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.

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!