Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Collector

I am a collector.

I wish I could say that I was a collector of vintage jewelry, fine wines, or antique gadgets, but alas, it is not that glamorous.

I am a collector of auto-immune diseases.

I am now up to three.

If I were looking at the glass as half-full, I would say, "Well self, you have a good eye for collecting." (Only 1 good eye though. The other has a scar across the pupil. Kind of worthless. Except it balances my face out.)

Right now my half-full glass is lying on the kitchen floor, not shattered, but slightly chipped. I'm down, but not out.

Okay, a little out. The latest disease process requires a low-dose chemotherapy treatment. (I do NOT have cancer. Promise.)

Which makes me a little sick and tired.

The four pages that came with my "therapy" pills left my mind reeling with all of the warnings. All of which followed the first.

This product could cause death.

Anything that isn't death would fall into the glass is half-full category. At least for me.

I'm not looking for sympathy, I just felt the need to share why I've been a little absent from blog-land. Life is always busy, but now when I have a moment to relax, I do it behind closed eyelids. And with the Christmas season upon us, closing my eyes may be a luxury that will have to wait until the New Year.

Except by then, I plan on being completely healed.

Half-full, baby.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Farm "Flowers" and a Cocoa Mix Recipe

After an amazing Thanksgiving holiday, it's time to get back in the saddle.

If I had a saddle anyway.

Of course, then I'd need a horse too. Maybe I should just say, "It's time to get back into the routine of normal life."

But then, I'd have to define normal.

Monday may be harder than I expected.

Thanksgiving for me is an excuse to overeat. Because apparently, a person is only allowed to have roasted turkey, cranberries, stuffing, and pumpkin pie once a year. I think it's a law or something. So I indulge. Which leads to guilty days spent lying on the sofa, wearing dirty yoga pants, and watching Christmas movies on Lifetime. It's only on Sunday when I awaken from my turkey-induced stupor and begin to function again.

Since I had worked so hard on our Thanksgiving dinner, my Mister decided to bring me home the farmer's equivalent of a bouquet of flowers.

Meet Flower. He's a rooster. As in, a boy chicken. And yes, that is my kitchen table and I am inserting a little sarcasm here. (Because we now have 6 boy chickens.) Flower was living a life of luxury in town when his owners discovered his incredible singing talent. Since town-dwellers are only allowed 3 hens inside the city limits, Flower had to go.

Somehow, he ended up here. As my gift. My Mister is either a softie at heart, or he just gets me. Chickens, cows, and chocolate...that's all I need.

Speaking of chocolate...

I love it. Especially hot. What I don't love is all of the ingredients on the can of mix. For the life of me, I cannot figure out why partially hydrogenated anything should be in cocoa mix. It makes about as much sense as the anti-caking chemicals they also add. Seriously? Is caking cocoa really a problem? Could it be because there is hydrogenated fats in it?

Hmmm....something to ponder.

Before you go and buy another can of chemically-laden hot chocolate mix, give homemade a try. And because there are only 5 ingredients in this version, I'm calling this a health food.☺

  ~Hot Chocolate Mix~
The Players
1 (26 oz.) bag of Bob's Redmill Non-fat Dry Milk Powder
5-1/2 cups dry milk powder of your choice
1-1/2 cups organic sugar
1 cup unsweetened organic, fair-trade cocoa powder
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips (I get organic in bulk at Whole Foods.)
1/4 t. sea salt
Into a large bowl, mix all the ingredients. Put 1/3 of the mixture at a time into a food processor and pulse until chocolate chips are powdery. (They will cease to make that obnoxious racket that chocolate chips in a food processor does!) Pour mixture into another bowl. Continue to process 2 more batches until all of the mix is done.
Pour into a lidded canister or jar.
To make cocoa: Add 3 tablespoons of cocoa mix to a cup of hot milk or water. Stir well.
Don't forget the whipped cream!

This post is linked to The Homestead Barn Hop.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

DIY~Wool Dryer Balls

A few months ago, the Mister and I attended our 2nd Mother Earth News Fair. While we enjoy listening to our favorite farming "peeps", we also enjoy perusing the different vendor booths, dreaming about all the things that could make our lives easier if only we were millionaires. One vendor that we especially liked was selling all kinds of green laundry supplies, most of which I already did. Except one.

