Thursday, May 21, 2015

ice cream supper

A couple days ago, my daughter and I found ourselves at home alone for the evening. My husband was working late hours, my older son was at choir rehearsal, my younger daughter was on an out-of-state trip with the grandparents, and my younger son was with my husband. We had just gotten back from town where we had attended the boys' informal choir concert. The air was thick with humidity and lightening flashed. A storm was brewing.

“How about ice cream cones for supper?” I asked.

Her answer was predictable. Cookies and cream for her, and chocolate peanut butter cup for me.

We took our cones to the deck where we could eat while keeping our eye on the storm. She sheepishly informed me that she had been wearing make-up all evening. “Really?” I said. I realized I didn't care and said so. “As long as I can't tell you're wearing it, it's okay with me.” And then

Me: So, do you have a crush on anyone?

Her: Mom! If I did, I wouldn't tell you!

Me: Okay. But if you were going to have a crush on someone, who would it be?

And so went our bantering. The girl has a knack for making me belly laugh. It's one of the things I love about older children: when they are honest-to-goodness funny. It's gratifying.

The thunder grumbled louder and the lightening jagged. We better go inside, I said. 

Claiming braces-induced chewing difficulties, she fed the tail end of her cone to the animals.

And then the rain started and in we went, supper over.

This same time, years previous: the trouble with Mother's Day, the quotidian (5.21.12), and the boring blues.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

after one year: Costco reflections

It's been more than a year since I signed up for a Costco membership. Back then, even though I was head over heels for the place, I had worries, too. Would the savings counter the cost of the membership? Would we waste food? Would we end up spending more money? Would our diet change?

Thirteen months later, I can safely say that I am deeply in love with the place. In fact, so great is my adoration and commitment that I almost feel guilty. Like I'm loving too much, too hard, too fast! Like I should be ashamed for frequenting a big box store! Like the ease with with I buy tasty and delicious food is something to hang my head about!

Do these guilt twinges mean that I'm doing something wrong? Or am I confusing “guilt” with feeling awkward about the intensity of my devotion? Who knows. Whatever. I like Costco and it meets our needs most gloriously.

Now, for those questions of yore.

Do the savings counter the cost of the membership?
Yes. We have an executive membership, and after nine months (I guess they do the calculations every January?), we got a check for 135 dollars. I put 110 dollars towards the next year's membership and the extra 25 dollars in my “food savings” envelope (for parties, extra hosting, purchasing summertime produce in bulk, etc). We do not use their credit card, but my understanding is that doing so boosts the savings considerably.

Do we waste food?
Once in a while, yes. I have trouble using up the fresh spinach before it turns slimy. Same with some of the lettuces. Once I bought a pack of bell peppers and they molded within several days. I called the store and they said I should just ask for my money back the next time I came in—no need to haul in the rotten proof. Three cheers for great customer service! But aside from those examples, we haven't had any trouble.

Do we spend more money?
I don't have hard data, but I don't think so. We definitely spend the vast majority of our food budget—and a good portion of household and clothing—at Costco, but we're not dishing out more money than we were before. In fact, it feels like I often have money left over at the end of each month.

Has our diet changed?
Yes, to some extent. There's not as much variety with some things—I buy the same snack foods, cereals, and apples—and we eat a lot of the same dishes for a longer period of time. For example, when I made tuna salad from the giant can of tuna, we ate sandwiches, wraps, and tuna melts for a week. Other times, we'll eat a chicken-based diet for a few days, or lots of yogurt, or a rash of giant salads. Our diet was cyclical before, but now, because the quantities of food are greater, the cycles last longer. Which I like! Also, I'm not experimenting with new purchases as much—no little bottles of unusual dressings, small bags of legumes, or specialty baking chocolates—because the quantity is prohibitive. (I pick those things up at the regular grocery store when I need them.)

