Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Life After Soda

Where I grew up, tap water was practically undrinkable.  We lived two minutes from a quarry, which was great for the limestone industry, but terrible for people on well water.  We made a lot of iced tea to disguise the rock taste.  Since my family was perpetually on a diet, it meant that the iced tea had Sweet 'n' Low in it.  As I got older, my family had a fair amount of soda around the house, too.  Because of the perpetual diet, it was always diet soda.  I hate regular soda (with the rare exception of ginger ale on airplanes).

When we got rid of artificial sweeteners starting in March, the vast majority of my drink options disappeared.  As far as cold drinks go, I just had water or the occasional cider or wine.  While I'm getting better about drinking water, it's definitely not my favorite.

Before Miss F was born, I used to make water kefir fairly regularly.  At some point, though, I let my culture die.  After almost two months of water, I decided that I had to buy new grains, even though I'm not a fan of buying things online.  They came yesterday, and here they are!

We still have our Grolsch bottles, so I should be enjoying water kefir soda/juice within the next week!  I can't wait!

Friday, April 26, 2013

Sippy-less Baby

One of the things *B* and I decided on when thinking about how we were raising Miss F is not to "baby" her too much.  We believe that kids can and will be more responsible than we imagine them to be if we give them opportunity and guidance.  One of the things I had heard about but never seen personally was babies using glasses rather than sippy cups.

We started to introduce a glass at about 6 months.  It just so happened I had some miniature Coca-Cola glasses that were just the right size for her hand.  But we realized that she didn't understand how to tip the glass back to get the liquid near the bottom.  So instead, we gave her a shorter Pyrex measuring cup that looks exactly like a shot glass.

At first, we held it for her.  There was a lot of modeling.  We'd drink and have her watch, then we'd get her to drink.  There was a moderate bit of choking, but we always took it slow.

Then, we seemed to forget about giving her water.  She needed to gain weight (according to the pediatrician), so she just nursed a lot.  But in the last month, we've made a concerted effort to give her a little bit of water after each meal.

At eight months, Miss F spent a lot of time biting the glass.  She clacked her little teeth against the rim.  Good thing it's fairly thick.  I'm not quite sure when, but she's stopped doing that.  

She did get good at holding it with just one hand, though we still encouraged her to use two hands.


Now, at nine and a half months, Miss F chokes a lot less when she drinks. It's more common for her to suck down most of the water, then sing into the glass.  She also likes to put the bottom of the glass in her mouth.  Obviously, that doesn't facilitate drinking very well.  But I think that she'll get to a point where she drinks more than she plays.

I've now started putting her water into a child's pitcher to pour into the shot glass so that she can see how that works.  As she gets older, she will be pouring her own water.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Miss F's Baskets

Sorry about the occasional unfinished posts.  I'm experimenting with scheduled posts, and they don't always work out right.


Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Reevaluating Our Pantry Goods

When I originally started stocking our pantry, I looked more toward shelf life and easy meals than to wholesomeness.  I did think about nutrition with respect to not getting scurvy (ha ha) and having veggies with meals but that was about it.  A few of the gems I kept stocked regularly:
Hamburger helper
Chicken helper
Tuna helper (see a pattern?)
Boxed macaroni and cheese
Chocolate bars (for sugar indulgences, not baking)
Pudding mixes
Sauces of all kinds (sweet and sour, curry, etc)
Soda (I had soda, but not water.  Can you believe that?)

I was amazed and disturbed to read the ingredients on some of those things.  Preservatives out the ears.  So when *B* and I rid the house of processed food, the pantry was severely cut down.  We were left with canned fruits and veggies, bulk flour, sugar, and rice, a little pasta, and a few cans of tuna.

So we started trying to make more meals with dried ingredients.

Beans and Legumes
I cooked 7 cups of dried black beans to make as many meals with black beans as possible.  In our freezer, we have a ton of vegetarian black bean soup a la Panera, pork and black bean soup (which just used up all of our wilting produce), beef and bean taco filling, and some black bean burgers.  We also tend to eat corn and black bean salad, which is essentially a Chipotle bowl with no meat.  So dried black beans are going in our new pantry.
Pork and black bean soup

We really like hummus, but I have a hard time making enough to justify buying tahini.  I found this recipe that uses sesame oil instead, which works perfectly for us and tastes really good.  Dried chickpeas are now in our pantry.

