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!

Uncategorized

The Truth About Cloth Diapers

August 25, 2016

 

Hello friends! Now that my son has been wearing cloth diapers for almost two months n0w, I feel like I can give you an honest review of what cloth diapering has been like for us. I did promise to share the good, the bad, and the ugly! Please excuse my fuzzy iPhone photos! I slowly began transitioning to mostly cloth diapers when my son was about a month old, and he stopped pooping a zillion times a day! This was also the time that little Indy began to chunk up a bit to fill out the diaper. I no longer have anything to worry about in the chunk department- this kid is a 13 lb 11 week old!

Honestly, cloth diapers are a little bit more of a pain than disposables. You need to prewash brand new cloth diapers before the first use according to their instructions. Disposables have easy tabs, and that telltale line that turns blue when the diaper is soiled. They are super convenient to use when you have a newborn and are tracking the number of dirty diapers.  You take them and throw them into the trash when they are soiled. They are more absorbent for longer periods of time than cloth. But…

I noticed that Indy stopped getting diaper rashes quite as frequently when we switched to mostly cloth diapers. I think maybe the chemicals in the disposables were irritating his already sensitive skin. And…

there are so many different types of cloth diapers that it is easy to find out what works best for your baby and your lifestyle.  I definitely recommend trying a few different ones if you get the opportunity to. I was lucky to be gifted a stash of gently used diapers before I gave birth. This has allowed me to find my favorites, and purchase more of what works for us in larger sizes. The diapers I purchased can be worn from about 8-35 lbs.  I am a big fan of the Bumgenius All In One diapers. All In One means that they have no separate parts or inserts. I love that there is no stuffing or prep required. I think I will like them even better once Indy is a little older and they aren’t quite so bulky on him! Be aware that these diapers are pretty bulky and will make newborn clothing tight before your baby has officially outgrown that size! Indy has been filling out some larger sizes of clothing while wearing cloth.

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I also like Thirsties and Flips diaper covers. With these, you simply place an absorbent insert inside and change that out when it is soiled. Then you can wipe off the cover (as long as it isn’t too messy) with a wipe. It’s pretty cost effective because you get more uses out of each diaper, and inserts are cheaper than diapers. These sound like they would not hold as much- but both brands of diapers recently contained two really big messes without leaks! I also love the fact that these are not nearly as bulky as other diapers. Pictured here are two covers, one with the insert, and one without.

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The other style of diapers that I have tried are pocket diapers. For now, I think that these are okay. They work well, but they have the bulk of an All In One without the convenience- because they must be stuffed. The inserts are stuffed inside, so once the insert is dirty, so is the entire diaper. However- I’ve heard people say that they love these and find them to be more absorbent because you can stuff them with whatever type of insert that you want, and you can add more inserts for a heavy wetter. I am keeping an open mind about these because I may find that I love them once Indy starts wearing cloth overnight. The brands that I have tried are Rumparooz, Thirsties, Fuzzibuns, and Bumgenius.

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Once I got into a good routine, cloth diapering baby boy turned out to not be quite as big of a pain as I was expecting. I have a wet bag inside my diaper pail, and one in my diaper bag for when we are going out. The wet bags have done a good job of containing the mess and smell so far, and I simply throw them into the wash with my diapers. My wash routine is simple, and I do it every other day. I use Bumgenius detergent, and do a warm wash, a heavy duty hot wash, and then a cold rinse. I’ll throw a little bleach in the hot wash about once every few weeks. I hang dry the all in one diapers and covers, and throw the inserts into the dryer. If a diaper is extra messy, I will spray it off in the toilet before I throw it in the pail. I do plan on investing in a diaper sprayer shield due to some recent splatter!

All in all, I am really pleased with cloth diapering. We are definitely saving money, and the amount of work has not been a huge impact to our lifestyle. I still use disposables on trips and overnight, but I am hoping to start trying cloth overnight once my little guys habits change a bit!

