Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Bloom Day - March 2009

Does anyone know what this little weed is?
Edit: Cardamine hirsuta (Early or Hairy Bittercress)

I did take these photos on the 15th. Just didn't get time to post them for the official Bloom Day.

There is not a whole lot happening here, yet. In my yard, some bulbs are pushing up, but only a weed is blooming!

I am happy to see that all the sedums I rooted last year are coming back. The Vera Jameson (at 10 o'clock in the photo) has loads of buds - I need to get that in a bigger pot.

Tulips are coming up in the grass.

And where I left them last year. Might be a Crown Imperial at the bottom.

Random daffodils near the rick path we built last year. If I had been sure I was staying at this house, I would have put in a lot more bulbs along the path. They would work out well with the herbs I will plant later in the season. Lots of basil grew here last year.

My Mom's yard has more going on.

Does anyone know what this purple flower is?
Edit: Unknown cultivar of Iris Cristata (Wood Iris)

Mom has always been more patient with bulbs than I am. One of many clumps of daffodils:

Crocuses and hyacinth:

Winter Aconite:

Happily, the goundhog looks like it has not yet stirred from the burrow. Leaves are still stuffed under her "decorative" boulder, as they have been all winter. Unless, there is a second burrow entrance they are using.

Monday Cooking Day

This quiche turned out particularly well.

I seem to be developing a pattern of going to market on Saturdays and doing weekly cooking on Mondays. Our weekends are often busy, moreso now that spring soccer started for DD12, so Monday seems to work as a day that I can hop back and forth from working at the computer to tending things in the kitchen.

This afternoon I baked off sweet potatoes to puree, white taters for home fries, and one of the last butternut squashes from the basement. I made pumpkin streusel muffins with the squash. I made bread pudding with stale rolls I got for $1 at the market. I also cooked off some bulk sausage and bacon ends, to use in quiche. I zested lemons, made fresh lemon juice, made hummus. I am thinking about try to make my own pita bread or some other flatbread. The recipes don't look too hard.

The muffins were from a super-healthy recipe with whole grain flour, egg whites, no fat, and skim milk. Kinda scary, so I used whole milk and whole eggs. They next batch needs more streusel, too. But DH and I thought they were pretty good! Especially with a dab of cream cheese. (I suck at fat-free.) I am eager to see how well they keep, and freeze.

I put the muffins in a Tupperware thing I got at a yard sale last summer, for the freezer, so we can just take out a few each day. I have a lot of ripe pears to use up, so ginger-pear bran muffins are next. I took a family survey about muffins, to see what everyone would eat. Everyone can agree on blueberry, and fortunately I have some summer-picked blueberries in the freezer. DH likes plain bran muffins, like his father made, so I need to do some experimenting with recipes. I hate scrubbing muffin pans. I want to use paper liners, but it seems wasteful to create that trash. Must be why I normally like making quiche bread loaves - loaf pans are easy to wash.

I didn't get apples peeled for sauce today, so that means we will all be peeling in front of the TV some other night this week. I think I have enough apples for 4 quarts this time.

I inventoried the leftovers in the fridge - DD15 is leaving a lot of half-eaten veggies in there. She is doing pretty well with her "no meat for Lent" commitment. I am not doing as well. I keep forgetting - I made rice with stock instead of water, so she couldn't use the same rice. I mixed the refried beans with the turkey taco meat, instead of keeping the the beans separate to share with her. Is it some sort of passive-aggressive resistance to vegetarianism? Hmm.

In other food news, DD12 is Eating Better, making progress like I haven't seen in years. I don't know if she had some sort of personal epiphany, or if a couple years if watching us eat has produced a change, but things are happening. Bread, for instance. For years, she would only eat commercial Italian style bread and the cheapest hot dog buns. Then we introduced her to a local Italian bakery, and she expanded into fresh Italian bread and Kaiser rolls. Never would she touch a whole grain bread product. But suddenly she asked to try a loaf of whole wheat Italian. Still commercial bread, but she crossed the whole grain Rubicon. She does also eat whole grain waffles we make ourselves, so I am feeling much better about her fiber intake.

