Friday, November 21, 2014

The Hippie Wanna-Be Chronicles: Bone Broth

It's the weekend before Thanksgiving, otherwise known as "buy all the food ever" weekend. Everyone is picking out their birds, deciding on who's bringing what side dish, and finalizing drink and dessert offerings. The excitement is climbing - everyone is looking forward to food, family, and a mid-week day to just chill on the couch.

And me? What am I doing to prep for the big day? Oh I'm just cleanin' up some puke and wipin' noses. My little one, 2 years old, has been sick since SATURDAY. That's almost 7 days of nonstop sniffling, choking, sobbing, coughing, and gagging, combined with random fevers and fits of rage. When my little one gets a cold she gets a cold.

Funny, though, the rest of us are pretty much ok. 

How is it, I wonder, that my youngest can be horribly, terribly ill, but the rest of us are good?

Well for starters, she is younger and is building up her immunity. She is naturally going to be hit harder because she is a small, small person with only 2 years under her belt. She's what I like to call an "immunity lightweight."

But there's something else...something a bit more hippie going on here. 

You see, my other kid, the big one, who has a substantial 6 year lead over her younger sister, always, always gets sick. This kid never catches a break....instead she catches illnesses. She is constantly bringing home what other parents drop off at school and has never escaped a family cold or stomach flu. Ever. 

Except this time.

Now don't get me wrong, she got something. She was sleeping longer, draggin' butt earlier in the week, but after taking a day off to recuperate, she went back to school with no problems. She missed one day, compared to the 3-4 days she's normally down for the count.

The difference? 

Bone, Broth.

Now some of you probably know, I am huge on meat raised by farmers you know. I believe in voting with your dollars and food is probably the most important ballot out there. It's a horribly deceitful market in the US and we should care about it because food can save lives. Food can make you a better person. Food can make sick people well. It's a fact, people. 

When I realized my big girl was ill, I whipped up a huge green smoothie (they aren't disgusting jars of scum after all) and she chugged it down with a smile. Then I tossed some navy beans in a crock pot with some of the best stuff on earth - homemade broth.

I love perusing the meat menu at Wallace Farms. Each time I look, though, I see these chicken backs jumping out at me. They are so, so cheap. I needed to find a way to use them, so I started googling the crap out of them. 

Turns out chicken backs aren't good for anything other than - you guessed it - broth (also called stock, which confuses me, so I'll just keep calling it broth).

I found a couple great recipes online and sort of blended them together to work for me. I'm not going to lie to you and say this was a fast process. This was perhaps the longest cooking session I've ever had. But you know what else is long? Sleepless nights when the whole family is sick. Losing a weekend to broth-making was well worth it to me.

Lemmie show ya what I did.

Pick a bone. Hahaha I've got a bone to pick with but really. You can get beef bones (knuckle and marrow bones) or chicken bones. Obviously, the beef bones will result in beef broth, the chicken bones will result in chicken broth. All 3 types of bones have glorious, beautiful, luscious gelatin and minerals. You can read an awesome post about the benefits of drinking broth by checking out this post by Katie from Kitchen Stewardship. She links to a ton of resources explaining the immense nutritional value of bone broth. 

Bottom line, it's the shizz.

So I started my bone broth session by buying 3 packages of chicken backs. Three come in each package - more than enough. Be sure to buy your meat and/or bones from someone you know or from a local farm that can vouch not only for how the animals lived but how they were butchered. This makes a difference in both the quality of your broth and the quality of our agriculture system!

Next I filled two huge pots with water. I didn't use filtered water, or distilled water, or whatever. I used tap water, my well tap water, all full of iron and whatever else is down there. I didn't measure it out, either, I just filled them up 3/4 of the way full. 

I didn't saute/brown the backs beforehand because I hate dishes (we don't own a dishwasher....unless my husband's hands which case....yay! I own a dishwasher!). You can always saute everything, including the veggies in the next step, before adding it to the pot. I's broth, sooo....I didn't see the need....but whatever tugs your tag!

After splashing the slippery suckas gently placing the chicken backs in the pot I added some leftover onion tops, leftover carrot tops, scraps of garlic skin, and some roughly chopped/cracked garlic cloves. I didn't add celery because I hate the stuff, but that's another great vegetable to add to stock. Remember, these don't need to be the "pretty parts" of the veggie. Kitchen scraps destined for the compost or garbage work really, really well just the way they are. 

I brought it all up to a boil and then lowered the heat to a gentle simmer. I cooked the chicken in there like that for an hour - then I took the backs out, plucked the meat off of 'em, and stuck the bare bones back in the pots. 

I got a good batch of meat off my backs. You can call me the Bone Plucker. I froze the meat and used it later for tacos and soup. 

