Thursday, March 31, 2011

Big Thanks, and Simple Lives Thursday, featuring a New Host

To say that this has been a hectic week feels like an understatement.  I've had granola orders to keep up with, but I've also had some orders for crackers, which are very labor intensive, and an order for dozens of my spiced almond butter cookies, too.

In scary/exciting news, the stock that I took to the Co-op on Tuesday of last week has been reduced by 2/3rds as of this morning.  I'd anticipated that stuff lasting at least a month (given that this blog and word of mouth are the only advertising I've put into it!) and have been overwhelmed, in the best way, by how quickly it's moving.  I won't have time to bake again until Saturday since such a large quantity takes up most of the day, but should have the shelves restocked by Sunday or Monday at the latest.

*THANK YOU* to each and very person who went out a bought a bag!  It's been so powerful for me and everyone else to see that there's a demand for my product out there.  It means the world to me to have your support and to know that you like what I've been cookin' up.  Please feel free to email me with comments/feedback/rants at rosiesbest AT

On to Simple Lives Thursday!
This blog hop has been growing every week, and I've so enjoyed seeing what has come from it.  I'm excited to share that we have a new blogger hosting with us starting this week.  Her name is Mare and she blogs at Just Making Noise.  Check her out and welcome her to the hop!
I wanted to share two posts from last week's hop which have really stuck with me since reading them.  The first is from Annette, who also hosts the hop at Sustainable Eats.  If you didn't know already, Annette has a BOOK coming out in October!  It's called The Urban Farm Handbook and is full of lessons she's learned setting up her own homestead in the Pacific NW.  If you're into that kind of thing, keep up on her progress on her blog, and check out her post from last week here.
Isn't the cover wonderful?

The other post I wanted to share is a simple one, but it's focus has been ringing in my ears because it echos some things that have been rolling around in my brain recently.  It's this post from A Good and Simple Life which discusses simplifying your mind by leaving behind old baggage.  It echos this sentiment that I very much appreciate:  I can do anything, but I can't do everything.  I was lucky enough to have parents who convinced me that I could do almost anything that I set my mind to, so confidence is not something I've struggled with in my life as much as others have.  But, to this day, focus is a terrible problem for me.  I started Rosie's Best to channel my food-related energy into something small and do-able and have been plugging away at it ever since.  But before I made that happen, I had a million different aspirations, ranging from starting up a goat cheese operation to an off-the-grid farm B&B.  (I seriously contemplated these and crazier.)  One of the hardest things for me to do is pull back and limit myself, but I'm starting to learn that this is what fuels my success.  In a way, my limitations are liberating.  I still dream big, but when it comes down to it, I've focused on this tiny part of the world: local, homemade, craft granola in small batches.  And guess what?  So far, it's been successful.  So whenever I long for the stage, or dream of fleeing the city to start an artists' colony/CSA, I have to remind myself to direct that energy into the path I'm walking down now.

I hope I've made it clear how much I look forward to Thursdays and the blog hop (not to mention that it's also my Master Mind group meeting day, too! I'll tell you more about that soon...) and I hope you'll look around, find some posts that speak to you, and consider contributing a post from your own blog if you have one.
In addition to Mare and Annette, Diana and Wardeh host along with me.  Grab this badge for your posts, and link up!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Meatless Monday: Healthier Mac and Cheese with Spinach

Macaroni and cheese is a staple around our house, but like most staples, it's not something I ever make the same way twice.  For today's post, I wanted to show you a healthier version of my traditional baked macaroni and cheese.  My three main swaps for upgrading the nutrition value were to 1) add spinach 2) use whole grain pasta and 3)use wheat flour for the roux. 
The great news is that this dish is still fast and easy to throw together, and makes tons of extras for leftovers.

