30 September 2014

What month is it, again?

I thought it was September. Maybe my calendar is wrong.

Snow? Today? It could have waited one more day, and then I wouldn't have anything legitimate to complain about because it's supposed to snow in October. But snow on the ground, sitting there not melting as more and more continues to fall? Not supposed to happen in September. I took that photo before breakfast this morning; by now, you certainly can't see any evidence that we were running around on the driveway:

Not exactly shoveling-the-driveway accumulation yet, so I really don't have anything to complain about. Snow today or tomorrow, it wouldn't be any warmer.  And white snow is prettier than dead brown leaves and grass. I'm not super unhappy about it; I'm just annoyed with the snow as a matter of principle. 

Little Bear was really excited to be running around in the snow this morning, which is good; he's going to be doing a whole lot of that between now and next May! It's possible that this will melt, but it may just stick around and become the bottom layer of our hardpack. The ponds we pass heading in and out of town held onto their layer of ice all day long yesterday, so we may have entered the "always and forever cold". 

Maybe I wasn't quite ready for that to happen yet, but it has it's own perks: being able to say because there's snow on the ground! when Little Bear doesn't want to wear mittens; not worrying about having the afternoon suddenly warm up when I've made a pot of soup for supper; enjoying fires in the fireplace... whenever we get that working. Matt's learning an awful lot about fireplace mechanics as we try to figure out why our fires won't stay lit!

29 September 2014

Happy Michaelmas

Happy Michaelmas! Or in the current calendar, feast of the holy archangels Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael. I figure we can celebrate all three but still use the old name, especially since St. Michael the Archangel is my confirmation saint and one of Little Bear's patron saints.

Within the last week, Little Bear has been all about angels: it seems like every few hours, he'll start running around shouting "guardian angel!" "Michael!", wanting me to say the St. Michael prayer and the guardian angel prayer. If we're saying different prayers, like morning prayers or the Angelus, he will get upset if we make the final sign of the cross without adding on a St. Michael prayer and guardian angel prayer. He found a holy card with St. Michael on it, and propped it up in the center of the table facing his high chair. I'm not exactly sure where his fixation came from, but there are certainly worse things he could be into!

You probably know how I try to make my menu match the liturgical year and feast days, so it won't be a surprise that I started researching Michaelmas celebrations several days ago. There are a number of traditional foods for Michaelmas, particularly from the British Isles: roast goose, sometimes with apples; a St. Michael's Bannock or "struan" from Scotland, with many different types of grain; anything incorporating blackberries, from the English folklore that when St. Michael cast the devil out of heaven, he landed in a blackberry patch. An Italian-American custom calls for meat with a spicy fra diavlo ("brother devil") sauce, and in the height of devil's food cake's popularity it was a popular dessert for the day.

I suppose it's theoretically possible that the local organic meat market miiiiight have geese available, but we can't afford to shop there, so I wouldn't know. I've certainly never seen geese for sale anywhere else in town! I do have apples waiting to be cooked, though, so tonight we are having roast pork with apples and onions, sauerkraut, green salad, and a dark chocolate pudding. We'll save the cake-baking for Thursday: angel food cupcakes for the feast of the guardian angels! Blackberries don't grow here, sadly... that sounds like a fun bit of legend to teach little ones about today.

The Michaelmas Bannock sounds interesting, but I don't have a good assortment of grains right now. I'll have to try and remember to plan ahead and gather ingredients ahead of time next year.

Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle, be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray, and do thou, o prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God cast into hell Satan and all the evil spirits who prowl throughout the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.

Saint Raphael the Archangel, we beseech you to help us in all our needs and trials of this life, as you, through the power of God, did restore sight and give guidance to young Tobit. We humbly seek your aid and intercession that our souls may be healed, our bodies protected from all ills, and that through divine grace we may be made worthy to dwell in heaven for eternity. Amen.

Saint Gabriel the Archangel, we beseech you to intercede for us at the throne of divine Mercy in our present needs. As you announced to Mary the mystery of the Incarnation, so through your prayers and patronage in heaven may we receive the benefits of the same, and sing the praise of God forever in the land of the living. Amen.

