Sunday, February 28, 2010

Saturday Food Forage: A Day Late

Yesterday, we again set off on a forage, the results of which were served for dinner today.  This time, though, we were looking for produce.  You may be asking yourself what produce one could possibly find in Wisconsin in February.  Obviously, there isn't the late summer/early fall bounty that attracts so many to the Dane County Farmer's Market, but we went to see what we could see.

WOW!  The first thing that hit me was the smell of breakfast cooking.  Obviously, we passed on the meal made with local eggs, meat, dairy, and produce.  But that was a severe test of my determination.  The line was long for our entire stay, and the aroma was heavenly.  I was seriously jealous of the many folks eating!
There were tons of storage vegetables available.  We bought roughly ten pounds of Melrose apples from Pleasant View Orchards.  Although they had obviously been in storage, the apples tasted delicious!  Very colorful, and a break from what we were expecting.  We also bought sweet potatoes, purple and gold potatoes, some garlic, three lettuce plants, and some herbs. 

The strangest experience, though, was when a gentleman asked me what I did with purple potatoes.  He must have thought I was some kind of moron because my initial response was, "Uh... I just cook them and eat them."  Seemed fairly clear to me.  Then he inquired as to how I cooked them, and I had to confess that my favorite use for purple potatoes is homemade potato chips.  Check them out while they wait to be fried for tonight's dinner!

Overall, it was a great experience, and we'll definitely hit up the Winter Market again in the near future.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Ulysses: The Good and the Bad, so far.

Well, I am continuing to slog through Ulysses as we speak.  I am only a little over a third of the way through, but I am finding certain aspects of the book insanely boring.  On the other hand, there are elements that I find brilliant, and poor Nathan has to deal with my random Joyce quotations or theories on a nightly basis.

My primary challenge, it seems, is that I was going to ignore a lot of the scholarship when reading this list.  After all, I don't have time to read the entire list and all of the associated criticism.  Ulysses alone would consume my life.  Already, I am tempted to start research onto some of the multitude of themes, issues, and ideas in the novel.

There is a lot of discussion about Irish Home Rule, with major players appearing, theories espoused, and speeches quoted.  Although I know next to nothing about the issue, this is one of the most fascinating aspects of the book, and I am thoroughly tempted to venture beyond Wiki research into detailed, authenticated discussion of Ireland at the turn of the previous century.

The last episode I read, too, was a challenge because it had me reaching for the Shakespeare anthology and absolutely dying for comrades to discuss the mystery surrounding Shakespeare's identity, Anne Hathaway, and such.  It is the "Scylla and Charybdis" episode, and it takes place inside the National Library.  Stephan Dedalus is expounding upon an essay he has written regarding the Bard, and I was riveted. 

Which brings me to my primary issue with Ulysses.  As a novel, it is somewhat less than fulfilling.  As a work of social commentary and literary criticism, it is invaluable.  The puns and allusions are fantastic.  The turn of phrase is brilliant.  The stream of consciousness is skillfully executed.  But the plot is duller than anything I've read in a long time.

Leopold Bloom is, thus far, a boring loser.  And that is putting it politely.  It appears he is lousy at his job, his boss, co-workers, and supposed friends tend to ignore him, and, from all appearances, his wife is having an affair.  Having to read a day's worth of his thoughts is torture.  I suppose we're all like this, but, boy, does it make for a lame read.  If you're reading a novel primarily for plot, this is not the work for you!

That said, I am planning to finish Ulysses soon.  I need to put down some of the crafts and pick up the novel.  Hopefully, Bloom will not continue to disappoint.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Gratituesday: Fun with Fabric Dye

This post is part of Gratituesday at Heavenly Homemakers

As you can see, the camera is back up and working, which is a joy in itself!  However, I am most grateful for the crazy looking pillow pictured above.  It is called a Snoogle and manufactured by Leachco, makers of a variety of maternity/baby items.

