Tuesday, March 30, 2010

On Real Food

From The Mennobrarian

"Not one 6 year old student could identify a tomato or potato until associated with ketchup and fries... frightening!"

The above quote was made by an observer at a recent education initiative where public school children were introduced to real food. I don't know what to think about that, except it makes me sad. Yes, I know that today in the modern world we are far removed from our agrarian roots, and no, I don't expect that we should all return to them and live a life of self sufficiency- a concept that is somewhat delusional, and at it's worst, selfish. But as an information broker by trade, I never fail to be appalled by ignorance.

That being said, I was excited (and maybe a little complimented) when my dear friend Patty told me that she wanted to bring her four children, a 12 year old, 10 year old, and set of six-year-old twins, over for a visit one day in early summer so they can experience something outside of the suburbs. Patty and I are good enough friends that she doesn't have to wait for an invitation. Well. I surely don't think of our house as field trip material. Quite the opposite- it's a complete work zone and with nails, saws, and dogs, we're even cautious about adults coming over at this stage. It's just chaos.

"I don't understand. What do you want them to see?" I asked. After more poking, it became clear. Patty was seeking to show her children a connection to where food comes from.

So initially, there was this nervous feeling about it, which was soon replaced by joy for an opportunity to show the children something basic like where spinach comes from. And wouldn't it be wonderful to have them over in June to pick strawberries? Maybe some berries would even make it into a basket instead of their mouths! And perhaps we could make arrangements to take them over to see the neighbor's pigs, climb the mulberry tree, and send them home with little jars of jam. Doesn't that sound like a good time?

Sometimes when I hear parents express frustration at their children who won't eat certain things, I admit it seems a little foreign to me. Growing up, I ate whatever an adult put in front of me, and those around me did the same. There was no discussion, and never a negotiation. Perhaps we just weren't smart enough to make a bargain, or else just plain hungry and didn't care what we ate. Last summer, I gave Patty a pint of cherry tomatoes, which she took home and turned her back on for a second. When she turned around, the pint was empty, having been gobbled by her foursome in less than a minute. Patty was amazed to see her children delight in raw vegetables, but I think it was the children teaching that adults a lesson. Things always taste better when they are lovingly grown by you or someone you know. Love is a nutrient, and an extra taste beyond the sweet and salty.

There are quite a few things I don't grow at home because someone local grows it better than I could, or have the space to do it. But we do try to be mindful of who is growing what, so we keep a connection to our food. Take chicken, for instance. I don't have space for chickens, and there are people who farm them so much better than I could. You don't want to go chicken shopping with me- it takes all day. The chicken in grocery stores does not taste like chicken to me, and huge chicken operations send out a red flag that there is some intensive farming going on that will result in a chicken bred for the grocery store. So chicken shopping means driving out to a couple of farms that I trust, asking questions, and packing the cooler. But at least I'm getting quality chicken.

So. For those of you who have been thinking about cultivating a closer connection to your food this year in the form of a garden or whatever, these are my tips for starting at home:

  • Be realistic about your time and space. Don't try to grow something difficult or exotic if you can't find the time or advice needed to grow it successfully.
  • Look in your pantry and freezer to see what your family does eat, and grow that instead. Mostly everyone uses canned tomatoes and corn, crops that are relatively easy to grow and don't require an enormous amount of space.
  • Be mindful of nearby opportunities to buy from local farmers. If you know of a farmstand that churns out seasonal fresh lettuce or raspberries, consider buying instead of growing, unless these are things you use daily.
  • Grow things you use daily.
  • If you're going to grow more than you can use (peppers and beans come to mind) know ahead of time how you will preserve them, or else have a plan for giving them away. You don't want food, or your hard work, to go to waste.
  • Plan your space ahead of time. Learn about what plants will take up the most space, and plant accordingly. If you don't have a lot of space, consider doing a small herb garden or exploring container gardening.

If you have any other ideas, feel free to post them in the comments. We call all grow by helping each other.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie

We had some joyful days of near-summer like weather, which gave me some much needed time to start working on the yard. All day I sweated and hauled mulch around, picked up sticks and random boards that had been blown from piles of construction materials. With great satisfaction, I used the snow shovel to load mulch into the wheel barrow. And I'll tell you, it was very satisfying to use a snow shovel for a spring activity on a warm day. This spring has brought more gratitude than ever before after that harsh winter. I stopped off at the garden center and was their only customer, came home, and planted a few pansies in pots on the front step. Now, their smiling little flower faces greet me each time I enter the house.

Do you ever notice how much spring can re-energize? Not just the earth around us, but ourselves, too. It's almost as if the longer days allow us to see more clearly in the extended light. What a perfect time of year to celebrate the resurrection of our Savior.

