12 February 2016

SQT: There and back again

Hesitantly, possibly against my better judgement, I'll go ahead and say that we're all finally caught up and back on schedule after our trip. Throwing the beginning of Lent into the middle of this first week home certainly made it take a little longer, but we knocked out a whole long list of errands this morning (in town from 8 am to 12:30 pm!), and everyone seems to be back into our regular rhythm at this point. I'm so ready for quiet predictability!

The plan was to fly out the night of January 22, land in Baltimore the next evening, and drive up to visit Matt's parents. We knew there was a storm coming through, but figured that we're Alaskans, we could handle it. Wednesday afternoon, though, with Matt home from work sick, we learned that all of the airports in the area were preemptively closing before the storm, and would probably stay closed through the weekend. But if we could be at the gate in four hours... Kit had an appointment to see the pediatric gastroenterologist first thing Monday morning, which we'd be guaranteed to miss if we waited out the storm, so we frantically threw things in suitcases and ran out the door.

It was a great trip. About two weeks with Matt's family, a day with my sister, a too-short time with several friends. Being snowed in was an experience: from Friday night to Sunday morning, we got about 30" of snow! That's a lot more than we get here, at least in one go. There was still quite a bit on the ground when we left, which was nice—it made the coming home to two and a half more months of winter much less jarring. 

Coming home was... a different sort of "experience." So, it's 2:30 am. We left the hotel 22 hours ago, everyone desperately needs to go to bed, and the jeep (which my brother had dropped off in the airport parking lot for us) is throwing a fit: the check engine light is blinking, the heat won't come on, and when we stop/start or go uphill it starts lurching. We wind up waking my brother up and having him follow us home in his truck, just in case. At home, we notice that the bedrooms are a little chilly, but we'd turned the heat down before we left, so we just turn on the electric heater in Little Bear's room and bump up the thermostat in ours... But the baseboard heat never comes on. Matt and I spend a very cold night, and text our landlord first thing in the morning. At least Little Bear stays nice and warm with his heater!

It turns out that
— the check engine light was telling us that another coil had gone bad (our ridiculous engine has one coil for each cylinder, and we've had to start carrying extras everywhere because they burn out so frequently.) So Matt replaced that on Sunday afternoon.
— the lurching was being caused by ice in our fuel line; we've known that we probably have some water in the gas tank since this summer, but it hasn't caused any trouble as long as we remembered to fill up when the gauge says we have a quarter of a tank left. Matt picked up a bottle of HEET to treat that.
— the zone valve for the bedrooms was stuck closed, but our landlord met us at the house right after church and got it fixed.
— we think we've finally fixed the heat in the jeep as of today; the coolant was low, and after topping that off, within five minutes of starting the jeep we had warm air coming out of the vents again.

Oh, and about Kit: Her appointment with the pediatric gastroenterologist went well. Matt's cold was still too bad for him to come along, so his mother offered to come to help with Kit and to be a second person listening to the doctor and asking questions, which I really appreciated! The doctor was confident that Kit is indeed allergic to cow's milk protein and to soy, and offered to give us a referral to a nutritionist if I wanted it, but said that it sounds like we're already doing everything right. So that's good; we didn't get an "oh, it's X and we can do one quick thing and make it all better!", but it's good to know that we're on the right track for taking care of her, and to hear that most kids grow out of this and get instructions for how to go about trying to introduce dairy once she's older.


Our excitement of the evening. The chocolate chip banana bread had been in the oven for more than an hour, so when Matt pulled it out and showed it to me, I said yeah, it's done, just lay it on its side and I'll take it out if the pan after supper. After supper, we came back into the kitchen to see... this. Oops. It took another 40 minutes to finish baking! Is there some strange property of coconut oil that makes quick breads take f-o-r-e-v-e-r? I've never had any trouble like this with cooking time in other non-dairy breads, but before today I think I'd exclusively been using canola oil in quick breads, not coconut oil. Or, maybe, I just realized that I put a whole cup of barely-above-freezing chocolate chips into the batter right before putting it into the oven... That could possibly have had something to do with it too. Regardless, I'm very glad that he'd laid it down on that sheet pan instead of on the wire rack on the counter; I just stuck the entire pan back into the oven and kept checking it until the goopy mess was solid. There's quite the cavern in the middle of my loaf, now, but at least it tastes good!

