Category Archives: Housewifery

Feeding Our Families ~ Economics

We recently embarked on a whole family homeschooling project.  It was a little bit practical math, a little home ec. and a lot of honing of critical thinking skills.  The premise was really very simple, it’s easy to figure out how much we spend on groceries in a given week or month, our goal here was to figure out where exactly that money goes.

For two weeks, we calculated the cost of each and every meal we ate.  We kept all of the receipts in an envelope, on a clipboard, along with our lists.  When we sat down to a meal or snack someone would grab the clip board and a calculator and off we would go.  We included every ingredient that it was reasonably possible to figure out a monetary sum for.  Where we would normally “drizzle” something or add a “splash”, we started measuring that drizzle or splash and then figuring out exactly how much said drizzle of olive oil cost.  We added in the cost of a teaspoon of vanilla and a tablespoon of lemon juice.

There were a few things that were really beyond our ability to figure out, at least without driving ourselves crazy.  I drew the line at trying to calculate the cost of salt per meal, as monitoring and measuring each individual’s salt usage seemed a bit much.  I also have no way of knowing how much it cost to make a jar of peach jam last year.  Nor do I have much of a chance at figuring out the cost of bananas, bought by the case months ago and frozen.  Without knowing exactly how many bananas were in the case, it’s hard to say what the three we added into our smoothie amounted to.  But we were able to figure out mostly everything else.  We came up with a grand total for each meal and then divided it by the number of people eating to get a price per person.  At the end of the day we did a full day total.  If a by product of the food got used again, we went back and marked the original entry with an X, allowing us to really see what gave us the most bang for our buck, if you will.  So the roast chicken from Monday gets an X when I make hash on Tuesday and another when I make stock on Wednesday and so forth.   The results were surprising!

I’ve always felt guilty about making my cashew yogurt.  Cashews are expensive after-all.  But it turns out that a container of cashews being the basis for an entire meal made for one of our lowest cost per-person meals.  One of our highest?  Brussels sprouts!  This never would have occurred to me, as I always think of eating more vegetables as being cost effective.  Granted on this occasion we did add in bacon, which didn’t help the cost.  Because they are priced by the pound, we had been just scooping them into a bag, until we had a meals worth, without realizing we had packed away like $16 worth of sprouts!  All of which disappeared in a single sitting easily, without so much as a leftover to redeem itself by.  Now Brussels are out of season in our area at the moment and we normally wouldn’t be buying them at all at this time of year, but there was a special request and we obliged.  It’s like when a house guest came to me concerned because a 1/2 lb of spinach had been left out on the table and the kids kept coming by and taking huge fistfuls.  Seriously, what am I going to do, stop my kids from eating spinach?  I think not.  Like wise, they ask for Brussels sprouts as a special treat (really, I’m not making this up) and I wouldn’t think twice about putting them on the list, at least that is, until now.

It turns out that we don’t save nearly as much as I had hoped growing all of our greens for six months of the year.  Not that I have any intention of stopping, but that was a disheartening discovery.

What to do with all of this information?  Well it’s helping us to better define what we should enjoy occasionally as a treat and what we should focus on as everyday foods.  It seems that a couple of our regular meals were huge money drains.  It has also helped to shape our garden plans.  Hint: we’re growing a lot of Brussels sprouts.  I think that knowing exactly how much a teaspoon of vanilla extract costs is just the kick in the pants I needed to finally, finally start making my own, after years of just talking about it.  The whole thing was a really empowering and educational experience and I strongly recommend it to others.          

Just because I feel like I should have some actual food represented in my Feeding Our Families post, here we have a Blackened Salmon Bowl (served on a plate!).  In theory this should be an expensive meal.  However, by cutting out some of the more expensive ingredients, i.e. no truffle oil, using salmon that was purchased in season during a sale, playing up the veggies and serving it alongside asparagus from our garden, it was actually quite reasonable and very enjoyable.

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Feeding Our Families: Planning, Planning, Planning

Swiss chard and leeks

Thumbprint Cookies- we used this recipe.  The recipe is only so-so, but it’s fun for each of the kids to be able to mix up their own batch.  We topped them with some of our mixed berry jam before baking and served them with home-made cashew milk.

