Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Success!

I am a high school special education teacher.  I co-teach mathematics.  The master's degree that I just started working on is in mathematics.  This way I will be certified in both special education and mathematics.  I did not really take any more than the basic general education requirements for mathematics in undergrad, so I was pretty nervous about starting my new classes head first with calculus.

I got my first test back...  90%!  I made a few silly mistakes like converting .036 into 36% instead of 3.6%, but all in all not half bad for a girl without a lot of math background.

- Laura

Monday, September 27, 2010

Homemade 100% Whole Wheat Bread

In my quest to eliminate or at least greatly reduce my white flour and sugar intake I have started making my own 100% whole wheat bread.  I have found that it is hard to find bread that is 100% whole wheat without any preservatives.  The brands that I have found are usually very dense and sometimes a little bit too hardy tasting.


I decided to start making my own so that I will know exactly what is going in to the bread.  However, as always, limited time is an issue for me.  So I found a recipe in the same 5 minute bread book that I posted about earlier.



I would post the recipe, but I do not want to break any copyright laws.  However, the bread has very few ingredients and is simple to mix and bake.  The only ingredients are whole wheat flour, honey, oil, yeast, milk and salt.


I mix up the bread and bake it on Sunday evenings, and then it lasts for the remainder of the week.  I have been experimenting with the recipe a little bit over the past few weeks.  I have added flaxmeal, whole flax seeds, oatmeal, and walnuts.  The flaxmeal I substituted for an equal amount of flour so that it would not change the ratio of dry to wet ingredients.  All of the other items I just added in addition to the regular recipe.  So far all of the additions have turned out fine.  The bread is a little bit dense, but has a great slightly sweet flavor to it.


I am hoping that I can soon start grinding my own flour rather than buying it in bulk from my local natural food store.



It is good with all kinds of toppings. . . 


PB&J, ham and cheese, 


chicken salad,
 



 avocado and cheese. 




 No matter what kind of sandwich, it makes for a great little lunch! 


Hmmm, I guess that I was feeling very orange today!  

- Laura

Friday, September 24, 2010

Freecycle!

My parents are avid bikers.  My mom has been searching garage sales for a bike trailer for my niece for a long time.  I recently saw one listed on freecycle.  Usually any kind of kids stuff goes really fast, so I was surprised when it was still available.  When I picked it up it was a little bit bigger and older than I expected.  From the mid to late 90's.  My mom was a little bit unsure about it because it is open on top which could lead to flying debris.


So then my dad suggested that it could be used for trips to the grocery store.  That did not make a lot of sense for my mom because she would have to ride down a busy street.  I realized that it would be perfect for me!  I live about a mile or so from a forest preserve with about an 8 mile bike trail loop.  At the opposite end of the loop is a small offshoot that leads straight to my local natural food store.  I always felt bad shopping here because this store is about twice as far of a drive as my closest conventional grocery store.  This solves my guilt problem because now I am getting exercise and not having to drive at all.


So last week I strapped my reusable bags into the trailer and headed to the store.  Not a bad view for a ride to the grocery store right? 




It is about a 5 mile ride to the store in each direction.  I made it!


I loaded my bags full of groceries back into the trailer and headed home. 


I am actually kind of looking forward to going to the grocery store this week.

- Laura

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Sundays. . .

Last week I worked on many of my new goals.  First, to get more organized and plan and cook ahead on Sundays to prepare for the week.  That has been going pretty well so far.  Last week I made a quadruple recipe of chili which was plenty to eat on the nights that I had class after work, and to freeze a whole bunch.  Here is what is waiting for me in the freezer for the next time that I do not have time to cook on Sunday. 


I also made some oatmeal to bring to work in the morning and eat for breakfast.


Then I tried a new whole grain this week (or tried to anyway).  I bought some whole red wheat berries at the store.  I was going to try to grind them up and add them to my whole wheat flour to bake bread (more on the bread later this week.)
  

I thought that if I put them in the food processor that should be able to grind them up no problem. 


Here they are after processing. . .



Hmmm, I guess that I really do need to get a grain mill.  Any suggestions on good ones?

- Laura

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

I heart faces (and supporting kids with Down syndrome)

This post is definitely to get the word out about two things.

