Tuesday, December 30, 2014

want/need/wear/read

My kids get so much stuff for Christmas.  Like - so much stuff.  They have very doting grandparents, great-grandparents, friends, and teachers.  I really have not felt like there was much I could do to compete with that, and in fact, for their birthdays and Christmases so far, I've not really gotten them anything!  I will make whatever food they want on their special days, but I leave the material gift-giving to the professionals.

I started to feel a little guilty about this, though, and decided I would try out a strategy I'd heard about from friends:  give them four types of presents.

1)  Something they want.

2)  Something they need.

3)  Something to wear.

4)  Something to read.

So, how did Christmas 2014 stack up?

I think it went pretty well!  I decided to hand-make what I could, given my time constraints.


I knit Vicki a pair of soft socks in her favorite color (purple!) - so there is #3 for her.  And Todd needed a cross-stitched cuff for his stocking, so there is his #2.


Here are the finished products!  I'm really happy with them, and I'm glad I decided to stitch Todd's present, as I'd forgotten how enjoyable counted cross-stitch can be.

I also went to a local kids' gift store and bought a few items for them.


Here's the array:  a got them each a few Schleich animals, which are my favorite.  I got Todd a little Euro-style race car.  Vicki got some new triangular crayons.  One book for each of them.  They each got a few of their favorite beautiful satsumas.  You can see Vicki's socks and Todd's stocking topper here. Not pictured is another gift I gave to Vicki earlier in the week.  She had been begging for a pink Thermos cup and soup container every time we went to Target.  So I got them for her.

You can also see the hand-quilted and -stitched stocking my own grandmother made for me ("I Love Christmas").  I gave myself a couple of oranges too.  :)

In years to come, I intend to knit and felt a Christmas stocking for each of them, cross-stitch Vicki a stocking cuff as well, and stitch the cuffs onto the stockings.  But all that can wait until next year at least.

So, here's how it all broke out:

1)  Something they want:  Thermos cup and container for Vicki, race car for Todd.

2)  Something they need:  crayons for Vicki, stocking cuff for Todd.

3)  Something to wear:  socks for Vicki, didn't get around to this for Todd!  Fail.

4)  Something to read:  a simple Christmas-related book for each of them.

They have really loved all of this, in addition to the many others toys and treats they have received.  Funny enough, the thing they have loved playing with the most is our nativity!  They like keeping the wise men far away and then moving them a bit closer each day until Epiphany.  They also loved putting baby Jesus in the manger on Christmas Eve after church.  I love how this set is wooden and durable, and I don't mind at all if they want to play with it!  In fact, my heart just delights in hearing Todd lisp, "Baby Jesus!"



How have you approached gift-giving in your family?

Monday, December 29, 2014

menu plan december v

Did you survive the holidays?  We did - just barely.  :)  Here are the kids enjoying my big Christmas present from my grandmother-in-law:


Isn't it just like "parenthood" that within one day of getting an awesome new present, your kids think it's theirs?  Ha!

We are traveling to my sister's once again this week, just as we did over Thanksgiving.  My niece Sloane was born on New Year's Day (first baby of the new year at their hospital!), so her birthday party every year is a New Year's Day party.  We are going up to spend some time with my sister, my brother, my stepdad, and others!  Exciting.  I'm also excited to pack our own food for travel, once again.  That felt like a major triumph to me.  So, here are the eats I have planned this week:

Some notes:  we literally always have one of two things for breakfast if we are at home.

1)  -- scrambled eggs from our Mennonite hens
     -- homemade sourdough toast/English muffins/biscuits
     -- raw butter we have been making from our Mennonite cow cream
     -- local raw honey or homemade preserves (green rhubarb lately - yum!)
     -- seasonal fruit from our CSA or satsumas (in the winter)

2) -- pancakes
    -- raw butter
    -- real maple syrup
    -- seasonal fruit

Vicki usually requests #2.  If we have time, I'm happy to oblige.  If I do any sourdough baking, though, we will use the excess starter to have sourdough pancakes.

Since it is so monotonous, I'm not going to put breakfast on the menu plan.

For drinks, we always have raw milk on hand.  We also drink Berkey filtered water, kombucha, or homemade soda from our ginger bug.  I would love to start messing with water kefir soon.

Finally, I try to make one dessert-ish item that we nibble on all week for snacks and desserts.  The kids and I made some coconut macaroons over the holiday, so we are eating those up!  

Sunday
-- lunch:  we had hamburgers and fixings, homemade sourdough buns, and sweet potato fries,
-- supper:  Calypso!  My favorite neighborhood take-out.  I have a post coming soon all about their callaloo.  The kids and I shared a half dark chicken with jerk sauce, callaloo greens, black beans, rice, and fruit tea.

Monday
-- lunch:  egg salad on sourdough toast, a big sour lacto-fermented pickle, a satsuma, and some kombucha.
-- supper:  breakfast for dinner!  Homemade biscuits, sausage gravy (we are trying the sausage from our recent half-hog purchase for the first time!), eggs, sweet potato & onion hash.

Tuesday
-- lunch:  tuna salad on sourdough toast, pear sauce, kombucha
-- supper:  meatloaf, turnip fries, maple-glazed carrots, sourdough dinner rolls

Wednesday
-- lunch:  on the road!  I'm packing acorn squash soup in a thermos, sourdough bread, raw cheese, kombucha, satsumas, and cookies.
-- supper:  we will be at my sister's - no idea!

Thursday
-- lunch:  New Year's Day!  I'm bringing along some black-eyed peas and ham hocks we have in the freezer and fix this quintessential Southern dish for good luck.
-- supper:  no idea, once again.  Party stuff.

Friday
-- lunch:  we will be back on the road.  If we have any leftover squash soup I will pack that.  Otherwise we may pack leftover black-eyed peas to eat alongside our bread, cheese, and fruit.
-- supper:  we will probably grab a pizza from either 5 Points Pizza or Pizza Real, which tie as our two favorite neighborhood pizza joints.

