Sunday, January 31, 2010

J's New Obsession

We watched Howe and Howe Tech on the Discovery Channel yesterday morning... and J is now planning to be an engineer when he grows up, so he can work in R&D building really cool things. For me personally, I think this is a step up from a few weeks ago, when he wanted to be a sniper when he grew up! :) But what are the short term implications? That none of my recycling is safe... he's scheming all kinds of new inventions to build with it. Current plans include a car with a retractable windshield, a swamp buggy designed for knocking down trees, and a pocket knife with gadgets like a spoon, a fork, a little pan, and cutting board (he's dictating the list to me). I think the first two will have to be small scale prototypes, but hopefully we'll get the pocket knife into production soon! :)

Saturday, January 30, 2010


It's late, and J can't sleep. He's sitting here watching me type. And he has decided that the navigation bars on the side of the screen (what are these really called?) are like pulleys for my computer... I pull them down and they lift the screen up.

He's smart, this one!

Science Kit Giveaway

I wanted to share with y'all that Ordinary Life Magic (Too) is doing a give-away for three science kits (that are being reviewed on the blog, as well). You can check out the giveaway here. These look awesome, and there are lots of other neat ideas on the blog as well. Enjoy your time there, and good luck!

Super Quick Update

Wow... time is flying by! Where has January gone? I still haven't posted about my New Years Resolutions... hee hee! I'm having trouble even keeping up with reading blogs I like, let alone posting on my own. I am still playing along with Jennifer's Homemade 365 challenge. I will try to get to those updates soon. Lots of interesting kitchen science going on :) School has been rolling along too. Maybe I'll get to that post, too. In the meantime, I thought y'all might be tired of staring at the same thing, so here is something new to look at :)

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Come Play Along.... How Crunchy Are YOU?

Dawn posted a Crunchiness Quiz at No Heavy Lifting. Let's all play along.
From Dawn's blog:

"Crunchy" is a slang term referring to how "natural" a person does things like
parenting, educating their children, cleaning their homes, buying and eating
food, etc.
I've marked my choices from each list. (And honestly, I doubt anyone will be surprised at my results LOL ) Please play along, and leave your link in the McLinky at the end of Dawn's post!

Do you have homebirths?
15 points for “yes” (unassisted)
**10 points for “yes” (with a midwife in attendance)
5 points for alternative birthing center
2 points for “thinking about/would like homebirth”
0 for “no” (wouldn’t consider it).

Will you circumcise future sons?
**5 points for “no”
-5 points for “yes”.

Do you use cloth diapers?
20 point if you do Elimination Communication (no diapers)
15 points if “yes” (wash and make your own)
**10 points if “yes” (wash your own)
5 points if “yes” (diaper service)
2 points if “thinking about it”
0 points if “no” (wouldn’t consider it).

Do you observe your fertility signals using Natural Family Planning/Fertility Awareness and use that for birth control/trying to conceive?
10 points for “yes” (observe and use for birth control/ttc) or you use ecological breastfeeding/lactational amnorrhea
5 points for “yes” (observe for trying to conceive)
**2 points “thinking about it”
0 points for “no” (wouldn’t consider it).

Do you breastfeed exclusively for the first 6+ months?
**10 points if “yes”
5 points for “no” (use occasional bottles of expressed breastmilk)
2 points for “no” (use occasional bottles of formula)
0 for “no” (don’t breastfeed by choice).

Do you co-sleep/family bed?
10 points for “yes” (all night every night)
**5 points for “yes” (part/all of most nights)
2 points for “thinking about it”
0 points for “no”.

Do you use a sling/soft carrier?
**5 points for “yes”
2 points for “thinking about it”
0 points for “no” (wouldn’t consider it).

Do you believe in/practice child-led weaning (even if that means breastfeeding for several years)?
15 points for “yes” (complete child-led weaning)
**10 points for “yes” (up to 3 years)
5 points for “yes” (up to 2 years)
2 points for “thinking about it”
0 points for “no” (you’ll wean the baby at 1 year or earlier).

