31 October 2008

happy halloween!

we've been doing a halloween countdown with a lift-the-flap calendar i made for cosmo. i thought it would be good way to begin to get a sense time passing (how long is it between days?), if cosmo could count off each day leading up to something he's looking forward to. it is sort of like an advent calendar, no chocolate though, just a sticker. i could not have predicted how much he would love this activity. he gets so excited every day when he realizes, "i didn't do my calendar today!" He delights in lifting the flap, and is thrilled with whatever picture is underneath. i plan to do one for november (his birthday month) and december.

he decided on being a bumble bee this year. some of you may recall that cosmo's interest in bees goes way back. i was looking forward to making a costume, but we found this bee at a thrift store, so, why bother? i did add a stinger (at his request), and ended up putting hook fasteners on it when the zipper broke. it fits, it is warm, and comfortable enough to wear all day, which is what he did yesterday, for the party at school. he put on in the morning and did not take it off until bedtime! he got a lot of smiles at kroger. these are some shots from a halloween party on sunday.

cosmo also helped out with pumpkin carving. he kept saying "ewww! disgusting!" when he was pulling out the pumpkin guts, but he had a smile on his face most of the time.

he also drew the nose and mouth, which turned out better than any of my designs for the past few years.

28 October 2008

heteronormative plush toys

cosmo's uncles, ch & h, gave him toast for his birthday, when they visited last year. cosmo is very fond of toast, probably because he came from them, but he's also pretty damn cute, if you ask me. i started felting a plush toy for some friends' new baby, but when i finished it, i knew that it could not go to the new baby. i had obviously made grape jelly, toast's girlfriend. or...er...uh...friend! buddy. pal. sister?

in any case, cosmo likes them both, and he likes for them to "talk" to one another.

i still need to make something for the baby.

26 October 2008

soup's on

with a chill in the air, soup is on the stove. i've got a ton of favorites, but here is a new one i just tried last night: carrot and red pepper soup. this comes from deborah madison's vegetarian cooking for everyone. this cookbook was a gift from carl's parents last year, and we have crafted some incredible meals from it. some of the recipes are too elaborate and time consuming for everyday cooking, but each recipe we have tried has a very distinctive taste. she knows how to pull the rich flavors out of fresh vegetables and herbs.

when i am craving a carrot soup, i usually just whip up a simple carrot ginger soup. this one is more complex and layered than that, though still quite easy to prepare. since you puree it all at the end, you don't have to be very elegant with your chopping. i was happy to find many of the ingredients still available at the farmer's market, and in my garden. i also managed to make some stock in the early afternoon, from what i could find in the crisper.

here's the recipe. if anyone tries it, i'd like to hear about it.

Carrot and Red Pepper Soup

2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
1 red bell pepper, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 cups diced onion
1 pound carrots, thinly sliced (i peeled mine)
2 tablespoons white rice
salt and freshly milled pepper
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill (or 1 and a half tablespoons dried)
Grated zest and juice of 1 orange
6 cups water or vegetable stock (preferably homemade)
Finely chopped dill or chopped parsley (for garnish)

Melt the butter in a soup pot and add the pepper, onion, carrots, rice and 1 teaspoon salt. Cook over medium heat, covered, until the onion has softened completely, about 10 minutes, stirring several times. Add a grind of pepper, the parsley, dill, orange zest, juice, and water or stock. Bring to a boil, then simmer, partially covered, until the rice is cooked, about 25 minutes. Cool briefly, then puree (in a blender, food processor or food mill)* and return it to the pot. Taste for salt, season with pepper, garnish and serve.

* you will need to do this in stages, as it won't all fit in a blender or food processor bowl.

from: Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, by Deborah Madison, (with slight modification and notes by cake).

25 October 2008

worth it

we've made it through most of the "terrible twos" without much of the terrible part. carl and i have often remarked on the fact that cosmo does not throw tantrums. well, tonight, he did.

(self portrait)

it had to do with climbing on me during dinner, batting at my salad bowl etc. and developed into crying and screaming in his room, which is something that cosmo does very little of (screaming, in particular). i can look back on the day, and see what kinds of things might have led to this: lack of one-on-one attention from each of us, lack of adequate exercise, not eating enough "real food," any number of things. add to that, mixed messages about what constitutes proper behavior at the dinner table. the fact that we don't have a dinner table might have something to do with it. when it's nice out, we eat on the back porch, and we have a proper table and chairs. when it is too cold for that, we eat inside, sitting on the living room floor, at the pew, which is a long coffee-table sort of thing that i made from what was once a church pew. we just recently started eating at the pew again, and haven't really established the ground rules, i guess. it is also possible that these incidents can't entirely be avoided. sometimes he's just got some pent up energy, and it needs to be released, somehow.

i started by making a big effort to communicate with him, getting him to slow down, look at me, speak to me, and listen. that sort of worked at first, and i was quite pleased. then, it stopped working, and he melted into the fitful mess that is a full blown tantrum, and communication of any kind was impossible. i never got angry, i remained steady, gentle, but firm in my approach, and recognized that he just needed to find a way to calm down. eventually, he did. and we hugged, and managed to move on with the evening. he asked for some water, and then, to listen to a BBC radio program CD that we borrowed from a friend, which seemed like the right thing to do. as he was drinking the water, he looked at me and said, "you're a good mama for me." at first, i wasn't sure what he'd said, so i asked him to repeat it. that is what he said. i can't imagine he knows exactly what that means, but it sure was just what i needed to hear at that moment. what a sweetheart.

