Tuesday, April 14, 2015

{Tuesday Tip: Give Slow Food a Try}

Perhaps you've heard of the slow food movement. Perhaps you even embrace it without knowing it has a name. Slow food, as the term suggests, is the opposite of fast food. It takes time. It takes thought. It takes energy. But, as with many things in this life, taking the time to plan and prepare one's food can lead to an even greater sense of satisfaction and enjoyment.

(I think this was the Easter bread. But, my brain.)

In her book Notes from a Blue Bike, Tsh Oxenreider devotes a chapter to this idea of embracing "slow food" in family life. And when she talks about slowing down, she means slowing down . . . for the entire process. Not just the eating of it, but even the growing (when possible), shopping, planning, and preparing of our food. When we've put time and effort into our food, we are that much more likely to enjoy it and that much less likely to waste it or take it for granted.

Think about this for a minute. Have you ever made French fries? And I don't mean from a frozen food bag. I mean, have you ever peeled and sliced the potatoes and then fried the little puppies to a perfectly golden crispy bundle of goodness? Now think about that stale bag of fast food French fry remnants still lingering on the back seat of the van. (Can I get an amen?) We don't hesitate to toss them the minute they're no longer hot and crispy. But we just might think twice about tossing away something that we had carefully cut and prepared for our family. So it goes with slow food. We appreciate it, we savor it, we're thankful for it.

I really wish I could magically create a scratch-n-sniff screen for you.

One of the slow foods we enjoy in our home is fresh bread. Now I'll admit right away that I don't always have -- I mean take -- the time to make it, but when I do the family drools and immediately whips out the jam and butter. ("Tea with jam and bread, with jam, with jam and bread" never tasted so good.) The word "delicious" has been used by more than one child. We call it "That Molasses Bread" to distinguish it from other breads. The kids know this is the one that makes great sandwiches and toast.   

Just add jam . . . and a cuppa tea!

I thought I'd share my recipe with you in case you'd like to slow down for a bit and try it, too. It's a combination of a few recipes I've tried and tweaked over the years. One more disclaimer: I use my bread machine. (And I sometimes use my daughter who in turn uses the bread machine. She's getting good.) The use of a bread machine may bring me down a notch in the attempt to be perfectly "slow," but I've found a happy medium. The machine does the mixing and rising for me, and then I shape, rise again, and bake after taking the dough out of the machine because I love the look of a golden brown loaf so very muchly. Especially when it's looking at me from my merry Polish pottery.

Happy slow eating, friends.

That Molasses Bread  

10 oz. warm water
1 1/2 tsp. salt
2 T butter, softened (oil also works)
1/3 cup molasses (or honey, or a combination of the two)
2 cups whole wheat flour (I use Bob's Red Mill)
1 cup all purpose flour (again, Bob's)
1/2 cup oats (guess who . . . Bob.)
1/4 cup gluten (WinCo bulk)
2 tsp. yeast (Saf instant yeast, WinCo. It's pre-packaged but located in the bulk aisles.)

Place ingredients in bread machine in the order listed. Select dough cycle. Once the cycle is complete, remove dough from machine, shape, and transfer to a greased loaf pan. Cover and let rise for about an hour. (I let it rise on top of the fridge. Nice and warm up there.) Bake for about 30-35 minutes in a 350 oven. You many need to bake for longer, covering with foil to keep it from getting too dark. It's done when it smells nice and toasty and makes a hollow sound when you tap on the top. (I've found that children enjoy bread tapping.) Optional: brush top with butter. Let it cool, slice, and enjoy. Slowly.

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Saturday, April 11, 2015

{Farm Day}

"Julianna, we had three of the cutest little lambs born yesterday. They're still taking a bottle, and if you guys can come out this afternoon the kids might be able to feed them!"

As I listened to my messages, my mind quickly zipped through our day, tallying the pros and cons. We had planned to visit our friends in Oregon City to see their new pigs . . .  Avery was dying to meet them . . . but she was also very excited about the day the lambs would be born and was waiting for the call . . . the lambs would soon be out to pasture and not as eager to be held . . . the weather was nice so far . . . the rains were coming . . . .

