Sunday, May 30, 2010


I was brushing Chloe's hair the other night, and I put some leave-in conditioner in. As I was working in the conditioner she asked me, "Mom, how come you don't use buffalo any more?"

I was confused. "Um, buffalo? I've never used buffalo in your hair before, darlin'. I'm not sure what you're talking about."

"Yes you have," she said. "You used to use it when I was little."

I assured her that she must have misunderstood what I was saying, because I knew of no such thing.... she told me, "It came in a long skinny can, and when you squeezed it, stuff like shaving cream came out."

"Oh!" I said. "You mean mousse!"

:o) Kids are funny


We're packing and cleaning and trying to be ready to leave at four in the morning for Montana De Oro State Park on the central coast of California. I don't imagine I'll have internet access, so everyone have a great week, and I'll be back to write about our adventure next weekend!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A Real Food Barbecue

My in-laws are health nuts. That is to say, if you think I'm health-conscious, you ain't see nothin'.

Having them over for a barbecue is the ultimate test of my ability to serve real, healthful food. Inviting them to dinner used to terrify me, but now I see it as inviting over willing participants in my attempt to create good, healthy food.

The menu:

elk burgers
corn on the cob
German chocolate cake
Strawberry lemonade

Okay, so the cakes fails. It's whole wheat, organic evaporated cane juice, local eggs... but it's also store-bought coconut, chocolate, evaporated milk and all kinds of other junk that definitely does NOT qualify as healthy. But it's also my husband's birthday cake, and birthdays are a good reason to eat junk food. So we're going to overlook the cake.

We should probably also overlook the store-bought buns. I did buy the "healthy" version of hamburger buns, but I was just too overwhelmed with cleaning and preparing to think about making twenty homemade buns on top of everything else.

I made the ketchup, ranch dressing, and balsamic dressing from scratch. Having mason jars full of condiments on the table pleases me - much more attractive than Heinz and Hidden Valley plastic squeeze bottles. I'll set out some pickled asparagus and some homemade seasoned goat cheese with crackers for those who want to snack before dinner.

Burgers and salad both use lettuce. That was my primary reason for inviting 16 people to my house at one time - to see if they can start to make a dent in the lettuce that is threatening to take over our back yard. If they're willing, I'll also send my guests home with two or three bags - each. Lettuce makes a good party favor, right?

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Sewing for Stress

It's been a long, stressful week. I decided it was time for some late night sewing therapy.

I found this vintage tablecloth at a yard sale a couple of weeks ago. I paid $3 for it.

I'm enthralled with the color yellow right now. The pattern on this tablecloth made me kind of giddy.

Here it is now... one package of seam binding tape and a few easy measurements later.

Isn't the bauble trim fabulous? Yep, I thought so too. :-)

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Kid's Gardening - Carrots

Just a quick post to say I'm still alive, and an update on our garden fun.

I weeded and thinned the carrot bed today. Waiting this long to thin means we all end up with some baby carrots to munch on - not necessarily a bad thing.

The girls kept running up to the garden fence, begging for more.

I'm starting to wish I'd planned for more space for carrots - they seem to be a favorite. I look forward to harvesting, when I can let the girls have at it. Watching a little one pull and pull and pull until finally, the carrot lets go and she lands on her bottom... and then watching her do it all over again. Yep, good times to come in the carrot bed!

In the meantime, my lawn is littered with these:

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Strawberry Goodness

I found this recipe for strawberry lemonade on Not Dabbling in Normal. After a long day of working in the yard and garden the other day, it sounded too good not to try. First I made some for the girls to enjoy (wading) poolside...

And then I made some for me...

to enjoy as I relaxed in one of the new Adirondack chairs my hubby gave my for Mother's Day.

It was so good, in fact, that I'm having another one right now.

I wonder, are fresh strawberries and fresh lemons and honey healthy still, once you add a shot of rum? Hmm...

Monday, May 17, 2010

Thoughts on preserving

I'm mostly just "thinking" out loud here. Expect some rambling. Feel free to skip this one.

I put up five more little baggies of spinach tonight. Chopping spinach into 1/4" squares is tedious work that doesn't thrill me. Seeing five little bags of blanched spinach go into the freezer does, though.

1/2 cup portions seems sort of odd. I use spinach mainly in soups, pastas and sauces, and occasionally in dips or meatballs. 1/2 cup just seems to be the right amount to add. None of us love spinach, but it's good for us, and adds a bit of something extra, so I use it. I can pull a baggie straight from the freezer and dump it into a hot soup or sauce and it works great.

Last year was very experimental as far as how much stuff I put by from our harvest. Well, this year is experimental too, but I have some idea now of how much I actually need. I'm taking serious notes - I'm weighing and counting everything we harvest and marking it on a sheet in a notebook I keep in the kitchen. I'm keeping a chart of everything going into the freezer, with space to mark the dates we run out so I know how long it lasted, how much will be needed next year. I have tentative goals for some items, especially the ones I can.

