coming attractions

Hey guys, remember me? Sorry for the blog radio silence, life got a little crazy last week. I’ll probably be on blogging hiatus this week too, but I have so many cool things to show you when I return! Here’s a little taste of what’s coming down the docket:

Coffee Filter Jellyfish!DSC03511

DSC03566Badass Princesses!DSC03572

More forest bathing!DSC03032

Secret beaches!DSC03592Have a great week everybody and I’ll see you next week!

mango lassi ice cream

So, I’m back with another refreshing frozen summer treat for you! It’s funny cause when I had a recipe blog I used to never post on it, but now that I have a blog that’s not particularly about recipes, I can’t stop doing recipe posts. Whatever. This mango ice cream is freaking great and you should all eat it.mango lassi ice cream

I’ll never forget the first time I tasted a mango lassi. I was 21, with my friend Juliet at the newly-opened Basmati Restaurant in Champaign, Illinois. It seems crazy, considering how many Indians live there, that this was Champaign-Urbana’s first Indian restaurant. Growing up, my only experience with Indian food was from my mom’s kitchen, a white girl from suburban Chicago. Her curries were delicious (if a little unorthodox), but she never introduced me to the joys of naan, chicken masala, or glorious lassi. Though I moved away from Central Illinois a few days later, I ended up in Rogers Park in Chicago, a mere 10 minutes from Devon Avenue and Chicago’s Little India. So basically I’ve drunk like 300 mango lassis in my time and it’s a serious hardship living in a town where the only Indian restaurant went under 11 months ago (RIP India Palace).

Enter, mango lassi ice cream. I invented this last week and it is outrageously good. Basically, make a mango lassi, mix in some half and half, and put it in your ice cream maker. Refreshing Indian heaven in a bowl. By the way, do you know how to peel a mango? This was all over BuzzFeed last week, so maybe you do, but just in case,

Amazing, right? So anyway, you do that to 2 mangoes, and then purée them in your food processor.mango purée

Boy, I’m getting really good at taking photos of the inside of my cuisinart, huh? Add a cup of plain yogurtyogurt

and half a cup of half and half (half half half… that starts to look like it can’t possibly be a word. More like a sound effect. The sound of a cat working out a hairball situation. OK enough disgusting sound imagery, Self, back to semi-appetizing process photos.)making mango lassi ice cream

Then bloop in some honey and cardamomadd some cardamom

and stir until you get a nice, smooth, pale yellow, speckly mixture:
mango lassi ice cream base

Pour the whole thing into your ice cream maker bowl and let it churn until you get something that looks like this:churning mango lassi ice cream

I was explaining to my kids this morning how we used to churn ice cream when I was a kid (“In the old days,” I found myself saying. It was the 80s.) In a big wooden barrel filled with ice and salt and you had to keep cranking it around and around for a million years. I seriously can’t believe anyone ever made ice cream. BARBARIC, IT WAS. Now you just turn the thing on, wait until it’s ice cream-ish, and then toss it in the freezer to finish. It’s so easy you basically have no excuse to not make this. (Except if you don’t have an ice cream maker. But you should definitely buy one because this stuff is awesome.)mango lassi ice creamMango Lassi Ice Cream
makes about 12 servings

Ingredients
2 mangoes
1 cup plain whole milk yogurt
1/2 cup half and half (or 1/4 cup whipping cream and 1/4 cup whole milk)
1/3 cup honey
1 teaspoon cardamom or rosewater

1) Slice and peel mangoes. Purée them in a food processor until smooth.
2) Transfer mango purée to a large bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well.
3) Pour mixture into ice cream maker and churn until it looks like soft serve ice cream. Transfer to a lidded container and freeze at least 3 hours.

it’s friday i’m in love

Happy Friday, kids! Here is your weekly dose of random awesome things from the internet.raspberries

1) First of all, a shout out to my friend Nils’ amazing band, Future Folk. Did you guys see the movie The History of Future Folk? If you haven’t, you should totally watch it. It has goofy but lovable aliens, banjo music, a charming romance plot, and saving the Earth. What more do you need in entertainment? The band, consisting of two helmeted, folk-music playing spacemen, are currently on a US tour, so if you have the chance, go see them play live – you won’t be sorry:

2) How cool are these little ceramic mugs by Creature Cups with a secret sea creature at the bottom? I have a birthday coming up this month for my ocean-obsessed son, and I’m thinking one of these might be just the ticket. Now to decide, shark or octopus??

