Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Holy Houses Batman!

I did math today. I'm kind of a math nerd and I like math. I like the way numbers are orderly and predictable and, usually, when I do math I have a pretty fair idea of what I'm going to end up with before I start. My impromptu session with the calculator today was an unusual shock. It had never occurred to me before to work this particular problem so I went in without any ideas of the outcome.

The question I wanted answered was this: Roughly how much have we spent on housing over the course of our marriage? Rent on our first apartment was $500. Our house payments now are $2200. There were many years overseas where his housing allowance was in excess of $1600 a month.  The answer to my question knocked the wind out of me: nearly $400,000. Of that amount I can discount $10,000 of equity in the current house. $390,000 up in smoke. At minimum wage working a 40 hour week and paying neither taxes nor social security, a person would have to work 24 years, 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year to earn that much.

After I stopped hyperventilating, I started thinking about what I would do differently if I had it to do all over....and what I want to do now.

If I could go back to 1990 and hit the re-set button, we would have been in a cheaper apartment and the first year we would have spent ruthlessly paying off the debt that HM was dragging around from the ex-wife. The next year I would have rented the cheapest apartment I could find in a safe neighborhood, all of our furniture would have been second hand, and I would have saved like crazy. The third year I would have bought a piece of land for cash and taken out the smallest construction loan I could to have a very modest house built- maybe one of those Jim Walter's houses where you finish it yourself.

Since HM was in the military, and I wouldn't trade the experience of getting to travel, I would have kept that first house as a rental and had it paid off while someone else was in it & the army was paying our housing expenses overseas. Yes, those years would have been lost opportunity costs as far as housing allowance but there is more to life than just money. When we returned to the US, I'd do the same thing over again but- since I must be magic to go back in time- I would know to sell everything except the home I wanted to live in forever by 2006.

If I could find a young adult who would really apply what I've learned I would tell them this: Buy land. Pay it off. Save some more and build a tiny cabin for cash if you can, with a small loan if you can't and get that paid off in a year or two. Work two jobs if you need to, don't eat out, don't buy "stuff", live with an outhouse and beg showers at friends or join the gym if you need to. Paid for is way better than fancy. Start with a cabin with a bedroom under the rafters - 12 x 16, for example. Get your well and septic in, that cabin paid for, then start building a 'house' addition on one side and a garage on the other making your original cabin a big kitchen. You may be young and single now but eventually you're probably going to have a spouse and 2-4 kids. Trust me: if you build the house and its paid for before you acquire the toys, you won't need to sell the toys when the babies start to come along and you need a minivan. I would loan this mythical young person some books- Rob Roy's "Mortgage-Free!: Radical Strategies for Home Ownership ", Matthew B. Crawford's "Shop Class as Soulcraft, An Inquiry Into the Value of Work" , and Shannon Hayes' "Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture". There is plenty in that last volume I don't necessarily agree with but the central idea is that one can choose to live differently, on a smaller income and with greater happiness. I think that is far more realistic if one is free from large housing costs.

So what to do now?

I've known since the medical bills started rolling in that our house and financial balance is unsustainable for us. When you add utilities, it eats a little more than half the take-home pay and is on a 30 year mortgage- talk about a death pledge! There are rooms we don't use, kids are leaving soon, and its just too big. Also, as kids grow up, move out, and are no longer on our tax return, our tax burden climbs. I want to find a way to build for cash but I recognize that we are not 21 and 28 anymore and that we are attached to the creature comforts (plumbing!) and will not move into a small cabin with kids and no water. I'm still looking for a solution, a way through, a way to build a life with the freedom of security because honestly- if HM lost his job we would be totally hosed. I know that we will keep this massive house and rent it out to build more equity in hope of recovering the huge losses we took in the retirement account. I'm just not sure how to get my hands on land. I may have to wait another year. Patience is certainly a virtue but it isn't necessarily one of mine!

Local Food

We missed the farmer's market last week and this week I get my first CSA box. I'm really excited to see what's going to be in there but the disconnect is in the delivery schedule: market on Wednesday, box on Thursday! There is some level of fear in this project....What if my box is full of cauliflower and rhubarb but no farmer's market for another 6 days?...but I'm pretty sure it will be OK. Our last visit to the market found me driving away with savoy cabbage in my basket and we all liked it. New things can be very, very good.

