Monthly Archives: January 2008

Egg cracking fun

My 13 yo daughter prepared five loaves of sourdough bread yesterday, and left them to rise overnight in the oven.  When I got up I turned on the oven, and they were ready in time for breakfast.  Yum!  These were the best yet!  I told you last time that it didn’t rise long enough and it was too hard, right?  Well, these were perfect (or so everyone else in my family said – I’m – sigh- off of flour again).

They enjoyed it with fresh raw butter.  I get the butter from the Mennonite farmer I buy my milk from.  He has a sliding door refrigerator in the room where he keeps the day’s milk for sale, along with farm fresh eggs from one neighbor and the butter from another.  My kids love this butter – they could eat it like cheese, it’s so good.  But the neighbor doesn’t make it on a large scale, so I’ve never been able to buy more than four pounds, and usually just one or two pounds.  But we love it when we can get it.

We had the bread and butter along with warm hard boiled eggs.  My 7 yo daughter offered to peel my eggs for me, so I agreed.  She promptly cracked them against her forehead.  Are you suprised that I allow it?  Well, besides the fact that my husband is the one who showed the kids how to do this, they have fun.   And since I think it’s good to encourage a comfortable and fun home atmosphere, as long as they don’t crack raw eggs like this, it’s fine with me!


Easy wallpaper removal

All of my ideas about how I was going to do a really simple kitchen renovation and do things a bit at a time are flying out the window.  That’s thanks to my enthusiastic children asking, “Can we do this?  What about this?” 

 One of the things that they asked about doing was removing the wallpaper borders in the kitchen.  Eventually I wanted to do it, but for now they will still look fine with the new cabinets, so I didn’t see the point of doing it and having unsightly peeling paint that I would then need to repaint right away.

But then they pointed out that it would be easier to do it now, before the cabinets are up, and when we realized that the cabinets would cover the bottom inch of the borders, I agreed to let them go wild ripping it off.  Turned out it wasn’t as easy and fun as they expected, since it came off in tiny pieces. When I noticed what was going on, I suggested a way to make it easier that I remembered reading about sometime.  I gave them a spray bottle with water and told them to spray the wallpaper and let it sit for a few minutes.  I love when some isolated bits of info that I have floating around in my brain come in handy!)  They tried it, and were able to easily peel off the wallpaper, which was lots more effective and fun for them.  And the bonus for me is that hardly any paint peeled off and I don’t have to tackle the painting right away!

Starting newest home renovation project

It’s been a while since our latest home improvement project, so I decided to take on something big – the kitchen.  I really need more cabinet space – I can’t keep things looking clean because there isn’t enough space for everything.  And I’m not a person who has doubles of everything, or lots of unnecessary dishes – I really don’t.  I dislike clutter and work to constantly weed out things that aren’t being used that take up space. 

So while the kitchen was more than adequate from the older couple that we bought the house from, it leaves something to be desired for a family of ten.  But I don’t have a huge budget, and the expense of a total kitchen overhaul can’t be justified just because I need some more cabinets.  So I decided to see if I could find a set of used kitchen cabinets that would meet my needs and fit my budget.

After keeping an eye out for quite a while, I found exactly what I wanted last week.  That wasn’t so easy because my ideal was to find a set that included a cabinet for a built-in double oven, as well as a number of cabinets that only a large kitchen would have.  The number of cabinets I needed alone eliminated most of the sets I found.  I don’t mind in the least buying something used, but I wanted something in excellent condition that didn’t look dated.  That wasn’t easy, either, since lots of sets look like they’re from a certain time period or are in rough shape. This set not only had a large number of cabinets and the oven cabinet, but included also was the double oven, cooktop, and stainless steel double sink. 

