Thursday, March 31, 2011

simply satisfying

Today, I'm sharing another recipe that came to me from my sister. It seems that every few months, I find myself in a food rut, unable to come up with something new or enticing to cook, stuck making the same meals week after week. That's when I call my sister (well, aside from our usual every morning phone call) to get some inspiration. A while back, she offered this gem. It's quick to prepare, the ingredients are usually on hand and everyone enjoys it.

Tortellini Soup

2 tsp. olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 cloves minced garlic
3 1/2 cup stock or broth (chicken or vegetable)
1 can diced tomatoes (undrained)
1 1/2 tsp. dried basil
10 oz. frozen spinach
2 cups tortellini

Saute onion and garlic in olive oil. Add stock, tomatoes with juice and basil. Bring to simmer and add spinach and tortellini. Cook until tortellini are done. Serve topped with grated parmesan.

There are few recipes I find to be as simple and satisfying as this one.

This post is part of today's Pennywise Platter at The Nourishing Gourmet.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

making plans

We've been busy making lots of plans for things to come around here. It's an exciting kind of undertaking that involves lots of referencing of books, scratching of heads, pencils and papers and time spent staring out the windows.

It involves late night sessions with lumber and drills.

And includes many trial runs (and errors).

A few redesigns, a few scratched ideas, but we are eagerly moving forward in our planning nonetheless. The kids are busy at it, too, making plans for the visions swimming around in their heads as well.

We're looking forward to sharing the final versions of all these plans in the weeks and months to come!

Monday, March 28, 2011

from the weekend

This weekend we attended InHome, the annual home educator conference held here in Illinois. The event is full of great workshops for all ages, wonderful presenters and all the fun that comes with staying at a resort for a few days. The kids had been counting down to the conference for weeks, while Matt and I hurried about getting ready for the workshops we were presenting, wondering just why we had committed to all this again. After all, don't our kids already get lots of time to spend with friends, engaging in enriching classes and activities? Don't we already know all the reasons we chose to homeschool? Isn't there plenty of work for us here without driving someplace else to make more? While I tried not to let on, I was not looking forward to attending the conference this year. The kids' excitement was contagious, though, and by the time we were packed and on the road Thursday evening, we were all looking forward to the days ahead.

While the schedule was full of performances, workshops and presentations, there was time for fun, for swimming with friends and for enjoying the sights.

There was time for strolling among the varied exhibitors and falling in love with the local Esther's Place Farm and Fiber Arts Studio.

There was lots of walking back and forth across the span of the resort, leaving plenty of time for sleepy eyes to rest snug in the sling.

As well as a fair share of wandering down Bourbon Street, the New Orleans themed section of the resort, home to the popular game room and ice cream parlor.

And let's not forget the time spent just being silly.

I'm not sure why we were hesitant about going this year. We all truly enjoyed ourselves and felt part of a great community of familiar people. We watched that community grow as we met new families.

I was glad to attend some of the adult workshops, getting to hear some really influential speakers that helped to reassure and encourage the choices we have made in educating our children. A few highlights:

Scott Noelle, father, author, homeschooler and founder of Enjoy Parenting spoke about taking the stress and worry out of educating our kids. Through his site, you can subscribe to his "daily groove," which delivers a short, inspiring message five days a week to help guide parents to joyful parenting.

Pat Farenga spoke about unschooling and whether it really works. With his incredible history working within the modern homeschool movement and continuing the work of John Holt, he was able to provide solid information and encourage this holistic approach to life-long learning.

I also listened to David Albert speak about handling the challenges we face in comparing our own traditional educations with the version we are offering our kids.

And there were many more incredible presenters joining the conference this year that we didn't get a chance to hear speak. The kids left the weekend feeling content, fulfilled and exhausted; I left feeling recharged and encouraged; Matt is already making plans for new workshops to present next year. I'm feeling a great deal of gratitude for where we are as a family, for the people we know, the experiences we have and the time we spend together.

I'm officially looking forward to doing it all again next year.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

tapped out

The warmer weather has brought an end to the sugaring around here. The sap has stopped flowing and the buds have begun to open, blurring the branches in the early spring sky.

All of this a welcome sight, for sure, as our thoughts turn to the work of the
season ahead. And as a reminder of the season just past, we have this:

Our final count comes to just over 5 quarts of finished syrup, much of it already given out to neighbors, friends and family. As I look over the numbers, it surprises me that we were only collecting sap for a few weeks... It became such a pleasant part of our daily routine to check the buckets, gather the sap, prepare for the boiling down. This process is sure to become a sign of the season, as much as setting out seeds in early spring or picking fresh tomatoes in the summer. It is work that comes with its own sights and smells that will always link it to this time of year, the tipping point where winter gives way to spring.

I feel we've learned a bit of the personalities of our trees, the three we chose to tap this year (oh yes, there will be more next year). We knew to keep a close eye on the maple that holds the children's swing; it had a habit of overflowing the bucket. The tree out front was finicky, running strong one day, yielding a few drops the next.

We boiled down the sap three separate times, and each finished product bore its own unique properties. The first, smoky from the wood fire. The second, light in color and flavor. The third, possibly the finest as we figured out the best methods for cooking (just keep adding more sap!) and filtering (natural cotton batting worked better than cheesecloth).

from left to right, batch one, two and three

This time of year, I am itching to put plants in the ground, an urge to be satisfied in a few short weeks. Not long after, I'll be craving those fresh-from-the-garden delights, just before they're ready to be picked. It seems I'm always a few weeks ahead, anticipating what comes next. And so I imagine that come next January, I'll be ready with the taps and the buckets just a few weeks ahead of time. But for now, we're content to be all tapped out, enjoying the sweet rewards of this season's work.

