Would love to know your thoughts on This Granola Mama. Follow me or comment on a post to let me know.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Kefir -- Wonder Food

 A very happy W sporting a kefir smoothie moustache!
It's true.  Kefir is a wonder food.

"I wonder what kefir is!"

"I wonder why in the heck someone would actually drink that!"

"I wonder what good it will do my body today!"

When I first heard about kefir, I was adamantly opposed to it.  My understanding was that it was along the lines of curdled milk.  Seriously? 

Who in their right mind would drink curdled milk?  Makes me throw up a little in my mouth just thinking about it.  Ugh.

This summer, however, I've done a complete 180.  I've gotten educated about it, and my family's been drinking it for nearly two months now.  And.it.rocks.

I must give credit where credit's due.  Dear Lydia N. came over one evening to bring dinner to my Daddy (How sweet!).  She didn't know that we'd moved to town and were living with him, so it was a pleasant surprise to get to visit with her.  I've known her (from a distance) since I was a pre-teen.  Lydia was one of the "older" girls (maybe 5 years...not so much now!) that every younger girl hoped would take notice.  She was so very sweet, gentle and kind.  A Jesus-loving, hippie-cool kind of girl.  The esteem I held her in then has obviously carried over to today.  :-)

Anyway, in the course of our visit, kefir came up.  I could not believe that she had her family drinking it!  She, very graciously & gently, explained how it had umpteen jillion probiotics (Yes, I exaggerate.  Just ask my Daddy about that one.) - several times that of yogurt (our homemade yogurt has 5-7 probiotics); how it can have probiotics that deal with yeast infections and also staph infections among others. 

I was impressed, to say the least, but not necessarily ready to run out to get some kefir grains to start my own culture at home.  Not, that is, until AB got a rash around her mouth that appeared to be a yeast infection gone wild.  (The girl sucks on two fingers a good portion of the time.  We're trying to break her of that, but not successfully as of yet.)  She had been eating yogurt, but that hadn't taken care of it.  It got worse.  I remembered Lydia saying that kefir would help take care of a yeast infection.

I made a late night call to see if she had any grains.  Bless her heart, she and her husband were heading out of the country the next day, but she took the time to make some calls, locate some grains, and even deliver them to my house.  What a sweet lady!

So...we tried some bottled kefir from the store while the grains were getting acclimated after being frozen.  It was yummy.  No, really.  Yummy. 

I was sold on the bottled kefir (particularly since it was on sale!), but it only had 10-12 probiotics.  It would have more if I cultured it myself.  So that's what I did.  :-)  That whole experience will be the next post in this Kefir series.  (I can't believe I just typed that -- series -- feels a little presumptuous!)

I do want to let you know, that this stuff is worth it. 
  • The rash around AB's mouth is cleared up!
  • My intestines are much happier with me now.
  • My Daddy has a "dermatological issue" that the dermatologist said he would have to deal with for the rest of his life with medication.  It had just flared up before we started the kefir.  He hadn't put his meds on it yet, and it cleared up after the first kefir smoothie...with no medication applied!
  • I shared some grains with a friend, and her husband has been a longtime Nexium user that couldn't go more than two days without taking it.  After drinking kefir for a couple of days, he stopped taking it and didn't need it for five days.
I'm looking forward to sharing how easy it is to culture kefir and enjoy it daily!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Frugal Trifle

What is more frugal than using what you have on hand to take care of what you need? 

Last Thursday I had a brunch meeting to go to...ok, I thought it was last Thursday!  (At least I wasn't the only one!  hee hee)  It was a "bring something if you'd like, but you don't have to."  That was nice not to have that pressure, but my Mama would have given me what for if I'd have shown up empty-handed.  So...Thursday morning rolled around, and I still hadn't figured out what to take.  Looking around the kitchen and the fridge I found angel food cake, strawberries I had cooked to make fruit leather, and heavy whipping cream.  Oh yes.

Trifle rocks.  I just have to say.  :-)  You really can't mess up a trifle -- it's just layers of yummy stuff, preferably in a clear glass bowl so that you can see the lovely layers!  Here's what I did for my "try the floor" (Thanks, W!)

For my trifle, I started with the whipping cream.  I eyeballed it into the mixer and added some powdered sugar and a bit of vanilla.  Then I let the mixer do its job.  I'm always paranoid about making homemade sweetened whipped cream -- if you go too long, you get sweet vanilla butter.  On this day, however, it turned out beautifully!  It was light and fluffy and just stiff enough.

Begin the layering!
  • angel food cake cubes
  • strawberries
  • whipped cream
  • repeat at least two more times
(One thing my husband suggested later in the day was shaving dark chocolate with a peeler and putting it in the layers on top of the whipped cream.  Not a bad idea!)

So...I had my beautiful, perfectly sized trifle (see pic; so proud!), and off I went to the church.  I met my dear friend FO as I was going in.  She had made healthy homemade muffins.  Good girl!  We checked the Parlour and the Loft and finally headed to the Main Office.  And when did Mrs. R (the lovely secretary) have it on her calendar?  Next week.  Ha!  At least I have an idea of what I can take then...or should I try something else?  Hmmm....

Caprese Salad -- Summer Favorite!

I love, love, love caprese salad -- particularly when some of the ingredients come from my backyard!  This pic shows fresh tomatoes & basil from our garden. 

Throw in some fresh mozzarella, a bit of olive oil and just a smidge of salt & balsamic vinegar and you're pretty close to tasting heaven!

Frugal Casserole

Tonight I had a bit of a dilemma.  Saturday night I had made tortillas (yeah, me!); combined ground beef with seasoned black beans, cumin, garlic powder, onion powder & chili powder; and then put them all together in quesadillas. 

We had that for dinner, and it was great!

We had it for lunch on Sunday, and it fit the bill. 

There was still some left over, though.  I really wasn't up to eating it the same way again. 


So...I decided to re-purpose my ingredients and add a few new ones to liven things up a bit.  Woohoo!

I found a small casserole dish... 
(Yes, relatively small because I didn't want to end up eating this forever either.) 
And let the layering begin!

I added a can of chili beans to my black bean & ground beef mixture.  There wasn't quite enough of the original meat/bean mixture to do the whole casserole, and I needed a bit more moisture. 

That came first in my dish.  I topped that layer with diced green chiles and fresh tomato slices. 

The next layer is my favorite, just because I love most all things cheesy, just ask Gina.  Ha!  I took about four ounces of cream cheese and nuked it for about 30 seconds to soften it up, then I added grated cheddar & mozzarella cheeses...til it looked right.  I also threw in some garlic & onion powder.  (I know, it's quite the shortcut, but it served my purposes.  Don't judge.)

That got topped off with a torn up tortilla.

Repeat and cover with a layer of shredded cheddar.

Next time I do this, I'll probably throw some corn in there somewhere. 
It would have added a nice layer of flavor...and a pop of color.  :-)

Bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes.  Garnish each individual dish with crushed tortilla chips and sour cream. 

"'Elicious!" as my sweet W would say.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Egg Whites, Anyone? No? How About Meringues? Yes, Please!

Making chocolate tapioca pudding was lovely.

Eating chocolate tapioca pudding was a treat.

What do you do with the 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9  left over egg whites? 
Make meringue cookies, of course!

Meringue cookies are so very nummy, and ridiculously easy! I do have to warn you, though -- eating a bunch of meringue cookies and deviled eggs in the same week is dangerous.   You will be potentially surrounded by a cloud of sulphur -- 'nuff said.

