Milk and Cheese

These are some notes I took from the book Skinny Bitch, regarding dairy. For those of you who say you can't give up cheese and butter and milk, you might want to consider:

*Cows have to give birth in order to produce milk. They otherwise don't need to be milked - ever. Their udders, like women's breasts, exist even when there is no milk in them. There is one major difference, however. Cows milk, by design, grows a 90lb calf into a 2,000 lb cow over the course of two years. It allows calves to double their birth weight in forty-seven days and leaves their four stomachs feeling full. Sounds even more fattening than human milk, right? It is. It should be. Cows are bigger than humans. They are cows.

*Dairy products produce mucus, and often the body will develop a cold or allergies to fight the dairy invasion.

*All species, including ours, have just what they need to get by. Mother Nature did not intend for grownups to continue drinking from their mother's breasts. We don't need our mother's milk as adults, just like grown cows don't need their mother's milk anymore. We are the only species on the planet that drinks milk as adults. We could be putting gorilla milk on our cereal or having zebra milk and cookies. Why cows milk? The answer is money. It has nothing to do with health or nutrition. The dairy industry is a multi-billion dollar industry based on brilliant marketing and the addictive taste of milk, butter, and cheese. We have been told our whole lives, "You need milk to grow. Without milk your bones will break. If you don't drink milk you'll get osteoporosis. You need calcium." That's BS.

*Researchers at Harvard, Yale, Penn State and the National Institute of Health have studied the effects of dairy intake on bones. Not one of these studies found dairy to be a deterrent to osteoporosis. On the contrary, a study funded by the National Dairy Council itself revealed that the high protein content of dairy actually leaks calcium from the body. Another study showed that though 40 million American women have osteoporosis, only 250,000 African women have bone disease. In fact, of the forty tribes in Kenya and Tanzania, only one - the Masai- has members suffering from osteoporosis. The Masai, as it happens, are a cattle-owning, milk drinking tribe.

*Other problems associated with dairy: acne, anemia, anxiety, arthritis, ADD, ADHD, fibromyalgia, headaches, heartburn, indigestion, IBS, joint pain, osteoporosis, poor immune function, allergies, ear infections, colic, obesity, heart disease, diabetes, autism, Crohn's disease, breast and prostate cancer, and ovarian cancer.

It's at least worth considering...

Homemade Biscuits

So I make biscuits fairly often. When the girls were wee little tykes I found this amazing buttermilk biscuit recipe that became my absolute favorite; ya know, the kind of recipe that gets the special laminated sheet and first slot in the Bread Recipes Binder.

It's a special recipe and I make these special biscuits on Sunday mornings or whenever we have house guests. It's always fun to 'wow' house guests with home-made biscuits: "You made these biscuits, from scratch?" They think you slaved. They're impressed.

But the reality is biscuits couldn't be easier to make. They're actually easier to make than muffins, yet when you make muffins from scratch you rarely hear "you made these muffins, from scratch?" (as if there's any other way?) And while we're on the subject, if you're still making muffins from boxes STOP IT! For the love of all things food it's just pre-mixed dry ingredients! Pre-mix it yourself and keep it in a jar if you need to but stop paying someone else to pre-mix flour for you! It has weird ingredients in it. It probably has chemicals leaking from the plastic it's packed in. It's a waste of packaging. It's just wrong. It supports a level of laziness in the kitchen that symbolizes a lot of what's wrong with our western diets. I can understand the cake mix to a certain degree as that is perhaps a different beast, but boxed muffin mixes and cookie mixes and cornbread mixes and biscuit mixes and ugh, Bisquick? No no no and no!

The main ingredients in biscuits are flour, baking powder, salt, butter or shortening and milk (usually buttermilk). Nothing exciting. I suppose it's the 'rolling out of the dough' that scares people off. And for years when I was making biscuits I used a pastry cutter to add the butter. But you can make the same delicious biscuits without having to do either of these things. Just turn the dough out on a floured surface, flip it a couple of times, shape it into some sort of rectangle and pop it in the oven. Done! You don't need to use round cutters to cut biscuits into shapes (you can, but you don't need to). You don't need to even separate out the dough into pieces (drop biscuits). Just shape it and bake it. Once it's cooked then you can cut it into squares or just let your guests cut their own chunks out. You do want to lightly make some cut lines in the top of the dough before baking just to allow for air flow, but geez, that's nothing compared to the mess of spooning muffin batter into the pans.

