Monthly Archives: January 2013

Desert gardening update and (oddly enough, related) thoughts on blog monetizing….

I’m unsure if I can actually call myself a “gardener” right now.  After having a true, desert, organic garden for about 2½ years at our previous house (plus experimental forays into gardening sporadically over the previous ten years or so), I’m not certain if my current efforts qualify.

In desert climates, the GOOD news is that you can garden year-round.

The BAD news is that pictures like this make you want to puke, just a little bit:

Or cry.

This sort of pic implies — or outright states, on most gardening websites — that all a prospective gardener needs to do is remove an offending layer of sod, roll it back, and plant some veggie seeds in order to turn your lawn into a thriving garden.

Not so in the desert, dear reader.

  1. There is no “sod”.
  2. The soil underneath the sparse surface vegetation is not actually soil.  It’s a compacted, dry, humus-free clay dirt called caliche.
  3. If the dirt isn’t transformed by adding VAST amount of compost, you’re wasting your time.
  4. If the composted dirt has no water source, you’re wasting your time.

So.  If you want to have a “real” garden in the desert, you must prepare the bed with much greater effort and many more nutrients than is required in virtually every other climate.  You must also supply a water source.

I know a guy who lives on a property that is flood-irrigated.  He invested in storage tanks and pumps, and sucks up the flood irrigation water that is delivered (via a small gate and a neighborhood system of irrigation pipes) every two weeks, and then metes it out with an additional drip irrigation system he has attached to the storage tanks.

That sounds really expensive to me.

It also sounds impossible, as we have no flood irrigation available in my neighborhood.

I live really close to a flood irrigation district;  less than a block to the east of my street, the homes have flood irrigation as an option.  My home does not.  😦

The home into which we moved, July 2012, has a large property (just under a half-acre) and MUCH SPACE for my garden.  However, under that potential growing space is a broken sprinkler and drip irrigation system.  The WHOLE THING needs to be dug up and re-done.  That ginormous project is among the next things we hope to accomplish, but right now, it’s seeming a long, long, long way off.  In the meantime, we had to shut down the sprinkler system.  About 1/3 of it simply didn’t work at all.  One third had broken pipes resulting in a few marshy areas.  The other third did work, resulting in a few patches of green in our back lawn.  We decided that the small amount of green provided by the sprinkler system wasn’t worth the overall waste of water.

SO!

This means that everything growing in our yard must be watered by hand, including any gardening efforts by me.

I have decided that supplementing a patch of dirt on the ground to turn it into actual soil and then watering it by can or hose was not going to be sustainable, especially when I would have to remove the whole thing when we finally re-do our sprinkler system.

So…  All I have right now are two raised garden beds on legs, similar to this:

Except mine aren’t quite as big.  They’re 2′ x 3′.  That makes a grand total of 12 square feet of garden space, which is less than 1/10 of the size of my previous “real” garden.

I’m also trying to not think too hard about how difficult it is going to be to sustain these beds in the summer, when keeping ANY container moist enough in the bone-dry 115° air is nigh-impossible.  I may just have to abandon them during the summer.

In the meantime, though, I have muted excitement about what IS growing in them, these last few days of January.

I have:

  1. Crimson Giant Radishes
  2. Calliope Blend Carrots
    (both direct-sown into the soil)
  3. Brocade Marigolds
  4. Bouquet Dill
  5. Clary Sage
  6. Simpson Lettuce
  7. Yevani Basil
    (all started indoors in Jiffy “pellet” pots, then transplanted outdoors when large enough)

Additionally, I have more seed starts going, some nearly ready to transplant, some still not germinated…

  1. more marigolds
  2. more lettuce
  3. more dill
  4. more sage
  5. Italian parsley
  6. Feverfew
  7. Common thyme
  8. Big Red (bell) pepper
  9. Stevia

I also have at least 10 other things that I would LIKE to plant, and for which I have the seeds — some purchased, some saved from previous gardens — but I likely won’t have the space.

So, how is all of this related to blog monetizing??

This post started its life in my head as a wee blurb that I was thinking about posting on my Facebook page singing the praises of Botanical Interests’ customer service.

See, the stevia seeds are quite pricey:  I paid $3.49 for a packet of 15 (TEENY TINY) seeds.  I have been trying since the beginning of December to get those suckers to germinate.  My two little seed-starter window boxes only hold 24 starts at a time, so I’ve been starting four seeds each of the various varieties.  Every other seed variety has been successful so far, though a couple of them have taken two tries.  I have had three go-rounds with the stevia seeds with zero success.  This morning, as I was about to start the fourth try — and thus use the last of my stevia seeds — I decided to call Botanical Interests to see if they had any suggestions to increase my chance of success, this final attempt.  “Final” because I didn’t think I was willing to spring for another $3.49 packet of seed, even though thoughts of homemade stevia tea and smoothies sweetened with fresh stevia leaf are VERY appealing to me.  (Plus, stevia wards off aphids whilst it is growing among other garden plants.  THAT is a valuable asset to have.)