This month I’m mostly trying to get back on track here; in the kitchen and in life, stepping out of that newborn haze and back into real hands-on, nitty-gritty Life.  I seem to have convinced myself that if I plan everything out just so and am meticulously organized, then everything will go smoothly at all times.  Ha!  As if meeting the physical, emotional, educational, nutritional, social, spiritual needs of 7 people on a daily basis, year in and year out, could possibly be effortless!  But there you have it.  This is the way my brain works sometimes.  The fact remains that it certainly can’t hurt to be a little more organized.  With that goal in mind, over the last couple of weeks I’ve been slowly (very slowly, I do everything slowly these days, hence my usual Monday post appearing mid-day on Thursday…) working on creating a master grocery list.  This is a document that I’m typing up of any and all items that we might buy on a semi-regular basis at various food stores.  The idea being that every week I can print a new one out, post it on the fridge and check off things as we run out.  Also having everything right in front of me will hopefully help with my constantly forgetting little odds and ends, resulting in extra shopping trips.  I will see all the possibilities right in front of me, and therefore (hopefully! fingers crossed!) be reminded.  And as a side benefit, poor Steve won’t have to try to interpret my hand writing, which isn’t the best to begin with and these days is mostly done on a book, balanced on my knee, while trying to contort around a nursing babe….a situation that is not likely to improve it’s quality.

My other project is to get back to meal planning.  Somehow I fell out of this habit and we were really so much better off when I was keeping up with a seasonal meal plan.  You can read more about my meal planning process here.  I’m also looking to update our breakfast menu for the season, but feeling rather uninspired on that front, so suggestions are welcome!  Thus far we’ve switched out our hot cereal for a lighter and cooler grain-free granola.

Also on my mind this month is getting the garden off to a good start.  The couple of photos above are from syrup making this year, because really that’s our very first harvest of the growing season.  It wasn’t the best year, between the strange weather and the timing.  We sugared off once at the very end of my pregnancy.  Seraphina’s first trip outside was to sit fireside during the day long process of evaporation.  Followed by one more somewhat disastrous attempt right before Easter.

The garden is coming along.  Largely thanks to the efforts of the older children.  Though something ate many of our starts, while they were still inside (!).  That was a completely new one for me.  I still have no idea what got to them.

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Feeding Our Families- Postpartum Meal Planning Part 2

postpartum vignette: knitting, book, food, baby

Some of the meals I ended up making and freezing:

Shepheard’s Pie

Pork and Apple Bake (2)

Lemon-Olive Chicken with broccoli

Beef Bolognese (5 quarts)

Carrot-Ginger-Coconut Muffins (2 batches)

Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins (2 batches)

Creamed Spinach (modified with safe for us ingredients)

Honey Sesame Chicken and Broccoli

Chicken Apple Curry* (2)

Peach Chicken*

Apple Pie (2)

I also made a list of the food that we still had available from the harvest this year; apple sauce, jams, chutney, roasted tomatoes and a bag of zucchini muffins that turned up when we rearranged things in the freezer.

I had plans to make more but a couple of friends were talking about maybe dropping off a few freezer meals and I wanted to be sure we still had room for them.  That didn’t actually happen, but two dear friends did drop us off some lovely fresh food, which provided us with salads and soups to pad out our meals.  Also the most wonderful nut and fruit bars that turned out to be the perfect solution for those middle of the night, suddenly ravenous, nursing mama moments.  I really must get the recipe for those!

*I’ll try to post recipes for these at some point.

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Preparing

birth tub trial run

I had a plan for my post on this, the first day of spring.  It was going to be all about spring green, a little bit of knitting, a little bit of life.  Only as it turns out, life at the moment doesn’t include enough sunlight to properly photograph knitwear.

Yesterday we took a walk through sleet to see the new lambs.  This morning we woke up to an ice storm.  Waking being relative for those of us who didn’t spend much of the night asleep.  Part of the plan for today was a project involving tracking the movement of the sun across the sky.  So much for that.  Thwarted again.

