Thursday, November 20, 2014

apple raisin bran muffins

I already have two, no three, bran muffin recipes on this site, but it’s time to add another. I don’t know what it is about bran—maybe the dry, toasty flavor?—but I love the stuff. Eating food with bran makes the whole eating experience more worthy, like my life has greater intensity and purpose.


It’s a lie, of course. My life is worth the same if I’d be eating a blueberry muffin with cinnamon streusel. But some days I’ll take any validation I can get. If it happens to come in the form of a muffin, then so be it. Go, bran.

I actually had to go buy a box of bran to makes these muffins. I used to have something like eight pounds of bran in my freezer (that’s like eight pounds of feathers—it’s way more than it sounds), but then I started dumping it into my granola and it quickly got gone. So then when I wanted to make these muffins, I had to go to the store to get more bran.


The last time around making these, I doubled the batch (and now I have no more bran). I made a bunch of mini muffins which were absolutely perfect for snacking: I could space out my validation boosters all day long and never feel full!


I have a few more regular-sized muffins in the freezer. Most days, I eat a small bowl of granola for breakfast and later I thaw a muffin and fix a mug of tea for a mid-morning snack. If I’m feeling feisty, I split the muffin and spread it with way too much butter (in other words, just the right amount).


Apple Raisin Bran Muffins
Adapted from Luisa of The Wednesday Chef

Luisa uses blueberries in place of the apples and raisins. Since I didn’t have any on hand, I used red raspberries once (very good) and grated apples the next time (also very good). Pick whatever fruit you like and/or have on hand and run with it.

Also, Luisa says that the original recipe calls for ½ cups of sugar and honey, but she cut back to 1/4 cups of each. I took the middle road—1/3 cup each—and was happy.

2½ cups bran
1 cup flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon each baking soda, baking powder, and cinnamon
2 eggs, beaten
½ cup oil
1/3 cup honey
1 cup plain yogurt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1½ cups grated apple (peeled first)
½ cups raisins

In one bowl, combine the bran, flour, sugar, salt, baking soda and powder, and cinnamon. In another bowl, combine the eggs, honey, oil, yogurt, and vanilla. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and mix well. Add the apple and raisins.

Divide the batter into greased muffin tins. Fill the tins all the way to the top and even a little higher—the muffins don’t rise much. One batch makes about a dozen regular-sized muffins.

Bake the muffins at 350 degrees for about 25-30 minutes.

This same time, years previous: sock curls, candid crazy, new clothes, orange cranberry bread, smashing for prettySwiss chard and sweet potato gratin, and feminism: part one.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

in my kitchen: noon

*unusual quietness since we are listening to NPR (was it this TED radio hour? can’t remember)
*prepped: my lunch salad of greens with gourmet balsamic vinegar and olive oil, cucumbers, nuts, dried cranberries, and feta
*peanut butter and jelly for the kids
*blender full of spinach for the kids’ green smoothies
*empty loaf pans from the freshly-made bread that is cooling just outside the frame
*boy washing up the breakfast and cooking dishes
*in the pot: sauteed spinach, onions, and sausage for the supper quiches
*pile of grated cheese, also for the quiches
*daughter a-waiting the perfect moment to snitch the cheese
*also, still wearing the now-too-short gym uniform pants from their school in Guatemala
*math work waiting to be checked
*soiled food processor from making the lard and egg pastry (my favorite for quiches)
*gaping cupboard door from whence I was pulling the vinegar for the pastry (and other things, probably)
*pumpkin pie candle that I begged from my son (that he, in turn, got from an entering-high school, coming-of-age event)
*dirty glass jar that had been full of bubbling sourdough
*shower cap, used to cover one of the loaves of bread, air drying on the window opener
*through the window, little boy entering the barn (uh, no he's notthat was in the other photo, oops)

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (11.18.12), the quotidian (11.16.11), red lentil soup with lemon and spinach, three things, SSR, and brownies.

Monday, November 17, 2014

the quotidian (11.17.14)

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


Round one: needs more work.


