Saturday, August 11, 2018

The Long-Awaited Photos

What? You haven't all been checking back here every day to see the stunning photos of our exciting cross-country trip with four children? Well, too bad. Because here they are. Wheee!

So how did I drive 1,800 miles with four little kids and no electronic devices? I sat in the middle of the van next to Poppy and created Mom Command Central from which I could pass out distractions to the front and back.

Cooler of food and water bottles, bag of snacks, bag of books and drawing supplies. We also had the entire Chronicles of Narnia on audio book, which was great for Cubby and Charlie, though less entertaining for the younger two.

Never if he can help it will A. stay in a chain hotel. We always stayed at little motels, the kind that still have real keys and you park your car right in front of your door. The first was in Olney, Illinois. It was . . . not luxurious.

Also, it was raining.

But it had a microwave to heat up our dinner AND a free breakfast in the morning of cereal and various nasty boxed doughnuts and things. Cubby ate three doughnuts to make up for the fact that he had to sleep on the floor with Charlie.

Next we stopped at a motel in Wheatland, Missouri.

Welcome to the heartland.

This was a nicer motel in a much nicer environment.

Farm fields in back, tractor in the yard. 

Plus, the owner had many tomatoes in pots next to the motel, with several ripening on the windowsill.

Hello, my pretties.

When I remarked on it--because gardeners will always talk with other gardeners about their gardens--he told me to feel free to pick some tomatoes. I only had one. It was really good.

There was also a "country store" with a cafe at the gas station across the street. The store was actually a small grocery store at which I could replenish our supply of cheese and cucumbers, and the cafe had real ice cream. 

If only there hadn't been a glaring light outside our motel room window all night--and no curtains to block the light--it would have been perfect.

In Kansas, we stopped at the Little House on the Prairie Museum outside of Independence.

The children were thrilled.

It was actually a good place to stop for them. There were picnic tables for our picnic lunch, and they could run around outside and be insane. Which is what they did every time we stopped. I can't blame them. I mean, they were sitting in a car for hours every day. Sitting is not the natural state of a little boy. And so, when they weren't sitting, they were running.

Exhibit A. And you can see why I didn't think going into a restaurant and having them sit down to eat would be a good idea.

Last motel stop: Protection, Kansas. This was quite a ways beyond where we had planned on stopping for the night, but the motels were closed in the other towns we went through. We almost missed this one because it was hidden by the tree, and it had a for sale sign out front, but it was open. AND, there were three beds in our room. Plus a small grocery store across the street.

Big tree, little motel.

Next morning, we stopped at the Big Basin Prairie Preserve to let everyone run around for awhile.

Little (big?) family on the prairie.

There was certainly a lot of space for running.

Or, in Poppy's case, flailing.

The boys spent their time trying to catch grasshoppers. Only Cubby was successful.

And at last, we made it to New Mexico.

I know Montana is technically Big Sky Country, but New Mexico can lay claim to that title, too.

There! It took me over a week to get around to documenting our trip, but it was worth the wait, right?

Right. (Humor me.)

Friday, August 10, 2018

Friday Food: The Kitchen of Enchantment


Short version: Dry pork, rice, roasted sweet potatoes, roasted broccoli and onions

Long version: The pork was dry because it was boneless loin end chops, which have almost no fat. I hadn't yet unpacked my spices, so I used some Texas barbecue sauce (Stubbs). It was too spicy for the kids, though, so I didn't use very much. Thus, the pork was both dry and bland. Win!

We did eat on real plates with real silverware, though, leading Cubby to remark with satisfaction that finally we were having a real dinner.


Short version: Scrambled eggs, bacon, bread and butter, green salad (with tomatoes!)

Long version: When A. went to the nearest (small) city to drop off our U-Haul trailer, he went to the grocery store and, among other things, bought five dozen eggs. He said he didn't want to run out. Considering I had bought three dozen when we stopped at the store on our way to our new house, I don't think that's going to be an issue for awhile. Eight dozen eggs lasts quite awhile even in our house.

And that's why we had scrambled eggs for dinner.

The bacon I brought with me from Blackrock in one of our food coolers. It's from the MiL's brother's pigs and man, I am going to be SO SAD when I'm out of real bacon. And real bacon grease for cooking my eggs.

The tomatoes in the salad came from the teeeeeeny market in the village. They were grown by the proprietor in his home garden. A. bought them for me. Yay.

And now for a random photo from our road trip:

In the schoolhouse at the Little House on the Prairie Museum in Independence, Kansas. Cubby was the only boy who would stay still for a photo. 


