25 May 2018

Seven Gardenly Takes

I
The snowshoe hares can't wait until we put in a garden...


My parents have never had to worry about rabbits in their garden—their fence, 6 feet of chicken wire, starts more than a foot off the ground in order to be tall enough to discourage moose from jumping it! We've had snowshoes all over the place, though, so our garden plans are going to have to take them into account.
II
The kids and I did some "planting" the other day, if you can call it that; we took 5lbs of too-old-to-eat barley and scattered it liberally over a cut bank that did a lot of collapsing during the spring melt this year. I'm hoping that enough of it germinates to get some degree of root structure there to help hold the hill together next spring. If it doesn't take we'll go buy grass seed or another kind of ground cover, but I wanted to try what we had first. 

III
No 70-degree days this week, but we've had some very respectable upper 50s and low 60s with frequent rain showers. There are still a handful of small patches of snow and ice in shaded spots, but the ground is certainly clear enough (and the trees green enough) that we can all agree that it is spring. All of the perennials in my east-facing flower bed were pulled out last weekend, which was kind of sad: they were pretty! But they really did need to go, because their bulbs were attracting too much attention from the local vole population, and I do not want them to have incentive to be tunneling around right up next to the house. Plus, we need the space for edibles.

IV
The other day Little Bear learned why I've been so insistent that they stay out of the clay mud: he went down to play in the softest, stickiest corner of the yard, and wound up having to have me "rescue" him because he sank in well past his ankles. His boots stayed there half-buried until Matt came home and the mud had hardened a little, because I was not about to risk the mud myself with Otter in the front pack! Now I'm keeping half an eye on that corner of the yard every time the kids are out playing, because I remember the lure of sticky mud... We had the same boot-stealing mud at the house I grew up in, and when I was about LB's age, I remember trying to see how stuck I could get my boots but still be able to get out without help. Is unreasonable to hope that the same "game" doesn't occur to LB?

V
I need your thoughts on weeds, specifically on getting rid of a large number of them spread over an area large enough that pulling them by hand isn't a practical solution. I've always been opposed to using chemical weed-killer because it's not great for people or the environment, and especially since our water comes from a well and we're putting in a garden—I don't want those chemicals getting into our food and water supply! Matt's allergic to the dandelions all over our yard, though, and the flower bed we're preparing to fill with herbs and vegetables is edged with several layers of stacked paving stones, with "volunteer" columbine and irises growing out of all their cracks and crevices. Any ideas for me?

I did suggest getting a goat, only half in jest, but that suggestion was definitely turned down :-) The snowshoe hares have seemed interested in our bumper crop of dandelions, though.

VI
We have two small, round garden beds that were set aside for the kids this year. LB was initially planning to have one bed split between radishes and beans and the other all carrots, but then he realized how much work it was to plant teeny carrot seeds, and the second bed wound up being half beans as well. Kit decided the radish and carrot seeds were too small for her, but she loved helping to plant the beans! She and LB have been running out every morning to see whether their baby plants have come up yet. I'm so glad that they are excited about gardening!

VII
Because I am overambitious, I'm working on a map for planting our big bed up against the house before we have a bunch of people over on Monday. Perhaps I'll talk myself out of trying, because I already have objectively too much to do between now and then, but I would really like to have it looking nice—and to have the plants started, since our growing season is so short! Intense, thanks to the 24-hour sun, but short. So far, my plans for the bed include napa cabbage, basil, cilantro, garlic chives, calendula, and marigolds. We'll see what else winds up in there!

Are you gardening this year? What do you grow?

15 May 2018

Strawberries & Cream Baked Oatmeal

This recipe is dedicated to those of you who, like me, always seem to pick out strawberries that only last a day or two before they start turning squishy.

Over the weekend I picked up several pounds of strawberries with the intention of making jam... Only to get home and realize that I already helped my mom make jam this season, when Otter was very new and I was very tired, and so I already had eight pints of jam in the cupboard. Oops. So the kids and I made strawberry bars, and strawberry popsicles, and after making popsicles we still had a bunch of puree left over. Working off the idea that strawberry puree is basically the same as applesauce, I cooked it down a little and wound up making it into a pan of delicious, moist, hearty baked oatmeal. To be honest, I'm considering sending Matt back to the store this evening before the sale ends to pick up more strawberries for me to puree and freeze—it's that good!

