Saturday, March 31, 2012

SPRING BREAK: the test

There is a phone call I have been avoiding.  For weeks now, I should have scheduled a re-enrollment appointment at Ivory's school.  When our family advocate called, I quickly told her I would have to discuss the matter with my husband (not a lie: I really did have to talk to him) and when I run into her I assure her that I will contact her soon.  For the past year Ivory has been attending Head Start four mornings a week, while Sylvan and I are left to our own devices.  

A few days ago I received a survey from the program and the last two questions were:  What are three things the program is doing well?  What are three things that need improvement?  Well, the play ground equipment is nice....  as I thought about it, gingerly pecking out my answers on the keyboard, it just became so much more apparent that Head Start is just a bad fit. I have been wrestling with mixed emotions for weeks now. Ivory seems to love the program, but it is a bad fit for me.  I feel guilty about the food she is eating as it is of lower quality and lacking of the heart and soul of food she would be making and eating at home.  I haven't found a community among other Head Start parents like the one I have been able to find within our own neighborhood.  And most of all, I just can't justify sending her off to school every morning when we could just as well be hanging out at home.  Her spot could go to some other child whose mom doesn't have the opportunity to stay home.
Sylvan spends a good portion of his time while she is at school, standing on his tip toes looking out of the window saying: "Ivory, Ivory?"  They do have such a fun time together.  Sure, there is pushing and yelling and fighting, but there also is lots of laughter. 

So we started spring break off right.  Ivory and I jumped into the car just as soon as Adam got home from work.  We picked up so many books I could hardly manage to carry them to the car.  Some for Adam, some for me and a whole lot of books for Ivory.   This week is a test run, and it never hurts to be prepared.
There are a few projects that I have been yearning to do with the kids and today we managed to tackle a few of them.  First up - Sour Dough Doughnuts:  our first expedition into the realm of home made doughnuts.

A slightly sour, mostly sweet, irresistible dough was rolled and cut into shapes, while both Ivory and Sylvan steadily snatched tiny pieces of dough.  Rows of hearts rose on the kitchen table while Ivory and Sylvan played.

Someday, I will come up with the perfect combination of doughnut, maple glaze and bacon, but for now this will have to do.

While Sylvan and Ivory napped, I sat behind the sewing machine for a few moments to hem a dress I sewed for Ivory.  Both dresses are made entirely from linen and cotton woven shirts, and are my most recent attempt to make something new from old in the quest of finding an unending use for dress shirts.

While Sylvan and I started chopping vegetables for dinner, Ivory intently worked on a project of her own:  painting the doors that will fit over the nesting boxes of our new chicken coop.

While the soup simmered away on the stove, I sat down next to her to retrace all of the pencil lines with black paint.  She excitedly hugged my arm: "Thank you for painting black on the chicken!"  
"Ivory, if you want me to outline the chicken you have to quit hugging my arm."
"I know."
A few moments later she squeezes my arm again: "Thank you for coloring the sun.  I love you."
"I love  you too, but you have to quit hugging my arm."

Tomorrow we are going to go visit baby goats... and hopefully by the end of spring break I will feel confident that keeping her home is not only the right choice for me, but also for her.  ( I REALLY should make that phone call.)

Monday, March 26, 2012

Nurturing my Love

I have been neglecting the beet.
More truthfully, I have been neglecting writing about the beet.
I have been cooking beet dishes a few times a month, whether it be borscht, or roasted beets with chevre and walnuts or simply an assortment of roasted fall vegetables.  I have even been photographing them, but some where between moving the images from my camera and actually writing about it, it just seems like too much time has passed.

I am eating beets right now.
Now is the time to write.

I am eating the few left overs from my new favorite beet recipe that I found between the covers of a book entitled Plenty; One Man, One Woman and a Raucous Year of Eating Locally.  I admit I was skeptical.  It only calls for five ingredients and three of those are disliked in my family.  Beets are marginally disliked by my husband, blue cheese is marginally disliked by me, and mashed potatoes which often are left uneaten by Ivory.  I tried the recipe anyway.

