Friday, May 31, 2013

Truth from the Pantry

Remember the comment that my husband made the other day about wanting to eat food without all the added preservatives?

He wasn't kidding.

Rather than brushing him off by saying, "That's too hard," or "We already eat healthy enough already," I decided to take it very seriously (once I got over my bad attitude, that is, and really thought about it). I have so much information at my fingertips, including plenty of blogs, websites, ebooks full of real food recipes (that I already purchased a few weeks ago), and the desire to eat and live well.

Instead of continuing to convince myself that buying items without High fructose corn syrup was enough, I decided to actually take a walk through my pantry, freezer, and refrigerator to see what I already and regularly buy that has unhealthy added preservatives.

The result wasn't as bad as I thought, but it wasn't very good either.

Here's a disclosure and breakdown on what I found in our house that has ingredients (as preservatives) that we are not ok with eating. (Keep in mind that this is our personal decision - we in no way think less of you for eating deliciously moist and yummy brownies from a box! But in case you are interested in our journey, or just want to laugh at our pain, here ya go.)


Ketchup, French style salad dressing, Dijon mustard, Sweet Baby Rays BBQ sauce, Hoisin Sauce, soy sauce, light Mayo (disclaimer: Eric and I hate mayo with a parents left theirs in my fridge. I read the ingredients label and turns out this low fat processed stuff is packed with ingredients that your body doesn't know how to handle.)

The processed meats we have all contain Sodium nitrites: Smoked polish sausages, Processed turkey meat (any lunch meats, really), pepperoni.

Flour tortillas, vanilla yogurt, chocolate frosting, can of whipped cream (love this on cake and pies, but the preservatives list is sooooo looooong!) all have preservatives that are intended to give the food a longer shelf and fridge life, while compromising your health at the same time.


Hamburger buns. Holy smokes. I am kind of in shock. Same goes for the long potato rolls (buns for the polish sausages). I don't know if I can ever buy those again with a clear conscious. You know something is wrong when the ingredients list is still going at item 20.

A really old store bought pecan pie was packed way back in there. I think this was left at our house and got stuffed into the freezer for later use. Let's not go into all the ingredients and preservatives in that one...I disposed of it anyway.

More flour tortillas, whole wheat bread (no high fructose corn syrup, but this bread has so many other preservatives to give it a longer shelf life, which is very unnatural for bread in the first place...).

I was very very happy to discover that my Ghiradelli dark chocolate chips made the cut, as well as my homemade chicken stock, frozen veggies, chicken breasts, ground turkey, and venison (my sister brought it back with her from Alabama).


This is where I have the most of my problems...

Cheerios, chips, can of iced tea powder (used for summer cook outs), tomato soup, dehydrated potato gnocchi, Pasta (still not completely sure about this, but am looking into it), sweetened coconut flakes (for baking), angel food cake mix, brownie mix, Wyler's instant beef bouillon granules, gel food colorings, sprinkles.

And then I started finding my archived food stuffs...real treasures here.
Mole, with a best by Oct 2009 date.
Thai curry simmer sauce, best by Aug 2010
Ranch dressing mix packet, best by June 2007. 2007!!! Really, Beth??!? 2007? sheesh. You would think that after five moves that thing would be long gone by now, but nope! Saving it for the zombies.
Old easter candy (which promptly went into the garbage)
Gravy packets (which I have never used, since I always make my own, but they have still definitely taken up residence in my pantry...)
Onion soup mix. The American girl's best friend. Not this girl. This packet also went promptly into the garbage can after reading ingredient number two.
Whole wheat bread (As you can see, we keep a lot of bread on hand). Looks like it's time to bake my own. I am currently scouring Craig's List for a machine to make it a little easier on myself.