The most important is that Champaign Down Syndrome Network has their big fundraiser coming up soon!
The Buddy Walk is on October 9, and you can win all sorts of prizes including a photo session with me.  Because that would be awesome.

Another reason for this post is to enter this week's i heart faces contest. The theme this week is "smirk."  And this little cowboy has a phenomenal smirk.  I'm sorry, but I wanted to hang out with him for quite a while tonight during a photo session.


-Meghan

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Eating the Alphabet

I am doing a project this month trying to find, shape, and take pictures of foods that begin with every letter of the alphabet.

I have chosen a food for each letter, but using some kind of artificial sweetener for X is going to be a bit of a cheat.

Here are a few of my favorites so far:
Quinoa

Potatoes

Lettuce

I hope to finish it up in the next two weeks and then edit them all and put them together in poster form.  
Meanwhile, I will take any letter suggestions that anyone has!

-Meghan

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The no HFCS experiement

I boasted a week ago to my husband that I can easily go without high fructose corn syrup.  For 5 days it was so easy.  I was doing a great job without really thinking about it.

But this morning I had a really bad heachache, the kind that needs a quick jolt of caffiene.  I went to the soda machine looking for a diet coke.  But they were all out.  Without thinking I bought and drank a Mountain Dew.  Yes, second ingredient: HFCS. 

So, 5 days. 

I am thinking I need to keep some caffinated tea at work for times like this!

-Meghan

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Broccoli is yummy in my mouth

Ok, so I stole the title of this post from my son.  He is in a broccoli-obsessed phase.  He loves it.  So I thought I would try to combine the whole grains + some broccoli for dinner this week.

I got the recipe from 101 cookbooks, an amazing food blog.  Go look around because it's awesome.

So, again, camera is out of commission and my iPhone takes really weird pictures.  Whites are yellows and greens are BRIGHT and yeah, just a hot mess.  But, I wanted to show you it while I was cooking, so I am still including them!

1. First step is to cook the quinoa.  It's one cup of quinoa to 2 cups of water.  Just put them on the stove on medium until it absorbs the water.  That's it.  It will get "fluffy" which is funny but it really does.  Then the little grains will open up and grow tails and they will become delicious.  You should rinse it first, but I can't rinse it without losing tons of the grains, so I don't rinse that well.
   (1a, for children:  Get a piece of foil and drop the grains onto the foil.  Then get them wet and drop them. The sounds are different and surprisingly loud for such a little thing.  My son really enjoyed doing this.  He would drop them onto the foil, then a towel and back and forth.)


2. Steam the broccoli for a few minutes.  About 4-6 cups of broccoli, I didn't measure.

3.  Take half of that broccoli along with a few cloves of garlic, 1/4 cup cream, 1/4 cup olive oil, some almonds and some parmesean and make a pesto with that in the food processor.  (I feel like I need to defend the fact I use white parmeasean cheese, not yellow.  It's the lighting!)


4.  Dump the pesto and the remaining broccoli onto the quinoa, top with cheese and olives and enjoy!  It was a fun dish to make with my kid and he really liked it.  Because "mmmmm, broccoli is yummy in my MOUTH!


  


-Meghan

Monday, September 13, 2010

Stovetop wild rice and bulgar wheat

I found a recipe online for a stovetop grain meal and I modified it some.  I am nearly 100% certain it was from Better Homes and Gardens.

But, I was most excited because I wanted to cook bulgar wheat.  I just like saying the word "bulgar" and I had no idea what the wheat actually was.

From the awesome wikipedia I gathered:

"1 cup of dry bulgur contains approximately:[3]
  • Energy: 2003 kJ (479 kcal)
  • Dietary fiber: 25.6 g
  • Protein: 17.21 g
  • Carbohydrate: 69 g whereof 0.8 g sugars
  • Fat: 1.86 g whereof 0.2 g saturated fat
  • Potassium: 574 mg
  • Iron: 3.44 mg
  • Glycemic Index: 46[4]"
That's a lot of protein for a little grain!  It does look a bit like the corn-based kitty litter we use (yuck) but has a great taste.  Kind of nutty and chewy.

