Category Archives: Cooking/Baking/Food/Recipes

Butter Toffee Recipe

This toffee has chocolate and almonds only on ONE side. My husband says that's enough... I'm not so sure.

This toffee has chocolate and almonds only on ONE side. My husband says that’s enough… I’m not so sure.

I clipped the original recipe for this toffee from the Arizona Republic in 2002;  it’s attributed to Lee Ann DeGrassi. However, I use more almonds in the toffee than she called for, and she had no temperatures listed, and some of the instructions were really unclear. So, I’ve altered it a bit.

I know this recipe seems LLLOOONGGGGGG. There are two reasons for that: Firstly, it takes a long time. If you’re pressed for time, don’t make toffee. The second reason is I’ve included a lot of parenthetical information — stuff I’ve learned the hard way, and I’m trying to spare you from ruining your expensive ingredients and wasting your time by ruining the toffee!!

I typically make a triple recipe of this. For a pan, I use heavy duty aluminum foil and fold long ends together, crimping them and folding them twice, kind of like rolling them. Smooth out very flat, especially the middle area where you’ve folded the two pieces together. Then, I fold up the edges triple-thick, about 1 1/2″ high, to form a giant pan. If you want, you can get all mathy with it. I get out my measuring tape and figure out the square inches… The recipe calls for two 9″ x 13″ pans, which is 234 square inches. My giant aluminum foil pan is 24″ x 30.5″, so 732 square inches. So, I knew a triple recipe would fit just fine.

The toffee just after pouring.  You can get a good idea of the aluminum foil pan construction from this picture.

The toffee just after pouring. You can get a good idea of the aluminum foil pan construction from this picture.

Butter Toffee

  • 5 cups C&H (or other white cane) sugar — no raw or unwashed sugar;  it needs to be free of all molasses and totally white
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 1/2 lbs (10 sticks — yes, that much) SALTED butter
  • 3 cups raw almonds, whole shelled
  • 36 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips (typically, three bags)
  • 3 cups raw almonds, rough-ground (I use a Cuisinart Mini-Prep)
  • Shortening to grease your pans (I use Spectrum organic non-hydrogenated palm oil shortening)

Necessary tools:
Large pan (6-8 quart)
Long-handled, sturdy wooden spoon or wooden or metal spatula
A candy thermometer
A silicone basting brush (please, you don’t want to risk the thick melted chocolate pulling hairs out of your standard basting brush, believe me!!)
Parchment paper
2 – 9×13″ baking pans with a lip on the edge OR heavy duty aluminum foil
Several bath towels with which to line your counter top

Smooth out 3-5 bath towels on a wide counter top or table. Grease two 9 x 13 inch baking sheets and line with parchment paper (or fold heavy-duty foil, as mentioned above, to make a big pan, grease and line with parchment paper). Place pan(s) on the towel-lined counter top. I cracked our quartz counter top one year because it wasn’t insulated. So, please! Use those towels!!

Cut each stick of butter into 3-4 chunks and set aside.

Combine sugar and water in a 6-8 quart pan. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring gently but constantly, until the mixture reaches 231° on a candy thermometer. Add butter slowly, stirring gently while you add, until all the butter is melted. (I kind of slide each chunk of butter down the spatula I use for stirring so I don’t get splashed by boiling sugar-butter!)

Turn heat down to medium and continue to cook, stirring every five minutes or so, until the temperature reaches 260° degrees. This will take 30-60 minutes. Then, stir constantly until the temp reaches 270°. (I use a long-handled metal spatula to stir — so my hand is far away from the boiling mixture, and so that I can thoroughly scrape the bottom of the pan so no sugar burns on the bottom.)

When the temperature reaches 270°, add the 3 cups of whole, raw, shelled almonds, about 1/3 of them at a time, stirring with each addition. Continue to stir constantly until the thermometer reads 290°. (Note: Toffee must reach a minimum of 285° to set. It can go up to 300° degrees and still be toffee, however, the hotter it gets, the more you risk burning the whole batch. So, I cook it to 290°, to ensure a good set, but to not risk burning.)

Take out the candy thermometer and quickly but carefully pour the toffee into the waiting pan(s). Do not spread it; the toffee will level itself. (If you try spreading it as it cools, the butter can separate from the toffee and it will ruin the whole batch.) Use a silicone scraper to get all of the toffee out of the hot pan, scraping the bottom of the pan first (it burns there the fastest — you want to get the toffee out before it burns).

Cool for about 20-30 minutes. (You want the toffee to have cooled to a non-liquid state but still be hot enough to melt the chocolate.) Sprinkle half of the chocolate chips on the slightly cooled toffee. Wait five minutes for the chocolate to soften and melt. With a silicone basting brush, brush the chocolate over the surface of the toffee to coat. Then, evenly sprinkle half of the ground almonds over the surface. With gentle pressure, press the ground almonds into the chocolate. (Otherwise, when you turn the toffee over, half of the almonds will fall off.)

Let cool thoroughly — 3-5 hours or overnight. When the toffee is completely cooled and the chocolate has rehardened, break into very large pieces and turn over, putting the toffee back together like a puzzle. Melt the remaining chocolate in the microwave or over a double broiler until JUST melted — do not overheat. Then, pour the chocolate over the toffee and spread around with the silicone basting brush. Sprinkle the remaining ground almonds on top and press in.

Wait until the chocolate is completely cooled and firm, then break into serving-sized pieces. You may need to drop the toffee on the counter top from a few inches’ height to break it. Then, eat all the crumbs and give the big, beautiful, tasty pieces to friends and family and they will love you forever and drop hints like, “I hope you’re making toffee this year!”

Spreading the melted chocolate with a very interested eight-year-old watching.

Spreading the melted chocolate with a very interested eight-year-old watching.

Successful homemade gluten-free pie crust — a pic tutorial

I almost did it.

Something I’ve never done before, and I almost pulled the trigger.

Yesterday, I went on a whirlwind three-store shopping trip, purchasing everything in one go so I could just stay at home and bake and cook today and tomorrow in preparation for Thanksgiving.  Knowing I had four pies to make, and knowing what a PITA* it is to make g.f. pie crusts, I sought out the freezer case of Sprouts, my local natural-foods grocery store.  I stood there, looking at the empty section where the gluten-free pie crusts should have been, and glanced at the price tag — $4.99.  I’m not sure if that was for a single crust or a double-pack.  In any case, they were out.  Cheap-o that I am, the price tag dissuaded me, anyway.  I just couldn’t spend $10-20 on something that I knew I could do, myself.

