Snippets and Pretzel Making

Things here have been humming along at a rather rapid pace. This past weekend was one of the first we have had for quite sometime without any doctor’s appointments or loads of time spent on food preservation. Our weekend was simple and sweet. Laundry was entirely caught up (for about four hours) and Ryan had a nice bit of time to work on a new project. Friends came over for chili on Sunday. The whole weekend was just a lovely time of rest.

Check out some of these sweet photos Myla and Joshua took and edited on Saturday.IMG_0922.JPGIMG_0923.JPG IMG_0924.JPG
After being exclusively breastfed for six months, our twins dove into the world of solids this past weekend. They were super excited about food. So far their favorite thing seems to be avocados. I am so thankful we made it to the six-month mark with breastfeeding. I wasn’t sure how it would go nursing twins. It was definitely challenging and it seemed most days, especially early on, were spent nursing round the clock. I am really proud we made it this far. Hopefully with the introduction of solids, both girls will feel fuller for longer and will start sleeping for longer stretches at night too. One can hope, right?IMG_0917
I’ve been experimenting the past few days with pretzel making. Years ago I tried unsuccessfully to make pretzels at home from scratch. They were okay. I thought maybe one of those pretzels in a box kits would better so I bought one and tried it. They were also just okay. Neither option was stellar and I abandoned pretzel making. I hadn’t really thought much about it until a few days ago. I was originally going to attempt, for the first time ever, to make a Jelly Roll, but despite having 21 chickens, we didn’t have enough eggs to make the roll. I was in a rather eccentric, high-energy baking mood so I didn’t want to abandon my urge to create something delicious so I flipped through one of my favorite cookbooks until my eye caught the pretzel recipe. It didn’t need hours to rise and we had all the ingredients so we began to bake.

Years and years ago when I was in Salzburg I had a pretzel. It was nothing like anything I had ever eaten in America. It was crispy, deep golden brown on the outside and divinely soft on the inside. I had no idea how to create that crunch on the outside, while still keeping the middle soft. After a few days of experimenting and trying out various flavors, I think I’ve got two recipes that we are all nuts over, so much so that none of my kids really left my kitchen for hours anytime I (plus five helpers) was making pretzels. They kids all liked making their own individual pretzel shapes. I was really impressed with Ellie’s peapod pretzel. IMG_1116.JPGThey were in pretzel making and taste-testing heaven and wanted me to take their picture while they were munching. So, here are those pictures to go along with our family favorite recipes.IMG_0967.JPGIMG_0979.jpgIMG_0980.JPGIMG_0982 copy.jpgIMG_0972.JPG

Garlic Onion Pretzels*

Ingredients

2 cups warm water
yeast (around 2 ¾ tablespoons – this is around what would be in one packet of yeast)
1 teaspoon of sugar
1 teaspoon of salt
1 teaspoon of onion powder
½ teaspoon of garlic powder
4 cups of flour
4 tablespoons of baking soda
Dried minced onion
Melted butter

First add sugar and yeast to two cups of warm water in a bowl. Let sit for five minutes or so until the yeast is happy (starting to foam up a bit). Then add onion powder, garlic powder, salt and flour. Mix in a kitchen aid mixer with a dough hook on medium speed for several minutes or knead thoroughly by hand. Cover with a cloth and let rise for 30 minutes. Prepare a pot on the stove of water (4-6 inches deep) and 4 tablespoons of baking soda. Bring to a boil. Once the dough is finished rising, dump it on the counter. Cut into even pieces. Try not to over work the dough. Roll into strips around 15 inches long or so (longer if you’d like a full-size pretzel shape). Shape into pretzel shape (or whatever shape you’d like). At this point it really is up to you how thick or thin you’d like the pretzels to be – just use whatever amount of dough you’d like to get the desired size/thickness of your shapes.

