No, not pretty, but so tasty!

No, not pretty, but so tasty!

My husband and I made a radical change to our diets this new year. We are attempting a Gluten-Free lifestyle. We aren’t allergic to gluten, but we are trying to see if some lingering ailments subside: joint discomfort, congestion, and (for Dave) IT band problems. I’ve not had arthritis in my hands or knees for the past week (a problem I’ve had in cold climates for many years) so I think we might be on to something. More »

05. January 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , ,
When life gives you apples, make APPLESAUCE!

When life gives you apples, make APPLESAUCE!

In this next installment of “Back to Basics”, I’m going to share how crazy easy it is to make applesauce for your family.

Before I found “Natural” applesauce for my family, I tended to avoid buying applesauce because of the added sugars. Mott’s and White House both now make “natural” applesauce that comes in nice containers for lunchboxes. I feel a little better about it.

Nonetheless, I came into a huge bag of red delicious apples when some of us spouses were setting up Christmas stockings for Dave’s squadron’s Christmas party. I had this bowl with a pile of apples throughout the holidays, and only Timmy was eating them. The rest of us hate red delicious apples, other types taste so much better.

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02. January 2013 · Comments Off · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , , ,
This isn't my house. But this is how I feel like my life becomes at times. Messy, chaotic, out of control. I resolve to do better this year.

This isn’t my house. But this is how I feel like my life becomes at times. Messy, chaotic, out of control. I resolve to do better this year.

It’s 2013 and resolve to get my life back under control.

Since when do I actually abide by those resolutions? “Lose 20 pounds.” “Save more money.” “Eat out less”. “Bake my own bread.” “Run a half marathon every season.”

Have you ever had “training” on how to set goals? I remember getting some training on it in AFROTC many years ago, back when we had an ENTIRE SEMESTER on Quality Air Force, which was the Air Force’s adaptation of Total Quality Management in the mid-1990s. Part of the training was about how to set meaningful, reasonable goals.

Feel free to Google “Goal setting” or “how to set reasonable goals” and you’ll see all sorts of tips. What I remember is  the following:

  • Goals should be realistic.
  • Goals should be achievable in a timely manner.
  • Goals should be achievable with resources available.
  • Goals’ successes should be measurable.

As you can see from the title, simply declaring “Getting control back!” is not really measurable, is it? After all, how do I know whether my life is in control or not? To a fly on the wall, it might seem like my life is in control: my kids are clothed, fed, they’re taken to piano, Scouts, sports and school at the proper times. Bills are paid, I meet my AF Reserve obligations, and I remembered everyones’ birthdays in 2012 (I think).

I need help with meal planning and keeping up with housework. Every once in a while I’ll fuss about these two things on Facebook or Twitter…or here on this blog. These are the two items that will fall by the wayside FIRST when our lives get busy. I’ll get into scenarios where I don’t have time to cook, the laundry and dishes will pile up, and my poor floors get filthy, and the dust tumbleweed starts to roll.

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Today I made blueberry syrup.  This was a request from Jacob, who loves the taste of blueberries but doesn’t care for the texture of the skins or the seeds.

It looks strange in a jar, I know, but I can keep it in the pantry this way. I have a Good Seasons dressing cruet that can hold the current syrup in the fridge for day-to-day use.

The recipe I used was mainly from the Ball Blue Book canning guide and I chose it because it called for two quarts of blueberries, which was exactly how much I had in the freezer. Just ignore the part of boiling the sugar water to 260 degrees, that doesn’t seem right to me…that’s “hard ball” candy stage so I only boiled to 225F, which is syrup stage.

In terms of the technique, this blog post from Simple Bites fits the bill for describing the steps.

While canning foods is old hat for me — I’d been doing it since canning homemade pasta sauce from homegrown Ohio tomatoes in 2001 —  boiling sugar and double-straining berry juice, such as what you might do for making jelly, were new techniques for me.  I didn’t realize how SLOW straining berry juice would be, nor did I realize how long it would take to boil down the sugar water to syrup stage.  Allow 2 hours for straining the berries and about 30 minutes for boiling down the sugar enough to make the syrup.

Now that I know this, I can be sure to multi-task during those stages :-)

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19. July 2012 · Comments Off · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , ,

Scenes like this grace the countryside throughout Lancaster County, and it got me thinking about line-drying our own clothes.

Just before I left for vacation in June, we got a power bill and it was a doozie! The weather had been warm so the air conditioner had been running at full-tilt, but as I always do after a higher-than-normal electric bill, I start to look for where to trim the excess power consumption:

  • Close my garage door: I have a habit of leaving our garage door open.  The morning sun comes screaming in heating up the space.  This makes our garage fridge work harder.
  • Turn off extra lights.  MOST of our house uses CFL lightbulbs, but not all of them.  The bathrooms have many incandescent bulbs and we need to be better about turning them off.
  • Don’t use my big oven when I can use my toaster oven to do the same job.  If I’m just baking chicken breasts, I can pop them in our smaller toaster oven, which does the same job in a smaller space.

