Friday, August 30, 2013

Six Moves and Happy News

After the sudden serge of daily posts, silence fell over this space once again.  Summers are normally very busy around here, but as I sit down for a moment after moving our family (again), I calculated that we will have moved six times before re-moving back in to Christmas Cabin once it's all grown up.  Six moves in five to six months.  Granted, we are not moving all of our belongings each time, but it is enough for a family of seven to get by on for half a year.  And I bulk-buy grains and legumes.  By the 25-pound bags.  And preserved the harvest that ended in over two hundred pounds of canned goods.  It's a lot.  Enough to make one's eyes cross, even.

So here we are, back with my generous parents, bunking at their house until we can move into ours.  Here is where I share the news of a dream come true: my parents are closing escrow on a home right next to ours!  One that we have dreamt of them living in since we moved here.  This is a very long story with many twists and turns.  It deserves it's own series of posts.  My mama is working on one over at her blog presently.  All I have to say is that I feel so very spoiled.  It makes moving two more times within the next six weeks bearable.   Until next time, whenever next time will be (I am ever hopeful that each day will be "next time"), may these last bits of summer be as sweet as watermelon straight off the vine and ice cream scooped right out of the churn.  Love to you all.

Little Joseph & Nana

Thursday, August 15, 2013

In the Garden ~ Second Week of August

 It might be 103 degrees outside, but we are busy, busy, busy putting in the autumn garden, dreaming of cooler weather and beautiful, changing leaves.  We were able to get all the seeds in that were on 
the docket last week.  The cabbages have even already sprouted!  I am looking forward to the first autumn garden hardest in a week or two when we thin the seedlings and enjoy the thinned sprouts sprinkled on top of the night's supper.

I read that it wasn't too late to plant some fast-growing varieties of beans and cucumbers in our area, so we purchased a few more summer seed packets and lived on the wild side.  The seeds (below) went into the ground last night.  I hope so badly that we can enjoy a nice harvest of these beauties before a frost gets them.  It's hard to believe it will ever frost here with this constant extreme heat, but I keep reminding myself that it will happen in time.

The black beauty zucchinis are doing quite well, now that we adjusted their water to what they needed. We have really enjoyed this variety.

Our first batch of corn came out of the garden this week.  We used the three sisters method and grew pole beans up the stalks.  Several hidden pods were revealed in the final corn harvest.

While we wait for our porch to be done (along with the rest of the house), the corn stalks wait patiently in a garden corner, ready to become part of the outside entryway autumn decoration. 

We pulled the rest of the chard out, along with some of the kale that's been infested with little white bugs (I must research a remedy for those buggers).  

My, the chickens love it when old plants are wheeled out of the garden.  It doesn't get much better than bug-infested kale, in their opinion.

This week's autumn planting includes sugar snap and sugar ann peas, French breakfast radishes (they are so yummy pickled!), onions (Bianca di Maggio and Noordollandse Bloedrode), and 3 types of lettuce (Brune D'hiver butterhead, May Queen butterhead, and Marvel of Four Seasons).  I really like butterhead lettuce.  Maybe because of the "butter" part of their name.  Also because I adore their texture and making lettuce wraps out of them.  Next week, we plant kohlrabi and some more peas!  What have you been up to in the garden these days?

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

More Changes for the Christmas Cabin

Where old meets new.  Memories from the past and future dreams are fastened together.

New outlooks. 

What began long ago, begins again; only this time with the richness of history.

New shelter for the elements to pound upon above, and a refuge for those under it's covering below.  

