Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Snapshots of My Family's Summer Garden

Back in May, we planted a Family Garden. Each member of our family chose a few types of warm-season plants for our garden, and then we got everything laid out and planted. We all work on the garden together most Saturday mornings. Our children have been so excited to watch their plants grow and produce food; they are so proud of what their hard work has reaped and will offer a garden tour to anyone who visits our home. We've had some issues with pests and varmints, but overall our Family Garden is thriving!
Our garden, with the coops and other chicken yards in the background

This year we planted:
  • Ian (5 years old): Sugar Pie Pumpkins, Sunflowers, Painted Hill Corn
  • Alina (8 years old): Sugar Baby Watermelons, Sugar Baby Corn, Zinnias, Fairy Garden Flower Mix
  • Sarah (the mother): 3 types of cherry tomatoes, Max's Yellow Zucchini, Butternut Squash, Okra, Amaranth (all consumed by varmints), 3 types of cucumbers (all consumed by varmints), Pencil Pod Bush Beans
  • Ryan (the father): Birdhouse Gourds, Zinnias, Sunflowers

Ian and his corn plants
Ian and his pumpkins, which are taking over everything

The Weed Brigade, cleaning up the area outside the garden fence

Alina and her watermelons
Some of my cherry tomatoes

Alina's flowers and corn

My husband's Birdhouse Gourds
One of Ian's pumpkins
Alina and her corn

  Did you plant a summer garden this year? What is your favorite plant to grow?

Monday, July 20, 2015

Scrumptious Shortbread Cookies

Buttery, rich, and delicious: I love shortbread cookies!  Storebought shortbread cookies are one of my favorite compromise foods but I wanted to try my hand at making some from scratch. These cookies are fantastic, and really put the storebought competition to shame. Because there are only a few ingredients, this recipe is very simple and easy to make.

These cookies are made with Einkorn flour, which is an ancient variety of wheat that is naturally lower in gluten and higher in protein than modern wheat.  I use white Einkorn flour, since when consumed in moderation, white flours can be a healthy part of the diet. (Did you know that, in traditional cultures, much of the bran and germ was actually discarded after the whole grains were ground into flour?) The nutrient-content of these shortbread cookies is increased through the use of nutrient-dense butter and sucanat; nonetheless I consider these to be a compromise food that is fine when consumed in moderation.

Scrumptious Shortbread Cookies
Makes about 20 cookies
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Cream together the butter and sucanat using a mixer or stand-mixer, until a bit fluffy and slightly lighter in color. (I love to use my Kitchen-Aid stand mixer anytime I am making cookies.) 
  3. Mix in the vanilla extract. Make sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl once or twice to get everything incorporated well.
  4. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour and salt.
  5. Mix the flour mixture into the butter mixture until well-mixed.  
  6. Scoop the cookies onto greased cookie sheets (or line the cookie sheets with silpats, which are wonderful since the cookies never stick and are less likely to burn).  I like to use a 1-Tb scoop for consistently pretty cookies, but you could just use a spoon.
  7. Use the back of a fork to flatten the cookies a bit.
  8. Bake for ~15-20 minutes, until the edges are a nice golden-brown color. If you are baking more than one cookie sheet at a time, you may need to swap the position of the cookie sheets for the last ~8 minutes to achieve even cooking of both sheets. 
  9. Allow to cool and serve!  I store these cookies in an airtight container on the counter if they will be consumed within a few days. Otherwise, into the fridge or freezer they go, but they will lose some of their crispiness.
*While I do prefer to use Einkorn flour, the typical all-purpose flour (preferably organic and unbleached) could be substituted in a pinch.

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Thursday, July 16, 2015

Chicken Green Chile Crustless Quiche (grain-free : gluten-free : GAPS : primal)

My daughter's egg business is in full-swing now, and she sells ~5 dozen eggs per week. A couple weeks ago, we had some extra eggs piling up in the fridge and I was secretly gleeful that we could have one of our favorite dinners: quiche!  Instead of making our old standby (mushroom cheddar crustless quiche), I came up with a new quiche recipe: Chicken Green Chile Crustless Quiche.

My 5-year-old-son's favorite food is quiche; it's even what he requested for his birthday dinner. My 8-year-old daughter eats quiche, but it is not one of her favorite meals... until now. She melted into a contented puddle when she took her first bite of Chicken Green Chile Crustless Quiche. This recipe is so good, my mouth is watering just thinking about it.

