Monday, November 28, 2011

Post-Thanksgiving Easy Supper: Grilled Cheese with Apples and Tomato Soup

I hope this post finds you enjoying the return to normal life after a long weekend full of gluttony
I can't lie; Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays.  Other than signaling the full swing into Christmas season (cookies!) Thanksgiving ranks among my favorites for being a holiday based around cooking, eating, family, and gratitude.  (Have you ever seen this wonderful blog?)   
At this year's get-together, there were two adorable babies, one being miss Eleanor in her special outfit.
 (You get bonus points if you recognize the blanket she's on.)
The official day had an abundance of great food, including Mom's homemade rolls and this gratin that I made using celery root and apples.  (It was delicious.)
 The night before we had a friends-giving where a friend roasted a turkey and we brought dessert.  I'm wearing little Ellie who was a champ and slept through dinner.
Like so many of you, we were totally fed up with rich food, so tonight the husband and I dined on grilled cheese and tomato soup.  We made it our way, though, with tomatoes from the garden, local garlic and onions, potato bread from the Coop, extra sharp cheddar cheese, and local apples.  It came together in 15 minutes (we used this basic recipe but didn't add any dairy.) and was exactly what we wanted.
The first taste of tomatoes from the garden helped ease the pain of returning to work. Today was my first day back and I've missed her like crazy, so now I'm going to go cuddle her to sleep.
Speaking of whom, Ellie has discovered her tongue.

How was your Thanksgiving?  See you Thursday!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Pre-Baby Hot Pepper Raspberry Jam

Dear Miss Eleanor,
Before you were born, we had a nice long pre-baby weekend.
We made big breakfasts, ate doughnuts, went to farmer's market, and planted bulbs. 
The day before you were born, I looked like this:

And I made this jam with the last of the fall fruit:

Hot Pepper Raspberry Jam

 4 c. raspberries
1 large red bell pepper
4 jalapeƱos
8 c. sugar
Put all your fruit and crushed berries in a pot with a heavy bottom.
 Bring to a boil.
 Add all your sugar at once.
 Return to a boil for one solid minute.
 Ladle into hot jars and process for 10 minutes.
Someday, baby girl, I'll let you try this stuff.  It's great with soft cheese and crackers.
<3 Mom

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Iowa Valley Food Cooperative Order and Simple Lives Thursday

I'm trying to enjoy the little bit of my maternity leave that is left (sob) by playing around with Ellie and getting absolutely nothing else done.
Except a little baking.  Yesterday I baked another loaf of Grandma Ann's banana bread but added chocolate chips and a streusel topping.

 It was good.
Yesterday I dropped off some granola to the Iowa Valley Food Cooperative and picked up my own order for November.  I thought this would be a good opportunity to show you the kinds of products available through the coop, all of which are local.

 We got a 1/2 lb. of different kinds of garlic for $4.
 2 lbs. of sweet potatoes for $3.20.  (You've watched this, right?)
 Celery root from Grinnell for $3/lb.
 Amazing grass fed beef from Ebersole Cattle Co for $6/lb.  I also had the pleasure of running into Shanen when I dropped my orders off and we had a nice little chat while she fussed over Ellie.  There's just something comforting about knowing and liking the people who grow your food.
 Fresh local spinach for $3, which will be great well into the winter.
 Eggs for $3.25 from Rapid Creek Ranch
 And leeks for $2.50

Total including the 10% coop fee: $27.45.  This produce will last us through the month and will inspire lots of healthy meals.
If you'd like to know more or sign up for the Cooperative, click here and check it out.
FInally, it's Simple Lives Thursday!  Have a look at the featured posts from last week and check out this week's submissions.

Featured Posts from Last Week's Submissions

SLT Featured Post Badge

We really enjoy reading your posts each week! Featured post bloggers, please grab the badge above and display it on your site! Link it to one of the host blogs' posts for the specific week that you were featured.

Here are our picks from last week's submissions. Thanks to all who participated -- it is always hard to choose!

1. I Don't Like Digging Carrots by Prairie Sunrise Homestead. Marg shares why she's digging up her carrots in November, and who is interestedly watching.

2. 7 Ways to Reduce Corporate Influence in Our Lives by Frugally Sustainable. This blogger finds practical and simple ways to reduce consumerism and still have quality of life. Read how.

