Monday, January 27, 2014

Smoky stovetop beets

Beets have a muddled place in my kitchen. Some of us believe beets can and should be a part of every day's menu... hot, cold, raw, roasted, pickled... Anyway you make them, I {and now Brother} will eat them.

The girls declare them "yummy in my tummy," but don't dream purple like their momma.

Tim would prefer, well, any vegetable to a beet. Disappointing. However, this is one of three things he prefers not to eat, so I try to oblige.

What's a beet luvin' girl to do? Wait for an evening youth event serving a dinner, then make a mess of beets. An evening such as this one.

Since it's a single parent Sunday night, I was thinking borscht. Easy, delicious beets. That is until my daughter informed me that I always make soup, and she never wants to eat soup, and can't I please make a pizza instead. She doesn't appreciate this rare opportunity.

A compromise: Smoked Beet Pizza, or a new segment I'd like to call The Penny Gourmet.

Gourmet food has earned the reputation for extravagance and expense. Families concerned with thriftiness, such as a single income family with three kids, can be easily convinced that thrifty food must be common. I disagree. Any food can become gourmet with a little effort, such as fire roasting or in this case smoking.

Since week old snow still lays unmelted in the yard, I will not be using the big smoker. Tim might be that dedicated to the cause, but I prefer my heated kitchen. Thus follows a brief tutorial in Stovetop Smoking {seen first in Homemade by Yvette Von Boven}.

You will need:
A roasting pan with a heat resistant rack (a trivet can work)
Aluminum foil
A couple handfuls of wood chips or loose tea
Optional: woody herbs such as rosemary or juniper berries for flavor
Something to smoke: fish works well. Today we are focusing on root veggies

Cube 2 lbs of root veggies (peeling if desired).
Place wood chips or tea leaves in the middle of the roasting pan forming a flat pile. Cover with a double layer of aluminum foil. Lay the rack in the pan and arrange the veggies leaving space between pieces.
Set the pan on a large burner over medium high heat until the wood chips begin to smoke. Turn the heat down to medium low and cover the pan in aluminum foil, crimping around the edges to create the tightest seal possible. Smoke for 30-40 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Move veggies to a greased cookie sheet and roast in the oven until al dente (This step is unnecessary with fish).

These veggies are versatile. I made extra and sliced them thinly for sandwiches or in salad. I might bust them out for snack this afternoon with a bit of sour cream. Anywho...
To create the pizza, I sautéed onions in a honey balsamic glaze {aka, add 1 t each of balsamic vinegar and honey to the translucent onions and caramelize for 1-2 minutes}. Olive oil, salt and sage for sauce. Mozzarella over the top, and you have a sunset pink gourmet pizza for around $3.

In case the time commitment of this venture worries you... All three kids were awake for the whole process. You need to be aware of the stove, but you don't have to stand over it.

Happy smoking!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Little Man

The first tooth popped through this morning. Another step toward manhood. Tomorrow his voice will be cracking.

The first tooth is always exciting. We found it at the breakfast table, and everyone cheered. But it brought another gift.

Ding, ding, ding. Tell him what else he's won... a wake you screaming diaper rash!

Which is what led to this humiliating moment...
I couldn't stop the hashtags forming in my brain during this bath. Nibble, nibble like a mouse - Who is nibbling on my house?

Why am I washing my son in a roasting pan?!! Dirty dishes. Oatmeal soak. One time, I tried an oatmeal bath in the tub. One time. and decided never again. What a mess. Hence the roasting pan soak and why I'm not winning the parent of the year award.

P.S. ~ Don't you love how he decided to flex his muscle and guard his modesty at the same time?

Weeks ago now, I promised a post for Brother Bear. And I started it. Right after his belated 6 month check up. The check up that looked something like this:

Pediatrician perusing the front page of the growth chart, "25th percentile height, okay. 25th percentile weight." Flip the chart over, "Whoa!! Head's in the 95th! What's with your kids being very smart elves?"

So... How go things for the little man?

