Friday, January 18, 2013

We're still going strong!

Just realized we hadn't posted in awhile.

We haven't wasted away - far from it!

Christmas was here with my family and it was great! We had ham with green been casserole, steamed corn, sweet potato casserole, and cornbread. We had some other sides as well and all were full.
We also had a great breakfast one morning of egg casserole and pancakes. It was amazing to feed our family so cheaply b/c so much of it came from the freezer (all but the ham) instead of the store.
We did forget to make a dessert though! New baby in the family = the only possible way this chocaholic forgets dessert (and no it's not mine - I'm an aunt again!) After dinner and gift exchange we 1/2 of us went to the little yogurt place down the street and brought back individually topped yogurts for all.
It was a blessing to feed others and to be nourished in the process.

*Disclaimer: yes, we did eat chain restaurant BBQ and Pizza while they were here. No, it wasn't all homemade meals, but nobody cares. Besides, I had too much baby rocking/snuggling/admiring to do to be cooking the whole time!

Monday, December 31, 2012

Little Red Hen, am I

I am so excited because today I got the dry blade canister for my Vitamix! The vitamix, in case you're not familiar with it, is a professional scale blender. It has a 2HP motor so it is a beast and I love it. I have already put it to great use making a number of purees, baby food, soups, etc. It's seriously awesome.
But I digress...

I found the canister on Craiglist and picked it up today for half the retail price and it had never been opened. I was also proud of myself b/c this was my first Craigslist transaction and I didn't get ripped off or anything. It was great!

So today I bought the new canister (for 1/2 price!!!) then went to Whole Foods for some whole grains. I bought a quart of hard red winter wheat. I was hoping for white, but red was all they had so I took it. I also got some rye b/c I'd like to try some rye bread as well. I wanted to get some spelt but I decided to wait and try out the other grains first. Anyway, I got the whole grains and they cost me literally 3 dollars. I know I can get them cheaper once I buy in bulk or from a coop, but for a small batch to test out the blender, I was pleased with the minimal investment.

When we got home, I put the grains in the freezer. One of the critiques of the dry blender is that the heat from its blending can damage some of the nutrients in the grains. You want them to be pretty cold when they go in b/c they come out fairly warm. I thought this was probably people being a bit particular, but turns out it really does put off some heat. My grains were good and chilled and they came out pretty warm, so I'll definitely keep them there before grinding.

Another key theme in reading about the grains blender was to do no more than 2 cups at a time. I did just 1 cup at a time and it had no problem. The manual said to blend for a minute but it seemed finished at like 40 seconds. I sifted my flour to be sure it was well done and it really got all but maybe a teaspoon or so of the hard wheat ground into flour. I was super impressed.

In case you didn't know this, the dry blender can be used to make dough as well, so I just had to give it a go, especially since I had fresh flour just begging to be bread. Now I'm not going to lie. I followed the recipe with my cookbook and in the beginning I was super confident that this was going to be some amazing bread. The yeast looked so happy and the flour was so fresh, how could it go wrong? I followed all the directions but the dough seemed a bit doughy to me and I really didn't know if it was going to rise or, if it did, how it would taste. I was fairly discouraged for a bit, though it was probably my own fault for being so excited. (I am truly a dork.) Regardless of my apprehension, the dough did rise in the time suggested that it should take. I popped it in the oven and told B, "Well, at least the wheat only cost a dollar." thinking we hadn't lost much in this loaf and we could try again another day with another recipe. I am pleased to report, however, that the bread turned out great. Not too soft/crumbly and not too hard/dense. It would be a perfect sandwich bread. It's not as sweet as B's regular bread and I wouldn't want it all the time. It is a great quick bread though, and could easily be made after work for no more time and effort that it took to go from literally wheat to bread. I also think if I jazzed it up with some honey, jam, or butter, it could be a nice toast or semi-treat bread.

So, though I had plenty of help, I can't help but feel a bit like the Little Red Hen with her trips to the mill and the churning of butter, etc. Lucky for me, I also had my favorite people to share the bread with when it was finished.