3) Check out this super simple and – this is the awesome part – COLLAPSIBLE cardboard playhouse

My kids would love this, and it looks so easy to make, and to store when they’re not playing in it! Could be the perfect thing to pull out for a rainy day, and let them go to town decorating it with markers.

4) Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables.

French supermarket chain Intermarché recently launched this campaign (there called Les Fruits et Légumes Moches, but I rather love the translation “inglorious” for moche) to combat food waste. Basically instead of farmers throwing away all the produce they grow that doesn’t look like a textbook perfect specimen, Intermarché bought all the reject fruits and veggies and sold them to the public at a discounted price. Brilliant. Why doesn’t every supermarket everywhere do this. It’s unbelievable that farmers have to throw away so much unsellable food , yet there are people going hungry, or struggling to afford fresh produce. A perfect solution.

5) My Milk Toof

This insanely cute blog by California artist Inhae Lee is basically like a photo-comic that follows the adventures of two baby teeth who go around having adventures, trying on underpants, and experiencing the anxieties of modern life. I LOVE IT. There is even a picture book. Might have to get that for when my three year-old starts losing teeth, which, if she follows in her brother’s footsteps, should be in about 12 months… GULP!

6) You always hear about “the summer slide,” where kids lose their academic and reading skills over the months away from school. I’m not really worried about that right now, since my kids don’t even go to school yet, but we did sign up for our local library reading program just for fun. (Though since neither of them know how to read, perhaps we should call it our summer listening program.) One thing they both can do on their own, however, is math. I credit this 10% to the abacus my mother-in-law gave them, and 90% to Bedtime Math.

It’s this great website and app that each day posts awesome factoids and related story problems, inclusively geared toward various levels of math competence from preschoolers counting on their fingers on up to mid-elementary and beyond. The idea is to make it part of your bedtime routine and slip in a little math practice before lights out. Since I eliminated room cleaning and getting in their own beds from the routine this week, we have plenty of time for doing math. Win-win.

7) Speaking of bedtime, the wonderful Cosmic Kids Yoga posted a really sweet bedtime yoga routine for kids recently, called “Twilight the Unicorn of Dreams.”(Not to be confused with Twilight Sparkle the Unicorn of MLP) If you’re not familiar with Cosmic Kids, it’s this kooky British lady, Jaimie Brodie who makes yoga videos for young children that all involve an animal story for kids to act out through various yoga poses. My kids absolutely adore them and there is nothing more sweet and hilarious than watching them do “namaste” together at the end.

They also recently launched a meditation series for kids called Cosmic Kids Zen Den. I am so, so bad at meditating but I really aspire to work it into my life. I think these beginner meditation lessons meant for kindergarteners might be just my speed…

Namaste, guys, and have a great weekend!

how to survive solo parenting

Solo parenting can be a real slog. Singlehandedly caring for, feeding, and refereeing little kids is no easy job. It drains your patience battery at about three times the normal speed, and there’s no one but you to do all the little things that make your household run smoother, not to mention be the go-to person for every single need, wish, boo-boo, and nightmare, 24 hours a day. (I want to clarify, though, that solo parenting is not even in the same universe as single parenting. I have nothing but awe and respect for moms and dads who do this as their regular m.o., and I don’t begin to think I know what kind of tips and tricks get you through when solo parenting is just The Way Things Always Are.) Right now, my husband is on day four of a ten-day work trip, so I’m on day four of a ten-day solo parenting journey. Over nearly six years of weathering these kind of trips I have developed a survival strategy, a sort of stripped-down way of living that is not just a way to keep my head above water, but also makes it kind of a fun adventure for the kiddos. (You know, the type of adventure where you don’t clean your room for a week and eat ramen for dinner.)

