Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A goose recipe

Goose is notoriously difficult to fix - in fact, when I Googled "goose recipes" I found more horror stories about goose-cooking-gone-wrong than I did actual recipes for cooking the goose to begin with.

So I decided to venture into new territory without a map... err, without a recipe. I'd make some changes if I did it again, but ya know what? It was a Darn Good Meal. I'm pretty stoked - and goose is pretty yummy.

Goose Dish with Apples and Onions
Serves 4

1 whole goose breast, trimmed of fat and cut into 1-inch cubes
2 Tbsp. butter
1/2 large red onion, diced
1 apple, peeled, cored and diced
1 clove garlic, minced
4 cups beef broth
1 1/2 cups uncooked brown basmati rice
Whatever spices you like - I used oregano, marjoram and thyme.

Saute the cubed meat in butter in a hot skillet until just about done - about 7 minutes total. Add onions and apples and garlic, cook until onions and apples are tender.

Stir in the rice and beef broth and spices, bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, until rice is soft and meat is tender, about an hour and 15 minutes. Add water or more broth as needed if mixture becomes too dry. Fluff with a fork and serve.

When I make it again - and I will - I'll likely add some sliced mushrooms when I add the apples and onions, and I'll use a cup of red wine in place of one cup of the broth.

The apples and onions combined have a neat flavor - it's something I've read about but had never tried til now. Yummy stuff. Since most of my readers probably don't have wild goose breasts sitting in their freezers, I'd suggest also maybe trying this with cubed pork chops, or maybe even chicken breast (substitute chicken broth). Or for a side dish, no meat would really be necessary.

Best of all? This definitely counts as Real Food - can't beat that!

Bon Apetit!

Monday, March 29, 2010

Saturday Night Romance

What's your idea of a romantic Saturday night?

A nice dinner at a local brewery, perhaps, with a couple of pints of good locally brewed beer? Yep, it was a great dinner.

Followed by a muddy trek up a steep hill...

With a two year old...

While listening for turkeys.

Romantic idealism changes when you're married to a hunter.

But you learn to appreciate the beauty of things like lichen glowing in the sunset...

And pretty pink cacti.

All in all? I'd call it a pretty good evening.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Sew Liberated Apron Project

I checked out Sew Liberated from the library. Beautiful, inspirational. There are several projects in there I'd like to make, and at least three that I will be making.

Here's the corset apron I finished a few hours ago.

Absolutely LOVE this. Girly, flirty, but still an apron, which makes it still a little old-fashioned. It laces up the back, and is really pretty cool (I used button holes instead of grommets.) I was going to show you a picture of the back of it, until I realized I don't like photos of my rear end on the internet, so here's another front shot:

Have you ever walked into a fabric store with an exact picture in your mind of what you want to make, and then walked out with fabrics that have absolutely no correlation to that picture? That's what this project was like - not at all like I intended for it to turn out, but I'm thrilled with the result anyway.

More to come - a pillow, and a skirt... when I get more sewing time.

In the meantime, I urge you all to check out the book, because it really is pretty darn great.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Daddy's Home!

What does it look like when Daddy gets off work for the weekend?

Two Little Girls get very rambunctious, and very happy.

And Daddy doesn't get much rest.

But at least he feels very loved!

Our Daddy works ten days, then has four days off. It's been a long ten days - most days he leaves by 2 am; he's rarely home by dinner time, and often it's after the girls are in bed. Looking forward to some family time, some quiet time, some cuddle time, and some alone time! We'll try to give him a few moments to himself, too.

Trying to breathe.

I'm waiting.

And I'm worrying.

And I'm trying to function but failing miserably.

My dad's been fighting prostate cancer off and on for the past seven years - he was diagnosed the same year my brother died of cancer. He went through a high-tech "proton radiation" therapy at a California hospital the year before Chloe was born and it put him in "remission".

But his PSA count is back up. Up enough that they're saying the cancer is back.

He went and had some testing done, in Florida this time - a fancy version of an MRI that allows them to see just how much the cancer has progressed, and to give him more specific information than a simple biopsy could give.

He was scheduled to call the doctors for a conference call at 2:30 this afternoon to go over the results.

It's 4:00 now. I haven't heard from my parents yet. I don't know if they're still talking to the doctor, or if they aren't calling me for some other reason.

I'm sick to my stomach with worry. I keep pacing mindlessly around the house, feigning cleaning and straightening, while I watch the clock and wonder if it's too early to call.

If you're the praying type, would you say a prayer for him? And for my mom... I can't imagine how worried she must be, though she's that strong type of woman who doesn't often show it. And if you're not the praying type, would you mind sending some positive energy thoughts our way? We could use 'em.

I'll sit here and hold back tears, and pretend to fold laundry, and try to remember to take deep breaths. And I'll say a silent prayer of thankfulness for the inventor of the Barbie dolls that are entertaining my kids while I walk around uselessly waiting for the phone to ring.

Edited to update: Essentially, the results of the test are that... he needs more tests. They don't really know much still. :::sigh::: The unknown sucks.

What's for lunch?

"Um, Mom? I'm pretty sure this doesn't actually count as real lunch food."

I struggle with lunch. I don't like preparing big fancy lunches, and when you're trying to serve Real Food and don't happen to have leftovers, lunch can be a struggle. It's primarily just the girls and I at home for lunch, and we need things that are quick and easy, but healthy too.

Today's lunch: diced apples and bananas, sections of clementines, chopped "kwammerlope" and raisins, topped with a "dressing" made of plain yogurt blended with honey and all mixed up. The result? They loved it, ate it all, and asked for seconds.

