Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Happy Solstice to all.... a little late!

I had high hopes of staying up to see the lunar eclipse up here in (almost) the North Country... snow on the ground... red moon in the sky. However, sheer exhaustion won out and instead I settled for dreaming of the eclipse. In my dream the moon was covered in mini-marshmallows and spinning around very quickly. Cool dreams, happy solstice.

It was a good day, though, since I was able to visit my Aunt Ellen's house... she is undoubtedly the queen of all things cozy. Her little 1920s era bungalow was a lovely place to be for a visit for a little while. I have always loved her house and visiting. Recently, I found a little note I had written to my Mom. It seemed like I was apologizing for something I had said or done, and the "P.S." read: "Pleeeeese let me sleep over at Aunt Ellen's this Friday night." I was probably about ten.

What attracted me then is the same as now: lots and lots of books, lovely plants, interesting prints on the walls, knitting projects in various stages, old photos, warm afghans, and soft couches. Ahhhhh..... the perfect place to spend an afternoon. It was a lovely thing to do to welcome back the light!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Gingerbread cookies

Last week I made gingerbread cookies. This week one of my favorite bloggers asked her readers to write about cookies, and so I do. Julia wrote that her 2 year old wanted to eat all the dough.... so did my nearly 2 year old (and his mom, I must admit). The good thing about this gingerbread is that it doesn't have raw egg in it, so if you are the kind who would worry about that usually, you can relax with this batch of cookie dough. And your two year old will be able to sneak dough with impunity.

Before I give the recipie, let me tell you what I thought of the result. In general, the cookies were very tasty. Spicy enough to check my cookie craving at 2 cookies, but mild enough for my toddler and his buddies. They are chewy. Not a word I usually like associated with gingerbread cookies. My mom's gingerbread boys were used for eating and decorating & my father used the power drill to put a hole in each little cookie's head for a ribbon so it could go on the tree. Suffice it to say, these cookies would not hold up to such treatment. I love a very crisp gingerbread boy, so if you have a recipe, please do share!

Here's what good old Betty Crocker told me to do:

Mix the following, by hand with a spoon, or with a mixer on medium:
1 c. brown sugar
1/3 c. shortening
1 & 1/2 c. dark molasses
2/3 c. cold water

This makes for an odd mix, I thought I had done something wrong. I used an electric mixer, and I think that made it much easier, since you are trying to mix shortening and water (unhappy bedfellows).

Next, stir in these ingredients by hand:
7 c. flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt

Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.

Heat oven to 350. Grease or spray cookie sheet lightly.

Roll dough 1/4 in. thick on floured surface. Cut with floured cookie cutters. Place 2" apart on cookie sheet.

Bake 10-12 min. or until no indentation remains when touched. Immediately remove to wire cooking rack.

This makes about 2 & 1/2 dozen cookies for you and your favorite people. (Thanks to some of my favorite people, Lee and Margaret, for asking for the recipe, too!)

Monday, December 13, 2010

Winter drying

I've developed a small aversion to using our clothes dryer. After having a glorious fall for clothes drying and almost never using the machine it was hard for me to start again. I'm not exactly sure what pained me so much. I don't like running machines that do the work I can do? Probably not. I love my stand mixer, for example, even though I have arms. Maybe I don't like the way clothes feel after being in the dryer? True at times, but I love soft bath towels, and line-dried towels feel like crusty bread. The greenhouse gases? Maybe, although I've tried to mitigate my guilt by paying to get our power from wind turbines (more on my suspicion about that in another post). The money? If I calculated how much money I saved by avoiding the dryer I'm not entirely sure I'd be impressed, and it's an experiment that would take a month of drying to carry out, which would annoy me too much to try. It's better for the clothes? Everyone knows that, but geesh, I couldn't do bring myself to do it for wardrobe considerations.

