Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Excessive Christmas and the Ghosts of Christmas Past

There is an antique store that I drive by somewhat regularly when running errands in the western suburbs of Chicago. I have been meaning to stop in and browse for awhile, years literally, not because I'm really very interested in antiques, but because it looks like it could be a great place to take some unique photographs. I was finally prompted to stop in this holiday season because of a story I heard on the radio last week, about the place. When I heard the story, I knew exactly which store the story was about.

Apparently the store, Rosebud Antiques, was ticketed by the local government of Countryside, IL for an "excessive" display of Christmas decorations. The store owners were told that the displayed items can not include price tags and must remain within certain designated areas. The village claims that complaints have been made.

The story was also reported on local tv: http://www.fox32chicago.com/news/local/58443798-story.

Rosebud Antiques displays seasonal items outside and on the edge of the small parking lot throughout the year. Whether the display is considered attractive or not, it is always organized and orderly. In warmer months, old bikes are lined in a neat row along the store front window. I'm aware of the seasonal bicycle display due to my daughter's request for a new bike every time we pass by the store during the summer. Whatever the season, the merchandise is transferred in and out of the store on a daily basis by the two sisters who own the store. According to their reports, the effort takes two hours a day during the holiday season.

I don't know the origins of the initial complaints about the store's display or even the final outcome of the conflict between Rosebud Antiques and the Village of Countryside. One shoppers excess is another's delight, (just ask the patrons of the the new Countryside Hooters restaurant down the street from Rosebud Antiques). I do know that the story enticed me into visiting a location that provided the opportunity for some unusual holiday photos and an odd unexpected trip into my own ghosts of Christmas' past. The store contained more then a few items that could have leapt directly out of my own childhood Christmas celebrations.

And like the responses to Rosebud's Christmas display, I had my own unpredictable reactions (interested, amused and a little bit uncomfortable) to the items of Christmas past displayed at Rosebud Antiques. I expect you will, too.

Merry Christmas! May your holiday be delightful and a bit excessive!

Friday, December 18, 2015

Making Christmas Cookies with Friends

The holiday season reminds us to create, give and enjoy one another's company.

The Christmas season is so inspiring in so many ways. It is a great time to get together for simple, fun and often otherwise neglected joyful activities. Many of our holiday activities are unique to the season, singing carols, listening to specific music or watching special movies, others can and do actually happen at other times of the year, as well. Like baking for example, baking cookies can happen anytime, but Christmas brings out the over zealous baker in many of us. The best laid plans....

The holiday season can get so busy that it is easy to forget to allow time for the kids to plan and enjoy some celebration gatherings of their own design. My teen-aged daughter, like most young people, loves this time of year. Also, like many young people, she often has ideas that stretch beyond her family's resources. This one was easy though and I encouraged, then stayed out of the way. The resulting outcome was lovely.

Sometimes it's the process more than the product.

Inspired by the season and some online browsing, Adah wanted to organize a cookie baking party. She planned and shopped. She invited friends and gathered together all the parts needed to provide a festive time for herself and her guests. They baked and decorated, talked and laughed. Joy in creating together equals success and in this case a messy kitchen.

More successful events to come. This one's for the holidays!

When it comes to kitchen activities,
there is always a brother lurking nearby
looking for handouts.

                                           Just good friends, fun and lots of sugar!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Native American Cultural Awareness

Call it a unit study or maybe better, just interest based learning because that is how it works for us. We follow our interests and one thing leads to another. Connecting the dots and finding more dots to connect, homeschooling offers us the excitement of discovery.

My daughter's crafting interests led her to the discovery of dream catchers. 

Beautiful examples inspired my daughter, Adah, to learn to make them herself and she began creating her own. In her research to learn the techniques to make dream catchers she encountered more Native American crafts, stories and history. A couple of good reads added to the interest and we had the beginnings of a history lesson. With bits and pieces of what she was discovering connecting to our own lives, by local events and personal history, including my own personal experiences tutoring in Winnebago, Nebraska, we were led right back to our current lives in Illinois.

