Wednesday, June 25, 2008

City Paper Article on Homebirthing in Baltimore

Home Made: Inside Baltimore's Home-Birth Underground by Michelle Gienow

It is not an article that will convince the anti-home-birth crowd, but then it was not meant to be. And sadly it ended with a quote about the necessity of extreme labor pain. That was not my experience in both labors and births, and I believe that part of what allowed that was laboring and birthing in my own space and time. It is a great article though, and hopefully it will open some eyes and cause some folks to see home-birth in a light that is not typical of mainstream media.

Related: Although I have not yet seen it, I have heard great things about The Business of Being Born, a movie that came out in January of this year that looks at women's choice between home-birth and hospital birth. Most women do not even know that 95% of them have this choice, or if they do know about home-birth, that it is worth researching and making an informed decision about. It demonstrates how big business and the flow of $$$ affects the care and options given to women and their babies during prenatal care, labor, and delivery.

Three cheers for unhindered natural processes.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Apartment Garden

Our landlord does not seem to mind that I have dug up a 3'x12' section of his yard to put in an herb and vegetable garden (expanded from last year's 3'x6' garden bed). The borders around the house and yard are packed with gorgeous rose bushes, hydrangeas, peonies, tiger lilies, wild strawberries, tulips, and daffodils with lots of pachysandra in between.

But there was this one section left that was just full of weeds. I fixed that. Actually Adam did the major digging as a gift to my then aching back. Now in mid-June the growing green there is cherry tomatoes, collard greens, romaine lettuce, snap peas, cayenne peppers, jalapeƱos, bird peppers, Trinidad peppers, cilantro, basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary, and chamomile.


After planting (mid-May)

After the first good rain (early June)

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Thursday, June 12, 2008

Make Your Own Yogurt

My kids and I go through a ton of yogurt each week. In general we eat it plain or with fruit, applesauce, or jam. I use it in muffin recipes. We drink it in smoothies. E likes to paint the high chair with it.

I used to have a yogurt-maker, but spooning yogurt in and out of eight little single-cup jars, washing the jars and lids, and not losing any of the eight jars or lids before the next go round just was not worth the satisfaction of doing it myself or the cost savings of making homemade yogurt. So I gave the yogurt maker to a friend and learned a newer, easier, more efficient method. I learned it from David B. Fankhauser, Ph.D., Professor of Biology and Chemistry. He is my best dairy friend; sadly we've never met. If you have any inkling of wanting to make your own yogurt or cheese, you MUST visit his website. He approaches food-making like a science. He uses simple but very detailed instructions with great photos and a few videos. And he shares his mistakes, which quite often are mistakes I've made too. It is very helpful to know when one is making a mistake and how to remedy it. So, I will briefly share my efficient yogurt-making techniques and then you need to go visit Dr. Fankhauser.

One of the keys to this method is knowing that yogurt stays good in the refrigerator for a long time (2 weeks to 2 months, depending on who you ask -- in my experience, it's still good at a month and a half if it is kept perfectly sealed). So, instead of making eight one-cup jars, I make five one-quart jars at a time.

Steps for Efficient Homemade Yogurt:

1. Heat a gallon of milk (at least 1% fat) in a heavy pot until it starts to steam. Do not let it boil. Turn down the heat to very low and keep the milk at the barely steaming point for 10 minutes or so.
2. Turn off the heat. Cover the pot. Let the milk cool to 110 - 115F. If you don't have a thermometer, it is cool enough when you can stick your clean little finger in the milk for 10 seconds without it hurting.

3. Thoroughly mix 1 cup of the starter (commercial or homemade) yogurt into 1 cup of the warm milk. Then mix the yogurt mixture in with the rest of the warm milk. (NOTE: Make sure your starter yogurt does not contain gelatin, pectin, sugars, or anything else except milk and cultures. If it does, your homemade yogurt will not set properly.)
4. Pour the yogurt-milk into clean quart jars. Put the lids on tightly.
5. Put the jars into a cooler. Fill the cooler with hot water until the jars are mostly covered. Put the cooler in a spot where it will not be touched for 10 - 20 hours.

6. Very carefully transfer the jars to the refrigerator after 12 hours. If the yogurt still isn't firm-ish after cooling in the fridge, put the jars back in the cooler with more hot water and let them sit another 8 hours or so.

For greater detail on the process, go visit Dr. Fankhauser. Also take a look through the National Center for Home Food Processing's yogurt page.

Oh, and remember that even if you mess up and end up with runny yogurt/milk when you are finished (you probably had the milk too hot when you added the yogurt), don't throw it out. Just use it for cooking or smoothies. It's not bad unless it got contaminated somehow.

I'd love to hear your yogurt-making joys and woes, so please share!

Chunky Crunchy Homemade Granola

This stuff is fantastic. I make a double batch every week or so. It gets eaten as breakfasts or snacks everyday by every member of the family. Every other granola recipe that I have tried is not quite as chunky or crunchy. It's always more like sweet oats: tasty, but not as fun as store-bought granola. This recipe is even better than store-bought because it is crunchy without the crisp rice addition that most store-bought versions contain.
The recipe is my variation on one from the Simply in Season cookbook. This book is perfect for me as a new-to-eating-in-season cook. This is our second summer of subscribing to a CSA (community supported agriculture), and sometimes I need a little help getting out of the mindset of eating the same things year-round to really get through the many pounds of in-season veggies. One example of this from the book is common vegetable combination of peas and carrots. When a person eats only what is fresh in the season, that vegetable combination never happens. Carrots and peas aren't harvested simultaneously. But other delightful things do happen, like spinach and strawberry salads.

So here's the recipe for the chunky crunchy homemade granola.

3 cups / 750 ml rolled oats
1 cup / 250 ml whole wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

Mix together in large bowl. Make a well in the center.

1/4 cup / 60 ml oil
1/4 cup / 60 ml honey or maple syrup
1/4 cup / 60 ml milk

Pour into the well. Mix thoroughly, making sure all loose flour has been incorporated (add another tablespoon of milk if necessary).

1 1/2 cups / 375 ml raisins, nuts, seeds or other dried fruit (optional)
If using nuts and/or seeds, add them now and mix in. (Add dried fruit after mixture has baked and partially cooled.) Spread in a 9 x 13-inch / 3.5-L pan and bake in preheated oven at 300F / 150C, stirring every 10 minutes, until light brown, 50 - 60 minutes. Store in airtight container up to a week; also freezes well.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Homemade Laundry Soap Continued

A reader asked for some clarification of an earlier post regarding making laundry soap. So I'm going to add a bit more detail here.

Washing soda is a relatively strong base. It is a white powder. In homes people use it for "boosting" laundry detergent -- it softens the water -- and for raising the pH in swimming pools. Arm and Hammer sells it in a big yellow box that looks a lot like baking soda boxes. You can't substitute one for the other though. Baking soda has a pH around 8 and washing soda is around 11 -- so it's a much stronger base. (So strong you might use gloves when handling it.)

I found it in the laundry detergent section of a grocery store. It's inexpensive and lasts a long time. I've also heard of people finding it in swimming pool supply stores, but there it is called sodium carbonate instead of "washing soda".

I've considered using liquid castille soap in the laundry soap. I'm hesitant since it would take some experimenting to work out the proportions. Perhaps there's website out there where someone else has worked that out for us, but I've looked briefly and not found anything. I have used Dr. Bronners castille bar soap, grated, and it worked great. It was even peppermint scented. I was hoping we'd all smell like candy canes in our fresh washed clothes, but alas, the scent was so subtle no one noticed.

Another idea is to use the same proportions for soap, washing soda, and borax that I listed, only don't add water. Just use it dry and let it dissolve in the wash. I've never tried that, but I hear it works well.

I hope you give it a shot. Making my own laundry soap has saved us lots of money and cuts down on what chemicals we use in our home.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

New: Calendar of Local Free Events

At the top of the list of posts now, you should be seeing a calendar of events that I have put together. They are events that interest me and my family -- we like doing free things, locally. So, there you have it. We won't be at everything, but basically it's a way for me to keep track of all the interesting things that folks tell me about so if I find myself twiddling my thumbs and saying, "Boy, I'd like to go do something that's not biking to the park, going to the library, or grocery shopping", I can just look at my handy dandy calendar and see what's happening.

If you have any free local events that I ought to add to it, send on some info!

Sunday, June 1, 2008

No more plastic wrap

As I try to reduce our disposable habits, I never found a good alternative to plastic wrap. I use it a lot for covering dough when it's rising or food in the fridge. There are good non-airtight solutions like throwing a damp towel over dough or using a lid or plate to cover a bowl in the fridge. But I always go back to plastic wrap when I really want something airtight and don't have a fitting lid. Airtight-ness is ever more on my mind now that it's warm and bugs like to crawl, eat, and vomit on my food.
Solution: reuse plastic bags! Particularly useful are the big ones from the produce section of the grocery store. They are big enough to cover even my next-to-biggest mixing bowl or a couple proofing loaves of bread. I know, I know, it's still plastic, but at least they can be rinsed and reused more easily than plastic wrap. Have you ever tried to wash and dry plastic wrap? Yikes. I am a seasoned ziplock bag washer and drier, so I'm going to try and do the same with produce bags.