Thursday, May 31, 2012

Best Idea Ever: Dinner Swapping

The night off saves me from instant & take-out food!
I really, really love to cook (I don't know if you had noticed...) and I really, really love to share food and recipes with people. But preparing dinner 7 nights a week is a lot of thinking and working and time consumption. Several years ago we had excellent neighbors and we all loved to cook.We concocted the idea of dinner swapping - it's probably not an original idea but we did come up with it on our own. Ultimately we wanted to eat together more often, but it wasn't practical with our situations. So we traded weekly dinners. When they moved, I started trading with a different neighbor. When we moved, eventually I found a new neighbor to trade with. That means I'm on my third set of dinner partners now - always due to moving, never due to the arrangement not working.

Here's how it works...Extremely well. 


Each of us picks one night of the week that we have relatively free. On my cooking night, it is my responsibility to prepare dinner for my household and my neighbor's household. On their cooking night, I put my feet up, knowing dinner is being prepared (well...I don't actually put my feet up, but I do get to not think about cooking just that one night...tonight I'm writing this blog post when I otherswise would be cooking). We trade dropping off and picking up as it is convenient for each household.

Things to consider:

1) Keep it in your immediate area so that drop-off/pick-up is easy. If your swapping friend is across town, you're giving yourself another errand. Swap with someone in easy walking distance.

2) Make sure you have similar diets - they don't need to be exactly the same, but everyone should enjoy good food. A household that relies on Cayenne as a staple flavor might not pair well with a household that can't stand spice... Likewise very concientious vegetarians might feel uncomfortable with their meal being cooked in a house where meat has touched every pan.

3) Don't tally or keep track too closely. People go out of town, people get ill, life happens. Skip when you need to skip, keep trading, and trust that it will all work out.

4) Write down strong food preferences for the folks who will be cooking for you. Everyone should know if there are any allergies or food sensitivities. Also if there are strong dislikes that will ruin a meal for someone.

5) Find a way to keep track of the other households dishes and containers you receive your meal in - otherwise you will end up with extra random stuff floating around your kitchen without a home. And keep track of your own too - know what you send over so you can get it back.

(Funny side note on that - in my current trade there is a 13x9 baking pan that I'm pretty sure is not mine and she is pretty sure is not hers. What?)


Some of the benefits I've noticed:

*I can get my kitchen super clean on the other household's cooking night, and not worry about cooking dishes messing it up. I can just enjoy the clean for an evening.

*Cooking for someone else makes me think outside my usual fallbacks because I want to show off a little. I want to challange myself and having an "audience" helps me do that. I cook better these nights!

*A couple of the households I have swapped with had similar tastes in food, but very different diets. My current swap is mostly paleo (for one of the members), so I get to learn about new diets, cooking ideas and methods. This further challanges me to think diferently than my traditional cooking habits and learn new things. I love that!

*Cooking an extra dinner is not really much extra work. I'm cooking anyway and doubling is not hard. In fact, it's more than a trade-off for having a  night off cooking & thinking about feeding my family that doesn't cost me the increasingly expensive price of take-out. Because it's a swap, buying extra ingredients doesn't actually increase my food budget at all, since I pay nothing for the wonderful dinner delivered to my door.

*I love the element of surprise...4 blocks away, something tasty is being cooked for me. And when it shows up it's always exciting to see what we get to eat. I can't remember ever being disappointed.


I think you should try this out if you can. Find a near-by friend and trade a couple meals. Share recipes, taste test new things, build that neighborly connection, and eat well. See where it goes. How can you improve upon my idea?

Recipe: Carrot-Mushroom Lasagna

Brother-Bug has long had a strong distaste for cooked carrots in almost all incarnations. However, last week I made a soup with grated carrots as a base and he was enchanted. He decided he wanted a lasagna with grated carrot as a main ingredient. I had to think about it for a while, but eventually I came up with this recipe. It's not at all a traditional Italian lasagna, but it's really tasty.

I used whole wheat lasagna noodles, but my preference here would have been to use fresh sheets of pasta. Sadly I was out of sheets, and didn't get to our favorite local pasta shop to grab some.

Carrot-Mushroom Lasagna

 1 pound lasagna noodles or fresh pasta sheets, cooked

2 cups milk
2 bay leaves
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 sweet onion, chopped
4 cups button mushrooms, chopped
3 cups grated carrot
1/4 cup butter
1 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. dried parsley (you can use fresh instead...I didn't have any fresh)
3 tbl. flour
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
Salt & Pepper to taste

3 cups grated mozzerella
15 oz. ricotta

Heat the milk with the bay leaves until it simmers. Do not boil. Simmer for 2-3 minutes.

