Saturday, June 30, 2012

when my boy went to camp

A few noteworthy happenings while our oldest was at church camp this week:

  • We sometimes had pancakes left over after breakfast. Amazing!
  • I only took four children to Gabriel's 6 month check-up -- instead of five.
  • Our family attended a fabulously fun church potluck and cake auction.  Ben would've loved it; it involved a delicious meal and cake-eating! (along with some other hilarity)
  • We tried (and failed) to feed the baby his first spoon foods: soft boiled egg yolk and mashed banana.
  • A brazen trip to the jeweler's shop without my biggest helper along.  (Don't worry, they were angels.  The worst that could be said about their behavior there was that they got fingerprints on the glass cases as they oohed and aahed over all the bling.)
  • Lunch in the Living Room.  Times three.
  • We took a week off school!
  • Kyle spent most of Wednesday away from home (with a friend) and so I only had three children.  (Eerie!)
  • A trip to the library which involved checking out an obscene number of books, followed by...
  • A morning o' reading and cuddles.
  • Mama on litterbox duty again.
  • Mama on garbage duty.
  • Mama on post-mealtime sweeping duty.
  • Less fighting.
  • Our friend and cousin dropped by, brought us berries, and had a fun lunchtime with us.
  • I discovered a new favorite sandwich. 
  • The batch of sourdough crackers I made on Tuesday actually made it to the weekend.  Unbelievable. 
  • We missed him, and prayed for him each and every day!

Friday, June 29, 2012

so much

Ah, there is so much I want to do!

I want to write
and ferment stuff.
I want to clean (alright, not really.  but I enjoy my home more when it is clean and tidy)
and plan what we'll eat during the few days we'll be around in July
and read.
I want to research books for our homeschool
and learn how to make ice cream cones.
I want to decide for sure which clothes I'll be packing
and make a list of snacks to take along for the road.
I want to scope out places to buy natural food along the way
and I want to call my mama.
I want to delve into a new study on Nehemiah
and re-organize my bedroom so that it's more romantic and inviting.
I want to cuddle my babies
and read aloud while I'm surrounded by my blessings.
I want to exercise
and learn about essential oils
and invite people over more
and read the gazillion books I need to read
and make a Deep, Dark Chocolate Tart in time for us to finish it before next Friday.
I want to fold laundry (alright, really not.  but I want to have it folded, and it's up to me)
and take a bubble bath
and replace the once-again-soaked hand towel for the powder room.
I want to learn why my son cannot let it stay dry.
I want to give my daughter pigtails
and refresh her toenail polish.
I want to find out whether the people we invited over on Sunday are coming
and plan what I'll take to a potluck on Saturday.
I want to play music
and dance with my family
and write a letter to my friend
and soak in the sunshine
and make lemonade.

The theme of these thoughts is not original, but the specific desires are mine.  So I'll do my best with the time I've got, and trust that the things which slip out of my hands will be sorted out in time.

For this moment, what I did with that time is to echo the call of a million mothers in the world, who have been given so very much, and find themselves with so much they want to do.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

the first & the fail

When trying spoon foods for the first time

please try not to hit yourself in the eye with a spoon

because it can really take a toll on a boy's morale

and appetite

and generally turn a first into a fail.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

using summer strawberries

Here in the Pacific northwest, it is strawberry time!  Oregonians are proud of their berries, particularly the petite, oh-so-sweet Hood variety.  In this town and in my home there is much rejoicing when the strawberries "come in."  We've been enjoying our first flat of strawberries very much, and in light of that I thought I'd share my favorite ways to use these stunning little gems - aside from simply eating them, that is!

1 cup berries
1 banana
1 cup whole plain yogurt OR kefir
1/2 cup raw honey

Blend well to combine, pour into molds and freeze.  Enjoy on a warm summer afternoon!

Here's my little secret: to make smoothies, I simply mix up the popsicle recipe above.  Pour into cups and serve.  Easy and convenient if you don't have time to wait.

Shh...don't tell my kids.

