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Ilana

Life

It’s the most wonderful time…

December 8, 2016

Oh hi. You’re still here? If I’m not mistaken, I haven’t written a word in just a bit over a month. Life has been…busy.

Truth be told, the end of this year has flown by. I went to Lake George with my family in August and in a lot of ways, it feels like it was yesterday. September was still right after the trip. October flew by, marked only by my brother’s engagement party and my birthday. Halloween was quiet and then November rolled in. There was Election Day and then suddenly it was Thanksgiving. And now we’re full on in the holiday season. I have my Christmas cards, waiting for addresses and stamps, and I’m trying to finish my shopping as quickly as I can so as not to wind up doing it last minute. I know everyone feels this way, but there just aren’t enough hours in the day.

And you know what they say, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year…”

I actually tend to have a difficult time with the holidays, and this year will be no exception. It’s the first year we’re celebrating without both of my grandparents, which has been an adjustment unto itself. I think a part of my detachment this year has been due to this. I’ve managed to stay fairly even keel most of the time, and make it through all of the events and holidays thus far. But then sometimes reality hits me and I choke back tears in the supermarket. You know how it is.

This year I’m making an active effort to not slip into grinch-hood. Little Miss is almost 2.5 years old, and extremely aware of everything going on around her. She is thrilled with all the holiday lights outside and had fun helping me set up our little tree. Last night I showed her how to spin a dreidel, though her spin looks a lot more like chucking it at the table and laughing. I’m not big into Santa Claus, and really don’t know how much she would even understand, but I am trying to introduce other traditions for both holidays we celebrate as a family, and allow her to get involved.

Today we will do the first of the holiday baking, for an event this weekend. I’m sure she will help; she loves mixing and pouring and helping me measure. It gets messy, but it’s fun. I imagine that in the coming weeks as I make the biscotti and Italian fig cookies, she’ll be helping me as well.

One of the things that has helped me get “into the spirit” this year is actually my business. Through Seashore Design Studio I offer handmade fine and sterling silver jewelry that is strong, and flexible in style. Recent promotions have allowed me to ship dozens of items along with free gifts and extra goodies to friends and customers, as well as collect from these sales for charitable giving. The feeling of being able to give back and make a difference has gone a long way towards keeping me engaged, especially following this year’s political season.

I’ve also been doing a lot of my holiday shopping on Etsy. So far 99% of my shopping has been done from independent artists, with that last 1% from small companies or companies I love. I know how excited I get what I see a new order come in, and I want to be able to do that for other people. Plus there are some absolutely fantastic, unique gifts to be had when you buy from people instead of corporations.

I apologize for this blog being quiet for a while. The time has flown by so fast, and there’s been so much to do that there just never seems to be time to document something to share. I hope you’re well; stay warm (I’m already always cold and it’s not even real winter yet).

Baking

Autumn kitchen sink muffins recipe – gluten and dairy free!

November 1, 2016

So I had a big day Sunday. I peeled almost 30 apples, made 9 jars of quite yummy applesauce (plus some in the freezer), and managed to burn myself pretty nicely. Hey, you win some, you lose some, but the burn is another story.

So before that happened, I’m in my kitchen, big pot of apples cooking on one burner, huge canning kettle coming up to temperature on the other. Little Miss and her daddy are relaxing in the living room, and I think hmm, since I need to be in the kitchen anyway, let me use this time.

Rewinding for a moment, last weekend we visited my brother and sister-in-law upstate and we made a visit to the rather windy, but always lovely Schenectady Farmers Market. I’m kind of kicking myself for not buying more Pucker’s Gourmet pickles, but again, that’s another story.

So we stop to buy some bread and I nudge my husband and nod towards what is labeled as a “carrot apple oatmeal raisin” muffin. Another couple of nudges got me one, and we decided to share it the next morning. It was fluffy and beautiful, and quite yummy; not a combination I would have necessarily thought of. So for the past week I’ve had this flavor combination kicking around in my head.

Fast forward again to Sunday. In between stirring the apples, I shredded some carrots and diced an apple real small and well…threw things together. I made up the recipe off the top of my head based on what I know of baking (and had the forethought to write down what went into the bowl for in case they came good). And come good they did.

My muffins don’t have the beautiful golden domed top of the one we bought at the farmer’s market. But you know what they don’t have either? Gluten and dairy. The ingredients are actually quite simple, and the outcome was moist, yummy, just sweet enough muffins that peeled cleanly out of their wrappers.

muffins3I’m calling these Autumn Kitchen Sink Muffins. Are you familiar with the “kitchen sink” concept? That’s when everything goes in but the kitchen sink (my soups tend to be kitchen sink soups too). I could call these Gluten Free, Dairy Free Apple Carrot Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Raisin muffins, I suppose, but that seems like a mouthful.

The recipe is incredibly straightforward, but there is one point I will clarify. I happen to have recently bought oat bran, which is what I used here, but in the past I have simply thrown organic rolled oats into the food processor to grind them into oat bran. Because this recipe doesn’t rely on gluten free flour, you don’t get that odd taste and texture that it often gives baked goods. As you’ll see when you’re mixing, the ingredients distribute nice and evenly so each bite is consistent; you don’t get doughy bits and them random mouthfuls of just the mix ins.

Feel free to leave out the chocolate chips or raisins, or substitute in craisins or other dried fruit. A handful of rolled oats would add some extra chew.

