Monday, December 27, 2010

Veni, veni Immanuel

It's Beta Day around here, the third one we've celebrated.

"Celebrate??" you may ask. Yes, we celebrate.  We celebrate what we have.  We celebrate what God has taught us.  We celebrate what a good God He is.  And we celebrate in anticipation of the renewal of all things.  It's not a skipping and jumping kind of celebration, but one of thankfulness, remembrance, and waiting.

Waiting 
by Eric Oglesbee
We wait.
The world is not as it should be.
We wait for when everything will be made new,
when our bodies no longer bear the scars of our sufferings.
We wait.


Amen.  Come, Lord Jesus.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Clean toilets make me happy

Yes, I'm really talking about toilets today.  I have a fabulous toilet bowl cleaner recipe I want to share with y'all, and well, there's just not much else going on around here right now.  Both boys are down for naps, and I have some free time to myself (gasp!).  So I'm using it to get all excited about how clean my toilets are!  My friend Betsy found it hilarious how stoked I can get about this, and some of you may think I'm downright weird, but I'm going to share anyway!  This toilet bowl cleaner will not only disinfect (but not sanitize) your toilet, but it will also save you money and ease your conscience about pouring nasty chemicals down the drain and releasing toxins into your house.

So without further ado...drumroll please...here's what I now use to clean my toilets:

Lisa's Toilet Bowl Cleaner
6 oz. (3/4 c.) hot water
1/2 c. Borax
6-8 oz. (3/4-1 c.) liquid dishsoap
8 oz. (1 c.) white vinegar

Dissolve the Borax in the hot water completely.  Pour the water mixture, the dishsoap, and the vinegar into an empty 24 oz. toilet cleaner bottle.

Voila!  Easy peasy, healthy, and oh-so-cheap!  Just use the same way you use your store-bought toilet cleaner, but let sit for 10 minutes in the toilet bowl so that it has a chance to disinfect things in there.  And enjoy your clean toilets!

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

My, oh my, life is different now...


...Mostly because of this adorable little dude:  
 
Photo courtesy of Brian and Sheri Beall
But, even though I hate change, different is not bad in this case.  Tobin is a blessed addition to our family and is settling in quite nicely.  He's a good eater and a relatively good sleeper (for a 2-week-old) -- what more can a mom ask for at this point?  As proof of his good eatin' skills, he showed up at his doctor's appointment today 2 pounds heavier and an inch and a half longer than 15 days ago when we left the hospital!  Sheesh!  No wonder I feel like a human bottle!

This week has seen the return of most of our normal day-to-day happenings.  After two weeks of floopiness, Ian and I were in sore need of some normalcy.  So we went grocery shopping on Monday, to Bible study on Tuesday, and to play group today.  Our afternoons have been blessedly calm and relaxing around the house, and our evenings have been filled with yummy meals (mostly brought in by loving people from our church) and Star Trek:TNG viewings as a whole family.

It's nice being a family of four.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Gamma = Tobin

Meet Tobin Nathanael Oglesbee:
He was born yesterday at 4:36pm, and was 7 pounds 6 ounces and 19 1/2 inches long.  Labor and delivery went incredibly smoothly, and he is a very healthy boy.  We have much to be thankful for.

His name has a Hebrew lineage and a Scotch/Irish usage, and means, "God is good."  We felt it was the best description of his life and how he came to be.

We're praising God for this great blessing!

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

This and That, Fall 2010

Yeah, so I haven't posted in over two months again.  Back around Labor Day, we were just beginning the fall semester and things hadn't started really piling up yet.  Then this massive snowball of work rolled into our lives and was exacerbated by the exhaustion accompanying the latter part of my pregnancy...and well, blogging took a back burner to lesson prep and trying to get enough sleep to get through the day.  Thankfully, the class I taught at Bethel encompassed only the first 7 weeks of the semester, and I've had some time to catch up a bit.  (Eric, on the other hand, is still completely swamped.)  And with Baby Gamma's imminent arrival, I'm betting this blog won't get much attention over the next month or so as well.  Such is life. 

So here are some fun/interesting things that have happened in the Oglesbee household in the past two months:

We were blessed by a nice visit from our Wisconsin friends the Borkes back in the third week of September.  They were making a goodwill tour of Indiana and stopped at our place for two nights to play video games and catch up on life. They have three rockin' little girls who kept Ian more than entertained and were even able to put him in his place a time or two.  It's always nice to spend time with their family, and the time is always too short with too much time in between.  We're looking for a date when we can pay them a visit as well.

The next weekend, my best friend Andrea lovingly and thoughtfully threw us a shower in book party form.  Instead of bringing only regular baby gifts, which we didn't need a whole lot of this time around, people showered us with books!  I was totally geeked out by the stacks and stacks of good children's books we received from friends and family:  popular classic board books like "Goodnight, Moon" and "The Very Hungry Caterpillar," fun educational books like a Baby Einstein art book, and even classic chapter books like "Peter Pan" for older kids.  I was overwhelmed by the generosity and support of the people we know.  Add to all of that Andrea's fabulous finger foods and delectable coconut cake, and it was a real party! 


Ian refusing to smile for the family photo
 On the first weekend of October, we took a quick one-day trip down to Bloomington for the IU vs. Michigan football game.  We got super-cheap season tickets this year, thanks to a "Young Alumni Special" IU had going on, and were hoping to make it to up to three games this fall, but life (namely, pregnancy and a crap-load of school work) got in the way of those plans.  As always, though, it was a fun day of football and friends, even though IU couldn't pull out a last-minute victory and began their season slide into oblivion.  Sigh...it's hard being an IU football fan.   
Ian with his friends AJ and Jillian
Conked out in the car at a gas station on the long, dark drive home
Jars of Clay in Gates Gym @ Bethel
On October 12th, Bethel's Student Council hosted the band Jars of Clay, with Brandon Heath as the opening act.  Since Eric is the faculty advisor to StuCo, a lot of the planning and coordinating fell on his capable (but tired) shoulders.  Overall, it was a great experience for him to oversee something of this magnitude, and I think he scored some points with the staff and administration at Bethel for how well things were carried out.  The concert itself was fun, and I was surprised at how good Jars of Clay still is -- they know how to put on a good show and they really are quite talented. 

View from the balcony of the cottage
A couple weeks later, some dear friends from church invited us to go to a lake cottage owned by some previous members of our church (whom we have never met).  The cottage is practically suspended over a large dune overlooking beautiful Lake Michigan.  Spectacular views, lots of lounging, taking several walks a day, and eating fabulous food comprised our weekend there.  It was a time of much-needed rest and good company that we are even now extremely grateful for, as it helped prepare us for this last push to the end of the semester and the major transition of adding a new member to our family soon. 
Ian's camera skills at work.
On one of many walks; Ian and his best friend J-man
That just about brings us up to today as far as interesting things go.  As of this point, we're just waiting until Gamma decides to join us and trying to enjoy each day that we have.  My due date is less than two weeks away now (November 22nd), but if my doctor and Eric are right, this dude will probably be here sometime before that.  We'll see.  :)

Thanks for reading!

