Thursday, January 27, 2011

Homemade Mac & Cheese

I'm a little picky about my homemade mac & cheese. I've tried a couple recipes and haven't liked them. I guess my goal is to make a good mac & cheese without the use of Velveeta or any other store-bought shelf-stable cheese. Last Sunday my sweet husband made dinner. He found and cooked this recipe himself and I was thrilled with how yummy it was! It's a great comfort food on a snowy day like today.

Homemade Mac & Cheese

1 can condensed cream of mushroom soup (you can find brands that don't add MSG)
1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1 cup of your favorite cheese, shredded (we had mozzarella on hand)
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup milk
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
3 cups corkscrew-shaped pasta (or plain ol' macaroni)

Stir the soup, cheeses, milk and black pepper in a 1 1/2 quart casserole. Stir in the pasta.
Bake at 400ºF for 20 minutes and the pasta mixture is hot and bubbling. Stir once and heat for another 10 minutes.

The cream of mushroom soup added nice little mushroom bits. The whole dish was rather pretty and very creamy without being overwhelming. Yummy!

**For less fat you can use skim milk and lower fat cheeses. You could even reduce the cheese to 1 1/2 cups. The sharp cheddar cheese we used was 2% milk fat which is a nice lower-fat cheese that doesn't compromise on flavor or texture.

Snow, Cranberries, and Shampoo

So, I guess it was our turn for a big snow. Miraculously, throughout these past few storms that have pummeled the east coast, our area of Maryland got away with only a skiff of snow. But last night we totally got dumped on! I'd say we got between 4-6". In some places the drifts are a foot deep. Snowmen, here we come!

In a week from now, I'm going to be teaching a group of women how to can cranberry sauce! I'm really excited. It's a group of ladies from my church and they all want to learn how to can. I just love being able to share my knowledge and love of cooking and preserving food. I just got a new water bath canner for Christmas from my in-laws (I've been using my humongous pressure canner this whole time.), so I am really thrilled to try it out for the first time. It's my first time canning my own cranberry sauce too. I've got a big bag of cranberries in the freezer and my mouth is already watering for that whole berry sauce. It's so simple - simpler than jam even because no pectin is required. Just cranberries, sugar, and water. I might try the jellied cranberry sauce too which requires an extra step of pureeing everything in a food processor. I hope it turns out! I'll take pictures and let you know.

Oh, and I have to tell you about a new homemade shampoo I'm trying out from a friend. Here's the recipe:

1/4 cup Dr. Bronner's castille soap (I'm using the Almond  kind because I love the smell)
1/4 cup distilled water
1 tsp. grapeseed or jojoba oil (optional - for dry or curly hair)

Pour everything into a recycled shampoo bottle. Shake before using.

That's it! I tripled the recipe to fill up my shampoo bottle. However, I should have only added 1/2 or 1 tsp. of the oil total. I've got 2 tsp. in there now. I'd say my hair is on the normal to oily side, so the extra oil isn't really needed. Also, I found that since it's so runny - it's essentially the consistancy of water, instead of pouring some into my hand, I just use the bottle to squirt it on my head where it needs to go. It soaps up great!

Just a note: when using homemade shampoos, how your hair will feel after washing will be a lot different from using those regular store-bought shampoos. It takes some getting used to, but after awhile you won't even notice. Store-bought shampoos have a lot of additives, but homemade shampoos are just clean and simple. I hope you give it a try! And at $8.99 for a large bottle of Dr. Bronner's, 99 cents for distilled water and $5 for the grapeseed oil, I have the materials to make a whole lot of shampoo really inexpensively. Woohoo!

Also, I made a discovery on accident. I had been using this interesting citrus organic shampoo. It didn't soap up a lot, but it seemed to clean my hair pretty well.  I had to use a lot of it, though, as my hair's on the thick side. Well, after I ran out I gave in and bought an old favorite shampoo of mine - Shikai Highlighting Henna Shampoo. After using it just once my hair was greasy and oily very quickly and I had to wash my hair every other day instead of the 3-4 days using the organic shampoo. I remember hearing something about sulfates not being good for your hair. So, I looked on my organic shampoo bottle and it said Sulfate Free. I looked on the Shikai bottle and one of the main ingredients was a sulfate. I'm not a chemist, but I think there's something about the sulfates that strips your hair of its natural oils and balance. All along the organic shampoo had helped my hair recover its balance and I hadn't even known it! I'm hoping my new shampoo recipe will help my hair get back to its natural self. :-)

Thursday, January 20, 2011

365 Days of Local

I found this interesting article through that showcases a family in Arizona that has made the commitment to only buy locally for an entire year . (I think they're mainly focusing on local businesses.) Their local commitment not only includes food, but everything they consume including office supplies and even gasoline. The experiment started January 1, 2011 and you can follow the family's progress and challenges in their blog One Local Family. I'm interested to see how they do and to maybe find some ways that I can cut back and consume more locally myself.

