Wednesday, November 27, 2013

You Can't Eat Anything These Days

My little Sunshine is having some tummy trouble, so I thought I'd cut out his dairy products and gluten for a few days to give his digestive system a break. I'm not planning on putting him on The Diet, I just want to reduce the load for a few days. While gluten is relatively easy for the short term since I make most of my meals from scratch, the kid really really likes milk. So I thought I'd get a milk substitute for him and after some deliberation I decided coconut milk would be the least processed option. Frustration then ensued.

First, I had to find the "unsweetened" coconut milk. Not the "No sugar added" because that is full of mystery sweet. I finally found it and lo, it is full of supplements. I am not sure why this bothers me, but it does. Why can't I just have coconut milk? Anyway, I brought it home and he likes it fine.

So after a long, frustrating, venture to the store with only five items on my list, I came home and poured myself a bowl of cereal and topped it with "real" milk. In my house, cereal is snack food. We rarely eat it for breakfast. I keep it on hand for no power emergencies, teenage snack attacks and moments when I am in desperate need of comfort food. Like after trips to a store that should have it's own zip code. But comfort was not to be had. I made a mistake. I read the ingredients.

Corn Flakes. Simple right? Not likely. The ingredients are corn, 6 different kinds of sugar, a whole bunch of vitamin and mineral supplements and then - BHA added to packaging. *sigh* This is why I cook from scratch. This is why I moved out to the country to start a 1 acre mini farm. Because nothing is sacred.

In this state of mind, my eyes fell upon a comforting statement "Made with non-GMO ingredients". Well that's good. At least I got something right. But did I? Because that statement doesn't say "Made without GMOs" or "Made with non-GMO" corn. They could be talking about one of the many varieties of sugar or one of the vitamin supplements.

When I was in the grocery store buying this box of cereal, my little Sunshine pointed to another box of cereal and made his excited "I want that" noise. The box was bright and full of colors and marshmellows. I told him "Oh no kiddo, you will never convince me to buy that kind of cereal". And an elderly woman shopping nearby heard the exchange and said "Good for you!" And I admit I felt somewhat smug. But really. How smug can I be? Is a cereal full of marshmallows that much worse than a "plain" "wholesome" cereal full of hidden sugar and weird shit? Might as well eat the marshmallows (if I liked marshmallows).

OK, so I know that cereal is like the most processed of processed food and I only buy it to please the teenager. I can't complain too much. But there is other stuff. If it's not the ingredients in the food itself, it's the way its grown or the packaging. Even someone who does most of their own home cooking, like myself, buys meat in plastic packages, frozen food in plastic bags and even canned food. I use a lot of canned tomatoes. I recently read an article (that I can't find again to reference) talking about the buildup of toxins from linings in cans of tomatoes. And another about a study linking said package-lining preservative chemicals to pre-term births. Of course I can't find that one either.

The danger in plastic-wrapped food can be somewhat mitigated by the fact that we don't own a microwave, so we never microwave anything in plastic. All of the plastic wrapped food is removed from the plastic before heating and often even before defrosting. And if I go to the butcher for my meat, instead of the meat aisle in the grocery store, I get better meat, often for a better price, wrapped in paper instead of plastic. But cans? If cans aren't safe what's a girl to do?

I realize that said articles were probably sensationalist nonsense written by people with no understanding of the scientific method who scanned a summary of a journal article and picked out the most shocking bits. I am brilliant at tearing out the pseudo-scientific nonsense in articles about things that don't strike terror into my heart personally.

Now my husband thinks I'm silly. He assures me that we are much less chemical-soaked than the average American and most people aren't suffering terribly. And he's probably right. Anyway, by the end of next year, at least a portion of our canned tomatoes, pickles, etc. will be from our own garden and thus free of whatever the scary chemical of the day is.

