Kids Can (and Should!) Cook

I wrote this post a while back, but I’m realizing my own need to revisit it regularly. It’s easy to get frustrated with kids in the kitchen, and to just want to do it yourself to save time and hassle. I often forget the reasons why I so want them to learn to cook in the first place! So, here’s to you and me both working towards this goal together. Press on, parents of sous chefs.

(This post contains affiliate links.) 

Kids should cook.

Kids should know where food comes from. They should know food preparation basics. They should have the basic skills they need to cook a simple meal. And, ideally, they should enjoy doing it!

Kids Can Cook(J cooking his own egg for lunch. He’s able to do it from start to finish- with supervision at the stove, of course.)

“Anyone can cook, and most everyone should. It’s a sorry sign that many people consider ‘from scratch’ an unusual and even rare talent. In fact, cooking is a simple and rewarding craft, one that anyone can learn and even succeed at from the get-go.”How to Cook Everything: Simple Recipes for Great Food, by Mark Bittman.

I don’t want my children to grow up without a clue as to how to perform simple cooking tasks for themselves. I don’t want them to rely on microwaves and fast food joints. I’d hate for J to one day get his own apartment and stare at his stove in dismay, not knowing where to begin.

Why? Part of it is about life skills. A little home economics goes a long way for kids these days, especially when the push for more convenience and less labor is growing ever stronger. But more importantly, I want my kids to have a healthy relationship with food: to know where it comes from, to know what they’re putting into their bodies, to make moderate and nourishing choices when possible, and to be grateful for what they have.

How do we get started on this process? It can seem daunting at first, especially if you don’t cook too much yourself.

There are lots of kid’s cookbooks available, but these resources can be either a blessing or a curse. Sometimes they actually teach kids a simple recipe. Other times, however, they just teach children to microwave chicken nuggets and make a special dipping sauce out of three different condiments you already have in your fridge. Really? Is this cooking? Is this what we want our children to have in mind when they think of preparing a meal?

Look, I’m not a great cook, but I do an awful lot of it. And from the time my kids are very little, I have them in the kitchen with me, helping with simple tasks. Is it always easy? No. Do I get frustrated and fed up with them making a mess of things? Yes. Do I push them to do it perfectly? No. Do you end up with carrots in the silverware drawer? Yes. Is it worth it to teach them? Yes.

You can do this.

For the youngest children, just having them “work” alongside you is great. If you’re making bread, give them a small piece of dough to mold while you knead the big loaf. Give them a small amount of flour to draw in. Yes, it will get on their clothes and the floor. Can it be cleaned? Yes, and maybe you should invite them to help wipe it up with a towel.

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For 2-3 year olds, have them try simple kitchen tasks. Scooping cups of flour. Mixing ingredients in a bowl. Cracking eggs. Washing the potatoes before you peel them. Mashing the apples you’re cooking down into sauce.

For preschoolers, try having them begin sequencing tasks. For muffins: First we mix the dry ingredients, then the wet, then we gently put them together. Or, for an omelette: heat the pan, add the chopped veggies, whisk the eggs and milk, then pour the mixture onto the hot pan. Top with cheese while it’s cooking. Cooking is a homeschooling mom’s dream lesson- it’s great for beginning math (counting, adding, etc.), science (how does baking soda work?), and general life skills.

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You can have elementary aged children practice skills that require more coordination. J (not quite 5) is already practicing proper knife skills with a butter knife. Once your children are older, you can teach them to use a real knife- always supervised, of course. Older children can try recipes that require a little more finesse- like using a double boiler, or trying to cook eggs in different styles (over-medium, sunny-side up, hard-fried, etc.). Older children can read recipes themselves, plan a meal, and learn proper safety precautions for using the stove or oven.

My sister-in-law has each of her teenage children take a night of the week cooking, and they can make great meals for the whole family. The younger ones always have responsibilities to fulfill for the meal as well. Imagine what a good foundation they will have for when they leave the home!

While it’s true that I’ve spent a lot of times pulling my hair out while trying to guide my son in helping, we’ve had just as many times that cooking together has been an encouraging and bonding experience. Yes, it can be a lot of work at first, but the memories we have created are wonderful, and I am proud of all that he is learning in the kitchen.

