Friday, December 31, 2010

The Storm Cellar

I've finally got stuff under my "The Storm Cellar" tab up at the top of the page. I'll be adding to is as I find things, but it's a start. Enjoy!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Book to Recommend: Confederates in the Attic


I did an independent study on museums and museum work when I was in college. Strangely, one of the books my professor required me to read was Confederates in the Attic by Tony Horwitz. What did that have to do with museums? It's a book about the author's journey to discover the exploding interest and allure of the American Civil War, why people are obsessed with reenacting it and why it's being kept alive. This book was one of the most fascinating books I'd read in a long time. It might have helped that I, myself, was a Civil War reenactor for about 9 years.

I did finally get why my professor required me to read this book. The interesting thing about homesteading is that a lot of the skills associated with it are ones that have been handed down for generations. These skills are an important part of our culture and heritage and reenacting our history is just one way that people help keep it fresh, real, and poignant in our minds. Museums, whether living history or not, seek to accomplish that very thing - to bring history alive for all of us and help us relate to the people who went before us and to remember and value what they did.

Confederates in the Attic helps us discover what those Civil War soldiers did for us and why a long gone war still affects people today.


Rating: I'd rate this book a PG-13 for language, suggestive language, and some violence.

Monday, December 27, 2010

New Tabs

You may have noticed my new (or not so new) tabs up near the top of the page. I've recently just updated the "The Old Cookstove" tab. There is now a complete list of links to all the recipes I've posted here on Knotty Oak Homestead. Hopefully, this will make it easier for all of you (and for me) to find the recipes you want.

Also, check out the "Not So Dusty Tomes" tab for a list of nifty books, some with links. I'm hoping to get some more links up for that soon.

Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Snappy Gingersnaps


I was feeling sad that I had hardly done any Christmas cookie baking this season, so the other day I whipped out my favorite Gingersnap recipe and made some. These are so tasty and zingy and make a great pair with some creamy egg nog.


Ginger Snaps



Preheat oven to 350º F.

¾ cups shortening
1 cup sugar
¼ cup molasses
1 egg

Cream together. In a separate bowl combine:

1 ¾ cups flour
2 tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. salt
1 tsp. cloves
1 tsp. cinnamon
2 to 3 tsp. ground ginger (depending on how spicy you like it!)

Mix well, then add to the molasses mixture, mixing with an electric mixer until the batter is well combined. Roll the cookie dough into walnut-sized balls using your hands. Put a ½ cup of sugar in a bowl and roll the dough balls in the sugar until coated well. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet and flatten the balls slightly with your fingers. Bake for 10-12 minutes. The longer the time, the “snappier” they’ll be!

P.S. A funny story about making these cookies. It was Christmas Eve. I wasn't going anywhere. But I didn't have any plain shortening for making the gingersnaps. I only had my heavily bacon-scented lard sitting in the fridge that I had rendered myself. (Alas, I had let it cook far too long!) It was the only thing I had and I didn't want to use up my butter while I had the lard, so the lard went into the bowl with the sugar. The whole time I was making the cookies the kitchen reeked of bacon. I couldn't even smell the molasses, the bacon smell was so strong. My heart was filled with despair! Here I was trying to make my Christmasy cookies and this blasted bacon smell was ruining everything! I pretty much gave my cookies up for lost. I did persevere, however, and popped the cookies into the oven, thinking I had just wasted a bunch of time. Much to my surprise and gratitude, the bacon flavor baked out of them! It was my own Christmas miracle. :-) And we've been enjoying them immensely. In a few of the cookies, though, you can just barely get a slight hint of bacon. But if using bacon crumbles on a dessert is good enough to use on Top Chef, then why not in my cookies, I ask you? :-)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Homemade Christmas

We have been seriously decluttering lately. We've been giving away books, movies, clothes, and anything else we feel we don't need. It has been wonderfully liberating! We've got a ways to go and sometimes it's just finding the right home for something - like my old Civil War reenacting clothes that I sewed myself. You can't just give that to Goodwill!

As I unpacked our artificial Christmas tree late last month I realized that it was just taking up space year after year. We had been given the tree as a bridal shower gift from my old roommates since we were married around Christmas (just had our 5 year anniversary!). But we didn't need it. In fact, I didn't want it anymore. So, after this Christmas I'm thinking our tree will be the next to head out the door. Not to the dump, but hopefully to a home where they don't have a tree or wouldn't mind adopting ours.

I am really excited to reinvent how our family celebrates Christmas, not drastically, but by implementing thrifty, homemade skills infused with nature. Christmas is definitely about celebrating the birth of Jesus! But I also think that it is a wonderful time to celebrate the beauty of the winter and the Lord's creations. What better way than to bring the outside in with its bright greens and reds, its rich and piney smells. So, next year I'd like to either cut our own, small Christmas tree or buy a live potted tree. The live tree is the most environmentally friendly tree, which you can plant when you're done with it. It's nice if you have the land to do that. If you cut your own tree, I also really like the idea of once you're done with your Christmas tree, you can sit it outside and decorate it with birdseed ornaments as a winter treat for the birds. The ornaments provide food, but the tree itself provides shelter for nervous little birds who still want a treat without feeling exposed by feeding at a naked deciduous tree.

I'm also really excited to pare down on our store-bought ornaments and replace them with ones that I make with our kids. I remember my mom doing that with us. She had a box full of old Christmas cards. She helped us trace circles on the part of the picture that we liked, cut it out and then pasted it back to back with another circle. She threaded a string at the top and we had a pretty, 2-sided, custom-made ornament!

Here's a fun homemade idea. Besides the traditional popcorn-cranberry garland, here's a really fun idea for a felt ball garland from Jordan Ferney that you can bead yourself instead of having the standard metallic tinsel rope. I'm totally planning on making one of these!

Here are some more homemade ornaments from our very own tree that are easy and fun to make with kids.

Felt ice skates with paper clips for the skate part:


Beaded Wreath made by my talented step-mommy:


Pasta Angel - one of my favorites as a kid:

Cinnamon "Cookie" ornaments - mix equal parts Elmers Glue and ground cinnamon into a dough. Roll out between plastic wrap, cut with cookie cutters, gently press in beads if you like and let dry! Mmm! Nice and spicy!:

 Baby Jesus in a milkweed pod covered in glitter:


Paint your own homemade 1st Christmas ornaments!  They're inexpensive -less than 99 cents at Michaels:


Drum made from Q-Tips, Milk bottle caps, yarn and that plastic grid stuff you can sew yarn into... whatever it's called!:


 Clothespin reindeer with googly eyes:


Playdough Picture ornament (yes that's 5 year old me!):


Yarn Sheep made from a cardboard body, clothes pin legs and white yarn:


What are some homemade ornaments that you've made?

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Reuseable Food Wrap

I've been wondering if I would ever find a solution to replacing our ziplocs and plastic wrap. I am a big fan of Press 'n' Seal, just because it actually sticks, you know? Well, I was browsing on Progressive Pioneer and found this link on how to make your own reusable food wrap, replacing plastic wrap forever! It's made using fabric and beeswax. Wow! I'd like to give it a try. It looks really easy!

