Thursday, April 24, 2014

Sally Fallon's pancakes

When I pulled Sally Fallon’s cookbook off the shelf to refresh my memory on the proper crispy nut process, I spent a few minutes flipping through the pages. Years ago, I read my way through all the recipes, making quite a few of them as I went along and scrawling notes in the margins. So when I landed on a page with an above-average number of notes, the word "Great!", and a pancake recipe, I took a second look. One can never have too many pancake recipes.

It’s a bracingly healthy recipe, borderline annoying with all its wholesome goodness. It’s all whole grain (of course) but Sally goes one step father and soaks the flour in a buttermilk/yogurt mixture to “activate the enzyme phytase ... which ... break[s] down phytic acid in the bran of grains.”

Not that I really understand all that, of course. But I’m gonna go ahead and assume it’s code for: these pancakes are really good for you so eat them.

Actually, I do understand that, just not in a brainy, scientific-term way. My understanding is more of a gut thing (pun not intended, but ha anyway). My daughter and I have been reading up on the whys and how-tos (to's?) of fermented chicken feed. The 'fessionals say it's good because the chickens get more nutrients out of the grain, and the bad bacteria is reduced while the good bacteria is strengthened (this is lacto-fermentation we're talking about). As a result, the chickens are healthier, the eggs are firmer shelled and heartier, and the chickens consume less grain. Translate all that to humans (minus the eggs part), and you've got some good reasons to make these pancakes.

My freezer is cluttered with half-empty bags of different flours: teff, spelt, rye, buckwheat, oat, etc. I figured that by making these pancakes once a week, using one cup whole wheat and one cup Random Flour, I could pancake my way through my freezer.

And that’s just what I’ve been doing. A single recipe is sufficient for the children’s breakfast.

These aren’t “candy” pancakes, mind. In other words, the children don’t go all gah-gah, but they do eat them happily enough. My older son, naturally, would always appreciate a few more, but a few of these hearty doozies is plenty, I tell him. If he’s still hungry, he can eat a bowl of granola. Besides, lunch time is only a few hours after breakfast. Survival happens.

Sally Fallon’s Pancakes
Adapted from Nourishing Traditions.

I use one cup of whole wheat and one cup of whatever grain I’m trying to use up at the time. Lately, it’s been dark rye. For the buttermilk, I use one cup plain yogurt and one cup water.

2 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups buttermilk
1-2 tablespoons whole wheat flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons melted butter

Before you go to bed, measure the flour into a bowl and stir in the buttermilk (or yogurt-water mixture). Cover the bowl with plastic and let it sit on the counter overnight.

In the morning, mix together the couple tablespoons of flour with the salt and soda. I do this to help the soda and salt get more evenly distributed in the batter. Sprinkle the mixture over the sludge of soaked flour and whisk well. Add the eggs and melted butter and whisk again.

Fry ladlefuls of the batter on a happily-buttered hot skillet. Serve pancakes with butter and syrup.

This same time, years previous: out and about, the quotidian (4.23.12), cauliflower potato soup, me and you, and the radishes,

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

out of character

Coming home from West Virginia the other weekend, we ended up behind a car that was swerving all over the already-really-curvy roads. It’d veer completely over into the other lane and then slow to a crawl. It was emanating a weird, toxic-ish smell. Trash flew out of the window. I picked up the cell phone, ready to call the police.

We drove cautiously, our senses on high alert. The car did some more swerving. More slowing to a crawl. Then the teen girl in the passenger seat started shouting at us/the world/no one in particular, and they pulled over to let us pass.

I jotted down their license plate number as we drove by, and then my husband announced, “They’re acting like idiots. I’m gonna talk to them,” and jerked the car over in front of them.

My husband, the guy who doesn't like to make phone calls, speak in public, and talk to strangerslet alone confront themstalked up to their car and, more or less, chewed them out.

The whole time he was lecturing and gesticulating, I was thinking: WHAT IF THEY’RE DRUNK. WHAT IF THEY PULL A GUN. WHAT IF HE GETS SHOT. WHAT IF THIS IS THE END.

