Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Green made easy - reusable shopping bags + great daily deal sites for moms!

I decided to start my New Year's resolutions off a little early! Since I'm trying to be kinder to Mother Nature, I thought I'd share something I've been trying to do lately...

Awhile back, I won a gift card to Olivia Place, a daily deal site that has items for babies, kids, and moms at discounted prices. A lot of the clothes and accessories that I've seen featured on the site are geared toward little girls, which doesn't help Wyatt. (All you moms with little ladies, go check them out! They've had adorable girl stuff the past few days!) So I was really excited when they featured a product for mommies who are trying to go green - reusable shopping bags!

New Year's Resolutions

I know, I know. Everyone makes New Year's resolutions, and I'm sure a select group out there actually manage to keep them all year long. But if you're like me, you stick to your guns for a month or two (if that) before kicking your resolutions to the curb. Not this year. I'm determined to be a better mom, a better student, and a better housedomesticpartner. (Can't really say I'm a housewife, now can I?) Of course, this means making resolutions that are practical and within reach.

1. I will be more organized.

Organization goes a looong way in helping cope with stressful schedules. I always buy an organizer near the beginning of the year and lose it sometime in March or April. This year, I bought an eco-friendly planner in bright green. Maybe the Earth-friendly part will encourage me to use it more, and maybe the color will help me keep up with it. This is absolutely essential for school. No more writing down reminders and dates all over my notes!

2. I will take better care of Mother Earth by using homemade products.

Along with buying eco-friendly products, I hope to make a few of my own. I want to start making my own cleaning supplies, laundry detergent, and of course, more baby food. (Remember when this blog was all about making homemade baby food? Yeah, me either.) My friend Sarah has a great recipe for homemade laundry detergent on her blog. It's cheaper than the commercial stuff, which is loaded down with chemicals, and is so much better for the environment. Of course, all of this takes up time, which is where the organization part comes in again. ;)

3. I will be more conscious of my health.

Since having Wyatt, I've always put his health and well-being before my own. There's nothing wrong with that, but I definitely think it's time to look after myself a little more often (i.e. time to lose the baby weight). I plan on bento-ing more often, eating less junk, and exercising. I can't remember the last time I exercised, honestly. Even walking around my parents' neighborhood a couple of times a week will be better than nothing. Plus, Wyatt loves to go for walks. And if I'm healthy, I'll be better able to take care of my family.

So, there are my three New Year's resolutions. Nothing too extravagant or out-of-reach. And since I've posted it here on my blog, you all can hold me accountable, right?

- Mother Nature Mom

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Christmas Cookies! + recipes

Yay, cookies!

One of my all-time favorite Christmas memories is making cookies with my mom. As a kid, I'd stand on a chair so I could reach the counter, wearing a homemade, decorated apron. (I can't remember if I decorated it or if my mom did.) My mom would mix up the ingredients and cut out the shapes, and my dad would ice them after they'd been baked. I was on sprinkle patrol, artfully arranging sugar ornaments on the Christmas trees, nonpareil scarves on snowmen, and red holly berries on wreathes. Or, you know, just dumping them in the center of the cookie and moving on. (I became more conscious of sprinkle coverage and sprinkle-to-cookie ratio with age.)

We've used different recipes over the years, especially for our cut-out cookies. Here's this year's lot:


1 1/2 cups butter, softened
2 cups white sugar
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt


In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until smooth. (We wound up using a hand mixer to get out the lumps.) Beat in eggs and vanilla. Stir in the flour, baking powder, and salt. Cover, and chill dough for at least one hour. (I recommend overnight, however. The dough was still very sticky after the initial hour.)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Roll out dough on sugared* surface 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. Cut into shapes with your favorite cookie cutters. Place cookies 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheets. (We used parchment paper. No need to worry about the cookies sticking!) If dough starts to become sticky again, simply add a little more confectioner's sugar. Storing the dough in fridge between batches also helps.

Bake 6 to 8 minutes. Cool.

For homemade icing, mix a little water with confectioner's sugar until smooth but not runny. Add vanilla, almond, or lemon extract and food coloring! Spread over cooled cookies and add sprinkles if desired. (Oh, I desire sprinkles.)

Yield: 5 dozen

*You could use flour here instead, but using too much could make the cookies come out, well, flour-y. Confectioner's sugar achieves the same goal, and adds a little extra sweetness.

Spiced Crackle Cookies
(Kenny loves these, and jealously guards them every year.)

These cookies are the perfect balance of soft, moist, and crispy. If you're a fan of ginger snaps, you'll love these.

½ cup butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
¼ cup molasses
1 egg
2 cup flour
¾ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
1 Tbsp ground ginger
½ tsp cinnamon
1 Tbsp crystallized ginger, chopped
¾ cup confectioner's sugar


In large bowl, beat together butter, sugar, and molasses with hand mixer on medium speed until blended. Beat in egg until blended, scraping down side of bowl. Sift together flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, and cinnamon in clean bowl. Add to butter mixture; beat on low speed until blended. Stir in crystallized ginger. Cover; refrigerate 1 hr.

Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly coat two large baking sheets with nonstick cooking spray (or use parchemnt paper.) Place confectioner's sugar in bowl. Roll pieces of dough into 1 inch balls; then roll in confectioner's sugar to completely coat. Place on prepared baking sheets at least 2 inches apart.

Bake at 350 for 11 minutes, or until cookies have expanded and flattened; the tops will be covered with cracks. Let cookies cool on baking sheets on wire rack 2 minutes. Transfer cookies directly to racks; let cool completely.

Try not to eat them all at once. =)

Yield: 3 dozen

So there you have it. What goodies are you enjoying this Christmas?

- Mother Nature Mom

Thursday, December 9, 2010

What are you grateful for?

Note: I debated over whether or not I would post this blog entry; it's so far removed from the usual cheerful Mommy banter that I usually write. But I felt it was important, especially in light of the season, to remind everyone that no matter how much stress you're under, no matter how many bills are in your mailbox, no matter how much your kids are driving you crazy, it's important to stop and be grateful for all that you have because it could all be taken away in an instant. I promise to return to my usual Mommy-ness in my next post.

My day started early. Actually, it started yesterday morning. I didn't sleep at all last night in preparation for my last final of the semester. I was actually pretty annoyed. Driving an hour one way to take a test that would last all of 30-45 minutes in 20 degree weather? Yeah, not my idea of a perfect morning. But, I sucked it up, drove to Milledgeville, and took my final.

Afterward, I drove to work to pick up my tips and reward myself with yummy, delicious coffee. I totally deserved it, right? After a night of studying (which really means a night of Facebooking interspersed with studying), and an hour long drive back home, I needed it. So, I went inside. And that's when I heard one of the most horrible things I've heard in a long time.

I'll spare you the gory details, but essentially, one of my coworkers was robbed and her family was put in mortal danger. The assailants tailed her husband's car to their house, threatened the lives of everyone inside (including at least four small children) with guns, and robbed them blind. And so far they've gotten away with it.

Thankfully, blissfully, no one was hurt.

I cried and cried. I cried because no good person deserves to be a prisoner in their own home. I cried because no mother should have to see her children's lives threatened. I cried because, as a mother myself, I kept imagining my son, my family in the same situation. I cried because this is the sort of thing you hear about in the news, something that happens to other people far away, never anyone that you know. I cried because, once again, I'm terrified of the world that my child is going to grow up in. If this can happen in a small town in middle Georgia, it can happen anywhere. Suddenly, all my worry and fuss over a final that I could have passed in my sleep became embarrassingly trivial.