Reuseable Food Wraps*


What you’ll need:


1. Scraps of fabric, preferably sheeting weight, torn into squares the same width as your cookie sheets

2. Pure beeswax (a few votive candles work fine)

3. Parchment paper or Silpat

4. Clothesline, rigged up wide enough to hang one or two squares of fabric to dry

5. Clothespins, safety pins or paper clamps

6. Scissors or a paper cutter

7. Buttons, beads and string, if desired


What to do


Preheat your oven to 150° F. Tear or cut your fabric to size. Line your cookie sheets with parchment paper, and place fabric on top.

Using a vegetable peeler, shave beeswax onto your fabric. Don’t use too much, though; you may want to do a test piece so you get a sense of coverage. (I think we got it right on our third one and it was about half as much as I assumed we would need.)

Place in the oven until all wax is melted and soaked in, about 8 or 9 minutes.

Remove from oven and pick up with clothespins (careful, it’s a bit hot!). Hang to dry about 5 minutes.

Use a paper cutter with a decorative edge or pinking sheers to cut a pretty edge.

Check out the Abeego website for closure ideas or just get creative!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Continuation of Turkey

This time of year there are thousands of recipes floating around out there on the internet about how to use all your leftover turkey. I'm a simple gal. I'll try a fancy recipe every now and then, but mostly my food is simple.
I just thought I'd share with you a small list of what I've done with my leftover turkey.

(A note: I cook my turkey in a bag, debone it and then reheat the meat in all its juices with the fat skimmed off for the Big Meal on Thanksgiving. That way the turkey is tender and juicy - even the white meat! I store the turkey in its juices in the fridge, that way when its reheated all the juices are still there. Yummy!)

1. Turkey, Rice & Vegetable Soup
I made a potful of broth from the turkey carcass, a couple of carrots, a chopped onion and some herbs and spices. I used some broth to make the soup, added some cooked brown rice and some frozen mixed vegetables. Simple. (I froze the rest of the broth to use later.)

2. Warm Turkey Sandwich.
Bread, Miracle Whip (none of that nasty mayo for me, thanks!), mustard and turkey. Classic.

3. Italian Turkey Melt
A slice of ciabatta bread with turkey and cheese heated in a 350º oven. I made a homemade pasta sauce and poured that over.

4. Fried Rice with Turkey
Stir fried shredded carrots, leeks, chicken bouillon base and a scrambled egg mixed up with some leftover brown rice and the turkey.

5. Oriental Turkey
Turkey simmered in a store-bought Asian sauce (homemade is great too!) and served with frozen stir-fry veggies and rice. We love the brown rice around here!

Things I plan on doing:
-Turkey Pot Pie
-Turkey Tacos
-Whatever occurs to me on the fly...

How do you use your leftover turkey?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Short Term

My whole life I've considered myself a writer. I started writing in 1st grade and since then had ambitions to be published and whatnot. I wrote my first "book" in 7th grade - at least the first draft. It was terrible, of course. I haven't finished a long story since then. I'm beginning to see that I might not be cut out for long term projects. I just have a hard time envisioning the long term goal in the minuscule day-to-day things. Even in admitting this my soul cries out, "No! It's not true! You can do it!" I don't want to be a quitter, I just think that I have greater success with shorter-term goals. Like cooking and baking. Very short term. Short stories and haiku. Short term. I lost 30 lbs. in 6 months (before my 2nd baby came along). Relatively short term. I saved $2000 in a year. (No rent, free food, and putting my money in a bank that I didn't frequent except to deposit the odd amount of cash. It was one of the biggest successes of my early 20s life!) Semi-short term.

Short term is so satisfying. It makes you feel like you accomplished something. And it's a real confidence booster. When it comes to long term goals my knees start to quiver and my tummy feels like jello. I know long term goals are really important. And I've heard all kinds of ways to get you on the path to accomplishing those long term goals. Like writing out your plan and all the baby steps along the way. Visualize yourself at the end...

But it's just so hard to visualize that distant future. It's so hard to realize that little actions I do now add up to achieving what I want in the end. Like the book I want to publish someday. Like buying that house with land! Like finishing the 3 quilts I have in the works... (Quilts are long term, by the way. At least in my mind they are, because I insist on doing them the slow way. Crazy, I know. But rotary cutters terrify me!)

You know what it really takes for long term goals besides insane organization? Discipline. Rock hard self-discipline. I used to be so good at that. Not sure what happened. I think major life changes will do that to you; they kind of throw you for a loop and leave you feeling a little dazed. I still feel that way since my second baby. And it takes gumption. That stubborn insistence, that heck yeah, you can do it! I've got loads of that.

So one quilt square, one sentence, one dollar at a time. I'll make it. Just as soon as I find where I put my self-discipline. It's around here somewhere, I swear!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Posting...

I know I haven't posted much in awhile. Sorry about that. My daughter's been having a lot of doctor appointments and my weeks get busy without me even trying! I really need to slow down a little. I've been reading on the Progressive Pioneer blog and she has started to physically write her blog posts to a friend who then scans them and posts them onto the blog. I really admire that.

I do love to write and receive letters in the mail. I have a good friend that I've corresponded with mostly through the mail for 4 years and it's been a lovely experience. She just moved to Scotland for school and so now I'll be receiving post from there! I think that's pretty exciting. Not nearly as exciting as an e-mail from Scotland. And no cool stamps either.

I hope to post more things soon.

My Camera!

Oh joy! I finally got my camera in the mail after a nightmare of it being defective and the seller not sending it back to me and refusing to communicate and finally getting my money back and buying another camera and waiting and waiting for it to come in the mail... Whew! I'm so excited! Beautiful pictures, here I come!!! :-)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Beets & Pictures

I got a sweet deal on beets at the farmer's market a couple weeks ago. I finally got around to canning them yesterday. There is something so beautiful about a jar of pickled beets sitting there sparkling in their fuchsia-colored juice. It makes me happy. :-)

On a different topic...

I am a big fan of taking my kids' milestone pictures myself. Not only is it free to take the picture yourself (no sitting fees!), but you can print as many as you want and you own complete rights. (A big tip even for photographers with little experience - take the pictures on a cloudy day! That way you get the best lighting without needing any fancy lights. Not to mention no one is squinting in the sun.)

My first attempt was an autumn one of my son at 10 months sitting in colorful autumn leaves with a small bright orange pumpkin in his lap. It's one of my favorite pictures of him. I've only done this with my kids, and have never attempted a family portrait this way. However, this past weekend we discovered a great and thrifty way to get family pictures done. It's by no means a new idea, but it was new for us. A couple from our church wanted to get family pictures taken, and I mentioned that we did too. So, we arranged to take each other's family pictures!

Photo by Ryan Faggard

We went to the beautiful field across the street from where we live and snapped some quick photos before the sun went down. It was pretty chilly and our poor kids were getting shivery by the time we went back to our house for hot cocoa. I am very pleased with the photo results and now I have pictures to send out for Christmas! Hooray!

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Homemade Spanish Rice

Okay, so maybe you already make Spanish Rice at home. But I have to admit something. For a long time I was dependent on Rice-A-Roni Spanish Rice. It was easy, tasted fairly good, and it was convenient. We always added black beans and diced tomatoes to dress it up. Well, finally, finally I decided to branch out and make it from scratch. (I'm doing it one recipe at a time.)
As soon as it was cooking I knew it was far better than the boxed stuff. It smelled amazing. And when I tasted it - oh my goodness! Rice-A-Roni can't touch this stuff! So, here you go. I'm sharing the good stuff.

Spanish Rice
(Adapted from a Simply Recipes recipe.)