Watching our house take shape is a constant reminder of life's ever-changing-ness.  Sometimes it's uncomfortable.  Parts of the process exposes more than we'd like it to.  It's not always pretty.  In the end, if we allow it, we become stronger, our capacity to give of ourselves is greater, and a new beauty that we never knew could come about, does.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Healthy Back to School Lunches for the Real Food Family

It's that time of year again.  School lunches.  Whether your family homeschools or your children go to school (or if you pack your lunches for work!), it's always nice to have a game plan; especially if you are a real food family.  Real food, although it does not need to be extremely time-consuming, does take more time than grabbing a packaged something-or-other.  A little bit of planning makes real food meals happen with no stress.  Preparing healthy packed lunches can be a daunting task; but I promise it's not and quickly becomes a happy rhythm to dance to.  In hopes of keeping things short, sweet, and to the point, here are some posts I have written throughout the year on this subject. By the time you are done reading, you will have resources to pull from to find many easy, healthy recipes and everything you'll need to pack your yummy lunches in that won't break the bank or destroy God's beautiful planet.
  • Equipment.  If you want to send nourishing, non-pre-packaged lunches with your children to school, you will need something to put them in.  I have compiled a list of what has been very handy and useful for our family in this post.  
  • A note on snacks.  The only lunch-packing problem we came across last year was the unease at snack time (this kids had to bring their whole bento box containing their entire lunch to snack time because it was all in one container).  So we invested in these dishwasher safe, easy-to-open, leak-proof snack containers.  My children breathed a sigh of relief upon seeing them (they're cute!) and discovering how easy it was to open a close the leak-proof lids.  Their sizes are perfectly portioned to fit nourishing snacks like fresh fruit slices, grapes, berries, nuts, cheese, cookie dough bites, or even homemade yogurtapplesauce, or apple chips.
  • Complete Lunch Plans.  Back in January, I wrote a guest post that includes a game plan, how to stock your kitchen for healthy-packed-lunch success, and several complete lunch menus, chock full of the recipes needed.  Browse through that post here.
What are some things your family likes to pack in lunches?

I'm sharing this at Simple Lives Thursday.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Weekly Menu Plans are Back! (Kind Of)

After the final farewell to publishing our weekly menu plans here, they are back!  With the routine school time brings and our lives still in quite a bit of limbo as far as housing goes, the desire to keep whatever I can as organized as possible is a pretty big deal to this mama's current mental well-being.  So here the plans are again!  I can't promise how regular they will be, or that they'll be as in-debth as the old ones were, but I'll share what I can, when I can, making whatever I can with whatever the garden yields at present.

To do: soak porridge
Breakfast:  Paleo Waffles & Blueberries
Lunch:  Cheesy Bread (1 slice sourdough, sliced tomatoes, cheese, in the broiler for 5 min, top with avocado, salt, & pepper)

Breakfast:  Porridge & Eggs
Lunch:  Quesorritos topped with Creme Fraiche
Snack:  Blueberry Bliss Smoothies
Dinner:  Ratatouille Polenta Pie (from A Year of Pies)

Breakfast:  Gluten-Free Mighty Tasty Hot Cereal
Lunch:  Mostly Raw Wraps
Snack:  Strawberry Cacao Smoothies
Dinner:  Butternut Squash & Caramelized Onion Galette

Breakfast:  Chocolate Breakfast Shake
Lunch:  Carrot, Sweet Pepper, & Cucumber Slices with Eggplant Hummus & Raw Cheese Slices
Snack: Apricot Creme Smoothies
Dinner:  Simple Summer Succotash

To do: thaw beef for tomorrow night
Breakfast:  Grain-Free Dutch Baby Pancakes
Lunch:  Zucchini Noodle Pesto Pasta
Snack:  Watermelon
Dinner:  BBQ Steaks & Caprese Salad

Breakfast: Croque Madame (with one slice of sourdough instead of two)
Lunch:  Irish Nachos
Snack:  Cantaloupe
Dinner:  Spaghetti, Lattice-Top Triple Berry Pie & Ice Cream

Breakfast:  Grain-Free Zucchini Chocolate Chunk Muffins
Lunch:  Leftovers
Dinner:  Leftovers
(Sunday is my day off)

Saturday, August 10, 2013

This Week in Pictures (First Week of August)

Thanks to my amazing parents and their incredible help this week while my husband was on a trip with our two eldest children, I was able to write in this space every day this week!  Who knows when this will ever happen again, but I am reveling in the current activity.