Monday, September 06, 2010

A Nice Rest on Labor Day

This weekend has been everything a weekend should be:  relaxing, rejuvenating, and full of good food and good people.  After a fairly crazy week, we all needed a rest and some diversion.  On Saturday, we hosted a football party for 18 of our friends and their kids in our living room, during which Eric smoked and grilled the most aMAZing ribs ever.  Sunday was spent at church, eating lunch with friends, and enjoying the afternoon: Eric and Ian went to play ultimate frisbee while I took a much-needed three-hour nap on the couch.  Then today, we spent the entire afternoon at Warren Dunes, our special Labor Day spot, where we took a picnic supper of PBJs, carrots, watermelon, and homemade cookies packed in my great-grandma Lulu's picnic basket that I just recently acquired from my Aunt Judy.  We sat on the beach, splashed in the waves, dug in the sand, and just generally enjoyed each others' company.  A truly stellar day capping off a truly stellar weekend.  I'm so thankful for my little family and the fun we can have together.
Eric and Ian during a lull in the waves of Lake Michigan
Ian and I sharing a cookie (with Gamma popping out in my tummy)
Digging in the sand with his little friend

Friday, September 03, 2010

The Oil-Cleansing Method

Twenty-three days ago, I began an experiment that I felt was fairly low-risk based on the testimonies of people I trust.  Still, it was a little scary.  Using oil to clean my face at night was a completely foreign concept to me, and one I was still a bit skeptical about.  "What if my face turns into a mass of hideous blemishes?" I thought to myself.  But I figured that was a bit dramatic, and I really didn't have that much to lose.  So I gave it a shot. 

I started out with a 25%-75% Castor oil to sunflower oil ratio.  Night #1 left me pleased:  my face was instantly soft, my makeup came off effortlessly, and my skin had less redness than usual after a deep cleansing.  I was feeling confident. 

But by the day after Night #3, I had two pimples on my left cheek and a patch of dryness on my right cheek.  What's up with that?  So I trusted in my knowledge of my skin (which is usually dry) and added more sunflower oil, figuring that the blemishes were an effect of things being purged from my skin.  I think I was right.  By the day after Night #5, my pimples were gone, and the dryness was still there, except it was everywhere.  So the next night, I added more sunflower oil to the mixture, making it about a 15%-85% ratio.  I also mixed a tiny bit of sugar in with a little bit of the oil to act as a scrub to clear away the dead skin.  This seemed to work, and I haven't had to do it since. 

So seventeen days later from the dryness issue, the skin on my face is soft, clear, nearly devoid of redness, and quite happy.   You should know that I usually don't have the best skin:  it's typically patchy, dry, and blotchy-red, and I have hereditary dark circles under my eyes. But take a look at me sans makeup: 
This was taken using Photobooth on my iMac (because our camera is broken), so it's not the clearest shot in the world, but there are obviously no blemishes, the skin is soft and shiny without looking tight, and my cheeks don't have patches of dry redness.  I have a little mascara on (because even with relatively dark brown hair, I have blonde eyelashes...go figure), but that's it.  Hopefully you get the picture: this method works. 

The only thing I've had to be careful about is completely rinsing my face at night.  After a week, I noticed that my pillowcase was looking quite oily -- not cool. But since then, I've done a double rinse (once with the cloth, once with warm water), and I haven't noticed any problems. 

So there you go!  Success!  I know a few of you have also been experimenting with me.  If you would care to leave a note in the  comments as to how it's going for you, I'd love to hear about your own experiences.  And if others of you have questions or reservations, feel free to voice them as well. 

Saturday, August 28, 2010

A Prayer of Stillness

There has not been a lot of stillness in our lives lately.  Classes at Bethel started this week.  Eric's teaching a more-than-full load as usual, and I'm embarking on a new adventure with my first "real" college class (to native speakers - ack!)  in an intensive 7-week format.  Ian's been....well, let's just say he's been very four lately:  testing boundaries like they're going out of style (at which point I assure him, they're not) and just generally being a pill.  Add to that a visitation/funeral for Bethel's former president, community service with the school, a fireplace cleaning that turned into kind of a mess, and catering an art show at church -- well, it's been a doozy of a week.

So when Eric wisely suggested I take a morning to get some work done and do whatever I wanted to, I really couldn't argue.  Since it's yet another absolutely gorgeous day -- can't believe the fabulous weather we're having --  I hopped on my bike with my Bible in tow and spent an hour at the Mishawaka Riverwalk this morning.  I picked out a park bench on Kamm Island on the south side of the river, just across from the spot where Eric proposed to me over 10 years ago, and I just sat.  I took time to notice the things around me:  the cool breeze, a brilliant blue sky, the lazily meandering river, geese taking a ride backwards and sideways on their own personal aquatic thoroughfare, the scent of grass and water.  Eventually, I retrieved from my backpack a book of prayers written by Richard Foster, and quickly came across this one:

"I wait now in silence, Lord, that the good may spring up and the evil dissipate.

May the ocean of your light continually overcome the ocean of my darkness."  

After meditating on this for a while, God began to give me a true sense of peace.  Not just that feeling that you get when things are hunky-dory and nice.  But true, deep, supernatural peace.  The same kind of peace I felt in the days and weeks following Beta's death.  The unexplainable, transcendent calm that can only come from the Creator of the Universe and the Redeemer of our hearts.  And I felt thankful and truly alive.

 

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Leaf Hunt

What to do on a cool Indiana August afternoon?  (Wait, is there such a thing? Apparently, this year, there is.) I try to mix things up for Ian so we don't get stuck in too much of a rut, but the other day, he helped me out by coming up with an idea himself:  a leaf hunt!  So we walked all around our front yard and picked individual leaves from every tree, bush, and flower bed plant that we could find, naming as many of them as I could for him (there are still some things in our yard I'm unfamiliar with).  He then lined them all up on the front porch and spent the next half hour "organizing" them into different piles, declaring himself to be a "leaf scientist."  While he sorted and resorted, I had a chance to sit next to him and paint my toenails.  Double bonus!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Eggplant-Zucchini-Tomato Casserole

The summer harvest is in full-swing, and even though our garden is suffering from terrible soil and a lack of water, we've been able to enjoy fresh, seasonal, local produce through our co-op.  With the end of summer comes a plethora of eggplant, zucchini, and tomatoes, all begging to be incorporated into our daily menus. Thankfully, last summer, Food and Wine Magazine provided our family with what is now a tried-and-true favorite (worthy of The Cookbook), which uses all three of these estival crops.  I've made it twice in the past week for two different potlucks -- which, interestingly enough, were both "locally" themed -- and both times, I had no leftovers to bring home. This recipe can be used as a veggie side, but we usually give it main dish superiority and have a salad on the side, and sometimes it stands by itself.  I've adapted the recipe a bit from Food and Wine's original recipe since we like more tomatoes and cheese than it calls for.  I think I also use more bread crumbs on top.