Although I haven't posted as many pics of him, he's not the forgotten third child. At least not as much as I feared. I envisioned Mowgli scrounging through cabinets for baby food samples. Or me so distracted that I missed all his big moments - hey, when did you teach yourself to read? Fortunately, it's nothing like that. We have sweet time together. We just don't have extra time or hands to recreate the scene for a photograph.

His childhood is slightly less documented, but not less rich. Instead, he has been worn along and exposed to all sorts of wonderful stuff... photography exhibit and lecture, glass blowing display, pony hunt on Shackleford Island, the body exhibit. The girls did none of this stuff. His wedding slide show might be shorter, but it won't reflect neglect.

What is Carrick up to? 

All the usual 6, almost 7 month stuff. He babbles and grabs and sits for short periods before his oversized noggin overpowers his balance. And teethes. on. everything. He's started the backwards inchworm, the precursor to crawling. The girls have no idea what they're in for when he starts crawling. Come to think of it, their momma is pretty spoiled by kids old enough to recognize that a pin shouldn't be eaten.
Blue Steel
Watching the sisters play
He's the happiest critter you'll ever meet. Smiles for everyone all the time. He guffaws and snorts and yuks, especially at Afton {they share an understanding beyond the rest of the family}. He flirts with everyone at church. He delights in hearing other people laugh and keeps up the clowning as long as we laugh with him. In short, the only other person I know who is this friendly and smiles so easily is his G'pa {Tim's dad}, which I suppose is where he got it {my side tends to produce Eeyores.}

How is life with three?

Wonderful. and hectic. and overwhelming. and hysterical. More than ever, T and I sit back and shake our heads that we should be so blessed. And more than ever, we bang our heads against a wall. I didn't comprehend how much more organized I must be. Slowly, I'm trying to implement routine to my duties, so I make time for intentional school {we've resembled an unschooling family, which isn't my style}, to create, and to write. The hardest part is recognizing my time limitations. With three, I'm interrupted that much more. My windows of free time have significantly shrunk unless I use Disney to babysit while I sew. In short, we're still transitioning. Probably will be for a while yet. But it is a blessed transforming.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Making candy in the snow

Snow! Finally!

I don't want to exaggerate this snow fall. It's a bare 3 inch accumulation. But in this snow starved climate, we have to pack every important snow day activity into those precious three inches.

For instance - Snow cream. At breakfast due to my excitement. Snow cream is my all time favorite snow treat. If we receive half an inch, I'm dusting cups of snow from every clean surface to make snow cream. Several bowls worth are sitting outside the back door. The only time I don't experience an absolute need for an extra freezer. 

And a new snow day activity: molasses squiggle candy. You Little House fans know what I'm talking about, even if you haven't made it. The hot molasses poured over snow that Laura and Mary make for Christmas in the big woods. Today's science, art and history lesson all in one.

The girls made fantastic mini sculptures, spooning the brown goo over trays of snow. But we learned several lessons in the school of life along the way. 
1. The book illustrator misrepresented how messy this project is. No neat candies in the snow. We spun yards of molasses candy string linking each individual piece. These proved excellent nourishment for the Wonka twins during the lean times while mommy was reheating the candy goop. Or so they explained to me as they gobbled them up as fast as the sugar could harden.

The romanticized drawing...

The sculptural reality...

2. Little man could play short stop. His hands moved at Jeter speed to snatch a candy from the tray where they lay drying. I didn't realize he could reach that far. Nor did I know he could get food in his mouth which was beyond his skill last week with a banana.
3. These big sisters will spoil the brother rotten. They kept trying to sneak "safe" pieces of candy to him once they realized how much he liked them. Here's the face when mean ol' momma interfered with the black market candy trade.

