Monday, February 28, 2011

Questions - Dehydrator

You all are such a good source of information - that I can't help but ask another question.

I'm thinking of purchasing a dehydrator. I have borrowed my mom dehydrator a few times but if I owned one myself, I'm sure I would use it much more.

What brand or style would you suggest? Why? My mom's was just a simple version. Is it worth the extra money to get a deluxe style like an Excalibur?

I'd love to make this purchase before the preserving season hits.

Thanks for you help!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Book Review - Large Family Logistics

I enjoy reading homemaking and organizing books. You may say that I'd rather read about organization then actually do the work to be organized!

While most books are helpful, sometimes I find a book that is so impractical that it borders on ludicrous! A book I read last year was so far removed from my life that I kept reading almost more for the laughs. I wondered if the author, who was an empty nester, had ever lived with little children or could recall a life where bubble baths after dinner and long quite evenings in front the fireplace with a cup of tea are only figments of the imagination.

But the last homemaking book I read, Large Family Logistics was firmly rooted in nitty gritty reality. Kim Brenneman is a homeschool mom, mother of nine and lives on a farm. Several years ago, as a new mom, I enjoyed Kim's website. She completely understands mud, mounds of laundry, and endless meals.

My mom lent me this book, and when my mom tells me a book is worth reading, I read it. Especially since in many ways, the book could have been written by her. My mom is also a mother of nine home schooled children on a farm. Many of the things written in Large Family Logistics were lived out in my home. I know that my life was impacted in ways that I can't even begin to imagine by having a mother who tackled homemaking, even the daunting overwhelming aspects of managing many children, with joy.

I actually think the title could be misleading. While Kim definitely shares from a perspective of a large family, you wouldn't need many children to benefit from it. In fact, I think the one who could find the most value in Large Family Logistics is the young mom just starting her parenting adventure. If you could take to heart the tips and spirit of the book and establish good habits with your children when they are young, it would yield unbelievable benefits for years to come.

Large Family Logistics is divided into two sections. The first deals with the basics of goal setting, time management, attitude, and self discipline. The second section attacks each area of the home, such as laundry, errands, cleaning, meals- and gives practical tips and ideas. The appendix give suggestions if you are overwhelmed and don't know where to begin, or going through a crisis such as illness.

The two areas that stood out to me, either because they were repeated many times, or I just needed to hear them, was my attitude and the importance of training my children. I brought away many practical ideas. One of the reasons I've waited two months before writing a review of this book was to see if the changes were lasting. I revamped my homekeeping notebook and have a simplified housecleaning schedule that is working very  well for me.

But hopefully the most lasting part of the book will be the attitude adjustments. Kim dares to say things like "Learn to love to doing laundry. Replace all the bad feelings and ugly thoughts with Scripture and God-pleasing thoughts. Do the laundry as unto the Lord. You wouldn't complain about doing His laundry, would you?!"

Another quote that keeps running through my head. "When interruptions come, we can say with confidence, 'This is God's will'...Being upset about interrupted plans is, in essence, fighting God...The key is for us to remove 'self' from the center of our world and put God there instead."

See why I had sore toes after reading this book!

If you ever wished you could pick the brain of an experienced mom, I would recommend Large Family Logistics.

What is your favorite homemaking book?

Friday, February 25, 2011

Homemade Soap

One of my "new things" for this winter was making soap. I had tried making soap several years ago with rather dismal results. This summer, I watched my friend, Jesalynn make soap. She made it look so simple that I had to try again.

Since we have lots of lard from butchering, I wanted to find a recipe using all lard, instead of other oils. I'm going to share my recipe and the results from the three times that I used it. But take note that I didn't include directions. Please find soap making directions else where (there is many online) before making soap yourself. I don't feel like I know enough about soap making to teach someone else. Take particular note of the safety cautions. Lye is dangerous and must be used carefully.

One of my past problems was the endless stirring to get the soap to "trace". Before making soap this time, I invested in a stick blender. This made a HUGE difference and I wouldn't suggest trying soap making without this tool. 

Basic Lard Soap

40 oz lard
15 oz water
5.23 oz lye

These were my basic ingredients for each batch.