Four pie crusts are now made and in the fridge, waiting for filling tomorrow.

I thought I’d share how I am able to successfully roll out and transfer gluten-free pie crust into the pie pan without it breaking into a dozen pieces.

(This is NOT a recipe — use any g.f. pie crust recipe or mix.)

1.  First, plan on 1 1/2 cups of gluten-free flour per crust.  “Normal” recipes for a 9″ crust will use only 1 cup of flour.  However, it is helpful to roll your crust just a LITTLE thicker than wheat-based crusts.  Also, it is often useful to have just a little extra dough to work with.  Gluten-free dough dough doesn’t adhere to itself as well as wheat-based dough, so your edges (before you trim — see below) will be more raggedy.  Rather than fret about not having enough dough, just allow for extra on the outset.  (Also, below, I’ll tell you what you can do with the left-over dough.)  I use six cups of mix for four crusts.

2.  Secondly, but most importantly, you need parchment paper, the kind used for baking.  I have tried this with wax paper and with plastic wrap, as well, but it is really only successful with parchment paper.

3.  Gather your lump of dough — mine is speckled because I put some unblanched almond meal in with my mix of flours — in the middle of a square of parchment paper.  A pastry mat with guidelines is helpful, but not necessary.

IMG_20141125_123424

4.  Gently, with even pressure, roll the dough into a roundish shape, aiming for a circle 12-13″ in circumference — the size of dough needed for a 10″ pie.  (The parchment paper I have is 13″ wide.  So, my circle nearly touches the edges of my square of parchment.)

5.  Turn your pie pan over upside-down, and center it on top of the circle of dough.  IMG_20141125_1236216.  Slide your hand under the parchment, keeping your hand as flat against the counter top as possible, gently lifting paper, crust, and pie pan.  Place your other hand on top of the pie pan (which is, again, upside-down, so the palm of your hand is against the bottom of the pie pan).  So now, your hands are sandwiching the paper, crust, and pan.  Spread the fingers of your hand that is underneath as wide as possible to support the dough, and quickly flip your hands over.

IMG_20141125_124346

7.  Leaving the parchment in place, gently press the dough into place, snugly against the sides and bottom of the pan.  Then, gently remove the parchment paper.  The beauty of parchment is that the dough adheres just enough to keep the crust intact while you flip, but not TOO much, so that the parchment peels cleanly away.

IMG_20141125_124645

Yes, I have bitten my nails. That alone was almost enough to NOT want to do this tutorial, so y’all couldn’t see my hands. But, I’ve heard enough groans about homemade g.f. pie crust from the gluten-free community that I thought I’d cast my pride aside and give you all a (nail-bitten) hand.

9.  Next, using a clean pair of kitchen shears, trim the dough so that it is even with the edge of the pie pan.IMG_20141125_124904

10.  Fold the outer 1/2″ or so of the pie crust against itself, pinching gently, so that you have a double-thick top edge of your unbaked pie crust.  Gluten-free dough WILL be more crumbly than wheat-based crust, so smooth the top edge of the crust as you go, until you have a sort of blunted top edge.IMG_20141125_125107

11.  Next, using your thumbs and forefingers (or a fork), pinch the edge of the crust into a decorative pattern.  IMG_20141125_125238

And, voila!  You’re done with your unbaked pie crust with an edge that is standing up high enough to support most deep-dish pie recipes.  And if your recipe isn’t for a deep dish pie, you’ll probably just have the edge of the crust standing tall, surveying your beautiful homemade pie.

You can pre-bake — also called blind baking — your crust as directed by a recipe (like for lemon meringue pie), or use it as is for pumpkin or pecan, or any other pie that starts with an unbaked crust.  Or, you may refrigerate or freeze the crust until you’re ready to use it (make sure it is nicely sealed in plastic wrap so that the crust doesn’t dry out).

One note about pre-baking:  Definitely use pie weights (or beans or rice) when pre-baking a gluten-free pie crust.  Depending on the flours used, many g.f. flours (especially the whiter ones — starches and rice flours) can shrink during baking.  Using a weight helps minimize this.

12.  Lastly, you can give any leftover trimmings of dough to the aspiring baker(s) in your home, and set her free with a rolling pin and cookie cutters.  Place the shapes on an ungreased cooked sheet, sprinkle with cinnamon sugar, and bake at 375 degrees F until lightly browned, about 16 minutes (depending on your pan, and how thick the crust-cookies are).

IMG_20141125_125428

Note: Check finished cookies for hair. Eek.

————-

*This is as close as I will come to cussing on this blog.  Or in real life, for that matter.

Making yogurt, making a garden, and raising a son into the workplace

  • Eurocuisine YM80 — I also purchased an expansion tray and a set of eight more glass jars, but Amazon sent TWO expansion trays and no extra glass jars. Humph.

    I bought a yogurt maker and I must say, the first batch??  NOT a success.  There are lots of conflicting instructions out there for making yogurt.  Next time, I will SCALD the raw milk (not boil it, per the instructions I followed), use already-made plain yogurt as a starter (not acidophilus caps that so many places said you could use), and keep better track of the temperature.  I’ll also just make plain, rather than the honey-sweetened blueberry yogurt I attempted.  The results separated into yogurty curds and whey.  The flavor was good, but the texture was horrible.  We half-froze ours to make it palatable, and that worked all right.  But the next go-round needs to be much more successful!!