Dealing with her beets.


Soaking up the sun.


I wish she were this pliable. 
(No, not really.) 
(Well, maybe sorta really.)


11 am on a weekday. So, um ... recess?


Because a normal walk to the park is boring.


It used to be she wouldn't speak to me. 
Now she won't stop.


Trying to make rainbows, inspiration courtesy of Cosmos.
(Though I don't recall Neil DeGrasse Tyson suggesting using a cake stand to do so...)


He waited so long for me to teach him that he fell asleep.


Sunday night, 9:00: washing the dishes.

This same time, years previous: lessons from a shopping trip, official, why I'm glad we don't have guns in our house, so far so good, in which I ask a lot of questions, and homeschooling and socialization.  

Thursday, November 13, 2014

gravity

Yesterday my mom and dad hired three of the kids to pick rocks out of their (cheap, obviously) topsoil, and since the other child was at her regular job, I had most of the morning to write. I say “most” because I did have some other tasks to do. When there are no minions to order about, I’m the one who has to pick up the household slack, shocker. So my writing time was punctuated with washing up the breakfast dishes and then hanging out two loads of laundry.


You know, I rarely hang laundry any more. The kids are the ones that get to do battle with whippy winds and wet clothes, their fingers going numb in the process. But they’re young. They have excellent circulation, so I figure they can endure better than I. But yesterday was warm with crystal-blue skies. As I strung up the clothes, my freshly-oxygenated mind roamed over a whole passel of ideas in the most productive and invigorating of ways. It was lovely.

The clothing hung, I walked back to the house, my roiling brain still deep in esoteric thoughts that, if captured properly, I’m convinced, would make me a millionaire. As I climbed the porch steps, I was phrasing a brilliant sentence just so when my flipflop snagged the edge of the step and I found myself studying the porch concrete much more closely than I am accustomed. (It’s gray. Also, hard.) I was immediately aware of the neighbors’ voices across the road and I flipped onto my back, hoping they hadn’t witnessed my stunt. (They hadn’t. Thank you, bushes.)

I lay on my back in a puddle of sunlight and pondered the porch beams.

“Did that really just happen?” I asked out loud.

“Yeah, it did,” I said, answering my own questions. “That just happened.”

Of course the moment I hit the ground, all my profound thoughts scattered. Just like that, my world screeched to a halt. My perspective, quite literally, changed.

It’s ironic, isn’t it. I march through life like I own it, but one floppy flipflop and everything shifts. One second walking, my head in the clouds; the next flat on my back. My fragility is stunning. I am so totally not invincible.

I sat up. My knee hurt. It burned with a ferociousness I had forgotten existed. How long had it been since I’d skinned my knee on concrete? Years, probably. Maybe decades, even. So this is why kids cry when they fall down, I thought. Maybe I’ll be a little more sympathetic next time.

I hobbled back into the house, checked my knee for blood (there was none—I’m a wimp), and settled back on the couch for some more writing. And at noon I went over to my parents’ house and ate lunch with the crew: scalloped potatoes with hot dogs and carrots, fresh applesauce, and tapioca with barely-thawed strawberries.

The end.

This same time, years previous: the wiggles, the greats, and Chinese apple and cabbage salad.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

I will never be good at sales

Last night was the last in a series of nine money management classes that my husband and I co-facilitated. I felt a bit awkward, doing the class. I mean, here we were sharing a process that has so radically changed how we handle money and yet, oh dear, what if everyone thinks the whole thing is stupid?

No one said that, of course. They were much too polite.

But the situation is kind of rough. Basically, you take a group of people, people who are fairly comfortable and confident with how they’ve been handling money (because, Hello, we aren’t walking around naked and starving, are we?) but yet are willing to shell out $93 because they want to improve. You spend the next nine weeks showing them how they are doing everything all wrong and then try to get them to change their habits by telling them they must do lots of super-hard work. To top off the whole sorry mess, the lead (and very gifted) teacher is opinionated, sports spotty theology (by my standards), and often rubs people the wrong way. Plus, in recent months he’s gotten in legal and ethical trouble—clearly, the guy is no saint. And yet I still want people to spend nine hours watching him prance back and forth on a fancy stage and then do what he says because, dagnabbit, it works.




