Thursday, December 30, 2010

I'm back

Last night I finished the scarf I've been knitting for the last several weeks. I found that when I knitted while the kids were up, I made frequent mistakes that I had to go backwards and take out. So I've been knitting when they watch their morning sesame street, and in the evening after they go to bed; the time slots when I usually write a post and check email etc. So this morning as the kids watch sesame street, and I get my writing fix, I feel like declaring: I'M BACK!

Our Christmas day overflowed with enthusiastic children, special food, family and good friends. The majority of gifts we gave were homemade, including; smoked salmon, blueberry jam, rhubarb ginger preserves, homemade lotion and soap, raw goat milk feta, our own cured and smoked bacon, duck fat and rendered pig lard - wrapped in paper and tied up with a red ribbon of course.

With Christmas money I bought myself an Ipod touch, 4g. 32 gig, I'm not up to date with current trends, styles or toys. For the most part I avoid paying attention to the newest gadgets on the market. I am one of the only people I know that does not own a cell phone. I'm one of those people you see that doesn't know how to use other people's cell phones, when I borrow a phone (once in a blue moon) I end up handing it back so the owner can send the call as I'm afraid to touch anything. I've never texted anyone, so if I were to receive one I'm sure all the abbreviations would look like gibberish to me.

I'm feeling a tinge of buyers remorse as I reflect and think of other items I could have bought; a new meat smoker, a new vegetable juicer or kitchen-aid mixer, both my juicer and mixer are well used and on their last leg. Ah, well. My excuse is that I am over the music rut I've been in over the last few years. I can't get enough of new tunes these days. I've been listening to Pandora every day all day. I plug my computer into our sound system, so this works as a DJ as long as no one is using the computer. I'm constantly flitting across the room to turn something up, or down, or mark as like or dislike, or looking to see who it is. The kids give their input. Avery says, "I love this song!" Noah says, "the music is too loud", "turn down the music please." We have wi-fi in the house, so I'm looking forward to plugging in the headphones and listening to tunes as loud as I like while washing the dishes, without anyone telling me they don't like the music or it is too loud.

In the kitchen,  I've been making clear broth soups with some beef bone broth and chicken broth I made last week. Yesterday I made french onion soup with our own onions. Before that I made an Asian style chicken vegetable soup with cilantro, scallions, ginger and mirin. Last night we had homemade pizza. I've been making homemade tortillas, noodles and dumplings.

The kids are coming down with their second cold in three weeks. The last cold was pretty gnarly and I think this is also sounding and looking rather foreboding. I've managed to remain untouched. We've all been taking more vitamins, vitamin D in particular, Echinacea and garlic than usual. I drink a lot of fresh ginger root tea when I feel threatened. I think our bodies are trying to tell us something, time for some sun, we've depleted our vitamin D supply. Time to go take care of my family. Happy last days of 2010 everyone!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas

It is the night before Christmas. The children are sleeping. It was a long day of preparing for tomorrow; wrapping presents, picking up presents from the post office, killing and preparing ducks for tomorrow nights dinner and packing for a day away from the house. In the morning we'll do stockings and gifts here, eat rosemary bagels (from Lulus), and stock everyone up on hay before heading out to my folks for the day. We have started milking the does every other day, getting ready to dry them off for a couple months before kidding season. So I don't have to milk tomorrow. I also topped off all the waters today, so no water hauling.

We are having homemade apple fritters, eggs benedict with smoke salmon and sparkling side cars for brunch. For dinner we are having more friends over, in addition to our family of nine. Dinner is king crab appetizer, followed by roast duck, fried potatoes in duck fat, beets, a special salad, and various other unknowns. I believe desert is a ginger cheesecake, and lots of cookies and Christmas treats I'm sure. I am looking forward to the meals and good wine immensely. I am also excited for the kids - their excitement is contagious. A day with family and friends, all relaxing and enjoying eachother's company is always a blessing.

May you have a Merry Christmas, wherever you are.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

In the kitchen this week

 We've been busy in the kitchen this week. We make a batch of fruit leather almost weekly with whatever fruit is around and needs used up. I often sneak in some vegetables, usually kale, carrots or beets. The fruit leather always has yogurt in it, and sometimes I toss in some fresh ground flax seed. Noah likes to spread the wet concoction on the drying sheets. This batch was mango kale with coconut milk yogurt. The kids love the fruit leather. As long as it isn't just fruit, I don't feel bad about them munching on it throughout the day.