© Quentin Bacon, Food & Wine
Eggplant, Zucchini, & Tomato Casserole


Ingredients:
  • 4 T. olive oil + more for brushing
  • 3 medium zucchini, sliced 1/4” thick
  • 2 long, narrow eggplants, peeled and sliced lengthwise, 1/3” thick
  • kosher salt and fresh pepper
  • 2 large shallots, minced
  • 2 lb. roma/plum tomatoes, cut into 1/2” dice
  • 1/4 c. chopped fresh basil
  • 8 oz. feta cheese, crumbed (2 c.)
  • 1 c. panko or coarse dry bread crumbs

Directions:
Preheat oven to 425F. Oil 2 large-rimmed baking sheets. Put the zucchini slices on one sheet and the eggplant on the other, arranging the slices in slightly overlapping layers. Brush with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Bake for 15 min., until tender. In a large skillet, heat 2 T. of olive oil; add the shallots and cook over moderate heat until softened, about 3 min. Add the tomatoes and cook over high heat until slightly softened and bubbling, about 1-2 min. Season with salt and pepper and add the basil. Oil a 9x13” baking dish. Lay half of the eggplant in the dish and layer half of the zucchini on top. Spread half of the tomatoes on top and scatter with half of the feta. Make another layer of eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes, and cheese. Mix the panko with the remaining 2 T. of oil and sprinkle over casserole. Bake in the upper third of the oven for 20 minutes, until bubbling and crisp. Let stand for 5 min., then serve warm or hot.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Homemade Deodorant Re-cap

You may remember that back in March, I started a new experiment of using homemade deodorant.  I just wanted to let you know that it's going fabulously!  I really, really love it.  It fits all the criteria I had hoped it would:  it's cheap, it's earth-friendly, and most importantly, it works, even on the hottest, sweatiest days.  I keep a small jar in my bathroom to apply with my fingers, and an old deodorant container in my fridge (because on hot days, it feels so good to put something cold under my arms).  In the winter, I'll be able to keep the deodorant container in my bathroom, since the coconut oil won't melt once it gets colder than 74 degrees.  But, after five months, I'm sold.  Hooray for baby steps!

Friday, August 13, 2010

Oglesbee Odes: Sting's Songs from the Labyrinth

Eric and I are going through yet another run (our third?  fourth?) of watching the single season of Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip.  (Brilliant show, by the way. What were people thinking when it got cut and 30 Rock was kept on the air at the same time? Anyway....)  Last night, we watched one of our favorite episodes in which Sting is a guest on the show, performing some songs from his album "Songs from the Labyrinth" that he made with Edin Karamazov on the lute.  It was that episode that led us to actually buy the album a couple years ago, and we love it.  Sting's alluring remake of "Fields of Gold" is one of the highlights of the album, but I'm going to leave you with another favorite:  "Come Again."


 

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Homemade Bread Revisited

About a year and a half ago, I posted a recipe for homemade wheat bread.  At the time, I was still using a couple of cups of white flour to keep the bread soft, but since then, I've discovered the power of wheat gluten.  It does wonders for hard, woody, whole-wheat baked goods!  After a lot of tweaking and experimenting, I've also started using a recipe that doesn't involve milk products, so it's a little more simple to make.  And we love it!  Now that my pregnancy-induced nausea seems to have subsided, and I can handle the smell of baking bread again, I've taken to making a batch once every week or two.  It's nice to be back in the habit.  So, without further ado, here's my new, revised bread recipe.  I hope you have as much success with it as I have!

Lisa's Whole Wheat Bread

Ingredients:

3 tsp. yeast
1/2 c. hot water
1 T. honey
3 T. olive oil
1.5 tsp. salt
2.5 c. warm water
1/4 c. honey
7 c. whole wheat flour
2/3 c. wheat gluten

Directions:
Mix yeast, 1/2 c. water, and 1 T. sugar or honey in a glass bowl and let sit for about 10 min. or until foamy. Mix together oil, salt, water, and honey; add the yeast water. Add the flour and gluten and knead for about 10 minutes in a stand mixer using the dough hook. Place dough into a greased bowl and turn over until well-coated. Cover w/ a damp towel and let rise in a warm place for 1-2 hours, or until just doubled in size. (I put it in a slightly warm oven that has been turned off.)

Punch the dough and place it on a flat surface. Divide into 2 equal sections and form into loaves. Place in 2 greased pans, and sprinkle w/oats (optional). Let rise another 45-60 min., or until almost doubled in size (again, in a barely warm oven).

With the loaves in the cool oven, turn on the heat to 400F.. After 15 min., reduce heat to 375F and bake 25 minutes longer. Test for doneness by removing from pan and knocking on the bottom; if a hollow sound emerges, the bread is done. Let cool completely on a wire rack before storing.

Optional: add 3 T. ground flaxseed and 3 T. sesame seeds to the flour and gluten for a heartier, multigrain bread.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The search for truly healthy skin

Hey ladies, how many facial cleansing products have you tried in your lifetime?  Too many to count?  Yeah, me too.  I've also spent literally hours of my life standing in a store aisle trying to find just the right cleanser to make my sometimes dry, sometimes oily, always blotchy face magically gorgeous.  Who knows how much hard-earned money I've spent trying different products, a lot of which haven't worked.  And something I've been coming to realize lately is that there are potentially very harmful things in those cleansers -- things the oh-so-trusted FDA hasn't even bothered to have tested...which means I'm the guinea pig.  (If you want to be even more scared...um, informed...on this issue, take five minutes and watch The Story of Cosmetics.) 

What's a girl to do on a tight budget and with the drive to be as healthy as possible?  Thanks to my friend-of-a-friend Katie at Simple Organic, I have something new to try:  the oil-cleansing method.  What?  Cleaning with oil?  Isn't that counter-intuitive?  I thought so and was pretty skeptical about it until I did a little research (most helpfully, here)  and have started to think differently about my skin's needs.  My body produces oil naturally, and when I try to strip it of that essential oil, it often works overtime to produce more. So, I'm embarking on a new adventure.
The anti-inflammatory, healing, and cleansing powers of Castor oil mixed with the soothing, moisturizing powers of sunflower oil are supposed to give me glowing, smooth skin.  And since it's easy on the budget ($3.19 for the bottle of Castor oil + $7 for the bottle of sunflower oil, the combination of which looks to be able to last me at least six months), and proven safe for my body, I'm willing to be the guinea pig here.  For my combination skin, I'm going with a 25% castor to 75% sunflower oil ratio.  If you have oilier skin, you might want to try closer to a 30/70% ratio, and if you have drier skin, a ratio of  10/90% might work best for you. 

