Local Food

I am in the midst of planning a year of local eating for next year. Inspired for the most part by Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. I read the book 2 years ago I think, but the idea stuck with me. Last year I didn’t do as much local eating as I wanted, since I didn’t have a car (excuses, excuses, I know). By next year, I should be out of debt, and have a little bit of extra money available for buying ahead and storing.

I plan on eating and buying only produce from local farms. Hopefully I’ll be able to find somewhere to buy what little dairy products we eat and I know I can find a source for local eggs (particularly since I don’t use more than 3 or 4 a month). I’m somewhat hopeful of finding local wheat–we are right next to Ohio, so it’s a possibility. I’m not so sure about oats for oatmeal and nuts. We don’t eat meat, so that’s not an issue. One thing I’m not sure about is milk-we generally use soy or almond milk. I thought even if I order the almonds for milk, I can make my own, which would save on shipping all the water around in the carton that I usually buy. Maple syrup I can get locally as well as honey, and I was considering using Florida sugar for those rare times that you need actual crystallizing sugar. Though a year without sugar wouldn’t be a bad idea.

I am building some cheats into my plan. Mine will be bananas and maybe tortilla chips, though a year without my delicious baked Tostitos would probably see me drop 10 pounds. I choose bananas because I can’t live without smoothies like some people can’t live without coffee. I also appreciate the irony of a tropical fruit being my cheat. I don’t know what Caleb’s will be. Maybe a different thing each week. That should keep him from balking at the idea.

Although I am concerned about the wasting of fossil fuels and the environmental cost of trucking food back and forth, that really isn’t my primary reason for doing this. My biggest reason is the same reason I like to buy from people on etsy: I want people to be able to have small family businesses and specifically here, small family farms.

I think working from home is the best thing that ever happened to me or the best thing that I have ever made happen (depending on how you want to look at it). It allows me to be with my son, but also to earn the money I need to keep a roof over my head. It provides a good example for my son of how to work for yourself, how to be a producer and not just a consumer. I want more people to have the opportunity to do what I am so fortunate to be able to do.

Family farms are more likely to care about the land, even if only because they can’t afford to just dump more and more fertilizer into the depleted soil. And they live on the land they farm. They have to administer the pesticides themselves, so naturally they are going to want to use less or none to cut down on their exposure. It’s nice to know the people that grow your food. We recently visited a organic farm that sells at our farmer’s market in town. We had lunch with them, got to see the farm and their chickens, see the super-energy efficient house they just built. If you become friends with the people that grow your food, you’ll feel less stingy at market time. Am I going to buy the green beans at Kroger that came from a huge farm in Florida or California because I can save a dollar??

Trust me. I know about needing to save money. I do everything I can. I buy all my clothes and my son’s clothes at Goodwill, actually I furnished most of my house from thrift stores. I live 8 hours away from my family in a broken down old house (well, it’s not really broken down…), because I wanted to save money. I bought my car for $1,100. I lived without a car for a year. I am all about saving money.

But the reason I buy organic food and the reason I will buy all local next year, is the same reason I give for buying real maple syrup: I would rather spend more for the real thing, then eat some unhealthy imitation. And really so much of the produce in the grocery store seems to be an imitation of the real garden-fresh thing. Those tomatoes? They were grown somewhere, but they sure don’t taste like the real thing. Those mushy, moldy blueberries from South America? They can’t hold a candle to the ones I pick down at Johnson’s farm. I want the real thing.

I’m blogging about my plans now, just in case anyone wants to join me. Now is the time to start finding farms that grow all your favorite fruits and vegetables. Now is the time to start keeping an eye out for canning jars, pressure or water bath canners, and dehydrators at the thrift stores. Pay attention to how much of certain things you are eating each week. Experiment with winter squash recipes. Plan that cold frame for winter greens. Think about how much more of your yard you can dig up for garden space.

So I’ll probably start around May when the strawberries come in. Strawberry picking will be intense this year if I’m to freeze enough for all year. We go through about 2 pounds a week right now. I’m also planning a big strawberry patch that should supply us with some strawberries all summer instead of just June.

