Thursday, August 30, 2012

Three Monthaversary

My baby is three months old, an age when, to me, it seems they give more than they require. Miriam Ruth is without a doubt a giver. She sleeps like crazy (last night she went down a little after 8pm, woke to nurse at 7am, fell back asleep and didn't wake until noon). Now and then she needs some persuading to go to sleep, but I'll take it! She only fusses when she is tired, will sit in her stroller and avidly watch me help Nathan in the pool, and she looks cute in everything she wears!

She smiles constantly and just tonight started laughing while spending some face time (the old-fashioned kind) with Daddy.

Maizie loves sitting up right in the bumbo, a swing at the playground or in Nathan's lap. And she quite obviously prefers to face OUTWARD in the carrier. I am overjoyed that I decided on the Gemini instead of the Ergo...). But her favorite thing to do during playtime is rolling "back and foreth" as Nathan says. It is usually in order to follow Nathan resulting in enough flips and spins to make a play mat totally useless. Oh well.

Without further ado, the pictures...

Nathan saw his Ruthie (still "Rufie") in Pooh Corner, our reading spot, sat down with her and in his very high-pitched lovey dovey voice asked, "Do you want me to read to you, you precious thing?"


 Every time I would get her on her back for a picture, this would happen...

Finally, I got Nathan to distract her so I could get one quick shot!

Nathan didn't roll away from his pictures until 9 months!!

I have to apologize for the quality of the photos. My camera is old and sad and right now I would rather buy milk and flour and keep our house "nice and coolish" at 77 degrees than buy a new one. Maybe someday. I just pray my memories aren't of a hazy Maizie (hehe).

And, of course, my Bean.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Summertime Eats

During the summer, we eat a lot of pasta salad. It is easy to make a big batch once in the week and use it for a couple of days. That way we can stay outside and play late into the evening and know we have something cold and ready waiting in the fridge.

There are many "recipes" we like, but our all-time favorite is an Asian-inspired salad I discovered while trying to use leftovers. A few friends and family have been asking for the recipe, but I never really sat down to write it. I decided it was time. Especially since we have been eating it all week and *still* aren't sick of it!

Ahhh-hi Crunch Pasta Salad

~1 lb whole wheat pasta (spaghetti has a lo mein type result, fusilli are also great...whatever you have on hand works really!)
~1 6oz package tuna (canned will also work but I prefer the taste of the packets)
~1 bag of cole slaw mix or cabbage or 1/2 head of cabbage, shredded
~1 cup (plus) organic edamame (still frozen is fine!)
~1 can water chestnuts (optional)
~1/4 c chopped green onions (optional)
~clementine slices (or mandarin oranges) and almonds (sliced) for garnish

*I originally used Kraft's Light Asian Toasted Sesame for this, but then made my own one day and decided I liked it better. You choose!

~1/2 c organic soy sauce
~1/2 c rice or red wine vinegar
~1/3 c honey
~1/3 c tahini (you could use peanut oil or sesame oil instead, but the tahini makes it creamy and delicious!)
~1 T fresh grated ginger (only use a little if you are using the ground stuff in the jar)
~1-2 cloves garlic

Cook pasta. You can do it, I know you can.
Add frozen edamame and toss to cool. In a really big bowl, add pasta, cabbage, water chestnuts and tuna. Toss with dressing to your liking.

To serve, top with clementine slices and almonds. Enjoy!

For the munchkins: Nathan loves this salad, but if you have a picky eater (kid or husband), add a little melted nut or seed butter (just spoon a bit of it onto the lid and throw in the micro for about 30 seconds--or less if you don't have to keep yours in the fridge). Drizzle it over the top of their salad and stir a bit. We do this for Nathan for a treat or if he is having a growth spurt and he has already eaten everything else in the fridge/pantry. Yum!

Nutritional information based on about 1 1/3 c salad without garnish and about 80% of the dressing added. To be honest, it never lasts 8 servings because we always munch on it for snacks, etc. We really love this stuff!

Friday, August 17, 2012

Gone Pickin': Part Two

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.

Beautiful, juicy, golden peaches. SEVENTY rotting pounds of them.

Well, they weren't rotting. But they were certainly ripening--and fast! And I had to do something.