Melt half the butter in a large frying pan. Add the garlic, onion, and dried herbs and saute for 2 minutes. Add the mushrooms and carrots and cover. Cook on medium heat until the mushrooms have cooked down, releasing their juices. Add the rest of the butter and sprinkle the flour over the mushrooms. Stir the flour in till smooth, coating the mushrooms and carrots. Remove the bay leaves from the milk. Pour the milk over the mushrooms, stirring throughly till smooth. Stir in 3/4 cup parmesan cheese. Add salt & pepper - because there is no salt added to the noodles or ricotta, you might want to over salt the filling a little bit.

Preheat the oven to 350.

Grease a baking pan. Stack a layer of noodles, 1/3 of the carrot-mushroom filling, and a sprinkle of mozzarella. Spread another layer of noodles and spread the ricotta over. Pour the next 1/3 of the carrot-mushroom filling over the ricotta. One more layer of noodles, the remaining carrot-mushroom mixture, and the rest of the mozzarella and paremesan. Bake in the oven for 45-60 minutes, or till the cheese is golden. Allow to cool for 10-20 minutes before serving.

We served this with a spinach salad. As I was making it, I was unsure. Carrot lasagna? Really? But it turned out really good. Everyone enjoyed it and cleaned their plates.

Monday, May 28, 2012

A Co-Sleeping Story

The Little-Bugs and I have been visiting Brother-Bug's Godmommies over the holiday weekend. On our last night there, he decided to have a sleep over with his Godmommies, cuddling up in their bed instead of the bed that he was sharing with Sister-Bug and I. This is common - he loves them so, and since we see them only a few times a year we try to fill him up with as much Godmommie time and love as possible!

Sister-Bug was upset that she didn't get to have a sleep over too. Sad face! I offered her the option of having a special Mama sleep over, just the two of us, or making her a bed for her very own self on the floor. She chose her own bed on the floor. I folded a comfortor into a sleeping bag shape and she tucked herself in. She fell asleep, on her own, a few minutes later.

Cozied up...she looks so little to me, to be sleeping all by herself...but that's my bias.
I think it has been close to six years since I had a bed all to myself at night.

I wish I could say I fell asleep reveling in the freedom to shift to any comfortable position, unhindered by son, daughter, husband, dog, or cat. But without those anchors that give my sleep definiton, I was restless. I kept waking, confused by the lack of bodies. Sister-Bug slept for about two hours on her own and when she called me, I chose to pull her into bed with me so that I could get some solid rest. I wrapped my arms around her sweaty toddler self and finally fell deeply asleep.

Co-sleeping is really important to our family. I relish these years that my children want to be close to me. I treasure the moments when dimpled arms reach out to make sure I am still there. I adore how they shift in their sleep to find me, knowing I'm not ever far away. I know that soon they will be independant and lanky teenagers, or even their own adults in beds far from mine, so I soak up every night that I share with them.

But co-sleeping is not as important to me as respecting my child's right to their own space, and their ability to make good decisions for themselves. There has been a lot of chatter about Attachment Parenting recently, both good and bad. If you've read my blog at all, you know that I'm pretty attached and I like it that way. It works for us.

In my heart of hearts, this decision process - the offering of options, supporting choice, listening to needs - is the very essence of attachment parenting. And last night, Sister-Bug showed a perfect example of a Securely Attached Child: she made a choice, having faith in its rightness for her, sure that she would be cared for if she needed care. She felt loved and attached all night long, alone in her floor-bed or cuddled up with me in the wee hours. My Attachment relationship with her contributed greately to her ability to confindently make that choice.

None of my kids will sleep with me forever, but I am happy to know that they will choose when to move on from my sides when it is right for them.

Last night after posting this, Sister-bug requested that we make her a bed for herself. We did, but exhausted after a long travel day, she fell asleep in my arms and I put her to bed with us. I woke her up to pee at about 3:00 and in her stupor she insisted on her own bed. She slept there till 6:30, when she happily got herself up and came to find me.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Wordless Wednesday: So. Very. Sleepy.

(This of my favorite features, making me look for images throughout the week. I'm bringing it back.)

"I wish I could take a quiet corner in the heart of my baby's very
own world." Rabindranath Tagore

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Recipe: Southwestern Bean & Chicken Soup

This soup is super fast and easy once your beans are ready. The spice is easily adjusted at the table with your favorite hot-sauce, and the salsa cooked in gives a wonderful tangy flavor. Also, adding the salsa means that there are no fussy things to cut up - so it is a great one to get a young child to help with!

Just the right soup for a rainy spring day - light and warm.
I used Lonesome Whistle's Arikara beans. They are a nice white bean that hold their shape really well in longer cooking projects such as soup. They have a balanced flavor that (so far) goes with everything. It's been nice to be back at the Farmers Market and seeing Kasey, talking beans and grains with her, and looking over her booth. It is more luscious and full each year.


