Cooking Whole Foods from Scratch

Posted by on Aug 24, 2014 in healthy living, home life | 0 comments

This post is not vegetarian-friendly.

I feel obligated to add that disclaimer because it seems that half of my friends have become passionate vegetarians or vegans over the past year or so. The other half of my friends have gone the other way and embraced a life dedicated to sourcing out the absolute tastiest meat from happy animals that are raised on spa-like farms where they are indulged with wild grass smoothies and deep-tissue massages each day of their blissful, pastured lives. Or something like that.

On any given day, my Facebook feed looks positively schizophrenic:

“Look at these cute baby lambs! Animals are our friends, not our food!”
“Look at these cute baby lambs! Is it too early to marinate them?”
“Look at these fresh vegetables from my garden! I can’t wait to eat them for dinner!”
“Look at these fresh vegetables from my garden! I can’t wait to wrap them in bacon and stuff them in a duck!”

Ironically, all of these friends are passionately against factory farming, though I don’t expect to ever see them at the same activist events. Maybe PETA needs to start a paleo chapter…

Our family is never going to be either vegan or paleo because, quite frankly, we don’t want to live in a world without butter. That doesn’t mean I’m not sympathetic to the cause though. I was vegetarian for a year or so – not so much because I love cows in any great capacity but because I was frustrated by the ridiculous amount of resources that a meat-based diet consumes.

I’m not sure what got me started – it was probably a David Suzuki challenge to regularly replace a meat-based meal with a vegetarian one. Looking back, I have to laugh at how hard that was for me! I remember finally getting the hang of it by replacing fast food burgers with fruit smoothies and salads. I felt fantastic - because daily fast food burgers? EW! It didn’t take long for me to give up meat for an entire day each week, then finally then switch to a full-blown vegetarian diet.

However, the vegetarian food phase ended the day I found out I was pregnant with The Princess – suddenly I understood why visions of spareribs were dancing in my head – clearly I needed some protein. That night I devoured a basket of chicken wings and never looked back.

Besides, I had done the math and decided that my vegetarian diet had actually increased the amount of meat that our household was consuming! My husband dutifully ate whatever veggie masterpiece I prepared for supper, but then he would go on to top up his meal with frozen chicken fingers or frozen Jamaican beef patties or frozen burgers - all of questionable taste and quality and sodium levels. I had already realized that by adding a small amount of fresh meat to our meals, he wouldn’t need to supplement with prepackaged “food”. He would eat healthier and our overall meat intake would decrease – which was my goal in the first place.

Since then, we’ve abandoned the vegetarian diet and focused on whole foods made from scratch whenever possible.

Which is why I woke up to the heavenly scent of homemade chicken stock wafting through my house this morning. Thank you, sweet slow cooker.

Cooking Whole Foods from Scratch

I’ve been cooking up my own chicken stock for about a year now. At first, I was terrified I’d poison the family – just like I was convinced that I’d poison the family by cooking a whole chicken or by preserving fruits and vegetables.

I decided to try making stock after reading up on traditional diets and their role in dental health back when The Princess needed fillings in literally half of her teeth. The idea of healing teeth through a traditional diet was made popular by Weston A Price, a dentist that encouraged people to consume a diet high in mineral-rich broths, high quality meats including organ meats, raw dairy and fermented foods, among other things. I couldn’t see The Princess chowing down on chicken livers or drinking fermented cod liver oil – a simple stock seemed to have the highest chance of success.

And, of course, it was the easiest thing to make in the world. And, of course, I can’t get The Princess to try it to save my life. No, not even in rice.

But now I’m hooked. There are a ton of different recipes but I keep it simple (ie lazy): chicken bones, an onion, some carrots and some celery. Yesterday I added the cobs of corn that we’d eaten for dinner too. I like to use the stock for soup and I’m trying to get used to drinking a warm mug of stock in the evenings, replacing my normal cup of tea (I did better in the winter – not so well through the summer).

Even though The Princess won’t try it, I make it whenever I can. Last year I discovered that our favourite family-run chicken farm gives you a free bag of chicken bones with every purchase. Now we head out to the farm two or three times a month to buy eggs, a whole chicken, and bones.

After a year of stock success, I knew it was time to try cooking a whole chicken in the oven. For some reason, I saw a roasted chicken as some sort of milestone in homemaking – one that I was afraid to attempt. Because, you know. My fears of poisoning the family.