If you are the sort of adventurous family that gives small children spoonfuls of 300 degree sugar and encourages them to draw in snow {I realize how crazy I sound even suggesting this}, here's the recipe:

Molasses Snow Candy

Equal parts sugar and molasses - I used 1/2 c each

Prepare two large baking trays with snow up to the lip. Store outside to keep the snow from melting until you're ready to pour. Cover a cookie sheet with a towel for drying the candy.
In a small sauce pot on medium heat, combine sugar and molasses, stirring until smooth. A wooden spoon is best for this.
If you have a candy thermometer, use it. Otherwise, have a spoon and a cup of cold water handy. Heat the sugar mixture, stirring frequently to prevent burning. Early in the process, vigilance is not as important as toward the end. Don't leave the pot, say to pick up a crying baby, when the mixture is bubbling and growing.
Heat the mixture to the "hard crack" line on your candy thermometer, about 20 minutes. If you don't have a thermometer, you can check the stage by dropping a small ball of sugar into the cup of water. It's ready when the drop forms a hard candy with a crack.
Spoon the hot mixture in squiggles, curlicues, etc... over the snow. It will harden almost immediately. Move the hard candy to a towel to dry.
If the mixture will not flow off the spoon, return pot to the stove on low heat and reheat mixture until it pours.

A fun old fashioned adventure.

If you are wondering whether this is a safe activity.. to misquote C.S. Lewis: Safe? Course it isn't safe! But it's fun.

Seriously, no one was hurt. The girls understood how hot the candy was and carefully avoided it until it hit the snow.

And a bonus snow recipe:

Snow Cream

Large bowlful of snow {I use the biggest bowl I can find - this shrinks by at least half}
Sugar to taste {1/4-1/2 c}
1 T vanilla
1/2 c milk

Combine sugar, snow and vanilla. Slowly add milk. Combine until you make a dry slush.
Eat it all and make more!

Yep. It's that simple. You can flavor it with cocoa or espresso powder if you want. I'm happy with plain vanilla, just like my momma made it.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Why my Christmas presents will be late...

My Christmas gifts are going to be late this year. I mean the 2013 gifts. My family pushed back the gift giving until our visit in February. Sounded like plenty of time, even for the make-it-all-from-scratcher's. I was feeling confident. Until the new car seat arrived.

We need to bump everyone up in the car seat department. For sizing purposes. Gwennan and Carrick both sit above the highest belt position. Afton's current car seat is a Britax - it could comfortably hold a 15 year old. Nevertheless, everyone is moving up.

The giant amazon box arrives with the new booster seat. Bright pink with 2 cup/treasure/discarded hair bow holders. Every little girls dream seat. And did I mention that she gets to use the grown up seat belt?

And what do we have to offer Afton?

The two year old cosco with its stained, crumby seat and faded flowers. She didn't seem to mind, but Daddy and I felt sorry for the Hand-me-down Kid.

Afton and I made a trip through the scrap bag. Lo and behold, we found her "favorite, most beautiful fabric I ever wanted."

Minky dot.
Yeah, I was curse smiling.

Reasons to use minky dot on a car seat cover:
1. Your three year old has a fit of trembling joy over soft and pink and polka dot
2. It's super stain resistant
3. It's synthetic, so it should withstand the test of wiggling, squirming three year old bum

Reasons never to use minky dot for anything. Ever!
1. It stretches unpredictably making is hard to cut, hard to iron, hard to pin, hard to sew, etc...
2. It melts onto your iron in a stinky pink goo if you're two clicks too hot
3. The dots flatten under your sewing machine foot so that the pieces you sized and cut is not the same piece you actually sew down.

Reason 1 under the pro's is really all that matters. At any rate, one of two things will happen: this project will come out great, producing an ecstatic three year old, or I'll throw it down I frustration and start over. And I'll have a still ecstatic three year old. Fortunately, A is a generally grateful soul.

And if you're waiting for your Christmas presents... You might get to wait a little longer.

Happy Momma'ing!!


A sewing note - This project is for an intermediate, confident seamstress {aka, top of my abilities}, since you have to tear apart the existing car seat cover, making your seat useless until you finish. Have a back up seat or nowhere pressing to go. If anyone is interested, here's the tutorial I found most helpful. This tutorial is for an infant seat cover, but the same method works for any seat cover. If recovering a booster, you will need a small piece of foam rubber for the seat cushion. I used an old camping mat.