The world is often scary and cruel, but , thankfully, there are reminders of just how beautiful it can be.

The now-defunct Dublin Starbucks was a very tight knit group. We were all friends. We were all there for one another. We had each others' backs no matter what. I'm proud to say that Milledgeville is the same way. Seeing everyone rally around our coworker and friend is inspiring. Helping out with her bills, providing toys for her kids' Christmas, alerting other Starbucks stores in our district and seeing them help out as well... it really shows that, for better or worse, Starbucks is a second family to all of us. That's something I can feel good about, despite everything else.

So please, when you're feeling at your wit's end with everything in your life, when the stress is driving you crazy, when your mind is so focused on school or work that you tune everything else out, when you become bogged down in all the "should have's" and "what if's" and "wish I had's", just.... stop. Just stop, and remember everything that makes your life wonderful. Be grateful. What's that old saying? "We are never guaranteed tomorrow"? Something like that.

And now I'm off to nap with the most important little man in my life. I don't think I can hug him enough today...

-Mother Nature Mom

Thursday, December 2, 2010

A delicious find + recipe

This is a little overdue, but I had to share this recipe that I discovered from the blog Open Mouth Insert Cookie (how great is that name?) I came across this recipe for Pumpkin Bread Pudding kind of randomly, i.e. looking at bentos. Another bento-er had linked to this lovely blog, and I knew I had to try this recipe as soon as I read it. So fall-esque! True, the weather seems to have turned towards winter for good (and about time - thanks, middle Georgia!), but I'm sharing nonetheless. =)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

I only seem to eat bentos on rainy days...

Leftover Mediterranean-seasoned chicken and crispy purple fingerling potatoes on whole wheat pasta
Red grapes and fuyu persimmon dusted with cinnamon and ginger (I used my leaf cookie cutters again!)

I'd never tried persimmon until last week or so. The name just sounds unappealing, somehow. But, I've noticed them featured in other bentos around the Internet, so I decided to try them. I actually found some at Walmart after a trip to Kroger proved unsuccessful. I have to say, I'm definitely a fan of the persimmon! They're reminiscent of cantaloupe or honeydew as far as texture goes, but they're sweeter. The fuyu variety can be eaten with the skin on, but I prefer them peeled.

I ate this bento at home today since I wasn't at school during lunch. All of us are coming down with something-or-other, but Wyatt seems to be getting over his cold already. The rainy weather today didn't seem to help matters. Blah. =(

Here's hoping the rest of the week goes a little better!

-Mother Nature Mom

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Bento on a rainy afternoon...

Another bento today, this time featuring my bigger Glass Lock box that I found at Kroger. The seal on these boxes is incredibly tight. No risk of leaks here! And they're microwave and dishwasher safe. (Not that I have a dishwasher, but that's neither here nor there, grumble grumble...)

Once again, it's a bento-o-leftovers and stuff from my fridge/pantry!

 It's raining at school, so no eating outside today. And again, I apologize for the picture. Inside lighting + cell phone = not so great picture.

More after the break...

Monday, October 18, 2010

Fall in the Orient Bento

Note: I'm just now getting around to posting this bento lunch from last Thursday. I had the pictures on my phone, but had serious upload issues! Finally had to resort to ol' Facebook. Oh well! Next time I'll be sure to bring my camera!


- Oriental chicken, pineapple and brown rice, plus a cheddar pumpkin with sesame seed details on a bed of spinach and radicchio in the bottom tier
- Steamed baby carrots and broccoli on a bed of purple lettuce, plus an attempt at an herbal tea egg (a Chinese recipe that usually calls for black tea) in the top tier
- Blackberries and red grapes in the bowl (brought in a small canning jar)

I'd say this is a pretty balanced and healthy bento, wouldn't you? Fruits and veggies, grain, protein, and even a little dairy. Not bad, self, not bad.

Everything in this bento was either made from leftovers or pulled straight from my fridge with the exception of the tea egg. I saw a recipe for easy tea eggs on Just Bento and had to try it, but didn't have any black tea! So, I decided to us the last of my dwindling supply of Wild Sweet Orange herbal tea from Tazo instead. (We used to sell it at Starbucks, but no more!) I thought the orange would compliment the soy sauce better than the other teas I have. Unfortunately, when I cracked the shell, I didn't break through the membrane that separates the shell from the egg itself, so I didn't wind up with the pretty marble-y look that you see at Just Bento. Oh well! Maybe next time. I still want to try it with black tea, so I'll probably get some from work this weekend. (Hooray for free coffee and tea!)

As far as the cheddar cheese pumpkin goes, this is probably the "cutesy-est" I'll ever get with any of my bentos! I just don't have the time to go all out with these things, but I saw an inexpensive set of Hallween mini cookie cutters at Kroger and immediately thought, "Bento!" Couldn't resist. The minis are the perfect size for bentos, and I'd love to find different shapes for different holidays/seasons. Eventually, when Wyatt goes off to school (tear!) I want to make bentos for him as well, so I don't feel so bad about buying little things along the way. Plus, they make mini cookies, which means I can eat more of said cookies and not feel guilty. =)

I decided to sit outside and eat lunch. Campus is beginning to (finally) look a little bit like fall.

Hope you're enjoying lunch as much as I am!

- Mother Nature Mom

PS - I apologize for the photo quality. I was only equipped with my phone!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Life with an 8-month-old + slow cooker recipe

It's Tuesday again, but for once I'm not in school! I'm currently sitting on my couch, listening to the men in my life snore as they both take a nap. Gotta love Fall Break! Wyatt looks especially cute today in his Halloween onesie that a friend of Kenny's bought for him. I'm so glad, too, considering I looked high and low for a cute Halloween shirt/outfit and couldn't find one in his size! He may be 8 months old, but he's wearing mostly 12 month clothes, and I've definitely noticed a gap in sizes while shopping for his fall/winter wardrobe. Newborn-9 months? Check. 18-24 months? Check. 9-18 months? Yeah, not so much.

I'm extremely tired today, due mostly to the fact that Wyatt kept waking up last night. His top two front teeth are coming in (finally!) and it's definitely upsetting him. Add on top of that the fact that every time he wakes up, he decides to sit Indian style in his crib and bang his head on the wooden rail until I go in and either pick him up or lay him back down. (Kids can be so weird...) The crib bumper isn't tall enough to cover the space between the mattress and the top of the rail, so it looks as if we'll have to lower the mattress again. (And by "we" I totally mean "Kenny.") He's really come a long way developmentally in the last week or so; it's amazing to watch. He can now crawl backwards a good ways, go from sitting Indian style to being on his tummy and back again, and he even stood up using the couch for support for a few seconds yesterday! And then he fell and bumped his head on his bouncy chair and commenced to wailing, but that's neither here nor there... He's finally getting the hang of crawling forward, something he did for the first time two days ago on his 8-month birthday...

Am I a proud momma? You bet I am.

Anyway, as happy as I am watching my little man grow, he's wearing me out! And so even on my day off, I decided to bring out the slow cooker.

I've been on an Asian kick for awhile now in case you didn't notice, so when I searched yesterday for meal ideas, this recipe for slow cooker oriental chicken immediately caught my eye. Even better, I already had all of the ingredients!

