Tuesday, February 26, 2013

If you can't beat 'em...

As noted in previous posts, this is the preferred activity of the males in my household...
I have to admit, the view is lovely.

Winters are long around here, prompting them to even get out into the snow, those crazy guys.

Whatever. If it makes them happy and they enjoy it, I surely don't mind...though I can think of nothing that sounds less appealing to me than riding a dirtbike in the snow and getting cold and wet. I cheerfully leave that to the boys. Of course, there are many weeks where riding at all is just not possible. So how do they feed their obsession?  AMA Supercross--the dirt riding enthusiast's equivalent of Nascar. Pretty much consists of groups of guys riding and jumping, grasshopper like, around a dirt track. Jay and the Scoob watch the race series every year, following the successes and failures of their favorite riders.
Reigning champ, Ryan Villapoto. (pic via supercross.com)

So in the interest of familial solidarity, the girls and I joined in on the race fun this year. Yes, we did. Every Saturday night in the Pierson house is race night. We even joined the guys in a little contest to see who can make the best picks and get the most points by the end of the season. Every week we text Jay our picks for the top 3 finishers and he emails all of us his spreadsheet with the results on Sunday.  Jay is currently in first place, but Kyra is hot on his tail.  Me?  Well, I'm in last place.  Shocking, I know.  :)  I have to admit, it has been a really fun activity for us all to participate in together.

Not surprisingly, my main role in race night is food provider. I usually make something fun and appropriate, like homemade pizzas, before we commence the 3 hours of sitting on our butts on the couch.  This week, I decided to put together more of a snacky dinner with crackers, salami, cheese, apples, etc. Being me, I got the bright idea to make homemade crackers. Good grief....have you ever made them?  Seriously time consuming endeavor, at least it was for me. Perhaps next time I will make a half recipe so I won't be standing in the kitchen for hours rolling and cutting out little crackers. Thankfully, they were quite tasty and, I think, worth the effort.  I got the recipe from this blog post on Carpe Diem Acreage, in case you are feeling the need to stand in your kitchen for a few hours.

All in all, it is worth the work and the time spent on the couch just to hear my family laughing and yelling at the screen when something interesting happens during a race.  It is worth it to hear the trash talking that goes on when picks are made and points are totaled up.  Being a family is all about give and take. The guys go to Shakespeare in the Park with us. We watch Supercross with them. It's all good.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

A Bit Wistful

I woke up long before the rest of my family this morning. My teenagers excel at sleeping in and Jay must be tired, as he is still in bed and it is currently 9am. Lazy Saturday morning...lovely.  Unfortunately, I awakened to a rather nasty scene outside--huge snowflakes and lots of wind to blow them around. It is a good day to stay inside, make a yummy brunch (when everyone decides to get out of bed), and dream of summer.  Yep, longing for summer today...green grass, bare feet, brown skin, fresh veggies, movie nights on the lawn, dinners on the deck, farmer's market, thunderstorms...ahhhhh....

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Make Your Own Coconut Milk

I regret to inform you of yet another food additive to try to avoid.  Carrageenan. It is, unfortunately, found in many products like dairy, nut or soy milk, and kefir. From what I've read it seems carrageenan causes inflammation in the body and is also a carcinogen. Here are a few links for information...http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/QAA401181/Is-Carrageenan-Safe.html
This is a link to a shopping list for organic products both with and without carrageenan...

Frustrating, isn't it?!  I know.  Sometimes it makes one rather weary. I realize it's impossible to avoid everything that is potentially harmful, but I do try to at least minimize exposure wherever it is possible.

Around here, we typically use coconut milk for things like smoothies.  Most of the coconut milk, like So Delicious Unsweetened Coconut Milk, contains carrageenan. What to do????  Make your own, of course!  I found a recipe on Food Babe's Blog for making your own coconut milk out of either a fresh coconut or dried, shredded coconut. (Food Babe's blog is awesome! So much info!) Since good, fresh coconuts are difficult to come by in Montana, I used the shredded variety.  This is a crazy easy thing to do.  I'll show you in a few pictures. (I took the pics, not Kyra...sorry.  A photographer, I am not.)

In a bowl, mix 3 cups of very warm water and 2 cups of shredded coconut (not sweetened!).  Let it sit for a few minutes. I don't know how long I left it there, but it was long enough for me to fold a load of laundry. That is how I tell time...by tasks. :)
Next I put it in my Vitamix and blended it...ummmm....for a while. Maybe a minute or so. 

After it had blended, I put it through a sieve and then put it in a piece of fabric to squeeze out the remaining liquid.