3. In Which I Wonder: Are You Kidding Me? by Auburn Meadow Farm. “If you can’t stand the knowledge, then you shouldn’t buy it or eat it.” (Photo credit: Daily Journal, Kankakee, Michigan)

Monday, November 14, 2011

Meatless Monday: Spicy Vegan Coconut Carrot Soup with Ginger

Since we all turned our clocks back last week, the days have started feeling shorter and shorter, and we're spending more time indoors, huddled in from the cold darkness that falls so early each afternoon.  This marks the beginning of soup season.  Normally we think of soups and stews as being brothy or cream based, and generally very salty and savory.  For this week, I wanted to make use of the Eastern notion that spicy food helps warm the body and made an easy soup to eat all week.
I combined ingredients that I always keep in the pantry (all the spices and the coconut milk) with the last of the seasonal produce (the carrots and jalapenos) to make this rich and comforting soup.  The jalapenos give a nice kick while the coconut milk makes it smooth and satisfying.   
I decided to add extra texture to the soup because I dislike overly processed creamy soups that taste like baby food.  I found some unsweetened dry flake coconut and carrot chips (locals, these came from Stringtown and they are delicious) to add extra crunch and flavor.

Spicy Vegan Coconut Carrot Soup with Ginger
2-3 lbs carrots, roughly chopped
3 small yellow onions, chopped
3 cloves garlic, diced
1-2 jalapenos, to taste, diced (optional)
1 can coconut milk (shake before using)
1-2 inches fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1-2 tbsp. curry powder
1/2 c. beer, stock, or water
2-4 tbsp. oil

Start with your carrots.  Peel or scrub them well and chop roughly.  These carrots are half from the Iowa Valley Food Coop and half from our garden.  We grew the squat Parisienne carrots and were really happy with the flavor.
Chop your onions, mince your garlic and ginger. 

Heat oil in a Dutch oven or stock pot with a heavy bottom and add your onions.  Season well with salt and pepper.

Once the onions are lightly browned and starting to become translucent, add the garlic, ginger, and jalapeno.  (We used 2 and it was quite spicy. If you don't like things very spicy, add fewer chilies or omit them completely.  Your curry powder may have some heat itself.)
Stir these constantly until you start to smell the garlic, 1-2 minutes.  Do not allow the garlic to burn or it will become bitter.  Then, add your curry powder and carrots. Again season with salt and pepper. Stir and continue cooking over medium heat to help the carrots start to soften and the curry powder to cook.  (Raw curry powder has a very chalky taste, so you must cook it a bit before adding your liquid.)
While you're cooking, you might see the curry powder start to stick to the bottom of the pan.  This is fine, but do not let it burn.  If it starts to brown too much, add a little of your liquid.  We used this beer, thinking the coriander might taste good with the other seasonings.  Once your carrots are soft, add your liquid.
Stir. This should be pretty and smell really good.  Scrape the bottom to get all the good stuff.
Cook in the liquid until the carrots are soft but not cooked to your liking, around 5 more minutes.
Grab your coconut milk.
Pour it in and stir.  You might need to add an extra 1/2 c. of liquid to thin it out, depending on how much liquid you lost when you cooked the carrots.  Bring this to a low simmer and cook until the carrots are cooked to your liking and the flavors have mixed.  For us, this was another 15-20 minutes at very low.
Use your stick blender to process this as much as you'd like. I prefer chunks of carrots, so I only did it for a few minutes.
Serve hot and garnish with the carrot chips and flake coconut.
It's even better the next day.
Go make some soup and warm your belly!
edited to add: a picture of miss Eleanor loungin' for Sarah

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Why I DIY, Homemade Baby Powder, and Simple Lives Thursday

I've been busy busy trying to squeeze a little work around the house in while this little girl naps.

