Photo: Great grandparents at their farm in Blandinsville, IL, with five of their six children .. my grandpa was yet a twinkle in grandma's eye. Stable boy and governess also pictured. Hodges farm, circa 1903-4

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Revisiting Cast Iron

Last week I cooked breakfast at my MIL's home.  The skillet used for frying eggs is a non-stick skillet.  A very old non-stick pan at that.  Its surface was compromised with flaking and scratches.  I was so hungry and went ahead and used it.  All the while dreaming of my cast iron skillets back home (sigh;(  There are so many controversies about using non-stick pans that I ditched my old ones a few years ago and replaced them with a nice set of non-coated-stainless-steel ones.  These are in addition to my (3) cast iron skillets, griddle, grill pan and Dutch oven.  When properly seasoned, they are non-stick.  Some studies report that using cast iron for cooking can help impart iron to your diet.

My mid size skillet was in need of being re-seasoned.  It had developed quite a lot of build up on the inside surface.  This skillet was purchased used (at a yard sale) about 13 years ago ... and it's the first time I've super cleaned the surface (scraped/scoured/wiped down/oiled/heated to smoking point 3x's).  The grease rag is stored in a plastic coffee can under my sink and used as a bon fire starter when no longer usable.  (click photos to enlarge view)

Photos:  Top ... cast iron skillet in need of a good scrub, tools of the trade used to clean pan surface, debris removed from skillet, bottom ... re-seasoned skillet with grease rag ... ready to use.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Revamped Waffles

Switching ingredients in standard recipes with whole food ingredients is easy.  Waffles are a good breakfast food that incorporates eggs & milk ... plus you can add fresh berries.  Today the kids said, 'yummmmm' after they handed me their empty plates.

Mrs. Mac's Berry Waffle Recipe:

1-3/4 cup whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon organic unrefined sugar or honey*
3 egg yolks, beaten
4 tablespoons oil or melted butter
1-1/2 cups milk
3 egg whites, beaten until stiff
1/3 cup fresh or frozen huckleberries (or raspberries/blueberries/blackberries)

Mix the dry ingredients together with a wire whisk, set aside.  Using your stand mixer, add the egg whites to the mixing bowl and beat until stiff.  Beat the yolks in a small bowl, add milk and oil ... mix with a fork.  Remove the egg whites from the mixing bowl ... set aside.  To the same bowl add the flour and egg/milk mixture.  Beat til barely blended.  Carefully fold in the egg whites.  To a preheated and well oiled waffle iron add 1/4 cup of batter.  Top with a small amount of berries .. then cover berries with 1/4 cup of more waffle batter (this helps the waffle not to stick due to the berries).  Bake according to your waffle iron directions.  Mine is old and I just watch for the waffle to stop steaming.

Serve waffles warm with a little butter and real maple syrup.  Your kids won't ever want you to buy Eggo's again ... this whole grain waffle will fill you up until lunch :)

*if using honey ... add it to the liquid egg/milk mix

Yesterday we stopped by a neighbor's ranch and bought some hot off the nest organic chicken eggs.  A cozy feeling came over me holding the warm eggs on the way home ... now that's fresh :)

Monday, February 22, 2010

To Market To Market To Buy A Fat Pig

....home again, home again ... jiggity jig!

Our recent family vacation is fading into the photo album and memory bank.  It was so nice to visit a warm weather destination, but the comfort of home was calling to me all the while.  Traveling with a special needs child is EXHAUSTING!  Today will bring the challenge of getting Nathan back into the school routine.  My day will begin in about ten minutes when I have to wake him up to catch the school bus. 

The morning will be spent unpacking, sorting laundry, putting away various travel items, and making out the grocery list .... then heading out to the market. 

A good basic turkey soup will be on the menu for dinner ... pulled from the freezer will be deliciously prepared turkey frozen in stock.  It will be a easy-frugal dinner.  Soup, green salad, home baked rolls. 

Afternoon chores should include inspecting the garden grounds, taking stock of the compost pile, turning over some bare soil that I hope is thawed. 

