Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Words of Wisdom from a Gray-Haired Mother of Four

I was asked recently to provide words of wisdom for a new parent.  I found myself writing way too much, but I suppose that's what comes with having high schoolers in the house.  You find yourself looking back wistfully and looking forward confidently.  It makes you grateful for the gray-haired women who went before you, and gently steered you along the path. 

Expert bloggers will chastise me for having too long of a post.  Gray-haired women know that it's impossible to limit a life's legacy to 100 words.  Much of this advice came from other gray-haired women, but some is my own.  Enjoy.

No one believes me when I tell them that I am a very lazy parent, because they know how much work it is to raise 4 girls and they see that my girls are well-mannered children who are growing in their faith, but I truly am lazy.  What I do is find ways that couple what is good for the child with their natural bent.

The first way that I work with a child's natural bent is by breastfeeding on demand.  The 4-month series at La Leche League is priceless and well worth going to classes while you're still pregnant.  Don't expect this natural thing to go perfectly, but line up support when the baby is only a few days old.  You'll thank yourself later when you don't hurt.

There is no greater calling in life than to give peace in this chaotic world.  Men and women alike reach for the pacifier instead of the breast without fully understanding how precious it is to pause throughout the day and bring peace to each other.  Lower your expectations about the rest of the day's to-do list and pencil in "add peace."  It's worth it.

Carry your babies frequently.  Strengthen yourself so that you can hold them in your arms instead of relying on strollers or slings.  Allow your children to view the world at eye level.  Allow them to move.

Another way that I work with a child's bent is elimination communication.  I heard about it when my 2nd daughter was about 3 months old, and I was disappointed since I thought that was too old to begin.  (I have since learned that I was wrong.  You can be effective as long as your baby is too young to have learned how to help you change their diaper.)  I tried it with my 3rd daughter at three weeks old and was shocked when she potty-trained herself in less than 48 hours.  I had the stunning realization that my daughter WANTED to be potty-trained.  It was much the same with my 4th daughter.  Both of them were potty-trained from a few weeks old to about 10 months old when the world became much too interesting for them.  (A lot of hard-school ECers will offer tips on how to make it past 10 months old, but I'm honestly too lazy to do that.  I'm working with what they want, remember?)

Another way that I work with them is the 2-3-4 sleep routine.  I am not pushing the child to a schedule, but I am anticipating what their needs will more than likely be.  The child isn't being forced to sleep at a certain time, but I do notice when they naturally wake up in the morning once they start to fall into a routine, which is somewhere between 6 weeks and 6 months.  (I know that's a huge gap, but there's a wide range of normal for babies' sleep.)  About 2 hours after they awaken themselves, I anticipate that they'll need to sleep again, so I mentally clear out the schedule for about that time and create a mood for sleep 2 hours later.  And so forth...

Don't expect too much from yourself. 

The first 3 weeks of a baby's life are really hard.  It gets a smidge easier by 6 weeks, a smidge easier than that at 3 months, and a smidge easier than that at 6 months. 

You'll find there are fascinating time periods where babies learn something new every day.  Those mental growth spurts are fascinating and thrilling to watch, so make the time to marvel.  They'll also throw you for a loop during that time period, because they'll suddenly be able to do things they hadn't been able to do.

It's easier to house-proof the child than it is to child-proof the house.  Teach them to avoid dangers rather than removing dangers, so that they will be safe in any environment and not just in your home.

Find a safe spot on the car for your toddlers to touch to help them wait while you unlock the car or load the groceries without worrying about them running into danger or pinching their fingers in a slamming or sliding door.

Talk to your babies, in proper English and a normal time of voice, even before they can talk to you.  That way, they will learn proper English and you won't go bug-nuts from having extra words at the end of the day.  When your baby speaks to you in baby talk or sign, repeat it as a question in proper English and then answer the question.  That means they are introduced to the word three times instead of one and it gives room for growth.  ("Buth."  "You want the bus?  Sure, I love playing with the bus.") 

Some of the best parents that I know read Shepherding a Child's Heart once every year.

Tell your children about your childhood.

Speak with respect to your children, your spouse, your in-laws, and your parents.

Put times in your day to relax and bond as a family.  The time right after dinner is when we read aloud as a family, mostly using books from Honey for a Child's Heart.