Do you tandem nurse/nurse during your pregnancy?
**10 points for “yes” (nurse during pgcy and tandem nurse)
5 points for “yes” (nurse during pgcy, but wean before birth)
2 points for “thinking about it”
0 points for “no”(wouldn’t consider it).

Do you eat organic/whole/natural foods and limit your meat?
15 points for “yes” (grow own/buy organic, shop only at health food store,
grind own wheat, vegetarian, etc.)
**10 points for “yes” (grow some of own food, buy organic,
use whole wheat flour, bake own bread, eat some meat occasionally)
5 points for “yes” (try to buy natural, whole grain foods, etc.)
2 points for “thinking about it”
0 points for “no” (wouldn’t consider it).

Do you use herbal/homeopathic remedies?
10 points if “yes” (very rarely see a regular doctor)
**5 points if “yes” (but use a doctor occasionally)
2 points if “thinking about it” (see a doc for now)
0 points for “no” (wouldn’t consider it).

Do you homeschool?
**10 points if “yes” (currently homeschool)
5 points for “yes” (will homeschool)
2 points for “thinking about it”
0 points for “no” (wouldn’t consider it).

What's your take on childhood vaccinations?
**15 points for no vaccines
10 for delayed, selective vaccination
5 points for selective, on schedule vaccination
2 points for thinking about not vaccinating
0 points for vaxing on schedule.

Would you/have you ever breastfeed/fed someone else's baby or have someone else bf your child?
10 points if yes (have or someone has bf your baby)
**5 points if yes (would)
2 points if maybe 0 if no (wouldn't consider it).

Do you use cloth/re-usable products for mom?
**10 points if yes (make own)
5 points if yes (buy own)
2 points if thinking about it
0 points if no.

**120 – 140 Super Nutty, Ultra-Crunchy Granola Earth Mama
90 – 119 Mmm! Love that whole-grain crunch!
60 – 89 Pretty Crispy
20 – 59 Sprinkled with Granola
5 – 19 Instant Oatmeal
0 - 4 Jell-O

Friday, January 15, 2010

Homemade Fun Vol. 5

Update on the brined cheese: I think my brine was too salty. Overall the taste is decent, similar to feta, but not smooth (the queso has a different texture). I poured off the brine yesterday and will consume as is. I think this idea has lots of possibilities, though.

January 13 - Day 10: Homemade Gray
When we first got married, I thought gravy had to come in little packets, and if we were being REALLY fancy, it came in a jar. Since then (ten years now) I have learned a thing or two about making homemade gravy. It isn't really hard, but mine always came out sort of paste-ish. It wasn't until I had dinner with a friend recently and watched HER make gravy that I figured out the secret ingredient I had been missing...

PATIENCE! In my effort to speed things along, I was adding too much flour, instead of patiently waiting for the flour to thicken things up on its own. AHA!

For the gravy I made, I used liberal amount of olive oil mixed with bacon fat to saute a whole chopped onion and 4 or 5 baby portabella mushrooms. Once soft and translucent, I moved the veggies to another dish, added a bit more oil to the pan, and added several tablespoons of flour (you could use half the amount of cornstarch) and whisked to combine. Once the oil was absorbed into the flour, I added chicken broth and milk in equal portions, whisked to combine, and then kept it over medium heat, stirring frequently, until thickened. I added back in the onion and mushrooms, some precooked chicken, and served over brown rice.

January 14 - Day 11: Milk Kefir
Milk kefir is a cultured milk product, similar to yogurt but thinner and drinkable. It's pretty sour (like plain yogurt) but the little owls like to drink it sweetened with fruit and honey. It is also what I use for soaking grains for baked goods. Kefir requires a starter culture of kefir "grains" (really a colony of yeast and bacteria that culture the milk... kind of like yogurt starter but the culture is clumpy... it looks like grains). Making kefir is really easy. Add the kefir grains to a mason jar, fill the jar with fresh milk, and leave on the counter for a day or so until it sets (I use a coffee filter rubberbanded (is that a word?) on to keep out dust and flies). I then strain mine through a colander to retrieve the grains. The cultured milk (the kefir) goes into a jar in the fridge, and the grains go into a clean mason jar and the whole process starts again. We use raw milk for ours, but you can use any milk that isn't ultra-pasteurized. I'm not sure how skim milk would work, since the kefir grains seem to be pretty fat-loving. Mine are always in the cream that rises to the top of the milk. If they are kept happy, the kefir grains will fairly quickly reproduce and you can share the kefir love with your friends by giving the extra grains away. Or, you can use them to make even MORE kefir!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Homemade Fun Vol. 4