 We made one batch of sugar cookies, just for the kids. They had come home with some sugar tubes from a kid's craft day. They have been wanting to make cookies with the colored sugars ever since. So, thankfully we used up all the tubes, and now we have Christmas cookies with artificially colored and flavored sugar topping.Lovely.  Can you feel my enthusiasm? I use to go into full cookie baking mode for gift giving, before the kids came around. I'm sure we will get back to mass production cookie baking some day. For now, I baked a batch of russian tea cookies to have on hand for myself. The kids have their sugar cookies. I'm looking forward to getting cookies from two individuals who make to die for cookies- you know who you are. Other than that, I don't see the need to have bags and bags of cookies around for the next couple months.

I did make a batch of Feta this week. I usually age it for a while before giving it away or using it. Finding myself low on fridge room, I thought I'd just give it with the recommendation of keeping it around for a few weeks before eating it.
 Cutting the curds

Draining the curds

 Big ball of cheese

 Salted chunks of Feta ready to cure
After a few days of curing, I made a salt brine and packed the chunks into jars. Voila; Feta.

 With the kids playing indoors so much, we've been changing it up a bit. I've been bringing in and cleaning up outside toys that the kids haven't played with since fall. Jumping on the couch cushion usually provides a couple hours of entertainment.
Avery and her babies.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Our Winter Solstice

Today is winter solstice. Summer solstice is a momentous occasion up here, as we have almost twenty-four hours of daylight. Winter solstice seems to squeak by with hardly a mention. However, I find that of all days, this is one we should be celebrating. The return of the sun. Is sun not life itself? Here, the lack of sun is so noticeable. Today the sun rose around 10:50 and set around 2:30, giving us three hours and forty minutes of sun. I should have written down the exact time when I heard it a half a dozen times on the radio today.

Almost everyone is low on energy, sleeping more, feeling lazy and so on. I have one recommendation for those feeling blue on these dark winter days: GET OUTSIDE! I don't care how cold it is.  Bundle up and go for a walk in the middle of the day. Stand and look at the sun. Feel the warmth of the sun...if you can. If I didn't have outside chores to get me outside during the daylight hours, I'd probably spend my whole day inside, in the kitchen, and I would go crazy. I have my outdoor chores to thank for my sanity this time of year.

Chickens getting treats, milk, kombucha mother and king crab shells, mmm.

frosty duck door

All of these pictures were taken today. These outdoor shots were around one p.m. Sun shining on the south facing hills.

A view from the snow blanketed garden.

Winter Bucks

Beet and carrot pulp leftover from juicing- the goats love it.

Winter Does; healthy thick fur balls.

Hot cross buns, mmm.

And, better, iced cross buns

Gift making, homemade lotions.

Noah is stringing cranberries and popcorn onto thread, to be hung outside. I don't know if the chickadees will eat them or not. But it is a nice gesture. We did hang birch bark covered in bacon grease and sunflower seeds for the chickadees, and that, they loved. By the way, anyone see the eclipse last night? It was pretty cool. It was a cold night to be standing around outside. But I happened to catch it about half way on my way out to close the animals in, and then continued to look up now and then over the space of a half hour. Not something you see every night.
Happy Solstice!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

 It feels like the heart of winter here in Fairbanks. We've had a few consecutive weeks of below zero, or ten below zero and colder temperatures. We've been enjoying staying home when we can. When we do venture into town we bundle up, make as few stops as possible, get the essentials, let the kids play, take the camera and get home. Yesterday was cold, but we had a few things we had to do, so as I drove in to town and around I asked D to snap some shots. I was hoping the camera would capture the mountain range I could see with my bare eyes, but alas...

There are temperature readings all around town and as we'd drive by we'd try and get a shot of the temperature, but with the boards also showing time and random other bits, and other vehicles, and exhaust fumes engulfing our vehicle, well ... and then there were the times where we reached for the camera but the sign only said -22, and we were like, we can do way better than that.

 We drove into town around twelve thirty p.m., and when I saw the sun, I was surprised how high in the sky it was, well you can see that it really isn't that high. I just haven't seen it in a while, so the intensity was lovely.