This week is also my turn to make the milk run and I'll be making sausage tomorrow with my new KitchenAid as well as turning the last of our current batch of milk into yogurt. I'm experimenting with the yogurt, trying to get a texture and flavor which mimics the Greek Gods Honey yogurt that we all love so much. When I strain it out to get that texture I get so little yogurt that it becomes really cost prohibitive in the quantities we eat. Greek Gods uses pectin in theirs so I'll try that. The gelatin thickening method was less than successful. We go  through 5 32oz containers a week which requires 2.5 gallons of milk to make on top of the 4 gallons we drink. 5 containers @ 4.39 each is more than twice what it costs me to make and mine is not homogenized. I keep meaning to try cheesemaking & chickening out.

Speaking of chickens...must get the number to the chicken lady. I only have one left in the freezer. My beef won't be in until October and our half hog didn't last nearly as long as I hoped. We do love our pork! It seems that I run through about 5 lbs of lard a month which will be good to know next time I get leaf fat from Mt McKinley Meat & Sausage.

The next big issue- since my garden is just so, so, so sad looking that I don't expect anything from it- is going to be veggies. Pyrah's sprays but I don't know of anywhere I can go pick my own produce locally that doesn't use chemicals & I need a lot of carrots, cucumbers for pickling, and zucchini. I also need berries. Raspberries in crazy quantities, lots of strawberries, blackberries would be nice. Blueberries and lingonberries I can pick for free later in the summer. We use a lot of jam and, while I absolutely LOVE Christine's stuff at Apple Branch Pantry, I like making my own and I want to do some with honey, low methyl pectin and organic or wild grown ingredients.

I just read Laura's post on "50 ways to eat your veggies" and clearly need to post my no-nasties ranch recipe:

1/2 cup mayo
1/2 cup sour cream
1 cup plain whole milk yogurt
1 T dried Italian seasoning mix (rosemary, thyme, oregano)
1 T dried dill
salt & lemon juice to taste

stir it all together and watch it disappear. If you need to thin it down to use on an actual salad just stir in a bit of milk until you get the consistency you want.


Monday, June 28, 2010

Vodka Pasta

This originally came from a Patricia Wells cookbook "Trattoria" but since it entered the regular rotation and I'm more of a dump cook, some things have been lost in translation. This comes together in less than 5 minutes.

2 boxes penne or similarly shaped pasta
olive oil to coat your skillet- about 3 T for my large cast iron one
2-3 cloves garlic, very finely chopped or put through a garlic press
about 1 T crushed red pepper flakes
1 can organic tomato sauce
1 can organic diced tomatoes
1/2 cup vodka
1/2 cup heavy cream
fresh cilantro, washed, leaves roughly chopped (or left whole)

Pour the olive oil in a hot skillet. Add garlic and pepper flakes and saute for a minute, being careful not to burn the garlic. Add a pinch or two of salt then dump in the tomatoes. Heat those until nice and hot then add the vodka. Stir that in well then stir in the cream then the cilantro. Turn off the heat. dip a noodle into the sauce and taste to see if you need more salt. I put the red pepper flakes on the table for the guys in my family since they like it when their food makes them cry. Toss your cooked pasta in the sauce and serve in shallow bowls with crusty bread, a salad, and a big red wine like an old vine zin or a Barolo. Consistently decent cheap (around $10) bottles that go well with this dish: Folie a Deux Menage a Trois and the South African Goats do Roam. Parmesan cheese is really gross on this dish- resist the temptation. Grilled shrimp or sausages are great in it. This recipe feeds 8 with no leftovers.

Hey What's For Dinner

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Best Decision I Ever Made

Was getting married 20 years ago. 20 years. That seems like such a long time but it doesn't seem like its been that long. I'd like another 50 with him.

We went out for a fantastic dinner last night at Jens'- with cab rides to and from the hotel; spent the night in a lovely king room thanks to 3 young Korean men who were not excited about the prospect of sharing a king sized bed & happily took our double; then hung out at Barnes & Noble this morning with coffee and pastries for breakfast. We were glad to get back home to the kids (who all behaved for Miss V- not one phone call!) but the time alone was fantastic.

My other great anniversary gift, aside from time alone and being totally spoiled, was from GG. That Ice Blue Kitchenaid I was coveting? It arrived on my doorstep with a meat grinder. Its beautiful! Once I am really recovered from my not-so-great anniversary gift (a kidney infection) I'm going to make the rest of our hog into sausages and lay in a store of baked goodies for soccer snacks, lunches, and breakfasts. Thank you!

