Sunday, June 29, 2008

Eating with a Smaller Mouthprint: Part Two

This is the second part of the class session on making eating more a matter of faith (as one of the women in the class put it). (Part One is here.)The list was given in a shorter form as a handout; this is my expanded version, but some of it's still in point form because I was just listing ideas as we went along.

A (Not-So-Standard) List of Things People Could Do

1. Co-operating: to ease the burden on our many small households, on older people and singles. Try co-operative shopping, cooking, sharing meals. Trade tools. Invite people to eat regularly with you. Cook a little extra and freeze small portions for older people you care for.

2. Reading: If you have children, read books that give insight into what people ate in other times. In some of our children’s books, it’s made plain that meals years ago were often quite different—for instance, in All of a Kind Family, a picnic at the beach consisted of bread and butter sandwiches, tomatoes, and eggs; and the girls were amazed to find that their mother had brought some small cakes as well. In On the Banks of Plum Creek, Ma left a lunch of milk, molasses and something called corn dodgers (like corn pones). You can also find food quotes in your own books. One that always reminds me to keep a positive attitude came from John Howard Griffin's Black Like Me, where a man was praising his wife and said something like: “If we have meat, she cooks it along with the beans; and if we don’t have meat, she just goes ahead and cooks the beans anyway.” I also saw something recently in the Little House Cookbook, that said that Laura never complained in later years about the monotony of pioneer food; only hunger was monotonous.

Look at older cookbooks for low-cost meal ideas, and MCC’s various global/justice-type cookbooks—nice gift idea too. Or you can read newer books such as The 100 Mile Diet.

3. Rethinking recipes—cutting back, using less; substituting, filling in with less expensive foods, cooking multiples, using shorter/simpler recipes; “gathering up the fragments.” Having one or two basic things to do with each food item, especially if it's something that you tend to have a lot of. Examples of this that I have used:

Hard pears—cut up and bake with a little apple juice, they’ll get soft in half an hour to forty minutes
Apples—core and bake two hours in the crockpot; make applesauce; slice for dessert
Canned pumpkin—add honey and spices, make pumpkin butter
Bananas—freeze whole & use for baking; freeze and put through the food processor
Sour cream—put in muffins.
Muffins—freeze them.
Canned pineapple—same dessert as bananas (can also use combination)
Piece of cabbage—shred and mix with favourite dressing
Canned/fresh green beans and/or other canned beans—mix with bean-salad dressing
Bits of barley or brown rice—cook overnight as hot cereal

4. Ignoring much of the mainstream shopping advice—such as not shopping with children, shopping only the periphery of the store, and shopping only according to a pre-written menu. (We briefly discussed the pros and cons of each of these ideas.)

5. Shopping with justice and the earth in mind. Consider the energy, transportation and pollution costs as well as supermarket prices; consider the time needed to shop, prepare, cook, clean up—energy costs make cooking even more expensive. Buy vegetable boxes that support local agriculture. You can get involved with fair-trade importing; you can lobby governments, represent those treated unjustly, fight for fair economic policies, food safety, and agricultural issues.

6. Limiting—creating margin around splurges. Maybe limit some foods to celebrations. Just something to think about.

7. Experimenting—have an experiment week. Eat what’s in the cupboard, or spend only an agreed-upon amount. Try new foods. Use your kitchen tools more creatively (use library books about slow cookers, pressure cookers, etc.). Use your freezer too.

At this point we will stop for a little entertainment:

You had for breakfast: two pounds bacon,
Three dozen eggs, one coffee cake, and
Then you had something really awful,
Four kippered herrings on a waffle.
Nine English muffins, one baked apple,
Boston cream pie, Philadelphia scrapple.
Seventeen bowls of Crispy Crunch.
Then you said, "What's for lunch?"—Allan Sherman

OK--back to work now.

8. Studying, working, volunteering— Think about all the ways that you could influence the world through work in chemistry, biology, improving food crops, food additive safety; selling food; even studying or teaching less-directly related subjects like law and urban planning. Those of you with home kitchen experience could run food teaching programs, food box programs (co-ordinating pickup of produce boxes), collective kitchens, breakfast programs, soup kitchen outreaches, seniors’ lunches—teach people to have more food awareness and confidence, feed their families better, depend less on food banks. I’m saying this especially to older people, those of you who are no longer raising families: many people grow up now without even basic kitchen skills; your creativity and patience are badly needed to teach nutrition and budgeting, gardening, preserving food. Let your experience teach the rest of us.