Then came the fun part. I let that stuff chill, on a low simmer, for 20 hours. That's twenty hours. I felt like a witch at her cauldron, checking throughout the day and skimming some of the foam off the top (it'll happen, that foam - it's not dangerous. It's foam.). **Side note, if you have a gas stove, be sure to put your exhaust fan on (lowest setting is fine). I did not do that, because ya know, I'm into gassing myself and my whole family,like a boss. The carbon monoxide detector went off at one point and we spent a good hour freezing our butts off as I aired the place out. Safety first, people! Learn from my mistakes!!

Once 20 hours was up, I strained the two pots into bowls. I was sad to see the bones go, but I knew I'd gotten some good stuff out of 'em. I dumped them and the veggies in the trash and got to work on the next phase of my bone broth adventure - storage.

Everywhere I went (you know....on Google and Pinterest...) people were saying it's best to let the broth sit in the fridge overnight and then skim the fat off in the morning. So I went ahead and poured the stuff into jars, left it in the fridge, and skimmed the fat off the next morning. I'm tellin ya, it didn't make that much of a difference and next time, I will totally skip this step. 

Now there was no way I could eat all this broth before it went bad. I ended up with 18 pints and 3 quarts of the stuff -  a truly incredible yield for $9.51 worth of chicken and as you can see, the broth was oh-so-golden and nutra-packed. Nomnomnom. But what to do with it all?

I decided I would take a line from The Brady Bunch and can it (*whine whine whine* "Can it, Cindy!"). Now, for those of you who don't know, which included me before this bone broth adventure, you need a special canner to can bone broth. Only acidic foods, like fruits and jams and stuff with vinegar, can be canned the old fashioned way with a big pot and some boiling water. Non-acidic foods, including broth, need to be canned with a pressure canner.

Luckily, I found one for sale by a sweet old lady at an autumn festival near my town. She sold it to me for $32 - and gave me a quick instruction run-down before I hauled it away. (Be careful and don't buy dangerous stuff from weirdos yaddah yaddha yaddah...I later downloaded the manual because I didn't really understand a thing she said. Gasket what?)

The first step is to reheat your broth. Awesome. I hauled the pots back out and emptied my jars. While the broth heats back up, you need to prep your jars by making sure they're clean and warm. I washed mine out and let them sit in a hot water bath. ***For a more in-depth post about the specifics of pressure canning, check this post out by Simply Canning).

Then I poured my hot broth into my hot jars and burned my hot hands. Carefully, and following my pressure canner's instructions, I stacked my jars, added water like I was supposed to, sealed the lid on the canner, and watched that pressure rise. 

I was such a freak about it. I checked it constantly. 

Ding! Fries are done!

I now have a shelf full of canned, golden broth and let me tell you, it's dang delicious. I made some crockpot soup with it mid-week, on the day my older kiddo stayed home, and we ate it for dinner.

I kid you not, the very next day, she was ten times better...well enough to go to school and the family reading night they hosted until 8PM. She woke up today with a smile and not a smidge of sickness in her eyes. 

Guess which little person didn't want to eat my soup...and is still sick as a dog? I rest my case.

Have you ever tried cooking your own broth? Would you try it? I promise, if I can do it, you can do it. Nature's medicine! Peace and love and waving my arms in the wind like a tree....thank you so much for reading :)

*Disclaimer: Wallace Farms has never given me a dime for my opinion or the repeated mentioning of their high-quality, responsibly raised and butchered meats. This is not a sponsored post! They really are that good - check them out!!

Friday, November 14, 2014

How to Not Be a B*&#% during the Holidays

I figured after last week's laundry horror story, I needed to shift gears, focus on the spirit of the season, and write something a bit more helpful. You gotta forgive the randomness of the topics lately, people. I am a dirty, zombie-eyed woman who is swiping prompts directly from life....and sometimes that life seems to consist only of laundry...ass-kickin' laundry.

But not this week. This week my blog prompt was practically hand-delivered to me in a neat little package by a shirtless man with huge pecs and a bottle of wine hanging off his belt loop like a hammer from heaven. Ok maybe not that perfect. But pretty close.

So I go to these meetings every 2-3 weeks. No, they're not AA meetings...although seeing as how my fantasy delivery man literally has a wine bottle hanging off his belt....

But no, no, these are MOPS meetings. MOPS = Mothers of PreSchoolers. They apparently have chapters all over the world. The hook for me? Free breakfast.

*In all seriousness, my MOPS group provides childcare for 2.5 hours every 2-3 weeks so I can sit and eat, listen to awesome guest speakers (professional organizers, yoga instructors, and female badasses). We make things (necklaces, holiday plates, blankets for the homeless) and I get to talk with other women who are just as under-dressed and tired, all while drinking orange juice without having someone yank on my hand and demand a sip that will inevitably result in backwash. There is a yearly fee that comes out to $7 a month - they do offer financial assistance. If you're a mom (your kid does NOT, as the acronym suggests, need to be in preschool) and you're looking for people to talk to, find a MOPS chapter near you.

