Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Time-Travelling Christmas Gift

So, I was digging the cabinet.

Trying to pull the crock pot out of its nest, cursing my lack of space.

And these 4 hot pads became dislodged from the back of the cabinet, and fell onto the floor.

Nostalgia and memories spilled over me...and I instantly began to smile. These beautiful handmade pot holders came from my Grandma Marshall. She's been gone 6 years this past September. But she will live in my soul until the end of my own life.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Help Feed Yourself

I love this USDA poster from 1917. I'm excited that the ideas presented in the poster have started to become really popular lately.
Backyard chickens and gardens? Yes, please! Using empty lots? Sign me up! As this poster proves, these ideas are not new, but I feel like the sentiment has become so lost in the past couple of generations. The revival of self-reliance is a movement that I hope continues and grows!
Do you want to be one of the people who strives for more independence? Do you want to provide a good portion of your own food? Me too! Let's keep it up! :)

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Royal Icing

This has become one of my favorite icing recipes for sugar cookies, especially at Christmastime. While it doesn't have the rich, buttery flavor of buttercream (my mom's standby), I like how the frosting gets crisp and make the cookies totally portable and stackable. Plus I think they look really pretty with the smooth surface, especially when a few subtle sprinkles are added.

It's also perfect for piping onto gingerbread men!

Royal Icing (from cooks.com)

3 egg whites
1 lb. confectioner's sugar
1/2 t. cream of tartar
1/2 t. almond or vanilla extract

Place all ingredients in a bowl and beat on medium high for a full 10 minutes. Icing will become thick and glossy but will not increase in volume. Keep covered with a damp cloth while using, removing small portions to bowl as needed. Tint if desired. To thin, add a few drops of water. Royal icing hardens with a nice sheen.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Uncle Loren's GIANT Garden

Part of my 'The Gardeners in My Life' series!

It was ONE degree outside this morning. The skeletons in the garden are covered under a layer of powdery freeze, and the memories of summer seem impossibly long ago. Here we enter another cycle. Each winter, even though we know the warm days will eventually return, it's just as hard as the year before to imagine that the ground and the world will warm up. Not for months, though. Oh, my bones are aching already from the cold.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Wild Rice Turkey Soup

This recipe was shared on the Simple Saturdays Blog Hop!

 Simple Saturdays Blog Hop

This is the kind of soup that I would describe as "soul food." Thick, hearty, smooth...and it warms you up from the inside out with each bite. It is one of my absolute favorite ways to use leftover Thanksgiving turkey. It's sort of a tradition around here; a couple days after each Thanksgiving this soup winds up on the table for  light yet completely satisfying meal.

If you have turkey broth left from cooking the turkey, great, I've always used either chicken or veggie broth because I've never actually been in charge of cooking the Thanksgiving turkey. I always end up taking leftover turkey home from my mom's house.

While cream or half-and-half would add another level of richness to the soup, I never have those in my fridge, so I've always used whole milk. Try not to omit the almonds, please! They are the secret ingredient that sends the recipe through the roof!

Wild Rice Turkey Soup                              Print Recipe
adapted from allrecipes.com

2/3 c. uncooked wild rice
2 c. water

6 T. butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
1/3 c. flour (I recommend organic flour)
4 c. broth (turkey, chicken, or veggie)
2 carrots, grated
2 c. cooked turkey, chopped
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. pepper
1/4 c. chopped slivered almonds

3/4 c. milk, cream, or half-and-half
1 t. lemon juice (optional)

Cook the rice in the water by bringing to a boil, then reducing to a simmer for 40-45 minutes, covered. When the rice is cooked (tender but not mushy), drain any remaining water and fluff with a fork, then cook for 5 more minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

In a soup pot , melt the butter over medium heat. Add onion and celery and cook for 5 minutes, or until the onions are starting to become translucent. Stir in the flour and continue to cook and stir until the flour is yellow-brown, about 5 more minutes. Slowly whisk in the broth until there are no lumps of flour left. Add the grated carrot and bring the soup to a boil, whisking constantly, until the broth is thick and smooth, about 2 minutes.

Turn heat down to simmer and add the cooked rice, turkey, salt, pepper, and almonds. Let the soup cook until all ingredients are hot, then stir in milk (or cream or half-and-half) and the optional lemon juice. Serve hot with freshly baked bread. Yum!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Simple Pallet Compost Bin

We have used our compost ball (click here to see us using it) for almost three years. I love the compost ball for several reasons (one being, I think it's really pretty!), but I'm going to be completely honest with you--it was a bit pricey, and though it makes beautiful compost, it just can't handle the amount of veggie scraps, straw, leaves, and lawn waste that we go through. We needed a place to put our waste, and we needed MORE compost, period!

Googling ideas for pallet compost bins will give you lots of nifty ideas. Some plans will include hinges, covers, and a two-or-three bin system--and those are awesome! But this is the most basic way to do it. It's so basic and easy it's silly. I needed basic and silly, because I had no time. This is just a way to start collecting compostable waste when you need to do it right now. 

1. Locate pallets. Find 4 of roughly equal size.

Pallets are plentiful and free around here, and I bet they are around you, too. Freecycle is a great place to look, but quite honestly, the easiest thing to do is drive down the alley of a couple businesses. You WILL find unwanted pallets. Go to the front door, ask permission, and the store owner will be very happy to be rid of them--usually the garbage trucks won't take them, and the business is stuck with an unwanted pallet or two just hanging around the alley. I'd been collecting them here and there and stacking them against the fence, trying to figure out where I'd put my compost pile.

Noah helps me remove an old shrub to make room for compost

2. Find the perfect place for your compost pile.

This is the hardest part! When you live on a tiny lot, every inch of space is important. You don't want to bother the neighbors (though a properly maintained compost pile will have no smell), and you don't want to cut into precious yard space that you need for living, playing, and growing food.

I thought long and hard about where to build the bin. Initially I thought I'd put in along the north side of the house, since it gets no sunlight and we don't use it for anything else--but it's only a few feet from the neighbor's back patio. I really didn't want to cause them alarm. I settled on a shady back corner of our yard. We had to remove a half-dead shrub, the second hardest part of the job.

Remember, you can always move the bin around later. 

3. Staple hardware cloth to each pallet on what will be the inside surface.

The hardware cloth will act as a barrier, to keep stuff from falling out the big spaces on the sides of the pallets, and to also keep air circulating. If you don't own a staple gun, you could hold the hardware cloth down by laying strips of wood over the edges and then nailing or screwing down the wooden strips. Or you could screw washers down over the edges in several places. In my humble opinion--stapling the hardware cloth down= much easier. Plus using that heavy duty stapler is pretty fun.

Cutting hardware cloth is very hard. Unless you have something called tin snips...they literally slide through metal. Tin snips are a great investment-- because I know that like me, you plan to be doing a lot of tin-snipping in future projects (like building chicken enclosures with chicken wire! Someday soon!).

This thing is going to hold a LOT of waste!

4. Attach the pallets at each side to make a square.

Using the tin snips, we cut holes in the corners of each wall so that we could zip tie the whole thing together. You will want huge zip ties. These are a hefty 15 inches long, and I found them on clearance at the local hardware store.

You can attach your pallets any way you want--wires, twine, screws or nails--I simply took the easiest way out. I find zip ties handy for all kinds of projects. When I need to get into the compost later, I can snip the zip ties in the front to open up the front panel. The hubby suggested using actual hinges for the front, but I was in a hurry to get this bin finished. Plus, I was trying to keep it as simple as possible.

5. Start filling the bin. That's it!

Our simple pallet bin is very close to our play and living space.
We'll see how we manage in the warm months with the 
decomposing going on right next to us!

For more DIY compost bins, click here.

*Update 6/3/14 --The bin has been a huge success. As long as we keep brown materials on top, there is virtually no foul smell. It has become an important part of our household green waste management!

*Update 5/21/15 --We added a second bin next to the first, for ease in turning and accessing the finished compost at the bottom. This will help speed up the compost process.

The only things I want to change:
1. Cut the pallets down a bit. The height is just a little too much for us to handle stirring and turning the compost.

2. I still think stapling the hardware cloth down is the easiest way to secure it, but some of the staples have come loose. Simple fix--put in some more staples. :)

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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Monday, November 11, 2013

Make Your Own Greek Yogurt and Prevent Toxic Waste

Fresh homemade yogurt with fresh mulberry syrup and chia seeds...
my mouth is watering just thinking of it!

Greek yogurt is all the rage at the moment, and I am one of those who adores it. It's creamy and rich, and great for so many recipes. I use it almost exclusively in place of sour cream, and also I love to eat it plain with a bunch of chia seeds mixed in, topped with a touch of honey, or with a swirl of homemade jam.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Fluffy Whole Grain Pancakes

I am so glad I found this method! I will warn you, it will dirty up several bowls. ABSOLUTELY worth it, though!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Quince Jam

If you have access to quince, consider yourself lucky! I'm so happy for you...and I hope you will pick some. It's an amazing fruit, a widely known staple used in many places around the world, but nearly forgotten during the past century or so here in the United States.

Raw, it's practically inedible, (though I've read stories of brave people eating them raw). Cooked, however (like in this simple jam) bitter tough flesh of quince transforms into gorgeous rose-colored sweetness. It is one of my favorite fruits to make jam with, because of its extremely high pectin content. It requires no extra boxed pectin at all.

Quince trees are a part of my childhood. Grandma made quince jam, but you know what? I don't have clear memories of her making it, and I don't remember eating it. I certainly don't have her recipe, though I will be on the lookout for it from my family members. Get this; my brother has a jar of quince jam that grandma herself canned years ago, that he's been keeping as a sort of keepsake. It was one of the many canned goods left behind when Grandma died, most of which were dumped out as the house was cleaned up and emptied. Though the jam my brother saved may well still be good, we would never eat it--it would be like eating a relic. Now that I make quince jam myself, I feel like it has filled in a link to my childhood memories, and to Grandma herself. When I take a bite, the flavor awakens some long-forgotten moments in time. If I close my eyes, I can imagine that I probably sat with grandma at her table countless times, with quince jam sitting among the food spread, an unnoticed gem among various home-cooked dishes.