And with all that syrup on hand, we're playing around with different ways to use it (though we are pretty partial to its most common role at breakfast). Today we bring you:

Maple Apple Crisp

3 apples, peeled, cored and sliced
1 tsp. lemon juice
1 t. cinnamon
1/4 c. maple syrup

Combine above ingredients and place in a buttered baking dish. Bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes, until apples are tender.

Remove and top with:

3/4 c. oats
1/4 c. whole wheat pastry (or gluten free) flour
1/4 c. sliced almonds
1 T. liquid coconut oil (the warm oven works well to melt it)
2 T. maple syrup
1/2 t. vanilla extract

Bake 20 minutes more, until top is crisp. Drizzle with more syrup and serve.

And once your dish is empty...

take your sister's!

This post is part of today's Pennywise Platter at The Nourishing Gourmet.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

where our feet find us

The coming of spring has been drawing us out. There's a restlessness and energy rising up that seems impossible to settle while sitting inside, and so, armed with curiosity and prepared for adventure, we are out the doors and into the world.

Where are you off wandering?

Come show us at the new Flickr Group, Where we Wander.

Hope to see you there!

Monday, March 21, 2011

celebrity cooking

I've known Stephenie since we were 6 years old, and having known her all these years, it comes as no great surprise how incredible her life is. She is full of a talent and energy few people possess, and she has put it to good use... Ivy league schools, Peace Corps, Harvard Law, Carnegie Hall performances, international travel. I'm sure I'm missing some major accomplishments here, but this is the shortlist that comes to mind. Her latest feat finds her competing on America's Next Great Restaurant, sharing her passion for delicious, healthful food. While we've enjoyed following her adventures there, we were so very pleased to have her in our home (and our kitchen) this past week.

To be fair, I didn't invite her over with the intention of having her cook for us (though the thought of sharing in one of her delicious meals was tempting). She and another friend from way back when joined us for breakfast. I felt a bit nervous cooking for a famous foodie, but while she and the children played happily, I churned out some pancakes, topped with our latest batch of syrup, served with fruit and bacon, coffee and tea, and a whole lot of hospitality.

As the day went by, we caught up on the news since last we sat around a table together. Soon our thoughts turned once more to food (do they ever really leave that wonderful topic?). Sophia declared that she and Stephenie would be preparing our lunch. It seemed like a fun sort of cooking challenge, to invite this food aficionado into my home with the goal of putting together a delicious meal using only those ingredients she could find in my pantry. While I headed upstairs to send Charlotte off to sleep, the chefs got busy in the kitchen.

They began by chopping vegetables... organic onions, garlic, red and orange peppers, mushrooms and kale were washed and diced. We were all impressed with Stephenie's lightning fast dicing abilities.

Next they put on water to cook the quinoa pasta from the cupboard, and sauteed shrimp in olive oil. Once cooked, the shrimp were set aside and the vegetables were stir fried and seasoned in the same pan. Stephenie taught Sophia the proper order in which to add the vegetables, based on each one's cooking time, so that all would be cooked to perfection.

The shrimp and vegetables were tossed together and served over the pasta, sprinkled with shredded parmesan cheese.

While I'm known for serving a decent lunch 'round these parts, this was quite a treat. The meal was certainly made even more enjoyable by the company with which we shared it (and the fact that I didn't have to do the cooking!). We're all watching eagerly to see what becomes of Stephenie's restaurant idea on television, but more than that, we're looking forward to see what amazing adventure she cooks up next!

Friday, March 18, 2011

seeing green

In honor of the holiday yesterday, we set about finding all the green we could around us. While springtime is sure to be adding more variety and vibrance to this category in the coming weeks, here are our early findings just outside our door:

green algae in the creek

green pushing up through brown

green edging the flowerbeds

green buds on the lilacs

green spinning in the breeze

green on the hands of the garden helpers

green carpet of chamomile returning

What are you finding that's green?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

in the kitchen

Each year at St. Patty's Day, the leprechauns come to play in our kitchen, leaving evidence of their mischief in the form of green milk and, when we're lucky, a green treat.

This year, they also left the recipe (looks as though I'm not the only fan of adapting smitten kitchen recipes).

(Green) Brown Butter and Brown Rice Crisp Treats

1 stick unsalted butter
10 oz. marshmallows
1/4 tsp. sea salt
6 c. puffed brown rice
food coloring (optional)

Melt the butter in a large pot on the stove, stirring until it is browned. Turn off the heat and stir in the marshmallows. If you need more heat to melt the marshmallows, turn it on low. Stir in the food coloring if desired. Once it's all melted and mixed, remove from stove and stir in the salt and puffed rice. Mix until coated and press evenly into a buttered 8x8 baking dish. Let cool before cutting and enjoying.

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

the last few days

In the wake of the news of Japan, I haven't felt much like posting our daily adventures here. Our thoughts have been with the many people who have been affected by this incredible disaster. The children are full of questions for which I don't always have child-sized answers. But we find comfort in the familiarity of the usual rhythms, moving now with a bit more reflection and, certainly, a deeper gratitude.

There has been a bit of crafting these past few days...
lavender scented glycerin and coconut oil soaps

Plenty of cooking...
soaked grain oatmeal with simmered apples and homegrown syrup

Adventuring outdoors...

And lots more syrup being made and enjoyed.

I'm entranced by the sight and sound of bubbling sap.

Another quart plus of syrup, with a lighter finish and flavor than the first boil down.

I'm happy to count this sweet stuff among the simple things for which I am feeling grateful these days, sharing it with friends and family and enjoying it atop our Sunday morning breakfast.

Wishing you an abundance of sweetness and gratitude.