January 29, 2015

Blizzard Marmalade

In the sliver of sunshine sandwiched between our first good snow last weekend, and our first big blizzard earlier this week, Little Smith and I ventured out for a mama-son date. We rode the train, strolled through the Public Gardens, and ran in circles across the snow covered duck pond. When our noses and fingertips were stinging from the cold, we ducked into the movie theater that borders the Boston Common, and caught the afternoon showing of Paddington. We were both delighted to escape the snow, and indulge in the fantasy of talking bears, ripe oranges, and of course, marmalade day. 

With citrus in season (obviously not local, but making the reasonable trip up from Florida) and several feet of snow in the forecast, I plotted for our very own marmalade day. Watching snow pile up and melt against windows that are foggy from the steam of a big canning kettle was nearly as magical as Paddington's digs in Darkest Peru. I think this will have to be an annual family tradition... although according to James, I'm just not satisfied with the mess of a storm outside, I have to make a mess inside too. He might be right, it was certainly a couple days of beautiful messes, inside and out.

Blizzard Marmalade: adapted from the Ball Blue Book of Preserving 
-makes about 7 half pints
  • 4 cups orange pulp (about 10 medium oranges, supremed)
  • +/- 2 cups orange peel cut into thin slices 
  • 1 lemon, pulp and thinly sliced peel (as with oranges)
  • 1 additional lemon, thinly sliced
  • 6 cups water
  • sugar (1/2 cup per cup of fruit mixture)
Prepare the citrus: (I let Little Smith help with peeling the oranges, which probably made for more work overall, but also more fun). Score the peels in quarters and pull them off (a good job for a four year old helper).Slice some of the thick white pith away from the peels. Supreme the oranges, removing any seeds, working over a bowl to collect all of the juices along with the pulp. Collect the scraps (pith, membranes, seeds) in cheesecloth. Repeat this process with one lemon. Slice the second lemon, and add to the cheesecloth scraps.

Combine the sliced peels, pulp, and tied cheesecloth in a large sauce pot. Add the water and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for about 5 minutes. Cover, and store in a cool place overnight, about 12 to 18 hours. 

Bring the mixture to a boil and cook rapidly until the peel is tender, about 15 minutes. Remove the cheesecloth, squeezing out the juices, and discard. Measure the citrus mixture. Add 1/2 cup of sugar for every 1 cup of fruit liquid. (This is half the sugar recommended by Ball, and as a result it needs to cook a long time to set up, and never really gels as beautifully as the sweeter version would. It is plenty sweet and firm for my tastes though!).

Bring to a boil, stirring constantly until sugar is dissolved. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until the mixture begins to gel. Due to the reduced sugar content, this will likely take about an hour.

Ladle the mixture into tempered jars, leaving 1/4" headspace. Process the jars for ten minutes submerged in boiling water, or refrigerate.

This marmalade is a wonderful balance of sweet and tart, and adds a beautiful pop of color to a gray winter's morning. I'm looking forward to using it as a filling for cake, as all roads lead to cake for me. The kids wanted to eat the whole jar straight up with a spoon (much like Paddington actually). If there is snow in your forecast, consider a messy, fun filled marmalade day!

January 27, 2015

Snow On Snow

All of those frowning faces over the lack of snow, and Little Smith's daily refrain of, 'it's almost winter', as he points to  our frozen brown lawn, are in the past. We have most certainly received our snow (a few feet in fact), and winter is upon us! A snow day is always such a treat. James is a workaholic who requires a natural disaster to ever take a day off, and so it was particularly exciting to have him home today, shoveling our driveway endlessly. 

Snow is a lot of work of course, and the kids have been especially challenging and stir crazy, it's exhausting to get them in and out of the house for a little play time... but it's also the best kind of fun. I always feel like a little kid myself when I get to make some fresh footprints, I can't imagine a winter without that kind of simple thrill.

We're hoping that this evening finds you safe and warm. Welcome winter 2015, you're a mighty pretty sight.

January 24, 2015

Details D1.03 / In Which My Toddler Does Not Sleep

winter's nap my monkey and his monkey afternoon sun 4PM breakfast blooms persistent pumpkins weekly bread busy babes dust and light winter's nap II

It's nearing midnight, and I'm feeling the moderate delirium of long term sleep deprivation and a glass and a half of red wine. I guess I am going to type 'out loud' that baby Roo is a straight up lousy sleeper. She is now 18 months old, and she's still waking up through the night, and rising so early that it barely qualifies as morning. It's torture. It's clearly retribution for having been graced with such a beautiful sleeper the first go around, and the only one who doesn't seem to be bothered in the least is Roo herself. She is chipper and ready to greet the day in the pitch black of predawn. The girl just doesn't need sleep... wonder where she gets it from?!