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All that work is starting to pay off! J just made his first full meal for us last night- tuna burgers and toppings on homemade buns, with homemade ice cream for dessert. I had to help him with measuring (he can’t read yet), shaping the buns (he just needed a break from prep), and flipping the burgers (we don’t want burnt little hands!), but he did everything else himself. The resulting meal was delicious, and he was proud of it. In fact, he doesn’t even like tuna- but he ate it because he cooked it himself and wanted to take part in his meal.

Kids can cook, and they probably should too! A little energy and patience put into teaching them cooking skills will set them off on the right foot for healthy eating, independence, and food appreciation- for life!

Would you like a little help to guide you on the way? The Kids Cook Real Food course from Katie of Kitchen Stewardship looks like a wonderful resource. It’s definitely on my list to try! 

Three Simple Foraging Rules

Last month, I was enjoying our family reunion in Vermont. Clear skies, clean highways, miles of wildflowers and green mountains, and (atypical for this Pennsylvania girl) not a billboard in sight. I loved it.

Along with picturesque scenery and extra free time came foraging. It seemed like everywhere I looked there was a wild edible or medicinal. Even my nephew and son were delighting in how much wood sorrel there was in the yard by our rental.

“You guys know a lot about this stuff,” marveled Uncle V. “That’s cool, man,” he said with a nod.

In reality, as we assured our uncle,  we still have a lot to learn. While I frequently make use of friendly neighborhood weeds in homemade medicines, teas, and meals, we still are amateur foragers at best.

Here are three simple rules to help you forage safely, ethically and sustainably.

If you, like us, find yourself wishing you knew more about foraging, take heart. You can still enjoy feasting upon even the most mundane of wild-harvested oddities (i.e., dandelion greens) while you learn how to improve your foraging skills safely and sustainably. Here are some basic rules of foraging to abide by.

1)Know thy plants. Buy a guide to wild edibles. Ask the great Google for plant descriptions and photos. Learn about poisonous lookalikes and companion plants. Pay attention to details of leaf shape, seasonal changes and growth, fruit arrangements, etc. Know when you can eat a plant, what parts of the plant you can eat, and how it is best consumed.

If you aren’t 100%, double checked, absolutely sure what a plant is and how to use it, don’t pick it. An innocent misidentification could lead to topical rashes, stomach upset, nasty side effects, or even death.

Now that I’ve scared you, you should know that foraging is generally quite safe as long as you’re well-researched and sensible. Just don’t start sticking everything in your mouth at once, okay?

2) Pick only what you need. If you pick all of the plant in one go, it won’t have a chance to come back the following year.A general rule of thumb is to harvest no more than 10% of the total plants available, and no more than 25% of any one individual plant. For example, let’s say there are 100 nettle plants in my goat field– I should only harvest about a quarter of the leaves of each individual plant, and make sure that I don’t take more than about 10 plants in total.

If there’s only one or two plants in the area, then it’s better not to pick at all. If you leave them to their own devices, hopefully there will be more the following year to return to and enjoy more fully for years to come.

And of course, take only what you need. You want to leave the plants there to help promote a thriving ecosystem. Remember that it’s not just you that enjoys eating plants!

3) Pick in legal and safe locations. If you suspect that the wild apple tree on the side of the road is on private property, do be sure to ask permission from the property owners before claiming a bushel. Also, double check with the rules of your local parks before making off with an abundance of a precious resource that is actually protected for ecological reasons.

And of course, avoid areas where pesticides, roadside fumes, or toxic run-off could be compromising your plants.

While these guidelines may seem like no-brainers, it’s easy for a newbie forager to become overzealous and forget to use common sense. Remember these simple rules as you traipse about searching for wild edibles, and you will ensure a safe and principled foraging expedition.

 

When Homesteading Ain’t No Fun

It’s August and I haven’t written in three weeks. Whoops.

We had a family reunion in Vermont, and it seems that I never got back into the groove of writing after a week away. Perhaps I’ve been in a bit of a post-vacation funk.

Enjoying a family reunion away from the homestead.

(Re-uning.)