[and to that, cosmo would say, "i'm not sweetheart, i'm COSMO!"]

23 October 2008

holy cow

we've been getting unpasteurized cow's milk from a local dairy farmer lately. i don't know how much sense it makes, ultimately, to drink the milk of another species, but we do. i believe that the raw milk contains a lot of good stuff which makes it easier for our bodies to process, and contributes to overall health. there's a lot of info out there about it. one (probably biased) source is this. in any case, i feel better about giving cosmo dairy that has come from a healthy, grass fed cow, nearby, than i do giving him the stuff that has been shipped from far away, and has lost some of its nutritional value. plus, it is cheaper than getting the organic milk in the store, and the milk is stored in glass jars, which get re-used.

since it is illegal to sell raw milk, we purchase a share of a cow, pay a monthly care-and-feeding fee, and the farmer "gives" us some milk every week. we receive more milk that we are used to consuming (none of us are big milk drinkers), so we have been finding other things to do with it. so far we have made yogurt, cream cheese, and mozzarella.

(cream cheese, hanging over a bowl, and fresh out of the cheese cloth)

all of them have been very easy, with the yogurt being the easiest of all. you just heat it a little, add some starter (existing yogurt) and then pour it into a thermos and let it sit undisturbed for 6-8 hours. the cream cheese was made from a batch of yogurt, and all you do there is pour it into a few layers of cheese cloth and hang it overnight. the mozzarella is a bit more involved, but still, pretty quick and doable. and for each of these products, the taste can't be beat.

(home made mozzarella, and insalata caprese with our own tomatoes, basil and cheese)


in other news, cosmo will turn THREE in exactly one month. aaaccckkk! how can this be?

17 October 2008


it is not halloween yet, but autumn is in full swing around here. probably the most photogenic time of year. i made cosmo this witch hand puppet, and while it may look like the felted wool head was the hardest part, it was not. my first two attempts at the body (the part where the hand goes), failed miserably. i'd made it out of prefab craft-felt sheets, with some cute hand stitching. the first one was just too tiny for my hand, and cosmo couldn't get it to work either. so, i made another just like it, only bigger, and it was incredibly awkward (almost painful) to get it to move in a remotely life-like way. after looking around online for some images of puppets, i decided to scrap the felt-hand-stitched style altogether, and pattern the body off of my hand, in "puppet position." the shape is funny, but it works great. i think i want to replace the cape material with some black toule, but i didn't have any on hand. most importantly, cosmo enjoys visiting with her.

we took cosmo to this bizarre place on the edge of town called the haunted train. we didn't want to take him to a haunted house because his relationship to "scary" is quite unpredictable these days. but we'd driven by this place, and it looked like something we had to check out. turns out, it is a train museum, open year round, and they have a haunted house on weekend nights in october. so we just drove out there on a sunday afternoon, met the owner, and wondered around. one could imagine how terrifying this place would be at night, with a sound track and some black lights, but in broad day light, it was just strange.

it felt like being backstage at the magic show, with all the secrets revealed. cosmo would walk by a "zombie" in a coffin and he'd say "oh, that's SCARY, too" but was clearly not scared. and he'd ask questions like "why all those babies in that water? why that water's red?" reasonable questions, if you ask me.

our next door neighbors have a rope swing, made all the more fun with a pile of leaves to fall into:

lastly, i got the bright idea to make cosmo a mudhole to play in before it gets too cold. the morning i went out to dig it, he was so excited, he got into it in his pajamas!

08 October 2008

poverty (blog action day)

today is blog action day. the topic is poverty. i was thinking about how the presidential candidates never talk about it. throughout this whole economic crisis, the media, the candidates, the analysts and the pundits speak only of wall street and main street; the fat cats and the middle class. there are only two classes in america: the super rich, and working families. i've hardly heard any coverage of how the housing foreclosures are effecting people who rent. while i consider our little family to be quite privileged (in so many ways), we don't own a home, or a small business, we aren't shareholder's, CEOs or even investors (other than some tiny 401K-type accounts). we are not poor, and yet i rarely even hear the realities of our lives represented in the media.

i've always been amazed at how most of us believe we are middle class, even if we are working class, upper class, very wealthy, or poor. americans have a sketchy understanding of class distinctions. we are made to feel that we're all middle class, or that we live in a classless society.

