Tuesday, February 14, 2017

It's all about the LOVE

Over the weekend, Abby and Elise had a little Valentine's worksheet that involved defining "love" according to the dictionary, their parents, best friend, and on their own. They included Anna in this exercise and her response left us all smiling in agreement: "it just makes your heart feel better". 

You're nodding aren't you? Right?!?!?! Toddler speaks the truth... she also takes great pride in her flamingo pose.


Abby and Elise spent the last several days carefully crafting Valentine's for everyone in the family: Anna's had the little pig characters from some of her fave books drawn on it; John's was decorated with pants and referenced reading Harry Potter together; mine had a ball of yarn and crochet hooks. As I was sitting here typing, John walked in the door with handmade dark chocolates and a cherry sour beer from a local brewery. That is love. 


Happy Valentine's Day from our hearts to yours! May you find/do/be/say/see/make something, just even a little something, today and everyday that you LOVE. And, while you're at it, feed your body a little something it will love, like these super tasty and new favorite breakfast cookies!

Crisp and Delish Breakfast Cookies
Adapted from My Darling Vegan: Gluten Free Breakfast Cookies

- 1 C organic rolled oats
- 1/2 C organic almond flour
- 1/2 C organic unsweetened shredded coconut
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp sea salt
- 2 local eggs
- 1/4 C melted coconut oil
- 1/3 C organic creamy peanut butter
- 1/3 C maple syrup
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1/4 C raw pumpkin seeds
- 1/4 C dried fruit (I used chopped pineapple but cranberries would be great!)
- 1/4 C chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix dry ingredents; in a separate bowl mix wet ingredients; add wet to dry and then fold in dried fruit, seeds, and nuts.

Bake for 13-15 minutes or until browned a bit - I made approximately 18 cookies out of this recipe. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Our favorite tiny muffins

The past year has given me a great sense of stability and order: Abby and Elise are settled into school, we have committed to staying in this house to allow them to finish elementary where they started, John's job is a nice balance of work-at-home and out-and-about, Anna is getting great variety in her week with playtime at home, library storytime, playdates, and dance class, and my Baby Sing and Sign gig is strong and steady. With all of those ducks in a row, it allows me the time and mental energy to focus on hobbies and activities that I love... one of which is experimenting in the kitchen. My desire to feed my family real, whole foods never sleeps. ;)

The biggest changes that I've experimented with are using a bigger variety of nut/seed blends and increasing fermented food/drink consumption (lots more to come on that one). I want to share this muffin recipe that has become a staple in the breakfast routine and a favorite among everyone! Abby is not a muffin-eater - she prefers crusty breads and drier baked goods like scones or biscuits. But that kid will eat these muffins until we cut her off!

Pecan Coconut Muffins
Adapted from Deliciously Organic's Pecan Coconut Muffin recipe

- 3/4 C almond flour
- 2 T coconut flour
- 1 1/2 tsp aluminum free baking powder
- 1/4 C coconut sugar or sucanat
- 1/2 C unsweetened shredded coconut
- 5 T unsalted butter
- 1/4 C maple syrup
- 1 1/2 tsp vanilla
- 2 large eggs
- 1 C pecans (chopped or I toss them in the Vitamix until they're crumbly)

*all ingredients are organic and/or local, if possible

- Preheat oven to 350 degrees
- Grease mini-muffin tin with coconut oil; this recipe makes 24 mini muffins and I typically have enough batter left to fill a single regular sized silicone muffin liner, which I just set in the oven beside the muffin tin
- Mix dry ingredients (except pecans)
- In a separate bowl, mix wet ingredients
- Add wet to dry; stir in pecans
- Bake for 11-13 minutes


Thursday, February 2, 2017

New year, new pictures.

As I slowly try and reincorporate blogging into my routine, I'll try and catch up with a few fave photos from the past months... from starting soccer to the annual monarch butterfly crop to a family road trip (Lawrence to St. Louis to Indianapolis) to Halloween shenanigans to holiday traditions.


