Thursday, April 29, 2010

Bella Band Love

Ok, so I've found that over the course of my first, and current, pregnancies that I talk about Bella Bands to just about anyone who'll listen.  It follows, then, that I'd create an entire blog post about it...and here it is.

The Bella Band is probably my favorite invention for the pregnant woman.  See, even though we've been raised with the, well intentioned, adage that "pregnancy is's when a woman's body is in full bloom", the truth for the average woman is that it makes you feel frumpy, dumpy, and generally unattractive because you just can't find clothes that (a) fit right or (b) are comfortable.  (Unless, of course, you are blessed with endless resources and can shop at a pea in the pod or another such high end maternity-wear store...I am not blessed with such resources and would venture to guess that most women are not either.)  The Bella Band helps with this in that it allows you to wear your normal clothing for a lot longer than usual (not only the more comfortable choice but the frugal one)...and when you can no longer deny your girth and HAVE to move into maternity helps you feel secure in the fact that you won't be flashing the world your growing belly...unless you have the perfect petite pregnant body in which case by all means, flash away.  I, not being in possession of such a perfect body, am grateful for the coverage and support this wonderful piece of clothing provides.

Here's how it worked for me:

In the beginning of my pregnancy when my pants stopped wanting to close and a hair elastic threaded through the button hole on my jeans no longer did the trick, I wore it folded in half over the top of my pants.  This smoothed away the lumpy quality an unbuttoned jean waistband can take on and really, I was already feeling lumpy enough on my own without that.  Towards the middle of my pregnancy, it continued to work in the same way, only I stopped folding it in half and just drew it up around my whole was just more comfortable that way for me.  Also, by this point, I was in my (only) pair of maternity jeans and they never really stayed up where I wanted them to be so the band helped keep them in place and under control.  At the end of my pregnancy, where I find myself once again, I wear it, not only for the support, but for the coverage it lends me.  Let me explain.  In case you've never experienced a third trimester yourself, there comes a time when even the largest maternity top seems to not quite cover your belly.  If you bend over, your shirt rides up.  If you stretch to reach something the tiniest bit out of reach, your shirt rides up.  If you take a really deep breath...your shirt rides up...and you are exposed...for all the world, presumably, to see.  Again, if you are okay with sharing that portion of yourself with the world...don't let me stop you.  Here's where a few pictures might help me illustrate my point better:

Here's a picture of my band, covering the top of my maternity jeans.

And here's one showing the band more fully, covering my belly entirely and still fitting snugly against the waistband of my jeans.

And finally, here's what it looks like with my shirt fully in place.  Notice the large gap between the edge of my shirt and my jeans...this is the "peek a boo" bit of belly that I'm just not willing to share with the general public.

The coolest thing is that the band can almost entirely disappear when you wear a shirt the same color as it, or it just looks like you've layered two shirts together, a look not entirely out of fashion.  I made it through my whole first pregnancy with one band, in the color black.  This pregnancy I decided to get another, this time in white.  They both go with every single piece of clothing I have and they'll both fit me through the end of my pregnancy.  A sizing tip:  get one size down if you want extra support from the band itself.  I did that with my black one and was glad for it since I was working full time in a very physically demanding job.  This time I got one that was more true to my current size and it is very comfortable but isn't as supportive.  They're available on Amazon if you'd like to investigate further...look on my Amazon widget on the sidebar...there's a direct link there.

I hope that this bit of product love helps someone else out there!  Feel free to pass the info along to all the preggos you encounter...they'll love you for it.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Got Milk?

So...we drink raw milk.  For a number of reasons that others have taken lots of time to write about so I won't bore you with my inadequate summary of their words...I'll just send you to the latest article that explains it all in good amounts of detail.  What started us on this path was my realization that pasteurized milk made my eczema flare up...badly.  At the time I'd been doing research on how to help my husbands asthma and had found several sources saying pasteurized milk was to blame for that and that if you wanted to you could just drink raw milk instead and that often all side effects would vanish (for both asthma and eczema).  Whoa!  Really?  So I tried it, and was surprised to find that I could go from drinking 2% and skim all my life to very happily drinking whole raw milk and feeling great with my skin issues clearing up completely!  By the time I found raw milk, my hubby had already given it up and has never really gone back to drinking it...and that's fine...more for me!

