Pops had a great idea for keeping the peace in the car recently - he suggested we listen to books on tape when all together for longer periods of time. Ding-ding-ding!! It's been such a life saver and a welcome relief from XM Radio's Kids Place Live which has played an integral part in our car-life for the past three+ years. Right now, we are listening to a great story, The Green Glass Sea, by Ellen Klages. It's a story of a young girl during the Second World War who lives in New Mexico, on an army base, where her mathematician father and many other scientists work everyday on *a gadget* that is going to help *end the war*. The story has offered us lots and lots of teaching moments with the kids, but the best part is just that they are quiet...and not annoying each other...or us. ;) When one of the characters was said to be missing her home in Berkeley, and remembering fondly her visits to Tilden Park, I thought it a good idea to help bring it all full circle for the kids, and go to where *Suz* loved to go as a young girl in the 1940's.
So we ventured across the bridge last weekend and jumped around the park, seeing all the lovely things it has to offer. After a full afternoon of picnicking, train rides, carousals and turkey chasing, we drove into town and met friends for dinner. I just love these kinds of weekend days...
We got back-to-school this week - in more ways than one, which is mostly to blame for my absence here. While Frijoles returned to our public school for the first grade, her big brother started-up his studies here at home, with me. That's right, we are home schooling. :)
Our week did not go at all as planned, but we learned very early on that that is OK. It was a beautiful five days here with my boys (Noodle has a few more weeks of summer), and I started to see signs of the big guy's love for learning re-ignited. I can't wait to see where this year will take us - it's bound to be good.
I've actually kept up with Friday's desserts, but haven't been posting them with all our end-of-summer scrambles. This Friday's dessert, Avocado, Coconut and Lime Sorbet, (found here) was a very enticing *school lesson* that touched on mathamatics (fractions, measurements), home economics (how to turn the stove on, where we store the sugar) with a little bit of chemisty thrown in for fun. ;) It is the second time we've made this (the first while I was doing my vegan exploration) and we love it! It offered the perfect finish to our turkey taco dinner.
Have a great holiday weekend!
Another summer has come and gone. I smelled Fall last week when I cracked open a jar of last season's apple butter, and I loooved it. I can't wait for the seasons to change and would race towards winter if it promised reservoirs full of rain. Until then, we have lots of changes to keep us on our toes. More to come on those.
As to be expected, I took more pictures and loved more things than I had time to post about. Here is a final smattering of summer shots to stories I never got the chance to tell.
Mini cheesecakes in jars for a Fabulous Friday.
Kids sliding down Cardboard Hill before enjoying burgers for dinner at a friend's neighboring house. We danced until late.
A week of cousins and an afternoon in the city playing tourists on the hop-on-hop-off bus.
Lots of apples and pears from our yard!
One of the best damn desserts I can think of. I need to dedicate a post to just this mud pie.
Killed the last week of summer with some fun crafts. I think their tie-dyes turned out amazing!
...will never forget last night. After raising the most amount of money in his baseball league last spring (as in over 600 players!), he won FOUR tickets to a Giants game of his choice, seats behind first base AND field passes. The evening had all the ingredients to cook up a little boy's wildest dream!
This year was our first year camping in Yosemite's Curry Village...and I'm pretty certain it was also our last. We had high hopes for this year's experience, it came with lots of good reviews from people we know, but perhaps these people didn't have the magical experience of car camping in Yosemite to compare it to. I forgot to ask. ;)
This year's attempt to get a much coveted camping spot was no different than past years. It typically goes something like this:
1.) Get online at 6:59am on February 15th with as many friends and as many laptops as possible working for you. Try like mad to secure a camping spot in the first half of the summer within the 30 second window you have. (I'm usually trembling during this part which undoubtedly results in delayed *key pressing and screen refreshing* skills.)
2.) Get shut out by 7:01. Close down laptop, lick wounds.
3.) Get online AGAIN at 6:59am on March 15th with as many friends and as many laptops as possible working for you. Try like mad to secure a camping spot in the second half of the summer within your 30 second window you have.
