baby food for non-babies (aka adults)

The biggest development in our small world these past days are the two stubby teeth in the mouth of our seven month old. With these tiny pearls has come the desire to ‘taste and see’ with an emphasis on the ‘tasting’ part – our son is biting everything. Everything. If it’s a thing – be it his dearest mama’s finger or the head of his beloved stuffed cow – he’s biting it.

I try to stay ahead of the game and offer a variety of baby teeth-friendly items for him to chew on and sometimes I’m even on top of it enough to give him actual foods to chew. Yes indeed, lovely readers, we have entered the bewildering world of baby food. Once upon a time I thought it was going to be rather simple – you take food, you make it into a paste, you insert it into the infant’s mouth. Rinse and repeat.  Not so. Turns out that while my little one will *bite* anything, he is a little more particular about the things he will actually eat. Go figure.  Before he was born, I stocked up on organic baby food in those adorable jars, tucking them away in the very back of the pantry, hardly believing that I might have a little person someday to eat them. When the time came and I excitedly opened one of the mini jars, warmed it to the perfect temperature and then dumped a decent-sized spoonful into Bru’s open mouth. He acted as though I had forced him to eat dirt. The gagging, the eye twitching, the entire body convulsions that followed this and subsequent organic Gerber meals convinced me that jarred baby food – no matter how lovingly gathered and hopefully offered – were not his thing. He wants Big People Food. Lesson learned. The End.

Of all the Big People Food we’ve tried since, without a doubt his favorite is stewed apples with coconut cream and exotic spices. I know, right – I’ve unwittingly produced some sort of infant gourmet. Honestly though, I can’t blame him. I tried the baby peas and the word that stuck in my mind was, “Yuck”.

If sterile, one dimensional, Little People Foods are at the far side of the infant menu, this creamy concoction has brought us up close and personal with delightful Big People Food. It’s awake, it’s alive, it’s deep and reminiscent of apple pie filling…oh, so tasty

 

Little Bear’s Big People Stewed Apples

 

4 cups peeled, cored and sliced apples of your choice (can be substituted for 3 cups of readymade, unsweetened apple sauce)

1/2 cup water (omit if using applesauce)

1/2 cup coconut cream

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp  ground cardamom

1/8 tsp ground nutmeg

optional maple syrup to taste

 

In a large saucepan, stew down the apple slices with the water on low heat until they reach the desired constancy. I like mine a little chunky and it doesn’t matter for Bru because they’re going to be pureed anyway, so I usually let them cook 15-20 minutes. If you are using applesauce, simply pour into a pan and warm on medium. Once the apple slices are softened and melting, or the sauce is warm, add the coconut cream, spices and maple syrup if you want it sweetened. Stir well and let simmer for another 5-10 minutes. Serve at the perfect temperature.

There are several variations that we’ve played around with and they’ve earned a full stamp of approval from everyone who’s tasted them. The first is to add 1/2 a cup or more of fresh cranberries cut in half to the apples while they are stewing down. This adds a delightful tang that makes the little bear pucker up but come back eager for more until the bowl is empty. Something the Big People enjoy is spooning the warm, stewy goodness over ice-cream after the Little Person has gone to bed. It’s a delightful reward after the sun has set… Enjoy!

 

 

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Christmas Eve Memories

The apartment complex courtyard was unusually silent and empty. The snow had fallen after the residents of The Gardens had gone in for the night and nothing stirred, nothing made a sound. The tall, blank-faced buildings were hushed under a thin quilt of white and the air was so cold that it caught in my throat and brought tears to my eyes. The night was painfully crisp and clear and the stars glittered like shattered glass in the depth of black sky. I felt as though I had stepped into a fairy tale. We rarely got much snow, especially for Christmas and it was often blown about by violent East winds, filling the ditches and piling against houses and fences leaving nothing but a dusting on the grass. Tonight the wind was quiet and every inch of the dusty courtyard ground was covered in Snow. My brothers and I were bundled up against the frigid night air with only our noses and eyes exposed and those froze in the moments it took us to walk down the sidewalk to the parking lot where our big maroon van was parked.

