Monday, September 15, 2014

Organization--The Spice Of Life

Some people love chaos and confusion.

Some folks love order and method.

I am the latter.

I can't stand things to not have a place, a "home".  However, our home does not allow all of my stuff to have homes.  Especially a full set of cast-iron enamel pots and pans.

I purchased this set back in the spring to replace our mismatched, gifted and otherwise acquired pots and pans that have accumulated over the past ten years of marriage.  We had wanted a set that we picked out to call our own, so after much thought and research, we decided on this set:
Williams Sonoma, Le Creuset Ocean

However, our kitchen did not have enough cupboard space to house the pieces in a convenient manner.  For the past three months, I've had everything stacked, with dish towels between each piece, in a lower cabinet that required me to get down on my hands and knees and stack, unstack, and dig out the pot or pan needed each time I cooked.  The towels were between each piece because the enamel on the pots and pans scratches when the rough cast iron edges rub against them, and I don't want a set of pots and pans that are scratched up.

This color, Ocean, is too beautiful to be covered in scratches!

Our solution was simple: an industrial set of shelves that would be large enough to house each piece of cookware, but small enough to fit in the corner of our small dining/kitchen space and not look out of place.  We looked around for a while before coming up with something we really liked:
Shelving unit from World Market, $350 plus delivery

Unfortunately, it was more than I was willing to pay.  So, we went with this:
Whitmore industrial shelving unit, Amazon

We found this rack at Meijer for $63.  On Amazon and other sites, it was at least $10 more!  We snatched it up and I went to work assembling the shelves the next morning.  It was really easy to put together, and perfect for our needs!
We bought some S-hooks from Lowe's for hanging the skillets (that was a brilliant idea from my husband), set a layer of shelf liner on each shelf, and placed my two houseplants on the top shelf, along with a half-gallon Ball jar from the '30s whose color looks great with the cookware.

We're really pleased with the look of the rack, and the pots and pans are so much easier to access now!  Amazing the change that a little corner shelf makes when you need just a little extra space.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Nobody's Perfect

How many times have you heard the phrase "nobody's perfect"?  Not only have I heard it my whole life, but have also used it my whole life--and usually pertaining to something I did that didn't come out quite as I'd hoped.

I've noticed something about the internet--everything seems to portray perfection in life.  Bloggers gain followers based on the content of their blogs, and so everything they post is perfect.  No one wants to write a story about their failures, right?  Most often, failures are embarrassing.  But honestly, they happen more than not, and I'm not ashamed to share stories of life gone wrong.  Take my garden this year, for example--I had wanted to give the soil a rest and thought that planting wildflower seeds and flowers from the nursery would be a great idea.  Fresh cut flowers all summer?  Yes, please!  We had grand plans for the super-lovely flower beds we would have.  Here's what we imagined:
Image from

Here's what really happened:
Mega-fail.  Drought, squirrels, rabbits.  More squirrels.  More rabbits.  My beds turned into a spring buffet of tender, sweet vegetation for the critters, and there was nothing I could do to stop them.  And to add insult to injury, the squirrels continued to plant and grow peanuts in my bed, long after they had the audacity to eat my plants.  As if giving me growing peanut plants was their way of saying, "Thanks for the buffet, sucker!".

It was not appreciated.

Another good example of imperfection in real life would be our homes.  Who really has a home like the ones in magazines?  As much as I'd love to say I do, the truth is, I don't.  I don't know anyone who does.  We're all so busy with work and life that there's just no time to make our homes magazine-perfect.  And anyone who has kids would know that nothing stays put away long enough to take a picture of a clean room.  Or...a hidden inground swimming pool.  Doesn't every third house on the planet have one of these?
Photo from Pinterest, from WebUrbanist

I always feel inadequate when I look at Pinterest.  So many people on there making every meal from scratch.  "I made my own homemade chicken stock from the chicken I roasted that I raised from an egg and slaughtered all by myself yesterday!"
Photo by Julie Persons, from
Really??  Are you Amish??

Or the "do it all" women: "Make a cleaning list that can be done every day to keep your home looking like a maid cleans your house for you!  Windows on Monday, wipe down the baseboards and door trim on Tuesday, vacuum and dust on Wednesday, change the sheets on Thursday, sweep the floors on Friday..." or, "I also like to bake bread from scratch, using flour milled with my own grinder that came from the wheat I grew using only natural pesticides..." or, "I like to make my own yogurt from milk I milked from my milk cow in the back yard...".   Usually, all of these things are done in one day, because these ladies are just that good.
Image found on HubPages

As much as I'd love to be able to do all of these things, I can't.  I, like most people, have to work during the day, and I live in town, where they frown upon keeping cattle in the back yard.  I think most of us idealize the country way of life--I know I do--but few of us can actually live out the dream of being a homesteader.  Jobs, activities, commitments and location have a huge impact on what a person can do in the span of 24 hours.

