I hate taking my daughter to the playground. In my pre-child life, I would walk past parks with playgrounds and see parents standing around with coffee cups in hand, visiting and laughing while their kids scampered over the equipment and ran, laughing and holding hands across the sand. At least that’s what I remember.
My actual experience of taking my own small child to the playground is something like this. Before she could walk, I would sit on a blanket on the lawn under the shade of a tree in a circle of other moms while we shared snacks and stories. The hardest part was keeping the kids from mashing their snack into another kid’s face. Mostly we never left the blanket. It was lovely!
But then she became mobile.
Even before she could walk, my child was determined to climb. I could lift her to the top of the slide and hold her while she rode down, but at the bottom she’d flip herself over and scramble back up the slope as far as she could. Even on the new “less-dangerous” plastic slides we have around here, there was a high risk of her slipping down and off the edge, probably catching her chin on the way down.
Stairs are for climbing, clearly, but even on the toddler-sized equipment in my neighborhood park (where “toddler” means "too big for my child"), the stairs were half her body high and the platform at the top had one long open edge at the height of my shoulder. Still, she could climb those stairs on all fours faster than I could get up them on two and she did not inherit my fear of nights and edges. And then, of course, I’m at the top of the slide with her and we all know it is dangerous to go down a slide with a child on our lap, but what do I do now? She isn’t going to wait for me to climb back down to be ready to catch her before she launches herself down that delicious slope.
And don’t even get me started about the big kids who chase each other through the little kid equipment, pushing the babies out of the way as they go. I feel like a grumpy old mama but I really want to tell them to get back to their own quadrant of the park to play with kids their own size.
Also, there never seems to be any shade over the play equipment. The slides get hot. The rails get hot. Mama gets hot. Mama hates getting hot.
So mostly we just don’t go to the park. This truth is on my personal list of my failings as a mom. No baby book. No swimming lessons. No parks.
Last weekend, though, we went to Oktoberfest in Campbell with my sister and her husband. We parked a few blocks away at the Campbell Community Center. After we left the festival, Bean really needed to stretch her legs a bit after being confined in her stroller and before I strapped her into the car for the 40 minute drive home. So I released her to run on the lawn next to the pool. That was fun for a minute, but she’s an explorer, so she wandered off down the path and I followed with the stroller a short distance behind. The Community Center is an old, pretty complex of buildings with wide, shady paths and mature landscaping. Late on a Sunday afternoon the place was pretty quiet and we had most of the complex to ourselves.
She was in little Bean heaven. She’d go up the steps to a door, check the handle, come back down. Run up the wheelchair ramp to the next door, peek at me through the bars, then wander back down. Up onto a bench, around a tree, jump off the edge of the concrete into the flowerbed. I could see her practicing all of her large motor skills - all the things playgrounds are good for - but in a context that didn’t freak me out. No hot slides that slide too fast and launch my baby into tan bark. No shoulder-high unprotected edges just waiting for her to step too close. No big kids racing past and pushing her down.
Ironic, isn’t it, that an environment not at all designed for small children turned out to be a much safer and interesting playground than the actual playground?
Now I just need to find a similar place for her to explore in my own community. Because I don’t think I’m going to get over my loathing of the park playground until she’s, oh, I don’t know, 16 maybe.
Where do your kids like to play that isn’t the park?
Once, when I was about seven, my father fed me
dog food. Not out of neglect or
malice, but because I asked him to.
We lived in the country, in a trailer leveled off
a hillside on cinderblock and iron piers.
Our dogs, two German Shepherds with the stateliness of their breed
watered down by the mongrel who sired them, lived under the porch built off the
side of the trailer. In the log
golden sun of the evening that summer, I would walk out with my father after
dinner to feed them. Their food
was stored in a metal trashcan, like the one Oscar lived in on Sesame
Street. It had a lid fit tight
enough to keep the raccoons out and I couldn’t lift it on my own. In addition,
a bungee cord was hooked to the handle on either side of the can and run
through the top handle of the lid.
Dad would unhook the cord and pry off the lid and
I would use the plastic milk jug cut into the shape of a scoop to fill the
dogs’ metal food bowl. The dogs
were always excited to be fed and the small one would bounce around us. I tried to keep my dad between me and
her so she didn’t knock me over.
