Friday, December 3, 2010

How To Wash the Dishes

Anyone who spends any amount of time in the kitchen really should know how to wash a load of dishes by hand. Even if you have a state of the art dishwasher, there may come a time when (god forbid) it's broken, or you host a party and end up with more dishes then will fit. I haven't lived in a place with a dishwasher since I moved out of my parents house in 2000, and yet I am embarrassed to admit that it wasn't until very very recently that I really got a handle on how to wash the dishes efficiently and with as little waste as possible. My go-to method had been to turn on the hot water, grab the dish wand with the soap in the handle, pick up a dish, scrub, rinse, set to dry. Continuing in this fashion with the hot water running all the while I would wash all the dishes in the kitchen one at a time. It took forever. I wasted tons of water. It's no wonder I hated washing the dishes. My mother was a very good housekeeper, and I learned the finer points of bed making, sweeping and moping, and gourmet cooking under her thoughtful tutelage. However, we always had a dishwasher, so hand washing the dishes never made it into our lessons. As I've been reading more and more on keeping the home, and my housekeeping skills have blossomed from a slovenly college student's habits to a (relatively) smoothly running home, I knew washing the dishes was a chore that I had to master, and I had to master it NOW.

The most recent housekeeping book I've been perusing is Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House. Along with information on how to care for your hard wood floors, and the secret to folding fitted sheets, it thoroughly addresses the proper way to wash the dishes.

1) Gather all of your dishes. For most people this means check the kitchen and dining room, however, if you have small children be sure to also check the living room, bed rooms and bathroom, checking under beds and behind furniture. I'm amazed at the places my kids find to stash dirty dishes. They are very creative.

2) Stack your dishes like items together. As you're doing this scrape any food into the trash or disposal, and empty any drink cups. Once things are stacked together the job already looks less daunting.

3) Make sure you have a space ready for rinsing and drying the dishes. A dish drainer is perfect for this. If you don't have a dish drainer a kitchen towel on the counter works fine too. If you have a double sink, use one side to wash and the other side to rinse. If you only have a single sink a plastic tub by the sink works great for receiving clean soapy dishes that need to be rinsed.

4) Fill one side of your sink with the hottest tap water you can stand. I still use afore mentioned dish wand with soap in the handle, but you can also put a squirt of soap into the dish water and scrub with a dish rag or sponge.

5) Wash your dishes, starting with the least soiled, and ending with your cooking pots. I usually start with silverware, then do glasses, bowls, plates and finally cooking pots. Change out the water when ever it starts looking gross, you run out of suds, or it cools considerably. As you scrub your dishes, place them in the second side of the sink to await rinsing. If you have a very large load of dishes, you may need to stop and rinse before continuing on with the washing. Be sure to rinse before the suds dry on the dishes.

6) Rinse your dishes in hot running water. Using hot water helps kill germs, and makes them dry faster with fewer spots if you air dry like I do.

7) The dishes aren't done until the counters have been cleaned, so wipe down your counters and stove while you're in there. And while you're at it, you may as well sweep, since you got the dishes done so fast you have a couple extra minutes.

There you go! Your dishes are done and your kitchen is clean. Now that wasn't so bad, was it?

Monday, November 8, 2010

Happy Birthday Owen, and Toxin Free Cake

Owen's birthday was yesterday. My big boy is 5 years old. In the spirit of keeping birthdays simple, we followed the same party plans that have worked so well for us in the past few years. 2:00 party, just family. Open presents, eat some cake, be done in time for a good dinner and plenty of time to play with new toys before having to go to bed.

This time I tried something a little different with the cake though. The more I read about artificial food coloring, the more it bothers me. That stuff is truely nasty, and it's found in everything. When facing down Owens cake this week, I just couldn't bring myself to purposfully add those convenient little drops to the icing. So I started brainstorming some other options. Owen had asked for flowers on his cake, so I was mostly looking for pinks or purples, and green for the leaves. I decided to try liquid chlorophyll for the green, and I had on hand Black Elderberry Syrup, cherries, and blueberries for pinks and purples. After a brief consultation with Rachel of Hounds in the Kitchen, I also tried beets. Thanks for the beet, Rachel! Here were my icing results.