I decided to stick pretty close to the recipe this time, only adding a teaspoon of orange peel. I also used chicken breasts instead of a whole chicken. (I didn't grow up eating a lot of dark meat, so I tend to shy away from it in my cooking. Plus, white meat is healthier.) The original also calls for sliced almonds as a garnish, which I forgot to buy at the grocery store. Not a major component, so I didn't worry about it.

3 chicken breasts
2 Tbsp vegetable oil (could also use olive oil, or similar)
1/3 c soy sauce (I used lite)
2 Tbsp brown sugar
2 Tbsp water
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp orange peel

Coat the bottom of a pan with the oil and brown the chicken. Mix together the rest of your ingredients while chicken cooks. Then place chicken in the bottom of slow cooker and pour mixture over chicken. Cook on high for one hour, then low for 4-5 hours.

Several of the reviewers at complained of not having enough sauce to accompany the chicken, and they turned out to be right. Like many of them, I mixed the juice from a can of pineapple with a little cornstarch and added this about 30 minutes before mealtime. I added the pineapple, too, just to warm it up a bit. I steamed broccoli and baby carrots and made brown rice. Delicious! And still enough leftovers for lunch tomorrow and Thursday's bento...

Now I'm off to do the dishes. One requirement for our next house - must have a dishwasher!

- Mother Nature Mom

Friday, October 8, 2010

Easy upcycling - jars of all sizes

I'm a little bit of a pack rat, but for once, it seems to be a good thing.

I've been saving jars lately. Large jars, small jars... doesn't matter. I figure that I'll eventually find a use for them.

I started saving baby food jars because of my mom. And before we go any further, yes, we've been getting jarred baby food, but fear not! I'm still a homemade baby food-making machine! We're able to get a certain allotment of baby food every couple of months through the WIC program, and I'd hate to let it go to waste. We leave the jarred stuff with the grandparents and sitter and use the homemade stuff at home... but anyway...

My mom used to sew a lot when I was little, and she kept her extra buttons, pins, and other sewing notions in old baby food jars. When we started getting jarred baby food, I instantly remembered playing with the little jars and rattling them around and whatnot. So, I decided to hang on to all of our jars. I don't sew, but I knew I'd find a use for them eventually. I also have a bunch of small 4 oz canning jars that were left over from my baby shower. (They were filled with M&Ms and used as party favors.) I also began to keep the big jars that Wyatt's applesauce comes in. At this point, Kenny's rolling his eyes and sighing as he lines up the jars next to the sink to wash them. But trust me, jars - no matter the size - are one of the easiest things to upcycle!

Small jars are great for holding a vast array of little items that tend to get lost. Paper clips, stamps, thumbtacks, bobby pins, small nails, washers, nuts and bolts, and hair ties can all be kept nice and neat and in one place. Dried herbs and spices can also be kept in smaller labeled jars. I've been using small jars as a sidecar to hold small pieces of fruit or sauce in my bento lunches.

Large jars can hold flour, rice, and other grains in your kitchen pantry. Pack a jar with plastic silverware and napkins to take on a picnic, then use the jars as drinking glasses. Pour used cooking oil into a large jar instead of down the drain (which is a no-no anyway.) Keep it until it's full and take it out with the rest of your household garbage. A large jar full of potpourri with a doily tied to opening in place of the lid makes a pretty addition to a coffee table. Layer dry ingredients for homemade cookies in a jar and give as a gift. And of course, large mason jars make great glasses for sweet tea down here in the South. =)

It's easy to acquire jars even if you're not purchasing baby food. Hang on to your spaghetti sauce and pickle jars. You never know what use you'll find for them!

-Mother Nature Mom

PS - Feel free to leave your ideas in the comments section. I have more jars than I do ideas!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

For the love of BENTO!

I have no problem admitting that I am a bit of a Japanophile. I've liked anime and manga for quite some time, appreciate the ritual and care taken when donning a kimono, and adore the tiny little nuggets of goodness known as sushi. I don't know as much about Japanese culture as I'd like, but recently I have taken on the task of learning about and making bento lunches.

A bento, for the sake of this blog, is the Japanese version of a homemade lunch. While we Americans might throw a sandwich and some chips into a brown paper bag or pack a salad-filled Rubbermaid container into a lunch bag or box, the people of Japan have brought lunch time to another level. Bentos are aesthetically pleasing, healthy lunches that run the gambit of streamlined and simple to elaborate and time consuming edible works of art.

This elaborate bento features Sailor Pluto from my favorite manga/anime, Sailor Moon. (I first saw a bento lunch while watching Sailor Moon, though I didn't know it at the time.) This amazing creation is completely edible. Pretty insane, right? This type of bento, known as charaben, which means "character bento" or "cute bento," is impractical for most of us, though it is fun to look at! Charaben has become a very popular hobby in Japan, and photos of these bentos can be found all over the internet. Sadly, most of these bentos feature instructions in Japanese only, leaving us English-speaking types to simply sit and stare at the craftsmanship. Other types of bentos include makunouchi bento (elaborate, formal meals served at the table in beautiful lacquered boxes) and kouraku bento (picnic style bento meant for more than one person), but the most common bento is simple and practical. I'm liking it already.

I've had a couple of dry runs with bento lunches, and while there are tons of recipes from Just Bento and its sister site Just Hungry that I'm dying to try (both Japanese and otherwise), the easiest, least time-consuming, and cost-efficient way for me to enjoy this little piece of Japanese culture is to bring...


(My apologies for the slightly out-of-focus-ness of this picture, but I think it still serves it's purpose.)

What you see here is a lunch made entirely of leftovers and fruit/veggies taken from the fridge. Super easy. Raw spinach leaves, leftover cooked baby carrots, and a tiny honeycrisp apple make up the top tier while leftover tikka masala chicken and parmesan and broccoli pasta make up the bottom tier. A little piece of homemade (though not in my home - I bought it at Possum Hollow!) Amish friendship cake fit into the bowl part of my bento, and I included a sidecar of blackberries to round everything out. (It's actually a small canning jar. I've also been keeping baby food jars for the same purpose. I love finding new uses for things!) Again, does it get any easier than this? I don't think so!

Bento-ing fits into my meal schedule very well. I usually make something in the slow cooker for Monday and Wednesday, take leftovers to school in my bento on Tuesday and Thursday, and there's still enough food leftover for us to eat for dinner on my school nights, too! Does it get a little repetitive? Yes, but that's where I get to play around with the fruits and veggies that accompany the main dish. And fruits and veggies really are a big part of having a healthy bento. You could fit pizza bagel bites, chips, and cookies into a bento, but it wouldn't really be a bento in the true sense of the word.

You don't have to invest in a cute-sy bento like I did. (But come on, can you blame me? Look at it!) I've seen containers at my local Kroger that would make great bento boxes, and they're pretty inexpensive at that. Just remember that the box needs to have a good seal so that liquid won't leak out. (Or, for something like soup, you could simply pack your dry items in a bento and put the soup into a thermos.) Of course, if you really want to get into the spirit of bento-ing, there are lots of online sites that ship to the US. I purchased my bento box from Bento&co in Kyoto, Japan. Other sites include Japan Centre and J-List. All of these sites have great products for affordable prices. I can't speak for shipping costs for the other sites, but shipping was only $4 from Bento&co using the cheapest plan, and it arrived in less than a week!

