Saturday, June 28, 2014

All About Cast Iron: Where to start and why you should.

I bought my first cast iron pan when I was twenty. We had just made the 500 mile move to Tennessee, to a real, grown-up apartment, with one small boy in tow. I fancied myself a homemaker, and in order to feel equipped, I ordered a 10 inch lodge fry pan to meet me on my front door.

I was remembering Costella, the precious woman that raised my dad and his siblings. I was remembering her standing in my Grandmother's kitchen and telling me the secrets to cooking. She taught me to roll dumplings on the counter, to shake chicken and flour in a paper bag and then drop it into a heavy, grease-slicked cast iron pan. "Don't even fool with frying chicken in anything else," she said. "It won't turn out the same." And then she gave me a piece. It burned my mouth. I was ten.

I washed my first cast iron pan in the dishwasher. Costella had impressed upon me the merits of cast iron but had never touched on the care of it. When it turned orange with rust, I put it in a hard to reach cabinet and forgot about it.

in 2009, I received Mad Hungry: Feeding Men and Boys for Christmas. In it, Lucinda Scala Quinn sings the praises of cast iron and I thought, "Hey, I have one of those".  It was all downhill from there. Having gained a little more experience in the kitchen, I was able to appreciate how truly awesome cast iron cookware is. My collection today would make Costella proud.

In fact, the last conversation I had with her, although she was not entirely lucid and thought I was my mother, was about cast iron. She told me about seasoning it. About never letting soap touch it. About keeping it to give to my babies when I'm too old to fry chicken anymore.
She sat there in her chair, a faded, framed photo of MLK on the wall behind her, her wig slightly askew and her stockings drooping on her shrunken legs. I remember that moment so clearly because I wanted to take her photo and I didn't. This beautiful woman, our bonus grandmother, who loved us all like she had delivered us into the world herself . When I look back to that moment, what I remember most is what it meant to watch someone fade away. And in the years since then, I've learned the regret of not capturing a moment when your heart is moved to. This is why I take photos of everyday things, of odd things, and even sad things…because I wish I could show you Costella now, on the last day we spoke, the day she taught me about cast iron pans.

So, you may ask, why cook with cast iron?

1.  It's incredibly cheap.

I'll start with this point, because frankly, it's what drives most of us. Especially those of us with families and plenty of things we would rather buy than pans. You can get an entire set of Lodge cast iron on Amazon for less than 65 bucks here: Lodge 5-Piece Cast Iron Cookware Set, Black 
 The linked set above contains a 10 inch griddle, a 10 inch skillet, and 8 inch skillet and a 5 quart dutch oven with a lid. If you don't want to make that big of a commitment, I recommend just getting a 10.25-Inch skillet to start out. That will run you between 15-18 dollars depending on where you buy it. 
Also, you can find cast iron pans at garage and estate sales. Some of my best pieces I paid less than a dollar for and just had to put in some work getting the rust off. Then it has a story.
 I love things with a story. 

2.  It will last forever.

The worst damage you can do to a cast iron pan is put it in the dishwasher and ruin the seasoning. But it can be restored even then. Your cast iron pans will outlive you. You don't have to worry about someone messing up the non-stick coating or burning a bunch of stuff to the bottom. For someone like me, not being able to ruin it is a huge plus. 

3. It's so much easier than you think. 

One of the things that I hear a lot when I talk about cast iron is "But it's so much work."
That couldn't be further from the truth. 
Really, caring for cast iron is more about what you DON'T do. 
Don't EVER put it in the dishwasher. Trust me on that one.
Don't put soap on it. If you accidentally do (or a well meaning friend cleaning up after dinner does), don't sweat it. Just rub it down with some oil and it should be fine, though it make take a few meals to get it good and slick again. 
Usually, all you need to do is scrub it with hot water and a stiff scrub brush. Dry it off with a towel (or put it on a hut burner for a few minutes) and if it's looking a little dry (not shiny), just wipe it down with a paper towel and some vegetable oil. 
To season a new cast iron pan or one that has had a soapy encounter, wipe it down well with vegetable oil or shortening. Then bake it in a 325 degree oven for an hour or two. This isn't exact science. I've tried all kinds of oils on my pans, but truthfully, I like using shortening best. Yes, as in Crisco. I know it's gross stuff but I keep a little tub of it just for my cast iron. It is, after all, what Costella told me to use. 

