Friday, December 16, 2011

Mental Chew-Guest Post

Today is very special day for me as I'll be featuring a guest post written by my friend Val Curtis, owner of the delicious and fascinating blog, Mental Chew.  Val has an incredible life story filled with diversity.  Her passion for her family and their health through food, is evident in every line and photo of her fascinating blog. 

I became acquainted with Val through voiceBoks... A safe and comfortable meeting place for hundreds of mommy bloggers!

Welcome Val!

Q: Tell us about yourself.

I grew up "behind the Orange Curtain" of the OC and now I have been living life on an island in the Pacific Northwest for the last 14 years. Over the years, different avenues have allowed me to wear many hats, (Preschool teacher, SCUBA field researcher, marine biology camp instructor, legal secretary, grad student, tech geek, live aboard, middle school science teacher) however; now I am blessed to be a Stay at Home Mom. said with pride and a sense of thanks.

Growing up, I was removed from my food and now I am in it. Gardening and buying local meats are how we are creating meals these days. I am not afraid of butter, but margarine makes me cringe. I am mindful of how much sugar we use, and refuse to open a packet of anything identified as a sweetener. I believe in healthy meals, real desserts and giving in to rib-sticking goodness occasionally (although those are the most fun to write about!). Meal planning starts with produce in our house and at least two days a week, we have veggie-only meals. My blog, Mental Chew, is about appreciating seasonal gardening, food and fun for my island-style family. In addition, my camera is frequently in front of my face, so I have a little fun posting pics there as well. Overall, I am concerned about what is happening to our food source and through my writing, I hope to inspire moms and dads to get their kids outside, make great food from scratch with their families and get their hands in the dirt.

Q: How did Mental Chew get started?

When I found out I was pregnant with my son in 2006, my whole view on what I was eating completely shifted. It is a tremendous responsibility to think that every item that passes through your lips effects someone else directly. In addition, just before my pregnancy, I traveled to Costa Rica and to Peru where I gained a tremendous respect for the effect our food can have on our global environment.

So, I began to read and watch documentaries about where our food comes from and how it is being treated.

Thus began our journey to start our own garden. My husband was sucked into my vortex of research and seed purchasing and now he even claims to enjoy it. Love.

Along the way we have become a family of four. I am no longer a middle school math and science teacher. I am a mom. I am a mom who is striving to do the best for my kids and this blog is a record of my gardening and dietary journey with them. For them.

A friend commented that "I seem to 'have it so together'" and that life was a "bed of roses" here. I use this blog to share my silver linings. Some days they are so abundant, I could post 20 times. Some days, or stretches of days, I have to force myself to sit down and find them.

I am a taskmaster with two kids under five. Not a great combo. Today I aim to complete my thoughts.

Mental Chew is really about taking a little time to think before we eat. Convenience now doesn't lead to anything worth saving in the long term. As a result, I am trying to make conscious decisions for my family about what keeps their bellies, minds and hearts healthy and happy. Did I mention that this can only happen after I have had a good, strong cup of coffee.

Q: Where did your love for gardening and food start?

When I moved to San Juan Island the type of food, the quality of food and the community aspect of food created a shift for me. Potlucks were 2-3 times a week during the summer. Fresh caught salmon, oysters, crab, scallops, lingcod, prawns, homemade breads, salads and sides from personal gardens, friends who were like family gathering around fire pits with great wine, laughter. It was addictive and why my "summer stay" in '97 turned into a permanent move.

Cooking is something my husband and I love to do together and I have fallen into a group of friends who are all amazing cooks. They all fuel the fire for sure.

Before kids, we were wine, coffee, beer and food snobs. Now we are more frugal with our spending, but I definitely do not think our palates are suffering. Some of our favorite recipes like, Chicken Tikka Masala, Chicken Enchilada Soup and Butternut Squash Risotto are not our everyday meals, however, they do pop in frequently because we love the incredibly vibrant flavors they bring to our table.

Q: Do you think photos are important within blog posts?

I believe that we are drawn to visuals over text. It is why we use icons on our computer desktops and why my students would scan a page on a website and think the answer wasn't there (because the question wasn't about one of the graphics). One of my greatest pet peeves on blogs is when authors use graphics and do not credit their source when it is not one of their own originals. Perhaps this strikes a chord with me because I shoot all of my own photos and I have quite a few posts I never published because the photos I took were not worth posting.

When it comes to writing about food and gardening, a picture can be a wonderful expression of what my words cannot bring to the screen. When it comes to my kids, there are moments that my words could never do justice. There is a moment, a feeling, an image.

Q: What advice would you give to a frustrated gardener?

Think of each year as an experiment. You try something out, there may be success or failure, a combination or surprising outcomes. Whether the weather, a mold, a raccoon or Towhee throw a wrench into your "plan", it is all part of the experiment. You learn, you alter.

I would also advise to start small, have some success and then build on your successes. Herbs and lettuce will grow. Start there.

Q: How do you stay motivated and driven?