See the one thing I've learned about making muffins, biscuits, pancakes, cornbread, etc is the more you mix and roll the denser the bread. The secret to light fluffy non-yeasty breads is to not over mix. It should still be chunky, it should not be batter-smooth like cake batter or brownies. Resist messing too much with the dough. You'll not only save time in the kitchen but you'll have a yummier biscuit. So, step away from the dough!

OK, so having said that, now let's step away from the butter, shortening and fermented milk while we're at it. Time to say buh bye to Betty. Here's a healthy, EASY, vegan biscuit recipe - it's way less fat, way less calories, way cheaper and way more cruelty-free. Now, to be fair, I did veganize my old buttermilk biscuit recipe by using soy butter and lemon-juice-fermented almond milk, and the results were still good. The same, really. But if you can get away with making the same biscuit without butter or shortening? This recipe uses whole-wheat flour and if you're looking to reduce the wheat in your life, substitute for brown rice flour. The soy-yogurt replaces the buttermilk. And the butter is just gone gone gone (and the pastry cutter!)

My kids gobble these up. We put soy butter, almond butter, soy yogurt, applesauce, honey, peanut butter, strawberry preserves, peaches, maple syrup...just about anything we can find...on top of these yummies. Give this recipe a try and see if your family doesn't say "Wow! You made these biscuits, from scratch?"

Yogurt Biscuits
2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour (or any mixture of flours you bake with)
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup soy yogurt (plain)
1/4 cup non-dairy milk (hemp, almond, etc)
1/4 cup oil

Preheat oven to 400. Lightly flour a baking sheet. Combine the dry ingredients. In small separate bowl whisk together the wet ingredients. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the wet mixture. Stir to form a sticky dough. Flour your hands and set the dough on a floured surface. Turn the dough over a few times in the flour until the dough is no longer sticky. But be very gentle with the dough! If you want to cut it circles, spread dough out to about 1/2 inch thick and cut into circles. Otherwise, just spread dough out to 1/2 inch and put on baking sheet. Lightly make cut marks along the top to separate the dough a bit. Bake for 12 minutes. Don't over bake! Better to let them come out early and finish baking on the pan than to overcook in the oven. The oven will dry biscuits out in a hurry.

*Optional: I've made biscuits with orange juice instead of milk so if you don't have any non-dairy milk on hand, use OJ instead. It'll give the biscuits a citrus taste! Yum! Also, I've experimented some with adding other flavors, such as 1 tsp molasses, or 2 tsp sugar of your choice, or 2 tsp maple syrup, or 1 tsp honey. Any of these will add a bit more flavor but aren't needed if you'll be topping them with something flavorful.

*This Yogurt Biscuit recipe comes from The Vegetarian Family Cookbook, by Nava Atlas. One of my favorite new vegan family cookbooks.

*And here's the link to the Kentucky Buttermilk Biscuit recipe I've been using for over a decade now. The only change I make is I don't use buttermilk (I use almond or hemp), I use whole wheat flour, and Earth Balance butter.


January Reading List

Oh man, is it just me, or was it really hard to get back into the school routine after the holiday break? Good grief. For a while there I actually considered just giving up...phoning it in, as Jillian Michaels would say. No, I can't do it! Not another day! And no more situps! (wait, what?). Even now I'm struggling to get organized and January is almost over! Are we on fish or birds? Did we finish mammals? Did we spend enough time on Joan of Arc? I don't know! I don't know! This level of disorganization, combined with what can only be described as educational apathy are most definitely not a good way to start off a New Year, nor is it welcome in general.

I'd like to think I have a good excuse. There have been some life changes going on, coupled with my decision to open another retail store in another month or so - these things I understand will naturally derail otherwise normal organized household routines. But's annoying. There's enough time in the day...we simply aren't that busy. I really think my brain just needs some mega doses of warm sunshine. Really, I think that simply boils down to my needing to spend a little time in, oh, I don't know, the Bahamas maybe? But, whatever, I'm flexible.

Well, current derailments aside, we did actually make it to the library last week and actually even managed to read most of the books we picked up. And considering how many bookcases and display units I painted and moved over to the store during that time (ahem, on my own, ahem), I'm actually fairly impressed. And that's saying a lot because normally just us getting out of pajamas impresses me.