Drop the shaped pretzels one at a time into the boiling water/baking soda mixture on the stove for about five seconds. Remove and place on a parchment paper covered cookie sheet. Top with a sprinkle of salt and a bit of minced, dried onion flakes to taste. Bake for 15-20 minutes until deep golden brown. Brush with melted butter once done. Best when eaten warm. (If not planning to eat right away, wait to top with melted butter mixture until ready to enjoy).IMG_0963.JPG

Coconut Pecan Pretzels*

Ingredients

2 cups warm water
yeast (around 2 ¾ tablespoons – this is around what would be in one packet of yeast)
1 teaspoon of sugar
1 teaspoon of salt
½ cup chopped pecans
¼ cup of shredded, unsweetened coconut flakes
3 tablespoons of brown sugar
4 cups of flour
4 tablespoons of baking soda
Melted butter plus 1 tablespoons of brown sugar

First add sugar and yeast to two cups of warm water in a bowl. Let sit for five minutes or so until the yeast is happy (starting to foam up a bit). Then add salt and flour. Mix in a kitchen aid mixer with a dough hook on medium speed for several minutes or knead thoroughly by hand. Towards the end of kneading add in pecans, coconut flakes and brown sugar. Cover with a cloth and let rise for 30 minutes. Prepare a pot on the stove of water (4-6 inches deep) and 4 tablespoons of baking soda. Bring to a boil. Once the dough is finished rising, dump it on the counter. Cut into even pieces. Try not to over work the dough. Roll into strips around 15 inches long or so (longer if you’d like a full-size pretzel shape). Shape into pretzel shape (or whatever shape you’d like). At this point it really is up to you how thick or thin you’d like the pretzels to be – just use whatever amount of dough you’d like to get the desired size/thickness of your shapes.

Drop the shaped pretzels one at a time into the boiling water/baking soda mixture on the stove for about five seconds. Remove and place on a parchment paper covered cookie sheet. Bake for 15-20 minutes until deep golden brown. Brush with melted butter mixed with 2 tablespoons of brown sugar once done. Top with shredded coconut flakes. Best when eaten warm. (If not planning to eat right away, wait to top with melted butter/brown sugar mixture until ready to enjoy).IMG_1123.JPG

*Modified from Soft Pretzels recipe in The All New Good Housekeeping Cook Book (2001) edited by Susan Westmoreland

Advertisements

The Fails

This weekend I had two cooking fails. One redeemed itself and turned out splendidly and one turned out subpar.

If you remember from last post, we were quite backed up on our tomatoes. We had too many tomatoes and too little time. So, getting as many tomatoes preserved as we could was in the forefront of our mind for this weekend. I typically like to use a slow cooker tomato sauce recipe. The tomatoes cook for twelve hours (at least) with a mixture of onions, garlic and spices. The resulting sauce is delicious. Early Saturday morning, Ryan and I went up to the garden to pick the bulk of our remaining tomatoes. We quickly realized it’d take us days to use up all the tomatoes if we stuck with our usual slow-cooker sauce recipe. We knew we did not have enough time to make as many batches of slow-cooker sauce as we had tomatoes before the tomatoes spoiled. So we decided to try something new. Instapot tomato sauce. After some quick calculating we realized we could turn all the tomatoes we just picked into sauce after only sixty minutes of instapot cooking. We prepped all our tomatoes assembly-line style, with the help of the kiddos, and loaded the first batch in the Instapot. Thirty minutes later, round one was done. I opened the Instapot, grabbed my immersion blender and started blending. I noticed right away, the sauce was way too runny. The consistency just wouldn’t do. I sighed and thought I’d have to transfer the sauce to the stove to cook down to the consistency we preferred, a process that would most likely take hours. I cautiously tasted a spoonful of the botched sauce. For the first time ever, I added cocoa powder to the sauce after reading online it would add complexity to the sauce. I was curious how it tasted. I’d also just thrown in a smattering of my usual sauce ingredients, not really paying too much attention to measurements. Oregano. Thyme. Parsley. Salt. Pepper. Garlic. More Garlic. Tarragon. More Garlic. It was amazing. The texture was that of tomato soup and, on the spot, I announced we were going to just freeze it as is and use it as soup. Images of thick sourdough bread, toasted with Brie or Gouda cheese ran through my mind and all the sudden my sauce disaster seemed more like providence.I anxiously started to dump in all the ingredients for the next batch, hoping my fingers remembered just the right amount of each spice to replicate the batch we just made. Sure enough, we got a second large batch of scrumptious tomato soup. So, instead of a ton of sauce this year, we have a decent amount of sauce plus at least four meals of tomato soup for our family. Not bad. With the way the soup tasted, I’ll take that any day.

