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Fun with Figs

When Shawn’s sister and brother-in-law gave us some figs from their backyard trees last week (thank you, Bonny and Art!), I was excited to have a new ingredient to play with in the kitchen. I was really inspired to make something fancy, such as the recipe I came across for a Fig Tart with Mascarpone Cream from The Pie and Pastry Bible, by Rose Levy Beranbaum. (I’ve been wanting to try Beranbaum’s pastry techniques with sprouted whole wheat pastry flour.)

But with a tight schedule (swim-team practice, summer homeschooling and recent freelance projects have kept our family hopping)—and an even tighter budget (I could easily sub out the mascarpone with homemade yogurt cheese, but I’d have to forgo some of the pricier and barely-used ingredients like sweet marsala wine)—I set that idea aside and looked for ways to incorporate the fruit into some of the recipes I make regularly. Enter the Basic Soaked Muffins I learned to make from my friend Wardeh Harmon, who shares the recipe on her blog (www.gnowfglins.com) and teaches extra-helpful techniques for making them in her GNOWFGLINS Fundamentals eCourse.

These muffins—which call for soaking the whole-grain flour overnight in an acidic liquid to break down nutrient-blocking phytic acid—are super versatile. As long as you follow the basic guidelines of the recipe, you can adjust spices and add-ins (fruit, nuts, etc.) to your preferences each time you bake the muffins. So far we’ve enjoyed them with raisins, apples, peaches, and—you guessed it—figs. The figs imparted a mild, sweet flavor and an incredibly moist texture to the muffins.

I have enough figs left to make another batch of muffins—unless I decide to revisit the idea of making the tart. Of course, we could just eat the figs. Which is what my best friend and mom blogger Wendy Neri—or, more precisely, her fig-obsessed Italian father-in-law—would advise. (Click here for a link to a hilarious post on her blog, www.mothernfodder.com, where she wrote about what fig-harvest season is like around her house.)

For learning to prepare traditional, real foods like the muffins I mentioned—as well as other soaked, sprouted, fermented and cultured foods—I can’t recommend the GNOWFGLINS Fundamentals eCourse enough. After completing the 14-lesson class a few weeks ago, I have expanded my real-food repertoire to include now-staple items such as water kefir, homemade chicken stock, sprouted beans, soaked rice, and whole-grain sourdough bread. I am so impressed by Wardeh Harmon’s integrity and heart for teaching her methods, which she generously shares on a “pay-what-you-can” basis. The class is available online to start anytime, and you can pick and choose what lessons you’d like to learn when. And I’m so excited to begin Wardeh’s newest class—the GNOWFGLINS Sourdough eCourse—which launches today. It’s not too late to sign up for the class, which features the same pay structure and offers methods for mastering not only sourdough bread, but also other naturally leavened foods—including pancakes, biscuits, tortillas and crackers. I can’t wait to add all of that to my repertoire! 🙂

This post is part of the Tuesday Twister blog carnival hosted by www.gnowfglins.com. To link to today’s Tuesday Twister on that site, click here.

Please note: It is my goal to provide a top-quality, content-driven, ad-free blog. That said, I do occasionally include affiliate links in some of my posts. For example, if you click on the book cover above, you will link to Amazon.com, where you will have an opportunity to purchase it—and if you do buy it after clicking through from my site, I will receive a small commission to support my work here, as well as my own book-buying habit. :-) Seriously, though, I’d be just as happy if my recommendations inspired you to check out the title from your local library or borrow it from a friend.

July 13, 2010   2 Comments

A Half-Dozen …

… Kitchen Life musings to share (answering prompts from The Homekeeper’s Journal):

1. In my kitchen this week I’m struggling to stay on top of the meal preparation and cleanup. A lot of other things are requiring my attention right now, so I’ve neglected the dishes and some other regular tasks. I do have water kefir brewing, I’m soaking some pinto beans and brown basmati rice, and I plan to put a chicken in the crock pot today, too. I made soaked muffins with fresh figs for breakfast this morning, and they were super moist and yummy. Just need to tackle and tame the mess!