 And this is what town looks like these days, frozen, cold and dreary- and this is about as bright and light as it gets. The sky is clear, and the sun is at it's peak, which is really just skimming the horizon. The colder it gets the worse the ice fog. On public radio the announcers give air quality warnings, because of the amount of pollution trapped in the bowl that is Fairbanks. We noticed little things as we drove around, how the ride is bumpier, due to frozen tires and shocks. Vehicles just don't run well at these cold temperatures, slow to start and sluggish in pace. When you open the door you can't close it quickly enough, the nice warm air in the cab gone in a second.
I heard the announcer say lows from forty to fifty below last night, highs today from thirty to forty below. Our thermometer seems to be stuck at ten below, but it feels closer to fifteen, which is still a significant difference from town temperatures. When we were in town yesterday, the cold air took our breath away. Exposed fingers for just a second was painful. Avery thought it was great fun. She laughed and squealed each trip from the truck to the building and back.

I'm thankful that we don't have to leave the house today. I'm just as thankful that I don't have any plans yet for the day. I brought home some dinosaur craft books and some asian noodle/dumpling cookbooks from the library yesterday. So that should keep us occupied. The animals are all snug indoors. Three bucks snuggling in one insulated building with fresh bedding. Chickens enjoying their heat lamp and heated waterer indoors - we don't keep the heat lamp on often, usually just a light bulb, but we've been indulging them lately - and it is always nice to have unfrozen eggs. The ducks will get out today, hardy little buggers. The does are keeping their dwelling warm enough with their body heat. They have a light bulb on, and we've been tossing some hay indoors as well as some outside. They seem to be in fine spirits.

Yep, that's about all for the dark days around here. A toasty fire, a few candles and Christmas lights to brighten our days.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

December days

 Twelve days till winter solstice. I'm feeling the effects of the dark and the cold. I'm mostly just going stir crazy in our small house with the kids. It has been too cold to get them out to play. It is essential to either have a play date or get to town to do something every couple days. One of the advantages to heading into town is seeing the sun and the mountains on clear days. The frosty trees, plumes of smoke and the pastel pink horizon are all impressive in their simple beauty. Our sun is coming up after ten and setting by three p.m. Our daylight hours are pretty dim as the sun stays low on the horizon. The temperatures here have stuck pretty close to zero over the last couple weeks, ranging down to ten below on the coldest days. Temperatures in town have been ten to twenty degrees colder.

Last weekend there were all kinds of fun Holiday events going on around town; a Gingerbread House competition, the Nutcracker ballet, a tree lighting ceremony. We had grandiose plans for getting out on some family outings, but Avery came down with a gnarly cold. Noah also got it, but wasn't nearly as miserable. So I spent a good portion of the last week, caring for sick kids and trying my hardest not to get sick myself, which is challenging as it is impossible not to get sneezed and slobbered on.

We have yet to get a real Christmas tree in this house, and will wait at least next winter when our addition is finished. We enjoyed helping decorate my folks Christmas tree. Below is our tree. D drew it on some wrapping paper and the kids had a good time decorating it - doesn't take much to please our kids - yet.

You may have noticed I haven't done much writing lately. I haven't been spending much time on the computer at all, or with my face in a book. Instead I knitted a cute little hat for Avery (left), and have been working on a delicate scarf (right) as a gift for our farm helper who has become part of the family and one of my closest friends. She has been on vacation and I've been thinking about her a bunch and wanted to make her something special to show our love and appreciation for all her hard work. These are my first knitting projects since I was expecting Avery, and had only just taught myself then and made a couple little things like baby socks that never fit and mittens that never stayed on. So, I am proud that the hat fits perfect and the scarf is looking more or less like the pattern.

We are in hibernation mode. The kids are going to bed early and sleeping in late. I've been making lots of comfort food. I made soup four days in a row and the kids were rebelling against anything soup like, despite how different they all were. So, then I made quiche for lazy mornings. We finished up the turkey with a dish that has turkey, gravy and veggies with cheesy biscuits on top. Last night I made lasagne. I put our own bacon and ground pork in the meat ragu, and made homemade noodles for the first time ever. I'm looking forward to making some more complex noodles, maybe some squash sage raviolis or some hand shaped tortellini.
This weekend we are having friends over for a big Indian meal. One of our guests is a strict vegan, so a lot of our own food is out, no eggs, goat cheese, goat milk, meat... I am going to make most of the meal vegan including no butter in the poori or samosa dough, but have decided to make tandoori grilled chicken,after all, I think the other four meat eating guests would enjoy some heartier fare.

