Friday, February 28, 2014

Spring Gardening and Strawberry Oatmeal

    We've had a couple of sunny days, and have been able to get out into the garden.  I've planted some perennials that have been kicking around since fall.  I randomly pulled weeds here and there, and cut back a lot of last year's winter killed growth.  I love to see the new leaves bunching up at the base of the shasta daisies, asters, hollyhocks and lupines.  The plum tree is blooming, the raspberries are showing green buds.  The kiddo and I seeded lettuce, tomatoes - campari and cherries, four kinds of kale, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, romanesco, purple kolrabi (Or cold-rabi and the kiddo says), ground cherries and collards, and set them up under lights on the heat pads, in the greenhouse.  Soon we'll be able to direct sow some things out in the garden, I've been watching for the sign, the blooming forsythia, so I can seed the peas, beets, carrots, parsnips, radishes, spinach, lettuce, corn salad, and bok choi.  There still is some clean up left, I need to finish the new garden plots, trim the pear tree, clean up the strawberry plants, build a fence so the Booger can't get in and eat the bounty like she did last summer. 

     My kiddo cannot get enough of strawberries.  I unearthed another 1 lb bag of frozen strawberries from last year's garden in the deep freeze and set to work the other morning.  The extracts really take it to another level and make it special.  The strawberries turn the oatmeal a lovely pink color.  The Kiddo had seconds.
Took the photo before I added the yogurt. 


Strawberry Oatmeal

3c water
1 lb frozen strawberries (or could use fresh in season)
1 1/2 c old fashioned oats
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp orange extract
2 T honey or to taste
3 T ground flax seed
Walnuts and plain yogurt for topping

Bring the water and strawberries to a boil in a saucepan.  Reduce the heat and simmer until the strawberries are cooked and tender.  Stir in the oats, simmer another 5 minutes, until oats are cooked and starting to become thicker.  Stir in extracts, honey and ground flax seed.  Serve topped with walnuts and yogurt.  Yum! Serves 4 or more.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Bacon Cheese Oatmeal with Fried Eggs for Dinner

    You heard me correctly.  This is what the Kiddo and I ate for dinner.  I read about it in my local Kroger owned Grocery Store magazine in the Health Food section.  We have eaten it before and it was an instant hit and now I know we will eat it regularly for dinner, or maybe breakfast.  Who knows.  This was delicious with scallions from the garden and fresh eggs from my ladies (hens).

I remembered to take a photo this time.



Bacon Cheese Oatmeal with Fried Eggs
1 1/2 cups old fashioned rolled oats
3 cups water
6 pieces of bacon, cooked and crumbled, divided
1 cup medium cheddar cheese, shredded, divided
1 -2 green onions, sliced
eggs - 1-2 per person, fried in butter to desired doneness (the kiddo likes over-hard, I like over-easy)
optional - Avocado, sliced; salsa

Boil water and add oats, reduce to simmer and cook about 5 minutes until done.  Stir in 3/4 of the bacon, 3/4 of the cheese, all the scallions.  Serve and top with eggs, garnish with reserved bacon and cheese, and avocado and salsa if you wish.  Serves 4. 

I forgot to reserve bacon for the garnish, much to the Kiddo's dismay.  I made a side salad too.  By the time I piled the salad on the plate, you couldn't see the oatmeal clearly so I didn't snap a photo of that.  It was spinach and kale with some carrot curls, mushrooms and scallions.  Tasty.  I ended up with salsa on my portion too.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Valentine's Breakfast with Kiddo

     I love to do unexpected things for special occasions.  This morning for Valentine's Day I made a special breakfast for the Kiddo, something we eat all the time, but with a Special Valentine's day flair.  I'm talking about heart shaped pancakes with strawberries.  The Kiddo was so excited!  "I love pancakes!  I love strawberries!  They are my favorite!"  It was all the better for the Bob's Red Mill 10 grain pancake mix, homemade cultured buttermilk, homemade vanilla extract (thanks Alana! I learned from her book The Homemade Pantry), backyard eggs and frozen strawberries picked last June in the garden.  There was enough for breakfast and leftovers for another day.  I find the orange extract in the pancakes really complements the strawberries.




Heart Shaped Pancakes with Strawberries

1 cup Bob's Red Mill 10 grain pancake mix
1 tbsp olive oil
1 egg
1 cup (or so) cultured buttermilk, or milk, or water
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp orange extract
Topping - 1 cup frozen strawberries, defrosted, mixed with 2 tbsp evaporated cane sugar, left to macerate for about 10 min.
Butter
Grade B maple Syrup


Heat non-stick griddle (see Note).  Mix all pancake ingredients, except topping and maple syrup.  Let sit 5 minutes to hydrate whole grain flour.  Add buttermilk/milk if necessary to achieve pouring consistancy.  Transfer batter to a measuring cup with a pour spout.  Carefully pour two small circles of batter close together so they touch as they spread out, then add the point in the center.  I was able to fit eight 3x3 hearts on my griddle at at time.  Cook until edges are dry and small bubbles are popping in the center, some leaving holes and golden brown on underside. Flip.  Cook until golden brown and done, should spring back in center when lightly touched with finger. Serve with butter, strawberries and accumulated juice and grade B maple syrup.  Serves 3-4, about 16 small pancakes.