1. Make the Kids Your Teammates.bowling team

I start each solo parenting stint off with a pep-talk huddle with my kiddos, reminding them that we’re a team and our number one job is to look out for each other. With two kids and only one grown-up, I let them know I need their help making sure everyone is happy and safe. My son was really captivated by the concept of bucket-filling when his teachers read a book about it at nursery school, so we talk a ton about that in our everyday life, but especially when I’m flying solo. I tell the kids the best way they can fill my bucket is by being good listeners and helpers, and being kind to me and to each other. When I write it out, this kind of sounds like No Duh stuff, but I think there is a great power in explicitly telling the kids that this is what I expect from them. I’m not saying it’s magic – there are still moments of defiance, ignoring, picking on each other, and other annoying crap that three- and five-year-olds love to do. But if I can address it by calmly reminding them we’re a team and we need to fill each other’s buckets (rather than, oh, I don’t know, irately dragging one of them out onto the back porch because he won’t stop shouting at the top of his lungs while I’m trying to work), then things flow a lot more smoothly.

2. Relax the Rules.

I’m a big family dinner person. We all have our hill to die on, and I guess this is one of mine. I’m lucky to have a husband who’s home in time to kid-wrangle while I make dinner, and I (usually) love to cook. If you hate to cook or you don’t usually do family dinners, no worries. You’re already one step ahead of me on being relaxed about expectations. When my husband’s at home, a typical family dinner might be roasted chicken and potatoes, sautéed green beans, and a salad with homemade vinaigrette. And when he’s leaving town I try to make a really nice huge meal for our last family dinner, not only as a send-off, but so we can have some semblance of a healthy dinner the next night with the leftovers. But by day six, our dinners are little more than scrambled eggs, toast, and carrot sticks. Or ramen.

Ramen is actually one of my comfort foods, having made myself many packets of Sapporo Ichiban during my latchkey childhood. But I always felt kind of disappointed that my little pot of soup bore no resemblance to the delicious illustration on the packaging. Noodles and broth were fine, but where were my peapods, scallions, chicken, bok choy, and mysterious brown things?Nowadays, I keep a bag of shrimp in my freezer, and a bunch of scallions in my crisper. Add those, a boiled egg, and whatever random veggies I have sitting around, and you’ve got yourself a nice little ramen bowl. My kids view this dinner as a particular treat because I call it “Ponyo Noodles.”

Hey, if it’s good enough for Japanese Tina Fey, it’s good enough for me. See also, nachos, grilled cheese sandwiches, and hot dogs.

I also tend to let things slide a little with chores and housekeeping. I’m so, so spoiled by my dish-washing angel of a husband. Normally I handle most of the bedtime routine, and when I come downstairs to watch our netflix du jour, the dishwasher is running, the sink is sparkling, the countertops are clean, the floor is swept, and the garbage and recycling are taken out. So you can imagine what a drag it is when he’s gone. (I kid, I kid! I miss that crazy bastard for a million other reasons than his kitchen cleaning. But still, the clean kitchen is very nice.) Anyhow, when it’s just little old me in charge of all that clean up, plus getting the children washed, brushed, pajamaed, storied, and down to sleep, I’m a big fan of streamlining non-essential parts of this routine. For instance, the nightly putting away of toys in their room.

I just let their room be a big crazy toy wonderland hell-mess all week and turn a blind eye. I can do this and not worry about anybody maiming their instep on an errant lego in the middle of the night because nobody’s sleeping in there.

Oh yeah, my other dirty little secret. Instead of putting each kid to bed separately in their own beds, we have sleepovers in Mommy’s room for the duration. I can put them both to bed at once, and if it’s winter I don’t have to get into a cold, lonely bed when I’m ready to go to sleep. (And to be honest, this isn’t even that big a deal since most nights at least one of them wanders into our bed sometime in the wee hours of the morning anyway.) It’s one of those things I neeeeevvvvver thought I would do in the PKE. When I was in my (single, childless) 20s I had a co-worker who had a similar arrangement with her daughter when the husband worked nights, and I thought it was just soooo peculiar and was probably stunting the daughter’s emotional development. Sure is amazing what an expert I was back then! Now my main parenting philosophy is, Do What Works Until It Doesn’t Work Anymore, Then Do Something Else.