Abby and Elise LOVED playing soccer and are eagerly awaiting the start of the Spring season. They continue to excel at piano (Elise keeps us moving with "The Entertainer" almost daily and Abby has mastered "Colors of the Wind" with such emotion)... Speaking of piano, I missed their last recital as a certain someone couldn't stay quiet for even 30 seconds and we spent the next 35 minutes in the car. Four of us (sans Anna) read The Hobbit together and then enjoyed movie nights to see it in action - A and E are now working their way through the fourth Harry Potter with John as their nightly read-aloud. They joined student council at school and we got to enjoy a proud parent moment when a teacher from STUCO emailed and used the words "kind" and "mature" and "amazing". Speaking of teachers... third grade will be hard to beat. I practically have to drag Anna away each morning because it is the most inviting, nurturing, and upbeat learning environment (they are in the same class again this year) - the girls have each missed one day of school and even that was too much, in their opinions. I think I can count on one hand the number of times I have NOT done Abby's pigtail braids for school; I can probably count on one hand the number of times I HAVE helped style Elise's hair for school. When fixing lunches each morning, no matter the question ("Do you want a cheese stick or a babybel?"), Elise always answer "I don't care". When Abby is asked, she always answers: "What kind of cheese stick? Is it a white cheddar babybel? Actually, do we have any of the cheese I like from the Merc? Can I have slices of that instead?". This. is. them.


Anna continues to serenade us with "The Twelve Days of Christmas", sometimes loudly in the shopping cart at the store, sometimes quietly through the monitor at night as she yammers endlessly before falling asleep. She was caught marching around Gran and Grandpa's coffee table just last week, chanting "Organize your life! Organize your life!", which is a perfect example of her charismatic personality - she listens to everything around her and we are so entertained by her selective use of certain bits she's heard. I am happy to report that Anna's back-seat driving has subsided... while I thought I was enriching her world with colors and information, little did I know that tuning her into stoplights would result in nonstop directives from the backseat: "Mom, it's green. GO!"... "There's a green arrow. YOUR TURN!"..."It's RED! You can't go on RED!". The latter was the most difficult - toddlers don't seem to quickly grasp "right on red". Sigh... Over the holidays, the official "first movie" was enjoyed and, if you've been with me for awhile, you might remember that Abby and Elise's first movie was "Mary Poppins". While I continue to hold steady on limited to no screen time, Anna's first movie was "Elf". Yes, Will Ferrell. She loved it and told everyone after "Buddy - that's a good name for an elf". At least it followed the real-people rule instead of animation, right?


We took a road trip in October - first stop in St. Louis to see Crazy Uncle Cousin Scotty, Traci, and Uncle Bob. A and E LOVED the apartment John booked for our night there - bunk beds and all... which I think made up for the fact that they had to endure a carsick little sister in St. Louis rush hour traffic shortly before arriving. It was a one-and-done incident, probably thanks to the help of Dramamine thereafter. We hit Fitz's for the world's biggest root beer floats and then spent a good portion of the next day at the zoo. My cousin Scott was a wonderful tour guide and provided unlimited laughter and entertainment.


From there we headed to Indianapolis to see Cousin Mark and Lisa. This was our third trip with Abby and Elise and Anna's first. It is always a weekend of relaxation, wonderful company, fun outings, and 5-star treatment. We went to the Children's Museum, found a couple wonderful playgrounds, and carved/decorated pumpkins.


Halloween brought us Hermione Granger, a Dark Fairy, and a Cat Ghost - how can you argue with those choices????


We are fortunate during the holidays to have ample time free of commitments - with family nearby, we don't travel... John's job allows him to have at least a week off... and we just roll at a steady and slow pace. Anna loved the lighting the "benorah" each night of Hanukkah, she STILL asks to see Christmas lights when we're out after dark, and the taking-down of our tree triggered a meltdown of epic proportion. I think she actually went through each stage of grief over the course of her hour-long episode: sadness, denial, anger... as she was finally calming, I said "I love you", to which she replied "I love you too but I can't talk right now". Tree-trauma aside, 2016 ended quite peacefully.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Continuous Brew Kombucha

Where to even begin... life has been wonderfully full. I'm hopping on here to provide several friends with a kombucha brewing guide, as this has become an important and exciting part of my kitchen. Maybe this little blog bit will bring me back, as I miss this place and would love to return. Until then, ferment and be happy!

