I just looked back, and I've been blogging here for SIX YEARS as of yesterday.
I started posting mainly because I was tired of people asking me, "Then, what do you eat?" and thought I could just direct them to read for themselves rather than explaining over and over. (Also, because most of the time I was pretty sure their question was just a rhetorical/incredulous one and I didn't want to spend my time answering if they just wanted to gawk.)
Since then, I've really worked hard both to eat in a way that I feel deeply nourishes my family, and to make it accessible to others in my little blog. Over 450 posts and 14,000 pageviews later, I'm glad I'm going strong. It's been wonderful to have carved a place where I can be myself and speak about things that matter to me.
Six years ago, I had a little 18-month-old as my youngest; six years from now, she'll be a teenager. I'm not sure what technology will have come along by then, but I hope I'm still out there, sharing my food and thoughts.
So, last summer my husband did an internet search for 'world's best cake' and came up with a recipe on a website. I posted about his successful cake initiative here.
It was a kind of cake that we had never seen done before, with a meringue topping baked simultaneously with and right on top of the raw cake batter, and it was delightful. Amongst ourselves, we thought it was nearly perfect, but needed berries.
Well, it turns out that the cake we were really looking for was a Blitz Torte. (Sorry, Norwegian recipe, it looks like the German tradition bests you in this.) Recently, among my mother-in-law's old cookbooks, I found a copy of a Cook's Country magazine with a cover that looked a lot like our last summer's cake, only with berries. (See right.)
Well, that and professional food photography. But I digress. They called this concoction a blitz torte, and if you run a web search, it turns out it's a fairly popular but old-fashioned cake. No wonder we like it so much.
I made the full-on, elaborate version last night for my book club. It was a fair amount of work and expense, more than the simpler Best Cake version, but I think it was worth it.
Except that next time, I'll borrow some extra cake pans and double it if I'm going to be serving 12 people. One slice was most emphatically not enough!
Monday: West African peanut soup (thawed from the freezer from the last huge batch I made)
Tuesday: Chef's salad, French bread
Wednesday: Flounder fillets, tarragon-lemon rice pilaf, cooked carrots
Thursday: Spaghetti marinara, green beans
Friday: Split pea soup, biscuits
Saturday: Taco salad
Sunday: Pancakes, applesauce, scrambled eggs
So, I was looking through some old writing prompts to see what I can finish or polish up, and I found a list of imaginary interview questions I made to ask someone I admire. They're pretty intriguing, and I thought I'd share them here, along with my own answers to them, and see if anyone else wants to jump in and be 'interviewed'.
1. What is your favorite guilty pleasure?
2. When do you feel most loved?
3. What comes easily to you?
4. What frustrates you most about yourself? About others?
5. What's the first thing you do when you wake up?
6. What's the last thing you do before you go to bed?
7. What's a compliment you get most frequently?
8. What's your favorite thing about your spouse?
9. What's your greatest specific accomplishment, something you did or finished?
10. What's your greatest accomplishment that was or is more ongoing?
11. What has surprised you most about your own life and where you've ended up?
12. Do you have a mantra or a catchphrase?
13. Do you have any unusual habits?
14. Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
15. Whom do you admire?
After I came up with these questions, I answered them for myself; they're a couple years old, so a few are outdated (#5 is the one I particularly noticed), but I'm not going to edit.
Me: 1. My favorite guilty pleasure? Sleep is what comes to mind, though to me sleeping till 8 o'clock would feel pretty dang guilty. Every once in a while, I go back to bed in the morning when I'm especially tired, and I love every minute of those guilty days.
2. When do I feel most loved? When someone notices me, particularly when they notice what I’m doing and successfully connect it to who I am at my core. That is deeply, deeply fulfilling to my heart and means true love.
3. Organization, numbers, details come easily to me. Delaying gratification in some ways comes easily to me.
4. I’m most frustrated by my own lack of connection with some of the social expectations, trends, and groups of people around me. And at the same time I’m frustrated by others when they seem to be so stupid and easily led by such trends and expectations. Yeah, unfortunately, I think stupidity is what annoys me most in others, followed closely by laziness.