I’ll be blogging about my plans and then my actual experiences when I start, so stay tuned. 🙂 Also, new toys are on the way for the holidays, and I think I’ll do a toy making tutorial one of these days.

What about you? What are your local food buying experiences? Is anyone interested in joining me?

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Watermelon Juice

Well, I just cut up what is surely the last watermelon of the season. And with the season goes my favorite late summer breakfast.

Scoop out the flesh of a half a watermelon (or whole if it’s one of those little ones) into your blender.

That’s my beautiful oak countertop. Installed by my brothers and I last February. Replacing 2 2 X 12’s that I was using before.

If it’s a seeded watermelon, which have the best flavor if you can get them, pulse blend the flesh until it’s juicy. Then pour it into a strainer to strain out the seeds. If there aren’t any seeds, you can go ahead and just blend it and pour it into your glass.

The glass is sitting on my farmhouse kitchen table that I made with plans from ana-white.com.

This wonderfully hydrating drink is the perfect start to a hot summer day. You have to drink a lot of it though to be full. I tend to sip at it half the morning, and then have an early lunch. It’s also a good thing to drink the morning after a summer barbecue when you’ve had a few too many beers. If you can find any watermelons, enjoy it while you can. If not, we’ll just have to wait until next year for this sweet and juicy treat.

 

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WAHM-the Balancing Act

Today I thought I’d share some of the ways that I combine my work with my parenting. Especially this time of year, I have to work a lot. My toy making is the only source of income that we have, and as I am fond of telling my son: we gotta make hay while the sun shines (he thinks it’s hilarious).

In December, I work pretty much all day, but during the year, I tend to work about 4 or so hours a day on the actual making of toys, I also do customer service, packing, blogging. I work every day though: 7 days a week. I prefer to do it that way, because then I can take off whenever I don’t feel like working or if it’s a nice day, and I want to go to the lake (in the summer). Working every day also allows me to knock off at 2 or 3 p.m. most days to focus on my son.

The biggest thing that I’ve done recently to allow me to get more work done is to get up before my son. I’ve been trying to get up before 7 a.m. I used to stay up later than him, but it didn’t work. I never got any work done, because at night, I’m tired. I don’t feel like working. But if I rise before my son, then I am ready to go, and I can actually get an hour of work in before I have to come up and make breakfast and play games.

During the non-Christmas season, I try to spend no more than an hour in the basement while my son is awake. In this respect, I think it would be better to have multiple children, because they could keep each other company playing while I was working.

The time not in the basement is spent on customer service, gluing, assembling, finishing, wood burning. And it is a significant portion of the time spent on a toy. While I’m finishing toys or painting, I can play with my son. I make the people or animals talk, and he moves them around or we play games where we are the animals. This is the time that we talk, and he might work on a craft or a letter to his Nana or uncle.

I also spend a lot of time sanding. When I’m sanding with a power sander, I enjoy doing it outside if the weather isn’t too cold. If I am sanding outside, Caleb will go outside and play. If I’m sanding by hand like for small animals or keys, I put them in a bag with 2 sections. As I sand them, I move them from one section to the other. I take this bag everywhere-to the park, to the beach, to the lake, while Caleb is riding his bike, on walks, to the dirt piles. I do a lot of hand sanding, and it’s more fun when my attention is elsewhere.

While I’m in the basement, I generally put a video on for my son. He may watch it, or he may find something else to play with, but he likes to have some noise or at least the potential for noise while I’m working in the basement. I do prefer the time before he was aware of videos when he would just play, but … I haven’t decided to cut them out completely yet.

So those are my main strategies for working and mothering. Other tips would be to take frequent breaks. Make sure you have proper meals. Try not to feel guilty about working-kids have no qualms about spending your money and they really like things like water and electricity and groceries.

Whenever I start feeling guilty because I can’t spend every waking minute doing fun stuff with my son, I remind myself that there are trade-offs to the life that I have chosen, and my son will be a better person for having to entertain himself for some time each day.

