How many in your party?

This month has been unusual for me in that the number of people I need to feed keeps changing! The kids and I went to Indiana the second week of June. That was seven people, nine with my parents. Wednesday, Caleb’s friends picked him up to travel back to Wyoming to work at Boy Scout camp for the summer. That brought us down to eight people. Then on Sunday, Rachel flew to Germany with a youth group from Indiana and the remaining boys and I drove home.

Back home in Minnesota, there were now only six of us. But then first thing Monday morning, the three younger boys started VBS and Joshua went along as a helper. That meant packing four lunches and only two of us eating at home at noon. . .talk about strange on both counts.  I don’t have a lot of practice at packing lunches, but after the first day I decided I needed a better way to pack. I’ve looked at Bento boxes before but for a large family they’re not affordable; I finally decided to buy what I could afford and if it works well and we use it a lot we can always upgrade later.

Lunch!

So I ended up ordering Easy Lunchboxes. Thanks to Amazon shipping, I was able to use them for the last two days of the week. . .why didn’t I think to order these sooner? Happily they just fit, the four of them stacked, in one of our cooler bags.

Joshua’s lunch

A closer view of what I sent on Friday. . .yogurt, taco meat “muffins”, pretzels, and slightly over baked macaroons. ;) As an aside, the lids are not watertight, being designed for small hands to open. However, I read online that a square of waxed paper over a thick liquid would keep it from leaking; the boys tell me it worked.

So that was last week. . .oh, and Friday night Larry took the two Cub Scouts to a camp out, which meant I only had Joshua and Nathan at home. But then on Sunday the Boy Scouts left for a week of camp, which means there are only four of us at home right now. We even took the leaves out of the table; I had forgotten it could get that small (still seats six ;) ). Mom and Dad will be bringing Rachel back at the end of the week, and Joshua and Nathan will be home sometime Saturday. . .are you keeping all of this straight? Me neither. 8-)

Midweek report

So it’s Wednesday afternoon and I’m reheating 3/4 of a shepherd’s pie for tonight’s Lenten potluck. . .seems as good a time as any to update my blog. :D

The shepherd’s pie is left from the lunch I cooked for the circuit pastors yesterday. I had made two 9×13 pans overflowing with meat and vegetables and mashed potatoes (literally. . .still need to clean the bottom of the church oven, oops) but since there were only four pastors plus the kids and me. . .there were leftovers. Which is fine, because that meant I could spend this afternoon sewing instead of cooking. 8-)

I made the belt for Twirly Girl’s Easter dress; my first attempt at making eyelets went fairly well. I also sewed the lace trim to the neck and sleeves, so all that remains is the hem and a petticoat. Yes, petticoat! She chose a 1950s pattern this year (Advance 9409 for any vintage pattern geeks out there). Pure coincidence, but my dress (an Ottobre pattern) also has a bit of New Look flair. It’s one that I sewed last fall but still need to hem; I’ll be totally overdressed (silk taffeta) but I’m always at least somewhat overdressed for this town, so there you have it. ;) The funny thing is that the past few years, we seem to keep wearing matching eras for Easter. . .but only the first year, Regency dresses in 2010, was intentional. In 2011 we both chose 1910s patterns; in 2012 we wore more or less modern styles. Wonder what we’ll wear next year?

It’s unseasonably warm today: mid 60s. I should enjoy it while it lasts, but since this is Wyoming instead I find myself waiting for old man winter to return with a vengeance a few more times before warmer days. Meanwhile I’m wishing for some humidity. . .I’m not the only one in the house with a dry, nagging cough. Not fun.

And. . .it’s time to head to church. Hope that shepherd’s pie is hot!

An unexpected journey

Not, perhaps, as thrilling as the journey of Mr. Bilbo Baggins, to be sure, but unexpected just the same. Life seems to be full of unexpected journeys: we plan to go there, intend to do that, only to find ourselves here and doing this instead. Sometimes life throws us a curve ball that spins our life in a new direction. Other times, we realize that our priorities have changed and so we adjust accordingly.

