15 June 2016

Midweek Motley

What we're doing

I will be so glad, y'all, to have Matt home for bedtime tomorrow night. The kids haven't really seen him since bedtime Monday night, because they've been sleepyheads in the mornings and he's been out late into the night these last two nights. Between Kit, who has a cold and by the end of the day just wants to cling to me, and Little Bear, who maybe is jealous that the only present parent is giving his sister all the attention? I don't know exactly what's up with him, but he's been a handful and a half at bedtime. I'm glad that Matt is on the parish council (tonight's out-late-reason), but I'm also really glad that I won't be soloing bedtime tomorrow.

Kit really only sounds sick when she's upset, usually because she's been thwarted in whatever she was trying to do: escape onto the deck, chase after Little Bear's train engine, grab the fish sauce out of the fridge... I don't know why she goes after the fish sauce specifically, it's not the closest bottle when the door opens, but if she manages to grab anything it's always the fish sauce. But anyway, she's usually not upset, and is generally very happy. She's been extra smiley today, because she just learned last night both A) how to pull herself up to stand with her hands on the kitchen step stool, and B) that when she's standing there, she can walk all around the kitchen pushing the step stool, around and around in circles. She's so excited and proud of herself!

Our first week of CSA vegetables has gone really well. I was a little intimidated by this batch when we brought them home—I'd never cooked with most of them; I'd never even heard of sorrel or mizuna! So there was definitely a bit of "what have I done?!?" going on, contemplating a whole summer of building menus around new and weird vegetables. But you know what? It's been wonderful.

What we're eating

The sorrel was the first thing we cooked up. And that right there is a change—I'm pretty sure that the only green leafy thing I have ever willingly cooked instead of leaving raw is spinach, and that pretty much exclusively in eggs. But the "farm notes" for last week said that sorrel has a lemony flavor and is good wilted with fish, so I pulled a little pack of halibut cheeks out of the freezer and opened up my copy of Cooking Alaskan—which has a startling number of recipes for sorrel, actually—and wilted it. It gets much, much smaller when you wilt it! I was expecting shrinkage similar to that of spinach, but it definitely shrank more than spinach does. It tasted very good, though! Lemony indeed. Some of the chives also accompanied the halibut, but were more garnish-y than vegetable-y.

Next came the bok choy. About 2/3 of it went into the wok with sesame oil, pork, and a coconut aminos-based teriyaki sauce. I loved the flavor, and how you get two such different textures from it: the dark green leaf becomes smooth and silky, and the white stem remains firm. Both parts were surprisingly sweet, and went really well with the teriyaki.

It certainly wouldn't have hurt to use the whole head of bok choy, but I did appreciate having some still around this morning so I could throw it in our fried rice for lunch. It's so fun to hear Little Bear exclaim, "I just love bok choy!"

Sunday evening was a throw-everything-in-a-skillet night, and it turned out really well! Olive oil, garlic, and sweet Italian sausage cooked through, then I added some cooked brown rice and a can of petite diced tomatoes, and when that was warm I stirred in about half of our bunch of spinach and let it cook just until the spinach was a very dark green.

This prove so popular that I basically remade it for supper yesterday, since I had two links of Italian sausage that needed to be used; to change it up a little, I used a larger can of crushed tomatoes instead of the petite diced, and served it with pasta instead of rice.

I've had radishes before, but only raw, as part of a veggie tray; it had never occurred to me that you could cook them. The farm notes included a recipe for brown butter radishes, though. Butter obviously wasn't an option for Kit or me, but I decided to try sautéing them in olive oil. They sweetened up quite a bit, losing much of their "bite;" Kit wasn't much of a fan, but the rest of us enjoyed them.

And there's some of the arugula-chickweed salad, which we've been enjoying alongside most of our suppers over the past week. I was surprised by how much we all like it! Matt was just saying the other evening that grocery store leaf lettuce is going to taste awfully bland, when we go back to that in the fall.

The mizuna keeps being intended for meals, and then not quite making it in... My latest plan was to put it in homemade chicken noodle soup tonight, but it was way too hot for soup. If I can make myself turn the oven on tomorrow morning, it'll go into an egg bake to have around for breakfasts. Otherwise, I'll have a frizzy salad for lunch to use up the last assorted bits of greens; we pick up the new week's vegetables tomorrow after Matt finishes work!

What we're reading

Little Bear found a Margaret Wise Brown Golden Book treasury at the used book store the other week, and has been asking for stories from it each night before bed. I believe that it's called Friendly Tales. I'm so glad that they've collected so many of the classic Golden Books into treasury volumes to reprint! We also have Farm Tales, and my mom has one with a bunch of stories illustrated by Eloise Wilkin, who is one of my favorites for little kid books. Anyone know if there are any others?

