Thursday, November 21, 2013

Sad for the Future

Today I found myself running around two counties looking for homeopathic remedies(and finding none that I needed in-stock- 'Tis the season!) for my youngest, and still not home(with another hour or more to go) an hour past lunch time. I mentally argued with myself over the pro's and cons of going to a STORE, getting everyone out(sick baby included) and getting more healthful food, or going through a drive-thru. Encouraged by the screams of my sick baby behind me, the drive-thru won. As I pulled up to the window to pay and get my order, the woman at the window smiled and said hello. She noticed my five-year-old in the second row and asked, "Shouldn't he be in school?" I love that question. I always want to throw my arms out with dramatic flair and sing out flamboyantly, "We are HOMESCHOOLED! THE WORLD IS OUR CLASSROOM!" But I do not. I think it might scare people and confirm their suspicions about those weird homeschoolers.  I just smiled and said, "I am a teacher, so I am homeschooling my kids." Her eyes immediately widened and said, "Teacher? You're a teacher? Oh, can I ask you a question?" I smiled again and nodded. "What do you think of these new standards in the school? These Common Core things?"
Ooh Lordy, it was like she had asked me if I'd ever consider cloth diapers! So much to say, but where to begin? Without hesitation I responded that I thought they were terrible, awful, no-good garbage that were destroying our the public education system, and snuffing out almost any chance a child has at learning to love learning. She disappeared from the window for several seconds, then hurried back with my bag. As she handed it to me, her eyes filled with tears and she said, "Thank you. Thank you for saying that. I didn't graduate school- you might have guessed that since I work here(quite the contrary, my husband and I BOTH worked fast food for several years and we're both secondarily-educated. You do what you need to pay the bills!), but I hate that stupid Common Core. Before this started, my daughter LOVED school. This year, she hates it. HATES IT! She's failing now. When I ask the teachers about the work, why she can't do it the way she used to, they say it's 'the new standard. The Common Core way.' Well I HATE IT! I want my girl to love school like she used to. I want her to do better than I did, but there ain't no way she's going to with this Common Core crap. I can see it killing her spirit every day and it kills me. KILLS ME. So thank you. If an educated woman like you, a teacher, knows it's bad stuff, then I know I'm not wrong in my gut." She wiped the tears from her face with her open hand, smiled, wished me a good day, then closed the window as she began taking the lunch order of the car behind me with her head set. It was all I could do not to cry FOR her. This is the future of our nation. This is happening NOW

Thursday, September 5, 2013

How Much is a Chicken REALLY Worth?

I love a good challenge. I also love saving money. Combine those two loves, and I am absolutely delighted. Add good food and I'm grinning from ear-to-ear. Which explains today's smile. I like to challenge myself to take a page from the cooks of less wasteful times, when every bit of everything was put to good use, and the phrase, 'Reduce, Reuse, Recycle' was just how life was lived, not a green trend. Enter the chicken. I buy one or two roaster chickens every two weeks and like to challenge myself to see how many meals I can make with said chicken as the main component. This week's current number: six. And counting. That's pretty good, considering I am feeding five hungry mouths and am also eating for a voracious 23-pound exclusively breastfed 5-month-old.
Every body in the stock pot!
   On day one we always start with a meal of an 8-pound roast chicken. I never season it the same way twice, but my general rule is tasty but versatile: extra virgin olive oil, sea salt, fresh ground black pepper, and some garlic. Once we've eaten and the chicken has completely cooled, I pulled every bit of meat off the bones, put it in a storage container, and into the stock pot the bones go... more on that later. Meal two this time was chicken and cheese quasdillas. Meal three was chicken and broccoli over ginger rice. Meal four was chicken burritos. Meal five was chicken carbonara. There's still enough meat for at least one meal in the fridge. WINNING!
Just add water- then set it and forget it! :-P
   Now back to that stock- which is AT LEAST one, if not two meals itself. Stock is in SO many things from soups to sauces, to rices and pastas, or just plain sipped by itself, and is one way to use up every last bit of nutrition and goodness. Stock (or bone broth, as some call it) is chock-full of nutrients like calcium, magnesium, collagen, and more. It has legitimate naturally-occuring healing, anti-inflammatory, and immune-boosting minerals and vitamins in their most natural form, readily digestible and usable within the body. And did I mention IT'S CHEAP AND EASY TO MAKE?! Again, it's one of those things I never make the same way twice, but it's ALWAYS good, multi-purpose, and can be used exactly the same way you would use any store-bought stock, broth, or bouillon. Here's my general formula, for anyone who cares to try their hand at stock-making:

Reduced by about half after four hours

  • 1 chicken carcass- if you have the skin left over as well, go ahead an add that, too. It's full of flavor and healthy fats and nutrients!
  • 1 large carrot, chopped into equal-size large chunks
  • 1 large onion, quartered, peel and all
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt
  • 2 teaspoons cracked black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons vinegar(a natural vinegar like Bragg's apple cider vinegar is best, but any will do)
  • any other scraps of aromatics you have in the bottom of your crisper- celery ends(leaves are especially good), parsley stems, etc.