However, that is enough philosophizing for one blog post. I wanted to write a little bit about food today. Not surprising, since it is my job to feed and nourish a family of eight on a single income! I spend an enormous amount of time planning, purchasing, and preparing food. While I’m trying to figure out how to get the most food for our dollar, I’m also trying to figure out how to get the best nutrition from our food. The more I read, the more I am convinced that nutrition is still very much a developing science. Further, there are so many individual variables: allergies, sensitivities, and more. One food may be a valuable source of nutrients to one person, but cause unpleasant reactions for another person.

Ah. Yes, now we’re coming to the unexpected part. You may recall that a little over a year ago we did a 30 day grain free challenge that has let to ongoing changes in our eating habits. The original motivation was to find some answers/relief for various health issues for Larry. That’s still a bit inconclusive as he tends to eat what I serve at home, but not necessarily think about what he is eating elsewhere. ;) However, last fall I finally realized that whatever issues are in the family, I have a problem with gluten.

I was so not wanting to go there! I was happy thinking that I could occasionally have “normal” baked goods so long as they weren’t a staple of my diet. Well, I guess I could. . .but it’s not worth waking up the next morning feeling twice my age. Sometimes it’s joint pain; sometimes it’s a foggy can’t-think headache; usually it’s both. It blows my whole day, and it’s happening Every. Single. Time. I eat wheat. Yes, even that one little cookie that my kid baked. :(

The changes we had already made in becoming less dependent on grains have made this a little easier. But there are still changes to make, questions to answer: do I need to avoid even trace amounts of gluten (such as are in most oats, soy sauce, and a zillion other items)? how do I feed the rest of the family, who may or may not have an undetected gluten problem? how to navigate eating out or potlucks? And so the journey continues. . .

Slow food

Food magazines boast of meals that can be cooked in 30 minutes, 15 minutes, or better yet, just 5 minutes. Occasionally, I want to fix a meal quickly but usually I like slow food. Slow food is like brown rice that takes about an hour to cook. Or dried beans that soak overnight and cook for several hours. Slow food is like sprouts that take several days to mature. Sourdoughs, cheeses and wines all get better with age.      —Mary Beth Lind, Simply in Season (p. 212)

I like this quote. . .it comes from one of my favorite cookbooks. It’s a good reminder that faster is not always better; in fact, often the reverse is true. Oats that soak for 24 hours are another example, and so is a beef roast that is in the oven all morning. Homemade chicken or beef stock simmers all day long. These things don’t involve much extra labor, simply thinking ahead and planning. Sometimes I fail at both of those, but life is better when I succeed. :)

Farmer’s market

Our first few years in Wyoming, our town had no farmer’s market. Last year the Master Gardeners organized a Saturday morning market, and it’s continued this summer. Due to our climate, it doesn’t start until the end of July and only runs a few weeks. No fruit, unless you count the week someone brought a trailer of peaches from Colorado. Still something is better than nothing, and lacking the skills to grow my own (or the fence to keep the deer from pillaging), I’m glad for the limited chance to buy fresh, locally grown vegetables. :D

This is last weekend’s haul–I spent a little more than usual since we have company, and also because there was finally some variety available (other than baked goods and handicrafts, which I pass by). Heavy on the zucchini, I admit, but there were also beets and chard and kale and leeks and green beans and tomatoes and herbs and more for sale.

The food we eat

I’ve been thinking more about food after last week’s post, and trying to define what we eat (or not). It would make it easier to eat away from home–or at least less confusing! This, however, is as far as I’ve gotten:

We generally eat low carb but we’re not strict about it–we don’t choose our vegetables based on carbohydrate content, and we still enjoy potatoes and oatmeal. Most of the time we eat grain free, but we do eat grains now and then. . .usually gluten free grains, but not always. We eat a lot of paleo-friendly foods, but we don’t follow a paleo diet. The closest I can come to a label is that we eat real food, not food with processed, homogenized, or hydrogenated ingredients; and even then we make occasional exceptions because sometimes food is about more than eating.

See what I mean? It isn’t neatly defined. And without neat definitions, it’s hard to explain to other people why I’d rather not eat this or that. Often I stick with “I’m really not hungry.” My boys, on the other hand, are always hungry and will eat anything on a plate. Or in a bowl.

Food is a journey

At least, it’s been an ongoing journey for us.