Wool dryer balls were created to take the place of toxic dryer sheets. Made with 100% wool yarn, they help to eliminate static cling, decrease drying time, and keep your towels and unmentionables properly fluffed. But, at $21.00 for a set of 4, buying them just didn't make economical sense. So, I googled it.

You should know that there are literally hundreds of posts dedicated to the making of dryer balls. Either people have entirely too much time on their hands, or they balked at the high prices as I did. For me, it is a little of both. I have a really difficult time watching television and not doing something else at the same time. Maybe I'm just too ADHD to sit still for an entire 2 hour flick. Or maybe it's because I know that my restless hands drive my family nuts.

That's probably it.☺

Making wool dryer balls is easy, and for $10 (or less), you too can have your own 4 fancy balls to toss in the dryer.

And if you're as fortunate as I, your family will burst into fits of giggles when you ask, "Where are my balls?"

I really need to get a life.

Here's what you'll need:

1 skein of 100% wool yarn (Make sure it is NOT machine washable or the yarn will not felt.)
1 nylon stocking (I use cheap knee highs.)
1 tapestry needle
acrylic yarn (for tying)

Start by wrapping yarn around two fingers several times.

Remove the yarn from your fingers, turn the loops sideways and wrap a few more times.

Now fold this in half and continue wrapping, turning often to make a ball.

Continue to roll until the ball is 5-6 inches in circumference. Cut the yarn, leaving a 6-inch tail.

Thread the end of the yarn through a tapestry needle and draw the end through the ball.

Tie into a knot by looping around 1 strand of yarn. Cut off the tail or tuck back into the ball. Place the ball into a nylon stocking and push to the bottom. Tie off the stocking just above the ball with a piece of acrylic yarn. (Don't use wool yarn for this, you don't want it to felt.)

Make 3 more balls, adding each one to the stocking and tying off.

Place the balls in the washing machine and wash on hot with no soap. When finished, toss in the dryer and dry on high heat.

After the balls are dried, untie the yarn and remove the balls from the stocking. Increase the size of the balls by adding more yarn until the balls are approximately 9-inches around. Tie off as before and return to the stocking. Again, wash on hot with no soap, and dry on high heat. If you want, you can repeat the wash/dry cycle for a third time. You don't have to; the balls will continue to felt as they are used.

The dryer ball on the right is new; the one on the left has been in use for a few months.
To use, place a minimum of 4 balls in the dryer per load. (I use 8 for large loads.)

Just one word of caution when making these~don't, I repeat don't ever watch a movie with high adrenaline action, such as "The Amazing Spiderman." You may find your balls rolling half way across the living room...

 ...while the family comes up with more reasons to giggle.☺

This post is linked to Farm Girl Blog Fest at Fresh Eggs Daily.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Cleaning & Curing Walnuts

(Photo credit)
I like nuts. Of course, I'm from a long line of nuts, so it figures I would like some of them. But I'm not talking about those nuts, I'm talking English Walnuts.

English walnuts are high in omega 3's, vitamin E, and minerals such as; manganese, copper, iron, and selenium. They have been shown to help lower LDL levels of cholesterol, are high in protein, and are a rich source of anti-oxidants.

But that's not why I like them.

They're just delicious. Besides adding walnuts to baked goods (especially chocolate chips cookies!), I like to substitute them for pine nuts in pesto, toast and add them to sauteed veggies, and sprinkle on top of ice cream. For the holidays, my family likes walnuts that have been dipped in chocolate and sprinkled with coarse sea salt for a treat.

Last week, we had the opportunity to pick walnuts with some family members. I was so excited about picking the nuts that I forgot my camera, but don't worry, I'll create a visual for you...

Imagine 6 adults, bent over in a cow field, chucking nuts into 5 gallon buckets, for 2 hours straight.

No pictures needed. You're welcome.☺

When picking walnuts, it's important to wear gloves. Since we were in a cow field (complete with very large Holsteins that looked like they had been zapped by growth hormones), we also wore boots. Depending on the weather, the walnuts start to ripen and fall from the trees in October and November. Most of the nuts that fall still have some of the husk (that has turned black) on them.

