Watermelon Rind Preserves…oops, I mean jam…

UPDATE: It turns out after a little research that what I like is actually watermelon rind JAM, not preserves. I didn’t want to preserve the shape of the fruit….I wanted it to be all smeary on my toast and only later realized that it’s actually jam.

These taste much better than they sound. Really. I tried them out of sheer curiosity, and because I really like the idea of using something that I would otherwise compost. And you know what? They aren’t bad. I mean, they aren’t my favorite preserves (ahem…jam), but I tried them in a sandwich with some goat cheese and they were pretty good.

So in case you are feeling adventurous too, here’s the recipe. Please note that I am not a canning expert and you should do your own research on how to safely can. Canning safety is NOT the point of this post.

There. That’s out of the way. Here’s the recipe. I started with the Ball Blue Book (a great resource for all things food preservation) and made some modifications.

Ingredients:

1 1/2 – 2 quarts watermelon rind

4 tbsp salt

water to cover

1 tbsp ginger

4 c sugar

1/4 c lemon juice

1 1/2  quarts water

1 medium very thinly sliced and seeded lemon

Method:

Trim green peel and flesh from the white watermelon rind. Cut rind into approximately 1 inch pieces. Dissolve the salt in 1 quart of water and pour it over the rind, then add more water as needed to cover. Mine looked like this:

Let it stand for 5-6 hours. If you forget about it, say, overnight…that would be fine too.  😉

Drain. Rinse. Drain again. Cover with cold water and let stand 30 minutes. Drain. Sprinkle ginger over rind (if you forget about this part, you can also just add some ginger to the cooking preserves later). Cover with water. Cook until tender. Drain.

Combine sugar, lemon juice and 1 1/2 quarts water in a large saucepot. Bring to a boil. Add rind (UPDATE: you can put the rind in the food processor after this initial cooking instead of waiting until the end…it’s less sticky that way). Boil gently until rind is transparent (this takes a long time-make this on a day when you have the whole afternoon free). Add lemon slices. At this point, you can use an immersion blender to make the texture more spreadable if you want to. I did. Here is what it looked like before:

I didn’t want to spread that on my bagel; thus the immersion blender (I highly recommend this particular kitchen gadget–like love, it covers a multitude of sins). I suppose you could also just chop the rind and lemon up very small using a knife or a food processor before you added them to the syrup.

But I digress.

As I was saying: add lemon slices, use the immersion blender if you want to. Remove from heat. Skim foam if necessary. Ladle hot preserves into hot jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Adjust 2-piece caps. Process 20 minutes in a boiling water canner. Give to people who invite you to dinner parties if you think they’d care about it. Or give as holiday gifts. Or eat it yourself and enjoy the fact that you prevented something from being wasted. 🙂

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Lesson 1 from George MacDonald

I have recently started reading “The Lost Princess” (aka “The Wise Woman”, “A Double Story” and several other titles) by George MacDonald out loud to my daughter. Usually over tea or a snack.

The pertinent quote:

“As she grew up, everybody about her did his best to convince her that she was Somebody; and the girl herself was so easily persuaded of it that she quite forgot that anybody had ever told her so, and took it for a fundamental, innate, primary, first-born, self-evident, necessary, and incontrovertible idea and principle that SHE WAS SOMEBODY. And far be it from me to deny it. I will even go so far as to assert that in this odd country there was a huge number of Somebodies. Indeed, it was one of its oddities that every boy and girl in it, was rather too ready to think he or she was Somebody; and the worst of it was that the princess never thought of there being more than one Somebody—and that was herself.”


As we finished the chapter, E. looked up at me and said, “I am Somebody!”

“Yeah?” I said, then held my breath to keep from dictating what would come next. I wanted to know what she would do with that information of her own volition. Will she get it?

“You’re Somebody! My dad is Somebody!”

Then later, when a younger and more wild friend hit her repeatedly in the head, she wisely said, “He’s Somebody. But he forgot I’m Somebody.”

