Friday, October 08, 2010

The Joys of Fall--Apple Picking!

I know this is a crazy lot of blog posts in one day, but I don't want to let the time I've got right now go to wasted and I have a lot to catch up on, and with such a busy weekend ahead I needed to get this done now.

Last Sunday we decided to pick apples.  From our backyard! I cannot begin to tell you how exciting that is for me. As a kid I remember taking trips out to the orchards by my cousin's house to pick apples and make applesauce with my grandparents.  Now I get to do this with my own kids. Such a blessing!

 It was time to get the good ones out of the trees before the bugs got them and they rotted.  I hate seeing them go to waste all around town rotted and fallen to the ground.  The majority of the fallen apples I also gathered up to take to a friend's farm for her piggies.

In order to get to the apples in the center top of the trees we sent Austin and Colton up into their branches!

Even Lily got into the game, scaling the ladder and picking everything within reach.

In the end we harvested a large basket full of fuji, golden delicious, and an unknown variety of apples.  And I just had to take a picture of my darling, handsome husband with our bounty!

Preserving the harvest....Tomatoes!

We ended up with a bumper crop of tomatoes this year, that is until the Late Blight got the vines. But I still managed to process just over 25 lbs of red yummy sweet fruit into both frozen chopped tomatoes, and canned stewed tomatoes.

I like to peal my tomatoes to have a nicer final product. To do this bring a pot of water to a boil, remove the green stems and leaves from the tomatoes, and with a sharp knife score a very shallow “x” in peel on the bottom of each tomato. Fill your clean kitchen sink with water and ice. Submerge 3-4 pieces of fruit at a time in the boiling water for 10-15 seconds until the edges of the “x” start to curl. Using a slotted spoon carefully move the tomatoes from the boiling water to the ice bath. Then using your hands peel the skin off each fruit. I do this to prep my harvest of tomatoes for both freezing AND canning. (This is the same boiling water technique as I used in the peaches. )

For freezing I rough chop the peeled tomatoes and pack them into quart sized ziptop bags that have the place on the front to write on. I label each bag with it's contents and the date prepared. Try to get as much air out of the bags as you can. You can even use a straw to suck out the last bit of air if you desire. Lay the bags flat in the freezer until frozen solid and then they stack very nicely upright. I like freezing them in smaller bags so that I can easily grab one to add to soup or sauce without having to thaw a whole gallon at a time.

The stewed tomatoes are as follows: 3 large onions, 2 large green peppers, 1 head of garlic and 1/4 cup of lemon juice per each 6 cups of tomatoes. Rough chop the vegetables and mince the garlic. Sauteed in olive oil until tender. Rough chop the peeled tomatoes and add them to a stock pot with the other ingredients. Then bring the whole thing to a rolling boil for 5 minutes and turn off the heat.

Follow the canning instructions for tomatoes for your type of canner. I use a water bath canner since this recipe is acidic enough. Clean, sterile, warm jars; filled with leaving 1 1/2" of head space; capped with lids that have been simmered in 180 degree water and sterile rings. Tip: use a magnetic tipped wand to help lift the lids out of the hot water to avoid burning your fingers. Processed in the water bath canner at a full roiling boil for 30 minutes, making sure at the jars are covered by at least 1 inch of water. Let cool on the counter and enjoy the "PING!" you hear as the lids seal. Make sure you store your canned goods in a cool dry place and always check the seals before using any home canned products! If you find any busted or popped seals toss out the whole jar.   

Here are just a few pints of the total of 10 quarts I made.

These are now ready for spaghetti sauce, swiss steak, soups, stews, and all manner of other amazing recipes!!

Keeping lunches fun and cheap! Peaches glorious peaches!

In an effort to lower our food budget and still get healthy foods into my kids I have been doing a lot of freezing and canning this year. We've grown quite a bit, harvested a lot, and I've gotten pretty lucky finding deals on produce both at farmers markets and local produce from our nearby grocery stores.

Recently I found Organic Maryhill peaches (from Washington State) on a one day special at our local store for only $0.98 a pound! So I bought $10 worth!
But what to do with all of those peaches?? My first idea was to make my own fruit cups for the kids to take for their lunches. So here's how I did that:

First I washed the peaches by soaking them for a few minutes in a veggie/fruit wash and cold water.

Next I gathered all the supplies I would need: muffin tins, muffin papers (heavy waxed ones), honey, sugar, cinnamon sticks, and a large pot of water on to boil.

I lined the tins with the papers:

 Next I set to simmer 2 cups of water, 1 cup of honey, one cup of organic sugar, and 1 cinnamon stick to make a simple syrup.  After the sugar and honey have dissolved turn off the heat and let it cool while doing the next steps.

In order to peel the peaches quickly I used this time honored technique. a.) cut x's in the bottom of all the peaches, b.) drop them in the pot of boiling water, c.) pull them out when the skin of the peach starts to curl up at the x (about 30 seconds), d.) drop into ice water to cool, e.) then the peel will come right off.