2 Tbsp. olive oil (can use up to 1/4 cup)
1 medium onion, chopped fine
1 garlic clove, minced (I used a huge tablespoon of pre-minced garlic)
2 c. medium or long-grain white rice, uncooked
3 cups chicken stock*
1 Tbsp. tomato paste
1 cup diced fresh or canned tomatoes
A hand-sized hunk of leftover roast or rotisserie chicken, chopped (optional)
1 cup black beans, rinsed if from a can
Pinch of oregano
1 tsp. salt

In a medium skillet brown the rice on medium-high heat. Next throw in the onion and minced garlic and saute, stirring frequently until onions are soft - about 4 minutes. 

In a separate saucepan, bring the chicken stock to a simmer. Stir in the tomato paste, tomatoes, chicken (optional), black beans, oregano, and salt. Add the rice to the broth. Bring to a simmer again. Cover. Lower heat and cook 15-25 minutes, depending on the type of rice and the instructions on the rice package. Turn off heat and let sit for 5 minutes. 

Serves 4 to 6.

*I usually cook my chicken breasts or thighs in water to keep them moist and then save the brothy water in a container in the fridge. This is a really simple way to make your own broth without having to buy a whole chicken and boil the carcass with veggies and herbs and stuff (which I do too, and it's so yummy!). And you don't ever have to buy broth or stock. Nice!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

No-Shampoo Update

Back in September I tried going shampoo free by using only baking soda and vinegar for about a month. Here is my report:

1. Baking soda did seem to clean, and it left my natural oils in my hair. The problem is, is that my hair is naturally oily, so this oil built up until it was a bit ridiculous and kinda gross. I washed my hair about every 3 days. This might have been part of the problem? Not sure.

2. At least for me, it was a bit difficult finding the right proportions of baking soda and how often to use the vinegar rinse. I ended up using too much baking soda and it built up on my scalp. Maybe I didn't rinse well enough? This could be an issue for people with thick hair like me.

3. Using too much baking soda also left my scalp feeling itchy. I used a few drops of tea tree oil in the vinegar rinse and it seemed to help. However, using one too many drops made my hair really, really greasy. In fact, I had to go back and wash my hair again it was so gross. A better alternative for itchy scalp is a raspberry tea rinse, but I didn't have any raspberry tea at the time.

4. The apple cider vinegar rinse is awesome! I was surprised with how it left my hair feeling so soft. This is something I will be continuing to use instead of conditioner. I could only use the ACV rinse now and then, though, because it made my hair too greasy when I used it every time.

5. I did supplement my hair-washing with some organic shampoo. I used this about once every 10 days. I'm not sure if this hindered my hair "going back to its natural state", but in my case I seemed to need it.

Needless to say, I will not be continuing washing my hair using baking soda. I might try it again sometime in the future, but for now I am using the rest of my organic shampoo, and then I will be trying out a recipe for homemade shampoo using glycerin and chammomile flowers. I'll let you know when that happens and give you the recipe!

Applesauce and Other Things

I'm sorry I haven't been as diligent in posting lately. My life just got a whole lot busier as now I'm in charge of activities at my church. In 2 weeks we've had a Trunk or Treat, a service activity and coming up this Friday we have a talent night. On top of that my kids have had a few unexpected doctors appointments and with only one car, we've gotten stretched pretty thin! Whew! I have some new plans for my blog, so stay tuned. I just need to be able to sit down and do it.

Anyway, awhile back I canned about 18 quarts of applesauce. I have to report that it is now all gone! I had no idea that my 3 year old and 8 month old would eat it so quickly! It was like they inhaled it while I wasn't looking. My toddler begs for it every day. I really am grateful that he begs for applesauce and not something else. And since we don't put sugar in it, it's even better!

We went back to Larriland Farms to pick more apples, which I finally canned yesterday, but I only got 6 quarts out of that. What am I going to do? There's no way 6 quarts will last very long. It has been an interesting experiment in learning how much we would really need of one thing to last a year. I think I would need about 100 quarts of applesauce to last until next apple season. You really do need a whole cellar or basement to store enough food for your family.

Here are a few ways we go through applesauce so fast:

- We put it on pancakes and french toast, drizzled with a little bit of pure maple syrup.
- If a recipe calls for oil, I replace half of the oil with applesauce for a lighter recipe.
- Eat it in a big bowl with a spoon.

Today I also opened up a jar of blueberry jam that I canned this past spring. Mmmm! It was delicious and like a taste of the sunny day we picked the blueberries. I have to say I am very protective of my blueberry and raspberry jams. They are definitely something that we savor slowly, especially since we only have about 4-6 half-pints each!

Happy November! That wonderful time of Thanksgiving is coming upon us with the wonderful comfort foods of the holiday. If you're lucky, I just might share my mom's wonderful cornbread stuffing recipe...

Friday, October 29, 2010

A Book To Recommend: Put 'Em Up!


Put 'Em Up: A Comprehensive Home Preserving Guide for the Creative Cook was another awesome find at the Mother Earth News Fair. Yes, it's a canning book, but it's nothing like your average Ball Blue Book. The book is filled with beautiful photos of canned food with endearing hand-labeled tags. And the recipes are interesting and unique. Vinton covers the canning basics at the beginning of the book and then launches into the recipes. The book is organized by ingredient in alphabetical order. This is a unique way of organizing a recipe book, but it makes sense to me! You can choose whatever ingredient is in season and try all her recipes. For example: for beets she has Pickled Beets with Cumin and Cloves, Pickled Beets with Dill, Beet Relish. Vinton also has a simple picture key that shows at a quick glance the various ways an ingredient can be preserved.
The only downside is that there aren't enough recipes per ingredient. Only 3 recipes for beets! I'd love to see more of what can be done in canning some of these things. Below is what you can find inside:

Table of Contents
Part One: Techniques
-Food Preparation Methods
-Food Preservation Methods
-Working in Groups
- Things That Will Get You Into Trouble
- Things That Look Bad But Aren't Dangerous

Part Two: Recipes
- Apples
- Asparagus
- Beans
- Beets
- Berries
- Cabbage
- Cantaloupe
- Carrots
- Cauliflower
- Cherries
- Chilies
- Citrus
- Corn
- Cucumber
- Fennel
- Figs
- Garlic
- Grapes
- Herbs
- Mushrooms
- Onions
- Peaches
- Pears
- Plums
- Radishes
- Ramps and Scapes
- Rhubarb
- Strawberries
- Summer Squash and Zucchini
- Sweet Peppers
- Tomatillos and Green Tomatoes
- Tomatoes
- Watermelon

Overall, this book is a great adventure into canning, whether for the beginner or for someone more experienced. You just might find a new favorite recipe!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Makin' It From Scratch: Chocolate Almond Coconut Bars

Oh heavenly almonds, chocolate, and coconut!

If you like Almond Joy candy bars, then these are for YOU! I was eating a piece of my son's Halloween candy, an Almond Joy, and as I was thoroughly enjoying it I was thinking, "Hmm. I wonder if I could make these." I did a search online and Bingo! I found a recipe. The next day I whipped up a batch and WOW. Well, do yourself a yummy favor! You just have to try them.
P.S. You might have to share them. This recipe makes a lot.