She is also eating a lot of my homemade applesauce with, drinking Concord grape juice, and accepting chicken in more variety. She used to live on chicken nuggets, and likes the fried chicken legs at the farmer's market - but she will now also eat plain baked chicken.

Whew. She was so inflexible about what she would eat, down to specific brands. I was really worried she would have trouble as an adult. People have been saying, "She'll outgrow it" since she was 5, but she is heading for 13 now! Long ago, I said "I am not running a diner" and made her start to cook her own food, so I was neither forcing her to eat our food, nor "caving in" and making two different meals. I'm trying not to do the forced-eating stuff that my parents did, and which resulted in my own weird food dislikes. (The thought of green beans makes me queasy.)

But finally she seems to allowing herself to try some new stuff again, for whatever reason. Yay!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Fabulous News

Out on the porch are two boxes of apple seconds that I bought for only $2 at the market on Saturday. I see a lot of applesauce in my future. I am the Queen of Market Scavenging: apple seconds, cheese ends, ham and bacon ends, day-old bread and rolls, bones, wilted greens.
March is more than halfway gone, and I am so far behind in my blogging. I have half a dozen unfinished posts in the pipeline. I'm gonna catch up with a series of quickie posts about things I don't want to forget.

First, Fabulous News today: DH was selected to be a National Urban Fellow in the 40th Anniversary year of that program. It's an intensive graduate program with two semesters of coursework and a 9-month mentorship that will result in a Master of Public Administration and admission to an incredible network of Fellows. The program runs a total of 14 months, pays a stipend and other expenses, and even includes health insurance. It's a wonderful , exciting opportunity and I am so proud of him for being selected.

But (isn't there always a "but"?), it means he will leave us for most of that time. We've had other times in our long relationship when we did not live together, so we will be okay, but I am not looking forward to his absence, even with all the digital means of staying close.

A huge clock just started ticking. He leaves the last weekend of May, and will be in NYC until August, then I get him back for 3 weeks before he goes to an as-yet-uknown major city for the mentorship. I hope he gets assigned to the Eastern seaboard, so I can visit him. We have a lot of work to do to be ready, and he will barely finish his EMT certification in May. Tick tock!

The Great Clean-up is Under Way. DH and I rented a garage for storage, and today my mother and I had our first clean-up session at her house. I took away two bags of trash and a 'donut' tire to Freecycle. I took photos of an old school desk and a child's bench to sell on Craigslist. That made just a small dent in the front porch junk, but it was a good warm-up. I hope to establish a schedule of working from 8AM-Noon four days per week, with some afternoons reserved for taking her to appointments and such. Now that we know DH is going to grad school, the pressure is really on.

Planning to Move. The current plan is to move to Mom's house in June. I have discovered that makes me really disinterested in doing things in our current house. "Is is worth doing when we will only be here another 3 months?" So far, "no" to new bathroom curtain, rearranging the living room furniture, and planting potatoes.

I've stopped buying for the freezer and pantry, and we will try to eat down our stores to avoid moving heavy canned goods. But I am keeping a list, so we can restock after the move. I'm also working on packing up things I can stash in the rented garage to reduce the size of the move - extra books, the fabric collection, and assorted boxed memorabilia.

I'm not going to plant anything at our house this year. Not even the early peas and lettuce. The clock is ticking too loudly, and I need to stay closely focused. I might try to get stuff in at Mom's if I can get rid of that groundhog, and score some compost to put in large containers.

We are planning an Easter weekend trip to DC. Tentatively, we'll visit DH's family there, visit the Smithsonian on Saturday, and attend at All Souls Unitarian Church on Sunday. We haven't been anywhere as a family since August, so a little road trip will be nice, and we seldom see DH's aunts.

