Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Big Bright Red Peanut Butter Machine

I am leaving for New York for work very shortly, but here I am, throwing up a quick blog post before I leave!

In the interest of eating organic food (no more hidden chemicals killing off my good bacteria), I knew we needed to finally make the switch to organic peanut butter.  Peanuts are typically grown as a rotation crop with cotton and soybeans, both of which are heavily sprayed and not intended for human ingestion.  I confess I do really love the commercial-style sweetened peanut butter with its added chemicals and have never been a huge fan of the natural stuff.  The best price I could find for organic peanut butter was $8 for a pint and for a while, I have simply ignored it and bought Jif or whatever.

Then I remembered an old favorite place of mine, Koinonia farms in Georgia.  I buy my pecans from them with fond memories, but they sell other things, too.  They have organic raw peanuts for peanuts (har har - for cheap).  Then I remembered my dad's commercial peanut butter machine, salvaged from a grocery store through his business years ago.

Light bulb!

Last night, I roasted several trays of peanuts and Dad brought the peanut butter machine over. We cranked out 2 quarts from 5 pounds of peanuts.  At $3.05 per pound including shipping, my quarts of peanut butter cost $7.62 apiece!  Hooray for do-it-yourself!

We sent Dad home with a pint of still-warm peanut butter and many thanks.

Now the machine lives in our basement and if you're local and interested, email me privately - I am happy to let you have a session with Dad's machine. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Hello, Baby Basil Plants

This year I took a nervous gardening step and brought basil to life from seed instead of buying plants. 

Aren't the babies adorable?  I find myself cooing at them when I go past, and stopping often to look at them, this miracle of life makes me so happy.  From something lifeless-looking and insignificant springs life! 

I followed directions from the guy at the greenhouse who said just put the seeds in a shallow tray.  Later, I wished I would have made little newspaper pots or some such thing for easier transplanting when the time comes.

Seeds are cheaper with more varieties to choose from, but yes, they take fussing with, unlike seedlings that can just go right in the garden bed. But I have found this seed-starting process relatively easy and intensely rewarding.

Next year my southern windowsills might be crowded with little homemade paper pots. . . I can see how people get greenhouse dreams!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Easiest Risotto Ever

This is the cheater's version of risotto, so if you are a purist, turn away now.  But I'll just say it is fabulously delicious and takes very little work.

I actually made this recipe a few times this winter, but it doesn't really photograph well.

I've made it recently because it's turned chilly out and the oven heat is welcome.  Because, yes, the oven is on for almost an hour and does most of the work.  It's an awesome trick.

Asparagus risotto

The recipe is based on one from the Barefoot Contessa.  I tweaked it several times over.

Easy Oven Risotto

1 1/2 cups arborio rice, barley, or short-grain brown rice
5-6 cups chicken stock, divided
1/2 tsp. poultry seasoning or just dried sage, optional
1/2 cup chopped mushrooms
1 garlic clove, minced, optional
2/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup dry white wine, red wine, or just more stock
2-3 Tbsp. butter
1 tsp. salt, or to taste
1/4 tsp. freshly ground pepper
1 cup frozen peas, chopped asparagus, or chopped spinach

Heat 4 cups of stock in cast-iron Dutch oven or other oven-safe pan.  (Use an extra cup if you are using barley or brown rice, so heat 5 cups).  Pour in your grain of choice plus the mushrooms and optional garlic and sage.  Clap on a lid.  Bake at 350 for 45 minutes for arborio rice, but 60 minutes for the barley and brown rice.
Heat up the remaining cup of chicken stock (I use the microwave).  Have the cheese, wine, butter, salt, pepper, and green veg all ready to go.
Remove the Dutch oven from oven.  Immediately pour in the hot chicken stock.  Stir vigorously.  Add the cheese, wine, butter, salt and pepper.  Stir vigorously for 2-3 minutes.  Add the green veg.  Stir again and put the lid on or turn the stove burner on low until the risotto is hot through and the vegetable is just barely cooked.

Notes:  Do not try to use long-grain rice with this recipe.  Arborio is a short-grain rice.  Short-grain rices, it is my understanding, have more starch and so will cook up into a more gluey end product than long-grain rices which will be fluffier.  The gluey starch is what translates into "creamy" in risotto.
for dinner, with a green salad

Risotto is great for dinner with a green salad, or for breakfast with some fruit on the side.  Leftovers reheat beautifully, or can sneaked out of the fridge, cold.

