Category Archives: With the Kids

homemade breakfast sausage


I usually don’t eat much in the mornings, but today I started the day with fresh squeezed orange juice (from a local tree), Yukon Gold hashbrowns, fried eggs (from a friend’s chickens) and homemade breakfast sausage that the boys and I made yesterday afternoon. It makes me happy that my kids are almost always interested in a cooking project and when there are “power tools” involved (in this case, the food grinder attachment on my KitchenAid mixer) they really get into it.

The recipe we used for the sausage was basically like one I had read awhile back on the blog, Homesick Texan, except that instead of ground pork we started with 2 pounds of whole pork butt plus a half pound of fat back. I also changed up the spices a bit using fresh sage, thyme and rosemary from the garden as well as a little grated nutmeg. We ground it all up using the fine blade on my grinder, and then made a tray full of patties to freeze.

We don’t really eat this kind of heavy “country breakfast” very often (in fact, it’s pretty rare) but I try to expose the kids to a wide variety of foods as well as to the full scope of how things are prepared. It was definitely a tasty breakfast but in the interest of health we’ll probably end up keeping just a few patties and giving the rest to friends. Afterall, half the joy of cooking is in the sharing!

feathered friends



I’ve wanted to raise chickens for a very long time. I’ve written about this before but since then I’ve been steadily researching and studying (breeds, coop designs, general care etc.) Besides my own personal interest in chickens, I’ve also been strongly motivated to have them for my kids. Not just as the usual “4-H” type learning experience but also because one of my sons has a really intense fear of birds. When he was two years old he was strapped in his stroller at the local county fair when a rooster went berserk right in his face. It traumatized him so profoundly that four years later he still is irrationally terrified by any winged creature. My hope was that by introducing him to tiny little chicks (which I knew he would love) and forming an attachment that way, then as the chicks grew he would also outgrow the fear. (Wouldn’t it be nice if there were soft and cuddly versions of all the things that torment us, that we could love and grow through? Or maybe that’s just what all of life is…)

So this Thursday I turned yet another dream into a reality. The boys and I drove up to a local feed store and brought home the first two chicks for our flock—a Rhode Island Red and a Barred Plymouth Rock. After we set up our brooder I told the boys they could decide what to name them. They surprised me with an interesting idea–they wanted to name one Monday and the other Tuesday (and continue on with the names of the week as we got more.) How could I disagree with such a cute idea?

The last two days were a non-stop a celebration of the chicks. Both boys were enchanted by them they actually asked if they could sleep with the chicks! I, on the other hand, was not sleeping at all because I was up all night checking on them, cleaning their water, adjusting and re-adjusting the heat lamp to make sure they weren’t too hot or too cold. It was just like having infants all over again.

Then yesterday afternoon I noticed that Tuesday (the Barred Rock) was droopy, panting and didn’t appear to be eating or drinking. My chicken mentor, Amy, came over and suggested dipping Tuesday’s beak in the water to make sure she was drinking and not getting dehydrated. As the evening went on, the beak-dipping still wasn’t making her drink and she was clearly getting worse. I spent most of the night on the internet reading everything about chick health I could find.

After reading and reading, I was still torn about whether I should leave her alone to rest or intervene. By midnight I decided I needed to force her to drink. So every few hours throughout the night I held her and gave her drops of water from an eye dropper. Each time I did this I hoped she would suddenly be revitalized and return to being the happy little chick that came home with us. But instead she just became more listless, barely able to stand up. Meanwhile Monday started to mercilessly peck at her (the way animals often choose to attack a sick or dying member–one of nature’s cruelties that is very hard to watch.)

Finally at 7:30 this morning when I was giving Tuesday another dose of water from the dropper, she died in my hands. It’s amazing how much sadness and loss one can feel about a creature that has only been in your life for less than two days. But there is something so deeply bonding about caring for another living thing. As the tears were streaming down my face, I couldn’t help but also think about my hypocrisy in not crying every time I eat chicken for dinner. Another reason to be close to the food you consume.

Rest in Peace little Tuesday.

tadpoles!


Yesterday my good friend (and best collaborator in creative parenting) Jacqueline and her son brought us some tadpoles they had just caught in a local creek. Another wonderful sign of spring! The boys are just starting to grasp the concept of the life cycle of the frog and still keep referring to the tadpoles as “fish” so I’m really excited to see them witness the metamorphosis.