How do you make the most of the shortest, darkest days of winter?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Farm chores at ten below

 This morning our thermometer read ten degrees below zero, which isn't super cold for here - although I have to say I wrapped a scarf around my face for the first time this winter, so colder than it has been. At ten below zero, you can see where the heat escapes from door cracks.
 Self-portrait. You can see my scarf is frosting up a bit. My eyelashes were getting just a bit wet and sticky. At twenty below eyelashes really start to build frost, and nose hairs get a little icy - not there yet.

 Ducks get fresh water... check. Plastic is brittle at these temperatures, so I have to be careful not to drop the lid or it will break.

Our milking area is unheated for now, although we have an uninstalled wood-stove sitting next to the milking stand. The first few streams of milk almost solidify as they hit the cold pail, the splatters that reach the sides freeze quickly. My bare palms stay warm with the action of milking, but the outside edge of my hands get cold.

 This is how I chill my milk in the winter. Milk cooling off while I milk the next goat.

 Fresh water for goats. Check.

Mother and daughter, ah.

And that was my morning out with the animals. Water and food to all. Milk and eggs to the house

Friday, November 26, 2010

My kids love broccoli

 I wish I had taken some pictures of our Thanksgiving meal yesterday, but I was too busy cooking, serving and eating. We are having a second special meal tomorrow with my family and eating our own thirty-one pound turkey, and since I am just one of many contributors to the meal, I'm thinking I'll get around to some picture taking.

As I sat down to homemade macaroni and cheese tonight, I was thinking of how quick and easy it was to make and how tasty it was. Like most kids, my children LOVE macaroni and cheese. I do usually keep a couple boxes around for emergencies, but I don't feel very good about feeding it to my kids; too many additives, preservatives and "natural flavoring". In the past I've made a one pot cheesy pasta dish that includes boiling noodles, making a cheese sauce, steaming vegetables and then I usually finish it off with an assortment of flavor enhancers; pine nuts, lemon zest, sun-dried tomatoes, kalamata or green olives, capers etc. Well, I've had to tame it down for the kids, but I've found that I still enjoy the basic version as well, and leaving out the olive chopping, lemon zesting, pine nut toasting and dried tomato soaking, really cuts down on the time it takes to make it.

I haven't followed a recipe in some time, and tonight I made a mini-batch, as I didn't need any more leftovers in the fridge. Tonight I almost opened a box of mac and cheese... just the kids and I... did a lot of cooking yesterday... I knew they would eat well...but instead- after setting a pan of water on for noodles and steaming broccoli, I:
  1. I grabbed one extra pan, tossed two TB. butter in till melted
  2. Whisked in two TB. flour till mixed
  3. Slowly poured in one cup milk
  4. Added a pinch of sea salt and stirred occasionally while
  5. adding the noodles to the other pot, broccoli and put it over the noodles to steam - set timer
  6. By then the sauce was thickening and I had grated two cups of sharp cheddar cheese- add cheese
  7. Taste for salt and pepper, turn to low while waiting for noodles and broccoli.
  8. When broccoli is fork tender (4-5 min) take off, drain noodles when done and add everything to the cheese sauce.
Obviously this is just a jumping off point, but what I am trying to share is that this took me no longer than making the mac and cheese in the box, just one extra pot and a trip to the flour bin and some cheese grating. I use to add fresh thyme, bay leaves, onion and nutmeg to my melted butter while making the cheese sauce, and it does take it to a whole new level of flavor, but it adds time. Also, my goal has been to create something very similar to what the kids love about boxed macaroni and cheese, it is simple and cheesy, (and doesn't taste like onions).

I've been wanting to touch on the subject of feeding children and how we do so. This is a touchy subject for many parents, and I don't want to come across as preachy, but I am opinionated about most things and this is one of them. In general I find that parents are too easily inclined to feed their kids whatever they will eat, just happy that they are eating anything. I feel like I could write a book on feeding children and establishing healthy eating patterns, but I'll try to keep it simple tonight. My kids are great eaters and I know that it is because we started them off very carefully. When I first started introducing the kids to food, I did my research on what to feed when. They started on steamed and pureed fruits and vegetables, ground rice porridge and then gradually added in eggs, beans and nuts at the appropriate times. I never added extra salt or sugar to their food, they don't need it for a while. Once they get use to our food with all the salt, butter and sugar, that is what they are going to want, but you can keep it from them at least while they are babies and young toddlers. We waited till our kids were well past a year old before introducing meats or dairy.

