Thursday, January 19, 2017

Soups On!

When it's time to make dinner and no one wants to eat what you were planning to make, it's easy to want to dash to the drive-thru. But, if you can get through the initial dismay and frustration, there is a fairly quick alternative. It has worked every time I have thought of it. On these emergency occasions I am glad to have chicken stock and prepared beans in my pantry because this is the best time to make up a new soup or throw together an old reliable like chicken noodle. Soup is such a versatile and nourishing dinner, whip up some biscuits or cornbread and it becomes comfort food. If you have a hard time getting vegetables into your family's bellies, soup is the perfect vehicle to get the job done.
It's easy to make soup without a recipe if you know the basics. Start with fat and cook your meat, onion and other vegetables. If you want to thicken the broth, now is the time to add some flour and let the rue cook a minute or two before adding the liquid. Next add seasonings and let it simmer at least five minutes. Enrich with butter or cream, garnish and serve. It takes some practice, but not too much, you can start to understand at what point to add each item so you don't overcook any one thing. Always taste and adjust seasoning just before adding enrichment.
Tonight was a successful inspiration, I browned some frozen hamburger patties diced onion, a diced tomato, and green bell pepper, threw in some Navy beans, stock and a dash of Chipotle. Enriched with butter and accompanied with a slice of sourdough bread and a sliced avocado on top. This creative brainstorm was a hit with my picky boys.
Sometimes its chicken noodle soup if I have leftover chicken, next time it could be creamy potato soup with kale and elbow macaroni. I just depends on what you are in the mood for and what you have on hand. I'm calling soup my go to fail-safe for last minute real food dinner and keeping my pantry stocked with the basics. Good luck, and have fun creating your masterpiece.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Simple Fresh Peanut Butter

Making Peanut Butter or any nut or seed butter really is just as simple as grinding them up in a food processor to the desired smoothness and seasoning it as you like. It is really so much more tasty to make fresh nut or seed butter, but it's only as good as your ingredients. Even if you don't use organic peanuts, they taste fresher, and it's much more economical.
It really just goes to show how big business has sold us on consumerism. After making my own peanut butter, I don't plan on ever buying it or almond butter or cashew butter etc. ever again! What a racket, seriously! No more standing for half an hour in a grocery isle staring at fifty different options for my PB and J sandwich. Chunky, smooth, medium, less salt, low fat... Rediculousness, make your own to your own liking and enjoy!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Simple Fresh Applesauce

It seems like our modern culture has a tendency to overcomplicate things, and maybe that's our competitive nature. We don't want other people to think that they can do what we can do just as easily right? Because, if they can do what we can do, they won't admire us anymore... We all need admiration, and that's OK, but maybe we shouldn't be so greedy for it. After all, we should always be willing to help each other. My livelyhood doesn't depend on anyone buying the food I prepare so I don't mind sharing my experience.
I have been reading an old home economics book written at the end of the 1930's for young womens' schools. It says the most nutrition is obtained from raw fruit as apposed to dried or cooked fruit. However, if you are unable to eat an abundance of fruit before it overrippens, it is best to cook it, to preserve it in some way so as not to waste the food.
This was a revelation to me; not that I didn't already know cooking fruit was an alternative to throwing it away, but I realized I could be more concious and more intentional with the fresh food I buy. I should be watchful of my fresh produce, check on it everyday if I'm not eating it, and do something with it if it's not gonna make it much longer. But then do I have to look up a recipe and measure out ingredients, which takes time and for thought? The answer is, not necessarily. Sometimes all it takes is some imagination. How about poaching halved pears in butter, brown sugar and a bit of water and serving them with cinnamon spiced whipped cream on top. Cutting up some pineapple and orange sections and dusting them with powdered sugar and lots of coconut makes a delicious new spin on ambrosia salad! If I buy too many apples because they are on sale and I love apples, I can make applesauce after they've reached there and freeze it in pint jars for later. (Which my toddler loves to eat regularly by the way.) Applesauce is one of those things we have been lead to believe is complicated or requires some special skills or equipment to make. -None of which is true.
Today I'm sharing a recipe for the applesauce I threw together off the top of my head to use up some soft and meally apples.

