Monday, August 13, 2012

Back to School, and a lovely surprise.

I started fall semester today. I am taking Biology 1108 with lab, Chemistry 1212 with lab, Calculus, and a Yoga PE class for good measure :). I must confess, I have been really stressed leading up to this semester. I have been afraid the classes are going to be too hard and I am not going to be able to handle the workload on top of my non-college responsibilities. This morning after my first two classes I felt very overwhelmed. This will be my toughest semester yet and will require discipline and motivation to stay caught up with the large amounts of new material. It won't be easy and I already tend to put a lot of pressure on myself to get A's in all my classes. I know it isn't healthy to be so worried and stressed all the time. 

I was feeling down, but through a series of circumstances and well timed conversations today, I realized that I don't have to prove myself anymore. I already have. I have successfully completed 3 full semesters + one summer semester with good grades, and I graduate with my AS in December. Then I hopefully only have 2 more years until I earn my Bachelors. I have a ways to go but I have already come so far. 

I have a dream of becoming a nutritionist and helping people become well. Going to school was required to achieve my dream, and I found out that I love it! I enjoy learning and new worlds have opened up to me as I have learned about writing, history, ecology, foreign languages, chemistry and biology, and so much more. I am thankful for this experience. 

The study load will be the hardest it has ever been, but that is to be expected with more advanced classes. I am thankful for the challenge and the opportunity to learn new things that I know I will continue to use far into the future. Well, I don't know how I will use calculus in the future. I just consider that class a necessary evil. 

I wanted to share my revelation and share about my new desire to look at school differently. Not something to conquer trying prove my worth, but something to enjoy because it furthers my love of learning and helps me get to my ultimate dream of nutrition counseling. 

Also, I wanted to tell you about a person that has been a major support and encouragement in my life. My Aunt Joy. She is fun and witty and smart and a pleasure to be around. She doesn't live close, so I don't get to see her very often. But she is truly an incredible woman of God and I deeply respect and admire her.  

I came home from a long day at school today to a big package she sent. It contained 2 13 qt stainless steel bowls, 2 20 qt. stainless steel bowls, gel food coloring, and a set of pads (for writing down my dreams :)). She explained in the included note that she got the idea when she read the post about my freezer cooking. The recap post where I mentioned that not having enough large bowls really slowed down the cooking process. I have been wanting a good size stainless steel bowl for a long time now and this was such a blessing. Also, not pictured, she got me a mat that I can use for rolling out fondant for my cakes!  It was like Christmas when I came home today :). 

Today the Lord blessed me in so many ways and coming home to this surprise was like icing on the cake! Thank you Aunt Joy!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Homemade Vanilla!

I started making my own homemade vanilla last year. I made it in August and let it sit until December and gave it away as Christmas presents. For months I have been meaning to start another batch, and finally got around to doing it yesterday. I have read that you can reuse beans. So, for my original jar of beans I just added more vodka.With leftover beans that I haven't used since last year, I started another jar. 

The supplies. 
A big jar, vodka, and vanilla beans. I purchased my beans off ebay. I forget exactly how much they were last year, but I just checked on ebay and it looks like you can get a pound for around $30. The 1/2 gallon bottles of vodka were 11.99 a piece.  

This is what is left from last years batch that I strained out. After siting for a year, this stuff is pure gold! It tastes so delicious.

To prepare the beans, cut a slit down the middle of the bean to expose the seeds inside. This is optional, but then I cut the beans in half before putting them into the jar. 

The new jar I started was about 1/2 gallon. I split and cut 40 beans to add to the jar. I read that for every  1.75 liters (about 1/2 gallon) use 35-40 beans.  

I still had about 12 beans leftover that I added to the big jar along with the used beans from last batch. 

Finally, fill up the jars with vodka.

Done. This is literally the easiest project ever!

Already turning color just after a day. I am going to store them in a cabinet and take them out to shake up once a week. They should be ready in 4-6 months. 

In other news, I got a new hair cut and color! My talented sister-in-law Jessica did a wonderful job. I really love it. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Getting ready for fall planting.

So, these are what tomatoes look like when you have a July drought and you don't water your tomatoes.

Very Sad.

However, there is a silver lining. I purchased seeds recently to plant a fall garden, and since my tomatoes are dried to a crisp I figured I might as well rip them out today to make room. 