There is no reason to introduce items like candy or cupcakes until it is completely avoidable. The first several parties I took my kids to they were drawn to fruit platters and toys and were completely oblivious to the cake and extra treats as they had no experience and didn't know what they were missing. Noah knows what candy is now and gets it on special occasions, but Avery doesn't have experience with candy, she does know ice cream and cookies. For quite a while I would eat sweets in front of Noah and tell him they were for adults. I didn't feel like I was depriving him or lying, it just wasn't something his little body needed. It was the same thing I'd say if he reached for my wine, beer or coffee, nope, sorry, and he went with it for quite a while.

My kids eat poorly when there is company or when we have dinner elsewhere. They tend to throw fits when they are too hungry. So, feeding them ahead of time and staying on top of keeping them well fed are key in having them eat well and accepting what is for dinner. I have had to compromise my cooking. I don't cook exactly as I would if I were cooking for adults. I don't like noodles much, but the kids do, so I throw noodles into all kinds of soups that I wouldn't otherwise, and even if they pick around something at least those noodles soak up all the vegetable meat broth. My kids really have a hard time with Indian food, so I keep thinking I should make it more often, but instead I've been avoiding the struggle.

We don't eat dessert on a regular basis, more of a special occasion/ company sort of thing. I like it that way, I don't want my kids to expect sweets after dinner, or only eat well if they know there is a reward at the end. If I am making something I know isn't going over real well, that may be the night I mention a cookie or ice-cream, although I try to use wording that disguises the bribe.

I've learned a couple tricks for when my kids are going to throw a fuss about the oncoming meal. Sometimes I will sit down with a plate of food and just start eating and the kids, wondering why I'm not forcing them to the table with a plate of the same, will come to investigate. I'll explain that I didn't know if they were ready to eat yet, and they will insist they are and so I'll say, "ok, well why don't you just try a bite of mine first". And after feeding them several bites off my plate and being reassured that they have enough food in them not to break down, I will get them their own. Another more desperate tactic I use to use on Noah when he refused to eat anything (he was two), I would sit down with his dinner and read him a book. For every bite he would eat, I would read him a page.

When the kids start making faces and say they won't eat something on their plate, I tell them to start with whatever they do like, and that at least improves their mood. We do play games sometimes, I pretend their food on the fork I'm holding is a fish and they catch it. Finally, I often find that if dinner doesn't go over so well and they get down to play, I can just pop bites of food off their dinner plates and into their mouths once they are playing and they don't even pay attention to what is they are eating. It could be something they were throwing a big fuss over at the table. Which reminds me, often just sitting at the table with food in front of them provokes a confrontation. So, when food isn't too messy or they just need a break, I'll let them eat at the coffee table, outside (when it is nice), or sitting at the stairs, and that starts the meal out as something special.

 Avery and Noah, eating dinner tonight. Both my kids are pretty good about eating vegetables. We cook most vegetables just until tender, and rarely eat canned vegetables. They both love broccoli, so I buy it year round, even when it is very non-local and non-seasonal. As much as I enjoy striving to eat locally and seasonally, feeding the kids puts a whole new twist on things. They can only eat so many beets and carrots before growing bored. They love peas, broccoli, peppers and cucumbers. So we ate our hearts out this summer, especially on our own peas and broccoli. Lately I've been buying peppers, snap peas and cucumbers and the store, and while I always think, wow this cucumber has come a long way, I don't feel bad about buying it. The last time I was at the supermarket, each child picked out a colored pepper and that is what they wanted to eat in the back seat on the way home. Noah ate his entire orange bell pepper on the way home and Avery had a harder time without me slicing it for her. The time before that I bought a bag of frozen shelled peas and Avery asked for them as if they were candy as we made it up and down the aisles. Finally, we made it to the truck and yes she ate handfuls of frozen peas the entire way home.

We grew a lot of broccoli this summer. I don't care for it frozen much so we ate broccoli every other day from June to September. We did take a break but now we are back at it. It is no where near as good as our own, but is a healthy addition to our diet anyway. Above the kids are pretending to eat at one of our later heads of broccoli. So heres to healthy kids eating and enjoying real food, Cheers!