home cooking

Aunt Betty has a stack of grandma’s recipes. She’s been hanging on to them since her mom down-sized and moved out of the house, I think. The thing is, none of them seem to be the recipes for the things that grandma made the most. Those were the recipes she carried around in her head, I’m guessing, and some of them were never recorded. So when I asked Aunt Betty for grandma’s bread recipe she sent me one that was close – it had the same ingredients that grandma used to use, she’d written – but it wasn’t the exact recipe. I pulled it out Saturday morning and made that whole wheat bread. By the time the smell of baking bread was coming from the oven, I was half done frying the bajiya that we were taking to the community garden potluck.

“Why are you making bajiya for the potluck?” one son asked.

“They said bring a food that represents your ethnic background,” I explained.

“That’s not my ethnic background,” he said. Neither of our boys are fond of bajiya, fritters of ground black-eyed peas spiced with turmeric and coriander.

“Yes, it is. You’re half Somali,” I reminded him.

“Well, it’s not your ethnic background,” he said.

“It’s the one I married into.”

Grandma Wolters did pass along some of her cooking skills, though. Perhaps the first thing she taught me was how to make homemade frosting. She’s the one who taught me how to make gravy too. There was never a recipe we referred to for either one – it was a little of this and a little of that until you got the right consistency and the right quantity. Taste and adjust as needed till it’s just the way you like it. That’s actually how I make most of the foods I grew up eating. But I’m an adventurous eater and crave variety more than anything. So I collect recipes too.

When I first asked my husband how to make bajiya he wasn’t even certain what the main ingredient is, but I found a recipe for it online. Now I make it sometimes for company and sometimes just for us. “It reminds me of my childhood,” my husband has said.

I sometimes wonder what foods my sons will remember from their growing up years. And what foods they’ll know how to make from memory… In case they ever change their mind about bajiya, the recipe will be right there in my recipe box.




our summer bucket list

This morning we stopped by our community garden spot to pick snap peas before heading to the library. Just-from-the-garden fresh and crisp, those snap peas disappeared in no time. “As sweet as candy,” my older son declared.

At the library, the boys each got to choose a book to keep for completing ten of the reading program activities. Then they participated in a dinosaur scavenger hunt. We checked out a week’s worth of reading material and arrived back home just in time for lunch. There’s much to savor in the simple summer routine that we’ve settled into, and Friday library visits are one of our anchor activities. (During the past three school years, it was just me and the preschooler.)

Summers also afford the chance to do things we may not get around to during the school year. I recently read an article in Minnesota Parent advocating for a realistic summer bucket list. I quite agree that an attainable list of meaningful family experiences and activities is better than an over-the-top list that goes undone. So I’ve written down some of the things that have been and I’d like to see continue to be a part of our summers:

attend VBS

make popicles

complete the library summer reading program

take swimming lessons

memorize a psalm

grow our own tomatoes

go camping

check out a new swimming spot

read one of the Chronicles of Narnia

participate in a Lego Mini Build

send the boys to Camp Clair

bake zucchini bread (because there is nearly always someone who wants to pass along one of those “too-big-to eat” monsters and we can only eat so many zucchini fritters)

We’ve already completed – or have in progress – about half of these. My plan is to hang on to this list for inspiration as we move in to the second half of the summer.

What’s on your summer to-do list?


modeling gratitude: appreciating the small things

Since I’ve read Growing Grateful Kids by Susie Larson a few months back, I’ve been trying to be more intentional about modeling gratefulness and helping my kids to express their own gratitude. Here are some of our reasons to be thankful within the last week:

Wild blackberries on the edge of our garden and yard

The holiday, which meant additional time for the boys to play with their daddy

A spontaneous invitation from friends for a pontoon ride on the river

Central air to help us maintain our sanity during this heat wave

A new writing assignment

A visit from my sister, niece and nephews (the boys enjoyed playing with their cousins)

Flourishing tomato plants

What “gifts” have you enjoyed this week?

enroll your child in a summer reading program

Some of my earliest memories of summer reading are associated with the book mobile. My siblings and I used to ride our bikes about five miles to Sobieski, where the book mobile stopped, and fill our backpacks up with books. (I’m not sure I always finished mine before we had to take them back. I think my sister Clair always did.)