Cooking Uncategorized

Our Favorite Enchiladas

August 13, 2016

Oh man, guys. This is one of our favorite meals ever. We make them at home, and order them out at Mexican restaurants.  Any excuse to eat enchiladas and we are all over it. Make these enchiladas for someone, and you’ll have a new best friend instantly. They are that good! I first made these for my husband’s 24th birthday the first year we were married. I was still learning to cook and I was shocked that I successfully completed a seemingly complicated recipe.  I used the Pioneer Woman’s Recipe from her first cookbook as a guideline, but over the years, we’ve changed things up a bit- and you can too! I’ve made these with meat, vegetarian, and dairy free with vegan cheese. Once you get the general idea- its so easy to customize your filling. It’s all good! Even though making enchiladas is quite the process, it really is not difficult once you establish a system. There are a lot of steps- but they are all easy!  Bonus points if you have a buddy help you because you can create an assembly line- but you can do this alone.

 

You’ll Need:

1 Rotisserie chicken, completely shredded  (or you could use black beans or lentils)

1 small can of green chiles

Half of a pepper, diced

half of a small onion, diced

1 small bunch of cilantro, minced

Penzey’s Taco Seasoning

1 package corn tortillas

1 large can and 1 small can of red enchilada sauce

shredded mexican blend of cheese (or vegan cheese for the lactose intolerant among us- or just skip the cheese)

Vegetable oil (for frying)

Start by sautéing the diced pepper and onion.

Once they are soft, add them to a big bowl. Mix in the chicken, can of chiles, and a half cup of the cheese. Add a tablespoon of the minced cilantro and a tablespoon of taco seasoning.

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Next, heat vegetable oil on your stove top and bring it to about medium heat. You can always adjust the temperature if things are cooking too quickly.

While the oil is heating, pour some enchilada sauce into a shallow bowl. Add some of the sauce to the bottom of a casserole dish. Take the tortillas out and set them on top of the bag. Put your bowl of enchilada filling on the counter next to that. Now it’s time to grab some tongs and start frying!

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Fry both sides of a corn tortilla. I usually wait until one side puffs up, flip it, and fry the other for about 30 seconds. I would like to add that I always end up breaking one of my first tortillas. If this happens to you, don’t be sad. Just go easier with those tongs! Next, use the tongs to transfer the tortilla to the bowl of sauce and dunk it in.

I always end up burning my fingers a little because I grab the tortilla out of the sauce with my hands, because the tongs always rip them at this point. Do this at your own risk! Place the enchilada in the casserole dish, add some filling, and then roll the tortilla over so that it is pinned closed by its own weight. Then you get back in there, and do it again until you run out of filling or tortillas or both!

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Once your casserole dishes are full and your fingerprints are sufficiently burned off, douse your enchiladas in a generous amount of enchilada sauce and an unholy amount of cheese.

The next step is to bake them at 350 until everything is melted, and maybe a hint browned on top- about 15 minutes. Add some fresh minced cilantro to the top and serve! If you are making these ahead, you can stick the casserole dish in the fridge and just bake them a little before you intend to serve them.

These go great with a shredded lettuce salad, a side of refried beans, and maybe some spanish rice! They  are also great on their own. Or with a Margherita (if you do this- only a little sour mix guys- mostly tequila and lime juice, and just have one because we are responsible adults.) At the very least serve them with some chips, salsa, and guacamole.

Enjoy!

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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!

Uncategorized

Sleepy and Thankful

August 5, 2016

Hello friends! It has been quite awhile since I’ve posted. That’s because I have been busy taking care of a tiny newborn who has grown into a chunky, happy two month old! I can hardly believe it’s been two months since my week overdue baby boy arrived on a Friday night. My husband and I could hardly believe it when the doctor put a squirming grunting, 7 lb, 3 oz baby boy on my chest. I immediately took in his dark hair and eyes, and the tiny little birthmarks on his eyes that the doctor called angel kisses. The night we became parents changed everything- but in the most wonderful way.

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I’m feeling very thankful lately.

Thankful for a healthy, handsome baby boy, whom my dad nicknamed Indy (as in Indiana Jones).I think that’s what I’ll call him on this blog.

I am thankful for family who helped us out before and after Indy’s birth, and everyone who sent well wishes and gifts. I am thankful for friends who brought us meals for two weeks so that my husband and I could lay around with our baby and binge watch shows together, and just stare at our tiny boy. We’ll remember those first few weeks forever. I know that people call a “Baby-moon” a vacation you take before baby’s arrival, but we truly feel that we had one the week after our son was born.

