Saturday, November 14, 2009

Waiting for Baby

It's amazing how time flies. My baby just turned 4, and my newborn just turned 2. My boys are getting so big. And so am I! We're getting down to the wire, with only about 5 weeks left before baby girl makes her arrival. I know I haven't blogged in about 7 months, but it's not because I haven't been busy.

The garden this year was an exercise in futility. As soon as I got pregnant, the mere thought of eating anything green sent me running straight for the porcelain god, so my garden went largely untended, and my good neighbors made use of what little it did produce. So I spent my summer sewing, knitting, crocheting, and puking. Here's a little of what I accomplished while avoiding my garden:

This is the first think I knit for the new baby, before we knew if we were having a boy or a girl. This will be the first thing she wears. This yarn is so soft, it's a lambswool/angora/cotton blend and absolutely lovely.

These longies are from the LTK Picky Pants pattern. My all time favorite longies pattern ever. The pocket on the back has a cabled owl, it was so cute I had to knit it up.

My first ever skirty. This pattern used a really neat technique for attaching the skirt ruffle. It's done with yarnovers instead of picking up stitches, so it attaches seamlessly and has the same amount of give as the rest of the soaker. The hearts are duplicate stitched.

White recycled fleece diaper cover. This was from a thin fleece pullover, so it's two layers bound in FOE.

Green soaker from the Curly Purly pattern. I love this yarn too, very soft wool. I'm afraid it's going to felt pretty badley just based on the feel of working with it, but hey, it's a diaper cover. So it's not a big deal.

Some newborn fitted diapers. The white ones are bamboo velour inside and out, the others are cotton thermal outers and cotton velour inners. These are my own pattern, and if my sister ever sends me the dozen I made for her baby back in February, we'll be all set for our newborn diapering needs. Once baby outgrows these we'll switch to prefolds and covers.

Some new wetbags. Two full sized drawstring bags for home laundry, and two travel sized zippered bags for the diaper bag.

The baby blanket! I've crocheted a baby blanket for each child as soon as we found out the gender. With two boys already, it was fun to do something lacy and pink for a change.

Here's a cute little holiday outfit for her. She better make an appearance before Christmas, or I'm going to be a very big, very grumpy mama.

And one last little outfit. The pants are my own pattern, and I love how they turned out.

So things are pretty much put together for this birth. We're just playing the waiting game now. I'm trying to get most of my Christmas shopping done before Thanksgiving, just in case. The holidays are full of so many fun activities, hopefully I'll be a little more active on this blog, at least until the baby is born.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

My Garden

So this year I actually did it. I built and planted my garden! Now I only have all summer to keep it from drying out and dieing like my tomato plants did last year. I built a box out of 2x10 boards, filled it with dirt, laid out my grid, and planted my square foot garden. My box is 5x5 instead of the recommended 4x4 to allow room for a border of marigolds. Marigolds are pretty, and I've been told they keep the bunnies out of your garden. Now that we're past the reasonable expectation of frost (although Columbus's official frost free date isn't until May 15 or something ridiculous like that), I'll be getting the flowers in soon. Maybe next weekend. Or tomorrow. We'll see. Currently my garden contains: peas, carrots, spinach, kale, and lettuce. I have two empty squares for tomatoes, and I'll probably put two more tomato plants into the same pots I had last year, and hope for a better outcome. I also have four more empty squares. I'll probably get some herbs to put there from the farmers market when it opens in May. I may also save a square for one of my neighbors to put in some beets. It is a community back yard, so the least I can do is share some garden space with my neighbors who have all agreed not to complain to property management about my garden box.

My peas are looking great!

My carrots are hard to see, because I just thinned them so they have all the space they need to grow big and fat and sweet. These will be dragon carrots. I thought the purple looked really cool. I may try another variety when these are harvested.

And here is my spinach. It's also doing very well, and I just thinned it down to 9 plants in a square.

I'm worried about my Kale. So far, I don't see anything in my two kale squares that looks like I planted it there. I may have to try again. My lettuce is looking good, but there are only 4 per square, and they're pretty small, so I didn't bother to take a picture. I'll get more pictures as the plants get bigger, and hopefully share how much harvest I get from my little square foot garden. And of course my two biggest helpers:

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies, EVER!!!