Yet I knew that buying a whole chicken is far cheaper than buying a couple breasts at a time. For example, at the farm we shop at, the antibiotic-free whole chicken is $3.99/lb while the antibiotic-free boneless chicken breast is $10.65/lb. Potential food poisoning or not, I wanted to give it a shot. I was just waiting for the right time.

Then one cool summer day, I saw a fresh chicken in the farm’s refrigerator. “You can do it,” it seemed to said. “I’m so tasty”, it seemed to said. Who am I to argue with a talking dead bird?

I brought it home and stuck it on my counter. There was no turning back – this sucker had cost me nearly $20. We were committed. But I wasn’t sure where to start. So I did what I always do when I’m unsure about what I’m doing: I went on Twitter, looking for reassurance.

Luckily my dad happened to see my tweet and gave me a pep talk in 140 characters or less. I ended up giving him a call and he coached me through it, even the part where I freaked out because the neck was still attached. He was right though. It was ridiculously easy and SOOO tasty!

Of course I didn’t write down a word that he said and so the next week I just searched the Internet for a recipe. For the past three or four roasts I’ve followed the famous Thomas Keller recipe, using just salt and pepper. Yesterday I tried stuffing it with lemon and garlic too, which was a nice change.

The best part is that my WHOLE family enjoys the chicken - even my picky daughter.

And even better? No one else in the family likes the skin so I get it ALL to myself. Hello, salt. Yum.

But the best BEST part is that one chicken easily lasts for two to three meals. I’ve tossed some pieces in broth with carrots and celery for a quick chicken noodle soup. Tonight I’m going to heat some up for a lemon-basil stir-fry. Tomorrow we’ll reheat what’s left for chicken sandwiches. I’d love to try chicken fajitas too if I can find a gluten-free wrap recipe that doesn’t make me want to tear my hair out.

Chicken stock – check.
Roasted whole chicken – check.

Next on the list is preserving fruits and vegetables. And given the amount of pears about to ripen in our backyard, I better figure that one out soon.

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Our Kitchen Makeover

Posted by on Aug 11, 2014 in home life | 0 comments

Last week when I was looking for photos of Daisy Days over the past five years, I stumbled across a picture of our kitchen that I took a week before we moved into the house.

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Sorry for the lousy picture – clearly I wasn’t thinking about possible blog posts four years down the road when I snapped this shot.

It’s been a long time since we looked at this photo. White walls, cheap white laminate cabinets on one side and dingy wooden cabinets on the other side. A floor that was falling apart. I actually think this picture is identical to the one that was in the real estate listing – the listing that made me initially turn down a viewing. I mean, really – it’s not much to look at, is it?

But of course, we did end up buying the house and we knew that eventually the room would need to be redone – we just figured it would be another five or ten years before we would get around to it. In the meantime, we decided to just have fun with the space. We painted the walls a cheerful green and covered one wall in chalkboard paint. We even tried to brighten the faux-brick back splash by painting it white, but after spending tedious hours dabbing paint into all the crevices (thanks mom!), we gave up and never attempted the second wall. Which is probably a good thing – I had no idea how hard it is to keep white brick clean.

Overall, I didn’t love my kitchen but I didn’t hate it either. But now? Now it’s the most beautiful space in our house – you’d never believe it was the same room!

THEN (THE WEST WALL):

The west wall had the two windows, the chalkboard, the white brick back splash, and the wooden cupboards and cabinets. This is the counter that had been measured once and cut twice (which always made us laugh).

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NOW: THE WEST WALL

Now we have counters that run across the entire west wall and wrap around to the refrigerator. We also moved the oven over from it’s original spot on the other wall and placed it between the two windows. Both the dishwasher and the range hood are brand new. You can see too that the ugly faux-brick back splash has been replaced by pretty white tile.

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I was a bit unsure about replacing the double sink with a single sink, but I’m happy with our decision now. The sink takes up less room than the old one did so we have more counter space. It’s also wide enough that we can lay an entire baking sheet or muffin tray in the bottom to soak – something we never had enough room to do before. I was worried mostly that a single basin would be less convenient when washing dishes – but who am I kidding? We have a working dishwasher again. Why would I bother washing dishes?

