Thursday, January 31, 2013

The crankies and crabbies

I should come with a label 'When showing signs of the crankies or crabbies, put outside and send on an adventure or to a fun location'. This warning label is for me. Not for J, though it's probably good for him too. Probably good for all of us.

The first two days of this week we stayed home because J's nose was congested. By Wednesday morning I was...full of those darn crankies and crabbies. They're little buggers, microscopic even, but when they get under your skin they're the darndest to get out. They sit there and stick and prickle you until every little thing just IRRITATES and ANNOYS you and beware anyone who is in your way. Ugh.

Thank goodness we had a zoo date scheduled for yesterday because I found the perfect way to melt all those crankies and crabbies away. Sunshine. Fun. Laughter. Joy. Encouragement. More Sunshine. Holding Hands. All these things happened and like magic and J and I came home peaceful, happy, together, laughing and remembering.

Before they could try and make a sneak attack on me today, we went to the park. And played in the sunshine and had a ton of fun with our friends, tried new things, invented new games and peed on pine cones (well J did, I didn't).

Outside at my house doesn't count as an adventure nor does running errands. It needs to be Someplace Else and doing Something Fun and where there are no lists to cross off, no weeds to pull, no stores to go to. You need to have Stories To Tell at the end of the day. There is plenty of time in our lives for the things that we think must be done. But when a bad case of the crankies and crabbies comes on, you gotta drop all that 'must be done' stuff and get yourself out there in the sunshine and having fun. Pretty sure your doctor can write you a prescription.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Saying goodbye to good friends

Today we went, for the last time, to the zoo with our 'zoo buddies'. This little girl and her mama have become an integral part of the enjoyment both J and I have in going to the zoo. We rarely go without them and when we do, J invariably asks for his friend and I miss having the Mama to talk to.

I met this Mama, through Craigslist of all things, when she came to pick up a toy I was selling. She's about my age, her daughter about J's age. We hit it off immediately and arranged a play date for our kiddos. And us. I'd say 70% of all these toddler play dates are really for the moms. At least J's are. :)
The play date turned into another, and another and before I knew it pretty much every Wednesday was dedicated to meeting up with them either at the zoo or a park. Mama and I would talk while the kids grew into playing with each other. She was the first little friend that J said "she's my best friend". He holds her hand. He knows her mom's name. He looks at the calendar and wonders where her name is on it. He asks about her and what's she doing. Is she napping? Eating breakfast? What's she doing right now?

Today I told him for the first time that they were moving. That to go see them, we would have to get on a plane like going to visit Grandmother and Pop Pops. He said he wanted to go and then asked when. Then he said he wanted to go all by himself.

Mama and I have encouraged each other, consoled each other, held each other up and been resources for each other. She's kept me sane at times. I'm losing the physical presence of a good friend. A really good friend. Thank goodness for email but it's not the same as knowing I'll see her this week, or next.

I know this move is a good thing for them. They're going to thrive in their new town. They have wonderful new adventures ahead of them, but still...we are going to miss them most terribly. I think my heart might break a little every time J asks for her when we go to the zoo or the park and I have to say "no baby, remember, they moved". And then he will eventually stop asking and that will hurt just as much.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Homemade Ricotta

It's really as easy as heating milk, adding acid and straining. It will be so much better than anything you can buy from the store. I have made this using just whole milk or a split with cream or half and half, it's all good. Gently adapted from the Smitten Kitchen.

Ingredients:

4 cups whole milk
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice or white vinegar

Directions:
  • Pour the milk and salt into a 3-quart nonreactive saucepan. Attach a candy or deep-fry thermometer. Heat the milk to 190°F, stirring it occasionally to keep it from scorching on the bottom. Remove from heat and add the lemon juice or vinegar, then stir it once or twice, gently and slowly. Let the pot sit undisturbed for 5 minutes.
  • Line a colander with a few layers of cheesecloth and place it over a large bowl (to catch the whey). Pour the curds and whey into the colander and let the curds strain for at least an hour. At an hour, you’ll have a tender, spreadable ricotta. At two hours, it will be spreadable but a bit firmer, almost like cream cheese. (It will firm as it cools, so do not judge its final texture by what you have in your cheesecloth.)
  • Save the whey for baking bread, feeding your dog or pouring on your blueberries and tomatoes.
  • Eat the ricotta right away or transfer it to an airtight container and refrigerate until ready to use.
  • Serve with honey for a sweet ricotta or topped with lemon zest and olive oil. Or use in lasagna. It has tons of uses!

Kitchen Sink Calzones

This is what I made for dinner tonight. Something a little different and excellent for leftovers. They freeze really well too. I'm listing what I used as filling today but the filling can literally be anything you have in your fridge, meat, veg, cheeses, just mix it all together. This is your filling, go crazy.

Ingredients:

Dough:
2 cups organic white flour
1 cup organic whole wheat flour
3/4 t salt
1T olive oil
1 cup water

Filling:
1/2 cup Italian sausage
1/2 yellow onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 cups fresh spinach
dried pizza seasoning (I use Penzeys brand)
1 cup fresh ricotta
1/2 cup Parmesan, grated
Tomato sauce

Directions:
  • Place flours and salt in the bowl of a food processor and whirl to mix. While running, add the olive oil and water. The amount of water varies so pour it in carefully, you want the flour to form a ball that isn't too sticky. Leave the dough in the bowl of your processor to rise.
  • Cook the sausage in a large skillet. Remove to a bowl. Pour some olive oil to your pan and add the onion. Cook until golden. Add the garlic and cook and additional minute. Remove to bowl.
  • Add the fresh spinach and saute until wilted. Add to the bowl.
  • Mix the sausage, onions, garlic and spinach to combine. Add your seasoning, ricotta and Parmesan and combine.
  • After the dough has risen (about an hour), whirl the processor to deflate. Pull it out and divide into 6 portions. Roll each portion out into about a 8 inch round. I covered each piece with a bit of tomato sauce and then put about 1/2 cup of the filling onto the rounds. Fold over and seal the sides using either a fork or by twisting the dough together.
  • Bake at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until brown.

Today I'm pissed off and fired up - about food

I'm not sure there is anything more important you can do for your health than eating well. And our  grocery stores, Madison Avenue geniuses (advertising to you young'uns) and the food corps that hire them are doing their damned best to make sure we don't.

After many, many hours of thinking, researching, talking about and listening to my gut feelings about food there are some things that I think are pretty darn fundamental to eating well. Because I'm a list person that's how this is going to roll:

