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Archive for the ‘Cooking’ Category

HOMEGROWN Life: Planning a Baby Food Garden

Friday, January 30th, 2015

 

HOMEGROWN-LIFE-MAGENTAMuch like the Loch Ness Monster and Bigfoot, “extra” time and space don’t seem to exist. Even so, I apparently decided to fill both of those “extras” with a new baby! That’s right, we’ll be saying hello to a new little girl come spring—and saying goodbye to our so-called spare room and spare time.

That means, in the middle of winter, I’m trapped inside and in full nesting mode. As I may have mentioned before, winter is NOT my favorite season. In fact, it’s not even in my top three. Therefore, I’ve spent much of my time insisting the house isn’t clean enough, making the kids schlep furniture from one room to the next, pouring candles, cooking, and planning my new garden. Generally, I’ve been making everyone around me insane.

We moved into this house a little late last season to get planting, so I’ve been putting a lot of attention toward it this year—you know, the obsessive type of attention pregnant women tend to excel at.

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As soon as I found out I was pregnant, I knew I wanted to feed this baby as organically and naturally as possible, including breastfeeding (my first time) and making baby food. That includes growing many of the veggies I’ll use in her meal prep—in other words, a baby food garden. This took a bit of advanced planning, as she won’t start eating food until next winter.

For starters, our garden this year will be an ambitious 1,500 square feet, larger than I’ve had previously. I’m committed to growing what I can preserve and what I know the family will eat. After combing through my seed catalogs and the very few baby cookbooks I could find, I’ve decided to plant a wide variety of flowers and produce, focusing on veggies I can freeze in bulk. This means lot of peas and carrots, beans, berries, and squash of all types. Here’s my full order for 2015:

  • Blauhilde beans (purple)
  • Dragon Tongue beans (yellow)
  • Sunset and Streamline runner beans (green)
  • Envy edamame
  • Oxheart and Lunar white carrots
  • Chicago pickling cucumbers
  • Garden huckleberries
  • Cherry Vanilla quinoa
  • Cimarron and Butter King lettuce
  • Southport and Wethersfield onions
  • Little Marvel peas
  • Lilac Bell and Etuida peppers
  • Giant Nobel spinach
  • Fordhook zucchini
  • Jersey Giant (red) and Cream Sausage (white) tomatoes
  • Strawberry watermelon
  • Country Gentleman sweet corn
  • Early Prolific straight squash
  • Genovese basil
  • Rosemary
  • Stinging nettle
  • Valerian
  • Yarrow
  • Chamomile
  • Cumin
  • Echinacea
  • Lavender
  • Fennel
  • Dill
  • Parsley
  • Oregano
  • Thyme
  • Sage

Over the next year, I’ll post tips that I think other new natural moms might find helpful. Here’s my first one: When planning your garden, don’t forget herbs for Baby! Although infants’ initial diets may seem simplistic and made up exclusively of those things listed above, and although we tend to think of baby food as bland, especially because canned baby food is so boring, it doesn’t have to be.

You can start with the mildest herbs, introducing those one at a time so you can gauge your baby’s reaction. Then you can move on to bigger and bolder flavors; for example, mixing mint into lamb and peas. Do proceed with caution if allergies are prevalent in your family, as some herbs and spices—such as cinnamon, fennel, and paprika—can bring on allergic reactions. Even the most simplistic of purées will welcome some herbs and spices, and your baby will develop a taste for more adventuresome foods as he or she grows.

Did you know that around five months in utero babies begin to foster a taste for certain familiar foods? That means if you want your child to develop a natural predilection for healthy choices, you might start (or continue) eating that way during your pregnancy. This has not been an easy task for a picky eater who may or may not be writing this post, but I’d really like my little one to enjoy a wide variety of veggies, so I’m going to grin and bear the green beans. It will serve as a good guilt-trip story in the future when she refuses to eat something I’ve made.

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In addition to her diet, I’m also committed to selecting the most responsible and environmentally conscious baby products I can find for my household. I’m glad I started early because, frankly, it’s all a bit more overwhelming than I remember. My son is 10, and my daughter is 16, so there’s a wide age gap. I never thought I would be picking out baby stuff again, so after my second pregnancy, I promptly purged my brain of any relevant info. What’s that I hear? Never say never?