Elsa, the older dog, was a bit more patient, but her head was always in
the bowl before the rattle of kibble on metal finished. The last few pieces would fall across
her muzzle and leave dust in her eyebrows.
That night I stood there with the milk scoop
dangling from my fingers and watched the dogs scarfing down their food. It didn’t look exciting to me. The pieces were round, about the size
of my big toe. They looked hard
and dry. There was always a
crumbly, dusty film on the food scoop after I used it. But the dogs were chowing down like it
was the best thing they’d ever tasted.
I kept my eyes on the dog food bowls because I
didn’t want to see him laugh at me. “What does dog food taste like?”
“I don’t know. I’ve never tried it.” I glanced up. Dad looked over and lifted his eyebrows at me, but he wasn’t
laughing. “Would you like to find out?”
I wrinkled my nose. “But it is dog food. We can’t eat dog food.”
“Well, dogs eat people food sometimes.” I couldn’t argue with him there. Elsa
was always begging for whatever food I happened to carry outside with me. “Let’s go look at the bag to see what’s
in it,” Dad said. “If it won’t
make us sick, we can give it a try.”
Assured after reading the ingredients listed on
the back of the 50 pound bag of kibble in the shed, that our dogs were
basically eating people food in dog format I agreed that I’d try it. But only if he did, too. Of course he
would, he said.
We sat down on the wooden steps of our porch,
feet in the dust at the bottom. We
each took one little ball of dog food in our fingers. I rolled mine back and forth between index finger and
thumb. It felt hard and just a
little greasy. Not quite perfectly
round. Like it had been extruded
and then sliced before whatever cooking process made it crunchy. Little crumbles stuck to my
fingers. I smelled it. It didn’t smell good, but not really
bad, either. It just smelled like
“You first,” I said.
“Together,” he countered. “Ready? One, two,” he paused, to make
sure I was going to continue. I nodded.
We each put the piece of food in our mouths. I held mine between my molars. I couldn’t bring myself to let my
tongue touch it. Dad was chewing
his. His beard vibrated over his
cheeks as he worked the crunchy texture.
I gently bit down, just enough to break the hard ball apart.
I can’t tell you what it tasted like. I have no
memory of the flavor. I couldn’t get past my mind shouting “You are eating dog
food! That’s so gross!” And yet, I
was watching my dad calmly eating dog food, too. He could have been tasting
wine, or considering whether his soup needed more salt. His face betrayed no hint of the oddity
of the situation. He swallowed.
“So, what do you think?” he asked. I still couldn’t read his face.
I leaned over and spat the soggy mouthful into the dirt. “I can’t do it,” I said.
chuckled. “Yeah,” he said, “That tasted pretty bad. I’m glad I’m not a dog.” He stood and brushed off the seat of his jeans before
reaching for my hand. “Ready to go
This week got a heartbreaking email from Mandi at Life Your Way, whose Easy Homemade book I recently shared with you. She shared a story about the Barlow family. I don't know them, but my heart aches with them. It is this kind of scary unknowable possibility that most days I avoid thinking about but other days keeps me awake at night.
Wanting to do something tangible, Mandi gathered several bloggers together to put their ebooks in a bundle and sell it to benefit the Barlow Family. This ebook bundle is $5. She called on her larger network of bloggers to help promote it. None of us is getting a cut here–100% of the proceeds will go to Jenny and her kids. Here are the ebooks included:
While my friend Joan was exploring China last month, I contributed a post for her blog with recipes for three chilled soups. Late in the season for chilled soups you say? September is sweltering in Japan, and our Indian summer is kicking in here, too. It was 82 degrees today with not a hint of the fog that chills our *actual* summer days!
Hop on over and enjoy if is it hot where you live, too!
I also had an article on preserving food published by Eucalyptus Magazine last month. You can read it here or scroll down to the bottom of that page to launch the full-page viewer for the full magazine experience. If you live in the San Jose area you can pick up a real (free!) copy at your local Whole Foods.
I scheduled this post on my calendar the week that I brought home water kefir grains. I imagined that I would be posting a beautiful tutorial about how to start your own water kefir and you all would be so impressed with my oh-so-healthy hippy mama-ness and my excellent flavor combinations and pretty bottles all lined up in a row.
And then reality intervened. I’m 3 weeks into this project and I don’t actually have one successful batch of brewed water kefir to show you.
