24 December 2017

20 November 2017

Making good use of mixers

I grew up using my mom's Kitchenaid stand mixer, and when she got a new one around the time I got married, she passed hers on to me. It being about as old as I am, when it finally stopped working last fall, there were no parts anywhere that we could find to repair it. Since I used it all the time, we wound up getting a new Kitchenaid as my Christmas present, but early, so that I could use it for all my Christmas baking.

Unfortunately, it turned out that they don't make them like they used to... Even a single batch of chunky cookie dough had the motor straining and groaning. After about a year of doing many things by hand since I didn't trust the stand mixer to be able to handle them, I was done; one of Matt's coworkers was interested in a Kitchenaid primarily for the attachments, which worked fine on ours, so we sold it and started researching other stand mixers. 

Well, my second early-Christmas-present-stand mixer just arrived, and so far I am very impressed and happy with my Bosch Universal Plus! I made a big batch of cookies Saturday night, and a "small batch" (2 loaves) of bread Sunday evening. It's so fast! And it had no trouble at all with a cookie dough stiff with oats, white chocolate chips, and frozen cranberries. And the bread... I have never made sandwich bread in a stand mixer, not even my mom's old reliable one, because the motors simply couldn't handle it. But the Bosch is made for bread-making: it combined ingredients perfectly, and kneaded the dough as well in 6 minutes as would have taken me at least 20 by hand. The loaves rose beautifully by the woodstove and again in the oven, and I couldn't help cutting into one as soon as they were cool enough. A perfect, soft, not-crumbly-at-all texture! And did I mention that it did all the kneading, and quickly? No more having to put off nap time for another 15-25 minutes because I just started kneading but now the two year old is melting down! 

From what we've read, the Bosch should last a long time; I sure hope so! Right now, I couldn't be happier with it.

Funny thing about those cookies: when I make desserts, I know that as a rule that Matt would just as soon not eat anything containing cranberries or white chocolate, and he won't bother sneaking cookie dough from my mixing bowl if it has oatmeal in it. But, somehow, when I combine all three, he's asking if I really have to bake any of it; can he just have the bowl and a spoon? ;-) I can't really blame him, but then, I do love cranberries and white chocolate. But seriously, these are some great cookies—and seasonal! (Though I make them all year round.)

Cranberry Oatmeal White Chocolate Cookies

1 cup butter, softened
1 1/4 cups sugar*
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon baking soda 
1 teaspoon baking powder 
1/2 teaspoon salt 
2 cups flour (I always use at least a little whole grain flour)
2 cups quick oats
12 oz white chocolate chips 
1 cup cranberries (frozen is best, if you don't want bright pink dough)

Preheat oven to 375 F. Cream butter and sugar. Scraping down sides of bowl as needed, beat in eggs and vanilla. Mix in baking powder, baking soda, salt and flour. (Switching to dough hook if your mixer recommends it), Add oats, cranberries, and chips. When combined, scoop rounded spoonfuls onto a greased cookie sheet. Bake until edges just barely begun to turn golden, about 8-10 minutes. 

*Alaskan cranberries are substantially more tart than domesticated ones, so you may not want this much sugar; try starting with 1 cup.

My sister, who ought to know what she's talking about since she just won numerous ribbons with them at the fair this year, says that the recipe makes 6 dozen. I don't know how small she's making them... But I also can't say how many I'd get if I actually managed to bake all the dough, since that never happens! So, it makes a good lot of them, anyway. The dough freezes fine, too, if you want to make a full batch of it but don't actually want dozens of cookies sitting on the counter all at once.

11 November 2017


It's November again! I mean, it's November, and I'm posting again. Maybe; hopefully I will actually manage to finish a post this time instead of getting halfway through and running out of time and/or energy, and the draft sitting here waiting for me to finish it for so long that it becomes more work to make it current than to just start writing a new one. 

I had assumed that I would make it back to blogging regularly once I was out of the first trimester, but here we are, at 20.5 weeks, and I'm still feeling fairly first-trimester-ly. I'm pretty sure that I got the fabled second-trimester burst of energy in at least one of my other pregnancies, but not this time! At least my nausea is finally lessening, as long as I stay away from anything sweet and other foods that baby doesn't approve of. Little Bear and Kit are still very excited about the baby, and their enthusiasm makes it easier for me to not be so frustrated with how I'm feeling and how little I'm getting done. We found out on Wednesday that the new little one is a boy, and Little Bear is very excited; Kit was disappointed about not getting a sister, but that evening Matt had a conversation with her, and I'm not sure what he said, but she's perfectly happy about it now!

Among the things falling through the cracks lately has been celebrating the liturgical year this pregnancy; any extra energy goes toward exciting things like laundry or vacuuming. We did a credible job of celebrating Hallowtide though, and I'm hoping we will be able to keep that momentum through the coming Advent and Christmas seasons! I managed to make our family's favorite All Hallows' Eve supper, stuffed jack o'peppers:

We came up with costumes for both Halloween and All Saints; Thomas the Tank Engine and a butterfly princess, and St Nicholas and St Margaret of Scotland. Matt and Little Bear had fun making his crozier!

We made it to Mass for All Saints Day as a family, despite Matt's crazy work schedule right now, but couldn't make it back to town for All Souls; it doesn't work for me to have the car more than two days a week, and for some reason that I can't remember anymore I needed the car on Tuesday that week, and then my second day was Wednesday for All Saints. The kids and I talked about how November is a month particularly for praying for those who have died, though, and Little Bear and I filled in a Novemner calendar page with names of deceased friends and relatives so we could pray particularly for one person each day. What did you do for Hallowtide?

Between school, cooking, and keeping up with the house, I'm short on free time these days (probably obvious, given how long it's been since my last post!) Last week, though, I did manage to process about 30 lbs of Jonagold apples for the winter: 10 lbs portioned out for pies and kuchen in the freezer, nearly 20 lbs canned as slices and juice, and the last eight apples went into a pie earlier this week. Mmm. I used the pie and crust recipes from Joy of Cooking this time, and everyone though it was much better than my previous fruit pies. And the picky no-eating-sweet-foods baby even let me enjoy it! I think I'll be sticking with this recipe. :-)

Speaking of recipes, I keep trying to post Seven Quick Takes and it's just not working for me right now; I like categorical-type posts, though, so I think I'm going to start trying to write up a What's for Supper? post each week, like Simcha Fisher does; hopefully some of the things we make will be interesting or unique, but if nothing else, it would be good for me to see written down that yes, I did accomplish something each week!

11 August 2017

Homemade Graham Crackers

While we're thinking about the start of the new school year, here's a quick and portable snack that my kids love to help make:

1/3 cup honey
1/2 cup butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup water
3 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch of salt

Cream honey, butter and vanilla. Mix in water. Add dry ingredients and combine thoroughly, kneading dough together. Split dough in half*, and roll or press out flat on two greased sheet pans. Cut into squares/rectangles, docking with the tines of a fork if desired, and bake at  F, one pan at a time, for 10-12 minutes or until bottoms begin to turn golden brown. Remove crackers to wire racks or countertop to cool.

*Theyll be slightly thicker and softer than commercial graham crackers, which we like, but if you want them crisp, divide dough into thirds instead and bake in three batches.

And if you have a choice between using sheets pans with and without raised sides, definitely use the ones without! I don't have any of those, and it's always a challenge to roll the dough out to the corners because the sides get in the way.

04 August 2017

Planning for the new school year

We're not remotely ready to start school yet, which fine as far as I'm concerned because why in the world are some school districts starting classes the first week of August? What happened to summer? Maybe this is just an Alaskan mentality, but we have so few months without snow on the ground, we need that whole 3-month break to get gardening and outside projects done, and get the kids outside as much as possible!

Plus, this year, first trimester ick has me thinking that waiting until the beginning of September really doesn't sound unreasonable. I do have a plan, though, even if I've only just finally finished ordering materials...

Okay, it's less of a firm "plan" at this point and more of a "well-considered list of materials". Good thing we've already established that I have several weeks left, right? 

We enrolled with one of the state homeschooling organizations this year, the same one I was enrolled in 7th through 12th grade. It is great: in exchange for agreeing to submit an Individualized Learning Plan for the year, a work sample for each subject each quarter, and progress reports at the end of each semester, parents are allowed to select the curriculum that works best for their students, and each student receives an allotment that can be used to reimburse purchases of non-sectarian materials, art supplies, music lessons, PE lessons (sports, swimming, martial arts, etc), field trips, etc. There are caps on how much you can be reimbursed in some categories, and you have to have at least four subjects—at least two of them core—that don't use religious/sectarian materials, or the allotment amount gets reduced. I sat down with our contact teacher from the organization a couple of weeks ago and wrote out Little Bear's ILP, which mapped out what subjects we'll be doing, what topics he'll be covering in each, and what our books/curriculum will look like. So for kindergarten, we're listed as taking Language Arts, Math, Science, Social Studies, and Art. 

I expect to break Language Arts down into about three subjects on the weekly lesson plan: handwriting, reading, and circle (Waldorf-style song/storytelling/imaginative language development). For the latter, we're using the kindergarten curriculum from Lavender's Blue, a secular Waldorf-style program. I have high hopes for it, so I'll have to report back on it as we go. Handwriting will be the first grade book from Handwriting Without Tears, which just came in the mail today and honestly it looks waaaaay easy, so I'm going to have to keep on reminding him that the challenge is to do it neatly and carefully. I have a hand-me-down copywork book as well, which we may wind up using some of. And for reading, we will continue with Catholic Heritage Curricula's Little Stories for Little Folks, along with hopefully-frequent trips to the public library and the homeschool organization's library.

Math is straightforward this year: we'll be using RightStart Math, level B, with a book of Mind Benders logic puzzles from the Critical Thinking Company as a fun reward for getting other things done.

Science is a little more all over the place. He wanted to learn about "everything" this year, so we're planning to go through a couple of Magic School Bus science kits, starting with their Human Body Lab and going on to volcanoes and magnets. He reads so much on his own, and much of it nonfiction/science-related, that instead of working through a big science text this year I want to put more of a focus on nature study, spending time outdoors and learning about plants, animals, weather, seasons... We will see. I have a few Waldorf-style natural science books full of ideas.

Social Studies is going to be heavy on geography, because I love geography and he's going to learn to. :-) We have the first Maps Charts & Graphs book, which introduces the idea of reading the titular infographs with a focus on the local community. We'll also be going through a kids' atlas of the US and another of the world, reading through them and finding other resources to continue learning about any places or cultures that catch Little Bear's interest. We signed up with the Raddish kids' cooking program again, and that will also tie in with our learning about different places and peoples.

Art has never been my strong suit—I would go out of my way to avoid having art project disasters in the house—but I know it's important and I know Little Bear will enjoy it, so I was glad to see art projects included in the weekly lesson plans for the Lavender's Blue curriculum. 

And this won't be one of our classes for the state organization, of course, but we'll also be using the Who Am I? Kindergarten religion curriculum from Ignatius Press.

Writing things out is so helpful... I guess I  do have a plan for the year. Writing out weekly lesson plans is not going to be quite as simple as it was last year, but I think it's going to work out well. Little Bear just asked me to read this post to him, and now he's all excited about starting school; I convinced him that we need to wait until at least the week of the 21st.

If you have kids, when will (or did!) your school year start?

29 July 2017

Everyday Organics with the Kroger Co

Our local flavor of the Kroger Company is called Fred Meyer, and they've been one of the main stores I've shopped at since I was a kid. The Kroger Co. recently started a program called the MyMagazine Sharing Network, where participants who "qualify for missions" can receive free samples in exchange for sharing about the products. Free food is always helpful to our grocery budget, so I was quick to sign up! We just received the box for my first mission, "Organics Everyday." So here's what we tried, and what we thought of it!

In the box were individual-sized bags of Garden of Eatin' ranch and nacho chips, a full-sized bag of organic Tostitos, and a can of Bush's organic chickpeas. There were also coupons for free items that wouldn't have shipped well, like drinks.

We portioned out the Garden of Eatin' chips over several lunches. "So, healthy Doritos?" Matt laughed when he saw them, and yes, that's pretty much what they are; my kids have never had Doritos, though—any chips at all are a rare treat in our house—so I can't say whether they would have preferred one over the other, but they did enjoy these. Little Bear and Kit both liked the ranch version, and Kit enjoyed the nacho ones. Baby deemed the nacho ones non-offensive as well, which was a pleasant surprise, because lately I've had trouble finding anything to eat that doesn't make me feel sick.

The Tostitos taste like Tostitos... They're fine; like I said, we don't usually eat chips, so it's been a bit of a conundrum figuring out what to do with them all. I'm hoping that the baby is up for some fresh salsa, because I'm planning to run by the farmers market this afternoon and see if anyone has tomatoes. That sounds like a good accompaniment for tortilla chips!

The kids love helping me make hummus, and helping me eat it, but they run and hide in the other room when I turn on the food processor. One of these days, I'll manage to convince Little Bear that it's not that loud; he would have more fun helping in the kitchen, I know, if he wasn't scared of the noise it makes. We made up a quick batch of hummus with the chickpeas we received, and everyone has been enjoying it with raw veggies.

One thing that frustrates me greatly is how most brands that sell canned goods use BPA in the linings of their cans. When was the last time you saw a plastic container intended for food prep or storage that didn't say "BPA-free" on it? "BPA-free" is practically synonymous, in public perception at least, with "safe for use with food/drink." But how many brands of canned goods do you see the BPA-free label on? Hunt's, the tomato company, is one. I think I saw it recently on some Del Monte fruits, too. But most beans, vegetables, and canned meats, even organic varieties, are still being packed and subjected to high heat/pressure in cans lined with BPA. 

So when we got organic chickpeas in a can that didn't say BPA-free, I called the customer service line for Bush's to ask about it. And it turns out that they are now using cans with BPA-free linings for all of their beans! The lady I spoke with wasn't sure why they don't advertise the fact, but assured me that there was no BPA. I'm so glad! I try to use dried beans in my cooking anyway, but I usually keep a few cans of pre-cooked beans around for just-in-case times, and up until this point the only BPA-free beans I'd found are a bit more expensive and are only stocked by stores that are inconvenient for us to shop at. And I grew up eating Bush's baked beans, and have not yet managed to find a recipe for homemade baked beans that we like better.

There were coupons for a couple of types of teas and a soda? Carbonated lemonade? I'm not sure. I couldn't find them at the store, but honestly, they're not things we would buy anyway. That's true of almost everything we received, other than the chickpeas, though the kids were excited about the chips. But the "most appreciated item in the box" award goes to a sheaf of coupons for free/discounted items from Horizon Organics, which among other things sells half gallons of milk. I wish I could say that I tasted a difference between conventional and organic milk, but baby didn't like the granola I poured it over yesterday, so the best I can tell you is that it's good milk. At the rate we use milk, given that the baby isn't currently letting me make/eat yogurt (why, child?!?) and doesn't love granola, I shouldn't need to buy milk again until mid-August, at least!

If the Kroger Company was trying to use the "Organics Everyday" mission to encourage people to eat healthy or to show off the healthful options they offer, I think they missed the mark a little with their selection of samples; the chickpeas and milk are great, but everything else... organic junk food is still junk food, you know? But they do offer a lot of other healthy and organic options in their stores, and I'm so glad to have had the opportunity to learn about the Bush's cans, and grateful to not have to pay for milk for a while! 

28 July 2017

Little ones

We've been seeing a lot of babies lately:

This cow and calf moose hung around the yard eating willows for a couple of days.

Here are two of the seven young ruffed grouse that have been strutting around our woods and yard. I have never seen seven grouse all together before!

I haven't been able to get a good photo of more than one at a time yet, but we have at least three juvenile American kestrels hanging out on our roof, deck, and treetops as they learn to fly. The kids and I have had a blast watching the kestrels' nesting box this summer, and now that the babies are out and flapping around, it seems like we're always running to a window to see them.

And... we're expecting a new little one of our own in the spring! Kit and Little Bear are so excited about their new sibling; they change their minds several times a day on whether they think they're getting a baby brother or sister. We'll see!

14 July 2017


When you suddenly remember, at 9:42 pm, that you were supposed to bake hamburger buns tonight... it's time to find something quicker-but-still-productive to do instead. Or go to sleep, I suppose, if I were being sensible. 

How about a kid-update? I thought about doing one on Kit's birthday, and halfway between her birthday and Little Bear's birthday, and on his birthday, but somehow it seems like I'm always too busy. How busy am I? I tried to start using Facebook again, and I could never find time to check it and gave up again. Summer. Kids. Something. There's always something else to be doing.

Kids! So Little Bear recently turned 5, and a few weeks before that Kit turned 2. They keep us on our toes! Kit copies everything Little Bear does, and wants to play with him constantly. He's generally very happy to play with her, too: they are always building forts, dishing up pretend meals, running around outside together... Now that he's reading, Kit is hearing many more stories per day than when I was the only reader! Today, they played and he read to her for a solid hour and a half while I ran on the elliptical, showered, and made supper. Each time I stuck my head in to check on them, they were having a blast and didn't need anything from me. (Days don't usually work like that! But it sure was helpful today.)

Both kids are signed up for our library's summer reading program, and more often than not, Little Bear's weekly tally of books read is over 100! He discovered the nonfiction section at the beginning of the summer, and now, in addition to 8-10 fiction books, we come home from the library with two or three nonfiction kids' books on some random subject each week. 

Little Bear at 5:
Favorite book/series - Frog and Toad
Favorite show - The Pioneer Woman (Food Network)
Favorite song - For All The Saints
Favorite game - Hi Ho Cherry-O
Favorite color - "I can change my favorite color whenever I want to!"
Favorite food - salad
Favorite outdoor activity - riding his bike
Never stops... moving. Even when he's reading, his toes are usually tapping.

Little Bear is a great help. He takes care of loading/unloading the washer and dryer, helps with the dishwasher, sets the table and fills water glasses, and so many other things. Sometimes he can get stubborn, especially if he already has an idea in his head of how something is going to happen or what he's going to do and we tell him it needs to happen differently, but we're working with him on that. He loves to help in the kitchen, and knows where most of the commonly-used ingredients are and how to measure, whisk, etc, so he's actually able to be substantially helpful with a lot of recipes. He takes such good care of Kit, and definitely sees her as his best friend and playmate. And he's constantly surprising me: this afternoon, he grabbed a broom to help me sweep out the garage, and made a comment about how he "wish[es] we had a chore chart for me and Kit." Um, okay! I can do that. :-) He has just discovered Legos, and very much enjoys sitting down with a pile of bricks and either following the instruction booklet or else coming up with his own design.

Kit at 2:
Favorite book/series - Maisy
Favorite show - n/a
Favorite song - How Far I'll Go (Moana)
Favorite game - Chutes and Ladders
Favorite color - yellow and purple
Favorite food - watermelon
Favorite outdoor activity - sidewalk chalk
Never stops... talking! Seriously, her vocabulary is comparable to Little Bear's, and she uses it constantly.

At least once a week, Kit will come up to me with shiny-eyed excitement and say, "I have a great idea! Let's make a fox den!" She loves building blanket-chair-pillow forts with Little Bear, typically "fox dens." With refrigerators that basically double the size of the "den," because where else would she put the teapot and cupcakes and other toy food? She tries to do everything Little Bear does, occasionally frustrating him when she neeeeds to be up on that step stool that he's already standing on so that she can help with the job he's already doing. She likes to help me dry and put away silverware from the dishwasher, and if I don't catch her in time, she'll start unloading plates and trying to pass those up to me as well. She likes the Disney princesses, though she hasn't actually seen any of the movies; we like the versions of Disney princess songs that Evynne and Peter Hollens have done on YouTube, so that's how she learned about them. 

The kids and I spend a lot of days at home, and I'm grateful for that as I see how close they are, how they go out of their way to do things together. I feel so blessed to have these two; they each bring so much joy to our family! 

20 June 2017

Homemade Tortillas

I promised to try out tortilla recipes and report back a while ago, didn't I? Like, somewhere around spring break? I may have passed the acceptable "better late than never" threshold here, but... at least I have a well-tested recipe for you? The last time I made them, Matt said, "You can make these any time you want to!" So I think we have a pretty good recipe here.

Well, I'm making another batch tonight, so I figured I'd get some photos and finally post the recipe. It takes a few steps, so it's certainly not as quick as using store-bought tortillas, but it's not all that complicated. And in my opinion, there's a world of difference in flavor between a store-bought tortilla and a homemade one fresh out of the skillet; I came down with an awful headcold today, and despite feeling like staying sprawled on the couch all afternoon, the prospect of having to eat store-bought tortillas for supper was enough to get me into the kitchen.

Flour Tortillas

3 cups flour*
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup lukewarm water
5 Tablespoons coconut oil (solid)

Mix together flour(s) and salt, and cut in the coconut oil until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add the water and knead several times until the dough is smooth. Divide into 16 to 20 balls of equal size and let rest at least ten minutes, up to two hours.**

Heat a skillet or griddle to 400 degrees F. Place one ball of dough on a lightly-floured counter and roll out to a 6" to 8" circle-ish shape, as thin as you can easily get it without the dough tearing. (If you only made 16 balls, you should be able to get larger tortillas.) Lay tortilla on the hot skillet and cook for 30 seconds on each side. While it cooks, roll out the next tortilla; repeat process. (If you have a large enough skillet, cooking two at a time really helps speed the cooking along.) Stack cooked tortillas in a towel. Serve immediately.

Once cooled, leftover tortillas keep well in the refrigerator in a ziptop gallon bag for at least a week. Reheat in the microwave before trying to roll them; they'll tear if they are cold, but they roll up perfectly when warm.

*I've used straight all-purpose flour, straight spelt or whole wheat flour, and blends of the two, and all of them have worked fine. I prefer at least one cup of whole grain flour, but use whatever you prefer.

**I have not found any particular advantage to a shorter or longer rest time, but as you get up to the two-hour mark, the dough starts to dry out, so letting it go longer than that would make it harder to roll thin.

04 May 2017

Roman-style gnocchi

Yesterday was my birthday, and to celebrate I made bolognese and gnocchi alla romana for supper. They're very different than what I think of as "regular" gnocchi, baked instead of boiled, but they're so good!

The kids aren't fond of any form of gnocchi—something to do with the rich+creamy texture, I think, since risotto is also firmly in the (very small) category of foods they don't like—so I can't make these often, but last night we had my sister and brother-in-law over to share them with us and gave the kids Italian bread to go with their bolognese instead.

Gnocchi alla Romana

3 cups milk
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups semolina flour
1 cup freshly grated parmesan or pecorino cheese*
2 egg yolks
3 Tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cubed
3 Tablespoons butter, melted, for the top
more grated parmesan for the top

Line a large baking sheet with plastic wrap, enough that it comes up the sides if not overhangs. 

In a large saucepan, combine milk and salt over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. As soon as you see bubbles forming on the top, stir in the semolina. It will thicken up quickly. Once it's thickened, stir in the cheese, egg yolks, and cubed cold butter. 

When the "dough" is homogeneous, spread it flat on the plastic-lined baking sheet. You want it to be no more than 1 centimeter thick. Cover with more plastic wrap, and chill for at least half an hour.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F and butter the bottom and sides of one large or two medium-sized baking dishes (we always use two). Removing the top layer of plastic, cut the dough into 2" to 2 1/2" diameter squares or circles.** Place them, overlapping, in the baking dishes. Brush with the melted butter, and sprinkle with shredded cheese.

Bake 25 minutes, or until edges begin to be golden.

*I accidentally bought pecorino instead of parmesan this last time, so I can confirm that pecorino does work okay; it just didn't melt as smoothly as parmesan does.

**Circles seem to be the traditional shape, but squares are much easier (you just divide up the pan into a grid, instead of cutting out circles and rolling out the scraps to cut again), and it's not like circles taste any different than squares, so we just make squares.

03 May 2017

School year wrap-up

I know it's a little early yet, but Little Bear finished the last few lessons in our books for the year last week, so here's a look at how our first school year went.

This year Little Bear was 4, and we were doing preschool. Although looking at these books, I'm realizing that at least half of our work was labeled as kindergarten this year. Regardless, he was 4, and we did school. (We're on paper as doing kindergarten next year, so I'm going to stick with the past year having been preschool.)

What we used:

Handwriting: Catholic Heritage Handwriting, Level K, from Catholic Heritage Curricula (CHC)

Phonics/Reading: Little Stories for Little Folks, from CHC

Science: Earth Science & Earthquakes: Hands-On Activities, from Ring of Fire
First Encyclopedia of the Human Body, from Usborne

Math: RightStart Mathematics, Level A

Religion: Who Am I?, teacher's manual and workbook B, from Ignatius Press

Plus a subscription to Raddish kids' cooking class, which included science, geography, world cultures, and other lessons along with the cooking lessons

What worked, and what didn't:

The handwriting book was on the short side, just 16 weeks; I think it was intended to be started partway through the year, after the students had spent a while working on letter recognition. We didn't need that practice, so I had Little Bear do half-pages each day instead of full pages, and in the last month or so we stepped up to 2/3-pages and full pages. He was almost always enthusiastic about starting out the school day with his handwriting, and I really liked that it's spiral-bound at the top, so the pages lay flat and there isn't a binding on the side getting in the way.

Little Stories for Little Folks is awesome. I'm so, so happy with it: we went through the first two levels of phonics readers in it this year, and will be doing the other two levels next year. (It's marketed as a two-year program, K-1.) Little Bear is now reading well enough that he can pick out Level 1 I-Can-Read books from the library, etc., and read through them all by himself, maybe needing help with one word every other page or so. We were looking at books at the thrift store earlier, and he was so excited to be able to find Level 1 books on the shelves and know that he'd be able to read them.

This was the second year that I put those two "hands-on activities" science books on my list of "things we're doing this year," and the second year that we stopped using them after one or two lessons. There's nothing wrong with them, necessarily; they just weren't a good fit for us. I'm going to find someone else to pass them on to, because I know I won't use them.

The Usborne encyclopedia on the human body, though: Little Bear picked that off a shelf of free books a couple of weeks ago, and has been SO INTERESTED in it. We're reading a two-page spread a day, and he makes sure that I don't forget! We've since found a copy of Usborne's First Encyclopedia of the World, and Little Bear is excited about starting to read that as soon as we finish the human body one.

Oh! I also picked up a DVD on Alaskan wildlife at last year's curriculum fair with the idea that we'd use it for science. It's just instrumental music with a collection of photographs and short video clips of animals and some plants from around the state, separated by region. We've mainly wound up using it once a month or so for times when the kids are making me crazy as I'm trying to make supper, so I turn it on and ask them to tell me all the animals they can identify. Little Bear can name a lot of them now, and while Kit doesn't usually sit still to watch, she'll come running whenever he tells her there are squirrels or bears or puffins. I should look for some Alaskan bird and animal guidebooks, so that we can look up the different animals we see and learn something about them.

The RightStart Mathematics book is another I'm certain I'll use again with Kit, because it worked so well for us. After finishing Level A, Little Bear can quickly solve simple math problems in his head, has a good understanding of coin values and adding with coins and dollars, can explain halves and quarters, and can read an analog clock (with a little prompting if the minute hand isn't right at :00, :15, :30, or :45). Matt was recently driving home with Little Bear from a trip to town, and Little Bear, apparently hungry, informed him: "Dad, it's 2:00. That means that it'll be supper time in four hours!" We didn't actually have the full set of math tools that goes with it, so I wound up using whatever we could find that was close enough, and it usually worked okay. We did have the geoboard and abacus, and couldn't really have done it without either of those; there were some learning games that we couldn't do because we didn't have the right equipment, but he seems to have gotten the concepts well anyway. We'll move on to Level B next year, and this time we'll be able to get everything that goes with it! I'm looking forward to that. 

The religion program worked really well for us, too. I was impressed by the content, the way it engaged the kids, and how Little Bear learned the material each week. Kit loved the action rhymes with each lesson, and was excited to be able to participate in those. Little Bear liked the workbook (partially because it was a little bit too easy for him, I suspect), but did a good job of paying attention and answering questions during the actual lessons, too. I'm planning to stick with this same program for kindergarten-level religion lessons next year.

And lastly, Raddish. The Raddish program is going to have to get its own post, because this one is getting long, but for now suffice it to say that Little Bear has learned a lot from Raddish this year and we'll definitely be continuing our subscription. In addition to making both kids even more interested in helping in the kitchen (and actually able to help), it also took up the slack for me on science, geography, and "social studies."

We're coming up on the annual curriculum fair here in town in another week or so, and I'm so happy to already have a handle on what curriculum I want to use with Little Bear next year for math, reading/phonics, and religion. I do need to put thought into science/geography/history/etc., and I'm hoping to find another kindergarten-level handwriting book with a spiral-binding at the top; hopefully there are other publishers doing that! I suppose I could also go with a PDF version, which I could take to the local print shop and have bound the way I want it. 

If you've homeschooled a kindergartner and have any suggestions for me, I'd love to hear them! Especially if you have any advice for doing so with antsy toddlers... Kit was all over me every time I sat down to do a math lesson with Little Bear this year, and I expect it'll be even more of a frustration for her next year.

28 April 2017

Blueberry Almond Granola

Little Bear's at noon Mass with Grandma, Kit is napping, and I'm all caught up on the non-noisy items on my to-do list, so here's a quick recipe!

Kit helped me mix up a batch of our current favorite granola this morning: with blueberries, whole grains, and coconut, it has something for everyone in our family! It's dairy-free, and easily gluten-free as well.

Blueberry Almond Granola

3 cups seven-grain cereal blend (or rolled oats, gluten-free if necessary)
3 1/2 cups almonds, chopped
1 Tablespoon sugar (I use evaporated cane sugar, but brown sugar or coconut sugar would also be good)
1/4 teaspoon salt
5 Tablespoons coconut oil
1/2 cup maple syrup
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup desiccated coconut (not the sweetened kind), divided
2 cups freeze-dried blueberries

Preheat the oven to 340 degrees F. In a large bowl, mix together seven-grain cereal, almonds, sugar, and salt. In a small pot over medium heat, combine coconut oil, maple syrup, and vanilla. Heat, stirring occasionally, until the coconut oil is melted. Pour liquids over dry ingredients, stir until it's all thoroughly moistened, and spread the mixture over two ungreased, unlined sheet pans.

Bake for 20 minutes. Remove pans from oven, and stir 1/2 cup of coconut into each pan. Return to oven, rotating pans so that the one that was on the upper shelf is now on the lower, and bake about more 5 minutes, until the coconut is turning golden. Allow the granola to cool completely before stirring in the blueberries. I've found that it works best to pour the granola off both pans into the (cleaned) bowl I mixed it all together in, add the blueberries, and stir it up again in there rather than trying to stir in the blueberries on the pans.

(Recipe adapted from Minimalist Baker's Strawberry Coconut Granola, which also looks delicious, but no one in town carries freeze-dried strawberries so I haven't been able to give it a try!)

I started using seven-grain cereal in all of my granolas because I had a 50-lb bucket of it that we weren't going through quickly enough as hot cereal, but we've discovered that we really like the variety of flavors and textures that it adds to the granola; the last oat-only granola I tried tasted kind of boring in comparison! We use a blend of wheat, rye, oats, triticale, barley, spelt, and flax.

26 April 2017

A few of my favorite things...

It's that time of year again: snow melting, sun shining, children displaying astonishing speeds of getting soaked and filthy while playing somewhere you didn't think there even was any mud... And the annual Ultimate Homemaking Bundle! This year's bundle looks amazing. The resources are divided into: motherhood, organization and systems, faith, creativity, finances, home, in the kitchen, intentional living, marriage, recipies, self care, and work-life balance. 

"The Better Listening Workbook"? That one has Little Bear's name aaaaall over it. :-) Two books on deep cleaning/spring cleaning, which I've been itching to do (I know, I'm kind of weird) but have felt a little lost as to how to create a system for it in our new house. Two ecourses and a book all addressing different facets of photography, particularly taking and editing photos of our kids—I sure need help with that! And there are so many great cookbooks; I can't wait to find some new recipes to try.

I'm particularly excited about a couple of things:

  • The Fit2B Foundational 5+ ecourse — my doctor recommended their program for my diastasis recti, but we couldn't afford the monthly subscription, so I was so happy to see this ecourse in the bundle!
  • Making Big Life Changes Together, by Haley Stewart
  • Family Chore System & Planner, by Mandi Ehman 
  • A Mom's Guide to Better Photos ecourse, by Meg Calton

Just those four resources would cost $137 if I purchased them separately, but the whole bundle is only $29.97! That's amazing.

And there's so, so much more. Check it out! And if you're interested in what they have this year, and you prefer to read ebooks on an ereader/tablet/phone instead of a computer, consider picking up the bundle before Thursday night: Wednesday and Thursday, they're throwing in the .mobi (Kindle) and .epub (Nook/iBooks/Kobo) files for free with the .pdf files for the regular price of $29.97. Friday through Monday, it'll be an extra $10 to add on the ereader-format files.

Are you thinking about picking up a copy of this year's Ultimate Homemaking Bundle? Which resources are you most interested in?


I've seen a lot of sunrises this past month or so. Kit's been waking up between 4:30 and 5:30, occasionally as late as 6, and in order to allow Matt and Little Bear to keep sleeping I have to scoop her up and trundle upstairs, where she'll sprawl on my lap and nurse and doze or bring me books to read to her until 7, when she goes running back downstairs to dance around singing, "It's seven o'clock! Get up, get up!" 

So I've been tired. Sometimes I can close my eyes when she naps, but more often I need to devote that precious hour to doing things with Little Bear or taking care of things around the house that can't be done with an active, noisy toddler climbing all over me. The week or so of consecutive four-something wake-ups did wonders for my perspective, though: this morning I was grateful to not be woken until 5:35, and Monday, when she didn't get up until 6, felt like I'd been allowed to sleep in.

It's been interesting to get a first-hand look at how quickly our daylight increases at this time of year; normally, by now we would just be accustomed to the fact that's it's always broad daylight by the time we get up, and not think about when the sun was rising. It was noticeable this morning, though, that because we didn't come upstairs until 5:35, we missed even the last of the bright orange-pinks that we've grown used to seeing.

Most mornings, Kit interrupts her monologue about wanting "milka" as soon as we reach the top of the stairs, exclaiming, "Ooh, sunrise!" and I'll mumble something less enthusiastic about it being beautiful. Because it is, but I'm still half-asleep, child. I didn't realize how much she appreciated the sunrises until a few days ago, though, when I finished helping her get dressed and told her she was beautiful, and she smiled, flung her arms open, and said with a twirl, "I more bootiful dan de sunrise!"

I would be so thankful if she would start consistently sleeping until 6, at least, but despite my being so tired constantly, there has been something valuable about these quiet early mornings. Time to think, to pray, to snuggle on the couch reading to Kit. And this morning, finally finding a bit of time to write. I've been needing to go to sleep early myself, since I know I'll be woken up early, so most evenings I've been trying to get to bed within an hour, hour and a half, of when the kids fall asleep, and that small block of kid-free time is usually spoken for by something that *needs* to be done, instead of being open for something I *want* to do. I'm glad that I found time this morning to write, though! I do miss it.

13 April 2017

Humility & Hot Cross Buns

This afternoon was kind of a chaotic mess after Kit didn't nap and I gave up on putting her to sleep after more than an hour and a half of trying because I had so. many. things. left on my list for the day. 

In the span of less than three hours, I finished the entire list and got everyone dressed for Mass and out the door, and was feeling quite proud of myself for pulling it all off. I do remember, now, the thought occurring to me as the kids were squabbling about breakup boots and I was running madly around the kitchen that praying for, well, any help I could get would be a good idea, but I was so focused on just doing all the things that I pushed the thought aside. I may have needed a little reminder that I can't really "do it all myself"...

After Mass, supper, and putting the kids to sleep, I came back out to the kitchen to frost my speedily-concocted hot cross buns, and discovered a tray of little rocks. What do you get when you accidentally leave the sugar out of a yeast bread? Nothing tasty!

May your Triduum be prayerful and blessed, may you be reminded throughout the days of the point of our observances, and may all your Paschal baking rise properly!

09 April 2017

Strawberry Palm Sunday

Happy Palm Sunday! We wound up at the cathedral instead of our usual parish for Mass; our bishop was the celebrant, which made Kit excited because she likes seeing his "bishop hat" (mitre). We all gathered outside the cathedral doors for the blessing of the palms and the first Gospel reading, and then the whole congregation processed around the outside of the cathedral singing "All Glory, Laud and Honor" before going inside. I'd never seen that before; maybe because Holy Week for us is often right in the icy, slippery part of breakup? Are Palm Sunday processions common where you are? 

Oh, and despite the extra-long Mass, Little Bear was so good. Like, significantly better-behaved than a typical Sunday. We were so proud of him. Kit, on the other hand... well, I know long Masses can be hard on little ones, and she was sad and sleepy.

Our meals today wound up—unintentionally—featuring the liturgical color of the day, which Little Bear got a kick out of. Strawberries have been on sale, and I'd promised Little Bear strawberry shortcake for Sunday dessert. I had some berries that to be used right now this morning, though, so we diced them up and enjoyed them over chocolate brownie waffles, from the Chocolate-Covered Katie cookbook. (One of my favorite cookbooks right now, y'all; everything we've tried from it has been delicious, and it's all healthy! And no one's paying me to say that ;-)) Matt whipped up some eggs and sausage to go with them, and we were all so full afterward that we didn't really need lunch.

For supper, we sort of had our traditional Palm Sunday meal of psari plaki; I used an Argentinian Malbec instead of the called-for white wine, because that's what I had open. And dried parsley instead of fresh. And I didn't really measure anything. And I didn't remember the olive oil until it was in the oven, and had to quickly pull the pan out and drizzle it over the top. But it tasted good! We used halibut cheeks, which certainly contributed to the deliciousness. I'd totally forgotten about having psari plaki until the night before, so I was sure glad to find one last package of halibut in the freezer!

And for dessert, the promised strawberry shortcakes. I used Chocolate-Covered Katie's recipe, but with cow's milk instead of coconut milk, and they turned out very well—light and fluffy and just the slightest bit sweet. I did wind up whipping too much whipped cream for tonight; one thing I love about coconut whipped cream over cow's milk heavy cream is that the coconut cream will hold its' fluffiness in the fridge for at least a day or two before going flat, but in my experience at least, leftover whipped cow's milk cream will be flat by the next morning.

Anyway, much tasty red-themed food. Kit was ecstatic over all of the strawberries she was allowed to consume today. Good vitamin c and fiber, right?

What did you do for Palm Sunday?

01 April 2017

Watery week

So much water everywhere right now. It's still above 40 F at nine o'clock this evening, and the snowmelt is dripping from the roof like rain. Everything is getting so soft and punchy! The kids helped me make a snowman out of the sun-softened snow in the front yard today, to their delight. Little Bear was clambering along the piles of scraped-up hardpack along the sides of the road on our walk this afternoon, decided to step out onto the parallel snowdrift, and promptly sank in deep enough to lose a boot. Kit had fun sliding on her belly down the bank over and over ("swimming wike a turtle!") as I climbed to the top to "rescue" Little Bear and his boot.

I hadn't been in town since Tuesday, and was startled this morning to turn into the grocery store parking lot and be faced with a giant puddle. Our road is looking pretty muddy, and I'm so thankful that they removed the hardpack a couple of weeks ago—it would be beginning to resemble a bog if they hadn't! It's certainly that time of year again: breakup. ("Spring," as you call it in other parts of the country.)

I was at a farm in the hills this afternoon for a workshop on root cellars, and as everyone trickled in we were talking about the weather. It was so pleasant to be sitting in the sun in a hoody and breakup boots instead of a coat and snow boots! We sure have a lot of snow, though—it was still waist-deep on me a few days ago, when I foolishly decided to break a new trail pulling the kids in the sled—and with the sudden swing to high temperatures, we were speculating on the likelihood of some roads or small mountain highways washing out as it all melts at once. We're going to need to start chipping away at the hardpack on our own driveway really soon; it'll all run downhill away from the house, so we weren't too worried about it, but I'm starting to realize the mess we're likely to have at the bottom of the driveway if we let it all melt and run down as it wills.

And we've been making the poor water system repairman navigate our driveway all week; I'm sure he'd appreciate having a less-slippery slope to drive up when he comes back again next week. It's not really his fault he's had to keep coming back... We've been having trouble with our water turning yellow and smelling rusty/earthy, and I think, I hope, we've finally figured out what the problem is. Apparently our water softening system is supposed to be serviced every year, and we didn't know that so it didn't happen this past summer, and the water was slowly getting harder and harder. When we finally realized there was a problem and had a tech out to service it, the current theory is, it'd sat so long that sediment had built up in the bottom of the tank, and now each time the recharge cycle runs, that sediment gets stirred up and sent back into our pipes. So we'll shop vac out the whole thing, get rid of the mucky stuff, and see if that puts a stop to it.

It's not like the water is currently dangerous—we're using it to wash dishes and persons—but it's not so fun to drink, so we're revisiting our water-hauling days with a big blue jug of water perched on the kitchen counter for drinking and cooking. The kids, predictably, think it's great fun. It's not a huge headache for me, since Matt's the only one strong enough to carry the water jugs up into the kitchen, so he's definitely the one most looking forward to having clear water coming out of the taps again!

What does your spring weather look like right now? Having a bunch of snow still around in April is normal here, but I know that's not the case everywhere!

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.