So what are your strategies for getting things done with kids around? Do you work from home for pay or for free like all mothers? What sort of work do you do? I loved all the comments from yesterday, by the way. 🙂

Balance

It’s this time of year when I started to go a little crazy. In December I’m certifiable, but it’s right now when I start feeling things slipping away from me. Orders are starting to pick up, the days are getting shorter (which always makes me sleepier), and right now I’m in the middle of  a large wholesale order as well.

The first thing to start slipping away is the clean house that I have been striving for all summer. The laundry starts piling up, the dishes aren’t done right away, we have a few more of those nights where we eat instant food (a can of beans and tomatoes and jalapenos is my ideal instant dinner), and on it goes until I feel out of control.

Like most mothers, I have too many jobs. On top of the “governess” job, I am also the housekeeper, gardener, and chef. On top of that I run my own business, I am in charge of book keeping, production, packaging, shipping, customer service and of course all the custodial and IT work as well.

And the question comes to how to restore my sense of balance? How to restore my sanity?

Something waldorf teachers do (so I’ve read) when the kids start acting up is to begin restoring order to the environment. When the things around you are neat and orderly, it helps your mind be more calm and ordered. So that’s where I start.

I take a step back from my “real” work, and I start putting the house and basement and office back in order. It’s very hard with all these orders piling up and these customers (only in my mind) screaming at me to get their orders out yesterday! It helps to put on some music, that drowns out the imaginary disgruntled clients.

After I’ve picked up and put away, then I need to get back to my routines. Last year at Christmas time, I swore to myself that I would not let it get that crazy this year. Crazy is when you wake up at 6 am (when you went to bed at 3 a.m.) and work every second of the day. When you take your oiling to the pool with you so your son can swim while you work. When you stick your finger into the bandsaw blade because your brain is a bit addled, and then spend the whole ride to the emergency room calling yourself all manner of names, because think of all the work I’m going to miss while this heals!

So the routines are what I’m counting on to save me this year. Plus I got my wholesales out of the way before the holidays. When things get crazy, I just need to remember to take a step back. Breath. Recreate order in my environment. Then I can get back to business.

Speaking of which…

 

 

What do you do to get yourself and your family back on track when things get crazy? Tomorrow I’m going to post about the ways I balance my business and taking care of my son.

Meal Planning Rhythm

Meal planning is an idea that I have tried on and off since living on my own, but it’s never really stuck. I’m not the most organized person, so it was hard to be disciplined enough to stick with it. But I am trying something new, and it seems to be helping.

If you read any Waldorf education literature or blogs, you know that one of the things that they are always talking about it Rhythm. Having a rhythm to your days and weeks and seasons and years. I’m not so good at that either. Working for myself and my son not going to school means that we can do whatever we want, whenever we want. Although in practice, we do tend to have the same routine, day-to-day.

The Dominos Pizza in our town has a special deal on Wednesdays for a $4 medium pizza. If I eat something else too, a medium splits very nicely between the two of us. It’s also nice to have a break from cooking, so I usually run errands right up until dinner on Wednesdays, so we can pick up the pizza on our way home. Thus Wednesday is Pizza Day.

Saturday mornings have always been Pancake (french toast or waffle day), and lately I’ve been making a sweet dessert type breakfast thing on Sunday mornings. These days were going well, so I decided to extend the idea to every other day of the week.

I had heard designating each day of the week to a certain type of meal before, but I hadn’t worked it into our life very well. After all, as vegetarians, we couldn’t have chicken night and beef night, etc. But this time, I think I worked out a schedule that we can actually stick to.

Monday is mashed potato and muffin day. We have some sort of a lot of green vegetables with the potatoes. This is one of our favorite meals. Last night we had the first potatoes from our garden, and they were amazing. I also very lightly steamed some swiss chard and kale from our garden to go with them, and made carrot raisin muffins.

Tuesday is soup and bread day. I make some kind of soup and 2 loaves of homemade bread: one plain and one cinnamon raisin.

Wednesday is Pizza Day! (Caleb’s favorite day of the week.) I generally have something else with this like a big salad.

Thursday is stir fry and rice night. This encompasses any vegetable dish that goes over rice-stir fry, curry, anything really.

