August 30, 2010

Savoring the End of Summer

The light is changing, the heat and humidity are beginning to subside and we were actually able to sit outdoors on Friday night and enjoy a cool evening with our friends. All signals of a season changing and there is so much to enjoy before summer's gone again! I've been trying to bring in our second bloom of roses and enjoy little bouquets as long as we can. One of our newest landscape plants is a pink and burgundy hibiscus, which has been such a pretty addition to the roses.

So many of the producer's from our food coop have been bringing in beautiful fruits and vegetables in the past couple of order cycles. I brought home a real mother lode this past week and I'll post a little each day about how we're using it all. These raspberries above are from the Berry Patch Farm where we also got our blueberries. I added these two berries to some amazing Colorado peaches and had such a good fruit crisp!

The recipe is posted over on the recipe page. It can be adapted to many different fruits, so I hope you'll try it out!

These beautiful organic, heirloom tomatoes came from Divine Word Farm in Weldon, IA. The darker red is called Black Trifle and the yellow-orange is Orange Perfection. These two in particular were incredibly flavorful.

Don't they look beautiful all sliced and ready to go on our burgers?! We enjoyed them thoroughly with some friends who came for a BBQ over the weekend. I ALMOST... enjoyed them on our burgers as much as I do on BLTs!

More to come soon!

August 27, 2010

Egg Issues

Deviled Eggs are part of summer eating right? These luscious eggs in this chicken dish (made by my mom many years ago) would tempt most anyone. Except for the fact that Iowa currently has egg on it's face in regard to the enormous product recall stemming from two large chicken operations. What's your response to this recall? Stopping egg consumption is surely not the only answer since this is a staple in many people's homes and still a very inexpensive source of high quality protein. Remember that recent reports about the cholesterol issues surrounding egg consumption have been debunked, therefore, you have a nearly perfect source of protein in an egg, and it's worth fighting for some that are good quality. Take a look at this article about the positive health benefits attributed to egg consumption.

Once again we are faced with the truth about how we have to be responsible and diligent, doing everything we can to make good, safe food choices for our families. It's much easier to assume that whatever your grocery store sells must be safe, since our government has so many controls in place to ensure that safety - right? As the story unfolds, there are numerous allegations being revealed. News stories report the fact that the FDA rarely inspects these facilities, and we've seen some disturbing images and reports about just how sickening the conditions may be in facilities like this. There also seems to be some confusion about whether or not the USDA has any authority to correct problems they may find. One of the biggest eye openers for me is the number of different labels on eggs coming from the very same source. Our food supply is not nearly as diverse as we would be led to believe when we see varying brand names.

We are very blessed to have a source for eggs from "pastured" hens in our food coop. These eggs come from Novae Vitae Farm in Carlisle, IA. Many of the egg providers for our coop explain, in detail, the conditions of their farming operations and care very much about how their animals are handled. Here's what Novae Vitae says about their hens. "Our laying flock are free-range in the truest sense. They are able to forage throughout the day, weather permitting, doing what chickens were intended to do. We have had numerous customers tell us our eggs just taste better so that must be the secret."

So you don't have a food coop with numerous choices and you have concerns - What to do? Do you have a farm in reasonable distance that you could rely on? Is there a farmer's market near you - and if there is an egg vendor, can you find out how to get their eggs year-round? Is there a choice in your grocer's egg aisle that is trustworthy? Beware of labels and catch phrases however. One thing you commonly see on "high end" eggs is "free range". Mother Earth News has an excellent article about pastured vs. supposed "free-range" hens and eggs. It's really worth the time to read this article and EDUCATE YOURSELF! Here's another source of egg education in this article from "The Daily Green". Scroll about half-way down the page to read about the "free range" label, though the entire article offers some good insight and education - and more credence to the statement that you have to be your own advocate in purchasing safe, healthy food.

One final idea for safe food sources that might be in your area too. Drake University in Des Moines heads up an organization supporting local producers called "Buy Fresh, Buy Local". A simple internet search may reveal that this is in your area too. One wonderful side benefit of getting out there and making contact with people in your area who are running small farms - they are often really wonderful folks and it can be very uplifting to visit with them and learn about what they do and why. Try them - you'll like them!