Linking up with Kelly at This Ain't The Lyceum. Have a good weekend!

10 February 2016

Looking at Lent

Another Ash Wednesday has just about wrapped up here, despite my feeling completely unprepared for Lent to begin already. Why is there still a Christmas tablecloth out? Where is the bean jar for sacrifices? How has Little Bear apparently forgotten all about Lent? I don't know. We're off to a slow start, but we'll get our feet under us soon.

Matt and I each have some personal sacrifices we're making, and the whole family is going back to meatless meals on Wednesdays in addition to Fridays, which sounds a little daunting with Kit's current allergies—no meat, no dairy, and no soy? Oh, and no breakfast-for-supper, at Matt's request. I guess my available proteins are beans, fish, and maybe hard-boiled eggs... This could be difficult. 

But hey, just a half hour ago I read a quote that totally applies here: "For if the work be laborious, reflect that it is for God's sake you undergo all this, and you shall receive sufficient consolation." (St John Chrysostom) I'm hearing two pertinent lessons in there: Not only that A) remembering that we're doing this in order to draw closer to God will help when observing Lent is difficult, but also that B) I do actually have to be carrying out these Lenten practices with the purpose of growing closer to God. Not for the sake of looking good to others, not simply for the sake of "doing something for Lent"; for God's sake. Whatever sacrifices I'm making during Lent, they're supposed to be about God, not about me.

Because having a list schedule thing helped me so much with staying on top of things during Advent, and I was somehow organized enough last Easter to write down what we'd done for Lent 2015, let's have a quick sketch of what our current Lenten plans look like.

Feb 9: Shrove Tuesday; doughnuts for breakfast, pancakes for supper

Feb 10: Ash Wednesday; fast/abstinence

General Lent: meatless Wed & Fri; sacrifice jar with black beans on the table; daily reflections; sing Stabat Mater; shoot for once-a-week stations of the cross 

Feb 17, 19, 20: Ember days; meatless

Mar 6: Laetare Sunday; ??

Mar 13: Passion Sunday; veil statues around the house

Mar 17: St Patrick; Irish stew? Soda bread?

Mar 19: Solemnity of St Joseph; ??

Mar 20: Palm Sunday; psari plaki for supper

There's a few question marks up there, but I have almost a month before I have to figure out how to celebrate Laetare Sunday, so we should be good. Holy Week and Triduum don't need to be taking up real estate in my cluttered mental calendar just yet either; I'm probably going to need all of my mental energy to come up with this year's list of supper ideas. If you have any favorite meatless recipes starring beans, please share them!

One thing more; I think I've shared this before, but here again is the Lenten prayer of St Ephraim the Syrian. I've had it posted on the bathroom mirror the last couple of Lents, and I think it's going up in the kitchen as well this year.

O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, faint-heartedness, lust of power, and idle chatter. 

Give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to Your servant.

O Lord and King, grant me to see my own faults and not to judge my brother, for You are holy always, now and ever and forever. Amen.

08 February 2016

Chocolate chip doughnuts {dairy-free}

Whoops, I disappeared for a while there! We're still recovering from two and a half weeks of traveling, followed by too much everything-is-breaking excitement when we got home, but more about that soon. Today, I'm writing about doughnuts.

It is practically Lent. How is that possible? I feel ridiculously unprepared; I still don't even know what time zone I'm in half the time, let alone what liturgical season it is! But because Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, we're celebrating Tuesday with rich, traditionally non-Lenten fare. We often try to pick up traditional foods from one of our ethnic backgrounds on holidays or other notable days, and for Shrove Tuesday we're going with both English—pancakes—for supper, and German—doughnuts—for breakfast. Matt and I each have both German and English in our family trees, but I only grew up hearing about eating pancakes for Shrove Tuesday, while he grew up hearing about Fasnaucht Day. But really, why not do both? We'll have one great symbolic "using up" of the rich foods before our Lenten fasting begins.

