Life is Beautiful. So is Food When You’re Detoxifying.

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Wednesday… ah, Wednesday.  The day when you get to hear the way I got to Jay’s heart this week…  except this particular Wednesday, you don’t.

We’ve had a somber week.  A close friend lost his battle with cancer.  He was a really wonderful man – one of those people you meet who is genuinely kind.  He lived his life with gusto and pursued his wife, his daughter, and his hobbies with passion.  He was funny and fun and loved by many.  He and Jay were in each other’s weddings.  Heaven is richer for having him, and our lives are better for knowing him.  So Jay has been back home for several days, looking for ways to do God’s work among his friend’s family, and it’s really amazing the doors that God has opened for him to step into.  Jay has been doing some wonderful things, and I am so proud to be his wife.

So today, instead of reading Jay’s favorite foods this week, you get to see what should have been last Friday’s post – the latest installment of Friday Food Critics – your chance to join Abs and Sam during a day’s worth of eating.

Their Friday morning started with a quinoa oatmeal berry breakfast.  I love this breakfast.  The only thing that I do differently than she suggests is I cook a cup of quinoa before baking instead of adding a dry cup to the dry ingredients, and I spread it in the pan before spreading the dry ingredients.  We like it that way a little better because the quinoa doesn’t seem to cook all of the way just baking, and we like it better cooked all the way.  Anyway, Friday Food Critics is not an installment of this blog where I generally link you to recipes, but if you are new to the whole concept of cooking with quinoa and have been trying to figure out a good recipe to start with and have not yet tried the one in my last blog, this is another great one to go for.  At least that’s my opinion.  Let’s see what the kids think:

While Abs’s face after the second bite might seem a bit sketchy, I promise she liked it.  This meal is really a hit in our house.   Also, I’m afraid my ability to video is getting worse.  I say all the time that I cannot multitask, and sadly, it is true.

Lunch… smoothies.  We have smoothies a lot.  I love strawberry season because strawberries are my favorite smoothie ingredient.  We’re into strawberry banana smoothies right now.

And for supper, I made black bean quesadillas for the first time.  Now if you read my last post, you know that I am going through a detox where my only sustenance is this strange natural concoction that I drink many times a day.  On the day I am writing this, it is day nine of this detox, and I can say undoubtedly that the hardest part of it was NOT trying these black bean quesadillas.  They looked incredible to me, and I love to try new things.  So I had to live vicariously through my children (NOT a healthy thing for a parent to do, but in this case, I let myself).  And now you get to live vicariously through them as well:

And lest there was any question as to how well they liked the black bean quesadillas that I sacrificed for my so-called lemon breath, here is how they responded when I took the plate away:

And with that I sign off for tonight.  As always, thank you for reading.  And please hug the people you love for an extra second tonight.  Death is a sacred time, full of mystery and wonder and opportunity and grief and longing and memories and regrets and appreciation.  But life is full of all of those things, too, and they often come in the packages of the messy, wonderful people around us.  I’m so grateful that the children you’ve been watching here are two of mine.

 

The Myth of Lemon Breath

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(Incidentally, that title has virtually nothing to do with this post.)

I decided that, given it is still considered the Easter season, it would be a good time to try to raise this blog from the dead.   So since it has been awhile, I should start by saying that I am profoundly happy to see you again, yes, we ARE still making food from scratch, and yes, you WILL continue to see the weekly posts that you have surely started missing.

A lot has been going on since last you read – a lot of life has been lived in the Young household.  Our garden is in full swing, we have discovered several snake skins in our yard,  I have learned to make jam, we have had three sets of company (granted, one only stopped in to spend the night on her way to and from another destination, but it sounds so much more dramatic to say “three sets of company,” don’t you think?), we have celebrated Sammy’s first birthday, we have been feeding all kinds of colorful things to our composter, and I have started the lemon juice/cayenne pepper/maple syrup cleanse.  (It was my intent to kick off our food-from-scratch year with this cleanse, but – and you will surely be shocked at this – I wasn’t organized enough, so today is officially day two.  And you will, I’m sure, be interested to know that Jay, while supportive of the whole cleanse because he is good that way, is a bit weirded out by it, so I think he is sort of treating me like I am ceremonially unclean.  Last night I went to kiss him, and he backed off, telling me that I had “lemon breath,” whatever that is.)

So anyway, I’d like to pick up where we left off, with a twist.  But first I would like to tell you about our blueberry plants.  We have four blueberry plants.  Jay bought them for me because I love blueberries, and he loves to be the hero.  All four are already fruiting, and they are all in pots still.  So we have both done some reading on blueberry plants, but I have done more because I am a novice gardener and they are, after all, my plants.  I have referenced two books and numerous websites and tried very hard to wrap my mind around exactly what to do for my blueberries, which has felt sort of stressful to me – especially because they have all developed spots on their leaves, and I just want to take care of them well.  Well finally, while venting my blueberry frustration to Jay on the phone during his work day, I got the brilliant idea to call a local blueberry farmer.  I mean, really – isn’t that both insane and brilliant?  So I totally did.  And he totally called me back.  He gave me a crash course in raising blueberries, and one thirty minute (if that long) conversation with him was worth more than HOURS of research on my own – not to mention, it was a lot more entertaining.  “Raising blueberries is like raising kids,” he said in his awesome drawl.  “You gotta feed ’em right.  Some kids don’t get fed right, and they might grow up to be thirty years old, but they still talk like they’re twelve, see?  They don’t really mature.  That’s what’ll happen to your blueberries if you don’t feed ’em right.”  That was only one nugget of wisdom, too.  I LOVE this guy.  And he has a pick-your-own farm that opens in June, and I cannot WAIT to take my children (who I AM feeding right) out there to meet him.  Wherever you are, you should really look into pick-your-own farms in your area.  The produce is delicious, the effort is satisfying, and spending money at local, honest businesses only makes our society better.  Plus, if your farmer is half as cool as my new best friend, you will be in for a fun ride.