Next up chop up the peaches into bite sized chunks and toss with some citric acid, lemon juice, lemon crystals to help keep them from browning. 

Fill up the muffin cups about 2/3rds of the way with the chopped peaches.

Next pour in cooled simple syrup until the fruit in the cup is just covered. This helps prevent freezer burn and keeps the peaches looking pretty! (totally optional, but a nice touch)

After both trays are filled I put them in the freezer stacking them with a cookie sheet inverted over the top of the bottom tray that they didn't nest.
Here's a picture of one of the trays frozen:

Next I used a butter knife between the paper and the tin in order to pop out each of the cups. 

Finally I put the cups in a zip top freezer bag and squeezed out as much of the air as I could, and put the whole thing back in the freezer. 

The peach cups are now ready to go into my kids lunch boxes. The average price for a store bought fruit cup of peaches made with hfcs is about $0.85 each. I used about 4 lbs of peaches (at $0.98/pound) to make 24 cups here, that comes out to around $0.17 per cup!! And they are made with healthier sugars and a much lower amount.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

What started as a solution for newborn reflux has become a mission for me!

Lily in a KKAFP at the top of the Space Needle

Recently there have been a lot of negative stories in the news about baby carriers and wearing babies in them. The Baby Carrier Industry Alliance has been created to help this industry maintain the highest safety standards and to make sure that CORRECT information is out there for parents to read regarding the safety and effectiveness of the art of babywearing. There are a number of factors that have lead up to the need for this, but the fact is that for parents this can be a sanity saving tool, and for babies it can be essential to their development both physically, emotionally, and mentally.

I posted my story on their website to help add to the positive information and support their efforts. I am a member of the alliance at the friend supporting level, and I encourage you if you can spare the $25 a year, to do so as well. We can't let the CPSC mandate away our right to parent how we see fit.
In 2001 my first son was born and very soon after diagnosed with GERD. One of the recommendations of our pediatrician was to keep him upright for 30-45 minutes after each time he ate. Given that he was exclusively breastfed this meant he was in arms either eating or being kept upright nearly one out of every 2-3 hours. Often it was more rare for him to be out of someone's arms than in them. 
This was a huge amount of time commitment from both my husband and I that we were not really prepared for being new parents and thinking as we did then that babies actually slept in a crib! Silly us!
Seeking help we attended an Attachment Parenting International meeting on a Saturday morning. Once there we saw many parents, moms and dads, with their babies in soft carriers called slings. Not at all like the front pack we were given at our baby shower, these slings were much more like holding your baby than strapping him on the front of you! I liked the idea very much, and my husband seeing all the dads hands free and yet still holding their children was very excited to try out this solution to our tired aching arms. So excited in fact, that the next day he went to a local used children's clothing store and bought a 2nd hand padded "heart to heart" ring sling. 
That single purchase changed our world, nearly as much as becoming parents had. That sounds a bit dramatic, but in truth it really did make our lives vastly different over night. I was now able to work throughout the house without having to put my child down and listen to his cries, or try to do things one handed and failing miserably. My husband could work at his computer with BOTH hands and still help me keep our wee one in a position that allowed him to digest his food and not be in pain.
I continued to attend the API meeting and also started regular attendance at 2 different La Leche League meetings and found more families that had embraced the "art of babywearing". I also met Darien Wilson, creator of Zolowear Ring Slings and learned so much more about how to use this wonderful piece of baby gear.
After the birth of my 2nd son in 2003 I found out how indispensable a good baby carrier can be when mothering more than one child. Being able to keep my baby close and still mother my toddler with my full attention was a beautiful thing. I especially found the value in being able to wear both of my children on my body when I was the only parent available. My husband's job had him traveling out of state at pretty frequent intervals and needing to single parent made my sling even more useful. 
By the time my daughter arrived in 2005 I had become a very vocal advocate of babywearing and the carriers made both my work at home moms and by larger companies. Carriers like the Maya Wrap, the New Native Pouch, the Zolowear ring sling, and the Kanagroo Korner Adjustable Fleece Pouch were some of my favorites and became an essential part of my mothering tool kit. Not long after my daughter arrived I joined a babywearing support group called NINO (nine in nine out) and along with other babywearing advocates helped put on the 1st ever International Babywearing Conference at Reed College in Portland, OR. 
I spent the next 2 years as a co-leader of our local babywearing group, and started teaching babywearing techniques the benefits of those techniques at a local birth center and for childbirth educators.
What started off as a solution to a medical issue with my 1st son has become a life long passion that I still advocate for to this day for even now as a birth and postpartum doula I still use my babywearing knowledge to help others learn this wonderful skill. I am a firm believer in the ideals that babywearing supports; loving, in arms care. 
I feel very strongly that if done correctly, babywearing is not only a safe way to care for babies and children, but is an essential part of parenting.