I feel rather silly, making dairy-free versions of these supposed dairy-full treats, but oh well. Maybe next Shrove Tuesday Kit and I will be able to have milk.

Chocolate Chip Doughnuts

3 tablespoons coconut oil, melted
4 tablespoons canola oil
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups flour
1 cup almond milk
3/4 cup chocolate chips

Cream oils and sugars together, then beat in eggs. In a mixing bowl, combine dry ingredients, then thoroughly stir in oil/sugar/egg mixture and almond milk. Fold in chocolate chips. Spoon batter into greased doughnut pan, not quite all the way up to the tops of the wells, and bake at 425 F for 10-15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool in the pan for 10 minutes before removing doughnuts to a wire rack to cool completely.

Notes: when making these dairy-free/soy-free, remember to check ingredients on the chocolate chips and cooking spray! If allergies aren't an issue, you can feel free to use cow's milk instead of almond milk and 4 tablespoons of butter instead of the 3 tablespoons of coconut oil. 

Also, per our highly scientific experiment wherein I forgot to grease the pan the first time and the doughnuts stuck and tore when I tried to take them out, even silicone pans should really be greased if you want the best odds of getting your doughnuts out in one piece.

19 January 2016

Apple walnut spice cake {dairy-free}

Breakfasty cakes, especially coffee cake, have been on my mind a lot lately. Moist, rich squares of cake with a delicious crumble topping, all held together by an exorbitant amount of what? Butter, of course. So much of a coffee cake's flavor comes from butter, I couldn't bring myself to bother trying to recreate it to fit my current dairy-free, soy-free needs.

But on Sunday, as we were leaving the parish hall after Mass, Little Bear caught sight of the big sheet cake being sliced up in preparation for the soup kitchen. Of course he was just sure that he needed some, and I wound up promising that he could help me bake cake at home later instead. "So, what kind of cake are we having?" Matt asked on the way home. 

"Apple cake!" Little Bear told him. "An apple coffee cake?" Matt interpreted. "Good idea!" While they proceeded to go back and forth about what 'coffee cake' meant and how Little Bear wanted apples in the cake, not coffee, I started flipping through recipes. After looking at a whole bunch, though, I still couldn't make myself attempt a dairy-free coffee cake proper. Most of the cake-ier cake recipes I was finding were intended for bundt or tube pans, which I don't have, but then I found this old-fashioned apple cake from King Arthur Flour that looked adaptable. Swap out the butter for oil, bump up the spices to compensate for the lost flavor, give up on the frosting as a lost cause and decide to just serve it au natural... and we have a new favorite. This is deicious!

1 1/3 cups white flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 2/3 cups sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground cloves
3/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
2 eggs
6 tablespoons oil
4 cups peeled diced tart apples
1 cup chopped walnuts

Mix together everything except the apples and walnuts, beating until well combined. Mine looked like a graham cracker crust mixture—almost like coarse damp sand! It looks ridiculously dry, but don't go adding any extra liquid: add the apples and walnuts and beat it for a couple of minutes. As the apple pieces release their juice, the batter will magically come together. When it resembles slightly soft cookie dough, stop beating and press it into a greased 13x9 pan. Bake at 325 degrees F for 45 minutes, and cool (in pan) on a wire rack. 

09 January 2016

Week wrap-up

Not feeling organized enough to attempt a cohesive Seven Quick Takes, but it's been a post-deserving week, so here we go:

A) Matt was in Juneau for work from dark o'clock Monday morning until dark o'clock Friday evening, which was the longest I've parented solo since Kit was born. Under normal circumstances, I would have spent a bunch of time at my mom's house so Little Bear could play with my younger siblings, but they had the stomach flu going through their house all week, so we stayed home. And it actually went a lot better than it could have! Little Bear was helpful and well-behaved most of the time, and he and Kit both cooperated better at bedtimes than I'd had any right to expect. We're all SO glad to have Matt home now, though! 

