When a treasure box is waiting on your doorstep

Text this afternoon from me: Is there a box on the doorstep?

Daughter: Ya. it’s huuuuuuuuuuuge.img_4351

I had checked the package tracking earlier today and was eager to get home to my first Harvestbox. I dug through the thick packaging and past the dry ice (pro tip: they are not kidding when they tell you not to touch that stuff, so watch where you grab the bag).

The package comes with a friendly greeting, plus info on defrosting, the farm where my poultry was raised out under the sky, and directions for returning the packaging if I want.img_4353

I had been wanting some boneless cuts of pastured chicken for a long time, partly because of family preference and partly because they are easy to use in our favorite recipes. At my farmers’ market, there was delicious chicken of the whole, half, or quarter variety, but no boneless cuts. I had been unable to find pastured boneless cuts at the stores I usually use. This bundle is a mix of boneless and bone-in cuts.

Almost all of these went straight into the chest freezer in the basement, but I’m looking forward to cooking some tomorrow. I love how they are bagged by type of cut, and Harvestbox sends a note with a magnet so you can keep track of how much you’ve used. They also sell grass-fed beef and free-range pork although I plan to keep buying those from the farmers’ market. There was room in the box for one bonus pack, so I did buy some grass-fed bacon because more bacon = always better.

This is not a sponsored post; in fact, Harvestbox knows nothing about it (surprise! you hoo, over here;)

I’ll be using this chicken in my meal planning with Plan to Eat, the very useful recipe-storing, list-making, and meal planning website. If you’d like to try Plan to Eat, please use my referral code for a free trial; if you decide to sign up for a paid plan after the trial, I will get a small commission.

 

A trip to Tolt Yarn and Wool

On a recent visit to western Washington state, I not only connected with family but also with all three of my blog’s topics by way of delicious homemade Dungeness crab sandwiches, two visits to a farm-to-table restaurant, many glimpses of a gardening season ahead of ours, and a visit to Tolt Yarn and Wool.

I’ve tended to be in Washington when the weather is very pleasant, so sometimes I look at the place with rose-colored glasses. Plus I was on vacation, right? When it comes to Tolt, though, I know its fabulousness is the real deal. I first heard about the shop on the Woolful podcast but had dismissed the idea of going there on this trip because of time constraints. My sister-in-law however has hoping to see the trunk show which Tolt was hosting and suggested a quick Sunday afternoon jaunt. I couldn’t say yes fast enough!

We had a 30-minute scenic drive from her home in a Seattle suburb to the town of Carnation. Tolt has spacious premises in Carnation’s downtown. You will find plenty of yarn, books, and notions to choose from, plus fiber for spinning or feltmaking. They also have room for crafting together and classes. I look forward to discovering more treasures on a future visit. 

Of course, I had brought some knitting with me (I made a hat on the train on the way out and had enough yarn for another, hats being excellent travel projects), but I knew when I walked into the shop where I was going to spend my souvenir money. 

I looked particularly at yarns that were from the Pacific Northwest and chose Snoqualmie, an organic Blue-faced Leicester and Clun Forest wool DK yarn. I really liked the store sample of the Cherry Creek Shawl, and just like at Costco, samples sell. So I bought three skeins of Snoqualmie in light blue (indigo-dyed, be still my heart), the pattern booklet (print copy includes a code for PDF download from Ravelry), and needles. You are probably thinking I already own the right needles…but they were in Wisconsin. I left the shop thinking that even though we’d just arrived, I win at vacation.


What’s happening in the food and gardening department? Well, April kicks my backside every year by making me extremely busy in every area of life, which is why a vacation by train was such a treat. I was able to do some garden prep work when it was mild in March and early April. My kale came back from last year on its own, and the berry bushes and cherry tree are doing great without any attention. The farmers’ market started in mid-April, so fresh greens are back on the menu. May will be a good time for a spring garden progress post!

Plan(ning) to Eat and liking it

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What a difference a month makes! I am busily and happily meal planning again.

Last month, I reviewed some of the many options and was going to write my meal plan old school in my bullet journal. I did that for a while, still feeling not very inspired to try new things and keep my shopping list in any kind of useful order.

More Internet research led me to Plan to Eat (affiliate link) and its free 30-day trial. I am really liking this recipe storage, meal planning, and shopping list tool. Plan to Eat lets you use the recipes you choose from online sources or your cookbooks. When you add a recipe from a blog to your “recipe book,” the blog name is prominently displayed on the recipe view with a link back to the original page. The recipes showing on the left above are from the Plan to Eat blog.

You can choose to manually add your favorite recipes from print sources, or do what I did: enter the ingredients and amounts, and in the direction section, refer back by cookbook name and page number. I’ll just add others as the time comes to cook them. I also added Leftovers, DIY Tacos, and Scrambled Eggs with no directions. I can mark entrees as “in freezer” if prepared ahead and frozen or I made a double batch.