(Tense moments bring out my melodramatic streak.)

But the kid (my husband said he looked to be sixteen or seventeen) turned off the car when my husband approached and acted respectfully subdued.

“Dude,” he said, “It’s the car.”

And my husband responded, “Dude, then get if off the road.” (Except he didn’t actually say “dude” back.)

As my husband walked back to our car, my younger son said, his voice full of awe, “My dad’s a hero.”

And then my husband was back in the driver's seat, very much alive, and we were on our merry way. I didn’t smell any alcohol, my husband mused, but what about drugs? There’s that synthetic pot...

His only regret was that he didn’t offer them a ride. “If this had happened to my dad, he would’ve said, 'That’s it. You’re not driving any more. Get out of the car. You’re coming with us.' That's what I probably should have done.”

This same time, years previous: ailments, rhubarb crunch, and honey-baked chicken.

Monday, April 21, 2014

the quotidian (4.21.14)

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

In anticipation of frost: bringing Spring inside.

The first mow.

Frustrated tears: waiting for rest time to be over.

Omri's hut.

Lamb on a rock.

Latte foam.

Building the Easter cake.

The requisite project.

K'ekchi' in Virginia.

Sudden modesty: forbidden knees. 

This same time, years previous: nutmeg coffee cake, "why are we here?", therapy, chocolate ice cream, my lot, bacon-wrapped jalapeƱos, chocolate mayonnaise cake, and attention parents!,

Thursday, April 17, 2014

joining the club

When my brother and his wife had their third baby, my other brother and his wife bought them a Costco membership as a baby gift. My brother, the one that got the new baby and the membership and who happens to live right down the road, said he’d let me know the next time he planned to shop there and I could go along and check it out.

I had been to Costco once before, maybe five or six years ago, and I hated it. Hated, hated, hated. It was so hideously monstrous and boxy and everything came in such huge quantities. It seemed like the perfect feeding ground for hoards of gluttonous Americans. I refused to have anything to do with the place.

But then. But then.

Saturday came and my brother and I zipped across town to the club. We had an hour. The store was packed. There were snacks everywhere. I had sixty dollars in my wallet. I spent twice that. I walked out of there high as a kite. I couldn’t stop grinning.

I’m not sure what won me over. The prices were great, yes, but it was more than that. Maybe it’s the stage of life we’re at? A two-container package of peanut butter or five pounds of dried cranberries doesn’t feel excessive: it feels practical. The Kirkland brand is good quality and therefore trustworthy. The store doesn't carry everything, so, crazy as it sounds, it feels like there’s a limit to the excess. Furthermore, I’ve heard that Costco treats their employees respectfully. And then there’s the wine and cheese, happy sigh.

So anyway, all this conspired together to make me reconsider my anti-Costco stance. And then I started with the interviews. I hit up every single person I ran into with a list of questions:

Do you have a costco membership? 
Is it worth it? 
Should I get one?
What do you buy there?

I was on a mission. All that was missing from my barrage was the microphone and tape recorder.

And then two people—two very frugal shoppers, I might add—said that they have a Costco membership because of the eye contacts. A membership costs 55 dollars and they save that much when they get a one-year supply of contacts. That purchase right there pays for the membership. And keeping in mind that, as Margo's father-in-law saysit’s only a savings if you were already going to buy it, there was my ticket.

Up until that point my husband was snooty about my new love affair. But once I explained the contact situation (he's the one who has them), he perked right up.

So one evening we went to Costco and got ourselves a membership.

That night, after we tucked in the children (two of which were screaming because a pre-bedtime shopping trip is A Major Stupid Parent Move) and moved the cheeses, spinach, black olives, butter, almonds, farro, etc from the boxes to cupboard and fridge, my husband and I ripped open a giant bag of chips and I posted this update on Facebook: Got a membership to Costco this evening. Now I'm struggling with feelings of disloyalty to our local grocery store. But man, these Kirkland Krinkle Cut chips (munchmunchmunch) are GOOD. And then I went to bed.