Note: The only non-stick/teflon item I have in my kitchen is an electric griddle for making pancakes or masses of french toast or grilled cheese sandwiches.  I find that I have difficulty making pancakes on cast iron, and that I need to add too much butter to keep them from sticking, and it creates a different type of pancake texture than I desire. 

Monday, February 3, 2014

Making Homemade Lotion

    On a personal note, I have been on a weight loss journey for the past year and a half.  I had a combination of baby weight, extra weight, cesarean section surgery and loss of general muscle tone.  In August of 2012, my doctor urged me to take care of myself, to lose weight, exercise and become a healthier person overall.  I started with walking, and providing a healthier diet to our family.  I made great strides in creating whole food recipes that my family enjoyed and I concentrated on smaller portions for myself.  I lost 17 lbs by the end of October and then winter set in and the holiday season and 5 pounds crept back on.  In late February or Early March, at another doctor's appointment I had a renewed interest in losing weight and getting in shape.  I received a gift of a Fitbit One, pedometer and activity tracking device, and at first I saw it as something negative.  Then I realized the good intentions behind the gift, and I began to use it as a tool.  Though I have had a goal in mind of those 10,000 steps per day, 10 floors climbed, 30 very active minutes,  and 5 miles traveled, I used it more as a reminder, than a regimen.
     In April our family joined a local gym and all of us began using the facilities to meet our needs and interests.  I found that I really enjoyed Zumba, weight and resistance training, and cycling classes.  Other things that I enjoyed like swimming or yoga didn't seem to work into my schedule over time.  I made a commitment to going to the gym that grew to four days a week, for varied amounts of time, as well as a date to walk with a good friend one day a week.  As a family, we tried to make outings active and included walking or hiking as part of the experience.
    The weight I was carrying slowly began to melt at about a rate of one pound a week.  Though I was weighing less on the scale and measuring less inches, I was noticing that loose skin was beginning to appear in different areas of my body.  I dove into research to figure out if there was anything I could do to help with minimizing and tightening skin on my nearing 40 year old body.   I found that eating a healthy diet with plenty of antioxidants and healthy fats would help, as well as drinking plenty of water.  Continuing with weights and resistance would work over time as well.  Then I looked into recipes  for homemade lotions or creams and I read in several places about the skin restoring and tightening properties of Castor Oil.  I bought some in the laxative section of my local grocery store and tried to apply the thick oil directly, and it was sticky and viscous and it pulled at that loose skin in sensitive areas when I was trying to smooth the oil on.  Not pleasant.  So I looked again to see if I could do something to make it into a lotion.  I found a recipe on Wellness Mama blog and when I looked back on it today, I see a note that the recipe has been changed, but not a notation of the date of the change, so now I am unsure of the recipe I used for my jumping off point.  I remember at the time that I swapped Castor Oil for the suggested Olive or Almond oil.  I have been using this on and off for a while with some small noticeable result, but at the same time I was doing all the other suggested remedies of eating well, drinking water and weight bearing exercises.  I couldn't definitively say that it was the pasty lotion that was helping.
    Sometime in October, I was checking in on some of the blogs that I read, but don't subscribe to, because I like to read when I have time and desire and not be inundated with emails about recent posts, or use an RSS service that I would have to log into and be regular about using.  I just have a few bookmarks, and when I need to think of something else, I peruse the posts back until I see something familiar from the last time I checked in.  Anyway, I was looking in on one of my favorite blogs, Northwest Edible Life,  and back in September,  Erica had a post about Dry Brushing and the benefits, complete with before and after pictures of her legs.  At the time, I thought to myself, "Wow, looks easy, but when would I have time to do that?"  Well, it turns out recently that I have had plenty of time for that, especially when I am up before the rooster crows (actually, we have no roosters in Downtown, at least not in my neighborhood) with my mind racing a mile a minute.  For about the past month I have been dry brushing most every day and applying the homemade Castor Oil lotion that I mentioned above.  Within about two weeks, I saw a remarkable difference.  The large bat wings of loose skin on my upper arms was diminishing, the bunchy skin above my knees had minimized, the seersucker looking apron of stretch-marked belly was smaller, even the deep wrinkles on my decolletage have smoothed and begun to fade, and as a bonus, my scaly elbows have turned buttery soft and supple.  Miraculous!
    Yesterday, I used the last of my Castor Oil lotion, so I set out today to make a new extra large batch with some changes.  The last batch didn't have enough essential oils to mask all of the castor oil and coconut oil smells, so I wanted to increase those and try a new scent combination, lavender, rose and orange.  I had some languishing Calendula Salve from last summer, that is great for burns, abrasions, insect bites and other skin ailments, but the recipe had made way more than we could actually consume, so I wanted to incorporate some of the excess into my new batch.  I hadn't been happy with how hard and rock solid the past batch was, between the coconut oil, the beeswax and the near constant 63 degrees F of the basement restroom that I use, I spent a lot of time cleaving chunks of lotion from the jar, then laying on my skin to soften and melt, and finally spreading it around.  I would rather have something more like a body butter. 

