June 27, 2011

On Vacation!

Yep, we're at it again! This time we're going to Chicago and Milwaukee. I hope to write up a few posts while we're gone, so hold tight!

June 22, 2011

Unexpected Benefits

I've lost 8 pounds since February. Now, you might think that's no big deal, but let me elaborate. About 15 years ago, some weird things started happening to my body, including the gaining of a significant amount of weight. Just recently, I discovered that I have a hormone syndrome that not only caused the weight gain to start with, but it makes the extra weight more difficult to lose. In an even more cruel twist of fate, the extra weight makes the symptoms from the syndrome that caused it worse. I've tried to lose weight in various ways over the years, with little luck. So imagine my surprise when I started losing weight now.

A few interesting points to consider:
  • I have stopped buying lowfat/no-fat ingredients. Since starting this quest in February I have used only real butter, real sour cream, real yogurt and full fat cheese. I also stopped buying skim milk and started using 2%.  Cream and buttermilk are now kept in my refrigerator as every day ingredients.
  • I have not started any formal exercise routine. Any "new" exercise is in the form of walking more and working by hand more.
  • We eat out just about the same amount as we did before.
  • I have baked and eaten more bread, cookies and other baked goods since I started, but they have been almost exclusively homemade (by myself or someone else).
  • My consumption of packaged convenience food has dropped dramatically.
  • Since I'm buying locally raised fruits and veggies in season, they taste better and, therefore, I eat more of them.
Now, please remember that while I am a scientist, this is nowhere near a scientific study. It's purely anecdotal. I am not a doctor or nutritionist and am not in the business of advising anyone on how they should be eating.

Why, then, do I think I've lost weight when everyone is probably thinking I should have gained weight? Well, the extra exercise is certainly part of it. I also have been drinking a lot more water. The biggest thing, though, is that the homemade food is so much yummier that eating is a more complete experience. It's not something I do mindlessly to get to the next activity. The real ingredients are also more satisfying, so I don't feel like I need a second helping to reach satiation.

I don't have a current picture, but if the weight loss continues, as I expect it will as I keep adding even more physical activity and summer fruits and veggies become available, I'll add some progress pictures.

June 20, 2011

Recipe Review: Frittata by Giada De Laurentiis

One of my favorite spring crops is asparagus. Mostly, I either grill it or saute it, but sometimes I feel like doing something crazy. I'm a wild woman...So, a few weeks ago I tried this frittata by Giada De Laurentiis.

It turned out very yummy! The asparagus was tender and fresh and the tomato added just the right tang. And, of course, the fontina was perfect, but I've never had cheese *not* make something better. The only thing I would have preferred was garden fresh tomatoes, but they weren't available yet. I'll definitely make this again when tomatoes are in. I'll just use some of the asparagus I froze, fresh from the farm.

June 13, 2011

Living From Scratch 5th Birthday Party

My son loves Star Wars. I mean, obsessively, loves Star Wars. Now, I'm an admitted geek, so this is probably my fault. That means that when he requests a Star Wars Lego party, I'm the one who has to make it happen. Even before I started this living from scratch stuff, I was a fan of good ol', hangin' at home birthday parties. I love planning events and I think that it's a bit more customizable when it's at home. I also think it's a bit more frugal. I paid about the same for the entire 2.5 hour party, with food, cake, favors, goody bags and activities as I would have for 1.5-2 hours at any of the local places that give kids' parties. And that would not have included cake or goody bags. So, what did I do? Let me tell you.

The party took place in the afternoon, so no meal was necessary. We had fruit salad, veggies with hummus, pretzels, oatmeal raisin cookies and of course the crazy-cool cake. A friend of mine made the cake and it was as yummy as it was cool. She's in the southeastern Michigan area and if you're interested in seeing more of her amazing work, check out her Facebook page: The Cake Mistress. To drink the kids had water, juice, or "Yoda Soda" (lime sherbet and lemon-lime soda).

Since this was a Star Wars party, the activities all revolved around Jedi Training. First, the kids decorated plain white paper bags with Star Wars stickers and markers. This was for their "Jedi Awards". The first Jedi Test was their piloting skills. I still have some of the original Star Wars toys that I've had since the first trilogy came out in the 70's and 80's. The piloting test consisted of a simple obstacle course that kids ran one at a time while carrying my old school X-Wing Fighter. Next, they pinned the lightsaber on General Grievous. The large General Grievous picture was drawn by my friend and the lightsabers the kids pinned on were printed from the web and glued onto cardstock.