Okay, back to tonight.  Wednesday nights are officially reserved for telling you about Jay’s top five and bottom one recipes of the week.  Well since it has been over three weeks since I’ve posted, I’ll just nix the numbers and give you some of his favorites and not-so-favorites of the past few weeks.

First, we have been eating a LOT of salads.  This is really cool, as it is a natural outcropping of our whole inspiration of doing this in the first place, which probably makes no sense to you, so I really need to take the time to write about what made us decide to do this.  (Hold me to that.)  Anyway, Jay has been really enjoying the salads, and I made this spinach and strawberry and chicken salad that he particularly liked.  It started off as this online recipe, but it morphed a little because I added some gorgonzola cheese, some oranges, and some chicken sauteed with salt, pepper, and garlic and onion powders.   Salads are fun because there is so much you can do with them.

And speaking of salads being fun, I started making a ginger dressing, and it is OH.  SO.  GOOD.  Mince around a half to one Tablespoon of garlic and two of fresh ginger, and add 1/4 cup soy sauce, 3/4 cup oil ( I start with a little sesame in the measuring cup and then add whatever salad oil we have on hand to fill it), 1/3 cup rice vinegar,  and 3 Tablespoons of honey heated up so it is runny.  Then shake it.  Easy-peasy.  And after three batches, we are not remotely tired of it.

Chicken quesadillas:  Jay loved them.  We made them while my cousin was visiting and ate them while Jay was at work.  He called when he was coming home, and I said, “I have two set out for you; is that enough?”  He replied that he was not very hungry and would only want half of one.  Then he came home and proceeded to eat both.  All of that to say, they were really, really good. We have long loved making chicken quesadillas, but these were particularly amazing because of the homemade tortillas.  I have said it before, but homemade tortillas are SO worth the time it takes to make them.  Also, a grand way to get delicious meat for quesadillas is to cube it ahead of time, season it, and put it on a cookie sheet to broil for a few minutes. It stays moist and is delicious.  I have only ever done chicken this way, but my cousin told me that after she got home, she tried beef, and it worked beautifully for that, too.   Before our making-food-from-scratch days, we made a chipotle ranch sour cream to dip our quesadillas into that was so, so good – a pound tub of sour cream, half a packet of Hidden Valley Ranch dressing, and a Tablespoon or so of chipotle seasoning.  We used it for veggies, too.  At some point in time, I will be figuring out a from-scratch version because we were crazy about it, but I just haven’t done it yet.

Curried quinoa and chicken salad:  Jay loved it.  And I am so glad because I have been dying to tell you (well, I guess not too much or I’d have updated my blog before now!) about this new website I found.    If you have never had the pleasure of eating quinoa, I am so happy to introduce you to it.  I have realized recently that it is all the rage right now, and usually on some weird principle that is not worth even trying to figure out, I stay away from things that are all the rage, but we started eating this awhile back because we simply wanted to try some new grains.  Then we liked it, so we started researching it, and we found out that it is a complete protein, it can be tweaked into a million and one recipes, and it is all the rage right now.  That is why this website that I mentioned is so great:  this lady has recipes for quinoa desserts, breakfasts, snacks, salads… she even makes corn tortillas with quinoa, which I am so excited to try!  So if you have wanted to play around with quinoa but have not know where to start, then start with this recipe right here.  I loved it.  Jay loved it.  Abigail loved it.  And Sammy loved it.

Southwestern garbanzos:  Jay loved them.  All of us did.  And I am happy to report that I can successfully cook garbanzo beans.  (As I have only been cooking dry beans for a few weeks, we seem to have a precarious relationship.)  This particular recipe had a spicy/sweet flavor, and if you are a sour cream lover, it went really well with a little sour cream mixed in.

I told myself that I could write until midnight, and then I had to wind it down, so I am going to go out in a blaze of recipes…

We have had two amazingly good crockpot recipes in the past few weeks:  vegetable and chickpea curry (did I mention that I can cook garbanzo beans?) and chicken tikka masala.  Jay loved both of them.  If you like crockpot cooking, give these a try.  Both have great flavors and are really unique.

Curried fried quinoa:  Jay was not a fan.  (But to be fair to the recipe, I thought it was great, and so did Sammy, who, as you can see from the above picture, is perfectly happy to mash his little face in curry.)  I think maybe the soy sauce threw Jay off.

