Saturday, October 06, 2012

Project! Wonder Baby Headband

Here's the thing about babies: they look like babies.  You pretty much can't tell a boy from a girl unless their parents do something pretty obvious to "brand" them, like put them in a onsie with a picture of a baseball bat and the words "Momma's manly little sportsman," on it.  Now that I am the mother of a girl child, one who is the recipient of hand-me-downs from two older brothers, I frequently find myself correcting well meaning strangers in the grocery store who compliment me on my "handsome little guy."

So yes, I could dress her in pink and slap one of those flower headbands on her, that would make her look like she's part of a centerpiece, or an extra from "Attack of the begonia headed babies, but I would prefer to bring her up as the Amazon Princess she is.

The Wonder Baby Headband:

You will need, some scraps of red and yellow fabric.
Some sort of double sided fusible interfacing such as wonder-under (a very small scrap)
Approximately 10 " of 3/4" or 1" elastic.

Cut a five pointed star out of the fusible interfacing and iron it onto your red fabric. (Yes, my scissors have cheetah print handles, because I am punk rock like that)

Cut out a tiara shape from the yellow fabric, on a fold so that you have one less seam to sew up later.

Attach the star with a satin stitch (tight zig zag, directly over the raw edge).

 Making sure that the star is on the inside, sew a seam across the TOP ONLY, leaving the ends open so that the finished headband can be turned right side out.

And stick the elastic into the open ends, sew one side (tuck the raw edges inside for a clean edge), try it on your baby for a good fit, and then sew the other side.

Ta-Da!  No more well intentioned strangers mistaking your Amazon Warrior for a boy....and no ridiculous flower that might cause you to lose her in a meadow or florist's shop.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Yet another "sorry I haven't posted" in awhile post.

I was going to reconcile my "mega list" of new year's resolutions from last year, but even I got bored half way through it. (46 pass/54 fail) Looking back on my aspirations for last year did stir up a couple of thoughts...firstly that I miss writing on the blog, and secondly that my life has actually changed quite a bit in the last year. Some milestone was passed, and although I can't really articulate exactly what boundary it marked, I feel like I've ended up on the other side of something.

So last year, well, for one thing, I had a baby.

And for another my first babies turned into people.

I also worked at a real, not self-employed, job and gave up my studio. This could seem like a failure of sorts, but curiously I am very content. I have carved out a space for creativity in my very busy life, and it is a small space, but it is there.

I make no commitments to visit this blog more often...I've found that the only way to keep your head above the water in this river of motherhood is to go with the flow. Don't fight, just try to steer a little.

Ragnar...mother of many.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Because it was there....

Every once in awhile I get a crazy notion about doing something from beginning to end. You know, like in the olden days when men were men and women were really tired all the time because there was no "Diego" to turn on during dinner prep, and laundry took all day and was a full body work out with the great possibility of third degree burns. I got one of these notions a couple of weeks ago when I realized that some of the straw that we'd used to mulch our garlic crop last fall, had sprouted and that along with all the tasty tasty garlic there was a fair quantity of wheat popping up. "Hmm..." I thought to myself. "Hmmm....I wonder how much wheat you need to make a loaf of bread?"More than I managed to gather, that's for sure. I understood the basic mechanics of threshing, you lightly crush the seed head to release the "chaff" and then you shake it to bring all the loose stuff up to the top and the seeds fall to the bottom. I vaguely remembered something called a "winnowing" basket from anthropology class, which was basically a big flat loosely woven basket that you would shake around so that all the wheat could fall out. Since I wasn't processing a lot of wheat I figured I could make do with whatever I had in my retrospect, it's probably easier to process A LOT of wheat, and the small amount that I was dealing with would be considered the waste.
Pretty huh? Just like on the beer bottle labels?
And yeah, it worked pretty much like that...I used the "rubbing it between your hands" method for releasing the wheat berries , and the "blowing on it lightly over a kitchen sink" method for "separating the wheat from the chaff" (an adage which I now feel uniquely qualified to over use). If you have about three hours of time to devote to the production of a small quantity of wheat berries, and you are resigned to the fact that your final product will have a fair amount of straw left in it, then yeah, I'd say it worked pretty well. Towards the end I got a bit more efficient with my technology, using a flat plate, a round bottomed bowl and kitchen strainer with widish holes, for successive winnowing.
And here's what I have. An eight ounce jelly jar full of wheat. Wheat like I can go and buy by the scoopful out of the bulk bins at the co-op...whoo hoo! My best option for grinding it is probably our little coffee grinder, so I guess it's a good thing that I don't have much. What to do with this precious stuff?

This is how my great notions usually end. " romantic as it is to think of times gone by, I'm sure happy I live in the 21st century, and not the 18th. Isn't it lovely that spinning wool can be a hobby, and that if I don't feel like knitting I don't have to worry about my family having cold feet in the winter?" Sometimes you just have to do something to find out why it's better to let other people do it for you...people with big machines.