2) Thursday morning saw us back in the clinic. Our pediatrician walked past and said hi while Kit was being weighed, then did a double take, put his head back around the corner, and asked, "Again?!?" Yes, I sighed, again. The upshot of that visit is that 

- I now have a better understanding of humoral vs T-cell mediated reactions in regard to allergies,
- I'm barred from soy as well as dairy, and
- he really would like us to have her seen by a pediatric gastroenterologist, but the closest one is a six hour drive away. So we're still trying to figure that out.

III) We feel ridiculous for admitting it, but -7 F felt bitterly cold today. This is January! We should be on the upswing from our first or second bout of -40s, reveling in these tropical temperatures, but instead we're wearing flannel and putting one more log on the fire, because the last couple of weeks have been right around 32 above and this feels so cold in comparison. Such a weird winter.

4) Most mornings this week, Little Bear and I found new photos of Juneau in my email from Matt. 

The mountains were beautiful, but there were a couple of pictures he had to explain to us: There was no snow in Juneau this week, but long ice crystals so heavily carpeted everything that each morning it looked like snow had fallen. 

E) I completely forgot to read and write about the 13th chapter of Luke this week, didn't I? Oops. And a new week, with a new chapter attendant, begins tomorrow... Okay, one quick thought. In Luke 13:21, Christ compares the Kingdom of God to yeast, which a woman mixes into "three measures of flour" until the whole dough is leavened. When I think about yeast, about dough and making bread, a few words come to mind. Patience: we have to wait for the yeast to proof, wait while the dough slowly rises. There's no way to make yeast hurry up; it goes as quickly as it does, and my timetable doesn't affect it a whit. Work: you don't just sprinkle yeast in the bowl, walk away, and come back to bread! The dough gets mixed, then kneaded—folding and turning and punching down, over and over again. Then after it's risen, it gets punched down again, before it can be formed into the proper shape. And thirdly, hidden activity: the yeast itself is working silently within the dough from the moment it's combined with the water, even though we can't always see movement or it seems to be taking forever. 

VI) Supper on Wednesday was supposed to be carnitas with homemade tortillas, which was absolutely ridiculous of me to write down for halfway through an entire week of not having Matt home. Supper on Wednesday was actually pigs in blankets with either sauerkraut (for me) or Swiss cheese (for Little Bear) wrapped up inside the pizza dough with the hot dog. If I could eat dairy right now, I think both of them together would probably have been good; as it was, the sauerkraut was definitely the best part of my supper.

I think there were more thoughts rattling around in my head from this week, but I'm too sleepy to come up with them right now. Too long of a week to be able to remember the week, or something like that. Have a good, hopefully restful, Sunday! We'll try to as well.

03 January 2016

Chocolate-covered coconut balls

On the twelfth day of Christmas, the Internet gave to me: this amazing and delicious dairy-free recipe!

I know, it doesn't quite fit the meter. That's okay. These little treats completely make up for my lack of poeticalness. And ability to use real words, apparently. Moreover, they've erased all of my lingering resentment about not being able to eat Christmas cookies this year. These things are amazing.

The idea came from these dark chocolate coconut bites from Pinch of Yum, but I Kit and I didn't quite follow the recipe as written... Here's how we made ours:

2 cups unsweetened shredded coconut
4 tablespoons maple syrup*
5 tablespoons coconut oil
Splash of vanilla
1+ cup(s) semisweet chocolate chips

In a bowl, mush together the coconut, syrup, coconut oil and vanilla with your fingers until thoroughly combined. Take large pinches and squeeze them firmly in your hand to make balls, about an inch in diameter. Line the balls up on a wax paper-lined cookie sheet and refrigerate for half an hour. 

Melt chocolate chips; I started out with about 3/4 of a cup, but I ate some, and then I ran out of chocolate when I was coating the coconut balls so I had to melt more, but my additional 1/2 cup of chocolate chips were about 34 degrees F when they went in the microwave so they didn't melt well, not having sat on the counter for a half hour like the first batch, so I really don't know exactly how much I used (or should have used). The size of the balls will affect the amount of chocolate you wind up needing, too, so I'd recommend starting with 1 cup but making sure you have more room-temperature chips standing by just in case.

