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Friday, February 29, 2008

Finished Object Friday: Just in Time

I am just under the wire here. I wanted to get this post up before midnight. Please share with me what you have finished. Since I have finished so little.

If you have one or more finished items this week, please sign Mr. Linky below and share all you have made. Your Finished Object(s) can be knit, crocheted, sewn, quilted, tatted, beaded, papercraft, woodwork or any other kind of craft. Show off what you have made! Please make sure you link to the exact post that shows your finished item(s) rather than just to your blog.


Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Works for Me Wednesday: Doubling Meals

Since I am getting a little closer to D-day for our newest baby, I am gearing up to do something I do occasionally anyway: Doubling meals to freeze half. I invest in good freezer bags and those reusable/disposable plastic casserole pans that can go in the oven. I also have some foil pie pans so we can freeze things like quiches and even pies.

When I am making something that will freeze well, that we like a great deal, I try to make twice as much as we will need. Then, I put half in the casserole dish or freezer bag or cook the dish in the disposable pan, cover well with plastic and foil, if necessary, and freeze for later use. This makes it much easier on us if we are too tired, our schedule is too hectic or someone is ill. We can pull something out from the freezer, knowing that it is still wholesome, and tasty, and have dinner in very little time.

When we are recovering from my c-section and dealing with a newborn and sleepless nights, this will definitely be a good thing. I tend to freeze things like chilis, stews, soups, casseroles like shepherd's pie and chicken divan, lasagnes, meatloaf, quiche. Foods with cream in them tend not to freeze all that well, but you can still have quite a variety of foods for those times when facing dinner is too much. Bread also freezes well, so if you make extra, you can stock the freezer with that. Most of these just require some reheating, which anyone can do.

Pull out a (well labeled) meal, a loaf of bread, and toss together a salad, and you have a good meal for your family that you don't have to cook. It will also save on your food bill, keeping you from expensive frozen or instant meals, or relying on restaurants or take out. This definitely works for me!

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Questions Answered

I was going to post a little reply in the comments, then realized it would have to be kind of long, so I thought I'd e-mail, then I figured I'd just post something here, in case other people were interested, too. My friend Alina posted a comment in reply to my post about eating healthy.

We too have reduced our intake of pre-packaged food. I do by organic bread as I love the oats, flaxseed, etc. that gets put into it. But we have for the most part elimanted all pre-packaged cookies, cakes, etc. I too make all the pancakes, biscuits, etc. from scratch and I do make some of our bread from scratch as well as D thinks I am nutty for loving nutty bread! The only real pre-packaged food the kids get is organic cookies. I find they are a great snack in a pinch, however, we get one small bag for the whole week and when it is gone that is it. The rest of the week I make it all from scratch if we want something like that. As for the grown ups in the house, we are not as good. We tend to buy more treats for us then the kids, but I would say compared to the average person it is much less. We maybe get one or two processed treats every couple of weeks with exceptions of course, but we do get Coca Cola for Shabbat, however, it is made With Out cory syrup here. There are some things we have not changed, we can't do as much organic meat as I would like and still do regular meat do to the huge amount of price difference, it is at least double, I don't do organic pasta, and I think D would freak if I switched to whole wheat and I have not switched to Organic Oatmeal as it is about triple the cost, but we do use bulk whole oats as much as possible. Also our frozen veggies are not organic, but that is usually only corn and occasionally peas, and meat we only use once a week outside shabbos. I would love your cereal recipes. Why did we switched, I love that I can give my kids veggies and fruit with out a hassle on washing, just takes a fast rinse, I love that my kids aren't eating all the sugar and hidden sugar and preservatives. We find the behavior is better and it is nice to know that my kids are not hooked on junk the way their parents are. Although fortunately we are at our worst when it comes from the States and that only happens occasionally.....We also don't freak when on occasion the kids eat pre-packaged food depending on what it is and how much sugar is stuffed in there. I am envious that you can have your own chickens and grown your own veggies. If we ever get permanently settled in a place where have either a patio or a ground floor apt. We want to start doing potted gardening. Spices,tomatoes, peas, etc. I think it is great that you can do so much where you are. I also need to figure out dried beans better. I have yet to successful re-hydrate kidney beans and use them in something that does not require a full day of cooking. I also need more creative yet simple recipes, I guess more stir fry type things. D is not a big bean eater. Would love to hear your ideas.

First off, can I say that I am jealous that you get the real sugar Coke. I called the bottling plant nearby one year to ask if they would stock them around Passover, because I had heard that sometimes they do, only to be told we did not have a large enough Jewish population for them to do so.

I like nutty bread, too, and seedy bread. We make it only occasionally, because I also like it better than the other people here, but they are starting to change. Rich adds sesame seeds to the bread sometimes. As for the whole wheat pasta, I actually agree that it's gross. We get the blend, because it still tastes good, but has a little extra oomph to it.

When it comes to cooking beans, canned works if you can get them inexpensively, though of course it is cheaper and you can control the salt and sugar better if you cook them from dry. We keep both around, and use the canned in a pinch and for certain specific things. If I ever get over my fear of pressure canning, I will put up beans for us. If you are using dry beans, things like split peas and lentils cook the fastest, 30 minutes to an hour, though of course you can cook them longer. Pinto beans cook the shortest of most dry actual beans in my experience. On the stove, it would take about an hour and a half and I think it takes me about four or five hours in the crockpot. I love the crockpot for beans. I don't presoak, just pick out debris and rinse them, and cover with enough liquid and let it go. I do tend to start beans on high for an hour or two and cook them on low until they are finished. I add seasonings and vegetables and/or meat in the last hour.

