Sunday, March 5, 2017

"Aslan is on the move"

Listen again: "Aslan is on the move"
.
Those were the words that came to my mind this afternoon while praying at a prayer meeting. I thought of how those words impacted their listeners in the imaginary world of Narnia. I thought of the fear they struck in the heart of the White Witch and the hope they gave to the Narnians. I thought of how the Pevensie children, who had never heard of Aslan before, still experienced their impact. And I thought of how Aslan is a type of Christ and how those words would impact Christians in our own world.
.
The thing is, the situation became much, much worse before it improved. The White Witch already had suppressed hope every way she could, and before anyone saw the victory that Aslan brought, many would die, would be transformed into stone, or would suffer extreme hardships. Their faith in Aslan would be tested as completely as possible as they saw him killed on the Stone Table and were assured by the witch that they had been defeated. The witch herself feared Aslan and knew that her power was crumbling, but that only spurred her on to throw every last effort into defeating him. And from within the story, it looked like she had succeeded.
.
Every time I read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, I wonder: what happened to the fox family? Father Christmas stopped by with a feast and the witch turned them to stone for being witnesses to the diminishing power of her control over winter. The scene is a transforming moment for Edmund, who feels sorry for someone other than himself for the first time as he realizes that they could be statues there until they crumble to pieces. I assume that Aslan travels throughout Narnia and restores them, but the book doesn't specify. And then I think of all the others--good Narnians, on Aslan's side--who are killed in the final battle against the witch. Good always wins, but we might not see its victory this side of Heaven and we might pay a significant, even life-destroying, price in the meantime.
.
Aslan--that is, Christ Jesus--is on the move in our world today. We have been lied to that this world belongs to the evil one and that there is no hope for our victory. We suffer hardship, we are even slain, as we witness to the Truth. But have courage, hold on to your hope in the One Who Saves. Things may look bleak and they may (and probably will) get much, much worse before we see the improvement that is guaranteed to come. But remember: Satan fears the Lord Jesus, and even after he throws every last effort into defeating Him, he will himself be defeated.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Definition: Dissect

I entered another giveaway contest yesterday. I didn't win... My husband asked, "Have you ever won something from that lady?" No, I haven't, which is only natural since I've only entered her weekly sweepstakes twice (and I think I was late the first time) and I was only one out of more than a thousand to enter that particular giveaway. But out of all the (little) time I spend entering giveaways my win rate is quite decent. I probably enter an average of two a month and win an average of once every 2 years. I just won another giveaway so I'm not really due to win again until 2019.
.
The giveaway I did win recently is a set of educational books on birds through the blog Growing With Science. One of the books includes "an actual owl pellet for kids to dissect", which I hoped my kids would not be too grossed out by. An owl pellet is a much nicer dissection project than, say, a whole animal. Something I can certainly handle. What I didn't realize, though, is that my Reese (8.5yo) first needed a definition of the word "dissect". When I proudly displayed our winnings on the computer screen, she looked at me, stuck out her tongue with a loud "YUCK!" and declared that she drew the line. She was not willing to dissect bird poop. She.Would.Not.Put.THAT.In.Her.Mouth. I quickly explained that "dissect" means "cut open and examine", NOT "ingest". "Phew! Ok, I'll do that."
.
I win just often enough to keep entering contests, though only if they are easy to enter, they are ones I come across in my regular activities anyway (not changing my lifestyle to pursue them), and they are for products I find appealing. With that mindset I'm not likely to win any contest again for several months, but statistics are funny-I could just as well win again next week. Maybe next time it'll be something we want to ingest and not just dissect.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