9. Backyard farming (and the kitchen food factory)—join the backyard-hen movement.

10. Budgeting and planning—Do the math and compare, because prices change. (Right now there's about a 20-cent difference here between a litre of fluid milk and the equivalent in store-brand powdered milk--not really enough to make us give up fluid milk, but just enough to make baking with powdered milk worthwhile. But that could change.) Check the unit prices (sometimes bulk is not cheaper). Keep a notebook of what different stores charge. (I noticed a $2/kg difference for yeast recently between two different stores. I know, who buys yeast by the kg?--but it's the principle of the thing.)

Also, use cheaper forms of food. Following Miss Maggie's directions, I bought 1 lb. of dried pinto beans for $1.50, added a few cents’ worth of seasonings, and for that price plus the cost of a few crockpot hours (and almost no effort), I had a whole crock full of refried beans, cheaper than canned.

11. Being realistic—Don’t insist, hard-and-fast, on always having to make everything from scratch. Sometimes it is a blessing to have a bag of cookies or a frozen pizza on hand. People didn’t always expect to have to make everything themselves—that’s why bakeries were invented.

12. Eating potatoes. And other simple foods, without needing to dress them up. (I told a story that I think came from the La Leche League book The Heart Has Its Own Reasons: a mother said that she had bought some berries and they were sitting on the counter. Her preschooler asked what they were for, and she said, in a patient Mommy-voice, "Mommy hasn't quite decided what to do with them yet." The boy asked, "Well, why can't we just eat them?" Duh, light goes on. So they did. )

13. TRUSTING—Many of us have health concerns now with what we will eat—worries about local and organic vs. imported food, contaminated tomatoes, allergy-related and other medical concerns, worrying about whether things are low fat, wholegrain, have additives—and at the same time we’re trying to eat economically and responsibly—sometimes it makes you want to throw up your hands and give up. But even if our situation seems unique, God can provide what we need. And again--nobody can do everything--but anybody can do something.

(If this post seems a little unfinished, it's because at this point I shut my mouth and let some other people talk. So it's your turn--comments?)

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Eating with a smaller mouthprint--Part 1

This is the first set of notes from a class session I did on current food issues and trying to live a somewhat simpler lifestyle.

There is a children’s novel by Lois Lowry that is set during World War II, in Denmark. In one of the opening scenes, the mother is out so her daughter starts the potatoes for dinner. That’s not the main event of the opening chapter, it’s just what she’s doing; but in the midst of getting into the rest of the story, you suddenly realize: she’s cooking potatoes for dinner, and that’s all they’re going to have, potatoes, because that’s what people had to eat for dinner during World War II in Denmark. (Note: I don't have a copy of Number the Stars here and I may have misremembered the scene or where it was in the book. If so, I apologize to Lois Lowry.)

And I’m sure many of you would be able to contribute similar scenes from your own lives, from growing up with many brothers and sisters during hard times, or from living overseas, or from raising large families yourselves and surviving job losses, bad years on the farm, and other difficulties. Some of you have seen food supply issues from a farmer’s point of view. Some of you have studied business, economics, and world hunger issues in depth; some of you have seen third-world poverty up close. Many of you have also been members of the Mennonite faith community for all or most of your lives, and you’ve heard about and practiced simple living in one way or another for years.

So I have very little to tell you about the why or how of eating potatoes, or lentils, or rice. Most of you should assume that you know more about that than I do. Many of you also understand better than I do why world food prices are going up, why people in the poorest countries are becoming violent over their lack of food, and why celery here suddenly costs $2.69 a bunch.

But I will try to give you a bit of background on my own interest in food and a simpler lifestyle, and our current concerns around the world food situation; and also some possible suggestions for action that I’ve drawn from various places; then I’ll open things up for discussion.

I grew up in a family where eating was always of interest, but where the cooking was as likely to be frozen meat pies as roast chicken. My mother loved to bake, but she was busy and found putting dinner on the table tedious. She cooked liver, mainly because my father liked it, and made Weight Watchers desserts in the blender, and cooked turnips and beet tops because they were frugal and nutritious; and we ate it because we were expected, if not always to clean our plates, to at least eat some of whatever we didn’t like so much. At least it worked for me; my sister rebelled and for years wouldn’t eat any vegetables besides frozen peas and corn.

