Friday, October 3, 2014

Food odds and ends, plus applesauce

Because we're planning to move next May, Shane and I decided that it was finally time to knuckle down and actually eat everything in our freezer. We've never done this before. We've said we wanted to, but then let other things and meals get in the way. Neither of us is terribly fond of fish and that is a majority of what's in the freezer. But now, neither of us wants to even think about moving frozen food. So it's either eat it, or give it away next May.
This past spring, Northwest Edible Life did an "eat from your pantry" challenge. I sort of followed it. At least, it got me thinking more about what we had which needed to get eaten up before summer's glut began. But there's no way we have enough in the house to not go grocery shopping at least occasionally, so I didn't feel really hardcore about this.
This time, things are different. It's not just, "Oh, yeah, I'll make sure we eat that sometime this week." I am planning every meal based on what we've already got in the house. Breakfasts, lunches, dinners...everything has at least one pantry and/or freezer item in it. It's been rather incredible how quickly we've eaten our way through some things. Our chest freezer is already looking a little sparse, which is fabulous! I really think we can make it this time, as long as we keep our motivation up.
I've made cherry scones for breakfasts (using up the last jar of cherries I canned two years ago) and will make applesauce muffins when they're all gone, using the applesauce which, again, has been sitting in our cupboard for several years. I burned it a little when I made it, and it tastes burnt, but not in muffins! I've also used it to make this apple-cranberry baked oatmeal, which uses both the applesauce and some of the last of our cranberries.
Lunches have been dinner leftovers (as usual) and dinners have been surprisingly well-rounded, tasty, and diverse. We're still buying vegetables from the store, which helps, but even the meat portion of the meal has been different every night, despite the fact that we've mostly just eaten fish and moose. But we made pesto salmon which was a huge hit with everyone, including the tiny human. (The recipe is: smear leftover pesto on a salmon fillet and bake until done.) We made curried halibut (it sucked, but only because the fillet was so old...leftovers went to the dog and we scrounged other leftovers and freezer items for lunch), moose roast, chili with moose, and a couple of vegetarian soups. Even those used pantry/freezer items, like tomatoes that I canned this year and celery from the freezer, my homegrown carrots and peas. Soon we'll be making Alaskan pie, clam chowder (we have clams in the freezer), lasagna (with ground moose meat), and of course more salmon. (Tonight: rosemary garlic salmon. Next time: teriyaki salmon with sriracha sauce.)
It's incredible to me how quickly we get through food now simply because we've added one very small person to our house. I swear, she eats half her body weight every single day! I love that she enjoys food, though. She's so far from being a picky eater that she actually loves strong flavors! Curry, chili, pesto...she even loved potato leek soup, so much so that she would ignore the banana pieces in front of her to lean over, mouth open, asking for more soup. She likes cabbage and turnips and carrots and she vastly prefers wild blueberries, which are far more flavorful and a bit tart. But she chews on rhubarb stalks from the garden, so I guess I don't have to worry about her disliking tart or sour things!
Still, though, she is a baby, and she is human. She loves sweet things as much as anybody. She's gotten very small amounts of sugary items (like a bite or two) but for the most part her sweetness comes from fruit. One of the easiest things to make for her, when we're all out of other ideas or foods she can eat (she still doesn't have teeth, at 10 months, so we're stuck feeding her soft foods), is to give her "oatmeal". I bought steel cut oats in bulk and ground them up in the blender so that it's more like oat powder. Into this we mash fruit, or blend it up to mix in, and sometimes add a bit of spice. Her favorites have been blueberries (with nutmeg, if we feel like it), bananas (with cinnamon), plums. And, applesauce.
As I said above, the last batch of applesauce I made for canning, I burned. No matter which pot I used, it always ended up burned. So now I only make applesauce in the CrockPot. I suppose it ends up being a little bit more like unspiced apple butter that way. But, it's delicious. Applesauce is inherently less nutritious than eating whole apples, because a lot of the nutrition is in the skins. But, it's still fruit and until she grows some teeth, applesauce it is. To make applesauce, peel and core a bunch of apples. Put the flesh of the apples in the CrockPot and turn it on low for a few hours. That's it! Cook it down until it becomes the consistency of, you know, applesauce. If you've got a particularly hard bunch of apples you might add a tiny bit of water or cider. But I love using apples which have gone mealy, and they provide plenty of liquid.
For extra frugal points, you can save the skins and cores and make a second batch of applesauce. Once the first batch is out, put the cores and skins into the pot and cook them until everything is breaking apart and mushy. The reason you don't want to do this with the regular flesh is because you'll have to strain out the seeds, stems, and whatever parts of the skins don't break down. It's so much easier when there's a bit less sauce to strain. Once it's cooked, push it through a fine mesh strainer with a wooden spoon, periodically emptying out the mashed up fruit which won't fit through. It's a bit of work, but not too much, and it's totally worth it. I cut all of my apples off the core anyway, so I just save them all in a bag in the freezer until I have enough to be worth saucing. Pear cores and peels can also be added, if you have any.
Some people add sugar to applesauce, but why bother? It's plenty sweet, as long as you use some sweet varieties of apples. You can add cinnamon to the applesauce if you like, although I tend to do that when I'm using it instead. If you want to add other spices, cloves and nutmeg can make an interesting combination, but that also makes it more like spiced apple butter than a true applesauce.
This year, I'm not going to bother canning the applesauce. My MIL gave me a silicone muffin pan which she hated, and which is perfect for freezing into 1/3 cup amounts, which Shane and I have taken to calling pucks. As in, "How many broth pucks should I add?" We've got peach pucks (that is so fun to say) from peaches which almost went bad, broth pucks, and now applesauce pucks. We'll eat through them, just as we're eating through the other stored and frozen foods. And with them, we'll get a little taste of summer or autumn during the long, harsh winter.

Overnight oatmeal with applesauce and cinnamon:

2/3 cup rolled oats*
1 cup homemade applesauce**
1/4 tsp cinnamon, or a little more to taste

Store in a small mason jar in the fridge overnight and pull out for breakfast. Do yourself a favor and warm it up in the microwave before eating. It is so delicious on a cold autumn morning.

*I originally tried this with steel cut oats. Don't. Even blasting in the microwave doesn't soften the oats at all. Stick to rolled oats for this.
**I'm sure you could do this with store-bought applesauce as well, but I haven't tried that so no guarantees. If you do try it, just make sure that the applesauce is rather runny since it's the liquid part which softens and gets absorbed by the oats.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

It's been a while

It's been a wild, crazy summer. I've had so much going on, both professionally and personally, that something had to give and, unfortunately, what gave was my blogging time. I have had so many ideas I wanted to write down, or started to write down, but never got to complete. There are so many things I want to get done and only so many hours in a day. Getting into all of the details would be far, far more than one (or even 8) blog posts could handle, so I won't even attempt it. I'll just highlight, and say that most of the changes have been really good. Also, I didn't stop writing entirely. I feel a little silly admitting this, but I wrote a book. It's a lighthearted piece of fluff, but one I think is good enough that I'm now working on getting it published. (Wish me luck!) So that's been sucking up any potential blogging time I might have had.
So what are the big changes and highlights? First of all, there's work. I got a new job! This has been one of the best changes in my life since Miss B was born. I interviewed for this job mostly because it was away from my old supervisor (who was bad enough, and crazy enough, that I actually had to file a complaint against her with HR sometime in the last year--and the problems didn't stop, I just tried to keep my head down until I could find a way out) and because I would get a small pay raise. Well, the new job is better than I expected. I'm actually really enjoying it as a job. The tasks are fun, and my coworkers and supervisor are really supportive and friendly. I've worked with them before, so I did know that going into the job. But it's refreshing, after hating work and being so stressed out about it for so long, to have going to work suddenly be pretty good. And that small pay raise? It turns out that moving up a level the way I did entitled me to a 10% pay raise, rather than the $.50 or so that I thought it would be. Now, I keep thinking of this quote, but my raise is nothing to sneeze at. It's enough that when Shane told me his campus job from the last two semesters is only taking on grad students this semester, we were able to be happy about it rather than stressed. We don't *need* the money from that job anymore, and now he gets to be home with Miss B more which makes finding babysitters for his class time much easier. He's still working his weekend job, and we're staying afloat. It's a good feeling.
Miss B herself is thriving. She's 10 months old today! I can hardly believe it, although my thoughts keep turning to the upcoming 1st birthday party. I'm excited to plan it. We're going to ask the grandparents not to go crazy on gifts, and tell friends that gifts are unnecessary, because she's turning 1 and doesn't have any expectations and won't remember it anyway.
We've finally got some of her sleeping problems settled. She's been in her own crib for several months now, and I miss the co-sleeping less than I thought I would. Don't get me wrong, sleepy baby snuggles are awesome. But she was pinching and scratching and kicking us toward the end there and we were being driven crazy. So the move into her own sleeping space has been a really great thing for all of us. She still doesn't want to go to sleep, and usually wakes herself up several times after we put her in bed, but once she's out we get only two wakeup calls during the night, to eat and be changed.
She's thoroughly mobile now, on the cusp of walking. She has a baby walker which she can push around the living room and has quickly gotten really good at it. And she can stand for at least 30 seconds on her own. I've seen her eyeing distances between furniture like, "Hmm, could I walk there?" before she decides that the answer is "no" and drops to a crawl.
She calls us by our slave names, "Mama" and "Dada". She even started calling one grandmother "Nana". Very exciting. It adds an extra level of pathos when I'm trying to make dinner and she crawls over to me, pulls herself up to stand clutching my leg, and says, "Ma! Mama!" because she wants to be held. Since she's so very curious I've been trying to get her involved in cooking as much as possible. She loves it. I'll pick her up once I've got all of the chopping and prep work done, and describe what I'm doing and why I'm doing it as I add ingredients to a dish. "See the onions? See how they're getting lighter and softer? They're almost ready." Yesterday she helped me make bread and was fascinated with the whole process. I let her eat a couple of small bites of dough and when I was kneading it she got some flour to play with. It's working really well for us to do things this way. She so wants to be like the big people that making her feel involved and important is going to be key as she grows up, I suspect.
As always, the summer garden had highlights and low moments. My potatoes were awful because it was the rainiest, wettest summer on record and they just didn't do well. Neither did any of my squashes. I got one--one!--zucchini. Thankfully, a friend got quite a few so she shared with me, and I grabbed some from the farmer's market. Others of my plants did really well, though. Carrots and lettuce went crazy. We had at least one big dinner salad each week this summer, with enough leftovers to be lunch the next day. So we worked with what we had, and I'm filling in now with farmer's market produce to shore up supplies for the winter. Because it's Fairbanks, and as cliche as it has become to say, winter is coming.
Last day for the market is this Saturday. I'm sad, but excited too. I love autumn. All of the gorgeous colors, the different foods we're eating now. It's glorious. Here's a picture I took on a bike ride last weekend:
Beautiful. I live in such a gorgeous place.
That being said, we're working on eating up all of our stores of food by next May, because we're planning to move. Out of Alaska. There are so very many reasons why--Shane can get a better job in another state, I want to be closer to my parents, etc.--but it's still not an easy decision to make. I have a running "pros and cons" list in my head and it comes out about even for both moving and staying. Shane is more excited to move than I am, actually, and without his enthusiasm we would probably stay here. As it is, I'm trying to think only of the positives and not what I will miss so much about Fairbanks. Perhaps we'll come back to live here again someday. At the very least, we have friends here so it won't be a permanent goodbye.
Right now it is definitely the busy season. I'm trying to preserve as much good, local food as possible, trying to get out for bike rides and walks as much as we can while the weather is nice (I love our bike trailer), and at the same time trying to focus on indoor pursuits. I haven't knitted, well, anything in the past two years, so I want to correct that. I've had a sweater which was half finished when I got pregnant and then realized that I wouldn't be able to wear it for about a year anyway so I never finished it. I'm doing so now. Then I want to make a couple of toddler hats (I found an adorable and warm pattern from a Norwegian woman whose last name was my maiden name--distant relative perhaps?), some baby mittens, and maybe some baby sweaters and baby boots (we'll see about the boots--she's got mukluks which would be much warmer, but will they fit during the early part of winter?), as well as some items for Christmas presents.
I also interlibrary loaned a whole pile of books which I've been frantically trying to read before their assigned due dates. Most of them, I've had to request a renewal.
As if all of this wasn't enough, I started a workout program on Monday. T25, so it's supposedly only 25 minutes a day. But then I have to factor in procrastination (I pick up all the toys in the living room so that I can actually workout without stepping on something potentially dangerous) and shower time. The workout is kicking my butt and just what I need to really get back into shape. Walking and biking have been great, but I need more core work and the only work my arms have gotten is lifting and carrying the babe. It's not nothing, but I'd rather not get hurt because I was neglecting to work my arms and shoulders.
So that's what I've been doing the last few months. What about you? How was your summer?

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Meal planning when you just don't have time

I'm all about doing things the easy way these days. At least, I still want to do so much stuff, but I just don't have time. For some crazy reason, my baby actually wants me to pay attention to her and play with her. I love that ...most of the time. When we have 2 weeks of laundry piled up, crazy amounts of dishes we haven't gotten around to cleaning, a cat box that needs cleaning, a dog who's pawing at my leg to get my attention, a husband I feel like I haven't had any truly good time with lately, and a need once in a while for a little "me time" (it's important), I kinda wish I had a baby who would play by herself once in a while. It's a joke that's not really a joke in our house that Miss B won't let Mom get anything done. We've tested this. When I'm home, she has tolerance for about one chore each night. Some days, only half a chore. Ask me how many times I've finished making dinner while juggling her. Go on, ask. The answer is, pretty much any time I've made dinner since the day she was born.
The other night I made dinner and, later, committed the cardinal sin of cleaning the cat box after she'd gone to bed. She woke up and immediately began screaming because, as Shane put it, "Mom wasn't within arm's reach." She's getting a little better now because she actually likes tummy time--she's somewhat mobile (enough to grab a toy that's over there but not yet to actually crawl or move more than a foot or two) so that's helping. God help us when she does start crawling because she's never going to be still and I know already she's going to want me to watch her wherever she goes.
You're wondering why I don't do all of this when she naps. Ha! Hahahahaha!!! At the Easter potluck we went to there was another family with an 11 week old. The mom complained that their little girl had "only" taken a 2 hour nap that afternoon. I told her, if my child sleeps for more than 45 minutes I end up checking every 10 to make sure she's still breathing. It happens so rarely that she sleeps longer than half an hour. Last night, ten minutes. She took a freaking ten minute nap. >( So when I'm home and she does nap, believe me I am running around like a madwoman trying to get everything accomplished. Somehow, it's never done. I've started calling my family when I'm walking Dog and Baby (still in the carrier on my chest) because that's the only time I tend to have peace and quiet. I tried talking to one of my brothers when she was awake and about 5 minutes into the conversation he told me, "You have a very loud daughter." Yes, yes I do.
I don't feel that all of this is an excuse to fall behind in certain areas of life, however. Like meal planning and cooking. Not even Baby + finals week (next week) is an excuse to fall behind on that. We're relying slightly more on convenience items (as in, I bought rather than making the graham crackers for Shane's birthday pie crust) but for the most part we're keeping on keeping on in terms of cooking whatever we can. So how do I streamline the process? That part, it turns out, is easy.

1. I was once told that to be a home cook you should either have a lot of recipes in your repertoire or just a few. Why? Because that makes it so much easier to meal plan without having much food waste. If you have only a few meals, you'll use the same ingredients over and over again so that they don't go bad. If you have lots of meals, you'll have plenty of recipes with which to use up the foods you buy. I am a "lots of meals" kind of person. The meals we love and make "often" don't usually get made more than once in a month. In fact, if we do plan for a meal to be repeated in less than four weeks it feels like we're having it a lot.
This system gives me lots and lots of meals to choose from, and lots of ingredients to play with. So I know if I want to make one of these three dishes, I should choose one of the others as well so that I can use up the monterey jack cheese. (Usually the sausage & pasta meal with one of the soups so that we don't have too much soup in one week.) If I have leftover ham, as we recently did, oh look! Super easy to make this ham and white bean soup. And, easy enough that the baby let me do everything but cut up the ham before I had to recruit Shane's help. (Rare. Very rare.)
The other night we had no time to go to the store, but not much food that seemed to go together. Chicken? Grapes? Mayonaise? Almond slices? However, because I had so many recipes in my head it was easy to pull one out and make a delicious dinner that didn't feel hurried or scraped together. (It was curried chicken salad--I added some dried cranberries too, to good effect.) And because I utilized things that were about to go bad (chicken we'd thawed for another meal the night before, grapes that would have been thrown out otherwise) we both reduced our food waste and helped keep our food budget in line.
2. Use that freezer! Shane and I are really, really bad about freezer cooking. Some people are awesome at it, but we aren't. However, while we don't necessarily freeze extra meals all the time, we do freeze parts of meals. For instance, tonight we'll be pulling out some homemade freezer biscuits. When we want some and I have time, I make a fresh batch and just rotate those into the bottom of my big bag of biscuits in the freezer. That way when I don't have time to make more (like tonight) we always have them on hand. They're super easy to pull out of the freezer to bulk up a meal. Tonight we're having bratwursts (in the freezer since our big Costco trip last summer), sweet potatoes, green beans, and biscuits. It'll be a ridiculously simple meal to throw together, but hearty, filling, and yummy.
We did manage to put one lifesaver into the freezer. I accidentally made way, way more filling for burritos than I intended to (mostly, it was the beans and rice I made too much of) so Shane and I spent a hurried half hour assembly lining them, wrapping them in foil, and tossing them into a bag in the freezer. This has been super helpful a few times when the question came up, "What are we going to do for lunch then?" Grab a burrito, as it turns out.
3. Crockpot. I can't say enough good things about our Crockpot. We use it so often, and it always comes in handy. When I know we're going to have a big, crazy week I plan meals that can go into the Crockpot really fast. Not ones that are fussy (they're out there) and require putting in different ingredients at different times. No, I love the ones where you dump everything in and turn it on. I usually do all the prep the night before so that in the morning I can just pull the crock out of the fridge, put it in the heater, and turn it on. So simple.
This is also how we utilize dried beans so much. I soak them overnight in the crock of the crockpot (in the fridge) and in the morning I refresh the water, put the crock in the pot and set it to low. By the time I come home in the evening the beans are soft and ready to go into whatever dish I've planned. I've never had luck just letting a soup with beans in it simmer for hours on end. They always end up somewhat crunchy and unsatisfying.
4. Have the ingredients for a few quick meals on hand at all times. These are mine: chili, pasta primavera, chicken soup, lo mein, chicken fried rice. If it turns out that we didn't plan enough meals and leftovers for a particular week, or if we don't have time or even inclination to go to the store, I can pull out a meal that's easy to make. When we all came down with some awful cold earlier in the year, it was so nice to have the ingredients for chicken soup on hand. I use my mother's recipe, which I could make blindfolded in an unfamiliar kitchen, so it was a cinch to make it even when I didn't feel well. And it really does make you feel better.
5. Plan the easy meals. Seriously. Shane is swamped this week getting ready for finals next week, Miss B has been needier than usual (perhaps another growth spurt? a tooth getting ready to pop out?) and I've been a little anemic yet again (grr!) so I've been drained and tired. Neither of us really wants to cook. So our meal plan has been: salmon (from the freezer) and veggies (also from the freezer) one night; brats, veggies, and biscuits as stated above; BLTs; fajitas; pasta primavera. Super easy and quick meals so that we can feel slightly less overwhelmed. :)
6. Make extra. Sometimes, lots of extra. For lunches, routinely, we do leftovers. It's not really much extra work (maybe a bit of extra vegetable cutting?) to make enough to have leftovers the next day, and when we're putting the meal away we just pack lunch portions for ourselves.
If we know we'll have one or two nights that are super busy, we'll cook one giant meal (red beans and rice, a big soup + bread, or two-three main dishes such as chicken fried rice, egg drop soup, and stir fry) and coast on the leftovers for several days. This has seen us through finals weeks, through Hell Week when I'm doing a FLOT musical, and through the first few weeks after our parents went home after we had Miss B.

By the way, all of this works just as well for breakfasts. Between biking to work and breastfeeding, I need a filling breakfast every morning. But, it also has to be fast. I already put up my blueberry oatmeal banana bread recipe, but I mix it in with other things. When I lack time, oatmeal is always a good choice. But I measure it out and get my toppings ready the night before so that in the morning I can just add water and pop it in the microwave to cook while I feed the pets and change a diaper. When it's not my night to cook dinner and we're out of breakfast food, I'll run around making something easy and quick, like the banana bread. If I have a little more time (like, say, weekends) I'll make something more involved, such as pancakes (which can be refrigerated or frozen for quick weekday breakfasts) or muffins (can also be frozen). This has removed most of the stress from weekday mornings, and I always know that I've got a healthy breakfast waiting for me, a lunch packed up and ready in the fridge.
You'd think that planning this would take time, but it doesn't. In my spare moments--walking to the bathroom at work, during my bike ride home--I'll figure out what I want to and what we should eat in the coming week. Later, I'll ask Shane's input. (It usually goes, "What do you want to cook and eat this week?" "I dunno, you pick.") What do we still have in the fridge that needs to get used and eaten? What do we have in the freezer that we should eat? Ideally, the meals I come up with utilize at least one of those components. When I actually sit down to write out the grocery list, it takes less than 10 minutes. All of this has helped to keep our grocery budget in line and to keep our sanity, even though we've added a tiny human to our household. It means we don't waste time every night trying to figure out what to eat, or getting takeout because "there's no food in the house".

Friday, April 25, 2014


Finally, finally! I was able to start biking to work again. After being pregnant, then recovering from the c-section, and finally breaking my wrist, this feels long overdue. But I'm recovered from it all, the wrist brace came off, and the snow is mostly melted now. I hopped on my bike Monday morning, elated, and by the time I got halfway to work my legs were burning and my lungs were working overtime. What the heck? This was before the hill I had to conquer, too. I had thought I was in pretty decent shape once again. Sure, I've been avoiding push-ups while my wrist was healing, but I've been running on weekends and doing what I think of as my "baby weight exercises" on weeknights. That is, on weeknights I've been doing any and all exercises I can do while holding or at least involving my daughter: squats (60, with the 14-15ish pound weight of my baby), lunges (30-50, each side, again with the baby), leg lifts that I could do while smiling at and talking to my girl. She's enjoyed these times more than I have, since she wasn't pushing herself to do more. :)
So I was very surprised when I found myself so out of biking shape on Monday. As soon as I started up the hill, I was gasping for air. I downshifted, I pushed through even though my thighs were burning. And I did make it to the top, but my legs felt like jelly. Over the course of the day, my rear end got saddle-sore as well, but that was expected. I kept telling myself not to feel bad, that I'll get back into biking shape again soon. I mentioned on Facebook that I'd started biking again and a friend reminded me that that hill gets easier pretty fast.
It wasn't until the end of the day, during my ride home (I get to go "Wheeeeee!" down that hill) when I was trying to take my mind off of how sore my butt was that I realized: the first summer I got this job, when I first started biking up that hill, I couldn't make it. I had to stop halfway up and walk the rest of the way. I got better quick enough, but still. The fact is, I couldn't make it all the way up for nearly the first month of biking that hill. I further realized that, though my legs had felt rubbery that morning, that went away quickly. By the time I rode home, other than my sore backside, I was feeling great. Even after everything I listed in that second sentence (having a kid, recovering from an emergency c-section, breaking my wrist) I'm in better shape than I was five years ago. This is something that most people can't say, even without throwing in major abdominal surgery.
I felt like crap riding in that day, but I rode home smiling and feeling proud of myself. And my friend was right, by the next day I already had an easier time getting up that hill.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Life, the Universe, and Everything

Ok, I'm not really going to talk about the Universe. I lied. But I do have a bunch of other cool, and some not-so-cool, things to talk about on varying subjects.
As you may have noticed, I really haven't written much lately. Turns out, becoming a mom has taken away much of my free time. I would have more if my child napped with any consistency or for any length, but she doesn't so I don't. *shrug* What time I do have is usually spent catching up on chores, or just reading. You never realize how much mental energy it takes to keep up with a child and work full-time until you have to do it. Add in tax season and craziness at work (annual evaluations with a completely crazy supervisor, woo) and I've been feeling a little overwhelmed. But in some ways, it's brought me to a good place. It's all forced me to take a good look at my wants and needs, to figure out what is unnecessary stress in my life. Take my garden, for instance. What will be the most satisfying for me? Well, obviously I want to still garden. But, fighting with the weeds and grass in the actual dirt area we have isn't working for me any more. I don't have the time, and I don't have the money to make it right. So this year I'm focusing solely on my garden boxes. However, I am willing to put more time and money into those than I have been. Since they're also the most productive part of my garden, the ROI should be pretty good. And I don't have to stress about what I haven't been doing.
The other benefit of the garden boxes is that they're portable. It sounds like we'll have to move out of our place sometime soon. We were really hoping to stay here until we move out of Alaska (sometime next summer-Shane just found out that he'll finish his degree next Spring!) but there's been a change of regime. Our old landlord sold the duplex, and the new landlady wants to move in downstairs. For now, they've moved in upstairs. Apparently the plan is to fix up the upstairs (to try to rent it out for an exorbitant and crazy amount - $2500!!!) and then move downstairs, where we currently are. She hasn't given us a good timeline, so we're just trying to find something before we're forced to take something at the last minute. Bleh. Again, though, it's making us look around at our Stuff. What's necessary, what isn't? We might have to rent a smaller place, so what can/should we take with us and what should be gotten rid of? I'm paring down the baby stuff a bit (clothes which we were given but won't re-use for a second child, some of the baby blankets which we don't need) and I'm even going through a formerly untouchable category: my books. The idea is to pare down before we actually have to pack it all up.
We have also gained some things recently, however. One of Shane's relatives bought a couch (on clearance) which she didn't like when she got it home. So she bought another couch, and needed to get rid of this one. She gave it to us. Yay! We actually have a decent couch now! We got rid of the second half of our horrible, ugly, broken Cat Pee Couch (seriously, we discovered when we moved it that the cat had been peeing in one corner--thankfully, it was so uncomfortable that we never sat on it!) and put this lovely new couch in its place.
Our upstairs neighbors have moved out, since the new landlady is moving up there. Someone rang our doorbell by accident asking about a piece of furniture that they were selling, and that gave me an idea. The next time I saw them I asked if they had an old T.V. stand that they'd be willing to sell to me. The answer was, "Please, just take it! We don't want money for it, we just don't want to haul it away." So I got a free T.V. stand, in decent shape, to replace the rickety little bookshelf that our T.V. had been sitting on. Thus, we got rid of my biggest babyproofing worry: that she would pull the T.V. over on herself when she starts crawling and pulling herself up to stand. We'll attach the T.V. to the stand so that she can't pull just it over, but now we don't have to worry about the bookshelf and the T.V. falling over. The stand is nice and low and sturdy, just what we wanted. And, just like the couch it was at the right price: free.
In addition to the T.V. stand, one of the neighbors is a liquor distributor and didn't want to move a bunch of half empty tasting bottles he had around. So, he gave them to us. Yep, you read that right. Free booze. And not even a small amount, either. We're not talking bottom shelf liquor, but good stuff, and not all of it has been opened. At my household's normal rate of consumption this is more than 6 months worth of liquor, even assuming we throw a party or two (or bring some along to other parties). I used some of the vodka straight away to make vanilla extract, since I'd been meaning to buy vodka for that purpose for the last month but always forgot. Now, I don't have to worry about it for quite a while.
We went to Arctic Man over the weekend. For me, it really wasn't that interesting. It can be summed up by "A tribute to the decadence of the first world." Or "fat men on snowmachines who think they're so sporty...because they can ride a machine real fast." Ugh. Not my scene at all. the wastefulness of it all, the amount of oil that was burned just in this one weekend. Not to mention everything else. Because people were camped out, a lot of them scoured Craigslist for free couches that they didn't mind having around a campfire. And on the last night, all those couches got burned so that people didn't have to haul them out. !!!! Yeah, you can probably imagine what I felt about that. Then there were all of the motorhomes, and I'm sure lots of food waste and packaging and whatnot. I went for a walk with the baby at one point and a girl on a 4-wheeler stopped and asked me if I wanted a ride. She looked at me as if I was crazy. After all, who would want to walk, right? I said no, of course, and she said, "Oooo-kaaaay," as if she totally didn't get it. Wow. Just wow.
Anyway, we went because my in-laws were going with some friends, and my FIL hasn't seen the baby since New Year's. Unfortunately, she was mildly ill most of the weekend and, especially with the new circumstances, just wanted to be with me the whole weekend. Oh well. But the in-laws were also about to take a trip to Hawaii so they'd brought up a bunch of food for us. A lasagna, a ham (part of which was eaten there), some milk, and a bunch of fruit. Banana bread. So our food bill should be almost non-existent this week, which is nice, especially since we came home to a sick cat.
I took Monday off anyway to watch the ill baby (just a precaution) and myself (I was feeling under the weather too, I just didn't realize it until we got home), so making a vet appointment when I discovered that our cat was peeing blood (I know! poor guy!) wasn't as hectic as it could have been. Still, forcing the cat into the kennel (with gloves on) and taking him to the vet, yowling the whole way, and with the baby, wasn't the most pleasant of activities. I think I need to talk to my child about being kind to animals, though, because she thought his cries of distress were pretty hilarious.
Thankfully, it is *just* a bladder infection. His kidneys seem fine, and the peeing blood should stop within 48 hours. I wish I could tell him that. He might be more willing to take his medicine that way.
So, life goes on. You win some, you lose some. For the most part, things have been going really well for us. Finding out that Shane only has one more year of school was a huge, huge plus. We're nervous and excited because we're not sure where life will take us after that, but it will be good. I'm certain of it.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Blueberry Oatmeal Banana Bread

This has become my new favorite breakfast. I really don't like bananas. In fact, they're one of the few foods I'll say that I pretty much hate, with the caveat unless they're in something. Then, the other flavors tend to mask at least most of the banana flavor and I can stand them.
You can imagine Shane's surprise, last time we were at the store together, when I put two big bunches of bananas into our cart. "Miss I-Hate-Bananas, you're picking up bananas?" Yep. Because this is seriously the best breakfast.

Blueberry Oatmeal Banana Bread

(adapted from this recipe)

3 very ripe bananas, mashed to oblivion
1 large egg
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, or honey (both work well)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 generous cup oats
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4-1/2 tsp nutmeg (optional, but delicious)
Frozen blueberries, preferably wild, until you think "that's blue enough", about 1 cup

Preheat oven to 350. Mash the bananas, then mix in the wet ingredients, then the dry ingredients into the wet, then finally the blueberries (gently) into everything else. Bake in a greased loaf pan for 1 hour.

In the mornings I cut generous slices, slather them with butter, and microwave them for 30-45 seconds to make the butter melt. It's heavenly, and actually not too bad for you.

Update: Since originally writing this post, I've messed around a little more and made a lactation-friendly version to help support breastfeeding moms like me. Or just, you know, to add a bit more healthful stuff in if you like. So for this, you'll want to add 1 Tbsp nutritional yeast and 1 Tbsp flax, plus either an extra 1/2 a banana or 1/4 cup milk.
I have also reduced the amount of sugar or honey to 1/4 cup and didn't notice a difference in sweetness.

So, how's it going?

Every day is a whirlwind for us. Especially the evenings. We've fallen into a routine, but that doesn't mean the routine is particularly easy. For at least 1 1/2-2 hours in the evening, it seems like everything needs to get done. Dinner needs to be made, breakfast (if I'm making something baked) needs to be made, pets need to be fed, baby always needs to be fed and have a diaper change, it seems, which leads to realizing that we're totally out of diapers and so a load of laundry needs to be started, the overflowing dishes need to be done because the cook needs that item right there and all the space the dishes are taking up, the cat box needs to be cleaned out, some spill (or spitup) needs to be cleaned up and, oh crap, is it a bath night? Hurry hurry hurry! When we were in the midst of this the other night Shane paused and asked, "Do you remember when we used to relax in the evenings?"
Which is not to say that we don't relax. It might seem crazy for a short amount of time, but the before and after are quite nice. It's been warm enough in the afternoons to go for a decent walk when I get home from work. I strap baby into the Ergo, leash up the dog, make sure I'm wearing my ice cleats, and off we go for about half an hour. It's lovely. Miss B(aby) tends to suck her pacifier and keep her serious face on during the walks. I was a little worried that she wasn't enjoying them until Shane pointed out that not once in her life has she ever hesitated to tell us, quite loudly and vocally, when she wasn't enjoying something. Too, she tends to put on her serious face whenever she's trying to take in a lot. She's the same way at the grocery store, but she's also very quiet and well behaved so she must enjoy it at least a bit.
The reason I mentioned my ice cleats is because, well, I broke my wrist a couple of weeks ago. I know I mentioned before that it was already hurting and I was starting to suspect a stress fracture. Well, I fell on it one day when I took the dog for a short walk (for which the dog is totally to blame), and then slipped and fell on it again later in the same week. It hurt bad enough that a couple days after that I decided to go to the urgent care clinic. I have, according to the doctor, a buckle fracture in my left wrist. So I need to wear a hard brace for 6 weeks (I talked the doctor out of making me see an orthopedist to get it casted) and I'm already sick of it. This is all exactly what we needed, more medical bills and for me to not be at 100% again. I'm somewhat annoyed with my dog (I had the baby in the Ergo when I was tripped, and she nearly fell out), but then I have to remind myself that she's an old lady and she tripped me not on purpose, but just because she was so damn happy and excited to be out for a walk. She's going blind, and we think she's starting to go deaf as well. Poor dear, she didn't know what she was doing. Her life has changed, she's not getting all of the walks and runs and attention from me that she's used to. Sometimes that's hard to remember.
After the crazy part of the evening, though I need to be with her (still) for her to sleep, Miss B is usually asleep sometime between 8:30-9:15. After she's asleep I read, with her snuggled up against my side, until I get sleepy and then curl up with her and go almost instantly to sleep. It's hard to complain about that.
As crazy as life at home has been, life at work has been even worse, filled with uncertainty and, frankly, having to deal with crazy people and crazy ideas. I won't go into it, because this isn't the right time or place, but it's been stressful, annoying, and just plain hard to deal with at times. It makes leaving my baby every day that much harder.
As if everything else wasn't quite enough, our duplex was purchased and, though we'd been told by the realtor that the new owner wanted to keep renting to us, I met the new owner this past week and she said that she'd like to move into our unit, not the upstairs as we'd been originally told. When I asked for a timeline she said "one to six months, I'm not sure." Oh goodie. Apparently she's going to fix up the upstairs unit a bit first, while living there, and then move downstairs. So, Shane and I were hoping that we could stay in this place until we moved out of Alaska and it doesn't look like that's going to happen. *sigh* We're trying to figure out what our options are.
You'd think that life would have slowed down a little bit this week, because it's spring break here, but not really. Shane gets to be home with Miss B during the days, but that just means that he needs some time to himself in the evenings. I do get tomorrow off, though, so I'm trying to hang onto my 3 day weekend. I'm sure it will go by far too fast, to be in proportion with how long this relatively short work week has felt.
The very big "however" to all of this is that I'm still managing to take care of myself pretty well. In fact, now that I'm pretty much totally recovered from the c-section, I'm doing my best to put myself first once in a while. I've started running regularly again! Just on weekends, but it's still progress, and last weekend I was actually able to extend one of my runs, so I'm getting back into shape. I carve this time out for myself when I get the baby back to sleep on weekend mornings. I lay her down with Shane (who's either sleeping in or very happy to have an excuse to nap himself) and then I lace up, grab the dog, and go. If I'm really, really lucky, she'll sleep long enough to let me do a few other exercises (like core exercises), stretch, and take a shower. Ok, that really only happened once so by lucky I mean, in my fantasies.
When Breakup really starts and the snow has melted a bit more, when Baby Girl is big enough to go in the jogger, I'll start adding weeknight runs into the rotation. For now, we'll stick with our walks on weeknights. That's about my pace in the evenings, after work. Just enough time and distance to get the benefits of exercise, without it feeling like exercise.
I'm losing the weight I wanted to lose, and though it seems slow to me, it really isn't. I'm losing about the pound/week that's recommended as a healthy pace. And the best part is that I'm not depriving myself at all. Our birthdays are at the beginning of March and this year I made a giant skillet cookie for my birthday, and a key lime pie for Shane's. (See in the pie recipe how it's supposed to be two layers? Yeah, I need to learn to read directions when I'm trying a new recipe. I mixed it all up together and then realized what I'd done. So I tossed in an extra egg and hoped for the best. It still turned out great!) I've since made the skillet cookie again, and I probably will make it again this weekend. It's so much sugar but damn, it's tasty. Even Shane, not normally a fan of cookies, loves it.
I've gotta say, drinking a big glass of whole milk most days is helping me with my weight loss. I'll feel a bit hungry after dinner, drink my milk, and still usually be a bit hungry but not so much that I feel the need to eat. Just as good, I've noticed that it helps with my milk production. And, with a broken wrist, the extra calcium is doing me some good.
So life is crazy, but for the most part I am enjoying it. Baby Girl has learned to laugh, so Shane and I spend a good portion of our time trying to get her to laugh some more. Just as there are no diminishing returns on the humor of baby farts, baby giggles solve all problems and make life infinitely better.