2. I think we do eat healthily almost all of the time because I insist on it and invest a lot of time into making it happen. Yes, we occasionally settle for foods that are less than ideal when our lives are so busy that I don’t have the time I need to spend in the kitchen. My goal is to have a good system in place that enables me to plan and prepare foods in advance so that we have healthy choices on hand most of the time.

3. My family is not resistant to healthy eating because I try to involve them in the process of choosing and cooking what we eat. That said, some of my family members do balk at trying new things. I think (and I hope) that if I consistently provide healthy food—and teach them at the same time why it’s important on both a personal and global scale—that they will naturally gravitate toward those foods on their own.

4. I don’t have a garden yet, but it is my dream to one day use as much of our suburban lot as I can to grow food for our family. Poor-quality soil means we will need to do a lot of work to build up/amend what we have and/or create a lot of raised beds. My biggest challenge will be finding the time and the money to make it happen. Right now, it’s extremely hot where I live in central Arizona, so I’m planning to make a small start somewhere in the yard in the fall or spring.

5. The hardest part about eating healthily for me and my family is finding the time that’s required to prepare everything. I love to cook, and I aspire to be organized and efficient, but it just doesn’t always happen with all of the other things I’m trying to balance—including homeschooling, house cleaning, freelance writing and editing, blogging, digital scrapbooking and other things that I love to do.

6. My favorite thing about preparing and serving healthy foods is knowing that my efforts are benefiting the people I love most. 🙂 I also like to think that the choices I’m making with my food budget are helping to ensure that healthy foods will continue to be available as viable options for all of us as consumers. It’s exciting to realize that in providing the best meals for my own family, I am a part of a ripple effect that helps others do exactly the same thing.

This post is part of The Homekeeper’s Journal, hosted by Sylvia Britton at www.christianhomekeeper.org.

July 13, 2010   No Comments

Boys of Summer

Kellen and Kerrick underwent their annual summer transformation yesterday (with Keillor joining in for the first time), when Shawn lined them up and sheared them down in the backyard. Usually, I’m the one who cuts the hair around here, but this head-shaving tradition falls squarely into their dad’s jurisdiction—a throwback to his Navy days, I guess. I do admire Shawn’s efficiency—he got three boys finished in the time it would take me to carefully cut one boy’s hair (and I noticed none of them uttered a single complaint about itchiness, either!). The boys all love their extremely short hair for several reasons: 1) It keeps them streamlined for swim team, which begins tomorrow; 2) it makes hair-washing a cinch; 3) it means they don’t have to comb their hair for the next few months. As for me, I’ll be glad when it’s time to let it all grow back. 🙂

June 1, 2010   4 Comments

Skillet Skills

Skillet Dish

My Kitchen Life lately has centered around the lessons I’ve been learning through my friend Wardeh Harmon’s GNOWFGLINS Fundamentals eCourse. One of my most recent adventures actually employed two of the techniques she’s taught so far: how to make soaked homemade pasta, and how to combine ingredients on hand to make versatile skillet dishes.

In the pasta lesson, I learned to create a dough that “soaks” overnight (which basically means that the flour is moistened with liquid that includes an acid—such as apple cider vinegar—to help break down the grain’s phytic acid, which blocks vital minerals from being absorbed during digestion). After making the dough exactly as it was presented in the eCourse recipe, I got brave enough to try a variation on another recipe—one I’ve made and loved for awhile—from The Lemon Lovers Cookbook, by Peg Bailey. It already included an acid—lemon juice—so I just needed to give it time to soak. And I replaced the all-purpose flour called for in the original recipe with kamut flour, which I’d read lends a “nutty” quality to pasta. Well, it just couldn’t have turned out better! The pasta was a nice golden color, with a heavenly lemon fragrance and flavor. It rolled out easily and held its shape beautifully. I will definitely be making it again—and again!

