Valentine’s Day

DSC_1330 DSC_1287 DSC_1297 My sweet mother always made Valentine’s day special for my brother and me when we were little.  There would be a pretty red tablecloth, little heart shaped doilies, a special breakfast, gifts.  And even though Will is still a bit young I decided this year to do something for Valentine’s Day.  Partly because it has been so, so cold.  I knew we needed some splashes of red and treats to help us through these days of single digit weather and endless snow. So we made heart shaped pancakes and ate raspberries and got Will a red helium balloon, aka toddler crack. Pretty simple, but it was a sweet morning.  Wishing love and warmth to you all.DSC_1323 DSC_1325 DSC_1302 DSC_1326

For the Weekend: Venison Beer Chili

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DSC_1289 DSC_1304 John made quite a bit of ground venison out of the deer he shot this fall (with a bow, at 54 yards, not in a tree stand), and it is my favorite.  Other than the venison he cans with our friend the surgeon, who also hunts (to his wife’s mild dismay). But the canned venison is a story for another day. Anyway, we don’t have any plans for the Super Bowl, but I do love football weekend food, so I decided to make a big pot of chili for our weekend stew. I don’t have a recipe for you (I more or less followed the Red Meat Chili recipe in nourishing traditions but added a small can of tomato paste and used a can of cheap beer instead of the red wine).  We ate it today, we’ll have it for lunch tomorrow, and then tomorrow night… I will make chili cheese nachos out of whatever is left! So it will be pretty much exactly what we will have eaten for the previous three meals, but in nacho form, which means it will be awesome.DSC_1296 Also, when I went to the grocery this morning it was 10 degrees outside.  Anyway, hope you all are staying warm and enjoying some good, satisfying comfort food this weekend!

Some Things About Winter & Normal Days

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It’s still freezing cold here.  Lots of mornings in the single digits.  And general misery of that nature. This is our week (below).  And all the weeks from now until halfway through April. I know no one wants to hear anyone else complain about the weather, and a lot of you probably also live in cold places, but my poor little southern self still cannot get over this (and this is not a particularly bad example, this is just literally the normal weather for this week):

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Anyway. We eat a lot of potatoes in the winter because it just seems like the right thing to do, and they’re cheap.  It’s the only produce that I buy organic anymore, but I do think for potatoes organic is important.  Someone once told me that farmers of conventional potatoes won’t eat the ones they grow because of all the poison they know is on them.

One of my favorite things to do with them is to make a Spanish tortilla, which is kind of like a frittata but with onions and potatoes, and both of those cooked up nice and soft in heaps of olive oil, and then baked with the eggs poured over.  Here’s a picture of the potatoes and onions in the first stage of cooking, in the olive oil.  I’ve started adding several teaspoons of paprika to the potatoes and onions as they cook, and it just tastes like perfection. This is just as good like this as it is baked with eggs in a dish.  Either way, super warming and filling and rich and delightful for cold winter days.

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And then here are some pictures of Will recently.  He’s in this fun stage of saying new words almost every day: cheese, juice (by which he means elderberry syrup diluted with water; I don’t actually let him drink juice), baby, oink, uh-oh.  And doing puzzles like a champ, and helping put his toys away (even starting to put them back on the right shelf where they go).  And building with Duplos forever on his own. And also throwing some crazy tantrums and being really strong-willed and obstinate and all of that. But mostly being delightful and darling.

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But the tantrums and toddler craziness and the dishes and the coats and mittens and hats and the absolute cold (with no end in sight) have been tempting me to hate these days and wish them away.  But I read this the other day on this blog and I thought it was so beautiful:

“Normal day, let me be aware of the treasure you are. Let me learn from you, love you, bless you before you depart. Let me not pass you by in quest of some rare and perfect tomorrow. Let me hold you while I may, for it may not always be so. One day I shall dig my nails into the earth, or bury my face in the pillow, or stretch myself taut, or raise my hands to the sky and want, more than all the world, your return.” ― poem by Mary Jean Irion

That just stabs me right in the heart.  These days are so precious, and my little baby is getting big and independent so very fast and these days of little smudgy fingers holding mine and snuggling in my lap and the little kisses on my mouth, these days will not last long.  I want to treasure them and savor them and not wish them away for warmer days.

We finally took our Christmas tree down.  I never posted any of the videos of Will and his Christmas tree joy, but for the first 2 weeks we had our tree up, Will would run into the living room first thing in the morning, gasping and laughing with joy when he saw the tree.  He would do happy dances and twirl around.  He loved that tree.  Now, ever since we took the tree down he points to where it was and then to the front door (where he knows it went) and makes the sign for “all gone” and then waves bye bye and makes a sort of anguished, concerned sound while doing these gestures.  It is heartbreaking. And precious.

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Moroccan Stew for the Weekend

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I almost always make a big pot of stew or soup of some kind on Saturday morning, enough to last us for lunch and dinner Saturday and Sunday.  Fortunately John doesn’t mind having the same thing a few meals in a row.