As for what I buy:
I stock things I didn't stock before: those addicting potato chips, dried cranberries, raw almonds, sharp cheddar, apples, and hot dogs.
With some regularity I purchase Greek yogurt, bagels, wine, bananas, lettuce, sweet bell peppers, and a sack of some sort of chocolate.
I splurge on the occasional ready-made product, like the mango salsa, guacamole, pollo asado, tzatziki sauce, chicken nuggets, or spinach ravioli.

It feels like we are eating more gourmet food—and sometimes less from-scratch—but without the financial cost.

Costco on a plate: flour tortilla, black beans, pollo asado, sour cream, 
lettuce, cucumbers, tomatoes, cheese, and mango peach salsa.

I can be hard on myself about those premade foods. I'm a huge advocate for from-scratch cooking. Anything less and I feel like I'm cheating. But I have to keep in mind that we pretty much never eat out. Maybe having a few premade foods on hand is our version of restaurant dining? Having standards and cutting myself some slack is such a balancing act. I rarely get it right.

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (5.20.13), up at the property, caramel cake, and fowl-ness.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

campfire cooking

One of the attractions of Grandmommy and Grandaddy's house is that they let the grandkids cook over the campfire pretty much whenever they want. In fact, my parents are so committed to Campfire Dining that right outside the kitchen on the wall above the little deck—that my dad built a couple weeks ago—hang all the necessary instruments. When my children return from a visit, their clothes pungent with wood smoke, they regale me with tales of Golden Toasted Bagels, All-You-Can-Eat Hot Dogs, and The Perfect Fried Egg Ever.

The other evening when we had supper at their place, my younger son cooked the asparagus—my contribution to the meal—over the fire. Later that evening, my younger son tried to bake a chocolate chip cookie a la pancakes (it tasted ridiculously horrific), and the kids begged to do s'mores. Meany that I am, I said, No chocolate and only two marshmallows each, do you hear me?

They still had fun. Of course.

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (5.19.14), rhubarb streusel muffins, and caramel cake.

Monday, May 18, 2015

the quotidian (5.18.15)

Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
everyday; ordinary; commonplace

On my kitchen sill.

Tart art.

For this recipe
I liked it, but no one else was a fan, and this recipe, I think, has greater flavor fireworks. 
(But the addition of peas was lovely.)

By the handful: how I take my poison.

Rhubarb leaf armor.

Bucket of Dobby.

Tatters: proof that another season is ending.

Because she wanted a turn: into the field for a driving lesson. 
My husband reported that she laughed hysterically the whole time.

Never send your husband to the hardware store for corn seed when there is a tool show going on.

(Any guesses as to what?)

This same time, years previous: my favorite things, talking points rained out, and cinnamon tea biscuits.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Captain Morgan's rhubarb sours

When my sister-in-law's family came to visit last summer, they brought along the fixings for their summer-evening-chilling-on-the-porch adult beverage: some jugs of grapefruit juice and a bottle of Captain Morgan spiced rum. We sipped on the deliciousness for the duration of their visit. When they took off, they left behind the one remaining bottle of grapefruit juice but not the rum. I was sorry to see it (and them, of course) go, but I didn't blame them.

Fast forward to this week when I stopped by our local liquor store. I was out of rum and Bailey's. I always put off purchasing liquor for a long as possible because it's such a blow to the wallet. But summery drink season was dawning. It was time for the plunge.

The children were with me and two of them wanted to come in. Keep your hands in your pockets and stay behind me like ducklings, I barked. I had nightmarish visions of curious fingers, slippery glass, and an extra large bill at checkout.

The kids did just fine, but I got sidetracked in the rum aisle by a Captain Morgan spotting and the subsequent profound longing for grapefruit juice and summer evenings on the deck. At checkout, my bill was higher than anticipated.

That evening I whirled up the rhubarb juice per the recipe for rhubarb daiquiris, but I omitted the rosemary syrup (my rosemary plants are still too small to contribute to the world), added a generous squeeze of lemon, and then the spiced rum instead of the plain stuff.

It's a sharp drink—lip-puckery and tart—making it the ideal refreshment for hot summer evenings. Before rhubarb season ends, I plan to make a couple extra batches of the rhubarb juice which I'll freeze in anticipation of a whole summer's worth of evening drinks.

Captain Morgan's Rhubarb Sour

For one drink:
1/3 cup rhubarb syrup (recipe below)
1 ounce (2 tablespoons) Captain Morgan's Spiced Rum
1 thick wedge of lemon, juiced into the glass

Combine all ingredients. Pour into an ice-filled glass. Serve immediately.

For the rhubarb syrup:
3 cups chopped fresh rhubarb
½ cup sugar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1¼ cups water

Combine all ingredients in a blender and whiz until liquefied. Pour the mixture through a strainer, pressing on the pulp with the back of a spoon to extract all the juice. Discard the pulp. Pour the syrup into a quart jar and store in the refrigerator. (If freezing, measure 2/3 cup of juice into half-pint jars.) Shake well before using.

This same time, years previous: crock pot pulled venison, maseca cornbread, people watching and baby slinging, help, the quotidian, a burger, a play, and some bagels, 'twas an honorbaked brown rice, strawberry spinach salad, bald-headed baby, raspberry mint tea, garden tales, part one, and garden tales, part two.  

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

on getting a teen out of bed in the morning

My older son hates being told when to turn off his light at night, so we struck a deal: he can stay up late so long as he gets up when we tell him to. (And we are not people to slouch around on the morning. Up And At 'Em is our motto.)

This has worked just fine until recently. Somehow the kid has gotten the crazy notion that he should also be allowed to sleep in as long as he likes. As a result, waking him up—at the reasonable and relaxed hour of 7:30, thank you very much—has turned into a battle involving multiple shoutings up the stairs and poundings on the ceiling above the dining room table (his bedroom floor). When he finally does heave his exhausted body out of bed, he moves about with such torturous sluggishness that it's as though he's still asleep, therefore defeating the purpose of getting out of bed in the first place.

“I don't see why I have to get up so early," he'd moan resentfully. "I wish you'd let me sleep as long as I want.”

So on Saturday morning, we did. He slept until 10:30 and then—to our uproarious amusement—spent the rest of the day fussing because we didn't wake him earlier.

“I meant, Let me sleep until 8 o'clock, or something,” he whined. “Sleeping that late makes me feel like I lost half the day. And I can't stop being sleepy.” Ha! I couldn't have crafted a more fabulous learning opportunity if I had tried.

So now we have a new plan:

*He has to be alert and downstairs by 7:30.
*If he needs us to wake him up, he has to tell us. Otherwise we won't.
*When we wake him, he has to say “Thank you.”
*If he's late, he has extra math. (His choice of consequence. I was going to charge him money.)

Days One and Two were a success, so... here's to energetic and cheerful mornings! [clinks coffee mug]

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (5.12.14) and rhubarb sorbet.

Monday, May 11, 2015

the quotidian (5.11.15)

Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
everyday; ordinary; commonplace


Boiled taters.

For when there is no swimming pool.

If you leave a piece of clothing outside, an animal will sleep on it.


Tallying the jumps.


On loan: the neighbor's horse.


Riding bareback: the repercussions.

Kids + a flaming torch = no more tent caterpillars.

How many Murches does it take to till the garden?

Making me happy.

This same time, years previous: happy weekending, one more thing, margarita cake, lemony spinach and rice salad with fresh dill and feta, hummus, and the mother of his children.  

Saturday, May 9, 2015

rhubarb crunch vanilla ice cream

Hot weather has hit. All the trees have all the leaves (or they will in two more days), and they make that swoony swishy noise when the breeze blows. The birds are singing their fool heads off, building nests, and crashing into our windows and then getting eaten by the cat.

I've gone to the greenhouse twice. There is dirt under my nails and dirt clods (small ones!) on my kitchen floor. The children are sick of asparagus, the eggs are coming in fast, and for the first time ever, we have all the rhubarb we can eat. Yay for planting a second rhubarb patch!

The other day I found myself with some leftover sour cherry and rhubarb crunch and a half box of vanilla ice cream. Everyone knows that fruit crunches are meant to be eaten with vanilla ice cream, and everyone also knows that fruity sauces are great on top of ice cream. I have two fabulous ice cream books (this and this), so I happen to know there are all sorts of delux ice cream recipes that call for making a fruit sauce or cookie base and then folding it into the ice cream. But why complicate matters? If you have a leftover crunch, a brand new fancy ice cream is only seconds away.

Or so I figured. It was worth a shot, right? I dumped the ice cream into a bowl and hacked it up with a spoon. Then I cut in the leftover crisp, taking care not to over mix—I wanted the swirl effect, not a soupy mess. I packed the new ice cream back into the carton and popped it into the freezer to set up.

As I dug into my treat later that afternoon, my husband (who was not in the mood to eat ice cream, what ails him?) wondered out loud why this was superior to plain crisp with plain ice cream. I explained that it's the difference between ice cream with tooth-breaking chocolate on top and ice cream with soft chocolate swirled throughout. Totally different.

Also, when pairing crunches and ice cream, crunches are often served warm, making the ice cream all creamy-melty. Which is good! But this combo is not the same. The crisp is frozen, yes, but instead of completely hardening, the brown sugar and oatmeal topping turns chewy and caramely. Same for the fruit: instead of turning icy and hard like frozen fruit does, it's tender, juicy, and toothsome.

You just may want to give it a go.

Rhubarb Crunch Vanilla Ice Cream

When I made my rhubarb crunch, I used half sour cherries and half rhubarb. Use whatever fruit you want.

1-2 cups leftover rhubarb crunch, chilled
4 cups vanilla ice cream

In a large bowl, cut the crunch into the ice cream. Don't incorporate it. You want to be able to tell the two apart. Package the new ice cream into a container. Freeze for several hours before serving.

This same time, years previous: how it is, immersion, black bean and sweet potato chili, the family reunion of 2012, "that's the story of Mom and us", warts and all, and kind of a joke.  

Thursday, May 7, 2015

the science of parenting

Upon seeing a friend mention NurtureShock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman on Facebook, I ordered it immediately. This is not like me. I'm much more likely to use Amazon to research books and then check them out through the library. But not this time. The book had scads of rave reviews, and I had a hunch I'd want to pass it around and use it as a reference. 'Twas a smart move.

The authors' premise is that we approach parenting with a lot of instincts that are actually just culturally-based practices. In fact, there is a slew of scientific research explaining how these “instincts” are actually false and harmful, but somehow no one is paying attention to the facts. These authors use the science we're all ignoring to challenge our parenting methods and debunk our assumptions. So enlightening!

Some of their critiques of common parenting practices came as no surprise to me, but even so, it was refreshing to understand the Why and How. Other critiques were brand new and gave me pause. Just to give you an idea, here are a few concepts I gleaned (interpreted with all my biases and therefore not at all scientific, so don't quote me).

*Parents feel that arguing with their teens is a bad thing, but it doesn't seem to bother teens that much. Also, teen arguing is actually a healthy sign of respect and shouldn't be perceived as a threat to the parent-child relationship.

*Adults are motivated by praise; children not so much. In fact, praise unmotivates children.

*Observing healthy conflict has no negative effect on children as long as they also see the resolution. In fact, kids need to observe conflict and reconciliation. So don't start an argument with your spouse in front of the kids and then finish it in private. Put it out there.

*For adults, playtime is a way to relax and rejuvenate; for children, it is crucial to their development.

*Aggression is not necessarily bad and empathy is not necessarily good. 

*It's pointless to do IQ testing on children before the second grade and yet we do it on a regular basis (sometimes as early as 9 months) and then lock children into (or out of) gifted programs.