I wonder what I was expounding on here when my husband snapped this photo?  This was Saturday night.  And then we had gingerbread with a few dregs of lemon curd whipped with heavy cream.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Ordinary Days

Here are some ordinary moments, made special because we noticed them.  This collection is for Leila and Rosie's weekly round-up, pretty/happy/funny/real.

Pretty porch pots:

summer savory with begonias

geraniums and begonias and the rest is edible:  2 thymes, basil, rosemary, lovage
There was a happy weekend at the cabin with my husband and my uncles' biking club, wherein I biked 23 miles (more than ever before!) and had a ball and renewed my dislike of sleeping on the ground. Next time I am buying or borrowing a cushy mat; my bones are too old.

These are the funny signs that Genevieve made and hung on her bedroom door:
Free! Masashase! [massages] Pleas knok all day long!
A art show and mazeum [museum] for Ben! and crafs [crafts]! Thank you!

And here she is showing me her new freckles.

My girl. Who is almost done with first grade.

And the real part of my week that I have a photo for is that I made this shaved asparagus pizza and wasn't wowed. It was supposed to be wow-y, but I got off on the wrong foot with this pizza when I discovered that my peeler has a metal piece that prevented me from shaving the asparagus down as far as I wanted to. Plus, I didn't used smoked cheddar the way Rebecca's Clara did when it wowed them, so there's that.
I think I'm going to try again.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

I Kissed Antacids Good-bye

I realized I had acid reflux 1 1/2 years ago.  I went to my doctor who always gives me samples and who sings in the same choir with my brother and thinks my brother is a hoot.  He told me to avoid acidic and fatty food, mint, chocolate, and caffeine.  He told me other things and I tried to follow them except for propping up the head of my bed. 

I took Nexium.  Then Prilosec.  I felt better for a few months. I wondered how taking drugs that dialed back my digestive juices could be helpful. 

I chewed gum several times a day and that helped stimulate digestive juices until my jaw showed signs of TMJ, a serious, expensive problem. 

I took more Prilosec.  And Zantac.  And started drinking gallons of aloe vera per Dr. Oz.  I tried not to stress as my mother advised me.

I love to eat and I love to cook and my eating mantra is NO DIETS and all things in moderation and I was/am so angry at God that this ailment is the thorn in my side.  On good days, I see possible spiritual lessons in the distance and I do not allow acid reflux to control my life.  On bad days, I am depressed at my first-world acid reflux problem and, well, you know all the bad things that happen when we are down in our pits.  It's ugly.


I am done with the antacids. DONE. I have made an about-face - I am stimulating my stomach acid! 

This is what happened:  I made sauerkraut last year because I'm always curious in the kitchen.  It was so easy that I started reading and studying Sandor Ellix Katz's book.  Rebecca pointed out a section on H. Pylori, and when I googled H. Pylori and acid reflux, I read this article.  And it made sense. 

I am following my gut (ha!) and eating fermented food at every meal, plus taking a stomach acid pill occasionally at some meals (that would be HCl + pepsin), and downing some apple cider vinegar for heart-burn-ish symptoms.

I feel pretty good after two weeks. I feel pretty good, oh thank you God.  What I believe is that my American diet, even as healthy as I thought it was, slowly killed off my beneficial digestive bacteria.  I am colonizing new ones by eating live food like fermented foods, raw milk, unwashed organic vegetables, and filtered water.  I will avoid any CAFO (concentrated animal feeding operations) meat with its excessive antibiotics.  As a child, I took lots of antibiotics - we all did - for slight colds and other viruses.  I had already shunned antibacterial soap at our house, and I'm afraid I'm going to get dogmatic on the subject of hand sanitizer:  YOU MAY NOT USE THAT CRAP BECAUSE IT KILLED MY DIGESTIVE TRACT.  WE NEED OUR FRIENDLY LITTLE BACTERIA!!!  My husband gets a worried look when I talk like this and I do try to tone it down because I don't want to judge BUT IF THERE'S A SINK AROUND, MY CHILD IS NOT GOING TO USE THAT PUMP BOTTLE OF HAND SANITIZER.  THIS IS NOT THE HOSPITAL ICU!!!  AND NO, THANK YOU, WE ARE NOT GOING TO USE HAND SANITIZER AT THE PETTING ZOO because (I'll stop shouting now) city kids need all the animal and dirt germs they can get.


