Life on the inside. I've been sentenced 18 years to life and The Wardens are doing their best to drive me even crazier.

Archive for the month “November, 2013”

The Scientist – When in Doubt, Follow the Recipe

The next person I want to introduce is The Scientist, aka: my mom. My mom will tell anyone that asks that she cannot cook. She knows one recipe, roast beef, which is delicious by the way. But outside that juicy hunk of meat, nada, nothing, zilch, nope! So just how did she inspire me in the kitchen? Simply put, she bakes. Where cooking needs creativity and inspiration, baking is a science. She follows recipes to the letter and nails them every time. She’s the best recipe hunter I know and she can bake anything to perfection. 

Once upon a time, not too long ago, I was awful at cooking. No, I’m serious, ask my family members. It’s true! I have creativity to spare but I lacked knowledge. I lacked efficiency. You can’t simply start throwing things together without any concept of what it might turn out to be. I was working without a foundation. Finally, I started to listen to what my mom was trying to tell me for ages: to follow recipes, learn the chemistry behind baking, learn the subtle differences in how they work together and how those differences change the outcome. Bread, for example, is almost always the same 3-4 ingredients: flour, water, salt, and yeast. But the different quatities, times, and preperations can change the outcome into so many different loaves! Finally, I started paying attention to recipes, or if I had something in mind, I searched for the commonalities in similar recipes until I had a fine idea of what to do. I started building my foundation of knowledge and in no time, my cooking and baking got better!
Now, I still experiment, and it drives The Scientist crazy, because it goes against her very nature of following the rules. But that’s okay, now I know to write things down, take notes of what does and does not work (when I remember to!) and to gather information before diving in. You don’t have to follow the recipe exactly, but it never hurts to be a little educated before you experiment.

Some of the most enjoyable moments are when we are baking together, something we try to do at least once when I go to visit her, The Guru, and The Commune. We sit together and argue recipe versus intuition and eventually arrive somewhere in the middle… and it always works out! Most recently, we embarked on some sugar/shortbread cookies inspired by Panera Bread’s flower cookies with lemon icing. We didn’t get it quite right, but we got close and they tasted good!

My mom, The Scientist, taught me how to find and trust reliable recipies. She showed me how to hunt down the good ones and what certain terms meant. She has helped me become the kitchen mom I am today and has stood behind me in my movement into more real foods from sources that I trust. She really doesn’t think so, but she played a big role in how I prepare foods in my kitchen. Not to mention the love of baked goods she sparked in me! She DOES, however, know that she’s the source of my bread obsession! And that she’s reason I feel like I need to bake something at least once a week or else I feel unbalanced.

She’s an inspirational woman, in many areas of her life, and I’m proud to call her my mom. Very Proud.

The Guru – Love Each Ingredient and Never be Afraid to Experiment

For the first introduction in this mini-series, I’d like you to meet The Guru- aka, my step dad. It just so happened that his birthday was last week, so he will be first.

The Guru married my mom several years ago and she will freely admit that he’s the best thing that happened to her life (since I was born of course, not that I have an ego or anything…) and he happens to be one of the best things in my life as well. Often times, people mistake us for biological father and daughter because I am very much like him in many ways, and one of those ways is with food. He has helped me grow in my love of cooking simply by loving it himself and being willing to answer any (and I mean any) questions I may have about food. He knows a lot about obscure ingredients and how to use them so when I have an odd question or see an ingredient I don’t understand, he’s my lifeline.
The Guru got his name from first, his personality and because he likes the word “guru”, but secondly because he seems to have a sense about cooking. When we visit my parents, he usually makes all of the meals and when he does, you can watch him prep each ingredient with care. Carrots are peeled and chopped, dried herbs in large, exotic-looking bags are measured and sprinkled, garlic is crushed, meat is trimmed, bones are saved for stock and peelings are composted. He truly strives to waste no piece and I try to do the same.
The Guru taught me some very important lessons for the kitchen. First, love each ingredient. This means that you try and cook starting with the most basic form of each ingredient and work your way up. You buy your ingredients with care, store them with attention, and use them where they will be noticed. He keeps many things minimal so that the individual flavors can shine through. His meals even rival most restaurants I’ve tried, by a long shot!
Second, he taught me to never be afraid to experiment with flavor. Whether in the kitchen while preparing, or out at a restaurant. Never be afraid to try something new. The worst case scenario would be that I didn’t like it and he would finish it for me anyway. Often, he will look at a recipe, read it over, get an idea of what he wants, and then he will just use instinct. This actually drives my mom crazy because if she ends up liking the recipe a lot, sometimes he can’t recreate it because he doesn’t know the exact measurements that he used. It can get quite comical, really.

So, The Guru is kind of a free spirit in the kitchen, which is also funny because his outward attitude is a very convincing cover of someone that is the exact opposite of a “free spirit”. Don’t let it fool you. He’s really quite fun and interesting to be around, and if you ever doubt the colors you just thought you saw behind his eyes, just try the stew. You’ll never doubt them again.

Who Inspired My Love of Food?


I am introducing a new mini-series of posts this week! Yay!
It’s no secret that I love to bake and cook, that I love food and foodie experiences, and that even when I am sick, I turn to my kitchen to feel better. However, something that few of you know, is where I gained this love and who inspired and fostered it within me.

Therefore, I will introduce three rules of cooking that I derived from the people in my life that had the biggests hands in my love of food!

The three rules are:

From The Traditionalist:
1) Always have enough. And if you aren’t sure how much you will need, then make more than enough.

From The Scientist:
2) When in doubt, follow the recipe. And if you don’t have a recipe, turn to the internet.

From The Guru:
3) Love each ingredient, don’t be afraid of something new, and experiement with it.

These are the three most important concepts in my kitchen, and even if they may seem slightly contradictory, it’s only because they come from three distinct individuals, who all approach cooking in a different way. 

The next few posts will feature each rule and the person they were inspired by. I will tell you a little background story for them and an experience we shared in the kichen that might have been a defining moment for me. I hope you enjoy this little series as much as I will enjoy writing it!

In the meantime, any guesses on who they are? Leave a comment below with who you think they might be!

Saving Money and Stress – Homemade Cleaners

Here’s a post I’ve intended to do for a long time now and simply forgot. Often, I get asked about how we manage to save so much money on our monthly living expenses and one of the simple answers is on household cleaners. One of the reasons we switched was for cost effectiveness, but it’s come with added benefits such as not worrying about chemicals in my home and having a use for things that would have otherwise found their way to the trash can.

I have multiple recipes I follow for different purposes but for now I’ll stick to my all purpose cleaner. It’s my favorite and I use it for just about everything (except glass, it does NOT work on glass haha). When I say just about everything, I mean it. I’ll tell you one of my favorite stories here about how my natural cleaner is the lazy mom’s best friend:

It was left over spaghetti day in my house and Row had decided to try and wear some of it as a mustache. So as I am cleaning off his high chair, I take one look at him, decide it’s too big of a job for baby wipes, and simply sprayed some of my cleaner onto a paper towel and wiped his face off with it. The red blotchy stains on his skin and the sticky noodles came right off and I never even blinked at the thought of using a cleaner on his fair skin. The cleaner was made from organic ingredients that were present in a lot of his diet, I knew it wouldn’t hurt him.


I posted this story on my facebook page a while back and a friend of mine said she was so inspired that she immediately switched to homemade cleaners! She said that the fact that I wasn’t afraid for it to touch my son, and that she had recently caught her own baby on the verge of spraying himself with a bottle of bleach cleaner, made her a believer.


Sadly, I am not home to take pictures of the process but there’s not much to show anyway, so it’s not that vital. I make two versions of this cleaner throughout the year, depending on the season. The two types are a basil cleaner and a citrus cleaner. They both have antibacterial properties and will clean like nobody’s business. I could go into detail about the differences in each one, but honestly I just change for the smell and abundance of ingredients. The variations aren’t all that noticeable anyway.


Cleaner 1: Citrus

In the summer and warmer months, my kids and I eat a lot of oranges and I like to make lemonade, so the citrus cleaner is used a lot in that time. When we eat the oranges, or make lemonade, I save the peels (and any rind/pulp/seeds that don’t get used) and put them in mason jars, cover with vinegar, and let them soak for at least two weeks, or up to a month. After they’re done soaking, i strain the citrus vinegar out of the jars, directly into my spray bottle, and then dilute with water. I usually guess at the amounts but it’s always about a 1/3 solution and 2/3 water ratio. I just give it a little shake in the bottle and I’m good to go! If a stain is really hard stuck, i sprinkle a little baking soda on it and spray with this cleaner, the acid activates the baking soda and that usually lifts it right off, even if it needs a little scrubbing.


Cleaner 2: Basil

The basil cleaner isn’t always as good on the tough stuff, there’s just something about that citrus that really eats at it. However, it still gets most of the grease and sticky spills up thanks to the vinegar. The vinegar is the main cleaning component in both of these recipes, with the differences being boosts of separate sorts. In this solution, I take about 3 cups of water and a handful of fresh basil leaves, and boil it for about a minute, turn off the heat, and let them steep until the water is cool. Then I scoop out the leaves, pour into my spray bottle, add about 1 cup of vinegar, and then fill with water the rest of the way.


Variations on both cleaners that I love include adding some essential oils to change the scent, or adding 1/2 cup of witch hazel to increase the antibacterial and antiviral capabilities, especially during flu season. All of this is completely safe around children! (Unless you decide to use peppermint oil, which can be a skin and eye irritant.)


So if you are like me and get a little lazy with the messy monsters around and don’t want to have to switch cleaners for every little mess, or have to spend money on all kinds of different cleaners for every surface, then try these homemade cleaners! They will save your wallet and your sanity all in one sweep, and they don’t smell half bad either!

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