I've always kept kidney beans around because we use them in chili.  I'm making it a goal this month to find more recipes that call for kidney beans.

Another bean that we're starting to cook with is navy beans.  I've never cooked with them before in my life.  I've never seen my family cook with them either.  I had bought them to make baked beans from scratch.  I found the recipe in a fabulous book that *B* bought for me from the library called The Food Journal of Lewis and Clark: Recipes for an Expedition.  But we had a ham bone from Easter that was taking up a ton of space in our freezer, so I ended up using them to make ham and bean soup instead.

Ham and bean soup
Cooking rice is down to a science here at our house.  I make up huge batches and we freeze it in smaller portions.  Even so, I'm still got about 2.5 gallons of rice in the pantry already.

We've cooked barley before, but we haven't quite gotten it incorporated into our weekly meals.  Miss F was the only one eating it for a little while.  Using barley more will be another goal of mine.

We already use a ton of oatmeal.  Miss F and I have oatmeal just about every single morning.  Aside from straight up, we use it in pancakes, cookies, and in apple crisp.  I'm sure I could find a million uses for oatmeal.

Fruits and Vegetables
Non-canned fruits and veggies aren't something I've stocked before.  Our basement stays roughly 55 degrees year round if we don't heat it.  As we grow butternut squash, pumpkins, and potatoes this year, we're going to try to store them in the pantry.

I saw a really cool method of storing onions the other day:  knotting them in pantyhose.  I can't wait to try this one.

Baking Goods
I found out that the whole wheat flour I was using for everything (including bread) was pastry flour rather than all purpose or bread flour.  We finally got some bread flour and it changed the way I see our homemade bread.  So we got a 50 pound bag split between two gamma buckets.

I do have a few sugar products still - brown sugar, a little natural sugar left over from our last bulk bag, and powdered sugar.  We only use these for foods for family, like Easter and birthdays.

We use a lot of maple syrup and honey now, so I'm storing a moderate amount of each right now.  If and when I see maple syrup go on sale at Costco, I will stock up.  We get our honey locally, so we only get as much as we can afford at any given time.

Cleaning Products
This one's super easy.  We're down to only using a few simple things in our cleaning routine:  baking soda, white vinegar, washing soda, and borax.  I picked up four 13.5 pound bags of baking soda and four 5 liter bottles of white vinegar.  They'll last me for years, and they're super cheap.

What kinds of whole foods do you keep in your pantry?

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

New Year, New Garden

*B* is in his last year of graduate school, so the garden is mostly my project this year.

Every year we plant a ton of snap peas.  They grow really well, and they're delicious.  But this year, when we planted them, only three peas out of a whole 7 foot long raised bed sprouted!   And they don't look too healthy either:

So I planted another batch.  Best case, they all sprout and we get some great succession plantings.  Worst case, at least we have three that came up.

In between the rows of snap peas, I broadcast carrot and radish seeds together.  I read about it in this book we bought, Vegetable Gardening the Colonial Williamsburg Way.  The radishes help loosen up the soil, and the carrots fill in when you harvest the radishes.

We did buy two types of seedlings, jalapenos and celery.  The jalapenos went into our brand new beds

and the celery went into our cold frame.

*B* is really into perennial gardening, so we have some plants making a comeback.  We have stinging nettles

parsley on its second year

and mint is a perennial favorite in our house (ba dum sh).

 Thyme might just be my very favorite herb.  It's hard to see here, but it's thriving.

We got eight raspberries last year.  I'm hoping for at least ten this year.

This is scorzonera.  I don't know much about it, but it's one of *B*'s perennials that didn't do well last year.  Now it's three times the size it was last year.  Apparently, the leaves and roots are both edible.

And this little one is my lilac.  *B* bought it for me last year as an (almost) mother's day present. It's so very small that I thought it wouldn't last the year, but it's back!

We're planning on doing pumpkins, muskmelon, popcorn, squash, purple royalty pod beans, and tomatoes in the next few weeks.

