Making Butter

Two of my greatest passions in life are history and food. Part of my job description involves teaching people historical skills that are in danger of being lost, and, fortunately for me, many of those skills involve food. We do things like cooking over a fire or in a Dutch oven, canning and preserving, and making butter. I am constantly shocked by how many people have no concept of how butter is made, or even what it is made of. This is such a shame, especially considering how easy it is to make. So I thought I’d make a little photo essay on how to do it.

There’s one ingredient: cream. I usually let my cream sit out for 20 minutes or so before I start, because I find it makes the process go a little faster. Some people say to use cold cream, and others say to let it sit out for up to 12 hours to get a little bacteria action going on. I think it’s probably a matter of preference. Put your cream in a jar. I only fill mine about 1/3 to 1/2 full, but fuller is fine as long as you leave room at the top for shaking (I find that getting it too full makes it harder to shake).

Put the lid on tightly and SHAKE! Some people have a method they swear by, but I just use slow, methodical, and purposeful shakes because it wears me out more slowly than shaking like crazy. The time it takes varies, but after about 5 minutes, you get whipped cream:

Just keep shaking. And shaking. And shaking. And questioning whether it will ever end. And shaking some more. Eventually you’ll have something that looks like this:

You’re so close! Keep going just a minute or so longer, and the butter will completely separate, looking something like this:

Here’s a top view:

Then dump the whole thing out into a strainer over a bowl. The white liquid is buttermilk. It’s not the thick, cultured stuff you’d buy at the store, but it’s still good to use in pancakes or biscuits or whatever you like to use buttermilk in.

Rinse with a little bit of cool water and then paddle it to remove any leftover water or buttermilk. To be honest, I usually just pick it up and squeeze it. If you want to add salt, this is the time. Use kosher salt or sea salt And this is the finished product!


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The Boob Cake

Well, I guess more appropriately, the female torso cake. We have this tradition with A’s family–the Sunday dinner. And since we live right next door, it’s a little hard to make an excuse and stay at home very often. Sometime last week was A’s youngest brother’s 17th birthday, so today was his birthday dinner. We walk into the kitchen and the first thing we see is a cake shaped like a woman, from crotch to chest, wearing nothing but tiny lacy panties and a corset that did not cover her ridiculously large breasts (or missile silos, as A commented).

My first reaction was Wow! What an excellent way to celebrate a 17-year-old’s birthday–by objectifying women. My second reaction was that I was definitely not going to allow my son to see or eat any of that cake. My third, and somewhat unrelated, reaction was Eww, fondant. So we insisted that they hide the cake in the oven during dinner. I just used the excuse that E did not need to see it. I didn’t even tell them how disgustingly revolting I found it, or how I was disappointed in them. I didn’t even mention the phrase “rape culture.” I thought it wouldn’t be a huge deal, because there was another, smaller cake that we could use to sing happy birthday and blow out the candles, and then we could leave and they could enjoy their misogynist dessert.

But of course, it was a huge deal. The youngest brother-in-law pouted and went to his room instead of enjoying his birthday dinner. Everyone else complained about how “They’re just boobs.” And I’m disappointed in myself because I didn’t even bother to argue. No one will ever convince that family of anything.

The episode really got me thinking, though. I have no problem with bodies, either male or female. I’ve always tried to encourage my son to be comfortable with his body, letting him touch himself or run naked when we’re at home. Now that he’s a little older, I don’t go naked in front of him quite as often as I used to, but if he walks in on me naked, I don’t dive for cover. When he asks questions about the differences in people’s bodies, I answer him truthfully and appropriately. The problem with this cake, however, is that they weren’t “just boobies.” They were sexualized “boobies,” with so many more implications.

My big frustration was that in this situation, I didn’t know what to say. I talk to strangers about this kind of stuff all the time, but I froze up with my own family. I guess strangers are usually shocked when you point things out to them, or they just shrug and walk away. My in-laws would have argued until they were blue in the face. And I guess I didn’t feel adequately prepared to argue.

My problems with the cake:
*The fact that it was probably created to prove b-i-l’s masculinity. What is masculinity, anyhow? A made-up concept.
*The fact that the woman’s figure was unattainably proportioned. Enormous breasts, tiny waist, flawless skin. Like women need yet another model that they can’t live up to.
*The fact that the cake literally objectified women. I guess this is where I’m having the most trouble explaining myself. The people in that room had ultimate power over that “woman’s” body–they could play with it, pinch the nipples, stick their fingers in its crotch, cut it, etc., and I’m sure everyone would laugh and play and have a good time while doing it. How big of a step is it from there to doing that to a real woman’s body?

I’m sitting here in intense frustration because I have no idea how to put this into words. Help! What else could I say about this cake, or am I completely off base?

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An update on my kid’s supposed racism

A while back, my son made a statement that would have been incredibly racist had you not know the context. You can read about it here and about the fallout here . To put it simply, my in-laws accused us of raising a baby Hitler. I might be exaggerating.