There’s been a lot on our plates– Life decisions to be made, a homeschool year to organize, sibling arguments to mitigate, budgets to balance, lurking unfulfilled ambitions, and the feeling that we’ll never get it all together. To be totally honest, keeping up with the homesteady stuff on top of it all has just felt like one more big chore to complete.

I drag my feet out to the rabbits and chickens every morning, baby in the Boba backpack and shrilly screaming children misbehaving every 56 seconds, or so it seems. The grass is wet and I can’t drag the rabbit tractor without slipping around. I inadvertently step in poop. I open the chicken coop and accidentally let a rooster escape. My son grabs the hose from my hands while I’m filling the waterers so he can make a rainbow. It takes me 30 minutes to do 10 minutes worth of chores.

A girl and her goat.

(A girl and her goat.)

And whatever the heck I’m trying to do, I’m often doing it wrong. I planted lots of stuff in the wrong places this year. I under-cooked our home processed rooster, and over-cooked the store bought chicken. I forgot about the extra rhubarb stocks in the back of the fridge where they lay in wait until they were moldy. I’ve broken 2 dishes in 36 hours. I’m spending WAY more money at the grocery store than I used to and all my self-reliant bragging is coming back to haunt me.

This isn’t always easy. Or fun.

But no one necessarily said it would be.

Today, I’m reminding myself of lots of blessings so I won’t be so tempted to complain.

This land, these animals, the plants from the earth are truly a provision for our family. There’s been more than once I have literally thanked God for having food in our backyard because we couldn’t afford to buy much. And though I’m not always super-efficient, raising our own food is usually a significant savings compared to the grocery store.

The hard work is good for us. It builds character. It reminds us that we’re not always in control of everything. It makes us persevere when I would really rather just sit back and order Chinese every night.

Kids on the Homestead

And best of all, I’ve got a loving family to do it with. Even though the kids can be a challenge, they are also an absolute joy. Really, trying to homestead without them would be positively boring. I can only hope that these early years will teach them much about caring for the world around them and being thankful for what they have. I desire that they look back on these memories with fondness.

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And then there’s my husband– gardener, farmer, builder, musician, repairman, innovator, motivator, lover, father, friend. He runs the grand majority of this operation, and I am so incredibly thankful for him.

Though it may not always be a barrel of laughs, I wouldn’t trade this life for anything. <3

Garlic-Fennel Radish Butter

Radishes! We just harvested a bumper crop of these ruby beauties last week.

Fresh radishes from the garden, going to be turned into a compound radish-butter.

There are few ways I really enjoy eating my radishes: roasted radishes, fermented radish pickles, and this glorious creation: radish butter.

Turn some of your radish crop into this savory and addictive compound radish butter!My radish butter is a spin-off of this great recipe from Grow It Cook It Can It. That one is splendidly delicious too, so if you have fresh fennel and marjoram I encourage you to give her recipe a try.

However, alas!- I was lacking some of those fresh ingredients, so I have come up with my own version. This is a mini-recipe, using only a half a pound of butter, so feel free to double or triple it as you feel is appropriate.

(As a side note, you can save the radish tops as an edible green. I like to dehydrate mine and grind them up into super green powder. Give it a try.)

Garlic-Fennel Radish Butter

  • 1/2 cup salted butter, softened
  • 2-3 radishes, finely minced
  • 1 large garlic clove, finely minced
  • 1/2 tsp dried fennel seed
  • sprinkle of black pepper

Simply prepare & mix up the ingredients. That’s it.

Mix up some fresh ingredients to create deliciously addictive radish butter.

A little spicy, deliciously savory, and strangely addictive.

Store your radish butter in the fridge, or freeze it for a few months at a time to thaw out for later.

Enjoy!

Yummy compound garlic-fennel radish butter!

 

How to Ferment Rhurbarb (+ Probiotic Rhubarb Lemonade Recipe)

Rhubarb pie in the summer

Rhubarb pie made by my mother

Nothing better in the winter

Than rhubarb pie after dinner!

There you go. Now you, too, can sing this song to yourself repeatedly when rhubarb comes into season.

You’re welcome.

However, today, I am not going to talk about rhubarb pie or give you a recipe for one. (Though I might sing about it still.) Rhubarb pie is delicious, but let’s face it. There’s already a gazillion and one recipes for it out there and you don’t need mine too.