I like my kid.

Posted in Intermutuality, Parenting | 1 Comment

Africa, Culture Shock and Integrating the Second Child

My friend Kate came to visit us this week. She gets a whole name mention because she is a Kate…one of the ones who has helped me find my own Kateness over the years. When we first became friends we were “the Kates” and I have some really great memories of that time in high school and college. She moved to Tanzania a few years ago because God told her to (soon after I had a kid and became a stay-at-home mom because God told me to. It’s a funny old world). Now she’s back for a year for a medical leave because her back is all messed up and she can get better care here.

The thing about Kate is that she sinks deeply into a role, or a culture, or really whatever she’s doing. So when she comes back here it’s hard for her to reintegrate, and it takes a long while. We spend a lot of time having conversations like this:

“E.’s little dress is really beautiful. Did you make it yourself? Oh wait…do people ask about that in America? Is that a thing?”

“Yes, that’s a thing. I don’t know if everyone would like that, but I do. Thank you.”

The “Is that a thing–yes that’s a thing” dynamic didn’t truly strike me until I saw my daughter and my friend together the past couple of days. They I realized that they are both having almost the same issue. And without even realizing it, I’ve started treating E. as though she has been in Africa for a significant part of her life. Because kids can go through culture shock too. Only, their cultures are smaller so it doesn’t take moving to a new continent, or even a new house. Receiving a baby is quite enough to send kids into a tailspin of confusion around what the culture of the home and family are going to be.

To be honest, the culture of our family has changed quite a bit since S. I sleep differently which means I am differently awake during the day (coffee can only help so much, you know?? And anyway I’ve limited my intake as I’m caffeinating my son too which could eventually make him more wakeful; though it hasn’t been a problem thus far). I can’t always just go with her right when I want to because there is someone else to bring along or to stay with. And mostly, she’s come along beautifully. But we have our issues. So I have begun attempting to just respond to them as though she’s trying to learn a now unfamiliar culture.

She screams. I say, “I still don’t like it when you scream right next to me. That’s still a thing.”

She throws things inside the house. I say, “It wasn’t safe to throw that in here before you had a brother, and it’s still not safe now. It’s still a thing.”

She pees on the floor. I say, “We still make our pee go in the toilet, or we wear diapers. I still don’t enjoy cleaning pee off the floor. That’s still a thing.”

I ask her to get in the car. She runs to the back of the yard. I say, “Before you had a brother, did I tell you things just to be mean to you?”

“Ughhh. No, Mom.”

“Why do I tell you things?”

“To help me. Or to keep me safe.”

“Well, that’s still what we do. That’s still a thing. So please get in the car.”

And it seems to actually work. Amazingly well. We’ve had some stressful times in the past month (you know what? It really isn’t fun to clean pee off the floor). But we are reserving sweeping judgment of her based on her behavior until…well, hopefully until never but certainly until after we’ve had time to set up a culture. But setting up a family culture without letting its structure be determined by the selfishness and insecurity that is all around us and wants to creep in like a poisoned gas our lungs appear to want is really, really hard. But it’s worth the fight. Because I love my family. And that’s still a thing.

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“Fig Newton” Cookie Recipe

Our family is doing well. My physical recovery time with this baby was amazingly short (it’s crazy how much better it is to NOT be recovering from major abdominal surgery…). Other than being deeply, deeply disorganized that is. I hesitated to take people up on their offers of food since I felt so good compared to last time, but then I realized that I am experiencing a normal amount of tiredness and that it’s okay to need help even if I’m not a complete puddle on the floor. I’m not totally overwhelmed, but I am somewhat whelmed and that’s to be expected.

Anyhow, this relates to fig newtons because it’s a symptom of exactly how with it I am not. I spent  three hours the other day researching recipes, grinding flour, and making these cookies. Then I finished them at around 6 p.m. and realized we didn’t have anything for dinner. Luckily, I had some soup that my friend JJ. had given me, so my family did not have cookies for dinner.