It's so good to be home.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

There's No Place Like Home ...

... said while clicking my ruby red heels three times.

It's very difficult to be away from home and keep any semblance of a good diet routine.  The past week I've had to decide whether to go a little hungry ... or limit my food choices to the least offensive health wise .. and all the while wanting to get back home to the comfort of my kitchen, freezer .. and pantry.  There really are few places to eat that serve nutritious foods when in a strange city.  I tried to stick with fresh fruits, eggs, veggies, whole grain crackers, hummus, water and coffee.  And not wanting to be anti-family-food have shared some meals with family members.  Two days ago it was necessary to take  a Claritin allergy tablet .. this after being free from them for a month or two.  This trip has only confirmed and OPENED our eyes to how the entire food system has been monkeyed into one big-fat-fake-food society.

Photo:  Daughter, Elizabeth & 'friend' at the Storybook Cafe, Disneyland's Grand Californian Hotel

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Food Allergies

... are on the rise!  There are so many different allergies ... food restrictions ... diets ... a person has to walk through a toxic mine field some days to eat.  Hubby celebrated his birthday at his family's home today.  There were lots of relatives ... many semi-homemade foods .. cakes, brownies, ice cream, chicken, tri-tip steaks, ham sandwiches ... a smorgasbord.  I was realtively hive free until I had two bites of b/d cake ;(  And my grandson picked up a peanut butter cookie off a platter ... he's allergic to p/b ... luckily his mom caught him before it was swallowed!  I stuck with the tri-tip, spinach salad, carrot sticks and hummus.  The good Lord surely didn't intend for us to eat this way.   As a survival strategy ... I ran to Trader Joe's to stock up on edible .. non processed food stuff.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Mrs. Mac Opens a 'Broth'al ...;)

I have two cookbooks by Jeff Smith:  The Frugal Gourmet and Jeff Smith Cooks American.  Both books offer time honored recipes, many of which I have tweaked to use more whole food products.  Last month I made five quarts of his Basic Brown Soup Stock for the freezer.  Putting it in quart and pint jars to pull out at a moments notice.  It's the good quality stock that  makes excellent French onion soup.  Having it on hand makes cooking at home easier and very frugal.  To save time .. here is a link to the recipe I used.  Basic Brown Soup Stock

Here are the ingredients:  Basic rendering bones (about 5 lbs), carrots, onions, celery

Stocking the freezer assures you of having your own convenience foods on hand.

Broth Is Beautiful  ... read more here about its health benefits ... the entire article is a must read. 

Photos:  top:  beef bones ready to slow roast in the oven, bottom - simmering beef stock

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Road To Better Health

Three+ years ago I drank 8 ozs of orange juice and developed large hives that tormented me for six months.  Then the large welts were replaced with small hives.  They were unbearable!  I was taking Claritin four times a week .. I tried cold turkey going off the medicine .. but nearly went insane from the hives.  That's when I started rethinking my diet and eliminating processed foods.  The past month I went off the Claritin and have steadily been getting better from changing diets.  It's taken me a long time to detox from the years of preservatives and chemical laced foods.  My family is slowly warming up to the diet changes but more education is needed.  There are so many hidden things to watch for in the way our foods are grown and many places for contamination to take place in the food chain.  This is a eye opening adventure taken one step at a time. 

Mr. & Mrs. Mac with our sweetheart gloves;)

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

DIY Spice Cabinet

Update:  This post is featured at Down To Earth ... For more kitchen sink photos, visit here.

Here is a DIY project I undertook while we were building our home.  Some years ago I had purchased a (formerly built-in) ironing board cabinet.  After carefully stripping off the old paint (careful because the cabinet was very old ... and with the concern of there being some layers of lead based paint .. took no chances) and gutting the inner workings, I painted the unfinished inside .. and stripped down outside .. then sealed it with a waterproof satin clear coat.  Added new 'vintage' hardware, flipped the cabinet upside down .. installed a piece of glass where previously there had been a metal vent plate ... added glass shelves .. and had our builder  ... install it flush inside a kitchen wall.  The new 're-purposed' cabinet is perfect to keep spices cool and away from the heat of the stove.  It also holds both large and small containers of spices.  Even with all of this space, our overflow is stored in small 1/2 cup jelly jars in the pantry  .. a gal can never have enough spices ... or shoes;)

Monday, February 08, 2010

One Potato, Two Potato

Potato Recipe #1

This is a recipe from a old book of mine called, 'Fit For Life'  ... a diet craze during the mid 1980's that consisted of high amounts of fresh fruits, veggies and some meat eaten in certain combinations.  You might be able to check out the book from the library ... it has quite a number of good recipes.

Serves 4

2 large Idaho or russet potatoes
1 lb banana squash (you could use acorn or butternut I suppose)
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/4 tsp. cumin (optional .. but gives a good 'cheese' flavor
1 tsp. sea salt .. or salt free seasoning
2 tsp. melted butter

Bake the potatoes in a 425 F preheated oven til soft.  While they're cooking, cut the skin from the squash and steam until very soft.

Cool the potatoes slightly.  Cut them in half and scoop out the inside leaving a nice intact shell .. set aside.  Combine the squash, potato pulp, 1/4 cup melted butter, sea salt & cumin in a food processor ... blend well until you have a smooth yellow puree.

Heap the potato-squash mixture into empty potato skins.  Brush with the 2 tsp. melted butter and sprinkle with paprika.  Place under the broiler for about 10 minutes until lightly browned.

Kid tested .. and mom approved;)

Potato Recipe #2

Sweet Potato Fries (OK ... a yellow beet too;)

Getting my youngest to eat his veggies is not always a walk in the park.  He's got a mindset of:  green beans, carrots, corn, (green, orange, yellow)  As long as I make a green, orange, or yellow veggie and call it:  green beans, carrots, or corn .. then he'll eat it.  He's 13 and the possessor of an extra chromosome .. quite a little boy still in stature and mind.  I have to be a tricky mom to switch veggies on him and get him to eat them.

Sweet potato fries in our home are also called carrots (for the above mentioned reason).  Broccoli is called .. green beans, sugar snap peas are called .. green beans.  Get it?

Sweet potato fries are easy peasy to make.  Just wash up a sweet potato .. peel the skin off in you  must, cut into rounds or French fries, place on a lipped baking sheet .. drizzle with a little olive oil .. a sprinkle of sea salt .. get messy in there with your hands .. and bake at 400F for about 10-15 minutes.  BTW ... he just didn't get it that the yellow beet is supposed to be corn;)

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Breaking Of Bread

I've been an off again .. on again baker for several years.  The past few months have been ON again.  Trying to eliminate hidden Frankenfoods and unpronounceable ingredients from my diet make it necessary.  Yesterday's bread came out rather tasty, good textured, and very flavorful  .. although I let it rise a bit too much as it came out rather bulbous. This will make a good sandwich loaf as I added caraway seeds.  Baking bread is a good way to use up extra cooked oatmeal from breakfast, or a dab of mashed potatoes from dinner.  If these leftovers are not available, I cook and mash a small potato to add.  I like to make the dough in my bread machine .. then shape the dough, let it rise, and bake in my oven.  You can play with the dough while it spins in the machine by adding a bit more flour or liquid if you wing the recipe.  Take a standard bread machine recipe and change it up.  It's easy to do .. but check it for a good consistency (after it begins to knead, make sure the dough is neither too dry or too sticky) before walking away from the machine.
I haven't got a flour mill, but have discovered a good milled flour from Bob's Red Mill that you can buy at the market.
Bread freezes well if double wrapped in plastic bags.  It's handy to have one or two loaves on hand for a backup emergency.