One of the most versatile ways to use summer strawberries is in freezer jam.  For several years now, I've been using this recipe from Kimi at The Nourishing Gourmet.  Using a product called Pomona's Pectin, it's happily possible to use only honey to sweeten your jam!  Long time readers of this blog will know that I really dig honey-sweetened stuff.  My family loves having a stash of freezer jam in supply; it's so refreshing to have that taste of summer all year long.

I mentioned in my post on How To Make Kombucha, I mentioned that I often flavor our kombucha (during a second ferment) with fruit.  During the summer -and while our supply of frozen fruit holds out- I use berries.  My very favorite berry for kombucha?  Strawberry.  So sweet, yet tangy and fizzy...and bright red. It doesn't get much more festive than that, if you ask me.

There you have it, my favorite ways to use summer strawberries.  Of course, the possibilities are pretty much endless, but that's how we do it at my house.  Happy end of June to you!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Friday, June 22, 2012

the great undertaking

Alternately titled: "The Lunatic Trip."

For months now we've been talking about it.  Considering, weighing pros and cons.  Back and forth.  Should we?  Should we not?  Is it just insane?  And we finally decided; we're going to go for it.

"It" is a major road trip.  This summer, in the hot and humid month of July, Jeff and I will take our brood on a three-week adventure.

You read that right.  I said "road trip."  We are driving.

Here's the thing: we grew up in the Midwest.   Jeff and I both spent the bulk of our childhoods in northeastern Kansas; our formative years were spent in wide open spaces, enjoying vast sunsets and huge blue skies.  Between the two of us, we could tell you a thousand tales of that land - we both love it dearly.  It's so exciting to consider visiting our old stomping grounds, showing our children where we met, went to school, played at the park.

Yes, I love the landscape of my old home.  (And truly, there are trees.  Tons of them.  And rolling hills too.)  But beyond all that, we're anticipating visiting the people.  Dear friends we haven't seen in years.  The church family which observed our growing attachment, the twists and turns our path held, and eventually were witnesses on the day we pledged our love to one another.

My brother and his family live in Houston, which may still be a ways from Kansas, but it's a whole lot closer to Kansas than Oregon.  We haven't been to visit them in five busy years; we're eager to do that as well.

So when we realized that Jeff's 20-year class reunion is this summer, the conversation began.  In the end we decided to do it.  We're driving to Kansas and then on to Texas.

Yes, in July.  Yeah, we know it'll be hot.  Our kids will think they're going to melt.
(Believe me, I know.  When Jeff and I went back for my brother's wedding in 2002 - a year and a half after we'd moved away - I thought the humidity would kill me.  The Pacific northwest made a wimp out of me.)

I haven't been able to attend my own class reunions.  It's either been too expensive, or I've been about to have a baby...or something.  But right now I'm not pregnant.  It will still be expensive, but it turns out that there is no perfect time for something like this.  So before any more time passes, while we have the chance, we are going to go.

Frankly, I must tell you that I'm terrified.  Baby Gabriel, for all his charm, is not a good traveler - a fact reinforced by his recent scream-fest on the way home from the coast.  I'm praying he'll somehow be transformed into one, but right now it doesn't seem likely.  Away from the comfort and familiarity of home - for three weeks - with five really scary for this retiring homebody.  At times it might feel like a nightmare.

And yet...I think it'll be well worth it.  Worth the stress, the planning, the anxiety, the price.

To go back, as we've been wanting to do for years, to see beloved sights, see familiar faces.  To enter the doorway of that dear old country church, to walk up the aisle once more: this time with my husband and children at my side.

It's the stuff dreams are made of.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

real food s'mores

Real food s'mores.
You thought it wasn't possible?  You were afraid to hope?

I'm here today to tell you, dreams do come true.  There is such a thing as real food s'mores.  They are such a fun summer treat, eaten around a fire pit or a campfire.  Gooey, warm, sweet, crunchy, delicious.  And it's possible to enjoy this wonderful thing without GMOs or the dreaded high fructose corn syrup.  Interested?  I thought so.

Your basic s'more has three key ingredients: graham crackers, chocolate, and marshmallows.

