Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Heart Knows

   Around the 28th of every month, I start to lose my mind. Whether I realize it our not, I begin feeling very low, inexplicably weepy, and moody. When I mentioned to one of my dearest mama friends how I was feeling one day she said, "Well, tomorrow is the 29th." That's it. I felt awful that I hadn't remembered myself- afterall, he's on my mind all day, every day, shocked that my head was responding the way it was, and I told her so. A loss mama herself, she said gently, "The heart knows, Meg. Even when your brain doesn't, the heart knows."
   The last couple days I've been pretty weepy. I chalked it up to a combination of pregnancy hormones and a crappy diet. Last night, as we all sat around the table eating dinner, conversation turned to the upcoming New Years Eve and if we were going to have a mini-party and let the kids stay up late. My husband mentioned last year and I reminded him of what we'd done, which I remembered profoundly because I was in the throes of hyperemesis. I was still pregnant then. The thought punched me in the head. Asher was still alive then. Last year. Right now. He was still alive. Tomorrow's the 29th. 11 months. It's been 11 months since he was born, lifeless, while I was strapped to a table unconscious, my husband in the waiting room, and neither of us ever saw or held him outside the womb.  As the thoughts tumbled in, they stayed and weighed heavier and heavier on my heart. I forced my head to focus on what the kids were saying and kept going through the motions as I finished my now tasteless dinner. Then it happened. A kick. HARD. Right to my lowest right rib. My boy. My sweet boy who was healthy, alive, and growing in my belly. Not Asher. Not a replacement. A very different, unique, beautiful rainbow. A little one whose name means, "Peace." We purposefully chose the name because for months as we mourned and dealt with other very real struggles and I fought the PTSD that controlled me for months, we found ourselves constantly asking God for peace. Along with healing, provision, and learning to walk with our daily pain, he gave us this rainbow. Peace.
   After dinner I sat with my laptop to check my email and my rainbow was going wild in my womb. Clearly he likes my homemade meatballs and steamed broccoli. I had this sudden driving urge to buy him something. I started browsing baby clearance on Old Navy to use the gift card sitting in my inbox, but nothing was weather appropriate. My husband snuggled up to me and asked what I was up to. I asked if we could go to Target. "Why?" He asked. I burst into tears. Eventually I composed myself and told him tomorrow's the 29th, it's almost January, and I just felt like I needed to buy clothes for the baby who would get to wear them even though we have months left until his birth. To Target we went. I love my husband.

 

Monday, December 28, 2015

Cilantro Lime Slaw

   Back when I was in college I was kind of a glutton for punishment. I had my own apartment, when to school full time, but scheduled all my classes for Monday, Wednesday, and Friday so I could work my TWO part time jobs- one from 5:30am to 2:30pm, the other 3:30pm to closing, sometimes midnight or later- Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday. My evening part time jobs was at an Outback Steakhouse, and I loved it. Back then Outback still made everything from scratch, right down to sauces and french fries, so I learned a lot as a server going in and out of the kitchen all night. I'm so thankful for both the work ethic and the kitchen skills that time in my life taught me.
   When I got married and moved away, my husband and I started working opposite shifts to trade off the baby and skip childcare expenses. That meant I stopped teaching after Baby #1 was born, and went back to being a server, that time at a high end 'steak and seafood' kind of place that again made everything from scratch. One of their very popular dishes was a Mahi Mahi taco. It was very simple- just lightly seasoned grilled cubes of Mahi Mahi on a small tortilla with a citrusy cabbage slaw. I had never seen a slaw before that was not a mayo dressing(nor had I ever had a cabbage slaw I liked), and it intrigued me. It actually ended up being really delicious. No sugary-sweetness or mayo-turned-watery-slop. Just fresh, crunchy veggies, a bright citrus vinegarette, and a light onion bite. Not to mention- exponentially more healthy without being coated in sugar and food lube. 
   Over the years I have worked on recreating that flavor myself at home, and tweaking it to my family's liking. Here's what we like, but it's really up to you and yours to make it fit your taste buds:

Ingredients:
1/2 large organic cabbage
2 organic carrots
1/2 yellow onion
1/4 cup cilantro
1/3 cup fresh squeezed lime juice
1/3 cup organic olive oil
1 tsp sea salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

Start by giving the cabbage a nice fine chop. If you have a food processor to shred it for you that is a great option and makes this recipe even faster, but alas mine bit the dust last year and has yet to be replaced so knife work it is for me. 


