Thursday, March 31, 2011

Sprouts (of all sorts)

It is the last day of March.  But, I'm seeing no signs of the proverbial lamb hanging around outside. 

Inside, we are toasty warm.  The peppers that I seeded last week are sprouting up a storm.

For a number of years now, we've been starting our seeds in soil blocks.  We use a soil mix that I mix up basically according to Eliot Coleman's potting soil recipe found in his Four Season Harvest.  Making the blocks is rather a simple process using this tool for the small seed starting, and then this tool for up-potting.  Last year, we got the 4-inch blocker second hand.  Now it's easier to start melons and squashes who don't like to have their roots disturbed in any way.

I like the blockers a LOT.  It completely cuts down on the plastic pots that one must use when starting their seeds.  The roots are allowed to naturally air prune, thus making the transplanting process way less stressful for the plants.  And, in the long run saves not only resources, but money as well. 

We start most seeds in the little 1/2 inch cubes in plastic trays that I save from our seitan consumption.  I wash these and use them year after year, as long as we have not had any damping off problems.  If we do, I recycle those trays and start with fresh ones.  Some brands of tofu also come in those containers.  When the majority of the seed in a tray have sprouted, I up-pot them using the 2-inch blocker.  When I up-pot, I give the seedlings a little boost by mixing a little kelp extract in with their water.

It's always exciting for me to see the first of the seedlings emerge.  Kinda feels like me - emerging from a long, dark winter with all kinds of hopes for a wonderful spring.

As these sprouts continue to grow, my other sprouts are growing strong too.

Sweetpea is learning how to actually knead pizza dough alongside her father.  (What a funny site to behold!)

Boy is learning how to use a knife.  Yike! 

And Munch is well on her way to learning to knit, and managing her own homeschooling time. 

Yes...  All my sprouts are growing strong.  And I love it.  What a way to wake up from a long winter's nap!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Real Food Challenge Update

Technically, the Real Food Challenge is drawing to a close.  There are only a few days left.  Hopefully, though, the spirit of the challenge will be carried with you as you incorporate healthier food choices into your lives. 

Our challenge has gone rather well.  In this month we have moved from prepackaged cracker and granola bar snacks to fruit, nuts, and popcorn snacks.  Breakfasts, which have always consisted of mainly real foods, but heavily (at times) supplemented with prepackaged cereal, have moved toward real foods consistently.  All this moves us one step further on the path of reducing our waste even more than we have already done. 

It's been an otherwise crazy month here.  I know, when is it not?  But this month, there have been so many heavy decisions going on, injuries, visiting family, ...  I'm looking forward to a time where I can breath an easy sigh of relief (and start exercising again).  Don't get me wrong, the changes we are working on right now are very good changes.  Stressful ones, nevertheless.  Eating simple, real foods will greatly help out in the year to come.

There are a few things I would still like to learn how to make from scratch...
Refried beans - a big staple here!  I have the beans and am ready to go.  I just have to get into a rhythm with it.
Crackers - we really like crackers.  I just don't like rolling things out with a rolling pin, so I've been putting this one off.
Granola or cereal bars - for a quick, healthy, on the go snack.  I'm going to have to try these.  They look like just what I'm looking for!

It's sunny and 28 degrees here.  At least it's sunny.  I've been so thankful for the sun lately!

Hope you all have a swell Monday.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Good Friends and Good Food Go Together

Sometimes life can get overwhelming.  It seems like there is a never ending list of things to do (and it gardening season has not even arrived in full swing yet!!!  yikes!).  It's hard to make time for yourself.  But, when you give in and remember that you deserve some time, it can be wonderfully refreshing!

We spent Saturday night making butternut squash ravioli with friends. 

To prepare ahead of time, Nick and Boy made the pasta dough which is just a fairly dry mixture of organic semolina flour and water.  I baked a squash.  Munch made salad dressing and scooped squash out of their shells.  Sweetpea "peeled" onions for me.  I washed lettuce and made an onion, garlic, and sundried tomato olive oil sauce.

After not getting our hand crank ravioli maker to actually make a proper ravioli, we switched to the old fashioned way of making them.

The filling was simply baked butternut squashed, dried parsley, and a wee bit of salt.  We drained this mixture so the filling would be less wet.