But the biggest — or at least a top 3 — culprit is probably our clothes dryer.  I saw a couple friends take part in a 30-Day Dryer Challenge earlier this year and at the time I thought to myself “No!  Never!”, but after (a) this past power bill and (b) driving through the back roads of Lancaster County on a laundry day, I began to mellow to the thought.

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This is what I love cooking...but I shouldn't be cooking this...

I find myself in a little conundrum: I want to bake bake bake.

When I mentioned a couple weeks ago that I wanted to go “back” to the cooking I used to do for the family, much of that involved baking cookies, cakes, cobblers, breads, cornbread, etc. I love baking.

I need to change my mindset.

My adventures with granola and popcorn are a start, but I need to keep moving forward with fun cooking tasks that don’t break the calorie bank and fill my family with empty starchy calories.

In the meantime, I’m really enjoying making a small loaf of whole wheat bread about every 3-4 days for the family. The recipe that came out the winner uses only whole wheat flour with one cup of prepared mashed potatoes. You can throw a medium potato in the microwave, bake it and smash it straight into the bread machine! We enjoy making sandwiches, toast and even just having slices of bread and butter as a side dish with dinner. The kids are asking for plain slices of bread as a snack! I’m not making this up!!!

In the meantime, I’m also trying to clear out some of the less-than-ideal ingredients in my pantry. I feel a little guilty doing this also. I made a key lime pie a couple weeks ago to clear out graham crackers and condensed milk…and I made a chicken noodle casserole that used up some cream of chicken soup and egg noodles.

I’m doing some research on the interwebs myself, but if anyone has ideas of great homemade snacks for the family that I can keep on hand for snacking…leave me a comment!

Topped with our just-picked blueberries, this has been my breakfast every morning this week!

I was picking up cereal at the grocery store last week and noticed the commercially available granola. For $3-5 per box, you could get granola with a variety of flavors, with varied ingredients and perhaps even some preservatives thrown in.

Such as Kellogg’s low-fat granola:

Here’s the ingredients list from the Amazon.com entry: “Whole Oats, Brown Sugar, Whole Grain Wheat, Corn Syrup, Rice, Almonds, Modified Corn Starch, Partially Hydrogenated Cottonseed and/or Soybean Oil, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Cinnamon, Salt, Nonfat Dry Milk, Natural and Artificial Flavors, Polyglycerol Esters of Mono- and Diglycerides, Malt Flavor, Niacinamide, Zinc Oxide, Guar Gum, Sodium Ascorbate and Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C), Reduced Iron, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Vitamin A Palmitate, Folic Acid, Thiamin Hydrochloride (Vitamin B1), Bht (Preservative), Vitamin B12 and Vitamin D.”

High fructose corn syrup and partially hydrogenated oils?  If one is considering granola, one would think they’d be aware of such ingredients and not choose this particular brand.  There are so many others out there…if you had to purchase it.

Even Kashi’s yummy “Cocoa Beach” chocolate granola has “mixed tocopherols” in its ingredients, but at least I could recognize everything else.

It wasn’t too difficult to take a look at what I had available in my pantry and figured I could do this myself without high fructose corn syrup or partially hydrogenated-anything. I had plenty of Quaker’s “Old Fashioned” oats, honey, brown sugar, nuts and raisins that I could use to make granola. Plus a complement of spices such as nutmeg and cinnamon.

I browsed numerous online granola recipes, looking for one that fit the volume I wanted to make, plus the ingredients I had available.

A recipe from Amy at A Little Nosh blog was the winner.  She adapted it from the 100 Days of Real Food blog, which is a wonderful blog about a North Carolina family who succeeded in 100 days of non-processed foods, making everything from scratch.  They then tried an additional 100 days of the same thing on a tight food budget and found out it’s harder than it ought to be.

As for Amy’s recipe, being 2nd on the Google search for “homemade granola” helped her case for being my choice.  All the sweetness came from the honey, and the fat that gives it the richness came from butter instead of oil.  We here prefer the flavor that comes with butter, so this was the recipe we tried out.

I had to make a couple of changes to adapt to the ingredients I had on hand and deal with some of my kids’ tastes:

  1. I used raisins instead of dried cranberries, since I had plenty of raisins on hand already
  2. I omitted the sunflower kernels and pumpkin seeds, my youngest son doesn’t care for seeds
  3. I also omitted the coconut.  None of us care for it too much.

Otherwise, this recipe worked out like a charm and the kids enjoyed snacking on it.  We love the cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg aroma in the house while it’s baking up, as Jacob told me last week, “It smelled like Christmas!”

While Amy claims that she makes a batch and it disappears quickly, we here find granola very filling and we’re still snacking on it and having it for breakfast 5 days later.  After all, the recipe makes 3 pounds or 48 ounces, the equivalent of 3-4 boxes of what’s commercially available.

Cost-wise, I probably used about $1 worth of ingredients (a non-scientific estimate) to produce the same amount you’d have to pay about $15 for in a store.

“Back to Basics” for the win!  Once again!

If you can find the "White" popcorn, it has a distinctive flavor that makes up for the lack of chemicals and other nonesuch.

A friend of mine who lives nearby, Cassandra, put the idea in our heads at a spouses’ club-related meeting a couple months ago. We were discussing healthy snacking and she offered up how we can make plain popcorn in the microwave with just a paper lunch bag. She said “a couple tablespoons in a brown bag, fold over the bag twice and pop on high until there’s 1-2 seconds between pops.”

On a recent shopping trip — on which I was also stocking up on whole wheat flour and other baking ingredients — I stopped and stared for a while at the popcorn selections. Mostly the boxed microwave popcorn that contains tocopherols and other goodies.

I remembered Cassandra’s quick ‘n dirty tips for microwaving popcorn and decided to pick up a bag of plain Jiffy Pop popcorn kernels.  2 lbs. of nothing but popcorn!  Nearly 30 servings for $1.99 at our local commissary ($1.99 is the cost of about 6 servings of microwave popcorn.)

We tried it out and it worked beautifully!  Loved not needing any oil to cook the popcorn!  I ended up having to do two batches like that to keep up with my ravenous sons!

Don’t want plain popcorn?  You can melt butter and drizzle it over the popped corn for some classic flavor, or try out one of these fun options.

How about some homemade kettle corn?  Okay, this recipe involves stovetop cooking with oil, but it sure would be nice to have it without having to be at a fair or festival.  We just had some at the Billy Bowlegs Festival Saturday night!

Has anyone else noticed the prices of laundry detergent skyrocketing?***

How about Tide for nearly $12 per bottle (24 loads)??? Or $12 for 40 of those new Tide Pod thingies? I’ve been paying about $7-8 for a bottle of All Free & Clear, which advertised 64 loads of laundry for the size I bought. I only use about 1/2 of the recommended dose (really, it doesn’t take much detergent to cut odors and do cursory cleaning). So lets say I get 100 loads of laundry for $8. So $0.08 per load, right?

I figured I’d try this classic recipe for homemade laundry detergent, using less chemicals and additives than what’s in the popular commercial laundry detergents. I first saw this detergent referenced by the Duggar family several years ago…they had made a documentary years before TLC picked them up for a reality show. In the show, the Duggars covered some of the basics of their household: how they did laundry, how the kids chose their clothes, how they grocery shopped and how they cooked. They made brief mention of their homemade laundry detergent.

The cast of characters. “Washing soda”, Borax, a 3 oz. of soap of your choosing and a 5-gallon bucket. Fels-Naptha is a popular choice for its stain-fighting power. I ended up not using a Firehouse Subs pickle bucket, it smelled too pickle-y, but you get the idea of the size of the container needed.

There are several variations on this recipe, and there are different schools of thought on using a liquid vs. non-liquid version of this recipe. If you want to keep it easy, just run the bar soap through a food processor (get one at a thrift shop expressly for grinding up soap so you don’t have to have soapy food) and combine it with the washing soda and borax. Store it and use about 1 TBSP per load of laundry. The thing to watch for with the non-liquid detergent is that the soap may not dissolve too well in cold water washes. If you use cold-water for laundry, I recommend you proceed with making the liquid version.

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These past two months have been a blur to me.  I was busy with both boys in baseball, and my responsibilities with the Hurlburt Spouses’ Club ramped up, as I was in charge of organizing the elections of next year’s officers and a biennal review of the Constitution and other legal documents.

Pardon the blurriness. I was recognized by Hurlburt Field earlier this month as a nominee for the annual "Angel Award". I didn't win (I didn't hold a candle to most of my fellow nominees!) but I was incredibly flattered to be among such amazing volunteers.

But now it has all wound down, with the new Hurlburt Spouses’ Club officers installed a couple weeks ago, the boys’ baseball and Cub Scouts having come to a close and I have a summer season that I can dedicate to my family.

One of the things that really came to a screeching halt in April and May was normal cooking for the family.  Our dinnertimes became dominated by the “quick and easy”, from chicken nuggets to Firehouse Subs.

With the help of some inspiration from several friends who have embarked on similar cooking/eating journeys, I am going to try to go “back to basics” with our eating.  Not a “fad diet”, per se, but just trying to reset my cooking and eating habits a little.

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