4.) Success - we I get a spot!
We actually did manage to grab car camping spot this year (I have tricks/tactics which I will never reveal here!), unfortunately, to make the situation infinitely more challenging, we were trying to coordinate our adventure with friends...who did not understand my tricks/tactics in time to bag a slot for 2013 (Hi, Bob! Hi, Nicole!!).
Plan B - Curry Village tents.
So...what can I say...NOT a fan of the Curry Village experience. It's not that these 300+ tents stacked-up on each other don't serve an awesome purpose for the park and especially, I'd imagine, foreign tourists wanting to experience *camping* without all the gear. They are a great alternative. Heck, if I went abroad and took in the natural splendor of another part of the world, AND got to have a quasi-camping experience without all the fuss, I'd fancy myself pretty lucky. But they failed us in many ways, mostly just because we have car camping to compare it to. For example: we had to park far from our tent (not like car camping where you have all your gear right there with you), we were literally sleeping ten feet from strangers. (In our case, we had to listen to people up until 11:30 talking in bed. And while the park encourages you to call them so they can resolve the situation, I could never pull myself out of bed.) There are no picnic tables provided which makes gathering with friends nearly impossible, so we had to make do with the steps up to our tent and a two-seater bench that was to be shared with several tents. We could store food in a bear box but couldn't cook, so we had to walk into Curry Village every morning for coffee and food. All of it was fine and good, it just involved getting everyone dressed (did I mention we have three kids??), walking and waiting in line.
On the up side - at least we got to share Yosemite with friends this year and we did manage to make the most of it. On the last night I threw our air matresses on the ground and the kids had a clean place to play a board game before they met some other young campers and played old-fashion games until dark. For me, personally, the highlight of our Curry Village experience was the walking through camp at night and taking in all the illuminated tents before everyone went to bed. They reminded me of floating paper lanterns aglow with firelight.
Despite last year’s pinky promise to not return to Yosemite
for our annual camping trip, unless we had big winter rains to ensure strong
waterfall and river flow, we made our way back to the (now very dry) valley floor
this week. What can I say – the place has puullll. Several winters of light rains have really begun to take its toll on our state, but despite the lack of
brilliant, natural water features, there were still some great highlights – our adventure included friends (a first), we
celebrated the now nine-year-old’s birthday, and we took in a great play. We also mixed things up quite a bit by opting to camp in Curry Village, something we will not do again. More on that in my next post.
Thankfully there was still a little life left in parts of the Merced, but we had to shelf our plans to raft until next year...or the following. The whole rafting business was completely closed down. The water only went a couple feet deep which actually worked great for the little kids.
One of our greatest Yosemite memories was this day, on Mirror Lake, two years ago. We haven't seen it filled with water since. This week, the lake was nothing more than a puddle, and the lower lake, a desert. The six kids made the most of it. When all else fails, a good game of Zombie Apocalypse can keep them running for hours!
You can't go to Yosemite without stopping for a drink or meal at the Ahwahnee Hotel. We barely got our tired selves there for lunch on our last day, but once we did it was so worth the effort and cost. To accommodate our large party of ten, the restaurant's management gave us TWO tables - kids at one, adults at the other. For over an hour we had total calm, cool air, well-behaved children and delicious, warm food.
I meant to post this back in July...or was it...May?
We drive through Sacramento on our way to and from the cabin, and about once a year, we drop into Old Town. I have already forgotten why I was solo with Mr. Noodle this past time (heck I've already forgotten what month it was), but there we were having *special alone time*, just me and my silly little guy.
There are few things in this world more endearing than watching a little boy anticipate a train ride. This guy proudly waved his ticket to ride high and wide for everyone to see, and waited patiently for "All aboard!"...then the whistle...until we began to make our way forward along the river.
Sentimental moments between mother and son on merry-go-rounds, ferris wheels and train rides, often make way for twisty balloons and soft serves doused in rainbow sprinkles. I am no exception. We also took a quick run through the famed California State Railway Museum which was incredible, as promised. The three year old was too young to take much in beyond the surface, but I'm eager to get back with the big kid and open his eyes up a bit more to some great American history.
Half a lifetime ago, I had an open obsession with the history of Route 66, America's Mother Road. And for just as long, I've yeeeaaarned for a retro trailer to call our own. For years I've vacillated between visions of someday owning a new Airstream to just throwing a couple hundred bucks at a junkyard Aristocrat trailer and fixing it up myself (like this pretty pink lady). This past weekend, our friends Dave and Ann (with baby Wynne) met us up in the mountains, towing their 19' Airstream trailer stocked full of eggs from their farmlet, and something Dave likes to call "hyper-local bacon". In other words, they are living the dream living my dream.
Lil' Wynne was captivating to all, big and small, and yet gracious enough to give me a tour of her home away from home. She showed me how bouncy the trailer bed was, where she likes to take her cereal while on the road, and the secret spot under the fridge where her toys are kept.
She also mentioned that her mom and dad had done all sorts of modifications to their silver bullet, like sewing new patterned curtains for the windows, adding lights and hooks to walls, and even repainting the face of the fridge with magnetic chalk paint so they could continue their collection of magnets from all their travels as a family. I was drooling!!!
You can follow The Adventures of Dave and Ann for great stories on both farmlet living and life on the road with family and Airstream in tow. Or you can just stare for hours at the picture featured below:
It's a tough call.
Whenever I'm in the Dry Creek Valley, I always make the usual stops - Big John's Market for chicken mango burgers, The Dry Creek General Store for coffee and a bite, and The Gardener, just to have a look around. I always seem to hit it big at one (or all three) of these places, I guess that's why I keep coming back.
This past weekend, my annual visit to The Gardener proved worthwhile once again, when I discovered the newly launched Modern Farmer Magazine. (In fact, it's still on its first issue of its quarterly release.) I was seduced by the Dwell Magazine-esque feel to the publication and so I picked one up for $7.99 and looked forward to sitting down with it and diving in. I finally got the chance to tonight, and if you read about my Sunday night shenanigans with a wild boar, you'll understand why I was so entranced with its article "Wild Pigs: It's a War, and We're Losing". I was so taken with the story that I started reading it out loud to the kids, poolside, and believe me, I had their undivided attention the entire time. When I got up, and came back from doing something, this was the scene I found:
The story of the world's exploding boar population might have put Mr. Noodle to sleep, but the eight-year-old and I are hooked on it and other global farming issues like organic farming in China, incredible farm stays around the world, and how to build a house out of straw bales.
Sign. Me. Up.
Women are wonderful. The world is full of them and I've often said that I am incredibly grateful for all the great women that move in and out of my days, around my community and through my thoughts and conversations. My women are strong, loving, mature and giving. I don't get to see any one of them enough, it can be months or even years, but I always feel connected, bound by a history and/or just their radient energy.
I turned 40 last week and the best way I could think to celebrate it is with old friends who I might not otherwise get the opportunity to pull together into one place for longer than a sit-down meal, interrupted seventeen times by three handfuls of kids. I looked at it as an opportunity to give back a little to some of the women who fill my life with love, laughter and friendship. We ate and drank, talked and laughed, took an awesome bike ride together through the wine country and into town, slept in, took walks, talked and ate some more, and narrowly escaped the attack of a wild boar while cherry picking at dusk. It was all I could have hoped for.
These are my women, and these are just a few of the reasons I happen to think they rock it so hard:
I have known her since the seventh grade and for 28 years she has had a constant presence in my life. She is loyal, tough, filled with passions and always the mother hen. If ever I'm lost in the woods, this is the girl I want to be with while seeking my way out.
She is strong, unstoppable, whip smart and absolutely hilarious. This former neighbor of mine is your go-to person for any bit of information you might seek. I am so grateful she could be here and have every finger crossed she moves back sometime soon.
We met in college under dubious circumstances and became instant friends. Our friendship evolved through handwritten letters when we were too poor to use the phone. Her colorful, confetti-filled cards were the absolute best! She is creative, HILARIOUS and filled with boundless energy and a never-ending willingness to help.
She is FUN, clever, interesting, energetic and generous with compliments. Always smiling, she has a beautiful way of asking you about you and making you feel like the center of attention. She warned me there is such a thing as *too much birthday* and she was right.
Former next door neighbor and World's Most Fun Mom. This woman makes very good choices across the board, and she wants to help people succeed. Creative,
gracious, generous, and unbelievably funny! You could not exist in a
dull moment with this woman if you tried.
We met our freshman year in high school. I once watched her from afar tell a guy off who had wronged me and I knew then that she was a keeper. She is a sweetheart and has an effortless way of asking you lots about you until you come to realize you just spent the last hour talking about nothing but yourself.
Former neighbor and smartest human I know. Incredible memory for anything and everything, too many talents and interests to list, but I should mention she is also a mind reader. She was, for a time, my rock, and I am forever grateful.
College roommates. She is loyal in a way that most West Coasters can't even begin to understand. She is East Coast, Mid-West and California all rolled up into one. She will hop on a plane and fly anywhere for anyone that means something to her. She is a magnet for interesting people and adventures and has a lifetime of fascinating stories to prove it.
We met in the early days of high school and I have such great memories of crazy adventures. She is real and alive, fueled with nothing but positive energy. She will power through tough times and always show-up, no matter what. She is gracious and sweet and blessed with one of the best laughs.
At the risk of sounding like a hipster-poser, I've been doing the gluten-free thing for almost a month now. I wasn't 100% right out the gate - that proved hard at the cabin when friends were arriving with things like homemade pies and the like, but I was pretty good. I'm operating at 100% gluten-free these days and it's no longer a struggle...although I plan to jump off the wagon this weekend with the excuse of *girly celebration*. It started when I read Wheat Belly. Packaged up as the key to excess weight loss, this book served me better as a real eye-opener to the negative side effects of wheat. I don't suffer from celiac, but for a whole host of reasons I'll just say, it seemed a great idea to me to eliminate wheat whenever possible.
That said, I've been playing around with gluten-free baking and trying to get my bearings down with the new vocabulary. I found this recipe from Dr. Oz and modified it to serve my fruit and portion needs (our neighbors blackberry bushes are dripping into our yard!). These were so easy to throw together quickly and I thought they turned out great, but even better - so did my kids!
Gluten-Free Blackberry Scones
Makes 12 muffins
4 large eggs, beaten until frothy
2 cups almond flour
2/3 cup bulk sugar substitute (I used unrefined coconut sugar)
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1 cup fresh blackberries
Preheat the oven to 375°F and grease a muffin tin.
In a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients, except for the blackberries, and mix well to create a batter.
Gently fold the blackberries into the batter and scoop batter evenly into muffin pan (about 2 heaping tablespoons each).
Bake for about 15 minutes until muffins begin to lightly brown. Let cool for 10 minutes before removing. Enjoy warm or at room temperature.
I haven't done one of these in a while and because it's late, I won't go into too much detail. Here are all my dinners for the past week:
monday - filet mignon with a rosemary + sage butter, salad with beets, pistachios, avocado and feta
tuesday - I can't remember what I fed the kids but Daddy and I ate tuna tartar on rice crackers with salad
wednesday - date night at farm shop
thursday - an old friend for dinner, grilled flank steak and vegetables
friday - my mom is our guest, pork and asparagus with mustard sauce
saturday - guests for dinner (no photo), grilled shrimp with mango chutney, grilled vegetables, fiesta salad with avocado, tomatoes and black beans
sunday - Marinitas where I ordered the vegetable platter
Last week, the eight-year-old struck it lucky when he got to attend a day camp at Windrush Farm with three of his friends. It's opportunities like this that make me wish I had my kids summer schedules. I found out about Windrush accidentally really, I was on Facebook and just followed a trail of seeds - "David Z. likes Windrush Farm -> "I like farms. Let me check it out." -> Gorgeous pictures, summer camp offered -> Call friend, coordinate -> Drop one week into cart and check-out.
The trek out to West Marin was a lot for us - an hour each way, two times a day. But I split it with my friend and the scenes at drop-off and pick-up just made it all bearable. This place was so picture-perfect...bucolic. The Windrush family were all smiles and welcoming. My friend and I went to the first drop-off together and found ourselves lingering about (doop de doop) while the kids did their morning chores - shucking wheat for pizza dough, brushing the dogs and watering plants.
What those kids did the rest of the day, I may never know. It's like pulling teeth for me to get details out of my kids, but I'm going to assume it was all magic and farm love until they tell me anything different. I know what it was like for me and that was *a little slice of heaven*. My girl and I did not want to leave that first morning. We too wanted the opportunity to be farmers for a week...or maybe even a little longer. ;)
Nana is in the house cabin this weekend and Nana LOOOVES fruit desserts. Upon her arrival she was already talking about, and excited to make, a new recipe she'd just spotted in the latest addition of Sunset Magazine - Campfire-Glazed Peaches + Figs with Olive Oil Cake. Unable to find figs, a cast-iron skillet or a logical reason to build a campfire in 100 degree heat, she opted to macerate peaches and strawberries on stove-top instead.
This creation was incredible and so perfect for a hot summer night. The cake was similar to angel's food cake, but with a thicker and sweeter outer crust that offered just the right about of crunch to each bite.
This one is absolutely getting filed under *Favorites* - right after I eat a piece for breakfast.
Olive Oil Cake with Fresh Summer Fruit
Adapted from this recipe, Nana macerated 3-1/2 pounds of peach and strawberry with butter and sugar on the stovetop. It could NOT have worked better! Serve warm fruit on top of a slice of cake and with a giant dollop of freshly whipped cream.
Now what are you waiting for?!?
We jumped on the patriotic food bandwagon a little early this summer. With a full house this past weekend (seven kids and seven adults) I couldn't help but go to all the trouble of making Ina Garten's Flag (Ginormous) Flag Cake. When you have that many guests at the table, it's always fun to bring out the big guns. This cake is nothing short of insanity, and I love making it every summer. It helps to make a Costco run before as it uses lots of cream cheese, butter and fresh (organic!) berries.
And on a slightly less organic note, I threw these red, white and blue nachos together one night with veggie taco leftovers. I picked up the chips at Cost Plus for a holiday treat and have to admit, they were pretty fun in this instance...despite the neon food coloring. ;)
We've also been cooking up lots of the usual summer fare - bbq ribs, cheese burgers, grilled cheese sandwiches with pesto, and tacos. One vegetarian visitor cooked up the most incredible polenta-based veggie lasagna that had us all running for seconds. I hope you too are enjoying good food, great friends and hot summer heat this week!
When visitors come up to the cabin, they often bring with them something special to contribute to our time together: a horseshoe game, a couple loafs of banana bread, some jars of canned treats from their garden back home. All of them mean something special to us, but I wanted to share my absolute favorites to date - some photos of the landscape, as well as a sweet poem.
The images here were taken over the weekend by our good friend (and former neighbor), Peter G. He loves photography as much as I do but has a much better grasp of the technical side. These images of the river and super moon were taken using a technique called HDR - High Dynamic Range. It's basically when you take one exact shot at varying exposures, then merge them all together so that the best lighting attributes from all images come together into one very intense image. You can see more of Peter's work here.
And then there is this sweet poem from *Vince*, a very special sort of Thank You after a long, Thanksgiving weekend last year:
Heavy traffic and a few winding twisting roads,
Deliver us to a place far away, yet so very close
Warm knotty pine ceilings and cool granite tops,
Sounds of the river flowing and an occasional champagne bottle "pop"
Warm turkey wrapped with bacon and mashed potatoes galore,
Corn bread with mushrooms... who could ask for anything more?
Mornings with strong coffee and cool cloudless skies,
Finding interesting curly bugs and studying a chopper that doesn't fly
Lively discussions and games without personal attacks,
Debates about politics, presidents, and voting democrats
A holiday weekend with family but without the ringing phone,
Far away from work and cities, but certainly not alone
We watched the bouncing kids and few happy wagging tails...
Had some driveway walks and explored where there are no people trails
For me, a rare holiday, that ended too fast and was gone way too soon...
We can't express enough thanks for the family, the food, and the warm wonderful room!
Well, it's not exactly like we set out to celebrate the Super Moon... we were actually already having a rather grand time with friends at the cabin when we remembered that it was on its way to rising all crazy big and bright. By the time we thought to pull out the telescope and set-up cameras on tripods, we'd already exhausted ourselves with river time, hiking, chalk art, imaginary play, board games, dinner and dance. Our tummies were stuffed with bunless burgers and salad, and we'd savoured the flavor of cake on the occasion of one child's half-birthday. The summer moon's glow seemed nothing unusual really, especially in comparison to the light of nine happy kids blissed-out on summertime fun.
Something very cool happened recently when Daddy and I miscommunicated about summer plans, set-in-stone appointments and vacation departure dates. For both of us to meet our obligations, we had to separate for a bit and in acknowledging this misfortune, my guy offered to take all three kids with him as he headed out of town.
Careful, Daddy. We might have to make this an annual tradition.
What ended up happening was me having two solid days alone at home to take care of business. I spent it, with our sitter, powering through the house, organizing, purging and cleaning. It was absolutely amazing!
A lot was accomplished through-out the entire house, but I'll take this post to share what is probably my favorite room - Miss Frijoles'. It's not *done*, and in truth, I fear it may never be, but regardless, I'll share what we got, and how it got there.
Before we moved in, we installed skylights and pocket lights in all three of the kids rooms. They needed it sooo bad as they were terribly dark and depressing at the time. I found the above plastic chandelier on one of those flash sale sites and it worked perfectly. At night it casts the greatest *sparkles* onto the ceiling.
Here is a sample of wallpaper that has been tacked to the wall for almost a year. It symbolizes what I hope to accomplish in order to *finish* the room. Frijoles selected it herself. The painting is of Swan Lake, and was something I found at Goodwill for just $10.
Frijoles has a phenomenal imagination. A walk around the house and garden will reveal little worlds of stuffed animals and figurines pumped up with leaves and flowers, strings and found objects, tucked into corners, cupboards and drawers. When I was looking for a bookshelf for her room I wanted something that helped facilitate this *life's work* of hers. I found this one at Target on clearance - it's by BluDot. :)
I love this little girl's bed. It says *story book bed* to me, as in this is the kind of bed I imagine Baby Bear slept in or the princess when she lay awake tormented by the hardness of pea twenty mattresses below.
I love the last day of school... and I hate it, all at the same time.
I love it, hate it.
Love, hate, love, hate.
I love it because it marks the beginning of what will be a magical time in every child's mind - summertime! I love it because it gives way to camps offering new and unique adventures, heightened by warm weather, late nights and lazy mornings. I hate it because the last day of school has become a logistical nightmare with off-campus class parties in different zip codes and too many heart-felt *goodbyes*. As we powered up yesterday morning for a an intense day of tag-team parenting, I wondered if it wouldn't be a better idea to just skip the last day of school all together and go to the beach. ;)
We started a tradition on the last day of school many years ago, when the big kid was still the only one in school. Even though it was just pre-school, we celebrated the end of his year with a special dinner out - just the three of us, along with a gift of some quasi-educational books to keep him busy during summer. Eventually his sister got in on the action after her first year of pre-school, and this year, Mr. Noodle joined the fun for his first time.
The real reason we keep coming back to Umami - the dessert roll made of vanilla ice cream wrapped in chocolate chip cookie dough, drizzled in chocolate and served alongside wasabi whipped cream and ginger candies!