The September Challenge Summary!

I came home last week to Chris picking the remainder of our grapes. We froze some, ate a ton, and turned the rest into grape juice!

 

A lot of people have been asking me about how our September challenge ended up going. Yeah, because remember how I was going to do an awesome job documenting our month? Sorry about that. It’s just that when you are working part time, taking care of 3 kids, and cooking every thing you make from scratch, I wasn’t finding myself with an excess of energy or time at the end of each day :). I always mean to become one of those people who blogs really regularly, but it obviously hasn’t been on the top of my priority list. If you want to know more details of how the month went, let’s talk! There is so much to say! But here are some of my random thoughts on how the month went and our plans for the future:

  • I already mentioned that I plan to make homemade whole wheat bread each week in place of store bought. Baking is kind of tricky for me. I am not a recipe follower, and so I often learn the hard way time and time again that you usually do have to follow recipes precisely when baking. The first couple of times I tried to make Betsy’s homemade bread, it turned out mediocre. But as I practice more and try to actually really follow the recipe, it is getting a little better each time. Chris is obsessed with the homemade bread and treats me like I am some sort of famous chef on the days that I make it :).
  • I will continue to make these homemade tortillas once a week: http://www.100daysofrealfood.com/2010/05/26/recipe-whole-wheat-tortillas/. My family was so happy to eat homemade tortillas and beans several days in a row even.
  • Which brings me to my next point. If you are going to go out of your way to cook from scratch, you might as well eat it for at least 2 days. Who has the energy to cook totally from scratch every day? It seems much wiser to get your family used to the idea of leftovers!
  • I think my family might have eaten almost too much fiber during the month of September. I will spare the details, but a ton of oatmeal, whole wheat flour, veggies, and a fruit was doing interesting things to the Becerra family’s digestive systems.
  • I plan to cook with meat about 2 times a week. I have a great local beef source, but I have been debating about what to do for chicken. Local/organic chicken is super expensive.. almost too expensive to make it feel worth buying. After thinking about my different options, I have ultimately decided that I will continue to buy organic chicken, but we will probably only cook two chickens a month.
  • As you can imagine, a month of local eating meant I didn’t get to shop at Trader Joes once. This was interesting for me as I am a big Trader Joes fan. The things I missed most from Trader Joes were coconut milk, frozen mangos, frozen pineapple, and toasted coconut. The first thing I did on October 1st was eat coconut. Maybe I should move to a tropical island and do a local challenge.
  • Eating completely local is not super cheap. Even in the month of September. Though I think we will continue to eat a large amount of local foods, it is nice to not have the pressure to do it in such a hard core way anymore. I will continue to cook local oatmeal and use local wheat flour. I will probably continue to buy local lentils, but I will not buy local beans in the future. They were so delicious, but on our budget, it makes more sense to buy organic beans at Winco for 1/3 of the price.
  • One of my favorite results of the challenge is that Chris has now taken ownership over making a warm breakfast every day. Chris does not like to cook, but he realized that he would have to take a part in helping more if we really wanted to make lasting changes. Breakfast time has become more special. We often all sit around the table and eat breakfast as a family now. I may buy a box of cereal each month, but 6 out of 7 days, we plan to continue with homemade breakfast.
  • I am not one to buy a ton of crackers and snack foods, but I have been doing even less. I may buy an occasional lara bar, granola bars, or lentil crackers for when I am out and about, but we have been popping a lot of popcorn, and the kids have been snacking more on fruit, cheese, and veggies.

I am pooped after a long day and this is all I can think of right now. Do you think that your family would ever consider taking the Oregon Challenge? I think that this may become a September tradition each year!

Lisa Corn - October 7, 2014 - 3:53 am

Hi Kara,
Did you use the tortilla press that tortilla recipe calls for, or did you roll them out? Also, would your friend be willing to share the bread recipe? I don’t buy buy often anymore but I haven’t found a recipe that works well for us.
Thanks!
Lisa

kara - October 7, 2014 - 7:16 am

Lisa,
We roll them out with a rolling pin and it works great! I will send the bread recipe to you!! Bye the way, I really like your blog!!

Betsy - October 7, 2014 - 7:35 am

Kara! Well done! I am sure you are exhausted after a whole month of cooking every single thing from scratch! Sounds like it went well. And just keep making the bread. It gets easier and better every time you make it. Yay for fabulous oregon and all her fabulous food!!

Carrie - October 7, 2014 - 9:52 am

I was wondering how the end of your challenge went! You are amazing for doing all that cooking all month long! I don’t live in Oregon, so I won’t be doing the Oregon Challenge, but I also won’t be doing a California Challenge either. Now that I have a baby and am back to working full time and teaching one night a week, I’m just trying to survive each day (I know that sounds horrible!). I do try to cook three nights/week, leave one night for pizza night, and leave two nights for take-out/dining out/leftovers. And one night my hubby is on his own since I teach that night. Anyway…we call our nights of leftovers “A Night to Remember,” which we adapted from my husband’s childhood. It sounds nicer than “leftovers” somehow:-)

Kudos to you on your Oregon Challenge – you are inspiring in many ways to many people!

