Sunday, May 4, 2014

Dinner. (A.K.A. Delighting in Disaster)

While it is certainly improving, rare impossible is the moment in my house when everyone is simultaneously seated, still, focused, and pleasant. Evan and I wish we could have such moments, especially at meals, more often. While the blogging world seems to magnify mostly perfection and that one perfectly panached cupcake, I often wonder how often they are just displaying their one percent.  In my life, at least, that is the way it seems to be. (In case you were wondering, frosting is, in fact, my complete nemesis). Meal times certainly have their share of stress. Even when we try and calm minds with a prayer, two kids are bickering before it even begins, then admonishing at high decibels because the other feels that they did it wrong. Someone is sneaking food. Someone is sneaking boogers. We are snarking. One son is walking around the table in circles incessantly, drinks are spilled, food is spit, someone doesn't like sauce or food touching or anything green or how the chicken is cut--Oy!

Oddly, this ritual is desirable. Even when it is a mess, it is mine. After an especially intense and lengthy season of our lives with grad school and too much work, and too many late hours, I admire that we try hard to have dinner together as often as possible. (Did you know that only 28% of Americans had dinner together seven days a week in 2003?). This table, where I can look simultaneously at the three faces, who in only moments are outgrowing my lap, is my treat. These tinies are my terroir; my land and my soil.

Unsurprisingly, there may be much to be learned from how the french create and even sanctify family dinner. In French Kids Eat Everything, I love the Food Rules. In a conversation with her friend she is reminded that north americans only see food as a commodity or fuel and consume it constantly and unmindfully. They live to eat rather than eat to live. Living in it's broader and best sense, of course, means hearing, enjoying, tasting, experiencing, fellowshipping.  But, really, how probable is all that with three small children?

In the book Karen Le Billon makes the assertion that the French never eat without putting a tablecloth on the table. She describes the joy of getting the table "dressed" and says that doing so and lighting candles has a "hypnotic effect on (the children) who spoke in hushed tones throughout the entire meal." In my own house it is also true. The kids are much more eager and attentive when they get assigned to "make the table more beautiful"  If they must put the silverware on, they also love adding adornments of candles or flowers. They love making celebrations, having feasts, preparing picnics.

We have also been playing little games at the table that nurture quietness and attentiveness to the words of others. Sometimes it is "bat ears" where one person has to whisper and everyone else cups their hands over their ears facing outwards to catch the whisper. Sometimes we also play telephone, passing silly phrases from one to the next. In small ways these games help us capture little bits of silence.

I'm working harder at savoring, not scorning, all of the moments and even the mess because, as I'm also reminded while it is too easy to just see food as fuel, it is also a love story.

Lately our seeds are started and we are waiting about six more weeks for our garden to start producing. Meanwhile here's one night's worth of dinner.

  • shaved carrots
  • fried shallots  $1.00
  • mixed greens 3 cups $3.00
Roasted peppers with polenta
  • 1 red pepper $1
  • two corn cobs $2.00
  • 2 summer squash $1.50
  • 4 large carrots $1.00
  • sun dried tomato polenta make your own $0.75
  • 0.75 lbs of pecans $4.50 (Checking pine nuts in the store this week, they were up to $20/lb. The pinion trees are facing some harsh realities).
  • 6 large handfuls of basil (free from garden or indoor pots) or $4.00
  • 0.5 cups olive oil $0.50
  • 1 tbsp nutritional yeast $0.50
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
Total cost: $19.75
Price per person: $3.29

Mix pesto first by combing all ingredients in a food processor.

Shave one carrot for the light salad. Cube the remaining carrots, squash, pepper, and corn into chunks. Set broiler to low and cook pepper and corn for 7 min and squash and carrots for 15 or until they come out slightly blackened.

Dice the scallions. Next pan fry the scallions until crispy and the polenta in 1/4 inch slices for 4-5 mn each slide with pesto in pan halfway through.

Serve the pesto cold on top of the hot polenta and vegetables with the salad greens and scallions on the side.


PS: What ways have you found to make peace at your table?

Monday, December 2, 2013

Stone Soup Rocks!