I make vegetarian pinto beans by starting them with about two inches of water over them in the crockpot and cooking on high for an hour, then reducing the heat to low. I cook for another three hours, then cook some onions, garlic and peppers in olive oil and toss those in with the beans along with a can of tomato sauce and a little salt. I let it cook for another half hour to hour. We eat that with rice or cornbread and a salad. A friend of mine makes a really nice cashew and bean stew which uses canned beans and is quick to make. We really enjoyed that and make it here fairly regularly. We also make a good nacho casserole with tortilla chips as the base. I cook up black beans, enough to make about two cups of it, and saute a diced onion, some garlic and canned tomatoes (if you have fresh, so much the better), you can add peppers if you like, or not, add the beans to this. I season it with chipotle powder, oregano, cumin and salt. I pour this whole thing over the chips in a glass baking pan, spread sour cream over the top, and sprinkle with shredded cheddar cheese, bake it for about 20 minutes, or until the cheese melts, and serve it with a salad. You can always cook any of this with meat, if you like. I also make chili fairly regularly.

I make double the granola recipe in my largest crockpot (we own two large ones, one medium and a tiny one we got free with one of them that's supposed to be for dips and such). You could do it in the oven at a low temperature, but I have no idea about the timing, you'd just have to watch it.

Cherry Almond Granola

1/2 cup honey
1 cup oil (something light - I use coconut oil)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
6 cups rolled oats
2 cups sliced almonds
1 cup unsweetened, dried coconut
1 cup sesame seeds (optional, or increase coconut to 2 cups, which is what I usually do)
2 cups dried cherries
1/2 cup brown sugar

Heat the honey, oil, vanilla and almond extracts in a large round or oval crockpot on high, stirring to melt honey. Cook about 30 minutes.

In a large bowl, mix all the rest of the ingredients well. Stir about a third of this mixture into the liquid, mixing to coat well. Slowly add the rest, mixing well to make sure all of the dry ingredients are coated. Cook on high, stirring occasionally, for 45 minutes. Reduce heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally to make sure it doesn't burn for 45 minutes to an hour. I forgot to mention that my crockpot runs hot, so I actually cook the granola on low and then warm. If yours runs hot, you may have better success doing the same. Otherwise, stir more frequently to make sure no burnt spots happen. Allow to cool while stirring to cool evenly. Store in an airtight container and use as you would any other granola. We eat it as a cold cereal, or added to yogurt.

As you can see, we use our crockpot for quite a lot. That and our bread machine are two of our best tools in the kitchen. We use the bread machine to make dough quickly for rolls or more rustic breads (you can mix challah dough in there quite nicely, and I have a recipe for croissant dough that makes lovely ones), or to make sandwich bread. The things I look for in a crockpot are size, we cook for a large family, and if we are feeding other people we cook even more, a keep warm feature, and a plus is a timer/delay button. In a bread machine, I look for, again, capacity (at least 2 1/2 lb loaf capability, 3 lbs is better), a dough cycle, basic bread cycle, bake only cycle, a wheat bread and/or sweet bread cycle is nice, but not absolutely necessary. Something that is important, we found, was that the machine would start up again quickly after finishing a cycle. We had one that had a long cool down cycle, even after the dough setting, and it made things more difficult.

By the way, I forgot to mention that we buy our bread machines used. You can usually find them for about $10 at the thrift stores, and we run them into the ground.

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

My Man

I was making dinner last night, and doubling it so we could send some to a family at church who will be dealing with surgery and hospitalization this week, when I told Rich that I had a huge craving for Chinese food. Broccoli beef, kung pao chicken, sweet and sour pork, you know the whole deal. He asked why I didn't just change dinner and make something like that, but since I was making the meal for the other family, it would have meant making two different dinners. I said I'd thought of just running to the grocery store and picking some up at the deli, but it wasn't very good, and the restaurants in town that did make decent Chinese were too expensive for what you got. There was this place in Tacoma we'd eaten at before and liked, but I couldn't remember the name, and I didn't feel like heading over there anyway, so I was just going to wait until I got a chance to go somewhere with good food at a later time.

Rich had a meeting with a friend of his, so he left for that and I was thinking of writing a post asking for recommendations for a good and not too expensive Chinese place between Bremerton and Puyallup (which I'd still be interested in), since outside of Seattle, there really aren't that many Chinese places, we have mostly Japanese, Thai and Vietnamese with a little Korean here and there. I finished making dinner, and we sat down to eat. About half way through dinner, Rich came in with his friend, put a bag of Chinese take out in front of me, removed my dinner plate, gave me a new one and put mine at his spot at the table. I just laughed and laughed, I couldn't believe he had done that.

They had gone to Tacoma looking for the restaurant I had mentioned (which had closed), and found another place run by a hard working family, and bought all this food. The children and I will be eating it for lunch today, there was so much left over. Not bad.

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Monday, February 25, 2008

Menu Plan Monday: February 25

It is leap day this Friday! Too bad it doesn't give us an extra day in this week. Four years ago, when we were scheduling Amira's birthday, Rich lobbied heavily for a February 29 delivery. It fell on a Sunday, and was two weeks before her due date, so that didn't happen. Amira is still healing well, and our biggest problem is trying to keep her from hurting herself again, since she seems to think that she can fly around the house at all speeds with no consequences.

I am getting ready to plan my first girly birthday party. Amira's birthday is on the 10th, and she now has built in girly friends from ballet. So, we are having a fairy princess tea party, complete with wings, crowns, tea sandwiches, scones, cake and milky tea in nice china cups. We are looking at having six little girls in frilly clothes, having frilly food, and squealing quite a bit. I'm in the middle of cleaning up house and yard in preparation.

Meanwhile this is our menu for this week. I will provide recipes on request, and some I plan to post later anyway.

What is on your menu this week?

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Saturday, February 23, 2008

In Stitches

These are the very blurry pictures Rich took at the urgent care with his camera. They don't look nearly as bad. We got to see inside of her head to what covers her skull. Rest assured that she is doing well. She still has some headaches, and her head just aches a bit, between the crash and the stitches. Jerome, of course, immediately poked his fingers into her stitches as soon as she was home. We've put a bandaid on it so it's harder to touch them.


Soap & First Kisses

Last night, Elijah asked us "What spells soap?" Rich and I wishing to correct his question, both said "How do you spell soap?" To which he replied "I don't know!" Just so you know that Amira isn't the only one who makes us laugh in our house.