My grandmother was a good cook in the Food That Really Schmecks tradition, until too much fried food got both her and Grandpa into trouble and they made a radical switch to eating salads. She still liked to talk about food, though, and her interest in the old recipes also helped me develop an interest in use-what-you-have cooking. I spent a lot of my teens and early adult years cooking at home, working in camp kitchens, and experimenting with vegetarian food while I lived on my own. I always liked to read cookbooks, especially ones that focused on more-with-less food; some of the books that I used the most then included the Goldbeck’s Short Order Cookbook, Tassajara Cooking, and the More with Less Cookbook. I also had a copy of Louise Newton’s Good Recipes for Hard Times, and I wish I still had that because it’s gotten very hard to find and it had some great simple meal ideas in it. When Mr. Fixit and I were first engaged and he was living in an apartment, I got him a copy of The Urban Peasant, and we still use that.

When we were first married, the economy was doing a bit of a turnaround after the boom of the late ‘80’s; wedding rings were cheap but broccoli got to be expensive. My new favourite books became the three Tightwad Gazette guides to frugality, and they helped pull us through some tight years. We realized that we did have quite a few good frugal-living skills already and that we had absorbed a lot from our parents and grandparents. Mr. Fixit was good at car mechanics, home fixups, electronics, and had a good sense of where our money was going. My particular talents included improvising in the kitchen, creative yard saling, and being able to overlook some things that others would fuss over—I’m not a very visual person so whether or not our house was big or small or totally redecorated or not didn’t bother me.

After our first child was born, I became very involved with our neighbourhood association and the community centre where we ran our programs. They sent me for training as a community nutrition worker, which is a program that is still going on. CNWS are what they call peer support workers, people that are trained to promote nutrition, run food programs, start collective kitchens and so on. It didn’t end up being a job that I continued for pay, but I did continue to read and write about frugal food and nutrition, especially when I started blogging a few years ago. Because I’m in touch so frequently with other parents who also think and talk a lot about these issues and who live on a single income as we do, it sometimes surprises me to realize that our family is a bit out of the mainstream when it comes to things like eating regular meals at home, shopping and cooking together, and in some of the other ways we get by, like yardsaling and not having cable T.V. It just feels kind of normal to us. Besides, I know we’re not the most frugal people around, either; we do eat meat regularly, although we used to cook mostly vegetarian; we buy chips and pop sometimes, and frozen pizzas. Compared to some people I know who drop every chicken carcass in the stockpot almost before the plates have been cleared, I feel like I haven’t really earned my simple living merit badge yet. But we’ll get into comparing and legalism later on.

So, to go back a bit—we survived the high food prices of the early ‘90’s, but since then, even though our family has grown to five, we’ve managed to keep our food budget pretty steady up until this year. For over 15 years we kept track of every grocery receipt, and we knew exactly how much money we needed to live on. When we set out our budget for this year, we decided to relax our record keeping and not worry so much about what we spent, because we figured by this time we pretty much had it down. And wouldn’t you know, this is the year our grocery trips suddenly started costing thirty, forty, fifty dollars more, every time. And all of a sudden even going out for burgers started to empty our wallet; our energy bill has gone up. Obviously something was up, and the newspaper stories about rising prices confirmed that we are in the middle of a world food and energy crisis that only seems to be getting worse.

The commonly-quoted reasons for the rise in food prices seem to be the cost of oil; the increasing demand for more meat and other luxury foods in India and China; and the crops-used-for-ethanol issue; but there's also much larger question about how the price of commodities has been affected by bad economic policies, by too many middlemen, by big business decisions that have affected the whole food industry. I'm still working my way through a long Globe and Mail article about Canadian farmers, middlemen and the stock market, trying to understand how what’s happened in the stock market affects the price of celery here or rice in the Philippines. The short answer (as I understand it) is that the trading rules changed to allow investors to speculate on food futures as they did on other things like oil, and that’s messed things up because food doesn’t work the same way as other commodities.

Strangely enough, in some ways food is scarce and in other ways it’s cheap, valueless, a throwaway commodity that’s taking over our landfills and filling the air with methane gas. In developed countries, we still have so much food that we don’t know what to do with it or how to dispose of it—so even edible food becomes just more garbage. It’s something about our super-sized food culture; there’s also the problem that a lot of people have forgotten how to eat, nobody’s home to cook anyway, and they end up grabbing fast food way too often.

But since I can’t do much about the stock market or a lot of those other things, my questions and concerns come back to some of the more basic and personal ones:

1. How can we continue to feed our family in the same way, on the same budget we always have; or do we have to rethink some of our shopping habits and food attitudes in order to survive these new challenges? As we said last week about oil prices—do we hear that food prices will be going DOWN anytime soon?

2. How can I communicate those concerns to my children, who, in spite of my lessons and lectures on cleaning the plate or at least “trying some of it,” still don’t think they should have to eat hot cereal, casseroles, leftovers, or lentil soup?