You may be wondering how I ended up with seventy pounds of peaches. (Or you might not be. In that case, just skip down to the pictures). We recently went peach picking near the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia. I had roughly calculated how many pounds of peaches we would need for the 24 jars we bought (my neighbor wanted 12 as gifts for friends). I estimated about 20 lbs and asked one of the farm workers just what that looked like. He pointed to two plastic bins and told us just to fill those and we should be set. What I missed was his wild-eyed sly snicker as he walked away.

We filled those bins. Not even to the top. And when we brought them back to weigh and pay, we had 20 pounds. And then another 20. And another 20. And then ten more.

We paid for $60 worth of peaches. Plus $15 worth of blackberries (and a few potatoes). And we carted our peachy glut home and into my kitchen. There they sat, staring at me. There is strength in numbers, you know.

So I did what any mother on house arrest (having a toddler and newborn and very busy husband may occasionally feel like such a sentence) would do: I started washing and eating and blanching and peeling and pitting and slicing and chopping and freezing and  boiling and canning and pureeing and dehydrating and processing peaches until only four remained. And those four still sit in our refrigerator because I do not want to taste anything that resembles peaches for a good little while.

Unfortunately, this is only about half of it. 20 more jars can be found in my freezer and around the community.

But I learned a TON in the process (haha, canning pun...okay, wow...I think I need an intervention). I would love to share a few recipes or ideas with anyone who might have a few hundred peaches laying around. Or even just six or seven! There are a million recipes out there on the internet, so instead of focusing on the recipe, I just want to encourage you to give preserving a try. Take whatever fruit your family loves (strawberries, peaches, berries, pears) and make it into something even more lovely!

The Easiest Way to Store Summer in a Jar

What you need:
INSTANT PECTIN (this is the deal can find it at Target or Walmart or, but most grocery stores do not carry it.)
SUGAR (you can also use Splenda if you are anti-sugar but don't want to spend the extra 10 minutes making the honey or juice sweetened variety described below)
STORAGE (freezer safe containers if you want to store bigger batches for up to a year, or just a pyrex or tupperware if you are making a little for this week's PB&Js. You can buy special plastic "jars" or freezer-safe glass jars at Walmart, Target and sometimes at Lowes.)

Instructions are printed in side the Pectin label and also on this website, but to give you an idea of how incredibly easy it is, here is the basic method:

~Mash the fruit you have--a little or a lot. Or stick it in a blender and blend. But I like it mashed for the texture a little better. Mash it good.
~Add some sugar to the fruit and let sit 10 minutes. The ratio is a little less than 1 part sugar to 2 parts fruit, but I have had success with 1 part sugar to every 4 parts fruit, but I would not use less. It just depends on taste from there.
~You might need a little lemon juice if you are working with fruit that browns like apples or pears or peaches. Add this when you add the sugar.
~Stir in the prescribed amount of pectin and continue to stir for three minutes.
~Pour into storage container and let sit on counter for 30 minutes. Then freeze for up to a year or refrigerate for up to three weeks.

DONE! Seriously, that's it! Mash, sugar, rest, pectin, stir. DONE!

A few things: It can take up to 24 hrs (sometimes more) for the jam to gel. But usually it is gelled by morning. And taste the jam when adding the sugar to see how sweet it needs to be. OH! And don't be afraid to try something fun like this...

~Cinnamon is great with just about everything!
~Extracts can bring out some great flavors. I love almond with the peach!
~Small amounts of alcohol (too much will likely interact with the pectin, but I suppose if you put enough in you wouldn't notice anyway) can be a great compliment. Think bourbon or rum with peaches and berries...YUM!
~Herbs! Mint or basil would be fantastic! Just put them in whole if you want to be able to pick them out later, or chop them up for more flavor. Danny would recommend grinding them with mortar and pestle. But then you are getting fancy. And if you are going to get fancy, you might as well try something only slightly more involved like this...

Peach Jam, Straight Up

This is for those of you who prefer something naturally sweetened or want a fruit-only jam for those sugar-crazed tyrants we call children. Also super-easy. Takes about 15 minutes.