January 10 - Day 7: Hungry Man Soup
I invented another recipe :) (I'm on a roll in the kitchen... this is way better than some ofmy previous kitchen disasters). I took some chicken stock I had in the fridge (~1 qt) and leftover garlic-y mashed potatoes (~3-4 cups). My intention was to make potato soup. Then I added 2 handfuls of mung bean sprouts, some leftover green beans, and about 3/4 c of ricotta. I pureed the whole thing. I seasoned with sea salt, garlic (can there ever be too much garlic?), and pepper. On a whim, I added some thin slices of steak (I had a leftover steak from a previous dinner) and cooked til the steak was heated through. It was steak and potatoes, in soup form... Hungry Man Soup!

January 11 - Day 8: Homemade Chicken Stock
There are few things as yummy and comforting as homemade chicken soup. Yum. In my 6 qt Crockpot, I put the bones from two roasted chicken (I save bones in my freezer until I'm ready to make stock), added the "gizzards" (I guess that's what they're called, the organs in the paper sack inside the chicken) from one chicken, carrots, celery, half an onion, and a few cloves of garlic. The amount of veggies is pretty flexible... I just use up whatever I have. I add a splash of vinegar, then I season with dried spices, added liberally and never measured (hee hee): oregano, thyme, sage, marjoram, garlic, and rosemary. Then I fill the Crockpot to one inch below the top with cold filtered water (my tap water makes crummy stock). I cook it on high for a few hours, then switch it to low for about 10 hours. (I start it on high when I am preparing supper, and switch it to low before I go to bed... the stock is ready when I wake up in the morning). I strain it into a large pot, put it in the fridge until it chills, skim the fat off, then ladel it into quart-sized jars to store in the freezer. (you can save the fat for cooking). I also freeze some in ice cube trays. Once the stock cubes are frozen, I store them in a gallon sized freezer bag (I'm exploring non-plastic options for this, but this is my current system), so that I have small amounts of stock on hand for cooking.

January 12 - Day 9: Brined Queso Blanco
I made quite a few things today, but all were things I posted about before. Apple muffins, homemade pizza, ricotta cheese (well, I tried making ricotta, but messed up and got more queso blanco), kefir soda, more chicken stock (see above), and butter... it's amazing how fast we go through butter. I used up all the honey, maple syrup, and flour in the house... not sure what I'll be making tomorrow.

With all the queso blanco I made tonight, plus the buttermilk queso blanco, I decided to brine some of it. I added the queso to a jar, and covered it in a brine solution of roughly 2 tablespoons of coarse sea salt in 2 cups of water. I'm hoping I'll get a salty cheese similar to feta. I may get something completely unpalatable. I won't know for a few days at least, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

I've done it!

Remember my Dear John letter? My cola addiction and I, we go way back. And I've finally done it! Today makes it 8 days since I've imbibed. Besides when I was sick, I think this is my longest stretch ever... AND I DON'T EVEN MISS IT!!! I'm not sure what is different this time around. Maybe my system is resetting with the nourishing foods I've been trying to eat. I'm not sure, but I'm not going to question it. I'm just so excited!

Homemade Fun Vol. 3 -- lessons in cheesemaking

January 9 - Day 6: Buttermilk Cheese Experiments
Okay, so I am totally in the groove of making our own butter, and I've been left with lots of buttermilk. So last night I decided to make some buttermilk cheese. This is a soft spreadable cheese, kinda like cream cheese. It's super yummy, too, and can be doctored up with herbs and spices (or honey and cinnamon) to make a nice spread for crackers or slices of baguette.

Take the leftover buttermilk, and heat in a pot until 160 degrees. At 160 degrees, the curds and whey will separate. Pour into a colander lined with cheesecloth. Tie the four corners together, and hang to drain for a couple of hours. This can be stored a week or two in the fridge.

