Friday, July 7, 2017

Setting the Record Straight

A comment my mother made recently about my kids never eating Twinkies or Mountain Dew made me think: I come off as a totally insufferable food snob, don't I?

I do. I know it.

Though there is no denying that I spend a lot of time and effort growing, prepping, and cooking the best foods I can, I also can't pretend that that's all we eat, all the time. It's mostly all we eat, but it's also just what I'm most likely to post about. Because the yogurt cake* I made on Wednesday with tiny wild strawberries and a second cutting of rhubarb from the garden is much more interesting than the fact that I bought some kind of Thin Mint ice cream sandwiches at the grocery store yesterday.

When we drive to Blackrock, I do pack carrot sticks and sandwiches made with homemade bread, but I also buy Extra-Crunchy Cheetos at the gas station to eat in the car.

I buy tater tots sometimes, because they're good. (Though not, interestingly, much of a time saver. I can peel and cook potatoes in the time tater tots take in the oven.)

I have on occasion eaten more than one Snickers ice cream bar in a sitting.

I have never purchased raw or organic milk.

We buy ice cream cones at the local ice cream place with some regularity.

I have seen in various places the "80/20 rule" of eating, which means that 80% of your diet should be whole, healthy foods, and the remaining 20% can be, well, the other stuff. We probably are more around 90/10, but I think 80/20 is a pretty good goal.

I have no real reason for explaining all of this, except that I would hate to portray an unrealistic portrait of what is, in the end, a real life behind the small portion that I share here. And real life sometimes includes tater tots.

*The yogurt cake was really good, though. And easy to make if you're not spending stupid amounts of time searching for teeny wild strawberries.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Kid Cookery

I don't cook with my kids. For them, all the time. But with them? Nope. The reason for this, as anyone with children will tell you, is that involving children in any task increases the time and patience required by at least two times that required by an adult performing the same task alone.

But Cubby in particular has always had a great interest in anything to do with growing and preparing food. He's already got the gardening thing mostly down, so the next logical step is teaching him to prepare the food he grows. He's been asking lately to help me in the kitchen. Unfortunately, his requests usually come at the crunch time of dinner prep, when I'm doing five things at once and am minutes away from actually getting food on the table.

So I say no. And then I feel bad.

I do want him--and all my children--to know how to cook. It's an essential life skill, to say the least, and one that is obviously very important to me. It's just getting up the energy to deal with two children in the kitchen is sometimes harder than it should be.

There is also the point that I must find a time they can help me when Jack isn't around, because Cubby and Charlie are quite enough to be instructing and managing. I do not need a volatile two-year-old thrown into that mix with knives and raw meat.

The perfect moment came today when I was summoning my willpower to get up during Jack's nap and do some dinner prep. My plan had been to make pork meatballs and peanut sauce for lettuce wraps. I have insane quantities of butterhead lettuce coming out of the garden at the moment, and I figured if I can convince the kids that lettuce wraps are just like tacos (except for the fact that they're green and, you know, vegetable matter), I could get through a couple of heads in one meal.

I decided to make the meatballs because I only have ground pork at the moment, and I thought it would be more palatable to them in meatball form. Not to mention much less messy to eat.

While I was contemplating the making of the meatballs and peanut sauce, Charlie and Cubby came inside and commenced to sprawling around in the living room in the universal pose of bored children everywhere.

So I asked them if they wanted to help me make meatballs.

Of course they did.

They watched me mince up some green shallots--a couple green shoots of the shallot plants in the garden, which was my substitution for green onions-- and add all the ingredients (all of which I totally made up with no recipe) to the bowl with the pork as I explained about binding meat together with bread crumbs and eggs. They attempted and failed to crush the garlic in the garlic press. They smelled the soy sauce and ginger powder I added to the mixture, Cubby with relish, Charlie with distaste. Predictably.

And then they got to squish raw meat with their hands. Rad.

They did fairly well rolling the meatballs, although I had a hard time keeping them from smearing raw pork filth all over as they reached into the bowl together and over each other to put the meatballs on the baking pan.

After all the meatballs were made--and after they washed their hands very, very thoroughly--they helped me make the peanut sauce. I've never made peanut sauce before myself, so I used this recipe. They liked helping me mix it together, though neither of them liked the sauce after it was done. It's a little heavier on the soy sauce than I think it should be, but it will be good with the pork, anyway.

And then dinner was mostly done. I got my prep work done, they got to be entertained for ten minutes, and I checked off that guilt-box of cooking with them. For now.

Maybe tomorrow they'll get to peel potatoes.

