Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Popsicles of Death?

So, my 3 year old son needed some blood to be drawn at the doctor's office the other day. It was not a happy ordeal, I'm sure you can imagine. It took me and a nurse to hold him down and another nurse to draw the blood. Poor guy. In his heart-wrenching tears afterwards he asked for popsicles and I told him we'd go to the store and he could pick out any popsicles he wanted.

He decided on some Dora the Explorer popsicles that came in different shapes and colors. Definitely an attraction for a toddler. (Note: He has no clue who Dora is. We don't have TV.) Well, we get home and I'm looking at the ingredient list. I started kicking myself instantly: water, liquid sugar, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, various fruit juices, turmeric oleoresin (what?), and ice structuring protein (huh?) Lesson #1 - Having a toddler pick out their own junk food isn't a good idea.

This is the first time that I've researched the unknown ingredients in food that I've bought, but I did learn some things. Oleoresin is a fatty byproduct leftover from extracting spices into their powdery form and helps the popsicles keep their shape. And ice structuring proteins are proteins found in organisms that can withstand below freezing temperatures (like certain types of mushrooms.) These popsicles I bought were "slow melt" which sounds freaky to me.

In the end, the popsicles didn't have bizarre toxic chemicals (at least none that I'm aware of.) But I definitely want to stay away from corn syrup if I can. Next time - I'm making our own popsicles! After all, it's one of the easiest treats to make ever. (Or we can just buy the sugar free fruit popsicles too if it's an emergency like a post-blood draw...)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Simplicity In the Kitchen

Happy Autumn Equinox! Yay! Autumn is officially here! :-)

When it comes to kitchen gadgets, I love them. I've been lucky in that I haven't had to buy a lot of them. I've inherited a lot from my mom and was given a lot of nice stuff at our wedding. What I haven't been given I've found at the thrift shop. (A pristine wood rolling pin for $3!) I'm sure I could stand to pare down a bit with my kitchen stuff (and my husband would whole-heartedly agree). We've been decluttering our whole house and it has been very liberating. I guess I should tackle the kitchen next. And just to point out, I did pare down some of my kitchen things when we moved.

I love this article that I found "A No-Frills Kitchen Still Cooks". The biggest thing that I got from this is that he said you don't need a microwave. *gasp* Are you kidding me? Really? Now, I haven't always had a microwave and growing up we never had one, but those little boxes of magic are just so, so easy to become attached to! It's really a joke that I am so attached to mine. Me, who can cook marginally well on a hearth and over a campfire and can really crank it out on the stove. Living microwave-free just requires a little more preparation and patience and food ends up with more nutrition. And just as the guy says in the article, "Imagine the counter space!" And, boy, could we use more of that! (Our kitchen in this new place is half the size of what we moved from.)
What do you think? Should I give our microwave away? Oooooh, it's so hard! I'll have to think about this one.

Just like he does in the article, I made a list of things I can't live without in my kitchen:

1. my Rada paring knives - We got these for our wedding and I remember growing up with my mom using one. They last forever. All you need is a good sharpener (I have a manual one) and you're good!
2. Jelly roll baking sheets - I try to stay away from aluminum as it's not a good metal to ingest, but these baking pans are totally sturdy and amazing!
3. Food processor - I got mine from my mom and I think that thing is 30 or 40 years old. It's still going strong. Unfortunately, I only have one blade attachment for it, but it still works!
4. Wooden Spoons - I use them for everything except cooking meat.
5. Silicone spatula - these are awesome. They can handle high heat and there are some nice sturdy ones out there.
6. Flexible cutting mats - these are nice because you can bend them to help get your veggies aimed into your pot with out scraping or corralling with your hands. Mine are getting a bit beat up and they have a permanent curve to them. Sometime you have to put them under something flat and heavy to get them to become flat again.
7. Hand mixer - my nice one with a retractable cord broke, so I got a new cheap one. It works. You really can't bake much without it - unless you have amazing wrist strength and a ton of elbow grease.
8. A large pot - great for cooking spaghetti, or making a big batch of chili or cooking jam for canning. The list goes on and on.

