A Day in the Mountains

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Saturday, my hubby and I ran away for a much needed day in the mountains. It was our anniversary, so we got to go ALL BY OURSELVES! We usually spend a few weekends a summer up at Canaan Valley and Blackwater Falls in Tucker County, WV. But this year, we’ve been finishing up a major building project, so this is the first time we’d been up there all year! Sadness.

We LOVE the mountains. Even though we live in the Appalachians, there is something about that area, it’s magical misty days, amazing overlooks and slower pace of life that revives and soothes the soul.

Although we intended to take a hike that day, the rain returned. So plan B was visiting all the little shops we love and enjoying our favorite spots to eat.

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This is the waterfront in Thomas, WV. It’s full of little antique shops and cafes, but this is our favorite. It’s full of antique kitchen wares, furniture, war memorabilia, and lovely handmade jewelry. Hubby and the owner talk antiques while I pine away for the dishes.

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No trip to Canaan Valley would be complete without an incredible pizza from Sirianni’s. Pizza just like I like it. Thin, tender, fresh crust. Lots of tasty toppings and loads of gooey cheese. We ordered the Artery Clogger. Yep. Worth every bite! (Plus, I didn’t have to make it!)

There was more shopping and browsing in various stores and little artisan shops. But before we left, we both agreed it was time for coffee and chocolate. At first, we thought we’d try a new little place that specialized in coffee drinks and chocolate (how could we go wrong there?). We stepped in, but after a few minutes, an old favorite from down the street was calling to us.

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Cause you can’t leave that area without stopping in at the Purple Fiddle. An eclectic little café in an old hardware store. Great, simple, local foods and live music on the weekends. We shared a Chocolate Honey Torte with Candied Orange Slices. OH, MY. It was like my favorite dark chocolate candy bar with oranges and almond pieces.

A very good ending for a very good day trip.

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If you’re ever in the area, check out some of our favorite spots and let us know what you think!

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Taking Care of Mom–Eat What Fuels You

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The last few weeks, we’ve been talking about the importance of taking care of ourselves, for both our sake and our family’s. Check out the other posts in the series…Part 1, part 2, part 3.

Eat What Fuels You

I think we all know that a HUGE part of taking care of ourselves involves what we put in our mouths. We get that message coming and going from TV, magazines, doctors, even Facebook (and, you know, blogs like this one :)).

The problem is, you’ll be hard pressed to find more than a couple of these messages that actually say the same thing! Confusion and conflicting messages abound about what we’re supposed to be eating. “Fat is evil. No, it’s good. Stay away from carbs. Or better yet, go grain free. Unless you soak or sprout your grains, then they’re okay. Replace your sugar with unrefined sweeteners. Or sugar free substitutes. But those might give you cancer.” SERIOUSLY? No wonder we’re all a mess.

I’m not going to tell you what to eat. If you’ve read much here, you know I bake a lot of gluten free items. I also use a lot of honey and maple syrup and prefer unrefined, natural sweeteners as much as I can. We also eat a few grain free baked goods. But I’m not doing all of this to hop on some trendy food wagon. We have a few allergies and other health issues, and through much trial and error, these are the foods that work for us. Someday, that might change.

That’s the key phrase here…what works for us. And this is my challenge for all of us. Let’s stop following the newest diet or fad. Quit fearing the newest vilified food.

Let’s focus on whole, unprocessed foods as much as we can. Let’s listen to our bodies. It’s time to find out what fuels you–and eat it.

I’d encourage you to start paying attention to a few things…

  • Does your tummy rumble or gurgle after a meal? What did you eat that might have caused that? Because that usually signals that you’re have trouble digesting something.
  • Do you feel grumpy or have brain fog just a short while after you eat? This is often a sensitivity reaction to a food. Or it could be that you didn’t get enough protein, or ate too many refined carbs and your blood sugar is tanking.
  • Persistent rashes? Sinus drainage? Or any other allergy like symptoms may mean you need to try an elimination diet. Take out the possible culprits (dairy, gluten, nuts, eggs, etc.) for a few days and then introduce one at a time back into your diet and make note of how you feel.
  • Headaches, joint pain, low energy, mood swings…these can all easily be food related. Start paying attention.

For myself, I’ve noticed that if I eat too many store bought baked goods (with all the added dough conditioners and other unpronouncables) I see an increase in post nasal drip, headaches, and eczema. But if I bake that food myself (even if it contains wheat), I do much better. I also know that I have to watch my blood sugar (I had gestational diabetes with all my pregnancies–over achiever, I know) and eat a good balance of protein with my carbs. I tend to do better with a high protein diet and limit refined carbs altogether. I’m also sensitive to a lot of dairy and try to limit it to homemade yogurt and hard cheeses.

