Sunday, February 28

March Challenge

Photo credit:  Federico Stevanin


February's challenge was food-oriented but this month it's all about movement. With warmer temperatures coming, everyone starts thinking about being outside, the beach, etc. Don't wait until it's in the 60s to get out there...go now!! Thirty or forty degree temps never hurt anyone. Besides, the point is to get your heart rate up so if you're moving purposefully, you're gonna be warm!

Workouts this month with focus largely on upper body strengthening to get tank-top ready so your March challenge, should you choose to accept it, is mileage. Walk, run or skip – it doesn't matter. Put your kids on bikes or in a stroller, put the dog on a leash and, most importantly, put your excuses in Al Gore's infamous lockbox. You've no need for them anymore. 

First, set a goal for yourself. 
This is not a competition. We all have different circumstances and demands on our time but we can all do something.
Second, give yourself the gift of exercise. Yes, it's hard to find the time until it becomes habit. Then, just like brushing your teeth, it's part of your day.
Third, if you wish, log your mileage in the comments section of this post every week.
We'll celebrate and commiserate as needed. 

I'll start...my goal is to run 80 miles this month. That's probably more than I ran in January and February combined with all the snow and school closings. Gotta make up for lost time! 

What about YOU?? :)

Thursday, February 25

Brown Sugar Cookies

From the time I was very young, I've heard stories about my great-grandmother's brown sugar cookies. My mom tells about how she and her two older brothers would race to the larder which always seemed to be full of these yummy treats. The game was to see who could get the biggest one and who could grab Granny's big cooking spoon to eat it out of. Apparently, the brother nearest her age would do anything to beat her out but the eldest would hold the lid of the larder open so she could jump up and balance on the side to get a cookie.

My mom made these for us growing up but apparently I didn't remember how good they were because I made them for the first time this week. Oh. My. Word. If you like moist, chewy cookies, here you go. I now know why Granny kept them in a larder. I put mine in a sealed glass jar and they were almost too moist, even days later. A little air (thus crispiness) might make them even better.

So, while my great-granny could have never foreseen that her recipe would be shared via something called the internet, I think she would smile knowing she and her loving ways live on.

Brown Sugar Cookies

1/2 c butter
1 c brown sugar
1 well-beaten egg
1 t vanilla
1 1/2 c flour
1/2 t salt
1/2 t baking soda

Work butter until fluffy. Add sugar gradually, beat until light. Stir in egg and vanilla. Add soda, salt and flour. Mix well. Shape into a roll and wrap in wax paper. Chill for one hour. Cut into slices 1/8" thick. Bake at 375˚ for 10 minutes.

Makes about 50 small cookies.

Wednesday, February 24

CSA Delivery #7

We weren't able to pick up our share on Sunday so I had to wait until today to meet the truck. Once again, we were out of bread and the kids' moaning and groaning about our lack of 'the good bread' was really starting to get to me.

I need to get my carnivorous gears going...we have a freezer stuffed full of meat. Got any favorite beef or pork recipes? I'd love to have some personal recommendations. I have so many cuts I'm unfamiliar with....

Anyway, our share contained:

Chicken - breasts, broilers (two small and two HUGE), beef - four big NY strip steaks, pork - ribs and four blade steaks, whole wheat bread, spaghetti, cinnamon raisin bread, fried cherry pies, eggs, popping corn, apple butter (which has become a favorite around here), peach preserves, stewed tomatoes, corn, green beans and tomato juice (which I will definitely be canning some of this summer – Chuck loves doctoring it up with hot sauce!)

Monday, February 22

Motivation Monday - 7

Week 7


Do warmer temperatures having you thinking of tank tops and swimsuits? Now is the time to make changes in your habits to feel great by summertime. This week's workout involves more upper body stability than we've done before which will get you ready for what lies ahead.

Every other week, we're going for time. So, set a timer for 20 minutes and complete as many rounds as possible. (No rest.)

Jumping jack - 25                                                    
Glute bridge - 20 each side                                        
Plank row - 15 each side
Reverse curl - 10
Downdog shoulder press - 5

Find movement descriptions here.

Photo Credit: Liz Noffsinger

Thursday, February 18

Thirsty?

These days, there aren't many purchases we make that we really value down the road. I'm as guilty of it as anyone. I buy something and several months later realize I never needed it in the first place. So, in my year of thoughtful consumption, I've started looking around as what I have that I truly value. 