Chocolate Chip Cookies:  Jay was a big fan, and so was everyone else who tried them.  My cousin and his wife just had their first baby, and she was wanting some chocolate chip cookies, so I thought I’d try a new recipe.  I looked through several and thought these might be what we were looking for, and indeed, they were.  My personal favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe is that fake Neiman Marcus recipe that has been going around on email for years… but they are complicated, and we were about to have some company arrive, so I opted for easier, and I’m so glad I did.  I’ve made these three times now (did I mention we’ve had three sets of company?).  I still like the fake Neiman Marcus recipe best, but these are delicious.  I even got to make one batch with my cousin’s daughter, who is six.  (I love making cookies with children.  And to avoid the frustration that can so easily come, I measure ingredients ahead of time and put them in bowls or baggies so that all the little ones have to do is dump; they get to make them “all by themselves” with just a little instruction, and I get to brag on them!  You should totally try it if you want to bake with children, but it gets frustrating for you.)  Oh, and Abigail, a big fan of any cookie, was in heaven with these.

Dark chocolate cupcakes with peanut butter frosting:  Jay was not a fan.  He didn’t think the peanut butter went well, and he thought they were dry.  He said to me, “And I feel comfortable saying this because usually you make such great cupcakes.”  This is an interesting statement because the last two times I have made cupcakes, he told me he thought they were dry.  In fact, I have only ever made one cupcake recipe that he liked.  He loves my cakes and cookies and puddings and everything else, but he never seems to like my cupcakes.  I think he just doesn’t remember that.  (I didn’t correct him.)  So in fairness to the recipe, I did not think they were dry, and even if they were, it’s got to be some cupcake-making deficiency that I have.  So if they sound good to you, try them and tell me what you think.

And if I had more time tonight, I would tell you about how awesome it was to make jam from wild blackberries, how much we’re enjoying (and by “we,” I mean, “Jay” because I am on that silly lemon cleanse) the Quick Pickle recipe I made, how we’ve been watching the vanilla extract we have sitting, and how we’ve been experimenting with croutons.  But I really don’t have time tonight.  If I keep staying up too late, I’m going to hit a point where I take another more-than-three week hiatus.  And we don’t want that, do we?  :-)

Nothing Grossed Jay Out.

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Late again.  Shocker.

Welcome to Jay’s top six recipes from week four of our year long adventure of eating things made from scratch.  Normally we do the top five and bottom one, but in Jay’s words, “Nothing grossed me out this week.”   I am not quite sure what to think about that.  So anyway, you get his top six.

My big brother Matt and family came to town, so we (meaning I) decided to try to be impressive and make cinnamon rolls.  I don’t really know if they were impressed, but we were.  They were delicious.  The last couple of times I tried this recipe, I took a reviewer’s advice and did everything the night before except for the actual baking.  Both times I ended up with huge, almost doughy rolls.  So this time I braved the morning hours and did it all half-asleep.  (If you know me well, you are likely impressed with this.  When I was in college, I learned very quickly not to take morning classes.  Despite my best efforts to pay attention and take notes, I fell asleep in them.  Then after college, I applied for a Master’s program in counseling.  I thought I was a shoe-in, and I did breeze through the application and initial interviews, but unfortunately, they scheduled my  final interview early in the morning.  I went to bed early but to no avail.  I tried so hard to be coherent during my interview, but I was literally slurring words and jolting myself awake throughout it, and the interviewer had to ask me if I was okay.  Needless to say, I did not get into that program.)  Fortunately for me, the cinnamon rolls did not really care how well I interacted during the early hours or if I was groggy while I rolled them out or if I drooled a little into the batter…  just kidding, Matt!  And that is a good thing because if you ever make these (and you should), you really should make them in the morning before you bake them.  They are perfect.  I made double frosting, and when they were finished baking, I dumped them upside down so all of the oozing cinnamon-y goodness could seep back inside.

BLTs.  They made Jay’s top five the first week also, so this might seem redundant, but I can assure you that eating them was anything but redundant.  (And even though this article is supposed to be about Jay’s top five, I just have to say that this particular BLT  was the best BLT I have ever had, hands down.  I know that some people get annoyed at statements like that – like how could I possibly remember every BLT I have ever had?!?  But that is sort of the point.  I DON’T remember every BLT I have ever had.  But I WILL remember this one.)  We made our bread and mayo, which has made our BLTs incredible since we started this eating-from-scratch thing, but on this particular BLT, Jay went to a store that was selling locally grown, amazing tomatoes… so instead of pale salmon-colored, hit-or-miss mushy, gloppy-seedy tomatoes, we had cherry-red, firm, sweet tomatoes.  I think I had forgotten what a tomato was supposed to taste like.   I am so, so excited for our tomato plants to produce now and so, so glad that my husband has such a green thumb.