I woke up the next morning to a whole string of comments. Apparently, a Costco membership is the hip thing to have! Tons of respectable folks are card carrying and proud of it. It's a model organization, they say. My intellectual and politically correct sis-in-law (whose British accent makes her sound even smarter) wrote, They pay their employees a living wage, offer healthcare and the CEO only makes a small multiple of the lowest paid employee. Whenever we move back, it will be one of my first stops. Munch away, sister!

So guys, I’m sold. I’m still a little wary—don’t want to buy things we don’t need, let food go to waste, or start over-stocking—but I think we made a good choice.

Your turn! [She jams the microphone in her reader's face and cocks her head expectantly.] Do you shop Costco? Why? Why not? What are your favorite Costco standbys? 

P.S. We ended up getting the executive ($110) membership. It wasn’t what we were planning, but I’m not willing to call it a mistake, at least not yet. I had talked with a friend who has an exec membership and she declared it pays for itself through the money back program. Plus, the guy at the desk said that if we don’t get the money back, they’ll refund it. Sounds win-win to me. (Or maybe I've been snookered?)

P.P.S. This is not a sponsored post, but if Costco wants to give me some grass fed beef, mango salsa, and a large hunk of cheese, I won't say no... Costco? Costco?

This same time, years previous: fun and fiasco, in which it all falls to pieces, my little boy, and mint wedding cake.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

take two: Omri

This lamb is from West Virginia. He has a history and he’s healthy: two important things Oreo was missing. Omri (my daughter named him—can you guess what books we’ve been listening to in the car?) is a twin. His mother rejected him. He’s about 18 days old.

The first night, Omri slept in the big box in the downstairs room. He woke me at 3 am with his (very loud) bleating. I fed him and ordered him back to bed. And the next morning I informed my daughter that he would not, under any condition, be sleeping in the house ever again. Period.

Housing Omri has been a bit of an experiment. At first we put him in the chicken tractor, then in with the dogs, and then in with the chickens. Omri was too big for the tractor, the dog pen has no grass for grazing, and the chickens pasture, while fine, was too far from the house to suit Omri. Every time we left him out there, he's get lonely and cry his head off. So my daughter built him a makeshift pen off the dog kennel. That works for now, but we don’t want farm animals close to the house, so more adjustments need to be made. During the night, he’s been sleeping in the box which has been moved back out to the barn.

Whenever my daughter is outside (I have trouble keeping her in the house), she lets Omri out of his pen and then races around the yard with him and the dogs. If he goes too far, Francie heads him off until she can catch up. But normally Omri doesn’t wander. He follows my daughter around like a third puppy, licking her face, nibbling her chin, his (in-the-process-of-being-docked) tail wagging frantically.

Since Omri is a male, a castration is in the future. Our neighbor will do it for us. (His wife said that when the “what is your gift?” question was raised in their Sunday school class, he answered, “castrations,” so I think Omri will be in good hands.) They say that a wether sheep is the best kind of pet.

Though nobody made any promises about a pet. We’re not actually sure where our daughter’s sheep project is heading. Will she sell them for meat? Will we keep them for grazing and wool-making (in other words, pets)? Right now it’s all about learning, having fun, and taking care of an “orphan.”

For now, that’s reason enough.

This same time, years previous: fun and fiasco, chapter two, the quotidian (4.16.12), banana cake with creamy peanut butter frosting, and in their genes.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

crispy almonds

I am all too aware that I’ve only been posting recipes for sweets. Since the beginning of February, there has been chocolate mint chip cookies, chocolate pudding, almond cake, peanut butter and jelly bars, chocolate babka, maple pecan scones, and oatmeal raisin cookies. Oh, and the one exception: roasted cauliflower soup.

This does not mean we’ve been eating only sweets! To the contrary, we’ve been feasting on lentils and brown rice, taco salad, pizza, oven fries, noodles with pesto, salads, green smoothies, and all sorts of veggies from the freezer. It’s just that I do a little more experimenting with the non-necessities. All the old standbys, you already know about.

