Words, Food and DIY Mania

You know those moments in life when something in your mind just clicks into place. Unrelated ideas and memories and thoughts are scattered and out of focus, and then something happens. It all starts falling neatly in line. You figure something out about yourself, or rather you figure out how a bunch of random things in your life all fit together. That’s what’s happening to me. And now it all makes perfect sense.

I have never been a “put together” type of person. I mean I know when I like something, a piece or pieces, but I just could never seem to make them all fit together. But I’ve been reflecting a lot this week and I’ve discovered how different parts of my life from as far back as I can remember, fit neatly into certain words. Traditional and classic, natural, rustic yet elegant and fresh, but somehow still quirky and messy, simple yet inspiring and with lots of depth and meaning. Maybe that doesn’t seem so simple to you. But to me, those words sum up my entire life. It may not be the way others see me, but this is what my soul wants. Now that I see it, maybe you will too. The best part, the “click” if you will, came not just with these words, but with a realization. How when things are going right, these words are filling me up. The parts of my life that work, are all inscribed with these words. I’ve always loved these words. They are inscribed in my soul.

So what does this have to do with food? I’ll tell you what this has to do with food. I want my food to be those words. Simple and rustic and messy (aka easy and minimalist). I want it to be natural, fresh, traditional and classic (whole, farm to table and prepared using old techniques and recipes). And I like to use new and unexpected ingredients (quirky). I want the food to be inspiring (beautiful and yummy) and I want it to be full of depth and meaning (deeply nourishing for me, my family and every lovely person sharing our table).

So I’ve been a busy girl. Trying to make the outsides match the insides around our house. Especially in the food areas of the house. The dining room, the kitchen and the back yard (where a lot of our food comes from and where it is sometimes eaten). A friend introduced me to Pinterest a couple weeks ago and it has me believing I can do anything. That is one inspiring website. So I’ve been working on several d-i-y projects and have already made two trips to my new favorite store, Hobby Lobby, and a few trips to Home Depot. I started with a white wash on the picnic table. DIY semi-fail. Not enough water, so back to Home Depot for sand paper and a hand sander to strip some of the paint off. The good news is it has the look I wanted and the bonus of this “mistake” is a table that’s as smooth as a baby’s butt. (Which is great for our butts.)

Rustic

Then a classic, elegant chandelier makeover. Spray painted it “oiled bronze” and made a cover for the chain. That’s right, as in I bought fabric and used my sewing machine! (Who knew buying fabric could be so intimidating.) The best part is that this upcycle cost me less than $6. The paint was on sale and I only used half a yard of fabric.

Next I made these quirky little napkins. I already had the napkins, so all I had to buy was black fabric paint, some foam brushes and letter stencils.  This cost me about $15, but I have plenty of paint and brushes left and the stencil is reusable. I have a ton of stenciling ideas swimming around in my head already.

Did you notice the rest of the table? I bought some rustic burlap fabric, which I just folded, ironed and tied with some natural twine I had lying around to use as a table runner. The centerpiece, candles and candle holders were all a bargain from a thrift store. The flowers and ivy were in the garage. The table cloth was already on the table and the mason jars and plates came from my cabinet. This rustic, quirky, elegant table makeover cost me maybe $15 total!!

And the day I painted the chandelier, I also spray painted jar lids with chalk board paint for easy labeling. Seems like a good idea, but they scratch easily. Maybe they need more than one coat.

And here’s something quirky. I found this basket and vase at the thrift store. The fake flowers, the aloe plant and pot and the pine cone were already mine. Cute right?

The mirror pictured above and the “Kitchen” sign also came from a thrift store. Trash to treasure!! You know what else? I took all of these photos with my new camera. I’ve been practicing a lot. Inspiration is a wonderful motivator! Can’t wait to roast my rustic whole, pastured chicken and serve it with some rustic, chunky roasted beets and carrots and a salad – farm to table. All natural and whole from the farmers market. Then share it with my family in our newly redecorated rustic, elegant, natural and quirky dining room. My soul is happy!

Time Change, Halloween, Thrift Stores and More Seasonal Food

I’m in a sort of ‘zen’ mood this week. Last week was rough. I was ready to throw in the towel. But toward the end of the week I found my center. The chaos seems to be running in slow motion at the moment. Slow enough for me to handle. Slow enough for me to step back and see what’s really important.

The crape myrtle in my back yard is one of my favorite things. It’s my calendar. In the fall it looks like this. Green, yellow and red and pink all at once. Even though it’s leaves are dropping, the flowers are still hanging on. Normally, the time change bothers me. But this year, the early darkness seems calming. Evenings feel slightly less hectic. The rest of the world disappears. Only the center of my universe, my family, this house, is visible… at least until morning.

Halloween was fun, but lasted longer than usual. After a full night of trick-or-treating we decided to take the kids to see both sets of grandparents. We ate too much candy. We went to bed too late. We did not hand out boxes of raisins, apples or home made goodies as I wished we could.  Instead we gave out tattoos, lollipops and fruit snacks (organic, with no artificial colors or flavors – except for a few recycled handouts from other places). I also managed to find some decent, individually wrapped dark chocolate that was ethically produced. Expensive chocolate, unrecognized by most, that will probably be left in candy bowls and jars, until all the other favorites are long gone.