Take bread, for example. We started with store bought bread and then I learned to bake my own. First I baked mostly white bread and then I shifted to whole wheat. These days we eat very little bread, and when we do I usually soak the wheat first. Other foods have followed a similar path for us. I’ve never relied much on convenience foods, preferring to work from scratch, but the ingredients I use have slowly changed  over the years.

Books and other experiences have played a part, too. After I read Nourishing Traditions, I started adding more healthy fats to our diet–that would also be when I stopped buying shortening and canola oil. That’s also when I learned to make chicken broth (still haven’t mastered beef) and soak our grains, though I don’t always take that step. The summer we had a CSA share, I learned to cook–and enjoy–many new vegetables. That variety made it so much easier to serve more vegetables each day, rather than the same old rotation. We weren’t able to continue with the CSA but we have continued eating more and different vegetables. Somewhere in there too we started purchasing local meat, eggs, and milk, asking questions about how the animals were raised and fed.

Last year we read Taubes’ Why We Get Fat which led to a 30 day grain-free low carb period followed by a general reduction in our carb consumption, particularly from grains. Over the months we’ve not been as strict in avoiding grains and the adults are feeling it. Now I’m reading It Starts with Food and I’m eager to see what foods appear on our table next. . .

Making breakfast

Fair warning: this may be little boy week here on the blog. Last week Larry and the four older kids were at Sinks Canyon for our church district’s annual youth camp. So most of my new pictures are of (or were taken by) Silly Boy and Baby Boy. :) I also used the relative quiet to tackle some major cleaning/decluttering chores, but thankfully no one took pictures of me heaving books around or sneezing from all the dust in the entertainment center!

So today we have Silly Boy making breakfast. He will be a Wolf in Cub Scouts this fall, and requirement 8d is: Fix your own breakfast. Wash and put away the dishes.

He chose the morning we had sausage and fried eggs and was quite serious about the whole matter, as you can see. I demonstrated each step on my own as well as Baby Boy’s breakfast, and then Silly Boy followed suit on his own food. The only thing he didn’t do was crack his egg–cracking an egg into a hot skillet is a bit tricky, especially when you need to make sure all the eggs will fit. :D

Blueberry Pie

To borrow a phrase from Glenda, these are “carbs worth eating.” :D

Larry’s favorite pie

Even though we generally eat “low carb” around here, we do make occasional exceptions. And homemade blueberry pie is definitely an exception worth making! This is the same recipe I’ve used since living with Mimi during college summers. Back then I picked blueberries with our neighbor Maggie, and invited friends over to have pie after dinner. . .now I have to buy my berries, but I think Larry and the kids are just as appreciative of the end results.

Pie always makes me think of Nana. . .

5 cups blueberries

1 cup sugar
1/4 cup flour
1/8 tsp salt
1 Tbsp lemon juice
2 Tbsp butter
Pastry for double crust
Combine berries, sugar, flour, salt, and juice. Fill 9″ pastry lined pie pan. Dot with butter; adjust top crust.
Bake at 450 for 10 minutes, then at 350 for about 30 minutes.
Bon appetit!

Chewy Granola Bars

I’ve made a lot of attempts at homemade granola bars over the years, but most of them resulted in something that needed to be eaten with a spoon. Not exactly the portable snack I had in mind! ;) This spring, I renewed my search for a granola bar recipe, preferably one that could be made without gluten. I found this recipe, which I have tweaked over time and made my own. At last. . .granola bars that (usually) stick together. Hip hip hooray! :D

(Note: wheat or oat flour might also work, but I’ve not tested them in this recipe.)

3 1/3 cup oatmeal
1/2 cup brown sugar
2/3 cup almond flour 
1 tsp cinnamon

Combine in large bowl and set aside.

3/4 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup honey or maple syrup
2 tsp vanilla
2/3 cup peanut butter

Stir together until smooth; mix into dry ingredients.

Stir in 3-4 cups of goodies: chocolate chips, dried fruit, nuts, seeds, coconut. I usually use 2/3 cups each of chocolate, fruit, and nuts plus 1 1/3 cups coconut.

Press firmly into parchment lined jelly roll pan. Bake at 350 for 25-35 minutes or until browned on edges and top (will still seem soft).
Let cool completely before lifting out of pan and cutting. 

TIP- let pan sit in the fridge for about 30 minutes before cutting.