19 March 2017

Bits and pieces

I have several drafts half-written, but they aren't finished yet, and there's a bunch of little things rattling around in my head, so let's throw them all down on paper quick before the kids wake up again. 

The big one: we're night-weaning Kit, and it's going... well, we're making progress. She only asked for it a few times while I was singing her to sleep this evening, and I only took two heels-in-the-face in the same time period, so it was a pretty successful bedtime. Last night she did a good job most of the night: she was asleep by 8:06, didn't wake up until 1, was back soundly asleep by 3, and didn't wake up again until 6:30. Hopefully tonight goes even more smoothly than last night!

This wasn't my idea. I like nursing, at least until 2, or as long as baby wants to and mom is able to. Little Bear went past his second birthday, and we never had to go through this awful crying process with him because he was old enough to understand what was happening when we stopped. So I'm hating doing this to Kit! And I've spent way more time snuggling her, carrying her, whatever she wants during the days to try to make sure she knows that I love her and I'm not trying to push her away. 

So why are we doing it right now? Well, we've sort of laughed about my memory for a while now, how Matt could totally tell me my birthday present two days before my birthday and I'd still completely forget in time to be surprised... or we'll have a disagreement, and an hour later I honestly cannot remember what it was about... If something isn't written down on the to-do list, the shopping list, etc., the chance of me remembering it is pretty low. Nothing serious, just forgetfulness, as far as I was concerned. Matt was starting to wonder, though, and combined with some other things I have going on, I decided to talk with a doctor about it. She ran a bunch of tests, and everything came back pretty much perfect, so she started asking me more lifestyle questions: about the kids, our diet (good), my exercise routine (haphazard), my sleep... and pointed out that I haven't had a single solid, uninterrupted night's sleep for almost five years. Oh. Yeah, that might have something to do with it.

So we're trying this, hoping that Kit and I will both wind up sleeping through the night, and that getting enough sleep will help me function more like I used to. But it's so hard! 

As for my mediocre exercise regimen, I'm supposed to work on that too. I had the actually pretty valid excuse that my diastasis recti hasn't healed from Kit yet and exercising made it hurt a lot, and my doctor agreed that a standard core workout was not the best idea and recommended the Fit2Be program for strengthening and healing my abdominal muscles; anyone have any experience with their method?

It's funny; we're gaining seven minutes of daylight a day right now, and all of that sun is sure making it look like March, but it doesn't feel much like March outside! I mean, winter lasts pretty much forever, and that's something you just accept here, but by mid-March we're so ready for teens and 20s above zero so that the kids can spend a bunch of time playing outside. Little Bear and Kit are full of it these days, and I know it's partly because of the returning sun, but I can't just send them out to play and work off all that excess energy when it's this cold.

And... Yep, no, no brain. I don't remember what else I was going to write about. Food! And feast days. And maybe something else? I'll keep writing, and maybe it'll come back to me.

These will get their own post, I promise, but I did try out a recipe for homemade tortillas during spring break and they worked! I was skeptical of the dough, and I couldn't resist the temptation to use partially spelt flour instead of all white flour, but they were so delicious fresh, and were flexible enough to fold easily for burritos, and sturdy enough that none of the burritos tore or fell apart, and they were just as delicious the next day in quesadillas. Definitely a success! 

They'll get a decent write-up soon; I'll put it on my to-do list so I don't forget. :-)

Another soon-to-be-post: sourdough starter. I haven't forgotten my promise to post about my method; life and night-weaning just swamped my ability to get anything done ever, but I have pictures and words and I'll get it all together soon.

We celebrated St Patrick on Friday on his feast day, but we celebrated again tonight because the supper we wanted to make had meat in it (his feast isn't a solemnity in our diocese) and the meat didn't thaw quickly enough on Saturday. We made a moose stew with Guinness, topped with Irish cheddar & herb dumplings, and oh it was all so good. Matt's not much of a soup person, and he declared that I could make the recipe again as often as I wanted. We're still very wintery here, so I expect we'll be having it again at least once before the snow melts. I'll have to add this one to the to-be-typed-out list as well!

