February 25, 2010

Money in the Bank

Company's coming next month, so it's time to put some money in the bank, otherwise known as the freezer! Whole wheat banana bread with flax seed and walnuts was a good start. This link leads to the original recipe, and I added 1/2 C ground flax seeds, 1/4 C brown sugar, and a little nutmeg and allspice. I also used whole wheat pastry flour instead of regular whole wheat flour. I find that this original recipe successfully makes two smaller loaves. I doubled the recipe this time and ended up with three good sized loaves, which are now double wrapped in parchment and foil, and popped in the freezer!

Using the Once-a-Month Cooking cookbook, I'll be making one breakfast casserole, and one dinner recipe. One of my pet peeves is having company and spending all my time either cooking or cleaning up messes - what a waste! Getting some food in the freezer is one of the greatest ways to avoid this. Planning of course is very essential, but you also have to be careful not to let "the plan" run the show either. If you've got some meals and snacks all prepped and in the freezer or pantry, you can go with the flow. If there's a hot board game in the works, dinner can be delayed for a little while since it's already made!

My next project was a double batch of granola - one with dried fruit and one plain. This bowlful has dried cranberries and currants. I was given this recipe last year and I've been making it ever since. It's just perfect, not too sweet and very little oil. I won't put it in the freezer, but it will keep very well in zip-lock bags and tucked inside Tupperware for double protection.

I can't wait for the party to start and I feel so blessed to have the time and resources to lay the foundation now!

P.S. - Happy, happy birthday little sister!! See you soon!

February 23, 2010

Tasty Winter Hobby

My DH has been working on the craft of Artisan bread baking this winter. For his birthday, I got him a couple of books to help out. The one pictured above is Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois. This is a bowl full of the yeasty mass of dough that is the basic mix. It says in the fridge and you just pull out a hunk whenever you want a fresh loaf. It keeps for a while, so with just a little effort you get a big return!

This loaf is rising nicely in the oven as it cooks on our baking stone. The dough for this loaf was made using the whole grain version of the basic recipe, found in the companion book by the same authors -Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day. One of the most challenging things for DH has been getting the dough off of the board upon which it rises, and onto the pre-heated baking stone without losing the rise. We've also had numerous "discussions" about how long to bake the loaf and how crunchy the crust should be! It's been a lot of trial and error and he's learned a lot already. The bonus for this hobby is that it's filled the house with wonderful aromas!

And then comes the reward! Along with the tasty bread, we've continued to enjoy the fruits from our garden and canning efforts. One slice here is spread with our rhubarb-strawberry jam and the other with apple butter. There's another birthday gift pictured here too, which is an amazing bread knife. This "wavy bread knife", is made by Victorinox, and it is very sharp, and very accurate in cutting even slices.

Bread baking methods have come a long way, but even the old-fashioned "by-hand" method is well worth the effort. There are so many good reasons to bake your own bread - you know what's in it, and what's NOT in it, you can have a great variety whenever you want it, and at prices as high as $6-$7 a loaf for good Artisan bread, you know you can do better at home!

February 19, 2010

Looking Ahead

Does it need to be said - it's snowing here again today. We are closing in on the 5th snowiest winter on record and obviously we aren't done yet, so first place may be attainable. Whoopee? Well, there's nothing left to do but laugh and look ahead! And we have many exciting things coming up in our lives, including some really big milestones.

In the near future, we have a dinner invitation from friends for tomorrow night, and there's nothing like good fellowship to boost your mood.

We'll also be getting our latest delivery of grass fed beef this weekend, which makes one dream of steaks on the grill - once the grill's legs can be wrenched from the ice that is.

We're looking forward to a couple of road trips too, the first of which will be in March, when we'll travel to Colorado to hear our DD's choir perform at the end of their Spring Break singing tour of the Pacific Northwest. We have lots of family in Colorado and it will be great to visit and enjoy the concert with them too.

The first of the approaching big milestones, and without a doubt the most amazing, is my Grandmother's 100th birthday! There will be so much more to say about this day, but for now I've gotten a start on buying the paper ware and figuring out how to make the reception area look festive and bright. I'm having a good time with it and I'm more than happy to put my mind to work on this happy day.

Part of my excitement over Grandma's birthday is that two of my three siblings are coming for the party and will be bunking at our house! One from Alaska and one from California. Needless to say, we don't get to see one another very often, so this is an amazing bonus! Looking ahead to their visit is jump starting us once again to finish some organization projects around here, including filling up these fantastic ornament containers that we ordered from organize.com. I love these containers because each layer is removable and stack-able, so I can easily access our collection each Christmas without having to dig through a sea of tissue wrapped ornaments piled into a tub. I love to change-up our tree every year and this will make it a lot more fun!
Having house guests on the way is always our best boost for project completion. And actually this is one of several projects that is part of something else that's ahead of us - putting our house on the market. We have the intention of moving to Des Moines and making that big transition. We're definitely looking forward to that and I will write much more about that in the future.

There's a whole lot of planning going on around here for another trip, and another big milestone. We will be celebrating 25 years of marriage in May! It took us a while to make a decision about what we wanted to do, but Lord willing, it looks like we will be waking up to sunrise over the Grand Canyon on that special day. We have secured an elusive cabin reservation right at the rim of the canyon, and that's where we'll spend part of our vacation. Now that is something to look forward to right?! My DH has mapped out a great route and we're really looking ahead to this time together.

So I'm looking past the snow, looking ahead to wonderful days to come, but also always keeping in mind - Psalm 118:24 - "This is the day that the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it." Even snowy days, upon snowy days are cause for thanksgiving!

February 17, 2010

Tropical Oasis

In the deep winter days, why not make a little tropical flavored dinner to chase the blues away! We had salmon with a tropical fruit salsa last night and it just tasted so bright and refreshing.

You could use any citrus fruit to make a great fish topping. Here's what I put together - chopped orange, pineapple chunks, cilantro, green onion, chipotle red pepper, and a squeeze of honey. Other choices would be papaya, kiwi, mango...whatever makes you think of a warm place!

This is Alaska wild caught salmon that I purchased from our food club - wasn't it nice of my Christmas cactus to bloom for this tropical themed post?! The salmon comes in these great individual packages, which makes for longer storage and really convenient thawing. It's sold in 10 pound boxes, so that lasts us a good long time. I was interested in ordering some Alaska halibut from the same source, but I checked today and it was double the price of the salmon - yikes!

And speaking of fish, I recently downloaded a little brochure that lists the best sources of fish for various regions of the country. It's based on what fish is raised and caught in an environmentally responsible way, but it also indicates which fish is more likely to be more contaminated with mercury and other pollutants. Look on the Monterey Bay Aquarium site to see the lists. The fish on these lists are considered as coming from sustainable sources. If you want to know more about what sustainable means, try this link - http://food.change.org/blog/view/what_is_sustainable_food_anyway. I'm no "green activist", but I definitely believe that we need to take a much closer look at what we're doing with our food sources.

If you're in the snow bank like we are, go make something tropical and check the calendar to remind yourself that Spring is on the way!

February 12, 2010

20 Years of Smiles!

This happy, chuckling little baby turns 20 tomorrow! Even though our DD came into the world screaming like a little wild animal, since then she is much more likely to be smiling and laughing. She's an optimist by nature and we've been blessed to be infected by her spirit over these years.

She also has a wicked sense of humor and figured out very early on that all it takes to make Dad belly laugh is to wear his boxers around your neck!

She has a loving, forgiving heart and is loyal to the end for her dearest friends!

There's usually a certain twinkle in her eyes, and we thank God for the way He made her and the way He is working in her life.

Happy Birthday to our favorite sweetheart. xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxo

And Happy Valentine's Day to you all!

February 10, 2010

Good Snow News!

Blue skies and sunshine!!! - and o.k., oddly enough there's still a little snow coming down, but come on - blue skies and sunshine - wooo hooo! Lifts me right up for sure.

The big storms going on in Washington D.C. gave me a wonderful memory too. We lived there very early in our marriage and one February had a huge snow storm, which like this current one, shut down the government and most other businesses. Of course my mortgage company dragged their feet about letting us go home, so that by the time I could leave there was too much snow for me to safely drive the car home. So I bummed a ride from a co-worker who's husband had come to pick her up in a 4-wheel drive, and they took me as far as the bottom of the hill leading up to one of the metro stations. I schlepped up the hill in the deep snow and wind and then waited on the platform, praying and praying that the train would actually arrive. The intercom kept threatening us that the metro would be closing down after this particular stop, so it was a huge relief when it finally came along. The rest of the route was underground, so I did make it to the stop about three blocks from our apartment and once again battled my way down the un-plowed sidewalks and road. This was before cell phones, so all the while I was making my way home, my dear hubbie was waiting with no idea where I was or if I was o.k. To my delight, when I arrived at the front door looking like an exhausted, disheveled snowman, he was there with a smile on his relieved face and believe it or not, a pot of the most delicious SHRIMP JAMBALAYA I have ever eaten!! He had to improvise on a few ingredients, but pulled it off beautifully, and we've never been able to completely duplicate the flavor since then. I think the fact that it was made with such love and care, the fact that we lived in a tiny little apartment where you had to work a little harder to make it feel like home, and our total relief to be together and safely out of the storm, probably made that jambalaya taste even better - great, great memory!