Our Klean Kanteens are definitely at the top of the list. I agonized over paying as much as I did for them a few years ago. (As I recall, they were somewhere around $160.) We had decided to stop purchasing bottled water but we're all big water-drinkers so we had to have something to use if we were going to stick to our guns. I did some research and settled on these because they are stainless steel.  
We take them on car trips. I take mine into restaurants so I'm don't have to use a styrofoam/plastic cup. The kids take them to school. I had to get special permission for that after assuring the elementary school administration that my kids wouldn't bring soda/juice in them.
What's really amazing to me is that we've never lost one. (I know I'm jinxing myself...) They may have dents and dings but my husband and I still haul them around like toddlers with their pacifiers. I sometimes wonder why I haven't named mine yet...

Wednesday, February 17

Easy Kid Breakfasts

My school-morning breakfast menu has become particularly inspired this year. I have been pleasantly surprised that it requires much less effort than I anticipated. Now that I'm not working, it's easy to manage the morning routine but if I'm making a hot breakfast from scratch and hot lunches, things can get a little crazy. Either something is going to get burned or I'm going to realize too late that I didn't give the kids a cheerful, encouraging start to their day. 


Breakfast doesn't have to be complicated but it does need to offer lots of nutrients. The University of Michigan conducted a research study in the 1960s in which three groups of rats were each fed one of three diets – cornflakes and water, the cornflakes box and water and rat chow and water. The box-eating rats died, of course, but the first of that group died on the same day that the last of the cornflake-eaters died. What's more is that, before dying, the cornflake-eaters deteriorated into schizophrenic behavior, bit each other and went into convulsions. The box-eaters, on the other hand, became lethargic and died in the normal manner of the malnourished. This study was intended as a joke but discovering that there was more nutrition in a cereal box than the cereal itself is definitely not funny. (Read more here.)


Many of the frozen options you find at the grocery can be easily made at home for much, much less. I enjoy the convenience of using throwing something in the toaster as the kids come to the table with the peace of mind that comes with knowing that their food is full of fresh, organic ingredients.


For the toaster, I make waffles, pancakes and french toast which I cut into strips for easy dipping and easy portioning. I double these recipes whenever I happen to be making them and end up with a week's worth of quick breakfasts for very little extra effort. After freezing for a half hour on a cookie sheet,  I transfer to airtight storage, separated by wax paper. My kids have the option of pure maple syrup, a few sprinkles of powdered sugar or neither if I've added chocolate chips to the waffles/pancakes. 


When I've got more time, I'll mix the dry ingredients of a muffin recipe at night. The next morning, I add the oil, egg and milk. The yummy baking smells never fail to bring them to the table early! Two of my kids' new favorites are chocolate chip (I omit the topping) and cinnamon roll (for which I consider the topping purely optional and time-dependent.)


As a side note – all of my baked goods get a couple of tablespoons of ground flax seeds mixed in. They're rich in Omega-3s which the modern diet often lacks. It doesn't affect the taste or texture. Around here, no one has ever noticed. :)


Whether you have kids or not, what's your breakfast routine like? Have any favorites? Please share!

Tuesday, February 16

My Plastic-Free Kitchen

For quite some time, I have wanted to eliminate our use of plastic for food storage. I'm a cook-from-scratch girl all the way, so a simple four-piece set won't even begin to cut it. Maybe seven sets but I don't even want to know how much that would set me back. 
So, while I very much appreciate the aesthetic appeal of the many matchy-matchy, drool-worthy options stores like Crate & Barrel offer, I'm just too cheap to invest in a bunch of new glass canisters. Thus, I turned my attentions to my overflowing reuse/recycling bins in the basement. There I found my solution – the scads of canning jars from our CSA veggies that I had been returning to the farm in hopes that they would be reused this summer. 

I brought them back up, washed them and started transferring my dry goods to them. If I were purchasing new canisters, I'd definitely buy something bigger than quart jars but doubling-up is working for now. I'll keep an eye out for some half-gallon ones at thrift stores. They'll find their way to me someday...

Another concern I had was our use of plastic sandwich/storage bags, especially the Ziploc ones which use so much more plastic...once. Using small glass containers for my husband is easy but the kids' schools don't allow glass. For their lunches, I wrap washed fruit, muffins, etc. in cloth napkins and use wax sandwich bags for the rest. They don't stay closed as nicely but it's not like I'm putting Jello in them and I feel a bit better about them as a single-use product.