5. The first thing I do when I wake up depends on the day, but often it’s putting on my exercise clothes. Then I make breakfast, which is what I do first if I’m not going to exercise.
6. The last thing I do before bed is generally pray with my husband. I’d say 99% of the time. And the other 1% we still pray, it’s just that we for once remembered to do the prayer thing before another thing...
7. A compliment I get most frequently is from my husband, about my amazing brain. He tells me a lot that he really respects the way I think and what I do with it. From others, I more often get compliments on my kids or my healthy choices for my family (the latter being those kind of compliments that sort of imply I’m a little cuckoo). Then strangers are more likely to comment on my natural red hair.
8. I’ve often said what my favorite thing about my husband is -- his sincerity and genuineness. He has many other endearing interests, including his love of poetry, film trivia, and exploring incessantly. I must confess that his snitching is pretty cute too, though I rib him about it a lot.
9. My greatest accomplishment was probably my college degree.
10. And my other greatest accomplishment is clearly my family -- marriage and children. I’m so thrilled that much of what I’ve hoped and worked for has borne such good fruit, both physically and spiritually.
11. Really, I’m surprised that I’ve gotten so good at -- and so comfortable with -- mothering. I’m also quite surprised that I like to exercise so much, and have decent grace and coordination. I would never have guessed either of those things. And then of course, there’s the constant mild shock of realizing that somehow I’ve ended up in Delaware.
12. I have a mission statement that I wrote when I was about 15, which is still amazingly applicable. I also like my self-titled job description of Chief Entropy Fighter. My husband (and others) would say that my mantra is probably to do something the hardest way possible...
13. Unusual habits, I’m sure I do but they’re not as obvious to me necessarily. Not showering as often, or using makeup much, things like that probably. Also cooking from scratch quite so often, in terms of infrequency of restaurant visits, is probably very unusual. Resisting consumerism in all its forms is what makes me most unusual in lots of little habits, I think.
14. Maybe with a bunch of foster kids? Or a seminary teacher, or playing in a musical group? On a mission? I have no idea. I just know I’ll still be married and striving to love and serve and learn. I’ll still be writing and exercising, I hope. And eating good food. You know, most likely is that I’ll be some kind of natural living advocate/activist, huh?
15. I’m really not sure, as these prompts have shown! Julie Beck is up there, but I’m still searching for those mentors/examples, looking especially on the Mormon Women Project for a sense of the range and interests, challenges and triumphs of powerful, gospel-centered women.
Leave me a nice long comment with your own responses, I'd love to learn more about all of you!
(I'm also thinking of doing these on FB for some of you that know me there, maybe one a day, but I'm not sure that I want to commit to being on FB constantly enough to do that.)
As a side note, I've spent substantial time this past week or two trying to finish up that soups-and-beans section of my recipes. It is a large section, and writing out a recipe in words that I usually just sort of do can be a daunting task. I have basic recipes I work off of for most things, but they're never exact to say the least, and some don't even have any instructions, just the vague ingredient list. So, I'm about 2/3 of the way done with that last section, and then I have to bloggify it, format all the fonts and stuff. So, hopefully there will be some good winter soup recipes available here before winter passes by us.
In the meantime, here are our dinners planned for this week:
Baked sweet potatoes, green beans
Salmon burgers, carrots
Pottage (lamb-enhanced lentils, served with a salad mixed right in)
Carrot soup, baguette
Pasta Alfredo, salad
Roast chicken, mashed potatoes, mixed vegetables
It's rather a revelation to be handwashing our dishes now, and to see how shiny and sparkly-clean they get; clearly the dishwasher had been dying by degrees for some time, but we didn't recognize it. So, we're trying to decide which direction to go with repairs vs. replacement, and in the meantime handwashing is beautiful.