So, what's my point?  It's kind of simple, really.  The internet does not portray reality any more than television does.  Don't fall into the trap of comparing yourself to some stranger who had the good fortune to inherit their grandparent's farm and can "do it all".  The world is full of people who want to make others feel bad just so that they feel better about themselves.  IT IS A TRAP.  Live your life the way that works for you; don't try to be like everyone else!

In other words, nobody's perfect.  Go, be imperfect and have fun!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Dairy Free Pizza...It Can Be Done

If you've been reading my blog for a while, you'll know that I recently discovered that I can't tolerate dairy anymore without having health problems.  Because of this, I've had to cut out dairy, including cheese, butter, milk, cream, etc., etc.  One thing that I really miss is pizza.  I miss the gooey, stringy cheese, and there is just no substitution for it.  However, I think I might have found a way around it!

In honor of Sunday afternoon football, which is on TV now, here is the play-by-play of my new recipe for dairy-free pizza.  This recipe makes one pizza and breadsticks.

Here's the lineup!
Playing offense:
#1, Olive oil (QB)--Cal Tech
#2, Refrigerated pizza dough (or use your favorite recipe) (C)--University of Iowa
(At the time of writing this post, the Pillsbury pizza crust is dairy-free)

#3, Hummus (G)--Purdue University
#4, Pizza sauce -- store bought or homemade (T)--University of Tennesee
#5, Earth Balance spread (RB)--Indiana State University
#6, Garlic salt (WR)--University of Michigan
#7, Garlic powder (TE)--University of Michigan

#8, Nutritional yeast flakes (optional) (T)--University of Phoenix

#9, Toppings of your choice (second string)--I used arugula, spinach and diced tomatoes

Here are the plays:
First, preheat your oven to 400 degrees.  Drizzle olive oil onto a large baking sheet with shallow sides.  Use your fingers or a paper towel to spread the olive oil around to coat the pan completely.

Next, tear a small chunk of dough off of the roll.  Set it on one side of the pan.  Press the larger chunk of remaining dough into a round or rectangular shape, to your desired thickness.  Do the same for the smaller piece of dough--these will be your breadsticks.

Now, drizzle a small amount of olive oil onto both pieces of dough, and spread evenly.

Spread hummus onto the larger piece of dough--use as much or little as you'd like.  It's your taste.
Dab pizza sauce on and spread it evenly.

Drop small dollops of Earth Balance spread onto the top of the pizza sauce.  Drop small dollops of EB onto the breadstick dough and spread to create an even layer.

Sprinkle both doughs with garlic salt to your taste.  Dust the breadstick dough with a layer of garlic powder.

Sprinkle nutritional flakes onto the pizza dough.

If using meats like pepperoni, etc. (or anything that needs to be baked), add them now.

Bake for 15-20 minutes, until the dough turns golden brown on the edges.

While the dough is baking, prep your toppings.  I washed and tore the greens into bite-sized pieces, then blotted them dry on paper towels.

Once the pizza is baked, remove from the oven and add the rest of your toppings.  Eat right away!

A side note--my crust was a bit soggy in the middle, presumably from the liquid in the hummus and sauce.  To solve that problem, pre-bake your crust for 8-10 minutes to give the center a chance to cook before adding the other ingredients.  I used a refrigerated dough because I didn't have time to make my own dough, but I think it would be even better with a homemade crust.

Final score: Andrea, 7; pizza with cheese, 0!

If you try this, let me know what you think!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Summer, Where Have You Gone?

Psalm 74:15-16
The day is Yours, and Yours also the night; You established the sun and moon.   It was You who set all the boundaries of the earth; You made both summer and winter.
I am struggling with the loss of summer for another year.  Where has it gone?  It seems like just yesterday that the the trees were only starting to open their leaves and the days were getting longer.  Now it's September and it's hard to believe that we'll be buying pumpkins and apple cider soon, and warming ourselves by the fire pit during those brisk fall nights.  I've enjoyed this summer, but now it's almost gone, and I'm sad about having to say goodbye for another year. 

