Friday, July 6, 2012

What I need to be perfectly happy in my whole foods lifestyle...

First, I need a grain mill, and I am working on that. They are SO expensive! I was hoping to find a used one, but so far no luck. I found one on Ebay, but so did some other people. It's kind of hard to shop on Ebay when you are non-competitive and on a budget! I also need some canning equipment, and a large freezer, and maybe some bread baking lessons.

Also, and take it with a grain of salt, I need some laying hens, a couple of dairy cows, and a small farm for a garden. Is that too much to ask? If you knew me at all, you would laugh, because surely I am joking, right?

For most of my adult life I have lived sedately suburban. As a child, the wild places were my playground and I romped endlessly and heedless of danger through unknown parts on imaginary adventures. I didn't stomp loudly on dedicated pathways scanning the perimeter for snakes or live in fear of poisonous spiders lurking...well, everywhere.

During four of my elementary years I had the privilege of living in a German village while my father was stationed in Germany with the Air Force. I loved it. We were immersed in the village life, farm life, living in community with others. I spent much time on a particular farm where we watched and helped in the birthing of calves, had warm fresh milk squirted into our mouths, and enjoyed the foods and benefits of farm living. I will say that the chickens scared me to death. Even to this day I would probably rather birth a calf than collect eggs from chickens.

Then we moved back to America and I had to become normal again (I found that my years in Germany had made me peculiar in ways that did not aid me in "fitting in"). For years I secretly held onto the dream of owning a small farm (on and off into my twenties). I thought that one day I would get married, and contrary to military life, we would settle down and live somewhere forever and forever. I did get married, and then life with Corporate America began. It wasn't even ladder-climbing on our part, just being shoved around from place to place because that's what the companies wanted. The Lord had prepared me well for this lifestyle, but this wasn't what I signed up for!

Somewhere along the way, my favorite way to enjoy nature became looking through the window, or at the least, a screened-in porch. In fact, at one point in time, my greatest desire was to have a patio home in a manicured and fenced neighborhood (because no snakes would live there). I think it was having children. Suddenly, everything I loved about the outdoors was a danger to my child. Wild things are everywhere! Snakes, spiders, ticks, leeches, not to mention the bigger things--why we aren't safe unless we're inside! I am still coming to terms with those fears.

But...I find myself more and more enamored with idea of having a big enough piece of land to actually do something with, on which to love and nurture and bring forth fruit, and on which to teach my children to do the same. It is hard for me not to be jealous of some of my favorite bloggers and their picturesque homesteads, or even just friends of mine with the space for a garden. But this is where God has put me. Who is to say that if I did get the desires of my heart (and all the work that goes with it) that I wouldn't go screaming into the house at my first run-in with the wildlife I find so terrifying and give up on it forever? I literally scream when I find a tick on myself!

So I guess I'm back to baby steps. Maybe some day I will have a mini-farm and learn to live at peace with God's scarier creatures. But for now I will concentrate on getting a grain mill and shop at the farmers' market--can't wait until Saturday!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

I Made Yogurt!

Yes, I did! I made yogurt in my crockpot. My slow cooker has never been a great friend to me because it seems there are so few meals our family enjoys out of the crockpot. For the yogurt I used the method on A Year of Slow Cooking blog. I followed it exactly even though my crockpot is seven quarts (crazy big) and she did hers in a 3-qt. I was checking it at 11:30pm, at the end of the 8 hour final wait, and was pleasantly surprised by a creamy, mild tasting yogurt. I knew I would want it thicker so I strained it through coffee filters in colanders in the fridge overnight. This morning I had a nice thick yogurt, but half the amount. I am going to save some of the whey for some recipes in my Is Your Flour Wet? book. I am excited about this triumph because I actually like this yogurt better than the tangy store-bought yogurt. Today I bought some cheesecloth to properly strain the next batch.

So thick on the back of the spoon!
This morning I mixed a little organic strawberry preserves and some honey into it and it was so delicious! For the boys I even threw in some fresh strawberries. Along with our yogurt we enjoyed Whole Wheat Strawberry Chocolate Chip Scones. The recipe is actually for blueberries, but we had strawberries. I brushed the tops of the scones with a little milk and sprinkled some demerara crystals on for looks. We found the scones to be a little under sweetened, but I don't know if that is because the over sweetness we are used to in almost everything we eat from the store, or because it really needed a little more sugar. I think this recipe looks great and hope to try it another day. Speaking of sugar, this morning I drank my coffee with just half n half and no sugar, and I liked it! That is something for me. I went from those terrible-for-you flavored creamers to half n' half and a bunch of sugar, and sugar! Yay me. Now if I can just make it stick...

My whole wheat bread came out okay yesterday. The risen loaves actually looked better than the baked loaves. They tasted good, but the texture wasn't right for sandwiches. I'm hoping to find a veteran bread maker to mentor me into the perfect loaf of bread.

I also made some whole wheat chocolate chip cookies this week. They were actually really good. I'm trying this recipe next. I went to Whole Foods today and bought some Whole Wheat Pastry Flour and some Spelt--new adventures!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Adapting to Whole Foods Eating

I am trying to spend LESS time on the computer reading about things to do and more time actually doing those things, but it's hard when you come across yet another blog full of great stuff that might disappear any moment if you don't go through all the archives right away! Anyway, my new favorite blog is Before I discovered it I was already leaning in this direction. While browsing the cookbook shelves at the bookstore I ran across the book Nourishing Traditions. I only had the time to peruse the table of contents and a few interesting bits of the text, and despite the fact that it was all completely foreign to me, the wheels began to turn. Then I began to reflect on the astounding number of potential health issues already evident in both sides of our family. Everyone knows that so many of these things can be prevented by just eating better and taking care of our bodies, but which of the thousands of diet lifestyles is the right one? There has to be a better way than lifelong deprivation of foods that I love, forcefeeding of artifical tasting protein supplements, and consumption of artificial sweeteners to fool myself that I am actually still getting treats. One of my biggest pet peeves is the overflowing grocery store aisles trying to sell me every conceivable product doctored up to meet the latest fad diet or nutritional super food. Obviously it isn't working!

This attitude began years ago when I read the book Thin Within, which isn't what it sounds like. It is a grace based approach to weight loss, wherein it teaches you to listen to your body's own hunger cues to eat to satisfaction and not to fullness/stuffed. The book, In Defense of Food, which I am currently reading also addresses this. One of the first pieces of advice in Thin Within is to throw out all the diet foods--Yay! Since then, my mantra to my children has always been, "All things in moderation." I successfully lost a lot of weight with this method and ate what I wanted. Despite being thin, I didn't always listen to my body's cues about what to eat. My obnoxious sweet tooth wanted a small helping of something that would bring my tastebuds momentary pleasure, when the rest of my body cried out for something more healthful and substantial. Then I got pregnant and hunger cues no longer played any part in my food choices and everything was topsy turvey again!

Long story short, I recently came to realize that while I can listen to my own hunger cues and make good portion choices for myself, the only way to make a positive change for my whole family (one that my children can take away with them), is to change the foods we eat. So while all this is running around in my head, I came across 100 Days of Real Food.

I'm taking things in baby steps. We had already started getting a weekly produce basket, off of which I base all of our meals for the week. This forces me to incorporated vegetables into our diet that normally would never cross our threshold. I am working on incorporating whole wheat a little at a time in my baking. This week I bought my first piece of grass-fed beef at the farmers' market. Eliminating processed foods from my diet is not as difficult as eliminating it from the kids' diets. They like snacks. In fact, I used to think it was a successful grocery trip if I had gotten a good deal on lots of snacks. So today I am sharing one recipe solution for Little Guy, a replacement for animal crackers, and one recipe for any everyday breakfast food, Whole Grain Blender Pancakes.

This cookie recipe comes from The Cilantropist blog and I just tweaked it a little. I didn't have any tiny animal cutters and I wanted them to be small like animal crackers. I had originally thought to make them alphabet cookies, but my alphabet cutters were too big. I settled on tiny stars. I followed the recipe pretty much except I substituted oat flour for the flax seed because I didn't have any, and I think they came out great. It seemed a little tedious with the refrigerating and the freezing, but the result is a nicely flavored crisp cookie, perfect to give to little ones (or bigger ones). I'm thinking I could make this dough a head and freeze it for busy weeks. One batch filled a large chinese takeout container--plenty for a week. Here is my saved version of the recipe with the changes I made and without the specifics on using animal cookie cutters.

Little Guy’s Cookies
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup All-purpose flour
1/4 cup ground flaxseed* (oat flour)
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 stick butter, room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

* If you don't have ground flaxseed, you can grind flax in a spice grinder, or you could substitute finely ground nuts

In a medium bowl, whisk together the first 6 ingredients, and set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer cream together the butter and sugar for about 2-3 minutes, then add the egg and vanilla extract and continue to mix. With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients (flour mixture) in two additions, and then mix until the flour is just incorporated. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and shape it into a ball; flatten the dough ball into a 1-inch thick disk and wrap it tightly in plastic wrap. Refrigerate the dough at least 2 hours or overnight.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone liner . Remove the dough from the refrigerator and let it warm up for a few minutes; then roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface to a thickness of about 1/8 inch. If the dough sticks to the rolling pin or starts to crack, just dust the top of the dough with a little flour.

Cut out cookies using whatever small bite-sized cutters you have. Working quickly and carefully, use a spatula to transfer the cookies to the lined baking sheet. You don't want the dough to get too warm and stick, but the cookies are also delicate and can break easily. (Squeeze together any dough scraps and put them back in the fridge to re-roll for your next cookie batch.)

Place the baking sheet in the fridge for 30-40 minutes or in the freezer for 15 minutes; then bake at 350 degrees for 7-9 minutes, or until the edges are just lightly golden and cookie is slightly puffed. Transfer baking sheet to a wire rack to allow cookies to cool completely. Cookies will keep in an airtight container for about 1 week.
Other flavor ideas: Add cocoa to the dough, cinnamon
This second recipe comes from a free e-book called Is Your Flour Wet? from I used yogurt and brown rice. I was out of vanilla and used almond extract instead. I also added about 1/8-1/4 cup whole wheat flour to thicken the batter to pancake consistency. These are not your typical thick, suck the moisture out of your mouth, cakey pancakes. These are hearty, flavorful, and moist. We ate them with fresh strawberries and maple syrup.

Whole Grain Pancakes

1 Tbs. olive oil

1 cup cultured dairy (buttermilk, yogurt or kefir)
1/2 cup uncooked oats (rolled or whole)
1/2 cup uncooked brown rice (or try buckwheat, millet, barley, spelt, kamut, or any other whole, raw grain)
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
Other add ins: pureed pumpkin, squash or sweet potato with warming spices; ripe bananas and cinnamon; applesauce; nuts

Mix oil, dairy, oats and rice or other grain in blender at high speed for three minutes: Keep cover on blender and leave out overnight Just before baking, add remaining ingredients and reblend for 3 more minutes. This will be a thin batter, but you can adjust the consistency as needed by adding flour or liquid.
For a good long while I was in a cooking rut. I was really dreading dinner time and would think of all kinds of excuses to avoid or delay it. More and more I find myself not only excited about being in the kitchen, but not wanted to leave to do other things! So far, none of our whole food experiments have been terrible, and we are adjusting. Like I said, baby steps, we enjoy the occasional soda with pizza night, and I'm not super strict about eating out nights, except almost no fast food (still love Chickfila).

Last night I started a sourdough starter and have discovered that this can be used to make all kinds of baked goods, not just bread! Today I will try a whole wheat sandwhich bread recipe, and I hope to make my own yogurt in a crock pot soon (all my friends are doing it)! At any rate, I'm enjoying this forage into the world of whole foods and can't wait to see where the journey takes me!