Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Ever hear of "Trim Healthy Mama"?

If you are like the women I know, particularly if you are Christian, you have probably heard of this book recently. It is an all new diet book written by sisters which is the latest attempt to help mothers gain, regain, or maintain lithe figures. I paid little attention because it is often called a diet. That was until friends starting losing weight, sometimes a lot of weight (65 pounds!), on this program. That caught my eye, let me tell you. I started to pay closer attention to what they were saying. Another friend lost 25 pounds in ten weeks while keeping up her milk supply for her deliciously chubby baby. That's when I decided to look at the book. I wasn't sure what to expect.

I was worried it might be a low-fat. I was worried it might be low-carb. I was worried it might be high carb. What I found was that it was a little of all three. You see, this is a book that balances the complex needs of the body with a well balanced diet, only, it's a different balance than what we have seen before and that is what makes it worth reading. Real foodies know that saturated fats are not your enemy and are necessary for health and we are sick and tired of reading about low fat diets. We know that they rapidly deplete your mineral and vitamin stores. We have also learned to be leery of the crazy low carb ketonic diets which deplete our adrenals and unbalance our hormones. That said, it does not mean that we embrace the low protein, low fats centered on grains because they strain the liver and pancreas with climbing sugar blood levels. In the end, none are worth the temporary weight loss and the expense of our long term health. This book is not like those diets.

What this book does is embrace saturated fats like butter and coconut oil, it includes fermented raw milk foods like yogurt and kefir, extolls the benefits of lean grassfed beef, while not ignoring the importance of properly prepared grains. That sounds like a pretty darn good diet to me. In fact, it sounds a lot like the diet that I have now. The difference is that I am apparently combining my foods in all the wrong ways. This book maintains that animal protein should be the basis of each meal and complimented with either healthful traditional fats or healthful properly prepared grains but not both at the same time. In this way, you are either burning one fuel or the other. If there are healthy fats as the primary fuel of the meal, you will feel sated and your body will burn the fat as fuel. If you have carbs in the meal, your body will give you a quick source of energy (no white potatoes or flour for rapid spikes) and keep your adrenals in balance. The sisters claim that if you eat both at once, the fat is burned as fuel and the carbs are stored as fat. It is a matter of eating all foods in moderation and at the proper times. The logic makes a lot of sense with me.

Once the basic logic is applied, then the flexibility comes in. The amount of carbs can be more or less depending on your body's individual needs. Some metabolisms or states of life (pregnancy and nursing) need more carbs and this accommodates this. The personalities of the sisters themselves cover a wide spectrum of personal convictions on diet. Some of us are happy to use some processed ingredients (they use the word Frankenfoods), some of us are not; others are happy when there are occasional indulgences and others just can't be. Because the sisters do not always agree on things like this or even on the use of microwaves, this book meets a wide variety of needs. This book is right not just for people who are WAPF, Traditional Foodies but also for those who are trying to move past all those canned foods. Once you internalize the basic logic, this book is for you, no matter where you come from.

The sisters are aware that most people have been convinced that fat is the enemy and to get lean and fit they must stop eating and a large portion of the book focuses on why you need to eat fats and which ones. There are plenty of admonitions and encouragements to stop eating foods brimming with phytates. Funny enough, I felt like they were preaching to the choir! It was the discussion of low fat Greek yogurt on the more carb rich days that stopped me cold and do not get me started on egg whites. I am not even sure how to convince myself to do that! But I do eat egg whites, though not by themselves, and I might be able to get over that if I save the yolks to eat later. They also promote whey protein isolate and some of the sugar alcohols that I am not too keen on. But in the end, it is not about what they put in their carts, but what I put in mine when I go shopping. The logic can be applied differently in different cases without changing what the logic is at its core.

I think I can do this. In fact, I am planning on starting on Monday. After eleven children, I am not bouncing back like I did after my first four children. My age probably has a lot to do with it. I need to lose some weight and this seems like a great way to do it. So I am giving it a three month trial to see where this takes me. Hopefully, it is to the back of the closet where the clothes I used to wear are! Stay tuned, there will be more to come!