Saturday
-- lunch:  grilled cheese on sourdough, French onion soup, lacto-fermented pickles, satsumas
-- supper:  roast chicken, green beans, sauteed cabbage, mashed potatoes, sourdough rolls

[Submitted to Menu Plan Monday 12/29/14, the Homestead Barn Hop 12/29/14, Fat Tuesday 12/30/14, the HomeAcre Hop 1/1/15, and Simply Natural Saturday 1/3/15.]

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

an advent prayer


You know it's still Advent, right?  The season of waiting and preparation.  And, depending on your tradition of numbering days, it will remain Advent until either sundown tonight, or midnight tomorrow morning.  Each year, my mentors, dear friends, and incredibly special people Blair and Doug Meeks send an Advent Prayer that Blair writes.  She is a talented liturgist who spent years writing and editing liturgies.  Dr. Meeks was my professor and a huge champion of mine at seminary.  I'm thrilled to be spending more time with him as I dive into a doctoral program next month (more on that later!).  Blair and Doug send her Advent Prayer out to all his students, present and former, and their friends.  I've posted it here below because it spoke to me powerfully this morning.  I hope it can bless you as you culminate your time of waiting this evening.  






Prayer for Healing and Peace

God of all creation, you sent your Word to live among us.
This same Word was with you at the beginning:
and all things came into being through him.
Give us grace to honor all that you have created,
to live wisely and manage well what you have made.
Open our eyes to the carelessness that threatens the earth;
let us hear the sighs of creation for your saving grace.
Teach us to care for all living things,
as you care for us and make us your children.
Grant to the earth healing and peace.
God in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

God of the little ones, you sent your Son to be born as a baby,
the Holy child of Bethlehem: Hear the cries of your children everywhere,
the homeless, the orphans, the sick, the hungry, and those in constant danger.
Hear the cry of Rachel weeping, grieving with mothers in all places
whose children have no chance at life.
Give us courage to share the abundance of your good gifts.
Grant to the suffering healing and peace.
God in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

God of the oppressed,
Jesus, your Son, comes to release the captives
defend the needy, and crush the oppressor:
As you showed the magi Herod’s treachery, open our eyes to powers of death.
Make us agents of your life-giving power.
Teach us to speak truth and live with grace in the name of Jesus, lover of life.
Grant to the hopeless healing and peace.
God in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

God of the peacemakers,
Your son was born in a country at war, and yet he is Prince of Peace.
Help us to see his star, the light of life, the light of hope and joy.
Free us from foolish pride and empty dreams
and lead us to find our hope in you alone.
We give you thanks that we have seen Jesus,
whose love will destroy the power of death.
Keep us faithful as we wait for his coming again.
Grant to the world healing and peace.
God in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Amen.

(copyright Blair Meeks 2014)

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

todd: 19 months

Well, he's officially not "baby Todd" anymore.  I was worried the poor guy was going to be called baby Todd until he went to college.  Now, thanks to Vicki Jo's deep, deep obsession with Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, he is called "Toodles."  If you don't know what I'm talking about, please just count yourself lucky.  Here's what Todd's been up to this last month:


He's really into spinning around and around until he falls down like a drunkard.  Here he is showcasing his skills at the ice cream shop.


The poor, poor dog.  Sweet pup is the longest-suffering member of our family, by far.


His favorite lounging position for a stroll.  He and Vicki both also insist on taking along a drink for every walk and car ride.  So funny because their dad has always done the same thing.


He did really well on our long car trip to my sister's, then to Chicago area for a wedding, then back home.  This is in a rest stop in Indiana somewhere.


At my sister's he experienced real snow for the first time!  This is one of my complaints about Nashville - no winter.  Playing in the snow was a quintessential element of my Kansas childhood, so I'm glad they could do it, if just for one day.


Giving his Christmas jammies a spin, in preparation for Christmas Eve.  :)

He is also talking like crazy.  I was fully prepared for him to take longer to talk a lot, as Vicki is unusually loquacious and boys typically take longer.  But nope - he's jabbering up a storm.  "Read book," "no puppy," "big car," and other phrases are his recent additions.

Monday, December 15, 2014

menu plan december iii

Anyone out there?  I'm having a hard time keeping up my motivation to blog.  The one thing that I want to keep doing is the weekly meal plans - mostly for myself!  I love the idea that if I keep this up for a year, I will essentially have made myself a year-long seasonal/local template for menus.  Great resource.

Huge news this week - our order of a naturally-foraging half-hog will be in!  So, I'm anticipating some chops or ribs or a roast later on this week, for sure.  Sometimes I feel like my whole life revolves around sourcing, preparing, cooking, and enjoying amazing homemade food.  And the really crazy part is that I enjoy it and don't feel that it is abnormal.  Lol.  Does this mean it's a calling?

Christmas jammies brought to you courtesy of Grandpa Mark and Grandma Rosalie.
On to the food!

Some notes:  we literally always have one of two things for breakfast if we are at home.

1)  -- scrambled eggs from our Mennonite hens
     -- homemade sourdough toast/English muffins/biscuits
     -- raw butter we have been making from our Mennonite cow cream
     -- local raw honey or homemade preserves (green rhubarb lately - yum!)
     -- seasonal fruit from our CSA or satsumas (in the winter)

2) -- pancakes
    -- raw butter
    -- real maple syrup
    -- seasonal fruit

Vicki usually requests #2.  If we have time, I'm happy to oblige.  If I do any sourdough baking, though, we will use the excess starter to have sourdough pancakes.

Since it is so monotonous, I'm not going to put breakfast on the menu plan.

Lunches are pretty much always leftovers.  If I do some actual cooking for lunch, I will put it in the plan.  If not, just assume it's something unexciting.

For drinks, we always have raw milk on hand.  We also drink Berkey filtered water, kombucha, or homemade soda from our ginger bug.  I would love to start messing with water kefir soon.

Finally, I try to make one dessert-ish item that we nibble on all week for snacks and desserts.  This week I made maple marshmallows from scratch, which we are also using as part of our Christmas gift baskets.  I will post a recipe this week!  Super easy and very satisfying.