An immediate update {I started the project and post a few days ago} - The car seat cover was a success. Afton was thrilled with her soft pink seat. Everything lined up as it should. I would definitely do this again.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Great Horned Owl Debacle

Yesterday brought a new parenting challenge for me. A situation that tested my resolve in God's Word. Not in a life altering way. But aren't all temptations soul altering.

The story...

Washing dishes, I glance up to notice a promising shape perched in the oak behind our house. Birds of prey enrapture me, and this shape looks very owlish, the most fascinating of the group. I grab my camera and sneak out the door, stalking my way around puddles and into the fort to catch a difficult picture with the light behind him. He watches me through half opened yellow eyes. A squirrel sits paralyzed {except for the occasional sign of the cross as he prepares to meet his maker}.
The stirring silhouette

After observing the owl quietly sitting, I remember Gwennan. She's supposed to be napping, but I've heard her quietly interviewing the walls. I sneak back inside and signal to her to follow me in stealth mode. Outside, we stand together observing and quietly discussing owls {something this sacred produced a real whisper in Gwennan}.

Then without warning, the owl's great head bobbed and dipped. He lost his balance, and with a vain attempt to right himself, withered and fell from the tree with barely a glide to the ground. Did you see that?!!! Gwennan and I exchanged shocked looks.

Mommy, Why did he do that?? Where is he??

Thus began the quick scramble for rain boots, the wade through ankle deep water to the back fence and the team climb up the compost bin to peak over the extra tall privacy fence. There was the owl, sitting on the ground, trying to maintain his dignity. His eyes half closed in that all-wise pondering position.

I finished the lectures on birds of prey, but I left school a couple of days before the rapture lab. I have no experience handling large birds with talons and sharp beaks. Especially when they fall on someone else's property.

So I called parks and rec. They required permission from the home owner, our neighbor who I've never seen. The best I could offer was to walk over and ring the bell after Afton and Carrick woke up.

We waited the 30 minutes or so for nap time to finish and everyone to complete their wake up process {Afton sprang out of bed upon learning that we were going to rescue an owl with the ranger doctor - I'm surprised neither of the girls thought to ask for the vet kit}. Before tying Carrick on and pulling out the scooters and helmets, I figured I'd check on the bird. No sense disturbing the neighbors or pulling out all the gear if the owl had flown away. I peak over the fence to discover one very dead owl, head thrown back at a spectral angle.

Now you know my dilemma... What do I tell two very excited children? The truth, that the owl died, then field questions all day about how the owl died or tears over the dead animal or worse, demands to see the dead owl. Or do I tell the smallest of lies, that the owl flew away. No one will be any wiser. No questions. No scooter voyage. And no dead owl to inspect.

You can land where you will on this one.

I chose to tell them the truth.

It seemed simpler in the long run. When do I start telling them the truth if I start with lies now? Where is the line between shielding and reality? It was too blurry for me. Best not to be attempted.

Upon hearing the news, my two junior pathologists insisted they see the evidence that the owl was dead. Mommy could have missed some important sign of life. Amidst vision of nightmares and sleepless nights, we perched on the compost bin again and peered down at the specimen. Both specialists agreed with my original assessment: that was a very dead owl. Still beautiful with his barred feathers, but certainly deceased. They bowed their heads for one solemn moment.

Mommy, why did he die?

I guess he was old and sick.

Oh, like your red grandmother?



A minute later they were splashing through the small ponds in our yard, looking for treasures in the muddy water. The owl banished from the memory until Daddy came home to be regaled with tales of the planned owl rescue sprinkled with news from the morning's ballet lesson. No trauma. No tears. No nightmares. No undue questions. The owl was cool, then he was dead. That was kind of cool too. And they would have thoroughly enjoyed a good stick poking necropsy had he landed in our yard.

As always, they are more durable than I believe. The truth of the universe that I assume will produce so much trauma is an acceptable fact of life. My 'slight' temper tantrum over the spilled glass of water, that sticks with them. I obviously have a lot to learn about life altering moments.