(FYI that is an affiliate link below, see more info about my affiliates HERE)

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Spring harvest of crazysauce....

Claudia is a budding nudist.
I had all these great ideas of all the things I was going to write about this week. Of course, I totally thought there would be time and why not? It is only Holy Week and we are doing lots of extra things so I decided that it would be far too dull just to be extra busy. I decided to sew matching dresses for four of the five youngest girls and then knit matching ruffled shrugs. But no worries, I choose easy patterns and chunky yarn so I would have time to make some traditional foods the hard way. I am making all the dairy (yogurt, ricotta and sour cream) for pashka. There is a similar recipe HERE. But I'm tired and nursing a more tired baby so I am not getting my recipe right now. I am also making kulich but wanted to use sprouted flour, again because I am crazysauce. I have a recipe similar to this one HERE but right now I would rather admit blogging defeat than run and get it. Did I mention that I decided to brave shopping with ten children for Easter clothes and shoes and do it by myself before a blizzard blew in.Why not? There's time, right? Now there are pants to hem and new clothes to wash and press so that everything will be perfect.


Veronica models the "Bugs" look.
That's the real game here. Nothing in life is perfect because life is messy and hard and tiring but it is also beautiful and rewarding and worth every minute of chaos and disorder. My life is very real. I love blogging and I am glad that you come here all the time to read what I write but a part of what makes it worth reading (at least I think so) is the fact that my writing comes from a very place. That place happens to be a kitchen where children and yelling and screaming and making bunny ears and teeth while the baby eats naked and I press haloumi cheese and strain ricotta while checking my email on my phone. I don't have an office or an assistant or a babysitter and those bucktoothed loonies at the table are my full time gig.

There is a tendency to imagine other people's lives are tidy and neat and filled with quiet moments in a sun filled window seat sipping tea and watching birds outside. No doubt these things happen but they are moments to savor not only because in five minutes someone will clog the toilet with the toddler's missing shoe but because outside of the frame the preschooler is drawing on himself in marker. For the love of all that is clean and not full crumbs make sure you enjoy those moments! I think that there are a couple of reasons for this self defeating behavior. The biggest blame can be placed on our own shoulders because we belittle ourselves far too much. It doesn't do any good . The other thing that hurts us is Facebook. All those carefully sculpted moments in carefully chosen and perhaps even edited photos give us a single moment, a single slice in life. It is accurate and also not. Maybe those things happened as they appear but most of the time they are like those sunlit moments: fleeting and cropped.

Jack might be looking
forward to that salmon.
I do it, too. I have this idea that if somehow people see my girls in store bought dresses and shoes that don't match their sisters they are going to peek further past and see the other not so tidy parts of my life (nobody look in the mudroom!). I really need to dial it back and remember, I don't go to church so I can have Facebook photos of kids in matching ties and dresses. Life is bigger than that. Bigger and smaller. I think that worrying about the big things so much, means that the little things get passed over.

The small is very important. There are tiny, ordinary moments of our lives that are critical to our children. You won't even know until they are older. Now that I have one in college and three teens, I hear about it from then. My children could not care less about the ties although the girls really care about the shoes but it isn't what they talk about as they grow up. It is the small things, like what we eat for breakfast as we dye eggs. These things are seared into their memories and what I thought was a cop out (local bagels) turned out to be the most significant part of the experience. I was missing out on what the kids really thought was the most important part. It is bagels and lox, not my carefully selected natural egg dyes and pretty decorations for the eggs. For the children it is the bagels and lox and dyeing eggs with my mother and sister that make up their memories of the holiday. If I focus too much on what other people might think and how other people will judge us, then I will always miss what is actually happening. It is a matter of not seeing the forest for the trees.
Isabel finally got the wedges. She is poised for
the picture but squealed when I bought them.

I don't want to miss these things. I don't want to be so busy navel gazing that I miss what is actually happening. So, I am going to try to get my list done but if it is not all exactly perfect, I am going to let it go. I am going to remember that it is not my buffet or my meal or my photos or what people think of the dresses. In the end, it is something far greater. This holiday is about something that is all encompassing.