Song of Solomon 2:10-13
“My beloved responded and said to me, ‘Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come along.  For behold, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone.  
The flowers have already appeared in the land; the time has arrived for pruning the vines, and the voice of the turtledove has been heard in our land. 
The fig tree has ripened its figs, and the vines in blossom have given forth their fragrance.  Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, and come along!’”

However, I am blessed to have spent another summer with my beloved.

Proverbs 10:5
He who gathers in summer is a son who acts wisely, but he who sleeps in harvest is a son who acts shamefully.
Our big project this summer was fixing our porch and building our flower bed in the front of the house.  The fruits of our labor have been very enjoyable, and some of our plants will continue to bloom into the fall.  I thought I'd post an update on how it's doing!  The summer has been very dry, but thankfully not scorching hot, so with some watering and Miracle Grow, it's done well. 
We have lost a few plants, mostly to rabbit nibbles and zealous squirrels planting peanuts.  I'm eager to see it begin to grow again in the spring, but it's time to let things start to fade for the year now.  The frost will be here before we know it, and another summer will be little more than a memory.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Making Clarified Butter

Every year, a little before Thanksgiving, butter would go on sale at the local grocery store.  Every time it did, I picked up several one-pound boxes to freeze and use for holiday baking.  It was a great system, and I always had plenty of extra butter after the holidays were over.

Now that I can't eat regular butter without feeling like a nauseated bloated cow, I have a LOT of butter in my freezer looking for a reason to live.  (Note: allow frozen butter to come to room temp before clarifying.)

Enter: clarified butter. 

The process is easy enough: just heat the butter on the stove, skim off the white whey foam, and leave the casein in the bottom of the pan.  Knowing that those proteins give me problems, but still wanting to use butter for cooking, I thought to myself, 'Self, clarified butter may be an option!'  After doing a little internet research, I felt confident to try making it myself.

I set to work clarifying the butter:
I melted four sticks (2 cups/16 ounces) by cutting it into pieces and turning the burner on low while I did a few other kitchen tasks.  Butter melts quickly, so it didn't take long for the pieces to melt and the whey to float to the top.

Look at all of that whey!

I skimmed out most of it, and I learned that you'll always scoop a small amount of butter out along with the whey, no matter how careful you are.  Sad, but true.  You also have to be careful not to stir the butter and mix together everything that you've just separated.
Anyway, it's not important to skim all of the whey off, we'll get it in a minute.

Line mesh strainers with at least four layers of cheesecloth.  More layers will catch more impurities, so it's best to not be stingy here.  Set the strainers over a large bowl with a pour spout and pour the butter through the strainer.

As you can see, the first strain still left some whey. 
I also couldn't see any casein in the bottom of the pan before I poured it, so I poured it all through.  It was only after I had it in the clear glass bowl that I could see a thin layer of a more solid substance at the bottom that was the casein. 
You can see the brighter color of solids at the bottom--I circled it in the photo below.

I lined another mesh strainer with eight layers of cheesecloth this time, and poured the contents through the second strainer, holding back once I saw the layer of casein at the bottom.  Only a very small amount made it into the second strain, and no whey made it through.

After the second strain, it looked good.  You can strain it as many times as you'd like, but remember, the more you strain, the less the amount of pure butterfat that you'll have in the end.  After straining twice, I had a little over a cup of butter, or a little more than half of what I started with.  Since this was my first attempt, I'm hoping I will get better at it the more I do it, and have more left after the straining process.
But the real test came when I made dinner--I fried chunks of chicken in the butter, made buttered noodles, and boiled up some buttered peas.  It might seem like butter overkill, but if I couldn't handle that, I'd have known quickly.  You can see that the butter melted clear, which was a great sign of lack of impurities.  
The chicken cooked up beautifully, with that perfect brown color, and the butter didn't smoke and burn like it normally does with the impurities. 
The taste was the familiar butter flavor that I love.  And I'm happy to report that I didn't feel bad that night, and still felt well the following morning.  I think this is going to work!  My frozen butter now has a reason to live again.
I've yet to try baking with clarified butter, but it'll be in my to-do list in the next few weeks.  I'll pass along results and any good recipes.

One thing to note: storing the clarified butter in a jar like this is not the easiest method for getting butter out.  I've purchased these molds on Etsy from Cannaware.  You can see that not only do they make sticks of butter like you can buy at the store, but they also have tablespoon measurements on the side to make life easier.  After I clarify my butter, I can make them into sticks for easier storage, access, and measuring.  Win!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Dairy Free By Necessity

I love you, milk.  I love you, ice cream.  I love you, cheese.  I love you, butter.  But it turns out that you guys do not love me anymore.