On Monday, Jerome ran toward me and planted some sloppy baby kisses on my face. He's been blowing kisses at us for some time, but that was the first time he really kissed one of us. It made me a little teary in my hormotional state.

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Friday, February 22, 2008

Salted Butter on Pancakes

Here is another food shame of mine. I use exclusively unsalted butter. I find it to be better quality, and it allows us to control the salt in our food, and we like the taste. However, I do harbor a preference for salted butter on pancakes. I don't know if this comes from the times when I was a child and we went to to the Original Pancake House (not IHOP) - which I just discovered is now across the US, I hope their amazing breakfasts have not suffered for this - for a treat and they served it with the pancakes, or what, but I do like the salty butter mixed with syrup on them. Oddly enough no fond craving for fake maple syrup has endured.

Since we never have salted butter in our house, I do not indulge in this. However, now that I have found that in the Pacific Northwest Organic Valley does sell unhomogenized milk (and our grocery store has ordered us a case!) I may churn up a small batch of butter with the children and salt it just for this purpose. We are planning on trying our hand at some simple cheesemaking, too, so I'll let you know how that goes. If I do make the butter, I will serve it with this pancake recipe, which I developed after seeing a similar hearty type mix at the grocery store for about 1000% more than it should have cost. We use our fresh eggs and our girls' honey in this, which makes it especially nice. These are the only pancakes I make. Rich is the pancake man at our house, and his are amazing also. He cooks them up for us in a quadruple batch on Saturdays so we can freeze the leftovers and heat them up for quick breakfasts during the week. This recipe, though, is what we ate today:

Honey and Oat Flapjacks

makes about 18

1 3/4 cup oat flour (you can either grind up rolled oats or buy this already milled)
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup honey
4 tablespoons butter, melted
2 eggs

Start heating a good non-stick pan or a griddle at a medium high heat (on my electric stove, I set it at 6 1/2 to heat).

In a medium bowl, mix up the flours, baking powder and salt and set aside. In a larger bowl, mix up the liquid ingredients (I melt the butter in this bowl, add the honey, then the eggs and milk). Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. This will be thicker than normal pancake batter by just a touch.

I use 1/3 cup of batter for each pancake, and immediately turn the heat down to 4 1/2 on my stove. These cook a little more slowly than regular pancakes, and using too high a temperature will get you squishy, burned pancakes.

We serve this with maple syrup and butter. We also make eggs, sometimes bacon or sausage, to go with them. This morning we had apple blueberry sauce. Of course, we drink milk. This recipe feeds all seven of us with maybe one or two left. You could double or triple or whatever it if you wanted to freeze them (put waxed paper or parchment paper between the pancakes and put in good freezer bags, I just pop them in the toaster to reheat them) and have them for busier days.

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Finished Object Friday: Three Days to Go

I really enjoye looking at what you finished last week. I am almost there with the design for the book submission, and I have to have it finished and written up by Tuesday at the latest, so I'm doing a lot of work on it. I realized that this would be my first FO of 2008, and the first thing finished since September. That is really unusual for me. I'm not a production knitter anyway, but I did used to finish between 20 and 40 things a year. Not so much now.

If you have one or more finished items this week, please sign Mr. Linky below and share all you have made. Your Finished Object(s) can be knit, crocheted, sewn, quilted, tatted, beaded, papercraft, woodwork or any other kind of craft. Show off what you have made! Please make sure you link to the exact post that shows your finished item(s) rather than just to your blog.

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Emergency Blues

For having five children, we have had very few visits to emergency rooms. Dominic had to go twice in the same week for running into the doorframes at our house. Amira had to go after nearly choking to death when she was 16 months.

Tonight we had our first urgent care visit requiring stitches. No emergency room trip, it was early enough in the evening, but stitches and a head injury. Of course, it was our emergency girl. Amira slipped on a couch pillow that was on the floor and landed head first on the flat part of our coffee table and split her right forehead open. I heard the thump, and expected someone ran his shins into the table, but saw her bleeding face instead.

It is near her hairline, but of course is on her face, and of course on our daughter, not our sons. I had her lie down on the couch and put a cold compress on her and the bleeding stopped amazingly fast, actually there wasn't that much blood considering it was on her head. It was fairly deep, and open, though, so we knew there would be stitches. I called Rich at work and told him to come home, he got here and asked if I wanted him to stay with the other children or go with her, and I said he should go with her.

She was a trooper about it, and Rich said he had to try to keep her from falling off the table, since she kept wiggling around, and he didn't want her to have a matching set of scars. He said he also let the doctors know that he'd like as neat and small a scar as possible. We both have some sloppy scars from doctors who were in a big hurry about stitching us up. She has a headache, and a big bruise forming on her arm where she must have hit the edge of the table. It's too bad that isn't all she hit, it would have spared her little face.

Since I was busy at home trying to be calm and explaining to Amira what was going to happen to her, and I didn't think it would be a good time to pull out the camera, I don't have a picture of the gaping hole on her head. Rich, however, while waiting for the lidocaine liquid to set in took pictures of it that he's going to put on the computer for me. We also have some pictures of her with her stitches in. I'm trying to decide if it's worth risking her slipping and falling in ballet tomorrow. She never has before, but now, with stitches in would be when she did.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2008

What Do You Consider Eating Healthy?

We do not eat low fat, low carb, low salt or low sugar. Though, those last two, we sort of do as a result of the way we eat, but it's not a particular diet we are on. We find that restaurant food is really too salty for us, and since we don't eat much in the way of highly processed food, we don't get a lot of sugar or salt. What I mean is that we don't eschew salt or sugar. I salt our food when I cook, and most of the time we all find that to be salty enough, we eat natural sugars, for the most part, and our sugar intake otherwise is in raw honey (from our bees!), organic evaporated cane juice (not so refined sugar), maple syrup or fruit.

The only huge change we've made in the last few years to how we eat is that we use our salad plates for our main meals. This effectively cuts down our portion sizes, and even if we want seconds, we are getting less than we would have if we used our dinner plates. A pound of dry pasta (whole wheat blend, generally speaking) will feed our family of seven with a little left over now. We find that we are not able to eat quite as much as we used to. This weekend, for instance, we brought home most of our dinner from the restaurant, and it made two more meals for us, not just one. That was with only drinking water and not getting dessert, too.

