Amateur Farm Hour: The Mug Brownie Moral

mug brownie

Picture courtesy theworstchef.com

It started with a mug brownie.

You know. One of those fad cooking things that sprouted, bloomed, and faded after a few months in the fickle soil of the interwebs.

Take a few things. Chocolate, mostly. Mix them in a coffee mug. Microwave. Bada bing, bada boom. Single serving mug brownie.

Somehow, I missed this craze. (Or just I always wanted more than one brownie.) Either way, I’d never tried the mug method before, until last week.

The opportunity arose. I had a little extra pumpkin bar batter. And since it was a new recipe that I was sending out the door with my husband for a community event, I wanted to make sure the product was edible. So I poured the leftover batter in the mug, put it in the microwave, and closed the door.

At this juncture, a reasonable person would have googled an actual mug brownie recipe to get an idea of how long you’re supposed to microwave this magic.

Apparently, I’m not reasonable. And I also lack a little common sense. Somehow, in the mess and muddle of my day, my pointer finger beeped out FOUR MINUTES, and hit start. I realized this was a little long, but I figured I’d check it after a minute or two and see what was happening.

And then.

And then.

Somehow, one thing led to another and I left sight of the microwave because my two year old announced she had to go potty, and this announcement/action chain goes much better when supervised.

Which means I forgot about the mug.

***

This is how it goes, right? We find ourselves with what seems like a really good idea, and we even manage the wherewithal to start acting on it.

And then.

And then.

Somehow, we get sidetracked. The great blog series we planned/exercise regiment we started/DIY project we bought supplies for/committee we volunteered on gets swallowed by this thing called NEED – which usually belongs to someone else – and all the good things we hoped to accomplish start to smolder and gather coats of ash.

We are left with two choices. We can blow on the coals of those ideas and intentions and watch the flames come back to life, or we can do nothing and watch the ash slowly turn grayish white as the heat dissipates.

For the last month, I’ve been a little out of breath.  Maybe you have too. Maybe the kids are still in the after-shock of daylight savings time. Maybe work is going all crazytown before the end of the year. Maybe the looming HOLIDAY season sends you less into hot cocoa land and more into snarl zone.

Whatever it may be that’s taking your breath away, please don’t let go without a fight. You NEED to foster the things that give you life. They are what make you unique, joyful, and fulfilled.

Which is why today I’m blowing on my coals, sitting at my desk, watching words fall off my fingertips and onto the screen.

I didn’t have an epiphany. I didn’t get a day all to myself to rest and recharge. I simply remembered something. Writing gives me energy.

Doing the things I love to do wakes me up, shakes me out, and resettles me a little more happily into my life. 

Meanwhile, in case you’re wondering, four minutes is WAYYYYY too long to microwave a mug brownie, or a pumpkin bar, or really much of anything.

I finished helping my daughter in the bathroom only to return to the kitchen and find noxious clouds of billowing green smoke emanating from my microwave. The timer dinged before I could race over and open the door, but it didn’t matter.

The stench. The smoke. I gagged and coughed as I opened the door and waves of burnt cake smog assaulted my eyeballs. What remained in the bottom of the mug resembled charcoal and smelled like acrid darth vader death breath.

The next hour would have made a comical video. My daughters and I waved vinegar-spritzed rags like helicopters all around the kitchen. We concocted vinegar and lemon oil “soup” to boil on the stove top and the wood stove. We opened the doors, turned on the fans, turned up the music and shiver-danced to move the air around.

The stench didn’t completely leave, but we at least found a way to get our breath back. And so I leave you with this.

Moral of the story: Don’t cook a mug brownie/pumpkin bar for four minutes.

Other moral of the story: Don’t let what has sidetracked you permanently* keep you there, on the sidelines. Take a deep breath. Find the thing you love that’s been set aside, and fan it back to life.

I’m rooting for you.

 

Comment below and tell me about the things you love that always take a back burner (or a four minute death ride in the microwave).

*My house feels like it’s permanently going to be clinging to this reek, so if anyone has any good smell-busting ideas, I’m all ears!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amateur Farm Hour: Girl vs. Wild Game

Every year, I lose my husband for a couple of weekends to a remote hunting shack surrounded by tamaracks. It’s strictly man camp – bunks, a generator, wood heat, outhouse. Yeah. An outhouse. Those things actually exist beyond the realms of state parks and campgrounds. He goes up alternately with family and friends, and on occasion, if the hunting is good, he comes home with grouse (or partridge, depending on where you’re from.)

