Figures!

Well, after my last post lamenting my breadmaking woes, the bread I made later that day actually turned out quite well. It turned out so well that we ate an entire loaf of bread in two days! Ryan was even impressed and gave me several compliments on how good it was (in between bites!). Here’s what I changed: I added a bit more water so the dough was a little bit stickier than usual and then I let the dough rise for a few extra hours- so I gave it about six/seven hours to rise instead of the usual four or so. I think extending the rise time helped lighten the loaf so it wasn’t as dense as it has been in the past.

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Strawberry Bliss

Feeding Myla in the middle of the strawberry field

We finally made it to a strawberry patch over the weekend! I’ve been itching to make homemade jam. Not only does it taste delicious, but it will also help us save some money. I love the jam that I get at the farmer’s market, and I dearly love the little old lady who I get it from (she’s filled with all sorts of excellent gardening advice!), but we go through a pint every other week (it’s yummy in homemade yogurt) and it’s hard for me to justify spending $4.50 per pint when I know I can make it myself for much less. So, Ryan, Myla and I went on Father’s Day and picked eight pounds of strawberries. I can’t think of any other word besides “contentment” to describe our adventure- out in the field with Ryan, showing Myla the strawberry plants and watching her explore the outdoors, wearing Myla in a wrap while picking the berries, smelling and munching on berries, and feeding Myla in the middle of the field. I admit I felt very at peace with nature sitting in the field breastfeeding Myla. It was bliss.

I made four pints of jam on Sunday night and then another six pints of jam on Monday morning. I had a pound left over which I froze to use in other recipes. I was excited to find (and use) Pomona’s Universal Pectin. Most pectin’s require a lot of sugar (white), but with Pomona’s I was able to make jam and use honey as the sweetener. If I wanted to, I could have used sugar (or alternative sugars) to sweeten the jam, but Pomona’s doesn’t call for nearly the amount of sweeter as other pectin brands do. I could have even made jam without any sweetener at all! The berries we picked were already quite sweet so I only ended up using about 3/4 cup of honey per four pints of jam- and it turned out beautifully (and is SO tasty!).

In other news, Ryan pointed out yesterday that we have significantly more dishes to wash now that we are making everything from scratch. I hadn’t realized it, but he is absolutely right- on any given day, I run the dishwasher twice during the day, and usually I still have some dishes sitting on the counter. I doubt there is any way around it, since I tend to do numerous projects (especially baking projects) all at the same time. I tend to think of it as a good thing though- it is satisfying to know that we are using our kitchen (more than just once a day for dinner…)!

In closing, I have to admit that a lot of things are going well in our wholesome venture. My garden is growing (mostly) and I’m getting better at prepping meals in advance when it is required, but one thing that is still a trainwreck is breadmaking. Last night I mentioned to Ryan that I was going to make a batch of bread on Tuesday, and he groaned. I had thought that my breadmaking skills were improving, but obviously not. We’ve limited our bread consumption to sourdough only, and I have made around seven or eight batches of bread since my starter came in the mail. I’m guessing it is because we use mostly spelt or whole wheat flour, but our loaves are incredibly dense. Ryan hates it. I tolerate it (because it is the only option for bread in the house), but know it definitely needs improvement. Ryan asked me last night why we don’t just buy sourdough bread. We very well could buy it. But, I refuse to quit breadmaking just yet. I am determined to figure it out. So, if anyone has any suggestions (or sourdough recipes- I’ve already tried several, but I’m open to trying others….) for how to improve my breadmaking skills, I’d LOVE to read them! In the meantime, here are some breadmaking questions I’ve been pondering (any thoughts you may have in response would be most appreciated):

  1. So, what exactly (besides mixing the ingredients) does kneading do?
  2. If I let the bread rise longer, will that make it more fluffy (or in general- how do I get fluffy bread)?
  3. When I feed the starter, should I always use water as the liquid? What would happen if I used milk or egg instead?

Recall Culture

I read an article the other day announcing that a major grocery store chain would be implementing a new program in their stores. The reason for this program was to gather contact information from customers so the store could contact customers with any recall notices. I’m not sure what I think about this program. In a way it is good because it may save people from getting sick, but, then part of me wonders why the store doesn’t just source better products. It’s disheartening to think that our food products may be so at risk for contamination that we should need to enroll in a program for our safety.

I’d like to think if a grocery store gets a product from a company with a history of producing contaminated foods, the grocery store will stop doing business that company and not carry their products anymore. This seems more economical to me than spending a significant amount of money to institute a recall notification program. Then, I think about how much of our food comes from a few large conglomerates. For instance, a large corporation may own various meats, chips, cheeses, toilet papers, cleaning supplies and many other products- all advertised under different brands, but really owned by and sold/marketed by the same parent company. No wonder a grocery store would rather institute a recall notification program. It is cheaper than pulling all those products owned by one large corporation.

