The last time we emptied our compost bin (about 1 1/2 months ago), there were lots of little seedlings growing inside. They were so cute and my curiousity took hold, so we planted them in a pot to see what they were. Lots of seeds end up in the compost and these little guys were so small it was tough to tell. My hope was for canteloupe. One seedling flourished, so we planted it in the empty spot of the garden where we had just harvested the potatoes. Mystery plant started to grow bigger. And bigger. And then on to HUGE.
The plant is longer than both our gardens combined.
This pumpkin solved the mystery of what kind of plant it was.
It has taken over the world.
This pumpkin got too big for the slot it decided to grow in. I moved it and it just keeps getting bigger!
See the battle scars the poor thing got from fighting with the wood frame?
I still had pumpkin puree leftover from last year in the freezer. Last year, I bought 1 pumpkin, baked it, pureed it and froze it in 2 cup portions. Read that again: 1 pumpkin. And I still had a bag now, when the new pumpkin plant (grown out of the seeds from that 1 pumpkin) is promising many many pumpkins. So I made cookies and experimented with a pumpkin spice latte. It was ok but the pumpkin sort of sunk to the bottom. I wonder how Starbucks and the Cocoa Beanery do it? Probably fake pumpkin flavoring. Argh. According to this copycat recipe, they use pumpkin spice syrup.
Makes 1 drink. (I think their recipe was to make 2 but I only wanted 1.)
1 c Unsweetened Vanilla Almond Breeze milk
1/2 c very strong coffee
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp maple syrup
1 tsp cinnamon
1 T (heaping) pumpkin puree
Mix together in a small pot over medium heat until it starts to steam. Pour into a big mug and savor the delicious smell.
I would recommend putting the milk and pumpkin into a blender and pureeing it extra fine so that your pumpkin doesn't end up in the bottom of the mug when you're done drinking. I think mine just wasn't pureed quite enough. This may not be an issue if you're using the canned kind.
Yesterday was a catch-all day around the house. All those odds and ends that kept nagging at me are finally done!
One of my big projects was to pick all but the very smallest leaves from the swiss chard plant and freeze the harvest so that we'll have greens during the winter. My loving husband provided a noisy soundtrack during this process: he was using the belt sander on the front window frames.
Step 1: Try to control the chard after picking it.
Step 2: Wash the swiss chard.
Step 3: Pull off the stems and tough parts and rip the leaves into pieces.
Step 4: Fill the bowl with leaves, cover and microwave to wilt the leaves.
Step 5: Drain the excess liquid and let the chard cool. Then package up to freeze.
All that for 3 16 oz. containers of frozen chard. Crazy.
Last night I felt pretty under the weather. But I still made dinner because my parents came home from vacation and were coming over for dinner! It was worth the effort. Something about a relaxing dinner out on the patio has healing powers.
We had Mixed Vegetable soup from Food and Wine magazine, but I had to make some serious adjustments. I took the option of using wheat berries instead of farro. Then we tasted it when it was super bland. I ended up adding 2 tsp. of Italian seasoning and 1 tsp. of garlic powder. I would saute garlic with the onions and celery if I made it again. Which I probably will. I also did not have any tomato paste so I cut up a tomato and then used that and 2 T of tomato sauce. And then we ate it with wine, just like the magazine title. Dad and Walter made the wine and they did an excellent job. Saturday is the next wine making day because the new grapes arrive either today or tomorrow!
2. A good book
3. Nature, especially the woods
5. Real letters showing up in the mailbox
6. Sitting down after a long day on my feet
7. Chocolate ice cream. Or peanut butter.
8. Or the combination of the two, on a cone!
9. The crisp air of fall
10. My loving husband
11. Meeting up with an old friend and picking up right where we left off
12. Breakfast, especially oatmeal
13. Feeling refreshed after a long roller blade or yoga time
14. A big glass of water
15. Seeing my garden grow
16. An evening around home with my bup
17. Farm markets
18. The smell of baking throughout the house
Fall weekends are my favorite. Especially because the concept of having a weekend off is not really part of my world. I just don't have them. We spent this past weekend in a whirlwind of activities.