I’m thankful for first smiles and bright eyes, and fur babies who have been nothing but sweet and gentle toward the new tiny human in our home.

I’m thankful whenever I see my husband cuddling our son and for all of the feedings and diaper changes he does.

I’m thankful that Indy now usually wakes up only once a night and for the cold brew coffee (more on that soon) that gets me through sleepy afternoons.

I am thankful for at home date nights with a glass of wine, and our tiny boy nestled in his bassinet nearby.

I’ll try to get better at this blogging thing. I’m thankful to Indy’s wonderful Aunt Ilana for holding down the fort and writing so many awesome posts! I’m hoping to share more as I begin to discover the new normal for my life now that I am a mom. I’ve slowly begun cooking more, and Indy finally fits into his cloth diapers- so that has been an interesting transition!

Thanks for reading. I’ll leave you with a photo of this caprese salad that we enjoyed last night. We just substituted peaches for tomatoes, and kept everything else the same. So, so good.

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Talk to you soon:)

 

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.

Baking

Go bake wild

July 15, 2016

What’s the one most common piece of wisdom you’ve heard about baking?

For me, it’s been “baking is a science”. It’s about chemistry, ratios, exact measurements. In other words, follow your recipes.

So I always did. Sometimes I’d get a little bit daring and do a minor substitution. But then I got a little more daring. With close family members being gluten free and dairy free, it got so that I had to start experimenting. These days, you can find recipes for nearly anything on the internet but even so, I might make a gluten free recipe non dairy as well, or try to make a regular recipe gluten free…or lower the sugar, change the spices, etc.

Even following recipes, I’ve had some busts. I’ve had cookies made with coconut oil melt into puddles and pour off the sides of the tray. Just yesterday I followed a recipe for a gluten free apple cinnamon pull apart bread and it was an inch from a disaster. The fluffy dough was more like pancake batter, and after enough doctoring to make it workable, the result was a tasty, but dry and dense loaf. Luckily for me, Little Miss was not upset with her somewhat lackluster birthday cake!

I’ve recently made an interesting discovery. You don’t need a recipe. We’ve always been told to stick to our recipes, but that’s just big baked goods trying to keep us down.

I’m joking about that last comment. Mostly.

If you have enough experience baking that you have a decent understanding of the ingredients and what they do, you can make up recipes and will likely have at least moderate success. They won’t always be an out of the ballpark hit, and at worst you may wind up wasting some ingredients.

Do you have the guts to go bake wild?

I’ve got two stories to share, and both include my “throw sh!t in a bowl” method of baking. Neither of these experiments was gluten free, but they are non dairy.

No-recipe bread

I’ve made a decent number of loaves of bread in my day. I have three favorite recipes that I rotate between, all of which are low to no knead, and only require a few hours to rise because I am impatient, and unlikely to realize a day in advance that I’d like to make bread.

So one day I decided to do an experiment. I poured a cup of warm water into the bowl of my KitchenAid, then added a tablespoon of yeast – why a tablespoon? Because it’s a generous amount without being too much. Some recipes call for a sprinkle of sugar for the yeast to “eat”, but it’s not necessary. Once that had a few minutes to mingle, I added a little pink sea salt, 3 cups of unbleached flour (one at a time) and a little drizzle of olive oil and let it mix for several minutes with the dough hook. I got lucky, the dough looked like bread dough; if it didn’t, I could doctor it with more water or more flour to get the texture right. Then I covered it and let it sit for a few hours and woohoo, it rose! I greased my loaf pan generously and dumped the dough in, then let it rise another hour or so and baked it at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for about 40 minutes, keeping an eye on it to see how the color looked. When the crust had some color and the internal temperature was 190 degrees, I took it out.

And I had bread. With no recipe. It was a little bit dense and chewy, but that’s fine by me. I don’t tend to make fancy breads, I tend to make simple, hearty peasant breads. A few days later I repeated the process with a touch more olive oil, and dried garlic and rosemary stirred in.

I made bread. With no recipe. All because I knew the basics.