Visiting a local Pow Wow.

We have the good fortune of living in an area where we have access to an annual fall Pow Wow. It is one of several Pow Wows organized and promoted by the Midwest Soaring Foundation and takes place at the Naper Settlement in Napeville, IL. The Pow Wow includes traditional music and dance, craft vendors, food vendors (some serving traditional fry bread), and exhibits and presentations by SOAR - Illinois (Save Our American Raptors), an organization dedicated to the welfare of native birds of prey. At the Pow Wow we had the opportunity to watch and join in a traditional native dance circle, visit craft vendors and talk with rescuers and trainers of birds of prey.

Pow Wows are a community event and there are opportunities for everyone to participate. The MC calls the dancers into the circle to showcase different groups of dancers. The birthday celebrants dance gave us a special opportunity to join the circle.

A visit inside a tipi included listening to story telling.

Vendors had educational materials available about bison and the successful restoration of a herd in Illinois. The possibility of visiting the herd is yet another opportunity for a "field trip" and first hand experience.

In the mean time, for a close up view, we visited the American Bison housed at a local zoo. We were able to get very close to the bison and to take some wonderful photos. This year there are young ones there, too.

Resources for further study:

Following our experience at the Pow Wow, we have continued learning by reading history, novels and even poetry. We have viewed videos and visited websites for more information. Our knowledge will continue to expand as we find more resources to relate to what we've learned and experienced so far. Our experience at the Pow Wow was a wonderful real life learning opportunity that will continue to inform our ongoing exploration and serve as a touch stone to the fact that we are learning about a vibrant community and culture.

Published resources we've used include books, stories and poetry by Joseph Bruchac. His work and contact info can be found at: http://josephbruchac.com/

I love his poem Buffalo. You can hear it on his website: http://josephbruchac.com/poems/buffalo.mp3

Some of Joseph Bruchac's book titles we have found interesting and informative are:

  • The Code Talkers, This historical fiction tells the life story of a Navaho boy who grows into a man and becomes a marine who contributes to the WWII effort as a code talker.
  • Arrow Over the Door Historical fiction based on the historical meeting of Quakers and Native Americans in 1777.
  • The Girl Who Helped Thunder and Other Native American Folktales Wonderful stories divided into sections geographically, which makes it a convenient resource for relating to other studies. Beautiful illustrations are the icing on the cake in this book.
Other titles to add to the list for discussion
  • Squanto, Friend of the Pilgrims by Clyde Robert Bulla  My daughter enjoyed this one but said it wouldn't be her first choice for recreational reading.

Even more resources:

A few more excellent published written resources for advanced readers and those who really want to dig deeper include:
  • Touch The Earth A Self Portrait of Indian Existence Compiled by T.C. McLuhan             This one is a classic. Published in 1971, it includes the words of Native Americans from the 1800s and is filled with the amazingly beautiful photography of Edward Curtiss. (I've owned a copy of this beautiful book since I was a teen, the photos are magnificent and the collected words of wisdom of the first Americans are deeply moving.)
  • Bead On an Anthill A Lakota Childhood by Delphine Red Shirt The author is an accomplished contemporary writer. She shares her unique and very personal view through her work.
  • Black Elk Speaks Being the Life Story of a Holy Man of the Oglala Souix by John G. Neihardt Another classic.
  • Time of the Buffalo by Tom McHugh This one may be more than most want in terms of information about bison, I love it, but then I love anything prairie, plains or buffalo. 
All of the above titles are available on amazon.

Other resources we have found valuable include websites and a few videos on you tube.
There are beautiful photos in these slide show videos including photos taken by Edward Curtiss.

We've looked at the website of the Inter Tribal Buffalo Council whose mission is; "To restore Bison to Indian nations in a manner that is compatible with their spiritual beliefs and practices." Their site includes current and historical information regarding bison, recipes and a few coloring pages for young ones.

A little curiosity goes a long way.