The theme for the group this year is to "be you, bravely." At our last meeting, the group leader queued up a video and told us it was all about being generous and giving - of course to correspond to the Thanksgiving holiday, which is supposed to, apparently, be all about giving. 

Here's a little secret about me, in case you didn't already know... I am not naturally all that generous. I mean, I give to charities, and I donate everything I don't keep, but when it comes to my time, my food, and my heart, I am a greedy old Scrooge. I cling to them all with a fierceness unmatched.

Thanksgiving was once my favorite holiday. I love food. I love eating. I love the excuse to sit around. As I've gotten older, had kids, and gotten married, Thanksgiving has kinda lost it's jazz. Don't get me wrong, I love seeing my family and I still love eating, but the joy has kinda been muffled by the intense pressure to be everywhere, do everything, help with as much as possible, and make everything Pinterest-perfect, all while maintaining my older, slightly-less-than-girlish figure. Growing up sucks sometimes, man.

So I, like many American women, end up acting like a total B*&#%. I stress myself out to the point of treating the people I love like garbage.

Real-Life Example from Chronicles of Jen, Circa 2006: 
I wanted to bring dessert to Thanksgiving dinner. I was dead-set on impressing my husband's family, particularly his grandmother, and had concocted this plan to bake a pie. Not just one pie, actually, two pies. Pumpkin. So I went out and blew all this money I didn't have on ingredients I'd never used before. Naturally, I messed up the recipe (who knew confectioner's sugar wasn't called that because it was perfect for baking??) The pies were absolutely awful. And the worst part? The entire time I was baking these pies, I was ignoring the baby, screaming at her to stay out of the kitchen, crying and yelling at my husband, telling him I was doomed, doomed. Life was over. That's it.

Total B*&#%. For what? For PIES. Pies, people. I yelled at my baby and husband because of pies. How is it possible that an intelligent, young, relatively happy young woman could be reduced to tears the day before her favorite holiday because of pies? I'll tell you how. Because I allowed the disgusting, comparison-centric culture of my surroundings to infiltrate my ability to see things clearly. I wanted to impress. I wanted to be like the ladies in the magazines. I wanted to be accepted.

Now, 8 years later, I am worn and weathered by the various problems that pop up during the holidays. I anticipate the pressure to do more, be more, and it's made me bitter....mean, even. A real B*&#%.

So when the MOPS leader told me we'd be watching a movie on how to be more generous, I almost got up and left. I don't need anyone telling me to do more or be more - I tell myself enough of that throughout the day. I'd just gotten my boundaries all laid out for the season and now I was going to be guilt-tripped into more obligations? Obligations that will make me "generous," yet crazy as hell? No thanks.

But then the lady on the video started talking...and I found myself wanting to listen. If you're a sensitive person like I am, you'll want to read this next part....

You see, instead of enacting various quotes and images designed to make me realize how much I have to be grateful for and how crappy I am if I can't be happy in the lovely life I have, the video centered around one, non-offensive idea:

Operate out of abundance, not scarcity.

See? Totally doesn't send my hackles up, that sentence. It doesn't make me feel bad about myself for not being a giddy, happy person. It doesn't make me feel like I need to do a hundred different things to prove I am grateful for everyone and everything I have. It simply tells me to live a life of abundance, not scarcity.

Well that's great, Jen. Abundance, right. Awesome. Thanks....but what exactly does that mean? 

For me, it means I need to stop looking at my time as scarce. I have just as many hours in my day as Gandhi had in his. Or Martin Luther King. Or Jesus. Yet, here I sit, feeling the need to protect my time with everything I have. I don't want to do anything, plan anything, or be anywhere, because I see my time as scarce. I'm terrified of my own anxiety - and controlling time is my way of self-soothing.

When I change that mindset and think of my time as abundant, magic happens. I have 24 hours in each day! Can you imagine? What would you do with 24 hours? That's a TON of time I can use however I want. I can knock out some push-ups. I can clean some dishes. I can write a book. I can dance with my kids. I have all the time in the world - I am abundantly blessed with time. 

When I operate out of scarcity I always have an excuse....but when I operate out of abundance, with the mindframe that I've got all the time in the world, doors open. Not every door, obviously - it's still important to have boundaries and plans. But some doors. One or two more doors than usual. I give myself permission to sit and read for as long as I want. I give myself permission to randomly stop by a friend's house to say hello. I give myself permission to take as much time as I want to sleep or write or design holiday cards if I want because I am not on death row or suffering in a third-world country - no, I am blessed with an abundant amount of time. 