  • My oldest son now has a job:  He’s a bagger at Sprouts, a local, natural grocer.  It was really the only job he wanted, and though it took a few months of trying, he got the job!  The day he was hired, he had to read 100+ pages of various employee handbooks (which he truly read, because he is thorough, like his father).  I also took him to open a checking account, which had about 20 pages of various information and things to sign.  As we were leaving the bank, his brow was furrowed, and I could tell he was on information overload.  “So, Ethan, now that you have a job and a checking account, do you feel like an adult?” I asked.  He replied, “Well, if adults regularly feel confused, then, yes, I feel like an adult.”  Ha!  Welcome to adulthood, my son.  We are having him tithe 10%, save 50%, and the rest is his for spending and short-term savings.  He looked at his first paycheck, which was for just one week, and proclaimed that the paper he was holding amounted to more than he had made doing odd jobs in the entire previous year.  I had really wanted him to get a job for his own benefit — for learning how to be responsible with money; for learning how to be part of a team within a work environment; and to just take a step up in transition to adulthood…  But, unexpectedly, I feel very blessed.  He’s not a fully grown adult, but it blesses me, knowing that my husband and I have raised a young man who is an asset to a good company, and to the workforce in general.  It feels very right.
  • IMG_20140516_110157_393 - Copy

    I know. It doesn’t look all that exciting. And you can’t really tell the scope of the project from this pic. But I have gotten to know this little cart and a pair of shovels very well in the last week.

    Last Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Monday, and Tuesday, and today, I have worked HARD in my yard for 2-3+ hours daily. I am trying to transform a section about 21′ x 42′ into my real, true garden. It’s difficult to explain to people unfamiliar with caliche JUST HOW ROCK-HARD our “soil” is. Technically, it’s not soil; it’s dirt. The Bermuda grass — the only kind that will grow in the desert’s heat and lack of water — needs to be removed, so I rented a sod-cutter last Thursday.  Man-oh-man, that was SO punishing. So difficult.  I put it at the deepest setting — 2½” — to dig up as much of the Bermuda as possible.  Now, I am digging and toting the cut dirt/sod to other areas of our yard, making berms around trees. I’m only about 1/3 done with it being cleared. And here, it has mostly been in the mid-90°s. So, add “hot and sweaty” to physically challenging.  I am keeping my eyes on the prize of having a productive, inviting, rewarding garden, some months from now.  Once I finish clearing the area, I still need to soak the dirt, Rototill it, rake out as many Bermuda grass roots as possible, then cover the area with clear plastic to solarize — and thus kill — it.  All of that is BEFORE I get to plant anything.  I also need to put up a fence with a footer, not just to keep out the dogs, but to keep the Bermuda grass from creeping back in.  I’m collecting interesting garden fence ideas on Pinterest.

  • I was going to post about our new dog (a third Staffordshire Bull Terrier)… And about me going low-carb almost-Paleo again.  But my baby Jean is waking!  So, here are a couple more pics:
    Baby Jean giving a hug and a sloppy kiss to Fiala.  I absolutely love the fact that baby Jean grabs both sides of someone's face and smashes her chubby, drooly mouth onto the kiss-recipient.

    Baby Jean giving a hug and a sloppy kiss to Fiala. I absolutely love the fact that baby Jean grabs both sides of someone’s face and smashes her chubby, drooly mouth onto the kiss-recipient.

    This is me, in an absolutely horrid shirt of my husband's (he's never worn it;  it was a gift).  It has long sleeves to protect my sunburn from a couple of days ago when I thought, "Oh, I won't be working THAT long," and worked for two hours with no sunblock.  Anyway, this is how you get yardwork done with a baby:  Work as much as you can while she naps.  Then, have your kids take 30 minute play/watch sessions, punctuated by 15 minute sessions of baby with Mama.  It works.  :)

    This is me, in an absolutely horrid shirt of my husband’s (he’s never worn it; it was a gift). It has long sleeves to protect my sunburn from a couple of days ago when I thought, “Oh, I won’t be working THAT long,” and worked for two hours with no sunblock. Anyway, this is how you get yardwork done with a baby: Work as much as you can while she naps. Then, have your kids take 30 minute play/watch sessions, punctuated by 15 minute sessions of baby with Mama. It works. :)

Adventures in (organic!) kimchi

csa-daikon

Audrey and her pet Daikon radish

On Saturday, my seven-year-old daughter, Audrey, picked a Really Big daikon radish from the fields at Crooked Sky Farms during CSA Member Day.

My husband Martin asked me, doubtingly, “What are you going to do with that?”

I replied, “I’m pretty sure you can make kimchi out of daikon.”

Martin gave me one of those looks and said, “I hope you don’t expect me to eat that.”

I think the grand count is now up to six or seven things I’ve made in our nearly-20 years of marriage that he doesn’t like.  Maybe eight.  I think his presupposition that he won’t like radish kimchi is based solely upon reputation, and report of friends who have gone to South Korea on ministry trips.

I found a recipe, and I’m making it right now — waiting for 30 minutes while the cubed radish “sweats”.

I’m really happy with all the ingredients.  Nearly all of them are organic:  the daikon, of course;  the green onion;  the dried red chile;  the sugar — all from Crooked Sky Farms, save the sugar.  I’ve also used sea salt, fresh garlic, and gluten-free soy sauce, simply because I’m out of fish sauce.

Radish kimchi (kkakdugi) veggies!

Radish kimchi (kkakdugi) veggies!

I just realized that I do not have fresh ginger, so my kimchi will be ginger-less.

And that big daikon only made one quart plus about 1½ cups of kimchi.  I’m only fermenting the quart container.  The end result didn’t seem as “wet” as the recipe suggested, so I ended up pouring all the “radish juice” back into the mixture.  From other fermented items I’ve made, the veggies must all be submerged in the liquid, and it took adding it all back in to bring the liquid to the top of the quart jar.

Anyway.

I had the thought, “I wonder if slightly adventurous cooks in Korea get a hold of, say, tomatoes, and determine that they will make ketchup, that ubiquitous and widely eaten American condiment.”  And their spouses look askance and wonder if they have to eat it.

The author of the recipe suggests that kkakdugi pairs well with a simple bone-broth soup.  Sounds good to me;  I have bone broth in the fridge right now!  I wonder which of my family will eat Korean Ox-Bone Soup accompanied by Kkakdugi…  I’ll try to remember to report back.

On a tangential note, there is a lady in the weekly small group Bible study I attend, and one of her daughters is a health-nut.  Nearly every week, my friend will report to me of the inedible culinary disasters her daughter has created in the name of health.  When I make a dish, I simply cannot make it in the name of health alone;  it must actually TASTE GOOD.  What’s the point of cooking your asparagus in coconut oil if no one enjoys the flavor, and it ends up in the trash?  (Personally, I think coconut oil is over-used.  However, that is a tangent to my tangent.)  I’ve only brought snacks twice in the last number of months, and both times, she asked repeatedly, while eating with gusto, “This is gluten free??  It’s healthy??”  To which I usually reply, “Well, it’s not healthy, as it has way more sugar than anyone should be eating.  But, it’s gluten-free and it’s nearly all organic.”  She just can’t believe that homemade goods can be better-for-you AND tasty.  I believe that they should be tasty.  I don’t believe in eating something solely because it’s good for you;  food should be enjoyed.