Before HM and I went off on our very quiet evening, we took some of the kids and went to the Alaska Highland Games. I suspect the pipe and drum band is in our future. We were also excited to learn that there is a Scottish Country Dance club here. We've done English Country Dance before and Miss V likes it a lot. I am a hopeless clutz but I enjoy the music and I enjoy watching it and I am willing to learn more as long as I don't have to wear stays. The HRG was absent which was a disappointment to those members of the family who are sorely missing playacting from different times but Miss V emailed and, we hope, will hear from them soon. There are rumors of some 18th Century activities to coincide with Independence Day celebrations here and we certainly have all the clothes!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Birchtree Summer Camp Circus Festival

What a fantastic afternoon! The campers did a great job showing off all of their neat new tricks from this week of learning circus arts- juggling, Chinese yo-yo, spinning 'plates', spinning rings, and something where they balanced a ball on top of a tube (yes- that's the technical term).

After the performance families hung out, played, listened to great live music, bought goodies from the bake sale, popcorn, soup & bread, made flower fairies and daisy crowns, took aim with a slingshot,  and kids had their faces painted with tiger stripes, butterflies, flowers, and spiderwebs. There was a puppet show and then more low key family fun. The weather even cleared up for us!  I'm really enjoying getting to know the other families who are involved in the school and becoming part of this community. There are some neat people here!

As much fun as the festival was, the run-up to it was crazy. I experienced baking fails and knitted lamb fails all in the same day. I burned a cheesecake and my frosting just would not behave. I used this recipe for the vanilla cupcakes with lemon curd but....I used regular flour instead of gluten free flours (1.5 cups white and 1.5 cups whole wheat replace the first 5 ingredients). Then I cheated and used store bought lemon curd because it was already in my pantry and totally effortless. I used sucanat instead of white sugar- I don't have any in my house. The frosting was kind of a disaster. Miss V made caramels earlier in the week and the candy thermometer died, stuck forever at 218 degrees. Since I didn't have a thermometer and didn't have the time or inclination to go get one (since I was already behind) I decided to just wing it. I'm pretty sure that my syrup wasn't cooked enough but its hard to know by look when using sucanat. I also only had beaters that aren't really that great for frosting and I'd attempted to use the evil microwave to defrost my butter- since I was behind- and over-melted it. So I was pouring inadequately candied syrup into my egg yolks then beating in butter that's too warm and trying to compensate by adding more butter that was still half frozen. I finally hit a point of desperation and whipped a pint of heavy cream and folded it in with my fail frosting. That got me something edible and of decent taste but it was still kind of grainy looking and I kept getting chunks of butter in the end of my piping tip. This makes for some ugly piping!

It all seems to have worked out in the end- all the baked stuff sold. Some of the knitted things sold, others didn't but can go into the school store. One of my lambs ended up getting a last-minute crocheted tail and becoming a panther. The other one was being marketed as a polar bear last I saw. Neither of the hats had sold but I'm not too surprised- its tough to think of buying hats when its hot and the end of June.

There were beautiful silks for sale and crazy cute little gnomes. T2 bought me a beautiful scarf that I tied in my hair. Someone made a little felted house with two little dolls. So so so so cute! I would love to learn to do those. T1 got a Chinese Yo-yo of his very own.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Gluten Free Chocolate Cupcakes

I needed to make some GF goodies for the Birchtree Charter School Circus Camp Festival and Fundraiser and went immediately to a favorite food blogger who has gone GF herself (for the most part) and also opts to bake with only sucanat, honey or maple syrup. I took a look at her lovely recipe for 'Simply Good Chocolate Cake' and - being lazy- streamlined it a bit. I ended up with one recipe's worth baked and awaiting frosting tomorrow & two more in jars as mixes.

My version works like this:

In a bowl (not your mixer bowl) combine:
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 cup (150 gr) rice flour
1 cup (130gr) sorghum flour
1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum 

1 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt

 3/4 cup (150gr) sucanat or regular sugar 

Melt together 
 3/4 cup (180gr) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chips
1 stick (115gr) unsalted butter

In your mixer beat
2 large eggs
then add
1 cup (250ml) sour cream

beat in the chocolate and butter mixture then slowly add the dry ingredients, scraping down the sides and mixing until everything is well incorporated.

Plop (there is no pouring - this batter is thick) into 12 lined or buttered and floured (rice flour!) muffin tins and bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for about 25 minutes.