Strawberries & Cream Baked Oatmeal

3 cups rolled oats
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
About 1 3/4 cups strawberry puree, cooked down to 1 1/2 cups
1 1/2 cups milk of choice (I used coconutmilk)
3/8 teaspoon salt
1/3 to 1/2 cup honey
2 to 4 Tablespoons nut butter (I used cashew butter)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl and pour into an 8x8 or 7x11 (2.2 qt) baking dish. Bake for 25 minutes or until firm. Delicious warm or cold!

12 May 2018

Quick catch-up

There are two draft posts sitting here, completely finished except for photos, but both kind of need the photos and Blogger has decided it doesn't want to let me upload photos and I'm tired of fighting with it so... I'm just going to write a photo-free post instead. Sorry!

This afternoon Matt made one of his fancy grilled pork roulades, this time stuffed with onions, red bell pepper, and fresh pineapple. It looked and smelled amazing! And then we cut into it, and learned that pineapple contains this enzyme that breaks down proteins... The meat had a weird, almost chalky, consistency all the way through. It was very disappointing. Funny/frustrating thing is, if we had used canned pineapple it would have turned out perfectly because the super high heat of the canning process kills the enzyme!

Well, now we know. No more fresh pineapple + meat dishes.

We have successfully reintroduced eggs with no one reacting to them, which is hugely helpful when I remember about it. (i.e. only once last week) Two more weeks until we can start reintroducing everything else. I'm getting so tired of this diet... It's not terrible, when I plan well, but it seems like last week things just kept coming up that made it more difficult to make the planned meals... I'm hoping to do better this coming week.

The kids are looking forward to their second week of summer break, now that the yard is approaching 3/4 free of snow. It is so weird having temperatures into the 70s and half the yard still covered with snow, but we had so much out there that it's taking a long time to melt! Regardless of the snow, LB and Kit have both been happy to get outside multiple times every day.

Occasionally I lose track of how young Otter still is, because he is so big: at 8 weeks, he has nearly doubled his birth weight already! He's fitting well in 6 month clothes. I don't recall LB or Kit growing quite this quickly...

LB and Kit love talking to Otter, making faces at him, helping with him... LB especially is doing a good job of helping with both of the younger kids: while I was busy in the kitchen today, LB brought Kit and a pile of books over next to Otter, and read aloud until both of his siblings had fallen asleep!

We had been talking about going out of town for a hike or picnic for Mother's Day, but it turns out that greenup is happening this weekend—pretty much every deciduous tree in the area leafing out at the same time and sending pollen everywhere—and  between the pollen and the fact that the sudden rapid snowmelt is causing rivers to rise quickly (and all the places we wanted to go are near rivers), staying home is sounding like the best choice. Matt offered to grill for me, so that will be nice.

What are you doing for Mother's Day?

01 May 2018

May Day

Not sure whether we should be punctuating that as one word or two this year... It sure doesn't look or feel like May outside!


There were ice pellets bouncing off the deck railing when I finished putting the kids to bed this evening... It feels like this winter will never end!

I've always loved the idea of "going Maying," looking for wildflowers on May 1st, but it's never been warm enough long enough before that for flowers to be blooming. This year takes the cake, though; I have never seen this much snow still on the ground in May. 

A couple of weeks ago, the craft in LB's Waldorf curriculum was fingerknitting flowers. I had grand plans of making a whole bouquet in time for May Day, but... as grand plans plus kids tend to go, I finally finished the first flower during Otter's nap this morning. The instructions called for finishing the flowers with a yarn needle, but after two weeks of "maybe I'll make it to the craft store next time," I just used a crochet hook and it worked fine.


I cannot find the program we used for our May Crowning last year—how I can have a whole stack of liturgical year-related books and none of them mention May Crowning is beyond me!—but there's definitely way too much snow in the yard for a procession around the house like we did last time anyway. The kids and I pulled some ideas from Catholic Icing, though, and had fun crowning our big statue of Mary and arranging little paper flowers that LB made next to the little statue in the kids' room. We switched from Easter hymns to Marian hymns for bedtime, too; not sure yet whether I'll stick with Marian ones through the whole month of May, or go back to Easter ones until Pentecost. 

How did (or are) you celebrating Mary in May?