For graham crackers, I used New Morning graham crackers. They were purchased at a local health food store.  The ingredient list isn't perfect, but it's really pretty good.  Or if you've got the time and ambition, you could try making your own graham crackers!  Try this delicious whole wheat recipe (I would use sprouted flour) from Wardeh at GNOWFGLINS, or this grain-free recipe from Jami at Eat Nourishing.

Let's talk chocolate.  It's always possible to make your own honey-sweetened bars, but my go-to brand is Rapunzel.  This is the company which produces the unrefined natural sweetener Rapadura (now labeled "Organic Whole Cane Sugar").  I love, love, love their chocolate bars.  I've only found one local store that carries them (New Seasons, if you're in the Portland area!), but they're also available from Azure Standard as well as online.

Last but not least, the quintessential ingredient for s'mores:  roasted marshmallows.  I've found a brand in the health food store which had ...reasonably respectable ingredients.  I wasn't thrilled with them, but I would have given them a try - except that all I could find were mini-marshallows.  Not so good when it comes to roasting.  So I was thrilled when one of my favorite bloggers posted a recipe for Fluffy Honey Sweetened Homemade Marshmallows.  I was a bit nervous to try them, but was surprised by how quickly and easily I whipped up a batch.  And yes, they do roast.  You have to watch them, because once they reach a certain temperature they'll go all gooey, but they do roast.  What's more, this recipe has stellar ingredients.  And honestly?  They're delicious.  My kids loved them, and I thought they tasted truly tasted like marshmallows.  Only better.

You roast a 'mallow, slap them all together, making a nice little chocolate & marshmallow sandwich with a crunch graham exterior, and voila!  So yes, it is absolutely possible, and I couldn't be more pleased to tell you.

Real food s'mores!  Who would have thought it?


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

happy together

(Just a few more photos from our time at the coast.)

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

how I met my husband

Twenty-one years ago, I met the man who would become my husband.  I didn't know it at that moment, and it has not always been an easy road.  We have had twists and turns, but he has had my heart for so many years now  - since long before we were wed.  Here is our story - at the beginning.

When I was 14 years old, my family changed churches.   We'd been attending a Presbyterian church in our small town, and for reasons I won't get into here, it was time to move.

Some friends recommended a little country church about 15 minutes out of town.  It was a tiny place, in a tiny town, but incredibly pretty.   I was struck by the simplicity of the place. The stained glass windows, the humble wooden pews, the hymns.  We began attending regularly, and gradually got to know the church other people who went there.  They were the salt of the earth, truly.

In June of 1991 my parents invited the pastor and his family to join us for dinner in our home.  They lived in another town, but came anyway.  This family had two boys.  One was three years old and cute as a button.  The other?  He had just turned 17.  He was tall and lanky, with shiny brown hair falling down across his forehead.  He moved in the gangly manner often seen in teenagers.  He had a nice smile, but it was his eyes which really caught my attention.

Oh, those eyes.  My diary would hear volumes about those blue, blue eyes.

His name was Jeff.

If I'm shy now, I was doubly so as a teen.  Not used to conversing with boys, incredibly self-conscious...  Yet somehow this guy felt easy to talk to.  He was good at drawing me into conversation - about school, and the Driver's Ed. classes I was taking that summer. He was nice to my younger brother too.  I clearly remember that the evening ended with the three of us out in front of my house.  My brother and this young man were tossing around a basketball, and I sat on the front step watching them. Watching him.

Something about it all felt magical to me.  Perhaps it was the mild summer evening, the dawning dusk, the fireflies.  Maybe it was the sweetness of  my first real talk with a boy - his attentiveness, his kindness, the way he included my little brother.  (His eyes definitely had something to do with it.)

I knew, in a way I couldn't quite define, that something important had happened.  Whether it was simply a turning point in my adolescence or something more, I couldn't say.  But I liked this boy, in a way I hadn't felt before.  Don't misunderstand: I'd had crushes prior to this.  Plenty of them.  Yet something about this felt very, very different.  Somehow I knew that after June 19, 1991, I would never be the same again.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Sunday, June 17, 2012

from the mouths of babes (on Father's Day)

Father's Day Questionnaire

What makes Dad happy?
Ben (9): When he's finally done with his work for the day.
Kyle (6): When kids have happy spirits and are making good choices.
Owen (4): When kids listen to his words.
Elise (2): Ice cream!
Gabriel (6 months): Bababababa.