Okay, enough talk. You got all the big points. They’re gluten free. They’re dairy free. They’re easy. And they make a very serviceable dessert or breakfast, because most of the sweetness is natural.

Autumn Kitchen Sink Muffin Recipe (gluten free and dairy free)

Ingredients:

  • 2 carrots, shredded and peeled
  • 1 medium apple, peeled, cored and diced
  • 1.5 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 cup oat flour
  • 1/4 cup baking oil (I used avocado, because it’s what I had handy)
  • 2 eggs
  • Pinch of salt
  • Healthy sprinkle of cinnamon
  • Generous handful each of raisins and chocolate chips
  • Sprinkle of ground chia/flax seeds and hemp seeds (totally optional, but I threw them in)

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Grab a muffin tin and some liners.
  2. Peel and shred two medium carrots (I used a box grater), then peel, core and dice a medium sized apple into very small pieces, set in a bowl.
  3. Add sugar, baking powder, oat flour, salt, cinnamon and the ground seeds, if you’re using them. Mix it up so everything is evenly distributed.
  4. Add oil and stir in, followed by 2 eggs. Drop your mix ins on top (raisins and chocolate chips in this case) and stir until the mixture looks even.
  5. Spoon into waiting muffin liners, filling half to 3/4 of the way. These will puff up somewhat, but should not puff enough to overflow.
  6. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until a toothpick in the center of one comes up clean. Allow to cool slightly before removing to a wire rack, or to enjoy warm.

This recipe made 9 muffins, and any leftovers will last several days in the refrigerator.

Baking

Birthday cakes, minus

October 28, 2016

I say “I need to bake” fairly often. And 9 times out of 10, it’s not normal baking.

Normal implies following recipes and baking what most of the population eats. Wheat, dairy, full sugar, all of that. I nearly always bake non-dairy, using either coconut oil or vegan butter in place of real butter, and often enough it needs to be gluten free also. And sometimes I mess with sugar too, either reducing the amount or substituting in some maple syrup.

This fall I had two birthday cakes to make, one for my dad, and one for well, me. Yes, I made my own birthday cake; it made sense and I like baking.

I used existing recipes with only moderate alterations, and the results were pretty nice, which is why I’m sharing. I’ve made plenty of gluten free, dairy free cakes from existing recipes that sort of felt like you were eating sand. The texture was wrong, the taste was off…there are a lot of ways a well meaning cake can go pear shape.

But these were good. Really, quite good. So I decided, even though it’s been a while since I made these, that I’d share these recipes with you for just in case you find yourself in need of a gluten free or dairy free cake. I’ve already done the test run for you!

Gluten free, dairy free birthday cake

cake1For my dad’s birthday, I wanted to do something to his taste. He’s not a fan of very sweet desserts, so I wanted something with enough natural flavor that the recipe wasn’t relying on sweetness to carry it. I found the Light & Fluffy Gluten-Free Lemon Layer Cake from Gluten Free Gigi (click the title to link to the recipe), and decided to use that as the base. After years of thinking otherwise, I’ve found that I rather like lemon and as I suspected, the lemon helped cover the flavor of the gluten free flour.

This recipe does call for 1/2 cup of milk, but the author herself used non-dairy milk instead, so it was very simple to just substitute in the cashew milk I had in the house.

I had a minor mishap in that I planned to top this cake with coconut whipped cream, but my coconut cream wasn’t cold enough and wouldn’t whip; I made emergency vegan buttercream using Earth Balance vegan butter sticks instead. The two layers of gluten free, dairy free lemon cake housed an interior layer of homemade strawberry jam I made back in June, then I piped the vegan buttercream on top and pressed sliced strawberries and blueberries into the top.

The two layers were on the flat side, but that worked out just fine for me. I hate needing to trim cakes to layer them.

The result? The cake had a nice taste and texture, and the lemon rounded it out and covered the taste of the flour a bit. The jam added a nice kick of sweetness, and the fresh fruit on top brought it all together. All things considered, I’d call this a success.

Vegan chocolate birthday cake

cake2For my birthday, I chose what else? Chocolate. I didn’t need to go gluten free this time, but I still needed to avoid dairy. I chose The Ultimate Vegan Chocolate Cake from It Doesn’t Taste Like Chicken (again, click the title to link to the recipe). The recipe was easy to follow and overall, pretty simple. I did use slightly less sugar than the recipe called for, and didn’t miss the missing 1/4 cup or so. I will admit, adding apple cider vinegar threw me a little because I hate the smell of apple cider vinegar, but it worked.

I did not make the frosting according to this recipe, but instead made coconut whipped cream (you can easily find recipes, basically you throw cold coconut cream in the KitchenAid with powdered sugar and let it get fluffy) which I mounded onto the layers, then sprinkled the top with  chocolate chips. Because why not.

The two layers fluffed up beautifully, taller than the lemon cake came. In my past experience, vegan cakes tend to come very flat, but not this one. The layers were beautiful, and I piled them up with homemade peach jam from this summer generously slathered between. Then topped it with that coconut whip I mentioned.

This cake came really nice. It wasn’t the overwhelming chocolatey-ness of a german chocolate cake (which has melted chocolate in the batter) or a flourless chocolate cake (which is practically all cocoa powder and sugar), but compared to the vast majority of chocolate cakes that just sort of taste brown, this was a real winner. I am extraordinarily picky about chocolate cakes; they’ll be gorgeous and gooey looking and then just taste brown. They betray me.

