Showing posts with label Challenge. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Challenge. Show all posts

Thursday, October 24, 2013

food day 2013: pickled red cabbage & more

Last week I mentioned it was World Food Day. Today we're celebrating a nationwide Food Day, with a particular focus on helping children cook real food. Spread the word! The more we can get the conversation started about real, local, sustainable food, the better.

In honor of the occasion, today I'm putting up (canning & freezing) a bounty of soups, chutneys, and jams with the season's harvest. I'm also sharing my three year old's favorite recipe for pickled red cabbage. This recipe originally came from The Joy of Pickling, but I've modified it to make it my own. I love having the blog to document all of my quirky home recipes, but I only share the adaptations that I think make the recipe better. Otherwise I just link to or cite the original source.

Monday, October 07, 2013

a family dinner by any other name

Selfie in Sweden, pre-kids
After graduating college, Nate and I embarked on a journey as a newly minted family, leaving behind our home state for adventures in the uncharted beyond. Moving away from our families of origin was exciting! Graduate school and moves to the Midwest, the US capital, and across the Atlantic Ocean opened our eyes to different and interesting ways of thinking and living.

Along the way, we became parents. Welcome to the best learning experience of all! While we were thrilled about our growing family, we also encountered our share of challenges and foibles. None of our friends had kids yet, so we navigated the choppy new waters solo while they smiled and did their best to understand the dark circles and panicked voices. Without family in town to assist us, we floundered quite a bit on just what to do with our new bundle of joy. We relied on our nanny to tell us what and when to feed Vivi. I chuckle to remember how we browsed stacks of parenting volumes promising new and different ways to achieve better results, as though she were a new iGadget instead of a person.

Although advice was still only a phone call away, the temptation of “the unknown better” beckoned louder. Eschewing family secrets for propaganda, we replaced the village with pop science. Whereas pride in continuing our families’ traditions was once the goal long ago, shiny-new-object syndrome stepped in and took over.

Unfortunately, our manic pursuit of novelty did not improve our lives. The promise that the latest parenting trend would solve our problems didn’t deliver. We were paralyzed by choice and growing dizzy from the pendulum of polarized philosophies. Put simply, we were not happy parents.




******************

Friday, May 10, 2013

we can improve upon this

I made what is hopefully going to be an improvement to the blog by removing the Disqus commenting feature. I had heard from quite a few people that it wasn't working right, and from my end I noticed that about every fifth comment would disappear for no apparent reason before I could reply. Not deleted, just gone. So I hope if you found it frustrating to comment before that you will do it now. Okie dokie?

This change to the blog got me thinking about other life changes I and others could make. Vivi has been trying to quit the thumb-sucking habit for some time now. Her most recent goal was to quit by her fifth birthday so she could wear nail polish. When that day came and went, she announced "Oh well! I guess we can try again next year." Noooooo!! We've been told by just about every child development professional that we should avoid negativity where the thumb is concerned and make only gentle reminders, but Reader, it is so hard. Any advice here is heartily appreciated.

In return for my gentle suggestions to Vivi, I've allowed her to comment freely on my slouching problem. Who knows if it's a habit developed from my embarrassment over being the tallest by a foot in eighth grade, my desire to go unnoticed in the public school system, or if I just have weak stomach muscles or something, but I slouch...A LOT. If you know me, you are already aware of this problem, along with the fact that I have a funny gait. I saunter, in fact. Imagine, if you will, a mash-up of Goofy and Meg Ryan, and maybe throw in a dash of Olive Oyl. Can you picture it? That is my amble. I am not in any hurry, and I'm pretty sure I couldn't be even if I wanted to.

Some people have notedly tried to help me out with my funny walk by offering me some tips:

"Stick your chest out, like you want men to notice you!"
No thank you.

"Try pilates!"
Um, what?

"You have shin splints because you run so damn weird."
Thanks, Coach.

[When discussing silly walks, are you already picturing Monty Python? Me too!]