Fresh Applesauce
6 Apples
1/2 cup Water
A pinch Salt
2 Tbsp Raw Clover Honey

Core, peel and chop apples into large chunks. (You don't have to peel the apples, but we prefer to have a smooth applesauce as apposed to sauce with sharp flecks of peel in it. I use a potato peeler for ease and convenience to peel the apples before cutting them up.) Place apples and water into a medium baking dish.
Bake 400 degrees for 30 minutes.
Puree with an immersion blender, and stir in salt and honey once it's cooled.
Makes about one quart.
Store in fridge or freezer.

If you prefer, you could cook them on the stove top instead. The key is not to over complicate things. If you like cinnamon or another spice in applesauce, then add it! If  you want to use sugar or dates to sweeten it instead of honey, by all means, do it. This is what it means to be the family cook, add a little this and taste it, add a little more of that and taste it until you feel it tastes the way you want. Just don't add too much all at once. 😉
Bon appetit!

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

What Actually Makes Life More Simple in My Home

There are so many blogs and books out there with recipes and formulas for homemade products to replace our former chemical laden products we use to buy at the store. Personally, I don't find making eight different cleaners ever so often and then reaching for each one when I need to clean something, all that simple. I would like to share what I have been doing that actually feels simple to me.

Bathroom Cleaning
When it's time to clean my bathrooms which; apart from the kitchen I feel needs cleaning the most, I whip up a cleaning solution that works great on the sinks toilets and bathtubs.
For two bathrooms I combine a quarter cup of baking soda, a tablespoon of SalSuds or Liquid Castile Soap, and 5-10 drops of Grapefruit or otherwise a delightful essential oil and mix it with a wooden spoon. It will look crumbly, then I just add water from the tap and stir it until it forms a softscrub-like paste. After mixing up this cleaner, I go to each fixture and scoop out a bit and fling it in. I scrub the inside of the toilet and then spray the outside with disinfectant and let it sit while I scrub the sink and tub with a stiff brush. Next I use a damp microfiber ecloth to wash the mirrors and a dry ecloth to buff. These astonishingly sparklingly clean mirrors with very little effort. To wash the floors I use a spray bottle of vinegar water and a microfiber mop.

Cleaning The Kitchen
This is even more simple because I wash my dishes by hand I can't spend extra time getting out special cleaners for every little thing. I don't have stainless appliances currently, but this method should work fine in any case.
First I wash dishes using a mild dish soap, and vinegar rinse water ( I use about a quarter to a half cup of white vinegar in my rinse water.) Once the dishes are washed, I use my soapy water and vinegar water and a dish cloth to wash my counters, appliances, cupboards and walls that may have been splashed, and the dining table. It works marvellously and I have a clear glass dining table. Then I use my hard floor attachment and vacuum my kitchen floor, followed by a spray of vinegar water and microfiber mop. Vinegar water cleaner my stainless sink too. And just like that I have a shining clean kitchen. If I have had a mess of egg or poultry to clean up, I use my disinfecting spray.

Cleaning the Livingroom and Other Living Areas
I bought a microfiber duster I use to dust blinds and every other surface, and I have a vacuum with HEPA filtration. I use the same ecloths and technique to clean windows as I use to clean mirrors. I diffuse essential oils instead of using a room spray, I have a Salt Lamp running and an Aloe Vera plant to clean the air. Let's not forget to change the Central Air filter too right.
If there is a spill I spray hydrogen peroxide on it and it has lifted everything I've tried it on. Vinegar and water also work fine on the fabric couch and just a damp cloth on our leather chair and laminate tables. I do need to figure out a leather conditioner though.

Cleaning Bedrooms
I use a diffuser here as well, dust, vacuum, air beds and then make them up, fluff pillows, and HP on spills.
You know, I don't really get a lot of stains though, because we generally don't eat much food coloring anymore. My son drinks mostly water and milk, so far as spills go, right now I just vacuum up a lot of crumbs.