  1. Right now it is more important to be thoughtful and deliberate about the choices you make when feeding yourself and your family than ever before.
  2. There are more pesticides, more herbicides, more hormones shot into cattle for no reason, less care, less long term view than we have ever seen in the past.
  3. Small farms are being forced out of business on a daily basis. 70 years (probably more recently than that) ago it was ONLY small farms. How much seed diversity do we think we will get with all farms being planted by a few large ag corporations?
  4. The majority of the food you can buy in the grocery store is processed crap, full of crap, and it will make you feel like crap.
  5. Food companies only care about the bottom line so it's our responsibility to make sure that what we put into our mouths is real food not 'food substitute'.
  6. By 'food substitute' I mean anything you can't pronounce, anything you have to google, any of the corn and soy derivatives.
  7. GMOs are awful, evil, and are a bane to all of us. And they are EVERYWHERE. And they won't tell you. That's the sneaky thing. Corn and soy derivatives are almost always GMO corn or soy but it won't say 'GMO' on the label.
  8. Homemade bread is cheaper and much better for you than anything you can buy in the store. It's also incredibly easy to make. Use organic flour. If you want a lesson, ask me.
  9. We have a First Lady who is doing a wonderful job of trying to get people active and eating healthy while her husband's administration is allowing Monsanto's GMOs to run rampant.
  10. I am physically repulsed by the very idea of GMO salmon. 
  11. Do I trust that any of these GMO salmon won't ever get released or escape into the wild and wipe out wild salmon? No I do not.
  12. Our government is a revolving door of ex-Monsanto employees.
  13. Monsanto truly is the Evil Empire. Cargill isn't much better. They don't care how many people they poison, or how sick and obese we all become as long as they're shoving their crap down the throats of as many people as they can. Seen WallE recently? Monsanto=Buy and Large without the humor.
  14. Monsanto suing small farmers because their crops interpolinated (something that can't be prevented) is typical of their tactics on trying to get rid of any healthy competition.
  15. THEY DO NOT CARE - they don't care what happens to this country. They don't care what happens to Americans. They don't care that obesity rates have skyrocketed in the past 20 years and it's not because we're all couch potatoes. It's because our diet turned to convenience foods and those things are fillers NOT food.
  16. I believe that animal fats are not evil. I think we have been sold a load of hogwash about how healthy a low fat diet is. We are more unhealthy now than when the very idea of a low fat diet was ever invented.
  17. I don't believe in diets. I believe in a healthy lifestyle that is aware and open to change.
  18. I do my best to avoid all oils except for olive and coconut. Canola especially since it's usually GMO. Look at what your chips are fried in - it's usually canola.
  19. Food dyes are going to be in 20 years (maybe less) the Wonder bread of the day. As in how on EARTH did we ever eat that and think it was healthy. In fact, I'm willing to bet that food dyes will be closer to DDT. The EU won't even allow the food dyes the FDA does. All those cookies and cakes people feed their kids? How toxic do you think those dyes are? Yeah. Scary.
  20. If you want a better picture of what's safe and what isn't - check out how many things the EU has banned that are allowed in the US. How many other countries are banning GMOs? We are going to become a very small food island.
  21. Cities and municipalities across the country are suing and/or forcing homeowners to dig up their front yard vegetable gardens. What kind of country do we live in where if you want to grow delicious, organic, safe veg in your yard you're not allowed? WWII and it's Victory Gardens wasn't that long ago!
  22. Every time you spray fertilizer, pesticide or herbicide on your yard it ends up someplace you never intended.
  23. You should be just as thoughtful about what type of meats you're buying. Grassfed beef, pastured pork and chicken. These are the ONLY types of animals any of us should be consuming. Of course the other meat is cheaper and there's a damn good reason. Grain fed cows up to their bellies in their own manure, hogs confined into 2x4 foot pens and chickens so crowded together they are pooping on the cages below them and they have to be debeaked in order to not attack each other. THINK about these things before you buy meat.
  24. Speaking of debeaking. This is standard practice in egg factories. You have to be very careful about your eggs. Even so called 'pastured' hens are often debeaked which means they can't peck and eat things off the ground as they were meant to do. Doesn't do them any good to be out in the pasture if they can't eat.
  25. People need to take responsibility for themselves and their families. No one else is going to make sure your food is good for you. We all swallowed the 'low fat' mantra hook line and sinker.
  26. Soy is usually GMO. Google how they make those veggie substitute foods (you know the ones that are supposed to look and taste like meat?). It's disgusting and dangerous. Be vegetarian but be aware of what you're eating.
  27. Eat in season. This means you do NOT buy fresh berries in winter among other things.
  28. Like Ratatouille, anyone can learn to cook. You don't have to enjoy it but you need to learn, it's the first step towards becoming independent from the food corps. Find a friend, read a blog, watch a video, ask questions.
  29.  Don't buy into Madison Avenue marketing. Just like you don't need a new car with a big red bow to feel special and loved on Christmas, you also don't need a snickers to change your personality. Just Don't Buy Into The Marketing.
  30. Milk. Buy the best you can. Do not buy ultra pasteurized, that milk is dead. I buy Organic Valley grassfed for cooking/cheese making and Saint Benoit for drinking. You can find good milk, just look for it.
  31. Be thoughtful about the butter and cheese you buy as well. Don't buy anything that's not cheese (so called 'American cheese' I'm looking at you).
  32. Making cheese is as easy as heating 4 cups whole milk to 190 degrees, remove from heat, add 3T vinegar, let sit for 5 minutes, strain (keep that whey for bread baking) and voila you have ricotta. It's really that simple.
  33. Life is too short to drink cheap wine. Inexpensive wine is ok, cheap no.
  34. Life is too short to eat or drink ANYTHING cheap.
  35. Water is the best drink out there. Next to wine.
  36. Refined sugar is slowly killing us all. Don't believe me? Try cutting it out of your diet and watch how your body reacts to the lack of sugar. And it's in EVERYTHING.
  37. This does not give you free reign to guzzle your jars of raw honey instead.
  38. Organic food isn't the end all be all of course, but I think it's the best that we have so far. It's expensive for a reason.
  39. Nothing is a panacea.
  40. Be thoughtful, make wise decisions, think about what you put into your mouth before it gets there. Be careful with yourself and your family. No one is going to care more than you do about what your family eats. And no one else is going to make sure it's safe, healthy or good for you.
*Stepping off the soap box now*.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Nothing In Particular

My kiddo is sick today so we are having a very mellow, lots of liquids and videos filled day.
It's really nice to take a break sometimes from your expectations of the day.

J's favorite video is Frosty the Snowman. He closes the lid to his dvd player during certain scenes and it took me a while to figure out why. They're all the scenes that involve crabby adults. Hmmm. Interesting. He also doesn't like the dragon in Shrek, the combine in Cars or the sharks in Finding Nemo. At first, I tried to reason with him or tell him I thought that those characters were funny but he really finds them scary and doesn't want to watch. And looking at the movies through an almost-three-year-old's eyes - those characters really are scary. They're loud, they roar, they have flaming eyes or very sharp teeth. While I can understand the context, J really can't yet nor can he understand the humor. I think I'm really glad that he's so sensitive to these things - it means he's not yet immune to seeing scary things.

My parents were in town from D.C. this past weekend and I ate WAY too much food both Saturday and Sunday evenings. Now those two things aren't really connected of course. Being around my parents doesn't lead me to overeat. But we did eat out both nights. We hardly ever eat out. And when I say hardly ever, I mean almost never. Unless we are going out with family, we eat at home. Saturday night we went out for burgers and fries and Sunday was Mexican. In both instances, I ate until I was ready to explode and then I felt ill. Not sure what it is about restaurant eating that makes me stuff myself but luckily it doesn't happen that often!

I'm already dreaming about our summer garden. There is a great post up at Northwest Edible Life about succession planting and how to make it work. It's something I've never had much luck with unfortunately. Our summer crops last well into the fall and by the time I'm thinking fall/winter crops it's too late to plant them.They really need warm soil and sun to get going. This year, I'm determined to get it right. My chard is a good grower but I have almost no luck with beets, carrots, spinach or peas. Maybe one less tomato (GASP) might make room for the fall crops....

I ordered stamps and things for making cards as well as the ingredients I need for making cheese yesterday. I'm pretty excited about both! Really excited about the cheese making. I love the idea of making cheese from milk that I know where it came from. Plus the difference from store bought - incomparable! Apparently homemade feta will last in the fridge for a year. Not that it will actually last that long in our house. Did you know that feta is not naturally salty? It's only when they brine it that it gets salty. I loved the fresh feta marinated in olive oil with some dried herbs. Divine!