Some other common lunches at our house:

*PB&J (homemade bread and jam, sometimes homemade cashew butter)
*Homemade cheese and veggie sandwiches
*Homemade noodles tossed with olive oil and chopped tomatoes
*Baked or mashed potatoes with homemade "ranch" dressing
*Quesadillas and homemade salsa
*Whatever random things Mommy can find and toss together to make it look like lunch
*More leftovers

What do you serve for lunch?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Golden Hair vs. Brown Hair - a rant.

Remember in the Little House books* when Laura slaps Mary for saying "Golden hair is lots prettier than brown," and then she gets a spanking for it? And afterwards, Laura asks Pa if he thinks golden hair is prettier, and then all is made better when Pa points out that his hair is brown, too.

I totally get it. There's something alluring about little girls with blonde hair and blue eyes. And at the risk of sounding biased, I think she's pretty darn beautiful too. But for heaven's sake, brown hair and blue eyes are just as pretty!

People comment on babies and children. It's what they do - especially old people. They love to tell you how blessed you are, how cute they are, how much fun you must have. And I love that.

What I don't love is when someone sees Cora and says, "Oh! What a beautiful little girl you have! Just look at those eyes! And her pretty golden hair! Well, aren't you just a precious little doll!" and then they look at my seven year old and say, "And hi there."

I used to think it was a little bit rude. Then I found it slightly more annoying. Now it eats at me and I get pretty darn worked up about it.

Yes, The Toddler has rather striking features, and blue eyes and blonde hair are considered "beautiful" in our society. Add to that the fact that two is a very cute age, clothes made for two year olds are absolutely adorable, and my two year old in particular is very good at doing cute things to get the attention of old ladies standing in long lines.

The Older One is seven. Seven is not a particularly cute age, and anyone who has a picture of themselves at age seven should already be aware of that. Seven is the first year of the Awkward Stage. It's also just about the age that little girls begin to develop certain sensitivities and insecurities. In my opinion, she's gorgeous and beautiful and perfect. But there are some things that a mom can say that just don't take the place of when others say them.

I wish people would keep their opinions to themselves sometimes. I appreciate the compliments and all, but I hate the way it makes my precious Oldest girl feel, and I can see in her eyes that it hurts more than just a little.

*We're still reading the Little House books, so please forgive me the constant references to them. At the rate we're reading them, I'll keep on making these constant references for the next three years.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Spring is here.

There's dirt under my fingernails. There's dirt on my knees. There's dirt in the bathtub. There's dried mud trailing from the back door to the bathroom. There are muddy clogs lined up on the back porch.

Two Little Girls have cute pink cheeks. My shoulders are peeling. I'm craving cold pasta salad instead of meat loaf. I can hear kids yelling and shouting as they run up and down the street. My kids are sleeping well at night, the dog's too exhausted to be rambunctious. My back and my feet and my thighs hurt, and I don't mind it a bit.

I am officially Behind On Laundry, and that's not likely to change until sometime in mid-October.

I had a chat with my neighbor over the fence about composting methods and cold frames while I hung out my laundry and he worked on his rototiller.

I took a nap on a blanket in the sunshine today while Two Little Girls made mud pies decorated with grass and twigs, and muddy "chocolate milk" to go with them.

We took a week off from school last week because it was so nice out. I think we'll take this week off too.

I had an in-depth discussion with my two year old about the leaf buds we could see on the trees, and we filled the bird bath so the birdies could have a drink when they're thirsty. And then she poured all of that water, one cupful at a time, onto her bare toes. And then I filled it again.

Adventures in Homemaking - Yogurt Soup

I attempted yogurt making for the first time this weekend. It wasn't exactly what I'd call successful. It didn't set much... well, at all really. I know homemade yogurt isn't as thick as store bought yogurt because it doesn't have all the additives like pectin and tapioca, but I'm pretty sure it gets thicker than this.

I followed the crock pot method. I feel like it wasn't exact enough - no measuring the temperature of the milk, etc. I'm going to try the standard method of heating the milk, then culturing it, then putting it in a cooler full of hot water bottles to keep it warm, and we'll see how that goes.

The other thing that could've caused trouble is that I couldn't find plain yogurt in any store I looked in. I got the closest I could - only milk and pectin, made by Dannon - but it wasn't just plain yogurt. Most of them that were labeled "plain" had not only milk and pectin, but tapioca, sugar or corn syrup, different preservatives. WHY is it so hard to find Just Plain Yogurt? Even Vitamin Cottage, our health food store, didn't care any plain yogurts that were actually plain. I find this irritating. Can anyone recommend a brand that's actually plain, that I just haven't found yet? Please let me know if you know of one, so I can try that and see if it helps my yogurt set. The up side is that once I manage it once, I can keep going with our homemade yogurt and I won't have to buy any more. The other possibility is buying live yogurt cultures, but they're pretty expensive compared to just using some pre-made yogurt to culture it.

So anyway, enough ranting, we all know real food is hard to come by. Hence the Adventures in Homemaking blog posts. Ya win some, ya lose some - that's what keeps it interesting!

I fed the liquid yogurt to the girls this morning. I mixed in a spoonful of homemade strawberry jam, sprinkled it with homemade granola and diced fresh strawberries, and they were pretty excited at the idea of strawberry soup for breakfast. Guess I can't call it a total failure then, can I?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The usefulness of blogging

Mostly, if I take the time to read back on my blog, I find it all seems like self-indulgent rambling. Of course, that's what most blogs are, right? I've convinced myself it's alright for a blog to be self-indulgent, since it is after all, my blog.

BUT I have discovered on several occasions how really glad I am that I have documented certain things.

For instance, when I'm scrapbooking, and I find a picture and know there was some reason I took it but can't remember what that reason is... I can usually find it on my blog. I've printed whole blogs and added them to the scrapbooks, little details and stories I can't remember a couple of months later when I finally sit down to scrapbook the photos. This blog about Chloe's silky nightgown is one that comes to mind, where I just printed the words right out and stuck them on the page next to some photos of her.