This was not a betrayal. This was a very pleasant success.

So! Test runs complete. If you find yourself in need of a recipe for a gluten free and dairy free cake, check out the Gluten Free Gigi lemon cake recipe, and if dairy free or vegan is your intention, visit It Doesn’t Taste Like Chicken for the chocolate cake recipe.

Cooking

A souper idea

October 12, 2016

lilysoupWe have a problem in my house. My toddler is addicted to soup.

I’m not even kidding. She’s asking for it at every meal, and since she knows I have some in the refrigerator, she keeps opening the fridge and demanding it. This kid’s enthusiasm for soup is both hilarious and unnerving.

Not that I can blame her, really. I love soup, and I love making soup. My husband is of the opinion that soup is not a meal and I humor him, most of the time, by serving it as a starter or accompaniment. But to be entirely honest, a hearty chicken soup is as much a meal as anything else, in my opinion.

Let’s go back to the beginning here, do you make soup? From scratch, I mean, no packets, bouillons or mixes needed. If your answer is no, it’s time to try. It’s so simple, I am absolutely telling you, if you can cook at all, you can make soup.

You don’t even need a recipe. Guidelines are all you need, and before you know it you’ll be throwing things in the pot and seasoning like a pro, whipping up pots of fragrant, amazing soup, and just in time for the cool weather rolling in.

Starting in the fall, I make a big pot of vegetable soup nearly every week, and Little Miss and I eat it throughout the week for lunches. In the past I would fish out the veggies for her but now, she wants her own bowl with the full experience in it for her. She eats the veggies, then points to the broth and says “soup!” before either asking for help with her spoon or feeding herself (really, rather neatly for a two year old).

Now, why is soup awesome?

  • It’s warm and hearty, and you can make it with nearly anything.
  • It lasts several days in the refrigerator, and the flavors combine even better after sitting for a day or two.
  • You can freeze leftovers in plastic freezer bags for easy defrosting at a later date.
  • It’s wonderfully nutritious, with all the amazing nutrients from the veggies seeping into that yummy broth.

If you’re one of those people who fish out the chunks and leave the broth, I’m not going to go so far as to call you a heathen, but I’m going to imply it. Strongly. Ahem. I don’t mean restaurant or supermarket soup, I mean homemade soup. As mentioned in my list above, all the nutrients that cook out of the ingredients go into the broth, and if the soup is done well, it should be absolutely delicious! There is no real skill necessary to make chunks of chicken or veggies taste like what they are. The broth however, is an art, and art should be appreciated.

Are you ready for the guidelines, or should I keep pontificating? Nah, you’re ready for the guidelines.

Guidelines for the easiest soup ever, which you can and should modify to make all sorts of amazing soups:

Chicken: Chicken soup is the base for matzoh ball soup, and matzoh ball soup is amazing. I do generally use matzoh ball mix (the matzoh ball mix, not soup mix) for convenience, but the soup is all from scratch. Adjust your amounts to what you need and your seasoning to taste.

soupveggiesFirst you take a pot. Add a little olive oil and let it heat up, then sear some skinless chicken thighs on both sides and set them aside. In your hot pot, saute 1-2 diced onions, then add some chopped carrot and celery and a parsnip if you wish (they cook down softer than carrots and add a sweet, earthy flavor). Give it a few minutes so your veggies get a little color. At this point I like to do some basic seasoning with salt and pepper to mix into my veggies, then I add my water. How much depends on how much soup you want; eyeball it, you know what soup looks like. I don’t think I make pots with less than 8 cups of water, honestly. Now I crank up the heat until the water starts to boil and add some seasonings; fresh or dried parsley, dried dill, and maybe a little garlic powder. Once the water is boiling I carefully drop the chicken thighs in, cover the pot, reduce the heat and let it simmer for an hour or two or three. Honestly, the order in which you do these things doesn’t terribly matter as long as it all goes in the pot, but I do recommend the searing and sauteing for extra flavor.

Give it an hour or so for your chicken to cook, then taste your broth. The chicken fat will have added color and flavor, and the chicken should be falling apart, so fish it out, shred it and toss it back in. Does your broth need more salt? A little more herbs? Add as needed, and simmer as long as you have patience. If you make your soup the day before you need it, the time in the fridge will allow the flavors to marry beautifully, and once cold, you can skin off extra chicken fat before warming and serving (you’ll see it, a thick yellow coating on the surface).

Congrats, you made chicken soup. If you want matzoh balls, follow the directions on the packet.

Vegetable: I’m going to surprise you here by telling you the method is nearly the same as above, except without chicken. My standard weekly cold weather soup is just a veggie soup. I saute onion and garlic with whatever veggies I have on hand – this week was a handful of chopped string beans, some broccoli, carrots, celery, cabbage and tomato. I’m big on tomato to flavor the broth in my veggie soup. I also added a handful of red lentils which cook down into nothing, adding a little body to the broth and a little protein too.

So. Olive oil! Chopped veggies! Water! Salt, pepper, garlic powder, dill, parsley, in, in, in! And just let it simmer. And simmer. Taste it and adjust your seasonings. Add chicken, or boil pasta or rice to throw in. Throw some grilled shrimp or parmesan cheese in. The possibilities are endless, and think about how many veggies you get into one dish!