CSA Closing Thoughts

I will be picking up my last csa box later this week. It's been quite a long time since my last post, and that summer busyness is precisely one of things I wanted to track through this series. I've *mostly* kept up with my box goodies, but I did lose nearly everything in a week's box back in July. Only a few items went into the weekend's potluck, so after the packed weekend I had most items still sitting in my fridge plus the leftover veggies from the weekend veggie tray. Then I got sick for most of the week, picked up my next box on Thursday, then left Friday morning for a camping trip. Hardly anything from that second box was used quickly, so those items joined what was still unspoiled from the previous week. Between the two weeks, I certainly did not make the best use of what I received.
.
One of the troubles I have with a csa is in the very nature of the program. I've purchased a weekly assortment of produce, whether I want them that particular week or not. If my week turns south (illness or injury) or is overly crowded, or I simply need a particular number and type of produce that the box cannot provide, I've spent more on produce than I would have otherwise.
.
If I were to purchase a csa again in the future, I would definitely consider buying again the particular program I'm enrolled in now. They gather items from several different farms, so each box has a far wider variety than I would receive in a program from a single farm. They have gone out of their way to provide a single unusual or less desirable item in each week's box, so there's not an overwhelming number of eggplant, or radishes, or arugula. The items which are generally more popular, the carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, and salad greens, do appear much more often. I can see in my weekly box the effort they make to filling each week's allotment with mostly traditional, familiar, highly desirable items, with one or two unusual vegetables to broaden our horizons, and including a portion of fruit when the fruit is available.
.
The selection hasn't been entirely perfect. We have received several jalapeno peppers, poblano peppers, many green and baby colored bell peppers and even less common havasu and cayenne peppers. We aren't a family that generally eats a lot of peppers....None of us seek out spicy food, so I have had to freeze salsa and chopped peppers to stretch the heat, giving us peppers for our winter eggs and meatloaves rather than a whole mouthful of spice. Each medium or hot pepper needs to be spread out over several meals or my kids will rebel against eating any of that meal. Nor did the peppers appear with enough tomatoes to balance them out so we had to buy more at the grocery store to make that salsa. We even gave away a few peppers, a couple spoiled before I found time to preserve them, and we have an entire year's worth or more now in our freezer. The peppers would not have been too much if we liked spicy Thai or Mexican food, but, well, we don't.
.
I love that this program sends me an email a day or two before pick-up with a head's up on what is going to be in my box. This helps a TON in meal planning and identifying what else needs to be purchased to round things out for our dinners.
.
How many people purchasing a csa are feeding 7 people? The program is, of course, designed to be used by one or two adults, so I need to buy more of certain items to make it a full dish. I'm glad not to receive more than one eggplant a week (two total) but we could eat the carrots of 10 boxes in one meal, so I still have to buy many more from the store to make a dish large enough to feed my whole family a full portion.
.
We have received some very commonplace vegetables, even if not the same variety as we would find in the grocery store, which brings down the value somewhat for me. I just don't have the time to play to the specialty types of potatoes, or onions, So the garlic, for instance, has a tiny bit of value in that I know it's not grown in faraway China and potentially contaminated with whoknowswhat chemicals. But I can't really showcase the distinction in flavor of fresh garlic over dried. So that specialty garlic which probably sells in a farmer's market for $2/head, or (considerably?) more, isn't really improving our meal any more than the cheapo bulk package garlic that I normally buy.
.
I learned how to use fresh herbs in a way that fits my cooking style (compound butter), so I will grow and make better use of more herbs in my garden next summer. I have really loved the availability of that butter to add flavor to steaks, pork chops, roasts, and chicken thighs.
.
We discovered a couple vegetables that we enjoy enough to add to our garden next summer: bok choy and kale. My husband is hoping for a bumper crop of kale so I can make him lots more kale chips.
.
We found some vegetables that we would buy and enjoy if they are on sale at the local grocery store, will seek out at farmer's markets next summer, and will consider growing in our garden in future years: fennel, kohlrabi, okra.
.
I explored new ways of preparing vegetables we had not enjoyed in the past and was successful with the eggplant and the turnips (at least the Hakurei turnips). I did not find success with the radishes, the arugula, the carrot tops, or the cilantro.
.
By enjoying produce as fresh as possible without actually growing all of it myself, I feel more inspired to try buying more of our groceries next summer at a farmer's market. Of course, I can say that easily enough in October; we'll see what actually happens next June when the local markets reopen. I noticed that one difficulty I faced with the weekly csa basket was its size relative to my family's appetite. We received one "sunspot squash" which is way too tiny to actually feed my family more than a couple bites apiece, so I need to hunt down at least four more similar squashes before I can use it. At a farmer's market I would be able to buy the quantities needed to feed the whole family. Then I would be able to buy, for example, just 3 peppers to a whole basket of tomatoes to make the salsa mild enough for my family's taste. I would be much more inclined to make a bunch of kale chips at once rather than a tiny portion of 4 leaves.
.
At this point we are not planning to buy a csa again next year, yet I consider this year's to have been a worthwhile investment. We will add new vegetables and herbs to our garden next year, we will keep our eyes open for other vegetables to include in our diet more often, and I have more recipes I am confident in to make use of vegetables, purchased or grown, to serve to my family more regularly. My children have been exposed to new foods they had never tried before, will be very willing to try some of them again, and have even had their opinions changed on the eggplant they objected to in ratatouille but devoured in one meal when breaded and fried. While we won't be purchasing another csa in 2017, I did find enough benefit in the personal challenges to eat new vegetables that I might consider challenging myself in this way again in another 10 years or so.

Monday, August 1, 2016

CSA Week 5

French toast omelette with raspberries from our CSA
This week we found in our box peas, rosemary, swiss chard, golden raspberries, basil, cucumbers, breakfast radishes, scallions, and lavender. We purchased at the grocery store baby carrots, full size carrots, cauliflower, cherry tomatoes, onions, broccoli. Our garden has begun to produce in earnest so we also harvested zucchini, chives, cucumbers with tantalizing promises of green beans, tomatoes, and swiss chard coming any day now. The garden also gave us a salad of purslane, which everyone except my oldest daughter rolled their eyes at, figuratively or literally.
.
I'm not a fan of my food tasting "floral" and I didn't think my family would be enthusiastic about eating lavender either. My kids do like to drink tea though and the idea of lavender tea seemed like the best way to make the most out of this item. If they enjoyed it, we have the opportunity to make many more cups in the future from the three baby plants in our garden, once those plants become more mature. I spiked the tea with chamomile and extra honey to give them the familiar flavors and appeal of a sweetened drink. My husband and 7yr daughter turned down anything more than an initial "shot" of the tea but the other kids came back for full mugs and drank down the rest of the quart of tea.
.
The idea of a CSA filled with week after week of radishes was one of the reasons I waited this long before buying one. No one in my home cares for them and they aren't versatile in cooking like onions or scallions or even chives. I wanted to find a way to tame their pepper so I, at least, might enjoy them. I considered fermenting them since the all-knowing internet suggested that that might reduce their spice, but every time I look in our fridge the sauerkraut stares back at me: the sauerkraut that no one else in my family will eat. It's good sauerkraut but it's "sauer", and a family that turns up their nose at it, and pickles, and other fermented vegetables isn't likely to suddenly enjoy fermented radishes. So, I was still trying to figure that vegetable out as the week progressed.
.
I once again made compound butter with the rosemary and basil, combined with some garlic cloves and garden chives. I used a cube of it on our lamb steaks on Saturday night. The cucumbers and peas went into a vegetable tray for a potluck along with tomatoes, baby carrots, broccoli and cauliflower. I tossed the raspberries with some fresh strawberries (from the store, unfortunately) and served them for breakfast on Friday as the fruit portion of our "French toast omelettes". The peeled scallion bulbs went into a beef stew for Thursday's dinner and half the greens went into our Friday dinner stir-fry along with all the chard (stems and leaves), radish greens, and the last two garlic scapes from two weeks ago.
.
I love that even my toddlers can identify a wide variety of vegetables. They might identify them as being items that they don't like, but at least they know them by sight.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

CSA Week 4

Everything in the box seemed to be used especially quickly, reflecting both the actual items we received compared with last week's box and our schedule (my time available to utilize everything well). We received cucumbers, strawberries, garlic scapes, carrots, kale, sage, basil, and parsley.
Our veggie box was pretty this week but the picture is not
because our humidity was so high

.
Veggies we purchased at the store this week: 3#carrots, cauliflower, 3 bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, tomatoes, 2 avocados. We harvested our first three zucchinis and two cucumbers of the summer. The only herbs I'm growing this summer are rosemary and chives and both are a little small right now so I've been harvesting from only small bits from them.
.
I cut some chives from the garden and mixed them in with the sage, basil, and parsley for the compound butter. I froze that in an ice cube tray, like before, and a cube of it wonderfully flavored our grilled steaks on Saturday. One of the cucumbers I sliced for the veggie tray I took to a potluck. Another cucumber my kids ate at lunch, just sliced and served plain. The carrots were deliciously sweet roasted. I tried the carrot leaves as a salad since we didn't receive any traditional lettuce; they were ok but nobody really liked them. They were better the first time with a baby cucumber sliced into them, but not great. I plan to chop the carrot stems very small into a soup and throw the remaining leaves in at the end. A couple of the kale leaves and garlic scapes I sauteed with onions and peppers for a breakfast frittata. The remaining kale, leaves and stems, I included in a huge batch of veggie meatballs (about 200) along with carrots, onions, pepper, zucchini, and garlic, frozen for several future meals. The strawberries were eaten at breakfast without anything being done to them except washing them. Two of the garlic scapes I sauteed with two of the zucchinis, in the place of the garlic cloves I would normally use.
.
My oldest daughter complained about why we received garlic scapes yet again, though I certainly didn't! Their flavor is a bit milder than garlic cloves and they can be cooked a bit longer without burning. This gives me just a moment longer to add the next ingredient (sauce, eggs, greens, etc.) which is sometimes extremely useful in this season of life when I'm frequently interrupted by babies and toddlers. Their flavor is more "green", like the difference between green onions and yellow onions. I would certainly not use them in anything where the green color would be off-putting or where the smoothness of pressed garlic is important. I find they are easiest to cut with kitchen shears like chives rather than slicing with a knife. I think my daughter's complaint was that they are neither A) a special sweet treat, aka a berry, nor B) a familiar favorite such as carrots, cucumbers, or tomatoes. They are no longer even C) an exciting new flavor for her to try like the fennel, cilantro, or bok choy. Yet, they are truly the type of vegetable I was hoping for when I purchased this CSA, since they are not found in the grocery store yet I can grow them myself. They give us a new way to utilize more of a plant that can in the future reduce our grocery store bill just a little bit.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

CSA Week 3

lettuce
This is the first week I found it really difficult to use some of the items that we received. The lettuce, snap peas, cucumbers, carrots, garlic scapes, rosemary, and saskatoon were easy enough, but the cilantro and fennel challenged me. In fact, I did give the cilantro away. Neither my husband nor I like it, At All, not one little bit.
.
I was excited to see that we were receiving more garlic scapes. I loved using them the first time in stir frys, and will use them again in the same way, though we didn't receive nearly as many (three instead of around 10 I think). My kids were excited for the saskatoon berries. I let them each eat one the same day we received the basket and the rest we enjoyed thoroughly with our breakfast the next morning. My neighbor benefited from the cilantro. I had never eaten fennel before (scared off by its licorice reputation) let alone tried to prepare it. What we received was a rather small bulb with gigantic stalks. I decided to make a pesto with the leaves and roast the bulb, but what to do with the thick stems? I threw them on the sheet pan with the bulb and the carrots, keeping each of the three separate but tossing all with olive oil and salt to roast. I added a few of the leaves to our meatballs. But then I chickened out on the pesto and added the remaining leaves to a coleslaw instead with cabbage, carrots, and a mayo-free dressing. My husband ate three helpings before dinner (I think he had skipped lunch that day), the kids complained each time I served it (but I gave them each a bite-full anyway), and the rest made its way into my hubby's lunches and my own lunches. Coleslaw lasts a really long time, btw, if two thirds of the people eating it only take a single spoonful, and even that under protest. In our case it appeared at quite a few family meals over the course of more than a week.
.
We are attending a potluck nearly every weekend this summer as usual and I quickly decided to make "vegetable tray" the item that we bring to each one. If I don't have a lot of flexibility in my schedule we can purchase one pre-made and if I do then I can pick items that I know my family will eat. Leftovers are easier for me to do something with (I can rinse any gluten crumbs off and still use them as opposed to most things which I have to throw away) and my kids have a familiar vegetable without loudly telling me and everyone else that they're skeptical about the various salads and casseroles which might otherwise be their only options to eat the vegetable that they know they're supposed to eat before picking a dessert. This week's cucumbers and snap peas were perfect for that; Well, they would have been, but my oldest saw the peas and ate them all up before the next day was over. Some of the cucumbers survived until veggie tray time and I only had to add cherry tomatoes, peppers, baby carrots and a dip to complete the tray.
.
I've used fresh herbs that I've grown in the past, but I've used them mostly in the later half of the summer, with fresh green beans, tomatoes, zucchini, and other foods that haven't come into season yet. So far I haven't felt like I've really taken full advantage of the herbs in my box since I've only minced them into butter and frozen that butter for later. That will taste good on our winter chicken and steak, but it's not doing much for us yet in the summer. I did put a generous slab on the steaks we grilled though and we certainly enjoyed it.
.
Other vegetables that we bought this week: 6 pounds carrots, cherry tomatoes, cauliflower. The tomatoes were for the vegetable tray, the cauliflower and some of the carrots worked beautifully with the garlic scapes and an onion in a stir fry, and more carrots complemented various other meals throughout the week.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