3. Keep your Kitchen Clean

This may seem contradictory to what I said above about letting things slide, but the kitchen is the one area where you’ll be really making things harder for yourself if you don’t get it tidied up. If you can manage this before kiddo bedtime, kudos! You just earned an evening of pure relaxation. If not, make this the one thing you do after putting kids to bed. It’s a drag, but at least you won’t wake up to this in the morning.dirty dishes in the kitchen sink

That’s no way to start a day, amirite? Especially if we have to go somewhere first thing in the morning, like school or swimming lessons or what have you, it’s just that much more frazzling to try and get everybody out the door when half the dishes are dirty and the kitchen is in disarray. But if you’re a lazy mom like myself, or one who has been spoiled by a dish-angel of a husband, it’s extra hard work to get yourself to do dumb boring chores at night when you’d rather be sitting around eating secret ice cream and watching Call the Midwife. This is where rule number 4 comes in.

4. Reward Yourself

Have a stash of little treats saved up to get you through the solo parenting stretch. These can be books you’ve been wanting to read, movies or TV shows you can never get your husband to watch with you (I’m looking at you, Big Love, Barbra Streisand Special, and Real Housewives of New York), fancy chocolate, pints of Ben & Jerry’s, or some good vino. Preferably all of the above. And for god’s sake, MAKE SURE THE CHILDREN DON’T FIND OUT ABOUT YOUR ICE CREAM AND CHOCOLATES. Then, promise yourself you can settle down with a glass of pinot, some truffles, and an episode of Downton Abbey as soon as you get that kitchen in order. That’s right, I have to bribe myself to do basic sanitation in my home. Alfie Kohn is somewhere shaking his head at me.

5. Have a Mommy Havenmommy haven

Even if tidying up falls by the wayside during your solo parenting stint, there’s one other area besides the kitchen that it’s important to keep nice. This is your Haven. It can be anywhere in your home that you can go to escape the chaos of young children. For me, it’s my bedroom. Whenever I’m feeling my patience running thin, or just tired and need a few minutes to regroup, I go in my room for a bit. If you have kids who are too little to play unsupervised, you can do this during naptime. Just lying on my bed and not looking at messy stacks of children’s reptile encyclopedias and five doll sweaters and a heap of matchbox cars does wonders for my inner reserves. If you can manage a few cleansing breaths, even better. I read this amazing book recently about cultivating mindfulness with children, Planting Seeds, and one of the basic tenets was that if you’re not at peace you can’t teach your children to be peaceful. So having a place where you can be calm and restore your inner peace is crucial.

By the way, I know my bedroom is pitifully austere. Isn’t it a rule of decorating that the very last place in your home that you get around to doing anything with is your own bedroom? Sad, but true. One day she’ll get a fresh coat of paint and some art on the walls, and we’ll replace that godforsaken Ikea bedside table, I swear it!

6. Call In Reinforcements.Grandparent Babywrangling

Even the supermommest, tidiest, patientest parent is going to find their reserves low after a week of solo parenting. So this is where you need to enlist the help of other grown people. Whether it’s other moms to vent and laugh with while your kids entertain each other at playdates, or a grandparent or kindly neighbor to look after the kiddos while you get to go run errands alone (the heavenly glory!!), or a girlfriend – the good kind, who doesn’t care about your messy bathrooms and unwashed hair – to come over and drink wine and gossip with you after the kids are asleep, having some adult companionship and/or assistance is a total necessity.

7. Know that this too shall pass.

If you get cranky, fed up, and overwhelmed, as you surely will at some point, remember that you and your kids just have to survive these 10 (or howevermany) days and then your favorite person will come home and help right the ship. You’ll cook dinner in peace while your husband plays with the kids, and you’ll come down after bedtime to a magically clean kitchen and your best friend waiting for you on the couch. And all will be right with the world.home at last

pineapple coconut chia pops

DSC02928Popsicles are one of those things you can pretty much make without a recipe. Take some sweet stuff, freeze it with a stick coming out, enjoy. So I feel a little sheepish sharing what is an extremely simple “recipe” – only four ingredients in fact, but these were way too delicious to keep to myself. It’s basically frozen piña coladas, with maple syrup instead of rum, and chia seeds for some extra texture/protein/hippie cred. The flavor reminds me of this amazing soft serve pineapple ice cream they used to serve at the Champaign County Fair back in my central Illinois youth. Creamy, tropical, and sweet, with just a bit of tang.