I'm still sort of pretending to work on The Lost Arts of Modern Civilization, and I'll keep pretending, but at this point it's more for the principle of "I started it so I'm going to finish it." Maybe one of the remaining essays will strike a chord with me, but so far I've just been irked by it.

Instead, I've been reading cookbooks. A friend brought over two allergy-friendly cookbooks earlier this week, The Allergy Self-Help Cookbook and What's To Eat?, and I'm looking forward to using the birthday cake recipe she recommended from the latter for Kit's birthday. If I can make myself turn the oven on. We're supposed to get into the 80s for her birthday! Maybe we'll all just eat (dairy-free) ice cream instead. :-)

12 June 2016

No-bake Granola Bars

I know I've mentioned these no-bake peanut butter chocolate chip granola bars a few times lately, but they're just so delicious and easy! We've tried several variations on the base recipe over the past couple of months, and I have to say that I believe we've found a winner. Our family's winner, at any rate; as you'll see in a moment, it's easy to adapt them to fit your own preferences!

The basic recipe that I've linked above, from Don't Waste The Crumbs, makes a good bar. Salty, sweet, holds together very well instead of crumbling apart like many other no-bake recipes I've tried before. I'll let you go visit her site for the original recipe, but for comparison purposes, I'll tell you that her honey-to-peanut butter ratio is 1:1 and her pretzels are crushed to breadcrumb-consistency.

Pros: Like I said, they stick together really, really well. And they only get fingers a little bit sticky; Little Bear, who hates having messy fingers, didn't have a problem eating them---though he did ask me to wash his fingers when he finished eating.

Cons: They were a little too sweet for me, and they softened significantly in just a short amount of time after removing them from the refrigerator; the day I brought one to town as a snack for Little Bear, it was a very good thing that I had a pack of wipes in my purse to clean him up!

The chunkier version was actually attempted by my younger brother, but I'm going to include it anyway because we learned something important from it. He included the optional peanuts from the basic recipe, which I've never done, and crushed his pretzels by hand to a much-less-fine size than the recipe called for. The largest pieces I saw were a little smaller than 1 cm. He also used the "if needed" coconut oil because his mixture was too dry.

Pros: They were chunkier, more like what I've always thought of as a "granola bar."

Cons: They didn't hold together well at all; they were too dry, and crumbled. The only reason I can come up with is that the pretzels needed to be crushed more finely in order to hold the bars together. He used exactly the same peanut butter I did, it even came out of the same bucket!, so it wasn't a difference in our peanut butters.

An almond butter version, as Yvonne asked about the other week. I maintained the original 1:1 ratio, just substituting almond butter for peanut butter, and used almond extract instead of vanilla extract. For the record, this was the first time I've ever used almond butter so I don't know whether mine was typical or of an unusually runny consistency, but it was not as thick as peanut butter.

Pros: They held together well, and tasted like almond. Stirring the mini chocolate chips into this batch was easier than with any of the peanut butter batches.

Cons: Soooooo sticky! Little Bear refused to eat his until I brought him a wet towel, so that he could wash his fingers after each bite. They were too sweet for me again; I had thought that the stronger salty/roasted flavor of the almond butter would balance out the sweetness of the honey, but the sweet and salty notes were more competing than complementing each other. In my opinion, at least; it turns out that I don't actually like almond butter very much, so take that with a grain of salt.

And finally, our perfect version! I changed the honey-to-peanut butter ratio to 3:5, and crushed the pretzels to a coarse cornmeal consistency.

Pros: These held together very well, even staying fairly firm when I brought them to town with us (so they were out of the fridge for an extended period of time.) And they were not very sticky at all; Little Bear had to be reminded to wash his hands after snack, because he didn't think that his fingers were sticky. They were not as sweet, which I appreciated, and felt more filling, so it worked fine for me to cut them a little bit smaller.

Cons: It was harder to get the mini chocolate chips into this version, and I wound up basically kneading it like dough to work them in.

Here you go: Shifflerhaus No-bake Peanut Butter Granola Bars

2 cups oats (instant or rolled; I used instant)
4 oz pretzels
1/3 cup mini chocolate chips
1 1/4 cups peanut butter
3/4 cup honey
1 teaspoon vanilla

Line an 8"x10" baking dish with parchment paper. Crush pretzels in a food processor or blender until ground, about the consistency of cornmeal. Pour into a bowl and mix in oats and chocolate chips. In a smaller bowl or liquid measuring cup, combine peanut butter, honey, and vanilla. Pour over the dry ingredients and thoroughly combine; you'll likely wind up needing to use your hands. Dump into parchment-lined pan and press out smoothly, giving attention to the corners. Place in the freezer for 30 minutes or in the fridge for several hours. Remove from pan, cut into bars, wrap individually in plastic, and store in the fridge.