We went for our usual walk for ice cream and it was a little disappointing. I always get the same thing. Peanut butter soft serve on a cone. Only this time it was super thick and not as pb-ish. Better luck next time, I guess! I did make a yummy Unfussy Apple Cake from 101 Cookbooks and almost gave myself frostbite. I used some apples that we had frozen and cutting them was cold. We didn't do double desserts, I made is as a breakfast bread. Yes, I know I'm only kidding myself. But it's no worse for us than most breakfast breads. It's much better than donuts and almost gone!
Habitat for Humanity had a work day and we went to help out along with 2 other people from our church. It was a chilly morning so I ended up with paint on my zip-up shirt, but it was otherwise successful, if a bit unorganized.
In the evening we went on a murder mystery dinner cruise on the Pride of the Susquehanna. We got there early so we took a walk across the pedestrian bridge. It was a gorgeous evening and the views were amazing. There was a little mixup with my dinner but I ended up with plenty of food!
Two salads, red-skin mashed potatoes, possible the best cooked carrots I ever had, and Death by Chocolate Cake for dessert. It was massive.
The usual church routine...Walter got Dumbo the elephant in the mascot exchange. What a lucky man! He was loaded down with Coke and Hershey bars, so we may have to take him to the dentist this week.
We went for a short walk and got some chewed up cantaloupes out of my parents' garden. After I shooed off the bugs and cut out the nasty parts, they were delicious and juicy.
I spent most of the afternoon baking bread and chocolate chip cookies and making fresh tomato sauce. Everything went so smoothly, something was bound to go wrong. I was adding the garlic to the sauce pot to saute before adding the tomatoes and then I dropped the garlic. I buy the jars of minced garlic. It's one of my kitchen weaknesses. Sometimes I do use the real cloves but most it just annoys me to chop them. So if it's non-essential to use fresh, I use the jarred kind. Shameful. Anyway...the whole jar just slipped right out of my hand and exploded, covering the floor, the wall, the door, the doormat, the counter. All surfaces. But my tomatoes were boiling so that I could peel them and I couldn't stop to clean up. So there it sat, stinking up the kitchen for over an hour. Mmmm... The sauce was delicious, though!
Fresh Tomato Sauce
from Mom, with slight variations
3 pounds tomatoes or as many tomatoes as you have (some of mine were partially green but I added those parts, too)
4 cloves minced garlic
1 T olive oil
1 tsp. salt (or to taste)
1-2 T Italian seasoning
brown sugar to taste (I used 2 tsp.)
Boil the whole tomatoes briefly and dunk in ice cold water. Peel and dice cooled tomatoes. Meanwhile, heat olive oil and add garlic. Stir occasionally, cooking about 2 minutes. Add tomatoes as you finish chopping. Cook at a low boil until sauce begins to thicken, about 2 hours. Add salt and seasonings. Simmer until it has reached a thick consistency. If you prefer runnier sauce, cook a shorter amount of time. Taste sauce and if it is slightly bitter, add brown sugar as needed. Serve with pasta!
Here's how we spent our anniversary: Chiquita Banana Okay, we didn't actually have the luxury of going to the Chiquita plantation. We just went to the York Fair. But they had free smoothie samples and wanted to take our picture! I had a back to childhood moment as well when we came across the Sunset Ice Cream stand. They're based in Williamsport and when I was a kid we'd stop at their roadside stand. It was seriously in the middle of nowhere, just this wooden stand along a back country road. But that ice cream was so delicious. I didn't know they still existed, but they do. And the ice cream is still delicious.
Yesterday morning when I got to work there was a slice of lime sitting beside my mouse. I looked closer, and someone was nice enough to leave me their entire gin and tonic, complete with straw but missing the glass. Whoops. Luckily none of it got onto the actual computer. It was just sticky and wet everywhere.
I came upon this Giving through Growing website. They'll donate $1 for each e-seed anyone sends! Go send some!