If you wanted to skip the stove-top portion, you could get fig jam or any other kind of jam, for that matter. Honestly I still want to tweak this filling recipe a bit (it wasn’t bad…just not quite fig newton-ey enough for my taste), so please let me know in the comments if you make these and come up with something delicious.

So without further ado, here’s the recipe:

 

Dough

  • 3-4 cups whole grain spelt flour
  • 1/2 cup apple juice
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 3/4 tsp. baking powder
  • 3/8 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • ½ cup pure (not extra virgin) olive oil, or other vegetable oil.
  • 4 eggs, divided
Filling
  • 2 cups figs, chopped (can use dried)
  • 2 cup apple juice
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 4 tbsp. sugar (optional–depends on your sweet tooth)
  • 1 tsp. orange peel, or zest of 1 orange

The method:

Make the dough:

  • Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer. Add in oil and mix until the dough is sandy loooking.
  • Whisk 3 eggs together with 1/2 cup apple juice and add to the dough. Mix to combine. If the dough is too wet, add more flour. If too dry, add more apple juice. The dough should be only slightly softer than you want to use. Form the dough into a ball, place in an airtight container and refrigerate for 2 hours or so.
Make the filling:

  • Combine all the filling ingredients in a saucepan or skillet and cook over medium heat until all the liquid is absorbed by the figs and the mixture is thick.
  • Let the filling cool slightly, then puree it in a food processor until fairly smooth. Refrigerate until time to bake.
At baking time:
  • Heat the oven to 375F. Make an egg wash by whisking the remaining egg with a little water (a couple of teaspoons or less). I have quite a sweet tooth, so I added some sugar to the egg wash and it made for a nice sweetness on top.
  • Divide the dough into workable portions. On a lightly floured surface roll out each portion of dough into a rectangle, about 1/8 inch thick. Work with 1 portion of dough at a time. Cut the dough lengthwise into strips, about 2 1/2- 3 inches wide.
  • Paint around the edges of each strip with egg wash. Spoon the fig filling down the center of the strip and then fold the dough over to enclose the filling.
  • Place the tubes, seam side down, on the greased (or parchment-lined) cookie sheet. Press down lightly to flatten. Repeat with remaining dough and filling.
  • Brush the tops with the egg wash and bake until light golden brown, about 15 minutes.
  • Let them cool, then cut with a sharp knife into cookie-sized pieces.

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My Son’s Birth (The New Birth Story Part 2)

A quick disclaimer before I continue- I will be quoting people as best I can but I may slightly misremember their exact words or meanings at times. I was…erm….distracted…

I woke up at 4 a.m., feeling uncomfortable and unable to go back to sleep (not unusual…this had been happening for over a month). I laid in bed until 5, then rolled over and asked J. if he wanted to get up and take a shower and go to work early, or if I should take a bath. “mmm…bthkm………uh-huh”

Okay, bath it is. I read Lord of the Rings for a while (can you tell this has been a theme with this pregnancy? It’s full of stories about people having to overcome fears and accomplish very hard tasks). At some point during this hour contractions must have started, because when J.’s alarm went off he came into the bathroom and found me holding the book in front of my face with my eyes shut waving my head from side to side.

“Um, WHAT are you doing?”

“Huh? Oh…it hurts….”

“Okay, when’s the last time it hurt?”

“I don’t know. I haven’t been timing them.”

He got out his fancy new smart phone and used an app to time my contractions…four to five minutes apart and a minute long…same as a week ago when this happened…still, better safe than sorry. We made some calls around 7 and asked people to come to the house as soon as they could.

Then from the bath tub I threw up. Not like a week ago. Whoops! Time to go. J. dashed around trying to get a couple of last minute things in place and make sure we had kiddo things to take with us on the fly. The contractions started to be really, really crazy at this point. I started yelling through them as a way of releasing the energy without pushing the baby out on the bathroom rug. God, can I do this? 