I really don't feel like it's the worst chore in the world, but it does eat into my time more than it used to. Yesterday I hit a point where I had been cooking fairly intensively for a a couple of days and also doing all the dishes and it was late at night, and I felt my dreams slipping away from me somehow. It wasn't so much the specific chore as it was that sense of inevitable invisibility. My mind took me right back to those years of law school in a windowless basement box of a kitchen, struggling with depression and poverty and a single sink without a garbage disposal.
Except, it's different now. It's not windowless, or invisible. My husband and kids pitch in a little, some with more prodding than others; the (double) sink is in a sunny, central spot where people can talk to me, I can turn on music, there's plenty of interaction and appreciation and, oh yeah, a garbage disposal. So what used to feel like invisibility isn't, not in the same way. So why did I get that panicked dream-slipping-away feeling?
Well, partly because it's that time of winter when there's just less to look forward to. But I sat down and wrote about it this morning, and came to some interesting realizations. Mainly, that I personally need others to spend mental energy visualizing on my behalf. I don't know if as humans, we all need this, I'm just starting to explore the idea; but when I wrote that sentence, 'mental energy visualizing on my behalf', I recognized it as truth.
I've been doing a little music teaching this past month, not tons, but I'm trying to start up. Mainly I've been helping some kids prepare for upcoming auditions to get into a local performing arts charter school for next year. I'd also been prepping my two oldest for their All-State Junior Band auditions, which were earlier this month. As part of that, I try to include some coaching on visualization. I have a strong belief in the power of visualization, and some concrete personal experiences to back that up, so I feel like that's something valuable I can teach. I want these kids to learn to use it as part of their approach to an audition or performance because when done right, it's almost magically effective.
I take this tangent as a way to help explain what I mean by hoping that someone who knows and loves me, understands my gifts and weaknesses, would set aside some time and thought to imagining my success. I'm not invisible in my home anymore, even when performing drudge-y chores; everyone here has come a long way in growing up, cooperating, and expressing appreciation. But despite that increased appreciation, and though I'm told on some special spiritual occasions that I am on the cusp of great things and that exciting changes are in store for our family because of me, I feel like those dreams of progress remain invisible to the ones who could most help me. I get the sense that they would recognize it when they saw it, but that they remain one step behind the vision.
Sorta like our broken dishwasher, and how it took that breakdown to show us how clean our dishes really could be, I don't want my family to notice my achievements only once they're complete. I'd like them to picture it in advance like I do for them, constantly, habitually, and lovingly. I don't do it in a pushy way that requires them to follow my vision, but in a way that allows me to assess their growing potential, internally commit to their success, and make room for it in the day to day mess of life. I'd love to have more of that kind of 'room' myself.
I'm doing away with breakfast, no one here is eating it anyway.
I'm providing bread for toast (a little more storebought in the rotation, I'm realistic) and making myself a big pot of oatmeal or whatever similar that I crave and eating it until it's gone.
If anyone else eats oatmeal along with me, great, but I'm not stressing over trying to tempt anyone with bigger and better breakfast endeavors. I still plan for special muffins or hash browns or whatnot on Saturday mornings, and Sunday we'll have our weekly dose of cereal, but I'm going to try going the other way on weekdays. At least until the miraculous day when someone misses my cooking...
(I'm not totally complaining about my family's taste -- I have one kid who's willing to eat whatever, but he's the one that leaves before 6 in the morning so he won't get anything fresh no matter what I plan; I have another who's vaguely willing but not thrilled; and my husband has mostly taken himself out of the equation by cooking his own regimen of eggs, miso, and tortillas, which is just fine.)
So, I'll just be planning dinner menus. Excellent.
We had shepherd's pie on Monday, and yesterday it was a BLT salad (the bacon drippings even in the dressing) and an egg dish I made up on the fly. I was intending to make quiche, but some car trouble ate up a lot of my day. I buttered a big pan and lined it with dry bread crumbs and slices of Swiss cheese, cracked a dozen eggs on top, and covered it with more bread crumbs, this time ones mixed with a little more of those fresh bacon drippings. It had to cook a little longer than I expected, but ended up working fine. It came out of the pan in perfect, cohesive pieces and left us nice and satisfied. I'd prefer quiche any day, but it worked, and balanced out the salad well.