Like I said, AWKWARD.

(Also, I am so not a good salesperson, what with my freakish tendency to flaunt the underbelly and all. “Oo-oh! Agony, turmoil, irritation, stress, and despair can all be yours for a small fee of just ninety-three dollars! Sign up now!” This is me selling the class. Someone shut me up.)

In last night’s meeting, I asked the group how they have changed as a result of the class. Answers included:

“My wife and I are more on the same page than ever before.”
“I’m paying more attention.”
“I’m no longer afraid of money.”
“I’m tightening things up.”
“I want my kids to learn this.”

One guy said that he’s feeling both better and worse. Better because he feels like he has a more complete understanding of their financial situation for the first time ever, and worse because, well, the financial situation.

And then I told them (yet again) that it may take another 18 months (at least) of steady chipping away (i.e. making a monthly zero-based budget, attacking debt, etc) before they will start to see any notable difference. And even then, there might not be much! Discouragement will probably continue to be the predominant feeling for a good while. But also! There will be the pride that comes from tackling a difficult job head on, and, if married, the satisfaction that comes from team work! (Actually, I didn’t say that part about pride and team work last night, but I wish I had. Because it’s true.)

We’ll be hosting another class this spring, and our youth pastor will be teaching a junior level of this stuff to our youth group. If you’re interested in the adult class (final dates TBA), let me know.

Signed,
Your Guide To Misery and ... (fingers crossed!) Beyond!

This same time, years previous: refrigerator bran muffins, sparkle blondies, chicken salad, and how it really is.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

butternut squash galette with caramelized onions and goat cheese

On Saturday, we had friends over for supper. Along with the salad, I served a butternut squash galette.


That afternoon, the rest of the family was working outside so I had the kitchen to myself. I cranked up NPR and had myself a jolly good time. In fact, I was having so much fun that I neglected to push myself at the breakneck speeds necessary in order to get everything done in time. As a result, when the guests arrived, I had only just slipped the first galette into the oven.


No matter. We drank red wine, visited, and gave an impromptu tour of the house. And as soon as the first galette was ready, we dug in. But then we had to stop and wait for the second one to finish baking. So we drank more wine and did more visiting. The meal was turning into a lingering affair, which, I was happy to discover, was actually quite pleasant and not at all disaster-ish.


The second galette eaten (all but two pieces), we tucked into the apple pie (more pastry!) and ice cream and passed around cups of coffee. And then we moved into the living room (while my older son washed the dishes) and visited until after all the kids had put themselves to sleep.

The following morning I ate a piece of leftover galette for breakfast. And the next day, too.  It’s all gone now, but I can’t stop thinking about it. A galette is such a simple, elegant dish with any number of variations.


Butternut Squash Galette with Caramelized Onions and Goat Cheese
Adapted from Dinner With Julie.

1 recipe of rich butter pastry (but substitute whole wheat flour for at least half of the white flour), divided into two disks and chilled
1-2 pounds of peeled and seeded butternut squash
2 onions, peeled
pinch of sugar
olive oil
fresh rosemary (or dried)
6 ounces creamy goat cheese
salt and black pepper

Thinly slice the squash, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and microwave, covered, for about four minutes or until tender. (Another option is to steam the squash on the stove top or roast it, covered, in the oven.)

Slice the onions in half lengthwise. Place each half face down and then slice thinly into half circles. On medium heat, saute the onions with a hearty drizzle of olive oil, a couple pinches of sugar, and salt. The onions are finished when they are satiny golden, about 20 minutes or so.

Roll out one of the pastry disks as you would for a pie. Place it on a parchment-lined baking tray. Using only half of the filling ingredients, layer the squash with the onions and goat cheese on top of the pastry round, making sure to leave a one-inch border all the way around. As you fill the pastry, sprinkle each layer with salt, pepper, and rosemary. Fold the edge of pastry up over the filling. Repeat, using the remaining ingredients and the second disk of pastry.

