Friday, December 30, 2011

Berry Applesauce

One of my goals for this year is to have less waste coming from our lives. I've gotten into a bad habit of purchasing single-serve organic fillings for the lunch boxes. It's not cheap and it certainly isn't green. Those little throwaway applesauce containers have to add up and each serving costs at least $.60  . The berry variety costs even more.

I had ordered a few boxes of dirt cheap organic cider apples ( $10 for 20 lbs!) . They were keeping OK in my unheated garage but they were not really being used. I also had a bag of the ends of berries picked or ordered for jam making. This week I pulled in the apple boxes, culled the bad ones and then cut about 10-12 lbs worth of the 'iffy' ones- spotty, getting soft on one side but fine on the other, that sort of thing. I left peels on, simply removed bad spots and cores. These I tossed into a pot with the berries and some water and cooked slowly for a full day until it was total mush. Then I let it cool completely.

The next step was to wrangle child labor to run the food mill for me. I had them take turns until all the mush mix was milled leaving just a bit of peel behind. We did a taste test and declared it way too tart (remember- cider apples, not real sweet, plus a berry mix heavy on the cranberries) so I added honey until it was declared good plus a touch of pie spice and cardamom and vanilla.

Once we were all happy with the taste, the applesauce was ladled into regular muffin cups and frozen (also with some excellent assistance from the 'end consumers'). After freezing, the pucks will be popped out of the tins and stored in tupperware in the freezer. When one or two are wanted for lunches, we will just pull them out and pop them into one of our little covered bowls or a small canning jar which will come home again to be washed and used..over and over and over.

Total cost of my apples from Azure, berries, and 1.5 cups of honey was about $12. With spices and gas for the stove, we'll round up to $15 for 52 servings. $.29 per serving plus a whole lot of plastic I'm not sending to the landfill. Now to figure out how to kick my ziploc habit....

Saturday, December 3, 2011

100 Lbs of Ground

Beef. My meat order just arrived from Sitkanak and I now have a total of 100 lbs of ground beef in addition to about 120 lbs of other cuts- all beautiful, flavorful, healthy organic and totally grass-fed. Beef + pig + lamb+ salmon = a freezer bursting at the seams.

When I purchased my beef, I opened the order to some other people at my kids' school. All together we picked up 917 lbs of meat at the airport last week. Several people have said "But what do you do with it all??"

At the moment, shoving it all into the freezer seems like a major accomplishment but I do have a master plan. My plan is designed to maximize freeze space and to address the three major issues of my culinary life:  Cooking supper gets old. Packing lunches has gotten even older. I am completely out of steam by 5:30 and more than a touch lazy to begin with. The key is bulk cooking. If you're going to spend several hours in the kitchen, drag all the stuff out and make a huge mess, why not get a lot done? This will be a two to three day project for me which I plan to tackle after Christmas but before my helpers head back to school. Here is what I will be making:

Meatballs - swedish and italian - 22 lbs
meat loaf - 6 lbs
taquitos - 4 lbs
tamales - 4 lbs
taco filling - 4 lbs
homemade hamburger helper - 10 lbs
Hambuger soup - 2 lbs
salisbury steak - 4 lbs
burgers - 14 lbs
chili - 10 lbs
pasties- 4 lbs
Shepherd's  Pie Base - 6 lbs

22 lbs of meatballs??? Yes. My kids absolutely love those little Aidells spicy meatballs in their lunches. Nutritionally, they are better than a lot of things normally packed into school lunch boxes but they aren't perfect and they are expensive. I can make them for a fraction of the cost and also have a stock on hand for kid pleasing suppers, potlucks, and church coffee hours. Since I also order my cheese in bulk blocks from Azure, I can even cube it up and freeze little pouches of meatballs and cheese cubes for those lunches. Meatballs also pair with rice spaghetti and tomato sauce or the Swedish ones go with a heap of dilled buttered potatoes or they can become a hot sub or into a crockpot with BBQ sauce and jam and garlic for a favorite finger food without all the chemicals.

Meatloaf is not a huge favorite here and 6 lbs will get me 3 loaves. Enough to be tolerated, not enough to inspire revolt.

Taquitos. My kids love the boxed ones with all the nasty stuff. I discovered that they also love them homemade and that I can make organic ones at home for less than a box at Costco. Browned spiced ground beef with a little sprinkle of cheese for a binder, rolled inside a con tortilla and fried. Once they have drained and cooled, they freeze beautifully. Two make just the right sized lunch entree. I have most of a case of organic (only way to be sure you are getting GMO-free!) corn tortillas in the freezer but I'm going to take a shot at making some as well. We'll need them for the tacos anyway.

Tamales- also good freezers, well liked and I have some masa that needs to be used.