27 September 2014

Oodles of Noodles

Last week, as a "get all your school work done so we can do something fun" bribe, I brought our pasta maker over to my family's house. The kids had a lot of fun making noodles, even Little Bear. He sat on the counter next to the mixer and started shouting excitedly every time I turned it on: "Noodle! Noodle! Here they come!"

I used roughly half semolina flour and half all-purpose flour, and maybe the semolina was too old and dry or Interior Alaska is just too not-humid or something, but it took so much more water than my recipe called for to even form a coarse, crumbly dough. I had to add an absurd amount of liquid—definitely at least double what the recipe wanted—to get my dough pliable enough that the machine could even extrude it. 

Once the dough finally reached a "leathery but flexible" consistency, we attached the pasta maker to the stand mixer. The kids chose to use the elbow macaroni-extruding die, which in hindsight was probably not the smartest idea for our first attempt with semolina and impatient kids, but I'd promised to make totally-homemade mac'n'cheese for Friday's supper. All of the kids gathered in the kitchen to take turns feeding little chunks of dough into the hopper (when the instructions say "walnut-sized," they do not mean an unshelled walnut!) and lifting off the noodles and laying them out to dry.

According to the instructions, we were supposed to let the pasta extrude 15 to 20 centimeters, turn off the machine, take down the pasta, then turn the mixer back on. The youngest kids were generally too excited about the noodles to wait until they got that long, though, so we wound up having all different lengths.

We stopped twice to let the mixer's motor rest for an hour or so because it was getting pretty warm, so it wound up taking several hours to make it through one batch of dough. After the long noodles had dried for at least a half hour, the kids snapped them into the right size pieces for mac'n'cheese:

The noodles cooked really quickly: they were done probably three or four minutes after going into the pot of boiling water! They turned out a little softer than store-bought pasta... I'm not sure if I over cooked them, or they were just softer because fresh pasta is soft. We will have to do it again, and next time I'll actually measure how much water I use so I can write out the recipe!

26 September 2014

Seven Quick Takes: Sleep, Snow, Socks

I know it's waaaaaay too soon to declare victory, but we're excited anyway: today is the third consecutive day that Little Bear has taken a nap in his own bed (and under the blanket, no less), and last night he fell asleep in his own bed and stayed there until almost 1:00 am! It was so weird to have time together without him awake. We did the math, and it had been 2 years, 2 months, and 20 days since we last fell asleep in our own bed without him between us. Wow.

A lot of people have been pretty free with their opinions on us letting him stay in our bed so long, but I'm glad that we waited until he was ready to switch because so far the transition has been painless; he laid down in his own bed without me even asking him to this afternoon, but the times we tried when he was younger, he would spend an hour arching and kicking and screaming and rolling until I finally gave up. This is so much easier! Not to say that we don't hope that any future kids will be ready to make the transition at a younger age, before they are quite as big and strong and pillow-hogging as he is. But it seems like (naïve mom-of-one talking here) it would be easier with an older sibling to hold up as a role model... Anecdotal evidence, anyone?

Little white flecks were drifting past the car windows this morning as I drove Matt in to work, but they were few enough and small enough that if you purposely didn't look too hard, you couldn't see them. I'm just going to keep telling myself that it isn't really snowing in September...

Matt got a new chef's knife for his Asian cooking class. He brought it home last night very excited: "It's like chopping vegetables with a lightsaber!"

Little Bear doesn't watch a lot of TV, but when I'm home alone with him in the evening and the dishes aren't going to wash themselves while he wants to hang on my skirt and whine, I'll often turn on an episode of Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood. (That one show and its ability to give me ten minutes to myself is absolutely worth the price of the Netflix subscription) And he's actually learning good things from it! Yes, he runs around saying, "Trolley! Ding ding! Ugga mugga, Daniel Tiger," but he's also started cleaning up without being asked, and if I tell him to pick one more thing to do before it's time to go take his nap, he'll think about it, tell me what he wants to do, do it, and then run down to the bedroom.