IMG_20150929_164922181 (720x1280)A couple of nights after he came back, the sun slanted low through my west windows, reminding me it was dinner time. I opened the fridge and there it was. Middle shelf. Plastic bag. A speckled wing attached to a nice sized grouse breast. It had been sitting there for two days already. I knew where it came from, when and who shot it, and how thoroughly it had already been cleaned. And I didn’t want it to spoil, but you guys…

The wing. 

The wing was attached. (This is Minnesota DNR regulation for transporting game, lest you think my husband was just being mean.) And I was going to have to saw through the bone to get it off.

*Gulp*

I’m an avid home cook, a farm girl, and a member of two families that hunt pheasant, turkey, grouse, and deer. I haven’t seen it all, but I’ve seen plenty. (Anyone else do puppet shows with dead pheasants? Cousin Angie, that may have just been us. Hm.)

It took me a while before I finally worked up the nerve to move the dead bird in the ziplock bag from the fridge to the cutting board. I stood there, knife in hand, unsure of what to do next.

I have the feeling I wouldn’t be alone in this. We like to talk organic and locally sourced. There’s something rustic and gratifying about farmers markets and roadside stands, and the way we feel when we pull out our reusable canvas bags and pass actual cash between hands.

But when push comes to shove, we want our vegetables symmetrical, our meat devoid of anything that makes it look like an animal, and our apples buffed to a bright red shine.

That’s not reality though, is it? In real life, those pink oval-shaped chicken breasts resided in a living, breathing chicken with feathers and a beak. Vegetables come from soil, sun, and crap (I’m sorry – I mean compost.) Real apples often carry marks of blight and beetles.

Somehow, we’ve divorced the ugly side of food.

We prefer the Stepford version of polish and wax and mechanical separation. So when I came face to face with a bird wing in my fridge, I wanted to shove it to the back and forget about it. Let four days pass, and then toss it on grounds of raw meat bacteria growth.

Whoops. Sorry honey.

Organic imperfection is inescapable. And somehow, we’re a little afraid of it. But we don’t have to be, if we can stop seeing marks of difference as imperfect. If we could trust that sometimes, imperfection is something God wants us to see, because it brings us past the thing itself and into the reasons behind it.

After all. Perfection is beautiful, but rarely does it teach us anything.

Meanwhile, I still had a dead bird on my cutting board, and the girls were getting curious about it. Feathers, mama? Birdie?

Yes sweetie. Feathers on a birdie. Birdie for supper. 

It was time to get to work.

In reality, the dirty work took no more effort than slicing off the wing with a knife, which felt like cutting a toothpick. Suddenly, the grouse looked like a very small chicken. I took the rest of the meat off the rib cage, and put it in a gently simmering pan of chicken broth and garlic.

IMG_20150929_171810822 (870x1280)It took all of five minutes to cook, low and slow.

However, there wasn’t a lot of it. So I cut up some broccoli, chives, garlic, and parsley, and added that to the pan. I also added half a can of *wait for it* cream of chicken soup. We’re all about classy here. (Hey, after I posted a picture of my intended supper plans, a friend reminded me grouse can be dry.) I had bread dough in the fridge, so I rolled it out and cut the edges. Then I gently poured the meat mixture into the center of the dough, and overlapped the bread edges so that it looked like a braid.

Bada bing, bada boom. I cooked wild game.

Thirty minutes later, my tastebuds confirmed what my nose had been smelling. It was GOOD. It was REALLY good. The girls ate every last bite without complaint, and my husband got the satisfaction of seeing something he’d hunted provide food for his family.

And me? I conquered the wing.

Grouse and Broccoli Braid

Ingredients

2 grouse breasts (chicken would work too)

1 cup chicken broth

2 cloves garlic, pressed

1 cup broccoli

1/4 cup chopped parsley and chives

Half a can of cream of chicken soup

Bread dough (homemade, store-bought, or crescent rolls. Pick your jam. Just adjust your baking accordingly.)

1 egg yolk, 1 tbsp milk, 1/4 tsp salt for the egg wash (if using bread dough)


Method

  1. Simmer breasts whole in the chicken broth and garlic just till cooked through.
  2. Remove from pan, dice into half inch cubes.
  3. Chop broccoli into bite sized pieces.
  4. Return meat to the pan. Add broccoli, herbs, and cream of chicken soup. Heat on low and mix to coat. Salt and pepper as needed. Remove from heat once coated. (Don’t overcook – the oven will finish it.)
  5. Roll out your bread dough into a long rectangle. Cut three to four inches into the edges, an inch or so apart, making a fringe of the dough. (Watch the pictures – they’ll make the most sense.)
  6. Pour the meat and sauce mix into the center of the rectangle, and wrap the fringe edges one over the other, bottom to top.
  7. Brush egg wash mixture over the bread dough. (no need if you’re using crescent roll dough.)
  8. Bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes, or until nicely golden on top.

