Archive for January, 2012

Make it or buy it?

Our latest challenge for Dark Days was to make a dessert made of local ingredients. I knew this would be a tough week for me. First of all, I think of myself as a cook, not a baker. Secondly, sugar is not local and fruit is not in season. I searched for recipes, looking for desserts with honey. I also considered using the rest of my strawberries in the freezer that we picked this past summer. I finally landed on Honey Lavender Ice Cream because it didn’t have sugar and I could get all the ingredients locally, with the exception of salt and the lavender flowers (although I could have grown the lavender).

I’ve never made ice cream before. My only memory of homemade ice cream is from when I was five years old and my parents making ice cream on our porch. My memory is of the wooden ice cream maker spinning the ice and salt.  I don’t really remember the ice cream itself and the ice cream maker didn’t make many appearances after that. This is noteworthy because I’m debating the “make it or buy it” aspect of food. There is a book I’ve been meaning to read called Make the Bread, Buy the Butter, which talks about what the author believes is worth making at home and what you should buy.

This is what I had to do to make my pint of ice cream. I borrowed an ice cream maker, learned to use the ice cream maker, shopped at four different stores to collect my ingredients, and finally proceeded to follow the recipe, which ended up spanning two days. I was pretty grumpy as I began making the ice cream, but the aroma and the color of the ice cream mixture changed my mind by the end of the first night. I began dreaming of other flavors I could try. The result? The lavender was a bit overpowering and the honey made it a bit too sweet. However, the texture was unbelievable. It was creamy and perfect, and I couldn’t stop eating it even though the flavor wasn’t just right. With some adjustments, I think it could be amazing.

Make it or buy it? After all the time spent, I’ll be heading to my favorite ice cream place, Pumphouse Creamery for most of my ice cream cravings. However, I think I will try making more flavors in the future, even if it is time-consuming. Even as I type, the creamy texture is making my mouth water.

In other news at our house, we are celebrating half birthdays. While this is not our normal practice, the older boys did not get birthday parties last summer. We celebrated the birth of Son #4 three days before Son #2’s birthday, six days before Son #3’s birthday, and nineteen days before Son #1’s birthday. Half birthdays seemed like the best solution. Son #2 got the first party and we celebrated with a couple of his friends with a pizza lunch and 3-D movie. I decided to make half of a cake and use 6 candles, with an extra candle shoved in further to represent the half year. My favorite moment was when my boys were telling their friends “My mom makes the BEST cake”. Unfortunately, because of time constraints, I made my first cake from a mix in over six years. It reminded me why I don’t make cake from mixes, but my boys didn’t know the difference. I still made it for them and that is all that matters.


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From One Pot Meal to Four Course Dinner

I am over a week behind on my post. For the Dark Days Challenge, we were to make a one-pot meal. I planned a soup for our meal. However, after the week we had with our mountains of laundry, I felt the need for some order. On my trip to the store, I got to thinking about how to mentally overcome the chaos in our house. Our soup suddenly became a four course meal, complete with candles and china. It must be noted that it was a Saturday, so we had more time than usual. I proposed my idea to the boys when I got home, and they seemed open to the idea. While I started cooking, I had the boys help set the table. They set the table with my Great-Grandma’s china and glass goblets. I have recently come to the conclusion that it doesn’t matter if a plate gets broken. What’s the use of having the dishes if we don’t use them?

Fancy dinner with the boys in regular Saturday clothes.

Our first course was locally made cheese and Honeycrisp apples from Wisconsin. I suggested we should dress up for our fancy dinner, but my idea was ignored. The boys sat down and quickly went through some cheese, apples and crackers (not local). The most exciting part about this course was that the boys got to drink sparkling pear juice in “fancy glasses”. As soon as they had their fill, they asked to be excused and went off to play.

The second course was a salad with spinach, lettuce, Honeycrisp apples and a homemade vinaigrette. Between courses, the boys discovered our costume stash. This was our Superhero course. We ate with Superman, a Knight, and Spiderman. It was awesome. The greens game from my recent local food find. I started a winter CSA share from Rock Spring Farm in Iowa. Technically, it is 153 miles from me, but the extra 3 miles seems like a reasonable exception.

