Friday, July 26, 2013

The Oat Bran Pancake Blues

I got a little emotional while flipping the pancakes this morning.

I think it was a combination of things.

You see, I've been making this pancake recipe for the past 6 years. It was one of the first "finger foods" my oldest daughter, Laurel, ate. I used to whip up the recipe in this darling, hand-made bowl that Tom gave to me as a Christmas present one year.

It came with a little whisk that eventually broke. I loved to whisk those pancakes up for Laurel, and I probably talked to her the whole time about what I was doing in an obnoxious, high-pitched, sing-song voice. She always gobbled them up, and I didn't even give her any syrup. Something about making her those pancakes made me feel like the world's greatest, #1, A+ Mom.

By the way, I systematically broke most of the hand-made pottery we received for our wedding. It makes me sad just thinking about. I still have this bowl from around that time in our lives, and I'm fighting hard to keep it alive. Even with a toddler who climbs everything in an effort to destroy most things.

Recently, Tom and I have been talking about how we can really tell that we are now a family of five by the amount of groceries we go through. I am still shopping as if I'm a single gal, but there are four other people to feed around here. I rarely cook enough to have leftovers. I never buy enough bread to make it through a whole week. And back to these pancakes, I've been making a single batch for the past six years. I really need to double the batch to feed these three pancake monsters. To have any useful amount left to freeze? It's a triple batch, baby.

This giant bowl just feels all wrong.

I hope I didn't get any tears in the batter.

This weekend marks six years since we moved into the "green house" here in Pittsburgh. As I've reflected on that, I've been extremely nostalgic about what life was like when we moved in here. I have fond memories of walking throughout our new neighborhood with my sweet, 11 month-old baby strapped to my chest. I get teary thinking about going to church as a family and then hitting up the Whole Foods hot bar for breakfast and to just hang out. I can almost remember how at one time we had just one basket of beautiful wooden toys in the living room - and that was all that was needed to occupy our freakishly calm little girl.

Oh, the time of one batch of pancakes. Where have you gone?

Now, in order to take a walk through the neighborhood, I need to push 64 pounds of kids in a double stroller. Or create endless incentives to get my almost four-year-old to just keep walking. In either situation, there tends to be a lot of whining. Now, church feels more like torture than it probably should. We keep going, though, in hopes that there is something mysterious and miraculous that we cannot see happening within us through our perseverance and long-suffering. Now, our dining room is nearly indistinguishable from a day-care center gone wild. Crumbs everywhere. Stepping on crayons. Colorful plastic in every nook and cranny - and it would all make noise, too, if we didn't dutifully remove every battery.

Now, there is a lot of yelling. Some of it comes from me. Don't get me wrong. I guess you might not be able to tell from reading this post, but all three of my kids have brought me more joy than I ever could have expected. They have each made me wonder at the capacity to love that is within me. However, there have been some, um, other things that have risen to the surface as our family has grown. It used to be easier to deny how selfish I can be. How impatient I am. How restless I sometimes get. How critical of those I love most I so easily can become.

I am not the mother I thought I would be.

The mother who can take the growing demands of her growing family in stride. The mother who can keep her house clean. The mother who can listen intently to every word that crosses the lips of her (extremely talkative) child. The mother who does arts and crafts. The mother who reads her children classic literature - and they listen. The mother who never turns on the television. The mother who never allows sugar to cross the lips of her children and certainly would never bribe them with lollipops. The mother who is never annoyed with her kids but thinks they are always cute and charming. The mother who takes her kids on hikes and long walks and they love it because they are used to it. I could go on and on. It is so easy to be so critical.

I was not expecting a triple batch of pancakes to get me going like this. Thinking about simpler times. Feeling guilty because those times did not include my younger children. Feeling guilty for not being more like single-batch, A+ pancake mom. Oh, and all of that broken pottery. A tragedy. As I long for those "simpler times," I know I am being pretty selective with my memories. For instance, while I had many blissfully pleasant mornings with my sweet girl back then, at 3PM on most afternoons I started the evening shift as a therapist at a Psychiatric hospital. There was a lot to learn there, and there were people in need, no doubt. Mostly, though, I just pined away for the day when I could stop working there.

I know as life marches on and new struggles arise, I will probably look back on this very moment and wish I could be back here. When my little kids are teenagers and are scaring the crap out of me. When the kids face adversity at school. When there are challenges in the career I am trying to pursue. When we eventually meet with true tragedy - and that is something that will happen sooner or later.

Perhaps even next month when I inevitably will have to start burning the candle at both ends to get my nursing school stuff done, I bet I will look back fondly on this moment. Ahh, I remember the days when I could make pancakes in the morning to the adoring ooohs and aaahs of my kid fans and then stay in my pajamas until 11 am blogging about it while the kids destroyed the house all around me. Those were the days. It was so much better then.

I guess you might want that pancake recipe now.

Oat Bran Pancakes (loosely adapted over the years from a recipe in Simply in Season)

1/2 cup oat bran
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 tbsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1 cup milk
1 egg
1 tbsp. oil
1 tbsp. honey or sugar
mix-ins, if desired: chocolate chips, sliced banana, blueberries, etc.

Mix all ingredients in one bowl. That's my lazy method. Really, you should mix the dry ingredients in one bowl and the wet in another, then combine. But they're just pancakes so I throw it all in one bowl and mix it up. Fry in a greased pan over medium heat. Flip when bubbles begin to appear. I froze 18 of these, and they turn out pretty well straight from the freezer to the toaster. Kind of like toaster waffles.

I hope these pancakes don't make you cry, too.

Monday, July 22, 2013

10 Things That Make Me Feel Like a Grown-Up

This morning I did something that I don't normally do. Before leaving the house to run some errands with the kids, I washed the breakfast dishes. Then I noticed that the living room area rug was sort of covered with crumbs, so I vacuumed it. Then, just so the hardwood wouldn't start to get jealous, I swept it. I did chores. In the morning. Before leaving the house. I was kind of feeling like a real, live grown-up. I tried to think of some other things that make me feel this way, and it was hard, I tell you!

It was much easier to think of things that make me feel not like a grown-up, because that includes nearly everything.

However, I dug deep in order to bring you this list: 10 things that make me feel like a grown-up

1. Cleaning up after myself. See above.
2. Listening to NPR. The median age of NPR listeners is 55. 
3. Roasting a chicken. I lose some grown-up points when I insist that my husband carve it (I don't like all that juice squirting out. Or the bones.).
4. Going to a restaurant with my kids. I thought that maybe having kids would make me feel more like a grown-up, but it doesn't. Taking them out in public, though, that'll do it. There will usually be some people in their early twenties, and they will think I am a grown-up because I have an entourage of three people who depend upon me for survival. This fits into the "fake it 'til you make it" category of things that make me fee like a grown-up.
5. Asking for recommendations for chiropractors (by the way... know anyone good?).
6. Waking up at 5:15 to go running.
7. Waking up at 5:15 to do anything else.
8. Drinking a glass of wine with dinner. No, not because drinking wine with dinner is in and of itself a grown-up thing to do. Drinking a glass of wine with dinner will invariably make me wake up no less than four times throughout the night to pee. Even just noticing this makes me feel like a grown-up.
9. Wearing Danish clogs. Wearing a scarf. Wearing earrings. Wearing all three together is like the grown-up triumvirate.
10. Blogging about freezing stuff. Okay, this one's a stretch, but I needed a way to tell you that I posted a new recipe: No-Bake Granola Bites

What makes you feel like a grown-up?

No-Bake Granola Bites

Here's another snack for when I am so hungry. Or when my kids are so hungry. Or when my husband is so hungry. They are kind of like no-bake cookies but with lots of healthy stuff. I'm pretty sure that flax seeds and chocolate chips cancel each other out in a cookie equation, so it looks like we're good here.

I think I will continue to experiment with this recipe to try out different combinations while at the same time creating a stockpile for the freezer.


No-Bake Granola Bites

1 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup peanut butter 
2/3 cup sweetened coconut flakes
1/2 cup ground flax seed
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1/3 cup dried cranberries
2 Tbsp. chia seeds
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
2 Tbsp. honey

Combine all of the ingredients in a large bowl. Shape into 1 inch balls and place on a cookie sheet (this might require lots of squishing. I think if you use more honey they might stick together better, but I was trying to make them a little less sweet). Freeze on the cookie sheet for about 1 hour, then place in a freezer bag. Let's face it, I will probably eat these directly from the freezer. If you are the more patient type, you could place them on the counter for about 45 minutes, or pack them in your lunch. 

Nutrition Information per 1/25 of mixture (1 ball): Calories - 108, Fat - 6g, Fiber - 2.5g, Sugar - 6.6g, Protein - 3g

Saturday, July 20, 2013

I Am So Hungry!

I've been running a lot lately- more than I thought I ever would or could. This has made me so hungry that I wake up at 3AM with my stomach growling. I am so hungry that I will eat old, cold, cheesy eggs off of my preschooler's plate - you know, the ones that have been rolled around in watermelon juice or dipped in vanilla yogurt. I am so hungry that I eat graham crackers and goldfish crackers and pretzels and really almost anything that formerly had absolutely no appeal. I have never been pregnant with quintuplets, but this is how I imagine it would feel.

My goal for this week? Make and freeze 5 quick snacks so that I have some reasonable options for when the hungries strike. I bought some chia seeds today, so you know it's gonna get real.

You know that picture of no-flour, no-dairy peanut butter chocolate chip cookies that has been circulating on Facebook? They looked so ooey and gooey and I love snacks that are actually more like treats.Of course those were at the top of my list. I found a recipe here - I think she gets credit for this ingenious recipe.

Adorable photo-bombing.

Peanut Butter Cookie Bites 
Adapted from Texanerin 
1 1/4 cup garbanzo beans - drained, rinsed, and dried on several layers of paper towel or in a salad spinner
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp. natural peanut butter (must be the kind that needs to be stirred)
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 cup honey or maple syrup
2/3 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350. Place all ingredients except the chocolate chips in a food processor and process until smooth. Stir in chocolate chips. Shape into balls or flatten into cookie-shaped circles (they won't really change shape while they bake). Place on a parchment-lined cookie sheet and bake for 10 minutes. Eat while warm. If freezing, allow to cool and then freeze on a cookie sheet. After about an hour, pop off the cookie sheet and into a freezer bag. Label, date, and put the bag in the freezer. Warm them in the microwave for about 20 seconds when you want a little bean-cookie-treat. I suggest doubling the recipe because you never know if you might be really hungry after these come out of the oven and have to eat 3-4 of them.

Much like her mother, this little girl will eat anything with chocolate chips in it. And smile.

Nutrition Info per 1/16th of recipe: Calories - 102, Fat: 6g, Protein: 4g, Fiber: 2g, Sugars - 9g

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Freezing Fresh Produce

Confession: I'm an amateur when it comes to the freezer.

Here is what went in the freezer when I was a kid: ice cubes (made by a machine, so even making ice is a skill that I did not hone until my mid-twenties), Lender's frozen bagels, ice cream on a lucky day, and beer mugs - dad liked them "frosty-freezy."

My mom preferred to buy fresh ingredients and cook them and then start over the next day. For the most part, this is how I operate as well. Because preserving food was not really part of my training as a child, I sometimes make freezer jam that is so runny it makes a much better ice cream topping (even after my husband offered to go get me some pectin, I was like, "nah... I think this will work"). I sometimes find baggies of yellow-orange material in the back of my freezer and cross my fingers in hopes that it is pumpkin or something comparable (if this happens to you, just throw it out). And let's not even discuss canning. There is a lot of hot water and popping, and even though you tell me it's easy, I just don't believe you.

See, I'm no expert. However, when you are trying to fill a small chest freezer and make your life easier, you sometimes have to depart from your modus operandi.

Below is a list that we got from Friends Farm when we were living in Altoona, Pa. They were our first CSA and will forever hold a special place in our hearts (read: no other CSA will ever come even a little bit close to how awesome they were). Somehow, after 7 years, I still have this list. Quite a triumph, considering I can't find the coupons I set aside last week. This list helps me when I've bought too much at the Farmer's Market, or when my garden actually produces a harvest of something, or when I just get an urge to freeze some stuff. I hope you find it helpful too!

So far this summer I've frozen three pints of blueberries and about 6 quarts of strawberries using the below method. I plan on making sure some fresh herbs and plenty of tomatoes go in there too.

Make applesauce or pie filling. Freeze in containers or bags
Wash, spin in salad spinner to dry or dry on several layers of paper towel, freeze in a single layer on a tray, then bag. This method allows for you to pour out a little at a time because the berries won't freeze together in one huge clump.
Chop and blanch 3 minutes, drain, cool, freeze
Cut in wedges, blanch 3 minutes, cool, drain, freeze
Fresh Herbs
Chop and freeze
Green Beans/Roma Beans
Trim ends, blanch for 3-4 minutes, cool, drain and freeze
Place in boiling water until skins loosen (30-60 seconds), remove skin, slice or half, freeze
Pumpkin/winter squash
Cut into chunks, remove seeds, bake until soft, remove from skin, puree in blender or food processor, freeze for soups and baked goods
Chop white and green parts, freeze
Shelling Peas
Shell peas, rinse, blanch for 60-90 seconds, cool, drain and freeze
Spinach or chard
Remove center rib, blanch for 1-2 min, cool, drain and freeze
Sugar snap peas
Remove end and string if desired, blanch for 60-90 seconds, drain, cool, freeze
Summer squash
Grate and freeze in 1 cup amounts for quick breads and muffins
Sweet corn
Husk, cook on the cob, cool, cut off and freeze
Remove seeds, chop, freeze
Remove core, plunge in boiling water for 1 minute, skins should slip off easily afterwards, cool and chop, freeze for use in soups and stews

***Also, I know you are all anxious to know that we ate the last of our 4 pounds of tortilla chips last night. I tell you what, freezing chips works! We froze some in bags and some in plastic containers with equally good results. We just put them on a baking sheet for a few minutes, and they were good to go. You can also warm them in the oven for a few minutes if warmish chips are your thing.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Breakfast Sammies and Impending Marathon Doom

What have you been wasting your time on lately?

Do you want to know what I've been doing recently instead of laundry, reviewing nursing school stuff, cleaning the toilet, cleaning anything else, watering my sad plants, weeding my garden (we take a laissez-faire approach, and this year it looks like it might just work), selling stuff on eBay, freezing, blogging, or otherwise saving the world?

I've been reading absolutely everything the interwebs have to say about RUNNING A MARATHON. What? I kid you not, if any person anywhere has ever blogged about her first time running a marathon, I can guarantee I've read it this week. I've researched running gear (please, Lord, send forth a Garmin unto me). I've chosen the subsequent 5 marathons I'd like to run. I've read articles on training and pacing and strategy. I bought the book, Train Like a Mother, and have read pretty much the whole thing. I think I have read so much that I have deluded myself into thinking that I can just go out tomorrow and run 26.2 miles. Anyone want to come?

I haven't even registered for the race... yet. But the more I turn it over in my mind and obsess about it, the closer I think I am getting to being able to say, "Hey, I'm training for the Philly Marathon. It's in November." 

I am taking a break from my endless ruminating to write this blog post... about how... I am obsessively reading... about marathons. Oh well.

If When I eventually sign up and make it official, I promise that this blog will remain a freezer blog. With a little running thrown in for good measure.

And here's something that I will be happy to pop into the microwave after waking up at dark o'clock and running for over an hour: Western Omelet-ish Breakfast Sandwiches.

I saw something on Pinterest once where you crack eggs into a muffin pan and bake them and then make cute little egg mcmuffins. Yeah... I'm not doing that. It looks like a good idea, but I wasn't about to waste a dozen eggs on a Pinterest fail. Let's face it: if there's ever going to be someone who can't rock a Pinterest idea it's gonna be me. 

So I just made an oven-baked frittata, cut it up, and sandwiched it between 2 halves of an English muffin with a slice of ham. You can skip the ham. You can add some cheese. You can hold the veggies (but I always consider it such a triumph to cram some vegetables into breakfast). You can do whatever you want.

Western Omelet Breakfast Sandwiches
6 eggs
1 bell pepper, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
2 cups spinach or Swiss Chard, finely chopped
1-2 tsp. olive oil
1/4 cup milk or water
Salt and pepper
6 slices deli ham or Canadian bacon
optional: 6 slices cheese
6 English Muffins

Preheat oven to 350. Fry onions and peppers in olive oil in a skillet for 2-3 minutes. Add spinach and cook until just beginning to wilt. Remove from heat. Spread veggie mixture into the bottom of a greased, oven-safe dish that is approximately 8x8 (I have a strange Pyrex dish that is somewhere between 8x8 and 9x13). Beat eggs and milk or water, adding salt and pepper. Pour eggs over veggies, pop into the oven for 25-30 minutes until eggs are set. Cut into six squares and make sammies with the ham, cheese, if using, and English muffins. Wrap in plastic wrap and store in a freezer bag or plastic container. Freeze. To reheat, microwave for 90 seconds flipping over halfway through. Allow to cool for 1-2 minutes before eating.

Anyone want to go for a run?

Nutrition Info per Sandwich: Calories - 228, Fat - 6g, Fiber - 2g, Protein - 16g, Vitamin A - 18%, Vitamin C - 40%, Iron - 14%