August 22, 2010

Garden Goodies

So many wonderful garden veggies have come our way recently and from a number of different places. These tomatoes and purple cabbage beauties came from my aunt and uncle. I made sweet and sour cabbage with the first of these cabbages. The recipe is at this link on my recipe page.

These lovely peppers came from our garden. As I've said before, this is the one successful crop from our garden this year and we're very grateful for it because...

...if you add this bowl of fresh, peeled, chopped tomatoes... get to enjoy incredible stuffed peppers! This is something we look forward to each summer as peppers and tomatoes ripen in sync. Here's my recipe from the recipe page, and I did make them a little differently this year. Instead of pre-cooking the ground beef, we combined cooked rice with raw ground beef, and added an egg. Once the peppers were stuffed and the sauce was poured on top, I put a small amount of water in the bottom of the baking dish and covered the whole thing with foil. These baked at 375 for 30 minutes covered, then we sprinkled them with grated Parmesan and let them cook another 30 minutes, uncovered. The peppers were a bit softer than they needed to be, but I wanted to be sure the meat was cooked. The taste was still fantastic!

These gorgeous heirloom cherry tomatoes came through our food coop from Foxhollow Farm in Elkhart, IA. There were seven different kinds of cherry tomatoes in this little load. We kept it simple with these tomatoes and enjoyed them in a salad with feta cheese and lemon vinaigrette - wonderful!

Another item from our last coop order were some cucumbers. I had expected 3 salad cucumbers, but got a pickling variety instead. However, that gave me the chance to try making a new kind of pickle - refrigerator bread and butter pickles. This recipe makes enough pickling liquid for a gallon of pickles and I used 1/4 of the recipe to make 2 pints of pickles. They are quite tasty! If you try this method, keep in mind that this is definitely not something that will go on your shelf and last a long while. These will need to be refrigerated and eaten in a short time frame - some sources say a few weeks. You'll need to make your own decision about the shelf life, but we plan on eating them up sooner than later.

Hope you're thoroughly enjoying the good things of summer gardens. The clock is ticking and we're seeing a little leaf color change around here!

August 18, 2010

What to do with a Bucket of Blueberries

This summer we've been getting these incredible blueberries by the bucket from a local farm called Berry Patch Farm, a little south of Nevada, IA. We've been purchasing the berries through our food cooperative, IFC. They have been unbelievably good quality and have a very distinct, sweet flavor. Besides eating them right from the bucket, it's been fun to find other ways to use them too.

Next easiest to eating from the bucket was floating them in our Cheerios - what a start to the day...mmmmmm.

We tried an unusual use of blueberries - baking them into cornbread. Here's the recipe from Tasty Kitchen. This was very good, not sweet, and it complimented a BBQ meal so well.

A more traditional way to enjoy the blueberries was this Blueberry Buckle recipe. Also from Tasty Kitchen, but I made some changes - substituting butter for the shortening in the cake (coconut oil would have been a good sub as well since it's more the consistency of shortening), and as usual I used whole wheat pastry flour in place of all the all-purpose flour. This is really just a blueberry coffee cake, but the name Blueberry Buckle is so much more alluring!

And when we can't hold one more berry, we freeze them for another day. We just freeze them in a single layer on cookie sheets, then dump them into freezer bags. It's especially nice to have our own frozen berries this year, since there have been reports lately of commercially frozen blueberries being one of the most likely sources of high pesticide concentration. See this article about possible links in certain pesticide treated fruits to ADHD. The more we support farms that don't use extreme methods to control pests and weeds, the more we'll have these healthier foods readily available. And for now, it's worth the effort to find the better choices.

