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almost 18, and still taking baby steps

February 21st, 2012 | 3 Comments »

This boy of mine, a man-child with the deep voice and winsome smile, self-sufficient and capable who is learning to drive and manage a bank account and negotiate girls and friendships….. so much that’s happening with him on every passing day but he can’t seem to manage taking a shower without a few heavy knocks on the door.

And on occasion, shutting off the hot water and giving him ‘The Big Chill’.

As battles go, I know this one is pretty low on the priority scale. When we say ‘Be home by midnight’ he’s usually walking in the door around 11:30. When he has a sleepover with his friends, the worst thing they do is consume too much junk food and pop.
He makes his own breakfast and lunch. When we ask for him to manage dinner, he makes us a feast. If I leave him a task list before I go to work, it’s complete by the time I come home. He still likes to hang out with us, watching a movie or TV show. He washes his own clothes without our prompting, he willingly goes to church, he loves to read and he enjoys good friendships with his band of brothers from his Youth Group, and with his cousins.

But, he still needs ‘The Big Chill’.

He’s not sneaking out of the house after we’re asleep, to meet friends who encourage illicit activities. He’s not coming home from hanging out with his pals sporting telltale signs of substance abuse or alcohol consumption. He’s not stealthily smoking cigarettes, chasing after all kinds of girls, committing vandalism, TP-ing houses, terrorizing neighbors. We trust his friends, and that goes far. If the worst offense he encounters away from the protection of our wings is a trip to Chipotle after his rec league basketball game, then I consider us pretty darn lucky.

Then come those morning, and we have to flip that knob that cuts the flow of hot water, because the knock at the door and the responding ‘Ok.’ haven’t made a bit of difference.

He turns 18 in April, and yet, in no way in this man-child an adult. Maybe in some ancient time, when life was far different and everyone needed to be so much more self-sufficient, and when the life expectancy was more like 30, when we didn’t have the ability to thrive in to our 80′s or higher, when the dangers of life could take their toll far quicker and more exacting, maybe then 18 was adulthood, worthy of responsibility, of letting go and watching them spread their own wings to fly. Used to be that a girl of 18 who was unmarried was considered too old. A time existed that man of 18 had all the markings of adulthood;  a wife, a homestead and his own team of horses. But this isn’t the case now.

And that’s all right with me. I wasn’t ready to fly by myself either at that age. And although he moves closer to finding his own freedom every day, and we plot to move him in the right direction, he still has moments where he sits down by me, just wanting my proximity. He still loves it when I grab him in a huge hug, and hold on tight. He can figure out his future, take stock of what he wants from it and try to make it all work out and I can sit back and enjoy the process of seeing him test those wings, listening and supporting his ideas. I find a few things to tease him about, but it’s a huge stretch to do so, because this boy of mine, for all those moments of forgetfulness, when he doesn’t recall the task list I left or simply decides he doesn’t want to do what we ask, well those are few and far between. And as parenting a teenager goes, it’s an awfully good thing going on here, worthy of the pride it evokes.

If my only vice with him is that he is soothed by a long, hot shower in the morning, then I’ve got little to complain about.

{{Just Write 23}} is happening, over at The Extraordinary Ordinary.
Won’t you head over there and read some of the other posts?? 

beauty products from your kitchen

February 18th, 2012 | 2 Comments »

I’ve been paying attention to all things food for as far back as I can recall, and the more in-depth I go with food, in all aspects of my life, the more I can see over my lifetime that it’s been in me since I was just a little kid.

Back in the early years of college, I used to randomly read Cosmopolitan magazine, long before it became the sensationalist rag that it is today. On one occasion, while sitting in the student union at the U of M, waiting for a perpetually late friend to show up for a study date, I picked up a ragged and torn issue of Cosmopolitan and began paging through it. I came across an article about using regular, ordinary food products for beauty treatments, and read through it, transfixed. Here was simple and easy ways to enhance the look and feel of your skin, using items that everyone has at their fingertips. I slipped the magazine in my backpack, and those pages became so dog-eared from use that I eventually tossed them out. But the information I read there, and keep in mind that this was likely in 1983 or 1984, I have utilized in some way, to this day. And it’s been illuminating to see the food world around me embrace the use of everyday food items for personal use.