What you need:
STORAGE (same as above unless you want to learn to can)

~Mash fruit and place in pot on stove.
~Add water or juice.
~Add pectin and bring to a boil that cannot be stirred down.
~Add honey if desired.
~Keep at full rolling boil for exactly one minute.
~Skim foam off top (if there is any) and pour into storage container. Let sit on counter for 30 minutes. Then freeze for up to a year or refrigerate for up to three weeks.

See? That wasn't so bad either!

Just a few things to remember: If you are pouring into glass jars, you might want to warm your jars before pouring to avoid shattering your glass. You could throw them in the dishwasher and turn on the heated dry or place them in a pot of warm water. It won't hurt your jam if there is a little water inside still. Put the lid on for 30 minute rest on the counter. Taste your jam (blow on it because it will be boiling!) as you add the sweetener. Have fun with juice and fruit combos, too!

Fruit Leather (or Brittle in my case)

Lest you think everything I touch turns to gold, let me share one more method with you that is still a work in progress. Dehydrating without a dehydrator.

The basics:
~PUREE your fruit with skins on. You will also want to simmer the fruit for a while. I prefer to puree it in a blender or food processor and then cook it down the rest of the way, but you do what you want. I just like to avoid chopping as much as possible.
~Pour onto foil or heavy-duty plastic wrap (I prefer foil--don't love the idea of plastic degrading in the oven and leaching into my food, though I do eat my occasional Lean Cuisine) lining a SMALLER THAN PICTURED cookie sheet. It should be about 1/4 in thick. Use a toothpick to see how thick it is (poke in at a couple different places and compare to a ruler or just eyeball it). Shimmy cookie sheet back and forth to make it even.
~Place in oven at the LOWEST SETTING POSSIBLE! This is where it got tough.
~Heat for hours and hours and hours until no longer sticky.

"Dehydrating" my fruit leather and peaches.
My batches were too big so the outside cooked faster than the inside could. My oven goes down to 170, but you have to keep the door open a bit to let the steam out (hence, the dehydrating process) because I do not have a convection setting. That can make a summer kitchen HOT! So when you spend 8-10 hours baking your entire kitchen only to have an exterior of fruit brittle and a bit of goo in the middle it can be frustrating. It can be even more frustrating when you return said goo to the oven for a little more dehydration and leave it in only a little too long and end up with carbon peaches. Not the variation I was looking for.

Danny said it was still good but we all know it was because he wanted me to brush my teeth and go to bed. Still, he's a sweetheart.

So, all that to say, cook small batches slow, keep your oven low and let your convection blow. (Like how I did that?) We did get a few good pieces. Nathan thinks it is candy and that is good enough for me!

And the peach slices turned out well. Let me know if you want that method.

If anyone wants a recipe or even just encouragement to try one of the other things I did with all those peaches, let me know! There are a lot of crazy recipes and tutorials out there, but I would be glad to give pointers or boil it down (another canning pun...this has got to stop) if it would help!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Gone Pickin': Part One

It is not news to most of you that we recently went peach and blackberry picking. I have such wonderful childhood memories of u-pick farms when we lived in Maryland and I wanted to be sure Nathan could create some memories of his own. I was also inspired by the $0.87/lb price tag on these organic peaches. With the cost of living up here and the price of just-fruit type jams we go through in this house, I could not pass it up. Our wonderful neighbors (who will be moving soon) decided to join us for the fun, hoping to make going-away gifts for some friends with the peaches they gathered.

So we piled in our cars one Saturday morning and headed to...

We grabbed some buckets and hopped on the tractor ride to the fields.

Nathan was slightly more excited than Mrs. Neighbor who was talking herself out of the throws of morning sickness. What a good sport, right? And truth be told he wasn't excited about farm life. He was excited by the cheez-its our neighbors brought for him.
The first stop were the blackberry bushes. Wow, did they taste good warmed by the sun! You can't see how purple Nathan's mouth and teeth are in this picture. They matched his shirt.

Look at those fat berries! Mmmm!
 Then the tractor drove us to the peach orchard. So exciting!

 After an hour of picking in 100 degree weather, we hopped crawled back on to the tractor ride and rode back to the main house and barn.

Silly picture with Nathan's new best buddies. Boy are we going to miss them!
 Great Country Farms has TONS of other fun things to do. We got lost in all the attractions for four hours! Play grounds, a mining station, animals, a jumping pillow, corn pit with lots of trucks for digging and dumping, go carts (the free, pedal kind), rope swings, and the list goes on.