Here is what we made with it, excuse the photos, my camera is out of commission (boo!) so these are all from my iphone.  Which is really hard to use when you are also holding a kid who wants to THROW MUSHROOMS ON DINNER.  Really, it was pretty exciting throwing those mushrooms with "little rocks" into the big pot.

Recipe Parts:

1.  Cut up an onion and cook it in 1T or so olive oil until it gets that sweet onion smell and starts to sweat and look clear.

2.  Then dump that onion, 1 cup of apple juice and 2 cups of stock (I used vegetable stock) into a big pot with a half cup of rinsed wild rice.

3.  Bring those things to a boil and then simmer for 30 minutes.  Pronounce "simmer" like "simmah" for full effect.

4.  Once that' all simmered out, add a few cups of chopped mushrooms and a half cup of bulgar wheat and keep it simmering for another 10 minutes or so.

                                               

5. Pull it off the heat and add a chopped red pepper and some parsley.  Once it's cooled top with feta cheese.

                                             

My husband thinks a chicken breast would have been good with it.  I found that I felt pretty full after just having that bowl.  Next time I will definitely be doubling the recipe.

-Meghan

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Whole Grains

So, I am with Laura on the whole grains thing.  I found a few recipes to make this week using bulgar wheat, quinoa and wild rice.  I have cooked with bulk quinoa before and made a wild rice packaged dinner a few times but I have never cooked with bulgar wheat.




Henry loved getting to help me scoop the wheat out of the bins today.  I had to take a quick picture on my phone.  I am still looking for a good solution to bringing home grains from the store.  I have cloth bags and cloth produce bags which I can use for grains (the hemp one, but not the mesh one).  Any good ideas on that?

Here are the ones I use for my produce, they were a surprise gift from my husband and I love them!

ChicoBag Produce Stand Set/3 Eco-Friendly Reusable Produce Bags and Shopping Tote Set - (Produce Kit, Olive Sling)

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Book Review

I am glad that NerdyArtist asked what book I am reading about processed foods.  That gives me an excuse to tell you about it!  The book is called In Defense of Food:  An Eater's Manifesto.  It is by Michael Pollan.  He also wrote The Omnivore's dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals.  I have not read the omnivore's dilemma, but have heard good things about it.  In defense of food is a follow up book, but you do not need to read the omnivore's dilemma in order to follow in defense of food.

Here are my thoughts on the book.  I am only about half way through it (maybe I will have time to finish it over winter break?)  So far, I really like the way that it is written.  It seems very well researched, and is written in a way that the average person can understand.  The basic message is that many of our modern diseases came about at the same time that processed foods (especially white flour and sugar) came around.  While these new processed foods have made our lives much more convenient, and have given foods longer shelf lives they have also become so dominant in our diets that we do not eat enough "real food" and therefore are becoming malnourished.  I was interested in a study he talked about where children in families with low socio-economic status are being both overfed, and undernourished.  Processed foods are cheaper so that is what they are eating.  He focuses on the importance of eating real whole foods rather than what he calls food-like substances.  I like the book because it is not written by a scientist or politician or anyone with an agenda.  He is a journalist who is interested in how our diets have changed (and become significantly less healthy) over the past century or so.  Of course after the research he does believe that our diets need an overhaul, but really who wouldn't?  The good news is that he is not trying to sell you diet plans, or shakes, or any other accessories to go with the book.  At the end of the book there are some basic guidelines to follow in your own way to become more healthy.  Unfortunately, I have not gotten to those yet, so I guess that is all I can really say about it. 

I got the book from my local library, (just another way to save money and be green at the same time!) but if you would like to purchase it you can click on the link below and it will take you right to the book listed on Amazon.com. 

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Packaging the fast food, a long time to get over this one

I had dinner at McDonald's the other day.  I was traveling with my parents and my 2 year old and my parents wanted to stop by McDonalds.  I gave a few reasons why I didn't want to go, but in the end, it didn't really hold up, so we went there.

I have a lot of thoughts on it.

First thing that struck me is that I have been seeing a lot of advertisement recently about this new concept of healthy fast food.  I think it is great that you can buy healthier foods at McDonalds.  I would much rather feed my son a few sliced apples than french fries.

However, they seem to be playing this "green" thing a bit too much.