Next, give the carrots a good, hardy shred, and slice the onion very thin. Again, if you have a food processor with a slicing and shredding heads then you can can just drop these veg in, too, and your work is done in seconds. I chop, chop, chop. If you're not a huge raw onion fan or just like something milder than yellow onions, you can use a sweet onion, or even chop a couple green onions.


Chop the cilantro into nice fine ribbons and toss them on top of the pile. Next, pull out a small dish or glass measuring cup for making the dressing. I like to use my 2-cup Pyrex measuring cup because there measurement lines are already there for me, and there's plenty of room for whisking. 



Add the lime juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper, and whisk-whisk-whisk until it emulsifies into a nice, thick, cohesive dressing. Pour it over the bowl of veggies and mix well with tongs, your hands, whatever you prefer, but make sure the ingredients are all really thoroughly combined and dressing coats everything. 



A word of caution: This is going to look like a very small amount of dressing for such a mounded bowl of veggies. Trust me, it's plenty. I learned the hard way back in my restaurant days that if you add too much dressing to a slaw you end up with wilted veggies and that nasty, watery soup in the bottom of the bowl, and "too much" usually looks like "just enough." So err on the side of too little. You can always add more later. 

Let the slaw sit for at least an hour before you serve it. After the flavors have had a chance to marry and the veggies have started to soften a little in the acidic dressing, you can toss it again with tongs, scooping from the bottom up to ensure everything's well-coated, and give it a taste. If you think the dressing is too light, now's the time to add more but sparingly

This is the perfect side for BBQ's, classic picnic foods, and yes, on top of tacos. Today we had it with Mexican seasoned black beans, grilled and season chicken on tortillas for delicious, fresh tacos that the kids added shredded cheese and sour cream to as well. Adding a dry cajun seasoning blend to the dressing adds some kick and delicious flavor, but we keep it mild around here to make sure toddler tongues keep eating. 





Saturday, December 19, 2015

Annie's Tomato Basil Bisque

   Three days ago my almost-9-year-old came to me and said, "Mama, I had a dream that I made herb-tomato soup. Can I make the recipe for lunch some time? I still have it in my head." I love that my girl has such a passion for cooking so young, and find it fascinating that she dreams recipes. That tells me her passion for it goes even into her subconscious, so I have a serious duty to encourage and enable her passion. I asked her to write down the ingredients and we would get them at the store on Friday. Shopping day was yesterday, and she never forgot for a moment, leading me around Kroger to get the supplies she needed. Last night, SHE made dinner for the six of us. I asked if I could take pictures while she worked and she agreed. Her face is not in most of the pictures because she was giggling(therefore shaking) uncontrollably at my phone-tography.

Ingredients:

  • 1 46-oz bottle of organic 100% tomato juice
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • A few good cranks of fresh ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 cup organic crushed tomatoes
  • 1 cup organic whole milk
  • 10 large organic basil leaves, thin chiffonade
  • (Optional) Fine shredded Asiago cheese for garnish
Directions:
Pour the tomato juice into a medium sauce pan. Add the salt, pepper, oregano, and crushed tomatoes.



 Whisk gently to combine. 



Add basil. 



Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Turn off the heat and add the milk, whisking gently until well combined and smooth. Sprinkle with Asiago cheese and serve with grilled cheese on sprouted multi-grain bread. 


Starting with tomato juice makes it very pure and smooth tomato flavor, leaves out the chemicals of canned soups(Just not-from-concentrate tomato juice and citric acid in the one we use), adding a little crushed tomatoes makes it a little thicker without being chunky, and the milk makes it creamy. 

My girl is already dreaming up what she'll cook next. I promised her I'd phone-tograph and blog her next time, too. 
What do your kids like to cook? How old were they when they started cooking? It always fascinates me to hear how other kids learn. 


Friday, December 18, 2015

Hey Again and REAL Clean Eating for 6 on a Budget

Hey strangers! I've been away from my blog for about four months now. Not for lack of desire- on the contrary I often have things bursting inside me to be written, but the time is just not there. Two of the reasons my time and energy have gone elsewhere:

   I went back to school! In August I felt a distinct calling to take on a new mission. Since then I have been working on my certification to become a birth and bereavement doula through an amazing, unique, collegiate-level, internationally-respected program called Stillbirthday University. While the certification makes you a fully licensed birth doula, it also has an additional aspect of learning how to support families during loss in all trimesters, and helping families through difficult pregnancies. My tiny Asher gave my life a brand new purpose, and I am eager to complete my training and begin helping families through all types of birth in every trimester. 
   The second reason I've been so absent: Asher sent us a rainbow! Remember that selfie in my last post, "A Day in the Homeschooling Life"? Yeah, that fluffy middle was the start of a bump. ;-) Due early spring is #6, another adorable little boy, and we could not be happier. 