and, let's face it, the poor, the growing numbers of people actually living in poverty in america, are powerless. if you don't have money to contribute to a campaign, if you are too busy finding tonight's dinner to find out when the last day to register to vote is, or, if you don't have an address to register from, or, if you lost your id, and can't find transportation to the DMV to get a new one, or, your birth certificate got lost in the shuffle the last time you were evicted from your apartment--- you don't count-- you do not have a voice. if poor people mattered, post-katrina, lower 9th ward, new orleans would be a thriving community on the mend right now.

that's why it is so heartening to learn about geoffrey canada, and the harlem children's zone. If you have not already heard about it, it is a comprehensive program designed to lift a generation, in one community, out of poverty. the focus is on the children, from birth THROUGH college. i recently heard a piece about it on NPR, and then i heard a story on this american life, and i was so moved by the insight, determination, and seriousness of this man's work. when i went looking around online, i saw that he'd appeared on oprah, and that barak obama even talked about him in a speech (and yes, he did use the word poverty). there's a new book out about him, and he's getting a lot of attention.

one of the things he said in (i think) the NPR interview, is that he himself rose from poverty to the middle class, and was living in the suburbs raising kids. when he observed the kinds of things that middle class people did for and with their kids, he realized that the most important things really had very little to do with money. things like reading to your children, creating a language rich environment and encouraging your children instead of tearing them down verbally, and expecting them to fail.

he believed that he could change the lives of children in poor communities, by nurturing and educating parents, and providing families with what they need to raise healthy, smart, successful, happy children. in a way it sounds like "duh!" but at the same time, we recognize how impossible that goal really sounds.

i encourage you to check out some of the media that is out there on canada and his work, including this book:

it is a fascinating story, and it may inspire me to get off my ass and actually do something, instead of cowering in despair and hopelessness, as i have done for so much of my life.

05 October 2008

shake shake...thud thud

the hoosier hotcakes (mentioned in the previous post) perform a number at the farmer's market called "way down yonder in the pawpaw patch." ever since we moved to indiana, we have wondered about pawpaws. maggie, who teaches cosmo's music class, told us they were yummy, and one of the first solid foods she offered to her baby. she recently hooked us up with a friend who knows where to find them. they are a native fruit, they mostly grow wild, and in clumps (or patches) of trees in the woods. after trying a few from a vendor at the farmer's market, we were intrigued, and wanted to gather some ourselves. we met andy at the park, and followed him out to lake monroe, where we met another family, and headed into the woods. when we came upon the first trees, andy shook their slender trunks, and we heard a couple of thuds. cosmo helped us find the yellowish-green, mango-shaped fruits scattered on the forest floor. they stood out like sore thumbs in all that brown, and remained, for the most part, intact. they fall easily off the tree when they are ripe, so this is typically how one harvests pawpaws.

we took home a sack-full, but were unsure about what to do with them. a pawpaw is very much like a tropical fruit. it is something between a mango and a banana, in both texture, and flavor, with a slightly astringent edge to it, especially near the peel. the seeds remind me most of loquats, and you'll find several of them in each fruit. carl loves them raw. i am a bit less enthused, because i suspect they give me a tummy ache. we made some cookies from a recipe we found online. the night we made them, i thought they were delicious, and ate way too many. my stomach hurt later that night, so maybe the key here is moderation. andy had made a bunch of fruit leather out of them. i tried it, and liked it a lot, but i don't have a dehydrator, and though i had some success with peach leather this summer, i think it would be easier if made in a proper dehydrator. i recently tried to dry some tomatoes in our shed, but it hasn't been hot enough lately, and most of them developed spots of mold before they dried thoroughly.

while the cookies were pretty good, they didn't keep well, and it seems to us that pawpaws are best if you use them uncooked. carl wanted to try ice cream, so we borrowed shawna's ice cream maker and used a recipe we found online. you basically make a regular ice cream custard, as if you were just making vanilla, then before you freeze it you add some cold cream and the pawpaw pulp (which is just the fruit run through the food mill--rather awkwardly since the seeds are so large) and pour it into the ice cream maker.

the results were fantastic.

now we know what to do with pawpaws.

carl has also been really excited about persimmons, which grow wild around here as well. they are nothing like the enormous, bright orange fuji ones that you can sometimes find in grocery stores. these are small, round and taste as though the spices have already been added. seriously, they smell and taste of cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice. but they do have a bitter bite to them, around the skin, especially if they are not quite ripe.

last year we just ate a few off the tree across the street, and cosmo would eat them whole--seeds and all. we attempted to make a pudding, but we didn't have a food mill at that time, and i think too much of the astringent peel got into the pulp, and it made my mouth pucker. this year, with the food mill, and plenty of fruit from the neighborhood, and malke's backyard, there's no end to what we can do with persimmons. especially since we found the book fading feast, which dedicates a chapter to the discussion of the town of gnaw bone, indiana, and the persimmon treats found there (we recently visited, and tried the cake-like pudding from the sorghum mill trading post). the book features several persimmon recipes, including an incredible tea cake that carl made last week. he is presently baking a second loaf, the aroma is wafting in from the kitchen.
gotta run, i hear the oven door opening.

indiana autumn delight: persimmon tea cake with pawpaw ice cream.