Nope, I don't have a bread machine or a stand mixer. I've contemplated getting one of both, but I really don't need them. And I certainly don't have the counter space.

I think I'm steeled for decluttering my kitchen now... take deep breaths, Sarah!

P.S. I would still like an immersion hand blender. How cool that you can blend liquid stuff! And a toaster oven. Then I could get rid of our toaster and save energy when we need to bake little things instead of heating up the honkin' huge oven. Maybe someday! I did get some birthday money.... :-) How lame that I would spend it on kitchen stuff, huh? haha!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Nature Surprises Once Again

I am truly amazed at how nature can still surprise. I thought my tomato plants were dead and gone. But since I posted last about my tomato plants (and completely given up on them), they've made a real comeback! They've sprouted gobs of flowers and one tomato plant that had yet to sprout any tomatoes whatsoever finally has a beautiful little green zebra tomato dangling from a branch. (So that was what that plant was. I totally didn't mark my plants once I put them into the big pots.) I have new yellow pears growing and hopefully the nasty little caterpillars won't descend in droves like last time. I just hope these little nuggets of sun will have time to ripen before the first frost. Better late than never, I guess.

Friday, September 10, 2010

I Can Smell It In the Air!

Today I took an extra long walk with the kids. The blue sky was full of puffy white and gray clouds, a cool brisk breeze was blowing, and the faint earthy aromas of sweet grass and leaves was in the air. Aaah! Autumn is nearly here! I just turned 30 and the whole time I was walking I was evaluating my life up to this point, goals that I've accomplished, amazing opportunities that I've had, and what I have yet to do in my life. Something about autumn stirs and awakens the feelings of ancient times past and infinite possibilities for the future in my blood. That's the best way I can describe it and it's exhilarating. I haven't taken the time lately to sit and contemplate and refresh my mind, body, and soul as I should, so the walk with my beautiful children was much needed.

On our way back, as we passed the rolling hills of a crop field-turned grassy expanse (my favorite part of the walk), we spied a huge fuzzy caterpillar attempting to cross the semi-busy road toward the field. I stopped walking so my toddler and I could watch. We cheered it on, shouting, "Go caterpillar, go! You can do it! No, not that way! Keep going!" I was a little apprehensive. What if this caterpillar's journey didn't end so well and my son had to witness the squashing of a cool fuzzy bug? Cars kept coming down the road and with each swoosh of a passing vehicle the caterpillar got tossed in the wind like a leaf. But he kept going. It was incredibly suspenseful. With every car I thought, "Oh, this is it. He's a goner." However, miraculously, he got missed each time! That little caterpillar just kept creeping along and finally he made it into the safety of the grass. We cheered and clapped. Whew!

Now for a little philosophy: I think life can be a little bit like that. Seemingly huge obstacles can come barreling down on us, or we can have a goal where the end seems impossibly far away and we just creep along (like saving for a house and land!), but if we just keep at it, even if we get blown sideways or backwards, just keep trooping along, we'll make it! One step at a time. What a great life lesson.

Homemade Cleaners

This is a great post from Chickens in the Road on green, homemade cleaners. Check it out!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Progress Report and Other Things

I wanted to give a quick progress report of the no shampoo. The first few days my hair still felt a little greasy and limp, but by the second washing, my hair feels so soft and it looks great! I washed it yesterday, and usually by this time it is already starting to look greasy, but not today! It still looks great. Not only that, but I noticed with shampoo, I would air dry or use a hair dryer and my hair would always be frizzy and wiry on top. With the no shampoo my hair is manageable and completely calm! This is just after a week, so more time will really tell. And I'm hoping to be able to go longer than every other day between washing. When I get a better idea, I'll give you the scoop with the recipes.

In reviews of others going the no shampoo route, they do say they shampoo once or twice a month using an all-organic shampoo without all the junk in it the other commercial brands use. So, I did buy a bottle of organic shampoo with lots of lovely essential oils and used a little of that last time just to see. Once that is gone (and I'm thinking that will be in a long time), I want to try and make my own shampoo. I have a promising looking recipe using chammomile flowers and glycerin. I'll keep you posted!