I forget if I’ve written about this here– I don’t think I have– but John shot a deer this fall! With a bow and arrow! At 54 yards, no tree stand.  Kind of a big deal, I’m just saying. And that means a freezer full of venison for us!  He ground a fair amount of it, which is my favorite to use for cooking, and he’s also canned some of it with a friend of his (which sounds really odd but it turns the meat completely tender and then it’s the easiest thing to just toss into whatever you’re cooking).

Anyway, this morning I made a Moroccan stew with some of the venison, loosely based on this recipe from the Splendid Table’s website.  I say “loosely based” because I really only used the proportion of spices from the recipe and otherwise used what I had on hand (venison instead of chicken, plus lots of freshly cooked chickpeas.  I skipped the almonds but added the zest and juice of a whole lemon. I added green beans and about a cup of dried apricots and prunes.)  See here for another similar recipe, if you’re interested.  And here’s a vegetarian version if you want to use chickpeas instead of meat.

It was 8 degrees this morning, so it was nice to be standing near the hot stove preparing this, and it felt good to use heaping teaspoons of ginger, cinnamon, turmeric, and cumin and let those spices melt together and fill the house with warmth.

This turned out a little meatier than I probably would have preferred (I probably used about 3 pounds of venison and would have been happier with 1, but I’ll just try to remember that for next time around.) I’m going to make a pot of rice to pour this over, and then we’ll be set until Monday.  With a lot of chickpeas and just a little bit of meat (ground lamb would be easy and really perfect for this), this is an incredibly economical and filling meal for wintertime.  And if any of you have any ideas for good filling stews please let me know! I have been rotating through the same 2 or 3 lately and could use some fresh inspiration!

Almond Flax Pancakes with Wild Blueberries

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It’s still blindingly cold here. Cold air pours through our floors and walls.  Now, instead of thinking about buying rugs and insulating our basement, I just think about making John quit his job and letting us all move to Arizona.  It was negative 8 or 9 when we woke up this morning.  I still managed to get Will bundled up and out the door for a free music class downtown, which, for my little Tennessee self, was a feat that bordered on the heroic and insane.  In order to qualify for free parking in the downtown parking garage I decided to buy a cup of coffee at a little shop right across from where the music class was (it was either that, or pay $2 for parking, so I decided a cup of coffee with a stamped receipt was a better use of $2).  And I ordered my coffee and was about to pay, and the guy at the register told me it was on the house!!!! I was completely floored and overjoyed.  Trying to savor the beautiful, small moments in the midst of the paralyzing and soul-crushing cold weather.

So this is a variation of my almond meal pancakes, which you can read about here.  This version also has flax and hemp, for a little variety in texture and some extra protein and fiber.  I’ve been buying frozen wild blueberries lately– they’re smaller than the “regular” blueberries you usually see, but wild blueberries apparently have almost twice the amount of antioxidant goodness as non-wild blueberries.  Interesting, huh?

I’ve been eating these, smothered with butter and blueberries, which add enough sweetness that I can live without syrup (although a little maple syrup wouldn’t hurt at all).

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Hemp seeds, or hemp hearts, can be a little expensive, but they are packed with nutrition.  Just 3 tablespoons contains 10 grams of protein, 20% RDV iron, 20% zinc, 45% magnesium, and 3 grams of fiber (with only 3 g. total carbohydrates).  I bought a big 5 pound bag from the brand Manitoba Harvest, because it was much cheaper per pound than buying it in small quantities. I usually throw a few tablespoons in smoothies (I make one similar to this, minus the dates, plus 2 T of peanut butter), or toss some in the morning porridge.

One note about the pictures/recipe– for the pancakes in these pictures, I put blueberries right in the batter, but the berries ended up burning a bit as they were cooking, so the recipe says to just make the pancakes without the berries, and then add berries at the end.

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Almond Flax Pancakes with Wild Blueberries

1/2 c. almond meal
1/4 c. ground hemp hearts (aka hulled hemp seeds)
1/4 c. flax meal
1/4 t. salt
2 eggs
1/4 c. water
2 T. oil or melted butter (plus more to add to the pan for cooking)
1/2 t. vanilla extract (optional)

wild blueberries, thawed (or fresh, if they’re in season)

1. Mix dry ingredients, and then add remaining ingredients (except for blueberries) and stir until well-blended.  If you want to be really fastidious you can beat the eggs separately before adding them, but I just mix everything together in one bowl.

2.  Heat butter or oil in a skillet over medium heat, and add batter, about 1/4 cup at a time.  Cook 2-3 minutes on each side.  Caution:  These do not form little bubbles like regular pancakes do to test for doneness, so you just have to watch them closely and use a little intuition to tell when to flip them.

3.  Top with butter and a mound of blueberries.  And real maple syrup (which you can buy the most cheaply at Aldi’s if you have one close by!).

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Chicken Necks for Stock and Other Things

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Once again, I know it’s been forever since I’ve written.  We three traveled quite a bit over the holidays, flying to Nashville to see my family and then driving to Maryland to see John’s.  It was lovely seeing everyone, and getting to spend time in houses that are insulated and have dishwashers.