So yeah, I could stand up a bit straighter. I think that will be my new self-improvement project. Where's Henry Higgins when you need him, amirite ladies?

Oh, and I'll also add "Stop yelling in the tone of a shrill siren wail" to that edification list. It is so un-lady-like and generally embarrassing. What would you change about yourself if you could?

Reading a book with a grandparent while sucking her thumb might be her all-time favorite activity.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

on not becoming The Goops

Alternate title: But I still refuse to eat snails.

Have you read French Kids Eat Everything yet? I'm not finished with it, but it's already a game-changer for us. A lovestruck Nate turned to me at dinner last night and wistfully said, a hint of a glistening tear in his eye, "This is just how I wanted dinner to be." Okay, I'm kidding about that. That kind of husbandly praise is the stuff of dreams...

With how much I talk (read: gloat) about feeding my kids real food, it might surprise you I have a lot to learn about teaching kids to eat well. Yes, I usually manage to get my kids to eat healthy food, BUT I have come to dread meal time due to their whininess, messiness, disregard for normal decibel levels and decent personal space, and sibling rivalry that accompany every meal. I was becoming a cross between a hair-raising psycho and a punch-drunk lunatic at dinner, getting into immature discussions with my kids about who was going to get the purple plate and which child would be allowed to sing the third verse of the rainbow song.

Then, the clouds parted, and this book fell into my lap. Or something like that.

But, seriously y'all, I was skeptical at first about whether the tricks in this book would work for us. I have employed some aspects of attachment parenting, and one of them that I associate with the trend is to offer children choices and let them articulate their preferences and control aspects of their food world. If I had to pick one thing I've learned in the last week, it's that the science does not agree; in fact, it suggests children aren't capable of deciding what they should eat, and these decisions actually stress them out.

But the proof is in the pudding: how did the experiment work for us? I am dumbfounded by the fact that not only did these fancy tricks work, but they have made ME enjoy food more. Who could have thought that was possible?

Here's a nutshell about why I give this book two enthusiastic thumbs up, with a few caveats (so maybe, one enthusiastic thumb and another regular thumb):

Caveat first: I don't have as many ingrained issues with food as the writer apparently does [Example: she is a self-professed lover of McDonald's. Gag me with a spoon.], so I had trouble identifying with her tendency to whine about her great luck. She seemed to have begrudgingly taken on the challenge to feed her kids French food--WHILE LIVING IN FRANCE AND MARRIED TO A FRENCHMAN--whereas I look at these opportunities to mold and change my kids as fun experiments. To me, a person who doesn't thank her lucky stars that she can benefit from the wisdom of the best foodies in the world has a bit of a chip on her shoulder. But then again, I try never to judge a woman for a reaction to her mother-in-law's advice.

Having said that, I learned loads from this book. I've only been to France once and then only to Paris, but even after a few days there, I learned easily that the French have figured out how to make good food. They enjoy food so much and so well. What I didn't know was that they have many rules about what, when, and how to eat. Being someone who likes to cook and eat--and someone who is sometimes painfully attempting to teach my kids good manners--I appreciate a culture that is willing to take time in crafting good, well-mannered eaters.

I also didn't realize how many bad American eating habits I have--and even worse--that I'm passing down to my kids.  I had become resigned to my fate, forgetting--or perhaps never knowing to begin with--that I have role in their meal-time education (Rule #1). Could it be as simple as they were misbehaving because they weren't aware that there were meal-time rules?


French Food Rules

Food Rules
Illustration by: Sarah Jane Wright for French Kids Eat Everything

Here are few of the rules she discusses in the book that I am most taken with (in my own words):


Up the formality! 

The French lay a tablecloth (!!), even for small children; they forgo paper napkins and sippy cups, opting instead for glasses, cloth napkins, and real silverware; and they announce the beginning of the meal with a quick phrase, "To the table!" When everyone is seated, they say "Bon appetit!" to signify that everyone may begin eating. My kids love rituals so took to these improvements like buttah. Vivi sets the table with a purpose, as though she has been lying in wait for the chance to be given this task. We've always said a blessing, which is now like icing on the cake instead of the only ritual.

