in the kitchen

from berries to jam

strawberry jam

sterilizing

canning for a new generation

a big pot

cleaning the bowl

strawberry rosemary jam

why bother eating the bread

Homemade jam - so good that you don't even bother eating the bread.

This year, I was very much looking forward to making strawberry jam with Finn. Last year, he was just starting to take his first steps, and it was really only Mama and Daddy who did the picking and jam-making. (I do recall that Finn did some eating, though. He's always been one for that.) This year, berries and jam have been central to his life this late Spring. From picking (and tasting) to stirring and measuring (and tasting) to bringing jars of jam to gift to friends (and tasting), berries are what he talks about, reads about, and (obviously) eats.

Our preferred recipe this year comes from Canning for a New Generation. (I have ambitions of making every recipe in this book once we have our own garden. Oh, the dreams this book has inspired. I'll be honest, too - part of me just wants to have a pantry that bursts with color like the jars on the front cover of the book.) We used the Strawberry Lavender recipe but substituted ground rosemary in place of the elusive lavender. The resulting jam is a very sophisticated "sweet," and it makes our pbj lunches feel so much more gourmet. Try substituting cream cheese for the peanut butter. Your taste buds will sigh with delight.

A few things that I've found helpful for jam-making with a toddler:

:: the Learning Tower. Worth it's weight in gold.

::my big Cinsa enamelware pot from Mexico. I'm sure you could find it at any local Latino market. It's super cheap and contains all of the splashes and hot strawberry splatters.

:: favorite books about berry picking and jam - Blueberries for Sal and Jamberry .

 

 


thank you and muffins

bran muffins 2

I can't begin to put into words what your comments and emails mean to me, to us. I've been teary and sniffly with gratitude since I put up that post.

Since I can't give each of you a hug of thanks for all of your words of support and love, I thought I'd bring you over some muffins.

Well, sort of. You do have to make them yourselves, but I'm afraid that baking a batch of muffins to be delivered directly to the doors of over three hundred generous friends is just a bit out of my reach right now.

bran muffins

But they are yummy, healthy, and make the perfect snack for toddlers. I'd been searching for a recipe like this for a while - something without sugar and full of whole grains, and something that was easy to make with the "help" of a toddler. I ended up modifying a recipe I found in a back issue of Mary Jane's Farm.

Bran Muffins

Cook Time: 20 Minutes

Makes: 12 Muffins

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup wheat bran

1/4 cup oat bran

1/4 cup wheat germ

2 t baking powder

1/2 t salt

2 eggs

1 cup buttermilk

1/4 cup apple butter

1/3 cup honey

1/2 cup raisins, dried cranberries, or chopped-up dried figs

1. Preheat oven to 400F. Lightly coat muffin pan with oil. (I used paper liners the first time, and I don't recommend it - they stick to the muffins!)

2. Combine the dry ingredients in one bowl and the wet ingredients in another.

3. Add the wet ingredients to the flour mixture. Stir with a wooden spoon - don't overmix. Fold in the dried fruit.

4. Fill muffin tins 2/3 full and bake for 20 minutes.

bran muffins 3

Yum.

A few more things have been on my mind in the last few weeks as we re-envision what life will entail in the months following Lachlan's birth. One of the things that stands out to me is the fact that he will be medically fragile for a while. It isn't recommended that we take him out and about in public places where he could catch a cold - a cold which, for the average person, would just be a nuisance, but for Lachlan might mean hospitalization.

A natural homebody, this doesn't freak me out, but I've been thinking about ways we could arrange our living space to be most inviting to be in and most accommodating of our near-constant presence. This means that I'm saying good-bye to my sewing studio, the sunniest room in the house, and transforming it into an art/playroom. My studio will share space with our guest quarters in the partially finished basement. Less sunny, but heck, I do most of my actual sewing at night, anyway.

So yes, an art/playroom. I'm ridiculously excited about this, and the wheels are turning big-time in my head. I look forward to sharing the process with you in the coming weeks. In my own research into such spaces, I spent lots of time hanging out at Playful Learning. Wow. What an incredible resource Mariah has put together. I especially love the section on "Learning Experiences." So many great ideas.

Onward, then. In the words of the Beatles, "I'll get by with a little help from my friends." Thank you.

 


applesauce

concentration

Life has been tossing us around the past few weeks. Everyone in this little family has been having good days punctuated by really tough days. The causes are different, of course - the one year-old can point to his problem, a swollen gum waiting for a molar to poke through. The adults? Well, what we wouldn't give for some down-to-earth teething issues of our own.

sampling

But you know what? When the going gets tough, I find it helpful to take on one fairly mindless activity each day - an activity that brings some peace in it's ability to ground me in the beauty of the present moment, despite the whirl of emotions in both the past and the present.