Today I'm going to share my very own, completely made up by me, original recipe chocolate chip cookies. (If this is also your recipe, well then great minds think alike because I swear I came up with this on my own in my mothers kitchen)

I will update with pictures later if I can find my camera before the cookies are eaten.

The story:

Last September I was visiting family in Colorado. I had flown out with just the boys, since my husband couldn't get the time off work. Our stay was extend by several days due to the unfortunate timing of a case of the chickenpox, leaving the boys and I stranded at my parents house while they took off for a vacation they had planned months ago to coincide with my leaving for home. So there I was with two sick kids, my mothers gorgeous kitchen at my complete disposal, and absolutely nothing to do. I decided it was a perfect time to make cookies. I got out the chocolate chips, read through the recipe on the back, and started gathering ingredients. Peering into the fridge, I encountered only a single lonely stick of butter. The recipe of course calls for two. What to do? I suppose I could have just made a half a batch of cookies, but honestly, at the time it never even crossed my mind. So I racked my brain and scoured the kitchen for something to replace that missing stick of butter. No, oil didn't cross my mind either. However, my mom had about 5 bricks of cream cheese in the fridge, and I thought that would do the trick. The one other major modification to your typical chocolate chip recipe is that this one does not contain eggs. The reason for this is twofold. First, as I was baking and simultaneously tending to two sick kiddos, I forgot to add them in. The cookies came out great, and upon subsequent experiments I decided I liked the egg-free version better anyway. Second, the cookies are now bowl-licking safe for munchkins, and no salmonella risk to worry about. Since I'm sure very few of you really care how the recipe came about, thank you for bearing with me thus far and without further ado, the recipe:

Preheat oven to 350*
Using your stand mixer, cream together:
1/2 C (1 stick) butter
1 (8oz) brick of cream cheese
3/4 C granulated sugar
3/4 C packed brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla

In a small bowl, combine:
2 1/4 C flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt

Slowly add dry mixture to butter/sugar mixture, beating well after each addition. Stir in 1 C chocolate chips. Place by rounded spoonful onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake for 9 minutes. Cool on wire rack. Try not to eat them all at once.

My first attempts were with regular white flour and normal sugar, and they were delicious. I have since made the recipe substituting 100% whole wheat flour and Sucanat (unrefined sugar) for part or all of the flour and sugar in the recipe with terrific results. This most recent batch was all whole wheat flour and all Sucanat. My kids are used to eating whole wheat, so they didn't even notice, but I bet you could sub up to half of the flour with WW without the munchkins noticing at all.


Friday, April 10, 2009

Great Expectations

Drum Roll Please!!!

I'm Pregnant!! That's right, number three is decidedly on it's way. Only 4 weeks along, I still feel fine. Two or three more weeks to go before the pukies set in.

My goal over the next few weeks is to menu plan and double batch so I can feed the freezer for days when cooking would put me over the edge. Things that double batch well:

Cassaroles (with GF pasta)
Soups: chicken potato
Beef and rice
vegetable tomato
bean and bacon
Southwest chicken black bean soup
Salsa slow cooker chicken
Pot roast
Beans and Rice

I also need to finish up the sweater and baby blanket I'm working on for my nephew (who's two months old already!!!) so I can start working on things for this baby. I need to make:

about 2 dozen new born diapers
baby blanket (I'll start this at 20 weeks when we know the gender)
soakers/longies for winter baby
I'd really like to knit/sew some outfits too.

Man, 9 months really isn't long enough!!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Going Raw for a while

As you read in my Green Smoothie post, I have recently been discovering the power of veggies. This is a big step for me, as for the most part I hate vegetables. But I'm willing to do some work for the benefit of my health, so I am embarking on a 30 day raw trial. Today is day 3. I'm already seeing weight loss, and I really feel great. I love my green smoothies, I can handle a salad, and I adore fruit so it's not like I don't have anything to eat. I'm also eating nuts and seeds and sprouts. And I'm trying new vegetables. Or at least I'm going to. I mean, come on. It's only day 3. After my 30 day trial, I feel I will probably shift back toward a more Traditional Food approach with a high raw percentage, but for now I'm enjoying this experiment and watching the numbers on the scale fall. This may be a pretty new concept for a few of my readers (I see you, Mom and Dad) so I'll try to answer some of the most common questions about the raw diet.