Documentation of our first foray into tableclothing. It's a Kenyan wrap skirt. Cute, huh?


Respect each other...and the food! 


Imagine a meal with small children in which you don't have to endure loud interruptions and whining. Wonderful, right? How is this magic accomplished??

Actually, it isn't that hard. Once I got started, I figured out quickly that the rules I was implementing were exactly what they were already doing at school. Duh. If they say "But I wanted the purple plate!," I say "You get what you get, and you don't get upset." If they say "I don't want tabbouleh!," then I say "You don't have to like it, you just have to taste it." And after both of those phrases, they pipe in with "That's what my teachers say!" Oh, right.

I can't believe I didn't use these rules sooner. I always imagined that if I stopped them from jumping around and yelling, I would somehow be stifling their joy. But while I previously would have used my "Let kids be kids!" go-to parenting rule, I now realize that what I was doing was robbing everyone, including myself, of a chance to eat a peaceful meal. By stopping the chaos, I offer respect to my dinner guests and myself--and to the food we are eating, for that matter.

Plus, I've added an element of fun by asking them a few questions about their day, like their favorite thing, something they didn't like, a funny part of the day, and a time they helped someone. Both of the girls relish this time to shine with everyone listening. And I relish the opportunity to start new Mom catchphrases.


No food bribes or rewards (Rule #2). 

This rule is actually harder for me than I had thought. In my opinion, this rule exempts the once-a-year bribe of "If you do well at the doctor, you can have a lollipop!" But it also means that you can't stuff your kid's face with animal crackers every time you're in line at the bank. You can't jump into the car knowing you're going to get stuck in traffic and bribe your kids with fruit snacks and chips to make it the duration. You can't swoop in after your kid falls down or doesn't get the purple plate and say "If you eat your peas, you will get a popsicle!" What I failed to realize is that I was teaching my kids to fill their voids with food, and by doing that, I was making their relationship with food emotional. Yikes.


No snacking (Rule #7). 

This rule is tied with the rule above. "It's okay for them to be hungry" has become my new internal mantra. Once I attempted to stop our constant snacking, it occurred to me I had been teaching Charlotte to be a snack monster (see: toddler terrorist post). Her hunger monster still rears its head on occasion; however, just as I wouldn't back down when I tell her it's time to brush her teeth, I feel confident that keeping her from simple carbs and sugary juice is going to pay off in the end when she learns to reward her patience with satiety instead of stifling it with empty calories.


Eat family meals together (Rule #4).

I always wanted to enact this rule, and I had done it sometimes, but I admit there were many occasions that I would spend their meal doing dishes or reading blogs in the kitchen instead of sitting with them. Now I look upon meal time as an important part of their education and sit at the table with them, even if I on rare occasion am not eating a meal myself (and I try to make sure I am eating with them). When they are finished with the meal, I let them have time to blow off steam and be silly (read: not at the dining room table), and I take that time to do my quiet recharging or cleaning.


I've been reciting a poem to the girls called "The Goops" that my parents recited to me as a child, and it has taken on a new meaning lately. Turns out that "The Goops" is actually a series of books written in the early 1900's to teach children manners, so it's no wonder it stands out now.

The Goops 
by Gelett Burgess (1900)

The Goops they lick their fingers,
The Goops they lick their knives,
They spill their broth on the tablecloth-
Oh, they lead disgusting lives!

