Saturday, October 25, 2014

Eating on the Fly: Recipes for Survival!

Harrumph! This is what you think you  hear as you watch me collapse into the chair at the end of a hectic day.  If perchance you were an outside observer of my days.

I am still trying to find healthy wholesome meals to put on the table without too much effort. I remember ( now ashamedly) trying to dispense advice on this blog about wholesome cooking on a budget when I was a stay at home mom. It is dang difficult.

First, one must have a plan. I write my grocery list out with a planned menu for the week.  I combine a few easily prepared meals with a few more involved meals for those time when I have time. I plan meals that I can save for leftovers. But even then there are just some days when I get home that I can't muster the energy to cook the meal; never mind cleaning up after it!

With all this in mind I have learned a few things. The crockpot is the best invention since sliced bread. Oh, wait, scratch that! I bake my own bread and slicing it is not that difficult. The crockpot is the best thing since the internal combustion engine! Oh, wait, that contributes to climate change. The crockpot is the best invention since..since..THE WHEEL!

The crockpot is the wife I never had. She takes a mix of vegetables and protein, a dash of finesse  ( or tamari, curry or  pesto) and voila...I walk through the door and the house smells like someone has been cooking all day!

Many things I used to make from scratch are now purchased. But then I was a little crazy about making everything from scratch at one point. So I no longer make tortilla from scratch. I no longer make mayonnaise. I still make salad dressings ( okay, really, all I do is put the oil and vinegar on the table and tell the boys," have at it!").

Risotto. I have learned that one must learn to make risotto. A little wine, a quart of chicken stock...cheese. Simple. It is the perfect food to prepare when you need to downshift from a busy day as you stir in one cup of stock at a time.it is the perfect quick meal And you can add all sorts of things to it. It is yummy as a whole meal, a side or or a cold lunch a day later. It has an essence of magic and elegance. Below I have a basic risotto recipe using some things found in the garden this time of year

Karin's Hectic Risotto
1 Cup wine ( for the risotto, not you!)
2 leeks chopped
1 table spoon butter
1 quart boiling chicken stock
2 cups arborio rice
1 cup shredded smoked gouda cheese
salt and pepper to taste
optional steamed brussel sprouts quartered, panchetta or chopped turkey

Saute leeks and rice in butter. When leeks soften add wine. When rice has absorbed the wine start adding chicken stock, one cup at a time as stock gets absorbed. After adding last cup of stock add cheese to melt. You can add anything else at this point. Risotto is done when it is creamy but not soupy.
Enjoy!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Provider

Kale provides life lessons. Before it has sprouted it is just a pretty picture in the Johnny's seed cataglog. So much promise and youthful adventure in such names as Toscano, Russian Red. First romance comes to mind in the Sunrise variety. All those glossy photos show what kale can be; unblemished, blight free.

This year I planted too much kale. This happens in spring we make promises that we can  only mostly keep. There is energy to keep kale under floating row cover. Swattled against flea beetle. Powdered with diatomaceous earth to deter slug and cabbage worm. So much care given to tender micro greens with the hope of growing a robust provider.

However, by summer kale turns bitter with heat while my attentions turns to more fleeting vegetables like sweet peas and cherry tomatoes. It can't be helped.  There is so many diversions. But by autumn time is measured by chores  completed: the wood is stacked, the apples sauced, the socks are darned.

The garden is emptied, brown and rotted. Withered by a few frosts and the neglect that comes with too many green tomatoes and not enough time. There are a few cabbages left to pick and brussel sprouts have yet to have their day. Pumpkins are still be to pied and carved. And when it is all has been canned,  frozen or put by for the shorter days, Kale will still be standing like green sentinels in the garden. Mature in its flavor after a touch of frost when so much else succumbs to the season.

Kale persists. Thank goodness for that.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Handling Abundance


The kettle is on. First thing in the morning, it heats the water for my one cupper coffee filter. The fuel that gets this mama moving. This mama is always moving these days. Work is busy with college students buying books, planning author events, front list (new books) being released in greater numbers as the calendar creeps towards Christmas.

Home is busy. The school schedule has taken full hold of our time now. Homework has started. Cub scouts and Piano have started. Finding time to just let Evan play becomes a religious pilgrimage. It is sacred time I feel uncompomising about. It is also scheduled time but I make sure it happens.

Home is busy for me too. I did plant a garden this year. It is a vital part of our overall welfare. It defrays costs at the grocery store. It eases the loads we have to carry in in the winter. This time of year it feels like a race against frost. Can I get one more batch of pesto? How many green tomatoes are left? Do I have time to get to the farm for pick-your-own tomatoes ( 1.25 a pound!). More importantly, do I have time to put them up?

Ah there's the rub. I confess to spending a few hours, after a long day, hanging over the canner. I have not put by as much as I used to in the past. I just don't need rennet anymore. I'm not making cheese these days. I like making wine but I really shouldn't drink the wine I make.

And there are some things that I really should give more attention to; like the crazy amount of apples in my orchard.

