Monday, September 24, 2012

3 lbs of Beets, 3 lbs of Kale and 40 lbs of Tomatoes

September is flying past.  
I am trying to soak up the last few days of summer and the first of fall. 
This involves pulling things out of the garden, into my kitchen and preserving food in jars. 
I pulled the largest of my second and third planting of beets, (they were so small, sigh, in spite of the watering), scrubbed them, boiled them and pickled them.  I am trying out a few new canning recipes and using a few of my old standbys. 

Really, this process should not have taken more than a few hours, but some how it took me all day.  By nighttime four ruby red pint jars stood on my kitchen table. This new recipe only contains half a cup of honey..  although, I will admit, that I am going to make a second batch of pickled beets using my old sugar laden recipe because I don't think the kids will be chowing these down with quite as much enthusiasm. 

I picked arm fulls of my blue curly leaf kale.  Running back and forth from garden to kitchen to set the leaves on the scale and go get more.  This is what three pounds of kale looks like.

A giant billowing pile that takes up most of my kitchen table. Once again I underestimated just how long it would take me to process three pounds of kale.  It takes a long time to cut all the center ribs out of three pounds of Kale leaves.  A LONG TIME!
By dinner time seven pint jars of pickled kale, yes, pickled kale, lined my counter and our dinner was also ready.  I pulled up a few more of my skinny beets and a few of the remaining onions and made a caramelized onion, beet, feta and walnut pizza drizzled with balsamic vinegar.

The last few summers, I turned in my Volunteer for Veggies hours for tomatoes at the end of the growing season.  But this summer, I have fewer hours, and the frost a few weeks ago ended the season for all of the field tomatoes at the CSA, so I finally relented and purchased forty pounds of tomatoes from the Missoula Community Food Coop. 

While these forty pounds, were nothing compared to the trunk full of tomatoes I brought home last year, it kept me (and the kids) busy for days.  Sixteen beautiful pint jars of spiced tomato sauce now line my shelves as well as three half pint jars of thicker pizza sauce.
I have washed all the pots, the tomato mill, empty jars are back in their hiding spots and for the moment I am going to take a break of my kitchen and move all of us back into the upstairs.  (Pictures coming soon, I promise.)

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Of Mess and Zen

Pretty, right?  
This is what we had for dinner.  
A wonderfully golden, perfectly crusted tomato quiche.  
A pretty picture.  
There are so many pictures of beautiful, well organized, pristine homes and meals, idilic children's activities, not to mention the many lists of how to make your home run smoother, your budget stretch farther, your kids act better that I often just sit and wonder what it is I am doing wrong.. or right for that matter.

(As I am typing this, I have gotten up five, ten, I really don't know how many times to lay Sylvan back down on his mattress: "Hug. Kiss. Stay laying down.  Good night.  Bye, bye."  As soon as I sit back down his little face is peeking around the corner. And again.)

So, dinner was pretty, but what the picture does not show is that the rest of my house is a mess.

Our upstairs is consolidated into one bedroom, while the walls and floors of the other bedroom are being painted. Everything has been shuffled back and forth four times.  Toys that usually live on the second story are crowding the living room floor. 

It is a GIANT mess.  

(This time I sat him down on the toilet, and then put him back in bed...  I think it might have worked!!!  An hour and a half of putting him back to bed and all I had to do was take Sylvan to the bathroom? Why didn't I think of that earlier?)

A few weeks ago a friend and I were chatting, and she said something that I have been mulling over ever since. I am paraphrasing here, it was a few weeks ago after all: "We aren't living in the fifties anymore.  A woman's worth isn't measured by how well she keeps house." Her observation took me aback, but I instantly saw how incredibly liberating it could be to not link self worth to that unending task of motherhood.  To be able to view the unwashed dishes, the folded but not put away laundry, the half finished projects as something other than personal failure.  I went from college and then graduate school to being a full time stay at home mom, and I often end up feeling like a failure much of the time.  I have no idea what it is I want to do with myself in the future or who I will be when I no longer have a witty little boy on my hip and a outgoing little girl by my side. 