Chocolate Almond Coconut Bars

7 oz. sweetened condensed milk (half a can)
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup powdered sugar
7 oz. (half a pkg.) shredded, sweetened coconut
7 oz. shredded, unsweetened coconut (I got this at the health food store)
12 oz. semisweet chocolate chips
12 oz. bitter sweet chocolate chips (or you can do 24 oz. total of just semisweet chips)
1 cup whole dry roasted almonds*

Blend the condensed milk and vanilla. Add the powdered sugar a little at a time until smooth.
Grind up the coconut in the blender until the coconut pieces are really small. Stir the coconut into the condensed milk mixture. The mixture should be firm and roll into a ball.

Press the coconut mixture firmly into a greased 9x13x2 inch pan. (a smaller pan for thicker coconut bars) Greasing your fingers with butter helps. Chill in the fridge until quite firm, about 2 hours.

In a double boiler over hot (not boiling) water, melt the chocolate stirring often until smooth and all the chocolate is melted. (I put the chocolate in a glass bowl over a saucepan of water.)

Remove the coconut mixture from the fridge and cut into 1x2 inch bars. Put 2 whole almonds atop each bar.

(For this next part work quickly because if the coconut mixture gets too warm it starts to fall apart.)

Set each coconut bar with almonds onto a fork and dip it into the chocolate. Tap the fork against the side of the pan or bowl to remove any excess chocolate. (Be careful. The almonds will slide off!) Place on a waxed paper-lined tray to set. Once the chocolate is hard, enjoy! Makes about 38 bars.

(I had to put mine in the fridge to set. I don't think I let my chocolate temper long enough.)

* For homemade dry roasted almonds, put raw, whole almonds on an ungreased cookie sheet in a 350ºF oven and bake for about 15 - 20 minutes. Allow to cool before using. After cooling, test an almond to make sure it's done. It should be very crunchy and not chewy at all.

NOTE - 11/02/2010: Dipping the bars tended to be really difficult and a friend of mine who tried it also had a hard time. I think if you poured some chocolate in a bowl, put the bar on that with the almonds, and then poured the chocolate over it, then lifted it out with a fork, it would be much easier. I'll have to try that next year.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Ricotta Cheese

I made ricotta cheese for the first time last week. I was amazed, AMAZED, at how easy it was. Why haven't I been doing this all along? I used the ricotta for some lasagna which I made using 7 noodles. It was awesome and so tasty. Why buy ricotta - which is really expensive - when you can make it in under an hour yourself?


How to make Fresh Ricotta Cheese:

(From chickens in the road)

1 gallon fresh whole milk
1 teaspoon citric acid
1 teaspoon cheese salt

Pour milk into a large stainless steel pot. Add the citric acid and cheese salt. Heat on medium-high until the milk reaches 195 degrees.

It will seem as if it takes a long time to achieve the proper temperature, but you’ll get there in under 30 minutes. (You can’t just stick your heat on high because you’ll scorch the milk–I set my burner right between medium and high). Stir infrequently, just enough to avoid scalding the milk on the bottom of the pan. (I just move the spoon around the bottom of the pot gently every few minutes.)

You’ll notice curds beginning to form on the surface of the pot.

Keep checking the temperature using the dairy thermometer.

By the time it reaches 195 degrees, the milk will have separated into curds and whey.

Isn’t that awesome? You’ll feel as if you’ve performed a magic trick the first time you do it.

Turn off the heat and let the pot sit for about 10 minutes. Cross your fingers the cat doesn’t wake up and eat it when you’re not looking.

After 10 minutes, line your colander with the butter muslin.

Using a large slotted spoon, transfer the curds to the muslin-lined colander.

Look at that! Is that cool or what?

Once all the curds are transferred to the colander……

….tie the muslin together.

Then tie it onto your sink faucet.

Let drain for another 30 minutes, or to desired consistency. (There are numerous uses for all that leftover whey, but that’s a whole ‘nother post!)

When the cheese is finished draining, untie the muslin and transfer the ricotta to a container. In this case, I used two pint-size glass jars. Store in the fridge for up to two weeks, and use as you would with any ricotta–only this is better because you made it. I see Pepperoni Lasagna!

Behold! Cheese!!!


The recipe calls for cheese salt, but I just used non-iodized table salt.
I also used organic milk. The fresher the milk the better. You can use regular milk too. Just don't use ultra-pasteurized milk because it won't make cheese. If you use organic milk, check the container.Some of the big organic milk companies ultra-pasteurize their milk to make it last longer.

Give this cheese a try. You'll be amazed too!

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Most Amazing Pizza Sauce EVER

My husband and I are picky about our pizza sauce. It has to be thick, rich, and immensely flavorful. After all, the sauce is what sets off the flavors of everything else on the pizza. The following recipe fits the bill for us. I found it on Pioneer Woman's food blog posted by ericalea. I've added a few of my own adjustments. I wonder if I'm able to can this stuff....

(Amazing) Homemade Pizza Sauce

1 lg. or 2 sm. cans tomato paste (should equal 12 oz.)
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 tsp. garlic powder
2 tsp. onion powder
4 tsp. dried oregano
2 tsp. dried basil
1 tsp. dried thyme
1/2 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. brown sugar
2/3 cups water (approx.)

Mix all ingredients together until thoroughly combined. You may like to put in more or less water according to how thin or thick you like your sauce. Spread it on your prepared pizza dough and you're ready to go!
Makes enough for 1 1/2 - 2 pizzas (depending on how thick you like your sauce.) Store extra sauce in the fridge.

What we like to do with our leftover sauce is to make mini pizzas a few days later using toasted whole wheat homemade bread and any leftover pizza toppings. Broil them in the oven and they're an easy, tasty lunch!

PLEASE try this stuff. It is amazing.

Fancied-Up Tomato Soup

My whole life I've eaten tomato soup from a can (the condensed kind). My mom would usually add milk, but I never liked it much. My husband makes it using water, which I like much better. Tomato soup was never really been my favorite. Usually, I'm not much of a "soup" person because I have this weird thing against liquid food. It just makes me gag after a bit.

Then came the wonderful day when we tried the Tomato Basil Bisque from our grocery store. Oh my goodness! I had no idea tomato soup could be so delicious and so classy!
Recently, I tried to recreate the soup using canned soup, since that wonderful store stuff is $4 for a pint. Yikes!

So, here's my version:

Fancied-Up Tomato Soup


1 can condensed tomato soup
1 can of water (using the tomato soup can of course)
1 can diced tomatoes, including juice
1 Tbsp. dried minced onions
2 Tbsp. fresh basil, sliced thinly
dash of garlic powder
dash of cayenne pepper (for a little kick!)
dash of freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup cream (more or less according to your taste)

Whisk together the tomato soup and water. Add the rest of the ingredients except for the cream. Heat until simmering. Stir in the cream right before serving.

Monday, October 4, 2010

A Book to Recommend: Don't Throw It, Grow It!: 68 windowsill plants from kitchen scraps


When I was looking around at books for sale at the MEN Fair, this book just sucked me in. It was the quirkiest, weirdest book about growing that I'd ever seen. I had to get it, especially with the fun growing potential with my kids.

This book teaches you how to grow everything from peanuts to pomagranates to pineapples all from the seeds and roots and tops that you would normally throw away. (Did you know you can grow new leeks from the rooty ends you cut off?)

Each plant entry features the common name, the Latin name, plant type, growth rate, method of growing, light requirements, a detailed description of what the plant looks like, how to grow it and what the fruit tastes like. Throughout the book there are also interesting, related origin facts. The book is filled with fun, retro art drawings of the plants and the easiest plants to grow are marked with an "EASY" starburst. The text print is green with accents of darker green and bright orange used in the artwork. The green text is rather soothing on the eyes. A helpful index is also located in the back.