Other Maintenance
Damp Microfiber cleans the outside of my washer and dryer, I use baking soda and then vinegar to clean the inside of my washer. Sweep the patio and Eve's. I do make an all-purpose spray I use if my soft scrub doesn't extend enough to clean particularly grimy shower walls, or there is  some particularly stubborn wall coloring, but I rarely need it anymore.

My cleaning tools
Microfiber Duster (I bought the oxo, but this one looks like a better deal, plus I like orange better than oxo red and black 😉)
ECloth
Microfiber Mop
Stiff Scrub Brush (I'm getting this one next)
Vacuum
Salt Lamp
Diffuser
Aloe Vera Plant
Vinegar Water Spray Bottle
(50/50 ratio)
Soft Scrub-like Mixture
- bowl and wooden spoon.
Dish Soap
Disinfectant Spray
Hydrogen Peroxide with sprayer nozzle

Laundry
I use soap nuts in a small bag and essential oils to wash clothes, and I use wool dryer balls instead of dryer sheets.

Skincare
I make my own face wash, toner, and moisturizer. Lip balm is easy to make and I use very little so it lasts all year. For lotion, it works to just use jojoba oil and Shea butter straight, but it's easy enough to combine them and make a lotion with essential oils. I like African Black Soap for body wash, but I am excited to make some body wash using Liquid Castile Soap, I already use liquid Castile soap for foaming Hand Soap (a quarter cup of soap per cup of water). I use Trader Joe's Tea Tree Shampoo and Conditioner. My toddler uses just African Black Soap and Spry Toothpaste. I use a toothpowder or Redmond's toothpaste. I am using magnesium oil and essential oils for deodorant now, but I'm looking forward to making this one soon.

Makeup
I buy natural makeup, because I have tried making it and found it more time consuming to formulate my own personal colors and the right textures. Fortunately, there are many truly natural makeup companies these days. I do however make my own perfume - which consists of a roller bottle of essential oils.

Fast Food
Instead of trying to recreate a processed food, I try to find quick to prepare homemade food options, or learn tricks to make favorite recipes come together quick that help me not miss the alternative. It's really easy with some things and much harder with others.
I make big batches and freeze waffles and pancakes. I preform and freeze hamburger patties. I shred and freeze cheese, I can add this still frozen to recipes and sauces if needed. I make extra pizza and spaghetti sauces and freeze them in pint jars for quick dinners. I make plenty of beans and freeze them too for quick dinners and recipes. Rice only takes about 20 minutes to cook on the stove, biscuits take 20 minutes to bake, veggies take 20 minutes to roast in a 400 degree oven. Fish only takes about six minutes to cook in a pan, frozen burgers take about 10 minutes, gravy takes about 5-10 minutes to make. On the other hand chicken breasts take about 30 minutes to roast in a 400 degree oven, and need to rest ten minutes afterwards. So I like to roast and slice chicken breasts ahead of time and chill them and a homemade dressing for a quick salad or soup or both later. When I'm chopping vegetables, I always chop extra and store them in the fridge to make the next meal quicker.

So there you have it. Simple.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

