Monday, December 16, 2013

My favorite color is - RED! A recipe for the most red food I know: Borschtsch

Confession: I grew up hating Borschtsch. I don't know what went wrong, my mom is a good cook and did all the right things to encourage us to eat a variety of foods. Maybe hers was a long-range plan, and if that was the case, it worked out. When I was desperate to try to find something - anything - involving beets that my family was willing to eat, I made Borschtsch. It's great winter food. Root vegetables, fermented kraut, a little stew meat that goes a long way. Add sour cream for serving, which always makes my middle child happy, and you're all set for dinner. At 10am, no less, because this is ideal slow cooker territory.

Add to a large slow cooker in the morning:

4 medium beets, diced
2 onions, diced
2 large carrots, diced
1 lbs stew beef, diced
3 cups or so of sauerkraut 
1 small can of tomato paste
1 bay leaf
1 Tbsp beef bouillon
1/2 tsp caraway seeds (if not already in your kraut)
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp dried dill weed (Russian food must have dill weed, from what I have observed)
Water to cover the whole mess generously (since you will add some potatoes later)

If you want maximum redness (not pictured): Use dark red beets, red onions, fermented red cabbage and purple carrots :-). You can even use purple potatoes if you so desire and are a little OCD about the concept. Of course this is hypothetical, and not something I would ever do. Ever.

Add 4 medium peeled and cubed potatoes to the slow cooker about 2-3 hours before dinner. There, all set.

OK, this one didn't actually come out very red at all, because I had those beautiful candy stripe beets instead of the 'real' kind. But as I said before, there are basically no limits to redness in this dish. One way or the other, serve it hot with a scoop of cold sour cream added to the top. Delicious and so good on a cold winter night.

Friday, December 13, 2013

{this moment}

. . . . . . . . . . 
{this moment}
A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.

If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment' in the comments for all to find and see.
. . . . . . . . . .

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Trim a Tree!

I hosted the annual trim-a-tree craft event at our church this past Saturday. We made 6 different types of ornaments. Candy cane mice were made out of felt and candy canes, origami birds were folded, and some tissue paper pom poms were tied and fluffed. Beyond that, here are my three favorites in more detail:

A little angel made from a paper cone, and a wooden bead held in by a yellow pipe cleaner that was then fashioned into a halo. Add some Einstein-inspired hair and gold foil wings, and you have yourself a merry little angel. Gold stars are to crafts what bacon is to cooking. It never hurts to add some.

This all natural ornament was made from dehydrated orange slices, star anise, large bay leaf from the Indian spice store, and some cinnamon sticks. Start by tying the cinnamon sticks to the orange slice with some curling ribbon (or raffia, or rustic looking twine), then use Elmer's glue in liberal amounts to affix the star anise and bay leaf. Smells divine!

This was the simplest ornament in our line-up: Cut a simple shape from gold foil (imagine some very thin sheet metal, really), and then use a blunt knitting needle on a soft mat to imprint patterns or textures. Works for all ages.

All is calm, all is quiet..

Monday, December 9, 2013


I had high expectation for the past week and outside time - as I was mentally participating in the 1000 Hours Outside challenge, even though I knew from the get go that I wasn't going to actually tweet/blog/facebook about the minutiae. We did OK in the beginning of the week, with the weather still amenable to some outside biking, a visit to an outdoor sculpture park, and the two younger kids go to a nature based school where they spend hours outside on their school days. Come Friday, though, a very wonderful but busy weekend was upon us, and there goes that. (I'll blog about our tree trimming craftiness tomorrow...).

The DeCordova Museum's Sculpture Park in cold fog.

But today! We woke up to a white(ish) world and before I knew it, the kids went outside for the first session of playing in the dirty mess "snow", with their pajamas still on under their ski pants and jackets. Follows hot chocolate and some lunch, and not a single request for TV time later, they're back at it.

A few words of wisdom that I have learned way too late: If you want happy outdoor kids, you have to shell out for quality gear. Even though the rational side of my brain said 'what business does a third girl have, getting a new winter coat all for herself?', the mommy bear side of my brain made me go out and get her a brand new down jacket that has very, very significantly increased her outdoor endurance. The littlest ones get cold fastest, simple matter of heat transfer (surface vs volume, do you want a computational model on the side?), and it pays to get serious about keeping them warm. And woolen unders for layering - I could swear that a woolen undershirt adds as much warmth as a whole bulky fleece sweater.

And of course, it's my job to provide hot semolina dumpling soup when they finally decide it's time to come in again.

Friday, December 6, 2013

{this moment}

. . . . . . . . . . 
{this moment}
A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.

If you're inspired to do the same, leave a link to your 'moment' in the comments for all to find and see.
. . . . . . . . . .

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Math In Real Life

I attended the parent math forum at my children's school today. It was interesting. One of the aspects I am thinking of, as I mull over the information we were given, was that the only applications that were mentioned for math in a 'real life' context were cooking (I obviously love that one...), money and time.
Time and money. That is why we need a solid understanding of numbers and how they work. I don't recall a connection to science or nature presented as one of the applications.

One might think this connection would be 'natural' (pun intended), but maybe our lives are so removed from all things nature now, that this is a stretch? What a loss. Nature is full of patterns - some are rediscovered by wicked smart engineers after much complicated optimization. In fact I'll steal their picture to make my point:

"Solar power research looks to sunflowers for optimum layouts"
Another cool nature headline recently showed the first discovery of gears (proportional functions!) in a living being:
A scanning electron micrograph image of the gears. Credit: Malcolm Burrows
If that doesn't blow your mind, what will? And we engineers (a little full of ourselves, as we can be) thought we had invented gears, when we really only re-invented them, never mind manufactured them on a micron-scale...

I've picked out two high-flying examples. Obviously, nature can teach us many more concepts, some simple, some mind-blowingly awesome and complex, if we learn to sharpen our skills of observation, patience (through the seasons, for example...) and analysis. Nature has a lot of symmetry, and other geometrical concepts: Bees always build hexagons - why? Snowflakes always have six points - why? Many plants and animals are made of two almost-symmetrical sides - why? Nature has negative numbers (temperature!) - but not always (concentrations! populations!).  I mentioned patterns already but I can't resist showing some pictures from this site, just because they're amazing. A growing pattern, a repeating pattern, and the last one even has two patterns, one way in structure, the other way in color. How much there is to see if you know how to look (oh! microscopes! multi-faceted lenses to make you see the way bees do! ... I'm getting side tracked already)


And these are just elementary school level concepts - you can tell I could probably go on for a long time, going off on all sorts of tangents.... Nature is endless, exciting and the best teacher.

Of course on the same day, I see this ad that convinces children of the opposite (you can protest here). Some days I'm just floored how far away from the mainstream my 'normal' seems to be. If we raise our children with such disrespect for nature and science, how will we ever raise a next generation that is able to rise to the challenges that climate change, environmental destruction and the resulting disruption of the food system, the water system, and really, pretty much every other system out there, will pose?

Let's make sure that money and time are not the only examples of 'math in real life' for our children.