Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Raising Animals, Or Not

Lately I have felt like I need my own cow. Maybe a few chickens, too.

Right now the main issue keeping me from rushing out to... wherever one buys livestock... is that my husband hates animals.

Okay, he doesn't *hate* animals. He hates OWNING animals. He used to raise Irish Setters, which will turn anyone off dogs. And our cats, our "cats are never really any work" cats, have been nothing but furry meowing headaches since we acquired them.

I'd say chickens are out of the question. Cows, WAY out of the question. But here is why I still pine for a herd of my own.

  1. I could use a constant, low-cost source of milk and eggs. Livestock could also be low-cost meat if I was brave enough to stick a knife into a creature not already cooked medium rare.
  2. Raising animals places you squarely in an agricultural lifestyle--early to rise, early to bed, in touch with the earth and its seasons, etc. This appeals to me, in theory at least.
  3. It's good for the kids. 4-H is a great program! Also, despite my attempts to dissuade them, my children are convinced that farms are animal utopias where the cows and pigs cavort on green pastures and have cow parties with alfalfa tea. This is kinder than the truth, I suppose.

There are many good reasons not to raise animals--my grandparents had a farm when when I was growing up, so I am more than aware of about a hundred of them--but that doesn't stop me from feeling that longing when my friend complains of having no way to use up the eight gallons a day of organic, fresh milk that her cow produces.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Recipe: Whole Wheat Pumpkin Muffins

We had these for breakfast this morning. These muffins are a little too sweet for my taste, but my kids think they are perfect. Made with whole grains, eggs, and nutrient rich pumpkin, these are a balanced meal in themselves. Maybe next time I'll leave out the sugar and see if the honey alone is enough.

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease large muffin pan.
  2. In a large bowl, mix 1 and 3/4 cups whole wheat flour, 1 tsp baking powder, 1 tsp nutmeg, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp baking soda, and 1/4 tsp cloves.
  3. In another large bowl, mix 1/4 cup sugar, 2/3 cup honey, 1/2 oil (your choice--don't use olive though!), 1 cup mashed pumpkin, and 2 eggs.
  4. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients. Mix until just combined.
  5. Spoon into muffin pan and bake 35 to 45 minutes.

This made 16 medium muffins.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Goodbye Farmer's Market, plus a recipe for whole wheat hot pockets

Yesterday my daughter and I headed for the last farmer's market of this year. Apparently we weren't the only ones! Despite an ever-shrinking number of vendors, there were more shoppers than I have ever seen at a Yakima farmer's market. We circled for almost a half hour looking for a parking space within half a mile (I was planning to buy pumpkins and squash, so proximity was important) before finally giving up. We'll have to make do with last week's vegetables, the dwindling fruits of our frost-bitten tomato plants and apple trees, and some pumpkins from a roadside stand in the neighboring town of Wapato. The culinary theme of this week will be pumpkins: pumpkin soup, pumpkin fettuccine, pumpkin muffins, and the ubiquitous jack-o-lantern.

The farmer's market has been a staple of our family life this year, a solid appointment to anchor the unformed summer week. Its end will leave a two-hour hole in our Sundays. Autumn erupts from pale, jaundiced summer in such a flurry of color that we forget that it is a time of goodbyes: goodbye to flowers and gardens, vacations and visits, long days in the sun. Winter is creeping in, inching ever closer like the high tide. Already I am greeted by frost and a heavy white cloud of breath every morning; soon the frost will turn to solid ice and the children will rush to their windows every morning hoping for snow.

If you aren't already baking, check back to see some of my recipes and ideas. If you are baking, well, check back anyway! Here is today's masterpiece, so simple that it requires not a recipe, but a short description.