And that’s it. Ilana’s first treatise on the wonders of soup is complete. If you’re a soup beginning, grab a pot and go! If you’re a seasoned (pun intended) soup maker, I’d love to know your favorite recipes!

Cooking Gardening Life

It’s not easy being green

September 30, 2016

I have a lot in common with Kermit the Frog. I’ve been known to flail my arms in the air like boneless wet noodles when I’m excited, and I use the phrase “it’s not easy being green” fairly often. Usually it’s in self deprecation, when my husband has responded to something I’ve told him and I just sigh and tell him, “what can I say, it’s not easy being green.”

This post however, isn’t actually about Kermit the Frog, or my pithy comments, but actual real green stuff.

Namely avocados, olives, basil and figs.

I’ve been stuck on both lately. Avocados in New York are not at their best prices of the year, but I’ve been buying them anyway. I recently did my now traditional annual olive curing. And basil, well, it’s coming to that time where my summer garden is nearing the end of it’s natural life and I’m trying to harvest what I can to keep.

First, avocados

avocadoI love avocados. We make guacamole, avocado toast with runny eggs on top, and avocado salsa. I’ve even made lemony avocado pasta sauce. It’s slightly odd, but surprisingly good.

You know what else is awesome? Tacos. I just want to be sure, do we all realize how easy tacos are to make? Grill meat or shrimp, or fry fish (or often in my case, cook some beans), warm up some corn or flour tortillas, and put the filling on the tortilla. You can add shredded lettuce or cabbage, salsa, diced tomatoes, etc. It’s really so simple, and it’s so easy to take it from a boring little roll up to outstanding. Dicing up a mango and dropping a spoonful on top of grilled shrimp adds an awesome tropical flavor. Or, my personal favorite, the 5 minute avocado salsa.

Ready? Dice a tomato or two. Cut an avocado in half and draw the knife lengthwise then widthwise and use a spoon to scoop out neat little chunks. Toss your avocado with the tomato, plus a little lime juice, salt, pepper, dried cilantro if you have and onion powder (or use fresh diced onion, I just can’t eat raw onions so I opt for powder). The acidity of the tomato, tang of the lime juice and creaminess of the avocado really amplifies and compliments the rest of your ingredients.

Second, olives

olives2 weekends ago I cured 16 pounds of olives with the help of my sister in law and my future sister in law. While Little Miss napped, we took all sorts of aggression out on these olives, crushing and cracking them before putting them in their jars. We used my grandfather’s method (which can be found here) and successfully filled 13 jars with only a minimal amount of difficulty. To fully cure, they need to sit 40 days, so I am (im)patiently awaiting the end of that period.

Last year, my grandfather taught me how to cure olives. He passed in March of this year, and the months since have been filled with those odd moments where I almost forget he is gone, or I do things that in the past I may have done with him or asked him about, or things I learned from him. I was afraid that olive curing would make me an emotional mess, but my sisters in law were an extraordinary team that kept me on task. Nonetheless, I’m extremely grateful for having had the opportunity to learn from grandpa last year.

Third, basil

basilBasil! I’m half Italian, so an affinity for basil is in my blood. I planted several rows of basil in my garden this year and then grew into bushy, unruly bundles of leaves which I’ve been selectively picking from for cooking for months. But, it’s the end of September and everything left in the garden will be dying off soon.

If you’re in the same boat, here’s my tip – I pick the basil leaves, wash them and let them dry, then lay them into a freezer bag and freeze them so even in the dead of winter, I can crumble off some fresh basil. Once it’s in the pot with whatever I’m cooking, you’d never know it was frozen.

Yes, there’s always dried basil, which I have and use…but it’s not the same. You know it’s not the same.

Fourth, figs

figsThis is simple excitement. It’s fig season! My two fig trees are producing slowly but steadily, with me picking a couple of figs each day.

I’m not going to lie, the fig trees were not the selling point on this house, but they certainly didn’t hurt. Between the fig trees, the screen porch, and the italian neighbors who talk loudly in their yard (stop laughing, I seriously find it comforting even though I have no idea what they’re saying), it just felt right.

And as it turns out, Little Miss is a fan of figs and has threatened the entire crop with her enthusiasm.

So that’s my green round up for right now. We’re heading into the season of reds, yellows and oranges, so I guess it’s good that I get all this green out of my system now. What’s been keeping you busy lately?

Baking

Farmhouse Rules, Biscuits and Vegan Butter

September 14, 2016

Vegan butter. Oxymoronic, right? Butter is made from milk, and milk comes from an animal, so….

I know, not everyone is as used to the concept of “vegan dairy products” as we are around here. Vegan butter is made from various oils but gives the approximate taste and feel of real butter; it comes in tubs to spread and also comes in sticks for baking and cooking.

Back in early September, I ended up with a box of Earth Balance vegan butter sticks. Prepping for my dad’s gluten free, dairy free birthday cake, I grabbed the box in the supermarket, forgetting I didn’t actually need it for the recipe I had chosen. It was a lucky mistake though; when my coconut whipped cream refused to whip because it was too warm, I was able to just mix up a quick batch of vegan buttercream to top the cake with. Of course, this didn’t use up the whole box, so I had extra for my next little project.