Here is a collection of snippets from the week past.  Have a lovely weekend, friends.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Things Learned From Watching My Mother

It's amusing how one can know a person all their life and still learn new things about and from them;  especially when the relationship is a mother and her daughter.  My mother tried to pour so much wisdom and knowledge into me (repeatedly), and some of it I am only just now really absorbing.  I have to remember this as I mother these five children of my own.  Just keep plugging away, and perhaps one day, in their thirties, they will head my words.  How very encouraging (tehe).  

Now that I am older and our relationship has transitioned from instructor/student to more of a mentor/friendship dynamic, I learn mostly by observing. 

Jeremy and our two eldest children have been on an events trip this past week and my folks invited the three youngest and I to stay with them in the meantime.  What an enormous, life-saving help it has been to be in their home.  First of all, I had enough time to challenge myself to blog once a little bit every day (hence the sudden onslaught of riddlelove).  Secondly, the autumn garden has finally been given the care it needed to get started.  Most importantly, all of our love tanks have been filled instead of dangerously drained, which is what usually happens when Jeremy is away.  I'm not the only adult to prepare food, do the dishes, or play with the children.  They are pure love and magic, these parents of mine.

We celebrated my mother's birthday this week, and this post is in honor of her and what I've learned from her these past days: (Oh!  And she just started a beautiful blog of her own!)

  • Nothing is more important than relationship and connection.  Not even clean floors and uninterrupted routines.
  • When a toddler has just discovered the joy of books and bangs the same one on your leg that you've already read to him five times today, you stop what you're doing and read it to him, anyway.
  • Slowing down to teach children neat eating etiquette is much smarter than having to deep clean the floor after every meal.
  • During seasons of stress, surround yourself with loved ones to bring perspective of the big picture.
  • The house only gets as dirty as you allow it.  Ignore the mess and it grows.  Tend to it immediately and the task is frequent but light.
Thanks for being so awesome, mama. xoxo

I'm sharing this at Simple Lives Thursday.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

In the Garden This First Week of August

Posting a weekly look into the garden has been a goal since April.  Well, it's August.  Many of the plants have already yielded much, are very tired-looking now, and here it is, the first entry.  Better late than never, right?

The highlight of my time in the garden this week was opening it's gates to out-of-town family, including my sweet, 91-year-old grandma!  I could hardly believe that she was there, in my garden!  It was such a sweet moment that I will forever cherish.

My amazing parents joined the fun Saturday morning, bringing bluegrass music and a whole lot of joy. Although the garden is looking quite tired, it is still providing a good amount of food for us, and for that I am so thankful.  I wouldn't get a fraction done in this plot without my mother's massive help with the children.  I bring them with me to the garden a lot, but when it's really hot, they get to stay with Nana (which is always their preferred option, anyway).

Corn was a crop I was really excited about, but it has done the worst, I'm afraid.  I have a lot to learn still.  I either pick it too early or too late.  We had irrigation issues during it's crucial growing time and that really messed them up as well.

I keep hoping every time I open and ear that one will turn out okay, but so far that hope has been deferred.

In the words of wise Ma Ingalls, There is no great loss without some small gain.  I plan to gather the stalks up, tie them in bunches, and use them as part of our front porch Autumn decoration.  We should be in our house by then, and looking at the stalks, thinking about them on our porch (our porch!) makes my heart leap.

The chard produced well, but has been scorched by the sun and is just plain tired.  We pulled it out of the garden today and will direct-plant a fall crop in a couple weeks.

Then there's this little helper.  Little hands do a lot of picking, but almost just as much shoveling-garden-treats-into-little-mouths.  I set him by the cherry tomatoes and let him go to town while I scurry about like a mad woman, desperate to get done as much as possible before he dissolves and it is nap time.  It's quite the site, I'm sure.  

We started planting the autumn garden this week, but first I had to irrigate the empty beds.  It's a glorious site, seeing a bed getting evenly sprinkled by a line that you put in yourself.  You just have to stand there for a while and look at it sometimes.