For the feast of St Joseph tomorrow, Little Bear is looking forward to making bolognese and spaghetti, because St Joseph is a patron of Italy. Okay, that's why I assigned it; right now he's just excited about it because he gets to use the recipe from his cooking class. We'll talk about St Joseoh and why he's a patron of Italy again tomorrow, though. And I need to come up with some kind of dessert that uses blueberry pie filling; it's not Italian, but I have half a quart jar in the fridge and it's hard to find excuses to use pie filling during Lent! It's a little on the runny side, so I don't think I trust it in a pie; any suggestions?

Kit is starting to make noise, so I'm done for the night. Recipes to come! And any blueberry pie filling suggestions would be very much appreciated!

06 March 2017

Soft pretzels for Lent

I haven't made soft pretzels in years; in my head, they're way too hard for anything other than a special occasion. We needed meatless meals for Kit's nameday last week, though, so I decided to give soft pretzels a try again to make her supper a little more special. And you know what? They really aren't that hard! Time-consuming, yes, and harder than most things for kids to actually helpfully help with... rolling the dough "snakes" took a long time, and Kit didn't understand why she couldn't just wave a piece of dough around in the air for a few seconds and then pat it out on the pan, but Little Bear got the hang of it by the time he was halfway through his second.

And they are sooooo good! If you like soft pretzels and don't mind spending the time shaping them, it's definitely worth trying to make your own.

For the dough:
1 1/2 cups warm water
1 Tablespoon sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons yeast
3 cups all purpose flour
1 3/4 cup spelt flour (or other whole grain flour)
2 teaspoons salt
4 Tablespoons melted butter (or 3 1/2 Tablespoons olive oil)

10 cups water
1/2 cup baking soda
milk or an egg wash (1 yolk + 1 Tablespoon water)
coarse salt

Combine the warm water, sugar, and yeast; set aside until foamy. In a mixing bowl, combine flours and salt. When yeast mixture is ready, add to flour along with butter or oil. Combine thoroughly and knead about 8 minutes. Shape into a ball, and place in bowl, covered with plastic wrap, in a warm place until doubled in size.

Begin bringing water and baking soda to a boil in a broad, straight-sided pot, and begin preheating oven to 450 degrees F. Line two sheet pans with parchment paper.

Divide dough into eight equal pieces. Roll out each piece into a rope/snake at least 24 inches long. Lay on the counter in a U shape; cross the ends over each other twice, and fold the twisted ends down to press against the lower edge of the U, forming a pretzel shape. Place four pretzels on each sheet pan. One at a time, place pretzels in the boiling water for 30 seconds. When each is back onto its baking sheet, brush with egg wash or milk and sprinkle with coarse salt. Don't assume that a kid will interpret "use the smallest amount possible" as anything other than "go ahead and dump the entire thing of salt on it". Remove excess salt as necessary.

Bake 12 to 14 minutes. Remove from pan right away, and allow to cool on a wire rack.

Thinking about it, there's no logical reason for me to have believed that making pretzels was too hard when I think that making pita is easy. Hmm. I guess it's time to try something else that's always seemed too hard... maybe tortillas? I'll have to start looking around for a recipe, and report back once I've tried!

21 February 2017

Sticky fingers

Not my most spectacular job of "getting back into blogging," but at least it wasn't my worst! Matt left for an out-of-state work trip a few days after my last post; I'd somehow sort of figured that I'd have time in the evenings while he was gone that would be perfect for blogging, but it didn't quite work out that way... I don't like to say anything online about him being gone until after he's home--probably not a big deal, I know, but I feel safer knowing that the internet doesn't know that I'm home alone with the kids--and it was hard to think of anything to write about that didn't somehow tie in to him being gone. Then he got home late late Saturday night, and we've been catching up on everything that didn't happen while I had the munchkins on my own.

