Until a week ago, that nursery rhyme was the only thing I knew about mulberries. Then our friend, Jonathan, posted ‘mulberries’ as his facebook status. Just ‘mulberries’. He later commented that he was trying to work but all he could think about was foraging for mulberries. He and his wife, Lesley, live in Nashville so I assumed their neighborhood was flooded and that they couldn’t get to a grocery store. Nope, they’re just that cool.
Then Alan informed me that there’s a huge mulberry tree in the field behind our house.
So he carried a bucket down the hill and brought these lovely little berries home.
“What are you going to DO with them?,” I asked. “Are you SURE they’re mulberries? 100% sure? How do you know?” He looked at me like I was the crazy one.
I’ve mentioned that my mountain man has some mad baking skills, but I was terrified to try this suspicious little piece of pie. The crunchy-granola girl in me admires the simple living, back to the land movement and thinks growing and canning your own food sounds swell. I mean, how much more local can you get than these mulberries? But the city girl in me got online, started googling pictures of mulberry trees, and researching the possible side effects from consuming its fruit. I whispered to Lilly, “Let’s wait until tomorrow and make sure Daddy hasn’t poisoned himself before we eat a slice.”
Why was I so afraid of the mulberries? The same reason other people are afraid to eat collard greens, kale, swiss chard, or fennel. We’re terrified of the unfamiliar, but it’s the familiar that’s REALLY scary: double D-sized chicken breasts, antibiotic-laden beef washed in ammonia and chlorine to remove E. coli, fake food filled with ingredients you can’t pronounce let alone recognize. So why was I afraid of eating berries growing on a tree behind my house? Because they weren’t labeled and I didn’t have to pay for them – as if that ensures safety. It’s laughable, I know! The point is, as a society, we’re so completely disconnected from our food. We have dandelion greens and mulberries growing all over the city and hungry people who have no clue that they’re edible. I did eventually try a piece of pie and my exact words were, “This is SO good, I don’t care if it makes me sick.” Lilly woke up the next morning and said, “Daddy didn’t poison himself, so can I eat a slice of pie now?”
Ted Clark once described our church on NPR's All Things Considered. He said, "Oakhurst Presbyterian Church is unremarkable on the outside, but the congregation on the inside is quite remarkable. People from the most divergent backgrounds - middle class professionals, blue-collar and pink-collar workers, welfare recipients, old, young, and very young, black, white, Asian, gay and straight. All seem to feel comfortable there and speak their minds." Today we celebrated our church's 90th anniversary.
The following song is called "White Man" and it reminds me very much of our community of faith and the message at Oakhurst. We are all children of God. There are many other definitions that the world will give us based on our skin color, sexual orientation, education level and economic status. At Oakhurst we're reminded that our primary definition is a child of God. There are no second class citizens at our church. Diversity is a gift.
When we were on our trip to North Carolina, Alan and I got away for a night to celebrate our 12th anniversary.
We spent the night at the Freymont Inn in Bryson, City and the next morning went on a hike in the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest. It's one of the only old-growth, virgin forests on the east coast. It reminded me very much of a mini-Muir Woods, which was where we were 12 years ago for our honeymoon.
Twelve years ago, when we were younger, thinner, and more carefree,
That’s my secret for making one dinner that usually sometimes pleases both the tall and short people in my home. ‘Separate, separate, separate’ is an especially important technique for children of the preschool variety. They want power and they want it now. Food is the only thing in their little lives that they have any control over. As much as you’d like to get your screwdriver and your plumber’s helper, open their mouths and shove it in, that didn’t work for Mr. Parker in A Christmas Story and it won’t work for you.
My six year old will eat raw spinach dipped in salad dressing and she’ll devour a container of strawberries in minutes, but try combining those three items and she recoils in horror. I not only physically separate every item on the plate, I also reserve items while I’m cooking before I RUIN them with too much flavor. The other night I made one of my favorite spring dishes, Seared Tofu with Spicy Black Beans and Mango Salsa, which I discovered years ago in Peter Berley’s cookbook Fresh Food Fast. This is how the dish looks when Alan and I eat it.
For my picky little munchkins, I reserved some of the mango salsa before I added jalapeno and cilantro to it. I also separated the food on their plates like this.
Lilly informed me that next time I make this dish, the tomato is not invited to her mango play date. I meant to reserve some black beans before I RUINED them with ginger, cumin, and garlic, but I forgot. Do you see where this is going? Lilly didn’t seem to mind the beans, but this was Jonathan’s reaction:
It gets even better!
Separate, separate, separate!
Separate the food, but don’t cook a separate meal; unless, of course, you want to. If you have endless money, time, and patience, then go for it. Just keep in mind that “kid-friendly food” is a marketing gimmick, one that didn’t exist 100 years ago.
Don’t feel too rejected when the ungrateful boogers refuse the meal you so lovingly prepared for them. You sometimes have to offer a dish twenty or thirty times before a child starts to like it; an annoying fact, but true. My daughter was a really good eater when she was little. She later went through picky stages and turned up her nose at meals she once loved. On the bright side, she’s eating things today that she refused to touch just last year. If I didn’t give her the opportunity to try a variety of foods, how would her taste buds ever develop and mature? Don’t get too worked up about the food they reject. Just laugh at their full-body shudders, try to refrain from lecturing them about starving children in Africa, and celebrate small victories. We’re all in this thing together.