Yesterday was one of those days when I left work and knew it was going to be a great evening. The sun was shining, it was the perfect temperature, and despite the list of things I had to do, I was happy to have an evening at home.
Plus I didn't run into traffic on the way home, I tried a new street (construction is done and it inspired me!!!) to see if it was quicker, and when I got home there was a Netflix (Alias Season 4 Premiere! Woo!) AND a ValPak coupon set in my mailbox. Ahhhh...
1. Roller blade. I had a mission: explore a new development in town and create a new 35-40 minute route for myself. I have 3 usual routes and I'm getting tired of them. It was the perfect roller blading temperature and I passed some friendly people along the way.
2. Laundry. Okay, so I let it build up just a little... But now it's blowing in the breeze out on the line, loving the fall air just as much as I do. See what I mean about the beautiful day?
3. Change sheets. Clean bathroom. On a day like yesterday, these didn't even sound like chores! Look at the beautiful handiwork on the quilt. My mom made it for me. It's actually for a twin size bed but she's still working on the one for this bed, so we make do. I think the new one would've been done by now but I picked a super hard quilting pattern. Mom and Mommom have been slaving away for months now.
4. Make soup. Summer Squash and Corn Soup to be exact. Walter helped chop the veggies because halfway through the first onion I was in tears. They were ones we grew this year and very pungent! I'll admit, my soup doesn't look as good as the one from the recipe, but I didn't have the green onions to put on top. I made a few adjustments to the recipe, using regular onions and a little extra squash. I also added a hot pepper that cooked with the onions. It didn't add a lot of heat, though, because the soup has milk in it.
5. Try roasting a red pepper and making hummus. I was reading Summer Harms blog and found the recipe for Roasted Red Pepper Hummus. I actually used this one as my guide because I had tahini, but didn't use that much olive oil and didn't use the sriracha because I didn't have any. We sampled a few fingerfuls along the way and added more honey and salt. It was delicious on sourdough bread but then we ran out and had to use Organic Blue Chips. They were good, too.
6. Eat dinner outside! With a great big fresh salad! And beer!
6. Baked apples. Yum! Yes, it looks like mush in a bowl. My apples stayed in the oven a little too long. I'd plead not guilty but it really was my fault. They were still delicious! I stuffed them with a mixture of lemon juice, brown sugar, oats, cinnamon, nutmeg, ground cloves, and dried cranberries. Walter just had to have vanilla frozen yogurt with them. Actually, he wanted ice cream but I didn't have any vanilla.
7. Relax with my dessert, Alias, a purple afghan, and my Bup. I love fall.
I have to admit, I started this blog simply because I wanted to try it out. I love reading other people's blogs and always feel like I learn something. They also motivate me! So many accomplishments, so much time spent to do things that can seem intimidating. But somehow when someone writes about what they did, it's inspiring!
Hopefully I can share the many things I learn as I go along. My passions are mainly for the many aspects of food: nutrition, gardening, health, cooking, baking, eating... But I'm also passionate about taking care of the earth and my future children. Usually, the two are intertwined.
Grocery shopping is a great example! Now, I LOVE grocery shopping. I'm not one of those people that goes in and out like it's a chore. I need plenty of time. Something might catch my eye! I can stand there looking at the pasta, trying to decide: which is the best deal?, should I use a coupon?, get a different kind?, which is the best for my health?, is the organic worth it? All that without buying a single box. I just like to look and learn. It drives my husband crazy. (Added bonus? Perhaps!)
Usually my decisions end up being made based on the price, on whether I can get it in organic, on whether it has high fructose corn syrup in the ingredient list (like BBQ sauce), and on packaging.
All this, just because I found a great company, Blue Avocado, that promotes and sells using your own bags when you shop. I love their bags! For now, though, I'll have to keep using my freebies. They all work the same, I suppose. My local grocery store gives 3 cents back for each bag we bring to use! I'd do it anyway, but I love the incentive. I wish more places did that! Like Aldi, where they charge you just to use a bag at all. Very smart, even if they don't do it primarily to be eco-friendly.
For all of you out there who shun carbs, stop! This article is just another example of how we should be eating more plant based foods and less animal products. Okay, so I'm talking about whole grain carbs, not just any old carbs. Interestingly enough, carbs are plant based. Here is a listing of 15 grains that we should eat more of. Guess what! Wheat berries are on the list!
Did you know that animal products are the main source of cholesterol in our diets? Plants contain virtually no cholesterol. Our bodies produce enough cholesterol on their own, so we don't really need to get it from food. If you're truly interested in the science behind it, go here.
I am by no means a strict vegetarian. In fact, I'm probably that person that vegetarians hate because I'm mostly vegetarian, but I'll eat seafood. And sometimes meat, like on Thanksgiving. I don't eat this way for one specific reason, but for a variety of reasons.
I've never been a big meat eater. So when I found out through a variety of sources that there are multiple reasons to eliminate meat from our diets, it didn't take much to convince me. I recommend both of these books if you want some follow-up reading. The Omnivore's Dilemma takes some time to really get into, but it's worth it. Michaol Pollan gives excellent examples that really opened my eyes. Skinny Bitch is a lighter read, but they are very vocal with their beliefs, so read it with an open mind.
I like happy cows. I don't like thinking about my meat being processed, contaminated, dirtied, recalled, or anything of the sort. And I don't want to consider how the animals were treated before they were killed. It's not that I have a problem with eating animals. I have a problem with the animals not being raised in the way God intended.
My health. I feel better eating a vegetable based diet. It's easy to get the proper amount of protein, which is the main concern of most people. The list of vegetables is quite lengthy. And delicious!
I also found a cool website that lets you search foods by the nutritional needs that you have. It searches for foods by highest and lowest in each nutrient. Very useful if you find you're deficient in something.
When I was a kid, grilled cheese sandwiches were always the fall back meal for when Mom and Dad were eating a super spicy meal (this happened often since they are spicy food lovers). I learned quickly that I should make my own because Mom always burned them. I had them on whole wheat bread with Swiss cheese. No substitutions, please. When I met my husband and discovered he hadn't had one of these, I had to introduce it to him. He's a grilled cheese lover now, too.
For awhile, I was so caught up in fancy recipes that the grilled cheese sandwich went to the wayside. But every time I have one, I can't believe I forgot about them. There's something so right about biting into toasty bread oozing with melted cheese. Simple but perfect.
I've graduated to "grown-up" grilled cheese with the addition of other varieties of cheese, tomatoes, swiss chard, spinach, onions, mustards, and other delicious goodies. The whole wheat bread is still a staple, although sometimes I do mix it up and use sourdough. Last night I made a revolutionary advancement in the world of grilled cheese. I guess it doesn't take a normal, sane person 2 hours to make 2 sandwiches, but it was worth every minute. I found a recipe for a pasta with roasted tomatoes that I wanted to try, but we'd just had pasta the day before, so I thought I'd make the roasted tomatoes as a side dish.
After slicing, squeezing out the seeds, and mixing with olive oil, oregano and garlic powder, I laid the tomatoes on a baking sheet and put them in oven. After 30 minutes, I was supposed to flip them over. Each individual little tomato half. That looked like a daunting task and they were still a little juicy for that, so I just moved them around a little so they wouldn't stick. Mmmm...they smelled SO good. I threw two ears of corn on the pan with the tomatoes to roast and hopefully soak up some of the flavors coming from the tomatoes. The result: slightly charred, wonderfully chewy tomatoes. It was like eating tomato candies, they were that good. Lucky for my husband, I moved them out to the dining room. Otherwise, he would have missed out.
Place a flat, nonstick pan on the stove and turn the burner on medium. Very lightly butter one side of each slice of bread. Spread dijon mustard on the opposite side of two slices of bread. Place butter side down on pan. Lay cheese slices on top of the mustard, then add roasted tomatoes. Top with other slice of bread. Keep burner on low and do not leave the sandwiches unattended. Flip after the bottom is lightly browned. If you find they are browning too quickly, turn the burner down. The key is to melt the cheese without burning the bread! (This is where I ran into problems as a child, when Mom burnt the bread and the cheese didn't get a chance to melt. Sorry Mom, I know you were busy but I have to mention this because it was tragic. And no, scraping off the burnt part does not completely erase that burnt flavor.)