Here's what you need:
  • egg whites
  • cream of tartar (1/4 tsp per 3 eggs)
  • powdered sugar (1/4 c per egg)
  • vanilla (1/4 tsp per 3 eggs)
  • peppermint extract (1/4 tsp per 3 eggs) -- optional
  • chopped dark chocolate chips -- optional
Here's what you do:
  • Get your egg whites separated from the yolks.  (Make sure no yolks make it in with the whites, otherwise they won't whip up right at all.)   There are a couple of ways you can separate eggs -- you can use an egg separator (not my favorite choice); you can use the shell and pour the yolk back and forth between shell halves as the egg white slides down into the bowl (my Grandma's chosen method); or, my favorite, just crack open your egg, keep the yolk in one of the eggshells as you discard the other shell (I usually keep the eggshell in my right hand.) then dump the egg yolk & white into your other hand.  Let the egg whites slip through your fingers as the yolk rests in your fingers.
  • For your egg whites to whip up best, they need to be at room temperature.  The Joy of Baking website suggested letting them sit in a covered bowl on the counter for 30 minutes to get them at least close to room temperature.
  • Heat your oven to 200 degrees and cover your cookie sheets with parchment paper.  (For 9 egg whites I used two cookie sheets and then I made one giant meringue cookie on a small pan.)  Before you put out your cookies, you can put just a bit of the egg white mixture on the underside of each corner of each piece of parchment paper to hold it down on the cookie sheet.
  • Make sure your bowl and whisk are clean, clean, clean!  Any grease in your bowl will keep the egg whites from whipping up.
  • Mix the egg whites on medium low until they're frothy, then add your cream of tartar (1/4 tsp for every 3 eggs).  This will stabilize the molecular structure and keep the egg whites from deflating once they're whipped up.  If you don't have cream of tartar, you supposedly can use salt, but I've not tried that yet.
  • Here's the part where you hope you have a stand mixer because the egg whites will be whipped for a while at medium high -- all the way to soft peaks (when you lift out the whisk, an egg white mountain will be formed; a soft peak will fold over on itself).  What boggles my mind is that my Grandma would do it by hand!  I am such a wuss.
  • Now you get to add the sugar about a tablespoon at a time with your mixer going at medium high speed.  You'll want to use confectioner's (powdered) sugar here because it will dissolve much more easily than granulated sugar.  If you don't have powdered sugar, but you have a food processor, you can make your own.  Just pulse the amount you need in the food processor with the blade in the bottom until the sugar is as fine as you would like. 
  • Beat & beat & beat & beat.  Whip & whip & whip & whip.  The goal, now, is stiff glossy peaks (tips that don't fold over on themselves).  Once you're there (give it several minutes...maybe even 5), rub a little of the egg whites between your fingers.  Does it feel grainy or smooth?  If it's grainy,  it needs to be whipped longer so that the sugar has time to dissolve.  If it's smooth, you're good to go forward -- whip in the vanilla extract (1/4 tsp for every 3 eggs).
  • You can bake them as is, or you can add other flavoring.  I whisked in peppermint extract (about 1/4 tsp for every 3 eggs) and folded in some chopped up dark chocolate chips.  Delish!
  • You can get fancy at this point and put the stiff egg whites into a pastry bag and pipe them onto your parchment paper covered cookie sheets, or you can do as I do and use two spoons to drop them out.  I'm not really picky how they look!
  • Bake for 45 minutes -1 hour then rotate your cookie sheets for even baking and bake for another 45 minutes - 1 hr.  DON'T OPEN YOUR OVEN DURING THAT FIRST 45 MINUTES.  (Sorry to yell, but opening your oven will cause your meringues to fall.)
  • After the baking time is complete, you should be able to easily pick the meringues up off of the cookie sheet.  If they don't hold up to light tapping with a finger or they don't come off the cookie sheet easily, then they need a bit more time in the oven.  The Joy of Baking lady seemed to think they shouldn't be browned.  I like mine a little on the tan side -- Carmelized Sugar, Baby!  So...as far as the color (or lack thereof) on your meringue, it's a personal choice.
  • Now comes the difficult part -- slightly open the oven door and walk away...for several hours or even overnight.  Waiting is so hard to do!   (Ok, so I didn't wait.  I went ahead and enjoyed one...or two...or four.  Yikes!  Don't tell!)
  • Whew!  You made it to the end!  The cookies don't take as long to make as it took me to write this post, so be encouraged.  :-)
Do understand that I made meringues on the best but worst possible day -- it rained.  We desperately need rain, so I was very thankful, but the egg whites had to be used that day.  All of that to say, the meringues didn't stay crisp for long, they got soft and sticky thanks to the humidity in the air.  Just be aware.  If you have a choice, a sun-shiny dry day is the best way to go.  Regardless, though, enjoy!

Monday, August 1, 2011

When Life Gives You Lemons...

...you make chocolate tapioca pudding.

Beg pardon?

I was making yogurt last week.  Trying to make yogurt, that is.  Distractions bombarded me from every side.  (I know.  You find that hard to imagine.)

Usually, I set a timer to say, "Hey, You!  Check the milk temp...NOW!" 
No.  No.  For some insane reason, this time I thought I could rely on myself watching the clock.
Whatever was I thinking?  Really.  I do know better than that.

By the time I remembered the milk (after nursing and diapers and trips to the potty and sending W back to bed to finish his nap for the third time), I rushed over in a panic, stirred it up and read the thermometer.  192.  Not good.

It would work.  I could make yogurt with milk that has gotten up to 192.  I think I probably have.  However, I am picky about my yogurt texture and consistency.  Some might even call me snobbish on it, but I'm truly just picky.  Anyway, I have discovered that, if the milk temp is outside of the 170s range (doesn't get that high or goes higher), the texture and consistency are off.  It gets lumpy or runny or any myriad of other things that I just don't like for my yogurt.

So here were my "lemons."  There was no way I was going to dump out half a gallon of milk just because it got too hot, but I really didn't want to choke down a half gallon of yogurt just because I was too cheap to chuck it.  What's a girl to do?

Then I remembered a recent Heavenly Homemakers post -- Creamy Pudding...made into pudding pops.  Oh. My. Gravy.  I had forgotten about those delectable summer treats, and now it was to become my "lemonade." 


Usually, I get out all my ingredients and then put them away as I use them. 
But I was flustered,
...and frustrated,
... and in a hurry.
 Not a good combination.

I poured my milk into the pot, added the cocoa, sugar, salt, egg yolks...and discovered I had no cornstarch.  I had had cornstarch the week before..before Hubby decided it might be a good catalyst for exploding a coffee can.  There's a good explanation for that, but you're just going to have to use your imagination today.

So what do you do when you have no cornstarch?  You do a Google search for substitutions, of course!  I didn't want to use flour.  The taste of raw flour just doesn't fit with the flavor profile of pudding.  Quick cooking tapioca was another option as a thickener. 

I knew that I had two boxes...in our boxes from Texas...in the garage.  By this time, I was determined.  I tore through boxes, sometimes quite literally, as I hadn't taken any type of sharp edge out with me to open the boxes.  Finally, I located my tapioca.  Whew!

With the tapioca thrown in the pot, I whisked,
...and whisked,
...and whisked,
...and whisked some more.
And then I whisked a little bit more.  Just for good measure.

Add in luscious butter and some vanilla, and we were good to go.

After enjoying some pudding as pudding,  I also put some of it in the freezer for pudding pops.  Looking forward to trying that out with my munchkins -- yum, yum!

So the next time life hands you lemons...well, you know what to do!

Friday, July 22, 2011

From "Big Fat Chicken" to "Little Red Hen"

I finally ordered my grain mill.  Finally. 

I've only had my hard white wheat berries since January.  Don't even start to count the months! 

I researched and procrastinated...
...and researched some more...
...and procrastinated even more. 


I tend to do that (the research and procrastinate part...oh, who am I kidding?  I do the sighing thing, too.) when I'm not sure what to do about something.  I recognize it as a flaw.  That's the first step to recovery, right, admitting you have a problem?

I got the WonderMill grain mill.  Love it!  It cost the same at every reputable dealer I checked, and because we have Amazon Prime (which I got for free!  I need to do a post on that one!), shipping was free. 


Side note --  If I'm going to order something online, Amazon's one of my go-to places because we have free shipping, and their return policy is great!  (No, they have no idea I'm writing about them right now.)

So I got the grain mill on a Saturday determined to open the box and start grinding that wheat. 

Monday...Tuesday...Wednesday.....nothing happened.  Are you sensing a pattern here?

Thursday...Friday...Saturday...Seriously?  Oh for heaven's sake!  Just grind the darn wheat!...

Sunday...Monday...Like the title says -- "Big Fat Chicken!"  I certainly qualified. 

What in the world did I think was going to happen? 
Was I afraid it would explode?
burn down the house?
spray flour everywhere? (not a completely unfounded concern)

I was unsure, so I procrastinated. 

I really don't like that about myself.

So, the Monday 9 days (yes, 9 days!) after I got my grain mill, I finally ground my first batch of wheat to make my bread (hence "The Little Red Hen"). 

And nothing bad happened.  No wheat spewed; there was no fire or explosion; it actually was over relatively quickly.  It didn't even make the baby cry.  Huh. 

Then I made my first loaves of whole wheat bread. with wheat I had ground.
What an accomplishment!
And...since I had some over ripe bananas, and once I get my  booty in gear I tend to be an over achiever I made two loaves of walnut banana bread and two loaves of craisin applesauce bread. 

It rocked.  This week, I actually made whole wheat bread...twice. 

Oh my.  This could get dangerous.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Why Do I Do This?

The tagline on this blog is about moving into a healthier, more frugal lifestyle. 
That's all well and good, but why? 
What is the point? 

We live in a society of "eat, drink & be merry"
with no thought to the consequences. 
As a family, we refuse to live with that mentality.

"As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord." 

How does being frugal and healthier play into that? 
All we have and are comes from God, Yahweh, Maker of heaven and earth.
We are merely stewards.

For a long time, I lived my life out of obligation -- doing what was right because it was the right thing to do.  To be accepted.  That was a hard place to live. 
It gives rise to pride and to resentment.
Neither is very pretty nor very comfortable.

Then one day, something clicked.