Today is one of those days when I'm glad I can just pull something out of the freezer for dinner (carnitas in this case). It's such a wonderful thing to have yummy, healthy food in there waiting for days when I really can't handle anything more than slow cooking some beans and heating tortillas. D will make the guacamole. Voila - dinner.

My bathroom smells like a brewery and that's a good smell. D has three different batches of beer going right now so I know he's a happy man.

The two batches of kefir I made the past two days have both turned out good! I won't mention what happened to the first two I made. I finally seem to have gotten the hang of it. I like the taste, which surprised me. And J drank a glass I'd mixed with the pomegranate kefir I get at Trader Joes. Eventually I'm planning on easing up on the sugar infused kefir but gradual is the way to go. J loves his kefir :)

That's about all - amazingly enough this post got long while I was sitting around not doing anything ;)
By the way, when I spell checked this post it kept highlighting kefir. Get with the times spell check.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Cheese Crackers

It's been a while since I made J some cheese crackers and since our cracker container was getting a little sad and lonely, I made Smitten Kitchen's Whole Wheat Goldfish Crackers. These are fantastic little cheese bites that come together SUPER easy. You can use any hard cheeses you have around (today was Colby) and I skip the onion powder in the original recipe as it doesn't really add much.



Ingredients:

6 ounces (1 1/2 cups coarsely grated) sharp cheese (cheddar, Colby, Parmesan)
4 tablespoons (2 ounces or 57 grams) butter
1/2 cup (2 1/2 ounces or 62 grams) whole wheat flour
1/4 cup (1 1/8 ounces or 31 grams) all-purpose flour
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon table salt

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 350°F. Combine all ingredients in a food processor, running the machine until the dough forms a ball, about two minutes.
  • If the dough feels warm or worrisome-ly soft, wrap it in waxed paper or plastic wrap and chill it in the fridge for 30 to 45 minutes. This also makes it easier to transfer shapes once they are rolled out.
  • On a Silpat or lightly floured surface, using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll the dough out 1/8-inch thick. Form shapes with a cookie cutter or pizza/ravioli cutter), dipping it in flour from time to time to ensure a clean cut. Gently transfer crackers to an ungreased (though I use the Silpat) cookie sheet with a 1/2 inch between them. Bake the crackers on the middle rack for 12 to 15 minutes, or until they are barely browned at the edges. Remove from the oven and set the cookie sheet on a rack to cool.

Fermented Ketchup

As I watched my son drink the ketchup from his little cup last night (we went out to Five Guys with my parents for burgers and fries), I realized I needed to find a ketchup recipe that didn't involve sugar and fast. Luckily, I have had Homemade Mommy's Fermented Ketchup on my radar. And since I got to bring home a half gallon of whey from my cheese making class yesterday (SCORE!) I had all the ingredients. I can't wait to try it in three days! **Updated - I tried it this morning and it's GOOD. Tastes like those fancy gourmet ketchups you spend $8 for at fancy gourmet shops. It's a bit stinky and I probably will use less garlic next time but I'm definitely making this again (and again).

Why yes that IS the card I made D for his birthday


Ingredients:

Three 7-oz jars of tomato paste, Bionature brand in glass jars to avoid BPA and it contains no citric acid - available at Whole Foods
1/3 cup raw honey
3 Tb raw apple cider vinegar
3 small garlic cloves, pressed
6 Tb sauerkraut juice (preferred) or whey (liquid whey from draining whole milk yogurt)
2 1/4 tsp finely sea salt (do not use iodized salt or kosher salt)
pinch cayenne pepper
Equipment needed: one quart mason jar

Directions:
  • Combine all ingredients in a bowl (if using a quart mason jar, you can save on dirty dishes by mixing this up directly in the jar). Stir well to combine
  • Ensure that the top of the ketchup is at least 1-inch below the top of the jar(s).
  • Using a clean cloth or paper towel, wipe the top of the jar above the ketchup clean.
  • Put lid on jar and leave at room temperature for 3 days; then transfer to the refrigerator.

Fruit and Nut Bars


These fruit and nut bars from Zenbelly turned out fantastic and J loves, loves, loves them! I'm super pleased because they aren't sticky like the last bars I tried making (no honey) and they couldn't be easier to make. Equal portions dried fruit and nuts - I can DO that!
We made a version of the apricot/almond bars because that's what I had on hand. I added an extra 1/2 cup of everything since my pan was 9x9 not the originally called for 8x8.



Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups almonds
1/2 cup pitted dates
1/2 cup apricots, cut into smaller pieces
1/2 cup cranberries

Directions:
  • Throw it all in a food processor and whirl
  • Process until it’s as fine as you can get it. Add a tablespoon of water if it doesn’t start to clump together on it’s own (I added 2T)
  • Press into an 9×9 pyrex dish, lined with parchment paper for easy removing.
  • Refrigerate for an hour or so before you cut them into whatever shape you want.
  • Wrap in parchment paper and store in the fridge. Super easy and super tasty.

Sunday's Accomplishments

Today is my husband's birthday! We celebrated by letting him go for a run and then brew two beers :)

I did find the time to make a few things :


Fruit and Nut Bars

 
Fermented Ketchup
 
 
Cheese Crackers
 

Saturday, January 26, 2013

My Fledgling

I just sent my not-quite-three-year-old son off to the zoo with his grandparents.

To an outsider this will seem like nothing worth noting. But this is the very first time he will be off with someone other than me or my husband. The first time he will be having adventures and fun without me. The first time where if he needs a hug, or does something or learns something new, it won't be around me. The first time I won't be there to pick him up if he falls. Or give him his lunch. There will be stories to tell, but I will only be on the receiving end. When he comes back exhausted and excited and laughing, I will have to imagine what they did together. There was a moment of sadness in the car that was immediately extinguished by the thought of showing Grandmother and Pop Pops the sheep and goats.

He no longer needs to follow me upstairs when I go to hang laundry. Yesterday he stayed inside the gym instead of coming out with me to the car. He let his coach show him how to do a forward roll. He told me for the first time "I only like daddy, not mommy". My heart hurt a little but I was proud. He's pushing away, just a bit.

The house is quiet, but not his nap-time quiet where I'm shushing the dog. It's just me alone in my house quiet.

I picture his little fledgling wings unfurling a little. He's definitely exploring his place in this family and his world. Sometimes those elbows are sharp but we're learning together this new person he's becoming.

My astronaut

Friday, January 25, 2013

Again

{this moment} - A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savor and remember.

Beautiful Sunset Again

 

1. Write for 5 minutes flat – no editing, no over thinking, no backtracking.
2. Link back here and invite others to join in.

3. And then absolutely, no ifs, ands or buts about it, you need to visit the person who linked up before you & encourage them in their comments. Seriously. That is, like, the rule. And the fun. And the heart of this community..