Note: Our local farm market has a cheese stand (Country Sunrise Creamery) where they sell this delicious garlic cheddar cheese. Here's where I would usually start talking about buying local and eating foods that aren't covered in pesticides but I'll spare you this time. Roasted Tomatoes
1 lb. yellow plum tomatoes, sliced in half and seeded 1 T olive oil 1 tsp. dried oregano 1 tsp. garlic powder
Preheat oven to 375°. Cut tomatoes in half, squeezing out excess seeds. Mix with remaining ingredients. Lay tomatoes, cut side down, on baking pan and drizzle any remaining mixture over tomatoes. Roast for 30 minutes and then flip. If you're planning to roast corn on the cob, now's the time to add it. Roast for another 30-40 minutes, turning corn once or twice.
It was almost a year ago when I discovered wheat berries. They are the entire wheat kernel, that tiny piece of grain that gets dissected to make many kinds of flour, wheat germ, wheat bran, and so much more. So you process the kernel to make an ingredient that you must then mix with other things until you finally have a loaf of bread. Or cake, if you prefer. But wheat berries are like eating a loaf of bread from a spoon. They are nutty and chewy and delicious.
They do require some cooking before they are edible. Before that, straight from the bag, they look like seeds. After cooking them, I usually just put them in an airtight container in the fridge. They can be frozen, too, if you're not sure you'll eat them fast enough. If you add them to oatmeal, they keep it from getting mushy. My favorite use of them is in Creamy Wheat Berry Hot Cereal from Eating Well. But they're great in soups, in salads, and with your salmon. Even my husband will eat them in the hot cereal and he won't eat oatmeal by itself.
Which brings me to my second favorite whole grain: oatmeal. I used to refuse to eat it because when you cook it for breakfast it gets so gooey and soft. Then I discovered baked oatmeal. Now when I make it for breakfast, I just put in a little less liquid so it doesn't get soupy and then add cinnamon and ground flax seed. It's the best with fresh peaches on top! I also found a recipe for healthy cookies that used oatmeal as the main ingredient. They're almost like granola bars but they don't stick together quite as well.
I was inspired by a book I found at the library, Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day. I've baked a couple of the recipes, including the 100% Whole Wheat and Flaxseed Bread. We tried it with kalamata olive tapenade, fresh bruschetta (made from those countless tomatoes my garden is producing!), peanut butter and King Syrup (one of the very, very few foods made from high fructose corn syrup that are allowed in my house). I just can't imagine putting any of those on a squishy slice of white bread.
I spent my childhood eating pasta at least two times a week. So when I heard all the hype about how carbohydrates are so bad for people, I just didn't believe it. Turns out carbs don't make people fat, just the awful carb-loaded foods they're eating do. There are too many delicious whole grains to waste time eating that junk. Besides, the browner your bread is, the closer it gets to the color of chocolate!
1 tsp. ground cinnamon (sometimes I use more due to my love of this spice)
1 tsp. ground flax seed
Fresh fruit or dried cranberries
Pour oats and milk into a microwaveable bowl. Microwave for 2 minutes. Add wheat berries, cinnamon and flax seed and stir together. (I usually just sprinkle the cinnamon from a shaker and put a spoonful of flax on top; no need to be precise in the measurements there.) Add fruit topper.
If you like your oatmeal sweeter than I do, then you might need to add a bit of sugar.
Note: The best fruit topper I've found so far is a fresh peach. Bananas have a very similar texture to the oats, so I think they make it too mushy. Apples are good, but don't add the juice flavor like peaches do. Blueberries are also delicious on top, either by themselves or in combination with any other fruit.
Somehow when planting 6 tomato plants I did not think I was going to have so many tomatoes. My garden went crazy this summer, and the tomatoes are no exception!