Set aside a half hour for a child's bedtime.  This is true for babies to teens.  Life was miserable when I expected my older children to put themselves to bed.  Now that I've gone back to parenting them to bed, we are at peace.  We turn the lights out, talk about their favorite parts of the day, generally settle down wound-up kids, and pray together.  I hear what's on their hearts.  (In only a few years, they won't be in my home anymore, so this is sacred time.)

It is less work to own fewer things.

Give yourself a deadline for when all the work is done for the day.  What works for us is 90 minutes before the kids' bedtime, but that might not be your number.  (Realistically, if we say that we're done with work 90 minutes before the kids go to bed, we'll finish 60 minutes before bed.)  After that time, everything waits for tomorrow.  It isn't worth losing sleep or relationships to cross a few more items off of your to-do list.  Burned-out parents don't parent well, so get enough sleep and relax daily.  (The deadline we chose gives me 1 hour or more for family time, 20 minutes to prepare them for bed, 30 minutes to parent them to sleep, 1 hour for time with my spouse, and 30 minutes to get to bed.)

Give your children all the time that they need to grow up.  Let them wean themselves throughout their life.  Let them decide when they are too old for childish toys. 

Continue to grow as a woman.  Continue to grow as a child of God.  Live as an individual, instead of in comparison to others.  Apologize often.  Forgive fully.  Laugh.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Taco Seasoning

My German roots are showing.  I didn't even realize it was Cinco de Mayo until the pastor mentioned a Mexican-themed meeting after church.  That's not a problem, though, since my dinner plans weren't set in stone yet anyway.  We gathered up a few ingredients, and some store-bought tortilla chips, and pulled together some heaping nachos.

But I didn't want to pull together a mini-party without sharing a recipe with my on-line readers.  So here's my homemade version of taco seasoning.

I enjoy making my own seasoning blends, so that I can spend my limited grocery budget more frugally.  I also like to be confident that my seasonings are 100% guaranteed to be MSG-free.  I buy the individual seasonings in bulk, then blend them together and store them to quickly toss into a meal.

Taco Seasoning
  • 1/2 cup ground cumin
  • 1/4 cup paprika
  • 3/8 cup oregano
  • 3/8 cup garlic powder
  • 3/8 cup cornstarch
  • 1/8 cup salt 
  • 1/8 cup cayenne pepper
  • 1 Tablespoon onion powder
Mix, and store in an airtight jar. 

When I make tacos I like to brown the beef and set it aside.  Then I saute an onion.  Finally, I return the meat and add 2/3 cup to 3/4 cup water (per pound of meat) and 1/8 cup of the seasoning blend per pound of meat.  (Important: don't add all of the above to a pound of meat.  You'll be a little overwhelmed.  Trust me on this.)

You may be wondering why this recipe doesn't include chili powder.  Almost every on-line recipe includes a line for chili powder.  Is it possible that I left something out? 

Actually all of the ingredients in chili powder are repeated in taco seasoning, so it didn't make sense to me to buy a separate mix just to add them in again.  Instead, I add the chili powder ingredients to the original recipe just to simplify life a little bit.

If you don't want to store any leftover taco seasoning, you can just add the following to one pound of meat, along with 2/3-3/4 cup of water.

Taco Seasoning for One Meal

  • 2 Tablespoons + 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 Tablespoons + 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 Tablespoon oregano
  • 1 Tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 Tablespoon cornstarch
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
My inspirations:

Linked with Whole Foods WednesdayReal Food Wednesday, Simple Lives Thursday and Thank Your Body Thursday.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Pickling Spice for Your St. Patrick's Day Corned Beef

I freely confess that I'm neither a Roman Catholic nor Irish.  With that in mind, there is no shame that St. Patrick's Day caught me off-guard once again.  It's not one of those high holy days that I plan for weeks and months in advance.  I used to catch St. Patty's day by watching the grocery store circulars, but now that I buy so many of my groceries either straight from the farm or through organic boxes I frequently miss minor holidays now (and thank heavens that nobody pinches anyone for not wearing green on St Patrick's Day in my homeschool).  It was the weather channel's website that clued me in this year, since they had a special forecast section just for St. Patrick's Day weather.

So my dear husband made a St. Patrick's Day run to the grocery store last night.  I freely confess that the corned beef he picked up wasn't the normal quality of meat that we eat, but nonetheless we bought it anyway.  But filling the crock pot this morning left us with a conundrum.  What about that little seasoning packet that comes along with the meat?  I have very little faith in the processed & packaged food industry and avoid monosodium glutamate, yeast extract, and all of it's other derivatives like the plague.  So what's a mother to do?