Look for more posts shortly. I have things to tell you about the worm farm, a birthday trip to the Historical Society, and an Independence Challenge Update.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Independence Challenge - February 2009

Pear Butter, with cardamom, has been lovely on toast and waffles.

As you may recall, I took a blogging break for most of February. During that time, I did lot of research about Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia, in preparation for taking my mother to her doctor for an evaluation. But, one way or another, we will start cleaning out her house in March, so we can move in with her for the year that DH would be away at grad school. Right now, I am hard at work finding a large storage space to rent.

In other news, DH goes to NYC ths week, for interviews about his fellowship program. He is officially a semi-finalist for the program. By the end of this month, we will know if he makes the final cut. I am trying not to jinx it, not to feel too excited for him, knock wood. Fingers crossed.

Planted/Harvested: DD15 grew mung bean sprouts. She likes sprouts, but she didn't like these. We are going to try other sprouting seeds. I also harvested seeds from an organic squash that stored well from September to February.

Speaking of seeds, I won a blog giveaway from Kathy Purdy at Cold Climate Gardening, and got to pick out 6 packs of seeds from Botanical Interests. That was a nice pick-me-up in a dark month! I ordered mostly early spring planting:
Beets - Detroit Dark Red
Peas, shelling - Progress #9 Organic
Carrot - Baby Little Finger Organic
Lettuce - Romaine Little Gem Organic
Onion - Ringmaster (long day)
Pumpkin - French Cinderella
I am applying for a community garden plot; more than one if we can sign up the kids - gonna need space for pumpkins and squash. I hope to plant at my Mom's house, too, but getting it cleared out gets priority. I am not going to plant at our rented house except in moveable containers.

Preserved: I canned 3 more pints of Meadowlark's Sunshine Jam, a quart of Pear Butter, and many quarts of apple sauce. For the freezer, I made 3 pints of pizza sauce and 6 quarts of roast pork stock. Dried citrus zest and froze 2-tablespoon juice cubes from some lemons and limes.

Cooked: Wow, a month of cooking flies by. A few things stand out, among the usual curries, bread puddings, bean soups, roast chicken, and sausage.

I've been the only one eating real oatmeal. DH will eat the instant packettes of flavored oatmeal, and I found out it's because he doesn't like all the extra fruit and yogurt I put in mine. I got some other kinds of hot cereal to try, and I am working on developing a homemade quick oats mix with sugar and spices. Once I get it to pass the taste test, I will post the recipe. I want him to be able to scoop out a half-cup, add hot water, cover, and be able to eat it in 5 minutes.

I made a really good, versatile Tandoori-style Chicken I found on my fav recipe site. I made 5 chicken breast halves with it, intending to have leftovers, but it all got gobbled up. It was great with my favorite green tomato chutney. I was between yogurt batches, so I used sour cream which worked out fine. This will be a good grilling recipe, too.

DH doesn't like being commercially pressured to be romantic on Valentine's Day, especially since he is a thoughtful man every day. He actually got me a card this year, and it said, "You know I hate Valentine's Day, but I sure do love you." We went to a matinee of Slumdog Millionaire, and got Chinese for lunch. Not any different from the "date" we have once a month or so, but since it was VD, the restaurant give me a free rose. When we got home, DD12 had vacuumed the living room, baked us a chocolate cake, lit candles in the living room, and served grape juice in wine glasses. Then she made dinner of baked chicken, and dyed the mashed potatoes pink and shaped them into hearts! Nice day, no excessive consumption.

On Fat Tuesday, we made Buttermilk Pancakes for dinner, and the recipe made extra batter, which stored nicely in a jar in the fridge for easy pancakes later in the week. I like them with applesauce spread on them, and I like when they are so easy to make from leftover batter.