My amazing three year old daughter came up and put her arm around my neck and said, “It’s okay, Mommy. You’re doing a great job.” Okay, kid, if you say so. Time to get up! Get dressed.

I moved into the bedroom and pulled on some clothes and sat on the edge of the bed as another contraction hit, full force. Maybe I can’t do this! Where’s my husband? Oh. He’s right there. Good. “I can’t do this! What if I can’t do this?!”  “Yes, you can. It’s going to be great, Katie.  You can do this.” Another contraction. I yelled even louder. E. came over to me, put her hand on my shoulder, looked into my eyes and started singing the ABC’s, then Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star (or “Fwinkle, Fwinkle, Lilla Staiww” as she calls it). I laughed and forgot about a  contraction.

J. got us all moving and into the car in record time. He drove to the hospital, um…quickly. I kept listening to “You Are the New Day” by The King’s Singers. It’s about two minutes long, so halfway through each time I knew I’d have a contraction.

We got to the hospital and walked up to the maternity floor (the idea of sitting in a wheelchair did NOT appeal to me at that point, even though it was offered by kind strangers a couple of times as we made our way over). As I walked up to the door, one of the nurses at the station saw me and said, “Um, do you need a wheelchair?” haha…..

C. (our midwife) walked by the door at that moment and saw me squatting and holding onto the wall. She kind of laughed a little and made a hand-waving motion. “Uhm, room four. Get up. Let’s go.”

We made it to the room and I felt myself relax. Okay, I can have my baby here. God, I trust you. Please take care of me. I stopped yelling through contractions and just let them do the work they were supposed to do. About fifteen minutes later (half an hour before the birth) M. showed up and took E. for a walk; just in time for her to miss the messy part.

C. asked me where I wanted to go, and if I’d be okay with sitting on the bed and getting checked. I’d had some residual fear around being stuck in the bed and wasn’t sure how I’d feel about it. At that point I didn’t care. She checked me and said, “Well, you can bear down with this next contraction if you want to.”

What the what….?!?! “Um, I need a minute.”

“Okay, take your time.” A couple of contractions.

“Okay, Katie, what do you want to do now? You could push your baby out if you want to.”

Aghh!! My face must have said, because C. said, “Okay, then go sit on the toilet. Empty your bladder and see what happens.” I made it to the bathroom and sat on the toilet. Then I screamed. C. came and looked at me, then said, “Well, we have a head. That toilet works every time! Sooo, we could deliver your baby here, although that’s not really the kind of waterbirth I like to do. Katie, what are we doing here? Do you want to go to the bed?”

“I….I can’t.” Can’t walk. “How….?”

“It’s okay. We got ya. C’mon, dad, let’s go. One foot in front of the other.” Each of them looped an arm through one of my arms and they mostly carried me to the bed. I crawled up and got on my hands and knees and…panicked. “Can you check his heartbeat? Is he okay?” Everyone paused.

“You want to be monitored? Really?” The monitor had been another one of the things that freaked me out going into this labor.

“Yes, I just want to make sure he’s okay. Last time this is when….agghhhhhh!” Contraction.

They checked on him and he was fine. I still felt afraid. Then over the loudspeaker someone started to sing.* “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me/Let there be peace on earth, the peace that was meant to be…” Oh, right….Trust. Peace. Okay, I’m ready.

I began pushing (I gave myself a nosebleed and J. wisely said, “Stop pushing with your face, push with your diaphragm down here.” So I did).  They tell me I pushed for fifteen minutes, but it didn’t feel like it took that long. It seemed to take no time at all (and indeed, 15 minutes is almost the closest thing there is to ‘no time at all’ in terms of pushing a baby out). The cord was around his neck but C. quickly looped it over and he came the rest of the way out. Because I was on my hands and knees they passed him up and put him on the bed underneath me. He’s all squishy and gross! This isn’t like tv at all! Yay!!!!

