Friday, June 29, 2012

Simple Fun

I don't know about you, but I have to try very hard sometimes to let my children enjoy the simple moments in life because I'm too busy to see the value in them myself. Despite my best efforts, sometimes the laundry piles high, the meals don't get cooked and I let the piles of toys in my living room crowd out the more important callings in my life.  I become frustrated and negligent of the thousands of little blessings that happen each and every day...blessings which are not less significant because they happen without forethought or intent, but more so. 

The last two days have been nothing short of treasures, thanks to the cherished little giggles, pensive quiet, keen interest, and acts of kindness my children have shared with me. Oh, when I let go of the "shoulds" I find my real life to be so perfect and sweet.

The most relevant moments are all so simple, they just might sneak by...

Running under the sheets drying on the line.
Some time on the farm.
A bouquet of wildflowers picked for me by my son and husband. 
Preserving the bounty of the harvest with some help.

All simple, sweet things all in their own right, gifts to treasure for all time.

Community Well-Being

Our journey into slow living has brought us to consider what the term "community" means to us in new and challenging ways. (Please check out our explorations regarding individual and environmental well-being, as well.)

When we say we're "in community" with one another the implications reach far beyond geographic associations like our neighborhood, state, and even country. "Community" means building relationships with those around us- those with whom we have commonalities in some sense.

The benefits of strong communities are extolled every day: happier, healthier people; stronger families; lower environmental impact thanks to shared resources; a sense of purpose and belonging. When we work to build up our community it is for these reasons- and many more. Simply put, when we work together to create something beautiful, everyone wins.

But strong communities don't often happen by accident. They are molded and intentionally cultivated to become supportive networks of people drawn together by common identity and purpose. In order to ensure that each community we associate ourselves with becomes strong and vibrant, we must intentionally choose to support it with our time, our talent, and our treasure.

For us, right now we are focusing on, and developing, these aspects of our community:

Family. Before anyone and everything else, our family comes first. That means making time to spend together- eating meals, gardening, playing frisbee and reading books. As any parent will tell you, the family dynamic is ever-changing and therefore so is the manifestation of these efforts in our lives. For a while we may prioritize cooking with a culinary-minded child, spending time discussing a book together as a couple, or playing Yahtzee every night of the week because that's the game that all five of us agree on. Investing time and energy into our family is essential.

Local business and agriculture. If you've been reading Simple Little Home for any length of time, or if you know us in real life, you'll know how important supporting local entrepreneurs, farmers, artists, beekeepers, etc. really is to us. It's essential. Not only is it an earth-friendly strategy to reduce carbon footprints and to build stronger communities with directly infused financial support, but our food tastes better because it's fresher and well, maybe the colors on my clothes look brighter because they're made close to home? Maybe?

Church. A faith community, whatever that means for you, is an important consideration for those living in a way to strengthen community. For us, that has meant embracing our church community and looking for ways to participate in it to grow it, strengthen it, and live fully within it. Building up a faith community isn't only a "time in" investment. The returns are significant: a friend answering a nagging insurance question, a youth group member babysitting so we can go out on a date, or an available ear to call upon when things seem to be going south.

Blogosphere. I'm going out on a limb to say that not all communities are bound by geography. In fact, I've met some fabulously supportive, unfathomably talented, unbelievably inspiring people on the web- through blogging mostly- who have certainly become a community for me. I pay attention to that community- build it by responding to friends' queries, visiting their blogs, offering support and opinions when solicited. I get the same in return- a beautiful, symbiotic relationship with those whom I have built my community.

Like-minded folks. Parents and other "Green-life" seekers, people who like good food, people who eat gluten-free food... like-minded people everywhere are inherently involved in a community with one another. Doesn't that just feel nice?

What about you? How do you support your community?

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Cooking with Turnips

I love turnips.

I have a boarder-line unhealthy obsession with this lovely white orb. It's so well suited for casseroles, steaming, sauteing, stews, and quite frankly, I love it enough that I'm happy to eat it raw with hummus.

I love, love, love a good turnip.  And I want you to love, love, love turnips too. (Smile.) So please read on.

Here's the background on this little lovely.

Turnips are a member of the Brassica family, and while it is traditionally a food for human consumption it's also grown for animal fodder. It's documented that human beings have been eating turnips since Greek and Roman times, possibly since the prehistoric era. Turnip is a cool-weather crop perfect for northern climates for for growing well into the fall season.

Tast-wise, early spring turnips are the sweetest (I'm very serious when I say that sauted early turnip takes on a carmelized, candy-sweet flavor). That aside, larger turnips tend to have a stronger flavor, while smaller ones remain tender and sweeter. (Read: if you're eating it raw, go small.)