If you haven’t worked with chia seeds before (aside from making a terracotta-based shrubbery back in the 80s), they are totally weird. When you put them in something wet, they get this swollen gel-like coating around the seed. I’m making it sound kind of gross, but they’re actually quite yummy. Like a mix between a tapioca ball and a kiwi seed. But it takes a while for them to swell, so mix a few tablespoons of chia into one can of light coconut milk, and then stick it in the fridge for a few hours.DSC02849Meanwhile, chop up your pineapple.DSC02883Once you’ve cut off the tough outer skin, you can give your leftovers to your sous chef for her to practice her knife skills on.DSC02895Cut the bald pineapple into quarters, lengthwise,DSC02904and trim out the tough core. We don’t want any fibrous bits in our creamy frozen tropical heaven.DSC02910Cut into chunks and purée.DSC02914When your chia-coconut mixture is ready, mix with the pineapple purée, along with a goodly amount of maple syrup. How much you need depends on how sweet your pineapple is. Mine was super ripe, so I used only about 1/4 cup.DSC02926And finally, pour into molds and freeze over night, or at least 5 hours.DSC02936That’s it! Easy peasy. These are best enjoyed in a warm breeze, with eyes closed and some Ramito playing in the background.

Pineapple Coconut Chia Pops
makes 10-12 pops, or more, depending on the size of your molds

Ingredients:
1 can light coconut milk
3 tablespoons chia seeds
1 pineapple
1/4 cup maple syrup, or more, to taste

1. Mix the chia seeds into the coconut milk. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.
2. Cut the tough outer skin and eyes from the pineapple. Quarter it and cut the tough core out of the inner corner of each pineapple quarter. Cut into chunks and purée in food processor.
3. Combine coconut-chia mixture, pineapple purée, and 1/4 cup maple syrup in a medium-sized bowl. Stir until well blended. Taste it. Add more syrup to your liking, if necessary.
4. Pour into popsicle molds (or, if you don’t have any, paper cups with a popsicle stick stuck in for a handle will do just fine). Freeze at least 5 hours. To unmold pops, run hot water over the outside of the mold until the popsicle slides out easily.

it’s friday i’m in love

friday140705

Happy Friday and Happy 4th of July, people!

1) Here’s a theme song to listen to as you read this list of Friday links. Can you believe this delightful ukulele cover of the Cure version? I love when she does that yodely bit at the end.

2) When you have time, read this poignant, life-changing piece by Rachel of Hands Free Mama about forcing yourself to slow down and let your kids live life at their own pace.

Not sure how I’m going to combine laid-back, unhurried parenting with my lifelong chronic tendency to run late, and still get my kid to kindergarten by 8:25 each morning, but I’ll let you know how that works out for us in the fall…

3) Meanwhile, enjoy these amaaaaaaaaazing macro snail photographs by Ukranian photographer Vyacheslav Mischenko. My daughter is utterly captivated by them:

4) Speaking of extremely charming things from the animal kingdom, scientists have discovered a new behavior in chimpanzees.

chimpanzee ear grass fadThis one troop of chimps in Zambia all started hanging grass out of their ears, after they saw the cool chimp doing it. No joke. This is real, people. APE FASHION TREND.

5) Oh lordy how freakin adorable are mouse melons???

Also called cucamelons or Mexican sour gherkins, they are basically teeny delicious cucumbers the size of grapes. I can’t wait to track down some seeds for these and grow them in our garden next year! These would be terrific as pickles and/or cocktail garnishes!!

6) Check out this sweet felt succulent plant from Bubba Pickle’s Market!

Succulents are supposed to be some of the easiest houseplants to grow cause you don’t have to water them much, but I have had more than one of mine just all of a sudden seem to just melt into a wobbly mess in the pot. This one might be just my speed! And made in the USA!

7) I sincerely hope everyone reading this is going to a parade this morning. Parades are the best! Nothing like a bunch of vintage fire trucks and high school marching bands to get the old blood pumping. And here in Brattleboro, there’s always Alfred to look forward to!

Forever in peace may he wave!

fort brambly hedge

So, this blog post is mainly going to be about Jill Barklem’s beautiful Brambly Hedge stories, but first I have to tell you about this awesome stick fort we made.

