Monday, October 31, 2011

~Happy Halloween!~

It's a good thing...or is it?

 Candy, commotion and celebration.

Welcome to my spooky, haunted abode.  Please do come in. 




All Hallows' Eve at Paradise Basin is drawing to a close as the children are munching on candy while watching scary movies, giggling and trading their loot. They made out well with their little cauldrons full of chocolate covered this and that. 

I have that "oh my god I pulled this off" feeling as I'm sitting here at the end of a long night writing my blog.  At 10:56 pm I'm now looking forward to sitting down to a nice glass of wine while relishing in a spooky evening of my own.  

I spent Friday through Sunday with my close friends enjoying many laughs, plenty of good food and drinks and a fabulous Halloween party in Los Angeles.  Last night, I arrived back in Sacramento, California at 11:50 pm. 

So, this morning as my eyes cracked open to greet my day, I had to hit the ground running.  It was Halloween!  I still had to clean my house, go to the grocery store, make the costumes for Gabriel and Sarah, and then decorate the house.  I knew that dry ice was a must (we have it every year) and I spent a large part of my day driving from store to store tracking it down.  FYI Whole Foods still carries this Halloween must-have. 

I somehow managed to pull everything together in a very short amount of time (although I'm near exhaustion).  In the end though, nothing can compare to the feeling that I had when the children sat around the table eating their dinner, laughing with excitement and anticipation.  It is in those moments that time stops, and I think to myself, "I never want to forget this. Not for anything in the world." 

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 Most of my decorations were purchased from the Dollar Tree.  The lit-up cauldron idea was from an old issue of MSL.  The white chocolate ghost lolly pops and the spooky candy labels were also from MSL. 
Here, I'm attaching the labels to the candy jars and working on some last minute finishing touches.  I'm also crossing my fingers that no little hands start grazing the table until everything is ready. 
The tapered candles were drizzled with a red candle to create a thrilling effect (a previous year's "good thing" from Martha Stewart Living).  The chocolate cupcakes were from a Martha Stewart recipe.
A recent Martha Stewart show inspired me to make use of natural materials in my Halloween decorating. I found an old, dead and barren-looking branch that I embellished with mosses, a little spider web and a few vultures.
Orange soda and root beer were the drinks for the evening. I added dry ice to the inside of the cauldron.
These are the friendly ghosts from a previously listed "good thing".  They were festive and easy to make. 
Here is another angle of our haunted tree.
Jordan really enjoyed the orange soda.  In retrospect, I realized that I didn't capture any pictures of our dinner! We actually ate some "real" food too.  I found an easy recipe for grilled cheese sandwiches on dark rye (called sand-witches) from an earlier October copy of MSL.  Next, I piped out using my pastry bag ghost-shaped mashed potatoes onto their plates (called mashed boo-tatoes from marthastewart.com).
One of my many stops today included a visit to Michael's.  I used my 50% off coupon for this Martha Stewart decoration.  For $5 (after the discount) it was totally worth it! 
Shown here is Jordan, the skateboarding rocker-dude and two chicken-birds.  The chicken costumes were made using the costume idea from marthastewart.com.  I didn't purchase the suggested leotard, but instead I purchased turtle necks and pants (cheaper).  I also didn't use the stuffing, as my little birds have plenty of that already.  I simply safety pinned the boas (that were bought at a Halloween store) to the shirts.  The "hats" were made out of a large square piece of fabric and then I hot glued the cockscombs to the top, after following the template directions from the website. 
Gabriel and Sarah (they called themselves chicken-birds) are enjoying their white chocolate ghosts.
After dinner, we drove to suburbia to gather our treats.
Chicken run!  They got their candy from one house and now they're off to the next.
After about an hour, their arms were hanging low to the ground as they lugged their treats back to the car. 
We drove home to enjoy an evening of scary movies and of course more candy than a chicken or rocker-dude should ever consume in one night.

I hope that you had a wonderfully spooky All Hallows' Eve.  Until next time...


~Happy Halloween~

Friday, October 28, 2011

~Fall Garden Revisited~



Last month I planted many different vegetable seeds in our garden in an attempt to harvest my very first fall bounty.  Here is a look at what's going on a month later. 

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I pruned our basil plant a few weeks ago and now it looks like I'll be making pesto soon. 
I tried the gardening style called "screw it".  The kids pull out any and all garden tags anyway, so I just planted the seeds in the ground in a random order.  However, I did try and keep like-veggies grouped together.  

On the left is some of our lettuce patch.  I put all of our lettuce seeds into a bag and mixed them up.  Then I sprinkled the seeds into the soil in long rows.  So far, so good. 