What a beautiful click that was! 
I finally felt in the core of my being that Jesus truly and actually loved me. 

I had heard it all my life. 
Known it in my head. 
Had a conversion experience where I received Jesus as my Lord and Savior.
Somewhere in there, though, I never really got that He loved me.


And that changed everything. 
I do what I do because I love Him
For real.
Not because I feel I have to in order to be accepted.
I love Him because He first loved me.

So...living frugally and getting healthy is a way that I can show Him
that I value what He's given me.
I want to do the best I can for Him because I love Him,
and I want to make Him smile.

And I know that I do, because He loves me, too.   :-)

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Being a "Grunt" is Not So Bad

One of the descriptors of this blog refers to leading a healthier life. 
What's healthier than working hard in the great outdoors? 

A week ago, a storm came through town and took out a huge sycamore tree.  Sadly, it was the only shade on the east side of the house, and it took out the fence on the south side of the house.  Also, one-third of a tree tore off on the west side of the house and took out the west fence.  Obviously, it was not a night of straightline winds.

Thank the Lord for sweet friends!  The lovely C family (Dad, Mom & 4 munchkins) came over and helped make short work of the sycamore mess.  There's still a bare tree trunk down on the fence  (and propped up by two logs; safety issues will surely be another post!), but at least all the branches have been disposed of, and we can actually use the driveway again.

The fence going down on the west was not so bad because Daddy (Yes, I am from the South and will probably call my Daddy "Daddy" til the day I die.) was planning on moving the fence further west anyway.  I think it just moved that job higher in priority on his list.  The last couple of days he's been taking down the fence, marking off the new area for the fence, and figuring out what he needs to make this happen.  One other thing that has to be moved is the wood pile.

Aah...the wood pile.  Growing up, we heated pretty exclusively with wood.  There was a small gas heater in the bathroom to keep the pipes from freezing, but other than that, we had no heat upstairs.  Downstairs, we had our wood stove, and to make that lovely heat that you could back up to, we had to have wood.  Lots of wood.  Being poor as we were (I didn't know we were poor til I went to college.), buying wood wasn't an option.  Thankfully, my Grandpa had timber on some of his land, so there was wood for the taking chopping and hauling. 

I had two sisters, so it wasn't a matter of sending out the guys to get the wood.  This was a family affair!  I couldn't even begin to count the ricks of wood I've chucked and stacked.  We worked hard.  My Mama had this wonderful knack of making work a game as well as appealing to our competitive nature.  If we could get the truck full in such & such amount of time we could do...and the carrot was placed before us.  We worked hard, but it was good work, and we are strong and confident women in no small part due to the work we did as a family.

All of that brings me back to tonight.  Since Daddy's moving the fence, the wood pile needed to be moved.  I took on the job, and it felt so good.  There is something so very therapeutic about physical labor.  A job this simple -- take these logs & put them there -- is uncomplicated and yet very satisfying to accomplish. 

The sweat ran down my face, off the tip of my nose, and stung my eyes.  My arms are scratched up from carrying armfuls of wood.  And yet, I had a peaceful time being a "pile-it" this evening.

It's not so bad being a "Grunt" from time to time, and that's the honest truth.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Kid-Friendly Sticky Oatmeal -- For You, Gina! :-)

My dear, sweet friend, Gina, asked me for my sticky oatmeal recipe.  I like my oatmeal nearly sliceable.  It's thick and on the sticky side, which is great when you have toddlers learning to use a spoon on their own!  Too, it's easy to make & you know exactly what goes into it.  The only sweetener?  Unsweetened, all natural applesauce.  Good stuff!

1/2 c. quick cooking oats (I use rolled oats when I make it for myself.)
pinch of salt
cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves to taste
1/3 c.-ish applesauce
optional -- raisins, craisins, nuts
a few Tbsps of milk
1 tsp - 1Tbsp peanut butter

When I started off with my kids, they ate about 1/4 cup of the oats. 
Now?  They're easily eating 2/3 of a cup.  How time flies and tummies grow!

So...the amounts are going to stay in proportion...and it's a "til it looks right" kind of recipe.

In a small kid-friendly dish stir oats, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, & cloves.  (For kid friendly dishes, I love the ones from IKEA.  They're inexpensive, dishwasher safe, and the perfect size for little ones!)  Add the applesauce and combine well.  If you want to add any optional ingredients, now would be the time.  :-)  Microwave for 45 seconds - 1 minutes.  Then just cover the surface with milk (to help cool it down) and stir in the peanut butter. 

May you enjoy, & may it help your little ones with their spoon skills!  :-)

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Granola Recipe

I like granola.  I've never loved granola before because I've never had a recipe that really just made me go, "oh yeah!"  My Dad's a good granola eater and has gotten his from the Little Debbie outlet in a nearby town.  It's ok.  We ran out and didn't want to trek the 15 minutes (I know, so very far!) to get some more, so I decided that I would make granola. 

I was afraid it was going to be a longer task that it turned out to be.

I didn't have a recipe, but I remembered that I had seen The Frugal Girl had granola listed as one of her breakfast items and so I thought I would check out her recipe.  She uses Cate's recipe.  Unfortunately, I can't find the post with the link.  Stink. 

Cate adapted her recipe from another blogger, Kathryn.  If I could find the post, I would be linking you up all over the place.  Sorry 'boutcha.   

Cate was going for a "healthier granola base."  Me?  I'm going for a healthy granola base that's like I like it.  You know me.  I can't leave well enough alone.  :-)

I like my granola to have clusters...Cate called them "clumps."  I'm somewhat offended by that.

*Indignant Face* 
*Big Huff!* 
(That's so me, right?...Ha!) 

Anyway, if you don't like clusters in your granola, you'll need to cut back on the oil and honey.

Without further ado, the granola recipe that I'm lovin'!

3 cups Old Fashioned Rolled Oats
3 cups Quick Oats
1 2/3 cups walnuts chopped
1 1/3 cups almond slices
1 1/3 cups coconut flakes
1/3 cup sunflower seeds

1 cup oil (canola, corn, etc.  I'd avoid olive oil, though.  Please.  Avoid olive oil.)
1 cup honey
3 T to 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 tsp almond extract

Heat the oven to 300 degrees.

In a LARGE bowl, stir together the oats, nuts, seeds & coconut.

In a small pot, over low heat, warm together the oil, honey, dark brown sugar, and extracts.  Stir together til it's well combined.

Pour the liquid ingredients over the dry ingredients and stir to combine.  Make sure the dry ingredients are well coated.

Spread the mixture out evenly on two large cookie sheets/sheet cake pans.  (I cover my cookie sheets with aluminum foil because I'd rather not have to deal with the clean up of those when I'm finished.) 

Bake for 15 minutes.  Stir.  Bake for 5 more minutes.  If it's golden brown, pull it out of the oven and stir it.  (If it's lighter than you like it, stir it and let it bake 2 more minutes.) 

Once it's out of the oven, stir it every few minutes or so til it cools, or you will end up with one very large granola bar.  (Having three that are 3 and under, I end up with a large granola bar that has to be peeled off of the foil quite often.  Ha!  If you do end up with that, it does break up easily, so no worries.)  Try not to eat too many of the clusters off of the pan as you're stirring it up.  Not to worry, though, no one will know.  Trust me.  Not that I would know from experience, or anything.

Once it's cooled, store in a plastic cereal container and enjoy in the hand, or with milk, yogurt, kefir, your favorite dairy product, etc.

Do understand, this is a very forgiving recipe.  If you don't like almonds, use more walnuts or pecans or more sunflower seeds.  Add some dried fruit to the mix.  Be confident, and make it like you like it.  I have confidence in you!  :-)  I'd love to hear how you change it up.  Let me know!

Granola Mama? For Real!

I never figured myself for a "Granola Girl."  Not the eatin' kind, the lifestyle kind!  (See my Granola Recipe post & you'll know, I'm all about the eatin' of the granola...and now, the making of it!  Hold on, I'm getting ahead of myself!) 

Not that I've ever been a girly-girl.  Heaven forbid.  (Don't get your panties in a twist -- I have nothing against girly-girls...in fact, I think I've got one on my hands!  AB loves pink and anything sparkly...*sigh*)

 Before I had kids I bought pre-packaged food and didn't think twice about it.

Before I had kids, I never really thought about what was in my cleaners.  If it did the job well and quickly, wahoo!  Who cares if I had to open the window so that I could breathe?  I mean, really!  (Now I'm trying to keep things non-toxic, but effective.  Thank you, Melaleuca!  If you're interested, I'll be happy to share with you about it.  I love the stuff!)

Before I had kids, I was too timid to try making my own yeast bread.  (Not that I do it a whole lot now, but I've ventured into it.  I'll get there!).

Before I had kids, the thought of grinding my own grain was ludicrous, and now I have hard white wheat berries just waiting for me to grind them and make them into yummy baked goodies.  (I'm just about to order a WonderMill; can't wait to tell y'all all about it!)