Like peanut butter.

You would be hard pressed, I think, to find something more exciting to my toddler than a 5 gallon bucket of peanut butter. She hovers expectantly, watching out of the corner of her eye with a cheerful little grin on her face, waiting for me to turn my back so she can dart over and plunge her hand into the bucket, stuff a handful into her mouth, and then wail in a rather sticky sort of way because her hands are messy and she doesn't like sticky hands and Mama needs to wash them Right. Now. Please. She does say the please! But pleases or no pleases, it's much, much easier for me to refill the 2lb peanut butter jars in the kitchen when Matt is around to play with/distract Kit for me.

I felt silly, very silly, the first time I brought home 35 pounds of peanut butter from the co-op. I just spent more money on peanut butter than I did on my entire grocery shopping trip this week. Peanut butter! What is wrong with me?? And then Kit was diagnosed with casein and soy allergies, and I had to find a substitute for ice cream, and peanut butter with a swirl of melted chocolate chips consoled my sweet tooth. And then it was Lent, and peanut butter became my midday protein of choice. And then I discovered no-bake bars and balls, and started making them for snacks regularly. And we worked our way through the bucket, until it came time for the biannual co-op order and I realized that we were almost out. I actually had to buy a little jar of it from the grocery store, because we ran out completely a couple of weeks before our order came in at the co-op.

We're on our third bucket now, and I no longer feel silly bringing them home. It's good peanut butter, and certainly more cost-effective than buying it one tiny jar at a time, especially the way we eat it and use it in recipes! I prefer the "natural" (a.k.a. not no-stir) version; even though it's more work, I think it tastes so much better, and it works better in most of my recipes. I've had several batches of no-bake treats turn out oily or refuse to hold together when made with no-stir peanut butter, and it seems like that's caused by the extra oil they add in order to homogenize it. 

After watching me today, Matt added "carve a giant spoon" to his to-do list, because the longest one I have doesn't reach all the way to the bottom of the bucket. I'm looking forward to having it: while I don't mind the extra step of stirring together the separated peanuts and peanut oil, dealing with a full bucket of it sure is a messy job!

13 February 2017

Getting into a gardening frame of mind

Temperatures are warming up, 20 degrees above 0 on Monday instead of the 20 degrees below 0 that we had all weekend. Heatwave! Kind of. We were laughing a little ruefully today about being so accustomed to cold weather that temperatures that are still below freezing feel nice and warm.

While I know intellectually that planting weather is still a long way off, this warming trend set me thinking about our garden for the coming summer. I'm in the middle of a grocery budgeting course right now, which has had me looking critically at everything we spend on food as it is, and I've come to the unfortunate conclusions that I really do already make a lot more things from scratch than most people do, and we really don't buy a lot of expensive or unnecessary food items, so we'll have to take some more dramatic steps to cinch our food spending. One of those steps is going to be planting a big enough vegetable garden that we can put up more food for next winter than we did this year.

We moved to this house at the beginning of August, so we really haven't seen a summer here yet. That lack of knowledge is niggling at me as I try to make plans for planting: where should we put which vegetables? What are the cold spots, the places where we'll still have snow and frozen ground well into May? What will the sun be like in different spots around the yard as the summer progresses?I guess this will be something of a trial year for us.

The original owners planted a large bed of perennial flowers (day lilies, irises, trolius, columbine, peonies, delphiniums) wrapping around the east and south sides of our house, and the owner between them and us allowed the plants to pretty much run riot, so we have some very well-established plants out there; I spent more than a week cleaning out the bed this fall. That collection happens to include most of my favorite flowers, and I'm sure it's gorgeous come midsummer, but... I'm kind of thinking of tearing them all out and filling the bed with beans and broccoli and spinach and other edibles. Is that terrible? I do feel kind of terrible for even thinking of doing it. Beauty is important! But not as important as food, if it comes down to one or the other, and I'm having trouble justifying the idea of leaving the best garden-area that's currently available filled with flowers and trying to find other spots to stick our vegetables around the yard.