Good conversation.  Cute kids.  Lots of laughter.

And the result...


(I didn't get any pictures of the finished dish with the sauce on it.  By the time we were done making them, we were all super hungry!  Things took a little longer than we anticipated...)

'Twas truly a nice evening.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

More Drops

As the snow starts to drop off, the snowdrops unfurl, shooting beams of spring into the air.

It's 57 degrees right now, and the sun is shining spectacularly.

The kids quickly finished their schoolwork so they could play outside for the remainder of today.

Sheets are drying in the breeze.  The chimes are tingling.  The windows are open.

And the snowdrops dance and wave to the kids as they run by.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

What's Keeping Me Going?

It's been fairly crazy here.  In addition to our regular days of homeschooling, parenting, making meals and snacks, household chores, dance classes, and early garden planning,... we have been working on what will be one of the largest projects in our lives.  (Fingers crossed that all goes well.)  I have not been sleeping remotely well since Friday.  And have been having knee troubles on top of it all. 

So, what's keeping me going these days?  (Besides IV doses of caffeine?)

Things like this:

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Real Food Challenge Update and My Blueberry Muffin Recipe

We're in the thick of the Real Foods Challenge, and we now have breakfast under control.  I'll admit, I do like the convenience of prepackaged cereals for quick go-to breakfasts and snacks throughout the day.  But, with a little planning and prep work, we've been managing breakfast very well. 

This week, I made my whole grain Blueberry Muffins for breakfasts and snacks (recipe at the end of post).

Snacks are coming along.  We've been snacking on popcorn, fresh or dried fruits, and nuts for the most part this month.  We have relied on prepackaged granola and cereal bars, wheat crackers and organic cheesy crackers, and the occasional prepackaged fruit leather for snacks on the run.  The fruit and nuts work well for snacks on the run, as does the popcorn in some cases.  I would like to find a recipe for a healthy crunchy granola bar and maybe a sturdy cereal type bar.  My kids love those.

I also bought a bag of organic pinto beans so I could try my hand at home made refried beans.  I have been told they are easy to make.  I believe it.  The trick will be to figure out a way to store them so we can make quick cheese and bean quesadillas.

It's raining here again.  Our backyard is one big mud puddle.  I can't wait until the grass starts growing.  Looks like rain for a couple more days.

Onto the recipe!!  I make this recipe using agave nectar for sweetener.  Agave nectar comes from the succulent Blue Agave plant similar to a cactus or a yucca plant.  You can read a little bit about it here and here.  Agave nectar has a low glycemic index and glycemic load, and thus does not spike your blood sugar the way regular table sugar does.

I have made this recipe with a variety of whole grains.  Most often, I add a full cup of white flour.  But sometimes, I make this recipe completely whole grain by substituting some other flours like amaranth, sweet brown rice flour, or even buckwheat flour.

Blueberry Muffins  (makes about 24 muffins)

3 cups rolled oats
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup millet flour
1 cup white flour
1 1/4 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2 1/2 cups soy milk (or your favorite milk)
1/2 cup canola oil or melted butter
3 eggs
1 cup agave nectar (or brown rice syrup)
2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries

Mix everything in a large bowl.  Grease some muffin tins.  Spoon batter into muffin tins.  Bake at 375 degrees for about 20 minutes.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Sweetpea Stretches

It was watching night at dance classes last night.

Yup.  I can do that.  Mmmm-hmmm.  Really.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Snowy Drops

Signs of spring are starting to creep their way into our soggy, muddy backyard.



Tiny little packages, beautifully wrapped.

Delicately holding the pure essence of spring.

Waiting for just the right moment to unleash itself.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Home-made Veggie Broth

Good veggie broth can be expensive.  And then there is the packaging and distance it has traveled to consider.  There is an easy alternative - make your own!  It's simple to do, and incorporating this into your kitchen life style doesn't take a whole lot of effort.  Here's what I do to keep us stocked in veggie broth all year...