Before I had kids, I was convinced there was no way that I'd do natural childbirth, and it wasn't until after my first that I even considered trying.  (I've done it twice now, and HIGHLY recommend it over doing it with pain medication. If you're interested, I'll gladly share my stories personally!)

Before I had kids, there was NO way that I was doing cloth diapers.  I've actually spent several hours this past week doing research on it.  (Not to say we're headed that way, but it's moved from the "No way in hell!" category to the "Maybe we could do this" category.) 

Before I had kids, yogurt was only made at home when we lived in the mountains of Papua New Guinea because we couldn't get it at the store.  (Now I make it at least once a week!  Good grief!) 

Before I had kids, making granola was something fun to do when you were bored.  Now, I do it so that I know exactly what's in it...and it's a lot easier than I remember from my childhood and super-duper yummy!  

Even after I had kids, there was no way I was going to make or use kefir.  Nasty! or so I thought.  (Not sure what kefir is?  For now, you'll have to Google it til I can get a post done.)  I actually have some kefir milk grains in the fridge right now to start my first batch in the morning.  Who would have thunk it?  Not me. 

So here I am, pretty much a "Granola Mama," and I'm ok with that.  Really.  :-)

Saturday, June 4, 2011

It's Been A While...

Hi, Howdy & Hello!

I know -- it's been a while, but I do have a couple of good excuses.  Really!  I had my sweet baby C the beginning of April.  :-)  Trying to figure out how to do life with three that are 3 and under has been a challenge.  On top of that, we moved two states east.  Well, to be more accurate, the kids and I moved two states east two weeks ago.  My husband had to stay behind to finish up his job and finish packing up the house.  Hmmm...the pervasive question the past two weeks has been, "Who has the more difficult job?  Me, with the three munchkins, single-parenting it in Arkansas or him packing up the house?"  The verdict?  It's a toss up.

I've been trying to figure out how we've been frugal in this move.  I think the biggest thing is that we've downsized somewhat.  I mean, really, who wants to move all of that junk?  So we had a garage sale, and the leftovers we were able to donate to the autism awareness group in town that was gathering things for their own garage sale.  It felt good to let those things go...and I'm hoping to release even more as we unpack! 

Since I've been out of pocket, I've continued to make yogurt and the Artisan Bread in 5...I haven't done much else (in the way of new cooking ideas).  I did, however make a super yummy dessert the other night for company.  It was a trifle -- layers of chocolate pudding, triple chocolate brownies, whipped cream and toffee pieces.  If you're a fan of Sandra Lee's semi-homemade, this fits right into that mindset.  And W loved it! 

He asked me, "Mommy, what IS this???" 
I told him it was trifle.  He replied, with great drama as he is known to do, "Try the floor is my favorite!"  Three is so very much fun!

I will try to blog a little more regularly about a wider variety of things -- if for no other reason than I love to learn and try new things.  Have a blessed day!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Yogurt Nirvana -- No Lie!

I have finally hit yogurt nirvana.  Oh. my. goodness.  It's thick and creamy and not slimy.  It has a lovely texture and flavor that makes me want to eat it straight out of the container.  Really.  Yum.

Here's what you need and what you need to do to reach your own yogurt nirvana:
  • 5 or 6 quart crockpot
  • whisk
  • thermometer (candy or digital)
  • 1/2 gallon milk (can be all whole milk, all skim milk or any combination thereof)
  • milk powder (enough for 1 quart of milk; I use RGBH free milk powder from Azure Standard -- it's the only kind I've found that doesn't have a "whang."  I've hated powdered milk since I was a kid, but this stuff is so very different!)
  • 1/4-1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/2 8oz container Braum's plain yogurt
  • 1/2 6oz container Greek yogurt (I've used Chyobani & Oikos.)
  • 6-8 beach towels/several blankets/etc.
Place your milk in the crockpot.  If you're using the milk powder from Azure Standard, it must be added to cold milk, so whisk it in at the beginning.  It will be very frothy.  No worries, the froth dissipates. 

Turn on the crockpot to low.  It takes about 3 hours, but you want the milk to reach 180-ish degrees.  The first time you do this, start checking it at 2 1/2 hours just in case your crockpot heats faster than mine.

When the milk reaches 180, take the crock out of the heating element and place it on a folded towel.  (This will help keep the temperature steadier in the next phase.)  Make sure to stir your milk each time before checking the temperature.  There will be hotter and cooler spots, so to get an accurate read, you must stir the milk. 

Put the plain & Greek yogurts on the counter so that they reach room temperature by the time you add them to the milk.

Whisk in the sugar and the powdered milk (if you're using traditional powdered milk).

Check the temperature after 2 1/2 hours...the milk needs to cool to between 105 and 110 degrees.  It may take 3 hours or so, but you don't want it to get below 105 degrees, so start checking the milk temperature at 2 1/2 hours.  Once the milk is between 105 and 110, whisk in the plain & Greek yogurts, then cover completely with the towels.  You want it to stay at this temperature as long as possible.

Let your yogurt sit for at least 8 hours.  I let mine sit overnight.  When it has set, I uncover it and blot the top with a paper towel.  The liquid on the top is whey -- you can just stir it into the yogurt, but I blot it off (or pour it off the top when it's in the final container). 

Chill & enjoy!  I eat it straight, or with honey and fruit, or with granola.  Yum.  You cannot go wrong as long as you're getting it into your mouth!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Take a break from aftertaste with a FREE sample.

Add nothing but taste to your morning cup of coffee with a FREE pint of Breve Crème coffee creamer, brought to you by your friends at Vocalpoint.


Saturday, March 12, 2011

"Aargh" Retraction! :-)

I have to do it.  I have to retract my "Aargh" of the other day.  I was so very frustrated that the Greek yogurt that I tried to make didn't set up like I wanted it to...and yet, what I thought was a horrible flop has turned into a really great thing!  My kids LOVE to drink it.  LOVE to drink it.  I would imagine that it's like the probiotic yogurt drinks, you know, the really expensive ones.  At least, on my budget they're considered really expensive!  The Lord really likes to do that to me -- take something that looks like an absolute disaster or mistake and make it into a good thing.  What a lovely blessing!

So...let me share my flop with you.  Perhaps you'll get a probiotic drink wannabe or perhaps you'll get Greek yogurt -- not a bad possibility either way.  Do share with me if you try this -- let me know which one you get!  :-)

Here's what you need:
a slow cooker (I used a 6 quart slow cooker)
candy thermometer or an instant read thermometer
1/2 gallon whole milk
1 1/2 cups milk powder
1/4 c sugar
1/2-ish container of 6 oz Chobani plain Greek yogurt
6-7 bath/beach towels

Put the milk in the slow cooker on low.  At 2 hours, start checking the temperature of the milk.  Make sure that you stir the milk before you put the thermometer in to check the temperature.  The goal?  170 degrees.  Once it reaches 170, take the bowl out of the slow cooker and place it on a folded towel.  (This will help keep the temperature more constant longer as it cools down.) 

Whisk in the milk powder and sugar.

Let the mixture sit with the lid on for about 2 hours, then start checking the temperature again.  This time, we're going for between 105 and 110 degrees.  Once it's in that window, whisk in the Chobani.  Wrap/cover/surround the container with LOTS of towels or blankets.  You want to maintain this temperature as long as possible so your yogurt starter can do its thing.  Now you have to wait.

My Dad lets his sit for about 8 hours.  The way I've done mine, it's had to sit overnight.  Obviously, either way will "work."  At the end of 8 hours, you'll know if you've got a drink or Greek yogurt.  :-)

How brave are you?  Are you willing to give it a go?  If you do, please let me know.  I need to know if I'm the only one who gets the drink yogurt.


Need.  (It's a strong word, but it rings so very true.  hee hee!)

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Aargh & Almond Butter

I'm falling down on the job.  I suppose being this many weeks (37.5-ish) pregnant allows me a little leeway, and yet, I hate not sticking to something I've set.  Oh well.  To quote The Princess Bride, "Get used to disappointment!" 

