Monday, December 9, 2013

My advice to new parents is all positive

I read an article today on "the truth about becoming a parent" with advice that we need to begin talking about what parenting is really like - the good, but also the bad and the ugly.  The article states that if we don't share the bad and the ugly, we're doing a disservice to parents-to-be.  I get where the author is coming from, but the article made me reflect on what my own advice to new parents would be.

The author talks about her (pre-baby) visions of lovingly gazing at her precious, sleeping baby.  Though I can't guarantee that mothering a newborn baby is always this dreamy bliss, for me it was - at least with baby #1.  When my older child was a newborn, my heart would skip a beat every time she got up.  There were times I would literally say aloud, "Oh good!  She's awake!", because I couldn't wait to see her.  11pm, 1am, 2:15 am, 4am, 5:30am, any hour, I would awaken with a smile on my face and practically run to attend to her, rock her back to sleep, and then gaze at that precious sleeping baby, often in my arms.

A lot of things made this possible.  I was 23 years old.  I had the youthful physical strength and energy in my arms and back to rock the baby (sometimes for hours!).  Being a young mother also meant I had very few well-meaning friends who were already parents preparing me for the worst - such that I would be anxious and fearful of  issues that may never materialize, or even worse, go into motherhood with an attitude that is anything but positive.  My only friend who had a child before I did happened to be a particularly optimistic, loving, tender person and set the tone for this most important connection I would have.  Another factor was where I was in life.  I had fewer side projects going on and took several months off of work, followed by working only part-time.  This did not mean I was living the posh life.  In fact, the baby's dresser was dorm room deco - a cinder block and wooden plank contraption.  We charged everything from toilet paper to ramen noodles and spent years paying this off.  But the time off from work, along with few distractions, meant I had the luxury to gaze lovingly without worrying about lack of sleep the next day or not getting projects done.  Another factor, probably the most important factor, was my baby's personality.  This was a baby born under the sun, cheerful and easy from the first day, a baby that only cried if she was hungry or physically hurt.  A kid who has always been bubbly and outgoing.  Just about the only thing that did not go as I hoped for during my pregnancy reveries about my happy life with baby, was the childbirth.  A little too optimistic about a manageable natural childbirth.  The Bradley videos must have edited out the women who had 22 hours of back labor.  I could have starred in that video.

While baby #2 spared me (only 5 hours of back labor), she was not quite so easy as her sister.  In fact, the entire pregnancy was shaded with a veil of anxiety.  Having had a miscarriage at the beginning of the second trimester between #1 and #2 meant I was constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop.  What will go wrong?  When will it happen? Anyone can be a statistic after all.  A full three weeks before her due date, baby #2 decided to surprise us.  We left the birth center a few hours after she was born and all ended up well (save for a meconium-in-the-lungs scare).  However, 2 days later, we were in the hospital with a bad case of jaundice.  Following that was a string of every other affliction you could imagine including: fifth's disease, hand-foot-mouth, H1N1, an asthma diagnosis, several bouts of pneumonia, 2 eye surgeries, and a mysterious dark purple viral rash that went into her joints and required oral steroids for a month.  Hello, roid rage.  This kid made me sheepishly regret all the times in the past I'd naively scoffed assuming that fussy babies, shy, cranky toddlers that ignore you when you goo-goo-gaga at them, and kids who have a hard time sharing were simply a byproduct of ineffective parenting.  Same parent here, wildly different babies.  For years, this baby had been almost constantly sick with one thing or another, and just needed a little more attention than baby #1.  Though she is a sensitive and caring person, a fiercely loyal friend, a sharp wit with a sarcastic sense of humor, we have always considered her...intense.  Tricks that worked beautifully with #1, didn't work with #2.  While attending to this needier baby, a connection developed to a practically telepathic extent.  While a smile looks like a smile to anyone else, I know whether it means she's happy, she's conniving something, she's feeling loved, or she's content to have gotten her way.  My first piece of advice - love each child.  Each human is different with unique needs and parenting means learning about your child - not gurus or from baby books, websites, maybe not even from your sister or mother, but from your baby directly.  Sometimes the advice you get feels wrong.  This is when you trust your intuition as a parent.  What are your child's needs?  As the parent, what can you say or do or give to your child so that she feels safe and unconditionally loved?

