Hi there! Mama here.
You want to know the truth? Based on my track record with goal-setting, I really thought I'd be behind in my "30 Weeks" goals by now, but here I am, finished with week 4!

For this week's goal, I wanted to make homemade baby food for my 5-month-old. For both cheapness and goodness sake I make most of the food in my home from scratch--bread, pizza, biscuits, teething biscuits, smoothies, bran muffins, Goldfish, granola, Oreos--so why I never tried to make homemade baby food before now, I'll never know...because seriously, it is so easy. 

I found a recipe in my acquired-last-summer-but-didn't-get-around-to-reading-it-until-now copy of Start Fresh by Tyler Florence, famous chef and father of three. Basic recipes with minimal ingredients and simple instructions make this book super easy to use, even for the most  inexperienced cook (I mean come on, can you really call steaming a vegetable and then mashing it up a recipe?). 

For my baby, I decided to start with sweet potatoes mixed with golden potatoes. If you want to see what I did (and also see some seriously cute baby pics), follow the "Read More" link below!

Hi there! Mama here. 
Don't they look pretty?

Well, I finally finished loading all of the pictures for this post and phew! Talk about visual overload! I went a little overboard, but I feel like it was necessary. You see, this was my first time canning, and even though it's a fairly straightforward process, I think it's definitely something you need to see done once by someone who knows what they're doing. Thus, the insane amount of pictures.

So here's the story: It all started out with our annual summer pilgrimage to my best friend's family homestead in Rockford, Michigan. I was talking about my "30 Goals In 30 Weeks" blog series, and when I mentioned that one of my goals was to can something, what started out as a typical visit ended in an afternoon making delicious homemade pickles! 

It was a happy coincidence that I got the opportunity to complete my first "30 Weeks" goal with my best friend Tiffany, with expert advice from her mother Connie of Grand Shire Farm. Connie is a Master Gardener who sells herbal soup and dip mixes at Fulton Street Farmers Market, the oldest and largest farmers market in Grand Rapids. She was at the market bright and early Friday morning, and when she heard I'd never canned, she loaded up her trunk with fresh pickling cucumbers from the market so that we could can and pickle them!
I'll show you our process below, but if you're going to try this one yourself I highly recommend working with someone who's done it before! Never having canned, I had no idea all that went into it when I'd made it one of my 30 goals. You need a large pot called a "canner" with a special rack insert to hold the canning jars (you can get one for anywhere from $20-$70 on Amazon or at your local all-in-one store), a few tools to make the process easier, and then of course the pickles and seasonings to make the pickling solution that you pour in around the pickling cucumbers. 

We made two kinds of pickles in one canning session (bonus!): Sweet Bread and Butter Pickles and Dill Pickles. So consider yourself warned: This is a ridiculously long, photo-jammed tutorial!

PictureLittle Boy Blond and the Great Pumpkin!
Hi there! Mama here...and to my great joy, autumn is here, too!

As for news, we've recently moved (thus the lack of recent posts--sorry!) and we are recently expecting a new little one as well! It's so much nicer being pregnant in the cold months...let's just say I prefer to pull on a sweater over my bump instead of trying to attempt shorts and a tank top with a belly band, lol. Little Boy Blond is going to be a big brother (I have to call him "Little Boy" now, as there's going to be a new "Baby" around soon!), and we couldn't be happier. :)

With the move comes excitement as well as a minor disappointment: our living space has doubled, but the Sweet Home Kitchen is now about half the size as it used to be! I was bummed at first, but as I've purged unused cookware, a thrice-used cake-decorating kit, and a few random doodads that I can't remember ever using (A melon baller? What was I thinking?), I've found that the space is quite sufficient for everything I need

I'm also glad that this move was in the fall. Our last move was in the worst humid heat of August, and it was a real doozie. Not only did the cooler weather this time of year make moving easier, but it's really nice to settle into our new home with hot things like bread and roasts baking in the oven to share around our family table. For those of you who've never had the pleasure of autumn in Michigan, allow me a moment to digress...

There is nothing like autumn in Michigan. The weather changes so quickly that it catches us all off-guard...the dog days of summer melt into the glory days of fall, and all of a sudden the green, lake-lined edges of the mitten state are transformed into a sea of gold and rose as leaves begin to turn and fall. Ah, fall.