Around the Home: The Mister is planning a massive push on our home reconstruction, hoping to get at least our bedroom, dining room, and front entrance way completely rebuilt. This will be hard, messy, and laborious, but a huge step towards completing our home. It will mean sleeping in the living room (where we slept our first year) so the floor structure can be rebuilt in the bedroom, and like all of our projects, it will mean a lot of inconvenience. But it's important and essential, and needs to be done. The chaos will commence shortly.

On the Bookshelf: I'm proud of my fellow Anabaptist researcher and blogger, Erik, from Amish America, whose book Success Made Simple: An Inside Look at Why Amish Businesses Thrive has just been published and is getting a lot of attention. This is a major achievement, and a very interesting and informative look at the world of Amish-run businesses. Congrats, Erik!

In the Kitchen: Is there anything better than the combination of chocolate and peanut butter? This is a simple pie recipe to which I added my own special touches. And by special touches, I mean chocolate.

Chocolate-Peanut Butter Pie

1 (9 inch) prepared graham cracker or chocolate cookie crust
1 8oz. package of cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup confectioners sugar OR 1/4 cup maple syrup
1 16oz. container frozen whipped topping, thawed
1 bag chocolate chips
1/2 cup milk

Preheat oven to 375. Bake crust for about 4 minutes so it's a little crispy. Let crust cool.

In a double boiler, melt chocolate chips and whisk in milk until smooth. Using a quarter cup measuring cup, reserve 1/4 cup of the melted chocolate and set aside. Pour the remaining melted chocolate into the crust to coat the bottom, and then let cool in the refrigerator. While the chocolate is cooling in the crust, mix the cream cheese, confectioners' sugar, and peanut butter together until smooth. Fold in 1/2 of the whipped topping. Spoon the mixture into the crust on top of the chocolate bottom.

Spread the remaining whipped topping over the peanut butter mixture, and then drizzle the reserved melted chocolate on top. Cool for at least two hours before serving. Unbelievably good!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Of Trees

We love trees. Especially my husband, who used to have a small nursery on his parent's farm, and continues to grow trees in the wooded acreage that his family owns and manages. The Mister is heavy into sawmills, fine woods, and carpentry. He has the appreciation for fine wood furniture that I was supposed to cultivate somewhere along the way, and never quite did.

(Except for my "Give us this day our daily bread" cheery wood bread box, which was a precious gift. )

I just think trees look nice, provide shade, and am impressed when they grow fruit or flowers. One needs to look no further than pictures of our wedding trip to see a healthy respect for trees. After all, we spent a week in the redwood forest area of northern California, and even stopped by the Arbor Day Foundation in Nebraska City on the way home.

On a related note, I was a little surprised to receive an e-mail from some environmental group in Europe who are attempting to "...raise awareness of the carbon emissions resulting from the use of the internet - specifically of blogs." Yes, you read that right, my blog and your's may be bad for the environment. Don't ask me how, it's all too complicated. But don't worry, there is hope! The "Make It Green" people (as the call themselves) are willing to plant a tree as a way to "neutralize" my blog's noxious emissions. In exchange for participating, they will give me a snazzy button to put on my blog that declares The Mennobrarian to be "carbon neutral." Well, that's a nice gesture, even though I'm not convinced that posting a few anecdotes, recipes, and pictures here on the internet is going to leave a massive carbon footprint anywhere. But I do like trees, so I might just go along with it just to have one planted. After all, even if it doesn't help, it surely won't hurt, and I'm not convinced there's a problem anyway.

Is it safe to come out yet?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

My Favorite Taco Soup

Do you ever do this? I'm in the store the other day, a small bulk food store and it doesn't look like they have anything I really need. I wanted pretzel salt and a certain type of flour. Suddenly, the clerk materializes out of nowhere and asks if I need help. I thank him and tell him I'm just looking, and then turn to leave. But then I see that he is now standing at the cash register, expectantly, or maybe just a little hopeful, that I will buy something. I feel bad, and so I look over the spices again. Surely, there is something here I am out of or could use more of? So I keep scanning the shelves of plastic containers. Finally, I spot a container of something I don't have and might be able to use, but it's only forty cents. Meanwhile, the man at the register is patiently and cheerfully waiting for me to ask a question or make a selection. Okay, there must be something else here- this could be a stocking-up trip. There is a gluten free cookie mix that I use to make cookies for a family member, and although it seems more expensive than it would be at my usual grocery store, I buy it. There. I just spent almost ten dollars on things I don't need so I wouldn't feel guilty about the nice man at the register. And I didn't get a single item on my list of things I really do need!