Every time I make anything with stock veggie I (read: patient hubby) picks up all the scraps and puts them into a large bag we keep in the freezer.  When the bag is full (or when 2 bags are full if I have other more pressing things to do), I dump the veggies into my second largest kettle (12 quarts) and fill it to the tippy top with water.  This cooks on the stove until I remember it's there a couple hours later.  If I'm feeling patient and thorough, I will mash up the veggies some and let it simmer for a little while longer.  If I'm too impatient, I skip that step.  When it has cooked long enough to look like vegetable broth, I strain it and put it into pint jars. 

Now, I have a pressure canner (one of the best home canning purchases I've ever made), so I pressure can mine so I can save precious freezer room.  But, if you don't have a pressure canner, you can freeze it in useful sized batches.

These are some of the veggies I regularly save for broth:
green onion tops
leek greens
tomato pieces
parsley stems

Other veggies that can be good in broth:
peppers (but not too many)
turnips (again, not too many)
mushrooms stems

You can spice it up with peppercorns and some bay leaves, if you'd like.  Usually, the ratio of veggies in my stock bag is pretty much spot on.  But, sometimes I have to cut up an extra carrot or celery stock to make it more well rounded.

Making your own stock is a great way to use up some of your food scraps before throwing them into the compost heap.  Aside from the energy you use to cook and can, it's a freebie.  Which is always good.

Do you make your own stock?

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Real Food Challenge Kick-off - Breakfast

Happy March first everyone.  Today is the first day of the Real Food Challenge hosted by Not Dabbling In Normal.  Although we've been eating mostly whole organic foods for quite some time now, there are some things I would like to do to eliminate some processed and prepackaged foods from our household. 

It's really mind boggling to think about all the things in our lives that are processed and prepackaged.  It's not hard to spot them when you look in your kitchen.  Although some of them can be healthy alternatives/additions to our diets, some of them are just plain junk.  In addition to avoiding food that comes from countless miles away, you can save precious environmental resources simply by reducing the number of prepackaged foods you purchase.  Especially the individually packaged items like granola bars and fruit leathers.

So, as it stands, my goals are these:
-  to work on eliminating already prepared snack foods, breakfast foods (like boxed cereals), quick comfort foods (boxed mac-n-cheese), and just easy-to-use prepackaged foods (packaged pastas). 
-  to create a growing plan for those veggies for which we still rely on far away sources to obtain.
-  to see if we can source some staples we don't grow from local sources.

As we work towards lifestyle changes, it's important to take small, achievable steps towards our larger goals.  This way, we can feel a sense of accomplishment without feeling overwhelmed.  Small steps are easier to absorb and assimilate into our lifestyles.  They are often the changes that become permanent.  We, as a couple, then as a family, did not get to where we are overnight.  It involved years of reading, thought, decision making, research, discussion, incorporation, ...  We continue to learn and make changes that will lead us to a more sustainable lifestyle.  One that we can feel comfortable with.  One that impacts our fragile planet the least.

So let's start out on a good note.  Breakfast!  The most important meal of the day.  I love breakfast.  And, although in tomato season, I definitely get stuck in the tomato toast rut (happily stuck, that is), I do like a good and varied breakfast.  What options do we have other than the standard breakfast cereal?  Well, I'm glad you asked.  Here are some ideas I like to use for breakfasts (recipes for some to come in the days ahead):

muesli or granola with home made yogurt
breakfast frittatas
peek-a-boo eggs
fruit smoothies (from fresh or local frozen)
tofu potato cakes
home made muffins
home made quick breads
good old-fashioned toast (with home made bread)
eggs poached in our canned tomato puree (super tasty!!)
oatmeal with local syrup and local frozen fruits
hot cereal made from local grains (similar to cream of wheat)
apple crisps or fruit cobblers
breakfast burritos
breakfast strombolis

Some of these things can be made the night before for quicker breakfasts.  Some of them take a bit of prep in the mornings.   Last winter I made a batch of quick cooking oatmeal "packets" for my kids to make on their own.  I used the basic recipe from this site, but eliminated the salt.  I added some extras according to what my kids would like - cinnamon dried apple, raisin nut, coconut...  I store them in used paper bowls with lids from a local restaurant.  In the next couple of days, I will be making these packets again for fast breakfasts and snacks.  Munch can boil water and help her brother and sister prepare the packets.

What do you like to eat for breakfast?!