Butternut Squash with Apples and Cranberries (GFCF recipe)

I’ll admit it:  In this age of expert home food stylists and Pinterest beauty, I’m hesitant to post new recipes.  I snapped a pic of this with my phone, not my Nikon SLR (I don’t own a Nikon SLR or any other fancy camera).  It’s not gorgeous.  But, it is SO VERY delicious that I had to share.  And, it’s just in time for Thanksgiving.  Hopefully, it will become a wintertime staple in your home, as my family has proclaimed it must be in mine.

IMG_20131011_193938_996

This recipe calls for a 2½ lb butternut squash, but you can use any orange-fleshed winter squash:  baking/pie pumpkin;  Hubbard;  Delicata;  Kabocha; Red Kuri, and others.  Personally, I wouldn’t use acorn squash or spaghetti squash.  But, just about any other variety would do wonderfully.  You can even substitute yam.  You may also use MORE than 2½ lb.  You could use up to four pounds of squash without tampering with any of the other ingredients.

I implore you not to substitute any other ingredients.  This perhaps may seem like an odd mishmash of ingredients, but when it comes together, it’s perfect:  savory, sweet, a bit spicy, warm, bright, FRESH.  However, if you do find any subs that work beautifully, do return and comment here!

Also, recent research has shown that it’s more important than ever to buy organic winter squash!

Winter squash is a vegetable that might be especially important for us to purchase organic. Recent agricultural trials have shown that winter squash can be an effective intercrop for use in remediation of contaminated soils. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), including pyrene, fluoranthene, chrysene, benzo(a)anthracene and benzo(a)pyrene are unwanted contaminants. PAHs are among the contaminants that can be effectively pulled up out of the soil by winter squash plants. When winter squash is planted as a food crop (as opposed to a non-food crop that is being planted between food crop seasons to help improve soil quality), the farmer’s goal is definitely not to transfer soil contaminants like PAHs up into the food. But some of that transfer seems likely to happen, given the effectiveness of winter squash in mobilizing contaminants like PAHs from the soil. For this reason, you may want to make a special point of purchasing certified organic winter squash. Soils used for the growing of in certified organic foods are far less likely to containundesirable levels of contaminants like PAHs.  ~from The World’s Healthiest Foods

In other words, squash does an excellent job of decontaminating the soil:  It pulls contaminants from the soil as it grows.  However, where do those contaminants go??  Very likely INTO the food you’re eating.  You can wash the outside of a conventional squash, or peel it.  But, you can’t wash the flesh of the pesticides and other contaminants that the growing plant has pulled from the ground.

Click here for a simplified, printable PDF version of this recipe.

Butternut Squash with Apples and Cranberries
makes 12 servings

  • 12 oz nitrate-free bacon, chopped
  • 3 oz shallots, sliced thinly (about two large cloves)
  • 2½ lb organic butternut squash, seeded, peeled, and diced into ¾” cubes
  • 4 small Granny Smith apples (or other tart apple), cored, peeled, and diced small
  • 1 cup dried, sweetened cranberries (you can use unsweetened just as well)
  • 1 Tbsp minced fresh sage (plus more for garnish)
  • 1 tsp fine sea salt
  • 1½ tsp ground allspice
  • zest of one lime
  • ½ tsp ground white pepper
  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. In a medium-sized skillet over medium-high heat, cook chopped bacon and sliced shallots, stirring often, until bacon is crisp.  Set aside to cool slightly.  Do not drain.
  3. In a large, heat-proof bowl (such as a glass or ceramic bowl), toss together the diced squash, diced apples, dried cranberries, minced fresh sage, sea salt, allspice, lime zest, and white pepper.
  4. Scrape the bacon, shallots, and rendered bacon fat over the squash mixture and toss to mix well.
  5. Transfer the mixture to a large baking dish (or two medium-sized ones), and spread evenly.
  6. Cover tightly and bake for 40-50 minutes, stirring once, or until the squash is tender.
  7. Garnish with additional chopped sage (or Italian parsley, cilantro, or other pretty green).
  8. Serve hot.

 

Why I hardly ever eat broccoli any more (or, “A Paean to Seasonal Eating”)

Romanesco is the broccoli for math heads. “Romanesco broccoli resembles a cauliflower, but is of a light green colour and the inflorescence (the bud) has an approximate self-similar character, with the branched meristems making a logarithmic spiral. In this sense the broccoli’s shape approximates a natural fractal; each bud is composed of a series of smaller buds, all arranged in yet another logarithmic spiral.”

I used to eat broccoli a lot.  It was THE go-to veggie for my family.  I’d purchase, at a minimum, enough for two dinners’ worth, and prepared it in innumerable ways, but most often, just steamed.  We hardly ever eat broccoli any more.  I like broccoli.  I just usually can’t bring myself to buy it.

Here’s why:

“…the United States is a net importer of broccoli overall. In 2010, the United States imported 524.5 million pounds of frozen broccoli valued at $243 million. The majority of the frozen broccoli came from Mexico (72%), followed by Guatemala (15%) and Ecuador (8%) (Vegetable and Melon Data, ERS 2011).”

To be clear, if you are eating FROZEN broccoli, it is almost certainly from another country;  producing broccoli florets is labor-intensive, and since labor costs are higher here than in other countries.  If you eat fresh broccoli, there is a better chance that it came from the United States, most likely California.  If you eat organic, fresh broccoli, chances are even GREATER that the broccoli came from the U.S.  But, still…

I live in the desert, here in the Phoenix area.  I know that broccoli is harvested here for a very limited time of the year, usually in March.

And how do I know that?  Because a majority of my family’s veggies are from a local farm, Crooked Sky Farms, in a year ’round CSA.  Before 2013, our veggies came — for 20 weeks out of the year — from a different CSA.  The window for local, fresh, organic broccoli is very small.

