Thursday, July 23, 2009

Bran Muffins

I really enjoy a good bran muffin. I know that some people believe that is an oxymoron, however if they are made right they can be light and wonderful. However, I don't like raisins, especially in food. They remind me of flies. I know that I have a weird texture thing, but i just can't get over it. I don't even like oatmeal raisin cookies. Now, give me the chance to inhale an oatmeal chocolate chip cookies and look out...
I found a recipe on line for six week bran muffins. This particular recipe uses bran cereal, which I happened to have on hand from Trader Joe's (I love their bran cereal not to be confused with flakes and raisins). I understand that it costs less not to use cereal in a recipe, but I have yet to find a way to make these without it...I am trying.
I was going to have a ton of people in my house in addition to the ton that already live here and I thought I would whip up a batch of these and at least be off the hook for breakfast and snacks. (I also happen to love these muffins and have been known to eat them for several meals throughout the day.) After all, the recipe make 18 dozen, which is why the name is 6 week bran muffins - the batter is supposed to last in your fridge for six weeks. I just want to know who has a large enough refrigerator to hold this sheer amount of batter? I usually cut the recipe in fourths or at least a third which the site that I get this recipe from, will cut the ingredients for you so you don't have to do the math (very nice when you are making these at 11 at night)!
But when I got on line to retrieve my favorite recipe, the site was down. I couldn't find the same recipe anywhere! I ended up making some that were similar, but definitely not as good. So I cut the recipe in half and have decided to post it here so I will always have it, Internet or not!
Six Week Bran Muffins (With my changes)
3 cups boiling water
3 cups whole bran cereal
(I substitute 1 cup cereal for 1 cup bran)
1-1/2 cups shortening (I use butter)
4-1/2 cups white sugar (I have reduced the sugar and added molasses, which tastes awesome but not everybody has molasses on hand...not really sure why I do, but I do...)
6 eggs
6 cups buttermilk
(I never have buttermilk on hand, but I usually do have plain yogurt, so I use 3 cups plain yogurt and 3 cups milk instead)
7-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
(For half of the flour, I use a mix of flours including oat flour, whole wheat, and brown rice. I try to keep at least half all-purpose flour to keep the gluten high enough not to have a hockey puck.)
2 tablespoons and 1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
6 cups whole bran cereal
(I substitute a cup or two with oats)

In a large bowl, add boiling water to the first 3 cups of bran cereal, cool.
Cream butter, sugar, eggs, and buttermilk together. Add to bran mixture. Stir in flour, baking soda, and salt. Fold in the 6 cups of bran cereal. Stir only until moistened.
Bake in a preheated 425 degree F (220 degree C) oven for 20 to 25 minutes. (I also sprinkle on top some oatmeal and a little brown sugar, makes a nice crust the punks absolutely love!)

Monday, July 20, 2009


Since the heat is relegating me to inside projects, I am trying to get a few things done. I really need to tackle my house room by room and do a massive purge. Three years of graduate school with toddlers and my sister and her family moving in have created clutter and confusion (I was trying to think of a nice way to say disaster).

What I have done instead is decide to re-cover my dining room chairs in clearance fabric I picked up for $7. I got all three boys in one this one. They were so excited to get to take things apart and not get in trouble for it and bonus for me it took a few hours! I was too busy supervising three boys with scissors, screwdrivers and a staple gun to actually get a pic with any of them doing work...

Paint and recover a $3 garage sale chair.

And tackle an antique couch I picked up for $15...this one is going to take a while...

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Summer Happenings

I haven’t been writing much lately, since we are in the throes of summer around here. I have started working, which is bittersweet…I’m very excited to have a job (and one that I just spent years in school for!), but it takes time away from the punks I call my children. These particular punks require constant supervision if I would like my house to continue to shelter us. A wonderful example is last week when my father was watching them in the pool, they managed to go around to the front of the house, open the gate, get one of the bikes, bring it into the back yard, hoist it into the pool (which is over 4 feet off the ground) and ride the bike in the pool. (They do have amazing creativity and team work!)

We have also been doing everything we can to not die from heat stroke. Right now it is 10 at night and it is 101 degrees outside. It’s starting to cool off from the 110 of earlier. I said chuck it all, and we went to the movies to use their air conditioning! However, the heat is awesome for drying dries almost before I get back in the house!