Sunday
--lunch:  I made a meatloaf, braised kale, mashed turnips, and sourdough rolls
--supper:  Family Dinner!  It was our week to bring appetizer, so I did a caramelized onion dip.  I'll do a recipe on this soon, too.  Easy and delicious.  Served with kohlrabi sticks and kettle chips.

Monday
--lunch:  leftover kale pizza, home-canned cranberry sauce, kombucha
--supper:  black bean soup (minus chicken) with cheese quesadillas (raw cheese, homemade tortillas), home-canned salsa, sour cream, avocado, etc

Tuesday
--lunch:  Living Word Sunday school class Christmas party luncheon!  Can't wait.  One of the great perks of my job is getting invited to about 134890235 Christmas parties with awesome food.
--supper:  Korean beef with cabbage, steamed rice, homemade extra-spicy kimchi

Wednesday
--lunch:  out with some lady friends at PF Chang's!  Lettuce wraps here I come.
--supper:  salmon fillets with ginger butter, honey-glazed carrots, sauteed kale, sourdough dinner rolls

Thursday
--lunch:  leftover meatloaf, turnips, sourdough roll, kombucha
--supper:  pork chops!!  With home-canned pear sauce, sauteed cabbage, roasted potatoes, and sourdough rolls

Friday
--lunch:  egg salad, sourdough toast, home-canned cranberry sauce, kombucha
--supper:  acorn squash pizza on sourdough crust (sub goat cheese for gorgonzola) with homemade mozzarella cheese, ginger bug sodas

Saturday
--lunch:  tomato soup, grilled cheese on sourdough toast, homemade lacto-fermented chili-garlic dill pickles
--supper:  roast chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans from the freezer, garlicky kale salad, sourdough dinner rolls

What are you eating?  Anything amazing to share?

[This post submitted to Menu Plan Monday 12/15/14, Homestead Barn Hop #188, Fat Tuesday 12/16/14, Real Food Wednesday 12/17/14, and Pennywise Platter 12/18/14.]



Tuesday, December 9, 2014

simple baked apples

Are you starting to feel a little overwhelmed by the holiday indulgences?  I love a good pumpkin or pecan pie as much as the next girl, especially when made from scratch from whole ingredients.  But sometimes you want something to satisfy the sweet tooth, without all the hullabaloo.  This is it!

We did our annual order of a bushel of apples in October, and I have a few lingering in the crisper drawer.  Also, our winter CSA has begun, and we got several beautiful, crisp apples in our box.  So, for Family Dinner last night, I whipped up some baked apples!  My Grandma Joy, who died when I was in sixth grade, used to make these a lot, so it's a happy food memory.

The recipe is adapted from one of my trustiest sources - a Better Homes & Gardens cookbook I received at one of my bridal showers.

Simple Baked Apples
6 baking apples (Granny Smith, Jonathan, Rome - something that will hold its shape.  I used Cameos)
1/4 C sucanat or other evaporated cane juice product
1/2 C raisins or other dried fruit (cut into raisin-sized pieces if large)
1/2 t nutmeg
1 t cinnamon
pinch salt
1 C freshly-squeezed orange juice

Oven 350



Core the apples, leaving them intact.  Use a paring knife to cut away the ring of skin around the top core.  Place the apples in an oven-safe baking dish.

Combine sucanat, raisins, nutmeg, cinnamon, and salt in a bowl.  Stuff the mixture into the holes in the apples.  Place any excess stuffing mixture into the baking dish with the apples.

Pour the orange juice into the baking dish.  Use a spoon to scoop some juice over each apple.

Bake for 45 minutes, or until apples are tender.  Baste 2-3 times during baking, using a spoon to scoop juice over each apple.

Serve plain, with whipped cream, or with vanilla ice cream.  Make sure to spoon a little of the sweet syrup over the apples and ice cream!

Serves 6

[This post submitted to Fat Tuesday 12/9/14.]

Monday, December 8, 2014

menu plan december ii & real food challenge updates

December is in full swing!  The Real Food Challenge has also been going strong.  There was just one night in the past week when no one had thought about what we were going to have for dinner.  Someone brought home some fast food, and I went for it.  Bad idea.  Within hours, my stomach felt upset.  In the morning, I felt like my insides had rusted.  Also, my fingers and feet were swollen.  I've noticed that I'm very sensitive to holding water on my hands and feet if I'm not eating correctly.  It's kind of like my instant inflammation-meter.  Throughout this week, as I've been focusing on only putting things in my mouth and my body that will support health, my fingers have been been slim, and my shoes have started to be a little more loose!

So - onward and upward!  I've started giving away my homemade Christmas baskets.  My sister's family got theirs first, when we were there for Thanksgiving, and the church staff got theirs on Friday at our Staff Christmas Party.  I'll do a full post on them soon, but they have been so fun to put together.  I've been organizing them around a theme (Afternoon Snack, Chip & Dipper, Easy Entertaining, etc.) and including plenty of homemade and home-canned goodness.

Let's get to this week's eats.

Some notes:  we literally always have one of two things for breakfast if we are at home.

1)  -- scrambled eggs from our Mennonite hens
     -- homemade sourdough toast/English muffins/biscuits
     -- raw butter we have been making from our Mennonite cow cream
     -- local raw honey or homemade preserves
     -- seasonal fruit from our CSA or something I canned like peaches, pears, or applesauce

2) -- pancakes
    -- raw butter
    -- real maple syrup
    -- seasonal fruit

Vicki usually requests #2.  If we have time, I'm happy to oblige.  However, for the month of the Real Food Challenge, I'm probably going to stick to eggs.  If I do any sourdough baking, though, we will use the excess starter to have sourdough pancakes.

Since it is so monotonous, I'm not going to put breakfast on the menu plan.

Lunches are pretty much always leftovers.  If I do some actual cooking for lunch, I will put it in the plan.  If not, just assume it's something unexciting.