So, tomatoes are now done. Grapes are also done. We picked our grape vine clean and promptly turned the grapes into jam. Our family has already inhaled half a jar of jam. Homemade grape jam is utterly divine. As are cranberry pecan cookies. This brings me to the next fail.

The second fail of the week was not one I’d replicate again. We had friends coming over and I decided to make my absolute favorite cookie, cranberry-pecan, for the occasion. Everything was humming along beautifully until it was time to add the flour. Two cups went in just fine, but then, alas, I had no more flour. Somehow on my grocery list for the week, I’d not realized how perilously low we were on flour. Most of the kids were with Ryan at soccer practice. I had two choices. I could ask Ryan to go get more flour after the kids were done with soccer. Timing-wise this was a bit tricky because we were having friends over to enjoy the cookies. If I didn’t start baking the cookies until Ryan was home, there was a strong likelihood the twins would be awake from naps and cookies would be delayed (if not scrapped entirely). I had an entire bowl full of nearly ready to go batter. My other option was to improvise. I had two boxes of gluten-free baking mix in my pantry. It might work. I went with the second option. I measured out four cups of gluten-free mix and dumped it into the batter. It looked somewhat decent. After the tomato soup adventure, I had high hopes for my now half gluten, half gluten-free cookies. I popped the first batch in the oven, set the timer and waited (e.g. cleaned up the mess I just made of my kitchen). Twelve minutes later, I opened the oven. Disaster. An entire cookie sheet of flat dough glared at me. All the cookies fell flat, running into one another and making one giant flat blob. I pulled out the tray and walked away, hoping I’d come back in a few minutes and things would somehow be better. No such luck. I scraped the dough off the cookie sheet and decided to put another tray in. A baby was up and I knew I wouldn’t have another chance before friends came over to mix up a whole new batch of cookies.

The second tray went into the oven. I picked up baby number one from her nap and went into the living room when I heard whispers. Something was up. I peaked in the kitchen. Esther and Hudson were tiptoeing over to the pile of goo I’d scraped off my cookie sheet. “Shhh” Esther told Hudson before reaching over, grabbing a chunk of goo and darting out of the kitchen. Hudson was quick to follow with his own chunk. A few minutes later, they were back at it. I guess the cookies couldn’t be that bad. The timer beeped and I went to see if the next round turned out any better, noticing along the way that the most of the blob had disappeared. For the second round I had adjusted the size of the cookie dough balls, but that was about it. I opened the oven. Not awful. Still flat. I decided to leave them on the tray for a bit and then try to get them off. Bingo. They did taste slightly mealy from the gluten-free baking mix, but the overall flavor was good. “Mom! I love these! They taste like toffee!” one of my kid’s exclaimed after she returned from soccer practice.

After I wrapped my brain around the idea that these cookies would never be my beloved gooey, gluten-filled cranberry-pecan cookies, I started to enjoy my new cranberry-pecan crisps. I also wondered if I could get away with eating more of them because they were half-gluten. I’ve been avoiding gluten the past few months and so I’ve limited myself to only one cookie when I bake a batch of cookies. Surely, if these cookies are half-gluten I could splurge and eat two of them…or four…four is good, right?

Winding Down…sort of

It’s happened. We knew it would. The tomatocalypse of 2018 is here. It began around the same time as my phone died, the basement flooded, refrigerator fried, new PT schedule began (45 minutes away from home), a miscellaneous smattering of doctors/specialists appointments occurred, and a myriad of other various events transpired in our home making it quite difficult to actually walk up to the garden to pick the tomatoes. The result. We only have one batch of tomato sauce made so far and a whole lot of tomatoes still on the vine.