Or if you learn better by pictures…

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1. Cook breasts whole, then chop, return to pan, and add veggies, herbs, and soup.

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2. Roll out your dough, then cut the edges 3 to 4 inches on both sides. It looks a little like a skeleton. Pour meat mix into the center.

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3. Here’s the fun part. Braid the bread. Just lay one piece over the other, diagonally working up. Tuck the bottom pieces under when you get to the top.

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4. Finished braid. From here, brush with egg wash if you’re using real dough. No wash necessary if using crescent roll dough. Bake at 400 (or according to your bread package instructions) for 30 minutes or until golden.

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5. Baked braid. Yes, it tastes as good as it looks.

The Amateur Farm Hour series

A few weeks back, I told you how I realized that sometimes, the only way to start is to START. Meanwhile, I’ve had an idea in my head for a couple of months now. I’ve waffled over the best platform for it, and have learned a couple of things along the way. 1. I belong in the blogging-for-dummies camp, technically speaking. I can talk a little talk, but when it comes to SEO and monetizing and GIMPing up my pictures, I’m too busy sniffing out the culprit of that mysterious stench upstairs (you don’t want to know) and scrubbing crayon off the kitchen floor. And 2. I have about thiiiiiiiiiiiis much time to focus on developing new ideas. See #1.

That was a long, roundabout way to tell you that for now, we’re simply starting a new series around here called Amateur Farm Hour. 

Yep.

Amateur Farm Hour. Because let’s be real.

What I’m doing is all amateur. I’m not trendily clad in buffalo plaid and shooties when I’m cleaning the chicken coop. (Okay. Shooties might not even be a thing anymore. I’m that behind.) I’m wielding a shovel that’s actually dirty, and a pair of worn out garden gloves that barely keep crud off.

My children aren’t always instagram-ready. Half the time, my eldest is in some sort of off brand pajamas. Ponytails are wonky, pants are too short. Shoes are a crap shoot.

What I put on the table is 50% awesome, and 50% overcooked/underdone/fallen/substituted/unpinteresting fare.

And pictures. Let’s talk about pictures. Because you know there’s the crop tool. The lightening, brightening, color temperature filtering options. Yes, good pictures tell a story. But rarely is it the whole truth.

The whole truth is that I could sell you on my attempts at a sustainable family lifestyle. I could talk blithely about our free-range chickens and their glorious golden-yolked eggs. I could probably manage some stunning shots of our heirloom Wealthy and Honeycrisp apple trees. I could show you my freezer full of labeled bags of garden veggie sauce from our raised-bed garden. Hashtag. Hashtag. Hashtag.

Meanwhile, you might think I have it all together, and follow this series because it’s a pretty place to find funny farm stories and fall recipes and to see cute kids.

And we’d both miss the point.

***

Yesterday, I grabbed an extra gallon of milk from the store. (For the record, that made four gallons of milk in my cart. Apparently we need a cow.) My goal was to make yogurt since the girls have been on another one of their crazes, and the new mantra/chant at breakfast is now MORE. BIG. YOGURT. PWEEEEESE.

We got home, and somewhere in the middle of the chaos, I pulled the soup kettle out of the cupboard, dumped a gallon of milk in it, plopped it on a lit burner, and put the lid on. Homemade yogurt is a multi-step process, and since it was already 4:00 pm, I needed to get moving.

And then I glanced out the door. The girls were rolling down the hill in the front yard, busting out peals of laughter.

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My oldest called out for me to come and join them, and it took all of three seconds to abandon kitchen ship, grab my camera, and run outside for the next hour.

We finally all piled back in the door around 6:00 pm, red-faced and covered in grass. I issued an immediate bath edict, but my nose was already starting to smell something else: the odd, semi-sweet fragrance of boiling milk. Boiling. Crap. 

Boiling means the milk is at least twenty degrees over the 180 degree desired warming point. Which means I’d basically annihilated my chance at having the yogurt culture.

Double crap.