For drinks, we always have raw milk on hand.  We also drink Berkey filtered water, kombucha, or homemade soda from our ginger bug.  I made a cranberry soda last week that is amazing.

Finally, I try to make one dessert-ish item that we nibble on all week for snacks and desserts.  For this week, I'm making a big batch of baked apples.  I used a standard recipe from my BH&G cookbook, but subbed sucanat for the brown sugar.  I'll do a recipe for it soon!



Sunday
-- lunch:  we had chicken wings!  I brought sweet potatoes to make oven fries, and carrot sticks with ranch dressing on the side.
-- supper:  Family Dinner.  We've had a few weeks off, and I'm excited to be reunited with everyone.  I'm bringing baked apples, as shown above.

Monday
-- lunch:  egg salad, homemade sourdough bread, cranberry ginger bug soda, home-canned pear sauce
-- supper:  Moroccan-style stuffed acorn squash (this has been a huge favorite lately!), kale salad

Tuesday
-- lunch:  same as Monday except with tuna salad and homemade sourdough pita
-- supper:  hamburger corn pone.  I will do a recipe on this soon, but it is a Southern dish that I was unacquainted with before moving to Nashville.  Basically think:  shepherd's pie, except with chili on the bottom and cornbread on the top.  It's ridiculously good.  Plus a vinegar slaw on the side.

Wednesday
-- lunch:  carrot ginger soup, grilled cheese on homemade sourdough with pepper relish
-- supper:  home-fried fish & chips with cod and roast potatoes, roast broccoli
Thursday
-- lunch:  same as Monday except with chicken salad (sensing a theme!?)
-- supper:  pork carnitas soft tacos with sourdough tortillas, home-canned salsa, sour cream, cheese, avocado, pickled cabbage & onion salad

Friday
-- lunch:  same as Monday, maybe with some home-canned cranberry sauce if I finish the jar of pear sauce
-- supper:  kale pizza with homemade mozzarella and sourdough crust, roasted sweet potatoes

Saturday
-- lunch:  leftovers
-- supper:  roast chicken, mashed turnips, sauteed turnip greens, maple-glazed carrots, homemade sourdough rolls

[This post submitted to Menu Plan Monday 12/8/14.]

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

vicki jo: 3 years and 8 months

Today, Vicki adds another month to her life.  Baby girl is not such a baby anymore.  As we think through our school decisions for the year(s) to come, I'm reminded that she is growing every day.  Here's what the last month held:


Getting a ridiculously bad bang trim.  Uhhh . . . sorry kid, hairstyling ain't Mom's forte!

Going on a field trip to TPAC with her Encore class to see a play, then having lunch downtown with me.  I'm so happy that she loves urban centers as much as I do . . . (hey Vicki, remember you're a legacy to Columbia!)


Dancing her face off at Julianne and Parth's wedding, until someone stepped on her foot and it was all over.  She also got to see her old friend Remy, which was amazing.  They remembered each other like it was yesterday.


Getting too grown to ride in the stroller anymore.  Until she gets tired.  


Verrrry occasionally taking a nap at the same time as her brother.  Like blue-moon frequency.


Getting some super-sweet new kicks from her cousin Sloane.

Also spending Thanksgiving with her Aunt Nelle, Uncle Matt, and cousins Sloane and Elliott.  I always wish my sister and I lived closer together so our kids could hang out all the time.  


Being my super-helper with Bubba on our 8-hour drive home from the wedding.  (Thank God for good weather and rest areas with playgrounds!)


Enjoying the climbing wall at Izzy and Jamie's house, down the road from Memaw's.

Isn't she lovely!?

Monday, December 1, 2014

menu plan december i & real food challenge!!

I'm back!!  Thanksgiving and the wedding were awesome.  I will do a full recap this week, but here is a sneak peak of the kids at our lunch break on the way to my sister's house.  I got wise and packed a cooler full of awesome, nourishing foods.  The weather was merciful and we were able to get out at a rest stop, run and play and stretch our legs, and enjoy some raw cheese, homemade sourdough bread, raw milk, kombucha, satsumas, and veggie beef soup.  Way more satisfying than fast food.  And probably even faster.  :)

Displaying photo.JPG
I think I caught Todd mid-chew.  He's usually much cuter than this.  
Before I get into our meal plan for the week, I want to announce my challenge, and invite others to join in!  I strive for a diet free of processed foods.  A diet that is supportive of health and also responsible to our environment and local farmers.  But we all know that life gets in the way.  I am not in control of every bite that goes into the mouth of my family.  And, to be honest, if I were - I would get a little crazy, I think.  I have that perfectionistic streak.  

However, I am in control of everything that I eat.  By that I mean that no one is holding a gun to my head and making me eat chips or popsicles or candy or whatever.  And for this month, I want to be extra-mindful of what goes into my mouth.  I have two main areas that cause me to struggle in this:

1)  I work full-time and often have to scramble to find something to eat for lunch.

2)  We eat most evenings with my amazing grandmother-in-law.  She is always open to me cooking, but getting all the ingredients there and prepped and ready after a long day can be challenging.

So, for the month of December, I'm doing a Real Food Challenge!  Every bite that goes into my mouth this month will be carefully considered.  You can read about what I believe constitutes real food here.  I would love to lose some weight and also feel healthier this month.  Does anyone want to join me!?  I know this is a hard month to do this kind of challenge, but it just felt like the right time.  Comment below if you'd like to join in for accountability.  :)

Now, on to the food!

Some notes:  we literally always have one of two things for breakfast if we are at home.

1)  -- scrambled eggs from our Mennonite hens
     -- homemade sourdough toast/English muffins/biscuits
     -- raw butter we have been making from our Mennonite cow cream
     -- local raw honey or homemade preserves
     -- seasonal fruit from our CSA or something I canned like peaches, pears, or applesauce

2) -- pancakes
    -- raw butter
    -- real maple syrup
    -- seasonal fruit

Vicki usually requests #2.  If we have time, I'm happy to oblige.  However, for the month of the Real Food Challenge, I'm probably going to stick to eggs.  Unless I make pancakes from sourdough starter.  (Sidenote:  I really need to update you on my sourdough journey!  It has changed a lot since that last link.)