In the ground for the autumn garden so far are potatoes (Red Gold, German Butterball, and Austrian Crescent Fingerlings), and Half-Long Guernsey Parsnips.  I am hoping to get fennel and cabbage seeds planted before the week's end (meaning today), because next week, the plan is to plant lettuce, more cabbage and fennel, peas, radishes, and broccoli, oh my!  And that's just the beginning...

I'm sharing this at Simple Lives Thursday.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Garden To Table ~ Tomatoes

Besides sun-scorch on several of our beefsteaks, the tomatoes did really well this year; the Roma's especially.  We planted Caspian Pink Beefsteak and Martino's Roma; both are heirlooms. 

Garden Notes  
  • Caspian Pink Beefsteak were ideal for where we live because they are an early variety.  I learned that once the temperature gets higher than 95F, the pollen in tomato flowers burn up and can't render fruit.  It stays above that number basically from mid-June until September so the earlier our tomatoes can flower out, the better.  This also made me very happy that we were able to start the plants as early as possible and get them into the garden the second day after the Last Frost Date.  That was a risky move, I know, but it paid off.  They aren't, in my opinion, the prettiest of heirloom tomatoes, but their flavor.  Wowza.  Unbeatable.  I also love how thin their skin is.  These guys are indeterminate, meaning they'll grow and produce fruit (barring exposure to extreme heat) until they die off from a frost.  They can grow up to eight feet tall!
  • Martino's Roma were wonderfully easy to grow and so prolific.  They are determinate, meaning they bare their fruit at one time (over the course of a few weeks) and die.  They only grow a couple feet high so there is no need to steak or trellis them.  Glory!  Their fruit is smaller than the Roma's that you see at the market, but the flavor is wonderful and I have made so many tasty canned goods with them (listed below).

To the Table

I was more than happy to put up many different tomato-based canned goods at the beginning of the season.  We have been waiting for them all year and just about every meal has fresh tomatoes tossed in somewhere these days.  Now at the end of the season, I just traded twenty pounds of Roma's for some of my friend's peaches.  Those little guys wore me out.  But oh, the flavor of garden-fresh tomatoes...

Dishes with Fresh Tomatoes
  • Ratatouille (Smitten Kitchen version) has quickly become a new favorite.  Serving it over some polenta and sprinkling feta on top is unbeatable.  We grow each of the ingredients, making this dish extra satisfying.
  • Salsa (pictured above).  I wish I had a recipe to share, but I don't.  It changes a little every time I make it (which is currently a daily ritual)  All I can tell you are the ingredients that usually go in are tomatoes (about 4-6, chopped), an onion, cilantro, a few peppers from the garden (poblano, sweet Italian, and jalapeƱo), a few garlic cloves, a heaping teaspoon (probably closer to a tablespoon, actually) of cumin, Celtic sea salt, and the star ingredient that takes it to the next level: smoked paprika.  If your kitchen is without this little gem, go get some.  Now.  It will change your life.
  • Zucchini Noodle Pesto Pasta.  We make several batches of pesto (to freeze and use throughout the year) after the weekly basil harvest and this is usually what we have for lunch on those days.  The picture above with the two fried eggs on top is a much simpler version.  Instead of pesto, I used basil flowers and leaves and for protein, I fried up those eggs (complements of our now-laying hens) instead of lunch meat.  I enjoy this version because everything came from our land (well, except the salt and pepper that was sprinkled on top) and it's quicker to make.
  • Caprese Salad.  A fresh tomato must.
What We Canned
This was my first time canning anything with tomatoes.  I decided to make what we use a lot of.  That just makes sense, right?  I also learned that unless I am canning salsa, it is an exercise in futility to use any other tomato than a Romas when canning tomatoes.  Any other kind has to cook down so far that it feels like there's almost nothing left.
  • Catsup. 24 pints.  12 with the cayenne, 12 without (because I was worried that it would be too spicy for the children who seem to think catsup is a food group).  Both batches came out really well, but I will cook it down more (and not use anything but straight romas next time) because it was still on the watery side.
  • BBQ Sauce. 24 pints.  I like it.  Jeremy really likes it.  That's all I am interested in.  We are the only ones in the family who use this sauce to begin with.
  • Salsa (found in The Rhythm of Family). 24 pints.  Nothing beats fresh salsa, but when these golden days of ripe tomatoes are over, these pints will be treasures to pull from the pantry; little tastes of the summer past.
  • Tomato Sauce.  36 pints.  I used fresh lemon juice instead of the bottled kind (ew).  This guy and I were best friends in the kitchen during tomato season.  Wow, it sure sped things up (once I realized you mill the tomatoes  after they have been cooked and not before).  We will use this sauce throughout the year for chili, pizza sauce, and spaghetti sauce, mostly (using 2 pints sauce instead of 3 jars paste).
  • Tomato Paste.  9 half-pints.  I didn't make much of this because it takes forever and I still have about 12 half-pints that I had bought in bulk a few months back.
I have also froze many tomatoes whole to thaw for later when it's soup season to make this creamy tomato bisque.