Yesterday, that activity was making applesauce.

Need I mention that Finn loved it? Oh, and I should also mention that our applesauce is probably not very sanitary. It does, however, go through a strict regimen of taste testing. As in, every apple gets tasted. Toddler spit only enhances the flavor, claims said toddler.

apple peel swirl

flossing with apple peel

so much fun!

peeled, cored, and sliced

okay, so we might not have the most sanitary apple sauce ever

canning for a new generation

Applesauce is really easy to make. I followed the directions in this amazing book, since I'd never made it before. I actually wanted to make apple butter, but I decided that apple butter is not a recipe for this time in my life. We don't have a slow cooker, so it would require stiring every 10 minutes for several hours to keep it from scorching. Um, yeah. So we made applesauce instead.

apple butter recipe

If you're into preserving, Canning for a New Generation is a true gem. It's full of exotic-sounding recipes, taking your basic sauces and jams to a whole new level. What I really love about this book, though, is that the author also gives you recipes for dishes to make with the preserves - from yogurt to cheese to pastries to savory main dishes. Patrick made some of her four-sticks-of-butter oat scones to go with our applesauce. Oh my.

Today, we're abandoning the Mt. Everest of Dishes that seems to have accumulated in our kitchen to have an impromptu dinner out with friends, because neither of us feels like finding peace in the present moment through washing dishes!

Wishing you all a peaceful weekend,

Meg


finally

hello, autumn

Pretend you don't notice the exasperation in my voice when I say that Autumn is finally here. I will also pretend that I weathered this scorcher of a Summer with grace, with not a word of complaint. Okay? Okay.

dinner

To say that I'm pleased that it's finally raining, that the days are noticeably shorter, and that it dipped below 80 would be an understatement. Woohoo!!! I kind of feel like running around in the rain and climbing a tree.

Instead, I gathered my wits and decorated the table with some flowers from my earlier walk with Finn and poured glasses of sparkling apple cider to accompany dinner.

sparkling apple cider

Finn proceded to call the cider "yuck," as he does with anything poured in a wine glass. Since he's a fearless eater and wants to try most anything that's on the table, Patrick started refering to his occasional glass of wine with a scrunched up nose and a grimace, telling Finn that he wouldn't want any of it because it was yucky. Finn now automatically dislikes anything in a wine glass. I'm thinking that is a good thing. I plan on drinking my hot chocolate in a wine glass this Winter. Yuck, indeed.

autumn oatmeal walnut bread

By the way, if you're on the lookout for a to-die-for bread recipe, this oatmeal walnut loaf is our new staple.


a toddler-friendly house

It's no surprise that our house has undergone some changes since Finn started walking. Given my personal penchant for rearranging furniture and constantly tweaking our home to make it more livable, I really embrace the opportunity to create interesting and safe spaces for Finn to explore and enjoy. I hope you enjoy the tour!

playing the drums in the music room

Our music room/dining room is set up for Mama and Daddy, as well as Finn. The set of drums, which I found at our local fair trade store, are from India. Each drum rotates on a donut cushion, which makes it easy to angle them to better accommodate Finn's small stature. On the other side of Finn, which you can't see in this picture, is a basket containing a handful of interesting percussion instruments which I switch out periodically: bells, a triangle, a maraca, and a wooden egg shaker.

living room with reading nook

The dining room features a child-sized rocker and a handmade book sling for larger picture books.

book sling close up

You can find the tutorial for making a book sling at Penny Carnival.

living room with potty and book basket

Another view of our living room reveals the little potty station, well equipped with a basket containing wipes and a few books. (A note about how EC is going ... we're currently experiencing a lack of interest in the potty. Ever since Finn started walking, he's been less concerned with signaling to use the potty, and that's cool (and also quite normal for EC-ers!) He still sits down a few times a day to read books with us, and we still catch most number 2's because that happens somewhat predictably upon waking, but for now, potty time is on the back burner!)

finn's bookshelf

Here's yet another nook for Finn - a tiny bookshelf that holds a few books (including the talented Melissa Crowe's felt baby book featured in my book!), as well as his baby doll, a music box that was mine when I was little, and a basket containing two sandpaper letters which are from fellow Montessorian Polliwog 77. Finn loves carrying them around. I figure that I'll just casually introduce some letter sounds to him as a game. Just this morning, Finn walked over, picked up the "f", rubbed his finger over it, and said "ffffffffffff."