I decided to put the pasta to work in my very first improvisational skillet dish (which is just a fancy way to say that I didn’t follow a recipe!). The basic idea for a skillet dish—as I’ve learned in the eCourse—is to combine a starch (the lemon pasta, in this case) with a protein (I used diced pastured chicken that I’d cooked in a crock pot) and a scratch-made sauce (I used coconut milk as a base, and blended it with sauteed onion and garlic, extra-virgin olive oil, salt and pepper). I was concerned that the lemon and coconut flavors would clash, but they were actually quite complementary. Topped with a little grated Parmesan cheese, it was an absolutely delicious dish—one that I’m happy to add to my growing repertoire.

What’s been cooking in your kitchen? I’d love to hear about any new techniques you’ve tried or family favorites you’ve come up with!

This post is part of the Tuesday Twister blog carnival hosted by www.gnowfglins.com. To link to today’s Tuesday Twister on that site, click here.

Please note: It is my goal to provide a top-quality, content-driven, ad-free blog. That said, I do occasionally include affiliate links in some of my posts. For example, if you click on the book cover above, you will link to Amazon.com, where you will have an opportunity to purchase it—and if you do buy it after clicking through from my site, I will receive a small commission to support my work here, as well as my own book-buying habit. :-) Seriously, though, I’d be just as happy if my recommendation inspired you to check out the title from your local library or borrow it from a friend.

May 11, 2010   5 Comments

Meet Sweetie

Kellen&SweetieKerrick&SweetieKennah&SweetieKeillor&Sweetie3

The newest addition to our family is Sweetheart (Sweetie, for short), a 4-month-old blue heeler puppy who unexpectedly wiggled her way into our home—and our hearts—two weeks ago. Kellen and Kerrick had been begging for a puppy for quite awhile, and Shawn and I kept putting them off, saying, “It’s not the right time.” We did have some valid concerns: We wanted Keillor to be well out of babyhood and firmly established as a toddler, and we hoped that Kennah would first overcome her skittishness around dogs. Plus, we wanted our backyard (still a bit torn up after a remodeling project last year) to be a more welcoming environment for a canine companion. But when Sweetie suddenly became available through a friend of my sister’s, we decided to hedge our bets against not-so-perfect timing. (And so far, so good: Keillor and Kennah have taken Sweetie well in stride, and Sweetie has been quite content in our crazy backyard.)

We’ve suffered a few casualties as Sweetie continues to work through the teething stage (shirts, socks, underwear, an Easter egg and part of the piano bench!), but she is otherwise so well-behaved and, well, sweet, that we’ve decided we can live with that one temporary vice. I guess you could say that the entire Hemmings Half Dozen has definitely come down with a classic case of puppy love. 🙂

May 9, 2010   1 Comment

Words Worth Repeating: The Mission of Motherhood

Here’s another installment of Words Worth Repeating, a series of posts that allow me to share some meaningful thoughts, ideas and quotations from whatever I happen to be reading at the time. The words repeated here speak into my life, and I hope to convey their personal significance in such a way that they’ll be every bit as poignant to those who see them here.

Last year, my friend Kelly was kind enough to lend me her copies of two books by Sally Clarkson: The Mission of Motherhood and The Ministry of Motherhood. I found much encouragement and inspiration in the pages of these books, authored by a fellow homeschooling mom of four who so eloquently captures the struggles and challenges of the life I am striving to live—and who also offers incredible encouragement and inspiration for rising to the occasion. In honor of Mother’s Day, I thought I would share one of my favorite quotations from The Mission of Motherhood:

“Children do not accidentally become mature adults of strong character, great faith, gracious relational skills, effective leadership qualities, and sharp intellects. God’s design includes the presence of a hands-on gardener, a mother, to tend and cultivate their hearts, souls, minds, and relationships. As a garden cannot flourish without a gardener, neither can a child reach his or her potential without someone committed to careful cultivation. Just as a garden without a gardener will eventually go to seed and be covered over with weeds and debris, a child whose growth is unsupervised or left to chance will likely grow wild and undisciplined or stunted and unfruitful. Seeing myself as a gardener is helpful to me as I think of my mission as a mother. After all, I want more for my children than just getting them to adulthood. I want them to thrive. I want them to grow up confident and civilized. I want them prepared to live as abundantly as possible.”