The second strain, to remove any tinier pieces
Just dump all those ingredients into a large soup pot, add 16ish cups of water(or however much it takes to fill the pot within an inch from the top), then turn your burner on high. Bring the pot to a boil, make sure the lid is on nice and snug, then turn the temp down to low and leave for, oh say 4 to 5 hours. It's like that infommercial: Just set it and forget it!
Once the time is up, turn the burner off and let it cool until it's warm, but cool enough to handle the pot. I like to strain my stock twice. First I put a regular old pasta colander over a large bowl, and pouring every out the stock, bones, scraps, and all. Then I strain it further with a mesh strainer just to ensure no tiny pieces of bones that have broken down during the long boiling process escape into my broth. We don't need any emergency dental work!
The liquid will reduce down to about half of what you started with, leaving you with about 8-10 cups of really nutritious, flavorful chicken stock. You can do it EXACTLY the same with beef bones for a healthy
beef stock, too.
Headed for the freezer!
   Voila! You can use it fresh, refrigerate it until you need it, or freeze it for longer storage time. I like to measure mine in my 4-cup Pyrex cup, then put it in 1-quart freezer bags. It keeps indefinitely, and is SO handy to just pull out during a meal prep down the road. At any given time, you can find enough quart bags to equal at least a gallon of stock in my freezer. Pretty
handy, pretty frugal, VERY nutritious! You really can't beat eight or more meals for a family of six from an 8-pound chicken

Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Magic Blanket

The past few weeks I've been working some new items into my production time. One of them is weighted blankets. They are time-consuming yet fun, and serve a purpose so near and dear to my heart.
   As many of you know, my oldest son has what is often called Sensory Processing Disorder, or Sensory Integration Disorder/Dysfunction. The really-really-really short description: Our bodies have five senses- smell, sight, sound, taste, and touch- and his brain does not process those things the same way most peoples' bodies do. When we see a nice sunny day, he cries hysterically because the brightness is literally painful for him. When something like a refrigerator cooling motor begins to hum, most of us barely notice, and he screams, covers his ears, and begs me to make the sound go away. When many of us laugh hysterically at being tickled in the ribs, he just cries and begs the tickler to stop because it's painful. That's just brushing the very tip of the sensory ice berg.
Sleeping soundly with his beloved Miss 'Nise Blanket
   Another aspect of sensory issues is sleep. It's tough. When he was a baby, our guy SCREAMED all night, and had a terrible time settling down to sleep without being very tightly swaddled, and rocked vigorously for hours. What many would think was uncomfortable and disruptive were what his brain needed to calm down
and rest. When he was 2.5 years old, or amazing occupational therapist brought us the magic invention of the weighted blanket. It was weighted with tiny, smooth river rocks inside the enclosed pockets, which laid flat over his legs and lower abdomen, giving him customized(by weight) sensory input of gentle pressure, allowing his brain to regulate, calm down, and rest. His "Miss 'Nise Blanket"(which he named for his beloved OT who gave it to him) came with us everywhere he might be bombarded with sensory input that was overwhelming, and helped keep his brain a little more calm in dealing with it all. It also helped his sleep more than anything else we'd tried.
   Now I am making weighted blankets for sensory and autistic kids. I love it. It's one of those things that despite the tedious nature of gathering supplies, weighing polypellets(the weighted material for inside the blankets) meticulously down to the 1/10th of an ounce for each square, and detailed calculations, it brings me great joy to make them knowing the help and peace they can bring to so many other sensory kids and their families who desperately need this tiny bit of 'magic.' It's a new venture that is much more about passion than
profit. 

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Chick Pea Brownies: I Know What You're Thinking, but Wait...

