Friday, October 26, 2007

Brush Painting

This is a brush calligraphy set given to me by my dear chum Emily once upon a time. She brought it back with her from China. Thank you, Emily. It is really a wonderful little thing. Inside this lovely, silk-covered box, is a complete set for brush and ink work.
Gibbie is learning to do it too. His first job is to take each component out of the box, and set them up around his pad of paper. I fill the tiny water bowl with water. He uses the delicate spoon to move the water into the stone basin where it will be made into ink. Then we take the stick of compressed pigment, and grind it on the stone until we have a good amount of nice, black ink.There is a special porcelain stand upon which to rest the brushes, and places in the case for each brush. One brush has been designated as Gibbie's. I've noticed the most difficult thing for small children in painting is not destroying brushes. He's working hard on this, but still, just in case... I love this painting set because it is self contained (here we are using it at a local coffee shop) and very high quality, and getting to take out all the parts and mix the ink ourselves is an enjoyable part of the process rather than a chore.

I learned a lot more about Chinese calligraphy, and painting when I studied it in college. Enough to feel almost unworthy of taking a brush in my hand!

Oh, and the best part is the little chop, the stone carved stamp with which the artist marks her work. Emily tells me that mine is carved with the phonetic syllables of my name. Pressing the chop into the greasy red inkpot and making that clear, bright red square on his white paper is the best part.


Tada! Don't you love it?

What is it? Ummm..... Well, to be honest, I don't exactly remember. I do remember that when Gibbie made it, he worked on it for quite a while and I thought it was a magnificent piece of architecture. I also recall that it had something to do with cats. It may have been a cat house, or a nest for a cat.

Isn't it gorgeous?

Family Coffee Date: Swede Hollow Cafe

One of our very favorite spots to come as a family is Swede Hollow Cafe. It's on East Seventh, just up the hill from Metropolitan State University. It's not open in the evenings so much, but is a great place to come earlier in the day.What we love about our beloved Swede Hollow Cafe:
-beautiful outdoor seating, including: >a great fountain. Good for kids to play by/in when it's nice out! I like the sculptural faces on it as well.
>a community-run vegetable garden.
>a big, terraced rain garden of native plants and wildflowers--so fun for the kids. there's a little path to follow, and low, wide stone walls to walk on.
>ample outdoor seating
>poetry on rocks and a little door behind which to put your own poetry.
>in close walking distance to Swede Hollow park, which has good plant life, forest, a big tunnel, an old train bridge, a little stream running into still pools of water, lots of steps, a rock-sculpture area, some wetland area, an echo-y tunnel, sumac, touch-me-not, cattails, groundnuts, willow, and all kinds of other fun things.
-good coffee
-great house-made baked goods. I recommend the fruit cobbler, scones, and caramel rolls
-little piece of chocolate comes with espresso drinks
-very kind and considerate proprietor
-atmosphere-Swede Hollow is sun-drenched with a worn, wide-planked wood floor. It's not huge, and doesn't have couches, but while we've always been able to find a table, it's also always busy enough to have private conversations.
-has a high chair
-manages to be both very tasteful and unpretentious

Swede Hollow is one of those places we drove past for years before we actually stopped there, every time thinking it looked like such a promising place. When we can, we come here every week. The only thing we wish is that they were open more later in the evenings. On the rare occasions we have coffee shop time in the evenings, I'd love to go there, either for live music, or for time alone with the kids.

We actually frequented Swede Hollow Cafe for most of the winter last year. We bundled up the whole family in long underwear, sweaters, mittens; the works. We would take a hike, mostly with the kids wrapped on our backs, and then trudge up the big hill for hot chocolate, coffee, and scones at the cafe.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Loverly Yarn

More of this gift yarn, so beautiful!
This is a soft wool-mohair blend. It's silky, prettily shiny, rainbowy, and downright Waldorfy! I'm making it into a dreamy gift for a certain little girl I know.

The lady in the yarn shop said to use it to make a felted bag, as I didn't have enough for a very big project and don't want to use it for hats and mittens. As soon as I knit a swatch, however, I knew that I couldn't allow this lovely stuff to be felted! All matted up and muddled, imagine! I will allow no such thing.

I found that garter stitch shows off the texture, glossiness, and colors of the yarn better than stockinette, so one thing led to another and the perfect use just showed itself. More to come.

Advanced babywearing: two at once!

There is a beautiful photo in Mothering Magazine's babywearing issue of a mother wearing her little ones, who even look around the same ages as mine, one in front and one in back, using one long piece of fabric. I have tried and tried to the same, and finally have succeeded. Really, it's too much weight, and the front child's isn't distributed as nicely as I would like, but Gibbie loved this carry. He requests it all the time!

The key is using a very long wrap and putting the back child on first. With the back wrap, like the one in my tutorial, completed, take the extra straps and make a criss-cross seat for the front child, tying them to lower straps instead of to eachother. Adjust as necessary!

Recommended for strength training and masochists.

Butternuts and Black Walnuts

I had hoped these were butternuts, but I think they are black walnuts. They are closely related. Butternuts are supposed to be football-shaped and these are pretty round. I am looking for butternut trees everywhere, but haven't found any that can be confirmed as such, alas.

I really want to eat the nuts! Both butternuts and walnuts can be used to make dye or ink from the black stuff in the husks--see it above? Pretty yucky.

We (Gibbie and Mama) cracked open these husks with a hammer. That was fun. They break open and you can take the nuts out. Then you let the nuts cure for a few months and shell them. When I open the nuts, it will be undeniably obvious whether they are butternuts of walnuts. Butternuts are threatened by a black canker that kills the trees. Pretty sad.We were not very smart about this, however. After whacking the husks off, we left our little pile of nuts just next to our car. Not very surprisingly, when we returned from our walk in the woods, a squirrel (or other enterprising creature?) had carried off half of them. I thought they were too unappealing for anybody to take them, but forgot about our little beasty neighbors.

Butternuts supposedly have a sweet banana-vanilla-nutty flavor when they are let to cure without their husks. I figure if I keep looking I'll find a good butternut tree eventually. If you have one to recommend, and are sick of all those pesky, wormy, nuts falling in your yard and staining your sidewalk and patio, hey--let me know and I'll come clean them up for you!

Knowing the plants

It was a great moment for me when Gibbie, seeing staghorn sumac with it's drying flower clusters pointing up all over, said, "hey, that looks like fruit!" What kind of fruit, we asked? And he said, "Sumac!" I was particularly proud because the sumac flowers we have gathered looked very different from these, because these had all lost their leaves. Yup, we've been making a tasty juice from the flower clusters, and he's even developed an appreciation for licking the sour fuzzy flowers.
I do hope the kids grow up knowing how to read the land and plants. In the above photo, you can see dozens of different plants. I don't so much care if he knows all their names (I sure don't!) but I'd like to teach him, and learn together, and I'm sure eventually learn from him, all about them. Know how to make baskets from the bark of the white trees, as he calls them. Know how to eat the different parts of the milkweed plant during different seasons. We can dig the wild parsnip, and look forward to the raspberry and blackberry seasons in their turns. We will look around for the jewelweed when we get a nettle's sting and pop the seeds out at each other in the late summer when the pods are spring-loaded.
Here Gibbie is enjoying the tactile beauty of the ready milkweed seeds. Soon he will scatter them in the breeze, as any happy person will.

Fall is a great time for gathering basket supplies; we collected willow and cattail. They are drying on the porch, if one can call it drying with all this rain! I look forward to weaving them up into beautiful and useful things when we are stuck inside later in the year. That's the great beauty of this world; In the plants, seemingly dying back in the fall, are the stores for new life, promises of fresh vigor and growth next year, and abundant material for wild and artisinal beauty. This world is so made that in a deeper sense than I can grasp, dead things are always and everywhere coming to life, greater and better than before they fell. I am thinking of the food we eat, the seeds we sow, the troubled lives we live, and Christ himself.

Woodstoves, Purlieu Stew, and Carmelized Onions

One of the things we most love about Purlieu is the rawness of it. I realize I have some romantic ideas about farming, simple living, poverty, and the "olden days", but man, do I ever love cooking on a woodstove! Really, there's nothing pretentious about this cabin; it's very simple and practical and I think those things make it beautiful though it's not fancy at all. Of course, I also grew up coming here and can't remember not loving the cabin and everything about it. Unknowingly, growing to love the same land my dear Paul does.
Chris, who built this cabin, has two woodstoves. The little one in the pit is the primary heat stove. Paul stoked it several times each night to keep us cozy. It is great to put a big kettle of water on top of this stove for dishes, bathing, or hot drinks. We also cooked potatoes and squash right on the coals inside. Yum! We fuel it with wood that Chris mostly chops from downed trees on the property, and the ashes go into the outhouse, completing the cycle. If we lived here, I bet we could use those ashes to make soap and fertilize the garden.
There is nothing like sitting in front of a roaring fire on a chilly rainy day, which we had plenty of.

I don't think of it as roughing it, though we sure have more amenities at our home in the cities, because if I could, I would prefer to live like this.
This range has gas burners, powered by a propane tank, plus an oven and hot plates heated with a fire box. I loved cooking on it! We had hash browns, pancakes, and a killer squash stew:

Bake squash (we used a small butternut) and potatoes in the oven or fireplace if the fire's going.
Dredge lamb stew meat in flour (pancake mix also works just fine!) Saute in olive oil or butter with chopped onions till onions are tender and meat is brown.
Continue to saute gently whilst seasoning with whatever's around: I used dried tarragon, parsley, garlic, salt, pepper, and bay leaves.
Add squash, potatoes and water and continue cooking and tasting until it's just right.
For a vegetarian version, I would simply omit the meat and use a bunch of fresh basil.

Another smashing success I had on the range was the carmelized onions. These would be a fine garnish for a plain soup or stew, and are great on burgers, vegetables, or baked potatoes, and are very simple to make.
Carmelized onions:
Saute chopped onions (they're in season right now here, and available from local farmers) in butter, without browning until tender. Pour a decent glosh of water in the pan and stir as the water evaporates. Repeat until onions are brown and delicious.

This works like magic. I don't know why, but pouring water on the onions makes the sugars in them carmelize. It seems counter-intuitive that they would get all brown and sweet with the addition of cold water, but it works! They are especially good for giving depth to mild foods, useful when converting a meat recipe to a vegetable-only one, or when cooking a soup or stew without a good broth base.
I've only ever cooked these, like I cook almost everything, in a heavy cast iron skillet. I don't know if it would work as well in an aluminum pot.

Our Fall Vacation

Here's a look at our fall vacation. I took last week off from work and we went to the Perlieu cabin, and then Libby's grandparent's place near Battle Lake, MN. We'll write more about the trip itself when we can, but for now just enjoy the photos!

(If the slideshow doesn't work for you, here's a link to the photo album.)

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Goat Milk Latte!

This is something I've allways wanted to try. Coffee shops are known for having too many choices (size, flavor, drink type, etc.). Milk is one of those choices. "Would you like that latte with whole, skim, 2%, soy, rice ...?" Why not goat milk? I've joked about it in the past, but now thanks to a free sample from a local dary company, I got to try it!

I'd never had goat milk before, so I tasted a bit of the cold stuff before starting the latte. It didn't taste like cow's milk, but it wasn't that weird either. It felt thinner than whole milk.
Steaming it went pretty well. The microfoam was nice and tight. It poured really well, though I ended up making a little more foam than I'd expected. That makes sense if it's not as fatty as whole cow's milk. The foam seemed to break down a little quicker than cow's which lead to a somewhat embossed looking rosetta after a couple of sips (pictured above).

How did it taste? Good! At first I couldn't really tell that it was an unusual latte. After getting past the initial crema and cooling a bit, there was a little more "goaty" taste, but certainly not as much as the straight cold goat's milk.

I'd say it was a great success. In my mind it tasted way better than soy or rice. The steaming characteristics were much more favorable than these milk substitutes. I think the hardest part is selling it to the customers - getting past the weirdness factor.

I had two takers this morning.

ps - Sorry about the crummy image quality. I only had my phone with me to document this event!

Monday, October 1, 2007

Sweet Corn!

These are from a few weeks ago--we had the summer's best sweet corn! For sweet corn, there's no substitute for getting it juicy-fresh from the farmers' market. What's the phrase? You pick the corn and run--don't walk!--to the kitchen with it?
Yeah, we do love our corn. Look at the fine, thorough job he's doing on that cob. Ezra sure can clean off an ear too.
They both can't stand waiting for it to cool off after it's cooked. We've taken to dunking half an ear in cold water for a minute, as it can take a mouth-wateringly long time to cool otherwise.
When it's good, it doesn't even need butter or salt.

This is the way the Babies Ride

I s'pose these rhymes are old as the hills, as I learned them on my Grandma's knees. Our kids like them too! This first is a rhyme for bouncing baby (or any little one) on the knees. On the last verse, baby leans back upside down. I've found I know right away whether or not a babe is ready for this kind of fun.

This is the way the children ride--clip...clop...clip....clop...
This is the way the ladies ride--trit, trop, trit, trot...
This is the way the gentleman ride-- trim trim trim trim trim...
This is the way the huntsman ride--gallupa-gallupa-gallupa-gallupa...
This is the way the farmers ride! GALLUPA! GALLUPA! GALLUPA! GALLUPA!
and THIS is the way the BABIES ride-- Wheeeeeeee! Wheeeeeeee! Wheeeeeee!
And there's one for tickling little feet. I stick my finger into the sole of the lil foot as if sticking in nails during the first bit, and slap the soles of the feet at the very end.
Stick a nail here, stick a nail there,
Stick a nail here, stick a nail there,
Shoe the old horsey, shoe the old mare,
but let the little pony go bare, go bare!
Of course, we have a little sing-song-y way of doing each rhyme. Sure, it's a lesson in rhyming, vocabulary, metered verse, memorization, music, rhythm. Primarily, though, it's a chance to laugh and giggle and squeal; and that's good for everyone. Right now, the older brother in the house is particularly delighted with anything that makes the little brother laugh and laugh, and the little one lives to make his brother do just that.
Ride a cock-horse to Banbury Cross,
Meet a fine lady upon a white horse;
with Rings on her fingers and bells on her toes,
she shall have music wherever she goes!

The very first day of school

A few weeks ago Gibbie had his very first day of school. Ever. We have found a school we are excited about and think will be a really good match for our kids and our family. It's north of us a ways; actually it's farther away from us than anything we regularly do, and isn't accessible to us by bus. That was a real bummer and we almost didn't even consider it just because of that. But then we visited, and they won our hearts.

The school is called Hand in Hand. It's not a conventional school at all, but a new educational model here in Minnesota, they call it a christian montessori homeschooling academy. Gibbie's program is just one short morning a week. He is, after all, only two. We are in the Family Preschool, which is an early childhood family education program. This means it is for very young children and there is a component for parents and children together in the classroom as well as a time when the parents leave the children in the classroom and go to a separate parent education session. We visited last year and Gibbie loved it. ("I'm gonna go to Hand-a-Hand-a-Hand. That's my school.) Then we visited this summer and Paul loved it too. Normally Paul works on the morning of school, but we are hoping he will be able to semi-regularly take the day off so he can come to Hand in Hand too.
Some details about Gibbie's class at Hand in Hand:
-There are nine children in his class
-His teachers are "Mrs. Ronnie" and "Miss Greta" and we like them.
-He shakes hands with them every day when we arrive.
-We are excited about getting to know the other parents. They are a neat group of people.
-His classroom has windows outside.
-He has his own cubby.
-He has his own bag of musical instruments. (He picked the yellow bag. The music program at Hand in Hand is excellent! We all love it. There will be a big holiday music program to look forward to.)
-Ezra has a class also; there is a special nursery for him, and a music class for him. (So far, we haven't left him there yet and he has enjoyed staying with Mama and Gibbie, and participating as much as he can in Gibbie's music class!)
-His classroom has a lovely reading corner.
-In class, he can help himself to water anytime he wants.

This is Gibbie in his new school clothes. He has a special Hand In Hand sweater also but we haven't used it yet, as it's not been cold enough to need it. He wears a collared shirt in white, blue, or red, with navy blue or khaki pants, and can't wear sneakers, but real nice school shoes.
He is also sporting a great belt we got at a nice little store on Randolph Avenue, Practical Goods. It's leather with colored beading and he really likes it!
In this picture, Gibbie is relaxing because we have just gotten home from school. Like most of us when we were just starting school, he seems to like it but is pretty nervous when we're getting ready to go in the morning. We talk and pray together about this, and it's going really well.