Tuesday, August 31, 2010

AMY & REE: Red Velvet Cake

For Eric's birthday a few weeks ago I let him pick from all the cakes in the Pioneer Woman's cookbook. Much to my surprise, actually, he chose this Red Velvet Cake with buttermilk cream frosting. Lucy and I whipped it up that day, and it was actually quite easy. The use of cake flour and buttermilk make it moist and delicious. And, of course, the FROSTING IS TOO DIE FOR. Lucy decorated the top with green gummy frogs because a) Daddy loves gummy candies and b) Daddy caught numerous little frogs for the girls to examine over the course of this summer. He was surprised and delighted and we invited some family over to enjoy it with us. At the end of the night we were still left with half a cake, which I pretty much took care of over the course of the next week. And I wonder how I gained 10 lbs. this summer...

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Occupation: Radical Homemaker

People, this book changed my life:

Or, rather, my life was already completely changed, but this book reaffirmed what I already knew, gave strong support, a voice, and a NAME to this new 'career' I had chosen. I am a Radical Homemaker.

Because Shannon Hayes, the book's author, says it so much more eloquently than I can, here's the low down on the book (and the subsequent lifestyle) from the website:

Radical Homemakers uncovers a hidden revolution quietly taking hold across the United States. It is the story of pioneering men and women who are redefining feminism and the good life by adhering to simple principles of ecological sustainability, social justice, community engagement and family well-being. It explores the values, skills, motivations, accomplishments, power, challenges, joy and creative fulfillment of Americans who are endeavoring to change the world by first reclaiming control of the home and hearth.

Mother Nature has shown her hand. Faced with climate change, dwindling resources, and species extinctions, most Americans understand the fundamental steps necessary to solve our global crises - drive less, consume less, increase self-reliance, buy locally, eat locally, rebuild our local communities.

In essence, the great work we face requires rekindling the home fires.

Radical Homemakers is about men and women across the U.S. who focus on home and hearth as a political and ecological act, and who have centered their lives around family and community for personal fulfillment and cultural change. It explores what domesticity looks like in an era that has benefited from feminism, where domination and oppression are cast aside and where the choice to stay home is no longer equated with mind-numbing drudgery, economic insecurity, or relentless servitude.

Radical Homemakers nationwide speak about empowerment, transformation, happiness, and casting aside the pressures of a consumer culture to live in a world where money loses its power to relationships, independent thought, and creativity. If you ever considered quitting a job to plant tomatoes, read to a child, pursue creative work, can green beans and heal the planet, this is your book.

For a few years now our lives have been slowly moving in this direction. We cultivated garden spaces around our small urban yard and traded produce and homemade items for free range chicken eggs. We began eating out less and when we did, we made sure to support local restaurants, dairies and the like. I even took my thrift store addiction to a new level, convincing my family to not buy anything new for an entire year in 2009.

Then there was that surprise layoff from my full-time job about a year and a half ago. While the layoff was traumatic and stressful, so was the job, so it didn't take me long to choose a completely new life path. We pulled the girls out of full-time daycare/preschool and I became a stay-at-home mom with benefits. I got to play outside all day. I got to be barefoot, bake bread, and take vacations whenever I wanted. Quickly, I became a working-at-home mom, as I was lucky enough to hand-pick one or two of the best art projects that came my way. Ones that had to fit into my new lifestyle, one that I wasn't willing to negotiate on this time around.

Eric and I sat down and examined how we could survive financially only his modest income as a college professor, as our yearly budget was now $30,000 less than it used to be. This meant some major changes including eliminating DirectTV and our entertainment budget, instead relying on free, local outdoor activities for the girls and Netflix. We cut way back on our grocery and clothing bills, by making food from scratch and relying on garage sales or clothing swaps.

Most importantly, we've made a major commitment to our Earth, by taking our recycling and reuse to a whole new level. We use reusable cloth napkins and plastic plates on our picnics and compost all food scraps in our backyard composter. Eric bikes or rides the bus to work, as we've cut back to one vehicle. Our lawn and garden use only organic materials and are watered by our neighborhood canal irrigation system. The girls and I keep food packaging materials for art projects and use both sides of paper for drawing on. I make my own shampoo and conditioner and shut off the AC every night.

We don't take fancy vacations or have lots of shiny new toys, but we also don't have any debt other than our student loans and our home mortgage. What we have truly learned (in this economic crisis oddly enough) is that money does not make you happy. Nor does money make your life better nor is it a measure of success. We are a good, no a GREAT, example of that. And we aren't the only ones. I have witnessed many friends just up and quit their successful, good-paying jobs recently in order to make their homes a healthier place. By having (and giving) time to connect with each other and our communities, we are creating a revolution. We are turning the American obsession with consumerism upside down and writing a new chapter in feminist theory.

It's a complex, amazing movement, y'all. And one that I'm so proud to be part of. And next time I have to fill out a form or someone asks me, "What do you do?" I can answer with a title, a name, an identity that sort of sums it all up nicely. I am a Radical Homemaker.

Monday, August 9, 2010

STYLE: My New 1963 Dinette Set

I've been jonesing for a new dinette set for about a year now, ever since Alice has joined the table. We only have a small eat-in dining area in our little ranch house, complete with a large picture window so we can watch the neighborhood go by while we eat (or, better yet, they can watch us chow down or color pictures or do homework). We've had this little retro set for 11 years. I saved up the $130 it cost me to Beekman Place, my favorite little antique shop in Corvallis, Oregon, where Eric and I lived in an apartment down the street during his grad school years.

We've hosted many a dinner, wiped up many a toppled cup of applesauce, and bleached out many a permanent marker stain on this avocado green set through the years. But, lately, it's become a difficult fit in our tiny space and it's really started to bug me. Not to mention, one of the chairs finally gave out on Eric one night at dinner. And, when I've got a bee in my bonnet like that, there's no stopping me. I've spent the summer searching on craigslist and garage sales for the perfect round table. I think a round table is much cozier for dining together, provokes more conversation, and keeps people sitting around it longer. All I was able to find, however, were wood tables, which are lovely and perfect in many, many homes, but I just don't visualize one in mine. Plus, the girls love to write with pen and marker on the tables, so I love me some formica tabletop. After months of agonizing over how much I might have to spend on a vintage set on Ebay, I found this wonderful thing at Renewal downtown Boise:

And I fell in love. Hard. I immediately put a hold on it and made Eric go by after work to take a look. My husband's a difficult sell when it comes to furniture and his approval is totally necessary. He loved the sturdy, quality construction and the seats are super comfy. I love the orange vinyl on the chairs and the white formica. Plus! It came with a leaf! Perfect for our larger family get-togethers. We bought it immediately and to save my lovely tabletop from my destructive toddler I bought this wonderful invention from this website and several more like it. This summer has been a wealth of wonderful second-hand finds and this isn't even all of them. Stay tuned for more stylish goodness.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

AMY & REE: Katie's Roasted Corn Salad

This was the perfect summer dish to try for the Pioneer Woman Cookbook Challenge. Katie's Roasted Corn Salad is a bit time-consuming, as most of the veggies have to be grilled before chopping. I did add some frozen corn kernels to the dish, as I was a little light on the grilled corn, and actually would recommend them over the roasted corn - it just has a flavor I'm not thrilled about. PW says in the cookbook that it can be eaten as a side dish, with tortilla chips like a salsa, or as a fresh bruschetta. We tried it all three ways, but I LOVED it as a bruschetta; the balsamic vinegar in the dressing made it so yummy.