad with frozen peas and a diced tomato. I'd used tri-color rotini, so it was very pretty! And simple, of course. I love pasta salads, because they can be all-in-one meals: the starch (pasta), the protein (tuna), the veggies (peas and tomato). Better yet, it's cheap: it came out to less than $5 for a full meal with enough leftovers for lunch tomorrow!

VII
On Tuesday morning, I brought the groceries into the kitchen and then went down the hall to grab something. Little Bear had everything unpacked by the time I got back. 



Canned beans and tomatoes were on sale for just 59 cents... Just in time for Lent! And for tower-building, apparently.

19 February 2015

Kitchening

Sometimes it seems like I'm either in the kitchen all day long, or not at all. That's not a complaint—I like cooking and baking! If I don't have other things I have to be doing with my day, though, or if there are things to do but I'd like to have a halfway-legitimate excuse for putting them off, I'm likely to end up in the kitchen adding things to my to-make list at least as quickly as I'm crossing them off. Baking inspires more baking, or something like that.

It doesn't happen every day; yesterday I baked a loaf of sandwich bread, and then didn't go back into the kitchen until I started supper. Yes, I found a good sandwich bread recipe! I basically follow this one, from King Arthur Flour, but not exactly... I'll stick my version of the recipe at the bottom of this post.


But many days wind up working out like today. Today, I had "make granola" at the top of my to-do list; we've been out for a week or two, and I keep meaning to make more. Then Little Bear ate the last of the applesauce at breakfast, and I really didn't want to have to buy more... but we had apples in the fridge, so I called my sister for her recipe and threw the apples and spices in the slow cooker for eight hours.


This batch of granola is a little blonder than normal; somehow I hadn't realized I was out of molasses, so I replaced it with a mixture of honey and agave. And I used raisins instead of nuts. So it's different, but still good.

With the applesauce cooking and Little Bear asking for a snack, I remembered that we'd finished off a loaf of banana bread a couple of days ago... Time for another quick bread. I played with my bran muffin recipe a little bit to make them even higher in fiber, and I love how they turned out—sweet, slightly moist but with a little crunch to the outside, and so good for us!


Fiber Muffins
3 cups bran flakes
1 cup flour
1/4 cup wheat germ
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1 cup buttermilk or sour milk
1/4 cup salad oil
3/4 to 1 cup diced prunes

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Mix together bran flakes, flour, wheat germ, sugar, soda and salt. In a small bowl, thoroughly combine egg, buttermilk and oil; pour into dry ingredients and mix until moistened. Fold in chopped prunes. Portion into muffin tins and bake at 400 for 15 minutes.


And the promised bread recipe: I'm sure that you could follow the recipe as it's written directly on their website, but I can't tell you for sure, because I have strong opinions about properly proofing my yeast and their recipe said to throw everything in together, and I said noooooo and did it my way instead. So I know that the recipe works if I proof the yeast; can't tell you what will happen if you don't.

Not-crumbly Sandwich Bread
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup milk
2 1/4 teaspoons dry active yeast
2 tablespoons sugar
2 cups flour
1 cup whole grain flour (wheat, spelt, etc)
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
4 tablespoons salad oil

Heat water and milk together until they reach a temperature of between 110 and 125 degrees F (warm to the touch, but not hot). Mix in yeast and sugar, and set aside until there's a full layer, at least 1 cm, of bubbles on top. In a mixing bowl, combine flours and salt. When yeast mixture is ready, pour in over the flour mixture along with the oil. Combine to form a smooth dough, kneading for 6 to 8 minutes. Return to bowl and place in a warm spot, covered with a towel, until the dough has doubled in size (1 to 2 hours).

Shape risen dough into an 8-inch log and place in a greased loaf pan. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and return to a warm place, allowing it to rise until the crown is 1" above the rim of the pan. (Remove plastic wrap) Bake at 350 degrees F for 30 to 35 minutes. Cool completely before slicing.


So far we've been very happy with this recipe; it's held up well for sandwiches, toast, grilled cheese... and we haven't had to cut too thick of slices to get it to hold together.

And I have to say, I am so thankful that Little Bear loves cooking and baking as much as I do; I know there's no way all of this would be possible if he didn't want to be in the kitchen helping me. Hopefully Kit will follow her brother's example and allow me to keep spending time in the kitchen like this!

18 February 2015

Lent beginnings and meatless meals

Another year, another Ash Wednesday, another Lent. Unexpectedly, today has been an unusually pleasant, peaceful day in the Shifflerhaus. Little Bear has been happy and helpful all day, it's beautiful and warm and sunny outside, and I've been so... peaceful today. Not being able to follow the fasting regs because I've been pregnant/nursing was really frustrating the last three Lents, and today it just hasn't. It's a facet of who I am right now, of my particular vocation at this particular point in my life, and I'm content with that. I'd like to think that I feel this way because I've grown this year in not feeling like I need to compare myself to others and make sure I'm "doing Lent" the same way to the same visible degree as they are... And hopefully I have a little bit, but I know that I haven't grown this much; this has to be grace. 