A picture of Mama by Sylvan West
I like my house neat and tidy, but sometimes it just is not going to happen, and that is something I need to learn to accept.  The kids played harmoniously with the doll house nestled in all the dress up clothes, while Adam and I performed the latest dance if shuffling one room into another.  Rather than forcing all the dress up clothes back into their bag, I just left them while the kids made mud pies outside.  They all end up all over the floor again anyway when Ivory decides it is time for her next wardrobe change. So instead I started a load of diapers and made dinner.  

Sure, my living room is still a MESS. 

Sylvan and Ivory are finally both asleep and tonight we will all be on our shoved together mattresses cuddled up in a mound of blankets.  Soon our upstairs will be painted, the furniture back in its place, Ivory's dress up clothes will have a home, and we will no longer be sleeping entangled with little arms and legs (I miss that already).  I will embrace the chaos and try define my self worth by, well myself, and not my housekeeping skills. 

Here is the recipe for the tomato quiche because it really was wonderful:

Tomato Quiche

preheat the oven to 375 degrees F

one pie crust (I make a few at a time and freeze the extra)

  • roll out the pie crust, place in pie pan and bake for 10 minutes

2 cups of sliced tomatoes
1 small onion sliced thinly 
2 sprigs fresh basil 
1 teaspoon salt 
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon sugar
  • mix the above ingredients in a bowl and then add to the baked pie crust

1 cup shredded cheese
  • sprinkle cheese over the tomatoes
2 eggs
2 tablespoons flour
1/3 cup sour cream
2/3 cup milk
  • combine the eggs, flour, sour cream and milk in a bowl and whisk well
  • pour evenly into the pie pan
  • bake for 50 minutes
  • cool 5 minutes before serving 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

DIY: Onion Braids

I have to admit that one of the most frustrating aspects of having purchased a house that requires an immense amount of work, is that while I am capable of performing the tasks, I am most often in the company of two little children and that negates my skills entirely. So, I have to admit that Adam has almost single handedly been transforming our bedrooms from this:

to this:

I have been keeping kids busy and at times out of the house with trips to the library and the park.

This weekend, while the sander whirred away upstairs.  Sylvan and Ivory ran around the yard while I tackled the pile of onions I had pulled out of the ground to cure a few days earlier.  This is the first time I have grown this many onions and I am excited to have at least a few to store for later use!

I made onion braids!

so, this is what you need to make onion braids:

Cotton Yarn 
onions with dried leaves

I three pieces of cotton string to the length of approximately a yard and a half.  I folded the strings in half and laid them on my lap. 

I then hooked each loop of thread around an onion with nice sturdy dried down leaves.

I braided the leaves with their corresponding strings together.  If the string sliped, I simply hooked the string back over this onion and keep braiding.  I alternated adding onions from the right and left as I braided the length of strings.  

I continued braiding the length of the yarn and then looped and knotted the end so I could hang it from a nail.   Here is a picture of the finished onion braids!

(I can't wait to share pictures of our finished bedrooms either, but we aren't quite there yet.)

Friday, September 7, 2012

Still Baking after Dark (Eggless Blueberry Muffins)

It is 10:30 at night and this little guy is still going strong. He is helping me with complete enthusiasm.  I, on the other hand, am tired and trying tie up the loose ends on the days projects. 
The chilled dough ready for a thick layer of cream cheese filling and the last of the fresh peaches. 

 Peaches - off of which I have been slipping fuzzy skins, cutting them into wedges, ladling them into hot jars and of which I have been sneaking little bites and passing bigger bites to the kids.

Peaches in a light syrup.  Peach cobbler.  Frozen Peaches.

Old Fashioned Peach Jam.  Peach infused Apple Spread.

I have been leaving the kitchen, but not wandering much farther than the garden. Along the edge of our porch, the seeds Ivory gingerly poked into the ground, now tower as plants above me.  

The strawberries are finally turning red. 