I tried to get as much of the liquid out as possible, then put the milk in a Mason jar and stuck it in the fridge. I am keeping the coconut remains, but am not certain what I shall do with it.  I suppose I shall have to give it a Google. :-)

There you are...homemade coconut milk with no additives. This was so easy!  


For the past couple of months I have been a bit obsessed with sourdough. After reading this article in Whole Living Magazine, I become fascinated by the prospect of being able to make bread with a starter made only from flour and water. I admit, it made me feel rather pioneer-ish. If I can climb the make-your-own-sourdough-starter hill, then my family will always have bread.  Bring on the zombie apocalypse...I have starter!

Armed with the knowledge of a thousand blog posts and recipes, loins girded, I bravely began my first attempt at making a sourdough starter. It was a rather miserable failure and to be honest, I never could quite deduce where I'd gone wrong. However, I am nothing if not determined, and a few weeks later I made attempt number two.  It, thankfully, is working beautifully!

A sourdough starter is a remarkably simple concoction of equal amounts of flour and water. While numerous suggestions, recipes and instructions can be found online, this is the method I chose to use. Using a large mason jar, I simply added 1 cup of whole wheat flour and 1 cup of water and covered the top with cheesecloth. Every 12 hours I would "feed" it by adding about 1/4 cup each of flour/water and stirring it well with a wooden spoon. I did this until the mixture was consistently bubbly and had that "sour" smell that you expect from a starter. I then began the first of many attempts to make a perfect loaf of sourdough bread.

Although I've had just about every version of a flop that can be had--flat, burned, runny--I have persevered and am finally feeling like I am figuring out this whole sourdough thing. Definitely not a bread that can be quickly thrown together, sourdough bread takes some forethought and planning. I've found, though, that once you figure out the process, it is really not difficult at all. I'm still learning what many unfamiliar terms mean, but that hasn't hampered the bread making too terribly much.

I am discovering lots of unexpected bonuses along my sourdough journey, one of which is that sourdough seems to be more easily tolerated by my family's digestive systems.  Apparently the bacteria in the fermentation process makes wheat more easily assimilated by the body and reduces the phytic acid content.  This in turn makes for less tummy troubles typically caused by wheat. That is a nice thing indeed.

Another unexpected bonus...I received a lovely gift of crockery from my sweet friend, Tacoma. This darling little pot was made by a local artisan here in Bozeman and makes having my starter that much more delightful.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Make Your Own Stock

Since we are currently in the midst of soup season, I thought I would share with you one way to make a fabulous soup base and save some of your hard earned bucks at the same time. For those of you who are trying to feed your family good food on a budget, this is a way to use a whole chicken without wasting anything at all, which is especially nice when you invest in poultry that is free range, organic and more expensive. Making your own broth is a very simple, easy process.

 Having had a lovely African meal that included a roasted chicken, I used this for my chicken stock. The seasonings we used to flavor the chicken made for a very flavorful, fragrant broth. I first removed the big pieces of meat from the bones. These I set aside to use later in a pot of chicken noodle soup. Once that was done, I put the carcass (skin, bones and all) in my big soup pot, added an assortment of veggies and herbs, and covered it all with water. It looked like this...
I realize this doesn't look too appetizing, but I promise that the end product is wonderful. This picture is before the water was added.
List of veggies and herbs that I used...
Onion (halved)
Carrots (cut in big chunks)
Several whole garlic cloves (peeled)
Celery (cut in big pieces)
Sprigs of thyme and rosemary (mine were frozen in olive oil)
Fresh parsley (also frozen, from my garden:)

This is just a basic recipe. You can add whatever spices, herbs or root veggies you would like. Many recipes say to add parsnips, but that's not something I typically just have in my fridge and I wanted to use what I had on hand. 

Bring this all to a boil, turn it down and let it simmer for a few hours. It will smell delightful!

After having simmered for about 4-5 hours, I used a colander to remove the big pieces out of the broth. I then ran the broth through a fine metal sieve. This gets pieces and chunks out and leaves you with a lovely, fragrant, tasty broth. I put all of the chunks on a cookie sheet and sorted through it to remove any good pieces of meat to put in my soup.  The rest of it, minus any bones that could be harmful, went to our dog, Tucker.  Being a black lab, he pretty much eats anything and he quite enjoyed it...veggies and all. 

That's it. I used the broth for a yummy pot of homemade chicken noodle soup for my family. You can also let the broth cool and then freeze it for later. It truly is a simple, failproof process, a great way to avoid wasting food. Give it a try. It is about a million times tastier than broth from the grocery store!

Friday, February 8, 2013

You Asked For It

In the past few days I've gotten several messages asking for more info on oil cleansing.  So here ya go...

As I said in a previous post, I use oils on my face and skin. Not a day goes by that I don't lather on the coconut oil.  It is wonderful.  Using a really warm washcloth, I steam open my pores and then gently massage in the oil.  This has been the best thing I've ever done for my skin.  Coconut oil is moisturizing and helps heal scarring.  With antibacterial properties, it also can help anyone suffering from acne. (Of course, acne is caused by inflammation in the body, so addressing that is key as well.)  Keep it in a jar in your bathroom and in your kitchen.  Nothing is better for a burn, including sunburn. Be certain that you are using organic virgin coconut oil.
If you shop at Costco, there is a great deal on Nutiva. 
A couple of times per week, I use a mixture of castor oil with evoo, coconut oil, or avocado oil as a cleanser.  If interested, you can check out Oil Cleansing Method online. Since I tend to have dry skin, particularly in the winter, I use a combination of 1 part castor oil to 3 parts other oil. If you have oily skin or live in a place that actually has humidity in the air (lucky you!), then you would use more castor oil.  A bit of trial and error and you should be able to figure out what works best for you. I keep my oils in a small, glass pump bottle.

Here is the basic how-to for oil cleansing--
Using about a quarter-sized amount of your oils, gently (never be anything but gentle with the skin on your face!) massage them into your skin. If you have problem areas like pimples, large pores, etc, then pay a bit more attention to that area.  
Wring out a hot, wet washcloth and lay it over your face.  Let it sit until it cools a bit.  Gently wipe your face with the cloth, then rinse the washcloth well with hot water.  Again, lay it over your face until it starts to cool, repeating the process a few times. I typically do this 3-4 times.  It just feels lovely.
 If you feel your skin needs it, use a bit of coconut oil to moisturize once you've finished.

 And that is it!  Easy-peasy, inexpensive, and completely non-toxic!

What a couple of my friends have had to say about coconut oil...
" I have started doing ONLY coconut oil on my face...both as a face wash and moisturizer! All of my blemishes, zits and blackheads are gone in one week. THANK YOU!!! And I have no more dry skin patches." 

"Singing the praises of coconut oil right with ya!! I wish I would have taken the before and after of my son's face/acne after using coconut oil. It totally cleared up in a week. He still gets a few outbreaks because he is a 16 year old boy but it really works. Love this blog!"
Awesome!!!!!   And just in case you need a bit more convincing...people often think Kyra and I are sisters.  While Kyra may not appreciate that, I think it is most wonderful, haha!  I truly give credit to coconut oil for my skin being clear, soft and younger looking.  Try it!!!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Enough Already!

Yesterday was a cleaning day. Laundry, disgusting bathrooms, dusty furniture, grubby floors...all needing to be taken care of.  I don't really mind cleaning.  I just turn on some music and git 'er done. Actually, I do some of my best thinking whilst scrubbing a floor.  Mindless endeavors are things like scrubbing, sorting, vacuuming and dusting, perfect for thinking through a problem or for singing at the top of your lungs--whichever makes you feel better. :)  Apparently yesterday was a day of both for me.  While I won't share the singing with you, I will share a couple of thoughts.

Guilt.  We women are so very good at it.  Those of us who happen to be both Christian and woman are absolute masters, having taken the concept of guilt to a whole new level. We feel guilt for a myriad of reasons, almost none of them good or constructive. Society tells us that we should strive for some ridiculously unattainable level of perfection.  Just look at magazines, tv, websites, and books that are written for women.  Seriously--what in the world?  Apparently I am supposed to be skinny, run half marathons, make daily trips to the gym for workouts, have a career that is fulfilling and meaningful, have lots of mind-blowing sex with my husband, take care of the family finances and budget, plan healthy meals, make said meals from scratch, be responsible for my family's health, be sexy, be fashionable, be a perfect friend, a chef, and a taxi service for my children.  In this fantasy world I have an organized, always tidy home that is peaceful and free of fights.  I am never grumpy or filled with PMS-induced angst and I never, ever raise my voice at my children.  I always pair the correct wine with the main course at dinner, am knowledgeable about all local microbreweries, and never have fines at my local library. I grow my own garden, shop exclusively at the Farmer's Market or Whole Foods, and my children always eat the perfect balance of green veggies and organic whole grains, with nary a Dorito or frozen dinner to be found.  I make time every morning for prayer, meditation and quiet time.  I give to the poor and help the needy, volunteering at the local food bank.  I am adept at keeping fine lines and wrinkles at bay.  Oh, and most importantly....I never have a bad hair day.