How does your dad make you laugh?
Ben: When he tickles me.
Kyle: By being funny.
Owen: Wrestling.
Elise: {no comment}
Gabriel: Bababababa.

What does your dad do when you're not around?
Ben: Have sex with mom.
Kyle: I don't know, because I'm not around!
Owen: He looks for me.
Elise: Watches...
Gabriel: Babababa.

What is your dad really good at?
Ben: At making me laugh.
Kyle: Work. And hauling bark chips.
Owen: [Air] hockey and [table] tennis.
Elise: Throw! (throwing me)
Gabriel: Babababa.

What is your dad not very good at?
Ben: Nothing. He's good at everything.
Kyle: I'm just guessing, but...gymnastics?
Owen: Soccer. And football. And basketball. And baseball.
Elise: {no comment}
Gabriel: Babababa.

What does your dad do for a job?
Ben: Gives people life insurance.
Kyle: He's a computer guy. I don't really know what else.
Owen: Goes to work.
Elise: {no comment}
Gabriel: Babababa.

If your dad were a cartoon character, who would he be?
Ben: Kermit “thee” Frog.
Kyle: Mickey Mouse.
Owen: Lightning McQueen.
Elise: {no comment}
Gabriel: Babababa.

How are you and your dad the same?
Ben: We're both boys.
Kyle: We're both not very good at gymnastics...although I haven't tried it yet.
Owen: Getting dressed.
Elise: Baby.
Gabriel: Babababa.

How are you and your dad different?
Ben: He likes kale chips; I don't.
Kyle: Dad works and I don't.
Owen: I get dressed not the same as daddy, and daddy gets dressed not the same as me.
Elise: {no comment}
Gabriel: Babababa.

How do you know your dad loves you?
Ben: 'Cause he says so.
Kyle: He tells me every day.
Owen: He tells me at night.
Elise: Huggy!
Gabriel: Babababa.

What does your dad like most about your mom?
Ben: That she's pretty.
Kyle: That she's beautiful and caring.
Owen: When she's doing things right.
Elise: {no comment}
Gabriel: Babababa.

Happy Father's Day, Jeff!

{June 17, 2012}

Friday, June 15, 2012

re-inventing lunch: dip flowers

Our lunches had become awfully redundant.   They were fairly nutritious, but very much the same thing, over and over and over.  Sandwiches.  Some kind of fruit (usually seasonal).  Cheese sticks.  Kombucha.  And the next day, it would be the same thing.

I'm ashamed to say, the sandwiches were almost always the same: almond butter.

Now don't get me wrong, this is a perfectly nice lunch.  But every single day?  Bor-ing.  To credit my kids, they never really complained.  But I had a feeling they were losing interest.  We desperately needed to perk up our daily lunch fare.

A few weeks ago, I came across the idea of serving Hummus Flowers.  Frankly, I think it's pure genius.  Except that I knew my crew wouldn't buy into the hummus thing.  I love hummus.  My husband loves hummus.  Our oldest likes it alright, and our daughter adores it.  But the middle boys?  Forget about it.

So here's what we do.  I set out an assortment of vegetables, cheesesticks, fruits, and crackers.  Pretty much what we have on hand, with a heavy emphasis on vegetable choices.  (Summertime will help so much with this!)  Then I set out an assortment of "dips."  We've tried cultured sour cream, almond butter, kefir cheese, kefir cheese ranch dip, homemade ketchup, mayonnaise, and of course hummus.  

The dip (or dips, I'm perfectly fine with triple-centered flowers, for example) goes in the center of the plate, and around it, you build a flower.  It's as simple as that.  Be creative, or be boring.  It's up to you.

Of course, you don't have to dip everything into the, well, dip.  Personally, I'm not keen on the idea of strawberries and hummus, for example.

Let me tell you...this has been so fun!  The boys all really get into building their flower, and this week...this week, I saw a sight I never imagined I would see.  My 6-year-old actually ate broccoli.  Write it down, people.