So yes.  Tomatoes are largely to blame for this season of Riddlelove silence.  They have kept me just a little bit busy.  I know I will thank me as I pull those jars of summertime out to use throughout the year though.  I think it was worth it.  I quite enjoyed it all, actually.

How do you like to eat and preserve tomatoes?  I'm thinking about dehydrating some of the next batch...

I'm sharing this at Simple Lives Thursday.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Christmas Cabin Has A Growth Spurt

This little home of ours has undergone several changes since we became it's owners nearly three years ago.  In the beginning, it wasn't even a Christmas Cabin at all.  It was a very little, very shabby, forgotten blue shack.  Then we painted it and it received it's new name.
This little home was three times bigger than the trailer we had just lived in for almost a year, and didn't shake when we walked about.  It was a real upgrade, I tell you.  It's meager size and neglect gave us the opportunity to afford a property we had a vision for.  It needed lots of love before it could become what we imagined it to be, which would cost some money.  So we saved up in a cozy little cabin of almost 1,000 square feet.

There were many precious moments inside those tiny walls.  We even became a family of seven right in Jeremy's and my bedroom.  Becoming a larger family really changed things.  It was amazing what adding just one more little person could do to the feel of this home.  We were suddenly way over capacity and we (especially the two oldest children) could hardly handle it.  They knew no one who lived in such a small space with so many people and it became embarrassing to have friends over.  I had to admit that I struggled with the same feelings, even though I strongly believed in what we were doing.

Two and a half years later, the time had finally come.  The Christmas Cabin was ready for a growth spurt.  Walls were about to go down, and then new ones would go up.  Longer ones.  Higher ones.  Before temporarily moving out, we decided to have some fun with the old walls.  Everyone grabbed markers and we did what we were never allowed to do.  We colored on those walls.  The only rule was that we wrote just good things.  Memories, blessings, thankfulness, names of loved ones.  It was a special moment that kept our hearts in alignment and our attitude in a place of thankfulness for the past and what was to come.

We often bring friends who have been with us on this journey over to the house to experience the change with us.  Below, the new foundation was just being measured out.

And then, it became real. There was no turning back.  Our home was being forever changed, and it was very exposed.  I had to navigate through waves of unease.  We could not move back in to what it was now.  We were (are), for a time, without a home to live in.  It was like getting strapped into a roller coaster just as it blasted off.

The cement was poured, electrical and plumbing lines were being trenched, and it still didn't feel real to me.  I was having a hard time not having a place of my own to live life and let down in.  As ungrateful as that sounds, I really wasn't ungrateful though.  Just unsettled.  Still very thankful, but it was all so massive and such a huge change that it was a lot for this homemaker to sort out.

Then this happened.

And it began to feel more real...

Monday, August 5, 2013

On The Nightstand: Books of Interest (and Reference)

I am a bookworm at heart.  A perfect world would involve hours of time to indulge in reading.  For now, I'm feeling pretty good when I get a solid five minutes a day in.  That's the painful truth.  Most reading that happens in my life is in the form of reference books.  Oh, how boring that sounds!  But I have come to love them like old friends.  Content and beautiful pictures make being a repeat reader of them a treat.