After battling Grievous the kids had to find the "Galactic Treasure" that Darth Vader had hidden in our yard. These were small bags of Legos that we hid in the yard. I bought a large assortment of Lego blocks (not a kit, just a random mix of bricks) and divided them evenly into small bags. The final test was the building of their lightsabers. These were pool noodles that I cut in half and then decorated with black and silver duct tape to make the hilts. The kids decorated them with stickers. If the kids were older, I would've had them do the whole project.

After each test, every child got a small prize. There were bubbles, Darth Vader pencils, the Lego bags, bouncy balls with stars and, of course, the "lightsabers". In addition, each child got a small bag with a few pieces of candy at the end of the party. The kids also got some time to play with each other. Crazy, right? I know, but, believe it or not, they were perfectly happy playing on their own without every second being scheduled.

We decided that we would do a gift exchange instead of a traditional "everyone bring a gift for the birthday boy". We talked to our son beforehand and he liked the idea of all his friends being able to get a gift at his party. I just made a note on the invitation and told people to bring a gently used toy or to stay under $10 for a new one. To determine in what order the kids would choose their gifts, we played "Hot Chewbacca". The kids passed around a Chewbacca action figure while Star Wars music played. Whoever had Chewbacca when the music stopped, chose the next gift. The kids then waited until everyone had their gift and everyone opened theirs at the same time. It was a huge hit! The kids loved being a bigger part of the gift giving and everyone had fun testing out their gifts at the end of the party.

All-in-all, I would say this party was a great time. The kids all seemed to enjoy themselves and since there wasn't a meal served, my prep time and clean-up were fairly minimal.

Now it's time to start planning my baby's 1st birthday party in October!

June 8, 2011

Traditional Foods

The meaning of traditional varies widely from person to person. It can be personal, family or cultural. I'm trying to learn more about foods that are traditional to my family (canned pickles and veggies, for instance) and to the early American culture. There are people out there who follow the paleo or "caveman" diet. Others follow diets more closely resembling the early pioneers. If you are a traditional foodie-what is your tradition? Do you cook like Ma Ingalls or one of our native ancestors? Or do you cook foods from your family's homeland? I'm truly curious, because there are so many ways of thinking out there that everyone who says they are eating "traditionally" could be eating something completely different. And that intrigues me.

Traditional diets are so important. Overwhelming anthropological and anecdotal evidence shows that a traditional (or indigenous or native) diet, ANY native diet, is better than the western diet that most of us Americans eat every single day. The Masai of Africa survive on meat, blood and milk. There are Scandinavian cultures who, traditionally, ate little but yak and lichens. Other groups survive on fish. They are all healthier eating those diets than anyone eating a western diet, even a "healthy" western diet. It makes one think...and it makes one question any plate, pyramid or other diagram the government puts out there to advise me on my eating habits. But, I digress. I'm planning a much longer post on this subject for some other time, so for now, let's just say I'm curious about native diets and which ones are still alive and kicking in these oh-so-modern times.

If you have a good traditional food story, please share it with me. I might even share it in a future blog post!

June 3, 2011

Garlic Infused Olive Oil

I must confess that I use garlic in just about everything. I love the flavor it adds to food. I also use olive oil almost exclusively for my cooking fat. It's flavorful and healthy. Making some olive oil infused with my favorite flavor only makes sense. The oil is simple to make. Pour some oil into a non-reactive bottle and add as many cracked garlic cloves as you'd like. I added about one head's worth to a pint of olive oil. I let the oil sit for several days. Then I pulled out the cloves. Now I have flavorful, healthy oil to saute my veggies!

June 1, 2011

The Bounty of Spring

Well, it's been a stormy, wet and cold spring here in Michigan, but, even so, the crops are slowly starting to come in. My two favorites of spring are asparagus and rhubarb. They are fresh and springy and beautiful. They signify the return of life to these northern climes.

This asparagus came from a local grower, Long's Orchard. The asparagus will be available for another couple of weeks and then they will have strawberries.  We bought 8 pounds. Some we've cooked fresh and the rest I prepped for freezing. To freeze asparagus, blanch it very quickly in boiling water and then plunge it into ice water to stop the cooking process. I froze some whole and some pre-chopped. If you are in the area, head over to Long's. If you have an asparagus grower near you, check them out. I've found that Long's on-site prices are about half what I have paid to other growers at the farmer's market. Which is understandable, since they're paying for transportation and stall fees, but I'll take the better price every time!

This small batch of rhubarb is from my own little patch. My first successful harvest of 2011! I will be transplanting the rhubarb soon, as it needs more sun than it's getting. Even though the harvests are a wee bit puny at the moment, there is still a great feeling of accomplishment when you're eating food that you grew right outside your door.

Now that it's finally getting warmer, we can look forward to an abundance of fruit and veggies, but these first of the year are always some of my favorites!
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