I’m finishing up little odds and ends on my “to-do” list.  Six weeks or so ago I was having a little private nervous breakdown regarding the over-whelming list of things that I felt had to be completed in a short period of time.  I started talking to Steve about it and in an effort to talk me down he asked me what one thing we could start working on to make me feel better.  I looked at him like a deer in the headlights and after several anguished moments finally said, “we could prioritize all the things that need to be done”.  He may have laughed.  Then he suggested I make a list and we would look at it together.  When he checked back in I had a list six pages long with no less then three entries that referenced other lists for details.  Everything from registering the kids for baseball and working out our beef order for the year to rearranging car seats, lanolizing diaper covers and making mobiles, with a couple of pages of knitting, sewing and home improvement projects in between. I don’t think he was expecting that.  He looked at me somewhat flabbergast.  I said something along the lines of, “see???  This is how my brain always works, and you wonder why I panic sometimes?!?!?”  To which he replied, “Yeah, no, my brain does not work this way at all, it’s mostly just a blank page with occasional old song lyrics scrolled across.”  This for the record isn’t even remotely true.  Just last week he drove past his exit on his way home from the job that he’s had for ten years now because he was so preoccupied with trying to solve a technical problem he encountered that day.  But it is most definitely true that we tend to fixate on entirely different sorts of things.

At this point I feel like the tremendous list is mostly under control.  All of the really important stuff anyway, as I keep reminding myself over and over (and over) again.  There is some food in the freezer.  After an epic battle with both moths and mice, from what turned out to be a very poor storage solution, I now have the ability to actually cloth and diaper a baby, at least for a little while.  Fruit trees have been ordered.  The midwives have been paid.  There are trays of seedlings on our window sills.  Herbal baths and tea blends have been mixed.  New slings have been sewn.    I have homeschooling plans all worked out, though I fear that I haven’t done enough.  I always worry that I haven’t done enough.  There is always more that could be done.  And so I keep telling myself, over and over again, that we are ready enough.  That we’ll get by.  All is fine.  Anything else that I manage is just a bonus.  Sometimes (rarely), I even manage to believe myself.

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maybe

Just maybe, spring might come eventually.  I’m starting to think it might be possible.  It feels like there has been a bit of a shift.  More light.  Thank goodness for the light!  Usually the grey of winter doesn’t really get to me, but this year, oh this year, it honestly felt oppressive.  I’m currently reading this book, with the optimistic hope that we’ll be hitting mud season ourselves soon.  Strange to be looking forward to mud and muck and constantly needing to mop.  But the fact is making the transition from heaps of snow to fields of flowers means a good bit of mud in-between.  So I say bring on the mud!  I’m not very far into the book, but it’s made me laugh several times already, that seems like a good sign.  As a side note: I’m looking to stock my nightstand with post-baby reading material, nothing too, too serious or too intense.  Any good book suggestions?

Other good signs; the sap is running!  We have quite a few trees tapped at this point, with buckets being emptied into barrels before bedtime each night.  And the birds….the birds are different now.  There are robins about.  Rosebud stood at the window scolding them last week for being silly enough to come out into the snow.  The occasional purple finch stops by our feeder.  The boys have reported hearing phoebes calling when they go out to chop wood.  Even the winter birds seem to be more active.  Last week we saw a pileated woodpecker, a barred owl and a bald eagle in a two day span.

Màiri and I have been working on some little embroidery projects.  Late in the afternoon, when I need to put my feet up for a bit, we sit side by side and stitch away.

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Feeding Our Families ~ Postpartum Meal Planning

When Iain was born there was just the two of us to feed and absolutely zero thought was given to planning food for the postpartum period.  Steve would come home with plastic cups full of prepared fresh fruit salad from the grocery store and we’d eat baked potatoes and pasta in bed and I don’t believe it felt like a strain at all.

By the time Elijah came along I had made some serious dietary changes.  Our kitchen life wasn’t quite so easy anymore.  We had just moved and the situation over-all wasn’t ideal.  It was really Steve’s first time caring for Iain alone and I think that was kind of over-whelming.  It’s not that he wasn’t an involved father before, he’s always been that.  It’s just there was no real need for him to be involved in the day to day caring aspects.  He would come home from work and everything would be under control.  There might be a couple of dishes to do, but otherwise he was free to devote his time to playing with and reading to our little guy.  This time around things felt stressful.  We ate a lot of prepared food the first couple of days, that did not do well by our bellies and I really felt pressured (not at all by Steve, just by the situation) to be back to “normal” much sooner then was reasonable and I seriously paid for it health-wise.