Ithaca, like everywhere else, it seems, is freezing cold right now, and the floorboards of our house are icy cold because there is not one particle of insulation at all.  So I dream of buying rugs to layer on the floors, or having someone come put insulation in the basement (even though we’re renting and it wouldn’t make sense for us to pay to insulate this place, unless we were going to stay here a few more years, which we’re not). The picture below was in one of the library books I got this week, and it pretty much sums up how I feel about life right now.

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So we wear sweaters and hats and put our bathrobes on over our sweaters, and wear slippers, and Will’s fingers are always cold. BUT we snuggle under blankets and drink tea and two days ago I finally thawed out a 4 pound bag of chicken necks a friend of John’s gave him.  Nice, local ones.  John knew I would want them, which I did, but it also took me awhile to look up what to do with them.  As it turns out, you can just make chicken stock with them! Without the chicken!

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This was lovely news, because I had been wanting some stock but I didn’t want to spend money on a chicken, or even chicken bones, so I put all four pounds of the thawed necks in our stockpot and made just the same way I would have done with chicken bones.  Tonight I made some hot and sour soup with some of the broth. (Surprisingly easy to make, and I’ve always used black pepper instead of white because I’ve never had white pepper on hand, but it still tastes amazing).

In other news, Will is just amazing these days. He’s 20 months old now and just beyond precious, and also crazy. (I’ve included pictures of him rather than of the chicken necks, because they aren’t the prettiest things in the world to be perfectly honest.) Anyway, Will is constantly cracking us up these days with his little dances and the way he says “da” for “yes” and how he seems to just understand everything we ask or tell him. He’s been saying some new words this week: hat, water, wow (if something is really amazing), and ding dong (like the doorbell).  He will sit and look at the pages of one of his books for quite awhile on his own, which is darling.  I just re-read French Kids Eat Everything, which inspired me to work a little harder at getting more vegetables and general variety into Will’s diet.  Tonight I gave him a few pieces of artichoke heart, and he refused to touch them, so I chopped them up and put them in his quesadilla.  He ate the whole thing and loved it.  He is obsessed with olives these days, loves red, yellow, and orange bell peppers (but not green).  He adores raw mushrooms but doesn’t care for them cooked. He loves brie and comte and smoked oysters.  He wants to try whatever John and I are eating– Thai lime & chili cashews from Trader Joe’s (which he loved) and whatever other random things we try to sneak while he’s around. I’m sure pickiness will come at some point, but for now I’m thankful that he is eating so much!
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Christmas Around Here

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photo-18 DSC_1286DSC_1288DSC_1291 DSC_1294 DSC_1298 DSC_1322 DSC_1308 DSC_1311 DSC_1337 DSC_1331 DSC_1340 DSC_1317 DSC_1318 DSC_1341 So this is pretty much the extent of our Christmas decorations this year. I strung up a piece of twine and hung up the Christmas cards we’ve received from people. The Christmas tree place where we cut our tree down was selling wreaths for $10, so we bought one at long last! We didn’t want to buy a wreath hanger, so John fashioned one out of a wire coat hanger.  I love that man.  I picked up a little advent calendar that they were giving out for free in the chapel where I work. Will has been obsessed with Christmas trees for the past few weeks, and every morning when he runs into the living room and sees ours he screams and does a happy dance.  It has been a really sweet season of Advent so far, and I can’t wait to celebrate Will’s second Christmas together as a family. Wishing much love, warmth, and joy to all of you!!!

Christmas Books for Free

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Starting in November I got a longing to buy Christmas books for Will.  We would go to Barnes and Noble sometimes on cold days to play with the little train table they have in their children’s section, and the display of Christmas books would beckon to me.  I would dream of spending lots of money because, well, it’s Christmas, and that’s what you’re supposed to do at Christmas, right?

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But then I stumbled across the holiday section of children’s books in our library.  They have two whole rows of shelves full of Christmas books. And I realized, why spend tons of money on books when you can get them for free? So today, even though everything was covered in snow I bundled the two of us up and we set out for the library.

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I picked up a copy of The Polar Express and 7 or 8 other lovely books, including several books about the nativity, one of Christmas carols illustrated by Tomie dePaola and one illustrated version of “Good King Wenceslas.”

Will LOVES reading these days.  We snuggled up to read The Polar Express right before his nap, and I was a little dismayed by how many words there were on each page (I doubted Will would have the patience to sit through such a long story), but he sat with rapt attention while I read though the whole book twice. He’s asleep now, but I know when he wakes up we will have a long afternoon of Christmas book reading & playing in the snow.

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Pumpkin Picking & the Farm

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John, Will, and I went pumpkin picking at Indian Creek farm this afternoon.  We went right before dinner, and Will must have been starving because he kept trying to eat everything from the pumpkins to acorns and unripe tomatoes. It was adorable. Anyway, it was a perfect October day, we bought some unpasteurized apple-pear cider, and even though almost all the pictures involve Will putting vegetables in his mouth I still think they’re precious. DSC_1140 DSC_1170 DSC_1174 DSC_1179 DSC_1182 DSC_1185 DSC_1190 DSC_1213 DSC_1217 DSC_1218 DSC_1219 DSC_1220 DSC_1226 DSC_1230 DSC_1231

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