The Morning Glories I planted much too late are sparse but, well, glorious.

Sylvan looked at me in disbelief when I asked him to pull the blossoms off of the Calendula plants. Then he gleefully ripped the flowers off their stalks and stuffed them in the jar.

I finally made that hair rinse I have been intending to make all summer.
(I still have to try it out.)

Ivory proudly wore the mermaid costume we sewed her today.  She is attending a sea creature themed costume birthday party this weekend and my little girl wanted to be a pink and purple mermaid (of course)! 

I started this day much like it is ending.  In the kitchen, mixing and stirring, spooning and sliding a pan of yummy things into the oven.  Since I knew I would be needing the eggs in the fridge for my Danishes, (our lovely ladies delivered only one egg yesterday),  I made eggless blue berry muffins just in case we had a scant egg day again.  (I really should not have worried.  I pulled one white, one blue and three brown eggs out of the coop today.)

My coffee, my notes and the results.

Eggless Blueberry Muffins
preheat the oven to 400 degrees
1 cup white flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons sugar
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup milk
1 tablespoon oil
1 cup fresh blueberries

  • combine the dry ingredients and whisk to blend well
  • combine the wet ingredients and stir into the dry ingredients
  • gently stir in the blue berries
  • divide evenly into an oiled muffin tin or use paper liners (12 muffins)
  • bake for 20 minutes and serve with fresh butter

Losing Sleep over the Big Questions

When I was twelve, a recent transplant to this country (I am a citizen, but spent my child hood across the ocean in Germany), I was required to write a paper on the Clinton Dole presidential race.   That assignment resulted in a letter detailing all the reasons why I thought Clinton was the better candidate which I was actually was brave enough to put in the mail box and send to the White House.  (I really wish I had kept a copy of that letter.  I have no idea what it said, but I do know, that somewhere, in some box, I do have the letter I got back a few weeks later.  It was just a form letter with a pretty little signature but that was alright with me.  Twelve year old me got a letter from the White House!!)
When I was twenty I met my future husband on the way to a debate at which nine of the twelve candidates competing for the democratic nomination for president were present.  I was going to see Dennis Kucinich.  I had recently declared a political science major and was rallying together as many people as I could find to come along to see the debates.  So why not ask that cute boy on the bike, who happened to ride past, to come along?
Just before finishing my degree, I lost my faith in politics to create positive social change.  This was in large part due to a book entitled Constructing the Political Spectacle by Murray Edelman. I just happened to pick it up.  I think I read it in a single night.  It is long, thick, it's language obtuse, but when I set it down I was a new, less idealistic person.  I grudgingly voted for Kerry over Bush, because, well Kerry was not Bush.  I added a major in art, a minor in horticulture and went to grad school for soil science.  
But, when I was twenty five, that same boy I met on his bike and I pushed our new born baby to our polling place and proudly voted for Barrack Obama.  I was excited! I still have the newspaper folded up, yellowed, in a file with other baby memorabilia that someday I will page through with my daughter and I can tell her:  "You were there when we made history.  We elected our first black President of the United States of America."

But, there is something else that happened that has shaped all of our lives.
Before I had been eighteen an entire month, before I had been a college student an entire month, planes crashed into the twin towers.  I remember it vividly. I was brushing my teeth in the dorm bathroom, the cleaning lady told me: "We have been bombed."  I ran into my dorm room, turned on the TV, woke my roommate (who loved to sleep in) and called my (then) boyfriend to wake him up and tell him to turn on his TV.  I watched the invasion of Iraq while sipping beer in my best friend's college dorm room.  In complete disbelief I watched beautiful lights above Baghdad trying desperately to grasp the reality that those things, that looked so much like fireworks, were real and deadly.
My entire adult life has existed with 'war' in the middle east as it's back drop.  A distant backdrop that is so easy to be ignored.  An entire generation of American children has grown up with Osama bin Laden as THE boogeyman out to get them, their security, their dreams, their America.  I suppose we would all expect them to party in the streets when the news came that he had finally been found and killed.