The method is easy, too:  massage the oil deep into your skin, rubbing all over your face and eyelids.  Place a hot, wet cloth over your face and let it cool.  Then rinse the cloth again in hot water and gently wipe off all the oil.  That's it!  I tried it last night, and I was immediately happy with two things:  1) It took my eye makeup off beautifully and effortlessly, and 2) I didn't feel the need to moisturize afterwards and I wasn't greasy, either.  My skin just felt soft and happy.  I'm going to give it a week or so to see how my skin reacts and if I'm using the right ratio of oils.  I'll keep you posted!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

All-purpose cleaner

A few of you have asked for my all-purpose cleaner recipe.  I can't remember where I got it from (so I can't responsibly give the credit to whom it's due), and I don't really have a set recipe, but I can tell you what I do...and that it's really simple and CHEAP, not to mention all-around better for the earth. 
Here's what you need: 
  • an empty 32-oz spray bottle
  • hot water
  • about 1/2 cup of Borax
  • vinegar at room temperature
  • a tablespoon or two of lemon juice (both fresh and bottled are fine)
And here's what you do:  Fill the bottle about halfway up with really hot water (but not boiling - it might melt the bottle!) and add the Borax to it.  Shake it or stir it or do whatever you have to do to make the Borax dissolve.  Once you can't see any clumps in the bottle, add enough vinegar so that it almost reaches the top.  Add a little lemon juice, and you're done.   You're ready to safely and cheaply disinfect your home!  This cleaner works on all kinds of surfaces:  tables, countertops, sinks, toilets, etc.  To disinfect, spray it on and let it sit for about 10 minutes before wiping off with a clean, wet rag. 

Monday, August 02, 2010

Shared Hobbies

I love to cook. (Big secret, I know.) Eric loves to cook. And more and more, Ian loves to cook. Preparing food has become a family activity as Ian continues to get older and more responsible. This, of course, warms my heart. I think it's so important for members of a family to share activities with each other, rather than each person going off and doing their own thing (although, there is a place for that, as well). Eric and I try to incorporate shared family time into each day, where we're all doing the same fun thing together. Sometimes, it's playing a circuit of team-style MarioKart on the Wii. Sometimes it's building a train track in Ian's room, or reading a book on the couch together. But it's also often gathering in the kitchen to make a meal where we all have responsibilities and can help each other out. When we sit down to breakfast or dinner, there is a sense that we all have ownership over what we're about to eat. And that is a satisfying feeling.

Anyway, all that rambling is to say that Ian's new play hobby has become cooking. He only plays with his trains two or three times a week now, rather than devoting the entire day to the goings-on in the lives of the inhabitants of the Island of Sodor. At least one part of each day often consists of getting out his play cooking tools (some plastic silverware and plates, a few smallish wooden utensils, and my old measuring cups and spoons) and concocting whatever imaginary food is on his mind.  He's been known to come up with some pretty strange "recipes" - my favorite so far is orange juice soup with gummy bears, jelly beans, and black beans (blech!).  But hey, I'm lovin' the creativity. 

Our little chef looking rather "Swedish"
****
Want some ideas for ways to incorporate little ones into the kitchen activities?  Check out the advice from Simple Mom and Simple Bites.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Minestrone Soup

It's summer, and the veggies are plentiful and cheap!  Zucchini, tomatoes, onions, garlic, and fresh herbs are not only available at our local grocery store, but also our co-op and local roadside stands.  (They should all be producing in bushels from our garden, but that's a whole other post.)  What to do with this abundance?  One of our favorite summer meals is minestrone soup, and I have a recipe that is eerily similar to one served at a certain popular national chain Italian restaurant that employed me and Eric as servers once upon a time.  Served with a salad and some crusty breadsticks or focaccia, it can be served as a main course, or it can accompany your favorite grilled meat as a vegetable side dish.  Avere un buon pasto!
Minestrone Soup


Ingredients:
2 T. olive oil
1 c. onion, chopped
1/2 c. zucchini (about 1 small one), sliced and quartered
1/2  c. fresh or frozen green beans, cut into 1" pieces
1/4  c. celery, minced
4 cloves garlic, chopped
4 c. broth (vegetable or chicken)
2 15-oz. cans kidney beans, drained
2 15-oz. cans white beans, drained
1 14-oz. can diced tomatoes
1/2  c. carrot, julienned or shredded
2 T. fresh parsley, chopped*
1 T. fresh oregano, chopped*
1 tsp. fresh basil, chopped*
1 tsp. fresh thyme, chopped*
3 c. hot water
kosher salt and fresh pepper to taste
4 c. fresh baby spinach
1/2 lb. small shell pasta, cooked to al dente
*If using dried  herbs, use half the amount of each

Directions:
Heat olive oil over medium heat in a large soup or stock pot.  Sauté onion, celery, and garlic until softened and onion is translucent.  Add the green beans and zucchini and cook for about 2 minutes.  Add vegetable broth and tomatoes, beans, carrot, herbs, and hot water.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and allow to simmer for 20 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper.  Add spinach leaves and cook for an additional 4-5 minutes.  Serve with a small scoop of pasta and freshly grated Parmesan cheese.  (If you put the pasta into the soup pot, it will expand until all the liquid is absorbed into the pasta, which does not make for good leftovers.  Even the Olive Garden keeps their pasta and soup separate until serving time.)

Thursday, July 29, 2010

From paper to cloth

Paper napkins, paper towels, paper tissues...these products were regularly on our grocery list at one point in time.  They were so easy, so convenient, and we were so used to buying them that we didn't give their presence in our budget a second thought, let alone what sort of environmental impact they might have had.  But we've incrementally switched to using cloth versions: cloth napkins, cloth diapers and old towels, and cloth tissues (a.k.a. handkerchiefs). 

I still keep a roll of recycled select-a-size paper towels on my kitchen counter for small, quick jobs, but it takes well over a month to go through one roll because I use old diapers and towels for messes and spills now.  And we keep a box of Puffs Plus facial tissues in our main bathroom for guests.  But honestly, I much prefer all of the cloth versions.  Cloth napkins feel so much more elegant and help wipe up spills at the dinner table caused by an energetic four-year-old better than their paper counterparts.  Cloth diapers soak up so much more liquid than paper towels (extremely handy when said four-year-old tries to pour his own milk on the kitchen floor) and clean windows and glass with ease.  Old, ratty towels and washcloths are great for your everyday cleaning jobs around the house.  And when cold season hits, handkerchiefs really do protect one's runny nose from turning into one akin to Rudolph's.

As with many things "green," a case can be made for frugality as well.  We use these napkins, towels, and tissues over and over and over again, and plan to for many years until they utterly fall apart, so we're saving a ton of money.  But we're also doing something responsible for the environment by reducing the amount of paper products produced (which saves trees as well as lakes and rivers from the byproducts of production), in addition to the amount of paper products finding their way into landfills.  Plus, as an added bonus, the performance of the cloth versions far exceeds that of the paper ones.  It's a win-win-win!

These things take time.  We didn't stop using paper for everything in just one day (and we really still haven't) - it happened in baby steps over a few months, maybe even a year.  In fact, there's still one step toward paper reduction that we haven't taken:  toilet paper.  Just the thought of using cloth for that area of life gives me the heebie-jeebies, but we'll probably someday take that step as well.  (I'm hoping that getting back into cloth diapering with this next little one will give me some incentive and motivation.)  So, we still have some changes to make, and when we're ready, we'll take another baby step.