After a very long morning we headed back home, stopping at Target to pick up 12 more canning jars after realizing that the 20 lbs of peaches we were shooting for quickly became 70 lbs at the cash register. Oops. What in the world was I going to do with 250 peaches?

You will have to wait until next time.  

The suspense is killing you, I know.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Party Time!

 Three years ago, I awoke to find something heavy laying across my face. As I lifted it off, I realized it was my own hand. Slowly it all started coming back to me. I had been drugged. And then someone told me I had a baby, and it was a boy.

It is amazing what a little morphine can do to you.

Rescue Nathan Day was really not that dramatic. But it was incredible! Becoming a Mommy for the first time is something words cannot describe. And Nathan has left me speechless so many times since.

Last night, Danny and I rigged up a little surprise outside of his door. As I crawled in bed, I tried to silence my motherly instincts that were screaming, "You are traumatizing you son!" knowing that I tend to be a little over-sensitive myself. I finally fell asleep, camera at my side, hoping to capture some first impression photos come morning.

I skipped the first impression because I was too busy trying to talk down a toddler at 6:30am. I awoke to the desperate cries of a little boy wondering why he was greeted by an avalanche of "liming" (lightning) crashing down on his head and imprisoned in his dark room. Never mind the attack was with balloons and crepe paper. After some convincing that this is what "fun" means, he mustered up the courage to push through the already-disintegrating paper and make his way to freedom.

I believe I have heard that three is a year of drama. I am already convinced.

Since we just moved here, we were not planning on really having a party for Nathan. They say kids don't really remember birthdays, etc., until about four, right? Well, apparently Nathan started inviting kids from around the neighborhood to a party *he* was planning. Kids asked parents and parents asked me. So how could I refuse? There is nothing like planning a party in 6 days.





 My wonderful husband dreamed up the idea of having a bike parade. We invited the kids over for flag painting, bike decorating and a horn-blowing parade around the neighborhood.

Everyone came back to our place for peanutbutterjelly cones, hummus and cheese (Nathan's main staples), followed by an ice cream sundae bar. I think the parents were just as elated as the kiddos.

Before the chaos ensued, we enjoyed our 2am efforts.
Nathan and our wonderful next-door neighbor!
Trying to get a mid-party shot.

I had an apostrophe, but it fell off. 

We had a wonderful time meeting new families (yes, we only actually knew ONE family there...the other two families we just walked up to and asked them to come to the party. SO glad they did)! Nathan felt so special. And the best part is we get to celebrate again next weekend when we go see the MONSTER TRUCKS at the county fair!

What Makes Nathan...Nathan! 3.0

~you have a sick obsession for watching surgery on Daddy's iPad.
~you refer to body parts as tibias and "fibias" and intestines and veins and "castles" (capillaries)...
~you like to try to understand or figure out whatever scares you, to be in control.
~you eat anything! from lentils to kale to meatballs to basil straight from the plant.
~you want to do it right the first time.
~you are gentle and nurturing.
~you are easily frustrated with yourself (and sometimes Mommy and Daddy).
~you love reading (especially Berenstain Bears and Jesus Storybook Bible), digging in the dirt with your trucks and building Goliath with blocks.
~you love to swim in the big pool (finally) as long as you feel in control.
~you still love to cuddle! PLEASE DON'T STOP!

Happy Birthday, my sweet boy.

Friday, August 10, 2012

How We Roll: Green Juice

I am sure I should be posting about peach processing since it seems I have become a jam factory over the past 5 days. But I needed a break from that fuzzy fruit so I turn, instead, to something cold and creamy!

This has become one of our all-time favorite afternoon snacks. I have tried to sneak it past Nathan before (kinda hard to muffle the whirr of a blender), but I have realized that it is easier to use it as leverage. Take a good nap, you get green juice. Clean up your room, you get green juice. Vaccuum and wash the floors, you get green juice. (A girl's gotta have some motivation, too).

Kale is, in my opinion, the perfect "base" for a smoothie. It has virtually no taste, thickens without added calories and is a great source of vitamins and protein. After a good spin in an ordinary blender, it provides a delicious and healthy drink that will get you to dinner without eating all the crackers in the closet.

