Wednesday, May 16, 2012

A newsy update and some pregnancy photos

Exciting things happening this summer!
And it's not even summer yet. Well, not officially anyway. It's beginning to feel a lot like it here though.

First off, my sister Georgia is coming to town. She'll be staying with us for awhile, about 6 weeks I think. It will be great to have her and have all kinds of adventures together. The best part, is I think it will really make these last couple months of pregnancy fly by. (That's a good thing right?)

Speaking of pregnancy, here's a little update on that. For folks like my family who may actually be interested:
I am (I think.) 29 weeks along. I think that's somewhere around seven months, but these days it's really hard to translate weeks into months and still know what the heck you're doing. Because 40 weeks is clearly LONGER than 9 months. And what baby comes on his due date anyway?

Here's a pikch:

And quite possibly the thing I'm most psyched about! (Except of course, about Georgia coming, of course.)
*drum roll*

I'm making a wedding cake!!!

Are you as thrilled as I am? No? Oh well!

Boy am I excited. I love making wedding cakes. It's such a glorious undertaking. It's just one of those amazing challenges that when you've accomplished the task you settle back and feel good.

And eat cake. And receive a lot of compliments.

And eat more cake.

This will be my fourth wedding cake. And this time, it's not for me or for someone to whom I'm related, so I feel like I'm really advancing in this career! My average so far has been a wedding cake every two years. So as you can see, this "career" is really hurdling a long!

Anyway, I feel my creativity bounding and springing in all sorts of new directions. Inspiration is flowing and the ideas are swarming. This most certainly will be my most amazing cake yet.

Have I mentioned that I love cake?

I also have some plans to learn to surf this summer. Ever seen a hugely pregnant lady on a surf board? Neither me, it should be funny. Though some might debate that I look "hugely pregnant." A lady told me I looked "a month pregnant" a couple days ago. Sheesh.

A month ago I looked like this:
Eh, about the same I guess.

That's about it. For the next few weeks I may not get around to posting simply because sisters and cakes are serious business. Plus it's summer and that's the time to be outside!

I need to go practice some cake meditation.... "Nommmm" (said like om, get it?)

Nevah mind....

Friday, May 11, 2012

Getting stressed about eating healthy isn't healthy

I'm in the middle of making sage cupcakes right now, so I'm hoping to keep this short. But this has been on my mind for a bit now and I think I'm really starting to grasp it.

I'll start here: I love food. You may or may not have guessed this about me. Less goes onto this blog than I think goes on it, but I think about posting about food ALL the time.

I'll go on to say: I also like being healthy.  I like feeling good and strong and energetic. And since what I eat affects my health more than anything else I do, I therefore like eating healthy.

But I like eating yummy too. And when healthy and yummy coincide, that's the ultimate bomb-diggity, I tell you.

There's a strange myth out there that healthy food isn't yummy food. But I guess it depends on how you define healthy food and I'm thinking that it's because people get healthy food mixed up with "health food." There's actually a BIG difference between the two.

Health food is soy protein, "candy" vitamins, wheat grass juice, spirulina* and cardboard "fiber" cereal that most people I've met have independently nick-named "twigs and stones." Yuck.  Yes, I agree, health food is grody!

Healthy food, however. Ahh, the goodness... don't even get me started on this. Okay, too late.

Real butter, fresh fruit and vegetables, homemade whole wheat sourdough bread, homemade pierogies with homemade sauerkraut. Homemade mayonnaise, ketchup, pickles, oh oh oh. I want to go eat something.

You're seeing a theme here: homemade = good. And it's true.

Of course, just cause it's made at home doesn't actually mean its healthy, but it's no doubt better than not homemade counterparts. I will never claim that my homemade marshmallows are "healthy" but they certainly are yummier than the jet puffed kind...

And you see, this is generally my motivation when it comes to food. I love making good food at home with real ingredients and, since I don't add superfluous sugar, chemicals or food-colourings, I really thought I was doing well. I was happy and felt healthy due to all this good food.

But then I read the first 70 pages of Nourishing Traditions. And I'd recommend you do it too, but I warn you: you will get freaked out. 

My first feeling was fear, then despair. I thought I had been eating healthy.

But no, I hadn't been soaking my grains, the milk I was using to make my homemade yogurt was nasty and full of trouble, my eggs weren't free-range and therefore hardly beneficial and I may as well be inviting hardened arteries and many other deadly diseases into my home by buying canola oil. And the fact that I was using white sugar? Forget it.

Oh what, those vegetables you buy aren't organic? You are dead, sister, or as good as.

