April 30, 2011

April 29, 2011

Book Review: The Simple Living Guide by Janet Luhrs

This is the book that started it all for me. I read it for the first time years ago and it was the first time I realized that there was another way to live and that people were doing it right here under my nose! For me, it's an inspirational and enlightening book much more than an actual guide (despite it's name). I get lots of ideas, lots of food for thought but there's not really instructions on how to do DIY projects or cooking. It has chapters on love and dating, finances, children and much more. If you're even a bit interested in the simpler life, see if you can find a copy. I go back to mine every so often when I need a bit of a reminder as to why I'm doing all of this. After all, living the simple life sure can be hard work!

April 28, 2011

Pumpkin Praline Muffins

I don't know about you, but I find a muffin to be the perfect breakfast food. It's yummy. It's portable (essential when trying to get people out the door in the morning). It's easy to make. Here's a delicious pumpkin muffin from Family Fun magazine. The pumpkin and whole wheat flour make them a bit healthier than some muffins and if you want to cut down the fat, throw the pecans into the batter and forget about the topping. Not exactly praline if you go that route, but still good eatin', I'm sure.


Pumpkin Praline Muffins
Makes 1 dozen
Ingredients
Praline Topping
  •  3 Tablespoons butter, cut into pieces
  • 1/3 cup flour
  •  3 Tablespoons light brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped pecans
Muffin Batter
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2/3 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1/3 cup molasses
  • 1/3 cup oil
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Directions
1. Combine all the topping ingredients in a small bowl and use your fingers to rub them into a crumbly topping. Set it aside. Heat the oven to 400 ˚ and grease the bottoms only of 12 standard muffin cups.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together both flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, pumpkin pie spice and salt. In a medium bowl, whisk together the pumpkin, molasses, oil, eggs, milk and vanilla. Stir the pumpkin mixture into the dry mixture just until blended.

3. Divide the batter among the muffin cups and sprinkle on the praline topping. Bake the muffins for 15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of one comes out clean. Let the muffins cool in the pan on a wire rack for 5 to 10 minutes before removing them.

 

April 27, 2011

Shortcuts: Cuban Sandwich Pockets

First of all, you are aware of my preference for good ol' "from scratch" foods. However, now and then, I use a shortcut. There is nothing healthy about a crescent roll out of a can. I can't think of a single redeeming feature, nutritionally or ecologically speaking. But, they taste really yummy and, sometimes, in a moment of weakness, they jump into my cart. And, let's face it, they are much simpler to use than trying to make your own, although I do hope to give it a try sometime soon (just the term "butter packet" makes it sound intriguing).

Anyway, this is a recipe I dreamed up because I wanted a cuban sandwich. It's only a cuban sandwich in the loosest sense (it has ham and pickles), but it satisfied my craving and was quick to make.


Crescent Cuban Pockets
Ingredients
  • canned crescent rolls
  • ham
  • pickles (I used Tony Packo's sweet hots, because I love them)
  • cheese (Swiss is traditional but I used cheddar since I had it on hand)
 Traditional cubans also use roast pork, but I didn't have any. If you do, put it in too; it will really add to the flavor.

Directions
  • Unroll the crescents and separate into 4 small rectangles. Pinch the seams closed.
  • On each rectangle, place your desired ratio of meat, cheese and pickles.
  • Fold the rectangle over and pinch closed.
  • Bake on an ungreased baking sheet according to the directions on your brand of crescent rolls.

April 26, 2011

Screen Free Week Wrap-Up


© Copyright ceridwen and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
I'm sure you're all waiting on pins and needles to hear about how screen-free week went. It actually went really well. I expected the four year-old to have problems, but he didn't. Not once. He didn't ask for a cartoon, he didn't beg to watch a movie. And, when he saw me flip on the TV to check on some recordings, he reminded me that we weren't watching TV during screen-free week. One of the keys was that we had quite a few things planned that took us out of the house, but even when we were just hanging around at home, he found things to entertain himself or he brought out games for us to play.

I probably had a harder time than others in the house. As a stay-at-home mom, I often flip the TV on for company while the kids nap or while I'm working around the house. There were times when I felt lonely. I tried the radio, but it wasn't quite the same. It's not to say I couldn't do it; it just required more getting used to than I expected it to.