Photos:  Mrs. Mac's home baked potato wheat bread with caraway, whole wheat Margarita pizza.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Poisoned In My Childhood

Yep ... it's true, just ask my mom.  Back in the early 1960's we lived in a somewhat rural area in Utah.  Dad had gotten a big box of beautiful ripe apricots from someone ... these were picked from a farm or commercial orchard perhaps .. unbeknown to me ... (at the ripe old age of five) I ate some fruit directly from the box without the benefit of washing first.  Boy, they were good tasting apricots ... who could stop eating just one. Two, three, four, five ... apricots later.  Within a day I began to get SICK ... and WEAK ... and had to eventually go to the doctor.  He gave me some awful big-old-chewable-disc-shaped iron pills (the size of a nickle) .. to take daily.  I believe he said I was anemic (fuzzy here .. many moons ago).  I did feel ill for weeks .. perhaps months.  I couldn't sleep at night ... I would get sweaty and chilled .. the only comforting thing to do was take a warm bath for hours it seemed.  No sleep .. restless .. ill .. to make matters worse .. the doctor then prescribed codeine to help me sleep at night (huh).  Well, I became rather attached to this happy medicine until my mom made me quit taking it cold turkey ... the whole incident is still a painful memory after nearly 45 years.   I can only imagine what type of pesticide was used back then .. this was before the EPA started regulating such chemicals.

Soon .. we'll talk turkey about genetically modified (GM/GMO) foods ... aka Frankenstein Food ... and how some GM seed has pesticide in its DNA.

clip art from public domain here

Friday, February 05, 2010

Give Me A 4, Give me A 9, Don't Give Me An 8

Bulk items, when purchased from the market, have PLU numbers assigned to them.  You know those tiny little stickers attached to most pieces of fruit.  Or the item numbers displayed when purchasing bulk whole foods in bins such as flour, grain, herbs, etc.  What is a PLU? .. Simply put: Price Look Up code.  You can tell many things from these seemingly random numbers.  Items beginning with a 9 are organically produced.  A 4 is conventionally produced, and if you can find a sticker with an 8 ... leave it at the gate.  These have been genetically modified (Frankenstein Laboratory Foods:( which I'll discuss soon.  Genetically modified (GM or GMO) foods have been a hot topic since they were introduced in the '90's.  I, for one, have great concern and have been one by one trying to eliminate them from my food chain due to adult onset food allergies. For more reading, here is one of many websites that offers a more detailed explanation

Yesterday, I mentioned posting a list of produce items that may contain higher pesticide residues.  This is what is known as the 'dirty dozen' ... and a few links so you can see the top offenders such as: 

  1. peaches
  2. apple
  3. sweet bell pepper
For links revealing the dirty dozen ... and more, check here, or here.

The best bet is to grow your own produce, buy from small local farms that don't spray their crops with pesticides and practice good crop rotation, shop at your local farmers markets (always inquire what practices farmers use with their crops), or supermarket organic.  This is a numbers game with big agriculture ... if they see a trend with more people wanting and buying organic, then farming practices will change.  Organic does cost more ... but making good choices in the supermarket (eliminating junk food) will free up some of your spending power.   Tomorrow I'll look into what the label 'organic food' really reveals.  Do you grow or buy organic produce?

Thursday, February 04, 2010

The money's in the bag!  Our budgeted/micro managed grocery shopping trip took place this morning.  It was with great restrain that hubby and I walked the isles of sprawlmart, the health food store, and  Costco.  I think hubby is in this scheme just to save money .. not to necessarily eat more healthy.  He thought I was getting too anal when I told him the $1.50 hot dog & coke at Costco (his choice for lunch) would be deducted from the grocery $ .. so I let him buy with his $.  My purpose for eating healthy is different than his purpose of saving money.  This became evident as we shopped today.  He skipped entering the health food store as usual and listened to talk radio in the truck.  Here are some photos of our 'goods' ... my pile ... and his pile.  Can you guess which one is his?