This plentiful supply of green tomatoes came about because the plants were so out of control that we had to take action. I went out to pick them and couldn't even get to the middle of the plants. They had spread across the lawn and the grass was growing up through and around the tomatoes. My husband came to the rescue (as usual) to help me contain the mess, but we ended up knocking off a lot of unripened tomatoes in the process.
My grandma (who lives on a farm and grows all kinds of everything) saved me from all of this by suggesting that if I lay them out down in the basement, they'll ripen slowly. That was worth trying just because it seems so bizarre. It doesn't make much sense that in the dark and cool basement they would just magically change colors. We're talking about rock hard, pure green tomatoes here. A week later I was down getting an onion and guess what! There were 4 red tomatoes sitting there. Just goes to show that farmers know their stuff.
Next step was learning to can. For every one of those hard green tomatoes I had at least 3 ripe ones.
The first batch went toward a fresh tomato sauce, netting 1 excellent pasta dinner and 4 containers to freeze.
Mom helped with the second batch I learned to can, and we got 8 pints of diced tomatoes and 4 pints of juice. I swore as a child that I was never going to can. I'd watch my mom slaving away over the stove, tomato juice dripping everywhere and just knew that there was no reason for someone to be doing that. Now, confronted with all of these beautiful tomatoes, there's no other option. I can't let them rot! And there's no way I'm going to be able to eat all them all right now. Plus the homegrown, vine-ripened type are the very best. Oh, and we threw in 4 pints of peaches while we were at it.
The third batch got turned into sauce. Sadly, after over an hour of prep (20 minutes of cooking, time to strain out the seeds and skins, and cooking down the sauce,) we made only 4 pints of sauce out of 4 baskets of tomatoes... There's really no justice in that.
It won't be long before there's a fourth batch, with no end in sight.
So my dad's birthday was yesterday and I volunteered to bake his cake. At first he wanted pineapple upsidedown cake, then he wanted applesauce raisin cake, and then possibly carrot cake. It was up to me to decide. I figure, how can you go wrong with all three in one? It had to be a layer cake because putting candles on a flat cake isn't exciting enough for a birthday celebration. Who wants to blow out candles and splatter the wax on the sides of a cake pan? No, the candles have to rise up out of a pretty layer cake!
It wound up being a mish-mash project, with me splicing together recipes and using up some of my and mom's ingredients. First off, one recipe called for all-purpose flour and quick oats but I didn't have any quick oats so I looked to another recipe which called for just flour. A cake with all white flour just doesn't cut it with me, so I used 1 cup white and 1/2 cup wheat. Not too much to make the cake dense, but just enough to add some whole grains. To make it more like the applesauce raisin cake, I added nutmeg. I borrowed the crushed pineapple from my mom's house and ended up 1/2 cup shy of the amount I needed. Applesauce filled in the gap.
Final product came out of the oven looking beautiful. I used a cream cheese icing and put it away for the night where it awaied the addition of toasted coconut to dress it up for the celebration. Dad loved it and said that until he lets me know otherwise, he wants the same cake every year!
Carrot Spice Cake
adapted from several recipes from Cooking Light
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup granulated sugar
2 tsps. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
2 tsps. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
3 T canola oil
1 large egg
1 T soy flour + 1 T water (or substitute 1 egg)
2 cups grated carrot (about 3 medium carrots)
1 cup canned crushed pineapple, drained
1/2 cup applesauce
1/2 cup golden raisins
Preheat oven to 325°. Spray 2 9" round baking pans with cooking spray.
Combine flours, sugar, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a large bowl, stirring well with a whisk. Combine oil and eggs; stir well. Stir egg mixture, grated carrot, pineapple, and applesauce into flour mixture. Pour batter into prepared pans.
Bake at 325° for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let sit in pans for 5 minutes, then invert onto wire racks and cool completely.
For frosting, beat together butter and cream cheese until smooth. Add powdered sugar and vanilla just until mixed. Spread frosting between layers and then over cake. Garnish with toasted coconut.