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Monday, June 19, 2017

My Kitchen Adventures - Efficiency in the Kitchen

As a single parent for 30+ years, I've learned a few things that help streamline chores -- especially in the kitchen! I will share some of these tips; maybe they will help you too!

My favorite place inside the house is the kitchen -- I have days where I spend practically the whole day there! While it's true that everyone has different priorities and goals in life, I believe the kitchen to be a source of nourishment, fellowship, and health! A clean kitchen= a healthy family!

Some families have a 'one-cooks, another-cleans policy'. While that sounds great, it just doesn't work very well in single-parent homes with very small children. Cooking and cleaning never end, and can be quite stressful for parents.

I must admit, I was a 'stressed-out-to-the-point-of-tears' mom for years. The cooking, cleaning, and messes never end (especially with small children)! So the kitchen wasn't always my favorite room! I was overwhelmed when dishes stacked up to the point of rendering the sink useless, or when there was absolutely no clean surface anywhere and it took an hour to clean before beginning to cook! I had forgotten to use a tactic I learned growing up in a large family.

I grew up in a family of seven: three girls, two boys, and two parents. I learned at an early age to "clean as you go.” Although we had a dishwasher, it was only used to sterilize canning jars!

Clean As You Go (CAYG) can be used in all areas of a home. But, here are the critical components for this tactic to work in the kitchen:

1) Empty the dishwasher as soon as it's done

2) Place dirty dishes in as they are used

3) Reserve one side of the sink for rinsing, soaking dishes, or using the disposal (if you have one) and the other side for hand-wash items

4) Always wipe counters when you finish prepping or serving

Starting with a clean kitchen is like painting on a clean canvas. 
I can start my creation right away, 
so we get to eat sooner!

While prepping ingredients, place used utensils and cutting boards in the sink for washing – we hand-wash our knives and reserve a specific cutting board for meats and a different one for fruits, veggies, and bread to avoid cross-contamination.
Then, while waiting for something to cook, boil, or marinate, I hand-wash the larger prep utensils (bowls, boards, etc) and knives, wipe down counters, throw away any packaging and place compostables in their bin. This takes only a few minutes!

With most cooking there is some non-active time, when the food is cooking on the stove or in the oven, I look for things that can be done during that downtime. Also, any oven-baked foods, especially meats, taste better after a resting period. Use this time for a quick tidying. Next, pull out dishes, eating utensils, etc. Voilá! You are ready to eat!
Now, when you have small children everything is a bit challenging! However, I learned to include mine in the kitchen -- so I could exercise "damage-control" and teach them prepping, cooking and cleaning routines!
There are many tasks a child can do with adult supervision or assistance and studies have shown that children who help with meal prep will eat better. They learn that meal prep takes time – while cutting up veggies, let them eat a few. They also learn the proper way to cook so that one day they will be a good cook too!

I had one child who was an avid explorer with a very short attention span...he wanted to try everything and became an excellent helper! I learned to invite him to do quick and specific chores, dividing bigger tasks into one-step-at-a-time tasks. (This technique works well for parents too!)
We all live in the same house. Teaching children the CAYG concept can be a good stress-reducer. Also, teamwork gives us quality time together and lightens the workload. When children learn the concept of "we all live here" they come to understand that everyone shares in the responsibilities and sees themselves as important contributors instead of little "mess-makers."

As the parent, we guide them
according to their individual
abilities and temperaments.

Some of my newest Comfort Dolls, the perfect size for little ones.

Friday, June 2, 2017

The Challenge of Availability

In these past four years I have lived in seven different cities and utilized four different public transportation systems. My biggest challenge has always been availability: how far does the transportation cover, how often transportation arrives, and how far do I need to walk to reach transportation options.

For instance, some communities have a city transportation system – usually just local buses. This is fine if you work close to home and have shopping and friends nearby. However, other communities have a regional system, including train options, that expands to many neighboring cities. Various transit systems either limit or expand my work, shopping, and social choices. I have experience with both these transportation designs.

Consider this…

1) How far are you willing to walk?
2) Is your answer different for work than for shopping or socializing?
3) Does your answer change if you only need transportation one-way or if you have a different option for returning home?
4) Is your answer based on a measure of time or a measure of distance?

Now, compare your answers with study results of how far Americans are willing to walk to reach public transportation? Although Americans are not famous for their desire to walk farther than necessary, one study have found that:

For walking duration, the mean and median values were 14.9 and 10 minutes. About 65% of walking trips were more than 0.25 miles, and about 18% of walking trips were more than 1 mile. Large variations were found among various purposes for both distance and duration. The distances and durations of walking for recreation were substantially longer than those for other purposes. People with lower versus higher household income walked longer distances for work but shorter distances for recreation.1
Another availability factor to consider is the number of transfers needed to reach the destination. Each transfer requires waiting for another bus/train to arrive. 