First and foremost in most peoples minds is where do I get my protein? The answer? From veggies. Most importantly, leafy greens, which I happen to like. (Mom, quit rolling your eyes, I really do like them now.) For more on green leafies and their amazing protein content, see my Green Smoothie post. The other thing about protein is that the average American gets way more protein than is really necessary. And this in itself can be harmful to your health and disease causing. Take a look at the cow. Now that is a huge powerful muscular beast. But he doesn't eat meat and drink protein shakes to put on all that muscle. He eats grass, and that has all the protein needed to support that animal in his growth and muscle development.

B12 is another common concern of the meat eater for their vegetarian/vegan friends. In truth, people really need a very small amount of B12. And it is stored in the body so daily intake isn't required to get appropriate amounts. Since until two days ago I was a die hard carnivore, I am not too worried about my B12 levels during this 30 day trial. If I were to become a raw vegan for life, I would probably add some nutritional yeast to my diet (even though it's controversial in the raw food circles) or take a supplement.

I'm logging my daily food and feelings here so stop on by to see how I'm doing. I'm keeping Homestead In My Heart on it's urban homesteading theme, and I'll try not to drag my raw food journey into it overly much.

Sorry for the Slackery

It has been brought to my attention that it has been almost a month since my last blog post. This is unacceptable. My small following of my tiny little baby blog deserve more. So with my hand over my heart and four fingers in the air I do solomly swear that:

"On my honor I will try to serve blogdom and my readers. I will take pictures of what's going on in my kitchen. I will take pictures of my home and my children. I will post said pictures on my blog with some regularity, accompanied by such wit and wisdom as I am able to conjure."

I still haven't ordered seeds or potato starts yet. I'm contemplating putting a 4x4 raised garden plot out by the back fence just to dare the Condo community to challenge me on it. I mean, times are tough, and you gotta do what you gotta do, right? If I do that I'll add lots of leafy greens to my already planned peas and tomatoes. And I still want to do potatoes in a big rubbermaid container. Now if only spring would hurry up.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Green Smoothie, Baby!

In an ernest effort to improve my health and energy I have taken up the habit of starting my day with a green smoothie. These wonderful drinks are a terrific way to boost the amount of leafy green vegetables you consume, especialy for those of us who dispise vegetables. A mixture of 40% greens by volume and 60% fruit by volume, and enough water to get things moving in the blender, and you have the greenest drink you've ever seen that tastes just like fruit. The one pictured above is Strawberry/Banana/Pear/Spinach.

The nutrition research I've been doing points to the idea that the average American does not consume enough green leafy vegetables. In fact, most don't even come close. In her book "Green for Life", Victoria Boutenko compares the Standard American Diet (SAD) to the diet of our closest primabe relatives, the Chimpanzee. 50% of a chimp's diet is composed of fruit, 45% is leafy green vegetables, and the other five is comprised of seeds, bark, pith, and insects. In stark contrast, the SAD is composed primarly (more than 50%) of cooked starches such as rice, pasta, bread and potatoes, almost 25% animal protein, and hardly any greens at all.

Leafy green veggies such as spinach, kale, dandylion, and collards are nutritional power houses. They pack the most vitamins and minerals per calorie than any other food you can consume. And despite the USDA's claim that you need significant amounts of animal protein and dairy in your diet to meet your protien requirements, greens provide all 9 essential amino acids in ratios that are directly in line with your daily needs. (Please do not look to the USDA for accurate nutrition information. Their hands are planted firmly in the back pockets of the meat, dairy, and corn industrys, and they have anything but your best interest at heart.) In fact, 1 lb of kale provides more or less the exact amounts of essential amino acids needed for the day. Different greens are a little higher in some and lower in others, so it's important to rotate the greens you're eating.

1 lb of leafy greens a day sound like a lot? Well it is. Don't worry, it's really best to start adding greens to your diet slowly and work your way up. If you're not used to getting all of that fiber and all of a sudden start eating a pound of greens in a day, your poor abused digestive system will most likely revolt. So start with a green smoothie. Then slowly start adding more greens and less fruit. Eat a salad. And enjoy your new found energy that's based on real nurtition.