Anyway! Melt the chocolate chips, then carefully roll the chilled coconut balls in the melted chocolate and set them back on the wax paper-lined cookie sheet. Chill the balls until the chocolate hardens, then transfer them to a wax paper-lined tin and store them in the fridge (you can use the same wax paper from the cookie sheet).

*I used Grade B maple syrup, which is stronger and darker than Grade A. It's delicious, but 4 tablespoons of it made for a very strong flavor. Next time I might try Grade A or honey instead, or an adult-only version with 2 tablespoons each of honey and rum, or of maple syrup and some liquor. Bourbon? What would you pair with maple?

01 January 2016

SQT: New Years edition

So many greetings appropriate to today: Happy new year, Blessed solemnity of the Theotokos, and of course Merry eighth day of Christmas! We've been celebrating our way through the Christmas season here in the Shifflerhaus, but today has been extra special for the solemnity: we went to Mass, had a lovely herbed pork loin with padahae and green salad for dinner, and I sang the Akathist to the Theotokos this evening all the way through. I absolutely love that hymn! 

We've also been enjoying some absurdly warm weather all week, which is sure nice after the cold we had leading up to Christmas, but lately it's been too warm; I took the kids for a walk yesterday, and it was 40 degrees out! We don't want the snowpack starting to melt for months yet; the roads will be awful for the rest of the winter if they get icy now. Little Bear, though, has been very happy with the warmth: he's outside playing every chance he gets!

Do you have your 2016 patron saint yet? This year, Jen Fulwiler's saint generator gave me St Honoratus, which made me laugh—he's the patron saint of bakers, and I spend a lot of time baking! I'm looking forward to learning more about him this year.

Actually, I could definitely benefit from his intercession these days. Little Kit and I are still off dairy, and my success/failure record with dairy-free baking has been pretty sharply divided. Sandwich bread, hamburger buns, fruitcake, and Christstollen have all turned out perfectly; all of the non-dairy sweets that I've tried, though, have met an abrupt and inglorious end in the trash can. Well, the disastrous attempt at almond milk tapioca pudding went down the disposal instead, but same thing. Homemade sweetened condensed coconut milk is delicious, we learned, but melting in chocolate chips and letting it set up does not produce what Matt and I had in mind as proper fudge. And the cookies just... Matt finally suggested that we just make a second batch of fruitcake and forget about Christmas cookies this year, so that's what we're doing.


If I was a coffee drinker, though, I think I'd be tempted to make this stuff all the time, it's so good. Decadent. Amazing. We've already established that I do not like it with chocolate, but I might have to come up with some other way of drinking it (without drinking it straight, though that sounds delicious) so I can justify making some more. And it's so easy:

Pour one can of full-fat coconut milk into a small pot with a quarter cup of whatever sweetener you want—I used honey—and bring it to a boil over medium heat for five minutes. Then reduce the heat and just let it simmer until it reduces by half. Mine probably took closer to an hour than to 45 minutes, but I imagine different sweeteners and different stoves could change cooking times, so keep checking it once you pass a half hour.


On Christmas Eve, Matt let Kit play with the rim of his water glass, and ever since, any time one of us picks up a glass while we're holding her she lunges for it, both hands grasping the sides, and tries to pull it to her mouth. She makes the funniest faces and sounds, burbling conversationally as she gnaws on the rim, trying to stick her tongue in to reach the water, but sometimes I just want to drink from a glass that's not full of baby drool, you know? But she's so cute, we usually wind up letting her play.

I suppose I've skipped over the obligatory acknowledgement that we had a lovely Christmas Day, which we did, and are continuing to have a jolly Christmastide, which we are. I hope all of our Christmas morning photos are on Matt's phone, because I don't seem to have any! This is a fair example of what most days since have looked like, though: Little Bear and Kit playing together. So far he's been very good about sharing with her, and she's very enthusiastic about watching whatever he's doing.

Blessed solemnity, happy new year, and a merry rest of the Christmas season to everyone! You can find more quick takes linked up at This Ain't The Lyceum