4. It's significantly healthier. 

Once your pan is well seasoned (and that doesn't count the "pre-seasoning" it comes with when you buy it), it is virtually non-stick. You can use much less oil even when cooking things like fried potatoes or eggs. Because it doesn't need a non-stick coating to be non-stick, it is a great chemical free alternative to coated pans. If you've ever done even the slightest research about Teflon, you will want to ban it from your kitchen.  And unlike so many things that require a lot of money or commitment to make a healthier choice, cast iron is easy and cheap, remember?

5. Food cooked in cast iron tastes good. 

Because food can be cooked in cast iron with less oil, you really get to enjoy the flavor of the food. I actually enjoy steaks cooked on cast iron more than ones cooked on the grill. Also, iron distributes heat evenly so you don't end up with hot spots or burned bits quite as easily as other pans. 

6. It's super versatile. 

Cast iron can be used for SO many things. You can use it in your kitchen, on the stove top and in the oven. You can take it camping, cooking over a wood stove or a fire. It generally cooks very evenly and also retains heat, so it keeps food warm on the stove for a long while. 
I cook the majority of our food in cast iron. I cook sauces, meat, and veggies in my skillets. We use them for pancakes, cornbread and baking things like fish and chicken breasts. I cook soups, stews, roasts, and rice in my enameled dutch ovens. I have even used them to bake loaves of bread! (You may notice i said dutch ovens. Yes, plural. We have two 7 quart dutch ovens that get used a ton because we have a huge family and are often feeding 20 people at once. One large dutch oven should suffice for most families.) We have a 15-inch skillet that is roughly the size of a manhole cover but is crucial for the best chicken recipe in the history of ever. (In all seriousness, you need to make the chicken. If I had to choose only 5 foods to eat for the rest of my life, this would be the only meat I'd choose.) I really can't think of much you CAN'T make with the right cast iron pan. Muffins. I've never made muffins. But I have made cake, so.

So, where do you buy it?

All of the links in this post so far take you to Amazon. This is probably one of the cheaper places to buy cast iron brand new. You can also get it at Wal-Mart, Target, or any store that sells camping gear (think Academy Sports, Dick's Sporting Goods, Gander Mountain.) Look out for it at garage sales and estate sales. Usually, if it's in flea markets, it's been marked up but sometimes you can find a deal.
If you find a used piece that is rusty, you can follow this tutorial on how to get it clean without using harsh chemicals.  You basically just have to get the rust off then re-season. It's totally worth doing if you find a good deal.

Additional tips

If you do buy a brand new cast iron pan, go ahead and scrub it with soapy water. They coat it with something to make it non-stick but it doesn't work well and I imagine it's not very healthy for you. Just wash it and then season it yourself.

The first handful of times you use your pan, you want to try to cook higher fat things. Like bacon or hamburger meat. It takes a little while to get it good and slick where things like potatoes won't stick to it. But bear with it. It's worth it.

There are a lot of cheap cast iron pans out there, most of which are china made. For a more affordable option, I always lean towards Lodge because it is USA made (except for the enameled pots).

So, there you have it. The nitty gritty of cast iron. Tell me, what is your cast iron story? Your favorite pan? Favorite dish to cook in it? I'd love to hear from you!

*The links above are affiliate links. This means that a percentage of any purchase you make while using one of my links goes to support The Hodgepodge Darling blog. Thank you so much for helping me pursue my dream!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Reed Silk Studio- Review & Giveaway


I hate to pull a "back-when-I-was-a-kid" move and completely romanticize the past the way people often do. But I don't think I'm looking through rose-colored glasses when I remember the way we used to play. I had my secret hideout, an overgrown easement behind the fence which my brother and I called "The Nature Spot". We would spend hours there, making mud pies, pretending to be runaways, with nothing but our imaginations to entertain us. 

I try to remember what my parents did to foster this sort of imaginative play. I know we didn't watch much television. But we didn't have cable and the only kid shows were replaced by soap operas by midday anyway. There were no video games (well, there were but we couldn't afford them until much later in my childhood). So we played. 