Again......
As the dryer makes that sound again
As my son asks to do the beam again (and again)
As I scrub the toilets again
As I hang the laundry in the warm winter sun again
As I read Goodnight Train again
As I dust the house again
As I bake bread again
As I pay bills again
As I try to make kefir again
As I make a wonderful meal again
As I look forward to seeing my parents again
As we celebrate my father and husband's birthdays again
As I want to keep cutting out flowers with my new Big Shot again
As I look forward to doing art again
As I lose my temper again
As I love J pretending to be a kitty again
As I overhear his pretending games again
As he tries sitting on the potty again
As my chickens lay eggs again
As I look forward to Spring again
As my daffodils bloom again
As my son's laughter brings me joy again
As his tantrums drive me crazy again
As I'm learning new skills again
As I can't wait for him to wake up again
As his hugs and kisses mean more to me than anything again
As we watch another sunset again
As I remember to love my life again

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Homekeeping Tips

A couple of homekeeping items today. My meals tend to make leftovers - this is completely intentional. I love leftovers. We use them either for lunches or, my very favorite, freeze them for later meals. Having something in the freezer that I can pull out, defrost and make a meal from helps to keep my sanity. I do love to cook, but I don't want to have to make something from scratch every single day. Plus, I've noticed that, towards the end of the month, the food budget tends to get a bit skimpy. I'm still working on figuring out a balance since we switched to all organic, homemade, real food and started shopping at Whole Foods and the farmers market more than Trader Joes.

Sometime during the week I create a menu for the following week. I try to take into account what we have in the fridge that needs to be used before it goes bad or starts growing things (corn tortillas in this week), what we've had the prior week, how busy my days will be and how much we have left in the checking account. Also, how inspired I'm feeling. If I'm craving an easier night (or week), I peruse my freezer spreadsheet as well (more on that below). I keep the menu on my 'To Do' notebook next to my computer so I can reference it easily. It's also completely flexible of course. This week we had so much leftover polenta from the short rib ragu on Monday that I'm using it in two meals this week in order to use it up. Luckily bolognese over polenta with melted cheese was a hit since we had it Tuesday and we're having it again tonight. The bolognese was a frozen leftover from making lasagna sometime last year.

In order to keep my leftovers in order and remember what is actually in my freezer, I keep a spreadsheet (geek!) on my laptop that lists the item (chili, stew, sauces, etc) and how many I have on hand (this I do just by making an 'x' for each one). When I take something out, I delete an 'x', when I add something to the freezer, I add it to the list. The hard part is remembering to do delete or add. A couple of times a year, I'll take a freezer inventory to make sure everything is current.

We have three freezers, the one in the house I use for frequently used or random things (flax seed, nuts, or pieces of meat and cheese rinds saved for soup). The side by side in the garage is used exclusively for leftovers. The large freezer (21 cubic feet) is the one we use to store our grass-fed beef order from Leftcoast Grassfed and pork from Early Bird Ranch. If D ever catches a fish (keep trying honey!), we can vacuum seal it and store it in there too.

Our meat storage
 I was using Ziploc freezer bags to store my leftovers until I started reading about the specific toxicity of flexible plastic bags. Plus I started really thinking about the waste of throwing them out after each use. Not very cost effective and horrible for our planet. I now use these plastic containers  for freezing all my leftovers as well as my stocks and I love them! I simply write what's inside on the lid along with the date and freeze. I've had great success washing and reusing them after each use. I don't put them in the dishwasher or microwave though.
Leftovers
It's a system I've developed over the years and it works pretty well for us. It's helped end those nights where I have absolutely no clue what to do for dinner and we either order in or D picks something up on his way home. If nothing else, chili and rice makes for a quick and delicious meal.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Slow Cooker Short Rib Ragu

This recipe for short rib ragu came from my Williams Sonoma 'The New Slow Cooker Cookbook'. I've had that cookbook for almost a year and this was the first recipe I've made from it - they've all looked rather too complicated but the new me this year loves complicated! On a weekend or holiday night only please! In the end, I'm glad I stepped up to the plate and ordered short ribs along with our batch of grass fed beef and I'm *really* glad I chose to make this - the ragu is delicious. D was still talking about it two days later.

I would suggest making this only when you have at least an hour to spare in the morning to get everything going for the sauce. The ribs take 8 hours to cook but boy is the result worth it. I served it over soft polenta and it was incredible that way but I think you could serve it over anything and be happy.

Ingredients:

3 lb. grass-fed beef short ribs, English cut (I used a little over 2 lbs and it was fine)
salt and pepper
2 T olive oil
2 slices thick-cut bacon, chopped
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
10 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
2 T tomato paste
3/4 cup red wine (make sure it's good enough to drink, you know, because)
28 oz can plum tomatoes
2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 springs fresh rosemary
2 t red wine vinegar
soft polenta to serve

Directions:

  • Pat the ribs dry and season with salt and pepper. In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat, add the ribs and sear until brown on all sides (turn as needed). About 10-12 minutes. Using tongs, transfer ribs to the slow cooker.
  • Add the bacon to the pan and cook, stirring, until the fat begins to render. Add the onion, carrot and celery and continue cooking until golden. Add the garlic and tomato paste and cook for an additional 2 minutes, stirring. Pour in the wine and stir to get up all the brown bits. Add the tomatoes and juices, thyme, rosemary, vinegar, 3/4 salt, and several grinds of pepper. Stir well and bring to a simmer. Pour the contents into the slow cooker, making sure to pour over the ribs. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours, the ribs should be falling apart.
  • Using tongs, transfer the ribs to a platter (the bones were falling out of mine at this point) and let cool slightly. Pull the meat from the bones and shred it. Discard the herb sprigs. Transfer about 3/4 of the sauce to a blender or food processor and puree until smooth. Return the puree to the slow cooker and stir in the meat. I let the sauce sit for another 15-30 minutes for the flavors to amalgamate.
  • Serve over pasta or polenta (I recommend polenta). Top with grated Parmesan cheese.

On Patience (or the lack thereof)

According to Wikipedia, 'patience is the state of endurance under difficult circumstances, which can mean persevering in the face of delay or provocation without acting on annoyance/anger in a negative way; or exhibiting forbearance when under strain, especially when faced with longer-term difficulties. Patience is the level of endurance one can take before negativity'.

Wikipedia should also say that, like clothes, patience can get threadbare over time till there are holes and gaps where there used to be fabric. I'm at that point.

I've been looking into how to repair this part of me because I do NOT enjoy being the mom who snaps at every little thing or the wife with the wild eyes that the husband has to tip toe around.

After some soul and online searching this is what I've discovered so far*:

1) My patience level dropping seems to have a direct correlation to my not working out for the past week and a half. Now I don't know if walking releases something or boosts something (besides those endorphins) but I've noticed that my short temper has been increasing since I stopped walking in the morning. In my book that isn't worth the extra time I get by not working out.

2) I found this suggestion online "I also consciously wait about 5 seconds before I answer a question from my kids. I realized a few years ago that I was very quick to say no to them, even when their requests weren't unreasonable. Now I count to five before I answer, and I say yes a lot more often, which makes life in our house a lot happier." Now this I need to start instituting. I am way too quick to say no to J and the less patience I have? The quicker I say no. I might even yell it at times.

3) I haven't been sleeping well, or long enough or deep enough. I thought I was, I thought everything was fine, but over the last two nights, I've realized that I just can't sleep well with J plastered up next to me (we are co-sleeping in his room, this is an improvement trust me). Mama needs space. So I hit a breaking point last night and told J that if he wants me still sleeping in there with him, he needs to sleep in his own bed at night. This will also get him used to sleeping alone and on his own. So hopefully I can move back to my own bed soon.

4) Realizing the wisdom of my Bubi (grandmother) who always said "this too shall pass". I'm sure I'll miss this phase (tantrums, dissolving into tears, challenging, etc) that J is going through when he's 18 and going to college (probably not). But it is a mantra I will repeat over and over "this too shall pass, this too shall pass".

5) Giving myself some time. That's been of very short supply recently. I'm still trying to figure out where and when I can sneak something in for myself. This weekend I'm going to a cheese making class and I CAN NOT WAIT. I'm bouncing in my seat I'm so excited.