Somehow we all got me over onto my back and S. came up onto my chest. We met each other while he got wiped off and checked. I waited for the placenta, then got stitches for a minor tear. Once the cord stopped pulsing, C. asked me if it was okay to cut it. She handed it to me and said, “Are you ready?” J. got to cut the cord.

And then we were four.

One of the passages that gave me encouragement during the last part of my pregnancy was something Paul wrote back in the day to people in Ephesus:

“I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power…in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power…to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge…”

In Greek there are at least two different words for ‘knowledge.’ So that last bit should read, “To know by experience the love that surpasses simple understanding.” I don’t know why I was given this experience. At times I have waited for the other shoe to drop, because it just all seemed too good to be true. And I have struggled with how to write it up without it sounding like a tract or some other annoying cheesy thing. But I do feel at this point like I have a grasp on something that I didn’t before. I don’t mean that if you are nice and God is satisfied you’re a good person who thinks the right things then you get good experiences. It would be naive and cruel to think that way. But going back through my Gandalf on Celebdil visualization (yes, I’m a nerd. Get over it), I realize I got the opportunity to throw down my fear and mistrust and to make room for something better.

*I found out later that since we gave birth at a Catholic hospital (a fact that hadn’t played into our decision at all when we were making it), they do a morning blessing every day at 8:00. On the particular day we were there, Sister K. would usually have done it at 8 but she was late because of a meeting. Someone else was going to do it at 8 but they didn’t, and then another person was supposed to do it at 8:30 but they didn’t either. So when Sister K. got there around 8:40 she ended up singing it, which was exactly when I needed her to.

One small thing:

I’ve been encouraged by my midwife, Colleen Brezine, to share her name and the fact that S. was born at St. John West Shore Hospital in the Holistic Birthing Center. If you decide to have your baby there I can’t guarantee he or she will be born 45 minutes after you arrive, but I did have an outstanding experience there, for what it’s worth. I have not been compensated in any way for sharing this information.

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The New Birth Story (Part 1)

**I wrote this post, as you’ll quickly see, before my son was born. I wanted to capture how I was feeling at that moment, but didn’t want to publish it until the story had an ending. So without further ado…**

I am more of a doer than a planner. Don’t get me wrong, it’s very important to me to know what it is I should be doing, and I often put a great deal of thought and research into the hows and whys of my actions. But when it comes down to it, I get stressed out by planning that isn’t followed up pretty much immediately by doing. Once I figure out what the right course of action is, I really want to just get to it. It’s caused me (and by extension the people around me) stress in various church and other settings over the years.

My friend JJ. pointed out to me once that I work the best with a plan. I need to know what my ‘job’ is and then I am okay emotionally, whether or not it’s really hard.

But childbirth isn’t a ‘plan and do’ kind of event. At least, not unless you’re one of those hollywood moms who schedules a c-section or induction so they can go on vacation. But that’s not really my style.

This labor and this boy have been very good for me so far. I have almost gone to the hospital once, and have called the midwife a couple of times saying ‘I don’t think the baby’s coming right this second, but I’m having contractions fairly regularly and just thought you should know.’ I’ve been having contractions approximately every 10 minutes for over a week now. Does that sound exhausting? It is.

But it also allows me to enter into the experience in a way that feels really important and good. I need to feel like I am doing the best that I can from moment to moment to keep myself from thinking unhelpful thoughts. After we’d made our decision about where to birth (and with whom) and signed the forms stating our wishes about circumcision, IV fluids and a host of other medical interventions, there wasn’t enough to keep my brain busy. So my thoughts wander and end up in a terrible neighborhood, where I keep imagining worst case scenarios (it gets much worse than what happened to me…I know. I’ve watched that horror movie in my head a few times this pregnancy). People have asked me a few times if it is frustrating to have contractions that don’t do anything (another wise friend helpfully pointed out that this isn’t strictly true…while they aren’t labor contractions by hospital textbook standards, even if I’m not dilating centimeters at a time, each one strengthens and tones the uterus and prepares me and the baby for what’s to come).