I had planned to pipe on a cream cheese and honey vanilla frosting but found myself out of time and without cream cheese so I went with the Vanilla buttercream I was also using for the regular cupcakes.

Making the mixes was simple- just mix the dry ingredients well and put it in a canning jar. Cut a round of wax paper to put in the jar to completely cover the dry ingredients and then put the chocolate chips on top. 

Print a tag with ingredients and instructions.

You just can't please everyone....

Even when they're not home! I'm learning this. I can make small accommodations in lunches for things a kid really doesn't like (leave out the bananas in the fruit mix, don't put granola on the yogurt, etc) but I just don't have the time or mental energy to create different meal plans for each child. Tuesday's quiche was a hit with 2, OK with one, and not liked by the 4th (I have a loaner kid for the week). The loaner child was relieved that she wouldn't be having lunch at camp Wednesday so she doesn't have to have onigiri. One of the kids is just really not liking the cherries I put into the fruit mix this week but guess what? They're chopped, they're paid for, and they will be eaten. Cherries may grow on trees but the money to buy organic ones doesn't.

Yesterday's bento lunch in our Target Tifffins consists of round pork onigiri straight from the freezer, triangular salmon onigiri, a salad of the last of the farmer's market greens with a dressing of mayo, plain yogurt, and sweet chili sauce, and a boiled egg molded with the fish mold + a little squirter of soy sauce. The other tier contains a mini-cheesecake with a dollop of raspberry jam from Apple Branch Pantry, a Bonebel cheese round, and 3 little molded orange gelatins. T2 swears that lunch tastes better in the tiffin than in the box. Who am I to argue? The big girls also got smaller bento lunches packed in the cute boxes sent by my friend Jill (aka the bento fairy)-work schedules and appointments had us out running like crazy Wednesday.

Today was a simple lunch and mostly very popular: egg salad and chicken salad sandwiches, raw veggies with homemade ranch, yogurt and grapes.

Christine from Apple Branch Pantry is at the Friday Flings in Palmer every week & her jams and sauces are delicious, local, and HFCS free.


One of the things that I know I ought to do but fail to actually accomplish is the regular production of mayonnaise. I have at least one child who regards it as practically a beverage. I've never made it successfully in the food processor or blender- the only time it really works for me is when I whisk it by hand in my round bottomed copper bowl and, frankly, I'm kind of lazy and I need more quantity than that.

Today the Weston Price Foundation posted a link to this post on the Artistta blog about how to do it so it actually works and inspired me to give it another shot. Results next week, assuming I survive the allergy attack and tomorrow's big end-of-camp show and fundraiser.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A Le Creuset Giveaway!

My new friend Laura (as opposed to my old friend Laura who will be just *thrilled* with that moniker & yes I know them both in real life) is hosting a giveaway on her blog for 5 of the Le Creuset individual tomato casseroles. They are so cute!

Gelatin Recipes

Someone asked for a how-to on the homemade jello knock offs. Here are the recipes I made today. You can make jello out of pretty much any juice, add any fruit except raw pineapple and kiwi and something else- mango? You can use booze for a grown-up party- champagne with strawberries, layered Irish coffee, a tequila sunrise (with homemade grenadine) in a little individual mold. There are loads of options and unflavored gelatin is easy to work with. If you want more sweetener in yours just add a little more gelatin to balance out the firmness. This really does not take any longer than making Jello from a box. Enjoy!

Berry Gelatin Cups

2 cups water, hot
1/3 to 1/2 cup succanat or honey
a good handful of mixed frozen berries
2 Tbs unflavored gelatin + 1/4 cup hot water

Combine water and succanat and bring to a rolling boil to fully dissolve all the sugar. If using honey you just need the honey to dissolve totally in hot water. Add the berries and cook for a few minutes (3? 5 tops).

Whisk the gelatin into the hot berry mix. Ladle the berry gelatin quickly into silicone or foil muffin liners in a regular sized muffin tin. This should make about 8 of them. I then place the whole tray in the freezer. Once they are frozen you can transfer them into a ziploc or some sort of lidded container and leave them frozen. If you pack them frozen they will be thawed enough to eat by noon and keep other things cold.

To make twice as many with a creamy layer- add another 3 T of gelatin to the hot berry mix. Stir in 2 cups of yogurt (sweetened or not, depending on how much sugar your kids require) or sour cream or a mix of yogurt and cream cheese or sour cream and cream cheese or yogurt and sour cream into the berry mix. It will look sort of grainy and weird. Stir in the gelatin and make sure its all very well dissolved and incorporated. Ladle into cups or pour into a mold and chill or freeze. As the mixture cools and sets it will separate into layers, creamy on top and clear on the bottom.