I was scared. I was depressed. I was in complete distress. I thought I had been doing everything right! I mean, yeah, we still ate sugary laden treats every now and then, but I generally reduced the sugar... That's not good enough? Any amount of white sugar in my diet is going to kill me, wow, I had no idea.

So then I started wildly making changes. I soaked my flours for bread, biscuits, muffins. If I couldn't figure out how to make it without soaking the flour first I didn't make it.  And if  I had a whim to make something but hadn't thought of soaking, or if I had forgotten? Well, it simply didn't happen. I also did my utmost to stop using sugar.

Unsweetened oatmeal? gag it down baby, it's healthy and I remembered to soak it the night before. Mushy, flat banana muffins. What? You don't like them? Well, too bad, they're healthy so EAT THEM.

My good, delicious and nurtured baking skills and cooking talents went bye-bye for a while as I attempted to make things HEALTHY.

John did not complain. (much) He did mention the banana muffins "weren't particularly good" and he added his own sugar to his oatmeal (much to my alarm.)

But when I started trying to convince him of all the more money we'd have to start spending so that our food would be healthy... Well, he laid down the law. (Sort of.)

I had to calm down. Yes, spending boatloads of money on "organic" produce did kind of seem like a gigantic leap. Since our decision to to start saving money to buy a house we've tightened our belts, so to speak, on spending. Not that we spent a lot before, but I had decided I'd try to keep our monthly food bills under $130 a month. Then suddenly, I wanted to buy raw milk, organic vegetables, free-range eggs. These things are considerably more pricy than what we normally bought. My own mind's voice of reason yelled at me to calm down, and John's calm voice of reason calmly told me to calm down.

I was getting stressed out and feeling bummed about my non-organic potatoes in my gnocchi and at breakfast, I was cringing as I ate battery-raised chicken eggs. But I was also gagging as I ate unsweetened oatmeal and I was longing for a rich chocolatey sugar laden BROWNIE.  I had to think of my health!

Then it occurred to me. What's the point of food if it doesn't taste good? Yeah, yeah, I'll choke down some wild-caught salmon if someone else is paying, but really? I don't like the taste of fish. But it's healthy, and if someone else is paying, then I'm gonna get me some omega-3s down, baby! But when everything is gross because it's "healthy"? Um, no. I can't do it.

After all, I had to think of my health. Enjoyment of food is so very important to me that, I'm much more willing to eat something that's a little sub-par of the perfect health food every now and then, if it's yummier.

So I never figured out how to soak flour and get a good cookie out of it. No way am I giving up cookies! Right, yes, limit cookies, yes, yes. But give up sugar all together? No.

So I've drawn the line. Some things are more delicious when it's healthier, like homemade bread being a trillion times tastier than store-bought bread. And when you add whole-wheaty goodness? Yes! Oh and sourdrough bread? My gosh, I'm drooling and it's way more nutritious than regular old bread. And I was in on sourdough way before Sally Fallon approved of it.

Raw milk? TOTALLY worth the price for it's goodness and it's entirely more yummy than pasteurized, homogenized milk. My husband agreed and we've made that step. But some times you really do just need a little bit of sugar in your porridge, and if I forgot to soak flour before dinner, well, the non-soaked biscuits ain't gonna kill me. And dang it, I'm going to enjoy this peanut-butter chocolate chip cookie even if it IS slowly killing me due to non-organic peanuts and the fact that chocolate has caffeine and it has WHITE death sugar in it.

Obviously, real butter is better than margarine because it tastes better. Also happens to be healthier. And olive oil really does taste better than canola, so even if it's a bit pricier, I'll switch to using it all the time instead of just when the taste will make a difference.

Plus, John is happier. And by default, I am too. A healthy marriage is also an important key to being healthy, you know?

And fermented foods are FANTASTIC and healthier. And guess what, Sally Fallon? I discovered and liked fermented foods before I read your book. So there. *raspberry*

Okay, but actually, her book does have valuable information and I say "read it if you dare." But pick and choose your battles, because you can't win them all. I've even read some things saying that a certain amount of phytates (what I'm trying to get rid of by soaking my flour) are actually beneficial. So whats up with that? And while I, personally, never drink soda and find it absolutely disgusting, I don't think I would go so far as to call it "the veritable drink of the devil" as she does. And I also prefer my cook books to let me choose my own flours and not "allow" unbleached white flour in certain recipes. You don't allow me anything, sister! I make my own choices.

I'm so empowered and free now. Now that I figured out that stressing out about eating healthy isn't healthy.