I should have dumped the pot and moved on. A trained chef would not have thought twice about starting over. Unfortunately for me (and everyone around me), I’m not a trained chef. I’m a product of frugal parents and depression-era grandparents, and if there’s one thing that irks me, it’s waste.

After all, I could make…. a lot of hot cocoa with that milk. *gulp*

Which is why I added the yogurt starter, agave nectar and vanilla anyway. You know, because instead of wasting one item, it’d be better to waste four. Brilliant, I know.

Three hours into incubation, the yogurt refused to set.

I had also reached max capacity for any task involving real energy (mombie zone) so I haphazardly rearranged a fridge shelf, shoved the entire soup pot of warm yogurt-not-yogurt in, and went to bed kicking myself for ruining the batch.

_20150926_065517The next morning, I opened the fridge and stared at the pot. It was time to start getting creative. What could I use sweet, yogurt-laced milk for? Right. Muffins of some sort. I pulled out the mixer and got started. I made it halfway through the recipe before I took the lid off the pot to grab a cup of milk.

Miracle of small miracles, it had cultured.

I practically danced it to the counter. The yogurt wasn’t thick, but it was rich, creamy, and sweet. And aside from my failure to tend it properly, it still made something good. It was allowed to become something good because I didn’t give up. I waited for another angle. A new idea.

Maybe that’s how it goes in your kitchen, or in your office, or at your table too. Great ideas, good intentions, and then wham. Distraction. Need. Real life headbutts creative life and suddenly everyone’s knocked out on the floor.

Please don’t let that stop you.

Don’t throw away your messes, your failures, your imperfect attempts. You are not defined by these things. I believe you are fluid, and your definition rests in the cupped hands of God – God the creator, God the author, God the perfecter and finisher.

He doesn’t give up on you. He doesn’t see you as failed yogurt. He does not see your bad day at work or your temper with loved ones as who you ARE.

He understands amateur.

He knows sometimes, it’s the best show in town because those folks are having fun. They may not be doing everything right, but they have a good time trying.

That’s what we’re doing around here. Having a good time trying. It’s not always picture perfect or hipster-worthy, and that’s okay.

It’s amateur farm hour. And you’re invited.

In between posts, you can laugh along at my #amateurfarmhour pics on Instagram (@rachelriebe). Like how this series is starting off? Share it with a friend! See you next week!

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Because fashion blogging is slightly hilarious to me… tank top – past season Gap outlet. Pants – worn out Athleta jeggings. Little girl hairband/wrist bracelet – Walmart. Blade of grass kazoo – sustainable product of Riebe Farms.

June and the Perfect Imperfection

June was full of moments. Moments that filled me, steady and constant, like a green water hose in a plastic bucket. I wanted summer every day. I wanted sun and the relaxing drone of the lawnmower cutting fresh tracks across the yard. I wanted little girls bursting out of the front door, ready for play. I wanted LIFE – vibrant greens, newborn kittens curling into my elbow, the violet clematis unfurling wide into every morning.

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I wanted summer legs and bare feet. I wanted trip after trip to the garden to watch the plants coax their growth from dirt. I wanted to hear the satisfying grind and crunch of the pea gravel we hauled in to complete our raised bed garden, bag by fifty pound bag.

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Most of all, I wanted to eat outside. There’s nothing so free and wonderful as laughter and wind and food eaten out of doors. Who cares if the lawn is perfect, the menu is summery enough, or the tablecloths match. It’s the act of eating in the same place the food grew that feels all at once wild and perfect.

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Then there was the other side of June. The side no one photographed. The sad blueness of a sprained ankle. The way my husband’s eyes could barely stay open after surgery. The camera was put away while we coughed and sneezed, and felt our cheeks flush with the pink heat of fever. There was no one taking pictures during the phone call when our renters gave us notice instead of buying the house as formerly planned, and our world fell off kilter as we raced to put our former home back on market.

No cameras. No lenses. And yet, I couldn’t show you all the good things without acknowledging that there are two sides to every coin. That life isn’t always freshly minted, gleaming and perfect in organized rolls. That even in the most perfect of seasons, imperfection is present, and it’s up to us to figure out how to live with them both.

Perfect. Imperfect.

Both hedging in, threatening to glorify or nudge out the other.

And it’s up to us what to make of them. Every time. Every. Single. Time. Because no matter how many things I read or prayers I pour out or conversations I have, the decision of what to dwell on in my mind is as constant as the nagging need for coffee first thing in the morning.

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That whether the moment is picture perfect or camera shy, how I choose to perceive it in terms of the whole is what makes all the difference.