The Goops they talk while eating,
And loud and fast they chew,
And that is why that I 
Am glad I'm not a Goop--are you?


the goops
Image credit: Gutenburg.org
Author's Note: I shared this post with Tasty TraditionsWorks for Me Wednesday, and Whole Foods Wednesday.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

my quest to become a {gulp} storyteller

my girlfriend's boyfriend

This weekend we went to see the comedian Mike Birbiglia perform his show, My Girlfriend's Boyfriend. He is so funny and such a wonderful storyteller. I loved that his act had multiple small story arcs within one larger arc, and so many of the jokes would come back later in the bit. I also appreciate that, when compared with the tragic moments in Sleepwalk with Me, My Girlfriend's Boyfriend is at its heart a love story, full of the missteps and heartache but also pockets of optimism that he delivers with such honesty and self-deprecation. It was fun to see the show in Worcester, close to his hometown; the audience was as rowdy as I expected. [If you haven't yet, you should check out Mike's film version of Sleepwalk with Me on Netflix].

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

methods of conserving water: a gardening season primer


I'll never forget my first lesson in conserving water. I was at summer camp, and our head counselor stood in front of the group and explained how we could use less water when brushing our teeth by turning off the water when not using it. As an adult who has been doing this practice most my life, it seems so elementary as to require no explanation, but I remember feeling astonished at this news as a child. Oh, right, I don't need to run the water when I'm not using it!

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

on making our own lard

{Secondary/Alternate Title: Yes, We are Those People}

My plan was to publish a post today about pocket meat pies. That post will need to wait a day because to make a meat pie, you need a sturdy savory crust. I believe that crust should start with one surprising but important ingredient: lard. I've gotten on my lard soap box before, so rather than beat it to death, I'll simplify the conversation today and boil it down--so to speak (hardy har)--to a few quick paragraphs.

Why lard?

In the middle of the last century, well-meaning scientists told us saturated-fat-containing ingredients like lard caused heart disease, and law-abiding citizens ran fleeing from it. Since then, we've learned that the replacements for lard--like vegetable shortening--contain trans fats, which are much worse for you than saturated fat. Not only that, but lard also contains monounsaturated fat that is necessary for brain function. Even leaving health out of the discussion for a moment, I am sold on the idea of lard because I am a firm believer in nose-to-tail cooking. Hence, we actually eat tail from time to time.

In a nutshell, lard is not your enemy, and the people who want you to go on believing it is have ulterior motives.  Set aside what you think you know, do your research, and make your own decision.

Where can you buy lard? 

To make lard, you need to get your hands on pork kidney fat called leaf lard. The reason you want leaf lard is that you can render it into a neutral fat that doesn't taste of pork, assuming you cooked it low and slow enough. I'll get to that part in a minute. We get our leaf lard for a $1/pound from a cooler at our monthly meat CSA. If you don't have a CSA, I bet you can strike up a deal with any pork seller at your local farmer's market if you're friendly. Heck, you might even be able to get it already rendered from your butcher if you're lucky.

Remember how I said I was going to start saying yes to ideas, even if they sounded scary or impossible? Ahem. To be frank, the rendering process is not as pleasant as I'd like it to be. But then, with a process called "rendering fat," did you expect it to be pleasant? For one thing, it's messy, in that "fat gets on things and won't come off things" way. For another thing, it doesn't look good. Mine wasn't even photographable. For a third thing, it's smelly. Not "I'm frying up some bacon" good smelly, but "I've been working in the kitchen of a 24-hour diner" bad smelly. I advise you to make a giant batch in one day, then hang on to it in your freezer for the next six months. Let it be a warm enough day that you can crack a window--for us, that's around 40 degF, but our standards are influenced by the chilly Beantown climate.


Nourished Kitchen
Image credit: Nourished Kitchen

How do you render lard?

Now that we've gotten the purchasing and caveats out of the way, let's get down to cooking. The actual directions couldn't be much simpler, so rather than reinvent the wheel I'm connecting to blogs that have already written them. If you are making a batch of savory lard and you don't mind a slight porky flavor--in fact, you might even be going for that--you can make it in a Dutch oven on the stovetop. If you want it for sweet pie crust and don't want it to taste like pork at all, then you should probably make it in a slow cooker. For either method, you'll want to start by chopping the fat into small pieces (Note: if you're getting it from the butcher, you can ask to have it ground, or you can do the grinding yourself if you have one of those sausage attachments on your stand mixer).