Fast forward to this past Friday. I’m trying to tidy up the house, fold laundry, finish up some work and pack for a weekend upstate. But Little Miss is crabby, and asking to watch her show. I turn the television on planning to put on a 20 minute Netflix kids show for her while I shower. The cable box had been left on, and the channel left on the Food Network. As the TV blinks to life, I see the sign for Fix Brothers orchards in good old Columbia County, New York.

Hang on, what?

Long story short, a rerun of Farmhouse Rules was on. The show is your typical cooking show, starring Nancy Fuller – mom, grandmother and traditional cook – set in Columbia County, where she lives. I realize that to most people, this is quaint yet meaningless. For me however, seeing Nancy visit places I’ve been going to my entire life is fairly exciting!

With half an eye on the television and half an eye on my cell phone, I quickly looked up the show and the recipe for the lemon and sugar mini biscuits that were being made on the show…because with so much to do, why wouldn’t I add baking into the mix?

I’m going to link you straight over to the recipe, right HERE.

biscuitsIt’s a pretty quick and easy recipe. I mixed everything, zested the lemons and had the dough in the fridge to chill pretty quickly, and that’s with a two year old dancing around my feet. Once it had a little time to chill, I rolled it out and cut it with a 1.5″ circle cookie cutter while my little assistant looked on. I rolled them a touch thinner than they should have been, but they puffed up nicely in the oven, even with my alteration.

What was my alteration? Vegan butter, of course. In place of butter and buttermilk, I used the Earth Balance vegan butter and cashew milk and I still wound up with relatively moist, fluffy little biscuits. The egg wash across the top gave it some nice color, though you can easily forgo the egg wash to make it fully vegan and not just non dairy. These biscuits are not very sweet, but were absolutely perfect with a little butter or jam on top.

This post is rambling. I’m sorry. But seriously, if you’re a biscuit person, this simple recipe is well worth trying in it’s original format or non dairy.

Life

This time last year

August 27, 2016

This time last year, Kristen and I started writing here on Old Fashioned Modern Living. Months and months before, I was standing in Kristen’s kitchen telling her about one of my projects when she said, “you know, you should start a blog.” And I responded “you’re the writer…I’ll blog if you do it too.”

Plenty of text messages bounced back and forth before we decided on a name, I bought the URL and hosting and set up the basics. Then in August we decided it was time to go. We chose a theme for the site, I got things ready and we started blogging. The funny thing is, I never even finished the site; there are still a lot of things I wanted to implement that I never got around to.

But anyway, we started writing. About cooking and crafting and life, and an amazing thing happened. People started reading what we were writing. Not a ton of people, mind you, but people. And that was pretty cool. And hey, if you’re reading this now – thanks for being here. It means so much to us that people take the time to read our posts and click ‘like’ or leave a comment. We know you’re all busy, and it means the world to us that you’re on this journey with us.

A little background here, I’m no fun on New Years Eve. Everyone’s talking about the GREAT NEW YEAR they’ll have and I’m like, it’s tomorrow. Tomorrow is just another day. Point is, I don’t do this “celebrating time” thing too well. And honestly, as a work at home mom, I often feel like I don’t do very much at all. I can’t talk about my promotions, my fancy trips or the concerts I’ve gone to. I’m home, a lot.

As I started thinking about this post, I realized that a lot has changed in the past year. And maybe I don’t have big accomplishments to talk about, the kind you shout from the rooftops and receive glowing praise for, but that’s okay. Sure, some not so good things have happened this past year (but I’m not going to talk about that here, I’m going to keep this positive), but I have been involved in and surrounded by some amazing things and honestly, that’s enough.

Professional

  • 1year-sdsIn September of 2015, I started my little jewelry design business, Seashore Design Studio. I remember the first time I picked up that handheld torch and cut into my fine silver wire, the excitement, the accomplishment. I took my time learning and practicing, and have met some absolutely amazing people along the way, and then in late spring of 2016 I did a soft relaunch with new signature items, lovely promo images and a new set of goals. I’m in the process of re-vamping my website to be an eCommerce site in addition to my Etsy shop, and I’m excited to have that ready!
  • Just last month I became an Unfranchise Owner with Market America. This is a very interesting business opportunity, and it allows me to help people save and earn money on online purchases via my shopping portal, and help people find some of the best vitamin supplements on the market, as well as natural cleaning and homecare products and top notch cruelty free, vegan makeup. Plus I’ve been taking those very same vitamins and my seasonal allergies are all but gone, I’m sleeping better and I’m feeling more energized. Not bad.

Cooking, canning and home

  • 1year-jamLast year I jarred my first batch of homemade tomato sauce, and cured my first olives.
  • In this past year I’ve done my first canning (by myself, as opposed to watching my mother do it), making a whole load of peach, blueberry and strawberry jam. As I write this, I am actually standing in my kitchen stepping between my laptop on the counter and pot of glittery, boiling blueberries cooking down into a lovely blueberry-lime jam.
  • I’ve utterly fallen in love with my cast iron dutch oven and have learned how to do a number of damn good stovetop slow cooked dishes.
  • I’ve learned to be adventurous in the kitchen, baking breads and cookies without recipes, just based upon my own knowledge.
  • I’ve discovered broccoli rabe. I always though I didn’t like it. I was wrong.
  • I’ve taken on a number of (small) home improvement projects, and am finally getting somewhat used to being a homeowner.