Warning: science lesson ahead

But here is the thing about butter milk cheese... it assumes you have allowed the cream to ripen before making butter. This produces a mildly acidic buttermilk. It's the lactic acid in the buttermilk, when combined with heat, that precipitates the solids. Recently, however, I have been making sweet cream butter from unripened cream. This means I didn't let the cream sit and sour. Sooooo.... there was not enough lactic acid in the buttermilk to do much of anything. It just did, well, nothing. So, by the time my buttermilk reached 180 degrees, I realized what had happened and threw in a few tablespoons of cider vinegar. I think what I made was buttermilk queso blanco. Either way, it tastes pretty good.

Now, for the science lesson part two.

Now when you make cheese, you end up with lots of whey - the watery stuff left behind when the solid cheese stuff clumps up. You can do lots of things with whey, one of them being to make ricotta. Unlike the ricotta I made, traditional ricotta is a whey cheese... you heat fresh whey from cheesemaking to 200 degrees, add cider vinegar, and strain. The cider vinegar helps to precipitate out the albuminous protein left behind after the rennet precipitates the casein.

So you can only make ricotta with whey from rennet cheeses. You can't use whey from making queso blanco to make ricotta, since the cider vinegar will have already precipitated everything out.

Are you following me here?

I didn't put all of this together until I tried making ricotta last night with the whey left from my buttermilk cheese. It just did, well, nothing. As a last ditch effort to salvage the time I spent heating the whey to 200 degrees, I poured a few glugs of milk (how scientific is that? I think it was probably about a cup of milk) right into the hot whey. I ended up with some kind of soft, melty, cheesy stuff... I'm not even sure what you'd call it, but it is pretty tasty.

Gotta love the kitchen science!

Lesson Learned, Class Dismissed

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Changes Are A-Comin'

Confession time --- I can't handle the pressure of trying to manage more than one blog. First of all, it's just more work and more time that I don't have :) Secondly, my real life doesn't fall into neat categories like that... it feels very artificial to me to segregate out homeschooling from other parts of my life because it isn't really like that... homeschooling is just part and parcel of everything else that goes on around here.

So what does this mean for you, the reader? It means that I am giving up (my short lived) blogging at Little House in the Big World... I'm going to import the few post I had there to this blog. And from here forward, all of my random thoughts, as well as my homeschool updates, will be posted here! If your not interested in foodie stuff, or my deep philosophical wonderings, feel free to disregard those posts and just keep an eye out for pictures of those adorable little owls of mine. And conversely, if you stumbled over here for foodie stuff, just remember that the kids help me cook! I'm also changing my blog name (the url will stay the same... I don't want to confuse anyone that much, lol) and I'll be changing the layout.

So stay tuned for a fresh new face around here.

What can I say, I think I got bit by the New Year New Beginnings bug!

Homemade Fun Vol. 2

Here is a quick update for the homemade 365 challenge. (I'm still waiting for Jennifer to make a button or something, hint hint, nudge nudge)

January 7 - Day 4: Homemade whole grain biscuits
I will admit failure here. I tweaked an existing recipe that always has great results. My tweaking did NOT produce great results. So for your benefit, there is no recipe here.

January 8 - Day 5: Soaked grain apple muffins
I love my recipe for apple muffins, but wanted to make it more nourishing. I wanted a super yummy soaked grain recipe but couldn't find one I love, so I invented my own!!!! We are trying to move to soaking all of our grains (I'll do a post on the benefits of soaking grains another day... today I have my hands full with sick kids). The soaking produced a whole grain muffin that was so soft and moist... J ate a dozen by himself!

Here is the recipe:
4 cups of whole grain flour
3 cups of kefir (you could also use yogurt. If you are dairy averse, you could use water with lemon juice or whey added but I'm not vouching for the final product)
3 apples, washed and finely chopped (we keep the skin on ours)
1 cup honey
1 tsp salt
2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup coconut oil, melted
1/4 cup butter, melted
Mix the flour and the kefir in a large bowl. Cover with a towel and allow to sit on your counter at room temperature at least 12 hours (mine soaked about 36 hours).
When you are ready to make the muffins, chop the apples, combine with honey in a separate bowl, and set to the side.
Take the large bowl with the soaked flour and sprinkle all the dry ingredients on top, then pour in the eggs and melted oil and butter, then mix (it's been my experience that soaked flour gets a consistency like dough, rather than batter... it's somewhat springy and stretchy, so I did the mixing with my hand mixer). Once everything is well mixed, fold in the apple honey mixture. This should bring the consistency to more like batter.
Spoon into well greased or lined muffin cups. These don't rise very much so if you like a nice crown on your muffin fill them pretty full. Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 20-25 minutes (they took 23 minutes in my oven).
These were super yummy fresh out of the oven spread with homemade butter!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Homemade Fun Vol. 1

My friend, Jennifer, has started a new blog... she's making something homemade everyday of the year. I told her I'd play along, but I'm a bit of a late-starter, so I began on January 4. (and don't expect pretty pictures... it's enough for me to actually DO these things, pictures are beyond my capability)

Here's the progress so far...

January 4 - Day 1: butter, calzones with homemade ricotta
Homemade butter might just be the most delicious food on the planet. I skimmed the cream of of a gallon of raw milk (you could use store bought cream, just be sure it isn't ultrapasteurized). Put it in a mason jar and let it sit on the counter for a few hours to ripen. Shake shake shake shake shake. By the time you think your arm is going to fall off, you're close. You can try pawning this job off on the kids, but they will suddenly become incredibly tired. :) Eventually you'll notice that the jar is now full of beautiful yellow butter and milky white buttermilk. The new butter needs to be rinsed thoroughly to remove any of the leftover buttermilk (to keep it from going rancid). The best way I've found to rinse it is to pour off the buttermilk and leave the butter in the jar. Add ice cold water to the jar with the butter, shake, rinse, repeat until the water stays clear and there is no more buttermilk to shake out of the butter. (I got these tips from my new favorite book... The Urban Homestead... this book changed my butter-making world)

For the calzones, I used my favorite pizza crust recipe, separated it into 8 rounds, and rolled it out super flat. I filled it with a small amount of mozzarella, some chicken sausages, a dab of tomato sauce, and lots of fresh homemade ricotta.

To make the ricotta, I follwed directions from the Urban Homestead book. I used a gallon of raw milk, mixed with 1/2 cup of lemon juice and a teaspoon of salt. Bring the milk to 185, at which point the curd will begin to separate. Turn off heat and let it sit about ten minutes. Ladle the curds into a colander lined with cheesecloth. When it is cool enough to handle, gather the cheescloth up into a sack and hang to drain, about 30 minutes. I know this isn't TRUE ricotta, which is made with fresh whey, but man, it is SO yummy!

(NOTE: I edited the original directions for the ricotta because, well, trying to type them from memory was A BAD idea! Sorry if you tried it out and it didn't work. The corrected directions should work beautifully)

January 5 - Day 2: lemon kefir soda
(this is sort of cheating (right at the beginning, I know) because I am always in the process of making lemon kefir soda... it's a multi day process, and every day there is something to tend to. But yesterday, I bottled a new batch, so I'm gonna let it count)

January 6 - Day 3: whole grain pancakes for breakfast
I usually try to start my pancakes the night before, letting the flour soak overnight in kefir. But today's pancakes were a spur of the moment decision to make a big breakfast for the Epiphany. J was my kitchen helper this morning... he is an expert at pancake making and a champion flapjack flipper!
While they're not as nourishing this way, they are really delicious! Here's the recipe, adapted from a recipe in the LLL cookbook, Whole Food for the Whole Family:
2 C milk
2 eggs
1/4 C honey
1/4 C melted butter
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 C whole grain flour
a pinch of cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and/or whatever else strikes your fancy

mix, ladle onto a hot griddle, cook until bubbling, flip and cook a bit longer. Eat with lots of warm maple syrup and fresh butter!

I'm looking forward to (many) more days of homemade yumminess! Thanks for the inspiration, Jennifer.