Since it is so monotonous, I'm not going to put breakfast on the menu plan.

Lunches are pretty much always leftovers.  If I do some actual cooking for lunch, I will put it in the plan.  If not, just assume it's something unexciting.

For drinks, we always have raw milk on hand.  We also drink Berkey filtered water, kombucha, or homemade soda from our ginger bug.  Lately I've been drinking the buttermilk left after butter-making - yum!

Finally, I try to make one dessert-ish item that we nibble on all week for snacks and desserts.  For this week, I will make a brown rice pudding from some soaked rice.

Sunday
-- lunch:  we were on the road!  We had leftover Thanksgiving ham, raw cheese, sourdough bread, raw milk, satsumas, homemade cranberry sauce, and some leftover pumpkin-sorghum pie.
-- supper:  we had just arrived home and ate some leftover BBQ pork, potato salad, white beans with pepper relish, potato chips, and God knows what else.

Monday
-- supper:  ham & white beans, soaked cornbread, pepper relish

Tuesday
-- supper:  beef soft tacos with homemade taco seasoning, whole wheat sourdough tortillas, sour cream, raw cheese, pickled cabbage salad (going to adapt Deb's recipe a little), avocado, chopped tomato (can you believe I still have a few little green tomatoes that ripened on the counter!?)

Wednesday
-- supper:  shrimp in Thai red curry peanut sauce (recipe coming soon!), Asian green beans, soaked brown rice

Thursday
-- supper:  pork chops and cabbage braised in apple cider, mashed sweet potatoes, pear sauce

Friday
-- supper:  ham & pineapple pizza on sourdough crust with homemade mozzarella, marinated tomato salad

Saturday
-- supper:  roast chicken, roasted spiced cauliflower and oven fries, leftover pickled cabbage salad

What are you going to eat!?

[This post submitted to Menu Plan Monday 12/1/14, the Homestead Barn Hop 12/1/14, and Fat Tuesday 12/2/14.]

Sunday, November 23, 2014

menu plan november iv

I've got one thing on the brain, folks, and that's seasonal fruit!  Thursday I received my shipment of eight pounds of organic cranberries and 2 gallons of fresh apple cider.  Friday I picked up my ten pounds of organic satsumas from Alabama.  I feel so rich in food right now.



Saturday I put up four pints of cranberry sauce made with sucanat and apple cider.  Recipe forthcoming!  So yummy.  Cranberry sauce is hands-down my favorite part of the Thanksgiving meal, and I really am a sucker for the kind from the can.  So I'm bringing at least one pint to my sister's for Thanksgiving this week.  I'm also bringing a chocolate-maple-bourbon pecan pie (swoon) and a sorghum pumpkin pie with gingersnap crust.  Those are already ready and waiting in the freezer for me.

I'm going to do a spiced cranberry jam soon, and also do my annual batch of satsuma marmalade.  Working with fresh, local, seasonal, beautiful produce just makes me so thankful to God for the perfect and magical workings of his creation.  Like for instance:  how did God know that during the winter, when immunity is low and disease abounds, that we need extra vitamin C from citrus and the ridiculous antioxidant power of cranberries!?  Fitting for this week of giving thanks.  :)

We are leaving for my sister's on Tuesday, and will take lots of food with us for the trip.  I'm hopeful that the weather will allow us to stop at a nice rest area, stretch, eat lunch, and not be so cooped up.

So the menu will look a little different this week.  I hope you enjoy the change of pace.

Sunday
-- lunch:  chicken salad sandwiches on sourdough with satsumas
-- supper:  pot roast with carrots & kohlrabi, mashed sweet potatoes

Monday
-- lunch:  egg salad sandwiches on sourdough (I've been making it with pepper relish instead of gherkins, and it is to die for), crudite with herbed yogurt dip
-- supper:  acorn squash stuffed with chickpeas and couscous

Tuesday
-- lunch:  on the road.  I'm packing veggie beef soup in a thermos, sourdough bread, raw cheese, apples, and milk for the crew.
-- supper:  We will be at my sister's!  I have no idea, but I hope it's something delicious.

Wednesday and Thursday are at my sister's.

Friday 
-- lunch:  on the road to Valparaiso for a wedding!  We will probably either bring some leftovers to munch, or stop somewhere easy with all four of our kids.
-- supper:   will be the rehearsal dinner for my friends Parth and Julianne, whose wedding I am so so so excited to be officiating.

Saturday
-- lunch:  who knows?  
-- supper:  the WEDDING!




Monday, November 17, 2014

menu plan november iii

We have returned from Retreat!  It was a cold, blustery, awesome time.  The kids love playing up there, and I enjoy having a break from the routine and breathing the fresh mountain air.  We even did a little hiking!

But now we are back to reality.  We are nearing the Thanksgiving holiday, and I'm excited!  We get a big shipment of 8 pounds of organic cranberries this Thursday, and I am so pumped to make cranberry sauce with natural sweeteners and can it up to take to my sister's!

So, down to the nitty gritty.  Here's what we're eating!

Some notes:  we literally always have one of two things for breakfast if we are at home.


1)  -- scrambled eggs from our Mennonite hens
     -- homemade sourdough toast/English muffins/biscuits
     -- raw butter we have been making from our Mennonite cow cream
     -- local raw honey or homemade preserves
     -- seasonal fruit from our CSA or something I canned like peaches, pears, or applesauce

2) -- pancakes
    -- raw butter
    -- real maple syrup
    -- seasonal fruit

Vicki usually requests #2.  If we have time, I'm happy to oblige.

Since it is so monotonous, I'm not going to put breakfast on the menu plan.

Lunches are pretty much always leftovers.  If I do some actual cooking for lunch, I will put it in the plan.  If not, just assume it's something unexciting.