I read an article in Mothering magazine when I was pregnant with #1.  It said something about how when we have little kids, we think - oh when will they ever grow up, but then up they grow and we're pining for the days when they were just little babies. I wanted to remember that because somehow at age 23, I knew it would go by so fast.  I wanted everything to go in slow motion and to live in each season of motherhood.  I loved nursing my newborn.  I loved walking through stores or museums with 10 month old snug on my hip in sling pointing at everything she sees.  Parents of toddlers, one day you will wake up at 10am, fully rested on a snow day like I did today and wonder, hmmm, when did my little one stop climbing into my bed in the morning?   Every developmental phase is so incredible.  Today my kids are almost 9 and almost 16 years old.  Every now and then, as clear and fleeting as a deja vu, my little one will say something, or jump around in a way that reminds me of when my older child was her age.  I think about that Mothering article even more today because it IS going by SO fast.  My second piece of advice to new parents - slow down.  Fully experience each moment.  Enjoy every stage, including the sleepless newborn months - they do go by so quickly.  Though there are unpleasant bumps sometimes, it is mostly good and I think we'd be doing a disservice to parents-to-be not to focus on the positive.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Houses in my home area

I love sign language.  I've been taking an ASL class this semester and just learned the sign for neighborhood (home+area).  ASL is just so logical.

This street above is on the way to my kid's school.  I feel angry everyday for the people who have to live here.  Can you imagine if you lived on this street of all one level, uniform homes, and then people were popping the tops and building these McMansions?  If you look carefully, you see a little one on the right, then a new tall one, and then another little one, and then another tall one that is going to be built on the other side.  Can you imagine being in the little one with those two hulking houses RIGHT next to yours on either side???

In more positive real estate, the house above is in my immediate house+area.  I've been taking note of it for years now because they've slowly added more and more raised beds to their front yard.  At this point, the whole front yard is vegetable garden.  The other day, I noticed the new solar panels on the roof.  Love it.  

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Sally Lunn with buttery pumpkin spread and Hong Kong style

An improvement on the Heritage Sally Lunn bread I made the other day.  First, I made a really really delicious pumpkin and butter spread.  This was simply a blend of about 2 parts butter, 1 part mashed, roasted Seminole pumpkin, ground clove, nutmeg, lots and lots of cinnamon (a superfood), and a teaspoon of honey.  Wonderful on fresh bread or toast.

Then, I decided the only way to top this would be to add a drizzle of sweetened condensed milk
Hong Kong cafe style.  If you've never had this, try it.   I guarantee you'll love it!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Heritage Sally Lunn Recipe

I just love heritage cooking, which is why I was so excited to find this "very old" recipe in a cookbook I spotted at the little Sandy Spring Museum. Sandy Spring, Maryland was an early Quaker settlement.  Though it was a short and simple recipe, I did have to figure some things out first.

I rarely bake anything requiring yeast, so I had to figure out how to convert a yeast cake to the powdered yeast I found at the supermarket (thank goodness for the Internet - I found out 1/2 cake is just about 1 packet of yeast).  Then I had to figure out what Martin's Milk was.  I figure it was just regular milk, but wanted to be sure.  I found a lot of artifacts from MANY different dairy and milk companies with Martin as a family name (who knew?), so I concluded the recipe was calling for regular milk.  Then I had to figure out what a "moderate oven" was.  I would have defaulted to 350 degrees, which would have been a good move since apparently, many people have also used the search terms "what does bake in a moderate oven mean", again, hurrah for the Internet.

In the end, the bread was...decent.  Far from the best bread I've had but it came out of my moderate oven, and even mediocre bread is quite amazing hot and fresh-baked from home.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Seminole pumpkin cheesecake

So when my thoughts are not occupied with something pressing at any particular moment, I'm usually thinking about some food that's been in my head.  I will usually not rest until I get it.  Pumpkin cheesecake has been on my mind for about a week or two, ever since a friend celebrated a birthday and posted a photo from her trip to the Cheesecake Factory on Facebook.  

I'd thought many times of zipping down the street to the Cheesecake Factory to pick up a piece, but I'm trying to make better decisions about food.  So what do I do instead?  I make a whole freaking cake.  But man, this cake was freaking good.  All I can say to justify it is that I grew the pumpkin myself, so surely the calories don't count as much.  Plus, the recipe makes a pretty dense and generous cake - plenty to share with others.  I used this recipe - all those perfect 5 star reviews were no joke.  This was an awesome recipe.  