And the best part of the Green Smoothie? My baby loves them. He is quite upset if he sees I have one and I'm not sharing! (My 3 year old won't touch them with a 10 ft straw, but I'm working on him)

Monday, February 2, 2009

Goals Revisited

It's very easy to set goals at the beginning of the new year only to promptly get on with your life and never give them a second thought. That is until the next year, when you look back and realize that you changed nothing, and re make the same goals again. The first month of the year is over, and we are well on our way into 2009. I thought I'd take a moment to look at the goals I set up a meager month ago and see where I stand.

1) Live more mindfully
This is and always will be a constant struggle. But keeping it at the forefront of my mind helps me to evaluate decisions and stay present in the moment. I should really turn my computer off more often.

2)Eat more locally
Harder to implement until the farmers markets get going, but I did find local raw honey at Whole Foods for a good price, and I can get local Ohio eggs at my regular grocery store.

3)Maintain a successful container garden
I am planning two tomato plants, to snap pea plants, and one tub of potatoes. Possible a pot of herbs also. I'll get tomato and herb starts from the farmers market this spring. Peas don't like to be transplanted so I'll start those from seed once the last frost date is past. I'll order my potato starts probably from the Seed Savers Exchange.

4)Find a workable system for my recycling
This I have yet to even start on. However, I do have an idea. For some reason we have two trashcans in our bedroom, and we hardly ever use either one. I think there is room for the bigger one under the sink in the kitchen. This is important as there is absolutely NO room ANYWHERE in my kitchen for a single other thing, and several things that are there really don't fit either. If I can manage to remember to put it into the car before loading up the kids for a grocery shop, we're all set. It may even help me to remember my cloth bags too.

5)Move my body
Every little victory here counts. I did 3 yoga Sun Salutations today. I spent the first half of the month out of commission due to a nasty cold turned sinus infection. Now that I'm feeling human again it's time to get moving!

Well a month in and I have not managed to fail miserably at any of my goals, and many of them are being actively pursued. I think regular check ins will keep me motivated, reminded, and accountable.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

She's gettin' a tattoo, yeah, she's gettin' ink done...

For a very long time I've been planning a second tattoo. I got my first one done at 18 1/2 years old. It was my best friends 18th birthday, and it was our random little act of rebellion. That one was very small and inconspicuous. I've been planning a more substantial one for almost 10 years. When I met my husband, he wasn't a big fan of tattoos in general. Since I really wasn't trying to impress anyone but him, I wasn't about to go and get a new tattoo without his approval. It comes down to a respect for his opinion, not a bending to his will. This year he decided that honoring my individuality was more important to him than his unease with tattoos, and this was his Christmas present to me:

Here's the piece by the original artist:

When I first saw this picture, it really moved me. I saw it and I thought to myself "look, that's me, and that's my husband, and we love each other, and we're trees!" The original artist is my friend Vanessa. You can see more of her gorgeous work here and here.

Not only did this piece speak to me about the love I have for my husband, but it spoke to me on an environmental, earthy level too. Although my spiritual beliefs do not center around a god, I do believe that everything is connected, we are all made of the same stuff, energy flows and everything we do affects everything else. And the thought that we are one with the trees really resonates with me.

I'm really happy with how this turned out. Merry Christmas to me!!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Home Management Binder: Schedules and Cleaning

As promised, here is a more in depth look at my schedules and cleaning sections in my HMB. Since my kids are still very small, and not involved in many activities, my schedules is more a rough structure to the day and week than a rigid calender of events. In order for my day to run smoothly certain things need to happen at more or less consistent times, and everything else falls into place nicely. I achieve this state of scheduling bliss an average of once a year. My day is broken up into several different routines that I try to follow, hoping that eventually the become, well, routine. This is an area that I struggle greatly with, so forgive me if this entire post comes across as hypothetical, because most days it is.

Following certain routines each day help to ensure that things are getting done on a daily basis

My morning routine starts as I roll out of bed. Right now I try to remember to pull the covers back up to the pillow. For a while I was beginning my days with a series of yoga Sun Salutations, and would like to get back into that practice. It really is a wonderful way to greet the day and really gets your blood and lymph moving. As the kids wake up, I need to get breakfast made for the family, and a lunch packed for Brad to take to work. Then I need to clean up the breakfast dishes, wipe down counters and table, sweep the kitchen and start the laundry and the morning routine is done.