The right side of the garden is a mystery.  Since I love surprises, I kind of enjoy this gardening approach of random seed sprinkling.  At some point, we'll figure out what the unknown veggies are anyway.  I do have some experience with the plants and so not everything is a mystery.   
The purple plant is a spicy mustard leaf (the name is not coming to me now).  It tastes great shredded into salads as it imparts a spicy, radish-like flavor.
Here is more of our lettuce and chard growing strong in the morning sunlight.  The leaves are beautifully stretched out high towards the sun.
Shown here is an assortment of herbs.  The bean teepees are starting to fill nicely with our pole beans.
The borage is coming back strong for another appearance before winter (foreground).  The leaves are delicious steamed and then eaten like spinach. Behind the borage and to the right is some feverfew.
The amaranth, chard and beans that need to be thinned.  Otherwise, this will be a massive jungle!
More beans and chard.
A pretty vegetable patch.  I think these are white beets that I planted last month although the mystery still remains.
My zinnia patch.  I have another one behind the house but these looked particularly beautiful in the morning sunlight.
Here is our catmint bush. I remember when this was started with a couple of tiny seedlings.
Our raised planter bed that's fashioned out of an old tub is now beginning green up with beets and carrots, and a few other veggies.

~Good Things for October~


Oh yes, the good things.  Well, I had to be very selective this month about what I was able to try as I've been playing Mother Nurse to my sick family.  When I had a few minutes here and there I sought after a few things for October that would simplify and/or beautify our life.  So, here they are.  A few ideas are from past October issues that I just couldn't resist trying.


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Frozen Assets October 2011 issue

My kids love pancakes. I've always made them fresh and I guess I never really even thought of freezing them in large batches for later use.  So when this idea came up, I was all for it. 

Our pumpkin pancakes were a huge success.  Below is the recipe for you to try.  It really is quite similar to eating a slice of pumpkin pie.  


For a spiced breakfast treat, whisk 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour; 2 tablespoons sugar; 2 teaspoons baking powder; 1/2 teaspoon each cinnamon, ground ginger, and salt; 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg; and a pinch of ground cloves. In a separate bowl, stir together 1 cup milk, 6 tablespoons canned pumpkin puree, 2 tablespoons melted butter, and 1 egg; fold mixture into dry ingredients. Melt some butter in a skillet over medium heat; pour in 1/4 cup batter for each pancake. Cook pancakes about 3 minutes per side; serve with butter and syrup. Makes 8 to 10.


Everything is lined up and ready to be flattened like a pancake.
The pumpkin pie spices and the flour before mixing.
As I said, this really looks and tastes like a pumpkin pie!  At this stage, you would have fooled me if you said that you were making a pumpkin pie instead of pancakes.
I got out my large griddle and began flipping. 
This was just a few of what we had.  I think I made about 30 pancakes that were then frozen.  As a busy mom, I can't tell you enough how nice it is to pull a bag out of the freezer for breakfast that's still considered homemade!  Really cool idea. For freezing directions, please refer to October 2011 MSL Good Things article.


Pumpkin Flower Vase October 2006

For several years now, I've been making these pumpkin flower vases in the fall.  This is an older idea from Martha but it will never go out of style.  

The pumpkin is cut open at the top, seeded and gutted and then a flower vase is set inside.  Sarah and Gabriel helped me pick the marigolds and purple opal basil for the arrangement.  This is a fun and festive project.


Jack-o'-Lanterns Made Tall October 1995

 Since Halloween is still a few days away, I have held off on carving the faces.  However, the idea of making miniature topiary-lanterns was intriguing and so I have many different ones scattered about the property.  Below are just a few pictures of what we have.  These were all grown here at the property.   

Chipper Picker-Upper October 2011 issue

Rather than using the suggested kettle-cooked potato chips (although you could use them or any chip that you like) I decided to try kale chips instead.  Originally, I thought that I picked up a bag of unflavored chips but apparently I got the curry flavor.  That didn't leave me with much room to experiment with spices, so I added a touch of turmeric to the chips for both flavor and nutritional benefits.  I'm not a huge fan of the curry kale chips but I think I'll try the chips again, plain this time and then I'll spice them myself.

Going Batty October 2011 Issue

 Once the bat template was printed, I began cutting away in order to create some super-cute bats for the front door.  The kids were thrilled about having bats out front of our house.  I have yet to decorate fully for Halloween in this picture, but it conveys the idea nonetheless. 

