Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Bountiful Baskets

My mom has been participating in a produce co-op for the last couple of years. It's called Bountiful Baskets. Each location has deliveries every other week (or every week) of fresh fruits and vegetables. Some locations even offer options for organic produce and freshly-baked breads.

Anyone who wants to participate pays $15 on the Bountiful Baskets website (plus a $1.50 handling fee, and a $3 fee for first-timers.) Families can decide whether or not to contribute before each delivery date--there is no requirement to participate at any particular frequency. The produce is delivered somewhere (such as a school parking lot), where volunteers sort it. At 7:45 a.m. on a Saturday, participants show up, put their produce in their own bags or baskets, and take it home. Easy!

I was so excited to hear that not only was Bountiful Baskets coming to my area; it was coming to a suburb near me, with a pick-up location about 10 minutes from my house! I've now participated three times, and overall I've been quite happy with the quantity, variety, and quality of produce I've gotten.

My produce on 11/19/11:

My produce on 01/28/12:

My produce on 02/25/12:

It's been fun to find recipes for some types of vegetables that I don't usually buy. I'd never before made Brussels Sprouts, but this Brussels Sprouts Gratin recipe turned me into a believer! (With cream, bacon, butter, bread crumbs and cheese, it may not be the healthiest way to eat your veggies, but boy was it fantastic!) And I don't often make cauliflower, but Chickie and I both enjoyed munching on these baked Cauliflower Poppers.

When I picked up my basket on Saturday, I got home and immediately made a delicious fruit salad with strawberries, pineapple, apples, and oranges.


Tonight I'm planning to try this yellow squash recipe.

Bountiful Baskets is really a cool way to get a bargain on fruits and vegetables--and to get some produce that you might not be in the habit of buying. The locations are limited, but you can check to see if Bountiful Baskets is available in your area by visiting their website.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

JHBC...What's that?!

Several months ago, a couple of my Twitter pals were talking (well, Tweeting) about a particular book. Turned out a few of us ladies were interested in reading the book, and we ended up deciding to start a book club. We called it Jazz Hands Book Club...JHBC for short.

Other ladies gradually joined the club. We've been reading a book every month(ish) and then using an online chat site to discuss it. It's really fun! (If you're interested in joining, let me know!)

One of the members brought up the idea of sending out some little Christmas goodies to the rest of the group. Well, one thing led to another, and we ended up all deciding to send gifts to each other. Christmas was too crazy, so we targeted Valentine's Day as the "ship by" date.

It's been so fun! I'm hoping to get the last of my gifts delivered to me today. (Please, Postal Service?) And now that the other six girls have received mine, I can finally blog about them!

I decided to make crocheted gifts. (I know, shocker!) Since it's a book club, I made bookmarks. I've been wanting to learn more crochet stitch patterns, and I even have a great book with 250 different stitch patterns in it. So I used five of the bookmarks to try out new patterns. The sixth bookmark was a little different. More on that in a minute.

Here are all six bookmarks:

For Melinda's, I used the same yarn I used for a hat I made her last year, with a nice, open-weave pattern.

Toni's bookmark is a fun, wavy pattern in very dark purple.

Call Me Cate's used a more complicated stitch pattern--kinda "swirled."

I really like this pink and green one with a leaf pattern. It went to Sam.

And it's kind of hard to see, but this dark purple one uses a nice variation of the commonly-crocheted "shell stitch." It was for Kerry.

The last bookmark went to Annelie, who has a brand new blog! She is the one who ordered the fox scarf I made a few months back. (Check it out here.) Instead of trying out a new stitch pattern on her bookmark, I made it to match her scarf. I love how it turned out!

So that's it...my JHBC bookmarks! When the last of my packages arrive, I'll share pictures of what I received. The Bible says it's more blessed to give than to receive, but in this case, I gotta say...I've really enjoyed both!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Double Chocolate Coconut Milk Ice Cream

Ann planned a surprise party for our friend M., whose birthday was today. She enlisted my help--we had it at my house, and I made a few things for it--including a vegan ice cream made with coconut milk and LOTS of chocolate. It utilized a dark chocolate base with semisweet chocolate chunks in it.

Ann was the only vegan at the gathering, but overall the milk-free chocolate ice cream was a bigger hit than the "regular" vanilla ice cream I'd also made! The ladies loved the rich chocolate, and I think the coconut milk adds an extra zing of flavor too.

So, here's the recipe. (I drew heavily on the "Simple Chocolate Ice Cream" recipe in the booklet that came with my Cuisinart ice cream maker.)

Oh, and I didn't plan to blog this, so I don't have any pictures. You'll have to use your imagination.

Double Chocolate Coconut Milk Ice Cream (Vegan)
Yield: Approx. 1 1/2 quarts (Adjust recipe if your ice cream maker is a smaller capacity)

2/3 c Hershey's Special Dark cocoa powder, sifted (or run through a blender or food processor--however you prefer to get the lumps out). You can use regular cocoa powder, but it won't be as rich of a chocolate flavor.
1/2 c granulated sugar
1/3 c packed dark brown sugar
pinch salt
Two cans of coconut milk (approx. 25-28 oz, or 750-800 mL)--You may find this in the Asian food aisle
1 tsp pure vanilla extract (I use Mexican vanilla)
4 oz. vegan chocolate (I use 4 squares Baker's semisweet baking chocolate, which is vegan)

1. If you plan ahead far enough, pre-refrigerate the coconut milk.
2. Whisk together the cocoa powder, granulated sugar, brown sugar, and salt.
3. Whisk in the coconut milk and vanilla until the solids are as dissolved as you can get them. Mine wasn't that smooth, but that was okay.
4. Place the mixture in the fridge for at least an hour before freezing/churning it. If you pre-refrigerated the coconut milk, this step is optional.
5. Follow your ice cream maker's instructions to churn/freeze the mixture.
6. While it's churning, cut the chocolate into chunks. Add to the ice cream during the last 3 minutes or so of churning.
6. Eat immediately (soft-serve consistency) or move to another container and freeze. You'll want to remove it from the freezer approximately 15-20 minutes before serving--it gets very hard in the freezer.