I went to see the cabinets in person, and they were even better than what I was hoping to find.  They were from a kitchen done ten years ago, installed in the home of a then 87 year old man and his wife.  The kitchen was in perfect condition (you can imagine it didn’t get much vigorous use), so I asked the son, who is now living there, why they were redoing the kitchen.  He told me that his father, who’s now 97, has too much money in his estate and they want to redo it now using his money to lessen the tax burden later on as well as boost the value of the home. The problem was the price – the seller wouldn’t set one.  He told me he would take bids from interested individuals and the highest bidder would win. 

I was fortunate enough to speak to the secretary the first time I called, who told me he would take the highest bid over x dollars.  So that told me his bottom line.  It was more than I had expected to pay, but I felt it was really worth it.  I told him my offer (of course using the figure that his secretary mentioned), and told him I would take the entire set.  But after seeing how nice they were, I wasn’t hopeful that I would be the highest bidder.  I knew I could easily be outbid but my offer was really the maximum I could pay.

Well, a day later he called me to tell me he was going to sell the set to me.  It seems that lots of people wanted parts of the set, and he could have made more money selling it off piecemeal.  And others were making real lowball offers.  Initially he was going to wait several days and take all the offers, but then after a day and a lot of phone calles, he decided that since I had already made him a fair offer and would take everything, it was too much of a hassle to keep taking more offers that weren’t suitable. So I was the lucky winner! 

We plan to pick everything up on Saturday or Sunday night – they were still installed when we saw them and we had to wait until his delivery of new cabinets arrived for his contractor to take everything down.  We went shopping yesterday and picked up the countertops at a building salvage store.  Most of the things they use are from homes that have been remodeled and are the items that are pulled out.  But sometimes they have new items that were overstocks or a contractor will have someone who orders something and the order comes in the wrong size, so he gives it to them.  It’s really a matter of luck since it’s not like they have a consistent inventory. 

It turns out that this week they put all the countertops on sale for 50% of the listed price (which is already very low).  And then amazingly enough, not only did I find the amount of countertops that I needed, they were brand new and exactly what I was envisioning. Because we had 7 of our kids with us, along with 2 other children who were spending a couple of days with us, we couldn’t take it home in the van as we initially expected.  We ended up having to rent a Uhaul, but even including the truck rental, it was a super price.

I’m really looking forward to getting started now that we have the countertops.  I also bought a used black cooktop since the one that is included with the set is white and my other appliances are bisque.  I’ll sell the white one when I get it.  Those were the main things that I was missing, so now I just need to get some hardware and miscellaneous supplies and we’ll be ready to get started.  My goal is to have the kitchen finished (except for tiling the backsplash) within five days – that includes replacing all of the cabinets, counters, appliances, and sink.  It’s pretty ambitious since my oldest son (who is more experienced at this stuff and installed the kitchenette with me last year for the basement)  is in school all day and dh isn’t home much.  But dh said he’ll take a day off from work, so though it will be a big push, I think it’s doable.  I like big projects, but I don’t like having things drag out.  I just like to envision it, get it going, and get it done!


Are pediatricians overstepping parental responsibilities?

I recently took my 11 yo dd to the doctor for a well child visit, necessary because I needed to have the doctor fill out paperwork for summer camp.  (Last year I decided at the very last minute to send the two oldest and it was very hectic – this year I’m getting everything done well in advance.)   Generally I only take the kids to the doctor if something is wrong, and even that is very infrequent. 

Things have changed a lot from when I was a kid and went to the doctor.  The doctor would ask me how I felt, look into my eyes and ears, listen to my heart, and take my pulse.  After being weighed and measured for height, that was it.  Now all of that is part of a well child visit, but there’s lots more.  Lots of questions for the child – it was like an interview.  If I had known to expect all of that, I would have told dd about it so it wouldn’t have caught her unaware.  She wasn’t expecting to sit there for so long, answering questions like – do you smoke?  Do you buckle your seatbelt?  Do you eat healthy foods?  What are healthy foods?  Do you listen to your mother?  What subjects do you learn?  What extracurricular activities are you involved in? Do you play with matches?  Do you play with water?  What would you do if a stranger approached you?  Do you have guns in your home?  And on, and on, and on.  These are all things that I’ve taught them about, so there wasn’t any information that I hadn’t discussed with them.  But I don’t think it’s a doctor’s place to ask all of these questions – it smacks of Big Brother and governmental intrusion to me. 

