Wednesday, October 31

It's Not the Years, It's the Miles

Sometimes, you just need a nap. And where better to take one than under an Indiana Jones-style fedora?

Monday, October 29

Menu Idea Monday: Italian Dressing Seasoning Mix

Really simple Menu Idea Monday Today: Italian Dressing Seasoning Mix.

This is one of those things that tends to show up in other recipes, but that I refuse to buy because the packets from the store are full of chemical preservatives and other crap that I don't want in my body. At the same time, it's hard to know what to substitute to approximate the flavor - so here you go!

Stick this in your cookbook/ recipe binder and make up a little jar once in a while so it's on hand when you want it. Keep the chemicals and cross contaminants out of your life, and get fresher, richer flavor to boot! Enjoy.

Sunday, October 28

Over-Dressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion

I saw this title over on Modern Mrs. Darcy's reading list ages ago and my interest was piqued. I was able to download the first chapter on my Kindle, and knew immediately that I had to get my hands on the book.

Fortunately, my library had a copy and the rest of the book was just as good as the first chapter. One of the reviews on the book's amazon page sums it up almost perfectly:
"Elizabeth L. Cline is the Michael Pollan of fashion. Overdressed demonstrates how hysterical levels of sartorial consumption are terrible for the environment, for workers, and even, ironically, for the way we look.” (Michelle Goldberg)
The premise is startlingly simple: we're all being scammed by cheap fashion. Americans squander mind-boggling amounts of money every year on clothing, and get less and less for their investment. Clothing trends now change nearly weekly, and many items are never intended (or even expected) to last more than a few washes. We assuage our guilt by donating our unused things to Salvation Army (or its equivalents), blind to the (sickening) reality that a huge percentage of what is donated never goes back into circulation. It ends up as rags, gets shredding into fiber for alternative uses or simply amasses in landfills.  

I'll stop there, because if I keep going this could get really long, but I encourage everyone to get your hands on a copy of this book. I can't tell you how many things I learned here that shocked and sickened me. There's so much more than just being fashionable wrapped up in decisions that seem deceptively simple.

It definitely made me rethink my own habits and choices - and I don't even like to shop for clothes or shoes as it is! I appreciate books like this that make me think without pretending to have all the answers or relying on scare tactics. The author was genuine about her own failings and had an approachable writing style that was enjoyable to read.

I wish I'd had more time while reading it so that I could have done a chapter by chapter review the way my friend did recently of Jen Hatmaker's Seven. Since I wasn't that on top of things, all I can say is go read it then come back here and leave your thoughts - I'd love to hear what you take away from it!

Saturday, October 27

Catch all, Catch up.

My calendar tells me that we're three days from Halloween. When I attempt to sputter in disbelief that so much time can have gone by already, it patiently flips back a few pages to show me entire days devoted to hurry-up-and-finish-before-winter house projects, hours poured into significant restructuring projects at work, and long drives home surrounded by the resplendent hues of autumn leaves.

Despite my inability to sit and tap out blog posts, new ideas and interesting threads of thought have been weaving through my brain quite consistently. I hope to get some of them sorted out and written down soon in a form worth sharing here. In the meantime, I thought a catch-all, catch-up post was in order.

  • There was a great discussion over at Raising Homemakers recently about wearing skirts in cold weather. If you're like me and pretty sure that tights are shipped to stores directly from one of the lower circles of hell, and find leggings too bulky or not professional enough to wear in the dead of winter, let me share the secret you have been looking for: thigh high socks. Warm, durable, comfortable and reasonably priced - these things rock! Love mine and love that they extend the wear-ability of my summer skirts straight through the colder months. If you've never tried them, I highly recommend snagging a pair - for $10, you can't go wrong.
  • I love simple dinners that look fancy and taste expensive - even though they're not. My newest favorite? Classic, Four-Ingredient Fettuccine Alfredo. I made it with regular grocery-store grade Parmesan cheese and it rocked. It literally takes 15 minutes start to finish. Try it.
  • Have you ever seen a book cover and thought "that's either amazing, or someone has a one-way ticket to hell"? That was the only thing that came to mind when I came across the "Zombie Bible" series. At $3 for the Kindle book, I had to buy it just to find out how one actually combines the Bible with zombies. Haven't had a chance to read it yet, but expect a review... a very, very interesting one...
  • Kari Patterson wrote a fantastic post on Withholding Good. I really resonated with the reality that we so often withhold good -not on purpose, but because we underestimate the value of the little gestures or simple compliments. It challenged me to be more aware of what I don't say or don't think to do. Check it out and see if it speaks to you, too.
  • Speaking of books, I ran across a great list on Pinterest that I had to repin simply because of the title: 10 Books You Must Read to Your Daughter (Or How to Keep Your Daughter From Ending Up Like That Horrid Girl in Twilight). I haven't read everything listed, and it doesn't cover some that I would definitely have included, but all things considered you can't go too wrong with a list written by any woman who correctly identifies Twilight as "horrid", right?
  • Last one for today's round up: Lindsay Stirling. Absolutely freaking amazing musician. If the link doesn't work, look her up on youtube and click the link for "Crystalize". Not sure why I've never heard of her before, but if this is your first introduction to her as well - you're welcome.