29 April 2018

Simple Truth from Fred Meyer

We've talked about the Kroger company's "sharing network" program before, yes? They send people who sign up free stuff, in exchange for those people telling others about the products. I haven't taken one of their "missions" in many months, but when they emailed this month inviting me to receive and review items from their Simple Truth and Simple Truth Organic lines, my eye caught on the free cloth grocery bag they were offering to send... I confess, I have a weakness for cloth bags. It is a ridiculous thing to have a weakness for, I know! But I agreed to review the other items in the box in order to get the bag. They said they would send a couple of snack foods, which I figured the kids would have fun with.

And then we started the elimination diet before the box arrived, and we couldn't try either of the foods they included, a package of salted almonds and a box of fruit & grain bars. There was also an organic strawberry-lavender lip balm, which Kit immediately claimed and has been having great fun with. The other day she told me, "Mama, I put on so much lip balm I can't even imagine!" :-) As liberally as she's applying it, I'm glad that it's made of safe ingredients like beeswax and coconut oil instead of petroleum byproducts!

The kids did enjoy being able to give the snacks to their friends, though, and they've both been excited about using the cloth bag with the Simple Truth logo on it. As a marketing scheme to get people to buy more Simple Truth-branded products, the campaign sure worked on LB: now every time we go to the store, he notices things with the Simple Truth logo and asks if we can get them. And thanks to his current obsession with it, I've noticed how many Simple Truth items I do buy.

Kit and LB went on a scavenger hunt through the kitchen for Simple Truth items, and came up with quite a few! Off the top of my head I can remember canned beans and tomatoes (they use BPA-free cans!), the quinoa, and bagged apples. LB wanted us the get the Simple Truth coconutmilk last time we were at the store, but it has carrageenan in it, so we stuck with the name brand.

It's been a good source of "teachable moments" on marketing and brands, how seeing a logo we recognize can be a good starting point but it's still important to read the full ingredient list, compare the price, etc.

And the most important item in the box, the cloth bag?


It's okay. Wanting to use the Simple Truth bag has helped the kids remember to bring the cloth bags in when we go to the store, so that's a plus; it is definitely not the sturdiest bag in my collection, but it's fine for produce. I'm a little surprised that they chose to put their logo that's supposed to carry the connotation of "high quality" onto a bag that isn't, but it was free.

28 April 2018

Seven Quick Takes

I
Time for spring colds! It's been a never-ending challenge this past week, catching kids as they run out to play and hustling them back into the house to get jackets on, get them zipped, where did you put your boots?!? etc. And so now we have the inevitable consequences of outside time without the proper gear, and LB and Kit are bewailing their fate of being stuck indoors until their colds get better even though it's beautiful and sunny outside. And it is beautiful! Temperatures are in the upper 40s with clear blue skies, and under the blazing sun our snow is melting quickly. The flat top part of the driveway is pretty much all dry at this point, so the bikes/trikes have been getting a good workout. There is still a lot of snow to melt—Little Bear managed to get himself good and stuck in the back yard yesterday, in snow up to his waist, and his feet were not touching the ground—but a lot has melted this week, and if these temperatures hold it won't be too much longer.

II
Otter picked up his siblings' cold, so he and I have had a couple of kind of difficult nights. I'm still so spoiled from Kit, though! She slept straight through the night every night when she was tiny, so it's really only in comparison with her that Otter is giving me trouble: when he wakes me up four or five times over the course of the night just to eat and goes right back to sleep, it's really not that bad.

III
What kind of "marketing language" would you use to help win someone over to the idea of sweet potatoes for breakfast? I made this sweet potato breakfast bake from Kitchen Stewardship, and I'm really excited about it! Kit and I think it tastes amazing, and I love that it's naturally sweet: the only added sweetener is two tablespoons of maple syrup in the entire 13x9 pan, so its real function in the dish is providing a subtle flavor, not sweetness. But I'm getting a few... raised eyebrows, let us say, over serving vegetables for breakfast: a practical "it's a great start on the recommend 5 servings of veggies a day!" was not all that helpful. :-) LB did eventually concede that it didn't taste bad, but I was hoping for a little more positive response.

IV
The kids' current favorite "everything-free" snack is halved bananas spread with cashew butter—I think several of you suggested that, so thank you! They've been topping them with sliced strawberries and calling them banana boats "because they're quarters of bananas that look the bottom of a boat, and the strawberries could be stood up like sails but I like to lay them down on their sides." - LB

V
I am buying so. ridiculously. many. bananas these days. Between kid snacks, using them in recipes the way I would normally, and substituting them for eggs, we are going through them quickly. I'm grateful that they're the least expensive fruit in the store! Sticking to the grocery budget on this diet has been pretty difficult.