   Now you know what's been taking my time from the blogging I've done for the last 11 years, here's why I'm finally sitting down to write: CLEAN EATING! That phrase has totally become a "buzz word" the last couple years, and judging by what people apply it to, it means something different for everyone. I've seen it applied to garbage-filled Shakeology mixes(read the label. It's nothing but highly-processed and indigestible food products, chemicals, and synthetic fillers), cereal bars with 12g of refined sugar in a single serving, chemical-filled and sugar-laden gluten-free mixes, and cold cuts and convenience meats(prepackaged nuggets, meatballs, etc) made from the throw-away ends of meats compacted together with gelatin, sodium, and chemicals.  For us it means no preservatives, as few chemicals, refined sugars, and refined, processed foods as possible. We also have the duty to feed our family this way being conscious of our littlest guy's many(and rare!) food allergies on a tight budget. It takes creativity, to be sure, but the main two ways we do this: buy in bulk and make your own food! It's shocking how much most American families have come to rely on highly processed, pre-packaged convenience foods. When I say that I make everything, right down to our breads, pasta sauces, and more from scratch most peoples' jaws drop and they exclaim, "Oh my goodness, I could never do that!" What might surprise them more is that it takes very little time and skill. Somewhere along the way, though, we lost the way from making our own food. It's long become a cliche that those who are low-income have no option but to buy cheap, processed foods, but this could not be further from the truth. I've been there- the one in line to get food stamps because my husband's job just didn't pay enough, and daycare for two little ones, one of which had special needs, was far more money than the salary as a teacher in New York State would pay so me working would be counter-productive. Did we eat Ramen Noodles? Yep. Every once in a while I broke out the Ramen, dumped in some frozen peas, and called it dinner when I needed something on the table fast for hungry little mouths. But whether you believe it or not, those heavily-processed garbage foods devoid of soluble nutrients are actually MORE expensive(not to mention AWFUL for your health) than real food. 
 
50 lbs. of chicken from Zaycon split into meal-size
portions for the freezer
 So back to that first point: We buy in bulk. Zaycon Fresh Foods has high quality, humanely-raised chicken for much less per pound than the cheapest chicken at Aldi or WalMart. The catch: You buy 50lbs of it at a time. Zaycon also has wild-caught(not the nasty, chemical-filled, sickly farm-raised nonsense of MOST grocery stores) North Pacific salmon for less than half the price of a similar product at the best grocery store. It's also MUCH fresher, because Zaycon gets it right from their fishing boats in Alaska, immediately vacuum sealed on-site, then puts it on the trucks and ships it to the buyers. Again, the catch is buying in bulk, 25 lbs at a time. We also buy beef in bulk, either by the quarter or half cow. We get all cuts from all parts of the cow, cut to our specifications, straight from the farmer who raises them humanely, no feed lots, no "fattening up" on GMO grains to raise the price by adding chemicals. Just good, healthy, grass-fed beef in all cuts- steaks, roasts, and everything- for a flat rate that is less per pound than decent quality ground beef at any grocery store.

A cart full of "clean eating," mostly organic groceries at Costco
 Another way we buy in bulk is a membership to bulk food stores. After trying Sam's Club, BJ's, and Costco(the membership prices for which are all comparable), we have found that the latter definitely meets our needs for unprocessed foods and quality, organic store-brand products the best. We can get a huge variety of raw, mostly organic, preservative-free ingredients in larger amounts that meet our family's needs at a much smaller unit price than most grocery stores, including Aldi and Walmart.
   For literal purposes, here's what we bought at Costco today that will last us at least two weeks and can be used MANY different ways:

  • 20 lbs sweet potatoes(used for hash, fries, mash, and in stews)
  • 20 lbs organic Yukon Gold potatoes(used for hash, mashed, home fries, soups, stews, roasted with herbs, and curries)
  • 2 5-lb bags of organic french-cut green beans (used in soups, casseroles, stir fries, sauteed with garlic and EVOO, and steamed)
  • 1 case(3 half-gallons) original Silk Almondmilk (used with cereal and oatmeal for breakfasts)
  • 4 lbs unsalted organic butter (Do you REALLY need to know all the ways I use butter? LOL!)
  • 3 lbs natural cultured sour cream (tacos, nachos, baking, Greek food, baking)
  • 6-pack large organic red bell peppers(used many ways in cooking, as well as roasting- tutorial here- and using roasted red peppers various ways like hummus, sandwiches, sauces for pastas and meats)
  • 5-lb bag organic dried "super fruit" blend(used for kid snacking and husband's lunches)
  • 3-pack organic cucumbers( used raw in salads, cut into strips for dipping in things like hummus and used in sandwiches and wraps)
  • 1-lb shaker tub of organic granulated garlic(like the butter, I put it in EVERYTHING where raw garlic cannot go)
  • 1-lb brick Asiago cheese(used in sauces, topping for pastas, meats, soups, and more)
  • 2 dozen large organic free-range eggs(fried with hash and scrambled with meats and veggies for breakfasts, and so much more)
  • 1-lb smoked wild-caught Norwegian salmon(special for Christmas morning)
  • 1-lb dried organic cherries(kid snacks, husband's lunches, added to pancakes, waffles, and muffins for flavor and fiber)
  • 2-liter jug of organic extra virgin olive oil(pretty much used everywhere that coconut oil or butter cannot)
  • 30-pack organic tortillas(quesadillas with cheese and/or chicken for lunches, breakfast burritos, soft-shell tacos, veggie wraps)
  • 3-lb bag organic corn tortilla chips(nachos with melted cheese, beans, seasoned meat, and veggies on top, dipped in hummus or homemade not-fried refried bean dip, snacking with salsa and other veggie dips)
Total spent: $155.79

After Costco, we go to the local grocery store(Kroger) for the remaining goods we by in smaller quantity or cannot get at Costco or the local natural foods market, Good Foods Grocery. This time we bought A LOT of extras for Christmas.
  • 2 lbs rotini pasta(used for 2 meals of the kids' requested cauliflower mac'n'cheese- recipe forth-coming!)
  • 2 bottles organic tomato juice(used for tomato-basil soup- my oldest's favorite meal to make the family!)
  • 2 tubs store-brand oats(used for oatmeal, granola, peanut-butter oat bars and more breakfast favorites)
  • Parchment paper(Christmas! )
  • 1 can crushed pineapple(Christmas!)
  • 1 large can pumpkin puree(Christmas!)
  • 5 lbs organic store brand all-purpose flour(Christmas baking to share!)
  • 5 packages store brand cream cheese(Christmas baking to share!) 
  • 6 lbs blocks of various store-brand cheeses
  • 1 jar organic seedless raspberry jam(Christmas baking)
  • 1 gallon organic store brand whole milk
  • 2 lbs local(Sausage Craft), preservative-free breakfast sausage
  • 6-lb organic, free-range roaster chicken on manager special
  • 2 boxes organic baby salad greens mix on manager special
  • 3 lbs organic lemons
  • 8-lb store brand bone-in ham(Husband's request for Christmas dinner)
  • Cilantro(Mexican-style dishes like nachos, tacos, salads, burritos, Thai-style stir fries and soups)
  • Basil(Italian-style dishes like pastas, meats, and soups, Thai-style soups, stalks and ends used for stock)
  • Flat-leaf parsley(Italian-style dishes, soups, and stock, guinea pig food)
  • 3 heads garlic(used everywhere, just like buttah)
  • 5 lbs yellow onions(again, like garlic)
  • 7 lbs organic bananas(kids eat them like crazy, then they turn into egg-free chia banana muffins when they brown)
  • 10 lbs organic carrots(guinea pig food, soups, stews, curries, raw sticks dipped in hummus, peanut butter, and more)
  • Celery
  • 3 lbs broccoli crowns(steamed, sauteed, stir fries, guinea pig food)
  • Cranberries(Christmas!)
  • 3 lbs Clementine oranges
  • 5 lb organic cabbage(sauteed with onions and ACV, put in soups, stir fries, and more) 
Total spent: $129
Our bi-weekly budget for groceries is $300, so that leaves us with about $30 for more fresh produce as needed before the next paycheck. 



This has gotten crazy long with my receipt lists, so I'll leave this here and promise that I'll be back with more recipes for how I use all this very soon. Have any questions? Ask away! I'm happy to answer ASAP.