My main plan of attack in feeding my family healthy food is not to buy processed junk and to use whole grains wherever possible. I'm not obsessive about this, if we eat a packaged cookie, I don't worry about it. I figure we're in better shape to have something like that once in a while than most people who eat it all the time. We make almost all of our own bread, jams, jellies, pickles, preserves, yogurt, salad dressing, etc. Most of our cooking is from scratch, I use cold pressed oils, butter and meat drippings to cook. I've even started making our own cereals (granola and a grape nuts type knock off) and between that and the oatmeal (steel cut oats and rolled oats if we don't have much time), we don't really need any packaged cereals. I don't buy cake mixes, pancake or biscuit mix, canned soup, prepackaged meals, or boxed cookies (with very rare exception). Even though both Rich and I enjoy carbonated drinks, we almost never have soda in the house. All this pretty effectively reduces our corn syrup consumption to just about nil, and we control the salt we eat, what kind of fats we use and how much food coloring and artificial preservatives we put in our bodies. I'd like to start making our own mayonnaise, too, and we have experimented with making our own sausage with some good success.

I am fortunate, because Rich really prefers my cooking to anything else, and the children being raised on it don't really know to want anything else. We go to restaurants very rarely (which also reduces our risk of contracting Hep B), and even then, it is because of the convenience and so I won't have to do dishes. Rich always prefers my cooking to a restaurant, and even at nicer places, I know I can make what we ate better and for a quarter of the cost at home.

Anyway, the other place we have changed how we eat is that we buy locally raised meat that is grown without hormones or antibiotics. We try to get pasture raised meat when we can, and buy organic when it is on sale, we only buy wild caught seafood. We've started buying organic milk and cream since the price of milk went up so much. This costs us about a dollar more than the grocery store brand, and we can print coupons which bring it almost down to the store brand price. The other thing we like about this milk is that the cows are pasture raised, rather than grain fed, which is better for the cows and for us. It is still pasteurized, but not ultrapasteurized, and homogenized so until we can get our own cows, this is the best option for us. We started getting this mostly for the health benefits, but we found that it really tasted better than the standard milk we had been getting. Of course, we also have our eggs from our free ranging chickens and ducks, and the honey from our bees.

We buy organic fruit and vegetables when it is on sale or the same price as the inorganic stuff. We figure for our food budget we get more bang for our buck with the meat and dairy. We do try to grow some of our own food, and we buy at the farmers market in the summer. Because I shop on sale, buy in season, make so much from scratch (I used to make baby wipes, too, but Rich didn't like how easily they tore, and who am I to argue with a man changing a diaper), and am not picky about brands (with a few exceptions) and will buy store brand diapers, dish soap, etc, we are still able to get higher quality meat and dairy and fresh fruit and vegetables, along with our cleaning supplies and paper products for about $500-600 a month.

A larger family has to think about the grocery budget, and I am pleased that this is a way we can keep the rest of our budget lower. Something else we did was to get our main grocery store's credit card. They have a gas discount for every $100 spent in the store, which brings the price down $0.15/gallon, along with a rebate system that gets us a little over 1% of our total spending back in grocery money. We put everything on this card, including our power bill, phone bills, internet, etc, and we just treat it like our bank account and pay it all off each month, so we don't have to deal with interest. This helps us cut down on our grocery bill, because we get anywhere from $80-100 back each quarter that we can spend at the grocery store.

Things like that help us afford better food, though I find that not buying processed foods alone brought down our food bill quite a bit. We get a lot more for our money, I think, because we buy ingredients rather than packaged food. Also that no processed food thing includes things like tofu and TVP. I've only ever eaten tofu twice in a manner that I liked anyway, so it's not a huge loss to me, but it is a pretty processed food, and I'd rather eat dairy, eggs, nuts or beans if I'm not eating meat. I have eaten TVP and enjoyed it, but it is also highly processed, so I'd rather not spend our money on it. I do make cookies, cakes and other sweets (outside of Lent), and we eat them happily, but I know I'm using good chocolate, fresh fruit, honey or organic sugar, butter and not margarine or vegetable shortening, corn syrup and other things we don't want to eat.

Basically, we don't eat packaged or processed foods, have almost entirely eliminated corn syrup, food dyes and artificial preservatives from our diet, eat whole grains, natural meats and dairy, lots of fruit and vegetables and have reduced our portion sizes. This isn't something we spend a whole lot of time thinking about, though, it's just how we eat, and what is available in our home, so that's the way it is. Because of that, we have reduced our sugar and salt intake, though that wasn't a conscious goal.

What ways have you changed how you eat for your family's health? How do you define healthy food?

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Menu Plan Monday: February 19

Update: After hooking up the diagnostic computer, it turns out that it was a code fault (I think that's what he said, I am not a car person), and our mechanic reset the computer, so the transmission issue is solved. There is still the wobble, but now that the transmission thing is cleared up, he thinks we might be able to solve it with something as simple as switching our front and rear tires. If not, we can replace an axle for about $60. He is working on the leak now and Rich found the extra windshield wiper, so he'll be able to replace that this week. We need to get an oil change, but the car should last us for more than the minimum month we'll need to find our new car. Thank you Lord!

I tried to post this yesterday, but we ended up dealing with some trouble with our car. We are saving up money to get a new (to us) car for our family, and actually within a few weeks or a month ought to have enough to put a significant amount down and either buy outright or pay down quite a bit of a loan. Well, our car has some quirks. There are some things we just need to take care of like replacing the back windshield wiper, but there is a leak somewhere in the front that lets water and air in, and we don't know what is going on with that, the driver's side window doesn't go up or down without some serious help, and our mechanic jury rigged our windshield wiper controls so we have a separate switch below the steering column rather than try to deal with the PITA internals of our American car, and now that is behaving spotty. The big problem, though, was that the wheels were starting to shake when we were driving between 40-50 mph. It used to only happen on acceleration, but now it's happening all the time. Our mechaning took a look at it yesterday, and he thinks it's a transmission problem.