Nap for the baby starts between 11:00 and 12:00, depending on when he woke up in the morning and how well he slept the night before. On a good day, he'll be out for 2+ hours. If it's a run around day, he may be lucky to get 30 minutes in his car seat between errands. I try to start lunch around 11:00, because the baby goes to sleep better after lunch than before. After I feed the kids (and myself) and put the baby down, I clean up the lunch dishes and wipe the counters again. Then I try to enlist the help of my 3 year old in the straightening of the living room, and do a quick sweep in there as well. Flip the laundry, and try to squeeze in some exercise while Connor naps.

The evening routine sets me up for an easy morning. I try to make sure all dinner dishes are washed and the counters and kitchen table are wiped down. I try to pick up the living room one last time, then brush teeth, wash face, and get to bed at a decent hour. I usually aim for 10:30.
If everything in my routines is getting done, then the rest of my day falls into a pretty natural rhythm.

After the morning routine is done, I allow myself time to putz around on the computer, knit, read, or sew. Then lunch and the afternoon routine. If we have any errands to run or play dates scheduled, these usually happen when Connor gets up from his nap. Then comes Daily Duties time. I have the (very small) house divided into 5 zones, one for each week day. In the Daily Duties I include a deeper cleaning of one of the zones per day. So in theory it's never been more then a week since any part of the house has been scrubbed. I need a little more time to work with this schedule before I decide if it is really working for me, but it makes sense to me. In the evening we have dinner when Brad gets home from work, and then it's the boys bed time. Brad and I spend some time together playing cards or watching TV, and then the evening routine and bed.

Here's how I've divided up my Daily Duties:

Monday: Kitchen/Dining Room
~Clear and wipe counters and kitchen table
~Sweep and mop kitchen and dining room
~Clear off computer/sewing desks
~Baking for the week

Tuesday: Living Room
~Sweep under coffee table, couch, and chairs
~Mop living room
~Organize toy box and shelves
~Wipe down coffee table and play table
~Clear shelf under coffee table

Wednesday: Bed Rooms
~Put away clothes
~Pick up books/toys
~Declutter dressers
~Sweep bedrooms, hallway and stairs

Thursday: Bathroom
~Wipe down shower and tub
~Wipe down sink
~Wipe down outside of toilet and around base
~Swish toilet bowl
~Spray mirror
~Sweep and mop floor
~Change out towels

Friday: Focus Clean and Project
~Pick one Focus Clean area
~Pick one project to work on

Focus cleaning is a list of detailed cleaning that doesn't need done on a weekly basis, but does need to get done. I include things like baseboards, inside the oven, the fridge and freezer, washer and dryer, that kind of thing. I keep a running list, and add to or cross off things as I notice things that need to be done or complete things on my list. Projects are a list of organizing and decluttering projects that need to be done. My craft heap in the basement, decluttering the closets, culling toys the boys have outgrown, sorting the boys clothing.

And there are my Schedules and Cleaning sections of my binder. As I mentioned before, this is an area that I struggle with a lot, but really want to make work. I feel so much more at ease when the house is presentable and my days flow smoothly. Soon I'll put up my Menus section, because I think it deserves a post of it's own.

Thursday, January 15, 2009



-- written by Max Ehrmann in the 1920s --

Go placidly amid the noise and the haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.

As far as possible, without surrender,
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even to the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons;
they are vexatious to the spirit.

If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain or bitter,
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs,
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals,
and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love,
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment,
it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be.
And whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life,
keep peace in your soul.