Personal

  • I’ve seen two friends get married, and my brother got engaged to my best friend from high school. Go figure!
  • I got to meet my first nephew, Kristen’s adorable little guy. He is delightful, Little Miss adores him, and I am so incredibly glad he is part of the family.
  • I’ve gone from “acquaintance” level to “soul sister” level with two incredible local moms who I am so utterly grateful for. Although we have different backgrounds and experiences, our base personalities are very similar and we understand each other on a level that I never expected.
  • I’ve been lucky enough to watch as a local mama and friend (and her delightful sister) got their business off the ground in a most spectacular way. You may have seen me talk about babywearing on this blog. If you’re looking for a woven wrap, look into Emmeline Textiles. I can’t say enough good things about them.
  • I have a toddler.

1year-lilyI need to expand upon that last bullet. I have a toddler. At this time last year, I still had a baby. Little Miss was all round head and chunky limbs, scooting herself around the floor. She hadn’t yet taken her first step, and certainly hadn’t uttered a word. Now…she’s tall, she’s running and going up and down steps, she’s saying words and doing things on her own. It’s not “will she cry” anymore, it’s “what is this tiny person with a mind of her own going to do, say or pantomime”. She is very much herself (and herself is awesome, by the way); a tough cookie with an infectious laugh, mischievous smile and the capacity to understand more than I ever expected.

Watching her change and grow has been really incredible. Being a mom is an exercise in a lot of things, including humility. Last year, it was still about me; I was in charge. Now, I think she’s kind of in charge. Not really, but you know what I mean. She doesn’t just go where I go and stay where I put her. She makes decisions and makes requests. She’s experimenting, learning and getting to know her world. And I get to be her steward, making sure she doesn’t get into too much trouble and doesn’t behave too badly, while allowing her enough freedom to experience things for herself. Through this, I have found within myself a patience and calm that I’m not sure I knew was there before.

It’s funny, I had Little Miss’ name picked out for years and years (luckily, my husband liked it enough to agree to it). And now, she turned two this summer, and at time I’ll write an email and mention her and stop and think, “wait, this is real? I really have a daughter?” I’m still somewhat in awe of her. Does that ever go away?

So all in all, not too bad for a year I barely considered. Thanks again for reading, and cheers to our next year!

Health & Home

Supplementing for optimal health

August 10, 2016

I’m a little bit of a weirdo in that I like doing research. Like, I get kind of excited at the thought of helping someone with a research paper. Is that odd?

Anyway, I recently signed on with Market America as an Independent Distributor and Unfranchised Business Owner. One of the facets of Market America is some exclusive products which are all high quality and natural, including cosmetics, skin care, household cleaners and vitamin supplements.

At my very first official presentation I learned a lot of interesting things about vitamins, both the Market America Isotonix brand, and conventional vitamin tablets. I’m not one to just accept things I’m told, so I’ve been doing a little bit of internet research to corroborate what I’ve learned. Can I share some of it with you?

In the interest of full disclosure, I’m going to let you know right now that as as Independent Distributor, I can sell these supplements and the other Market America exclusive products. If you’re interested, visit isotonix.com/ilanaleah to learn more about individual supplements. The point of this post isn’t a sales pitch – research dork here is going to share what she found interesting, and you can draw your own conclusions.

Are you ready for this? Food isn’t as nutritious as it used to be. If you’re eating all organic, you’re probably doing okay, but for most of us, even “eating healthy” doesn’t cut it. 100 years ago, wheat had a pretty high percentage of protein, which balanced out everything else that makes for it’s carby goodness. Today, due to modern farming and production methods, it’s down to about 9% protein.

Fresh veggies from the supermarket, similarly, contain a small percentage of the vitamins and minerals they’re known for as compared to what they used to contain. An article from Scientific American talks about soil depletion; genetically modified high yield crops are being produced at record rates and the soil they are growing in is being completely depleted of nutrients, leading to large crops of less nutrient dense products.

I do believe very strongly that the basis for good health is healthy eating. Sadly, if you compare the amount of calories we should be consuming daily with the amount of nutrients that are in our “good foods”, we’d be consuming well over our daily allotment of calories to gain the full recommended daily amounts. Put briefly, on the modern American diet with the foods available, we’d all have significant weight problems if we ate enough to get all our vitamins and nutrients each day.

So what can you do? The easy answer is taking vitamin supplements in addition to eating a diet consisting mostly of healthy, nutrient dense foods.

Some vitamins, like vitamin C, are fairly simple to get enough of. While citrus fruits are the most famous carriers of vitamin C, other fruits like raspberries, strawberries and melons, and vegetables like cauliflower, broccoli and even onions are good sources as well.

“But I feel fine!”

Do you? Do you really? I’m pretty healthy, yet I tend to run a touch anemic, I’m always tired and a handful of other minor issues that most of us take for granted. I’ve started taking a daily supplement blend that includes a multivitamin, calcium and vitamin D, activated B complex and antioxidants, and I feel SO much better. I’m sleeping better, which alone would be enough to sell me.

According to a 2009 study, nearly 75% of American teenagers and adults are vitamin D deficient. The “sunshine vitamin” is produced by the human body with exposure to the sun, however we spend less and less time outside, and we wear sunscreen when we are outside which limits absorption. Vitamin D deficiencies have been linked to cancer, heart disease, diabetes and more. Vitamin D supports strong bones, regulates the immune system and has been shown to help manage the symptoms of patients diagnosed with Irritable Bowel System and other digestive disorders. But buyer beware, not all vitamins are equal! Many vitamin supplements utilize vitamin D2, which is an inexpensive alternative to D3 – it makes for cheaper vitamins but is not absorbed by the body!