It's not you, guys, it's me.  I'm sorry, but it seems as though my intestines have decided it's time to break up.  I have no say in the matter.  If it was up to me, we'd continue our dysfunctional love affair.

After thousands of dollars in doctor visits, medical procedures, and test results that yielded no answers, I've come to the conclusion through the process of elimination that I believe I'm dairy intolerant, and that it has been a main cause of of my stomach and digestive problems for over a year now (although, I believe that there's still more going on).  However, I don't believe that I'm lactose intolerant.  I believe that it may be more than that, and that one or both of the proteins found in dairy products may be to blame--casein and whey. 

Why do I believe this?  Well, there are a few reasons.  First, my lactose breath test came back normal.  Second, I can't drink lactose-free milk without problems.  Third, yogurt (which I don't like anyway) and cheese still make me feel ill, and in theory, they shouldn't if I had just a simple lactose intolerance.  Even butter in large quantities, like using it to saute food, causes me problems and discomfort, and butter has almost no lactose.  All of these products, though, still have milk proteins in them.  So, by process of elimination, it seems more likely and logical that the intolerance would be a result of an inability to tolerate the proteins as opposed to the lactose.

I've noticed that eliminating these foods have made me feel better (although still not completely normal), and that makes me sad.  Who wants to voluntarily give up pizza?  Because, let me tell you, pizza with no cheese is not pizza.  Not to me, anyway.
Image from the Internet.
While this type of intolerance is lesser-known than its brother lactose intolerance, it's becoming more known and talked about.  Thankfully, we live in a day and age where so many special recipes can be found online, or adapted to include non-dairy alternatives for their dairy counterparts.  Because of this, I'm starting a page here for recipes that are dairy-free.  This does not include egg-free; that's usually in a category of its own.  It is also important to note that this is not a milk allergy--food allergies are much more serious and can result in a hospital visit.  People with milk allergies cannot have any milk products.

It's fairly common to become lactose intolerant as we age, but other than a mild intolerance to milk for my husband, I know very few people who have this problem.  This is a huge lifestyle change, and I'll admit, it's been a struggle.  Removing dairy has frustrated me in ways I can't even describe, not only in cooking at home, but also in grocery shopping and eating out or at the homes of others.  Plus, it's been very difficult to give up foods that I love cold-turkey, like ice cream and cheese.  I can only sit by and drool longingly as my husband eats his Talenti gelato or cheesy pizza, knowing that for as long as I live, I won't be able to eat some of the things I loved anymore.  But not all is lost--I've discovered some ways around my intolerance.  Below is a small list of things I've discovered.

Some good alternatives to using butter in baking and cooking:
  • Lard (if you can find it)
  • Olive oil (plain or infused)
  • Coconut oil (solid up to 78 degrees) 
  • Clarified butter or ghee (often sold at health food stores) or you can make your own (coming soon!!)
  • Earth Balance spreads (made of various vegetable oils--they do offer a soy-free flavor)
  • Cooking sprays, like Pam
  • Almond, rice, oat, or coconut milk (I use unsweetened coconut milk for most baking recipes, sweet breads, pancakes, etc.)

Foods that I like:
  • A decent dairy-free ice cream I've found: So Delicious brand Peanut Butter Zig Zag, but this is a soy-based ice cream, and some people are adamantly opposed to soy products.  It's been the best substitute for real ice cream that I've found.  Coconut and almond-based ice creams tend to have a coconut or almond flavor to them, regardless of the overall flavor of the product.  It's a bit pricey for what you get, though.  I can usually find this at Kroger.
  • I've tried some imitation cheeses, and am sad to report that they are just not good, especially the Daiya brand.  Don't waste your money.
  • Enjoy Life mini chocolate chips and mega chunks--these are great!  I think they have better flavor than the regular chips.  The only drawback is the price, around $4.50 a bag.  However, they are easily found in most large chain grocery stores--Meijer carries them in their gluten-free section in my town.  I just pick up a bag whenever I go grocery shopping to try and stock up slowly.
I've scoured Pinterest for recipes and ideas for dairy-free living, and have had some success.  I haven't tried many of the recipes on there, but I have tried some.  Feel free to visit my Dairy Free Pinterest page for substitutions, ideas and recipes that I've found so far.  Another great website for all things dairy free is the Go Dairy Free site.  They have a wealth of dairy free information, including recipes, substitutions, and Q&A forums.

Here's a helpful printable with some great non-dairy conversion suggestions (I have not tried these yet, but I do keep this in my kitchen):

And just a little picture of a puppy to make your day a little more fun: