Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Another One?

I bet we all know what this means.

Yes, we do.

Another quilt, baby!

But, Sarah. You already have 3 quilts in various stages of UNFINISHEDNESS!

So? Is "unfinishedness" even a word?

You're just avoiding the topic. You use any excuse to buy fabric, don't you?



For your information, I have been actively quilting my log cabin quilt (which I started 9 years ago) and it's almost finished. Then, I plan on finishing the tumbling blocks quilt top, doing an easy quilt stitch on that one, and then, then I'll start this new one. It's going to be my Autumn Quilt using Amy Butler's free quilt pattern for "Brick Path". I think I'm going to add a Flying Geese border on the sides for full autumn glory effect! It's going to be awesome!

If it ever gets finished.


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Blueberry-Lime Jam

I tried this recipe out of the Ball Blue Book of preserving and was pretty pleased with it. I thought I'd post it for you, but I did a little tweaking when I came across a website that I felt had a better recipe. The blueberries make a semi-thick paste if water isn't added to the recipe, which I felt it needed.

Blueberry-Lime Jam

10 cups blueberries (fresh or frozen) (If using fresh, make sure to pick over the berries, removing stems and soft or unripe berries)
1/4 cup lime juice
2 Tbsp. grated lime peel
1/2 cup water
7 cups sugar (if using No-Sugar pectin, use only 4 1/2 cups sugar)
1 box pectin

Crush blueberries one layer at a time. Mix 1/2 cup sugar with the pectin to help keep it from becoming clumped when added to the blueberries. Combine crushed blueberries, powdered pectin/sugar mixture, water, and lime juice in a large pot. Bring to a full boil (the kind that can't be stirred down.) Add the rest of the sugar (6 1/2 cups for regular pectin, 4 cups for No-Sugar pectin), stirring until dissolved. Stir in grated lime peel. Return to a rolling boil. Boil hard 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Skim foam if necessary. Ladle hot jam into hot, sterilized jars, leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Adjust two-piece caps. Process 15 minutes in a boiling-water canner.

Yield: I got 11 half-pints using regular pectin and the 7 cups of sugar. Darn odd number! :-)

Note: If you want just regular blueberry jam, omit the lime juice and lime peel and add 1/4 cup lemon juice where it calls for lime juice.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Larriland Farm

Berry-Pickin' Hands
Our 3-year-old showing off the effects of a good hour of berry picking.

Thanks to a tip-off from our neighbor, last Saturday we drove 25 minutes to Larriland Farm in Woodbine, MD for the very first day of blueberry season. Woohoo! Now, I'm not a big fan of eating blueberries raw, but I couldn't pass up the opportunity for some canning adventures!

Larriland Farm is a pick-your-own style farm and the prices can't be beat at the store. When we went, blueberries, raspberries, black raspberries, strawberries (slim pickings), cherries, and beets were all available to pick. We opted for blueberries, some strawberries for eating, and I wanted a go at the black raspberries. We had psyched our 3-year-old son up for picking blueberries, but after 30 minutes he was done. :-) He attempted to pick a few black raspberries, but the thorns were quite the deterrent, especially after a few pricks. Poor kid. It was hot work, but we came home with spoils of 6 lbs. of blueberries and enough black raspberries for a small batch of jam.

So, today I processed one batch each of Blueberry-Lime Jam and Old-Fashioned Black Raspberry Jam. I am really excited for them to cool down so I can slather some on a slice of bread! The blueberry jam is this gorgeous deep purple and the raspberry jam is a red so deep it's almost black. Hence the name, I suppose! I've never had good success with the old-fashioned style jam where no pectin is added, but you just boil it for a longer period of time. I'm sure hoping I didn't end up with raspberry candy in a jar! (I've had that unfortunately happen to me with grapefruit marmalade...)

I still have a lot of blueberries left. Maybe some more of that jam? Or maybe I have enough for pie filling? Hmmm.... I think I might just end up freezing them until I can figure out what I want to do.

I am completely thrilled to have such an awesome resource so close! I really want to go back to the farm for more raspberries and some beets. I love making pickled beets. They're so pretty!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A Little Organization Please!

I don't know about you, but I find a lot of awesome recipes online. It doesn't help that I subscribe to quite a few blog feeds that have recipe posts. I also e-mail myself recipes and get e-mails about recipes! For a long time I never knew what recipes I'd gotten that had looked interesting or which e-mail address I'd sent a particular recipe to or which blog had posted what -- aack! It was getting to be a little overwhelming and out of control.

So I started a system of reigning in the plethora of recipes. Any time I see a recipe I need or would like to try I print it off right then, three-hole punch it and stick it in my big ol' binder of recipes - a 3" hideous marroon-colored thing that I got at my university's surplus shop for 50 cents. This system has been the saving of my sanity! What helps even more is that I have the recipes divided into sections that are custom picked based on the recipes I like and use:

- Mixes/Canning
- Breads
- Side Dishes
- Main Meals
- Desserts
- Condiments/Drinks
- Dairy (I have a lot of cheese recipes and hope to add ice cream soon! Oh wait.. should that be under Desserts?)

As you can see, the system isn't perfect. There's always room for improvement. Sometimes I can't remember which section I put a certain recipe under. Not to mention I still have to flip through a lot of pages sometimes to get to the recipe I want. (alphabetical order someday? - Lately if I use a recipe I stick it up at the front of the section. That way the most-used recipes are at the front.)

Not perfect, but it's a lot better than it was. It's great to have a hard copy of all the recipes I love and even ones I make up all in one place. It's amazing the peace a little organization can bring.

Tip: For recipes of my invention I have a separate TOP SECRET notebook that I scribble ideas into and later type into Word to save and print out when perfected.

Another tip: For magazine recipes I've torn out, I have a separate binder where I put the pages into sheet protectors. It's harder to organize these as they have different kinds of recipes on the same page, but it certainly beats having to flip through the magazine.

A Book to Recommend: This Organic Life: Confessions of a Suburban Homesteader

About a year ago, I found this book at my university library and read it sometime during the semester. (When did I have the time??) I really get into memoirs every now and again and this one really intrigued me. It's about a woman who is determined to get 100% of her food from her garden and from local sources. That's it. It made me wonder if I could make such a commitment - living without oranges? Ever?? Or coconut or pineapple? Hmm...

Anyway, this story is about her journey to local eating with some yummy sounding recipes that she shares along the way. It's an interesting read that really gets you to think about where your own food comes from. There's a lot of talk about gardening, vegetables, preserving and ways to eat locally.

One downside is that she gets a bit preachy and tedious now and again - to be taken with a big grain of salt if it rubs you the wrong way. She also doesn't go into how eating locally is easier in some areas than others and that there would need to be an adjustment in what we normally eat if we were to eat completely local - variances depending on the climate we live in, were rural, suburban, or urban, etc.

Overall, I found it to be an enjoyable book that helped me see that eating locally can be accomplished.

She Did it Again!

My friend Holly did it again! She found another alternative to plastic bags: a totally cool sandwich wrap. Go check it out!

Monday, June 14, 2010

International Tastes Good!

Yesterday evening we had guests over for dinner. I made Sweet & Sour Tofu from a friend's recipe. She got it from her brother-in-law who is half-Japanese. To go with it I also made fried rice which my Sri Lankan neighbor taught me how to make. And our friends who came to dine - the wife is Brazilian and she brought this amazing Brazilian cake - homemade yellow cake with homemade dulce de leche between the layers, iced with Cool Whip and covered with coconut. The coconut she had dyed a kaleidescope of colors and had sprinkled on top so that it looked like a party going on on top of the cake - it was quite beautiful! And we had good ol' American lemonade to drink. Not until today did I realize how international our meal had been.

I really love trying out foods from different cultures. It really makes life interesting, you know? Back during my last year of French in college, our professor would bring in French food occasionally. The highlight of highlights was a guest from Senegal, Africa. He cooked for us and brought in this incredibly awesome food - Poulet Yasa (a chicken dish) with rice, and a couple drinks. One was this interesting red juice from a native berry. The other was room-temperature pineapple juice with so much ginger that it was very spicy hot to drink. I still dream about that poulet yasa. Mmmmmm.....

I think about food a lot. It might be because I love to cook and that it gets me out of bed in the morning. But not only that, food is such an international way of creating bonds. Food cements memories in our mind. It's a multi-sensory experience to eat food, and one that we shouldn't take lightly. Too many times I find myself rushing through a meal without pausing to enjoy the flavors, textures, smells, and time together as a family. I need to be better at taking more time to savor such good things in life. We don't eat cardboard, so why do we have to act like it by eating to just get it over with? (I am entirely guilty!) I try to be conscious of what is going into our bodies, and where the food has come from. I think being engaged with our food on all levels is an important part of life from knowing where our food has come from, to preparing it ourselves, and finally enjoying it with friends and family - a truly bonding experience.

(I'm going to learn how to make that homemade dulce de leche from my Brazilian friend - you make it in a pressure cooker! I'll let you know how that goes. And I might post that Sweet & Sour Tofu recipe later...)

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

"Fresh Creamery Butter"

I love the line "fresh creamery butter" from Kate & Leopold. It just feels good to say in your mouth. I had one and a half pints of whipping cream in my fridge that had aged past the expiration date which means... butter making time! I poured the cream into a quart mason jar, fastened on the lid and started shaking away. Let me tell you that unless you have Mr. T-like arms, you should never attempt to shake cream into butter in a quart jar. It weighs a lot, not to mention after the first 15 minutes it felt like I was shaking my arms out of my sockets, my hands off my wrists. And it took 45 minutes to finally get butter! It was a good thing I was watching a fascinating movie, otherwise I might have given up. (Someone asked me later if I had used a marble... uh, no. Forgot about that. Things might have gone a bit faster had I remembered.)

So, then I had all this butter. A lot of it. So, I poured off the buttermilk, put the butter in a big glass bowl and washed it. (The last time I made butter, I was using expensive local organic heavy cream and I didn't wash it very well. It went rancid. Boy, was I mad at myself!) So, this time I made darn well sure that the washing water got clear, telling me that all the buttermilk was gone. Then I thought - I don't want to put this stuff in the fridge to get hard. I'll never use it. But I don't want it to go rancid. I thought about a butter bell, but I didn't have one, so I rigged one up myself. Necessity is the mother of invention to be sure!

Butter bell: mug full of butter + a bowl of water = tight seal from the water (which is all that matters, right?) I think it works. My butter is yummy and spreadable and very not rancid. Hooray! One thing I did learn though - maybe it's because I am really sensitive to tastes in water, but you can not use tap water for the butter bell. I could taste the chlorine on the butter. This freaked me out and had me worried that I'd just ruined another batch of butter, so I scraped off the top layer, put some of my precious filtered water in the bowl and now all is right in the world again! Delicious, fresh butter for my comforting slice of homemade loaf. Mmmmm. :-)

(Man, I hate those blue mugs. They're so boring! A few weeks ago my son broke one. I'm secretly hoping more will get broken so I'll have an excuse to get ones I like.)

Friday, June 4, 2010

It's FRYday!

Fried biscuits with apple butter with a side
of scrambled fresh duck and chicken eggs. Yum!
Hooray! My second FRYday has arrived and I have been waiting to do this one for some time. Today I made: fried biscuits with apple butter. The first time I had these babies was at a Civil War reenactment (back in the day when I did that sort of thing.) It was breakfast time before any of the spectators arrived and a very kind soul invited me to their breakfast. Over an open fire in a cast iron pot, they fried canned biscuits to hot, golden perfection and then served them up with a generous helping of cool apple butter. Oh. My. They were amazing!

I haven't had them in years, so I thought they'd be great for this month's FRYday. I did try making these last FRYday using my own homemade biscuit dough, but they did not work. My biscuits were too flaky (imagine that!) and soaked up the oil like a sponge until they were falling apart. It was a dismal failure... thus the hush puppies instead to cheer me up. So, I cannot stress enough that you have to use the refrigerated canned biscuits for this very simple recipe. For once, something store bought is the only route. (Don't tell anyone I said that.)

Fried Biscuits with Apple Butter

-1 can regular refrigerated biscuits (Don't get the flaky layers kind or anything fancy. Plain Jane is all we need.)
-Enough canola oil for 2" in your pan/pot
-Apple butter - homemade if you've got it.

1. Pop open the can of refrigerator biscuits and separate. If desired, cut each biscuit in half. (This makes for more biscuits, faster cooking time, and they'll have a better chance of cooking through.) Line a plate with a couple of paper towels.
2. Heat oil on medium in a medium-sized pan until a tiny piece of dough sizzles, but doesn't brown too quickly.
3. Gently place the biscuit dough into the oil until the pan is full. Cook on one side to a deep golden brown. Flip and cook on the other side until done. Remove the biscuits with tongs or a slotted spoon and allow to drain on the paper towels. (Cut one biscuit in half to make sure it's not raw in the middle.) Cook the rest of the biscuits.
4. Serve hot, slathered with chilled apple butter - anything less than slathered isn't enough. Enjoy!

Golden fried biscuits draining on a paper towel. I've got my apple butter all ready to go!
Unfortunately, these biscuits were completely raw in the middle. So I had to chop them in half...

...and fry them again.
They look burnt, but they're not. They were done this time.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

A Book to Recommend: Back to Basics

This is the book that started it all for me. My mom had this book when I was growing up. As a teenager I was fascinated with the concept of living off the land, making things myself, and immersing myself in nature through gardening and time spent outdoors. I spent literally hours of my teenaged life pouring over Back to Basics, planning my own future homestead. As my own tiny effort I had a mini container garden in my bedroom with carrots and I even started a spindly maple tree. In our backyard I planted more carrots and parsley. This book was my inspiration. It not only has gardening tips (like how to grow celery - a difficult plant to be sure), but it also shows you how to lay out your homestead, build a log cabin, and to make your own cheese. This is a fabulous reference book to pick up when you have a few spare minutes to peruse the various skills it teaches, or for a good in-depth read when you have more time.
There is a newer addition out, but I've read that it's pretty much the old book with a few updates. (The earlier version was published in 1981, so a few updates wouldn't hurt.) Either way, get ahold of this book. It's lots of fun and by learning the skills it teaches you are continuing important traditions and gaining a little more of that valuable self-reliance! Not to mention it's a wonderful book to help you dream about your own future homestead.

Here are the sections of this book:
Part One - Land: Buying It - Building on It
Part Two - Energy From Wood, Water, Wind, and Sun
Part Three - Raising Your Own Vegetables, Fruit, and Livestock
Part Four - Enjoying Your Harvest the Year Round
Part Five - Skills and Crafts for House and Homestead
Part Six - Recreation at Home and in the Wild

Excerpt from the introduction:
"Back to Basics is a book about the simple life. It is about old-fashioned ways of doing things, and old fashioned craftsmanship, and old-fashioned food, and old-fashioned fun. It is also about independence - the kind of down-home self-reliance that our grandparents and great grandparents took for granted, but that we moderns often think has vanished forever, along with supermarket tomatoes that taste good, packaged bread that does not have additives, and holidays that are not commercialized. At its heart, Back to Basics is a how-to book packed with hundreds of projects, step-by-step sequences, charts, tables, diagrams, and illustrations to help you and your family reestablish control over your day-to-day lives."

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Memorial Weekend Get-Away

Barn Kitten
This past weekend my family and I went up to visit a good friend of mine up in New York. I haven't seen my friend, Mairi, for about a year and through letters I've heard so much about the little farm where she lives with her sister Heather's family. So Friday afternoon my husband, our two kids, and I headed up to stay for a few days.

Heather and her family's hospitality was wonderful and we had ourselves a great time chatting, walking and eating. We enjoyed drinking raw milk from a dairy down the road, eating fresh eggs of the chicken and duck variety, wandering the ruins of an old gristmill next door, and meeting their large family of animals in the old barn on their property. Among the animals we met were three sheep whose bleating sounded rather mournful and pathetic (haha!), three psychotic geese who we had to fend off with a stick nearly every time we left the house and ventured toward the barn, a sweet old horse, a dozen little barn cats, and a bunch of chickens. We got a glimpse of the ducks who were a bit snooty and stayed downstream on the creek if we came anywhere near. We also had fun playing with their dalmatian dog Rooster. (I asked if their rooster's name was Dog, but it wasn't. Heehee!)

One of the wonderful things about visiting them was being able to eat some of their local food. It really was such a treat. I went with my friend, Mairi, to go pick up the raw milk from that dairy down the road. It really is such a shame when getting raw milk is reduced to the status of something akin to picking up illegal moonshine at a secret meeting place. I personally don't mind pasteurized milk, but if people want to drink raw milk, why not let it be their choice and to get it if they'd like to?

I realized something important this weekend. We were driving past that "dairy down the road" and I looked out my window to see their beautiful, creamy brown Jersey cows grazing in the pasture behind their old wood slat and stone barn and a thought struck me hard: "There are the cows whose milk I'm drinking." For a suburb girl who's only ever drunk milk bought at the store in plastic jugs, this was really profound. Not to mention I had been eating the eggs from the ducks and chickens I had met at Mairi's house. There is one thing to be eating the food you buy at your local farmer's market, but it's a completely different thing to eat the food that comes from animals you've met or that you take care of, the vegetables you've sweated and labored over in your own garden. It's a whole different level of eating. The satisfaction is immense. I don't know where it comes from exactly, but to be that connected to what nourishes and strengthens my body is a mind-boggling experience. To have that feeling every day - wow. I want that so badly. It's the biggest goal I'm going for right now. And to think being that connected was such an everyday part of life to so many people in the past. I'm glad that so many people today are passionate about getting back to that.

Mairi's sister Heather sent us home with some fresh eggs!
From top to bottom: Chicken egg, Duck egg, Goose egg.
Man, the goose egg looks like a freaking ostrich egg! I think I'm going to manage to make a whole quiche with just that one goose egg. Amazing!
A wonderful gift from Heather:
Washed, carded, and dyed wool ready for spinning (from their own sheep.) Hooray!

Me feeding the horse, Des, a candy cane.
Apparently, he loves these. It was quite the slobbery experience!

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