Thursday, September 26, 2013

chai tea for christmas baskets

I'm so excited about my Christmas baskets for family, friends, teachers, and co-workers this year!  They will be bursting with homemade goodness.  I won't ruin all the surprises for everyone, but I decided to get to work today on the one that would keep the longest:  chai tea concentrate.

I started making this last year based on a recipe from The Elliott Homestead.  It has been a delicious way for all of us to drink more raw milk, as you end up diluting the concentrate 1:1 with milk or water.  I wanted to be able to share the goodness with all my loved ones, but the recipe is perishable . . . But then I had the bright idea to process the jars and can the chai tea concentrate!  Then it would be shelf-stable!  The heavens opened and poured forth showers of happiness.  Okay, it wasn't that big of a deal.  But I was pretty pleased with myself.  Like baby Todd when he scoots himself forward like a walrus.

Here's how I did it.

First, the chai recipe.  I made a super-big batch, since I was going to can 20 pints of it.  If you want a more reasonably sized batch to keep in your fridge, cut all these amounts by a third.

Chai Tea Concentrate
18 cinnamon sticks
60 allspice berries
15 cardamom pods
45 cloves
75 black peppercorns
2 T dried ginger
3/4 t freshly grated nutmeg
1 C plus 2 T loose rooibos tea
3 T vanilla
3/4 C sugar (feel free to sub sucanat or honey)

Gather all your spices.  Put the allspice, cardamom, cloves and peppercorns into a plastic bag and beat the smithereens out of it with a rolling pin.

It will look like this after you're done:

Take all your ingredients minus the vanilla and sugar, and mix with 18 cups water in a large stockpot.  Bring it to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 20 minutes.  Then, strain it all into a clean bowl.

While you're waiting for your tea to steep, it's a good time to sterilize your jars for canning.  The thing that has always deterred me from canning before is the idea of a steam-bath in my kitchen.  It just sounds unappetizing during the warmer months.  Then, I discovered a new method:  oven canning!  Brilliant!  Here's how you do it:

Turn your oven to 250.  Place your jars, lids, bands, and equipment on sheet pans and place in the hot oven for at least 15 minutes.

Once they have sterilized for 15 minutes, remove from heat.  By now you will have strained your chai concentrate.  Using a sterilized cup or ladle and funnel, fill the jars with the concentrate, leaving about 1 inch of head space.  Then put on the lids and bands.  Put the filled and topped jars back into the 250 oven for at least 15 more minutes.  Then pull them out and let them cool to room temperature.  Check them and make sure they sealed once they are cool - try to indent the top of the jar.  If it won't budge, it's good to go!

Since these are going into Christmas baskets, I went ahead and printed up tags with ingredients and instructions, and tied them on with some pretty ribbon.  Yay!  Last year I slacked on Christmas big-time.  This year is going to be the year . . . I can just feel it!

Note:  apparently oven canning is super-controversial.  Old-old school canners (like your great grandmother) did it, but apparently the USDA says it's not safe to prevent botulism.  I do some other stuff the USDA doesn't like, so maybe I'm not the best test subject.  All that to say . . . enter at your own risk please!  This recipe would be super-easy to do a standard hot-water bath canning,

[This post submitted to the Homestead Barn Hop 9/29/14 and Pennywise Platter 10/2/14.]

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

takeout at home

We are Asian takeout junkies.  Or eat-in.  Or whatever.  My philosophy is that if I'm going to spend money and energy to go out to eat, I want something that I can't make at home.  Asian food (Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Korean, Vietnamese), with its many special ingredients and equipment, usually fits the bill.  We are lucky to live in a place that has phenomenal options for all Asian cuisine nearby. 

But sometimes you just want fried rice, and you don't want to pay a markup for it.  As I've been working to streamline my kitchen experiences (hello, toddler and newborn!), fried rice has been a regular on our weekly menu.  Vicki really likes it, too.

After making my favorite stirfry the other night, I had leftover basmati rice, steamed perfectly by the appliance from heaven - the rice cooker.  (Sidenote:  all rice is not created equal!  I used to just buy the cheapest one, thinking it was all the same.  Basmati costs a little more, but it cooks up fluffy and delectable every time.)  I decided to go after shrimp fried rice.  I almost always have shrimp and peas in the freezer, and carrots, eggs, soy sauce, rice vinegar, and sesame oil in the fridge.  So this is also a perfect "pantry" kind of meal.

This recipe uses coconut oil for frying.  I'm always trying to work more coconut oil into my body, whether it's through deodorant, using it to moisturize my face, or in cooking.  It's such a healthy fat!

Okay, here's what you need.  As with all stir-frys, have everything you need ready to go and close at hand, because it goes fast:

Shrimp Fried Rice
2 C leftover steamed rice (very important that it's leftover, refrigerated overnight - you can't make fresh rice for this because it will be too gummy)
1 egg, beaten
2 T coconut oil (you may need more during the frying process)
4 oz frozen raw shrimp, thawed and peeled
1/4 C frozen peas
1/4 C diced carrots
1/4 C soy sauce
2 T rice vinegar
2 T dark sesame oil

Whisk together the soy sauce, vinegar, and sesame oil in a bowl and set aside. 

Place 1 T coconut oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  When it smokes add the egg and fry quickly.  Once it is done, remove to a cutting board and let cool.  Put the remaining coconut oil into the skillet and add the carrots and peas.  Stir and cook for 2-3 minutes.  Add the shrimp and stir and cook for another 2-3 minutes, until they start to pink up.  If it sticks, add more oil.  Add the rice into the pan.  Continue stirring for another couple minutes.  Add the soy sauce, vinegar, and sesame oil.  Stir until all of the liquid has evaporated.  Add the egg back into the fried rice.  Serve right away!  Serves 2.

You could add any meat into this that you wanted - thinly sliced chicken, beef, or pork.  Just quickly fry it over high heat before you get started, and then add it in at the end of cooking.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

king's daughters

When Jeff decided to enter rehab at the end of April, I was faced with an immediate dilemma.  He had been a full-time caretaker for our daughter, and she needed somewhere to spend her days while I was at work!  If only baby Todd had been more considerate of our schedule, I could have kept them both during my maternity leave (okay, that actually sounds like a nightmare, but I know that lots of moms do it!).  However, he still had a month more to cook, unbeknownst to me at the time!

She came with me to work for a week or two.  You know what is exhausting for a 38-week-pregnant lady? Trying to keep your toddler from misbehaving at work while simultaneously getting any work done.  So when Jeff's grandmother (our beloved Memaw) called and said a spot had opened up at King's Daughters and offered it to Vicki Jo, I rejoiced to the heavens.

Let me explain a little bit.  King's Daughters Day Home is a non-profit preschool started in 1965 to serve low-income families in Madison, TN.  (This is the northern suburb of Nashville where my church is and Memaw lives.)  The International Order of The King's Daughters and Sons is a religious philanthropic organization that I'd never heard of before meeting Memaw.  Their goal is to "lend a hand in service."  Um, yeah.  I think you could say they have done this for our family!

Memaw is a King's Daughter.  She has been one for a long time.  She works very part-time at the Day Home as part of their development team (sidenote:  the woman is 83 and still works because she wants to!).  The Day Home is not just any preschool.  Every person that works there has a college degree - most of them in early education and development.  Some of them have or are working on advanced degrees.  They care deeply about the education and emotional well-being of their small charges.  And it shows.  They make an effort to learn about each home environment (some of which are very troubled).  They incorporate elements of Montessori and Reggio education into their lesson plans, which are posted on the wall near the student folders for all to see.

They offer superb education for young people at a marginal, sliding-scale cost based on income.  They get lots of grants and are always actively seeking donations.  They accept children starting at age 2 1/2 and potty-trained.

But Vicki Jo was neither of these things.  She had just turned two on April 2, and was just beginning to tell us when she needed to use her potty.  They took her anyway, mostly because of Memaw.  And they knew that our situation was pretty pressing.

It has been one of the best things that has happened to our family.  They took Vicki in and basically potty trained her for me.  She is now totally dry during the day.  She is learning so much.  She tells me every day about new language and math skills she is picking up.  I hear daily about each of her friends in class - Jorge and King and Ciara and Autumn and Micah - and her teachers, Ms. Jasmine and Ms. Sonya.

Vicki has a hard time going to school in the morning.  She still cries a little when I drop her off.  But they tell me that she is fine after a minute or two.  And when I come to get her in the afternoon, she is playing joyfully, and has all the adults wrapped around her finger.  I cannot wait until they open their Infant-Toddler Center next spring, and Todd gets a chance to be at King's Daughters too!

Friday, September 13, 2013

this really happened

Just driving down Gallatin Pike, with my tiny dog in a crate on my crotch rocket, NBD, ya know . . .

Friday, September 6, 2013

mother's milk tea

I really discovered the power of herbs during my pregnancy.  Daily, I drank a strong tea of nettles and red raspberry leaf, sometimes with alfalfa added.  I believe that it helped keep my water weight down and gave me tons of nourishing minerals and vitamins to have a healthy, big baby.  The red raspberry leaf helped my uterus to be extremely strong and effective once labor finally began, and enabled me to have a very short one!

I had trouble producing enough milk for the entire time I nursed Vicki.  I ended up taking a drug called domperidone, which has a side effect of increasing lactation.  I decided to have domperidone ready again for when Todd was born, but I also wanted to see what kinds of herbs might help me.  I researched bagged mother's milk tea blends and figured out how to make my own.  Then you get the full power of beneficial herbs without the price tag that comes along with pre-bagged tea.  I also used two books that were extremely helpful in discerning how much of each herb to use:  The Breastfeeding Mother's Guide to Make More Milk, and the Nursing Mother's Herbal

Here are the herbs and seeds I've ended up including:

Alfalfa:  this leaf is very nutritious and provides a boost to your milk-making prolactin receptors.

Nettles:  are also packed with vitamins and minerals, giving more milk by making sure your essential nutrients are covered.

Blessed Thistle:  known for lifting depression and postpartum gloom, in addition to increasing milk supply.  

Dandelion Leaf:  supports the liver, helps you shed excess fluid, and makes your milk richer.  

Fennel Seed:  aids in the letdown reflex, making your milk more accessible.  I have particularly noticed this as compared to my last nursing experience with Vicki.  I let down more quickly and more often.  

Fenugreek Seed:  Dr. Jack Newman, the renowned breastfeeding expert, is a big fan of this one to increase milk production.  

Goat's Rue:  this is one of the only herbs actually known to increase mammary tissue - so it doesn't just help increase how much milk your glands are already making.  It actually helps make more glands!  That is why I add a larger proportion of this herb to my mix.

I mix up my own blend in these proportions:  2 parts nettle to one part each alfalfa, blessed thistle, dandelion leaf, fennel seed and fenugreek seed.  For my "parts," I use 1/4 cup measure.  I put it all in a big mason jar and keep it out on the counter.  I add the goat's rue separately to each batch of brewed tea I make.

Every night, I prepare my quart jar of tea for the next day.  I add 1/4 C of the first six mixed herbs from the jar above, as well as 2 T of goat's rue, to a quart-size mason jar.  I pour boiling water up to the top of the jar.  The next morning, I strain and funnel it into another jar and top it off with more water.  I sip it all day.  Just like with my pregnancy tea, I've found that plain water is very unappetizing to me now.  My body wants my herbs!  And I am making more milk.  Still not enough for all that Todd needs, but more than last time!

[This post is part of Fight Back Friday 9/20/13.]

tattoo baby

Like father, like daughter . . . she loves getting "tattoos" from her Uncle Matt (a family friend who is a tattoo artist).