Jay’s third pick for this week was burritos, inspired by our newest toy – a tortilla maker.  (I cannot express how happy I am to have a tortilla maker.  When we started this venture, Jay was a little concerned because his grandma used to tell him that back when her mama used to make everything from scratch on the farm, there were eight women who spent ALL DAY in the kitchen making it happen.  Since I am known for squeezing a fifteen minute meal into two hours, he was worried that this might possibly be too much for me.  So we decided that it would be a good idea to make a list of all of the kitchen gadgets that would simplify this, research the best brands, and then look on Craigslist until we found them at good prices.  A tortilla maker was on our list, and I decided I wanted a VillaWare.  Incidentally, I did NOT do a lot of research on this one because I had consulted my cousin, and she used to live in Brazil, and for a reason that I really can’t explain, the fact that she lived in Brazil makes her seem like an authority to me on strange things like which tortilla maker to get.  Anyway, it turned out that a week or so after talking to her about a VillaWare tortilla maker, one of her friends decided to give one away, and my aunt got the word in for me first – exactly what we wanted and free.  And I.  Am.  Loving it.  Granted, the first time I used it, I made corn tortillas that I then fried into chips that turned out to be almost as thick as my Bible, but I am learning, and this thing is awesome.  And if the lady who gave me the VillaWare ever reads this, God bless you.  This has been so cool for us, thick chips and all.) So my mom and I made flour tortillas, and she cut up some lettuce and tomato, and I made black beans and rice and then seasoned some ground beef with cumin, salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, chili powder, and garlic and onion powders, and we set out some cheddar and sour cream and ate burritos.  If you have not had homemade tortillas, trust me that the store-bought ones don’t remotely compare.  We are hooked.

Jay’s fourth pick was cobbler and ice cream.  I found a blueberry cobbler recipe online and decided to use it to make peach cobbler because peaches were on sale.  But in between buying the peaches and making the cobbler, Jay ate a peach or two, and when I went to the store to get some more, they were totally out of peaches.   So I used strawberries for the remaining fruit.  Strawberries have been on sale for several weeks now because they are in season.  (I really, really want to become an expert on in-season produce.  It tastes so much better in season, and I really think it is healthier and certainly more satisfying to buy something somewhat fresh instead of something picked early and shipped across a continent.)  I had never heard of a strawberry peach cobbler, but I used to love strawberry peach smoothies, and we were having a small gathering at our house, so I had to do something… and it worked.  Oh, and if you clicked on that recipe above, you might have noticed that it called for condensed milk, and since we have to make everything from scratch, I made condensed milk for it.  I also made vanilla ice cream to go with it, and while Jay says that I have not yet achieved Blue Bell quality, we both agreed that it was really, really good.  The recipe we used is one that my mom gave me years ago with slight adjustments.  It follows (keep in mind that we were having a gathering, and that is why it is so enormous):

Vanilla Ice Cream:

3 1/2 cups sugar (a cup of it vanilla sugar)

1/2 cup flour

3/4 teaspoon salt

7 cups milk

6 eggs, beaten

6 cups whipping cream

2 Tablespoons vanilla extract

Combine sugar, flour, and salt in a saucepan.  Gradually stir in milk.  Cook over medium heat until thickened, stirring constantly.  Stir about a cup of the hot mixture into the beaten eggs, and then add all of that to the remaining hot mixture.  Cook for one minute and remove from heat.  Refrigerate until chilled.  Combine whipping cream and vanilla in a large bowl; add chilled mixture to whipping cream mixture and whisk to combine.  Freeze in an ice cream maker.

Jay’s fifth pick is a testimony to redemption.  (Incidentally, I have been listening to one of my favorite songs about redemption this week and singing it loudly in the car.  If you want to hear some incredible lyrics, you should really listen to it, too.)  He made some salsa (which in my opinion should have made the top five, but it didn’t), so I wanted to make some chips to go along with it.  As you read above, I have not perfected the corn chip thing yet.  In fact, I am pretty sure that if our dentist saw these, he would be horrified at the jaw damage they likely did due to their thickness and instruct me to never make tortilla chips again – ever.  But our dentist did not see them, so I will press on.  ANYWAY, Jay decided to redeem the wildly thick tortilla chips by sprinkling cinnamon sugar on them after pulling them from the oil.  So he did.  And they were great – better than they would have been if they had not been damaged by my lack of skill in the first place… which is, after all, the point of redemption.  (And I sort of think he wanted you readers to appreciate his resourcefulness as much as he did, so he picked them as one of his top recipes.)

Finally, Jay loved some brussel sprouts that he made this week.  Jay makes a mean brussel sprout.  He says that the secrets to good brussel sprouts are the size of the sprouts and the length of time that you cook them.  Mess up either of those, and your brussel sprouts might turn out really bitter.  But get those right, and they are really, really good.  And if the idea of brussel sprouts grosses you out and you are not a veggie-phobe on principle, then I can promise you that good brussel sprouts really are a GREAT dish.  I am not going to give you the recipe that he used.  This is not because he is secretive but because he is sensible and is in bed right now, and I forgot to get it from him earlier.  (Hm.  Maybe I would do better with grad school interviews if I took a lesson from him and went to bed at reasonable times.)  I WILL tell you that he used bacon and cream and parmesan cheese.  So much for the veggie-phobes, I guess.  (On another note entirely, I have used the word “brussel” six times  – now seven – in this paragraph.  I know this because there is a red squiggly line under each one, insisting that I am spelling it wrong, but I am not spelling it wrong.  I am somewhat anal about spelling, so this bugs me.  And just so you know, I won a very memorable spelling bee in the eighth grade.  After the first round, the lady giving the words asked us to say our names when it was our turn so that she could make sure she had crossed off the correct names.  I was, of course, in eighth grade and self conscious so I mumbled my name: “Jenni.”  She looked at me with wide eyes, leaned her head in, and said, “Enunciate.”  So I looked at her with wide eyes, leaned my head in, and said, “JEH.  NEE.”  She smiled and said, “The word is still ‘enunciate.'”)