Blogging is my mental release as a stay at home mom. It is where I can complete my thoughts and complete a task. My days are filled with 100s of incomplete tasks and with blogging I click on "Publish" and I am done!

Gardening is an important past time for our family. It starts in the winter when all of our seed catalogs come in and we decide what we are going to grow and when. This is followed by planting starts and tending them, readying the soil, new projects and eventually our spring planting. Then it is all about tending, harvesting and preserving until October. Watching my kids pick peas off the vine for their snacks and strawberries for their pancakes is incredible motivation. Knowing where their food comes from and what was or was not used to promote its growth is reason enough.

I do fear I am raising veggie snobs though. My 4 year old turns his nose up to "less than fresh" produce.

This year was a tough one in the garden; it turns out an infant can be fairly distracting. We ended up finishing the summer and fall using a CSA program through a local farm and we were treated to amazing produce that was inspiring in so many ways. This summer I also learned to appreciate moments that my children unintentionally and intentionally create just for me and the garden has given them a place for unhampered personal expression.
September, October and November found our counters filled with apples, apples and more apples. I felt a little like Forrest Gump trying to find endless ways to use them up. The following recipe was inspired by the abundance, perhaps how the best recipes come into being. The following is the recipe, but click here for the story of the “Apple Thief”, perhaps one of my favorite posts.

Browned Butter Apple Bread

Yield: 2 - 9x4 loaves


        2 cups organic whole wheat flour
        2 cups organic all-purpose flour
        1/4 cup flax seed
        2 teaspoons baking powder
        2 teaspoons baking soda
        1/2 teaspoon salt
        2 tablespoons organic cinnamon
        1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted organic butter, at room temperature, divided
        1 cup granulated organic sugar
        1 cup dark brown sugar, packed
        2 large organic brown eggs
        1 cup organic yogurt
        1 cup organic sour cream
        4 cups of organic apples, peeled, cored and diced **
1) Preheat the oven to 450°F. Grease 2- 9x4 bread pans.

==Helpful Hint==
To peel, core and dice your apples try the following:
1) Cut off the top and bottom of your apples.
2) Peel using a potato peeler.
3) Use OXO Apple Corer and Divider to chop into slices
4) Dice slices into bite size pieces.

2) Add 3 tablespoons of butter over high heat in a skillet until just brown and then add diced apples for 2 minutes over medium heat. Remove from heat and set aside.
When it is brown, you are finished. DON'T BURN YOUR BUTTAH!

3) Mix together the dry ingredients (flours, flax seed, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon) and set aside.
4) In a mixer bowl, mix the remaining butter and add the granulated sugar and 1/2 cup of the brown sugar. Beat until fluffy.
5) Add the egg and beat until completely mixed. Add yogurt and sour cream and mix until smooth.
6) Slowly add in the dry ingredients and mix on slow for 2 minutes.
7) Fold in the apple chunks.
8) Divide the batter evenly among the prepared bread pans.
9) Sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup of brown sugar on top.
10) Bake for 20 minutes. Lower heat to 375°F and bake for an additional 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a loaf comes out clean.
11) Cool the loaves for 5 minutes in the pans, then turn them out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

** Apples are the number one item on the Dirty Dozen list. Buy organic or know your source.

All photos were taken by Val Curtis for Mental Chew. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter, StumbleUpon, Google Plus, Pinterest and several sites, including VoiceBoks, for moms who blog.

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  1. Thank you so very much for featuring MENTALCHEW on your site. I have to tell you the more I visit your site, the more it confirms that wine and chocolate are pretty much the best things anyone can offer. I am gathering up the supplies to make your Santa Hot Chocolate today. XO

  2. I'm so pleased to feature your site Val! I know my readers will really enjoy getting to know you! Be prepared to be filled with a heavy dose of Christmas Cheer...Santa Hot Chocolate is a magical brew!!

  3. I love Mental Chew! Thanks for featuring Val on your site! What a great woman!

  4. Ty, we so appreciate your visit! Val is the tops!!

  5. Pleasure meeting u, Val! The name Mental Chew sounds so cool! Oh, I love that gadget & it really cuts down a lot of time in food preparation. Lovely recipe!

    Rebecka, thks for hosting & I've enjoyed reading the post! I sincerely appreciate u dropping by my blog so often & always love seeing your wonderful comments.

    Happy Holidays to both of u & have fun blogging!

  6. Hi Rebecka,

    Will drop to visit Mental Chew!

    I would like to take this opportunity to wish you and your family a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

  7. Hi Rebecka,
    Nice to know another blogger! Will be visiting Val!
    Val, it is nice to "meet" you! Being a mommy sure changes everything! Will drop by to visit you soon.

    Rebecka, Merry Christmas to you and your family. Hope your Christmas is blessed with wonderful things and wish you a good and wonderful year ahead! Happy Holidays!!

  8. Hi Yal, nice to meet you. Hats off to you for planting your own veges. I am sure it is a very rewarding endeavor.

    Rebecka, great feature! I will have to pop over to Mental Chew. Wishing you and your family a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!


♥I really appreciate your comments♥


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