Some days—especially those that are overflowing with the details and duties that seem to consume so much of our time as mothers—this bigger picture is hard to see. (As I write this, I am simultaneously chasing down a toddler with a fever and a runny nose, preparing to cuddle him on my lap for some stories.) But for me, this bigger picture is exactly what makes the endless list of little things worth tackling. Happy Mother’s Day—and happy “gardening.”

Please note: It is my goal to provide a top-quality, content-driven, ad-free blog. That said, I do occasionally include affiliate links in some of my posts. For example, if you click on the book cover above, you will link to Amazon.com, where you will have an opportunity to purchase it—and if you do buy it after clicking through from my site, I will receive a small commission to support my work here, as well as my own book-buying habit. :-) Seriously, though, I’d be just as happy if my recommendations inspired you to check out the title from your local library or borrow it (as I did) from a friend.

May 9, 2010   No Comments

Special Delivery

Food surprise

Sometime after 9 p.m., as I was reading stories on the sofa to a sniffling, cold-suffering Keillor, I heard a knock at the door. At first, I thought it was Shawn, Kellen, Kerrick and Kennah returning from a day trip to Tucson. But when I looked through the peephole, I didn’t see any people—just bags and boxes piled outside the door. Curious, and cautious, I opened the door to find enough groceries to feed a multitude—everything from meat and potatoes to melons and pasta to the biggest cans of tomato sauce I’ve ever seen, and enough packets of Goldfish crackers to satisfy snacking kids for ages. What a surprise! As Keillor and I brought everything into the kitchen, we asked ourselves two questions:

1. Who? (Although I have several guesses, I can’t be sure who’s responsible—and I’m sure that’s quite the point. I haven’t written about it here, yet, or shared it with many people outside of our extended family, but Shawn’s been looking for a full-time job since a layoff in January. Our budget’s been pretty tight, but God’s provision has been timely and amazing to see.)

2. How? (For as much stuff as there was piled outside, we didn’t hear a sound—not even the rustling of plastic bags or the thud of heavy cans of food hitting the ground.)

Whoever you are, you’re good! And I mean that in every sense of the word. Tucked into one of the boxes was a simple note that read, “God bless you!” And the Hemmings Half Dozen would like to say, “Right back at ya!” (Now, if anyone has any recipes that call for such things as a 6-pound, 9-ounce can of diced carrots and peas, please share!) 🙂

May 8, 2010   9 Comments

Words Worth Repeating

For awhile now, I’ve wanted to come up with a regular post that allows me to share some meaningful thoughts, ideas and quotations from whatever I happen to be reading at the time—whether it’s a novel, a memoir, a cookbook, a magazine article or anything else that catches my eye. These words will, of necessity, need to speak into my life—or, at least, a particular moment of my life—to be deemed worthy of repeating. And it’s my hope that in addition to the actual words, I’ll be able to effectively convey their personal significance in such a way that they’ll be every bit as poignant to those who see them here.

This first Words Worth Repeating post was inspired by an unlikely source—at least one that came as a surprise to me. On the recommendation of a fellow reader I met at a children’s birthday party last weekend, I picked up a novel at the library titled The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein. The book—about an aspiring race-car driver and his young family, and entirely narrated from the perspective of his dog—is probably not something I’d have chosen on my own. I’ve learned from experience, though, that sometimes such books make the best reads. Besides, I was intrigued by the idea of a story told from a dog’s perspective—especially because our family recently adopted our first canine member, a blue heeler named Sweetie. The framework constructed by the book’s personal story helped ease me into the world of car-racing and its history and heroes. (Outside of my youngest son’s obsession with the Disney movie Cars—which I’ve almost memorized, thanks to his daily viewing of it—I knew next to nothing about this world.) Without giving too much of the story away, I’ll say that Enzo—the dog who tells the story and who is named, of course, for Italian race-car driver and designer Enzo Ferrari—holds out hope that one day that he’ll be reincarnated as a human so that he can speak about all that he sees and knows with the words that are beyond the limitations of his canine abilities to communicate. He is a witness to tragic circumstances that threaten the family he loves, including the affliction of his master’s wife, Eve, with brain cancer. When Eve orchestrates a celebration to mark the fact that she lives beyond the “six to eight months” the doctors give her, Enzo thinks,