The best part about these treatments is that they are completely chemical-free. No worries about absorbing something unsafe into your body, and you aren’t harming the environment when you rinse them down the drain.

Here’s a few of the treatments that I love:


Avocado Hair Mask: Mash one ripe avocado in a bowl with a few teaspoons of olive oil. Apply to slightly damp hair (prior to washing) Rub or comb through and place a plastic bag over your hair to insulate. Wrap your head in a towel and let the treatment sit for an hour. Wash hair as usual. Avocado oil is also good to have on hand. Rub a few drops through your hair after styling to help tame flyaways and make it feel lustrous.

Egg White Skin Toner: Whip an egg white until stiff peaks form. With your fingertips, apply the whites to your freshly washed face. It’s messy, yes; but after a half hour or so when you rinse it off, your skin will feel tight and firm, and man alive, will it glow!! The proteins in egg whites will do wonders for your skin, as well as your eating plan. This can be used on any part of your body.

Sugar Scrubs: These are very popular now, but I’ve been using some form of a sugar scrub for a very long time. Mix a cup of plain white sugar with a few tablespoons of olive, avocado or almond oil and several drops of any essential oil you like (my favorite is bergamot oil- smells like oranges, or lavender). Mix to combine and keep in a sealed jar. Scoop a small amount on wet hands and rub sugar over skin, nail beds and cuticles. Rinse with warm water and apply a good moisturizer. This can be used all over the body for amazing exfoliation. Mix 1/4 cup of coarse cornmeal in with the sugar and oils to use on tougher areas, like feet and elbows. My friend Shaina has a lovely recipe on her blog for Ginger and Coconut Oil Sugar Body Scrub that sounds amazing.

Olive Oil Wash: Olive oil was once prized by ancient civilizations for it’s moisturizing properties, long before it became a staple in cooking. When I worked in a professional kitchen and washed my hands a million times in my 8-hour shift, I would drizzle a bit of olive oil on them to help keep them from cracking and drying out, as it wouldn’t contaminate the food I was preparing like regular lotion. A dime-sized amount in the palm of your hands make a refreshing and pure face wash, lifting dirt and oil gently and without harsh chemicals. Your skin feels incredibly soft and clean. I realize it sounds counterintuitive, but it really works.

Olive oil is also an excellent source of moisture in your hair. As a pre-shampoo treatment, rub it through the ends of your dry hair, then massage a bit on your scalp. Cover your head with plastic and allow it to sit for 15-20 minutes before you shampoo and condition as usual. If you use a deep conditioner on your hair, you can add a few drops of olive oil to it before applying for an extra level of moisturizing. {{For more information and ideas: source: Hairlicious}}

Almond Facial Scrub: It helps the look of your skin to exfoliate the dead layers on a regular basis. Crushed almonds make for an amazing facial scrub. Grind the nuts to a coarse powder; add a bit of water and gently rub the mixture over your face, avoiding the tender skin around the eyes. I love how this smooths out rough patches on my forehead, and really cleans up the pores. Coarsely ground oatmeal is also an excellent exfoliator, and is a bit more gentle for sensitive skin.

Almonds are a nutrient powerhouse for the entire body, and one food item worth incorporating in to your eating.

Apple Cider Vinegar: The astringent properties of apple cider vinegar are wonderful for neutralizing minor skin irritations and helping calm the aggravation of yeast infections. A cup of this in a shallow bath is very soothing, and you can dab it on mosquito bites to take the itch away. A cotton swab dipped in apple cider vinegar and touched to acne breakouts can help speed the healing process.

Check out Bragg Live Foods for more information on the benefits of Apple Cider Vinegar.