Monday, November 25, 2013

My Favorite Small Appliances

So I have been without a stove for nearly two months. I have a stove now, a fancy electric thing that I am having a bit of trouble getting used to. Works great, lots of nifty features. I miss my gas stove. But that has nothing to do with this post. This post is about the small appliances that I used while I was waiting in stove limbo. And now that I have had a stove for a couple weeks, the ones I still use are really telling. So, without further ado, here's my list.

The Electric Frying Pan - I love this thing. It is so much easier to use than a pan on the stove. I remember thinking "who needs an electric frying pan when you have stove?" And so I don't actually own the thing. I certainly needed it when I didn't have a stove and now that I have one, I still prefer to use the electric frying pan. It always heats evenly and cleanup is a breeze. What do I make in it? Stir fry, omelettes, hash browns, peirogies, sausages & peppers, fried rice, pancakes, you name it. I used this thing every day when I didn't have a stove and now I have to return it to my mother, from whom it was borrowed (she only uses it at the annual Memorial Day family fish fry.) And I am sad. When I buy one for myself, I will be looking for one without the suspicious coating, but I don't expect I'll have much luck.

The Aroma Steamer - Another thing I figured I'd have no use for that I used almost every day when I didn't have a stove and continue to use daily even though I have one. In the morning you can throw in a handful of oatmeal, some raisins and dried apples and enough water to cover, sprinkle on some cinnamon, set it to steam for 10 minutes and you've got breakfast. You can make any kind of rice or quinoa pilaf in the thing as well as steaming veggies or fish or chicken in the top basket for a complete meal. I also use it to make chili and other soups. You can toss it all in in the morning and schedule it to be ready when you need it. And it cleans up super easy. This also has suspicious coating and that frustrates me a bit because there's not much stickiness that goes into this anyway.

The Crock Pot - The crock pot has always been a favorite tool, but not one I use every day. It is my favorite way to cook beans which might later be turned into hummus or added to chili or a rice or quinoa pilaf. It is also one of my favorite ways to process apples. Just cut them up, add sugar and cinnamon, cook it on low overnight and you have apple butter. Yum. Turn it up to high in the morning and plop on your favorite biscuit recipe, cover and cook another 20 minutes and you have apple cobbler (sort of). Very yummy. Of course it's also useful for potroast and pulled pork- neither of which I make very often. I actually have two different sized Crock Pots and a West Bend slow cooker. The 3 quart Crock Pot gets regular use as a bean cooker, the other two get used much less often.

The George Foreman Grill - I did not use this daily, but I used it often enough for it to make the list. I like it for grilling chicken breasts and I also made salmon in it once.

The Toaster Oven - Mostly I used the toaster oven to bake potatoes and roast beets. I also used it to make cheesy garlic bread out of some sub buns that had gone stale once. It is not big enough to take more than 1 sub bun or 3 potatoes or beets at a time and certainly not big enough to bake a batch of bread in. I am glad I had it, but I didn't use it every day.

Honorable mention must go to my food dehydrator which is hardly a necessary tool in the kitchen but made the abundance my apple tree produced this year into manageable bits, easily tossed into the steamer or crock pot to be used in whatever recipe I wish. (Especially helpful since pies and canning were not an option.) Next year I am going to use it to dry peppers, onions, blueberries and more into nifty bits that can simply be tossed in and simmered.

During my stove-free cooking foray I did not find a good solution for pasta. My pasta maker went un-used entirely because I didn't have any way of cooking pasta. My mother did lend me a hot pot which might have worked, but would have required me to work in several small batches. I didn't try this. I did try using her deep fryer to boil pasta but I couldn't get the taste of old oil out of it and the resulting pasta was pretty gross. It may have worked if it had been brand new. As I have never personally deep fried anything, the deep fryer didn't get used at all after that.

Aside from pasta and fresh baked bread, we did not go without when we went without the stove. And since I have been trying to cut carbs, this worked out perfectly for me. (The boys, not so much.) In reality, I could have gone without a stove indefinitely. If it had come down to buying an appliance (we got our new stove for free from a guy who was moving and didn't need it of I still wouldn't have one), I would have spent the money on a dishwasher before the stove as my cooking needs were pretty much met without it.