Nathan and the kids gave me this pillow as part of my birthday gift months ago, and I swear, I don't know how I survived without one for so long!  It provides back support, tummy support, and hip alignment.  When baby comes, it can double as a comfier version of a Boppy.  And at night, I just like to snuggle in it to watch TV and knit.  Something about the way it cradles me is so comforting!

In any event, it came with a white cover, which, after a month, became quite dingy.  Of course, it was covered in little dirty toddler handprints, cat fur, and assorted other ickiness.  So.  Off to the store I went to buy a bottle of RIT fabric dye. 

After about ten minutes of stirring in a sink full of hot water, my new and improved apple green snoogle appeared!  Victory!  Not only am I grateful for the snoogle, I am grateful that it is no longer icky, dingy white. :-D

I was so inspired that I decided to transform some old, white towels we got at our wedding.  But that is a story for another day.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Muffin Tin Mondays: Orange!

This post is part of Muffin Tin Mondays at Muffin Tin Mom

First off, sorry that there are no pictures with this post.  Hopefully, I will find where my darling daughter stashed my USB converter-thing so that I can upload the pictures of this week's Muffin Tin Monday!

I have become addicted, as predicted, to muffin tin shopping.  Apparently, they are everywhere!  And today, wandering around Target, I found some silicone cups in the dollar bins.  They had regular cups and butterfly-shaped cups in beautiful spring colors, so I grabbed a bunch!  I know now that there is no such thing as too many muffin tins/cups!

When we got home, I did a quick rinse of the cups and loaded two of them with chickpea curry, which is a rusty kind of orange, thanks to curry powder, ginger, and carrots.  I loaded another two with homemade applesauce that I tinted orange with food dye--a pastel orange.  Then, the remaining cups were loaded with other colors.  We had red grapes in one cup, and a no-bake chocolate oatmeal cookie in the other.

So, picture, if you will, a green plate, six silicone muffin cups in bright pink, yellow, and blue, and an array of orange, red, and brown food.

The victory for the day was that Adrienne told me we couldn't do McDonald's for lunch because it was "MUFFIN TIN MONDAY, MOM!"


Here are the pictures of our muffin cups yesterday!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Applesauce Donuts That Turned into Pancakes

I started out trying to make some allergy-friendly donuts, as the hubby used to be a donut fiend in a previous, childless life.  In the past two years, we have had roughly five donuts each.  A catastrophe, given the Krispy Kreme addiction we used to battle.

In any event, I knew these wouldn't work very well as Krispy Kreme substitutes, but, at this stage, we will take what we can get!  Nevertheless, once the first batch hit the oil to fry, it was obviously going to end in catastrophe.  Since I used a lot of oat flour, I decided to salvage what I could by turning the rest of the batter into pancakes. 

The result was a nice change from our regular pancakes and was sweet enough not to require syrup.  Next  week I will try these as waffles and see what I get!

Applesauce Pancakes

3/4 c brown sugar
2 T vegetable oil
2 1/2 c oat flour
1 1/2 t baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1/4 t salt
dash cinnamon and nutmeg
1/4 c rice milk or water
1 c apple sauce
1 t vanilla extract

Mix the first two ingredients until well blended.  Combine dry ingredients and add alternately with rice milk.  Then, stir in applesauce and vanilla.

I use my electric griddle to make these, but you could make them however you usually prefer to make pancakes.

Sift with powdered sugar and enjoy!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ulysses: What's the Fuss?

When I decided to read the 100 Best Novels, I simultaneously decided to start at the top of the list and work my way down.  Initially, I was going to read both the Editors' and Readers' lists simultaneously, but I have changed my mind after starting with Ulysses by James Joyce.  I am going to focus on the Editors' list and move to the Reader's list upon completion.

Why the shift?

Well, I am really enjoying (yes, you read that correctly) Ulysses. 