This is a disaster. Early on in the season my three cherry tomato plants fell over and the cages weren't sturdy enough to straighten them, so I left it to become this tangled mess. I NEED to find a better tomato support system. The cages have not worked well for me the past two years. Anyone have any suggestions??

I went to harvest all the tomatoes I could, and the cherry tomato plants had lots of ripe tomatoes! However, they also were covered in creepy looking bugs. I hope you can se them in the picture. I was afraid to get any closer with the camera! I wasn't about to put my hands anywhere near the buggers, tomatoes or not. So, it all went into the compost pile. 

I saved one tomato plant because it had five or six tomatoes on it. I pulled off all the dead leaves hoping it would help the tomatoes ripen more quickly. I call it my charlie brown tomato plant. 

All (but one) of the tomatoes are gone. Now I just have to plant the seeds for my fall garden. I meant to do it today, but after a gazillion mosquito bites I decided to call it a day.

I kept the peppers, basil, and stevia. They are still producing and look healthy. Maybe they will hit a growth spurt with more sun exposure from removing the other plants. 

The final loot. Not bad considering the poor condition of the plants. 

I have realized that I am not a good maintenance gardener. I surprised my Mom the other day when I said I didn't really 'like' gardening all that much. I mostly enjoy the free produce that comes from my garden, along with the increased nutritional value and better taste. What I don't like are the bugs, the time required to water and weed, being outside in the summer (getting attacked by mosquitos every time I go outside kills the gardening mood fast!). Since admitting that I am not good at maintenance, and since I already exhibit more of a 'leave it be and see what comes out' attitude about my garden, I have realized a few things. 

I need to change my approach to growing food. 

It seems an obvious truth in humans that prevention is worth a lot more than treating sickness. A fit and healthy individual with a strong immune system has a much smaller chance of getting sick than someone whose health is compromised. 

Plants are the same way!

I am changing my focus to prevention. I will have far fewer bugs, and far fewer problems in general, if the plants are healthy and thriving. 

I've got my research on, and I have already found a few very interesting ideas. But I want to keep learning. There must be a better way to garden without having to spend so much time weeding, watering, applying organic fertilizers, and dealing with infestations by picking off bugs and squishing them (if it ever gets to that I think I might surrender and declare the bugs victorious, oh wait, that's what happened today).

I am sure there is a way to work with nature and cultivate a sustainable ecosystem in my backyard that doesn't require all the work that normally comes with traditional gardening. So, this is my quest and I will continue to research. I will keep you posted on what I find :).

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Freezer is Full!

Well, I was planning on cooking one more recipe yesterday. But as you can see in the picture, the freezer is full! I am not fitting anything else in there.

We will have to start eating out of the freezer before I can add anything else. I guess this is a good problem :). I also finally got my kitchen back in order. Life is good!

I promised you I would give you the recipes for everything I made this week, so I made a list. Most of them came from blogs, so I have a link to each recipe and to the home page of the blog. 

I got the recipe for Green Chili Chicken Chili from the blog The Whole Kitchen

Red Enchilada sauce from Alosha's Kitchen. I didn't have a recipe for the filling of the enchiladas. I just guessed on amounts for the beef, black beans, veggie filling, and cheese. 

Chicken, broccoli, and brown rice casserole from Freeze Your Way Fit. I modified this recipe quite a bit and added carrots, mushrooms, peas, jalapenos, and garlic and used only a quarter of the cheese it called for. 

Gluten- Free Shepherd's Pie from Gluten Free Goddess. I also modified this recipe a lot. I didn't use the mashed potato topping and called it pot pie filling. I used half the amount of chicken called for and added the rest in white beans. I added mushrooms and corn and didn't use artichokes. I also used real butter in the sauce instead of vegan butter. 

As for the chili, it is a family recipe. 

As a recap of this experience, I froze a total of 44 meals. In addition I froze 3 bags of chicken, 8 bags of beans, and 3 bags of brown rice with 2 cups in each bag for quick meals. I also froze 4 jars of enchilada sauce, and six jars of roasted red salsa. 

I think the hardest part was not having enough large containers to hold the large quantities of food during prep. It slowed me down a lot because I could really only work on one recipe at a time and spent a lot of time juggling food between different containers. 

The other issue was the heat coupled with lack of freezer space. I didn't mind working in the heat as I am mostly used to it. But when room temperature is 95 degrees, the freezers and fridge have to work that much harder to cool down the food. I think my strategy next time will include coolers and lots of ice to cool down the food before I put it in the freezer. Hopefully putting in cold food would help freeze the food quicker as I had to stack them on top of each other to get them in. On the second day, I tried to rotate a many bags as I could through the fridge first to cool down, and then to the top freezer, and finally to the chest freezer. That seemed to work better.

The biggest highlight is that I have 44 ready-made meals in the freezer. I definitely think this experience was worth it and there will definitely be a next time. I have learned so much and despite the amount of hard work, I enjoyed it immensely. 

Thanks for reading! 

Friday, August 3, 2012

Freezer Cooking (Part III)

Yesterday I cooked ALL day. 8AM to 10:30PM. It was a long day, but I definitely feel like I accomplished a lot. I will show you pictures :). Lots and lots of pictures. 

The first thing I made was Bolognese sauce. This is a recipe I have made before and it is delicious! 

I didn't want it too soupy so I left out some of the tomatoes. When we cook the sauce in the future we will need to add a 28oz. can of whole tomatoes. 

Chopping jalapeno, grating carrots and blanching broccoli. I was always running out of bowls and containers. Note to self, for future freezer cooking, either purchase or borrow more big bowls that can hold large quantities of food. 

Cooked Brown Rice.

I found a great way to make brown rice! Whenever I have made it in the past it turns out mushy or crunchy. I read about a technique on Pinch My Salt that says to cook rice like pasta. You boil your water first (at least 4 cups for every 1 cup of rice) and then add the rice. Let it cook for 30 minutes, drain out the water, put the lid back on the pot and let it steam. This time my rice turned out perfect. 

The token picture of my messy kitchen! So much stuff is going on in this picture. The funniest part is Bowdon lying on the floor. He is on the kitchen floor a lot these days trying to stay cool. He's got one eye open though, ready for the moment I drop food on the floor so he can be the first one to get it :).

All the ingredients for chicken and brown rice casserole. Instead of cream of chicken soup I used cottage cheese and egg whites. The recipe that I found only called for broccoli, but I took liberties and added sauteed carrots, onions, garlic, peas, and mushrooms. 

The lighting is not so good, but I have everything mixed up and ready to bag. I didn't have enough room in my freezer to put it in pans, so I scooped it into bags. We will defrost it the night before, and dump it into a pan when we are ready to bake it. 

With leftovers I filled quart size bags with 2 cups each of white beans, black beans, brown rice and chicken.  

It is hard to see it, but it says 96 degrees! Ah. 

Here are the chilies for my enchilada sauce. I got chile guajillo, chili ancho, and (not pictured) chile de arbol. I tore off the stem, and shook out the seeds into my compost bucket. Then I tore them in half and put them all into a bowl. 

After they were prepped, I set up a system where I could blister the chilies and put them into the pan on the right. 

After all the chilies were blistered, I poured boiling water over them until they were covered. I let them sit for an hour or two to rehydrate. 

Then I poured out the soaking water and pureed the chilies in the blender. I had to do it in two batches.

Then I mixed in crushed tomatoes, chicken broth and spices. 

Then I tasted it.

 It is incredible!

 Of all the things I made the last couple days, this steals the show. It is really really good! 

After the sauce was made, and all the other ingredients prepped, I set up my assembly line to make enchiladas. I don't know what I was thinking, but I didn't get anywhere near enough tortillas. I bought 30 tortillas for 8 pans of enchiladas. I used only 4 tortillas per pan (some only got 3 1/2) and layered them like a casserole instead of rolling them. I think I will like it better that way anyway and it will be a lot less starchy. 

I had my hubby take a picture of me when he got home. In all my hot and sweaty glory. haha

The first layer is done. It went sauce, tortilla, black beans, ground beef, a mixture of onions, collards and mushrooms, and finally sharp cheddar cheese. Then I repeated all the steps for a second layer.

Everything wrapped up and labeled with the name and date. 

The most exciting part was that I made way too much enchilada sauce. I made around 2 gallons and only used half. So I put the rest of it into jars. I will freeze most of it, but I definitely plan on leaving a big jar in the fridge to use immediately :). I am sure it won't last long. 

Last but not least, I made pot pie filling that will be served over rice. It has blanched broccoli, blanched squash, chopped chicken, corn, peas, sauteed garlic carrots and jalapenos, and white beans. Whew. That was a mouthful. haha I am always liberal with the veggies. The sauce isn't pictured. I added it directly to the individual bags instead of mixing it into the big bowl. It was actually gluten free and had coconut milk, olive oil, rice flour and nutritional yeast in it. 

Another picture of my messy kitchen. Unfortunately it still looks like this. I should really do something about that...  

The random toiler paper on the table is for blowing my nose. We are out of kleenex, and I was a crying fool with all the onions I had to cut up. Too bad I didnt' have any goggles with me. haha

The speakers were set up so I could plug them into my computer and listen to the online broadcasts of Adventures in Odyssey :). Oh yeah. 

Finally, I wanted to show you what I ate for lunch today. I made a chickpea flour crepe with a mixture of tomato, black bean and egg topped with yoghurt and enchilada sauce. After I took the picture I doused the crepe with more enchilada sauce and loved every bite! Seriously, if you ever get the opportunity, make enchilada sauce from scratch. The store bought stuff doesn't hold a candle to the real thing. 

I am not done yet, but I had to work today so I will be finishing everything up tomorrow. Also, for anyone that is interested, I will be writing a post either tomorrow or Sunday that includes all the recipes from the last few days. 

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Freezer Cooking (Part II)

So, you know when I said yesterday that I was excited about cooking? Well, after today, I take that back. I am just now sitting down after finishing in the kitchen and taking a shower, and I am wiped! I didn't get as much done as I wanted to today as I had to wait a long time for beans to cook. But, I definitely made progress and I am thankful for that!

Beans were started first thing and I had these three pots plus our crock-pot going with them. On the left is the ground beef I am defrosting for chili. I get our beef from a local farm and it is truly delicious. I stocked up recently so I would have enough for all my freezer cooking.

Cooked beans were transferred to any available container and more beans were put in pots to cook. 

Bean latte anyone?? The funny thing is that it boiled over after taking the picture, when I went to put the camera away. Oops. I guess I should have seen that one coming.

For the chili, I made 8 recipes. I sauteed the onions, garlic and spices in two batches, and browned the meat in two batches. Then I mixed it all together in a bigger pan. 

I couldn't fit a normal chili recipe into a gallon size bag, so I split a recipe between two bags. The total should have been 16 bags, each with 6 servings of chili... but along the way things got messy! I started with a good system. I put the crushed tomatoes and tomato sauce in first and lined up the bags. 

Then, I added the beans and somehow one (or possibly more) bag(s) spilled out onto the table. I wanted to give up then and there. But, obviously that wasnt an option, so I moved around the bags, putting some on another counter and some in the sink. I got the ground beef/onion mixture into the bags as quick as possible and sealed them all. Then I went through the slow process of rinsing each bag off, drying it, getting the extra air out, and putting it in a clean place.

About an hour later I had this. I ended up with 13 bags of chili. I sure hope it tastes good because that was a major pain!

Haha. This was the aftermath of the chili. I just had to laugh. But I pressed on and washed them all.

Then, I moved onto bagging up the chicken chili.

This picture was taken this morning after the beans had been soaking all night.

They were cooked in three different pots, but here are all 8 lbs. of beans, cooked and ready to go for chicken chili.

Here we have jalapenos, poblanos, anaheim chilies, and korean hot peppers (I know it is random, but they were on sale :)). They were stemmed, seeded, and chopped. 

We also have 16 onions. They were peeled and chopped. 

I sauteed the onions in four batches, and then cooked down all the peppers in another two batches. Once I had an available container that was big enough, I used an immersion blender and blended the onions and peppers together. 

I decided to leave the chicken broth out, and just add it when we cook the chili in the future. It was so much easier! First, I chopped two cooked chicken breasts (they were baked and cooled from earlier in the day) for each recipe and put them straight into the bag. Then I had beans, the onion and pepper mixture in the big bowl, and a puree of chicken broth, onion mixture, and beans in the pan in the middle. I scooped out a cup of each item into each of the bags and kept scooping until it ran out.  

I wiped down the bags, let out the extra air, and let them sit on the table to cool. Actually, they are still sitting on the table. I am trying to give the red chili as much time as possible to freeze before I add more to the freezer. After I post this I will put it away and hope that nothing explodes!

After everything was bagged, this was the last round of dishes. Thank goodness!

Here the kitchen is cleaned, and I got more beans and rice soaking for tomorrow. 


 It was a long day and I know tomorrow will be even longer. But it is definitely rewarding, and by tomorrow night I will be really thankful I was crazy enough to do this :). 

Sweet dreams...