How long would you be willing to wait between transfers?

Frequently I will weigh the length of the wait versus the time needed to walk from the transfer location to my destination. 
Depending upon the weather, I usually consider walking if my wait time will be longer than 10-15 minutes.
Many factors come into play when considering public transit options. Tons of research has been conducted on factors such as Population Density, Mixed Land Usage, and Urban design. Other factors studied are Income, Gender, and Age. 

My adventures have brought me to a community that is generally very walkable, especially near the city center. I’m optimistic about the coming expansions in the availability of the local transit system here, which makes this challenge a bit easier!

   *** For someone who enjoys statistics and tables, this site has more updated and extensive information:

Monday, May 15, 2017

My Car-free Adventure Continues

As I approach the fourth year anniversary of My Car-free Adventure, I'm reflecting on what makes this a satisfying adventure for me, and what challenges I face. I have moved a few times since beginning this adventure, and with each move I discover new challenges and satisfactions in My Car-free Adventure!
In this series I will discuss each item on my list and how these have impacted my life and decision to continue Car-free.

What Makes Car-free Living Enjoyable?

1. Natural exercise -- walking can ease depression and other physical disorders, walking also burns calories and lets me eat foods I enjoy.

2. Living more economically -- no car payment, repair costs, gas prices, insurance, paying         for and finding parking.

3. Attention to surroundings -- interaction with people, beautiful scenery, local shops

4. Personal time to think -- our lives are so busy, sometimes we need some downtime.

What Are the Challenges to Car-free Living?

1. Public transportation availability -- wait times, convenience of stops

2. Shopping -- buying large/heavy items can be a challenge

3. Weather -- be prepared, pay attention to forecasting and bring what you may need

4. Stigma -- some people assume you don't have a drivers license, or it was revoked, etc

Natural Exercise

I often say, "Our bodies are designed for movement." Regardless of individual belief about the beginnings of creation, we can agree with science that our bodies function better when we move...walking, running, swimming, playing sports...all can have a positive effect on a person's physical and mental health.
For example, in 2002 the World Health Organization (WHO) released these recommendations regarding the effects of movement versus a sedentary lifestyle:

Most health professionals are also in agreement that walking 10,000 steps a day (approximately 5 miles) is the ideal goal to set for improving health and reducing the health risks caused by inactivity. According to the WorldHealthOrganization (WHO), 60 to 85% of the population worldwide does not engage in enough activity. Making physical inactivity the fourth leading risk factor for global mortality.¹        
Further, as reported in Scientific American, an Australian study found:

One in 10 U.S. adults suffers from depression, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Women are 70% more likely to be depressed at some point in their lives than men,according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
Women who averaged 150 minutes of moderate exercise (golf, tennis, aerobics classes, swimming, or line-dancing) or 200 minutes of walking every week had more energy, socialized more, felt better emotionally, and weren't as limited by their depression when researchers followed up after three years.²
As one of these women who live with Major Depression, I know how inhibiting depression can be on my desire to do things, even beneficial activities. So, what can a person do? According to SriniPillay, MD, and published in Harvard Health Publications on March 26, 2016:
When you are too exhausted to use thought control strategies such as focusing on the positive, or looking at the situation from another angle, movement can come to the rescue. By working out, going on a meditative walk by yourself, or going for a synchronized walk with someone, you may gain access to a “back door” to the mental changes that you desire without having to “psych yourself” into feeling better.³

After a long winter of ice, snow and uncleared sidewalks, I am happily embracing spring.
Now, it’s time to take my dog for a walk!

Saturday, May 31, 2014

My Cooking Adventures

So today I really wanted to have Tuna and Crackers for lunch. The only problem was...I forgot to buy the crackers! Now, if you've read My Car-Less Adventure blog you will know that I do not own a vehicle, so just running to the store is NOT an, it's been raining off and on all day and a 35-minute walk or 15-minute bike ride to the bus stop just wasn't appealing (just to get crackers at the store!).

Admittedly, I could just eat something else for lunch. However, I got up this morning excited about being home again and just being the thought came, "I've been wanting to try making crackers, so today's the day!"

Here are some pics after processing, dough formation and rolling:

Using a wooden skewer, I made straight lines and cut with a pastry wheel before placing on the baking sheet.

Square Cheese Cracker Dough
I was so excited to get them into the oven, I forgot to fork-prick before baking. Some of the square crackers actually formed like little son was delighted!
Round Cheese Cracker Dough

I divided the cracker dough into two balls. For the second batch, I decided to make round crackers...similar to ones I would likely have bought at the store. 

