Kettle Corn

[donotprint]You must make this snack as soon as you possibly can. It is brilliant simplicity.

Today when the kids were munching happily on kettle corn I told them I didn’t want to hear any more whining about how they never get Oreos in their lunch like all the other kids at school. As long as they get to snack on homemade kettle corn, I can do no wrong.

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Kettle Corn Recipe

I like to get all the ingredients ready for this snack while the pot is preheating. Things happen quickly once the pot is ready and the popcorn needs all of your attention while it is popping. But then 4 minutes later you get to experience a snack trifecta: crunchy, sweet, and salty.

1/4 cup canola or safflower oil
3/4 cup popcorn
2 heaping tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat a large non-stick pot over medium high heat. When it is nice and warm, add the oil, popcorn, and sugar. Stir well to make sure that the sugar is well distributed. Place the lid on the pot. Shake the pot with increasing frequency once the popping begins to make sure that the corn and sugar do not burn.

After a few minutes, the popping should subside. Remove the pot from the burner (a little too early is better than too late) and stir the popcorn with a wooden spoon while you sprinkle on the salt. Stir a few more times to make sure none of the sugar burns on the bottom of the pot.

Serve immediately. Be sure to give the popcorn a little extra cooling time if you’re serving youngsters. The sugar bits can be very hot.

Yield: 10 cups – serves 3 -4
Prep-time: 10 minutes

Note: My kids didn’t start eating popcorn until they were three years old. Make sure you’re up to date on current recommendations as far as choking hazards and feeding before serving this snack to children.

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Chocolate Chip Banana Biscotti

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Biscotti are a snack I’ve come a tad obsessed with lately. And this recipe is perfection because it uses up a single overripe banana and we always seem to have one languishing on the counter this winter.

I’ve shied away from biscotti in the past because they can be a little challenging for the kiddos to eat. But it turns out that if you make your own, you can leave them a little soft. Eureka!

Bananas aren’t a typical player in the biscotti universe, as far as I can tell. But the taste is brilliant, especially with the chocolate (surprise!). The whole family loves them and they are relatively low in fat and sugar. The kids have taken to dunking them in tall glasses of milk while we discuss important matters such as whether or not fairies are real. [/donotprint]

Chocolate Chip Banana Biscotti Recipe

This recipe was inspired by a recipe from Cooking Light housed at My Recipes.

The crispness of the biscotti depends on how thick you slice them and how long they are baked the second time. If you’d like a traditional hard biscotti, bake them until the edges begin to brown (probably an additional 10 minutes). They will crisp up much more when they cool. By the same token, you can cut the second baking time by 5 minutes if you want especially soft biscotti.

2 cups white whole wheat flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 medium overripe banana, peeled and mashed well
1 large egg, beaten
1 tablespoon safflower oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup small chocolate chunks or mini chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, mix together the banana, egg, vegetable oil, and vanilla extract. Add the flour mixture and mix until the mixture starts to form a ball. Add the chocolate and mix to incorporate.

Divide the dough in two and form into logs about 8 inches long and 2 inches wide. Wet your hands to keep the dough from sticking, if necessary. Place the logs on a parchment-lined baking sheet and flatten them with the palm of your hand so they are about 1/2 inch thick.

Bake for 25 minutes. When they come out of the oven, turn the heat down to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.

Allow the logs to cool for 10 minutes on the baking sheet. If they hang out longer they will be more likely to crumble when they are sliced. Carefully transfer the logs to a cutting board. Use a serrated knife to make 1/2 inch thick slices, preferably at an angle.

Arrange the slices on the same parchment-lined baking sheet in a single layer. Bake at 325 degrees Fahrenheit for 20 minutes. They will still feel soft, but will harden as they cool. Serve or store in an airtight container. They will keep for several days or can be frozen.

Yield: 24 biscotti
Prep-time: 10 minutes
Bake-time: 55 minutes

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Bumstead Sandwich

Don’t let me be a bad influence on you. I’m pretty sure deli meat is the devil incarnate. But…well…let’s talk about the olive tapenade. What else can one make with olive tapenade? This is all I ever use it for and it seems a terrible shame.

Bumstead Sandwich Recipe

This recipe is adapted from The Last Minute Party Girl by Erika Lenkert.

I love this recipe for parties because I can do almost all of the work ahead of time and we still get to eat a satisfying warm sandwich.

1 large whole grain baguette, halved lengthwise
2 tablespoons butter, softened
3 tablespoons black olive tapenade
1/3 cup goat cheese
1/4 pound of thinly sliced turkey
1/4 pound of thinly sliced salami
5 slices of pastrami
1/2 cup jarred roasted red peppers, rinsed, patted dry, and sliced into strips
1 cup spinach, washed and dried

Scoop out the innards of the baguette leaving the crust intact. Feed the innards to the kids.

Slather the butter on the top half of the baguette. Slather the bottom half with the olive tapenade and goat cheese. Load the meats, red peppers, and spinach onto the bottom half of the baguette. Cover it with the top half of the loaf.

Wrap the sandwich tightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate until it’s party time (up to 48 hours).

Preheat the oven to 300 degree Fahrenheit. Place the unwrapped sandwich on a baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes.

Slice on an angle into about ten 2-inch wide segments. Hold the sandwiches together with a toothpick and serve immediately.

Yield: 10 sandwiches
Prep-time: 15 minutes
Bake-time: 15 minutes

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The Dark Side of Keeping Chickens

Overall,  I’m amazed at how easy chickens are to take care of. But sometimes the whole situation reminds me of breastfeeding. Everyone’s so busy talking it up and saying how great it is that they forget to mention that there are moments when it truly sucks.

For instance:

1. Culling

Sometimes a chicken that was supposed to be a girl turns out to be a boy. In fact, I think it happens about 1 out of 10 times since chicks are so difficult to sex. After about a month of non-stop crowing for a half hour every morning, something had to be done (see above photo). What we thought was a butch hen was quickly becoming a rooster with a capital ‘R’.

Turns out there isn’t a drive-through slaughter house in our area catering to wimpy wannabe farmers. Even though we were fond of Miss Rooster, the rest of world saw her/him as a disposable entity that we needed to deal with ourselves. Gulp.

Apparently there will be more culling in two to three years when our hens are past their prime. They can live for several years, but if you’re in it for the eggs like we are it doesn’t make sense to keep them around. I’m not looking forward to it.

2. Start up costs

We found our little blue coop on craigslist, but it was still $500. I’ve seen fancy new coops for $1500. Then you have to build a yard around it. We used a healthy amount of hardware cloth to build ours so the yard cost somewhere between $100 – $200 more. Then there’s the food and the bedding. I don’t even want to do the math to figure out how many eggs our hens would need to lay to make up the costs. And I really don’t understand how farmers manage to make any money off of this kind of stuff.

The good news is that the chicks cost next to nothing.

3. Maintaince

Chickens poop a lot. So far it hasn’t gotten too smelly. But I’ve heard it can be a real stinkfest.

So all in all, I’ve discovered that keeping chickens is not always a pastoral love fest. But then when you’re cleaning out the coop for the millionth time, you find one of these:

I’m still a newbie, so it still feels better than Christmas morning to find a little egg hanging out in the nest box. It’s a miracle. I wonder if it will ever get old.

Thank you little hens.

Our Daily Bread

[donotprint]Right after college, one of my roommates got a bread maker. After a couple months of excitement, she started to complain about feeling alienated from her bread. The machine was quietly tucked away never to be seen again.

Given this experience, I resisted getting a bread maker for a long time. But a few years ago I ended up with one and haven’t looked back. I have a Zojirushi which seemed like a good idea because it has two paddles and produces a traditionally shaped loaf. But now it’s pointless because a couple years ago I decided to use the machine to make the dough and then bake it in the oven. Those paddle holes in the bottom of a loaf are disheartening. And the crust always came out way too dark in the machine.

Just in case there are some other folks out there who are as pre-occupied with bread as I am, I thought I’d share my stand-by recipe. It’s mostly whole grain and is the main source of flaxseed in our diet.[/donotprint]

Whole Wheat Flax Bread Machine Recipe

This recipe is inspired by Flax Prairie Bread from Ameriflax. I usually use King Arthur’s all-purpose flour for this bread, but if you have bread flour by all means use it instead of the all-purpose flour. It delivers.

1 1/4 cup water
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/3 cup ground flaxseed
2 tablespoons safflower oil
2 tablespoons honey
1 cup all-purpose flour or bread flour
2 cups white whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons instant yeast

Put the water, salt, flaxseed, oil, honey, and flours in bread machine pan. Create a small well in the top of the flour and pour in the yeast. Run the machine on the Dough setting. When the dough is ready, punch it down and form it into a loaf shape. Place the dough in a greased bread pan. Cover with a light-weight towel.

Allow the dough to rise for an hour or until it is doubled in size. Bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 28 minutes. Remove loaf from pan by turning it upside down and catching it with an oven mit. Allow the loaf to cool completely on a cooling rack. If you put it away before it cools, it will get soggy. Store in an airtight container.

Yield: one loaf of lovely bread
Prep-time: 10 minutes

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A Little Patch o’ Earth

Over the weekend my husband was out cutting down some deadwood and found what looked like an old garden plot. We moved to our current house under a year ago and we didn’t notice the plot because it was buried under an intense patch of thorn bushes. It’s probably been at least 20 years since it was used.

After a couple days of clearing out matted and prickly vegetation of all sorts, we have a roughly 20 x 20′ patch of semi-terraced dirt.

The soil looks good. I just placed a giant seed order at Burpee’s for corn, carrots, flowers, pickling cucumbers, slicing cucumbers, four kinds of tomatoes, herbs, dino kale, swiss chard, and sugar snap peas. Now all we need is a fence to keep the critters out and a way to safely ignore the fact that we have a bit of a slope. Shouldn’t be a problem, right?

 

Ode to The Family Dinner

Once or twice a year I am overcome by a mounting sense of desperation over what to feed my family. I just start coming up blank more often than I’d like. (I probably should just be keeping a dinner journal to help myself remember what has and hasn’t worked. That would be a good idea. It would be fun to use a 5-year journal.)

Last Spring I bought a copy of The Family Dinner while I was looking for answers. I ended up getting a lot more than I hoped for. While the recipes are great, I hadn’t counted on such a serious dose of inspiration and guidance for staging family dinner.

Family dinner sounds easy. Make dinner. Eat together. But the book opened up a new world of possibilities to me. We’ve always actively avoided after-school activities that cut into the dinner hour. But we still needed an extra push to make family dinner a strong part of our family’s routine where we would eat together but also linger afterwards. The book showed me how it’s done. It reminded me how inspired parenting and building a family can be. Along with her own examples, David shares stories from the likes of Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Mario Batali about what their family dinners were like as children.

As a result of my reading the book, we started memorizing poems by Robert Louis Stevenson. Along with the list of recommended reading from the book, we have some general and nature reference books. These are kept by our dinner table at arm’s length and have proved useful when my kids started asking crazy questions like “What is electricity?”.

When I first read the book I was on a mission to make family dinner happen every night of the week. Now I just go with the flow and am happy if it happens more nights than not. We’ve become slackers in the poem memorizing department too. But the bottom line is that the book has had a huge impact on the health and happiness of my family. We’ve started building memories at the dinner table. Hats off to Laurie David and Kirstin Uhrenholdt!