Ryan went up Sunday afternoon and picked all tomatoes that were in critical condition, meaning if they did not get picked, they’d rot. We all worked together to get them ready to go for sauce making Monday morning. Well, I should say we mostly all worked together. Esther bailed part way through to eat as many tomatoes as she could before we diced them up.Typically it takes me around two hours (including all interruptions by children) to get a batch of tomatoes ready for sauce making. Thankfully, since it was a team effort, we got the tomatoes ready to go in a half hour.Our refrigerator is up and running again. Thank God. By the end of the week and a half of being fridge-less, I just loaded money on J’s school account and told him to go crazy and buy school lunch. He was thrilled.

Tonight we are tackling the grapes and apples won’t be far behind.

As things wind down in the garden, we’ve been making notes about what we’d like to do differently next year. First, some friends of ours had a separate melon garden. What brilliance. Our melons always end up taking over our entire garden by the end of the summer. We are definitely stealing their idea for next year. Also, we’d like to grow more beets. For sure. Beets, once harvested, last forever. They are incredible roasted and are exquisite with goat cheese as an appetizer. We only planted a few this year because we were not sure how they would do and we did not want to waste square footage on a maybe crop. They flourished. So for next year they’ve earned additional square footage. You will probably find this hard to believe since we live in the Midwest, but we have yet to master growing corn. It’s a goal for next year. One way or another we need to figure it out.

We’ve managed to work out a daily school routine here that works well with the babies’ nap schedule. In case I haven’t shared this incredible news with you yet in person or on the phone or in an email, I’m announcing it now. The twins have a bedtime. They have a daily schedule. It’s fantastic. My evenings are back and I’ve even been able to go out shopping by myself (for fun things, not groceries- we still keep Instacart  very busy (here’s a link for $10 off Instacart if you are interested and decide to give it a try) and for coffee with friends (well, actually hot chocolate since I’m still off coffee thanks to the babies’ sensitive tummies). We love our little ladies, but my heavens, the first few months of twindom was something else.

Since our evenings are a little more open, we’ve even been talking about trying out a few new hobbies around here at night. We’re trying to figure out something that neither of us is very good at but are both interested in learning. Painting and/or drawing together is a solid “no”. Learning a new musical instrument is out since Ryan has a definite advantage over me in that area. We talked about working out together, but honestly the appeal of sweating together, after one of our busy days here, is not really there. So, we’ll see what we come up with once the dust settles from all our food preservation adventures and the garden is finally done for the year. If you have any ideas, feel free to pass them along!

Monday Night Mash Up

It’s Monday night here and the first chance I’ve had in a week to sit down and write much of anything.

We got our first taste of our new normal last week – and then some. Overall, it went okay. It helped I kept my expectations relatively low for the week. I didn’t plan a lot of “work” for the four-year olds, because, well, they are four. I knew they were SO crazy excited about starting “school” that it’d be hard for them to focus on much of anything. Just as I suspected, they were bouncing off the walls the first two days. We did a few crafts with their new supplies and they were tickled silly over the whole thing. We took a field trip to the garden on an ABC scavenger hunt and found a stunning spider web along the way. The big girls completed their school work in record time and were asking for more all week. Turns out they missed school. IMG_0195.jpgOur school week was mildly interrupted midweek when a storm came through our area and we lost power in the middle of the night. The power stayed off for over ten hours. Since it was the middle of the night when it went out, we didn’t get the generator on right away. This meant the sump pump had no power for around an hour or two and the basement flooded. The night turned into a comedy of errors. We got the generator hooked up, but it wouldn’t power the whole house (unlike other times when it powered everything just fine). It would only work if we plugged things into the generator outlets. So Ryan ended up drilling holes around our house at one in the morning to run the power cord down for the sump pump to prevent the basement from flooding further.

We stayed up the rest of the night getting the water out of the basement and making sure the sump pump continued to work through the downpour. Once power was restored we realized our refrigerator was fried. That turned into its own fiasco. The end result is we have no upstairs fridge or freezer till later this week (and that’s an improvement from the two-week timeframe we were originally told). It’s a rather large bummer. We’re praying the part the technician ordered comes soon.

In the meantime, we moved all our upstairs freezer foods to the basement freezer. We packed the upstairs fridge with ice and ate as much of the food out of it as we could. It’s taken some creative planning, but so far we’ve not had to throw away any food.

Our garden is winding down for the season. We’ve had a daily supply of cantaloupes coming in. Watermelons are at their peak. Tomatoes are ripening at a nice, steady rate. I wish I’d written down the varieties we bought this year. I much prefer this pace to last years’ when they all decided to come in at the same, exact time. Apples and grapes are in the wings, ready to go whenever I decide to inventory our canning jar supply, restock if needed and then dive in to processing those for the year. The end of our gardening adventures this year is near. We’ve been blessed by all the goodies. We have a nice stockpile built up and I’m looking forward to having a bit of a break from preserving all the yumminess. I’ve got a few books picked out to work through this fall and my couch and a cozy blanket are looking really nice about now. Oh, and a fridge. Let’s not forget about that necessary piece of equipment. It does, after all, hold my cashew milk, a necessary ingredient in my lattes, which pair really well with a good book. If we could get that going soon, it would be fantastic.

The Morning Haul

I adore being able to walk out into our backyard and get whatever veggies we need for the day. This morning the littles and I headed to the garden to see what we could discover. They approach going to the garden like going on the most valiant treasure hunt. You never know what could be hiding under the garden leaves!IMG_7185.JPGThis morning was our first big haul. It’d been a week or so since I’d been up there and we ended up picking two giant zucchini amid much cheering from all the kids because they have been begging me to make zucchini bread as soon as the zucchinis start to come in. I usually make at least two loaves a day during prime zucchini time and we stock up our freezer with lots of loaves for the winter. I’ll be making a few loaves today and then use any left over zucchinis for our stir-fry for dinner tonight.

We also found three cucumbers. One of which was a fun shape so the kids kept pretending it was a telephone, sparking giggles all around. We will most likely eat all three of these for lunch. There were many baby cucumbers (or baby pickles as Esther says) on the vine and I’m hoping we’ll be able to make some pickles out of them in the next few weeks.IMG_7191.JPGThe broccoli plants looked fantastic and we harvested a bit for our stir-fry. The last stop on our tour checking out the various edibles around our yard was our currant bush.IMG_7023.JPGSeveral years ago when we lived in New York, we religiously went to the farmer’s market in Saratoga Springs. We went every single week to pick up our veggies from our CSA, get our eggs and milk and try all the delicious farm to table food. We did this for years. One of the venders at the market was a little old lady named Anna Mae who opened the market each week by running down the main aisle shaking an old, rather large bell. No one would sell anyone a thing until Anna Mae finished ringing the bell. Anna Mae sold jams of all kinds. Each week she put out several to taste and one week, after I had read some article about the health benefits of black currants, she put out black currant jam to try. I fell in love. Tart, but not too tart, it had a lovely zing and I decided that little jar of jam, packed full of all its health benefits, was well worth the price. Each of Anna Mae’s jams was a different price, based on the fruit. Now that we have our own black currant bush, I know why her black currant jam was one of the pricier ones. We spent quite a while this morning meticulously picking each of the currants off our bush. I need to investigate how to pick the currants further, particularly for future years when we have more currants coming in. Hopefully there is a more efficient way to go about it. For the moment though, the currants are picked and we are ready to roll.IMG_7196 2.jpg

All the Rain and All the Tomatoes

It’s a terrible time to be a chicken around here. It’s been nothing but rain for a few weeks. Okay, that’s a slight exaggeration. We’ve had a few days of sun, but they’ve been sparse. The new chickens we raised this spring do not particularly like to go out in the rain. They huddle up in the coop and stare out into the yard as if to ask what they ever did to deserve such weather. Since they have been hanging out in the coop a lot, it is in need of a good clean out. It’s a muddy mess and will start to smell gross if we don’t get to it. We would of course, except the rain continues to pour.