I haven’t kept tadpoles since I was a child myself so I actually had to research how to raise them. (They like cooked lettuce? Who knew?) One of my favorite things about being a parent is revisiting and relearning the wonders of the natural world all over again. But children aren’t necessarily required for this–anyone could benefit from raising tadpoles at least once in their adult life!

kids’ artist trading cards


The project I had really been looking forward to doing with my kids in February was The Great Backyard Bird Count. I was talking it up for weeks in advance, we had all our bird checklists printed out, binoculars at the ready…and then…when the weekend arrived, so did the rain. And not just a little rain, non-stop downpours for all four days. So unfortunately no birding for us.

Luckily, I had a great indoor project also lined up thanks to two resourceful moms in the blogosphere, Erin and Blair who organized a Kids’ Artist Trading Card Swap based on the same guidelines as the “grown-up” ATCs. Over 900 children from all over the world participated (amazing for such a low-key, homegrown effort.)

Since my kids had a lot of pent up energy from all the rainy days, I knew a careful session of watercolors or pastels was out of the question. So I decided to train their creative energy into something with a good physical component–hammering! They picked out leaves from our garden (carrot tops were the favorite), taped them to the pre-cut cards (Bristol board), covered that with a sheet of parchment paper and hammered away. The first few were messy green blobs, but eventually they each figured out the knack of how much and how hard to hammer to get a result they were happy with.

After they finished making their cards (five each), they had fun addressing the envelopes and using their globe to find all the places they were sending them. Then we had an exciting trip to the post office where they picked out their own stamps and had a lengthy Q&A session with the postal worker about how long it would take for their cards to arrive and how they would be transported.

Now the return cards are starting to arrive in the mail, which they are absolutely thrilled about and displaying proudly. My friend Jacqueline also gave me a great suggestion to use Google Earth to show them the locations of the other kids in their swap groups. Seeing the difference of residences from an apartment building in Manhattan to a rural home in North Carolina and then flying around the world to England and then Australia, was very dramatic for them.

I am so glad to be part of a network of mothers around the world who connected our kids in this way. And huge thanks again to Erin and Blair for organizing!

potato love

What says "I love you" better than a potato? It's been a potato-themed week around here. First a potato-stamp Valentine's Day card project with the kids and then planting five varieties of potatoes in the yard. Not the russets shown above (those were for art, not eating) but German Butterball, Banana Fingerling, Yukon Gold, Yellow Finn and Colorado Rose. I clearly prefer the yellow, buttery type of potato but I threw one red skin in for variety (how risque!) I get all my seed potatoes from Ronnigers who have a great variety (organic and conventional).

Now I just hope our belated (but welcome) rains are not going to cause too much water build-up in the soil and rot them all. It was actually pouring while I was planting yesterday but I stuck it out (it actually was pretty enjoyable–peaceful + good smells) because I wanted to get the potatoes in at the start of the waning moon and didn't want to wait until next month.

I've always gardened organically but have never followed any kind of lunar or astronomical planting calendar before. I guess some part of me always tuned out this kind of wisdom because it seemed to have a slight aura of quackery about it. But given that the moon's gravitational pull controls the tides (not to mention my moods!) it really doesn't seem so far-fetched that it would also affect germination, soil moisture etc. And of course there is the long, long history of traditional cultures (from the Egyptians to the Mayans) following this logic.

In sorting through the various theories about using moon phases and astrology for gardening, one of the basic concepts I learned was that annual plants that grow above the ground should be planted in the first or second quarter moon near to the full moon, and root crops  should be planted shortly after the full moon. Since the full moon was just a few days ago, I wanted to try this theory out.

Of course I have no control standard to test against and therefore no way of measuring whether this will be any more successful than planting at another time but I always like to learn new things and try  new approaches. It's about the process, not the outcome!

summer in winter

For the last week or so we've been having these freakishly sunny and warm days. Of course the lack of rain and what this hot spell means in the larger environmental context is extremely concerning, but in a nearsighted, selfish way it sure has been pleasant!

This afternoon my brother and I took the boys for a bike ride in the marshlands along the north end of the San Francisco Bay. The air was so still and the light so crisp it made me want to keep riding and riding and never turn back. 

When we did return home, the fresh evening air inspired me to have a spur-of-the-moment cookout in the garden. Rather than using the barbecue, I set up a grate on our open fire ring so we could sit around campfire style. The boys put their jackets on over their pajamas and we grilled sausages and roasted marshmallows.