So far I’m planning our suppers and some baking but have the option to do all three meals plus snacks daily. The notes section is very useful to remind me to thaw things!

I switched to a paid version about halfway through my 30-day trial and signed up for the affiliate program (if anyone starts a free trial through my link later signs up for a paid version, I receive a commission). An annual plan is $39, and monthly plans are $4.95.

It’s easy to drag your recipe selections onto the calendar and move them around. I have mine set up to sync with my Google calendar which in turn shows up on my phone’s calendar app, but I also set up a shortcut to the Plan to Eat mobile site on my phone’s home screen.

The automatic making of shopping lists is a favorite feature of mine. Because it’s web-based and works on mobile, you can use it on any smartphone, tablet, or computer. If you are in an area where you don’t get cell reception, you can download your shopping list before you go.

You can keep a standard list of staples so you don’t forget toilet paper or cat food, and even make separate lists for different stores if that’s how your brain works. Once you have the list, you can check off items you already have so you can reduce spending and food waste. That’s also when I think about substituting for something in freezer or pantry and make a note. Good thing, since I am behind on my January goal of emptying freezer and cupboards. I’ve changed it to having the freezer and cupboards empty by farmers’ market time, so I have a few more weeks!

Stuck in the meal planning rut: when you don’t follow your own advice

fullsizeoutput_1669.jpegIn January, I started my third year of a cooking challenge to work my way through the food in the freezer and cupboards. I’m still at it because I am in a meal planning rut. Think of it as the home cook’s version of writer’s block. Just like words, the ingredients are all around but not coming together in any sort of satisfying way.

Visiting with my sister over the weekend, I quizzed her about her subscription to Plated. I was really intrigued, but with so many stores in town that will deliver my groceries and a fair amount of food already in my house, I probably don’t need a service that delivers the ingredients with the meal plan.

I had a subscription a few years back to The Fresh 20 which got me out of a previous meal planning black hole, and later I used a simple DIY method. Too bad I don’t stick with my own advice.

I surfed the web and found there are even more meal planning service options now. The Fresh 20 (no affiliation, just a happy former customer) still would be my favorite; it’s closest to my cooking style, uses unprocessed food prepared in a way that reduces waste, and isn’t overly complicated. Your mileage may vary. Happily many services will give you a free sample week, which is a great way to try out several and see which one works best for you.

100 Days of Real Food has some meal planning resourcesWisconsin Whisk bloggers have an impressive recipe output that can help me get unstuck. Hip Foodie Mom posts healthy meal plans on her blog. The Leek and The Carrot is thinking meal planning lately too! I’m saving online recipes in my Evernote account, and I have some cookbooks specifically to help with meal planning.

I guess I’ve come to rely on the garden and farmers’ market for inspiration, but in February, those seem like a daydream. I’d love to hear what meal planning tips or services have worked for you. I am going to put my meal plan in my bullet journal – but don’t google that or you’ll fall down a rabbit hole of fancy pages. My meal plan will be full of scribbles, arrows, and if I break out of my rut, crumbs and food stains.

The light and the dark

IMG_4074.JPGThe first time I got interested in making yarn was in my tween years. I was already doing some crocheting and knitting when my family adopted a Samoyed puppy from the local shelter. Some months after, I saw a newspaper article about a woman who was spinning her Samoyed’s fluffy undercoat into very warm yarn. This may sound strange if you are a fiber arts muggle, but many animals adapted to harsh climates have very warm fiber undercoats that can be combed out or gathered in some way. IMG_0297Think of those musk ox I am so enamored with, but also bison, yak, and a dog breed from Siberia. The article promised the Samoyed fiber would not have that “doggy” smell even when wet. I made a very basic spindle and consulted a spinning book. I had exactly zero luck teaching myself to spin our dog’s hair, probably to the relief of everyone around me who thought it was just a bit too weird. I put the book and spindle away, and that was that.

Until the late 1990’s anyway. I don’t recall what, if anything, in particular made me suddenly interested in spinning. I had my job, home life, and some engrossing hobbies (horseback riding, cooking, knitting) so it wasn’t like I needed something to do. Maybe it was my enjoyment of knitting with wool. One day I found myself at a local shop buying a spinning magazine. I did some reading, played around with a homemade spindle again, and eventually got myself a “learn to spin” kit with two colors of wool fiber and a hand spindle.

After more trial and error, I made a lumpy but continuous strand of yarn, and I felt like I could do magic. I went to a workshop on using hand spindles, and that helped so much! More spindles, a wheel, lots of spinning books, and a few wheel spinning workshops followed over the next years. I’ve never had a lot of time to devote to it but treasured it all the same.

Spinning takes my mind to a peaceful and quiet place. I won’t say that it’s meditative because I’m not trying to clear my mind. Maybe stilling or freeing are better words. It’s handwork that lets the mind go, allows effortless reflection, and sometimes leads to surprising understanding. For me, that’s as great as making yarn from scratch. It’s probably why years later, I have yet to follow yarn recipes and instead dabble in different techniques and mostly make come-as-you-are yarn.

Almost seven years ago, we lost a close family member. Shortly after learning illness would take our special person, I remember having the fleeting thought as I walked past my spinning wheel that I would really need inner stillness in the months to come. But instead my spinning left me.

I would see my wheel in the corner of my bedroom and think that I could get up in the night and soothe myself enough to sleep. But in 8 months or so of terrible sleeping, I never once did. Maybe I had no energy to move from my bed, so very tired in every way.

Mostly though, I think I was afraid to be too still, to open myself to whatever feelings would be waiting in that inner quiet. If I didn’t go there, maybe the messiness of adjusting to my new day-to-day would shield me from some of my pain. I kept knitting and discovered my bereaved brain couldn’t grasp complex patterns. When I commented on this perceived failing to friend and knitter/dyer Jaala, she gently pointed out that I didn’t need to be challenged in all areas of my life at the same time.

Good point. I rediscovered the simple pleasure of knitting square and rectangular things like scarves and dishcloths. When I felt like I couldn’t do anything else, I looked at pictures in fiber arts books and magazines over and over. I read a lot more than I had for years: cookbooks, garden books, Jane Austen, Harry Potter, science, science fiction, historical fiction.

I tried to spark my interest by selling my wheel and buying a different type. It still mostly gathered dust. I sold that wheel and tried to just stick with spindles; that might have worked if I’d understood then why my spinning had left. Eventually I bought another wheel that I love. By that point, I had figured out that I wasn’t having an equipment problem.

My dear friend Alene, who knows me very well, never seemed to lose the faith: she kept me supplied with a steady stream of spinning fiber at birthdays and Christmas, usually mixed in with things related to food, Doctor Who, or both. After a very long time, I found myself spinning occasionally. I moved my wheel and kate back upstairs, unearthed my spindles, and bought some fiber. Healing comes so very slowly and with the help of so many, but I let it come. With it, to my very great surprise, came my spinning.IMG_1043

Chex mix and podcasts: fuel for a creative holiday season 

 Snow is falling again right now, and I’m grateful for a chance to regroup and recharge indoors after a busy summer and fall. For starters, homemade Chex mix is WAY better than store-bought, especially if made from this recipe and using Cheez-its Duos (sharp cheddar and parmesan mixed together) for the cheesy crackers. Annie’s Organic Worcestershire Sauce is vegan, so my vegetarian family member dug right in too.

For company on your snowy commute or as you busily prepare holiday treats or even just do your housecleaning, may I suggest some podcasts? They spice up even ordinary activities and give listeners all kinds of creative ideas. I listen on my phone using the Downcast app, but you can listen straight from your browser too. Here are a few of my current favorites:

The Feed with hosts Rick Bayless and Steve Dolinsky

5 Minutes on the Farm, a local food podcast featuring a different southern Wisconsin food producer each week (monthly over the winter)

Prairie Girls Knit & Spin. “May your drafting be consistent and your gauge never lie.” If only.

Woolful, interviews from the fiber world

The SweetGeorgia Show, color, craft, and creativity

and always, Science Friday! Because science. Love it.

I’d love to hear what your favorites are. Please share them in the comments.

How spelt flour changed my baking life

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I’ve tried whole-grain recipes for baking from time to time with mixed results. Substituting whole wheat for half the all-purpose flour worked in a lot of recipes. For quick breads, I often did well substituting whole wheat for all the all-purpose if I added in a little extra liquid. Sometimes I had tried whole wheat pastry flour, sometimes white whole wheat, sometimes “regular” whole wheat.

Sandwich breads calling for some or all whole-wheat flour often tasted too strong to our family or had a not-great texture. If I limited the substitution to no more than one-third of the recipe, then it worked much better. Oat flour worked in that way too (it’s not hard to make your own oat flour out of rolled oats if you have a food processor) and made me wonder about other non-wheat whole grain flours.

Last winter I saw a recipe for spelt pizza dough on the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day blog. I love their pizza and flatbread cookbook but had somehow missed that recipe. I bought a small bag of spelt flour to try it out. It was a hit with the whole family; we find the spelt mild-flavored and delicious without being overpowering.

From there, I moved on to the whole wheat biscuits from 100 Days of Real Food, but substituted spelt flour for all the whole wheat. Yum, and the kids gobbled them up too. I went to my beloved New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day cookbook and used spelt instead of whole wheat in the 100% Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread: another winner! If you are looking to add some whole grain into your baking, give spelt flour a try.

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