We decided to add our own pickling mix to the cheap (and probably toxic) meat that we're cooking up today.  The recipe below makes up just a tiny amount of seasonings, so feel free to scale it up if you're wanting to prepare for more than just a single serving size.

I wasn't fortunate enough to have a time-honored pickling spice recipe handed down in the family, so when I originally went about looking for the perfect spice blend for our family I started by googling at least three recipes.  I started with Simply Canning, Amazing Ribs, and NPR, but it was A Way to Garden that really educated me on how pickling spice worked. 

Corning the Beef

Cuts of meat labeled "corned beef" are brined and fermented in advance.  A better choice (although we passed it up this year) would be to purchase a well-marbled beef brisket or other tough roast.  Rinse the meat and cut it into 2 to 3 inch chunks.  Dissolve 5/8 cup sea salt (not optional) and 1 tablespoon maple syrup or sucanat or Rapadura organic whole cane sugar in a quart of water.  (If you do not plan on using your meat within 10 days add 1-1/4 teaspoons of curing salt.  This contains sodium nitrite which will preserve the meat for longer.  Freeze after curing is complete.)  Pack the meat in a 2-Liter Pickl-It jar.  Cover with brine.  Hold the meat down with a Dunk'R.  Put the airlock on the jar.  Cover the jar with a dish towel or place it in a dark cabinet for 8 hours.  Refrigerate for 7 to 10 days, checking the brine level daily to ensure that the meat stays covered.
Adapted from: The Complete Idiot's Guide to Fermenting Food

When it's time to cook the beef, I add the following vegetables:
  • 1 onion, quartered
  • 6 cloves garlic
Then I mix in the following seasonings for every 5 pounds of corned beef:

Pickling Spice

  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 2 teaspoons mustard seed
  • 2 teaspoons coriander seed
  • 2 teaspoons whole allspice
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 4 whole cloves
  • 2 bay leaves, crumbled
  • 2" cinnamon stick, crushed or broken into pieces
This pickling spice can be adapted for pickles, as well as for corned beef.  I like to lower the ginger down to 1 teaspoon and add an additional 2 teaspoons of dill seed or dill weed when making pickles.


Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Balance: The Secret to Health and Happiness

It's been a whole week since I let you know I was giving myself permission to be imperfect

Since that time a friend mentioned that she had a hard time relaxing since her father had brought her up to work first and then rest.  It was a great idea, except the work never ends for a homeschooling mother with a house full of preschoolers and an entrepreneurial husband.  This is the idea that I shared with her.  I hope that it gave her a thimbleful of peace.  I hope you find rest in it, as well.

There is a time for every purpose under heaven.  When you work, do it with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength as if working for the Lord.  When you play, do it with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength as if playing for the Lord.  To do otherwise, cheats both health and happiness.

Shared with Simple Lives Thursday.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Lactofermented Garlic Paste

I hate procrastination.  Especially when I'm the guilty party.

I've been wanting to post this recipe for just shy of a year, but it hasn't happened.  (I realize that I haven't been blogging for a year, but there were months of planning that went into this before I began.)  It really isn't my fault, entirely.  I have more ideas than I have time to put into practice, and I don't want to become overwhelmed trying to be everything for everybody.

Enough chasing of rabbits.  This is a recipe that's near and dear to my heart, because I associate it with special occasions, like my anniversary.  It's a part of my Indian feast.  But because I make it only for special occasions, as part of a larger feast, I don't have many opportunities to take pictures.

Now that someone is asking for my naan recipe, however, I've decided to post at least a portion of my Indian feast now and come back in a few weeks (after my anniversary, of course) to add photos.
Garlic Sauce
1-2 cold egg whites
4-6 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon salt, not optional
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 cup grapeseed or olive oil
1 Tablespoon living whey

Before we really get started on the recipe, let's pause for a minute and consider the ingredients.  Use a salt that is colored.  Salt is white when it comes from the lab.  In nature it has many colors, from reds and pinks to grays and blacks.  By choosing a salt that is colored, you can be sure that you are buying an unprocessed salt.  Don't be fooled (as I was) by a label like, "sea salt."  Almost all salt is from the sea, but that doesn't mean that the minerals weren't stripped.