DD15 decided to give up Facebook and meat for Lent. We aren't Catholic, but I think she wants to test her willpower. I'm not sure which will be harder to avoid! We warned her that her stepdad and I would not be avoiding meat on her behalf, but we should be fine, since she often cooks her own food anyway. We will have to adjust the family shopping a bit - more eggs, more veggies, more curry powder. Good thing we already have a lot of rice, pasta, and beans. Frankly, it should save us some money; teenagers eat a lot! I need to make her some vegetable stock to use in rice and grits. She makes "Kick-You-in-the-Face-Good Tacos," at least according to her. Add more avocadoes and cheese to the shopping list.

Stocked: At the beginning of the month, 10# of hot chocolate mix, of which more than half is gone. That makes more than 30# this winter. We don't drink coffee, but with the house cold, we have been looking for warmth by the cup. Lately, that seems to be hot chocolate more often than a pot of tea. I looked into making our own mix, but the ingredients cost more than the prepared mix.

From the grocery store loss leaders: butter, freezer bags, saltines, frozen peas, dish soap, decaf Earl Grey tea bags, pinto beans, egg noodles, laundry detergent, adobo, bean soup mix, cooking spray, cheerios, strawberry preserves (DD12), BBQ sauce, paper towels, sea salt, concord grape juice.

We spent $300 stocking up on toiletries! We need to look closely at some of our habits. At a combination of BJs, Target, Aldi, and Weis supermarket, we stocked: cotton balls, cotton swabs, toothbrushes, toothpaste, 2 kinds of bar soap, acne face soap, dandruff shampoo, regular shampoo, conditioner, hair gel, disposable razors, 3 kinds of deodorant, flushable wipes, Dr. Bronner's soap, tampons and pads. Some of that will last much more than 3 months, but I sure hope it does not turn out that we spend $100/mo on non-food supplies. We bought DH 10 bottles of ProHealth mouthwash for $30, which was a great deal. We don't have dental coverage, and he goes the extra step with a dental rinse.

DD12 took a big liking to Concord grape juice. I was restricting her to one 64oz bottle a week, but DH though we should let her drink what she wants, since she will eat few vegetables and doesn't drink enough water. We bought 8 bottles at the warehouse club, and she has gone through them in a month. She can down a whole bottle in one day, and she doesn't seem to suffer any intestinal upset from it. But it's so much sugar, even if it is 100% grape juice. I am going to have to find some why to throttle that level of consumption, and look into whether frozen concentrate is cheaper.

Prepped: We are having a "Bug Out Bag Packing Day" this coming weekend. We've been collecting stuff for months, but have not assembled it properly into bags for each person. Time to get cracking!

Managed: Inventoried the bath closet, and saw that we had gone through most of what we bought back in October. I failed to keep track of what we bought, what we used and restocked, so I still don't really know what we actually use in a 3-month period. DH and I went on an expensive stock-up run. My toilet paper supply did hold up well, at least. This time, I will track everything and set quarterly pars. We hope to move into Mom's house at the end of another 3 months, so that will be a good time to inventory.

I finally managed to get an appointment for DD15 to get teeth filled. There is a high school vocational program near us, that trains dental assistants. The dentists themselves are experienced professionals that volunteer at the school. DD15 had three molars filled for only $30. DD12 and I don't need fillings, but we get our teeth cleaned in March, and DD15 goes back for more work. DH is too wary of trainees to go there. (Ok, really he's just a dental chicken, but I let him cling to his excuses.)

After much debate, we replaced our battered nonstick skillets, the 8 and 10 inch pans. We don't like the potential for off-gassing at high heat, but the cast iron is too heavy for DD12 and she routinely burns things the get stuck. The small pan is exclusively for eggs, and no one is allowed to cook on high heat in either one of them.

I inventoried the small and large freezers. The small bags of things float to the bottom and don't get rotated - frozen veg, boxes of butter, bags of soup bones. I need to get some baskets or something to contain them better. We have eaten a lot of it - saving the whole turkey for sometime around Easter.

Worked on the worm farm, battling a mite invasion. I will post more about the worms shortly, but the bin looks healthy now, and I see a lot of nice composted stuff. I finally found someone local with a worm farm and worms to share. I am going on a road trip to Phoenixville, about 45 minutes away. Can't wait to see their worm set-up. I want to make another new bin (or two).