The "Aargh" of this week?  I have tried to make my Dad's Greek yogurt...twice.  Neither time did it set up for me!  The first time I put in vanilla extract.  Hmmm....did the alcohol kill the yogurt culture?  (While we're on seemingly unanswerable questions, who killed the electric car?)  Anyway...I tried again with no vanilla extract.  Still no set.  Thankfully, W asked for a taste, and he and AB have been sucking it through a straw like there was no tomorrow.  Whew!  I really didn't want five bucks going down the drain.  Who am I kidding?  I would have found something to do with it.  Chocolate cake comes to mind.  Like I need that right now!...maybe I do....of course, I'd need the energy to actually whip it up.  Ha!  I don't even have the energy when I actually drink coffee.  This growing a baby stuff (particularly at my age!) is exhausting work!  :-) 

To move onward -- I made Almond Butter this week!  No, I wasn't hungry for Almond Butter, didn't make a recipe that required it.  I just got a hankerin'.  Yes, a girl is allowed her hankerin's.  :-)  Here's how the crazy thing transpired -- I was looking at the Azure Standard website trying to come up with our order for this month.  It was a good thing my sisters were interested in getting produce and powdered milk because we didn't get wheat this month.  I wasn't sure how our $50 order was going to come together!  Anyway, I thought of nuts.  Nuts are so very good for you -- good fats, proteins!  And they're pretty yummy to boot!  My thought was, if I can get peanuts in bulk for a good price, then I'll just make my own peanut butter.  I found that, since I'm not die hard for getting organic, that I could get peanuts cheaper at Sam's.  Ok. 

Then I remembered that I bought a HUGE bag of raw almonds at Sam's a long time ago.  (That's not as bad as it sounds -- apparently nuts should keep alright in the freezer for up to three years.)  I have been wondering what in the world to do with the almonds -- just snacking on them has not been a great option.  They require a LOT of chewing, and that makes my jaws unhappy.  (Boo for wicky TMJ!)  Almond Butter.  Of course!  I got out my handy-dandy second hand food processor and threw in two cups of almonds.  That's it.  Here's the "funny" part -- I gave the kids a heads' up that it was going to get loud.  Naive me had no idea exactly how loud!  The initial whirring of the nuts in the food processor was DEAFENING, and scared the wits out of my poor children.  W ran to hide behind the recliner with his hands over his ears.  AB just stood there, hands clapped up on her ears with her mouth gaping open in surprise.  Yikes!  That lasted as long as it took me to turn the crazy thing off.  Whew!  I finished it later when the kiddos were in the playroom with the door closed.  (We have a closed circuit video feed from there to the kitchen, so it's not as bad as it may sound.)  It took a LONG time to get it finished.  I say "LONG time," but it's all relative.  It probably took about 10 minutes of processing to get it to the consistency I wanted.  I think that's longer than peanuts take, but I don't have personal experience to pull from.  It now sits in my fridge and waits to be used.  I've been putting it in oatmeal instead of peanut butter, and AB loves to just have a "bite?" of it whenever she sees it out.

Next time, I'll probably add a little salt...and maybe a little peanut oil.  The almonds, after all, have been in the freezer for longer than I can remember.  (Not that that is saying much at this point -- I have two toddlers and I'm about to pop out a third munchkin.  I'm happy when I remember to...wait, what was I going to remember?  Dagnabit!) 

So...in the grand scheme of things, the Almond Butter is more on the frugal side of things.  I was looking for a healthier, hopefully cheaper way to go than store bought peanut butter and ended up using something I already had to meet that need.  That makes me smile and a little bit proud of myself.  :-)  Being frugal is a great "game" to play.  I think I get that from my Mama -- and that really makes me smile.  

That's been it for this week.  We had coupons for free pizza from Papa Murphy's, so we've correction, Hubby's been eating on that this week.  The kids and I are doing well with PBJ and oatmeal and cheese & crackers and apples and oranges and yogurt drink among other things.  I have no idea what we'll be doing for dinner tonight.  Once the evening hits, I've been pretty useless. 

I'll try again next week.  Granted, it's Spring Break and time to "Spring Forward," so that throws a curve ball into things!  AND, I'll officially be 38 weeks along.  Oy.  This, too, shall pass.  :-)

May you have a lovely rest of your week!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Menu Monday & Musings

It's February.  It's unseasonably warm in our neck of the woods.  What in the world do I cook???  It looks like this week will be a repeat of several days from last week because some of my days were just growing baby days, AND we made a last-minute whirlwind trip to Arkansas.  Is it really Monday already again?

Just to give you a look ahead to an upcoming post -- my wonderful Daddy, who was the first person I ever saw make yogurt, can't leave well enough alone, either!  Hee hee!  (Goes to show, I come by it honestly!)  Anyway...he took the yogurt recipe that I've been using and tweaked it.  He tweaked it good, and the kids and I LOVE it.  Over the weekend, he had to make more because we just about cleaned him out -- it was super duper thick, practically sliceable, just like I like it.  AND, he sweetened & flavored it as he was making it.  All that to say, be on the lookout for a post about the tweaking needed of the original recipe to make your own vanilla yogurt...vanilla Greek yogurt.  You heard me right, folks.  Your own Greek yogurt at a fraction of the cost.  Woohoo!

Back to Menu Monday.  *sigh*  I've discovered that if something doesn't get done during the day, it's NOT going to happen in the evening.  I'm down to five weeks-ish to go til this munchkin makes her debut.  Time's a wastin', and I just seem to be hanging out here growing a baby.  I know there are days when Hubby must think to himself  (yes, think, he's MUCH to wise to say it out loud!), "What did she do today???"  If he ever had the audacity to verbally pose that question in my hearing, the response would pretty much be, "I grew a lung.  How about you?"  And really, what could he ever say to come back at that? 

Ok. Now, back to Menu Monday.  Really.

  • oatmeal
  • cheese & apple/orange slices
  • quesadilla & nachos 
  • oatmeal
  • burritos & mandarin oranges
  • spaghetti & homemade breadsticks
  • breakfast cookie (regular or chocolate...haven't decided yet)
  • PB&J and apple slices
  • grilled burgers & veggies
  • breakfast cookie
  • homemade calzone and apple/orange slices
  • homemade calzone
  • breakfast cookie
  • leftovers
  • tortilla pizzas
  • breakfast cookies
  • pancakes
  • hmmm....we'll just have to see what sounds yummy this evening
  • breakfast cookies
  • leftovers
  • stroganoff
Y'all have a fabulous week!  Looking forward to making the Greek yogurt and sharing the whole process with y'all!  Woohoo!  :-)

Monday, February 14, 2011

Menu Monday -- for real! :-)

Sorry for missing the last couple of weeks with Menu Mondays.  It's been tough!  Can I blame it on prego hormones?  I can't seem to make a decision about food!  Nothing sounds good, so making decisions about what to cook has been like pulling teeth...as a result, I've just waited and avoided making those decisions til the last minute.  Not good!  There's a lot of stress there that I just don't need.  So, I'm making this list up as I go, but at least it will be ready this week!

May y'all have a lovely week, and a Happy Valentine's Day to each of you!

  • Cinnamon Raisin Biscuits
  • Burritos
  • Take Out with my Honey!  :-)
  • Oatmeal
  • Burritos
  • Twice Baked Potatoes
  • Chocolate Peanut Butter Breakfast Cookies
  • Leftovers
  • Grilled Hamburgers & Roasted Potatoes
  • Chocolate Peanut Butter Breakfast Cookies
  • Out with my sisters!  :-)
  • Spaghetti & Artisan Breadsticks
  • Chocolate Peanut Butter Breakfast Cookies
  • Leftovers
  • Homemade Calzones
  • Chocolate Peanut Butter Breakfast Cookies
  • Pancakes
  • BBQ Grilled Chicken & Grilled Veggies
  • Oatmeal
  • Leftovers
  • Hmmm....
Well, looking back at the menu for the week, I realize a couple of things --
  • I need to make bread dough
  • I need to make yogurt.  (I'll be doing another post for yogurt.  My Daddy tweaked the recipe that I've been using, and I like it even better!  He rocks!!!)
  • I need EGGS!  As I've told you before, when they go on sale for $1 a dozen, I buy about a half dozen dozen eggs.  We finished all our eggs yesterday.  Unbelievable!  I'm hoping to find eggs close to $1 a dozen...it's a bit of a challenge when everything is going up.  I want my own laying chickens!!!!!
  • I need grillable veggies.
  • I need to figure out what the heck to have for dinner Sunday evening!  :-)

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Biscuits and More Biscuits...What Else Can I Say?

Today, a friend of mine posted a biscuit recipe on her blog -- Little Wife on the Prairie.  Biscuits.  Yum.  It's "colder than kraut," to quote my Mima, and warm biscuits with butter and strawberry jam were so very appealing.  So...for dinner, I made her Baking Powder Biscuit recipe.  They were so very easy!  I remember my mom making biscuits and it seemed to take forever.  Maybe I was little and so it just seemed like forever.  Who can say?  These, however, went together FAST!  (I know -- my grammar is incorrect, but it works best here!)  Dump it together, stir it up, knead 10 times, roll it out, cut 'em up, bake them, & devour!  Wahoo!

Rachelle's biscuits turned out great, but as I was making them, I got a hankerin' (yes, hankerin', I am from the South after all!) for Cinnamon Raisin Biscuits.  The town I grew up in had a Hardee's, and they have the best Cinnamon Raisin Biscuits.  No, really!  When I was in college, we would go to Hardee's at 2:00 in the morning because that's when the first batch of Cinnamon Raisin Biscuits came out.  They were warm and cinnamon-y and tender.  Such wonderful memories of great times with great friends!  The town I live in now does not have a Hardee's, and I haven't had a Cinnamon Raisin Biscuit in more years than I can remember.  Tonight, after getting Rachelle's biscuits in the oven and experiencing how quickly they went together, I could not wait any longer.

I wasn't exactly sure how to adapt her recipe to make Cinnamon Raisin Biscuits.  So...I hit up Google.  The first recipe that came up looked like a winner -- Classic Homemade Cinnamon Raisin Biscuits.  Of course, you know that I "can't leave well enough alone."  :-)  So to get the original recipe, check out the link above...OR you can keep reading, and see how I did it.

2 cups unbleached white flour
4 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
2 Tbsp granulated honey
3/4 cup butter (That would be 1 1/2 sticks.  Wow!)
1 cup milk
1 cup raisins

2 Tbsp melted butter
1 1/2 cup powdered sugar
splash of vanilla
Mix the above ingredients, then add enough water for desired consistency

1.  Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
2.  Cut butter into flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon.
3.  Add milk and raisins and "drop" biscuits onto a baking stone.
4.  Bake for 10-13 minutes.
5.  Place biscuits on a cooling rack on a cookie sheet and allow to cool 5-10 minutes.  Drizzle with glaze. 
6.  Allow biscuits to dry for a bit and indulge with a glass of milk, or coffee, or hot chocolate!

Friday, February 4, 2011

New Breakfast Cookie Recipe - Chocolate Peanut Butter Breakfast Cookies, Yum!!!

Breakfast cookies are my saving grace in the mornings...when I make them!  The last couple of weeks I have wanted to make them, but it just hasn't happened.  This definitely makes the mornings a little crazier and forces me to spend more time in the mornings focusing on breakfast -- a challenge when we have to take Hubby to work.

The last time I made Breakfast Cookies, I used a new recipe -- Chocolate Peanut Butter Breakfast Cookies.  Oh.  my. goodness.  Wow.  These are so very yummy and tend to satisfy my need for chocolate.  Oh happy day!

As we all know, I can't leave well enough alone.  :-)  If you want the original recipe, follow the link above.  OR, if you'd rather, keep reading, and see how I did mine!

Chocolate Peanut Butter Breakfast Cookies

  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 1-1/2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1-1/4 cups quick-cooking rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup granulated honey
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 cup craisins
  • 1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 2 mashed bananas
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Whisk together the first nine ingredients (through the chocolate chips) in a large bowl. In a small bowl, whisk the egg, vanilla, applesauce, mashed banana, and peanut butter together. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and mix well.
I used my Pampered Chef wet/dry measuring cup to measure out 1/4 cup cookies and then press them out with a wet spatula onto my baking stones.  It ended up making 15 1/2 cookies.
Bake 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool 10 minutes.  Seriously, you need to let these sit for at LEAST 10 minutes.  They fell apart when I took them off after 5 minutes, BUT day two, they were perfect!

So...for those of you who love chocolate and want an in-hand, healthy breakfast, this is a wonderful way to go.  If you try it out, let me know!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Remembering Mama through Food

Hi Y'all,

It's been crazy around here...I'm sure no crazier than around your house, but crazy enough to keep me from writing/typing/composing/you get the idea.  :-) 

This past weekend was my mother's second birthday that she celebrated in heaven.  My family all got together to celebrate her life here, and, because my other sister with a house was busier than I, we ate our meals at my house.  It all worked out well -- my kids go to bed a LOT earlier than hers, so we could eat, and I could put W and AB down as they needed to go down and still enjoy being with the fam.

We did something "fun" for dinner on Mom's birthday, suggested by my bro-in-law.  Way to go, JR!  We had a meal of memories.  For our appetizer (we never have appetizers, so this was special in and of itself!) we had Cinnamon Toast.  Yes, it's a rather unusual appetizer, but Mama always made us cinnamon toast soldiers and hot chocolate when we were sick and sat beside us and held our hand or put a cool washcloth on our forehead or rubbed our feet.  She was an amazing, compassionate nurse.  How I miss her now when I'm sick!  Nobody does it quite like Mama did....  Anyway, it was too warm for hot chocolate (70s!), but we kept with the cinnamon toast. 

My sister, M, brought Samosas that we also ate for appetizers.  Growing up, Mama took Proverbs 31 to heart to "bring her food from afar."  She had a Betty Crocker Int'l Cookbook that she used quite often.  Samosas and Wantons were great group efforts.  I think she did wantons with me and samosas with M.  It's a great memory.

For our main course, I made Strogranoff.  Come to find out, it's NOT one of my Dad's favorites!  You could have knocked my sisters and me down with a feather when that one came to light.  We had no idea!  In JR's words, Strogranoff is a testament to Daddy's unconditional love for Mama...and for us girls as well.  The ladies in our family LOVE it, and Daddy knew that Mama wouldn't make it if she knew he wasn't that fond of it.  We don't make it for him now, but he did eat it once more with us for the memories.  We have a great Daddy!

For dessert, we had plenty.  When Mama was pregnant with me, so the story goes, she baked a chocolate cake with chocolate frosting and had a piece...all while Daddy was at work.  Unfortunately, she made it early enough in the day that as the day progressed, she ate the WHOLE cake!  To cover up for this travesty, she made another chocolate cake with chocolate frosting and ate the original sized piece out of it.  She didn't come clean on this one for many, many years!  It still brings a smile to my face.  My sister, R, made a scrumptious chocolate cake for us all to enjoy.  No, she didn't eat a whole cake before hand...or if she did, she has yet to fess up to it!  Love you, R!

Another dessert story goes back to a church fellowship.  (I don't know if any of our compadres from church read this blog, but this may be a revelation because we kept it hush-hush and just giggled to ourselves.)  So...we had a homemade ice cream fellowship at church, but we didn't have the time to make any homemade ice cream.  It wouldn't have been so bad, except for the fact that we were signed up to bring homemade ice cream.  My mother was the queen of innovation.  It's amazing how super duper yummy it is to mix up a gallon of homestyle vanilla ice cream, milk, fresh peaches, and a little vanilla in an ice cream maker!  We got quite a few comments as to how that was "the best homemade ice cream" people had ever eaten!  Hee hee!  In the spirit of Mom, M mixed a couple of different batches with a base of homestyle vanilla ice cream and sweetened condensed milk.  To one she added chopped up snickers, to the other she added pineapple and coconut.  Super yummy, and they went great with our other desserts!  (M -- please feel free to correct me in the comments as to what you did.  That's just what I remember.  Sorry if I goofed a bit!)  Love ya, Darlin'!

For our final dessert, (yes, we had three!) Hubby made a pineapple upside down cake with rum flavored frosting.  My parents are not drinkers.  Dad is a teetotaler.  Mama, however, enjoyed the flavor of rum...and on special occasions, she enjoyed rum balls or rum cake.  Due to the fact that only two people would have been able to enjoy a real rum cake, Hubby made this imitation one as a nod to Mama.  It was divine!  And, it went great with M's tropical ice cream.  Thanks, Babe!

We had a great time together remembering Mama through food.  That was one thing she was insistent about -- feeding people well because she loved them.  The motto stands, "If you go away hungry, it's your own fault."  :-)  May I carry on your tradition of caring for others in this way. 

I love you, Mama.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Cleaners -- A Dirty Topic

Part of this blog is about moving my family into a healthier lifestyle, and it's not just about how we're eating.  It also has to do with what I bring into my home.  Over the past year or so, I've looked much more closely at the chemicals that I have been bringing into my home in the form of cleaners, detergents, air fresheners, disenfectants, etc.  Yikes...Yikes...and more Yikes.

Have you read the labels on your cleaners?  Ingredients you can't pronounce with warnings that are terrifying.  I have heard so many horror stories over this past year of what those unintelligible ingredients have done to children who've managed to slip past all of the childproof doors and caps.  Granted, some of those ingredients are innocuous, but there are enough that aren't.  We were having issues as well.  I was diagnosed with asthma about 10 years ago and so many of the brands I was using (Lysol, Clorox, etc.) really irritated and exacerbated any issues I was having.  Both munchkins have had sensitive skin issues, and J&J baby stuff, Aveeno, and the like just made things worse.

I could go old school...Old School.  We're talking vinegar and baking soda and salt -- Old School.  I have a sweet friend of mine who mixes all her own cleaners...I think she even makes her own soap, just so that she knows exactly what's in it all.  My sister cleans pretty exclusively with vinegar.  I don't want to go that far.  Really.  I'm lazy when it comes to that.  I want to be able to pull out a nice spray bottle designed for a specific purpose that has cleaner that smells good and does the job safely.  I didn't think that was a choice, however, until a dear friend contacted me with something new she had gotten into -- a wellness company that was making just what I was looking for!