   Here's another one of those posts I've been meaning to make forever, but life keeps getting in the way. This time, though, I was determined. I made the plan, I took the pictures, I got the baby sleeping, and here I sit, furiously typing in hopes of getting it done before he wakes up again. IF he wakes up again. It is 8:15pm, but he's a wild card, that sweet little Badger.
TEXTURE APPROVED!
   If there's one thing about food for me is that I'll try anything once. When I was looking for a way to use up my stash of dried beans in a form other than hummus(we love hummus, but you can only do so much of that a week) several years ago, I started to search. Hmmmm... What did Chef Google have to offer? That's when I stumbled across an intriguing headline: Chick Pea Brownies. Are you for real? I am a die-hard chocolate-lover. Was it really possible to make BROWNIES out of CHICK PEAS? Or even ADD the chick peas for a little healthy incentive like I do to sneak some 'healthy' into many dishes? I doubted it mightily, but what did I have to lose? The ingredients were so minimal, I had to give it a shot. Once. I'm so glad I did. Not only are they GOOD, but they're so healthy, dairy-free, gluten-free, and jam-PACKED with protein! They're also a great way to get fiber and nutrients into my SN-kiddo who literally gags and heaves involuntarily at most textures of ANYTHING. Yes, even my sensory guy can chow-down on these brownies thinking he's getting a fabulous treat.
  So I know this list sounds wacky, and even the batter, as you might call the pre-baking soup, is dubious, but fear not. Follow the recipe and You will be pleasantly surprised.

Ingredients: 

  • 2 cups cooked chick peas
  • 1.5 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips, melted
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup raw natural honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
That's it. Really ridiculously easy, right? The directions are even easier. You can melt the chocolate over a double boiler or carefully, oh-SO-carefully in the microwave, and these are prepped in less than one minute. Yep- just one minute. Even an insanely busy work-at-home, homeschooling mom of four can do that! First, put the chick peas, eggs, and honey in a food processor or blender and puree until smooth. Add the chocolate and baking powder, and spin a bit more until it's thoroughly combined. Pour it into a greased(we use EVOO) 8x8 pan, then place in a preheated 350-degree oven. Bake for 40 minutes, or until it's softly firm in the center. Now this last step is key: LET THEM COOL! The fresh-from-the-oven texture can be off-putting, but once they're cooled completely, they're very much like a moist, fudgey brownie. Like most baked goods, if you over-cook them, they will be crumbly and dry. If you under-cook them the center will be wet and, um, strange in texture. Yes, I've done it. Both of them. 
You might find that the chick peas are not completely pureed, but that's okay! They're cooked soft to begin with, and when they're baked they are very much the texture of walnuts so unless you're a brownie purist, it's not off-putting at all. 
   So give them a try. Just once. Odds are you're going to be pleasantly surprised and can add this gem to your arsenal of secretly-healthy goodies. 
   Lest I be remiss for leaving them out, the credit for this recipe(which the above is my own derivative of) goes to the blog Married to a Non-Foodie. It was a GREAT food/cooking blog I really enjoyed in 2009, but disappeared from the 'net in early 2010. SUCH a bummer, but I am thankful I had the need to print the recipe before it vanished so I could continue baking these treats and chuckling inside as my kids and husband devoured the ridiculously healthy snacks. 

Thursday, July 11, 2013

In Theory

Life- Always happening faster than I can blink
So back in March I had grand plans of creating masterpieces and blogging to my heart's content. Then life happened. Daily. Creation only happened out necessity, and blogging just didn't happen at all. Life continues to happen, but writing is so dear to me- such an important part of who I am and something I enjoy
immensely- that I feel I should MAKE the time, even ten minutes a day, to write. So I am. Usually in my black and white notebook, but I am trying to get back to the blogging. I've taken so many detailed pictures of so many projects, dishes, etc, with the intent to use them for specific topics, tutorials, recipes, and more, but they all sit in my Flickr, unloved and many forgotten. Trying to retroactively fix that by sorting, deleting, taking notes, and making plans.
   Plans. I have so many of those. You know- like knitting my son's entire woolie stash BEFORE the winter, hand-making all gifts for the holidays, not waiting until last-minute to finish stockings, and , losing 55 pounds. At least I'm 12 pounds into the last one. That's about all I can say about that.
Rainbow Rice- Another intended blog topic
   Yet for some reason I continue to make lists. And another list and another and another and another- somehow I believe THIS NEXT ONE will be the list that magically organizes me and I get it all done. Not likely, I know, but I cannot seem to shake that mentality. It's just part of who I am. Like my knitting. I always have a knitting queue with yarn and patterns chosen for numerous outfits, perfect plans and intentions, but I've yet to complete a single queue. Ever. EVER. And I knit all the time. I suppose I'm just a glutton for punishment. Seems I remember blogging that term a fair few times before. Coincidence? No. I really am.
   Speaking of knitting, what's on the agenda? I'm currently working on a YYMN custom 2T/3T romper using my Kumfy™ Jumper pattern. The yarn the customer sent me is stunning handspun wool dyed by Mosaic Moon in her "Elements" colorway. Incredible stuff. The way the colors mix and the rows stripe is an entirely different look from the variegated colorways I usually work with. Even though this project has taken me three weeks now due to its size and it's STILL not finished, I am enjoying knitting it because it's a mystery how it'll stripe up on the next row.
The beginnings of a Kumfy™ Jumper with handspun MM Elements
   What's next? My next planned knitted project is an organic cotton outfit for Bitty Fluff's August 2nd stocking. It will be something small, quick, and new. I love those kinds of projects. They always bring the kind of nearly-instant-gratification often missing from knitted projects.
   And maybe, just maybe, I'll blog in the next week. Maybe.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