And now I'm going to finish making my sage cupcakes and I'm going to put brown butter frosting on top that's CHOCK FULL of SUGAR.

But don't worry, they're soaked and made with sourdough, so it's not too bad.

*I actually like spirulina, but don't tell anyone.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Things I love Thursday: Dandelions

If you haven't figured it out by now, I love dandelions. I eat them and make them into things on a regular basis. Okay, on a springly basis. They're also very lovely to look at. And when they become little puff balls? ZOMG are they fun. I will spread those seeds like nobody's business.

Make a wish!
One thing we always do when dandelions come out is make wine of the petals. Mmm, by always I mean we have every year since we've lived in New Hampshire. (Dandelions don't really grow as abundantly in the lower parts of Florida).
Wine production of years past
In the four years we've been making it, and in the couple years before John moved to FL that he made it, we haven't yet found a perfect recipe. Mostly because we never remembered what we did the year before. We've tried at least 4 different recipes now. This year we decided to really buckle down and figure this out. Wine takes too long to to be so nonchalant about throwing it together. And while dandelion wine is relatively simple and since the main ingredient free, it's not an expensive wine,  it does take some work. After all, we have to pull all those tiny petals out of the bitter green calyx part. That takes time, baby!

Thems are some hot, manly hands... Oh! I mean, see what hard work that is?

Note the addition of tea cups to the process...
Especially when you consider how much of those petals you need.

This year, we made two separate batches, and I very carefully recorded all that we did for each one. One recipe called for six cups of dandelion petals, and one four cups. I'm pretty excited to taste and compare them.

But wine isn't all we make of dandelions. I've told you about pesto and fritters, which I repeated a few times again this year.

 There's also dandelion petal ice cream. The heavenly, light creamy confection that one friend of mine declared "tastes happy." It's true. This ice cream is happiness infused.

Unfortunately, I can't find where I wrote down the recipe, but I can gather from these two photos that I infused the petals into the milk and then pureed it all together. If you're adventurous, try it out. Make it up as you go or follow a vanilla bean ice cream and adapt.

 I think I may have strained it then, but I don't know. This one I haven't yet made this year because my freezer is currently too full to freeze the icecream maker bowl. If I do get a chance to make it, I'll post the recipe for sure.

You can also make a nice tea loaf out of the petals as I did one year.

I don't have the recipe I used way back then, but this one looks very similar. Try it out and be delighted by making something from your yard!

Dandelion potato soup is also a nice treat. Just follow a recipe for potato spinach soup (or even just potato soup) and put dandelions in instead of spinach. Puree and enjoy.

(If you haven't caught on to this yet, I'm using up as many past photos as I can find in relation to this topic. I meant to post most of these as their own thing, but as as per facts 4 and 5, this never happened.)

Two new things I've tried this year are dandelion tincture (extract) and dandelion vinegar.
Dandelion infused vodka, essentially

 Since I just started them a few weeks ago, and these things take a fair amount of time, I don't know how they turned out yet. But I'm excited. I may be able to add a lovely dandelion flavour to my desserts and dishes any time during the year!

So next time you think of trying to eradicate the dandelions in your yard, why not try eating them instead?

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Real milk

For my birthday John has given me raw milk. He said I can buy 6 gallons (over a period of time, not all at once, of course). I've already bought one.

The good stuff.

I'm not sure he realized it cost 9 dollars a gallon when he pulled the arbitrary number of "six" out of his head. It seems a bit pricey for a birthday present....(Hey, we're cheap, what can I say?)

 But after we bought it he seemed to think that 9 dollars every other week or so actually wasn't too pricey for something so good.

I think it tastes amazing. John thinks it tastes "basically the same" as store milk.

It comes from a farm about 55 miles from our town. That makes me happy!

And as soon as possible I made a batch of raw milk yogurt. Cream top and everything  baby. YEAH. Take that Stonyfields. *angry face* (As a side note, I still haven't written to them, I need to get on that.)

Sally Fallon in Nourishing Traditions says not to heat the milk past 110 degrees when making yogurt from raw milk so you don't kill the enzymes. Last time I was at the store, I meant to buy a candy thermometer so I could keep track of such a thing, but I forgot.

So I decided I'd try using my regular human temp-taking thermometer. I washed it. Then I put it in my milk as it was warming up. When the temperature reached 109.3 I pulled the milk off the stove and put the thermometer down. It started beeping frantically, more loud and urgent than I had ever heard it before. 

Poor thing. It probably thought I was about to spontaneously combust with the worst fever of all time. 
Make yogurt, not fevers.

But the yogurt turned out good.

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