On a completely unrelated note - I am finally making progress through my apples. I just finished off my second batch of applesauce (half being of the cinnamon variety YUM!) and I am very happy! I really feel like I'm preparing my family against the no fruit months in the winter. My ultimate goal is to eat seasonally as much as I can, but I'm finding that eating seasonally doesn't mean you can't have strawberries in winter. It just means you have to freeze or can them when they're in season in order to enjoy them later!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Going Shampoo Free

I've been doing a little research and am very excited to try and go (mostly) shampoo free. My hair gets really greasy really quickly, and I'm pretty sure it's because the shampoo strips all the natural oils from my hair and my hair tries to compensate. I'm planning on switching to a healthier shampoo, but I also want to use shampoo less by using a baking soda and apple cider vinegar wash and using honey to condition my hair. Won't that be exciting! Not to mention it will be really inexpensive to wash my hair - at last! (I have really thick hair and use a ton of shampoo just to get it clean.)
Well, I had to share what I've found. Here are the links:

Going Shampoo Free by Babyslime
Toss the Shampoo by Progressive Pioneer
Honey in my Hair by Progressive Pioneer

I'll let you know how it goes.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Happy September!

Not only is it my birthday month, but autumn starts in just a few weeks - my very favorite season! There's just something so heady about the earthy smell of dead leaves and woodsmoke. It fills up a calm in my soul. :-)

I think today I might make that second batch of salsa. The tomatoes are taking up a ridiculous amount of space in the fridge. Then - on to the applesauce!

For my big 3-0 b-day this year I'm planning on heading, with my family, to the Mother Earth News Fair coming up on September 25-26. I couldn't believe my luck that it is only 3 hours away in Pennsylvania! I say that's a pretty sweet way to spend a milestone birthday. Yay! I'm excited!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

We Have Salsa Once Again!

About a month ago we ran out of the salsa I canned last year. It made me a little nervous. I didn't want to buy salsa. I wanted my own salsa! And our menu can't survive without it. We don't have a farmers' market anywhere near us, but Larriland Farms said on their website that they had garden tomatoes to pick. So, last Saturday our family went and picked 40 lbs. of tomatoes at $0.49/lb! (Not to mention 50 lbs. of Smokehouse and Honeycrisp apples for applesauce.) It wasn't hard to pick a lot really quickly, as the tomatoes were gigantic! My husband was a sweetie and helped me scald and skin the tomatoes which is half the battle. Then, yesterday I canned 9 quarts of salsa. And that's only half of the tomatoes. Whew!

When I make salsa it's quite the ordeal, mainly because I don't have a big enough pot for the whole batch. A little frustrating! So, my entire stove top was taken up with my largest pot, two medium pots and the large pressure cooker I use for a water bath canner. Let's just say that it made for a very hot kitchen!

Here's my recipe for salsa. I love this stuff. You can make it as mild or spicy as you want.


40 tomatoes, chunked and skinned (you can blend some up in the food processor too if the tomatoes are really firm)
3-6 onions, chopped (I only use 3)
2-4 large green bell peppers, chopped
5-10 hot peppers, chopped (I used 10 jalapeƱos with only a dozen seeds. You can adjust what kind and how many peppers and seeds for level of heat. At least I think that's how it works!)
6 Tbsp. salt
4 Tbsp. minced garlic
1 Tbsp. oregano
1 cup vinegar
6 small cans tomato paste
1/4 c. sugar (oops! I totally forgot to add this to my batch...)

Chop the peppers and onions in a food processor, or if you like chunkier salsa, hand chop them. Combine all ingredients in the largest pot you can find (or in my case, many smaller pots). Bring to a simmer and cook for 1 1/2 to 2 hours on very low heat, stirring occasionally as it will scorch easily. Process quarts 20 minutes or pints 10 minutes in a water bath.
Makes about 8 quarts.
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