Here is what I tried:

Homemade Body Lotion
8 fl oz castor oil
8 fl oz prepared calendula salve, melted
8 fl oz coconut oil, melted
1 oz beeswax, grated

essential oils - add what scent you like in the amount to achieve the strength you prefer.  I added rose, lavender and orange.  The rose EO turned out to be diluted to 5%, so I added quite a bit, but the scent is still too faint.  I will keep my eye out for a 100% rose essential oil for the future. 

    I melted everything in the microwave, very gently on 50% power, only until melted.  There are some people that would argue for melting these waxes and oils on the stove, in a double boiler.   I cooled everything down to room temperature and then I started whipping it up in the stand mixer, to get a frosting like consistency.  It wasn't cool enough, so I stuck it out on my 48 degree F back porch, until it was nice and cold, then whipped it again.  I filled 3 - 8oz wide mouth jars, and one little spice jar too. 

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Truly Awesome

There is something truly awesome about being able to realize a child's request for 'Coleslaw with Almonds' by heading out to the winter garden after an emotionally exhausting day, and picking a head of savoy cabbage, three scallions, one carrot.  Combining those vegetables with some juicy Cara Cara oranges, and a few pantry staples: rice vinegar, toasted almonds and sesame seeds, toasted sesame oil, sugar, tamari, light miso and some grated ginger.  The look of divine joy on her face as she consumed her wish, was just that...  truly awesome. 


We enjoyed this coleslaw with some Thanksgiving turkey soup with whole wheat egg noodles from the deep freeze.  Exactly what I had intended frozen soup for, an easy healthful meal on a busy day.

Monday, January 27, 2014

A Fun Whale For A Special Boy

A good friend of ours turned one on Friday.  We were kindly invited to the party.  I remembered, the morning of, that I needed to make a gift.  My mind has definitely been elsewhere.  I ran a quick Google search for "easy stuffed animal patterns" and found a super cute whale on Etsy, where I could purchase the pattern for 7.50 Euros or something.  I read something once that said something to the effect of people only look at Etsy for ideas to rip off.  Who needs a pattern?  Not me.  We rummaged through the stash to find some colorful flannel, perfect for a little boy to cuddle.  Then trial and error, sew and resew, stuff and unstuff and stuff again.  Finally, we had a completed whale.  Not perfect, but lovable.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

It Might As Well Be Spring - Jan. 23, 2014

Tomatillo Husk with seeds intact
Garden Sorrel
  A couple days ago, I was out in the garden, mowing and starting to kill more lawn with cardboard for increased veggie garden space.  I was looking around at the remains of last year's garden, which still needs to be cleaned up.  We had a very busy fall.  I was pleased to see the garden sorrel fairing well, a few chard plants enduring, some overwintering cabbage heads not completely mollusk eaten.  I marveled at the skeletonized tomatillo husks all over the ground, and the few runner bean pods that missed the harvest.  The rhubarb was starting to poke its shoots up a little, and then I said to myself, "WAIT, IT'S ONLY JANUARY!"  We have had a few unseasonably warm days here in Western Washington, with hard freezes at night.  I have woken up to find frost covering everything, but here is the rhubarb plant determined that it is spring.
Crocus
    I started looking around some more, and found every hellebore plant with nodding blooms already open.  The hellebores are also called Lenten Roses, because they bloom during the season of Lent, which according to my calendar is nearly six weeks away at this point.  I spied green buds swelling on the combination plum tree, that has yet to ever bloom or fruit, so it is still a mystery what varieties have been grafted onto the central trunk.  Daffodil, tulip, muscari and bluebell leaves all are pushing their way out of the soil. Then from the corner of my eye, I saw something golden in the mulch around the blueberries... crocuses.  It really must be spring.
    All this early growth worries me.  Most all of these early risers will withstand the frosts, but if we get an ice storm, or snow that melts and freezes, most of the growth will be doomed to start again late, or never again. I wonder if an early spring is definitely upon us, and we will have an early summer too, or if there will be devastation in a few weeks time as winter resumes. 
  As I type this, I am nestled in a comfy chair, in a spot of sun, with a warm mug of barley tea, relishing in these glorious pseudo spring days.  I can feel the sun's rays penetrate my soul.