Sometimes It’s Better To Be Lucky Than Good…

I had a buddy at work who said this all the time.  He was (and is) an anesthesiologist.  Sometimes he’d look at a patient and think “there is no way this epidural is going to happen” and in spite of everything it would just slide right in.  Lucky!

Parenting involves a lot of luck.  People who don’t have kids know all the right moves.  Let me tell you- “all the right moves” work just fine…when you’re lucky.  When you try the right moves on a kid who doesn’t like most foods…you learn quickly that you don’t know jack.  When you are lucky enough to get an eater…that is the best!  And I really believe that luck is what makes the difference.

My girls were eaters.  I was lucky there.  Syd took food seriously.  Her first real (solid) food was an avocado-swiss melt on sourdough bread.  I hadn’t planned this.  We were having lunch at The Black Dog on Martha’s Vineyard and she was just sitting there, Jonesing for my lunch.  She learned to love food.  She enjoyed the rituals of eating and taught me those rituals as well.  She’d put her face up to mine, grab my cheeks and order  “Mumma say ‘Would you like a snack now, dear?’! “.  Never “can I have; may I have or I’d like”.  Always taking me by the face and instructing me; feeding me my lines.

Avery was not an eater at first.  She didn’t want solid food at all and would vomit even the tiniest bite.  When she was 9 months old we were in a fancy hotel dining room (another story), trying not to horrify the people while we dined with 3 kids.  The hostess (aka: some crazy baby-switching gypsy lady) scooped up our Avery and wandered off to the kitchen with her.  My ‘mom alarm’ went off, but I tried to remain calm.  Then the woman brought back another baby.  This one looked just like ours, dark brown curls and a Betty Boop face.  This one, however, was eating.  She was sucking down a piece of melba toast slathered with goose liver pate’.  Like a champ.  This changeling went on to try anything and everything she was offered.  Loved mushrooms, leeks, garlic.  Loved food. I got really lucky with that girl, changeling or not!

My boys, however, were not adventurous eaters.  Matt went off to college with a repertoire of about 6 foods.  He wouldn’t eat sauces.  He ate pizza plain; just dough and cheese.  Pasta was plain with butter.  No BBQ.  No chinese food.  No kidding.  I think he ran into that crazy baby-switching gypsy lady while in college.  Another alien child returned from Maryland claiming to be my first-born.  He not only ate things like lentil stew, he knew how to cook them!  I was on to him right away.  This vegetable eating, sauteing, cheerful person is not the same boy we sent off to college.  I know enough not to complain when I am, in fact, lucky.

PJ, my baby, is a fairly good eater all things considered.  His first food was spaghetti, fed to him with love (by Avery) at the age of 2 months.  She couldn’t wait to feed him and would do so anytime you turned your back.  He preferred bland foods but gradually started to try new things.  Once he tried a new food, he usually liked it.  One food he would never eat, no matter how many times he tried it, was yogurt.  We tried the organic frufru baby yogurts.  We tried the crappy candy flavored stick yogurts.  Nothing doing- he wouldn’t eat it.   Until last week…when I got luckyDSCF1738 I made some blueberry yogurt and it was sitting  in the fridge.  PJ was doing his usual fridge inventory, and asked what the “purple stuff” was.  I said “yogurt”.  Then I added “it’s blueberry pie flavored”.  I don’t know what came over me.  I knew that boy loved blueberry pie.  He grabbed a jar, stirred it up, put a spoonful in his mouth and…smiled!  He loved it.  Since then he and Grumpy are eating it up faster than I can make it.  And I still feel lucky!

Blueberry Pie Yogurt…first the yogurt…

I’ve been making yogurt for Grumpy for a few weeks now.  It was easier than I’d expected.  Since our milk needs fluctuate without warning, it was a good way to use up some milk.  Now I “use” about a gallon a week making yogurt.  First – the skim or fat-free milk makes better yogurt.  I have no idea why, but I’ve tried them all and it’s true.

Pour all the milk into a large pot and heat to 115f (***if you use raw milk just heat until warm -not hot- bath temperature).   Now add some plain yogurt with live cultures.  Any good yogurt with at least 3 types of bacterial cultures.  Stir in 2 Tablespoons for every 1/2 gallon of milk.  After the first batch you can save some of your own yogurt to add to the next batch.  Stir it in thoroughly.  Now it needs to rest in a warm place to become yogurt.DSCF1757 If you have a gas oven with a constant pilot light it may be warm enough.  I use my dehydrater.  The dehydrater is usually about 130 degrees, which is a little too warm.  Through trial and error, I’ve learned that a canning lid under the top of the dehydrater raises it enough that it’s the perfect temperature.  The yogurt will be solid within 4-6 hours.  You can keep “growing” it for longer.  I like to leave it for about 8 hours to give it a tangy flavor.

Now you can use it like this, or thicken it to a greek yogurt consistency. I line a colander with a tea towel (you can also use an old clean Tshirt) and scoop all the yogurt into the towel. Place the colander over a tall bowl and store in a cold porch (here) or your fridge to drain. DSCF1762 After a few hours I pour off the liquid, put the yogurt into the bowl and whip with a hand mixer to a smooth, creamy yogurt.  Now I put it into jars with whatever fruit topping we have.  In this case…

Blueberry PieTopping 

In a medium saucepan I heated 1/2 cup sugar with 1/2 cup water, stirring until sugar was dissolved.  I added in 2 cups of frozen wild blueberries and 1/2 tsp cinnamon.
Continue stirring for just a few minutes, mashing some of the blueberries into the pan to release the juice.  That’s it! Tastes like fresh pie filling.

DSCF1742

“Más vale tarde que nunca” and Green Tomato Mincemeat

I grew up in an increasingly bilingual area of Southern California. I had 6 years of Spanish classes in public school.  I was profoundly unilingual.  My friends would speak to me in Spanish, and I could follow most of what was spoken.  I did well on tests, so my grades weren’t a problem. To translate my own words into Spanish while conversing was pure Hell.  My teacher, in the Brea-Olinda Unified School District, finally gave up on my language barrier and decided to focus on my relaxed attitude towards attendance.  She decided that if I could learn just that one phrase and use it upon entering the classroom she would forgive my tardiness, no matter how much of the class I had missed.  I learned it immediatly, and never forgot those magic words.

Más vale tarde que nunca.  It was 2 weeks ago today when I last wrote anything. I was exhausted.  I promised to write about our memorable weekend journey within a day or so.  I didn’t appreciate how exhausting the next 2 weeks would be.  I started a new job.  Since the “new” job is at the hospital I worked at from 1992-2003, it feels like coming home.  Long days, and still a shift or two to fill at the “old” job.  Besides work I am still coping with the lingering effects of whooping cough.  Then, out of nowhere my  computer flashes the “blue screen of death”.  Hour after hour spent on the phone with people who promised to rescucitate the poor thing.  People from America, India and Sri Lanka.  None of whom could bring it back to life.  I knew this would be the case, deep down inside.  It seemed so wasteful to just go out and buy a new one.  So not in the budget as well.  Now, I’m just glad to be back online.

Más vale tarde que nunca.  I will write about that weekend…later.  First, I want to write about time off.  Today, I have the third of 5 days off…..in a row.  This is my reward for working all manner of hours during the first 4 days of the week.  Day one was a blur.  I had sooo many things to do.  I was in the middle of at least 4 tasks, and running in circles, when I noticed the green tomatoes.  My poor, bedraggled garden, had been neglected for weeks.  In the meantime it grew a nice crop of green tomatoes.  It dawned on me that we would soon have a freeze.  Sometimes, nature dictates change.  This day, nature would change my priorities and my schedule.  All else must be put on a back burner, I was harvesting my green tomatoes.  I don’t care to wait for them to ripen, they are never as good as ripe off the vine.  I can’t eat that many fried green tomatoes either.  A good crop of green tomatoes equals: green tomato mincemeat.

Not everyone likes mincemeat  My own family won’t eat it with raisins ( I don’t know what’s wrong with them, either.  If I hadn’t been there at the welcome, I’d wonder myself whose kids they were).

I do apologize for the lack of “production” photos, and specific measurements.  I wasn’t thinking about writing this down when I started.  Just in a green tomato frenzy, I suppose.  This mincemeat starts with chopped green tomatoes (about 9 cups), and maybe 4- 5 cups of chopped peeled apples.  I put both in a heavy dutch oven.  Then added 1 peeled, chopped orange and 1 large chopped lemon (peels and all).  It might have been easier to remove the seeds from lemon before than to try picking them out after- there’s your warning.  Now add 1/4 cup white vinegar, 1/4 cup suet or oil (I used vegetable oil), 1 pound light brown sugar, 1 heaping teason each of cinnamon, ground allspice and ground cloves.  Since my family won’t eat the raisins, I snuck in 2 cups of dried cranberries and 1 cup dried cherries.  Heat the mixture at a simmer for about 45 minutes.  It will still have a lot of texture, but I prefer that over the mushiness of some canned mincemeats.   This is the one photo I managed to take once I remembered that I like to do that sort of thing.

After you’ve cooked it down a bit, transfer into pint jars and process by boiling water bath for 10 minutes.  This yeilded 7 pints plus a little left over for nibbling.

And nibbling…and nibbling…

Kenepa, aka Zombie Fruit

I’ve discovered that my kids are no longer picky eaters.  They won’t all eat everything; but they will pretty much try anything.  They’ve gone from “no sauce, this food can’t touch that food” to “I learned how to make lentil stew”.  I don’t really know when these gastronomic adventurers arrived, or what they’ve done with my “bland food only” kids, but I’m going to keep mum for a while longer and enjoy eating with these alien-spawned creatures.

On Friday I took Syd (1/2 of the blond twins – aka the blister sisters) and a friend to the Haymarket.  There were more exotic/foreign fruits and veggies than usual.  Among the fresh figs and dragon-fruit, jackfruit and lychees, were some I’d never seen before.  I was kind of staring at some little hairy ones, trying to figure out what they were and if I could con the alien-spawn into trying them, when a women started hooting and hollering behind me.  “HOOO, dems all mine!”.  She was a sketch, colorful headwrap and dress.  She had a mesh shopping bag- the kind that looked like macrame from the 60s.  She was laughing and pointing at some boring looking little green fruits.  They looked like a smaller oval shaped key lime.  “Dems my favorite dere”.  Being as how I had 2 teenage girls with me, and how easy it is to horrify teens, I decided to make conversation with my colorful new friend.  “So what the heck are those things and why are they so good?” “Dems Kenepa, dey from da islands” she said.  “Dey be soooo good! You has to try one”.  Haymarket vendors are very free with the samples, and the guy at this stand gave me the thumbs up.  “Okay, how do you eat them?”.  “Yee bites off de heads and eats de fruit inside, like de brains”.  OMG!!! Does she know about my zombie loving alien-spawn kids?  They’ve been obsessed with anything zombie for a good 3 years now.  How could I not have known about this fruit??? I bought a pound of the tiny little things.  That would be plenty, I thought.

We started trying them on the way to the train.  You really do bite them off at the top, right below the stem.  The skin is hard and cracks off easily.  Inside, is the strangest stuff.  There is a gooey, gelatinous substance.  It tastes sweet, and tangy, but leaves a weird feeling on your mouth.  Sort of like when you eat a not-quite-ripe banana.  Some of the gel is in kind of snot-like strands clinging to the shell.  Most of it is clinging to a big, hard seed in the center.  She said you could roast the seeds, but I’m thinking that after everyone sucks the brain slime off of them that just isn’t happening.  Sounds not-so-appealing, right?  Well, the alien-spawn kids loved them.  They seemed to love biting off the “heads” and sucking out the slime.  They also liked the flavor.  They polished off the whole pound before dinner.  They spent the rest of that night, and the weekend, asking if I was very sure there weren’t any more.  I’m going to look for that vendor this Friday, and see if he has more of these strange green things.  I’m starting to wonder if there is some link between the fruit and my zombie loving crew.  Maybe it’s just a coincidence.  And so is that Twilight Zone theme song playing in my head…..