The garden plants have been thrilled with the rain we’ve been getting. Baby veggies are making a grand appearance and the grape vine is running fast along our back fence, weighing heavy with loads of grapes.

IMG_6624 2.JPG

Hudson counting grapes

The grapes are my favorite crop. Yes, they have seeds and it’s a lot of work, but I love, love, love that I can make enough jam (if the crop is good enough) to last our family the entire year. Following close behind in favorites are the tomatoes for the same reason. I can stock up enough sauce from our plants to last us the entire year. It’s fantastic and oh, so, tasty. I usually do a batch of sauce a day when our tomato crop is at its peak. I like using a crock-pot recipe because I can just throw all the ingredients in and let it be. Here is my go to sauce recipe in case you’d like it. Even though there are some spices in it, once it is cooked, it is a basic sauce. I usually freeze it in two-cup increments so it’s easy to use in recipes. I prefer to make sauce this way so I can jazz it up however I’d like whenever I go to use it in a dish.

Tomato Sauce

  • 6 pounds of tomatoes (seeds out)
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 6 cloves of garlic
  • 1, 8 ounce jar of tomato paste
  • 1 ½ tablespoons of Italian seasoning
  • ½ tablespoon of dried basil
  • 1 teaspoon of tarragon
  • ½ teaspoon of rosemary
  • ½ teaspoon thyme
  • 2-3 tablespoons of raw sugar
  • ½ cup white wine
  • salt and pepper

Combine all the ingredients in a crockpot. Cook on low 8-12 hours. Once cooked, use an immersion blender for a few seconds to make it a nice, smooth consistency.

An End to Far Too Long

It’s been awhile. Two years to be exact since I blogged here last. I realized the other day it has been far too long.

Much has happened during the “far too long season”. It’s been a bit of a whirlwind. We went from a family of five to a family of nine in less than a year thanks to bringing home our two boys from China and the recent birth of our twin girls.

Last weekend we had newborn pictures taken of our twins and as I was sitting there watching the photographer work her magic to ensure each pose turned out exactly how she wanted it, I realized I miss creative expression. In all the craziness of international adoption (two and a half year long process), moving to a new state, adjusting to life with two new children, doing life pregnant with twins, having the twins early and all the craziness of their six week NICU stay, and finally re-adjusting to life with twins once they were discharged from the hospital, I haven’t had much time for writing anything besides in my journal and even that’s been a bit sporadic. The thoughts have been there but the time to write it all out has been rather limited. I love blogging because it’s sort of like a digital scrapbook. I’m terrible at paper scrapbooking, but I can do the written kind.

I’m not sure how often I’ll be able to write, but I’m hoping to get back in the habit as we do life with our seven kiddos. I love sharing what God is up to in our lives and I love being able to look back and see his fingerprints.

So here we go…

Let’s start with summer. It’s close. So close I can almost taste the freshly picked strawberries. We put in our garden last weekend. By that I mean, Ryan put in the garden, with the kids help, while I supervised the twins in their stroller and acted as a consultant for where to put everything. This year we will be growing: kale (of course!), beets, broccolini, cauliflower, zucchini, tomatoes, peppers, green onions, cantaloupe, sweet peas, cucumbers and brussel sprouts. All of this in addition to apples, grapes, raspberries, blueberries, and strawberries, our beloved plants that return year after year. When we moved here, there were already several apple and pear trees, along with a well-established grape vine.

baby grapes

Aren’t these baby grapes growing along our fence the cutest?

Year by year, we’ve added a few new plants here and there. I would love it if we eventually had enough berries growing around our property to make a few batches of jam to go with the grape jam I usually make from our vine. We are most likely a few years away from reaching that goal, but hopefully we will get their one day. This year it is looking like we will get a ton of grapes! The vine is already covered with itty-bitty grapes. I cannot wait for them to come in!