So, since he's had more than his share of white-knuckle, snowy commutes recently, tonight's welcome home will be a nice warm dish of rhubarb crisp - because I like him, because I'm finally feeling like I have a handle on my cold, and because we have lots and lots and lots of rhubarb from our garden in the freezer! Safe drive honey.

February 8, 2010

Be Prepared

Oh no, a picture of a snow drift - she's not going to blog AGAIN about their crummy weather! Nope, not gonna talk about the fact that we're having another snowstorm, or that my husband may have to once again stay in town overnight, or the fact that my darling aunt got stuck on this cursed little hill leading up to our house as she was kindly delivering hot soup to me with my laryngitis - nope, not going to blog about any of that because I'm sick of talking about it and you must be tired of all the whining by now!

So, instead we'll talk about the fact that today is the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Boy Scouts of America - yeah! I admire this organization very much since they have remained true to their principles over the years. And unless you've been living in a cave, you know that their famous motto is: Be Prepared! That seemed an appropriate topic given our rough winter and the rough economic atmosphere we're living in.

Of course we need to be prepared when we're on the road. We live a long way from Des Moines, and my husband commutes. For him we have to include a snow shovel in his car as well as a change of clothes, extra meds, and basic toiletries in case he gets stuck up there. We keep all of our cars stocked with heavy winter clothes, blankets, snow scrapers, extra wiper fluid, and a bag filled with water, food, and first aid supplies, and emergency flares.

Then for bigger problems, we also keep oil, fix-a-flat, jumper cables, and a fire extinguisher in each car.
It can be a slightly expensive venture to keep the cars outfitted this way, but considering that we live in a state that bans tow trucks from pulling cars out of ditches during really bad storms, you could be looking at quite a little wait in your car if you got yourself marooned in a ditch or down a little embankment. It's just sound thinking to be able to keep warm, and at least have a chance at getting yourself back on the road. If not, then you should be able to wait in some sort of comfort until help arrives. A car phone charger is another truly good investment!

Another kind of preparedness we practice is keeping a good stock of foods in our pantry and other "stashy" spots around our house. We are very blessed to have a large pantry to store some things, and we buy many foods in bulk from our food club - Azure Standard. Our group orders online, individually, and then the entire order is delivered to a drop point about 25 minutes from our house. The order comes once a month and we can get loads of organic products as well as bulk foods. It's been a challenge to get there a few times this winter, but overall it's incredibly convenient and a economically sound solution when you don't have access to organic markets. Here are some of our storage containers - some with such fancy labels huh?!

Other things we store in 5 gallon buckets with what's called a gamma-seal lid. The lid keeps out air better than a conventional lid, and is easier to get off when you need to refill your smaller storage container. We keep a stack of these buckets in our front coat closet, which has a deep back corner that isn't good for much else. This particular bucket holds organic, whole wheat pastry flour, which we bought in a 50lb. bag. I use this flour as a 1:1 substitute for all-purpose flour. I ordered buckets and lids recently from our food club, but we've also ordered them from Emergency Essentials, which is a company we have used very successfully for a number of years. They have loads of emergency products and foods. Don't forget to have a supply of common medicines and toiletries on hand too. Today for example, I was thrilled to find that I had extra cough syrup around, so that I didn't have to go out, or ask my DH to stop on his way home in this snow.

One of the simplest ways to get a store of foods started is by getting canned foods in quantity when they go on sale. This stack of cans fits nicely at the end of one of my pantry shelves. I have all sorts of beans, tomato paste and jams in this stack. The jam is the good all-fruit kind that was on close-out at our local grocery store. They have a date of 2012 on them and were on sale for .99 each- which is a tremendous bargain. So, I picked up a load of them and probably covered what we'll need for the foreseeable future. You just have to keep your eyes peeled and a rough list in your brain, or on your person, and you can take advantage of a good deal like this.