Reduced, Reused, Recycled: I was over-feeding the worm bin, so I started keeping kitchen waste in a bucket on the back porch, where it has been mostly frozen. As the ground thaws, I will bury it in the garden. We stopped getting free newspapers from the neighbor, so my paper supply is way down. I need to find new sources.

I did save all the clear grape juice bottles. Washed out, they are good for storing rice and beans. A 2-pound bag of beans fits in a half-gallon bottle. The bottle are sturdier and more bug-proof than the plastic bags that beans come in. I keep the in-use supply bottles under the sink now.

I picked up a dozen quart canning jars on FreeCycle, but I notice that they are more often found on Craigslist for $5-10/dozen now. The GoodWill store has lost it's fool mind - they are .97 per jar! Since I can buy new jars that come with lids and rings for $7/dz at Walmart, I am not paying for old jars unless they are under $5/dz. It's not worth the time and gas money to drive all over to collect small lots of jars. I do still pick them up for 25 cents at rummage. I do like the look and feel of the older heavier jars.

Community Food: I had to delay some things when my Mom's situation blew up. I pushed back the food group to March, and delayed starting the bulk buying club. My low energy from the thyroid problem is really hindering me. I have another doctor's appointment soon.

I did do a February teen conference where I gave a 90-minute "Intro to Ethical Eating Issues" workshop (twice). We did an energetic exercise that asked people to take a step forward or back if they were familiar with various issues. The kids were really very aware of food issues. Unitarian-Universalists are often involved in gardening, healthy cooking, food activism, and health professions - and that is very visible in the kids. Lots of lifelong vegetarians. The workshop I did would work better for a less educated group. I need to do something more advanced for the UU teens. I am thinking about Food Waste as a topic - worms ahoy!

I recycled a big stack of egg cartons to a church friend that has chickens, and she brought me eggs the next week. I hope to make a regular arrangement with her, instead of the man at the market that brings them from another county in foam egg cartons.

I trained at the United Way as an interviewer for the national Hunger Survey going on in shelters, food pantries, and soup kitchens all over the country right now. I've visited four sites as an interviewer, so far, and it has been sobering. The stories of the elderly were especially striking, to me. Most are blue collar folks who worked hard and still find themselves with few resources and failing health. There is a need for some kind of "caseworker" or ombudsman to help people who need to be hooked up with other services they don't know about.

It is also time to sing up for a CSA. I'm trying to decide which one, and whether to get a whole or half-share. I am concerned we will get more greens than we can eat, so I leaning toaward a half. Then I can add more fruit, eggs, and preferred veg by shopping at the producer market all summer. Maybe I will feel inspired to find some dish we will all eat regularly, that uses loads of greens. Perhaps some version of Cream of Green soup.

Learning: I've been researching dementia and eldercare. DH has been continuing with his EMT training course, which is seems to be enjoying. DD15 started volunteering at the local art center on Fridays, so she can earn a free art class. DH is looking into Taekwondo for DD12, in his search for a martial arts class she will stick with. She also starts spring soccer soon, so Taekwondo may get pushed back.

Library: Found Needlecraft, from the Reader's Digest Home Handbook series. Looks like a good general reference, for 50 cents from the church bookshelf.

We have also started to support a particular library branch. I know the librarian from church. The city cut the library budget, but the county picked up some of those positions, including my friend's job. She was moved to a branch, the smallest branch in the "worst" part of town. She worries that the next cut will be closing a branch, and that hers could be the one - but this branch is essential to the very poor children and adults in that neighborhood. A number of us from church are supporting her by moving all our library activites to her branch. I order most of my library books online during the week, so I can just stop in and pick up all my holds on the weekend. Now, I have them sent to her branch, where I also pay any fines I incur, increasing her circulation and revenue.

More photos next time. I wanted to spew out all this saved up IDC stuff and then settle back into a regular blogging pattern again. I missed it!