Taco filling- beef, spices, onions, peppers. Pair with some shredded cheese, salsa, maybe a little sour cream and this goes well either in tacos or over re-fried beans.

Hamburger Helper - The 'real thing' is disgusting to me. It tastes like someone sprayed my food with herbicide. Of course, my little guys think it is AWESOME. That happy little hand on the box, powdered cheese, all that salt and sugar and MSG...Mine is essentially browned burger meat which is spiced and sauced. I freeze it all together and mix with rice noodles at meal time.

Hambuger Soup is a lot like stew only easier. I don't do turnips but I do add parsnips. And a nice splash of red wine. I put it all together except for the beef broth and freeze that way. I freeze my broth in 2 cup cubes for efficient use of space and it all thaws and cooks faster this way than freezing in a big block.

Salisbury Steak- steaks frozen in one bag, gravy in another. Speed and portion flexibility.

Burgers- spice them, patty them, divide them with wax paper for faster thaw time.

Chili- no beans because of Miss V's dietary needs. Eat it plain, over rice, with a batch of gluten free corn bread, over corn chips with some shredded cheese....

Pasties- a little meat turnover, sort of like stew in a pie casing. beef, onions, carrots, potatoes, parsnips, herbs and a gravy from the juices baked into a pastry. I use the tiffins as the cutter so I'm sure that they will always fit in the lunches!

Shepherd's Pie Base- beef, onions, tomatoes, spices, & corn. I have a bag of organic mashed potato flakes (which are one of those convenient compromise choices) from Azure. If the base is done, I can have a shepherd's pie bubbling away in the oven in under 5 minutes

Life keeps happening

I essentially abandoned blogging last spring. We moved and spent many months where my only internet connection was an iphone. Our family has changed- Miss V is home again, MK is out on her own, our oldest daughter is back in state (although nowhere near as close as we would like). Two of the youngest continue to thrive in school, the third has come home to learn. We are selling the huge heavily mortgaged house to our renters and are now living through an Alaskan winter in a much smaller home. In most ways I much prefer this little house in this wonderful neighborhood but having another bedroom would make it much nicer.

Having kids in school has been a very new experience for me and it is interesting how the most unexpected things can serve as impromptu values clarification exercises. I've discovered that I am passionate and adamant about parental rights and consent, that I absolutely do not believe in homework, and that I am ambiguous about public education as a concept. My bureaucracy tolerance is just too low.

Food will again feature prominently here. I make no promises to blog daily or even to do that much better. I simply have the connection now so that, when I have something to say, I can.

Monday, March 21, 2011

In which I burn my nuts and other GAPS misadventures

First off: aren't we all glad, given the title, that this isn't a guest post by His Majesty?

T2 and I have embarked upon the GAPS diet. We're a few weeks late getting to it thanks to my ability to acquire multiple illnesses simultaneously. Now that we have started, I'm ready to be done. This thing is a huge pain in the rear. Giant. I suspect that it would be so much easier if it were just me but T2 requires a lot more thought and effort to feed, especially in the packed lunch department. I'm pretty sure that I'm feeding us both more honey (the only allowable sweetener) than is ideal but I don't know if we could do it otherwise.

Today for lunch he took meatballs, hot beef broth with some gingered carrots, apple sauce, cheese cubes, laraballs, yogurt with honey,  and a hard boiled egg which he didn't eat. Tomorrow is going to look a lot like today....

The 'laraballs' are my attempt to create a GAPS allowed treat for him at a reasonable cost, something like a Lara Bar. When I first attempted them, I soaked my nuts like you are supposed to. Then I promptly burnt them while trying to get them dried out. For round two, I skipped the soaking and drying and just went for it. The results are OK but I think I'll do things differently next try.

For starters, I just couldn't get the mix smooth and T2 is not a fan of the crunchy bits. Next time I'm going to soak them, drain and rinse, and then process them before dehydrating (which I will do with a dehydrator and not my too-hot oven). I'm hoping that will give me something a little closer in texture to a fruit chewy when I'm done.

Miss V is home for a few weeks to help me get the house done, spring break was better than I feared but that might be because I was too sick to be up for a lot of it, and I am profoundly ready to see leaves on the trees.  Anybody need to buy a 5 bedroom house with a spectacular view ?

Monday, March 14, 2011

A message from the nearly dead...

OK, not literally. I just feel like it. I, being multi-talented, have managed to get bronchitis, a sinus infections, and the beginnings of pneumonia all at the same time. The antibiotics are working like teamsters during a slow-down - in other words, not very fast and not very effectively. Back to the doc today or tomorrow for something new.

I was supposed to feel all better after three days so a dear friend came over Saturday to help with the house stuff. After we sorted the stuff in the garage loft (I sat in a chair and made decisions, she did actual work), we dropped off a bunch of "treasures" at Salvation Army, and came home and cooked supper I was exhausted. that is a ridiculously low amount of actual work performed by me to be wiped out !

We're getting geared up to begin the GAPS diet here (late). I got 2 quarts of gingered carrots started and a 1/2 quart of beets fermenting with some cardamom. Wednesday is the milk run so I'll go out and load up on fresh milk for making lots of 24 hour yogurt. I did a small batch of beef stock and determined that I was going to have to put back a LOT more of that stuff. Off to Mt McKinley to fetch bones tomorrow. I just wish I had a good source for chicken. The ones I bought locally in the fall are all still in my freezer- but they are still there because it tastes like fish & that is kind of icky. Other accomplishments: 3 bags of meat balls and "meat muffins" in the freezer and the beginnings of a plan for packing lunches for T2 who will be joining me on this quest for improved health.

There should be more. This should be interesting. I should say something deep and meaningful about the horror in Japan. Wit just isn't coming through the brain fog. sorry.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Giveaway

I've decided to give you both something! But since I haven't made them yet, you'll have to wait to be surprised. Congratulations. Christine- tell me what color your kitchen is?

Raised Beds

I'm sitting here on Valentine's Day, before a summer in which I won't be gardening because we'll (hopefully) be building, and thinking about interesting recycled raised beds for: Gardening! I promised myself that I would not so much as peek at a Fedco catalog- and I haven't!- but it never occurred to me that I could sneak in obsessive garden design as part of 'siting' the house....

I found this while wasting time on pinterest and loved it. It's an old metal filing cabinet!

That started me thinking that perhaps old fridges could be used similarly. It seems that if one lined the inside in wood to keep the plastic nasties from leaching into the soil that the insulation would be perfect in our harsh climate. Covered in windows, they would be lovely cold frames...filled with compost, they could be great all-weather bins. There are so many of these dead fridges sitting at the dump. Old Dead chest freezers could also be great for people like me who have some physical limitations. HM would surely be delighted at the idea of NOT having to build something else- there's only a house, barn/garage, greenhouse, chicken house, and guest cabin on his list- and this appeals to the cheap hippie in me. (Yes Anna- I've admitted it publicly!)

Update: So this isn't an original idea. Here's a video of a guy using it! 

Friday, February 4, 2011

100th post and other milestones

100! I should give something away. Hmmm...but what? I don't know! It's a mystery! Leave me a comment and I'll put you in a drawing to win an as-yet unknown something nifty.

Other milestones:

Miss V is moving out next week. She's the first kid who has left on really great terms and it's wonderful and still a lot sad for us in a pathetically selfish kind of way.When did I get so old? How will I function without her? Who will run to the store for me? I'm going to miss her like crazy but it's a very good thing for her. This will leave me with zero teenagers in my house. First time in well over a decade that's happened.

T2 is 8. My baby. I feel old and yet delighted. The big party is tomorrow and then I'm off birthday duty for quite a while. Woo hoo.

HM managed to plan a training so that he's gone for Valentine's day AND my birthday. I don't mind the Valentine's part so much and I'm trying to look at the positive side for my birthday: I won't be driving him into Anchorage first thing in the morning to leave that day. I think I'll take myself out for breakfast after I drop kids at school and then over to the yarn store.

There's more but my brain is flaking out tonight.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

A Link I Love

A quick post since I ought to be sleeping already....

Rythm of the Home

I've just begun to dig through it. Lots of interesting stuff there!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The secret to perfect coffee

It still eludes me but I think I'm getting closer.  My local favorite place in the whole world to go for coffee is The Red Beet, newly opened on the Palmer-Wasilla Highway. Everything there is based on the philosophy of FLOSS cuisine: Fresh, local, organic, seasonal, and sustainable. I haven't had anything that wasn't great but the cafe chocolat is my addiction. It is so amazingly smooth - no cigarette butt aftertaste! - and strong and just wonderful.

Its so good that my husband- who does not flirt- was even flirting with the waitress for tips on how to get our French Press coffee to taste like their french press coffee. The three big take-away tips were:

1. Use more grounds. A lot more grounds
2. After you put your grounds and water in, stir before you put the lid on
3. Throw a little bit of fresh beet in with the grounds before you add water.

Then wait 4 minutes and press. Wow.

Our home coffee has gotten so much better. I think I need a different bean to achieve perfection - not to mention the recipe for that lovely cinnamon-laced chocolate sauce also served with the cafe chocolat. Breakfast there tomorrow with a friend before a trip into Anchorage for the Lands End Sale and some thrifting and maybe a new french press.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Mr Bento Giveaway

I've been lusting after one of these for a while and now my friend Laura at Hey What's For Dinner Mom is giving one away. Check it out here. You can even enter. If you have to. I guess.