Maybe I like the work. Just like I like cooking, even though getting frozen meals would clearly save me a lot of time, I do believe I like hanging up laundry, even though it's "menial" labor. It comes as a surprise that I find pleasure in it even when it's done in my basement. I do have a spacious place to hang in the basement. And it's not a nasty basement, other than the clutter. I would love to hang the clothes in the living space on our main floor, but my toddler would not be able to keep his hands off of them. [N.B.- Clean wet clothes are a great air freshener on a main floor, I've found, but if you are cooking onions or salmon on the same floor, you better not expect your clothes to smell like lavender.] I like shaking out the clothes to make them straight for hanging. I have a little system: tops and pajamas on the big rack, baby clothes on the little rack, and pants and boxers on the line. I like the smell of fresh, wet clothes and how different fabrics feel when wet. Which reminds me that I need to have a long post about my love affair with linen, which is by FAR my favorite item to hang dry. Yes, I like the work. I like it.

I even play favorites with the clothespins. I have 3 sets. The "set" that came on the line downstairs when we bought the house is made up of 5 or 7 rogue clothespins that had been in the house for years I imagine. These are nice, sturdy pins. There is one (I imagine it to be a 1960 original, from the days when clothespins were made for daily use) that is a real workhorse. I can string up heavy jeans on either side of this pin and it doesn't even strain. The other set is a set I bought at Mansfield Supply when Theo was born and I put up a tiny clothesline for his diapers on the deck of our apartment (much to the horror of the landlord). They are okay, but no great pins to be sure-- most are broken by now. And the sad last set that I bought at H*me Dep*t (awful store) this summer, which could only ever be useful for hanging up brassieres and undies. They peter out under the weight of a diaper sometimes. Truly pathetic.

Even in my indoor line-drying days I do use the dryer for some things, especially things that I usually relish hanging out in the sun: white sheets, napkins and dishtowels, and diapers. I don't have the room to hang out a good load of diapers in the basement, nor do I have the diaper supply to hold out while they dry inside. And there is something about the high heat of the dryer that, while not as good a "bleaching" agent as the sun, does give the smackdown to any lingering stink. Maybe that's why the dishtowels and sheets are dried in the machine now, too.

Despite my laundry fetish (and I do like it even when machine drying-- I like emptying the lint trap). I detest putting the clothes away. Our guest bed has been the holding tank for the "clean" clothes lately. It's always a revolving melange of partially folded clothes and lonely socks...

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Beet Challenge

Mmmm...... beets were never love at first bite for me. I grew up knowing that my Dad would eat just about anything but beets. As a result I saw very few in my childhood. The much-maligned beet seemed both repulsive and alluring. Repulsive, of course, because if my Dad, a scoffer at expiration dates, eater of mixed up leftovers, a regular 'tip-the-table-my-way-gristle-chewer' guy wouldn't eat it, well then something must be dreadfully wrong. Alluring, though, in an exotic, eastern-block kind of way. Alluring, mostly because the vegetable was never served in my house.

Alluring enough to eat, yes, but not really to enjoy. I dutifully ate my beets as an adult, and tried various salads and roasting methods to increase their appeal, but alas my palate was formed by my parents' tastes, and I admit that occasionally the beet made me nearly gag.

Until I discovered that for me, beets belong in soup. It started about 5 summers ago, when I was on a homemade yogurt kick, and I made a cold beet and yogurt soup. Fresh dill, cumin, salt, pepper, yogurt and beets. Heaven. It looked like a bowl of paint, but tasted like a creamy delight. I was sold, and I bought fresh beets whenever they were available.

But one can only eat so much of said soup. It's strong in flavor and packs a large dairy punch. This fall I re-discovered an old cooking favorite of mine: The Moosewood Cookbook. In it is the most spectacular beet recipe I've ever encountered. Beet Cabbage Borscht. It's sweet. It's subtle. It's lovely. And unlike the Beet Yogurt Soup, it's not very beety or strong. It's actually a sweet and mild soup. Add a dollop of yogurt and it's sweet, mild, and creamy. The beets lend the soup a touch of earthiness and an incredible color. But the carrots, potato, and celery keep this soup well within the range of familiar. The cabbage adds lightness, texture, and heartiness (not to mention vitamin C). But what really makes this soup addictive is the combination of a wee bit of cider vinegar and a wee bit of honey. My toddler begs for it. Literally.

