Mom, Wife, Chef, Gardener, Dog Wrangler, Mom, Writer, Friend, Daughter, Sister, Mom, Creative Problem Solver, DIY Chick...figuring out life one day at a time.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Mom/Writer...Notes on a Montana Summer.

So fall is here. In another month we will have hit our one year mark in our Montana adventure. And looking back I see that the last time I posted was in April, just after the kids' birthdays. Obviously I've been falling down on the blogging job. Why that is so will hopefully become clear when I tell you about our summer. After April (the month of birthdays) passed, I started booking some catering jobs here in town. Mostly for some women I met through playgroup. One woman's husband runs the electric company here in town and he ended up using me for several company events. It was fun, if a bit hard juggling preparing for the events with kids running around underfoot begging for attention. I've had several events over the summer, though not enough to constitute a full time job. I have taken some steps towards building a catering business here though, including getting a City of Cut Bank business license. In the new year I want to join the City Chamber of Commerce, in hopes of furthering said business.
In June, Tim and I had the stressful realization that if we didn't find a way to increase our income RIGHT NOW, horrible, horrible things would happen. Luckily, a friend of ours is the dietary manager at the local nursing home, and she needed a new cook RIGHT NOW, or horrible, horrible things would happen. So I went back to work.  What started out as a temporary job quickly became full time. So most of our summer has subsequently been taken up with our family learning how to balance everything with two working parents instead of one. When and how cleaning gets done, transportation, child care, animal care, everything has had to be renegotiated and reorganized. At first I was working all dinner shifts, which meant Tim and the kids were eating dinner without me five nights a week. But after several staff turnovers, I have managed to rework my schedule so I'm only on dinner shift two nights a week, which makes it a lot easier on all of us.We struggled as well with finding a babysitter, in fact we went through three in the first two months I worked, but that has finally worked out as well. Even though the kids still aren't totally happy with me for going back to work, we have finally started to find our equilibrium and they no longer throw huge tantrums at me the second I get home from work, and instead are like "hey Mom's home!" then go back to playing.
For the most part I really enjoy my new job. It's nice to be in control of a kitchen again, and the residents of the nursing home are all pretty nice, and so are my coworkers. The hours aren't too bad, though getting the kids to the babysitter's at 5:50 am so I can be to work at 6 am has definitely been a struggle. But it means I pick them up at 2 pm and have the rest of the day and evening with them, and we all get to eat dinner and go through the nighttime routine as family, so it is worth the early mornings. Plus getting up so early means they finally go to bed before 10 pm, which has been a huge help for my sanity.
The other bump for my sanity has been  that Harper finally sleeps through the night (most nights). Tim and I (mostly Tim) put our feet down and did an intensive week of sleep training with Harper. She was still waking up to nurse once or twice a night, which had to stop. Tim slept in Connor's bed for a whole week (Connor shared with me), so Tim would hear her when she woke up. He would put her back to sleep, and after a week of not getting to nurse in the middle of the night, she finally gave up.  It only took me another full week to learn to sleep through the night myself.
Other things that we have done this summer include two trips up to Glacier National Park (only 45 minutes away!),
Tim teaching Connor to fish at Two Medicine Lake.

visits from Grandma Rhonda, Auntie Jana, Uncle Jack and Aunt Becky, and Auntie Maya.
Maya at Two Medicine Lake.

I had lots of panic attacks about rattle snakes, though we only ever saw any while we were driving and they were crossing the road. Thankfully we never found any on the property. Our chickens and guineas got huge, and the chickens finally started laying halfway through August.  We have 13 hens and are now averaging 10 eggs a day. The turkey and excess roosters we had have been harvested and are now in our freezer. Our turkey ended up around 18 pounds cleaned weight. Not too bad, we are looking forward to cooking him this Thanksgiving.
Connor and Harper playing on a hay pile.

Harper and Tim on a tractor.

We had some sad times this summer. Our beloved dog, Winter, passed away.
Toby and Winter

That was a hard first week. Toby, our other dog, has had a difficult time adjusting to being a single dog. He is much quieter and clingier than he used to be. He now has a little more company though, since we adopted two kittens.
Bo and Bella

 Bo and Bella are adorable, and totally love Toby. He is still unsure about them however. He tends to growl whenever one of them comes near him. Which is pretty funny, considering the size difference.

Kittens, by the way, do not respect your blogging time. However they are much easier to type around than kids are. Bo is currently chewing on the cord, while Bella is watching me type this with great interest.
This September we hit a huge milestone, Connor had his first day of school!
Connor's first day of school.

It's only preschool, but still. He goes twice a week and he LOVES IT! He still goes to speech therapy every week, as well as seeing a speech therapist at school. His language skills are growing by leaps and bounds, he has so many words now, and while a lot of them are just the first syllable of the word, he strings two and three words together without prompting, and tries to have actual conversations with us. I am so proud of him!
Fall comes on fast here in Montana. We are at a pretty high elevation (4,000 ft) and have already had a killing frost (19 degrees F) two nights ago. We had almost a week of 35 degree days, then today it warmed up to 60 and I thought summer had come back. The leaves are falling from the trees almost before I noticed they had changed color. The sunset today was all shades of pink and orange, decorated with wispy white clouds. The Montana slogan, "Big Sky Country" is no misnomer. The sky here truly is huge, it seems to stretch forever and the clouds create some amazing shapes across all that blue.
After almost a year here I can honestly say it is incredibly beautiful. We have had some fun adventures and met some very nice people. However, I don't know if I can call it home yet. We do enjoy it here, but after almost a year, homesickness is setting in hard. We just bought plane tickets to go back to Washington for Christmas, and we are so excited about it.
Well, it's 10:30 pm and I am turning into a pumpkin. Sorry if this rambled a bit, but hopefully it gives you  little insight into our busy summer. We love you all and look forward to seeing you for the Holidays.