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

My Home Management Binder

Today I'd like to introduce you to my Home Management Binder. It doesn't have a name yet, but if you have any great ideas, let me know in the comments. My mother has a file on her desk that we always called the "black hole" because if you were missing something, that's probably where it was and no one but Mom could ever find anything in it. My binder is still a work in progress, and I don't use it as much as I would like, but I really do like the shape it's taking so far, and maybe posting about it will encourage me to fill it out a little more. Here is the outside of my binder:

This binder was not bought specifically for this purpose. It has had many lives before it's current incarnation as a HMB. I believe it was first put to use holding paperwork from my Mary Kay business. It later served as a coupon binder, and now finds itself housing all of my home maintenance information. I like that it zips all the way around, and I love the 5 pocket accordion file in the front. This notebook lives in the front pocket. Right now it is mainly used for brainstorming blog ideas and rough drafting posts. Sometimes it tracks weights and measurements when I'm dieting. Sometimes it catches the random thoughts that jump out of my head. I like my things to be able to multitask.

This is the inside of my binder. I have a small notebook that serves many of the same purposes as the large one, plus it's my go-to for shopping lists and notes while I'm on the phone. There is also my pencil bag for pens, pencils (duh) and dry erase markers, and behind that (you can't see it, but trust me, it's there) is a 3-hole punch. I'd like to give you a quick peek at the different sections I have my binder divided into, and I'll go more in depth on each section over the next few days.

After you flip the pencil bag, the first page of my binder is the Desiderata, written by Max Ehrmann. It is one of my favorite inspirational works. I also have it hanging by front door. There is a lot of wisdom in this piece, and it never hurts to be reminded. I'll post the text in a couple of minutes.

After the Desiderata I have my Household Information page. It has our home address, important contact numbers for close relatives, the police, emergency, poison control, and the pediatrician. Pretty much any number a babysitter (or husband) might need if there was an emergency and I was not at home. Also a handy reference for me. **Note to self, tell Brad this is here in case he ever needs it.**

After my household info comes Schedules, Cleaning, and Menus. I'll go into more detail about these over the next few days.

In the back of my binder are a few folders, a clear plastic envelope that has yet to be assigned a duty, and extra page protectors.

Some sections I have yet to add but that are floating around in my head include: holiday planning, gardening, and budget. Check back tomorrow for a closer look at the different sections in my binder and how they're set up and how I use them.

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Miracle Cure

I apologise for my few and infrequent posts this week. When we got back from vacation, I came down with a cold. Not just any cold though. The type you can only get from the stale recycled air of airplanes where your lymph nodes swell to the size of golf balls, your head throbs, your body aches and all you want is a nice rock to crawl under until it's all over. So my blog (not to mention my children) suffered from more than a little neglect over this past week. Which brings me to my post for today. I happen to know of a wonderful miracle cure that has been accredited with nothing less then resurrecting the dead. What is this wonderful stuff? And why did I not have any on hand last week? Well this miracle cure is home made bone broth, and unfortunately I had finished off the last of ours just before we went on vacation.

Bone broth is one of the most nourishing foods available. It is full of minerals in a for that the body can easily utilize, including calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, silicon, sulphur and many trace minerals . It also contains all of the broken down material from the bones connective tissue and cartilage. Things like glucosamine and condroiton, which you'd pay an arm and a leg for as pills at the drug store. It also contains gelatin, which aids digestion and is high in protein.

I roast a lot of whole chickens at home, and I always make broth after picking all of the meat off the bird, so I almost always have home made bone broth on hand. I had turkey bones in the freezer from the turkey I roasted for Thanksgiving (only half the bones would fit in my crock pot at a time, so I threw the rest in the freezer for a second batch of broth) but bone broth is a 2-3 day process, and I just really didn't feel up to it last week. So here is my bone broth process. It's very easy, and is very worth the time.

I start with my crock pot. It can be done in a pot on the stove, but I like to cook mine for about 36 hrs, and I feel more comfortable leaving the crock pot on over night. Some people simmer all day on the stove, cover and turn the stove off at night, and then return to a simmer in the morning and simmer the rest of the day. Do what ever works for your situation. Into my crock pot goes 1 whole chicken carcass (or half a turkey carcass), veggie scraps, a splash of vinegar, a stick of kombu, a small handful of whole pepper corns, and one or two bay leaves. I put the lid on and set it to low, and let 'er go. I usually start the broth in the evening after I've roasted a chicken for dinner, let it cook all night, all day, all the next night, and then strain and bottle it the next morning.