Your whey needs to be alive.  Do not use powdered whey.  It is highly processed and will not be useful in this recipe.  Do not use whey which has been heated.  After a certain temperature the beneficial bacteria dies.  Instead use whey from making yogurt, unheated cheese, or (my personal favorite) dairy kefir.

If you do not have whey, you could just substitute another living starter culture, such as unpasteurized kombucha, water kefir, Body ecology starter culture, yogurt, or unpasteurized buttermilk.  However, all of these options will influence your final taste.  The whey or other starter culture is important, because it gives plenty of beneficial bacteria to overwhelm any nasties that might come along with the raw egg.

Theoretically, you could also add an extra tablespoon of salt and see what wild bacteria you can grow.  However, since most chicken (even backyard flocks) contains salmonella or campylobacter, I wouldn't do that without pasteurizing the eggs first.  I know that plenty of people don't bother pasteurizing pastured eggs since they are less likely to contain harmful bacteria, but it still is a little like playing Russian roulette--even though your odds of winning are better.

Also, don't forget the salt.

Note: my recipe is for those who own a Vitamix.  It can be adapted to any blender or can be made with a simple wire whisk, but I do not have experience doing it that way.

All ingredients must be at room temperature, except that the egg whites must be cold.  Place the egg white, garlic, salt, and lemon juice in Vitamix.  Select variable 1.  Turn the machine on, quickly move it to variable 10, and then to High.  While the machine is running, remove the liquid plug and pour the oil in a thin, steady stream until the mixture thickens and all oil is consumed (about 60 seconds).  Stop the machine.  Feel the outside of the machine.  If it is too hot to touch, then it needs to cool down to a more comfortable temperature.  (Don't be impatient or you'll kill off the beneficial bacteria that you're trying to culture).  When it is cool enough, stir in the whey and any remaining oil.  Leave it out in an air-tight container at room temperature for 7 hours, and then refrigerate.

I rarely just use a recipe without tinkering with it.  That's not how God wired me.  These are the recipes that inspired me, the ones I cobbled together into what you see above. http://www.dedemed.com/mediterranean/garlic-sauce-recipe

Sourdough Garlic Naan

Ever have one of those things that you plan on doing, but because of one small detail it doesn't get done?  This post is like that.

I've wanted to post this recipe for a long time.  It's a recipe that's near and dear to my heart because I reserve it for special occasions, like my anniversary.  It's a part of my Indian feast.  But because I make it only for special occasions, as part of a larger feast, I don't have many opportunities to take pictures.

Now that someone is asking for my naan recipe, however, I've decided to post it sans photos and come back in a few weeks (after my anniversary, of course) to update it.

Sourdough Garlic Naan
1 cup sourdough starter
3/4 cup living whey
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cumin
3 Tablespoons melted lard, coconut oil, or butter
2 Teaspoons garlic paste
approximately 2 cups flour

Before we really get started on the recipe, let's pause for a minute and consider the ingredients.  Your sourdough starter does not have to be at the peak of its activity.  Heck, it doesn't even need to be fed, for that matter.  If you have a some-what active starter and are considering discarding 1 cup during a feeding, you might want to consider making naan with the discarded starter.

Your whey needs to be alive.  Do not use powdered whey.  It is highly processed and will not be useful in this recipe.  Do not use whey which has been heated.  After a certain temperature the beneficial bacteria dies.  Instead use whey from making yogurt, unheated cheese, or (my personal favorite) dairy kefir.  If you do not have whey just substitute milk.

Use a salt that is colored.  Salt is white when it comes from the lab.  In nature it has many colors, from reds and pinks to grays and blacks.  By choosing a salt that is colored, you can be sure that you are buying an unprocessed salt.  Don't be fooled (as I was) by a label like, "sea salt."  Almost all salt is from the sea, but that doesn't mean that the minerals weren't stripped.

Finally, do give lard a chance.  It makes the best breads, believe it or not.  If you don't have access to a good lard, coconut oil and butter make excellent choices, as well.

Mix sourdough starter, whey, baking powder, salt, cumin, garlic, and lard.  Slowly add the flour.  Depending on your flour and the moisture of your sourdough starter, you may need more or less than the two cups.  Adding too much flour will result in a dry, crumbly mess.  Not enough flour with yield a sticky mess that is impossible to roll out.  Find your happy medium.  Use your hands to mix the dough so you can get a feel of where you are at.  Cover with a towel, and let rest 2-3 hours until it rises slightly.  