Sleep issues aside, I have been having the feeling lately that I'm in a good place and life is smooth and blissful, but that it's all just taking a ridiculous amount of effort; I've been doing more projects and baking with the kids, we've been getting outside quite a bit, we are trying to visit James at work occasionally during the day, since he often works dawn to way past dusk, I'm making a point of trying new recipes, the kids are full of energy and enthusiasm and insanity, I started up classes again twice a week... I can literally step outside myself at any given moment in the day and be completely content and happy and grateful... but somehow the accumulation of all of those moments is exhausting. Then again... we may not be able to set those sleep issues aside after all. I have a feeling everything would look a little different on a good eight hours of sleep. 

Before I do tuck into bed for the night (and cross every finger that I can string together a few hours before anyone starts crying), can I just say that I don't understand or enjoy football on any level whatsoever? I think this may be my very first mention of sports in the three years that I've been keeping this journal (with good cause... boring!). I actually do enjoy baseball on occasion, but football is just excruciating. Throughout my childhood, I regarded Superbowl Sunday as the time to observe a good Murder She Wrote marathon... and this week, I was smack in the middle of one of my favorite movies, Hannah and Her Sisters, when James came bursting through the door eager to watch the Patriots do their thing, as though I was nuts not to already be glued to the game. I have been informed that it is very unappealing, and somehow snobby, to say that you don't appreciate football. I am an unappealing snob. 

Happy Friday... er... Saturday! Looking forward to some snow, sleep, and pancakes this weekend.

*footnote: no exaggeration, as I went to hit 'publish', Roo is up. the child that does not sleep!

January 19, 2015

Memento: Blueberry Jam




I have a long lived love affair with preserving food, and the question of 'why' does come up. It's not like we live on a farm, we are city folk, and it's a coin toss as to whether the economics of growing, picking, canning, and drying even works out. For me, it's all about connections; to the food, to a process, to a season that has long since passed and a family outing with babies that were lighter on the hip. When I crack open a jar of blueberry jam on a chilly morning in January, I taste the August heat and remember berry stained fingers. It's such sustenance during these dark days; the food, and the memories. 

We used Rachel's recipe for the jam, and it is wonderfully unsweet. No pectin, no sugar, just the deliciousness of blueberries with a little honey and lemon. Oh August... you are looking pretty good right about now!

January 16, 2015

Details D1.02

hard at work thermal bridging boy and super-baby-fox morning treasures decisions decisions current preoccupations dirty mirror snow gazing dusting ready for school

The biggest challenge for me during these cold and dark months is just getting enough time outdoors. Some of our recent below freezing temperatures make me nervous to even have the kids out for long, and so it's just easier to plan activities inside, stay cozy, possibly head to the grocery store if we're feeling really adventurous. I actually relish this kind of hibernation, but after a few indoor days, I do notice that we are all a bit more cranky than usual, maybe even a little depressed. 

I've decided to try to walk to preschool drop-off more often, hoping to avoid those indoor blues. We got a storm cover for our double stroller, it's warm enough that Roo falls right asleep and I lure Little Smith in with a few snacks and books. He really is getting old for strolling, but he's also not up to this lengthy hike, and the scooter in this weather seems dicey. He already reported that he was bored because I was too slow and it was taking too long, so I might be the only one whose spirits are lifted after these walks.

I don't know if all four year olds are especially articulate when it comes to their emotions, but Little Smith makes proclamations on the state of his personal well being all the time. "I'm tired, that's why I'm crying. I want some space, that's why I'm making this face. I'm happy now, this is my happy face". Today he was whining about being cold and just generally in a funk, until he discovered the seed catalogue I picked up yesterday. He thought everything looked beautiful and announced, "this book is making me feel happier"... I couldn't agree more. I haven't actually started planning our garden for the spring yet, but I have been flipping through that catalogue and having a few fantasies. 

So that's been my week; getting out, staying in, thinking about growing melons and prepping for classes, which start next week. James is working like a dog and getting even less sleep than the rest of us. Little Smith is eating more than usual and recalled his first dream (about a real truck inside of a castle). Roo is learning all kind of words and is infatuated with birds (she calls them all 'chick'), her baby dolls (which have to be dressed to her liking for every outing), and her big bro's superman (simply 'man' to her). Busy yet slow, which seems just about right for the middle of January. Happy Friday!

*if anyone happens to know why that last photo has a yellowish cast online (but is much whiter in the regular file), please let me know! i've noticed it before and it usually happens when that bold blue jacket is in the shot. i tried changing to sRGB... stumped!

January 14, 2015

A Tale of Three Highchairs

left to right (without trays): Bloom Fresco / Stokke Tripp Trapp / Ikea Antilop

Some gals like jewelry, some like clothes, my vice is 'gear'; kitchen gear, camping gear, and without a doubt, baby gear. Where form meets function is my happy place, and so you will have to excuse the embarrassing number of highchairs we've purchased in the last four years. Two kids, four years, four highchairs... I don't know, seems about right to me!