In order to make this work for our family, we have to take it gradually. My plan is to eat what we already have in our home (minus the old stuff...and a few of the items that made it on my "from the devil" list) and then gradually introduce the healthy alternative when the supplies are diminished. For example, the packaged breads will be replaced with homemade breads, or with the fresh pita that comes from our local Middle Eastern bakery (and contains only the four essential ingredients, no preservatives or syrups). The lunch meat will be replaced with natural peanut butter (which we already eat regularly) or freshly cooked chicken. Salad dressings can be easily home made (and taste better too), and I already have a yogurt culture to begin making my own yogurt with. Breakfast cereals can be replaced with my granola (that I simply need to be more consistent about making) and other snack foods can be replaced with fresh fruits and vegetables.

I will be writing about the changes that we make as we go, but this will definitely not be something that happens overnight. You know what I am really looking forward to (more than giving up processed, preservative packed food)?

Getting fresh eggs from this chicken.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Birthday bash, part 2

Mid May, my oldest turned three.

The morning of her birthday, she received a fun tent and backpack from her grandparents.
We spent the entire day playing outside and having fun with my parents and siblings who came over around lunch time.

My three-year-old has been talking about having "cu-cakes" on her birthday for weeks now. She was also really adamant about them being chocolate. We invited a lot of people over for a cook out that evening, so I opted for cake from a box with homemade chocolate buttercream frosting. The birthday girl approved.

When the time came to sing happy birthday, the birthday girl ran away crying! Eric had to go get her from inside the house where she was hiding and took a while trying to convince her that we wouldn't sing to her again and that yes, now she could eat the cupcake! ;-)

It also happened to be one of my sister's birthdays the same week. She was extraordinarily embarrassed that a bunch of people she didn't know were singing to her...

By the way, that (in the 9x13 pan) is a dirt cake. Eric LOVES to make dirt cakes. Back in 2010, when our oldest was born, my family came to visit and Eric made his first dirt cake for her. Every birthday since, dirt cake it is!

Sometime during the party, Pamboo got incredibly dirty....

Our Chicago family and best friends (including their kids, who I can't seem to find a good picture of).

My three-year-old is a new adventure every day. I am challenged, stretched, and forced to grow every single day. She brings so much life and joy and laughter into our lives. We are so blessed and humbled to be her parents. Thankful for a curious, creative, happy, joy filled, strong spirited little girl who never ceases to amaze me with her spunk, intelligence, and wit.

Here is to three happy years of adventure and a fresh start on the fourth!

Monday, May 27, 2013

Birthday bash, part 1

[Disclaimer: The birthday posts are by request of the grandparents, therefore feel free to skip as the next two days will be filled with pictures of my adorable children and not a whole lot else.]

My baby had her first birthday well over a month ago. We had a small family celebration, with a breakfast of oven pancakes and warm blueberry muffins.

And here you have some lunch pictures with a cute funny face accompanied by smears of cauliflower and carrots and broccoli. Yes, I make my kids eat veggies on their birthdays. 

This kid looks so much like her dad. I should have named her "Erica." lol

I am so happy for my oldest to have a sister. They love each other SO much.

Even though sometimes their relationship looks more like this....

[Picture below] See what I mean? Father's daughter. 
And where on earth is this kid's mother!?! Holy soggy diaper, Batman! 
This is what she does every time she climbs up on something (blame my neglect on her being the second child). Super Baby to the max!

Little L started walking by ten months and quickly advanced to running. Now all she wants to do is climb things, which can be exhilarating....until she realizes she has no idea how to get back down.

My baby is quiet and sweet, always smiling. Content and happy, laughs all the time. Blue-eyed and blond, loves tickles and snuggles and good morning kisses... Can't get enough of her!

We are so thankful for her life! 

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Rhubarb Craze

We inherited a huge patch of Rhubarb when we bought our house last summer. The previous owner of the home had lived in this old house for over 50 years before she passed away. At the closing of the house, her children told us that the Rhubarb patch was there when their parents first moved in. Since it takes a few years to become well established, that means that this Rhubarb patch is potentially 60 or more years old!

 In just a few short weeks, the ground went from a few shoots poking up from the ground to this wild Rhubarb jungle!

 My baby thought it was pretty hilarious to be standing in the middle of it all.