Better Than Hot Pockets

  1. Make one batch of your favorite biscuit dough--I made simple whole wheat dough from WW flour, salt, baking powder, and butter.
  2. Instead of rolling and cutting, separate into balls about the size of your palm. Then, roll out as you would pizza dough, into circles
  3. Top with your desired filling, then pull the edges together and seal. I formed mine so they were little squares and baked them with the ends underneath them. It really doesn't matter as long as the filling is contained.
Today I filled our pockets with ham and cheddar, plus a tiny amount of stoneground mustard, and my children made me promise to make another batch tomorrow. I think we'll try spinach, mozzarella, and tomato. These pockets are as frugal and healthy as you want to make them. I use organic and/or natural ingredients, making them a healthy choice for your child's diet.

Tomorrow is baking day, and I plan to make whole wheat pumpkin muffins and experiment with a whole wheat pie crust. I may even try a crust made an alternative grain to surprise a friend who has gluten issues. I'll let you know how these came out, plus print the recipes if they are worth sharing.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

All Excuses Aside

The other day a mom confided to me that her children never see the inside of a McDonald's. I was about to commend her for cutting out fast food when she added that this is because she is too busy to go inside. They use the drive-through, usually several times a week.

Before I go further, I have a confession to make. Only a quarter of my family's diet is organic. Sometimes it goes up to around half. I've found that we eat a lot more organics when I am in a meatless meal phase. The percentage is steadily rising, but like most mommies, I have a finite grocery budget. This is not my only dietary compromise; we eat fast food about once a month. Last week I gave in to months of begging and purchased a box of cereal straws. I am not a perfect mom, especially not in the food arena.

With my faults on the table, I feel better about criticizing other parents. I am starting to think that everyone feeds their children junk. Starchy, sugary, over-processed junk. And the excuses are always that they have no time, and that healthy food is so expensive.

I'll address the time matter first. None of us have time. You're talking to a homeschooling, work-at-home mother/stepmother of eight. No time here. Anyway, the drive-through takes longer (and costs more, which I address next) than grabbing some apples and string cheese on your way out the door.

As for money, the only way healthy food is more expensive is if you compare the very cheapest of processed food with the most expensive natural foods. "Look, organic blueberries are eight dollars a pint. Oh well, just grab a bag of chips." Mom ignores the very economical organic carrots and bananas--even non-organic fruit beats chips--and buys chips, considering herself forced to feed her growing children junk.

Even on the rare occasion that healthy, natural snacks are more expensive than a bag of starch, they are still a better deal. We are paying for nourishment for growing bodies and minds. If a food doesn't do that, we're getting absolutely nothing for our money. You might as well put your paycheck in the compost bin.

The last time I visited my local drive-through, a fast food meal was around five dollars. You can easily feed one person a healthy, organic diet for a day with that! So let's stop feeding Nabisco's bank account and start feeding our kids.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Mother of Invention

Sadie* has four children, a home business, and the sundry appointments and obligations of modern life. She also has no vehicle. This is not a temporary inconvenience for Sadie, but a voluntary lifestyle.

“I’m used to doing without one,” she says with a dismissive shrug. How does Sadie live a modern life without something that most modern people regard as essential? She plans ahead, combines errands, and relies on a mixture of public transportation and walking.

Sadie’s way of life is even more remarkable when one considers the inefficient and poorly planned public transportation system of the small town we share. Getting from Point A to Point B on a Yakima bus can take hours, even when Points A and B are mere blocks apart. Yet her choice is not without merit. Surprisingly, she spends less time in transit that most modern mothers, and that time is usually spent reading or interacting with her children. Sadie has chopped entire toes off her carbon footprint and has no trouble getting a healthy amount of exercise every day. She is also saving money; transportation, a sizeable chunk of the average household budget, costs her mere pocket change.

Globally, more people share Sadie’s transportation arrangement than the one-car-per-driver situation favored by most American families. Women had busy lives long before Ford perfected the internal combustion engine. Yet most American families would never consider giving up driving—or even cutting back—except as a desperate measure. Necessity may be the mother of invention, but that’s not her only offspring. Ecology, frugality, and simplicity are often discovered in dire situations.