Monday, October 22

Menu Idea Monday: Butternut Chicken Stew

Photo from Cookin Canuk
It wasn't until after I was married that I learned how to cook squash at all; it wasn't until this year that I knew you could do more than throw some stuffing in it and bake it.

Having been given several squash of different kinds this fall, I experimented with a few new things and quickly decided this recipe was a keeper: Chicken Stew with Butternut Squash and Quinoa.

Colorful, healthy, delicious and simple - this will be a Fall staple around here from now on! I recommend reading all the way through the instructions first - I have an aversion to cooking things, plating them off to the side and then adding them back in, so I switched things up a little. I roasted the chicken and squash in the oven first, then sauteed the onions and garlic and then threw everything in the pot together and called it good.

You can make this with rice or amaranth if you don't have quinoa - just adjust the cooking time accordingly and keep an eye on it as you may need some extra liquid.

Wednesday, October 17

The Logic of Government: Unnessary, Unwanted Training For All

 In August, I attended a workshop for grant writers. I didn't learn what I'd expected to, but I did run into plenty of mind-boggling information. What decidedly irked me the most was the presence of State employees (who were already guaranteed huge sums of government money, unlike the rest of us) complaining about how badly they needed money to deliver trainings people didn't appreciate.

A representative for a lesbian/gay/bi-sexual group went on about how her group gets plenty of funding, but then struggles to get into schools to deliver the programming being funded because people are "resistant" to them. Department of Justice reps ranted about how stupid cops, schools and towns are because they reject trainings on sexual harassment, child pornography and "cultural sensitivity" for themselves and their children.

It was infuriating the sit and listen to these people rant about cramming training down the throats of people who had the nerve to think that they should choose their own (politically incorrect) opinions on something, and that they should have the right to decide what their children get taught while sharing the room with hospice workers, educators and others struggling to scrape together money for desperately needed humanitarian and cultural enrichment projects.

So I would like to offer a simple suggestion to Congress: there's no need to fuss about how to close the gaping fissures in funding that lead to budget deficits. Just stop funding training the public doesn't want anyway. The materials exist, the trainers are willing. If people want training in anything politically correct, they'll have no trouble finding it or funding it themselves.

Stop wasting what could be productive time poured into the economy and money that could be repaying the deficit or funding vital services. Sure, you'll have to listen to the cries of discrimination from the slighted awareness groups for a while but I guarantee the praise of your grateful constituents would more than drown them out.

What do you say - worth a try?

Monday, October 15

Menu Idea Monday: Paleo Pumpkin Spice Lattes

Have you ever been to the Paleo Parents blog? I found it rather by accident, but it's great. Very honest, very practical and full of yummy recipes - even if you are a starch based life form like myself and unlikely to survive on Paleo alone.

I recently tried a delectable recipe by them for a Pumpkin Spice Latte. I used to love Hot Caramel Apples and seasonal lattes, but it's hard to get good coffee out anywhere around here. (I've actually had to explain to people how to use their espresso machines.) Between that and a growing gastric intolerance for commercial milk, I've been increasingly inspired to find good recipes for making indulgent drinks at home.

This fit the bill! Simple and made only of real foods, it was delicious and tasted like all that is good about Fall. I used regular raw milk instead of coconut milk and threw in a tablespoon or two of homemade caramel sauce - it was amazing!

Hop over to the Paleo Parents site and check it out!

Saturday, October 13

Bacon, Apples and Bumps in the Food Supply

This time last year, we had apples stacked on the kitchen table, in baskets on the dining room floor, an mounded beside the cutting board. Some were snacked on fresh, crisp and sweet, but most were packed in canning jars as apple sauce or pile filling to be lined up in neat rows in the cupboard and savored in the dead of winter.

We had visions of similar abundance and activity this year, but it was a bad year for apples. A late frost wiped out nearly the entire crop across our region. You can still buy apples at the grocery store, of course, shipped in from across the country compliments of our sprawling food supply system, but the cost of everything apple related is through the roof.

It's rare in this day and age for people to have such a stark reminder of the precipitous uncertainty of the harvest. We're so used to grocery stores with overflowing shelves that we forget people we were once dependent on the weather and other variables beyond their control for sustenance and life. With the recession still lingering, people are particularly aware this year of changes in the food supply as they can't just smooth over it with extra cash as they have in the past.