For drinks, we always have raw milk on hand.  We also drink Berkey filtered water, kombucha, or homemade soda from our ginger bug.  Lately I've been drinking the buttermilk left after butter-making - yum!

Finally, I try to make one dessert-ish item that we nibble on all week for snacks and desserts.  This week I'm making up a batch of brown rice pudding from some leftover rice.

Sunday
-- lunch:  we got away from the Retreat early enough to stop in Manchester
-- supper:  we are bringing an appetizer to Family Dinner.  We have been having a crazy challenge to try to use up this jar of red curry paste . . . long story.  Anyway, we made a red curry peanut dip and brought veggie sticks.

Monday
-- supper:  black bean and sweet potato enchiladas, Spanish rice with spinach

Tuesday
-- supper:  cheeseburgers on sourdough buns with fixings (tomato, onion, homemade ketchup, mustard, homemade kraut, pickle relish), cinnamon sweet potato fries

Wednesday
-- supper:  broiled sesame-soy salmon on a bed of wilted tat soi, steamed rice

Thursday
-- supper:  roast pork loin with apples, roast cabbage wedges and potatoes

Friday
-- supper:  pizza on sourdough crust with homemade mozzarella, ricotta, acorn squash, and pears

Saturday
-- lunch:  chicken tortilla soup



-- supper:  roast chicken, mashed potatoes, callaloo of mustard greens, fried green tomatoes

What are y'all eating?

[This post submitted to Menu Plan Monday and the Homestead Barn Hop 11/17/14.]



Friday, November 14, 2014

todd: 18 months

On November 16, Todd will be 1 1/2 years old!  Where has the time gone?  He is such a delightful child.  Always smiling, always bringing joy wherever he goes.  Here is what he has been doing:


Absolutely loving the new playhouse his Memaw got for him and sis.


Always wanting to ride the "ho-see" as we leave Vicki at her Encore program.


Still rear-facing!  And being a super-cute blondie.


Being lobster man for Halloween. 


Enjoying a visit from Mom at the Stone Soup luncheon at his daycare.


Helping me get ready for a King's Daughters banquet.


Being obsessed with going jogging, and the stroller in general.


Making a pallet to post up with sis on the floor and watch Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.

18 months is such a great age.  I'm enjoying every minute of it, as he grows, adds words and phrases by the day, and learns more independence.





Tuesday, November 11, 2014

my children aren't "exclusive"

Parenting these days isn't for the faint of heart.  At least for those who have the internet at their disposal from the first moment they see two lines on the stick, through the late nights up with the newborn, to the late nights up with the toddler, to the late nights up waiting on the teenager . . . wait, do I sense a theme?  :)

The kids on a pallet watching TV - oh wait, that was something else they weren't supposed to do, right?
Seriously, though - it is just way too easy to ask Google:  "Am I a bad parent?"  "How do I get the baby to sleep?"  "I yelled at my toddler is she ruined forever?"

Parents who didn't have the advantage of Google and 3780340 parenting books seemed to have a lot more peace of mind.  Perhaps they didn't know they were making such monstrous mistakes as not feeding their kids all organic home-pureed baby food.

Kids these days have to be "exclusively" everything, if they want a chance at success.  It starts with birth.  Exclusive medication-free, of course.  Wait, I failed that one.  I had a half-dose of some dope that gave me amazing hallucinations during Vicki's birth.  Then, with Todd, well - no chance for any medication although I would have traded my left brain for some at one point.  Nope, my kids weren't exclusively free of medications at birth.

After birth comes vaccinations.  We have neither followed a standard vaccination schedule, nor refused to vaccinate.  Wait - you mean there's another option than being exclusively pro or anti vaccine!?

Let's not forget cloth diapers.  Well, except for all those times I've used disposable diapers.  Then we can forget them.  But hey, every time I use a cloth diaper, it's one less disposable in the landfill, right?

Next - exclusively breast-fed, naturally.  Except that didn't quite work out for me either.  I nursed them both as much as I could (and still nurse Todd), and recognized that they wouldn't die from being fed formula the rest of the time.  No exclusivity for my combo-fed babies.

Then the sleep training debacle.  Of course, you're either spoiling your kids and defiling your marriage by letting your kids sleep in your bed, or you're abusing your kids by letting them cry in their cribs at night while you pee by yourself for once in your life.  No middle ground here either.  Exclusively attachment parenting or cry-it-out.  Well, I failed on that one too.  My babies sleep with me all the time, except for when Vicki started sleeping by herself when she was six months and she cried a bunch.  Then she slept through the night.  Looks like I failed to be consistent on this point, as well.

When your kids start eating real food, you are bombarded by more alarmist messages:  If you feed them before six months they will be obese!  If you feed them non-organic food they will get autism!  The doctor is telling you to give them gruel with no nutritive value that looks awful.  Once again - I was never able to achieve anything exclusive.  I was the weirdo who pureed coconut oil and chicken stock and homemade yogurt into squash and took it to my kids' daycare.  But I also let them eat my fries soaked in GMO canola oil.  Nope - life is too short to ever leave a French fry behind.

And now that we are through all those hurdles, the lack of exclusivity continues.  Sometimes I yell at my kids.  Mostly I try to hug them.  Very occasionally they get spanked.  I guess this disqualified me from the ranks of the attachment parenting people.  But I also don't discipline them with rods and crazy Biblical teachings, either, so I guess I can't be a part of the Train Up a Child community.

There will be more crossroads in the future.  Someday my kids will choose gender identities and sexual orientations.  I have no idea if they will be exclusively gay or straight.  And that's totally cool with me.  Someday, perhaps, they will choose partners - and I'm sure I will neither love nor hate those people, but have extremely nuanced feelings about them.

See, life isn't about exclusivity.  I hope the one message they are seeing from me, through all of this, is that life is messy and complicated.  People who have doctrinaire stances on these issues are setting themselves and their kids up for hard re-actions.  There isn't much I can be sure of.

