Monday, August 17, 2015

Our Trashed Kitchen

Yes, I'm talking about it.  It's trashed pretty much all the time.  I really wish my kitchen fairy wasn't on an extended vacation.  She may just get the book thrown at her.

Fairy house that Holly built
Scratch cooking/crafting/creating 98% of our menu takes an enormous amount of time, so much so that we feel like we predominantly live in our kitchen.  We constantly have a pile (or mountain) of dirty & clean dishes.  It’s not unheard of for us to run the dishwasher 2-3 times a day, although you wouldn’t know it.  It’s a well hidden secret!  My recovering type A self, dreams of going to bed with a sparkly, clean kitchen & being able to walk into breakfast prep without having to wash dishes first or empty & reload the dishwasher so we can sit at the table to eat like civilized people.  But alas, my magic wand is MIA with that damn fairy.  What's one to do?

Having that sparkly kitchen is actually attainable, but I’ve also come to realize that there is only so much time & energy in a day.  And my family needs me, too.  So on the day that I planned to try catching up on dishes & laundry muttering not-so pleasant things to that good for nothing fairy, it didn’t happen.  Ivan wanted to play Philadelphia in a Box.  Constantly striving for balance, I did work on the kitchen & laundry for a couple hours and then we played.  In the past, a game would usually take around 30 minutes.  So, I thought it’d be a great break for my aching body & double as some quality time.  Then back to chores.  At least, that’s how I thought it would go.

Yeah, not so much.  Holly decided she wanted to “play”, which shocked me because it’s a pretty mellow & sedentary activity for her liking.  A recipe for disaster.  She was the designated money handler for Ivan and go between for the bank & me.  Our game lasted for 5 hours… 

That’s right, 5 - count ‘em 5 hours, with only a break for lunch & pit stops.  I sense a mischievous fairy at work here!  And I had to put my foot down about eating lunch because I know the hell that skipping meals causes for all of us.  Wasn’t about to deal with that.  After the first hour of play, I felt impatient & debated doing things to “help” the game come to an end.  I mean, I had to.  Didn’t I?  If there was any hope of that sparkly kitchen… that wouldn’t last 10 minutes…. wait til I get my hands on that fairy.

As the impatience washed over me, I took a deep breath and refocused.  The kids were working together… peacefully for over an hour.  That’s no small feat.  Ivan was plotting, planning, doing math & practicing uber patience with Holly’s slower than he liked pace with the money handling.  Holly found the perfect niche to participate and kept at it for an eternity (in a 4 year old’s eyes).  Absolutely, positively no way was I going to mess this up for a clean kitchen.  Fairy sabotage, I'm tellin' ya.

Now, I’m sure you’re wondering what all of this has to do with the kitchen.  I’m getting to it.  Promise…


Maintaining balance is a complex, moving target every day.  We routinely feel like we have at least 3 days worth of stuff to get through every day.  When one of us is feeling under the weather, we get even more behind, but to our amazement it all gets done.  Ok, well that’s a stretch.  It never ALL gets done.  Lazy fairy.  But somehow, what absolutely needs to get done, does.  Part of it is letting go.  Part is refocusing and part is constantly reprioritizing.  And viola - it gets done.  So, that day turned out perfect, the way it needed to… nurturing our familial bonds.  And now, today is the day for nurturing our bodies.

Crafting our menu by scratch was born out of necessity to work around a boatload of allergies and now is so engrained, I actually look forward to the ability to create something new.  Well… new to us or reinvented.  <Insert pixie dust>  Something as simple as vanilla extract is a luxurious treat.  While it’s incredibly easy to make, we’ve needed to focus on basic staples for years.  Because let’s face it, vanilla extract, spices, herbs and the such, while awesome flavor enhancers to menus, they just aren’t necessary to sustain life.  I’m thrilled that we’ve reached a point that we can be decadent, sprinkling pixie dust where we please.  And the kids love to help from picking out herbs & medicinals to add to our garden that they helped design to menu planning for the week using what we have available.









Sometimes.


When the mood strikes.  Some days I kinda wish it didn’t hit because it really slows things down.  Some days we just can’t be slowed down & still function.  At least, that’s how I used to think.  Then, it dawned on me that the kids attitude towards food is directly mirrored by the vibe that Al and I exude.  If we approach it like a chore, which on some days let’s face it, it really is, the kids just aren’t content.  Whenever we feel like we’re in a rut, it shows.  And on the flip side, if we approach food prep with gusto, the kids pick up on that vibe & can’t wait to join us no matter how mundane it seems.  I know you're singing it - Hi ho, hi ho, it's off to work we go (whistling all the way).