(Photo credit)
Once on the ground, the husk gets a little slimy. Apparently, this is completely normal and probably the real reason for the gloves.☺ We came home with approximately 80+ pounds of nuts.

Before the nuts can be cured, they first must be washed.

The nuts are then dried with a leaf blower, because that's how my father-in-love rolls...

before being picked through to look for any that are open. Those are discarded because:
1. They were in a cow field. With cowsAnd poop
2. They make great condo's for insects looking to get out of the weather. Extra protein, yes. Appetizing? Not at all.
To cure the walnuts, we spread them out on old window screens that were placed near the woodstove.

And to detract dogs and kids, we put those screens up on drying racks.

The walnuts should be ready in 3-7 days, after which they'll be stored in gunny sacks until needed.
Until then, I'll be practicing patience. It is a virtue, you know.☺
 This post is linked to The Homestead Barn Hop.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Home Remedies~Elderberry Syrup

Every summer, I tag all the elderberry trees on our property, with the hopes of harvesting some juicy  purple berries in the fall. And every fall, I'm disappointed to find that the deer have beaten me to the harvest.

Those deer are a sneaky bunch.

I know that the deer are the culprits because I've become very adept at tracking. Not footprints. But poop. Specifically, purple deer poop. And I'm pretty certain that our deer population is much healthier because of those berries.

Elderberries are known for being high in antioxidants. They are also packed with vitamins, A, B, and C, and are great for boosting the immune system. Fresh berries can be used to make jams, jellies, and wine. Dried berries are great for adding to baked goods, or rehydrating and making syrup.

Elderberry syrup has been used for medicinal purposes for hundreds of years. Taken at the onset of a cold or flu, elderberry has been shown to reduce the length of illness. Some people even take the syrup on a daily basis to keep their immune systems strong during cold & flu season.

And since "The Crud" has decided to pay our house a visit, I decided to take some action before the Mister gets it.

Because there's nothing worse than a man-cold. (Click here to see for yourself.)

I owe it to my family to keep that from happening.☺

~The Players~
2/3 cup dried elderberries (I purchase mine here.)
3-1/2 cups filtered water
1-inch piece of fresh ginger root, peeled
2 sticks of cinnamon
8 whole cloves
1 cup raw honey (as local as you can get it)

Pour water into a medium saucepan and add elderberries, gingerroot, cinnamon sticks, and cloves. Bring to a full boil; cover, and reduce heat to simmer. Let the mixture simmer until liquid is reduced by half. This will take approximately an hour to 90 minutes.
Remove from heat and strain through a fine-mesh strainer. Allow the liquid to cool to lukewarm.
Add honey to cooled mixture and stir well to combine. Store elderberry syrup in a glass bottle or jar in refrigerator.
I give 1 teaspoon, 3x's/daily to my children. (For kids under 6, I would give 1/2 teaspoon.) The Mister & I dose up with 1 Tablespoon, 3x's daily.
*Never give raw honey to any child under the age of 1.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

It's All About the Butter

There was a time when I didn't understand this well-known quote from Julia Child. While growing up, I thought that margarine was butter, and cream came from the freezer section with mini-marshmallows and nuts in it.

In my 20's, I learned that there was a difference between butter and margarine, which had nothing to do with nutritional value. It was all about the finances. As a young married couple, margarine was cheap. I remember buying a particular brand that cost a mere $.39/lb. That was an entire box! For 39 cents! And I could add it to our 25 cent carton of macaroni & cheese. We were poor, and it was ignorant bliss that we chose to stay in until much later.

At the turn of the 20th century, heart disease was unheard of. And everyone ate butter. Because margarine didn't exist. (Neither did soybean oil, but I'm not opening that can of worms today!) It wasn't until some dude in the 1960's declared that saturated fat caused heart disease, and the ban on butter began. Even though, up until this point, every home in America had been using butter, much of which was made right at home. And if butter is so bad, why hasn't the rate of heart disease decreased with the increased use of low-fat, butter-like psuedo spreads? Maybe because butter, by itself, is not the culprit of clogged arteries and coronary heart disease?

