Thursday, January 8, 2015

Slow Cooker Butternut Squash Lamb Heart Chili

In the interest of both budget and nutrition, I make a huge effort to feed my family organ meats regularly. Luckily since moving to Ireland, worrying about finding "grass-fed" meat and dairy is not really an issue. Phew. However, I still go out of my way to find meat that is free-range and organic. This is something I am even more serious about when it comes to organ meats.

On Saturday, I was at my local Natural Food Market trying to get as much nutrition as possible for my limited food budget. Along with some ground beef and chicken carcasses (for bone broth), I also picked up very reasonable lambs liver and lamb hearts.

I know my kids will eat the liver pan-fried (just don't tell them it's liver please) but I knew I would have to do something to disguise the hearts. I have made the PaleoMom's pumpkin chili before and really liked the flavor. So, I decided to do something similar, using ingredients I had on hand. I can't say this was a huge hit with my kids (they thought it was "too spicy") but I really loved it and they ate it at least. Sometimes they need to try something a few times before they come around, but even if they don't, this is a recipe I would make again just because I like it so much. I also suppose I could tone down the spice and see what they think. Anyway, it was fab and a great way to incorporate organ meats into your diet.

Slow Cooker Butternut Squash Lamb Heart Chili

1 butternut squash, peeled and chopped
1 sweet potato, peeled and chopped
3 small onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed
2 lamb hearts, chopped small (I remove the very obvious ventricles)
2 tbsp dripping or tallow or oil
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp chili powder
1 tbsp mild curry powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
2 tsp cocoa powder
1 jar of tomato passata
1 tsp salt

Heat oven to 350F or 180C.
1. Roast the butternut and sweet potato pieces in the oven for 25 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, sautee the onions, garlic and heart pieces in 2 tsp dripping til onions are translucent and heart pieces are nicely brown.
3. Add the chili powder, curry powder, cinnamon and nutmeg to the sautee pan, toss everything around to combine and then transfer these a crock pot.
4. Remove half the squash/potato pieces from the oven after 25 minutes and transfer to crockpot.
5. Keep cooking the rest of the  squash/ potato for 20 more minutes, til soft.
6. Add bay leaves, tomato passata and salt to slow cooker.
7. When the squash/potato pieces are done and soft, use a stick blender or food processor to puree.
8. Add puree to the crock pot.
9. Cook on low for 6 hours or high for 3. (This will depend a bit on your crock pot. The one I had in the US seemed to cook at much lower temps than the one I have here in Ireland. This one always has stuff bubbling! Not sure I like that.)

So, that's a very simple organ meat dish, that I find quite delicious. We ate it over rice, but you could easily have it with cauliflower rice or on its own. I am also thinking it might be a nice savory filling for my einkorn crepes. It might also be nice with beans added to the mix (if you eat beans).

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

My work-at-home productivity conundrum

As far as I can remember, I don't think that I have ever really made any serious New Year's Resolutions. This year, however, I have made a pact with myself regarding my own productivity and focus. One of the reasons is that, with my advancing age, I feel profoundly aware that I have not necessarily accomplished as much as I would have liked. Since getting pregnant and having kids, I sometimes feel like 10 years of my life has flashed by (even though the days often seemed very long) and I have barely kept my head above water.

I could blame many things for my dissatisfaction and sometimes I do start a blame game, but the only benefit to that really is that I also generally pinpoint something that I have control over and can change myself. 

As an artist, I am fortunate to be able to work from home. This is something I have always wanted. I like the flexibility, especially with a family, and I also really relish regular alone time. I do some freelance vfx work here and there but mostly I am working on my own art/music projects. Now that my children are both in school full time, I finally have consistent, regular and substantial blocks of uninterrupted time in which to get work done (after 9 years of wishing). Almost 7 hours a day! That's a lot. Unfortunately, I have not been nearly as productive as I should be!

