Thursday, May 29, 2014

A Stroll Through the Garden

I took a little stroll through my garden this evening, to pull up some weeds and check to make sure everything is surviving the cooler temps we've had here this week. It definitely seems that some things are growing a little slower than usual, though the plants do still seem healthy. A few things are growing like crazy... potatoes, peas and our strawberries, in particular. We have a raised strawberry bed, and the plants have spread out of the bed and all over the ground around the bed.
I also planted TONS of sunflowers this year, and  those are all sprouting up nicely, too. I'm looking forward to the coming weeks, when things will (hopefully!) be getting bigger and greener! Here are a few shots I snapped with my phone tonight...

Wee sunflower sprouts

The strawberries! Those are raspberries in the back on the trellis.
In the be in the lower right corner are potatoes.
Are those tiny flowers I see on the tomato plants?! 

The Garden

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

DIY: Restored Vintage Porch Swing

Over this last long weekend, we took advantage of the extra time off to get caught up on some of the home projects we've been meaning to get to. One of these projects was restoring an old metal porch swing, and creating a cozy sitting area in a little nook of our patio.

This swing was originally on the porch of the house The Man lived in while he was growing up. We don't know the exact age of the swing, but when The Man was a boy, in the 1970's, the swing was already old... so we're guessing it's probably from the '40's or 50's. Unfortunately, it's been a bit neglected in recent years, so it really needed a face lift. The various layers of paint were all lumpy and cracked, and it had some rusty spots.

The first step was to remove as much of the lumpy old paint as possible. This was no easy feat! The Man took on the bulk of this unpleasant task... sanding, paint remover, scraping, more sanding. The goal was to get it as smooth as possible before we repainted it.
Scraping.
 Next, we gave it a good scrubbing with some soapy water, a scrub brush and some rags.

Scrubbing
Finally, it was time to paint! We chose some cheerful yellow Rustoleum spray paint, to protect this old beauty from the elements. The color is called "Summer Squash" and I just love it. So sunny and pretty! A few coats and it looked brand new! In fact, it looked so brand new that the little plastic table we had looked really shabby by comparison, so we spray painted that, too.

When it was all dry, I added some inexpensive cushions that I found at Christmas Tree Shops, and a throw pillow we already had. We finished off the sitting area with a little throw rug and a funky old mirror, which we also had already.
Finished!

Quiet, cozy sitting area, in the corner of the patio.

Since most of what we used was stuff we already had (including the paint remover, left over from another project) this whole brand new sitting area only cost about $57. Don't you just love a bargain? ;)

Monday, May 26, 2014

Onion, Arugula, Garlic and Tomato Pizza (and a "Back Porch Date")

Our back porch
Know what's even better than Pizza Night? Pizza Night on a long weekend! Knowing we still had two more days off made our Saturday Night all the more relaxing. The Man and I had one of our Kitchen Dates this week, except that we had it on the back porch instead, because it was such a beautiful evening. So... Back Porch Date? Either way, a date is a date, and it was wonderful. We feel very lucky to have a lovely screened-in porch on our house, which has a nice view of trees and a lake. Sitting out there is like being on vacation right here at home. During the warm months of the year, the back porch is our favorite "room" of the house. 

But I digress... back to the pizza! Since we'd had a very a busy day of yard work and gardening (more on that later!) I decided to keep this week's pizza on the simple side. Just some tomato basil sauce, some red onions, arugula, garlic slices, sliced tomatoes and Teese  vegan mozzarella "cheese" on a multigrain crust (not homemade... bought the dough from Whole Foods)

I've been on a garlic kick lately. I love me some garlic, and lucky for me, so does The Man. If you are a garlic fan, too, I highly recommend thinly sliced garlic on pizza. I just slice peeled garlic cloves and toss them with a bit of olive oil and put them on the pizza before baking. As the pizza cooks, the garlic softens and mellows and OMG it's so good!