Rachel - October 7, 2014 - 10:05 am

I loved reading this. And would love the bread recipe as well.

Currently I’m not up to a full challenge like this, but I am trying very hard to make (and eat) most of my food from scratch. Lately that means making a big pot of soup or chili one day a week, eating a lot through the week and freezing a lot for the future. I’ve also stocked up on many food items, so am now trying to use what I have, and make thoughtful choices when I’m shopping, so I can supplement with fresh produce and grow our food storage, slowly.

Lisa Corn - October 7, 2014 - 10:33 am

Thanks Kara!

sharon - October 7, 2014 - 9:49 pm

Kara, you’re amazing! Love the challenge and all the good things that came from it. So inspiring.

kara - October 8, 2014 - 11:17 pm

Betsy,
I want to hear what you are finding in Idaho so far and what your shopping routine has been there!
Carrie,
So nice to hear from you. Conrgrats on your babe!! Sounds like you are a busy gal right now!! I never would have been able to do this if I had been working a lot in September (I only have work meetings and prep this month before I start teaching at the end of September). I love “A night to remember”.
Rachel, will you message me your email and I can share the bread document with you??
Sharon,
You are pretty inspiring yourself right now lady with all of your healthy eating!

Homemade Pizza

I made homemade pizza last week and it was a hit. Here is the breakdown of how I made it:

  • I made the pizza dough from the Healthy Youth Program. It is quick and simple. You may have noticed that I use a lot of recipes from HYP. You can take the girl from the HYP, but you can’t take the HYP from the girl! As usual, the flour was from Camas Valley Mill.
  • For the sauce, I roasted tomatoes from my garden with a bunch of garlic. After roasting, I drained the liquid and mixed in my food processor with a little salt and oregano.
  • I found an affordable way to buy local bacon. If you buy a bag of random pieces and end pieces, it is so much more affordable. For $3.00, we had enough to spread sparingly on two pizzas.
  • I had cooked Oregon Wild Rice the night before for rice bowls, so I sprinkled some of the leftover rice on as a topping. Seems like it might be gross, but it was actually really delicious!
  • We also topped with broccoli and peppers from Peoria Rd. Market and Tillamook Mozzarella Cheese.

Homemade pizza will for sure stay in our menu. You can easily make 2 quality pizzas using local ingredients for less than what one pizza would cost to buy.

 

My Garden

 

A view of our garden from the studio.

This is the time of year when I am usually sharing pictures of my garden and what’s growing in it. Not this year friends. In the almost 5 years that we have lived in our house, this is by far my worst gardening year. At this point, it is just looking very very dead and neglected. I often feel a little sting of sadness and disappointment when I look at it.  It’s been a challenging year in some ways but also a year of growth. Sometimes it feels like there are so many things I am in charge of taking care of and keeping alive, and it can feel overwhelming. My family is obviously my biggest priority to nourish and focus my energy on, so while in the midst of feeling stressed, something had to give. And that unfortunately was my garden.

Because I feel like the way a person gardens can say a lot of them, I have felt very vulnerable thinking about people coming to my house and knowing that I am far from having my life together by one look at my garden. It was enough to give me a little anxiety about hosting things at my house (like the two baby showers that I hosted).  I’ve kindly been reminded by a friend that other people don’t necessarily think like me and that the general population  probably doesn’t judge or overanalyze my life based off how my garden looks. In fact, many friends of mine (mostly the ones who aren’t really into gardening) saw all of the beautiful sunflowers growing in my garden and were in amazement at the amount and size of sunflowers that I had. People were seeing great beauty in my garden that I was being so critical of. And by other people telling me how beautiful it was, it was a reminder to me that I needed to stop focusing on the negative! I am so blessed to have so many people in my life who can find the beauty in my garden, and in me. Because I forget sometimes. I think that we all forget sometimes.

Each year, our sunflowers have spread more and more. We started a few years ago with a small bunch, but each year new volunteers come up. This year when the dozens of volunteers came up in the spring, I knew in theory that I should be picking most of them out so that my vegetable garden wouldn’t turn into a sunflower garden. But for some reason… I couldn’t bring myself to pick even one volunteer out. During the grey spring (when I was also feeling some grey in my life), I just knew that the sunflowers would make me so happy in the summer. So I left them.  The result was as you would expect.. a large sunflower garden, with some pathetic vegetables trying to find enough nutrients and sun to grow. And a person who didn’t have the energy to tend to any of it like I should have.

Though I really did find a lot of happiness in my sunflowers this year, next year I know that I will go ahead and take out some of the volunteers (and maybe spread the cheer to some friends instead of tossing them?). And just so you all know, I am not going to all of your houses wondering the secrets of your soul when I see your garden :). Just as I am often much harden on myself than I am other people. But I am working on that..  and making progress!

 

sharon - September 14, 2014 - 7:43 pm

Love this picture of you, Kara, and the sunflowers in the background. I agree gardens are often metaphors for our lives, and also agree that we are so much harder on ourselves than others. Thank goodness for those friends who can see the beauty through the weeds and remind us of the good things we have growing too. Lots of good and beauty growing in that garden of yours, Kara :)

kara - September 14, 2014 - 9:33 pm

Sharon, you are good at seeing the beauty in any garden :). That’s what makes you so wonderful and why I am so lucky to have you as a mother-in-law!!

