Monday, November 30, 2009

Living a Thankful Life

Last Friday my mother and I took my daughters to the mall to pick up a Christmas present. My three year old, who has only been to a mall a handful of times in her short life, was mesmerized by the Christmas decorations ("Mama! They have snow here and it's NOT REAL!!!") but I was more struck by how quickly my own attitude changed in the atmosphere of acquisition. The day before we had celebrated Thanksgiving together and yet as we walked through the mall I found my sense of gratitude slipping. As I looked at things I had not previously even wanted, I found myself thinking, "Wow, wouldn't life be great if I had...."

There is of course nothing inherently wrong with having nice things or buying Christmas presents, but I think spending too much time longing for more and more things can be the enemy of contentment and simple living. What do we really need? Where should our focus be during the holidays? Can we be thankful for the myriad blessings we have received without constantly coveting more?

We did have fun at the mall and I enjoyed observing my daughter's sense of wonder at the decorations, but most of all I'm glad for the little reminder that I need to cultivate an ongoing attitude of thanksgiving, not merely put it on the shelf until next year.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Book Review: Not So Fast

If you're looking for tips and ideas on how to slow life down for your family, you might find Ann Kroeker's new book Not So Fast: Slow-Down Solutions for Frenzied Families
helpful. Even if your family has a fairly good handle on your pace and activity level, I think this book would be thought-provoking and useful in clarifying your vision and commitment to simple living. The end of every chapter includes a list of things you might consider or try to slow down and simplify in a given area, as well as testimonials from parents who have decided to live counter-culturally in terms of slowing down and cutting back on activities.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Thoughts for Monday

"The hurried life loses its rhythm. It just pushes and pushes with no pauses, leaving barren souls, cluttered with activity but emptied of meaning."

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Friday, November 20, 2009

Another resource for seasonal eating

If you don't already read it, may I recommend The Cooks Next Door? The authors (friends of mine) do a great job of highlighting what is in season and how to use it, reviewing cookbooks, talking about preserving foods, and offering fantastic recipes using fresh and natural ingredients.

I have tried several recipes from the website, including pumpkin butter that I made yesterday from another roasted pumpkin. Scrumptious.

What other resources do you use for eating what's in season?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Early Turkey

I cooked a turkey for the first time yesterday (I'm not sure what's going on with the wings, they are askew and it makes the turkey look like a cross between a bird and a crab!) and it was not terribly difficult, just time consuming! I used sage and rosemary from my mother-in-law's garden and we were quite pleased with the results. We are traveling for Thanksgiving this year so I wanted to cook a turkey just for my family in order to have meat and broth for the freezer.

If you get sick of turkey turkey turkey next weekend, remember you can freeze the cooked leftover meat in small pieces to use in soups and casseroles and the like later on. Pretty much any recipe that calls for chicken can be made with turkey instead.

Also don't forget to save the bones for bone broth! I have some simmering on my stove right now and it makes the whole house smell marvelous!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Organic Cooking: What's for breakfast?

Looking for a way to use your pumpkin puree, raw milk yogurt, fresh ground flour, homemade vanilla, cage free eggs and real maple syrup? Try these delicious Pumpkin Yogurt Pancakes!

Pumpkin Yogurt Pancakes

2 cups flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs from free range chickens
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
4 tablespoons sugar or honey
2 cups pumpkin puree
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup plain yogurt made from raw milk

1. Sift or whisk flour, powder, soda, nutmeg and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk eggs, butter, and sugar, then add in pumpkin, vanilla and yogurt. Mix wet and dry ingredients together gently (don't overmix).

2. Pour or spoon batter onto a hot buttered griddle or pan, making circles or shapes as you prefer. After the top is bubbly, flip the pancake over and cook another minute or two.

Note: I mixed several recipes from different sources to come up with this one. I used homemade pumpkin puree, which is not as dense as canned, so if you use canned pumpkin, you might not get exactly the same results!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Bread in a pinch

Ideally we would always move with the rhythm of regular bread baking. Ideally we plan in advance and let our sponge rise properly and knead until we get the windowpane effect as Debbie so beautifully demonstrated. Ideally we get this accomplished in time to pack lunches.

Life is not always ideal.

My goal is to stay on top of baking so that we always have bread but never so much that it goes stale. Usually this works. Sometimes it doesn't.