I've so enjoyed watching my pickiest eaters getting excited about vegetables.  And while I suppose this should be considered Playing With His Food, I had to smile when my sons today constructed bridges, volcanoes with lava, and of course, broccoli trees.  

And they ate everything they served themselves.

Truly amazing.

So there it is: lunch, re-invented.  Call it art, call it sculpture, call it play.  I call it fun, different, and nourishing.  And that's more than good enough for me.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

15th on the 14th

Fifteen years ago, I married my best friend.  He has been my rock, my adviser, my partner, my lover, my sounding board, my support, and my friend.

Marrying this man was the best decision I have ever made.

I remember our wedding day.  It was a hot summer afternoon in northeastern Kansas, and I think the temperatures were in the 90s.  I remember that the sun was blazing down.

I remember the anticipation, the crowded country church.  i remember the very sweet, very young flower girl who wailed as she walked down the aisle.  But I remember that I was smiling as my father escorted me past our family and friends.  Some of these have passed on.  Some we haven't seen in years.  Some we see, happily, often.

I remember my groom's smile as well.  I remember the tears that flowed, the eager, famous "I will...I will."  I remember our mothers nearly forgetting to light the candles.  I remember looking at the young man beside me, believing that he was the only guy in the world for me.

I still believe that.

I wouldn't want to do this thing with anyone but my husband.  I am so, so grateful for the blessing he is in my life.

Happy Anniversary, Love.  I thank my God every time I remember you.  (Philippians 1:3)

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

How to Make Kombucha

I never intended to write a post on making kombucha.  There are so many out there on the internet already.  I've referred to them again and again, and they are great.

The thing is, I use different parts of them when I make kombucha. And lately I've been fielding so very many questions about how to brew this wonderful beverage that it seems easier to have one link to explain my own method.  Otherwise I've found myself sending people to various different sites, and writing out my variations, and it was getting to be cumbersome.

Basically, I'm writing this post in order to make my life easier.  Can't get much more honest than that!

What is kombucha?

Kombucha is a traditional fermented beverage.  It's made with sweetened tea, cultured with something called a "symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast" (SCOBY).  It's sometimes referred to as  kombucha "mushroom."  Think of it like a sourdough starter.  When you make kombucha, you add the scoby and a small amount of kombucha from a previous batch (or purchased from a health food store).  That's what triggers the fermentation.

Kombucha is the only thing in my home for which I buy and use white sugar.  The scoby "acts on sugar and tea to produce not only acetic and lactic acid but also small amounts of a potent detoxifying substance, glucuronic acid."  ("Nourishing Traditions" by Sally Fallon, pg. 596)  It is a fizzy, energizing drink which actually works to detoxify the body, boosts the immune system, and is "a proven prophylactic against cancer and other degenerative diseases."  (same source)

Amazing, huh?  And it's delicious, too!

How To Get a Scoby?
People often ask where they can obtain a scoby.  There are three options.

First, if you can find someone locally who brews kombucha, you can get a scoby from them.  Scobies reproduce, so if a friend of yours has one, fantastic!

Second, you can order a kombucha starter kit from Cultures For Health.  This is a wonderful company from  Portland, Oregon.  Easy peasy.

Lastly, you can grow your own kombucha scoby.  All you need is a bottle of kombucha from the health food store.  I haven't tried this myself, but it certainly sounds simple enough.  However.  I recently became aware that since 2010 the kombucha sold commercially is different than it used to be.  If you choose to follow this method, make sure the kombucha you purchase to grow a scoby is organic, raw, and unflavored.  Here's a link with more information: "Growing a Kombucha Culture: Problems and Pitfalls Since the Reformulation."

Making Kombucha At Home

The method I follow, I found in the traditonal food "Bible," "Nourishing Tradtions."  I've mentioned it many, many times on this blog.  There are quite a few variations out there on the internet, but this is the method I use.

a large pot
gallon-size glass container with an open top
thin towel/cloth & rubber band
funnel (optional)
mason jars, or glass bottles (I love these flip-top ones from IKEA)

3 quarts filtered water
1 cup white sugar
4 tea bags of organic black tea (I substitute 1 heaping tablespoon looseleaf black tea in a 3" tea ball for the 4 tea bags)
1/2 c. kombucha from a previous culture
1 kombucha mushroom/SCOBY

In a large pot on the stove, boil the water.  Once it's boiling, add the sugar and stir to dissolve.  Remove from heat.  Add the tea.*  Let the tea cool completely, then remove the tea bags/ball.

