our messy table

Month: June, 2014

what we are reading

I asked my doctor if she thought my son was on-track developmentally at his 18 month well-check this morning. She assured me he was doing great, and then suggested that if I was concerned, I should read to him to encourage language development. “Do you read to him?” she proceeded to ask. “Yes. Lots”, I answered. And she looked at me with the disbelief she probably gives all moms who promise her their kids love vegetables.

Whatevs, doc…

We don’t have cable or access to local channels. So, reading in an important part of our routine. Since I am home with my son this summer, we have been frequenting the library at least twice a week to keep up with his rapidly developing little brain. Honestly, it’s surprising how many awkward or ridiculous children’s books are lurking in the library book shelves. So I am always grateful for smart mom recommendations.

I also always appreciate a good book recommendation, myself. Interestingly enough, my favorite food blogs have been excellent resources for exactly that.

So here is what we, as a family, have been reading lately… or at least since Easter.

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The Best Behavior Board Book Series is an always go-to. These books offer positive alternatives to typical kid behavior. For example, there are individual books that cover issue of hitting, kicking, sharing, being nice to pets, etc., and encourage kids to understand that they are capable of cooperative and loving actions. My son loves the simple, colorful illustration and you can tell he connects with the content. At the end of each book, there are tips for parents on how to deal with the issues.

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Who doesn’t love Biscuit? My kid loves this sweet puppy and all of his cute, furry friends. Whenever I spot a new biscuit book in the library, I am quick to scoop it up. I personally love the soft, gentle images.

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The Duck in the Truck Series is another of my son’s favorites. I don’t quite understand why my son would prefer this series over others. Maybe it’s the quick, rhymed language. Or the fact that it’s about a duck and he is really into ducks right now. But we rarely get to the end of a Duck in the Truck book without needing to reread it from beginning to end.

And my current reads…

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The Book of Dead Birds by Gayle Brandeis. This is a beautiful and heart-breaking story about young woman battling lifelong issues of identity and attachment. Despite the effects of her mother’s terrible past, they both seek out their place in the world, together or separate.

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The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Can you believe that I wasn’t required to read this is high school? I thought I ought to read it before I watched the movie. It’s a quick read about a hopelessly obsessed man who ransoms his life for extravagance. Even though the extravagance isn’t what he truly desires.

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The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender. This is the only Aimee Bender book my local library carries, so though I read it a few years ago, I took the opportunity to reread it. It’s a story about a girl who has the uncanny ability to taste people’s emotions through the food they prepare. I highly recommend this early Aimee Bender book, and any of her books, for that matter.

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I recently finished The Death of Bees by Lisa O’Donnell. This was a difficult book for me to get into, but I was very glad I finished it. If I had a daughter, I am not sure I could have. The story is graphic and tragic, but redemptive.

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1 2 3 Magic. My son is a little young for these discipline strategies. Alas, he is entering the age of temper tantrums. So I thought a bit of preemptive educated advice would be beneficial. The book provides practical strategies for differentiating child misbehavior and effectively dealing without yelling and or spanking. I am only half-way through, but very intrigued.

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Next on my reading list,We Are Called To Rise by Laura McBride. I bought it for myself as an early birthday present. From what I understand, the book is meant to test and restore our faith in humanity, which is pretty much an everyday thing for me. I am not very good at investing in two books at once, so I am greatly anticipating a sit-down with this book.

Happy reading.

in order

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A move is in order. To another farm house with outbuildings and plenty of space for a little boy and his dog to roam. We have lived in this house for almost a year and a half. Before that, a small rental house in Orange City for six months where I finished school and we brought home our baby. Before that, a basement apartment in Duluth Minnesota for a year and a half where we experienced our first year of marriage, opposite work schedules, laundromats, and nearly two break-ins.

It all feels like a process. Like I have strapped myself into some program where we perpetually move. As if we were characters in a game trying to gain ground, pick up tokens, beat our own high score.

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There are a lot of things I want to leave behind in this house. The junk sulking in our garage, for example. And I want to leave behind my cynicism toward life and people. I have spent much too long nursing that quality, holding tightly to it, yet denying it like some bad addiction.

Moving back to my home town has been weird in a lot of ways, but truly good in one. Living here drew back the veil guarding a more naive version of my younger self. The self that grew up here. That used to genuinely love everyone. Genuinely believe that everyone was good. Whose heart used to burn with hope.

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It’s a familiar story. Life happens, and you learn to build walls to protect yourself from failure and rejection. You learn what a sad, dark place the world can be. That people are sneaky and self-serving, and that you are sneaky and self-serving, too. You stop believing in God. Or at least that God could be good at all. And why not? What’s the point? If you hate everything, you have nothing to lose.

And then you have a kid. In a lot of ways, he saves you.

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His very existence makes you need to pray that God is there at all. Because your son needs a future.

And he needs a mom who lets people into her heart instead of pushing them out.

Who instead of toiling over the sinking ship, pursues a better tomorrow.

I talked with my husband about it all yesterday. About money and fear and  regret and a need for hope. And he said what he always says. “It will be okay”.

I never believe him when he says that. But I think he has some strange power of perspective that I seriously lack. Or he just wants me to stop worrying. Either way, I am counting my blessings today. I have to be grateful for the fact that we, too, aren’t under water like many of the people in our area. That I have someone in my life who I think truly believes he can do anything. That my toddler still totally wraps himself around me every morning. Whose eyes light up when I walk through the door. Who gives me a reason to make things better. Who has no time to eat my cake.

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I made this cornmeal snack cake with fresh berries for my son and his friend yesterday, though I ate most of it. What can I say? My sweet tooth made me do it. It’s not a healthy snack, per say, but I appreciate its simplicity. It upholds the reliable goodness every snack cake should have, plus the fresh barriers.

Cornmeal-Berry Snack Cake

Yield 6 servings

• 6 Tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
• ¾ cup all-purpose flour
• 6 Tablespoons fine yellow cornmeal or corn flour
• ¾ teaspoons baking powder
• Pinch fine sea salt
• ¾ cup plus 1 Tablespoon sugar
• 1 large egg
• ¾ teaspoon vanilla extract
• 6 Tablespoons buttermilk
• 8 oz. fresh berries*

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Butter an 8×8 or 9×5-inch loaf pan.

In a small bowl, whisk together flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, with an electric mixer, beat butter and ¾ cup sugar until pale and fluffy. Add egg and beat, scraping down the sides as needed. Then gently beat in vanilla extract.

Add whisked dry ingredients to butter mixture in 3 batches, alternating with 2 batches of buttermilk until just combines. Spread batter into prepared pan.
Sprinkle berries over top, then sprinkle 1 Tablespoon of sugar. Bake until golden brown on top or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Allow to cool completely on a wire rack. Serve with whipped cream and more fresh berries. Cake is best served the same day it is baked.

*Be sure to divide your blackberries in half. Also, If using strawberries, be sure to quarter then and roughly chop them until they are relatively the size of half a blackberry or twice the size of an average blueberry. I also used less

3 years

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It’s been 3 years and a handful of days since my husband and I have been married.

Since then, after packing up our first apartment and moving to the northern Midwest, we have lived in 2 different apartments, and soon to be 3 different rental homes. Since then, we have worked a combined number of 12 different jobs. We adopted a dog, a second rabbit (Lord knows why…) and became parents to our little boy.

We were chatting about this in the car the other night as we headed home from our anniversary date. We laughed a little. 5 moves. 12 jobs. Parenthood. That’s a lot of transition in 3 years. All good transitions. All moving forward. But still. A lot.

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Since we were dating, one thing (besides our pinkish couch) has moved and transitioned along with us.

Our pizza dough recipe.

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Sure. The toppings are a guaranteed change. You can throw anything from sardines to butternut squash on top and still call it a pizza, so long as there is a base. And that base, from our kitchens A to Z, has undergone much trial and error in search of a pizza dough we felt we could always count on.

We have kneaded in cheese and herbs galore, subbed the flour for cauliflower, trialed with no cornmeal vs lots of cornmeal, whole wheat flour, gluten free, polenta, the list goes on and on. And now, finally, the search is over.

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This is it folks. The laziest pizza dough you will ever work with. Just let the yeast do its thing with loosely stirred flour and water until the dough bubbles and foams. Then, wala! Your dough is ready to be stretched, topped and baked.

Our pizzas have definitely simplified since our earlier years together. So long as we can plan 12 hours in advance, we often throw together a simple margarita on week nights. The simplicity of the tomatoes, spinach, basil and mozzarella draw attention to the complex flavors the yeast develops in your dough. But feel free to get foodie-crazy on the dough if you want.

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Laziest Pizza Dough

Yield: 2-12 inch round pizzas or 1-9×13 inch pizza

1 1/2 cups spelt flour
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon active dry yeast
1 ½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 ¼ cup water, plus additional Tablespoon or two if needed

In a very large bowl, mix all ingredients with a spoon. The dough will be craggy and rough; this is fine, but if it feels excessively so, add another spoonful or even two of water. Cover bowl with plastic and keep at room temperature for approximately 12-24 hours, or until the dough has more than doubled. This takes longer in a chilly room and less in a very warm one, but don’t fret too much over this, as the dough is generally forgiving of a loosened schedule.

About 30 minutes before dough is ready, prepare pizza stone and very lightly, thinly coat it with olive oil or a nonstick cooking spray then sprinkle it with cornmeal.  Heat oven to its highest temperature, usually between 500 and 550 degrees F. If you’re using a pizza stone, place it in the oven so that it heats too.

Flour your counter very well. Scrape dough out of bowl onto floured counter; in the time it has risen it should change from that craggy rough ball to something very loose, soft, sticky and stretchy. Flour the top of the dough, and divide dough in half (or more pieces, if you’re making smaller pizzas). Form them into ball-like shapes. Grab first round with floured hands and let the loose, soft dough stretch and fall away from your hands a few times before landing the dough on your prepared baking sheet/paddle. Use floured fingers to press and nudge dough into a roughly round or rectangular shape. Add desired fixings and bake pizza for 10 to 15 minutes, rotating if it’s baking unevenly, until the top is blistered and the crust is golden. Repeat with remaining dough.

surely

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We are a bit late this year. But finally, our garden had been planted.

We had an incident with our starters (they… um… blew away), and our tiller (it… uh… broke) and then there was the issue of where to plant the garden. We are due to move from our rental home at the end of this month. The question, “where to” still begs an answer. But we needed a garden, I declared. We needed fresh vegetables and something constructive to do under the sun. I wanted my son’s little hands to be busy picking beans and watering tomatoes and nurturing things to life. So, my parents were kind enough to let us use their yard for our mass of summer squash, winter squash, beans, dark greens, tomatoes and peppers. We planted carrots and beets in pots, and our herbs rest along the window sill, safety in my kitchen, away from the maddening winds of Iowa.

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We are treading through a transitional time, which isn’t a comfortable process for me. I like change. But the act of changing throws me off. It makes me feel unstable. Like the ground my feet were planted firmly, the ground that I trusted, split into earthy plates and drifted mysteriously away.

After spending the fall, winter and spring babysitting another little boy, my son and I are home alone for the summer. I have been taking advantage of the flexible time, the ability to just pick up and go. But  my son and I miss his play mate. And I miss the predictable routine we had wrapped ourselves into.

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Also, I plan to go back to school full-time in the fall. I have arranged for a babysitter and have been connecting dots and jumping through the hoops that school and life require. I feel excited and ready, but unsteady at the same time. I want the hoops to be lower. The dots to be closer together. And I want immediate answers to the lingering questions only time can answer.

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. . .

I have been thinking a lot about place lately. How the place you chose to live shapes you.

It is clear that my nearly 18-month-old has lived most of his life surrounded by open space. He knew every farm animal sound before he could talk. When he plays outside, the 30 mph wind flapping around his hair and clothes like desperately floundering fish hardly phases him. To him, large bodies of water are astonishing. Boats are mysterious-looking trucks. And probably, mountains are a little scary.

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I know my son will love this garden. And I am really grateful we don’t have to explain the concept of “moving” to him yet. He is still so resilient. So resourceful. And all he needs are my arms to know where home is.

I want to be more like that… you know, more trusting. More resilient. I want to believe home is where the three of us are together. And I think I am getting there. Slowly. But surely.

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. . .

I am pretty addicted to these lentils. I have made them approximately 4 times in the last 2 weeks… wrapped in a whole wheat tortilla, spread over my favorite and easiest bread recipe, and straight from the fridge. My son likes to eat them with a spoon alongside me, but due to the choking hazard, I make sure to leave the walnuts out of his portion.

Lentils folded into Yogurt, Spinach, and Basil

  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts, chopped to the size of lentils
  • 2 cups baby spinach or arugula
  • 1 cup fresh basil leaves
  • 1 cup cooked lentils
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 cup Greek or plain yogurt
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • fine grain sea salt
  • freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, shaved

With a sharp knife, gently slice the spinach and basil leaves into bite-sized pieces without bruising them. Otherwise, tear by hand.

Place the lentils in a bowl and mix in the spinach and basil. Squeeze the lemon into the lentils (mindful to omit the seeds), mix, and then fold in the yogurt. Mix again, and then pour in the olive oil, stirring, as you do, to combine. At this point, taste the mixture, and season with salt, and two good grindings of pepper. Finally, fold the nuts into the dish, and finish with a drizzle of oil.

The lentils and greens will keep in an airtight jar in the refrigerator for at least three days.

When you’re ready to assemble, bring the lentil mixture to room temperature. Give it a taste, and adjust with more salt or some lemon juice. It can go on toasted bread, in a wrap, over salad or plain. Finish with some Parmesan shavings.