Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Exciting Chaos!

As I mentioned here before, we are in the midst of some major lifestyle changes here at the Homestead. This week, everything is starting to come together, rather all at once. Chaos! Exciting chaos, but chaos still.

Ready for the Party
1. We are down to the very last week of running the daycare, as the last of our young charges will be heading off to Preschool. We're currently wrapping up the business, and all that entails (much of it boring paper-work-type-stuff) But one fun thing...  tomorrow we are having a little "Time for Preschool" party for
our little ones, to send them on their way. There will be cupcakes!

Murphy helped us paint
the new chalkboard wall
2. We are preparing to change the house around, turning the two daycare rooms into a much-needed playroom for the kids and a home office for me! It's going to be great to gain two whole rooms in our house, practically doubling our living space on the main floor of our house. We already did a bit of repainting and such when we were on "staycation" last week. Of course there will be photos and a big reveal here on the blog when it happens, probably sometime next week.

 3. We are getting ready for another year of Homeschool for my kiddos! I've got the homeschool cabinet mostly set up and organized, books have been ordered and supplies have been purchased. Ladybug is doing Duel Enrollment at a local community college, and we've signed up for some homeschool classes. I am also preparing to teach an art class for 9-13 year olds in the fall, which I'm very excited about.

4. I'm working on some writing stuff! Slow going, with everything else going on. But I'm trying to keep on keepin' on.

5. The Man is working on his next career move... exciting stuff happening there, too!

So many things started, not a lot finished, but it's all good. Loose ends will wrap up soon, and then the next chapter begins in earnest. Onward and upward!

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Old Favorite Made Vegan: Eggplant Parmesan!

When I was just a wee one, my dad, who is half Italian, taught me how to make Eggplant Parmesan. In most Italian households, this staple dish is made without a written recipe, but instead is learned from grandparents and parents and aunts by watching and helping in the kitchen. Every family has their little special tricks and secrets to make it come out just right.

When The Man and I first started dating, he told me how much he loved some good eggplant parm. I tried to impress him by cooking my old family recipe for him, and I'm pretty sure that's when he fell in love with me. (ok, maybe it wasn't ~just~ that... but I think it helped!) Now that we've moved away from eating animal products, I needed to find a way to make my old recipe work without eggs or dairy. It took a bit of experimenting, but I am VERY happy with the results. 

Vegan Eggplant Parmesan

1 large or 2 small, firm eggplants
salt
1 1/2 cups unsweetened non-dairy milk (I used almond milk)
1 Tbsp chia seeds, ground up (I used my Nutri-bullet for this, but any spice grinder would do... you could even use a coffer grinder)
2 cups of all-natural Italian-style bread crumbs
Olive oil, for frying (see note below if you prefer to bake instead of fry)
Your favorite sauce, jarred or homemade
Shredded vegan cheese

Slice the eggplants to your preferred thickness. I like mine sliced very thin, but some people like it a bit thicker. I slice mine about 1/4 inch thick. Lay the slices in a single layer on paper towels. Sprinkle with salt. Cover with another paper towel and let sit while you prep the rest. 



Eggplant, all fried up
Next, whisk together the non-dairy milk and ground chia seeds in a shallow bowl. It should end up similar to the texture of raw whisked eggs. In another shallow bowl, pour in the breadcrumbs. Get a heavy skillet ready on the stove with some oil in it. Now, it's time to get yourself a little assembly-line going, dipping your eggplant slices into the milk mixture, then the breadcrumbs, then get them frying in the pan. Cook the slices until they are golden brown around the edges, then flip and cook the other side. Drain on paper towels. (if you prefer to avoid frying, then instead of a skillet, place the breaded slices on a greased cookie sheet and bake at 400 for about 3-5 minutes each side, until golden brown and crispy)

Once all the eggplant is cooked, layer the slices in a casserole dish with the sauce and cheese. Bake at 350 for 20-30 minutes, until the cheese is all melty and bubbly. Serve with pasta and a big salad.

fresh from the oven
Mangia!

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Learning to Unplug

We live in an age where we are constantly connected, 24/7. Between laptops, tablets and smartphones, we are constantly alerted with little beeps and dings to every news story, email, Facebook post, text, tweet and more. When we send an email or message to someone, we sort of expect an instant (or near instant) response, because we're all so connected. Anytime we have a spare moment while waiting in line, sitting at a kid's practice or waiting for food at a restaurant we are checking social media, sending emails or answering texts. Many people get panicky if their phone is out of sight for even a moment. How did we ever survive in the days before smartphones? How did we ever  manage to go out for the day without staying on top of what everyone else is doing? And more importantly... what would happen to us now if we went just ONE DAY unplugged?

We would feel fantastic, that's what. Yesterday, I left my phone turned off on the counter, and didn't even open my laptop. I didn't have to work yesterday, and my family was all with me, so I didn't have to worry that someone would "need" to reach me. I figured that any emails or texts could be answered the next day. Without the distractions of email, blog and social media, I was amazingly productive. I had plans to start cleaning out and organizing our homeschool cabinet in preparation for the new school year, and I managed to accomplish that along with several other things. I also had time to pack up a picnic dinner, so that my family and I could enjoy an evening at the beach. While at the beach, I took in the sound of the ocean, the salt air on my skin, and the waves lapping at my feet. I enjoyed a walk along the beach with The Man, and watched my kids splash in the surf. And I did not "check in" or Instagram any of it.

While there are certainly advantages to being connected, I think that taking a break and stepping back can also be a very healthy thing, as sometimes we are more attached to our phones and the virtual world around us than our actual lives. We have a need to be constantly accessible to the world, but often we're miss what's happening right in front of us, because our nose is pointed down at our phones. Unplugging for a bit can give us fresh perspective. A chance to smell the roses instead of tweeting them.

Here is my challenge to you... turn off the phone, tablets, computers and screens. For just one day. One day. Remove electronic distraction for just one day, and see what it does for you. Tackle a project without interruptions. Eat a meal and savor it, without taking a photo of it. Enjoy some time with your family, without stopping in the middle of a moment to Tweet about it. Be Present, for just one day.



Monday, August 4, 2014

Keepin' Clean, the Natural Way

One of the biggest sources of chemical exposure in our daily lives is the bath and body products we use each day. Just think about all the products the average person slathers all over their body and hair every day... cleansers, shampoos, conditioners, lotions, styling products, deodorants, shaving creams, and so on, and so on. The idea of all the chemicals in these products seeping into my skin really freaks me out, so over the years I've made a lot of changes to my personal care routine, in an effort to minimize my chemical exposure. I've stripped everything down to a few homemade products and a few natural store-bought products. In addition to being chemical-free, my new personal care routine takes way less time, costs WAY less money, and works amazingly well. Here's how it all works in my real life:

Evening: I start by using the Oil Cleansing Method on my face, then I have a nice hot shower to wash away the grime of the day using my homemade body wash. I shave using coconut oil instead of shaving cream, and my legs end up so soft I don't even need a moisturizer. For my hair, I still use the Natural Hair Care method, except I have found that my hair behaves better if I use an all-natural conditioner in place of the vinegar rinse. I think as I get older, my hair just needs more moisture. Sometimes I use a bit of coconut oil as a deep conditioner, if I feel like I need it. I no longer use a moisturizer on my face at night, since the oil cleansing method doesn't strip my skin the way cleansers used to. Every now and then, I treat my dry knees, elbows and feet to some homemade sugar scrub.

Morning: My morning routine is very quick. My mornings can sometimes really busy, so I don't have a lot of time to get myself ready for the day. I take a quick shower, no hair washing, since I just washed it the night before. My face just gets a quick splash of warm water, no cleanser. I use my own homemade deodorant (finally got the recipe right for this, after many attempts, and will share it here soon) and a spritz of homemade body spray or a dab of diluted essential oil. If my hair is seems a bit frizzy, I'll rub a tiny bit of coconut oil between my hands and run it through my hair. This is the only hair product I use. Since I have very sensitive, pale, freckly skin, I do use a daily moisturizer with sunscreen. I currently use Say Yes to Carrots brand, and I LOVE it. A smidge of homemade lip balm and, if I'm feeling really sassy, a little mascara, and I'm ready to start my day.

I'm not sure exactly how much I spend on ingredients to make my personal care products, but I do know that I spend WAY less than when I was buying everything ready made from the store. Plus, it's nice to know that almost everything I'm putting on my body is safe enough to eat.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Healthy, Nut-free Vegetarian Lunches for Picky Eaters

Although healthy food, cooking and feeding people is pretty much my life, somehow I have given birth to two of the pickiest eaters on the planet. I would feel like a total failure, except that my youngest is actually the least picky eater on the planet, so he makes up for the other two (just a little)