Short version: Chicken drumsticks, roasted potatoes, cucumber and tomato salad with asadero cheese

Long version: A. picked up the asadero at the grocery store along with the absurd box of eggs. Asadero is indistinguishable from mozzarella, except for the fact that it costs three bucks a pound here.

This meal was also notable because I found the booster and tray for Poppy, and thus was able to set her up with some small pieces of potato and a mostly-stripped chicken drumstick. She was so excited. I maybe let her get a little carried away pounding on the tray with her drumstick, but it was just so dang cute. A. even took a video, though I am not delusional enough to think that anyone except grandparents needs to see that.


Short version: Tacos, sauteed zucchini with onions and garlic

Long version: In the morning all four kids and I walked to the post office to get some stamps and mail some letters. We had just gotten to the corner of our street when a truck pulled up to us. The older gentleman driving it greeted us and asked if I wanted some vegetables.

Do I want vegetables?

Does A. want sheep? Do my sons want to menace each other with sticks?

Of course I want vegetables.

He handed me a bag with cucumbers, zucchini, and hot peppers in it, explaining that he grows them on his ranch and gives them away. He told me his name, which I unfortunately promptly forgot as I was a little distracted by Charlie trying to use Poppy's stroller as a lawn mower. He also told me he had seen us at church the day before. I bet. Hard to miss us, what with the three squirming boys and the crowing baby.

Anyway. That was pretty much the highlight of my day. And the zucchini was delicious.


Short version: Pork goulash with carrots, mashed potatoes, sauteed lettuce

Long version: This was a very seasonally-inappropriate meal, but I was trying to find a more appetizing way to prepare the dry pork loin ends. They were still dry in the goulash, but at least there was a delicious sauce to eat with the dry pieces of pork.

I mashed the potatoes with the bottom of a canning jar because the potato masher I ordered hasn't arrived yet. It worked pretty well, though there were still a few lumps in there.

I had to cook the lettuce because the damn refrigerator froze it when I had it on the bottom shelf because it wouldn't fit in the produce drawers. I had this problem with the refrigerator in our last rental house, too. Thanks to that, I know you can cook the lettuce instead of chucking it. I also now know that it's better to put the carrots on the bottom shelf to make room for the lettuce in the non-freezing drawers.

Unless the Blue Ninja finds the temperature control on this refrigerator, that is, and then the carrots will freeze too. It's a constant battle around here.


Short version: Cookout food--hot dogs, hamburgers, Fritos, cucumbers and carrots

Long version: One of the things I brought along on our cross-country odyssey was a bag of Snappy Grillers. This is a hot dog made in upstate New York that is mostly composed of pork and veal. I find them revolting, but they are the only hot dog Charlie will eat. I brought them because I thought one night we might find a public park with grills and cook some hot dogs.

We had the charcoal and the hot dogs, but we never did cook them on our drive. So we cooked them this week in the public park in our village, on the grills there. The park is about 300 yards up the street. It was just like going to the beach at Blackrock to grill--loading up bags of food, cutting up carrots and cucumbers, mixing gin and lime in a canning jar with a screw-top lid . . .

Except, of course, that instead of swimming while A. cooked the food, the kids were swinging on a swing set. And instead of putting rocks in her mouth, Poppy instead found some horrible spiky weed seed called a goat's head and put that in her mouth. Awesome.


Short version: Fried eggs, tortillas with cheese, tomato/cucumber/asadero salad

Long version: Despite having eggs twice this week for dinner, we still have a hell of a lot of eggs in the refrigerator. A. achieved his objective of not running out.

The cucumbers were Persian cucumbers. I had never seen Persian cucumbers in a grocery store, yet there they were in the small grocery store we stopped at in the small town two hours from us on our way to the house. You just never know.

Okay, your turn! What'd you eat this week?

Thursday, August 9, 2018

For Cathy R.

Cathy R., the MiL saw your comment about your troubles with baking whole wheat bread in Denver and sent this to me. Perhaps it will be helpful for you.

Whole Wheat Bread

The key to having high altitude bread that has a good texture and doesn't crumble is to use the sponge method.  Doing so allows the flour to absorb more moisture.  This recipe is the one I developed in Albuquerque back in the 1970s.  Albuquerque and Denver are about the same altitude.

3 cups warm water
1 package (or scant tablespoon) of yeast
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup molasses
1/2 cup wheat germ
1/2 cup soy flour (optional)
1 1/3 cup dry milk
3 1/2 - 4 cups of whole wheat bread flour (I prefer King Arthur, but any fresh whole wheat flour will be fine).
1/2 cup shortening (melted butter is good)

Mix all these ingredients together and let them rise until they are bubbly and light.  

Then, add 1 Tablespoon of salt.  Nowadays I would add more than that--1 1/2 Tablespoons would probably be better.

Stir in 4 cups of whole wheat flour, one cup at a time.  Knead very well.  Let rise in a large bowl until double in bulk.   Punch down; knead briefly, and form into loaves.  Let rise again in two large bread pans.  Bake at 350 or 375 degrees.

This is the way I made the bread in the 70s--nowadays I make sourdough bread that is not quite so heavy on the nutritional additives (i.e., it's just starter, bread flour, whole wheat flour, some rye flour when I have it, water and salt).  One technique that helps is to let dough rest for 20-30 minutes BEFORE kneading it.  

Anyway, try the sponge method with your favorite recipe to date and see how the bread turns out.  I bet it will be better.  

Wednesday, August 8, 2018


The whole 1,800 miles from Blackrock to our new house in New Mexico, I had two very important jars in our food coolers. One jar contained my sourdough starter. I knew I could make another starter from scratch if necessary in New Mexico, but it takes a week or so and I wanted to be able to make bread right away.

The other jar contained homemade yogurt to use as yogurt starter. That yogurt's original starter was yogurt from a farm near the MiL's house that A. bought over four years ago. I was pretty sure I would not be finding a farm with homemade yogurt near our new house in beef cattle country.

So I brought all those native New York bacteria with me.

I wasn't sure how well they would travel. Though they did keep cool in the coolers all the way, there was a lot of jostling and some temperature variation as ice melted and was added.

Three hours after walking in our new door, I mixed the sourdough starter with water and flour and crossed my fingers. Twenty-four hours after arriving at our new house, I was taking loaves of bread out of the oven*.

The next day was yogurt day. When I put them in the refrigerator here, the yogurt looked as if there was a lot of liquid separated. I was not all that confident that it would work to start new yogurt, but I only had a gallon of milk to lose if it didn't, and no other way to get a yogurt starter without driving 100 miles.

I made the yogurt without a thermometer, because I hadn't found it yet. I've been making yogurt long enough now that I can roughly gauge the right time to do everything, anyway.

The yogurt worked, too.

So now we have a little bit of New York in our New Mexico kitchen. Success.

* Loaves that had been in the oven for almost two hours, because, at 6,000 feet, I am now solidly in high-altitude baking range. This is going to be a learning experience.

Sunday, August 5, 2018


In lieu of some formalized and organized story with a plot line or something, here's some random things that have happened since we arrived in our New Mexican village:

We met a neighbor down the street who has been working on restoring her great-aunt's adobe house. It's a very, very traditional adobe. Small, thick walls, wood doors, no electricity or running water. She invited us in and we saw her woodstove and tin bathtub. She told me about the wild plants* she forages and dries. Her friend was there visiting. He raises goats. We got to taste some of the milk--tastes just like good cow's milk--and some of his goat cheese. Which tasted like, well, goat cheese. Not a fan. The milk was a pleasant surprise, though.


Yesterday was the last day of the county fair in the next village over, twenty miles away. We went for the parade--at which there was a truly absurd quantity of candy thrown from the various trucks and floats--and the cowboy feed. This was shredded beef and pinto beans, with options of barbecue sauce, sliced onions and jalapenos, plus some overly-sweet potato salad, a flour tortilla, and an unfortunate dessert that consisted of canned peaches, vanilla pudding, and some kind of sweet biscuit-y topping. The meat was good, at least.

After the cowboy feed, we stopped at the village market for a few things. When we paid, the owner asked if she could keep the pennies from our change, and told us that she uses them to buy pizza and ice cream for all the kids at the school in that village and our village twice a year. I thought that was great.


I got a notice from the school that due to generous donations by community members, almost all the school supplies would be provided by the school. All I have to provide is backpacks and snacks for the kids. I was shocked by this, but in a very good way.


When A. was here in July moving most of our things in, he found the seeds I had stuck in a box and planted them in front of the house. So when we got here, there were beets and beans growing. This is why we've been married for fifteen years.

Maybe I'll have a more organized post later. At the moment I'm buried in boxes to be unpacked and various boring details of life to be arranged, so I'm not feeling very organized. Someday. I hope.

* Interestingly, they were the same as many of the wild plants in upstate New York--purslane and lamb's quarters. Wild asparagus grows here, too, as well as some variety of gooseberry, which surprised me. I have a lot to learn about the edible plants here.