What you do need, however, is fermented rhubarb. If that makes you want to gag, you should first read about the awesomeness of fermentation. If you’re still with me, then you need to try this. Honestly, fermented rhubarb doesn’t taste terribly different from regular rhubarb. Besides that, it’s easy to make and it’s good for you. So there. 🙂

Fermented rhubarb is easy, healthy, and tasty too. Not convinced? Try this easy fermented rhubarb lemonade recipe!

Fermented Rhubarb

  • 4 cups chopped rhubarb
  • 2 Tbsp whey (leftover from cheese or yogurt-making)
  • 1/4 cup raw sugar
  • 1/2 tsp Himalayan salt (I use this one)
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon

Simply mix all ingredients together and put in the fermenting vessel of your choice, leaving about 1″ headspace if you’re fermenting in a jar. Use a weight to ensure that the rhubarb stays beneath the brine. Install an airlock or properly burp your jars each day to allow for the venting of CO2 that builds up during the fermentation process. Allow to sit on the counter at room temperature for 4-7 days, then move to cold storage.

I use a Fermentools kit any time I ferment. It’s one of the least expensive kits out there, and you don’t need special jars or crocks because they fit on top of any wide mouth mason jar. It takes the guesswork out of fermenting for me. Less mistakes= money saved in the long run.

And of course, I promised you a Rhubarb Lemonade recipe too. This is super simple, and should use about half of the fermented rhubarb you just made, leaving you the other half to experiment with or eat straight from the jar. 🙂

A delicious way to get your daily probiotics- fermented rhubarb lemonade!

Probiotic Rhubarb Lemonade

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 cups chopped fermented rhubarb & its juices
  • 3/4 cup lemon juice (preferably fresh squeezed)
  • More water to make a quart
  1. Mix sugar and water in a small saucepan. Heat and stir until sugar dissolves to make a simple syrup. Let cool and chill.
  2. Mix simple syrup and rhubarb in a quart sized mason jar or other container. Add cold water to make a quart total.

And that’s it! You’ve got the good juices from the fermented rhubarb in your lemonade, so you’re getting a dose of probiotics with each sip. I haven’t tried this with a “double brew” technique as you would with kombucha, but if you’re feeling adventurous, give it a go.

Try it? Like it? Let me know how it went for you!

 

The Best Parts of June

Father’s Day: We celebrated with four families at our house on a sunny, humid, Pennsylvanian afternoon. Tim fired up the mud oven and I gloried in the delicious sights and smells of a roaring wood fire and grey smoke drifting across the yard. I prepared sourdough pizza crusts while listening to music turned up loud on my high school stereo that has survived years and multiple moves to come sit on top of our kitchen fridge. The kids played in the grass outside, getting dirty and hot and scraped up like kids do on summer days.

As I carried out unbaked pizzas to my husband on a wooden peel, I thought to myself, there’s not much better than this.

The Best Parts of June

Hot, sticky days under a clear blue sky make me feel alive. Perhaps it’s because they hearken back to a time when I had less responsibility and more dreams. Or maybe it’s the fact that we still get that “school’s out for the summer” feeling when my husband is done teaching. Likely, it’s the combination of more family time and the twitterpation effect of slower days spent together under the sun.

June is when we start to see new crops in the garden, like kale, radishes, and garlic scapes aplenty. It means ripening black raspberries and fresh strawberry picking. It’s when I can really start cooking meals with whatever is fresh and available.

Summer evenings avail themselves for family fishing trips, marshmallow roasting, fires built and lightning bug hunting. The evenings drawl on and the kids stay up late. Just last week, my son fell asleep as we spent time stargazing. My husband carried that big boy up the stairs and tucked him in like a baby.

June means festivals, fairs, and eating more hot dogs and ice cream than we should. It means letting the kids have a little extra money for silly little things like three minute pony rides or a big soft pretzel. We are normally so tight that we can’t indulge in these things, but for some reason summer nudges us and whispers to loosen up a little bit.

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An impromptu beach trip? Check. A picnic at a park? Check. Face painting? Check. I love seeing the kids discover and delight in it all. What else can we squeeze in before the summer days fly away from us?