So, when I’m shopping in the heat of summer, and that broccoli is looking mighty fine for a stir-fry, I ponder and think, “It’s August.  It’s stinkin’ 120° out there.  I know, Grocery Store Broccoli, that you did not come from any place even remotely close to here.”  And I usually pass on by…  I might cave if it’s from an organic producer in California;  that’s not too very far.  But usually, I just pass, and choose a summer veggie.  Or, I just live off of what the CSA provides.

I purchase very few veggies any more.  Year ’round, I do purchase mushrooms, lettuces (when not from the CSA), celery, and red bell peppers (when the CSA doesn’t provide other bell peppers).

Islander Bell Peppers — we received these purple bell peppers last week.

Sand Piper ivory-colored bell peppers, which were also in last week’s CSA share.

And… I think that’s about it.  Oh!  Potatoes I purchase year ’round, though they are available from the CSA for a good portion of the year.  I also purchase frozen organic sweet corn and frozen organic green beans, both from Costco.  Again, both green beans and corn are available for a time from the CSA.  And, I froze as much corn as I could this year, but we’ve already eaten it all.  :)

That sounds like a lot of purchased veggies.  But, really, it’s not, compared to how many veggies our family eats.

And when I finally have my garden up and going, it will be even fewer, but that’s another story.

I sent this to my CSA members this morning:

Hello, everyone!

 

I just wanted to send out a note of encouragement to each of you. I’ve heard from several who are growing really weary of eating the same things from week to week. Well, it hasn’t been exactly the same thing, but there have been several items — especially okra and cucumbers — that folks seem to be tiring of. I do understand! I intended to turn a batch of lemon cukes into pickles this past week, and with two different sets of houseguests, I didn’t get that done. I also decided to give away a bunch of okra, rather than freeze it. So, I do understand the weariness.

I do, however, want to remind each of you that eating seasonally is much healthier for YOU and for the planet. Studies have shown that produce that is grown seasonally (instead of imported, or grown locally in forced, non-natural environments) to be much higher in nutrient content.

Eating seasonally is a true return to ancestral ways of eating. Our ancestors ate what they could grow in their own environment, according to the season. They would eat a glut of what was fresh, and preserve what wouldn’t keep. We’re simply not accustomed to that. We live in America, which is, in many ways, a tremendously blessed country. Each of us very likely lives less than a mile or two from a supermarket. In that supermarket, we can buy broccoli year ’round. However, broccoli bought in the deserts of Phoenix in October likely grew in Mexico or South America, and traveled thousands of miles to get here. (The U.S. does grow broccoli in California, but we import more than we export. Most of the broccoli eaten in the U.S. comes from Mexico, Guatemala, or Ecuador.)

I’m not trying to guilt-trip you out of buying broccoli on your next trip to the grocery store, I promise! And in some ways, I do realize that I’m preaching to the choir; most of us don’t have to be convinced of the benefits of eating locally, seasonally, and organically.

For another perspective:

“Better nutritional content and overall health – Most grocery stores and food chains jazz up their fruits and vegetables to keep them looking attractive and inviting when they’re out of season. This naturally compromises the nutrition level of the food. Non-seasonal foods require bending of nature’s rules in order for them to survive the improper season in which they are brought into the world. Therefore, these foods are often full of pesticides, waxes, preservatives and other chemicals that are used in order to make them look fresher than they are.

By eating freshly harvested produce, you will be rotating your foods, thereby keeping your body from developing intolerances to certain foods and reaping the health benefits of a diet that is diverse and naturally detoxifying. Seasonal foods also have a much higher antioxidant content than non-seasonal foods.

Sustainable and environmental benefits – By eating seasonally, you will also be supporting the local farmers and local markets, which, in turn, works well for the sustainability of the entire economy. Seasonal eating helps the environment by reducing the number of food miles your food has to make before it reaches your table. The more local you eat, the less chances exist that you are consuming food that has been flown in from half way across the world, in effect consuming that much more fuel.”

(From: http://www.naturalnews.com/035575_seasonal_food_diet_health.html#)

And here’s another article: http://life.gaiam.com/article/benefits-eating-what-s-season

And another: http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=faq&dbid=28

ALSO, when farmers (and gardeners) plant the things that grow best in our rather extreme environment, and they don’t try to FORCE things to grow here that shouldn’t be growing in the desert, that helps to eliminate the need for pesticides and fungicides, etc.

So… if you can find the time, DO pickle those cucumbers — refrigerator pickles are easy and don’t require pressure canning. Okra is easily freezable:  Cut off the stem end and pop them whole into a freezer bag. Similarly, you can freeze summer squash without doing anything special: wash, trim the ends, and dice them. Then, just put them into freezer bags. Store your onions and potatoes in the fridge, and they will last for MONTHS.

I’m still enjoying greens that I froze this past spring, and summer squash from my freezer as well.

Preserving helps you maximize the value of the CSA, as well. I know I feel GREAT when I pull out some dried basil from the cabinet or diced rutabaga from my freezer, long after the season has ended. I feel like I’m being an excellent steward of what has been provided to me!

That said… cooler weather crops will very soon be available! I don’t have an exact timeline, but I did receive this message from the farm:

“Good day Glendale CSA. Thank you so much for participating in supporting your local farmer. Eating seasonal takes that ancestor heart that brings us back to eating the way nature intended. This is the best way to ensure your family is putting chemical free produce in their bodies. Farmer Frank always says “we fight GMO’s with our actions, not just our words.” While your taste buds are craving autumn, sweeten your palate with winter squash like butternut squash, spaghetti squash, baking pumpkins and more. Also look forward to soooo many greens, such as swiss chard, spinach, kale. Lets not forget our root crops. This year we plan to wow you with colored carrots, watermelon radishes and more! Jazz up your plates with Romanesco, graffiti cauliflower (purple), lettuces and rare onions. We are just beginning to scratch the surface. Thank you for your patience and commitment. We delight in serving you with many treasures.”

“Naturally Grown, Naturally Yours”, the Crooked Sky family

Again, NONE of this is said to guilt anyone into doing anything. I also understand about being on a budget, and the continual pull between eating more healthily, and being wise with my family’s resources. That’s actually the main reason I started hosting!! I primarily get paid in veggies. ;) It’s a huge benefit to my large family to be “given” about $40 worth of organic veggies every week. But, before I hosted, I participated in CSAs for several years, in addition to growing my own garden…

I do understand that you have to do what works for your family… I truly do.