Except I haven’t told you about my nuts.

When we came back from Guatemala, my younger brother gave us three large bags of nuts: walnuts, pecan, and almonds. I used up all the pecans in baking pretty quickly, but the other two kinds lingered. The children are a bit hesitant about nuts in baked goods, so I mostly used them for salads or snacking.But plain nuts can be a bit dull (and thus the reason I reach for chocolate).

And then I remembered the crispy almonds I used to make. A quick recipe check, and I jumped on the crispy nut bandwagon: I was gonna crisp up both the walnuts and the almonds.

It’s a simple procedure, but a bit leisurely.

1. Soak the raw nuts in salt water over night.
2. Drain the nuts.
3. Bake the nuts on a stainless steel tray at 150 degrees for a small eternity (about 24 hours or two daylight days).
4. Eat.

Almonds are tremendously improved by this soak-and-toast treatment. They become salty (in a gentle way) with a delightfully irresistible crunch.

The walnuts, on the other hand, are less noticeably altered. They crisp up, yes, but more softly (if that makes any sense). The biggest benefit to toasting the walnuts is that they are very easy to crumble using just your fingers. I love crumbling a handful of the walnuts into my morning bowl of steelcut oats or over my noontime salad.

Last week I bought a three-pound bag of raw almonds. In a couple days when the weather is supposed to be a bit chillier, I plan on filling my oven with several trays of soaked nuts. This way, as we head into summer and heavy-duty outside playing, we’ll have a stash of crispy almonds always standing at the ready for snacking.

Crispy Almonds
Adapted from Sally Fallon's book Nourishing Traditions.

The recipe says to use filtered water and sea salt. I use tap water and any old salt. It works.

4 cups raw almonds
1 tablespoon salt

Place the almonds in a bowl. Sprinkle with the salt. Cover with cool tap water. (If you’re worried about the salt not dissolving properly, you can dissolve the salt in a bit of water, pour it over the nuts, and then top off the bowl with fresh water.) Place a piece of plastic over the bowl and let sit on the counter overnight.

In the morning, drain the nuts. Place the nuts on a stainless steel baking tray. (Or line a baking tray with parchment paper—if you don’t, the nuts will stain the sheet and the sheet will blacken the nuts.) Bake the nuts at 150 degrees—I just set my oven to “warm”—for 18-24 hours or until they are crispy, giving the nuts a stir every several hours. (To see if the nuts are done, allow them to cool to room temperature before tasting. Warm nuts = soft nuts = not helpful.)

Store the crispy nuts in a quart jar in the freezer. Because if you leave them on the counter, they will disappear way too fast.

Crispy Walnuts: 4 cups walnuts and 2 teaspoons salt. Same process.
Crispy Pecans: 4 cups pecans and 2 teaspoons salt. Same process.

This same time, years previous: asparagus walnut salad (this would be perfect with the crispy walnuts!) and asparagus with lemony creme fraiche and boiled egg.

Monday, April 14, 2014

the quotidian (4.14.14)

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

Under construction: a house of his very own. 
(Don't hold your breath.)

The very first Farmers Market purchase.

I finally—FINALLY—got my hands on some farro.

It used to be that Legos were restricted to the upstairs and only on a blanket...

4:00 p.m.

Swoony toesies.

My mother made my father a birthday cake and I got to help eat it.
(Note the burned-down-to-the-nub birthday candles: letting the moment linger 
is one of my mom's many talents.)

No, Jennifer. Just because I'm holding a baby and smiling doesn't mean I want another child.

Spring skies. 

This same time, years previous: fun and fiasco, chapter one, financial peace university, flour tortillas, the value (or not) of the workbook, and chocolate-covered peanut butter eggs.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Mr. Tiny

Ever since she bought Charlotte, my older daughter has been planning for puppies. She carefully tracked Charlotte's heat cycles, keeping her kenneled for the full amount of time and then some (about a whole month total). It was a botheration (and my husband tried to convince her to spay the dog and be done with it), but our daughter remained unmoved. She wanted puppies.