I’m frustrated at the general lack of quality existing in our current marketplace- not just in the grocery business. Our daughter’s crib was recalled a little while ago. It was a hassle to contact the company, get the new part, install the part, and so on. We had friends who were so frustrated by the recall, they just took their crib back and got a different one- just so the company would lose money. I admire them. I’m too lazy for all that work- taking the crib down and putting a new one together makes me tired just thinking about it. Then there was the Tylenol recall. Again, we had a faulty product and the process starts all over again. This time I had to travel to two different stores just to find a comparable product that had not been recalled- this is in addition to contacting the company at fault for reimbursement/replacement. Then, there is the worry that comes from knowing I’ve given my daughter a product that has been pulled from the market for safety reasons. I’m beginning to feel like it is a part-time job just making sure that the products we use in our home haven’t been recalled.

I’m thankful that we are still holding strong to our decision to not eat commercially processed foods in our home. I’m also thankful that we know exactly where our meat comes from (a farm thirty minutes away), as well as most of the other foods we consume too. Not that this entirely prevents us from getting food borne illnesses and such, as I’m sure that even small, local farms may have issues at times. However, I know I can trust the people I get my food from. I’ve met them. I talk to them on a weekly basis. I know they are eating the food they sell, and if there is ever an issue with any of their food, they will most likely go out of business. They don’t have a huge team of lawyers to defend them should something go awry- that in and of itself is a significant reason for them to produce a quality product for their customers.

I’m also thankful that we are slowly, but surely learning how to be more self-sufficient so we don’t consume as many things from the mainstream marketplace. We think the more we do/make ourselves, the better quality we can ensure for our family and our home.

Ryan told me today about a woman he saw at the grocery store today. He said she was obviously a working mom. She had a few kids with her and they were asking for fried chicken. They eagerly pulled out a box of processed fried chicken from the frozen foods section. It would have made for an easy, quick family dinner. But, the woman took the box, flipped it over and told her kids to come look. She showed them the ingredients section and started reading them aloud to her kids. She asked, “what is (insert weird chemical name)?”. They said they didn’t know. She replied, “Then we don’t need it in our body.” She went on to tell them that they could have fried chicken, but they were going to buy the chicken and do it themselves. How simply she summarized why we should be eating more real food and less processed food. The more we can control what goes into and is around our bodies and homes, the less chance we have of suffering in the short-term with recalls and in the long-term from potential negative effects of chemicals that exist in many of our foods, cleaning products, and personal care products.

A Balancing Act

I have often wondered this past week if our commitment to natural food is worth all the time and effort. I’ve wondered, “Am I sacrificing too much time from nourishing relationships to nourish bellies and health?” We’ve had a week filled with activity from entertaining others to going to appointments to attending events- and, in the midst of it, I’ve had all my food projects going on. For instance, I made stock, yogurt, mayo, and piima cream (similar to sour cream) during a visit from my family. I made all of it during our down time in between sightseeing and shopping with them. By the end of the weekend I was exhausted and wondering, “Is this even worth it?”. The meals we prepared during our crazy week were not even labor intensive. I think it was just poor planning on my part because I ran out of everything I make from scratch all at once. I am so used to it just being the three of us that I did not consider how much extra food (and, hence, planning) we would need when guests come over- lesson now learned.

As crazy as it was to make all of those things with family in town, there was some satisfaction in knowing that I did not cave and send Ryan to the store for something I could make myself. We spent much less money than we usually do when we have visitors. Plus, when we travel, we usually end up eating take out or eating out- whether with the family we are visiting or during the trip there and back. By the end of our visit, Ry and I typically end up having upset stomachs and/or headaches because of all the processed foods and junk foods we’ve eaten. This alone makes traveling not so fun. I was encouraged to know that the people visiting our home were eating primarily wholesome foods. I was also encouraged because the things that I spent time making while we had people visiting were things that made my life easier later on after everyone had left. For instance, I made stock while my family was here (grumbling in my mind while doing so), but I used it yesterday to make a wonderful, easy-to-prepare dinner that required hardly any preparation. This was a blessing because Ryan surprised me by coming home early and sending me on a surprise trip to a spa yesterday afternoon. I left the house without having to worry about dinner. It’s times like that when all the prep work really pays off.

In the future, I think I’ll keep better tabs on our supply of homemade foods so I won’t have to worry about running out of things when guests come to visit. Although I usually don’t mind mixing up a batch of yogurt and keeping tabs on it, it does get to be a chore when it is more than one or two things that I need to make when we have guests for a few days. I will admit that it was fun to show my family how to make things and see their facial expressions when they tasted something homemade. I loved watching the surprise on their face when they realized how tasty homemade foods can be.

So, we are going to keep plugging along learning as we go. As the leader of our ladies Bible study said recently, “It’s learning how to balance.” How true that is in every area of our life! If we spend too much time on one thing, then something else gets neglected. I’m going to continue to pray that the Lord gives Ry and I wisdom with how to balance all of our work, home and food projects with nurturing our relationship with each other, those around us, and, most importantly, with our Lord.

P.S. Here are two encouraging things (relating to our wholesome living decision) that happened this week in the midst of all the craziness of life:

1. Our garden is coming in strong- lots of little plants popping up.

2. We’ve had a terrible time with ants and I read somewhere about a natural, homemade solution- mix equal parts of borax and sugar and sprinkle a trail around the outside of your house. We tried it and it worked! Hurray!