Orange Creamsicle Gelatin Cups

2 cups orange juice
1/3 cup honey or succanat
1 cup heavy cream
3 T unflavored gelatin

Heat the orange juice and sweetener together until the sugar is fully dissolved . Sprinkle the gelatin on the hot juice mixture and stir to dissolve it then whisk the cream into the orange juice. It will not look real pretty! Very grainy and sort of a blah peachy color but the creamy layer will separate out for a layered effect. I got lumps and had to strain mine into a 4 cup measuring cup and then poured it into my little silicone molds. This mix did not do so well in the fish and crab molds (the little fussy parts broke off) but the flower molded ones turned out very well and the taste was declared good when the defective ones were 'liquidated'.

Update: this last batch I used fresh berries (strawberries, cherries, and a few blueberries) and cut the sugar to 1/3 cup. The color was sort of brown, the flavor was not so 'berry' and it set up too hard. Kids were much less excited than usual. I usually use the frozen berry mix from Costco of blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries but, shockingly, the bag was empty and a little trail of blueberry stains marks the floor of my garage. Lesson: don't just eyeball the gelatin if you're skimping on sweetener!

I'm linking this to Just Another Meatless Monday at "Hey What's For Dinner Mom"

Hey What's For Dinner

Monday, June 21, 2010

New Books

Books are one of my favorite things in the world. I've pared down a lot through the moves but I still love having them. I love the way they feel and the way they look and the way they smell. I don't get the appeal of a Kindle at all. Folks can feel free to save trees by not using paper for stupid stuff like junk mail but lets not stop printing books!

My Amazon order came Saturday. One of the books was for Miss V- Performance Without Pain since she hurt herself dancing a few years ago and hasn't really healed enough to do it again the way she used to. She'll have to review that one. It disappeared into her room.

Of the two books for me, it was hard to decide which to read first: Cold-Smoking & Salt-Curing Meat, Fish, & Game or Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture Radical Homemakers won the toss and I am enthralled. I've never been a big fan of feminism because it seemed anti-kid, anti-man, and anti-home. I like kids (on a case by case basis), men (usually more then women), and home. I don't like the idea that the market economy is the only one that matters. This book so far is all about that! The smoking book is exciting to me because there are no nitrates or nitrites used & as the mom of a kid with cancer I'm kind of paranoid about those but we love our sausages so much.


Last night, the smoke detector in T1 & T2's room started chirping. Its the only one I didn't replace batteries in shortly after New Year's. We got out the ladder, took it down, and discovered there were no more 9V batteries in the house. No big deal- all the others were working and one night should be fine. I set the smoke detector on the counter and it made not another peep. Prepped stuff, cleaned the kitchen, read some, went to bed.

2:30 in the morning I hear beeping. Repeated, shrill, insistent beeping. I get up to investigate (and I am not a happy person when woken prematurely) and find that it is the smoke detector on the counter. If you know me, my next action probably won't surprise you: I opened the french door to the deck, stepped out, and frisbee'd the thing out into the yard. I was shooting for the woods but smoke detectors are not particularly aerodynamic and I throw like a girl.

I heard no more beeping and returned to my bed where I remained happily until the alarm went off at 7:45. I got up and went out to start loading lunch boxes and making breakfast and heard the beeping. Two tones, alternating....and loud. Obnoxiously loud. So I sent T2 out to get it and then did what I lacked the presence of mind to do in the middle of the night: take out the dying battery!

Later in the morning Miss V looks at me and asks "What was that beeping this morning?" I tell her and she replies, "Oh! It woke me up at 7 and I couldn't get back to sleep. I thought it was two birds because of the different tones. I was just laying there wishing they would get on with having weird bird sex so they could shut up and go build a nest" .

I guess I should go get those batteries....

Come to the Dark Side- We have ...carrots?

Today I stood in the organic produce section and chose pre-cut carrot chips over the fresh carrots with the leafy tops still attached. I know my choice was lower in nutrition and had more packaging. I'm sure they don't taste as good. They certainly were not local. But they were effortless! Since I walked past all the pre-sliced lunch meat, the sliced processed cheeses, the lunchables, the pudding cups, the single serving bagged chips, and the apple slices with caramel sauce and marveled at how easy and cheap it was to fill a kid's lunch box if you weren't real picky about what you were feeding them, I rationalized giving myself a pass on this one. I also rationalized the purchase of bananas here above the 61st parallel- organic and on sale. .99 a lb . My kingdom for good organic apricots at a decent price!

