fermenting for the good

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In my early motherhood days I used to make Kefir since I had gallons of free milk through WIC and couldn’t seem to use it fast enough.  I’d like to get back into making it, as it was so easy and a better type of yogurt (being that it was fermented) than regular yogurt.  With all of Phoebe’s digestive problems and also dealing with some of my own, beginning to have ferments be a daily part of our diet has been of interest for some time.  However, with all of the other things I have had to learn in switching to a completely gluten-free household, fermenting has been on the back burner.  The reality is that we can only tackle so much at once, and have to focus on a few things, work at proficiency with them, then move onto the next project.  The past year has been spent learning a new way of cooking, eating, shopping, meal planning, and correctly understanding food labels.  We will always be learning those things, but I feel that we’ve established enough of a norm for me to be able to introduce something new.  Enter: fermentation.

Now, I’m not going to spend time on the scientific reasons for fermentation, but if you’re interested there is a host of information about it online.  Google away.  On a very basic level, ferments have been around for centuries and provide unique blends of probiotics and healthy bacteria in the gut.  We pay good money for powder probiotics for our kids, but there really isn’t a way to shortcut and reproduce the kind of probiotics found in homemade ferments, and each fermented item offers a different variety/blend, so it works well to have a few different ones as a part of your regular diet.

After reading this article about how easy it is to make your own sauerkraut, I attempted my first batch last month.  Honestly, it is very very simple.  I did invest in a Fido Jar after reading the article’s recommendation, but otherwise the cost was super minimal.  This is not as hard as it seems: chop cabbage, add salt, put in container, leave on counter to ferment for 30 days.  Cost effective and simple!

So, I tried my first bite today.  I felt a bit brave because I don’t 100% trust my fermenting skills and don’t want to make myself sick, but I have to give it a go.  It looked and smelled right.  I took a bite: tart, sour, crunchy, and really pretty incredible!  In the old days, people used sauerkraut as a condiment, and so I plan to eat about a tbsp a day.  I do feel inspired to grill some german brautwurst suddenly. 😉

I sort of doubt Phoebe will eat or learn to enjoy sauerkraut or kombucha (she used to tolerate kefir if I made it into smoothies), but Brandon and I believe it is good for all of us to have in our diet, and hope to keep encouraging Phoebe to try it from time to time.  Anything is better than nothing.

We’ve been making kombucha too, I ordered a starter scoby from Cultures for Health, but it isn’t ready yet to try.  Brandon and I drink store-bought Kombucha regularly, but it’s about $3.50 a bottle.  I can’t wait to have my own and save $$ on it!

Come to the Family Table

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If you’ve been around my blog for any time at all or know me in real life, you know I value the table and the ministry of good food.  In fact, I have dedicated a portion of this blog to “the table” (see sidebar).  As a busy mother of three little ones ages 5 and under, meal time can easily be hectic, loud, and disconnected.  My home often seems too shabby or dirty to invite others into.  In our culture addicted to “busy” and “hustle,” meal time can essentially be nonexistent, with family’s running through drive-throughs and inhaling food as they race from one commitment to another.  Even in the Christian culture, I wonder if meal time and gathering  in one another’s homes has become sort of a lost art, a lost way of communing together, seen maybe as less valuable than serving in our local church.  Have we forgotten how often Jesus met with others around a table spread with food?  How often hearts were opened around a table?  That is what drew me to Ted and Amy Cunningham’s book, Come to the Family Tablemy own hunger to reconnect with a very simple and seemingly lost ministry.

The message is Jesus, and the tool is the table.  The table is still the place where we bring uncommon people together.  God uses the home and our table to bring different backgrounds together, whether rich or poor, conservative or liberal, regardless of religion or past or present.  We are all about inviting people to church, but what about inviting people into our homes?  Around the dinner table walls come down.  This is the beauty of hospitality.  God can use you and your home.  (Cunningham, Come to the Family Table)

The book is organized into two main sections.  The first five chapters make up part I of the book, which centers around “the family table is for us.”  These chapters lay the biblical foundation for savoring meals as a family around the table, practical tips on how to make meal time a priority, and even talk about developing a family constitution.  The last five chapters of the book make up part II, centering around the idea that “the family table is for others.”  The authors discuss hospitality, giving simple tips and also encouraging consideration that gathering around the table with others might be a powerful way to invest in the marriages and families of others.  Each chapter ends with a recipe, a game or conversation guide for meal time, as well as an appropriate devotional and prayer.

I loved the way the authors focused on the family table (even in a restaurant setting) as a way to first reach out to each other in our core family, but then also as a way to reach out to all of those around us.  Rather than seeing our time around the table as a chore to hurry through or a meaningless physical experience, authors Ted + Amy Cunningham redeem the table as a powerful tool for kingdom work and ministry.  Ultimately, they reveal that the family table is a way to savor and enjoy Jesus.  This book is full of tools, tips, recipes, games, conversation starters, ideas for hosting and ministering to hurting friends and loved ones, ways to include and value children at the table, and so forth.  The recipes include are simple and wholesome: blueberry lemon muffins, chicken soup, zucchini coconut bars, one-pot apple cider chicken bake, giant stuffed meatballs, sweet or savory crepes, to name a few.

This would be a great book for those longing to reclaim mealtime as a time to slow down and reconnect with each other.  This book would be a great help for newlyweds who are just beginning to think about opening up their home and practicing hospitality.  This book would be a fun and easy read for a husband and wife and a way to discuss dreams and goals for their home.  I also believe this book would be a great encouragement to families who feel they have little time to minister to others, a reminder that serving God truly can be as simple as a cool glass of water to a person in need given in Jesus’ name.  The Cunningham’s writing was light, helpful, humorous, welcoming, Christ-exalting, simple and yet packed with meaning.  I felt as if I had been invited to their family table.  I thoroughly enjoyed this quick read and will definitely be reflecting on it for some time to come.

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Thanks to Tyndale Publishers for a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.  All opinions expressed are my own.

 

first gifts of summer

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The days are heating up, thunder rumbles across our skies most afternoons.  We bend and obey the weather, spending our time outside in the cool early mornings, hunkering down after lunch for naps and quiet and stormy weather.  The city markets in Asheville are opening again, and Phoebe requested that we buy a big bucket of fresh strawberries at the last one we went to.  They really were the best strawberries we’ve ever had, and she’s eaten handfuls every day.  We made these grain-free strawberry shortcakes together for dessert with whipped coconut milk.  All my kids love helping in the kitchen, and I’ve been trying to once again make more of an effort to let them help more, especially Phoebe as the oldest.  Both she and Noah are learning to handle a knife and chop things with me assisting, of course.  She’s been asking for a french braid every day pretty much, and she is asking often for me to “picture” this or that.  She really likes to put on a super cheesy grin for the camera, while I prefer catching the more candid moments.  Maybe the phase will pass.

We also made our first round of popsicles, just blending yogurt, honey, fresh strawberries, and a little bit of flaxseed.  We dropped a few blueberries and chopped chocolate chips in, too, for fun.  We bought these BPA-free molds last summer and used them almost weekly.  We pulled out our little plastic pool from the garage and filled it up for the first time the same day my parent’s neighborhood pool opened.  So, pool days are officially here and we are thankful!  It’s not terribly relaxing for me to take them to the pool but it is maybe the best way to endure the muggy heat of the summer and still have the kids outside for part of the day.

I scribbled down a bunch of family plans and goals for the summer, things I want to make and do with the kids, parts of the yard and house I would like to organize and tidy and rearrange as we start to prepare for homeschooling this fall.  I realized I don’t do very many crafts with the kids, and I’d like to have a space with craft supplies and maybe attempt a once-weekly craft time with them, at least.  We play a lot outside, read a ton, and they are often imaginative and having unstructured play time, but children just love doing crafts, having mommy’s full attention and getting to make a mess and create something beautiful at the same time.  I’m checking this book out from the library for some inspiration.  And I’m taking them to story time for preschoolers at the library, which has music and craft time.  I should probably have been doing it sooner, we went this past week and all had such a fun time.  I made this incredible granola this past week (per Alicia’s recommendation), needing a cold summer breakfast option since Brandon and I both are a bit tired of eggs and pancakes, alternatively.  I forgot how much I love having a good granola on hand, and this one is so simple and fast to make with a very small ingredient list.  I think we’ll be living off of it this summer.

Last weekend we drove up to Balsam Mountain on the Parkway to visit one of my best friends from college and her family.  They live in TN and whenever we come close by one another we do our best to sneak in a visit.  They were camping for the weekend there, and we wanted to join them but just didn’t pull things together in time so we went for the day on Saturday instead.  What a treat it is to see our kids play together, and just to be outside together by a campfire, snacking, catching up and laughing.  When Brandon and I were first married and moved out to Colorado, they moved out also to a nearby town and some of our best memories were sharing times with them there.  I told Mary in a text later how much these brief hang outs make me ache to live closer to them.  When we left, we saw an elk on the roadside, and a few wild turkeys as well.

These are the early gifts of summer.  The first fruit from the vine, the gathering with friends, campfires and pools and the hopes and dreams for these sunny warm days.  Our last summer before school begins and we transition into a new season of family life.

 

spring at the farm

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A couple weekends ago, Brandon was working and I was feeling antsy to get the kiddos (and myself!) out of the house and doing something fun so that we didn’t mope around.  We headed to one of our favorite local farms in nearby Fairview.  There are a couple of farms on that stretch of road, and one of them has fields of u-pick wildflowers.  I was hoping and itching to see some fresh blooms but not much was growing yet.  We did, however, buy a couple pints of their fresh organic strawberries.  The day was a bit overcast and chilly, so the Hickory Nut Gap farm was nearly empty, which made it especially fun.  It kind of felt like it was ours for the day.  We saw the new chicks in the coop, and Philippa LOVED seeing the goats.  She calls any and every animal a “goggie” (doggie) and is the most animated when she sees a goggie.  She was trying to go up to the goats at the fence and pet them, but when one bleated she was so startled and came running back to me terrified.  They have big culvert slides for the kids, and a little picnic area by the creek.  They played in the water and we had lunch, and headed home wet, tired and happy.

Later Phoebe helped me make gluten-free strawberry oat bars.  I adapted this recipe from these applesauce oatmeal bars, but have changed it so much that basically it’s my own recipe now.  Because Phoebe is not eating oats right now in addition to being gluten free, I substituted almond meal for the oats (i’ve heard you can sub quinoa flakes too, but haven’t tried that).  For the flour I sub some kind of gluten-free flour mix.  I use about 1/4 cup of maple syrup instead of brown sugar.  And I use my own homemade strawberry jam instead of applesauce, which is from my favorite grain-free cookbook, the Grain-Free Family Table.  I think you can see the recipe for the jam scribbled above.  I l o v e these bars, they are not too sweet, the strawberries give them a hint of tartness, and they can serve as a snack or a dessert.  They were a bit crumbly, I was thinking I may add a teaspoon of grass-fed unflavored beef gelatin next time just to help them hold together a bit.  We’ll see.  Anytime I can sneak beef gelatin into my kids, I feel very accomplished. 🙂

It was a really beautiful, serene day on the farm and I so love where we live and finding free fun nearby.

 

*Affiliate links included in this post.

My Top 6 Favorite Soups

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November is off to a dreary start.  Sigh.  I don’t mind the rain one bit usually, but a full week of it in the forecast makes a few stir-crazy children!  With the rain + the cold of November, we are in “soup season” here.  A few of my friends have asked for my go-to soup recipes.  These are my favorite favorites.  The cream of the crop, folks.  These are tried and tested and absolute regular staples in our house for years.  These are husband-approved by a guy who isn’t as crazy about soup as his wife.

1.  Beef Stew

The simplest yet tastiest beef stew you’ll ever find.  I love that its easy to put together, doesn’t require a bottle of wine (and yet the balsamic vinegar adds so much flavor!), can be made in a slow-cooker or in a couple of hours in a dutch oven if you forget to start it in the morning.  Also, to make it gluten-free, I sub coconut flour for regular flour.

2.  Chicken Stew with Butternut Squash + Quinoa

I always sub a can of black beans (washed + rinsed) for the olives, because my husband doesn’t like olives.  I also sub cilantro for parsley and sometimes add a dash of cumin + chili powder to go along with the black bean/cilantro/mexican taste.  Also, I never use quinoa because it doesn’t agree with me (insert breaking heart emoticon), and lately just leave out all grain, but you can sub wild rice (delicious!) or a small pasta like orzo.  It tastes just great without it though!

3.  Chicken + Vegetable Soup

This one is one my husband’s favorites, comes together really quickly + with minimal ingredients, and is a great way to use up leftover chicken.  Is great with grilled cheese on the side!

4.  Pea Soup

This is my mom’s recipe.  Super simple.

1 yellow onion, chopped
1-2 garlic cloves, minced
2-4 large carrots, chopped
1-2 large russet potatoes, peeled + chopped
1 lb dried split peas, washed + rinsed
6-8 cups chicken broth (or water/broth combo)
optional: chopped ham (about 1-2 cups)
salt + pepper to taste

Sautee onion in olive oil over medium high heat in a large dutch oven or soup pot until soft/translucent, about 8-10 minutes.  Add garlic and sauté for another minute.  Add rest of ingredients (except for ham), bring to a boil.  Cover, reduce heat to simmer, and let simmer for a couple of hours, stirring every so often.  Basically, it will become a thick, creamy soup as the split peas soften and disintegrate.  Once it’s at this stage, it’s done.  You can add the ham any time, really, but I usually add towards the end of the cook time and let the flavors marry for 20 minutes or so.

5.  Spinah + Lentil Soup with Cheese + Basil

This one is to die for.  Do I keep saying that?  This one is so good.  You have to try it.  It does require a few more pricey ingredients, but to compensate for that I always sub bacon for pancetta (you can’t loose with bacon).

6.  Black Bean Soup

My recipe, which I’ve posted before here.

My favorite bread to accompany soups used to be Sullivan Street Bakery’s No Knead Recipe, but since going gluten-free I have found this recipe for Easy Brazilian Cheese Bread to be a super quick dinner roll that I can throw together (in about 30 minutes) if I’m needing something on the fly that everyone loves + it’s gluten-free + grain-free with only a handful of ingredients!  My only recommendation is to cook it a tad bit longer than she says (more like 25 minutes).

So there you go.  These are the essentials of my soup pantry.  What are yours??  Please do share your favorites + your staples!

apple season

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I should be packing right now for our trip to the beach (leaving in the morning!) but it’s a rainy afternoon and I just have to share these sweet pictures from last week with you before we head out of town.  (I am the worst packer–always leave it until the last minute.)

It’s hard to believe we’re in the last week of September already, and that by the time we get back home from our trip, we’ll be into October!  The weather has already turned here in the mountains of North Carolina as of this last week, officially.  We are in apple country and we are thankful to be surrounded by a ton of awesome orchards + farms!  Recently we went with some friends to a local orchard that has a great spot on the top of a mountain, with lots of play areas for kids, animals, tractor rides and of course, apples!

That man in the last picture above was giving us the low-down and handing out buckets, and I have to say he was a true artist.  He was super kind and sweet and genuinely interested in chatting with our kiddos and being helpful to our little crew of three mommas (one pregnant!) with seven little ones between us.  Things didn’t go 100% smoothly, with all of us having disaster mornings as we attempted to get out the door (at my house, the washing machine was flooding the basement and a glass fell off the counter shattering glass everywhere near my crawling baby girl), and a few melt-downs and tears from the kids.  You know, all the usual things. Not to mention, we actually couldn’t find any apples to pick off of the trees because of a late frost and children who weren’t willing to keep hunting down rows of trees.  But it was still such a fun time, Phoebe loved hunting for apples to pick, and Noah was both terrified and fascinated by the tractors making rounds of the orchard.  We plan to go back in October, get an earlier start and actually pick some apples this time!

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(I’m so bummed that my camera decided to focus on the dirt behind this cute little man because he posed so nicely and smiled so sweetly for me!)

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We had a picnic in the shade of this big pine tree and it was the perfect end to the busy morning, where my friend Kim and I could actually talk for a bit while our kids refueled and then ran off to play on the swings and playgrounds.

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We only came home with one peck of apples, using half for a yummy gluten-free crisp to share with our small group last night, and my kids actually ate it (which is a victory, if you knew them!)  We hope to put up some jars of apples for the winter, so we’ll be back!

(ps. here’s the crisp recipe I used, subbing apples for blueberries and adding about 1/3 c. of shredded unsweetened coconut flakes + a dash of cinnamon.  i’ve made this recipe ever so many times, usually with blueberries, since reading her book a few years ago and it’s delicious every time!)

Lemony Roasted Beet + Garlic Soup

So, with fall right around the corner, I’m getting ready for soup season.  I love soup season!  I had bought some beets this past week to make baby food for my littlest, but I saw this recipe and just couldn’t resist (inspired by my sister).  My husband is a very adventurous and gracious eater of my creations, but he does loathe beets.  Loathe.  He ate this soup, though.  He is such a trooper like that.  And also, he was hungry. 🙂  I probably won’t make it often since he doesn’t like it, but it was super easy, fast, and so much flavor and goodness!  I basically trimmed the beets + garlic, seasoned + oiled them, put them in foil and in the oven once kids got up from naps and then we went out for a walk.  When we came back an hour or so later, the house smelled divine and the remainder of the recipe to pull the soup together took only a few minutes.  I served it with a green salad + a ribeye steak on the side, so that Brandon didn’t entirely hate me.

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Happy eating!

(This is a Martha Stewart recipe, which you can find here!)

INGREDIENTS

  • 3 medium beets
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 6 unpeeled garlic cloves
  • 1 large leek, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Coarse salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice

    DIRECTIONS

    1. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Drizzle beets with olive oil and roast in parchment-lined foil until tender, about 1 hour. Meanwhile, drizzle garlic cloves with oil and roast in separate foil packet, about 30 minutes. Unwrap beets, let cool, peel, and quarter. Squeeze garlic from skin. Set aside.

    2. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a pot over medium heat. Add leek and cook, stirring, until tender, 6 to 8 minutes. Add beets and garlic, thyme, bay leaf, and 3 cups water. Season with salt and pepper.

    3. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, 5 minutes. Discard bay leaf. Let cool slightly, then puree in a blender until smooth. Stir in lemon juice and adjust seasoning to taste.