Love from Montana,
the Gundersons.
Hiking at Two Medicine.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Mom/Chef…notes on dehydrators.


This year we spent a little of our tax return money on some kitchen gadgets, some that were replacements for our badly worn out ones (like our totally broken food processor) and some that we had coveted for quite a while. Even though neither Tim nor I cook professionally any more, I guess you can’t totally shut down the inner chef. One of the most useful gadgets we got was a dehydrator. I had wanted one for years but always thought of it as more of a one-trick pony, something that I would use for a few weeks and then put on a shelf to gather dust. But in the two months that we have had it, I have it running once or twice a week. It has really helped us keep up on using all of our Bountiful Baskets produce and has started to change our snacking habits for the better.

After a lot of research including this article from Mother Earth News, Tim and I chose the Nesco 700watt Food Dehydrator. It is reasonably priced, versatile in the different tasks it can perform, and has plenty of trays and accessories for a reasonable price. First off, I recommend the higher wattage because it makes the drying time faster, most things can be dehydrated in an afternoon, instead of two or three days. This Nesco model has a temperature gage that allows you to fine tune your heat level, depending on what you are dehydrating. It stacks and stores easily, doesn’t take up too much space on the counter, and while you can hear the fan working, it isn’t an intrusive noise level, more a soft background noise. The criticisms I have of this model is that it doesn’t have an on/off switch, which means if you want to check your food you need to unplug it. Also it would be nice if it had a timer on it, we over-dried an otherwise yummy batch of venison jerky because we got busy with bath and bedtimes and forgot that we left the dehydrator running. (The jerky is still edible, just a little tougher than we had wanted.) Tim suggested an outlet timer, you can pick them up at hardware stores, you plug the timer into the outlet then plug the dehydrator into the timer, when your set time is up the timer will switch off, thereby shutting the dehydrator off as well. We haven’t gotten one yet to try, but it should solve the problem nicely.

Overall we are really happy with the choice we made. We have made two different batches of jerky: one where we just thinly sliced the meat before flavoring it, and one where we used ground meat and put it through the jerky gun. Honestly, a jerk gun is just like a cookie press, only bigger. The ground meat/jerky gun version makes a more tender jerky that dehydrates more quickly than the sliced meat version.

We have also dried bananas, strawberries, mango, apples, celery, green peppers, mushrooms, and several different herbs. We used some of my homemade marmalade that didn’t set up as firmly as I would have liked and made a fruit roll up. Very yummy. Dried vegetables are great when you are making soups and sauces, things that they will rehydrate easily in. Being able to throw herbs in the dehydrator keeps me from having that half bunch turning to mush in the back of the crisper drawer. Plus drying your own herbs makes for a fresher tasting product, much more flavorful than what you can buy in stores.

 Dried fruit of course, is great in so many applications: as a snack, in granola and trail mix, and is wonderful in oatmeal. Dehydrating also helps when you have fruit that isn’t as sweet as you would like. We have been getting lots of strawberries in our bountiful baskets, but frankly strawberries in winter aren’t that great. However, once you dehydrate them they become an addictive candy.  Last but not least, toddlers love helping to sort the dried fruits and vegetables into jars: helpful, educational, and fun!


Berries and Cream Steel Cut Oats

(Overnight version)

Makes 4 servings

This works well if you have two crock pots (one large and one small), but a large crock pot and a medium sized glass bowl works well too. You are essentially making a double boiler which will keep the oatmeal from scorching during the longer cooking time.

1 Cup steel cut oats

4 Cups water

¼ tsp salt

2/3 cup dried berries (I used blueberries and strawberries)

1 Tbsp brown sugar, honey or sweetener of your choice (optional)

½ Cup heavy cream (optional)


1) Put several inches of water into the crock of your largest crock pot.

2) Place oats, water, salt and berries in the crock of a smaller crock pot or in a glass mixing bowl that fits suspended inside the larger crock pot without touching the bottom.

3) Put the large crock pot on low heat, place the smaller crock or bowl into the larger one, cover with a lid and a towel to keep the heat in, and then leave it for at least six hours. In the morning, stir in cream and sweetener if using and serve.


-If you can’t make a double boiler out of your crock pot or don’t want to go to the trouble then just spray the inside of the crock with cooking spray and place all ingredients in the crock pot on low. Don’t let the oatmeal cook for longer than six hours and expect some crusty corners.

 - Feel free to leave out the cream for a dairy free version.  The long cooking time makes the steel cut oats creamy without the addition of any dairy.

- Any dried fruit works great, just use your favorite. I love dried figs, but the kids aren’t as fond of them. Dried apples and a little cinnamon would be excellent. So would dried cranberries and pecans, raisins and cinnamon, pureed pumpkin and pumpkin pie spice, seriously I don't know what wouldn't be delicious.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Mom/Chef…Comforting soup for the winter doldrums

We are still having some cold, snowy days here in Northern Montana, but the majority of the time it is just cold and brown. Mud is everywhere since it warms up enough for the snow to start to melt, then freezes again. For the first time in my life I truly understand and appreciate having a mud room. An entrance to the house where people can take off muddy, wet boots and coats before it gets tracked all over the kitchen and living room. Our mud room also includes the laundry room and has an entrance straight into the bathroom, for those days when Tim comes home covered in hydraulic fluid or something equally messy.