VI
Okay, what are your projects for the weekend? I'm thinking that maybe if I write mine down, on the internet where anyone can see them, they'll be more likely to get done... Sound reasonable? There are always too many things needing my attention, but even if nothing else happens, at the very least I need to plan next week's menu, go over lesson plans for Sunday School and for LB's last week (!!!) of the school year, scribble out an initial ILP for next year so that I'm not walking into Monday's curriculum fair blind, do laundry, and bake some special treat for Sunday. Before I touch any of that, though, we're moving and reorganizing all of the too big/too small kids' clothes; hopefully that takes less time than I'm expecting it to!


Have a good weekend! For more quick takes, check out This Ain't The Lyceum.

22 April 2018

Lessons from the first week

We made it a whole week on the "everything-free" diet! (Not literally everything; in case you missed it earlier, our whole family is off egg for three weeks and gluten, dairy, soy, citrus, almonds, peanuts, and a couple of other legumes for six weeks.)

And we ate well. Well as in "food that tasted good," but also as in "food that was good for us." When you have to cut all of those things out, it's pretty hard to find junk food, or really much pre-made food at all. I definitely spent a lot more time in the kitchen this past week because I had to make almost everything from scratch. Soy, gluten, and whey and other milk derivatives like to hide in many, many things. I did find, on Friday, a company that makes bread free from everything we can't have (Little Northern Bakehouse, I think it was called?) It was weird to buy sliced bread for the first time in years, but very nice to have bread with our burgers Saturday evening.

A few takeaways from the first week:

Sticking to a menu plan really is possible. When I suddenly could not use pasta, sandwiches, etc as fallbacks, supper actually happened as written on the menu plan every day. There were a couple of minor deviations (lamburgers instead of moose burgers, taco salads when I forgot to buy corn flour for making tortillas), but we pretty much stuck to the plan and there were no last-minute "oops, I wonder what I'm doing about supper" evenings.

Prepping breakfast the night before makes a big difference. Blueberry baked oatmeal, chia pudding, oatmeal apple breakfast bars (which turned out to require forks, but were still a big hit), cinnamon roll baked oatmeal... If I made something good and filling the night before, it helped everyone get off to a good start. Also, apparently we ate a lot of oatmeal last week, but having special baked oatmeal variations was much more popular than multiple days of "look, a bowl of oatmeal" would have been. There's a cranberry vanilla rice pudding in the fridge for tomorrow, but I think we'll be back to oats the next morning.

Note: unless I did something wrong, which is certainly possible, chia pudding does not set up in coconut milk the way it does in almond milk or cow milk.

It's easier to give things up entirely than to find substitutes that make you very aware of what you are missing. That bread was pretty good, but since bringing it home on Friday, suddenly people are talking sadly about other wheat products like cereal and pasta.

Lunches were the hardest meals for me, and I don't entirely have a solution yet. It was okay as long as I made enough supper for there to be plenty of leftovers, though there were a couple of days when the kids weren't interested in having the same thing again. Sandwiches are out, and our normal non-bread quick lunch, hummus, kind of needs the lemon juice so I can't just make a batch without it. Ideas?

Using fruits and vegetables as the main snacks worked pretty well, but at the rate we're going through them they are expensive! I need to find more ways to stretch them. There is something very gratifying, though, about telling the kids that they can have more broccoli for dessert and getting an enthusiastic "okay!" in response.

What we ate this past week (suppers):

Sunday - grilled chicken, green salad, white rice
Monday - pork chops with spiced nectarines, roasted cauliflower, green salad
Tuesday - garlic chicken, brown rice
Wednesday - chicken taco salads
Thursday - grilled rosemary-dijon moose steak, garlic masked potatoes, grilled zucchini
Friday - honey-balsamic salmon, leftover mashed potatoes & zucchini
Saturday - BLT lamburgers on "everything-free" bread, grilled sweet onions, sweet potato fries

Week two, here we come! I know that the next two days' suppers will be a chicken-rice casserole and something made from ground moose, but that's as far as I've gotten on the new menu. Time for me to get to work!