I don't know if this recipe tastes just like grandma's, since I'm not sure if she added an extra spices or flavorings, but its simplicity (just sugar and water and quince) makes me think it is probably pretty close to how she did it.

Go find and pick some quince (or purchase some..I'm hearing that some farmer's markets and even grocery stores are starting to carry them), and make some of this simple jam. The flavor--floral and sweet, which I liken to a mix of pineapple and pear, with a rose scent--will have you eating it right from the spoon!

After quick rinse, grate the quince, working around the pits and seeds.

Cooked with just water, sugar and lemon; easy and quick jam!

Quince Jam                                               Print Recipe
Adapted from Simply Recipes

6 c. grated quince (about 2 pounds)
4 1/2 c. water
1/4 c. lemon juice
1 T. lemon zest
4 c. sugar

1. To prepare quince: Rinse the fruit, but leave the peel on. You can either cut the quince into halves or quarters and use a box grater to grate the flesh, working around the pits and seeds, OR you can quarter and core the fruits and give them a few pulses in the food processor (using the metal blade). Each way will give you a slightly different texture, but both textures are wonderful.

2. Bring the water to a boil in a large heavy-bottomed sauce pan, and then add the quince and lemon juice and zest. Lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes, or until the quince is softened.

3. Pour in the sugar, stir, and bring the mixture to a boil again. Lower the heat to medium/high and let the jam cook for 30 minutes or up to an hour, depending on the consistency you want. Longer cooking time will give you thicker jam. The jam will turn from yellow to a deep apricot color.

4. If canning, pour the jam into sterilized jars and process in a hot water bath for 10 minutes. You should get about 5 half-pints.


History tells us that Thomas Jefferson grew quince on his estate, among his famous gardens. I wonder if quince jam ever graced his table? 

Thursday, October 31, 2013

A Tale of Two Consumers: Halloween Fright...or Delight?

Both of the consumers in this little tale are me.

It struck me, as I drove home Sunday evening with the smell of very ripe apples permeating the van and my youngest son singing softly in the backseat, that my weekend was split in two; each day had been spent consuming, but in ways distinctly unalike.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Saving Tomato Seeds

This is really so simple. I've included pictures for each step of the way, but don't be intimidated; it takes so little effort!

Apricot Lentil Soup

I had three last-minute fresh tomatoes from the garden waiting to be used for something. I peeled them using the boiling-water-to-ice water method, and made this soup. I am absolutely in LOVE with it! Lemon is such a good thing in so many soups...and the bits of apricot add little explosions of flavor. Just amazing!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

You Can Can. But Why Bother?

Canning was all the rage, and in fact necessary for most people, in the not too-distant past. I found this 1940s-era photo in a local photo history book; I really love body language shown by the girl 2nd from right ;)
*This takes a long time.
*There are a lot better things I could be doing right now.
*Ugh, I am hot and my legs hurt.
*It's so beautiful outside, and I'm stuck slaving over this big canning pot...and...oh geez, am I supposed to get those air bubbles out of the applesauce? Why is there applesauce coming out of the tops of those cooling jars? Great, now what am I supposed to do? ...guess I will google later to see if the sauce is still safe despite overflowing.
*Ya know, wow...this actually, kinda sorta, sucks.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Olive Garden Minestrone Soup

A good friend shared this 'copycat' recipe with me a few years ago. The ingredient list looks daunting, but keep in mind there are a lot of spices listed there too! The recipe calls for only 1/2 c. zucchini, but I always add a TON more, especially during the peak garden months. :) This is a wonderful, flavorful, and filling soup.

Olive Garden Minestrone

3 T. olive oil
1 c. minced white onion
1/2 c. chopped zucchini
1/2 c. frozen cut Italian green beans
1/4 c. minced celery (about half a stalk)
4 t. minced garlic (4 cloves)
4 cups vegetable broth (do not use chicken or beef...only vegetable)
2 (15 oz) cans red kidney beans, drained
2 (15 oz) cans small white or great northern beans, drained
1 (14 oz) can diced tomatoes
1/2 c. carrot, julienned or shredded
2 T. minced fresh parsley (can sub dried)
1 1/2 t. dried oregano
1 1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. ground black pepper
1/2 t. dried basil
1/4 t. dried thyme
3 c. hot water
4 c. fresh baby spinach
1/2 c. small shell pasta

Heat three T. olive oil over medium heat in large soup pot.

Saute onion, celery, garlic, green beans, and zucchini in the oil for 5 minutes or until onions begin to turn translucent.

Add vegetable broth to pot, plus drained tomatoes, beans, carrot, hot water, and spices.

Bring soup to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 20 minutes.

Add spinach leaves and pasta and cook for an additional 20 minutes or until desired consistency.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Showing the Love for our Puny Potatoes

Check it out! We harvested our potatoes!

Craig saw the above picture before he saw the actual potatoes. When he saw them in person, he started laughing. "Wow, those are some tiny potatoes. In the pictures they looked bigger, like...real potatoes." I beg to differ, Mr.!