New development. Starting in August, we have been homeschooling around here. My newest hat is first grade teacher. There are many reasons why this made sense for us right now. I'm sure I will bore you with all of them soon enough. It is more demanding, but also more rewarding then I ever thought possible. So, a ladle of some of what I am enjoying the most? Those impromptu lessons that you can savor right out of books. Those connections from fresh food to fork. Using dangerous appliances and sharp objects. And watching some little boys cooking and taking ownership over that domain.

A few days ago the boys were begging me to read our antique copy of Stone Soup. Many versions of this story exist, but the one we have with the most comical illustrations is by William Furstenberg and Hans Wilhelm.

If you have never heard of this story it is a morality tale all about how all the people in the town are too greedy to share their surplus of food with some unexpected traveling guests because they fear those which they do not know. (Where else do we begin making peace then around our own tables?) The guests outsmart and guilt the greedy and piggish (pun intended) townspeople into bringing out all their stores of food from the ridiculous places they have hidden them, inside the cupboards, in the well, under the bed. . So one by one the concealed items are brought forward and plopped into the water and the cooperative effort ends up making, of course, soup.

My kids love this story. And it's a punchy lesson for grownups too. So on that day, THE KIDS decided to make up their own recipe for Stone Soup. (Mama helped, a wee bit). And it just so happens to be quite frugal, so we thought we'd include it here.

In a large crock pot add:
A handful of smooth well washed rocks (a crazy paranoid science mom, who checks those things, says don't include any of these... because I am sure that you keep piles of asbestos in your kitchen).
  • 2 tsp of salt
  • Pepper to taste, but leave out the pepper if you are seven 
  • 3 Tbsp of rosemary ~ $0.50
  • 4 Tbsp of oregano ~ $0.50
  • half a cabbage ~ $1.00
  • 4 diced carrots ~$1.50
  • 1/2 a white onion ~ $0.75
  • 5 diced potatoes ~ $1.75
  • 1 lb of cured ham ~ $5.50
  • 2 cups of whole milk or cream ~$0.74

Enough water to just cover all the ingredients. Set to cook on lowest temperature. When 30 minutes to hour is left add the milk or cream.

We just cooked our rocks in our soup. If you are sneaky or paranoid you can "magically" take the rocks out while the kids aren't looking and use a separate pot. My kids were really convinced they would, and rather disappointed when they didn't, melt. But, nevertheless, they still cooked and ate with atypical zeal!

For a yummy addition check out these honey breadsticks.
  • water
  • 3 Tbsp honey ~ $0.66
  • 2 Tbsp of olive oil ~$0.20
  • 3/4 tsp of salt
  • 2 cups of whole wheat flour$2.56
  • 3 tsp of yeast ~ $0.50
Fresh homemade butter for serving: $2.25
Serves 8. Total = $18.41
or  $2.30/ person

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Mill to Market

To my knowledge there are no working water grain mills in Oklahoma. However, in visiting family in Arkansas in recent years one theme that has emerged is learning about old mills. Talk about innovations in sustainable energy!

The constant thumping is a reminder of the wheel slapping the water and pulling in bucketfuls of water to spin and make the internal wheel grind up grain. Watching the internal mill turn is mesmerizing to kids and adults alike.

Image in Public Domain.

Just beyond Oklahoma, near Rogers, Arkansas you can visit the fully operational War Eagle Mill where a fully functional water wheel grain mill operates on a site where this was first done in 1832. The lumber mill that was also formerly here provided most of the lumber to build most of Northwest Arkansas. Lessons in trials and tenacity can be learned from this business that washed away in 1848, was a source of strategic conflict between the Confederate and Union army before the Confederates burned it to the ground in 1862, and burning again in 1924. Despite historic hardships, in 1974 the mill was rebuilt. Today the Roenigk family continues to recognize the importance of this historic and sustainable place and through their business provides a market for local organic farmers, while continuing to provide healthy whole grain options for family suppers.

Enjoy the restaurant above the scenic river, admire the architecture of the bridge, bring a fishing pole, learn about outhouses. And while you are there make sure to go and visit the adjacent Hobbs State Park and their wonderful nature center.

Some other mills that are fun to visit:
  • The historic Inn at the Mill in Fayetville where you can see the site of the oldest business in Arkansas.

