Staples

Well, we’re in our fourth week of school and so far so good. Miss A has adjusted to school with ease and Mr. N is right back in the swing of things. While I’m quickly adjusting to not having to juggle sitters and schedules during the day, our evenings are another story. Between homework (for both kids), gymnastics for Miss A, acting and swimming for Mr. N, reading time, play time and of course snuggle time, we’re still trying to find a groove. We also have mom and dad’s work schedules and the much-needed “decompression” time, and oh yes, we need to eat dinner in there too. Sigh. I know this is the same scenario in many homes across the world, and everyone has their strategies to make it through.

One of the strategies that we’ve found works best for us is a little planning ahead – something that we seem to refine each year. This year it works best if Mike and I sit down on Friday to make our meal plan for the next week, taking schedules into consideration. Then Saturday one of us will do the shopping while the other is carting the kids around to activities, and then on Sunday morning we all cook together. We were talking this weekend about how we never would have guessed that a few of the recipes from our blog would have become such staples in our diet. We really do eat a lot differently than we used to – and a lot better than we used to (also thanks to many of your food blogs!).

We also found that we have a few staples that we make weekly. We start Sunday morning with two batches of Kauai Granola. This provides Mike and I with an easy and delicious breakfast that lasts through the week. It’s also perfect with almond milk. I’ve never been one to drink the milk at the end of my cereal, but the almond milk takes on the flavors of the granola and it’s delish! There’s not a drop left in my bowl. Kauai Granola

We then also make a batch of quinoa and make a salad of varying flavors. One of our favorites is a play off of our Southwest Farro Salad, but using quinoa in place of the farro. I’m surprised that quinoa has become such a staple, but we have a lot of fun playing with different international flavor combinations and quinoa provides the perfect canvas from which to create something new each time. Southwest Farro Salad

And much to our surprise we also find ourselves making this vegan taco quite often. The sweet and spicy combination is fantastic and it makes for a ton of leftovers which is super helpful through the week. It’s fast become a family favorite. vegan tacos

And that brings us to one of our newest staples. You may remember we enjoyed a wonderful visit to Miss C’s farmy back in May. While there, Celi generously sent me home with some kefir grains. Kefir Grains

You can read more about Kefir here, but basically the grains are a live combination of bacteria and yeast which are fed daily with milk. Each day I drain the fermented milk from the grains and add new milk. The fermented milk (kefir milk) can be used for many, many things, but our favorite way to use them is to make fresh bread. Celi has her kefir bread making down to a science and I knew we had to give it a whirl. Kefir Milk

For those of you that have followed the blog for a while know, I am not a bread baker. I’m terrible at it. I kill yeast regularly and I won’t even mention how my sourdough starter came to its gruesome demise, but that’s all changed thanks to Miss C. Kefir bread is wonderfully forgiving. In fact, we have now completely given up buying store-bought bread in place of this wonderful recipe. As I mentioned, each day I strain my kefir and separate the grains and milk. After about five days we have three cups of kefir milk. We combine this milk with three cups of unbleached all-purpose flour. flour

Once the milk and flour are combined, the mixture appears sticky and thick. sticky dough

We then cover the dough with plastic wrap and a dark towel and leave it sit for 12-36 hours. The longer the mixture sits, the more sour the dough will become – kefir bread tastes remarkably like sourdough bread. As you can see from the image below, after the dough sits it appears bubbly and a bit more soupy. fermented dough

After the dough sits and ferments a bit more, it’s time to bake the bread. There are only a few ingredients to this version – honey, salt, olive oil and flour. Incidentally, we have forgotten the olive oil on two occasions and the bread turns out just as well. honey

The honey, olive oil and salt are added to the dough and mixed together. honey bread

Next we add about three more cups of flour and mix the dough until its sticky and stretchy. sticky dough

Then we toss some flour on the counter, divide the dough into two and begin kneading one piece at a time. kneading dough

This is where kefir bread is most forgiving. The dough uses at least another 1 to 2 more cups of flour on the counter as it’s super sticky, but it softens and becomes smooth very quickly. Typically we knead the dough lightly for only a couple of minutes. kneading