We were on our way to midnight mass at the small, old church in town. It was deliciously late, another rarity, but it was Christmas Eve and if any night during the year was ripe for irregularity, this was it. I yawned and shivered as Mom ushered us toward the van. The stillness of the night seemed to seep in through our many bulky layers and infuse us with quiet awe. We piled in and after buckling up, covered ourselves with the several heavy comforters that were waiting for us in the back. Our van had no heat so we had to make the best with what we did have – blankets and comforters. I wrapped myself up, pulling the quilt over my head  and tight against my body and then rested my exposed forehead on the window beside me. The icy glass was painful at first but soon warmed to my skin and I dozed as we drove into town.

The church was almost as quiet as the town streets. The sanctuary with its wooden pews and broad, dark beams looked majestic decked in greenery and red velvet. The walls were baptized with the light of what seemed to be hundreds of candles and the flames danced and trembled around the shadows of the other members who had gathered. Hymns were sung, prayers said and as the bells tolled midnight, a tiny statue of the Christ Child was laid in the straw of the manger scene before the altar. It was all so achingly beautiful to me as a child and I sat on the flattened cushion of the pew, half asleep, with tears in my eyes.

When the service was over and the great wooden front doors opened, cold night air came rushing in and ended what seemed to be a dream. The congregants  milled out and went back to their homes while we made the short hike back to our big, chilly van. We bundled in once more, this time with a little more commotion because we were *not* going home as all the others were. The silence had been broken and our Christmas had begun. We were headed to a friend’s house where we would spend the holiday. Literally over the river and through the woods, across fields and to the next county we drove in the middle of the night towards our friend’s cozy farm where warm beds and Christmas morning waited for us. Presents, snow and a delicious brunch were just on the other side of sleep.

Christmas Brunch

1 lb bulk sausage

1 cup chopped onions

3 cups cooked spinach

1 red pepper, chopped

1 cup flour

1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

1 clove garlic, minced

1/2 tsp salt

2 cups milk

8 eggs

1 cup shredded cheese

Heat oven to 425 degrees

Grease a 13×9 inch pan. Brown sausage, onions and garlic and then spread the mix on the bottom of the pan. Top with cooked spinach. Mix other ingredients in a bowl before pouring over the sausage. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the center is firmed. Cool for 5 minutes before serving.

A Merry Christmas to You and Yours from Me and Mine… Enjoy!

in the morning

Somehow I thought there would be more tea and cozy robes…

Welcome to 6 am on a Tuesday morning. Something has just smacked me in the chin and when I open my eyes I find myself staring into the large, brilliant and dark eyes of my two month old son. A look of victory flashes across his infant face before he dissolves into tears. Piteous, moaning, “I really mean this”, morning tears accompanied with much grabbing and banging – he’s starving, fading, waning, expiring and something must be done. I’m not quite coherent as I begin to feed him and check the time. I’ve been asleep for all of two hours. He’s been doing so well with the whole ‘sleeping’ thing, but every so often we hit a bit of a hiccup and neither of us sleeps. This was one of those hiccupy nights. I think of tea and my cozy robe and suddenly enjoy a swell of warmth as I start to fall back asleep, hoping that he will do the same. My little one coos and gurgles and I feel myself reluctantly opening my eyes again. This time he is smiling broadly. His smile has more charm and finesse than you would expect from a person who has no teeth, it’s rather irresistible. I pat his back, hoping a burp will make its way up and realize that the warmth I felt washing over me was not only the thought of tea and coziness – we are both soaking wet. Soaking, I say.

Bruin lies there, smiling his charming, gummy grin, both full and empty in all the right places. I realize at that moment that the morning will be filled with laundry and baths.

For me, breakfast is the hardest meal to deal with. I’ve spoken before about the cruelty I feel is involved with making people cook while still half-asleep, well, how about half-asleep and soaked with an infant who is also half- asleep and soaked? It’s just not going to happen! I’ve lost before I’ve even started.