These are a few of the places and resources learning about dream catchers has led us to. It has been an Native American and crafting adventure that is also leading my daughter to the idea of her own Etsy store for her creations. As a homeschooling mom, I never quite know where our learning will take us but that is the welcomed adventure of learning together!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

'City Moms' Fall Harvest and Beef Farm Tour

With celebratory rides on combines the 'City Mom'
2015 tour season comes to an end.

The Illinois Farm Families 'City Moms' went on the last of this season's farm tours in October. Despite my increased awareness of the extensive winter work that continues behind the scenes, every year, on every farm; from my perspective as a city mom, we ended the season appropriately, with a harvest tour.

Invited to complete our season with the opportunity to ride in the combine and the grain wagon, this was an exciting and somewhat celebratory tour. I am sad to see the season come to an end. We have met so many amazing Illinois farm families. I've had such a good time and learned so much on each tour, much more than I've yet been able to integrate completely into my food purchasing, preparing and serving of meals to my family.

The Larson Farm

Our last tour was of the the Larson Farm in Maple Park, IL. The Larson family farm produces beef and grain. Three generations participate in farming on the Larson farm. Mike and Lynn Martz partnered with Lynn's parents in 1979. Their son Justin and his wife joined them in 2008. Several employees contribute to farm operations and are an integral part of the farm. With several generations represented in the family and inter-generational employees on the farm there is a strong sense of extended family and community overall at the Larson farm.

Larson Farms

The crop production side of their farm is managed by Lynn and includes corn, soybeans and wheat grown on 6,350 acres of land. They also raise and finish beef cattle, Mike's domain. They have the capacity to house up to 3,500 head of cattle and finish 7,000 head each year. These cattle are delivered via semi-truck to the Larson feed lot where upon arrival, they are allowed ample time to rest and recover from the stress of travel. The feed lot houses and cares for the animals of other farmers and finishes them for the market.

Animal Well Being

Every animal is observed on a daily basis at the Larson farm. Technology contributes to the assessment of each animal's well being and development. Ultra-sound technology is used in determining fat content, marbling and readiness for the market. Facilities for the cattle on the Larson farm were designed by the well known consultant to the livestock industry, Temple Grandin.

Antibiotics are only used on sick animals and following any antibiotic treatment, there is a required withdrawal period before that animal can be taken to market. There is oversight and inspection by government regulators and ample testing required to insure that there are no residual antibiotics in the meat. Mike Martz also presented information regarding the use of hormones in beef production. Hormones naturally occur in cattle (and other organisms). Any additional hormones are given to assist an animal in utilizing their feed to promote growth. A farmer may choose to use additional hormones to improve efficiency and reduce the environmental impact of raising cattle. Useful comparison information regarding hormones to consider includes the fact that a 3 oz. cut of treated beef contains 1.9 nanograms of estrogen compared to 1.3 nanograms in a 3 oz. cut of untreated beef (that's a .6 nanogram difference), a potato contains 225 nanograms, a 3 oz. serving of peas contains 340 nanograms, a 3 oz. serving of cabbage contains 2,000 nanograms and one birth control pill contains 35,000 nanograms of estrogen. (Source below.)

For the source and more information regarding the specific amounts of naturally occurring hormones, please read the article from the University of Nebraska: http://newsroom.unl.edu/announce/beef/2846/15997

Back to the Farm

There is an amazing amount of work to be done and managed on the Larson farm. Our visit coincided with the fall corn harvest. We rode on the combine on the 27th day of consecutive 15 hour work days for those driving the equipment. Despite the timing, we were met with enthusiastic and talkative field guides as we watched the harvesting of the corn from the combine cab.

To get your own glimpse into work and life on the Larson farm, view the video;


So Much to Learn

We have been presented with so much information and have had the opportunity to have an inside look at farming on each and every farm tour that it is hard to readily absorb and process it all. Visiting the Larson family farm was no exception and we were once again treated with warm hospitality and straight forward honest answers to every question.