And with that, I am going to bed.  All this writing about early classes and interviews will probably lead to my recurring-since-college nightmare about inadvertently missing my exams.  I found out recently that most people who have lived through the horrors of exam week never stop having those.

Happy cooking!

Gratitude’s Secret

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Little old ladies find me in the grocery store.  They coo over Samuel and make “big girl” compliments to Abigail and then look at me in a matronly manner and say, “Enjoy these days.  They go by so fast.”

I take them seriously, too.  They’ve done this already, after all, so they know.  If they say it goes by fast, I believe them.  It’s like they are passing some kind of mysterious baton to me, urging me to continue a legacy that motherhood has born me into.  I imagine being an old lady myself someday, my children and their children grown up, wondering where in the world the time has gone.  And so I look at the old ladies giving me the charge and nod seriously, promising them that I will – that I DO – “enjoy these days.” And that is the truth.

But EVERY once in awhile… the day gets ahead of me, time owns me, and before I have a chance to even consider whether I’m enjoying it or not, it’s over.  Last Friday was one of those days.

If you are unfamiliar with the Friday Food Critics segment of this blog, it is essentially a ploy where I use the cuteness of my children to garner blog views.  I film them each time they eat on Fridays, and I link you to the videos in a post.

These videos are what the gist of this post was SUPPOSED to be… except it was supposed to be taken up a notch.  You see, last Friday, my awesome nephew and nieces were visiting.  Before they got here, I allowed myself to imagine this blog post for a moment, and I had little dancing visions in my head of FIVE adorable children surrounding a table of delicious homemade food, systematically taking bites, and giving cute smiles and thumbs-ups.  You were going to be impressed with my food.  You were going to be impressed with my children.  You were going to be impressed with my brother’s children.  And I was going to be impressed with my blog stats.

Then… the day got ahead of me.  I managed to film breakfast with a few of them and lunch with my son, and after that, it was suddenly well past their bedtimes, and I was waving goodbye to my brother‘s rental mini-van, wondering what had happened to the day.

Time has a funny way of doing that… of owning me.  Take this breakfast video, for example.  The little boy on the left is my nephew Jacob.  You might not believe me, but he was just born YESTERDAY.  He had the most adorable dimples you have ever seen on a baby, his mama was a trooper through the birth, and when my brother held him, he cried.  I thought then that maybe time had stopped.  But now barely a day has passed, and check out how grown up he is:

I don’t want my children to grow up that fast, and sometimes I tell myself that I really don’t have to worry about it.  I mean, you just saw how little they are; we have all the time in the world… right?!?

But then I hear the little old ladies from the grocery store chorusing, “Enjoy these days.  They go by so fast…”

Time, to me, is mysterious and terrible and wonderful.  It gives me beautiful things and then takes them away and then replaces them with new beautiful things and then takes them away…  and I cry harder when I think of Time’s steady march than I do when I think of ANYTHING else.  (Old Yeller might have made me cry, but Driving Miss Daisy made me SOB.)  Time makes me feel so ambivalent.  I want it to keep going (during hard times, I YEARN for it to keep going), but I don’t want it to take anything from me.  If there were a way to get my scrunchy-faced newborn Abigail back, I’d do it… but only if I could keep the spunky toddler that she has become.  And so as a parent, it seems I am forever faced with the question of how to perfect a dance with Time where it leads me gracefully into the future while I keep pace with it well enough to make each step deliberate.

And I think that in the past few months, I have discovered the means with which to do that.  It is a character trait that I have known my whole life, but I am just now discovering its secret.  It is gratitude.

I learned when I was very young that I grasp gratitude easily when things go my way, and as I got older, I learned that even when things don’t go my way and it seems to elude me, I am still supposed to TRY to grasp it.  But I am just recently learning that when I grasp it, regardless of my other emotions, a funny thing happens.  Time stops, looks me in the eye, holds out its hand, and bids me to join its mysterious, terrible, and wonderful dance.

When Sammy has a rough night and I am up for the umpteenth time, wondering what in the world he actually needs and secretly (because I don’t want the old grocery store ladies to know this) wishing for the day when he’ll be able to talk and tell me, I’ve learned to breathe thanks to God for the moment.  It only sometimes makes me less frustrated, and it never makes me less tired, but it always places me back in the present – not in the half hour before when I was comfortably sleeping or the half hour ahead when I’ll hopefully be comfortably sleeping again.  And Time and I get to dance.

When I am rushing to get the children in the car so we won’t be late to church (which is a joke, really – we’re ALWAYS late to church), and Abigail starts meandering slowly away from the car and toward the watering can she left in the middle of the yard yesterday, I’ve learned to stop and thank her Maker for her little legs.  It doesn’t always take away ALL of my irritation, and it certainly doesn’t get us to church on time, but it causes me to really see her in that moment, on that day.  And Time and I get to dance.

