Thursday, March 19, 2015

Making Orange Juice

This morning we were inspired by our cartoon on the Disney Channel. See- some good CAN come out of screen time! Some of the characters were making orange juice and instead of my kids sitting there watching an animated show about it, I thought "We can do that!" So I let them finish the episode and pulled everything we would need out of the kitchen.
I felt a little nostalgic, even, because we used my Grandmother's old-fashioned glass juicer that I've been holding onto. How cool to bring new life to something that may have been tossed away otherwise.
Let me say, the kids LOVED making the orange juice. It was the perfect project for them because they got to practice cutting, squeezing the juice, and pouring it into the pitcher as we went along. And at the end their faces said it all- they were unbelievably proud that they had done it all on their own. Of course now fresh squeezed orange juice is going to need to be a weekly tradition. They'll be sure of that. Another thing to add to my ever growing grocery list. :)

Monday, March 16, 2015

How to Make Candied Ginger

We've been getting a produce box from our co-op regularly and naturally there are some items I've never cooked with before... one of those is ginger. Only recently have I started warming up to it's taste in my food, and since I have I've noticed that it really seems to help with my digestion. These candied ginger bits have some serious bite! This is a money saving/preservative free recipe you can make at home for those bouts of indigestion.

Candied Ginger (and Ginger Simple Syrup)

3-4 Ginger Roots
1 cup of water
1 1/4 cups of sugar (plus extra)

1. Peel the ginger using a spoon to scrape off it's skin (much easier than a peeler or a knife)
2. Rinse the ginger, then slice into thin strips. They will mostly remain the same size at the end, so make them as large as you want the finished product to be.
3. Boil the water/sugar mixture, then add the ginger strips and reduce heat. Simmer for 25 minutes.
4. Remove the cooked ginger with a slotted spoon and place it on a rack or cookie sheet to dry (this could take overnight, it did for me) then roll them in extra sugar, if you desire.
5. Pour the syrup into a jar and save it in the fridge for mixing with seltzer to make ginger ale!

Monday, March 9, 2015

The Thaw

March... it's such a weird month. One day you're getting close to a foot of snow and the next it's sixty degrees. It's hard to believe this was yesterday, because the kids are so sick today. They caught some kind of stomach bug and haven't moved from their spots on the couch. But if you're healthy and up for some exercise, maybe a walk in the woods somewhere isn't a bad idea.

I had the kids practice 'noticing things.' For example, why is the bark peeling off of that tree? What animal do you think did that? What animal's footprints are those? I hear water, let's go find it.

This wooded area is just behind our house- and Spring is right around the corner! (hopefully feeling better, too)

Friday, February 27, 2015

Homemade Yogurt the Simplest Way Possible

Never in my life have a seen a group of people consume yogurt like my children. They like it in a bowl, in a tube, in their smoothies, on their clothes and well, THEY LOVE IT! I've tried all sorts of home made yogurt recipes from the farthest and most Godforsaken corners of Pinterest. I even bought a yogurt maker and all I got was gross curdled yogurt. It was a valiant effort- but there were gallons and gallons of wasted milk when all was said and done. So I did what any sane person would do: kept trying. As it turns out, the only recipe that has ever worked for me is the simplest- whew! I can handle that. There are TONS of ways you can make yogurt and people have very strong opinions on the right way and the wrong way to do it. Go figure that yogurt would be such a point of contention. But here's how I make it:

Ingredients (2):
2 Tablespoons of Yogurt with Live and Active Cultures
2 Quarts of WHOLE milk- this matters for the thickness of the yogurt.

Actually, that's all you need. :) So here's my method...

1. With the stove burner on low, pour the milk into a pot and slowly warm it to the temperature that you would serve a baby a bottle at. I do the 'wrist test' and if it feels right for a baby it is perfect to get the cultures in your yogurt multiplying- that's 110 degrees if you have a thermometer. I don't think you have to worry about scalding your milk prior to this step, as some other people suggest. Oh wait- I'm not here to debate the proper methodology of yogurt making. I'm just telling you what works for me. 
2. Whisk in 2 tablespoons of your starter yogurt. If the milk is too hot, it will kill the live cultures that are what turns milk into yogurt.
3. Pour the cultured milk into two quart jars and place them into a cooler.
4. Wrap the cooler up in a heavy blanket. This incubates them and keeps the temperature where it needs to be for your cultured milk to turn into yogurt.
5. Leave the yogurt in the cooler for 12 hours, somewhere room temperature (60-75 degrees). If you leave it in the cooler longer than 12 hours you will end up with a bit of a more sour yogurt, but that's your preference. 12 hours seems to be the perfect number for me. Heads up, if you start the process at 1 o'clock in the afternoon you're going to need to wake up in the middle of the night to unwrap your baby yogurt from its blankie and put it back to bed in the fridge. I already have three kids so I try to avoid that but its happened.