Friday is Mexican night. Enchiladas, chili, tacos, etc.

Saturday is pasta night. I make lasagna once a month with homemade noodles, and freeze half for another week. Other than that it’s whole wheat spaghetti and broccoli or rigatoni with pasta sauce for my son.

Sunday is cookout night. In the summer that means veggie burgers. In the winter, it generally means something warmer like chili and/or potatoes. I make a fire in our backyard firepit with my wood scraps. The paper towels from wiping off the excess oil and beeswax from my toys make excellent fire starters.

This rhythm has been working well for us the past couple of weeks. I took the things we regularly eat anyway, and assigned them days. We have enough variety, since we are changing the exact meal every week, but it takes the deciding out of dinner time. Even if I haven’t planned out a meal. All I have to do is think of some kind of soup or mix up some vegetables to go over rice.

Does anyone else do this? What are your categories? Does anyone do this for all 3 three meals?

Cashmere Pajamas/Long Underwear

This is a post from my old blog, but these clothes are so comfortable, I thought it bore repeating.

Cashmere Long Underwear

Have I mentioned our house is cold? Well, it is. I drip the faucet every night to make sure our pipes don’t freeze up so I can still cook and wash the dishes. When it’s cold, you need long underwear. It makes a huge difference in your body temperature. Last year when we were still living at my parent’s house, I bought Caleb Ruskovilla Wool Long Underwear. It cost like $90. AND he hardly wore it, because he was already warm. I was happy to see that it still fit this year, but I was going to need more than one pair. And I certainly wasn’t going to spend another $90.

I had recently discovered the wondrous fabric that is cashmere for myself. I had a cashmere sweater that was thick and super soft, but not really presentable anymore so I asked my sewing friend to make a pair of long underwear out of it (I gave her sometangrams in return). She made a gorgeous pair for him, and I was hooked. But she now lives 6 hours away, so I had to learn how to make my own. I’ve since made 3 other pairs, and I love them. I gave a pair to my friend’s son, and he wouldn’t take them off for days.

Now it’s time for you to learn how to make your own and save that ninety dollars for some nice wooden toys. 🙂 (sorry about my pictures, the camera has a droopy shutter)

1. Get a cashmere sweater from the thrift store or your closet (you can also use any soft, non-itchy wool sweater, but cashmere is just heavenly).

2. Cut off the sleeves as close to the seams as you can get. These will be your pant legs.

3. Trim the sleeves to resemble pant legs about to be sewed together. I add a large waistband, so keep that in mind when you are measuring these. It helps to use a pair of pants that your child already has.

4. Lay out a tight fitting shirt of your child’s over the sweater to use as a guide. I use the first cashmere long underwear shirt that I made. It was a little short and tight, and I wanted to make this one longer and a little looser (turns out it’s a little too loose, but it’s still nice, and it will fit next year too!).

5. The sides of the sweater are going to be your shirt’s sleeves. You want to get these as long as possible (if you are making them for a 3 year old and up). The picture shows how to cut better than I can explain it.

6. Cut the tops of the sleeves where they joined to the shirt. I cut them a little bit rounded out.

7. Then start sewing it together. I hand sewed the three that I have made. My friend used her serger. I double stitched all the seams.

8. The pants are sewn together, and then I added the turtle neck of the sweater for the waistband. You can also use the unused top portion of the sweater, if yours isn’t a turtleneck.

9. The black pair I gave to Caleb’s friend, and the blue pair was his. They are made so that you fold the waist down. I’m adding elastic to the blue pair, because the turtleneck wasn’t tight enough to hold them up.

They are very easy to make. I’m not a sewer, so if you are, you can make them nicer. But if they don’t look quite right, it doesn’t really matter because they are supposed to be worn under other clothes anyway, though mostly Caleb just wears them by themselves when we are in the house (at least in the warm room of our house).

Balance Bikes

My friend from NJ has two children that learned how to ride bikes at very young ages. Her younger one, the daughter, was riding around like a pro when she was just three, peddling madly to keep up with her big brother. They had one of those expensive, wooden balance bikes, but when I asked my friend if she thought that I should get one of those to help Caleb learn how to ride a bike, she just laughed and said, “No you should get a cheap little one from the thrift store and take off the peddles.”