Now, I'm going to be honest, there's not a single book in that stack that was for me to read. I did watch a movie by Ken Burns on Prohibition, which I thought was quite interesting, and I do have a religious history book I've been working on for two months now (seriously, the print is outrageously tiny - it was clearly written for buzzards), and a couple of book club titles I'm determined to read, but really, I think for the interim, I'm doing good reading The Talented Clementine to the monkeys without some sort of brain freeze.

As you can see from the stack the monkeys are reading up on eagles, Bengal tigers, and I think peacocks (random, I know, this is what I'm talking about). And for history we've been reading up on Columbus, the Aztecs, the Incas, the Mayans, and good ol Quetzalcoatl. All we have left is one short chapter on Martin Luther and Henry the VIII and we will finally be out of the Middle Ages and off into the world of the Renaissance! Aye! Which will mean a whole new lapbook and a whole new subsection on glass-blowing! *squeal*, I mean...*nerdy snort* (more on the lapbooks later).

BTW, speaking of Henry, have you seen the Showtime series, The Tudors? Good grief it's naughty, but beautiful and fascinating and insanely interesting, -- and a great diversion if you're experiencing any sort of book/school brain-freeze derailment issues (and yet still want to soak in a little, um, history). I'm just sayin'.

Just a few more months, fellow homeschoolers! Don't phone it in! You can do it! I think I can I think I can.

P.S. - His Grace, the Duke of Suffolk. Aye, indeed!

"God's Teeth!"

T Shirt Bags

Well, I've been putting this blogpost off for a while thinking I would get to the second stack of tshirts that made their way to the craft table after the first round of tshirts were turned into bags...but alas, a couple of tote-bag projects got in the way, and then Girl Scout season started up again, creating a landslide of vests, sashes and patches going under the sewing needle. Sigh.

But here's where I'm at so far...basically I've made a mess? a gaggle? a herd? a flutter? a swarm? a colony? a dray? a bevy? a...oh, whatever, it's a bunch of bags made out of old shirts. (About 20, in fact, from 6 shirts). My goal was to create bags of various sizes that could be used to replace baggies. But not just sandwich baggies, I wanted to create bags I could take with me to the grocery store or to farmer's markets to replace produce bags and bulk bin bags. To essentially replace all forms of plastic bags used in getting food home. I was inspired by the idea after reading this blogpost and watching her tutorial video. And then watching this video where a crafty gal whips up 5 different bags from one shirt in just a matter of minutes - at the farmer's market no less (seriously, watch the video). I also loved these recycled tshirt bags, which even the kiddos can make by just sewing one straight line at the bottom.

So the first thing I did was go thru closets and pull out large and small shirts that were no longer wanted. At first the kiddos refused to help and barred me from entering their closets, but after they saw all the bags I was making they ran to their closets and starting pulling shirts off hangers saying "Make me one! Make me one!" (hence the second stack of shirts I've yet to get to). I even found some old pajama pants I rarely wore, and while I wasn't willing to give them up entirely yet, I did cut off the material from the knees down (making them more like crop pants) and used that material to make 2 more cool produce bags.

All I did was cut the pants leg off just below the knees. I turned the cut piece inside out and sewed up the cut end. That left the hemmed side open. Viola! A bag! To add a drawstring, I used a long piece of ribbon (you can use twine, rope, whatever), cut a small slit on each side of the hem, put a safety pin in the end of the ribbon and bit by bit I worked the safety pin thru the hem opening so that it went all the way around the bag. Pulled the ribbon thru, cut it to the length I wanted, tied a knot in each end (so it can't pull back thru) and Viola! A drawstring bag! Two, actually.

Use this same idea for making the bags from the tshirts. Lay the shirt out flat. Cut off the sleeves (these will make small bulk bin bags), then from the main part of the shirt you can cut (depending on the size of the shirt and the size you want your bags) 4 sections out by simply dividing it up. For kids size shirts you can only get one bag out of the main body of the shirt. Just cut all the way across under each sleeve. Turn inside out, sew up the cut side and add your drawstring to the hemmed side. Easy peasy.