To prepare a turnip you first must wash it with a vegetable brush under running water, in just the same way that you must do to prepare potatoes. To cook the root (which is the white or white/purple part at the bottom), you must cut off the greens (save to saute- they're delicious, see below), then peel and cut the turnip root. Some folks don't peel them, but I always do because the difference in taste is significant to me. I suggest you try it both ways and stick to your prefered method. If you do choose to peel them you can do that either with a knife or vegetable peeler.

Cut off greens (and awkward middle part, as shown):
 Peel and slice turnip.

 Add to a pan with melted butter.
 Place sliced turnip into pan for a few minutes, turning half way through cooking time. You want the turnips to have the same consistency as cooked potatoes when they are done.

 When fork-tender and sweet to taste, pull them from the pan and serve hot. (Picure below includes finished sauted turnip.)

Raw turnip is nice when you grate it to use as a salad topper or in coleslaw, or sliced thinly into sticks and served with a vegetable dip.

Turnips are amazingly versatile, just like rutabega or potato. You can successfully pair turnips with traditionally sweet foods, or at least foods that go well with sweets, such as apples, ham, ginger, cinnamon, carrots, pumpkin, and butter. Or you can opt to prepare turnip with savory foods, like parsnips, mushrooms, chives, potatoes, or Parmesan.

Regardless of how you intend to prepare it, turnip can have a bitter flavor if its undercooked, so be sure its completely done. (If you taste-test a boiling turnip and it's bitter you can replace the water and continue boiling to sweeten the flavor. You can also put in one peeled potato to combat biterness.)

Turnips can be frozen easily, but should be blanched first. That means you should follow the instructions above to prepare the turnip (wash and peel) and cut into one-inch cubes. Place them in boiling water for 2 or 3 minutes to kill the enzymes which might cause the vegetable to rot, but not yet cooking it. Then place it in a cold water bath for a couple minutes to stop the cooking process immediately. Dry well and store in a vacuum bag or freezer safe bag for up to nine months.

Now for the greens! I really love these sauteed in a little butter with a sprinkle of salt. Taste for taste they are similar to mustard greens or kale and can be subdtituted in many recupes for these similar greens. They pack a high lutein punch, and include healthy doses of vitamins A, C and K, plus calium and folate.

To prepare turnip greens you must cut the greens (stems) from the root:

 Chop the greens into prefered sizes:
 Put into a hot pan with a tablespoon or so of butter:
 Stir so they don't burn:
 Give the discarded parts to the chickens.... what? you still don't have chickens?? Sheesh. :)
 Stir a bit more and add a dash of salt:
 Remove from heat and serve warm:

 My favorite ways to enjoy turnip:
*Raw, with dip
*Replace half of the cabbage in a coleslaw recipe raw, grated turnip
*Saute greens, as shown above
*Saute roots, as shown above
*Prepared au gratin, like this
*Using older turnips to make vegetable stock
*Roasted in large chuncks with carrots and parsnip, similar to this
*Coated in olive oil, salt and pepper on the grill
*Halving recipes calling for potatoes and mixing in the other half of turnips
*Stuffing a whole roasting chicken with turnips and onion

Plus, here are few I'd like to try with my turnips this year but haven't in the past:

Allrecipe offers this recipe for Clapshot, a traditional Scottish dish made from cooked carrots, turnips, and cream.

Epicurious offer this recipe for Panecetta and Seseame-coated Turnips, this recipe for Risotto with Turnips and Bacon, and

Serious Eats contributes this recipe for Turnip, Apple and Jerusalem Artichoke soup.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Cooking with Garlic Scapes

Until this week I never knew such a thing as "garlic scapes" existed. How can that be, I wonder, as I count myself among the world's foremost garlic lovers? (Don't believe me? Check out how much garlic I use in homemade hummus!)

So you can imagine my surprise delight when I learned that garlic scapes would be part of our first CSA distribution this year. Thank goodness for Google- I quickly learned the basics and set to work making these little babies right at home in my kitchen. And at home they are!

First, a bit about this curly green miracle. Like all members of the Allium family, garlic bulbs grow underground. However, the "scape" is the shoot, from the bulb, which sticks up from the ground as the bulb forms and matures below the earth. If it's not cut, it becomes the hard stalk in the middle of a garlic bulb (if you buy your garlic in supermarkets you may not have seen this "neck" before, as they are cut from the bulb when packaged). If the scape is cut and harvested however, hold on to your horses because you're in for a treat. The scape provides a mild garlic flavor with a scallion-like texture that is lovely and versatile. Plus it packs quite an environmentally conscious punch: cutting the scape does no damage to the bulb, so you're getting two harvests from one plant. Love!