Chapters:
1. nitty-gritty growing techniques
2. plants from common vegetables
3. plants from fruits and nuts
4. plants from herbs and spices
5. plants from latin america
6. plants from asia

The only downside is that leeks aren't mentioned in the book. I think it's got a good overview of a lot of plants, fruits, and seeds you can grow from scraps, but obviously not all are mentioned. Some plants I've never heard of are mentioned, so while I don't know if I'll ever grow or eat them, they are interesting to read about. It would be nice if the book was spiral-bound as well so the book can be laid flat for easier reading-while-doing.

Overall, this book is a fun, funky read that gets me really excited about growing something on my windowsill this winter. It helps bring exotic plants to your own home and trying the plants described in its pages is an adventure waiting to happen! I think it would make a great gift for gardeners at any skill or age level. Check it out!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Mother Earth News Fair


To celebrate my 30th birthday, my sweet husband took us all to the Mother Earth News Fair in Seven Springs, PA on the 24th - 25th. It was a 3 1/2 hour drive (5 if you count a nursing stop and a crazy amount of traffic on the PA Pike) and as you can see from the picture above, it was beautiful! The trees were just starting to turn. The fair was packed. Every class I went to was standing room only. And don't even ask me about lunch time. Insane. But it was a lot of fun with my family and I learned a lot from the 3 workshops I was able to attend. (We only went on Saturday.) Not to mention I bought a few books, a Mother Earth News t-shirt, a beautiful wood honey spoon and wooden toaster tongs. Cool! Happy birthday to me! Yay!

I wanted to share a little of what I learned, so here it is in a nutshell:

Promoting Heirloom Apples and Heritage Animal Breeds
- It's important to share the story of a particular heirloom apple or seeds or animal breeds to get people excited about it. Like "I got these seeds from Ol' Betsy down the road who's been growing this tomato for 50 years."
- There are thousands (about 14,000?) varieties of apples; we only see a dozen or so varieties in the stores. The heirloom strains will disappear if we don't advocate them, share them, and grow them.
- Grow the apples that have been in your area for a long while. These have acclimated to the climate and will survive the best.
- There are hundreds of abandoned orchards with unidentified apple trees. If you have one near you, find out what kind they are. It could be a long-lost heirloom apple!

Growing and Preserving Heirloom Tomatoes
- get your seeds from seed savers exchanges
- when saving seeds, give the heirloom plants some distance so they don't cross breed and isolate the flower with a fabric bag that will grow the tomato you want to save the seeds from
- to save the seeds, scoop out the pulp and seeds from the tomatoes and put them in a container with some water and let it sit or "ferment" for 48 hours. This dissolves the slimy sac around the seeds. Also, the good seeds will sink to the bottom and the bad seeds will stay floating in the ferment soup. Pour out the "soup" until the seeds are left. Dry on a screen with plenty of air circulation. When you're sure they're dry, label and store in a glass jar. (This is so the little moisture in the actual seed won't evaporate.)

Sustainable Beekeeping
- The golden rule of beekeeping: Let nature take its course. If the bees don't put it in the hive, you don't put it in the hive.
- Bees have been around thousands and thousands of years and have survived without us. They know what they're doing.
- When starting new bees, it's best to do it in the spring to give them a chance to build up their winter stores. Don't harvest your honey until the next spring, so that you're sure they've got enough food through the winter.
- Don't give them sugar water when starting out, give them honey! (See the first tip.)
- Top bar hives are pretty cool. It allows the bees to build natural-sized honey comb instead of providing them a comb and dictating to them what size to build.
- If bees want to swarm, let them (it's perfectly natural). Just make a new home available for them.
- Let bees naturally reselect their queen when the old one is slowing down instead of you replacing the queen every year.
- You will get stung. (Yikes!)


This fair was loads of fun (even if it was insanely packed), and I will be posting book reviews soon of the books that I bought! Yay!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Popsicles of Death?

So, my 3 year old son needed some blood to be drawn at the doctor's office the other day. It was not a happy ordeal, I'm sure you can imagine. It took me and a nurse to hold him down and another nurse to draw the blood. Poor guy. In his heart-wrenching tears afterwards he asked for popsicles and I told him we'd go to the store and he could pick out any popsicles he wanted.

He decided on some Dora the Explorer popsicles that came in different shapes and colors. Definitely an attraction for a toddler. (Note: He has no clue who Dora is. We don't have TV.) Well, we get home and I'm looking at the ingredient list. I started kicking myself instantly: water, liquid sugar, high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, various fruit juices, turmeric oleoresin (what?), and ice structuring protein (huh?) Lesson #1 - Having a toddler pick out their own junk food isn't a good idea.

This is the first time that I've researched the unknown ingredients in food that I've bought, but I did learn some things. Oleoresin is a fatty byproduct leftover from extracting spices into their powdery form and helps the popsicles keep their shape. And ice structuring proteins are proteins found in organisms that can withstand below freezing temperatures (like certain types of mushrooms.) These popsicles I bought were "slow melt" which sounds freaky to me.

In the end, the popsicles didn't have bizarre toxic chemicals (at least none that I'm aware of.) But I definitely want to stay away from corn syrup if I can. Next time - I'm making our own popsicles! After all, it's one of the easiest treats to make ever. (Or we can just buy the sugar free fruit popsicles too if it's an emergency like a post-blood draw...)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Simplicity In the Kitchen

Happy Autumn Equinox! Yay! Autumn is officially here! :-)

When it comes to kitchen gadgets, I love them. I've been lucky in that I haven't had to buy a lot of them. I've inherited a lot from my mom and was given a lot of nice stuff at our wedding. What I haven't been given I've found at the thrift shop. (A pristine wood rolling pin for $3!) I'm sure I could stand to pare down a bit with my kitchen stuff (and my husband would whole-heartedly agree). We've been decluttering our whole house and it has been very liberating. I guess I should tackle the kitchen next. And just to point out, I did pare down some of my kitchen things when we moved.

I love this article that I found "A No-Frills Kitchen Still Cooks". The biggest thing that I got from this is that he said you don't need a microwave. *gasp* Are you kidding me? Really? Now, I haven't always had a microwave and growing up we never had one, but those little boxes of magic are just so, so easy to become attached to! It's really a joke that I am so attached to mine. Me, who can cook marginally well on a hearth and over a campfire and can really crank it out on the stove. Living microwave-free just requires a little more preparation and patience and food ends up with more nutrition. And just as the guy says in the article, "Imagine the counter space!" And, boy, could we use more of that! (Our kitchen in this new place is half the size of what we moved from.)
What do you think? Should I give our microwave away? Oooooh, it's so hard! I'll have to think about this one.

Just like he does in the article, I made a list of things I can't live without in my kitchen:

1. my Rada paring knives - We got these for our wedding and I remember growing up with my mom using one. They last forever. All you need is a good sharpener (I have a manual one) and you're good!
2. Jelly roll baking sheets - I try to stay away from aluminum as it's not a good metal to ingest, but these baking pans are totally sturdy and amazing!
3. Food processor - I got mine from my mom and I think that thing is 30 or 40 years old. It's still going strong. Unfortunately, I only have one blade attachment for it, but it still works!
4. Wooden Spoons - I use them for everything except cooking meat.
5. Silicone spatula - these are awesome. They can handle high heat and there are some nice sturdy ones out there.
6. Flexible cutting mats - these are nice because you can bend them to help get your veggies aimed into your pot with out scraping or corralling with your hands. Mine are getting a bit beat up and they have a permanent curve to them. Sometime you have to put them under something flat and heavy to get them to become flat again.
7. Hand mixer - my nice one with a retractable cord broke, so I got a new cheap one. It works. You really can't bake much without it - unless you have amazing wrist strength and a ton of elbow grease.
8. A large pot - great for cooking spaghetti, or making a big batch of chili or cooking jam for canning. The list goes on and on.

Nope, I don't have a bread machine or a stand mixer. I've contemplated getting one of both, but I really don't need them. And I certainly don't have the counter space.

I think I'm steeled for decluttering my kitchen now... take deep breaths, Sarah!

P.S. I would still like an immersion hand blender. How cool that you can blend liquid stuff! And a toaster oven. Then I could get rid of our toaster and save energy when we need to bake little things instead of heating up the honkin' huge oven. Maybe someday! I did get some birthday money.... :-) How lame that I would spend it on kitchen stuff, huh? haha!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Nature Surprises Once Again

I am truly amazed at how nature can still surprise. I thought my tomato plants were dead and gone. But since I posted last about my tomato plants (and completely given up on them), they've made a real comeback! They've sprouted gobs of flowers and one tomato plant that had yet to sprout any tomatoes whatsoever finally has a beautiful little green zebra tomato dangling from a branch. (So that was what that plant was. I totally didn't mark my plants once I put them into the big pots.) I have new yellow pears growing and hopefully the nasty little caterpillars won't descend in droves like last time. I just hope these little nuggets of sun will have time to ripen before the first frost. Better late than never, I guess.

Friday, September 10, 2010

I Can Smell It In the Air!

Today I took an extra long walk with the kids. The blue sky was full of puffy white and gray clouds, a cool brisk breeze was blowing, and the faint earthy aromas of sweet grass and leaves was in the air. Aaah! Autumn is nearly here! I just turned 30 and the whole time I was walking I was evaluating my life up to this point, goals that I've accomplished, amazing opportunities that I've had, and what I have yet to do in my life. Something about autumn stirs and awakens the feelings of ancient times past and infinite possibilities for the future in my blood. That's the best way I can describe it and it's exhilarating. I haven't taken the time lately to sit and contemplate and refresh my mind, body, and soul as I should, so the walk with my beautiful children was much needed.

On our way back, as we passed the rolling hills of a crop field-turned grassy expanse (my favorite part of the walk), we spied a huge fuzzy caterpillar attempting to cross the semi-busy road toward the field. I stopped walking so my toddler and I could watch. We cheered it on, shouting, "Go caterpillar, go! You can do it! No, not that way! Keep going!" I was a little apprehensive. What if this caterpillar's journey didn't end so well and my son had to witness the squashing of a cool fuzzy bug? Cars kept coming down the road and with each swoosh of a passing vehicle the caterpillar got tossed in the wind like a leaf. But he kept going. It was incredibly suspenseful. With every car I thought, "Oh, this is it. He's a goner." However, miraculously, he got missed each time! That little caterpillar just kept creeping along and finally he made it into the safety of the grass. We cheered and clapped. Whew!

Now for a little philosophy: I think life can be a little bit like that. Seemingly huge obstacles can come barreling down on us, or we can have a goal where the end seems impossibly far away and we just creep along (like saving for a house and land!), but if we just keep at it, even if we get blown sideways or backwards, just keep trooping along, we'll make it! One step at a time. What a great life lesson.

Homemade Cleaners

This is a great post from Chickens in the Road on green, homemade cleaners. Check it out!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Progress Report and Other Things

I wanted to give a quick progress report of the no shampoo. The first few days my hair still felt a little greasy and limp, but by the second washing, my hair feels so soft and it looks great! I washed it yesterday, and usually by this time it is already starting to look greasy, but not today! It still looks great. Not only that, but I noticed with shampoo, I would air dry or use a hair dryer and my hair would always be frizzy and wiry on top. With the no shampoo my hair is manageable and completely calm! This is just after a week, so more time will really tell. And I'm hoping to be able to go longer than every other day between washing. When I get a better idea, I'll give you the scoop with the recipes.

In reviews of others going the no shampoo route, they do say they shampoo once or twice a month using an all-organic shampoo without all the junk in it the other commercial brands use. So, I did buy a bottle of organic shampoo with lots of lovely essential oils and used a little of that last time just to see. Once that is gone (and I'm thinking that will be in a long time), I want to try and make my own shampoo. I have a promising looking recipe using chammomile flowers and glycerin. I'll keep you posted!

On a completely unrelated note - I am finally making progress through my apples. I just finished off my second batch of applesauce (half being of the cinnamon variety YUM!) and I am very happy! I really feel like I'm preparing my family against the no fruit months in the winter. My ultimate goal is to eat seasonally as much as I can, but I'm finding that eating seasonally doesn't mean you can't have strawberries in winter. It just means you have to freeze or can them when they're in season in order to enjoy them later!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Going Shampoo Free

I've been doing a little research and am very excited to try and go (mostly) shampoo free. My hair gets really greasy really quickly, and I'm pretty sure it's because the shampoo strips all the natural oils from my hair and my hair tries to compensate. I'm planning on switching to a healthier shampoo, but I also want to use shampoo less by using a baking soda and apple cider vinegar wash and using honey to condition my hair. Won't that be exciting! Not to mention it will be really inexpensive to wash my hair - at last! (I have really thick hair and use a ton of shampoo just to get it clean.)
Well, I had to share what I've found. Here are the links:

Going Shampoo Free by Babyslime
Toss the Shampoo by Progressive Pioneer
Honey in my Hair by Progressive Pioneer

I'll let you know how it goes.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Happy September!

Not only is it my birthday month, but autumn starts in just a few weeks - my very favorite season! There's just something so heady about the earthy smell of dead leaves and woodsmoke. It fills up a calm in my soul. :-)

I think today I might make that second batch of salsa. The tomatoes are taking up a ridiculous amount of space in the fridge. Then - on to the applesauce!

For my big 3-0 b-day this year I'm planning on heading, with my family, to the Mother Earth News Fair coming up on September 25-26. I couldn't believe my luck that it is only 3 hours away in Pennsylvania! I say that's a pretty sweet way to spend a milestone birthday. Yay! I'm excited!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

We Have Salsa Once Again!


About a month ago we ran out of the salsa I canned last year. It made me a little nervous. I didn't want to buy salsa. I wanted my own salsa! And our menu can't survive without it. We don't have a farmers' market anywhere near us, but Larriland Farms said on their website that they had garden tomatoes to pick. So, last Saturday our family went and picked 40 lbs. of tomatoes at $0.49/lb! (Not to mention 50 lbs. of Smokehouse and Honeycrisp apples for applesauce.) It wasn't hard to pick a lot really quickly, as the tomatoes were gigantic! My husband was a sweetie and helped me scald and skin the tomatoes which is half the battle. Then, yesterday I canned 9 quarts of salsa. And that's only half of the tomatoes. Whew!

When I make salsa it's quite the ordeal, mainly because I don't have a big enough pot for the whole batch. A little frustrating! So, my entire stove top was taken up with my largest pot, two medium pots and the large pressure cooker I use for a water bath canner. Let's just say that it made for a very hot kitchen!