For me the big picture takeaways from the Illinois Farm Family 'City Moms' tours were:

  • Illinois Farmers are dedicated hardworking people with the best interests of their land, their animals and their consumers at heart. 
  • They offer high quality products to consumers. 
  • They care. 
  • They are regulated. 
  • They respond to the market.
  • They want consumers to be healthy, informed and to have choices in their food purchases.

The Illinois farmers we met this season are committed to informing consumers about farm production. They have been more than generous in sharing their time, knowledge and their farms with us.

Whether it is through a program like the one offered by Illinois Farm Families, by visiting your local farmers market or just asking questions of the managers of the grocery store where you shop, I urge you to find and get to know the farmers who produce your food. You will increase your knowledge about the food you eat, gain confidence in your purchasing choices and meet amazing people.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Pumpkin Poem and Cheese Cake

Orange, big, small
Pumpkin pie cooking
Seeds are good to eat

By, Kayla

Ms. Butler's Class
Dry Creek Elementary
Port Angeles, Washington
Assorted Poetry

I love this time of year.
The rich colors of the harvest promise flavor and comfort, plus a good dose of healthy nutrition.
This cheesecake is a delicious reward to share with your loved ones. 

Pumpkin Cheesecake

2 Graham Cracker Crusts
(I use pie pan shape, sometimes I make them: recipe below, sometimes I buy them pre-made)

1 small pumpkin 1 3/4 cup pulp
 or 1 can pumpkin (15 oz.)
1 lb cream cheese
1 cup maple syrup
2 eggs
1/2 cup whipping cream
1 teaspoon black strap molasses
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger
a pinch each of allspice, ground cloves, nutmeg

Beat softened cream cheese until smooth.
Mix pumpkin and maple syrup.
Add to cream cheese. Mix.
Add the rest of the ingredients. Mix.
Pour evenly into crusts.
Bake at 375° for about one hour.
Allow to cool and refrigerate for several hours before serving

Graham Cracker Cheesecake Crust

1 package (1/4 lb.) graham crackers
1/2 cup butter

Make crumbs of the graham crackers in a food processor.
Melt butter.
Mix with crumbs.
Press into pie pans.
Bake at 375° for 5 minutes.
Let cool before filling.

And of coarse, there is always the option of creating a pre-baked pumpkin master piece. Happy Halloween! 

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Heritage Food In Our Family - Rosolje - Beet and Potato Salad

We have so many ethnic food choices in the USA.  At any given meal, we can eat cuisine with influence from almost anywhere in the world at a local restaurant. We can eat take-out of almost any kind and most of us know at least a recipe or two to cook up in our own kitchen that isn't originally from our own ethnic background.

My husband, Avo, is Estonian. Both of his parents immigrated to the USA following World War II. His first language was Estonian, his early years were spent in a thriving and tight knit Estonian community in Chicago. As in most ethnic communities, opportunities to get together included traditional food.
Estonian Flag

One Estonian side dish that I delight in is Rosolje [row-sohl-yeh]. My appetite for Rosolje may be one of the little things that contributed to my change of status from out-law to in-law in my husband's family. I love this salad. I consider it a complete meal in itself. It contains all kinds of wonderful and nutritious goodies; pickled beets, apples, dill pickles, and sour cream, meat and eggs for protein.

When I've questioned my mother-in-law about the origins of Rosolje, she shrugs with the common response of someone being questioned about their own cultural traditions "It's just always been there. My mom made it, then I made it." Too familiar to question, we had to do a bit of research to learn the history.

Traditionally served in the fall, you may also find this amazing salad at any gathering, including the summer solstice, Jaanipaev celebration. Rosolje became popular in the 1920's, originally made with herring (common Estonian fare), it has evolved and each cook adds the meat of her choice. The measurements of each ingredient were hard to pin down, even the published recipes vary in individual amounts per ingredient. When I make it, I have done the same and fortunately, my results have been given the nod of approval from both my kids and mother-in-law, from where I was gifted the recipe.
Thanks, Tiina.

Here's the recipe.
Rosolje - Serve cold.

Cube the following ingredients:
2 cans of pickled beets (Aunt Nellie's) Save the juice.
5-6 dill pickles
4 apples (Granny Smith or Golden Delicious)
6 big potatoes - boiled and peeled
3 hard boiled eggs
Cooked cold meat - cooked cold pork roast, smoked turkey or smoked ham are a few of the possibilities. I use ham and have never tried it with the traditional herring. Cube about 1 - 2 cups.

Get some help for cubing (it takes awhile). The expert Estonian cooks say, whatever size you cube the ingredients into, to try to get all of the cubes the same size.

For the dressing:
1 1/2 cups sour cream
1 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard (Colman's)
Add beet juice until you have the desired pink.
Mix it all together. Refrigerate for several hours.
Serve cold.
Mix dressing to desired pink.

Handing down a traditional recipe.
Adah and Grama Tiina.

This recipe shared on Creative Muster.

Monday, October 5, 2015

'City Moms' Dairy Farm Tour Highlights

Dairy farming educator extraordinaire,
Linda Drendel talks about the farm.
Brian J Gerloff, DVM
Gracious and generous hosts, Linda and Dale Drendel welcomed the Illinois Farm Family 'City Moms' to their farm to share a bit of their extensive dairy farming knowledge with us. With 40 years of dairy farming experience, they have more to share than we could possibly absorb in our afternoon visit. Linda talked about their champion Holstein cows and the meticulous care given to their animals. She is passionate about dairy farming and the well being of the cows.
Brian shows us feed for the cows.

Beautiful weather for a farm tour.

The Holsteins on the Drendel farm are monitored and cared for regularly by veterinarian Brian J. Gerloff. Brian has years of experience with dairy cows. He grew up on a dairy farm and began his vet practice caring for dairy cows in 1985. He has witnessed the number of dairy farms in Northern Illinois decrease substantially since he began his practice.

Brian showed us the feed and described how feed is selected for the best nutrition for the cows. What I remember is that a totally mixed ration (TMR) is created to address the nutritional needs of the dairy animals. One of the ingredients is made from the whole corn plant (corn silage), another ingredient is hay. Another fun fact is that cows have four stomachs.

Despite the lovely weather on the day we visited, the cows chose to stay inside. There was an open gate on the side of the barn for them to exit at will, but they remained in the barn. Silly cows.

Beautiful baby cow.

Seeing the young ones of any species is usually a treat. The calves were all really beautiful, each with their own distinct markings. They were also generally very friendly.

Born to latch on.
Baby mammals are born with the survival instinct to suck. These calves will be fed their mother's colostrum and milk, but long term, they will not be getting their nutrition directly from the cow themselves. A calf will be separated from the cow approximately 6 -8 hours after birth due to safety concerns.The cow can pose a physical danger to the calf by her size and potential for laying on the calf. A calf in open pasture can wander off and get itself into trouble. The separation of the calf from the cow, also allows for better monitoring, by the farmer, of the health of the calf and it's food intake.
I'm a lactation consultant,
but this was a whole new suck assessment.

Each of the 'City Mom' farm tours has been a delight for me. With the opportunity to meet the farm families, each tour has served as a reminder of just how easy it has become for most of us to buy and consume safe, high quality nutrition for our families. I am grateful for the hard work and dedication of the farmers that goes into making such a wide range of healthy food available to the rest of us.

The fun continued discussing the dairy tour on radio.

Following the farm tour, I  had the opportunity along with Marla Behrends, from the Midwest Dairy Association, to join radio hosts Rita Frazer and DeLoss Jahnke on R.F.D. Illinois radio to share my experience as a 'City Mom' visiting the Drendel farm. Thanks, Rita and DeLoss, fellow Runza fan, for the opportunity, it was a pleasure talking with you both.

For a lovely cookbook with great recipes containing dairy, plus a brief introduction to the different breeds of dairy cows, checkout; A Dairy Good Cookbook edited by Lisa Kingsley.