Finding this solution has been satisfying. I would have had a plastic-free kitchen sooner if I'd shelled out a couple hundred dollars for new stuff a few months ago but my wallet and the earth are better off because I didn't. 



Monday, February 15

Motivation Monday - 6

Week 6


Warmup:
Plank - 5 sec hold, 2 sec rest. 20x
Reverse curl - 15x
Side plank - each side: 20 sec hold, 8 taps
Do the following circuit 3x:
Plank row* - 15x
Side lunge - 30x alt sides (15 each side)
Burpee - 20x
Lateral tricep pushup - 12x each side
SL (single leg) Glute bridge - 8 fast, 8 sec hold, 8 slow x3
Squat jump - 15x
Lateral raise* - 12x
Lunge - 30x alt sides
Jumping jack - 25x
*Small dumbbells are needed for these. Improvise as necessary.

Find my exercise glossary here

Sunday, February 14

Valentines


Here are the Valentines T (my youngest) made for her class. She had fun making them and her classmates were thrilled to get gum.

Wednesday, February 10

CSA Delivery #6

I was so ready for our delivery this time because I had run out of bread. After two attempts at making my own with the ingredients I had on hand, I had to buy commercial bread since I was having a several kids over on two different days. Wow, even the best whole wheat/fewest ingredients kind didn't even taste like the same kind of food as the Amish-baked loaves. (I now have some whole wheat bread flour for the next time I run out.)

Anyway, we got many of the same yummies we usually do but it was definitely a green bean and pork share. We got five jars of beans and four different forms of pork – chops, roasts, sausage links and chubs. Funny, too, because I was almost out of beans and I had been special ordering sausage every other time because the kids love it so much. It was nice to get so much of those in our regular share. 

Others things we received were chicken breasts, ribeye steaks, eggs, banana and blueberry muffins, whole wheat bread, garlic bread, whole wheat fettucini, cornmeal, crabapple preserves, hot pickled okra (which my husband just loves), stewed tomatoes and corn. I also added two packages of beef soup bones this time. I'm becoming addicted to making bone broths!! 

Tuesday, February 9

The Measure of A Man


After my husband left this morning, I looked out the window and was struck by the sight of the tracks he left as he walked down to his car. (It doesn't take a lot of snow here to make it dangerous to bring the cars to the house.) My heart just filled with appreciation for this incredible man and his strong work ethic who never complains about providing for us. I also like that I can see the point (about seven steps down) where he turned to wave. I don't deserve him but I'm thankful just the same...

Motivation Monday - 5

Boy, a couple of days with sketchy internet service do not make for easy blogging. So, here I am playing catch-up...


Did you try last week's workout? Quick but grueling, huh? When you're short on time, go back to that one. Keep a record of how many cycles you can do. It's fun to watch the number increase!


In each week's workout post, I will link to a exercise glossary post. As new moves appear in the workouts, you will find written descriptions there. Photos and illustrations have proven way too time-consuming for the moment. If you have questions, please just ask!

I'm beginning to include some exercises that require small dumbbells. These are not too expensive and are easy to find. Improvisation works, too!

Week 5

Three sets of the following, circuit-style:

Dead Bug Reach – 20
Side Plank – 30 sec hold
Reverse Curl – 20
Pushup – 15
Glute Bridge – 12 slow, 12 sec hold, 12 slow
Burpee – 20
Plank Row – 15 ea side
Side Lunge – 15 ea side
Burpee – 20
Bicep Curl – 15
Single-Leg (SL) Squat – 8-12 ea side
Burpee – 15

Thursday, February 4

Homemade Vanilla Extract

Recently, I started a bottle of vanilla extract. I'm very excited about baking with it though it will be about six more weeks before I can.

It couldn't be easier to make. You need a bottle with a tight-fitting lid, (I pulled mine from our recycling bin) three vanilla beans and a cup of vodka. Cut the beans length-wise leaving a 1" end intact. Put the beans in the bottle and cover with alcohol. Put the bottle in a dark place for 6-8 weeks. The really cool part is that, as you use the extract, you pour more vodka in to maintain a supply to last for years and years!

By the way, mine is already dark because I didn't use vodka. I bought Jack Daniel's because it's fairly local and I'm curious to see if it lends a more mellow flavor than a more 'pure' alcohol like vodka.

In my search for recipes and tips, I learned why this extract is so expensive. Each bean is the result of hand-pollination and is harvested by hand and requires a long curing process.

Wednesday, February 3

Eat From The Pantry Week - UPDATE

Epic fail.

This was the official determination yesterday after I called my long-suffering husband to bring home dinner.

Oh well...


Tuesday, February 2

Kefir

I recently purchased some kefir grains from a contact I made through our local Weston A. Price Foundation chapter.

Kefir is drinkable fermented milk made by clumpy-looking bacteria (grains). It is full of antibodies which do wonders for the digestive tract and immune system. It's been used for hundreds of years to treat some rather serious conditions. (Read more here and here.)

Making the drink couldn't be easier. I pour two cups of milk into a glass jar containing the grains. Covered loosely with a cloth napkin, my 'pets' go to their cozy little spot in the pantry where they chow down on lactose. About 24 hours later or when the whey separates, I strain the liquid and store it in the refrigerator. The grains move to a clean jar and the process begins again. The taste is much like Greek yogurt in liquid form –very tart. I mix it 50/50 with orange juice and it's delicious!

Reportedly, it helps with sleep disorders. Now, while I don't have an actual sleep disorder, I have developed a nasty habit of waking at four am with a mind that's ready to make a thousand lists of all the world-saving tasks I will accomplish that day. (Uh, right.) As I'm sure you can imagine that that doesn't make for a happy wife and mother come seven pm.

Make your own kefir? Have any recipes? If so, please share!

(NOTE: I won't have enough grains for sharing for a month or two but if you're interested, I'm happy to get you in touch with someone who has some now.)

The Fat-Burning Zone

Ever jump on a treadmill and see the setting for 'fat-burning zone'? Sure, you can burn fat during exercise but it's not your body's first choice. If those predetermined workouts were that efficient at burning fat, would most people use any other option?

The truth about using body fat for energy is that the only time 100% of the calories burned come from fat stores is when we are at complete rest, meaning asleep. Sounds too good to be true, doesn't it?

It's not, though, and it's what makes eliminating a late-night snack such a powerful weight-loss strategy. Think about it – if you settle on the couch to watch your favorite TV show with a bowl of ice cream (which is very likely to be more than the half-cup serving size), and then, once asleep, your body has to work through that energy (calories) before tapping into reserves of stored fat. However, if you refrain from eating after 7 pm, your body will have time to digest your dinner and, once asleep, you're body will recharge with energy from body fat.

I'm not a big fan of cold-turkey solutions. If it works for you, then go for it, but I've learned to be patient in changing my habits because I'm looking for a better way of living the rest of my life.

So, if you're in the habit of a bedtime treat, find an option that is lower in sugar and less processed but similar to your favorite dessert. A serving of hot oatmeal with butter and a tablespoon of raw sugar can feel so decadent when you think of it as a treat.

And, that ice cream?? Go ahead and indulge if you want. Enjoy it earlier in the day when you're still active and make it an event, not something consumed passively.

Monday, February 1

Eat From The Pantry Week


Lots of beautiful snow and a house on the cold side of the hill has rendered me home-bound for the past four days. Not a bad thing, mind you, but the more days the kids are out of school this week, the fewer I have to do my normal tasks.

Today, I decided to mark the grocery off my to-do list by declaring it Eat-From-The-Pantry Week. Thanks to the home-canned veggies and frozen meats from the CSA and dry goods from the bulk bins at our natural grocery, there's plenty of food around here. Besides, creative cooking is so much fun!

Tonight, we had what my husband calls 'Mulligan stew'. I tossed some veggies leftover from last night's dinner, ground beef, a few handfuls of pasta and a quart of stewed tomatoes into a big pot. During my trusty choose-spices-based-on-my-mood routine, I learned that it is indeed possible to use too much oregano. Not to worry, a little onion brought things back into balance and the simmering smells began bringing the kids to the kitchen asking, 'Oooh, what are we having?' 

A few hot, buttered whole grain muffins later, everyone was happy and sated. The kids jumped at the offer to watch Antiques Roadshow and we declared the day a success. 

But I'm still hoping we can get the car out tomorrow...

Motivation Monday - 4

Okay, kids, this one's going to feel different. Set a timer for twenty minutes and do as many rounds of this circuit as possible. No rest so it's a big calorie-burner. GO!

Week 4

20 squats
15 crunches
10 squat jumps 
5 pushups

Squat jumps - Begin in a squat position. Jump straight up as high as you can and land in that same lowered position. You should not be in a standing position at all during the set!

(NOTE: My 'illustrated' exercise glossary is almost complete!)