Update: the kids all complained about them. Dry, woody, flavorless and 'yucky' were the pronouncements. I'm debating between trying again with ranch dressing or just tossing them in the pot roast and getting real carrots for their lunch boxes on Thursday.

Sunday, June 20, 2010


I was thinking about the things in my kitchen that I really use, the things I would miss in a non-electric world.

Right at the top is my egg cooker. I'm the only person I know who has one and I adore it. The perfect gadget for someone with attention span issues- it turns itself off. T1 & T2 can operate it (they can also do their own laundry and T1 has recently learned to fry eggs). This little beauty does hard boiled eggs, soft boiled eggs and poached eggs. It makes a huge difference in my ability to get everyone out the door on time in the morning. I can use the poacher setting with a little extra water to turn out egg salad in five minutes with no egg peeling. It makes perfect medium cooked eggs for use in the bento molds. Best part: having soft boiled eggs often gives me an excuse to make egg cozies. Like these....

OK. Enough Cute. Back to appliances...

Number two on my list is the Rice cooker and it is a very close second. I borrowed one a few years ago assuming that it was just totally unnecessary and a waste of kitchen space and money. It was love at first steam. The one I first used was a Zojirushi, the Cadillac of rice cookers. I loved it, looked at the price, and promptly bought a Sanyo on Ebay for 1/3 the cost. It has served me well for nearly 3 years.

In a pot, I cannot make brown rice that anyone in my family will eat under any amount of duress. In the cooker, we all eat it happily. It makes perfect sushi rice. It makes cheaters risotto. It makes barley risotto. It makes soup. It has a timer! I can fill it with oats, water, sweetener and butter the night before, set the timer and we wake up to hot breakfast. However, Farina does not work this way- you get a 2 part mess of slimy water on top and slimy cement-like glop on the bottom. I can set it in the morning to have hot rice ready at 5 & it will be kept warm until I need it. Love my rice cooker.

Next on the list is my grinder. The whispermill died last winter and we started looking into replacing it. I would have just bought another one since they are supposed to be the best on the market. HM started researching- if it has a motor he will research it- and had me look at the KoMo line. I had never seen them before and had a few doubts but the reviews were excellent and it was just so pretty. It wasn't plastic and replacement parts can be ordered for simple repairs, the motor shipped back for a rebuild if ever needed. Greener, better looking, more versatile, quieter...and more expensive. I was inclined to be cheap but HM was strongly in favor of spending a little more for better quality so we did. I love my KoMo. It was worth every penny.

Here's a big jump from paying top dollar for great quality to buying what you can afford: The food processor. Last summer I had a rebate from Fred Meyer and they had a 20% sale going at the time when I went to Pyrah's U-Pick and brought home 50 lbs of carrots, 40 lbs of Zucchini, and 20 lbs of other veggies. I needed the food processor or the veggies were going to rot before I waded through them all. With my coupons and rebate, I paid about $60 for a cheapy 12 cup Oster and, looking back, wish I had done it sooner. It makes prepping veg and making short crusts a breeze. Much better than the blender for pesto.

Last on my list is the Bosch Mixer. It's ten years old now and has given good service but I have to say that I just don't love it. Its ugly and I'm not a fan of the center post. The planetary gear is going and when it does I think I'll just go to a Kitchenaid. A beautiful retro aqua one that I can leave on the counter and smile at when I walk past. Or maybe a Fire Engine Red one since they can be had with the larger motor. But the Bosch still gets a very regular work out. Bread. cookies. birthday cakes. macaroons.

The only things that I think I want are a dehydrator and a meat grinder. I don't know for sure that I would love a dehydrator enough to justify its cost so that will have to be a yard sale or craigslist find. The meat grinder will have to wait for the Kitchenaid unless I find a manual one cheap at a yard sale too.

What do you use most? What's on your wish list?

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Dehydrator Giveaway

I had *just* commented on a friend's Facebook that I need to find a dehydrator at a yard sale when I found the giveaway at Keeper of the Home. I'd love to win- but I'll keep looking at yard sales.