Kids now seem to be at a disadvantage. From toddlerhood, they are absolutely inundated with screens, and games, and around-the-clock available shows. There is always an option of something mindless to do. Unless. 

Unless they have a parent willing to turn off the screen and equip them instead to think, and play, and create. I love toys that help with this. I love things that don't run on batteries but instead on the thoughts of my babies. And I love the product, their games and their creations. 

My friend Kate is a mom like me. She loves to teach her babies to grow beauty and make art and imagine anything they can. And not only does she believe in this line of thinking for her children, she herself love to create. She owns Reed Silk Studio, where she sells her handmade creations. 

I have been so excited to work with Kate for a giveaway, and when I checked the mail and found the review box she had sent full of delicious play silks, the kids and I headed straight for the yard to play. I didn't even unload the groceries! It has been so incredible watching them take these beautiful silks and turn them into wings, and fires, and super hero capes. 
How incredible a child's imagination is when it is equipped and encouraged! 

Reed Silk Studio sell products all hand-made in the U.S. These play silks are made with all natural materials and are all unique, as each one is hand-painted by Kate. She sent us two large silks and two small ones to play with and tell you about. One thing I had wondered before having play silks was what made them different from other fabrics. I thought, surely, I child could play with any fabric cutting just the same. However, I've seen now how weightless these are, which makes them easy for small hands to manipulate and tie and throw into the air and watch them slowly float down. They are a little transparent too, so the light shines through them and little eyes can easily peek from behind them. And maybe it's just the silky. I know my Tobias is not the only small child who is addicted to silky. 

I could tell you all about the things my children have pretended to be with their new play silks, but I thought it might be better just to show you. Inspire imagination, and just sit back and watch magic happen. 

Would you like to win a "35 playsilk from Reed Silk Studio?
Enter below! There are multiple oppourtunies for entries. The giveaway will close Wednesday, July 2. 

Also, Kate has offered a coupon code to The Hodgepodge Darling's readers! Just enter "darling" at checkout to save 10% off your purchase! If you haven't already, go check out Reed Silk Studio's website. 

Friday, June 20, 2014

Stop Asking The World To Put It's Boobs Up.

It is not within my nature to disagree.
I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings. 
I choose the "ignore and let it blow over" method of handling things when I am upset. 
No, I don't think that's healthy, but we all have our shortcomings. 

So I'm already getting that stomach-in-knots feeling. 
Because I'm writing this post for the direct purpose of disagreeing. Outwardly. Publicly. 
I've been thinking on this for two days.
I've prayed about it. 
Questioned my motives. 
And now I'm just going to suck up my discomfort and write because I think at least one person can benefit from what I have to say. 

A few days ago, I started seeing a shared blog post pop up in my Facebook news feed called "My husband doesn't need to see your boobs". Yeah, the title caught my eye but I didn't immediately read it. I assumed it would be another wordy plea by a Christian woman for other women to cover up their bodies. But then it popped up in a private group I'm in, captioned with a sarcastically implied eye-roll, and my interest was piqued. I bit.

Lauren (the blogger) actual
ly prefaces her feelings by saying that it is NOT another post asking girls to respect their bodies, because as she says, lots of people are already saying that. Instead, she appeals to the scantily clad in a woman-to-woman manner, explaining the effect of immodesty on marriages, the temptation for men and the insecurity in women like her, like me. 

Don't get me wrong, I get it.  What woman hasn't had feelings of inadequacy?  Our culture is not kind to real women. All it takes is a stroll past the window of Victoria's Secret to get a 14-foot-tall reminder of what I'm not. And that's just societal exposure. That doesn't even touch on the personal baggage, which everyone has.  When my husband and I first addressed the issue of porn and how it had no place in our marriage, I faced many nights like the one she described, wondering if he was picturing something better than me. I get it. Really.

But while reading this article, I had all kinds of red flags going up.
She is claiming to stand for God but has used her influence to call out the problem of immodesty, offering this simple fix.: "Keep your boobs out of my marriage. You can have your memories and we can have our sacred hearts."

This blogger's opinion is clear. As are the numerous concurring comments it has received. But I'm wondering how people are missing the most crucial part of having a Christian opinion. Christ. 