Next we shape the dough. We made this particular batch while we were at the country house in Michigan, so we went with traditional bread pans. shaping bread dough

We score the loaves and then cover them and let them sit until the dough doubles. rising dough

The timing on the rise varies. Sometimes it takes only an hour, other times it’s taken two. bread rising

Once it’s doubled, or close to doubled in size, it’s time for baking. We bake our bread for 30-40 minutes at 350F and we end up with a nice golden brown crust. golden brown crust

We let the bread cool (and always make sure to pick off a piece from the back because let’s face it – there’s nothing better than fresh bread straight from the oven!) before serving or freezing. loaves of bread

We typically eat one of the fresh loaves through the week and either share or freeze the remaining loaf. fresh bread

We use the bread for a side with pasta or cheese, as a sandwich bread, in French toast, for caprese salad, toast, a platter for white bean puree…you name it. It’s a versatile bread. kefir bread

As I mentioned, the taste is remarkably similar to a sourdough bread. It’s got that sourdough tang to it and it’s delicious. This bread is easily a 4 spoon recipe for Mike and I. bread and cheese

Mr. N is also a big fan of the kefir bread and gives it 4 spoons. He’ll eat it with anything and everything, and he loves being around when it comes out of the oven for that first taste of the loaf. kefir milk bread

Miss A is our lone dissenter on this one. She doesn’t like the sour taste of the bread, but she’ll surprisingly drink the kefir milk straight up. Talk about sour tang! Still, she prefers regular bread to sour bread and only gives this 2 spoons. Not to worry though, I have a recipe for her coming up soon as well as a sweet use for our sour bread (which Miss A did eat right up!). bread staples

Print this recipe: Kefir Bread

So that’s a glimpse into a few of our regular staples. We also have a few other recipes that have made their way to our table more than once including Mike’s lentil burgers, Bermuda French toast, peach ricotta pancakes, cous cous with cumin, baklawa, mussels in white wine cream sauce, pork, apple and wild rice hot dish, grandma’s cobbler, Maine blueberry pie, rosemary peach lemonade, oatmeal cookies and of course, the maple bacon biscuits.

We’ll be back soon with a tasty and sweet use for the kefir bread. And if you notice we aren’t on a regular schedule anymore, you’re right. We find with both kids in school all day, our evenings and weekends are all the more precious to us. Evenings and weekends are the only time we can all be together (and even that depends on the day). So we’ll likely post once a week or once every 10 days or so, but we’re still here. And we’re still cooking. We’re just opting to go off the grid a bit more too. :) Cheers all and if you come across kefir grains – grab some up. They are easy to keep, forgiving to cook with and they make for some tasty fresh homemade bread.

Happy Endings

Well, is it just me or did this past summer just fly by? Every year they get faster and faster. Well, as you know we ended our summer with a little country getaway. We rented a farm-house in Michigan for a week with the kids and just spent some quality time with absolutely no distractions (except for a few bee stings – poor Mike!). farm house

Thankfully Mike is not allergic to bees and recovered just fine; albeit rather annoyed. Aside from those two little incidents, the trip was utterly blissful. The kids were happy the whole time (no meltdowns or plate turnings) and they were inseparable. From morning until night, they were attached at the hip, playing and laughing. campfire

We did lots of cooking, ate every meal outside, read books, made crafts and even got to pick our own peaches. peach orchard

I’m not joking when I say that Miss A ate at least five peaches while we were in the orchard. peach picking

Somehow we still ended up taking home one whole bucket of fresh Michigan peaches. So as you can imagine, our next few recipes will be down right peachy. peach wagons

The farm house was exactly what we needed. It was peaceful and felt like home the second we walked through the doors. country home

It wasn’t extravagant by any means, but it was homey, clean, private and surrounded by grape vines. grape vines

And it was only a short 30-minute drive to sunsets on the beach. beach sunset

As simple as it was, we all agreed that it was one of our best family vacations. We all felt happy, connected and most of all rested. sunflowers

There’s not a whole lot to report back other than we spent a lot of quiet mornings in our upstairs sitting room overlooking the countryside. Then we’d make our way down to the kitchen area where the kids and Mike would read and craft while I cooked something up. I don’t think we were ever dressed or out of the house before noon! quiet mornings

Our days were lazy and spontaneous and then we’d head for some quiet nights either on the beach…sunset beach time

sunset girl

or back at the farm. country sunset

One evening, we sat around the campfire. Mr. N and Miss A were roasting marshmallows and Mike and I were sipping wine. The discussion turned to what a great trip it had been and that we should definitely visit the farm again. Then Miss A, usually not one for serious conversations, sighed and said, “Yes. This was like a happy ending for summer.”