Potato Amuse Bouche
1 large Beet, Peeled
1 large Mashing Potato, pared and cuped
3 Tbsp Blue Cheese
1 Tbsp Unsweetened Applesauce
1 Tbsp Butter
Slice beets into 1/4 inch rounds.  Steam until tender throughout and set aside.  Boil potato until soft.  Strain, reserving 1 cup of cooking liquid.  Mash with blue cheese, adding cooking liquid as needed to achieve a creamy consistency.  Spoon balls of potato mixture onto a cookie sheet and roast on the highest rack in the oven until golden.  Meanwhile, melt butter in a small saucepan and stir together over low heat. Cut beet slices into triangles or hearts, or leave as rounds.  Place a potato ball in the middle of each beet slice.  Drizzle with apple butter.  Serve in the center of a very large place, alone and a little heart breaking. 

I loved it, and to my delight, so did the remainder of the family.
The first time I tried this recipe, the only change I made was doubling the quantities.
The second time around, I used half potato and half sweet potato.
I make as much of the apple butter sauce as needed, sometimes I even make more in the middle of the meal.  I love cracking open the jars of apple sauce I canned last fall.  The sauce is tart and bright.  Every time I take a taste I remember shaking the apples off the tree while Ivory and Sylvan sat on a blanket and then Ivory rushed around to pick up the fallen treasures.  We finish the remainder of the applesauce as dessert.
Adam sprinkles extra little crumbs of blue cheese on his plate.

Both times that I have carried out the serving plate laden with the beautiful deep red disks topped with golden potato balls drizzled in an equally golden sauce Ivory has proclaimed:  "Yuck, that looks gross".  Soon after, she sits there her plate and mouth still full, waving her fork frantically at the serving platter in the center of the table:  "Mama and Papa, don't eat those.  I want them".  Only after I assure her that there is a whole other plate waiting to be eaten in the kitchen does she allow us to eat seconds.

More beets are sitting in the fridge, waiting to be roasted, pealed and tossed into a bowl filled with mixed salad green, orange slices, toasted walnuts and feta cheese.   I can smell the scent of roasting beets wafting through the  house all ready, or it could just be the beets I'm eating.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Kid Approved Creamy Carrot Soup

I have been trying, like many other mothers out there, to incorporate more fresh fruits and vegetables into our day. The promise of summer and the soon to come gardening season leaves me yearning for fresh produce. My shopping trips have resulted in boxes brimming with kale, beets, carrots, sweet potatoes, celery, potatoes, cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, spinach, lettuce, avocados, onions, apples, pears, bananas, and strawberries. As I stash them all away in my kitchen, I admit that I feel just a little guilty as I briefly consider just how far some of these item have traveled to find their way into my kitchen. I brush the thought away: “Soon it will be summer and I can buy most things locally.”
My husband's shopping trips result in some other items finding their way into our kitchen. He had to return an item to ACE, which happens to be right next door to Albertson's, and I asked him to pick me up a few apples for the cookies I was making. He brought back apples, but also several different varieties of chocolate, flour tortillas (with hydrogenated oils), and I was slightly surprised that there was no ice cream. (This is the primary reason I do the grocery shopping.)
Thankfully, I forgot about the chocolate until today, and I will admit that I just shoved four pieces of chocolate into my mouth in quick succession, as I am sitting here drinking my much needed cup of coffee. Magically, Sylvan, Ivory and our little friend Sadie, who is one and a half and came to hang out with us today, are all fast asleep upstairs. I wish I could be fast asleep upstairs.
The six hours of sleep, (last night it was probably closer to four), I have been getting this last week are starting to wear on me a little. It is the last week of my ceramics class and I am trying desperately to at least finish one more sculpture and to throw just a few more mugs and bowls. On top of that, I decided at the beginning of the month to enter the Bathing Beauties Bead Challenge 2012, not considering the unfortunate timing of the deadline. I spent last night looping embroidery floss around the edges of fabric and sewing on the random, and boy, do I mean random, assortment of beads that were provided in the bead challenge kit. To top it all off, Sylvan has been waking up, just when I finally crawl into bed, screaming hysterically and then nursing the remainder night, which makes sleeping just a little challenging. It didn't occur to me until this morning that maybe his belly is not approving of the avocados that I have been putting into his smoothies. I know the keifer, blueberries, bananas and spinach are fine... but the avocado?? All this leaves me sneaking chocolate and sipping my mug of coffee.
But, all this is side tracking me from subject of incorporating more vegetables into our daily routine. While I cleaned up the kitchen, folded laundry and pondered to what to do with my five pound bag of carrots, and then fixed lunch Ivory snacked on orange slices and carrot sticks and the creamy carrot soup I eventually set on the table for lunch was warmly received and seconds were demanded. I based the recipe on one I found on the internet, but since I lacked some of the ingredients I worked with what I had in my fridge. Here it is the result:

Creamy Carrot Soup

5 cups sliced carrots
2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp flour
3 cups water
1 vegetable bouillon cube
2 cups of milk
3 ounces of cream cheese
  • Slice 5 cups of carrots and steam them. Fold two loads of laundry. Check on carrots, turn them off if they are soft, set them aside and let them cool a little.
  • Melt the butter, add the flour, water and bouillon.
  • Add the milk and cream cheese, stir until the cream cheese is mostly melted (do not boil).
  • Add the carrots and parsley, basil, salt and pepper to taste. I like a lot of parsley and basil.
  • Blend it all with an immersion blender. Done.

The only thing that would have made this lunch better is if I had thought of making a quick loaf of Cuban Bread to go with it.

I haven't managed to think about dinner yet. There are beets, spinach, sweet potato and potatoes waiting for me, but before then I still have to drop off my beaded swag at Bathing Beauty, pick up some blue cheese, fold a few loads of laundry and maybe go to the park.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

First Day of Spring

It is the first day of spring. Out side of the window the chickens are still rooting around in the grass.
Sylvan is asleep in my arms. He has been curled up there for the last five minutes, and those are the first continuous minutes of sleep he has had all day. He fell asleep on my hip while I was cooking dinner but refuses to be put down at all. A mysterious fever has been plaguing him, into which even the Dr. had no insight.

Ivory is puttering around in the dining room, setting up a picnic in front of the furnace for her droves of imaginary children and class mates. The toys are steadily spreading out from their shelf on the living room through the dining room and stop at the kitchen door.
I am sitting in the corner of the living room curled up in our blue arm chair – waiting.
We are all waiting for Adam to come home from work. The longer days, often mean longer and often unpredictable hours. He came home late from work yesterday too, dinner and bed time baths were done and bed time stories well on their way before he walked into the door. Tonight my phone rang as I was putting the finishing touches on dinner, and I was told that they had just loaded the tractor on the trailer and then they were heading home. I have no idea what his arrival time will be, but tonight we are waiting.
Ivory has something she wants to show him.
In between school and the afternoon doctor's visit we dirtied every pot we own, filling one with eggs and the others with water, spices, spinach, grape juice, and beet syrup from last falls pickled beets.

(Instructions can be found at Two Men and A Little Farm - thank you, Ellen, for sharing this with me!)
Ivory carefully dropped the hard boiled white store bought eggs into the mason jars filled with brightly colored steaming liquids.

First the yellow ocher of turmeric water, then the strained spinach water, the grape juice with a few squished blueberries, the beet juice and the deep red of chili powder.
I gave up on the strained spinach water, not seeing results as fast or dramatic as I would have liked... and feeling a little silly for trying to dye eggs green when our chickens lay the most beautiful blue and green eggs I could possibly desire.
The turmeric water turned the eggs a brilliant yellow almost instantly.
The grape juice yielded a beautiful lilac gray.
Ivory's favorite were the bright pink eggs that came out of the beet syrup that I poured off of a jar of beets I pickled last fall.

Even Sylvan was a little excited as he shoved slice after slice of pickled beet into his mouth.

The eggs in the chili pepper water we left to soak while I cleaned the kitchen and we all loaded in the car for a quick visit to the doctors office. On our return, Ivory rushed into our house, pulling the eggs out of the chili water and the earthy orange that resulted is beautiful, (but also awfully similar to the color of brown some of our little ladies lay).

Now, there are a dozen colored eggs sitting in the fridge, waiting for a proud three year old to parade them across the kitchen and show them to her daddy on this blustery first day of spring.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Ides of March

March has been a whirl wind of activity.
During the first week of March we fired the soda kiln at The Clay Studio. I excitedly waited for Sunday afternoon, when we would finally unbrick the door and reveal our wares.