We have this total mess of a tree/shrub thing at the back of our property.bramble tree

It’s so crazy and fugly looking that I just designated it the stick area and used it as a spot to pile unwanted sticks from around the yard and branches I pruned off our long-neglected lilac bushes, until they made their way into the fire pit. Its only real selling point is that it puts a little bit of privacy in between us and our neighbor’s swimming pool. UNTIL NOW. stick fort

Now it looks like this! Pretty much just as much of an eyesore from the front, but now instead of just a big pile, our sticks are formed into an awesome fort to play in!

stick fort interior

I basically just planted a bunch of dead branches in the ground, laid a stick across them like a beam, and then balanced branches and vines on top between the crazy tree thing and the beam. Then I wove some long sticks in between the ones I had planted into the ground, and at the end we just threw all the smaller sticks at it and let them sprinkle down wherever they stuck. stick fort and pine tree

The kids were pretty enchanted.entering the stick fort

I was talking to a friend the other day about how one of the awesome things about parenting is that in some ways it’s like a second chance at childhood. Whatever you miss from or wished you had in your own youth, you now have the opportunity to do with your kids. I always wished I had a cool clubhouse or fort or treehouse when I was a kid. But we are not a handy family – between me and Jon, I’m the construction expert, and my expertise pretty much begins and ends with competence at assembling Ikea furniture. But as it turns out, I’m also good at making non-load-bearing things out of stuff I find in the yard! So here we are. Extensive modular furniture construction experience + large amount of branch refuse = awesome stick fort.

As a fort and treehouse craving kid, it’s probably for the best that I never discovered the Brambly Hedge books because I would have about died of jealousy over the amazing tree dwellings of these cute little mice.brambly hedge cover

The eight Brambly Hedge stories are kind of Beatrix Potterish, with the sweet naturey illustrations and English countryside setting, but they also have tons of intricate cross-section drawings of the trees and other places where the Brambly Hedge mice live and work.brambly hedge crabapple cottage

The Brambly Hedge mice have a Store Stump, where ingredients can be found to make such foodstuffs as watercress soup, dandelion salad, honey creams, syllabubs, and meringues, not to mention elderflower wine and blackberry juice. Of course, sometimes, they just want to chill on their stoop and eat a huge stack of toast with jelly, like Mr. Toadflax here.

brambly hedge  mr toadflax

Even Brambly Hedge, however, is not immune from the English penchant for titles and class divisions. Most of the mice live in humble trees like the crabapple, but Lord and Lady Woodmouse live in the grand Old Oak Palace.brambly hedge old oak palace

Their digs are rustic but posh, if that’s possible. By the way, did you know you can buy an English lordship for about $33? And of course there’s a plethora of the mills my kids are so wild about. Imagine this place filled with the conceptual art I told you about in that wish list post, and you’ll have a good idea of the Wassaic Project.

brambly hedge mill

Intricate and adorable though it is, the flour mill turns out not to be an ideal place to raise a bunch of babies, as Poppy Eyebright finds out when she and Dusty, the miller, start a family. Getting up two flights of stairs with some groceries and one baby is an arduous enough task, as I learned in our Chicago days, so 92 stairs with triplets, not to mention the noise and dust of a mill, would probably put anyone over the edge.

brambly hedge hawthorn cottage

Fortunately the resourceful and generous Brambly Hedge community comes to her rescue and finds and refurbishes a new tree-cottage for Dusty and Poppy’s family to live in. They even arrange a sleepover for Poppy and the babies at Old Oak Palace, so Dusty and the gang can secretly move and unpack all their belongings and surprise Poppy. I first read this story when we were in the thick of a move ourselves, and how I wished I had a village of helpful mice to do it all for me!

The kids built this Brambly Hedge-esque structure at the foot of our pine tree with some wood scraps left over from a construction project, and the Calico Critters mouse family a friend gave my daughter for her birthday last winter are the perfect accessory. She made sure there were beds for the babies to sleep on

brambly hedge cottage

And my son made sure to provide mouse toilets.brambly hedge toilet

I can already tell this is going to provide weeks of backyard entertainment. playing brambly hedge

Maybe they’ll even be captivated enough to play on their own and I’ll be free to fulfill my ambition of summer novel reading, in my fort!

view from the stick fort