Friday, July 17

Summer Projects: Pear Trees

Every year we enter reach spring with an ambitious list of projects, chomping at the bit to get started. (Incidentally, where do I opt out of this whole “Climate Change” thing? I seriously resent how late Spring starts these days, and how wet the summers have been!)

This year, one of our top projects was planting pear trees. We have long agreed that plants should earn their keep; if we’re going to carve out space and time to tend something it needs to contribute. Fruit trees decidedly fit the bill.

In May, we did a ton of work in and around the back corner of the yard and the spot we’d picked out for our new trees. We opened it up, taking down spindly pines and some larger trees that would have blocked the sunlight, figured out what the soil pH was to make sure it would appropriate, etc.

Our baby pear trees!
Then we headed to the local nursery and grabbed four pear trees: one Bartlett, two Commice, and a Seckel. We set them up in a beautiful, sunny spot and crossed our fingers. That combination should allow for strong cross-pollination and allow us to expand to other varieties in the future if we decide we want to.

So far, they’re thriving! Other than the fact that the deer ate all the little tiny baby pears off of them, they’re strong and growing well.  

Fruit trees are a long-term investment, of course. It will be years before there’s any kind of good return, but for now we’re delighted to have crossed this item off our list and to have taken our property one step closer to our larger vision of all it can be.  

Wednesday, July 15

An Accidental Coffee Snob

When I was in college, I had a little tiny Mr. Coffee machine that made four cups of coffee. (As they measure anyway. It usually worked out to a neat two servings.) It was perfect, and we continued to use it very happily for the first five plus years of married life. I might have kept using it forever, except that all of the stores in our region abruptly and inexplicably stopped carrying the filters. It took a unique size, and I was not about to spend a fortune or a ton of time either special ordering the correct filters or modifying/fussing with improperly sized ones.

We were planning to buy a house with a wood stove anyway, so we took it as a sign that it was time to switch to a French Press. (Now have and love this indestructible treasure from REI.) Being non-electric, this would ensure that we would be able to enjoy our daily coffee even if we were without power for extended periods of time. (A real possibility, given that we wouldn’t be high on anyone’s list if winter storms brought power lines down.) It didn’t seem like a big deal at the time, but it had a big impact on our perceptions and expectations – French Press coffee was so much better than what we’d been making! We didn’t know it at the time, but this seemingly innocent event marked the beginning of our descent into coffee snobbery.

Fast forward to maybe a year ago, when my sister came to visit. Sweet girl that she is, she bought us coffee – the kind of glorious, small-batch flavored roasts that are readily available near her but that have long eluded us out here. We were delighted. Until we realized she’d accidentally grabbed whole bean instead of pre-ground!  For all my kitchen toys, believe it or not, I didn’t have anything to grind coffee beans with. We remedied that promptly with this gem from Amazon.  (Note: it’s fabulous, and I highly recommend it.)

We quickly realized we’d had no idea what we were missing – freshly ground coffee is notably different than the pre-ground stuff! Admittedly, I’d known that at an academic level from my years of working in a coffee shop. But I’ve never made the translation to home brewed coffee, and so never really thought about it. Now happy owners of a grinder, we switched completely to buying whole bean coffee and grinding our own as needed every couple days. (This takes almost no time, and is super easy.)

Somewhere in there, we saw thisvideo, which piqued our interest in home roasting of our beans. Though I haven’t had a chance to do as much additional research as I’d like, the concepts totally line up with what we know to be true about other foods and made a lot of sense. So, on a whim, we bought a bag of unroasted (green) coffee beans to experiment with.

Then we got crazy busy with school and work and life, and the bags sat neglected on the shelf until this spring. As I was working through my annual Spring Rotation (wherein I try diligently to clear the cabinets of any foods, condiments, etc. that need to be eaten or tossed in preparation for the coming spring/summer/fall bounty), I came across the beans and decided to give home roasting a go. No fancy roaster, techniques, or tools – just coffee beans, the stove top and a cast iron skillet. I eyeballed the end result and called it good. And oh, was it good!

Having done the math (and a little more research), I’m somewhat miffed to have been paying more for pre-roasted coffee made with unspecified “natural flavors” (which typically are NOT natural or good for you) when I can so easily buy green beans in bulk, roast them myself as needed, and get a better (and cleaner) result!  