But there is one thing.  My children are exclusively loved and protected by God.  They are exclusively inhabited by the Holy Spirit, and held by a community of faith.  God's love for them is perfect and God needs no Google or manual to show how to love children.  So I'm leaving it up to him.  Because obviously I can't get it right!  And I've really quit trying to be so perfect.

Monday, November 10, 2014

menu plan november ii

We have an exciting week coming up!  Friday afternoon we will be leaving for our annual all-church retreat to the gorgeous Beersheba Springs Assembly.  It's a special, sacred place for us.  Jeff and I met just down the road and were married at the Assembly.  Even though our marriage is now over, Jeff and I remain close friends and celebrate the fact that we began our family at that moment in time at the Assembly.  :)

Some notes:  we literally always have one of two things for breakfast if we are at home.


1)  -- scrambled eggs from our Mennonite hens
     -- homemade sourdough toast/English muffins/biscuits
     -- raw butter we have been making from our Mennonite cow cream
     -- local raw honey or homemade preserves
     -- seasonal fruit from our CSA or something I canned like peaches, pears, or applesauce

2) -- pancakes
    -- raw butter
    -- real maple syrup
    -- seasonal fruit

Vicki usually requests #2.  If we have time, I'm happy to oblige.

Since it is so monotonous, I'm not going to put breakfast on the menu plan.

Lunches are pretty much always leftovers.  If I do some actual cooking for lunch, I will put it in the plan.  If not, just assume it's something unexciting.

For drinks, we always have raw milk on hand.  We also drink Berkey filtered water, kombucha, or homemade soda from our ginger bug.  Lately I've been drinking the buttermilk left after butter-making - yum!

Finally, I try to make one dessert-ish item that we nibble on all week for snacks and desserts.  I think this week I will do some frozen yogurt using rhubarb jam I put up over the summer.

Sunday
-- lunch:  I'll bring up a pot roast from the freezer for dinner after church, along with some green beans, roast acorn squash, and stewed collard greens.
-- supper:  Family Dinner!  It's our week for dessert, and I'm still tweaking my pie recipes for Thanksgiving.  I'm bringing this sorghum pumpkin pie with this gingersnap crust.

Monday
-- supper:  fried green tomato sandwiches on sourdough bread with bacon & mayonnaise, homemade potato chips

Tuesday
-- supper:  meatloaf, kohlrabi puree, green beans, whole roasted cauliflower

Wednesday
-- supper:  tuna melts on sourdough with raw cheese, cauliflower & sweet pepper crudite with herbed yogurt dip

Thursday
-- supper:  stir-fried pork loin with bok choi & green peppers, Napa cabbage salad with Asian dressing and crushed peanuts

Friday & Saturday meals will be on retreat!

Enjoy the week.  What are you eating?

[This post submitted to Menu Plan Monday 11/10/14.]

Sunday, November 9, 2014

meatloaf, smeatloaf, double-beatloaf . . .



We're getting into the season for watching A Christmas Story!  My favorite scene is where the mom keeps trying to sit down to eat while her kids and husband continually ask her to get stuff for them from the kitchen.  The narrator says, "My mom hadn't had a hot meal for herself in 15 years."  So true, so true.  I also love when Ricky, the little brother, is complaining about how much he hates meatloaf.

When we bought our half cow last spring (I still have to tell you about that, don't I?), we got a lot of ground beef.  It's sort of the nature of the thing.  Not every part of a cow is fit to be sliced up into steaks.  A lot of it is scrap and bits that need to just be all tossed together and ground up.  In our menu plans, ground beef figures prominently.  We eat it one night a week, usually on Tuesdays.  There are a lot of things you can do with ground beef!  Burgers, Korean beef, chili, hamburger corn pone (this is an amazing Southern dish I will write up soon!), meat sauce for pasta, beef tacos, BBQ beef, shepherds pie, or . . . meatloaf.

I have a few tricks I incorporate into a standard Better Homes & Gardens meatloaf recipe, so check it out:


Classic Meatloaf
2 eggs
3/4 cup milk
1 C breadcrumbs (3/4 C if totally dry, 2 C if totally soft - see below)
1/4 C grated onion
1 T dried parsley (or 3 T fresh)
1 t salt
1/2 t dried oregano (or 1 1/2 t fresh)
1 1/2 lb ground beef
1/2 C ketchup
1/4 C sucanat or brown sugar
2 t yellow mustard

Makes 6-8 servings.

Oven 350 F.

Start by mixing the eggs and milk in a large bowl.


Add the breadcrumbs.  This is a great time to use up that heel of your homemade sourdough loaf, or the cracker crumbles at the bottom of your yogurt dough cracker bag.  If your bread is very fresh and moist, aim for 2 cups of crumbs.  If your bread is stale, aim for 1 cup of crumbs.  If you are using cracker crumbs or the fine breadcrumbs you buy in a canister from the store (which I don't recommend!), do 3/4 cup.  If you are making your own, just whiz it up in the food processor.


Add the onion.  This is one of my tricks.  You never properly cook the onions in a meatloaf, and you don't want to crunch into a big chunk of onion while you're eating.  So grate them on a box grater (I have a little tiny one - isn't it cute?!), and then add the grated onion and juice to the bowl.


Add the parsley, salt, and oregano.




Mix well, then add the ground beef.  Mix it all very thoroughly with your hands.



Now, here is another one of my tricks.  Honestly, my favorite part of the meatloaf is the outer crust glazed with sweetened ketchup.  I want more surface area. I don't use a loaf pan, because it limits my crust.  I also make mine into two loaves, because one again - more surface area for glaze!  So shape your meat mixture into two equally-sized loaves on a baking sheet.


Pop it into a 350 oven for an hour or so, until they read 160 F on a thermometer.  Meanwhile, mix together the ketchup (a great time to use your own homemade ketchup!), sucanat/brown sugar, and mustard.


After the loaves are up to temperature, paint them with the ketchup glaze.  Put them back into the oven for ten more minutes, then let them rest for ten minutes before enjoying!

\[This post submitted to the Homestead Barn Hop 11/10/14, Real Food Wednesday 11/12/14, and Pennywise Platter 11/20/14.]