“When I was a child, my mother said to me,
‘Clean the plate, because children are starving in Europe….’
So I would clean the plate, four, five, six times a day.
Because somehow I felt that that would keep the children from starving in Europe.
But I was wrong. They kept starving. And I got fat.”—Allan Sherman

We cannot emphasize guilt or do the Allan Sherman thing, and expect that to be enough, or for our children to understand. We can say it, but they don’t get it any more than Sherman did.

3. How do I keep my focus on God Himself and on my obedience to Him, rather than striving for simplicity for its own sake, or getting into legalism over what we buy or where it comes from? (Simplicity for some people has become a kind of money-making industry, definitely not something we want to buy into.) How can I live with an attitude of trust in His provision rather than one of anxiety over finances, pridefulness over how well we’re doing, or obsession over the details of our shopping, menus, and what happens to the leftovers—but still live responsibly and prudently, emphasizing justice, mercy and humility in my attitude towards food as well as in the rest of life?

4. Finally, what can I—or what can you—do in a bigger way to impact our local community and the wider world, working to help feed the hungry, educate people, change policies, and love as Christ loved us? [Whew.]

In answer to Question 3, go back to what Doris Janzen Longacre wrote in 1976.

There is not just one way to respond, nor is there a single answer to the world’s food problem. It may not be within our capacity to effect an answer. But it is within our capacity to search for a faithful response.—Doris Janzen Longacre, The More-with-Less Cookbook, 1976

It’s still a good general answer—that obedience to God does not mean that we will come up with perfect answers to these questions, but that our search for a faithful response is part of that obedience. My obedience is not judged by whether or not I can convince my children to eat their vegetables, although their health and the issue of wasting food are definitely concerns we need to deal with. It is not judged by whether I myself can convince corrupt governments to feed people instead of buying weapons, although Matthew 6 and other Scriptures make it clear that I need to help where I can, for instance by supporting Christian workers and relief agencies working in those countries.

I do find in Scripture that I please God with an attitude of thankfulness and delight in His creation; and that I should pray to have just enough, “lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, Who is the Lord?, or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain.” I read that Jesus cares about feeding hungry people; that God said we are worth many sparrows, and that he provided manna, quail and water in the wilderness. In other books, I’ve read accounts of God’s faithfulness and provision, even beyond the bare necessities—Granny Han's Breakfast is one story that my children enjoyed. [Unrelated side note: if you're reading that, please preview the photos if you have little ones--there's one scary picture.]

I read that Jesus commended a Mary attitude over a Martha one. I read that I should be faithful even with a little; that if we have food, we should be content; that self-control is one of the fruits of the spirit, but that I am also commanded “Go, eat your bread in joy”—Ecclesiastes 8:7. The Bible tells us to love, honour and respect others, including those in our own families—so that would include those who work to pay for the food we eat, those who plan and cook the meals, and those who eat.

Out of respect to my husband and children, I try to cook things properly and give them things they like to eat, trying to balance taste with what’s nutritious and what we can afford. Out of respect to me, or whoever else is cooking; out of awareness of the reasons why we eat simply; and, more importantly, out of thankfulness to God, the eaters need to do their best to eat whatever it is without grumbling and complaining or asking for something else. Sometimes all that’s easier said than done, especially because these days we are finding the old style of parental authority (do that or else, eat it because I say so) has changed as well. But those are the attitudes that are clearly Scriptural and are there for all Christians.

When we try to define eating simply, it’s more important to (simply) live faithfully than to set out a list of everything we must do or not do, especially when we’re not only trying to figure out what to do, we’re trying to get our kids or other family members to do it along with us.. Jesus said it’s not what goes into our mouths but what comes out of them that makes us unclean. Our stray comments and complaints are more powerful than we realize. One negative example of this was something we saw once on T.V.; it was about families who were getting food assistance, I think from a food bank, and who were given recipes to help use some of the unfamiliar items. So they showed a woman making spaghetti with lentil sauce, and then her family saying grace, and right away her husband complaining, “what’s this stuff? We’re supposed to eat this? I mean, maybe if we had some cheese on top or something we could at least swallow it.” And so of course nobody would eat it. More for the landfill.

Our children see what we really are, what we value, how we use things. If we spend so much time cooking Christmas dinner that we have no time or energy left to celebrate; if we get mad at the kids’ junk food but spend money on adult-style snacks and empty calories—these negative things speak louder to them than our words. On the other hand, if our meals are a relaxed time together, and we simply eat with thankfulness, our children see that, and it is the equivalent of many lectures.