Is that a word? It is in my house. I used to be sort of a pack rat. Now I just want less. A lot less. Less to take care of, clean, find, store, and house. Except for the part of me that doesn't.

I don't want less yarn. I don't really want less fabric. I don't want fewer books or to part with my favorite kitchen goodies. I have come around to embracing HM's idea to put all our movies and DVDs onto a server- so I can get rid of the copies that clutter a closet. I want fewer kid toys, fewer random broken things, fewer pieces of clutter.

Recently my mom, in her own frenzy of decrapification, sent me boxes of old pictures as well as an old family bible. These things are not crap- I would be quite upset to lose them- but neither are they things that I have a place for nor a way to enjoy. I also live in terror of disaster (yes, I have anxiety issues but just because I'm paranoid doesn't mean they aren't after me!) so I want every photograph I have somewhere safely out on the net as well as on discs. I'd also love to be able to lighten up enough to actually allow my kids to touch their scrap books. And did I mention that mom just sent me 3 flat rate boxes full of stuff? In addition to the non-digital prints from the first 15 years of our marriage?

Enter Heritagemakers. My friend Laura found them, loved it so much she became a consultant and asked me to a party. Since I'm indebted to her for pretty much the rest of my life (for taking a crazy kid off my hands for a time, at great personal expense), I went to the party. This is a big deal because I hate those things. Tupperware, Mary K, Pampered Chef, Longaberger....loathe them all even if I sometimes like some of the stuff. I'm fairly antisocial to begin with and I'm cheap- neither things that lend themselves to being a good guest at sellabrations.

So I go and it wasn't bad. Really.

The best part: the super scanner. It can scan something like 400 pictures in 10 minutes. I think I probably have that many. Maybe more. Then I get to walk away with a flash drive filled with everything and I can make copies of it all. Publish it to my Picasa or Photobucket account, send one to my mom for safety, and encourage Miss V to work her Photoshop magic on red eyes and double chins. I can also make those cute scrapbook pages that I'm too imprecise to do out of actual paper and have things printed, bound even. And all of it without a single piece of paper, pair of squiggly scissors, cricut machine, or pack of stickers entering my house. I can make the kids books of all their pictures without worrying that they might damage them. And I can then place all those old pictures in archival boxes in the storage room over the garage and leave them there without guilt. Forever.

I have a plan!

Knowing that next week is going to kick my rear end (3 soccer practices, 3 soccer games, 4 doctor/dentist appointments, a birthday, day camp from 9-12 for one kid and 9-4 for the other 3, a working kid, an airport pickup, and the fundraiser fair) I decided that I had to write it all down and plan for meals. I also decided that extracurricular stuff during the school year is just not happening & I fully expect to have to do battle with my beloved over that stance. It would be different if he were home every night. Maybe.

Back to food...I'm trying to eat through the freezer so that it is mostly empty and ready for the largess of dipnetting next month. I was looking around the 'net and found some inspiration here and here and here.

My lunch plans for the week look like this:

Monday- Salmon Salad sandwiches, carrot sticks with homemade ranch, grapes, individual cheesecake (already in the freezer), yogurt cup for morning snack

Tuesday- Bacon Cheddar Quiche, tomato and cucumber salad, Berry gelatin cups, Bonebel mini gouda round and fruit for morning snack

Wednesday- Bento Day! - Onigiri (in the freezer), Salmon nori wraps, a cute shaped egg, fruit, yogurt cup for morning snack

Thursday- Egg salad and chicken salad sandwiches, veggies with homemade ranch (broccoli florets, carrot sticks and cherry tomatoes) orange cream gelatin jigglers, fruit and a Bonelbel mini gouda for snack

Friday- Sausage rounds and cheese shapes with an octodog on a bed of salad with homemade ranch & croutons, one of the goodies being made for the bake sale, fruit and yogurt

hot dogs? Sausages? cheese shapes ? Jello ?????

what happened to no icky stuff????

Yes- you can do such things without the icky! Berry gelatin cups are a simple syrup of succanat and water, boiled down, berries added and unflavored gelatin added. I put them in silicone cupcake liners then freeze them until they go into lunch boxes in the AM. The orange cream jigglers (which will go into the crazy cute little ice cube molds from Target) are orange juice boiled with a tiny bit of extra succanat and zest then combined with warmed farm fresh heavy cream and unflavored gelatin & poured into the molds. There is also a very nice organic jello available at natural pantry but the sugar is a little high. My quiche shells are already blind baked and in the freezer, awaiting their fillings. I can do all the fruit and veg prep tomorrow night when I will also do the salmon salad and the inside of the nori wraps. The secret to the nori wraps is to do them without nori on the outside. Wrap them in cling wrap to the proper size & then just wrap the nori and slice on the morning you need them.

