Monday, March 27, 2017

A Little Helper in Need of an Apron

There's a kids' apron on the hook in the kitchen, but it's clearly too big for Phoebe at this point.

No matter.  I will sew her an apron, right after I get a big project off my sewing machine (more on that in another post).
helping Mommy make sesame bagels

Phoebe has entered the classic toddler rage-stage of wanting to do adult things without help and without making mistakes.  Oh, how she bellows in rage as she tries to do everything!  And she has also been walking around saying, "Don't laugh!  Don't laugh, Mom!"  By which I take it to mean that she wants to be treated seriously as a contributing member of this household even though her efforts are adorably hilarious.  (And in my defense, I don't laugh at her; I think she actually picked up the phrase from Ben and Genevieve's spats and their sensitivity to anyone making fun of them. She likes to repeat what we say these days, too, which is irresistible to her siblings).

My precious little girl.  You're a pretty good kitchen chum already and you're not even two years old.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

A Simple Green Shirt for Genevieve

I made this shirt for Genevieve last year and never got around to photographing it.

I object on principle to those "dummies" books and now, sewing patterns. I'm not a dummy! But this was a really straightforward, pretty shirt to sew up.

Genevieve came home from school with this fancy braid.

And remarkably I got a nice picture of all three kids looking peaceful and happy and making eye-contact with the camera. 

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Ben Bakes Cookies

It's a long story, but it's a good illustration of how children learn and how adults can contribute, so I'll tell it.

Ben likes to earn money, so he often asks for extra jobs that I am willing to pay for and then squirrels his cash away.  He's been learning how to count and roll coins and how to keep a ledger recording money in and money out.

Ben set up and took this photo.  I think it means the minifigure is going to work.

When the school hosted a Scholastic book fair, he asked if he could buy a book.  I said sure, because it was his money; I prefer to shop for used books or use the library.

He picked out two books and never said a word when the volunteer told him his total was $19.  But when we got home, he was very quiet.  And later, he burst into tears:  he didn't know the prices of the books and regretted spending that much money.  He didn't know where to look on the books for the prices, nor did he ask any questions.  Poor buddy.  He was distraught.

So we made a special trip back across town the next day with one of the books and the receipt to return it, although I cautioned him that I wasn't sure if book fairs can do returns.  While we were waiting in line, the principal bopped by and started chatting up Ben.  I could see Mr. S. was impressed with Ben's depth of feeling, so he offered Ben a job to earn some money if Ben couldn't get his money back for the book.

Well, Ben did get his money back for one book and kept one book, and he was happy.  And he was overjoyed when Mr. S. said the job offer would still stand, but that Ben needed to send him a proposal and pay schedule for his services.

Ben was delighted to be treated like a wage-earning adult, and dictated an email through me to Mr. S. suggesting what he could help with (uh, that was a hard one: what can an 8-year-old help a principal with?).  I suggested "bake cookies" since Mr. S. has a legendary sweet tooth and Mr. S. said yes, indeedy, he would like a dozen cookies but to be sure Ben paid for his ingredients.

So Ben took a pencil and paper and went with me when I went grocery shopping so he could write down prices.  Then, later, I helped him break down those prices for the amounts in his Snickerdoodle recipe, and then, further, for the dozen cookies he was taking to Mr. S.

So Ben baked cookies on one of the snow days last week.  He had never baked cookies before, so we talked through the recipe, and I stayed nearby while he worked.

I took these photos to illustrate how epic the baking process was.

 I'm really not even sure how I had the tolerance and patience for this project.  Maybe it was his pride and grit that impressed me?  He's something special, that Ben.

I never took photos of the cookies!  They were good, but very dense:  we think he forgot the baking soda in all that chaos.

And then he forgot the cookies on the porch the morning he was supposed to deliver them to Mr. S., and only remembered when we were halfway to school; yes, we turned around.  I love that Ben!

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Winter Yet

It's not technically spring until Monday, even though February was so mild that I put away some woolens and my kids asked why the pool wasn't open yet.  Kids.

I was knitting them some warm things because it takes me most of a season to figure out what clothes we really need and I'm not a fast knitter.

So my silver lining in this winter storm is that Ben and Genevieve actually got to wear the things I made for them.  But otherwise, winter, I am done with you.  Go away.

This is Genevieve's ear warmer.  I used the last of this pretty yarn from Phoebe's vest and Phoebe's mittens - not sure what size it is or what the fiber content is.  I made up a pattern and it worked!  I just knitted a rectangle and then sewed the ends together.