Today I want to tell you why I spend the time and effort making my own household products where I can.
I've talked a lot on this blog about some of the things I make for myself instead of buying at the store.  Including:
There are a few reasons that I choose to make these things for myself instead of buying them.
  1. Cost.  In general, these things are significantly cheaper than their store-bought counterparts.  They are made with inexpensive basic ingredients like vinegar and baking soda which are very reasonably priced, especially when purchased in bulk.  Some ingredients like the essentials oils cost more up front but have a very low price-per-use.  And of course, you save the fuel cost of going to the store.
  2. Quality.  Each of the above products functions as well or better than the best store-bought versions.  The vinegar cleaner, for example, will remove wallpaper adhesive.  Wallpaper adhesive!   
  3. Convenience.  This is a major reason we make our own baby wipes, and one of the main reasons we love cloth diapering.  There are no midnight runs to the grocery store so long as we keep the basic materials well stocked.
  4. Waste.  One of the largest sources of household waste is packaging.  By making our own, we've kept hundreds of plastic bottles and paper boxes from being made.  We reuse what we can and recycle anything we have to buy in a package.
  5. Safety.  This has always been a major motivating factor in deciding to make a lot of things myself, and its importance has only increased since having our little one.  I'm comforted knowing that she could get into the cleaning cabinet and its contents wouldn't harm her skin, lungs, or stomach.  (I guess if she drank some castile soap we might be in trouble though ;) )
On the topic of safety, I'd like to talk about the DIY I'm going to share with you today.  Every child needs some sort of powder from time to time to keep their diaper area clean and dry.  We looked into the available baby powders and discovered that the majority of them were based on talc (aka talcum powder.)  which I had heard negative things about but hadn't taken the opportunity to fully research since we weren't using any products containing it.  A simple search taught us the problem with talc and why it isn't suitable for our baby or ourselves.  From the Cancer Prevention Coalition:

"The common household hazard posed by talc is inhalation of baby powder by infants. Since the early 1980s, records show that several thousand infants each year have died or become seriously ill following accidental inhalation of baby powder."

Here is a PDF of an article about talc inhalation, specifically as it relates to infants.

It is frustrating that this product is still widely available on the shelves of any store, and used on children everywhere.  Once we read this, we started looking for alternatives.  Many baby powders are made with corn starch instead of talc, but the pre-made powders are more expensive than plain cornstarch, and often contain fragrance, another potentially harmful ingredient.  (The label 'fragrance' can often mean that the product includes phthalates.)

We decided that we'd make our own baby powder and store it in a small jar with a perforated lid for ease of use.  We wanted a nice smell to go with the corn starch so we used a few drops of our favorite essential oil, lavender.  

My favorite essential oils come from AuraCacia.  I love this company because it's local and it's a cooperative.  These four are our favorite and most used essential oils.  From left to right, we use the rose and lavender oils for body care products and laundry.  The lavender goes into our baths, a body spray I make myself, and onto the wet bag that collects Ellie's smelly diapers.  
We use the peppermint for anything we want to be invigorating like a facial spray for hot days or boiling water we inhale when we're stuffy.
The lemon eucalyptus smells fresh and clean and we always use it in our mop water.  

(LOCALS! If you're a member of New Pioneer Cooperative, you get an extra 10% off all health and beauty products on the first Tuesday of every month.  This includes these oils, so give them a try!)

We thought lavender would be perfect for the baby powder, so we grabbed it and a simple glass cheese shaker like this..  

This cornstarch container made it easy to add the essential oils directly to it and shake to combine them.  We filled the small shaker and had plenty for refills later.  To this 16 oz. container of cornstarch, we added 15-20 drops of essential oil.  

We used a quick paper funnel to get the mix into the shaker.  Be sure to use a spoon.  Don't try to pour it in there directly from the container, ok?
Just don't.  I warned you.
Voila: homemade safe baby powder for pennies.
Obviously corn starch is not good for babies to inhale either since it will dry their lungs out and make them cough, so when you use this try your best not to get it in the air. 

Finally, it's Simple Lives Thursday!  I hope you've had fun browsing the submissions each week.  I have to blush because the other hosts chose my post from last week about homemade baby wipes as a featured post this week.  Thanks ladies!  I'm blushing here :)
Won't you check out the other featured posts and submit something yourself?

Featured Posts from Last Week's Submissions

SLT Featured Post Badge

We really enjoy reading your posts each week! Featured post bloggers, please grab the badge above and display it on your site! Link it to one of the host blogs' posts for the specific week that you were featured.

Here are our picks from last week's submissions. Thanks to all who participated -- it is always hard to choose!

1. How To Enjoy Eating Outdoors by Urban Pioneer Story. Jeanette shares her tricks for making eating outdoors work well and more importantly, be enjoyable for all.

2. Hand Sanitizer: Good or Bad? by The Holistic Mama. Before you blindly apply hand sanitizer this winter read this thought –provoking entry by Holistic Mama.

3. Homemade Baby Wipes by Culinary Bliss. In the first month of new motherhood, Alicia manages to tackle eliminating chemical-laden wipes from her household. Hats off Alicia! We hope you are managing to sleep, too!

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