Instead of the can of pumpkin called for in the recipe, we used 2 cups of roasted and pureed Seminole pumpkin

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Guest blog on Garden Rant - topped and chopped trees

Horrible, right?!!  I did a guest blog on this on Garden Rant.  Do you see trees like this in your neighborhood?

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Thai Curry and Coconut Seminole Pumpkin Soup

I was super successful with the Seminole pumpkins I grew this year.  I got 8 large pumpkins (one was stolen by the raccoons) from one very prolific plant that took over half my side yard.  I also got lots of wonderful blossoms for eating as well.  

These are Chinese "da tsung" - meaning "big onion".  Though it looks like a leek in the photo above, it is more of a gigantic, blanched-while-growing scallion.  My father diligently tends these onions all summer, hilling soil up around the onion as it grows in order to blanch the bottom portion of the onion.  

I harvested these gorgeous pumpkins just as the fall issue of Heirloom Gardener came out.  First, I'd like to mention that my article about food preservation is in this issue, and second, I found an AMAZING recipe for Thai Curry and Coconut Pumpkin Soup inside.  The recipe in the magazine is adapted from another recipe.  The recipe below, I have adapted again, using bits and pieces from my standby squash soup and the ingredients suggested in Heirloom Gardener.  I also decided to top this soup with a few jumbo shrimp. No photo of the soup.  It was devoured too quickly! 

Thai Curry and Coconut Pumpkin Soup

1 large pie pumpkin or butternut squash
2 leeks (I've used a special Chinese onion, see caption above), white portions only, chopped and rinsed
2 inch length of ginger, peeled and minced (This is a lot - but I love ginger.  Scale down if you like)
2 teaspoons of Thai red curry paste
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 can unsweetened coconut milk
3 kaffir lime leaves
1/2 lime

Cut pumpkin in half.  Scoop out seeds.  Place cut side down in baking pan along with about 1/2 inch of water.  Bake in 350 degree oven for about 1 hour or until squash is tender.  Allow to cool and then scoop out flesh with a spoon.  

In pot, saute leeks and ginger in a little oil or butter until tender. Add red curry paste and continue to stir and cook for another minute or two.  Add stock, coconut milk and cooked pumpkin.  Puree in batches in a blender or carefully puree in pot using an immersion blender.  Add kaffir lime leaves.  Simmer soup for about 15 minutes.  Before serving, remove kaffir lime leaves and stir in juice from half a lime.  

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

How to make turmeric powder

Happy turmeric plants at Muirkirk Farm

Turmeric is an aromatic spice that has an important role in both Indian cooking and culture.  It plays a part in giving the cuisine its distinctive flavor.  The color that bleeds so easily also naturally imparts a bold bright yellow to the food it's cooked with.  Here are the simple steps to make your own turmeric powder.

Harvested turmeric roots above.  Some will be replanted, some will be used fresh, the rest of the batch will be dried and powdered.  

Boil roots for about 40 minutes until soft.  I peeled the roots, but I realize now this is NOT a necessary step.  Simply scrub dirt off roots.  Turmeric WILL dye your fingers, cutting board, towel, etc, so accept that or wear gloves.

Cut into pieces and allow to dry fully.  I used a food dehydrator.  

Grind dried pieces to a fine powder.  

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Asian Crops at Muirkirk Farm

Muirkirk Farm is a research farm affiliated with University of District of Columbia.  I've made a connection with the good people who run this through the Master Gardener program out of UDC's Cooperative Extension office.  I'm thrilled to be someone they feel they can call upon for consultation because geez - look at the work they've done this season!  It's amazing.  Flats of Asian greens...

Dried red noodle beans above.  Turmeric below.  

And this is just their fall initiative.  Can't wait to see what's in store for spring and summer next year!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

My segment on WUSA

I was so thrilled to have the opportunity to be on WUSA, news at noon with JC Hayward, anchor extraordinaire.  In this segment (click to watch), I talk about food preservation.  It's not perfect and 3 minutes goes by very quickly.  I only got to talk about 20% of what I wanted to, but ah well...I'm not complaining!  The TV set is so cool - you can see in the photo above, the view from the kitchen looking out.  Look through the ladder and you see the weather guy, doing his segment against the green screen.  I was very pleased with how my segment looked below.  I was in pajamas about 9pm the night before thinking - should I go to Whole Foods and pick up some additional props?  Thank goodness for a sudden spurt of energy because the set would have looked pretty sparse without the fresh vegs, flowers, etc.  The morning of the segment, I cut a couple of pumpkins, which helped with the autumnal feel.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Sweet Apple Cider Butter Recipe