Here's my recipe for salsa. I love this stuff. You can make it as mild or spicy as you want.

Salsa

40 tomatoes, chunked and skinned (you can blend some up in the food processor too if the tomatoes are really firm)
3-6 onions, chopped (I only use 3)
2-4 large green bell peppers, chopped
5-10 hot peppers, chopped (I used 10 jalapeños with only a dozen seeds. You can adjust what kind and how many peppers and seeds for level of heat. At least I think that's how it works!)
6 Tbsp. salt
4 Tbsp. minced garlic
1 Tbsp. oregano
1 cup vinegar
6 small cans tomato paste
1/4 c. sugar (oops! I totally forgot to add this to my batch...)

Chop the peppers and onions in a food processor, or if you like chunkier salsa, hand chop them. Combine all ingredients in the largest pot you can find (or in my case, many smaller pots). Bring to a simmer and cook for 1 1/2 to 2 hours on very low heat, stirring occasionally as it will scorch easily. Process quarts 20 minutes or pints 10 minutes in a water bath.
Makes about 8 quarts.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Diaper Sprayer Mayhem

So, we've been doing cloth diapers for awhile now. I am still really liking them! We do use disposables for going to church, but I think that's mostly because I don't have a wet bag yet to put the cloth diapers in.

I hope you don't mind me mentioning it.... but when it comes to messy diapers, we at first did a lot of rinsing and scrubbing. This was getting to be a bit tedious, so my amazing husband installed a DIY diaper sprayer. I was so excited! Until the first time I got to use it. The water pressure was so hard, even with the water flow turned down on low, that it sprayed poopy water everywhere in the bathroom. Not cool!

But today I tried a new tactic, because I was not going to give up the diaper sprayer! We had a medium-sized unused tub we used to do our dishes in that was just sitting around. Now, I keep the tub under the crib where we put the soiled diapers during changings. Then, we use the tub to carry the diaper to the bathroom to rinse it out. If it's a dirty diaper I carry it over to the bathtub and using the diaper sprayer, spray the diaper down in the plastic tub while it's sitting in the bathtub. If it sprays everywhere, who cares! It worked amazingly! I am really excited. Man, the things you get excited over when you're a parent. Sheesh! :-)

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Decluttering

I have been in a serious decluttering fit lately. We just moved into a smaller townhome and we've had to seriously start to evaluate all the stuff/junk that we have been hauling around on these moves. Thanks to a kick start from Miss Minimalist's blog I have been going to town!

I find that being thrifty, frugal, and having a go at minimalism is an interesting balance. So, here are two tips that I've discovered so far.

1. "Tools of the trade" - I'm a baker/cook and homemaker. Any books or tools that help me out are things that I keep. Granted, I could get rid of a cook book or two, and evaluate the effectiveness of each of my tools, but I spend a lot of time in the kitchen. So, I have a lot of tools. The key is to keep them organized and if any are collecting dust, send them to the thrift store for another lifetime of use by someone else.

2. Keepsakes - I am the queen of holding onto memories. It was getting to be pretty painful with all the junk I've moved around in my lifetime - useless stuff that was just memory incarnate. Over the years I have been slowly letting go. The following trick, so far, has proved to be the best way (and the least painful) to get rid of memory objects. If I have something that holds a special memory, but isn't a family heirloom or is something that just sits around taking up space (usually in a box!), I take a picture. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but they don't mention that pictures also take up a lot less space! Once I take the picture, the memory is in effect transferred to the picture and I can get rid of the object without guilt or too much regret. Someday I might create a digital photo album full of discarded keepsakes and be able to flip through the pages reminiscing. I'm still in this memory "archiving" process and as soon as I get my camera back I think my wedding shoes will be the next to go...

Do you have any tips or tricks for being frugal, thrifty or cutting down on junk?

100 Ways to Simplify Your Life

Love this!

http://www.missminimalist.com/2010/08/100-ways-to-simplify-your-life-and-make-yourself-happier/

A Sad Little Garden

This year my little container garden was a huge bust. The harvest has been pitiful - 3 bulbous cucumbers and a handful of tomatoes with a few more a slim possibility. I've been plagued with caterpillars munching my yellow pear tomatoes, most of my plants have been dropping their flowers and all my tomatoes are malformed and small. I'm pretty sure they're been lacking in vitamins and minerals. I just haven't been up on feeding it to them. And the early start of severe thirst probably wasn't helpful. It makes me so sad! I guess I'm just not a good container gardener. I do much prefer stuff in a raised bed or in the ground. So, next year we're putting in a raised bed and I'll be much more prepared! I'll just have to forgive myself for being so neglectful this year. New baby, moving, you know. Stuff like that. Life. When the cold months set in, I'm going to start planning my garden for next season, order seeds early, and get to work early in the year. In the meantime I really am desperate to find someone who is desperate to get rid of their tomatoes. I really need to can some salsa for the winter. We can't live without it!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

"Paper" Towels!


Thanks to a suggestion from one of my readers, Julie, I made some paper towel replacements from old clothes - in this case old t-shirts. T-shirts are perfect because you can cut them up and they don't ravel. They're washable, but you don't feel too bad if you have to throw one away. Yippee!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A Ball of Roving and a Spinning Wheel



A long time ago, in a land not too far away - Indiana to be exact - I learned how to spin on a large walking wheel. Within the depths of Conner Prairie, they taught me that valuable historical skill of spinning, then set me to work in the historical village, Prairietown. Dressed in an 1830s work dress, with sloping shoulders and only slightly puffed sleeves, I stood at the window and spun. The wool stretched and pulled, running its soft fibers slipping across my fingers as it wound itself sinuously around the spindle in uneven clumps and threads. While I wasn't that good, it was relaxing work and I liked gazing out the windows at passerby on the dirt road as I paced back and forth, spinning, spinning...

I haven't spun again since then - until today! Today I finally put off all pathetic excuses, pulled out my friend Mairi's borrowed spinning wheel and started spinning. Well, in reality I didn't start out quite that easily. First, I had to research how to make my big bundle of wool into roving for easier spinning. (Beautiful wool which I got from Mairi's generous fiber expert sister, Heather. Oh, and their sheep. Thank you!) I found a lovely instructive video on youtube. Then, after a half-dozen frustrating failures at starting I figured out the darn tension on the wheel and then I started spinning! Aaah, all the memories came flooding back with the wool running through my fingers. It's good to be spinning again. Now, all I need is a good audio book.




What do you think? Quite imperfect, but not too bad for starting again!
I need to learn how to ply this stuff too. Plying scares the heck out of me!

P.S. Check this story out. It's about a Sheep to Shawl contest and it sounds really intense! I think I'd go to pieces under pressure like that!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Garden Status

My poor little garden is suffering. My potted tomatoes took a hard hit when we moved because they were stuck at the old place for awhile and didn't get watered for a few days. They've made a small come-back and I harvested my first black cherry tomato a few days ago. It's mid-August already! Pretty abysmal harvest so far. We've picked all of 2 tomatoes. I think we just got a late start with the seedlings and planting them. There are a few tomatoes growing right now, and I'm hoping to have enough for a half-dozen salads before the chill winds of autumn kill them off. I just might be having a FRYday featuring fried green tomatoes. I guess that's not such a bad thing! Aaah, well. It's not like I had a baby and moved within 6 months of moving out here to Maryland or anything. ;-) There's always next year!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

First Cloth Diaper Thoughts


Today is the first day of my daughter wearing cloth diapers. Well, she's wearing her very first one right now and I have yet to change it, but I just had to share my first thoughts. Already, I love them! With the cloth diaper on, her little tush is so soft! Unlike the annoying crinkly paperness of the disposables. It's something so small, but it's amazing what a difference it makes. Just holding her wearing the cloth diaper makes me 10x happier. Who knew?! Maybe it's the cloth fiber vibes whispering "No more disposables in the landfill. Hooray!" haha!