For the larger sections cut from a larger tshirt, on at least 2 of the top sections you will have 2 cut sides. But it's basically the same idea. Just turn the 'bag' inside out and sew up one of the openings. For the other cut side you will have to create your own hem so you can add the drawstring. That's just a matter of turning 1/2 inch of fabric in and sewing it up for each side. Then running the drawstring thru. I won't go into details about that as I won't be able to explain it without confusing you (if I haven't already). My best advice is just work with it a bit. Or watch this video. The way I learned to sew was by making an insane amount of mistakes and learning from each one how not to do it! Hey, whatever works. Besides, you're practicing on shirts you would have eventually thrown out anyway so take the time to learn a few sewing basics and allow yourself a few mistakes along the way. I promise, if I can do it, anyone can!

I have to tell you, I've had quite interesting responses to my baggie bags at the grocery store! This is how my dark chocolate covered almonds (my absolute favorite snack) comes home from the bulk bins now. The cashiers don't even bother to look what's in them, they just go on and on about how cool the bags are and what a great way to save on plastic. I've had some cashier's call others over to take a look they're so amazed. Totally worth it. The kids beam, saying "That's from one of my shirts!" and we all walk away feeling like there's hope for at least a little less plastic in our world.

I use the larger tshirt bags (where 1 bag is made from 1 shirt - link to tutorial here) for farmers markets and for grocery store produce such as kale, spinach, lettuce - anything that's large, tender, and hard to shove in smaller bags. I use the smaller bags for lemons, avocados, bananas, herbs, or any other produce that would otherwise be put in a plastic produce bag. I use the even smaller bags for my bulk bin items: raisins, nuts, oats, dates, pretzels, etc. The bags can be thrown in the wash if they get dirty. Just keep an assortment of them with your other recycled grocery bags.

We use some of the bags for markers, makeup, small toys that go with us to restaurants, hair accessories, etc. We took some to camp with us to put our toiletries in, and clipped them to our camp bags. We also tied some of the small ones to our beltloops to hold snacks and coins. We found some glitter glue and added peace signs and other various decorations to the bags. We even made a long bag (from the bottom of one of the larger shirts) to use as a wine bag (you could also use the sleeves from long sleeve shirts)!

(oh, and the discoloration on the little green bag with the peace sign on it is from my attempts to spray tie dye paint on apparently doesn't work on green, just fyi). But the glitter glue works great!

From this tutorial we made a handful of snack/sandwich bags with the fold over tops. We use these for snacks and bulk bin items or for packing picnic sandwiches.
So, go grab some shirts, dust off your sewing machine and cross plastic baggies off your grocery list forever!

more links here and here


*moved this over from another blog that I'm trying to consolidate...sorry for the double posting for those of you who've seen it already!

A Dolphin Sculpture

So, we've been studying dolphins and whales recently, and, as we normally do for our science studies, we checked out the Arty Facts: Animals and Art Activities book to see if there were any projects that might relate. And, of course we found one. A rather nifty one, in fact.
A dolphin sculpture made from clay.

Hey, we have clay!

So we turned our little balls of clay (we used air dry clay) into little dolphin and rock shapes and secured them together with skewer sticks (broken in half).

We let them dry for a day. Then painted them.

We even added a little glitter to them.

Aren't they fun?

Another nifty art project we found to try was from the Usborne Art Treasury book. This one didn't relate to any of our studies...we were just in the mood for some art, and it was too cold and rainy to be out. So we picked a more challenging project painting dogs and cats that involved mostly watercolors and a little ink (we used a permanent black marker).

And I'll admit, we may have been in over our heads with this one.

Basically, watercolor is used to create a background shape, then ink (marker) is used to draw in the lines. The idea is to try to get away from coloring in the lines, so the lines are drawn in after the painting is done. It's sometimes hard to teach kids that it's OK to be messy...that sometimes that is the intended effect.

It was definitely a challenge for big gypsy girl.

And the little one especially had a hard time allowing the water to do the painting for her. She's got a great hand for detail, so it's even more of a challenge for her to let the paint get out of the lines.

Then again, she's only 8.

We'll definitely do this project again. It was a great exercise covering a variety of skills, and while it was perhaps a bit out of our art range (at least for this year) sometimes you just gotta try. At the very least it kept us busy for a good part of an otherwise dreary rainy wintery afternoon. And we learned that dogs and cats are not easy to paint or draw.
And well, sometimes that's good enough.