He didn't seem to inherit one bit of my family's aversion. Not only does he gobble up the soup (with the exception of the cabbages whose texture he does not appreciate), he also requests raw beet slices as I am making it. The beet juice looks rather gruesome, true, but I think that the messier babies have more fun.

So, if you are beet-averse and want to be coaxed out of this darkness, leave me a comment and I will send you the recipe for Beet Cabbage Borscht. Or, if you are in the neighborhood, stop in (I just made a quadruple batch). If after eating it you are still unmoved, I will hound you no longer.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Mildew problem checked

A while back I wrote about how I couldn't keep mildew at bay in my bathroom, especially without the use of toxic bleachy stuff. I did make the problem a little better, but we'll see how long the fix lasts. I had to re-caulk the area of the shower where the tub met the tile wall, since no amount of post-shower drying would get all the water out of the pitted and skimpy caulk that used to be there.

It DID, however, require a day of nastiness in the bathroom. Caulk is not non-toxic at all. It's harsh and has scary warnings all over it. But Ken and I cut out all the old stuff, cleaned it well, and re-caulked.

This, in combination with RELIGIOUS drying of the walls and joints, has all but eliminated the mildew issue. Even though Martha Stewart is gross in her own way, I just LOVE her Homekeeping Handbook. She tutored me through re-caulking, and her mini-lecture about wiping the shower down worked. She says something to the effect of this: "if you don't want to use toxic cleaning stuff, you have to keep your filth in check with maintenance." That makes sense. I am much more inclined to spend a minute wiping the shower walls if it will prevent me from "needing" to used something harsh to cut the mildew/scum/grime later. Wiping the walls was always sold to me as a time saver, and I never really could make myself do it. When sold as a toxin-reducer, you bet I will.

It hasn't eliminated my shower problems. Next task: finding a shower liner that is "green." Our current one is badly in need of replacement (it's beyond elbow-grease dirty, and 2 gussets are ripped). I loathe the idea of buying another sheet of PVC, just to throw it away later.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Pictures of the process

I like to cook the sass out of my onions.

Slice my potatoes thinly and keep the skin on.

And as for the fennel, I'm too lazy to mince, so chopping will have to do.

Potato Fennel Soup tonight

I actually just sliced nearly 8 cups of onions without having a teary meltdown. I kept telling Theo--"Mama's going to start crying!" But it never happened. So, maybe I'm getting accustomed to onion cooking finally. Maybe it doesn't work that way. Anyway, I'm making soups this fall like a madwoman, and I cannot WAIT to get our chest freezer so I can quadruple recipes and have plenty of room in the freezer.

I'm trying to figure out what makes a really hearty vegetarian meal. A nice loaf of bread helps. A side of green stuff, whatever is available is always good. I know that beans always round out a meal, and last night we had root veggie/brussels sprouts melange with Jacob's Cattle beans. Our rice looked and smelled funny, so we didn't eat that. I don't think rice spoils per se, but something was amiss with this particular bag. Insects? That's one thing to watch out for with bulk stuff. Ick. Moth infestations are the pits. Costly, too. Let's hope that this house will never know one.

Alas, I was supposed to be waxing poetic about my Potato Fennel soup, how did I get on moths? While cutting the fennel, Theo kept saying "baby too!" and reaching for the fennel. He loved to chew on it.

So tonight our soup will be a rich and creamy delight, if it comes out as well as it did last time. But, there's no diary, and very little fat. The potatoes seem to really get soft and lovely. Even nicer after freezing and reheating. I do find that most soups improve with a freezing. The flavors mingle a bit more and veggies start to become indistinguishable from one another. Maybe it takes a funny palate to call that an advantage, but my toddler agrees.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Thanksgiving redux

Well, Turkey day has come and gone, but it wasn't exactly Turkey day for us. This was the first time we've opted out of turkey-eating in a long time. It was much less awkward than I thought it would be, mostly because there were so many wonderful things to eat. A root veggie & brussels sprouts melange from my uncle's wife (a fellow locavore), squash, homemade cranberry sauce and bread, sweet potato casserole, potatoes, homemade ice-cream, and ken and I made the pies (2 pumpkin, 2 apple). YUM!