I keep a Ziploc baggie in my freezer for veggie scraps. As I'm cooking during the week, I throw all onion skins, carrot peels, celery tops, and sometimes potato peelings into the bag in the freezer to wait for when I'm ready to make stock. This way I get all the vegetable goodness into the stock with out having to use up "new" vegetables, and much less goes to waste. The vinegar helps to draw the minerals out of the bones and into the broth. Kombu is a kind of kelp seaweed, and is high in minerals including iodine. When I switched from iodised commercial salt to sea salt, which does not contain added iodine, I worried a little bit about my family getting enough of this important mineral so I started including the kombu in my bone broth to give it an iodine boost. After some more research I am no longer concerned about our iodine intake, but there is so much good stuff in the kombu that I still use it. I'll do another post soon about iodised salt and our need for iodine. I do not salt my broth until I'm cooking with it. I find it easier to control the amount of salt this way. So here's my broth after it's been merrily simmering for about 18 hours:

Once it's been simmering for about 36 hours, I strain it into a pot on the stove, and then boil it down to reduce the volume by about half. I do this mostly for space reasons. I reconstitute it when I'm ready to cook. Then I put it into canning jars, and into the fridge. Occasionally I can it, but usually not. It gets used pretty fast in my house. One crock pot full of bones usually yields about three quarts of stock for me. Here's my stock after it's been in the fridge for a few hours:

I remove the layer of fat on top right before I'm ready to use a new jar. It makes a nice seal over the broth and keeps it fresh longer. I stir all the sediment back into the broth. I figure it's just the good stuff from the bones and connective tissue, and after a quick stir you can't even tell it's there. Notice how rich and brown this broth is. In comparison, the canned broth from the grocery store looks remarkably similar to pee. So don't waste those precious bones from roasted chickens. You can even use the bones from the rotisserie chickens you get at the grocery if you're not up to roasting your own. Grandma knew what she was talking about when she said chicken soup can cure anything that ails you.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Good China

Two years ago, my mother-in-law gave me her china. I belive it belonged to her mother, although the style suggests probably not her grandmother before that. It really is a beautiful set. Simple and elegant, and not at all gaudy. The spear of wheat speaks to my love of the earth and the things that grow in it.

The china had been living in my mother-in-law's basement, wrapped in newspaper and stored in a RubberMaid tote. When she brought it to me, I unwrapped a few pieces, exclaimed over how lovely it was, then wrapped it back up and put it in my own basement. I then proptly forgot about it. In recent months, everytime I'm in the basement doing laundry I look around at all of the stuff we have stored there. Most of it is used rarely, if ever. I find myself thinking about where things came from and why we kept them, and if they were truly necessary.

After passing over this container several times and trying torecall what was in there, I finally opened it up and rediscovered my beautiful dishes. It seemed such a shame for something so lovely to be packed away out of sight and out of mind, especially when the dishes in the cubbard held no sentimental value at all and I didn't even particularly like them. My recent quest has been to cull the house of everything that we do not truly love and enjoy or use. I truly love this china, but it was not being used and enjoyed. The dishes in my cubbard were being used, but not loved and enjoyed. So I decided it was time to get out the good china.

We now eat breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks on our good china. It makes me happy to look at it and use it. It's not so obscure a pattern that pieces wouldn't be replaceable if broken, although I am careful with it and have kids plates that the children use for lunches and snacks. I donated my current dishes set to Good Will, and assigned the now empty tote to hold wool sweaters for my longies business, which had been overflowing their container and threatining to take over the entire basement. To me, simplifying doesn't always mean using the plainest, simplest things. It means keeping and using what you find beautiful and brings you joy, and passing on the rest.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Tomato Day Dreams

I see everyone posting about their plans for their gardens. Their seed catalogues, their winterized garden plots, and what they're planning to plant next spring. And then from our southern hemisphere friends, I see posts like this one from Rhonda Jean at Down to Earth, and I am inspired. So I thought I'd jump on the bandwagon, and talk about my plans for spring, however absurd and grandiose they may be.

Now I am not only urban, but urban-I-have-no-yard-of-my-own-the-only-place-to-put-containers-where-they'd-get-any-sun-is-in-the-landscaping-by-my-front-door. So my garden is going to be very limited, and I need to be picky about what I want to plant. I will do most of my preserving from foods I buy bulk at the farm (peaches/apples) and the farmers market. But after last summers dismal failure, I am determined to raise a few successful plants and eat something that I grew myself.