It was cold when we moved here in November and it is still cold, the weather varying between snowy, windy and just cold and wet. Needless to say, I am ready for spring. When looking through the fridge last week, wondering aloud what to do with all the potatoes I had lying around, not to mention a bag of snap peas I’d bought for snacking but hadn’t finished, Tim reminisced about a soup from his childhood. When I think potato soup, I immediately think of a thick, hearty puree, smooth and white. Tim’s childhood soup involved picking new potatoes and peas fresh from the garden, lightly cooking them and creaming the soup out for a chunky, fresh tasting soup. As soon as he described it I was sold. Here is my version of Tim’s garden potato and pea soup. It is quick, easy and very delicious. Potatoes and peas add a little bit of spring to an otherwise windy, cold and muddy brown March.

Leek, potato and pea soup

Leek, Potato and Pea Soup.

1 ½ pounds small yellow potatoes, scrubbed clean and cut into roughly 1/2'’ dice.

1 large leek, white and light green parts only, thinly sliced into half moons.

1 garlic clove, finely chopped

1-2 cups snap peas, trimmed and cut into 1” pieces. (Frozen green peas would work fine too)

1 quart chicken or vegetable stock or water

1 cup heavy cream or dairy of your choice

Butter, salt and Pepper

Your choice of fresh or dried herbs, good choices are: Thyme, dill, tarragon. (Optional)

Slice leek in half, thinly slice into half moons and place in a large bowl full of cold water. Let the Leeks sit and soak for 10 minutes, gently swishing them occasionally to get all the grit out of the layers. Scoop the leeks from the bowl and drain, leaving the gritty water in the bowl.

Wash and dice potatoes, if you are doing this ahead of time, you can put the potato pieces in a bowl covered with cold water until ready to use.

Melt 2 Tablespoons of butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add drained leeks and add a pinch of salt. Cook the leeks slowly until they get very soft and lightly browned, about 10 minutes. When leeks are soft add garlic and cook 1 minute. Then add the potatoes, herbs if you are using them, and stock. Bring to a simmer and let cook until the potatoes are cooked through but not too mushy. 15 or more minutes, depending on the size of your potato chunks. If you are using snap peas then throw them in halfway through the potato cooking time, frozen green peas can go in at the very end. Once potatoes and peas are cooked through, add the dairy and taste for salt and pepper. Potatoes tend to soak up a lot of salt, so don’t be afraid to add plenty. Let the soup warm (but don’t let it boil) for about 5 minutes and serve. Eat and think of spring.


Monday, March 11, 2013

Mom/Preservationist….The weekend canning project part 2.

So in the last post I wrote about how we used up the 25 pounds of tomatoes. Now it’s time for the 20 pounds of citrus.

Over the first week we had eaten some of it, maybe 5 pounds. We ate the pomelo and some of the oranges and mandarins. But there was still plenty left that needed to be used up. Now when I have extra citrus I think marmalade, because I love marmalade. I researched several recipes and ended up cobbling together this one from AltonBrown and this one from Food in Jars. The Alton Brown method has you boil the thinly sliced oranges for about 40 minutes until the peel is soft. The Food in Jars method calls for an overnight soak to soften the peel. I decided on a several hour soak followed by a 15 minute boil. That way the oranges could soak while the tomato sauce and ketchup took up the stove, and then go on to cook for a (hopefully) shorter cooking time while the pressure canners cooled off from the tomatoes.

Okay, here’s my process (this is not really a recipe, just the process I used).

First I separated the Seville (a.k.a. sour) oranges from the rest of the citrus. I ended up with about 3 pounds of Seville oranges and about 5 pounds of mixed Navel oranges and tangerines. There were also a good 3 pounds of mandarins and 4 small blood oranges. The mandarins were set aside and the blood oranges I put in the fridge for later snacking.

I washed all the citrus then thinly sliced it, keeping it separated into two batches, Seville and mixed citrus. The Seville oranges are super seedy and hard to work with. The best way I found is to cut the oranges into halves then cut out the center pith. That gets out a good portion of your seeds, and the rest are easier to pick out as you thinly (1/16”) slice the orange halves.

so many seeds!
Don’t throw away the seeds and center pith, those can go into a pile on a piece of cheesecloth along with the end slices from each orange, they’ll come in handy later.
seeds and pith trimings
The orange slices to into a big bowl and get covered with water. Since our well water is kind of soft and baking soda-ish tasting, I always use filtered water for cooking. Gather up the cheesecloth into a bag and tie it closed with kitchen twine. Place it on top of the submerged oranges and let sit on the counter at room temp. Cover with a plate or plastic wrap if you have dogs in the house that shed a lot.
soaking oranges
When you are ready to start cooking your marmalade, dump the citrus and the cheesecloth bag into a large pot and bring to a boil. Simmer, skimming off any foam, for 20 minutes or until the peel of the fruit has softened. Remove the cheesecloth bag and stir in the sugar. Seville oranges are very sour so I used probably 6-7 cups of sugar for 3 pounds of oranges. I started with 5 cups and then tasted it throughout the process until it was the sweetness level that I wanted. Stir the sugar in until it dissolves and place a candy thermometer in the pot. Let the marmalade simmer until it reaches 220 degrees. I think my marmalade didn’t quite make it past 210, but if you put a small plate in the freezer when you start cooking your marmalade you can use the plate test. If you think your marmalade is ready, pull the plate out of the freezer and put a drizzle of the marmalade on the plate. If it jells up pretty quickly then you are done. If it stays runny then you need to cook it more.