My Faith shapes every aspect of my life and the reason I go to church is because I believe in something so great that I cannot even begin to understand it. I can feel this in my bones. My Faith is not about sprouted bread or homemade cheese and even though these things are important to me, they cannot take the place of what matters more. Food is important, critical even, but it is not my religion. A place for everything and everything in its place is not just about proper order of material goods but especially for the immaterial.

So this Sunday, my kids will be dressed in clothes. We will arrive at the church. We will have a lovely feast. We might even have pictures. Will it be perfect? No. Not even if I give up sleeping for good. Will it be wonderful? Definitely. It is good that I am making peace with this now. The kids will be bundled up in coats and boots when we go this weekend so...nobody is really going to be looking at the clothes. Really. This is what I woke up to this morning.

By the way, that stupid local saying, "It takes new snow to melt old snow" is a freaking bald face lie. The snow had receded to halfway up the door to the outhouse and now we start over again. It is a lie, I tell you, a lie!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Stinky cloth diapers...

If you need to know how to get started with cloth, you might want to check out this post HERE. Once you have the diapers in your hot little hands, you are going to want to know how to wash them. Washing cloth diapers freaks people out. There are no two ways about that but that does not mean you need to let the fear of washing cloth diapers keep you from using them. It is not nearly as hard as people think! Here are some common questions and how to handle them.

Do I need to rinse or soak my diapers?

I have a full post on soaps and detergents and washing cloth diapers (which you can read HERE) but here are some basic points to keep in mind.

1. Whatever you do, you do not need to soak diapers. It is just such a bad idea. If you use vinegar, it only adds additionally acids to the mix and wears the diapers out faster. If you use soaps or detergents, you can actually cause a residue build up on the diaper which will make them less absorbent. A less absorbent diaper is a bad thing! What you do need to do is try to wash twice a week. The longer you wait, the longer the acids in the diaper will have to eat through the fiber in the cloth diaper. Less frequent washing means more frequent replacement. Really.

2. You do not need to rinse the diapers of breastfed babies who don't eat solids. Breastfed poop is very liquid and dissolves readily in water. It is just fine. Start with a quick rinse in cold water without soap to finish rinsing the diapers and then wash on the most aggressive cycle with the hottest water and an extra rinse. Dry or sun the diapers.

3. Formula fed poo is a bit smellier and thicker but is generally okay to skip the rinsing. When you do wash, put it through a FULL cycle on cold with no soap to really get the poo rinsed out well. Then wash on the most aggressive cycle with the hottest water and an extra rinse. Dry or sun the diapers.

Do I need to strip my diapers?

When you strip diapers, you give them a really super aggressive washing. You might do this for a couple of reasons and there are ways to avoid it.

1. If your baby has a really bad rash that is just not clearing up, strip the diapers. You need to get those diapers clean. Until it clears up, dry them in the sun outside.

2. If the diaper is coated, there is a quick and easy test. Take a perfectly dry, clean diaper and pour 1/4 cup of very hot water over it. If it beads, runs off the sides or does not absorb instantly, your diaper needs to be stripped.

3. If the diaper reeks like hot diaper pail in July the instant it gets wet, this is a big sign. Try smelling the diapers as soon as they come out of the washer and see if you can smell the slightest bit of diaper pail. Also do that hot water test above and take a really good wiff. If you can smell pee, you have diapers that need to be deep cleaned.

4. You can reduce the number of times you will need to strip your diapers by avoiding using ointments. The oils in the ointments will stick to the fibers, which makes other things stick simply because oils resist water. When oils from ointments get into the fibers of the diaper only a really aggressive washing will get get them out.

5. Use fleece liners when you have to use ointments or when the baby is sick and the diapers are pretty acidic. Not only do they keep the acids away from the baby but they keep the ointments from the diapers. When these get super nasty, boil them in a big stock pot. If you can, boil them over a turkey burner outside. It is not pleasant! But it only takes five minutes. Then pull them out and you can wash them, dry them, and be on with it!

How do I strip my diapers?

You can boil diapers which takes time and I don't know that I think it works as well as people say. I heavy wash. It stinks, but it works.

1. Wash the diapers in the heaviest cycle on the washing machine with an extra rinse twice without any soap. If you can, take a peek half way through and see if you can see bubbles. Most residue is from using too much detergent or using soap. Dry the diapers completely through between washes.

2. On the third wash, use a teeny-tiny bit of dawn detergent. Like a teaspoon. It really works. Do remember to check to warranty on your diapers, in case your particular product does not recommend it.

3. If you can, dry them in the sun until completely dry. Even in the winter, if the day is sunny, you can kill a lot of germs with the UV light of the sun. If you can, try to line dry them in the sun at least once every other week. If you do not like the crispy line dried feel, dry them for half the time in the dryer and then hang them in the full sun. That will not only save on the electric (or gas) bill, but it will keep the diapers clean and baby's bottom healthy.

How do I wash the diapers to keep them clean?

It is not rocket science, really. The issue is using the right kind of detergent. I have a post all about the different ingredients in detergents and how they affect your diapers and you should check that out HERE. After you have a good detergent, you are ready to wash!

1. Do not soak.

2. Do not use soap to wash, do not use homemade soaps to wash, and definitely do not use fabric softener!

3. Put the diapers in without soap and run on a cold water wash to rinse them. If you have a breastfed baby, just do a short wash. If you use formula or the baby is eating solids, do a full cycle. If you have a low water use washing machine like I do, you will need to cheat to get it to add more water. Take a big bucket without holes in it (so not your regular laundry basket) and place a dirty bath towel in it. Fill it with the bath to get it seriously, sopping wet and dump it into the washer. Your washer will weigh the laundry and add water based on the weight. The water not only adds to the weight but provides additional water. More water gives more ability to rinse. It is all good but you have to add not just a damp towel but one that is so wet, it cannot be carried to the washer without making a giant mess. Use the bucket.

4. Run the diapers through another wash, this time the hottest and most aggressive cycle (whitest whites) with half the regular amount of detergent you would normally use and add an extra rinse cycle. If you have a low water washer, do the sopping wet towel trick. If you can't add an extra rinse cycle, come back and run in through with another quick rinse.

5. The low water washers can be difficult to deal with and will frustrate you unless you learn the towel trick and extra rinse trick. They are designed to be faster and use less water and you need to overcome this manufacture's design. I think they were engineered by people who do not actually wash clothes. Remember these tricks for the times somebody vomits on themselves. You do not want clothes or sheets that smell like vomit. What is more, is that no one else wants your clothes to smell like vomit either.

By the way, my super awesome friend with the GINORMOUS blog, Elia, is running a cool diaper giveaway. You need to go check it out. Bookmark her site, my friends, because she always has the coolest hook ups and gives loads of stuff away. And she is fun. A lot of fun. So, go check it out because it closes on the 30th! You can find the giveaway on her blog, Conservamom, HERE.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Finnish sour cream cake...

This is one of my favorite desserts. It always looks so beautiful on a buffet table!  This is my husband's grandmother's Finnish Sour Cream Cake of  Kermakakku. I usually make it with homemade Finnish sour cream which is thicker than American. You can make your own or you can use creme fraiche, it is thicker and has the higher fat content that you need. If you have some basic mesophilic cheese culture or a creme fraiche starter, use the heavy whipping cream to culture it. If you need some help in doing it, check out my tutorial HERE. This is a standard Finnish recipe so, if you are Finnish, I do know that you have one and it might be slightly different than this one. That is okay, really more than okay, if every cake was exactly the same, what would make your grandmother's cake stand out? This cake uses the classic trio of Finnish spices: cinnamon, cardamon, and white pepper. If you don't have any of it blended you can continue with the recipe anyway. If you want to have a bit on hand, mix two tablespoons of each and keep it in a glass jar. I use it so much baking that I make it 1/4 cup of each at a time. I make my own spice blends and have a tutorial on what spices go well with others and the recipes for some basic spice blends HERE and my super special taco seasoning HERE.