August 16, 2010

Tonsillectomy Recovery 101

Oh my, did we ever have a long week at our house! Our DD had her tonsils taken out on Monday, and while the surgery went very well, and the care she received was stellar, her recovery has been tough because of her sensitivity to both the codeine in her pain medicine, and the antibiotic prescribed for her. After 4 days of nauseating misery, she was taken off both of those, and now is dealing with only the pain in her throat. That of course is hard enough, but at least she's not doubly miserable! Here's how we handled her recovery and tried to make her as comfortable as possible. This is, of course, not medical advise, but just our solutions.

#1 - and always number one, pray - we did a great deal of it this week - and the prayers of our family and friends were a tremendous comfort to us, and we thank you all!

#2 - bring the patient's laptop to the recovery room so that she won't suffer Facebook withdrawal as the anesthesia is wearing off - after all, there are people waiting to hear how the surgery went!

#3 - set up a staging area in your kitchen, or just give the whole thing over at the start since that's what's going to happen anyway. Keep the instructions from the doctor close at hand as you will search them for clues on an hourly basis. The flashlight is essential too, since the patient will be peering into her throat on an hourly basis - and trust me, better her than you. Do yourself a favor and make notes about when you last administered each thing. It can get mixed up easily since you will be required to get up in the night and give pain meds every four hours. It's brutal, but hopefully you'll remember that you already survived middle-of-the-night infant feedings!

#4 - a new toothbrush, toothpaste and antibacterial mouth wash will be on the instruction list. You will be required to convince the patient to brush and swish three times a day, on top of dealing with pain and nausea. Special.

#5 - stock up on plenty of electrolyte drinks and know that there are lots of options other than Gatorade, which we consider to be quite nasty stuff at our house.

#6 - consider investing in this little machine which makes slushies and snow cones. Make them with the flavored electrolyte waters instead of sugar syrup and you get a double hit - icy relief and restored fluid balance.

*this slushie was dragon fruit-flavored, similar to passion fruit - not a flavor offered by Gatorade.

#7 - get out yet another electrical appliance and make smoothies, which are a way to jam a lot of nutrition into a cooling liquid - this one is mango/strawberry yogurt/banana. Swallowing will not be your patient's favorite thing to do, so make it count.

#8 - you can puree fruit and add it to pudding mixes as part of the two cups of milk required. Again, we wanted to boost the nutrition of whatever she ate. These puddings are vanilla, with the puree of a large peach added.

#9 - homemade popsicles make so much sense, and aren't exactly difficult to pull off. These were made with organic mango juice. I also used some of these in smoothies instead of ice or frozen fruit.

#10 - break out the big guns when the patient is once again smiling and laughing - though the laughing will still be considerably painful. When the daddy comes home with gourmet cupcakes, the patient will certainly smile, and will find her appetite! These are orange creamsicle, chocolate sundae, and pink champagne flavors. Our patient chose to mush up and enjoy the fudge sundae cupcake. She's lost 11 pounds this week - I think she can afford this splurge!

That's it. Except pull out all the patience you can muster and surrender to the sleeplessness. Children are a blessing from God and we'll do anything for them - including walking through a tonsillectomy with them!

August 8, 2010

Omaha Zoo

We took a field trip this weekend to Omaha. Our DD finished up her summer internship so we hit the road and did some (lots) of shopping for her back to school needs, which really means clothes and shoes for student teaching. We had a fantastic meal at a "hippie" style restaurant called McFoster's Natural Kind Restaurant, plus we had another chance to meet up with my Dad and stepmom for breakfast since they're still camped out in NE, and had a nice visit with them. We also went to the Omaha Zoo. What a great zoo! You can see the giraffes behind my DD and DH - so cute - all of them! It was hotter than blazes and the frozen lemonade helped some, but we enjoyed the indoor exhibits a lot!

These guys and gals were really keeping cool! You can't tell it, but there is a little bit of snow falling on them. No wonder there were so many people camped out in front of this exhibit! And one little complaint here - why do people insist on taking strollers into VERY crowded indoor exhibits??? Why???

Our favorite exhibit was the marine tunnel where "Smiley" here and his friends were living. It was a lot of fun to stand and wait for all the different sharks, stingrays, and other fishies to swim over your head. We enjoyed this in Disney a number of years ago, but this one is lower and you feel much closer.

It was an exhausting, but fun weekend and the beginning of two weeks at home with our girl. Would you please keep her in prayers this week as she is getting her tonsils out tomorrow - ouch!

August 6, 2010

Friday in the Kitchen

Happy Friday! I had quite a successful trip to the hardware store today, where I was really just looking for potting soil, a new flag, and reflector spikes for the end of the driveway. But I decided to check in the kitchen aisle of our local True Value, and what a bonanza! They will often carry a good number of canning supplies, but today they had a lot of things I've been looking for in other stores - a fine mesh strainer, nylon spoons that are not too "bendy", a smaller Pyrex measuring cup, a muffin pan that is dishwasher safe, and another of my favorite food storage containers - this one the perfect size for a batch of granola. I need to keep a little notebook to remind myself about all the local, sometimes hidden resources we have right around the corner!

Today I froze the hot peppers that came in from our garden. I've blogged before about freezing fruits and some vegetables on a cookie sheet, and then bagging them in freezer bags. For these kinds of peppers I don't do anything more than rinse, cut off the stem end, and lay on the cookie sheet. I don't bother taking out the seeds and ribs until I retrieve them from the freezer for a recipe, and the freezing makes the ribs and seeds come out very easily. Check out a resource like this one for guidelines on how to freeze various veggies and fruits.

And last but not least, this was going on in the kitchen today - Caprese salad with cherry tomatoes I picked this afternoon!! I was invited to pick a few things from my aunt and uncle's garden, and these little beauties will be heavenly with our dinner. Our DD is coming home today and is so looking forward to some fresh tomatoes! What a blessing it is to enjoy this bounty together. Caprese Salad = tomatoes, fresh mozzarella cheese, basil, olive oil, S&P

Also on this Friday, I wish my dear niece a Happy 21st Birthday! Love to you, and happy trails Kels!!

August 4, 2010

Seeing Green

This beautiful Luna Moth landed on our window a couple of days ago and just stayed there a while so that I could get a shot of it with the pond in the background - wasn't that considerate of it?! This is a relatively rare moth in Iowa, and it's wingspan is usually about 4 inches - big moth!

And the other green we've seen around is in our peppers - plus a little orange as you can see. It feels so good to be picking SOMETHING from the garden! We have long green peppers, some of which have matured to orange, and we have classic bell peppers. I'll be making fajitas tonight with some of these peppers and soon I'll be making a batch of stuffed peppers - yummy! As I look over the recipe for stuffed peppers that I posted on my blog last year, it's obvious that we had a lot of tomatoes to use up too - I miss my garden!!!

August 1, 2010

Pure Joy!

The first BLT of the season! Wonderful tomatoes from my uncle's garden, and applewood-smoked, nitrate free bacon from our food coop - IFC. The sweet scent of the bacon lingered for a while and was better than any perfume! Thanks for the tomatoes Uncle J and Aunt P - and thanks for a wonderful Friday evening together too.

More joy - Caramel Almond Cupcakes!! Homemade caramel frosting that has an aftertaste that can make you swoon just a little! The recipe comes from Betty Crocker, and it's a funny combination of homemade and ready-made, but the end product is sensational and perfect for our church luncheon.

I took a couple of them to my grandmother and her roommate this weekend, and had fun re-purposing side dish containers from a BBQ take-out meal. These held coleslaw originally, and were the perfect size for a cupcake! A little sticker on the top to hide the restaurant name and, Voila!

But pure joy came from looking at this shot from our visit with my grandmother, dad and stepmom. Just look at the smile on this 100-year-old face, and look at the grin on my dad's face as he looks at her! We had such a good visit, ate, and joked around together. It filled my heart and made me so incredibly grateful. My dad and stepmom came up to our place for dinner that evening too and it was great to be together. We're keeping my stepmom in our prayers tonight since her dear aunt passed away this afternoon. She and my dad gave her a lot of joy in their love, support, and care for her, and I know she gave them joy as well. Something to celebrate.