Rodale's Ultimate Encyclopedia of Organic Gardening
This treasure turns any black thumb green.  Most every plant, tree, bush, or berry can be found in this book.  It takes a good two minutes to become a pro on any specific crop.  I love how quickly I can find information and answers to questions.  It leaves you with a feeling of empowerment instead of being overwhelmed.  It's magic, I tell you.

The Organic Cook's Bible
The book mentioned above is the how-to-succeed manual for the garden.  The Organic Cook's Bible offers the same kind of help once the harvest (or CSA box) is brought to the kitchen.  Do you find yourself with an exhausting amount of persimmons and have not a clue as to what to do with them like I did after receiving a huge bunch for the first time?  This book will help you identify what variety it is, how to store them, prepare them, and even preserve them if you have enough.  And not just for persimmons, I promise.  It's a massive book.  It covers countless edibles.  Pure gold.

A Year of Pies
This book...  I bought it as a birthday present for my mother.  I have also had my eye on it for personal use for quite a while.  I just happen to be neighbors with my mom now and, well... it might disappear from her kitchen and miraculously end up in mine.  Oopsies.  Daughter of the year award does not go to me.  But this book.  I swoon.  The pictures are glorious and will make anyone's stomach rumble.  There are sweet and savory pies galore.  And the best part?  The recipes are divided into seasons.  It has officially stollen my heart.  How could it not with recipes like Saltwater Taffy Pie in the summertime, Roasted Butternut Squash, Cheddar, and Sage Galette for autumn, Gluten-Free Pear and Hazelnut Frangipane Tart for winter, and Strawberry Crumble Pie with Lemon Verbena Whipped Cream for springtime.  Good gracious.  I can't go on.  But I will say that each season is packed with unstoppable sweet and savory pies, and each season has gluten-free recipes.  The pictures themselves are worth investing in this book.

Please.  Do yourself a favor.  Check these books out at the library.  Don't be surprised if you end up becoming the proud owner them though.  They are keepers and might prove worthy of a prominent spot on your bookshelf.  If they ever make it to there.  Mine never seem to.

I'm sharing this at Simple Lives Thursday.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Honest August

Hello, friends.

Happy August.

It has been one of those seasons where everything feels like it's moving faster than me.  The children's summer vacation is coming to a close in two short weeks which leaves me misty-eyed.  We have been hopping back and forth from house-sitting and living with my amazing parents for the past three months and we most likely have two more months of the nomadic life to go.  My garden, which started what feels like a couple of weeks ago as little seedlings on our kitchen table and countertops, has exploded, yielded food and provided most of our meals.  With the help of this summer's scorching heat, it has decided it is tired and ready to soon make room for the autumn garden.  My hopes to daily journal the crazy summer here in this space didn't happen.  There were recipes to share, plants to swoon over, lessons learned that I don't want to re-learn next year, and that's not even bringing up all the goings on up at the house.  That in itself is a whole bushel of posts that has yet to come about.  Oh, and all the food preservation that went on in between.  Yet, this little space has been more silent than ever, despite my best efforts.

All of a sudden, out of the blue, an idea grabbed me and wouldn't let go.  This month, I dedicate to honesty.  Busy as this season has been, I have found more time to be still in a way, (though my body never stops moving), to listen, to really see, and to contemplate so much.  Gardening and preserving the harvest has allowed for this.  These are the things I want to share about most this month.

Living in a place of intentional focus on what brings life is my approach to, well, life and blogging.  I think sometimes it may come off as if life is perfect.  It's not.  I intend to continue to focus on the positive and not wallow in the negative.  I'm happier that way.  But I hope to bring a more holistic perspective starting this month.  Let's go on this journey together, shall we?  I'll give it some more thought today in the garden.  We are in the throws of fall planting, you know.  Potato, cabbage, parsnip, and fennel seeds are waiting to go into the ground and I really can't think of anything else until they do.  I might be a little obsessed.


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