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Sting of Rejection

When I was pregnant with Miss F, I talked to my school about taking a leave of absence rather than quitting.  They wouldn't put anything in writing, but they agreed that I could take a leave of absence.  I promised everyone that I'd be back, and I even continued mentoring a former student for free and on my own time.  After I had Miss F, I was a little skeptical about going back, but I kept an open mind.

The first week of March, I got an email from my department chair at my former school.  She said that she had a position available, and that she'd like to bring me on board.  I had planned on not going back, but since the opportunity landed in my inbox, *B* and I talked about it.  He expressed a deep interest in staying home with Miss F, since that wouldn't be possible with our other children.  It'd be a modest increase in income, and we'd have a lot more family time together.  So I agreed.

I was told that I'd have to talk to the principal, so that night I emailed him.  The next day, I sent my resume "just in case."  I heard nothing that first week.  I kept emailing, and eventually he said that he needed to look over the enrollment and that he'd get back to me by Easter.

Easter came and Easter went.  The first day they got back from break (a month after the initial email asking me back), I emailed the principal again.  No answer.  Then I emailed the department chair.  No answer!  Two weeks later, six weeks after I was asked back, I finally called.  The principal wasn't available, but his administrative assistant said that she knew there were no positions available.  I asked her to have the principal call me anyway - I'd feel better hearing it from him.  A couple of hours later she called me back and said that he didn't have time to talk to me, but he said there were no positions.

Ooph.  Gut check.  I worked there four years and I had to hunt them down to try to get my job back?  And even then, I didn't get the courtesy of a phone call from the principal?

*insert downward spiral of low self-esteem and depression here*


Is this really a bad thing?  No!  It's actually what I wanted!  I get to spend my days doing what I REALLY want to do, taking care of this little lady:

Friday, April 19, 2013


We live in a small townhouse with three stories.  Our main floor has the living room and kitchen, upstairs are two bedrooms and a bathroom, and the basement is down a flight of stairs in the corner of our kitchen.  Now that Miss F is mostly mobile, my house is full of barricades.  It's like my little house is slowly getting smaller.

When she learned to crawl, we had to put up our first barricade at the top of the stairs that lead to the basement.  We couldn't put up a baby gate because the cats' litter box is downstairs.  So we improvised.

We always kept a chair in the corner under the white recycling bucket.  The cat food is in the scoop away bucket, so we just pushed our step stool up and wedged it in front of the two.  The cats can go over or under it, but (for now) Miss F can't get past it.

We also liked to be able to work upstairs without locking Miss F in one room.  So we bought an extra tall wooden baby gate, but found that it didn't fit with our chair rail.  We'd have to cut pieces of the chair rail out.  So we bought a plastic one instead:
This setup worked for a good three months or so.  But lately, we've had another problem:

These pictures are only on the bottom four steps or so.  She started out only on the bottom, but she wasn't very adventurous, so I let her do it.  Then, one day, she sounded really echo-ey.  I went out to see what she was doing, and she was two steps from the top.  Something had to be done.  Because we have this weird diagonal cut out on our stairs (you can see a little in the top picture), we can't really put a gate across the stairs.  So we improvised again.

Our first attempt involved a chair and the box with our original gate in it.

Side note:  I was going to clean out the chair before I took a picture, but I figured I might as well show our real lives.  Those are all the chemicals and products we pulled out of our cabinets.  Miss F doesn't mess with them, but to be sure, we turned the chair around the other way soon after this picture.

It was a big pain trying to move this heavy, cumbersome chair when I had to get upstairs.  And I have to go upstairs fairly regularly.  So I pulled that gate out to see if it would stretch.  It didn't, but I managed to make this instead:

It's not perfect, but it's a lot easier than the chair was.  And it fits the motto that I'm trying to live by:  use it up, wear it out, make do, or do without.  I had been feeling guilty about having the wooden gate without being able to use it, so this seems to make up for it.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Going Natural Check In - Two Weeks Later