Some things can't go there; I'm concerned that planting root vegetables right up next to the house might be unwise, possibly encouraging voles to tunnel there. Our tomatoes went wild on the deck last year -- we moved them in their half-barrel planters, and despite losing at least a third of the green tomatoes that were on the vine in the moving process, the plants had more than doubled their loads by harvest time. Since they liked it so much, we're putting them back on the deck!

The current hazy, tentative plan has us putting in beans, peas, spinach, komatsuna, broccoli, and summer squash in the border bed; carrots, salad turnips, and tomatoes in barrels on the deck; herbs in little pots all over, until I find a spot for a permanent herb garden; and potatoes in the two old raised beds that the previous owner regretfully informed me would have to be moved, because they stay cold longer than other areas and don't get as much sun. We're not moving them this year, so we shall see what happens there! At least they're raised, so the soil will warm faster than the ground around it, and I started a compost pile when we moved in last summer so there might be some halfway-decent humus that I can add to the beds to help the potatoes out a little.

I had so much fun paging through seed catalogs, and I love the idea of starting everything from seed, but we're just not set up for that at this point. Our growing season is so short here! You can't plant in the ground before late May, and the harvest had better be ready by early September or you risk a hard frost, so many longer-growing crops have to be started under grow lights indoors in February or March. Maybe some day we'll be able to have a setup like that. For now, I had to split our list into plants I'll have to get from the farmer's market or a nursery (broccoli, tomatoes, squash, seed potatoes, herbs) and those I'll be able to seed directly into the ground (everything else). If we can find some, we'd also like to transplant some rhubarb and start a patch of that for ourselves; I grew up adding rhubarb to pies, jams, kuchens, cakes, pretty much every kind of sweet thing that came out of our kitchen, and I'd love to pass that on to our kids.

If you garden, what do you grow? How does where you live affect the type of things that you can plant? I know that Alaska is different, but I've never actually tried to garden anywhere else, so I'd be interested to hear about what some of the differences are.

12 February 2017

Nothing important

I think about blogging almost every day, believe it or not. I should write again... I miss writing... I miss communicating with other adults... but I don't have anything worth saying, anything important to tell anyone.

The kids and I stay home most days. I get a chance to talk on the phone to one of my sisters or a friend maybe once a month, twice if I'm lucky; the kids seem magnetically attracted to the phone, so it's often not even worth trying to call anyone, since I'll hardly be able to hear them over the ukulele-player hanging on my ankles and the toddler who stuck her hand in her yogurt for the fifteenth time and is distressed all over again that it's sticky. I'm busy all day, every day, it seems like... but it's nothing worth writing about. Laundry, dishes, cooking, homeschooling. It's so everyday. And I love my life, really I do! Even if it gets lonely sometimes. But at the end of the day, when I finally have a chance to open the computer, it seems like there's never anything interesting enough to share.

But the more I think about it, these are important things. Feeding my family, cleaning up, teaching our children, hauling wood and building fires to warm the house: important, all of them. Somewhere along the line, in my thinking about blogging, I've confused the ideas of "exciting" and "worthwhile." We don't have a super exciting life right now. Thank heaven! I like my well-ordered stay-at-home routines, like knowing that I won't be bundling kids into and out of the car and running errands and going places all week long. Give me a loaf of bread rising next to the woodstove and train tracks covering the living room floor over an exciting afternoon in town any day.

So I'm going to make an effort, again, to come back to blogging more frequently. Not waiting until I have something exciting to relate or we've made something particularly interesting and Pinterest-worthy, but instead trying to focus on sharing bits of the everyday, important, worthwhile, maybe a little bit boring days that I'm so grateful to have right now. Life won't be like this forever, and someday, I'm going to want to remember this time.