What kind of baby steps are you taking or thinking of taking in regards to paper?

****

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

R.I.P., Nikon Coolpix 2500

So, our most decent camera died.  Granted, it wasn't all that great compared to today's standards, and was fairly old as far as digital cameras go, but it was with us for some very important and memorable events (China in 2004, the birth of our firstborn in 2006, etc.).  And now it's completely and utterly dead.  It is survived by our Sony Handycam camcorder, which only takes 1 megapixel pictures (blech), but that's better than nothing.  So, for now, look for extremely crappy pictures on this venue and please accept our apologies for any eye-bleeding that incurs. 

Sincerely,
Eric & Lisa

With a cherry on top: Our fruit-picking summer

I'm slowly reaching my goal of hitting all the local u-pick fruit this summer and loading up with as much as possible.  (So excited to make that deep freezer work and have cheap fruit all winter at our disposal!)  In early June, we went strawberry picking at a fabulous family-owned organic farm near Plymouth and came home with 14 pounds of plump, sweet berries.  During the first week of July, we went cherry picking for the first time at Lehman's Orchards outside of Niles, Michigan (just 20 minutes away from us), where we picked over 50 pounds of tart cherries and subsequently froze them.  An added bonus from that trip was the 2 gallons of cherry juice that was accidentally squeezed from the pitted berries as they were transported in plastic bags from the farm to our house.  We added a bit of sugar and drank to our hearts' content for almost a week...I miss that juice. Two weeks ago, we brought home 14 pounds of blueberries from The Blueberry Ranch here in Mishawaka.  Last week, my parents gave me a huge bag of peaches from the tree in their backyard, which I peeled, sliced, and froze.  All that's left are raspberries, if I can find a picking farm anywhere nearby (any suggestions, South Bend area residents?), and of course, apples, which we'll pick up at our favorite apple farm on one of our fall trips to Bloomington.  But so far, we're right on track!

What do I plan to do with this abundance of fruit?  The list is practically endless!  Smoothies, pies, cobblers, pancakes, muffins, oatmeal cereal, ice cream, pure snacking on frozen goodness...these only scratch the surface of possibilities for the bags of fruit lining the door of our deep freezer!  We've already enjoyed blueberry-walnut oatmeal, cherry-almond oatmeal, blueberry cobbler, cherry pie, blueberry pancakes, and various versions of breakfast smoothies.  We look forward to raspberry ice cream, peach cobbler, and homemade applesauce.  

All of this fruit-picking has been really good for our family.  Not only have all the fruits been at extremely reasonable prices ($1.25/lb for blueberries as opposed to the $3/pint in the grocery store - hello!), but it's been both satisfying and rewarding to spend time out in the sun together, sweating for our food.  I hope it's helping Ian to have a better understanding of where our food comes from, how it grows, and that what appears on our dinner plates or in our breakfast bowls has a deeper story and that we can have a part in that story beyond our role of consumption. 
Ian and his friend J-man at our early July cherry picking adventure

Friday, July 02, 2010

Oglesbee Odes @ 20 weeks

The news about the new addition to our family never made it onto this particular venue, and for that, we're sorry.  But later is better than never, right?

Meet Oglesbee Gamma:
Gamma is a boy, much to the delight of his older brother, who has all sorts of plans for his little brother and seems to have advanced ideas about how much the little guy will be capable of once he leaves Mommy's tummy.  We're working on it so there's not a huge disappointment when Gamma comes out unable to do much more than sleep, eat, and poop. And no, we're not going to call him Gamma forever -- it's just his name (based on his rank ordering in the family) until he makes his social debut in about 20 weeks, at which point, we'll reveal whatever crazy name we've come up with.

So, 20 weeks have gone and 20 weeks are left.  Here's to hoping the last half is a bit more comfortable than the first half, during which I became very good friends with the, um, porcelain throne, if you will, and spent almost 13 hours a day sleeping.  Now that my energy is returning and food is more appealing to me, I'm looking forward to the rest of this unexpected adventure.  We're halfway there, Baby!

In honor of this occasion, our song for the day is "Livin' on a Prayer" by Bon Jovi.  Turn up your computer speakers and celebrate with us to some classic power rock on this sunny Friday morning. 

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Hiatus

My goodness, things are dusty around this blog!  A two month's leave of absence seems to have brought out the crickets and cobwebs!  Well, I'm taking today to freshen things up and get things running again.

If there are any readers left out there, you may be wondering what happened.  I, myself, am not quite sure.  It seems to be a combination of a lack of ideas (What do I want to write about?), a lack of focus (What is this blog for, anyway?), and sheer exhaustion (Did I mention I'm almost 20 weeks pregnant?  Oops.). 

At any rate, I have a list of ideas again and a little more energy to go with them, but the focus is still a little unclear.  Is a blog about food, household ideas, and our specific family life too broad in scope?  There are so many good cooking and green/frugal living blogs out there, I feel no need to add my own inadequate offering to the mix. I just don't have the time or plethora of ideas to devote to such a venture.  But I do want to share what's going on with us, what we're learning, and what we've had success with.   I suppose, for today, I'll keep with the general format of what we've had going on, and see what kind of feedback I get.

So, here we go again....

Monday, April 26, 2010

Our life these days

While we were running errands this morning, Ian and I had this conversation in the car: 

Ian: Mommy, what do you do? 
Me: What do you mean, what do I do? 
Ian: What are the things you do?  You make food and check Facebook and read books and play games and clean the house.  What do I do? 
Me: What do you do? 
Ian: I do puzzles and play with trains and dig outside and watch TV.  What does Daddy do? 
Me: What does Daddy do? 
Ian: Daddy goes to work and comes home and goes to work and comes home and goes to work....(this went on for about a minute.)

Poor Eric. Thankfully, that all is about to change. I'm SO glad it's the end of the semester!!!!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

4

Our Little Man turned four years old today.  I'm going to go ahead and be all cliche' and say that I can't believe it - it's going by so fast!  He's such a great little kid, and I'm excited to get to know him even better as he gets older. 

We started the festivities with a Pirate Birthday Party last Saturday with a bunch of Ian's little friends from church.  Eric even dressed as a pirate and shocked our guests with his incredible acting.  (For those of you on Facebook, there's an 11-minute video on my profile with the Treasure Hunt Eric planned and expertly executed.) Ian started the party out in a sour mood, refusing to put on his pirate gear and even attempting to hide in his room when his friends came, but being the loving parents that we are, we forced him to come out and within two minutes, he was actually having fun!  The rest of the day, though, whenever a camera was pointed at him, he quickly reverted to his sour face.  Good times.  
For his actual birthday, we did our traditional awakening by singing early in the morning, after which we gave him our present, as well as the presents from his aunt and uncle in Alaska.  Here he is cheesing for the camera in his chef's getup from Sherri and Adam: 
And since he's so into puzzles right now, one of the first things he did was put together a Thomas puzzle.  He was so proud of himself! 
The rest of the day was spent eating at Chick-fil-A for supper, making cupcakes together which we then took to Eric's night class to share, and just generally doing things that Ian wanted to do.  Everybody  needs a day like that. 