When I am pushing them both on the swings, and they are giggling and asking me to do a ninety-seventh stanza of Old McDonald (the one where the animals aren’t even around anymore, but there are babies and mamas and boys who surely also have noises that Mama can come up with), I’ve learned to say a prayer of thanks for the song and the giggles and the wind.  It puts me in touch with the fact that I am smack dab in the middle of one of the best moments of my life.  And Time and I get to dance.

The moments I love and the moments I dread fly by with equal precision, but gratitude lifts me up to fly with them.  And for that I am truly grateful.  I have no illusions that gratitude will somehow keep me from being a little old lady someday, with my children and their children grown up, wondering where in the world the time has gone.  I believe that it will, however, give me a meaningful answer to that question.  It will remind me of the dances with Time while babies cried through the night or made us late for church or giggled on a swing.

(And who knows… I might even remember these silly videos that I shot to up my blog stats.)

A Girl and Her Beans

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(This post is very late.  I should have posted it last Wednesday night.  I wrote most of it then, but then I got so tired that I had to stop.  Now you know more than you ever cared to about why this post is very late.)

Once upon a time there was a girl who felt happy when she created complicated kitchen concoctions.  When her husband turned thirty six, she baked him a twelve layer mocha cake.  When her aunt returned from a long road trip, she made her a lasagna for supper that took so long to put together that it wasn’t ready until approximately ten p.m.    She made treats for her dogs and food for her babies,  and her go-to spinach artichoke dip recipe had no fewer than sixteen ingredients.

Then one day she decided to make some black beans and rice for her husband.  Neither black beans nor rice is complicated to make, but as this couple was in process of making all of their foods from scratch for an entire year, it seemed like a good idea to take a meal and save a lot of  time and money.  So she made some black beans.  They were crunchy.  She made some rice.  It was crunchy, too – except for the parts that were mushy.  When her husband asked if dinner was ready, she made a face.  She told him it was terrible.  He smiled encouragingly and said, “You can’t really mess up black beans and rice.”

But… I did.

I am really, really embarrassed about this.  (That is just one “really” away from my most embarrassing moments, the ones that make me start talking to myself when I think about them.)  I am only disclosing this unlikely kitchen fiasco because I have committed to writing about Jay’s bottom one and top five recipes each week.  Black beans and rice made bottom this week.  There.  Let’s move on.

If you read about Jay’s favorite recipes last week, then you know that he picked a concoction of sausage, onions, peppers, and potatoes for one of his faves.  Technically, though, it wasn’t last week’s recipe.  It was simmering on the stove for his lunch on the first day of this week, but he had so much fun taking bites while it simmered that he picked it for last week anyway.  Then the next day (the first day of this week), he had so much fun eating it for lunch that he picked it for this week, too.

Favorite number two:  Biscuits  and Gravy.  Yum.  It was my first time making either biscuits or gravy, and my biscuits were really nothing to write home about, but they were okay, and the gravy made up for them, anyway.  Note to self:  when you double a biscuit recipe, remember to double the flour as well as all of the other ingredients… because if you forget and then remember later, you will likely be guilty of over-kneading, and over-kneading is apparently bad for biscuit texture.

Jay decided that for St. Patrick’s Day, he wanted to eat some corned beef and cabbage.  I am pretty sure I’ve never had corned beef before (and just so you know, I don’t care for cabbage), and I’m not entirely sure that corned beef constitutes eating from scratch, but I think it does because I think its flavor comes from curing, and any food that is an art in and of itself is an exception.  Anyway, despite being skeptical, I found a crockpot recipe and decided to go for it to make the hubby happy.  It did.  I was pretty happy with it, too – maybe because I forgot to add the cabbage at the end.  Also, I met this interesting lady at the grocery store who felt compelled to inform me that the whole “corned beef and cabbage” thing on St. Patrick’s Day is actually a farce because Irish people back then weren’t even rich enough to eat it; they just ate potatoes, and only the royalty ate corned beef and cabbage.  I told her I was happy to eat like Irish royalty.  She agreed and picked up a slab of corned beef herself.  I like meeting people at the grocery store.

Have you ever had steel cut oats?  If not, I am so happy to introduce you to them.  They are oats that are cut rather than rolled, and you can get them on the same aisle in the grocery store as the rolled oats.  They are a little crunchier and really delicious.  I did breakfast with them last week.  I melted the tiniest bit of butter in the pan and toasted them until the kitchen smelled like oat-ey goodness.  Then I added the appropriate amount of liquid (I combined water and milk, and I found the appropriate total amount by looking at the container), and I followed all of the instructions.  When they were finished, I added some diced up peaches, so we had a peaches-and-cream steal cut oats breakfast.  Easiest meal ever.  Delicious, too – Abs, Sam, Jay, and I all loved it.  Jay loved it so much that it made his top five.