Overall, I felt like this was a great activity. I've always tried to limit our screen time, and will continue to do so. I don't see us going completely screen free for our entertainment, but this definitely reaffirms my belief that we can always find something else to do. As spring finally gets rolling here in Michigan (I hope) we'll be spending more and more time outside, so it should get easier to limit our screen time. Then, by the time the dark months of winter roll around, we'll be used to finding other things to do as our default reaction instead of hitting the power button.

April 25, 2011

Local Product: Creo Chips

I have a confession to make...I am addicted to Karen Attard's Creo Chips. One morning a few years ago, I innocently went over to one of our local farmer's markets. There was a woman with a table and a festive umbrella...she had homemade tortilla chips in an array of flavors. I took home "Secret Recipe" and "Dirty Suzy's" (which are cinnamon and sugar) and the family was hooked immediately! I will venture out in almost any weather to restock. I was pregnant last summer and we were gone on a rather long road trip at one point, so I did not get a sufficient amount of chips. This summer will be different! Anyway, I asked Karen a few questions about her business and her yummy chips, and here's what she said.



What inspired you to make your own chip's?
Initially I just made these for myself. Nachos are one of my favorite meals but I couldn’t find a brand of chips that I liked more than the homemade ones I was experimenting with. After a few years my friends and family began requesting bags for their own dinners and family parties… that’s when I knew there was a need in the marketplace for a product I created! Hoping to make some extra money I began selling my product at farmer’s markets in the Walled Lake area and things have only grown from there.

How do you decide what flavors to make?
I started with Secret Recipe and Dirty Suzy (named after a friend and early supporter of Creo). Now my best inspiration for new flavors comes from my clients; current flavors include: Garlic Breath, Cajun Kick, Kasey’s Crunch, Splendid Suzy, Senor Slim-ez and Slim-e Jim-ez. I also make tostadas and various other flavors by special request.

How often do you make chips? How many do you make at a time?
I’m approaching my 6th year at the Walled Lake Farmer’s Market (every Wednesday May-October) and 5th year of distribution through Great Harvest Bread Company on Maple Road in Commerce. This sales knowledge allows me to estimate the demand at each of my new markets, which currently include: South Lyon (Wednesdays), Pontiac & Milford (Thursdays). Clients are welcome to visit my Facebook page to suggest flavors or find more information on market locations and times.

What chips are my favorite?
This is an easy one for me! My personal favorites are Garlic Breath, Kasey’s Crunch and Senor Slim-ez.

How do you think the "eat local" movements benefits you & your local area?
I really enjoy working the local Farmer’s Markets because it allows me to get to know my customer base – something very important when developing and bringing a new product to the marketplace. As I’ve said before, my clients are my best source of inspiration and I love hearing all the different ways they are incorporating Creo Chips into their meals: baking or frying chicken in an egg and Garlic Breath batter or using this flavor as a chili topping; dusting baked fish with crumbled up Cajun Kick, Dirty Suzie’s on top of ice cream; pulled pork over a bed of Kasey’s Crunch (as sampled at Tanglewood restaurant in South Lyon).

On a larger scale, I saw an article a few years ago in Hour Detroit magazine that if we all spent $10/week on Michigan products we could collectively put $36 million back into the state’s economy. Not only does it benefit us as a community to financially support locally owned businesses, health-wise buying local means you and your family are not ingesting as many preservatives and chemicals that many larger food companies use. Plus, frequenting a local farmer’s market allows residents to connect with their neighbors while purchasing a variety of items; veggies, home baked bread, flowers and of course Creo Chips!


The name Creo means “I believe” in Spanish. I thought of the name while out walking one afternoon with my oldest daughter Lindsay. Creo Chips has been a passion of mine for the last six years and its because of your belief in me and my products that I’m able to continue producing these chips.






Need ideas for dinner?
Let me help!


Hosting or attending a party?
Let me help!


Looking for an extraordinary gift?
Let me help!


Believe in Michigan?
Let me help!

And as always… Thank you, I appreciate your business
~Karen Attard

I urge you to stop by one of the markets and grab some chips. I think you'll be addicted, too!