Grocery stores are under the impression that food preservation doesn't begin until fall. No one has lids or pickling salt in stock yet. I'm glad I stocked up last fall! I'm still in the early stages of preserving, as little bits come out of the garden and come into season in the stores, but so far I've pickled 6 pints of asparagus, frozen 8 meals' worth of asparagus soup starter, a triple batch of strawberry jam (with plans to do another triple batch tomorrow) and eight little pouches of spinach. Not much, by any means, but we'll be eating primarily fresh all summer, and hey, at least it's a little bit. I'd like to buy another fifteen or twenty quarts of strawberries before the price goes back up, and just freeze them whole. We like strawberries in our smoothies, and I have a great recipe for strawberry bread that I haven't made in awhile.

Standing at the sink tonight, chopping pile after pile of spinach leaves reminded me of just how much work it is to do this, and we aren't anywhere close to self sufficient. Between everything that I make from scratch, everything I'm trying to put by for later, and meals for us to eat each day plus clean up for everything, I spend an easy three to four hours in the kitchen most days - sometimes a lot more. My back hurts, my hands are painfully dry, and I'm glad I'm sitting down now... but I love the satisfaction of it, too.

My "to do list" right now includes canning jam, making pasta, making crackers, freezing (more) spinach, making a big batch of black beans, freezing strawberries... there's more. I know there's more because the list is stuck on my fridge, intimidating me every time I walk into the kitchen. I just can't remember what else is on there at this moment.

Is anyone else out there preserving already? Is there anything I'm forgetting that I should be doing?

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Bag of Many Colors

I've been ogling this pattern for years. And when I say years, I'm dead serious. Great Knitted Gifts is one of the first knitting books I ever checked out of the library, way back when I first started knitting. The photo of this bag made my stomach do flip flops. It made me swear that someday I'd learn how to do that.

Over the years, I've picked up the book again and again, always feeling a little giddy when I saw the pattern for Pablo. Ah, Pablo. How I longed to have you for my very own. Sweet Pablo, so vibrant, so full of chaos mixed with order in a way that excites me to my core.


Every so often, I'd stash away some yarn, knowing that some day it would be one of Pablo's many colors. That far-off day when I learned to actually knit with that many colors. I'd start picking out colors on knitpicks, only to remember that I don't know how to do that. I can cable. I can knit intricate lace. I can turn heels, felt, graft, and turn out a beautiful three-needle bind off. But I've never tried knitting with more than one color at a time. It scared me.

Andrea and Gayle Shackleton quite obviously do not find this technique nearly as intimidating as I do. In fact, it would appear that they thrive on it's complexity, based on the patterns found in their book. The fact that they are beyond brave has been duly noted.

Finally, I did it. I ordered the yarn. To heck with the randomly stashed balls of yarn on the shelf in the craft room. If I was gonna do this, I was gonna do it right. My order of eleven balls of carefully selected yarn arrived in the mailbox last week. I wasted no time - I casted on immediately. I knitted the first six rows (simple stripes) and then.... oh. Shit. What now?

No one has ever taught me how to knit intarsia before. I was pretty sure this was intarsia, anyway. Fair Isle means you carry the yarn, and I was adamantly refusing to learn to carry. Until I got four rows into the first set of squares, and decided it must be inevitable. I started to carry my yarns, and the result was... well, we'll just say that after about ten rows of that, I gave up and chopped off all the yarn. I didn't have the patience to try to unravel all those colors, all that mess.

I went to Michael's and bought some bobbins. If ever you're going to try to knit with fifteen strands of yarn at once, splurge and buy yourself some bobbins. They cost $1.58 and that was the best $1.58 I spent all week.

After getting my bobbins, giving up completely on carrying the yarn behind my work, and knitting the first 20 rows of the first set of squares, I got hooked. I mean, really hooked. Staying up til eleven o'clock at night hooked. It's terrible - you get a row finished, and you say you're going to take a break, and then you glance at the pattern and realize there's only one more row to the next color change, and you get all excited and so you go for it. And then you set your knitting down only to realize how absolutely cool it looks, and you can't help but knit another two rows to see how cool it'll look after that, and.... Oh, it never ends! The shapes keep growing, the whole piece of knitting keeps changing before your eyes. It sucks you in.

In addition to my fear of intarsia, I possess a very strong aversion to weaving in ends. When you finish a knitting project, there are little yarn tails that must be woven carefully into the knitted fabric, tucked away neatly to prevent the project from unraveling, and to preserve it's beauty. I hate ends. I have projects that have been finished for months that still aren't worn because I just can't bring myself to spend the twenty minutes it would take to weave in the ends. I really hate ends.