I don't want people to think I'm lulu on this topic.  I was feeling lulu and lonely, but better in my body, so I kept on. And then the New York Times published this article by Michael Pollan.  I could hardly calm down after reading it!  I feel so vindicated, so justified, so gratifed.

I had a hard time writing this post.  This is a watershed moment in my life and I wanted to explain it, but it's so new yet that I don't have a lot of perspective.  I wanted there to be pictures, but I didn't know how to illustrate "watershed moment," so I used a bunch from a recent field trip to a farm with Ben.  Lots of germs.  Awesome.

So, that's enough for now.  I have more new food habits to share in future blog posts and, as always, I am happy to discuss questions and ideas in the comments.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Patchwork Cards

The children were away, the chores were done-ish, house was quiet, so I was eager to play.

I made these cards for all the end-of-the-school-year occasions coming up.  I had so much fun!  My favorite one, and the one I will likely duplicate, is the square of woven patchwork.  I just cut a few strips, tucked their ends over and under each other, and sewed them down.

I'm leaning towards not buying cards.  I have lots of pretty paper, lots of fabric scraps, and the need for a creative outlet.  I think it would be more efficient for me to sit down sometime when cards are not really needed and just make a batch.  I'll have to remember this project next time I need a little sewing therapy.


Because yes, I have started another quilt and while I love making quilts, I need some brief sewing therapy along the way.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Kefir is Easy to Love

I have a lot of food changes going on in my life and I feel like I'm barely keeping up with it, let alone blogging about it!  But I did snap a photo of kefir, so let's start there.

I lived in Russia for 8 months after high school with a church missions team.  I was introduced to kefir there and thought it okay, drinkable yogurt.  The Russians pronounce the word "keh-FEAR."  Now, years later, it is this micro-craze with the healthy foodies and people say "KEE-fur."  Have you heard of it?

I started making kefir this spring when Rebecca handed me a nugget of kefir grains and said, make this, it's like having a constant supply of buttermilk and it's easier to make than yogurt. 

Here's how I do make kefir:
1.  Plunk the kefir grains in a jar of milk in the evening.  Cover.
2.  Let the milk ferment overnight on the counter. 
3.  Put the jar in the fridge in the morning.  It will continue to ferment and thicken a bit in the fridge. 

What I do with kefir:
1.  Drink it straight for the probiotic deliciousness.  It's perfect when I return home from grueling errands all hot and bothered.  It's perfect for acid reflux (more on that elephant in another post).
2.  Use it as buttermilk or sour milk in baking.  Best pancakes ever.
3.  Pour it over granola for breakfast.

I could give you way way way more information about this and other fermentation, but I'm keeping it simple here.  I have been reading and, yes, studying Sandor Ellix Katz's excellent book since I received it as a Christmas present.  I am learning so much!

Thoughts?  Questions?  I always love to discuss food.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Herbs and Flowers in my Porch Pots

I have gotten pretty comfortable with container gardening over the years. I typically plant three pots of flowers on the front porch with thrillers (tall plants), fillers (bushy, medium or small height), and spillers (a creeper that spills over the edge of the pot).  I even know how to secure my pots so they aren't stolen off the porch, a sad but real part of downtown city living.

However, inspired by my friend last fall, I wanted to see if I could work more edibles into my gardening overall.

I filled my big pot with a geranium, a few begonias, and then (the edibles!) thyme with purple flowers, variegated creeping thyme, creeping rosemary, purple basil,  and lovage.  The smaller twin pots on the porch posts got a few begonias and summer savory. 

We'll see if they fill out and look lovely and if I remember what each herb is.  I'll take pictures in a month or so and report back.

In other gardening news, I'm still mulling how to do a container of carrots or beets.  Our peas are up and looking happy.  New baby dill plants are growing.  Our lettuce is nice and hearty.  And I have started a packet of basil seeds inside on the window sill instead of buying plants the way I usually do.

I planted hen and chicks, a creeping succulent, in Ben's old sneakers. Not edible, just adorable. 

This spring, I pulled out some irises and lily of the valley to make space for a rhubarb plant from my friend Caryn (thanks again, Caryn!). I am hopeful it will take root well enough to survive the summer heat, unlike the last one.

How are your edibles coming along?

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Mother's Day: A Poem About Patches

Yesterday I patched my flannel sheets.
They are at least 7 years old, about Genevieve's age.
Ecru linen patches on white flannel.
I could buy new sheets.
But no.