Tell me about your kids' winter footwear, especially if you live somewhere cold. What are the best boots? We need something that will stay warm well below 0, and will stay dry in the squishy wet snow this fall and in breakup next spring. Also, perhaps more importantly, socks: really, really warm socks. The wool socks for little feet I've seen in town are ridiculously expensive! And you can't just layer regular cotton socks; that doesn't add any appreciable warmth, and winds up restricting blood flow. Surely there's another option?

I got a rewards code from Huggies last month for a free photo book from Shutterfly. We put our wedding album together through their site, and decided to use this chance to start making annual photo albums since we never ever print photos. Since we got married halfway through 2011, we figured this first book would cover the latter half of 2011 plus all of 2012. We came up with a whole list of things that'd happened in that time that would be good to include pictures of, and I sat down to work on it earlier this week (of course I put it off for two months and the code expires this weekend). And discovered that we didn't really take photos our first year married. As bad as I thought we are about taking photos now of Little Bear, we were so much worse at ever pulling out the camera before he was born. After our wedding, I have photos from our mid-September 2011 trip to the Glenallen area and Valdez, and then pretty much nothing until we went to Monterey, CA, in March 2012. And then there's one photo of me pregnant—just one—and a couple of cooking photos, and then Little Bear arrives in July 2012. First Christmas married? Easter? Anything at all with snow in it? Any pregnant photos before or after 30 weeks? Nothing. It's ridiculous. My mom was rightly appalled, and I'm running over to her house this afternoon to see what pictures she has of us from that time period so I can finish the book before the deadline.

For more quick takes, visit Conversion Diary! Have a great weekend.

25 September 2014

Homemade Yogurt

My mom started making her own yogurt around the time I left for college. I remember some of the earlier batches, while she was trying to perfect her recipe, being pretty soft and runny. And I know that store-bought yogurt is generally only as thick as it is because they add stabilizers like gelatin and pectin, but because that firmness is what I was used to, the softer homemade yogurt was kind of weird.

Sometime during my first semester away, my family back home switched to buying/drinking/using exclusively whole milk. Coming home to that from several months of drinking exclusively skim milk or water, the richness of the whole milk made me ill. With the exception of cheese, I pretty much stopped consuming dairy on my visits home.

And so I completely missed the fact that switching to whole milk had given Mom's homemade yogurt the firmness I was missing.

Ever since I became pregnant with Little Bear, it's been a given that we always have yogurt in the fridge. It was one of the few foods I could always eat even on days I felt sick, and unlike some things that I loved while pregnant and haven't been able to stand since, plain yogurt with a little fruit or honey and granola is still one of my preferred breakfasts and snacks. As I learned more about the "stuff" that goes into low-fat yogurt to give it the same texture as full-fat (whole milk) yogurt, I started making an effort to buy exclusively whole milk yogurt... but there is only one non-fancy-pants-organic brand of whole milk yogurt carried by any of the grocery stores in town, and while it's cheaper than the organic stuff, it's still expensive!

Every so often, my mom would remind me of how easy it is to make yogurt, and how much less expensive. I believed her, but somehow I never managed to find the time or gather the equipment. A couple of weeks ago, though, coolers went on end-of-summer clearance and I finally picked up a little one, along with a candy thermometer and a half-gallon of whole milk.

Then Little Bear found and broke the candy thermometer, and we waited another week until I replaced it.

But we finally did it, and it came out incredibly well. I was shocked at how thick it was. It doesn't have as strong a tang to it as some yogurts, but Little Bear and I like the mellow flavor. 

Next time, I'd like to try making it in little half-pint jelly jars instead, to have individual servings that Matt could take with him to work.

Want to give it a try? You'll need:

- one lunchbox-sized cooler (mine is 5 quarts)
- four pint jars with lids and rings
- a candy/frying thermometer 

Make sure your jars can fit in your cooler with the lid closed!

In a large pot (you want lots of surface area) over medium heat, bring 6 cups of whole milk to 180 degrees Fahrenheit. Remove from heat and cool to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Whisk in 1/4 cup of plain yogurt (I used whole milk yogurt). Ladle into jars, no fuller than the point where the sides start to curve in toward the neck (the jar's "shoulders"). Put jars in cooler and fill it with the hottest possible tap water up to the jars' shoulders, then close the cooler and set it somewhere it won't be touched. Take the jars out in 12 to 24 hours*, and you have yogurt! (Which should now be refrigerated.)