Chicken Green Chile Crustless Quiche
  • 1/4 of a medium white onion, minced
  • 3 Tb butter, preferably nutrient-dense
  • 1/2 cup chopped roasted mild green chile, minus the seeds and skin*
  • 1/2 stalk celery, minced
  • 1/4 tsp celtic sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp dried cumin
  • 1/4 tsp dried oregano
  • one small clove of garlic, minced
  • one dozen (12) eggs, preferably from pastured hens
  • 1 cup leftover cooked chicken, chopped or shredded
  • 4 ounces sharp cheddar, shredded
  • 1 cup plain, whole-milk yogurt, preferably from pastured cows
  • 1 tsp celtic sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper 
  • butter, to grease the baking dish
  1. Melt the butter in a well-seasoned 10-inch cast iron skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the onion and a tiny sprinkle of celtic sea salt.  Saute the onion for ~10-15 minutes, stirring as needed but not too often. Let the onion get a bit of browned color, which indicates that it is caramelizing and releasing its natural sweetness.
  2. Add the green chile and celery. Sprinkle with 1/4 tsp celtic sea salt, and saute for about 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium if the skillet is becoming overheated.
  3. Add the garlic, cumin, and oregano. Saute for about a minute, until fragrant. Turn off heat and allow to cool while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
  4. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  5. Meanwhile, break the eggs into a large bowl.  Beat the eggs slightly. Add the cheddar cheese, chicken, yogurt, 1 tsp celtic sea salt and 1/4 tsp of freshly ground pepper.   Stir well to combine.
  6. Add the cooked veggies to the egg mixture and stir to combine. 
  7. Grease a square 8X8 glass baking dish with butter. Pour the quiche mixture into the baking dish. 
  8. Bake for about 35 minutes, until the quiche is set in the center and beautifully browned on top.
  9. Let cool a bit, then slice and serve!  This pairs wonderfully with hash browns and a green salad dressed with homemade ranch dressing.  
  10. Store leftovers in a covered dish in the fridge.  They reheat well in a toaster oven at 250 degrees for 20 minutes.
 *We live in the land of abundant green chile. I buy it whenever our local healthfood store is roasting it out front, and then freeze it in baggies until use. If you can't buy fresh green chile, you could use fire-roasted canned green chile in a pinch.

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Monday, July 13, 2015

Slow Cooker Roasted Chicken (grain-free : nutrient-dense : gluten-free : GAPS : primal)

During the hot summer months, I try to minimize the amount of heat I generate in the kitchen. So instead of using the oven, which heats up the whole kitchen, I use the slow cooker to roast chicken.  The slow cooker can even be placed outside on a covered porch if I really want to prevent any more heat in the kitchen.

I love the ease of roasting chicken in the slow cooker, and the delicious, juicy meat that results. Chicken roasted in the slow cooker does not have crispy skin, but the meat is very moist and flavorful.

Slow Cooker Roasted Chicken
  • one large white onion, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup vermouth* or dry white wine (or substitute water)
  • 1/2 tsp celtic sea salt
  • 3 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 4 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 3-pound whole chicken, preferably pastured or free-range
  • 1 Tb celtic sea salt
  • 3/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
  • 2 Tb softened butter, preferably nutrient-dense
  1. About 8-10 hours before dinner, add the onion, vermouth, and 1/2 tsp salt to the slow cooker. Cook on HIGH. (If you don't plan to consume the onions along with the chicken, or if you don't mind the onions being a bit crunchy, you could do all of this at the same time as the next step.)
  2. Six hours before dinner, it is time to add the chicken and spices. Sprinkle the garlic, bay leaves, and thyme over the onions in the bottom of the slow cooker. 
  3. Wash the chicken well inside and out with plenty of water. Pat dry. 
  4. Gently lift the skin from over the chicken breast and push the butter in between the skin and the breast. The butter will melt over the chicken breasts while they cook, making them very moist and yummy.
  5. Season the chicken inside and out with one Tb of salt and 3/4 tsp pepper. Place the chicken on top of the onions/spices in the slow cooker.
  6. Cook on LOW for about 5 hours, or until the internal temperature of the chicken has reached 170 degrees. If you cook the chicken too long, it will be dry and overdone.
  7. About 40-60 minutes before dinner, pull the chicken out of the slow cooker and place it in a large bowl. Allow to cool enough that you can handle the chicken without burning yourself. 
  8. Carve the chicken. Set the carcass and any chewy bits/tendons aside; if desired they can be used to start a pot of broth cooking after dinner. Slice the chicken. 
  9. Nestle the chicken back down into the juices in the slow cooker. Reduce the heat to WARM and allow the chicken to soak up the flavorful juices for 20-40 minutes.
  10. Serve and enjoy! Crispy fried potatoes and caramelized green beans compliment the chicken nicely.
*I love to use vermouth, as it doesn't go bad like unused wine. Vermouth is shelf stable, can be used in place of dry white wine in cooking, and can be stored at room temperature indefinitely.

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Thursday, July 9, 2015

My Food Diary for a Tuesday in July

People often seem to have the mistaken impression that I only eat homemade food or that my diet is perfect. While I do try to eat high-quality food most of the time, I also choose not to spend inordinate amounts of time in the kitchen every day, so I do make some compromises.  Here is a snapshot of my diet from a random weekday:

Tuesday July 7th
  • 12:30pm - Lunch
    • simple salad - one large ripe garden tomato**,  fresh basil leaves, two scoops of full-fat organic cottage cheese, dressed with salt, pepper, extra virgin olive oil, and a squeeze of lime juice
    • a few crackers***
    • a handful of fresh local cherries
  • 2:45 - Snack****
    • ~1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
    • ~1/2 cup sauteed mushrooms (which were being prepped for dinner)
  • 8:15pm - After-Dinner Snack
    • ~1cup plain whole-milk yogurt

*I tend to be very hungry in the first half of the day. I've always been that way. As soon as I wake up, I HAVE to eat something.  Since I tend to wake up 1-2 hours before my children, I usually eat something very simple when I first wake up, and then have a more substantial breakfast later on.
**My mom grows the BEST tomatoes. They have me so spoiled that they are the only tomatoes I want to eat. Thanks Mom!
***These crackers are one of my compromise foods. Yes, homemade crackers would be better. But these will do in a pinch, and I like that they are made with palm oil.
****I don't usually have a snack at this time of day, but on this particular day I had been very active working a lot, so I was unusually hungry.
*****We are currently loving Against the Grain Gourmet brand pizza crust, which is sold in the freezer case at our local healthfood store.  It is composed primarily of cheese, milk, eggs, and tapioca starch. My only complaint with the ingredients is that there is a small amount of canola oil in these crusts, but since the amount is small I have decided not to worry about it.  I know some of my blog readers have reported that my Cheesy Bread recipe also works well as a pizza crust, but I haven't tried that yet since my family just devours the cheesy bread every time I make it.

Do you want to know more about my daily diet? What are your favorite compromise foods?

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Monday, July 6, 2015

Teaching Children Self-Government

I am always open to new ways of improving my parenting skills and the relationships in our family. In the last year, I have read and implemented techniques from two parenting books that have made a profound difference.  This post will focus on the book A House United: Changing Children's Hearts and Behaviors by Teaching Self-Government, by Nicholeen Peck. (I'll post about the other hugely helpful parenting book later on.)

I have been using the techniques from A House United for about 10 months now. With the skills and understanding I gained from this book, there has been an obvious positive shift in our family dynamics and the contentedness of our day-to-day lives. 

Begin With the End In-Mind

When I first started reading this book,  I was a bit put-off by the fact that almost half of this book focuses on "Finding Your Family Vision" and " Establishing a Family Government".  I was reading this book with an eye towards practical tips for day-to-day parenting, so I was tempted to skip these first sections and go straight to the section on "Teaching Self-Government".  However, I decided to stick it out, and I am immensely glad that I did.

Those first two sections of the book allowed me to step back and look at the big picture of our family. They walked me through the process of thinking about our family and the type of family culture we were trying to create.  A House United gave my family the guidance we needed to develop very specific guidelines and goals for our family life, including our Family Standard and our Family Mission Statement.
While I had never thought that my family needed to have a Family Standard or Mission Statement, in the intervening months I have been able to see that those two things are extremely useful in creating the type of family culture we want for our family.  They give us common goals that we are all working towards, and they give us benchmarks for what we want our family to be.

For instance, one of our family goals is for our children to create lifelong friendships with each other.  Because the children have agreed that this is a goal they want to work towards, we are able to refer back to that goal when assessing their day-to-day interactions and behaviors towards each other.  When one child is behaving rudely towards their sibling, or when they are bickering, we can talk about whether or not they are furthering or harming their longterm goal of being friends-for-life. Of course there are still some times when they do not get along very well, but overall I can see that our children are really taking this goal to heart and working towards it.

Teaching Our Children Self-Government

Once the foundational steps of finding our family vision and government were accomplished, I was ready to start teaching our children self-government. In A House United, there is a strong emphasis on teaching children that they are responsible for their own actions and that they have the power to choose how they want to be.  By very clearly defining my expectations and the consequences for my children's behaviors, they have been able to learn that it is their own choices which determine how their lives will be.

A few examples:
  • Whenever possible, natural consequences are used. 
    • If a child forgets to take their dirty dishes to the sink, that child is then responsible for washing their own dishes.
    • If the children bicker over a toy, that toy is taken away from them both.
  • Synthetic consequences, such as earning chores or losing privileges, are used whenever there isn't an obvious natural consequence.
    • If a child chooses to throw a temper tantrum rather than talking to me calmly about an issue, they earn a chore. 

Keeping My Cool: Improving My Own Self-Government

Teaching my children self-government only works when I am able to control my own actions. If I lose my temper and yell at my kids, the lessons of self-government fall apart. Hard as it is to admit, in the past sometimes I would get so frustrated that I would impose consequences to "get back" at my children, such as taking away a beloved toy. These instances would always end in lots of crying and/or screaming, and the overall mood in our home would be negative and unhappy.

Through the process of teaching my kids self-government, I have also been able to work on keeping my own cool.  By having well-defined consequences for the children's actions, my own emotional outbursts have been lessened significantly. Instead of trying to think of a consequence on the spot (and possibly getting pulled into the cycle of choosing a harsh consequence), I focus on calmly telling the child their consequence and maintaining a positive (or at least neutral) tone. 

When Chores are Used as Consequences, Won't They Hate Doing Chores?

One aspect of Teaching Self-Government that I was a bit nervous about implementing was assigning chores as consequences when the children have behaved inappropriately. I was concerned that my children would start to hate doing chores, but I have been very pleasantly surprised.

Before we started using chores as consequences, my husband and I sat down with the children and discussed our new plan. We talked about how chores are a great help to the family and how we all do chores just as part of being a family. [We also increased the number of daily chores for each child over a period of several weeks, with the understanding that it keeps any one of us (usually me) from having to do an unfair amount and feeling overworked]. Then we very clearly explained to the children that, when they choose to behave inappropriately, they would earn chores to help them learn to make better decisions. 

Rather than balking at the idea that they would earn chores for misbehavior, my children actually seemed relieved to have a well-known system in place. And over the last many months of using chores as consequences, I have seen that doing chores actually seems to change my children's moods: when I inspect and praise their work, they are happy and feel like they have accomplished something that benefits the household.

We have emphasized that the chores are being used as a tool to help the children learn to make good choices, and I have seen that the number of chores they earn as consequences has dwindled considerably over time. Their self-governing is working!

Family Activities

In A House United, family work and family play are also given a high priority.  Peck writes,
"One part of building a family who respects and loves each other enough to be best friends is spending lots of time together. The person who spends the most time with your child will have the most influence upon your child's decisions in the future. If your child is mostly with friends, or mostly with teachers, then he will be influenced most by friends or teachers, and the family will grow less and less important to him. By contrast, if your family often has cool, fun experiences, then your child will feel the most accepted and nurtured by the family, and likewise become an adult who values family above all else... Having these fun times together shows my children that even though I have to correct their negative behaviors, I don't want the corrections to influence our relationship."
Since reading A House United, our family has instituted a weekly Family Fun Night. We have a list of potential activities and take turns choosing the Family Fun Night activity each week. This has become a cherished weekly event for our children. (Let me know if any of you are interested in more details about what Family Fun Night actually looks like.)

A Book Worth Reading

Reading and implementing A House United has been quite beneficial for our family.  (A House United also covers much more than I've mentioned here, including specific tactics for teaching children to weigh the negative and positive consequences of their decisions, ways of mentoring children, and problem solving for specific behaviors.)  While we do not follow everything in this book precisely, overall it was well worth reading and has made a positive impact on our household.

Peck also has a series of picture books that aid in implementing the strategies for Teaching Self-Government.  My children have enjoyed reading and re-reading those books; they seem to find inspiration in seeing the children in the books learn to make good choices.

Does this book sound useful to you? What are your favorite parenting books? 

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