Right now I'm missing our cheese factory that made cheese from local cows' milk back in Cache Valley, Utah! It was our family's favorite field trip. I think I'm going to have to do more research on local sources for things. I just e-mailed an inquiry about joining a buying coop from a local grass-fed meat and dairy farm in nearby Pennsylvania. I'm excited about that!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Some New Dishes

I took a couple hours last Saturday to go by myself to an antique store in nearby Ellicott City, Maryland. It was wonderful to be able to take my time and not have to worry if my sweet little son was roaming around with curious fingers! The last time I was there I saw these awesome vintage Pyrex refrigerator dishes. I thought one would be perfect for storing homemade butter in. So I got it!

I just love how cheerful it is! I wish I could have gotten more, but a whole set was a little out of my price range. This will be perfect for when I make butter, though.

A long time ago I complained about my ugly blue mugs. Recently, as part of our purging stuff I took the plunge and got rid of them, hoping that the right mugs would come along later. We were browsing at the thrift store this past weekend and I saw them. The perfect beautiful little mugs!

I absolutely love the thin round handle, the smooth texture, the pale blue color, and I adore the shape. It makes me happy to hold one cupped in my hand (no pun intended) and sip from it. Aaah! A perfect fit! :-) And the perfect price too - 50 cents each! There were only 5 of them, but that's ok. We've got other mugs to fill in the gaps.

Thursday, January 13, 2011


You might notice a new widget thing on the side bar from RedBubble. I'm a little hesitant about selling or advertising, but I was trying to think of a way to help us save money toward our future homestead from home and one of the only things I can think of right now is my photography. So, feel free to browse, and if you feel so inclined, to purchase a print or some cards. If not, that's okay! Still feel free to look through my photographs of nature and farms and architecture. I like being able to share my photography and to think that others enjoy it as much as I do. Thanks! :-)

Friday, January 7, 2011

1st Felting

This is a potholder I crocheted from some light brown wool yarn I got for Christmas and some gold yarn I got when I worked at Conner Prairie and was learning to knit. That yarn is from their own sheep that the staff spun themselves. It's special yarn to me, so I had to use it in my first ever attempt at felting!

I started out by mashing the pot holder in hot, soapy water in a bowl. Out wafted the most delicious smell of woodsmoke! I was totally not expecting that and I'm not sure where that came from - probably the Conner Prairie yarn since they cook on hearths there. This smell made me completely happy and I mashed away. I wanted to get a feeling for hand felting, but it was taking a long time, so I switched it to the washing machine, bundled up in a pillow case. (I've read that felting can clog up your washing machine.)
And, this was the result!:

I know, it doesn't look much different, except for it maybe being a little fluffier. I could have run it through the wash a few more times, but I liked it the way it was. I had crocheted it pretty tight, so I'm not sure how much more it would have shrunk without making it all warped. I let it dry overnight and now I have a beautiful wool potholder. Hooray! I'm excited to try my hand at making baby toy balls using roving. I'll let you know how it goes!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Cranberry Upside-Down Cake

Photo by Annie Jones

One thing I love about winter is that cranberries are easy to get. It's one of those seasonal fruits that actually stays relatively seasonal, even at the stores. That makes it a little easier for someone like me who is trying to eat more seasonally. I watched a show a couple weeks ago that showed how they wet-harvested the cranberries. It was really fascinating, but those big bogs looked like a lot of hard work. I wonder... could you have a mini hand-made bog for a small-scale homestead? Hmm...

Cranberry recipes are some of my favorite. I love how festively red cranberries are with that wonderful zippy tartness. Below is a recipe that I adore. It's got special meaning for me, as I made this cake for my husband's and my wedding cake for our marriage in December '05. It was absolutely beautiful! (See the picture above.) I wanted to start a new holiday tradition with our family of making it every Christmas, which we did this year. That first bite sure brought back a lot of memories! I hope you enjoy this cake as much as we do.

Cranberry Upside-Down Cake*

Yields one 9-inch round cake; serves twelve.

1 cup very soft unsalted butter; more for the pan
1 cup very firmly packed light brown sugar
¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
2 cups cranberries, fresh or frozen (thawed, rinsed, and dried), at room temp.
1 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2/3 cup sour cream, at room temperature
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
½ tsp. salt
1¾ cup cake flour (this is a much finer flour than all-purpose flour)
1 tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. baking soda

1. Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and heat the oven to 350ºF. Lightly butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch round cake pan with sides at least 2½ inches high. (A springform pan will work; just be sure to set it on a foil lined baking sheet to catch any leaks.)