Also note the size of my bento. It's sitting next to a medium-sized coffee cup (or grande-sized, if you want to use Starbucks terms.) I will admit that I was expecting it to be a little bit bigger when I ordered it, but I quickly found that it's the perfect size for me. It really helps control my portion sizes, and forces me to pack the food in tightly, which keeps the food from shifting about and causing leaks. This particular bento only has a leak-proof lid between the bowl and upper tier, so I usually put rice or pasta in the bottom tier.

So there you have it! Bringing a bento lunch is fun, healthy, and can help you save a bit of money. All very good things in my book. I hope to make a more Japanese-esque bento in the near future; I was able to find several Japanese ingredients at a nearby Korean supermarket! (Go figure, right?)

Happy eating!

- Mother Nature Mom

Sunday, September 26, 2010

It's Fall! It's Fall! + a recipe that needs help!

That's right! Fall is officially here! It may not feel like it just yet, but it's only a matter of time. So many fun events are on the horizon: Fall break at school (which is really only one day for me), Halloween, and various arts and crafts festivals in the area. The unfortunately named Possum Hollow was yesterday in nearby Dexter, GA. We had a lot of fun! Wyatt especially loved looking at the fair rides spinning and zooming about. I kept telling him that he's still a bit too young for those rides!

I recently attempted this slow cooker recipe with less-than-stellar results. It should have been great - pork tenderloin cooking in apple cider all day? Hello? But, the result was under seasoned and dry pork. I made minimal changes to the recipe - I used apple juice instead of apple cider, because I had it in my fridge. I also did not brown the pork beforehand. Like one All Recipes commenter said, "Don't make anything more time consuming than it has to be." I couldn't agree more. Still, these changes should not have affected the overall outcome. So, instead of delicious awesomeness, we ate so-so okayness.

If anyone has a tip to improve upon this recipe, feel free to comment! I'm more than willing to attempt this again.

I hope everyone is enjoying the beginning of the greatest season of the year!

- Mother Nature Mom

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Waiting for Autumn

I know, I know, fall doesn't officially start for another week or so, but I'm couldn't resist dressing the blog up in her autumn colors a bit early!

Autumn is by far my favorite season of the year. (Fun fact: if Wyatt had been a girl, Autumn might very well have been her name.) It really is a shame that we live in Georgia, where the seasons go a little something like: hot, really hot, why is it so hot?!, chilly. I might be exaggerating a little, but sometimes it truly feels like cooler weather will never get here and we'll be stuck in a perpetual heat wave. Even North Georgia gets to see the beautiful changing leaves for more than a couple of weeks, unlike here in Middle Georgia. Ah well. At least I'll get to reflect my love for the season in my food. I'm sure my slow cooker is going to see a lot of use in the coming months - soups, stews, chili, gumbo... the possibilities are endless! I'm also on a mission to make a squash dish that Kenny will like. How can someone not like squash? I will never understand...

I'm beginning to wish that we had planted at least a few herbs and vegetables back in the spring, but with a new baby, we obviously had other things on our minds. Next year, I plan on growing a few herbs (lemon balm, rosemary, lavendar, basil, and anything else that strikes my fancy) as well as trying my hand at growing squash, zucchini, and tomatoes. True, neither I nor Kenny particularly like tomatoes, but their uses are about as endless as my slow cooker's! Garden fresh tomatoes in a homemade spaghetti sauce? Yes, please.

I honestly don't know where this sense of domesticity came from. If you've known me for any length of time, you know I haven't always been like this! People change, I guess.

-Mother Nature Mom

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Slow cooker gumbo - Louisiana fare the easy way! + recipe

Kenny's been bugging me for awhile to make gumbo, something I had never made or even tasted before. I was willing to try, but with our schedules the way they are, I wasn't willing to stand over the stove for any great length of time in the evening, losing precious time that could be spent playing with Wyatt, doing homework, making baby food, etc. So, I searched the information super highway for a slow cooker gumbo recipe and found quite a bit to work with!

Kenny's family is from Louisiana, so he's used to having really great, authentic Cajun and creole cuisine. No competition, right?

I have to say that I'm pleasantly surprised with how my slow cooker gumbo turned out. I had my reservations about it, but with a little tweaking, I think this will become a great stand-by recipe. Kenny liked it, too, and he's super picky about his gumbo. Actually, he's super picky about everything, defying my logic about all things male...

I used this recipe as a guide:

3 cups chicken broth
1 lb chicken breast, cut into pieces
1 lb spicy sausage, cut into pieces
1 medium onion, chopped
1-2 cups okra, sliced
1 green pepper, chopped
2-3 stalks celery, chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon red pepper
salt to taste

1/3 cup flour
1/3 oil

I omitted the okra, added chopped tomato, left out the red pepper, and subbed garlic powder since I didn't have any garlic on hand. I'll probably use okra next time, and may or may not add tomato. I liked it, but Kenny didn't care for it.

I also didn't make the roux from scratch, like I thought I would. Kenny found instant roux at the grocery store, so I used that instead.

For homemade roux, stir together the flour and oil in a saucepan until smooth. Cook over medium-high heat for 4 minutes, stirring constantly. (Important!) Reduce the heat to medium and continue to cook, stirring constantly (!), for about 15 minutes more or until roux is dark reddish brown. Let roux cool.

Add the chicken broth to your slow cooker, and stir in homemade or instant roux. Add all other ingredients, cover, and cook on low for 8-10 hours or high for 4-5 hours. Serve over rice. You could also add shrimp towards the end of the cooking process. Just add them to the slow cooker about 20 minutes before you plan to eat.

This made a lot! I made this on Thursday, and we finished up the leftovers this afternoon. Of course, there's just the two of us, but we did go back for seconds quite a bit!

I can't stress enough just how much my slow cooker helps bring a little more order into my hectic schedule. If you don't already have one, it's well worth the investment!

-Mother Nature Mom

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Where does all the time go? + easy green bean and sweet pea purees

It's as busy as ever in my neck of the woods. I tried (and sort of failed) to spread out my bigger projects in my various classes over the course of the semester. Instead, it seems I have a lot of stuff due at the beginning of the semester, and a lot of stuff due at the end. Maybe somewhere in the middle I'll get used to this hectic routine, but I'm not getting my hopes up. ;)

One thing I did in an attempt to reduce my stress level and save a bit of time is to transfer jobs. I still work for Starbucks, but I work in Milledgeville now instead of Macon. It just makes sense, considering I go to school in Milledgeville, too. I'm still only working weekends for now. This store is much slower business wise, so maybe I won't feel as exhausted after a shift as I did before. Of course, that also means less money in tips, but I'll take sanity over tips right now. =)

Somehow in the midst of all this crazy, I'm still finding time to make baby food for Wyatt. Now that's he's a bit older, he's eating more at a time, and he can handle somewhat thicker textures, which means adding less water to the puree, which means one squash/sweet potato/carrot doesn't stretch quite as far as it once did! It's still easy though, and a lot of fun! I love trying out different combinations to see what he likes best. (He prefers veggies over fruits for the most part, with the exception of green beans. He's not a fan of most fruits by themselves, to be honest, but he loves bananas!) I really racked up on organic veggies today at Kroger: three organic sweet potatoes for $1.04 a piece, a big organic acorn squash for $3.12, two big bags of organic baby carrots for $5.00 (because I learned my lesson last time!), and an organic avocado (technically a fruit, but whatever) for $1.29 since he's never tried it before. Is buying organic more expensive? Yes, but I absolutely feel that it's worth it. It's also important to note that the only organic produce that was sold by weight was the sweet potatoes and the acorn squash. In fact, most of the organic produce I saw was not sold by weight. I also bought a smallish bunch of bananas for $0.90 and another big jar of Mott's Natural Applesauce for $1.61 (which beats my previous price of $2.39! Does that equal out to 3.5 cents an ounce? Why yes it does...)