To harvest Rhubarb, (which by the way is a vegetable), you simply find a outer firm stem (no limp ones) and gently pull it away from the base of the plant.

The massive leaves are fun to play with, but they are also poisonous. Remove these and then you are ready to wash and chop up the stalks for freezing or cooking.

They also make good brooms. 

And flags.

One of my vivid childhood memories is of my mom harvesting Rhubarb from our (much smaller) patch and making the most delicious and savory Rhubarb tart. 

Turns out, I have A LOT of Rhubarb. And what better way to celebrate spring than with some Rhubarb tart and happy memories from a time of long past.

I realized much too late that it would have been to my advantage to bake this in a much more attractive dish. But for me, practicality many times wins over looks! (This pyrex has a lid!)

Mom's Rhubarb Tart

1 c. shortening (I always use real butter in place of shortening)
2 c. flour
1 egg beaten, add milk to make 1/2 c.
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking powder

Mix ingredients together, add egg and milk and press dough into 9x13 pan.

4 cups rhubarb cut up
2 c. sugar (it's a lot, I know, but you need it to counteract the rhubarb's tartness!)
2 Tbsp flour
3 eggs

Beat eggs, add rhubarb, sugar, and flour. Mix well. Pour into prepared pan (on top of the dough).
Bake at 350 F for 1 hour.

As a note, Rhubarb can be somewhat expensive to buy in the average grocery store (if they even carry it). The best thing to do is to ask around and find a neighbor or family member with a big patch in their yard, or plant some of your own. Rhubarb is a perennial, so it will continue to grow and come back every year (as long as the harvest the first year is minimal). Eric threw some Rhubarb in our smoothie this morning along with our garden spinach and kale. Delicious!

Friday, May 24, 2013

To Live a Life of Joy

To live a life of joy, one must choose joy.

This morning was nothing less than rotten. 

My three-year-old couldn't handle life past 8 o'clock and spent the next five hours whining and crying and complaining and being a real bully to her sister (such as putting pots on her little baby head and then banging on it with metal spoons...). There were a lot of time outs, threats, and things taken away, which obviously didn't seem to help. 

I woke up this morning generally happy, although very cold (it would happen that the day after we install our A/C unit and put all the warm winter clothes away, the temps plummet back into the 40's....), picked spinach and kale from my garden, and made a delicious breakfast smoothie. After drinking my smoothie, my oldest began falling apart (it was now 8 o'clock, you see) and I received some extremely disappointing news that suddenly made me very very VERY angry. 

I'm pretty sure if you looked close enough, you would have seen smoke coming out of my ears. I was really angry.

And then in my anger, I realized that this holiday weekend, my husband is working, my grown siblings are with their significant others, and my parents and younger siblings (as well as my friends) are all out of town vacationing. Except me. I'm still here. All alone with my kids.

[cue the sad violin music]

So I put the baby down for her nap, took my whining and crying daughter into the bathroom with me, and proceeded to take a hot shower to calm down my nerves. It kind of worked, until I got out of the shower and saw that every square inch of the bathroom walls and ceiling were all dripping a thick brown goo... Apparently three washings of TSP is not enough to make the tar from smoke residue kick the bucket. More work for me later.

I got ready for the day and resolved to do everything in my power to forget why I'm angry and just try to cheer my oldest daughter up, but to no avail. She won't be cheered up. She WANTS to be mad! She refuses everything fun and instead wallows in her own self pity and despair. 

I do too. 

Because it's easy and I'm mad and let's all just act three years old, why don't we. 

And then my husband, who happens to be working from home today, comes out of his office and tells me that he wants us to stop buying foods with preservatives in them and that we should grind our own wheat (that is purchased, of course), bake our own bread, make our own pasta, eat from the garden, raise our own dairy goats and eat less meat. 

Who is this man and what did he do with my gummy worm loving husband?!?