Here’s what happened when I called:

  1. A person answered the phone.  A HELPFUL person, not just a receptionist.
  2. After I explained my stevia germination problem, she told me that Botanical Interests guarantees that their seeds will germinate and if I would give her my address, they would send me a new packet, for free.  That was a surprise to me;  I wasn’t calling as a disgruntled customer demanding a refund…  But I happily gave her my address.
  3. She volunteered to transfer me to the voice mail of the staff horticulturist who specializes in germination.

So, I did leave a message, and look forward to hearing from said horticulturist.

Over all, I would say that was a very successful call.

In my glowing satisfaction with Botanical Interests, I thought to post a bit, singing their praises.

THEN, I hesitated, concerned that I would come off as a shill for the company, as I have posted a number of times about how much I like them, as a company, and their products.

Please believe, gentle reader, that Only Sometimes Clever is NOT a money-making venture.  I’ve been blogging for seven years, and if I post something saying, “I like this product,” it’s because I actually like it, not because someone has paid me $20 to say that I do.  Or, if there is a link I’ve included, it’s because I think it’s for a worthwhile read, not because I am receiving a kickback per x number of clicks that link generates.

No one pays me.

I receive offers — usually 2-5 per week — for money in exchange for a positive review or a link or a guest post (where someone with financial interests guest-posts on OSC, and for which the other author will pay me).

But, I turn all of them down.

I do occasionally review products which have been sent to me for free, but I’ve been doing less of that lately.

I like to think of myself with a Consumer Reports mentality:  It’s for your benefit, dear reader, that I post.  You don’t have to worry about my reasons for suggesting a product.  If I do, it’s because I have had a positive experience with it.  Simple as that…  I’m not trying to make money off y’all.  🙂

So, happy reading and happy gardening to you!

And go buy some Botanical Interests seeds.

 

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Dun

Mothering has always had the fabulous* effect of delivering humility regularly to my doorstep.

“When I’m a mother I will never…”

“When I’m a mother, I will always…”

“My kids would never do…”

Yeah, right.

(Note to self:  Use fewer definitives.  Always.)

Today’s lesson:

  • Even if you pat yourself on the back for your Mad Laundry Skillz
  • Even if those MLSses include regular use of bleach…
  • Even if you find an excellent price on some high-quality washcloths…
  • If said washcloths are going to live their days in a bathroom primarily used by boys…
  • THEN DON’T BUY WHITE WASHCLOTHS.

If you fail to heed this lesson, you will end up with a half-dozen thick, soft, dun-colored washcloths, whose lack of white brilliance will regularly taunt you.

——

*can you hear the sarcasm through your screen?

Indoctrination. It’s working!

When I was a child, my mother — an only slightly-recovered hippie — was a health nut.  At least I thought she was a health nut.  I spent my childhood thinking, “When I have kids, I will let them drink Kool Aid and put Twinkies in their lunch boxes!”  I was tired of peanut butter and honey on whole wheat bread, sliced apples, and plain potato chips in my school lunch.  I envied other kids’ white bread and jelly, sweetened applesauce cups, and the lovely, perfectly-formed, hermetically-sealed chocolate cupcakes with a swirl of white icing adorning the top.  I was certain she was skewed in her perspectives and couldn’t wait until I could make my own decisions about what I ate.

Given my own experiences, I have been quite surprised about my own children’s apparent buy-in to my own health nuttiness, which has MORE than raised any bar my mom ever set.

Here are a few things from just this past week:

  • Chow down, baby!

    I tend to worry that when my children see commercials for junk food on TV, they’ll be swayed.  It turns out that concern is misplaced, at least with my six-year-old, Audrey.  Upon seeing a McDonald’s commercial the other day, she remarked, “The box for a Happy Meal is more nutritious than the food inside!!”  This made me laugh!  And, NO, I have never said anything like that.  As far as I know, this is her own analysis.

  • My 15-year-old, Ethan, went home with a friend after church on Sunday.  Upon his return, he reported to me, “Guess where we went for lunch after church?  Taco Bell.  Jacob became very exasperated with me because I didn’t understand the menu and he had to explain the whole thing to me.”  We couldn’t remember the last time Ethan had been to Taco Bell, which in his own mind, ironically enough, is even an even more nefarious food-offender than McDonald’s.  “I had a Burrito Supreme.  It wasn’t very good.  It was about 30% water.”  Well, at least it hydrated him…
  • I published this tidbit on my Facebook page;  forgive the repeat, if you’ve heard it already.  My four-year-old, Fiala, ran a fever for about 48 hours. No other symptoms. I saved a (gluten-free) cake pop from a little friend’s Saturday birthday party.  I took Audrey, but Fiala missed out, though the mother of the birthday girl sent us home laden with a goodie bag.  Fi keeps asking to have the cake pop, which she calls a “lolly cake”.  At the best of times, her body has a hard time handling sugar, so I told her she has to wait until well after her fever is gone. “Why do you have a fever?” I asked her. “Because my germ-fighters are working HARD!!” she said. “And what makes germ-fighters weak?” I asked. “Sugar!!!” she replied with no hesitation at all. I was proud of her for remembering all my indoctrination, even if she still wants the cake pop.