Baking Soda Build-Up Remover: As someone who has colored her hair for most of my life, this method for removing build-up on my hair has been the best overall natural treatment I’ve done. If you use any kind of styling products on your hair like gels or sprays, they can build up over time and cause hair to become limp and dull.  I can’t use shampoos that will do this, as they strip the color right out of my hair, making it really flat. But adding a tablespoon of baking soda to my shampoo creates a natural cleanse that leaves my hair shiny and fresh, and most importantly, with the color intact. Keep a box within reach of your shower and add a small amount to your shampoo weekly for best results. It will leave the hair shaft wide open, and your hair might feel a bit rough when you rinse but a good deep conditioner follow-up will take care of that right away. You’ll love how it feels.

Baking soda is a mighty multi-tasker in your household, as many of you know how well it works for cleaning purposes too. Here’s a good article on the versatility of this pantry standard: “51 Fantastic Uses for Baking Soda”. We use baking soda to keep the litter boxes fresh, and it does wonders on odors in your laundry too.

Shaina also talked recently about using coconut oil in your hair to tame dryness and add a lustrous shine. I’ve tried this a few times and now am hooked on how wonderful it makes my hair feel. I find it helps to enhance the natural curl in my hair too.

Sometime in the mid-90′s, I picked up a book called Blended Beauty, by Phillip B. that was filled with natural, food-based beauty treatments. Published in 1995, this book was way, way ahead of it’s time, listing ingredients like lemongrass, quinoa, kale, coconut oil, fresh herbs and a host of other novelty items that were basically unheard of, or even widely available at that point in time. The book is available on Amazon, and is well worth having in your personal library, especially if you’re like me and hate using chemically laden products on your skin. I’ve tried multiple recipes from the book, and have been very pleased with all of them.

 

Do you use any natural beauty treatments or natural remedies around the house?
What have you found in your food that you love on your skin??

 

{{photo credits: Avocado, Eggs, Sugar, Olive Oil, Almonds, Apple Cider Vinegar, Baking Soda}}

 

 

my valentine

February 14th, 2012 | 5 Comments »

He is the least romantic person I know, and yet I wouldn’t have it any other way.
{{and he knows that I feel this way about him. Funny thing is, he agrees}}

And Valentine’s Day is not a holiday that we pay any particular attention to in our marriage. After nearly 11 years together, there is that deep and abiding understanding that what you do every day of the year means far more than some silly gestures, a box of chocolates or a pink frilly heart on only one of those days.

This man…. he makes every day worthwhile.

Because………

After every day of those near 11 years, despite the inevitable ups and downs of marriage, he STILL makes me burst out laughing on a regular basis with his silly jokes and comments.

He married a woman with an 8 year old son, and has been the kind of Dad that every boy needs. Especially mine.

He brings me coffee six mornings a week, while I lay in bed. {{on the 7th, I wake before him, letting him sleep}}

He makes sure my car runs smoothly, because quite frankly, I have no idea how to do it.

He gladly cleans up even the worst of my kitchen messes, with a smile on his face. As he puts it, it’s the payback for having such good things to eat in our lives.

He is a willing participant in our striving for good health. He cares about what he eats, and encourages me in the kitchen even moreso when he’s happily, and gladly, eating the food I create.

My computer runs beautifully. And he makes sure he backs up all my important files.

He makes this blog shine because he just ‘gets’ my crazy and often vague ideas on how I want it to look.

He treats my friends with amazing grace.

He encourages me to step away from my life once in a while, to get out of the house, to go hang with a friend, to get out and socialize. He knows when I’m being crushed, when I need a break and he makes me do it.

But more importantly, and likely the best thing of all…….

He loves me, for me. He has no expectations of what I should be, and his unconditional acceptance gives me wings to be free and explore the me that I was created to be. This has been, far and away, the finest thing any human being, outside of my mother, has ever done for me.