A tidbit of owl trivia courtesy of the Newport News ranger service: Raptors, including owls, do not know how to be prey. They have no defense systems against predators on the ground. If you approach a grounded raptor, they will stare at you so intently that they fall over. I find this hilarious and have added to my bucket list, "make bald eagle fall over."

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Two Swans

This morning marked a new era for us... the first ballet lesson. My girls are officially old enough for dance class. Oh my goodness.

The class was a joy to watch. And even better to hear the retelling from the girls on the way home. They had such different experiences, neither of which exactly matched my outside view of the class.

I saw 12 tiny girls flitting around the studio, vaguely following Miss Emma's instructions. Adorable, uncoordinated movements. Like a puppy tripping on its ears {mine was the only child to fall over practicing first position}.

This morning might have been the highlight of Gwennan's 4 years on earth. Everyone in their black leotards and pink tights standing on their green X's, moving together. She swayed her arms dreamily side to side. She exulted in her toes as she pointed and flexed, pointed and flexed. The order and grace that Gwennan demands from life.

From that description, you might be wondering why we signed up Afton at all. Because she loved it too. In a completely different, free spirited fashion. Her demi plie resembled a weight lifting squat. When it came time to skip around the room, she must have imagined a series of puddles to jump in. Even during stretches, Afton took breaks to shake her wiggles out. Her ballet was all her own, and she hasn't stopped talking about it.

When we arrived home, they insisted on practicing. The first ballet lesson recital for an audience of Daddy is all scheduled. They even identified which pieces of furniture could substitute for the big mirror and the bar.

Then they wanted to watch ballet, so I pulled up the final scene from my favorite, Swan Lake. Gwennan is going to be the princess swan {Of course}. But she won't fly away and leave the prince. That's craziness. Everything is so clear cut in her 4 year old world.

Afton rebuts that she wants to marry the monster. Mommy, can you please ask Daddy if I can marry the monster tonight? She preferred his crunk style movements to the flitty prince.

And I suppose that's how you have ballerinas to play the white swan and the black swan.

Brother also thought ballet was wonderful. A whole room full of sentimental moms ooh-ing and waving to him. He sat in my lap, chewing on my hand thoughtfully as the women beside me noisily described her plastic surgeries {that was a rough, hopefully unusual, introduction to dance mothers}. Carrick deserves his own update post, so I'll save further comments until then.

Happy dancing everyone!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Happy New Year

After my last post, I gather that no one questioned my absence from the blogosphere. Although you might have wondered if all three children survived 2013. I'm pleased to announce that they did. Maybe even left it better than we found it. 

Truth be told, I didn't abandon writing because I was so busy. I had nothing to say. Life seemed a series of reactions, swinging in the dark. What is there to say about aimlessness?

The holidays, the busyness, the parenting challenges, all distractions from the real problem. I pushed God to a dusty shelf labeled 'things I wish I had time for.'

How did I have time to handcraft Christmas presents or workout or cook or breathe if I had no time for God? I don't have an answer.

After a prolonged spiritual drought (all my fault, not His, mind you), I find myself in major resolution mode.

Driven by self-consciousness over the candy I inhaled last week, I vow to eat nothing but salads and carve out an hour a day to workout. But I've been living on caffeine and refined sugar for a week. My brain wants chocolate while my hand provides a carrot stick. The hardest stretch of any diet change.

At the same time, I've consumed a steady diet of social media. Any free moment, and my hands start itching to check Instagram, putting off prayer or meditation or study. I'm out of practice making Jesus a first thought.

And my everything shows it, even more obvious than my crappy Christmas week binging. How I speak to others, the jokes I make, my general frustration, my posture. My selfishness is a garment, more like an emotional snuggy. Protecting my ability to indulge in further lazy behavior.

That's our family right now. See why I wanted to hide that ugliness? My selfish snuggy wasn't suitable for public viewing.

As it is the season for transformation, we are praying for some of our own. Resolve to put aside distractions and retrain our minds. Yes, to look forward to cauliflower again. But more importantly, to seek his face again.


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