My oldest LOVES it and will drink it even after it's been frozen and thawed, which changes the consistency slightly (I find that the cream never completely mixes back in and leaves bits of butter in it).  We freeze a lot of it because the closest place to get it is in a neighboring state, so when we buy, we buy in bulk and freeze.  It wasn't till we started doing this that I found out how easy it is to freeze in glass...some will just stick a gallon jug directly in there and freeze it that way but we just don't go through it that fast when it's been thawed...I'm a fresh milk snob you see.  If it isn't fresh, I probably won't drink it and will just thaw it, a quart at a time, for the boy to enjoy happily.  Freezing in regular mason jars helps me do this...just make sure to leave some headspace so that the milk has room to expand while freezing.  My jars have never burst because I always leave room.

Without going into MORE detail, as I said others have done so much more eloquently than I, the main reason drinking raw milk resonates with me is because it is a pure, unadulterated food.  It hasn't been tampered with.  It came from the cow, was filtered, tested, bottled, and sold to me within days of it's exodus from the udder.  It wasn't cooked to death first and it didn't have synthetic vitamins added to it. I like eating as close to the source as I can...the less a food is messed with, the better.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

First Ever Milk Kefir

What is milk kefir (you might be saying to yourself...and I wouldn't blame you...)?  Kefir is defined as, "a creamy fermented drink made from cow's milk, often having the taste and texture of thin yogurt".  It's full of probiotic goodness, just like yogurt and you can use it in pretty much the same way.  We've been buying it at Whole Foods for years now but it's pricey and I've been planning on trying my hand at making it myself ever since I found a good source of whole raw milk.  (I'm going to try to make my own yogurt too...but that's a different post...).

I was gifted some milk kefir grains this morning and wanted to brew some up right away!  The grains are the cultures that sit in the milk and ferment it.  Basically they live by eating the sugars in the milk, which is why it's tart when it's done.  The process is a simple one:

STEP 1:  Place about 1 heaping teaspoon of grains into a clean quart sized mason jar.  Fill jar with milk to the base of the threads (so you've put approx. 1 qt of milk in there).  You can use raw or pasteurized whole milk, just don't use ultra-pasteurized, that stuff is so dead that nothing will happen and you might even kill your grains.  Place a coffee filter over the top of your jar, using just the metal band (or a rubber band) to keep it on there tightly.  Then wait about 8 hours, depending on the temp of your kitchen and give it a stir.  If it's thickened to a runny yogurt're done!  If not, wait up to two days to achieve said consistency.  Strain your grains out, plop them into a new jar, and repeat!

Here's the process with pictures:

Check out the cultures...they look like clear gelatinous bits of cauliflower, kinda weird

My semi dark "fermenting corner"

Close up of grains after fermenting finished

Oh, and grains grow and multiply.  Remember they are live cultures!  Pretty soon you'll have enough to give away to friends and family.  If they all think you're cracked in the head and don't want them (silly them) then throw some extras into your blender the next time you're making a smoothie to give it an extra probiotic kick!  :)

The Kefir turned out...just ok.  I let it go too long...about a day and a half.  I probably should've stopped the process after 24 hours...I'll do that next time!  The milk itself had a kind of separated and gloppy texture that I found not very appealing...a sure sign that I let it go too long as the whey separates from the milk.  I'll try making yogurt next...I think that's a ferment I could handle more taste-wise.  I will try to put this in a smoothie though...the health benefits are supposedly amazing and I want to give it the old college try before deciding it's a bust!  I'll make sure to report back on this one...

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

2010 in 2010 De-Cluttering Challenge

Time to let you guys into my closet...well...into one of them anyway...

My masters degree is in (basically) organization.  Although my parents might dispute the following statement, I've always craved order in my life.  Maybe not in the "keeping my room clean" kind of way when I was younger, but it has certainly evolved into that in both my professional and private life now.  Only now, I've added the element of "simplicity" to the need for order...which has nudged me into making some major changes this year and joining my first ever "challenge".  I hang out a lot on the discussion boards and there's one in particular there that is about having an organized, simple, and efficient home...right up my alley!  We talk about things that might be boring to some, but speak deeply to me and my need to streamline the housework so that it never becomes a burden...just something to be dealt with quickly so that I can get to the fun stuff.

The challenge that was raised was to get rid of / de-clutter our homes of 2010 items in the the year 2010.  I thought, "No frakking way that's gonna happen...still...maybe I'll join just for the accountability factor and it's not like I couldn't stand to throw some stuff out here and there"....  Well, I have to tell you that as of this posting, my total is at 1487 items out of 2010.  I can't believe it.  And I started this in February.  Seriously.  That I had that much extra "stuff" in my house that was redundant / unnecessary / extra / pointless / useless / hadn't thought about in years and years.  I mean, take a look in your junk drawer in the kitchen and I bet you could toss 20 items right then and there!  At this point I've done just that: looked in almost every drawer in the entire house, making sure that what was in there had a purpose.  In the kitchen I realized that I had 2 of a lot of things because as I learn to cook, I get better appliances / tools and forget to pass along the old versions.  In my bedroom closet I found clothing that I hadn't worn in over 5 years and, lets face it, would probably never fit into that got bagged up to sell / donate.  There was stuff like that all over the house and there still is in sections but we're working on it.  So far we've had 2 garage sales and done a lot of Goodwill runs.  Our last garage sale is coming up this weekend and once that's over, almost everything that doesn't sell will be taken straight to the donation pile.  (Some of it I'll continue trying to sell on craigslist but if it isn't gone by my deadline, out the door it goes).

Because why hang on to all of these "extras"...just in case you need them someday?  Trust me, we do plenty of need to add to those piles.  That's why the garage will be our last purging project...I've been slowly working my way through every nook and cranny of every room in the house, working my way out into the garage (which is a veritable sty at this point, full of garage sale items, boxes, odds and's cluttered to say the least...).  I've found that getting rid of this stuff has got my house feeling cleaner, lighter, brighter...and that makes me feel the same way.  Being surrounded by only the things you need and/or love makes for a calm space...a place you can breathe easy...a place that doesn't scream, "Clean me!  I'm a big mess!  Don't you feel bad that you've ignored me for so long that it's gonna take days to get me organized"?

This challenge has been a lot of work.  It will continue to be a lot of work but I have a deadline and that is June.  My youngest will make his appearance in July and I want to have a chance to rest before that happens so it will all be done by June.  If I don't make it to 2010 be it.  But my house will be a clean, simple, version of it's former self and I will be content.  And from now on, if something "new" enters the house, something "old" will exit the house.  No more collecting "stuff".

So...on to the closet.  One of the specific parts of the challenge was to tackle a storage space that wasn't working for us.  For me, it's always been the master bathroom closet.  It would intimidate me every time I opened the door.  Nothing would ever be where I'd left it, baskets of items would mix with others and make a jumble of "stuff" that nothing could be found in.  So here's the before (I can't believe I'm showing you this...):

And here's a picture of what all the stuff looked like all over my bathroom when I took it all out...I can't believe it all fit in there in the first place...well...I guess it *didn't* really fit in there now that I think about it...otherwise it wouldn't have been such a mess!

And finally, what it looks like today.  In fact, I just took this picture so you wouldn't think that I cleaned it up special just for you...this is really what it looks like now:

I threw a ton of products that hadn't seen the light of day in years away.  I moved some of it to my pantry to live with other like items.  And I got some plastic, see through containers to store the stuff that we actually need to store.  And I labeled those containers so there is NO QUESTION where something is to be returned (I heart my labeler).  We now have room!  I don't wince upon opening the door!  I can find what I'm looking for!  It's awesome.

If I can tackle this closet...I bet you can do the same.  Take on one small space and get rid of that extra stuff that only serves to weigh you down and clutter your life.  Who might get on a roll and join me in my pursuit for a simple, organized, and stress-free space!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Strawberry Jam Makin' (and canning)...

How better to celebrate spring than by happening upon organic strawberries at Costco at a great price and deciding to go ahead and can a years worth of strawberry jam?  :)  We're not complicated people, when it comes to fruit spreads we go for strawberry jam and apple butter.  The first is self-explanatory because really...who doesn't like strawberry jam?  And the second is because apple butter reminds me of my grandmother on my father's side...seems like she always had it around when we'd visit and so it has a special place in my heart, and on my palate.

I'm starting to wonder if I have some sort of illness when it comes to breaking down all of my experiences into steps...I've been told I have OCD tendencies at times...perhaps my detractors are right?  Oh we go again!

STEP 1:  Gather all your supplies.  This is not a picture of all of my supplies.  I can see quite a few missing, in fact.  I'm sharing it with you anyway to show you the awesome canning book that I's the bible for canning and gives you step by step instructions (and you know how much I love that) and tons of tips, tricks, hints, and even some hand holding when you need it.  In a word, it's awesome.
Anyway, so basically read your instructions and have all of your supplies clean and ready.  Put your mason jars in the dishwasher on "quick wash" in order to sanitize them unless you have a water bath canner in which case boil your jars that way.  I have a steam canner because it uses WAY less water and does a fine job.  

STEP 2:  Rinse your strawberries and, using the potato eye remover end of your veggie peeler, de-hull them.  How many strawberries you will need depends on your recipe.

STEP 3:  In a flat bottomed dish (such as a pie pan or cake pan) put a layer of strawberries and crush into a pulp with a potato masher.  Invite small children to help you with this.  They like the violence of it all.  In my recipe I (and my assistant) smashed 5 cups of strawberries and put them into my 8qt heavy stockpot.  Once they were in, I added my lemon juice and pectin and whisked them together.  Turn your heat on high.

STEP 4:  Stirring frequently, wait for your mixture to come to a hard rolling boil.  Once it has, add your sweetner (granulated sugar or honey).  Then you need to stir it constantly and wait for it to come to a hard rolling boil AGAIN that can't be stirred down.  This takes longer than you'd 20 min or so depending.  Let it do it's hard rolling boil thing for about 1 minute, stirring constantly or it'll overflow...this is the adrenaline pumping portion of our program.  Take it off the heat and place it near where you'll be filling jars.  (FYI, the timing of all of this varies slightly if you're using honey as your sweetener and the no-sugar pectin so make sure you check the specific directions for your recipe).

STEP 5:  Skim the foam off the top...some people add a pat of butter to their recipes to combat the foam issue...I haven't tried that yet.

STEP 6:  Fill your jars!  Use a canning funnel if you have one or use a pyrex measuring cup to pour it in...don't worry if you have drips, you can always wipe up any spills.  Once they're full, wipe the rims and threads at the top of your jars with a damp cloth so that the lids will form a seal when in the canner.

STEP 7:  This whole time, you've had your lids in a small pot of warm water (just trust me...).  Now use your magnetic lid lifter thingy and take each lid and place it on your jars.

STEP 8:  Take your jar lifter thingy (like my technical terms?) and place your really hot jars onto the rack of the steam canner which has been filled with water up to the level of the rack.  Put the steam canner lid on and turn your heat up to high until the water is boiling and you see A LOT of steam shooting out the little holes on the sides.  Set your timer for whatever your recipe says.  My water bath canning instructions say for 10 min but I do 20 since I'm using the steam canner.

STEP 9:  Once you've steamed it for the amount of time you determine, turn off the heat and wait 5 min. Lift the lid off the canner TILTING THE LID TOWARDS YOU SO THAT THE STEAM ESCAPES TOWARDS THE BACK OF YOUR STOVE (or you'll get a steam burn on your face...and that would suck).  You'll most likely hear some of the lids making a popping sound as the cold air hits them and they seal.  Using your jar lifter again, transfer them onto a dry towel in some draft free place to cool completely, undisturbed for 24 hours.  If any of your lids don't seal you can just re-process them or pop them in the fridge and use them first!

You should give this a try.  The first time I canned (about 2 summers ago) I was intimidated by the whole idea but seriously, it's pretty brainless once you've done it the first time.  And with a guide like the Ball Canning book holding your's a breeze!  My goal this summer is to can all the tomatoes (diced, whole, sauce) that we'll need for the year since they've come out with all the info on how canned tomatoes are the worst things to buy in a can because their acidity level leeches out a lot of BPA from the can liner.  Oh, and a word about BPA.  Home canning helps you escape MOST of that.  Scroll back up to the picture of the lids...see that white part on the bottom?  Yup.  Contains BPA.  I'm good with that, knowing that my jars will spend their lives sitting upright and no part of my food will be touching it.  There are jars that you can buy in the UK that have glass lids and rubber gaskets but they are hella expensive so that just isn't happening.

I hope this post will help give you the boost you need to give canning a try this summer!  Currently I'm saving for a pressure canner so that I can make soups and stews to can...and also to can low acid veggies and'd be awesome to be able to open a jar of my own chicken soup and heat it up for a quick meal...I'll need plenty of easy and healthy food for after the baby is born!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Homemade Easter Egg Dye!

To be honest, we almost skipped dying easter eggs this year.  I mean, we'd don't really buy into the whole chocolate bunny thing around here and my oldest isn't really aware of what Easter means so I figured, "Whew!  Less work for me!  We'll wait till next year...done!".  Then I came across this article on using homemade dyes in Mother Earth News and my plan was foiled.  Le sigh.  The results that we got were so fantastic that I had to, of course, document the process and lay it all out here for you to enjoy.  (Plus I've noticed that I REALLY like writing my blogs out in individual steps so without further ado...)

STEP 1:  Hard boil your eggs.  Put them in a pot and cover them with water 1" above their shells.  Bring the water to a hard boil, turn off the heat, cover, and wait for 15 minutes.  Take your now perfectly cooked eggs and place them into an icewater bath.

STEP 2:  Prepare your dye ingredients.  In our case that meant grating 2 cups worth of beets in the food processor, digging out  3T of my ground turmeric, and opening a 1lb bag of frozen blueberries.  


Here's the specific recipes we used:

Red/Magenta Dye:  2 cups of shredded beets, 2 cups water, 1T white vinegar
Blue Dye:  1lb frozen blueberries, 2 cups of water, 1T white vinegar
Yellow Dye:  3T ground turmeric, 3 cups water, 1T white vinegar

STEP 3:  Take each individual recipe and bring to a boil in your pots.  Boil gently (more like a hard simmer) for 15 minutes.  Interesting factoid:  The smell of boiling turmeric is almost exactly like that of a burning smudge stick made out of sage.  Didn't see that coming.


STEP 4:  Allow to cool and strain.  You can use a fine mesh sieve for the chunky stuff like blueberries and beets but will have to use cheesecloth for your turmeric.  And even then, the turmeric will have a lot of sediment in the bottom...alas...just shake it up real good.


STEP 5:  Pour your dyes into small bowls (I used 1/2 pint canning jars which worked perfectly) and place your eggs inside.  Set the timer for 20 min and WALK AWAY.  I know it's hard to wait...especially when we've been trained into expecting instant satisfaction with those chemical tablet dye kits we've all been using till now...I understand...really...go get a coffee or something.


STEP 6:  With a large soup spoon, take your eggs out, admire your work, and let dry.

OPTIONAL STEP 7:  Get crazy with your decorating!  Make secondary colors by mixing your primaries together in all sorts of different ways.  Don't expect your dye to look the color you want...when we mixed our yellow and blue together what we got in the jar was sort of a burnt orange color and I feared the worst.  What came out was the most beautiful green!!!  Use a white crayon (the softer the better) to make wax resist patterns all over your eggs, wrap rubber bands around them, dip them 1/2 and 1/2 into 2 colors, etc.

I'm so impressed with the brilliance in color that we got from our naturally made dyes, there's no need for us to ever use those horrible little chemical tablets again.