The other great reason for blogging is that I have detailed notes of things in the garden. For instance, in this post from March 20, 2009, I can see that my daffodils were blooming. I now feel slighted because my daffodils are definitely NOT blooming that early this year.

I can look back and see when our first spinach harvest was, how high the peas were at different intervals, and what month it was that we ate our first salad straight from the garden.

Lots of gardeners keep detailed records. I do have some records, particularly of the harvested amounts and the amounts put by for winter, but nothing as detailed as what I ended up finding in my blog, when I was looking for it.

So I'm gonna keep up with the self-indulgent rambling about my garden, and silly family stories, so if for nothing else, I can look back on them a year or two later and smile.


The girls were playing outside, with very specific instructions to Stay Out of the Mud! And so I look over, and there is my two year old, up to her elbows in mud. "Hey!" I call. "I thought I told you not to play in the mud!" She looks up and answers, "Not playin' mud, Mom. Playin' dirt. And water."
Heh. Gotta love the logic of a two year old. She makes me smile.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Happy Spring!

Today was the first day of spring! Thankfully, we had sunny skies which made it feel pretty springy, as long as you didn't go outside... 43 degrees is NOT warm enough to be called "springy" weather in my opinion.

We celebrated by making little seed packets for the seeds we collected from the garden last year.

We saved lettuce, marigold, sunflower and pumpkin. We took some of each to our gardening neighbor next door, tied up with a bow and a little "Happy Spring" card, and we'll drop some off at my mom's in hopes that she'll actually plant them.

We tested the seeds a month or two ago and most all of them sprouted, so they ought to work well. I like the satisfaction of completing the circle. I'd like to do some more seed saving this year, since most all of the garden will be heirloom variety vegetables.

We've got enough of the marigold, sunflower and pumpkin to share a few packets, so if you'd like to get some seeds in the mail, email me your address at itdoesntsck2bme at hotmail dot com. I'll send out as many as I can, sometime this week.

Hope everyone else had a happy First Day of Spring!

Real Food Friday Wrap-up

(which is being written early Saturday morning, because I just realized it's not Friday.)

*I've slacked off in the homemade dairy department. Had the intention of making a quart of goat's milk yogurt, but the milk is still in the fridge. Just haven't gotten to it, and then I forgot yogurt at the store yesterday to use as a started. Hopefully will get that going tonight - I plan to try the crock pot method.

*Dinner last night was fabulous. Super quick to put together - homemade French rolls (made the same time I made our weekly bread) split, then piled high with leftover smoked elk roast (which is NOT quick, but was already done) that had been simmered in a spiced beef broth mixture with lightly caramelized onions... used the broth for dipping and voila - "French dip sandwiches", Real Food style, served with a side of homemade bread and butter pickles and lots of fresh veggies with homemade ranch dressing.

*Real Food is about planning ahead, making enough to last a few meals so you aren't always spending hours in the kitchen. I need to work on getting more pre-made stuff into the freezer.

*Can't forget the geese that are now in the freezer, thanks to my fantastic husband. I look forward to experimenting with those in the coming weeks.

*The garden is started, which I'm pretty sure counts as Real Food - lettuce, spinach, mixed mesclun greens, chard, broccoli, kohlrabi, radishes, green onions, beets and carrots are all in. Many of them have sprouted, and are carefully snuggled under sheets out there since it got back below freezing last night.

*I'm terrible about preparing 'real' lunches. I serve things like hunks of leftover meat, with a side of homemade crackers, homemade cheese, homemade pickles and chopped raw veggies. Not that it isn't nutritious... but it doesn't feel much like a meal.

*I'd love to say we're eating a lot of local foods, but I can't say that, because I'd be lying. There are no local veggies and fruits! We eat a LOT of raw fruits and veggies, and they just aren't available from local farmers yet. We do make a game out of finding "closer to home" veggies though, and buying what we can that's local-ish. I'm taking a small map to the store with us next time we go so I can show the Little One where Chile is when she asks.

*Real Food is about embracing simplicity. To get a meal made completely from scratch on the table has the potential to take many hours. Sometimes it's okay to serve just salad and baked potatoes. I always feel like that's not a "real dinner", and I need to get over that.

*We haven't eaten any pre-prepared or processed foods at all this week, so I'm calling it a success. We actually haven't eaten anything like that all month, except for some bottled salad dressing that needs to be used up.

Anyone else out there post a wrap up to finish their week?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Sharing my space - the garden compromise

I love letting my girls help in the garden. There's only one problem - unless its picking tomatoes, they're very rarely actually helpful. And the garden is a very fragile place this time of year, with teeny little seedlings that have barely poked their little green leaves through the soil, and many seeds just planted, trusting me not to compact the soil they'll have to push through soon.

Little legs wobble precariously, and little feet come crashing down in places where they weren't intended. It's a fact of life with Two Little Girls. And so I find myself saying "No! You can NOT go in the garden any more! No digging! You could step on my baby plants and KILL THEM! And then you will not have any spinach and you will STARVE!"

Which is, okay, maybe a little over the top. But you never know how you might react when someone threatens to harm a tiny little plant that has been placed in your care. I'm actually a little more over protective of my plants than my kids... but it's easier to kill a plant.

I decided I hated feeling like the garden nazi. I want my kids to love this early stage as much as they love the weeding and harvesting that comes later, when plants are established. But how to hand over the job of planting seeds? It's a very exact science, especially with teeny little seeds like carrots and onions. Not easy for little fingers to manage.