Liquid Chlorophyll
(This is kind of washed out, the green was a little deeper, and very pretty)

Black Elderberry Syrup

Beet Puree

Blueberry Puree

Cherry Puree

Several of the colors turned out fairly similar. For the purees I defrosted and blended the cherries and blueberries, then cooked them down on the stove top and put them through a strainer. I boiled the beet, boiled off most of the cooking water, blended, put through a strainer and then cooked down a little farther. I used the black elderberry syrup and the liquid chlorophyll straight out of the bottles. I ended up using the beet colored icing as the trim and writing, and the elderberry icing for the flowers. One thing I failed to consider was that you add a good deal more liquid with this method than with the tiny drops of food coloring, so my icing was a little soft for piping roses. Next time I'll be sure to firm up my icing before putting it into the piping bag.

Finished Product

With the cake ordeal over, let the party begin! I love when the kids recieve books that I loved as a child, and Owen got some Dr. Seuss. He also got some Hulk Hogan wrestling figures who are mostly naked, and very muscular, but he seems to like them. A remote control Hummer and a new stuffed puppy rounded out the birthday gifts.

And making the Birthday Wish! Happy Birthday Owen! You made me a mommy, and I can never thank you enough for that. You're growing up to be such a gentleman. I am so proud of you, and so happy to be your mother.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Winter Supplements

It's cold and flu season again. With both boys in preschool this year, I expect them to bring home their share of germs this winter. While the occasional cold or tummy bug is rather unavoidable, there are some things you can do to help your body deal with the onslaught of germs that bombard us over the fall and winter seasons. I tend to get a little lax about our supplement taking over the spring and summer, but once the weather turns cold and I start watching my friends dropping like flies from this that and the other cold or flu, I redouble my efforts to get some immune boosting nutrition into myself and my kids. My husband is another story. I tell him why he should take them and make them available, but he is an adult and if he chooses to forgo the Fermented Cod Liver oil, that is his choice. Before I go into what my family takes and why, please remember that I am a mom, not a medical professional. This blog is to be used for informational purposes only, and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or cure any disease. Please do your own research and use your own good judgment when making decisions on what supplements to include in your family's regimen.

Here's what I try to get into myself and my kids every day during the fall and winter months.
Left to right, back to front they are: Emergen-C, Rainbow Light Chewable Nutri-Stars, Rainbow Light Prenatal Vitamins, Blue Ice Fermented Cod Liver Oil Gummy Fish, Natural Factors Double Strength Acidophilus & Bifidus, Nature's Bounty Chewable Vitamin C, Honey Pickled Garlic Cloves, Blue Ice Liquid Fermented Cod Liver Oil, Gaia Herbs Black Elderberry Syrup, and Food Science Mega Probiotic Chewables.

I use Rainbow Light multivitamins because they are a food based vitamins and much easier to digest and easier for your body to use. Here is some good info on why food based supplements are better than their synthetic counterparts. The boys each get one chewable star. I take 6 of the prenatal vitamins because I am still nursing.

Vitamin C
I drink about 2 packets of Emergen-C a day. The boys each get one chewable vitamin C, unless I suspect a bug coming on, and then I'll give them two. Both of these products contain synthetic vitamin C, and I am looking for a better natural source. Here is a WebMD article about the many immune boosting benefits of Vitamin C.

The boys each get two chewable probiotics during the winter, again, unless I feel a bug is coming on. Then I might give them 3 or 4. Their chewables contain 2.25 billion organisms/tablet. I take 2 of the Natural Factors, which contain 10 billion organism/pill. If I'm getting sick, I'll take an extra one. From what I've read, it is pretty hard to overdose on probiotics. Your digestive system is a pretty hostile environment before they get to your intestines where they want to set up house keeping, so it's important to take doses in the billions and hope that about half survive to get to your gut.