I have just about converted my household over -- glass cleaner; furniture polish; laundry pre-spot (the best I've ever used!!!), detergent, & brightener; dishwashing detergent for the dishwasher and for hand-washing; disenfectant (It uses thyme oil and makes it smell like I've been doing some serious poultry cooking.  Ha!), bathroom cleaners, and the list goes on.  None of these cleaners requires child safety caps.  Really.  That's one of the biggest selling points for me -- products that work, that don't need terrifying warnings on the labels, aren't harmful for the environment, and aren't much more expensive than I was already purchasing.  (So the environment thing is way down the list, but it is on the list.)  The cleaners don't mess with my asthma, and my kids' skin is sooo much better than it was.  In all respects, it has been very worth it and has put us several "steps" further on our journey.

Menu Monday -- January 24, 2011

*Sigh*  I'm bored.  Perhaps I should go back to planning a month at a time instead of a week...I like getting a global perspective then getting down to specifics.  Hmmm...I think I'm going to make a spreadsheet...yes, really!  That way I can see what we've had the last month or two at a glance and keep things better spread out.  I'll get back to you when it's all finished.  :-) 

Ok, spreadsheet's finished, and it's been confirmed, I'm in a rut.  *sigh*  I would LOVE for you to post in a comment some of your easy favorite dinner recipes for no other reason that my brain needs a jump start.  I thank you with great gratitude in advance!

Here's what we're doing, and yes, there are duplicates from last week.  However, keep in mind, that if it's on this week's menu again, we probably didn't have it last week.  :-)  There's a bit of a difference this week -- I'm putting in all meals this week.  Yep, you read it right -- all.  It's for me -- I was getting to breakfast & lunch and saying, "What in the world are we going to eat???"  Not a good place to be.  This will help me stay on track.

Happy Week!
  • Monday -- Toad in the Hole
  • Tuesday -- Spaghetti & Breadsticks (Artisan Bread in 5!)
    • Breakfast -- Breakfast Cookies
      • I've made the changes that are listed in the recipe.  I really like them!  I think this time we'll put Craisins in -- W likes Craisins!
    • Lunch -- Leftover Layered Enchiladas
  • Wednesday -- Burritos
  • Thursday -- Shepherd's Pie
    • Breakfast -- Breakfast Cookies
    • Lunch -- Leftover Calzone
  • Friday -- Cheeseburger Potato Soup
    • Breakfast -- Breakfast cookies
    • Lunch -- Leftover Shepherd's Pie
  • Saturday -- Dinner with Extended Family.  Happy Birthday, Mama!  I miss you so!
    • Breakfast -- Oatmeal
      • I make my oatmeal a little different, ok, a lot different from most people.  I'm not a fan of traditional oatmeal, and I wanted to make it without sugar, so here's how I do it. 
        • 1/4 c. rolled oats, 1T of wheat germ, pinch of salt, cinnamon & cloves to taste -- stir this all together
        • Add in raisins or craisins (or both if you're feeling wild & crazy) and about 1/3 c. of applesauce.  (I like mine pretty stiff, add more if you like.)
        • Nuke for 1 minute, then stir in 1T of peanut butter (and chopped walnuts, if you're so inclined).  Yummy! 
        • For the munchkins, I use quick cook oats and add enough milk to cover the top of their oatmeal after it's cooked to stir in and help it cool.
    • Lunch -- Tortilla Pizzas
  • Sunday -- Waffles, Bacon & Eggs
    • Breakfast -- Breakfast Cookies
    • Lunch -- Red Beans & Rice with Kielbasa

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day Update -- What else can I do with it???

I've made the Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day with my tweaks and decreasing the salt to a little more than 1T a couple of times now.  I am still amazed!  You would not believe the variety of things that you can make with this Master Recipe.  Let me share just a couple with you.  I am loving this!

  • Cinnamon Rolls-ish
    • Once the dough's been refrigerated over night, you can do most anything with it.  Pull out whatever amount of dough you want.  I still don't have pulling about a pound of dough out, so I just work with whatever "looks right."  Gotta love that!  Make sure that you have plenty of flour on your hands and your board -- this is some seriously sticky dough.  For cinnamon rolls-ish, you need to roll it into as close to a rectangle as possible...about a quarter of an inch thick.  Once again, I just eyeball it.  Slather on softened butter then sprinkle with a generous amount of cinnamon sugar and whatever else you like it yours -- nuts, raisins, brown sugar, whatever.  Roll it up from the narrow end then pinch it all together and put the seam on the bottom.  Let it sit for about an hour, hour and a half then follow the "normal" baking instructions in the Master Recipe.  Don't forget your slices in the top before you bake it!
    • I do need to let you know that when I made this, I used the excess from some lovely spiced walnuts my sister made for Christmas.  There was a lot of the butter/spice/brown sugar mixture leftover from the nuts, so I just scraped out the pan, and smeared it on the rolled dough.  It tasted super duper yummy, but there was a LOT of butter...more than I realized, and it melted out all over my overturned cookie sheet!  It was a bit of a mess.  Next time I'll have more control over how much butter I use.  :-)
  • Calzone
    • I rolled out the dough like I did for the Cinnamon Rolls-ish, but the first time around, baby brain took over, and I totally lost my memory on what goes into a calzone.  Silly me put sauce in it!  What in the world?  Since I goofed on the first one (It wasn't bad, but wasn't great.), let me share with you how I did the second.
    • For the filling, I used about a half cup of yogurt (I know, I know, my baby sister is giving me a seriously rough time for all the things I'm substituting yogurt for!) and mixed in an egg, parmesan cheese, and a cheese blend.  I spread that on the left half of the dough and then sprinkled a great mound of mozzarella cheese and spices over the top.  (My favorite spice blend to use is the Spice Islands garlic bread dipping spices.  Yummy!  For those of you in Siloam Springs, you can get this for a song at the Allen's Outlet.  I think it cost me $0.70 the last time I was there.  I got six!)  Fold the other half over and seal the edges with a fork and make three slices in the top.
    • I will repeat -- the dough is STICKY.  The first time I made the calzone, I did it on a flexible cutting board and had to put the parchment paper on the calzone then the cookie sheet and flip it all over.  It was a bit of a juggling act.  I'm so very glad there was no one here with a camera!  The second time I made it, I did it on parchment paper thinking that would take care of it...it was still pretty sticky and peeling the dough that I was trying to fold over was quite a messy trick.  I don't have the answers on this.  If you have any suggestions (aside from just more flour), let me know!  :-)
    • Bake it according to the Master Recipe.  Depending on how big you make it, you'll have to adjust your baking time.  My second calzone was bigger than a pound, so I baked it about 5 minutes longer. 
I haven't made the breadsticks yet, but I'm looking forward to trying those out!  Pretty much anything that you're wanting to make with bread dough, it appears you can make it with this Master Recipe.  Any suggestions for what to try next with it?  I'll take suggestions and see how I can work them in with the menu for the week.  :-) 

Happy Easy Bread Making!

Azure Standard Order -- ordering healthy in bulk :-)

I had a "sort of" request for an Azure Standard post.  (Thanks, Holly!)  So here we go!

I was introduced to Azure Standard via the Heavenly Homemakers website.  I've been looking for inexpensive wheat berries because I'd like to grind my own whole wheat.  (I know, can you believe it?)  It's much healthier and less expensive than buying pre-ground whole wheat.  I had found wheat berries for $0.25 a pound...woohoo!  Then I checked the shipping costs -- it was going to cost at least $1 a pound for shipping...whoa hoa!  Azure Standard had 50 pound bags of hard white wheat berries (the recommended type of wheat berry to grind "to make my bread;" and yes, being 7 months preggers, I do feel like a giant!) for about $25 with FREE shipping on orders over $50.  They also give you the choice of COD or credit card to pay for your order.  I do believe I can handle that.  :-)

Azure Standard has a HUGE inventory to offer.  If you are looking for organic products and/or gluten free products, they should have you covered.  I do need to offer the disclaimers that
  1. I don't usually use organic, and I, thankfully, have no need for gluten free products, so I can't say if their prices are competitive or not.
  2. Aside from being a customer, Azure Standard has no idea who I am or that I'm blogging about them.  :-)
Their website is a little difficult to just peruse because they have so very much product.  When you place your first order, though, be sure to order a catalog, for the catalog is a lovely experience!  Not only to they showcase their product, there are some recipes and great descriptions of a lot of the produce.  Granted, I may be a bit of a freak for getting a smile out of reading catalogs....

