Homemade pasta in just a few minutes

This isn’t a recipe for pasta, we’ll post that some other time. I can say that we used ingredients we had around already for this dinner; flour, eggs, lemons, some parsley, garlic, tomato paste, and pine nuts for added crunch. However, I found the process of making the pasta very easy and enjoyable, which I wanted to share. I did make some of the pasta, but Aaron was showing me since he’s made it before. We had enough to save and freeze what we didn’t eat, for some other day.
First, you start with the appropriate dough pieces. This shows the before and after states.

We have a Kitchen Aid mixer, and the corresponding pasta roller and cutter attachments. Pasta can be rolled out by hand or dedicated machines as well, but the mixer attachments made this quick work. This picture shows rolling out the dough. You start at the widest setting then gradually get to the thinnest one or two settings. As you go through this process, you need to add flour on the noodle surfaces periodically so the dough does not stick to the rollers.

You catch the pasta as it flattens out and carefully feed it back in. Be careful the motor is not taxed too much by feeding in dough that is wider than the current setting will allow.
As we were doing this, we had a nice hot pot of water heating up to boil the noodles.

we dressed the noodles with: lemon zest, pine nuts (slightly browned first), garlic, parsley, and a little bit of tomato paste (not shown).

It is finally time to swap to the pasta cutter attachment; here is a picture of the fresh pasta after slicing.

Next, we boiled and drained it. We combined with our ingredients, and it was time to eat the fresh pasta. It was delicious!

What will these be?

I promised more pictures once the weather started getting nicer, and finally it is. First, a fresh dozen of our eggs from this weekend.

They made a special journey to a neighboring town. We’ll know more soon…
Next up, our first blossom of the year. We now have three daffodils out, but this one was the first. I’ve been driving by other people’s flowers in bloom for maybe a week now, and wondering when ours would show themselves.

Well, they have, and though it’s going to be rainy the next few days, it was sure nice to have a warm sunny afternoon to enjoy them. We need the rain anyway, it’s been a very dry spring. Great for not having too much mud, but it’s also keeping our grass from getting established. Speaking of, we were working on cleaning up some leaves from the fall, which meant going in between the paddocks with loads of leaves. Well, today at work I got a text message midday – ‘The boys are in the paddock!’ I knew right away what this meant. Sure enough, I looked at our web cam and there they were, happily munching away at the young tender grass. Aaron went to investigate and determined what had happened. Seems someone *cough, looking innocent* forgot to latch one of the swing gates after she brought in the rakes…
The gates are secured again, and the boys left to gaze longingly at the greener grass.

The big business of organic food…

I’ve been thinking a lot about organic food recently, as several topics have crossed my path over the last week or two. On a mother’s forum I read the views of moms who buy organic milk versus moms who do not. A farmer friend sent me a concerned email about the recently introduced bill to remake the functions of the USDA and FDA into one concentrated food safety agency. One of the main fears around this bill is how it will affect small scale producers and organics. And just today, Aaron sent me a report of different organic milk brands, painstakingly rated by the Cornucopia foundation on criteria such as involvement in dairy operations, pasture available to cows, herd cull rate and more. This led me to do some checking out of the Cornucopia site and other information available there.
There is no mistake that interest in organic and local food is increasing, and overall, this is a great development. However, certainly for most consumers buying organic doesn’t mean they have any greater transparency about where their food is coming from, or that it is being produced with any of the notions often attributed to organic food, notions such as production resulting from a small family oriented farm, free roaming happy animals, and so on. This is not to disparage the organic industry, because there are many small scale farmers doing exactly what we as consumers associate with organic farming. But as this market sector has grown tremendously, big food companies haven’t wanted to miss the boat. One of the ways they’ve protected their economic interests is by getting involved – buying or creating organic brands, and lobbying through industry associations to alter standards that ostensibly will favor their interests more. Over at the Cornucopia site, I found this graphic to be particularly compelling. Many major organic brands have been acquired by a top 25 food company (such as Coca Cola, Kraft, Heinz and Cargill), and many organic brands are private label brands of larger supermarkets and food distributors (such as WalMart, Safeway, and Whole Foods). With the interest in and consolidation among organic food producers, it is nearly impossible for a consumer to really know what kind of entity is behind the food in question. Amazingly, at least as of 2007, there were a handful of brands that have held out as independents.
My own revelation was that of the organic milk brands we prefer, only one rated 3 cows in the survey. That brand is owned by HP Hood, not by the company we thought it was (they licensed the name). I am not totally dismayed by this; both are New England companies that I think have reasonable business practices, but there is still some level of deception here. The others rated no or one cow due to lack of information on the actual production methods. I still believe in and prefer organic milk, but this certainly removes any idealistic impression of who we are supporting when we buy these brands.
This in turn brings me back to the localvore movement. I know where I am now getting most of our meat and produce from – real people we have talked to, real farms we have visited that are nearby, real relationships we will cultivate this year. Before we’d really started this effort, about this time last year actually, I didn’t even think it’d be possible to get half of what we’ve found locally or done ourselves. It’s been an incredible journey and one in which I keep looking for the next steps.
Got milk?