Not only are we having a difficult time with the heat, my garden is sad and pathetic. I would like to blame it all on the heat, but the truth is…my garden has not done well from the very start this year. My third planting of beans has pretty much dried up – and I didn’t get a single bean from any of the plants. I have planted my zucchini, squash and cucumbers four times now and they all keep dying.

I have never had this problem before and I think it is my soil. I brought in many, many truckloads of compost from the city along with straw, horse manure, chicken coop clean outs, shredded paper, shredded leaves, worm castings…and everything is dying in these new beds. I have not picked a single pepper and my plants are barely surviving. Both the peppers and tomatoes have blossom end rot and something (not a tomato horn worm) is eating my tomato plants and marking up my tomatoes (on the good parts, away from the blossom end rot, the little suckers had to damage the edible parts).

The chickens ate my corn seedlings and my melon vines are the same size as when I planted them back in April. Needless to say, I am frustrated. If I had to survive off my garden, we would be starving right now! There is also the issue of hard work. I was really excited to see the fruits of my labors…Thank God for all the Farmer’s Markets around me so I can eat the fruits of other peoples work!

One of the other problems we encounter gardening in this valley is the intense heat. Instead of having one enormously long season from late March to mid November, we have two short seasons separated by a long, dry, HOT summer. The news said something about the next 30 days being over a 100 degrees…and plants just shut down. And really who could blame them, I don’t want to do anything in this heat either!

As much as I am frustrated with my food endeavors at the moment, I know I will keep trying and I am already starting to think of what I can plant this fall…In fact, I just harvested the tiny little seeds from my lettuces yesterday. As part of the seed to seed challenge, I let my lettuces go to seed instead of pulling them out when they bolted...and I now have lettuce to plant in a few months when I can go back outside in daylight hours.

However, I did get 6 eggs today! The teenage chickens are laying these tiny little things…very cute. And I’ve gotten a few of these tiny, paper-thin eggs that you can’t touch. I added some Oyster Shell to their diet so hopefully the shells will get a little harder.

Just to let you know that I am also counting my blessings in the midst of my complaining - We got to see the new Harry Potter movie today, I didn’t cook a single meal for any of the 15 thousand people in my house today, and my punks bring me so much joy it physically hurts to look at them sometimes! Of course, I’m watching them sleep as I type this when they are even more adorable and not getting into trouble! We had an awesome afternoon just the three of us.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Chicken Therapy

Ryan in his new Ninja costume (didn't tell them they were pj's) from Chinatown.

I spent the evening in my backyard watching my chickens. I tried to block out the weeds that need to be pulled, the humongous amount of work that needs to be done and the various kids’ toys, clothes and towels strewn about the backyard. I find sitting and watching my chickens eat bugs and scratch the ground is very soothing.

Tonight I had a difficult time being soothed. I had a meeting with my ex-husband this afternoon to discuss the direction we are going to take with our oldest son. We got his diagnosis last week, and the news wasn’t encouraging. I knew that he was having a lot of problems, but I wasn’t expecting it to be so complicated. As the psychologist said, “he has a long row to hoe…”

Part of this decision is whether or not to put him on meds. I can’t stand the thought and would do anything I could to stop this. Yet, I already have. I have taken him to a holistic doctor and chiropractor. I have completely changed his diet. He isn’t allowed to play video games. He stays outside, runs, plays, builds things and uses his creativity. We have tried behavioral modification…but the bottom line is his brain isn’t functioning the way it supposed too and this is having major ramifications for his self-esteem, confidence and ability to function.

I hurt so much for my son, but there is hope and we are pursuing it. Of course, my ex’s first response was how much was this going to cost which then turned into 45 minutes of him telling me to let my house foreclose, how I needed to get a better job, and that maybe I should only have the boys on the weekend, so I could work more.

I already barely contain it when they go to their dad’s, there is no way I would let them be raised by his nanny…I really don’t understand this man who I was married to, could possibly think that I would EVER let something like that happen. I will work when they are at school, and the nights they are at their dad’s. But I would sell everything I owned and find a room to rent before…

Sometimes life is very complicated and difficult to be soothed. I am trusting that everything will work out. I know it will. I know that sounds like I am trying to convince myself, but after walking through the last 7 years, I know I can face anything. I won’t always like it, and it doesn’t always turn out the way you expected…but, I will thrive where I’m planted – and so will my kids!