Now my naval orange/tangerine marmalade gave me a little bit of trouble. Seville oranges are chock full of natural pectin so they jell up just fine. The tangerine mix didn’t seem to have quite as much pectin in it; I used 5 cups of sugar for the 4 pounds or so of citrus. It tasted sweet enough to me but didn’t jell very firmly during the plate test. I had taken Alton Brown’s advice and added a lemon to the marmalade for the extra pectin, but it still wasn’t firming up. I ended up adding 2 packets of liquid pectin to help it along, because at that point I didn’t want it any sweeter and I had been boiling it for over half an hour and didn’t want to overcook it. It eventually set up, but it isn’t as firm a jell as the Seville orange marmalade is.  All the marmalade was processed in the water bath canner for 20 minutes. (I always add a little extra time to my processing because of our altitude.)
marmalade close up

Finally, to end our citrus saga, I peeled all the ‘cutie’ style Mandarin oranges,which, due to their easy to peel-ness, is a great thing for toddlers to help with . Connor had fun getting the peels off.
Mandarin oranges being peeled
 Then I made a simple syrup of 5 ¾ cups water to 1 ½ cups sugar, placed the orange segments in clean jars, covered them with the hot simple syrup and processed them in the water bath canner for 15 minutes. Voila, homemade canned mandarin oranges. For basic, “can it be canned?” questions, I have found this site, "Pick Your Own" to be very helpful.  Pick Your Own is actually a farm's website but they have such a comprehensive canning and preserving section that I find myself consulting them regularly.

canned mandarin oranges
Since blogging about this process has taken me four times as long as the actual canning weekend did, I will very quickly mention that I also made 4 pints of apple sauce using the recipe from “Homemade Pantry” and 2 quart jars of lemony cauliflower pickles, recipe originally from the amazing author of Food in Jars. The cauliflower pickles are refrigerator pickles so they didn’t have to be processed in the canner. They are lemony, salty and amazing as a side to a snack of cheese and crackers. The kids love the applesauce. Alana uses a food mill to puree her apple sauce nice and smooth whereas I usually leave mine chunky. I tried the food mill version and the kids have both been devouring it.


Here ends this month’s canning saga. Sorry it has taken me so long to update. I find when I have to choose between sleep and blogging, sleep has been wining out lately. I have several more posts planned, so hopefully I can get them out in a reasonable time and this site will start to feel like a real blog again.


Saturday, February 23, 2013

Mom/Preservationist…The big weekend canning project!

I posted the other week about Bountiful Baskets and how much fruit and vegetables I have been getting from them. Not only do the baskets themselves give you lots of produce, but the add-ons are often too good to resist. 25 pounds of mixed citrus for $15?! 25 pounds of Roma tomatoes for $12? Yes please! Well the problem with buying all this stuff is that you have to use it before it goes bad, so this weekend, surrounded by citrus, tomatoes and plenty of other great stuff over-running our kitchen, Tim and I rolled up our sleeves and got canning.

I used to be a reluctant canner, jam and the occasional pickle would be all I would can. Fear of botulism kept me from getting too into canning. However, last winter, realizing we would be moving by spring and needing to use up the dozen chicken carcasses in our freezer I let Tim talk me into making and canning chicken stock. 19 quarts of it. Once safely through my first pressure canning experience I lost my fear of it. This past summer we expanded our pressure canning repertoire and canned 14 quarts of whole tomatoes. There is something so reassuring about pulling out big glass jars of produce you put up. And I know exactly what is in it: tomatoes, lemon juice and salt. End of story. Except for the jars in which we added some oregano and rosemary.

So back to this weekend wherein we have several flats of empty jars, two canners and mountains of produce.

A quick note on my canners. The one on the left is my mother's Presto aluminum canner from the 1970's. Still works great, unless you need to water bath process quart jars, it is a little too shallow for that. The one on the right is my brand new All American heavy cast aluminum pressure canner/cooker that the best Christmas present ever fairy brought me this Christmas. Works great, it is slower to come up to pressure than the smaller Presto, but quicker to cool down, and as anyone who pressure cans know, half the time of the project is spent building up pressure and bringing it back down again.

Tim started out working on tomatoes. We got a 25 pound box of Roma Tomatoes so we decided to make sauce and to try a batch of homemade ketchup. The recipe for the ketchup comes from “The Homemade Pantry: 101 foodsyou can stop buying and start making.” by Alana Chernila. This book was a recent purchase to go along with the recent direction our cooking and eating is taking, (but that’s another blog post) and is my new favorite cook book.

Tim seeded and cored the tomatoes and cooked them down with onion, garlic and spices. After a good run through with the immersion blender and the addition of vinegar, brown sugar and molasses we had ketchup. One recipe uses 6 pounds of tomatoes (we might have used a little more) and we got 3 quarts of ketchup plus a little left over that went straight into the fridge.

Now for the critique of homemade ketchup. This recipe is heavily spiced. We ended up adding extra brown sugar and molasses to get a more ‘ketchupy’ taste. Tim really likes the finished product. I think it tastes more like the base for an Indian sauce then actual ketchup. I could see it as the start to a good butter chicken sauce. Still, it was a good experiment and hey, how many people can say they made their own ketchup?

Homemade (spiced) Ketchup

From “The Homemade Pantry” by Alana Chernila.

2 T olive oil, 1 C diced onion, 5 garlic cloves, minced

6 pounds ripe tomatoes: peeled, seeded and cored. (We did not peel and it turned out fine)

3 t kosher salt

1 T paprika, 1 t ground cinnamon, ¼ t ground cloves, 1 T celery salt (we used celery seed)

½ t ground cumin, ¼ t dry mustard, 1 ½ T chili powder, ½ t ground pepper

¼ C apple cider vinegar & ¼ C white vinegar

1 T brown sugar, 1 T honey (we also added molasses)

Canning specific instructions: ½” headspace, water bath process for 30 minutes.