If you want to give it a try, here's my version. There are a million ways to do it, but this uses what I have on hand and keeps it clean.

The Ingredients:
Kale (fill blender about 1/3 of the way, tightly packed--maybe about 2 cups, or a little more.
1/2 frozen banana. When they are starting to look to old to eat on their own, I peel them, break them in half and freeze them on a plate. Then pop them in the banana baggie in the freezer!
1/3 c frozen (or not) fruit--anything will do, though peaches aren't that great unless they are really sweet. Blueberries are one of my favorites! Mango, strawberries, etc...
1/2 c milk or any other liquid. Since I took this picture, I have stopped using soy milk not because of the soy but because of the carrageenan it contains. Almond milk (without carrageenan) might be a good alternative, but it has very little protein and that's what's gonna hold you. Sometimes I use juice for Danny's or just ice and water!
1-2 T wheat germ. Great source of DHA (omega-3s), vitamin E, etc.
a few ice cubes

The Look:
 At some point you will want to smoosh the leafy kale down into the blender to get things going. Do be sure to stop the blender before you try sticking any metal objects near the blades or this might happen:

The Finished Product:
Isn't it beautiful?

The Reviews:
 I tried to get a picture of him loving it. It turned out blurry, but that is how much he loves it. The kid jumps and dances when I give it to him. That's why his cup has a lid. And why he drinks it topless.

After sucking his down (I had filled his to the brim), he always goes to the only "sipper" in the family for a refill.

So that's that. A few variations that are delish:

Yogurt. Sometimes I will save the whey from plain yogurt and use that as my liquid (also great source of protein).
Peanut butter with or without cocoa.
Orange Juice.

*note: I once used what I thought were frozen strawberries from that season's pickings. I put about 6 in the blender with Nathan's smoothie. I poured it in his cup and took a sip of the leftovers. GROSS! I was pregnant and thought something was just wrong with my taste buds. He, of course, drained his cup in no time. There were only 2 strawberries left in the bag so I popped one in my mouth. To my surprise, it was tomato sauce that I had frozen in heart-shaped ice cube trays for use on personal pizzas! That is why it tasted so bad! Nathan drank a kale, tomato and banana smoothie. So don't feel bad if your kids don't like it. Something is wrong with mine.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Birthday Countdown! (well...up.)

It is August. Wow. I kept telling myself if only I could make it August, everything would be OK.

And, well, it is! There are evenings that seem crazy if not boarderline meltdown, but we are really doing great.

But that isn't the point of this post. No, no. This is about a very special boy and his birthday (THIRD birthday to be exact) that is quickly approaching. And since I am *blessed* to be stuck at home alldayeveryday right now (D.C. is not the kind of place you can run to the grocery store real quick or even find a Target for a sand pail and shovel...that would take a few hours with traffic, etc.), I decided to take naptime to create a little something for my special little guy.

I started with a pen, a marker, paper, stencils (cuter than my own writing), double sided tape, balloons and thread.

For each balloon, I made a little card with a picture of a hiding place. Each day, Bean would pop the corresponding balloon and search the floor frantically for the card. And then search the house frantically for the hiding place and then search the hiding place frantically for a small gift (stickers, noise maker, a balloon not for popping, etc). I stuffed each card in a balloon, blew it up and tied it.

I then strung a balloon on to a thread with a needle. I then popped a balloon with said needle. I then thought better of it and secured the needle in its holder and tied the remaining balloons on to the thread the good old fashioned way. So don't use a needle.

After tying all the balloons on about 8 inches apart, I secured the "banner" to the wall and put streamers on the big "11"--his birthday!

I taped the numbers on last so they would be relatively even in placement and all facing forward (or backwards, I suppose, if you are standing in the kitchen. But whatever).

I am sure you could do a real count down, but since his birthday is only one day after 10 (where a countdown would naturally begin unless you wanted to find 20-something little gifts), and we are in the business of learning the calendar and birthDATEs and other important life skills, we went for the countUP. Brilliant, I know.

After Daddy got home from work, we popped our first balloon...


And frantically searched for our first gift: a lollipop from Halloween. And he knew it too.

But he didn't mind.