I was ill for much of my pregnancy with Galen and very worried about being able to care for everyone after.  With the memory of our last experience in mind I went manic- Type A and prepared a binder full of several weeks worth of food schedules.  Every possible detail was in there, right on down to how to prepare the herbal baths and infusions from the blends I had made during my pregnancy.

With Màiri our life circumstances were such that I couldn’t have possibly done anything in advance to prepare.  Every day was full to overflowing with just the tasks that needed to be accomplished to survive that day.  Luckily we had a wonderful community around us that organized around 3 weeks worth of home-cooked dinners for us, for which I will be forever grateful.

And here we are again, with more dietary restrictions then ever and more mouths to feed.  We have no real community nearby to speak of at them moment.  From the beginning I’ve felt that I would need to be really thoroughly prepared if things are to run smoothly after the baby comes.  And I thought the timing of this post would be just perfect because by the beginning of March, surely I would have just about everything in order.  While I’m not truly expecting this baby anytime soon (I tend to have very long pregnancies), the fact is we’re at the point where any time is fair game.

And so, as of yesterday this is what I had to share with you….

Pictures of snowmen.  Do I get any kind of credit for the snowmen having carrot noses?  These ones were supposed to be our family, in snowman form, on an unfortunately melt-y day.  Some of us didn’t make out too well.

And this one appeared outside my window to cheer me up on a day when I wasn’t feeling well…

Complements of Iain and Elijah, dear sweet souls.

In other words I was pretty much no where.  I believe I had two meals in the basement freezer.  Which is enough to get us through all of 2/3 of a day, provided nobody needs a snack.

I started off well.  In autumn when we were putting up the bounty of our garden, I did a lot of baking to preserve food with this time in mind; zucchini bread, chocolate zucchini bread, roasted pumpkin muffins.  One day I got well into making a large batch of apple sauce, only to discover I was out of canning lids, and so I made batch after batch of applesauce muffins instead.  The problem was that between then and now there have been more then enough occasions where we’ve just needed to grab something quick when running out the door or I was in need of an easy middle of the night snack, that, well every single last one of those things is long gone.

Trying to get back on track now, yesterday I spent the entire afternoon making Beef Bolognese.  I used the recipe found at the bottom of this page, times six, switching out coconut milk for the cream.

Currently there is a double batch of Carrot-Ginger-Coconut Muffins cooling on the counter and headed for the freezer.

I’m making lists.  I’m a great one for making lists you know.  I can plan and plan until the sun comes down, it’s the follow through that is sometimes lacking.  I have a list going of easy to prepare foods.  A list of food the kids don’t mind cooking and a list of foods to try to freeze.  I’m measuring out all the ingredients for our Wednesday morning hot cereal and storing it in jars with cooking instructions, making sauces and freezing chicken in them so that it can marinate and be ready to cook as it thaws.  We’ll have baking day twice this week, eating just a bit and freezing the rest.  And whenever I can I’ll be doubling the meals I make and freezing half.

I would love to hear other people’s experiences with postpartum meal planning.  What worked for you?  What didn’t?  Any fabulous meal suggestions?

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how to cook Thanksgiving dinner from scratch (without losing your mind)

Let me start by saying that this post was completely unplanned.  If I had planned on writing it, I would have done it a couple of weeks ago to help people prepare.  Instead what happened was that I was deep in my own preparations, when I thought back to previous years and the fact that I occasionally get this question from readers, and I thought huh, maybe I should just write a post.  So if this is coming too late to be of much help to you this year, maybe it will be of help next year.*

All photos from years gone by.

Cooking such a large meal from scratch is a major undertaking, but it needn’t be stressful.  The key to success, as with so many other things in life, is careful planning.

Plan on doing your shopping the week before Thanksgiving.
You’ll save yourself the stress of crowded stores and have everything you need on hand well in advance making it easier to do a little bit at a time.

Make a detailed menu

Before you shop you need to know what to buy.  Before you can know what to buy, you need to know what you are making!  Write out a full menu.  Don’t forget sauces and drinks.