Supplies:

- Scoby
- Starter fermented tea (at least 1 C of kombucha that has been first-fermented but not flavored)
- Glass brewing vessel: For continuous brew, I use this Glass Jar with a Spigot, which I then replaced the spigot with a Stainless Steel Spigot
- Tea - I use loose leaf but bags would make it even simpler as you wouldn't have the added step of straining out leaves (see below)
- Filtered water - I use reverse osmosis filtered water
- 1/2 Gallon mason jar (used to cool tea after it's brewed)
- Pot, strainer, coffee filters, bamboo chopsticks (used for stirring when needed - do not use metal in brew vessel with the scoby)

Step One: Make sweetened tea (which will be added to brew vessel to replace kombucha that is bottled for second ferment - I make 1/2 gallon of sweet tea at least once per week, sometimes twice
- Bring 7-8 C filtered water to boil
- Add 3 T loose leaf tea (jasmine green is my fave)
- Remove from heat, stir (I use a bamboo chopstick), and let steep for 4 minutes
- Strain out leaves - I pour the entire contents of the pot through a strainer first into a large pyrex measuring cup
- Then I pour that through the strainer with a coffee filter in it to ensure that small tea leaves are removed
- This final tea is then poured into a 1/2 gallon mason jar, with 1/2 - 3/4 C organic cane sugar in the bottom, which I swirl as I pour to dissolve the sugar
- Allow to cool to room temp before adding to brew vessel (I often make mine in the evening and let it sit over night)



Step Two:

- Clean glass brewing vessel, rinse with vinegar, rinse with filtered water, dry.
- Rinse hands with vinegar before handling your scoby 
- Place scoby, 1 C kombucha (plain, not flavored), and 1/2 gallon cooled sweetened tea into brew vessel
- Cover top with dishcloth and secure with rubber band 
- Leave, undisturbed, for 5-7 days
- This is part of the initial, first-time set up process

Step Three:

- After 5-7 days, add another 1/2 gallon sweet tea
- Cover
- Leave, undisturbed for 5-7 days
- After a a total of 10-14 days, begin tasting for level of sweetness versus fermented taste
- This is part of the initial, first-time set up process



Step Four:

- Once first ferment has reached your preferred level of sweet versus tartness, it is ready to second ferment
- In a 16 ounce swing top bottle, add desired flavor. My favorites include:
  • 1/4 C fresh organic lemon juice (second ferment 3-4 days)
  • 1/4 C fresh organic grapefruit juice + 1/2 tsp organic cane sugar (second ferment 2 days)
  • 1/4 C fresh organic lemon juice + 1-2 organic strawberries, quartered (second ferment 3-4 days)
  • 1/4 C thinly sliced fresh organic pineapple (second ferment at least 24 hours)
- Using a bamboo chopstick, slide in beside the surface scoby and stir like crazy! Churn up all the yeast that has settled on the bottom so that some of it pours out each time you fill bottles thus ensuring that you don't get too much yeast build up in the brew vessel
- Fill bottles within 1 to 1/2 inches of top
- Seal and place in a cabinet until ready



Step Five:

- Brew sweetened tea in the amount that you removed and fill brew vessel once cool: if I fill 3 bottles, that is equal to 1/2 gallon so I pour the entire 1/2 gallon mason jar into the brew vessel. You can just pour this into the top, over the scoby. I sometimes use a bamboo chopstick and give it a stir just to incorporate
- Once your brew vessel has been going for a bit and the kombucha is strong, you can taste after 2-5 days and bottle again as soon it reaches your liking

Tips:

- Again, no metal should come in contact with scoby or the kombucha in the brew vessel (except stainless steel spigot)
- Rinse hands or containers with vinegar before handling the scoby
- Always remember to stir the kombucha in the brew vessel before bottling - really give that settled yeast a good whirl each time
- Second ferment: you can "burp" bottles by opening slowly and releasing pressure either to check if they're ready or to just know how much they're going to explode when opened! 
- Second ferment: refrigeration will stop fermentation, which means flavor will remain as is as no more sugar will be consumed by the bacteria HOWEVER refrigeration also halts carbonation because yeast activity stops. If you refrigerate, bottles will re-carbonate if removed and set at room temperature for an hour or so before opening. I rarely refrigerate - I typically drink half of a 16 ounce bottle per day and place the remaining back into the cabinet. Some flavors will build a great deal of pressure in 24 hours and some will be fine for 48 hours. The more open space in the bottle, the greater the pressure that can build because of the sheer air-space available for carbon dioxide to fill.

Once your system is up and running, it is so. simple. Brew sweetened tea and let it cool. Fill swing top bottles. Top off brew vessel. Drink after second ferment. Repeat. My continuous brew jar has been going for 6+ months now and I have not thinned the scoby or emptied/cleaned the jar - I may do that soon but everything is happy and delicious for now. 


Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Off they go - THIRD grade!

These two celebrated their 8th birthday last month. And now on the eve of their first day of third grade, not a day passes that I don't catch them intertwined in each other's business. They are like magnets - sometimes repelling each other with great intensity but, in an instant, drawn back together where they happily remain.


Abba Zabba... You have spent countless hours over the past year perfecting your handwriting. It's really lovely. You read faster than I can do anything. Really. The minute anything starts happening in the kitchen, you are underfoot: "Can I help???". You have mastered the new espresso machine and, while your energy level is absolutely fine uncaffeinated, Daddy and I are enjoying your budding barista services. You read Anna 14 books straight one night so I could finish dishes and take a shower. And that's not an unusual occurrence. Your hair is long and you like pigtail braids almost everyday, unless I'm willing to blow-dry/straighten (which I've only done twice. ever.) because you really wish your hair was straight. You asked for Gran to make crab legs for your birthday Sunday dinner - the amount of crab you cracked yourself and consumed was incredible. Well done. Anna's trip to the potty, the date/time of my next Baby Sing and Sign class, Elise's scraped knee, Daddy's work schedule... EVERYTHING concerns you. ;) Your latest daily activity involves keeping a detailed record of each day - no minute shall go undocumented with you around. That is the epitome of YOU: attentive and particular with a side of sensitivity.


Elise, aka "Huggy Bear"... Your dedication to making rainbow loom bracelets/pencil toppers/macarons/poptarts/dancers has blown us away. We should be selling your goods. ;) You are reckless in ways that lead to frequent scrapes and bruises but also in ways that give you the needed gumption to leap off the diving board like a pro. You are the current go-to in the car to ride beside Anna - she's not always the most polite of little people as a passenger and we appreciate your ability to ignore as needed, even when she's digging her toes into your arm. Sorry about that and thank you. You are in a cheeseburger phase of life and we dined out for your birthday at a restaurant chosen specifically for the burgers. That choice, combined with your recent affinity for making up knock-knock jokes ("knock, knock"... "who's there?"... "oliver"... "oliver who?"... "oliver our lights are on!"), proves that you are your Daddy's daughter. ;) Your drawings of characters are becoming detailed beyond belief, with such intricate lips and names like "Kukaquola Tamata".
The entire family has recently started busting out your amazing happy dance and it's the epitome of YOU: confident and carefree with a side of silly.


What I want you both to know is that, because of you, I have all but forgotten what it feels like to be lonely. Just your absence when you spend a night at Gran and Grandpa's changes the entire feel of our house. As you head off to school tomorrow, you will be so incredibly missed. I am not in a season of life right now that craves "me" time. I crave "us" time. And because of that, this summer was damn near perfect. Daddy's flexible work schedule combined with our commitment to under-scheduling gave us family time at the pool, family time at the library, family time at the farmer's market, and slow mornings, lazy afternoons, and dinner around the kitchen table together nearly nightly.