Normally these words would be music to my ears. After all, I have been waiting for him to get excited about healthy eating and eating Real Food for a long, long, long time! But instead, deep down in my muddy pit of misery, all I hear is MORE WORK WORK WORK for me to do! And NO MORE BROWNIES FROM THE BOX!!! (Boxed brownies are the ONE AND ONLY thing I swear I can't give up. Brownies from the box are like heaven on a plate. They just can't be matched! Give them up?! Hells no!)

So I feebly say a shaky, "ok, I'll see what I can do," and am secretly relieved that we still have to finish what's already been purchased in our pantry before totally switching over. Although a second peek tells me that the brownies have already been baked. sigh. I will have to settle for the angel food cake. 

Then my baby, who is awake by now, starts choking on a big folded up sticker that she stuffed into her mouth. And after she is unclogged, my oldest starts whacking her on the head with a wooden spoon until she screams and I run in to rescue her.

And I dig down deeper still...

The funny thing is, that all the while I keep hearing in my head, over and over, "choose joy, choose joy, choose joy." Like a mantra that I am trying to keep out, but continues to float lightly back in. 

Choose joy. Choose joy. Choose joy. 

To appease the relentless voice of the (slightly annoying) God, I angrily prayed, "LORD! Just give me joy!"

But instead of a warm joyful feeling that might have hypothetically flooded my being, erasing all the rottenness of the morning and replacing all my horrid feelings with flowers and butterflies and general well being, instead He answered with the Truth. 

The very same Truth He had been prompting my heart with all morning. 

The truth is that He has already given it to me. 
Joy is one of the fruits that manifests itself when we choose to live and walk in the Spirit. 

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control." Galatians 5:22-23

But that's just it. We have to choose.

Paul continues on in Galatians to say, "Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit."

Just as I made the conscious choice to throw myself a miserable little pity party, I could have very easily made the opposite choice to walk in joy and thanksgiving instead.

May we not waste our days wallowing when Christ has created us for so much more! Our children will learn to live lives of joy by our own examples. 

So instead of wallowing in self pity, let's dance in joy instead. 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

I am happy when my hands are dirty

I am amazed by seeds.
A tiny insignificant little speck, becomes this. With the right amount of water, soil, and light. 

Normally, any plants that I am responsible for die within a few weeks of being in my care. Except for geraniums, for some odd reason. (I have had these crazy geraniums for five years now and I can't tell you how many times they have resurrected themselves from a sure death of neglect).

My garden, at the moment, is thriving. I have a feeling I was supposed to thin these plants out a little more than I did, but they seem ok at the moment. That's the beauty of this year being an experiment. I have no idea what I'm doing, so it's perfectly fine to make mistakes! At least they are edible mistakes!

This bed is a mix of lettuces, spinach, kale, arugula, tomatoes, eggplant, cilantro, carrots, and bush beans. Everything is doing well so far. I was a little leery of planting all these items in the same bed, but the research I did said it should work. We will know better by late June/July when the plants are much larger.

This cilantro is so flavorful! We eat a LOT of cilantro over here, and I don't think I have ever had any quite so good.

My husband, a sometimes salad person, LOVES my spinach. Honestly, it is delicious. I sometimes have a hard time with spinach unless it's in a smoothie, but I didn't even need salad dressing! Sweet and savory.

The bare looking spots in this bed are where slower growing plants are, such as carrots and eggplant. In a month this will probably be unrecognizable. The cage tops we built to keep out our crazy squirrels tilt off fairly easily. They also keep little baby fingers out of the greens as well. ;-)

Greens for salad every night, fresh from the garden.

The funniest thing about all of this is that 100 years or so ago, gardening was essential. All the common folk HAD to grow their own food. Either that or they starved. Now, growing your own food is almost a luxury, and has become more of a hobby than a way of life. With all of the processing and fertilizing and everything that is changing the food in our grocery stores these days, I count myself blessed to be able to have land in the city that I can grow food on and feed my family with. 

Even for someone who doesn't have any land, it is still possible to grow food indoors with the right amounts of light, or in a pot on a deck or windowsill! (We will be exploring this concept more once winter hits.) So grab a pot, or dig up that lonely patch of soil, and plant some future food! 

Happy gardening!