Along with the changes in color come the cool, biting winds that are as tangible as the crisp red apples you eat at the orchard as you search for the perfect pumpkin: not too big, not too small, and nicely rounded and presentable on at least three sides (because at least one side will be facing the wall, of course). Once you've got your pumpkin and pet a few farm animals, you can hop on the hay wagon and ride through a corn maze before heading back to the mill for cider and doughnuts that taste that much better because they're so fresh that the edges of the doughnuts are still crunchy and warm from the oil. Mmm. Fall.

Sadly, the apple crop on this side of the state wasn't too hot this year and many of the mills had to order apples from the western side, hiking up the prices from last year. While I've avoided the fresh made cider at $10.50 a gallon (yikes...guess I'll be buying it at the grocery store this year), I'll admit I did indulge in a few fresh doughnuts, just for the sake of tradition. ;)

But anyway, this post was supposed to say something about granola!

For the home (not for the shop), I've been working on mimicking a favorite product of mine: Nature's Path Pumpkin Flax Granola. This time of year I can't help but long for anything pumpkin (Have you tried the Better Homes and Gardens recipe for Melt-in-Your-Mouth Pumpkin Cookies? I have and um, yeah, amazing), and since I'm kind of a granola fanatic, pumpkin granola in autumn is a must. 

The first time I tried, I added way too much molasses to my recipe, which made it very, shall we say, robust. Not quite the light, airy texture of the Nature's Path version. Also, my puffed rice bits were larger than theirs (since I was experimenting, I went cheap and bought the massive, off-brand kind on the bottom shelf...big mistake), so it was kind of a weird mix altogether and not very pleasant.

Since I didn't feel like testing another batch (moving has been kind of overwhelming, to say the least) and really just wanted that delicious pumpkin seed flavor, I've resolved to dump a handful of pumpkin seeds in with my regular granola mix and call it a day. It's not quite the same as the Nature's Path version, but it makes for a great fall-flavored granola and nips that pumpkin fix! Now hopefully my chestnut craving will hold off until after Thanksgiving...

So here's to a new beginning, and to the holidays ahead! Be sure to watch the blog for more seasonally-inspired goodies!

Until next time,

Sweet Home à la Mama

What are your favorite fall recipes and/or pumpkin variations? Do share!
Hi there! Mama here.

Okay, so it turns out I've got a new obsession...well, it's not so much the obsession itself (good home cooking) that's new as it is the most recent inspiration--it's sort of like adding fuel to a well-stoked fire. You all know by now that I love to cook, but if I find a new means by which to do so or a particularly talented chef from whom to amass a broader collection of oh-so-mouth-watering recipes, well, expect nothing else from the kitchen that week but an onslaught of drool-worthy goodies! (Okay, so maybe Baby is the only one actually drooling...)

In any case, I headed over to smittenkitchen.com after a Google search for homemade Goldfish crackers, and boy, oh, boy did I hit the jackpot! It's run by Deb Perelman, a home cook who believes that cooking should be pleasant and simple. This website has some of the most delectable-looking homemade goodies I've found anywhere on the web (and trust me, that's saying A LOT), and I'm all but ready to chain myself to the kitchen counter until I've tried every last appetizing one.

Last night I tried the Smitten Kitchen recipe for whole wheat goldfish crackers and had incredible results. Not only are they the perfect size for Baby's nimble fingers (or Mama's, or Papa's, for that matter!), but the whole wheat flour gives them this hearty texture that tastes just like homemade should.

The only changes I made to Deb's recipe were out of sheer convenience. I couldn’t wait until our next shopping trip to make these babies with the recommended "loud" orange block of cheddar, so I used our leftover shredded Mexican blend from tortillas the night before and BAM! Delish.

Also, since we didn’t have any cookie cutters that small (and since I ran out of patience after hand-carving just two of the fishy shapes with a paring knife), I used a good old-fashioned apple corer to make sun-shaped crackers instead. The finishing touch was a few pokes with a 3-tined wooden fork to make air holes in each cracker, and voilà! About a hundred tasty little crackers as cute as buttons that everybody seems to love. They turned out great and I'm thinking that next I'll try a parm-and herb version...since it seems likely I'll be making these buggers weekly from here on out. ;)

Since I'm now super pumped to try as many Smitten Kitchen recipes as possible, I'm planning to pre-order Deb's cookbook, due out at the end of October. Thank you, thank you, thank you, Deb Perelman, for sharing your recipes, pictures, and talents online and now in print!

Until next time,

Sweet Home à la Mama

Have you tried any Smitten Kitchen recipes? Leave a comment and let me know which ones you've tried!