So we compromised. I gave them their own space. I moved my garden fence, set up a 1-foot high fence they can step right over, and I gave them about 12 square feet of earth. Their very own garden. They dug it up, they mixed in compost. Then they each carefully planted a row of carrot seeds, watered them, mulched them, and watered again. (Okay, Cora's two. She's got a small patch where she dropped all the seeds in one place. But it pleases her, and that pleases me.) There were also many worms to be found - and played with.

Chloe's got big plans. Pumpkins, green beans, zinnias and daisies, carrots, spinach and maybe celery. She's like me- she forgets that she only has a limited amount of space. And if Andrew won't dig up the rest of the back yard for me, he won't likely do it for her, either.

It's a good compromise. They have their space, right up against mine, so we can still work side by side, and I don't suffer from palpitations at the thought of compacted soil.

And as we were finishing up, ya know what I heard? "Cora! You're gonna step on the carrots! If you step on my carrots, you will kill them, and then you won't have any carrots to eat all summer long!"

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Duck... Duck....


Six of them, actually.

The Man of the House returned home from a successful goose hunt in Sedgewick, CO with half a dozen geese for us! I'm thrilled, and so proud of him. He had a great time, and now we have six tasty meals to look forward to. (If I can figure out how to cook goose. Which I'm told is nothing like cooking other fowl.)

I'm blessed in that I generally enjoy the work that goes into our food preparation. I love to bake, I love gardening, I even rather enjoy a day spent butchering an elk.

Cleaning geese does not fall into the above category. Cleaning geese is not fun. It is messy, rather smelly, and to be perfectly honest, it's just downright unpleasant. Part of it is the fact that these are gorgeous birds. Not just regular old geese, but snow geese. As I was moving them into the cooler this morning, I was amazed at just how soft they are. So there's the part about tearing out their beautiful, soft white feathers that's... well, it's not fun. It's kind of sad. (I'm bound to get attacked for this post. Before you berate us, look up snow geese. Their population can not be supported by the habitat available. In order for some of them to live successfully, some need to be eliminated. I don't like it either, but it's the truth.)

So anyway. Plucking geese. Not only is it sad, it's messy. Feathers and down flying everywhere, sticking to everything, no matter how much you try to get them into the trash bag. And it takes easily an hour to pluck a goose if you're not experienced (and we aren't.) We tried the dunking them in boiling water trick (which enhances the "smelly" aspect considerably,) and that did help, but it also made the down stick to everything even more. Blech.

So we each plucked a goose, and we decided we'd had enough of that. Too much flippin' work for the gain, and we were running out of time before The Man had to go back to work. He breasted out the remaining four geese - that is to say, he essentially pulled out boneless, skinless goose breasts from each one, and we discarded the remainder of the carcass. I'm slightly unhappy about this. Granted, there's very little meat aside from the breast. (Geese have scrawny little legs for being such large birds!) But the carcasses apparently make a rather tasty broth similar to beef broth, and the fat can be rendered and then used for all sorts of things. (I'm pretty sure pioneer women used goose fat for dry, cracked, chapped hands. Not to mention it's supposed to be fabulous to cook with.) So we're missing out on that - the broth and the fat. But somewhere during the process of plucking those first two birds, we decided we'd forgo the broth and fat for the amount of work that it would've required. If we had more time, we may have decided otherwise.

Let us not forget the usefulness of such an even when it comes to homeschooling: during the cleaning and gutting process, Andrew and Chloe explored the innards of a bird, identifying lungs, gullet, heart, etc. She was more fascinated than she was disgusted. (Not so much for me. I'm glad he's around for those lessons.) The girls enjoyed playing with feathers and Cora was rather fascinated with their feet and poked at them repeatedly. Chloe exclaimed, "Hooray! Now we get to try goose!" Love what that stands for - her willingness to try new things, and the fact that she's comfortable with the knowledge of where her meat comes from.

I saved a trash bag full of feathers with the intention of making a feather occasional pillow for the rocker in the living room. We'll see whether it happens or not - it might be a bigger project than I'm imagining.

I'll have to let you know how cooking it goes. We're going to save it for when The Man is actually home to enjoy it.

Overall? I'm glad geese aren't a regular part of our diet, but I'm betting it would get easier with time. And I'm thankful for the wild meat we're provided with. I just wish it didn't have so many down feathers.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The math of dairy

(I'm doing this for my own benefit, but thought it might be of interest to like-minded readers.)

On average, we consume the following dairy per month:

Yogurt - 2 qt. - $3.50/qt = $7
Butter - 3 lbs - $2/lb = $6
Milk - 3 gallons - $3.89/ half gal = $23.34
Cheese - 3 lbs - $4/lb = $12

I prefer to buy "healthy" milk if we buy it from the store - non-homogenized, low-temp pasteurized, organic. That's why it's so expensive. I also buy organic yogurt. The cheese and butter are an "all natural" type, but not organic, so they're cheaper.

Total dairy consumption for one month: $48.34

From our local friends with their livestock, I intend to purchase $40 worth of milk each month - 4 gallons of cow's milk and 2 gallons of goat's milk.

Those six gallons will provide us with:
2 qts yogurt
2 lbs butter
3 gallons milk for drinking/cooking
2 pints buttermilk
3 lbs cheese
5 quarts whey

Buttermilk and whey are things I don't usually buy, but buttermilk pancakes are absolutely fantastic, and I'm starting to find ways to use the whey (a by-product of making cheese.)

I'll still need to buy 1 pound of butter each month from the store, or figure out a way to substitute something else for the butter in some baking (applesauce, coconut oil, etc.)

So I'm saving about $8 by buying our milk from a family-run farmstead and making our dairy products. I'll probably spend that $8 in things like cheddar and mozzarella, and other small bits of dairy for the time being, so I'll say we're pretty close to breaking even.