And last, but not least, get prepared by learning to do some basic things like growing vegetables or making your own bread. Not only will it come in handy if a true need arises, but the health and budget benefits are huge. Some of the back-to-basics books are readily available at your local library sales and more than worth the dollar or two you'd spend there.

There are lots of reasons to be prepared, both on the road and at home. We really believe that it's important to be as self-sufficient as possible, and not assume that someone else will be able to come immediately to our rescue. But we also don't live our lives in fear of what might be coming. We don't have to because God is sovereign and will provide our every need. Combining our God-given common sense and abilities with our faith in His providence, seems like an unbeatable formula to us!

February 5, 2010

Favorites - New and Not-so-Old!

My birthday is right after Christmas, so this time of year I always end up with an onslaught of great new things. Here are some new favorites:

1. My Starbucks to-go cup for iced coffees - thank you my DD! This looks like a disposable cup, but it's rigid plastic and has a great twist-on lid with a seal. The straw has a little stopper on the end so that it doesn't get pulled out of the cup - which is a good thing when you live with a cat who loves to play with straws and pulls them out of glasses when you're back is turned! This would be a cute thing for a cat to do except that when she goes after the straw, she could care less about whether or not there is anything left in the glass, which has led to some pretty big messes to clean up - darn cat.

2. Panini presses! I thought that I really wanted a Panini maker, but my wise DH found these instead, which are much more versatile and we can use them in any pan and with all shapes and sizes of bread. I have no idea what the appeal is for a smashed sandwich, but they sure are good!

3. These two new cookbooks - could they be more polar opposites?!! Would Julia Child roll over in her grave to have her book photographed next to Anne Byrn's book?! I love the Julia Child book because it's like a piece of history - hers and mine. It takes me back to watching her show on PBS with my dad on Saturday afternoons - good, good memory. The cake book is one I've wanted for a long time, and I'm glad to have the revised edition since some of the reviews revealed that there were a few problems with the first recipes that have been changed for the better in this book. My first use of it will be to make a yummy coconut birthday cake for the next "favorite" in the list.

4. This is a not-so-old favorite of mine - my dear, darling husband who is this weekend's birthday boy! This photo page is one of my favorites in the baby book I put together for him a few years back. His baby photos were in rough shape and had been shuffled around in different households over the years, so when we finally got our hands on them, it was important to protect them. I love these particular shots because you can see the ornery little grin on his face! And this little ornery baby turned into a man that I love dearly - a godly man of honor and great conviction, who is not easily swayed by popular opinion or pushed around by aggresive personality types who try to tell us how to feel and what to think. This favorite of mine is getting better and better with each passing year and I love him all the more for that. Happy Birthday honey!

February 4, 2010

Warming Up

Warm is relative this time of year isn't it? Today we were in the 30's and it felt great. However, warming temperatures outside mean...more snow of course! That's what's on the weather menu tomorrow and there's no sense in griping anymore, so with a change of attitude, we'll simply ride it out and enjoy all those good things to eat that are best in the cold winter months. Tonight's menu includes our favorite vegetable soup paired with grilled cheese on rustic sour dough bread. Now who could keep up the complaining with this on their dinner table?!

This soup includes our frozen green beans from this summer, our cabbage, and our garlic. The rest of the veggies I added were part of a "clean out the freezer dump." Frozen veggies get so tasteless after the bag has been opened and they've been languishing in there for too long, so sometimes you just need to dump them all into a soup, or stir-fry, or casserole.

We have a basic vegetable soup recipe that we've been making for a number of years now, which is based on the Weight Watcher's no-point soup recipe, but we spice it up according to mood and try to add new things each time. This particular recipe link uses broth instead of the older version of the recipe which uses tomato juice, and that's the one we use most. This time, since I was using a hodgepodge of frozen veggies, I decided to add a couple of special ingredients to boost the flavor.

Both delicious, very versatile, and so worth the bit of extra cost.

Our garlic has been stored in our pantry in this little basket since we harvested it this fall. It's been fantastic and we've been really pleased with the way it's preserved so well. The basket was full at one point, but we use it in everything and it's running low. This is the garlic we grew from sets that came from a friend, who got it from a friend many years ago, and it originated in Romania - cool history!

Enjoy your cozy home and plan your garden while you wait for the thaw!