It’s also important to choose our own priorities carefully. Nobody has all the answers and nobody can or should try to do everything. One very sad story I read recently mentioned a mother who was dying of cancer. When she was asked if she had any regrets, she said that she wished she HADN’T spent so much time making bread, since it meant she had less time with her family.

The second part of this post will suggest some possible responses and places to start.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Apprentice's Summer Job

Only two votes, and both of them wrong--sorry!

The Apprentice is working a couple of days a week at a hair salon. She's not actually allowed to cut hair because she's not licensed, but she can give shampoos, take out perms and all those things.

So there you go.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Sudden landings (the Apprentice is driving and working)

Ron at The Abarbablog muses on the culture shock of returning from Uganda, and the parent-shock of realizing that our kids are, indeed, growing up and sometimes doing amazing things we wouldn't have even considered. (This time, nothing involving blood.)

I relate, Ron--The Apprentice started her first real part-time summer job today. And she drove home from the corner store last night (with Mr. Fixit beside her, of course).

Just for fun, who wants to guess what The Apprentice is doing this summer? No fair guessing if I already told you.

a) Washing dishes and serving meals at a nursing home
b) Helping run the library's summer reading program (including face painting at today's kickoff carnival)
c) Helping out in a hair salon (unpinning perms and such)
d) Helping out with a worm-raising project
e) Babysitting six homeschooled kids to give their mom a break

Ooh, this is a tough one...

And the answer was:  c) helping out in a hair salon.  The Apprentice worked there through the rest of high school and completed a hairstyling apprenticeship.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

September homeschool plans for Crayons

(Tentative plans!) [July 15, 2008: Updated version]

Crayons will be in Grade 2 this fall, and will be following a modified version of Ambleside Online's Year 2. Because she's been following along with many of Ponytails' readings over the last couple of years, I have had to substitute some books. She's also a very avid independent reader, so she may be able to handle some of these books on her own (although she likes to be read to as well).

Term 1: 1 Samuel, Matthew, selected Psalms & Proverbs; Judy Rogers CDs
Term 2: 2nd Samuel, continue Matthew, read from Acts
Term 3: Life of Solomon; continue Book of Acts

Language Arts:
Specific grade 2 skills from Gentle Language (an outline by Karen Glass), Teaching Children (Diane Lopez) and Ruth Beechick's 3-R's booklets, taught as needed, using our own books and supplements (word puzzles, a couple of Gifted and Talented workbooks, magnetic words, Scrabble letters, children's dictionary)

Skills include:
Oral communication, including narration, telephone/manners
Listening skills (demonstrated by oral or other responses)
Capitalization, some punctuation, plurals, complete sentences, contractions, prefixes/suffixes, alphabetizing to the second letter
Copywork, simple dictation (spelling words with specific patterns as well as calendar words and holiday words)
Printing practice, using Canadian Handwriting workbooks
Memory work (see list for each term)
Reading silently and out loud, and being read to (see booklists)
Writing, mostly informal, e.g. short letters
Following written directions--cooking, crafts

Begin Miquon Math Blue level (see their scope and sequence)
Typical grade 2 skills including number awareness, skip counting, understanding of place value, addition & subtraction, fraction concepts, money, time, measurement, problem solving, greater than/less than, multiplication & division concepts
Games, rod activities, hundreds chart, real-life math situations, commercial & homemade board games

History and Geography

Eh? to Zed--A Canadian ABeCeDarium
Choose one letter each week and find out more about the Canadian words on that page

Term 1: An Island Story chapters 22-32, Child's History of the World chp 45, 47-51
David Thompson activity book (and online supplements)--covers his life and explorations of the NorthWest; we learn something about the fur trade, mapmaking, and the Rocky Mountains.

Term 2: AIS 33-50, CHOW 52-54, Stories for Canada's Birthday, Kids' Book of the Far North (and library books about the Arctic)

Term 3: AIS 51-61; CHOW 55-58; Stories for Canada's Birthday; Bagley's Marco Polo (To Far Cathay)

A Pioneer Thanksgiving
A Pioneer Christmas (both by Barbara Greenwood; read during the appropriate seasons)
"Journey to a First Canadian Christmas" (story from Stories for Canada's Birthday)
Festivals, Family and Food, by Diana Carey and Judy Large (good way to learn about British holidays like Whitsun and Candlemas)

Term 1--undecided, may skip
Term 2--Brother Sun, Sister Moon (St. Francis of Assisi)
Term 3--Mr. Pipes & the British Hymn Makers (I like this for Year 2 because it ties in with Pilgrim's Progress)