 “It is just like Christmas” one person after the other exclaimed. I would liken it more to Prom. The excitement, the getting ready, and then on date night, well, you never know how it might turn out. The dress was perfect, the date – hot, the dancing was fun, but the good night kiss was all wrong. I pulled bowls and mugs out of the kiln. Unsure of whether or not I actually liked anything. The slips and glazes are new to me, the soda process different from the salt firing I have experience with and I actually attempted to try a few new things (stamping and pleating bowls). My stamps got lost in the glaze; the mugs are, well, functional; the cup, bowl and plate sets I made for Sylvan and Ivory are cute; but the only things I like with certainty are my pleated bowls.

My dad and step-mom came to visit. The weather was fabulous the entire time they were here. We walked around Missoula, sipped coffee and ate great food. For the first time in two years, I strapped my snow board to my feet and rode an incredible feeling of happiness the entire way down the mountain. Ivory had her first ski lesson! 

Adam and I even let ourselves be relieved of the usual bed time routine and actually went out on a date! I put on a dress, leggings, cute shoes and even mascara. And we rushed out the door to see G-Love and Special Sauce. My feet and hips refused to stand still! I had almost forgotten that I love, love, love to dance.
The day that my parents left was sunny and warm and we spent it mulling around in our yard.

I dug in the soil, mounding up dirt.
Ivory eyed it hopefully: “ Mama, can I get my pants dirty”.
“Oh, thank you mama”, she exclaimed and clamored onto the heap.
She then proceeded to ask me about each additional item of clothing and then her feet, her legs her knees and by the end she was sitting there, barefoot, her pants scrunched up her thighs gleefully rubbing dirt everywhere.
And then, well it got cold again, I spent an entire day cleaning the mud that was tracked though the dining room, kitchen, and bathroom.
We have reached the ides of March and I am listless.
Daylight savings time has knocked the napping routine off of it's usual course. Ivory and Sylvan are hopelessly out of sync. While Ivory naps, I try to get a few long standing projects done and moved out of the way. I have finally mended the stack of clothes that has been sitting on my desk for a length of time that is too embarrassing to mention. I have finally sewn the green and orange and brown patterned patches of fabric together that will soon be a coat rack (more to come on this project) and, maybe by the time we no longer need our heavy winter coats, it will be finished. The entire time I working I am rushing back and forth across the room, because Sylvan can climb my chair faster than I can do anything. He happily grabs the knobs on my sewing machine, the scissors, the pins, leans over the chair trying to pull the push pins out of my pin board. Somehow, he has not yet fallen or eaten a pin, but today I gave up. I flipped the chair back up on the table, folded my not-even-half-sewn-apron back up, put it back on the desk and stared lost around the house.

I pick up my oh-so-tired, but defiantly awake and chipper one year old and take him outside to check on the chickens. I pull a blue egg out of the nesting box. Sylvan cries as we walk back into the house reaching for the outside.
Just as soon as Ivory wakes up the four of us pile into the car and drive to go check on one of our favorite mushroom spots – Adam's idea – we know that there will be nothing there. We slosh through puddles, gingerly step across a few icy spots, peek under logs, collect a few pine cones, enjoying the slight evening chill, but also very eager for Spring.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Sylvan: His Birth Story

     He squats down, the blue dust pan in hand and smashes it into the pile of dog hair, dirt and crushed cheerios on the kitchen floor. Grinning he pushes the pile around the floor as if saying: “look Mama, I am helping you.” Just a few moments later he is sitting smack dab in the middle of the kitchen table both hands in the pie pan filled with crushed corn chex I am using to bread chicken legs. “Look Mama, I can help you”. We begin our up and down ritual that consists of me setting him on the ground and him climbing back up faster than I think should be possible. I set him back down, hugging him close, not using my hands because they are covered in raw chicken juice.
     It almost seems impossible that Sylvan was born just a little over a year ago. Last year, this fast as lightning, climbing, running forward and gingerly stepping backward, full of hugs and kisses snuggly little guy was a wrapped up little cocoon hiding under my coat from winter snow.

