Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Technique: Coring Apples

Coring an apple can take a no-fuss minute, or it can take three full minutes and generate more waste.  Make your life easier: Use a melon baller!  Just cut the apple in half, use the melon baller to scoop out the core, trim the ends if necessary, then slice or dice.  Here's how my slices looked:

...but not for long!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Recipe Review: Whole Wheat Apple Muffins from Smitten Kitchen

I recently ran across this recipe for Whole Wheat Apple Muffins from Smitten Kitchen, and what do you know!  I had buttermilk in the fridge, and no desire for pancakes or biscuits in my heart.  This recipe is simple and easy and delicious and yields deliciously, unbelievably moist muffins

Modifications: I used spelt instead of whole wheat flour because I have been trying to use up ingredients from my pantry.  This also meant I used 1.5 C whole flour and 0.5 C all purpose flour rather than a fifty-fifty mix.  The muffins were distinctly whole, but no less delicious.  I also decided not to peel the apples--the peels get so soft that they do not detract from the finished muffins and add all the healthy peely goodness.  If you include the brown sugar topping, I would call this dessert; without, it is still hearty and sweet and would sit well on a breakfast plate.  And I think I could cut the sugar even further and not miss it!

(The only problem I had was difficulty getting the muffins out of the silicone muffin cups intact.  I did not spray or grease them, however, and the baking time may have made the minis too dry and the regulars too wet.)

The recipe as I made it:

Whole Wheat Apple Muffins

Preheat the oven to 450°F

Mix together the following dry ingredients:

1.5 C spelt flour
0.5 C all purpose flour
1 t baking powder
1 t baking soda
1/4 t salt
1 T cinnamon

In a stand mixer, cream until fluffy:

1/2 C butter (room temperature)
1/2 C white sugar
1/4 C brown sugar

Then add:

1 egg

Add and mix GENTLY to avoid curdling:

1 C buttermilk

Add the dry ingredients, mix to form the batter, and then add:

2 large apples, cored, and coarsely chopped

I got 12 regular muffins and 15 mini muffins, so be prepared to fill up to two muffin trays! Bake for 10 minutes and then lower the heat to 400°F.  I baked them for an additional 7 minutes at the lower temperature.  I believe this was a tad too much for the mini muffins and a tad too little for the regular ones, so staggering start or stop times may be a good idea.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Parenting: Book Review of Simplicity Parenting

I just finished reading Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids by Kim John Payne. It is good enough that I am going to ask my very busy husband to read it. I would recommend it to current parents and ideally have both parents read it so you can discuss it and get on the same page. One thing that I really appreciate about this book is that Dr. Payne makes it clear which ideas are appropriate for which age groups and generally addresses each idea throughougly across the spectrum of ages. I actually wish I had read the book before my son was walking and talking (and I was laying the foundations of our communication and routines), so for pregnant moms-to-be, I think it would be useful and a refreshing change of pace from the normal parenting preparation bibliography.

In the book, Payne describes both the conceptual framework and nitty gritty ideas for how to bring more simplicity into our children's lives, and as a result into our lives as well. Drawing from his experience in counseling and training as a Waldorf teacher, Payne presents vignettes from his clients (families with kids from toddlers through teenagers) and cites relevant research to paint a clear picture of the role of simplicity in child development and behavior. He explains both theories of why and examples of how children and their parents are affected by a lack of simplicity and how simplifying can change how children behave, develop, and form relationships.

The book focuses on four facets of life that can be viewed through a simplifying lens: environment, rhythm, schedules, and filtering out the adult world. Some of the questions he ends up addressing are ones I had often considered myself: How would my son behave differently if he had drastically fewer toys and less clutter in his visual space? If it has been mostly too hard to establish a rhythm of daily and weekly routines, should I keep trying and how can I do it? Why should I be wary of filling my child's days with classes and other scheduled activities? Is my son experiencing information overload? Payne ultimately discusses these ideas in much more detail, exploring the effects of screen time, advertising, choice overload, talking less while saying more, the role of unstructured time, simple ways to start increasing family connections, what kinds of toys may be helpful versus harmful, and generally how to start small and build up from there.  On that last point, he has worked with families that are so busy and overloaded with parental committments that I can scarcely imagine their struggle and has had success with many of them, so I think the success of these techniques has more to do with being motivated and open-minded than with having a lot of time to devote to an overhaul.

In the last week, I have done a lot of ruminating on simplifying, and actually made the time to take action in the "environment" arena. One morning while my son was at preschool, I bagged up half of his toys (the ones he used the least or bothered me the most) and stashed them. Many things are already flagged to be given away, and others are in a big maybe pile, but they are out of sight and out of mind. And it had an amazing and immediate effect on both my mood and on my son. He now spends more time playing with each toy and is more willing to clean up. And he doesn't seem to have noticed that many toys went missing.  I've also noticed I am spending way less time cleaning, so even in terms of time this change has already paid for itself. Really, this is an easy intervention to try out! (And it's reversible--in fact, Payne talks about creating a "lending library" from which toys can be borrowed or rotated.)

Next on my simplifying action plan is to think about shoring up our routines as a family. We've made a lot of progress on this in recent weeks, and I've seen how much easier my parenting job has gotten in the activities that involve routines. When the little guy knows that it is time to brush his teeth, and believes that is just part of what we do before bed, there are a lot fewer discussions--he is starting to become compliant without any discussion at all. (Amazing!) In addition to starting and sticking to these kinds of basic routines, I plan to follow the lead of several friends and to make an activity chart that my son can participate in. It will have a set of pictographs showing our daily activities (eat breakfast, brush teeth, wash hands, clean up toys, take a bath, etc.) that can be ordered and then moved from a "need to do" column into a "done" column. I think it will help keep both of us on track!

The last big part of my plan is more ongoing--changing the way I talk to and around my son. When a parent says too much, how can he or she listen? And how can it leave room for the child to make up his own mind? When a parent overexplains, what does a child really hear? I expect this will be difficult and require a lot of slowing down my thinking and speaking, but I can see where it would improve my relationships with everyone, and not just my son.

The only downside to this book is that I often found the descriptions of the big picture to be far too long. But perhaps this is because I was already on board with most of the concepts and didn't need written persuasion. For a parent who is feeling a bit skeptical or resistant, maybe it is necessary. Even so, there are some gems buried in that prose that seem to crystallize the take-home messages so well that I think it is worth reading the entire book and not skipping around.  I might even read the book again and write them down to create a poster of the most motivating ones.