How much work does it take? Butter takes about half an hour, cheese takes about an hour (no matter what the quantity.) The cheese and butter can both be frozen successfully, as they don't keep as long as store bought, and Two Little Girls are already old enough to be helping with both processes. Also to be included in that is the time it takes to drive to the farm each week to get our milk - about 30 minutes each time we go (includes the to and from.)

The health benefit is worth the amount of work to me though. There are no hormones, antibiotics or steroids in the dairy we'll be eating, and the milk we'll be drinking is raw - full of real vitamins and nutrients and enzymes and healthy fat good for growing Two Little Girls.

Overall? This is definitely a wise choice for our family. Anyone else out there making the conversion to real dairy? I'd love to hear your thoughts and experiences!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

In the Pantry

-The post Jan asked for. -

The scrapbooking section at Michael's and the bulk pantry section at Vitamin Cottage pose a similar problem for me: I lose all self control, and randomly buy things that are on sale, because "I'm sure I can find a use for it."

My pantry cupboard is comprised of tons and tons of dry goods. Here's a list. (This might get long. Bear with me.)

Golden Buffalo whole wheat (my flour of choice for most baked goods.)
Corn meal (for dusting the pan for pizza or bagels, and for corn breads and such.)
Semolina flour (makes great pasta and crackers.)
High-gluten flour (added to breads, makes them more moist)
Vital Wheat Gluten (for sandwich bread)
Buckwheat flour (because I felt like playing with it. I don't like it.)

Raw cane sugar
Agave (can be used like honey in many recipes, and is good on toast.)
I want to try experimenting with (real) maple syrup soon, and maybe sorghum.

Nuts & seeds: (tip: nuts are another thing that are cheaper at the health food store.)
Cashews (for snacking, cashew butter, and for granolas)
Raw walnuts (for baking)
Raw almonds
Raw sesame seeds (cracked, then sprinkled on salad, or used in tahini)
Raw sunflower seeds (on salads, or for baking)
Raw Brazil nuts (for snacking)
Alfalfa seeds (for sprouts)
Fenugreek seeds (for sprouts)

Dried Beans:
Whatever sounded good at the time - currently we have
Black beans
Kidney beans
Anasazi beans
Pinto beans

Long grain brown rice
Wild rice mix (Lundberg. Swear by that stuff.)
Quinoa (which is not really a grain, but seems to fall into that category.)

Olive oil
Coconut oil
Sesame oil
Crisco shortening. I use it twice a year, when I make birthday cakes for Two Little Girls and need good decorator frosting. Otherwise, I shun the stuff.

White vinegar (used primarily for cleaning, actually.)
Apple cider vinegar
Balsamic vinegar
Rice vinegar

Canned goods:
Coconut milk
Crushed tomatoes
Diced tomatoes
Tomato sauce
Tomato paste
(Tomato products only because I ran out of garden-grown stuff from the freezer. I hate buying tomatoes.)

Lots and lots of spices - too many to list. Check your local health food store in the bulk spice section - spices are a fraction of the cost of even the cheapest store-bought jarred spices. This should also include garlic, a staple in our house. (There are 65 heads of garlic about 6" tall in my garden right now. This pleases me.) And we used organic, unrefined sea salt in cooking, baking, and at the table.

In the baking cupboard:
Baking powder (aluminum free)
Baking soda
Cocoa powder
Yeast (in the freezer)
Cream of tartar
Need to buy arrowroot to experiment with.
Brown sugar (hoping to run out so I can try making it.)
Powdered sugar (to mix with the shortening twice a year for frosting.)

In the fridge:
dijon mustard
regular mustard
naturally fermented soy sauce
ketchup (Heinz. I'm waiting to run out so I can make some from scratch.)
Worcestershire sauce (because we love it on steak, and I haven't found a reasonable healthy replacement for it yet. And with two elk and a deer in the freezer, we eat a lot of steak.)

Dried coconut
Dried fruit/berry mix (my kids think these are fruit snacks. Please don't tell them otherwise.)
Dates (a favorite snack, also good in oatmeal, granola or baked in cookies or muffins.)

What isn't comprised of vegetables, fruits and meats is comprised of almost entirely the above ingredients. That seems like an incredibly long list, but it's not unbearable. As I run out of those staples, I jot them down on the list on the fridge so I know to replace them. If I get down to less than three sacks of flour, I start to panic. I keep a back stock of some of those things in the linen closet-turned pantry in our bedroom. If I find something on sale that won't expire, I buy as much as I can feasibly store. A big part of healthier eating though, is eating foods that *do expire. It's a hard thing to overcome after years of being raised on food that's so smothered in preservatives that it could never go stale or rot.

There are still random things in the pantry that I didn't include in this list because they're things that have been there a long time, and that I won't be replacing. Things like that long-forgotten can of cream of chicken soup that keeps getting shoved to the back of the cupboard. Or the hoisin sauce in the fridge that I bought for a recipe one time. The above list is just the basics, the things I use often and keep buying more of as they run out.

So is there anything great that I'm missing out on? Would love to hear some suggestions on other things to add to the list!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Flatbread (and cheese)

Since making cheese earlier this week, everything on our menu is followed by '(with cheese)'. I don't want it to go bad, and it doesn't last a real long time, so we're having cheese with everything. Cheese with eggs and toast in the morning, cheese and apples for snack, cheese sandwiches, turkey tetrazini - with cheese.

Note to self: we do not need two pounds of fresh cheese at a time.

In an effort to find other interesting ways to serve fresh goat cheese, I attempted this recipe for flatbread crackers.

Seriously yummy.

Addicting, even.