Obviously the board of pediatrics has determined that parents aren’t doing a good enough job of teaching their children about healthy living, so now it’s their job to do it.  As a parent, I resent this attitude.  If I want to know about gun safety, I’ll take my kids to the experts.  If I want to know about nutrition, I’ll go to those who have training.  I found it especially ironic that a doctor who knows much less than my daughter about nutrition was telling her what to eat.  I’m not minimizing doctors – our pediatrician is wonderful. But nutritional training for doctors is a very tiny part of their training, and most doctors aren’t paragons of health.  I’ve often found it ironic how many nurses and doctors are visibly unhealthy, but they continue to tell everyone else how to stay healthy.

And what is equally frustrating is that if you question the necessity of this protocol, it makes them suspicious that you are a neglectful parent.  After all, why should a responsible and caring parent mind if a doctor takes the time to ‘educate’ their child about important issues?  But it’s not education, it’s more like screening parents through the answers their children give.  It makes me wonder how often doctors feel the need to notify child protective services when the answers aren’t to their liking. 

Dd found it a waste of time, and so did I (I found it downright annoying and frustrating, since the doc and I got into a discussion about the supposed benefits of specific vaccines, a topic I try to avoid unless directly asked about it), but the paperwork is signed and that’s what we needed – a simple statement that she was healthy enough to participate in camp activities. 


Making lacto fermented vegetables

This was a new thing that I started doing about three weeks ago, and it’s been very successful.  Like the sourdough bread, I thought it would be a big deal to make, and it’s amazing how incredibly simple it is.

Let me backtrack a minute and say what lacto fermented vegetables are, and what the benefit of them is.  It’s a natural method of pickling that was used by traditional societies throughout the world until vinegar was created and replaced lacto fermentation because the results were easily duplicated and consistent.  But vinegar kills all the microorganisms, while lacto fermentation enhances the nutritional value of vegetables by enhancing the growth of lactobacilli, which enhances the vitamins, aids digestion and helps produce other helpful enzymes.  Lacto fermented veggies are a good addition to any meal because they help all the foods be better digested.

So here’s how incredibly easy it is: you take a quart sized jar, chop or shred up the vegetables you want to ferment, and pack it in as firmly as possible so that the juices of the vegetable(s) cover the top.  If there isn’t enough juice for that, you add some filtered water to cover.  Add some spices if you want.  Put in some sea salt at the top (I use Celtic sea salt for this), close the lid, and voila – after two days to three days your veggies are ready.  That’s the basic process in a nutshell. It took me making about six different recipes to realize that it was all this basic process, since there were little variations of ingredients and spicing for all of them.

Using this basic process, we’ve so far made: cucumber pickles (my 5 and 7 yo kids did these), pickled tomatoes and peppers, ginger carrots, kimchi (so far the favorite), beets, roasted red peppers, turnips, sauerkraut, preserved lemons, salsa, horseradish, garlic, daikon, and a veggie mix of my own creation (second favorite).  A bonus is that they look very attractive lined up on the kitchen counter.  :)

Though they can be ready in as few as 2 – 3 days, they can stay out for lots longer than that.  That’s nice because there aren’t suddenly lots of pickled vegetables that all have to be eaten at the same time.   And I don’t know about you, but I often find that I don’t serve as many salads or fresh veggies at mealtimes because of the time it takes to prepare.  Now even at my busiest, I can whip out two or three of these at mealtime – no preparation needed but to put it in a serving bowl!

I’ve also made pineapple vinegar, but have yet to use it for anything.  I’m planning to use it for salad dressing and for some of my next batch of fermented vegetables, but I still have about 8 jars on the counter, fermenting away, so I’m not rushing to make any more right now. I combined the two quarts of preserved lemon into one jar when it was finished and drained out a bunch of the liquid for salad dressing – it’s delish!  I’ve been using it every day by itself as dressing for my lunchtime salad.  Since I poured it into a salad dressing container (there was just a little of the original stuff left so I poured it out to make room for this), everyone, guest included, has been using it on their salads and is none the wiser.  :)

Pulling the plug on the pacifier

Recently, I was noticing that the baby has been fussy, and I felt it was directly tied to his pacifier use.  To share with you my position on pacifiers, here it is!  We use the pacifier from about 1 month until 5- 6 months, usually, when they begin solids.  Or at least three babies used them for about that long.  One used it for 12 weeks, another four months, and the longest was for 9 months.  The only one who didn’t have a pacifier was my oldest, because I was adamantly against them.  He ended up sucking his thumb for years.  Now you know why I changed my position on pacifiers for the next babies.  :)

Anyway, back to the fussiness.  The reason for using a pacifier is to help a baby, but at a certain point, I’ve found it becomes self-defeating.  When a baby gets used to having it in their mouth so often that they cry when it’s not in, then in my opinion, it’s time to break the habit because they’re more unhappy than they should be, and so is the parent.  The pacifier isn’t helping much in that situation.  And because we have some people in the house, and particularly visitors, who feel a need to push the pacifier in every time the baby makes a sound, he’s gotten more used to it than I would have liked.  So last week I pulled the plug.  When we drop the pacifier, we go cold turkey, and since we do it at such a young age, it usually only takes three days until they’ve totally forgotten that they ever had it. 

So I resigned myself to three days of crankiness.  It was a pleasant surprise when he started sleeping longer in the daytime and nighttime (probably because he didn’t wake up when he realized the pacifier had fallen out :)).  And he got so much cuter!  Really – when he was happier, he was really happy.  You know those huge smiles and beaming faces that make you feel like he really knows who you are and loves you?  I just love it!  And when he wasn’t happy, we were able to pretty quickly figure out what was causing instead of pushing a plug in (for example, if he was tired, put him to sleep).  Not being able to use the pacifier forced us to be more in tune with what he really needed.

But – I have to be honest and say that this past week has been a tough one.  In the back of my mind I was kind of wondering why he wasn’t as happy as he was the first few days off the pacifier.  That is, until yesterday one of my kids looked at the baby and saw the tiniest bit of a tooth coming through his gum.  If you’ve had a teething baby, you know that they aren’t much fun.  Lots of crying, and there isn’t much that seems to help for long.  Around here, I’ve been doing lots of baby holding and not much else except for basically keeping my house functioning.  Which I shouldn’t minimize, because that’s a really big job that I don’t give myself enough appreciation for.  But that’s another topic….


Bubblegum fun

Today was my second son’s birthday – he turned 9.  He started the celebrations by having a sleepover at my inlaws (usually just done in the summer) several days ago, and came home the next morning with a bag of 90 pieces of bubble gum that they bought – just for him, he hastened to let me know.  What is it that makes a grandparent think that this would be a good idea??  It must be some hormonal shift that takes place when they become grandparents that overrides the logical and responsible part of the brain.   But ds has been very generous about sharing his windfall with his siblings.

So tonight my 7 yo dd decided to, as her now 9 yo brother informed me,  act like Violet Beauregard (I’m sure I spelled that wrong).   Violet is an obnoxious character in Roald Dahl’s book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory who chews gum nonstop and puts her gum behind her ear each night when she goes to sleep, then wakes up in the morning and begins chewing the same piece again.  Lovely, hmm?

It seems when I sent this dd to brush her teeth, she decided to stick it behind her ear to keep it safe.  This wasn’t the greatest idea, since she has hair that goes almost to her waist and it was loosely cascading around her shoulders.  You can guess what the next thing someone came to run to tell me about was, right?  Yep.  It was stuck in her hair.  (If you’ve been reading my blog a while, you may remember that this same child managed to entangle lots of homemade Goop in her hair a year ago.)

The great thing about being a more experienced parent is that you’ve seen so many things that they don’t phase you so much.  So when I was notified about this, I just said, ‘oh’, and turned my head away so they didn’t see me smile.  There are some things I would get upset about, but this kind of thing is just not a big deal.  In fact, I thought it was funny.  So I got out the scissors, snipped it out, offered it to her and told her she was welcome to continue chewing it.  She took one look at the big hairy clump and burst out laughing.

If you’re wondering what is happening with the rest of that huge bag of gum, I don’t know.  I still haven’t decided how to deal with it.  On the positive side, ds has learned to blow bubbles as big as his head today – that’s what comes from having so much opportunity to practice in just three days.  Amazing, isn’t it? 😆


Making sourdough bread

Here’s another of my new culinary experiments – sourdough bread.  I began my making the starter, and I’ve found it very interesting to see how it works.  I never knew much about it, but it seemed intimidating to me.  Basically, a starter is homemade yeast.  You just mix some water and flour, leaving it covered at room temperature for a day.  Then the next day add a cup of flour and water each, and continue this for seven days, while it continues to stay at room temperature (covered so nothing gets in it).  I found it fascinating to see how the microorganisms all around us can be grown in a way that contributes to our health. (Ideally you should use non chlorinated water but I’ve done it with sink water and it’s still worked.  You can also let the water sit overnight so that the chlorine evaporates.)

At the end of seven days, you use some of the starter as the leavening agent for bread, and mix in some more water, flour, and salt.  (I used the recipe in Nourishing Traditions.)  Stick it in a loaf pan, place it in y0ur unheated oven, and let it rise overnight.  Letting it rise long enough is really important to the quality of the final loaf – the second time we made it, dd13 was doing it and she let it rise for only an hour in a warm oven (she’s used to baking yeasted doughs) and the final result was so heavy that it was hard to chew.  Bake for about an hour at 350 degrees.  We baked it when we got up in the morning and enjoyed it fresh from the oven with butter for breakfast.  Yum!  It was a dense loaf, but very flavorful.  Since it was so much heavier than regular yeast loaves, it only took a couple of slices to be satisfied.

I think that I’ll start to make this once a week since everyone is enjoying it.

Replacing white sugar

Okay, so the last three weeks I’ve been in super healthy mode.  Every once in a while I decide to upgrade the nutritional status of my family, when I’ve gotten used to past upgrades.  The first major, major change is I’ve finally decided to totally get rid of white sugar in the house.  I don’t really buy processed food, so the sugar that we were using was just in the foods we made, mostly baked goods.  But since white sugar has absolutely no nutritional value and contributes to most diseases, it seemed like there wasn’t any reason to keep it in.  I’ve resisted this for a while because the sugar substitutes are so much more expensive.  But I’ve finally done it!

I bought honey, stevia, and sucanat, and have settled on using sucanat as our main sweetener.  Well, for the family, anyway, because I’m back to my sweetener free food plan, which I went off during pregnancy after a long time on it.  I haven’t really found a way to use the stevia yet, the honey I’m using for hot drinks for the most part, and the sucanat is easy to use when replacing sugar because it’s such a similar consistency.

In case you’re wondering what sucanat is, it’s dehydrated natural cane juice.  It’s the color of brown sugar but grainier.  You can get in health food stores, but after buying one bag there to try it out, I went to my bulk food supplier and got it for much cheaper.  Just because it’s a healthy sweetener doesn’t mean that I’m using lots of it – I’m not.  I try to remember the idea that sweet baked goods are treats, not everyday foods.  I’ve been making less muffins as a result.

If you’re wondering how the kids are taking to this, it really hasn’t been a big deal.  Part of it is that I don’t spring these kind of things on my family and leave them feeling like I forced it on them.  I really believe in getting them on board by sharing the info that changed my thinking on – I don’t actively try to convince them.  And because there are easy replacements for the sugar, they don’t miss anything.  In fact, they really like knowing that the sweeteners we’re using are good for them!