Well, it took me a while to take her advice. I wasn’t thrilled about the road conditions in our neighborhood. Plus only the cross streets are anything resembling flat. Even adults can’t ride a bike up our street. And I wanted to bring my brothers’ old bike from NJ rather than buy a new one. But this summer, I figured it was about time. I found a little bike at the thrift store and brought it home.

Still, I figured he was older, and maybe I could just push him and he would pedal and get the hang of it. But it didn’t really work and he wasn’t interested in doing it very much. It was hard.

So finally I took off the pedals. The one nice thing about where I live is that there are lots of slopes to learn how to coast and balance. In less than 2 weeks, we put the pedals back on, and he could ride! He wasn’t perfect of course, and sometimes he needed help getting started, but he could pedal and stay up.

You can also see the state of our roads in this picture.

Now I am totally sold on balance bikes. I think it is an excellent way to learn how to ride a bike. It’s not very hard, all you have to do is walk essentially, and coasting is natural, so you automatically learn how to balance without even trying. I’ve never been a fan of training wheels, ever since I had some on my own bike. I felt they were harder to balance on because there was all that wobbling back and forth from side to side.

So whether you buy a wooden one, or a little bike that you remove the peddles from, you should give balance bikes a try for your little one.

How to Make Applesauce without a Food Mil and Apple Juice without a Juicer

I got about 10 pounds of apples from the farmer’s market for $5. They were the spotty, knobbly ones. Yesterday afternoon, our pool plans got put off since the neighbor kids came over to play, so I figured I’d get started processing apples.

My maternal grandmother, before she passed 7 years ago, used to make the most delicious apple sauce ever. We called it Nana’s Applesauce.She would make a lot in the fall and freeze it in ziplock bags. She used to bring it at Thanksgiving and various other times of the year when we’d see her. Nana’s Applesauce had to be carefully rationed out to the six of us kids (myself and my five brothers), otherwise somebody would hog it all.

I wanted to make applesauce like my Nana’s. Nana’s Applesauce was pink. So I had to cook the apples with the skin on them, but then I had to find a way to remove skins without a food mill. I found someone online who said she smooshed it through a strainer, so I decided to give that a shot.

So I cooked the apples down, and then put them in a strainer, and tried to push them down a spatula. That was tiring and didn’t work that well, so I dove in with both hands (plus 2 of my son’s). That worked better, though a food mill of some sort would work even better.

Now to make apple juice, it’s even easier. Just cut and core the apples, put them in the food processor with the s-blade, and process them for a minute or two. When they look like this…

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…then dump them out into a (very) clean or new rag, cheesecloth may be the way to go for this, but I’m not that on the ball with my apple juice making. Anyway, then wrap the apple pulp up in the rag and squeeze!

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Your children will love this part. The juice comes out and is delicious like cider. 🙂 I freeze the juice, though, really we could drink it all in a couple of days, but I like to spread it out. I also freeze the applesauce. I have an enormous freezer, so I don’t bother with canning anything.

This morning, I also cut up about 20 pounds of tomatoes to freeze (also from the farmer’s market-$10), so our winter chilis will have delicious summer tomatoes.

Basic Vegan Pancakes and French Toast

Yesterday, we woke up to a chilly fall morning that had penetrated our house. I decided to make this Monday special with a pancake breakfast even though it wasn’t pancake morning (that’s Saturday morning). We didn’t have pancakes on Saturday, because we were out of syrup. I also made some hot apple cider (the only kind of hot drink I really like).

Bizzarly, Caleb decided (very loudly) that he didn’t want pancakes, so I agreed to make french toast as well-even though we had no homemade bread left. So I made pancakes for me, and storebought bread french toast for him.

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I thought I would share my basic Pancake and French Toast recipes with you, because even if you aren’t vegan or vegetarian with vegan leanings (like me), it’s always handy to have eggless recipes on hand for those times you run out of eggs or crack open your last egg only to find it smells awful.