Pairing down to just a few containers is going to be difficult, as I have no lack of dreams and ideas. When my husband graduates (and he will eventually, you can't be a student forever) and we buy a home, I have a huge garden all laid out in my mind with all sorts of fun things in it. I'd love to have a garden that produced enough to preserve to last all winter. I have plans for the usual suspects: potatoes, onions, garlic, tomatoes, kale, spinach, romaine, peas, carrots, celery, zucchini, pumpkins, sweetcorn, cucumbers, cantaloupe. I also dream about some fun unusual things after reading about them on various blogs. Farm Mom from Children in the Corn posted about these beautiful gourd bowls, and I've been looking at different gourds for drying. I also read about growing your own luffas over at the GroovyGreen. Can you tell I'm envisioning Christmas gifts of homemade soap and luffas packaged in gourd bowls? I also want apple trees: Gold Rush and maybe Jonathan, peach and pecan trees, and definitely strawberries. And would an herb garden too be asking too much? Rosemary, thyme, sage, basil, oregano, lavender, I could go on.

Well, this year I think I'm going to try two containers of tomatoes (Roma or Amish Paste tomatoes, I want to make sauce), two containers of sugar snap peas, and maybe a mixed pot of herbs. And after reading over at the Crunchy Chicken about growing potatoes in containers, I may have to try that as well. I don't think I'll start my own tomatoes or herbs, I'll probably pick up starts from the farmers market. I have to start my own peas, so we'll see how that goes, and lets just say the potatoes will be an adventure.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Dawn and Direction

It has long been a philosophy of mine to never have too many concrete plans, because nothing ever goes the way you plan it anyway. On the other hand, I feel you should always have some direction to your life, because without a direction, you can't get anywhere. This is something that comes to the front of my mind as I'm sure it does for many as the new year turns over. I hate resolutions. Everyone brakes them by the time February is over anyway, so they seem rather pointless to me. I like the idea of setting goals, but I've always thought it was a cop-out to wait until Jan. 1 to set a new goal. Just start already! So I bring to you my New Years Direction. A combination of goals and wishes for my life and my family.

1) Live more mindfully.
To me, living mindfully means giving your actions purpose, and not just functioning on autopilot. It means making conscious decisions about what I do with my time, what I bring into my home, what I put into my body, the attitude I take with my children.

2) Eat more locally.
I don't begin to pretend that we'll give up buying bananas this year. It's one of the only things resembling a plant that my three year old will eat. But I do want to make a point to shop locally when possible: farmers markets, local craftsmen, local family owned shops. This decreases the amount of transportation needed to get things from where they were made/grown to me, since they were made right here. I'd also like to try to purchase locally in bulk to put up for the winter, to decrease my reliance on foreign and Californian produce in the colder months.

3) Maintain a successful container garden.
Last summer the two tomato plants I started in pots by my front door died a tragic and untimely death due to lack of water or caring on my part. I don't have visions of a huge vegetable garden in my small apartment landscaping, but I would like to coax a few plants to maturity and eat something that I grew.

4) Find a workable system for recycling.
My apartment community does not recycle. The truck does not pick up for us at all, so if I want to recycle I need to load it into the car and drop it off myself. The nearest place to drop off recyclables is behind the grocery store that I shop at weekly. This is about as convenient as it gets, which is nice. However, my kitchen is so small, I have yet to figure a place to store the recycling until drop off time that does not really cramp the flow of the kitchen. My other obstacle is remembering to put the recycling in the car before I leave for the grocery. Oh yeah, and to bring my cloth bags too.

5) Move my body.
Weather making time for yoga in the morning, taking the kids for a walk, or running with them in the park instead of sitting on my blanket, I want to try to find more ways to move my body while doing things we're already doing.

A new year feels like a new dawn. A new chance. A time to reflect on the previous year, and make choices about the coming year. Watching the new year come in mindfully is like being up early and watching the sun come up. At first everything is dark and hazy, only a hint or a promise of what is yet to come. Before you see the sun, the sky lightens, and things around you begin to take shape. As the sun peaks over the horizon the world is illuminated and all possibilities are bright and crisp. You only have to look around, and decide what you want to do.