Signs of Spring


It’s been a long winter.  Kids have been sick, the weather has been yucky, and cabin fever has been rampant.  So when yesterday dawned sunny with a high of 46 (down right tropical I tell ya!) it was something to be celebrated.  Cabin fever manifests itself in my children as an inability to make a decesion without a tantrum and a complete lack of body control in regards to one’s brother.  I was tetering on the edge between checking myself into the loony bin or commiting homocide, so I threw the kids in the car and we headed to one of our favorite botanical gardens: Inniswood Gardens.

We began our excursion with the goal of finding signs of spring.  Just the fact that we were outside without our coats and had the sun shining on our heads was a sure sign that spring is on it’s way, but it’s a fun lesson for the kids to find the little signs that spring is coming, and learn about how nature stirs itself to life again at this time of year.

We found bulbs poking up through the bare dirt.

We found bright green moss growing in the swampy areas.

We heard birds singing in the trees.

We saw a rushing stream, swollen from the recent thunder storms.

We saw budding tree branches.

I got to wear my Vibram Five Finger shoes, that had been packed away for most of the winter.

The boys had a blast running through the mud.

Until Connor fell down.

And got mud on his jeans.

 But mostly, the boys moved…

and moved…

 and moved…

 and moved…

 and moved…

and moved!

Of course, there were several signs that Winter wasn’t quite over yet.  The boys found a few patches of snow and played King of the Mountain.

And parts of my favorite knot hedge were covered to protect it from the next inevitable frost that will surely come before the weather warms up for good.

The fresh air and sunshine was better than any medicine.  We returned home in much better spirits.  A good time was had by all.






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Teddy Bear Pancakes

We’re out of bread, and I haven’t gotten around to baking in a couple of days, so I’ve been forced to make the boys pancakes for breakfast two days in a row now.  Poor kids!  They’re favorite is chocolate chip pancakes, but I try to keep those just for birthdays and special occasions.  So to make a “plain old boring pancake” a little more inciting (can we say picky kids?!?) the boys get Teddy Bear pancakes!


 I have a terrific whole wheat pancake recipe that gives light and fluffy pancakes that aren’t too sweet with just a hint of tang from the yogurt. It takes seconds to whip up, and only a few minutes to cook them. If I’m feeling ambitious I’ll triple the recipe and freeze the leftovers. They are great for popping into the toaster oven to reheat for a quick breakfast.


These grains are not soaked. I’ve been pretty lazy in that department for a little while. However, the recipe uses yogurt or buttermilk, and I’ve successfully used kefir, so I think it would adapt to soaking very well. Just combine the yogurt and flour the night before, and in the morning add the rest of the ingredients and cook up like normal. And yes, that is a Teflon griddle. I hate it, and the Teflon is starting to flake. It’s the only Teflon pan left in my kitchen and I can’t wait to get rid of it, but for now it will have to do. I do not have room for a cast iron griddle (and how heavy are those anyway?) and it takes twice as long to cook up the pancakes one at a time on my small cast iron fry pan. If anyone has another solution for me, I’m all ears. Until then, we eat pancakes pretty rarely and I’ll just have to deal with it.

How To Wash the Dishes

Anyone who spends any amount of time in the kitchen really should know how to wash a load of dishes by hand. Even if you have a state of the art dishwasher, there may come a time when (god forbid) it’s broken, or you host a party and end up with more dishes then will fit. I haven’t lived in a place with a dishwasher since I moved out of my parents house in 2000, and yet I am embarrassed to admit that it wasn’t until very very recently that I really got a handle on how to wash the dishes efficiently and with as little waste as possible. My go-to method had been to turn on the hot water, grab the dish wand with the soap in the handle, pick up a dish, scrub, rinse, set to dry. Continuing in this fashion with the hot water running all the while I would wash all the dishes in the kitchen one at a time. It took forever. I wasted tons of water. It’s no wonder I hated washing the dishes. My mother was a very good housekeeper, and I learned the finer points of bed making, sweeping and moping, and gourmet cooking under her thoughtful tutelage. However, we always had a dishwasher, so hand washing the dishes never made it into our lessons. As I’ve been reading more and more on keeping the home, and my housekeeping skills have blossomed from a slovenly college student’s habits to a (relatively) smoothly running home, I knew washing the dishes was a chore that I had to master, and I had to master it NOW.