For each row of squares, there are thirty ends to weave in. That, plus two ends for every stripe on the side panels, plus... well, yeah. The total was something like sixteen thousand ends to weave in. And that was a problem.

But not to worry! It's a bag! Bags should have liners. And liners hide ends. I neatly tied little knots to hold the work together, and then I fashioned a fancy-schmancy liner. The ends are hidden in there between the knitted bag and the liner. It'll be our secret.

Granted, in the time it took to create and sew the liner into the bag, I could've woven in every one of those ends. But my laziness defies logic, and so my bag has a liner.

It's a fantastic liner though - there's a pocket in there for everything I ever might want to carry, little pen pockets and a cell phone pocket and a water bottle pocket and a yarn pocket with a strap to hold my needles in place, a loop to hook my keys on. My keys are specially designed to bury themselves in the depths of my purse, never to be found again. My fancy little key-loop, plus a carabiner solves that problem.

I'm thrilled with Pablo. Absolutely enamored with him, actually. I hope that he and I have a long, comfy relationship for years to come.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Kid's Gardening - Radishes

Radishes are the ultimate kid's gardening veggie, I think.

Except for the fact that they aren't very tasty, they are otherwise a completely satisfying veggie to grow. The seeds are a manageable size (well, a little small, but mine managed.) They grow to harvest in about 21 days. They are tremendous fun to pull out of the ground, whether you're two, seven, or twenty seven. And they come in all kinds of fun shapes and sizes - this year we've planted cherry belle (the normal, round red radish), purple plum, white icicle (which surprised me with their spiciness!) and the French Breakfast radishes pictured above.

We've currently harvested one radish crop (about 40 radishes) and have three more planted. We all tried again this year to like them, but we still don't. So we have some happy neighbors and family members who benefited from the fun we had growing and pulling them.

It should also be pointed out that radishes are easy to fit in just about anywhere in the garden. I interplant them with onions and carrots. By the time the onions or carrots are even starting to really get big, the radishes have been plucked out and eaten, never getting in the way of the other crops' development. I also like that radishes do a good job of marking the rows where the carrots are planted, since carrots take up to three weeks to germinate and radishes rarely take more than a few days.

***This just in: I was reading a post over at the Organic Gardening forum, and learned that radish tops can be transformed into a vischyssoise soup. Radishes are a member of the brassica family and the leaves, apparently, resemble arugula in flavor... Never tried it, so I can't vouch for it personally, but might be worth trying!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Bell Ruffle Hats

I made some hats for the girls while we were camping...

Pattern: Bell Ruffle Toddler Hat (adjusted for a larger size for Chloe - added 12 sts to original casted on amount, increasing circ. by 1".)
Yarn: Red Heart acrylic (which, unfortunately, is itchy.)
Needles: size 8 circs and dpns
Interchangeable ribbons means they can wear them with lots of different outfits!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Saving Spinach

If ever you feel like you're drowning in spinach, just blanch it all for the freezer and you'll realize how little you really have. :o)

I started with this:

Then I chopped it into smallish bits...

and it looked like this:
The larger bowl is the one in the first picture, too.

(I chop it first because we seem to used chopped spinach more than we do whole spinach. It can be frozen without chopping, too.)

After chopping, I wrapped it in cheesecloth and blanched it for two minutes...

and it was reduced to this:

Three one-half cup portions to go into the freezer. I was almost sad! Three little baggies won't go very far.

On the up side, I'm harvesting that much at least twice a week right now, so I'll have at least a few more batches in there before long.


On a side note - check out this lettuce! Isn't it beautiful?

I'm having a hard time picking it so we can eat it, because it looks so pretty out there in the garden. I didn't make notes on what varieties I planted, so I'm not sure what it is. I thought it might be Flame (from Baker Creek) but now I'm not so sure. Anyone know?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Pollinator Study

I was browsing through some different kid's gardening websites and came across this pollinator curriculum that looks like it might be a neat little module for my oldest. It's intended for 3rd-6th grade, but since she's been raised with a garden every year and a mommy who is obsessed with green, growing things, I think she'll probably do just fine with it now. We may revisit it again in a few years as her maturity level and comprehension grow.

Science class takes place outside for us as soon as it's warm enough to plant peas. There is just so much to do - watching how fast plants can grow, observing the bugs that help (and destroy) our garden veggies, learning how to help the soil and why not to use Miracle-Gro. Our nature study notebook gets filled with drawings of flowers and plants as they grow and bloom. Spelling words last year came off of seed packets.

As we were walking along looking at the garden yesterday, my seven year old exclaimed over a fast-growing nasturtium plant, something she's looking forward to tasting. She offered to help pull a few weeds and identified each by it's name. She asked if I would buy her a Black Krim tomato plant for her garden because it's her favorite variety of tomato. Seriously - how many seven year olds have a favorite heirloom tomato variety? It floors me how these little brains are so much like sponges, remembering so very much when it's presented in a way that they can see and touch (and taste.)