We'd talked about Lent and sacrifices and I had some ideas, but nothing that struck me as this is what I'm supposed to do this year until this afternoon, as I'm realizing that this being at peace in my role and with my vocation, being content instead of stressing about so many things, is what God wants for me, and is something my family needs of me. I think that I was given today to see how it could be, how God wants me to be... and so now I have a direction for my Lent: Working on being joyful regardless of circumstances, content in the life God is giving me instead of comparing to others, and being more open to God's grace and peace.

As we start Lent off today with a day of fast and abstinence, I sat down with last year's lists and two of my favorite cookbooks, A Continual Feast and When You Fast, to come up with a master list of meatless meals for this Lent. After trying to make this week's menu last Sunday night and being unable to think of anything meatless other than tuna noodle casserole, I need a good list to look at! We agreed to a Lenten practice of two meatless days a week, Wednesday and Friday, at least one having fish; practically speaking, I'll often be cooking meatless on Tuesdays as well because Matt takes supper with him to class that night (so he won't be eating at home) and he'll need meatless leftovers for Wednesday's lunch. I'll probably wind up not using all of these and finding some other things that sound good, but in case anyone else needs inspiration, I thought I'd share.

With fish:
Tuna noodle casserole
Salmon cakes/burgers
Pan bagno
Parmesan tilapia
Fish tacos
Spaghetti with clams
Clam chowder
Salmon quiche
Tuna pasta salad

No fish:
Noodles with peanut sauce
Grilled vegetable burritos
Crustless spinach quiche
Vegetarian chili
Falafel
Broccoli potato egg bake
Vegetable stir fry with peanuts
Minestrone with tortellini 
Macaroni and cheese
Bean and rice burritos
Bean enchiladas 
Vegetable pizza
Pasta & veggies in balsamic garlic sauce
Veggies & rice with sweet & sour sauce 
Spicy rice and beans
Monterey spaghetti 
Quinoa caprese salad
Waffles or pancakes with eggs


What are some of your go-to Lenten meals?

17 February 2015

Grinding 'bou on Shrove Tuesday

I don't know about y'all, but I'm kind of looking forward to not looking at meat all day tomorrow... 

Obviously it goes without saying that I'm super thankful for all of this meat for the freezer! My sciatica is just so very done with all of this standing, and I'll be grateful for a break from smelling (and smelling like) caribou meat for a while. At 4 this afternoon, I finally finished vacuum sealing the last of the meat and putting it all in the freezer in a not-at-all-organized fashion, where it'll stay until my feet will let me stand on them again. The last roasts were packaged and frozen by last night; today I ground 13 pounds of burger and packaged it in 1lb bricks, along with seven packs of stew meat, six packs of strips (for stroganoff, stir fry, etc) and four packs of calf muscle that will need to cook for hours and hours in the slow cooker because if we'd tried to remove all of the sinew now we would have wound up with hardly any meat, but it'll be perfect for shredding for sandwiches.


Little Bear had a blast watching the grinder: "Ground caribou, ground caribou, I love ground caribou! Look, it's coming out of grinder!"

So that's a good 30 meals of meat in the freezer, not counting all of the roasts and steaks... which I don't have an exact number on, but I think it's around 15 packs, so we pretty much got enough meat off of one caribou for one meal a week through next hunting season! That's wonderful.

A lot of people take their game to local meat processors instead of doing all of this work themselves, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that—if I was in the first trimester and sick, or close to due/had a little baby, I would be super thankful to not have to do all of the processing at home. But I was thinking, as I was grinding the 'bou this morning, how glad I was that we were doing it ourselves; you just don't get as much meat if a commercial processor does it, because they don't have an incentive to get every little bit of meat possible—I spent a lot of time over the past few days carefully scraping little bits of meat away from myelin and sinew, saving every tiny bit to be ground into burger. That use of time doesn't make economic sense for a processor who's trying to get through a bunch of people's meat as quickly as possible. But for us, the additional meat was definitely worth the extra time and effort.

Since I was aaaaall done working with meat by tonight, but it's Shrove Tuesday and I wanted to make something fun (and good!) before Lent starts tomorrow, Little Bear and I made blueberry pancakes, bacon, and yogurt with fruit for supper tonight. Adding the blueberries after I poured the batter into the skillet was Little Bear's job—his fingers were so purple by supper time!

Pancakes and eggs, minus the bacon, might make its way onto my list of meatless meals for this Lent, but more likely for lunches than suppers. Matt isn't the biggest fan of breakfast for supper, but I played the "it's tradition!" card today—pancakes are a traditional Shrove Tuesday food in many countries, including England and Ireland, where some of our ancestors were from. 

Have a blessed Ash Wednesday, and a good start to your Lent!