Ragnar...21st century girl.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

An ode to my adopted state...

(chives, growing on my back porch, I got my first harvest off of these puppies back in March!)

I overheard a conversation at the farmer's market this morning that badly made me want to intervene, although I ultimately decided that walking away was better than butting in with an "Actually, I know more than you" attitude. However, I've been thinking about it off and on for the last couple of hours and I've decided that this is an appropriate forum for rebuttal.

The farmer's market in question was one of the few local markets that allows wholesalers to sell their wares, meaning that you can buy a peach there in May. I don't disapprove really, I'm happy to see small companies with an outlet that allows them to compete with the huge chains, and I'm pleased to see people supporting them. If you can't buy local, then at least buy from a local, right?

The conversation I overheard was between two market shoppers and went something like this:

"You didn't get that peach here did you?"
"Oh yes, but I'm sure it was grown in California or someplace."
"Oh! Because I was going to say! That's amazing."
"No, no, of course not. We live in Michigan. Nothing grows here! You hear about these 'localavores' but they're living in central California and places like that!" (I have to confess, the "know-it-all" tone is probably what was getting to me) "I mean, you can eat local in Michigan if you want to, but you'd be eating lettuce and radishes!"
"Ha, ha, yes I guess so."
"I came out to the market last week looking for strawberries, and there wasn't a single one to be found! I think they must be very late this summer, I'm sure there were strawberries here last year."

We were at a very crowded market, the third or fourth week that they had been open, on the tail end of a cold and lingering spring...and it's true, there weren't too many local veggies to be seen. (I also overheard another woman complaining that there was no "fruit" available) The local eats were there though, tucked behind flats of garden starts, and bouquets of hot house flowers. There were hot house tomatoes and peppers. There were hoop house strawberries. There was asparagus, rhubarb, cucumbers, zucchinis, seed potatoes (that were for planting, but looked way more edible than the ones I bought at the "real" store last week), lettuce, spinach, green onions, and more herbs than you can shake a stick at. There was also every type of meat you could wish for including fish and shrimp (yes! local shrimp, in Michigan!) and lots of prepared pastries, and breads etc.
(My back porch lettuce, and a Michigan grown pineapple...which has barely stayed alive for the last two years, but god-damn it, it's a pineapple and I'm proud of it)

Rather than butting into a private conversation I thought I would just mention it here:

ACTUALLY! Michigan has the third largest crop diversity in the country. Just about the only thing you can't grow in Michigan is Bananas, although I'm sure someone is working on it.

Which is not to say that I don't eat my share of out of season produce. I have Washington apples and California grapes in my kitchen right now. I buy bananas like they are going out of style, because my picky kids will eat them. I have some overly firm, underly tasty supermarket strawberries sitting on my counter right now, because The Destroyer practically jumped out of the shopping cart begging for them, but you can bet that in a couple of weeks when they are actually in season, that I will be buying them by the flat load, eating them by the handful and turning them into jam and ice cream.

It just broke my heart to hear my adoptive state maligned as a place where "nothing" grew. I couldn't let it, lady, wherever you are, I hope that when Michigan peaches are in season later this year that you can get your hands on a couple. You'll probably fall for the California peach scam again next year, when you haven't seen a peach in months and they're sitting there looking all perky and miraculously unbruised in the grocery store, but at least you'll know what you're missing.

(some pretty flower I bought to liven up the container garden...pretty huh? Some Michigan farmer grew it for me)

Ragnar...mama first, then pirate, and then adoptive Michigander.

PS: Stay tuned for more "scratch that" from scratch vs. store bought posts in the near future. Next up: Mayonnaise.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Scratch That...Hummus.

There are a few things that I've been making from scratch for as long as I can remember...okay, two things: bread, and hummus. It's no coincidence that they go REALLY well together.

If your family is like our family than the tiny little $5 a pop hummus tubs that they sell in the grocery store are a joke to you. We could finish off one of those in about 10 minutes and look around for the next one. Plus, Five Bucks? For Hummus? Are you kidding me? It's bean paste for Goddess' sake. Then you can go on to the other reasons to make your own: the store stuff is slimey, and they fill it full of weird crap (sundried tomatoes? seriously?).

To make hummus you need:

A good blender or food processor. I specify good blender because this is a pretty thick paste and it stresses the motor on the lesser models. I have personally burned out the motor on two $30 blenders making hummus.

Chick peas, also known as Garbanzo Beans (which always makes me think of Gonzo from the Muppet Show). We favor "La Preferida" brand, which is frequently shelved in the "Mexican" section. It comes in big fat 29oz cans which makes a decent sized batch.