Friday, July 10, 2009

San Francisco

I just spent three fabulous days in San Francisco with a good friend of mine. We both just graduated from graduate school and decided to go on a trip instead of giving each other gifts. She had to take some visiting Germans to the SF airport so we decided to just stay up there and enjoy some gorgeous weather and amazing food!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Cooking with Kids

Last night my kids helped me cook dinner. This isn't unusual for our family, and in fact they help me cook a lot.

This dinner was special for me since most of it came out of our garden and they were so excited.

They cut up the tomatoes, the mozzarella and the basil for our tomato salad. Then they put in a little salt, some balsamic vinegar and olive oil. The really fun part was when they were tasting it to decide if it needed anything else and to make sure the proportions were right.

They stood there next to each other discussing whether or not it had enough vinegar or just needed more salt. I was so proud and excited. Maybe this is something that shouldn't get me excited and happy, but they are 5 and 7. They were eating tomatoes and wanted more!

Then I dug up a few potatoes, gently boiled them until tender. Ryan put butter and a little cream and slightly mushed them around. Max tasted to see if they needed some salt.

Friday, July 3, 2009


I love books.
As part of my no consumerism, slower year I'm trying the library. This is huge for me. I love books. Did I mention that I love books?
Books have been my friends for years. They are my constant companions. I travel, I cook, I dream, I learn all through books. Books have the power to transform me into another person, in another life and sometimes a different world.
Given the choice between TV and a book, 99% of the time the book will win out. And in fact, if I do watch TV, I am usually also reading a book at the same time.

I read when I'm lonely, sad, bored, in pain, to relax and even to procrastinate. I can't think of a day when I don't read. I read when I go to bed and sometimes my idea of a perfect day is to be alone with a book. There have been times when the boys are at their dad's that I can stay in bed with a book for most of the day...

I re-read books. I also re-watch movies; and have no problems knowing the plot ahead of time - it is still just as entertaining to me.

I like to own books. A perfect evening for me would be to go to dinner and then a book store. I can stay in there for hours - browsing, looking, reading, coveting.

However, I am seriously trying to cut down on my consumerism. Books are expensive. Yes, they are my constant companions. Yes, when I can't sleep I will go pull a favorite off the shelf and start reading. But how many books can someone own?

When I clean my house, it always involves moving books around. It's not quite so bad this past month since my very large stacks of books for graduate school have been put away. But, there are probably at least three books on my bed, a few on my nightstand, the kitchen counter, the couch, my car, my purse the kitchen table...I have boxes of books in storage (although these came from my ex mother-in-law, and I haven't been able to go through them yet).

My parents are also avid readers. When we go garage saling, my mom always buys lots of books for about 25 cents a piece. She buys the detective books, crime, police stories. I'm an equal opportunity reader. As long as it isn't a romance novel, I'm good to go! My mom and I trade books and most of those either end up in our own garage sales or the used book store. If my dad gives me a book, I know it's good. I don't think I have ever seen him read a book of fiction, and he is probably the smartest person I have ever met!

A friend gave my a gift certificate to Amazon for graduation. While looking online today for several books that I had been wanting, I decided that as part of paring down and not purchasing, I would utilize the library. This is really hard for me. I know that if I find an awesome book that needs to be on my shelf I can always purchase it later, but I really love that instant satisfaction of having a new book and ensconcing myself someplace comfy.

Most of the books I am currently interested in are about sustainability, making a life from scratch, slowing down and enjoying life. Apparently other people that are also interested in these things - also frequent the library! Every book I wanted was already on hold for someone else and in fact I was 6th in line for one of them!

This has made me think about the role of books in my life. I really turn to them for my escape. It has also made me think about why Ryan's difficulty with reading has been so hard for me. I want my children to enjoy reading. I want the world to open up for them. But reading is hell for my oldest. I will do everything I can to help make reading easier for him, but I also have to accept the fact that reading just might not be his thing.
Recently, I have started reading blogs. They have become a good replacement for travel and cook books! I found the following book on one of my favorite blogs that combines living in France with amazing cooking. She has a really good review if your interested here.