What was I looking for besides hard white wheat berries? 
  • Apples in bulk -- most of the organic varieties they offer (and they have a whole assortment) are about $1 a pound.  They do offer a 3# bag of organic apples for $1.90.  You don't get to choose your variety, so as long as you're not picky (& as far as this is concerned, I'm really not), this, is a great deal!  I'd like to try and make homemade applesauce as well as apple butter, and my munchkins ask for apples as a snack multiple times a day.  Just snacking on apples, we finish a 3# bag in just a few days.  Whew!  A buck ninety is pretty good for several days worth of healthy snacks.
  • Non-fat Milk Powder that's RBGH free -- oh yes, it IS real.  I use milk powder in my yogurt, in my breakfast cookies, and, I'm sure, there will be other uses as well.  With it being just a little over $2 a pound, it's something worth investing in for our health.  I'm really trying to stay away from RGBH as much as possible, and for cooking/baking this is a great option. 
  • Beans & Lentils -- good assortment for decent prices
Azure Standard has recently added "drop points" in Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kansas, and Missouri.  I'm so thankful that they just started one in our town this month!  The cut off day for ordering is two days before the truck rolls out, and they recommend ordering your produce no earlier than a couple of days before the deadline to make sure that they have it.  If you sign up for an account on their website and you can't find your drop point, give them a call.  Their customer service is very helpful.  I think, if I understand correctly, if you (or a group of you) has an order totalling $550 or more, they will deliver to you.  You'll have to check on that to be sure.

One thing to be aware of -- you may not get everything you order.  Our milk powder was not on the truck.  This wasn't an issue for us as we ordered things we wanted, not anything that we desperately needed.  All in all, it was a really good experience, and I've already started on our order for February.  :-)

Monday, January 17, 2011

Menu Monday

Good Monday to y'all!  This week, my goal is to NOT get any groceries besides milk and fruit.  Let's see how I do.  Y'all have a great week! 
  • Monday -- Stroganoff
  • Tuesday -- Twice Baked Potatoes
  • Wednesday -- Toad in the Hole
    • This is a fun little breakfast meal that we use for dinner.  Hubby requested it, so it will be nice to have it again! 
    • You will need bacon, eggs, and bread.  Fry up however much bacon your family will eat, then leave some of the bacon grease in the skillet.  For each toad in the hole, you will use a biscuit cutter/cup/sharp knife/whatever to make a large hole in the center of the bread.  Place the slice of hole-y bread in the skillet and break an egg into the hole.  When the egg has cooked as long as you like, flip it to finish the job.  Toast the bread rounds in the skillet as well.  Serve with butter & jelly.  Yummy, yummy!  :-)
  • Thursday -- Eating with Extended Family, so must confer...
  • Friday -- Chili (didn't happen last week because the Potato Soup lasted longer than I expected.  Woohoo!)
  • Saturday -- Chili for lunch & Apples and Popcorn for dinner
  • Sunday -- Crockpot Enchilada Bake for lunch & Waffles for dinner

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day? -- Oh, Yummy, Yummy Yes!

We've already discussed my fear and trepidation in making yeast bread.  It has hung over me like a dark, damp cloud forEVER.  I was so excited to be successful in making the cinnamon swirl bread, and then last week, I made homemade soft pretzels!  Woo hoo!  Both turned out really well.  It was all well and good, but the time and stress involved was a bit much.  I really wanted to find something that I could be successful baking without spending all the time that traditional bread requires.  I've found it!!!

If you recall, on Menu Monday this week I mentioned trying to find the Artisan Bread recipe from Backwoods Home.  Couldn't find it.  So, Google was my friend.  :-)  I came across a website -- http://www.artisanbreadinfive.com/.  At first, I couldn't find any recipes on the site and figured it was just for selling their books -- Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day and Healthy Bread in 5 Minutes a Day -- as well as a forum for questions for people who bought their books.  Not so.  Nope.  The Master Recipe from Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day can be found here (you will have to scroll down the page to find it).  Of course, I didn't do it quite like they said.  Of course not.  I couldn't leave well enough alone.  So, here's what I did, and I'll apologize now that the only photo (YES, there's a photo!) that I have to share is of the finished product.  My husband laughed that I was taking pictures of my loaves, but they were so beautiful, if I do say so myself!

One of my lovely loaves!

Back to the point -- how did I do it?  You have to start with a 5 quart bowl/container or larger.  I used a flour storage bin that I think was considerably larger than 5 quarts, but it's what I have.  It dwarfed the gallon pitcher that I measured my flour into.
  • 5+ quart container
  •  3.5 c of lukewarm water (Mine was about 105 F -- gotta love instant read thermometers.  Make sure it's not over 110 F so you don't kill your yeast.  Apparently, it will even work with cool water, it just increases the rising time.)
  • 1.5 T of yeast
  • 1.5 T of salt
  • 5 c UNBLEACHED All-purpose flour (It will not work with bleached all-purpose flour because of the different protein content.)
  • 1.5 c Whole Wheat flour
Put your water, salt & yeast in your container, then dump in all your flour.  Stir it all together using a wooden spoon.  Put a lid (not air tight, don't want your container to explode!) or saran wrap on your container.  Let it sit out for 2-ish hours (mine actually sat out for about 4), then put it, as-is, in the refrigerator overnight.  Your dough is good for about 2 weeks.  Granted, the longer you wait the more yeasty/sour it's going to get. 

Tuesday, I did all of the combining...the dough is supposed to rise on the counter and the fridge. Mine didn't.  It was about the same size when I pulled it out of the refrigerator yesterday.  I was afraid that was going to be the case -- I had pushed the envelope with my yeast.  The package said, "For faster rising, use by..."  It was out of date, and I knew it.  I was ok with a slower rise, but there was no rise.  *sigh*  I was just too impatient.  I wanted to make the dough Tuesday so that I could make bread bowls for leftover potato soup Wednesday, and I couldn't go to the store to get fresh yeast because Andrew had the car. 
Silly, impatient me.

I was determined, though, to soldier ahead.  So what if my bread turned out ridiculously dense?  I tend to like dense bread, especially for bread bowls.  Mid-afternoon yesterday, I pulled my dough out of the fridge.  The top was dry.  I probably should have added some water to the top and let it soak in, but I didn't.  Here are the next steps to finishing out your Artisan bread...at least the way I did it.  :-)
  • Throw some flour on top of your dough -- enough so that it's not going to stick to your hands.
  • Grab a glob and pull out about a pounds worth and cut it off with a knife or kitchen shears.  (I used a knife, 'cause my hubby moved my shears.  He'd better not touch my cheese!  hee hee)
  • In 40 seconds or less, flatten it a bit, fold it over on itself and then form it into a boule ("ball" for the who's who at home).
  • Set your dough on parchment paper, flour your hands and make sure the dough is lightly floured all around.
  • I made four loaves.  The dough is supposed to make four one pound loaves.  My loaves were much smaller than the ones they show on their website, but they had some serious heft going on!  That's what happens when the silly stuff doesn't rise!
  • Now the dough needs to rest, uncovered, on the parchment paper.  At 30 minutes of resting, I turned on my oven to preheat to 450 with my empty broiler pan on the bottom rack (set on the bottom rung) and an upside down cookie sheet on a rack set 4-5 inches above the broiler pan.
  • At about 1 hour of resting...or when my oven told me it was at 450, but not before my oven was preheated to 450 (Sorry!) I put all four loves on their individual pieces of parchment on the cookie sheet and carefully poured 1 cup of water into the broiler pan.  (Yes, you must do the water, it provides a time of flash steaming which makes the crust the way it should be.)  I did cover the glass on my oven door with a towel just in case any water splashed -- I didn't want an accident that would cause the glass to crack/break/shatter!
  • *NOTE*  Do this step before putting your bread into the oven -- I remembered just after I put them in and had to hastily do this!  Using a sharp bread knife, make several long(4-6 inches), quarter inch deep cuts in the top of the bread.  (I only did two because my loaves were small.)
  • Let the bread bake for 20 minutes.  At 20 minutes, slide the parchment paper out from under the loaves and then let them bake for 10 more minutes.  Mine probably could have used another 5 minutes or so, but I thought they were lovely, so I took them out.
  • The hard part -- leave them alone for 1 hour!
Once the hour had elapsed, I cut off the tops and dug out the insides so that we could use the base for bowls.  The guts were DENSE.  Oh my.  I jokingly refer to it as Black Hole Bread, it was so very, very dense...but it tasted super yummy!  The kids ate it with jam for a good portion of their dinner.  My favorite part was the crust.  Step aside, Panera, I now have the power!  :-)

I know I must have looked beyond crazy, as I was whooping and hollering and dancing around my kitchen in celebration at my dense success!  :-)  I did it, and it was easy to do, and it even worked when my yeast didn't!!!  I am super duper excited, and, from perusing the website, I know that the Artisan Bread in 5 authors have so many different kinds of recipes in their book -- soft wheat sandwich bread, for starters!  Lord willing, I will be purchasing this book with some birthday money.  Can't wait to try it all out!!!

If you try this out, I want to know!  Tell me all about it.  If you have any questions, the website, http://www.artisanbreadinfive.com/, is a great resource and the book authors answer all the questions that are posted on it.

Now I must get back into the habit of Jazzercise so that this new found fun does not add any more to my ample hips & booty!  :-)