It was such a beautiful day. More than the weather and the activities and the food though, what gives me the most joy is being able to share my sense of spontaneity and the importance of celebrating the moment with my children.

lighted boat parade

Tonight was the annual Lighted Boat Parade in the San Rafael canal. Every year boaters throughout the county deck out their boats to benefit Community Action Marin, Marin County’s oldest and largest provider of family support services. A friend and I brought our kids and shared a nice glass of red wine at the waterfront as we took in the festivities (everything from lighted kayaks to vintage cabin cruisers.) It was a huge hit with the kids since it had all the light-up bling factor plus water vehicles (the coast guard and police boats were a particularly big hit).

All that nautical exposure put me in the mood for fish and chips so afterwards I headed straight to the my favorite place in the area, Fish restaurant in Sausalito. I’ve been a huge fan of this spot ever since it opened. In an area full of waterfront tourist traps with bad food it was a welcome relief to finally have a place for the locals. I love the industrial/maritime aesthetic (warehouse space, picnic tables inside and out, mason jars for glasses), being able to eat right by the water, and the fact that they are strong advocates for sustainable seafood. Not to mention that the food is delicious. They have a very varied menu with great seasonal specials but I always have a hard time passing up the fish and chips–fresh Alaskan Halibut battered with our local Anchor Steam beer and seasoned
flour. Yum! The only downside is the prices; it’s really expensive. But considering the location, the quality and the ethical food practices I can justify it, just not very often.

santa’s japanese elves

 

When of my favorite parts of Christmas morning as a child was the delight of discovering all the little tiny items in my stocking (along with tangerines, walnuts and Italian torrone nougat candy.). Today I was looking for stocking stuffers for the boys that would be small and inexpensive but also not plastic throw-away junk. I found some good small toys at Elephant Pharmacy but also made a stop at one of our local Asian markets. This was a great resource for treats that I know will be very exciting both because of their packaging and also because they’ll be perceived as candy (a rarity in our house) even though they aren’t completely loaded down with sugar.

a day at the olive ranch

Every time I drive by the McEvoy Ranch in Petaluma, I always want to go visit. It’s such a stunning piece of land (550 acres of rolling hills, studded with olive trees) that produces delicious Tuscan-style olive oil. I always seem to miss their tour season so I was really happy when I got an email invitation to their holiday open house. This seemed like a perfect seasonal event that I could bring the kids to and that we’d all enjoy on different levels.

It was a chilly morning when we arrived but we were welcomed with hot chocolate (I think my kids wiped out half their supply) and a spread of delicious olive oil-based treats all made with recipes from their Olive Harvest Cookbook.

There was also a great bluegrass trio called the Earl Brothers playing who we all really enjoyed listening to. They have a refreshingly traditional mountain sound and Robert Earl Davis (banjo and lead vocals) has a wonderfully sorrowful voice. They play shows fairly frequently around the San Francisco Bay area and I definitely would like to go hear them again soon. You can also check out their music on MySpace.

After snacking and toe-tapping our way through the morning, we stepped inside the frantoio (Italian olive oil mill) for a tour. Considering the mill processes olives from 80 acres of orchards, it was a fairly discrete and efficient set-up.

First the olives are poured into a hopper and a defoliator pulls off any leaves and stems.

Even though the olives are “cold processed” (no heat or chemicals) with sophisticated Rapanelli machinery,

The fruit itself is still crushed the old-fashioned way by two heavy (over twelve hundred pounds each) granite
wheels.

After the crushing, the olive paste is pumped into a Sinolea extractor (apparently the only machine of its kind in the U.S.) that works by dipping thousands of steel blades into the paste, retrieving droplets of oil. This gentle process creates no heat of any kind which protects
the fragile composition and quality of the oil. Any vegetative water
remaining in the oil is spun out by a centrifuge.

At McEvoy they bottle two types of olive oil, Olio Nuovo “new oil” which is freshly produced and sold during the olive harvest (and for a few weeks afterwards) and Traditional Blend which is left to settle and mellow in tanks for several months.

I’ve never been much of a fan of new olive oil–it’s much too “grassy” for me, but being there at this time of year it was nice to be able to taste both types side by side.

All and all it was a really enjoyable outing for all of us, festive without being commercial and a nice mix of food, nature, music, education and of course the kids’ favorite–loud machinery!