  • The Old Mill in North Little Rock. While this site is purely a historical fabrication, it still provides a great visualization about how these old mills worked and what buildings built in this region in the early 1800s would have looked like. The faux wooden sculptures and elaborate bridges created by Dionico Rodriguez are quite amazing. It captivates the imagination and also has stunning grounds maintained by the local master gardener chapter. 
Where do you like to go, in Oklahoma, or otherwise to visit historical agro-businesses? What do you love about stone ground grains?

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

"Bats in a Cave" with Fruit Salad

Sometimes we play with our food and make cheesy object lesson recipes. (What, you don't?) So we made some meatballs and then decided to turn them into bats. It goes with our cave theme. With a little ketchup you can make anything smile, at least that's what four year old Connor thinks. We peeled the carrots to look like the bones in the phalanges of the bat's wings. And in case you have an utter lack of imagination, I should inform you that the breadsticks decorating the plate in various sizes are to make stalactites and stalagmites. (Obviously). And also that some bats really like to eat fruit, and incidentally so do we!

Make some rolls. Get an early start two hours before dinner. We used the River Cottage Cookbook French bread recipe and just cooked it in strips at 400 for 12 minutes. The kids had fun making them different sizes.
Cost for 1 loaf bread: 
~ $3.96

Meatballs with wraps
  • 1 1b beef ~ $6.75
  • 1/2  lb carrots ~ $0.68
  • 3/4 small cabbage head ~ $1.93
  • 1/3 c oatmeal or flour (I used oatmeal) ~ $0.36
  • 2 eggs ~ $0.34
  • 2 1/2 T soy sauce ~$0.10
  • 3/4 tsp powdered ginger ~ $0.10
  • 1/3 onion sautéed ~ $0.50
  • Splotches of ketchup for face

First saute the onion. Mix raw beef with oatmeal,  eggs, ginger, soy sauce and sauteed onion. Form into golf ball size balls.

Bake at 375 for 30 minutes.

Peel the carrots and peel cabbage in whole sheets.
After the meat has cooked use two meatballs for body and head, cabbage sheet for wings, and carrots for arm bones.


Fruit Salad
  • 1/2 small seedless watermelon (about 4 lbs) ~ $3.00
  • 3 medium apples ~ $1.20
  • Handful Chocolate mint (in my herb garden)
  • 1 TBSP lemon juice
Mix right before eating. Enjoy!

Total Menu cost $18.92 or $3.19/ each

Monday, July 8, 2013

Carlsbad Caverns

I have missed you! Life has been wonderfully busy. We had end of the school year festivities and lots of traveling. After a large loop through Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California, we are a little road tripped out. Relatives, camp, the beach, and minimal electronic devices- it was pretty great. One of our favorite stops was going to Carlsbad Caverns. It is a marvelous wonder. The scope and magnitude of it is matched by few other places. You should definitely go sometime. The boys were big enough they could walk this year. We went down through the big entrance and little lady rode in a baby carrier and nursed almost the entire way down. (I feel like I deserve an award for that one!) 

We weren't the only family of five out that day!

For the record, we made it up AND OUT before dawn. But somehow still missed the bats by about 10 min.

Thanks nice guy who took our picture.

At the entrance to the cave. It's A LOT bigger, farther, and steeper than it looks, but they didn't complain one time.

Oh, and these guys earned their Junior Ranger badges.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Curbside Veggies. In Arkansas?!

This is not a post about frugal living. Nor is it about Oklahoma, although very close to us. This is about accidentally discovering a place that is a gem of a sustainable restaurant model where veggies are vogue. Last weekend we went to a family wedding in Fayetville, Arkansas. And thanks to Urban Spoon, I stumbled upon a little green restaurant called The Greenhouse Grille. The building was actually green and it was very near to the University on one of the busiest streets in town in one of the most modern and chic shopping centers in town. No wasted space here. Even their green islands in their parking lot were overflowing with edibles. (This is also an important type of space cities need to utilize as bioretention sites to prevent waste water runoff in parking lots)

Their front space was not adorned with purposeless plants like Asian bradford pears or azaleas but with strawberries bounding out to greet me, asparagus crowns towering up, fennel fanning out, parsley making a landing pad for sleepy butterflies, and Swiss chard sporting it's rainbow style. Their side space had more veggies and peas dutifully standing at attention and in the back they had several raised beds about fifteen by four inside of a mini hoop house. Let's go back to these gardens of yore because doing so would be really a victory. Wow! Talk about curb appeal, talk about fresh to my plate. This is the kind of thing I have read about at sites like Alice Waters Chez Panisse world famous restaurant and would encounter snippets of when I lived in Santa Barbara, but to see such a restaurant model in the mid-west in an area dominated by businesses making everything bigger and outsourced from as far as possible- one does clucks and one is the biggest retail world within our world-was refreshing.