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THEN: THE SOUTH WALL

The south wall started off with a fridge plus a dresser that we used for storage. It was cluttered but more or less functional. I was actually quite pleased at how well the dresser worked in that space – it made me feel like one of those clever upcyclers that you see on Pinterest.

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NOW: THE SOUTH WALL

Now the south wall has counter space, cabinets, cupboards and even a pantry beside the fridge! Looooove the pantry.

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My favourite touch is the grey shelf that was added on to the wall below the cupboards. It lets us keep most of the clutter off of our counter and that makes wiping the counters down much faster. We even have a matching white shelf in the far corner above the dishwasher for our tea and coffee. The shelves weren’t planned but matched so nicely that I couldn’t resist – and do they not just fit perfectly? Clearly the dedicated beverage shelf was meant to be.

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THEN: THE EAST WALL

The west wall had the most dramatic change. We started out with a hodge podge of wooden cupboards and white laminate cabinets, plus the oven tucked in the counter. It wasn’t pretty, but again, it worked. My husband baked some pretty delicious cakes in that space, so I can’t really complain.

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NOW: THE EAST WALL

But look what we have now!! A huge hole was cut through the wall and a breakfast bar was installed and I LOVE it. I love that I can see kids when they’re in the living room. I love that I can see my husband baking when I’m reading on the couch. I love how much more open and bright the whole main floor feels.

We put in tall narrow cabinets under the counter top to make up for some of the storage we lost when we removed all the top cupboards. The cabinet doors are white because apparently mixing white and grey is a trendy thing right now and I just liked the idea of breaking up all the grey. In truth, I prefer the white doors because they’re so crisp and clean, but given how not crisp and clean we are, grey made more sense. I think we made the right choice. And hey – it’s Ikea. It’s not like we can’t switch up the doors later on.

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Awesome, right?

THE COUNTERTOP

Of everything we had to choose, I was the most nervous about our countertop. I had my heart set on butcher block from Ikea – but when we brought it home, we discovered that their kitchen planning software hadn’t calculated enough to do the whole kitchen. And then we found out that Ikea was out of stock until October so we couldn’t buy more.

I was so frustrated – I had picked the cupboards and the paint colours specifically with wood counter tops in mind. Despite that, it seemed like we were out of luck and laminate was the affordable alternative. I must have taken home 20 different “granite” laminate samples to match to the floor and cabinets. There were a lot of beautiful ones but they really didn’t suit us at all. I hemmed and hawed over a couple butcher block designs but most people that I asked for feedback seemed lukewarm on the idea of fake wood. And I’m not much of a decorator myself – I was terrified of ordering something that would look tacky.

My husband finally threatened to pick a ridiculous retro boomerang print if I didn’t decide already ,so I chose a gorgeous white laminate with a grey and brown marble pattern. It matched the floor and the cabinets and even the paint. And then at the very last second, as I was going over the details with my cousin, I ordered the Old Mill Oak butcher block design from WilsonArt instead – surprising my husband and even myself. The heart wants what it wants, and my heart wanted the look of wood.

I can’t even tell you how nervous I was. And to make it worse, rather than the 2-3 weeks that I was expecting, it took six weeks for the counters to be installed. Six weeks for me to obsess that I’d made a bad choice. But once they came I knew they were perfect. They’re beautiful – I couldn’t be happier with them.

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Even though the whole renovation took far longer than anticipated (which, of course, I should have anticipated), I’m so happy with how it turned out. The kitchen has always been the heart of our home and I feel blessed that we should have such a lovely place to spend our time in.

Now to convince my husband that the bathroom needs a makeover…

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A Few Highlights from the Five Years of Daisy Days

Posted by on Aug 7, 2014 in babywearing | 0 comments

Want to know a secret?

When I opened Daisy Days FIVE years ago today, I didn’t know what a woven wrap was.

Yeah, I can hear all you wrap geeks snickering at me – and I get it. HOW does someone open a babywearing store and not know what a woven wrap is??

But back when my first daughter was born in 2007, there was no local babywearing group here in Hamilton. I didn’t know any other babywearers. I didn’t even know about TheBabywearer.com (though I dearly wish I had). I had learned about baby carriers from glossy ads in Mothering Magazine.