nature cabinet

Here's the nature cabinet - a bit sparse at the moment, but we do have a few duck and geese feathers on display, as well as some interesting seed pods and a summery drawing. The chair is from the Michael Olaf 0-3 catalog, The Joyful Child.

kitchen play

And here's the heart of the home - the place we spend the most time - the kitchen. It's certainly where we put most of our resources - both money and sweat (notice the new blue walls? Much brighter than the former dark orange look.) Thanks to a generous refund check from the IRS, we were able to purchase the most gorgeous cherry play kitchen by Camden Rose. It matches the Camden Rose shelf/play stand that we've had for a while. Finn loves it in here - whether it's opening and closing his kitchen doors and putting things in or taking them out or playing with bubbles in the little sink, he always finds something of interest - which is important for the big people in the house, because we like cooking and baking, and it's pretty difficult to get anything done with a baby hanging on your leg. The toddler-sized table and chair are also from Michael Olaf.

little bird on a branch

His other favorite kitchen activities include playing with the real "play" phone, exploring garlic bulbs and other fresh produce, and playing with the saucepans, lids, and serving spoons, which are available to him in one of the low cabinets. Oh - and I just thought I'd show you one of my favorite details of the space - the fabric bird on a branch curtain rod.

washing dishes with daddy

His absolute favorite kitchen activity, however, is hanging out in his Learning Tower and helping us wash dishes or fruits and veggies. His tower was a birthday gift from his grandparents, aunt, and great aunt and uncle. Although they're not shown in this picture, we like to keep the "gaps" in the side and back closed off with a few bungee cords until he's a bit bigger and more steady on his feet. Also, if he's working with a lot of water, we'll drape the "floor" of the tower with a towel to keep things from getting slippery. It's made kitchen work so much more fun, for all involved!

reading in finn's room

And here's the little fellow in his room ... which hasn't changed much. I just rotate out the activities on the shelf and he's happy as a clam - always something to do.

opening and closing basket

Right now, this opening and closing basket keeps his interest. (These little woven baskets are perfect for little hands and for holding interesting "toys" like shells, stones, and blocks. I found mine fair-trade at our local Whole Foods market. They are made in Ghana.)

potty station in bedroom

Here's the potty station in his room, outfitted with books, of course!

toddler in the studio

And here's novel toddler space - my sewing studio! Inspired by Anna Maria, I made some changes in order to welcome Finn into this space. No toys are necessary here - just some spools of thread, a basket of scraps, and some interesting notions in a small cabinet that opens and closes, along a few books.

toddler in the studio 2

Embroidery thread is fascinating.

toddler-proofing the studio

Here's an invaluable gadget that allows me to safely keep my sewing machine, serger, and computer plugged in - it's called a Lectralock.

toddler in the studio 3

I'm still not able to get much work done with Finn in here with me, as he's constantly asking to read books together. How can I say no to that request?

It's nice to have a home that all of us can enjoy, and that allows Finn to explore freely without me worrying about safety issues or off-limits, adult-only spaces. We're here together all day, every day, and we love it!


cooking in the inferno

orange sherbet from scratch

It's been hotter than a frying pan in the underworld here in North Carolina. Aside from being in the' mid-90's, it's sticky. Humidity and I do not get along. I'm from the mountains of Northern California, after all, where summers are pool-worthy but humane. Pleasant, even. Pleasant is not a synonym for summer in the South.

basket of yummy

Aside from making me cranky and forcing me to stay inside for most of the day, hot days make me want to fill my body with cold things. As if, by eating ice cream all day, I could bring the temperature down in a certain radius around my body, like a human ice pack.

But you know what? If this weather is what it takes to spur me into action and make orange sherbet from scratch, I can handle a few more days like this with at least a smidgen of grace. Because, man oh man, this is GOOD.

Two bowls today. Tomorrow will be a better day, because I will eat three bowls of this stuff.

Recipe here.


and she asks herself, "can you do the can-can?"

canning 1

Did I really just write that title? I did. And that's about the extent of my sense of humor, friends. Thank you for the polite chuckle.