And, bonus: they're easy! Not quick... it took somewhere close to an hour to make them, but we managed a math lesson and snack time in that hour since a lot of it is resting time. The girls liked the part where we used scissors to cut apart the dough, and rolling it in the pasta machine. (It could be done with a rolling pin as well, but would be hard on the shoulders after a bit.)

My alterations: I used regular white sesame seeds because it's what we keep on hand. My dough felt too try, so I added a couple splashes of extra water. I didn't use parchment paper because we never have any, I just put the flat breads right on the hot stone. And I baked them about 7 minutes each because 4 minutes left them soft and chewy still.

Definitely give these a try. You might never buy store-bought crackers again.

And if you have half a pound of farmer's cheese sitting around, try this dip with your flat bread:

1/2 lb farmer's cheese, smooshed up a bit (or cream cheese)
1/4 cup Vegenaise (or mayo)
1/4 cup grated parmesan
a sprinkling of Worcestershire (maybe a couple of teaspoons?)
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp garlic powder, or a clove minced
1 green onion, finely sliced

Use a fork or a pastry blender to mix ingredients very thoroughly. It should be a creamy mixture when you're done with it.

Use a rubber spatula to form a 'dome' shape on a plate. Sprinkle the outside liberally with dried oregano, refrigerate for a couple of hours, then serve. Or if you're impatient, don't refrigerate it. I won't tell.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Math with Crayola

Some school subjects just aren't any fun. Like math. There's nothing fun or particularly exciting about memorizing addition and subtraction tables. I don't know many who are all that fond of constant repetition, but at this age, and with the math curriculum we're using, memorizing these math facts is mandatory.

So we decided to get a little creative.

I found window crayons, made by Crayola, at Wal Mart for three bucks. (Sometimes you just have to give in to mass consumerism. It's for education, after all.) I have a bit of a love affair with Crayola. I know they're Big Business and all, and I usually don't love supporting companies like that, but Crayola's got it goin' on. They have some darn creative people working for them, who come up with great ideas like window crayons and Color Wonder markers. And they always make the best quality stuff. Have you ever colored with a red Crayola crayon and then a red Roseart crayon? HUGE noticeable difference. Crayola's cool.

But anyway.

One of the only ways to make math more fun is to change the form of "blackboard" you're using. When you're seven, writing with different instruments increases the fun tenfold.

These markers turned out to work really well. They wash off of windows pretty easily with a damp rag followed by (eco-friendly) window cleaner. They don't, however, wash off of window caulking. Trust me. My two year old proved it.

Ah, but she had fun proving it!

Other ideas for "alternative chalkboards" for practicing math facts:

sidewalk chalk
*white board and dry erase markers
*sticks in dirt or sand
*water and paintbrushes on the sidewalk - disappearing ink, so check their work fast!
*Shaving cream on the wall of the shower or tub, spread around, then use a finger to 'write' on it
*Finger paints - or yogurt paints

Any other suggestions?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Creating a dairy in the kitchen

I don't really even like dairy products. I rarely drink a glass of milk, unless it's with a brownie. I don't like sour cream or yogurt, and I only like cheese as a condiment - I'm not a fan of a hunk of cheese all by itself.

Making dairy products from scratch scares me. It really does, it freaks me out. Maybe something about the thought of curdled milk, or growing bacteria cultures... I dunno, but making dairy products is treading on a foreign, and very intimidating ground for me. It's nothing like baking a loaf of bread, or learning to make chicken stock from a carcass.

So how to get over the fear of homemade dairy?

Make cheese
, of course! Nothing like diving in head first.

And honestly? It's really easy. I was scared for no good reason. (Really, if I hadn't had a seven year old saying "C'mon Mom, we can do it," I might not have attempted it.)

The process is simple. Heat milk (we used raw goat's milk) to 180 degrees, stirring constantly to prevent scalding.

Pour in 1/4 cup of vinegar, and stir til it curdles.

Then strain the whey from the curds, salt them, and tie them up to drain for awhile...

...before serving it to your exceptionally brave guinea pigs kids who are willing to try anything once.

And ya know what? They really liked it. My neighbor liked it too, I made him try it when he stopped by for a minute. My husband liked it too, says we need crackers to put it on. And me? Well..... I'm too afraid to try it. It goes back to that whole curdled milk thing. I'll try to get over that, but no guarantees.

And then there's the part about figuring out what to do with three quarts of whey... They say it's good to feed to your pets, or if you find anyone crazy enough to want to, it's really healthy for people to drink. The thought made me gag. Then I asked my husband what they used to do with their whey. His reply? "I like to drink it."


But anyway. I'm glad we gave it a shot. It's not hard, it's fairly cost effective, and it's better for my kids than the stuff we buy at the store they try to tell us is cheese. Will we replace our regular block cheddar entirely? Probably not. But we can probably cut back significantly on our consumption of it, and I'll chalk that up to a minor success.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Making Bagels, and Exploding Pyrex

All in a day's work, right?

I came across this article about making bagels from scratch. This prospect excited me. A lot. Bagels, if you buy the real kind, are darn expensive. Once or twice a year, we buy a dozen from a local bakery and it costs about $15. (Hence the reason it's only once or twice a year.) But to make them from scratch at home? Totally worth giving it a try.

So the recipe is for cinnamon raisin bagels. Bigger One is cut off of all things sticky - including dried fruit and raisins - due to ongoing dental work, so I opted for just plain whole-wheat. I used Golden Buffalo whole wheat flour for all of the flour, not using any white flour. I also didn't put sugar in the boiling water, since we try to avoid sugar when it's not necessary.

The result? Well, they really were plain bagels. They were good, "The best bagels in the whole world," according to Chloe. But they were lacking something. I'm going to try honey in the dough next time, and probably will add the sugar to the water. My hope is to get the basics down and then be able to make a couple dozen bagels each month. It seemed like a daunting task, all this rising and boiling and such, but it really wasn't so bad. The worst part was waiting the two hours for the dough to rise.