Tahini. This could possibly fall into the realm of "special ingredient requiring a separate trip to the grocery store" if you have a slightly less exotic pantry than I do. It's also the most expensive ingredient in the recipe, at about $6 a jar. If you happen to live in a neighborhood with a Middle Eastern grocery store, buy it there because it'll be cheaper, and come in a bigger jar. It doesn't spoil quickly as long as it's refrigerated, so even if you don't use it that often, you won't lose out on your investment. Tahini is a seed butter, so when you buy it it will have about half an inch of separated oil on top, like natural style peanut butter. When I first open a jar I pour the entire contents into the food processor or blender to remix it, and then pour it back in to the jar. If you refrigerate it after that the oil will emulsify in the fridge and it shouldn't separate back out (if it isn't so throughly mix it will tend to separate). You don't even have to clean the blender, you just make a batch of hummus right on top of the tahini dregs.


Lemon Juice.

Olive Oil.

I sometimes add a dash of toasted sesame oil to punch up the sesame flavor. If you stir fry you probably have this.

Notice I don't have measurements on any of this stuff. That's because I am too lazy to measure. This is very much "to taste" and you can easily adjust things as you go.

So...go get all that stuff. Then:

Drain the chick peas, and throughly rinse them under cool running water. I rinse all canned beans, and (although I haven't done a side by side comparison) I firmly believe that it cuts down on "wind" the next day. Let that sit in the sink and drain for a minute while you peel the garlic, one clove, two if you're brave, three if you don't have any friends and don't want any.

Add the garlic, about a tablespoon of olive oil, two or three tablespoons of tahini and two or three tablespoons of lemon juice to your blender and give it a good chopping. When there are no more big chunks of garlic add about half your chick peas. Adding them all at once clogs the blender. If the paste is too thick to blend, add water until it's thin enough to blend smoothly. This is a good time to do an initial taste test. I almost always add more tahini and more lemon juice at this point (and if you want a roasty toasty tasting hummus, a dash of toasted sesame oil is delicious...I think, although their are puritans in my household who do not agree). Then throw in the rest of the chick peas and (if you need to) more water to thin it out. If you are making hummus in a blender it will be a little thinner, in a food processor chunkier and thicker...personal preference as to which you like better. When you like the consistancy, then you can salt to taste and (if you must) add any junk you want, like chives or bacon bits or whatever the hell they put in those store tubs of hummus.

I don't add very much olive oil. I think a bit is great to improve the texture, but why add more oil than you have to? If you like really creamy hummus then you can, of course, add more oil.

I estimate this recipe to cost about $2.80 or so. $1.50 of that is the chick peas (so if you are a "boil your own from dry" kind of person the cost would be much less), and I'm (over) estimating a $1 worth of tahini, with about $.30 worth of pantry staples. If you use the big can of chick peas you'll end up with a tub of Hummus that is about two or three times bigger than the slimey stuff in the deli case, and the whole process takes about 15 minutes. This used to be my potluck staple, along with a store bought bag of pita chips, but I was at a pot luck last year where half the people brought hummus and the other half brought brownies...a good potluck in my opinion!


PS If any of you have hummus making tips or favorite add ins (blech!) please comment! Just don't suggest that I peel the garbanzo beans because that's just flat out not happening.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Scratch that...

When The Destroyer was born, I didn't step foot in my kitchen for about 4 months. He was an..ahem...intense newborn. He was a constant nurser who barely slept, and Manimal was working long days trying to get our house renovated so that we could move back in (see "the other blog" if you missed the story of our renovation). He hated his car seat and would scream from the second the door opened and he saw the offending object, until we arrived at our destination and he was reconnected with his boob. Grocery shopping was not high on my list of fun things to do, and the few times I did manage to get fresh food in the house it would inevitably spoil before anyone got around to cooking it. Breakfast and lunch were whatever snack foods I could prepare for myself with a baby in arms, and dinner was "out," where we would eat quickly in shifts so that we could take turns bouncing the baby. Usually I would prop him in place with a boppy pillow, and spread my napkin over his head so that I could eat over him (one handed of course) without staining his onsies with bar-b-que sauce.

We didn't take a lot of time to think of the ridiculousness of this situation, we didn't have a lot of spare moments for intuitive self-reflection. There came a day, though, when The Destroyer learned how to crawl and discovered that there was more to life than boobs and not sleeping, there was...destruction. Manimal was home before 8 o'clock for once, The Destroyer was happily destroying and we (miraculously) had something cookable in the refridgerator. I don't remember what culinary miracle I pulled together, probably some version of "eggs scrambled with whatever we had on hand," which is sort of the signature dish of our house. I do remember that we sat around rapturously eating it, and commenting about what a treat it was to eat in for once. When eating at home has become a big treat, something is seriously out of balance, so we started working on eating at home more often.