That being said, most of these small appliances, with the exception of the toaster oven and the Crock Pot, have suspicious non-stick chemical coatings. The West Bend items are the most suspicious-looking. I feel much safer cooking with my trusty Lodge cast iron pans and for that I need a stove and an oven. Or a fire pit - but I don't have time for that.

You'll notice that there is no microwave on here. I don't have one and haven't in a long time. I use the steamer or the toaster oven for reheating leftovers. I thought I'd get a new microwave eventually when the old one went out in a blaze of sparks and flashing lights but I haven't missed it so I don't think I'll bother. Besides, my husband is convinced it turns food into carcinogens.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013


The last few years of my life have brought about some pretty dramatic changes. When my husband and I discovered that we were expecting another child, we decided to do everything we could to give him the sort of childhood I always wished I could have given my older children: a stay at home mother dedicated to his care and early education and fresh, home grown, homemade food and plenty of fresh air to grow on. So, I left my full time job shortly before my son was born and now only work on the weekends and we made the move North from suburban Detroit to a much more rural area. 

Obviously, the subtitle of my blog, A Diary of a Suburban Kitchen Witch, is no longer appropriate. I'm thinking "Homesteading Hearth Witch" instead. 

Just a few years ago I was the mother of teenagers. I had two dogs. I lived in the suburbs with my delightful husband. We had two cars and a tiny house and a postage-stamp sized yard. My husband and I both worked full time. While were weren't wealthy by any means, we had enough cash to occasionally dine out, have date nights, go to the movies, have annual memberships to the local museum and zoo and go on vacation annually. 

Now we have a bigger house, a big yard, one car, one job (and a quarter) and no extra money for fun stuff. I'm a little worried about how Yule is going to turn out. Somehow I thought I'd have extra time when I left my day job. I thought I'd make all my Yuletide gifts. I thought I would write more, maybe finally write that book I've been thinking about since I was 8. This was naive. It hasn't turned out that way at all. All of my time is spent keeping the house together and preventing my extremely active little Sunshine from injuring himself, incurring the wrath of the cat, or burning down the house. (Wow I can't wait for preschool next year.)

My plan to supplement our income by growing the majority of our food is put on hold until next spring since we didn't manage to get possession of the house we put an offer on in May until the middle of September. Painful tendinitis in my arm has made swinging a hammer, turning a screw, raking and shoveling agony. So my chicken coop goes unbuilt, my beds go unturned. I. Am. So. Frustrated. I can't help it, I'm a Gemini.

Do not for a minute thing that all this complaining means I'm unhappy. When is a Gemini happy when she doesn't have something to complain about? Something to change, to fix, to fantasize about making better?

This too will pass. This time next year I will have hens giving me eggs, lovely greens sitting in a coldframe, a cellar full of root veggies and jars of tomatoes and sauces and this blog will be full of my journey. I know that I am not the only one going through this. I know a lot of folks out there who grew up in the suburbs or cities who are trying to make a more natural life for their families close to the land. And I know its an adjustment. I know because I read their blogs to find out how they do stuff I am trying to figure out how to do.

Historically, I have tried in my writing to be as generic and impersonal as possible but, you know, this is pointless in a blog. I can do impersonal at the Witchipedia. Here and at Sacred Hearth it's personal. After all, this blog claims to be a diary. Yet I sometimes refrain from writing things because they are too personal, why do folks want to hear about that? I am not so interesting. But why not? After all, who else am I going to talk to stuck in the house with a baby out in the middle of nowhere?

So, changes have happened and changes are coming. And I am going to try to write more. It's good for me. And maybe, as I struggle to be a homesteader and a writer and a stay at home mom and homemaker extraordinaire and all that stuff I always wanted to be, you will find something to help you out with your own struggles.