And then I realize that this officially makes us horrible – and completely unintentional - coffee snobs.
So if we go out to do coffee with you, have no fear – our coffee snobbery is not intentional, and we are not looking down on anyone else’s coffee. Just marveling at having found yet another thing that we had no idea we could do so easily or rewardingly ourselves. 

Coming soon…. Accidental salt snobbery.  Where is this trend coming from?

Monday, July 13

Summer Projects: Roofing!

Tons of moss on the garage roof our 1st year here.

When we first came to look at our house, there had been a huge snow storm and the entirety of the garage roof was buried in snow.  A walk through the inside didn’t reveal any issues, and our attention quickly turned to other things. That first summer, however, we realized that the whole roof of the garage was covered in a thick blanket of moss. There was so much tree coverage that it got almost no sun, and the lichen took advantage of the dimness to thrive.

The next year, we took a pressure washer to the roof and blasted all the moss off. Together with cutting back the forest line and opening things up to the sunlight, this improved the situation significantly. But it couldn’t reverse the damage that had been done by years of the previous owners’ neglect, and it quickly became apparent that the roof would need to be replaced. Leaks were developing, and several pieces of the foundational plywood were in extremely rough shape.

We slated the project for this summer, and set about working on the logistics. Fourth of July weekend, everything came together! 

I ordered a dumpster from the same nice company we've used the last two times we had major house projects. When I joked that we ought to get the equivalent of frequent flyer miles with as much as we call them, they even gave us a couple extra days for free! After work on Thursday that week, my Prince scraped off all the old shingles and my brother-in-law drove out. On Friday, we were up at hauling tookus by 7 a.m. 

I am not a fan of either ladders or heights. It's one thing to do Walk the Plank at the Tough Mudder, where you go in knowing that jumping off is the point. It is an entirely different story to be sitting on one's roof exceptionally aware of how important it is to not fall off... needless to say, although I helped a little, my time on the roof was limited. I spent most of my time on the ground cleaning up, playing gopher, or working on other things that needed to get done while we had the dumpster. 

The guys, on the other hand, were amazing! They were up and down the ladder, throwing packs of shingles around, and walking calmly around the roof like it was perfectly normal! They ripped out damaged plywood, put in new sheets, and completely redid the entire thing from top to bottom and stem to stern in 12 hours!!

The new garage roof with proper vents on top and everything -
isn't it beautiful?!
We didn't want to ever have to worry about the roof again, so it has ice and water shield as a base layer and vents on top to let moisture out when needed. It's rock solid, and we're delighted to have it done. The timing couldn't have been better - the weather went right back to being nearly nonstop rain the next day.

Hooray for another major project crossed off the list!

Friday, July 10

Pioneer Woman Chocolate Pie (GF, Low Sugar Version)

Way back in December, after my second NTP-training workshop weekend, I discovered that I needed to stop eating wheat. My initial response was to be seriously annoyed. I spent the better part of ten years perfecting my bread, muffin, and pizza dough recipes – what a huge waste would it be if I stopped eating wheat?! 

After I got over my indignation, I dropped the wheat and started expanding my repertoire of gluten free recipes. Stubborn and frugal girl that I am, I refused to shell out big bucks for coconut or wheat flours to bake with and desserts became a challenge. Until I found an outrageously amazing (and stupid easy) French Silk Pie recipe from the Pioneer Woman.

The first time I tried it, I made it entirely as directed and poured into a store-bought GF pie crust (that shockingly was made with entirely clean fats and everything – God bless Wegmans!!)  It had a lot of sugar, so the next time I started experimenting with swapping that out for honey, maple syrup, and/or stevia. This recipe quickly evolved into my go-to option for pie, mousse, or dessert in general! It requires only a handful of (inexpensive!) ingredients and comes together in half an hour. Dropped into a crust, it becomes a fantastically rich pie. Scooped into pretty glasses it can be served as mousse, or you layer it with berries, whipped cream, or other goodies for an impromptu trifle or parfait. 

Important notes:
The recipe contains raw eggs, so use the best ones you can. Keep in mind that it is important to keep the finished product chilled until you’re ready to serve (both for safety and consistency). 

(2) Watch your chocolate – the recipe is only gluten free if you use GF chocolate so check the label carefully!