Today’s list wasn’t a fun one, exactly.  I had pounds of pears to go through that sat in a bag on the floor for a week because I just couldn’t get to them.  And that damn fairy was nowhere to be found.  I was dreading what would be lurking in the depths.  I also needed to process several ferments so that Holly will eat more than her hot quinoa cereal.  With help, not from any fairy mind you, we filled our ferment counter with half a gallon of cauliflower/turnip/carrots, 3 pints of garlicky radishes, a quart of purple sauerkraut and half a gallon of pear scraps for vinegar.  We cooked down around 5 quarts of pear sauce, straining off 3 cups of cider.  And the decadence here was being able to add cinnamon.  It smells divine after not using it for 8 years.  It's what I imagine pixie dust smells like.  As soon as the kids smelled it, they were salivating.  And guess who had clean plates for dinner so they could have dessert, also a rare occurrence!

We cooked 2 cups each of quinoa & rice for eating and in preparation of making more things tomorrow.  I’ve also got cucumbers, okra & watermelon to process… tomorrow.  And the kids are anxious to help me make banana muffins and coffee cake for the week.  Even though having little helpers slows the process down, it’s so worth it.  And here’s why…





They are learning the importance of healthy eating; allergy awareness & avoidance; appreciation for where food comes (mostly local), including the treasures from our own yard; math, science, language arts, and so much more.  Being involved in their food makes them more invested and that is absolutely priceless.


And just in case you’re wondering - yes, my kitchen is a disaster zone as I sit here typing with an aching body from head to toe at nearly midnight.  There’s more work to do & clean up.  But, I’m gonna focus on the facts that Al made dinner tonight after spending most of the day working on our schoolhouse, my kids pitched in without being asked and I’m actually mostly okay with my kitchen being trashed simply because it shows me just how much love goes into feeding our family.  And maybe... just maybe that damn fairy will find her way back while we're sleeping.



Monday, February 23, 2015

Egg Geodes - Dino Egg Week

When I was surfing for ideas to tie together a theme with Ivan's inquiry about whether dinosaurs or eggs came first, I was stoked to find egg geodes.  This is such a beautiful way to wrap up the unit and had great potential.  Ivan loves gemstones, patterns, mixing colors and doing experiments.

We started by prepping the eggs; gently tapping loose an end to empty the shell & rinse it out.  We ended up getting some really stubborn eggs.  It took us over half an hour to scrape the membranes loose from the shell with many breaking up too much to use.

While I finished up prepping the shells, Ivan got busy concocting the colors he wanted to use.  We happened to have regular food dye and neon colors so he came up with some cool combos; apricot & mint green, raspberry & orange sunset and dusty rose & turquoise.  He mixed the colors in separate bowls so we could then add in the water and salt mediums.  We used sea salt, rock salt and borax.  With the 3 color/salt combos, we poured 2 shells of each type.

We watched the shells morph over 7 days.  As the days passed, the crystallization progressed with all shells.  Water evaporation went much slower with the borax shells.  As the salt passed through the shells to crystallize on the outside, the colors also passed through.  We were surprised to see that the color combos actually separated.  By the third day, the sea salt & rock salt shells water was pretty much gone.  The borax shell had water in it until day 6.  Even though the water seemed to be gone, the crystallization continued on the sea salt & rock salt.  At first, we were bummed to not see much happening with the borax shells.



This is our beginning picture of the shells filled with dyed salt waters.



We checked on the shells after a couple hours and were really surprised to see some crystallization already happening with the sea salt ones.  You can see the colors separating already.



After 2 hours, the rock salt & borax eggs hadn't changed.



Look at all those crystals on day 6!



More awesome crystals mostly around the edge and in different spots.




Hardly any crystals - ho hum...



Geodes cracked open for better look.  Striped colors amazed us!



More beauty with colors morphing.  Very little apricot showing & where'd that purple come from?



While seemingly ho-hum from the outside, cracking open the borax proved to be worth the wait.  So gorgeous and most like a real geode.