It was the summer of Ace of Cakes during naptime, memorizing Go Away by Weezer, handstand competitions at the pool, hosting your first slumber party (the two of you plus a friend), and reading The Hobbit with Daddy.


My mama heart swells with happiness knowing that you'll be in the same class again together. You both have the ability, like magnets, to break free and stand on your own with such power but when you are reunited, it is a force to be reckoned with.


Off you go my third graders! Do your thing and then hurry home... "We" are incomplete without you!


Monday, June 6, 2016

And she's TWO!

There is no better occasion to return to this place of memories than a birthday. Two. Two years since we became a family of five. Two years since they placed our third baby girl into our arms. Two years since the big girls became the big girls. Two. years. old.


Dear, sweet Anna baby... you are a walking, non-stop talking, never-a-dull-moment, notice-everything, engaged-with-life toddler. You wake up with a "Momma, come get the baby!!!" (often referring to yourself as "the baby", much as we still do), followed by "Hey Daddy! Whatcha doin? You shaving?", and then "Good morning, Abby! Good morning, Elise! May I come sit with you in the green chair?". Next it's "Momma, I'm HUNGRY! Can I have a waffle?" and "Look! I have a teeny tiny blueberry". You stopped a stranger on the street, asked her what was in the to-go box she was carrying, and when she told you it was a slice of pie, you're face lit up as you said "Ohhhh, that will be SO delicious!". This stranger then gave you her fresh piece of pie because she was overwhelmed with your response. You walked to the car, carrying the box, saying "Momma, let's go home and eat some pie!". 


Your manners are often pristine, very carefully enunciating "May I have another peanut butter cracker PLEASE" or "Excuse me, Grandpa" (squeezing past to throw away a kleenex) and "When you're done, would you please read a book to me?". You LOVE storytime at the library, galavanting through the house saying "I'm dancing about Michael... I'm so excited about Michael" at the mere mention. Your first toddler mommy-and-me dance class at the Art Center has been a treat, watching you share, participate, take turns, and squirrel around like the "goof goof baby" that you are! (That's what Abby calls you). 


I couldn't choose a favorite food for you because you happily eat it all - just in the past month you FINALLY took a liking to avocado, which makes this momma so relieved. 


You answer nearly all questions with "how come?", such as "Anna, let's put jammies on!"... "How come?"... "Anna, it's time to come to the table!"... "How come?"... "Anna, go pick out two books to read!"... "How come?". Get the idea? Your other favorite phrase is "But how can we do that?" as in "Anna, have good manners for momma while we change your diaper"... "But how can we do that?". It's really quite hard to keep a serious face when you put it that way. ;) 


After a bout with the stomach flu, you had a little lego bird upside down in a little lego bucket, saying "Look! He's getting all the yuckies out of his mouth!". You picked up two stomach bugs just 6 weeks apart, which we didn't see coming as it had been at least 6 months since you'd even had a runny nose. You managed to find the humor in the situation by cracking yourself (and us) up with "Hey Daddy! Knock knock?"... and your punch line response to "Who's there?"  was "PUKE"! During the second round of stomach stuff (23 months old) you got a taste of your first screen time - one episode of Sesame Street. In two years, you have had less than two hours TOTAL of any kind of screen time. I feel so strongly that your ability to play, interact, self-entertain, and communicate are very much a result of that parenting choice. Clearly, like your sisters, you are handling the screen time deprivation just fine. ;) 


You love books, your felt board, coloring, playing with little tiny toys, destroying arranging the dollhouses, watering and rearranging your fairy gardens, building with blocks, drawing with chalk on the driveway, riding in the stroller while I run, snuggling up and reading books with Daddy, dancing and dressing up with Abby and Elise... You are easy to entertain and so very, very entertaining. 


We find ourselves often stifling laughter when you do get angry: if we ask you to clean up, you might drop your toy on the floor, give us your best scowl, and say "She threw it on the floor", again, referring to yourself as "she". More recently, you've become rather fond of the phrase "I will not" instead of just saying "no". Again, quite polite and proper but it is a treat when you say "I will" instead. I thank you for deferring to the serious, silent anger rather than a tantrum. 