Bake the pastry at 400 degrees for 30-40 minutes or until the pastry is golden brown. Serve warm or at room temperature.

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (11.11.13), the quotidian (11.11.12), my apple lineup, a first step, and relieving the mental pressure.

Monday, November 10, 2014

the quotidian (11.10.14)

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


She wanted to cook.


He wanted popcorn.


Kitchen Wars 
Squash: 0 
Me: 1 
Yum-yum.



Exhibit A: feta, spinach, caramelized cherry tomato.
Exhibit B: pepperoni (the favorite)
Exhibit C: pork barbecue 


This secondhand gift from a friend has become my favorite cooking companion.


What appears to be a studious moment but isn't.


She hung out at her father's job site and brought home this trophy.


Horse on a porch. 
(Also, fact: horses don't like it when you eat apples in front of them.) 


Breaking rock.


Hi, Kitty.


She harvested the beets I was trying to ignore and then forced me to roast them.
The nerve. 


Curried pumpkin is what's for supper.
(In other words, I need to make a dessert so they have incentive to eat their supper.)

This same time, years previous: pumpkin cranberry cream cheese muffins, Halloween candy-infused brownies, mashed sweet potatoes, a boy book, chicken and white bean chili, peanut butter cream pie, and sausage quiche with potato crust.

Friday, November 7, 2014

for the time change

Confession: I love the fall-back part of daylight savings.


Wait! Wait! Don’t hate! Let me ‘splain!

Reasons I dig autumn daylight (or, night-dark, rather) savings:

1. The extra hour of light in the morning allows me to go running and maybe even, if I’m lucky, coerce my running-adverse husband into shuffling alongside. (He will read this and blow his top because I just said he "shuffles." But I do not care. Here’s why. Just this week he bought a blinding florescent yellow, sweat-wicky running shirt AND running shoes AND glow-in-the-dark socks. At first I was happy because yay running partner. But then I got pissed because I’m the one who has been faithfully trotting my arse out of bed to pound the pavement for the last eight months and I didn’t spend any money to do it. I do my thing in non-athletic, frumpy garb and my not-even-wannabe-runner husband spiffs up for just the idea. Something is wrong with this picture.)

2. With the time change, we are getting up earlier, get things done sooner, and then getting to savor the longer evenings.

3. The kids go to bed earlier so I have more time to watch Parks and Rec.

I do recall that when the kids were little, the lost hour wrecked havoc. Suddenly, the twits were waking up at five in the morning, crying all day, napping at weird times, and then staying up too late. Back then, the change was hellish.

But now that the kids are older, it’s a dream. (And yes, you may disagree. I won’t cry.)

Now, for the (delightfully!) long evenings streeeeeeetching ahead, some good reads from around the web:

This article about creativity and why we don't really like it as much as we'd like to think.

This story about growing up unschooled (until age 13). Of all her refreshing comments, my favorite is this: "When we weren't inspired—which was often—we simply did nothing at all." (Bonus: she includes a list of books that helped shape her parents' decision to unschool.)

This article by Peter Gray about how children teach themselves to read.

This story about a father's decision not to save for his children's college. (We aren't saving, either.)

This Parks and Rec clip of Amy and Joe. Every time I see it, my mood lightens.

This TED radio hour talk about millennials. (My oldest is, by the skin of his teeth, a millennial.)

How is your heart?

This same time, years previous: maple roasted squash, bierocks, yesterday, let me sum up, crispy cinnamon cookies, a teacher's lesson, brown sugar icing, living history, and no zip.    

Thursday, November 6, 2014

musings from the coffee shop

I’m sitting in a coffee shop. All that's left of my latte is a puddle of cold fuzz. It’s gray outside. My feet are cold. (I have a bird I love to hold...) It’s easier, and a lot more entertaining, to watch people than it is to write. Writing bores me. Heck, I bore me. I have nothing new to say.

A different shop. A different coffee. Same idea. 

Ben recently wrote that he hardly ever edits what he writes. He just sits down, usually without a clear idea even, and types for a bit before hitting publish. And I’m all like, Wha—? No edits? No woodpeckeresque backspacing? No resorting to chocolate and Facebook?

The way I see it, I have two strikes against me. First, it takes me a long time to write anything. Second, I don’t have any ideas. I might as well just give up now.

I recently won a new cookbook. When it arrived, I settled down at the table to have a look-see. It didn’t take long for my excitement to turn to dismay. The book was, quite frankly, horrible. Everything about it was cliché and over-simplified. (How’s that for over-simplification?) For example, one of the recommendations for sprucing up a kitchen is to spend thirty minutes doing a thorough fridge cleaning. As in, uplug the beast and pull it out from the wall to scrub its backside, sort, trash, and compost the containers of food, soak the drawers and disinfect the shelving and walls all in thirty measly minutes. Unless they were confusing a college mini fridge with the standard big box, I don’t think so.

Furthermore, any book that encourages me to not sweat the cleaning and instead light a candle in the bathroom in hopes that no one will turn on the lights is not to be trusted. Since when does anyone go into an unfamiliar bathroom and not turn on the lights, candle or no? When I mentioned that nugget of bathroom advice to my husband, he was all like, Ew, gross!

What’s the value in making things seem easier than they are? In the case of this cookbook, the answer is money, I guess. The easy way out is what sells.

It’s all a bunch of lies, though. There is no easy way out. At least not for the good stuff. Cooking takes time. Cleaning takes time. The satisfaction you get out of something is in direct proportion to what you put in. Why, just this afternoon, I was ranting to my son, Stop trying to take the easy way out! Sweat! Push yourself! (Humph. Appears I am my own cliché.)

So why do I think my writing should be easy? Why would I want it to be?

The more often I do something, the easier it becomes. Well, kind of. The doing action is easier, but it’s still a head battle to apply myself. Once I commit to the work, the battle’s mostly won.

Some days I don’t win very many battles. Instead of cooking the farro and chopping the spinach, I eat the jelly beans . Instead of cracking that book with the unfamiliar author, I idly scroll. Instead of popping out of bed, lacing up my sneakers, and trotting down the road, I shuffle around in slippers, grumping at the other humans cluttering up my personal space.

Soon I’ll toss my paper cup in the trash and head home. After a supper of spaghetti carbonara (perhaps I’ll add spinach?), I’ll reread this post. Maybe I’ll decide to delete it. Before bed, I’ll straighten up the house. Perhaps I’ll toss that disappointing cookbook in the box that’s destined for the thrift store.

Because it’s always possible that my easy is someone else’s hard.

This same time, years previous: how are you different now?, laid flat, homeschoolers have it tough, and lemon squares.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

when your child can't read

“When I learn to read, I’m going to read every book in the library!”


My daughter was nine or ten when she said this. Or maybe she was twelve. I don’t remember. Either way, she was far beyond the normal age at which children are expected to read.

We had experimented with phonetics and word memorization, a variety of curriculums, special flash cards, and spelling programs. She learned keyboarding, and even spent nine months immersed in a second language. When we worked closely with her and slowed everything way down, she could figure it out, but hand her a cereal box or a Berenstain Bears book and she hadn’t a clue. Letters held no meaning. It was like she was blind.

Sometimes I pushed her and for short periods it’d feel like we were making progress. Eventually, though, she’d hit a wall and the lessons would erupt with yelling, torn pages, and stormy tears. Each time this happened, I was forced to re-evaluate. Was all the frustration and pain really necessary? Was there a better way?

There is more to reading than just 'knowing how,' I’d chant to myself. Be patient. Wait.

And to my daughter, I said (over and over and over again), “You’re smart. People learn at different speeds and at different times. The reading part of your brain needs to do some more growing. You’ll get it.”

In my gut, I believed this. Eventually, she would learn to read because that’s what people do and because it’s what she wanted.

But, but ... what if I was wrong? What if she was struggling because I wasn’t teaching her right? What if she had issues that could only be resolved with the help of an expert?

“She’s got to learn,” my husband would say. “How much longer are you going to let this go on?”

He wasn’t the only one worrying. My friends were worried; I could sense the doubt and concern lurking behind their hearty encouragements. My mom was worried. Heck, I was worried. I was worried sick.

By trying to let my daughter learn at her own speed, I was stepping so far out of the realm of normal that it smacked of stupidity, irresponsibility, and negligence, especially since it was clear she had some sort of disability. If my closest friends and family thought I was probably making a mistake, how could I open up to a wider circle? When stressed and insecure, it’s more important than ever to be surrounded with supportive people, so I kept my mouth shut. The isolation was piercing.

In spite of my intense self-doubt and constant wavering, I couldn’t bring myself to change course. See, I had a bunch of questions—questions so basic they seemed naive—that had no answers. For example:

*With a reading specialist’s assistance, how much earlier does the child actually learn to read?
*Does the child learn to read because of the extra help or because the brain is developmentally ready?
*Do the extra weeks, months, or years that are gained through the tutoring really matter all that much?
*Might the time spent struggling to read be better spent doing something the child is cognitively ready to do?
*When we “help” in the name of earlier and faster, what is sacrificed? What happens to the child’s joy, curiosity, confidence, interest, and self-esteem?

I read blogs and combed the library and the internet in search of my answers, yet all I discovered were all the usual professionals pounding out the same old freak-out-and-do-something-now-before-it’s-too-late routine. I did glean a handful of stories of people who learned to read late and are now doing well, and, while nice to read and rather encouraging, they weren’t the scientific studies I was looking for. Without answers, I couldn’t see the value of pushing my daughter to read before she was ready. Nor could I completely cave to my rising panic.





Off and on, my husband and I debated whether or not to get her tested. I discussed my anxieties with another mother of a late-reading daughter who had undergone extensive testing and tutoring.

“Would you say her reading has finally clicked?” I asked the mother. “I mean, does she read chapter books for fun?”

“She can read, but she only does it when she has to. It’s not something she really enjoys.”

Oh.

If the girl didn’t enjoy reading, where was the victory?



Then all on her own my daughter started reading young adult fiction: some Emily Windsnap books, The Coming of the Dragons, Peter and the Starcatchers, etc. I watched her mounting enthusiasm from the corners of my eyes, hardly daring to breathe. We had waiting so long. Was this for real?

Best I could tell, she only understood 60-70 percent of what she read. I’d offer to read the first chapter of a new book out loud so she could get a grasp on setting and characters, but she only let me do that a couple times. Once in a while she’d ask for help with a particularly troublesome word or name, but again, she preferred to puzzle it out on her own. Or skip it. She could still wring out enough of the plot to enjoy the story.

It was weird. We’d just received test results (we’d finally taken her for an extensive evaluation) which indicated that she had extremely low reading ability. But here she was holing up in her room reading for hours on end. How was this possible?

Over the last number of months, she has plowed through dozens of books. In fact, she has become such a voracious reader that we have resorted to confiscating her books when she has jobs; otherwise, she disappears so soundlessly it’s like she’s been raptured. Some mornings she sets her alarm as early as 5:30 so she can read before going to work. And after the family evening read-aloud, she rockets off the couch and takes the steps two at a time to her room so she can squeeze in as much reading as possible before lights out. For her, books are magnets; their pull is a force to be reckoned with.

My daughter has a long way to go before she will be fully literate. We have a lot of work to do. Her learning approach will continue to deviate from the traditional path that's always made sense to me. But I am not worried. My qualms have evaporated. I am giddy with relief, thrilled to the tippy-tips of my toes.

She reads.

This same time, years previous: the quotidian (11.4.13), awkward, chatty time, posing for candy, cheesy broccoli potato soup, piano lessons, why I'm spacey. sweet and sour lentils, Greek yogurt, oatmeal bread, and blessing hearts.