Friday, January 7, 2011

House Goals from the Peak Oil Princess

I read Nesting Place  (she's having a linky party about home goals for the new year) periodically because I enjoy reading about projects on the cheap that actually look good.  My own home is just not so 'together' . I'd like it to be but I have some different interests and priorities than 'normal' people. I get excited about wood cook stoves and grain bins, pull down drying racks and compost containers. Of course I want my house to be lovely but I'm really wanting it to 'work'- even when the power is out or the power is just too expensive. My taste runs less to Architectural Digest and more towards Backwoods Home.  I drool over the kitchen at Granny Miller (but my trim would be painted a nice deep delft blue. Or maybe turquoise...

That said, I now need to turn my house into a lovely, polished, decidedly upscale showplace in the next 90 days on virtually no budget so that it is ready to list and sell quickly at a good price.

We need to:

Replace the flooring through the main dining area
Re-do and paint all the trim and doors upstairs
Finish painting all the trim and doors downstairs
Replace the downstairs/ on stairs carpet
Replace the kitchen counters and sink/faucet
Rehab the cabinets
Put fresh paint on the walls
update some of the world's ugliest light fixtures
Do something about the sad, sad upstairs powder room
replace the front door
pressure wash the outside and re-seal the deck
Declutter ruthlessly
Stage and decorate

That last one is the one that worries me most. I am generally plagued with indecision. Hopefully I'll get it right so that we can sell out quickly to more genteel folks and get our little cabin built quickly!

The idea is that 2011 will become the year that sees us really, totally debt free. Praying that its so!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Back on the Lunch Wagon

Christmas break was lovely. At least until the 1st. Then T1 and T2 apparently decided that they had had entirely enough of this being home silliness and declared war on their mother's sanity. Tomorrow I get to send them off to school again and I think it's safe to say that we are ALL delighted. There are just two things I haven't missed about school: 7 AM wakeups and lunches. I'd gotten lazy about lunches anyway, using a lot more processed and packaged food than I wanted because it's just so easy.

Fortunately, one of the kids' Christmas gifts was a tiffin and custom made tiffin carrier. Not only do these little beauties allow me to pack lunch with not a single scrap of plastic or tin foil, they are so cute that they inspire me to come up with new things for lunch. So for the inaugural tiffin packing I sent:

In the top layer:
Homemade blackberry yogurt in the little mini cup
sea salt kettle chips
a sprinkling of sundrops (aka hippie M & Ms)

In the center:
mini sandwiches of greek seasoned pork meatballs on 9 grain rolls with cheater's tzatziki, orange pepper strips and red leaf lettuce

On the bottom:
an orange, cut into 8ths
tropical carrot salad

all in all, I think it's a decent lunch. I get them to eat the things that are important to me (raw local dairy, organic local meat, whole grain bread, fruit, lacto fermented veggies) and they get the foods they think are cool and/or yummy (chips, mini sandwiches, chocolate). Do I know what I'm packing the rest of the week? Uh. No.

There are no pictures of my gorgeous packed tiffins because my camera is dead and I've been hoarding my coin to pay to have the roof repaired after the wind storm. There are pictures of the carriers though! The were made for me by a friend who does this for a living and would gladly make one for you too. Rachel does beautiful work so check out her etsy store if you're in need of a wonderful, one of a kind bag or tiffin carrier of your very own.

My kids love them. They were REALLY excited about them. T1's (top) thrilled him because it was Fish! and the water bottle holder was FISH EGGS! Just like the ones we caught and processed this summer!! Only a little Alaskan boy would be excited about this.  T2 loves his little hedgehogs (he also got a tiny stuffed hedgehog in his stocking)  and SCS was clearly pleased in her quiet way with her not-kiddy bag. When I initially told Rachel what I wanted, I  was planning to purchase the tiffins from Happy Tiffin and was going with a bigger size. When I got to check out, the combination of the higher price and spendy shipping sent me looking again. I found a price I was happy with at Natural Abode but the size was 1/2" smaller in diameter. It turns out that the extra space is actually great- it gives me room to pack them a small plate, utensils, and a napkin. I wish now that I had ordered the bamboo utensil set. Maybe later.

What's going in your kids' lunches this month?

Tropical Carrot Salad

serves 3 kids for lunch with a little leftover for a mom snack

1 cup shredded lacto fermented carrots (or regular shredded/grated carrots)
1/3 cup mayonaise
1 T dried currants (my children are raisin-hating freaks- normal folks use raisins)
about 1/4 cup pineapple bits with a little juice
if you didn't use the lacto fermented gingered carrots, add a little ginger and some salt. if you did, add a dab of honey.

Mix it all up and serve.