Luckily, the Internet is here to save the day, with a wide selection of sites comparing all kinds of products, including diapers. I was shocked to learn Americans throw away an average of 49 MILLION disposable diapers a day, one of the largest contributions to landfills. These diapers can be full of harmful chemicals, including polyethylene and petroleum, and even more staggering is that they take an estimated 200 to 500 years to decompose.

With so many terms to learn (bleach-free, cruelty-free, wood pulp-, dye-, and latex-free, all with varying degrees of biodegradability), it’s a lot to ponder. I also wanted to be practical and take into account ease of purchasing, just in case of an emergency run, as well as price and my family’s priorities. I spent a good deal of time considering cloth diapers, as well, and compared available services. In the end, I ended up selecting a disposal brand I could purchase locally that uses sustainable materials and is largely biodegradable, cruelty-free, and free of dyes and toxins.

As with anything in this HOMEGROWN life, we all make decisions that are best for our family and try to make decisions that are also best for the Earth. If I can raise a few more responsible, earth-loving humans, I’ll know I’ve done something right. Someday my 72 hours of diaper research will pay off!

MORE BABY-FRIENDLY FOOD IDEAS

  • Don’t miss the Homemade Baby Food 101, full of the HOMEGROWN flock’s collective wisdom!
  • If you haven’t perused HOMEGROWN’s Earth Mamas and Papas parenting group, give it a gander!
  • If you’re thinking about planting your own baby food garden, check out the Garden Planning 101. Good luck and keep us posted!

Michelle WireHOMEGROWN-life-michelle comes from pioneer stock: Her great-grandmother literally wrote the book. It’s this legacy, in part, that led Michelle to trade in her high-stress life for a Pennsylvania homestead where she holds down a full-time gig in between raising kids and chickens.

PHOTOS: MICHELLE WIRE

 

HOMEGROWN Life: Shaking Off a DIY Fail

Wednesday, January 21st, 2015

 

HOMEGROWN-LIFE-LT-GREENI’m a self-conscious chef. In an effort to minimize disasters, I seek out recipes with clear, step-by-step instructions that leave little room for interpretation. And anytime I try something new in the kitchen, I make sure my roommate is on standby as my frontline taste tester. She’s usually happy to oblige, but every so often, she gets stuck with a burnt or undercooked creation.

This was one of those times.

Over the holidays, with so many other things going on, I thought I’d stick to a baking project I couldn’t mess up. Cupcakes. In a past life (OK, a not-so-distant two summers ago), I worked in a bakery and became something of a cupcake connoisseur. No style, design, or flavor fazed me. If I had a recipe, I could make it happen.

Just to mix things up a little bit, I thought I’d try making my own food coloring. I loved the idea of knowing exactly what I was smearing on my cupcakes—no weird chemicals or fake stuff, just ingredients I had selected myself. As I trolled the Internet for tips, with visions of festive red and green icing dancing in my head, I figured this would be a low-stress challenge.

Before long, I came across a blog detailing the necessary ingredients for mixing both red and green dye, but the lists were long and full of powders I wasn’t sure I could pronounce, much less afford or locate in a store. I sifted through other recipes until I found one that made natural dyes seem even easier than I’d thought: spinach juice for green and pomegranate or beet juice for red. Sounds simple, right?

Pomegranate juice is easy to find fairly cheap. I grabbed a bottle for $1.50—on sale that week, too, so it had to be fate. Spinach juice proved a bit trickier. I saw some online, but the price tag was steep, and I didn’t think waiting a week or so for it to arrive seemed practical.

Without a juicer or any knowledge of juicing, I decided I would try to liquefy spinach. I turned to my little food processor, my trustiest friend in the kitchen, thinking it could get the job done. After repeated dicing, chopping, and grinding, I was left with a murky green liquid that resembled algae or moss—in other words, not something you would willingly eat, let alone consider a treat.

homegrown-life-homemade-food-coloring-spinach

 

Next I tried mixing some of the sludge into my buttercream. The result: soggy white syrup flecked with green chunks. Needless to say, I couldn’t get my roommate to try it.

Zero for one, I held onto the hope that red icing would be easier. Who needs green, after all, when red is the color of Santa hats and candy canes? The pomegranate juice I had was already in liquid form, so turning it into icing should be as easy as stirring.

I added a few drops of juice to my buttercream and starting mixing. Nothing.