While I didn't intend for this to by my Happy New Year post, it does sort of fit the bill. As we close the door on 2012 with it's false apocalypse, tragedies, victories, and more, my wish is for all to have Happy New Year, surrounded by family or loved ones that have become family, eating nourishing food, but most of all to be safe, loved, and happy. What more can we ever really ask for? I think everything else is just gravy.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Vitamix in the house!!

We did it. After months on wondering, pondering, and hem-hawing, we bought a vitamix blender! We got a 5000 (not the newest or next-to-newest model) and it's used (thank you ebay!) but we got it for a fair price within our budget. It came on Friday and I have already used it a half dozen times or more.
This thing is awesome.
I was prepared to be completely underwhelmed. How on Earth could it live up to the hype? Well, yesterday I crammed that 64 oz. container chock full of roasted squash and within a minute I had 64 oz. of gorgeous squash puree. I did use the tamper to help the top parts get blended well, but seriously it was crazy easy. I was beyond impressed. Thanks to my fabulous blender I was able to roast, puree, and freeze 10 pints of butternut squash from the 11 or so squash I bought in the Green Door closeout.
I cannot express how excited I am to find more and more ways to use this thing b/c it's a workhorse. Today I blended some blackberries to make some syrup for ice cream and felt like it was laughing at me, wondering if that was all I was going to ask this beast of a machine to do.
I know I've only had it a few days and I know it's expensive, but I vote for anyone who's on the fence to take the leap (if it's in your budget - don't go crazy just b/c it's Christmas... wait for a decent deal to come around or buy it in parts to get what you need in smaller increments...) and get one. Also, I do think it should come with complimentary ear plugs - it is loud. Since it only runs a moment, it's okay, but it is as loud as you think something with the same motor as a weedeater running in your kitchen would be.
Just putting it out there, in the interest of honesty - it's loud. Loud and awesome and I love it!

Note: we were on the fence between vita-mix and a blendtec. I imagine that to be like the difference in a Porsche and a Ferrari... Just get what you get the best deal on. I do like that the vitamix blades come out so you can replace the canister without having to buy whole new blades. Other than that, I think they're probably both more than worth the money if you cook with whole foods often.
Just my 2 cents.

End of the World??

Today is 12-21-12 - the day that the Mayan calendar ends and people are speculating the world could end today.

I don't believe in the world ending today, but my family thinks I have enough food in my freezer/pantry to qualify as a SHTF person. However those people would just laugh at that notion if they saw my meager supply. Has anyone else noticed that there's a fine line in preserving, planning ahead, being prepared, stocking up, and hoarding? gave these synonyms for hoarding:
"acquire, amass, buy up, cache, collect, deposit, garner, gather, hide, keep, lay away, lay up, pile up, put aside for rainy day, put by, save, scrimp, sock away, squirrel, stash, stockpile, store, stow away, treasure"

Isn't it interesting how they technically mean the same thing, but you can read such a warm, positive connotation with some while others sound a bit extreme and cause concern for the person being described.

I also think it's interesting in looking up the meanings of this word how quickly they cross with words of greed. Some of the synonyms give a visual image a scrooge or a grinch to me - just hiding everything away so no one else can have any. In fact, linked the verb hoarding to the adjective avaricious - the root word being avarice. Avarice means extreme greed. Not the image I associate with the housewives of America that do their canning and preserving.

Not sure the point of my ramblings. Perhaps just needed a moment to reflect on the day. I would hope if there were some kind of catastrophe today and I was a SHTF person with all those supplies, that I would have the heart to give to others and share what I had saved. What would be the point of having all of that if you have no one to enjoy it with anyway? And somehow in all of my rambling I arrived back at the reason for the season.

Merry Christmas to all!

ps. does anyone else have that song about the end of the world as we know it stuck in their heads today like I do?

Let there be Squash!

Yesterday I roasted 11 or so butternut squash and made 11 pints of puree to freeze.