So with that being said, June was wonderful.

Bring on July.

The year I ruined Valentine’s Day

I didn’t mean to be a jerk on the holiday of love. It just, well, it happened.

It was never destined to be a frosted, heart shaped sort of day at my house. The girls were needy, and I was empty. I slogged through the morning edgy and dry. And then the radio announcer would make a comment, or I’d see my Google search covered in hearts, and something in my brain would cackle that I was supposed to be celebrating my loves.

Vday card 2014We tried. Honest. I took a cute picture of the twins for the grandparents, and made a card on a fun site called Fotor. And when the girls went down for their tiny afternoon nap and Ellis woke up early, we baked cookies. Unfortunately the activity lasted for seven minutes, at the end of which Ellis and I both consumed an unhealthy amount of cookie dough and my kitchen became a shrine to measuring cups and spilled flour.

Meanwhile, my Love with a capital L was in the throes of tonsillitis. He came back from the doctor’s office with a new prescription, a jug of orange juice, and barely enough energy to make it up the stairs before collapsing into bed.

I knew our plans of dinner with friends and snowshoeing were out.  Along with them went my fast-waning patience. The girls cried. The house vomited princess dresses and Mr. Potato Head pieces.

And I wanted nothing to do with this messy, imperfect side of love.

Love was easy in a new dress and candlelight. It readily accepted the flowers and blushed gracefully at the card with its polished sentiments.

Love at 4:17 in the afternoon was grueling. It had unwashed hair and flushed cheeks. It ran out of tolerance as I packed the girls in the van, dropped them off at church’s childcare, and spent the next three hours alone.

***

A few days earlier, it had been my birthday.

If I’m allowed to admit it, I LOVE birthdays. Particularly mine. Because something happens on my birthday that I have a really hard time doing on any other day of the year.

I give myself permission.

Flashback Atlanta 2008, roomie bday breakfast

Flashback Atlanta 2008: roomie birthday breakfast

Let me explain. During college, my roommates and I started this tradition of crazy celebration. The day started with Bruegger’s bagels and bright red strawberries, coffee, coffee, coffee. It ended with the four of us around a restaurant table of really, really good food.

My celebration wasn’t just reserved for mornings and evenings though. One year I ditched class and spent my birthday wandering through the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. The next year I planned my way through IKEA. I bought myself cupcakes from Lund’s, buttercream icing piled high. I never, ever, worked.

Slowly, things changed. My roomies all got married and the bagel tradition fell by the wayside. I stopped taking the day off. I realized, in true I’m-a-grownup-now-fashion, that the expectation of celebration needed to be consistent with life’s current circumstances.

So this year, when my birthday started with my toddler announcing (in her best outside voice), “MOM IT’S NOT DARK OUTSIDE ANYMORE. GET UP!”, I decided to institute a new phrase into my day.

So what? It’s my birthday.

I repeated it, even though the words felt dumb. Yes. This would work.

No one drowned!

Birthday swim day – no one drowned!

The twins were jabbering and cooing in the next room already, so I gathered my girls, made some sort of elephant herding maneuver down the stairs, and settled into the kitchen to make French toast. (The nearest bagel shop is probably 37 miles away.)

And when Ellis spilled syrup all over the floor, I said to myself, So what? It’s my birthday.

When we were half an hour late meeting Jules and crew for our swimming play date and the van was out of gas… So what? It’s my birthday.

When we ate lunch out and both babies started to scream and wanted to eat at the same time?

So what. It’s my birthday.

***

I’m not uptight. I think I just get tangled up in the difference of how things should be versus how they are. (Wait, still? Didn’t we talk about expectations, ahem, a year or so ago?) I guess some character follies just keep coming back up, whack-a-mole style.

That’s a problem. I stink at whack-a-mole, and seeing life in terms of should means I’m using someone else’s measuring stick. When that happens, the results are bound to be different.

Seeing life as it is and accepting it as such means I throw out the measuring stick. It means I stop getting upset when something turns out differently than I expected. It means I give myself and the world around me permission to be imperfect. Not unkind, just imperfect.

In that permission, love can survive. It might be messy. It might have snot stains and markers on its pants. But permissive love doesn’t keep track of what went awry – it simply acknowledges that when things don’t go as planned, when the babies cry and the knight in shining armor is in bed with a fever, it’s not the end of the world.

That love says, “So what”, and then goes on with a certain steadiness. Circumstance may prune it down some days, but the results are always a branching (LM Montgomery) that will, eventually, bloom bright.