You read that right, and that applies to many vitamin supplements. They are created and marketed as great inexpensive vitamin supplements, but the nutrients they contain are not actually bio-available, and are not absorbed by the body.

Speaking of not being absorbed, the majority of vitamin tablets contain yucky fillers and additives, and aren’t even reliably absorbed by your body. Vitamin tablets rely of the enzymes and acids in your body which may not be strong enough to break them down sufficiently; many vitamins pass through the body whole and you don’t even realize it!

The question of absorption is a big way that Market America’s exclusive line of Isotonix vitamins differ from many other vitamin supplements. They come powdered and are mixed with a specific amount of water to create an isotonic solution that you drink. The resulting liquids taste quite decent and best of all, the vitamins and nutrients are absorbed by your body within 10-15 minutes because they are already broken down into an easy to absorb and process form. Personally, I very much appreciate being able to drink my vitamins and not need to swallow pills. I hate swallowing pills, and hate even more getting nauseous because of a bunch of pills sitting in my stomach.

isotonix supplementsThe blend I mentioned before that I am taking is the Isotonix Daily Essentials. It’s a convenient little packet containing a multivitamin, OPC-3 (a powerful anti-oxidant), actived  vitamin B complex and calcium with vitamin D, all formulated to work together. Mix with 8oz of water to make a fruity drink and take it first thing in the morning, then carry on with your day. Many people can feel an immediate difference in energy level and overall well being when they begin taking these vitamins.

I’m also a fan of the Digestive Enzyme with Probiotics packets which are taken after eating your heaviest meal of the day and help support good digestion and  a healthy gut.

All the details, ingredient lists, frequently asked questions and scientific resources are available at isotonix.com/ilanaleah. Be sure to visit www.SHOP.com/ilanaleah before you order and create your free account to take advantage of cash back rewards on your purchase!

If you’re interested in learning more about the supplements, feel free to check out the links above, or send me a message! I find all of this “food science” fascinating and would love to hear about your own experiences with nutritional supplementation.

Interested in some samples? Send me a message! Thank you for reading and learning with me!

Gardening Health

Planting potatoes

July 25, 2016

When most people plan their backyard gardens, I don’t think that potatoes tend to make the list. My own experience with growing potatoes was very limited until this year; I remember when I was still elementary school age, watching my grandfather dig up an area of his garden to reveal a whole mess of potatoes under the dirt.

I know now that it’s fairly simple to grow a decent crop of potatoes. And if they’re stored in a cool, dry, dark area, they will last several months if you don’t get to use them all right away.

What do you do with all those potatoes? To quote a certain hobbit, “boil ’em, mash ’em, stick ’em in a stew!” Or dice them and throw them in a soup, slice them thin and fry them, bake them, mash them and top a shepherd’s pie…I think you catch my drift, there are plenty of ways to use your crop of potatoes.

This potato is done with being above ground.

This potato is done with being above ground.

This spring I came across some potatoes in Home Depot’s planting section and I decided to give it a try. Why would I be impressed with a little plastic baggie of non-GMO organic potatoes? Conventional potato farming involves a lot of pesticides, including known carcinogens, hormone disruptors, neurotoxins and reproductive/developmental toxins. Those happy little potatoes nestled under the dirt absorb all the herbicides and fungicides that are sprayed above the ground and are then further treated to prevent sprouting once they are harvested. I’ve read articles where potato farmers discuss the hazmat suits they were when spraying their fields, and how they won’t feed their own families the potatoes they grow.

If you can’t plant them, try to find them organic. If you want to plant them, even a sprouted treated conventionally grown potato will produce a crop of much less toxic potatoes, as they are not being exposed to all this in growing this time around. You may have complications, but what did it cost you? A few minutes to plant and some potatoes that would have otherwise gone in the garbage.

So, back to planting them yourselves. Look for organic potatoes in the garden section, or just plant your sprouted potatoes! All organic seed potatoes are ideal, but sprouted potatoes work too. When your potatoes start to sprout and get soft, don’t throw them out, plant them!

Sprouting sweet potatoes - purple sprouts!

Sprouting sweet potatoes – purple sprouts!

You can easily do some internet research on how to plant your potatoes for the best results, but this post is going to be quick as dirty, as my posts tend to be.

Since my initial batch of organic, from the store little white potatoes I have planted some supermarket potatoes that sprouted and they are growing away. Find yourself a planter or barrel with holes in the bottom for good draining and plant your sprouted potatoes reasonably deep (this can be done right in the ground too, it’s just easier to dig them up in a container). You don’t want to plant too close to the surface of the dirt because the new potatoes grow along the stalk, under the surface of the dirt.

Within a few weeks you’ll start seeing a thick, dark green stalk and leaves emerge from the dirt (mine have come up in just a few days). Water regularly and let them grow. After a few months you’ll notice the stalk start to fail – to turn yellow or start to fall over. That’s your signal that you can dig them up. If your stalks get tall enough, you’ll see pretty white to purple flowers blooming on them.

When you’re ready, dig up the dirt in the container or area in the ground, and give it a good sift. If you had a nice long period of growth you’ll have good size potatoes, or you may find a nice amount of “baby potatoes” only a couple of inches across.