Sunday, March 21, 2010

March Madness 2010

Ah, March! The temperatures get warmer and more bearable; the snow (usually) melts; crocuses, tulips, and daffodils break out from their frozen prison....and college basketball has its year-end party involving hours upon hours of nail-biting, pulse-racing, bracket-checking, good-guy-vs.-bad-guy, I'm-so-stuffed-I-can't-eat-another-bite games. It's a thing of glory.
For the first four days of the tournament, this is a little what our living room looks like:
Brackets taped to the doors of the TV cabinet, TV on CBS HD showing one game, iMac on streaming online video of another game, and the fireplace sporting a cozy roaring fire. Sometimes Eric's laptop is streaming yet another game if there are three that need our particular attention. We're in the living room from noon to midnight for four whole days, being careful not to miss a single important moment. Ian brings his toys out and plays the day away, we eat when we get hungry and when friends come over to join us in our celebration, and everything gets shut down only when the last second of the last game of the day has been ticked off the game clock.
It's a beautiful and special time of year.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Oglesbee Odes

For pure silliness' sake, here's a track from Ian's "Songs from the Street" CD by Sesame Street (thanks, Adam & Sherri!). It gets Ian singing every time....and us, too, for that matter.



And here's another one from the same CD. It's Eric's favorite. :)

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Menu Planning: A Modern-Day Fairy Tale

Once upon a time, in a land not so far away, there was a young married girl who was juggling work, college, friends, and a new husband on an extremely limited budget. She used to come home from a long day at school, stare into the depths of her refrigerator, emit a sigh of lamentation, and resign herself to either spending too much on take-out, or making spaghetti or frozen pizza yet again. Something had to change. There was a wealth of good, healthful, cost-effective recipes out there that just weren't getting used. She needed a plan and a little bit of organization.
One fateful day, the young woman was visited by a Beautiful Idea. The Beautiful Idea whispered in her ear and on that day, she met a new and valuable friend: the Oglesbee Meal Planning Routine. It saved the young woman's life, and probably that of her husband and her future children.
The Routine was simple. Step One: one or two days a week, look at the next 4-7 days and figure out some meals that might work. If necessary, get out one's trusty recipe book and sift through for help when the brain is stumped and clueless. Step Two: Write the meals down on a sheet of paper to be referenced throughout the week.*
Step Three: Using the recipe book, make a list of the ingredients that are needed. This particular young woman made her own grocery shopping list, organized according to the aisles in her favorite grocery store for ease of finding said ingredients.
Step Four: Go shopping for the necessary ingredients so that the kitchen is fully stocked for the meals on the menu.
Now, almost nine years later, when the not-so-young woman needs to make a dinner for her family, the ingredients are all there, ready and waiting. It's a fairy tale come true.

*PS: She also saves those menu lists, using one sheet of paper every four weeks, so she can see what she's made lately, thus keeping her family from having to eat the same meals over and over again.

So how do you plan your meals? What's your strategy?

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Valuable Mommy & Son Time

We haven't been feeling well this week. On Tuesday afternoon after J-man left, we had run out of things we felt like doing and were in need of a boost. Since Ian had spent the entire afternoon pretending to make cookies with his play cooking tools, I suggested we make some real cookies together. This offer was met with much enthusiasm, as you can imagine.
I let Ian choose the filler ingredients, and here was his list: chocolate chunks, Craisins, oatmeal, walnuts, and coconut. Those bad boys were fully-loaded...and quite delicious! I was thankful I didn't have to talk him out of anything weird (like the black beans he had recently talked about putting into an imaginary pot of "orange juice soup," complete with jelly beans and gummy bears).
We sure love our baking time together.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Oglesbee Odes: Be Unto Your Name

As we've talked about before, Lent is a time for recognizing our need for God and adjusting our perspective such that we remember who and what we really are: dust, vapor, here for a moment, broken vessels. But with that comes the acknowledgment that God is forever, eternal, the Healer, and mighty enough to save us.

I first heard this song and learned to play it on the guitar while I was in Honduras in February of 2007, so it has an extra-special meaning for me.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Another Baby Step: Homemade Deodorant

About a week ago, I went out on a very inexpensive and low-risk limb and tried making my own deodorant. When I shared this with the world via Facebook, I got various reactions, including, "Interesting," and "Hope it works!" (Thanks, Mom!). It seemed like a lot of people were cautiously skeptical...and for good reason. Body odor is nothing to be messed around with in our society. You stink, you're not cool. But since I had over half a tube left of my good ol' chemical-laden standby, Dove Ultimate Clear for Sensitive Skin, I figured, why not try something more natural and inexpensive....just to see?

I was made aware of this recipe via one of my favorite blogs, EnviroMom, and since it was easy, cheap, and accessible, I chose to try it over countless others out there on the Internet. It seemed to me like a doable "baby step," and lo and behold, it was! I'm totally impressed. Granted, it's not 98 degrees out there with 98% humidity yet (we'll see how it works at the end of an Indiana July), but even through various sweat-inducing activities, my armpits have stayed pleasantly dry and completely scent-free. So, for those of you interested, here's the magic formula:

1/4 c. baking soda
1/4 c. cornstarch
6 T. coconut oil

Blend them together with a fork or a food chopper until they form a semi-solid mixture, mash them into an empty deodorant tube, and you've got yourself a handy B.O. fixer! I like it better than some of the other natural products out there (like those of Arm & Hammer and Tom's), and I even like it better than my former anti-perspirant.

As a word of caution, though, one thing about coconut oil is that it turns to liquid at 76 degrees Fahrenheit, which is fine in these cooler days of winter/spring, but in the summer, I don't keep my house that cool, so I'll probably have to store my deodorant stick in the fridge, which might be a tad of an adjustment. We'll see how it goes. Also, because of the aforementioned melting, when I'm finished applying the deodorant, there's usually a small amount of wet residue dripping down the side of my tube, simply because the contact with my body has made the oil melt. So, I have to take a small piece of toilet paper and wipe down the tube before placing the cap back on. To me, though, those things are worthy adjustments in light of the fiscal, environmental, and potentially healthy rewards of managing my body's odor.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Oglesbee Odes

More often than not, if you come to our house while we're making dinner, you'll hear either the entire soundtrack from the movie Once, or you'll hear this song in the middle of our own very special compilation of music we like to call "Rockin' Love Songs." It's one of our favorite songs from one of our favorite soundtracks to one of our favorite movies. Enjoy.