*Apparently 12 hours will give you a slightly softer yogurt, 24 will make it thicker; I took mine out at about 22 hours.

24 September 2014

September Ember Days

begin today! The Wednesday, Friday and Saturday of the week following the feast of the Triumph of the Cross (September 14) are traditional days of prayer, penance, and fasting/abstinence. Together with the Advent, Lent, and pre-Pentecost ember days they follow the cycle of the year, reminding us of God's unchanging presence throughout the changing seasons.

Today's penance is likely coming in the form of a too-short nap following my harebrained attempt to put Little Bear down for a nap in his own bed, under the blankets—both things he hates, and neither of which has ever worked before. I got him into the bed willingly, though, so I figured I'd better take advantage of the opportunity: He didn't want his pants back on after I changed his diaper before nap time (a normal occurance); I told him that if he got in his bed under the blanket with his head on the pillow, he didn't have to put his pants on; he picked the perceived lesser of the two evils, lay his head down, and started pretending to go to sleep! He's out now, so I have no chance of getting him to sleep on our bed if he does wake up early here, so hopefully he gets a real nap.

The ember days have not been required days of fast and abstinence since the Second Vatican Council, but it's always good to be reminded of God's presence in our lives, isn't it? I try to observe the ember days at least by being conscious of them, by remembering to express gratitude for blessings of the past season and hopes for the coming season in my daily prayers, and by abstaining from meat. 

Today the cooking is easier than usual because Matt has night class, so I really don't have to put a ton of effort into a nice-but-meatless supper. The rest of the week will take a little more effort, but that's okay:

Wednesday: pancakes, eggs, sautéed zucchini and onions
Thursday: noodles with peanut sauce, steamed broccoli (meatless so Matt can take leftovers for lunch on Friday)
Friday: roasted tomato soup, asiago crostini
Saturday: baked tilapia with acorn squash

I don't think Little Bear is old enough to understand ember days yet, because he doesn't know about seasons... Maybe by the Lenten ember days I'll be able to do something with him? I've seen some cute "changing seasons" activities for kids, but it's harder to use those here... The calendar may say that autumn just started, but we had snow flurries yesterday afternoon!

How do you teach your kids about ember days? I'd love ideas!

23 September 2014

Turning of the Season

This morning it wasn't even 32 F when I brought Matt in to work. A heavy frost weighed down the roadside brush, and each little pond and puddle wore a spackly skin of ice. In the past week and a bit, we've lost nearly all of our leaves; it seems like the hills went from golden to grey-brown overnight. First day of autumn yesterday, my foot. We're on the cusp of winter.

Little Bear and I have been living in sweaters since Sunday, because the fireplace damper doesn't seem to be drawing in enough oxygen and we can't keep a fire going. The furnace works fine—we aren't going to freeze! But with heating fuel running around $4 per gallon, we're sure hoping to offset our oil use with as much wood as possible. We should have tried building a fire earlier in the fall; now it's a busy season for everyone, and it'll take a few days to have our fireplace looked at (and hopefully figured out).

It's a far cry from the previous weekend, when temperatures climbed unexpectedly into the mid-70s. We went out grouse hunting that Sunday, and true to form didn't see any grouse... I think this was the fourth time Matt's gone? We did hear several grouse, but were unable to scare them up from the brush. Although we did see a moose! It was away across a clearing from us, and it looked small, probably a yearling. Little Bear's noisy determination to be let out of the ergo startled it off. We also found the remains of an old cabin, and hiked out to an old logging slash pile where I remember doing target practice with the .22 when I was younger. It was a beautiful day to be out in the woods; I'm glad we took advantage of what was almost certainly our last warm weekend for a very long time.

It's too bad it doesn't still look like that outside today! Well, it is and it isn't. I love the fall colors, but I could always print off some photos, stick them on the living room window blinds, and pretend it's still pretty out... and as soon as we get a fire going, I'll be perfectly happy to curl up in front of it with Little Bear, a book, and a mug of hot cider or chai.