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Let’s keep this summer thing rolling.

 

 

Water’s Edge (Saturday Song)

As promised a couple of weeks ago, I’m posting another Saturday Song.

I’ll let the music do most of the talking. All you need to know is that this song is an expression of, in my husband’s words, “a narcissist’s dilemma.” Pardon the rough recording. Hope you enjoy, and have a lovely Saturday! 🙂

Written by Timothy Zieger, (c) 2015.

If you like what you’re hearing, you can follow our music on the web or Facebook.

Purple Soup!

“V, what do you want to do for your birthday this year?” I asked my soon-to-be three year old.

“I want to have a pahty,” she replied. (Naturally.)

“What kind of party?”

“Ummm… a puhple pahty! At a pahk!”

And since then, I’ve heard every day about this purple party at a park that she’s going to have. We’re gonna have purple food, purple drinks, purple plates, and purple clothes. We may just paint the park purple. This thing has prematurely become the stuff of legends.

Lest you think I’m a pinteresty hostess, let me assure you that last year’s ladybug cupcakes looked like unidentifiable monsters, and my son’s train-themed party was entirely devoid of trains, save for the cake. I’m a far cry from Martha Stewart, folks. Luckily, since my kid’s invite lists are largely relegated to family, the attendees are usually pretty forgiving of my “nailed-it!”-worthy attempts at making things cute.

Purple Soup

All that to say, we’ve been playing with all things purple as we count down to our official Puhple Pahk Pahty. Which leads me to our most recent experiment…. purple soup!

My kids were delighted by the color of this soup- and miracle of miracles, they actually ate it too. Moms will be happy to know that it’s naturally colored with an ultra-secret ingredient: purple cauliflower. You can find purple cauliflower at many grocery stores, or if you’re ambitious you could even buy seeds to grow your own.

I adapted this recipe from Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home, an excellent vegetarian cookbook. Even though we aren’t vegetarians, we tend to go meatless several nights a week. It’s nice to have some reliable and creative recipes on hands that don’t rely on meat products.

Note: I used my homemade chicken stock in this recipe. Feel free to adapt according to your family’s preference.

Purple Cauliflower Soup

  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 medium potatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • 4 cups chopped purple cauliflower, chopped
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp fennel seed or ground fennel
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • chives for garnish
  1. Heat butter in a large pot. Add chopped onion and cook til soft, about 5-10 minutes.
  2. Add chopped potatoes and cook for about 5 more minutes.
  3. Add chicken stock, cauliflower, and spices. Bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for about 15 minutes, or until potatoes and cauliflower are fork-tender.
  4. Puree the soup either in a blender or by using an immersion blender. (Which is by far one of my favorite kitchen tools!)
  5. Garnish with chives if desired. Enjoy!

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That’s it! This is a quick, healthy, and relatively cheap meal- you could always make it white if you’re looking to save a buck or two on specialty cauliflower. But for us, the color was at least half the fun of this soup.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve just got to go pull off this puhple pahty! 😉

Let Your Kids Do Real Work

We live in a society that seems to keeps kids separated from the real world and the responsibilities that come therein. We expect that kids will want their toys, their tv, their friends, and their playground much of the time. We also seem to expect that it’s unfair to disengage them from their happy place to ask them to do a job with an adult.

Children should most definitely have a lot of free time to play and explore as they feel led. However, I don’t think that giving them a job is harmful.  I would even go so far as to say that we are doing children a disservice when we don’t let them participate in real, meaningful work.

Let Your Kids Do Real Work

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What kind of work? 

The kind of work your child can participate in depends on where you live, what your lifestyle is like, and how old your kids are. We tend to have the kids help with a lot of outdoor jobs- planting seeds, egg collecting, filling animal feeders, raking, and the like. My kids are also becoming excellent sous chefs who enjoy chopping vegetables or stirring a pot for me while I’m cooking. There’s also putting away laundry, sweeping the floor, picking up messes, and housework of all kinds.

Job possibilities for children are really endless. Older children could help to contribute to a family business or parent’s jobs. Let them help file documents for you, proofread a student’s paper, answer phone calls, or help with banking and budgeting. Better yet, encourage them to start an entrepreneurial venture of their own!