     Sylvan was born around 5:00 am the morning after the Superbowl. The house at which we watched the game was at the top of a steep driveway. After our car started sliding back down the hill, Ivory and I piled out and walked up in the snow while Adam backed the car down to a flat surface and parked. Briefly I allowed myself to wonder what exactly would happen if I went into labor and decided just not to worry. The Superbowl only being a significant factor because watching it involved over indulging in plates of delicious home made Mexican food, chips and salsa and giant dips of guacamole and a super late bed time for Ivory.
     As my due date approached I had grown increasingly anxious. I had decided not to take any refresher child birth courses, I was forced to stop going to my yoga class since every time my head even approached being lower than my stomach I had horrible heart burn and my breathing exercises I had dedicatedly done prior to Ivory's birth... well had not happened regularly since most of my time was consumed by chasing around a two year old. The confidence and trust in my body that I had gained after Ivory's birth felt fragile. So instead I just gave myself the usual pep talk: “I've done this. My body is made to do this.”
     Around 2:30 in the morning I woke up, got out of bed and turned the bathroom light on. I paced into the living room, squatted in front of the furnace and waited for the contractions to just go away, deliberating whether to wake Adam or to call the midwife. Why wake everyone if this was a false call? I woke Adam and he called the midwife. After a few questions to which he had no good answers he handed the phone to me. My side of the conversation went something like this: “My contractions started 10 minutes ago... hold on... okay, I had two since I started talking to you... I am supposed to remind you I have quick labors.. We will see you in 20 minutes.”
     We pulled Ivory out of bed, grabbed the bag I actually had packed this time, food out of the freezer and drove across town. I remembered just how much I hated sitting in the car while in labor. My feet pressing into the floor board, my body willing itself into any position other than sitting. I was so grateful for the completely deserted roads. We had never made it across town so quickly. When we pulled into the parking lot, there was our midwife, shoveling the drive and walk in anticipation of our arrival.
     It wasn't until the midwife checked me that she grudgingly agreed that it looked like we were going to have a baby tonight. The water started filling the tub in the birthing room. Ivory climbed into it eagerly and splashed around while it filled. I eyed it warily not sure if I wanted to get into the water after all. It just looked so wet. Adam donned a pair of swim trunks and I finally decided to get into the tub. The warm water surrounded me and it was wet, but also utterly relaxing. Ivory poured water on my back and when she got tired of it, she climbed out, put on dry clothes and went out to play with a friend who had driven over to watch her.

     I toned my way through contractions, relishing the opportunity to be an active participant in this birth and cursing the Mexican food that was giving me a killer heart burn. Ivory happened so fast, that I never actively pushed, but that is another story for another day. When I felt that I was just procrastinating, and that Adam and I were getting tired (of waiting really) I gritted my teeth, pushed this baby into the world and screamed in close succession. Adam leaned forward and exclaimed: “It's a boy”. And then I had this tiny blue body laying on my chest, turning just a little more red with every breath. Ivory came back into the room and somewhere on the periphery of my vision someone offered her the chance to cut the umbilical cord. She declined, and so Adam cut him free of me.

     A little while later, while food was heating up in the kitchen, we all were cuddled in a giant bed, all of us tired and serenely happy. This was briefly interrupted, when Sylvan finally latched on and tired to nurse. Waves of nausea, rather than pain exactly, washed over me and I quickly relented and took the offered pain medication.

     By the time the birth center opened for it's daily business, our midwife had gone home to take a shower and we were driving back across town in the busy morning traffic. The drive home took forever, but as soon as we arrived home, we bundled up in our winter coats and giddily walked across the neighborhood showing our newest little addition to anyone who was around. And then all four of us crashed on the bed.. well, Adam, Ivory and Sylvan did. I extracted myself of the pile of bodies. I couldn't sleep, although I have no recollection of what it is I did instead.

     Sylvan's first steps, his first word (happy), his first tooth and his first birthday are all already behind us. He has grown into a delightful little personality that is full of affection, humor and perseverance. While I, at times grudgingly, drag myself out of bed to change his diaper and pull him into bed with me in the middle of the night, I also find myself already dreading the morning that his warm little body is not curled into mine and we wake up in our separate beds.