Feeding the picky eaters is challenging on the best of days, but for us, summers are REALLY challenging. You see, every summer my older kids go to a theater camp, where they are required to bring a peanut-and-tree-nut-free lunch every day. Those of you who have to pack lunches like this for school every day have my most sincere sympathy. Seriously, I don't know how you do it. Since my kids are vegetarian (and they are picky) a huge portion of their regular diet is made up of peanuts and tree nuts... pb&js, almond milk, trail mix, almond butter on toast... most of the protein these kids eat is nut-based, so you see my dilemma. My kids are not vegan, just vegetarian, so they do eat dairy, which gives us a few more options. But still... coming up with interesting and acceptable lunches every day, within the limits of the six nut-free foods they will actually eat, is really starting to wear me down. Having talked to other parents who have kids in Nut-Free schools and activities, I know we are not alone. I thought maybe I'd post some of the lunches I've managed to throw together here, to possibly inspire others in our position, and just maybe some of you might be inclined to share your lunch ideas in the comments (It takes a village, dontcha know...)

Here we go:
Milk, pepper strips, blueberries, sunflower butter sandwich.

Homemade pita chips (in bag) veggies with sunflower butter, yogurt and pear
(about a third of the veggies in this lunch came home uneaten. ~sigh~)

Two lunches for two kids: mini pitas, cheese, strawberries, apple, grahams
with sunflower butter. Raw veggies on the left, "purple salad" on the right.




Sunflower butter sandwich, sweet potato chips, strawberries, yogurt w/blueberries.

Peach, cheese quesadilla, mango salsa, mixed raw veggies
(there was a milk to go with this, too)

Yogurt with blueberries, mini pitas, sunflower butter,
mixed raw veggies, plum
Yogurt with blueberries, salad wrap, string beans and carrots, strawberries
A few others that I didn't quite get pictures of:

1. Pasta salad, carrot sticks, string cheese, apple
2. Bagel with cream cheese, celery and carrots with dip, fruit salad
3. Mozzerella, basil and tomato sandwich, pepper strips, apple
4. Mini raisin bagels, sunflower butter, mixed raw veggies, watermelon cubes, milk
5. Cheese sandwich, spinach salad, strawberries

We are down to our last week of packing daily camp lunches, but I know there will be activities and classes for which we'll still need to pack lunch occasionally once the school year starts.


Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Pickling Day

This past Sunday was a day off for us. Our first day off, no work or other obligations, in several weeks. I'd really been looking forward to it, and had been planning to hit the beach with my family for some much-needed downtime.

Unfortunately, Mother Nature had other plans for us! Instead of a nice beach day, we had torrential downpours and thunderstorms. Not exactly beach weather.

Since I couldn't go to the beach, I decided to tackle some projects around the house, including working my way through some of the produce we picked up from the farm share on Friday. Since we got EIGHT cucumbers in our share, (and I had a few from the garden!) I decided it was time to make pickles!

Pickles are one of the absolute easiest things to can, ever. You can whip up a big batch in less than an hour. This time I made our favorite dill pickles, in both slices and spears. I also tried a new recipe: Pickled onions! (I also got a ton of onions from the farm) Those were pretty good, but at first taste just a little ~too~ tart for my liking, so I might have to work on that recipe a bit. I'll see how they are after they sit for a couple of weeks.

Although it was not the beach day I had planned, it turned out to be kind of nice to have time to catch up on those little tasks I haven't had time to get to lately. Though I WILL say that on our next day off, 15 days from now, I REALLY hope I get to the beach! I might even bring a jar of pickles for our picnic.
Homemade Pickles! Balsamic pickled onions, dill spears and dill slices

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Easiest Fancy Coffee EVER

You know how sometimes you discover a thing, and it's a small thing, but it just makes you SO HAPPY?! Well, this happened to me!

I LOVE coffee, but I am really terrible at making it. I've read how-to articles, I've talked to a former barista, and still, my coffee is mediocre at best. Because of this, I when I crave coffee I usually go out for one. But those coffees to go can really add up and put a dent in the wallet, , so that's not the best solution, either. Recently, someone told me about Trader Joe's cold brewed coffee concentrate, and I have to say this stuff is AWESOME. It's already brewed, so it's quick and perfectly delicious every time. 

It works great for just a regular ol' cup'o'joe, but sometimes I'm in the mood to treat myself to something special. My favorite special treat is a Mocha Latte. I start by pouring 1/4 cup of the coffee concentrate and 1/4 cup of water into my cup, then fill it up the rest of the way with unsweetened almond milk. Next I microwave it for two minutes, then I drizzle in a little bit of chocolate syrup. Total indulgence! In two minutes, flat.