Sprouted from supermarket potatoesI’ve had good luck so far, with my first batch of cute little white potatoes and nice growth on my sprouted supermarket potatoes so far. Potatoes are fond of cooler temperatures, so you can actually do a few batches each year right into the fall, as long as the plants are well established before the first frost. Also, rotate where you plant them or replace the dirt in your planter, as depleted soil will not grow as well.

That’s really it! So next time you notice your potatoes are starting to sprout, try tossing them in some dirt instead of the garbage and see how it goes.

Fun fact: onions make potatoes sprout faster, so don’t store the two together unless that’s the desired outcome!

Have you planted potatoes? How did you do?

Life Shopping

I love online shopping

July 19, 2016

I have something to confess. I love online shopping.

I love it more than I love in person shopping. No lines, no parking lots to deal with, no worrying about how my toddler will handle the shopping trip. It’s easy and I can find nearly anything. I love buying handmade items on various online marketplaces, and I admit, I sometimes treat myself to silly little items from a certain auction site.

There are some things, like fancy clothes or shoes that need to be bought (or at least tried on) in a store, but for many basics, I prefer buying online.

Here’s another confession, which most people can probably relate to: I like saving money. I’m totally that person comparison shopping and searching the internet for coupon codes. A deal is a deal, you know what I mean?

My credit card offers cash back, 1% on most purchases with 5% in certain categories; it’s not huge money, but it adds up and every few months I cash that in and get some extra money back in my account. So now I’m going to say something…double cash back.

I’m going to stop for a second. What am I talking about here? I have recently become a Shopping Consultant with SHOP.com/Independent Distributor with Market America. Let me tell you a little bit about SHOP.com.

SHOP.com is owned by Market America, and it is a powerful shopping engine and shopping portal. There are three main ways to utilize this – and if you decide to follow along, be sure to start at SHOP.com/ilanaleah so I’ll be your Shopping Consultant!

  1. Shop: That’s right, just shop. Visit the shopping portal at SHOP.com/ilanaleah and search for your favorite online retailers. Your purchase is completed through the retailer’s secure site, and by visiting via the shopping portal, you get cash back from the retailer. Think of it as a referral bonus! Cash back can range from 1-50%, with 2-10% being the most common. For added savings, download ShopBuddy from your homepage (here’s a 1 minute video explaining how it works) and it will alert you when cash back is available, and automatically compile all the active coupon codes and deals available on participating sites.
  2. Compare: SHOP.com has a compare feature where you can search an item right from your homepage and it will show you where the item is available, the price, and if cash back is available from that retailer all on one screen. No more hopping from site to site to compare prices, you can easily see different options for purchasing a specific item all in one place.
  3. Buy exclusive items: Market America offers a selection of exclusive items that can be purchased on SHOP.com or from specific websites. These include high quality, natural cosmetics, skin care products, baby products, home cleaning products and isotonic vitamins.

Is there any risk or obligation?

No! Signing up for a SHOP.com account is completely free and there are no minimums to meet or requirements to fulfill. You sign up, you shop, you get cash. The only caveat is that you cannot cash out less than $10 at a time. Essentially, you earn free money for buying items you were buying already anyway. Plus, have a friend sign up using your referral link, or putting your email address as their reference and you get .5% cash back on his or her purchases, indefinitely!

What stores can I get cash back from?

The amounts and offers may change, but there are thousands of retailers to choose from. Just a handful are Macys, Aeropostale, American Apparel, Target, Sketchers, Ashley Furniture, Babies R Us, Barneys New York, Beauty.com, Drugstore.com, Boxed.com, Jet.com, Ancestry.com, Kohls, Kmart, Groupon and many, many more. Some stores offer cash back on online orders with in-store pick up, including Barnes and Noble, Ace Hardware and Apple, just to name a few.

How do I maximize this?

shopHow do you get the most cash back? How do you make this make you a little extra cash, and your life a little easier?

First off, pay with a credit card that rewards you so you get double cash back. Second, use the comparison tool and compare prices and cash back to find the best deals. Also, leverage your time by shopping online; there are things you always buy, that you know you’re going to buy, that you can order and have delivered.

I order diapers for Little Miss online. I go to Diapers.com from my portal (2% cash back right now) and order the diapers, wipes and diaper genie refills. They have good prices and they often have useful coupons, plus free 1-2 day shipping. I order, I get credit towards cash back, and in a day or two a big box with everything I need arrives at the door.

I’ve started ordering paper goods and pantry staples from Jet.com rather than trekking up to BJs. I start at my shopping portal and search Jet.com (also 2% cash back right now) then I order my garbage bags, paper plates, etc. The site has good prices and offers discounts if you forgo the right to free returns (lets face it, I’m going to use those paper plates even if I don’t like the design) plus coupons and low flat rate or free, quick shipping. No parking lots, no carts, no travel time. A box arrives and I have my products.

On some purchases, the cash back I earn is only a few cents, but it adds up. By the end of the year I’ll have a tidy little bonus I can cash out and put towards holiday shopping.

Also important, the SHOP.com customer support is very responsive, and I am available to answer questions about signing up, how the website works, and exclusive products.

Want to learn more about some of those exclusives? I’ll share more in the future, but for now feel free to visit two of my favorites:

Thanks for reading! I’ll be sharing more about these products periodically, but only periodically! If you have any questions, feel free to contact me. There are business opportunities available as well, but I’ll only discuss those if you ask.