Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Aroma of Life

Cooler temperatures are here and fall is coming. All the windows are open and the breeze is flowing through the house. This morning my children and I picked beets and long, bright orange and purple carrots from our garden. While I carefully cut off all the greens and brushed the dirt off the roots, my children played Peter Pan, chasing each other around with a carrot that looked like a hook.

I blanched the beet greens and froze them to eat this winter. Some of the carrot greens went into a huge pot of chicken broth I had started on the stove. I also washed and prepared fresh basil and parsley, both from our garden and the CSA. I'll put some in the stock an hour before it is finished and dry the rest. Mint tea, made with fresh leaves, is steeping on the stove. My house and my hands smell like heaven. If only I could find a way to bottle this smell and this day. Thank you God for your blessings.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Soup for the Postpartum Mother

In non-Western cultures throughout history, the postpartum period was considered a sacred time. Postpartum women were cherished and honored. The mothers were the center of attention, not the baby. They were not allowed to do anything at all stressful and were catered to by everyone around them. Their only expectation was to rest and take care of the baby. This postpartum period lasted at least a month and often longer. Although traditions vary greatly among cultures, two common themes were warmth and lots of nourishing food, including soup. The kind of soup varies. In Asian countries, women were fed seaweed soup. In Jamaica, Guatemala, and Lebanon, chicken soup was common. In Burma, mothers were fed oxtail soup. Source. Source. Source.

Soup is one of the most nutrient dense foods in the world. Properly prepared soup is full of easily absorbed nutrients and minerals. Tradition and scientific studies have contributed amazing health benefits to soup, especially to soup including bone broth. It is said to strengthen bones and teeth, heal the gut, improve hair, nails and skin, strengthen immunity, enhance sleep, and heal numerous illnesses. Source.

When I bring food to a postpartum mother, one of my favorite things to bring is soup. Since processed or canned soup does not have the same health benefits as homemade soup, I take great care in making the soup. The first step is to make chicken stock. I only use locally raised, free range chickens. I place the bones and chicken parts in the slow cooker with a splash of apple cider vinegar (this helps to bring out the minerals in the bones). Next, I add whatever vegetables I might have around. This often includes carrots, celery, garlic, and onions. It also may include fresh herbs, especially parsley which I put in near the end of the cooking time.

I use local and/or organic vegetables whenever possible. Last, I fill the slow cooker with filtered water. I let the chicken and vegetables sit at room temperature for about an hour and then turn the slow cooker to low. The stock cooks for 12-36 hours. When it is finished, I strain out the vegetables and bones and put the stock into glass jars. Look here for specific quantities and directions.

Stock can be used in all sorts of recipes. I store it in the freezer so I always have some on hand. By the way, the leftover vegetables and bones make wonderful dog food! The bones get very soft when they are cooked for so long and are still full of nutrients that are wonderful for pets! There is no danger in the dog chewing and digesting these bones.

My next step is to make the actual soup. Again, what I put in it varies according to what is available to me. I often start with brown rice. After 20 minutes or so, I might add onions, garlic, and celery. I sometimes add carrots, summer squash (shredded is best), broccoli, cauliflower, peas, green peas, or kale. Last, I add Himalayan salt or sea salt. The entire process sounds complicated, but it really is not that time consuming, especially considering that I make 3-4 gallons of soup or stock at a time and freeze it.

One of my goals in starting Nurturing Traditions Postpartum Doula Services is to bring back and recreate postpartum traditions. Feeding friends and clients healthy food, including chicken soup, is one time honored tradition that I love to reinstate.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Community Supported Agriculture

For the last three years, we have been part of a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) through Garden Gate Farm. A CSA is an arrangement made with a farmer (usually well before their crops are planted) to purchase a share of their harvest. Most often, a variety of produce is included in a CSA, but sometimes other farm products such as honey, eggs, bread, meat, etc. are included as well.

CSAs are becoming more and more popular and have numerous benefits for both the farmer, you the consumer, and the environment. Farmers benefit by having the money they need upfront to cover some of their costs. They have security in knowing the price and quantity at which their crops will be purchased. They also are able to focus marketing efforts of their food before their busy seasons begin. Consumers benefit by getting the freshest produce possible at a low price. A variety of items are available throughout the growing season and consumers can try different foods (most CSAs provide their members with recipes). And, anytime you buy local you decrease your food's carbon footprint in the reduced miles traveled from farm to your table. Additionally, we've witnessed the ways our CSA farm is committed to sustainable, organic and biodynamic practices.

The relationship between the farmer and the consumer is a key component of a successful CSA. We know exactly where our food comes from and how it is grown. Our family has visited "our" farm and has had the opportunity to help at the farm each year. Our farmers know our family and they frequently ask for our feedback. There is some shared risk associated with a CSA. The consumer is basically purchasing a portion of the farmer's crop. If the growing season is poor, the consumer will get less food. Again, this is where relationship comes in. You must be able to trust that your farmer did the best he or she could and that the next season will be better.