When we eat out, we don't hit the drive thru at MacDonald's. We eat a lot of Thai, Korean, Middle-eastern...generally what's considered to be the "healthier" of the available restaurant options. When I cook at home, I don't spend a lot of time worrying about fat content, or carbs, or really nutritional content in general. We eat a lot of vegetables because we like vegetables, and we eat them with full fat cheese, and in sauces that are laden with salt and oil. None the less, when we made the switch (back) to eating at home instead of eating out, we all lost weight without even thinking about it. Our "food" bill was suddenly about half of what it had been, and this was all without an conscious effort on our part, other than a desire to eat our own food in our own home.

When Ragnarbaby came a long some of our "take out" standards slipped back in, of course, as well as a few pantry "staples" that I'm not especially proud of (boxed macarroni and cheese...). I don't beat myself up about it, and I don't really fight with my kids about what they eat. I chop the vegetables up small enough that it's hard for them to spit them out, and I put enough butter on top that they eat it. We get pizza about once a week and sometimes dinner is canned soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. I'd never bought canned soup in my life before having a second child, but something's got to give. When I went back to work things gave a little bit more, and now our "diet" is a mix of simple homemade food, mixed with some things that come in boxes, cans, and bottles. I don't like to go grocery shopping more than twice a month if I can help it, and if it dirties more than two pans, I don't cook it. I do still make some of our staples (chicken stock, mayonnaise etc.) from scratch though, but they have to pass my "test," which is something like this:

Do I habitually keep all the basic ingredients in the house, or would I have to go and buy something new?

Does making this involve complicated steps, or a lot of time?

Can I make it "in bulk" to save time later on?

How long will it last in the refrigerator or freezer?

Is there a significant cost savings over buying this at the store?

If whatever it is fails that little test then it goes on the shopping list and I pay going rate for whatever it is.

The cost of everything in the grocery store is going up, thanks to gas prices and other economic factors, so there has been a fair amount of discussion in the "blogosphere" about making from scratch. Of course I can't sit idly by while other people offer advice, so I'm going to do a series of posts about things that I've found it to be worth making from're on the edges of your seats I'm sure.

Ragnar...full of good intentions.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Mommy Brain...

Some think tankey folks came out with a study a couple of years ago showing that "mommy brain" is a myth, and that women with children are just as smart as they were before they had them. I didn't read it of course, but I remember clicking "like" on facebook when someone else (a mom friend, who also presumably didn't read it, because who has that kind of attention span really) posted it. I do "like" the idea that I'm just as smart as I was before I started this wild roller coaster ride that is motherhood (or as I like to think about it, preventing my children from killing themselves), but all personal evidence points to the contrary.

Today I arrived home to find two concerned pollsters standing in my front yard, cell phone in hand, waiting for the police to show up at my house because I had left my front door standing wide open when I packed up my children for a trip to the grocery store. "Do you live here?" one of them asked me as I pulled into the driveway. "Uh...yes." I answered, opening the doors of the minivan and releasing the hounds. "Well, uh, we called the police because your door was wide open, and we were afraid you might have been robbed." "Oh!" I waved away her concern nonchalantly, "I'm sure that was me, my children are very distracting." She raised her eyebrows at me, and motioned for her partner to call the boys in blue and tell them that there was no emergency, just a brain-fart by a mother of two. Then she asked if I might want to hear about the millage (for the police no less, those pillars of society that might even manage someday to save me from myself). While she politely gave her talking points about how even with the new millage my property taxes would probably go down, my eldest grabbed on to the knees of her jeans and rocked back and forth growling "I am a baby jaguar! I am a baby jaguar." If nothing else I think he demonstrated that it IS possible for a woman to be so distracted by her children that she might walk out of her house with the door wide open.

Lest you think this was some sort of aberration, let me assure you that this was simply the latest in a long line of mommy moments.

There was the time that I came out of the grocery store to find that I had left the side door of the mini-van standing open.

There was the time that I came out of the coffee shop to realize that I had not only left my keys in the ignition of my van, but had in fact left it running.

There was the time that I left my purse in the back pocket of the stroller parked in our front yard...overnight.

Not to mention the fact that I can't wrap my reading mind around any plot more complicated than "have you met my hunky boyfriend, he's a werewolf!"

I can only imagine the hijinks that will ensue when baby number 3 is born in September.

So, whoever you are, think-tank guys (or more likely defensive mothers), I appreciate the credit, but I beg to differ. I'm not saying that I won't recover those lost IQ points when my kids are...oh say...married, but for the moment, I am blaming my lack of smarts on mommy brain.

Ragnar...proud owner of one mommy brain

PS Manimal insists that I add that while I was proofreading this post I was holding Ragnarbaby in my arms while he simultaneously riffled my wallet and chewed on a ballpoint pen.