6) Realize I don't have to do it all. I have this desire to be the most amazing mom where every moment is a teachable opportunity. In reality, being that person all the time is exhausting and draining. And recently, I just flat out haven't had the patience. It's hard enough just being a mom with the every day things (laundry, cooking, cleaning, errands) to deal with plus the addition of being a teacher to my child. I'm just trying to be a good mom and get through the day. This doesn't mean I love J any less, it means that I'm giving myself a break. I can be a good mom or I can be a good teacher and I can't be both.

7) I've started visualizing. I see myself as a tree and I need to feel my feet deeply rooted in the ground in order to set up a good balance for the rest of my body and life. Right now they're not and the more out of whack I feel, the more separate my feet feel from the Earth. I've never meditated but the older and crabbier I get, the more I'm seeing the benefit. When I was thinking 'what do I need to do to make myself a more patient person?', my mind answered back 'root yourself'. Can't hurt to try.

8) I need to learn to play again. I have a neighbor who has two sons and almost every day I hear her playing with them. Free form physical play. Encouraging, nurturing, fun, shouting, questioning, free and happy playing. There is much there I can learn. Because I am so busy doing ______, I do not play with J. I admire his ability to entertain himself but his mommy doesn't get on the floor and play with him. Even just writing this makes me sad.

9) I need more empathy. I need to look at situations from J's side in particular. He's an almost-three-year-old. He's challenging and dramatic but to him the world is challenging and dramatic. He suddenly has this incredible verbal ability and understanding and he's trying to figure out his place in our family and the world that he knows. He isn't intentionally driving me crazy, he's just hitting those milestones right on target.

10) I need to relax and pick my battles. I've been saying 'no' or 'don't' to almost everything recently. It sucks. It's draining on me and wearing on him. We haven't been having many fun days. I've not had the patience for doing much beyond what needed to be done. By giving him more freedom, I'm hoping it will take some of the burden for saying 'no or 'don't' all the time. Plus I really don't want to squash his independence or make him feel he has to be sneaky to get around me.

11) Let someone else shoulder some of the burden. Whether it be running errands or taking J somewhere or letting me go somewhere by myself. I need to ask for help and not feel like I have to do it all myself.

12) I need to remember to breathe. Just breathe. When when I feel like my patience is so frayed it's going to snap, I need to breathe. Take a deep breath, hold it in for 5 seconds and let it out slowly for 5 seconds. And repeat as needed.

13) D and I need to not let our respective frayed patience feed on and off of each other. I've noticed that if I'm at a breaking point when D gets home, pretty soon he isn't as patient with J as he normally would be and vice versa. If one of us needs a break, we need to let the other one have it. We are a team and it's time we start doing the 'tag team' routine.

14) I've noticed that just writing about this has been cathartic. Maybe just putting a voice to what I've been feeling has helped instead of trying to fix it myself, internally and silently.

* These are mostly almost-three-year-old focused because that's my life right now but I think they would be good in almost any situation.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Waking Up in a Rotten Mood

Today I woke up on the wrong side of the bed. Technically there's only one side of the bed I wake up on since it's pushed against my son's day bed but, this morning, it was the wrong side.

I knew it wasn't going to be good when my son woke up early and my brain reverberated with a shrill, screechy voice screaming NO NO NO!!!! For some reason that voice is always an acid green. I don't know why but it's like acid green flames flicking inside my brain. I didn't think 'extra snuggle time', I thought ARGH.

I'm not sure if it was the long list of errands that need running, or the end of month checkbook balance or what, but I want this mood GONE. And because it's so often the little things that add up to a big mood change, I'm going to list a few little things that made me happy this morning.

1) Hanging my clothes on the line to dry. Last summer my husband hung a single line on our upstairs balcony for me to hang clothes on. I underestimated how much I would love hanging clothes out to dry.

2) J pushing his trash truck up to me and asking me "are you so excited?!" as he shows me what he has tucked in the back of the truck (milk flat car and a passenger car this time).

3) Blackberry jam on homemade whole wheat toast.

4) Drinking hot tea.

5) Sunny, warm winter days.

6) Emails from friends.

7) 10:30 and J and I are still in our pajamas.

8) Cleaning the kitchen - not that I love the cleaning but I sure love the way it looks when it's done.

9) Three of my orchids are re-blooming - I love it when that happens.

10). Skipping running errands - that definitely makes me happy!

There, I'm feeling better already.

Monday, January 21, 2013

How I Spent A Crafty Monday

One of the things I love about the spot we vacation in Boonville is the oaks covered with the lichen Old Man's Beard. It's wispy and rather romantic and I love the way it covers the oaks around our cabin. As we took walks and hikes, I collected small branches and twigs covered with the lichen. I was feeling particularly clever and crafty thought about making a wreath from it. Part of my new life changes - to get more creative and crafty. I did however, have the forethought that I had never made a wreath, attempted a wreath or thought about making a wreath before. I went in with high hopes and no clue.

I started by buying a round wire wreath form from Michael's and green 24 and 20 gauge wire. It seemed right and wasn't too expensive. This holiday morning, with my creative juices flowing, I  decided to tackle the project. I'm really happy with how it turned out and, wonderfully enough, I chose the perfect medium for my first wreath. Old Man's Beard is very forgiving stuff. It tucks in and sticks where you want it to, its great at covering the green wires and wire form and it looks really pretty when done. Now I just need to go back to Boonville to collect more....


 
I organized the sticks and twigs by size


I started wrapping the larger branches with the heavier wire. Videos weren't much help but they did show me to keep the wire going in a continuous spiral. Unfortunately I don't have pictures of the middle of the process (there was a kiddo needing attention at the time) but I used the smaller wire  (using the same spiral wrapping around and in between) to wrap the smaller twigs over the larger sticks. I finished the wreath by tucking small bits of old man's beard and small twigs into the spaces between the sticks and twigs in order to cover the green wire.

 
Hanging on the front door - this isn't the greatest picture. I'll try to get a better one. I think it needs sunlight or a better camera.


Details 
 

Corned Beef Hash

Corned beef hash has to be one of my very favorite breakfasts and amazingly enough, we have only attempted to make it at home once before (using deli counter corned beef). It was good but nothing like the ease and flavor of this recipe. Of course I do think the fact that we used our own homemade corned beef played a huge part in the incredible flavor, but this could be made with deli corned beef too and would be quite tasty. I like the ease of the recipe and the simple ingredients. If you have a husband who makes it for you then it's even easier (thanks honey!). Adapted lightly from Simply Recipes.



Ingredients:

3 T unsalted butter
1 cup yellow onion, diced
2-3 cups cooked corned beef, diced
2-3 cups cooked Yukon gold potatoes, diced (boil the potatoes in their skins and then peel them)
 
Directions:
  • Heat butter in a large skillet (preferably cast iron) on medium heat. Add the onion and cook a few minutes, until translucent.
  • Mix in the chopped corned beef and potatoes. Spread out evenly over the pan. Increase the heat to high or medium high and press down on the mixture with a metal spatula.
  • Do not stir the potatoes and corned beef, but let them brown. If you hear them sizzling, this is good. Use a metal spatula to peek underneath and see if they are browning. If nicely browned, use the spatula to flip sections over in the pan so that they brown on the other side. Press down again with the spatula. If there is too much sticking, you can add a little more butter to the pan. Continue to cook in this manner until the potatoes and the corned beef are nicely browned.
  • Serve with poached (or fried) eggs for breakfast.
 