Quick Costume October 2011 Issue

I have an old pair of glasses that was perfect for this quick costume idea.  For an understated Halloween look, one could simply add a few spiders to the sides of an old pair of glasses.  The article goes more in depth about making a headband with a bat or spider added to the top it, and how to fashion a quick bird-face costume all while using an old pair of glasses.

Squash Quesadilla October 2006

Wow!  This was great.  I have never had a squash quesadilla before.  A roasted butternut squash puree is spread onto two warmed tortillas and there you have it, a squash quesadilla. 

~Good Things for October~

~Homemade Sauerkraut~

Farmhouse Culture's Classic Kraut with Caraway

Martha Stewart Living, October 2011
  • Prep Time 30 minutes
  • Total Time About 3 weeks
  • Yield Makes 3 pints

Ingredients

  • 1 head green cabbage (3 pounds), shredded (14 cups), 3 whole small leaves reserved
  • 1 tablespoon caraway seeds
  • Coarse sea salt

Directions

  1. Combine cabbage, caraway seeds, and 1 tablespoon salt in a large bowl. Let stand for 20 minutes. Massage to release liquid from cabbage (forming a brine), about 5 minutes.
  2. Pack cabbage mixture into 3 pint-size canning jars, making sure brine covers cabbage by at least 1 inch and leaving 1 to 2 inches of space at the top. Fold and push 1 reserved leaf into each, filling the top space (leaves do not need to be fully submerged).
  3. Close jars tightly, and transfer to a glass baking dish or a nonreactive container with 2-inch-high sides. Let stand in a cool, dark place (64 degrees to 70 degrees) for 5 days.
  4. Slowly open and quickly close jars to gently release built-up pressure, being careful not to let the liquid bubble out. Let stand for 5 more days. Reopen jars to release pressure.
  5. Let stand for 5 more days. Taste to determine if kraut is sour enough. Let stand until kraut is to your liking (we like a 21-day ferment), continuing to open jars every few days to release pressure.

It's a good thing...or is it?


Sauerkraut.  Love it, always have.  If sauerkraut is among the condiments at a meal (typically hot dog related) then you can bet that I'll be scooping.  In this month's October MSL magazine, an article was written about a woman that runs a small organic farm in Santa Cruz, California.  Kathryn Lukas, founder of Farmhouse Culture, loves making sauerkraut at her coastal California farm.   In this article she not only shares her easy recipes for making sauerkraut.  She also add a bit of history and passion about her way of life. 

The picture of a large, leafy-green cabbage being held over a Mason jar full of sauerkraut immediately made me stop turning the pages. I became even more fascinated with this article when I found out that Kathryn wrote a thesis titled "Reclaiming Pre-Corporate Food Traditions".  I'm somewhat of a food activist and speaker (at a local yoga studio) so her thesis title resonated within the roots of my soul. 

Yes, that is one reason why I love cooking.  In a way, I guess you could say that I'm being counter cultural when I choose to reach for a pot and spoon instead of a plastic jar.  Fortunately, this stereotype is beginning to change.  With food articles such as this one being published, more and more people are learning to take charge of their food.    

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In early October, I made the kraut, and then tucked it away into the back of our kitchen cupboard.  A few weeks later, after the fermentation process occurred, the sauerkraut was ready to be enjoyed by our families only sauerkraut fan: me.  Recently, I found out that Ben dislikes sauerkraut, so that leaves me with five jars all to myself. 

Come to find out, sauerkraut is somewhat of a health food!  It contains gut-healthy probiotics, cool huh?  I guess late night snacking will be German-style for quite some time, but at least I'm snacking on something nutritious and that's rooted in my ancestry.  Genie├čen!  (That's enjoy in German)

Three pounds, can you believe it?  I never knew that an average-size cabbage weighed that much. 
The three-pounder was chopped and shredded in preparation for the kraut.
Caraway seeds, salt and water were added to the cabbage.  I let it stand for 20 minutes and then the cabbage got a massage!  Yeah, that's right.  I massaged the cabbage for 5 minutes so that the liquid in the cabbage leaves would form a brine.  Actually, this would be a great thing to show young children when discussing osmosis and concentration gradients.  Hmmm, I'll remember that for future reference. 
Once sanitized in the dishwasher, I decorated the jars with some Martha Stewart tape (it looks like ribbon). 
Here's a look at the cabbage mixture.  The brine is starting to form underneath the leaves.
After I had a good amount of brine from the cabbage leaves, I put everything into the jars.  Then they got a three week vacation in my cupboard.
The sauerkraut is now ready to be dished out and enjoyed. 

~Demystify Your Food~
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