The girls were so darn cute. Especially our sweet little Dorothy. I’ll always remember Haleigh the year she dressed as Raggedy Ann, Linsey the year she was Dora the Explorer and now London as Dorothy, with her white stockinged legs and little feet shuffling in a sparkly ruby red blur from porch to porch.

This is the most delicious chicken salad I’ve made yet. I used seasonal ingredients: crisp fresh apples and dried cranberries. And I added a little curry powder. Hey, don’t knock the curry. I found it in this recipe from allrecipes, where it got rave reviews. I thought it sounded interesting. Why not try it? All I have to say is this: curry powder is now a staple ingredient in my chicken salad. Just a tiny bit – 1/2 tsp or so.

This was the best fish I’ve eaten in while. My picture doesn’t do it justice. (I’ll explain it in a minute.) My parents went on a fishing trip recently and came back with a nice sized catch, which they skinned, gutted and filleted themselves in freezing cold weather. And I am so lucky (and thankful) that they shared. Flounder is very delicate, apparently. Too delicate for a clumsy home cook like me. I ended up with a few fairly large chunks and a lot of bits and pieces. But it was a delicious mess – seasoned with salt, pepper, a little garlic and chopped fresh rosemary, sage, oregano and thyme. Every single one of the kids devoured it and begged for more. I reluctantly doled out the remaining “flakes” I thought I might have for lunch the next day, in second and third helpings. How can I say no when they plead for something so good for them?

This oven “fried” coconut and almond crusted flounder turned out much better. Sounds fancy, but I really just substituted regular flour with a mix of coconut flour and almond flour. You could also just use toasted coconut and ground almonds (food processor). Cook it in the oven at 475 deg. for about 8 to 10 minutes. I turned the broiler on at the last minute to get the tops nice and golden brown. The kids love this one too. You get the fried fish taste, without so much oil and again if you are looking for a gluten free alternative to fried fish, here ya’ go. (Also works for chicken, though you’d have to cook it longer. Here’s a recipe for Eating Well’s Almond Crusted Chicken Fingers.) I cut the fish into smaller, more manageable pieces and it turned out a great.  I made enough to freeze for another night.

Here’s another delicious mess of a meal. I found a recipe for carnitas on smittenkitchen.com. I didn’t have any orange juice or lime. I considered running out to get some, but knowing apples and pork go well together, I used some spiced apple cider and lemons that I had in the fridge instead. I also added about a teaspoon of some orange zest I have stored in the freezer. (I keep a stock of lemon, lime and orange zest in the freezer. Before peeling or juicing citrus I wash and grate the peel and store it in the freezer. It’s frugal and I love how this zest can brighten up a dish. I use it all the time.) The recipe is so great by the way, even though I burned it (because I stepped away from the kitchen). All the liquid evaporated out more quickly than I expected and it stuck HARD to the cast iron skillet, which – by the way – you should avoid cooking acidic foods in. I had hoped the lemon juice wouldn’t be too much. Between the burning and the damage from the acidic lemon juice, the “season” on the bottom of my cast iron dutch oven is gone. About a quarter of the pork had to be scraped into the garbage. The carnitas were yummy with the queso fresco and cauliflower I bought at the farmers market. I topped mine with avocado, yogurt, red onion, green onions, cilantro and a few drops of sriracha (hot chilli sauce). Mmm-mmm-mmm…

I had planned to split the pork into two meals. Luckily enough pork remained, even after I burned it. The following night I served the leftover pork with sauerkraut and smashed red potatoes and cauliflower (also leftover from the night before). If you are watching carbs, you should consider mixing potatoes with cauliflower (or even substituting completely). My family didn’t even notice it the first time I mixed our mashed potatoes half and half with cauliflower. Now that they know they like it, I don’t bother trying to disguise it. If you have a picky eater, you might want to try it that way. I don’t bother peeling my potatoes either.

This was last weeks “macaroni and cheese”. To my kids, anything with a white, cheesy sauce is macaroni and cheese. And they’ve grown to expect a few veggies mixed in. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were actually a little spoiled by our macaroni and cheese. The plain stuff just might not be good enough anymore.

The one above has a little bit of ground pork, arugula, peppers, onions, garlic, chives and thyme. The one below from last night’s dinner has a slightly less cheesy, garlic, butter and sage cream sauce. I threw in a few chopped kalamata olives and anchovies to add richness to the sauce. (A few anchovies added to a dish won’t make it taste fishy. It’s like adding any other salty meat, like a little bacon or sausage, to a meal. A little bit goes a long way.) There’s also some Italian sausage, onions, peppers, fresh parsley and chives in there somewhere.

I’ve mentioned that I love shopping at thrift stores. But did I mention it’s a great place to find cool cheap props! I’ve been finding some of the cutest dishes, place mats and other table decorations and kitchen stuff. I’m going to try to take some family photos soon and I’m thinking this is where I’ll find some interesting props.

I love these Italian and French glass canisters that I’ve been collecting from thrift stores. I found the set of four vintage French jars with garden vegetables on them and paid only $0.99 cents a piece. I found a set of three online for $30.00. The cheapest set was $13.00. I got a set of four for $3.96. Woo hoo!