Buying applesauce in a jar is a great time saver. Another time saver that I've implemented is using bagged frozen green beans and sweet peas instead of fresh. Taste is probably being compromised here, but Wyatt doesn't really care for either of these anyway and they just wind up being hidden in another food that he does like. Also, frozen green beans and sweet peas are inexpensive and there's no shelling involved whatsoever. Win/win if you ask me. Always be sure to check the ingredients, though. The bags should say just green beans or peas, and nothing else. I was able to find green beans with no additives fairly easily, but sweet peas proved to be a bit of a problem. Almost every brand included salt, which babies don't need. I finally found what I was looking for at our local Super Walmart.

Pureeing both of these is really simple. Just empty the bag of green beans or sweet peas into your steamer basket and let the water work its magic. (I was able to fit two bags worth at once.) Once they're tender, puree the veggies in small batches with water reserved from the steaming process. I should probably note that it's damn near impossible to achieve a smooth puree with either of these since there are skins involved, but Wyatt doesn't seem to mind. (He may not even notice, since they're usually mixed into his sweet potatoes or squash. Considering his age, I'm not really going for smooth anymore anyway.) Once everything is pureed, pour it into your ice cube trays and pop them in the freezer. Doesn't get much easier than that.

Since it's the wee hours of Thursday morning, I'll be prepping the slow cooker pretty soon. At Kenny's request, I'm going to attempt to make chicken and sausage gumbo. I'm also going to try and make my own roux, which is daunting in and of itself. I'm keeping my fingers crossed on this one! If it turns out well, I will post the recipe tomorrow night. If it doesn't turn out well, I guess I can tell you what not to do with gumbo!

Here's hoping you have all the time in the world!

-Mother Nature Mom

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Hectic schedule? Slow cooker to the rescue! (+ recipe)

When I said in my last post that life was about to become extremely hectic, I think I underestimated a little!

I started Fall semester at GCSU last Tuesday, and I definitely have my work cut out for me! I'm taking four classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9:30 AM - 4:45 PM, with a roughly two hour lunch break in between class #2 and #3. I'm pretty grateful for that break too, since it gives me time to catch up on any reading that I may have missed (it happens - sleep has been elusive lately, since Little Man is still teething, so I sleep whenever I can) or to get a little homework out of the way. It also gives me plenty of time to eat lunch! Since I definitely can't afford to buy lunch on campus everyday, I've started packing bento lunches. I'll talk about bentos in further detail in a later post, but for now, go check out Just Bento, a wonderful site that includes lots of how-tos, recipes, and more for packing healthy lunches for work, school, and everywhere in between. (And in case it isn't obvious from the website, yes, bentos are Japanese, which only fuels my love for the Land of the Rising Sun!)

Since I leave so early in the morning to go to school (it's roughly a 45-minute commute, depending on traffic), I've begun the habit of using my slow cooker on school days. There is nothing I want less than to cook after being at school all day and driving home on long and lonely highway 441. Slow cooking really is a gift from the gods - I can turn it on when I walk out the door and it's done when I come home. I really love my slow cooker. It's actually a hand-me-down... it was one of my parents' wedding presents! I'll probably cry the day it finally gives in to the big sleep. I mean, it is rather old. My parents have been married for... well, we won't go there.

Using the slow cooker also gives me a chance to experiment, which is what I did last Tuesday. I found this recipe at, which sounded interesting enough. I then found where a reader customized it, and was convinced that I had to try it. Here's my customized version of the customization. ;)

2 1/2 lb pork tenderloin
1 large onion, sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
6 new potatoes, quartered
1 bag baby carrots

1 cup hot water
1 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp ketchup
2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
3 Tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp hot sauce
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp salt
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp paprika
dash Worcestershire sauce

1. Arrange new potatoes, garlic, carrots, and onion in bottom of slow cooker.
2. Mix together last 12 ingredients (from hot water to bottom of list) in measuring cup or small pitcher.
3. Puncture pork loin with fork or knife in several places (this lets the "sauce" flavor the meat better). Place in slow cooker. (I had to cut mine in half to get it to fit. It might even be better to cut it into fourths so the meat falls apart when done.)
4. Pour wet mixture over pork.
5. Set slow cooker to low for 8-10 hours or high for 5-6 hours.
6. Serve over rice, egg noodles, or mashed potatoes (Kenny's favorite.)

I'll definitely be making this again. I might add a little cornstarch next time to thicken the sauce into more of a gravy. While I loved the carrots and potatoes, Kenny wasn't a fan. (He says that they didn't taste like carrots and potatoes - they tasted like the sauce, to which I said, "That's the point." To each their own.) I made garlic mashed potatoes for him to eat with the leftovers we had tonight. And there's still enough for me to take some to school tomorrow for lunch! Definitely excited about that.

With what little time I have left tonight, I'm going to attempt to make some more baby food for Little Man... that is, if he lets me! Teething has his sleep schedule completely out of whack, so he's already woken up twice tonight. Crossing my fingers...

- Mother Nature Mom

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Under the weather... and Wyatt's 6-month birthday!

Hi everybody! I know I haven't blogged in a hot minute. I've been feeling pretty under the weather for the last few days. I'm prone to sinus infections at any time of the year, but I thought I'd already gotten mine out of the way until winter. Apparently not. The last time I had a sinus infection was back in January, when I was still pregnant with Little Man. Being sick in any capacity is never fun, but I think it's worst when pregnant and taking medication to alleviate the symptoms is a no-no. Ah well, life goes on.

While I was on hiatus, Wyatt had his half-birthday!

He turned six-months-old on August 10th. It's really strange - it makes me so happy and sad at the same time. It's wonderful seeing him grow and learn new things (everyday, it seems), but at the same time, I still remember that little baby we brought home from the hospital (in the snow!)

Life is about to become a lot more hectic and stressful around the Hughes/Ward residence. I start Fall semester at GC&SU next Tuesday (the 17th) and will be away from home pretty much all day on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I'm not looking forward to it. I know it's for the best and I'm so close to finishing my degree, but there's not a single bit of me that doesn't want to stay at home and play with Wyatt. (Well, maybe a teeny tiny bit. Mommies need breaks, too!)

Since I'm still not feeling well, I'm going to blog about what this blog was supposed to be about later. (Say that three times fast...) My next few blogs will include, but not be limited to, baby food in transit (i.e., how to take homemade baby food on the go), bento lunches (oops, my otaku is showing...), and making green beans for Little Man! I also plan on including big people recipes soon.

See you then!
-Mother Nature Mom

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Not-So-Homemade Baby Food - Applesauce, and more about Squash!

Just wanted to update that I actually did manage to find all natural applesauce at Kroger!

A huge 46 oz jar of Mott's Natural Applesauce cost $2.39 today with my Kroger card. A little math will tell you that that equals out to 5 cents an ounce - much better than the 14 cents an ounce from my homemade organic applesauce! Although I was unable to find organic applesauce for sale (I probably should have looked in the Natural Foods section), says that all natural applesauce is a perfectly fine substitute. It's important to note that "natural" means just that - ALL NATURAL. The Mott's applesauce that I bought today has three ingredients - apples, water, and ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) - no high fructose corn syrup or preservatives that my baby doesn't need!