Well! There was only one thing to do. We decided to have a farm day.

I called my dad to see if he could bring The Cousins along, since they, too, were invited to meet the lambs. Hooray for spontaneity! They loaded up, we loaded up, and we all headed north.

The kids were shy about feeding the lambs at first and chose to simply observe. They noticed how coarse their wool was, how long their legs, how tired the mama was. (I would be, too. Triplets!) But they warmed up and eventually took turns feeding the lambs. Clara was especially fetching in her dress-up accessories, ideal for farming. She also found infinite satisfaction in bundling up the lambs in warm towels.

Our wonderful hosts kindly let the kids play with the lambs and roam about the property until all of their wiggles were out. But the timely little, "Papa, I'm hungry," reminded us that it was time to say our goodbyes and move on to our next destination.

We all parted ways, our van heading south . . . south . . . south. Traffic was slow, but we were finally welcomed into the open arms of our friends. Avery couldn't wait to meet and feed the pigs, gather the eggs, admire the chicks and follow the ducklings. But her favorite part? Having tea with our hostess. Our hearts were filled to the brim as we visited, and Avery was quick to suggest that we should schedule some "special bonding time" again very soon.

As we drove home, I thought about our farm day. A day filled with new life and dear friends. A day that reminded me of the hard work it takes to grow good things. Patience . . . sacrifice . . . sorrow . . . uncertainty. But the hard work? It yields such good fruit. Joy . . . hope . . . satisfaction . . . life.

It's worth it.

I looked in the rearview mirror at my (not-so) little farmers. Each one tending their own plots of land in this life-journey, each one aware of the way I model, each one watching to see how I tend to my own land. Do I model the patience, sacrifice, hope and joy that inspire them to see the goodness of this calling? When I'm ankle-deep in mud in the pouring down rain, hunting for eggs or pulling up weeds, do I welcome the work, knowing that it produces endurance and faithfulness?

We gathered the fresh eggs into our home, we gathered our family together again at the end of the day. I looked at my little plot of land, these farmers at work, the tilling and growing, weeding and sowing . . . knowing full well that we still have much to do. We always will. But that also means that we have much goodness in store. Joy . . . hope . . . satisfaction . . . life. So we till and toil away.

And it's worth it.

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Monday, April 6, 2015

{"I Just Love Easter!"}

"I just love Easter," my niece sighed as she twirled and hopped, awaiting her turn to take a smack at the piñata.

I love Easter, too. I love the hope it represents and the huge, relieving contrast between the grief of Good Friday and the joy of Easter morning. He is risen!

This year I was feeling tired, but I still wanted Easter to be special and meaningful for the kids so that they, too, will always think (if not twirl and sigh), "I just love Easter!" So I asked them what traditions they especially liked, and we'd just stick with those.

They all voted for the Easter bread, which I've enjoyed ever since I was little. My "Aunt" Marlene always makes loaves and loaves every year, and when I was first married she taught me how to make it. Mine is never as beautiful as hers (akin to folding the fitted sheet), but it's tasty and we love it!

We also set aside time to go to the Good Friday service at our church. It's simple yet profoundly meaningful to quietly sit in the candlelight, listening to music and Scripture, partaking of communion, and receiving whatever gentle whispers the Holy Spirit has for our hearts.

Easter morning begins with the hustle and bustle of getting ready for church, all while downing Easter bread and tea. Avery asks for help with "a French braid on this side and a bow right here" and I'm happy to help. She so rarely asks anymore. The service is beautiful, and everyone hugs and smiles and beams, "He is Risen . . . He is Risen, indeed!" No matter how hard the week, month, or year has been, this truth remains and this truth is what gives us hope.

After church we rush home to pull together food and hide "the big eggs." That was another tradition the kids still enjoy and requested that we keep. We haven't decorated or hidden traditional eggs for a couple of years now, but they still like it when we hide their big plastic eggs. This is also a tradition I've carried on from my childhood. (In fact, Avery's egg used to be mine. It's the one with a band of ribbon around the center, made by my Nanee.) The gifts inside are sometimes for the individual, sometimes for the family, and sometimes represented by clues:

Can you figure it out? 