06 January 2017

On the last day of Christmas...

Happy Epiphany! Today I thought we were having a fancy pull-out-the-china dinner with friends to celebrate the magi's arrival, but I have a toddler with the stomach flu instead. C'est la parenthood. She's not completely miserable, and no one else has it yet, so how about I take advantage of not making a big meal this afternoon to do a little Christmas/year-end recap?

Matt and Little Bear picked a beautiful white spruce this year! Strong, straight branches, even spacing, and a spread of more than 6'... It's one of the best I've ever seen. The menfolk went out tree-hunting on the Fourth Sunday of Advent, and we got the lights and angel on that evening, but then we waited until the following morning for the kids to help me hang the ornaments. Little Bear was very helpful; Kit was very protective of whatever ornaments she picked up, and suspicious of our strange desire to hang them on a tree. She has done a wonderful job of not trying to touch the tree since we finished decorating it, though!

By a fluke of calendaring, Christmas Day wound up being the day that we were supposed to try Kit with cow's milk dairy again. She had been doing fine with A2 milk for two weeks—did I ever write about the technical protein stuff? I don't think so. Maybe another day—anyway, we were due to test and see whether she could handle regular cow's milk again, so I told my mom not to worry about trying to make dairy-free versions of things for Christmas dinner, Kit and I would eat what everyone else ate and we'd see what happened. And she's outgrown her casein allergy! It appears that she's still somewhat sensitive, in that she has some trouble if she's had a lot of it at once, so for now we are letting her (and me!) have baked items with dairy in them, small amounts of cheese, as much yogurt as either of us wants, but we're not having straight milk (which is relatively rare in our house anyway).

"Mouth!" she informed me brightly, when I caught her with my lip gloss.

Little Bear won a Christmas coloring contest hosted by ABCatholic.com, and they sent him this nativity playset! The kids have been having so much fun with it ever since it got here, and I'm very impressed with the quality and detail of the plastic figurines. Kit is constantly putting the baby Jesus in the manger on the coffee table, running over to hug me and exclaim "Baby Jesus! Sleeping! Coffee table!" and running back over to readjust him so she can come tell me again. 

Little Bear's winning coloring page:

Christmas Eve the kids and I were busy baking stöllen and crescent rolls, and were very grateful for the woodstove's help making all of the dough rise. Little Bear was very helpful, rolling out the dough for both and helping me shape the crescent rolls.

I have no actual Christmas Day pictures, because as you've doubtless noticed, all of the photos my phone takes are blurry... Something to do with the autofocus, which is a warranty repair, but we bought this one used so there's no warranty. So Matt took the Christmas morning photos, and they're still on his phone. We did have a lovely day, though; we attended the children's vigil Mass on Christmas Eve, and on Christmas morning the kids slept until nearly 8 o'clock! We spent the morning at home, then went to my parents' house midday for dinner and presents there, and were back home in time for Kit to take a late nap. Peaceful: it was a peaceful Christmas.

Ha! Now I remember why it wasn't entirely peaceful: our furnace stopped working as we were heading out the door to Christmas Eve Mass! There wasn't anything we could do about it until the day after Christmas, since we didn't want to pay holiday call-out fees, but the woodstove kept the upstairs warm just fine and we plugged in electric heaters in the garage and downstairs so that we didn't have pipes freezing on us. (That happened the week before; didn't need to deal with that twice!) The repairman who came out Monday was great, though; he taught Matt a lot about how our particular furnace works, and what Matt can try on his own next time this happens.