Nothing marks autumn more perfectly than a trip to the orchard. Anyone who has been apple-picking on a sunny October afternoon, driving a wheelbarrow through the rows, and especially with kids in tow, knows how fun it is to search for the biggest, tastiest apples in the trees.  When we went recently, the apples were so ripe and abundant they were raining down.  We'd pull one and two others would fall.  As always, before we know it, we're driving home with a trunk full of apples.  A couple pies put a little dent into it, a bunch were saved for fresh eating, a bunch were juiced, and the rest were made into an amazing apple butter.  I think people either love or hate the stuff, but as an apple butter aficionado, I can say there's no comparison to homemade, especially when the apples were on the tree just a few hours prior to being infused with spices and spread on a cracker.  The recipe below is an adapted double batch of Sweet Apple Cider Butter from the Ball book, and I used the honey alternative to sugar.  I also saved some pot-watching time by cooking down the apple butter in a slow cooker.  

Honeycrisp Apples

An apple peeler is a necessary gadget if you're working with a lot of apples

Making applesauce.  Spices are then added, and the whole thing is cooked down for hours.  

Sweet Apple Cider Butter - makes about 8 pint jars

12 pounds apples, peeled, cored, and quartered
4 cups apple cider
2 cups honey
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon allspice

In a large stainless steel pot over medium-high heat, combine apples and cider and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and boil gently, stirring occasionally until apples are soft, about 30 minutes.  

Process the apples just until a uniform texture is achieved (in batches in a blender or using a food processor or by using an immersion blender).  Do not liquefy.  

Scoop pureed apples into slow cooker.  Add honey, cinnamon, cloves, and allspice.  Cook on high for about 4 hours, stirring occasionally so the apple butter does not burn (alternatively, cook on low for about 8-10 hours).  

Prepare canner, jars, and lids.  Ladle hot butter into hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace.  Remove air bubbles, adjust headspace if necessary and wipe rim.  Center lid on jar and screw on ring.  Process in boiling water canner for 10 minutes.  Remove canner lid.  Wait 5 minutes, then remove jars, cool, and store.  

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Green Tomato Ketchup Recipe

I did not set out to make this delicious, sweet/tart green tomato ketchup.  Weeks of garden neglect meant my heirloom indeterminate tomato plant became a gigantic beast, heaving over with height and heaviness and smothering other plants nearby.  The other day, I righted the plant, chopped a lot of the heavier side shoots, and as a result, ended up with many green tomatoes that I needed to figure out what to do with.  This green tomato ketchup is pretty darn good and I can't wait to use it with some homemade French fries! 

Green Tomato Ketchup                   makes about 4 pints

about 4 pounds of green tomatoes, sliced (I halved the large cherry tomatoes above)
3 large onions, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
dash of cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground clove
1 1/2 cups white vinegar
1/2 cup honey

Put all ingredients except honey into large pot.  Simmer on low heat for about 3 hours, stirring occasionally.  Pour into blender and puree.  Pour through mesh strainer.  Mix in honey.  At this point, pour into jars and store in fridge, or can using boiling-water canning method. If canning, leave 1/4 inch headspace and process for 10 minutes.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

My Garden Rant

A couple of days ago, I wrote this guest blog for the infamous Garden Rant.  I wrote about a big blow out I had with my husband - who was trying to be helpful, but had a great misunderstanding of how to do so.  This is the photo I should have included with the post.  It makes me crack up imagining this photo with my post (you'll have to read it!), but alas, I decided to spare him the public humiliation (and instead will just do so here).

Thursday, August 22, 2013

On librarians...(and my talk at the Library of Congress)

I used to think librarians were weird.  I've said so many times, getting others to laugh at their expense.   Librarians are at the very least mean and rigid.  Am I right? Once, I tried to check out a book and since the librarian was available, and since there were no people in line, I smiled and walked straight up to the counter.  She told me to go to the front of the line and pointed to the red arrow hanging from the ceiling.  She watched me walk the 8 steps there.  Then she called me up.  WHAT?!  Plus, those librarians...they're always shushing you.  