Ugh. We aren't really there yet for buying a car this week. It would put a decent dent in our budget for the new car to have to replace the transmission on this car, and we don't even really want to to it anyway, since we have pretty much driven it into the ground, it is well over 250 K miles, and we were planning on selling it for parts if we sold it at all. However, our mechanic says he doesn't like the idea of our driving it the way it is, and if we have to drive it to make sure we stay on city streets and away from the freeway. Lovely.

He has also sent us to a transmission fellow who is good and fair, and he said it might be a different problem in the car, and that our car is responding by going to a default position in the transmission that can't be overridden to avoid getting itself into trouble. So, we're doing a diagnostic deal this morning and driving slowly through city streets to the transmission place.

So, please pray that this whole car thing will be resolved. We haven't even really found the right car for us yet, and we aren't in a position to buy for at least a few weeks. We don't have a ton of driving to do during the week, but there is church and home group, swimming, ballet, not to mention grocery shopping and things like that.

What is on your menu this week?

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Friday, February 15, 2008

Finished Object Friday: Still Plugging Away

I am still working on that design for the book. I have about a week to be completely finished and have it in the mail. Yikes! I still haven't finished up the pattern writing for the patterns I'd like to have available here.

If you have one or more finished items this week, please sign Mr. Linky below and share all you have made. Your Finished Object(s) can be knit, crocheted, sewn, quilted, tatted, beaded, papercraft, woodwork or any other kind of craft. Show off what you have made! Please make sure you link to the exact post that shows your finished item(s) rather than just to your blog.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008


This post reminded me of how far I have to go.


Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Tales from the Kitchen Classic: Macaroni & Cheese

Since we are having macaroni and cheese this week, I thought I'd repost this, with the picture.

Originally posted March 17, 2006 to Tales from the Kitchen

So, to make a 9 X 11 pan:

I boil lots of salted water to cook the pasta (about a pound), and while that's happening I make a white sauce. Preheat the oven to 425 F.

1/4 cup butter
1/2 an onion, finely diced
1/4 cup flour
2 tablespoons mustard
a couple dashes of hot sauce, I use Frank's usually
4 cups milk
4 cups grated cheese, usually cheddar, but sometimes a mix with cheddar and other cheeses

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat, add the onion and saute a few minutes, then add the flour and stir to combine. I let that brown a little while stirring it occasionally. Then I add the mustard and hot sauce and stir into the flour paste. I add the milk, a little at a time, stirring to combine and let it cook five to ten minutes to thicken. Reduce heat to low and add the cheese, mix it all up until the cheese is melted.

In a greased pan, dump the cooked pasta (not all the way cooked, it will finish in the oven), and pour the cheese sauce over it. If you have any leftover or frozen vegetables, you can put some in with it as well. Stir it all up to coat the pasta, and bake for about 30 minutes.

Usually, I put buttered bread crumbs on top before I put it in the oven, but I didn't feel like cleaning out the food processor. When Rich came home from work, he reminded me that we had already made some that were stored in a container in the pantry, but it was too late at that point to do anything about it without making dinner pretty late.

I usually serve with a salad, and try to have two salads, one green and one fruit, to go with this.

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Monday, February 11, 2008

Fasting: East and West

Our priest has told a story of growing up in his Assemblies of God household (which does not observe Lent) and of their church leaders declaring a day of fasting and prayer for some purpose or need. When that day arrived, his mother and sisters and he prepared for their daily work, and did not eat or prepare breakfast. His step father came to the table and asked what happened to breakfast. They reminded him of the day of fasting, perhaps thinking he had forgotten, and he said, "Oh no, I'm having a spiritual fast!"

What do you think of when you hear the word fast? How do you define a fast? Would you think one full meal and two snacks that don't add up to a full meal?

That is the new definition of a fast in the West. You can see why we wished to go with the older definition. You know, not eating any food and not drinking anything nutritive. Since we fast for the whole 24 hours (really more, because we don't stop eating at midnight and break our fast again at midnight), we do drink water.

When you think of eating meatless (aside from the fact that fish is not categorized as meat), would you think you would get hamburger gravy on mashed potatoes? Because that is now permissible according to the Western definition of a meat fast. Meat cannot be the main ingredient. This is only for Fridays during Lent in the West. Again, it is understandable that we wanted to use the older understanding.

This is not because we are super holy, or because we are particularly ascetic, but because it seems dishonest to call it fasting when I eat in the manner not too different from the way I normally do, or meatless when we're just not gnawing on a hunk of roast. Also, eating meatless on every Friday used to be the standard, which is a practice that goes back to the first century Apostles and early Church, and during Lent, eating meatless was supposed to be a daily practice. If we really wanted to be ascetic, we would go with the Eastern rite dietary rules. We're still eating meat on most days of the week, for instance. This is a practice that we are growing into.

As I understand it from when we first researched it, not only is there no meat (on all days of Lent), but there is no fish, no dairy, no eggs, no oil or wine (I believe the oil and wine have some exceptions, like it is permissible on Sundays, someone who is Orthodox or Eastern Rite could correct me). To be fair, these rules are slightly more flexible, as in the East a greater emphasis is placed on spiritual direction, and one would determine the level of observance with the aid of a spiritual father or mother. Also, they ease into it a bit, with a week of meat feasting, and the last Sunday one is able to partake of meat, and a week of dairy feasting that is likewise closed with a Sunday.

I understand that in the West the emphasis is on the bare essentials, making Church restrictions as simple as possible and encouraging people to a deeper observance. The problem with this seems that people do not often rise above what is expected of them. That's just a sad fact of human nature. You see this with the all you can eat fish frys on Fridays, which while following the strict rules, kind of miss the point. This is supposed to be a sacrifice which allows us to suffer with Christ, do penance for ourselves and stand with the poor as the Church herself does. Something that has stuck with me from a few Lents ago was the idea that we should be getting up from the table before we are full, regardless of what we are eating, especially during a time of fasting and abstinence.