- It would be worth trying the almond butter again using these quantities, except that I don't have enough almond butter left to make another batch, and I didn't like it enough to want to buy more. If you try it out, though, let me know! Or if you think that I must have had a particularly poor first jar of almond butter and there's a better brand that I should try before writing it off altogether, I'm willing to consider it. :-)

- I've just now realized that not everyone uses natural peanut butter, a.k.a. the kind you have to stir before using. All of the no-stir brands that I've seen contain soybean oil, so we can't use them, and anymore it doesn't even seem out of the ordinary to me to stir the peanut butter jar each time I open it. In other words, I can't tell you what will happen if you use no-stir peanut butter in this recipe; if you try it and find out, though, I'd be interested to know how much of a difference it makes.

09 June 2016

Midweek Motley

What we're doing

Our miniature "container garden" on the deck is growing well, for the most part. The herbs all seem content, and the Siberian bush tomatoes are getting bushy indeed. Our grape tomato plant, on the other hand, is definitely less than thrilled with the 40s and 50s we've been having; I think I need to pull it inside, if I can find somewhere that Kit won't be constantly getting into it. The green lettuce is growing more quickly than the red, though today I noticed Little Bear knocking over one of the reds when he watered it, so that may be the reason. The strawberry plants in their hanging basket are covered with little white berries, and a few of them are beginning to pink; more and more of the berry plants' leaves are starting to turn brown, though, and I'm not sure what's going on there. Little Bear is still being very helpful with the weeding and watering, and is always proud to show off "his" plants when we have visitors.

Kit's vocabulary is growing. I know we're often the only ones who understand her, but she's not quite 1, so that's normal! We're hearing "boom" frequently these days, as she's constantly looking for opportunities to drop things on the floor so she can use her new word. Another new one this week is "buh" (bye), which she says every time I hang up the phone. Oh, and "aaah-meh!" She's just started folding her hands when we all sit down to pray before meals, which is so cute, and then when we get to the Amen she often shouts "aaah-meh!" and beams at her own cleverness.

What we're eating

This afternoon we picked up our first "share" of the summer from a CSA that we signed up with this spring. Since we're still renting and I don't have the ability to plant a big garden right now, I've been so excited about getting produce fresh from a local farm each week this summer, and expanding our family's repertoire of vegetables consumed. Well, I had my own vegetable prejudices confronted right off the bat; there aren't any vegetables that I "won't eat," exactly, but despite knowing that Matt likes it, I have never once brought home arugula in our nearly-5 years of marriage. And what went into the top of our sack of vegetables this afternoon? A large bag of arugula-chickweed salad. But I ate it! And it wasn't as off-putting as I remembered... which may possibly be related to the fact that I make my vinaigrettes with a 1:1 ratio of oil and vinegar... Everything tasted more or less like balsamic. But still. 

Here's the whole of our leafy loot. From the top left: arugula-chickweed salad, spinach, sorrel, chives, bok choy, mizuna mustard, and radishes. Kit helped herself to some of the mizuna while I was putting everything away, and she didn't seem to mind it, though she didn't wind up actually swallowing any of it. Little Bear groused about not liking chickweed, because his youngest aunt doesn't, but we told him that he had to try it anyway and he wound up excitedly asking for a second helping of salad.

I'm in the process right now of testing out the no-bake granola bars from last week with almond butter instead of peanut butter, so we should have a post with the main recipe for those and a couple of adaptations up soon!

What we're reading

From Haley at Carrots for Michaelmas, Tim Burton's Big Fish, Me Before You, and the Terrible Power of Story
 - Beautiful, inspirational look at Story, at how powerful a force storytelling is in forming and directing our hearts and minds. She reminded me strongly of J.R.R. Tolkien's essay On Fairy-Stories, the conveying of fundamental Truth through myth.

From Meg of Held By His Pierced Hands, Heavy Blessings
 - Reflecting on the Visitation and the pregnancy of St Elizabeth, Meg delves into how receiving blessings with joy and gratitude does not preclude acknowledging that some blessings can be difficult to carry.

From Tiffany of Don't Waste the Crumbs, All-purpose Slow Cooker Chicken
 - Did you know that you can roast a chicken, roast it, in the slow cooker? I had no idea. It worked perfectly, though! And we really, really appreciated being able to cook the chicken without heating up the house.