What I've Learned About Culturing Foods

I have been culturing foods for about ten years now, I started with yogurt after reading about the many benefits of yogurt and how easy and healthier it is to make myself, I bought a book and a yogurt maker and culture and started making my first fermented food. I had times when I wasn't making yogurt and times when I was and I noticed the differences in my health. When I was expecting my first child I started to think about nourishing my body, and his, better and I started studying nutrition and new food options to develop my ability to nourish my families bodies. First I started making our bread and then I began throwing out the household and personal care chemicals and changing my cleaning and personal habits. Then I started adding more nutritious foods to our diet. I started making yogurt again, but I also made sauerkraut, and then kombucha, and then milk kefir, and then sourdough, and then water kefir. I love how my life has transformed. Instead of pouring over magazines trying to figure out how to make myself more attractive and spending countless hours at the mall searching for the perfect fitting skirt, I read books and blogs about improving the way I treat my body and I look and feel better as a result. Over the counter cosmetics never made my skin so smooth and dewy after washing, and I may not wear the latest trend, but wearing classic styles suits my simple lifestyle. I struggle with what I call stress-exhaustion, some may call it adrenal fatigue, but I haven't been diagnosed so I'm making my own prognosis. I shake at times, like an old person with Parkinson's disease, and get so wound up about small things at times that I feel like I'm going to explode. (Sensory overload?) I was abused as a small child and again as a young adult and I have learned that it has taken its toll on my nerves. Because I didn't lash out or act out very much, my damage turned inward and I had to do a lot of damage control over the years. As a result, outside stressors have to be kept at a minimal until I can heal. This means silly things like not having the latest boots or bag must be forgotten to make room for toddler tantrums and student loan debt. I'm not gonna lie and tell anyone that three years living this way has completely healed my body, it hasnt, and part of that might be because my family hasnt completely embraced the changes I've made and we still go out to fast food when I've been over-stressed and can't face making dinner and having noses turned up at it again. I haven't lost weight either, I've actually continued to gain it, and I'm still trying to pin-point what is causing it (in other words-is it stress, hormone imbalance, not enough water, too little sleep, too little exercise, too much processed food, too much emotional baggage... Probably all of the above, and I'm working on all of it.) What has happened is, I have felt more energetic, I have felt more upbeat, I have healthier skin, hair and nails, I have stronger teeth and gums, I think more clearly and remember short term better. Most importantly, I am able to play longer and more creatively with my darling son, and give my husband a foot rub or shoulder massage when he comes home without feeling overextended myself. Being there for the people I love most is my top priority and fermented foods help make that possible, so they are pretty important to me.

Over time I have learned a few things that others who are just starting may find helpful, so I'd like to share them here:

Yogurt
When Culturing an heirloom variety of yogurt the important thing to remember is to keep your starter going. Mine has to be recultured every seven days to maintain its viability. You can make a much as you want to, as long as you are able to maintain a steading temperature throughout the milk. It also doesn't matter what heat source you use to incubate a yogurt culture as long as it is a reliable and steading source.
When life happens and you only have about a cup of milk when it's time to make yogurt, just make a cup of yogurt to maintain your starter. One can always make more after grocery shopping. Whole milk makes the best tasting yogurt in my opinion and I like that I can buy grass-fed milk and make my own yogurt, which I can drain whey from to ferment vegetables with and then use the thicker yogurt for sour cream in some recipes or as topping for burritos etc. I love that I don't have to buy a whole carton of yogurt along with milk and sour cream and then something is bound to go to waste.


Sourdough or Wild Yeast 
Sourdough or Wild Yeast has been the easiest for me to maintain because it is so forgiving and uses simple, easy to store resources. When I moved most recently, I was so busy and tired I just couldn't bring myself to mess with my starter for two months and it died. When I was ready to start again I just took the 'hunk of dry dough' starter I had put in my freezer as back up. After rehydrating it and feeding it for about a week, I was on my merry bubbly way! 
I have found that fresh ground flour works best for feeding the yeast, although I have added some all-purpose einkorn flour additionally with very nice results. One day I took my starter out of the refrigerator and opened it to feed it and it bubbled up and started overflowing like a volcano as I held it over the sink. It was so alive and happy feeling I couldn't help laughing aloud with glee. I made the best waffles ever with that starter. 
I love working with sourdough because it's so laid back and experimental. I feel like I'm leisurely creating an original masterpiece everytime I bake with it. It also feels much more nourishing when I eat it. Sourdough or Wild Yeast would make a great job for a child. He/she could feed it each week and then make a big batch of pancakes or waffles for quick breakfasts during the week. Because sourdough/wild yeast is alive it has a personality, once you learn how your yeast reacts to different treatment, you will be able to recognize how much kneading, raising and heat to using when baking. Like many things, it just takes practice. Unfortunately most grandmother's are no longer offering a coarse in sourdough baking, so we have to do our own trial and error. I definitely believe it's worth it though.