In the East, it seems that the rules are particularly monastic, and with spiritual direction one may moderate them. The problem with that is that it almost seems like if you can't do all of them, you just can't hack it. Since fasting is also supposed to be a physical discipline that prepares us for spiritual discipline, it creates a sort of tiered spiritual standing for those observing the fast. Also, it seems like there are so many restrictions that one could get caught up in following the rules and miss the growing closer to God. The fast isn't the whole point, though it is a good practice. It is a means to repent and mourn one's transgressions, but through prayer, should also direct one to the hope of forgiveness offered by Christ.

Our Old Testament reading on Ash Wednesday particularly pointed to this. It is possible to fast for the sake of fasting, and ignore the holy life that God seeks for us, and the path to Him that he intends it to be. Our priest spoke about Lent being a time of great humility, as we reflect on our sinfulness, our wretchedness, but also a time of great hope, as we are promised, as it said in the collect for Ash Wednesday, that God hates nothing that He has made and forgives the sins of those who are penitent. That He enables us to have new and contrite hearts so that we can lament our sins and acknowledge our wretchedness, and obtain from Him perfect remission and forgiveness. If we were stuck only at the point of recognizing and mourning our sin, there would be no hope. There would eventually be no point, really. But God, in His perfect mercy, provides a way to return to Him, to wholeness.

This is what our fast should point to, not a fast from food which does not bring to mind anything about God at all. Christ Himself taught that there would be a time for fasting after He was taken away, and from as early as the Apostolic period this was practiced, so I'm not saying that the fast itself doesn't have any meaning at all. It is possible, though, to fast because you're supposed to, and not because you are approaching God. If that is the case, then it is not working to make you holy, it's just a deprivation, which can possibly do you harm.

Our priest quoted St. John Chrysostom this past Sunday. I've been looking online for the entire sermon, but so far haven't found it all. If I find it I will quote it all here. These excerpts below outline what a holy fast entails. St. Chrysostom's words have lasted over 1630 years, and are just as striking and meaningful today.

When the fast makes its appearance, like a kind of spiritual summer, let us as soldiers burnish our weapons, and as harvesters sharpen our sickles, and as sailors order our thoughts against the waves of extravagant desires, and as travelers set out on the journey towards heaven. Lay hold of the pathway which leads towards heaven, rugged and narrow as it is. Lay hold of it, and journey on.

I speak not, indeed, of such a fast as most persons keep, but of real fasting; not merely an abstinence from meats; but from sins too. For the nature of a fast is such, that it does not suffice to deliver those who practice it, unless it be done according to a suitable law. “For the wrestler,” it is said, “is not crowned unless he strive lawfully.” To the end then, that when we have gone through the labor of fasting, we forfeit not the crown of fasting, we should understand how, and after what manner, it is necessary to conduct this business; since that Pharisee also fasted, but afterwards went down empty, and destitute of the fruit of fasting. The Publican fasted not; and yet he was accepted in preference to him who had fasted; in order that thou mayest learn that fasting is unprofitable, except all other duties follow with it.

Since then the danger in fasting is so great to those who do not know how they ought to fast, we should learn the laws of this exercise, in order that we may not “run uncertainly,” nor “beat the air,” nor while we are fighting contend with a shadow. Fasting is a medicine; but a medicine, though it be never so profitable, becomes frequently useless owing to the unskillfulness of him who employs it. For it is necessary to know, moreover, the time when it should be applied, and the requisite quantity of it; and the temperament of body that admits it; and the nature of the country, and the season of the year; and the corresponding diet; as well as various other particulars; any of which, if one overlooks, he will mar all the rest that have been named. Now if, when the body needs healing, such exactness is required on our part, much more ought we, when our care is about the soul, and we seek to heal the distempers of the mind, to look, and to search into every particular with the utmost accuracy.

I have said these things, not that we may disparage fasting, but that we may honor fasting; for the honor of fasting consists not in abstinence from food, but in withdrawing from sinful practices; since he who limits his fasting only to an abstinence from meats, is one who especially disparages it. Dost thou fast? Give me proof of it by thy works! Is it said by what kind of works?

If thou seest a poor man, take pity on him!

If thou seest an enemy, be reconciled to him!

If thou seest a friend gaining honor, envy him not!

If thou seest a handsome woman, pass her by!

For let not the mouth only fast, but also the eye, and ear, and the feet, and the hands, and all the members of our bodies. Let the hands fast, by being pure from rapine and avarice. Let the feet fast, by ceasing from running to the unlawful spectacles. Let the eyes fast, being taught never to fix themselves rudely upon handsome countenances, or to busy themselves with strange beauties. For looking is the food of the eyes, but if this be such as is unlawful or forbidden, it mars the fast; and upsets the whole safety of the soul; but if it be lawful and safe, it adorns fasting. For it would be among things the most absurd to abstain from lawful food because of the fast, but with the eyes to touch even what is forbidden. Dost thou not eat flesh? Feed not upon lasciviousness by means of the eyes. Let the ear fast also. The fasting of the ear consists in refusing to receive evil speakings and calumnies. It is written, “Thou shalt not receive a false report,” (Exodus 23:1).

Let the mouth also fast from disgraceful speech. For what does it profit if we abstain from fish and fowl and yet bite and devour the brothers and sisters. The evil speaker eats the flesh of his brother and bites the body of his neighbor. Because of this Paul utters the fearful saying, "If you bite and devour one another take heed that you are not consumed by one another" (Gal.5:15). You have not fixed your teeth in his flesh, but you have fixed your slander in his soul and inflicted the wound of evil suspicion, and you have harmed in a thousand ways yourself, him and many others, for in slandering your neighbor you have made him who listens to the slander worse, for should he be a wicked person, he becomes more careless when he finds a partner in his wickedness. And should he be a just person, he is tempted to arrogance and gets puffed up, being led on by the sin of others to imagining great things concerning himself. Besides this, you have struck at the common welfare of the Church herself, for all those who hear you will not only accuse the supposed sinner, but the entire Christian community.

And so I desire to fix three precepts in your mind so that you may accomplish them during the fast: to speak ill of no one, to hold no one for an enemy, and to expel from your mouth altogether the evil habit of swearing.

For as the harvester in the fields comes to the end of his labors little by little, so we too if we make this rule for ourselves and in any manner come to the correct practice of these three precepts during the present Fast and commit them to the safe custody of good habit, we shall proceed with greater ease to the summit of spiritual wisdom. And we shall reap the harvest of a favorable hope in this life, and in the life to come we shall stand before Christ with great confidence and enjoy those unspeakable blessings of which, God grant, we may all be found worthy through the grace of Jesus Christ our Lord, with whom be glory to the Father, and to the Holy Spirit unto ages of ages. Amen!

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Menu Plan Monday: February 11

Well, we had so much left over from meals this past week that we just ate leftovers on Sunday, so we'll be eating yesterday's meal today. Throughout Lent our Home Group will be having a shared soup supper when we meet. People will be bringing soup, bread or salad to share. I will be bringing soup, and the host will be making soup, another family will provide salad, and a couple others bread. I have the recipes for the soup and for the spinach puff below.

What is on your menu this week?

Potage Parmentier (Julia Child)

4 medium-large potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
4 leeks, well washed (get between the layers), thinly sliced, including the white and tender green parts (save the tough parts for making stock)
2 quarts of water
1 tablespoon salt
4-6 Tablespoons heavy cream or 2-3 tablespoons softened butter

Simmer the vegetables, water and salt together, partially covered for 45 minutes, until the vegetables are tender. Mash the vegetables in the soup with a fork or pass through a food mill (or use a stick blender which is what I did to puree the soup). Correct seasoning, tasting for salt and adding pepper if you like.

Just before serving, stir in the cream or butter by spoonfuls. Serve with a sprinkling of parsley or chives, if you like.

Spinach Egg Puff

10 eggs
2 cups ricotta cheese
2 cups milk
16 oz frozen cut leaf spinach (not the chopped, pressed blocks) or fresh spinach, washed and dried
1 1/2 teaspoons salt (less if your ricotta is salty)
1 teaspoon ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 cup grated parmesan

Preheat oven to 400 F, grease a 9" X 13" pan.

In a medium bowl, whisk together everything but the parmesan. Don't bother thawing out the spinach. Pour into greased pan and sprinkle with parmesan. Bake about 20 minutes, until middle is set and doesn't jiggle.

Serve with a salad and bread. I have used leftovers to make tacos the next day with some salsa and queso fresca.

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Saturday, February 09, 2008

Homeschool Holy Days

One of the things I am liking about homeschooling is that we don't have to take the mid-winter break, we can have our Christmas break when we want, Spring break is actually centered around Easter, with Holy Week and Bright Week off, we can take holy days off or focus on religious teaching those days, and we can ignore all the teacher in-service and department store sale holidays.

This past week, for instance, I was able to focus on instruction on Lent and Ash Wednesday. We did math and science in the kitchen, as well as some art, and our reading was solely focused on religious things. Next week, we will get back to more structured study, but it is nice to be able to choose when our holidays are, rather than letting the school district determine what days we are or aren't in school.

Really, our schedule is more determined by the church year than anything else. We did take time off for Thanksgiving, and we took off Veteran's Day, because of Rich. We ended up taking Martin Luther King Jr. day off, but mostly because there was something we needed to do that day. I always thought that schools would do better to teach about the man on that day than send children home to watch cartoons or be taken to babysitters.

We'll probably take Memorial Day off, and Independence Day, but other than that, we haven't really done any of the other holidays or breaks according to the local schedule. We've taken Holy days off instead. This is one of the great blessings we have found through homeschooling.

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Friday, February 08, 2008

Finished Object Friday: Deadline Knitting

You know how I keep saying that I won't be doing much deadline knitting anymore? Evidently, I cannot keep that promise. A few months ago, I (along with lots of other people) was contacted to submit a design to a new book coming out this year. I decided that what with the homeschooling and other things going on, I probably wouldn't be able to do it. Well, about a week ago, I received a note from one of the people at the publisher's who asked me if I'd gotten the initial request, and would it help to have the deadline extended. It was nice to have a personal request made, and Rich told me to go for it. So, any work on my tank top is now derailed so I can work on this design. It would be nice to have another one pulished.

If you have one or more finished items this week, please sign Mr. Linky below and share all you have made. Your Finished Object(s) can be knit, crocheted, sewn, quilted, tatted, beaded, papercraft, woodwork or any other kind of craft. Show off what you have made! Please make sure you link to the exact post that shows your finished item(s) rather than just to your blog.

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Thursday, February 07, 2008

Crown of Thorns

I mixed up 4 cups of flour and 1 cup of salt, steeped 2 cups of strong tea for the liquid and to dye the dough, and the boys mixed it up.

After it was mixed, I kneaded it in a little more flour on the counter.

Then I cut it into three pieces, rolled it out and braided it. I think I should have made it a touch thicker so it would have been easier to work with, but I didn't want the braid to take forever to dry out in the oven. We made the braid into a ring, and poked about 100 half toothpicks in for the thorns.

This is how it looks after being baked at 325 for about an hour, and left to dry in the closed oven (off, of course) all afternoon.

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Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Fat Tuesday & Lenten Activities for Families

Our celebration went very well. Although we got a little later start on frying the doughnuts, so people kept coming into the kitchen and trying to steal them out of the fryer. We had about 30 people here, one family brought chocolate cake, another brought apple pie, there was summer sausage and chips and salsa and our English friend made pancakes.

Today, the children and I made our crown of thorns. I will post pictures later. The hardest part was braiding it. We made salt dough and used strong tea as the liquid to dye it. I had Dominic break toothpicks in half and we poked those in all over, about 100 of them. This is an object lesson that we will use throughout Lent. We have talked about how our obedience and good works in honor of God help ease His suffering. So, the children will be able to take a thorn out whenever they do something that would ease Christ's suffering.