Where is Jesus in this?
I suppose He's with the blogger and her husband, since they are striving to keep their hearts pure and all. 
But what about the perky, tanned, coozie holding girls in the instagram photos? 
Doesn't Christ want them too?

The problem I have with this post is that this blogger is not standing apart from the world at all. She's just taking a different angle. Our worldly, sex-crazed culture tells women to take their clothes off because it makes men feel good. This blogger is telling women to put their clothes back on because their nakedness makes her feel self-conscious and serves as a stumbling block to her husband and other men striving for purity. While that may seem commendable, at the end of the day, it's still asking women to make choices because of what someone else needs rather than because of the sanctity Christ died for.
A long and wordy post explaining and guilting and shaming may serve the purpose of getting a woman to opt for the one-piece or put a t-shirt on. But if she doesn't know Jesus, does it matter?
What if you had a chance to speak into these women's lives and instead of telling them about how much God loves them, instead you chose to tell them to put their clothes on because their nice rack was distracting your spouse? Wouldn't that seem like a devastating waste?

Make no mistake, scripture is very clear about how to deal with immorality. Flee. Run. Don't waste any time. She's right to be concerned for her husband. In fact, I bet most people who take a stand against immodest dress have intentions rooted in concern for someone's purity (either their own or someone near to them). But even if every female on social media respected the Christians man's struggle for purity, even if everyone went swimming in dresses to their knees, what about the multi-billion dollar porn industry? What about the websites just selling the swimsuits? What about the Victorias Secret models in the window at the mall? The solution is never going to be altering the world. We cannot keep making pleas for people to change themselves so that we can have an easier time following Jesus. Because those pleas push people away from Him.  Our only solution is to anchor ourselves more tightly to Christ, so that we can face struggles with His strength and not our own. 

And let's not forget when faced with the argument of modesty, Jesus died for the seductress too.  If you look in the bible, you will see there is a definitive moment when the wayward woman is no longer just a trap that should be avoided. And that's when she meets Christ. We see it when He stops the mob from stoning the adulteress. We see it when He meets the Samaritan woman at the well. These women were the women this blog would have been written to. The good, godly wives said to these women "Put your boobs up." but Jesus said "I love you. And I'm enough."

And He is. 
He really is enough. 

He is enough for the husband, to strengthen him as he faces temptation (1 Cor. 10:13).  Once a man makes the decision to pursue Christ and strive to keep his heart pure, it doesn't really matter what temptations are presented. Really, a husband doesn't need his wife to warn him of the dangers lurking on Instagram. What he needs is a praying wife, because he absolutely will face overwhelming temptation. Every. Single. Day. He needs a loving wife, that doesn't lie I'm bed at night worrying about the imagery he may be holding into, but instead boldly takes her clothes off with the confidence that hers is the body God has given him to enjoy. He needs a forgiving wife, because there will always be stumbling blocks, and he won't always make it over them without falling. 

Thankfully, Jesus is enough for the wife, too. It's easy to get wrapped up in the mentality that women got the short end of the Christian stick. What with our society's disparaging tone towards woman, it's easy to forget how much God actually adores His daughters. But He does. He created the earth and everything in it and said that it was good. He created all the creatures on earth and in heaven, man included and said that it was good. But when he saw how lonely man was, for the first time he said it was "not good". And his solution? Woman. And when His fallen world needed a savior, He could have come in any fashion He wanted. He could have burst forth from a volcano riding a dinosaur. But instead, he came through a woman, to be nursed at her breast and raised to manhood by her hand. This is how much God loves us, how valuable he find us. Now are you really that concerned about your stretch marks? 

He is even enough for the immodest, for the girl who gets dressed in the morning, looking in the mirror and judging herself by a worldly standard. His affection is far greater than any admiration she could hope to gain by trying to appeal to men with her body. Her body was bought with a very high price, and has the potential to be a temple for the Holy Spirit. But she can't know that until she meets Him. And she can't meet Him until someone shows Him to her. And she won't make choices for Him until this happens. 

So, I wonder, what will you do? 
Will you argue against a broken world, begging it I show some discretion or will you set your eyes on Christ and be a light in the darkness, pointing to Jesus? 

He's really the only solution there is at all.
So, I choose the latter. 

Monday, June 16, 2014

My son is not a sissy.

I wonder sometimes what my kids will think when they get old enough to read the things I write.

They try to show interest now. Well, the older ones do. But at 7 & 8, even though they would like to be interested in my ramblings, they aren't. Their eyes glaze a bit when they realize the wordiness, and though I can see their brave attempt at pride, the same pride I show in the work they present to me, I can tell. It's over their head.
Of course, I don't expect anything else. I do wonder though if my writing will become as commonplace to them as my photography. Now, at their young ages, they don't seem to realize that not everyone's mom carts around a dSLR. They seem to find the thousands upon thousands of photos of their lives completely normal.

I like to think that the moment they come across my work will be something of a second meeting. After my grandmother passed away, I retreated to her attic for days, pouring over letters she had written to my great-grandfather. Boxes of boxes of letters from all stages of life. Clearly he had saved them all, treasures no doubt, and she had ended up with them after his life ended. Then at the end of hers, I found them. I met my grandmother after she died, in her dusty attic, and I felt like I really, really knew her for the first time.

The thing is, my words aren't hidden in a single place. I compose my words and then click the publish button, and then I can never really take them back.
I wonder then, when will they become curious. Will they be teenagers? Will they google my name and curiously weed through my writing for mentions of them? Or will the fact that their mother tells their stories to the world become as average to them as a lifetime of professional photos?

I don't know.

But you see….I wonder because there are things I want to say that I'm not sure I want them to read.
This post is one of those things. Because a mother wants to protect her child from hurtful things, namely the opinions of others.
So it may disappear before they learn to google.

Asher. His name means happiness, and I would say it suits him. Asher's personality is contagious. He has this unique viewpoint and his comments are somehow hilarious and thought-provoking while completely obvious.

When he was a baby, there was something about him. He would cling to strangers in the grocery store line and ignore certain family members every time they spoke to him. He chose his people, and no one else existed.

As he grew, his quirks became more distinguished. He would only wear comfy pants and rain boots and would melt into a puddle of tears if forced to do otherwise. So I let him. Because who did it hurt?
He carried a Lightning McQueen car in his hand for approximately 3 straight years. To bed, to bath, to the store, to daycare. Then one day he didn't want it anymore. Then came the Mario hat, which was used for Halloween after Halloween and most of the days between.
When the boys started soccer, Jackson took it as an opportunity to work hard and score, to win, to shine. Asher pretended to be Sonic the hedgehog on the field. And during the games, he was often spotted running in the exact opposite direction of the ball.

When he was little, people would say "He is so sweet". And as a toddler, "He is so funny." But then it became a question. They all adored him, found his quirks endearing, but sometimes they asked "He's kind of different, huh?"

And he is.

I can't place it. But Asher is kind of different.
Sometimes he seems so very far away from me. He hugs me. He looks at me from across the room and signs "I love you".  He connects in these fleeting moments, but other time is hard to reach. There are moments I feel like I barely know him, but then we will lay on the floor in fits of giggles making shadow puppets on the ceiling and I know I've known him all along.  He is just a puzzle.
For a long time I worried. I poured over information on autism and found so many of my Asher's eccentricities detailed in articles about Asperger's. I asked the doctors and got mixed answers. As long as he is doing well in school. As long as he is happy…

And he is.

But there is this lurking fear I fight, and it is a daily theme in my prayers. I beg God to use my son, and to protect him from the cruelty of a world that rejects what it doesn't relate to.
Because Asher isn't like the other boys. I've heard it already, said in a well-meaning way, that we will have to watch out for him. Because he is different. and soft. 

My son is different, so we will have to protect him.
He is soft, so he should be toughened up.
He is different, and it will be seen as weakness.
He is soft, so they will call him a sissy.

I will do my best to say this in calmness and love. I will do my best to explain this while I wrestle with the momma bear that rages in my heart at the idea of needing to protect my Asher.

But my son is not a sissy.

He doesn't like to get dirty. And when the breakfast he planned on eating is not available, he has been known to cry. He isn't fast. And he doesn't have the patience for sports. He disappears into video games, because he succeeds there, and when I tell him his daily screen time is over, he looks at me with the saddest eyes. He is immersed in his thoughts and exceptionally bright, but sometimes he is oblivious to what goes on around him. Yes, it's frustrating. But when he realizes that he has been insensitive to someone's feelings, it breaks his heart. He feels…so deeply.

But let me tell you. These things, his quirks, do not define him. He is defined by the God who made him. And my God says that Asher was worth pursuit, that he was worth dying for. The problem is not that I have a son who is soft and different. The problem is that our society sees such a boy and is blind to his value. The problem lies in a world that wants to call him names. Like sissy. This macho society, full of hardened men failing to lead their families, wants to point out the weakness and softness of a small boy.

He does not have a problem that needs to be fixed. When a child shows inherent athletic ability, we encourage parents to hone his skills. When a child shows an inclination to the arts, we put a paintbrush in his hand and praise even his most rudimentary work. But if a boy is soft, we think we have to remedy that. We have to toughen him up to the standard that is expected of him.

Why is is so difficult to believe that God made my Asher…to be soft? Why are these gentle children pushed and pushed to the brink of violence, broken to fit into a mold that they were not created to fit into?

When he started Pre-K, he befriended the boy with a cleft lip and the overweight girl that couldn't pronounce the letter S. He told me they were the coolest friends anyone ever had.
I thought he was such a kind boy, befriending the bullied, until I realized he was one of them. In first grade, when he came home and told me that a kid named Will kicked him in the lunch line and told him he sucked, I knew. But when we talked, he assured me that Will just needed someone to be nice to him.
So he was nice to him.
And Will told him he was his best friend.
But there will be more Wills. And they may not be so yielding.

He is passionate. The way he ignites when he talks about the things he knows about, the way he adores those he cares about, the way he follows that which his eyes are set on….these traits are no different than the rest of us. We just know how to pretend a little better. We know how to make our fixations more acceptable. But really, when it comes down to it, there is only right and wrong. We are either fixated on something useless or on Jesus.

My son is not a sissy.
And I beg you. If you have ever been the host of thoughts like this, challenge yourself to think differently. Challenge yourself to see a quirky, quiet child and think of what incredible things they could do with the overflow of these traits.

The way I see it, my son has a head start in his pursuit of Christ. Because when he is told to be gentle and humble and kind, he can say "Well, that's how God made me."
He is a creation of the King. He is a masterpiece. He was designed with perfect intention, to fulfill a perfect plan.  He is soft and he is different, made by a God who does not make mistakes.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Strike a fancy - The week in review

Whew. What a week. The summer, as expected, has started out in a whirlwind of activity. 

Miah and I traveled to San Antonio last weekend to pick up Maliah for the summer. We went down a day early and enjoyed some much needed time together before we came back to tackle the next several weeks.  
One of our favorite things to do when traveling through big cities is to visit places that have been featured on the T.V. show Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.  We found ourselves in Dallas around lunchtime so we did a quick search online, watched a few episodes of DD&D on YouTube, and decided on Cane Rosso. It's a Neapolitan style pizza place with awesome atmosphere…

But frankly, I would have been happy to sit in a cardboard box and eat this pizza. 

It was insanely good. We had the Zoli and the Delia (bacon jam on a pizza. what?). I was sold when I read "house made cheese". Make your own cheese and I will love you. We will definitely be stopping here again in the future. 

The rest of our trip was short, but good.  I can never quite get over how big the sky is in Texas. 

We came back and I had a package in the mail from Do South Magazine, copies of the June issue in which The Cheerleader was published. It's really nice to have a copy of this article that has changed so many lives (mine included) that I can hold in my hands. And I adore this magazine and am thrilled that I will be contributing to it more in the future! 

Speaking of April, yesterday we had the opportunity to meet with some precious friends of ours for lunch. It was so wonderful to talk about Jesus and everything He is doing in our lives. Please continue to lift the Smith family in your prayers. I can't even begin to tell you the incredible work God is doing in and around them. Just wait though, you'll see. 

Some other things that have struck my fancy this week:

And lastly, just a bit of a glimpse into the last several days of our life. For all the fun and sweetness that I can't share in words. 

From my family to yours, have a beautiful week.