Kefir 
I have found Kefir to be rather temperamental. My milk kefir grains did not look healthy or grow until I finally transitioned them to raw milk. I wasted a lot of organic milk with these because they weren't very balanced and I eventually threw them out in some rotten smelling milk, but the grains looked better than ever. It was rather exasperating for me. I now buy milk kefir from time to time when it goes on sale. Maple Hill makes a good whole grass-fed milk kefir and is often on sale in my area for about three dollars, so this is a better option for me.
Water Kefir has been much kinder to me. I like that it uses few cheap resources that are easy to keep long term. I found that if I culture only three tablespoons of grains in a quart of water with a quarter cup of Sucanat, I need to culture it about two to three days. I like using pasteurized juice to flavor it best. Spices are easily over done and create deposits I don't care to drink. I don't enjoy dry fruit in my beverage so it has to be filtered. Pasteurized juice is easy and tasty and it adds more sugar for the second fermentation so I don't have to do anything more to it. I like cherry juice, but my family didn't. My husband liked lemon zest flavor, but then you must filter out the zest before drinking (it's unpleasant to drink in the water kefir.) My son enjoyed the water kefir flavored with mango Naked juice. I drink the water kefir the most in my household; it's rather unfortunate my family doesn't enjoy it as much, but they didn't drink the milk kefir at all.

Fermented Vegetables 
The only thing I have learned about fermenting vegetables, that wasn't in a book, is to just trust your senses and don't be afraid. If there's no mold on it, it doesn't smell rotten, and it looks and tastes clean, then its safe to eat and there's no need to stress about it. Bad bacteria smells bad, good bacteria smells and tastes tangy and clean, how convenient right? God gave us senses for a good reason. 
The other thing I learned is using yogurt whey speeds things along and gives fermenting vegetables a good bacteria boost without additional cost. The only store bought fermented foods that are as good as home ferments are refrigerated, not pasteurized and don't have vinegar in them. Wild fermented vegetables seem to have gained in popularity recently; I see them in regular grocery stores more often, so it's possible to buy if you don't have the time to wait for fermentation.

I can attest to the healing benefits of fermented foods, sometimes we are sick and don't even know it. Since I have started fermenting my own foods; and eating them on a regular basis, I have found more energy to play with my toddler, a clearer mind to remember what I'm doing from one room to the next, and less severe symptoms of regular illness such as cold and flu and allergies. 
It is so empowring to be able to make my own fermented foods. Much like learning to drive and then owning my own car, fermenting my own food gives freedom and another outlet for my creativity that in turn nourishes my family's bodies as well as my own. It is one way I can take care of my family's health on a personal level, and I love being able to do something that helps my loved ones feel better quicker. When someone has an upset stomach, instead of reaching for the pink sludge, I go to my fridge and pull out kefir or yogurt and bone broth. If someone has the sniffles, I get out a jar of pickles and the fresh orange juice. It's so simple and it really works. Hopefully we won't see anymore month long chest colds (usually in me) so far so good at least.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Milk and Honey

If you read any health food books, blogs, or studies you will sooner or later find Milk and Honey are very controversial foods. -Are they safe to eat raw or should they be pasteurized, should they be consumed by humans at all, do they cause inflammation etc.
In the bible the "land of milk and honey" is used to discribe a Promised Land, a land of prosperity, safety and plenty. Does that mean that the beasts had many offspring and the land was easy to cultivate? Or did it mean that an abundance of rich and sweet nourishing foods were immediately available? Or both? At this point in my journey I believe both are true.
I believe milk and honey in their raw forms are God's dessert meant for man and beast to enjoy to provide delight and comfort. As a "dessert" I believe these are meant to be enjoyed with gracious temperance.
An abundance of foods of all kinds, readily, and often easily obtained at as-disconnected-to-the-source a place as a grocery store is. I find it is easy to loose perspective and gratitude for the abundance we enjoy with little to no effort of our own. We do not see the efforts of the animal or bee whose labor produced such delights, nor the labourer whom collected our bounty. Our appreciation and reverence for their sacrifices is therefore limited and we gorge ourselves unconcernedly until we are fat with ignorance and disrespect.
Illness becomes our punishment for neglect and gluttony. I hope we can shake the chains of disconnect and complacency, experiencing health as we connect with the sources of our daily nourishment, and educate ourselves with the truth of what we should or shouldn't be feeding ourselves.
May we all feel gratitude, this Thanksgiving season, for the seemingly small things we take for granted day to day. May we give thanks to our Creator for the abundant life we live, and for the sacrifices made by unseen 'hands' to achieve it.

