Friday, January 30, 2009

Shower Caps in the Kitchen

In trying to rid our house of unnecessary plastic and disposable items, we no longer buy plastic wrap. Most of the time, this is no big deal. I use a lot of unbleached recycled waxed paper and parchment paper, both of which I reuse until they basically disintegrate before I put them in the compost pile.

But sometimes you just need something a bit more airtight.

Shower caps are the perfect solution.

They are a bit sturdier than plastic wrap without that irritating static cling factor, making them easily hand-washable, and the elastic band helps them seal against a number of sizes and shapes.
They are my favorite for popping over a bowl of rising bread.

My husband goes on a number of business trips a year, and I always remind him to bring home the complimentary shower caps for me to use in the kitchen...

So save some disposable plastic and cover things the old fashioned way.

For more Thrifty Green Thursday ideas, check out the Green Baby Guide by clicking here.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Can we say cabin fever?

This is the first time Gabriel has pulled out his saxophone the entire time we've been married (he played in junior high and 9th grade...). Liam wasn't sure what to think.

This is not a day for line-drying

It's an ice storm

We woke up to a world covered in ice this morning, and it isn't over yet. Trees have been crashing down all around the neighborhood, so I thought I'd go ahead and post some pictures before we lose power. It seems inevitable with the ice continuing to fall.
Gabe called in to work, which makes me and Liam both very happy.
You can keep him home from the architectural firm, but you can't keep him from doing architectural things...

Monday, January 26, 2009

Yeasted Carrot Sandwich Bread

Molly asked me to send her some bread recipes for her to try out with her shiny red Kitchen Aid mixer. I decided to go ahead and post them here in case anyone else is interested.

This recipe is from my ancient copy of Jane Brody's Good Food Book. (Obviously, it is older than the carbs-are-bad-craze.) I have found a number of fantastic recipes in it, including her Orange-Carrot Bread (p.571)
Orange-Carrot Bread
I prefer to leave out the orange-flavored ingredients, choosing instead for the subtle carrot flavor stand alone.
2 cups orange juice or warm water (105-115 degrees)
2 tsp sugar
1 package yeast (1 scant tbsp)
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup oil
2 tsp grated orange rind (omit)
2 tsp salt
4 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 cups finely grated carrots (4 medium-large)
2 eggs
3 cups whole-wheat flour
1. In a small bowl, stir together orange juice/water, yeast, and sugar. Set aside while mixing the next ingredients.
2. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle, beat the honey, oil, orange rind (if desired), salt, and 1 cup of the white flour. Add the yeast mixture, carrots, and eggs, and mix the ingredients thoroughly.
3. Switch to the dough hook and mix in the whole-wheat flour and 3 cups of the white flour. Knead on medium speed (# 4 on a Kitchen Aid - watch carefully to be sure it doesn't walk off the counter top) for 6 minutes.
4. Place the dough in a greased bowl, turning the dough to coat all sides. Cover with plastic wrap, and set the dough in a warm place until it has doubled in bulk (1 to 1 1/2 hours).
5. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with the rack in the middle position. If you have a pizza stone, place it on the rack.
6. Gently punch down the dough and divide it in half. Form each half into a loaf, and place the loaves in prepared loaf pans (either greased-well or lined with a parchment paper sling, my preference). Cover the pans loosely with plastic wrap, and place them in a warm place for another 30 -40 minutes, or until the dough reaches the top of the pans.
7. Put the loaf pans directly on the pizza stone or rack and bake for 45 minutes or until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the middle reads 190 degrees.

Resist the urge to cut into it until it has completely cooled. The bread continues to cook when you pull it out of the oven, and cutting into it prematurely affects the texture.

But, the recipe does make 2 loaves if you just can't wait :-)

What now?

At his 9 month wellness check-up, the nurse practitioner said Liam is behind on the major motor skills, but seems to excell at the fine motor and verbal skills.

At 10 months, the story is still pretty much the same.

He does not crawl, pull-up on things, scoot, cruise, or regularly roll over.... He does like to stand up and practice balancing by holding on to something, but we have to get him into that position.

He still doesn't like to be on his stomach, so we were surprised when we went to pick him up from the nursery to find him happily playing with toys while lying on his stomach. I commented on it, and the nursery worker said he'd been like that for a while and was scooting (minimally) from side to side and turning himself around! Amazing.

And look what he did this morning: This is major milestone development here...
And then he started screaming because he was stuck.