There are a few problems that I have identified, most of which seem specifically related to working from home. Firstly, I don't like a mess or clutter, so its hard for me to turn a blind eye to things around the house that need to be done. My instinct is to clean up before I get to work. This might not be such a bad thing except that when I compile the list of "distractions (duties)" that I tend to before I get to work, my block of work-time starts to shrink immeasurably. What started out as a 6.5 hour block of time, can quickly become a 2 hour block of time after I have "just done these dishes" and "just picked up that lego" and "just called the dentist to make an appointment" and "just thrown in this load of laundry" and "just chopped these vegetables and put the dinner in the crockpot" and "just texted the piano teacher" and "just scheduled an oil change for the car" and even maybe "just checked facebook and twitter" etc...

If I then try to add regular, daily exercise into this window of time, combined with the occasional social invitation (which I am usually pretty good at declining) and the fact that I spread myself way too thin with (worthy, I think) activities (like writing a blog!) my nice, big block of time becomes severely compromised. Admittedly, I also need to learn to say "no" more often. Anyway, the day can just easily fly by without me getting much or any work done and yet its not as if I am sitting around eating bonbons.

I am sure this sounds like a ridiculous conundrum to those working parents who work outside of the home. They don't have the luxury of putting in a load of laundry while working, but I think there is something helpful about things being "out of sight, out of mind." At least it would be helpful to me!

So my productivity pact for this new year goes something like this: 
From the time I drop my kids off at school, until I pick them up I will NOT go online, answer the phone, do any dishes, laundry, tidying lego, sorting my desk, bill paying, errands, getting dinner in the crockpot, learning new software, facebooking, blogging, emailing, Grey Sparrow Goods, grocery shopping, socializing, not even exercise! I am clocking in to work after drop off and putting blinders on to all the things that constantly interfere with me getting my work done. These tasks will just have to fit in "after work" or not get done. I will just paint and work on art/music during working hours and that is it! (If I can achieve an 80% success rate, I will be satisfied and probably way more prolific. That's my goal!)

So, there you have it. I am hoping I have more to show for this year than a (barely) tidy house, a minimal level of fitness and well-fed children. I'll keep you posted as I am sure there will be bumps in the road, but I also bet I will come up with new and better solutions to fitting in all of the things that I need and want to do. So many things!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Einkorn Crepes

Today was a lazy Sunday morning and I wanted a quick and easy breakfast that also felt like a weekend treat. Last week, the kids tried pancakes (the way they are made here in Ireland) for the first time. In Ireland, pancakes are what would be called crepes in the US. Here they are just called pancakes and they are usually sprinkled with lemon juice and sugar. I remember how much my brother loved these as a kid. The kind of pancakes we eat in the US, thick and floury, are called American pancakes. There is also another style of pancake here, that they eat up North (Northern Ireland, to you non-Irish) which are a bit like American pancakes, but they are sweet and I have usually had them cold with butter and jam spread on them. They remind me of visiting my granny when I was little.

Anyway, today I decided to try my hand at pancakes or crepes. Because I try to minimize the amount of white flour my family eats, I usually go for alternatives to wheat flour. But lately I have been excited about trying Einkorn or Khorasan (ancient wheat varieties) whenever wheat flour is called for. Today's crepes were made with Einkorn and I think they tasted WAY better than regular crepes. My kids devoured them. They were super easy and I will definitely be making these again!

Here is the recipe:

Ingredients: (makes about 12 crepes)

2 cups einkorn (or regular) flour
4 eggs
1 cup milk
1 cup water
1/2 tsp salt
butter or oil for the pan

If you have time, sift the flour. Whisk in the eggs. Add the milk, water and salt and whisk til combined. Heat oil or butter in frying pan. Ladle or pour batter into hot pan (enough to thinly coat the bottom of the pan). Cook til edges are nicely golden and it seems solid enough to flip. Flip the pancake, cook a little bit more and then slide onto a plate. Super quick and easy!

Look at that lovely pancake!

Today we put a little maple syrup and blueberries on our pancakes. (These pancakes seem to need a lot less syrup than American style ones.) If I had a lemon, I would have gone with the traditional lemon and sugar. I will also be experimenting with an easy, homemade, heathier nutella type spread as well as using these for savory wraps. Stay tuned!