Fresh from the oven!
As mentioned above, we've spent a lot of this weekend working on some yard and garden projects. I'll be sharing some of those with you later this week, but for today, the family and I are going to wrap up this long weekend with a hike at a local reservation this morning, some more yard work this afternoon, and then some veggie burgers out by the fire pit tonight. 

Friday, May 23, 2014

Autism is NOT a Punishment

I read a piece on Jezabel today which set my blood to boiling. It was about how Toni Braxton wrote in her memoir that she believed that God gave her son Autism as punishment for having an abortion earlier in life. No, really. Her exact words:

"I was suddenly faced with a choice I'd never thought I'd have to make. Amid my major misgivings about abortion, I eventually made the gut-wrenching decision… In my heart, I believed I had taken a life — an action that I thought God might one day punish me for. … My initial rage was quickly followed by another strong emotion: guilt. I knew I'd taken a life… I believed God's payback was to give my son autism."

You can read the Jezabel piece here. 

I'm having trouble finding the words to express how I feel about this. I can't understand how a mother could possibly say something so ignorant and hurtful about her child. Autism is not a "punishment." It just IS. 1 in 68 kids is on the spectrum. My youngest son is one of them. I cannot even FATHOM viewing him or his differences as a "payback" for something I did. My son is one of the greatest gifts of my life, and his Autism is a huge part of who he is. He is funny and smart and quirky and charming and one of best things that has ever happened to me. Being his mother and helping him face his challenges has taught me so much and has made me a better person. That is not a punishment. That is a GIFT. A wonderful, beautiful gift. 

And can we talk about how this affects her son? How will he feel if he ever reads or hears his mother's words? Every child deserves to feel like the greatest blessing of their parents' life. They should never feel like who they are is a punishment or payback for their parents' perceived sins. Toni Braxton should be deeply ashamed of herself. 

Furthermore... can we discuss the absolutely flawed logic in her statements? Like how thousands of women make the choice to terminate pregnancies and then go on to have perfectly healthy, wonderful children and happy wonderful lives later on? And how many women who would never have an abortion give birth to children with a variety of medical, emotional, and developmental disabilities every year? 

We ALL have regrets of one kind or another about decisions we've made in the past. That is part of being human. I cannot imagine what it must be like to believe in a God that would punish us for making a mistake, or for doing what we thought, at the time, was the best thing. For that, I feel sorry for Ms. Braxton. That's not the kind of God I would want in my life. But most of all, I feel sorry for her beautiful, remarkable child. He deserves better. 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Homemade Deodorant, Revisited

So back in the early weeks of this blog, I did a couple of posts about my adventures in trying to make all-natural homemade deodorant. You can find those posts here and here.

I figured it was time to post an update about this. Turns out that shortly after the last post, I found that my armpits were getting really irritated. I did some more research, and found that this is actually a really common problem with baking soda-based deodorants. Some people are just really sensitive, and I'm one of them.

I became a bit discouraged as I was pretty sure that it was the baking soda that make the stuff so effective. It really did work great. I REALLY didn't want to go back to aluminum-based, chemically deodorants. I decided to try a few "natural" brands, but honestly, not one of them worked. I ended up going back to the chemically stuff, mostly because I didn't want to be stinky. But it bothered me to be putting all that junk under my arms. Last week I made a vow to let my current stick of conventional deodorant be my last.

I thought about the problems I had with my first few attempts, and tried to come up with a recipe that would keep the good stuff, while getting rid of the parts that weren't working. I wanted it to keep me smelling fresh, be less "gloppy" and be non-irritating. Here's the list of ingredients I came up with and why:

  • Coconut oil:  Not only moisturizing, but also has antibacterial properties. 
  • Tea tree oil: for fragrance, and for it's antibacterial properties. (you could use any essential oil)
  • Corn starch: absorbs moisture. (some people who are sensitive to baking soda may also be sensitive to corn starch. I'm not sure yet if I'm one of those people, but I guess I'll find out!)
  • Beeswax: to firm up the mixture, and make it less "gloppy"

shredded beeswax and coconut
oil, ready to be melted.
Here's what I did: First, I shredded up about 1-1/2 Tbsp of beeswax, which I put into my beeswax-melting pyrex bowl (yes, I have a designated bowl for melting beeswax, because it doesn't wash out easily) I then added 5 Tbsp of coconut oil. I put this in the microwave on 50% power, stirring often, until it was all melted together. Watch it carefully! Next I whisked in the tea tree oil and the cornstarch, then poured it immediately into a small jar. Let it sit undisturbed for a while, until it firms up. 

I've used this for two days now. So far... it's OK. Just OK, not great. After a workout I did feel a little stinky, so it's definitely not nearly as effective as the baking soda stuff. My skin feels great, and I haven't had any irritation, but I didn't with the other stuff in the beginning, either, so I'd say the jury is still out on that. In the end, I'd say that if you want to give this a try, definitely go with the baking soda recipe first. Perhaps you'll be one of the lucky ones who doesn't get irritated pits. I desperately wish I was one of those people, because that stuff works great. 


So, for me this is definitely still a project-in-progress. I'm going to try another formulation soon and will post a follow-up to this adventure... meanwhile, if anyone has any hints/tips/stories about natural and/or homemade deodorants, I'd love to hear!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Pudla!

Recently, I was discussing making chickpea pancakes to accompany curry stew. I always called these just "chickpea pancakes," the name they had in the original recipe I found many years ago. They're made by mixing chick pea flour with salt, some spices and water into a batter, and then frying the batter into little pancakes. Well, then a friend of mine, Carolyn, informed me that this type of pancake is sometimes called Pudla, and you can fill them with veggies, for a delicious pancake/omelet type thingie to eat for breakfast.

I thought this sounded just like heaven on a plate! Why had no one ever told me about this before?! I looked up recipes online, but basically this blog by Kittee Berns seems to be THE blog for Pudla, as several other blogs link back to her recipes. I used her basic formula as a base, then for veggies I used red peppers, onion, tomato and spinach.

You guys. This stuff... OMG. So. Good. I served mine up with some roasted potatoes (yukon gold and sweet potatoes) and it was such hearty, filling breakfast. It's also pretty quick to throw together. The most time consuming part was chopping all the vegetables, and it would certainly be easy enough to chop everything the night before if you wanted it to be quicker to prepare for breakfast. And can we talk about how healthy this is? A big hearty serving of protein and fiber to start the day. It's a nice change of pace from our typical Sunday Tofu Scramble, and it's easy enough I could even throw one together on a weekday morning, if I'm feeling ambitious.
YUM.
I plan to make a lot more of these. I think it will be fun to try out different combinations of veggies, and maybe even experiment with some different spices. I think Pudla will become a new staple meal in the Homestead kitchen! 

Friday, May 16, 2014

Balancing Busy-ness

I love love love springtime, but MAN is this time of year busy! We're spending lots of time starting and tending the garden, there are end-of-homeschool-year fairs, field trips and activities, dance recitals, chorus concerts... as well as so many fun spring-time happenings that we just don't want to miss out on. 

With all these things happening, I'm trying hard to be mindful of how we're spending our time. I don't want to become so busy going from one thing to another that we forget to enjoy ourselves. I've written about this before (this post)  about adults, and this post, about kids schedules. So, once again I've been trying to prioritize and do what I can to keep our Family Calendar from getting out of control. One choice we did make as a family this Spring was for Monkey to skip doing baseball this season. It's something that has become a much bigger time commitment as he's gotten older (5-6 days a week, last year) and frankly, he's just not that into it anymore. Giving up baseball has removed A LOT of stress from our lives, and gives us more energy to put toward the other activities we are choosing to keep.

One of those activities is DANCE! Ladybug and Monkey are very involved in dance... she's been dancing since she was 3, and he's been dancing since he was 4. We took one year off, when my ex and I first separated, but I got them back into it as soon as I was able. And now this weekend they will be having their 10th and 8th recital! So I'll be cutting this post short, to get them out the door for this afternoon's rehearsal. 

But I'll be back! Because I've got some good stuff coming up (when I find the time!) Some recipes, a garden update, and maybe more... 



Monday, May 12, 2014

Spring Pizza... Fiddleheads!

I'm a bit late getting this week's Pizza Post up... but that's because yesterday I was busy enjoying a wonderful Mother's Day with my family! We had a big breakfast, then went for a long hike in the woods. I spent the rest of the afternoon gardening, then we had some barbecue tempeh burgers on the patio by the fire for dinner. Some of my favorite things, done with my favorite people. Bliss.

But, before all that, on Saturday night, we had pizza... oh, did we have pizza! I love to use seasonal produce, and spring gives us lots of delicious veggies. This week, we decided to put Fiddleheads on the pizza (along with onions, lots of garlic and cashew cheese) The end result was fresh, light, pizza which tasted just like spring.

Cashew Cheese, fiddleheads, red onions, and garlic on multigrain crust

In other news... we're counting down the weeks to our first CSA pickup for the season! One month to go! Can't wait.


Friday, May 9, 2014

Fiddleheads!

One of my favorite things this time of year are fiddleheads! If you do not know about fiddleheads, get thee to a market in early May and pick up some of these tasty greens. You can thank me later.

Fiddleheads are the little shoots of certain kinds of ferns. They are harvested in the wild, and are only available for a couple of weeks each spring. The exact time varies each season. You may see them as early as late April, but rarely will you see them beyond mid-May. I think their fleeting availability is one of the things that makes them so appealing. Finding them in the store is like finding a treasure. Their flavor is very unique, and hard to describe. Some people say that they taste a bit like asparagus, but I don't think that's entirely accurate. Fiddleheads really have a taste all their own. To me, they just taste like spring... earthy, green, delicious.

Fiddleheads, all washed, just waiting to
be trimmed, blanched and sauteed.
There are a few important things to know about preparing fiddleheads. First of all, thorough washing is essential. Because they grow on the forest floor, they get pretty dirty. I clean them by swishing them in a bowl of water, which I drain and refill several times, until the water isn't dirty anymore.
It's also important to cook fiddleheads. You shouldn't eat them raw, as they can contain some microbes which you need to cook to get rid of.  There are several ways to cook them. You can simply boil or steam them, but I think they taste best when blanched briefly, then sauteed in olive oil with lots of minced garlic and a little sea salt.

I bought my first batch of fiddleheads of the season yesterday morning. I was so excited about them that I couldn't even wait until dinner. I ended up cooking them up for lunch instead! I'm hoping to get another batch this weekend. If I manage to score some more, I have a tasty surprise in store for this week's homemade pizza. ;)
Fiddleheads, sauteing in olive oil with lots of minced garlic.



Wednesday, May 7, 2014

My Dark Secret

I have a dark secret. It's difficult for me to admit.

You see, I have an image of myself as someone who really KNOWS healthy eating. A huge part of my blog and my life is teaching people how to eat a healthy, whole food diet. With my own family, I have tried to teach good eating habits from the start, and have led by example with no signs of artificial ingredients, preservatives, refined sugars or HFCS anywhere near our kitchen.

And yet, in spite of this, I have two terrible eaters. There. I said it.

I'm not sure where I went wrong. I did all the "right" things... I exposed them to a wide variety of flavors, textures and spices from the very beginning. I didn't make food a battle, nor did I use food as a reward. At first, things seemed to be going well. My oldest was a good eater as a baby and toddler. But around age 4, the variety of foods she would eat began to rapidly drop. At the time I thought it was an independence issue, and that it would pass. But it didn't. I can still count on my fingers the number of foods she'll eat, and they all must be plain, not mixed together, and with no sauces, spices, etc. My second child was a trickier case. He had multiple food allergies as a baby, and was always picky, and still is. We joke that he is not a vegetarian, he's a carbotarian.

Thankfully, my youngest, Noodlebug, eats pretty much anything I put in front of him. He loves to try new things, and like his Mama, just really LOVES food... talking about food, reading cookbooks, planning menus... food is as much about pleasure for him as it is about nourishment. I'm proud to say that he makes really good choices when choosing his own meals, always making sure to include some protein and lots of veggies. Even though he's only 9 years old, he's well on his way to a lifetime of healthy eating.

But the other two? OY. I feel like I've completely failed in teaching them how to eat. I always really believed that the way to get picky eaters to eat is to just not make a big deal about it. I offered food, and it was their choice whether or not to eat it. I never forced the issue. Since they are now 12 and nearly 14, and they are STILL extremely picky, I'm thinking this method maybe doesn't always work.

At one point in my desperation to get them to eat better, I read the book French Kids Eat Everything. It's an interesting read about North American food culture vs. European food culture. I've tried to implement some of the suggestions from the book, like making them taste one bite of everything I prepare. This always becomes a huge, unpleasant argument that, frankly, takes all the joy out of dinnertime. I've also taken the attitude of "This is what's for dinner, take it or leave it." And they have actually chosen to walk away without eating anything a few times, which makes me feel like a terrible mother. I KNOW they won't starve. But still. I'm part Italian. It goes against my genetic make-up to let someone go without a meal. The stress of all this often makes me feel like it's not worth the battle, so I end up being REALLY inconsistent about it, which I'm sure does not help matters one bit.

My latest attempt at getting them to expand their dietary repertoire is to have the two picky kids look through my cookbooks and pick out one meal each that they will be willing to try. So far just one of those meals was a "success" for the child who chose it (though the other child hated it) I would do just about anything to find a meal that every single person in the house is willing to eat. At this point, the only meal that fits that bill is Pasta and Salad (and even then, some eat it with sauce, two don't, some will eat tomatoes in the salad, one won't... ) It's pretty exhausting.

I try to console myself with the fact that although the variety of foods they eat is pretty limited, everything they do eat is pretty healthy, since I don't keep any unhealthy food in the house. The Man has also reminded me that when I first met him five years ago he wouldn't touch salad. Now, he eats it all the time, so it's never too late to learn to like new things.

Perhaps there is still hope for these picky eaters of mine.



Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Morning Garden Time

'Tis the season, where I sneak out to my garden very early in the morning, to water and tend a bit before the rest of the world is up and demanding my attention. I love these early morning visits to my garden, just me and the plants and the birds.

Although our extra long winter caused a later-than-usual start to the garden, I've been working hard to catch up. I've been trying to squeeze in as much "Garden Time" as possible the last few weekends, and as of now we've got most of the garden planted! 4 1/2 beds are done, with 2 1/2 beds left to plant. So far, we have:

Potatoes
Peas
Carrots
Beets
Lettuces
Swiss Chard
Spinach
Arugula
Kale
Broccoli
Green Beans
Wax Beans
Zucchini
Basil
Parsley
Tomatoes

Still to come, this weekend (I hope!)

Crook-neck Squash
Winter Squash
Pumpkins
Cucumbers

This morning, I took this photo of the garden beds, while I was watering. It doesn't look like much, yet... but under the soil, magic is happening. Seeds are swelling, and soon there will be sprouts, then plants! I do LOVE my garden.


Sunday, May 4, 2014

Pizza de Mayo!

Since it's very nearly Cinco de Mayo, we decided to make a Mexican-inspired pizza this week. It came out sort of reminiscent of loaded nachos, except with pizza crust instead of tortilla chips. It looked like this:
Ole!

Here's how it all went together: To make the sauce, I simmered some basic tomato sauce with some chili seasoning, to make a spicy tomato sauce. I spread the spicy sauce onto my multigrain crust, then I piled on hot and sweet peppers, onions, corn, black beans Daiya pepper jack shreds and olives. After baking, I finished it off with some diced avocado.

The Man and I both LOVED this pizza. There is one thing we wish we'd done differently... we wish we thought to pick up some Margarita ingredients! Next time, we will.