Southwestern Bean & Chicken Soup

3-4 cups soaked and cooked Arikara beans (or another white bean)
1-2 cups cooked chicken pieces (this is a great thing to do with leftovers from a whole roasted or rotisserie chicken)
4-5 cups chicken broth
1-2 jars of your favorite green salsa
2 tsp. cumin
1 tbl. corn or tapioca starch
Salt & pepper to taste
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil or cilantro

This is so easy it feels like cheating. In your soup pot, combine the broth, beans, and chicken. Bring to a simmer. Add the salsa. Pull out a little broth (2-3 tablespoons should do it) and whisk in the starch and cumin till there are no lumps. Gently stir it back into the soup. Allow to simmer and thicken. Just before serving, add the basil or cilantro.

Serve with corn chips, sour cream, green onions, and your favorite hot sauce.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Hot Breakfast Cereal Options

We eat a lot of oatmeal around here - partially because we have ample Steel Cut Oats from our Lonesome Whistle CSA and partially because we just like oatmeal. If there is one grain you should eat, it's oatmeal.

Oatmeal is good for your nervous system, supporting, healing, and strengthening the mylin sheath that protects your nerves. (This link will take you to excellent information on the whole plant.) When I hear someone say their "nerves just feel frayed", I tell them to eat oatmeal. Of course it won't work for some folks who need to avoid grains of all sorts, but the rest of us can really benefit from a good bowl of oatmeal (or an oatmeal cookie!).

We like to bulk up our oatmeal - a lot. We add all kinds of nuts and dried fruits. The dried fruits mean we can add less (or no) sweetener later. I almost always add flax seeds for a little extra nutrition. Along the same lines, I often add a handful of coconut. The result is a bowl of goodness that sets us up for a busy day. Some of our favorite combinations (in addition to the flax and coconut);

*Dried blueberries, cashews, & pumpkin seeds.
*Raisins, dried cherries, almonds, & pecans.
*Dates, sunflower seeds, & any tree nut.
*Dried cranberries, crystalized ginger, & pecans.
*Sliced fresh apple, raisins, pecans or almonds, & pumpkin seeds.

I know I have barely begun to tap the myriad possiblities, but those are some of the best. Add a drizzle of honey, a little butter if you like, and a splash of milk.

So that's good, but sometimes we have grains leftover from our previous dinner and I want to use them. Cooked rice or barley are the most usual suspects here, though wheat, kamut, or spelt could work as well.

Make a breakfast pudding!

I recently did this with a blend of brown rice and the purple barley from Lonesome Whistle. There's not really a recipe... but here's the general concept.

Combine the leftover cooked grain in a pan with enough milk (cow, coconut, or almond milk are my favorites) to just cover. Add raisins, almonds, flax seeds, coconut (or any other above). On medium heat bring to a simmer, reduce heat and cook on low, stirring frequently until thickened. If the puddin is too thin you can pull some liquid and temper an egg or two into your pudding (which adds some extra protien - always good!), add the egg back in and allow to thicken. If eggs aren't your thing, stir in a couple tablespoons of almond meal. Add honey to taste, a dash of vanilla, and a pinch of salt. The resulting pudding is rich and flavorful.

Combining this, lots of different fruit and nut combinations, oatmeal, and plenty of extra nutritional add-ins...and suddenly those hot breakfast cereals offer a lot of diverse options for a most basic breakfast.


And if you like coconut milk, did you know it's easy to make your own? I've been using these instuructions with a fair amout of success. The resulting milk is thinner than what I use for cooking usually, but really tasty. The kids drink it up so fast there usually isn't much left for cooking anyway. 

Friday, May 18, 2012

Mama To A Dressy Boy

When Brother-Bug was born we were delighted to have a little son. He had mostly boyish clothes - largely because the hand-me-downs we got were from his older boy cousins and a couple other friends with boys. Had he been a girl the clothes would have been the same. We were poor and finishing college and relied on the hand-me-downs.

Fast forward a little less than two years and it was summer. He was hot and didn't want to wear his diaper, so we popped him into a pink striped sundress that we had in the hand-me-down box. I don't know about you, but Papa-Bug and I both find dresses much more comfortable on a really hot day. Brother-Bug loved his dress and begged for more.

Of course, we did dress him like a Faery-Baby at 10-months... It's NOT a dress! Those are shorts!

Since it didn't bother us, we gave him more dresses. The next summer, I made him a sundress with a bulldozer dress on it - instant favorite.

Fast forward to now. My son wears a variety of clothes that he finds comfortable. Sometimes that's a t-shirt and pants or shorts. Sometimes it's a skirt and t-shirt. Sometimes it's a dress. Once it was an old necktie as a belt, holding up a loincloth made of bubble wrap - he told me he was dressing as a pirate.