Happy Valentine’s Day to you, Mike,  the love of my life. Marrying you was the best decision I ever have made. Thank you for helping make it so incredibly blessed and for making me feel so deeply loved.

intensely perfect minestrone

February 10th, 2012 | 4 Comments »

There is something so perfect about a pot of soup, one that steams and seems to sing from the stovetop, humming it’s warmth throughout my kitchen, through my skin and right in to my bones. I feel the need for soup, sometimes as deep as the roots of my hair and permeating outward, and as any good Midwestern girl knows, when the cold winds scour you down and the light is so flat and gray and weak that it makes you weary and drawn, then soup, in all it’s aromatic glory and flavor, can be a shot of lifeblood that runs through you, chasing the chill away.

Soup has but a few simple secrets to making it shine, such as taking some time to caramelize the vegetables to form a flavor base, a good broth or stock to add more depth and a shot of love, really, to not rush the process. But good soup really starts from need. Or craving and desire.

I used to not be all that good at making soup, mostly because I just didn’t understand why a recipe that looked so simple could often turn out so darn wrong. I wanted depth, a rich flavor that penetrated the spoon and it’s contents, making it something so much more than broth and vegetables. All I really needed was a bit of patience, a lot of practice and tad more salt. Don’t be afraid of a shake of salt over that simmering pot, as it is the one ingredient that can transform a simple pot of soup to one that shimmers it’s warmth right down to your toes.

This Minestrone soup, as all Minestrone soups go, really has no clear outline, no real etymology. It creates itself for the most part, out of what you have on hand, and what you like in your soup. Or, like me on this particular cold January night, it leapt from under my hands out of sheer need. I couldn’t get warm, couldn’t shake a chill that had settled in my core like a wicked internal frost. Somehow, this chill and it’s accompanying rattle in my brain sounded like it was saying, over and over “Make Minestrone!” and I moved, on automatic it seemed, from fridge to stove to cupboard, seeking and searching ingredients. There were the green beans languishing in the drawer and in dire straits, there was Pomi tomatoes (my favorite packaged tomato- so amazingly fresh and flavorful) and there were thick, deeply orange carrots, fat tear-jerking onions, a partial box of orzo, a few zucchini beginning to look slightly sorry for themselves, just enough kale, a bounty of fresh oregano and parsley. And while the fragrance filled the house, and the soup simmered it’s coherent and rhythmic blup-blup-blup on the stove, a quick search for dunking material in the freezer yielded a container of croutons, spiked with herbs and olive oil, that I’d made from a loaf of stale semolina bread. Did I mention another key ingredient to perfect soup just might be a touch of serendipity?

Minestrone requires little of the hard and fast rules; you add what you’ve got, really. What is in season, what is available, what it is you like. It needs a good tomato-y base, without a doubt. But beyond that, it lives for your interpretation. Thick or thin, meat or not, one, two or three vegetables or a whole produce aisle of them, pasta, legumes or rice- it’s all up to you. This version that served to warm my very cold, rattling bones on that damp, chilly night made light of too many singular remnants from the fridge; bits and pieces of plans that maybe fell through or were forgotten, or the one too many of any vegetable that hadn’t been used up yet. It had oceans of freshly chopped oregano and parsley tossed casually over it all, with thick shavings of sharp parm-reggiano. It was like planning a party at the last moment, not so confident of how it will all turn out and right in the middle of it, you realize that everyone in attendance has created an impeccable presence that elevates the whole of it to something utterly sublime. Well, that was my Minestrone that night; a delicious party in a stockpot, gathered with fingers crossed. My intensely perfect Minestrone.

Rounding it all out were the crunchy croutons, oiled, herbed and perfect for soaking up the broth. Beyond that, my perfect soup needed little else but a spoon, a quiet table with two smiling handsome faces, because no day in my life is complete without it ending right there, with them. The darkness settles, chasing out the light with violet and gold tones. The first spoonful I lift easily helps me cross the threshold from day to night, pushing the cold away, warmly coursing through me. There is a sigh, with half-closed eyes, a look and a feel that says “Perfect. This is just what I need.”