Now that the ketchup was out of the way we started on tomato sauce. We saved the insides of the tomatoes we used for ketchup and added those in with more of the tomatoes, plus onion, garlic, bay leaf and oregano and cooked it all down. Salt and lemon juice were added to up the acidity and we ladled the sauce into quart jars. The tomato sauce we pressure canned at 15 pounds of pressure for 45 minutes. I think that was actually a little long, but we are at a higher elevation here (around 4000 ft) and we added the extra time just to be safe.  

This weekend project is being split into two posts due to length and my inability to sit at the computer for more than 5 minutes without a child meltdown. More on canning and the marmalade project soon!

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Mom/Reporter...notes from last week.

Do you know the single best thing about unpacking? Unpacking the kids’ toys is like Christmas all over again. Toys they haven’t played with for months are suddenly brand new. One box I opened this morning has kept them busy most of the day. It is a nice bonus in the middle of threading my way through box mazes and unpacking two boxes only to have to clean the kitchen make a meal, clean again and then unpack something else.

Do you know another fun thing about unpacking? Discovering things you forgot you had. I just recently unpacked all my cd’s. I had last seen these in May of 2012, when we left Roslyn for Kelso and Tim starting school. When we moved to Kelso, since we knew it would only be for six months we decided to only unpack the essentials. Music and a lot of books didn’t make the essentials list considering I had Pandora and my Kindle. Plus kids don’t allow me a lot of time to read anyway, or, you know, do anything for myself.

So I unpacked my cds and it was like a time capsule. Remember when I was obsessed with everything British/Celtic as a teenager? Hello everything Enya ever released. Remember that college roommate who introduced me to Sky Cries Mary? There’s the cd I bought at their concert. (They played our college). How about that time an ex and I went to Bumbershoot to see someone perform and discovered Beth Orton when she opened for the act? I can’t remember who we were there to see, but here are three of her cds that I obsessively played for a year or more. And question, why the heck do I have a Nine Inch Nails cd? I’m definitely not a downward spiral girl, maybe not since high school. Here are a bunch of compilation cds that my favorite radio station in Seattle, KEXP releases every year as part of the pledge drive. Remember when I was a city girl and kept up on things like current music?

So, amidst the dust and mess and stress of trying to unpack and set up our house, there have been some fun discovery moments. Just enough to help make the seemingly endless boxes a little more bearable.
It's okay mom, boxes can be fun.


Saturday, February 2, 2013

Mom/Chef...Bountiful Baskets

In my search for healthier, better food for my family, and frankly for alternatives to the very high prices at the one grocery store in town, I discovered Bountiful Baskets. Several moms in the playgroup I attend first told me about it. Bountiful Baskets is a food cooperative in the purer sense of the word. It isn’t a store where you pay a membership to shop at; it is a group of people who pool together their money to buy fruits and vegetables each week. They are all over the United States, and luckily we have one here in Cut Bank.

It goes like this: on Monday or Tuesday of each week you go online to their website and purchase your share. I pay $15 for a conventional basket, which is comprised of 50% fruit and 50% vegetables. You can upgrade to an organic basket for $10 more. There are add ons each week, several different types of bread packs (5 loaves for $10, healthy whole grain breads not cheap filler breads), organic granola, in season you can buy big flats of fruit or vegetables for canning purposes. Once you have purchased your share, that’s it. Friday or Saturday, depending on the pickup time in your area you show up and pick up your food. People who want to volunteer show up an hour early to unload the truck and sort out everyone’s share. I’ve done this two weeks in a row now, and there are always a ton of volunteers at the site here.

Now I am not sure where they source everything. I know that their bananas are sourced from some smaller family farms in Mexico, so they are more fair trade. But some of their vegetables are of a size and quality Tim and I have only seen in restaurants, so we suspect that they sometimes source through Cisco or other food purveyors. Which makes sense, which is why restaurants use companies like Cisco, you get big amounts of high quality veg for a very low price.

The downside of all this is that you don’t know what you get until you pick up your basket. For instance, I was a little disappointed the first week as my vegetable portion was: 5 pounds of potatoes, 4 onions, 1 big head of celery, 3 green peppers and 5 tomatoes. However, this week was different; here is the list of what I picked up last night.

1 large (3 pound) yam; 3 pounds of apples; 1 bunch bananas; 7 Asian pears; 1 pint strawberries; 1 big head cauliflower; 1 big head cabbage; 1 pound green beans; 1 bunch radishes; 5 tomatoes; 3 cucumbers.

Now I don’t know about where you shop, but that much produce would cost me over $30 at my local store, so already I’m cutting my produce bill in half. I was happy to see the yam, cabbage and cauliflower this week. I wish they would be a little more seasonal, I personally would prefer some kale over strawberries in winter. And I gave them that feedback on the survey they send you after your first basket pick up. Seasonal produce aside, overall I think Bountiful Baskets is a good deal, we get lots of fresh produce and it saves on my grocery bill. For instance, the only extra produce I bought this week was a head of lettuce and a couple of avocados.  And it can be fun trying to think of ways to use everything. Last week I got 4 lemons in the basket, add that to the 3 I already had and you get my preserved lemon project. The tomatoes last week were not very ripe so I stuffed them and baked them. They were delicious as a side dish for dinner and reheated for lunch the next day. I went to the store after picking up my basket last night and bought a head of lettuce; since this week’s box included radishes and 3 cucumbers I think I will be having lots of salads this week. Maybe we will have Greek Salad one night, I’ve got feta cheese in the fridge and garbanzo beans in the cabinet.