Be careful what you wish for, kids.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

One Reason Among Many I Love Having a Garden

Yesterday I went into the vegetable garden to water some volunteer tomato plants we had recently transplanted to a better spot, and a couple of basil seedlings that I FIIIIIINALLY got in the ground. While I was out there, I thinned a few carrots and also yanked a couple of kohlrabi plants that were starting to bulb but were too close together.

Cubby had come with me to inspect his own tomato plant, and when he saw the tiny carrots and junior kohlrabi* I was holding, he asked, "Can I have those so we can have a feast in our fort?"

Well, I guess if you want to bring fresh vegetables into your hideaway under the spruce trees and I won't be seeing you for many minutes while you also consume the best possible vitamins and minerals money can't buy, it's all right with me. Twist my arm.

I could have made their feast complete by letting them harvest some of the peas that are almost ready, but I'll save that exciting treat for another day.

You want kids to eat their vegetables? Let them loose in a vegetable garden. Works every time.

* I did save one kohlrabi for myself--over Cubby's objections--because man, I do love fresh kohlrabi. And I'm treating the leaves of the kohlrabi the same as the radish greens: clean them and cook them immediately. Even those few plants I pulled yielded a couple of servings of cooked greens to go with my eggs tomorrow. Bonus.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

An Alcoholic Raincheck

I'm not much of a drinker. (Um, many posts to the contrary. Cough.) I don't stock bottles of wine to drink with dinner, or beer for those lazy evenings that are so frequent with small children around.

Snort. (Anyway, I very much dislike beer.)

But I do love my cocktails. I love to try different combinations. I love to incorporate things I've made into them, to create something that could never be purchased at a fancy bar, even if I had access to such a place.

I just really like sitting down with an icy cocktail topped off with seltzer and drinking. Drinking one, anyway. Okay, so it's usually a double, but still only one.

Alas, even that one is unwise when I'm in the middle of one of these frequent pregnancies of mine.

Most of the time I don't even care. As I said, not a big drinker. But there are times. Times like the Fourth of July, when a gin and tonic seems like the perfect way to celebrate a holiday and a long summer day.

Hello, Fourth of July! I will not be celebrating you with a gin and tonic this year.

But next year . . . by the Fourth of July next year, I should be recovered enough from Baby #4--meaning not so punch drunk from exhaustion that ingesting alcohol seems superfluous--that I can toast Our Great Country with gin.

God bless America. And not being pregnant. Someday.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Stalking the Wild Strawberry

One of my great interests and joys in life is foraging for food that tastes just as good as--or better than-- anything that can be purchased, but that is, of course, free. Free is what foraging is all about, after all.

One of the best high-value forageable foods is berries. Here in the north, there are wild red raspberries and blackberries, which I've been impatiently waiting for. We're still a few weeks from ripe raspberries, I think, but this weekend A. casually mentioned that the kids had found wild strawberries in the grass by the house.

HOLD UP. Wild strawberries? SHOW ME IMMEDIATELY.

I've had a great desire to try a wild strawberry for some years. I've read about them in various books, but I had no idea they grew here. At Blackrock, there was a plant that grew something that looked like a strawberry, but wasn't. A. called them mock strawberries. He informed me that it's easy to tell them from the real wild strawberries. The mock berries hold the fruits straight up on the stalk, whereas the real strawberries bend towards the ground on the stalk.

I didn't verify this information, but since I have to assume he'd be loathe to poison his pregnant wife, I took his word for it and went out to pick some bendy wild strawberries.

Unfortunately, it had rained that morning, so the berries were sort of waterlogged. This dilutes their flavor, which I wasn't blown away by. They definitely tasted like strawberries, but they didn't have the intensity of flavor I was hoping for. This is true of any berry after it rains. It's best to pick them on hot, sunny days.

Nonetheless, I continued to pick them. And dude, that is definitely a commitment. Wild strawberries are TINY. They're about the size of a wild raspberry, and they look kind of like them too. That familiar, almost heart-shaped strawberry shape with the tapered bottom is not what wild strawberries look like. And unlike raspberries, they don't grow clustered on canes that are conveniently up off the ground. They grow spread out and low down to the ground, and many of them were covered by long grass.

Of course, they also don't have thorns, so there is that in their favor.

In the end, I got about a quarter-cup of strawberries after picking for 15 minutes.

Immediately after taking this photo, I covered these eensy weensy berries in sugar and heavy cream, as is their God-given destiny.

The children of course wanted some strawberries, too, so I sent them out to get their own. I figure they're lower to the ground than I am; it's easier for them to pick strawberries, right?

Right. Plus, after all the effort, I didn't feel like sharing.

I was excited to finally try wild strawberries, but I think I'll stick to buying quarts of tame ones at the Amish farm. All of a sudden $3.50 a quart seems like a very fair price. 

But when the red raspberries get ripe? Then the foraging is on for real.