I wish I would have known how easy it was to make butter earlier. It takes only minutes, and doesn't require that you have a family cow or a special churn. Homemade butter is best when used fresh, but it can also be frozen for up to 2 months if wrapped in waxed paper and placed in a freezer bag. (I freeze in 1/2 cup servings so it's easier to use in baking.)

And don't let fear of butter stand in your way...

...start with the cream.

That Julia Child was a smart lady.

There are a couple of ways to make butter at home. First, start with some heavy whipping cream. This can be fresh from the cow, or bought from the grocery store. Just try to find cream that has not been ultra-pasteurized and is organic if at all possible.

Method #1~

Pour 2 cups heavy cream into a wide-mouth quart jar. Place a piece of plastic wrap over the jar, then secure with a screw-top lid.

And shake.

*See below for next step.

Method #2~

Pour cream into mixing bowl with paddle attachment.

If your mixer has a splash guard, use it, otherwise you can just place a towel over the mixer.

Turn the mixer on medium-high and let it run until the butter has separated from the buttermilk.

*For Method #1 & #2~Using a strainer, pour the buttermilk off. (Save it for the chickens, pigs, or use it in a recipe.)

Put the butter back into the bowl and pour some ice water into it. I use the strainer to keep the ice out of the butter.

Using the mixer with the same attachment, turn it on the lowest setting and allow water/butter to swirl around for about 15 seconds. Pour off the water. You can add salt now, if desired. (I only add salt if we're going to put it in the butter crock.) Use a wooden spoon to press out any remaining water, before transferring the butter to a covered glass container. Store in the fridge until ready to use, or in a butter crock for soft butter.

Now I need to find some biscuits...☺

This post is linked to The Homestead Barn Hop.

Monday, October 29, 2012

You Should Know #6...The Real Me

I've got a confession to make. Mostly to myself. And it's monumental. Or just mental. Whatever it is, it took half of a large-sized chocolate bar (It was organic.), and an entire bottle of red wine (It was on sale.) for me to realize...

I forgot who I am. The real me. Not the me who answers to "Honey", "Momma", or "Nana". Not the me who is constantly answering another question as to how I'm feeling. And certainly not the me who stares back in the mirror. I don't know her. She's just, well, she's just old-looking. And tired. So, I decided to have a talk with myself about who I really am in the hopes that maybe, just maybe I'll find myself again without having to get a tattoo on my arm that just says, "Kim".

Here's what I think you (and me) should know about me.

1. I'm a yeller. Growing up in a house of yellers, I decided early on, that I was not going to be one of those parents. Then I became one. Times 9. Not that I'm excusing the yelling, but it's very easy to judge someone whose shoes you've never walked in. So, I'm working on this. The yelling, not the judging. I'm a mess. But, a mess in progress.

2. I don't like meat. There. I've said it. I like to raise it. I like to cook it. But I do not like to eat it. Probably because I have to floss after eating it. And I hate flossing. It's my own act of rebellion. When the dentist asks, I smile and turn it back to him, "What do you think?" He usually tells me what a good job I've been doing and gives me a baggy with an extra toothbrush and, you guessed it, dental floss. I use it to cut cinnamon rolls. It's a win-win.

3. I am a cryer. Oh yes. Whenever I get angry, I cry. Sad? I cry. Sick? Happy? Ecstatic? Yep, crying. I go to Costco for the sole purpose of buying Kleenex in bulk. It makes me so happy to see all those boxes wrapped together in plastic, so I cry. Then I think about all the dolphins that will die because of all the plastic, so I cry a little harder. Which leads me to bust into the bulk wrapping so I can blot and blow. I can no longer shop at our local Hallmark store, because I've blubbered over every card from Congratulations on Your New Baby, to Just Because I Was Thinking of You. I've now resorted to buying blank cards and signing my name next to a hastily scribbled, Happy Birthday. That's it. No sentiment whatsoever. Because I'll cry. And it would smear my signature.

4. I wear bifocals. Well, not really. I got them. I hear they're cute, but I can't see a dang thing with them. And they make me walk like a drunken sailor. I feel like I need Dramamine just to get to the kitchen. Give me a fishing pole and I'd swear I was on a boat in the ocean. I'll probably regret not wearing them someday. But not today. I'm just thankful they haven't made me puke yet.

5. I like to quilt while I watch episodes of House Hunters International. Too bad I have to choose between seeing the television or seeing the quilt stitches. Maybe I should take some Dramamine and put on the bifocals. But that would be too easy, and I like to do things the hard way. Besides, seeing vacation homes in Jamaica may make me start thinking get-rich-quick-Ponzi-scheme. It's best if I just don't see the t.v.

6. My knees knock when I have to stand in front of an audience. Seriously. I sing on the worship team at church and it always feels like my first time. Thankfully, my knees knock to the rhythm of the music, so it's almost like we have a drummer. Almost. A few years ago, I had to give a little speech. My throat dried up, my lips stuck together, and I developed a stutter I didn't previously have. But, if I get to play a character, I have no fear at all. Sometimes it's easier to play someone else than it is to just be me. Next time I have to give a speech, I'm going to pretend to be Ricky and Lucy Ricardo. So I can yell. And cry.

7. I don't particularly like some of the blogs that I follow. Don't get me wrong, I'm probably not talking about you. But when I first started blogging, I followed everyone. I wanted to learn. I needed to know about real, whole foods. I needed to learn how to use a glue gun and make my junk look like something from Pier 1. I wanted to know how (fill in the blank) cleaned her house, schooled her kids, grew her garden, bought a month's worth of groceries with 2 nickels and a prayer, etc...all without yelling. Or crying. I quickly realized that following all of those people made me feel bad about the job I was doing. It wasn't real. Nobody shows the ugly part of living. Because really, who would read it? Food blogs never show the scorched pans. Or the sink full of dirty dishes. The whole food blogs don't share that their kids actually gagged when mom served up Kidney Pie, or Liver & Onions. And they make you believe that a good old tub of Ben & Jerry's has never graced the inside of their freezers. Most home school blogs don't share the fact that little Johnny refused to do his required reading. Or the science experiment failed miserably. They don't show the exhausted mom or dad at the end of a really bad school day. And we all have them. And for goodness sake, groceries cost more than $40/week for a family of 6. It's a fact. Even if you are a vegetarian, home gardening, canner/producer. Toilet paper isn't free. And for a family of 6, that's half the grocery budget right there. I should know. We buy that in bulk too.

8. I don't like to sit in movie theaters. I can't stand the thought of my seat being sat in during a previous showing. That person may have had a cold. Or sticky fingers. Or didn't wash his/her hands after using the public bathroom. I shudder to think what kinds of germs are covering my chair and I spend the entire movie wondering if any of those germs have legs. For that same reason...

9. I don't use public restrooms. Unless it's an emergency. Then I'll only use the bathroom at Lowes. Because it's nice. And clean. And I get some really great decorating ideas while sitting in the stall. I usually feel guilty about just using them for their bathroom, so I end up buying something inexpensive. Like sandpaper. I currently have enough sandpaper to sand down the entire outside walls of our 2-story, 5600 square foot house. Probably the inside too.

10. I am technologically challenged. See that rooster at the top of my page? His name was Elvis. Emphasis on was. He's dead. Coming up on 2 years in fact. We now have another rooster. His name is Moonshine. And he looks nothing like the dead Elvis. But I can't remember how to change the picture at the top of the page. So dead Elvis stays. I spent an entire weekend Swagbucking "How to create new banners for blogs." Which left me yelling at the computer. Then crying. I think there was chocolate involved in there somewhere, but the wine obliterated that memory.

In conclusion, I've decided to dye my hair. Because really, that was all this was about. Finding the real me. Under all that gray.☺

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Making Mozzarella

Lately, my life has been about cheese. Pounds and pounds of cheese. With gallons to spare, mozzarella has become one of my favorite ways to use up the excess milk that seems to multiply overnight.

And, it seems that pudding for breakfast, lunch, and dinner isn't an acceptable form of excess milk usage in the United States of America.

Go figure.

Since I do not have a cheese press (yet!), I researched recipes for soft cheeses before settling on mozzarella. Then I had to sift through all of those recipes for one that made sense to me.

After a couple hours of internet use and a postponement of a history lesson I needed to teach, I finally found the one. Like a light shining from up above, my eyes went to the DVD stand and landed on a copy of Homestead Blessings: Dairy Delights. The West ladies know how to make cheese. And ice cream. And butter. While smiling.

And they don't have any fancy-schmancy gadgets to do it.

Mozzarella is a very easy cheese to make. If you have a source of fresh milk, use it. But if you don't, don't fret. You can still make mozzie using store-bought milk! Just be sure to not use ultra-pasteurized or high-heat pasteurized milk, as all the "good stuff" has been killed.

The Ingredients~

2 gallons of cold milk (Use raw, whole or 2 %)
citric acid
*liquid rennet (see below)
filtered water

The Process~

Pour milk into a large pot. Mix together 2-1/2 t. of citric acid (which can be found in any health food section or sprouting section of a store) with 1/4 cup filtered water until citric acid is dissolved. Pour citric acid into the milk and stir with a long-handled wooden spoon for about 2 minutes.

Begin to heat milk on medium low to 88*F, stirring gently. This could take up to 20 minutes.

Use a dairy or digital thermometer to determine the temperature. (Stir well before reading so the heat will be evenly distributed throughout the milk.)

Once 88*F. has been reached, turn off the stove.

Mix 1/8 t. liquid rennet with 1/4 cup water. Add the rennet solution to the warmed milk, stirring for 15-20 seconds. Set a timer for 30 minutes.

Then, walk away. Seriously. Take a shower. Call your mom. Sneak into your secret chocolate stash, or read a book. Just don't come back and stir the pot. You'll have to trust me on this one. After 30 minutes, the milk should look like a large pot of tofu. But better.

Using a long knife, cut through the curd (all the way down) into 1-inch strips. After that is done, do the same crossways. Like this: #

Let this sit for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes, turn the burner on to medium. Stir, without mixing, to keep the curds from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Put your spoon straight down into the curds and lift up.

Once the curds have reached 108*F. (this won't take long since they are already warm), turn off the heat. Let the solution sit for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Drain the curds in a colander for 15 minutes. My picture didn't turn out, but I set the colander in a large bowl and drained the whey into that for my pigs. They LOVE the whey! (Chickens love it too!) While the cheese is draining, mix 1/2 gallon of water with 1/2 cup of fine sea salt and heat to boiling. You can use the same pot that the cheese was in without washing it.

At the end of 15 minutes, cut the cheese (which resembles a big, hot blob of goo) into strips.

Dump the strips into a large bowl and add half of the boiling saltwater. Stir with wooden forks or spoons for about 10 minutes.  After 5, drain the water off and add the other half of the saltwater. This is the one time where playing with your food is a good thing, so stretch, pull, tug, and swirl away.

Drain the cheese into the colander to start kneading it. It will be extremely hot, so use the wooden forks/spoons until cool enough to handle. This will get all the water out of the cheese.

As soon as you're able, turn the cheese out onto a counter/cutting board and knead by hand. You will want to stretch and pull this to allow any water bubbles to escape. I fold the cheese over and into itself, kind of like shaping loaves of bread. Remember, that as the cheese cools, it will become more difficult to shape the cheese, so work quickly. When I'm done, I place the still-warm cheese into a Pyrex loaf pan and cover it with a piece of wax paper and a lid.

Store in the refrigerator until ready to use.

This recipe makes approximately 2 pounds of fresh mozzarella cheese that is solid enough to be grated or sliced. If you won't use it all up within a week, mozzarella can be frozen for up to 2 months if wrapped in plastic and placed in a freezer bag.

Not that cheese has EVER lasted more than 2 days in our house.☺

*Rennet can be found in most health food stores or online. You can use either the calf rennet, made from the lining of a calf's stomach (ew.) or vegetable rennet, which is made from a type of mold.

This post is linked to the Homestead Barn Hop, The Farmgirl Blog Fest, and Farmgirl Friday Blog Hop.