Oh, and if you haven't seen Once yet....well, um...you should.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Edamame "Hummus"

Ok, ok, I'm not so uninformed to think that hummus made without chickpeas is still truly hummus (the word "hummus," after all, does mean "chickpea"), but bear with me. This stuff rocks. And its taste and texture is quite a bit like true hummus. It could be described as an imposter hummus. But its lively green color and slight Asian accent give it away, while at the same time seducing you into not even caring. It's hummus...sort of, and close enough. But hummus on a whole new level. Hummus after traveling the world -- a wiser, more chic, and sophisticated version of its true counterpart. A party animal reborn.

And I'm in love.

We were introduced just last weekend by my good friend Cary, who, always the perfect hostess, welcomed our presence to her Indianapolis home with a wonderful appetizer of grapes, crackers, chips, and....yes....edamame hummus. There was a spark of instant attraction, and soon, I couldn't get enough. Even after the fabulous meal of baked salmon, Israeli couscous, and steamed asparagus was over, I found myself wanting to strike up another "conversation" with my new acquaintance. So I had it for dessert. And thus began my new fling.

The dip Cary served was from Trader Joe's, but since South Bend isn't cool enough for stores like TJ's and Whole Foods, I'm "forced" to make my own. (Oh darn.) After perusing various recipes on the Internet, I formed what I thought might be a good version and tried it out. It was a teensy bit time consuming -- one is required to boil whole edamame shells, rinse them, shell them, then remove the skins from the bright green beans -- but totally doable, and even more fun with some funky music in the background to keep one company (I'm a big fan of Relevant.fm lately).
Then you just follow steps that are eerily similar to traditional hummus, and wham! You've got edamame hummus. Enjoy. Here's the basic recipe of what I did for my first try:

Ingredients:
1 16-oz bag frozen edamame
1 T. lemon juice
1 minced garlic clove
1/2 c. water or broth
2 T. sesame seeds (or 1.5 T. tahini)
2 T. olive oil
1 tsp. sesame seed oil
salt and pepper to taste

Directions:
Cook the edamame in their pods as directed on the package, then rinse the pods to cool them. Shell the soybeans and remove the skins. Puree the shelled/skinned edamame in a food processor with the lemon juice, garlic, water, and sesame seeds. Puree to a fine consistency, then gradually add the oil while processing (to emulsify the mixture). Use more liquid to thin the dip to desired consistency. Serve with chips, veggies, or flatbread, garnished with sesame seeds.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Quadragesima: The Long 40 Days of Spring

Right now, we're on Day 12 of the 40-day journey known as Lent. Growing up, all I knew about Lent was that my middle-school friend Jessica wasn't allowed to eat meat on Friday, but I really had no clue why. Over the past five years or so, Eric and I have learned a bit more, and have even started practicing the tradition, thanks to our current church, which observes the traditional liturgical calendar.

For those of you who don't know, Lent is a 40-day season (not including Sundays) before Easter, during which we take time to recognize our sinfulness and our need for God's mercy. Traditionally, this is done through prayer, fasting, and giving of alms; however, today's observations often include both a "giving up" of something not sinful and a "taking on" of something beneficial. The whole party is kicked off by Ash Wednesday, a day where the symbolisms of ash (death, mourning, a reminder that we are dust) are worn on our foreheads in the shape of a cross. One key component to observing Lent is that of community support - it's not meant to be done alone and in secret, especially if the actions one is giving up and taking on are difficult. The need for encouragement and motivation from other believers is a huge part of recognizing our insufficiencies and learning to rely on Christ's power in our lives. From Ash Wednesday on, we're in this thing together.

We've found that by practicing Lent, Easter is all the more exciting and appreciated. Internalizing the fact that Christ died for the very sins that weigh us down and separate us from Him makes Good Friday all the more powerful. And after spending 7 and 1/2 weeks being reminded of our sin, the joyous celebration of Easter is that much more meaningful and breathtaking, inciting even greater gratitude.

This year for Lent, our family is giving up watching TV while we eat and taking on doing family devotions at both breakfast and dinner each day. So technically, we're "fasting" from sitting in front of the TV during mealtimes and incorporating prayer into our lives in a greater capacity. So far, it's been really nice. There have been evenings where we're feeling kind of tired and just want to plop down on the couch while eating dinner, but choosing to sit at the table together and read from God's Word has been so enriching and unifying. Hopefully, we're forming better habits that will help to stabilize our family in the future.

What is your background with Lent? If you're observing it this year, what are you doing and how are you being held accountable?

* Fun fact: Quadragesima is Latin for "the fortieth day," and is one traditional name for Lent, while "lent" is derived from the German for "spring" and "long"...because the days get longer in the spring.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Oglesbee Odes

Since music informs a lot of our thoughts, attitudes, and beliefs, I thought we might share with ya'll what we listen to by posting a song every Friday for the next few weeks. We'll see how it goes.

This first song is in honor this season of Lent. It reminds us of our need for God's mercy and calls us to recognize His sovereignty. This particular arrangement is performed by Jars of Clay on their album, "Redemption Songs," and is my favorite, with the version done by our church's worship band at a close second...but you have to come to SBCRC to hear that.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Free as a Bird

Ian's favorite pastime during these cold, snowy days is building a "nest." At least once a day, he grabs all the pillows and blankets he can find, puts them in a circle, then positions his stuffed animals around the nest. He feeds them, puts them to sleep, scolds them for performing various acts of defiance or rudeness, and sometimes lays down on one of the pillows himself....for about two seconds. Then he bounds up and begins his directing and building all over again. It really is cute and keeps him busy for sometimes up to an hour. Imaginative play is the best...and the most freeing!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Roast Chicken, Coq-au-Vin-Style

A couple of months ago, I came across a recipe for Coq au Vin, a meal of chicken stewed with wine, carrots, and mushrooms. I tried it one evening and loved the outcome...but wasn't a big fan of how long it took or how complicated it was. It was a dance of adding and removing ingredients, using both the stovetop and the oven back and forth -- in short, a little more complicated than I typically look for on a weekday evening when I'm cooking with kids underfoot.

Enter this week, when I'm running out of my supply of chicken broth in the freezer, and thus, need to roast a whole chicken soon so I have said chicken broth for a soup I'm planning to make later in the week. I have a nice, but inexpensive, bottle of merlot sitting on my counter, just waiting to be used in some capacity; a bag of carrots and a box of mushrooms in my fridge; and some leftover thyme from a meal last week. Hmm....what delicious meal can incorporate all those ingredients, be made on an early weeknight, while still providing me with a chicken carcass with which to make broth? Meet one of my new creations: Coq au Vin, the easy way.
Ok, so the picture doesn't do it justice, 1) because I didn't set up the plate well, and 2) because my camera stinks. But the idea is that it was delicious. So delicious, Eric was raving about it the next day and none of us minded eating the leftovers for a second night. I served it with steamed wehani (an incredibly fragrant dark brown rice that I got on clearance at Kroger a while back) and roasted broccoli. As an added bonus, the chicken broth that was made from the carcass is probably the best broth I've ever made. I seriously can't wait to cook with it.