Here's this crazy thing I am just realizing. We are only given what we can handle. Well, yes and no, while we are in what ever craziness life is throwing at us it can feel like more than we can handle. I would not presume to diminish the pain and strife of anyone. What I mean by given more than we can handle comes down to this..

Last year in all the turmoil my dehydator broke. Not a big deal normally. Had I the resources it would have been a tool I would have replaced. But I didn't. There were few jars filled...maybe some jam, a couple of jars of tomatoes, saurkraut and whatever could get into the freezer did. But there was no money for the big bag of corn, there was no money for blueberry picking. Oh and there were no apples in the orchard; early bloom and a frost took care of that.

I don't like waste; especially food waste. I would have made an effort to put by what I could but many would have just fed the deer.

So, I guess you could say that I was not given any more apples than I could handle last year.

This year; however, I am blessed with abundance. Nature seems to be in sync with me as long as I can keep up. There are piles of food still to be processed: tomatoes, zuchinni and lots and lots of apples.

I can handle it.

                                                                    My Midsummer Garden

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

I paint my door red


My new door. That something like a new door should carry such weight in my world may seem a silly thing to some folks but it signifies a lot to me. Last winter was brutal. I have objective proof of this all around my home. The roof caved in on the wood shed. Snow fell off the roof and blocked our windows. Tristan was outside three times in one day just trying to keep the snow that slid off the roof  from blocking the windows. ( Such a good kid!) A window broke when a chunk of ice went through it at 6 am one cold February morning. 

I tell folks that you could blame me for last winter's brutality. Last October,I stood in my woodshed and bragged that I had the same amount of wood put up as the year before, only I  had it all under cover and stacked long before my ex ever did. 

And then I ran out of wood.

 This does not even tell the whole story. My kind neighbor plowed us out last year. Normally, I just park the car up on the town maintained part of the road and we trek out in snowshoes. Being plowed out felt like a luxury. 

Alas, this becomes the story of the three trucks. The first truck got stuck in the drive way when my battery died on a bitter cold morning. AAA ( a kind gift from my aunt) came down the drive to give me a jump. However a flat bed tow truck is no match for the like of the narrow driveway. We had to push the car to the tow truck for the jump and then we had to wait for the truck to get out. The second truck was delivering firewood. This truck did have the foresight to back down. But I did warn him that he might get stuck so we would not mind if the wood got dumped at the top of our portion of the road and we would haul it down.. Yep he backed it down and got stuck and we still had to haul the wood in. The third truck was a AAA truck again; only this time he was pulling me out of the mud. But he got stuck in the mud himself, then broke a hydraulic line. 

At this point you are probably asking yourself, " What does this have to do with a door?"

Everything.

That new door  was installed at the same time the two new windows in my kitchen were replaced. I got some help from the Mission of the Eastward with the labor. The old door was so old that, no matter how much weather stripping we put around the door, we could still see daylight. My broken window is replaced. There is nearly 3 cord of wood in the driveway and I am saving money for snow tires and a portable battery chargers.  I bartered a four wheeler for a snow blower so we can keep the snow away from the front of the house and make some easier trails for walking. I will not park down at the house this winter. No matter what!

Some people buy boats, I buy doors.

I live at the very end of a two mile dirt road. I can afford the mortgage on my house a lot better than the rent for an apartment. However, when we moved here there was another person whose skills offset the ones I did not have. I am figuring out how to do this on my own. One door at a time.


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Food for Thought


It is nearing dinner. After piano lessons, we go home; hopefully to be there by 4:45, and then I will have to answer another one of those grand illuminated questions of life, “ What is for dinner?”

When I think about how much mental space is consumed with this question every single day I think, “Gosh imagine the empires conquered, the great art that could have been made, the good works done, if I did not have to think about this Every. Single. Day.”

There was a time, not very long ago, when what was prepared for dinner was an important part of my identity. I was a stay at home mom. I cleaned the house, got the kids where they needed to go and I cooked a healthy, wholesome, from scratch dinner; sometimes all grown on our own land or locally sourced, nearly every night. If I didn't cook the meal, I still had a plan.

There would pots of stew, new recipes to try. I would give myself cooking challenges to see just how local I could go. How many things can one make from a rutabaga? I would can nettle juice for rennet for making cheese. I would drink teas from red clover picked over weeks during the summer and dehydrated. This seems like leisure to me now.

Planning is ultimately important to this new way of living. But compromises have had to be made. There is just not enough time to cook every meal, every night of the week. Some nights I am athe only one home, some nights I am not home at all. I confess to boxed macaroni and cheese ( the healthiest kind I can find, but, well you know , it comes from a box)But, despite this, some nights the guys and I can enjoy a good meal.

These meals take on extra meaning now. They are nearly sacred. I find myself resistant to accepting invitations, add more outside work and more kids' extra curriculars so that we can have these 2 , sometimes 3, meals a week. They are meals where I approach the task of cooking with calm. There is no harried prep of food for the sake of sustenance but an actual event with thought and intention. There is grace and candlelight. There is communion together around the table.