Today I drove to the store to quickly grab some ice cream to serve with the peach cobbler I baked (mmm..  fresh peaches), and as I pulled into the parking lot Governor Schweitzer began speaking.  I parked, pulled a paper and a pen out for Ivory and told her to draw a picture while I listened intently: "Ivory, please don't speak to me right now.  I really, really want to hear what this man has to say." She drew a series of bear paws.  What else would a little girl growing up in Montana draw?
What did our governor have to say? I was entranced.  Ah.  A fellow soil scientist.  The audience participated. "That dog don't hunt."  I had no idea he and Mitt Romney traveled together.  Facts, Figures, Numbers. Interesting.  And then my stomach dropped and turned into a knot.

"Governor Romney said that finding Osama bin Laden was "not worth moving heaven and earth." Tonight, bin Laden isn't on earth, and he sure isn't in heaven. Thanks to the courage of American Special Forces and the bold leadership of our president, Osama bin Laden is at the bottom of the ocean." (full transcript here)

Did it have to be phrased this way?  I realize that this event marks a huge accomplishment for the Obama administration.  An accomplishment, which might be of benefit to remind the American people of during an election year, but there is just something so sad about a whole room of people cheering the death of anyone, no matter how vile of a person they might have been in life.  In death don't we all just become someone's child, someone's parent, someone's loved one that is no longer there?

Obama has my vote this fall....  but in the mean time I am sitting here, while my children sleep in the other room wondering how I am going to answer the big questions when they are old enough to ask them.  Why is a whole room of adults cheering killing (a game I forbid them to play)?  It baffles me.

I do believe in social change.
I believe we can make a difference.
I have to believe we can move forward.
Maybe someday we will have universal health care, maybe someday women's health will not get reduced to abortion, maybe someday we will no longer be sending young men and women half way across the globe to risk their lives for a public that is only distantly aware of their and their families sacrifices.
I believe in a better America, a better world and this is where my better world starts: "Ivory, Sylvan I want you to always try and remember that everyone, whatever race, color, religion, gender, sexuality they may be, is a person.  A person with a mom and dad, a girlfriend or boyfriend, a husband or wife, maybe kids, maybe even grand kids...  It is never okay to cheer the death of someone, whatever the circumstances, because a living someone out there has lost a loved one and we should, at the very least, respect their grief."

So please Mr. President, Governor Schweitzer, anybody else out there giving a stump speech during this presidential election: Just as no one has forgotten 9-11, no one has forgotten the day Osama bin Laden's death hit the news.  There is no need to make it a cheer line.  The last ten years of our nation's history have been shaped by these events, please don't define our future by them as well.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Camp Deep Creek - August 31 - Week 10

The evenings have been hazy.
"Smokey", Adam never fails to correct me.

The sun, glows orange in the afternoon, deepening in color as it moves closer to the horizon. 

The mornings are just brisk enough that I have pulled out all the little light weight jackets and we all wore our layers to the last of this summer's Camp Deep Creek Fridays.

A small group met us there - some children already back to their school routines. 
We spent one last camp day paddling around the pond, lounging on quilts, snacking and chatting, interrupted only by the distant putt putt of - what are they? airplanes or helicopters?

Hours later I wrestled two tired children into the car to drive home.
Looking out across the river and the town, from my high vantage point on Big Flat Road, I could see nothing of the mountains.  Nothing.  I couldn't help feeling like someone just took a giant big bowl and flipped it down on top of us. There I was, driving home in one of the most beautiful places of the world, sleepy and a little sad with dreary skies not wanting to admit that the summer is almost over.
Ivory on the other hand is elated: "This is the last camp!  Good!  Now I can just have play dates with E and C!"  As far as she is concerned, the end of camp just means she now longer has to share all of her friends, but can visit with each of them one on one.

She is right. We are all just settling into the next seasons routines.

I'm just waiting for my tomatoes to ripen, while she is waiting for it to snow.