How to Use Up Stale Homemade Bread

It is so sad when a perfectly delicious loaf of homemade bread doesn't get eaten in time. The waste is especially felt by the baker. Sometimes it is not easy to use up stale bread; but if you are going to bake your own bread on a regular basis, it's best to have a few stratagies. When homemade bread becomes the norm, it doesn't always get eaten up as quickly and sometimes even half a loaf can go stale before it has been enjoyed. I don't know anyone who enjoys stale bread with butter or as a sandwich; but if used in the following recipes, stale bread actually tastes much better than fresh.

Breadcrumbs
Did your loaf turn out to be a brick, or get left out too long and dry out? Here's an easy save; just slice it, break it up and maybe give it a pulse in the food processor. Now you have plenty of bread crumbs. Use them up by making gratin side dishes, breaded fish, or chicken, salmon patties, a steamed pudding, crunchy topped casseroles, and of coarse meatloaf. In the meantime you can freeze them and use them directly from the freezer.

French Toast
This one is obvious, who doesn't enjoy French Toast? If you have left over bread just whip an egg with a fork and add some cinnamon and vanilla or almond extract to taste. Soak it up with the stale bread and fry it in a skillet full of butter. Top with maple syrup, compote, organic powdered sugar, caramel sauce and whipped cream or just fruit and enjoy for breakfast or dessert.

Croutons
This is one I don't make myself because my family doesn't usually enjoy croutons. But, If you make French Onion Soup, or you enjoy them in salads. Just cube your left over bread and fry it in butter and garlic. Feel free to add your favorite herbs.

Stuffing or Dressing
Stuffing is not just for Thanksgiving and makes a nice side to a roast and veggie, or if you add meat or mushrooms it can be it's own main dish-my family loves it. Just cube up your bread, cook some mirepoix in plenty of butter and fresh minced garlic, pour over the dried bread cubes. Add some stock until it's soaked the bread and bake in the oven or cook on the stove-top until desired moistness is achieved. Options for add ins: Toasted nuts, herbs, sausage, shredded chicken, turkey or roast beef, mushrooms, bacon, or ham.

Bread Pudding
If you enjoy this breaded custard, it makes a great breakfast or dessert. Eat it swimming in milk, topped with a scoop of ice cream, on its own, or drizzled with sauce.
Cube six slices of bread. Place in a buttered baking dish, add bits of cold butter throughout as well as choice of fruit or nuts (fresh or frozen.) In a medium bowl, mix 1/4 cup of whole cane sugar or brown sugar, with 1/4 cup of organic sugar or caster sugar, a pinch of salt, and two eggs. Whisk in 500 ml milk and a splash of vanilla extract. Stir in a large handful of raisins. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Pour custard into the center of the cubed bread and then pouring the raisins at the bottom evenly over top. Bake for 40 minutes covering the pudding with foil halfway through baking.
Here is a video on YouTube with the original recipe: https://youtu.be/vX-VCrXVJ4c
I altered the recipe only slightly to suit me.

Hopefully with many options for using up stale homemade bread, you will not be discouraged by having to throw out any of your hard work and precious ingredients. You can also have the comfort that these simple and delicious foods are being prepared with nutricious all homemade ingredients, using relatively little extra effort. To homemade bread and good health!