My canning funnel seemed to be the perfect size for cutting -- An empty, 6oz tomato paste can works very well also.

Here are the baked results, after being properly pricked:
Square Cheese Crackers

Round Cheese Crackers

round crackers
Round Cheese Crackers in glass jar

Gather your supplies!

Preheat oven to 450F
Food Processor     Rubber Scraper     Mixing Bowl 
1 cup measure   1 teaspoon   1 Tablespoon 
Rolling Pin     Cutters     Fork     Baking Sheet

3 cups white wheat flour
2 teaspoons organic cane sugar
2 teaspoons pink sea salt
1-1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

4 tablespoons oil
1 cup filtered water (approximately)

Pulse first 4 ingredients in Food Processor until evenly mixed. While processing on low speed, add oil, turn off, scrape down sides and pulse again until oil is evenly distributed. 

Turn off processor and place ingredients into Mixing Bowl. Using Rubber Scraper gently mix in water, as needed, until moist, forming a soft dough. Divide into two or three dough balls, depending on your counter space available. 

Flour counter surface and Rolling Pin and begin rolling dough; turn rolled dough a few times, adding a little flour as necessary to keep dough from sticking to counter. Cut crackers as desired, place on lightly floured Baking Sheet, and prick cracker surface with Fork to prevent bubbles.

If desired, sprinkle a tiny bit of pink sea salt on each cracker. Bake for 12 minutes or until lightly browned.
Recipe adapted from:
EDITED 5-31-14
My newest batch of cracker are the best yet! Here are the variations I made:

8 oz sharp cheddar    1 small jalapeno chopped   1/8 cup sunflower seeds

I put a full 8 ounces of block cheese, cubed, into the food processor, then added the flour, salt, sugar, the sunflower seeds, and jalapeno. I blended this very well before adding the oil. Proceed with the water, adding slowly as needed.

These really come together quickly and are a delicious alternative to store-bought crackers! 

For the past few years I have slowly been removing pre-processed foods out of our diet and replacing them with home-made versions...with fantastic results. Some have been for money-savings, but mostly so that I can be more sure of what ingredients are actually in the foods we eat. 

As a single mom of two teens, I want to be sure we are getting the most nutrients from our grocery dollars! I hope you've enjoyed reading my blog and making these crackers for your family too.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Bike Lights & Pizza Time!

This has been a busy and productive week! I was able to be home with my sons last Monday and finish some important household projects (laundry, cleaning, food prep, etc) before my 3-day work week at the hotel.

          Starting this week my schedule is about to get more busy...who can live on just 24 hours 
          of pay?! So, I have started an additional part-time job that I'm hoping will go full-time after 
          the first of the year (2014). Working both jobs should give me the needed income to stock 
          up our pantry and buy some much-needed household items!

As for my commute...this past week I rode my bike to the bus stop, loaded my bike onto the bus rack, rode to work from my last stop, and then back home again. I was tired! I had not ridden a bike in quite a few years...and there are a few hills around here you don't necessarily pay attention to when you are driving a car or riding a bus! Nevertheless, I did shorten my commute -- it was very nice being able to leave my house 30 minutes later in the morning, which gave me enough time to actually eat something light before leaving...and I arrived home about 45 minutes earlier..yay! This saved me over an hour of commuting time each day...I am delighted!

On Tuesday I was able to obtain some lights for my bike...2 white lights and 1 red, now I have headlights and a rear taillight. When riding in the mornings it is still dark and I need to see and be seen.

Now, onto the Pizza!

I have been a single mom for the past 20 years and have learned how to be very frugal. We have had times of very little...and some brief moments of, I've learned how to stretch our dollars and still eat nutritious foods. The key is cooking at home and not relying on processed foods, which are expensive to buy and lack good nutrition. I want to KNOW the ingredients in my food so that my food dollars are spent on nourishing foods that are also filling.  Good nutrition = better health.

So, here is my routine and recipes for Delicious and Nutritious Pizza at home!

Pizza Crust

4-1/2 teaspoons dry yeast
1/2 tsp sugar
3 cups warm water (110F) -- ("baby-bath warm" on wrist)

Measure yeast and sugar into a large non-reactive mixing bowl and add water.

Be sure the water is not too hot or it will "kill" your yeast. 
I use the "baby-bath warm" should feel warm, but not hot, on the inside of your wrist.

"Non-reactive" bowls are any non-metal or stainless steel bowls...
yeast is very sensitive to metal ions.

Let this mixture sit for at least 10 minutes and you will see the yeast grow and know it's working then. This is fascinating to share with little ones!

After 10 minutes add:
1 teaspoon salt (use kosher or sea salt for best nutrients)
2 Tablespoons olive oil (or grape seed oil)
Mix well.
I use white wheat flour for the higher fiber content and more nutrition...
it's a good transition from white flour to whole wheat flour.