Tonight, salmon burgers and cooked carrots. Thursday, spaghetti and canned corn. Friday, chili and cornbread. Saturday, vegetable stir-fry. Sunday, pancakes and applesauce.
So, this top photo is of the einkorn no-knead bread I made. It was delightful! I don't know if it tasted subtly different just because I knew I had used a new ingredient, if it really was the einkorn shining through, or if it was just the fact that using an entire oven to bake one measly loaf in a Dutch oven will put bread over the top in any case; but it had a really nice flavor and texture. I was very happy with the result!
This isn't anything unexpected or out of the ordinary, but I've been continuing to enjoy the pumpkin butter I made a couple of months ago. Here it is again this week, on a sourdough baguette.
I don't know how many years ago I wrote this, it was in my undated collection of prompts, not any blog archives; but I just flipped through and saw it, and thought it fit very well with both the typical New Year's uber-vigilant diets and with one of the books I recommended yesterday. I've added editorial notes in brackets.
"What's one thing people are most afraid of? I could make a case for food, I think. Parents are desperately afraid their kids will be malnourished, women [and men] are afraid food will make them fat, everyone thinks too many steaks will give them a heart attack. Anorexia, bulimia, obsessive dieting and reading nutrition labels, we're driven by the latest expert advice and superfoods. Food is no longer pleasure and satiation, it's fear.
We think we might get addicted and spiral out of control or something, but it's not something you can cut out completely, no one can not eat. So it's harder to control. We try, though -- there are all sorts of lists of 'never', depending on who you are. French fries, soda, fast food, meat, whole milk, trans fats, non-organic, additives and colorings. [Heck, now gluten is bigger than all of those.] Add in the growing concerns (sometimes also over-obsessions) with food allergies, and all of a sudden my kids can hardly choose anything for their daily classroom snack. The official list of suggestions is mostly small variations on processed, carb-loaded items such as pretzels, goldfish, and graham crackers. Seriously unappealing. [I have a daughter now who has simply opted out of the midday snack, she just waits until she gets home rather than choosing from such limited options.]
It seems like the more you read, the more you try to find a solution, the more you realize that ignorance was definitely bliss. I was happily unaware of the real prevalence of GMOs until recently, and have found my limit of what I will do to avoid 'evil food'. I've already stopped buying grapes from Chile, shrimp from Thailand (which seems to be the only available shrimp), non-stir peanut butter, margarine and shortening, storebought bread, olive oil that is sourced from unknown/multiple countries, skim milk; I've seriously reduced our consumption of meat overall; we've also gotten away from industrial salad dressings, and we only eat cold cereal once a week. So you know what? I'm just going to keep using canola oil for my cooking, despite its GMO status and longer-chain fatty acids. Too bad. [Ha ha, joke's on me -- I finally found an acceptable substitute for canola oil, and have been using peanut oil for some time now.]
So why does one bite of something make us cringe with such irrational fear? I'm so glad I'm not afraid of fat anymore, though that took some real convincing; it is such liberation!!!"
According to my Goodreads stats, I read about 31 books in 2014. The lengthiest was Nassim Nicholas Taleb's Antifragile, but my favorite -- the only one I gave a full five stars to -- was The Boys in the Boat, by Daniel James Brown. (An excellent read, if you haven't already picked it up.)
I'm looking through the list because tomorrow night is our annual planning session for the book club I participate in, and we'll each bring any books we want to recommend for 2015 and choose from among them. I always wrack my brain a little, because there's only so much overlap between my interests and genre preferences and everyone else's, and because often the books I would feel most comfortable recommending were ones I read at book club in the first place.