Indeed it was. It was then just a few days later that I was snapping the first day of school pictures. Mr. N school day

It’s always the first day of school pictures that reflect back to me how much they are growing up and changing. First day of school

While the end of summer is always bittersweet for the kids, it was especially so for us parents too. Miss A is now a kindergartener, which means a full day of school five days a week. In other words, our house is suddenly very, very quiet. Since this was the first day of “real” school for Miss A, we weren’t sure how she would handle the separation. She had cried a few days beforehand, but otherwise was staying her tough little self. As the bus approached, we said our goodbyes and gave out our hugs. I was using every ounce of self-control to keep those tears locked away behind my sunglasses. I was standing behind Miss A, when she looked at Mike slightly panicked and said, “Where’s mommy?”

Just then, Mr. N walked up alongside of his little sister, took her by the hand and happily said, “Come on, Miss A.” boarding the bus

She looked up at her big brother and smiled. They boarded the bus and didn’t look back until they were in their seats, smiling and waving. As the bus turned away, the dam burst and my tears were flowing. Fortunately, I’m in good company and several of us moms were able to cry, laugh and hug our way through the walk home.

Miss A was right – that vacation was definitely a happy ending, but I also think that this is a new happy beginning. It’s definitely a new stage of life for us. For the past nine years, Mike and I have juggled our schedules both working from home and our offices. We’ve managed through the chaos and the stress to be stay-at-home parents as much as possible. Mike would stay home some days, I would stay home others, we’d work nights and sometimes weekends, trading off work and at home time, while trying to find a balance for quality family time when we could all be together. It wasn’t easy. And it’s the strangest feeling to look up, nine years later and think that those days are behind us. happy endings

While I very much miss my little buddies, I can’t help but think about all the possibilities and opportunities that lie ahead for all of us – and I’m excited. Even with only one week of this new life under our belts, I can already see that this next stage, might be just as fun as the last – particularly if this vacation was any indication. sunny side up

So since I’m feeling all happy and sunny, I figured we’d kick off our Michigan recipe series with some bright and sunny foods. This first recipe, is hardly a recipe at all. We obviously had a lot of peaches on-hand, so we used what we had in our little kitchen to whip up a fresh Peach Salsa. peach salsa

We used peaches, tomatoes, jalapeno, onion, honey, cherry balsamic vinegar and salt for seasoning. We first served our salsa as a side with tortilla chips. Miss A was not a big fan of the salsa due to the jalapeno. This was only a 2 spooner for her. Mike enjoyed the fresh peaches with his chips. It was a good blend of salty and sweet. salty and sweet

Mr. N and I enjoyed our peach salsa with the chips, but our favorite way to serve it was with a sunny side up egg on toast. peach salsa and eggs

Mike, Mr. N and I all gave the salsa 3 spoons. It was fast, fresh and was a simple balance of sweet and spicy. Print this recipe: Peach Salsa

Thank you all for your wonderful comments. We read them while we were away and always enjoy them. We read many of them to the kids and they enjoy following along as well. They know many of you by name, and will often ask which one of you provided the new recipe at our table (as many of your recipes are served at various meals). I promise I’ll get back to commenting soon, I just have a few projects that I’ve been sitting on for quite some time that I’m ready to move forward on; and of course, we’re still working out our new school time routines. Please know that I’m hovering in the background printing many of your recipes and that I’ll be popping in and out as I can as we try to find our new balance.

We’ll be back soon with a few bread recipes. Yes – I’ve actually made some bread! And the best part, it’s edible! Until then, here’s a flashback that happens to be another great use for peaches. We made this in Michigan too, and needless to say, Miss A devoured this one. :)Georgia peach cobbler