*White parents don't teach their children about race because they hope their kids won't notice it. This is false. The window of opportunity when children are most receptive to learning about the equality of all races begins to close in early elementary school, so talk early and talk often.

*When children are consistently sleep-deprived (and children are, across the board, getting an hour less of sleep then they should be), it does irreversible brain damage.

But the idea that struck me as the most intriguing has to do with how children learn to talk. (Apparently there is a big push to get kids to talk earlier? I did not know this, or if I did, I've forgotten. All I remember about my kids learning to talk is being kind of happy when my kids couldn't talk because, once they learned, I had competition.) In order to get kids to talk earlier, parents might do things such as make their babies watch language videos, speak to them in two languages, or keep up a running commentary of everything that's going on.

None of this works. You know what does? Responding to the child. If parents notice what the child is looking at something and then name it, or if they respond to their child's babbling with physical affection, their child's language learning increases with leaps and bounds. In other words, kids learn language best when they initiate the learning process and the adults follow their lead and respond accordingly.

Which sounds like good evidence in favor of self-directed learning, yes? When children—or adults, for that matter—initiate their own learning, learning happens so much more efficiently and effectively. Our role as parents is not to lecture our kids, or flood them with information, but rather to observe them closely and then respond at their level. This is so simple it feels stupid, but it works.

To be fair, I don't think the authors once mentioned homeschooling, but I felt that many of the concepts affirmed the practice. For example, take this paragraph on page 194 regarding children and socialization (a question that homeschoolers field with exhausting regularity). For more punch, I suggest reading it out loud.

We thought that aggressiveness was the reaction to peer rejection, so we have painstakingly attempted to eliminate peer rejection from the childhood experience. In its place is elaborately orchestrated peer interaction. We've created the play date phenomenon, while ladening older kids' schedules with after-school activities. We've segregated children by age—building separate playgrounds for the youngest children, and stratifying classes and teams. Unwittingly, we've put children into an echo chamber. Today's average middle schooler has a phenomenal 299 peer interactions a day. The average teen spends sixty hours a week surrounded by a peer group (and only sixteen hours a week surrounded by adults). This has created the perfect atmosphere for a different strain of aggression-virus to breed—one fed not by peer rejection, but fed by the need for peer status and social ranking. The more time peers spend together, the stronger this compulsion is to rank high, resulting in the hostility of one-upmanship. All those lessons about sharing and consideration can hardly compete. We wonder why it takes twenty years to teach a child how to conduct himself in polite society—overlooking the fact that we've essentially left our children to socialize themselves. 

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (5.5.14), fence, not what we're used to, the quotidian (5.6.13), so far today, my boy, rhubarb chicken and mushroom chicken, rhubarb cream pie, I have nothing to say, the bike question revisited, naked pita chips, pounding the pulpit, and baked macaroni and cheese.        

Monday, May 4, 2015

the quotidian (5.4.15)

Quotidian: daily, usual or customary; 
everyday; ordinary; commonplace

Spring rain.


False alarm and dashed hopes. 
My daughter discovered that Jessica was, weirdly enough, producing milk. Could she be pregnant? We thought not, but then we counted back and, sure enough, pregnancy was possible. But days passed, there was no baby lamb, and we were left to wonder: do sheep have false pregnancies?
Do they produce milk when ovulating (or something)?

Tasty art.

I don't even know.

Doing studies while babysitting: because his mother is a taskmaster.

Any time, any place: in his own world.

A leaf crown: because springtime makes us feel royally grand.

This same time, years previous: carrot cake with cream cheese frosting, depression mayonnaise chocolate cake, creamy avocado macaroni and cheese, baked-in-a-pot artisan bread, the definition of insanity, take two, burning the burn pile, rhubarb daiquiri, green smoothie, how to get your bedding/house/kids clean in one day, roasted rhubarb, strawberry cheesecake ice cream, and classy rhubarb pie with cream cheese pastry.