If you're like me, every now and then you get up and pad down to your kitchen only to discover with horror that you don't have enough bread and your husband has to leave for work in 45 minutes. If you're like me, those are always the days when there aren't any good leftovers in the refrigerator and you were counting on packing him a sandwich.

Enter the no frills, cut all possible corners loaf of bread. It's not artisanal and it doesn't have the same excellent taste and texture as proper bread, but it is crazy fast and makes decent sandwiches or french toast in a pinch.

Easy Bread in a Pinch
(Note: this makes two loaves, you can half the recipe if you only need one.)

1. Dissolve 2 Tablespoons of yeast in 3 cups of warm water in your mixer bowl.
2. Add 1 Tablespoon of honey (or brown sugar, or sugar, etc) and 1 Tablespoon of salt, no need to mix in, just dump
3. Add 6 Tablespoons of oil
4. Add 6-7 cups of wheat flour (start low, then if the dough seems to sticky while mixing, add more)
5. Using your mixer's dough hook, mix and knead the bread for a few minutes until it seems like a smooth ball of dough
6. Divide the dough, shape into two loaves, and each loaf in a greased or buttered loaf pan. Cover with a tea towel and set on the counter someplace while you turn your oven to 400 degrees. The dough will rise a bit while the oven preheats. Trust me, this works.
7. Bake the bread for about 20-25 minutes or until it looks goldenish on top like bread looks when it's done.
8. Take the loaves out of the pans and cool on a wire rack with a tea towel draped over them to keep them from getting hard and dry.

Debbie is probably about to pass out from all the rules I broke making this bread, and PLEASE don't think I mean you should do this every day! I just figure if the choice is between my husband getting a homemade lunch or going out to eat, or me packing a picnic for the kids so we can go on an impromptu playdate without getting Happy Meals, this bread is healthier than the alternative.

Ideally y'all are too together to have those scrambling days like I do sometimes, but just in case it happens to you, now you know you can still bake homemade bread!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Eating the Decorations

One of my favorite things about Autumn is that the seasonal food is excellent for decorating! I love to find interesting looking edible squash and use it to make my home look seasonal until I'm ready to use it to make my dinner taste seasonal. This year I found some really pretty little orange and yellow striped squash (pictured), and acorn squash in an unusual yellow and green pattern that mixed nicely with yellow spaghetti squash. I also procured a gigantic pumpkin that reigned autumnally on my kitchen island for a week or two before I finally got up the nerve to roast it.

Initially I planned to put the whole pumpkin in the oven, but it was nearly too heavy to lift and then I couldn't get the thing wedged into my oven all of a piece, so I resorted to cutting it in half and roasting it in shifts. After about an hour of roasting the pumpkin halves at 350 degrees, I let them cool and then peeled the skin off and pureed the pumpkin. I got FORTY cups of pumpkin puree from the effort! I've been told that puree from large pumpkins doesn't taste as "pumpkiny" as that from a can or from smaller pie pumpkins, however I found the puree I made did just fine in the pumpkin streusel muffins and savory pumpkin soup I have made from it so far. I haven't tried a pie, but pumpkin pie is not my favorite. I know, I'm weird.

If you have pumpkins or squash as part of your seasonal decor, don't forget to incorporate it into your menus before you move on to Christmas decorations! Of course, make sure it was EDIBLE squash that you purchased, not display gourds!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Book Review: Chez Panisse Cookbooks

Cookbooks are always interesting to read because they spark the culinary imagination and give new recipes to try, but some go far beyond simple cookery and offer a wealth of information on food history, living by the seasons, eating locally, and natural health. The Chez Panisse series of cookbooks falls squarely into the latter category. Each book offers fantastic and useful information as well as recipes that range from simple to gourmet, all using fresh and flavorful ingredients in combinations that work seasonally. Available titles include Chez Panisse Vegetables, Chez Panisse Fruit, Chez Panisse Cooking, Chez Panisse Desserts, and many others.

These cookbooks are wonderful to have on hand if you're supporting local sustainable farming, because you'll be able to craft delicious recipes with foods and herbs that are in season at the same time.  It's helpful to be able to structure menus around whole food in season and to pursue a goal of organic cooking with local foods.

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.