Let me introduce you to my secret weapon. I actually have *two* secret weapons; the first is called a Rubber Sheet, a magnificent device which is laid down beneath the child to keep the entire bed from becoming damp and needing to be laundered (Ooooooo); the second is called Apple Crisp, a delightful dish that was once only thought of as a dessert option but is now rising with the sun into breakfast glory (Ahhhhhh).  Here’s how I do it…

Firstly, you need apples, about 6-8 cups of peeled, cored and sliced apples. As to peeling, you needn’t be too particular. I figure that as long as I get roughly 55%-67% of the peel off it’s considered good and anything that is left behind is healthful roughage. So there. Add to your apples about 1 Tablespoon of cinnamon, 1/2 teaspoon of nutmeg, 1/4 cup maple syrup and 3 Tablespoons flour. Mix well. Dump the lot into a deep, greased 8″x8″ pan. In your bowl put 1 1/2 cups of rolled oats, 1/2 cup flour, 1/4 cup maple syrup, 2 Tablespoons whole or ground flax seed and 6 Tablespoons of butter. Mix this together until the butter has broken into bits and the texture is something like damp sand (with bits of oatmeal, of course…). Crumble this mixture onto the apples and then slide it into a 350 degree oven for 45 minutes or until the crisp is brown and the apples are bubbling.

There are a couple of  ways you can make this an easy fix in the morning. I bake mine in the evening and serve it for dessert after dinner then simply reheat it in the morning with yogurt, or you could put it together the night before and bake it in the morning. Either way, you have an exceedingly nutritious and delicious morning meal that can be enjoyed with or without tea and a cozy robe. Enjoy!

yes I am this person

I got out my old calculator the other day and figured out that we spend (theoretically) $400+ a year on yogurt – alone. ALONE. That’s a ton of yogurt, but we eat it almost every day in our wicked-healthy-morning-smoothies and there is no way I am giving those up so I decided to crunch some numbers and see what it would cost to make my own yogurt each week.

I am not normally a person who likes to do math, in fact, I will go great distances to *avoid* having anything to do with numbers, but I am a sucker for saving a penny. I admit it – I love to save money. Not like, saving as in not spending it in the first place, but saving as in spending a *little* when you could have spent *a lot*. Beating the system.

Buying in bulk delights my soul, and my own mother can attest to the fact that shopping at the damaged discount food store gives me giddy goosebumps (and she might be the only person on earth who understands why). You would think I had a been set free with  unlimited credit in an upscale fashion boutique. It’s almost embarrassing – but any hesitation I might have (were I a more normal person) disappears the moment I find a slightly dented box of organic, free-range chicken broth for $.99 when I know For A Fact that the same product, undented, would cost $5. It’s all thrills and chills from there on out, my friends. No shame – only Gain.

So – knowing that about me, of course you believe that I actually sat down and figured out what it would cost me to make my own yogurt. Sometimes making things yourself is not always the cheapest way out – sometimes it is the best way in terms of *value*, but it doesn’t always cost *less*. Well, I have good news, very good news. Not only is it cheaper to make my own yogurt (saving us a whopping $250+ per annum) but I can make it fresher and simpler and I dare say Better than the store brand.

Isn’t it wonderful when you actually get rewarded for doing the right thing? Like deciding to make your own organic yogurt and being able to save a couple hundred bucks a year? It’s stinking Awesome – and that’s why I am writing this.

First – the recipe. It’s actually many recipes modge-podged together until I liked it and so far it’s worked pretty well. There’s no telling the difference between my yogurt and the expensive store brand. (So there.)

Yogurt

2 quarts of whole milk; it can be pasteurized, but skip the “ultra-pasteurized” stuff  (I know, I know – “BUT THE FAT!!!” I’m sorry, but milk fat makes good yogurt and happy people and if you scratch under the surface of all those fat labels you will find that there really isn’t that much of a difference between whole milk and 2%… go ahead and get the whole, you’ll thank me.)

1 package (1 Tablespoon) of plain, unflavored gelatin, available in the jello section of your local grocery hang-out (this is to give the yogurt more of a ‘store-bought’ texture, and to add a little protein and gelatin to the finished yogurt, both of which are really good for you.)

6-8 Tablespoons already made plain yogurt (this can be purchased at the store or saved from the last batch you made…)

A 3-4 quart pot for heating the milk

2 sterile (or really, really clean) glass quart containers with lids

a wooden spoon

a funnel (optional, but really handy!)

a candy or cheese thermometer

a small cooler or ice chest for incubating (I have an old two-person picnic cooler…)

Alrighty then. First off, dump the milk into your pot and then sprinkle the package of gelatin over the surface of the milk. Turn on the burner to medium to gently start to heat the milk. Stir the milk so that the gelatin dissolves and the milk doesn’t begin to scorch on the bottom. The milk has to reach between 100 and 110 degrees Fahrenheit, so while you are waiting (in between stirrings…) distribute the yogurt starter between the two jars. When the milk has reached temperature, gently fill the two jars – this is where the funnel comes in handy! Now stir with your wooden spoon so that everything is mixed well and comfy-like. Cap those bad boys and set them in your small cooler.

I’ve read lots of ways to do this part and have honestly only ever done one of them, but it works for me so I haven’t had any inkling to mess with it. I welcome your input and experiences – if something works even better, by all means – share it with the class!

I run hot tap water (about 110 degrees) and fill the cooler so that the jars are in a nice bath up to their shoulders. Then I put the cover on, wait 8 hours and pull them out. Into the fridge they go to set and in the morning we have fresh yogurt for breakfast. Yum.

The gelatin really makes the creamiest consistency which is even better if you wait a whole day, but we haven’t been able to wait to dip into that first jar.

And now for the numbers:

I was purchasing 2 quarts of brand-name organic yogurt a week from the store.

2 quarts= $8.00 a week x 52 weeks = $416.00 a year

Now, here are the figures for the homemade, bear with me now…

I had all of the equipment, which was a bonus

1 gallon of organic milk = $4.00  = $1.00 per quart

1 box plain gelatin (four packets) = $2.20 = $.55 per pack (roughly)

1 container start up yogurt (enough to start 6 quarts of yogurt) = $2.20 = $.40 per quart

So that is an $8.40 start up cost, but I don’t have to buy the gelatin or the starter yogurt every time…

Every quart of homemade yogurt costs me $1.58 to produce. I guess if you want to get hardcore about it (and don’t we all) you could count electricity for the stove and time and the hot water, bringing it up to a generous $2.00 a quart, which is *still* half of what I was paying.

((***It’s still worth it.***))

I know I absolutely geeked-out on this one, but I was too excited not to share.

Do you have some nerdy heart-throb of a money-saving habit you would like to share? Please do…

Eggnog French Toast (in other words, the holidays are over)

The Holidays are over.

And the whole world lets out a sigh. Half of us have already moved on, leaving the glitter of the holiday season for the more reasonable, rational business of Getting Back To Real Life. Others of us still can’t remember what year it is. I am the befuddled resident of this latter category.

Am I the only one who feels utterly confused after all the twinkling lights and sugar-laden foods? I always seem to stumble into January by accident and then can’t find my way around, I can’t remember what day it is or what I am supposed to be doing; for months my mind has been settled on Christmas and now it’s all gone. Sometimes I have to stop in the middle of the road and ask, “Who am I and what am I doing here?” Mostly, I get honked at and people say mean things as they drive by, but they don’t answer my questions. The new year can be somewhat harsh to those of us coming out the thick fog of yule-tide cheer.

It’s times like these when I have to reset. I have to step back and reenter the year without being hungover  with sugar cookies and late nights. I do this best by hiding in my kitchen until things make sense again. The kitchen of any home I’ve ever lived in has been my default haunt, if I could sleep there, I probably would. I feel at home, in control, able and in my right element. After the bustle of December I am happy to drift back into my favorite room, brew a cup of tea and get this show that is my life back up and running.

This is a breakfast I made early this week to ease us back into the swing of things. I love french toast; it is a hearty, homey food that is quick, easy on the budget and easy on my queasy baby stomach. Usually, recipes have you season your dipping mixture with cinnamon, but I decided to try something new. Inspired by the residue of Christmas passed, I added vanilla, some sugar and a little bit of nutmeg to the mix and came up with eggnog french toast. Instant win.

Post-Holiday French Toast

4-6 slices of day-old or older bread

1 1/2 cups milk

2 eggs

2 Tablespoons sugar

1/4 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

butter or oil for frying

This is an excellent use for bread that is about to go or has gone out of usefulness. Don’t misunderstand me, it will not resurrect moldy bread, but a slice that just won’t cut it for peanut butter and jelly might be nigh onto perfect for breakfast.  Didn’t quite finish that loaf of bread you made from the last column? – here’s your solution.

In a wide bowl, mix together the milk, eggs, sugar, vanilla and nutmeg. It may seem like a lot of egg, but I like the fact that it adds a boost of protein much needed in the morning. Whisk all the ingredients well and then heat up your frying pan over medium heat. Add a little oil or butter once the pan is hot.

Dip your slice of bread into the milk and egg mixture, flipping them over once and making sure that it is covered completely. I use a fork to do the flipping and then pick the piece up and let it drip for a moment or two before placing it in the frying pan. Happy sizzling ensues. Each piece will need to cook for 3 or so minutes on one side and then flip them over for another 3 minutes. The toast should be firm and golden brown. Depending on how big your slices of bread are, you should be able to make 4-6 pieces of toast.

Serve hot with lots of butter and warm maple syrup and watch this new year become a more friendly, familiar place! Enjoy…

Hunter’s Breakfast

Here I am, cuddled away under layers of flannel pajamas and an over-sized hooded sweatshirt. The sun is just coming up and the quiet beams of light illuminate the icy stars etched on the window next to my bed. The frost has outlined the glass and framed the world outside like a perfect picture, crimson and orange leaves are waking and shaking off their night’s worth of ice and I can’t help but think of the determined people out among the frost, hunting. My next immediate thought concerns breakfast.

It’s the time of year when people don a contradiction of blaze orange and woodland camouflage and no one thinks anything of it. We see them at gas stations with large, hot coffees, at the diner grabbing a quick bite to eat, or walking along the outlying roads of the town.

I’ve known many hunters and they each have their reasons for gearing up each fall and winter and heading to the wilds. Some like the sense of getting their meat ‘the old way’, some enjoy the solitude, some are thrilled with the sport of it, and then I’ve known some who just really like the taste of wild game.

My husband and I were up visiting some friends in Northern Maine and they served us this delightful breakfast casserole made with moose sausage. It was incredible. Not only was it simple to make and good for a crowd, but it could be made ahead and cooked up when it was needed. I don’t know when I’ve enjoyed a breakfast so much, accompanied by fresh, hot coffee and a cinnamon roll – I felt ready to go out and conquer the wilds myself!

Hunter’s Breakfast Casserole

1/2 pound game sausage

4 eggs

4 slices of bread, cubed

1/2 cup milk

1 cup shredded cheese

1 Tablespoon flour

1 Tablespoon butter

1 teaspoon basil

1/4 – 1/2  teaspoon each salt and pepper

 

*You could very easily substitute regular pork sausage for the game, if you so desired.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease an 8×8 baking dish.

The first step is to brown the sausage in a frying pan, breaking it up into small pieces as it cooks. Once it is thoroughly browned, turn off the heat and scoop out the sausage  onto a plate that has been lined with paper towels. This will help to absorb any excess fat from the sausage, especially if you are using pork. I don’t believe game is as greasy and you might be able to skip this step if yours is dry enough already.

While the sausage is draining and cooling, beat together the milk and eggs in a mixing bowl. Add the flour, salt, pepper and basil, stir well, and then add the bread cubes and shredded cheese. Once everything is mixed, add the cooled sausage and stir once more. Pour the whole thing into your waiting baking dish. Cut the butter into small pieces and place around on top of the casserole.

I usually put the baking dish onto a baking sheet before putting it in the oven, just because the eggs can be a little bit excitable and spill over the sides sometimes. The casserole needs to bake for 30-45 minutes, or until the center of the dish is rather firm.  Remove and let it sit for about 5 minutes before serving.

If you are saving the dish for another day you have two options; you can bake the casserole and let it cool before covering with foil and keeping in the fridge until it is wanted – in which case you would gently heat it up in the oven, covered, at 350 degrees for about 15 minutes, or you can assemble the casserole and *not* cook it, but cover and keep in the fridge to bake in the morning – uncovered.

This meal could easily switch ends of the day and be served as a dinner, just add a cup of cooked spinach, broccoli florets, sauteed onions or bell peppers – you are only limited by your imagination!

Happy Hunting!

 

Make-Ahead Oven Homefries

Because really, who has time to stand over a hot skillet and *fry* the silly things!

Some days I miss living out on the prairie, with my man busting sod all day while I busy myself with bread baking and soap making and chicken feeding. It was a good life, but not exactly the one we enjoy today – and honestly, that’s alright. Our days have gotten so much easier with the invention of electricity and indoor plumbing – I particularly enjoy toilet paper and dishwashing liquid. And who can say that things were better *before* the advent of penicillin and Tylenol?

I’m here to say that there are good things about this modern age, even if it is a bit hedged in by insane busyness, and one of those good things is my oven.

The other night we had our weekly Breakfast for Dinner and I made oven homefries, a mash-up of sorts of oven fries and the hashbrowns you get at the local diner. One of the best kitchen tips I picked up while waitressing is to boil the potatoes before frying them, they cook faster and get crispier that way. Also – I never seasoned them enough. You’ve got to season homefries like you mean it – like you intend to Taste those herbs and spices when everything is said and done.

Oven Homefries

4 potatoes (this number can be easily adjusted to fit a smaller or larger crowd)

Spices

A big pot ‘o’ water

A flat, oven-worthy cooking vessel

Olive oil, or Butter, or preferably Both

Alrighty then.

First thing to do is chop your potatoes into bite-sized, homefry pieces. While you’re doing this, you should have your pot of water on the stove, heating to a boil. It’s up to you whether or not you want to peel your potatoes first,  I like mine a little on the rustic side so I let them keep their skins.

When the water is boiling like mad, add a little salt and then toss in your potato chunks (toss them carefully so as not to bathe thyself in boiling water). You don’t want to cook them all the way – this is important. They’re still going in the oven to bake  *at some point*. This is the lovely part about this process, you can parboil the potatoes any time you wish. I knew that we were going to have a rather frantic evening, so I boiled my potatoes in the morning and let them sit in the fridge all day, ready to be popped into the oven fifteen minutes before dinner. SO easy.

But I digress. The potatoes are boiling for 5-10 minutes, depending on how big your pieces are. You want them to be slightly fork-tender, but not mushy *At All*.

Remove them from the stove and strain them. After they’ve cooled a bit (and most of the wetness on them has evaporated from the heat), you can either put them in the fridge, or if you are going to cook them immediately,  dump them into or onto your oven-worthy cooking vessel.

Turn on your oven to 375 degrees.

Now for the fun part – the seasoning.

I like every sort of season – all at once, but some times just plain old salt and pepper do the trick, it’s up to you. First, however, you have to give the taste something to stick to. This is where the olive oil and/or butter come in. Pour a couple of Tablespoons of oil over the potatoes and stir them around in it, coating them as evenly as you can and allowing some extra for the bottom of the pan so that there is No Sticking. Then, sprinkle on some seasonings. Salt, pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, sage, thyme, oregano, curry powder, basil, rosemary – – the options are endless. My favorite seasoning mix is sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, garlic powder and poultry seasoning (of all things), which is a recipe with its origins lodged in an old folk song, “Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme…”

The whole shibang is going to head into the oven for 15-20 minutes, and half-way through they should be stirred up a bit so they get crispy on all sides.

Yum.

They are definitely house-on-the-prairie-slaved-over-a-cast-iron-skillet-all-day good, without the actual slaving-over-a-cast-iron-skillet part – which is even better.