This brings me to the special add on this week: a 20 pound box of mixed citrus!
There is a big yellow pomello, which is similar to grapefruit but sweeter. Blood oranges and naval oranges, tangerines and the "cutie" style mandarin oranges. The oranges in the bag are Seville oranges, aka Marmalade Oranges, so I will be making marmalade this week! With all the citrus I hope to get at least two big batches of marmalade out of this box, also we will be eating citrus for a snack several times a day. That’s okay though, it is flu season and we could use the vitamins.
Well friends, it is Saturday morning so I am going to go make French toast for breakfast (bread pack add on!) and get the family fired up to finish unpacking this house, I’m getting sick of looking at boxes. Have a wonderful weekend!

Baked stuffed tomatoes:

Wash and dry your tomatoes. Cut the top ¼ “ off the tomatoes and scoop out as much of the inside as you can (a grapefruit spoon works awesome for this) while still leaving the outer walls intact. Chop up the inside and the top of the tomatoes, removing the core, and set aside. Salt and pepper the insides of the tomatoes and place in a baking dish. Chop up a little onion and garlic. Bring some oil or butter up to medium-high heat in a sauté pan. Add the onion and start to cook, when the onion starts to soften, throw in the garlic. Let the garlic cook for a minute then throw in the tomato innards. Add in a few fresh or dried herbs (marjoram and oregano are very good, as is basil), some salt and pepper. If you have it, add in some frozen chopped spinach. Or even fresh if you happen to have it. I almost never keep fresh spinach around but always have some frozen spinach in the freezer.  Throw in some cubed up bread, any sort will do (this is a great way to use up those last few slices that are going stale). Stir and let everything cook together for a few minutes, the bread will soak up any extra juice in the pan. Pull the pan off the heat and fill the tomatoes with the stuffing. This would be a good time to throw a little mozzarella or parmesean cheese in as well. Cover the baking dish and bake for approximately 20 minutes at 350 degrees. Pull the cover off the dish, add a little cheese on top and cook 5-10 more minutes until they start to brown.

Serve as a side dish to almost anything. I served them alongside shrimp and grits. They really will accompany anything. And they reheat well too.


Thursday, January 31, 2013

Mom/Preservationist...preserved lemons

So the other day I realized that I had seven lemons in my fruit basket. (More on why coming up soon.) I was trying to think of what to do with them all and it hit me, preserved lemons. If you've never had preserved lemons before, they are a staple condiment and flavoring in Moroccan cuisine. They are mellow, lemony, salty and add a certain something that is hard to duplicate. Luckily, the process to make them is very easy. I researched several recipes and settled on one from "The Big Book of Preserving the Harvest." By Carol W. Costenbader.

5 small lemons-organic if possible (I used 3 large ones)
2/3 cups canning salt
1 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup olive oil

1 air tight glass jar with lid

Step 1: Scrub the lemons clean and dry them. I had conventional lemons, not organic, so I soaked them in a mix of warm water and white vinegar to help get the wax off of them before scrubbing them.

Step 2: Juice some of them. You need approximately 1 cup of lemon juice.
Now if I had been thinking ahead, I would have zested these lemons and frozen the zest for another use, but as I was trying to document this project and wrangle kids, I forgot. Instead I just chose the three ugliest of the lemons and juiced them. Three big lemons gave me exactly one cup of juice.

Step 3: Cut the remaining lemons into quarters and place the wedges in the jar.

 I cut the ends off before cutting them into wedges so they look prettier and fit better into the jar. I started with a pint jar but it became quickly clear that I needed a quart jar instead.

Step 4: Pour the salt into the jar. Now the recipe calls for canning salt but I just used kosher salt that I whizzed in the magic bullet for a few seconds. The only real difference between the two is that canning salt has smaller grains that dissolve quickly in hot or cold liquid. Either is fine, just don't use iodized table salt.

Put the lid on and give the jar a good shaking. Here you can see the salt coating the lemon wedges.

Step 5: Pour in the lemon juice.

Step 6: Put the lid back on and shake it up until a good portion of the salt has dissolved. It won't all dissolve yet and that is ok.

Now store the jar on the counter at room temperature for 7-10 days. Be sure to give it a good shakeup every day to get brine over all the lemons. At the end of the ten days, pour in the olive oil so everything in the jar is covered and store in the fridge. This isn't a hot processed canning project so you can reuse an old canning lid, just make sure the lid and jar are clean and sanitized before you begin.
As you can see, I just started my lemons yesterday, so I can't report on the success of this recipe yet. I will report back in two weeks with the results and a couple of recipes to use these yummy lemons.


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Mom/simplifier...bite 1

So in my last post I talked about working through a book as part of my New Years resolutions. The book, "One Bite at a Time: 52 projects for making life simpler"   Now the neat, and very useful thing about this book is that you don't have to work through it in any order. There isn't one right way to read it, you just choose a project and start it. When you feel like you've got that first one down, then start another one. There is a table in the front of the book that list the projects by type: living green, living well, money management, organize your mind, organize your space, etc. So you can use this list to focus on what you want to work on first. Need organization in your home? Great, work on those projects first. Me, I'm working on me first so my first project is #3: Establish a morning routine.
Why is this important for me? Some (most) mornings I feel like I am playing catch up, just reacting to the kids' needs as they come up and trying to fit in my stuff in between. Some days I haven't brushed my teeth or washed my face until after lunch. True story, happens more than I feel comfortable admitting. So by doing this project I hope to make mornings, and therefore the day, more calm and manageable. And also to be washed up before dinner. Seriously.