Wow. It's a lot to take on and live up to.  It is also a bunch of crap.  Really. Perhaps I am the only woman who feels pressure to be something I can't be, but I don't think so. This has been on my mind since I wrote my last blog post. I never, ever want to make anyone feel less than, discouraged or overwhelmed.  If you are trying to make healthy changes in your home, don't compare yourself to anyone else and don't expect to do everything perfectly.  I certainly don't. We all live in the real world. It's expensive, busy, chaotic and messy. It's full of wrinkles and stretch marks, sagging body parts, hormone-induced pity parties, and evenings when all you have the energy to do is order a pizza for dinner.

We all need to stop the guilt.  No, this doesn't mean we stop striving to do better or that we have to embrace mediocrity in all things.  In my opinion, it's just about accepting who we are...and who we are not. It is about forgiving ourselves when we mess up, extending that same grace and forgiveness to those around us when they mess up, and hitting the restart button.  After all, we are, most of us, just trying to do our best in this crazy, imperfect world. So smile, love the real you, and don't worry about the wrinkles. Make positive change happen where you can. Don't stress about the rest.  I love all of you. Thanks soooo much for reading.:)

Friday, February 1, 2013

Thoughts on Cleaning Up Skin Care

Avoiding chemicals in our personal and beauty products is just as important as avoiding chemicals in cleaning products or in food and water. Honestly, though, this seems to be a bit harder for people to accomplish, and with good reason.  First and foremost is cost.  Most products that I would consider to be "clean" are typically so high priced that I don't even bother looking.  The second thing that, in my opinion, stops people from making changes is the way the products themselves function so differently than what we are accustomed to, making us think they aren't working as well as the cheaper, chemical-laden versions. So...what to do? Well, for me personally changing my skin care, hair products, etc, has taken a few turns. I learned from each thing I tried and seem to currently have found what works for me.

To start off, I'll share with you a list of ingredients you'll want to avoid.  This list is by no means exhaustive, so keep that in mind when you are shopping around for product.  Check out the list here (Dirty dozen cosmetic chemicals) and then check your own products to see if they contain any of these ingredients.  Chances are, they do.  Also a great reference is the Skin Deep Database from EWG.  Here you can enter thousands of products and find the ingredients rated.  This truly is important, since most people use so many different products every single day. Add this to the environmental toxins and chemicals in food and that equals a whole heck of a lot of chemical exposure that all adds up.  The unavoidable truth is that Americans are incredibly unhealthy, struggling with exhaustion, stress, obesity, infertility, and rampant disease. I recently read a study that ranked Japan as the healthiest nation.  The US???  I believe we were somewhere around 30th place. Unacceptable.

As I said in another post, I tend to jump right into things and getting rid of chemical filled beauty products was no exception. After lots of trial and error, product research, and funny homemade flops, I have gotten a few things figured out that work quite nicely.  I'll start with skin care.

Knowing that my kids use products that are safe matters a whole heck of a lot to me.  It makes every minute spent learning or researching worth my while.

After reading about a gazillion different books, articles, blogs, and after trying more traditional (but nontoxic) skincare products, I decided to try the oil cleansing method (OCM).  I've been using it for the past 3+ years and have no reason to change. There's quite a lot of information about OCM on the internet, if you are interested.  Basically, the idea is that only oil breaks down oil, so I use a combination of castor oil (this is what actually removes dirt, impurities, etc) and another oil like olive or avocado (my favorite), mixed in a small pump bottle.  It is ridiculously inexpensive and I only have to do it every couple of days or so. On days when I don't oil cleanse, I simply steam my face with a hot rag, wipe it gently and use coconut oil as a moisturizer.  I cannot remember the last time I had a breakout and can say in all honestly that I almost never, ever get a zit. Thank goodness! Being 40 and having pimples is frustrating and no fun at all.

For a moisturizer, I use organic coconut oil. It's the same oil I use in toothpaste, for eating, for makeup removal, for cooking and for baking.  What a wonderful, versatile substance is coconut oil! It's good for you...inside and out. Simply keep a small glass jar of it in your bathroom.  It's pretty darn fantastic. You'll find it works for all dry skin problems and you can even rub a tiny bit on your hands and then use it for soft, shiny, static-free hair. Just so you know, we all use coconut oil--even the teenagers who tend to have oily skin.

Random note...Try to always use glass jars, etc, rather than plastic.  Plastic leaches chemicals and is also a petroleum product. Every time you choose glass over plastic, you are making a healthier choice for your family and for the earth.

Another note...If you've been using products containing chemicals, it is likely that your body will detox once you stop using them. This could be something you don't even notice much, or it could mean something like a skin break out.  Everyone reacts differently, but if you are patient your body will clean house, making you feel better and be healthier in the long run!

Aaaaaaand a final note...In the next post I'll show you some great products that we use that don't break the bank!