By the way, I did decide to use part of my gift certificate for a book:

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Eating Alone

I’m reading a book right now titled, Alone in the Kitchen with an Eggplant: Confessions of Cooking for One and Dining Alone. It is a collection of essays from famous and not so famous people on cooking and eating alone.

“Dinner alone is one of life’s little pleasures. Certainly cooking for oneself reveals man at his weirdest. People lie when you ask them what they eat when they are alone. A salad, they tell you. But when you persist, they confess to peanut butter and bacon sandwiches deep fried and eaten with hot sauce, or spaghetti with butter and grape jam.”

This book has me thinking about my own eating habits. This is not hard for me to think about since I love to eat! But I love to eat good food. In fact, I will sometimes pass up a meal of not that great food, because it is almost too much trouble to eat something I don’t really care about.

When I was first divorced and the boys were at their dad’s house, I would order some good take-out food, go home and eat on the couch watching reruns of some stupid show. It was too painful to cook for myself. There were many nights that a few crackers, a granola bar or even graham crackers and a glass of milk were dinner. You see, cooking and feeding others had become a gift of love. It is a way to nourish other people both physically and emotionally.

I have always loved to cook and my mother really encouraged this desire. She baked with me and taught me many techniques and recipes, but the best thing she did for me was to turn me loose in the kitchen (as long as I cleaned up!). She cooked good food, and my parents took me with them when they travelled and always took me to nice restaurants. I had my own food processor before I even moved out of the house and my mom made sure that my kitchen was always stocked with good pots, pans, utensils and of course the necessary ingredients.

It helps that my mom also gardens, cooks, bakes and preserves. I know what homemade bread tastes like and there is no comparison to store bought bread. Shortly after college I was making lunch to take to work and realized that I was using tuna my mom had canned (my uncle had caught), on bread that she had baked and pickles that she had preserved! The only thing bought from the store was the mayo!

I spent many hours in the kitchen with my mom learning to preserve tomatoes, peaches, pears and pickles. We made cheese from fresh goat’s milk and always had a family dinner at 7.

I went to college in Santa Barbara in the early 90’s and found the Farmer’s Market! My roommate was not an adventurous eater, but I started experimenting and cooking even more. A group of friends would get together every Wednesday night at each other’s house and fix some yummy meal. Homemade Chinese food, handmade pasta, grilled salmon – I loved those nights of community and of course amazing food.

In my early 20’s I went to Europe for a month and that changed my eating and cooking habits even more! For the first time in my life I realized that tomatoes tasted good! When I came home my parents and friends were more than willing to try my new found cooking enthusiasm with all things Italian!

I had a fairly crazy marriage that lasted only three years but with three pregnancies and babies thrown in the mix along with being away from family, my cooking became more utilitarian. I found that staying at home I always cook breakfast and lunch, but by dinner time I’m tired, the kids are tired and I really didn’t want to clean the kitchen one more time! Darrin change that. I found that I loved cooking for someone who loved my meals, and as an added bonus he cleaned the kitchen for me when I put the boys to bed!

But now that I’m eating alone again, I have found myself back in the routine of cooking breakfast and lunch for the boys and dinner is hit or miss. I still love to cook and my boys love my food, but something is missing – it’s much harder to convince myself that I’m worth the trouble.

Thank God for leftovers and the freezer! And in all honesty we eat really well. This morning we had pan fried mushroom risotto (leftovers heated in a skillet until the rice gets crunchy on the outside) with a pan-fried, over-easy fresh egg on top. Lunch was homemade chicken tortilla soup and butternut squash soup (strangely good with crisp tortilla chips as well!). Everything was from the freezer and took all of 15 minutes to pull out, heat up and throw a chicken breast into the boiling broth. Even the butternut was pureed and frozen from a previous meal. But last night when the boys were gone, I pulled out left over grilled potatoes with rosemary, some blue cheese dressing and ate them standing in front of the kitchen sink at 9:30 because I hadn’t bothered to eat and I was too hungry to go to bed. Sometimes I pamper myself and cook an extravagant meal all for myself, but it all depends on my mood!

So, here is my question to you. What do you do when you eat alone? Do you enjoy it? Do you barely get through it? Or do you pamper yourself?