Anyhow, today E and I visited the library. We came home with this awesome little book called Aunt Flossie’s Hats, which happens to feature black characters. E picked it out on his own, probably because it was on a shelf of featured books, but he did choose it himself. He always chooses his own books, which is why we came home with a pink ballerina book, three books about spiders, one book about dinosaurs, and a snoopy comic, in addition to Aunt Flossie’s Hats. E wanted to show off his picks to “Poppy” and “Mimi,” so we took them next door. The m-i-l was obviously uncomfortable when she saw the book. She asked, “Why did you get him this book? It’s not really…uhh…” Me: “It’s not really what?” Her: “It’s nice that you want to show him other cultures, but–” At this point, the dog came running in and knocked E over, which got us all distracted. Unfortunately, I guess I won’t know what she was trying to say. Honestly, I envisioned her saying something like “This book isn’t really for our demographic.” Aside from the controversy, it’s a great book. You should check it out.

In other news, at the dinner table the other night, one of my brothers-in-law said, “The way to end terrorism is to kill all Muslim children.” First of all, WHAT. THE. FUCK. MAN. What kind of human being says something like that? It made my heart ache in the worst kind of way. Secondly, my son is at the freaking table! Someone else said that I should just tell E that Uncle J is just stupid, but no. That doesn’t satisfy me. My son should not have to be exposed to that kind of hatred from his own family. Sometimes I think my husband’s brothers say things like that just to start an argument, but that’s absolutely no excuse. For god’s sake, say something like “My high school soccer team could beat Arsenal.” That would raise plenty of tempers. You don’t have to involve genocide to get people yelling.

The reason I put these stories out there is to point out the irony of my in-laws accusing me of racism, then practicing it in their everyday lives. Granted, their sons are old enough to form their own opinions, so perhaps the parents aren’t to blame, but in my experience, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and there are dozens more examples that I could bring to the table. I abhor spanking and every other kind of physical violence, but I would smack my 25-year-old son if he every said something like that at my dinner table.

Sorry to go on and on about this. My in-laws accusations hurt me in a number of ways. The outright hypocrisy, for one (see above ^). And of course, I think every first-time parent is probably somewhat self-conscious about their parenting, and criticism doesn’t decrease that feeling. And finally, and perhaps most hurtfully, was basically being accused of propagating values that go against the core of my being. Like any other white, middle-class female, I know that I am constantly unaware of thousands of ways in which I enjoy privileges that other races and socioeconomic classes, along with homosexuals, transgendered people, and many other groups do not, but a big part of my mission in life is to make myself and others aware and to change that status. It’s like my in-laws implied that I’m failing at that mission. But of course, they probably knew that when they made those accusations.


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Filed under Kids & Parenting, Racism

A Tasty Recipe

Yesterday, my best friend got me the most amazing present ever! It was supposed to be for mother’s day, but she was so excited that I got it early. It’s a recipe box, with 20 matching recipe cards. I had a recipe box, but it was really small, and most of my recipes were jotted semi-legibly on scraps of paper. I had been wanting a bigger one for a while now.

Not only was this exactly what I wanted, but she also got herself the same one, and copied down several of her favorite recipes for me. I loved it so much that we spent hours last night copying down recipes for one another, and this morning we decided to go buy more recipe cards.

So, in the spirit of giving, I’m going to share a random recipe. I really like this for nights that I would like to have a home-cooked meal, but I really don’t feel like it. I guess it’s lazy home cuisine. Not the healthiest thing in the world, but better than McD’s, eh?

[This recipe doesn’t really have a title. Meat Muffins, maybe.]
1 lb ground beef
1 box (6 oz.) stovetop stuffing mix
1/2 to 1 cup milk (enough to make it really very moist)
Mix all ingredients together until it’s really very moist. Grease or spray a muffin pan, put meat mixture into the muffin tins, and bake at 350ish until it’s done. Maybe like 30 minutes. Like I said, this is a very lazy recipe. Et voila! Whip up some instant mashed potatoes and a bagged salad, and you have a meal.

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A Birthday Haiku

Probably one of my weirder quirks is that I always think of a haiku while I’m laying in bed before I fall asleep at night. I’m terrible at it, so sometimes it takes a while. Well, I came up with this one last night in honor of my best friend’s birthday. Her birthday isn’t until tomorrow, but I wanted to post it today anyhow.

Creative spirit
Fun fantastic crazy girl
Happy Birthday Rae!

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I have to admit, for the first year or so of my son’s life, I never thought I would be giving any other parent advice on children and sleep. Even though E was a great sleeper, I always felt a little bit guilty because I usually nursed him or rocked him or patted him to sleep. Most people, especially my family, said that I was going to spoil him that way. “Let him learn to go to sleep by himself,” they said, “even if it means a few tears.” I guess I could just never “buck up” enough to ignore my son’s cries, and the critics remained, growing ever louder as my son got older.

Our bedtime routine, from age one until recently was as follows: 7:30, jammies and a book, 8:00, lights out, a bit of quiet discussion about the day, and then singing or patting or lying down with him until he fell asleep. Sometimes it took a long time for him to go to sleep, and it could be frustrating. I have to give tons of credit to my husband, who has done the majority of bedtimes, especially the last two years. I’m not nearly as patient as he is, but when it was my turn to put the little guy to bed, it was my favorite time of day. I loved the adorable things he would share with me, being able to assuage his fears, and especially the deep, even breathing when he finally drifted off.