No-recipe cookies

Have you heard of “kitchen sink” cookies? That’s when cookies contain “everything in the kitchen except the sink”, and that’s my style. I feel like cookies are a little more complex than bread because there are more ingredients. Again, if you have experience baking, you can likely figure out something halfway decent.

A few weeks ago we were expecting company and I decided to make cookies. Rebel that I am, I decided to again forgo a recipe. I started with 2 cups of unbleached flour and sprinkled in a pinch of salt, then added a tablespoon of baking powder (why a tablespoon? Because that’s what I decided). I added sugar, only about half a cup. Then a generous shake of cinnamon went in, a sprinkle of ground flax and hemp seeds and a handful of chia seeds. Next up I stirred in an egg and a few tablespoons of coconut oil, a nice drizzle of maple syrup and a tablespoon of vanilla extract and enough water that it began to resemble a cookie dough. When the texture looked right, I tossed in some mini chocolate chips and chopped dried cranberries. Then I spooned them onto some silpat and baking sheets and baked them at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for about 15 minutes, keeping an eye on their color.

A selection of pantry supplies.

A selection of pantry supplies.

Why was I able to do this? Again, the basics. I have a general idea of the amount of flour to use for a normal batch, and I know what cookie dough should look like. Baking powder is for leavening, so I made sure to include some. Coconut oil is a great substitute for butter, but it turns to liquid at about 70 degrees, so I used just enough to add a little fat content but not enough to liquify and make the cookies turn to mush. A little almond or cashew milk would have worked as well as water, but I wanted to avoid the nuts; the water makes them a little fluffier with a bread-y texture.

I also could have used brown sugar or more white sugar, but I know that maple syrup digests differently and affects blood sugar less than white sugar.  Similarly, the flax, hemp and chia seeds have health benefits and add a tough of protein to balance out the carbs and sugars. The next time I made no-recipe cookies, I mashed a very ripe banana and mixed it in so I could use even a little less sugar. Did you know that bananas are considered one of the sweetest fruits out there? Just eating one, I wouldn’t have guessed it, but hey, whatever.

Are these healthy cookies? Not really, I mean, they’re still cookies. But they’re healthier than a lot of alternatives.

So. Do you have what it takes to go bake wild? To break out of the constraints of printed recipes? To make those baked goods your own?!

Start slow. Adjust sugar content. Try coconut oil and cashew milk instead of butter and dairy milk. Sprinkle a little cinnamon into your chocolate chip cookies. See what’s in your pantry and leverage your knowledge.

If you’re happy baking with recipes, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. But if you want to experiment, despite what I was always told, it is possible!

Cooking

Let’s get cooking

July 1, 2016

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you may have noticed that cooking is pretty important to me. I think I like cooking more than I like eating, which is kind of weird. So when an adult tells me they don’t know how to cook, I get all twisted up. What do you mean you don’t know how to cook?

I’ve had this conversation twice recently, and read a conversation on Facebook about it the other day. It seems like a lot of people either never had the time or interest to learn to cook, or didn’t have a home cook to learn from and are too intimidated to try. So I’m going to share a little secret, for at least the latter (and the former, if the interest is there) – COOKING ISN’T HARD.

That’s it. Cooking isn’t hard. And you don’t even need to follow recipes. I’m not talking about producing gourmet food here, I’m talking about the basics of being able to prepare a simple, healthy meal.

  • If you can boil water, you can cook.
  • If you can put something in a pot and stir it, you can cook.
  • If you have the ability to pay attention, you can cook.
  • If you can make a cake from a box, you can cook.
  • If you can read basic instructions, you can cook.

Trust me here. You can do this.

If you’re going to say, “but I burn everything I cook”, my answer to you is, so stir more, and walk away less. You can do this.

More or less, here’s my list of reasons you need to know how to cook:

  • Money – it’s cheaper to cook than to order takeout. Some prepared foods may be cheaper…I don’t really consider frozen dinners food, so I’ll digress here.
  • Health – you control what goes into your food. Organic versus non organic, amount of salt, sugar, chemicals, preservatives, etc.
  • Allergens – again, you control what goes into your food.
  • Skill – the ability to feed ourselves should not become a lost art. We need food to live; we should be able to prepare the food we need to live.

If you can get a feel for the different ways to cook, you can cook almost anything. It just takes some getting used to. I have categories, and how I tend to cook them (there are other ways, these are just my standards).