The Final Straw… or enchilada

We are getting close to almost two weeks of the September Challenge. Overall, I would say that things are going really well. Well… except maybe for that one day when I flipped out in the kitchen and told Chris that I was overwhelmed, about to flip out, and wanted to quit the project. Last Sunday, I tried to get a lot of prep work done to lighten my cooking load over the week. After a morning at church, I was ready to get some work done in the kitchen. I made enough bread dough for the week and set it out to rise. I honey roasted hazelnuts. I made 2 batches of zucchini bread. And then… I set out to make chicken enchiladas.

I knew that I wanted to make enough enchiladas to last for a couple days worth of dinners, but I didn’t really think about how time consuming the process would be. Around 1:00, I got Camas Valley Mill pinto beans out to soak so I could cook beans later that night to go into the enchiladas. I cooked a chicken that I bought at Farmer’s Market. I made homemade tomatillo sauce for the enchiladas. And… I found a recipe for whole wheat tortillas (http://www.100daysofrealfood.com/2010/05/26/recipe-whole-wheat-tortillas/). I took a short break from cooking to go to dinner at a friend’s house as a family, but then as soon as I got home, it was back to the kitchen (in between doing normal mom stuff). This is when I kind of broke down. It was a hot day, and I had already been in the kitchen for probably 5 hours that day. I was so flipping exhausted. I started venting to Chris all of my frustrations and confessed that this kind of was feeling sucky and not fun on this particular day. I may or may not have proclaimed that I am actually not a good cook at all and that I don’t know what I was thinking to devote this much time to cooking when I clearly am not good at it. Chris was great and told me that he would take over breakfast duty each day and help do dishes more. I agreed that I would not be able to continue with this challenge without some sort of change.

In a very timely manner, someone posted this article on a mom’s facebook group about how mom’s often have very high standards about making homemade food for the family, but we also have so many other demands. Each of us only has 24 hours in a day, and we have to make choices about how to spend that time. I feel like from this challenge, I am already learning about which things will stick after September and which things I will drop. Though I love to cook, I am realizing that I have to prioritize what is most important to me. From what we have done so far, here are some of my thoughts:

  • I am hoping to do a homemade breakfast 5 out of 7 days a week. And… we will stick with local oatmeals (or rolled barley). It does not take a lot of effort to make a good breakfast if you plan ahead, and I really want to send my kids to school with a belly full of good food.
  • I will never make enchiladas 100% from scratch again :). I can see myself making homemade tortillas with beans or enchiladas with parts that are homemade, but nothing more complicated than that.
  • It is hard to imagine going back to store bought bread. It is just so much more delicious (and affordable) homemade. I am not going to beat myself up if I buy bread every once in awhile, but I feel like this is one of the things that is really worth the extra time.

So this is where I am at right now. I know that I am most definitely going to have to make adjustments, especially as I will have less time when I start teaching classes at the end of the month, but we will cross that road when the time comes.

chris - September 12, 2014 - 6:37 am

You are a rock star Kara! I’m so impressed with all the effort you have put into the challenge and all the work you’ve done to make our family healthy and happy. Doing breakfast is a small token, but I hope I can learn to cook some more in the future. I love you!!!

Pancakes

If you know me well, you have tried these pancakes already or at least know about them. I am yet to meet a person who didn’t like these pancakes (even kids). I made pancake batter on a school night and split it into two separate containers to use for two mornings as the recipe makes too much for my family to eat in one meal. I simmered down a delicious peach sauce and whipped up some whipped cream the night before. My family would probably be happy if we ate this every day. I will put in parentheses the specific Oregon foods that we incorporated!

As I mentioned, I can make food that tasted delicious, but it doesn’t always look that way. You’ll have to trust me on this one people!

Kara’ s Fruity Buttermilk Pancakes

  • 3 cups whole wheat pastry flour (this time I used Camas Valley Mill’s pastry flour)
  • * 3 tablespoons honey (or your sweetener of choice)- We use Honey Tree Apiaries (I bought gallon from FM)
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 cups buttermilk (Umpqua)
  • 1/2 cup milk (Lochmead)
  • 3/4 cup Applesauce (canned last month).
  • 3 eggs (our chickens)
  • 1/3 cup butter, melted (tillamook)
  • 1 peeled apple sliced into thin little bite sized pieces (twedts apples… I substitute any fruit for apple depending on season).

DIRECTIONS

1. In a large bowl, combine flour, sugar, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a separate bowl, beat together buttermilk, milk, applesauce, eggs and melted butter. Keep the two mixtures separate until you are ready to cook.
2. Heat a lightly oiled griddle or frying pan over medium high heat. You can flick water across the surface and if it beads up and sizzles, it’s ready!
3. Pour the wet mixture into the dry mixture, using a wooden spoon or fork to blend. Stir until it’s just blended together. Do not over stir! Toss in apples and stir into mixture. Pour or scoop the batter onto the griddle, using approximately 1/2 cup for each pancake. Brown on both sides and serve hot.