The other day, however, the strangest thing happened. After we turned the lights off, I had to go to the bathroom, so I told E I’d be right back. When I came back, he was snuggled up tightly with his eyes closed. I whispered, “Are you asleep?” He nodded. I said, “Okay, I’ll come back to check on you in a bit.” And when I did, he was actually asleep. So I decided to try it the next night, and again the next. We’re currently on night number four of this method, and it’s working out well for everyone involved.

I have no doubt that there will be a few more nights that I’m sitting at his bedside, perhaps when he’s sick or had a bad day, but for the most part, it seems like this phase of his life has come to a close, just like when he chose to stop nursing. And rather than viewing this with relief, as I imagine many parents might, I’m of mixed emotions. This means he’s growing up.

And you know what? Four years in, and I have only one regret about the way I’ve put my son to sleep. I regret all that time that I felt guilty for not following the advice of others. I wish I had had the confidence in myself and my parenting to let it go much earlier than I did. I’m glad that I trusted my instinct, because my instinct was right. I’m not going to go into all the reasons that crying it out was wrong (or at least wrong for us), because PhD in Parenting has an excellent article on the subject. [Plus, let’s be honest. I do research for a living and I just can’t bring myself to do more at home in order to prove a point to five people on the internet.] Anyhow, I feel that my son moving on to sleep by himself is just further proof that my values have worked for my son, and not “spoiled” him in any way.

I think part of the reason that our separation is working so well is that E is very good at going to sleep. As far as I know, it’s not something he was born with. We’ve worked very hard on those skills, and I’m afraid that a lot of parents are too focused on the end result (being asleep) and not the process (falling asleep). Our method:

  • The first thing was just teaching him to relax his body, and I mean really relax, not just lie down. We encouraged him to play with his muscles during the day, tightening and relaxing different ones to various degrees so he could see what it feels like.
  • We also encouraged him to get really comfortable in his bed. I always like to ask, “Do you feel like you could fall asleep in that position?”
  • Another was breathing deeply and naturally. My husband and I probably sounded like yoga teachers some nights. “In through the nose and out through the mouth.”
  • Of course, keeping the eyes shut as much as possible. I know that it’s kind of hard when you don’t feel that tired.
  • The final thing (and the thing that I still struggle with sometimes) was encouraging him to erase busy, daytime thoughts from his head, and if he wanted to think of something, to think of something relaxing that he’d like to dream about.

I’m interested in hearing other people’s adventures in sleep. Please share!

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Kids & Racism: The Drama Continues

Because I really enjoy social networking, and especially communing with fellow parents, I posted my experience with my son’s “racism” [see my earlier post] on facebook. I wanted to share my embarrassment, but I also hoped to spark a conversation with other parents about how they handle the issue of race. Several friends responded, I got some valuable feedback, and I really hope that it inspired some reflection in at least one person.

The incident and the ensuing facebook post happened weeks ago, and it had basically been erased it from my mind. That is, until yesterday. My husband called me, and in a very calm but serious voice asked me if I had some time to talk. One of my brothers-in-law had seen the post on my facebook. I’m not sure how he felt about it, but he told my mother-in-law, who immediately called my husband, demanding to know “what on earth we are teaching that child.”

My husband was more furious that I have ever know him to be. I had filled him in on every detail of the incident, and rather than freak out like I did, he knew immediately that my son was simply categorizing things [in this case people] in his usual way. He agreed with my approach, and we’ve both made a point of having more frequent (yet casual) discussions about the many differences in people.

In that moment, I was absolutely disgusted with my mother-in-law. I’ve never liked her much, and I’ve long suspected that the feeling was mutual, but I thought things had been warming between us. First of all, she hadn’t seen the post, only heard about it second-hand. Second of all, I absolutely cannot believe she would make those assumptions about my husband and me. Has she freaking met us? Thirdly, while she is not one of the most racist people I know,  I’ve heard her (and her other sons) make negative remarks about Muslims, blacks, and even Jews! [My husband and I, as well as my father-in-law, are Jewish.]

And finally, (as I come to my real point) kids do things like that. Though I’m not a specialist in child development, I work with children every day, and it seems to me that children about this age are always categorizing things. The kids that I work with seem to especially like looking for divisions between people who are like them, and people who are different from them. “I’m a boy, and she’s a girl. I’m a child, and you’re an adult. I am on the blue team, and he’s on the red team.” They also make up rules to go along with this distinctions, such as pink is only for girls, this toy is not for adults, etc., and get very upset when someone breaks those rules. Again, I’m no expert, but it could be a way of distinguishing their own identity in the world, and perhaps somewhat of a evolutionary feature–as in a more “primitive” society, people or things who look different from their parents and caretakers could potentially be dangerous.

I’ve noticed that lately E seems to have latched on to these rigid differences and arbitrary rules, and I have basically chalked his “racist” episode to this tendency. What do you think?

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Filed under Kids & Parenting, Racism