Science and Nature
Topics from Handbook of Nature Study (including the HNS blog), Natural Science Through the Seasons (Partridge), and Through the Year (Frasier et al), a simply-written science reader that is referenced in Partridge's book

Possible books by term:
Term 1: Flower Fairies of the Autumn; Among the Night People (Pierson)
Term 2: Continue the Pierson series of nature books; add Linnea's Almanac
Term 3: Pagoo; Linnea's Windowsill Garden

Shakespeare stories, Pilgrim's Progress
Term 1--Poems of Walter de la Mare; Understood Betsy; extra reading (see AO lists)
Term 2--Poems of Eugene Field and James Whitcomb Riley; Wind in the Willows
Term 3--Poems of Christina Rossetti; Robin Hood

Artist and composer: More or less follow the Ambleside Online rotation. Possibly study Andy Warhol in Term 1 since a local museum will be hosting a Warhol exhibit starting in January. Possibly do Giotto in Term 2 (we did him a few years ago, but Crayons doesn't remember)
Drawing and painting activities
Singing--folk songs, hymns, Canadian songs
Musical instruments--maybe start some keyboard lessons

Crafts--Jumbo Book of Crafts; possible sewing club with some friends; make Christmas decorations; cooking, helping at home; add knitting frame/corking and cat's cradles in third term

Phys-ed type activities

Aux Yeux des Enfants, which we usually do in Grade 1 but didn't get to this past year

(Bible work was taken from Teaching Children (Lopez))
TERM 1: Ps. 23, Matt. 2:1-12, poems, geography songs, names of Bible books
TERM 2: Ps. 117, Matt. 6: 9-13, Lutheran catechism, etc.
TERM 3: Ps. 121, Matt. 28:1-10, catechism, etc.

(I should note here that our plans for Ponytails are more tentative at this point, so I won't be posting them for awhile.)

Friday, June 13, 2008

No-bake Chocolate Fruit Balls

I've always been of the opinion that a cookie on the counter is worth two bags of chocolate chips in the cupboard--if you know what I mean. And I had half a bag of chips and half a block of dates just sitting around.

But it's too hot to bake today, so this is what I made instead; it's a close relative of Christmas "sugar-plums" or the dried-fruit balls I described at the end of this post. It's very adaptable to whatever you have, and shows the real magic of the food processor. (What I mean by that is that sometimes you need to be patient--run the ingredients through twice, or a bit longer than you'd think--and you magically have something that looks a lot better than it started out to be. It doesn't hold true for everything--if you over-process whipping cream, you'll get butter. But it's something to keep in mind.)

Chocolate Fruit Balls

In the food processor, I combined approximately equal amounts of chocolate chips, dates (the pressed-together-in-a-block kind, broken apart), and granola, plus a drizzle of orange juice. If you're doing this, you might want to put on your industrial earplugs, because the sound of chocolate chips grinding is not a nice one. I ran the machine for a couple of minutes until I had a bowlful of crumbly stuff.

But wait, because it's not done.

Crumbly was okay but not really what I had in mind--I didn't want balls that would fall apart.

So I dumped the bowlful back in, added another drizzle of orange juice and a little honey--not for the sweetness but because I really wanted to make sure it would stick together. I don't know if it made any difference, though.

And then I ran it for another couple of minutes--it wasn't so deafening this time--till all of a sudden I had a big pasty mass of stuff that was having trouble moving around the bowl. That's it, turn it off!

And from that point it was very easy to break off pieces and roll them into balls.

You could call them Chocolate-Date Balls if nobody in your house has date antipathies. Otherwise it might be better to say they're Chocolate Granola Balls or Chocolate Fruit Balls.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Boy, this WAS a good day (yogurt making)

I haven't been making yogurt much lately, although I had had some success with Seabird Chronicles' method. I would have a good batch, then a couple of so-so ones; and in between I had to clean the pint canning jars I made it in (yuck). With a bottle brush. (Have to get me some wide-mouth jars.)

OK, enough whining?

Anyway, I think part of the problem with inconsistent yogurt results might just be the kind of yogurt used as a starter. I've always tried to get natural brands (I know yogurt with additives won't work well), but as I said I've had varying degrees of success. I bought some Perth County brand yogurt last week (sorry, that one's just for Ontarians), liked the taste, and froze some to use as starter. I made a batch today and it's probably the best-textured, least slimy or strange, most acceptable yogurt-that's-like-yogurt I've made in a long time. I don't THINK I did anything different--just followed Seabird's instructions and let it set on a heating pad for about six hours--took the jars out and let them chill in the fridge for awhile before I dumped them out into a larger container (maybe that helped too).

Or maybe the very strange weather we've had (cold, hot, thunderstorms, sunshine, bouncing back and forth), that's played havoc with all my baking lately, is good at least for yogurt making.

Success! Yeah!

P.S. Crayons calls the heating pad "the yogurt maker." I explained that it wasn't actually designed for that, that some people actually use a heating pad for sore backs. She thought that was very funny.

Retro Sloppy Joes

We had a request for Sloppy Joes tonight--but we were a bit short on ingredients and didn't have a can of Manwich sauce around either. The recipe in our Betty Crocker cookbook calls for various chopped vegetables, none of which we had (too close to grocery day and anyway green peppers were $2.49 a pound last week. In June.). I looked around and found a more retro-style recipe in the Beany Malone Cookbook. This is my adaptation--since I didn't have the required can of tomato soup and decided to add a few extra seasonings.

The Sloppy Joes turned out impressively chunky (rather than too sloppy) and quite flavourful--Mr. Fixit says they tasted like his mom's.

Since we were doing the Retro thing anyway, we had them with cooked green and yellow beans, potato chips, carrot sticks, and a dip I made that looked like spinach dip but was actually made with broccoli--and that got eaten instead of ignored because it was also quite good.

Not-Too-Sloppy Joes

In a large skillet, heat 3 tbsp. oil.

Brown: 1 cup chopped onions, 1 lb. ground beef. (I started the onions first because I wanted them nice and soft.) Drain fat if needed.

1 can tomato soup OR 1 can tomato paste put into a measuring cup and topped up with milk to make 1 cup
1/2 cup chili sauce
1/2 cup water or as needed
1 tbsp prepared mustard
A dash of garlic powder, a dash of celery seed, salt, pepper to taste
A dash of vinegar (that wasn't in the recipe but I thought it needed a little more sour)

Simmer for half an hour to an hour, on low so it doesn't burn. Add a bit more water if you think it needs it, but don't let it get too wet unless you just like it that way. Serve on hamburger buns. The Squirrelings like hamburger-style toppings on Sloppy Joes (like sliced cheese, relish and mustard), but Mama Squirrel doesn't bother.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Books read recently

With Crayons:

George and the Chinese Lady, by Myra Scovel (we've also started Hana's New Home)

Three chapters of The Family From One End Street, but Crayons decided she'd had enough of that one for the time being.

Mostly library books:

Lawrence Block, Telling Lies for Fun and Profit: A Manual for Fiction Writers (warning--Mr. Block has written some rough stuff and he draws from his own examples in this otherwise helpful book)

Joanne Greenberg, With the Snow Queen (short stories) (reread)

Anne Tyler, Back When We Were Grownups (reread)

Anne Tyler, Searching for Caleb
(I didn't think I'd like this one as much, but I got drawn into it more as it went on.)

On the shelf waiting to be read:

The Book of Sorrows, by Walter Wangerin Jr.

Where the Road Goes, by Joanne Greenberg

Saturday, June 07, 2008

If you have to ask the price...

There is a store near us that sells rocks. It also carries jewelery, butterflies in cases, and ceramic gifts; but mostly rocks. Some small, polished stones for fifty cents; some medium-sized things that would look good on a coffee table; some large and expensive pieces that you'd really have to love to pay that kind of money for.

They have one particularly large and beautiful piece called an Amethyst Cathedral. It really does resemble a cathedral: it's quite tall and pointed at the top, and it opens from the front (like the one in the photo there) into the most beautiful interior.

It's priced at $1,290 Canadian.

The young Squirrelings eyed it appreciatively. One noted, "That's a lot of money."

"How much money?" asked the youngest.

"One thousand, two hundred and ninety dollars."

The youngest Squirreling chewed on that for a moment and then added solemnly, "And I guess there'd be tax on that, too."

Friday, June 06, 2008

Chicken Spaghetti: the recipe

The chicken part of the recipe is adapted from a chicken-sandwich recipe in Canadian Living. I liked the idea of marinating and pre-baking the chicken breasts, and they turn out very tasty that way (and can be used for quick fajitas or other cooked-chicken recipes as well). Unless you do have the chicken pre-cooked, this isn't a last-minute recipe; but it's something that can be made with mostly pantry ingredients.