A recent conversation between the two of us will forever hold it's place in my mommy memories. 

Me: "Anna, what does Daddy say to you?"
Anna: in a deep Daddy voice "Good night, sleep tight"
Me: "What does Abby say to you?"
Anna: "Good night Anna banana"
Me: "What does Elise say to you?"
Anna: "Good night Anna banana"
Me: "What does Momma say to you?"
Anna: "Goodnight... LAY DOWN!"

I've made a conscientious effort since to silently tuck you back in on those nights when your legs are flailing about through the crib, banging against the wall while you sing yourself to sleep... You love to sing "Mr. Sun" and "The Pina Colada Song" (yes, the one about being caught in the rain).


The relationship between you, Abby, and Elise is amazing. I want you to know that, at two years, your big sisters NEVER get upset with you. And do you know why? Because the second you turn on the tears, any impending battle instantly ends. Abby swoops in at the slightest whimper or reprimand to rescue you. As fast as she might have withheld a prized possession from you, she hands it right over if you show signs of distress. Elise, on the other hand, may not be your knight in shining armor, but if I had a dollar for every time she approaches you and says "Do you know what I need?", which is her way of asking for a squeeze... The mutual love and adoration between you and "the big girls" is just. the. best. 



I referred to you over the weekend as our "grand finale" and you treat everyday as if it is so incredibly grand. We couldn't have a better finale for our five! Happy Birthday, Anna!


Saturday, January 2, 2016

My fond farewell to 2015


Dear 2015,

You were a good year. My notes are few and far between about your goings-on over the past several months, but the pictures that remain tell every story I might have needed to remember. 

During your reign, Anna turned 18 (and then 19) months... if only these pictures could talk, as this little person does nonstop. She counts to ten, sings the "ABCs", "Twinkle Twinkle", "Frosty the Snowman", "Hush Little Baby", "Chicka Chicka Boom Boom" while rarely missing a word, recites at least a dozen books from memory while flipping pages, accurately identifies her sisters 100% of the time, has lots of "Daddy-isms" like "Boom shaka-laka" and "Oh no you didn't!", uses "No thank you" anytime a less-preferred activity is about to happen, such as a request to come for a diaper change... This little person is aware of others more than I can grasp. She learns names immediately and then proceeds to use them - just today, we thanked the salesperson at the furniture store who had introduced himself to us once, and as we walked away, Anna yelled back "Goodbye Jeff!". I know, right?!?!?! From her carseat, she'll ask everyone in the car if they're cozy: "Daddy, you cozy? Momma, you cozy? Abby, you cozy? Elise, you cozy?". Naps are a breeze, bedtime is a breeze, meals are a breeze. And when something doesn't go her way, the three-stooges-like dancing, prancing, hopping that ensues is so damn cute that a mini melt-down is hardly a nuisance. Thank you, 2015, for allowing Anna to bloom and blossom into a toddler with opinions and attitude, charisma and curiosity, compassion and love.


Our big transition of 2014 was Anna's arrival... our big transition of 2015 was the start of public school. The mornings were rushed, the days felt long, the evenings were too short, and the weekends were treasured. By Halloween, we'd finally found our groove. And this pic pretty much sums up the whole transition: one of our ladies came out defensive and shooting while the other came out carefree and dancing. But the smiling faces are the outcome: proud, confident, and successful. Thank you, 2015, for giving us the strength to embark on a journey that rocked the socks off the world that we'd known for seven years. 


2015 was full of outdoor time...


The Fall was full of pumpkins and friends...



With the big girls gone, the little one and I fell even more in love with the closeness of one another...


From laser tag to fishing, theater-going to movie-going, and a little Harry Potter in between, the big girls bid 2015 a fun-filled farewell...


The best gift of all this holiday season was the solid two-week break from life: the girls were out of school, John was off work, and the daily grind came to a screeching halt. It. was. glorious.


Christmas morning...


Thanks for a great year, 2015. Enjoy one last pic of the only member of our household who somehow missed all of the other photo ops. ;)  Here's hoping no one gets excluded in 2016!