April 18, 2011

Going Dark this Week


Like I posted last week, my family is going to be participating in Screen Free Week 2011 which runs today through Sunday, April 24th. Screen Free Week is an event designed to unplug our families from entertainment media. I still plan on checking my email twice a day and legitimate work still needs to get done, but using the computer, TV or handheld devices to entertain ourselves is out for the next week. I'm thinking of it like a cleansing fast. Once we realize we don't need the constant stimulation, we'll be much better prepared for limiting screen time in the future. Now, I debated with myself for quite awhile about what to do with the blog. Should I do a week's worth of posts in advance and have them post as usual? Should I spend some time every evening recapping the days' activities? Or should I just take a break for the week? I decided to do exactly that. It seemed hypocritical to tell you to shut off the screens and then post articles that I expected you to read on a screen. So, Living From Scratch will return on Monday, April 25th. I will recap some of the non-screen activities that we enjoyed throughout the week and, of course, I have a recipe or two just waiting to be shared!

For more information on Screen Free Week check out their website.


 

April 15, 2011

Wild Chef: Holland, MI

Wild Chef is an independent Japanese steak house in Holland, Michigan. I've been there twice and have been impressed both times. The chefs are as talented as any you would find at the well-known teppenyaki restaurants. There are moments of impressive fire and utensil tricks, but what really matters is that the food is excellent. The fried rice is some of the best I've ever had and the shrimp appetizer is delicious. Their sushi and miso soup is wonderful. As my entree, I had their yakiniku, a marinated beef, and really enjoyed it. I also enjoyed a glass of some of the best plum wine I've ever tried (they sell it by the bottle, as well).

If you're in Holland for the Tulip Festival, or any other time, check out Wild Chef. It's right on 131, so it's easy to find (just look for the red triangles on top of the small strip they're in). I think you'll really like the combination of theatrics and delicious food. If you've never been to a Japanese steak house, you'll love the experience! And maybe, like my son, the chopsticks.

April 14, 2011

Living From Scratch with Kids

I've had people ask me how I have time for all these projects while being at home with my kids. The most significant part of the answer is that I involve them (well, not the six month-old so much). My four year-old loves to help crack eggs while I'm baking. He comes outside with me while I work in the yard, and, if there's a chance to get dirty, he is eager to help. We talk about the choices we make and why we make them. He knows the difference between healthy food and treats (although healthy has a pretty broad definition in his mind). When we shop and he asks for a toy, we talk about the difference between wants and needs. As long as these discussions happen on his level and don't become lectures, he is receptive and as understanding as  a four year-old could be. I feel that it's important to talk with him now so that he grows up knowing these things and that he doesn't ever feel like we sprung a huge lifestyle change on him when he's older.

Remember, also, that part of living from scratch, is living in the moment-living deliberately. That means that whenever I take a break from a project to play Go Fish or color with my son I am living from scratch. Being present, listening and staying involved with my sons (and everyone else in my life) is more important that any of the projects I'm doing. Honestly, those things are more important than any projects anyone is doing. In the end, the time you spend with people will be remembered and appreciated so much more than anything else.


April 13, 2011

Next Week is Screen Free Week

My family plans on participating in TV Turnoff Week, April 18th-24th. I have some ideas for fun activities that will get us out enjoying the community. Are you going to do anything for the week? Will you be trying to spend less time with a screen? Let me know what your family is going to be doing next week!

SCREEN-FREE WEEK is Proudly Endorsed by the Media Education Foundation from Media Education Foundation on Vimeo.

April 12, 2011

Tuesday Tips and Tidbits: Upcycling Produce Bags

I'm sure we're all familiar with those pesky plastic mesh bags that many places sell onions and other produce in. If you wad one up into a ball or tie it into a large knot, it makes a great little scrubby for your harder cleaning jobs. It's soft enough that it won't scratch (most surfaces anyway, always test if you're not sure), but it will give you a little extra power for some of those stubborn stains, especially in sinks or tubs. If you're super crafty and ambitious you can make this crocheted scrubby from Mrs. Greene.

April 11, 2011

Mushroom Brie Bruschetta

Sometimes I play around in the kitchen. This often leads to snacks or meals that I would love to share with you, but are not really recipes. Sometimes I make something really wonderful and then I never succeed in recreating it. Hopefully, the more of those I post here, the fewer I will lose to recesses of my brain. Anyway, this is one of those "not really a recipe" recipes. It's just sort of an idea. Change it in any way you want to make it yummy for you and yours!