Transfer to a lightly floured surface.  I had been told that amateurs add too much flour and end up with soured bricks, so I was afraid to flour my surface.  After making the recipe repeatedly I discovered that .the high humidity in my area calls for extra flour.  Now I'm not afraid to do what works for me.  

Knead for a minute or two until smooth, adding only enough flour to keep it from sticking to your hands.  

Preheat a heavy skillet (let's hear it for cast iron!) over medium-high heat.  Divide the dough into 8 balls.  Roll the dough with a rolling pin or flatten with the hands to 1/4 inch thick rounds (or oblongs).  Brush with water on one side and place water-side-down in skillet.  It will stick.  Cook for 30 seconds to one minute, until the dough is bubbling and it no longer sticks.  For those cooking on electric, flip and cook the other side.  For those cooking on gas, begin the next piece in the skillet and take the original piece to another burner, light it and cook over an open flame.  (A totally cool experience that should not be passed up!)  Hold it with kitchen or barbecue tongs and keep it moving constantly for 30 seconds or until charred.  

Top with melted butter.

I rarely just use a recipe.  That's not how God wired me.  Instead I mess with a recipe until I can get it to submit to my will.  These are the recipes that inspired me, the ones I cobbled together into what you see above.

Linked with Fat Tuesday, Monday ManiaTraditional TuesdaysReal Food Wednesdays, and Healthy 2Day Wednesdays

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Finding Peace in Chaos

My third daughter helped to take care of the little things
I've decided to give myself a break.  It wasn't an easy decision, but I knew that something had to give.  I decided it wouldn't be my sanity.

It started as we finished rehabbing Dad's house for sale.  At the time, we had finished most of the bedrooms and the office.  As rooms were being finished and preparations were being made for staging, the kitchen became more and more cluttered.  The right way to do the project would be to sort the items and bring them to their final destination, but in the hurry toward the finish line it was simpler to just dump it all into the kitchen.  Dad's house boasts a large amount of counter space and a sizable kitchen table (I wish I could keep them.  I definitely have counter-space envy), but both were quickly filled to the overflow.  Somehow we managed to find enough room to eat our meals and educate the children, but it took more and more effort to do so every day. 

Tools, fabrics, and herbs over here
From early morning to late at night we worked.  Breaks were few and far between. 

Through it all, I struggled to eat traditionally.  It's difficult to choose otherwise after being educated.  Yet, I knew that I had a choice.  I could either give my all to the project, or I could give my all to educating my children and feeding my family.  I knew that if I wasn't working full-time on the project it would take longer to move home and return to our normal life.

Banished to the laundry room and still content--that's why I love my toddler girl
Then came the day that we started working on the kitchen itself.  The refrigerator spent several weeks in the living room.  The stove spent a few days in the laundry room.  So did the high chair, but my toddler didn't seem to mind since she could never wait until the meal was served anyway.  We no longer had the ability to eat at the kitchen table every night.

I chose sanity.  I knowingly set aside what I knew about the links between food and health and chose to turn back to the standard American diet.  We still made wise choices for fats, meats, dairy, produce, and eggs, but it was filled out with boxed cereals, boughten breads, lunch meats, deli food, pizza, and even (gasp!) a frozen dinner or two. 

Managed to eke out some kefir and broth over there
Sadly, my children were in heaven.  I didn't worry too much about it though.  I knew that they were just happy because it was new and unusual.

Even after we moved home it took a few weeks before we fully returned to traditional cooking.  By then there were three more mammoth projects that needed to be done.  It was still all-consuming and unrelenting.  At first, I continued to need the respite of using some ready-made foods.

Breakfast o "champions" in the living room
Even after going back to a more normal food cycle, I still haven't fully transitioned back to normal entirely.  My laundry room has been filled with at least 6-8 loads of clean laundry.  (Okay, maybe that's a little normal, but still it's a little over the top.)  My kitchen table has more than the normal amount of clutter.

But the most important thing is that I'm okay with all of that.  I've given myself permission to be imperfect.  The truth is that I'll be imperfect no matter what my opinion is, so I may as well find peace in it all.

Shared with Simple Lives Thursday and Traditional Tuesdays.