Our experience the last 3 years with Garden Gate Farm has been nothing less than excellent. We have always received plenty of beautiful, fresh produce. In September we paid $500 for this season's CSA. That included discounts for paying early and participating in Field Clean-Up Day at the farm. Our $500 went toward a Regular Season Share which is meant to feed a family of four. Each week, we receive about a 1 1/9 bushel bushel box of vegetables, fruits, and herbs. Depending on the time of year, it may be a little more and it may be a little less. The season starts mid June and lasts 14-16 weeks. That comes out to $31-36 a week for a bushel of organic, sustainably grown produce.

Garden Gate Farm is the third CSA of which we have taken part. Our first CSA was not a good experience, which is why I highly recommend that you get references and ask a lot of questions before joining a CSA. Our second CSA was with Swier Family Farm. We also had a wonderful experience with them but decided to try Garden Gate Farm since their delivery site was much closer to our home.

Today was our first delivery of the season from Garden Gate Farm. As the season progresses, the amount of food we receive will increase, but today we received rhubarb, lettuce, chard, garlic scapes, tea leaves, basil, parsley, kale, scallions, popcorn, and tomatoes (our farmers extend their growing season with greenhouses and raised beds).

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Flower Gardening the Easy Way... Perennials

At both our current house in Midland, MI and our old house in Bay City, MI, we have had almost no greater delight as parts of the warm seasons progress than when our various perennials emerge and bloom.

While purchased annuals like pansies and marigolds are nice, they require an investment each year. Sure we could plant seeds in early March and water them prior to the transplanting season. But, really, I'd rather get a truckload of wood chip mulch every couple years, pull some weeds in the spring and spend my time on the only annuals that I want- the veggie garden. A well planned perennial garden provides flowers throughout the season and requires very little work or watering.

The easiest varieties are those that have the following characteristics according to

  • Longevity (90 percent alive and thriving five years after planting)
  • Resistance to disease and insects, so you don't have spray them
  • Don't need to be divided more often than every four or five years
  • Tolerance of a wide range of growing conditions
  • Cold hardy – no winter protection needed
  • Good tolerance of summer heat
  • Long blooming period, or foliage that's attractive all season
  • Won't take over your garden
  • Don't need to be staked.
With our sub-zero Michigan winters, lazy gardeners like me do not want to worry about doing much to dig up or protect any of our perennials. So, plants like gladiolus and namby-pamby varieties of tulips are OUT! They're nice, but ... ya know... weak. No room for that here.

Here's a list of easy perennials, many of which are thriving in our gardens: Daffodills, Tulips, Crocus, Violets, Daylily- like Tiger Lilies, Hosta (favorite deer food, though), Columbine, Iris, Stargazer lily- our wedding flower ♥, Chives, Raspberries, and lots of herbs. We also have Johnny Jump Ups and I love these hardy little guys! I know they aren't technically perennial but they self seed to come up all spring/summer and next year- close enough for me.

But the real fun comes in arranging bulb exchanges with your friends. What better, more sustainable practice could you think of? At our old house, the tulips were packed in these humongous clumps of bulbs that no one had separated in years. I could get twenty bulbs from one cluster of tulips. Frequently, I gave away more than 100 bulbs a year of those stately, gorgeous peach tulips that grew knee high. How about scouting out some of your neighbor's or family members' perennials and offering to exchange something they don't have for something you'd like. Think of it as a heritage. I'm proud to have spread some of my mom's grape hyacinths.

Splitting perennials is easy, but sort of violent. For bulb based plants like tulips, make sure to leave the plant until the foliage is dead. People frequently mow them down as soon as they are done flowering. But this does not allow the plant to propagate. But, really, daylilies and others can just take a good spade to the middle for splitting. Yeah, some of the plant will be damaged, but they bounce right back. I found lots of good advice out there about how to divide perennials for sharing and why you should anyway for the health of the plant.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Red goodness

Loaded with vitamin C and antioxidants, berries are among the healthiest foods in the world to eat. Strawberries can help reduce inflammation, regulate blood sugar, strengthen the cardiovascular system, and even help prevent cancer. Berries are a regular part of our family's diet all year long. Each summer, our goal is to pick and freeze enough blueberries and strawberries to last us until the next season. Once or twice a week, we make yogurt smoothies for breakfast. We also use berries to make yummy things like cobbler or muffins. My children often eat our berries frozen right out of the bag. This year we will also try dehydrating our strawberries with our new Excalibur.

Today was our first day of the season picking strawberries. We went to Berry Creek Farms in Bay City, Michigan. They do not use any pesticides and they hand pull all their weeds. We paid $1.19 a pound and the five of us (including a 10 year old and 3 year old who only like to eat and a 7 year old who was a great help) picked 44# of strawberries in less than three hours. Let the freezing begin!

Sunday, May 1, 2011


Today is one of my favorite days of the year. The sun is shining and there is a nice breeze. My husband put my clothesline up and I hung all my whites on the line. The sun will dry them and bleach them to a nice crisp white, all naturally and for free! It also helps to preserve our clothing since electric and gas dryers can be rough on fabric.

Unfortunately, I am not a person who is good at sitting and relaxing. I’m working on this, but until I get better at it, hanging clothes out to dry is a good medium. I find it so peaceful to be out in the sun with the breeze in my face, just listening to the birds and the sound of my clothes flapping in the wind. (Usually the kids stay away for fear will ask them to help!) I can enjoy being outside. I can think. I can pray. All while getting my work done at the same time. I’m saving my family money and saving the environment. Ah, spring is here!