It's taken me awhile to get our little girl into cloth diapers. I've been buying a small batch every paycheck until I've been able to build up enough to hopefully have some for a few days. Then I had to find the right detergent (unfortunately, my homemade stuff won't work). And finally, I had to wash and dry them 3 times to get them absorbent - just like you have to wash new towels a few times. I was a little nervous putting on the very first cloth diaper. Was I ready? Was I going to have a headache scrubbing the first messy diaper? Where am I going to put the soiled diapers? (Our apartment is much smaller than our last place...) Are they going to stink up my house? Was her diaper going to be completely huge and bulky? Questions to be answered shortly, I'm sure.

Well, I started to put the cloth diaper on - backwards. I laughed at myself and started over and even though my little girl was fussing and squirming I got it on and... it was beautiful! Hooray! Now maybe I'll get my husband to do the first cloth diaper change. Heh heh heh.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Cool Knitting/Crocheting Website

I found this great kitting and crocheting website that has free downloadable patterns! It also has some great features like links to different types of yarns and a "My Notebook" tab where you can save favorite patterns you find, the status of projects you're working on which you can share with others, stashed yarn, a queue for future projects, and a whole lot more. If' you're into knitting or crocheting, this is a really fun website to explore! I've been knitting for 7 years, but I am still stuck on scarves and wash clothes and have no idea how to read knitting patterns. It is definitely time to expand my horizons!

Here's the site:
http://www.ravelry.com/

Monday, August 9, 2010

Goodbye, Plastic!



I am really excited about these thrift store finds of glass baby bowls (a.k.a. reclaimed ramekins. haha!) I've been contemplating my use of plastic and the recent BPA scare and I've realized that I rely on plastic a lot in my food storage and kid-dishes -- a lot more than I'd like to. So, I've decided that I'm going to slowly replace the plastic kids dishes with glass (for me to feed the baby from, not for her to eat out of on her own) and also to replace our plethora of plastic storage containers with as much glass and other safer alternatives than the cheapo Gladware stuff I've been using. I've really disliked how those plastic containers discolor and warp and get ugly from being microwaved. I really don't like to microwave in plastic containers. I just looked at what the food did to my containers and then I wondered what the containers were doing to my food. And then I thought, Yeah, it's time to switch over. I'm excited to start buying glass containers with lids for food storage in the fridge. And I already use canning jars to store bulk food items like couscous, rice, sugar, and my cornbread mix.

I've also read about a lot of fun products like stainless steel flatware for kids, cute wood and stainless steel baby dishes, and even stainless steel sippy cups! And at the store the other day I saw a cool, if rather heavy, glass water bottle with a silicone cover. It looked pretty cool. Not to mention there are those stainless steel water bottles that you see everywhere now. I'm glad I'm not the only one on this line of thinking! It sure makes it easier to find better alternatives.

Now I just need to be weaned off plastic bags and paper towels. I'm switching to cloth diapers, I might as well analyze the other "disposables" in my life, right. Do I need more cloth rags maybe to replace paper towel dependence? Can I use rags in the microwave? (We put a paper towel over food so it doesn't spatter everywhere.) Paper towels are great for cleaning up greasy stuff, but I suppose cloth could do the same.

I could see us coming off paper towels, but plastic bags? They're great for freezing stuff like meat, storing my bread, and for keeping food in the fridge fairly fresh. I do throw away any plastic bags I keep raw meat in. I used to wash my plastic bags, but it's such a hassle. I guess I just hate the idea of how much I'm throwing away, but I just can't think of any other realistic alternative for plastic bags. Any non-plastic suggestions out there?

Disposables = money + convenience - TRASH

Friday, August 6, 2010

It's FRYday! - Indian Fry Bread

Indian Fry Bread

Aaah, it's that wonderful time of the month - FRYday! Woo! Now that we're all settled into our new place I was able to have FRYday on its normal day.

Today I really wanted to make Indian Fry Bread. I was introduced to this when I lived in Utah - it seems to be a very popular local food out there. I've seen it at the county fair, festivals, and other community events. To specify, "Indian" refers to Native American. I've also heard it called Navajo Fry Bead. It's eaten as the base for "Indian Tacos" or slathered in honey and butter. Yum! Unfortunately, I never got around to trying it until a short time ago during an internship at the American West Heritage Center. A Native American woman (I don't remember the tribe) showed me how her mother taught her to make it and described how they made it on the reservation. That was a pretty cool folkloric experience. But then I got to taste it. WOW! So, so mouth-wateringly good! It just melted in my mouth. This recipe brings back that wonderful tasty memory.

Indian Fry Bread
Yield: 6

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup powdered milk
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. baking powder
2 Tbsp. shortening
3/4 cup warm water

Mix dry ingredients and shortening together in a medium-sized bowl. Rub mixture with fingers until coarse crumbs form. Push mixture to one side of the bowl and add the water. Mix in a circular motion with your fingers, then knead in an upward motion, stretching it upward with one hand. This should make a soft dough. (Or just stir it with a spoon until the water is absorbed. The other method is just really messy.)

Knead on a floured board for 2 minutes. (You might need to add a little extra flour.) Divide into 6 portions and shape into balls. Flatten one ball of dough with your fingers from the center outward until it's 6-7 inches around. Pat it firmly back and forth with your hands to help make it smooth and even. Thin out the edges so it's all the same thickness. Do the same with the rest of the dough balls.

Fry in hot oil until the edges are golden brown. Turn over and continue frying until a deep golden brown. Drain on paper towels.

Serve hot, slathered with butter and drenched in honey. Oooooooh, yeaaaaaahhhh......

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

1st Baby Food

Pea, Green Bean & Zucchini Puree

I am so proud of myself! Today I made my first baby food for my little 5-month old girl. She's been eating stuff out of a jar for a few weeks, but I have wanted to make my own baby food. So, I bought a hand-crank baby food mill and an electric baby food blender. It came in the mail today! So, with the blenders an hour fresh out of the box, washed and dried, I cooked and blended a yummy mixture of peas, and organic green beans and zucchini. I think it took me about an hour to prep, cook and puree everything. I was lucky in that I got almost all of it done between my daughter's naps. Yippee! I tested some of the cooled stuff on her right then and there. Success! She loved it. (She's definitely a veggie girl - hasn't liked bananas, and apples were okay, but were a bit sour for her.) I tasted the green stuff myself and I must say - way better than the jar stuff!


Anyway, I can't believe how empowered I feel! I know that probably sounds silly. But I did entirely jarred food for my 1st baby because my husband and I were full-time students and were both working. It was hard to be restricted on what I could feed him at the beginning. But I had to be realistic. Now, my cooking soul is super thrilled to try out new combos of veggies and fruits and grains that you can't get in a jar - especially organic stuff. My next idea is to cook some oatmeal with apples and raisins and puree that. Yum!

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