And this is Ben's scarf.  I made him a striped one years ago when I didn't understand yarn and needle size; it was a very amateurish scarf with shrunken patches and stretched out stitches. His favorite color is green.  I used the seeded-rib stitch and I love the cushy ribs.  I was close to being done early in the morning of the first snow day, so Ben stood over me dressed in his puffy coat, snow pants, and boots while I knit furiously and cast off.  He said I could put the fringe on later.  Thanks, bud.  He loves the scarf, but when he gets to seriously hogging around in the snow, it comes off.

Phoebe wasn't totally thrilled about being out in the snow.  But I wanted to say that her snowsuit and hat are hand-me-downs from her big sister.  It gives me a strange jolt to see a little Genevieve walking around again:  it's fun to see the cute clothes in action after 10 years, but it's bittersweet to think how quickly time moves on.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Make It Into Pot Pie

Recently, my parents came back from a restaurant raving about the beef pot pie Dad got.  And there was this post by Becky on chicken pot pie.  I looked up pot pie in my Mennonite Community Cookbook ("Old-Fashioned Beef Potpie" by Grandmother Showalter); it's been a long time since I made homemade noodles!

So I made pot pie twice in a short period of time, and I will be doing it a lot more; it's pretty easy and flexible, which suits my cooking style now.  Essentially, you make a very simple dough, roll it out, cut it into squares, and drop it into boiling stew.  The noodles soak up some of the liquid and make the stew into the kind of thing you can very easily imagine eating on a farm "back then" (as my kids say).

the ham version

However, Grandmother Showalter is very careful not to shock her eaters with too many flavors, so her recipe only calls for 1 teaspoon of minced onion and 1 teaspoon of minced parsley to 2 pounds of beef.  Very funny to a modern cook!  I kept her proportions the same, but played with flavors.  We all loved the results.

Old-Fashioned Potpie for Modern Tastes

Cook 1lb. stewing beef cut in 1/2" cubes in 6 cups water; use a large pot (Grandmother uses 2 lbs. meat, but I wanted more veggies).  Add chopped onion, sliced mushrooms, salt (I start with a scant teaspoon), pepper.  When beef is nearly tender, add approximately 3 cups diced carrots and potatoes.  A splash of Worcestershire sauce and balsamic vinegar.  Taste.
Make noodles. Beat 1 egg and 3 Tbsp. milk together in a bowl.  Add 1 1/2 cups flour to make stiff dough (I use part whole wheat pastry flour - depends on how you feel about whole wheat noodles). Roll out dough on floured surface.  Aim for 1/4" thickness or less - we like the noodles on the thick, chewy, toothsome side.   Drop the noodles into the boiling stew, stirring occasionally to make sure they don't stick together. I stir in chopped fresh parsley at this point, too. Allow to boil for 15 minutes or so.

Ham variation: Use chopped ham instead of beef. Keep the onion, potato, and carrot, but also a cup or two of sauerkraut and add 2 bay leaves and a clove or two.  Lots of black pepper and parsley at the end.

Notes:  This is a very forgiving recipe.  You can add more liquid if the noodles suck up too much in cooking or in sitting in the fridge as leftovers.  You can make the stew base earlier in the day and bring it back up to boiling closer to dinner when you make the noodles.  You can make the noodle dough at least an hour ahead of rolling it - in fact, the gluten will relax and make the rolling-out easier - just keep the dough in an airtight container at room temperature.

beef version

I'd love your ideas for more variations - what other kinds of stews or flavor combinations should I use with these noodles?

We've got an honest-to-John blizzard going on right now outside the window: blowing snow and sleet, everything canceled.  Perfect day for a thick homey stew like this!

Friday, March 10, 2017

A Good Day for Textiles

On a little yearly outing with my best friend, one of my favorite harbingers of spring. . .

The rug is woven from donated denim by volunteers.  My husband and I love it so much that we've ordered another one for the front door.

On top of the fabric, there are two dish towels and some hankies.  Pure pleasure in handling these pretty things.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Two Further Thoughts About Barb

At the washline this morning, I realized that I wrote my post yesterday before my thoughts had really crystallized.

Thought one: I don't know if I expected Barb to have some tricky tricks or clever solutions or fancy systems up her sleeve for her beautiful life and pleasant home, but in fact, it seems that Barb's magic is just faithfully keeping house all the time.  "Just do it" as a homemaking method is not very enticing and won't sell magazines, but it's extremely effective.  (But I also wonder if Barb's skills and habits are so deeply ingrained that neither she nor I could tease out and articulate what is really going on day in and day out.  I wonder.)

