“Organic and Local” Eating: The Beginning of Jasmine’s Journey (A Guest Post)

First, I would like to take a moment to introduce you to my friend Jasmine Brown, the author of today’s guest post.  We first met when we were roommates and the Arkansas Women Bloggers Unplugged conference back in June.  Jasmine is easily one of the most fun and most passionate people I have ever met!  When Jasmine speaks, you listen!  She commands an audience and I am so glad that she has agreed to write a guest post on a topic that I too am passionate about, Organic and Local Eating!  Additionally, I would like to add a sincere CONGRATULATIONS to Jasmine and her husband Garrett as she gave birth to their third child, Tobias, LAST NIGHT!  Check out her blog The Brokins, which she co-writes with her friend Sadie, to read all of her hilarious antics and to see some pictures of her adorable little one!

“Organic and Local” Eating: The Beginning of Jasmine’s Journey
By Jasmine Brown of The Brokins

As an African American kid growing up in the projects the word “organic” was never mentioned. We lived on food stamps and government subsidies and struggled to make ends meet. Buying “name brand” was an awesome privilege and I remember being very excited to be able to buy the same box cereals that other kids were able to eat. Some of my precious childhood memories involve the CareBears and Captain Crunch Cereal.

When I left home for college I found myself excited about so many new opportunities. I inundated myself with book after book about things that interested me, amongst the titles were numerous “organic eating” books.

I spent a year really diving into what food was about, how it shaped healthy, culture, and life. I am a planner and I wasn’t going to commit to something that I wasn’t really educated on. I asked farmers, friends, and educators questions. I read articles, blogs, and recipe books. I learned about the importance of food earnestly and respecting that strawberries have a season. I had NO idea about seasons. I knew my grandma gardened in the summer… but when we should be eating certain things never occurred to me.

In 2006 my husband and I decided to embark on the journey of eating more locally and organically, keeping our home free of most dangerous
chemicals (including makeup and  hygiene products), and being more environmentally conscience. It was a slow change where we educated ourselves on what did and didn’t work for us. Five years later we can’ imagine doing things we used to do. Though we aren’t “100% organic” and local we make sure the “big impact” items of our family are sourced organic and/or locally.

 

*We buy our beef from our neighbor three houses down.
*We buy our poultry from a local hermitage and our eggs from a local farmer, Jesse, that we have had the chance to know.
*We reduce packaging by shopping in bulk and using our own containers (usually glass)
*We refrain from body and household products that contain sulfates, parabens, or are not 100% biodegradable or organic.
*We employ farmer’s markets, CSA’s, and our family garden to provide fresh (and seasonally canned produce) all year long.

You don’t have to do everything… even small changes make a difference. I am holding on to the belief the what I am doing for the lives of and health of my children will make a difference in them. I was very sick as child, I think a lot of the health issues I had were rooted in malnutrition. I want my kids to enjoy eating, respect the land and the people who grow their food, and understand that you don’t have to have anything RIGHT NOW.  I am proud that my son knows that July is tomato season :) Moreover, food helps us open up much needed discussion with our children about stewardship, thankfulness, and being a good neighbor.

“Organic/Local” eating is a hot topic. Contentious even. It doesn’t have to be, at least I don’t think so. How different are your eating habits from what they were in childhood? What do you believe about the “organic and local movement”?

Are you interested in guest posting for Eggs and Herbs?  We’d love to feature you and we are open to a wide range of topics!  Please send a brief summary of your post idea to willowtreecreek@gmail.com and we will get back to you!

How To Become an Artist


I am an art teacher and it always surprises me when kids tell me they don’t want to take art class because they don’t know how to draw!  Really?  Did you know how to do calculus before you took a math class?  Did you know the Preamble to the Constitution before you took American History?  Probably not.  So when people say, “But I don’t know how to draw!” I say, “GOOD! You’ve come to the right place!”

Not everyone was born with a natural artistic talent.  Sure it comes easier to some than others but we all have room to learn and grow.  We can all achieve some level of talent with the right tools and lots of practice.  The key is to find what you love and build on that.

Personally I am very good at drawing, especially architectural drawing.  I have a good eye for perspective and I love the meticulous technical detail that comes with architectural drawing.  My passion however is for painting.  I can get lost in a painting for hours.  Painting for me is meditative and hypnotic.  That doesn’t happen to me with drawing.  But…painting doesn’t come easy for me.  I really have to work at it.

I have tried virtually every art and craft outlet available from knitting, to scrap-booking, drawing, painting and sewing. I’ve crocheted snowflakes out of the tiniest of threads and built a chicken coop by hand with large boards and power tools.  If it can be made, built, crafted or somehow put on paper I have probably tried it at least once.

My point is that being an “artist” can look like many different things.  Experiment, look at art and see what stand out to you, find some tools that look fun to try.  Once you have chosen the art form you wish to pursue I have three pieces of advice.

1.  Practice
2.  Allow your self to make mistakes! After all there are no mistakes in art, only happy accidents!
3.  Practice some more.

One of the new features that you will regularly find here is my creativity series.  I will posting tips and tutorials in all different creative areas.  I will also address a variety of skill levels.  There is a lot of creativity going on here on the farm and I want to share that with you.  Here are a few posts you can look forward to in the near future.

Beginning Drawing 101 – I have a pencil and paper, now what?

Acrylic Painting Basics – Intuitive Abstract Painting Tutorial

What is Art Journaling?

How to Make a Simple Art Journal with an Old Magazine

Look for my art related posts on Fridays and/or Saturdays!  Is there something you would like me to show?  A specific tutorial you are looking for?  Let me know!

#ClearAmerican Strawberry Basil Lemonade Spritzer (#ad #cbias)

I love sparkling water so I was excited when I was asked to give Clear American a try.  Clear American is a ZERO calorie flavored sparkling water beverage sold at Walmart and Sam’s Club.  The company makes a TON of flavors and the Clear American section in our Walmart was fully stocked.  The thought of flavored sparkling water sounded great to me, what worried me was the fact that the beverage contains aspartame as a sweetener.  I prefer to drink things made with real sugar and tend to shy away from “diet” beverages because I’m not sure that aspartame is all that healthy of a choice and to be honest I don’t like the flavor of it. But, SURPRISE, Clear American actually makes a variety that is sweetened with Stevia instead of aspartame!  How cool of them.  Unfortunately, my Walmart, doesn’t carry the Stevia version but since my task was to make a drink or frozen treat and I wouldn’t be drinking it plain I went ahead and purchased the regular version of Clear American.
We purchased the Clear American Strawberry flavor and the Pineapple Coconut flavor.  Richie enjoyed the Strawberry as it was. I couldn’t get past the aspartame flavor but when I made my recipe I thought it was great.

I decided to use the Strawberry flavor and revamp my Strawberry Basil Lemonade recipe.  Take a look at the photos I took of my shopping and drink preparation experience.


Strawberry Basil Lemonade is one of my favorite summer drinks and the Clear American Strawberry really made a positive impact on the flavor.  The strawberry flavor was much more intense and the bubbles added a fresh crispness to the drink. It was delicious.  I only got to enjoy one glass though because Richie drank the rest of the pitcher by himself!

You might want to check out Clear American on Facebook or Twitter.

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Disclosure: This shop has been compensated as part of a social shopper insights study for Collective Bias, which is a vendor for Cott Beverages Inc., the manufacturer of Clear American ® brand beverages. My opinions however are honest and are not influenced by compensation.

5 Kitchen Gadgets I Can’t Live Without

Recently in my post 10Reasons You Are Buying Take-out Instead of Cooking, I mentioned that lack of adequate and appropriate kitchen tools can keep us out of the kitchen.  Having the right tools can make cooking more fun and seem less like a chore.  Having the wrong or inadequate kitchen tools can cost time and can even be a danger.  Dull knives cause a greater number and more severe injuries than a sharp knife.  Having at least one really good knife in your kitchen is a necessity which is why it is number one on my list of 5 Kitchen Gadgets I Can’t Live Without.
1. Knives

Photo from Amazon.com

My FAVORITE knife set is the Furi Rachael Ray Coppertail 3-Piece East/West Bamboo Knife Set.  The $70 price tag may seem a bit hefty but once you use these knives you will wonder how you ever functioned in the kitchen without them!
2. Microplane

Photo from Amazon.com

I have several Microplanes and I love them all but my favorite is the Microplane 40020 Classic Zester/Grater.  I use it to grate garlic, zest citrus fruit and grate fresh nutmeg.
3.  Garlic Roaster
I love, love, love garlic…especially roasted garlic.  I received this electric garlic roaster as a gift from my mom many years ago and my life hasn’t been the same since.  It is so easy to use and it makes great roasted garlic in a little less than 30 minutes without the need to heat up the oven.
4.  Enameled Cast-iron dutch Oven

Photo from Amazon.com

I was always a little intimidated by cast iron because it is heavy and it is expensive.  I got an enameled cast iron dutch oven (again from my mom) a few years ago and I don’t know how I got by before I had it!  It is perfect for cooking large pots of beans and soups, both things we love to eat in the colder months.  I have even used mine to deep fry homemade donuts! YUM!
5.  Iced Tea Maker

Photo from Amazon.com

I love to drink iced tea and this Iced Tea Maker makes it so easy!  Just add water and tea bags to the brewer and ice to the pitcher and in less than 10 minutes you will have ice cold tea to drink.  Just place the pitcher in the fridge and you can enjoy the tea for days (or hours if you drink as much as I do)!
Disclaimer: Due to recent changes in Arkansas Tax Law I am NO LONGER a member of the Amazon Affiliates program.  That means I am no longer compensated in any form or fashion if you click and purchase an Amazon.com product through my site.  I have been a customer of Amazon.com for years and have always been pleased with their high level of service. I link to products on their site because I personally feel it is a trust worthy site.  All of the products listed in this post are there because I truly love them.  I was not compensated in any way for my opinions. The companies listed above likely have no knowledge that I even exist!

Stop Watching, Start Doing (A Guest Post)

By Karen Isaacson of iamrushmore

I used to be a lurker.
Skulking through the aisles of Borders, drooling on the art books, buying dozens of titles and reading them alone, in private. Scrolling through endless art blogs and flickr streams. Never leaving comments, never making contacts, and never making art. Looking at other people’s work filled me with a potent mix of yearning and despair. I knew I wasn’t capable of making anything like this, but I wanted to…what? Own it? Eat it? BE it? I wasn’t sure. So I lurked. And sighed a lot.

And then something in me broke this past winter. I was sick of watching, it was time to act. Maybe Mercury was in retrograde. Maybe my deep intuitive animal spirit from my past life came bubbling forth. Or maybe it’s the maturity of being 43 years old and not caring so darn much what other people think. But really? I blame it on the snow.

For the first three months of this year, Massachusetts was pounded with one relentless blizzard after another. I’m a life-long New Englander, accustomed to the cold, dark days of winter, but this was crazy-making. Round the bend, weeping while shoveling, watching the skies with dread. By mid-March I was seriously considering medication. Instead I found art.

I purged the guest room of everything that had piled up there (Seriously – guest room? We never have guests. It’s the junk room. Say it like it is.) I gathered all my paint and paper and glue and bits of stuff. I feathered my nest with things that made me happy, with no consideration for anyone else in the family. I dared to call it my studio. At first I always said it in quotes, but still. I took a deep breath and started making stuff.

I’ve messed around with art supplies almost every day for 3 months now. Here’s what I’ve learned:
• It’s okay to suck. Expect it. Embrace it. Don’t fix it. Leave it alone. Move on. Make something else

• Stop thinking. Lots of people talk about intuitive art. Maybe it is. Or maybe that’s just another word for random. Whatever. Go with it. Everything doesn’t have to have MEANING. Sometimes what you make really is just random stuff glued to a piece of paper. Don’t worry about. Make something else.

• Make art even when you don’t feel like making art. Because once you start making art you’ll realize this is EXACTLY what you feel like doing right now and it’s making you very very happy.

• Copying other people is okay as long as you don’t try to pass it off as your own work. It’s not cheating, it’s learning. Stop worrying about your “voice”. Make something else.
• The internet can inspire you and challenge you and encourage you. It can also cripple you. Trust me. Reading about stuff can only take you so far. The way to get better at art is to make art.

So as much as I love that you’re here on Julie’s blog, looking at my art and reading my ramblings, it’s time to stop. Turn off the computer and go make something. Maybe it’s not a painting. Maybe it’s an amazing meal. Or a beautiful garden. Or hand-knit socks.

Stop watching. Start doing.

“When she’s not out catching salamanders, Karen Isaacson spends most of her time scraping paint and glue off her hands, clothes and walls.  She blogs about it at iamrushmore and loves visitors and comments.”

Looking for Guest Posts: I want YOU

This Sunday I am launching a new section on my blog!  Each Sunday I will be bringing you a guest post from one of my readers, a cook, an artist, a blogger I admire or perhaps even YOU!  Submission is super easy and you can write on whatever topic feels near and dear to you.  I hope that YOU will consider writing a guest post for my blog!  If you are interested please email me at willowtreecreek@gmail.com or contact me by using the form located on the Contact Us page in the top menu bar.

This Sunday’s guest post will be coming from Karen Issacson who write creative posts for her blog I am Rushmore.  Take a few minutes to look at her work and then don’t forget to stop by here on Sunday to see what she has to say!

10 Reasons You Are Buying Take-out Instead of Cooking (Plus an easy recipe you can cook tonight!)

You could search the internet and find hundreds if not thousands of resources, studies and surveys that all show that cooking at home rather than eating out is less expensive and better for our figures and our health.  Yet, even when armed with all this knowledge, we are still tempted to partake in take-out.  Why?  It’s quick and it’s easy.  But, guess what?  Cooking at home can be quick and easy too and a lot healthier.

The reasons we head to the drive-thru are many but here are 10 things that are probably the most likely to influence you to choose take-out along with some tips to help you get out of the car and back in the kitchen.

1. You’re LAZY

You know it, I know it and we’ve all been there before.  There are just some nights when it seems easier to get in the car, drive 10 miles to the McDonald’s drive-thru, load up on burgers and fries and come home.  The meal is then followed by possible guilt over the money you spent or the amount of calories you ate.  You scarfed down that burger in 3.2 minutes and you find yourself wondering if it even had flavor.  Did I even enjoy that thing I practically swallowed whole?  On the surface, maybe, but when you really think about it, probably not.  The truth is you probably had the makings of a quick and easy dinner that would have been more healthy and more flavorful. (See the quick and easy recipe below.)

2.  You Don’t Know how to Cook

Don’t be ashamed!  There are lots of people who just don’t know what to do when it comes to the kitchen.  I have heard so many people tell me they can’t even boil water or toast bread.  My response? LEARN! It’s not hard, I swear!  I think sometimes we watch cooking shows and become so caught up in what we don’t think we are capable of doing that we can’t learn anything.  First of all cooking shows are just that…SHOWS!  My kitchen is NOT a pretty place when I am in the midst of preparing a meal.  I don’t have a staff that does all my prep work for me or one that cleans the dishes when I am done.  I am the one man show and it NEVER looks like what I see on TV.  My best advice to you is to step away from the TV and learn how to cook from a real person.

If you have a friend who is an amazing cook as her for some pointers.  Ask her to help you prepare a meal or if you can help her prepare a meal.  Ask her for her favorite recipes, for a list of her favorite kitchen tools.  Ask her to tell you stories about when she learned to cook.  Not everything in the kitchen is always picture perfect and even the most highly trained chefs make big mistakes in the kitchen every now and then.

If you can’t find a friend to help you out, take a cooking class.  There are so many options and opportunities available all around the country and some fabulous opportunities right here in Arkansas!  One such place is the Winthrop Rockefeller Institute in Morrilton.  I will be attending one of their cooking demonstrations next Monday and look forward to sharing my experience with you.  Other places that offer cooking classes and demonstrations locally are KitchenCo. in Little Rock, Eggshells in Little Rock, Nibbles in Fayetteville, the Ozark Folk Center in Mountain View and many of our State Parks offer Dutch Oven cooking classes.  I attended one of these last year at Jacksonport State Park and it was excellent.  (You can read about my experience in this article I wrote for The Renegade Farmer.)

3.  You’re Meals are Too Complicated

One of the mistakes beginning, inexperienced or under-experienced cooks make is choosing recipes too complicated for their current skill level.  Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourguignon may be your fiances favorite recipe but if you have little or no kitchen experience you have no business trying to make it!  Set your self up for success not failure.  Google “Recipes for the Beginning Cook” and you will likely find something more on your level.

4.  You’re Afraid of Criticism

Nobody wants to slave away in the kitchen to have their family curl up their nose at what you made.  It happens and its happened to me a lot.  Instead of getting your feelings hurt and storming off to the bedroom to cry, listen to what your loved ones are saying.  If they think the chicken is too dry, it’s probably too dry.  If the soup is too salty, taste it as you go next time.  Let your mistakes be your guide and don’t be afraid of them.  Laugh and say “You’re right it is too dry, next time I’ll reduce the cooking time.”  And hey, if worse comes to worse we’ve already established that you know the way to the closest drive-thru, right?

5. You’re Family (or You) is a Picky Eater

I grew up in Vermont where the style of food is DRASTICALLY different from the food of the south where my husband is from and where I now live.  When we first got married he didn’t like any of the foods I cooked and I didn’t like any of the greasy, fried southern staples he grew up on.  Finding a balance of what we both loved and trying new things was a challenge but also a fun adventure.  Encourage your family to set aside their preconceived notions about what they do and don’t like and pick one day a week or even every other week to try something new and different.  You will be surprised at all the new favorites you find. (See #4 Above.)

6.  You’re Not Using a Meal Plan

Meal planning doesn’t have to be complicated and doesn’t have to take a long time to do. 5 or 10 minutes of meal planning can save you loads of time in the kitchen each night.  No more repeated trips to the freezer to see if something good has magically appeared.  No more worrying if you have time to defrost the ground beef before your family goes insane with hunger.  Glance through your freezer and pantry and make a list of 5 – 7 meals you could make using things you already have, making note of items you may need to pick up.  You don’t have to schedule a specific meal for a specific night but knowing you have 5-7 possibilities will keep you further from the drive-thru.  Additionally, keeping a list of meals can help keep you out of a rut and encourage you to try new and different things.

7. You’re Kitchen Isn’t Well Stocked

A well stocked kitchen is directly tied to meal planning.  If you know what you are planning to make during any given week you can check your pantry and make sure you have everything you will need on hand.  Nothing is worse than thinking about that spaghetti you are going to have for dinner all day than to get half way through cooking and realize you don’t have any sauce.  Last minute trips to the store are frustrating and costly and since that grocery store is probably right  next to several fast food joints it’s no wonder we are tempted just to eat out.

8. Your Kitchen is Unorganized or Dirty

Nothing turns me away from wanting to cook more than walking in to find a sink-full of dirty dishes.  This is by far my biggest weakness in the kitchen. I HATE doing the dishes and I have been known to leave a sink full of dishes for the next day.  This really only compounds the problem.  Enlist your significant other to help out with the clean-up or better yet have your kids do it!