When your yogurt is done, it will still appear pretty liquidy. Give it a big stir and put it in the fridge. It will thicken up some but still be a little bit less firm than commercial yogurt. If you prefer, drain some of the liquid off by pouring your yogurt over a bowl draped with a cheesecloth. You can save the liquid that runs into the bowl and use it for baking. HAHA. Or you can throw it away (guilty). Don't forget you can save a half cup of your final product to use as a starter for your next batch.

We use our yogurt in smoothies before straining, and I serve it in bowls after straining. This is plain yogurt, so if you like sweetness without a ton of sugar you can squeeze in some honey or agave nectar, plus fresh fruit. You can also just add sugar!

If you have questions or need to trouble shoot, be sure to comment and I can try to help you. There are TONS of helpful solutions on Google ranging from using gelatin to dry milk. I have found making your own yogurt is a trial and error thing that I've invested a bit of time in, so if at first you don't succeed have a cry and try again.


Thursday, February 19, 2015

Inspirational Women Series: Kelsey Austin on how she does (or doesn't) do it all

I want to introduce a series I'm beginning today called "Inspirational Women." Some of the people I'll be featuring may be new to you, but they may also have familiar names and faces. I want to highlight women who are especially normal, but also especially remarkable.The point of the series is not to make you feel less-than these special ladies, but to feel inspired to reach your full potential by the wisdom they've agreed to share with us. Who knows... your story could be next!

Today we begin with Kelsey Austin. Local to Bridgeton, she's a wife, mother of three, editor, author of her own plays, short stories, essays, and songs. She also collaborates with a writer out of San Diego. Most recently she and Joe Udall  worked together on, "It Ain't Messy Til It's Sally Jesse" and hosted a reading/ talk back at The New Dodges Market. (That's where I got all of these pictures of her in action).  Oh, she happens to be my friend and today is her birthday! I thought that was the perfect date to post this interview where she weighs in on her go-to weeknight meal ideas, what its like to be a working Mom, and the success that she's most proud of. 

Of the many roles you play in your personal life- wife, mother, friend, teacher (previously), and writer-  which do you feel is the most challenging and why?

 Which role is most challenging? That's hard. I feel most responsible for my children and I probably put most of my energy into them, but they are ridiculously fun and life-giving. They do give me ENORMOUS amounts of laundry and very little sleep, but it's worth it. They've helped me to move into a more self-less Self and I now have so much to laugh about. I suppose what's challenging is finding balance between all the roles and keeping inner peace. It's easy to become overwhelmed, but if I slow down and purposefully try to enjoy what I have in that moment, I'm much better off and the kids benefit as well. 

How do you 'do it all?' 

I don't do it all. I had to laugh, because I often deduct points from my overall grade throughout the day when I see overflowing toy boxes and trashcans. I rarely have it all together. I decided one day to organize my time so I am doing two or three things that I need to/like to do and the rest of it gets the leftover. I schedule in writing each day because I found that this time is easily eaten up by everything else and then I'm left feeling strange because I need to write. So, there are rooms that are messier than I like, but I needed to reduce my cleaning and organizing in order to write. I just close my eyes when I see a stack of who-knows-what in front of me. Also, I had you, Jessica, come in and help me organize and declutter so I had less to worry about in general. If the mess gets out-of-hand, I know that I will get to it eventually and it won't be more than I can handle.

Which success are you the most proud of, and why?

I am most proud of my family. Truly. My four Austins are great. They are brave and creative and so patient. When I'm in my whirlwind they are very good at waiting and finding some way to help me or amuse themselves. It's nice to live with team-players.

What is your advice for women who want to have a family and a career?

I would tell them that they can certainly have both. Family can enrich your output in a career and careers can help family-life if you get a charge from what you do. It's important to listen to "the inner voice of love" (I think it was Nouwen who wrote about that) and move accordingly. It's easy to get caught up in ourselves and our dreams and ambitions and insecurities and the like and lose sight of the big picture. Maybe it's more helpful to take life as a whole and not a series of tasks. Human beings can be creative and enthusiastic, but we can easily slip into discontentment. So, family will not guarantee happiness and neither will a career. Listen closely to the One and be happy being. Do what makes you tick, but remember to stop, look around you, and be thankful.

Share your favorite weeknight dinner idea with us (that kids will actually eat).

Wraps are our go-to. I like to have a variety of protein sources on hand--chicken, ground meat, shrimp, scrambled eggs, and beans--as well as both corn and flour wraps. I also keep the fridge stocked with salad greens, cheeses, salsa, baby carrots and hummus. As the kids grow, they can make up their wraps to their liking as long as they include a protein and vegetable. (The carbs come easily because my kids are great fans of everything carbohydrate. Ha.) 

Your dream date night- where would you go and what would you do (within an hour of home, you have a babysitter for six hours)?

 If I get an hour-drive, we would go into Philly and have a Thai or Indian meal with our favorite red and then go to a bookstore cafe for books, coffee, and chit-chat. If it's a particular Friday night, maybe a gallery or two would actually be open, so we could have a walk-around and take in some inspiring images. I also like to see plays, but how many hours do I get? Can I do it all? Theatre, meal, coffee, books, chat? That would be my favorite.

Thanks Kelsey!

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