Monthly Archives: January 2011

Vinegar: How I Love Thee!

I know it’s odd, but I really do like vinegar.  It is a tasty condiment for swiss chard and spinach, makes sweet and sour sauce possible, breaks down the phytic acid in my whole wheat bread, and is perfect in dishes and dressings where a little tang is needed.  I use vinegar pretty frequently in my kitchen, but this blog post isn’t about my kitchen.  It’s about my bathroom.

My bathroom?  Yep!  And no, I don’t eat in my bathroom.  As it turns out, vinegar is my favorite tool for cleaning.  Nothing (that isn’t full of scary chemicals) breaks up the hard water residue and calcium deposits like vinegar.  It really is amazing.  I keep a giant spray bottle full of vinegar specifically for cleaning purposes.  Some people dilute it with water, but I keep mine full strength.  We have some seriously hard water here, and honestly, I’ve just never tried it diluted.  One day….  For now I’m having success with it the way it is.

All I do is spray down whatever needs to be cleaned and wipe it dry with a cloth.  I use on the vanity, toilet, all of the fixtures, the tile surround in the shower, the tub, and even the floor.  The only thing I don’t use it for is scrubbing the toilet bowl.  I like ajax for that.  I do know of people who use vinegar to clean the bowl too, but my mama used ajax, and for whatever reason I haven’t veered away from that!

Aside from the fact that vinegar actually works with very little elbow grease, I love that I can have my children right beside me while I clean.  There are no chemicals to worry about, and often times, Hannah will ask me if we can eat vinegar to which I always reply with a resounding, “YES!”  One other nice thing about vinegar is that it has natural antimicrobial properties.  In other words, it kills or inhibits the growth of various microorganisms and can be used as a natural disinfectant.  Vinegar is also CHEAP!  We most definitely save money using vinegar instead of other cleaners.  Every few dollars saved adds up.

Now you’re probably wondering about the smell.  Yes.  It smells like vinegar.  However, it doesn’t linger all that long.  You could always light a candle to help.  It doesn’t bug me so I usually don’t bother.  I know some people put essential oils in with the vinegar to give it a different scent.  I’m lazy.  What can I say?  But really, the other stuff smells too.  It just smells like chemicals.  Yeah, I’ll take the vinegar scent over chemicals any day.

I dare you all to give this a try!  You just might be surprised at the results.


There’s a Bun in the Oven

And no, it’s not what you think!  There’s a bun in the oven…..quite literally.  😉

I love to bake bread.  Part of this is probably just nostalgia since my mom and I enjoyed spending hours side by side in her small kitchen grinding the wheat, making the dough, forming the loaves (or rolls), and then biting into some fresh from the oven bread with butter slathered on top.  Yum!  Those were definitely some good times.  But in those moments, I also learned the value of baking something nutritious for my family.  I know the ingredients and the hands that have touched it.  Better yet, I know that my family loves it!

In the past few years, I have been gradually cooking in a more traditional manner, as discussed in Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon. The basic premise behind traditional foods is that fermentation and the soaking/sprouting of grains, beans, and nuts allows us to absorb more vitamins and minerals from the food we eat, while at the same time being quite healthy for our digestive system and, really, our bodies as a whole. That’s a way super condensed summary. This book is overflowing with valuable information, and I can’t do it justice at this moment in time. You’ll just have to check it out for yourselves. There are many resources available if you are interested.

Okay, back to the bread. In days past, I would grind my wheat and immediately set off to make the dough and bake the bread. Since discovering the traditional way of doing things, I now soak my flour at least overnight in a mixture of water and vinegar. Basically, doing this breaks down the phytic acid that is present in the whole grain, making it easier for our bodies to absorb the nutrients that are so vitally important for our health! Once again, there is so much more going on, but I wanted to give you a brief overview as to why I do what I do. Here is a much more in depth explanation on why we should be soaking and sprouting our grains.

The recipe I use comes from The Urban Homemaker. It’s really simple, and I have to tell you, I have never baked better bread in my life! I don’t necessarily attribute my success to the recipe, but rather to the soaking process. I believe anyone can make delicious bread. There is definitely a “feel” to it, but with a few tries, it shouldn’t be difficult to get. Let’s get to it!

First things first, grind that wheat!

Now get the wet stuff ready.  Here I put 6 tablespoons of vinegar (I used apple cider vinegar because that’s what I had handy) + enough water to make 6 cups in my bosch mixer.  If you’re serious about making bread, I would highly recommend investing in one of these work horses.

Add your flour!  This is 12 cups of flour.

Mix it up!

Cover the mixture and let it sit for at least 12 hours.  It won’t look much different, but here’s what it looked like when I was ready to get baking.

We are now ready to turn this into dough!  I mixed 3 tablespoons of yeast, 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda, and a teaspoon sized squirt of honey into about 1/4 cup of warm water.  If it’s too hot, the yeast will be killed, but you want it warm enough to actually get things going.  It should feel almost hot on your hands.  Let the mixture sit for about 5 minutes until it gets nice and foamy.
It’s time to gradually pour the yeast mixture, along with the honey, oil, and salt, into the mixer.  I do this with the mixer going.  After everything is pretty well incorporated, more flour is slowly added until the dough cleans the sides of the bowl.  This is where you’ll gain experience in how it should look and feel.  In my experience, the dough usually cleans the sides of the bowl before it has enough flour.  It shouldn’t be super sticky when you feel it, but at the same time, it shouldn’t be really firm.  I like to err on the side of more sticky for a moister and lighter finished product.  The wonderful thing about bread is that it’s fairly forgiving and definitely not an exact science.  The amount of flour you add at this point in the process will be different every time, depending on the humidity.  The following is a picture of my dough after I added the right amount of flour for the day.  Note the clean sides of the bowl!
It’s now time to let the mixer (or your hands if you’re kneading by hand) do the work.  I let the dough knead for about 5 minutes.  The time needed for kneading (hahaha) will vary depending on your mixer.  You want the gluten to have time to work.  When it’s ready, the dough will be sort of smooth and elastic-y.  Like that made up word?  I poke my finger in to look for it to spring back.  Then I’ll grab and chunk and see how elastic it is.  If the gluten is properly developed, you should be able to stretch it thin to the point of being almost translucent.
At this point, I like to let my dough rest for about 10 minutes before I form the loaves.  I typically take the time to nurse a baby, throw a load of wash in the machine, or do one of the other 10 million things that need to be done in my day.  Oh, I’ll also grease my pans.
Then I form my loaves:   Grab a chunk of dough, knead it just a few times on a greased surface, make a nice smooth top, throw it down on the counter to get the bubbles out, and put it in your pan to rise!  One day I’ll make a video of how I form a loaf.  🙂
I let my bread rise in a warmed oven mostly because my kitchen is tiny and I don’t have room to do it anywhere else without little fingers getting into it!  Let it rise until it’s doubled keeping in mind that it will rise a tiny bit more when it bakes.
I take the loaves out to preheat my oven to 350 degrees, and then it’s right back into the oven for about 30 minutes.  Here are my baked loaves fresh from the oven.
Right after I took this picture, I took them out of the pans to cool.
If anyone has questions, please let me know.  I’d love to help spread the fresh home baked bread love!

Oh nuts!

I have to tell you something.  I get bored really easily, but not in the way you’re probably thinking.  I get bored when it comes to food.  There are most definitely a few things that I enjoy and never tire of, but my taste buds and my tummy really like trying new things.  (This is why you’ll most likely be reading a lot of posts starting with, “I tried something new today in the kitchen.”)

I digress….lately I’ve been feeling the need for a bit more variety in our snacks.  I don’t know about you, but I went a bit overboard on the holiday sweets, and it is consequently time to wean myself off all of that sugar.  Sure it would be easy to just not eat anything sweet, right?  Yeah, right.  I don’t have that will power.  And I will always have a sweet tooth.

So I was trying to think of something maybe a bit sweet that wasn’t stuck in some form of carbohydrate.  Nuts!  They are full of protein and healthy fats.  I had a giant sack of walnuts in the freezer.  By default, that was the nut of choice!  I headed on over to, my favorite place to go on the net for recipes of any kind, typed in walnuts on the search bar, weeded my way through a slew of recipes, and finally found one that sounded absolutely perfect:  Maple Glazed Walnuts.  And oh yes, they ARE absolutely perfect!

One of the best parts about this recipe is that it has 3 ingredients and takes only a few minutes to make.  I almost always modify the recipes I use in some way, shape, or form, and this one was no exception.  If you’re interested in the original recipe, you can find it here:

This is my version:  First I preheated my cast iron skillet to about medium/high.  Then I dumped 3-4 cups of walnuts, 1/3 cup of maple syrup (the REAL maple syrup….no yucky corn syrup make believe stuff around here), and about 1/8 tsp. of salt into the pan.  I stirred it continuously for about 3-4 minutes, which was enough time to get the nuts slightly toasted and the syrup caramelized.  They went from the skillet to a sheet of waxed paper to cool, although a few went almost immediately into my mouth.  Woops!

The kids love them.  I love them.  I’m not sure about the hubby, but does it matter?  😉

Do they have to grow up?

Seriously!   I realize that some days are really challenging in the parenting arena, but I want them to last a lot longer.  I want to be able to soak in every sincere, “I love you,” every bear hug, every sweet smile.  I want it all to linger.  I want to remember in 20 years just what those tiny hands and wet kisses feel like.  I don’t ever want to forget how Abram says “momboid” when he means “mermaid” or how “yeah” and “yep” have somehow changed into “wah” and “wep.”  I want to always be able to recall how Hannah says “cabinet” for “cabin” and “helpidoctor” for “helicopter.”  Oh, and the moments!  May I always remember how Abram adopted Pax to be his dog, how Hannah “reads” to Abram from the photo album of her birth, and how Pax gives me the biggest and sweetest smile every single time I look at him.

These days are fleeting.  I know it down to my core.  They are growing up in a flash.  I am living my childhood dreams being their mother, and I am trying each and every day to remember all of this.  My house may not be the cleanest, but I have bigger and better things to attend to right now.

And please please please someone remind me of all of this on those days when I just don’t think I can do it. This season is far to precious to have a difficult day because I am grumpy!