Jay’s final top recipe was a bean and potato dish that I came up with.  This is a relief to me because I am happy to end this post by demonstrating that I am able to cook beans, since we had the fava bean fiasco last week and the black bean fiasco this week.  Apparently I do much better with pinto beans.  I soaked them and then cooked them, and while they were cooking, I sauteed up some onion and green pepper in oil.  When these veggies were soft, I added tomatoes.  (I honestly don’t remember any of the proportions here, but if you really decide to try it, it’s a taste thing anyway.)    I seasoned and simmered.  Then I blended to make a tomato sauce of sorts.  You wouldn’t have wanted it on your spaghetti because the texture was off, but for what I wanted it for, it was perfect and flavorful.  When the beans were finished, I diced up five or six red potatoes and cooked them in the tomato sauce with some coriander and garlic for a half hour or so.  Then I added the beans.  When it was finished, we mixed in a little sour cream.  It was really good.

So it turns out that the girl who felt happy creating complicated kitchen concoctions and who was mortified by her inability to do the simple was able to manage one successful bean dish after all.  Oh, yes.  This couple was definitely on their way to eating happily ever after.

New Feature: Friday Food Critics

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I want to say how much fun you, our trusted readers, have made this blogging thing for us.  You have been very generous with both your views (yup, still checking stats) and your compliments.  That makes me happy.  Some of you have even told us that we are inspiring you.  That makes me wonder.

I’m wondering if I have possibly made this make-everything-from-scratch-for-a-year thing seem way more romantic than it actually is.  And if we are pursuing authenticity in our cooking, it would just feel hypocritical not to pursue it in our lives as well… so I’m going to take Fridays this year to let you hear from the most honest sources among us… Oh, yes.  It’s time to exploit the children.

I might, after all, be terribly enthusiastic about making my family eat sprouts and garbanzo beans – so enthusiastic that it might SEEM inspiring – but Abs and Sam are the ones who can tell you what it’s REALLY like to live the dream.  (Well, they could tell you if they could talk.  Sammy can’t, and Abigail can’t much, so video is going to have to suffice.)

Today’s videos are actually taken from last Friday because it truly took me over a week to figure out the whole YouTube-relating-to-WordPress thing.  The bad thing about that is that I feel dumb.  The good thing about that is that it got me off the hook of videoing today.  So without further ado, here are our children’s reactions to a day’s worth of food…

You will notice in the breakfast video that Sammy, who has already been breastfed this morning (sorry,but I’m not showing that critique), pants like a dog.  This really happens.  Daily.  He is ten months old but still wears 0-3 month clothes (3-6 if I make a particularly bulky cloth diaper).  And he eats ALL DAY.  The boy has an amazing metabolism accompanied by a very healthy digestive system.  I am way jealous.

There are a million cute things about the lunchtime video, but I have to be honest.  I cannot even expound on them because I am so embarrassed about the state of our grass.  Please refrain from looking.  (Does anyone else have trouble easing back into basic yard care when spring rolls around?)

Snack time for Abs consists of an oatmeal raisin cookie.  We baked a  batch together, and they were absolutely incredible.  I have decided in the last few weeks that one ingredient that helps make delicious cookies is chunky salt (which I’m sure is the wrong terminology, but it’s late, and I don’t remember the right terminology).  Getting that salty taste every once in awhile without it overpowering every bite… really impressive.  We have a great salt to use for this because we used to sell our soap in this store that also sold exotic cooking salts, and the owner of the store liked Jay and gave him boxes of salts.  I never thought to use it in baking until I ran out of my plain table salt a few weeks ago and felt too lazy to grind out a teaspoon, so I looked for a smaller crystal salt (is that the right term?) and just threw it in like that.  Wow.  So “wow” that it is possibly a post for another time.  Anyway, back to the cookie:  I linked to the recipe in my previous post, so if you’re into oatmeal raisin cookies at all, I highly recommend that you pop over to that link and give them a try, even if you just use table salt.  And in the meantime, you can watch Abs give them a try:

Unfortunately, the supper video displays more than anything else my inability to multi-task.  Every time I try to do something in addition to videoing, you get exciting views of… the table.  My children and my husband deal with this trait on a regular basis.  Some days I get tons of laundry done… and the little ones don’t get quite as many diaper changes as they should.  Or I do a great job setting up a picnic… and I forget to feed the dogs.  Or I write a blog post… and fail to notice that my husband has already gone to bed.  I suppose this is both a strength and a weakness, as most definable traits are, but it IS a little embarrassing when it shows up in video form.

I particularly like how Abigail claims to like the salad but makes a face that suggests otherwise and then runs away from the table as quickly as she can.  Maybe our children will not be quite as honest as I had hoped…

Oh, well.  I’m exploiting them anyway.

Time Changes, Pancake Links, and Fermented Fava Beans

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It has been over a week since I posted last.

This is, so I am told, NOT good for successful blogging.

Oops.

Actually, did this time change kick anybody else’s butt?  Obviously I know it isn’t JUST the time change because we only lost an hour, and I have taken three naps since Sunday, each one over an hour, and I did pass Algebra… but I am just wiped out.