Consider: entire populations make do without the necessities of American life. Two years ago, I found myself suddenly and quite unhappily without a working clothes dryer. In a seven member household, saving laundry for a weekly trip to the Laundromat was out of the question. My husband strung up a line outside so I could air-dry clothes until we bought a new dryer. In that short week I discovered that hanging out laundry takes little time; the next month I found that it also saves a wad of electricity dollars. Years later, our new dryer is used only when the weather demands it.

How many facets of American life could be simplified this easily if circumstances demanded it? Then why wait? Join me in taking a look at your home and your life, evaluating what is really necessary, and trimming the excess. Ask yourself what you would do if forced to be without some of the items we take for granted. Some things may be absolutely necessary (“What would I do without an asthma inhaler?”) but others seem almost ridiculous in their superfluousness (“What would I do if I couldn’t afford soft drinks?”).

As always, give thanks. If you are making these changes voluntarily, you are one of the lucky ones.

*name changed

Monday, October 22, 2007

A Day in the Life of a Crazy Woman

I apologize for yet another multi-week hiatus from blogging. I enjoy blogging and it takes just a few minutes at the computer, so why can't I seem to get a daily post written? Here might be the answer, or at least part of it.

Things I must do...

  1. Care for five children between the ages of older teen and newborn. This is complicated by my preference for attachment parenting, which necessitates talking and explaining instead of spanking and yelling, and training my baby to be a sensitive and attached human being rather than a "self-soother" who internalizes rather than vocalizing her needs... a subject for another blog. The point is: I am not a low-interaction parent raising low-maintenance children. Quite the opposite.
  2. Homeschool aforementioned children, which includes not just teaching, but all of the offal that goes with it... lesson planning, curriculum buying, copy making, field tripping, social life managing.
  3. Maintain a large, but frugal and ecologically sensible home. This entails making and using homemade cleaners, hanging out laundry, gardening, foraging for good deals in nontraditional venues.
  4. Cook. I'm a foodie, if you haven't guessed already. I like fresh/organic/healthy and I need cheap.
  5. Write. I'm trying to break into freelance writing after a long career hiatus, and the first requirement of a writer is WRITING. I'm trying. But see above.
  6. Be a member of my community. We go places, do things, talk to people and try to generally be a visible family.

Things I cut out to allow time for above:

  1. Unnecessary lessons and errands. This saves gas and emissions as well!
  2. Television. Not a huge loss.
  3. Much of my social life, unfortunately.
  4. Sometimes, blogging. But every day I get more organized and my baby grows more independent, so I promise to get better!

My new goal is to blog every morning, just a little. Check back to see if I make it! And don't forget to leave comments--I LOVE comments.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Sleepy after Seattle

We survived our family vacation in Seattle!

One of the best parts of taking a holiday is being so very glad to return home. The kids liked the museums and aquariums the best, but my favorite part was eating from the hole-in-the-wall stands surrounding Pike’s Place Market. Have you ever had french onion soup with fresh artisan cheese? It was so delicious even my preschoolers lapped it up. We saw the most beautiful autumn vegetables, shiny and huge and bright enough to make the neon signs seem pale, and of course watched the fishmongers throwing salmon at each other.

There is truly nothing as tiring as resting. After almost a week, we were irritable, flu-ey, and ready to return to our everyday lives.

This week I am going to be picking apples and experimenting with recipes to use them up. We have only a handful of Granny Smiths, but the Winesap tree is so full it looks ready to buckle. Ripe or not, we are going to begin the apple harvest.

I have missed the farmer’s market for the last two weeks, so next Sunday’s shopping list will be a surprise. Instead of the same old late summer veggies, I hope to find lots of interesting squashes and of course pumpkins. Pumpkin soup and pumpkin ravioli! Pies, cakes, breads, maybe even homemade pumpkin ice cream. Can you tell autumn is my favorite season?