Saturday, September 15, 2018

Friday Family Fun: Party of Five

A. has been gone all week, which means I was on my own for this Fun Friday. And that meant that I was not going to be driving long distances or taking the children down into unpopulated canyons.

It's good to know your limits. And my limit when alone with four young children is a playground.

But it was an as-yet-unexplored playground! That's what made it fun, you see. It was also twenty miles away in the next village over, which meant we drove forty miles roundtrip to play on another configuration of slides and climbing options. That was fine with me, however, as the drive killed another hour of a very long day.

I had packed a picnic lunch to eat at the playground, but Poppy's nap went so long that it ended up being a porch picnic at home.

Peanut butter and jelly tastes good anywhere.

When Poppy woke up, we all got water bottles and hats and loaded up in the van to go to the playground.

There was much playing.

Even a baby swing for Poppy.

She was pleased.

She couldn't swing for too long, because the swing was in full sun and she wouldn't keep her hat on, so I found some grass in the shade for her.

Cubby kindly provided some extra sun protection for her eyes.

Here's the official documentation that I was there too.

In the shade, with my sunglasses. And sunscreen. Again, no such thing as too much sun protection here.

Cubby caught several grasshoppers.

And fed them grass, of course.

After a long time--always too long for the supervising adult, but never long enough for the kids--we once again loaded up in the van.

Good old van, patiently waiting to take us home.

We stopped at the small market on the way home to get the boys their very first cream sodas, which Cubby declared the best thing he ever drank.

Fun Fridays are more fun when Daddy is here, but it wasn't so bad. And Daddy will be home tonight, which means more fun is in our future.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Friday Food: Extra-special Shingles Edition


Short version: Teamwork pizza

Long version: My parents arrived this evening and, as a special treat, I planned on making pizza. For the sourdough pizza I make, this requires starting the dough the day before. Luckily, I also made the pizza sauce the day before, too. So when I had to be gone all afternoon on Friday to get my shingles medicine, I could leave behind two prepared pans of pizza dough and instructions for A. on how to bake and top them.

When I arrived home at 6:45 p.m., the pizzas were just done. We used the asadero cheese in place of mozzarella, and no one could tell a difference. One pizza was plain cheese. The other had chorizo sausage and onions on one half, and onions, bell pepper, and beet greens (from our garden) on the other half.

I had also planned on making a salad, but I just wasn't up to it. A. assured me he put so many vegetables on the half of the one pizza that it was pretty much a salad pizza. And there are tomatoes in the sauce. Good enough.


Short version: Restaurant food

Long version: My parents took us to eat at the restaurant in the village. I wasn't very hungry--which I attribute to the virus and/or the medicine for it, because I am NEVER not very hungry--so I didn't even order anything. I was pretty sure there would be leftovers from everyone else's food anyway. I was right. So I ate a little of my mom's chicken fajita salad, the last bit of Charlie's bean burrito, the last inch of Jack's hot dog, and some french fries.

Cubby ate every last bit of his green chili cheeseburger, selfish child, so I didn't get to taste that. It would probably be too spicy for me, anyway. He certainly enjoyed it.

I also sneaked half of my dad's chocolate chip cookie. So basically, everyone fed me, whether they wanted to or not.


Short version: Antelope, bread and butter, roasted sweet potatoes, roasted zucchini/bell pepper/onions, cucumber and tomato salad

Long version: On Saturday morning, Rafael's son Ray showed up at my door bearing an antelope roast. He's a hunting guide, and he had a client that shot an antelope* but only wanted the head for mounting. Thankfully, Ray took the meat and brought some by for us.

I had never had antelope before, but I figured it couldn't be much different from venison. The roast looked to be the hindquarter, and it was big, so I cut it in half. I froze one half, and cut the other into chunks, which I browned. I took the meat out, made a sauce with diced onion, garlic, sliced mushrooms, dry vermouth, and cream, then added the meat back in to cook a little more.

Verdict: Antelope is even better than venison. No gamy flavor at all. It tasted like beef. It was a bit chewy, though I suspect that's because the temperatures here preclude hanging meat for any length of time, which goes a long way towards tenderizing it. Next time I'll be more careful to leave it a bit more rare.


Short version: Pork steaks, baked potatoes, sauteed calabacitas, green salad, CAAAKE!

Long version: Okay, so I actually don't know what the calabacitas really is. That's what Rafael calls it. It's definitely a variety of squash, but when I looked it up online, calabacitas seems to refer to zucchini or a variety called tatuma squash, which doesn't look like his. His have green stripes and a neck.

He told me when they're small--which the one he gave me this week was--they should be cooked like zucchini. But when they get big--and at this point in the conversation, he measured about a foot in length with his hands--they can be cut in half and baked in the oven with brown sugar and butter. I gather from that they are actually a variety of winter squash that can be cooked at the immature stage.

I dunno. I sliced it and sauteed it in olive oil with garlic. It was good, whatever it might actually be.

I also tried a new thing on the baked potatoes this time. There's a product in stores here called Mexican crema that is described as being similar to French creme fraiche, though it is also marketed as a kind of sour cream. It tastes more like creme fraiche to me--less of a tang than sour cream. I like sour cream better anyway, and the Mexican crema has some unnecessary ingredients in it, so I think I'll stick to my Daisy brand sour cream.

The CAAAAKE! was a complete departure for me. I am not prone to making cake randomly (special half-birthday microwave cakes aside), but I had way too many bananas on hand that were heading south. Like eight. And not enough room in my freezer. So I used four of them to make a double-chocolate banana cake. The recipe says they're muffins. I say that person is fooling herself. It's cake. Delicious cake, but I wouldn't try to pass this off as breakfast. I doubled the recipe and baked it in a big Pyrex pan. Like a cake. Because it is.

My dad, who is a cake person like me, appreciated it. And agreed that one should not eat it for breakfast.


Short version: Chicken tacos, pinto beans

Long version: It seemed very fitting to make tacos for my parents' last dinner with us. Tacos were a great tradition in my family when I was growing up. I remember the chopping of all the toppings to take soooo long. Now, of course, with my vast experience with kitchen tasks that actually take so long--three-hour peach jam, I'm looking at you--chopping taco toppings doesn't even register.

You don't scare me.

I cooked the chicken thighs and drumsticks in the morning and then stripped them (leaving me with a lot of chicken stock again, which I was not motivated to try to can again) and shredded the meat. At dinner time, I just cooked some diced onion and garlic, added salt, cumin, chili powder, and a little vinegar, then the chicken and a little stock and heated it through.

I started the pinto beans in the morning too by quick-soaking them (cover with water, bring to a boil, then leave covered off heat for two hours, drain before re-covering with water to cook), and then cooking them with onion, garlic, cumin, chile powder, salt, chicken stock, and tomato juice left over from draining the tomatoes for the pizza sauce on Friday.

I have learned that it's traditional here to cook pinto beans very plain, not even salt, in anticipation of seasoning them at the table with whatever sauce is going along with the main dish. Or with just salsa. I prefer to season them when cooking into something more like chili beans, so I guess I'll never be a traditional New Mexican cook.

I even had avocados this time to make guacamole, which was just the delicious avocado-icing on the taco cake. Yum.

Also, it must be noted that my dad took Charlie and Jack to the playground while I was cooking and my mom took Cubby for a bike ride, leaving me with just the (increasingly mobile) baby to keep track of:

She worked up her appetite by doing some yoga.

She refueled with many pinto beans, which she also smeared liberally around her high chair and person:

Yoga Baby becomes Beanie Baby. (Sorry, couldn't resist.)


Short version: Chicken and rice skillet, cucumbers

Long version: I diced a few sad-looking tomatoes I got from Rafael and cooked them in oil with salt, chili powder, and garlic powder, then added chicken stock and rice. While that cooked, I fried some of the leftover taco chicken in some leftover grease from the pork steaks (yummy because it's pre-seasoned with the spices I used on the pork, i.e, paprika, garlic powder, salt, and pepper). Then I added some frozen peas--zucchini would have been more in keeping with the Mexican theme, but Jack is the only boy who will eat it--then some of the cooked rice, then some cheese. It tasted a little bland still, so I added a little vinegar and a spoonful of "mild" (not mild) salsa.

Ta da! Dinner is served.

I also had a scoop of calabacitas in mine. Calabacitas refers to both the squash and a dish made with the squash that also includes corn, onions, and chili peppers. I know this because Rafael brought me some of the calabacitas his brother had cooked, so I would know how to make it. There are green chilis in it, which makes it much too hot for me, so I'm using just a spoonful at a time with other things to try to tone it down a bit.

It still makes everything too spicy for me, though. I am far too much of a wimp for this state.


Short version: Pancakes

Long version: Yup. Pancakes. That's it. And not with yogurt or fruit or anything that could let me pretend they were particularly healthy either. Just pancakes with butter and maple syrup.

Well, they were at least buckwheat flour pancakes, which have somewhat more protein that wheat flour pancakes, plus they had a lot of yogurt and milk in the batter. And I did give each boy a whole carrot to eat right after school, plus milk with their pancakes, so I think that covers all the food groups, right?

Right. Still pancakes.

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

* Antelope are everywhere here. We see herds of them on the range with the cows all the time. This means, of course, that I spend a lot of time singing "Home on the Range," mostly in my head, but sometimes out loud. It's so appropriate, it's just irresistible. I just looked up the lyrics, and I encourage you to go read them. I think my favorite line is, " . . . where seldom if ever, any poisonous herbage doth grow." They don't write songs like that anymore.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

The Long-Awaited Prickly Pear Post

How long ago was it now that I mentioned harvesting prickly pears? Almost two weeks? And here I am, droning on and on about silly shingles without so much as a mention of the all-important question: Is harvesting prickly pear fruits--called, amusingly, tunas--worth it?

Well! Let me answer that in far too much detail, shall I?

Okay, so. First they had to be harvested. Every single website that talks about prickly pear fruits says you must wear gloves. The cactus itself has wicked, very noticeable spines. The fruits have impossible to see but nonetheless quite irritating tiny, hairlike little spines called glochids. If they get in your hands, they're hard to get out and very irritating.Wear the gloves, say the websites over and over again. DO NOT FORGET THE GLOVES.

I didn't have gloves. I used a corn husk from someone's tamale that had been left in a fire pit near the place we were fishing. I did get a few glochids in my fingers, but I didn't find it to be crippling or anything.

So then the websites say to either burn the glochids off or scrub them off with a stiff brush. I tried singeing them off on our propane stove burner, but I didn't have metal tongs to hold them with and the pliers on my Leatherman tool weren't long enough so I kept burning my fingers. I gave up on that after one.

I didn't have a stiff brush--are you sensing a theme of unpreparedness here?--so I did what one site recommended and tumbled them around in a bowl of warm water quite vigorously. The website said to do this before the scrubbing, but I just did it several times with fresh bowls of water each time and it seemed to take care of the glochids.

Most websites suggested peeling them by cutting off the ends, then scoring the flesh and then peeling it off. I tried this with a couple.

The ripe ones were red all the way through; the less ripe ones were green on the outside and red in the middle. Very dramatic. That's the unpeeled one at the front of the cutting board.

We tasted one of the peeled ones. It tasted, surprisingly, like a less-flavorful honeydew melon.

Peeling them was a pain in the ass, so I went with the website that said you could just puree the whole thing, skin and all, in the food processor and strain it to make juice.

I strained it through both a fine mesh strainer and cheesecloth, in case of any remaining glochids. The resulting juice was a startlingly gorgeous color, though bland.


I added some sugar to it, and we drank it, but honestly, the color was the most appealing part of the juice.

So was it worth it? Not to me. I certainly wouldn't go through all the effort of getting enough juice to make jelly--a common use for it--because I think the jelly would just have a one-dimensional sweet taste. The fruit has to be acidic to some degree to make good jelly, in my opinion.

Now it is true that there are different varieties of prickly pear, and maybe some of them have fruits with more flavor, but I'm not inspired to try again. It was fun to experiment with, though.

There! I feel better having gotten that posted. I'm sure you do, too.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Shingles and the Stay-at-Home Mom

I'm not usually one to wallow in self-pity, but ever since becoming a mother, when I'm not physically well, I really start to feel sorry for myself. All I want to do is take care of myself, but that's really hard to do when you have to take care of four other people first.

This is, of course, exacerbated when one of those four is a baby. And doubly so when that baby is still nursing. There's really no avoiding that responsibility. Being the literal food source for a human being is not something that can be put on hold until I feel better.

And that is what makes this particular illness so bad for me.

See, shingles is caused by the same virus that causes chicken pox. Although shingles isn't contagious, it is possible to pass on chicken pox to a person who hasn't had it and hasn't been vaccinated. The standard advice if you have shingles is to avoid contact with those people.

Babies don't get vaccinated for chicken pox until they're a year old. It's impossible for a mother to avoid contact with her nursing child. Thus, I'm more worried about giving Poppy chicken pox than I am about dealing with the shingles myself.

So not only am I continuing to care for my family while dealing with the symptoms of shingles--which, while not totally debilitating, are quite uncomfortable--I'm trying to keep Poppy safe as well. This may mean having to wear long sleeves during this week of 80-plus degree days to keep the rash on my arm covered. It definitely means washing my hands a lot, wearing high-necked shirts, and limiting nursing her on the side that's affected.

Very thankfully, my parents arrived for a short visit on the very day I went to the doctor, so they've been keeping the children entertained while I try to rest. I'm not very good at that, but I'm trying in the interest of decreasing the duration of the illness.

Because moms, as I'm sure you've heard, don't get sick days. Or rather, we have sick days, just not days in which we get to call in sick and not work.

End long ramble. Happy Monday, my lovelies. Have a nice week.