A New Kind of Problem

On April 1st, our family grew by a badger. Or a baby boy whom we affectionately call Badger, as he was named by his 2.5-year-old sister many months ago because she believes herself to be a raccoon. I was blessed to have a homebirth with this long and lean 9-pound boy, surrounded by skilled midwives and my incredible husband, and further spoiled to have my husband home with us for the first two weeks of Badger's life outside the womb. Now he's back to work and I'm working on getting our home into a new routine.
Therein lies a new problem: How do I put this boy down? He is a precious, mellow, sweet, lovable and snuggly little thing, who just loves to be held. I can put him down and more often than not he won't cry, but he's so very good at making these adorable noises and just wooing me into picking him back up. My arms just feel sad and empty without his warmth and sweetness there. How am I supposed to cook, clean, do laundry, knit, and sew without putting him down? Yes, there's the Moby, the Ergo, and all the other contraptions, but all I want to do is hold him and stare at his beautiful face, admiring the perfection of this surprise package God gave us. 

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Wednesday WIP

I finally have my knitting mojo back! For a couple of weeks now I have just NOT been able to knit much, lacking motivation and desire, but last night I finished the avocado-colored Milo sweater vest for my 4-year-old. In true sensory kid fashion I tried to put it on him this morning and despite the fact that he loves the color, sweater vests in general, and was SO excited when I was knitting it for him, he will not wear it. In fact, he screamed and stomped his feet the whole ten seconds I was trying it on him purely to check the fit. Changes in life, new clothing included, are a challenge for him. Hopefully it will sit neatly folded with his shirts long enough and it will become a common sight and no longer something 'new' so his brain will lose it's anxiety of the unknown and let him wear it.
   Next on the needles- a romper for my littlest. Yarn is Cascade Eco+ wool in some color scraps I had laying around. This time it's charcoal and turquoise. Using the Kumfy™ Jumper pattern in XSmall. Buttons will be "Robin" by Tessa Ann Designs. A nice embellishment that will stand out perfectly from a solid-colored set. Next question: To knit matching shoes or not? They take about an hour per shoe/slipper so it wouldn't mess with my queue substantially, but still.......Hmmmm.
   Along with the return of my knitting mojo I got hit with the urge to knit tiny things like mad. Specifically- overalls and rompers. It's like nesting, but with knitting instead of the stereotypical cleaning and/or organizing. So again, my queue gets a make-over. What to do, what to do.
Currently on the needles: XS Kumfy™ Jumper with Eco+
Next on the needles: XS Small Things Romper with undyed 3-ply Uruguayan Merino
Then: NB My Keiki Overalls with Willow Merino by Family Roots in "Squishy Face"

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Changes

I made the formal announcement on my shop on Wednesday that I am taking a break indefinitely. It was bittersweet. I absolutely LOVE making goods for other people, both for sale and gifts, but it was time. The last seven years have been wonderful, terrible, stressful, and delightful all at once. It's sad. SO sad. And oddly freeing. Everything I make, every supply I have, every bit of creative energy can go solely into goods for my own loved ones. I get to see it all worn! 
So now I focus on my family. My kids' education. My coming baby. And no business to run. No stress from that. No income from that either, but no stress and more time. It's a little mind-boggling to think of what I can do with all of that, income or not.  
Maybe I can even *gasp* BLOG REGULARLY AGAIN! That'd be the next best thing- and to keep up on all my blog locations and actually WRITE! Share about my creative doings like cooking, knitting, sewing, pattern-writing, homeschooling, etc, here, and write the way I want to about my son's sensory issues on My Sensational Square Peg. Maybe. Just maybe.
This week my focus is detail cleaning and organizing of the house to prepare for my midwife's home visit and the impending birth of my little Badger, quarterly reports for homeschooling, and finishing the two WIP's I have on the needles- a Milo vest for my son and a Paprika duster for my oldest daughter. They're both so excited- It's been so long since I've knit for them!