Another area of generosity the lady in the video touched on was money. Thinking of income as abundant can be hard, especially when we all think we need to buy, buy, buy and be perfect, perfect, perfect this time of year. Luckily, as much as Pinterest can push you into comparison hell, it can also shoot you into handmade heaven. We're short on funds this year, but have rekindled our love for Goodwill. I learned how to make cookies plates with ModPodge and fabric scraps. I've designed a choose-your-own adventure gift - the recipient chooses from three "we-will-come-do-this-for-you" options...and they ain't no joke, these tasks. These are serious a grown-up coupon book of awesomeness. 

Think about where your fear of scarcity exists the most. Are you afraid to share your passions? Are you afraid to share your favorite objects, like grandma's china or baby items your kids have outgrown? Do you really want to keep objects in your home that you're deathly afraid of losing? Are you afraid to spend money? Maybe you can't buy a new scarf, but can you afford yarn? Grab a pair of knitting needles? Checkout a book on knitting for beginners? That isn't scarcity, people. That is abundance. We have dollar stores and knowledge at our fingertips - what a beautiful thing. 

So my plan on how to not be a B*&#% during the holidays? Instead of focusing on clean baseboards that nobody even looks at, or screaming at the kids because I don't have enough time to peel the potatoes, I'm going to try real, real hard to soak up the abundance in my life, moment by moment. 

And you? What do you find yourself stressing about as the holiday season swings into gear? Can the principle of abundance work in your scenario? I'd love to hear about it in the comments down below and as always, thank you for reading :)

Friday, November 7, 2014

When Doing Laundry Kicks Your Ass

Ahhh laundry day. I do the laundry every Tuesday and Friday. Sometimes, when I'm feeling especially cheeky, I will do the bedding. Today was one of those days.

Now some of you may remember, I am exactly 1-week in to writing my very first novel. What you may not know, however, is that I've set a personal goal to write double the amount of words the NaNoWriMo initiaitive is all about.

The normal sane still really hard standard number of words you're expected to write to "win" NaNo is 50k. I am shooting for 100k. I read publishers (who are obsessed with word count and not pages - who knew?) typically expect an adult fiction novel to be between 70k - 125k words.

This rocked my world. I thought for sure 50k was the standard and would give me a good book to edit. Nope - not even close. So my goal went up, and my sleep went down. I get up around 4 and write for 2 hours, and then write for another 2 hours at night when the little one goes to bed. I don't go above 2 hours a session because I've found 2 hours is my magic moment where the brain goes "smoosh" and all inspiration goes right out the window.

Carving out an additional 4 hours of writing a day has kinda killed my "do it all" abilities. Even the simplest tasks are stupidly difficult these days.

Like the laundry.

So I ripped all the sheets off the bed this morning, grabbed my blankets and pillowcases, and headed downstairs. I chucked the pile on the floor, realizing as the pile was mid-air that there was a huge, and I mean HUGE cat poop right in the middle of the floor. Fresh, too. Oh yea, it was awesome. Naturally, my grown-woman, purple cuddle blanket landed right on top of the poo. It was actually stuck to it. So gross.

I tossed that load in first. I made the load a bit lighter so the blanket had plenty of room to spread out in there. Yuck. I promise my cat IS supposed to be litter box trained.

About an hour later, I moved the first load to the dryer and tossed the second load in the washer. My blanket look good, thankfully. But then, when I went to remove it from the dryer, I saw it had morphed into a lint-creating psycho blanket. There were fuzz balls on every piece of clothing in there. The lint thing was filled to max capacity - it was overflowing. I took the stupid blanket out and took the clothes upstairs to shake them out and fold them.

Bad idea.

Now, I'm not naturally one to rant and rave about lint - #firstworldproblems and all that. But can I please tell you. This was so insane, so stupidly crazy, I just had to take a picture of it. Who has seventeen pounds of lint fall out of their clothes when they try and fold them? WHO?

No worries. Just a little hiccup. I got this. I moved the second load to the dryer and tossed my third load in. Three loads rockin, two left to go. I waited for the dryer to finish, went down, took out the second load (which had only a little bit of the insano lint on it) and opened the washer to transfer my third load to the dryer.

Hmmm. The clothes still had soap all over em. Hmm. The water is pretty low. Hmm, it smells like garbage in here.

I turned the dial and pulled it up to get the water running again. It started flowing. I set the lid down. It stopped flowing.I opened it. Nothing. Pulled the dials. Nothing. I looked at the sad, sad pile of clothes sitting in there, all wet and soapy. I jammed a canning knife into the door latch, hoping it was that easy. Nothing.

Huh. Time to go all Laura-Ingalls on this shit.

The sheets will need to wait, though. Possibly forever.

My name is Jen and today, laundry absolutely kicked my ass. K.O.

Pretty sure I would give a pioneer chick a run for her money in the washing department, tho.

Hope you all get your chores out of the way so you can have an awesome weekend! As always, thanks for reading :)