And then there is the multi-tasking I can take care of when I am cooking the meal. Inevitably making these meals gives me a boost of energy to prepare for busier times, warm the home with something baked or, these days, put something in the canner for winter. Maybe I can whip up a batch of granola or get some bread started. If I double the recipe I can have the left overs for a meal after a long day. I am well aware of the strategies to keep the good food coming even when the energy isn't there to cook it.

In the end , as with everything, it comes down to balance. Somedays that balance leans towards expediency and necessisty. Somedays it leans towards nourishment of our bodies and our souls.


Saturday, September 6, 2014

Catch a breath


Pacing. Some days; despite my best intentions, there is just chaos. Yesterday I woke at a little later than intended. I wrote for a while, got ready for work, swept the living room floor, prodded Evan to get ready for school. I left the house at 8:20. I thought I would have enough time to pay the after school care person, put Tristan's bike in the car so I could take it to the repair shop after work, get gas, deliver books for the store at Evan's school and still have a good amount of time to sit at the local coffee shop to deal with online stuff. All before 10:00 in the morning; when I have to go to work.

What was I thinking?

If, as I planned, it all went according to design the morning would have been busy. I should know at this point that it never goes according to plan. It started with a hiccup at the day care. We ended up chatting for a few minutes to take care of logistics. Then , the bike would not fit in the car; of course. Finally, I had to stop for gas if I wanted to go anywhere else. Evan did arrive to school on time, I did make it down town but not before feeling swept up in the pin ball machine that had become the morning.

Work was brief and,well ,somedays; as much as I love my job, it can be work. I had a “something” I had to deal with when “something” else got in the way. Which left no time to take care of the first something before I had to meet Evan at the bus.

Somedays, just leaving the house with clothes on can feel like a big accomplishment.

Once home I find I can switch gears. Evan shared his day. We had a snack. We changed into our play clothes. He packed his bag for his weekend with his dad and I went to the garden to see what needs to be picked.

A second crop of broccoli is coming on like gangbusters. The first crop has been sending out a multitude of florets. There are tomatoes, cucumbers and an abundance of famine food we call zuchinni. There is a heft to the harvest basket. Once these are gleaned I move on the berries.

A chance to really slow down. I can feel the gears shifting; third into second. Elderberries are plump and plentiful this year. Another rush of everbearing raspberries has invited the hum of bumble bees. They must prepare for winter as well. The black berries were late this year. When I think of the many quarts of berries I keep in the freezer I marvel at the fact that I have touched every single berry. One at a time they are proof of a collection of sunny days, quiet moments and the joys I had sharing some of this job with Evan. In those moments when I am picking I know for sure that I am day dreaming, catching those cosmic lines that will only fall near you when you have that quiet moment.

Now that the berries are here I feel inspired to make wine and jam of the assorted berries I've gathered. This may be work too but never feels like it.

Pacing. Somedays there is no pacing. It can feel hard to find those quiet moments that allow one simple thing...a breath.

Thank goodness for berries.





Friday, September 5, 2014

Dust to Dust


 For a just a few minutes I stand in the middle of my house and say.” This is good.”

The afternoon sun shines through the living room windows. The house plants are plump and healthy looking from their morning drink of water. I walk across the floor and do not feel grit on my bare feet. In the kitchen everything is in its place. It looks ready for cooking. No smells of dirty socks, used kitty litter, rotted refrigerator science experiments. Laundry catches a breeze on the line; a friendly wave from the house goddess.

It is still mid afternoon and there is a luxury ahead for me. I can actually sit and knit or read to Evan.

And just like that the moment is gone. Toys litter the floor, grass clippings are brought in on shoes. Kitty litter is tracked across the rug in the living room. Dinner is made. It starts all over again.What was once a a quaint domestic scene is now something out of an action thriller.

My mission, if I should choose to accept it, is to maintain a clean house during the week. This seems like it should be an easy task. But no. There are long days when I don't get home till 7:30. The first week of school behind us I feel like I am driving bumper cars; bouncing from one thing to another.

My heart is not the only one that beats in these four walls. I try to enlist the other bipeds help. One boy, the not so tall one, sorts recycling and returns the bin from the curb, he puts the silverware away, he helps to make dinner. He picks up his room sometimes easily; sometimes its like rangling a bucking bronco. The other boy, now man, washes dishes, takes the garbage out, does his laundry, attends to heavier chores like chopping and stacking wood.

My plan this last week was to do one thing everyday, at least, to stay ahead of the devolving state of the house. I cleaned the house on Sunday. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday it felt like I was succeding. Counters cleared, table cleared, floor swept every day, cat poop scooped. All it took was one day. ONE DAY?? One very long day and it sorta went all to pot.

How does a house get messy if no one is home? I put this unanswerable question up there with some of the other great mysteries of life like...what is the meaning of life?

Okay...I do have one idea to all this. It comes to me at the writing of this post. It is 7:27 am. I could be sweeping the floor, washing a few dishes in the sink and instead I am here...clutter on the table has been pushed aside for the lap top, Evan is dozing up stairs. I should rouse him. I began this post at 7:10.
Twenty minutes of writing..hmm

writing or scopping cat poop? Is there really a choice there?

                                                Getting real at Fleecenik Farm.