Stud Muffin

Yes, this time I am talking about Gabriel.

My amazing husband is planning to go to work extra early this week in order to put in some overtime without having to cut in to our evenings together. This means he's waking up before 5 am, and leaving for work shortly afterward. He really is a stud muffin.

To make his morning routine as quick as possible and never one to forgo breakfast, he decided that we should make a week's worth of oatmeal to have in the fridge so all he needs to do is scoop and microwave.

So last night I made all 5 morning's worth of oatmeal (he usually eats 2 servings...) in a giant stockpot:

That's 5 cups of rolled oats, 11 cups of water, 1 tablespoon of cinnamon, 6 tablespoons of brown sugar, and 1/2 a cup of raisins.

When it was all finished and we poured it into a crock to keep in the fridge (and also a backup storage bowl because the crock was too small), we were both shocked to see just how much oatmeal he eats a week. Pretty amazing.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Mr. 10 Months

So, it's time for Regis and Kelly's Beautiful Baby Contest, and I am planning to enter a picture of Liam. No, I don't intend to create a poster child, but there is some major college scholarship money at stake here, not to mention a trip to New York.

I have a few pictures in mind. What do you think?

In the backyard

Sunday afternoons are meant for spending time in the backyard, even when it is only 32 degrees outside...
We bundled Liam up and started a fire. We all had a great time, but no one more than Liam. This boy loves the outdoors. I wonder where he gets that from?

Yummy hummingbird vine pods...

Lately, he exclaims "Ohhh..." with wonderment at anything and everything.
Liam still isn't crawling, but he sure knows how to sit and reach.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Homemade Hot Cocoa

When I decided to no longer buy anything that contains high fructose corn syrup [HFCS], I knew it was an easy decision. Compelling evidence points to HFCS as a major contributor to our nation's sugar addiction and subsequent weight problems, not to mention the corporate tie-ins concerning our dependence on corn for basically everything (for more on that, read Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma). It's amazing where I have found HFCS lurking in the ingredient list: everything from hot dog buns to canned kidney beans.

Shopping at Ozark Natural Foods takes care of this detective work: they don't stock anything containing HFCS, or artificial coloring or preservatives for that matter. However, that ease of mind and shopping comes with a hefty price tag on certain items, especially hot chocolate mix. Making my own hot cocoa mix significantly cuts down on the cocoa bill, especially during these cold months.

Hot Cocoa Mix
I make this with either Organic Valley's nonfat dry milk powder or the soy beverage mix powder I can get in the bulk section, Equal Exchange's fair trade cocoa powder, and sucanat sugar (dehydrated cane juice).

1 cup dry milk or soy beverage mix

1/4 cup cocoa powder

1/2 cup sugar

To use, just add 3-4 tablespoons per mug of hot water. Stir well and savor.

Here's another green tip: wash and reuse your mug throughout the day. It's such an obvious thing, but if I'm honest I'll admit that there have been days I've gone through 3 or 4 by evening.

Here's my favorite mug. Somehow every drink tastes better in it - I've already begun to try and mentally prepare myself for the day Liam breaks it. It will happen. I just know it.
For more Thrifty Green Thursday tips, visit the Green Baby Guide here.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

a new day

It's not just that we have a new President, that he is the first African American to hold the highest office in our country, that over 1 million people showed up at the National Mall, that so much hope reverberated throughout the country. Yesterday was a big day.
I took it all in from my living room, kitchen, and bathroom, thanks to NPR's all-day live coverage. Going about my daily routine - giving Liam breakfast, changing diapers, knitting, washing a load of diapers, putting Liam down for naps - it was such a normal day. How surreal to think that such a typical day for me was so life changing for the Obama family. I wonder how long it will take for the White House to feel normal to them? Before they feel like they can leave their beds unmade and shoes in the middle of the floor?
I wonder how long it will take for George and Laura Bush to settle in to life in Texas. To get over the weight of the nation. I wonder if yesterday was just a big breath of relief.
Maybe there's just a new kind of normal. Today is always different from yesterday was or tomorrow will be. We only fool ourselves into monotony.
In today's sharp sparkle, this winter air, anything can be made, any sentence begun.

On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp — praise song for walking forward in that light.
from "Praise Song for the Day" by Elizabeth Anderson

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Hey, have you heard?

We have a new President!
I'm singing with joy.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Linda, let's dance.