Next, you will be adding lots of flour, at least 5 cups. Add the white wheat flour, 1 cup at a time, stirring with a sturdy wooden or bamboo spoon. The dough will get thicker until stirring is no longer an option. 

Now the fun begins and you will get your hands messy!
You may want to remove and set aside any rings you are wearing
-- or, some people wear food-prep gloves.

As the dough becomes stiffer, and you continue adding flour, you will be folding and pressing the dough. This will be easier on a counter or floured work surface...continue adding flour, working it in by folding and pressing down the dough. As the dough becomes less sticky you can roll it (like a log) and fold and press. You can pour a little oil on your hands to keep it from sticking too much.

You will get a good upper body and abdomen workout in the process...
I believe in combining activities when you can!

When the dough no longer sticks to your fingers and hands it is now time to and the dough! Pour a small amount of oil into your bowl and spread oil up the sides of the bowl, place the dough back into your bowl, cover with a clean, damp towel, set bowl in a warm spot (away from cold or drafts) and set the timer for at least 30 minutes (longer is fine).

At this point you can prep your sauce and veggies if making a pizza now...
or go read a story with your little one, or nurse that baby!

Once the rest period is over you will divide the dough into 3 equal balls. Do this by pinching and pulling the dough apart. Place dough in freezer safe baggie or container. If you will be making pizza within 24 hours you can place dough in refrigerator.

I like to use produce bags for dough storage in the refrigerator.

Pizza Sauce:
6 ounce can of tomato paste
2 Tablespoons olive oil (or grape seed oil)
2 cloves of fresh garlic, crushed
Italian seasoning to taste
1 large carrot, shredded finely
pinch of salt (use sea salt for best nutrients)

Combine in small prep bowl and set aside to blend flavors.

Prep veggies / toppings -- use any you like. 
We like sliced mushrooms, green or red peppers, onions, fresh basil, black olives, 
turkey pepperoni or turkey sausage and lots of mozzarella!

To make pizza...
Preheat oven to 425 F
Roll out or shape dough onto cookie sheet or pizza stone. Spread pizza sauce evenly to edges of dough. Bake for 6 minutes.

Arrange toppings, with cheese on top, and bake for an additional 8 - 10 minutes. Watch for cheese to bubble. Remove from oven and place on heat resistant surface or trivets. Let sit for 5 minutes before cutting.

Now, sit down with your kiddos and enjoy the best homemade pizza --- 
Your Nutritious and Delicious Pizza!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Beginning this Car-Less Adventure

I began this Car-Less Adventure at the beginning of June 2013, about 17 weeks ago, and as a fairly new resident of Louisville, Kentucky.

Initially, I planned to begin writing about my adventure (experiences) immediately. However, I'm glad I waited to share this as my perspective has changed somewhat as I've learned to navigate the local bus system and cope with the complexities and disappointments of a less than ideal, and fairly antiquated, public transportation system.

I must view may be somewhat "tainted" by the fact that I moved to Louisville, Kentucky from the Boston, Massachusetts area -- where 1.3 million trips are made daily by people using some form of public transportation. In Louisville, it seems to be geared primarily to the disabled and low-income resident and not as a workable replacement of car usage for the average worker-resident.

While living in Massachusetts I commuted about 40 miles by train, from my home near the New Hampshire state border into work at Cambridge, MA...taking the train into North Station (at the TD Garden), walked outside and down the stairs to board the Green Line, got off at Park Street to board the Red Line across the Charles River, right into Harvard Square and then walked about 10 minutes to my work location. All of this took a total of 1-1/2 hours each morning.

Today, in Louisville, I walk 35 minutes to the closest bus stop, board the TARC (Transit Authority of River City) bus and ride for 20 minutes to my second stop, wait 10 - 15 minutes for the next bus, ride that bus for 30 minutes, get off at my third stop and walk about 15 minutes to my work location...traveling a total of 12 miles from my home to work. All of this takes a total of 2 hours each morning.

Now I realize it's an inequality to compare trains and subways to buses. However, my current commute is less than 1/3 the distance (12 miles:40 miles) but takes half an hour longer to complete and more than half the total commute time is spent either walking to, or waiting for, a bus. It feels absurd! 

But, that's not Louisville, my round-trip daily commute takes 5 hours due to the misaligned bus schedules in the afternoon/early evening. Additionally, since the bus near my home does not run late enough I am limited to working only three days at this job. I will need to find another part-time job (within walking distance) to make up the income loss.

Fortunately, this week I acquired a bicycle and plan to combine it's use with the bus to, hopefully, shorten the commute time to my first job! I will let you know how this works out!