Let me back up. It all started with an article I wrote back in June about canning and preserving that will be published next month. A couple of the people I interviewed talked about fermenting various things, like pickles, cabbage, milk, and water. Water? In my general research, I kept coming across water kefir, which I hadn’t heard of before. Suddenly I’m running across water kefir everywhere, just like suddenly I started seeing babies everywhere the week after I got two lines on the pee stick.
Like milk kefir, which I’m familiar with from my childhood, water kefir is fermented with starter bacteria, in the form of grains or crystals. You start with sugar water and after the little bacterias are finished eating the sugar, the remaining liquid is light and slightly fizzy, filled with healthy probiotics, and not very sweet. A lot of people drink it as an alternative to soda. We don’t drink soda anyway, but I tried some lemon-ginger kefir water that I found at my local health-food store and really liked it. I’m aware of how good probiotics are for the body but I don’t really like kombucha and milk kefir is just too rich for me to drink regularly. But at $3.50 a bottle on sale, drinking purchased water kefir was not going to be sustainable habit either.
How hard could this be to make myself, right? It is just fermented water. I live in Santa Cruz and almost everyone I know has something or other fermenting on their kitchen counter. On purpose, even!
I found some dehydrated grains and followed the instructions to rehydrate them. I searched through a few blogs and found a straightforward recipe for a first and second ferment cycle that looked like it would produce something very similar to what I had been buying. I filled up my special half-gallon Ball jar with sugar water, poured in my little grains (I can’t help but imagine them with smiling little faces after all the time I have recently spent researching on this web page) and sat back to wait.
After one 48-hour cycle nothing much had happened, but I had read it might take a couple of cycles for dehydrated grains to really “wake up,” so I poured out that batch and put the grains in fresh sugar water. This batch I let go a little too long and it started to smell bad. So that one got poured out, too. The third batch seemed ok. It smelled slightly yeasty, which I had read was expected, and it tasted ok. But no fizz. I strained out the grains and moved them to a new jar of sugar water and started a second ferment cycle by adding a bit of juice to the kefired water and putting them into sealed bottles. Two days later and still no fizz. And the water seemed thicker than I remembered the stuff from the store being. The consistency was kind of like maple syrup. It didn’t taste bad, but it didn’t really taste good, either. But I blamed the juice, which I didn’t even really like plain. I threw out that batch, too.
I persevered. Every two days last week I started a fresh batch of sugar water and moved the grains to it. I bottled up the finished water for a second ferment cycle, then moved the bottles into the fridge after another 48 hours of brewing. I did start getting a bit of bubble in the second cycle, but the water was still thick and just not what I was expecting. And my grains were not multiplying. Every resource I’d seen indicated an indicator of a healthy colony is that the grains multiply like crazy
Finally, last night, I decided that I was doing something wrong. I poured all of my syrupy not-water-kefir down the sink and turned to Google for some deeper research.
The problem with using the internet for research is that there is just so much information out there. I found many more recipes that differed in slight, but possibly important ways from the one I had started with. One said you should never use filtered water but instead use tap water and boil it first if your city uses chlorine. Another said always use filtered water because tap water contains chemicals that are bad for the grains and they can't be boiled out. One said always rinse the kefir grains between batches, another said never rinse them. One said never use refined white sugar to make the sugar water and another said that white sugar is the best “resting” sugar and you should use it every 3-5 cycles to let your grains regenerate. Some said the initial ferment should be in an open container and other said it should be tightly lidded. Some recipes said that you must use a quarter of a lemon and a handful of raisins in the initial ferment and others said that you shouldn’t put anything other than sugar in that ferment and that all flavorings should be added to the second ferment cycle. One resource seemed to indicate that the thick water was a result of too many minerals in the source water and another said to add a scoured eggshell to the batch (a common source of minerals) if the kefir was coming out thick.
So now I’m overwhelmed with information but still don’t have a solution. This morning I started a new batch with half sugar and half maple syrup in the same kind of water I had been using before and rinsed the grains really well in clear water before transferring them. I’m going to cycle the batch every 24 hours for three days and then try another 48-hour ferment with filtered water and a quarter of a lemon to see what happens. If that doesn’t work I’ll try without the lemon but with eggshell or mineral drops.
And if that doesn’t work, I’m going to chuck these grains and start over again with a fresh batch.
All I can say is that right now I’m feeling like a bit of a failure as a fermenter!
Have you made water kefir? Do you have any advice for me?