CSA Week 2

Mixed salad greens, carrot leaves, carrots
This week my CSA box included salad greens, romaine lettuce, carrots, strawberries, mint, sage, bok choy, and a cucumber.
.
The first thing I did with the food in the box was to mince the sage and mix it with garlic and softened butter for a compound butter. Then I roughly chopped the mint and added it to the jar of peppermint extract that I began last week. I covered the fresh leaves with more vodka and put the jar back in the cupboard. The salad greens fed my sister and I at dinner that same night and provided a salad for me for two more lunches. We enjoyed the strawberries fresh and unadorned. I chopped the carrots and added them to my salads. I separated the carrot leaves from their stems. The leaves went into the salads and a few went into my stir fry dinner on Saturday; the stems will be chopped into small pieces in a stew. The bok choy was really three small heads, altogether being about the size of the romaine lettuce. The first head I sauteed with garlic scapes from last week and marinated chicken and powdered ginger, and uncooked carrot leaves. That was a large dinner for one person but tonight I need to feed four children and myself, so I plan to repeat the same basic recipe, although with beef instead of chicken, but saute some carrots before I add the scapes and bok choy and serve smaller portions with plenty of salad on the side. (Update: my husband and I loved that bok choy. We're ready to add it to our garden in future years.) That salad: The lettuce head from last week was a round head with leaves I could use all the way through. It fed our family for two dinners. This week's lettuce head was a very large romaine. There is a lot more of it but it isn't really as nice. Since the head is obviously as big as it could grow I needed to trim more off the tips and the stems. So the size is larger but I felt like I wasted more of it and I felt like the quality was lower. There is enough lettuce for every dinner though, so we'll have salad from it at least 5 times this week.
.
Growing up, we didn't eat many vegetables compared to what I feed my own family now. We were required to eat the vegetable served at every dinner, but really that little word "the" means a lot and our portions were sometimes no more than a single spoonful if it was a vegetable we particularly despised. I went ahead and purchased this CSA because I knew that I would be able to use all the vegetables in it. Our family doesn't often eat vegetables at breakfast, but we generally get one serving apiece at lunch and 2-3 servings at dinner, and our servings are much larger than those I endured growing up. When my two oldest daughters were around 3 and 4 years old we decided that the portion size rule for a vegetable from a vegetable tray was the same number of pieces as their current age. So now, my 9 year old picks out 9 baby carrots (or cucumber slices, or cherry tomatoes, or snap peas) to qualify as having eaten her veggies at lunchtime. Cooked vegetables and salad are less fixed but imagine the amount of space that 9 cucumber slices would take on a plate, and that's a good approximation of the serving size I require them to eat before getting served any seconds on another dish and before eating dessert. It's not a hard-and-fast rule, especially when we're not at home, but it helps us all understand the expectations within our family culture. The little kids are not required to finish their vegetables before receiving seconds until I think they truly understand the concept. Our 3 year old is learning that now, which means that she generally has to finish her servings but not always, depending on whether she seems able to handle that requirement at that particular meal (i.e. is she too tired? overstimulated? too attached to the main dish?). Their portions also match their appetite rather than their age, so the 3 year old receives 2 baby carrots and the 2 year old receives 1. I think the 3 year old will graduate to 3 carrots by her half birthday. When I know they don't like a particular vegetable, I still feed it to them, just a very small amount, so they get used to seeing it on their plates. The 3 year old has been seeing lettuce on her plate a couple times a week for 2 years now (without actually eating it in all that time) and just decided to begin eating that single lettuce leaf. She even requested a second leaf recently!! So, really, I would like to increase our vegetable intake even more, but we do eat more than the "average" household. And when I say that the romaine fed us for 5+ times, that means enough lettuce to cover a third to half a large plate for each adult at that meal and the 9 year old, a quarter of a small plate for the 7 year old, and a single torn "bite-size" leaf for each of the toddlers. Each dinner means 1-3 adults, and all children.
.
The other vegetables we did buy this week: 3 pound bag of carrots, two green bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, and a Sam's Club vegetable tray. Of course we still had to buy our normal amount of fruit since a single box of strawberries doesn't go very far around here.