Chicken Spaghetti

454 g (1 lb.) package of boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 3 pieces)
1 (680 ml) can pasta sauce (I didn't use the whole can, I don't like it soupy)
1 small can tomato paste
1 can mushrooms, drained (fresh mushrooms would be nicer, and peppers would be good too)
2 tbsp. oil (olive preferred)
2 tbsp. lemon juice (I squeezed a fresh lemon)
1/2 tsp. each dried basil and thyme
1/4 tsp. each salt and pepper
Enough pasta (regular, gluten-free, or what-have-you) to serve 4

Combine the oil, lemon juice, basil, and thyme. Marinate the chicken in it, in the fridge, for at least half an hour.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease a cookie sheet, or cover it with foil. Put the chicken on the pan and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for 20 minutes. If you will be using the chicken later, chill it until needed.

In a large skillet with a lid, combine pasta sauce, mushrooms, and tomato paste. Add the chicken, in large pieces or cut up if you prefer. Heat through (don't let it bubble too hard). Cook the pasta and serve with the chicken and sauce, and Parmesan cheese if you want.

Serves 4 average eaters.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

You use what you have (meditations on what's in the fridge)

One essential element of being frugal is that you use what you have, the best that you can. Other people have said this over and over too--Amy Dacyczyn said that she didn't want to print her recipe for pumpkin-blueberry muffins because those things were cheap/free for her but not necessarily for other people. (And yet people are still after her to write a cookbook.)

And that's one reason it's difficult for me to plan menus ahead of time, because the leftovers from pre-planned dinners have to get accounted for too. Coffeemamma just posted a very sensible week's plan and notes that it's based on what's available to her this time of year. We are in that same kind of waiting-for-the-fresh-stuff place right now.

I find the type of groceries we have really varies, depending on where we've been shopping. Last weekend the weather was bad, Mr. Fixit wasn't feeling well, so we were limited to a Giant Tiger trip plus a stop at Bulk Barn. I wasn't about to pay $2.89 for celery at Giant Tiger (although I've noticed that it's expensive at other stores right now too), and for the rest of our vegetables I had to settle for frozen peas, a can of mushrooms, and a head of iceberg lettuce. (I already had carrots and onions.) I knew we'd stock up better later on, but that was what we had to work with for at least a couple of days. Anyway, all that is to say that we had a few a-la-can dinners this week, which isn't necessarily a problem--it's just that sometimes what you have is fresh, sometimes it's frozen, sometimes it's packages, and you have to plan your meals on your feet, so to speak. (Remember my food-box menu plan? In a similar vein, I like what the new Hillbilly Housewife is doing with the Angel Food Menus, based on what's being distributed through another food box plan.) One night we had Giant Tiger's frozen cabbage rolls, plus a package of wieners that I put, frozen, into the oven with a bit of barbecue sauce over top; later I added a can of baked beans. Last night we had chicken spaghetti, with a salad made out of the iceberg lettuce, grated carrot, and sunflower seeds.

And sometimes you just do what makes sense. I've had a bunch of things to do today plus I have a meeting tonight and I don't want to leave a lot of pots and pans. (The Treehouse doesn't have a dishwasher.) We have ground turkey and I was going to make turkey loaf and maybe have mashed potatoes and vegetables with it...then I thought of the loaf of bread that just came out of the breadmaker, and the homemade cream-soup-mix in the cupboard, and the bag of frozen Japanese-style vegetables we bought last night (we did go on another grocery trip--worth a post in itself), and I thought--Hot Turkey-Vegetable Sandwiches. Or Turkey a la King on fresh bread, or whatever you want to call it. It's not a meal I'd make all the time, it's just what works today. (I also had a gi-nor-mous sweet potato from last night's trip, and I cut that up (so it wouldn't take forever to bake) and put it in a pan in the toaster oven.

That's not exactly a leftover story, but leftover-using-up works the same way. Last night's dessert was a what-do-we-have story: plain yogurt (frozen in cubes but mostly thawed by dessert time), one small blueberry yogurt cup, some frozen blueberries and mixed berries (leftovers of each), and graham crackers. Recipe: break up the graham crackers and layer them in a glass bowl with the yogurt and fruit. Let sit until defrosted but not entirely mushy. Call it trifle.

I could have skipped dessert for tonight, but I had some crushed pineapple getting forgotten in the fridge, and part of an orange that nobody finished at lunch. I cut up two bananas, spread the fruit all out in a small pan, and stuck it in the freezer. At dessert time we'll run it through the food processor--instant sherbet.

(Well, I guess that does leave a few dishes. But you get the point.)

I'll take that as a compliment

Crayons and I were reading James Herriot's Moses the Kitten for school.

She snuggled against me and said, "I want to be close to you. Like Bertha."

(Bertha is the mother sow in the story.)