Two notes: First, this isn’t fine cooking here, this is a quick and dirty primer. Second, I learned to cook from my Italian mother, get ready for some olive oil.

Get yourself a the basics, a decent sized pot, a frying pan, a baking pan, a spatula, pair of tongs and a good spoon (I swear by a flat wooden spoon). If you’re cooking meat or fish, a meat thermometer is the easiest way to tell when they’re done. Ready?

For vegetables:

Bake, steam, saute, grill, boil

basic cooking old fashioned modern living

Some of the infamous giant zucchini

Let’s talk zucchini. Zucchini was one of my grandfather’s favorite things to plant, and he let them get big, so we could easy use one giant zucchini for 2-3 meals. How do I cook a zucchini? First I rinse it and cut it in the appropriate shape. Then I cook it.

  1. Bake: cut zucchini into cubes, chop onion into similar size pieces. Toss with olive oil to lightly coat, then place in oven safe pan (I like my Pyrex casserole). Sprinkle with salt, pepper and dried herbs/spices. Place in preheated oven. Check periodically; when zucchini looks a little clear, stab with fork to see if it’s tender enough to eat. Done.
  2. Steam: cut zucchini into half moons, then place in a pot with about 1/2 inch of water. Place lid on, turn heat on. Check in a few minutes, then a few minutes more if needed. Again, when the flesh of the zucchini is more clear than white, stab it with a fork to see if it’s tender. Drain off excess water, drizzle with a little olive oil and seasonings and give it a stir. Done.
  3. Saute: cut zucchini into slices/half moons. Slice some onion. In a decent size pot, add a little olive oil (don’t coat the whole bottom, but drizzle some in). Let it heat up for a minute over medium heat, then toss in the onions and give it a stir. Mix periodically for just a minute or two to give the onion a chance to mellow a little. Add in the zucchini and stir. Then stir again, and again. Not constantly, but every 30-60 seconds. Remember your heat isn’t too high; you want the veggies to get the heat without burning. Just keep it moving. Sprinkle in your salt, pepper, italian herbs, garlic powder, etc. Eyeball it, then do the fork test.
  4. Grill: Remove top and bottom ends of zucchini, then slice lengthwise, thin but not too thin (1/4″ or so). If you have access to a mandolin, use it CAREFULLY; it will give you beautifully consistent slices. Toss with a little olive oil and seasoned salt, then throw it on a hot grill. This may be the toughest, because of flare ups and potential for burning your fine little slices.
  5. Boil: Okay, forget zucchini. Don’t boil your zucchini unless you’re making minestrone soup. The only veggie (okay, tuber) I really boil are potatoes; boiling leeches a lot of the nutrients out of the food and into the water, which gets thrown away. It’s great for soup, but not great otherwise. So let’s talk potatoes. Wash and cut into edible chunks. Place in pot with water completely covering the potatoes. Turn on heat and boil until a fork goes easily into a chunk. Drain and dress with olive oil and spices, olive oil and balsamic vinegar, mash them with a little butter and spices, or quickly fry them to give them a crust.

For fish:

Bake, poach, saute

The seafoods I make most often are salmon and shrimp. So I’m going to go into some of my favorite ways to handle them.

  1. Bake: Take a pan with sides, throw some parchment down on it. Preheat your oven to 400F. Rinse your salmon and place it skin side down on the parchment paper. Then on that nice, fishy top part, drizzle a little olive oil and sprinkle some herbs. Then bake it for maybe 10 minutes and check it. The fish should look more solid, less translucent. I love my meat thermometer here, so I don’t need to flake away any fish to see the inside. Put it in the thickest part, and if it’s the right temperature, it’s done. If not, check again in 5 minutes. So on and so forth.
  2. Poach: This is sort of like steaming, but fish. Prepare your fish as above (oil isn’t necessary here), but instead put it in a shallow pot on the stovetop with a little water or wine. Cover and let simmer at medium heat until the fish starts to look cooked. Check with the thermometer. See the similarities?
  3. Saute: I will sometimes just cook shrimp stovetop with veggies to throw over pasta or rice. If you cut it up, it’ll cook faster. So let’s say I’ve sauteed some onions, spinach and peas…then they’re nearly cooked, I throw in my cut up shrimp and continue mixing for maybe a minute or two until the pieces are pink all the way around rather than raw grey. That’s it.