As Ivan so aptly noted, just goes to prove that you can't judge a book by it's cover.  And first impressions can be wrong.  And the best - there can be more to the "story" than what we can see or understand unless we take the time to dig deeper.  I know, right!  How freaking awesome is it that he's tied all this life stuff together.   I couldn't have dreamed how beautifully this unit would pull together or the scope of learning that would happen.




Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Walking on Eggs... Not Shells!

We've all heard the cliché of walking on eggshells.  But, have you ever actually walked on eggs?  We did during our Dino Egg Week.  The kids were a bit apprehensive thinking that surely the eggs would break under their weight.  I mean, we frequently tell them to be careful with eggs in the kitchen... almost daily.  And yes, we tried this outside.  Yeah, yeah, I know.  I wasn't taking any chances with an ill-placed foot.

Ready to walk...



Focused on the feet to see if there's any breakage.  So far, so good!





Holly was determined and a wee bit frustrated that her eggs wouldn't break.



Ivan was just confounded, even though he understood the why behind it.



Ivan decided that I needed to have a turn because with more weight there'd be more pressure and hopefully some breakage.  I was so ready to show him the weight wouldn't matter.



And it shouldn't have, but dangit... one of my eggs wasn't positioned right.  Ivan was thrilled that I broke an egg.  He called Holly back over to see & they laughed hysterically.


So, why is it that we must be so careful with raw eggs when handling them yet we can walk on them if placed on end?  Do you know?



Monday, February 16, 2015

Lemon Curd Poke Cake

This is a rich, decadent cake.  I've got a major sweet tooth and a small piece is very satisfying!  Bonus points - it's deceptively nutritious with the quinoa.  Hope you enjoy it as much as we are.




Free of; coconut, corn, dairy, gluten, nuts, refined sugar


Cake Ingredients

2 1/3 cups flour mix*
1 1/2 cups cooked quinoa
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder (corn free)
1/2 teaspoon salt
7/8 cup (7 ounces) raw honey
2/3 cup Light EVOO (or oil of choice)
2 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons pure maple syrup (or vanilla)
1/2 cup water

Directions

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Oil bottom & sides of a baking dish and line with parchment paper.  I used a 7”x9” glass pan.  If using a larger pan or splitting batter between cake pans, adjust down bake time.

Mix together flour, quinoa, baking powder and salt; set aside.  Blend together honey & oil until it’s an even consistency (not separating).  I used an immersion blender for this.  Add eggs & maple syrup to blended mixture and stir until thoroughly mixed. 

Add flour mixture to blended mixture alternately with water, stirring well after each addition.  I did about 1/3 of flour & water each time.  Continue stirring for another minute.

Pour batter in prepared pan. The batter is thick & runny.  Bake 45 to 55 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. 

Cool on wire rack for about 10 minutes.  Poke holes into the top of cake.  I used the butt end of a chopstick.

While the cake’s cooling make up the curd.  You can prep it while the cake bakes, but wait to heat until the cake’s out of the oven.


Lemon Curd Topping

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice (1-2 lemons)
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
1 heavy ounce raw honey (need a splash more than 1 oz.)
4 egg yolks
3 Tablespoons Light EVOO (or oil of choice)


Directions 

Combine all ingredients in a metal bowl over a pot of simmering water (or a double boiler if you’ve got one).  Heat on medium, while stirring constantly with a whisk, until mixture thickens.

If it starts frothing, turn the heat down a bit.  It's done when it’s thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.  Granted with the honey, it’s tricky to tell.  You want a thick layer, not a film.  Remove from heat & pour over cake.  Spread with spatula over top so that it fills holes.  Let cool while eating dinner & then dig in!


Cover & keep in fridge until your tribe polishes it off.

*Flour Mix


  • 1 part Sorghum flour
  • 1/2 part White Rice flour
  • 1/2 part Brown Rice flour
  • 1/2 part Tapioca flour
  • 2/3 part Arrowroot flour




Sunday, February 15, 2015

Dino Eggxcavation

During my hunt for activities to do during our Dinosaur Egg Week to answer Ivan's question about which came first dinosaurs or eggs, I ran across this awesomeness for dino eggs at ABC Does.  Check out their easy recipe using soil and used coffee grounds.  How could your kid not love this?!  Ivan loves to cook and was really intrigued about adding soil to our kitchen... and me encouraging it!  As an extra treat, we baked these up & hid them in the yard while Holly was away from home.