I also read about making a purple cross on poster board and giving each child a purple bead each time he does an act of charity, penance or alms. Each week during Lent, you let the children glue their beads onto the cross to show how by doing what God asks us we help Him carry the cross.

Another thing I read about was reading through the Stations of the Cross either daily or weekly as a family. I don't think we could manage it daily, but Friday nights this would be a wonderful devotion for our family. If you want, you can put out blue or purple votives and light them for each of the stations, blowing one when the reading is finished.

Today's fast has gone well for the two people in our family who are participating. I actually missed doing it today. I have eaten lightly, and of course meatless, but it was something that made it easier for me to focus on prayer. Rich has such a great attitude about the fast. A friend of his called yesterday to see if he was interested in playing raquetball this morning (they occasionally play early before work or on Saturdays) before he reserved the court. Rich asked me if I had a problem with it, and I said no, but was worried about him exerting himself so much while fasting. He told me that it didn't matter to him, he wasn't going to be someone who didn't do things because he was fasting and use it as an excuse to make his day easier. Alexander has fasted from one meal today. I suggested that he take lunch, as I thought that would be easier for him on his first year trying to do it. Dominic became interested in trying when he heard that Alexander was going to fast just one meal, but once he smelled the lunch I was making for his little brothers and sister, he decided he wasn't having anything to do with it. I don't think that Amira even noticed any discussion at all, but Elijah had no desire at all in participating. When Dominic was talking about it to me, I made sure he knew that he wasn't required to fast, and Elijah declared that he did not want to do it at all. I assured him that nobody would make him.

I am so proud of Alexander, though. He didn't even act like he wished he was eating, and didn't waver at all. We had some salt dough left over, so he made an empty tomb with the stone rolled away, the tablets with the 10 commandments on them, a host and helped Dominic make a crucifix. We talked about what kind of fast is pleasing to the Lord this morning, as that was what our scripture passages dealt with predominately, and talked about Ash Wednesday and the service we would be going to tonight, and he really just soaked it in. He has truly taken to heart that we are to be praying for God to show us our transgressions and helping us to overcome them, he has focused his mind on those symbols of the crucifixion and resurrection that he knows, and has talked to me about standing with the poor as we fast.

When I first suggested to Alexander that he try to fast this year, it was with the intention of introducing him to the spiritual practice and concept of the fast, and to give him practice at it, letting him ease into it, since he was getting older and would be expected to do so as a matter of course in a few years. I had no idea of how fertile his heart was for this seed of discipline. I am impressed with his devotion and sense of purpose. It is rewarding to see my boy take to this like a grown man.

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Monday, February 04, 2008

Menu Plan Monday: First Week of Lent

This week is the beginning of Lent. We are hosting our traditional doughnut feast for Shrove Tuesday, and a friend of ours is bringing the things to make crepes that night. Because of the baby, I won't be fasting on Ash Wednesday, but Rich will be and Alexander is going to try one meal that day. The Church, in her wisdom, has set this time of fasting (which, for the Church means fasting, praying and almsgiving), reflection and penitence so we can purposefully focus and train ourselves for holiness. It is an easy thing to ignore or treat superficially. The saints throughout the ages have described all sin as appetite that is indulged. So, although to some it seems arbitrary to have rules and direction on eating habits, it is a physical way to prepare oneself spiritually. Even what goes into one's mouth has to be considered and disciplined. I cannot remember which saint it was who said that once we can conquer our appetite for food, we can conquer our appetite for sin. It is true. Controlling what we eat, being deliberate about our meals is a difficult discipline. However, with God's help, it can be done, just like our nature can be conquered.

It is easy to think of this time as a time of deprivation, but Rich and I have come to look forward to it. It is preparing us for the spiritual realities we look forward to, both in this world and in the next. It is a time of remembrance and contemplation, and it is a work that fits us to do what our Lord has set for us to do. I don't know that joy is the right word to describe it, because it is still hard for us, but it is being joyful in trial, I guess. The children will be making a crown of thorns as part of their study and religious education, and we will be talking about ways that we add to Christ's suffering and ways we can ease it.

So, this week is our entrance into this holy season. Our meals will change, and be a constant reminder of the spiritual work we have to do. In the West, the rules for Lenten observance have been so loosened as to be almost comical, a mockery of the word fast, and in the East, they can be monastic and ascetic to the point of being too much for an individual to do. We are trying to be more strict in our observance, both as a church and as a family, without making it so hard that we can't remember what we can and can't eat. We will abstain from meat on Wednesdays and Fridays, including broths and stocks, fats from animals, as the East does (though they do it every day of Lent), however like the West, we will still be able to eat fish (the canons about this also include frogs, insects, and things like snails). We are interested in keeping the spirit as well as the letter of the law, so we won't be eating lobster and crab cakes on meatless days. This is supposed to be a sacrifice. Unlike the East, we will still be able to use oils, wine, eggs and dairy, though of course, we will cut down on our use of butter and cream, and the wine will be for cooking rather than drinking with the meals. You won't be seeing any desserts on our menus until Easter, and even Sundays we will be keeping more in line with the fast (thought Sundays are never completely fast days or abstinent days because they are the celebration of the resurrection), rather than getting a free day from our Lenten observance each week. Since our family has adopted the discipline of eating meatless on those days most of the year anyway, we are going to add Saturdays during Lent.

A couple years ago, I found several bloggers who posted their Lenten meals and recipes, and I hope to do the same. I am willing to post recipes on request, also, if people are interested. Something you may think about doing, if you wish to observe this 40 day fast, is to take the money you would have used on meals from the strict fast days (not just abstinent meals), such as Ash Wednesday and Good Friday and give that to the poor or make the meals, but deliver them to those who are more needy. Fasting in the church is always meant to be both introspective and external. We replace our meals with prayer and charity. Please consider doing that as well.

A couple of our meals this week are repeats from last week that either got moved, or changed. After Tuesday, our meals will be quite a bit simpler, and use less meat, even on the days when we will eat meat.

What is on your menu this week?

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