The most recent housekeeping book I’ve been perusing is Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House. Along with information on how to care for your hard wood floors, and the secret to folding fitted sheets, it thoroughly addresses the proper way to wash the dishes.

1) Gather all of your dishes. For most people this means check the kitchen and dining room, however, if you have small children be sure to also check the living room, bed rooms and bathroom, checking under beds and behind furniture. I’m amazed at the places my kids find to stash dirty dishes. They are very creative.

2) Stack your dishes like items together. As you’re doing this scrape any food into the trash or disposal, and empty any drink cups. Once things are stacked together the job already looks less daunting.

3) Make sure you have a space ready for rinsing and drying the dishes. A dish drainer is perfect for this. If you don’t have a dish drainer a kitchen towel on the counter works fine too. If you have a double sink, use one side to wash and the other side to rinse. If you only have a single sink a plastic tub by the sink works great for receiving clean soapy dishes that need to be rinsed.

4) Fill one side of your sink with the hottest tap water you can stand. I still use afore mentioned dish wand with soap in the handle, but you can also put a squirt of soap into the dish water and scrub with a dish rag or sponge.


5) Wash your dishes, starting with the least soiled, and ending with your cooking pots. I usually start with silverware, then do glasses, bowls, plates and finally cooking pots. Change out the water when ever it starts looking gross, you run out of suds, or it cools considerably. As you scrub your dishes, place them in the second side of the sink to await rinsing. If you have a very large load of dishes, you may need to stop and rinse before continuing on with the washing. Be sure to rinse before the suds dry on the dishes.

6) Rinse your dishes in hot running water. Using hot water helps kill germs, and makes them dry faster with fewer spots if you air dry like I do.

7) The dishes aren’t done until the counters have been cleaned, so wipe down your counters and stove while you’re in there. And while you’re at it, you may as well sweep, since you got the dishes done so fast you have a couple extra minutes.

There you go! Your dishes are done and your kitchen is clean. Now that wasn’t so bad, was it?

Happy Birthday Owen, and Toxin Free Cake

Owen’s birthday was yesterday. My big boy is 5 years old. In the spirit of keeping birthdays simple, we followed the same party plans that have worked so well for us in the past few years. 2:00 party, just family. Open presents, eat some cake, be done in time for a good dinner and plenty of time to play with new toys before having to go to bed.

This time I tried something a little different with the cake though. The more I read about artificial food coloring, the more it bothers me. That stuff is truely nasty, and it’s found in everything. When facing down Owens cake this week, I just couldn’t bring myself to purposfully add those convenient little drops to the icing. So I started brainstorming some other options. Owen had asked for flowers on his cake, so I was mostly looking for pinks or purples, and green for the leaves. I decided to try liquid chlorophyll for the green, and I had on hand Black Elderberry Syrup, cherries, and blueberries for pinks and purples. After a brief consultation with Rachel of Hounds in the Kitchen, I also tried beets. Thanks for the beet, Rachel! Here were my icing results.

Liquid Chlorophyll
(This is kind of washed out, the green was a little deeper, and very pretty)

Black Elderberry Syrup

Beet Puree

Blueberry Puree

Cherry Puree

Several of the colors turned out fairly similar. For the purees I defrosted and blended the cherries and blueberries, then cooked them down on the stove top and put them through a strainer. I boiled the beet, boiled off most of the cooking water, blended, put through a strainer and then cooked down a little farther. I used the black elderberry syrup and the liquid chlorophyll straight out of the bottles. I ended up using the beet colored icing as the trim and writing, and the elderberry icing for the flowers. One thing I failed to consider was that you add a good deal more liquid with this method than with the tiny drops of food coloring, so my icing was a little soft for piping roses. Next time I’ll be sure to firm up my icing before putting it into the piping bag.

Finished Product

With the cake ordeal over, let the party begin! I love when the kids recieve books that I loved as a child, and Owen got some Dr. Seuss. He also got some Hulk Hogan wrestling figures who are mostly naked, and very muscular, but he seems to like them. A remote control Hummer and a new stuffed puppy rounded out the birthday gifts.

And making the Birthday Wish! Happy Birthday Owen! You made me a mommy, and I can never thank you enough for that. You’re growing up to be such a gentleman. I am so proud of you, and so happy to be your mother.

Sourdough = Fail; Yeast = Win

Several years ago I had a sourdough starter that I raised from scratch. It was a very good starter and I baked most of our sandwich and dinner bread with this starter. This was also before I discovered Traditional Foods, and was baking with white flour. Things got busy as they often do, and I stopped baking so often and failed to maintain my starter. As I started learning about the importance of whole grains, and more importantly the need to soak those grains in an acidic medium before cooking with them to neutralize the phytates I turned back to sourdough, which accomplishes the soaking step with the long rising time and acidic starter. I tried for months to raise a whole wheat sourdough starter. I baked loaf after loaf of super sour doorstops. I finally waved the ‘white’ flag, and went back to my plain white bread baking, assuring myself that at least it was better for my family then store bought white bread. Always seeking new information, I continued on my journey into nutrition and discovered the evils of white flour. So now I can’t feed my family white bread, and I can’t feed my family unsoaked whole wheat bread, and I can’t bake a loaf of sourdough to save my life. This most recent attempt to raise a starter has met with similar frustration and equally inedible results. However every door in my home is now securely propped open. In all of my reading about sourdough baking, I’ve decided to quit trying to raise my own starter. I plan to send off to the Friends of Carl for his Oregon Trail Sourdough Starter.

Last week I turned to my tried and true trusty yeast for our sandwich bread needs. Not ideal by any means, but I enjoy baking, and it really has got to be better than store bought. Owen had been begging for swirly bread (cinnamon swirl bread) and I obliged. This loaf not only used commercial yeast, but white flour and a good deal of sugar too. But it turned out wonderfully, and my confidence in myself as a baker has been restored.

I also undertook a whole wheat sandwich loaf, and whole wheat hamburger buns. Both of which rose to my expectations.

I’m not posting recipes today because they are not recipes that I actually condone. I’m looking into some recipes for soaked whole wheat that doesn’t utilize a sourdough starter and I’ve found a few that I want to play with. When I find one that works I will share. And I will also share my experience with Carl’s Sourdough Starter when I recieve it, althoug that can take up to 6 weeks, so I’ll have to be patient.

Jack-O-Lanterns and Pumpkin Seeds

Yesterday we finally got around to carving our pumpkins. We usually go to Circle S Farm for the hay ride and sunflower maze and to pick our pumpkins out of the field, but this year our plans were foiled by a tummy bug and we never managed to reschedule so we have boring grocery store pumpkins. They did carve up nicely though.
That’s face paint on my oldest. He did it himself. The boys picked out their own face designes, but I did most (all) of the work. They did help in scooping out the gunk though.

Once the pumpkins were carved, I tackled the huge bowl of pumpkin guts in attempt to rescue the seeds from clutches of the tentacle like threads of goop. This is a very slow, very slippery, very frustrating project. While at this tedious task, of course the baby wakes up. So as I wash my hands of slime and go to get her out of her crib, I notice some of the water gets into the bowl of cleaned seeds, and guess what, they FLOAT! This new knowledge completely changes my approach to the pumpkin seeds. I filled the bowl with water (after getting the baby and setting her up with a box of toys to dump out), swish around all the pumpkin guts, and miraculously all the seeds float nicely to the top.

It is now an easy task to fish them out and deposit them into the colander. A few more swishes to get the stubborn seeds that were still stuck and I had a colander full of clean seeds.

I soaked them in salt water for the rest of the afternoon, then spread them on a cookie sheet to dry over night in the oven. This morning I roasted up two batches. One sweet with pumpkin pie spices, and one savory with Worcestershire sauce and garlic powder. I read a bunch of recipes on line and in the end made up my own based on several that sounded good.

For the sweet ones I used 2 Tbsp olive oil, about 2 Tbsp succanat, 1/2 tsp sinnamon, 1/4 tsp each cloves and allspice, and a pinch of salt. For the savory ones I used 2 Tbsp olive oil, 1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce, and a sprinkle of seasoned salt, garlic powder and onion powder. I really should start measuring stuff, but I rarely do. Each batch got about 1 1/2 Cups of pumpkin seeds. I roasted the seeds at 250* for about an hour and a half, stirring ever 15 minutes and rotating the baking sheets.
We’re trick or treating at my grandparents house tonight and I had planned to bring these along to share. It’s going to be hard not to eat them all before we leave though!

Homemade Convenience

I am constantly trying to phase packaged convenience foods out of our home. Let me tell you it is HARD to do. The boys need snacks for school. Brad needs lunches for work. Sometimes I need something to munch that doesn’t require cooking or creating dishes to wash. Sometimes dinner time sneaks up on me and I haven’t given it the slightest bit of thought earlier in the day. Convenience foods are, well, convenient. So as I go about my journey to get the junk out of our diets, I’ve had some success in finding homemade versions of some of our favorites that have the benefits of not only being free from chemicals, preservatives, and excess packaging, but also much, much cheaper. Today I’m going to share with you 3 of our favorites: Fruit leather, cheese crackers, and mini fritattas.

Fruit Leather:
My boys love the apricot Stretch Island fruit leather. But at $1 a pop, those things are crazy expensive! We would get them occasionally as a treat in the checkout line at Whole Foods for being helpful shoppers. But now that I have an Excalibur Food Dehydrator, making our own is a snap. Since the boys love the apricot flavor, I start with dried apricots. You can use any type of fresh or dried fruit. If starting with fresh, just omit the soaking step.

Cover dried apricots in water, and leave to rehydrate for several hours. Cover the bowl so nasties don’t fall in.

Once the apricots are nice and juicy again, pour your apricots and a good bit of soaking water into your blender. I love my Blendtec , it makes short work of just about anything. Use just enough water to get things blending smoothly.

Next, spread apricot goop in a thin even layer on a piece of parchment paper on your dehydrator tray. The Excalibur comes with some teflex sheets, but I prefer the parchment paper because when it’s dry I can roll the whole thing up and cut into strips so the boys have fruit roll-ups.

This batch made four trays worth of fruit leather. I put it in the dehydrator at about 145* for around 6 hours. See how easily the fruit leather lifts off the parchment paper? It’s done when the thickest spots are dry to the touch.

Cheese Crackers:
These cheese crackers are the closest to Cheez-Its I’ve found. They are really yummy, and since I do the whole process in my food processor it’s super easy and they come together lickety split. I have made the recipe with whole wheat flour before and they turn out ok, but they really just taste better with white. Since these are a once in a while treat, it doesn’t bother me too much.

1/2 lb grated extra sharp cheddar
1/4 C butter, softened
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
1 1/2 C flour
1/2 tsp kosher salt

Cream together first 4 ingredients. Slowly add flour to make a stiff dough. It’s important to use sharp cheddar in these, even if it’s not the kind you like for eating. I like to use extra sharp. Otherwise the crackers don’t have a lot of cheese flavor. Also, you can decrease or omit the cayenne pepper if you think your kids won’t like it. With the full 1/8 tsp the crackers have a little bit of a kick. My kids don’t seem to mind, and I like it that way. 1/16 would probably be fine if you have kids with a picky palette. If you leave it out completely the crackers will be kind of bland, but hey, some kids like it that way.

Divide the dough int 3 portions and roll into logs. Wrap the logs in waxed paper and place in the fridge overnight, or the freezer for 1 hour. I’m always in a hurry so I always use the freezer method and it works great. The idea is just to get the dough chilled enough that you can slice it with out smushing it.

Slice thinly and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. These do not expand very much when baked so you can place them fairly close together, but not touching. Sprinkle lightly with kosher salt.

Bake at 350* for about 12 minutes. Remove from pan and cool on a wire rack. Once completely cool you can store them in a ziplock baggie or a glass jar. I really have no idea how long these keep, even if I make a double batch they are gone in less than a week.

Mini Fritattas:
Here’s my newest toy; a 24 ct mini muffin pan. Oh the possibilities! Today it was fritattas.

Bacon, spinach, cheese into every muffin cup. Then I mixed 6 eggs with 1/2 cup of cream, and topped off the fritattas. This made just enough egg mixture to do all 24, not a drop left over.

After 30 minutes in the oven at 350*, I had cheesey, bacon-y, egg-y goodness.
Yum! I meant to put half into the freezer for later, but for some reason they mysteriously disappeared before I got around to it.

Finding homemade versions of some of your favorite packaged foods is a great first step in the direction of phasing junk out of your diet and home. The kids love these snacks, and I feel good about feeding them something healthier than what comes out of a box. What are some of your favorite homemade convenience recipes?