View from the Library of Congress
In my gardening/food speaking engagements, I've talked with many different groups of people and after speaking at the Library of Congress twice now, I can say that hands-down, my favorite audience is comprised of the group there.  And most of them are librarians!  I'm not quite sure where that OCD librarian I encountered in my past came from.  And all the mean ones from my childhood must have retired because this group of people was excellent.  Intelligent, excited, eager to learn, eager to share their own knowledge, polite, and just an overall joy to meet and talk with.  Among the participants were several librarians and one kind woman brought to share about 40 copies of a booklet comprised of resources on the topic of food preservation.  Leave it to a librarian to show up to a presentation with a freaking bibliography!  Jokes aside, it was really awesome and I so appreciated it.  

Also, what a wonderful place to work.  Each day, there are numerous events going on at the Library of Congress, with programs of a ridiculous range of topics planned throughout the year - many of them open to the public.  These programs are often held during lunch so employees can participate.   It's quite an agency that is based on knowledge, thrives on sharing knowledge, and encourages further knowledge.

Friday, August 16, 2013

"Ugh, more of Wendy's homemade crap"

This was a gift of apple pie filling.  The card included photos of the apple picking, peeling, pie making.  This was given mostly to family because the adorable family photos seemed too obnoxious to give to anyone else.  It also included a variety of great recipes to include the pie filling in.  

When I was driving to my talk at the Library of Congress the other day, I was thinking about the jars of canned foods I like to gift to people - my strawberry margarita jam, my habanero pepper jelly, my sweet plums.  I was thinking, boy, I hope people don't think - "Ugh, this homemade crap" and throw my stuff out.  Canners know that a lot of time, love, and money go into making these jars of homemade things!

This was my first homemade gift.  Bruschetta, evoo, melba toasts, sparkly star shaped lollipops.  

As I was driving and in my own head the other day, I was thinking about the pickled cherry tomatoes that I'd just canned and would like to give away to a few select people in my life.  I mean, the cost of the jars, the ingredients (champagne vinegar is not cheap!), the fact that I sweated it out all summer watering those tomatoes...  I lovingly started the seeds in March - spritzing the seedlings daily, regularly adjusting their habitat under the best grow lights.  And the garlic clove?  I planted that garlic last fall, having carefully stored the bulbs from the previous spring!  I could keep going back...

Sometimes I calculate these gifts in monetary terms - a la The $64 Tomato.  Just to see.  So I also add to the cost of supplies, my hourly cost of labor.  I take my hourly wage - which is relatively decent, then I give myself a little raise because having to work full time means my spare time is even more valuable.  All that totals... a hefty sum for the jar of triple berry jam one may receive.

This was a berry jam.  Tea, chocolate, and scone mix.

So for all the people out there who have ever received a homemade treat from anyone, believe me, they are NOT crap.  If you receive a homemade jar of something, consider yourself a special friend - one that is worthy of the sweat, labor, time, and thought that has gone into the giver's gift.  It's a big deal.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Pickled Cherry Tomatoes

These are my daughter's yellow and red cherry tomatoes.  I'm excited to have these tart little things after they have a chance to sit for about 2 weeks.  They can also be blended with an equal amount of olive oil for an excellent tomato vinaigrette.  This is a canning recipe.  If you like, follow the recipe and instead of canning, store in the refrigerator for up to 2 months instead.

I jotted this recipe down from somewhere a while ago and hadn't planned to share it, but posted a pic on Facebook and it generated a lot of shares and calls for the recipe.  Unfortunately, I don't have the original source.  If this is your recipe and you stumble upon this, sorry!  Let me know so I can properly credit you!

PICKLED CHERRY TOMATOES             Makes about 5 pints

5 teaspoons dill seeds
2 1/2 teaspoons black peppercorns
10 fresh dill sprigs
5 garlic cloves
8 cups cherry tomatoes (pierced with a sterilized needle)
4 cups champagne vinegar
1 1/4 cups water
3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon salt

Prepare jars for canning.  Toast dill and peppers (I skipped this step).  Divide herbs and spices among jars.  Pack tomatoes in jars.

Bring vinegar, water, sugar, and salt to boil.  Stir until sugar dissolves.  Transfer liquid to pitcher.  Pour over tomatoes.  Leave 1/2 inch headspace.  Screw on lid, rings till tight.  Process for 15 minutes.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Cicada emergence photos

Photo credits go to my husband, a keen observer, who was at the right place at the right time!!!

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