But here on my blog, I can happily recommend off-the-wall food and nutrition books without shame. So I'm pleased to proclaim that I found two food-related books I enjoyed in 2014. The first was Fear of Food: A History of Why We Worry about What We Eat, by Harvey Levenstein, and the second was The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved: Inside America's Underground Food Movements, by Sandor Ellix Katz. They were both entertaining in their own way (though, in the case of Katz's book, unintentionally at times) and illuminated all sorts of fascinating nooks and crannies of the way we ourselves relate to our food and, more importantly, assume everyone else always has. They both have a thumbnail link on my Reading List page in the sidebar.
and I just went out and bought a pound each of einkorn and kamut to start off trying. I won't be able to afford the constant experimenting that the cookbook would otherwise invite, but I'll do what I can and share it with you!
Leftovers ≈≈ Niçoise salad, no-bake cookies
Blueberry muesli ≈≈ Quiche, sweet potatoes
Maple oatmeal, fresh pineapple ≈≈ Thai sesame noodles
Rice with cinnamon and sugar, hot cocoa ≈≈ Dhal makhani
Cornmeal mush, fried eggs ≈≈ Pizza party for reaching a family goal
Orange cardamom rolls for Santa Lucia day ≈≈ Asian chicken salad
Cereal ≈≈ Pancakes, applesauce, scrambled eggs
I should call this post Menus and Moaning, because it's the time of year when I vacillate wildly between thrills and stress. (OK, so I lean towards stress, I'll admit it.)
But, though I ended up comatose on the couch while waiting for the dishwasher to finish so we could even attempt to eat dinner last night, I did pull off a very productive day yesterday, including menus for the week and my best pot of Greek minestrone yet.
Apple oatmeal ≈≈ Greek minestrone, baked custard
Cream of Wheat, scrambled eggs ≈≈ Beef-vegetable stir fry
Rice with cinnamon and sugar ≈≈ Burritos, sweet potatoes
Butterscotch oatmeal ≈≈ Salmon burgers, salad
Huevos rancheros ≈≈ Pizza, mixed veggies
Cereal, fruit ≈≈ Ramen
Fast Sunday ≈≈ Pancakes, applesauce, bacon
In thinking of gratitude, do we go big or small? Small is the daily joys, the ‘attitude’ so often spoken of, the ‘what if you only woke up with what you had thanked for in your prayer the night before’ game. (It’s a great exercise, but only up to a point-- sort of like kids playing Opposite Day.) On the other hand, big reaches into the nothingness of each of us, and at the same time, the grand mosaic of how we help one another through the inevitable ups and downs, the feeling of abundance that makes us want to share and rejoice. I mean, I suppose we can try to consciously use the small stuff to get to the big rejoicing; but often that moment of wanting to shout for joy comes spontaneously as a culmination of crises conquered, difficulties overcome, talents developed, and divine confidence gained.
So, what have I been most grateful for this past year? What has made me shout out and rejoice that heaven is gracious, God is good, and I will continue to trust in Him because I can see the blessings that have come to me?
Well, top would be my kids. Their kindness and compassion, the way love from me so clearly helps bring them up to another level of character, their physical growth and health, their intelligence and creativity, the good choices they’re beginning to make on their own. My two teenagers, my husband, and I were practicing some Christmas songs as a woodwind quartet the other day, and I realized all of a sudden that these people play music. Once, these kids were so little that they needed my hand to walk; then at some point they learned a few notes on the piano; then they chose another instrument, and dedicated time and their own mental energy to practice; and now here we were, right here, sight-reading beautiful holiday melodies -- in tune! The whole unfolding of it struck me with awe and gratitude: gratitude for sound and notes that exist in the first place, for a husband who also loves good instrumental music, for the fact that I didn’t keel over from exhaustion when the kids were babies, and for all of us who at some point stuck with it, who clearly have come to enjoy expressing ourselves through hymns and carols. What an embodiment of all the things that gladden my heart -- playing there with my family, my healthy grown-up family, was a real golden moment of rejoicing for me. It encompassed all the other things that I’m grateful for that got us there together. Happy Thanksgiving to all of you!