Fermented Cod Liver Oil
High Vitamin Cod Liver Oil is probably one of the most important items in my arsenal. Almost all cod liver oils have had the naturally occurring vitamins removed and then replaces with synthetic vitamins. From what I understand, Green Pasture's Blue Ice Fermented Cod Liver Oil is the only brand that does not use this process, and retains all of the naturally occurring vitamins with no synthetic additions. The Weston A. Price Foundation has a ton of really good information on why cod liver oil is such an important supplement. We take it more for the vitamins A and D than for the omega 3's. The vitamins are very concentrated in this product, so only a very small dose is needed. This is good because it's a little pricy. If you're looking to achieve a better omega 6:3 ratio, consider actively decreasing the amount of omega 6 you're taking in, rather than supplementing with extra omega 3. I got the gummy fish for the boys, but wouldn't you know they'd rather take the liquid stuff from the oral syringe then eat the gummys. So each of the boys gets 1/2 tsp, and I'm eating the gummy fish. Being a nursing mother, I'm taking 3 a day. The link above also has dosing information and sources.

Alas, I can not get my kids to take garlic, even prepared this way. Last winter when I was pregnant and terrified of the swine flu, but even more terrified of the swine flu vaccine, I was taking about 1 clove of crushed garlic in a spoonful of honey daily. It was horrible. I was sensitive to tastes and smells anyway due to pregnancy, and I almost couldn't get it down. And then I'd have garlic burps for the rest of the day. No fun. I wish I had heard of this preperation then, because it is much more palatable. Garlic is a powerful antiviral, antibiotic, and immune booster. When Owen came down with a very mild case of the flu last year, I attribute it mostly to the garlic I was taking that I didn't get it at all. This website has a lot of information about the health benefits of garlic, as well as the how and why if you're interested in that kind of thing. To make honey pickled garlic, peel a bunch of garlic cloves. Place them in a jar. Pour raw local honey over the garlic to cover. Place a lid on the jar. Put in the fridge and ignore for several days. The honey softens the garlic and takes out all the bite. You end up with a delicious mild clove, and the garlic infused honey is also powerfully healing. I take about two cloves a day, and a spoon full of the honey. I'd take extra if I'm fighting off illness.

Black Elderberry Syrup
Black Elderberry Syrup is the last of my "Big Guns". I actually only pull this out if someone is sick, or getting sick. Then everyone in the family gets a daily dose until the danger is over. Yes, even Brad. He'll take it if I bring the spoon to him. Black Elderberries are unusually rich in flavanoids which act as powerful antioxidents and immune boosters. This website has more information than you could possibly hope for about the health benefits of the Black Elderberry.

That's our winter supplement regimen. It's not as bad as it looks. The boys love their chewable vitamins, and they don't get those until they've taken their CLO. In addition to immune boosting supplements, it's important to eat well, drink water, get plenty of sleep, avoid stress, and get out side as often as possible. We do all of these things with varying degrees of success, but we try. What do you do to keep your family healthy through the cold and flu season?

Friday, October 29, 2010

Sourdough = Fail; Yeast = Win

Several years ago I had a sourdough starter that I raised from scratch. It was a very good starter and I baked most of our sandwich and dinner bread with this starter. This was also before I discovered Traditional Foods, and was baking with white flour. Things got busy as they often do, and I stopped baking so often and failed to maintain my starter. As I started learning about the importance of whole grains, and more importantly the need to soak those grains in an acidic medium before cooking with them to neutralize the phytates I turned back to sourdough, which accomplishes the soaking step with the long rising time and acidic starter. I tried for months to raise a whole wheat sourdough starter. I baked loaf after loaf of super sour doorstops. I finally waved the 'white' flag, and went back to my plain white bread baking, assuring myself that at least it was better for my family then store bought white bread. Always seeking new information, I continued on my journey into nutrition and discovered the evils of white flour. So now I can't feed my family white bread, and I can't feed my family unsoaked whole wheat bread, and I can't bake a loaf of sourdough to save my life. This most recent attempt to raise a starter has met with similar frustration and equally inedible results. However every door in my home is now securely propped open. In all of my reading about sourdough baking, I've decided to quit trying to raise my own starter. I plan to send off to the Friends of Carl for his Oregon Trail Sourdough Starter.

Last week I turned to my tried and true trusty yeast for our sandwich bread needs. Not ideal by any means, but I enjoy baking, and it really has got to be better than store bought. Owen had been begging for swirly bread (cinnamon swirl bread) and I obliged. This loaf not only used commercial yeast, but white flour and a good deal of sugar too. But it turned out wonderfully, and my confidence in myself as a baker has been restored.

I also undertook a whole wheat sandwich loaf, and whole wheat hamburger buns. Both of which rose to my expectations.

I'm not posting recipes today because they are not recipes that I actually condone. I'm looking into some recipes for soaked whole wheat that doesn't utilize a sourdough starter and I've found a few that I want to play with. When I find one that works I will share. And I will also share my experience with Carl's Sourdough Starter when I recieve it, althoug that can take up to 6 weeks, so I'll have to be patient.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Jack-O-Lanterns and Pumpkin Seeds

Yesterday we finally got around to carving our pumpkins. We usually go to Circle S Farm for the hay ride and sunflower maze and to pick our pumpkins out of the field, but this year our plans were foiled by a tummy bug and we never managed to reschedule so we have boring grocery store pumpkins. They did carve up nicely though.
That's face paint on my oldest. He did it himself. The boys picked out their own face designes, but I did most (all) of the work. They did help in scooping out the gunk though.

Once the pumpkins were carved, I tackled the huge bowl of pumpkin guts in attempt to rescue the seeds from clutches of the tentacle like threads of goop. This is a very slow, very slippery, very frustrating project. While at this tedious task, of course the baby wakes up. So as I wash my hands of slime and go to get her out of her crib, I notice some of the water gets into the bowl of cleaned seeds, and guess what, they FLOAT! This new knowledge completely changes my approach to the pumpkin seeds. I filled the bowl with water (after getting the baby and setting her up with a box of toys to dump out), swish around all the pumpkin guts, and miraculously all the seeds float nicely to the top.

It is now an easy task to fish them out and deposit them into the colander. A few more swishes to get the stubborn seeds that were still stuck and I had a colander full of clean seeds.

I soaked them in salt water for the rest of the afternoon, then spread them on a cookie sheet to dry over night in the oven. This morning I roasted up two batches. One sweet with pumpkin pie spices, and one savory with Worcestershire sauce and garlic powder. I read a bunch of recipes on line and in the end made up my own based on several that sounded good.

For the sweet ones I used 2 Tbsp olive oil, about 2 Tbsp succanat, 1/2 tsp sinnamon, 1/4 tsp each cloves and allspice, and a pinch of salt. For the savory ones I used 2 Tbsp olive oil, 1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce, and a sprinkle of seasoned salt, garlic powder and onion powder. I really should start measuring stuff, but I rarely do. Each batch got about 1 1/2 Cups of pumpkin seeds. I roasted the seeds at 250* for about an hour and a half, stirring ever 15 minutes and rotating the baking sheets.
We're trick or treating at my grandparents house tonight and I had planned to bring these along to share. It's going to be hard not to eat them all before we leave though!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Homemade Convenience

I am constantly trying to phase packaged convenience foods out of our home. Let me tell you it is HARD to do. The boys need snacks for school. Brad needs lunches for work. Sometimes I need something to munch that doesn't require cooking or creating dishes to wash. Sometimes dinner time sneaks up on me and I haven't given it the slightest bit of thought earlier in the day. Convenience foods are, well, convenient. So as I go about my journey to get the junk out of our diets, I've had some success in finding homemade versions of some of our favorites that have the benefits of not only being free from chemicals, preservatives, and excess packaging, but also much, much cheaper. Today I'm going to share with you 3 of our favorites: Fruit leather, cheese crackers, and mini fritattas.

Fruit Leather:
My boys love the apricot Stretch Island fruit leather. But at $1 a pop, those things are crazy expensive! We would get them occasionally as a treat in the checkout line at Whole Foods for being helpful shoppers. But now that I have an Excalibur Food Dehydrator, making our own is a snap. Since the boys love the apricot flavor, I start with dried apricots. You can use any type of fresh or dried fruit. If starting with fresh, just omit the soaking step.

Cover dried apricots in water, and leave to rehydrate for several hours. Cover the bowl so nasties don't fall in.

Once the apricots are nice and juicy again, pour your apricots and a good bit of soaking water into your blender. I love my Blendtec , it makes short work of just about anything. Use just enough water to get things blending smoothly.

Next, spread apricot goop in a thin even layer on a piece of parchment paper on your dehydrator tray. The Excalibur comes with some teflex sheets, but I prefer the parchment paper because when it's dry I can roll the whole thing up and cut into strips so the boys have fruit roll-ups.

This batch made four trays worth of fruit leather. I put it in the dehydrator at about 145* for around 6 hours. See how easily the fruit leather lifts off the parchment paper? It's done when the thickest spots are dry to the touch.

Cheese Crackers:
These cheese crackers are the closest to Cheez-Its I've found. They are really yummy, and since I do the whole process in my food processor it's super easy and they come together lickety split. I have made the recipe with whole wheat flour before and they turn out ok, but they really just taste better with white. Since these are a once in a while treat, it doesn't bother me too much.

1/2 lb grated extra sharp cheddar
1/4 C butter, softened
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1 1/2 C flour
1/2 tsp kosher salt

Cream together first 4 ingredients. Slowly add flour to make a stiff dough. It's important to use sharp cheddar in these, even if it's not the kind you like for eating. I like to use extra sharp. Otherwise the crackers don't have a lot of cheese flavor. Also, you can decrease or omit the cayenne pepper if you think your kids won't like it. With the full 1/8 tsp the crackers have a little bit of a kick. My kids don't seem to mind, and I like it that way. 1/16 would probably be fine if you have kids with a picky palette. If you leave it out completely the crackers will be kind of bland, but hey, some kids like it that way.

Divide the dough int 3 portions and roll into logs. Wrap the logs in waxed paper and place in the fridge overnight, or the freezer for 1 hour. I'm always in a hurry so I always use the freezer method and it works great. The idea is just to get the dough chilled enough that you can slice it with out smushing it.

Slice thinly and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. These do not expand very much when baked so you can place them fairly close together, but not touching. Sprinkle lightly with kosher salt.

Bake at 350* for about 12 minutes. Remove from pan and cool on a wire rack. Once completely cool you can store them in a ziplock baggie or a glass jar. I really have no idea how long these keep, even if I make a double batch they are gone in less than a week.

Mini Fritattas:
Here's my newest toy; a 24 ct mini muffin pan. Oh the possibilities! Today it was fritattas.

Bacon, spinach, cheese into every muffin cup. Then I mixed 6 eggs with 1/2 cup of cream, and topped off the fritattas. This made just enough egg mixture to do all 24, not a drop left over.

After 30 minutes in the oven at 350*, I had cheesey, bacon-y, egg-y goodness.
Yum! I meant to put half into the freezer for later, but for some reason they mysteriously disappeared before I got around to it.

Finding homemade versions of some of your favorite packaged foods is a great first step in the direction of phasing junk out of your diet and home. The kids love these snacks, and I feel good about feeding them something healthier than what comes out of a box. What are some of your favorite homemade convenience recipes?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Happy Birthday My Handsome Little Man!

It's been a busy week. On Sunday, my car baby turned 3. I don't think I have his birth story on my blog yet. I'll post it later, but the short version is that he was born in the front seat of my doula's minivan just outside the OSU hospital where I had been planning to deliver. Needless to say, he hit the ground running and I've been trying desperatly to keep up ever since. Over the past few months he has transformed from a toddler, really still a baby, into a little man. He's growing up so fast! Birthdays are very special at our house, even though we try to keep them as simple as possible. We started the morning off right with chocolate chip pancakes.
Once every last moresel of chocolate had been devoured, and the kids had been assured that there was no more and I wasn't going to make another batch, Brad took them to Magic Mountain for arcade games and an indoor play structure while I readied the house for the party and baked a cake. Although we mostly bake with whole wheat in our house, I'm not above white flour and white sugar for a birthday cake. We do avoid box mixes when ever possible. Nothing beats a homemade cake. This year Connor asked for a chocolate cake with chocolate icing and balloons. At the last moment, he decided he wanted strawberries too, so I added a strawberry jam layer to the center of the cake. Yum!

The grandparents (well, my grandparents, his great-grandparents) arrive for the party at 2:00. Commence the present opening!

Aria samples some wrapping paper while Connor works. Alfie the robot, Knight dress up clothes, Color Wonder markers and paper, and a noise making garbage truck were the stars of the show. After the presents have been played with, it's on to the cake! I've never seen a kid more excited then when we were singing "Happy Birthday" to Connor.

And he blew out his candle in one blow.

Birthday cake rocks!
So happy birthday my handsome little man. Your mama loves you more than you could ever imagine. You are growing up so well, and I am so proud of you. Enjoy being 3.