Mixing up dino egg batter with dirt!



Once mixed, check consistency by making egg-shaped balls in hand.  If they crumble, add more water.  The blend of coffee and dirt had my nose totally confused.  And the look... well, it's rather poo-ish, isn't it!






Ivan thought this was hysterical and laughed so hard he could barely see enough to help me add-in the dinosaurs.  You want to find small dinosaurs to fit inside.  Ours were around an inch in length.




Smush the dino into the egg so that it's completely covered.




And they're ready to bake into fossil eggs!




Ivan couldn't wait for Holly to get home so they could be archaeologists.  We happened to pick a rather frigid day for this, but they wouldn't be deterred.  Immune to the cold as only kids are, they went out armed with shovels ready to find the dinosaur eggs.  Ivan's enthusiasm was super contagious.




Holly found her first egg and shrieked so loud in delight!  Ivan thoroughly enjoyed psyching her up & loved her reaction to his surprise for her.




She was so happy with her first egg that she wanted to crack it open right then.  We convinced her to look for more and we saved the cracking for inside.





Ivan was torn between finding eggs and watching how delighted Holly was with her treasure.





Inside & thawed out.  Time to dig in & figure out what's inside.  Holly went at hers with brute force.





Meanwhile, Ivan meticulously excavated his to uncover the "fossils".





Hard at work; concentrating & determined.  And yeah, great way to add cleaning the floor to the agenda.  The bigger the mess, the better!




Holly insisted on giving her dinosaurs a bath and spent the next 20 minutes getting every speck of dirt off so they sparkled.




Our treasures for the day!






Sunday, February 8, 2015

Bouncy Egg

Our Bouncy Egg experiment (aka rubber egg and see through).  The anticipation of being able to bounce a raw egg had the kids on edge for 5 days until we could finally test it out.

Ivan loved being behind the camera taking pictures and videos to log all the progress.


Day 1 - The Beginning as narrated & filmed by Ivan!



4 hours into the vinegar soak, the egg was floating & bubbling like crazy.





Day 2 - The egg is still floating & bubbling.  It seems to have enlarged.




Day 2 - Putting the egg back in after draining the vinegar.  Notice that the shell is almost gone.




After replacing the egg, it was covered with fresh vinegar.  The egg stayed at the bottom instead of floating up & remained sunken until the end of experiment.  Notice the shell bits immediately floating off the egg into the vinegar.



Day 5 - The egg definitely seems larger.  It's filling up most of the bottom of the jar.  The bubbling action from the vinegar eating the shell has stopped.



Pouring the egg out of the jar and it barely fit through the opening!



Holding the egg up to light.  You can see the yolk at the bottom.  The egg felt like a very squishy rubber ball.



After so much anticipation building for 5 days, Ivan got first crack at trying to bounce this egg.  To our amazement, it actually bounced!  He gingerly dropped it from several inches above the table, barely catching it before it rolled off.  Then, he wanted to get a video of Holly bouncing it.  And, as toddlers do, she gave it one good bounce causing it to splat all over the end of the table & floor!


Saturday, February 7, 2015

Fennel Celery Pear Slaw

Our newest concoction nicknamed Yumminess Slaw came about from us being in an adventurous mood and finding a great deal on fennel bulbs.  Until now, we'd only ever used fennel seeds in tea to aid in calming colic when the kids were babies.  Over the summer with Ivan working at our local farmers market, he learned more about the fennel plant.  Did you know that the whole plant from bulb root to flowery end and everything in between is edible?

I didn't.  And it is delicious!  This slaw was inspired by trying to put a twist on a waldorf salad since we can't do a traditional one.  It makes a great light side dish.




Top 8 allergen free, coconut free, nut free, soy free

Ingredients

  • 1 fennel bul, sliced thinly
  • 2-3 stalks of celery, sliced thin
  • 1 large firm pear, sliced thin (Bosc, Comice, Concord do well)
  • 2-3 carrots, sliced thin
  • 1/3 - 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1 TBS olive oil
  • 2 tsp honey
  • juice from 1 lemon wedge (~ 1/4 tsp)
  • dash of salt

Directions

Prep fruit & veggies by washing, peeling & thinly slicing.  Toss in a medium size bowl and set aside. Mix up the dressing - olive oil, honey, lemon juice & salt.  Drizzle dressing over slaw and gently toss.  Serve and enjoy!