Friday, November 7, 2014

on prayer

One of my earliest critical questions of the Christianity I was raised in had to do with prayer.  "If God is omniscient, and knows my desires and needs before I even name them, what is the point of praying?  If God is in control, what sway can my little petition have on his will?"

Twenty years later, it's still a great question.  Why do we pray?  Why is prayer, both individual and corporate, such a central facet of the Christian life?

I was recently accepted to a Doctor of Ministry program at Wesley Theological Seminary.  Don't worry, this won't entail any cross-country moves - I'm able to complete this coursework mostly at home, with a few trips here and there.  I will do a whole post soon on this incredibly exciting opportunity that just laid itself in front of me.

Some of the first reading I'm tackling in advance of our January meeting session are Wesley's sermons.  It's so affirming to read his sermons once again.  It reminds me of why I believe what I believe.  Why I am an Arminian.  How convinced I am that "the nature and the name of God" is Love.  How blessed is the assurance of God's mercy and forgiveness toward me - and everyone.



I'm reading through some of his series on the Sermon on the Mount.  He has one whole sermon just on the Lord's Prayer.  As I read it this afternoon, these words spoke to my heart:

"So that the end of your praying is not to inform God, as though he knew not your wants already; but rather to inform yourselves, to fix the sense of those wants more deeply in your hearts, and the sense of your continual dependence on him who only is able to supply all your wants.  It is not so much to move God - who is all the more ready to give than you to ask - as to move yourselves, that you may be willing and ready to receive the good things he has prepared for you" (John Wesley's Sermons:  An Anthology, 227-8).

Wow!  So prayer is really a kind of spiritual training, a conditioning.  It's an exercise we do to grow our spiritual muscle, so that we can be made worthy of the gifts that God will give us.  It's a training to more clearly discern what are needs are, and to see those opportunities around us where our needs may be met.  This makes so much sense to me!

Thursday, November 6, 2014

making mozzarella

Cheese.  Glorious, homemade, creamy, cheese from grass-fed cows living a perfect Mennonite life.  Dudes, it just doesn't get better than this.

We get a gallon of milk from our farmer every week, rain or shine.  Because my kids are little, we struggle to drink the full gallon each week and usually have between 1 and 2 quarts left.  I refuse to dump it, so it either becomes yogurt, ice cream, or cheese.

My friends Parth and Julianne gave me a stupendous gift for my birthday this year -a cheese-making kit!   It had everything I need to make ricotta, ricotta salata, mozzarella, and burrata.  Do you know the joy of making a lasagna in which every item has been made from scratch, including the cheese?  It's an intense amount of joy.  Ricotta is easy and fast, and ricotta salata is easy but takes time to cure.  Mozzarella, on the other hand, is a little bit hard.  There are some elements to it that are sort of like bread-baking - you just have to do it over and over and then you know.  But I promise that it's worth it.  The taste just doesn't compare to what you can buy at the grocery store.

Let's get started, huh?  Cheese awaits us.


Cast of characters:  a half-gallon of good milk.  Doesn't have to be raw, but use the best-quality whole milk you can find.  Citric acid, calcium chloride, and rennet can all be found at cheese-making supply stores, or ordered online.  I've also found that a lot of brewing-supply shops carry cheese-making stuff.  If you're local to Nashville, All Seasons Brewing on 8th Ave. S. has everything.  And salt!



Start by putting the cold milk in a pot and adding 1 mL of calcium chloride, along with 1 t citric acid diluted in 2 T cool filtered water.



Heat the milk gently over medium, stirring constantly, until it reaches 32 C.  Have ready 1 tablet vegetable rennet dissolved in 2 T cool filtered water.  Having a good thermometer is essential!


When the milk reaches 32 C, add the rennet and stir briefly to dissolve.  Then cover the milk and let it sit for 30 minutes or so, until the curd is firmly set.  You can tell this by cutting into it slightly with a knife.  If it makes a clean cut, you are ready to go.  If not, leave it for awhile longer.


If the curd is ready, use a long knife to cut it into a checkerboard pattern.


Then place the curds back over medium heat, stirring constantly, until they reach 42 C.  They will change in texture during this time and become more stretchy and pulled-together.

Once the curds reach 42 C, dump them into a colander lined with cheesecloth, an old clean pillowcase, or a floursack towel.  Save some of the discarded whey if you are wanting to store your cheese after it's done.


Let the curds drain while you prepare your stretching water and your ice water.  Rinse out the pot you heated the curds in and fill it with fresh water.  Heat that water to 70 C and then remove it from heat.  While it heats, fill a medium bowl with cold water and add some ice and salt.


Okay, stretching.  This is really the tricky part.  I use rubber gloves because that hot water is really a little too hot for comfort.  Gather your curds together into one mass, and dip it into the hot water.  Leave it for about 10 seconds.  Pull it out of the water and begin stretching it like taffy.  Hold it with one hand and use the other to pull it away from you like a slingshot.  When it starts breaking rather than stretching, dip it back into the hot water for another 10 seconds.  Keep repeating this process of stretching and heating until it stretches smoothly and looks glossy.  Start stretching it into a ball by making a small circle with your fingers and palm and forcing it through the opening.  Try not to roll it, but rather mold it into a ball.  Once it is properly stretched and molded, drop it into the ice water.  Leave it there for 10 minutes or so, then it is ready to serve!  If you wish to store it, add a pinch of citric acid to the reserved whey and keep the cheese submerged in that in the refrigerator.

Yum!  I seriously have trouble not just slicing up this whole thing and eating it plain.


It will still have quite a lot of the natural moisture of the milk still in it, so if you want to grate it, it needs to be pressed and dried a bit first.  I tend to preferred it sliced rather than grated.  This mozzarella is an absolute essential to our Friday pizza nights.  I hope you enjoy it as much as we do!

[This post submitted to Real Food Wednesday 11/4/14 and Pennywise Platter Thursday 11/5/14.]