Well, and the exploding Pyrex part. Yeah, did you know Pyrex explodes? Neither did I.

The recipe I used called for a broiler pan with water in the oven with the baking bagels. I do the same for my regular bread recipe, except I've always used a Pyrex casserole dish for that purpose. I put my glass dish of water in, put the baking stone in, and turned on the oven. When I opened the oven to slide the bagels in, the Pyrex dish shattered. Searing hot water and millions of shards of glass all over the bottom of the oven. It was a mess - and it was scary. Glass casserole dishes make a lot of noise whilst they shatter. Poor Cora - who was, thankfully, across the room at the time - cried for twenty minutes just because it scared her.

I looked up Pyrex - I thought it could withstand heat up to 900 degrees or something. According to an article I found called Pyrex Panic, this isn't unheard of. So be careful with your glass bakeware, and keep your kids away from the oven when you're using it!

So mid-bagel making, I had to shut off the oven and carefully use tongs to remove the majority of the glass from the oven. (Thanks to a very smart friend, I vacuumed out the rest of the shards with the shop vac.)

The verdict - making bagels is not nearly as complicated as I feared it would be. Unless there happens to be an exploding glass dish in your oven.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Homemade Shampoo

Have you ever heard someone say that if you can't pronounce the ingredients, it's probably not good for you?

What's in your shampoo?

Propylene Glycol is horrendous stuff. Really, really bad. You can Google it, I'm not here to lecture you, but know that it's awful stuff. And it's the primary ingredient in shampoo.

We needed kid's shampoo yesterday, and we opted for following a recipe for "homemade shampoo" instead of buying more artificially scented Suave.

Ahh, yes, that's much better.

I followed this recipe. Easy stuff, much cheaper than the "eco friendly" brands at the stores. And when you're seven, or two, it's pretty cool to make. Total time involved is about 45 minutes, but 40 of those minutes are just waiting for the herbs to steep - that doesn't require your involvement.

The verdict? My hair felt fantastically clean last night after my shower - and now it's all shiny and soft. And Little One didn't complain of it burning her eyes. I'd say we have success.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Real Food Friday Wrap-up

So it was a short first week of the Real Food Challenge. Here are the highlights from our house:

*Our main focus this month is in the dairy department - switching to raw, local, and homemade dairy. We eat Real Food in most other aspects of our life.

*We located a reliable, affordable supplier for raw cow and goat's milk.

*We made half a pound of butter from our first gallon of cow's milk.

*We discovered that we can go through a gallon of milk in four days now, since I don't hesitate to let my children drink a glass of it when they want to.

*I learned that there's no way the butter we get from the cream off of one gallon of milk will last us a whole week. I've started researching other options and am excited to try them next week.

*In other news - we made two and a half pounds of homemade lunch meat - smoked, shaved turkey breast. Really good stuff. Easy, too.

*I'm starting to realize that I'm going to need to plan even better than I have in the past if we're going to really do this. And I was already a good planner, so that's sayin' somethin'. I have a whole new respect for Ma Ingalls - she must've been one incredibly organized woman!

*Thinking about where my food is coming from has made me consider every other thing on my shopping list, too. Keep an eye out for an upcoming post on homemade shampoo.

Overall? A pretty successful first week. I hope to accomplish more in the coming month - I've been scouring the Nourishing Traditions cookbook's dairy section and I'm getting kind of excited.

What's even more thrilling? Reading the blogs of other Challenge participants and feeling the camaraderie - love not feeling like I'm the only weirdo out there with an obsession for living from scratch!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Shopping list - the update.

I bet you're dying to know how my shopping trip went the other day, aren't ya?

At one thrift store I found a fantastic, huge wooden cutting board and a wooden chair that'll be perfect for Chloe's room once it's refinished. I spent $3. (Granted, the chair has no seat, hubby will have to create one for it, and I'll have to upholster and refinish the chair, but for two bucks? Heckuva deal.)

At an antique store on Main Street I found myself an antique cheese grater and a heavy duty rubber spatula - $6.

I still need to find a lamp, but that's something that can wait until I find just what I'm looking for. After not finding a used watering can, I had to give in and let Hubs get one at Lowes because I needed one right away.

So I consider it a mild success. I saved a ton of money, I acquired a new craft project (the chair) and I gotta tell ya, there's something kind of fun about using an antique cheese grater. (And there's security in knowing it's not going to crack and fall apart while I'm using it.)

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Adventures in butter making

So as soon as we walked in the house with our jar full of milk yesterday, my seven year old was beside me, begging to make more butter. Apparently she thought butter making was as cool as I did.

I have a tendency to dive right into a project without looking first. Sometimes this proves successful, other times I'm realizing I should've done some research. Making butter from fresh raw milk was one of those times.

We poured off our cream into a quart sized glass jar. (we poured off about 3 cups of cream, and left a good top of cream on the milk for when we drink it.) The milk was already cold, and I'd read before about making sure your milk is as fresh as it can be.

Well, I don't think they were talking "farm fresh". Fresh from the farm and fresh from the grocery store are two very different things. I ended up researching later and learning it's best to use raw milk when it's 3 or 4 days old. But whatever, I don't believe in following directions.

So we rolled our butter jar. We shook it. We danced with it a bit, then rolled it some more. And shook. And shook. And shook. And in thirty minutes....

We did NOT have butter. We had very foamy cream.