Does anyone else have fun garden-related school projects planned for the summer? I'd love to hear (and possibly borrow) your ideas!

Monday, May 10, 2010

A Whirlwind Week

It's amazing what one family can accomplish in a week, if that's all they have together. We went for a drive, we went camping, hubby and I went on a date, we got things done around the house, we visited both my parents and his, we watched a few movies, had dinner out, took some naps, and did lots of cuddling.

We did not, however, eat a wild turkey dinner. Sigh. I was really hoping he'd get one this week, as it was the last week he'd be able to hunt before the season ends.

About the camping trip:

It's perfectly possible to wear a skirt while camping. And in fact, it might actually be more comfortable to do so.

Real Food while camping kind of sucks. We ate things like steak and arugula salad with goat cheese and a salsa vinaigrette, uncured turkey dogs with homemade buns and condiments, and granola with homemade yogurt and strawberry jam. There are certain times that junk food is just going to have to be okay - camping isn't the same without a bit of the convenience food.

Little Girls really only need some dirt, some rocks, a few sticks, and a source of running water to keep themselves entertained for an entire day.

Making your first grader do math on a camping trip is no fun for anyone. Not sure yet if I think we should just learn to get used to it, or if we should skip school work while we're camping. Regardless, listening to woodpeckers peck and water trickling down the creek and wind rushing through the trees all make it very hard to concentrate on carrying to the ten's place and comparing fraction denominators.

Wind sucks. Wind is ruthless, it will blow everything around and get it dirty and make you say naughty words when the bowl you just washed lands in the dirt.

Sleeping in a tent when it's 42 degrees at night is quite pleasant. Sleeping in a tent when it's 18 degrees at night is not quite so pleasant. Little Girls are smart and burrow deep into their doubled sleeping bags with their heads covered and little gloves on their hands.

18 degrees at night means frozen water in the morning. Frozen water means you can't make coffee. Always remember to keep a few bottles of water in the tent wrapped in sweatshirts so it doesn't freeze. A very cold morning out in the woods without coffee is a very sad morning indeed.

I hate using chemical cleaning products, but Clorox wipes are a wonderful thing to have when you're out in the middle of nowhere with Two Little Girls and all you have for a bathroom is a grimy pit toilet. Little Girls are too small to hover over the seat. Thank you, Clorox, for allowing me to feel a little better knowing Little Girls' bottoms were resting on a clean toilet seat.

I'm happy to report that I can still throw a football. The last time I tested that skill was the Powder Puff football game my junior year of high school.

Never forget the whiskey. When all else fails, whiskey will help you sleep, and it will keep you warm. We forgot the whiskey.

It should be expected that when you say "Do not get dirty again until after dinner," that it will be physically impossible for Two Little Girls to obey. They are surrounded by dirt, and it is not possible for small children to remain seated at a table in such a situation.

Save your old peanut butter and applesauce jars and pack them in the "camping toys" box. They make a great place to catch bugs for close observation, and make it far more reasonable to comply when a small child wants to bring her new friend into the tent at nap time.

We set up the hammock for the first time since we got it last summer. Definitely worth the trouble. A hammock strung between two trees in the mountains is almost as peaceful as one by the ocean in Mexico.

I'm perfectly capable of starting a good fire now, after watching my husband as many times as I have. This is good, because it looks like the girls and I will have to do some camping on our own this year if we want to go more than three more times. Hubby's latest schedule change gives him one week off each month. Big sigh. I'm not thrilled with that arrangement, but I'll deal.

Hope everyone had a great week. I'll try to get some more blogs done in the next few days, now that we're back to regularly scheduled programming.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

We survived :-)

I'm happy to report that the girls and I survived our first two week stint with our Daddy working out of state.

We stayed immensely busy with school work, craft projects, asparagus hunting, canning, play dates, and gardening. Truly, these two weeks have flown by.

I mowed the lawn. Twice! I wanted to save him the extra work when he got home. I also managed to get the floors cleaned, the house straightened, the laundry all caught up and put away, and dinners planned for the week so there will be little to do but enjoy our time with him.

Oh, how I look forward to cooking real meals again! I have the hardest time bringing myself to make anything creative when I'm only cooking for the children, who rarely rave about anything except macaroni and cheese from a box.

We hope to head up and go camping this week, if the nice weather holds up and if there's not too much snow on the ground to get to our campsite. Otherwise, maybe we'll just lock all the doors, turn off the phones, and hide from society for a few days.

I'm off to bed - busy day tomorrow. Hope everyone has as lovely a Sunday as we will! :o)