Finnish Sour Cream and Spice Cake

 Dry ingredients:
3 cups of unbleached, unbromated all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1 tablespoon of Finnish Thrice Spice (or 1 teaspoon each cinnamon, cardamon and white pepper)

Wet ingredients:
2 whole eggs
2 cups sour cream (see note above)
2 cups evaporated cane crystals
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (I make my own, see HERE)

Optional: Sifted powdered sugar for garnish before serving

Butter a bundt pan and sprinkle heavily with the cane sugar for the recipe, and pour the rest into the dry ingredients bowl. This helps the cake develop a good crust so that it will come out of the pan easily and it helps the powered sugar not to "melt" or absorb into the cake when it is served.  Preheat the oven to 350F. In separate bowls, whisk the wet and dry ingredients until well combined. One third at a time, fold the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients just until  combined. Pour into prepared plan and bake for 50-60 minutes or until a toothpick comes out almost clean. You want a few crumbs attached, if it is completely dry then your cake is overdone. Cook the cake on a rack with the pan side up. After ten minutes, the moisture between the pan and the cake will make it easier to unmold. Give it a small jiggle and remove the pan. Cool completely and serve.

I will be making two or three of these for the traditional Finnish coffee party we are planning for this spring. If you did not read about it, you can find out all about it HERE. If you are looking for more desserts, here are some of our favorites:

Coconut Cream Cake
"Emergency" Chocolate Cake

Apple Almond Tart
Chocolate Ganache
Adapt a Cake Recipe to Make it Nourishing

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Spring coffee party...

Spring is coming and though it is just about freezing and overcast outside, it has been sunny and above freezing leading to a lot melt. Hundreds and hundreds of inches take a while to melt, which is good, because we have 315 inches and if we had them all melt at once, well. It would be pretty bad! So when the children's 4H leader asked about spring activity ideas, my children were ready to celebrate. Maria had the idea of doing a traditional Finnish coffee party sometimes called a "coffee table" or a "bread and butter" table, which is what it is literally called. In Finnish it's called voileipäpöytä but I cannot help you pronounce it!

The concept is the basic buffet with a wide variety of dishes with more or fewer dishes depending on whether it is more or less formal. The basic foundation of the buffet starts with bread and butter, it is after all called this, and is built out from there. In America, buffets are usually very informal events and there is little structure and the food is both laid out all at once and eaten in the same way. The Finnish affair is far more structured. The least formal coffee tables with feature just nisu and butter with two cups of coffee. Nisu is a sweet, dense cardamon flavored bread. Somehow I have never covered how to make nisu! This coming week, I am going to be covering some basic Finnish dishes like this and the most incredible Finnish spice cake.

Above is the Finnish spice cake freshly dusted with powdered sugar and with a bit pinched by one of the kids. This cake is a sour cream based yellow cake that is spiced with the basic Finnish combination (I call it Thrice Spice because it rhymes) of cinnamon, cardamon, and white pepper. I know what you are thinking, the white pepper seems a little strange. It is flipping amazing. Next time you are making snickerdoodle cookies, mix up this spice blend and then cut it half and half with evaporated cane crystals and roll your cookies in that. You will blow people away. There is something in there that they cannot identify and it is spicy but sweet and they love it. People will beg for your cookies, I know by experience.

When Finns serve coffee table, it can be a really casual affair like the farm meal above (and written about HERE) or it can be a very formal affair such as a wedding. We actually had a coffee table for our wedding reception. Ben's family understood exactly what we were going for there but most everybody else just enjoyed it American-style. At a very casually affair, you might sit and hold your plate, picnic style. At a very formal affair, you would go to a table set with utensil and condiments.


But back to the structure of a coffee table. Coffee must always be served. Period. You can offer tea and even lemonade for children and perhaps small beer at a very large affair, but coffee is a must. If you are looking for fun, sparkling drinks to have a functions you can find some really great recipes HERE. I put these in blue swingtops and bring them (in a cooler with loads of ice) when we go out to parties. It is fun, never steps on people's toes, and gives you something to drink other than soda.

The Bones of the Coffee Table

Nisu and butter, real butter, must always be served. There are many cute ways to shape the dough. I have done large crowns and lovely crosses. Each dish following this must compliment another dish. The first addition is a cold fish dish, like a smoked fish, which is paired with a savory bread such as rye or fresh cheeses like juustua (recipe coming this week).  There are seven categories of food which can added to this but for each category, there is a complimentary dish to be added.
1. Breads: starting with nisu and expanding out to savory breads with a fare variety between soft and chewy and crusty breads. Bread is always served with butter and in more complex meals, with jellies and jams.
2. Cold fish and meat dishes: starting with smoked or cold cooked fish, pickled fish, fish spreads, pâté and tourine  with complimenting cheeses.
3. Warm fish and meat dishes: ham, cold cuts, sliced roasts, and baked fish with complimenting cheeses.
4. Hot hors d'eouvres: things like meatballs or small meat or vegetable filled pastries.
5. Main course: meat and potato dishes, casseroles, and egg dishes.
6. Salads and fruits: this are cold affairs with only fruits and vegetables in them. If this is last course of a more formal meal, alcoholic beverages may be served but are not always served. Often instead of wine, small beers and the sparkling fruit juices are served instead.
7. Desserts: additional sweet breads and cookies and cakes. If not a very formal affair, the fruit dishes serve as a dessert but it is possible to have a simple luncheon with a cake or cookies and only branch into the cold fish and meat dishes. This is a bit flexible. If this is final course of an elegant meal, alcoholic beverages may be served but are not required.
Order of Service

Despite the fact that all of the food is laid out all at the same time, it is not eaten at the same time. The order can a bit flexible for a casual affair with only a few dishes, in that case everything but the cake or the cookies can be taken in the first pass, the dessert will eaten last. It is also completely appropriate for even formal events like weddings to have a potluck where specific food categories are planned and assigned. Informal events have two cups of coffee and the formal have four that are drunk at the meal and what is taken with each cup varies. The desserts are either segregated on the table or on another table all together. Pay attention to the changing of the plates, because there are very strongly flavored dishes like pickled fish, if you do not change plates, you might not enjoy your fruit and dessert quite so much. Make sure that there is water available at either the table with the coffee or on individual tables. Eating is thirsty work! Also, a smaller tea cup size of coffee is usually drunk rather than a large coffee mug though the mug is not inappropriate just far more casual and better suited to a "two-cup table". What really defines the formality of the party is the main dish. If there is a main dish
First cup: With the first plate and first cup of coffee the bread and butter and cold fish dishes are taken, if there are any.
Second cup: At a less formal meal, take a second place and a second cup of coffee, then have the dessert whether it is fruit or cake and cookies. At a more formal meal, enjoy the the warm dishes or "small bites". In America, the appetizers are eaten before the main courses but might substitute for the main course at a coffee party. At very large functions, there will be both.
Third cup: Using the second plate, take a third cup of coffee, and enjoy the main dishes (if there are any), salads, and egg dishes.
Fourth cup: Taking a final plate, take a fourth cup of coffee or another beverage and enjoy the dessert. The dessert is served on very small plates, just like in America. If the fourth cup of coffee is not drunk with the dessert, it is offered afterwards and might just be drunk as it is with no accompaniment.
I have only done the "two cup affair" though we've had elaborate American style dinner parties with soup, main, salad, and dessert. Most Americans, and even American born Finns, aren't familiar with the complexities and elegance of a four cup formal affair. Since this is a very Finnish community, we are planning a formal, four cup affair, for the whole community so that the children and the older folks can teach others about how they function. It's a fascinating slice of culture and history which will disappear if people don't do it. Culture was meant to be lived not just remembered.

This has me thinking about what you all might have as traditions in your own families and cultures. I would love to hear about them and the kinds of foods you enjoy at them. So, please, don't just read, jump in and let me know!
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