Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Pumpkin Pleasures!

Wow! It's been a while! I have been so busy, my blog has taken the back burner lately. I know, everybody is busy, all the time. Ever notice that when you ask someone how they're doing they respond with "so busy" instead of "fine thanks"? Sometimes you get an "ugh, so tired" and I know, because this is the answer that tends to come to the tip of my tongue before I realize that I don't have the energy to answer "so tired" because that would involve a big long qualifying explanation. "So busy" on the other hand is perfectly acceptable. Chances are, if you're busy, you're also tired. This was me last spring, always going, never stopping... Until I got pneumonia and it knocked me off my feet. Took weeks to recover and now with Winter approaching I know I am at risk of getting it again.

I started seeing a Naturopath at the beginning of Summer and he recommended I decrease my dairy and refined sugar intake. Ack! No way did I think it would be possible for me to cut out my beloved cheese (with crackers, often a meal in itself) & ice cream (oh how I love thee, ultimate comfort food). Refined sugar I thought would be difficult in baking, but I am allowed honey, maple syrup, brown rice syrup and probably agave too (but I have questions about it so more on that another time). I swapped out my cow milk for rice milk lattes, sweetened with maple syrup instead of sugar. Discovered honey does work well in coffee not just tea. I found delicious coconut ice cream in the Natural Food store - because I don't always have time to make it. I ate natural black licorice to fight off mid-afternoon sugar cravings and wouldn't you know it, those cravings are gone! I did notice an increase in my salt cravings but that was temporary. Then, somewhere around the 10 week mark, something happened ...

I felt zen.

You know that feeling of being balanced? I was there. I had never felt like that. The crazy energy in my head that keeps telling my body to go go go, don't sit, get up, get it done... That crazy energy? Calm. Not gone, just tamed. And my body, the one that keeps telling my brain to slow down cause it needs a rest, it just goes now, all day but at a more even pace.

So what does one do with more energy? Why, one plans ahead for those busy times and gets cooking!! Now that I'm back in the office and the boys are back in school, I've turned to my trusted mom calendar for scheduling activities and preparing our meal plans. I've decided to try out 2-week period meal plans and see if that makes a difference and so far, so good! On the second week, my grocery shopping is done in one stop and I need to buy much less. I also save a lot of time by only going place. Here's what I made this weekend with that extra time: Pumpkin Spice Latte mix. Yup! That's right. Pumpkin Spice Latte mix. Now I know what you're thinking, can't you just get a PSL soy latte at your local coffee shop? Why yes, you could. Buy it's loaded with sugar and can you even really taste the pumpkin? Oh well I say! I will make my own!!

Here's how I ended up with this creation :)

Pumpkin Purée:

Choose 4 local/seasonal sugar (pie) pumpkins. Set oven to 400F. Slice pumpkins in half, scoop out seeds & goop, save seeds and compost goop. Place pumpkins face down on baking sheets and roast until soft. Probably 30 minutes but I actually wasn't paying attention, I was busy prepping for Monday night's dinner. Remove from oven, let cool. You'll probably notice the skin blistering. Scoop out flesh into a food processor and pulse until smooth. You should have a bit more than 7 cups of pumpkin purée. Divide into one cup servings, store in freezer for later use (pumpkin pie, pumpkin pancakes, pumpkin ice cream - with coconut milk - I'm feeling inspired!).

Pumpkin Spice Latte mix:

You should have about 1/4 cup of pumpkin leftover from the purée you just made. Place it in a small saucepan along with 2 cups rice milk (or whatever milk you drink) 2 Tbsp of maple syrup, 1 Tbsp cinnamon and a pinch of your other favourite spices: nutmeg, cardamom, ginger, allspice... Whisk over med-lo heat until dissolved, store in fridge. The next morning, you'll have to stir your mixture and place some in a pot to reheat for your latte. You might want to strain it into your mug, the spices tend to drop to the bottom of the mug but that's the only downside I guess with using real ingredients.

Oh! And those saved pumpkin seeds? Wash them, dry them, coat them in olive oil and salt and toast them in the oven at 250F for about an hour.

So there you have it: 7 cups of pumpkin purée, 3 Pumpkin Spice Lattes an a mid-afternoon crunch snack for $4 and about an hour in the kitchen. That, my friends, is planning and that my friends, is zen. Enjoy!!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Stock up for winter!

I know, I know, we've barely turned the calendar page on August and I'm posting about winter. Makes me cringe a little at the thought, but you have to start loading your freezer now if you want to enjoy local summer goodness all year round.

I picked up 5 of those 3L Ontario peach containers, they were $2 each! Family and friends came over and they all asked what I would possibly be doing with all the peaches! Well, as it turns out, Mac & Flip are peach-eating munchkins. They must have eaten an entire basket between the two of them. For the rest, I tried making fruit leather. They were tasty but I definitely need to tweak that recipe a bit. The rest, I poached, peeled, pitted and froze. I don't think I've ever had so many peaches in the freezer before. Can't wait to come up with something peachy on a snowy day!

Tonight for dinner we had chicken. We love chicken here and we eat a lot of it. I buy whole chickens when I can, they're very affordable and you get so much out of them. I love to rotisserie them on the BBQ, chop them in half and grill them butterflied or even break it into pieces. I'm starting to get the hang of that but I'm no master carver just yet. I tried poultry shears and giant kitchen knives but what works best is a very sharp poultry knife. If you're going to be breaking up chicken into pieces, invest in one of those.

You know what's also great about whole chickens? The carcass. I love making my own chicken stock and it's so easy! Here's my recipe:

Chicken carcass and other chicken bones (local)
One large handful of carrots, chopped in chunks (you don't have to peel them but I take off the tops)(local)
Celery stalks 2 or 3, chopped in chunks (local) *tip: don't be shy with the celery. I've tried making stocks without it, it's so much better with it!
Two yellow onions, chopped in chunks (cut off the tops but leave on the outer peel) (local)
Salt, peppercorns (5 or 6) and bay leaves (2 or 3)

Place chicken carcass and bones in a large stock pot with carrots, celery and onions. Fill with cold water. Season with salt, add peppercorns and bay leaves. Bring pot to a boil, cover and simmer for a couple of hours. Remove the lid and let it reduce a bit. Let cool, strain and store in the freezer. I use plastic containers for the freezer. I have managed to crack my 1L Mason jars more times than I can count. I've tried refrigerating them first, freezing with cap off, tightening the cap after stock is frozen, they almost all cracked! So disappointed. If you have a tip please let me know.

This recipe will make anywhere from 24-30 cups of stock, depending on the size of your pot.

You can also make your stock in a crockpot overnight. It will make less but it's so convenient. A little word of caution though, the smell of warm chicken stock might wake you at 3 am :)