That means for me, most of my meals are going to include a good source of protein (often animal protein) a big pile of veggies and a little bit of grain or carbs. So if we have pasta, I’m going to want a meat sauce or some chicken stirred in to keep my blood sugar from going all wacky. I know that if I choose to have a morning of coffee and donuts (cause in real life, that does happen people :)), I’m probably going to have some serious brain fog and my blood sugar might crash a couple hours later–so keep a cheese stick or spoon of almond butter handy.

But that’s just me. You are most likely completely different. God made us all unique after all. And I know that even in my own family, food affects us all a bit differently.

To feel our best, care for our family, and flat out enjoy our day to day life more, we need to eat the food that gives our body what it needs, instead of making it work harder by eating foods that upset it.

So I encourage you to start paying attention to what your body is telling you. Think before you open your mouth. Maybe you’ll need to keep a food journal for a little while.

Find out what fuels you and find more energy, less aches and pains, a happier tummy and the strength you need to care for yourself and those most precious to you.

I’d love to hear from you. What foods make you feel your best? Have you noticed any of the symptoms or problems I mentioned? Please come back and let us know how it’s going!


17 years

Jonathan

This man. 17 years. All we’ve been though. Jobs, moving, starting over financially, life changing loss. Laughter, dreams, children, making a life together.

He’s still my best friend.

Our song. I swear it was written just for us. (Except I was actually nineteen when we got married. Shh…don’t tell my daughters.)

Greatest love story ever.


In Defense of Simple Food (and why Food Network doesn’t work in real life)

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Now before I alienate all the rabid Food Network lovers, hear me out. I, too, enjoy a good cooking show. I watch with rapt attention as Giada or Rachel Ray craft their meal. The wheels start turning and I begin to get some ideas of my own.

I’m a self confessed kitchen geek.  I love cooking a creative meal of complex flavors and textures. And if you’ve read this blog any at all, you know I’m passionate about real, whole food.

Where real life collides with the real food kitchen

But, just like you, I have many other hats to wear during a typical day. Wife, mom, homeschooler, worship leader, gardener, co-op teacher…tub scrubber. Somewhere in the middle of a meal of scratch made noodles, fresh tomato sauce and homemade bread, or a dinner that ends up with 6 different sides–real life is happening. This is where the idyllic gourmet meal meets the rest of my schedule. And this is what the generations of women who came before me already knew.

Yes, those women cooked real food meals from scratch, but they weren’t expected to have a DOZEN items made from scratch, everyday.

Are you tracking with me here? See, in my efforts to make as much of our food myself, to avoid preservatives and additives and allergens, I somehow started to think that we had to still have everything that the typical American family would have in their pantry, but all homemade by me. So instead of just making homemade bread every week, I felt like I should make bread and crackers and hamburger buns and pita bread and tortillas and English muffins and…Sheesh, I’m tired just looking at it. And that’s just the bread category!

And I think that I’m not alone here. I think that lots of incredibly well intentioned whole food cooks start out strong, trying to make a wide variety of healthy foods for their family. And then about a month or two into the whole thing they realize that the laundry is piling up, the dust bunnies are threatening to take over, the kids have run amuck and they don’t remember the last time they left the kitchen. They’re burnt out.

So they throw in the towel and declare that they just can’t cook from scratch and they fill the grocery cart with all the Ramen noodles they can find.

The Case for Real, Simple Food

But what if we changed the way we approached food? A little less Food Network and a little more Little House on the Prairie. What if we focused on real, simple food for our day to day meals.

If I had to define what I mean by “simple food,” I’d use these criteria:

  • whole and natural, usually one ingredient only on the package if it’s store bought
  • inexpensive or frugal
  • simple to prepare (this doesn’t necessarily mean fast, just not complicated)
  • nourishing

When I think of simple food, images come to mind of the humble bowl of rice and beans, eaten daily all over the world as a staple food. I think of whole meats, game, poultry and fish–on the bone and using as much of the animal as possible. I think of vegetables and fruits simply roasted or lightly cooked, with no complicated sauces or endless chopping.

Where food media sends the wrong message.

This is where I think we need to be discerning about what media outlets like Food Network, The Cooking Channel, and even some food blogs are pushing on us. If I watch Giada make a lovely meal for a dinner party, complete with fancy and expensive cuts of meat, then flip to Bobby Flay and his endless array of complicated spice rubs, and finish up with Cupcake Wars and all their gourmet flavored treats then I might start to think. I may think, “Ooo, I wonder if we could have a dinner party like that.” Or, “Man, I’d like to make that spice rub, but I’d have to spend about $25 just to get all those spices.”

Wrong? Evil? …No. But it does start us down the road to food discontent. As if we have to keep up with the latest food trend. And before you know it, instead of using what’s already in your pantry or garden, you go spend an extra $40 at the store so you can make that “special” meal…on a Tuesday.

And that’s the key word–SPECIAL. For the most part, our grandmothers and great-grandmothers saved those elaborate, time consuming, 5 course meals for special occasions. Like holidays. Or birthdays. Because in the day to day, what they needed and had time and money for was frugal, easy, nourishing meals.

I’m NOT saying that we can’t be creative in the kitchen, or feed our family tasty meals all week long. I’m talking about simplicity and balance. About not comparing your menu to anyone else’s. Not feeling like you have to keep up with all the food bloggers out there.

What will this do? I believe it will bring a little peace to our meal times. Less work. Less clean up. More frugal.

Maybe I’m the only one who struggles with balance and simplicity…but I would guess I’m not alone.

Do you ever fall into the trap of complex cooking? Or put unrealistic expectations on your kitchen? What would a focus on simple, nourishing meals do for you?


How We’re Preserving the Harvest (So Far)

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Haven’t had much time to write lately cause the garden is hopping! For the last three weeks, we’ve been putting up the produce just about non-stop.

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First, let’s talk jam. Remember all those strawberries I boughtWell I bought more. (I know, I have a problem.) But they were once again $.99/lb. And they were the most beautiful, sweet tasting and smelling strawberries I’ve ever known. They were begging to become jam. 

So I poked around on the internet looking for a simple, low sugar jam recipe that didn’t require me to hunt down or order some fancy pectin or other what-nots. I settled on this oneThree ingredients. Strawberries, sugar and lemons. The strawberry to sugar ratio is just the way I like it. High on the fruit and low on the sugar. The pectin comes naturally from the strawberries and the lemons. We love the flavor. Fruity, bright and just sweet enough. The consistency is sort of like a freezer jam or like a really thick syrup. Not all that thick. I may experiment with another recipe next year, but for now, we’re pretty happy with this simple goodness.

I made a little over 20 pints in a couple days. Yeah!

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Moving right along to the beets. The beets are my mom’s gig. She’s tweaked a recipe for pickled beets that we are all quite fond of. Just enough sweetness, but not syrupy sweet like the kind you usually find at the store. We love ’em. Especially my 6 year old. Weird, I know.

 

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And last, but certainly not least, we have the beans. Oh, the beans. They are an event, beans are. If you have them, they control your schedule for quite a while. Not that I’m complaining. I’m grateful for the beans. All 105 quarts of them…and counting. I think at this point, I’ve kind of got it down to a science. Wait till you see this set up.

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Yes, that’s a turkey fryer under there. And off to the left, not pictured would be the propane tank. Sitting atop the high powered bomb, I mean burner, is the pressure canner. From the 1960’s–literally. It looks like some kind of nuclear containment vessel. Laugh if you want, but this little piece of genius (which we swiped from a Backwoodsman Magazine article) makes for some FAST pressure canning. The powerful burner can bring this thing up to pressure in about 3 minutes. No heating up the house, either. Downright awesome, if you ask me.

 

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Everyone helps with beans. Even my little niece. She’s actually quite the bean snapper.

 

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What else? Let’s see. I bought and froze about 6 gallon bags full of blueberries for smoothies and muffins this winter. We hope to have a large harvest of butternut squash in a few weeks. I’ll keep some in the pantry and roast, puree and freeze the rest for muffins or soup or whatever.

We’re still waiting to see what the tomatoes are going to do. Still haven’t eaten a single homegrown tomato. And it’s the end of July. That’s very sad, indeed. But the weather’s been crazy this summer (as in, I think WV just became a rain forest) and we’re not the only folks around here still waiting to pick that first tomato. I’m hoping we’ll have enough to can a good amount of sauce or crushed, but we’ll just have to wait and see.

All this makes for some serious hard work at times. But at the end of the day, I’m SO very grateful to be preserving all this food at it’s peak of freshness and flavor, not to mention saving some cash at the same time. There is something very satisfying to me about growing your own food, relying on God for the harvest and providing for the dinner table through hard, honest work. I never feel quite like that good after I leave Kroger. Just saying. 🙂

What are you preserving this summer?


Taking Care of Mom–Keeping Your Body Strong

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This is part 3 of our series, Taking Care of Mom. Just click to catch up on the first and second posts.

(I’m not a doctor or fitness expert. Just a mom sharing her story :))

Keeping Your Body Strong

Yes, we’re talking about taking care of our physical bodies today. The word that inspires feelings of dread for many– exercise.  But before we go any further, let me clarify what we’re NOT talking about.

We’re not talking about…

  • maintaining some unrealistic weight
  • working ourselves to the limit to look like some magazine cover
  • linking our self-worth to the size of our jeans

I’m not about that. I really feel that a message like that is one of the lies of the devil to distract us from what really matters, what’s eternal, and that we are valued and loved just the way we are, regardless of what the scale says. 

What I’m talking about is learning to make exercise a priority for the health and strength of our bodies, both now and for the sake of our aging frames. I’ve had this need brought front and center in my mind this summer.

A couple months ago I did something to my back. I wish I could say it was from some impressive feat, like playing football with my kids or rock climbing with my husband (neither of which I do, just in case you were wondering). But no. It happened one day while I was grocery shopping of all things. I hinged forward to put a heavy bag in the car and *sprong* went my back. Then, because I am not a smart woman, when I got home, I proceeded to put all the groceries away and vacuum. By the end of the night others had to finish making dinner and I was relegated to a heating pad and a chair…and lots and lots of ibuprofen.

The next day, it wasn’t any better. Actually, breathing was painful. My physical therapist friend had mercy on me and popped something back into place so I could manage to inhale and lead worship the next morning. And after a few days of denial, I finally caved in and made an appointment with the chiropractor.

I’ve been seeing him almost every week for a couple months now. He’s helped me a ton (with my frequent headaches too). But he’s also made me realize that I might have been able to prevent the whole thing.

There’s nothing like having your doctor tactfully tell you that you need to work on your muscle tone. Super. I think it went something like, “your upper back is having to work too hard to hold yourself up when your other muscles should be doing that work.” Which is polite code for, “do some crunches, woman!”

So I’ve started doing exercises for my core and my back. Somewhat haphazardly, I’ll have to admit. I’ve got to get more consistent at this. I realize now that it’s crucial if I want to be healthy and active and able to take care of my family well.

I’m learning that this whole thing can be a lot simpler than the health and fitness industry would like us to believe. You don’t need a gym membership. You don’t need to attend some crazy, complicated class. You don’t need expensive equipment at your house.

Where life intersects with fitness

This is by far my favorite form of exercise. I’m rather pragmatic. So setting aside 45 minutes to “work out” is hard for me to do when I know there are so many other more productive things I could be doing. But if I can mow the lawn, weed the garden or mop the floors and get a little physical activity out of it–awesome!

Right now, maintaining a large garden gives me a good dose of exercise on a regular basis. But when winter comes, I’ll go back to regular walks or jogs.

Think about this one. Where can you multitask a bit and combine fitness with your responsibilities at home?

My favorite summer workout gear!

My favorite summer workout gear!

 

Make it a family affair

There are days when I NEED a walk by myself. But I also love to exercise with my kids. Taking one of them for a walk not only gives both of us some physical activity, but it’s during those times that they are more apt to talk to me and open up.

If it’s not a walk, get out and try some of these…

  • frisbee or paddle ball (the worse your aim, the more you have to run around!)
  • tag
  • swimming
  • tossing a football or baseball
  • going for a hike (my personal favorite)

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Simple, consistent moves do make a difference.

Modern fitness gurus would have us believe that we have to do all these complicated, coordinated moves to strengthen our body. And of course, for a fee, they’ll be happy to instruct us. But last summer, when I had a more consistent exercise routine, all I did were your basic crunches, leg lifts, squats and such. It took maybe 20 minutes.  But it really did make a difference in my strength and energy levels. No gym membership required.

Honestly, it’s the whole muscle tone thing I’m most concerned about right now. I want to live an active life with my husband and kids. And Lord willing, I’d like to be able to do that for many, many more years. It’s yet another area where taking care of ourselves is going to help us to better care for those we love. (And maybe even have some energy left over!)

If you don’t have any regular physical activity in your days, consider where you can start. Make it simple, but make it a priority. Your body will be grateful both now and in the years to come.

 

What do you do to keep your body strong?


Savoring Warm Summer Nights–a guest post at Modern Alternative Momma

Longer hours of daylight mean great opportunities to soak up all this season has to offer.

Why not make your family’s summer nights something to remember and celebrate?

Click over to this month’s guest post at Modern Alternative Momma for some ideas to get you started and share what you’re doing as the sun goes down!