Our family is "traditional" in the sense that we have a Mama, a Papa & 2.38 kids. I stay home and Papa-Bug goes to work. Papa-Bug usually wears a tie and button-down to work. I wear an assortment of clothing (determined largely by what is clean). The kids have aunts and uncles, friends of both genders, adult friends who are queer in assorted ways... My point here is that Brother-Bug hasn't had a lot of exposure to boys in dresses, beyond our allowing (and even encouraging him) to wear dresses if they are comfortable to him. He came to his fashion desires of his own accord.

Mommy Man posted about his 2-year old's desire to wear a dress and I started thinking about this. What is my responsibility to my son's clothing preferences? Of course I don't want him to think that his preferences are wrong or shameful, and I don't want to expose him to teasing or shaming (from his peers or adults). But by suggesting to him that his favorite polka-dot skirt, striped tights, and pink converse might not be appropriate for a trip to the playground... What does that tell him? That he can be himself, but only in certain circumstances and specific places?

This is my 2-year old a dress.

True, that's part of culture. There are times and places for everything, and I'm into both Little-Bugs learning the difference between our private lives and the things we do at home versus our public lives and the things we do in the world around our homes. But clothing? I can wear a skirt and tights to the playground, so can Sister-Bug.

My responsiblity to his clothing is to make sure he is dressed appropriately for the weather we will encounter. My responsibility is to make sure he feels loved and supported if he encounters resistance or judgement regarding his clothing decisions - from wearing an un-cool t-shirt to wearing his favortie spinning dress.

There are times I guide his clothing choices to ensure his comfort - physical and social-emotional. But unless we will be going somewhere that I believe either he or his parents will be seriously discomfitted by our lovely boy in a skirt, I let him do what he wants. I do make him leave the bubble wrap at home - or at least put pants or a skirt under it. I'm sure that the world he lives in will spend plenty of time and energy trying to get him to "dress correctly" and I can help him with those decisions when they arise.

I've heard a few arguements against letting him wear dresses. They are, quite frankly, laugable.

The first - He will develop a sense of shame by wearing dresses. Wait. Let me think about that... If I allow him and support him in being the person that he wants to be (who or whatever that is) he will develop a sense of shame? That just doesn't even begin to make sense. We develop a sense of shame when we are taught that something we do is shameful.

The second - It is not normal for boys to wear dresses. Hmmmm...Shall we start pointing at cultures around the world where a dress, skirt, or other flowing garment is the usual garb for men and boys? Shall we traipse through history, back less than 120 years ago, when all children wore skirts into their early childhood? Today, in American culture it is not normal to see a boy in a dress. That has no actual bearing on what is or is not normal for boys.

The third - (this one comes mostly from the younger set - kids that see Brother-Bug in a dress) Boys don't wear dresses! Well, Brother-Bug is a boy and he wears dresses, so I guess boys do wear dresses. So there. Girls wear pants, right?

So much for the arguements.

Hot day. Breezy sundress. He's almost 4 here.

Sure, we gather some strange looks in public sometimes. People get thrown off by a boy in a dress. I have interesting conversations sometimes. But I am usually plesantly surprised by peoples' ability to accept my boy in a dress and often compliment him on how nice he looks. I was (and I still am) ready to fight for him and his right to his preferneces. But so far, he dresses in his dresses. He's happy. I'll close with his thoughts:

Mama-Bug: Why do you like to wear dresses?
Brother-Bug: Ummmm....I don't know. I just like to wear dresses because I like to wear dresses. And they are pretty.

And who can argue with that?

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Post Mother's Day Contemplations

When I started this post I was listening to Papa-Bug lovingly instruct the Little-Bugs in the art of French Toast preparation. There were presents that the kids were having a hard time waiting to open.

Mother's Day can be really excellent, or really stressful, partly because it's such an obligatory holiday. You can't get out of it unless you don't have a mom, and I imagine it mocks and stings for those who don't have a mom. If you forget or neglect, you are a bad child. If you're a mom and you just don't want to go to a dressy brunch (send the kids!) you're an unappreciative mom at best. Once you become a mom you have to decide how to have your own day with your own kid(s) and how to honor your own mom. Of you're a dad you have to try to make the day special and worry free for your partner and honor your own mother too. It's different than Christmas where everyone is celebrating everyone.
It was a wonderful day.

Now don't get me wrong - I enjoy Mother's Day, especially in theory. Mothers work really hard for their families and should have a special day and be honored. And we should stop making assumptions and obligations about mothers and what they want for their day.

For years, my mom attended an art retreat over Mother's Day, out of cell phone range. We scolded her because as her kids we are supposed to care for her and surround her with our love on this day in particular. It's later, after I am daily attended by my small entourage that I really understand that a weekend where she didn't have to respond to us at all was her best Mother's Day gift to herself. I wish I would have thought to contribute to the fees for her retreat.

This article about Anna Jarvis and her campaign against the commercialization of Morher's Day was fascinating and gave me a lot to think about - namely what aspects constitute a good Mother's Day, beyond the cards, flowers, and nice meals.

Here are some things I came up with that side-step the commercial and would make many of the moms I know pretty happy.

Make Good Decisions - Moms make a million decisions everyday - what to have for snack, which chore to prioritize, what is or isn't worthy of a time out, is that fall worth a call to the nurse or a visit to urgent care, playdate or no, organic or conventional... Make decisions for her. If you're caring for a mom close to you on Mother's Day, you have an idea of her preferences. Let her know that you would like to surprise her on Mother's Day by taking decision making off her plate and ask if that would be okay. Then make a meal you know she loves or take her to her favorite restaurant (its probably not the one with toy dinosaurs on the tables). You might have to do some sneaky reconnaissance work in advance, but it will be worth it. If you're going out, get the kids and diaper bag ready without assistance. Let her sail through and enjoy. 

Save Her Space - If you know she doesn't want to hang out with family, arrange a fun adventure that precludes a family brunch. Call her mom and/or mother-in-law and say you are planning a special all-day surprise for her and ask if there is a different day for an extended family celebration. Then send the mama to a spa, take her to the beach or a favorite hike/museum/picnic spot. Arrange that some of this adventure is hers without you, kids, or anyone else. Or just stay home and let her know the day is Hers with no obligations. Turn the phone off.

Tackle Her To-Do List - Even if she's really on top of it, you know there is something on it that's not getting done. Stay up a little late Saturday night or get up extra early Mother's Day morning and do that chore you know she keeps moving down the stack - clear the laundry off the couch and actually put it away, sweep that area that clearly hasn't been swept recently, scrub a sink or two... When she wakes up, there's less on The List, which is a huge gift. And free.

Along similar lines, if you plan to make her a special meal, make sure it comes with a beautifully clean kitchen. Cleaning up after the preparation of a gourmet meal is a lot of extra work!

And one inspired by my Mom, specific for Grandparents - Give her the gift of no expectations. She's a mom with kids of assorted ages, the commitments and expectations of day-to-day life looming. Remember what that was like? Your daughter loves you and honors you. Give her the day - no expectations, no invitation with pressure, no guilt-trip if she forgets to call you. If shes having a great Mother's Day, she is doing it her way with her kids. You raised a good Mom - pour yourself a drink and raise a glass to both of you. My Mom has done this for me - suggesting I could join her for mimosas, but not caring if I don't show up. If I call her, she's the first to say Happy Mother's Day, and if I don't get to the phone she wishes me well the next time we talk - no guilt, no pressure. It's one of the best gifts I've received for Mother's Day.

Mothers-In-Law can let their son lavish the Mother of her grandchildren with attention and flowers - and not get bent out of shape if he neglects his Mom a little. Raise a glass to yourself - you taught your son how to be a good partner and father. Your Mother's Day gift is that he is living that lesson you taught him.

These are just a few ideas - and in case Papa-Bug is reading this, I had a wonderful Mother's Day. I had sometime to contemplate this post and discuss some of the pitfalls of Mother's Day when a friend and I went out - without our kids! - for a beverage.

All in all I am very satisfied with my celebration. And I offer these ideas as a jumping-off-point for anyone who wants to have - or to help a Mother have - a fantastic Mother's Day next time around.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Recipe: Lamb Burger with Apple and Gruyere

For Mother's Day, Papa-Bug & Brother-Bug made me these lovely lamb burgers. Simple and very tasty. It's the honey-dijon sauce that really puts them over the top. We ate them outside after a day of wonderful sunshine and yard work, with oven-baked french fries. Simple, yet gourmet and deeply satisfying.

No pictures, because we ate them up too fast!

A couple of tips.
Get good buns - if you're going all the way with a fine cheese and good meat, don't scrimp on the buns. Go to a bakery and see what they have that's real. Your standard wonderbun just won't cut it here.

Get pastured lamb. Seriously. I could (and eventually will) go on and on about the flavor differences in pastured versus feed-lot raised meat. But the place that I notice the biggest difference is in lamb. Good lamb, from animals who have been with their herd in lush fields, is amazing. It doesn't get much better. Cheap lamb And it's cruel. But if you are making hard decisions with your food dollars - and with the need for organics for many people combined with rising food costs, who isn't? - choose to get the pastured and worth-every-penny lamb.

Lamb Burgers with Apple and Gruyere

1+ pounds pastured ground Lamb (1 pound will make 4 quarter-pound your math and figure out what you need.
2-3 tart apples - Papa-Bug used Granny Smith
Wodge of Gruyere (enough to have slices for the number of burgers you are making, but can you get too much?)
Good buns - as mentioned above
Romaine hearts
Salt, pepper & onion powder to mix into the meat
Olive oil
Creamy Honey-Dijon Sauce
1-2 tablespoons honey (gently warmed till melty)
1-2 tablespoons dijon mustard
2-4 tablespoons whole yogurt
Mix throughly, tasting and adjusting honey and mustard till you're satisfied.

Mix the meat with the salt, pepper and onion powder to taste and form into patties. Peel and slice the apples into cross-wise rings, taking the core out of each ring. Toss the apple rings with olive oil. When the grill is ready (I assume you know what you are doing here. There are lots of website dedicated to the hows of grilling if you need help...), put the apples on, grilling them till they are warm through. Add the burgers and grill as you would any burger. Add the cheese near the end of the burger's second side, and the apple on top. When the burgers are satisfactory, remove and quickly toast the buns over the grill. Spread each bun generously with the Honey-Dijon Sauce, apply burger, and romaine. Enjoy.


Easy Oven Fries

Preheat the oven to 425F.

For a family of 4 cut 3 average sized potatoes into your favorite fry shape - long and skinny, short and fat, wedges, whatever. Toss with salt, pepper & olive oil (or a combination of melted butter and coconut oil). Spread the fries on cookie sheet in a single layer. Pop those fries into the oven for about 15-20 minutes, turning half way though. The time they need to bake will depend on how thick or thin you cut them. Poke them with a fork to see if they are done.

These are so easy that I wonder at buying frozen fries (even though I do so at times...).


If you are in the Willamette Valley, Oregon and need some pastured Lamb...because you read my recipe and now you are craving...the Deck Family Farm sells such an item from the farm, which you can visit or at 7 different Saturday Farmers' Markets! One in Eugene and 6 in Portland. Contact them for more details.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

New Pages

Over at the top of the side bar you will find a couple of new pages! One for the posts I wrote about Lonesome Whistle Farm - including all the recipes I used their beans and grains in. The other is for the Deck Family Farm posts which will be coming in the next days. Keep your eye on them.

Is there anything else -- any specific post topics that should be grouped on a page? Maybe our homeschooling adventures?

Re-Thinking TV Turn-Off Week

Inspired by our local library, we committed to turning off our TV and video (computer) games for a week. We made it through with little complaining from the kids. We nixed movies and computer time and, since we don't do much of those anyway, we hardly noticed.

But the concept of TV-Turn-Off Week is outdated and needs to be re-invented for this brave new screen-happy world. Patents work from home - on computers, phones, & iPads - and accessing of videos for work and education is normal. We have iPhones and iPads that house our communications and music, as well as games and movies and all else. In our house there is a digital picture frame. Cameras are all screen based. Brother-Bug has a hand-me-down iPod that has games on it. We have a TV, but no cable or conventional TV access. We use Netflix and library DVDs for our viewing enjoyments. These kids have seen actual commercial television maybe 2-3 times. We have no video game console, though Papa-Bug does have some games on his computer that are video game-ish. I use the computer not only for writing and work, but to also access a lot of our educational materials.

Where does this leave TV-Turn Off Week? I love the idea, but obviously it's time to re-evaluate how it fits in a world so littered with screens. When I was little we hung a sign on the TV and that was it. The computer with games like pong(!) was in Dad's home office and we just couldn't use it for the week. It didn't bother us that Dad did keep using it for work - screens weren't in such heavy use that we really thought about it.

How to explain the difference between media use as mind-dulling entertainment, a photography project, a writing project...? Kids are on computers daily in schools - how does that relate?
Can we even begin to contemplate turning off the TV when the ease of screen entertainment assails us from so many other quarters? Or an alternate view - does turning off the TV really make a big difference, when there are so many other screens we access?

Over at Adbusters, they have renamed it Digital Detox Week, and I think they have some good ideas, but it's hard to figure out a good way to relate these ideas directly to kids. Ironically, one of their ideas is based on an online video....

I've been turning this over in my head for almost two weeks now, and I don't know what the answer or balance is. Going totally screen free is not practical or possible anymore. No solution or balance has jumped out at me. Thank goodness I have a year to think it though and prepare for next year!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Nursing On Demand or Nursing By Desire?

I love this recent blog post from Nurshable. It resonates so very deeply. As I move toward nursing my third child (while still nursing my second) I am still stunned by the look in my daughter's eyes when she gazes at me while we nurse. There is so much love and trust there. I would not trade that for anything.
Me and my kids - tandem nursing on Sister-Bug's first day. Brother on the bottom, Sister on the top.
I've been thinking about the term "On Demand Nursing" and I don't like it. A Google search defines demand as:


An insistent and peremptory request, made as if by right.

Ask authoritatively or brusquely

Certainly as a nursing mom I've experienced demands from both my children, but our nursing relationship is much deeper than that. "On Demand" implies that I am held to the whims of a tiny tyrant, that I have little choice in the matter. But we need a new phrase - one that connotates the positive action of meeting our baby/toddler/child's needs because we have the desire to be the best mother we can be. A similar Google search defines desire as:


A strong feeling of wanting to have something or wishing for something to happen.

Strongly wish for or want (something).
That's more the kind of word I'm looking for.

Desire is a good thing. Desire motivates us to seek out satiation. Often we share our desires with others, especially those we love deeply. I chose to nurse this way because I desired this amazing closeness with my children. I chose this because my understanding and experience led me to the decision that this is best for both of us and, like all parents, I desire to do what is best for my family.

Sometimes, as babies grow to toddlers, I say "No. I can't nurse this minute." And we discuss when we will settle and nurse. There are two (sometimes more) people in the equation, with unique needs, demands, and desires. I honor the building and unfolding of that nursing relationship. My desire is to aid and support it to the best of my ability.

Much as I reject the designation of "Human Pacifier", I will no longer practice "On Demand Nursing". I'm changing it. My kids and I will Nurse By Desire.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Recipe: Crackling Cheese-Chive Muffins

"Warm and plump as fresh baked muffins..." (Charlotte Pomerantz)
This morning called for something more than cereal or scrambled eggs. The day called for Muffins. So Sister-Bug and I whipped up a batch while Brother-Bug slept in.

Two other excellent reasons to make muffins:

1) You have sour milk. Like I wrote about here, sour milk has a magical effect on the consistency of baked goods like muffins, quick breads, and pancakes. And why waste that potential?

2) Mixing muffins is an easy project to do with a little kid. Muffin batter is very flexible and forgivable. Once you get a general recipe down you can add and subtract, and your toddler can pour in too much baking powder...and you can still save it and come out of the experience (usually) with something edible.

These are our favorite muffins, and a wonderfully flexible recipe. Because they are savory they make a good addition to any meal and I've seen them disappear at many potlucks. My mom made a similar muffin when I was young and I've kept it and adapted it for our days when we just need muffins for breakfast - like today.

I used Lonesome Whistle's Red-Fife Wheat Flour and Buckwheat Flour which gave this particular batch of muffins a particularly rich flavor and a wonderful crumb. The millet is for texture fun (as well as the wonderful nutrition found in millet). As the muffins bake, the millet softens a little and toasts which is what makes these muffins "crackling" - the millet pops while you chew which is really fun! You can use any flour combinations, but at least 1 cup must be a whole grain flour or the texture will be really strange. I like a sharp cheddar and chives best, but only fresh chives. However, any combination of cheese and herbs will work, and it's fun to play with flavor potential.

Sister-Bug considers the implicatons of muffin batter.

What else could you add? Bacon or ham bits? Blue cheese instead of cheddar? Roasted red pepper bits? Flax seeds, bran, wheat germ, or other nutritional delights? Rye flour and caraway seeds? So many possibilities.

It's the fresh chives that really make this recipe so good.
Crackling Cheese-Chive Muffins

2 cups flour (combined whole wheat, other whole grains, and a little white to keep it light)
4 tsp. baking powder
A pinch of salt
1 1/2 cups sour milk or thinned yogurt
2 eggs
1-3 tbl. fresh chives (or other herbs)
2/3 cup millet
1 cup grated cheese (sharp cheddar or ??)
3 tbl. melted butter (or vegetable oil)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Mix the dry ingredients and make a well. Add the milk and eggs and beat throughly. Add the chives, millet, and cheese mixing till just combined. Stir in the butter.

Spoon into muffin tins and bake until a toothpick comes out clean - about 20 minutes. Eat warm, eat cold, eat plain, eat with butter... Just eat them quickly before your kids inhale them!

Just coming out of the oven...

Baking in Cast Iron? I always bake my muffins in my cast iron pans. They are a bit of an investment, but they are really worth it! Preheat the pans with the oven and use a basting brush to grease each muffin cup. Spoon in your batter and bake as usual. Because your muffin cups are hot iron, they bake the bottom of the muffin - making the whole muffin crisp around. And as long as you wipe them up right away and don't use soap on your cast iron (EVER), they are clean and back in the cupboard very quickly. 

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Flavor of Milk

Sister-Bug drinks her fresh milk in the dairy barn at Deck Family Farm.
We drink raw milk. We are blessed to have many local farms and friends that choose to leave their milk in its whole and most nourishing state.

Because of pick-up issues we took a break from raw milk, getting regular old organic carton milk at the store. Our busy life being what it is, I forgot. Then, out at the Deck Family Farm the other day, we pulled cups of fresh, cold milk from the big milk tank. The flavor hit me, deeply resonating as food, nutrition, satiation. One sip and I could feel my body respond to the goodness of it.

We're back on raw milk now.

There is tremendous controversy around the benefits versus the safety of raw dairy products. I don't need to address that controversy here and now. You know what side I am on. I'm on the side with the good flavor - that my body deeply and viscerally recognizes as Food.

You can find out more about the benefits (and some of the risks) of raw milk here:

Raw Milk Facts 
Raw Milk Risks & Benefits
Health Benefits of Raw Milk

Selling raw milk is illegal in most states. Find out how to legally buy it here.

If you live in the Eugene/Springfield area, check out the Deck Family Farm's Creamy Cow Share.

Ever thought of making cheese? The less pasteurization the milk is exposed to, the better your cheese product. Fresh raw milk makes the best fresh mozzarella - and it is almost tomato & basil time....

And one final thought about milk. Many people tout the benefits of whole food, eat whole grain bread and leafy green veggies. At the grocery they stock up on 2% (or skim) milk and low fat yogurt. That dairy has been altered and processed to have some of its nutrients removed. It's not a whole food. Just a thought.


Because I love and revere local food, and whole food I really enjoy writing about the cooking and experiences I have. I work at the Deck Family Farm booth at the Lane County Farmer's Market and we eat almost all Deck meat. As the Lonesome Whistle feature slows down, I plan on featuring more Deck products and writing about pastured meat - because cooking it is a little different than cooking feed-lot meat! And it's all just so very tasty...

Kindergarten Review: February - Space

In February the subject was Brother-Bug's choice. We went to the outer reaches of the stars. Actually we stuck pretty close to our galaxy, learning our planets and nearby constellations.

As always, we started with a list of questions and a pile of books from the library. We stayed more with space and never got to astronauts and space ships.

One major project was trying to impart the idea of scale. We gathered a basket ball, a quarter, a nickel, 2 popcorn kernels, 2 sesame seeds, and 2 poppy seeds. The basketball represented the sun, the quarter was Jupiter, the nickel was Saturn, the popcorns were Neptune and Uranus, the sesame seeds were Venus and Earth, and the poppy seeds were Mars and Mercury (if you want to include Pluto, use a grain of salt). I don't know how well Brother-Bug understood the concept of scale, but I learned a lot! And it helped to put those planet names and sizes in our heads for the next project.

We used out dining room light as the sun, made planets of construction paper, and lined them up across the ceiling. I went for approximate scale - the little planet were little, on up in graduating sizes, using the previous project as a guide. I didn't worry about orbits or distances between the planets. We put in the asteroid belt, and Brother-Bug got some great handwriting work done making the labels for each planet.

Using felt, ribbon, and a stick we made a mobile of the Andromeda constellation, reading the myth (I did a little on-the-fly editing to make it age-appropriate) while we worked. We talked about how constellations help us see the stars in patterns so we don't get lost when we look up. We also talked about how people have told star stories as far back as we know, and constellations are one way we have saved those stories.

We read a bunch if books and watched some space documentaries, as well as The Magic School Bus space themed episodes. But the best project? We made a rocket ship.

A little cardboard, packing tape, and a box cutter, and soon we needn't only read about the planets...we could travel to them!! Both kids spent the better part of many days in the rocket ship, traveling to various points in space. I listened to Brother-Bug attempt to instruct his sister in the science of counting down to Blast Off. Frequently I was informed that I was now really heavy and couldn't jump because we had landed on Jupiter (as an example). The book that really aided is in this all encompassing imagination game was If You Decide to Go to The Moon by Faith McNulty and illustrated by Steven Kellogg. And kid with any interest in space would love this book.

Papa-Bug helped us explore some science fiction and space opera - some less violent episodes of Star Trek, as well as reading some select chapters of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy to Brother-Bug. This furthered our discussion of star stories, and inspired one final project.

I recorded Brother-Bug telling me his own space adventure story. I recorded it, pausing the record to ask him questions when he got stuck. The result was a minute and twenty second story of A Trip to Saturn (the link is a cowbird story that includes the audio of the story).

This was a great unit. At the very least, I think I actually learned the order of the planets finally! And the imagination that was inspired was some of our best yet.


Homeschool update:

Here we are in May and I'm just posting February's review! Yoikes! The pregnancy is slowing everything down and while we keep homeschooling (because how can we not? Learning seems to find us no matter what!) we are letting go of our formal units in favor of less stress. The summer is coming when we would take a break anyway and I want to spend more time out and enjoying. The Baby is coming in November, so we will certainly do some work around the Election, but mostly the fall will be spent in getting ready for our new being. I hope to be back to something a little more organized in January.

In March we explored Mammals (have you ever heard of a Numbat? I hadn't.) and for April & May we are exploring herbalism and gardening, but we haven't done a lot of easily reportable project. I have been delighted to watch Brother-Bug take the lead and explore the topics in his own way. It's given me lots of good ideas for the future as his educational needs grow and change.

And the lack of pictures... There are a bunch that I wanted to post and when I went to finish this post yesterday my computer, where the photos live, gave me the blue screen of death. My fingers are crossed. It's pretty much all backed up, but we need to take an evening and really look at it.