The beauty of recipes like this is that you can easily alter them to fit your taste. I noticed the other day that Thin Mints Girl Scout Cookies are vegan. So you could chop up some of those and thrown them in, in lieu of the chocolate chunks. Or maybe strawberries, or cherries, or marshmallows and peanuts...? Use your imagination, and enjoy!

And happy birthday, M.!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Book Review: The Weird Sisters

Thanks to their scholarly father, the three sisters featured in Eleanor Brown's The Weird Sisters are all named after Shakespearean heroines. And (like so many Shakespearean characters) they all have some pretty big problems. It just goes to show, you don't have to be a druggie or an abuser to end up with kids who have issues. Dreamers and professors--with high IQs, lofty ideals, and healthy marriages--can have messed up progeny too.

Rosalind, Bianca, and Cordelia (known to most as Rose, Bean, and Cordy) are all grown, single women, and they all end up back at home when their mother has cancer. But they're all hiding pain, and they all need healing as badly as their mother does. However, when I say they're "messed up," I mean "messed up" in ways many of us can relate to. None of us exits childhood unscathed and perfectly prepared to take on the world, do we?

In a family where each member finds it easier to get lost in a book than to disclose personal feelings, there is an undercurrent of tension when suddenly the whole family is reunited. As the story progresses, though, the women begin to share their secrets with each other--and sometimes even with their parents. They learn to relate to each other as adults.

I appreciated the lack of perfection in each member of the Andreas family. While the parents are respected in the community, they haven't always done a great job building close relationships with their daughters. And each of those daughters has had difficulty adjusting to adulthood. Even Rose, the one who seems to have it all together, needs just as much of a shift in focus as her sisters do.

But beyond "appreciating" the merits of The Weird Sisters, I just plain enjoyed it. It's a book that, had I picked it up and started reading it on my own, would have still captured my attention. I was rooting for all three sisters, wanting them to each "find their way." I found the ending satisfying. There's no sequel necessary...though I wouldn't mind finding out what happens to the next generation of imperfect children, born to these three unique women.

Disclosure: I was sent a free book, and will be paid a small stipend for writing this honest review and for participating in BlogHer's online book club, which you can visit here.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Your questions, answered!

I put out a call on Twitter recently, asking for questions to answer on my blog. (I unashamedly stole this idea from Call Me Cate.) Out of the dozens of questions submitted, I have chosen three to answer.

(Or maybe three people submitted questions.... Yeah, I think that was it.)

First, from the aforementioned Call Me Cate (Click her name to access her Twitter page):

Is there any culture or maybe a foreign city that fascinates you and why?

I've always wanted to visit Germany. My dad and brother both studied a little German, and I followed in their footsteps for a year in high school. (Which gives me very little knowledge of the language!) I'm not even sure what all I'd like to see there, but it's always been on my "to visit" list.

Also, Call Me Cate (who is really being prominently featured in this post, isn't she?) went to Barcelona, Spain a couple of years back, and she sent me the most awesome picture. There's a store there that is named after my kids! Well, not actually named after them, but it just so happens to be named "Zoodle & Chickie" (except that it uses their real names.) Another friend of mine visited Barcelona a few months back and confirmed that the little store (a souvenir shop) is still there. So I really want to go to Barcelona with my kids (and hubs!) and take their pictures in front of that shop. It's also supposed to be just a great city to visit.

On to Question 2! This one is from religionbites.

How are you explaining to the kids that the baby won't stay with you after it's born?

(For anyone just coming across this--I'm 18 weeks pregnant with a baby that belongs to my best friend Ann and her husband. I'm their gestational carrier.)

Because Ann & her kids are great friends with me and my kids, this one wasn't too tough, especially for Chickie. She was already aware that Ann and her husband's daughter ("Peanut") grew in someone else's tummy. So it wasn't too hard to explain.

I've just continued to reinforce over and over whose baby this is, and both of the kids have really caught on. In fact, Zoodle told some friends of ours, "Mommy has a baby in her tummy, but it's not our baby; it's Coqui (Ann and her husband's son) and Peanut's baby. Miss Ann doesn't have a uterus because her uterus got sick." Clearly my 3-year-old had been listening to me explaining details to my anatomy-obsessed 5-year-old!

And Question 3! This is from MrE187.

How is it going to feel to give birth and not have the baby around all the time?

Good question! I'm not sure since I just don't really have a frame of reference for this situation.

That being said, I feel like it's going to be easier than most people think it will be. I've heard so many comments about how hard it would be to "give up" a baby. But that's just not my mindset! From the very beginning, I've been 100% aware of the fact that this is not my baby! That makes it completely different than, say, giving up a baby for adoption. The baby will just be returning to its real family...to the mother and father whose egg & sperm started this whole process!

So the transition might not always be easy, but I don't think I'll be overwhelmed with grief and loss. How can I lose something that wasn't mine to begin with? This has always been a temporary situation in my mind, and I'm enjoying it from that perspective. It feels totally different than my own pregnancies felt.

Thanks for the questions! If you have more, you can leave them in the comments section.