Now my goal is to share the joys of summer reading with my boys. So we’ve signed them up for a summer reading program. Such programs offer a great way to encourage children to discover new things, travel to exotic places, or  enjoy the beauty of language through books. I’ve looked at a few summer reading program options:

Half Price Books – Feed Your Brain

Who: children age 14 and under

What: Read for at least 300 minutes in a month to earn a $5 coupon.

Barnes and Noble – Imagination’s Destination

Who: children in grades 1-6

What: Read eight books and keep a reading journal. Take the completed journal to a store to get a coupon for a free book.

Pottery Barn Kids – Summer Reading Challenge

Who: children under 10 years of age

What: Read all the books on their book list and then visit the store to receive a free book.

Scholastic Summer Challenge

Who: school age children and teens

What: Log minutes reading and win prizes online.

Sylvan Book Adventure

Who: children in grades K-8

What: Select books, read them, take online quizzes and win cool prizes.

After looking at these options, we settled on our library program, which offers a child the choice of one book to keep for each 10 hours of reading completed.

The best thing about a reading program – any reading program – is that it keeps us reading all summer. (Doesn’t it seem that there are fewer distractions in the winter?)  It is my hope that this routine helps foster a life-long enjoyment of reading. Perhaps if we regularly read to our children, one day they’ll choose to take advantage of the extra time summer affords for sinking into the luxury of a good book.

What summer reading plan do you recommend? Why?

how to help stave off a sense of entitlement

Today we cooked our first rhubarb of the season. I harvested stalks from our two plants and then supplied my older son with a butter knife and chopping board. After a brief demonstration, he cut up nearly all of the stalks. He’s at the age where he’s pleased to be able to help. Because we live in the city, our boys won’t have as many chores as I did growing up on a farm, but I make it a point to assign age-appropriate household tasks so they learn from a young age how to handle responsibility. It also helps them to feel like important members of the family.

One theory is that if a child is old enough to walk, he or she is old enough to start taking responsibility. Both of my boys help around the house, but it may take a few more years to get to the point of a regular chore schedule, I think. At what age do you think children should have regular chores?

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A little bit more about rhubarb:

Rhubarb and spring are closely associated in my mind. When I was growing up, we had prolific rhubarb plants and cooked our fill of the stalks each year. Also known as pie plant, rhubarb is a cool season perennial vegetable with a unique tangy taste. It is said to originate from the Far East. It grows in Mongolia, I’ve seen, where it is used primarily for medicinal purposes. It has been grown for culinary use in the U.S., Canada and Britain since the 1800s, according to Ohio State University.

Related posts:

Rhubarb; Rhubarb Pie

the real deal

Diapers currently make up about 2 percent of municipal waste, whereas in 1970 they made up 0.3 percent. (Source: Mother Jones)

Cloth diapering is one way to save a lot of waste. And real diaper week, sponsored by the Real Diaper Association, promotes this cause. The great cloth diaper change on Saturday, April 21 serves as the grand finale of the week. The goal is to break the world record for the most cloth diapers changed at the same time. (Set last year, the current record is just over 5,000 diapers changed simultaneously.) There are several event locations in the Twin Cities including PeaPods in St. Paul, Colonial Church of Edina, and DaVinci Academy of Arts and Sciences, Blaine.

The event aims to promote awareness of cloth diapering and its benefits, among them saving money and reducing landfill waste. Cloth diaper wearers tend to transition out of diapers at an earlier age as well. Part of the reason, as I’ve heard it explained, is because children can feel when they’re wet.

We use simple cotton prefolds and LiteWrap diaper covers (with velcro closures). I like ’em. We’ve used the same diapers with both boys and have only had to replace a few of the wraps.

What is your experience with cloth diapers?