Homemade Deodorant
The past two weeks with my homemade deodorant have been...interesting...to say the least.  I found it to be really effective, but - TMI warning - I had these razor burn type bumps under one arm.  I think they're because I used an old razor when I was shaving.  The baking soda kept getting into these areas and it burned.  I had to stop using the homemade deodorant for three days so that it could heal.  Once they were healed, however, everything was fine.  Then, two days later, I got a red rash under both arms.  I took a picture because I couldn't find any when I googled it.  I know everyone doesn't want to see that though, so if you're interested, you can find it here.  That one sounds like it was caused by the deodorant.  This was after a warm weather streak and the deodorant melted.  I half-heartedly mixed it back together, but I think I got a bunch of baking soda in one clump.  I think the next time I make up a batch, I'm going to drop the baking soda back to 1/8 cup to see if that helps with the irritation I experienced.  And another thing I learned - it's really important with this stuff not to put it on directly after shaving!  Shave, do everything else you have to do to get ready, then put the deodorant on very last.  Otherwise it stings a lot!!

No 'Poo
No 'poo is going better than I could have ever imagined.  It's really freeing.  I'm at the point that the day I was with baking soda, my hair looks 100% normal.  The next day, it's about 80% normal.  The third day, I start to feel a little gross.  So I end up going 72 hours between baking soda washings with no real problems.  That's a HUGE deal, because I used to feel gross just 24 hours after shampooing.  Mind you, I do shower every day still, so it's not like I'm running around smelling like hippie.  I've been keeping a diary of my routine and how my hair behaves.  A bonus - my eczema is almost GONE.  *B* even commented on it.  Aside from during pregnancy (for whatever reason), I've had persistent eczema on my scalp since I was a kid.

This is my hair almost 24 hours (including an overnight) after showering.  
When I first started, I would have been super greasy by now.

Oil Cleansing Method
I'm kind of "eh" about OCM.  My skin really didn't seem all that different than with my old skin care regimen.  I use the phrase "skin care regimen" very loosely.  I used to just lightly wash with a washcloth and no soap most of the time.  I got some acne (which I'm not sure was going to happen anyway or was due to OCM) so I bought some castor oil.  I've used it twice, and again, it's okay, but not mind-blowing.  Then again, I did it every three or four days whenever I had time, so maybe I didn't give it a fair shake.  In the next two weeks, I'm going to devote some time to seeing how well it actually works if done consistently and journal the results.

Homemade Toothpaste
I'm pretty pleased with how the toothpaste has been working.  The taste is definitely something to get used to, but I really feel a lot cleaner than with commercial toothpaste.  I might drop the salt out of the next batch entirely just because it's a little overwhelming, and I feel like baking soda is abrasive enough on its own.  I have been reading a bit that baking soda can damage enamel, so I'm going to keep using it while I research that claim.

So the verdicts:  No 'poo is amazing, deodorant and toothpaste are probably staying for keeps, and the jury is out on OCM.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Dreaded Paper Towel

For a long time, I was addicted to using paper towels.  We got them in bulk from Costco, so it was easy just to run to the pantry to grab more paper towels.  At any given time, I probably had 5-6 paper towels wadded up on my counters while I was cooking or cleaning.  *B* always got frustrated by how many paper towels I used per day.

I usually only use paper towels for two purposes:  drying my hands when cooking and cleaning, and blowing my nose.  The latter is laziness - our bathrooms are up a floor or down a floor from the main floor of the house.  Paper towels were always just closer.  *B*, however, kept trying to use the bandanas that I wear in my hair as hankies.  Not cool.

When we started talking about going natural, *B* brought up my paper towel usage.  I know, I know, the paper towels.  I kind of shrugged it off.  But when the last paper towel came off the roll, I didn't go downstairs to get another roll.

It's probably about a week now.  Maybe more.  I haven't even taken the tube off the roll for fear of upsetting the groove.

Instead, I've relied on my tea towels to dry my hands.  They're getting to be a bit saturated, and definitely need to be washed.  But it was somewhat annoying to get up from dinner, walk over, wipe your hands or face on a tea towel, then sit back down.  So yesterday, as we were walking through a shopping center, *B* and I noticed a new store opening: a dollar store.  In there, were some cute packs of "dish towels" that looked to us just like cloth napkins.

Thinking ahead to future children and the possibility of friends dining with us, eight seemed like a good number.

We also grabbed two yellow bandanas as hankies.  It's a color that I don't own, so it won't get mixed up with my stash.  They're very pretty, and so far, have been effective.