For meats:

Bake, fry, braise, grill

  1. Bake: Meatballs are REALLY easy. I made chicken meatballs the other night – a pack of ground chicken, 1 egg, a handful of breadcrumbs, finely diced onion, chopped fresh parsley, salt, pepper, garlic powder. Mix. Preheat oven to 400F. Line baking pan with parchment paper. Use those hands and shape your meat mixture into uniform size balls and plop them on the pan. Place in oven. Ground meats cook pretty quick, so check after 10 or 15 minutes, and you’ll notice the meat it darker and doesn’t look raw anymore. You’ll need to stab one and check for clear juices, or use a meat thermometer to make sure the center is cooked. If not, leave it a little longer. Once they’re ready, serve or toss them with tomato sauce. Do the same with ground beef, and substitute raw rolled oats for breadcrumbs if you’re gluten free. Some people fry their meatballs, I like to bake them.
  2. Fry: Chicken cutlets? Mix a container of scrambled up raw egg, then grab a plate with breadcrumbs. Dip your cutlets in the breadcrumbs, then the egg wash, then the bread crumbs, and pile them up on a plate. In a a frying pan or cast iron skillet, heat about 1/2″ oil (olive oil isn’t best here, go for a vegetable, canola, etc) until sizzling hot. Carefully place in your cutlets using a pair of tongs, not crowding them (watch out, the oil may spatter!) Once you start seeing the edges brown, flip them and let cook for about the same amount of time. You’ll watch them nice and brown on both sides, and since they’re thin, they cook quickly. Remove with the tongs and place on a plate with paper towels to rest and drain off excess oil. Next batch goes in.
  3. Braise: I don’t do a real braise (though I’m planning to try), I do a quickie braise. Let’s say some country style spare ribs. Heavy walled cast iron skillet goes on medium heat with a little olive oil until it’s nice and hot (any pot with a cover will work really, just make sure it has a good seal). Use tongs to sear your meat (plop it down in the pan until the outside is cooked, flip it over and try to get all sides – this seals in juices). Take the meat out for a moment, and add onions, then some veggies (sometimes carrots and celery, sometimes I add potatoes or others too). Keep it moving until the veggies have a little color – season as you go. Add the meat back onto your lovely bed of veggies, then add a little water, maybe an inch; you don’t want to submerge the meat. Wine, water, broth, etc – or a combination. Put the lid on and let it simmer (not boil, just simmer, keep that heat low) for an hour and a half up to 3 hours. Check periodically, because if the liquid all evaporates, the bottom will burn (this is why a good fitting lid is important). Add more liquid if needed. Use a meat thermometer if you’re not sure your meat is cooked. This method should turn out a soft, tender meat and nice stew-y veggies. I do beef, pork and chicken this way, including a super simple chicken and dumplings.
  4. Grill: I only learned how to barbecue about a month and a half ago! I’m still not a pro, but I can do it. Take your steak, chicken thighs, pork, etc. and marinate or dry rub as you wish. Turn on the barbecue (there should be instructions on it) and let the grill heat up – do whatever you do to clean it too. Use BBQ tongs to place the meat, flipping it periodically until it’s cooked. Move it or turn down the heat if you’re getting flare ups.

What else?

Rice is easy! White rice cooks in 10 minutes, brown rice is more like 45 – there are instructions right on the package. Add seasonings, or open a can of beans, rinse the goop off them and stir them in, or toss with sauteed veggies. Pasta? Boil water with a bit of salt. At a boil, add pasta and set timer to time specified on the box. Then drain it out and throw your sauce on.

I know I make this sound easy. Forgive me for sounding flippant, I can be casual because I am so sure that anyone can manage this! And the beautiful thing is that once you get used to cooking, you don’t need recipes. You buy broccoli and you think, “hmm, I’ll steam that then dress it with olive oil, salt, pepper and dried shallots.” You learn go-to methods, and then you apply them to different foods within that category.

You’re not going to become a celebrity chef overnight. You may mess up, over or under cook something or burn it just a little. That’s not a big deal.

Like I said earlier, if you can do other basic activities, you can cook! If you still don’t think so (and you’re local), come over so I can prove that you can cook.

Baking Cooking

4 ways to use fresh strawberries

June 24, 2016

When I was a kid, June was an exciting month because it signaled the end of school and the start of summer. These days, no longer attending or working in a school, June is just June. With the exception of one sweet, red little thing. Or in this case, more than one…more like 14 pounds.

lil-strawberryNow the thing I look forward to in June is strawberry picking, even more so now that Little Miss can come with us and experience it too (spoiler: she wasn’t all that impressed). My mom’s birthday falls smack in the middle of June and so her birthday and strawberry picking have become somewhat synonymous. We used to pick upstate when we could, but when I was in college my mother and I began driving out east on Long Island to pick strawberries. Wherever they’re from, fresh strawberries are pretty awesome. The backs of our legs may ache a little bit the day after picking from all that bending and crouching, but ripe red berries straight from the plant, warm from the sun are so worth it.

To make a long story short, we’ve already gone strawberry picking twice. I brought home probably about 7 pounds each time; that’s a lot of strawberries. And don’t think they’ll last because they’re fresh picked, they need to stay in the refrigerator and even so, when it gets close to the week mark you’ll start noticing some funk going on.

So pick away! But the initial rush, where you pick and buy all these berries and think you’re going to use them all might sour a little when you realize you actually need to USE them. In this house, as much as we love fruit, two adults and one toddler just aren’t going to get through 14 pounds of strawberries in 2 weeks.

So, what’s a berry picker to do? Here’s how I managed to use all the berries we picked, losing only a handful to over ripeness.

1. Gift them

I like picking strawberries a whole lot, but that doesn’t mean everyone does. Some people don’t have the time in their schedule, or the patience for the drive, or just would rather relax on their free time. That’s all good! Very good, because when you realize how inundated with berries are, you can sweetly hand off sandwich bags of these rosy beauties into plenty of grateful hands. Many of my friends received quart size bags of berries these past few weeks.

2. Bake with them

strawberry-cupStrawberry shortcake anyone? Whether you want the ease of a cake mix or you’d rather go a more controlled route and bake from scratch, go for it! A quick Google search will turn up plenty of recipes for white cake, shortcake, angel food cake, all of which will be delightful with cut fresh strawberries and whipped cream.

We had to do dairy free and gluten free, so I made a vegan gluten free white cake which we topped with berries and coconut whipped cream and it was lovely. The cake wasn’t as fluffy as I’d have liked, but it came together nicely nonetheless. There are so many recipes available, you’re sure to find something that suits your mood and needs.

3. Freeze them

Do you like smoothies? Of course you do, who doesn’t? Wash your berries, remove the hulls, slice them in half and throw them into a freezer bag to keep them for smoothie making. In a decent blender, you just toss your frozen fruit and some liquid in and you can easily make a smoothie (or go light on the liquid for a fresh, healthy sorbet). Yeah, you could buy frozen fruit in the store, but if you have your berries anyway, why not?

4. Can them

I made strawberry jam by myself for the first time yesterday. I chose a low sugar recipe that I found through – you guessed it – a Google search, and loosely followed it. I’m not going to lie, I made “jammysauce”. It spreads nicely on toast, but is not as thick as a true jam. But it is soooooo yummy. I even canned it properly, using my big canning kettle and sealing with boiling water. It’s not nearly as intimidating as it looks.

canningI worried about burning myself to death with that huge canning kettle, but I was careful and used the canning tongs and I was just fine. It looks like this insane process at first, but then you get it and suddenly you get it. And then after the jars come out of the water, you get the deep satisfaction of hearing each lid pop as they seal. If you’ve ever canned, you know the sound. Admit it, it’s super satisfying.

Try to make a jam or purposely go thin and make a delicious sauce to go on cakes, pancakes, ice cream, waffles and anything else you can think of! Many recipes are very very heavy on the sugar, so feel free to go light when you begin – you can always taste your mixture and add more as it cooks.

That’s more or less how I used up 14 pounds of strawberries in 14 days. I’m looking forward to blueberry picking next, and seeing what I can do with them!