Our garden seeds are sitting by the window, waiting for some sunlight to make them burst to life. I love watching those hopeful seedlings emerge from the dirt, tiny green stems with microscopic leaves. We'll be planting peas outside soon. All we need is some drier ground. Also, uncovering the strawberries.

In the Kitchen: This is a soup I love to make in the slow cooker on Sundays. It cooks in just the perfect amount of time and is easy and low-prep. If you added a can of beans it would be similar to chili, but it's perfect just the way it is. The basic recipe is from the Fix It and Forget It Big Cookbook but it's versatile enough to add your own special touches.

Taco Soup

8-10 servings

2 lbs. ground beef, browned
1 small onion, chopped and sauteed in ground beef drippings
3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
2 T taco seasoning
1 quart pizza sauce (you could also use tomato juice)
1 quart water
1-2 diced jalapeno peppers (optional)

Shredded mozarella cheese
tortilla chips
sour cream

Combine ground beef, onion, salt, pepper, taco seasoning, pizza sauce and water in slow cooker. Cover and cook on low for 3-4 hours.Top each serving with tortilla chips, cheese, and sour cream.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Morning, interrupted

The shiny gold car was two lanes to my right when I noticed it swerving in and out of its lane. It did not slow down or stop as it pulled off the road, and the message was clear that something was drastically wrong as it pulled farther up the road, riding the side of a hill before coming back down to the shoulder of the road again. Still, at top speed, the car road along the shoulder until it drove off the grass and took out an enormous hollow sign pole, the kind that overhangs the highway letting you know what the next three exits are. When that enormous industrial pole went flying through the air, I left my lane and drove up on the grass to get as far away as possible. And I wasn't the only one. Five other witnesses also watched in horror as the car became air born, doing a full flip in mid-air before landing in a ditch full of trees and branches.
I can't believe I just saw that
, was all I could think.
Six of us stopped our vehicles and simultaneously pulled out phones, bombarding 9-1-1 with emergency calls. We all waited for traffic to slow down so we could cross the busy highway and made our way towards the crumbled car.

"What exit is the accident? Were you heading north or south?" the dispatcher asked.
"North. No, SOUTH. Noooo...NORTH. Definitely north! The victim is getting out of the car! He's ALIVE!"

We stood aghast as a young man crawled out of the wreckage on his hands and knees, and miraculously, stood up. He asked us how long he had been in the wrecked car for, and we told him it all just happened. He had no recollection at all of the accident. "I must have blacked out." He told us it was a brand new car, and started to cry. Someone lent him a phone so he could call his wife, and we all stood around waiting for the police and an ambulance, telling him how amazing it was that he is a) alive, and b) not more badly hurt than he was. The young man, visibly traumatized, had little to say except for repeatedly lamenting the loss of his new car and wedding ring. I was reasonably sure his wife wouldn't care.

The witnesses compared notes. We had all thought that the man was trying to pull off on the side of the road, but quickly switched to wondering whether a heart attack or seizure was taking place. We all told the man that we couldn't believe he was walking away from the wreck. The young man's face crumpled in tears once again as he noted that it was a brand new car.

Soon, the local police arrived, and the state police arrived, an ambulance, and a fire engine. Two of the witnesses left, and four of us stayed, speaking to police and lending the man our phones. The young man had only been able to reach a succession of voice mails and had not spoken anyone in his family, a terrible irony considering the dozens of ways we use technology to communicate these days. As the EMTs transferred him to a gurney, the young man continued to shout phone numbers at me that reached only more voice mails. Finally, I made contact with his mother. Soon after, I left, late for my destination and a little shaken.

I recounted this to a wise woman I know who said it best: "I hope all the people who were supposed to get messages from this really got it. It takes an awful lot to get the attention of some people."

Wise words, indeed. And something for all of us to think about. Is God trying to get my attention?

Follow up: The young man, whose name is Robert, called me that evening having gotten my number from his mother's caller ID. Having no recollection of the accident, he was seeking details about what happened, and amazingly survived with only a concussion, bruised ribs, and some scrapes. He was not wearing his seat belt.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Sewing and Sowing

The sky has looked deceptively sunny for a few days, but as soon as you step out the door a wave of cold air hits you like a sheet of ice. The snow has melted and things are looking deceptively spring-like. I have venison sausage, onions, and peppers simmering on the stove for sandwiches later, and am finally feeling like I am getting ahead on some sewing projects.

Last summer I saw a great pattern in a quilt shop for a sewing machine cover. It was by Lazy Girl Designs, and I just loved the name! It sounded like something that might be easy to do, and how perfect- I needed a sewing machine cover. Most patterns are somewhat complicated for me to read, possibly because of my dyslexia. They never have enough pictures to show me what to do (I'm big on visual learning) and sometimes the language leaves me wondering what in the world they are talking about. But I was so delighted with this pattern and, wonder of wonders, it really did come out okay. Plus it only took a few hours over the course of two days to complete. Count me as a fan of the Lazy Girl Design patterns.