And I THANK YOU, all of you, for participating, whether you’ve been with me from the beginning and are absolutely committed, *OR* if this whole CSA thing is new to you — or eating healthy is new to you — and you’re just trying it out. Everyone is on a different point in their journey to health and wellness, and I’m so very, very pleased to assist any of you at any point in your journey.

 

~sigh~

The short version of this very long post is that it is an EFFORT to eat well.  It requires something of you.  Time, money, effort, convenience…  All of those, or a combination.But the result is worth it, I do believe.

 

 

Returning to… well, not “normal”.

The babymoon filled with tortilla chips* and ice cream** is over.

I won’t say that we’ve returned to “normal”, though that is what I was initially thinking…  “Wow!  We’re approaching normal!”  There is no “normal”.  And, upon further reflection, it was like thinking, “Hey, baby!  You’ve upset our family’s routine!  You rascal!  How could you do that??  You’ve DISTURBED things!!”  And, truly, I don’t think that.

But on the other hand, I have been working to re-establish a new flow to our family.

I wrote this to a friend yesterday, who probably instantly regretted asking me how I was doing:

But, just to be real, yesterday SUCKED. It was the worst mothering day in a solid year, if not more. Frankly, Jean cries a lot. That isn’t bad, theoretically. I was telling my kids that Ethan cried a lot, and he turned out just fine. Some babies are just… needier than others, and I am happy to provide that extra comfort, extra soothing, more careful… care. But, OTOH, it means a lot of time in my room with the door shut, nursing (not that I always nurse behind closed doors), soothing, trying to help Jean sleep… and then my children are like Lord of the Flies out there, unattended, giving into sin nature, selfishness, unkindness, sneakiness, bullying… Ugh. I kind of flipped out yesterday. For a valuable 45 min of time when Jean was napping, I sat the five down and we went over Colossians 3:12-17. We talked. I lectured. We prayed. But did things improve? No. I had to spank***. I called Martin. And today hasn’t been much better…. But, I’m trying. Played Bethel YouTube worship videos for four hours straight in the main living area of our home, both to worship and sing, and to just invite the Holy Spirit in our day. And I have nipped everything in the bud, as much as possible.

There would be days like these in the past and I would think that I have totally failed as a mother. The good news is that I feel like it’s a temporary failure from which we all need to recover. I need to pull the reins in on my kids after letting things coast, slide, for too long. And they need to be loving and to obey.

So, see?  There’s no normal.

But, this morning represented a step in the right direction:  For the first time in Jean’s six weeks and two days of life, I made myself a “real” breakfast.  Granted, I absolutely gulped it down, so as to eat it hot, in case Jean awoke.  But, it was:  Three eggs, tomato slices, avocado slices, a cup of raw milk, and coffee.  YUM.  The first week of Jean’s life, I ate like a queen, because my hubby fixed my breakfast, and delivered it to me in bed.  The time since then has been altogether spotty:  A hastily eaten bowl of cereal (and I don’t even eat cereal!), a protein bar, a hastily-eaten pear, occasionally asking one of my boys to fix me eggs…  Or, more likely, me looking at the clock at 11:00 a.m. and thinking, “Crap.  I haven’t eaten anything yet today.”

Speaking of food…  While I absolutely, 100% agree with the thought that post-partum mothers should not give in to an appearance-centered culture that pressures us, “How are you going to lose that baby weight???”****  I also know that I’m carrying 12 extra pounds from the pregnancy — not much, I know! — and

  1. It’s crazy how much even just 12 pounds can make your clothes NOT fit.  Even tee shirts.
  2. I know that most of that wouldn’t be there had I not daily indulged in food I shouldn’t be eating in the first place:  like the aforementioned tortilla chips, ice cream, and cereal.
  3. I just feel better when I’m trim, when I don’t to have to select clothes that hides one sloshy part or another.*****

So, unless I want to purchase a whole new wardrobe — which WOULD be nice, but

  1. Where would the money come from to do that?
  2. More importantly, where would the TIME come to do that??

I need to lose at least some of that weight.

Hence, the subtraction of the carb-laden foods, and the triumphant reemergence of healthier food…

So worth it...  the tears, the "disruption", the extra weight...  So amazingly worth it.

So worth it… the tears, the “disruption”, the extra weight… So amazingly worth it.

———

*Organic, from Costco.  I love those chips!!

**Ben & Jerry’s Karamel Sutra.  It was a lot easier to resist when I had to purchase it for $5/pint from the grocery store or wait for a coupon.  In the last year, pre-baby, I probably indulged twice.  But, since we discovered that the regular price at Walmart is $2.88/pint, and I got my hubby hooked on that particular flavor, it’s been MUCH harder to resist.  “Babe!” he grins, coming in the door with a bag from Walmart, “I got you some ice cream!”  Hahaha!!

***I probably just lost a good 10% of my readers right there.  “SHE SPANKS???” Um, yes.  On occasion.  I can’t remember the last time I had spanked anyone, prior to Tuesday;  a couple of months, at least.  It’s not my go-to discipline;  it’s my last-resort discipline.

****And if you haven’t read Sarah Bessey’s fabulous post on the Duchess of Cambridge’s post-partum hospital appearance, you should.  Absolutely, you should.

*****And we’re not talking “skinny” here.  I’m at 150 lbs now, and my goal is 140.  Pre-baby, it was 138 lbs.

Tongue-tie update and a couple of other things, including ice cream…

Darling Fiala, a couple of hours post-birth, holding her new baby sister.

Darling Fiala, a couple of hours post-birth, holding her new baby sister.

So, the above pic has nothing to do with this post, really.  I just wanted to publish it.

I saw baby Jean’s nurse practitioner again today, since the pediatrician is visiting his parents in India until next week.  I really like the CNP, Penny.  We did a weight check and a few other things.  Baby Jean had only gained three ounces since last Tuesday, which is just below the normal threshold of 0.5 – 1.0 oz daily at this point in development.  And that is with her nursing for a good hour at a time every 2-3 hours.  Little Jean now weighs 10 lbs 6 oz, still not quite her birth weight.

We confirmed that, yes, she does have a fairly significant tongue tie and a very significant upper-lip tie.  And, since it is affecting both her ability to nurse efficiently and is still causing me pain during nursing, we are going to have at least her tongue clipped.  However, today counted as the “consult”, rather than the actual event.  So, we talked about it pretty extensively, and I watched a (quite informative) 15 minute Power Point about the procedure… And scheduled the frenectomy for Monday.

The plan is to give that a week to heal and to see if it results in a decrease of pain for me and an increase of weight for Jean.  If both of those happen, we’ll leave the lip-tie alone.  But, if one or the other (or both) are still happening, we’ll schedule the upper lip to be done as well.

Personally, I think the lip is more of a problem, since she can’t flange it out.  But, since correcting the tongue tie is less invasive, that’s what the pediatrician wants to start with.  I’m OK with that.

I’m NOT OK with him requiring a Vitamin K injection for infants to receive the frenectomy.  The nurse practitioner is e-mailing the pediatrician to see if we can waive that requirement.  If not, there is a local midwife who is certified in the procedure, and we may pay her the $50 cash (rather than the $30 co-pay) to have it done.  My own midwife suggested that I request a blood test to confirm adequate blood levels of Vitamin K, rather than just giving her an injection.  I think that is a good idea, but that certainly seems like it would take longer… yet one more week…  I’d just as soon have this over and done.

In unrelated news…

About a week ago, I joked on my personal Facebook page about still looking five months pregnant.  I think I caused concern in some, who gently cautioned me about trying to “get my figure back” too quickly.  HONESTLY, this is the LEAST I have ever been concerned about that.  I have been devoted to really taking it easy on myself, physically.  For the first week, I did virtually nothing, and my family waited on me hand and foot.  This last week, I haven’t done much more.  It is now my goal to, every day:

  1. Do some laundry:  Start the load and hang it on the line.
  2. Make dinner:  This is made easier by the fact that I have a number of dinners half- or three quarters-made in the freezer.
  3. Take care of baby Jean Marjorie Joy.

That’s it.

I remember being horrified by my mushy tummy after my firstborn and starting ridiculously early on a sit-up regimen.  I am absolutely NOT doing that.

I have worn a… slimming undergarment a couple of times but that tends to make my ankles swell, as well as just being uncomfortable.  I find myself less motivated by my appearance and more motivated by comfort these days…  However, I tend to feel better when I feel like I look better, even if I don’t actually look better (follow that?).  I guess what I’d prefer is to look effortlessly put-together, but I guess that is not going to happen.  At the age of 40, after having six children, I actually have to put some effort into looking nice.  :)

I have also been alternately horrified and amused by what has been the Lots o’ Carbs Festival at our home these last couple of weeks.  Part of that is because a number of kind friends gave us gift cards to “safe” restaurants (we’re hard to cook for), post-birth, and there are always more carbs in a store-bought meal.  (One friend homemade us an AMAZING dinner — totally gluten-free and dairy-free — including brownies.)  On top of that, not only did I have the pint of Ben & Jerry’s Karamel Sutra that I’d been saving for after the birth, but a dear friend remembered that that ice cream was my favorite and brought by THREE pints.  Those, I shared with my husband, Martin.  And then my hubby bought another pint for me a few days ago…  That one, I ate by myself.  Ice cream begets ice cream.  Once the floodgates are open, it’s hard to say no!!  However, in spite of the fact that I’ve eaten more carbs in the last two weeks than I have in any one span in probably the last 3-4 YEARS, I am still losing weight.  In fact, I’ve lost 23 of the 35 I gained, six of those in the last week, as I’ve been feasting on ice cream.  Only 12 pounds to go.  And obviously, I’m not even trying to lose weight!!

I know I will return to eating more healthily…  But right now, pass me another pint.  :)

Corn seconds (or… “So Come”)

This morning, my five children and I sat around our island and shucked sweet corn.

My oldest, Ethan (who will be 16 on Sunday), expressed a new appreciation for pesticides.

I was a bit shocked, as was Grant, who is 13.

It was, however, somewhat understandable.

The corn we were shucking was from the CSA, from Crooked Sky Farms.  Organic, fresh, but quite wormy.

Wednesday is CSA Day, where (currently) 24 people come to my home and pick up their share of local, organic, single-farmer-grown produce.  However, on Wednesday, I thought that I was going to have a baby, and I called in the troops — a fellow CSA member who had volunteered to host the pick-up, should I be giving birth or something like that, especially since we’re planning a homebirth.

In retrospect, I feel like a chump for calling her, because here it is, two days later, and I still don’t have a baby.

Anyway.

The instructions from the farm said to give everyone three ears of corn.  She was about halfway through the afternoon when she realized, “We are going to have a LOT of corn left.  A LOT.”  She upped the remaining people’s share to four ears, but was also worried, like perhaps the farm unintentionally gave too much corn, and they were going to ask for it back.

So, she came to my home yesterday with all the leftovers, including four boxes of corn — each box holding 25-40 ears of corn.  Clearly, each member could have had SIX ears, and we still wouldn’t have run out.  I’m not sure what happened — if they delivered too much accidentally, or if they just gave extra so that folks could pick through the ears and get the best ones, or what.

In any case, she kept two boxes, as did I.  I assured her that she had done nothing wrong;  sometimes, you just have to go with the flow and adjust, and she just didn’t know that, as this was her first time.  And, one of the perks of being the host is that you get to decide what to do with the leftovers, and one of the decisions you are free to make is, “Why, I’ll just keep it!”

The substitute host has seven kids;  I have five (almost six).  We happily kept our corn.

HOWEVER…  I must say, this corn was definitely picked-through, and not nearly as pretty as what you’d see in the grocery store.  Most of the ears were, as I mentioned, wormy.  (However, cut off the top third or half, and voila!  You have a beautiful half-ear of corn.)  Some of it was way too mature — dented kernels throughout, telling me that it was over-ripe, and that the sugars had turned to starch, and that it wouldn’t be good eating.  Some of the ears were just too worm-eaten or even moldy, and the whole ear had to be chucked into the compost bin.

So…  It wasn’t exactly pretty work, shucking this corn.  There was a lot of, “Eeeewww…” and ears dropped like a hot potato when pulling back the husk revealed three caterpillars, happily munching away at the kernels.

Wesley (age 11) eventually got grossed out and became mostly the guy who carted all the shucks, silk, and “dead” ears off to the compost bin.

Audrey (age 7) became distraught that I wouldn’t allow her to make a habitat which would enable her to keep all the caterpillars.  Indeed, I was insisting that everyone simply throw away the caterpillars in with the shucks.  She was horrified by my casual discarding of life.

However, Ethan, Grant, and 4-year-old Fiala hung in there like champs to the very end.

I wish I had a “before” picture to show you just how ugly this corn was…  But, I didn’t take a pic.

I found myself, though, reflecting on the treasure we uncovered, in pale yellow and white kernels — one that required a little work.  One that required us to “extract the precious from the worthless.”

Jeremiah 15:19

New American Standard Bible (NASB)

19 Therefore, thus says the Lord,
“If you return, then I will restore you—
Before Me you will stand;
And if you extract the precious from the worthless,
You will become [a]My spokesman.

We have enough “pretty” whole or mostly-whole ears of corn to give us two — maybe even three — nights of sweet corn feasting with our dinners.  And that is for our aforementioned large family of seven.

I also took the not-so-pretty ears — those which were less-than-half-sized, those which needed multiple kernels trimmed out, or even whole sides cut off, due to being dried or worm-eaten, etc. — and cut the remaining good kernels.  Those efforts resulted in a couple of knife nicks on my left hand, a partially numb right index finger from grasping the knife for six passes per ear… AND, five quarts of kernels to add to our freezer.

I feel like that’s a win.

Corn!

It’s hard to tell from this pic, but there are probably 25-30 ears of corn in the plastic shopping bag — most of them only partial ears…. But it’s a lot of corn!

This song was running through my head this afternoon, as I extracted the precious sweet corn kernels from what previously appeared to be two boxes of worthless, picked-over, dried, wormy, partly moldy corn…

I don’t know how to explain it…  It just feels redemptive and rewarding to have rescued all that corn… to have worked for it, toughed it out when the going was gross, and now my freezer is stocked and we will feast on hot, buttered, salty corn-on-the-cob tonight.

Dogs vs Tomatoes. The tomatoes aren’t winning.

I have created a monster:  Buddy, the Tomato-Loving Puppy.

It started like this:  On Wednesday, as part of the Crooked Sky Farms CSA, I ordered two extra boxes of organic, heirloom tomatoes, 30 pounds total (for $30!!)*.  On Friday, I processed half of them to make salsa, the first step being peeling and coring them.  After scalding the tomatoes and peeling them over the sink, I pulled my cushy office chair up to the island — that’s how I’ve been doing my meal prep:  sitting — and started cutting out the tough area where the stem attaches with a paring knife.

Our “old” dog, Tally, sat down next to me, very attentive, with a polite request in her eyes.  I kept declining, “Tally.  Really.  You don’t want a tomato core.  Dogs don’t like tomatoes.”  But, she patiently and gently disagreed.  Finally, I tossed her a core.  She snapped it out of the air and wanted another.  I tossed her another.  And another.  She ate them like candy!  In short order, Buddy, who is 5 months old, figured out that Tally was getting something he wasn’t and came to investigate.  Buddy is quite pushy and bossy — which bothers me — but I ended up using it as a training reinforcement for him to sit and stay.  Soon, he was on one side of me, Tally on the other, and as soon as I cored a tomato, I would toss it to alternating dogs.

Eventually, I ran out.  Tally was all right with that, and sauntered off to lounge in the living room.

Buddy was NOT all right with me running out.

He’s not a very vocal dog.  He whines a bit, but rarely barks, and is just generally a quiet dog.  But, after he figured out that nudging my leg with his nose was not producing any more tomato cores, he put up a fuss.  I wish I would have recorded it.  He vocalized with such incessant pleading, loudly begging for more tomato cores, deep in his throat with a variety of pitches, howls, and vocalizations.  He was also trying his best to sit and stay, maximizing the possibility of obtaining more tomato scraps.  But, he worked himself just about frantic in his quest for more tomatoes.  At first I was highly amused.  NEVER have I heard him talk like that!  But after a good ten minutes, I started to feel very sorry for him.  Not sorry enough to chop up a good tomato and give it to him, but I did commiserate with him and try to comfort his comfortless self.

Buddy, in a quieter moment

Buddy, in a quieter moment

The next day, Saturday, I processed nearly 15 more pounds of tomatoes for Tomato Confit Sauce, and the same scene was repeated, much to the dogs’ delight.

However, Sunday… Buddy decided to take matters into his own paws.

I have six tomato plants growing in my mini-garden.  Three of them are very large.  They haven’t been the most fruitful of tomato plants, probably because I haven’t as highly-prioritized my garden this spring/summer as I have in years past!  I’ve fed the plants infrequently, have not hand-pollinated, and other than putting tomato cages around them, mulching them with homemade compost, and watering them faithfully, I haven’t really done much with the plants or to them.  However, each plant has a number of tomatoes in varying stages of ripeness, with the very first tomatoes of they year JUST ready to pick.

And they were picked.  By Buddy.

My husband Martin woke me up on Sunday morning, “Babe… I’m sorry to tell you, but Buddy ate all your tomatoes.”

I was up in a flash.  “WHAT???”

“All the ripe ones.  They’re gone.  I was on the back patio and I could see him over by the garden, but I couldn’t really tell what he was doing until it was too late.”

I practically ran — with my 38 week pregnant belly — down the stairs and out the door to inspect the damage.  Sure enough.  Only bright green tomatoes remained.

I about cried.

And this is AFTER this past week where I have mourned him plucking four of the six muskmelons off the vine.  That, while I was heartbroken, I sort of understood:  They looked like oversized tennis balls.  I could imagine his confusion.

But all my tomatoes???  Oh, that saddened me.

And then, he one-upped himself:  He branched, later Sunday evening, into sampling the GREEN tomatoes.  He ate at least 2-3, and I found three more, on the plants, with teeth punctures in them.

Oh, Buddy!  How could you??  Rascal dog!!

The only good news about this is that, a short time later, he puked up the green tomatoes.  I’m hoping that the experience is enough for him to stop nabbing my tomatoes.  And in the meantime, my husband is going to rifle around in our shed and see what he can find for some temporary fencing.

~sigh~

—————–

*They have a Groupon going!!  $24 for 15 lbs of Crooked Sky organic, heirloom tomatoes.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 437 other followers

%d bloggers like this: