It’s Bee Time
November 3, 2011 at 6:00 am
We got a couple of special deliveries this past week. Our farmer friend Jan harvested honey and beeswax from her hives recently and was kind enough to share some of what she got with us.
This big jar of delicious local honey is a little like liquid gold to us. The honey helps keep us healthy during cold and flu season, and it tastes great on our toast and tea.
I was also thrilled that she gifted us with some wax from her hives this year, which we used to make some homemade beeswax polishfor our toys and also for blocks we colored, sanded and polished last week as part of our wood-themed homeschool pre-school class.
I’ve got some other big plans for these great local gifts, but I also thought it might be a good time to look back on last year’s “Honey Week,” when I spent several days talking about our farmer friend Jan and all things honey:
Hope you are enjoying a little of the sweet stuff where you are!
Peanut Butter Cookies for Friday Tea
September 16, 2011 at 6:00 am
Friday tea is becoming a nice new routine around here.
It seems like we all need a little something special to celebrate the start of the weekend.
And so, we make a little tea and a treat. And take a deep breath because the work of the week is almost done, and the work of the weekend is almost here!
This week, we made these amazing Peanut Butter Cookies from 101 Cookbooks. Heidi Swanson and her blog and cookbooks are wonderful resources for healthy, whole food recipes and ideas.
Her cookbook Super Natural Cooking is one of my favorites — and often spends months at a time on my kitchen counter never making its way back to its proper home on the bookshelf.
These cookies are so delicious. But I have to show extreme self-control because the batter is really, really good too. It is egg-free, so a little taste or two won’t hurt.
That’s the other cool thing about these cookies — there are only six ingredients, and they are ingredients we almost always have on hand.
We used to the spelt flour option, and kept a close eye on them so they were still chewy in the middle. Yum. The perfect way to start the weekend!
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We *Heart* Farmer Jan
June 29, 2011 at 6:00 am
I wanted to share with you some photos of the treats I brought home this weekend after a trip to our friend Jan’s farm.
Jan is an amazing teacher, and grower, and beekeeper, and chicken wrangler. My kids adore her. (Even more than they adore her brood of hens and the babies she recently hatched in her second-grade classroom.)
I was reminded again this past weekend of how very lucky we are to have Jan in our lives. And it is not just because she sent us home with a fresh-picked bucket of strawberries, and more than two pounds of local honey and a dozen giant, colorful eggs.
It’s not even because she gave us rhubarb pie and homemade iced tea.
It’s because Jan gives us something we want so much in our lives — a chance to connect with where our food comes from. A little peek inside her life. A goal. A dream. Friendship. Mentorship. A chance to play farm.
We can’t have backyard chickens right now. We have two little strawberries plants that have given us four tiny berries. And frankly, I am absolutely terrified of bees.
But I love visiting (from afar) J
Finding Home at a Micro CSA
June 21, 2011 at 6:00 am
I am so excited to share with you today a guest post written by my good friend Rebecca Kiel. Rebecca is an amazing like-minded writer-mama, who today is sharing her experience of working on an organic micro CSA with her family and friends …
When my husband was offered a job out of town, it was a tough decision. After a couple of
soul-searching days, we took the risk to leave our rural surroundings, beautiful home and large garden, and moved back to the Chicago suburbs. It was a very fast move. Our daughter barely had time to finish her first half of the school year and we skidded into a rental house ten days before Christmas.
As the snow thawed, we began exploring the ground around. Our goals to live sustainably did not have in mind this cramped patch of dirt beside the house. Will it get enough sun? Is there any more broken glass under there? And as I surveyed the forest of sprouting weeds, I doubted if even John Jeavons could live off this patch.
As our kids foraged for rocks, my husband and I looked at each other and whispered, “Did we make the right decision?”
We were too afraid to answer.
Twenty minutes west of here lives our dear friend, Mark Wunderlich and his family. In a little
cul-de-sac tucked away from the bustle of our new suburban life, sit their three mostly wooded acres. It is on the cleared ¾ acre that our answer sprung.
For years, Mark dreamed of expanding their organic garden so they could grow enough
vegetables to live for a year. The last few years, they have given it their all. The food they have grown is amazing – healthy and flavorful. But with two children, both parents working, elderly family for which to care, they needed a little help. Between our need for community and dirt, and their need for extra hands is where the mini CSA was created.
With a commitment from us and even more from our friends, we are now bringing our children to “the farm” where rows of garlic reach for the sky, an inexpensive greenhouse provides shelter for seedlings, and my husband pounds away with his hammer on the newest project.
When his daughter’s class hatched eggs and the chicks needed homes, Mark’s micro CSA
grew. Now on every day we can, my husband is helping to build a coop, my children learn
that our food comes from work and the generosity of our earth, and we all have a deep sense of community.
While Mark dreams of fruit trees, my son dreams of more chicks. As my husband relishes
outdoor work, the girls plant potatoes. And as we join for dinner after a hot day of work, we all say a blessing for the earth, and above all … friendship.
Now when my husband and I ask each other if we made the right decision, we simply smile.
The answer is completely obvious.
You don’t need ¾ acre. In fact, any size garden can feel unmanageable with play dates, lessons, work schedules, etc. What ideas do you have for sharing work with others?
Rebecca is a writer and mother of two young children. Check out her blog at: http://
rebeccakielpages.blogspot.com or her Facebook author page Rebecca Kiel.
To read more about the farm, visit Mark Wunderlich’s humorous and practical blog http://
Happy Hip Homemaking
May 17, 2011 at 6:00 am
I am really enjoying the new homemaking book, “The Hip Girl’s Guide to Homemaking,” by Kate Payne.
I’m finding so many useful organic-living ideas in this pretty volume, which is part decorating-on-the-cheap manual, part do-it-yourselfing and part smart kitchen management.
It’s ALL cool.
Payne’s voice is fun and chatty — like you are hanging out with a girlfriend who isn’t going to judge you for never having made your own lighting fixture, but will walk you through it step by step.
I love homemaking manuals, but most don’t make it long in my house because the emphasis is on which blue cleaner to use when you do your twice-weekly dishwasher sterilization, and how to keep people from mussing on your “good couch.”
Payne aknowleges that most of us don’t have “good couches,” and that lots of us also didn’t learn a lot about homekeeping growing up. But we may still want to build a peaceful, functional pad now:
“Why homemaking?” she asks. “Because it’s cool to have a cool house … Because feeling in control in your own home does wonders for every instance when you’re not under that sweet roof.”
Ahh … feeling in control. Wouldn’t that be lovely? It’s true that I can’t concentrate or function when my house is too out-of-control, and so I truly appreciate Payne’s useful tips for home management and self sufficiency.
I’ve already implemented some of her ideas – especially those related to cooking, food planning and gardening.
My favorite “Hip Trick:” using a Sharpie to write on glass storage containers. A little rubbing alcohol will remove the writing so you can change the message when you swap your leftovers.
I really can’t say enough nice things about how much I am enjoying this book, but I originally got it from the library, and I’ve since purchased my own copy to keep (and reference often).
I think that right there says a lot.
Got a hip homemaking tip of your own? Add it to the comments below!! And check out Kate Payne’s blog here for more information about her book, tour and lots of projects!
Treasures and Oddities
April 27, 2011 at 6:00 am
I want to tell you about this place we visited in St. Louis, because it is amazing and so unique and because it has taken the green concept of repurposing and recycling to an insane level.
But I’m not even sure where to begin, because words don’t really seem to capture the place. It is surreal, and beautiful, and a little creepy.
I’m talking about City Museum, if you have heard of it or been there. It wasn’t somewhere we were planning to stop, but it rained on Saturday, and a friendly hotel employee sold me with these words: “It’s all recycled materials and the kids will love it.”
Because we had promised the zoo, but Mother Nature didn’t cooperate, this sounded like a very good way to spend our morning. And hearing “recycled” intrigued me, although that word doesn’t even begin to tell the story … not that there’s much I can tell.
City Museum is a former shoe factory — I got that from the lady who works at the aquarium (yes, there’s an aquarium). As a nod to the place’s origin they make shoelaces now on the second floor out of giant spools of floss.
The museum opened in 1997, and is the work of a man named Bob Cassilly, as well as several artisans who apparently worked under his direction.
Before I knew any of this, I had commented that the aquarium brought to mind a really, really wealthy person’s basement. There are the fish — of course — and what appears to be an inground pool full of stingrays. And then there’s the tunnel, through a separate shark-filled pool, and as you climb out of the tunnel you find yourself in a glass-bottomed boat, because, you know, why not?
You can see where this is going — the aquarium only takes up perhaps half a floor of the 600,000 square foot, four-story factory. And a lot of people might say it isn’t even the main attraction.
So what is?
Probably depends on your mood. Feel like playing in a room filled with sponges? What about riding a tiny train? Getting lost in a cave that probably isn’t big enough for people in the first place? Or how about just staring at the world’s largest pencil, jutting out of the side of the building, and knowing the whole time that it isn’t even close to the weirdest thing you’ve seen that day.
And where is a good spot in this post to mention that the upstairs is a vintage clothing store/espresso bar?
Yes, City Museum is weird. And wonderful, in a horror-movie-meets-kids’ playground-meets-they-have-a-gift-shop-and-snack-bar-so-how-freaky-can-it-be kind of a way.
Apparently, it is always changing too, which is why they don’t like to talk about it much. There’s no written information available, and during our three hours there I’m sure we didn’t even began to scratch the surface.
What is clear about the museum is that it has come together by way of found and salvaged materials. It is recycling and repurposing in a way that makes you slightly afraid of what a few thing used to be, and also a little irked that someone threw it away in the first place.
There is just no way to begin to describe it, and yet, if you find yourself in St. Louis, I would encourage you to visit and see for yourself what can happen when an artist mixes lost items with a lot of paint and even more imagination.
March is for Maple Syrupin’
March 8, 2011 at 6:00 am
I spent way too much time last week thinking about the best way to buy maple syrup, because we use it a lot for its natural sweetening capabilities and pancake topping panache.
I spent far too long staring at my wholesale grain catalog and considering 15 percent off day at the co-op.
If only I would have thought of making my own.
This past weekend the kids and I set out with some friends for an afternoon of all things maple syrup.
As we squashed through a muddy path, and sniffed the emerging-spring air, we learned about identifying maples, the “discovery” of maple syrup, tapping, cooking and lots of other things only briefly discussed when we were obsessing over Little House in the Big Woods last year.
Whenever I can, I love do hands-on stuff like this with my kids because it just becomes more real for all of us. As much as we loved reading about Laura and her family’s adventures, it is so much cooler to actually experience it together.
This is maple syrup time in the Midwest, and throughout many places in the U.S. where maple trees abound.
If you have maple trees in your yard, you can even make your own syrup. The process is less complicated than it seems and actually takes very little special equipment (Google “spile” and find a bucket).
Of course, you need 40 gallons of sap to get one gallon of syrup, but I find when you have the opportunity to really connect with nature, sometimes a taste is enough of a reward.
The McHenry County (Illinois) Conservation District which puts on the Festival of the Sugar Maples every year, suggests Sweet Maple: Life, Lore and Recipes from the Sugarbush by James M. Lawrence and Rux Martin to get you started on your journey toward more things maple.
I like At Grandpa’s Sugar Bush by Margaret Carney and Sugaring by Jos. A Smith for sharing more about the process with kids.
Of course, nothing beats tasting a little syrup at its best, like in these Maple Syrup Muffins:
Maple Syrup Muffins
(adapted from McHenry County Conservation District’s recipe)
1 cup flour (we used white spelt)
1/2 cup whole wheat flour (or whole spelt)
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup milk (we used almond)
1/4 oil (we used light olive oil)
1/2 tsp grated orange peel
chopped pecans, optional
In large bowl combine dry ingredients, mixing well. Add egg, syrup, milk, oil and zest. Stir until just combined.
Pour into muffin cups and bake at 375 for 18 to 20 minutes.
A helpful guide to better buying
March 3, 2011 at 6:00 am
In a time when so many of us are just getting by financially, it can be overwhelming to think about any more limits on how we spend our money.
But I find that many of us who are drawn to organic living are kind of natural “questioners,” wondering where the products we buy come from and how they were produced.
I know I have a tendency toward picking up a box and staring at it longer than is normal, and so when I started hearing about a book called The Better World Shopping Guide by Ellis Jones, I added it to my wish list.
I finally purchased it this week, and I am finding it a very concise little guide packed with useful information. (Read: It is totally blowing my mind.)
The book rates companies (using an A through F scale) in areas from body care to breakfast foods and air travel to energy bars.
It is intended to help shoppers vote with their wallets, by grading companies based on five categories: human rights (including child labor and other exploitation), the environment, animal protection, community involvement and social justice.
Although it wasn’t surprising to see some very big companies ranking low in these areas, I was surprised to see a few common health food store brands getting low grades. Did you know that Back to Nature is a Kraft brand? (It’s actually listed as a “corporate villain” in the book.)
This little guide can easily fit in a purse or pocket and is also available via Kindle for easy searching — so it is easy to take along as you confront day-to-day buying choices.
Although ethical spending can seem overwhelming, this book and the accompanying web site are helping me to make better choices at the grocery, the gas station, and as we consider any larger purchases. And that’s actually a pretty comforting feeling.
Will buying better pickles tomorrow really change the world? Maybe not — but it will change your world, and that’s really where it all begins.
For some ideas about how to put the information in the book into practice in your life, Jamie from Steady Mom and her husband Steve created Steady Home Deals a few months ago (check out the previous posts for some great ideas). Although it is currently on sabbatical, it promises to be a great resource for real-life ethical spending, so stay tuned…
How do you make day-to-day buying decisions in your home? Do you have any resources you find helpful when making shopping choices?
Muffin-Up Mondays: Lori’s Spiced Apple Muffins
February 20, 2011 at 2:00 pm
One of my very favorite shows ever is Gilmore Girls. I DVR rerun episodes and watch them after the kids are in bed and for a few moments, I wonder if I just wish hard enough, if my city will somehow transform into wacky Stars Hollow — if I will be granted the ability to speak more quickly, and if my wardrobe will get an automatic upgrade.
The problem with being a huge fan of this show, though, is that the two main characters, beautiful, spunky, successful women, EAT A TON OF JUNK. I have figured out through repeated viewing that their diet consists mainly of coffee, doughnuts, pie, cheeseburgers, pizza, take-out Chinese food and tater-tots.
So as much as I may admire their quick wit, quicker words, and yes, their ability to eat all that junk listed above and never develop acne, diabetes, high cholesterol, food intolerances or gain a pound (oh, um, that’s right — they aren’t actually real people), I do think it’s important to find other food role models.
Many of us need a food hero, so to speak.
In a world where many young kids can recognize the McDonald’s arches, but can’t tell you a French fry comes from a potato, or where soda is sold in cups that hold more contents than the average human stomach, I think it is so valuable to find people out there who make it a point to really nourish themselves so that they can feel their very best.
I first “met” Lori when I made one of her recipes for a healthy nutritious treat — Almost Raw Trail Mix Balls.
I am so glad I found her blog and as I continue to visit, I am so glad she is a voice out there, providing really good real food recipes for people like me who often need reminders that eating well is worth the effort (and it can be really delicious too!).
So let me introduce you now to Lori, who was kind enough to share an amazing Spiced Apple Muffin recipe today as part of the Muffin-Up Mondays series:
When I started What Runs Lori, it was to share vegan and raw food recipes with my marathon training teammates. Soon after posting recipes, reading others’ recipes, and tasting recipes, I became completely hooked on the unique connection I was able to have with others via the blog world. I loved sharing ideas, words, and thoughts with whomever was out there listening.
What Runs Lori is my fun way to express my passion for healthy eating, healthy living, and exercise. I am now a certified personal trainer and TRX suspension trainer and enjoy sharing all the information I can about the world of wellness through my blog and the real world.
TVNT: How did you begin writing about healthy cooking?
Lori: I never had the greatest relationship with food. In fact, I thought of food as the enemy. As I got older, started getting more into exercising and researching nutrition, finally learning what healthy eating was all about. I realized that eating can be nourishing, fun, and an amazingly creative outlet.
Through blogging, I have repaired my eating disorder patterns, and learned to be positive towards food. We all have to eat to live, right? Might as well eat good food.
TVNT: What is your general food philosophy? What are some things you think of when creating a recipe?
Lori: Real food is the key. I love creating recipes that are gluten free, dairy free, and sugar free, but that also taste great. I’m not completely rigid in my food choices but I do eat as healthy as I possibly can, while obtaining the best flavors out there.
When creating recipes, I go for whatever is the most creative and flavorful. I look for great recipes that I can develop into even healthier and tastier meals.
TVNT: I’ve read where you talk about learning to make changes to your diet in order to eat better — can you talk a little about some simple changes people can make to improve their health?
Lori: A lot of figuring out about what foods make you feel best is trial and error. I’ve done my fair share of avoiding gluten, dairy, sugar, and animal products. I’ve learned that most people don’t really need dairy or gluten in their diets, and a lot of times some health issues or discomfort disappear after eliminating these.
Simple , health-improving changes one can make are switching to almond or rice milk or even making your own vegan yogurts. Instead of using white or wheat flour in recipes, try using almond meal, gluten-free oats, or a mix of gluten-free flours. Not only do these add a different, and wonderful, taste to baked goods, they’re fun to experiment with, and are often much more nutritious (like with these muffins!)
TVNT: What inspires you to make healthy choices?
Lori: I base a lot of my health on how quickly I can recover from a strenuous workout, my quality of sleep, how I feel throughout the day, and my energy levels. I’m inspired to eat healthy to feel the best I possibly can. Shouldn’t that be motivation enough?
TVNT: What do you think makes a really good muffin?
Lori: Creativity! And fruit. Fruit is the key to a moist, delicious, flavorful muffin.
TVNT: Silly question — lemon poppyseed or pumpkin muffin?
Lori: You’re making me chose?! I have to go with pumpkin because I eat some type of squash ever single day.
Spiced Apple Muffins
Let this muffin be your guide to a nourishing, enjoyable, guilt-free morning, afternoon snack, or dessert.
1/2 c oats
1/2 c coconut flour (or almond flour, rice flour, or flour of choice)
1/8 cup NuNaturals baking blend (or 1/8-1/4 cup sugar of choice)
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cardamom
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 cup almond milk
1/2 cup shredded, grated apple
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp fresh ginger, diced finely
2 tbsp orange juice
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Measure and combine all the dry ingredients in a small bowl. In a larger bowl, combine the wet ingredients, mixing well. Add the dry ingredients to the wet, letting sit for a few minutes to moisten the oats.
Grease 6 muffin tins with cooking spray or coconut oil. Spoon the batter into each muffin tin, filling almost to the top.
Bake for 25-30 minutes.
Eat, savor, and enjoy completely guilt-free.
Photos in this post and recipe are property of Lori! Many thanks Lori for sharing them here today!!
Making a Place for Music
February 4, 2011 at 6:00 am
I heard it before I knew what was happening.
I was moo-ing. In public.
Mooooooooo! The man playing Igor Stravinsky said gesturing at me.
Moo. I responded.
Mooooooo! he said again, lifting his conductor baton higher.
Um, mooo? I tried again.
We’ll work in it! he said reassuringly.
You work on it, I thought to myself.
I had brought my kids to a school-age performance of the ballet “The Emperor and the Nightingale.” If I had wanted audience participation I would have taken them to a midnight showing of Rocky Horror.
And now I had embarrassed myself in front of several classrooms of Montessori kids.
But this was not the first time my lack of musical confidence had led to stage fright and later red cheeks. It was just the first time the public embarrassment had included animal sounds.
The whole experience, which I relive periodically in staggering flashbacks, reminded me of something I have been telling myself I want to work on.
I want to be more … musical.
Last year, a friend told me she heard a pretty well-know and very respected homeschool author and speaker at a conference. The woman insisted the talk not be recorded because she was going to tell the parents in attendance about some of the things she wished she had done differently as a homechooling mom.
The one that stood out for me when my friend relayed the story: she wishes she would have sung more.
Her children often saw her as a stressed and busy mom, she said, balancing educating her kids, a career, a home, and writing books on the side … they rarely got to see her as a mom enjoying life; humming a happy tune, as it were.
That’s me. I thought. I’m that way too.
I gave up piano lessons around age 11 when other interests took over. Our little grade school offered music class twice a week with a woman who clearly hated us all and often wondered outloud how she had gotten saddled with the one grade school in the county that had absolutely zero Fame-like talent.
Later I had mix tapes, sure, but while friends went to sweaty outdoor concerts, I openly questioned the appeal of standing just close enough to a band to have to drive home with my ears ringing, smelling like smoke …
I married a man who loves live music, and somehow loves me even if I don’t understand going to see U2 every year.
During my first pregnancy I read about the benefits of playing music to your baby. I had visited a friend after her son was born and recognized Bach on the CD player. Her 10-day old infant didn’t seem moved.
When my own son was born a few months later, we were given music too. I played him the CD of children singing kid classics like, ”Do You Know the Muffin Man” and he screamed until he watched a stranger buy the CD for 25 cents in our yard sale.
Owen never liked music meant for kids; neither of my children did.
They did like the classic radio station, I discovered one day. And we invested in some audiobooks for longer car rides.
Somehow, though, they have both developed a love of music, and I have felt for a while like I need to catch up. I really wanted to find a way to share music with them — just in a way that didn’t make any of us batty.
Enter Elizabeth Mitchell and Lisa Loeb.
Their CD Can You Catch the Moon has given us a perfect blend of age-appropriate songs; familiar melodies and music that I can enjoy as an adult.
Since getting that CD a few months ago, we have added more Elizabeth Mitchell to our collection, and suddenly, I am finding myself singing.
Another resource that is helping me to feel more musical are the CDs from Naturally You Can Sing. (I mean, naturally I can’t, but the CDs are helping.)
In observing Ellery’s Waldorf class offered through our homeschool co-op, I am seeing the power of music for young children, especially in helping them to make transitions.
Today, as we were getting ready to play in the snow, I found myself singing: “Thumb in the the thumb place/fingers all together/this is what we sing in mitten weather …”
I am here to say that singing is a waaaay more peaceful approach to getting kids dressed for snow-play than shouting PUSH like a labor and delivery nurse in a medical drama.
So while I am not ready to moo in public again anytime soon, I am finding that there is a definite place in our home (and car) and life for music.
I think Igor Stravinsky would be proud.
How do you bring music into your home?