Anyway, on to Jay’s top 5 and bottom 1 recipe for our second week of eating from scratch (drum roll, please):

I have mentioned before how fabulous Jay is to cook for.  Let me just give you an example of the joys of cooking for this man.  Late last night he walked into the kitchen to find a skillet simmering with his lunch for today.  He asked what it was, and I told him it was tomorrow’s lunch, a concoction of sausage, potatoes, onions, and peppers.  He picked up a spoon, took a bite, said “Wow!” very passionately, and then took another bite.  Then I told him that since it was Wednesday, I needed to get from him his top five recipes for the week.  With his mouth full of simmering sausage, potatoes, onions, and peppers, he said (passionately again, of course), “This!”  I have done a lot of very new (for me) things in the kitchen in the past two weeks.  Some of them, to be frank, haven’t turned out quite like I planned (my adventures in making mayonnaise can give you a small picture of this, but cooking three-year-old fava beans that had turned bad would be another post worth writing, I’m sure… I don’t think fava beans are supposed to smell like fermented fruit).  Jay treats the bad meals like they are the perfect segue way to a good brainstorming session and the good meals like they are worthy of their own show on The Food Network.  And that makes me want to cook better and better for him, and as a result, we are loving eating lately.  It is a nice arrangement, fruity-fermented fava beans aside.

This past weekend, I made granola bars.  My experience with store-bought granola bars is that they typically taste WAAAAY over-processed or they taste like bird seed (I’m sorry, Kashi, but that is just what I think).  So these granola bars were so, so refreshing.   I used dried cherries in them.  I should have sliced the dried cherries because our granola bars had the biggest cherry chunks you have ever seen in your life, so it was sort of like you were getting either a bite of granola bar or a bite of dried cherry, but they were really delicious all the same, and I think they got better every day.  Jay liked them too because they made his top five for the week.  (Incidentally, Abigail was also pretty crazy about them.  Samuel couldn’t have them because they were made with honey, and he is a little too young for honey, but I can assure you he WOULD have liked them.  He likes to eat the dogs’ food, after all.)

Jay’s third top recipe is pancakes.  I think pancakes are going to become a Saturday morning Young family tradition.  I mentioned in another post that if you are a boxed, just-add-water pancake maker, you really should change your ways.  From-scratch pancakes are so, so, so much better.  Alton Brown’s recipe (which we use) starts with making your own instant mix so that when it is time to make pancakes, you can pull your mix out of the pantry and work with it from there.  They are really, really good.  They are so good that I am going to link to the recipe again because if you don’t make from-scratch pancakes already, you now have two chances to click on the link.  And you should.  Because they’re better.  Pure maple syrup can get expensive, so we will probably start buying in-season fruit and making compote to enjoy our pancakes with.  (Sorry, but I couldn’t resist a third link.)

Last Friday Abigail and I made oatmeal raisin cookies, and I cannot even tell you how good they were.  Really, I have no idea why you are reading my blog post when you could be reading this other chick-from-the-link-above’s blog posts.  She clearly knows how to post a good recipe, and I doubt she ever cooks fermented fava beans.  (But please don’t leave.  I like having you here.)  The only change I made to her recipe was that I used walnuts instead of pecans because I just like walnuts in an oatmeal cookie.  When these cookies first came out of the oven, the texture reminded me of a perfect chocolate chip cookie – which I felt ambivalent about.  On the one hand, I love a good chocolate chip cookie, so the taste didn’t bother me at all, but on the other hand, I am all about authenticity and really didn’t want to be known for an oatmeal raisin cookie that tried to pose as a chocolate chip cookie.  But my ambivalence lifted once these cookies cooled because they tasted totally like oatmeal raisin cookies… and DELICIOUS ones at that.  My new go-to recipe.  Abigail, who does a killer job of cleaning beaters, loved them.  And Jay loved them so much that they made his top five for the week.

Jay’s final favorite recipe for the past week is the one we started our week with:  a Martha Stewart recipe called “Lighter General Tso’s Chicken.”    I don’t know that I would really compare it to General Tso’s, but it was really, really good in its own right.  And since chicken was on sale, it was super cheap to make.  We had everything on hand except the snow peas, and they are mad cheap.  It was also super easy to make.  So if you like the flavor of Chinese food and like the idea of eating fresh, I highly recommend it.

Jay’s least favorite meal this week was a chicken and plantain stew that I made.  (You are probably thinking that it must have been really bad to get ranked lower than the fermented fava beans, but we actually never ate the fava beans, so they weren’t technically in the running.)  I started with a recipe I found online,  but I had to improvise because I hadn’t made any chicken broth, and I didn’t have any dry white wine on hand, and the reason I decided to make this recipe in the first place was to save some money (because I could use the rest of the chicken we had bought as well as some plantains that we had on hand), so I didn’t want to spend money on wine.  My flavor adjusting, which consisted of milk, merlot, and some spices, actually didn’t turn out too bad (I thought it was really good myself), but the recipe sort of threw Jay off because of the plantains, so he couldn’t really get past that to even give his opinion on my flavor adjusting.  And I think I agree with him… We like the idea of plantains in a stew, and I think it really could work, but I chopped them way too big, and with no other large veggies in the stew, it just wasn’t terribly palatable.  I would try this recipe again if I chopped them smaller.

So now that you have had a glimpse into week two of the Youngs eating from scratch, I will sign off with high hopes that it will not be another week before I post.  I would normally try to say something witty here to tie all of the writing together, but this time change kicked my butt, and I am more interested in getting five extra minutes of sleep than spending five extra minutes being witty.

Happy cooking!