Some of it will be given as baby food. I made a little batch to give my sister who is due soon and some is for a friend who just had a baby. They may not want it but it seemed only appropriate when surrounded by all that puree to think of baby food and share with those who might appreciate some pre-pureed goodness. Who knows...

The remaining squash will be baked into muffins, breads, and treats. Of course a lot of it will get cooked into delicious soup with cornbread crumbled in it. I could also eat it with a spoon because, as mentioned multiple times, I am slightly addicted to it. I love that you can add onions and garlic to make it savory or add sugar and such to make sweet treats, or leave plain and enjoy.

So as sad as I was to finish up the last of the winter squash, I know I have a healthy stash. It's not enough to last a year, but that's okay. I'm learning that's the whole point of this local eating thing. It will be nice to greet the new squash of next year - like welcoming an old familiar friend home again (except then you quickly gobble him up... so maybe not like that at all?) Still working on my metaphors I suppose.

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

T minus 2 weeks...

For the duration of our attempt to eat only local food, we have been doing 80-100% of our food shopping at Green Door Gourmet.
I found out today they are closing up for the winter in 2 weeks. I can't shop next week b/c I'm going to Arkansas for the weekend, which leaves me only 1 more trip out there fo the season. Green Door will reopen in the spring, officially April for the public.
That's right - 3 solid months - market closed.

Don't get me wrong; I'm lucky they've stayed open as long as they have. Many other CSAs closed up about a month ago or more. I've been fortunate to still be able to run out there each weekend and snag up the fall treasures.

So, needless to say, today was "stock up while you can" day for our family. I promptly cleaned out the 1/2 pound or so of pecans left. I bought 2 pumpkins the size of basketballs which I have already roasted, pureed, and put in jars to freeze. Yum! (dishwashing pending...)
I got 4 pie pumpkins and 7 butternut squash to roast, puree, and freeze as well. I am completely obsessed with the flavor of butternut squash so I wonder how long 7 will last. I have probably roasted 10 in the past month or so and we are flying through it, so I wanted to try again to stock up on it.

I got a bunch of turnips and their greens for B and some baby greens for me. B is as addicted to turnips/greens as I am to the butternut squash. I wish we could freeze them so he would have them longer, but it's not recommended due to their moisture content.

I stocked up on a few meat things b/c I fear when I go on the 15th that the meat selection will be very picked over. I wanted to snag up what I could, while I could. New chicken and sausage and brats... 2 dozen eggs (bummed about new eggs - the ones at PP are all white. I'll miss our weekly hodgepodge of brown, bluish-gray, and white ones I have grown to expect. Plus they're more expensive elsewhere...) and a ton of other treasures.

I also got a bit of Christmas shopping done! I lucked out by buying several gift sets of local treasures such as soap, tea/honey, lip gloss, GDG jelly, etc. for E's teachers and a few other friends that would appreciate them. I hope I don't regret not getting more, but I am already wondering if I shouldn't have picked up a few more of the sweet little goodies all wrapped up. My priorities for Christmas shopping are: small business and local (Nashville) treasures. I'm also a total sucker for complimentary gift wrapping or pre-wrapped treasures, so that little table of pre-wrapped (so cutely!) Nashville treasures sold at Green Door was 100% speaking my language and it was very hard to walk away. You feel my pain, yeah?

So today was stock up day. 2 weeks from now we'll be independent and trying to get through the winter. I am excited to thaw out or open up the flavors or summer and fall that we have worked so hard to lock up in jars and baggies. As anxious as I am about the lack of new sweet potatoes (somehow missed the last of them... oops!), I take comfort in the notion of 2 gallon bags of blackberries in the deep freeze that might need to become muffins and jam one day very soon. I feel like that in general. For every food I am sad to lose, I think of one we have preserved or "put up" to get us through this time. With a little luck, some inventorying and careful planning, we may actually eat best of all in the winter. I haven't cracked into anything yet b/c we've been still reveling in the fresh flavors of fall. Come Dec. 15th, I think we may have a special "Welcome Winter" feast to kick off the beginning or our unofficial season.