Mushroom Brie Bruschetta
Saute a variety of mushrooms in a combination of olive oil and butter. Throw in some onions, garlic and whatever mix of herbs sound good to you (I used a bit of rosemary). When the mushrooms are beautifully brown and soft, put a slice of brie (or any soft cheese that you enjoy) on a piece of toasted bread (I used some of my home made sourdough) and spoon the mushroom mixture on top. This is a simple and delicious snack or light meal. Enjoy!

April 9, 2011

Wordless Weekend: A Handmade Spring

April 8, 2011

Book Review: Organic Housekeeping by Ellen Sandbeck


I figured, since we started talking about cleaning yesterday, that this would be a perfect time to review this book. It's a really good source for tips and hints about cleaning without a lot of chemicals. It has chapters that deal with organization, the kitchen, bathroom. bedroom, laundry, general cleaning, indoor air quality, miscellaneous (safety, automotive care, home maintenance, etc) and your garden. While there are tips about how to clean items, there are also tips on what items to buy to make cleaning easier to start with. The book also explains some of the different chemicals that may be in the materials you buy and how they can affect you and your family.

Overall, this is a good book to get you started on the path of natural cleaning. There's not a basic cleaning job that's not covered in this book and most of the materials you need you probably already have. If you don't, you will be able to find them easily.

If you're not sure about natural cleaning methods, check this book out of your local library, try out a few of the tips and then decide whether or not you would benefit from your very own copy.

April 7, 2011

Spring Cleaning from Scratch


Well, it's that time of year, time to clean and refresh the living space after a long, closed-up winter. I have three cats and two small children, so the idea of having harsh chemicals coating the surfaces of our house is not appealing to me. Most of them could be much more harmful than the grime I'm using them on and, really,  they're just unnecessary. My great-grandmother lived a very long life and most of it was spent without the use of these chemicals that so many feel are essential to our existence these days. In addition to being unnecessary and possibly toxic, the increased chemical use is causing bacteria and viruses to develop stronger defenses against the chemicals which results in even stronger and harsher chemicals being developed and sold to the public. Seems like a never ending cycle in which the only winner is the companies that are selling the chemicals.

I'm also not a fan of many of the "green" cleaning products on the market. First of all, many of them are not green at all. They're manufactured in unsustainable ways or they have the same harsh chemicals as conventional cleaners, but they have been deemed "organic" due to their source. The company then throws the word green on the label and charges a higher price for the same old stuff. Not cool. And, not necessary.

So, what is a girl to do? Well, there are certainly options. Check out Seventh Generation's products or some of Trader Joe's cleaning products. Read the labels. If you can pronounce and recognize the items on the list as natural products (i.e. lemon oil, orange oil, baking soda) you're probably ok. You can also make your own. Making your own is going to be the cheapest and easiest option. Baking soda and vinegar is a wonderful "go-to" combination. Washing soda or borax are other inexpensive products that will boost your cleaning power.

If you want to get started with some natural cleaning products check out Tipnut. They have a ton of wonderful, reader-submitted recipes for cleaning solutions.

Give a few DIY cleaners a try. I think you'll find that they're easy to make and inexpensive. In addition, your house will smell fresh and homey; with no chemical odor. Always a plus!

April 6, 2011

Cinco Lagos: Milford, Michigan

Ok, again, I apologize for the lack of pictures. We went to Cinco Lagos on the same day we went to The Burger Joint. Since the camera battery died without a single picture being taken...well, you understand.

I really like Cinco Lagos. I've been there twice and made sure to try a couple different items. I've had the roasted chile relleno and the tres sopes. Both were fresh and tasty. The pork belly in the tres sopes was especially delicious and the roasted chile rellano was really complex and full of flavor. My husband enjoyed his fajitas and we all loved the bread pudding and banana-changa (a banana and almond paste deep fried in a tortilla with a chocolate dipping sauce). My four year old stuck with his old standby, the cheese quesadilla, but he had no complaints and was happy to share the dessert! Not only is this a local restaurant but Chef Brian Polcyn is diligent about sourcing everything locally as often as possible. If you're looking for a bit more upscale take on Mexican cuisine, but still want to stay local, visit Cinco Lagos on Main Street in Milford, Michigan!