*Optional: If you're concerned about caffeine, you can pre-steep the tea in boiling water for 45-60 seconds.  I have heard it said that the majority of the caffeine is released during that first minute or so.  Then just transfer the tea bags/ball into your pot of sweetened water.

Pour the cooled liquid into gallon-sized glass container.  Add the prepared kombucha culture, and with very clean hands, gently place the scoby/mushroom on top.  Then, cover with a thin towel and secure onto the container with a rubber band.

Cooled sweet tea with the culture and SCOBY  (unflavored, ready for the first ferment)

Tuck your covered jar away someplace fairly dark - a cupboard or pantry shelf works well.  (Note: If you're doing other fermenting projects with diferent cultures, store them separately.  They should be at least 5 feet apart, or the cultures could interfere with one another.)

Leave your tea alone 5 to 10 days (I usually do 7).  It depends largely on the temperature of your kitchen: in warmer seasons, your kombucha will brew more quickly than, say, wintertime.  Feel free to taste it periodically.  Ideally, it should be fairly sour and potentially fizzy, but one of the beautiful things about brewing your own is that you get to decide how fermented you'd like it to be.  The longer it ferments, the less sweet it will become, because the kombucha culture feeds on that white sugar.

When you're satisfied (I generally do a week, and rarely bother to taste test), it's time to transfer your finished kombucha to containers.**  You have several options here. One choice is regular old mason jars, or old kombucha bottles from the store.  Another option is flip-top bottles (see the link above under "Equipment").  This is great to add some extra fizziness to your beverage, and I think they're just plain attractive.

**Before you bottle, be sure to save some of the finished tea for your next batch!  I pour 1/2 c. into a jar and plop the scoby in with it, leaving it loosely covered a room temperature until I'm ready to brew again.   The scoby will reproduce, and you will be able to pass scobies on to your friends to that they, too can brew this "health elixir."  Alternately you can compost them, or simply trash them.  Just be sure to keep one (assuming you make one batch at a time) for yourself.

Your kombucha is ready to drink now (and refrigerate), or if you want you can add some flavor to it.  There are a myriad of choices in this area, but I'll share what we enjoy in my home.

Flavoring Kombucha

I usually end up flavoring the kombucha I make. (We do enjoy it plain too though.)  Here's how I do it.  I gather my flip-top bottles in  a row on the counter. The recipe above will use about 3 bottles (1 liter each), with a little extra space for comfort.

Now, the flavors I use:  concord grape juice, or berries cut into small pieces (strawberries, raspberries, marionberries, blackberries).  There are tons of other ways to flavor kombucha; feel free to experiment.

It doesn't take a lot to flavor your brew.  A layer about centimeter deep on the bottom of the bottle does it.  Then I use the funnel to pour my fermented tea into the bottle, leaving a minimum of 1 1/2 to 2 inches between the top of the liquid and the top of the bottle.  I close them and put them back into the pantry to ferment for a few more days.  Two days is usually about right for my taste.

WARNING: You must burp (open and close them) these bottles during this second time of fermentation.  How often?  Well, it depends on the temperature.  In the winter, I usually don't bother to burp them more than once or twice a day - morning and bedtime evening.  But when the weather becomes warm, they must be burped several times a day.  The warmer the temperature of the room, the more quickly they will ferment, and the sugars in the fruit/juice can create a lot of pressure.  Believe me; I've had to scrub strawberries off my ceiling in the past when I didn't release that pressure often enough.  My boys find it hilarious when one "explodes."  Me, not so much.

A note on the berries and other "floaties" - feel free to strain them out if you want, but we just drink them along with the rest of it.  They're good for you, but if they bother you, it's not a problem to remove them.

After your kombucha is finished, place it in the refrigerator. (It will continue to ferment in cold storage, but at a much slower rate. The longer it sits before you drink it, the more tart it will become.)


a triple batch of finished kombucha - grape flavored