For example, you can buy their apple and walnut salad.  It is sliced apples, grapes, walnuts and some yogurt.  But it is packaged in as much plastic as food.  So, yes, the food is healthier than fries, but the packaging might be even worse!  Producing that much waste to eat an apple, something that comes with it's own natural packaging is disgusting.  The fruit was finely chopped.  That takes energy.  I would like to see a breakdown of how much oil was used to create and ship this "green" meal.  Not to mention the pesticides that are used on the fruit and then the time needed to clean it off.

My parents wanted to get my son his first Happy Meal.  I was actually OK with that.  I mean, it's vacation.  I was thinking I would rather have him eating chicken than red meat, but then I remembered reading in MIchael Pollan's "The Omnivore's Dilemna" that the percentage of actual food product in the chicken was significantly lower than the actual food in the hamburger.  Things like butane (BUTANE!) were added to the chicken and I didn't want him eating that.  So he got a little hamburger.  He hated it and asked for brocolli.  Mwahahaa.  (I, on the other hand hate brocolli so I don't know where the green-love comes from there).

I had a fruit and yogurt cup because I do not eat green salads from restaurants.  I know I sound a bit like a picky princess with that but greens should not be brown and they should not be white.  Greens should be firm and well, green. 

The yogurt and fruit was sickeningly sweet and came with a packaged bit of granola. 

I just felt sick not about our own choice to eat McDonalds because really once or twice a year doesn't hurt anyone and sometimes it's fun to do new and different things on vacation.  But the overwhelming dread was about the long lines of people eating there.  And the overflowing trashcans.  And perpetuating non-food production so that we can eat sliced apples.  That just seems so backwards.

It makes me think that if we only go occasionally to stores like this we really should just get the least packaged stuff available.  Or, just run into the grocery store and buy an apple.

Some books I like on this subject have been:

The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals  Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life (P.S.)  Coming Home to Eat: The Pleasures and Politics of Local Food

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

90 Minute Shirts


 I know that we teased you with this a while back, but we finally got our act together and put together a full post about it. 




I wanted to try the 90 minute shirt tutorial from Dana on Made.  I do not have any kids, so I made one for my niece and one for Meghan's son.  My sister donated some old shirts that she had laying around.  She picked the fish pattern for Mary's shirt.  For Henry I picked the gray and yellow combo, but it seemed a little bit too plain.  A few weeks before I made the shirts I had gone shopping with Meghan.  We saw some cute letter shirts at American Apparel, but they were pretty expensive for children's shirts.  Henry has been really into letters lately, so I thought that H would be the perfect thing to make the shirt a little bit more exciting.


When the shirts were done we all got together for a nice picnic in the park.  Thanks to Meghan for taking some amazing pictures of the day! 


(This ice chest was really weird.  Just sitting in the middle of the field full of ice.  We think there might have been a wedding there the night before.)





(We were close enough to O'Hare International Airport to see big planes flying by.)

Here are my tips for anyone who wants to try the 90 minute shirts.

1.  I do not have a serger.  Dana has instructions for making them without a serger.  As I was sewing on the collars, cuffs, and H's they were looking very uneven and bunchy.  I thought for sure that this tutorial just did not work very well without a serger.  Then I ironed the shirts.  All the bunches and unevenness came right out!  So my tip is to not get discouraged.  Try ironing the shirt and see how it looks.  Chances are it will look much better after a simple ironing.


2.  I found that Mary's shirt, which was about a 24 month size came out with better proportions than Henry's.  Henry's shirt was about a 3T.  The body of his shirt came out fine, but the neck was a little bit too large and loose.  I figured out that the key to a well fitting neck is the ratio of the size of the sleeve hole compared to how high the shoulder/neck pieces come (check the pattern on made and hopefully you will know what I mean).  I used the same 24 month onesie as a pattern for both shirts.  I made Mary's a little bit shorter and thinner, and Henry's a little bit longer and wider.  Mary's shirt had narrower sleeves and therefore sleeve holes.  This caused the shoulder parts to wrap farther around the sleeve on Mary's shirt.  This holds the neck in place.  Henry's shirt on the other hand had a larger arm hole, so the shoulder wrapped around less.  Therefore, his shirt does not hold as tightly at the neck.

Happy sewing!

- Laura