We were bracing for a big storm a couple of days after Christmas, up to 18" of snow and 55 mph wind gusts, and I suppose that we did get both of those things, but we never lost power like we'd expected to. Folks near us did, and in a similar storm last winter people in this area were without power for a full week, but we only saw the lights flicker a couple of times. We did have an awful lot of snow to clear, and Matt did a heroic amount of the shoveling and snow blowing himself, since Kit and I both had quite the headcolds. Fortunately Matt had more than a week off work for Christmas/New Years (yay, working for a school!), so he was home when we got all of the ridiculous snow.

And I couldn't very well wrap up this Christmas season without mentioning music; our house has been full of it these past twelve days! Instead of toys, we gave each kid an instrument this year—a ukulele for Little Bear, and a pentatonic scale of chimes laid out hammer dulcimer-style for Kit (and the whole family). Little Bear is playing it in the photo with the Christmas tree. I am happy that they're both so excited about making music, especially Little Bear, but goodness the house has been getting loud these days! We've almost mastered the "no music while Mom is on the phone" rule, and Little Bear is doing a pretty good job of remembering not to play while anyone is sleeping, so I can handle it the rest of the time.

Well, instead of a fancy dinner tonight, the non-stomach-bugged members of the family shared a super vegetable pizza that Matt and Little Bear picked up in town. Mmm, pizza with cheese on it for the first time in more than a year! We laughed that it was still appropriate for Epiphany, because they had to travel a long way to get it and bring it home. Though if we had the ability to get Middle Eastern takeout in town, that would have been even better!

13 December 2016

St Lucy Buns {dairy-free}

A year ago, I was still coming to grips with Kit being allergic to casein. Our traditional Advent and Christmas baking is chock full of butter, milk, cream cheese, sour cream... and because I was feeling overwhelmed, and most of the few Christmas treats that I did try to adapt to be dairy-free turned out poorly, I more or less stopped trying.

Well, we're still dairy-free around here, but with a year's experience in baking without butter et al, I am ready to tackle all the Christmas things! Well, most of them. The ones that are supposed to taste like butter can wait another year.

I was sad to miss out on St Lucy Buns last year, but with milk, butter, AND sour cream, there was no way I was going to attempt to muddle through them. I was still a little bit nervous last night, waiting and hoping they'd turn out as my dough oh-so-slowly rose, but they are perfect. Light, tender, melt-in-your-mouth rich... Mmmm. :-) So glad to be able to celebrate St Lucy's feast day with these treats from my Nordic roots!

St Lucy Buns/Lussekatter {dairy-free}

3/4 cup milk of choice (I used almondmilk)
pinch of saffron threads
1 teaspoon + 1/4 cup white sugar
2 1/4 teaspoons yeast
3 1/2 to 4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons nondairy "butter" (I used Earth Balance soy-free)
1/4 cup nondairy plain yogurt (I used coconutmilk yogurt)
2 large eggs + 1 for egg wash

Combine milk, saffron, and 1 teaspoon sugar. Heat to 115 degrees F, and stir to dissolve sugar. Stir in yeast and set in a warm place until foamy, 5 to 10 minutes.

In a mixing bowl, whisk together the remaining sugar, 3 1/2 cups flour, and salt. Make a well in the middle and add the milk mixture, 2 eggs, diced "butter", and yogurt. Combine thoroughly. Knead dough, adding flour a tablespoon at a time as needed until dough is still tacky but doesn't stick all over your hands when you touch it. Shape into a ball and set in a bowl, covered with plastic wrap, to rise.

When dough has doubled, divide into 12 equal balls. Roll into snakes and shape into tight Ss. Lay out on a parchment-lined sheet pan and cover with plastic wrap to rise until doubled, about half an hour. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Beat an egg and brush over the Ss. Stick raisins into S curls. Bake 9 to 10 minutes, turning pan 180 degrees after 4 minutes. Remove from parchment to a wire rack to cool. Enjoy!

If you aren't dairy-free, the recipe works equally well with cow's milk, butter, and plain yogurt or sour cream.
Coconut oil works in place of the fake butter, but only use 3.5 tablespoons instead of 4.