Dish boy

Gabriel and I were cooking dinner together tonight, and Liam wanted to be part of the action. Sharp knives and hot pans do not go so well with little boys, but we found a solution.

He took it all in from his own special seat. Don't worry, he doesn't pull up on things yet, and I was right beside the sink the whole time. He loved it.

Liam has been giving us this look a lot lately, where he lowers his head and peers at us from under his eyebrows. Sometimes, it's a little frightening. So serious. So mischievous.

We had pizza last night. Liam was very excited about it. Mmmm....

Molly's blog

My sister Molly has finally joined the blogging world.

Molly is a circus performer, and a fantastic one at that.

Click here to find out more about her adventurous world.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Some days you just need a little extra

Today has been one of those low days. It is really cold outside, and I just can't seem to get warm; Liam is teething; I'm having to deal with things far beyond my maturity and parental level, things I'm tied to despite both my willing and unwillingness; and I'm just tired.

In the mail today, I received a birthday package from my mom and a card from Crystal. My mom sent a replacement merino wool sweater (the one she gave me for Chrsitmas went through the hot washer and dryer the next day), eco-friendly dish towels, and the comfiest lounge pants I have ever worn, which of course are made of green materials and I'm wearing them right now.
Crystal's card is handmade and beautiful, and it is the nicest thing anyone has ever written for me.

Sometimes you just need to feel extra loved. Right now I do.

Thank you.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Lavender is for Vacuuming

When I was a little girl, my mom kept a container of that powder meant for sprinkling onto the carpet before vacuuming. The stuff meant to scent the air. I can't remember what it was called or who it was made by - Glade? I'm not sure if they even sell it anymore. What I do remember is that I thought it was the neatest thing. So fancy. I would beg her to let me be the one who sprinkled it over the floor. To turn the chore I hated most into aromatherapy. I loved the whole concept.

Today, I wouldn't even think of buying something which is most certainly laden with chemicals. I have yet to see a similar product from Seventh Generation, but no matter. I made a profound discovery when I was cleaning the other day:

If I sprinkle dried lavender blossoms over the carpet before I vaccum, then the whole living space smells fantastic. It was truly a moment of genius.

I used some lavender I had purchesd from the bulk spice section at Ozark Natural Foods, but you could also use homegrown and dried blossoms (I'm sure the leaves would work just as well).

Here's another green tip: Change your vacuum cleaner bag. It's amazing how much better the vacuum works with a clean bag.

I hadn't changed mine in I don't know how long. Let's just say it was full nearly to the bursting point. Gross. I will definitely keep more of an eye on it from now on.

For more Thrifty Green Thursday ideas, visit The Green Baby Guide.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

tasty treats

What is a batch of cookies without some good old spatula licking? Gabriel loves sharing this rite of childhood with Liam, and seems just a little peeved that he doesn't get to keep it to himself anymore.

Tasty, tasty, tasty.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Great Expectations

There is something so satisfying about flipping through the many gardening catalogs which fill our mailbox this time of year. So many opportunities. So many old friends. So many new seeds to try. These catalogs say that winter doesn't last forever. In fact, it's slipping by fast. Quick, plan your garden, send for seeds.

Yesterday, that is exactly what Gabriel and I did.

Our favorite mail-order seed company is Seeds of Change, an exclusively organic seed company which emphasizes the importance of biodiversity while still continually working to develop the best varieties.

We also will be ordering from Gardens Alive!, which offers not only organic seeds, but also a good selection of fruiting trees and shrubs along with a variety of organic fertilizers and pest remedies. One year, I ordered their sea fertilizer. It worked fantastic, but all of that algae and fish manure made my garden smell like Sea World. They also have a $25-off coupon...

This year, we're planning to try and eke even more out of our garden, working really hard at maintaing succession plantings as well as rotating the crops in each bed based on the season. Also, we're planing to try undersowing cover crops beneath our tomatoes and corn (to boost the soil's nutrition, and also as a fun experiment). We're using Eliot Coleman's Four-Season Harvest as a guide.

from Seeds of Change
from Gardens Alive!
Yep, we have high expectations for this year's garden.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Bye Bye

Liam's newest thing is waving hello/goodbye and saying "bye bye." This is his first word, even before Mama or Dada. I tell myself it is because he is really good at making the "b" sound. Everywhere we go, Liam waves at all the people passing by. He also waves at things he wants or doesn't want. It really has opened up alot of communicative possibilities. So, I suppose "bye bye" isn't such a bad first word...

Here he is waving and saying "bye bye, "but it isn't his most articulate moment. You still can get the idea, though.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Dance With Me

Liam loves music, and he loves to dance. His other new thing: he likes to roar. Notice his dancing face, too.

The music is from the Putumayo Kids: Sing Along

Stud Muffin

No, I'm not talking about Gabriel.

It's this fabulous loaf of bread, so named because it is "studded" with bits of gorgonzola cheese and infused with pecorino romano cheese. Yes, it was delicious, and, yes, it's already gone.

The recipe came from my new cookbook, The Bread Bible (a Christmas present). It took a ridiculous amount of time to make. First, you make a sponge (soft dough), which sits on the counter overnight to develop the yeast and thus the flavor; the next morning, you make the dough by adding the remaining ingredients to the sponge, which then goes into the fridge for another 24 hours; finally, you shape it into a ball, put it in the souffle dish, and allow it to rise for 4 hours. It took another hour to bake. But, every scrumptious bite was worth all that work.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Give prunings a new life

We are now settling into that time of year Christian Rosetti calls the bleak midwinter, when the joy and excitement of Christmas wanes into frigidly cold days when all you want to do is spend time outdoors, but the cold makes that impossible. At least in Arkansas, this weather doesn't persist continually until spring. Here, we have random 70 degree days, interpersed with the days down in the low 20's. On those warmer days of winter, Gabriel and I always end up in the yard, looking for something to do. Often, we end up pruning our trees.

One of my favorite crafty things to do has been to make the pruned branches from our yard into home decorations. Not only does it give the branches a new life, but they are natural decorations that don't have a shelf life - they look good indefinitely.

Here are a few of our past creations. Some are easier than others, but none of them were particularly difficult to make.

This is Barnaby, the porch reindeer and watch dog. For Christmas, he sported a jingle bell. In the spring and summer, he'll be moved to the backyard to keep an eye on the garden.
Gabriel made him in an afternoon and had a ridiculously good time. Barnaby is made from hickory and wild cherry.

Perhaps the easiest decoration, but also one of my favorites, is my bucket of branches. Gabriel really doesn't like them since he tends to get caught on them. I have never had that problem. And they look so nice. However, once Liam finally learns to crawl, they'll have to go elsewhere.
These branches are all mulberry clippings. Simply clip, gather, and put them in the bucket. Easy.
This wreath goes on the door every winter when I take down the evergreen one I make for Christmas each year. It is made of mulberry branches (when they are fresh cut and still pliable) with raffia ties.

This coat rack is Gabriel's latest creation, which also only took only an afternoon. It is made from wild cherry.
I hope our ideas inspire you to try your own. For more Thrifty Green Thursday ideas, visit the Green Baby Guide by clicking here.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


Only three days after getting home from San Diego, we left for Alabama to visit Ben, Carolyn, and little Grace, who it turns out is not so little :-) She is 8 weeks old and weighs 15 pounds...that's only 2 pounds less than Liam who is 9 months old! She is super cute and amazingly calm and content most of the time. It must be all that extra padding keeping her warm and happy (maybe that was Liam's problem, since he has always been so skinny and fussy).

Here they are together. Liam still isn't pulling up on things, but he balances really well when we prop him up.

I made Grace these pants for Christmas out of a recycled sweater.
I made Carolyn a Mei Tai wrap to carry Grace around in. It turned out really nice and Grace eventually learned that it is great for snuggling.

While Carolyn and I stayed busy cooking, taking care of the little ones and sewing the new carrier, the guys won a number of levels of Super Maryo (a free internet knockoff of the original). Apparently, it was really exciting :-)

They also played Settlers of Catan. Liam helped Gabe win.
Liam was really glad that Auntie Linda came along. Lots of kisses.

All set and ready to go for a trip.
We had a great time, but we are definitely ready to be home for a while.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Sloppy Lentils

Last night I made sloppy lentils on homemade hamburger buns for dinner, along with a side of oven-baked sweet potato fries.

Lately, Liam has been particular about his foods. Not that he is picky about what he does and doesn't like to eat. He likes just about everything. No, the problem is that he has a particular food in mind, and when I give him something different he gets angry. Often, this turns into a guessing game of which food my 9-month old is thinking of at the moment. I know, I know, I shouldn't give into his demands. He should eat what's served. Right? Well, at the same time I want him to learn that food is good, and I don't want to turn him off to trying new things by forcing him when he is unwilling.

So, enter the lentils and sweet potato fries. He has had the fries before. The last time, he threw them on the floor and handed my second try to Dahlia, who knows where to patiently wait beside his high chair. This time, however, he gladly snatched the fry from my hand and shoved it into his mouth. I could hardly keep them coming fast enough.

Then it was time to try the lentils. I scooped some onto his little bamboo spoon (I thought about letting him try a bite of the sandwich, like Mama and Daddy, but then opted for the less messy option...). When I moved it toward his mouth, he began waving his arms excitedly and his mouth popped open. I gave him the lentils. He tested them in his mouth for a few seconds, and then chomped ferociously, demanding more, and then more and more again. He ate a good serving of it.

Apparently, Liam loves sloppy lentils. Maybe you will, too.

The original recipe is from Fresh from the Vegetarian Slow Cooker, but I often make it on the stove top when I forget to get it going in the morning...
I actually prefer the red lentils for this recipe, but you could also use the small French puy lentils or make it with the brown as the recipe directs.

Sloppy Lentils
1 tbsp olive oil
1 medium-sized yellow (or red) onion, chopped
1 small red or green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 clove garlic, minced (my addition)
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 1/2 cups dried brown lentils, picked over and rinsed
One 14.5 oz can crushed tomatoes (I use Muir Glen's Fire Roasted, mmm...)
3 cups water
2 tbsp tamari or soy sauce
1 tbsp prepared mustard
1 tbsp sweetener (honey, brown sugar, sucanat, agave... your choice)
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1.Heat the oil in a medium-sized skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and bell pepper; cover, and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and chili powder, stirring to coat. Cook 1 minute longer.

2.Transfer the onion mixture to a 3.5 - 4 quart slow cooker. Add the remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours.

Stove top variation:
1. Follow step one as above, but do so in a large saucepan, or, better yet, in a dutch oven.
2. Add the remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Simmer for 45 minutes, or until lentils are tender, stirring occasionally.

Serve on hamburger buns for a yummy and messy meal, which we often eat with a fork in hand. Serve with sweet potato oven fries.

Something new...

Check out my new blog.

Don't worry, I'll still post pictures here.

Something new...

For my New Year's resolution, I've finally decided to break this writer's block.

I haven't really written much of anything since JBU. Partly because I was just weary of the mental effort. Partly because I am lazy. But mostly it has been just an inexplicable mental avoidance.

I suppose a lot of it has to do with the shift in my roles: from full-time academic to full-time Mom. I love both lives, but I haven't really tried to merge the two. I earnestly love staying at home with Liam. I find it entirely fulfilling. I love everything domestic (well, I don't really like housecleaning...). I am content at home with my son, my knitting, my garden, my cooking. It is a fantastic life. One which I enjoy even more than school.

But still, I know I need to be writing. So here I will attempt to chronicle the going-ons of a homemaker. Journaling has never been my strong suit, but I will make a go of it.

So here we go.

Dog Beach

Our last day in San Diego was my dad's birthday. We took the dogs to dog beach in Coronado. It was windy, but we all had a great time.

Daphne was excited to see me and Gabriel, but she was not happy to see Dahlia. She obviously loves being a California dog!
Dahlia had a fantastic time running on the beach. The last time we took her there she was a teeny tiny puppy, and she did not like getting all that sand on her nose... but now the beach is nothing but fun!
Molly knows how to capture the moment...
Liam loves to have his fingers kissed, especially by Grammie.

Like I said, it was windy.

Happy 50th birthday, Papa!
Giving Uncle FoFo a left hook.

After the beach we went out for lunch at Jalisco's, a yummy Mexican restaurant. The moment we walked in the door, Liam projectile vomited all over himself, Molly, and straight onto the floor next to some poor diner's table... It was very gross.
Regardless, we had a nice lunch, then it was back to the Halls to pack up and leave.
We left San Diego at 5 that night, and made it just past Flagstaff before we stopped for the night.
A word on driving across the country with a nine month old: just don't do it if you can avoid it! But if you must,driving while he sleeps is the only way to do it. On the trip out we drove straight through the night. 27 hours, non-stop! Yes, it's crazy, but it was the only way we could get there without enduring screaming.
We finally made it home at 3 am Sunday morning. Arkansas had never looked so good...
On the road again...