Thursday, September 20, 2012

Making milk and lowering cholesterol

For the last few years, my husband has been under a doctor's care and taking twice-daily medication for alarmingly high cholesterol. Last year he heard a story on NPR that scared the heck out of him, and one day - with no warning, without his doctors knowledge (or mine for that matter) - he decided to stop taking his meds.

When I found out, I was - to put it mildly - very, very concerned. He reassured me that a friend he played cards with had informed him during a game one night that having a bowl of plain oatmeal every morning would bring his cholesterol down below 200 without medication. And also, that if he had a pair of nines he should double down. He took both pieces of advice, and lost the card game......but he was determined to try this oatmeal thing. He also agreed to stop eating ice cream at bedtime. I only stopped arguing about it because I wasn't about to start grinding up pills and sneaking it into his applesauce. He wasn't going to take those pills anymore, and the oatmeal couldn't hurt, so I decided to let him go for it and just beg him to get his number checked after a month to make sure everything was okay

Darned if he didn't lower his cholesterol.

One night, as I sat next to him with my pint of Haagen Dazs (because my cholesterol is just fine, thanks) he said he was going to start making smoothies every morning with the Vitamix. "Great!" I said. Last year, I got romanced into buying a Vitamix at Costco and I am always trying to get more use out of that thing. It cost a small fortune and I still wasn't wholly convinced that it was worth the investment.The kids, however, love it, and delight in watching the instructional DVD (I wish I was kidding) and reading the recipe book trying to come up with something even funkier than what is already being described.

Which is hard to do.

We have made smoothies, ice cream, soup, pesto, hummus - all the usual blender stuff. But it still wasn't getting much use. I mean, how many times a week can you make hummus?

We also made almond milk, which was the one thing that really made me feel like I was getting my money's worth. You can probably make almond milk in your blender at home if it's got enough power - just add 1/4 cup almonds to one cup water (adjust to desired consistency). I started out using whole almonds which I bought in bulk. Eventually I switched to almond slices because the skin of the almonds made the milk kind of gritty and I didn't like that.

Making almond milk this way was cheaper and allowed me to make just what I needed. I didn't have extra almond milk going bad, and I was keeping those cartons out of our landfill. I used it for making cream sauces - especially for meat and other savory dishes. It had a great nutty taste, and was much better for us than using dairy. It was a winning idea all around.

My husband used the almond milk a lot to make his daily smoothie.

And then one day, probably inspired by that instructional DVD, he decided to make Oat milk. I sat back and watched worlds collide. He threw a scoop of dry, uncooked oatmeal in the blender, added water, and put the Vitamix on high until had the right consistency. Then he went ahead and added the rest of his ingredients.

He abandoned the bowl of oats every morning, opting instead to throw them in his smoothie, and his cholesterol remains under 200 - as long as he skips ice cream at bed time.

As for doubling down when you have a pair of nines, we've agreed not to do that anymore.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The simple things

I love a lot of things. My kids, my husband, my family, my friends, my dog......

And I have lately been struck by the urge to buy stuff I love. Stuff I cannot afford. Stuff from places like Anthropologie and Sundance and Garnet Hill and the car dealership in town (photo to come - I'm working on affording a second car now that the Mini Cooper has been sold).

In my efforts to have a life that reflects the pretty pictures I pore over online and in catalogs, I have been tearing out page after page, saving links and jotting down notes. Here is the first installment of things that have made me smile this week. And some of them were free........

Guys. Have you ever been to the North End of Boston? No? Can you just take a moment and jot this down? NORTH END BOSTON MASSACHUSETTS. Aaaaaaand go.

The North End is one of my favorite places on earth, and not just because it is the place Sam kissed me for the first time. (In swirling snow, on a cobblestone street lit by a gas lamp at midnight on our way to get a cappuccino  Yeah.) This summer we were there several times, and on one trip I went into this tiny store to buy tea and spices. I asked if they would ship, and if so could I have a business card, and the man behind the original wood counter, ringing me up on the original cash register that was all brass and round buttons and clanging numbers, rustled around on the register and gave me one of these:

GUYS LOOK AT THE PHONE NUMBER. I totally want to call the operator and ask for Capitol 7-0786

Okay, speaking of Anthropologie, my mom has finally caught on to my blind devotion to all things Anthro. The esthetique of this company just does it for me, man. So she dutifully went to Anthro to choose an anniversary gift for us me to commemorate 14 years of wedded bliss. It was a copy of "Happier at Home" which is - by all accounts - a wonderful book and I just can't wait to dig in. But first I have to take photos of the packaging it came in. Most notably, the envelope that contained the packing slip.

The blue-lined envelope with sewn edges and string closure. Ermahgahd.

I want to frame it.
Is that wrong?

In other catalog news, an item I bought from Sundance is still making me happy after all these.....months.

I love my bathroom - it is all white, and we ordered a cast iron claw foot tub for it.  Next to the tub is a beat up wooden table (can we just call it shabby chic?) and I put this epergne on top, filled with soaps and scrubs and lotions and towels. It makes me feel so fancy, to sit in my fancy tub and choose a bath salt from my fancy baskets. I should be wearing a tiara.

Okay, enough with the material stuff. I have one last thing to share that made me feel like a domestic goddess today (Minus the domestic. And the goddess, actually.)

I made tortilla chips.

Are you totally underwhelmed? Sorry. For me, this is just a step below hunting and foraging for my dinner. So you go back to canning the homemade preserves you made with fruit from your orchard and have a nice day. You may be yawning, but I am feeling empowered. I don't bake my own bread, or make my own tortillas, and if I want chips for my salsa, I buy a bag. UNTIL TODAY.

It was embarrassingly easy, and way cheaper and more delicious than store-bought corn chips. Probably because I made them with flour tortillas.

First, I poured some oil in a pan and heated it up. While it was heating, I made guacamole. Guacamole is avocado, smooshed with lemon juice, a dash of hot sauce and a sprinkle of salt. Like so:

Okay, is the oil getting hot yet? Good.

Take a flour tortilla

Cut it up

Toss it in the oil (You can cook more than this I just put in a few for the photo)

They should puff up right away. If they don't the oil isn't hot enough.


Cool on some paper towels. You can salt them if you want but I don't think it's necessary. They will be hot for quite a while, so don't get too excited. They need to drain and cool a bit!

A very fulfilling Sunday around these parts. Delicious and aesthetically pleasing FTW. I'm not going to find my house on the pages of any design or homemaking blog, but hey. It works for me.

Here's to taking baby steps!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Quick and Easy Crisp

This is my go-to dessert for parties - a fruit crisp (which is a variation on a fruit cobbler) can be prepared without gluten, sugar, or dairy. It is super flexible, really easy to make, and yummy year round. (Though I prefer to eat hot desserts in wintertime, this is really good with summer fruits that are overly ripe). You can use fresh, frozen, or canned fruit.

Today this fruit crisp took me exactly 5 minutes to throw together, and 40 minutes in the oven. Measurements are approximate - I'm bad like that. Use enough fruit to fill your pan (I used a 9" square glass pan) about 2/3 of the way full. Make enough topping to cover the fruit.

Preheat oven to 350F. No need to grease the pan unless you want to.

2 cups frozen rhubarb
2 cups frozen mixed berries
1/2 cup applesauce
4 TB water


1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter, room temperature (can substitute as needed with non-dairy shortening of choice: margarine, coconut oil, etc.)
2 cups oatmeal (not instant)
1 cup brown sugar (can use another granular sweetener like stevia if preferrred)
2 TB flour (optional)
1/4 cup chopped nuts (optional)

Dump fruit in pan. Spoon applesauce over the top. Sprinkle with water. You can also sprinkle with sweetener if you would like.

Put ingredients for topping in a bowl and using your hands or a pastry blender, crumble it up, distributing the shortening evenly throughout the oats and sugar.

Spread topping over fruit and bake for 1 hour (or if using canned fruit, until top is brown and insides are bubbling :)

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Getting Green, Step One: The Laundry. I'm green because I'm nauseous.

So I am just back from the farm and feed store, where I picked up a huge galvinized metal washtub, and an actual WASHBOARD! Who knew? Using this washing machine is all about the Man keeping me dependent on his foreign oil, and wasting our precious resources. I eschew this lifestyle, and I am going to be a better person for handwashing my family of five's laundry - including cloth diapers!


You know I'm kidding, right? I think we all know I do not have enough motivation to even load the washing machine on a daily basis - never mind hand wash all of our clothes. If you do, that is awesome. Huzzah. I wave a white flag in your honor.

Me, I'm sticking with my energy star rated front loader.

But there are things I can do that are going to make me feel better about the massive amounts of laundry, and try to get a handle on our skyrocketing electric bill.

1. Timers and passive use of electricity
When you leave anything plugged in, it slowly takes small amounts of energy from the outlet. Not as much as it needs to function, just a slow leak of kilowatt hours. So we have taken a few steps to plug the holes. We have our dryer attached to a switch, and we only turn it on when we are actually using the dryer. And we have a small electric hot water heater for rainy days, that is on a timer - we can turn it on, let the water heat up, and know that it will turn itself off automatically in an hour or two.

2. Solar Hot Water
We have solar hot water. We are lucky enough to have our own roof, and live in an area with an abundance of sunlight, so having solar hot water is the very least we could do. I have my eye on a full rooftop solar power system, or perhaps a wind turbine - but not right now.

3. Biodegradable detergent, baking soda, Borax, and white vinegar. I use all of these every time I wash clothes, and I also use them for cleaning the bathroom. They are cheaper, and can I just tell you that Baking Soda kicks mildew's ass in my shower?

What more can I do? THE BIG SWITCH:
I am so late to this game that it is almost embarrassing - many of my friends already do this and I need to get on the bandwagon. My front loader has a very aggressive spin cycle, and really spinning the laundry before drying cuts down on drying time significantly, so from now on I will be doing a load of laundry every weekday morning, and hanging that laundry to dry on our covered porch (big items) or on a drying rack inside (small and/or delicate items). The dryer will only be used in case of last-minute needs, for softening crispy air-dried jeans, on rainy days, during a major vomit-fest, or if someone else offers to do the laundry. Because if someone else offers to do the laundry I want to make it as easy and agreeable as possible, so they offer to do it again.

This is my solemn vow (cue angels singing and light shining down from heaven).

'Tis a gift to be simple

Mommy's got a whole new year in front of her.

She needs a project.

I have always been inspired by families who live "off the grid", or recycle everything save for a small ziplock bag of trash for an entire year, or grow almost all of their own food, or build amazing houses using salvaged building materials, or wood from their own land.

I'm not going to do any of those things. I'm just saying I find them fascinating. And inspiring. Which almost rises above the shock and awe factor and the good old fashioned guilt I have for being such a wasteful, lazy American.

So how do I combat the guilt and the waste? What can I do that will help me feel more comfortable with our choices, and not as freaked out by the electric bill? Baby Steps. I'm not moving into a yurt and farming and raising chickens and setting up a kick-ass apiary. Not yet, anyway. I need to find small, simple ways that I can make a difference. Reduce waste, expenses, and dependence on services and machines.

So stay tuned. Don't be scared - this is going to be easy, and I won't make you feel like crap for eating Twinkies and using the dryer to make your jeans soft and warm before putting them on. I am going to figure out how we can make a difference, without making ourselves miserable.

Suggestions welcome.