Patches mean life,
real life was lived here and this thing was used hard.
This thing was not thrown out, but rather patched up for more hard work.

Ben took his shoes off in the middle of the day,
and there was his toe peeping out of his blue sock.
"Put your socks on my sewing table tonight, Ben."
And he did.
And I will find some bright thread left from another project
and I will fill in the hole.
He will wear the darned socks again.
I will wash them, and hang them on the line.
The darn will settle into the sock,
a sign of grace
extended to a weak spot.

We live here.
We work and play.
You can buy ripped jeans and shabby chic stuff at the mall,
cool, but they do not mean real life.
Better we should see our own holes,
our patches,
the beautiful mending,
the love.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

My Favorite Hotpad Filler

Instead of buying batting or Insul-bright, I have been filling hotpads with towels, felted wool, old sweaters, and now, my favorite:  old sweatpants.  Sure, they're a knit, but it's a stable, plush, flexible, 100% cotton knit.  My aunt gave me some of Uncle Tom's old sweatpants that she had cut apart (I'm not sure why - come to think of it, I am quite curious about that).  I stuffed them in my stash because I didn't need any more rags.  One day I used them as filler for hotpads and I was quite pleased.  Towels are a bit stiffer, harder to quilt, and a whole lot messier when cut.


I took a new batch of things to the local museum store that consigns my things.  Included were two new items the manager requested:  French press cozies.  The cozies are two layers thick of sweatpants, machine quilted, with a lovely loft.  I am pleased with the patchwork and the design, which I carefully measured so it works on various French press models.

one of the sets of hotpads for the museum store

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

A Pompom Garland and a Messy Desk

I loved Leila's pompom garland so much that I acquired an A. C. Moore coupon and bought two bags of pompoms for $4 total.

I started merrily stringing and knotting the pompoms on black perle cotton. Unlike Leila, I didn't make a knot on either side of the pompom because I found that the pompoms still slid around; instead, I tied a double knot directly on the pompom itself and the fluff covered it right up. 

Mid-project, I set my strings aside to tend to a party, but the strings got so entirely tangled that not even my mom, my sis, and my sister-in-law could untangle them!  I was so mad. I snipped the pompoms free and threw away a lot of perle cotton.  Learn from my example if you want to make a pompom garland!  I very carefully kept the strands straight until they were done, and then I carried them directly to their hooks.

I love it.

Airy, like sprinkles in the lime green room.


Now, underneath those pretty pops of color is A Very Messy Desk.  The children share it.  I can hardly bear to look at it.  We try to clean it once a week, usually on Saturdays, but I swear as soon as the brown desk surface reappears and there is space for a project, the children happily submerge themselves in projects and the mess starts up again. 

I want them to do projects and have art materials, but I want them to learn the value of tidying up.  If they want to keep their desk in a different manner when they are adults, that is their business.  I will try not to judge and feel like a failure; I will say they take after their father.  I will let it go, really.

In the meantime, thanks to Rebecca who knows more about parenting than I do, I've come to realize that we are teaching the children about clean desks in these three ways:

Method 1: Parent cleans desk while children are away and takes the trash directly out to the garbage can.

Pros: The desk is clean, an excellent exhibit for the children.  Parents can throw tacky things away without child's knowledge!  
Cons:  Parent's time.  Child has not helped with cleaning.

Method 2:  Parent stands over child for specified amount of time, maybe 15-30 minutes (so parent doesn't go insane) and guides child through each organizing decision:  yes, the marker goes in the marker box; is that a piece of paper you want to save?  then pin it to the bulletin board; put all your paper clips together in this little can, etc. etc. etc.  etc. etc.

Pros: Child learns the actual process of organization.  Process requires parent to eat chocolate before and after (soothing properties).
Cons:  Parent must have infinite patience and no ironic or sarcastic tendencies.  Parent may go insane.  Desk may not be very clean because the process is slow.

Method 3:  Parent tells child to clean desk by specified time (or else it could take all day).  Parent does not enter the room, but may cajole from a distance.  Child may attempt to put organizational skills (see  Method 2) in practice, but usually ends up throwing a lot of things in drawer or trash.  Whatever.

Pros:  Very little parental energy expended.  Children working.
Con:  Messy desk.

I gave the children the extras, thinking they could use them as play food.  The children promptly cut them up for a project.

How do you teach small people to tidy up their own work areas?  I'd love some tips!