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.