If you’re using a sweetener that can be nicely converted (i.e. some containers of stevia are designed to have a 1 to 1 substitution rate for white sugar), you’re all good. Otherwise, I have found that it works best to add a small amount of your chosen sweetener at the beginning (during the creaming stage) and then start taste testing it when you add your second to last egg to the mixer. Then add in your sugar choice in small amounts, testing as you go until you reach the desired sweetness.

[Modified] Pioneer Woman Chocolate Pie
4 ounces Unsweetened Baking Chocolate, gluten and soy free!
1 cup
Salted Butter, Softened

Your choice of sweetener (honey, maple syrup or stevia) equivalent to 1.5 cups white sugar
1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract 
4 whole Eggs (preferably pastured and organic) 
1 gluten free pie shell (pre-baked or no-bake) [optional]

In a small saucepan, melt baking chocolate completely, then set aside to cool.

In a large KitchenAide bowl, beat 1 cup (2 sticks) of butter and your sweetener of choice 1 to 2 minutes using the whisk attachment. [It will get fluffy if you use white sugar, but not if you use something else. This makes no difference to the end result, though, so don't worry about it.]

Add cooled melted chocolate and vanilla extract to the mixing bowl. Beat until combined.

Set you mixer to medium speed, and add the first egg. Let the mixer run for 5 minutes to incorporate this egg! Repeat with remaining 3 eggs, letting the mixer run 5 minutes after each addition.   [See note 3 above if you're making the recipe with reduced sugar.]

When you've reached the desired sweetness and pie filling is fully whipped and fluffy, pour it into the pre-baked pie shell or spoon into glasses for mousse or parfaits and chill thoroughly.

So there you have it – a delicious, flexible, easy, and quick dessert that caters to friends and family working with sugar and gluten restrictions…. That no one will know is GF unless you tell them! Enjoy!

Wednesday, July 8

Simple Elegance for Summer

Author Gretchen Rubin has been getting a lot of press over her latest book, Better Than Before. Having never read any of her work, I recently checked the audio version of this new hit out of the library to listen to while working in the kitchen, cleaning, etc.

To be honest, I was unimpressed. The book was shallow and disorganized compared to many of the far more fascinating, better researched, and better explained books on habit formation and the cultivation of new behaviors currently on the market. It didn’t help that every time she mentioned anything related to food or nutrition I winced… SO many wrong ideas, happily touted as fact, without a stitch of backup, evidence, or logic!  

Anywho, the one really great thing I did take away from the book was the idea of a House Drink. Rubin tells an anecdote about an Italian friend of hers who was trying to cut back on her drinking. To help stick to her resolution to cut back, she created a personal concoction of juices, seltzers, and extras to serve in a pretty glass on nights she was dining at home with her family. It recreated the “special” feel of having a tradition and an elegant glass to look at and hold (and wasn’t straight, boring water which “feels healthy”), allowing her to cut back on her wine intake without losing all the other experiential aspects positively associated with it. 

I loved that idea, and promptly filed it away in my list of things to feature on my nutrition blog and with my clients, but thought I’d share it here as well. I’m a big fan of what I call “Peasant Food” – simple but satisfying meals, often made or served in a single dish – so a fancy “House Drink” is a bit over the top for us. But I’ve experimented a few times with making spritzers of juice and mineral water (2 to 3 oz juice to about 6 oz water) in a pretty wine glass, and been very happy with the result. It’s pretty, delicious (without being full of sugar or calories), and feels special – a perfect light indulgence for summer. 

Yes, I know these are strawberries and I'm talking about
raspberries, but it's a good picture!

That idea was still in my head when we had new friends over for dinner last week. They’d volunteered to bring dessert, and arrived with a bowl of raspberries (fresh from a local orchard!) and diced nectarines and fluffy whipped cream to pile on top.  It was incredibly simple but positively divine. (I know we’re going to be really good friends, because we both are all about the food and not how it’s served! I brought salad to the table in the big stainless steel bowl that goes with my KitchenAide, and they brought berries in a big, plain Tupperware bowl.   :)

The berries, like the House-Drink-inspired-spritzer, were incredibly simple but felt decadent. And now I’m thinking that the theme I should have been pondering all along was less about promoting healthy eating/drinking habits than what am I doing that cultivates simplicity, joy, and gratitude in my everyday life? 

None of us are promised tomorrow. If the zombie apocalypse hits next week or next year, I want to look back knowing I savored the beauty I was given… not squandered it.  

What is making you stop and see the beautiful in your life this week?