Determine amounts

There are calculators all over the internet to help you determine how big a turkey you need and so forth.

Plan for leftovers 

You don’t want to spend all of this time making a single meal that’s going to be gone in one sitting.  After all that time in the kitchen, I know that I’m all for taking a day or two off.  In our family, the day after Thanksgiving, after the guests have left, is traditionally devoted to laying low; playing board games, sledding with leftover pie for breakfast!

Once you have your menu and amounts determined, it’s time to make your list.  Look at the recipe for each thing on your menu, one at a time, and make sure you have every ingredient you will need.

Consider bake ware and other supplies

Do you have a large enough pan to roast the size turkey you are trying to cook?  Do you own two pie pans, but plan on making four pies?  Do certain recipes require twine or cheesecloth?  Make plans to buy or borrow whatever you need.

Clean out your refrigerator

I can’t stress this one enough.  Probably best done before your big shopping trip.  Eat up all of the leftovers. If you have multiples of the same item, try to condense containers.  Organize everything to make the most of your space.  Fair warning: you will be re-organizing many times over the next several days to make everything fit.  Save some time and energy by starting off with a fair bit of open space.

Make a schedule

There are a lot of considerations here.  Some things can be made in advance, some can’t.  Only so much can fit in a single oven or refrigerator at once and different dishes need to cook at different temperatures.  It’s something of a balancing act to be sure.  Come up with a basic plan that seems to work.  Write it down.  Don’t even think about trying to keep it all in your head.  More on this below.

Make your base ingredients in advance.
What I mean by “base ingredient” is any ingredient that you need to make something else.  So if you make your own ghee, cheese, pumpkin puree, bread, broth, etc, make a nice big batch in advance so that when you go to make say, stuffing, it’s not actually making 4 or 5 things, it’s just making stuffing.

Consider your assets 

Does your oven have a warming tray?  Do you have a double oven? (if so, lucky you!)  Does your mother-in-law live right next store, making her kitchen possibly available to you as well?  Are there certain dishes you can prepare in the crockpot, freeing up oven space?

Start cooking well in advance

No one wants to spend all day Thanksgiving in the kitchen while everyone else visits and enjoys themselves.  Plan on having as much ready as possible so that you can do the bare minimum on the actual day of.

Think of easy ways to pad out the meal

If you have a lot of guests coming and you put up a lot of apple sauce this year, put a few jars out on the table.  There is no extra work for you and everyone has another dish to sample.

Enlist help

Can you do it all yourself?  Yeah, actually, you can.  There have been years that I’ve done it out of necessity.  But it’s always nicer to have an extra set of hands around and someone to chat with while you work.

Wear an apron

Just trust me on this one.

To put it all together in an example, this is the menu and schedule for our family this year.

Menu

Bacon Wrapped Turkey

Stuffing

Gravy

Steak

Twice Baked Potatoes

Cranberry Sauce

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Squash

Sparkling Cider

Sparkling Grape Juice

Apple Pie

Pumpkin Pie

And our schedule:

Friday

clean out the refrigerator

shopping

Monday

cook pumpkin (the last one from our garden)

make pumpkin puree- there are some nice instructions here.

make cranberry sauce

Tuesday

start chicken stock- to have on hand for gravy and stuffing later in the week

thaw bread

harvest (out of the snow!) and prepare brussel sprouts- I don’t cook them at this point, just chop and season them and store them in a baking pan in the fridge, all ready to slide into the oven Thursday morning.

make ghee

Wednesday

thaw steak- for the non-turkey lovers- I usually do a roast in the crockpot, but steak was requested this year making day of oven timing extra tricky, we’ll see how it goes!

brine turkey- I use this brine- I have a large stockpot that fits the size turkey we usually get.  I tie and tape the lid on tightly and store it on the porch overnight, as it’s always cold enough here at this time of year.

make stuffing- again just preparing, not cooking

first bake the twice bakeds- this is Steve’s specialty, he’s even mastered a dairy free version for us.  On this day the potatoes get baked, the filling gets made and they are stuffed, all ready to be heated through on Thanksgiving.