Corned Beef


I love corned beef. Adore it. sliced thin and piled on rye bread, cut thick and served with boiled potatoes and cabbage, or one of my very favorite breakfasts, corned beef hash. Mmmmm. Corned beef. So when I heard from a friend that Kathy at  Leftcoast Grassfed had an amazing corned beef recipe, I had to get it from her. Oh how glad I am that she shared with with me (and now you). It's super easy, brine for at least 10 days and then cook for a couple of hours but the flavors from this meat! Oh they're hard to describe. Not at all like store bought or even deli corned beef. They're delicate and subtle but definitely there. Let me go taste another piece so I can describe it better. This meat is definitely not a one note flavor. I get the clove and the allspice, a hint of cinnamon and sugar and it's salty but not overwhelming. It's just delicious and makes an incredible corned beef hash.

Ingredients:
1 (4-5 lb) grassfed beef brisket, trimmed
2 quarts water
1 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cinnamon stick, broken into several pieces
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp black peppercorns
8 whole cloves
8 whole allspice berries
12 whole juniper berries
2 bay leaves, crumbled
1/2 tsp ground ginger

Directions:
  • Place the water into a large stockpot along with salt, sugar, cinnamon stick, mustard seeds, peppercorns, cloves, allspice, juniper berries, bay leaves, and ginger. Cook over high heat until the salt and sugar have dissolved. The aromatic fragrance of the spices is simply amazing.
  • Remove from the heat and cool to a temperature of 45 degrees F.
  • Once it has cooled, place the brisket in a 2-gallon zip top bag and add the brine. Seal and lay flat inside a container, cover and place in the refrigerator for at least 10 days (I did 2 weeks). Check daily to make sure the beef is completely submerged and stir the brine. If you don’t have a huge zip top bag, brine the brisket in a large Tupperware container and make sure to flip the brisket each day to make sure that all of the brisket comes in contact with the brine.
 
Cooking the Beef Brisket

Ingredients:
1 small onion, quartered
1 large carrot, coarsely chopped
1 stalk celery, coarsely chopped 

Directions:
  • After at least 10 days, remove the brisket from the brine and rinse well under cool water. Place the brisket into a pot just large enough to hold the meat, add the onion, carrot and celery and cover with water. Set over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and gently simmer for 2 to 2 ½ hours or until the meat is fork tender.
  • Remove from the pot and thinly slice across the grain.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Sunday Accomplishments

Niners (Super Bowl!!) playing football and a visit from Grandma meant not a lot got done today. I did manage to wrap a gift for our neighbors son and Js friend. J helped with the wrapping paper :)
Used my new stamps from my card making friend to create the wrap and the card. This was my first card and I'm definitely going to have fun with this hobby! I have visions of an Etsy shop in my mind....


Saturday, January 19, 2013

So You Think You Want Chickens?

1. Chicks are adorable, hens are pretty, if it's beautiful, it's a rooster.
2. Roosters are a pain in the behind. If you don't have a large free-ranging flock and predators, there's no point for a roo. Roosters attack and can draw blood through jeans.
3. Roosters really are gorgeous.
4. A rooster will not just crow at sunrise but will also crow during the day and at night. Especially at 3am. The crow is a warning signal to the flock not just a way to greet the dawn. Some crow constantly.
5. When buying chicks, get an extra one. Something always seems to happen to one of them or one turns out to be a roo.
6. Chickens are incredibly adaptable.
7. I spoil my chickens but not as much as some.
8. No matter how crazy you are, someone else is crazier.
9. Chickens will eat almost anything, including chicken.
10. Almost anything will eat a chicken.
11. They will peck at the color red, toenail polish, clothes, another chicken that has a cut.
12. When you have to isolate a hen for whatever reason, a large dog crate comes in very handy.
13. Chickens love pink toddler fingers.
14. Feeding chickens is a super fun thing to do.
15. If you have chickens, you're never short on a topic of conversation.
16. People will be jealous of your hens and will start thinking maybe they should keep their own.
17. Once a year, chickens lose all of their feathers and looked plucked. This is called 'molting' and is perfectly natural. Hilarious laughter often ensues.
18. Hens do not lay eggs when they're molting, sadness follows, when you see that first egg again it's like a gift.
19. When your first chicken lays her first egg and your husband sends you a picture of it while you're on a business trip, your colleagues will think you've lost your mind as you show it to everyone as if it was a picture of your first born.
20. The person who gets to eat the first egg will feel like they won the lottery.
21. Once you have eggs from your girls you won't buy store bought ever again.
22. Hens slow down their laying after their 2nd year so you'd better have a plan to bring in new chicks and do something with the older ones.
23. Easter Eggers (a mixed breed) can lay the most beautiful eggs, from olive green to aqua.
24. Chickens die. It happens. Sometimes you have to kill one and you'd better know how to (or have a neighbor who does). I've found one dead in the coop and had to put one down (lucky we have a neighbor)
25. Kids LOVE chickens. Chickens love popcorn.
26. Keep your compost bin in with you chickens for some very happy birds and happy compost.
27. Chickens will decimate any area you let them into, garden, lawn - the plants? Gone.
28. Chickens make great bug catchers.
29. With chickens come flies.
30. Chickens bathe in the dirt - the first time you see this you'll think they're having a fit.
31. There are great websites out there full of information, the best thing to remember is that a chicken is a farm animal. They may be pets and have cute names but they're still a farm animal.
32. Hens do NOT need a rooster to lay eggs. They do need a rooster to lay fertilized eggs that will hatch chicks. You'll be amazed at how many people will tell you you need a rooster.
33. Most modern hens have had the ability to set on a nest and raise chicks bred out of them since a setting/broody hen does not lay eggs.
34. You will have a hen that goes broody (sits on a nest trying to hatch eggs even if they're not fertilized). Try whatever you can to break the broody. I lock mine out of the coop except for at night and that seems to work. Sometimes.
35. Keep your chickens where you can watch them and they'll provide hours of entertainment.
36. Chickens poop. A lot. Have a plan. It's great compost addition but you have to age it before putting it on plants.
37. Hens laying depends on daylight - so in winter their egg production slows down or even stops.
38. Bad things can happen to good chickens, be prepared.
39. There are things chickens shouldn't eat, tomato vines, green tomatoes, potato skins, avocados to name a few. Check the list before you give your girls something. Mine ate the insulation around the pipes to the air conditioner.
40. If you feed your girls onions and garlic, the eggs will taste like onion and garlic.
41. Work colleagues may start calling you 'The Crazy Chicken Lady'. You will take it as a compliment.
42. Unless you're a carpenter or married to a carpenter, you may spend your anniversary weekend building the coop/pen for your chickens. It may or may not cost $500 and involve 4-5 trips to Home Depot.
43. The first night your fledged (with feathers not down) chicks are outside in the coop, you will worry all night about them. This does not change no matter how many sets of chickens you raise.
44. Sexing chicks is not 100%, you may end up with a rooster (I've had two over the years).
45. The more you find out about factory farming, confined chickens, the debeaking of chickens and so called 'free range' the more appalled you will be.
46. Once you get hens, you won't ever want to live anywhere you can't keep chickens.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Squash Risotto with Browned Butter and Sage

This was so good that D had seconds :)



Ingredients:

2 cups (or more) 1/2 inch diced squash (any kind, I used Delicata)
olive oil
3 T butter
1/2 yellow onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine
4 cups chicken stock
1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
2 T sage leaves, chopped
3  T butter
10 whole sage leaves