Course three was the soup I had originally planned as our one-pot meal. It was Beet and Braised Beef Soup, with some substitutions. I used the turtle beans from a previous week instead of lima beans, and omitted the scallions and celery root. I could have gotten local celery root, but it wasn’t available at the store that day. The soup was tasty, but the beef wasn’t quite as tender as I’d like, due to me rushing the soup. It was getting late and we’d been dragging out dinner long enough. The leftovers were even better.

Our last course was a total cheat on the local food front. I gave myself permission on this one because it was the day before my birthday and when I saw the dessert at the store, I had to have it. The store cleverly displayed shortbread, marscapone and blueberries together and it looked delicious. With the marscapone, I added some milk, lemon zest, lemon juice and a bit of sugar. Yum! My husband also served me one for breakfast in bed on my birthday with a cup of coffee. Best birthday breakfast ever!

So was the four course meal worth the time and effort? In my opinion, yes. My boys thought the special meal was fun (especially the costume changes), and because it was a drawn out meal, it was more time spent together without any screen time interrupting our conversation. We’ll try to do it more often, but don’t know that I have the energy to do it on a weekly or monthly basis. Maybe once a season. Best of all, my Great-Grandma’s dishes and goblets survived the experience and I can feel good about using them.


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Menu Planning

I have a confession to make. I ate fast food last week. Not once, not twice, but three times!  It’s been a tough week for our family. On Sunday, we discovered lice in Son #1’s hair. On Tuesday, Son #2 had a fever that lasted four days. On Thursday, Son #1 got the stomach flu. On Saturday, Son #2 threw up on four sets of sheets in two hours. I have never done so much laundry in my life. We still haven’t caught up.

All these “bugs” were annoying to say the least, but not having my meals planned made it even worse. In the middle of all the laundry, I couldn’t stop to figure out a healthy meal. It cost our family money and a whole lot more calories. Over the years, I’ve developed a habit of planning our meals. When I slip and don’t plan, I feel lost. I usually plan three or four meals per week. I used to plan five, but found that we often threw out food because something always comes up and I can’t make that fifth meal. If I need to cook another meal, I will pull something from the freezer and/or pantry ingredients, or we will eat leftovers.

I go to different sources for my meal planning, but I’m realizing that cooking locally requires me to think backwards. Instead of finding the recipes and shopping for the ingredients, I’m searching for recipes that work with my ingredients. This happens more naturally in the summer with ingredients I’m accustomed to. Winter has been tougher, but I’m feeling more comfortable each week.

Sauteed vegetables, minus a full turnip.

Mixed root vegetables, from Harmony Valley Farm.

While shopping at my co-op, I found a bag of mixed local root vegetables and a recipe for soup on the back. My particular bag had carrots, parsnips, turnips, celery root and rutabagas. While I was chopping, Son #3, the 2-year old, was curious about what I was doing. He asked what the purple vegetable was. I told him it was a turnip, and he said “I love turnips!” I gave him some to eat and he proceeded to tell me “Hooray for turnips! I like licking turnips. Mommy, do you like turnips?” I couldn’t help laughing, because honestly, who loves turnips that much? He was so thrilled about it, I swear he could have talked the most reluctant eater into trying one. He ate all the pieces I gave him and I even had to fish some out of the pot so he could have more.

The soup turned out delicious but was not received well by the boys. While Son #3 loved raw turnips, he wasn’t a fan of them in pureed form. Son #2, my broth lover, thought it was okay. Son #1 barely touched it. This is where my second confession comes in. I had some chicken sausage and crescent rolls that didn’t get cooked up for our New Year’s Eve party and I made “pigs in a blanket” for the boys on the side. They weren’t local, but I had them on hand and needed to use them.

Golden Potage

  • 1 small onion chopped
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 8 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 bag soup mix, chopped in 1 inch pieces
  • 6 cups stock (I used the chicken stock I made recently)
  • 3/4 cup half-and-half

Saute onions in oil. Add chopped roots and garlic, sautee for 10 minutes. Add stock and simmer until vegetables are tender, about 30 minutes. Puree until smooth. Whisk in half-and-half and return to simmer until heated thoroughly.