Secondly, not having the tools you need when or where you need them to be can also be frustrating.  If you have a small kitchen with inadequate storage like I have, this can be a constant issue.  I have found that a few minutes of prep before hand to gather all the tools I will need will save me from a frantic search while three different things are boiling over on the stove top.

9.  You Don’t Have the Right (Adequate) Tools

A well-crafted sharp knife can do wonders in the kitchen.  A simple change such as this one can change everything about the way you cook.  A good knife will save you loads of time and give you something to be proud of.  You might want to read about the 5 Kitchen Gadgets I Can’t Live Without or you might want to check out this list by my friend Beth.

10. It’s Too Hot

Cook SEASONALLY!  Summer is a time for fresh, quick cooking foods not the hot, thick, slow-simmering stews and casseroles we enjoy in the winter.  Visit you local farmer’s market. Buy local and buy in season. Ask the farmers how they prepare the food.  Most summer foods lend themselves to quick cooking methods so take advantage of them and get in and out of the kitchen faster.

A Meal you can Cook Tonight: Panzanella Salad

1/2 a french bread loaf, cubed and toasted (Any bread will do except for “soft” sandwich style bread)
1 Red or Yellow Pepper, chopped
1/2 large Red Onion, sliced thinly
2 Fresh, RIPE, Tomatoes, chopped
Kalamata Olives
Ham, Turkey, Canadian Bacon, Pepperoni, and/or Salami, chopped into bite-size pieces (optional)
10 fresh Basil leaves, chiffonade
2 oz. goat cheese, crumbled
Italian Salad Dressing

Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl.  Add Italian Dressing to coat to your liking. I usually use 4-6 Tbsp depending on the amount of bread.  Let sit in fridge 15-30 minuted before serving.

Other Options:

Substitute the bread with your favorite bite-sized pasta noodle.
Serve with grilled chicken to make it more of a meal.

 

 

A Farm Map

I have always loved maps.  When I was a kid I had a friend named Hope.  We liked to draw maps.  We had notebooks full of maps of my house, her house, the woods, our church, our schools, our neighborhoods, whatever we could think of.  We sometimes  used the maps to trick her little brother into searching for some invented treasure just so he would leave us alone.  Beyond that I am not really sure what we did with them other than draw them and stick them in a really cool Trapper-Keeper that was dedicated solely to our map collection.

At some other point in my life it became my goal to get in the Guinness Book of World Records for making the worlds largest hand-drawn maze.  I drew it all over a bunch of sheets of paper I had taped together.  I wonder what happened to that thing?  I never did get in the book.

Some of my favorite projects that I had in high school and college were the ones that involved drawing and coloring maps.  I would spend hours to reach painstaking accuracy and color perfection on each of my maps.  When I saw kids turn in projects that were quickly done it made my skin crawl.  How could they disrespect the map?

I can get lost in an atlas for hours.  In the early years of our marriage, before the wide-spread use of GPS, I would get out my highlighter and carefully mark every road we would take to our destination.  I would even make notes about road construction, good bathroom locations and cool places to stop.

The weirdest part is that when it comes to maps I have a near photographic memory.  I could look at a map from my house to some random destination 600 miles away for a few minutes and never have to look at it again.  I could get in my car and drive there without a second thought.

I love to build a picture in my mind when people tell me stories.  I thought perhaps a map of our farm would help you to visualize things when I tell you stories about the garden or farm.

 

Key

1. Our House
2. Chicken Coop
3. Garden
4. Willow Tree
5. Brooder House and Pen
6. Horse Trailer
7. Shed
8. Pump House
9. Wood Pile
10. Hay Bails
11. Sycamore Tree
12. Pecan Trees
13. Sycamore Tree
14. Hammock
15.  Gazebo
16. Fire Circle Pit
17. Bradford Pear Trees (No actual fruit)
18.  Strawberry Beds and Blueberry Bushes
19. Mother-in-Law’s House
20. Pool
21. Bradford Pear Tree
22. Various Fruit Trees
23. Barn
24. Tractor Barn
25. Horse Pasture
26. Foundation of Old Home Place

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