The first thing I learned about establishing a morning routine is don't do it when you have little kids. I mean, come on, they change their sleep schedule daily. Some days Harper sleeps in till 9am, some days, when I'm in the middle of a nice relaxing routine she wakes up at 7:30. Connor almost always sleeps till 9am, but then there is the once or twice a week where he still wakes up in the night, meaning I am up with him. Waking up early to have some time to myself is a whole different ball game when the babies don't have a set wake up time yet, or don't always sleep through the night.  Still, that is the first task: wake up before the kids.

The second task is to come up with a list of 5 things to do just for myself, no email checking, cleaning up the kitchen, starting a load of laundry, I need 5 things just for myself. This is actually harder than it sounds. My current list looks like this:
1) Wash up (wash my face, brush teeth, nasal rinse (a necessary thing for me, it really helps my sinuses stay clear and keeps me healthier. This system here is my absolute favorite. I am a firm believer in the nasal rinse.)
2) Drink a glass of water
3) Put tea on to brew
4) Stretch (while tea brews, since I am currently using a pot on the stove this gives me a good 5 minutes of stretching)
5) Not quite sure yet, but I am thinking journaling, which today is me updating my blog, but some days may be just simply writing in a journal.

It is surprisingly hard not to start cleaning, get something out of the freezer for dinner, get a head start on breakfast, and other things that are technically for the family. I am trying to resist but some days chores win out.

I have been working on this for two weeks now, and while it hasn't happened every day it is happening more often than not. On the days I get up early and get through my full morning routine I find that I feel better, calmer and happier. While the whole day doesn't always go smoother, it at least starts with me in a happier place.

The reason I chose this project first is because I am starting out focusing on me. Like a lot of moms out there I swore I'd never fall into the cliche of 'losing myself', losing Jenny and just becoming Mom. But of course, like a lot of moms that is exactly what happened. Three years and two babies later I hardly read anything longer than a magazine article, I don't keep current on any TV shows or news any more, the only hobby I can claim is this blog and you can see how often I get to update. I just moved several states away from any friends I could go have a girls night out with. So really, the start of these projects are going to be about me, finding some balance in my life where I don't feel so overwhelmingly buried under kids. Eventually I will get to the organize and simplify your home projects, but only after I have organized and simplified me.

If this post interestes you, hop over and check out the book's author: Tsh Oxenreider's site: Simple Mom. I am not getting anything to endorse her or anything, I have just found her site to be very helpful and inspiring.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Mom/resolutionist…is that even a word?

Happy New Year everyone! I woke up this morning to a small blizzard, super windy and snowing sideways. But a few hours later and it is sunny and beautiful outside, 22 degrees, but beautiful. Just another winter’s day on the prairie, I guess. Did anyone make any resolutions last night? Tim and I talked about it before going to bed (about 10:30pm, party animals!), and we are going to buck the trend and resolve to have a boring year. No hopes for big adventures or big changes, we just want a quiet year of normal life. After 2012’s rollercoaster of a new baby, job changes, 3 moves, back to school and horribly tight finances we just want a year to breathe, collect ourselves, and work out what our normal life will look like.

That doesn’t mean, however, that I didn’t wake up the first few days of January with that starry eyed optimism and burst of can-do energy that most of us get at the beginning of a new year. This new beginnings optimism is ingrained in our culture, even if we pretend it isn’t a big deal, most of us secretly make little vows and resolutions to ourselves about how this year will be different. And January 1st is so arbitrary too, when you think about it. It’s the day our culture thinks of as the New Year, because in 1582 Pope Gregory XIII said “we’ve got to get this time sh*t under control.”  And now we have the Gregorian calendar. (Side note, I can never spell calendar correctly the first time, is it two a’s or two e’s, thank the gods for spell check) If you’re Chinese you’ll be celebrating the New Year on Sunday, February 10th. (Year of the Snake, people, that’s my year!)  If you are Buddhist, then you celebrate the New Year in April, or February or January, depending on what country you live in. And if you ascribe to one of the many religions lumped under the label Paganism, then you celebrated the New Year on October 31st.

So really, I guess what I’m saying is that the New Year optimism and making resolutions is all in our head. But did that stop me from making some ‘be a better me’ resolutions?

Of course not.

A blog I read: Simple Mom is all about simplifying and living more intentionally. Something I really feel I need. There is an eBook written by the blogger, Tsh Oxenreider, called “One bite at a time: 52 projectsfor making life simpler.” I bought it with some of my gift card money and have started reading it in the five minutes here and there that I get without a kid climbing on my lap and grabbing the Kindle out of my hands. So this book is my resolution. To work through the projects and hopefully make my life and my family’s life a little simpler and better. 

Seems doable, no?

We’ll see. I’ll post my projects and progress on the blog, hopefully it will keep me focused and motivated. So, family and friends, I wish you a happy New Year and good resolutioning. (I know, I know, not a real word.)

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Mom/Chef…the holiday food post.

So here is the promised post detailing our holiday food. For Christmas dinner our menu was: Roasted Venison back strap with mushroom gravy; rice with cranberries and walnuts, roasted butternut squash, and sautéed green beans with caramelized onions.

The venison was a gift and we were really excited about cooking it, as Tim loves venison and I hadn’t had it before. Turns out the venison shot in our area is amazing. It is grain fed because we are surrounded by wheat fields, and if I hadn’t known it was venison I would have thought we were having beef tenderloin, it was that mild and tender. We got the recipe from a website that I am now regularly referring to: Hunter Angler GardenerCook. He has a lot of amazing recipes and information for using wild game and foraged foods.