Natural cleaning products…

Whoa, two blog entries in a few days? Amazing! Soon I will be snapping pictures to share again when the flowers and green stuff is up, but it’s not quite there yet. I’m missing the chickens after work by just about 15 minutes, they head in at 6:30 now. In a few weeks I should be able to hang out with them after work too. But I am digressing.
I have been meaning to write up some of my experiences with natural cleaning products, some good, some less so.
Over the last year we’ve been trying to migrate toward more natural products to clean around the house. We still have quite a mix of items we got before this, so we are really only partially there. But I have already tried many different cleaners. We’ve also tried to do this economically, which isn’t easy, but we’ve found some items we could get in bulk. I should add that we have not ventured into the vast world of making your own, and I know this can be done with ingredients ranging from castile soap to vinegar. But I haven’t had the time and inclination to do this.
The winners so far, and why I like them:
Charlie’s laundry soap
By far the star of the bunch, I got some after working out the math of a large petroleum based liquid container versus the Charlie’s soap. In addition, there were many great testimonials at the Charlie’s soap site. I got bags of powder, which are 80 loads each @ 1 scoop per load (which is tablespoon sized). The more you get the bigger the discount (and they also sell an enormous tub of it). Anyway, at the quantity I got, the cost per load is $0.17. By contrast, the cost per load of Tide powder is .$22 cents in bulk, and liquids are even more, like .$26 to $.28 cents. It’s not much, but over time that can add up quite a bit!
And Charlie’s is both made from natural ingredients and has no fragrances or irritants. Our clothes come out smelling clean and looking great. I’ve stuck all kinds of dirty stuff in the washer and it gets out nearly everything. Charlie’s advises you to run a mini load at first to strip your washer from stuff gunked up by other cleaners which tend to leave a residue on both the hoses and your clothes. They also have good info for hard water, or custom uses. Anyway, we’ve been using this soap since last summer now and I just love it. I still have some Kirkland soap left over and can’t bring myself to use it up instead of the Charlie’s. I will have to someday though.
Charlie’s all purpose cleaner
This is a more recent addition I decided to try after the success with the laundry soap. I’ve just started using it as a general purpose cleaner. It works well for floors, counter tops, bath fixtures, etc. I do not recommend it for glass or mirrors as it does not dry streak free. All in all, though, one container can be diluted to varying strengths and used for a wide range of purposes. I know many have tried it for much more than we have, and I’ll keep branching out as seems reasonable. For general cleaning, we are using 50% Charlie’s and 50% water in a spray bottle. The cleaner is clear, and has a slightly ammonia-like smell, but it is very faint compared to real ammonia.
Seventh Generation toilet bowl cleaner
Well, not particularly exciting, I mean, we’re talking about a toilet bowl here. But it works – it does a comparable job to traditional cleaners. It smells nice also.
Method hardwood cleaner
Tried this as we were looking for good ways to clean our floors and we didn’t want something that would leave a film. First, it smells great, like almonds, and does a nice job on floors that have been swept. It comes in a very easy to use bottle which makes mopping go quickly, too. The bottles are smaller but I was able to get a discount through Amazon Grocery.
The losers so far:
Seventh Generation dishwasher gel
Our dishes aren’t always clean and glasses sort of have a film to them. We have more to use but I don’t think I’ll be getting it again.
Seventh Generation dish liquid
I don’t mind this, but Aaron isn’t a big fan. It is clear and does seem a little more runny than a bottle of Dawn or Palmolive. We’ll try some others.
So, anyone using natural cleaning products – what do you like and what are you using them for?

And suddenly it is April!

Well, I promised more updates and so far haven’t really delivered to you, our faithful 5 or so blog readers, ;)
And now it’s April… The snow has finally melted from our huge shoveled piles. It is time for the flowers to be coming up (they are, but slowly), the grass to green (it’s sorta yellow on balance but the hints of green are there), and for us to ponder what the warmer weather will bring. To that end, I mentioned earlier that I won’t be doing a 1/2 Iron triathlon this year. In fact, I won’t be doing any triathlons or cycling this summer, but I will still be swimming and exercising. So what scenario is leading me down a non-tri season path? Some of you know the answer, but a few of you probably do not. My hints on why I’m not racing are below….
1. We will be doing some home projects which will take time.
2. I have to keep my heart rate reasonable.
3. I am being monitored medically.
4. We’ll be taking classes.
5. I’m going to be gaining a bunch of weight.
and last but not least,
6. We are preparing for something we’ve never done before!
Yep, you’ve probably figured it out. Aaron and I are becoming parents – we have a baby on the way. So, this is big news, and it’s real, and we’re very excited. I’m due in September!
And that is today’s blog entry.