Healthier Mac and Cheese
1 box (13.5 oz) whole grain pasta  (I used rotini)
16 oz. cheese of your choice (be sure to use melters. I used extra sharp cheddar and jack)
4 c. milk
4 tbsp. butter (1/2 stick)
4 tbsp. whole wheat flour
3 cups spinach (you could sub frozen, but if you do, drain it very well.)
1-1.5 c. panko breadcrumbs (buy it from an Asian grocery store to save money)
salt and pepper to tasteDSC01160croppedDSC01155Whole grain pasta is inexpensive (I paid $1.18 for the store brand) and is a good source of protein and dietary fiber.
DSC01163Using whole wheat flour will give your roux a less smooth texture, but again adds protein and fiber.
DSC01162And spinach is full of iron.
DSC01167I set up two pots side by side, one for boiling pasta and the other for making the sauce.  I used the little copper pot for pasta and the bigger dutch oven for making the sauce.  Whatever pot you choose must be big enough to hold the sauce AND the cooked pasta.
DSC01170While your well-salted water comes to a boil, melt the butter over medium heat.  Add the flour and stir, cooking for a few minutes or until the roux smells a little bit nutty.  A roux is made with butter and flour and is used as a thickening agent for all kinds of sauces.  The more you cook a roux, the browner and more flavorful it gets.  A roux that is more flavorful has less thickening power, so I only cook this for a couple minutes.
DSC01173Brown and bubbly.  Keep it moving because it will burn.
DSC01175Once the water comes to a boil, add your pasta.  Add the milk to the roux.  Unlike cornstarch, roux must come to a boil before it can thicken, so raise to heat to high, stirring constantly so nothing sticks.  Once the milk begins to boil, reduce the heat back to medium and continue to cook until the milk is at your desired thickness.  It should take less than five minutes.
DSC01177See how much thicker it is?  Add your cheese.
DSC01180Stir in the cheese until it's melted and totally incorporated into the milk mixture.  Season with salt and pepper.  Take this off the heat and add the pasta that you've drained when it's cooked to your liking.
DSC01185Mix it up.
DSC01189Off heat, add your spinach a little at a time.  You'll think it isn't going to fit, but it wilts quickly.
DSC01192Stir until it's all mixed together.
DSC01194Spread this into a 9x13 baking dish.  I didn't grease it at all and everything came out fine.  Smooth the top so it's even.
DSC01198Cover with panko breadcrumbs.  I always toss breadcrumbs in a little melted butter (1-2 tbsp.) because it helps with browning, but this is optional.
DSC01200Make it as even as you can, but don't worry too much.
DSC01204Bake at 375 until it's brown and bubbly, usually 30-45 minutes.  (You'll really need to watch your time though, because baking times depend very much on your individual oven.)
DSC01206Tasty. Crunchy.
DSC01208The spinach gives an unusual savory taste to this dish.  It balanced the creamy richness with an earthy flavor.
DSC01211My favorite part is the crust, of course. 
DSC01214Give this recipe a try and let me know what you think.
Until then, tell me, what do you do to tweak your favorite recipes to make them healthier?  I've already confessed my love for white whole wheat flour.  I'd love to hear your tips and tricks.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Favorite Posts from the Web Last Week, and SLT

Once a week, some of the best information about homesteading and conservation come to me, rather than the other way around.  Normally I follow blogs whose authors I connect with on some level, be it their writing style, photography, or taste in food.  What I love about Simple Lives Thursday is that it unites otherwise disparate bloggers around the central idea of consuming less and producing more.  I've discovered some great blogs through it, and even more posts that I've returned to and used over and over.  Today, I'm going to share some of my favorite posts from last week in the hopes that you'll check them out, and consider contributing and checking out even more great posts this week.  (Note: all photos are property of the blog linked to by the description.)

Caring for Animals:
On Riddle Love, see this little kid all growed up, and hear the author's thoughts on eating him in the future.
Gardening and Preserving:

Sense of Home offers this smart reflection on canning, looking back on last year's successes and failures.  It's the perfect time to be thinking about what you do and don't want to put up this year, and there are some great ideas in that post.  (Blackberries in Framboise?! yes please!)

On Today's Menu, a great reminder/discussion about soil testing.  It is SO important for every gardener to know what they're working with, and testing is very reasonably priced. Once you know what you're working with, you can effectively amend your soil and meet your plants' needs.
This sweet potato bark from Restoring Simplicity is so smart, healthy, and portable.  I can't believe I hadn't thought of this before, and it gives me tons of ideas for future experiments.

Use up that stale bread with this recipe for Lemon Pudding from Mom's Sunday Cafe.

You can make these broccoli cheese bites from The Nourishing Homemaker in huge batches, freeze, and then bake up just what you need.  She made this recipe for her kids, but I think it's a great way to get grown-ups to get green veggies, too.

Peanut Butter Cup Cheesecake Minis from Extreme Personal Measures.  I don't need to say more.

Sadly, the cold is returning this week in Iowa, and this ginger, clove, and cinnamon milk with honey from Grow in Kitchen sounds like the perfect thing to curl up to until the weather warms back up.
Make it Yourself

Frugal By Choice details a process I've adopted, making your own peanut butter, and she even breaks down the cost for you.  (There's a cute picture of her kiddo, too.)

Girl's Guide to Butter does crockpot yogurt.  So smart, so easy.


My sweet friend Lindsey (she gave me this awesome cutting board!) started this great new blog, Little Blog on the Prairie, and tells about her homemade medicine cabinet's most used items.

The Woodwife's Journal wrote an excellent, information-packed post about herbal remedies, including how to make your own balms and salves.  Lots of details and great advice in that post!


If you are interested in the documentary No Impact Man, about a small family of three trying to live off the grid in NYC, you can now watch the whole thing for free at Permaculture Media and access a viewing guide.
I'm afraid to read this book, Growing a Farmer, because this quick review from Suited to the Seasons makes me think it'll convince me I can totally quit my job and become a full time farmer.  Sounds like a great read none the less.

This post links to a free PDF download on Urban Dwellers DIY from Hella Delicious, and it has some great tips from using soap nuts to making your own toothpaste.

This quick-knit cozy slipper pattern from Pebble Crossing looks easy and so warm.

I hope this post gave you an idea about the amazing posters contributing each week.  Won't you have a look and consider joining us this week?

Remember we four host:
and Annette at 
Sustainable Eats

Link up and have a look around!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Rosie's Best Gets a Facelift and some Shelf Time

Hey! It's Tuesday! I'm not sure I've ever been so excited for a Tuesday.  Today, I had the honor of putting my granola on the shelves of my favorite grocery store, New Pioneer Co-op.

The Co-op is a member-owned cooperative grocery store which specializes in local and seasonal foods.  It's my favorite place to buy produce, in part because it's so fresh, but also because they feature photos and stories of the farmers and producers who supply them.  (It was the first place I learned of Susan Jutz, my CSA farmer!)  This store is the perfect place for shoppers to connect my product with me, their neighbor.

Today, I walked into this familiar place and felt proud to put my granola on the shelves, where it stands out as their only local option.  I'm so excited that I'm able to sell my product within a mile of where I manufacture it.  For those of us who care about spending and eating locally, this is as good as it gets.

In anticipation of the debut, I decided that our packaging needed a change, and I couldn't be happier with the result.  I think the new approach better reflects my aesthetic and the handmade, small batch nature of my product.  Check it out:

DSC01132And here, in its rightful home on the main shelf at the Co-op.

DSC01138Lookin' sharp, I think, with a nice big L for local sticker below.

DSC01135House Recipe.

DSC01136So head on down to the corner of Washington and Van Buren Streets, and get 'em while they're hot!  Tell 'em I sent ya.  If you can't make it to the Co-op, check out my Etsy shop and get some delivered to your corner of the world.

And thank you, readers, for following me along this crazy journey.  I wrote this post on my birthday in October announcing the opening of the bakery, and you've been with me ever since.  I couldn't do it without you.


Monday, March 21, 2011

Meatless Quickie: Lentil Tacos, and an Exciting Announcement!

It's Monday and that means I have an easy idea for a meatless meal you'll be excited to eat.  Today, it's a super quick one, with only one photo and short instructions.
This recipe is quick to throw together, very inexpensive, and great for you.
Lentils, like quinoa, are a food that I didn't grow up eating but have become a staple in my home.  Lentils are legumes and they're great for all diets, but especially meatless ones, because they're so high in protein and iron, the latter of which poses a challenge for those who don't eat animal products.  Aside from their nutritional benefits, lentils are great to have around because they cook very quickly, especially when compared to dried beans.  This recipe comes together in around 30 minutes.
Check your local bulk section for lentils, or ethnic grocery stores.   Always rinse them before cooking and check for stones, which can make it through the sorting process.  You can purchase a packet of premade taco seasoning if you'd like, but read the ingredients list first.  I avoid mixes that contain salt (so I can adjust seasoning to taste) and any artificial ingredients.