Either way, through all these contractions I have learned that I do in fact have something to do. It is my job to be calm and present in this moment, and to love this baby. I have decided to trust my body and trust that God is ‘next to me’ (as E. is fond of saying) to take care of me. So each time I have a contraction it feels like a new chance to temper the resolve of my decision. Am I really going to trust? It seems like it’s happening in slow motion, which gives me a great chance to truly think through how I am processing it, and for that I am really grateful.

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Normalizing Different

The “popular kids” and I have never been what you’d call close. In high school and beyond I have usually had a somewhat adverse reaction to doing what was mainstream just because. Even when I tried to blend in I did it so awkwardly that it was doomed to fail even before I bought my over-sized flannel shirt (yes, I grew up in the 90s, before flannel plaid was worn ironically in a tight-fitting style).

But one valuable lesson I have learned from them is this: if you act like what you’re doing is normal, other people probably will too.

Or, on the flip side, if you act like you are a freak, then other people will treat you like one.

The first time this post started rattling around in my head it was in the context of breastfeeding. If women continue to act as though it is something to be done exclusively in a separate wing of the house, in the car, sitting on the toilet, or worse, then it will always be something that is considered ‘other’ in some significant way. I’m not saying we should all insist on the right to walk around shirtless until our children wean at age 4 (like they do without social issue in Africa, I have it from friends who live in Tanzania and Uganda). Yelling loudly “I am not weird!” is another way of admitting that yes, in fact, you do feel disenfranchised in some way and have to cover your feelings by making a scene about it. It doesn’t normalize the behavior.

Another example of this that comes to mind is that I was reading a story a while back in which this woman was talking about the first time she refused a plastic bag at Target, since she was only purchasing one small item. Her telling of the story revolved around how everyone had treated her as though she was stealing the item and she was very uncomfortable the whole time. I have to wonder; what was her facial expression and body language like? Did she act like she was stealing it?

I have developed the habit of just calmly stating that I don’t need a bag, or a straw, or whatever. I don’t furtively glance at the cashier or my fellow customers as I say this, or act embarrassed to be refusing something they are offering (obviously this is trickier in certain situations…if a dear relative offers my daughter a piece of plastic crap toy certain to break and spread tiny beads of plastic all over my house it is much harder to refuse in a way that isn’t taken personally…I’m still working on that one!).

On the food front, I know people I respect who will loudly declare something to be ‘poison’ for everyone to hear in a somewhat misguided effort to educate those around them on the dangers of chemical additives in food. I’m not talking about how we explain things at home…I want to be clear with my daughter about why she can’t eat certain things. I tell her that there is just too much in them that isn’t food, so we aren’t going to eat it. Bless her, for a long time she didn’t even recognize most candy as something edible. As she’s gotten older, though, I just explain to her (quietly, off to the side…not on a soapbox for everyone to hear…) the reason we are not going to eat something. And then I tell her that other people have different mommies, so they might eat things that we don’t and it’s not our job to make them feel bad about it.

This is also glaringly obvious to me (now) when it comes to sharing faith. I grew up in an evangelical tradition wherein it was highly valued to be ‘bold’ in speaking the truth of God’s love to people. In practice it was often more of the same “I am not weird” rhetoric but dressed up in religiosity. Unfortunately, I was not able to communicate in a way that was at all sensitive to the fact that God might say different things to different people at different times. I was not even able to admit He might change the wording a little. If you tell people in an abrasive or confrontational way, “God loves you!” most people will be put off for the same reason that I suspect people reacted oddly to the woman in Target who was made to feel like she was stealing. If you act like what you are saying or doing is false in any way, it can be sensed. It will ring false and people can tell, even without realizing why they are put off by you.

So in conclusion………..if you really think you should do something, then do it and don’t be afraid to not act like a weirdo about it. Also, I’m certain there will be some point today at which I’ll need to take my own advice, as I do lots of stuff that some people might think is weird. Wish me luck with that.

Posted in Food, Intermutuality, Parenting, Spirituality | 1 Comment