My arm was sore. The kids had given up and were outside playing. I dumped the jar of foamy cream into the KitchenAid with the whisk attachment. I'd read that would work, and I thanked my lucky stars that I was born in an era with electrical appliances. I turned the mixer on at medium speed, and promptly sloshed foamy white cream all over my counter and wall. I turned it down to low. I left it there on low while I made lunch. And while we ate. And while I washed the dishes. The websites I'd read assured me we'd soon be to the "soft whipped" stage. They were wrong.

Afraid I was going to burn out the motor on my KitchenAid, I looked at some more butter-making web pages. Hmm... this lady says she uses the blender. Maybe we'll try that. I poured the (still) very foamy cream from the KitchenAid bowl to the blender. I flipped on the blender, and watched as closely as I could.

And poof! Suddenly there was a big blob of creamy yellow butter sloshing around in the milk! I might've jumped up and down with glee once or twice at this point. But I'm pretty sure I didn't squeal out loud.

I followed the directions for straining and rinsing the butter as best I could without any cheese cloth. Rinsing it will help it from going rancid too quickly - getting all the milk out of the butter. What we ended up with won't likely last more than a few days though, so I'm not too concerned. But isn't it beautiful?

For dinner we had pancakes with homemade buttermilk, homemade butter and homecanned strawberry jam on top, with homemade elk sausage on the side.

I rolled half of the butter into a log and wrapped it in waxed paper and put it in the freezer. That way it'll stay fresh longer and I can take it out when it's needed.

We got about half a pound of butter from this experiment. In reading up, I learned that you'll get a higher yield if you wait a few days, too.

I spent a few minutes on eBay last night, drooling a bit over antique wooden butter molds and Amish-made jar churns. Not that I need either a butter mold or a jar churn. But they were neat to look at and wish for a little bit.

Anyone else making homemade dairy products? Would love to hear of your experiences!

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

It does a body good.

We bought a gallon of milk today. It sounds like a normal thing, picking up a gallon of milk.

But since joining the Real Food Challenge, getting milk has a whole new meaning.

Getting a gallon of milk means driving out to a little local farm and buying a glass jar full of milk that came out of a cow this morning.

Of course, when one is buying real milk from a real farm, it's hard not to ask for a tour of the "facilities". This means tramping off behind the house and visiting with the local livestock - like teeny cute little baby lambs...

It means meeting face to face the cow that provided us with our milk.

On so many levels, this brings me huge satisfaction, makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
I love the my children get to meet and pet the cow that their milk came from. It provides them with a solid connection and appreciation for their food. We're so far removed from where our food comes from - the milk in the grocery refrigerator, the chicken breasts on the styrofoam packing tray, the broccoli in the plastic bag. To really see it, up close and personal, to even pet it and watch it's enormously long tongue snatch some hay from your hand, brings the reality home.

There's something that feels so.... honest about this. Just look into those big brown eyes...

Isn't she adorable?

And her milk is fantastic. Smooth and creamy and delicious. Two Little Girls can attest to that.

I was surprised to find that it's actually cheaper to buy raw, local milk than it is to buy the "healthy" stuff at the health food store. No more pasteurized, hormone-infected milk for us, thankyouverymuch. I love the idea of not feeling guilty when I give my kids a glass of milk with their homemade whole grain cookies at snack time. Yum!

Monday, March 1, 2010

The start of the garden.

I have a dirt under my fingernails and there are muddy footprints tracked all through my kitchen. It was a good day.

It was totally random, not at all intentional, but on today, March first (which my seven year old declares the first day of spring, "because March means spring, Mom,) we got the garden ready for the season, cleaned up, straightened out, and planted the first seeds.

Ah, what a thrilling thing it is, looking across the freshly tilled plot that will (hopefully) provide us with good things to eat in only a couple of months. It makes my heart go pitter-patter, I tell you, just knowing what's in store.

My fantastic, devoted, hard-working and creative husband built me two raised beds for the front yard, where I planted approximately 140 pea seeds. I say I - I mean we. The girls helped, and so at the south end of the beds, there may be a lot more pea plants than ought to be in one place, because toddlers are like that. But it's alright - the peas are in!

The garlic's coming up more and more each day - at least forty sprouts now. I'm not as worried as I was - forty or fifty heads of garlic should get us through the year. More than that will be kept on hand for medicinal reasons, and handed out to family and friends.

To the Littlest One's utmost delight, there are "Baby flowers, Mom! Look! Baby flowers right there!" Tulips and daffodils have poked their cheerful green leaves above the soil. Apparently they believed me when I told them spring was coming.

There is one lonely little lettuce plant sprouted in the cold frame - it was planted last fall and nothing ever happened. I gave the poor thing some water, it was obviously parched. Maybe the extra drink will convince some more seeds to sprout in there, after having hibernated all winter.

I'm a geek. But if you're reading my blog, you might very well be a geek too. Just nod and smile, and carry on.

shopping list

Here is my shopping list:

rubber spatulas*
a watering can*
queen sized sheets*
a small lamp
a large wooden cutting board (or two.)*
a simple wooden chair
a cheese grater*

I realize I could go to Wal Mart half a mile away and walk out twenty minutes later with all of those things. And I could even pay their "Low, low prices". But gosh darnit, I really don't want to.

I had a dream the other night that our local Wal Mart imploded. It was a good dream.

After school work is finished today, I'm gonna try to get out and visit some secondhand stores and see what I can come up with. The only thing I'm pretty sure I'll have to buy new is the sheets... mostly because used sheets skeeve me out. And I could probably make them, but there is something less than comfortable about a seam right down the middle of a sheet.

Any local readers, feel free to tell me about your favorite thrift stores! I'll let you know how I did tomorrow (assuming we actually make it out of the house today.)

*I already have one - probably bought at Wal Mart - but it's broken. I'm actually on my fifth cheese grater and the handle always falls off mid-grate, which is really quite dangerous. Maybe I could sue...