Luckily for those of us that appreciate modern design, there are a good number of options for highchairs these days. I have to confess that I have spent a ridiculous amount of time researching (both on-line and in person), contemplating, and comparing what is available. I found tons of reviews showing all of the details and features of each chair, I dragged them around in our local store to size them up, but what I always wanted (and could never find) was a simple side-by-side image of my top picks. Today, as I waited for our long-loved Bloom to be picked up by a buyer from Craigslist, I realized I had the rare opportunity to fulfill my very own wish... three modern highchairs at three distinct price points, and I couldn't resist.

left to right (with trays): Bloom Fresco / Stokke Tripp Trapp / Ikea Antilop

This isn't so much a review as an anecdote. Our Bloom Fresco is four years old and they have made some minor improvements, so it's really apples to oranges. I don't want to go through all the features either (those are available ad nauseum), but at a subjective glance, our personal highchair overview:

Bloom Fresco: +/- $450 chair, +/- 60 seat pad

Oh the sentimental affection I have for this chair! If you go back through the blog archives here, I am confident there are a loopy number of pictures of Little Smith (and some of Roo too) in this high chair. For one, it's the only time when they are still. For two, it swivels to take advantage of the best light at any time of day, raises and lowers, it does everything short of clean itself... which now that I mention it, is the biggest downside of this highchair. Lots and lots of nooks and crannies for food to accumulate and settle. 

When I was pregnant with Little Smith, I actually remember initially not being sold on this chair. I was slightly thrown off by the space-age design, and thought it was trying a tad too hard. That, and the price tag (close to $600 at the time) was insane. But... after multiple discussions with my generous aunt and cousin who were in love with the Bloom and offered to give it to us as a baby gift, I was seduced by the features. This chair really does have it all, and you sort of need some technical savvy to navigate all the intricacies of the settings (do you find assembling Ikea furniture a breeze? This is probably within your grasp. Do your look around for someone, anyone, to help you decipher unclear assembly instructions? Not the chair for you).

Of all the many features, my favorites were the newborn setting (we are using it here) and the double trays. I can't count the number of times I slid that larger tray off effortlessly after a messy dinner and transitioned to some cut fruit to buy some more time before we left the table. I am missing it right now, just typing this. The Bloom, without question, has the best, most versatile, and easiest tray(s) in this trio. 

I loved this highchair, Little Smith loved this highchair, Roo wasn't completely sold. She often would demand to get 'up!' and wanted to sit at the table like her brother (in his Tripp Trapp). Our dining chairs are not easy for kids (or many adults), but I like them... and so we ultimately decided to part ways with our Bloom, after many blissful years, and double up on our Tripp Trapps. Still, I will always have a fond place in my heart for this futuristic design. Both my kids ate their first meals in this chair, does this mean we can't have anymore kids?! ;)

Stokke Tripp Trapp: $249 chair, +/- $69 baby seat, +/- $49 tray

This highchair is truly timeless, and as of yesterday, we have two of them. The baby set is very helpful to keep a squirmy toddler in proper position, and Little Smith uses the basic chair without the harness (James and I even sit in it on occasion) to give him the autonomy of an adult dining chair with the best and most ergonomic height and footrest for a child his size. The tray is far improved from what I saw four years ago. It's still pretty basic, and you have to use the baby insert with it, but it looks clean and isn't difficult to attach or release.

I chose white, and Little Smith does have some scuffs and dings on his. This might be less noticeable with a natural wood finish. These are solid wood though, so I actually imagine us repainting them and keeping them forever and ever... but if not, there is always craigslist. 

Ikea Antilop: $19.99 

Twenty bucks for a very nice looking and functional highchair, does it get any better? The plastic of this chair is not of the highest quality (gasp!), it does scratch and mark if you aren't careful. That said, our's lives on our back porch and we take it on camping trips, and it still looks pretty decent. 

The legs of this chair pop off easily for travel, but for everyday use, I do think the tray is a pain. It's simple enough to attach, but a minor struggle to get off. There is also no adaptability, and so little use for this chair beyond roughly the 2 year old age range. Regardless, it is impossible to find a modern highchair at a better price. We have one of these at my mom's as well, because why not?!

There is far more to say about each of these chairs, and several others that I considered  as well (Oxo - for me personally a 'meh', but I have a friend who loves it, Svan - which I convinced my cousin to get and think is beauty, and the clip on varieties that always make me wish our table didn't include glass). 

I suppose, if pressed, my vote today would be for the Tripp Trapp. It is durable, beautiful, expensive yet not obscene (there are often deals where you can get the babyset for free), and adaptable. I hope both of our children will use them for a good long while. Time will tell!

* you say 'high chair', I say 'highchair'... I am insisting it IS a word!