Kate’s Minestrone

1 large onion, diced
3 carrots, peeled and diced
3 celery stalks, with leaves, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced (adjust to taste, I am a garlic lover)
2 small zucchini, peeled and diced
1/2# fresh green beans, cut to 1/2″ pieces
1 bunch fresh kale, rough stems removed and chopped (sub chard, collards, or spinach)
1 32-oz pkg Pomi Tomatoes (use equivalent of your choice)
1/2 c. Orzo pasta (use small pasta of choice)
1/4 c. bulgur (optional, but I like the heft and nutrition it adds)
1/4 c. fresh chopped parsley and oregano (basil and thyme are also good)
Parm-Reggiano shavings

In a large stockpot, heat a small amount of oil and add the onions. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes, or until the onions are opaque. Add the carrots, celery and green beans and cook, stirring, until the vegetables begin to brown a little, maybe 10-15 minutes. Moderate the heat to prevent them from scorching.

Add the garlic and a pinch of kosher salt. Stir to incorporate and cook for a few minutes until it’s wonderfully fragrant. Add the  zucchini and the tomatoes and a quart of broth or water. Bring to a simmer and cook until the vegetables are tender enough to pierce with a fork, but not completely soft.

Add the kale, the pasta and the bulgur, if using. Depending on what pasta shape you use, cook until the pasta is al dente. Taste the soup and season with salt and pepper. Make sure the pasta is cooked, but also remember that it will continue to absorb liquid as the soup sits.

Ladle soup into bowls and top with a sprinkling of the fresh herbs and some shavings of cheese. Serve with a good bread, if desired.

RECIPE NOTES: This soup is wide open to interpretation, and can be modified in a multitude of different ways. Brown some good sausage and use the fat rendered to cook the vegetables for an added punch of flavor. This was a favorite way to make this soup back in my meat eating days.

Legumes can be added to this as well, and most Minestrone soups have them. Use a good quality white bean, such as Great Northern or Cannellini. Chickpeas would also be a good option.

As is the case with most soups, it develops a lot of flavor as it sits overnight in the fridge, but it will also absorb a lot of liquid in to the pasta and the bulgur (if you use the bulgur). Adding a little water to the soup before reheating will help loosen it.

Linking up to Soupapalooza 2012!!

Come join SoupaPalooza at TidyMom and Dine and Dishsponsored by KitchenAidRed Star Yeast and Le Creuset

whole grain banana ricotta bread

February 5th, 2012 | 4 Comments »

This post could also be aptly titled “The end of searching for the perfect banana bread” but that just seemed too long and a bit too final.  I should never think I’ve ‘arrived’ at any destination, be it a quest for knowledge, a higher level of health and well-being or never-ending search for perfect banana bread, as somewhere out there, a recipe may exist that could bring this loaf to shame, but for now, I’m sticking with what I’ve got.

I grew up eating banana bread, from the earliest memories that I have. My Mom made it almost weekly, in fact, I’m pretty sure she bought way more bananas than she needed just so she’d have an excuse. She put walnuts in it, which I despised, so these days, my banana bread is always without nuts. When I got old enough to make my own banana bread, I turned to her tried and true recipe from my youth, and as an adult, I found it sorely lacking, so I moved on. And on. And on.

The goal that I’ve strived for, over recipes and time and growing older, was pure banana bread bliss and perfection that existed as a mental taste somewhere in my mind. And with the first bite of this grain-studded loaf, rich with banana flavor, I about leapt in the air with delight, shouting ‘Eureka!! I have found it!’ while my son chuckled in delight at my antics, he himself wide-eyed and excited over the taste of his piece. This IS pure banana bread delight, and I don’t say that lightly. Folks,  I have made and eaten A LOT of banana breads in my lifetime, as I sought out that elusive fine balance of moist and tender crumb, ultimate banana taste and now, a higher level of health than a loaf crushing the scales with sugar and fat. After researching low-fat, and healthier banana bread options for over an hour, I settled on one recipe that gave me a pretty good start, and then started tweaking it to my liking.