April 5, 2011

Tuesday Tips and Tidbits: JW Westcott Company

Michigan is the only place in the world with a floating post office. The J.W. Westcott II is the only boat in the world that delivers mail to ships while they are still underway. They have been operating for 125 years.

JW Westcott Company

April 4, 2011

Gussied Up Big Game Food

Well, as most of you know, there's some sort of big deal sporting event on tonight. For those of you that don't know (lucky!), tonight is the final game of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament. You know, that "March Madness" that everyone keeps talking about. I will admit I'm not a huge sports girl, but I love sports parties. They're laid back and focus on the game. Therefore, the hosts are under no pressure to entertain. My favorite part of hosting a party (besides seeing my wonderful friends and family) is the cooking. How I love to make a million dishes and spread them all over my house! I'm not hosting a party for this particular game (as a matter of fact, I'm on a family getaway with some dear friends of ours) but here's a dish that will add a flair to any game day buffet.


Crispy Potatoes with Bleu Cheese, Scallions and BBQ Sour Cream
You can make this for any number of people. Figure on about 1 medium potato per person.
Ingredients:
  • potatoes, sliced thin (If you're in a pinch for time just use some good, crunchy kettle chips)
  • oil for frying
  • sour cream
  • BBQ sauce (I actually used a BBQ rub from Pampered Chef)
  • scallions, sliced thin
  • bleu cheese
  • salt
  • pepper
Directions:
  • Mix the sour cream and BBQ sauce (I used about 1/4 cup sour cream and 2 TBSPs of rub. Just wing it until you like the ratio).
  • Fry the potato slices in a bit of olive oil (just enough to cover the bottom of the pan) until they reach your desired level of crispiness and brownness.
  • Remove potatoes from pan, blot off any extra oil.
  • Layer potatoes on serving platter and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  • Top with bleu cheese, scallions and sour cream. Serve warm or at room temperature.





The beauty of these is their absolute versatility. Don't like bleu cheese? Use cheddar. Want some meat? Add some bacon. Not a fan of BBQ? Use regular sour cream or ranch dressing. You can make these completely your own! Enjoy!

April 1, 2011

Recipe Review: Three by Andrew Zimmern

by Gary Soup on Flickr
Any of you that are familiar with Andrew Zimmern and his popular Travel Channel show, "Bizarre Foods", probably got a little nervous reading that title! Never fear, these are three yummy, accessible recipes made with every day ingredients that have some international flair.

Over the past two weeks, I have made Andrew's Lamb Hand Pies, Korean Fried Chicken Fingers and Best Beef Stew. All three were delicious! The real test, of course, is my four year-old son. He gave the dishes an enthusiastic thumbs-up! Well, not literally, but he cleaned his plate and that is definitely a "thumbs-up" in his world!

I made the hand pies and chicken fingers as written in the links above. The chicken fingers took a bit of time, but the double frying technique was well worth it. They were wonderfully crunchy and delicious! Now, the beef stew required a bit of adjusting. First, unless I misread the recipe I printed from the website, it didn't mention when to add the garlic. I realized that while the beef was browning and threw it in then. I used a dark oatmeal stout beer brewed here in Michigan (we're not beer drinkers so I chose one that will be awesome made into beer bread).  I didn't have all the herbs for the bouquet garni, so I made do with the ones I did have and, finally, I didn't have red wine vinegar, so I used balsamic. The stew was wonderful, even if I didn't do it exactly as written. And that, my friends, is the beauty of cooking from scratch. You can substitute ingredients or adjust cooking styles to suit your time, family and kitchen.

Give these a try. I really think you'll like any one of them and it might just open up a whole new world of flavor for you and yours!

PS-If anyone associated with "Bizarre Foods" ever reads this, know that I would do just about anything (within legal and moral limits, of course) to accompany Andrew on one of his expeditions. Food traditions and traditional diets may be the most important factor in saving our health and improving the health of our planet. I would love to experience them in a truly authentic way. Whew, shameless groveling complete...
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