2. Put 4 Tbsp. of the butter in the buttered pan. Put the pan in the oven until the butter melts, about 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and stir in the brown sugar and cinnamon until well combined. Spread the brown sugar mixture evenly over the bottom of the pan and spread the cranberries evenly over the sugar.

3. Put the remaining 12 tablespoons of butter in a medium bowl. Using a wooden spoon, cream the butter with the granulated sugar and egg yolk until blended, about 20 seconds. Switch to a whisk and stir in the eggs one at a time. Whisk until the batter is smooth and the sugar begins to dissolve, about 30 seconds. Whisk in the sour cream, vanilla, and salt. Sift the cake flour, baking powder, and baking soda directly onto the batter. Using the whisk, combine the ingredients until the mixture is smooth and free of lumps.

4. Spread the batter evenly over the cranberry mixture in the cake pan. Bake until the center of the cake springs back when gently touched and a skewer inserted in the center comes out with only moist crumbs clinging to it, 50 to 65 minutes. Set the pan on a rack to cool for 5 to 10 minutes (the cranberry syrup in the bottom of the pan will be too thick if you wait longer). Run a knife between the cake and sides of the pan. Invert the cake onto a serving plate and remove the pan. Let it cool for at least 15 minutes more before serving. This cake is best served warm and fresh.

* From Fine Cooking – Holiday Baking magazine, Winter 2005

Monday, January 3, 2011

Left-Handed Knitter

Are you a left-handed knitter? I just thought I'd share my friend, Sarah's, blog The Crafty Hooker which is a blog about.... being a left-handed knitter. :-) Enjoy!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Warmer Weather

Loch Scotland
Today's cool, rainy weather reminds me a little of Scotland.
Today in Maryland it's rainy and cool in the lower 50s. I love weather like this. It brings strong memories of sweaters, wood smoke, and splashing in puddles with my rain boots on. Weather like this makes me feel like I could tramp across miles of hillsides and through acres of woods. It's strongly invigorating, as if I could do anything. The sensation is interesting, almost like an early spring feeling. What a great way to start off the new year!

I tried to get a head start on my new year's "resolutions" last month. I'm not a big fan of New Year resolutions, because I feel like I should be starting and accomplishing goals on an ongoing basis. I did get together a list of books I'd like to read this year, like getting in a few auto biographies (Helen Keller & Benjamin Franklin) and educational books amongst the slew of fiction and mysteries that I usually enjoy reading. Speaking of auto biographies, last year I read Julie Andrew's autobiography about her early years and it was wonderful!

I also got a jump start on getting caught up on scrapbooks for our kids and our family. I do digital scrapbooking through Snapfish and I love it. I can get so much done in so little time and I don't have to sit there cutting things out or taping things down. That is way, way too tedious for me! The holiday time has the best sales on photo books, and I'm thrilled that I just got 2 book printed for a sweet deal. Hooray!

When it comes to homesteading stuff, it's easy to get discouraged when you live in a rented townhouse with a sliver of a backyard and not much license to do things. But, I'm trying to stay positive! While I can't have chickens, I have actually been reminiscing with my family about the time we had birds when I was a kid, a cockatiel and a love bird. Thinking about those old birds has actually helped me feel hopeful - that we will have chickens one day and that I can have the confidence in keeping chickens because they're birds! That might sound silly, but getting animals that are unfamiliar can be a little intimidating. I'm also hoping to have a garden, even if it's a tiny one. I strongly suspect my tomatoes from last year didn't thrive because I used a mulch with black walnut wood in it, which I found out is poisonous to tomato plants!

For my homesteading skills goals I'm planning on trying out felting, becoming intimately familiar with my pressure cooker and pressure canner (I'm not quite as scared of them as I used to be) and that means reading the manual! I am also in the process of finishing my first, tiny skein of yarn from spinning to plying to finishing. Woo! I'm really excited about that. (Pictures will be coming soon.) I'm also hoping to deepen my knowledge on homesteading skills that I'd like to able to use in the future like larger scale gardening, animal husbandry, and building.

I hope that your new year will be full of exciting, fun things. Try something new!

Saturday, January 1, 2011


I am really interested in felting lately. It sounds super easy and a great craft to do with my 3-year-old son. I got some beautiful wool yarn for Christmas and I went on a 100% wool sweater shopping spree at the thrift store. And I've still got a tub of dyed roving. So now... I'm just trying to figure out what to make! I'd like to make some felted balls for the baby. I've read that you can save the clear plastic windows from your bills to put inside a felt ball which makes a nice crinkly sound. And a bell inside a pill bottle covered in felt for a jingle ball. Other than that, I'm not quite sure what to make! Maybe a hat? Any other ideas?

I found this nice webpage on felting thrift store sweaters at Craftsylish.
A webpage on felting.
And another webpage with a list of different felt toys you can make.
A cool fiber arts webpage talking about felting.

Wish me luck!
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