I think my biggest disappointment with banana bread has always been that it just doesn’t have as much banana flavor as I want. I add more banana to any number of recipes, and I get mushy bread that turns soggy after a few days, so clearly, without some changes to the base, that’s not a workable option. And I needed a substantial heft other than what flour and leavening can offer in order to stand against that large dose of delicious bananas. When making muffins, I’ve turned to the use of cereals and grains to add more heft, and to make them a bit more nutritious. When faced with adjusting a banana bread recipe in the same way, that’s where I went as well. This recipe has whole rolled oats, All-Bran cereal and a commercial 10-grain cereal as a majority of the dry base. Cutting back on the use of eggs, I added some ground flaxseed for binder (you could also use unsweetened applesauce for this as well). The ricotta cheese, along with a small amount of milk, provides a richness in the texture that’s particularly pleasing to the mouth. The sugar was another matter; I took a gamble, using only a mere half cup in a recipe that makes two loaves. Most tea-bread recipes that I come across have, at least in my opinion, way, way too much sugar, and this amount was perfect. The end result is a bread without the teeth clenching sweetness, so the rich banana flavor just shines through. The cereal and grain base makes the texture nubbly and firm, and helps it retain a lot of moisture. Best of all, the loaves are simply packed with banana flavor.

A lot of this was pure kitchen chemistry, mixed with a lifetime of learning why the recipes I tried were so disappointing. After so many experiments, it’s nice to finally land on something that lifts your heart and elevates your taste-buds, all the while being reasonably healthy enough to enjoy without much guilt.

If you’re like me, when bananas get past the point of consumption in your house, they get tossed in the freezer to await a baking urge, and this recipe is perfect for when you’ve gotten a large stockpile of them.

 

Whole Grain Banana Ricotta Bread

Yield: Two loaves. It can easily be cut in half.

Preheat the oven to 350°. Spray two 9×5 standard loaf pans with cooking spray.

In a large bowl, mix together the following:
6 large, very ripe bananas, mashed
3/4 c. ricotta cheese
1/3 c. milk of choice
1/2 c. sugar
3 T. grape-seed oil (or other neutral flavored oil)
1 t. pure vanilla extract
1 egg
2 T. ground flaxseed
1/2 c. whole rolled oats
1/2 c. All-Bran cereal
1/2 c. commercial 10-grain cereal, such as Bob’s Red Mill (sub 7-Grain, or 5-Grain if you can only find those)

Whisk this until well blended and allow to sit for about 15 minutes to soften the grains.

In a large measuring cup, combine the following:
2 c. whole wheat flour
1 c. unbleached AP flour
1 t. sea salt
1-1/2 t. baking soda
2 t. baking powder

Add the dry ingredients to the bowl with the banana mixture, and with a rubber spatula, gently fold them together until all the dry ingredients are incorporated. Be careful not to overmix. The batter will be very thick.

Divide the batter between the two loaf pans and smooth the top. Drop the pans on the counter a few times to settle the batter and release any air pockets. Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow loaves to cool in pan for up to a half hour before turning them out to cool completely on a rack.

 

RECIPE NOTES: I use All-Bran cereal a lot in baking, and it keeps a long time in your cupboard. Bob’s Red Mill 10-grain cereal is not only a delicious breakfast cereal, but it’s wonderful for breads too, and I’ve also used it in muffins. I keep it in a plastic bag in the freezer and it lasts indefinitely. I also keep a baggie of ground flaxseed in the freezer.

If all you have on hand is whole rolled oats, this recipe would work just fine to use those in the full amount.

If you wish to cut the recipe in half, don’t use the flaxseed, as it acts as a second ‘egg’.