I'll still be posting on this experience b/c the next 3 months are what a lot of the other work has been about for us. Could we provide/put up/set back enough in the summer and fall to get through the winter on only local food? Well, the 15th is more or less the last chance to stock up and after that it's time to enjoy all the fruits of our labors.

Let there be cookies!

The women in B's family do an annual cookie day. They split the cost of the basics and then everyone brings 2 recipes and any special ingredients for their recipes. They gather the night before and get things set up and make a few things, but then Saturday is the real deal.
This was my first year so I was mostly observing and taking it all in, b/c it was interesting to see how everyone has settled into roles and has their tasks before them. By noon almost all the baking was done and it was just a matter of waiting for their turn in the oven.
I have pictures of what we made and what I left with and every time I see them I am amazed. It's interesting too b/c none of it really fits our eating lifestyle. I love sweets but have been trying to do better, but B and E eat little to no treats (aside from the muffins at Produce Place). So it's funny to me to come home with a truckload of cookies, cookie bars, and all manner of chocolate dipped snacks. Nonetheless, they were all baked with love and the experience of the day was fantastic.
I managed to catch my oven mitt on fire when I pulled my cookies out of the oven - no idea how that happened. Smelled a weird smell and knew something was burning - checked the oven, no those are all fine. Didn't see anything unusual and just kept taking the cookies off the cookie sheet. I filled up 1 cooling rack and turned to do the other when the smell got a little stronger. I looked down and sure enough the mitt on my hand had a 3 inch flame on it! I am so proud of myself - I didn't drop or ruin a single cookie! I flopped them on the counter and fanned out the flame on the oven mitt. We then dipped it in cold water to further extinguish any remaining embers. It was sooo funny and I'm sure I was a sight flapping out the fire of the mitt on my hand. Someone yelled - "Take it off your hand.", but my fingers weren't in any danger and launching a flaming mitt across the kitchen seemed like a bad idea. It was all very comical and luckily nothing was harmed in the incident and no cookies were lost in the process.

On the cookie side, I was pretty bummed with what I made. I will try something different next year. I wanted a yummy pumpkin, pecan, chocolate chip cookie and they turned out okay but kinda watery or bland. It definitely needed more spice. The other recipe was an oatmeal raisin, half with pecan and half without. They turned out super thin and pitiful. They were definitely done, but they didn't rise or turn very golden on the top (They kinda looked like the oven wasn't at quite right temp. except that it was.) but they were super crumbly and wouldn't stay together. I ended up putting them in a gallon baggie and breaking them up into crumbles. They taste fantastic so for now it's my granola substitute. I can't wait to put some in ice cream!
I can't lie, I wanted to take a recipe and have everyone say, "ooh. I must get that recipe." or something along those lines. Well, trust me, no one is asking for either of my recipes. They both fell short of my expectations.

My favorite part of the day was hearing all the conversations and the fussing/loving among family. I wasn't quite prepared for the business of it - they came to make, bake, and conquer - and they did!

E was a great help by unwrapping lots of the candies that go on cookies and she essentially made our oatmeal cookies. I measured everything out but, other than a little stirring after the mixer, she did the rest. I was surprised how little she tried to eat. Granted, she didn't know what a lot of the things were so she didn't ask for them, but she still didn't try to finagle too many treats. I was pleased. The best of the day was helping her decorate sugar cookies. The sprinkles were coming out of the jar in clumps b/c the hole was small or something, so she started putting the sprinkles in the palm of her hand and then sprinkling them on the cookie that way. I have a lot of cute pictures of her determined face so focused on making the perfect cookie.

So, now we have a year's supply of treats in the house. No one here will starve and we are definitely not wasting away. I think I'm the only one eating them which is a concern at the rate some things are disappearing. I am excited to divide them up into little care packages for friends, coworkers, and neighbors. I am excited to give them out and let the joy of homemade treats spread.