Throughout high school and college, I had heard many people disparage Ulysses.  "Yes," everyone said, "You think you like Joyce, but that is until you read Finnegan's Wake and Ulysses.  You'll change your mind after those."  As a consequence, I never started reading either one.  And, to be completely truthful, the library's copy of Ulysses has been sitting on my bedside table for about two weeks now, and I just got the courage to open it.  Talk about an intimidating book.

What a letdown!  After all the drama, I expected the book to be incomprehensible, terrible, and way over my head.  BAH!

Granted, I have only read Part 1, dealing with Stephen Dedalus.  There is a lot of novel left, and it may get increasingly difficult as it progresses.  So far, however, it is just the rambling internal monologue of Dedalus as he goes through the day.  Yes, there are a lot of allusions, but that is not entirely unexpected in literature.  Yes, it is stream of consciousness, but this is a girl that digs it.  No, there is not a lot of action, but you don't always need a  lot of action.

At this point, it seems as though Dedalus is consumed with guilt over his mother's death, and much of the interior monologue deals with his mommy issues.  There is other guilt, as well, however.  From my impressions, there is a lot of Catholic guilt--a phenomenon I seem to vaguely recall from Portrait of the Artist and Dubliners

In any event, I am actually enjoying what many have called the "worst best book" on the list.  I can't wait to get further and see if my initial impressions change.

And, I am too excited about other novels on the Editor's list to worry about reading Battlefield Earth and  The Fountainhead.  Both probably deserve a read, but I am putting them at the bottom of a hundred other books!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Muffin Tin Mondays: Best of Intentions

This post is part of Muffin Tin Mondays at Muffin Tin Mom

When I saw that this week's theme was red, I was extremely excited.  Visions of strawberries, beets, and grapes danced in my head.  Ah, if only I could have gone beyond the "visions" and actually purchased the produce I planned.

Instead, I wasn't feeling too well this weekend, and neither, for that matter, were the kids.  Instead, we pampered ourselves by going on a scenic drive and staying home to eat a lot of good food.  Somehow, the grocery store just didn't figure into the end of last week or the weekend.  I'm just happy I managed to snag a muffin tin earlier in the week.

Oh, well.  Our muffin tins had to be satisfied with blackberry jell-o (which has a reddish tint), brats and ketchup, and some gluten-free, egg-free noodles and marinara sauce.

Despite my lack of follow-through, the kids once again enjoyed their muffin tin lunches, so we'll count it in the win column.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Weekend Creations

The past weekend, I spent some much needed time with my sewing machine.  I stopped sewing last October when I went on bed rest for the first time, and I just didn't bother picking back up again over the holiday season.  My mistake!

I had so much fun with my machine!  I managed to make two pairs of overalls for Noah, based on an old Simplicity pattern that I picked up for a dollar after Adrienne was born.  I omitted the snap tape, though, because I don't like, and don't use, snaps once the kid is old enough to "help" me by getting his legs into the pants.  I also sewed both ends of the straps instead of using buttons because Noah tends to try to eat them.  I'd rather he not be constantly distracted by trying to eat his clothing! 

Here he is modeling a pair that I made out of flannel, and below is a pair made of a thin corduroy with a patch I found on sale at JoAnn's a few days ago.

I also managed to make a skirt for Adrienne out of some fabric I've had lying around for about six months.  I didn't have a pattern, so I based it on a tutorial from Two Little Banshees

What did I learn from this weekend of sewing?  Other than that I was foolish to consider taking such a long break from a hobby that I love?  Well, I have decided that extra details such as top-stitching and double-stitched hems really do make a difference on the finished product.  Instead of looking half finished, these projects look well-sewn and polished.

Gratituesday: My Espresso Machine!

This post is part of Gratituesday at Heavenly Homemakers

For the past, oh, ten years, I have been a bonafide caffeine addict.  I realize that it is not good for my health, or that of my babies, but I simply cannot, and do not, want to give it up :-D  There is something about a big, hot mug of coffee that just eases my mind.  I drink it first thing in the morning to prepare for the day and after dinner to unwind and get ready for bed. 

With my birthday last month, Nathan and his parents conspired to buy me an espresso machine.  It finally arrived a week and a half ago, and BOY am I grateful!

Now, without spending tons of money at the coffee shop, I can have a latte every day.  I also don't have to wrestle children in and out of the car, across the snowy street in the early morning rush hour, and into the coffee shop.  I can make my own latte, just the way I like it, while everyone is either asleep or in pajamas.  HOORAY!

There is also something divine in steaming my own milk.  For years, I worked in a variety of coffee shops, and my favorite activity has always been to steam the milk.  I love the sound and smell as it heats up and begins to froth.  It is a kinesthetic experience that I totally enjoy.

It may be a small thing that shouldn't matter, but having my own espresso machine makes me "super happy."

Our Favorite Valentine Craft

I know it's late, but I didn't want to post our favorite Valentine's Day activity before it arrived at the homes of grandparents and aunts.  This activity took up an entire day, and Adrienne (and Noah) absolutely loved it.  For once, both children were more excited about a craft than I was!

We bought some Crayola Model Magic because it air dries and feels really good on little hands.  It rolls smoothly, breaks easily, and I love its stretchy quality.  Noah can use it easier than Sculpey or salt clay, and after it dries, it has a spongey texture.  In any event, I like it, and the children do, too.

We made pendants for each of our grandmothers, aunts, and one for Adrienne and myself.  We then had enough clay left over to make approximately 50 beads.  Here are some pictures of the kiddos making their beads.

We then waited for the beads to dry, and played several counting games with them.  Adrienne enjoyed counting them out into lines of ten, and we also experimented with some patterning.  All in all, I think our pre-math bead games lasted 45 minutes.

After that, it was time to string the beads onto the laces, which again took forever.  For some reason, Adrienne really loves stringing beads, and it occupies her full attention for a long time.

Here's a picture of the finished product that we promptly mailed off to relatives.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Saturday Food Forage: Picking up our meat

Today we drove out to Black Earth again to pick up our meat.  Hooray!

After loading the kids in the car, we felt like taking a drive, so we drove via Dodgeville, Spring Green, and eventually made it into Black Earth.  Adrienne was so excited to see the airplane that sits outside a motel in Dodgeville.  We stopped on the side of the road and talked for a long time about the wings, tail, engines, and propellers.  At bed time, she listed it as her favorite part of the day!  Strange, the little things that matter so much to kids.

Anyway, we finally made it to Black Earth about two hours later.  (Yes, we took it very slowly!)  Just in time for lunch!  Finding a cute little diner, Luckenbooth Restaurant, we stopped in for a bite.  The atmosphere was country and cozy, and the food portions were huge.  A lot of the menu was egg, though, but we managed to find some sausage and fruit for Noah.  Nice and full, we headed for our real destination--Black Earth Meats.

Our entire meat order fit into just two boxes, but we ended up with a ton of food.  I am super excited to get cooking.  The tally is as follows:

Soup bones -- 3 packages
Stew meat -- 11 packages
Oxtail -- 1 package
Liver -- 3 packages
Ground beef -- 38 packages
Short ribs -- 3 packages
Steaks -- 13 packages
Roasts -- 13

By my calculations, this meat should last us for at least six months, even if we don't buy anything else.  Hopefully, though, we will be buying some lamb and pork in the near future.  Half a lamb would be delish!

Yet another good Saturday Food Forage was had by all!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

I'm Booking It in 2010: To Kill A Mockingbird

As I stated last week, I'm on a mission to read the 100 Best Novels over the next few... well... years.  So when I saw this link-up at Life As Mom, I knew I had to link up.  In case you're wondering, I just love linking posts up to something!

Last month, I actually read one of the books on the list: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.  Somehow, I was the only kid in America who didn't read the book in middle school or high school.  In fact, last month was the first time I'd read the book, and, boy, was it good.

Obviously, the racial themes have been well documented, and, in fact, I was expecting a little more about segregation and the racial divide in the South than the book contained.  Perhaps my view is skewed, though, because I was on a Toni Morrison-Alice Walker kick a few months ago.  Regardless, I didn't think that racism, per se, was the primary point of the novel.

What struck me most was the prevalence of the mockingbird motif throughout the entire novel.  From Tom Robinson, the black man Atticus Finch defends, to Boo Radley, the recluse that Scout and Jem torment, the constant theme appears to be that it would be cruel to kill something that is innocent and harmless.  For that reason, Atticus defends Tom Robinson, and for that reason, the sherrif chooses to keep the true story of Scout and Jem's rescue by Boo Radley secret.  Ruining innocence is the chief crime in Lee's universe.

Anyway, my favorite character was definitely Dill, who inspired Scout and Jem to endless hours of summer fun.  A minor character, Dill was nonetheless entertaining, and he provided some comic relief at times when the novel's events got intense.  Besides, I later found out that his character was based on Truman Capote, who was a childhood friend of Harper Lee.  WOW!

These are just some quick thoughts on the novel.  I could continue for hours and paragraphs, but I figure this isn't the forum for that...

Gratituesday: Skype

This post is part of Gratituesday over at Heavenly Homemakers.

A few weeks ago our family upgraded our computers.  We weren't sure whether or not we'd actually use the built-in webcam and microphone, but, hey, we aren't going to turn down free stuff, right?

Over the weekend, we downloaded Skype, an internet phone system that also allows you to video chat.  How cool!

As it was my sister's birthday, we called her and let Adrienne sing "Happy Birthday" to her.  It was fantastic!  Adrienne was much more talkative, seeing the person with whom she was interacting.  Of course, it was good to see her apartment, since she moved to D.C. after we moved to Wisconsin.  Nice how technology can make these things happen!

Then, this afternoon, we "skyped" with my mom, and she was able to see the little ones playing with their play-dough and singing some songs.  Noah was confused about the whole thing, but then, if someone you couldn't remember started talking to you out of a computer, you might be confused, too!  Adrienne, on the other hand, was so excited to talk to her "Granny" and be able to see her. 

Having family living so far away from us, it sometimes gets lonely, and you don't have a good picture how your loved ones look from day to day.  Also, the concept of aunts and grandparents gets abstract for the little ones at times.  So, I am grateful for Skype for allowing me to see and interact with family members no matter where they live.

What are you grateful for?

Monday, February 8, 2010

Muffin Tin Mondays: First Attempt

I have been dying to try this idea since I first stumbled upon Michelle's blog a few months ago.  I used to like jazzing up lunch by using cookie cutters on sandwiches, or having Adrienne design something on an open-faced sandwich.  Unfortunately, we don't have a lot of sandwiches anymore, thanks to the allergy-free foods we are eating.  When we do eat sandwiches, it is a novelty unto itself.

So.  Enter Muffin Tin Mondays.  It struck me as a fantastic way to use up the little bits of food that seem to accumulate in the refrigerator, as well as provide a little smorgasboard for the kids.  Each Monday has a different theme, and we are going to try to join in as best we can, given the long list of foods we have to avoid. 

I had been holding out until I found some muffin tins that I liked, but alas, I just haven't had the time lately to pick some up.  Tired of waiting, I decided that we could eat our lunch on plates this week, eating "muffin tin" portions of a variety of foods.

This week, we had tortilla chips, carrot sticks, apples, dried fruit, and oatmeal scones (recipe to follow!).  I just diced Noah's food a little smaller than Adrienne's portions, and he had no problems. 

Verdict:  Muffin Tin Mondays were a hit around here!  I was surprised at the time it took us to eat lunch.  Usually, the kids scarf down as much as they can in ten minutes, and then they are bored.  Not so  today!  Lunch lasted a full 40 minutes, with numerous renditions of our dinner table song, "YUM, YUM, YUMMY YUMMY, YUM."

We'll definitely be doing this next week again!  Now to find the muffin tins!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Reading Plan:100 Best Novels

Somehow, even though I belong to two book clubs, I find myself at a loss for something to read.  I browse the library and usually end up with some interesting stuff.  Unfortunately, though, it feels like I'm "eating" a diet of candy, and not too many vegetables.  My mind is craving some sustenance!

After browsing several book lists looking for ideas, I stumbled upon a Random House list of the 100 Best Novels.  Overall, it seems like a good list, so I have decided to read both lists in their entirety.  There are some repeats from the Board's List and the Reader's List, so I won't end up reading 200 books, but even so, it should take me some time to complete my personal assignment. 

To get started, I checked out the first five titles on each list from the local library.  Now, I just need to find the time to read them.  I plan on reviewing the books, or at least formulating some thoughts about each on the blog as I finish them.

What does anyone else do for book ideas?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Ultimate Recipe Swap: Taco Soup

Over at LifeasMOM there is a Superbowl recipe swap, and I am so excited! There is nothing I love better than an excuse to make lots of yummy food for the family, set out a "picnic blanket" in the living room, and watch some TV. Yes, there are probably healthier things we could do as a family, but, hey, we like food!

One thing that I usually make for these events, though, is Taco Soup. Adrienne, in particular, loves it and requests it whenever possible. I use my own taco seasoning, free of msg, gluten, and other strange additives.

Taco Soup

1 cup red kidney beans
1 cup pinto beans
2 lbs ground beef
2 cans diced tomatoes
1 lb frozen corn
4 Tbsp taco seasoning mix (recipe follows)

Soak the beans overnight in your crock-pot. In the morning, rinse the beans and cover with clean water. Brown the beef and add to the crock-pot. Add diced tomatoes, corn, and taco seasoning. Cook for 6-8 hours on low, keeping an eye on the moisture content of the soup. As the beans cook, they will soak up the water, but you need enough moisture for a chili-like consistency.

Serve in bowls and top with cheese and sour cream (if you can tolerate dairy) and corn chips.

Taco Seasoning

2 Tbsp cornstarch
6 Tbsp salt
8 Tbsp chili powder
6 tsp cumin
3 tsp oregano
6 tsp dried garlic
6 tsp red pepper flakes

Mix together all ingredients and store in an airtight container. Two tablespoons equals one commercial package.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Barbecue Sauce Redux

The last time I blogged about barbecue sauce, we were still eating dairy, and I included butter in the ingredient list. When I went to make sauce the other day, I read my recipe, and realized that it was time to start from scratch. I don't like having to cook the sauce, anyway!

My new and improved recipe is as follows:

11/2 cups vinegar (apple cider or white)

1/2 cup ketchup

1 tablespoon sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon red pepper

Combine ingredients and use as a marinade or pour over meat.

I poured mine over a pork roast in the crock-pot, and the results were fantastic. Unfortunately, this recipe is closer to an Eastern North Carolina sauce. While that makes Nathan very happy, those of us who prefer a Lexington-style sauce will have to continue experimentation...

Gratituesday: My Husband

The last month has been a lesson in trust. And a lesson in teamwork.

While I have been either confined to bed rest on doctor's orders or unable to move due to pain, the daily life of our family has not slowed down too much. The children still need to be fed, washed, and otherwise supervised. Since Noah can't even walk, there is a lot for a parent to do around here. And while I was lying in bed, someone else had to pick up the slack.

Enter Nathan.

He managed to rearrange his work schedule so that he could work from home during the day, and go in to work at nights. He changed diapers, mopped up after accidents, cooked three meals a day, took the children on outings, kept the house from falling apart around us, and somehow managed to work 45 hours per week. Oh, and did I mention the night wakings? The poor man has been working non-stop around the clock.

Somehow, though, he didn't get frustrated or angry. He kept on assuring me that it was his turn to carry the workload of our family until I could get back up to par.

While I am grateful to be up and moving around again this week, I am more grateful for the man who has allowed me the time I need to recover. Without him, I am not sure what I would have done.