Moby Love

All I knew was that babywearing was the best thing to happen to me and my daughter and I wanted to give more people in my home town the chance to discover it. So I decided to start a store…

August 7, 2009: The (Very Wet) Grand Opening

Daisy Days officially opened about a year and a half after my first child was born. My grand opening was August 7 at the Festival of Friends, a local festival in Hamilton, an I had a small table with some Cuddly Wraps, Sewfunky Ring Slings, Beco Butterfly IIs and a handful of cloth diapers.

I was super excited and crazy nervous and extremely hopeful.

It was quite the initiation into the retail life. During the second day of the festival, we were hit with a terrifying storm. My friend Karen and I huddled in our tent, watching as the festival organizers pleaded with people to move back from the stage because it was getting hit by lightning. While crowds of undeterred people kept pouring into the park to see the free shows, vendors were desperately trying to drive to their tents to rescue stock from the rain, steering around the event organizers who were attempting to physically block them. It was total and complete chaos. What had I gotten myself into?

Of course, the storm eventually passed and the next day was hot and sunny. Apart from tire marks covering the grass and soggy tents, there was little to remind us of the night before.

My optimism returned.

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September 12, 2009: My First Glimpse of a Woven Wrap

A month later, I had a booth at the Locke Street Festival, another local event here in Hamilton. A woman came up to my table wearing her baby in a Didymos woven wrap and I said, “Wow, what a gorgeous Moby! Where did you get it?”

(Now, if you’re not familiar with the different brands, don’t worry – it was like me seeing a Cadillac and calling it a Hyundai. Not that there’s anything wrong with Hyundais – or Moby Wraps! It just makes me laugh when I think back on it.)

At that time, babywearing drama groups and wrap snobbery hadn’t been invented yet. The woman with the wrap simply shrugged her shoulders and said it was hand-me-down from a friend – and that it might be German? I wrote down the brand name to Google later and then promptly lost the card and forgot all about it. (Google? Did we Google five years ago? I can’t even remember…)

October 9, 2009: Co-Leading the Hamilton Babywearers

Happily, I was about to be introduced to woven wraps again. Angela of the Hamilton Doula Group started a babywearing group and I eagerly attended those early meetings. It turned out that Angela knew all about woven wraps and was able to tie them on with a skill that continues to impress me to this day. I was delighted when in October she asked me to co-lead the group with her; together we worked to introduce more people to babywearing.

I remember meetings where it was just Angela and me and stacks of carriers sitting at the child-sized tables in the Westdale Library, hoping that someone had seen our Kijiji ads and would join us for the meeting. It’s hard to believe that the Facebook group for the Hamilton Babywearers now has over 1000 members!

March 6, 2010: The First Hamilton Baby Expo

The next spring, Hamilton was treated to the very first Baby Expo. I jumped on as a sponsor as soon as planning began and I was thrilled with the event. Not only was I able to go on TV to talk about babywearing, but I was allowed to give a babywearing presentation at the show itself.

A ton of people came, resulting in an hour long line up to even enter the building. When it came time to do my presentation, I was literally pulling babies out of demos and taking those carriers away from parents even as they tried to buy them from me. I nearly sold out that day – it was clear to me that Hamilton parents were eager for better baby carriers than what was locally available.

May 8, 2010: Grand Opening at Little Bird on Ottawa Street

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Given the demand that I saw at the Expo, I was delighted when a couple months later I was given the opportunity to move Daisy Days into 164 Ottawa street North, the home of Little Bird (a children’s consignment store) and re•diaper (a cloth diaper shop). I had a bookcase on the back wall with all my carriers on display and I couldn’t be more excited. A real store. With a cash register and credit card machine and hours all the kinds of things that real stores have.

It was a dream come true. Hamilton parents finally had a place to come learn about babywearing whenever they wanted. As long as it was during my shift, of course. :)

April 30, 2011: The Babywearing Fashion Show

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The Baby Expos because a bi-annual event and I did babywearing demonstrations at the first two. In the spring of 2011, I wanted to do something different – something big and fun – so I organized a babywearing fashion show. Local babywearers modeled their own carriers plus carriers that were donated for the event – our goal was to show Hamilton parents that there were carrier options beyond the Bjorn. At the end of the show, we gave away nearly 20 baby carriers worth over $2000 in total! It was quite the event.

