Monday, January 31, 2011

In the Kitchen

I've been thinking a lot lately about my kitchen - what works, what doesn't, gadgets that I wouldn't want to be without and ones that were a total waste of time, etc. So, this is the post in which I will brain dump. So, in no particular order:
  • I love, love, love my food processor. It's a Cuisinart 5 quart (I think). I have used it for pretty much everything from chopping onions, to pureeing soups to making pie crusts and cake batter. While I wouldn't call it a true need, I would surely feel differently about cooking without it.
  • If you don't have a crock pot/slow cooker, get one. Or two. Seriously. Not only is it wonderful to load it up with stuff in the morning and have dinner ready with the titchiest effort, but you can cook the cheapest cuts of meat and have it turn out moist and tender in a way the oven could never do. Plus, it's a lot cheaper to run than the oven, and keeps the heat in the kitchen to a minimum (and in our house in the summer, that's a major bonus). Next time you bake potatoes, do them in the crock pot - drop as many as you need in there with a sprinkling of salt and maybe a little smear of butter and turn it on low for 6-8 hours. I'm tellin' ya - try it.
  • I have been menu planning for years, but have recently embarked on a new idea. I've often liked the idea of having a "pattern" to cooking - Monday night, beef; Tuesday, soup; Wednesday, chicken - but felt too pressured to come up with something interesting and non-repetitive for a month, but I didn't want to do the whole "Monday means meatloaf" thing, either. So, in an attempt to compromise, I'm planning for two weeks, and then repeating those two weeks. For example, a couple nights ago, I made a double batch of corn chowder. We ate what we needed for the night, then froze the rest. Then in a couple weeks, we'll eat it again. This allows me to spend less time on planning and cooking, since I can often make the big batch and freeze half. I was also able to buy all the non-perishable food I needed for the whole month in one shop at Aldi, which means spending less money and time doing the shopping.
  • Unless you live by yourself or with one other person, don't buy a waffle iron that only makes one waffle at a time. Friends have one by All Clad that makes four good-sized waffles at a time. Considering the expense (and it is expensive), it'll be an investment to work towards. But with the frequency I cook breakfasts, combined with the number of people I'm feeding, it'll be worth it.
  • Cooking dry beans in the crock pot over night is sooo easy, and quite a bit cheaper than buy thousands of cans. If you cook with beans often, give it a try. Whatever you don't use immediately can be frozen, 1 lb per sandwich bag.

I'm sure there's more, so I'd love to hear from others to see what interesting hints and tips I've been missing out on! Please share...

Anne Bradstreet

I first heard of her in 11th grade Literature class. When our class read "To My Dear and Loving Husband", I decided that the man I would marry would be the man I could speak the words of this poem to:
If ever two were one, then surely we. If ever man were lov'd by wife, then thee;
If ever wife was happy in a man,Compare with me ye women if you can.
I prize thy love more than whole Mines of Gold, Or all the riches that the East doth hold.
My love is such that Rivers cannot quench,Nor ought but love from thee, give recompence.
Thy love is such I can no way repay,The heavens reward thee manifold I pray.
Then while we live, in love lets so persevere, That when we live no more, we may live ever.

Beyond this amazing poem, though, I knew little of her. Finding out that she was a Puritan settler piqued my interest, and I decided I needed to check out a biography. This one by Heidi Nichols was just the job.
Now, I must confess to not being much of a big poetry-reader, so some of Bradstreet's work was over my head, but Nichols was helpful in not only giving a framework to understand Bradstreet's work, but also her life, faith and situation.
Being the first published poet in America, and a Puritan woman at that was no mean feat, not to mention all the duties that would be hers in the time and place in which she lived. One of my favorite works was a collection of wise recommendations and proverbs to her eldest son, followed closely by her personal testimony of coming to faith.
If you're looking for a biography to add to this year's reading list, check it out here. She's definitely something of an overlooked poet/author in an undervalued period of history, but she still has something of worth to share.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Tiny Tea Leaves

It took a month and felt like longer, but Abigail's cardigan is finished.
I love it (and so does she, which is even more important).
I love the yarn - Madelinetosh Vintage in Amber Trinket. I love the pattern. I even love the buttons, though I had to change those since they weren't keeping closed. They've been replaced for a couple of rustic-looking wooden buttons that I wasn't sure of at first, but now I think they totally work.
I've now started on my own Tea Leaves (finally!), though I think it'll take a little longer than a month to finish. (sigh)

Monday, January 17, 2011

Bullet points

...because that's how my mind is working at the moment.

  • I got More Last Minute Knitted Gifts for Christmas, so the library can have theirs back. This Easy Cardigan is from there - wonderful to make (needs buttons, though).

    The booties are more from here.

  • Finishing the second sleeve on Abigail's tiny Tea Leaves - another love to make, especially with this yarn (in Amber Trinket)! Praying, praying, praying I have enough to finish!
  • Took the first week of January to build a new schedule from scratch. It was soooo worth it - I love it! (yes, I am a loser). Things go smoothly, there is somehow more time in the day to do things, less bickering and trouble-finding from the children. Definitely a worthwhile time and money investment (based on the Managers of Their Homes method).
  • I'm making bread. Again. I've done lots of bread-making in the past - by hand, in the Kitchen Aid and with a bread maker. But the Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes A Day way is awesome. Truly. This past week we've had Boule, Couronne, Ciabatta, Stromboli & Sticky Caramel Rolls. Love it.
  • Read Organized Simplicity and Family Feasts for $75 a Week. The perfect books to motivate at the beginning of the year. Clearing out junk (I think it breeds), starting a price book for grocery shopping, looking forward to a yard sale (I can't believe I just said that, since I kind of hate yard sales).
  • I am now learning to deal with my children's complaining by dealing with my own. And their laziness with my own. And their temper tantrums via my temper tantrums. I'm noticing a trend, here...but God shows His grace as being sufficient, for them and for me.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Help-less Prayer

Shortly before Christmas, I was running errands with the kids. I was planning on stopping by Starbucks (never too cold for a frappacino, I say) when I drove past a young guy holding a cardboard "homeless" sign at a busy intersection. I figured I'd get him a hot chocolate while I was at it - 'tis the season, you know, and it was bitterly cold that day.
When I got back round to where he was standing, I pulled up, offered him the cup and asked his name. It was Steve. He was grateful for the hot chocolate, and I told him I'd pray for him (I would have prayed with him, but the traffic had started moving, and I didn't want him getting run down by a crazed holiday-shopper). And the kids and I did - we prayed that he would have a warm place to sleep, family to spend Christmas with, and that Jesus would meet his greatest need.
Now, here's the thing - when he told me his name, it got to me. That fast, he went from being a random guy, to being "Steve" - someone with a life, a family or friends, some kind of connection with others. I started wondering what had happened in his life that he had come to the point of standing at an intersection, in the bitter cold, hoping for generosity.
And what did I do? I gave him a hot chocolate. Big deal. In the main scheme of things, what difference does it make? It won't feed or clothe Steve, or put a roof over his head. It won't fill his belly or warm him for long. What had I done that would make any real difference? Nothing.
Except...I prayed for him.
My prayers aren't anything special - in fact, they're often rather bumble-y. But bringing a need that I couldn't even hope to meet to Someone who has the whole world in His hands is just about the most helpful thing one person can do for another. I don't know Steve's story and how he came to be standing on the roadside, but God does. I don't know what all his needs are, but God does. I don't know what will become of Steve down the road, but God does.
So, in the midst of feeling helpless, I was (and continue to be) encouraged that, when I'm looking at a problem too big for me to solve, praying is going to be the most important thing I can do and the best way to help.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Book suggestions

Overall, I was very pleased with my booklist this past year. It was ambitious, I know, and I didn't get to everything, but I did get to most. I even read a number of books not on my list, namely the Mistmantle Chronicles. I guess they would be my first recommendation - I like them and the kids like them. Intrigue, excitement, humor and cute woodland creatures - this series has it all.
From the fiction department, I loved The Blue Castle and Julie. Both relative classics that I never got to read growing up and came with excellent reviews.
The Blue Castle, the story of what happens when a woman who's living on borrowed time starts to live her own life, was a relative quick read, mainly because of how engaging it was.
Julie is apparently somewhat autobiographical, telling the story of a family who moves to a small steel-milling town to take over the suffering newspaper and becomes embroiled in controversy surrounding the exploitation of mill workers and the eventual tragedy that overtakes the whole town.
It's hard to narrow down the non-fiction field, partly because it made the bulk of my reading list this past year, and partly because it was all so good. The one book I keep telling folks about is Just Do Something. In trying to "hear from God", people can get stuck - is it God or me? Is this the right thing, or that? Should I move here, take that job or make this decision? Rather than telling you what to do, DeYoung lays out clear biblical thinking in making wise decisions without depending on an audible voice from Heaven. It's straightforward, easy to read, and pretty funny, too. I did a lot of note-taking and underlining in this book, so should I loan it to you...sorry.