Monday, June 27, 2011

Farm Meals...

As I promised, I am sharing some of the meals I will be making this week from our box of fresh produce from our CSA farm Driftless Organics. Last night was a winner for the meal and for maximizing what's in the fridge!  There were only a few ingredients in the entire dinner that were not a part of our CSA box.  I used the salad greens, broccoli, 3 weeks worth of radishes, red leaf lettuce, and strawberries.  That's five different vegetables and greens in just one meal!!  Plus I added some organic yellow onion so we ate 6 different varieties. Awesome!

For me, one of the hardest veggies to use in cooking from our box is radishes, and we get a lot of them!  Usually, a new bunch for several weeks in a row.  They have a wonderful color and crunch to them, but often come with a serious spicy kick that can linger for quite awhile in your mouth, especially organic ones, because organic anything always has loads more flavor than conventional varieties.  I do not know very many people that love mad amounts of radish in anything.  My kids won't eat them raw, the flavor is a little too much for their tender tongues.  So I decided to try something new and slice them up and saute them with caramelized onions...which everyone in this house will eat if I do them "just right."

I love the beautiful color in radishes...the deep pinks are so stunning and vibrant!  This radish preparation was a huge success!  All I did was slice the onions and radishes thinly and sauteed them in 1 tbs olive oil and 1 tbs butter (from grass fed cows), until caramelized.  My sweet husband grilled a beautiful barbecued pork tenderloin to pair with this.  However, the barbecue sauce he chose was super spicy so I improvised quickly and we turned this into a lettuce wrap meal, using the red leaf lettuce to cool down our mouths as we ate the pork!  Here it is...

Pork tenderloin lettuce wraps w/ caramelized onion and radish, steamed broccoli, and salad greens.

To round off this beautiful summer supper and to welcome both my husband and oldest daughter home from their 7 day absence I also made a gorgeous strawberry pie as a special treat using the strawberries from our farm box.  I am trying very hard to eliminate all packaged, pre-made foods from our diet and attempted a made-from-scratch pie crust instead of a store bought one.  The kitchen was too warm yesterday so it ended up being a flop but I had an extra one in the fridge waiting to be used up.  I will definitely try this again, though.  The pie recipe I used is a new one for me that does not use any Jello or boxed gelatin, which contain food dyes and extra sugar, as the pie base.  This recipe, from my favorite cookbook, Simply in Season, uses fresh strawberries mashed and cooked with sugar and cornstarch, which is used as the base thickener.  I LOVED it!  So much more flavorful and sweet...and healthier!

And of course, what is a homemade pie without homemade whipped cream flavored with a touch of vanilla??

So there you have it!  This is by far one of my favorite meals we have had in awhile.  It was so fresh, filling and healthy!  And it made my husband smile and sigh with contentment, which melts my heart!

Strawberry Pie
 From Simply in Season Cookbook 
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
Blend in a saucepan

1 cup strawberries, mashed
1/2 orange juice or water
Add and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens and boils. Boil and stir for 1 minute. Remove from heat.

2 tablespoons lemon juice
Stir in and cool.

4-6 cups of whole strawberries (I halved some the of giant ones)
9 inch baked pastry shell, graham cracker crust, or shortbread tart crust
When cooked fruit is cool, gently fold in additional strawberries and pour into crust. Chill for 3 hours. 

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Summer of Service - Special Olympics...

Last night the four younger kids and I went to the campus of the University of Minnesota to volunteer at the Special Olympics - Minnesota Summer Games.  I chose this activity for us for a very specific reason.  We have a few families in our life that have children with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities and I have noticed when our kids are exposed to these children, and also out in public, there is apprehension to get close and engage.  This is especially the case with our two youngest.  I get that.  Different is hard...and sometimes scary.  And even though I did have plenty of exposure with this growing up I learned to not stare or ask questions about other people's challenges and just turn and look away if I was bothered or unsure.  I want to be very intentional with my children when teaching them to accept all walks of life and want them to learn that God creates each one of us in our own perfect way and that even though it might be hard or scary sometimes, we need to accept, love and support everyone.

My goal for this service project was to make it fun and show our children that these kids and adults are just like us in many respects.  They like to have fun and have feelings too.  They can play, sing, dance, run, compete in sports, cry, laugh...just like us.  They just sometimes look, sound, and act it out differently...and sometimes not so differently!

Our job at this event was super simple.  Show up, have fun, and be a cheerleader.  We were there to support the athletes and make them feel strong, special, and equally as exciting as any other athlete out there.  It was the perfect job for the kids because it allowed them to sit and "stare" at these kids from afar and observe and absorb the differences without being offensive or rude.  It allowed us time to talk as a family about why it might be hard to be accepting of someone who is different, what about it makes us uncomfortable or afraid, and what we could try to do to get over that and honor God and His design for these individuals.  The questions and comments that the kids came up with while we were doing this were so intuitive and innocent. I loved it.  I could tell they were really thinking and processing a lot.  They were also rewarded with many waves and huge smiles from the competing kids as they heard and saw them cheering them on.  It was so precious.

I think the kids gained a lot from this evening.  Some of them still had a hard time getting close but I know it will take practice, time, and continued support from us as parents to keep them involved in the process.  They all enjoyed the atmosphere, being rewarded with smiles and waves of appreciation from the athletes, and to me, the conversations were priceless.  I showed the kids my pictures this morning and they were excited to see themselves in action.  I think Cameron summed it up quite nicely for all of us...

"I guess, in reality, there really isn't a whole lot of difference." 

Special Olympic Athlete...
My athlete...
Clearly, there is not.

“Therefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God.” 
-Romans 15:7

Friday, June 24, 2011


I've written before about how much I L.O.V.E my farm share. Two winters ago, my husband and I made the investment and bought a share at a local organic farm in Michigan.  From June until October we'd get a share of the crop each week. It was fantastic! So when we moved to Minneapolis last summer I knew I wanted to find a CSA here to continue getting those fresh greens and veggies each week of the growing season.  Since we moved late in the season last year we missed the sign ups and we had to use the farmers markets and grocery stores for our greens and produce.  But my eyes were peeled each week looking for hints of where to find a good CSA.  I looked on the Local Harvest website and was totally overwhelmed by the number of choices.  And I couldn't seem to find any that were all number one requirement.  I was feeling bummed that I couldn't find what I wanted until one day while wasting time on twitter I saw a tweet saying their CSA still had openings for this season with a link to their website.  I looked it was an organic farm in nearby Wisconsin...they drop off in the Twin can register online...I'M IN!!!  Signed up and paid on the spot!

Last night I picked up our week three box.  I am in love with the variety we have been getting since week one!  It's been the perfect balance and amount of greens and veggies for our family and I find myself craving more and more as the weeks go on.  Here's a peek at what we have gotten so far this season...

Week One - asparagus, parsnips, pea shoots, Tsoi Sim greens, radishes, thyme, spinach, green garlic, collard greens, salad greens, potatoes, and a bottle of our farm's organic sunflower oil (I purchased this as an extra)
Week Two - pea vine, red potatoes, green garlic, garlic chives, salad greens, spinach, radishes, red butter lettuce, and broccoli
Week Three - baby turnips, french breakfast radishes, garlic scapes, kholrabi, Italian parsley, napa cabbage, rainbow chard, red butterhead lettuce, red leaf lettuce, scallions, a basil plant, and STRAWBERRIES!!
So what does one do with all this produce? You are not alone if you come home from the store or the farmers market with beautiful produce and then let it go bad in the refrigerator because you just aren't quite sure what to do with it! I used to do that all the time but am pretty darn good about using up what I have now from practicing and planning ahead.  A lot of you have asked how I manage to do it so this week I will share with you all the creations I come up with and show you how to make the most out of all those vegetables...and hopefully inspire you to try some new ones! With a little bit of forethought and planning, you can have fabulous fresh meals all week long that are delicious as well as nutritious!  It will be a fun week sharing with you how I feed my family each day!

And here's a look at a couple of the things we have been making from our farm produce in the last couple weeks...

Farm Breakfast - egg white omlet w/ green garlic topped with pea vine
Spiced Apple and Parsnip Muffins
The Spiced Apple and Parsnip Muffins were SO good!  They did not last very long at all in our house and are a definite addition to the recipe rotation!  They are great for breakfast or an afternoon snack.  Click on the link if you would like the recipe!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Summer of Service - School Edition Part 2

We wrapped up our first week of summer serving at the kids' school again in one of the middle school teacher's classrooms.  The younger kids were a little tuckered out from our last project of moving books just two days earlier so I left this project up to the three older kids.  It was mellow, low key, simple, short, and sweet.  Just the balance they needed to keep them interested in continuing on with serving for the rest of the summer.

Cameron's French/English teacher asked for help in her classroom organizing, filing, sorting, and searching for lost books and re-shelving those.  This was a welcome and restful change from their previous day of service at school.

After reading their journals Cameron and Emma both had a good time just hanging out and helping.  Nothing profound came to mind for them this day.  I haven't gotten Annie to write for me yet, and I was a little worried about how she would do since she was our least happy on the book day and not exactly thrilled that I had pegged her to do another day of book work.  I was relieved to hear her say when she got into the car that she really enjoyed that day A LOT better than the previous one and that she was really glad she went.  She also enjoyed getting to know one of Cameron's teachers and told me a few stories about the conversations they had and how nice she was.

This report got my mind going a bit more.  I wasn't thinking about the benefits of them interacting with adults more one-on-one.  And getting to know a teacher one-on-one like that would probably open their eyes to the fact that yes, teachers are nice, yes, they are normal people, and yes, they have a lot to offer if you allow yourself to get to know them better.  Bonus!  This sparks my curiosity even more for the rest of the summer to see what more we can learn from others and how we can open up our world to them.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Summer of Service - The School Edition: Part One...

When planning our "Summer of Service" I knew I wanted to find projects that stretched our children emotionally but also some opportunities that taught them to give back to those who serve them directly on a regular basis.  So naturally, when thinking about this and where we should start our summer, school came to mind.  I chose school to be our first location to work together as a family for a few reasons.  One, it's familiar to the kids and a great place to get their feet wet while working for others they know, so they could start out serving comfortably.  Two, what kid doesn't love going back to school when summer is out and help their teachers...can you say "run in the halls?" And three, this school went above and beyond to accommodate and accept ALL of our children and our family when we were moving here last summer, has been incredibly flexible with us and our needs, and has continued all year long making sure everyone was adjusting and doing well.  It's an amazing community.  And even though it's a big sacrifice to have them attend here, it is worth it!  I cannot even imagine how much more difficult our transition would have been when we moved if we had not found this community to support us.

So with that I sent an email to our principal telling him of my plan and asking if there was anything we could do to give back to the school as the year was closing out.  He was kind enough to send the email out to all the staff and we were presented with two separate needs.  We took on both and split our time over two separate days last week.  After we were done with the first day, I took the kids to Target and let them pick out a new journal.  I want them to reflect on each project we do this summer and write about what they learn, what was hard or fun for them, and how they might be able to do something differently next time.  It was fun and eye-opening to read their responses to day one...which ended up being a lot more challenging and time consuming than we had anticipated, which was perfect!!

We were asked by one of the curriculum directors to help move old textbooks out from a storage room on the second floor of the school and over to the ice arena where they would be sorted through and given away to the community.  We had one mobile cart to use so we knew it was going to take several trips.  Sounded easy enough!  The first challenge was that the kids were so excited I had to stop them immediately to reorganize the effort.  I showed them how to stack the boxes and books properly on the cart so as to maximize each trip back and forth and avoid any catastrophic book spills on the way out of the building.

The second challenge was teamwork.  They had to figure out how to work together smoothly, and help each other out, without arguing.

The next challenge was sharing!  Everyone wanted to push the cart from one building to the next and we needed to come up with a plan so everyone could participate in that.

As we finished emptying out the storage room the rest of the building caught wind that we were there moving boxes and books and suddenly we were being summoned to multiple classrooms to pick up stacks and stacks of old books the teachers had yet to move out of their rooms.  Using our motto "serve with a smile" the kids took a deep breath and continued on working for two more hours as teachers kept adding their rooms to our list.


After a total of three hours of stacking, lugging, pushing, and pulling these kids managed to move over 1000 books from one building to another.  Can you see that tired haze in their eyes?

When looking through their journals it was cute to read what they wrote.  Here are a few of my favorite comments...

"I had a lot of fun but it took a lot of hard work and three hours of our day. Wow-Wee!" -Sarah age 8

"I don't know why, but looking back on it, the exhaustion felt awesome..." -Cameron, age 13

"Let me tell you, it was tiring and painful.  But then we went home and had some delicious chocolate cake!" -Lewis, age 9

" was a lot of fun and a lot of HARD work.  I think that it made mom a little stressed because the kids weren't doing it how mom wanted to do it, but it was all good in the end." -Emma, age 11

And there's my lighten up and let them go with it.  There's incredible opportunity for them to grow and mature during these times of serving God and others and I need to remember not to stifle that with my own thoughts and ideas.  They are perfectly capable of analyzing the problem, coming up with an idea, and executing it together to get the job done.  This simple afternoon of helping out has taught us all a little something about ourselves.  I am thankful that I was able to glean from it as well.  It was a good day.

"Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms"  
-1 Peter 4:10

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A Happy Anniversary...

I was just thinking about my life a second ago, and I realized we've hit an anniversary.  One year ago, we packed up our family and moved to a new state for a new job opportunity for my husband.  When we left, we kept telling our apprehensive children "It's going to be a great adventure!" I think I was trying to convince myself of the same thing.  The whole move was pretty sudden and I really didn't have much time to think about it until we had already arrived!

I've grown and learned a ton this year.  And even though I was afraid to leave everything familiar behind and start all over again, I realize now, it was THE. BEST. DECISION.  I have ever made.  The transformations that have happened in this family are overwhelming, profound, and far beyond any expectations I ever had for us.

One of the biggest changes is within the relationships of our immediate family.  When you only have each other to rely on, you learn quickly how to do just that.  Our five children are much more close and attached to each other now than they ever have been. They are much more sensitive to each others needs and much more aware and feel empty when someone is away...even for an afternoon. 

Our marriage has grown and matured even more than the children.  With the new job came a whole new set of circumstances.  My husband is busier and gone a lot more as he starts up a new company here.  He comes home tired, excited, frustrated, starving, and any other feeling you might be able to come up with.  Suddenly, I was thrust into a whole new batch of roles that somehow I had overlooked previously.  And without the camaraderie of familiar coworkers and employees, I became a new sounding board for him, which I LOVE.  Just listening to him talk about his day, how he handles situations and watching him grow professionally with lightning speed has ignited a whole new spark in me for him.  I never realized just how wise my husband is.  He's brilliant, seriously.  He has amazing perspective and incredible creativity.  He thinks so out of the box, it sounds crazy, but somehow, it's exactly the thought that was needed to propel him and his company forward.  And since I have been given a greater view into the window of his work world, it has caused me to listen more deeply and intently to his perspective and out of the box ideas for us here at home.  Yielding to him and his decisions more and more has netted a wonderful sense of calm in me.  Let's face it, if you know me at all, you know I'm a control this has been a huge gift to me!

Allowing my husband to lead us into a new world was really difficult but has been so incredibly rewarding.  So much has been gained emotionally, professionally, spiritually, relationally, even physically!  I'm braver, more respectful, a better mother, a better wife, our family is healthier, more active, and we're much more in love with God and with each other.  What more can you ask for?

It was hard to leave the one city I have basically lived in my entire life (with the exception of a few random detours), and to leave our family and the ones we depended on (a little too much maybe?) to keep our household running.  It was hard to leave our friends behind.  And our church.  But we have found all of that here, plus so much more.  So thank you, my love, for encouraging us to grow at lightening speed as well.  I am so honored and blessed to be married to you!  I am really looking forward to what this next year brings for you, and the rest of us!!

 Checking out the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden one year ago...

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Summer of Service...

After I put the kids to bed on the last day of school, I got to thinking about what was ahead.  And I realized...nothing.  No camps scheduled, no family trips 'til the end of July, and then add to that a husband who has a very loaded travel schedule for most of the summer...hmmmm.  With a completely empty summer upon us I began sifting through all those camp booklets, started researching 3 day getaways, and wondered if it was too late to sign up for art classes.  But then I remembered as I was glancing over the cost of these adventures, that I don't schedule these things for a reason...for five's EXPENSIVE! 

Feeling defeated and beginning to panic over the thought of being their sole entertainment for the next 9 weeks I began to brainstorm.  What are some things I have been wanting to do with them that we don't have time for during the school year?  What do I want my kids to learn this summer?  Should we just go lazy and spend it by the pool relaxing?  No, they should stay focused and learn something.  What if we had a theme?  What if we took road trips throughout the state seeing in real life some things they had learned about in school this some history...or sit on the banks of the Mississippi River and search for birds and owls?  Oh my God, what am I going to do with them ALL. SUMMER. LONG??  Wait......GOD? 

And with that thought, the "Summer of Sevice" idea was born.  I decided that we will do at least one service project/volunteer opportunity every week for the duration of the summer to help them get into the habit of serving God by serving others.  I am really looking forward to getting the kids out of their comfort zones a bit and spending this time with them!  We have so much to learn from others and we have never done anything like this before as a family so intentionally.  We regularly jump into many projects through church and school, and have supported friends and families with their ideas as well.  But actually searching something out is somewhat new.  And with the kids all finally old enough to handle just about anything in some capacity or another our opportunities will be plenty!

Our Summer of Service unofficially began last week.  Our oldest daughter started us out with a service project of her own.  For her last week of school she served with a few other classmates at the downtown Minneapolis YWCA in the childcare center, helping out with the daily activities with the Kindergarten class.   

She had a great attitude and was excited from the get go to participate.  One of her biggest challenges throughout the week was handling multiple children at once trying to snag her attention in it's entirety.  Practicing patience was something she needed to learn instantaneously.  You can't just lash out in frustration with a strange child like you can in the comfort and safety of your own home with your siblings where there is unconditional love!  

She enjoyed her experience so much that she emailed the center back and asked if she could continue to serve throughout the summer and was very disappointed when they responded that their volunteer schedule was full and she would have to wait again until next year.  Such a bummer!!  A week later she is still talking about the children she worked with and how much she misses them!

I'm very proud of my daughter for her enthusiasm and maturity during this week.  Every evening when she came home we talked about her problem solving strategies and how she handled different situations throughout the day.  She also kept a journal, which was a requirement for her class, documenting her experience.  It was a great start to her summer and a great start for the family to hear about her experiences so we can also glean from them!  I am looking forward to getting the rest of the kids involved in serving this summer and seeing how we all work together, mature, grow, and become more aware of the world outside of our own.  It's going to be a very good thing!  And, guess what??  Serving God and others can be FREE!!