From Katie of Kitchen Stewardship, 3 Common Summertime Toxins (& How to Avoid Them)

From Kendra of Don't Waste the Crumbs, Companion Gardening Beginners Guide

From Molly Green Magazine, Allowing Yourself Time to Heal

And I'm still listening to Andy Minter's recording of Anthony Hope's The Prisoner of Zenda on LibriVox, but I'm getting close to the end; I'm still very impressed with and thoroughly enjoying Minter's presentation, and was so excited to see that he has also done the sequel, Rupert of Hentzau, which I've actually never read. That will be a treat!

08 June 2016

Sourdough Cinnamon Roll Bread

This would be one of those "happy accidents" in the kitchen: a recipe that was apparently a total failure, but instead is getting renamed and added to my recipe file. Love those!

We made sourjacks for breakfast after Mass again this past weekend, so there was about half a cup of leftover starter sitting on the counter. Flipping through the sourdough section of my cookbook, I found something that sounded delicious: sourdough cinnamon rolls. Matt said yes, please make that!, so I fed the starter another cup and a half each of flour and water, and gave it about 24 hours to get good and foamy. Then Little Bear and I started in on the recipe... But by the time it said we were ready to let the dough rise, I was pretty skeptical. It did say that it made a soft dough, but soft enough that I was still stirring it with a spatula instead of kneading it? I conferred with my mom and decided to let it rise as it was; I could always add a little more flour after the first rise.

After the first rise, it was a mess. I'd barely even call it "dough"! It poured out of the bowl onto the countertop, closer to the consistency of a quickbread batter. I kneaded in another cup or so of flour, which made it so that I could sort of maneuver it around, but my hands were thickly coated in the sticky mess, and there was clearly no way that I was getting a dough with enough form to roll out flat and make proper cinnamon rolls without adding a lot more flour. The starter in the dough could probably eventually get the dough to rise if I added the extra flour, but I didn't want to wait another day before baking them! 

So I gave up. Eh, I didn't really want cinnamon rolls anyway... and I'm out of powdered sugar, so I couldn't frost them even if I did make them... Never mind the fact that I made some more powdered sugar for another recipe later that afternoon, anyway; I was looking for excuses. But, I have a huge problem with throwing food away, and I felt badly about disappointing Matt and Little Bear. I looked at the bags of raisins and brown sugar, looked at the little boy who was so excited about cinnamon rolls, and decided to take a chance.

Little Bear eagerly dumped handfuls of brown sugar and raisins on top of the lump of sticky dough, and carefully shook on some cinnamon. I kneaded it all together as best I could, split it in two, and dumped it into two greased bread pans. When it had risen, we threw it in the oven at the temperature the cinnamon rolls would have baked at, and hoped for the best.

And the result? Better than I could have hoped! The loaves slice nicely, and somehow perfectly merge the tenderness you expect in a sweet roll with the sponginess of sourdough bread. The sourdough tang is certainly there, but it doesn't overpower the sweetness or the cinnamon. It's like eating slices of cinnamon roll, minus the mess! You could certainly ice the top of the loaves, too, if you wanted to bring the bread one step closer to cinnamon-roll-hood, but we're enjoying it all by itself.

Here's the recipe, if you don't mind getting sticky and want to give it a shot yourself. And just in case your dough turns out like, well, dough, I'll include the "real" cinnamon roll directions, too.

Sourdough Cinnamon Roll Bread

2 cups sourdough starter
1 cup lukewarm milk of choice
3+ cups flour
2 eggs
1/4 cup oil
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 to 2 teaspoons cinnamon
a couple handfuls of brown sugar and raisins

Mix together starter, milk, and 2 cups of flour, beating until smooth. Add eggs and oil, and beat thoroughly again. In a small bowl combine sugar, salt, soda, and 1/2 cup flour, then sprinkle mixture over the dough and stir gently. Gently knead in another 1/2 cup of flour, with a spatula if necessary. If it looks like a soft dough, congratulations! You can make proper cinnamon rolls out of it if you want to. If you're not sure whether it's "soft" or "soup," don't worry; that's how mine looks. Leave the dough in a bowl in a warm place, covered with wax paper, to rise until doubled. (Sourdough takes much longer than yeast bread to rise, and I can't give you an exact number of hours—that will depend of the room temperature, the humidity, your starter's temperament, etc.)

When the dough has doubled, if it looks like a ball of dough, go ahead and divide it in half, roll out each half into a rectangle, top with the cinnamon, brown sugar and raisins, roll it up lengthwise, cut it into 1" wide cinnamon rolls, and put them in a greased pan cut side down. Cover and rise until doubled, which could take hours and hours again. 