Basic Vegan Pancakes (I also use this recipe for waffles, but sometimes with extra oil to make them crispier)

1 cup of flour (I use whole wheat flour)
2 tsp of baking powder
1/4 tsp of salt

–whisk that stuff together, then add….

1 cup of milk (I use soy milk or almond milk)
1 tablespoon of oil (sometimes I leave this out)

–mix everything together, add more liquid if it’s too thick, then cook them and eat them!

And of course there is every variation under the sun. Today I was planning on adding some cornmeal (and subtracting some flour), but my cornmeal had become infested with moths. [ Note to self: store rarely used whole grain flours in the freezer.]

My dad was the king of pancake/waffle variation. He would add seeds, nuts, a variety of flours, extracts of almond, and of course all manner of fruit. Saturday morning was just about the only time my dad would cook. I used to come home from college in time to get some of dad’s pancakes. My favorite one of my dad’s pancakes used partial oat flour, almond extract, and almonds chopped up small.

French Toast
(This may not taste as real to other people who are used to more eggy-tasting french toast, but I think my dad’s french toast was always light on the eggs, so it tastes normal to me.)

All I do is mix soy milk with lots of cinnamon and some nutmeg, and dip/soak (depending on whether it’s storebought bread or homemade) the bread in it, before putting it on the griddle. Homemade bread is-of course-better tasting. Storebought bread is so light and fluffy, it makes for soggy french toast. I’m in favor of a heavy bread for french toast.

Of course you can’t have really good pancakes without real maple syrup. Even when we were in our van, I bought the good stuff. I grew up with the real thing, and I’d rather never have pancakes again rather than eat them with that sticky high fructose corn syrup imitation. Of course, growing up we had to have 1 or 2 without syrup-with jelly, apple butter, or something. Today I put some applesauce on my to cut down on the amount of liquid gold I was using.

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So that’s my recipe for the day. Enjoy!

Footie Pajamas

I think footie pajamas are the cutest, cuddliest thing that a kid can possibly wear. Not only are they cute looking, but they also keep the kid warm. My son is always kicking all the blankets off, and then his skin is like ice. But with footie pajamas, there is no way to kick them off. Which makes them the perfect thing to wear to bed in the winter.

Some of you may remember me selling cashmere long underwear/pajamas last year. And I plan on selling them again this year, as soon as I get a minute’s peace to sew. However footie pajamas give a kid that extra feeling of warmth from having their feet covered (especially for kids like my son who almost always refuse to wear socks). 

My problem with store bought footies is that they are all polyester fleece. So when your child gets hot and sweaty in them, they don’t breath, they don’t absorb the sweat. Plus polyester pajamas are all treated with flame retardant chemicals. I only sleep in natural fabrics, so why would I want my son sleeping in chemically treated polyester??

But if you try to find footie pajamas in wool, cotton, or other natural fibers, you’ll be looking a long time. Believe me, I’ve looked. There is even a thread on mothering.com about searching for natural fiber footies. Engel or Ruskovilla sells wool terry footies but only in very small sizes. 

So what could I do? I had to start making my own. I have so far made one pair for my son. They are organic bamboo velour, which has some cotton and about 3% polyester for strength. I also put rabbit skin for the sole part. I bought a whole bunch of seconds-quality rabbit skins from this craft store downtown for a couple of bucks each. She gets them from a hunter who takes the time to prepare the skins. I bought them planning to make mittens or slippers out of them, but I never did, so now they are just for play. And for the sole of Caleb’s deluxe footie pajamas. 

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So what does this mean to you? I was happy with the way they turned out, and I am now itching to start selling them. Wool is my second choice as far as fabric goes, but it costs roughly 3 times as much as the bamboo velour. And I’m concerned about the itch factor. I have some wool fabric on hand, so I may make a pair for my little one and see how he likes it. There is also a bamboo fleece fabric that I’d like to try. And organic cotton french terry sounds nice too.

Tell me, what do you think about natural fiber footie pajamas? What fabric would you like to see them in? And does anyone know where I could get non-slip soling material for the feet?