Golden Potage Soup

After my terrible week of sickness and bad food, I’m realizing that meal planning needs to be placed higher on my priority list. Not everyone loves perusing recipes as much as I do, but there are great tools for people who want their meals planned for them. My favorite is Saving Dinner. I started using it back in 2004 or so. The recipes are wonderful, interesting and family friendly. The grocery lists, recipes and suggested sides are easy to use and save time and money. I love it so much, I’ve started working for Saving Dinner Fundraising. Yes, this is a bit of a plug, but I absolutely believe in the company and the fundraiser is fantastic for organizations because they earn 50% of the sales and families benefit by eating healthier and having more time to eat together as a family. Let me know if your organization wants an easy, healthy and profitable fundraiser. I’d love to help!

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What is Kid Food?

In the last few weeks, I’ve been pondering the same question. What is kid food, anyway? Several of my friends comment about our adventurous eaters and I’ve been thinking a lot about it. Why do my boys eat like they do? My answer to that is I don’t make “kid food”. Or at least what others consider kid food. I like trying new recipes and I vary the flavors all the time. My boys have been exposed to a lot of different types of food and they are used to trying new things.

It also got me thinking about why our society separates kid food from adult food all the time. Children in Japan eat what they are exposed to and most likely eat a lot of fish, rice, and vegetables, depending on where they live. Would they look at a chicken nugget and find it appetizing? Probably not. Our society somehow has taught children that they should only like peanut butter, chicken nuggets and french fries. I’ve stopped going to certain restaurants because their kids menu contains only “kid food” and won’t let us buy a half order for our son who prefers to eat from the regular menu. Someday I’ll make a list of the restaurants that I consider kid friendly for our family.

So am I judging your family if your children only eat “kid food”? Absolutely not! We have our battles at home on a daily basis. Son #2 is our toughest child to feed. He spent three full years complaining about not being able to bring peanut butter for lunch to Montessori School. Literally, he never gave up after three years. We had some awful struggles finding things he’d agree to eat because of his fixation. Feeding kids is hard and I don’t think there is one answer. Here are some things that help:

1) Make a rule that your child must TRY the food you serve. Emphasize that they are not required to like it, just required to taste it. We all have our own tastes and I don’t like being told what I should like either.

2) Have your children help make the food. I’m convinced that Son #2 loves risotto only because he knows how to make it. He’s proud of his accomplishment.

3) Grow your own food, even if it is just one pot of herbs or tomatoes. We started small with our garden and it gets bigger every year. When kids know where food comes from, they are more willing to try it.

4) Check out The Family Dinner website, which is based off the book by Laurie David. I’m reading the book now and like her suggestions.


All this “preaching” brings me to my latest Dark Days Challenge, which was a total failure in my boys’ eyes. Son#1 reluctantly tried it, and Sons #2 and #3 wouldn’t touch it with a 10-foot pole. Yes, I know I just said it is a rule to try everything, but I give you permission to make an exception. Especially after a holiday week when you are exhausted and ready for school to begin again. I found black turtle beans from Whole Grain Milling and was excited to find locally grown carrots. I was able to use my chicken stock for this recipe, and my only exceptions were the spices. My co-op had local Pepper Jack cheese that I added to the recipe. By the way, it was delicious and I had plenty of leftovers for lunch.

1/2 lb. bacon
1 1/2 c. chopped onion
1 1/2 c. carrots
1 tbsp.minced garlic
1 tsp. bay leaves or 1 whole bay leaf
1 tsp. dry thyme
3 tbsp. ground cumin (Saute only 1 tbsp. now. Save 2 tbsp. for later.)
1/2 tsp. oregano
Salt and pepper to taste
6 cups chicken stock
2 cups water
Pepper Jack cheese, shredded
Saute first four ingredients and add spices. Add water and chicken stock, bring to a boil, and simmer for 2 to 3 hours, until beans are tender. For a thicker consistency, blend part of the beans with an immersion blender and return to soup. Top bowls of soup with cheese, if desired.

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