Can’t we all just get along?

I love NPR.

In one of my favorite YouTube videos ever, Blimey Cow posted the hilarious “You Might Be a Homeschooler If…” video last year that went viral, at least among the homeschool community.

In it is a line that says something like, “You might be a homeschooler if your mom listens to NPR and votes Republican.”

HA!  That’s so me.  The radio in my truck is almost always tuned to 91.5 FM, KJZZ, which has acoustic jazz in the evenings and NPR programming in the daytime.  I appreciate the in-depth reporting and the broader perspective than the snippets of typical radio or TV news provides.

Anyway.

In my Facebook feed this morning was a story I was really pleased and surprised to see from NPR:

Study:  Diet May Help ADHD Kids More Than Drugs

The story was pretty basic, and referred listeners to their doctor for further help, which is kind of a laugh, as virtually all MD programs in the United States are woefully inadequate on the connection between diet and behavior — or even diet and basic physical health!

However, it makes me pleased that this topic is receiving national press and attention:  What you eat can affect your body and mind.

The link for this story has been shared on a number of different health-and-diet related pages to which I subscribe, on Facebook.

What has been interesting to me — and a bit distressing — is that I have read a fair amount of argument about WHERE to start with dietary changes for children, and WHAT diet is the best.  Everyone has an opinion and many are strident about it and have rude, unkind words for those who don’t agree with their particular beliefs.

I understand that.  I really do.  After seeing the monumental changes that came about in my young son’s behavior and health after being diagnosed with celiac disease more than ten years ago, and seeing the positive effects that have come about in our family’s lives as a result of my ongoing search for ways for us to eat and live more healthily, I UNDERSTAND.

If you see dramatic improvements firsthand, it alters your perspective.  And, in a way, you can’t help but think that EVERYONE should do what you’re doing, because you begin to think that EVERYONE would benefit.  And, you think philanthropic thoughts about it.  You think, “It would be BETTER for everyone.  It would be BETTER for the environment!  It would be BETTER for our nation’s health.  It would be BETTER for our farmers.  It would be BETTER for our economy.”

And, you might even be right!!

But, at a certain point, it becomes divisive.

And repulsive.

Literally, repulsive.  It repels me when someone tries to proselytize me to Nourishing Traditions and insists that there IS NO OTHER WAY.  I’ve un-liked certain Facebook pages and un-followed a number of blogs which routinely state that I’m a fool if I’m not eating/doing/making/following their way.

That’s the part that bothers me:  The insistence that one person/method/diet is THE ONLY WAY and that I’m clearly an uneducated rube who is throwing away the health of myself and my family if I eat even one thing outside of that method.

That really bothers me.

I was thinking of it, just a bit ago, along the lines of Christianity.

I go to the Vineyard — Vineyard Church Phoenix, which is a kind-of non-denominational, Holy Spirit-filled, fairly casual, high-involvement church which prioritizes worship (“contemporary” worship with a full band — guitars, drums, et al) and healing ministry.  I really love my church.  I ADORE my church.  I love the “DNA” of my church.  I love my pastor.  I love the people with whom I serve and learn.  I could bore you (or perhaps scare you) with how passionately I enjoy my church.  I wish more people would attend it.  I wish more people would experience the benefit I’ve received by participating in the Vineyard for the last 23 years.

However, I’m aware that my church is not the ONLY way to worship.

I have a dear cousin, an amazing woman — younger than me — who is a Benedictine nun in the Catholic church.  We couldn’t possibly be on more divergent Christian paths, but there is a kinship, a core identity, we share.   Everything I hear from her — her comments, our rare conversations, stories I read about her, makes my spirit soar.

But, again, how we practice our Christianity is extremely different.  In fact, if we sat down and compared fact sheets regarding our respective Christian practices, I’m sure we’d find much over which we disagree.

I have observed, in my advanced years 😉 , that one’s practice of Christianity, what speaks to one’s own heart, will vary greatly depending on history, personal preference, personal priorities, personal convictions, personality, and more.

I mean… I WANT more people to join my church and share my experiences;  I want others to benefit like I have.

But on the other hand, I cannot say, “My church is the only way to worship.”

There is more than one viable, healthy way to practice Christianity.

There is also more than one way to eat healthily!  There is more than one way to live healthily!

I don’t necessarily have to be a card-carrying member of the gluten-free, GFCF, Feingold, Nourishing Traditions, WAPF, Paleo, GAPS, organic, WHATEVER to be healthy.

And, honestly, it really turns me off when anyone — who is not Jesus Christ Himself — says, “My way or the highway.”

But… on the other hand…

I do believe that there are basic truths.  I do believe in the God of the Bible.  I do believe that there are basic tenets, basic laws established by God that exist.  There is truth.  Not all roads are equal.  It does matter what one thinks and believes and how one lives one’s life.  I don’t believe that everything is relative.

So… it sometimes feels like a hard balance to find:  Having beliefs with conviction which express themselves in practice, in daily living, and knowing in my heart that it is WORTH the effort and WORTH telling others about.  Yet, not being the guy on the corner with a megaphone screaming, “Follow my way or DIE!!”

And not thinking ugly thoughts about those dogmatic folks on the corner with their megaphones…

Ugh.

OSC Facebook roundup. Here’s what you’re missing!

Do you “like” Only Sometimes Clever on Facebook?  If you do, THANK YOU!!

If you don’t, here some examples, from the last week or so, of the sorts of things I typically share over there.  Come on over and join the discussion!!

  • I have mixed feelings about Whole Foods. You walk into a store, and it’s 97% packaged, processed products. Granted, they’re sustainably produced, mostly-natural products… But their frozen section is GINORMOUS and their produce section and even fresh meat section is fairly small. And WF is **PRICEY**. Still, it fills a niche, and operates under a good model. Reading this article makes me think slightly better things about WF. Using founder Mackey’s description, I would probably call myself a “conscious capitalist” as well.
  • So… something that is a pet peeve of mine is when eBay sellers send me a message saying, “I notice you didn’t give feedback. Please correct your error and give me five stars.” I know that the seller doesn’t know me from Adam; she doesn’t know that I *DO* give feedback on most items. When I don’t, there’s usually a reason. Here’s what I wrote back to her:

    “Angela, I really liked the tops themselves; my daughter wears them and loves them.

    I do not regret the purchase. However, the reason I did NOT leave feedback was because the shipping cost ($16.70) was OUTRAGEOUS. I ship items on occasion; I know those flat-rate USPS Priority Mail shipping packages — the ones that would fit six size five tops — did NOT run you $16.70 shipping cost. Not even close. The medium flat rate box, into which these would fit with room to spare, is $11.35. The small flat rate box, in which these shirts would have fit, rolled or folded small, is $5.35. I know I would prefer to save $10+ on shipping by having my purchased folded small. I think most folks would agree. I have made MANY purchases that were jam-packed into the boxes, and that’s fine with me.

    I think it’s fairly a fairly reprehensible practice when eBay sellers have a low starting bid but pad their profits in the shipping cost.

    My max bid was your opening — $9.99. I figured that, even with the exorbitant shipping, that was still less than $5 per top, which was acceptable to me. And, I just happened to win the bid. No one bid against me; they were likely scared off by the shipping cost, as well.

    I didn’t leave feedback because, over all, I’m still happy with the purchase; I don’t see a need to penalize your business by giving you a low review, especially when it all worked out. But, neither would I give you a “five star” review when I have serious disagreements with the way you handle business.

    I hope you understand and take this into consideration for future sales; you could probably gain more customers by offering reasonable shipping costs.”

    Too snarky???? Unreasonable on my part?? Oh, well… It has been sent.

    (The purchase, by the way, was for six Gymboree tops. Two were new with tags, the other four in excellent used condition.)

  • This is great!! I love my ring sling… but after spending some time with a friend’s newborn in a Maya wrap (or similar to it), I think I need one for the new baby.
  • I have been wanting some cheesy soup… A friend sent me a recipe and it had too much cow dairy in it and looked really carb-heavy. This, though, we can do. My dairy-avoidant son can do heavy cream – no milk protein in it, just milk fat. And we could sub the Monterey Jack with Pecorino Romano (he well-tolerates sheep milk cheese). All this needs is some crumbled bacon on top! http://noblepig.com/2013/01/cheesy-buffalo-roasted-cauliflower-potato-soup/
  • I do have some old recipes posted using Butter-Flavored Crisco. I also mention that I don’t use it any longer. A reader just asked why. Here’s my response: I’ve stopped using Crisco because I’ve stopped eating (and serving anything to my family) that contains artificial flavors, colors, or preservatives. Butter Crisco contains artificial flavor, and the preservative TBHQ, which is actually a form of butane. It also contains mono- and di-glycerides, which (in large quantities) act as endocrine disruptors (they act as prostaglandins) and are unnaturally-derived emulsifiers. As far as ingredients go, mono- and di-glycerides aren’t HORRIBLE, but they’re definitely not a whole food. Crisco also contains trans-fats, which pretty much deposit themselves immediately into arteries and clog them. On the label, it says that there are 0 grams, but that is per 1 Tbsp serving. That means there is less than one gram per serving — about 0.5 grams, but that is still too much for me.

    My standard now is if I *CAN* avoid something that is potentially harmful for me, I will.

  • In the Phoenix area, the ONLY spot a window box really works is on an east-facing window. South or west-facing would get FRIED from about April to October. In fact, the house we moved into in July had a couple of window boxes on two south-facing windows, and they were dust. Our house has ZERO east-facing windows. None. 😦 This box is beautiful!!!
  • In a bag of maternity clothes I purchase from Craigslist was a gorgeous formal silver velvet dress – huge on me at size XL. I have a formalish event coming up in two weeks and I just realized I could alter the dress fairly easily rather than giving it away, as I had planned. I think I’ll do a before and after post on it! (The matching bolero jacket, though… much too complicated. It will just stay big.)
  • I’m not normally a fan of smoothies. I think they’re a great way to pack in an entire day’s worth of carbs into one unsatisfying meal. I just made one though… One Granny Smith apple, one unpeeled carrot, about a cup of spinach, some plain yogurt, a bit of whole milk, a couple Tbsp of hemp protein powder, couple scoops of stevia… voila! Tasted great. Still more carbs than I would pretty much ever eat for breakfast, though. (My fairly standard bkfst is 3 eggs, medium, doused liberally with Cholula.)
  • You can enter here to win a whole bunch of organic and heirloom seed packets from Botanical Interests (my fave seed company), through Miss Ladybug’s Garden. http://www.missladybugsgarden.com/1/post/2013/01/botanical-interests-heirloom-organic-seed-bank-giveaway.html

 

 

 

 

 

Do you live in the north Glendale area of Arizona?  Are you looking for some weekly, inexpensive, naturally-grown produce to add to your health and palate???

The Crooked Sky Farms CSA is ON!!!!!   The cost is $20 per week for 12 weeks. We will start on February 13.  Pick up is at my house from 3:00 – 5:00 every Wednesday. Produce is Certified Naturally Grown, which has higher standards than USDA Organic and is more appropriate for small, direct-to-consumer farms. Pay in full in advance or half up-front (on or before February 13) and the other half midway through. Send me an e-mail at karenjoy@onlysometimesclever.com if you are interested and I will send you a contract and an info sheet later this week.  If you decide it is right for you and your family, let me know soon and I will add you to the list!!

Spicy Orange Chicken Recipe (Crockpot, GFCF)

I’ll admit it:  I crave junk food from time to time.  Lately, what has been haunting my wishful ponderings has been the sickly sweet orange chicken dish, found at “fast casual” Chinese restaurants, like Panda Express.  I last had Panda’s orange chicken more than ten years ago, and I still remember…  If there was a gluten-free version sold somewhere, I’d probably gobble it up.  So, perhaps it’s best for my sugar-intake that I haven’t found it anywhere.

A couple of days ago, a bloggy friend sent me a recipe for Crockpot Honey Sesame Chicken from The Comfort of Cooking.  Perhaps you’ve seen it;  it’s been making the rounds like wildfire, thanks to some fabulous pictures and Pinterest.  I looked at it and thought, “That is a LOT of honey.”  I buy semi-local honey, from The Honeyman in Prescott Valley, Arizona.  It’s raw, thick, and amazingly delicious.  It’s also expensive.  My thought was, “A cup of honey is worth roughly $2.75.”  I’m sorry, but that’s too much invested, honey-wise, into one recipe.

I also thought, “Two pounds of chicken?  That’s not going to feed my family.”  Along those lines, my friend Tina mentioned that she had doubled the chicken and the recipe had still turned out well.

Another thought:  “KETCHUP???  In an already sweet recipe??  Hmmm…  I’m not going to do that.  Tomato paste and apple cider vinegar would be better.”

Then, “Only a half cup of onion?  Crockpotted onions are amazing.  Needs more onion.”

And then, I looked in my freezer and saw a half container of orange juice concentrate that I keep specifically for cooking.  The gears in my brain, especially the ones marked Fiddling with Recipes, started whirring.

And the resulting recipe was so different than the original that, while I freely admit I used it as a launch pad, I thought I could probably safely call it a new recipe.

The resulting recipe was also AMAZING and TASTY.  When I sampled the first completed spoonful, I about melted.  So perfect.  So, so perfect.  Granted, it’s not as sweet as Panda’s orange chicken;  I think you’d need to throw in two or three cups of sugar to accomplish that.  However, it’s orangey-enough and sweet-enough to satisfy the cravings.  I was a bit afraid that it would be too spicy for my little girls, ages 4 and 6.  They made comment about the spiciness, but each of them simply picked up a cup of water and braved their way through, as the flavor was compelling enough to keep eating.  Everyone — all seven of us — really loved this recipe.  It received thumbs up and requests for me to make it again in the future.

One more recipe note:  You may notice that ½ teaspoon of citric acid is called for.  “Wha…?” may be your response and you may be tempted to omit it.  PLEASE DON’T.  Let’s call it the Secret Ingredient.  Citric acid enables you to taste the tang of the oranges.  It’s a must.  If you have a Sprouts in your area, you can find it in the bulk spice section for less than a dollar per ounce.  It can also be found in the canning section of any well-stocked grocery store.  Or, if you have a cheese-making store nearby, they will certainly stock it, as well.

OK.  One more recipe note:  The only mixed reviews were about the cooked orange peel in the recipe.  Some loved it, some picked them out.

Spicy Orange Chicken

Spicy Orange Chicken (Crockpot, GFCF)  In this pic, instead of green onion, chopped Italian parsley tops the dish.  I went to my veggie drawer which was inexplicably bare of the staple.  I did find some parsley, though, and it tasted fine and was pretty.  However, I do suggest you use green onion.

Click here for a printable PDF of the recipe.

Spicy Orange Chicken (Crockpot, Gluten-Free, Casein/Dairy-Free)
serves eight
Prep time:  About 10 minutes.
Cook time:  Four hours

8-10 fresh or thawed boneless, skinless chicken thighs or 4-6 chicken breasts (3-3½ pounds)
sea salt and cracked pepper
one medium onion, chopped
½ cup honey
½ cup orange juice concentrate, thawed
2 Tbsp tomato paste
2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
4 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup gluten-free soy sauce
1 tsp red pepper flakes (more or less, to taste — 1 tsp will make it noticeably spicy but not HOT)
1 small orange, divided use
5 medium carrots, peeled and chopped (about 1 lb.)
1 red bell pepper, cored and diced
5 tsp corn starch
1/3 cup water
½ tsp citric acid
2 tsp sesame seeds
3 green onions (scallions) chopped
2 cups uncooked brown rice
4 cups water

Cut chicken pieces in half, lightly season with salt and pepper, and place in the bottom of a Crockpot.  Turn Crockpot on high.

Chop onion and place on top of the chicken.

In a glass bowl, gently heat honey in a microwave until thin.  (Alternately, you can place the container of honey in a pan of hot water until warmed through.)  Into the warmed honey, whisk the orange juice concentrate, tomato paste, apple cider vinegar, minced garlic, soy sauce, and red pepper flakes.  Pour atop the chicken and onions.  Cover and cook on high for two hours.

Slice the orange in half, and slice each half very thinly.  Set aside half of the slices for garnish.  After the chicken has cooked for two hours, add the remaining slices to the simmering chicken, stirring to mix.  Turn Crockpot to LOW.  Cook for one hour.

After the chicken has cooked for an hour (for a total of three hours), the chicken should be very tender.  Break up the pieces, still in the Crockpot, with a wooden spoon.  In a small bowl, mix 1/3 cup water, the corn starch, and citric acid, combining well.  Stir into the simmering chicken, mixing well.  Then, stir in the chopped carrots and red bell pepper.

As brown rice needs to cook for about 45 minutes, start it now:  In a medium-sized saucepan, combine the brown rice and four cups of water.  Bring to boil, then cover and turn heat to low, simmering the brown rice for 45 minutes.

Continue to cook the chicken and veggies on low for an additional hour (a total of four hours), stirring occasionally, breaking up more chunks of chicken as you stir until you have a shredded consistency, as in the picture above.

Ladle shredded chicken, veggies, and sauce into a serving dish.  Garnish with the remaining orange slices, sesame seeds, and chopped green onion.  Serve over hot, cooked brown rice.

Enjoy!

Creamy Lemon-Honey Slaw Recipe

So, I’m hesitant to post any more recipes as there has been an explosion in foodie blogs with fabulously styled pics that people can post to Pinterest and drool over while they are inspired…

Here’s my pic to go with this recipe:

Fi and Daddy with slaw, cropped

Classy, eh??

You may just have to believe me that this is an excellent recipe.  I have five children, and it is challenging to find or create a recipe that EVERYONE loves.  However, all seven of us were fighting over who could have thirds of this.  (In the end, no one had thirds.  We saved enough for my husband to take to work with him the following day with his lunch.)  My six year old, Audrey, who is not a particular fan of cabbage said, “You know what makes the red bells and the carrots and the cabbage taste so delicious?  It’s the sauce.”  I thanked her for her excellent review, and decided that I would post this recipe, even without a Pinterest-friendly photo.

Indeed, “the sauce” is what makes this slaw taste wonderful.  It has a flavor that is classic enough to make it taste like “real” coleslaw, but healthy enough that you may never again return to sugar-laden slaw again…  I have made our slaw like this for years, with no regrets.

Click here for a printable PDF of the recipe

Creamy Lemon-Honey Slaw
serves 8

1 red bell pepper, finely diced
2 medium carrots, peeled and finely grated
1 small-to-medium head of green cabbage, shredded
1/3 cup honey (preferably raw and local)
3 Tbsp organic lemon juice
2 tsp dijon mustard (I love Trader Joe’s!)
1/2 tsp sea salt
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 cup real mayonnaise (again, we use Trader Joe’s)

Into a glass container, measure the honey.  Warm (in either a pan of hot water or in the microwave) the honey so that it is thin.  While still warm, whisk in the lemon juice.  When incorporated, whisk in the dijon mustard, salt, and pepper.  When incorporated, whisk in the mayonnaise until the dressing is smooth.

Gently fold in the red bell pepper, carrots, and cabbage.

Enjoy!

Pecans, picture books, tradition, and memories of my mother

I have a friend with some tangelo trees and pecan trees.  I envy her.  Her property has irrigation, which is really needed to grow strong, large, healthy, productive trees in the desert.  We have two citrus trees which are nowhere near as nice;  they were neglected by the previous owner.  Actually, we had three trees, but one died (it was 95% dead when we moved here in July, and to my distress, we couldn’t rescue it;  it kept declining until its death).  One other tree is stunted and didn’t produce anything;  I don’t even know what kind of citrus it is supposed to bear.  The other tree is a medium-sized navel orange tree.  Its fruit is delicious (though hard to peel), but the whole tree produced about 30 oranges*.  I’m thankful for those 30 oranges, but I’m definitely going to make sure that the tree is well-watered and fertilized so that it produces MANY MORE oranges, next winter.  Thanks to the expert knowledge of my local, small nursery, I already learned that, in Phoenix, citrus needs to be fertilized on February 14, then again in mid-July, and once more in mid-September.

That makes me consider the valuable lesson of delayed gratification taught by growing one’s own food.  I think our society would be much more balanced in our perspectives if we all grew things to eat.

But, I digress.

In mid-December, my 13-year-old son Grant and I took my friend Jeannie up on her offer and picked probably 30+ pounds of tangelos (which are very tart, quite sweet, with easy-peel rinds) and about 10 lbs of pecans from her property.  Jeannie wasn’t at home, but her husband and I had a great conversation about homeschooling, parenting boys, and about land and growing things as we harvested.

The next day, before the children were awake, I sat at the island and started to shell the pecans.  As the kids trickled sleepily out of their rooms, there was a universal response of, “Wha…??” as they walked into the kitchen.  As in, “Why would you want to be doing that at 7:30 a.m.????”  But, each sat down at a stool to try their hand.  Soon, all five children were happily cracking away, breakfast delayed, perfect half or even whole nuts held up as a trophy of new found shelling-skill.  We exclaimed over eachother’s successes, and groaned over the occasional rotted nut or slipped nutcracker that resulted in a barrage of shell and nut bits broadcast over the table.

Quickly, in front of me, piled up the outcasts.  When one child didn’t crack the nut quite right, or the nutmeat was just plain stuck, rather than persisting (which is no fun, and can be hard on the fingertips!), they’d pass the nut to me.

It was all right.  It just meant that I was a whole lot slower than even my four year old, Fiala.  I worked at rescuing the stuck bits, buried in each shell.  It felt worthwhile, and I just couldn’t bring myself to throw away even the smallest nutmeat that could possibly be redeemed.

It became one of those unexpected moments where I found myself profoundly missing my mother.

I had a flashback to one of my mom’s favorite winter pastimes:  Shelling nuts in the family room, fireplace blazing, happily chatting around the family room coffee table, eating more than we shelled.  AND…. passing onto my mother our own tough nuts:  the ones we couldn’t best.  She redeemed them all.

I realized, as I worked on the bits of stuck pecans that December morning with my own children, that I thought my mother enjoyed the challenge of picking out the trapped bits of nutmeat.  Maybe she did.  She was like that.

But, maybe it was one of those things similar to how I thought she liked burnt toast, because she always ate it.  It wasn’t until my adulthood that I discovered that her burnt toast-eating was sacrificial:  She knew that we four children didn’t like burnt toast, but she didn’t want it to go to waste, so she ate it.

I thought she liked eating leftovers for lunch.

I thought she liked hand-me-downs.

And so on.

I thought she liked picking out those stubborn, stuck bits of walnut and pecan.

I would have liked to ask her.  I felt compelled, multiple times, to go pick up the phone to call her.  I had to remind myself that I could not.

I also would have liked to tell her that I was passing down what I didn’t realize — until that morning — had been a family tradition.

I have often lamented that tradition was in short supply in my childhood.  But, the longer my perspective is on my younger years, the more I realize that there were traditions tucked here and there… And every time I can pass one on, or share a joy with my children that I experienced as a child, there is such warmth in that, now more poignant than ever.

My mom passed on in October.  In general, I haven’t lamented her death.  She was long ill, and eager to go home to be with Jesus after years of fighting and staying strong.  It was her time, and as much as sad things can be, it felt very right.

I dearly love all of Robert McCloskey’s books.

I had an inkling, though, that there would be many days like these:  Where I would so love to call her and tell her something funny or tender or joyous…  And I just couldn’t.  And THEN I would miss her and deeply regret her passing.

So it was, with the pecan-shelling morning:  All five children happily chattering and squabbling over the nutcracker;  we only have one.  However, one of my children discovered that the garlic press worked wonders!  Ha!!  I had to implement a rule — which had echoes of familiarity — that each child can eat as many pecans as they cared to, as long as they were the one who shelled that pecan;  they can’t reach into the community jar and take a handful of others’ efforts.  “Did my mom say that, too??” I wondered silently.  I also remembered — and expressed to my children — how our pecan-shelling party reminded me of one of our most treasured picture books, Blueberries for Sal.  Sal’s mother had to tell her to go pick her own blueberries, and not take those her mother had picked;  her mother’s were for canning.  Similarly, the community pecans were going to go into Christmas baking and weren’t for general snacking.**  Again, the memories hearkened back to my mother, as she had first read the book to me, as a child.

Over the course of two mornings, we shelled about nine cups of pecans.  Then, our fingertips gave out, too sore to continue.  Still, nine cups was way more than I could have done on my own, despite how many pecans ended up in one small mouth or another!!

Pecans:  One of my happiest and saddest memories of this past month.

———————–

*It would have been about 40 oranges, but I discovered about ten of them with small plastic pellets lodged at various depths in the rind and fruit, and I had to lay down the law about NOT using oranges for airsoft gun target practice.  How could they????  Aargh.

*And, oh, how that added to our enjoyment of each baked good!!  Each child would say, “I shelled some of the pecans that went into this Cranberry Orange Pecan Bread!!”  Many items, we gave as gifts, and it really lent to the feeling of family, of community, of ownership, of pride in what we gave to others.

Inception: Pink World

Today is our last day of the Christmas holidays break from school.  We took three weeks’ vacation.  Because we can do that.*

I have a number of errands to do today, and was intending on doing them this morning… but knowing this is our last slow day for weeks to come, I’ve been dragging my feet.  Or, rather, dragging my rear end, which stayed planted in the loveseat for several hours.  My favorite part:  Snugging.  Various children come and go, dropping in for a cuddle and a chat.  We’re covered in blankets because it’s cold (even in the Phoenix area) and we’re cheap, so the heat is set at 67°, which is actually two degrees warmer than last year.

My six-year-old, Audrey, stopped by.  She proceeded to tell me about a girl from SuperChurch** who looks just like her.  I was surprised, as I am at least acquainted with most of the children who are regulars, as I lead worship in there, 2-3 times per month.  “Yeah,” Audrey continued.  “And her name is even Audrey!”

I went immediately from serious interest to skepticism laced with humor.  “Really??  She looks just like you and her name is Audrey??  Let me guess.  Her name is Audrey Sophia [our last name].”

“Oh, no,” Audrey disagreed emphatically.  “Her name is Audrey Sophia Doe.”

“Doe” is the suffix Audrey invented before she was two, meaning “this is someone I really love.”  “Daddy-Doe” was the inaugural “Doe.”  ‘Doe’ became a good indication of how Audrey was feeling about someone, and it was quite the honor for a non-family-member to be christened a ‘Doe’.  We still call Audrey, “Audrey-Doe,” frequently.  Or just ‘Doe’.  Or, as I often call her, “Rosy-Toesy-Cozy-Doezy.”

It’s one of those family things…

Anyway.

With her insisting that the other Audrey who looked like her had the “actual” last name of “Doe,” my suspicions were confirmed:  Her imagination was in full swing.

I’m all for imagination, and Audrey’s is the most active amongst my children.  Since before she could really talk, she has had an imaginary friend, Rabbiana (“ra-bee-AH-nah”).  Rabbiana started as the girl in the mirror;  Audrey’s reflection.  Aud named this other girl well before she understood that the reflection was her own self.  She seemed to honestly think that there was, indeed, an entire land in addition to our own, held in the mirror.  Over the years, her imaginary world has broken through the boundary of being limited to the Mirror World;  Rabbiana’s world is typically found on the rooftop of our own house and is quite detailed.  Rabbiana has an entire family — the key member of whom is Rabbiana’s brother, Loy.  Other family members, friends, and pets come and go in this imaginary place.  Also, most everything is pink there, named — unsurprisingly — Pink World. 

I have pushed countless apparently-empty swings at the park for Rabbiana, while Audrey gushes second-hand thankfulness…

“Audrey Sophia DOE??” I repeated.  “It sounds to me like this other Audrey who looks just like you is one of your imaginary friends.”

Audrey was indignant.  “She’s not MY imaginary friend.”

Pause.

“She’s Loy’s.”

In case you’ve lost track of the layers, that means that the other Audrey is actually the real Audrey’s imaginary friend’s brother’s imaginary friend.

I told Audrey (the real one) that she had a future ahead of her as a Hollywood script-writer.

————

*Of course, this just means we add an additional week to the end of the school year…  Except in Arizona, they recently lifted the requirement of 35 weeks per school year.  “You can be done when you feel like you’re done for the year,” the Maricopa County homeschool liaison told me, a few years ago…  I still officially stick with 35 weeks, but last year, I was DONE after the second week of June, which made 34 weeks.

**This is the Sunday school at our church for children ages 6-12.

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