And then life pleasantly continued on. I enjoyed working at the store and doing babywearing consultations as much as I could. I remember the day someone told me to not take myself too seriously – that I was “just a shelf on the wall”. But it never felt that way to me – I was one of the only places around where parents could learn about safe, comfortable babywearing and that was important to me.

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Babywearing made such a big difference for me when my daughter was born. For the longest three weeks of my life, my newborn baby simply cried and nursed and nursed and cried and I was exhausted and confused and depressed. Then I tried on a Moby Wrap and immediately I felt like a whole new world had opened up to me – a world where my daughter was content and I was competent. And I wanted to share the power of babywearing with everyone.

For years, we’d have people routinely come in from an hour away for help with carriers. They didn’t know where else to go. I knew that I was far more than a shelf on the wall.

And I was having a blast.

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Did you see the stack of Didymos boxes there? Yup – I don’t get them mixed up with Mobys anymore…

August 2012: A Store Makeover + The Canadian Babywearing School Comes to Town

In August 2012, Little Bird left the store to move to another location. Anj and I decided to remake the store into a place for gentle parents, selling products that were friendly for both babies and the earth. We named the space Barefoot Babies and added a community space that would host breastfeeding groups, play groups, and parenting workshops.

Around the same time, I had decided that I wanted to know even more about babywearing so that I could be a better resource for local parents. This led to us hosting the Canadian Babywearing School courses at the store.

Through terrible planning on our part, the classes started just five days after Little Bird left, leaving us approximately 120 hours to create a community space that would be suitable to host a group of babywearing fans.

We installed curtains to partition the space. We gussied up the bathroom. We replaced the laundry tub with a proper bathroom sink and counter. We painted the stairs and the whole washroom area. We brought in a fridge and a dishwasher and even a kitchen sink. And by “we”, I mostly mean Anj’s husband. I’m not sure he slept the entire week.

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On Monday morning, we were ready for classes to begin. I can’t tell you how amazing it was to be surrounded by dedicated babywearing fans. I got to fully indulge in my passion and talk about nothing but babywearing and breastfeeding for four full days. It was wonderful. I no longer felt like I was trying to figure things out on my own – I now had a friend and a mentor in Arie, and the relief I experienced from having that connection to the greater babywearing world was immense. Despite being exhausted from all the preparation, I was in heaven.

November 10, 2012: Hello Santa

We were always looking for fun, new ways to reach out to local parents. One of my favourite memories was our float in the Santa Claus parade. My daughter helped me make most of the decorations and she loved waving to everyone when it was time for the big day! That year we even had Santa stop by the store for free photos – seems he’s a buckle carrier kind of guy!

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February 16, 2013: Welcome Carolyn!

In February, Carolyn joined me as a babywearing consultant at the store so that I could focus on the background details of running a store. She was a fabulous consultant and I was thrilled to have her join me. She also gave us an excuse to drag Arie back to Ontario for another babywearing school session in May and again in September. A new crop of babywearing enthusiasts came each time and I was delighted to see the culture changing. This wasn’t a fad – people were investing themselves in babywearing.

November 24, 2013: Babywearing Flash Mob

After the success of the babywearing fashion show in the spring of 2011, people often asked when the next one would be. I wasn’t feeling organized enough to pull it off again and I wanted do something a bit different.

Something that would show Hamilton once again how awesome babywearing is. Or possibly just how crazy babywearers can be.

So rather than doing another fashion show, we enlisted the help of local babywearers and did a flash mob at the Fall 2013 Hamilton Baby Expo. People came in from Hamilton, Guelph, Toronto, Halton and Brantford to be part of the fun.

The song Hands Up Baby still gets stuck in my head to this day.

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August 1, 2014: Starting Over

Despite all the fun that I was having at the store, I slowly realized that it was time to move away from retail life. The funny thing about have a babywearing store is that most of your energy is used up by the store itself, leaving little left over for the babywearing – or anything else. So with unbelievable sadness, I stepped back from Barefoot Babies and the community that I helped to build. Last Wednesday was my final shift at the store and on Friday I resumed running Daisy Days as an online store.

I am super excited and crazy nervous and extremely hopeful.

Thank you to everyone who has purchased from me, everyone who has recommended me to a friend, everyone who encouraged me along the way. It’s been a fun five years and I’m looking forward to seeing how the rest of the decade turns out!

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