It isn't just apples, either. Last spring was poor for maple syruping, and only lingering stockpiles from the year before prevented an expensive shortage. We're already being quietly warned that the cost of beef and bacon will shoot up next year. With so many regions experiencing drought this past year, it isn't economical for producers to keep feeding their herds, so they're slaughtering early. While that will flood the market with cheap beef and bacon in the short term, it will lead to shortages and higher prices next season.

It's enough to make any one trying to eat well or on a budget (and doesn't that describe most of us?) worry themselves into an ulcer. What can we do?

While I certainly don't have all the answers, here are a few things that families can do to position themselves to better ride out tumultuous seasons in the food world. (And make no mistake - we'll be seeing more of them. Our current system is unsustainable, and although alternative systems are striving mightily to close the gap it will not be a smooth transition!)

1) Get a freezer and/or a canner. When windfalls, good sales or abundant harvests come you need to be able to take advantage of them! Freeze, can or otherwise preserve whatever you can. Food stored neatly and safely is peace of mind far better than money in a bank, because you can't eat money and it's value wavers - the value of good food only ever increases.

2) Learn to cook new things. It's rarely a bad year for everything, so while your preferred options may be in short supply you can still eat well if you branch out a little. It's not uncommon to find we dislike foods simply because we've never had them prepared well (or correctly). Consider focusing your experimentation largely on foods that are local to you - things you can pick up cheaply at the road side stand or grow yourself.

3) Change how you shop. Look for opportunities like CSA's, which require money up front but typically give you tremendous bang for your buck. Consider buying staples (like rice) in serious bulk - it's shelf stable, you know you'll use it, and you'll pay a lot less per pound buying it all at once. You may have to save up to make the purchase, but it will definitely pay off. Look for "seconds" and surpluses suppliers are willing to sell off at reduced rates (often found at orchards or farmers' markets near closing time).

4. Emphasize comfort food. There are two ways to do this. First, pass on the fancy, expensive meals when you're cooking at home in favor of hearty, stick-to-your-ribs, old fashioned comfort food. It's economical and will make the "fancy food" feel all the more special when you do have it. Second, stock up on the things you aren't sure you'd function well without, whether its coffee or your favorite shampoo. Psychologically, it goes a lot further than you'd expect!

How do you handle bumps in the food supply?

Monday, October 8

Menu Idea Monday: Sauerkraut, Sausage & Apples

Photo from
A neighbour of ours ferments his own sauerkraut every year from cabbage he grows in his garden. When he offered us some, we gladly took it. I didn't mention that I have never liked sauerkraut.

So on night that I wasn't going to be home for dinner, I prepped a new dish I found online called Smoked Sausage, Apples and Sauerkraut to leave for my husband who does happen to like sauerkraut.

When I opened the jar my neighbour had given us, I noticed that it didn't smell at all like what I was used to. It smelled distinctly sweeter, and I braved a bite. It was delicious! Apparently, my boys agreed because there was not a single bite left of the dish when I got home.

Clearly, we will be planting a bunch of cabbage next year and then I will be headed down the street to learn the fine art of fermenting from an expert.

This was extremely simple to make, didn't take very long, and reheated beautifully in a cast iron skillet stuck in the oven for twenty minutes. It will become a staple around here, and I encourage you to try it!

(If you don't have any apple juice in the house, just sub another sweet juice of similar consistency or use water and add a pinch of extra sugar. )

Monday, October 1

Menu Idea Monday: Baked Oatmeal

A co-worker of my husband's sent a recipe home with him for Baked Oatmeal that she said was amazing. Being my nutritionally critical self, I wasn't expecting much, but I was pleasantly surprised - it's chock full of healthy things and has nothing cringe-worthy in it!

To be perfectly honest, I don't like baked oatmeal. It's a texture thing. But my husband liked it, and nutritionally I give it five stars. I pre-mixed the wet ingredients in one bowl and the dry in another the night before so it literally took two minutes to get this in the oven in the morning. If you throw it in before you start getting ready, you can enjoy a hot healthy meal before heading out on a workday!

1. Didn't take any pictures. Sorry. They always turn out badly anyway, so it's probably no loss. Lol.
2. This recipe was printed from the site Fitness Fruitcake according to the paper I was given, but I have been unable to get that site to load at all so I can't verify. So here's proper credit where it's due as best I can under the circumstances.

Baked Apple Oatmeal

2 cups oats
1/4 cup ground flax (optional)
1 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp apple butter (optional)
1 1/2 cups milk or water
2 ripe bananas, mashed
1 tsp vanilla
1 apple, chopped
handful of almonds
cinnamon and nutmeg

Combine oats, flax, baking powder, salt and spices. In another bowl, combine remaining. Add to oat mix and stir well. Pour mix into greased dish. Bake at 375 for 15 min. Enjoy.

We made half this recipe and it served two, but your results might vary.