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