It's funny to think that before Miss F, the idea of used handkerchiefs in my washer would have grossed me out.  Now, that's far better than the other hygiene-related items that go through my wash cycle.

The one thing I'd still like to do is make some "unpaper" towels.  These are terrycloth backed fabric panels that snap together to form a paper towel-like roll.  They are up to $50 (fifty dollars!) per roll on Etsy, but I'm sure I can make it for less than that.  I found a tutorial here that I intend to use as soon as I have the money and time to make them.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Beauty of a Clothesline

I love clotheslines.  I love driving down the road and seeing someone's laundry flapping in the breeze.  It makes me really happy.  I asked *B* for a clothesline for a long time, but our yard is a little wonky given its steep slope.  Last year, I strung paracord across the deck and leave it there because it was annoying to put it up over and over.  But *B* hated it because he would clothesline himself (no pun intended) because it was black cord strung at about his neck height.

My mom gave us a retracting clothesline last fall, but we could never agree about where it should go.  It wasn't until *B* saw a graphic in his climate change class that showed how much energy clothes dryers used that I got him on board.  We took a drill and some hooks, and installed the retracting line on the deck.

So I decided that April is the month of no dryers.  And so far so good!  Diapers are most often the thing hanging on our line. I think it's good for them to be out in the sunshine to help disinfect them and make them smell fresh.

But we also hang our laundry.  We do the adults' clothing together and then Miss F's clothes by themselves.  It makes for an adorable laundry line.

Is that not the cutest clothes line you've ever seen??  The only downside is that I used about 100 clothes pins putting all of those little baby clothes up.

Usually I'm pretty good about being aware of the weather.  Only once have I been caught unaware by a little rain shower.  But I found that old paracord, and made a line in the basement. Since our front loader washer spins our clothes really well, I wasn't worried about drips.

So inside or out, I have no excuse now not to hang laundry.  While we're calling it no-dryer April, I'm hoping to keep this going as long as I can.  I see no reason that we can't do this at least until the weather (and our basement) gets to freezing temperatures.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Homemade Baby Food

We waited until three days before Miss F turned 6 months to feed her solids.  We wanted to wait until exactly 6 months, but Christmas day seemed like a much more appropriate day to give her a new experience. 

From that day on, I've made every bit of her baby food.  *B* gave me an immersion blender for my birthday in November, and that made all the difference.  Since that first meal, I've decided that it's my goal for all of Felicity's food to be homemade for her first year.  It's been interesting trying to stick to that goal. 

My workout group hands out plum organic pouches pretty regularly.  When I first said no thanks, the teacher looked at me like I was crazy.  Yes, I know it's "just apples".  But I like having control over what kind of  apples, where they come from, and what bits of the apple I leave out.  For a while, I peeled the apples first.  Now I leave the skins on.  And I've always been picky about cutting out every bit of the seed pods.  As for the pouches, I have no idea what the story is other than it's filled with organic apples.  And I certainly don't know what's in the packaging.

And besides, when we make our own food we get to be much more creative with our meals!

This is Miss F chowing down on cauliflower, carrot, and barley curry when she was 8 months old.  How many 8 month olds eat that?  Some of her absolute favorite foods are sweet potatoes with cinnamon and nutmeg, and parsnips with pears.  Yesterday, she had fennel and pears with green beans.

I have two baby food books, but after the first month, I never used them anymore.  I know what I'm doing!  All you have to do is cook it (steam, sautee, bake, etc).  Puree or mash it to the texture you like, and spoon it into ice cube trays.  I freeze up the trays and pop the food back into ziplocs.  When she's ready to eat, I throw in 8 or so cubes of whatever sounds good together into a bowl, microwave it, and hand her the bowl to feed herself.  To make baby food, it takes no more than half an hour.  I make up a huge batch of a bunch of foods and fill my freezer once every month or so.

But, I was recently thinking about those pouches and wondering if we're missing out on having baby food in pouches.  Is it really easier to feed her?  So I found this post on Thankfully Thrifty where she makes applesauce squeeze pouches.  I made mine with pears: 

They were pretty good, but not right for Miss F yet.   I could imagine that they'd be great when she's older and capable of holding it herself.  It was nearly impossible to spoon up for her when we were out the other day, though.  

Our favorite on-the-go baby food?  A whole banana.  I mash the banana carefully through the skin before peeling it.  Then, I pull the peel back about two inches and pull the mashed banana out with a spoon.  It works perfectly, and you don't have tupperware containers full of food bits floating around in your diaper bag.

Though I know I'm being optimistic, I'm really hoping that *B* and I will only be eating good, wholesome foods by the time Miss F is eating table food exclusively so that she never knows what she's missing.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Foods from Scratch

When we cleaned out our fridge, our condiments were the biggest thing to go.  Even though we bought the non-HFCS ketchup, it still had a ton of chemicals, colors, and preservatives.  So the first thing I made from scratch was ketchup that I found on Nourished Kitchen's website.

It's a fermented ketchup, but it tasted normal to me whether I ate it immediately (which I did), or if I ate it after it fermented.  It's really simple, too!  Just tomato paste, maple syrup, whey, vinegar, salt, cloves, and allspice.  When I first tried it, it was very heavy on the cloves to me.  But after the fermentation, it was just fine.  I'm not sure if the spices actually mellowed or if my palate is really changing that quickly.  Either way, I seriously doubt we'll be buying ketchup anymore.

I grew up eating salad dressing, and *B* grew up eating mayonnaise.  We held onto the mayonnaise when we got rid of the condiments because it had few ingredients, but we weren't thrilled about the soybean oil found in it.  *B* and I were watching Julie & Julia (one of my favorite movies), when Julia Child (played by Meryl Streep) was making mayonnaise.  Then, it hit me.  If I'm going to have mayonnaise, why not make it myself, and why not use Julia Child's recipe?

Since I don't have Julia Child's cookbook, I looked it up online and found this recipe from What's Cooking America.  I had a problem with my blender turning off over and over again (it's on the fritz), but even then the mayonnaise came out perfectly.  It tasted like deviled eggs in the best possible way.  Like the ketchup, we will no longer buy mayonnaise.

One of the items on my yearly to do list in the sidebar of my blog is to make homemade pasta.  I had always been really intimidated by this process, but I never had the equipment to do it.  My dad bought me a professional series KitchenAid for Christmas, and it came with a pasta roller and two cutters, spaghetti and fettuccine.  I absolutely love fettuccine, but I was still overwhelmed by pasta making.  One day I just sucked it up and tried. 

While I used this recipe to start with, it was way too dry.  I couldn't even get it into a ball.  I searched all over the food forums, and finally decided to add a little olive oil to the dough, maybe a tablespoon or two.  That seemed to make all the difference.  It took a little while to figure out how to get the dough to stick together long enough to get through the roller, but eventually I felt like an old pro.

I made a batch of fresh pasta for dinner, and dried the rest for another time.  I wasn't sure where to put it, but *B* stood it up in a half gallon mason jar.  Next time, I'll cut it so that they're roughly even and I can put a lid on it.

When I was little, my grandmother lived off the grid as they say.  She raised chickens and rabbits for eggs and food respectively.  Being a writer, my grandmother wrote me a really cute little chapter book about a bunny who runs away.  I still have it.  It even has photographs of a cute little grey bunny in the cover.  Imagine my horror when I went out to see her a short time later and found that she had eaten that very bunny before I had even received the book in the mail.

I had never eaten rabbit, and until that point in my life, I didn't know that people could do that.  But here I am twenty-some years later.  *B* had mentioned wanting to try rabbit, and I was standing in our local butcher in front of the rabbit case.  Without dwelling on it, I brought one home and threw it in the freezer.  It sat there for a couple of months.  Finally, *B* put it in the refrigerator.  I had to cut it up, cook it, and eat it.  I found a recipe for braised rabbit in a book I got from the library, Paleo Comfort Foods.

So I went online in search of a video for quartering a rabbit.  This video was fantastic.  He really made it so easy to do.  Within twenty minutes, the rabbit was simmering away in our skillet.

And the verdict: it was GOOD.  I mean, really, really good!  *B* and I both like white meat poultry.  The whole rabbit was practically white meat.  It wasn't greasy or gamey at all.  I served it up with asparagus, "fried" apples (pan warmed with cinnamon and a touch of butter), and homemade bread.  Oh was it ever amazing...

Next Post:  Homemade Baby Food