Do you want to try them yet?

Culinary approaches for the garlic scape are similar to that of garlic, with preparation similar to scallion. Cut the stalk small and saute in butter or olive oil for a delicious garnish, as shown below.

 This photo shows my garlic scape dressing (albeit just a little overcooked) for a grilled ham steak, served with sauteed turnip greens and turnip slices. The garlic flavor from the scapes was a perfect companion to the subtle flavor of the meat.
Once sauteed, garlic scapes can be added to risotto, fried rice, omletes, dips, cheeses (see below) and stir fries.

At the recommendation of the farmer who grew them, we decided to use scapes instead of basil in our favorite pesto recipe, and the result was Ohmigosh! So delish!

Garlic Scape Pesto

About 10 garlic scapes
1/4 cup pine nuts (walnuts are less expensive and can be substituted)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
3/4 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
3 Tbsp lemon juice, if you prefer

The process:
Put all of your ingredients into a food processor and blend. Simple.

(If you plan to freeze your pesto, don't add the cheese until you're ready to serve it. Just omit the cheese, freeze the pesto in a freezer bag or container, and when you're ready to eat just thaw it and add the cheese.)

So easy, and so yummy. We served our scape pesto over roasted chicken with sauteed mushrooms.

And then I was on a roll, so I continued.

At the recommendation of Writes4Food, I made the Soup Addict's Homemade Herb Ricotta with garlic scapes instead of the recommended herbs. I don't typically care for ricotta, but I ate it on rice crackers with a vengeance this week. I also used this garlic scape ricotta in a manicotti dish, for which my husband was eternally grateful.

I have not pickled garlic scapes, nor will I do so this year. I'm too busy eating them fresh, you see. But I hear that you can blanche and freeze scapes just like you can a scallion for later use. (That method is blanche for 30 seconds, cool, and put into a ziplock bag- with as little air as possible- to freeze.) I can't imagine I'll have any left over, but you never know... maybe I'll give the pickling a try this winter when memory eludes me and I'm craving the fresh spring taste of these lovelies.

Other ideas I liked the sounds of but haven't yet tried?

The Boulder Foodie shared her "salsa fresca" recipe here.
Two Sisters Garlic offers many ideas, but I liked the look of the "garlic scape and white bean dip" recipe here.
Serious Eats shares her "7 ways to eat scapes" post, including instructions for grilling. Yum? I'm unnaturally excited about the scape compound butter recipe, and I can't wait to have the chance to try it out.
Saveur shares a recipe for "orzo risotto with forest mushrooms and garlic scapes" here. Because I'm gluten-free I'd keep the risotto to the plain old boring rice kind, but the rest of the dish sounds more than gourmet enough to make up for the slight.

In what ways do you use garlic scapes?

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Homemade Puff Paint

I've recently seen a million posts about homemade puffy paint and they just seemed so fun, I wanted to try them out with my kids.

We used this recipe from Tried & True because I had all the ingredients on-hand. They were normal pantry items and the recipe seemed straight-forward, so forward we went.

First we mixed up the "paint." I didn't have cardboard, so I used heavy card stock. It curled a bit so cardboard (as recommended in the original recipe post) is clearly the way to go.

 We cut off the ends of the bags...
 ...and got painting. It was a lot like squeezing icing out onto a cake, actually.

 All was well, even as I decided that the baby could try it out.

Big brother Ben just glopped so much onto the paper that I had to dump it out. I think the sensory experience of squishing the bag was a lot more appealing than the prospect of "art," for him anyway.

The recipe calls for some time in the microwave to "puff" the paint. Here's what we put in...
...and here's what we got out.
The paint definitely puffed- baked, even.  The kids were pretty excited about their results, and they had fun watching the paint expand in the microwave.
 Meanwhile, baby Eleanor discovered that the sensory experience of the puffy paint was just as great out of the bag as it was in it.

 This photo was taken mid-screech of delight.
 Then this mess happened.
 And this.
 And this.
 And this.
 And eventually, this.

I don't know why I didn't think to take a picture of her before she went into the tub- and she did to straight into the tub- but you get the idea.

Now, I'm not a mom who worries about craft time getting messy, and I thought this was a lovely exploratory experience for all the kids- particularly for the baby. Besides, the paint was entirely edible so what's to worry about?

This is a fun project that we'll likely do again on some rainy afternoon. Next time I'll be sure to put out my paint drop cloth and either have the littlest kiddos paint naked (gasp of horror, I know- I do that sometimes because it's easier to hose them off in the tub) or at the very least make them wear their smocks. Where was my head when we did this project??

Have your kids made any fun messes this week?

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