In this case, I think I'm going to stick with the jarred stuff. It's cheaper, more convenient, and virtually no work at all. I still plan on dividing the entire jar into ice cube trays to make easy serving portions.

In veggie land, I was lucky enough to get some homegrown butternut squash (two of them, yay!), cabbage, and cucumber from my friend Kat. Still trying to figure out what I'm going to do with the cabbage (I've never had cabbage before!), but I already have plans for the squash! One is going to be made into more awesome deliciousness for my child, and the other is mine to do with as I please! Soup? Muffins? This amazing sounding bread? I can't decide. Butternut squash is such an autumn-esque food, and I'm a big fan of autumn. I'm ready for this summer heat to be over with. Such is the plight of living in Georgia...

Until next time!

-Mother Nature Mom

PS - I found the squash bread recipe on, a fantastic sight if you're a new cook who needs direction, or if you're just tired of the same ol' dinners every week! I usually wind up trying a recipe a week from the site; most are a hit, some are a miss. I guess that's the chance you take, though. I love to use the ingredients tool - you can enter ingredients you want to include (such as things you already have around your kitchen) and those you want to leave out (foods you don't like, or maybe something you're allergic to). This is a great tool if you need to get started on dinner but have no idea what to make! Users can also leave comments about changes they made to the recipe that might fit better with your tastes.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Homemade Baby Food - Applesauce

After a long weekend at work, I came home to discover that I needed to make some more baby food - Wyatt absolutely loves his squash, sweet potatoes, and (?!@#$%) carrots! This time around, I tackled something slightly less orange than my previous endeavors, and since I had yet to make a fruit, I decided that the best one to start with would be apples.

I don't know of a single baby who doesn't love applesauce. There is plenty of home movie footage of me as a baby attacking spoonfuls of the stuff. (I honestly think I had too much of it when I was little; I'm definitely not an applesauce fan anymore!) Applesauce makes for a great first food, is easy to puree, and pairs well with just about anything - we've mixed it into cereal, and combined it with squash and other veggies. (A recent lunch is pictured below - applesauce and carrots!)

Combining foods is a fun way to introduce your baby to new tastes, so long as your child has already had the foods in question before and has not had an allergic reaction. Always introduce new foods one at a time and wait 3-4 days before introducing another food. That way if an allergic reaction occurs, you know which food is the culprit!

I probably would have made applesauce sooner, but Kroger didn't have any organic apples in stock until last week. Apples are one of the EWG's Dirty Dozen, meaning they are one of the twelve fruits and veggies that retain the highest amounts of pesticide residue. (It seems as if these fruits and vegetables have thinner skins than those on the EWG's Clean Fifteen List, which seem to have thicker skins.) Because of this, I decided to wait it out until I could purchase organic apples. While I might not buy organic for myself every time , I'm definitely buying organic for my son, unless the fruit or veggie in question isn't available in organic AND is one of the EWG's Clean Fifteen.

I bought three organic red delicious apples. (Why three? I don't know. I just like the number, I guess.) I removed the stickers, peeled them, removed the cores, and cut them into cubes. And, as always, I had issues with the peeling process. Oh well. I placed the apple pieces into my steamer basket (which I love oh so dearly...) and poured in enough water to barely cover the apples. Once the water started to boil, I turned it down a touch and put the lid on it. While the apples steamed/boiled, I fed Wyatt homemade sweet potatoes. =)

The apples were "cooked until tender" in no time flat. In fact, if Wyatt were a little bit older, cooking them wouldn't even be necessary. Cooking fruits is recommended until your baby reaches 8 months of age; cooking them breaks down the fibers and sugars of raw fruit and eases digestion. After 8 months, baby's tummy is better equipped to handle raw fruits and veggies. Exceptions to this rule are bananas and avocados, which simply need to be mashed very well with a fork and can be given to babies as young as 4 months. No cooking required. (And while Wyatt hasn't tried avocado yet, he loves banana!)

Once the apples cooled, I carefully placed the pieces into my food processor/blender in small batches. (Carefully so as not to cut myself, and in small batches because I learned the hard way with the sweet potatoes that putting everything in the blender at once is not the way to go.) I reserved the water the apples had cooked in and added it as needed to the puree. Since the pieces were very soft, they created a smooth puree in just a few minutes.

Three organic red delicious apples yielded 19 oz, which is a full tray and five more cubes from another. I paid $2.73 for the three apples, so each ounce costs roughly 14 cents. This is by far the least bang for my buck of anything I've made so far, but it is still 11 cents less per ounce than Gerber applesauce that is on sale.

There are a few ways that I could increase my savings - only buy organic apples on sale, buy from farmer's markets, and buy in bulk when I do find a sale. I could also purchase ready made natural applesauce, which has no added anything. However, I don't know if I can find this locally, or if I would actually save money by doing this; I expect it to cost more, though it might be more convenient.

Either way, I still saved money, and I will definitely be making more applesauce in the future. Wyatt likes it way too much for me to ignore it altogether, and it's probably the easiest and least time consuming puree I've made yet.

Next, I believe it's time for me to venture into the land of green veggies. Wyatt's had a couple of encounters with green beans, which resulted in a pretty hilarious face.

Can't wait to see how that turns out!

-Mother Nature Mom

Grounds For Your Garden - Easy Compost from Starbucks

Hello readers! I hope you all had an amazing weekend. My weekend was spent making coffee at Starbucks.

I'm fortunate enough to only work on the weekends, making a little extra money to help with groceries and whatnot. The rest of my week is spent at home with my Little Man, cleaning house, running errands, etc. I'd love for my entire week to be like this, but it's simply not possible at the moment. (Hopefully soon, though!) So for the time being, every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, you can find me in Macon, slinging coffee and burning myself. (I'm very accident prone, if you haven't caught on to that already.)

The next time you're at a Starbucks, look around the store a bit. You'll probably notice what appears to be a bucket that is meant to be used as a trash can. It isn't. (So please don't put trash it in, thanks!) This bucket is home to large bags full of coffee grounds, completely free for the taking! Throughout the day, we go through a LOT of coffee. (Understatement.) Instead of tossing all the coffee grounds, we fill 5 lb bags with them and leave them out for customers to take. Coffee grounds are great to use in compost, and ours are 100% free. No purchase necessary.

Starbucks started the Grounds For Your Garden program way back in 1995. (How old was I? Seven.) Since then, Starbucks stores across the nation have given away thousands of bags of used coffee grounds every single day. In one day, my store fills approximately five bags full of brewed coffee grounds as well as grounds from our espresso machines. If you compost, stop by your local store and stock up! And if you don't, picking up a bag of grounds is a great way to start.

Here's a great how-to on how to use Starbucks coffee grounds in your compost.

Now that the weekend work at the coffee shop is over, it's time to make some more baby food! Organic applesauce is next on the list, and I'll be posting all the details here.

- Mother Nature Mom

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Homemade Baby Food - Butternut Squash and Sweet Potatoes

That's right, I tackled TWO different foods at the same time. I am Mother, hear me roar!

But seriously, things went much more smoothly this time around. Perhaps it's because I had better equipment. Maybe I was simply more careful (make that much more.) It could have been luck. Regardless, my second foray into making homemade baby food was a complete and utter success! And I did most of the work while Wyatt took his afternoon nap. Crazy.

Let's start with the squash.

I wound up buying a decent sized organic butternut squash instead of a regular butternut for a couple of reasons. One, organic is better. Two, when I got to the register at Kroger, the regular squash (which was only slightly bigger than the organic) rang up at $5.35. The organic rang up at $1.95. Yeah, confused the hell out of me, too. Apparently, the regular ol' squash is charged by the pound. The organic isn't. So, while the regular butternut squash might have been on sale for $1.70 a pound, it definitely wasn't the better deal! Add in the fact that my Kroger card shaved off 20 cents from the organic's price, and you can clearly see why I put the regular squash back.

Isn't she beautiful?

By the way, almost all of these pictures will show me doing prep work, etc on top of my stove. My kitchen has no counter space whatsoever, and the counter space we do have is completely taken up by our microwave, toaster oven, bottle drying rack, espresso machine, and dish drying rack. I have all the cabinet space a woman could ever need (and then some) but no counter space. So, until we invest in a kitchen island, on top of the stove it is!

Before I did anything else, I preheated the oven to 400 degrees. I made a huge mental note to do this beforehand because otherwise, I would absolutely forget until it was time to bake the damn thing. Then, I removed the stickers and cut the squash in half lengthwise using a really big knife whilst sustaining no injuries. Thumbs up for me. It took about ten minutes. Squash skin is tough, and my right arm is a total wimp. Need to find a better way for next time...

You guys are going to think I'm crazy, but I think that if a watermelon and a pumpkin had a baby, it would be a butternut squash. All I could think about while I cut the squash was, "Wow! It smells like a watermelon!" And the seeds on the inside resemble what my dad refers to as "pumpkin guts." Call me crazy, I don't care.

Anyway, I scooped out the squash "guts" and made sure no little stringy bits were left. Then I took my biggest glass baking dish and poured in about an inch and a half of water. I put the squash halves into the dish, face down.

My baking dish was almost not big enough. I lucked out. Note to self, big squash need not apply.

After coercing the squash halves into coexistence (it was kind of like doing a jigsaw puzzle with two really awkward pieces), I put them into the oven for 40 minutes. While they baked, I moved on to the sweet potatoes.

I am not a fan of sweet potatoes. Never have been. But, my child likes them, so there you go. Don't really need another reason to make them, right?

Kroger didn't have any organic sweet potatoes when I went, but that's okay as sweet potatoes are one of the EWG's Cleanest 15 fruits and veggies with the lowest amount of pesticides. So, I don't feel so bad for not buying organic this time.

I had two sweet potatoes handy, so I decided to use both of them. (I considered only using one, but I knew the other would just sit in the fridge.) I scrubbed them both very well and started peeling them.

Remember when I had issues peeling the organic carrots? Well, the sweet potatoes were even worse. Pretty sure I wanted to throw the peeler out the window a couple of times. I finally gave up and use a paring knife to finish the job. Way easier.

When the potatoes were completely peeled, I chopped them both into little chunks. (Have you ever tried to "cube" a sweet potato? You can't do it. There is nothing remotely cube-like about the pieces you wind up with. They are asymmetrical chunks.) I then placed them into my NEW STEAMER BASKET THAT A WONDERFUL CO-WORKER GAVE ME.

That's right, no more ghetto steamer!

My co-worker, Sarah, was nice enough to give me her steamer basket. It helped a lot, since I'm pretty sure the Tupperware lid trick would not have worked with two good-sized sweet potatoes.

After I added the sweet potato, I poured in just enough water to cover the pieces. Once the water started to boil, I turned the heat down a bit and put the lid on.

Wanna know how I know I'm good at this? The squash and the potatoes finished at the same time. Yeah, I've got this down to an art. (I'm completely not serious.)

I took the butternut squash out of the oven at about the same time the sweet potatoes had been "cooked until tender." (Which I still think is just a way of saying, "I was too lazy to time this, but they're done now!") The squash skin looked puckered and had sunken in where I had scooped out the squash guts, and had started to turn a darker tan color. (Both signs of "done-ness" according to I took the pot with the sweet potatoes off the heat and let them cool along with the squash.

Just a side note, but when I opened the oven door to check on the squash a couple of times towards the end, the water in the bottom of the baking dish had created this really strange whirlpool effect. It would bubble up from under the hollows in the squash halves and rotate around the dish until it created a whirlpool. REALLY WEIRD.

I waited about an hour before I blended both the squash and sweet potatoes, and they were still a bit warm. The great thing about my new food processor/blender is that I can blend two different things without having to wash anything in between. So that's exactly what I did. (And when I did wash them, I managed to not cut myself. Hooray!) I forgot to do this with the sweet potatoes, but to thin out the squash, I used the water that the squash had been baked in to get back a few of those nutrients. I used a little nursery water with the sweet potatoes. (Side note - I didn't do this with the carrots because they're very high in nitrates! Never use the same water to thin out carrots that you used to cook them in!)

I wound up with one cube short of two full trays of sweet potatoes. I probably could have managed to fill that last cube, as some of them turned out to be quite full and the puree was a bit on the "chunky" side.

Unfortunately, I tossed the receipt that had the price for the sweet potatoes, so I don't know exactly how much I saved. My expert guesstimation would be that making the sweet potatoes at home cost between 5-7 cents per ounce, depending if they were on sale or not. I can't remember.

One organic butternut squash yielded three full trays! (It was almost one and a half trays. When the squash finished baking, it smelled and tasted so delicious -and not like watermelon - that I almost saved half to make into soup. Oh well, guess I'll have the buy another squash for myself!)

Math time! One organic squash was $1.75 and yielded 42 oz/cubes. So how much per ounce, my mathematically inclined friends? 4 cents! I would have spent $10.50 for 42 oz of Gerber squash.

Lessons Learned:
- Since sweet potatoes have a shelf life of 2 weeks in the freezer, I'll only use one next time. I guess my intuition was right!
- Butternut squash is great to make in bulk! (And considering the size of one squash, you pretty much have to make it in bulk.) But that's okay, because while sweet potatoes have a relatively short freezer life, butternut squash (and any type of winter squash) will keep for up to 4 months in the freezer!
- The sweet potatoes came out kind of thick, while the squash came out much thinner. I think I might have added too much water to the squash and not enough to the sweet potatoes. This is easily fixed, though. When thawed, if a puree is too runny, add a little rice cereal or oatmeal. Too thick? Stir in formula or breast milk. (By the way, when I took out a couple of cubes of squash for Wyatt's lunch today, the consistency was just right when it thawed. No biggie!)

Of course, it's always important to label and date your baby food when placed in the freezer. From left to right - squash, sweet potatoes, and (*?$@!) carrots.

Maybe next time I'll make something not quite so... orange. =)

- Mother Nature Mom

Wyatt Baby Reads Books

I'm a sucker for a good deal - groceries, clothes, books, anything - so I love it when I find good sales on baby stuff. Wyatt's growing out of his clothes so fast that it causes me physical pain to pay full price for an outfit, and while he still likes most of his toys, the day will come when he will outgrow them. (I'll probably cry when he's finished with his Eric Carle Stack-able Very Hungry Caterpillar.)

I'm pretty good at discovering awesome finds on sale racks and in clearance sections. Kenny and I have hit up Old Navy a couple of times in the past month or so, and we always find cute shirts or onesies on sale. Of course, most of the clearance clothes are off-season, but Little Man is already wearing some 9-12 month clothes, which broadens our finds a little bit.