Now...I just have to figure out what to make (delegate) for the bake sale and finish the little animals.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Some days it just doesn't pay to read the internet

I've gotten the crud that Miss V had last week and so I'm not doing anything but laying around feeling sorry for myself, keeping T1 & T 2 from killing themselves or tearing the house down, and surfing the 'net. I was talking to a friend who has metamorphosed from HSLDA poster child to lefty stoner and he was saying that he doubted that the ingredients in the cocoa crispies he had laid out in preparation for a wicked case of the munchies could be worse for him than the home-grown he was smoking. He was shocked when I disagreed with him and I went digging around for info on some of the food additives. Yes- its true: I think that smoking pesticide free marijuana is probably safer than eating neurotoxins. However, lest anyone worry, I don't advocate either for kids.

T1 and , especially, T2 are very sensitive to MSG and red 40. I know this and try to avoid it but periodically I do stupid things that I know better than to do and buy things like doughnuts. Usually, however, I am a label reading fiend. Today I found this and realized just how much I've been missing. We don't eat a lot of processed food anyway but now I feel like my choices are even narrower- which sucks.

In slightly more cheerful news, Miss V is racking up some extra hours, Estee' is excited about a weekend with friends, and everyone is stoked for camp next week.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Let's talk about lunch

Thing 1 & Thing 2 and the semi-civilized sister (SCS) will be going to the new Waldorf Charter School here in just 61 days (not that I'm counting) . They did a week of the day camp and we have another week coming up in just a few days. For all of these events, the kids need lunch packed.

Figuring out what to pack, how much, how to pack it, and how to make it look great is still a heavy learning process. For years now 'lunch' has been food rummaged for in the fridge somewhere between noon and 3- usually still in jammies. We seriously avoid HFCS, anything hydrogenated or with questionable oils; sweeteners other than honey, maple syrup and succanat; lots of gluten; conventionally farmed produce; pasteurized dairy products and factory raised meat. We absolutely have to shun MSG and food dyes or the boys are miserable. Our recent sushi debacle reminded me of exactly why we have to stay far from those things- as if a child with cancer wasn't enough motivation.

My list of things not to eat means that tossing a PB & J, a single serve bag of Doritos, a capri-sun and a hostess cupcake in the box is not happening. There are very few 'single serving' things that meet the criteria & those that do are expensive! $1.29 for a single 1.19 oz pack of Sundrops v/s $8.69 a lb in the bulk section. That's $17.34 a lb!!! I'll pay that for grassfed tenderloin for a (VERY) special occasion but not for hippie M & M's. So the challenge is this: how to pack a healthy (as I define it) nutrient dense meal which will so thrill the kids that they will have no desire to barter for Twinkies. Not only does lunch have to thrill their little appetites, I have to be able to pull it off without making it a full time job.

The lunches I packed the first week were too much prep in the mornings. I am not a morning person. There should, ideally, be neither light nor noise to assault my senses before I have ingested coffee. I consider anything before 10 AM to be uncivilized. 7:45 is not, to my mind, the time to be cutting tiger faces in the nori.

Two of the lunches were taste or texture failures. Bento day was a roaring success as was sausage and cheese day. The meat pies were too dry- we had the others for supper this week with gravy and that was fine. The turkey wraps 'tasted funny' but I think it was a bad jar of curry powder.

Next week we will find out if onigiri really do freeze as well as they are supposed to, if kids will happily eat little quiches, and how many ways I can sneak eggs and yogurt into lunches before they mount a rebellion. What's going in your lunch boxes?

Are you ready for random?

There is a lot that rattles, disjointed, in my brain. I used to be able to contain and categorize my thoughts but now they sort of float free. I've learned to make lists and I've learned that if I don't make lists on the computer I lose my lists. I even have to make lists of things I want to talk about with people- some of them people I don't even know yet. On my current list is food (local, sustainable, nourishing) , fiber crafts, farming, books, Waldorf education (not actually done by me- Thank you God, the Birchtree Parents Guild, The Mat Su School Board and the Borough Assembly and all the other folks making Birchtree Charter School possible), history, and occasionally theology and politics. So let the wild rumpus start!