“To live every day as if it had been stolen from death, that is how I would like to live. To feel the joy of life, as Eve felt the joy of life. To separate oneself from the burden, the angst, the anguish that we all encounter every day. To say I am alive, I am wonderful, I am. I am. That is something to aspire to. When I am a person, that is how I will live my life.”

What made this particular quotation—and the story behind it—stand out to me is that I have lately seen my share of friends handling health crises (including a brain tumor) with such amazing grace and a determination to “feel the joy of life” despite their pain and fear. They inspire me to repeat alongside them especially that last sentence—only without the dog Enzo’s qualifying “When”: “I am a person, [and] that is how I will live my life.”

Please note: It is my goal to provide a top-quality, content-driven, ad-free blog. That said, I do occasionally include affiliate links in some of my posts. For example, if you click on the book cover above, you will link to Amazon.com, where you will have an opportunity to purchase it—and if you do buy it after clicking through from my site, I will receive a small commission to support my work here, as well as my own book-buying habit. :-) Seriously, though, I’d be just as happy if my recommendations inspired you to check out the title from your local library or borrow it from a friend.

May 5, 2010   5 Comments

Guest Post: A Tale of Two Tarts

LemonTarts

I was delighted to be invited awhile back to write a guest post for my friend Wardeh’s blog (www.gnowfglins.com). When she asked for some ideas for sharing my real-food experiences, I immediately thought about completing a makeover on one of my family’s favorite desserts: Tiny Lemon Tarts from The Lemon Lovers Cookbook, by Peg Bailey. Did it work? You’ll have to click here to link to the post where I share the delicious details. 🙂

Please note: It is my goal to provide a top-quality, content-driven, ad-free blog. That said, I do occasionally include affiliate links in some of my posts. For example, if you click on the book cover above, you will link to Amazon.com, where you will have an opportunity to purchase it—and if you do buy it after clicking through from my site, I will receive a small commission to support my work here, as well as my own book-buying habit. :-) Seriously, though, I’d be just as happy if my recommendations inspired you to check out the title from your local library or borrow it from a friend.

May 5, 2010   2 Comments

Timeline: Happy Easter!

Goodwin children (from left: Brenda, Nora, Sonya and Kenneth); Safford, Arizona; 1974.

Goodwin children (from left: Brenda, Nora, Sonya and Kenneth); Safford, Arizona; 1974.

Hemmings children (from left: Keillor, Kerrick, Kennah and Kellen); Tempe, Arizona; 2010.

Hemmings children (from left: Keillor, Kerrick, Kennah and Kellen); Tempe, Arizona; 2010.

I thought it would be fun to show my sisters and I wearing the coordinating Easter dresses my mom made for us when we were young, and then show Kennah wearing the dress I made for her this year. (My brother and my sons had to settle for store-bought attire in these photos, but I’ve promised my boys that I’ll try to at least give their Easter shirts some mom-made attention next year.) 🙂 Here are a few more fun shots of Kennah (and her baby doll, Mary) wearing their matching dresses. (I don’t know how my mom made three whole dresses for her daughters several years in a row! It was all I could manage to put together one dress—plus a quarter-size replica—in the weeks leading up to today!) 🙂

Kennah in her "sparkly pink butterfly" confection—because it reminds me of cotton candy—of an Easter dress.

Kennah in her "sparkly pink butterfly" confection—because it reminds me of cotton candy—of an Easter dress.

Perfect match: Kennah and Mary.

Perfect match: Kennah and Mary.

April 4, 2010   7 Comments