According to the pet shop where my daughter slapped down the big bucks, Charlotte is a beagle-Jack Russell Terrier-border collie mix. We can’t see any traces of the collie in her, but the other two shine through loud and clear. Because our daughter is fairly obsessed with beagles, she wanted to breed Charlotte with a beagle. Her determination led her to do bold (and uncharacteristic) things, such as making me stop the car so she could ask a random woman out walking her beagle about whether or not she knew of any good beagle males in the area.

Turns out, we didn’t need to look very far to find a stud dog. Our neighbor had connections to a beagle breeder, so when Charlotte went into heat at the end of March, my daughter called up the neighbor to make the arrangements.

I was a little concerned that this dog would be too big. Charlotte is so small and I was nervous about getting her into a fix. When I mentioned my concern to the neighbor, he said, “Oh, he’s small all right. His name is Tiny.” Which doesn’t mean anything. Some people name their dogs “Bear.”

Ten days after Charlotte went into heat, Tiny showed up at our house. And he was, indeed, tiny! In fact, though he was heavier and more solid than Charlotte, he was smaller than her by a good inch. I started to worry that he might not be able to ... you know, um, reach.

Charlotte was excited. She flagged without ceasing, so eager for his services that she sat on his head:

But Mr. Tiny was timid, shy, and in no hurry. (And cuddly! He’s like a cat, the way he snuggles up in your lap.) He spent the first few hours focused on other matters—mainly, spraying scent and/or peeing on everything. Even the water dish.

We ordered the children to leave the dogs alone, so the younger two kept watch from the porch steps. After awhile, only my younger daughter was keeping vigil.

I was in the kitchen, cooking and watching from the window. Right around the time my daughter got bored and turned away to watch other things, the dogs started making their moves. For the next ten minutes they took turns jumping on each other. My daughter never once looked over at them and eventually wandered out to the driveway where the guys were fixing a water pipe. After a bit she came back to check on the dogs. They had just officially hooked up. She stared at them for a couple seconds and then comprehension hit. I watched it dawn on her face like the sunrise.

She yelled for the rest of the family. By then, the dogs were panicked and yelping. My husband went into the pen to calm them, and when my older daughter hesitatingly appeared on the scene, my husband called her in to help out.

Is there anything more awkward for a pre-teen girl than caring for coupling dogs alongside her father? The poor child was bashful, but hey, this is how puppies are made, so buck up, buttercup. She rose to the occasion and stood by her pet.

We kept Mr. Tiny for three days. The second day we were in town, so we weren't able to keep track of the stats. But day three they hooked up three times. My younger son kept a running count. He said funny things, too, like, “Charlotte’s standing still but Tiny is fidgeting!” and “Well, I guess they figured out it feels good!”

By the end, the kids were matter-of-fact about the whole situation. They were interested but casual, without a trace of embarrassment anywhere. Tip: if you’re having trouble broaching the sex talk with your children, breed dogs. It kinda forces the issue.

So, assuming Mr. Tiny's visit amounts to anything, we should have a passel of pups in about 60 days. A few weeks more, and they’ll go up for sale. Stay tuned!

This same time, years previous: an evening walk, deviled eggs, the things that go on around here, new territory: grief, cream of tomato soup, and my pregnant boyfriend.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

the greening

Like I said, "The good part about having such a harsh winter is that spring will be all the more wonderful for it."

And it’s true. The extended forecast for the next two weeks isn’t supposed to dip below freezing, and with this knowledge, I feel my shoulders relax. With every passing day, the yard and surrounding fields are slowly changing from crunchy brown to fresh green. Buds are nuzzling the air. Flowers are popping up. The tops of the forests are still prickly brown, but there is a haze of green in the undergrowth. It's beautiful. It's Spring.

“She turned to the sunlight
    And shook her yellow head,
And whispered to her neighbor:
    "Winter is dead.” 

-A.A. Milne, When We Were Very Young