So here's a rough estimation of what I did to make this "keeper" dish:

Ingredients:
6 slices bacon, chopped
1 whole chicken, rinsed and patted dry
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 T. olive oil
1 yellow onion, sliced
6-8 carrots, cut diagonally into 2"-pieces
8 oz. baby bella mushrooms, quartered
5-6 fresh thyme sprigs
2 cloves garlic, pressed
2 T. brandy or Cognac
1 c. dry red wine
1 T. cornstarch

Directions:
Preheat oven to 400F. In a skillet, fry the bacon until slightly crispy. Drain on paper towels and set aside. Sprinkle the whole chicken with salt and pepper and place a few carrots, onions, mushrooms, and thyme inside the cavity. Heat the oil in a roasting pan or Dutch oven over med-high heat. Add the pressed garlic, followed by the chicken. Brown each side of the chicken for 2-4 minutes, or until slightly brown in spots. Carefully add the brandy/Cognac and the wine to the pan and allow the alcohol to cook off for a minute or two. Add the bacon to the roasting pan, sprinkling it on top of and around the chicken. Add the onions in a layer around the chicken, followed by the carrots, the mushrooms, and then the thyme sprigs. Cover and place in the oven; roast for about an hour, or until the innermost parts register at 165F. Remove from oven, throw away the thyme sprigs and remove the carrots, mushrooms, onions, and bacon to a separate bowl, using a slotted spoon. With a basting bulb, remove all the liquid from around the chicken and put it in a small saucepan. Add the cornstarch (making a paste with a small amount of the broth first), and heat the liquid until it thickens to a gravy. Place the chicken on a large plate and serve with the vegetable and the gravy.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Wonders of Vinegar

In my post on homemade laundry detergent, I alluded to the fact that I love vinegar.....Or maybe I said it outright. I think my actual words were "love affair," and that's not far off. I use the stuff daily for a myriad of tasks around the house.

Why? Well, for you penny-pinchers out there, it saves you from buying all sorts of fancy (read: expensive) cleaning products for your house. At about 2 bucks for a 32-ounce bottle, you can't beat its price. For the tree-huggers, it's a completely safe, non-toxic product that can be bought in bulk at most grocery stores, and is even edible, so you don't have to worry about your kids accidentally ingesting small amounts of it. It's the best of both worlds!

And the sheer number of tasks it can perform are staggering: From drawing venum out of jellyfish stings to soothing a sore throat, or from cleaning out your teapot to getting that kitty pee smell out of your carpet, this product is a serious workhorse. It may smell funny (and that's what warded me off for quite awhile), but the beautiful thing about it is that it dries odorless, which is actually the perfect type of clean. Score!

So, a brief rundown of ways my friend Vinegar is commonly used in our house:
  • in place of rinse aid in the dishwasher
  • to clean my coffee maker and carafe (run 1 c. water and 1/4 c. vinegar through the brewer, then run 1 c. fresh water through again)
  • to inhibit the growth of mold in the seals on my fridge (rub a sponge dampened with vinegar on the seals and let dry)
  • in a solution as a multipurpose cleaner (fill a spray bottle with 1 tsp. borax, 1/2 tsp. baking soda, 2 tsp. vinegar, 1/4 tsp. dish soap, and 2 c. hot water). This can be used on pretty much any surface.
  • as a window cleaner (fill a spray bottle 1/2 full with vinegar, then fill with water). For an added "green" bonus, use an old cloth diaper to wipe dry rather than paper towels!
  • as a fruit fly catcher (put 1 cup vinegar in a bowl with a small piece of fruit, cover with plastic wrap, poke a bunch of small holes in the wrap, and let sit on your counter. The bugs will get in to drink up the fruity vinegar, but won't know how to get out!)
  • to eliminate odors from clothes in the laundry (in place of fabric softener, I sprinkle some baking soda in the wash and put vinegar in the fabric softener well -- my clothes come out fresh and soft). For you cloth diaper users out there, this was my standard practice for washing them. The vinegar and baking soda work together to remove soap residue, odors, and stains without breaking down the fabric like bleach does.
  • as a pre-treating stain remover from clothes (either spray the offending spot with vinegar or soak the garment for 10-15 minutes in a bucket with a vinegar-water solution)
  • as a substitute for buttermilk (stir vinegar into milk at a ratio of 1:16, or 1 tablespoon per cup, and let stand a few minutes)
  • in homemade vinaigrette dressings (at a ratio of 3:1 oil to vinegar, mix the two together with salt, pepper, and herbs and spices of your choice)
There are a ton of ways to use vinegar that I've yet to try. Some that pique my interest include using it on your oven to prevent grease buildup, cleaning the toilet with vinegar and baking soda, removing sticker residue from surfaces, removing rust from old nails, using it as a skin cleanser, killing weeds outdoors, and brushing it on baking bread for a crispier crust. Clearly, my relationship with this wonder product is not over and will only continue to grow.

Are you now ready to go out and spend a mere two Washingtons on a big jug of environmentally-friendly vinegar? Have you found any interesting ways to use vinegar in your house that I haven't mentioned?

Both my life and this post were made easier by Heinz's book Over 10o Helpful Household Hints for Vinegar by Christine Halvorson, published by Publications International, Ltd in 2008. It was a very thoughtful gift from my Grandma DJ at Christmas a couple of years ago. Thanks, Grandma!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Outside Looking In

This kid loves his play time in the snow. Almost every afternoon, he goes out with a toy or two and putzes around the backyard (thank goodness for fences!) and plays in the snow. Sometimes he's out there an entire hour while I'm making dinner, but usually he gets cold after 20 minutes or so and comes in for some hot chocolate. With cinnamon, of course.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Simple Recipe Collection

About seven years ago, my recipes were kept in a file folder which was jammed-packed with recipes I'd both tried and not tried, all mixed together in a messy pile of barely-tapped potential. When I would go to look for a recipe I had in mind, I spent most of my time shuffling through the debris, muttering to myself, "I know it's here somewhere...." For those of you who know me, it's shocking, I know. But that was my cooking life for the first two years of our marriage. Until.....one day, I had an epiphany that literally changed my life: Why not type out any recipe I know I'll use again on a 4x6" note card and keep them in a photo album, organized by category? And thus was born the document that my husband puts on his list of things for which he'd run into a burning building to save: my recipe book.

Meet one of my best friends: This baby makes my life infinitely easier and is really not that hard to keep up. Not only can I quickly and easily find any recipe I'm looking for, but it also makes menu planning much more simple because I can just flip through the categories to get some ideas of things I'm already confident I can make well.

As you can see, I used file folder tabs to delineate the categories, plain white 4x6" notecards to print the recipes out on, and a refillable 3-ring photo album to put them all in. Easy peasy.
And this week marked an important event in the life of my recipe book. Because my collection is growing so large, I was running out of room to put new pages in the book. Hence, Book #2 came into being. And now my recipes have breathing room. Ahhhhhh......

So, how do you organize your recipes? Do you have a box that you keep them all in? A binder? A computer file? Nothing at all? Where do you go when you want to access a tried-and-true recipe that you've made before?