After dumping in a whole tablespoon of juice, the icing began to take on the palest pink tinge. My faith renewed, I dumped in another tablespoon of juice.

Hm. Still pink.

HOMEGROWN-life-homemade-food-coloring-icing

 

Yet another tablespoon in, the icing was slightly darker—though not quite red—but also extremely runny. I tried to spread it onto a cupcake, but it was too soupy to apply with a knife. I thought moving the icing to the fridge for a while might thicken up the consistency, but that was a lost cause, as well. The cupcakes looked like they had spent a 90-degree day in the trunk of a car. My roommate took a tentative taste and gave the flavor a thumbs-up, but she advised me not to take the cupcakes out into the world, where they would be subjected to ridicule.

I had to agree.

homegrown-life-homemade-food-coloring-cupcake

 

They say food is all about presentation, and in that respect, these cupcakes definitely failed. They’re the kind of thing I would usually hide in the back of my fridge rather than show off, but here they are now, in all their glory, on the Internet. To me, it’s a reminder that not everything you make will look or taste like the pristine examples you see in glossy magazines or on tastefully photographed blogs.

Sometimes we fail, whether through a flawed recipe or our own lack of skill. And you know what? It doesn’t matter one bit. You tried. You gave a shot. Maybe you made something edible, even if it’s not pretty. Hey, a laugh can be as much of a bonding experience—probably more—as sharing a fussed-over snack with a friend. The point is the experiment itself, in rolling with the punches and trying again.

homegrown-life-homemade-food-coloring-closeup

 

Or not. Red food coloring is one project I’m happy to leave to the pros. Valentine’s is coming up before long, and what says, “I love you,” like homemade pink icing?

amandaNortheastern University student Amanda Hoover spent her fall semester interning for HOMEGROWN and Farm Aid. She is an amazing baker (don’t miss her 101s on homemade Nutella, biscotti, and peanut butter cups), in addition to being an awfully good sport. Thanks for sharing your hits and your misses, Amanda!

ALL PHOTOS: AMANDA HOOVER

 

ICYMI: The Top HOMEGROWN Posts of 2014 (AKA Inspiration for 2015!)

Wednesday, December 31st, 2014

 

Don’t worry. We understand if you didn’t spend every waking minute of 2014 hunched over the computer, drumming your fingers and waiting for the next HOMEGROWN 101 to post. You’re busy! You’ve got actual stuff to do, from tending the garden (not to mention the kids, pets, and livestock) to making breakfast to fashioning bird feeders from Mason jars. We get it. Your get-it-doneness is why we love you!

But just in case you were wondering what your fellow DIYers were reading while you were off crafting, baking, and planting, we’ve rounded up the top five HOMEGROWN posts from 2014 in a few different categories—plus some fun stuff to look forward to. Here’s to finding inspiration for a whole new year of doing in 2015!

HOMEGROWNpallethenhouse1011

Top 5 shiny new 101s of 2014:

  1. Sue’s Pallet Wood Chicken Coop 101
  2. Andrea’s Wine Bottle Wind Chimes 101
  3. Joe’s Fermented Chili Paste 101
  4. Cynthia’s Homemade Bone Broth 101
  5. Jessie’s Common Garden Pests 101—and how to fight ‘em!

HOMEGROWNgrowinglettuce101lettuces

Oldies but goodies! Top 5 archived 101s in 2014:

  1. Jennifer’s Drying Chili Peppers 101
  2. Camas’s Buying a Whole Pig 101
  3. Back to basics: Hoop Houses 101
  4. Lauren’s Duck House 101 (Don’t miss her Raising Ducks 101!)
  5. Lucy’s Growing Lettuce 101

ChocolateSwirlSweetPotatoPie2

Top 5 HOMEGROWN blog posts of 2014:

  1. Rachel’s pros and cons of tiny house living
  2. The Skills Tent Schedule at Farm Aid 2014—now with photos!
  3. The United States of Thanksgiving, HOMEGROWN-Style, with apologies to The New York Times
  4. Rachel’s big-batch granola recipe (This woman is a HOMEGROWN machine!)
  5. Dyan’s ode to fall cooking—and eating

Coming up next: a few inspiring—and totally doable—food resolutions for 2015. Stay tuned to HOMEGROWN.org! And happy HOMEGROWN New Year, you guys!