And then we feast! We usually head up to my sister's, joining them and my parents for a late brunch (is it still called brunch if it happens at 3:00?) where a bountiful feast and the eager cousins await. We've fallen into the habit of each bringing the same foods every year, so that helps keep things simple.

The final essential tradition is the Easter piñata, also carried over from childhood. This year my niece Alainna made it, and she did a beautiful job. My sister and I agree that it's a Marvelous Thing to have children who are old enough to make this messy, four-layered, painted, paper maché craft all on their own. If the weather's nice we head outside to take brutal swings at the work of art, but this year it became dark and gloomy right at piñata hour. Undaunted, Uncle Craig suspended the target from on high, and the kids went at it. The adults rather enjoyed watching from the comfort of the couches.

Papa and Noni pose for their mug shot.

Easter usually lands near a few birthdays, so we add those to the festivities as well. This year we had several people to catch up on.

A glance at the clock reminded us all too quickly that it was time to wrap things up and head home. With full hearts (and tummies) we gave hugs all around, thankful for the many reasons we have to truly proclaim, "I just love Easter!"


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Friday, April 3, 2015

{Pond Poultry}

Every week we discover something new at our nearby wetlands pond.

This wee habitat feels like such a gift to me. It's just over a block away from our house, it has a narrow bark dust path that winds its way through trees and grasses (sometimes I walk laps while the kids play at the park), and there's always a different critter to observe. Some critters I'd rather not observe. Snakes make me so skittish. I very willingly handed the camera over to Aidan to document the knotted, slithering things. Eww.

We always see ducks gathering around the pond, wigeons and mallards dabbling away or serenely gliding across the water, faithfully paired off with their mates. Occasionally we see a pair of Canada Geese, and yesterday we caught sight of yet another pair.

Aidan and Avery wanted to get as close to the geese as they could, so they crept toward the large birds while I held back with our Very Concerned Corgi. Suddenly Avery's head shot around as she wildly pointed at something else. It was a chicken. This was some pond poultry we'd not yet seen. It must have wandered from someone's back yard. 

Now, Avery has an affinity for animals in general and farm animals in particular. She also has a way with them, so it didn't surprise me to see her slowly, patiently approach the bird, making those endearing, reassuring chirping noises that one makes when one wants to reassure a hen. 

The hen gradually warmed up to her, but then started off toward the woods. I figured that was the end of that (and was a bit relieved), when a bunny scurried by. My delighted eyes followed Peter Cottontail for a brief moment and then darted back to Little Miss who suddenly emerged from the brush, cradling the hen

She very quickly formed an attachment. She named it Penny. I'm sure it was a very nice chicken, but I cringed at the thought of how I would manage to part these two, especially when Avery referred to Penny as "the best thing that ever happened to me." It was a pretty intense bond for something that had been forged only fifteen minutes ago.

I let her hold and pet that chicken as long as possible, and then we finally made our way home. She glanced back at Penny, praying that the Lord would please make that chicken follow us. The Lord did not make that chicken follow us.

As soon as we got home, Avery began to make plans for us to acquire some chickens of our own. I began to make plans to say "no." She anticipated my reticence. "Dad has some wood in the garage! He can make a coop!" She was very adamant, and I finally said, "Honey, we just can't keep chickens. Think about it for a minute. When you woke up this morning, you weren't thinking about chickens at all. Now, you're suddenly begging for one, expecting your father to immediately construct a coop. Doesn't this seem just a little bit . . . impulsive?" I saw the light dawn on her face. A flicker of understanding, and she grinned ruefully. We would not be getting chickens. But we sure could write a story about Penny! And illustrate it, too! This was good. This would be a lovely tribute to Penny.

This morning Avery went straight for the piano and started hammering away at her recital pieces. The chicken was a thing of the past. (Chicken? What chicken?) We soon headed out the door to see the Ten Grands for Kids piano concert in Portland. She was inspired. She would be on that stage someday. She would wear a lovely, flowing gown, and she would be amazing.

As soon as we got home, she was back at the piano, pounding away like a mad woman. 

Goodbye, Penny. Hello, Mozart. 

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