Additionally Greenhouse Grille sources their meats, veggies, and grains from other local producers. Including the War Eagle Mill, which is an outstanding historical fieldtrip in itself. They also actively work to support local musicians and to abate local hunger in an area that is cursed with simultaneously being the richest and the poorest region in Arkansas. And what better way to abate hunger than to start from the ground up. And yet, many cities outlaw front yards that could contribute to the hunger solution or provide an ecological stopover for native birds and butterflies. Our cousins outside of Joplin told me that their mowing ordinance is to keep their grass at one inch or less- oy!

Does your city allow veggies to be front and center in urban landscapes, yards, and businesses? Do you and your city use your urban land to it's maximum potential, especially as one acre of viable farmland is lost every minute to urban sprawl in this country? What acts of gardening civil disobedience have you or your neighbors performed secretly or overtly? How do we tell our city commissioners and home owner's associations that we deserve the freshest food for our forks and spaces reclaimed from the tyranny of bermuda grass and japanese honeysuckle?

Tell them we need veggies front and center.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Garden Folk

A couple of Saturdays ago I got to be on the other side of the table at a Farmer's market event at the Oklahoma City Oklahoma Food Cooperative store. For the first time I was there as a vendor. Wow! What a beautiful day doing business the way it was done for many years at this location in it's prime. Getting to know these farmers and regular variety garden folk was really touching to me. Plants make people happy, pure and simple. And I got to give part of that happiness. I was there selling cards and garden seeds but I got to sit next to the plant people- those who know hospitality, heirlooms, and handshakes.

My newly found friends are amazing. My friend Dev Vallencourt and her husband Kip Francis at High Tides and Green Fields grows 147 different varieties of peppers. Pretty sure you will never see a tenth of that many varieties in any grocery store. She also was teaching me about some innovative (or perhaps wise, antiquated ways) she has begun to grow winter crops in hugelkultur method from Germany that creates so much heat by planting on top of old wood that she was able to grow crops all winter long, uncovered.

I met a young farmer, Samantha Lamb who was managing a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) endeavor on her grandparents homestead in the Medicine Park area. I met Michael Ruzycki who is farming and hosting a store in Choctaw, The Veggie Lounge who said he started because he was always amazed at how much leftovers his grandfather always had from his garden. Two other guys have started an event composting and zero waste company, Fertile Ground in Oklahoma City. Others, like Renrick farms are working diligently to provide more drought tolerant, native, and butterfly loving flowers. Double R farms  was there  selling pastured lamb and eggs and Barb was trying to figure out what growing things looks like in Oklahoma after living for years in Alaska. There was experience and there was youth, but above all there was energy. Urban Agrarian hosts an all local market five days a week and their staff was busily working indoors sorting crates of tomatoes and processing local foods from all over into a wide assortment of baked goods while the old dog swatted flies with his tail on the porch. While we sat in our store outdoors community organizers from a "Better Block" project had gathered and were literally painting the town- covering over years of neglect and breaking ground for new beginnings.  

And then there were the customers. The lady who got a "pet" fern. The radiant Reverand who had been healed from a stroke. Everybody who marveled over how strawberries grow. Those whose garden was an epic fail last year, but they were trying again because they were determined to get their eight year old to like vegetables. And then the lovliest of my day, a young girl who had just come from a workshop where she had made a planter box a few inches wide by about three inches deep. She was absolutely bursting to find a way to plant things. No one had showed her the dirt in her own yard. She was so enthusiastic she could have made seeds sprout just by sheer wish. "I just want to grow something I can eat she told me." So we made a deal and I sold her two packets of lettuce and peas... And, hopefully, a share of the garden.