Now I am piecing those charm squares I showed you last time for a table runner project. So far, it's going well, and I'm so excited about the colors. It's the Nature's Notebook collection, April Cornell for Moda, if you are a fabric enthusiast. (which I am not, but there is potential there.)

Oh, and I'm cutting out 144 charm squares for a new quilt project that will some day be called "stuff I wore" and I just get so excited about sewing this time of year, which is so unfair. Because in another couple months those projects will be dormant and I will be so excited about gardening, again. In just a few short weeks we'll be planting peas.

Speaking of projects, I'm sorry to see Beth at The ImPerfect Housewife announce her plans for an extensive blogging break. But, I completely understand the need for a break and the need to manage and prioritize life and its many projects. And I was thinking maybe, just MAYBE, she could stop by and do a special post as a guest blogger sometime to tell us how and what she is doing. What say you Beth?

Library Do's and Don'ts

Don't start your question with the phrase "I hate to bother you..." I don't mind you bothering me- I'm here to help you. It's the deal I made with my employer. Don't worry, I'm compensated for helping you. Also, lets face it: If you really hated to bother me, you just would not unless things got desperate. Don't be insincere.

Do tell us when you think we've been extremely helpful or when you find something you like at the library. We really care about what you like as much as what you don't like.

Don't (and this is a big one) leave your small child unattended anywhere in the building while you go to the restroom/check your e-mail/mess around with your phone. This is a public building. Anyone can, and does, come through our doors. That includes predators. And although most of us are woefully overqualified to watch your child, we are not a daycare.

Do be courteous of other people who are also waiting for help.

Don't be afraid or embarrassed to ask us anything. We really have heard it all, and some of your questions are ones that we hear several times a week.

Do take your phone calls to the lobby where you won't disturbs college students trying to study, homeschool families, people writing resumes and looking for jobs. It's distracting the first time when your phone goes off with its ring tone playing "New York, New York" and it's worse a second time when we listen to you shout "What? WHAT? YEAH, I'M AT THE LIBRARY."

Don't forget to use the library and remember that we're more than just books. We're also a free source of entertainment, a free place to bring your family, a free place to take classes, and a place where information professionals can help you find out about anything. For free.


Your Librarian

Monday, March 1, 2010

Loving Your Enemies...or just difficult people

I have a quality that may be a gift. I can get along with difficult people. Often with hilarious results. This does not mean that people whom others have a hard time getting along with are really not difficult to get along with, or that they go on to become my best friend or anything like that. It simply means I can tolerate them, usually long enough to work with them for a few hours, and a few here and there even rise to "buddy status" where they seem to become less difficult. Part of it is that difficult people like me because, up to a point, I allow them to be difficult. I can stand there and nod my head sympathetically while they complain about whatever it is they have to complain about, and I let them complain and don't jump in and try to fix the problem. To me, that just seems like being polite. The other part of it is less charitable: If someone is really a BIG pain in the neck, inflexible and unbending, I simply write them off as crazy and then they don't annoy me as much because I recognize their handicap of sheer madness. And yes, like everyone else, there are a few people who I really can't stand, and literally, can't stand them enough to stand there and listen to them. That is when the grace runs out and I walk away. I'm imperfect too!

This quality is one that I've somehow recognized I have over time, and one that I hope grows because it makes life easier and less stressful.

Yesterday's message in church was "Love your enemies." But I had been thinking about this for a while. How timely.

Anyway, I had a slight panic yesterday when I pulled biscuits that look like this out of the oven:

What?! How can something so simple, something I've made a hundred times, go so wrong??

I worried for a minute that maybe I had lost my "gift" to bake, and then where would I be? No place, that's where. So I baked a self-confidence booster, just to make sure I haven't lost it.

Ah, that's better. Yes, the earth is still on its axis. A perfect Sunday evening snack.

I cleaned out the refrigerator this weekend and learned a few things. If the "use by" date on the bottle is so old that it's worn off, the date has probably passed. For some reason, we own a dazzling array of mustard. Pickles, too. And unbelievably, we've decided it's better to open a new jar of jam rather than eat the last tablespoon in a nearly finished jar, judging by the number of jelly jars I unearthed with just a fragment of jam or jelly left in them.

My productivity stats:

Ovens cleaned: 1
Number of old dresses turned into quilt squares: 2
Number of days until spring: 18 days
Amount of snow the past 3 days: A measly 4 inches
Meals made into a second meal: One big pot of chili served up as second time as cheesy chili quesadillas. I found my inspiration here.


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