If your dough looks like a soupy, sticky mess, don't panic; grease two loaf pans well. Knead in, again with a spatula if necessary, about a cup more of flour or enough to make it slightly handle-able. Knead in the cinnamon, raisins and brown sugar. Divide the dough in half and put/glop/pour into the two prepared pans. Cover and rise until doubled, hours and hours etc.

Whichever form your dough wound up in, when is has doubled again, bake at 375 degrees F for about 40 minutes. Turn them out of the pan immediately and cool on wire racks.

01 June 2016

End-of-month motley: the sweeping update/excuse edition

The title probably says it all, right? And here I am, not even managing to post it until June. So sorry, lazy blogger, etc.

What we're doing
We're all enjoying the outdoors, now that it's cooled back down to reasonable 50s and 60s from the insufferable 80s we had a week and a half ago. Well, all but Matt. Birch pollen is tapering off, but he seems to have just this year become allergic, or at least much more allergic than he was, to some other kind of pollen: possibly cottonwood or aspen, since their "fluff" started flying right around the time he got worse.

I've been moving slowly for a couple of weeks now; there's a whole collection of things going on which are causing fatigue and abdominal pain, but I think we've finally figured out what all is happening and how to deal with it. So! Antibiotics, probiotics, supplements, teas... it feels like my to-take schedule is longer than my daily to-do list sometimes. But I'm feeling better, slowly, and I'm grateful for the midwives and other practitioners who have helped figure out what's going on.

Little Bear is firmly against the idea of summer break, so we're still doing school; all of the public schools up here finished a week and a half ago, and most of the homeschoolers I know were done a few days before that. If he wants to keep doing schoolwork this badly, though, I'm not going to say no... It's piqued my interest in the concept of trimester systems for schooling instead of semesters, too, so if you have any experience with that I'd love to hear about it!

We're using the Critical Thinking Co's beginning level math books for the summer, and so far book 1 is just ridiculously easy, but I didn't want to start out with book 2 because there are a couple of topics introduced in 1 that Little Bear hasn't seen yet. He's having fun with it, though, and would rather fly through 20 pages in one sitting than skip over things. I will not be at all surprised if we finish the entire book 1 by the end of May, though!

Kit wants to walk everywhere, all the time, but still insists on holding onto a parental finger with each hand. She's capable of walking without holding on, but doesn't seem to believe that she can: as soon as she realizes that she's not holding on with both hands, she starts flailing and sits down. She's growing more vocal too, and expressing her opinions more firmly, which can make me a little crazy sometimes because no, child, I cannot let you hold my fingers and walk in circles for hours, or go out on the deck while I'm trying to make supper, or let you eat the tomato plant, or whatever it is that you simply must do right this minute. She's such a happy, funny girl, though, it more than makes up for the fussy moments.

And! I'm still nervous about saying anything in case it doesn't work out, but I'm going to go with my principle of telling people anyway in order to ask for prayers: we are in the process of buying a house! We had the inspection last week and the engineer found only a handful of minor, inexpensive fixes; there are some complicated paperwork issues we have to work out before the deal can move forward, though, so we'd sure appreciate prayers on that front. I'm so excited about this house; it's pretty much perfect! After looking for so long, it's hard to believe that we might actually be in our own house before summer ends.

What we're eating
There's been a batch of these no-bake peanut butter chocolate chip granola bars in the fridge more often than not since I discovered the recipe back in April. They are delicious, and so easy to make! Little Bear has lots of fun helping me mix them together and press them into the pan. 

There was some extra starter left in the bowl after we made sourdough flapjacks last Sunday, so I decided to see whether I could get away with feeding it spelt flour instead of white flour. The next morning it was very happy and bubbly, so I turned it into bread. I've made sourjacks more times than I can count, and sourdough brownies nearly as often, but I can't remember whether I've ever made bread with it before. This was a San Francisco-style French loaf, a.k.a. cheater sourdough bread, because there's a little yeast added to help the dough rise more quickly. It also meant that the loaf had less of that distinctive sour twang, which was a little disappointing. It was good bread, though!

What we're reading
Little Bear just signed up for our public library's summer reading program yesterday, and is very excited about writing down the titles of books he reads this summer. The PreK–2 level of the program includes stories the kids read or listen to, and I'm sure we'll use both, but I'm planning to encourage Little Bear to make at least one of the three titles each week be a story he reads himself.

I just discovered Librivox the other night: an online library of volunteer-read audio books in the public domain. Right now I'm thoroughly enjoying Andy Minter's recording of The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope, one of my longtime favorite novels. Minter is an excellent reader, and I'm looking forward to checking out more books he's done when I finish this one.