Still, next year I'd like to find a healthy, local turkey and roast it for all. This year my idea came too late in the game for my parents, for a number of reasons. But since they are buying a side of beef with my sister and me, they're on the road to discovering local meats! Yay....

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


It's hard to resist a deal. Okay, it's not always hard. When I get a coupon for a free car "detailing" at the local shop, for example, I realize that someone would have to PAY me for the trouble of wasting my time in order for me to even consider such a thing. But there are more subtle and tempting deals that have been thrown our way... a coupon to a spa. I must say that I love a spa. I adore a facial or a massage or a nice haircut. I honestly wouldn't mind sitting in a hot tub for a few hours in preparation for a massage. I even have rather enjoyed an eyebrow wax. Sick, I know. But there IS something nice about grooming rituals, and most species enjoy such things. I'm part of a species that has let grooming occupy an enormous chunk of time and an even larger chunk of resources.

So I'm resisting the "good" deal. I reflect on some of the happiest days of my life and there were no pedicures, professional massages, and certainly no waxing. Heck, there wasn't any shaving happening either. And to be honest, I got most of my haircuts from friends: my husband, Paige who lived in my dorm at college, a friend's mother, my mother, and numerous other scissor-wielding & fearless folks. It was fun. It always made me laugh. The results were usually good, and sometimes a surprise.

I'm resisting a good deal because the salon isn't really out to help me relax, as they say on their flyer. They want to hook me as a customer and see if they can convince me to fit into a mold, just like the dreadful face*book ads that tell me I need to lose weight, diminish my wrinkles, and earn x amount of money from home. No I don't! No I don't! No I don't! The trip to the salon would undoubtably stress me out-- I hate driving, I especially hate driving to new places. The staff would stress me out with their perfumes and the "products" they would suggest I buy so that I can look more.... more.... ? More what? More like them? More like a nobody? More like a somebody?

And I'm resisting the good deal because a good deal, whether it's 25% off this or that, or buy one get one, or what-have-you usually exists to convince me to buy things or services that I don't really need. If I needed them, I would seek them out, rather than having their suggestions be the impetus for my "need." Perhaps I do need a haircut (I think my younger sister would agree), but if I can't find a volunteer, I'll find a pro on my terms, not based on the lure of a "deal."

I'm hoping it will also connect me with people in my life, even people I'm already well-connected with. If you are my friend or mother or husband or aunt or sibling or stranger reading this now, don't be alarmed if I approach you with scissors. I'm just looking for a haircut.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Visit to the shore

I love to watch T. in a new place, just playing as happily as can be. He has such unmitigated joy for the world--especially when he's just playing with no (or, very few, we didn't want him running in the freezing ocean)constraints. He loves to be outside touching new things, looking around, and just being 21months old. What a wonderful day to visit the ocean. One thing we like about this location is that we are only 20-25 minutes from the ocean. Theo had a wonderful time digging with a large shell be found.

We were also able to go to a Farmers' Market before the beach. This is (so far) the best one in our area for our needs. It's nothing like being back in the quiet corner of the state (boo-hoo), but in favor of Living In The Now, I am grateful that we have a chance to buy fresh, clean food from some local farmers, even if it's not like our old market. Today we got beets, onions, carrots, green peppers, daikon radish, shitake mushrooms, ground beef, short ribs, and a tiny ham. I do like meat, and I hope to see more meat available at markets, especially chicken.

Last night I had a vision. Not like a hallucination or anything, but more like a thought or feeling that consumed me for a few moments. I was in bed, and I closed my eyes and felt like I was back in the little red house again on a cold, snowy, starlight night snuggled in our upstairs bedroom. It was such a nice feeling-- maybe just a longing. This morning Ken asked where I might want to live, if I could live anywhere. I guess I'm in withdrawal, because I said STORRS! But here's why: it's rural and lovely, but moreover, since 2002 I had been slowly making friends and building community in that area, and that is really hard (and fun and wonderful) work. One problem with moving is that you leave behind a huge network of people, and no matter how many great people you meet in your new place, there is no such thing as "instant" community. These things take time.... and patience has never been my strong point.

Friday, November 5, 2010

T. loves to say 'baby baking.' Here's this morning's baking project: "pum-um" bread.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

it's worth it

Mmmm.... homemade bread.

I've always loved the smell of bread baking-- and I was lucky enough to smell this all the time in my home as a kid. I had homemade oatmeal bread every day for many, many years. Right now I'm in a bread-baking phase myself, and so glad to be doing it. I was wondering if it is just self-indulgent, or if it is important (beyond pleasing my own palate). But here's my bread-baking manifesto. Well, let's just call it a list of reasons I think it's a jolly good idea to bake bread.

-It smells good
-You can choose your own ingredients, according to your budget, health needs, curiousity, etc.
-It's one less thing to buy at the store. True, you have to buy the ingredients, but you can buy them in bulk and save some $.
-It doesn't come in a plastic bag = one less thing in the dump
-If you have babies or kids, they'll like to watch and help. T. likes to play with the flour and loves to say BAKING and DOUGH and BREAD. It holds his attention for a long time.
-It makes a good gift for a friend
-It warms up the house on a chilly, rainy day!
-It's a good excuse to eat some good butter (now... homemade butter should be on my list of things to try ...)

I could go on, but I think that in my attempt to do more from-scratch things, I'm finding that the benefits are often greater than I first thought. It's nice to think that healthy things have a way of being healthy in more than one way.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

the suburban hubbub

This has been my first foray into "town" living since I was 23, and I am coming to the realization that I'm not particularly well-suited to it. When I think of the best living conditions I ever had, I think back on shabby homes placed in lovely rural places. Here we have a nice home on a nice street in town. It's in great condition and I feel grateful for what we have. Our other homes, though situated in beautiful locations had hazards I'm glad that I am not exposing my baby to... well-water with unsafe stuff in it, lead paint chipping everywhere, molds/mildews, one landlord was always burning stuff in the woodstove that I'm fairly sure was not healthy for anyone, smokers who lived downstairs and upstairs, and the list goes on. I'm so glad that we are finally living in a place where we are in charge of our indoor air quality, and how/when things get fixed and replaced. That is something to feel happy about, and I do.

But it's hard to look out the window every morning, and not be surrounded by "nature." I mean, it's all nature-- we have trees and shrubs and plants, but we see a lot of houses, asphalt, fencing, and lawn, lawn, lawn, LAWN. I love to look out the window and see woods or fields. It just feels good to me. I miss being able to put T. in a carrier and walk the trails in Mansfield right from our back door. That was a blessing, and I'm glad I took advantage of it as much as I did. In our little red house, the hubby and I tromped about the 22 acres and the dirt roads every day. It was good for our health, our happiness, and our stress level. Here we can walk to the hardware store, to our new friends' homes, to bakeries, video stores, and a park that T. just loves.

It's not that I regret buying this home. I love our home, and it's been infinitely useful to have my husband only 10 minutes away at any given moment. We have met some very nice people here, and as I said, it's nice to live in a home that feels a lot less toxic than some of the cool rentals we've had in the past. I'll feel more at peace when I find some "me" places-- nature trails, abandoned fields, ponds, streams. I want to be able to put Theo in the car (since that seems our only option) and take him somewhere where we feel like we're away from the suburban hubbub.

We spend a good amount of time in our backyard, which is fenced (thank goodness, since cars drive too fast on our road). We hang a lot of laundry out there. We've enjoyed the tomatoes and herbs planted by the former owners, and I'm having fun planning our gardens for next year. I just learned our town "approved" keeping up to 5 chickens! That might make our backyard a lovelier place. If we aren't living in the country, we'll have to bring country living here, right? But I have to remind myself... one project at a time...

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Diapers & frost

This morning there was a frost on the ground as I hung out the diapers. I'm not sure when it will be too cold to hang them out, but my fingers were nearly frozen stiff at the end of the line. Still, I love to see them out there getting bleached by the sun, even in the chilly weather. Diapers are a funny matter these days. My father-in-law remembers seeing diapers hung out all around the city of Hartford as he was growing up. My mother-in-law says she used to love seeing her baby's diapers hanging in the sun. And I remember my mother hanging out load after load of my sister and brother's diapers. Only a generation ago, cloth diapers were a normal part of life with babies. Less than two generations ago, line-drying was the only option.

And what about earlier generations? When I read the Little House books, I often wonder about what frontier families did for their babies. Going diaper-free is certainly possible, and something that many people do with success even now (I'm trying it if we ever have another). I bet they used old cloths... but if so, how did they keep up with the constant washing & drying? I can see how in the summer, but winters were long and cold and frontier cabins were little.

Notes on finding our "places" in our new locale: Just found a nice natural foods store! Nothing like the Willi Food Co-op, but still, it's pretty cool. I was able to get bulk oats and raisins for a great price! The mark-ups on organics in supermarkets is outrageous. They also have a nice bulk spices department. Bye-bye McCormick, over-priced nonsense!

In the photo you can probably also see a little bit of our compost bins.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Halloween and Lawns

The title sums up my day. Oh, suburbia!

Sometimes I feel like such a sucker. I don't really want a "lawn," but we have one, and I don't really have the courage to just let it be taken over by .... whatever.... and I don't have the time to turn it into gardens, since it is in the front and our road has cars and the little one is not old enough to stay away from the street, but not young enough to just hang out in a carrier while I work. I find a lawn tedious and stressful here in suburbia. I want my neighbors to like us. I want to foster relationships with the people in my community, and for some reason I feel like that means I have to participate in lawn madness. Am I crazy? I mean, I was raking and using my push-reel mower, but I couldn't help feeling like my time could be better spent.

I look into the bowl of candy we just bought for Halloween and I think SUCKER! I remember my mom giving out raisins and I felt embarrassed that it wasn't candy. Now, I understand her impulse. It felt gross to be shoveling this "food" into kids hands. But, I know that if I were to give out apples or anything homemade, it would be thrown out. I should have just gone in for boxes of raisins. Next year, maybe. So, I'll be thought of as a health-food nut. Is that such a bad thing?

It's been a long time since I kept a blog, but I've been hankering to do it again. So I've started the sequel to my old blog, Little Red House. Always the mistress of inventiveness, this is titled Little White House. I want to start writing a little bit more intentionally about my attempts to make my (now full-time) homemaking ecologically sound, economically prudent, and peaceful. It's hard to do, and I feel very much at odds with the world-at-large, where it seems that the message is BUY BUY BUY.

There are things I have been doing that help me toward that goal. We've been cloth-diapering Theo since the week he was born. We use our clothesline as religiously as possible. We've started to compost our compostables and plan vegetable gardens for the coming year. I'm making lots of yummy things with the abundance of fall produce from the local farms. We've stopped buying meat at the grocery store, which means we've been eating more vegetables. I'm baking bread. And I'm trying to navigate the world of motherhood.

I'm not where I want to be yet. My goals are many, which is a problem. On the one hand I just want to live simply and enjoy my life, but what I'm realizing is that takes a lot of work, planning, and dedication. I'd love to start making yogurt again, since I used to love our homemade stuff. I have no idea how to care for our "lawn" (which I cringe to even type) without yucky chemicals and a lot of water. I want to be less reliant on my car, and maybe even make the transition to being a 1-car family. I want to buy less junk. I want to learn how to fix things myself without making the problem worse.

And I want to be able to get rid of bathroom mildew without bleach.

Am I asking too much? Without a community of support, I might be. In our new house, I'm learning just how many people we had back in the quiet corner of CT who I admired. I'm talking about people who knew how to be eco-friendly and frugal and fun and warm. We've met many really nice, wonderful people here. But it is much more urban/suburban/busy and less rural/chilled out around these parts. I need to find my people! People who will wear the same wool sweater almost every day of the winter b/c it's warm and lovely!