Here again are links to the two methods:

Tomorrow, we'll delve into the fruits of our labor and discuss delectable meat pies. I promise it will all be worth the stinky effort.


Author's Note: This post is part of Fight Back Friday, Tasty Traditions, Real Food Wednesday, Works for Me Wednesday, and Whole Foods Wednesday.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

I'm canning! {UFH challenge update #3}

If there's a month that will stand out from the rest of the year in terms of what I've learned on my Urban Farm Handbook challenge, I'd have to say it's August, which was preserving month. My preserving experience is chugging along into September, and I thought you might like an update on how my adventure is going (more UFH challenge updates are here).


Wednesday, September 12, 2012

homemade room and linen spray

We are moving in a few weeks. I don't want to get into too much about it now, lest I jinx the process, but sufficed to say there are lots of cleaning and arranging movements happening around here. Hence all the talk of purging. I've also been getting this house ready round the clock for new potential renters to come check it out.

Friday, September 07, 2012

parenting a "spirited" child

Picking a Halloween costume. Much to Mommy's dismay, Raggedy Ann is not the winner.

Although I realize I handily place myself into a parenting cliche with this next observation, I'm going to say it anyway: Vivi is a special kid. I know, I know, I went there. I even nerdily bolded the text. Go ahead and call me a trite mother. But it's true, she is special! Ever since she turned to me at eighteen months old after a lengthy car trip and said "Oh my goodness, that was long!," I knew I was in for a parenting experience I wasn't quite expecting. The child knew about 150 words (counting what she knew in Spanish too) and spoke in 5-word sentences by the time the doctor told me at her check-up that she should know "about three to five words."

Saturday, September 01, 2012

spicy pickled carrots: {UFH challenge update}



This year is roaring by at top speed; I daresay it's the fastet-moving year of my life, and the omniscient they say that life only starts moving more quickly the older you get. Sheesh. I love that this blog gives me a chance to document all that happens around here, as these days I can't be relied on to remember it all, and I suspect (ala the wisdom and wit of Nora Ephron) that my memory will only get worse too. While conducting my mid-year time-flying assessment, it occurred to me how long it's been since I updated y'all on my Urban Farm Handbook challenge. Not since March?! Whoa baby.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Olympic fever {and a self-imposed new ritual}

Don't you wish you were in London today? I'm so excited about the start of the Olympics. Our household tunes in every night to catch the action, and since I'm staying at home now I might well have it on all day. We've been preparing Vivi for what the Olympics are all about, and yesterday during bath time she announced she plans to be an Olympic diver some day ("just like Barbie." Em, ok). This coming from a girl who doesn't even like to jump into the pool currently, but who am I to squash her Olympic dreams?

Monday, March 26, 2012

2012 challenges update: The Urban Farm Handbook

Did you notice my two challenge buttons on the sidebar? I mentioned the Urban Farm Handbook challenge a while back, but I want to share more information about how it's going; I will discuss the other Get Real 2012 challenge in a separate post. You might think I've over-challenged myself, but I look at these challenges as inspiration. When I feel like taking steps forward and pushing myself, I look to them as my guides, and when I'm too busy, I simply ignore them. There are no deadlines or consequences, only rewards in the form of positive life changes!

The Urban Farm Handbook is an educational, enlightening read so far. I've been waiting over a month to get it from the library reserve queue, so I'm only a few chapters in, but I can already tell I love it. In fact, I went ahead and added it to my Amazon wish list to purchase my own copy. It is an excellent reference book that I can see going back to time and again for recipes, reminders, and inspiration. One of my favorite parts about the book is that it is written from the perspective of two people with individual philosophies on urban farming and different methods for feeding their families. One author, who rides the metaphorical self-described "Crazy Bus," is raising a family completely outside of the modern grocery store. She shops at farmer's markets and barters with friends, and the rest of her food is produced at home via gardening, canning/preserving, and even grinding her own grain. The second author takes a less extreme approach, choosing to create a small roster of homegrown meals.

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