The almighty dollar ruled the day when choosing which organic produce to buy.  There is a list of produce that is highly recommended to buy organic due to growing practices ... and a list of lesser offending non organic produce.  I tried to stick with organic on items I have read are more likely to be most offenders in the way they are grown.  Tomorrow I'll post a list for you to review.  But for today, my organic purchase was:  apples, lettuce, carrots, rutabaga, broccoli, butter, and corn tortilla chips.  Next in the food chain - milk. (Our choice was not labeled organic .. but local, not treated with RBsT (hormones) .. lowest temp 'vat pasteurized', not homogenized .. whole milk with the cream on top.  It travels less than 20 miles from farm to home.  You can read about the benefits here.  Why all the fuss ... it supports a local sustainably run .. green .. eco friendly farm.  Cost is more .. but the product is superior.  This type of milk .. even though being whole milk is easier to digest since it's not homogenized.  Visit Spokane's Family Farm to find out more.) Half and half (RBst free) for coffee ... if I was thinking straight, I'd use the richer milk from the top of the milk for coffee ... hum, that's a thought for next week .. as well as the benefits of organic butter (yum:)..  non organic produce today netted:  bananas, oranges and tangerines.  I know ... these are not local products!  But we've got to eat.  Maybe next year I'll have put away a TON of local fruit for winter consumption! 

Hubby's 'pile' included:  potato chips, non-cured all natural 'hot dogs' (my choice for him), yogurt (for Ann) .. my attempts at yogurt making have failed thrice! Granola bars ... I know these can be  made from my pantry goods. Fishy crackers (Ann), and the ridiculously priced individual cheese servings (Ann & hubby).

Not shown are the dozen of organic eggs hubby buys from a co-worker ($2.00/doz).

Today's big spend for the week cost $68.00, leaving us with $32.00.  This extra $ will be set aside each week for incidentals (if we run out of TP or toothpaste;) .. and any left over $ at the end of the month will be set aside for our yearly quarter beef purchase.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Food challenge: I have $100 to last our family of 4 for the next week. This is an experiment to see how well we can budget our grocery $ and really consider what we are sometimes wasting our money on. Tomorrow (Thursday) is shopping day. Hubby will go with me and together we will decide how to best stretch our dollars to buy enough quality (mostly organic) produce, dairy, and grain items. We will even go to Costco and our local health food store for some goods. Can we do it? Keep in mind I make 90% of our meals from scratch ... and our freezers and pantry are stocked with wholesome foods. Tomorrow I shall list what we purchased and what our strategy is to make it last a whole week. Our goal is to cut our yearly grocery bill in half ... cut out the waste ... eat healthy ... stay tuned.

In the mean time, here are a few links to articles and blogs about food waste:

Wasted Food
U.S Wastes Half Its Food
Science Daily

Have you given much thought about food waste?

Monday, February 01, 2010

Getting to know your food chain. The past six months have been an experiment of sorts ... one that has exchanged random shopping at the big box sprawlmart for planned trips with well thought out shopping lists. We've tried to eliminate as many boxed .. ready-made off the self items as possible. Slow at first. Now 90% of our store bought goods are in a somewhat pure unadulterated state. I.E. .. organic, single items ... brought home and fashioned into meals. Shopping in this manner takes many months of practice. Strategy is involved. Care, love, and thought put into each dinner, lunch and breakfast. Learning to enjoy simple basic food. Practice, practice, practice until new patterns are established. Rediscovering the time and commitment involved in cooking at home. Not eating out. Making a little extra dinner to have for lunch the following day. Having a well stocked pantry and freezer affords us to make just about any meal without a trip to the store. Making do with what is on hand. Re-thinking recipes to fit what is on the pantry shelf or in the freezer. Making use of the produce we froze last fall, herbs we dried, local honey from the nearby farm .. each a treasure to use in the dead of winter.

This coming year skills will be fine tuned to become second nature. The garden will be planted with better purpose and use of space. More attention to the number of jars of pesto, salsa, beans, pickles, stewed tomatoes, etc. to tide our family from one harvest to another. Getting up front and personal with our food chain.

Do you have any goals with your food chain?

Photos: Popcorn picked last fall ... from a local u-pick farm ... eliminating the middleman and preserving quality control is a by-product of knowing your food chain.