Thought two: I have a stereotype of women Barb's age who see the homemaking I'm doing and say, "oh, I used to do that. . . "  It's almost as if retirement finally gives them permission to take shortcuts and buy solutions or hire help in every area of homemaking. Was homemaking just a phase, a season of life? Barb isn't doing that.  She's pretty much carrying on the way she always did, which makes sense to me (please know that I take shortcuts sometimes!).  But what I want to know is what makes a homemaker slack off anyway? What kind of homemaker will I be when I'm retired?  I wonder.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

How Barb Keeps House

Barb first got my attention as a homemaker when she volunteered to bring a plate of Christmas cookies to a little gathering of ladies.  It was a real old-fashioned cookie plate, with at least 6 different kinds of cookies, some exquisite and some straightforward, all delicious.  Barb told me she likes to bake half-batches ahead of the Christmas season so she can keep the cookies in the freezer to pull out for occasions where a cookie plate is called for.

I was impressed with her efficiency, enjoyment of the season, and baking.  I probed deeper, betting that here was a homemaker that I could learn from.

We each had a little Lenten rose from Barb's yard at our place setting.
Barb invited me and Phoebe to her lovely home for lunch and let me write things down and snap some photos, all while we handled a busy toddler.  Barb is an experienced daycare and preschool teacher, as well as a mother and grandmother, so she knew how to wrangle Phoebe.

Some highlights of our conversation and my notes:

1. Barb enjoys homemaking, which is why she's still doing it all instead of taking shortcuts that I think are typical of retired women I know.  Not only did Barb's mom enjoy entertaining and flowers, but she was willing to share her enjoyment and let Barb do some of the cooking for company as early as 13.  

2. Barb writes out menus a week at a time before she goes grocery shopping. She hopes to save money and not waste food.  In fact, she writes down every penny she spends in order to keep track of where her money goes; she's been doing it for years, in fact, and compiling the information each month.  Her husband tallies it year by year.  

3.  Clutter is Barb's cleaning priority because she feels better when things are in place and she can find things easily.  However, she also wants her family to feel good about coming home and being themselves, so she prioritized happy kids over a perfectly clean and tidy house.  Barb doesn't have a schedule for cleaning, although she said she likes to clean towards the end of the week and laughingly told me not to look behind doors where she had stashed clutter in advance of my visit. 
Creative kitchen storage.

4. Barb relies on her big freezer a lot.  She always cooks full recipes even though she and her husband are the only ones at home, freezing the extra for times of sickness, hosting guests, or for Sunday dinner. When she was working long hours and parents would complain about not knowing what was for supper and not having time to cook, she would tell them how she filled up her slow cooker before she went to bed and then in the morning, put the food in the fridge to be heated up for supper.
Clever to add the decorative towel over the regular handtowel.

5.  Barb loves trying new recipes, probably 1 or 2 a week, and is grateful for a husband who enjoys her experiments.  She's attracted to quick and easy recipes that don't require her to buy specialty ingredients.  In the winter, she makes soup at least once a week and in the summer, main dish salads.  

6.  Barb has four raised beds where she grows vegetables.  She freezes and cans a lot of food, keeping track of the total yields for two years at a time inside her cupboard door.  

Homemaking is a deeply layered set of skills, is it not?  Barb keeps her house running efficiently and graciously, and I'm so glad I had the chance to ask her about it, to try to deconstruct the skills that she's built up over the years and takes for granted. 

I encourage you, dear readers, to seek out the experts among us - not necessarily the professionals with the degrees to prove it - the competent people whose skills you admire and ask them:  how do you do this?  Why do you do this?  You'll probably get farther than I did without a toddler and her exigencies. 

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Mayo in No Time at All

I've been making mayo for years in the food processor, but when I blogged about it two summers ago, several of you suggested that I try stick blender mayonnaise.

I was struck pretty much dumb the first time I tried it.  It's so easy!  So fast!  You just put the ingredients in a jar, shove the stick blender down in, and pretty much before you can say "mayonnaise," it's done!

So that's how I make mayo now; it has never failed me in quality or speediness.  It's magical to watch it form in the jar!

Magic Mayo

Measure into a wide-mouth pint jar (I use the line on the jar):
1 cup neutral veg oil

1 egg
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 Tbsp. white wine vinegar
1 tsp. prepared mustard (dijon is called for, but I just use my homemade)
1/2 tsp. salt

Put immersion blender in jar, firmly on bottom.  Hold blender to bottom of jar while blending until you see creamy mayo rising up to 2/3 of the way.  Pull the blender up through the mixture to get the top layer of oil emulsified.  Give a few more blasts on the blender through the whole jar, but do not overbeat. Done!  Put the lid on and store in the fridge.