Lentil Taco Filling
1 c. green lentils
1 yellow onion

Spice Mix:
Whole spices:
2 tbsp. oregano
1 tsp. cumin (toasted in a dry pan, cooled, and ground)
1 tsp-1 tbsp. chili powder
1 tbsp. garlic powder (or 1-2 cloves garlic, crushed)
1 tsp. onion powder
salt and pepper to taste

Begin by browning up the chopped onion in a medium sauce pan.  Once the onion is translucent, add the lentils and spices.  Add just a little salt and pepper because you'll adjust for these after the lentils have cooked. 
Cover with 2 cups of water or broth, bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook for 20-25 minutes.  You might need to add more water/broth as it cooks off.  Just be sure you're simmering and not boiling or you'll end up adding too much.  Check the lentils to see if they're cooked to your liking.  I like them to be a little toothy in the middle, but soft on the outside. 
Mash up a little of the lentil mixture with your spoon so the filling holds together.  Serve up as you would taco meat.  (Note that this filling is vegan, so skip the cheese and yogurt/sour cream and you can enjoy it with your vegan friends, too.)
DSC01119Locals, we really like Kramer's Salsa. Yum.
Something simple I've been eating a lot recently: frozen fruit pureed with just a little orange juice.  This is just cherries and strawberries, but it has satisfied my fruit cravings that have come on with the warmer weather.
DSC01100Soon I'll tell you what I did with these.  (Hint: it involved ham hocks!)
DSC01113Finally, I have some super exciting news to share with you. 

Are you ready to see some of this
DSC00851That's right folks.  Starting Tuesday afternoon, you'll be able to walk into the downtown location of New Pioneer Coop (our local cooperatively owned grocery store) and buy some of your very own Rosie's Best granola.  I'm pretty darn excited for you guys to be able to taste what I've been working on, and would love to hear what you think.  Soon we'll do a sampling event at the store on a weekend or two and I'd love for you to come down and say hi and take a taste.  Until then, drop into the coop and let me know what you think (here or at rosiesbest AT  If you're not in the Iowa City area, stop by the Etsy shop and get some delivered fresh to your front door.
Have a great day everybody!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Stuff I'm Loving this Week, and Simple Lives Thursday #35

For 35 Thursday's in a row, these three bloggers and I

and Annette at 
Sustainable Eats

have hosted a blog hop, bringing together blogs from all over the country to share what we're doing to keep things simple in our lives and homes.  Our contributors never fail to impress, and their numbers have been growing steadily each week.  Last edition, we had 86 entries! Won't you join us this week?
First I'm going to share some things I've been loving this week.  Then look for the linky at the bottom of this post and join the blog party!
I love:
This cleaner from Bon Ami.  I had always used Comet because of its scrubbing power, but this doesn't contain bleach and does the job just as well.  I started using it with my vinegar cleaner and haven't looked back to conventional cleaners since.
DSC01087These, my annual food sin.  I can't help it.
DSC01064Watching my nephew give toys to my niece, including this little ballerina that I played with when I was little.  (This explains why she's missing her top...)
DSC01067And when my dad snuggles her.  Don't you love watching grown men go all soft around baby girls?
DSC01081My personalized letterpress notecards from Campbell Raw Press.  I just ordered another set because I use these so often.  There's something special about a hand written note, and it's all the more more special when the paper is good and the printing is even better.  If you're into correspondence, check out Maggie's work.  Her recent vintage stamp albums are nothing short of inspired, and all of her products beg to be held and used.
DSC01089Working with some inspiring people to set up a direct farm-to-consumer buying group in my area, called the Iowa Valley Food Coop. I have felt privileged to be present for the behind-the-scenes startup of an organization like this, and have learned a lot about the logistics of setting up a new venture.  I've also met some great people along the way.  Stay tuned for more info about the Coop, and if you're in the Iowa City/Cedar Rapids area, check out the website and consider joining.  There's no better way to support your local producers and get excellent quality food from your neighbors.
DSC01091This issue of Edible Iowa River Valley, with my friend Allie on the cover.  Isn't she adorable?
DSC01090It includes an article about Women, Food and Agriculture, whom I've written about before on here.  If you haven't already, check them out and consider becoming a member.
DSC01092This book.  I never thought I'd look up at page 400 and be sad that I was at the end.  An example of some great storytelling.  If you ever miss your grandpa, read this book.DSC01093This bread, from Monday's post.  It is SO delicious, and you still have time to make it before your get together tonight or this weekend.  It came together in less than an hour and makes some awesome toast.  The crumb is tender and the bread is just slightly sweet.
And finally, Simple Lives Thursday.  I enjoyed so many posts last week, and can't wait to see what you guys are up to this time around.  Grab this badge, put it at the bottom of your post, and link up!

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