My favorite clearance finds at Old Navy, however, aren't clothes. I've managed to score three books from the Urban Babies Wear Black series, which are whimsical little board books with a wry sense of humor. (For instance, in Winter Babies Wear Layers, the line "Winter babies are angels" is accompanied by an illustration of a baby making a snow angel... and pitching a fit. Rocker Babies Wear Jeans features a baby eating strawberry jam while wearing a Rolling Stones t-shirt. What's the line? "Rocker babies do jam sessions," of course. ) On two separate occasions, I've run across this book series on sale for less than $2 a book. And while I think they're absolutely adorable, the real test is if Wyatt likes them.

Oh yeah.

Of all the books we've gotten, these are probably my favorites to read, and the illustrations are absolutely priceless. And hey, the price was right.

- Mother Nature Mom

PS - Wyatt is "reading" Eco Babies Wear Green. =)

Monday, July 26, 2010

Greetings and Salutations

Hi everybody! Welcome to my new blog, Mother Nature Mom! (I'm not sold on the name, to be honest, but I had to enter something... and it does encompass what I'm trying to do here... Let me know if you've got a better idea!)

Technically, this is my second post; I've already imported my first foray into baby food making from Facebook. (I felt it wouldn't be fair to exclude the adventure that started the ball rolling.) If you haven't read it yet, it can be found below this post at the bottom of the page. And I do recommend reading it. It's... humorous, to say the least.

In baby food news, I successfully made sweet potatoes and butternut squash today! And I didn't injure myself whatsoever! It's a miracle. The little nuggets of goodness are still in freeze mode in their ice cube trays, so I'll make a separate post later tonight or tomorrow to tell how it all went down. And this time, I took pictures! Fun stuff.

For now I leave you with a couple of before and after pictures of Wyatt with his homemade carrots, that I painstakingly (literally!) made for him. Enjoy!

- Mother Nature Mom



Sunday, July 25, 2010

My First Attempt at Homemade Baby Food

Before I even start, I just want you guys to know that I am damn proud of myself. Because really, who would have thought a year ago that I would willingly be slaving away (ok, not exactly "slaving") in my kitchen making homemade baby food for my child? Nodamnbody, that's who.


There are a couple of reasons why I decided to try out this homemade baby food business:
1. It's cheap. 4 oz of Gerber's Stage 1 carrots cost 97 cents on sale at Kroger. An entire bag of whole organic carrots costs $2.50. (And hey, on WIC, it's free!)
2. I wanted to know what it would feel like to make food for my child and know that everything he's eating is good for him and fresh and wonderful and awesome.

And there's also a tiny part of me that did it because some people thought it was a stupid idea. But that's not important.

So! I decided to start with carrots, since Wyatt loves them so. (See my profile pic.)

If not for, I would have been completely lost. I would have been left standing in my kitchen with a bag of carrots in my hand, willing it to puree itself into something my son can manage. Lucky for me, I did happen to find this site (thanks to, which has tons of information ranging from what types of equipment to use, age ranges for certain foods, recipes, and how to cook the damn stuff. (Well, they didn't call it that, but that was the question on my mind at the time.) Apparently, the best way to cook most fruits and veggies (carrots included) is to steam them. Steaming retains the most nutrients. This is where I ran into my first problem: I don't own a steamer.

I own a lot of kitchen gadgets; I have a crock pot, a toaster oven, a hand mixer, and about 20 or so little scoops and spoons to measure things out with. No steamer. So I got crafty. I put one of my many coffee mugs in the bottom of my biggest pot, upside down. Then I found the biggest tupperware lid that I had that would fit inside the pot while still leaving enough room for the steam to rise. Voila, Ghetto Steamer. Poured in some water, started heating it to a boil. Then I began peeling the carrots.

I realized almost immediately that they sell already-peeled carrots for a reason... convenience! Who has time to stand around peeling carrots all day? No one! Hence the prebagged baby carrots - already peeled and cut up into manageable pieces. Hooray 21st century! I made it through six carrots before my arm began to scream at me (thanks for the tendinitis and nerve damage, Starbucks!) I cut the carrots into little chunks and put them on top of the tupperware lid. Once the water started to boil, I turned the temperature down a bit and put the lid on it.

The recommended cook time was "until carrots are tender," which is helpfully specific. I let them steam for about 20 minutes, which was probably a little longer than necessary. But hey, they were cooked. And now this is the part where I put on my Momma pants and tell you what you guys already know - steam can burn you! Lift the lid away from you! Use a friggin' pot holder! Your hands will thank you. (Mine currently hate me, both for this reason and because of a previous injury involving a very hot sandwich oven at work.)

After hopping up and down and cursing, I took the lid o' carrots out of the pot and let them cool. And here is where I ran into my second problem.

My parents had given me a food processor/blender combo that had been given to them umpteen years ago by my nana, who is notorious for giving people gifts they don't want. This is one of those gifts. It sat in the attic, still in the box, for years. When Kenny and I moved in together, my parents gave us a bunch of stuff - vacuum cleaner, kitchen table and chairs, and a bunch of other awesome, useful things. They also gave us this blender which, granted, they have never used. I'm sure if they had, it would have been in appliance heaven by now. This thing has one setting. One. It has a lever that you push down on to make it go. That's it. No crush ice button, no puree button. Nothing. I burned up the motor in five minutes. I then spent another five minutes trying to mash up the carrots with a fork before putting them in a bowl, covering it with Saran wrap, and sticking it in the fridge.

At this point, carrots were my least favorite food ever.

So today, I ventured to Walmart and purchased a new food processor/blender combo that has all the things the last food processor/blender combo did not. Granted, it could have had two settings and it would have been more, but no, I bought a nice food processor/blender with lots of settings. I was very happy. So happy in fact that while washing my new food processor/blender, I got a little overzealous and cut open the palm of my hand with the very, very, very sharp blade.

Did you know that I am squeamish about blood? You do now.

After not passing out while hunting for the Band-Aids, I managed to reassemble my sharp, shiny new appliance and puree the most beautiful carrots I have ever seen. It was so wonderful. I pushed the puree button which - guess what! - purees! I simply added a little nursery water as needed to achieve the right consistency. Once everything was blended, I scooped my masterpiece into an ice cube tray. As it turns out, six carrots is exactly the right amount to fill one whole tray. I totally knew that. (No I didn't.)

Here's the part where I do a little math. (I heard your gasp from here!)
As I said before, 4 oz of Gerber carrots is 97 cents on sale. For the sake of ease, we'll say that's 25 cents per ounce.
The bag of carrots that I bought had about 20 whole carrots. At $2.50 a bag, each carrot cost 13 cents, so six carrots cost 78 cents.
Six carrots filled up one ice cube tray, which has 14 individual cubes. Each cube is one ounce. (I measured this beforehand.) So, one tray is 14 ounces. That equals out to 6 cents an ounce.


And since Wyatt typically eats 2 oz at a time, one tray is seven servings.

So yes. Making your own baby food is extremely easy on the pocket. And I'm sure next time I'll be much more prepared and careful. While it was kind of a pain in the butt this time, it really is so simple and easy. I swear!

Lessons Learned:
Buy carrots that are already peeled next time!!!
Test equipment before use to ensure it's worth a damn.
Wear leather gloves at all times. (Kidding, sort of.)
Don't listen to the haters.