Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Carving Out a Niche for Me

A few months ago we realized that Julian was getting too big for his sleeping arrangements.  Down came the crib and in went our queen size mattresses.  With the newly gained freedom it was crucial for there to be enough room for me to go in and sleep with him in the middle of the night those first few weeks and for those way too early, still pitch black out, mornings.  Unfortunately this means his daytime naps have shrunk as well and now I have a little boy telling me he is ready for bed by 5:30 or 6 most evenings.  Today he lasted less than an hour so I've repurposed the glider and boppy in the nursery as a temporary work station. The boppy is just the right size to hold my netbook while I type, and I've got plenty of arm support.  I told him he's got to get more rest or we can't go on our play date this afternoon with the compromise that I would stay in the room with him. We'll see how it goes.

The real work goes on here, at my new/repurposed desk:

When we moved into this duplex we planned on putting the "office"  in our master closet.  It's a huge little room with two sunny windows and a corner perfect for an office set up.  Our first summer in this house we discovered that the room was a tiny sauna, and now in the winter, nothing short of freezing.  It seems whomever built on the little addition didn't do much insulation or ventilation-wise. I organized the bulk of our paperwork and files, along with my craft supplies and art supplies for Julian there for easy access but still lacked a designated work station.  Sharing with the kitchen table got old, as did the folding table in living room.  We have a beautiful old table that Pete's father gave us shortly after we moved into our first place together to use as a dining table, it's round with two leaves that fold down, and is quite small. It's since become the table that holds our Christmas tree at the holidays, and we replaced it with a retro formica table and red chairs in the kitchen. The small foot print combined with an old wooden chair I picked up at a thrift store make for a perfect addition to the playroom.  It has become increasingly important to me that Jules and I be able to work along side each other and now we can.  He is often standing at the end of the table working on his drawing or writing skills while I write or work on projects.

My friend Liz found the perfect enamelware silverware/napkin holder at the thrift store it's perfect to hold Julian's markers, crayons, colored pencils, and glue right next to my pens, scissors, and notebooks.  I love to use the flat basket I picked up at Ten Thousand Villages to hold my journals, magazine tear sheets, and loose recipes.  The tiny tins are another thrifting find but I haven't decided what to use them for yet.
I have plenty of room for my library books, a Jade plant, a few inspiration pieces and other minimal essentials. 

I love looking through the sun streaked windows and out to Julian as he plays.

I moved Julian's entire book collection into his bedroom to create a reading nook that allowed him easy access to all of them, this allowed for a little more clearing of the playroom to make room for me.  Now that all of his toys are sorted onto my favorite bookcase of all time (left wall, out of site), it simplifies how much he has access to and allows me to easily rotate what is available to keep things new and exciting. 

I love this new space I've carved out, the light has that perfect cool glow that I love and I feel happy every time I sit down in that old well worn chair.  Today I'll settle for watching Jules flop about resisting sleep with his cute little bottom up in the air and thumb tucked firmly in his mouth. It won't be long before he's grown and needless of his mama's eye to watch over him or arms to snuggle him so I'll take it while I can.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

How Can I Decide Between Two Best Friends

This guy, he's my tried and true, never leave behind kind of friend.

But this guy, oh man did he steal my heart.  He can't replace my first love, but having him around rocks.

These two friends, paired with a fairly inexpensive steam driven machine, complete my very own coffee shop.  Add a little Dark Chocolate Monin, some steamed organic milk and I like to think of it as my little slice of heaven every morning.

Because our local coffee shop isn't stroller friendly I have found myself out of step with my own ideals.  Starbucks calls to me more than I would like, they are stroller friendly and we don't get quiet as many dirty looks for our averagely loud two year old. Don't get me started with their drive thru availability, as a mama with a toddler who is becoming increasingly more opinionated getting him in and out of the car just isn't feasible some days. My solution was to purchase a killer leak proof travel much, one that I can toss in my bag or throw in the car without it seeping all over the place and to hunt down a local shop where I could purchase organic and/or fair trade coffee options.  Luckily I found one within walking distance: Virginia Espresso.  They have everything I need, plus I get a punch for every pound of coffee I buy towards a free bag.  It doesn't get much better than that.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Taking Back My Kitchen

I recently watched Food, Inc and The Botany of Desire.  They really got me thinking about food and consumerism and how our family fits in.  We spend a large portion of our income on groceries and their ilk.  I can't help but wonder what I can do about the food that my family consumes and the packaging that goes with it.  I cook from scratch a lot, I bake bread and sweets, make stock, preserve what I can buy bulk from the farmers market or pick myself, but I'd like to do more.

Is is possible to sustain ones family without processed foods (I'm thinking of all the cereal, granola bars, apple sauce cups and so on in my cabinets), over packaged foods, or premixed/premade products?  I know there will be things Pete will never give up, like his giant box of Quaker Oats individual packets from Costco.  But this week I started making and freezing waffles and pancakes for him and Jules so that I can stop buying the over priced whole wheat equivalents to Eggos.  The packaging is insane, and it's bare bones nutrition. If I make my own from scratch I have complete control of the recipe, and use as many whole grains as I have on hand.

I'd like to get a bread machine so that I can pump out bread for sandwiches and toast rather than buying it.  I do the five minute bread occasionally but I'm terrible at keeping track of the oven with the toddler around.  I keep concentrate tea on hand so that Jules and I always have something besides water and milk to drink.  I'd love to make our yogurt but isn't it still cheaper to buy Stoneyfield than to make it with organic milk?  Jules survives on yogurt since he still won't eat meat and Pete takes it every day for breakfast so we'd need a lot.  We're eating a lot less meat, and I'm working to get Jules and Pete on board with beans.  That's going to be a bit of an uphill battle I think.

Basically, I'm wondering what small steps you've taken in your own kitchens to get back to the basics?  What do you make yourself?  Where do you get your flours and grains in bulk?  What tools do you use?  Do you have a weekly or monthly schedule? Do you have any awesome mix or bulk recipes to share?

I know I'll never give up my Kashi cereal, and I doubt Jules could live with out his Mighty Bites or his organic yogurt tubes, and Pete will always be a meat lover.  I'm not striving for perfection, just looking to make some updates.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Seed Starting 2010

The growing season in this part of the country is approximately 240 days long so getting seeds started early was a priority for me this year.  I'm attempting to keep up successive sowing on things like lettuce, radishes, and carrots so we can always have something ready to harvest.  I'm still waiting for my seed order to get here.  I ordered the bulk of  what we need from a Virginia company called Southern Exposure Seed.  They had so many organic and/or heirloom varieties to choose from that I was overwhelmed with indecision.  It was made more difficult by the fact that nearly everything they do carry are plants that are known to do well in this area.  Many of the seeds descriptions explained how well they do in many of the conditions we face here as gardeners; drought, heat, sandy soil, humidity, and so on.  At final count I was near 30 varieties!  That doesn't even include the sunflowers or marigolds still need to pick up, or the ones I still have on hand, OR the seedlings I know are going to taunt me at the market.  Between me, and our new green thumb housemate, this place is going to be a garden oasis in the middle of a city.

I also couldn't help picking up a handful of packets at a local nursery a few weeks ago. Some radishes, 2 lettuces, dotted mint - which looks like it's going to be gorgeous, and Moon&Stars watermelon.  I just couldn't resist the little paper envelopes covered in pictures of delicious produce - something we are sorely lacking now during SnowFest 2010.  With that, plus leftover seeds from last summer, I was able to get a couple of trays started.  I put 5 varieties of heirloom tomatoes and the watermelon in one, and two lettuces plus five kinds of herbs in the other.  

The lettuce was the quickest to shoot up so I pulled them out to chill on a recycled plastic food tray by the front windows.  Once the rest catch up they will all go back in their little green houses until they are a bit bigger.  

Jules likes to come out in the mornings to check on the plants while he watches me open the curtains for the day.  It's fun to talk about what we are going to grow and how we care for them.  He likes to ask what they are going to be and tell me how he's going to eat them.  We're reading a lot of books about plants, gardens and farms right now, it's the closest I can get him to green right now. 

Once the seed package arrives I've got two more trays to fill, plus leftover seedling containers from plants we purchased last year.  J, our housemate,  gave me a grow light so our living room will soon look like it's own little garden center.  I just hope the sun comes out soon, the snow is just to dreary for the green I'm dreaming of right now.

Friday, February 5, 2010

I Needed Something Easy

I'm trying to get more creative with the seasonal produce available this time of year and potatoes and carrots are perfect for a pot pie.  I had both, purchased from the farmers market, broccoli and a few bags of the chicken I keep precooked in the freezer, and some leftover pie crusts from the holiday season.  I threw it together, threw it in the oven and dinner was ready in under an hour.

I cooked all the veggies my big cast iron pot like this:
With medium heat, olive oil, garlic, onions until clear
Next add the carrots and potatoes plus 2 cups of stock until mostly tender
Next comes the broccoli and the precooked and chopped chicken, while that cooks mix 1 cup milk w/2 T cornstarch
A little salt, pepper and thyme (or basil, oregano, etc) to taste
Bring pot to a simmer and add milk mixture, bring to a boil.
Upon thickening to your taste top with pie crust cut with a cookie cutter, drop biscuits work nicely too.

I baked it according to the pie crust directions since the filling was already piping hot.  And you can use just about any veggies you want or have on hand; mushrooms, sweet potatoes, peas, peppers, cauliflower, etc.    I had thought about having a salad or green beans along side, but instead opted for some roasted beets and squash with a fun spice mix I had gotten for Xmas.  It was a perfect, cozy winter time meal, and it hit the spot.

Thursday, February 4, 2010