For the rice I checked out a few recipes and then combined them into what I wanted. I sautéed the white part of 3 green onions, thinly sliced, in some oil and butter. I added a little carrots and celery, also finely sliced. Once the vegetables started to soften I threw in a cup of basmati rice and let that start to toast. Once the rice was toasty I added 1 ½ cups of chicken stock, two sprigs of fresh thyme, and ½ cup of fresh cranberries. I brought that to a simmer, lowered the heat and covered the pan. 15 minutes later the liquid was absorbed so I took out the thyme sprigs and stirred in ¼ cup of dried cranberries, ¼ cup of walnuts and the green tops from the green onions. The rice had a faintly purple hue, it was sweet, tart, nutty and very delicious. I will definitely be making rice like this again.

For the green beans, I wanted the flavors of green bean casserole without a big, gloopy casserole so I caramelized half a yellow onion, thinly sliced, threw in some thinly sliced mushrooms and some fresh green beans and sautéed it all together until the vegetables were cooked through. Finish it with a little butter and it was perfect. Honestly, the squash was mostly to use up some extra butternut squash I had. I peeled it, cubed it, tossed it with olive oil and salt and roasted it at 350 degrees until golden brown and delicious.

For Christmas day we went a little more traditional. We had spiral ham, mashed potatoes and gravy, sausage stuffing (or dressing, if you like, since it wasn’t actually stuffed inside anything), Brussels sprouts with bacon and cranberry sauce.

The ham was store bought, but for a glaze we did a riff on Alton Brown’s ham crust. We used honey, molasses, brandy, whole grain mustard, and some crumbled molasses cookies. (Alton’s original crust uses bourbon and ginger snaps, but I didn’t have either of those.) Cooked down a bit and brushed on the ham it created a glaze that was sweet and spicy and complemented the ham really well.

Even though we were doing a ham, both Tim and I wanted stuffing, so I cubed up half of a Tuscan style loaf of bread then sautéed some sausage with mirepoix (onion, carrots, celery) and fresh sage, then tossed it together with some chicken stock. We packed it into a casserole dish and baked it alongside the ham. It turned out very good, but next time I will remember to butter the inside of the casserole dish, the bread stuck pretty badly.

Brussel sprouts with bacon is easy and so delicious. Just trim the bottoms off of some sprouts, halve them, then dunk them in some boiling water for 2 minutes to blanch them. Drain them, then slice up several slices of good bacon. In a good sized skillet or cast iron pan cook the bacon. When the bacon pieces start to crisp, remove them with a slotted spoon so most of the fat remains. Toss in the blanched brussel sprouts and cook over high heat until the sprouts soften and start to char in spots. Remove, season with salt and pepper, and top with the bacon pieces. So yummy.

Finally my cranberry sauces wasn’t too inventive this year since I’m still missing most of my pantry. Whole fresh cranberries, zest and juice of an orange, brown sugar, a little cinnamon, and a pinch of salt.
Well, hopefully that gave you a feel for our holiday feasts. Not too shaby for our first Christmas alone, huh?

Mom/reveler…a little slice of our holiday

Well, we have survived our first Montana Christmas. We had a nice time, though at first we were all a little sad about being apart from family. Despite being two states away from family, we felt very loved. Several Skype sessions and presents in the mail really helped connect us and made everything just a little bit more festive.

Our holiday season started on December 15th when we went up into the mountains to cut our tree. Getting up into thick trees and deep snow made me very happy, I will always be a forest and mountain girl at heart. We went up to the family cabin of one of Tim’s co-workers, he invited us up to visit and cut our tree on his property. So we made a big batch of chili to bring for lunch and drove an hour up into the mountains. We had a good time visiting and picking our tree, though trudging through 3 ft deep snow carrying two kids wasn’t easy. Connor tried his hardest to walk by himself but the snow was just too deep. I got a great work out though, carrying the kids through all that snow. We got our tree, then it was home again to decorate.


The week before Christmas I started baking cookies, though this year I had to get a little creative since the list of kitchen things that are still in storage include a stand mixer, rolling pin and cookie cutters. They turned out pretty well despite the more hands on approach I had to take, we ended up with frosted sugar cookies, molasses cookies, and peppermint bark. The peppermint bark recipe was a new one for me, it came from Food Network Magazines December issue. It was easy and came out really delicious, I just made it a little too thick. Next year I need to use a bigger pan to spread it out more. Still, a little goes a long way and a week later we still have some left over for snacking.

Now those of you who know Tim well, will know that he can’t go long without a project, so it will come as no surprise when I say that Saturday before Christmas he started remodeling the bathroom. The bathroom really needed it: the tub surround was cracked so the wall behind it was water damaged; the fixtures were old; and the whole room was an unfortunate neon yellow. Still, it was maybe a little much to take on to remodel the bathroom two days before Christmas.

Christmas eve arrived and we had a lovely meal of some venison supplied by a friend of ours  (more on the food of Christmas next post). We opened a present each and attempted to read “A visit from ST. Nick” though the kids are a little young yet.

On Christmas morning we had a nice time opening presents, then our landlord called and told Tim that the gas lines were frozen and could he come help unfreeze them? Since helping out around the property is in the lease, and since the gas lines supply our heat as well, out Tim went into -10 degree temps to help Vernon out. Poor Tim spent most of Christmas day working outside. The kids played with their new toys and I worked on Christmas dinner. Tim and our landlord were thankfully finished in time for dinner. We had another lovely meal and some mellow family time.

Overall the Gunderson’s had a very nice, quiet Christmas here in Montana. This post is getting pretty long so I will post about our food next time.

Happy Holidays!