And Iain, who acted as secretary when we sat down to make a schedule as a family wrote:

“pie, pie, pie, pie, pie and more pie”

The kids and I usually make and decorate all of our pies on Wednesday night.

Thursday

Set out cider to chill first thing- our cider also tends to get chilled on the porch, unless there happens to be room in the fridge.

Prepare the turkey for roasting.  I use this recipe.

Cook turkey and steak, heat up everything else.

Put in the squash to cook.  If there is room in the refrigerator I’ll cut it and de-seed it the night before.  If not it’s not a big deal to do it the day of.

Make gravy right before dinner is served.

And that’s it.  As you can see there is no one day that contains an over-whelming amount of work, instead a little bit gets done and put away each day.

A very happy Thanksgiving to one and all!

*We had a surprise snowstorm, causing Steve to work from home and me to not have computer access, so now it’s really, really late!

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domestic scenes

A bit of sewing, a bit of knitting, a little nature, some kid art (the wood-burned horse above was a gift from Iain), a simple experiment and some apple pie.  Oh, and that funny somewhat cryptic looking letter above?  It’s code doncha know.  The latest craze around our house involved various people writing messages in code to be broken by others.  With letters just randomly appearing where ever the intended recipient is most likely to find it.

I just finished reading Clear Your Clutter with Feng Shui: Free Yourself from Physical, Mental, Emotional and Spiritual Clutter Forever by Karen Kingston, as highly recommended by a friend.  A bit of a mouthful that title!  I’m in the midst of a HUGE decluttering kick.  Call it nesting if you like.  It was a nice little motivator to be reading while working through things.  Anyone have any other simplifying/decluttering book recommendations?  There’s still a lot to be done here!  There are so many things in life, that I have absolutely no control over, that are so very painfully complicated.  This I have control over.  I don’t want my home and caring for it to be complicated.  Less is more.

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gathering in

Some of these pictures are current and some are many months old, showing the season’s progress.

The garlic came in months ago and hung in our pantry to dry.  I finally brought it down, trimmed it, cleaned up the heads and sorted the bulbs for eating from the ones for planting.  We’re hoping to grow around 80 heads next year ::fingers crossed!::.

It seems like it took forever to finally have enough ripe tomatoes to make our first batch of sauce.  We grew over a hundred pounds of tomatoes this year and almost none of them actually ripened on the vine.

I usually dry herbs throughout the summer season, a little bit here and there.  I didn’t this year.  Many of my usual garden chores were neglected this year.  Now I’m bringing in huge bunches to dry all at once.

The sunflowers have come in slowly, one by one, sometimes in little clumps.  What started as the tiny little bundle of seed heads drying on my dining room wall (pictured above) now extends nearly to the floor.  There will be some seeds for us and some for our bird friends, hopefully with plenty left over to plant in the spring.

Last week was a very long one and clearly blogging wasn’t much of a priority for me.  This weekend we were at home.  The weekend was busy as well, but in an entirely different way.  Something of a reclaiming of the space and our life in it.  I put up 11 pints of green tomato chutney, a batch of apple sauce and 3 trays of roasted tomatoes (all of which were ripened on window sills!).  We’re loving roasted tomatoes lately.  Such a lovely way to preserve not just your tomatoes, but the garlic and fresh herbs from the garden as well.  I’m using fresh herbs all the time now.  All too soon they will be buried under the snow!  We completed a few projects around the house and started others.  Elijah invented an interesting new way of storing our apples.  We gathered in all of the delicate produce still about; the last of the beans, tomatoes, zucchini, basil, baskets and baskets full, as next week is supposed to be a very cold one and none of it would survive.

Yes, we’re settling back in to our normal rhythms.  It feels good to be home.

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32/52



A portrait of my children, once a week, every week.

A bit of a theme this week.

 Iain and Elijah: They wanted to try making jam themselves. I love the look of intense concentration on Iain’s face and also the bit of jam on his cheek!  Elijah says, “I love the sound of jam bubbling away.”

Galen:  His specialty is scrambled eggs, and not so much breaking up the greens found therein.  Can you tell there was a lot going on in my kitchen on this particular day?

Màiri Rose: Helping with the laundry.  She swore she could handle it herself and she did.

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