May 14, 2014

 For the last six weeks or so we have had a bountiful season, replete with all the colors, sounds and smells you would expect of Spring in the South--my favorite time of year, perhaps the only time of year I really love the weather here.

We spent a lot of time last month working on our backyard and making it more beautiful. Once we cleaned out the last vestiges of winter--the blanket of brown leaves that had been there since fall--we got to work making it both more useable and better to look at. Then we cleaned out our vegetable garden and planted new grass seed throughout the yard, spreading hay over the trouble spots that needed more green.We even stopped throwing the ball in the same spot over and over for our ball-crazy dog and have, for the first time, managed to grow grass on the right side of the yard. And a major bonus: she still wants to fetch but isn't quite as obsessed as she used to be.

We also did a little patio makeover, replacing the ugly brick pavers with sand-colored pea gravel bordered by railroad ties. I love it. It reminds me of little patios in Europe.  I bought a new teak round table that I love and added a few plants here and there. Over the last two years, we've taken down a couple of hackberry trees and it has really opened up the yard to the sun and sky.

Daniel built a castle for June last fall and the three of us worked together one sunny afternoon to put the finishing touches on it and paint it. On Easter we had about 15 kids over for an egg hunt and it was so wonderful to see them all up there "storming the castle."

The backyard has been a long work in progress, as has everything with this little 1930s East Nashville bungalow we bought exactly 7 years ago. We closed on it on May 15th, 2007. And, while I've lived with one foot out the door, always looking for an opportunity to move for the last 6.5 years, now I feel like we are pretty settled in and will soon start renovating it instead of moving. I am finding that what makes me happy these days is making something out of what we have, not always wanting more.

Living in a small house (1,150 sq.ft. to be exact) is a challenge, but it makes you really edit out the clutter and get creative with your space. I think I could win an award for the most creative use of a small, oddly laid out house. I rearrange the furniture about 3-4 times a year. When recently it looked like we might be adding one to our little family, I was already scheming about how to make room in what is essentially a one-bedroom. Just a year ago, we moved June out of her matchbox-sized nursery that Daniel built out of what was  part of a bathroom and a closet, and turned that space into my office/sitting room. I love having my own little space to write in and keep some of my books.

I am more and more convinced that, for me, happiness is found not in buying things or acquiring more stuff, but in the everyday small things we do like cooking dinner together, hanging out with our friends while the kids play and just living in a neighborhood where it's possible to have friendly social interactions everyday. These are the keys to a happy life (I believe this, but so do many others and it's born out in a lot of research--see here and here).

I think that while we still have room to grow and improve (I am working on my shopping habits and have made huge progress shopping more and more locally and second-hand for most everything), we have managed over the last several years to build a life that expresses our intrinsic values. I am not saying that I still don't find sometimes that I get sucked into the materialistic messages that surround us all the time or that I am not as addicted to my personal media devices as everyone else (except for maybe my husband). But it's a constant challenge and I am reminded by the beautiful little things I see everyday, especially in Spring, that social connection and community and spending time with those we love are the true foundations of a happy life.

As a little reminder of this, there are three different bird families nesting on some part of our house right now. There is a family of starlings in the eaves of the front porch who have been coming back every year now for at least the last five to have their babies; there is a new nest on the inside of the porch at the top of a column which houses a morning bird and her mate sitting on a nest of eggs; and there is a little robin family who have made their home on top of a drain pipe on the back of the house and just yesterday I saw four little hungry beaks popping up! These little birds have provided me and June endless hours of delight while we watch them do their thing, the thing they were meant to do, with such determination and purpose. It gives me a lot of hope that this goes on right in our midst --literally on our little house--and we can all co-exist peacefully, all while living in the urban core of a city. Now that's happy.

copyright 2014 joyiscooking

May 1, 2014

"Picky eater" muffins

I think this may be a record. My child left the dinner table last night for the third night in a row without eating more than one bite. And it's not that I made food that was inedible. I tried to include in each meal at least one thing that I knew she liked. One night dinner was "risi e bisi" (a staple of kids in Italy): creamy risotto with peas and lots of parmesan cheese. The next it was turkey burgers with cabbage-apple slaw and broccoli (she did eat most of the broccoli) and last night it was beef chili and green salad with Goddess dressing. She even requested the chili and then decided it was not what she wanted after all. What is wrong with her??!!

Okay, so my frustration has reached a peak level. It's all I can do to sit quietly at the table each night fuming and trying to pretend I don't care what she eats. Tonight I did let on how disappointed I was that she would not eat the dinners her daddy and I put on the table each night, trying really hard to guilt her into eating something, to no avail.

So today I decided that perhaps subterfuge will be my new weapon of choice. I am going to start sneaking healthy foods into baked goods and smoothies and anything else I can use to disguise the foods I want her to eat. I always scoffed at this when I met parents who did this or heard about it in the latest celebrity cookbook. But here I am. It's my reality and I am willing to go to some pretty great lengths if it means I can get this kid to eat well.

I found this healthy muffin recently on the NYTimes website and tweaked it a bit. It's pretty forgivable and changeable, especially as far as the veggies you 'sneak' in. I've tried it twice now making small changes and this one is definitely the keeper. I also doubled it so that I can make a bunch and freeze them.

If you have an uncooperative eater right now, please share your stories so that I don't feel so alone. And if you try this recipe let me know what you think!

Lunchbox Harvest Muffins (adapted from Melissa Clark of The NYT)

(this recipe yields about two dozen mini-muffins, and probably 12-15 regular muffins)
 2 1/2 cups of flour* 
 (*The orig. recipe called for whole wheat pastry flour. Since I am trying to avoid wheat, I used half almond flour and half garbanzo-fava bean flour. You could also use Bob's Red Mill all-purpose gluten-free flour).
 2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 eggs
3/4 cup olive oil (or coconut oil)
2 tablespoons of honey
2/3 cup dark brown sugar
 1 med apple, grated with any juices reserved
1 cup grated carros (or butternut squash)
1 cup grated zucchini (or beets)
(1/3 cup (golden) raisins)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease mini-muffin tins
2. Whisk together flours, baking soda, cinnamon and salt in med. bowl
3. Combine eggs, oil, honey, brown sugar, grated apple and juices and grated veggies in large bowl
4. Using a spatula, gently fold the dry ingredients into the wet mixture until just combined. Fold in raisins if using.
5. Fill each muffin cup and bake for about 15 minutes, or when a toothpick comes out clean.