Despite growing up amidst blackberry brambles with my own mother making jam like a factory, I had never made my own jam. Of course, I have picked a gazillion berries and have eaten truckloads of jam, but somehow I avoided the actual making of the jam - until now. With my new can-do attitude (groan, eye-roll) and my Mother's Day gift, I was prepared to preserve.

canning 2

My gift consisted of my choice of kitchen "gadget." I briefly considered a crock pot, toyed with the idea of a bread machine, and fantasized about a stand mixer, but I ultimately went for something supremely practical and sure to be used quite a bit: two books, a jar lifter, and some more mason jars. I also went ahead and bought a pressure cooker/canner because I know we'll be wanting to preserve low-acid foods such as pinto beans and soups of all kinds. You don't need a pressure cooker if you're only making high-acid preserves such as jams, pickles, condiments, or tomato sauces. A bit ol' pot will work just fine.

canning 6

Old-fashioned jams looked right up my alley. Only two ingredients. Mashed fruit and sugar. How could I mess that one up on my first try?

canning 5

My biggest surprise in this whole process was the mountain of sugar that homemade jams require. Mind you, it's a lot better than high fructose what-not and who-knows-what-else they add to commercial jams, but my goodness. I think I'll be having my toast and jam for dessert from now on!

canning 4

With the Bob Marley's classic playing in my head, I stirred. And stirred. Stirred some more, then finally poured the aromatic goop into the jars, placed the jars in the pot for ten minutes at a rolling boil, removed the hot jars using the jar lifter, and set them on my counter for 24 hours to set.

canning 3

The result?

Well. I suppose this means I'll never again buy jam from a store. The other result is that my kitchen is a mess. Not only did we make jam, but we made strawberry syrup for pancakes and waffles. Suddenly, we went from never having canned before to wanting to can everything in sight. Is that something edible? Quick! Can it! Our crazed gazes twitch from side to side, waiting for the next box from our CSA to arrive on Tuesday ...

Actually, I have other things in the works - fabric things! I'll be hosting Anna Maria Horner's book tour tomorrow (actually, I'll be gushing about her work and showing off projects all week long) so be sure to stop by!


biking to pick up a little bite of heaven

yay! bike ride

Yesterday marked the first week of our 20-week CSA share! A four block bike ride is all that's between us and some organic yumminess, and Finn seems to know it.

the prince in his chariot with finger food

He adores bike rides, and it's a fantastic workout for me, pulling the prince along while he munches on finger foods. We're so happy that he likes being in his trailer, as we prefer riding to driving, and live in a very bike-able area. Plus, Finn still doesn't adore his car seat (although he's more tolerant of it than he used to be). It provides us with the impetus to get around on two wheels instead of four. (For other biking families - we love our trailer, which we were able to purchase with the help of our REI member dividend. It's a Chariot.)

CSA share box

And here's the box - stuffed full of spinach, greens, lettuce, broccoli, asparagus, and - most importantly, strawberries.

With the beginning of our CSA share season comes a shift in my meal planning. Instead of fixed set of meals that we rely on during the winter season, I'm starting to plan my meals around what's in the box. I find that I rely heavily on Mollie Katzen's The Vegetable Dishes I Can't Live Without, which has a very handy index and a panoply of dishes for a large variety of veggies. Tonight we're having Asparagus Crepes with Mushroom Sauce. Oh, Spring, I love you.

big kahuna

But I digress. Let's get to the red, juicy meat of this post. The strawberry.

berry boy

Straight up for the babe, covered in dark chocolate for the parents.

chocolate covered strawberries

Because, hey, I did tow him around town with sheer muscle force. He can have the plain berry. I'm taking mine with chocolate, thankyouverymuch! 

Check out LocalHarvest to find a CSA near you!


more cooking fun (and a giveaway)

cooking fun - the book

As if we haven't had enough cookbook craze here in the past week ... (Which reminds me - make sure you send me an email at MealCalendarRecipes@gmail.com if you want to be my Tastebook friend. I've had a good number of people email me at my normal address, which is really hard to keep track of.)

I'm so excited to be in cahoots with the talented Rae Grant - mama, blogger, and author of two children's books: Cooking Fun and Crafting Fun . Stop by Rae's inspiring blog, My Little Hen: Simple Ideas for Childhood Fun, and peruse her archives when you have the chance - you won't be disappointed!

cooking fun - the book

Rae sent me copies of her books, and let me tell you - they just make me smile. Both Cooking Fun and Crafting Fun are replete with vintage recipes and crafts, and would make excellent gifts for the reading child on your holiday gift list. I've had a lot of fun going through the drink recipes, and have become especially enamored with this milk/orange juice/vanilla combo. It's frothy. It's yummy. And it simply belongs in both my recycled jam jar glasses and in my stomach.

Since nothing goes better with a kid's vintage-inspired cookbook than a vintage-inspired apron, Rae is hosting a giveaway of Cooking Fun and I'm chipping in two Lola Apron patterns! Go over to My Little Hen and leave a comment to enter!

lola_front

P.S. Did you know the Lola Apron won first place at the Iowa State Fair? How cool is that?

223/365 State Fair Apron

photo and apron by letterwoman

Back tomorrow with some photos of my nature table and an update on the Holiday Traditions Exchange - Design Fridays will be back next week!