Directions:
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Toss squash with olive oil to coat and lightly salt and pepper. Roast squash for 30 minutes or until starting to brown and they're soft. Set aside.
  • Heat chicken stock over medium heat to a simmer.
  • Add 3T butter to a large pot and melt over medium heat. Add onion and garlic and saute until the onion softens and starts to turn golden. Add rice and continue to stir and saute for 1 minute. Add wine and cook, stirring, until it evaporates.
  • Ladle in 1/2 cup stock  and simmer, stirring occasionally, until it starts to look somewhat dry. Ladle in more stock and let simmer, stirring, until it evaporates and repeat. The rice should be soft but not hard and chewy. It took all 4 cups of my stock but no more.
  • Add the chopped sage and and 1/2 cup Parmesan and stir gently to blend.
  • In the meantime, melt 3 T butter over medium heat. To make browned butter, you want to keep the heat even and steady. Once the butter has fully melted, let it sit and allow the solids in the butter to start to turn brown, be careful not to let it burn. This may take about 5 minutes, but as long as you are watching the butter, it should be fine. Swish the butter around from time to time to make sure it’s not burning. When you see that great brown color start to develop, add the whole sage leaves and let fry until they're crisp, about 3 minutes.
  • Serve risotto topped with browned butter, crispy sage and more Parmesan cheese.

Cherished

 

{this moment}

Cherished. The one who taught me the true, deep meaning of the word is in the above photo. My amazing, wonderful, incredible boy. The one who gave me the ability to understand that when my mom says to me that "you'll always be my baby", it's true. He will ALWAYS be my baby. No matter how old or how big he gets. When he has babies of his own, I will hold them and remember what it was like holding him as a baby, as a toddler, as a little boy, as a big boy, as a teenager, as an adult. My baby always.
People said that motherhood is having part of your heart outside your body and it's true. My heart has gone with him since the moment he was born. I cherish this little soul. This sweet, snuggly, at times exasperating, child. I have cherished many things about and in my life but he's the one who gave the word cherished capital letters.
He's beautiful and I hope he always realizes that he is cherished beyond measure and beyond words.

Five Minute Fridays - http://lisajobaker.com/
1. Write for 5 minutes flat – no editing, no over thinking, no backtracking
2. Link back here and invite others to join in.
3. Please visit the person who linked up before you & encourage them in their comments. That is like the one rule we all really care about. For reals.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Split Pea Soup with Bacon (Bacon!)

While this doesn't have the deep pork flavor that a split pea made with a smoked ham hock does, it's still pretty good. And I'm much more likely to have the ingredients to hand versus a recipe requiring a ham bone.



Ingredients:

14 slices good quality bacon (I used the black forest bacon from Whole Foods)
1 large yellow onion, diced
2 celery ribs, sliced
8 large carrots, peeled and sliced
3 cloves garlic, halved
1 pound green split peas
8 cups chicken stock
2 T dry sherry
Tabasco (to taste)
4 Yukon gold potatoes, peeled, diced and cooked

Directions:
  • Slice the bacon and saute in a stock pot until golden brown and crisp. Spoon out using a slotted spoon (you want the bacon fat to stay in the pot). Add the onions, celery, carrots and garlic and saute until translucent and beginning to brown. Add the peas and stock, bring to a boil and then cover and lower heat and simmer for an hour.
  • Remove the pot from the stove and add the sherry and Tabasco then using a hand blender puree until smooth. Add the cooked potatoes and let simmer for a few minutes to combine flavors.
  • Serve topped with the cooked bacon pieces and crisp toast.


My very favorite song lyric in the whole wide world is

"You gotta accentuate the positive/eliminate the negative/latch on to the affirmative/don't mess with Mr. In-between". (Anyone else singing along as you read that?). It speaks to how I want to live my life. How I want to view the world. How I want to raise my son.

It's so easy to focus on the negative, so easy to bring out the 'whippin stick' and lay stripes on ourselves for flaws, real or only self-perceived. I'm not sure anyone is harder on us than us. I know it's true for me. If anyone ever read my journal they'd think I was full of self-loathing. It's full of the the things I do wrong and very little I do right. The journal I keep for J, however, is ONLY full of wonderfulness. That's not right, I need wonderfulness too. I need to stop lashing myself. I've found that the negative thoughts can just build up over time until that's all I see. I miss the beauty, the happiness, the laughter.  The things about me that are really amazing and special.

J is driving me crazy with his almost -three-year-old dramatics - I HAVE AN ALMOST THREE YEAR OLD! I can't tell you for how many years it didn't even seem like this was ever going to happen.

There are days that feel like pure drudgery, laundry, dishes, cook, feed, clean, change diapers, repeat - there are definitely days that are full of chores, but they are also full of spontaneous hugs, kisses, laughter, conversations and helping. I wouldn't change being a stay-at-home-mom for anything.

I totally and completely went over budget this month  - I spent money on some things I'm very excited about, a new hobby and presents for D's birthday.

I really need to lose 20 pounds, I'm not as thin as I once was - I now have much better *ahem* assets than when I was skinny and a husband who thinks I'm gorgeous and tells me so often.

My house is a mess, I can't ever seem to keep it clean - I have a beautiful home full of things I love.

We don't have enough money for _____ - we have enough for what we need and then some.

I never get out at night anymore - I have wonderful activities to do during the day and friends to see, I could fill every day of the week if I so chose.

We don't vacation the way we once did, no exotic locations, no foreign travel - while travel is simpler now and is more likely to involve a car trip and staying at a place with a kitchen, it's no less special or full of wonderful memories. And when J is old enough, we will show him the world.

And those are just the things that crossed my mind this morning. I'm tired of not...wearing rose colored glasses when it comes to my life. I have much to be thankful for and feel blessed about and it's time I start actively thinking about the good things - there are so many.









Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Today I Am...

Thankful for a sunny winter day where it's warm in the sun and chilly in the shade and a wonderful morning spent at the park with a friend and our kiddos

Grateful to have chili ready for dinner and an egg-free cornbread recipe to try and happy to be sharing the chili and cornbread with a friend who just had a baby.

Ecstatic that my brother and his family (nephew! niece!) are moving here this summer - it's been decades since we lived in the same state much less area. I can't wait to have them here.

Loving watching J's imagination blossom and expand. The pretending and stories he is creating are amazing and wonderful to behold.

Appreciating the snuggles, cuddles and huggles (it's a hug and a cuddle) I'm getting from him. I have a super sweet snuggly boy and I'm savoring it all.

Enjoying gathering things for a new crafty hobby - card making - and itching to get started but,

Frustrated by my lack of ability to stick to The Compact - completely blew it this month with all my purchases for making cards.

Retraining my brain to think frugality first. Stubborn brain.

Reading 'Eat Pray Love'.

Content in this moment with where I am and what I have - for now.






Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Pasta e Fagioli

Adapted lightly from David Rocco's cookbook 'Made in Italy'. This is a wonderfully comforting dish and makes a lot of leftovers! Next time I think I'm going to add some Italian sausage for added flavor.