As you can see, it took me over a month to recover from snow week. It was THAT bad. This past week has more than made up for it though. My daughter had a week long ‘winter break’ from school and it’s been 70 degrees and sunny EVERY SINGLE DAY! When we weren’t outside playing, we were in the kitchen playing with our food. It’s amazing how much more likely kids are to eat dishes that are presented in unique and fun ways. They’re even MORE likely to try food they’ve had a hand in preparing. Case in point: potato mice.
Sure, the kids may have eaten a plain old baked potato, but they’re still talking about these 3 days later. We got the recipe from this Mom and Me Cookbook, by Annabel Karmel and they were really tasty. You remove the inside of the potatoes, mash them with butter, milk and cheese, and then fill the potatoes back up with the mashed potato mixture. You then add more shredded cheese on top and broil the potatoes a few minutes until golden brown. My daughter had a blast giving the mice eyes, whiskers, ears, a nose and a tail. They were so cute, she didn’t want to eat them (but she eventually did).
Le Creuset, I love you so!! I found this 5.5 qt Le Creuset Dutch Oven the week before my birthday at Tuesday Morning for only $150. ONLY? I know, it sounds like a ridiculous amount of money, but these French Ovens usually cost $230 (on sale) and I’ve been pining for one for years. What makes these pots so highly coveted? After all, a cast iron skillet only costs about $20. These lovelies have two layers of enamel on top of the cast iron, which is a BREEZE to clean up, and is ideal for slow-cooking just about anything. Soup, stew, chili, you name it. No more burning the mirepoix at the bottom of my stock pot! You can brown a chicken in the dutch oven and then stick the entire pot in the oven to roast. They come with a 99 year warranty, so I fully expect to will it to my favorite grandchild. All this and they’re beautiful to look at too.
I made a huge pot of Cuban Black Beans on Wednesday and I CANNOT GET ENOUGH! I soaked 1 pound of dried black beans ($1.49) in water for about 8 hours, drained the beans and then simmered them in fresh water with half an onion and half a green pepper for 2-3 hours. I chopped the remaining onion and pepper, which I then sauteed in bacon grease for 15 minutes or so. I also made a garlic paste by smashing 7 garlic cloves together with a pinch of sea salt. When the beans were tender, I added the sauteed green peppers, onions, bacon grease, and garlic paste to the pot, along with the juice of 1 lime. I also added a pinch of salt, oregano, cumin, and a tablespoon or two of red wine vinegar. I served the beans with rice, avocado, salsa, sour cream, shredded cheese, and pickled jalapenos. The second night, we made whole wheat burritos out of the leftovers. Today, I had more rice and beans for lunch and I look forward to devouring the rest tomorrow. Seriously good, seriously cheap, and the kids liked it!
“Taste a little of the summer, taste a little of the summer, my grandma put it all in jars.” That’s a line from a Greg Brown song, Canned Goods, one of my all-time favorites. My grandma used to can the vegetables my grandfather grew in his garden. My husband is a volunteer at Sugar Creek Garden twice a week and has brought home quite a bounty of summer veggies. Cucumbers and tomatoes and okra, oh my!
I’ve never canned, but should probably learn how. I really don’t cook much over the summer. All I seem to crave is watermelon and peaches. In fact, I could be a raw foodist from June-August if I didn’t have kids and a husband to feed. Wait a minute, raw foodists don’t eat ice cream, do they? Never mind.
Last night, I did cook my favorite braised cabbage recipe and prepared some mac & cheese from a box (gasp). I also tried out this new okra recipe, which was SO easy and deeeeeelicious! Tonight, I have no idea what I’m going to cook. I might cook the same Caponata recipe I made over the weekend so I can use up the eggplant Alan brought home from the garden. I’ll probably buy some bread to spread the caponata on, though last week we just put it on top of nachos, along with some Lemon Feta Dip and hummus. The Decatur Farmer’s Market is this afternoon and Pearson Farm will be selling the last of their Georgia peaches. I’m not sure what else we’ll eat. Maybe ice cream? Let’s see, that’s a veggie, a fruit, a carb, and dairy. Sounds good to me. I can just hear my mom asking, “What about PROTEIN?”
School started back yesterday, which is why I have a moment to blog. The boy is napping (don’t be jealous, he woke up at 5:40 a.m.) and the girl is enjoying the heck out of her first week of school. Who doesn’t love the start of the school year? Brand new school supplies, back-to-school clothes, and classmates. Imagine the possibilities.
We had a lovely summer break and spent lots of time at Lake Chatuge.
Alan picked these wild blackberries while we were there.
Grandma Ashe baked a blackberry cobbler, which I’ll surely dream about all winter.
We hired goats and sheep to eat invasive vegetation behind our church, which was a sight to behold. They ate kudzu and poison ivy like it was chocolate. The company is called EweniversallyGreen and the owner, Brian Cash, can be reached at 678-595-0147.
We must have paid the animals 2 dozen visits while they were there working.
We were sad to see them go.
Three years ago, my bald baby boy came barreling into the world on his due date, and I’ve been chasing after him ever since. He’s loud and fast and has a penchant for headbutting. He breaks things just to see how they’re put together. His favorite song is Kick Drum Heart by the Avett Brothers. He has a habit of sticking his bottom out and chanting, “I got my boo bootay,” like he’s in a hip hop video, and I’m sure he’s going to get suspended from preschool for being a bad influence. He adores his big sister and follows her every move. “Every family has a kid who won’t eat,” and in our house, Jonny is that kid. He’ll eat sweets, of course, and especially loved the dirt on his cake. He gets away with a lot because of this smile.