If you’re stuck for ideas, ask yourself these questions:

  • What could my child do that would be a legitimate help to me?
  • How can I involve my children, even in the most mundane of jobs?
  • What’s the smallest task my young child could complete to feel as though she’s participating?
  • How can I introduce a life skill to my child through working together?

Rainy day rhubarb pie. #rainyday #harvest #foodprep #dessert #kidsinthekitchen

A photo posted by Abigail Zieger (@theyrenotourgoats) on

Disclaimer: We totally are NOT perfect in getting our kids to work with us, nor have we achieved just the right balance between work and play. My kids get in the mud, watch their favorite shows on Amazon Prime, cause trouble, whine about boredom, etc., etc., etc. So don’t get the idea that we have perfectly industrious, hard-working helpers all the time!

Instead of being afraid to make our children lift a finger, we can battle entitlement and encourage strong character by including our children in real-life work. Let’s talk about some of the benefits.

Work gives children needed life skills. During my college career of kitchen work, I watched several high schoolers struggle with operating a vacuum cleaner, or stare at a pot of soup with trepidation. It was apparent that these kids had never been taught basic household modes of operation. By taking the time to teach our children how to dust, scramble an egg, hammer a nail, or help make a budget, we are giving them the life skills they need to become independent, responsible adults.

We cultivate desirable character.  Motivation, confidence, steadfastness, responsibility, ingenuity, patience… I don’t know about you, but these traits don’t just fall upon me out of the great blue sky. I’m constantly learning, and one of the best God-given tools to get me to get over my selfish whining is doing hard work. It only makes sense that participating in work- with a good attitude- is good for our children as well.

Work gives children purpose and beats boredom. I find that there’s less time for moping, fighting, and complaints of boredom when I have my kids actively participating in the the day’s duties. Watering the animals and the plants in the morning, helping to prepare a lunch picnic mid-day, wiping out the bathroom sink in the afternoon, stirring a pot or putting away dishes in the evening- all of this keeps them busy doing good things. And there’s still plenty of time for them to play in between!

Work can help to loosen the grip of negative peer dependence. I’ve been slowly reading Sally Clarkson’s The Mission of Motherhood. This lovely book (which deserves it’s own review, really) made a valuable and relevant point. When we teach children how to work, they develop maturity and value as responsible members of society. This can help contribute to freeing them from the feeling that they have to remain juvenile alongside their (perhaps) less industrious friends.

Work allows children to give real contributions to the family. There’s nothing quite like seeing my son’s pride and joy when he really helps Dada build something. Or hearing my kids’ delight while they serve dinner at the table, knowing that they helped to cook it for everyone.

Work gives your family quality time together. I get a thrill every time I see my husband and son out planting something, or when I get to cook alongside my 2 year old. It’s so much fun to spend the time together and get to talk and enjoy each other’s company. We make the best memories when we work together!

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Do you work with your kiddos? What jobs do you give them? What’s your favorite part about it?

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Beneath the Sun (Saturday Song)

I keep promising that I’m going to make our music part of this blog. School’s out, the hubby is home, our home studio is built, and we’re finally at a point that I can start making posting our songs semi-regularly. Hurrah!

We may have a slight obsession with trying to make things ourselves, but homemade music has always been one of our passions and hobbies. We don’t presume by any means that our music is the best out there- we are constantly learning as musicians!

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Most of the recordings I will be sharing are rough, live-takes, and either minimally or completely un-mastered and un-mixed. This one was done in a resonant hallway of a local university, though most of our recordings have been done at home.

So without further ado, we invite you to join us in the process as we share these little “Saturday Song” posts. I can’t promise you one every Saturday, but I hope this is the first of many.

This song, “Beneath the Sun,” was written and played completely by my husband. In his words:

“[This song is a] vignette of a bike-ride’s roadside scene: a lone silver maple brushed by the wind in a field that lay fallow, aged stone walls and fence-posts grown over with wildflowers and grasses, mixed with inspiration from Gilgamesh’s quest beyond the mountains.”

Hope you enjoy! We love your feedback, and (if you feel so led) your shares with friends. If you want more, you can follow our music Facebook page, or our Soundcloud page. 🙂

Happy Saturday!