Ingredients:

4 T olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small red onion, finely diced
3 oz pancetta, diced
2 cups borlotti beans, cooked (I use beans from Rancho Gordo)
1 cup tomato puree
10 oz assorted pasta (helps if it cooks at the same time)
4 cups water
1/2 cup parmesan, grated plus additional for serving
Bread crumbs, toasted
Fresh herbs, oregano or rosemary
Piece of parmesan cheese rind
Mixed greens, chard, kale, spinach or beet greens

Directions:
  • Heat olive oil in a large pot or saute pan. Add the pancetta, garlic and onion and gently saute until onion softens and pancetta crisps. Add the beans and tomato puree and cook for a few minutes. Add the pasta, fresh herbs and rind to the pot and pour in just enough water to cover.
  • Stir the mixture to make sure it doesn't stick. Give it a stir every few minutes to make sure things aren't sticking. Add more water if it starts to dry out before the pasta is fully cooked. When the pasta is al dente, add the greens, cover, and simmer on low until the greens are soft.
  • Add salt, pepper and parmesan and stir to mix. Let the flavors amalgamate until ready to serve. Rocco suggests serving at room temperature and I like it both hot and lukewarm.
  • Serve topped with the breadcrumbs and additional cheese.

Chickens

This was going to initially be a post about television. And then it was going to be about The Compact and how I've gone off the rails buying items for my new card making craft. But then my almost-three-years-old son went and did something. He reminded me of the joy in little things.

He woke up way too soon fom his nap this afternoon and immediately asked "can I put on my boots and go in the chicken coop?". Now I'd promised this to him at a play date this morning, "after nap you can go feed the chickens". I'm always amazed when he remembers these things but I shouldn't be. If he doesn't remind me of something, it's because he doesn't want to not because he's forgotten.

We put on his coat and his froggy boots, I opened the gate to the chicken run and let him loose on the girls. Per his insistence, I went back inside. That's why the first photos are all sneaky paparazzi shots.

Filling up the bucket with scratch
 
Off to find the girls
 
They're down in the coop (there's a little pathway on the left to get to the coop)
 
Pouring scratch into the coop pen
 
Happy hens
 
Chicken tushies
 
I absolutely love the way J is enamoured of the hens (and always has been) and the way he has wanted to learn to feed and take care of them. He thinks they're wonderful. Most days I view them as a (mostly happy) chore, let them out in the morning, lock them up at night, collect eggs, feed, water, clean the coop. J gets nothing but pure pleasure from being with them, he talks to them, gives them treats, etc.
 
We've had chickens for about 5 years now and I don't ever want to live someplace where we can't have hens and have dreams of a larger flock that can really free range some day. We're going to get a few more chicks this Spring and J will name and help me take care of them - a gentle precursor to the 4-H program I will sign him up for when he's 5. Just a happy set of photos that remind me of how glad I am for a series of fortunate circumstances that led us to keeping chickens.
 

The egg we collected today - from YaYa (J named her)



Monday, January 14, 2013

Taking a Day Off

Well sort of. I'm still a full time mom and wife today. I'm not spending the day at the spa nor running away from home. What I did was give myself permission to not do anything I didn't want to. I didn't work out this morning. I didn't run errands. I just...enjoyed the morning. I got to have my tea while it was hot, I played rocket ship with J, I portioned up the soup and chili I made yesterday, I ordered D's birthday presents and some card-making goodies, made pretzels (per request of J), I'm going to start prepping dinner so I can have it on the table at a decent time and I'm sitting to write this post. All in all it has been a relatively stress free day.

Menu for this Week:

Monday - Spaghetti with chickpeas

Tuesday - Pasta e Fagioli (David Rocco)

Wednesday - Chili and Cornbread

Thursday - Country Split Pea Soup (The New England Soup Factory Cookbook)

Friday - Turban Squash Risotto

Saturday - Birthday Party

Sunday - Short Rib Ragu (Williams Sonoma Slow Cooker Cookbook)

Beef and Bean Chili for the Slow Cooker

Adapted for the slow cooker from Smitten Kitchen. I think chili is especially tasty when prepared in the slow cooker. I also use a pound of dried beans (yes, even though I'm from Texas) in this recipe which needs the long cooking time of the slow cooker to work. Dried beans helps to stretch the chili plus they taste good - especially when cooked with all the spices! The original post includes a recipe for cheddar and sour cream biscuits and I highly recommend them - they're delicious!



Ingredients:
2 large onions, chopped (about 3 cups)
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon minced garlic
2 large carrots, sliced thin (suggested by Gourmet) or in a small dice, as I’d chop them next time
3 pounds ground beef
1/2 cup chili powder
1.5 tablespoons ground cumin
2 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoon crumbled dry oregano (I use Mexican in my chili)
Dried red pepper flakes, to taste (Gourmet suggests 1 tablespoon; I used 1 teaspoon knowing that my flakes are very hot)
4 cups fresh tomato sauce or tomato puree
4 cups beef broth
Water as needed
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
1 pound dried beans (I've used a variety of beans from Rancho Gordo)
2 green bell peppers, chopped
Directions:
  • In a large pot heat the oil over moderately low heat and cook the onions for 5 to 10 minutes, until softened. Add the garlic and carrots and cook for one minute more. Remove to slow cooker.
  • Raise the heat to medium and add the beef, stirring and breaking up any lumps until it is no longer pink, about 10 minutes. Remove to slow cooker.
  • Add the beans, chili powder, cumin, paprika, oregano, pepper flakes, tomato sauce, broth, bell peppers and vinegar to the slow cooker.  Add water as needed to keep the liquid thin enough to cook the beans. I check the chili throughout the day to make sure there's enough liquid for the beans, adding water as needed. I cook on high for 2 hours and then set to low and cook until the beans are soft.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Blues and Flu Chaser Soup

    From The New England Soup Factory Cookbook. I was very unsure about this recipe, it definitely calls for some unusual (for chicken soup) ingredients but after tasting the finished product I love it! It's zesty and soothing and will definitely be nice to have when we're feeling under the weather.

    Ingredients:
    20 garlic cloves, peeled
    1 cup olive oil
    1 whole chicken, about 4-5 lbs
    3 celery ribs, diced
    1 onion, diced
    6 carrots, peeled and sliced thickly
    2 bay leaves
    1 t ground cinnamon
    1/2 t cayenne pepper
    2 t dried mint
    2-3 slices fresh ginger (optional - I didn't use them)
    3/4 cup fresh lemon juice
    1 T lemon zest
    12 cups chicken stock
    2 T fresh basil, chopped (for serving)
    3 cups rice, cooked (for serving)

    Directions*:
  • Roast garlic by preheating oven to 325 degrees and placing cloves in an oven safe casserole, covering with olive oil and then covering with foil and roasting for around 40 minutes or until golden. Strain oil and reserve. Mash cloves and set aside.
  • Pour garlic oil into a large stock pot and add onions, celery and carrots. Saute until onion are soft and clear.
  • Add whole chicken, stock, lemon juice,  zest, bay leaves, cinnamon, cayenne, dried mint, ginger (if using) and garlic cloves.
  • Cover and simmer soup for 2.5-3 hours or until chicken is soft (it falls apart).
  • Remove from heat and place the chicken to a plate to cool. When the chicken is cool enough to handle, remove the skin and bones and add the meat back to the soup. (I placed my bones and skin into another pot to make a batch of stock). Salt and pepper to taste.
  • Skim off the fat and reserve for cooking or feed to your chickens ;).
  • When serving the soup, add the chopped basil and rice (don't freeze the soup with the basil and rice in it).
*The original recipe said you could thin your soup with stock or water if it seemed too thick. I tried that this morning after letting it sit overnight and I wouldn't recommend it unless you want to reverse engineer the subtle flavors. Watering it down destroyed them. I re-added cinnamon, mint and cayenne and, because I can't leave well enough alone, I also added 1 t ground ginger and 1 t tumeric. Both seemed to enhance the flavor and I'll add them initially next time.


     
       
     
       

    Sunday's Accomplishments


     
    Chicken Stock
    (using the bones from the Blues and Flu Chaser Soup and some chicken backs)