Batch One - Basic Homesteader Soap

I used the basic soap ingredients without any additives. I was hoping for a basic soap like my grandma made that would be good for laundry, stain removal, and poison ivy.

I was surprised how easy it was. Really the worse part was assembling my ingredients and supplies. I waited until the children were napping and mixed the lye and water out on the deck. While the lye water cooled, I melted the lard on my kitchen stove. When they had cooled to the same temperature, I stirred the two together using brief pulses with the stick blender. In less then five minutes the soap was tracing and I poured into the mold.

The next morning, I dumped the soap out of the mold and cut into bars. I was disappointed to find that the soap was dry and brittle and didn't cut into nice bars. A call to Jesalynn determined the cause may have been too much lye. I didn't have a very accurate scales. Since I've been wanting a digital scales anyway, before my next batch I put in an order to Amazon. I bought the My Weigh digital scale and LOVE it.

Batch Two -Honey Oatmeal Soap

With the help of my digital scales, measuring the ingredients was much easier. For the second batch I used the basic ingredients above and added 4 oz beeswax, 8 T ground oatmeal, 1 tsp cinnamon, and 1 oz honey. I melted the beeswax with the lard but when I tried to cool it down, it kept hardening. I ended up mixing the lye water in with the lard before it was down to my temperature goal (which I forget and I gave the book I was following away.) Immediately the soap traced. I didn't know if it was just my oil thickening since it wasn't the right temperature or what. I continued to blend the soap for ten minutes any way to make sure it wouldn't separate.I then added the other oatmeal, cinnamon and honey before pouring into the mold

The next morning, this soap was perfect. It sliced wonderfully. I love the texture of the oatmeal and would definitely try this recipe again.

Batch Three - Odor Eater Soap

The addition of coffee in soap is supposed to rid your hands of onion odors. I don't know if it works but the flecks of coffee to look nice!

I used the basic soap recipe and added 6 T of coffee just before pouring into the molds. This batch had trouble coming to a trace. I stirred and blended for probably near a half an hour and it still didn't look as good as the other batches.

This time I poured the soap into well-greased muffin tins. I like how the soap looks but it was such a pain to get out of the tins that I doubt I'll ever try this again.

Batch Four - Hand Milled Chocolate Milk Soap

My first batch looked so poorly that I tried to think of a way to salvage it. I decided to try hand milled soap. In hand milled soap, you grate bars of soap, add water and remelt. You can add fragrance without worrying about the lye tracing. I used 12 oz of grated Batch One soap with 9 oz  milk and 1/2 oz baking chocolate.

My first problem was that I waited a month after making the soap. The soap was dry and hard and no fun to grate. Melting took forever and the few slivers that I didn't melt all the way are now bold white spots in my soap. When the soap dried, it shrank and the bars are skinny in the middle. And the final problem, though they look like a big bar of fudge, they don't smell like anything at all, and my husband says it is very strange to have your wash cloth turn brown from your soap, though he admits, it does make you clean.

I doubt I'll try hand milled soap again, unless it is with fresh easily grated soap. I'm not sure what I'll do with my first batch, maybe use it in detergent?

So that is my soap making experience. In all, it was a lot of fun and far easier then I expected. I've enjoyed giving soap away and hardly have any nice bars left. But we'll be using the scraps and flops for a very long time so I don't expect to make soap again anytime soon.

Since lard is basically a waste product that I have in  unlimited supply, this soap was very economical (unless you count the purchase of a stick blender and digital scales - that I've been using for far more than just soap!) I would love to make some with essential oils but at this point I was trying to make do with what I had in my kitchen.

 Have any of you tried making soap?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Pizza Toppings

Some of you asked about my family's favorite pizza toppings.

Of course there is always the basic tomato sauce with pepperoni, sausage, mushrooms, bacon and olives topped with mozzarella cheese. To be honest, this is are most common pizza at our house. (Well, all but the pepperoni which I refuse to buy.) I make tons of pizza sauce in the summer and sometimes the basic and familiar is just the best.

Often I make a separate pizza for Ed and I where we enjoy caramelized onions, garlic and lots of red and green peppers that make the children turn up their nose.

But beyond the basic tomato sauce and toppings, here are a few more pizza ideas we've enjoyed.

Chicken BB Pizza: Barbeque sauce with cooked chicken and cheddar cheese

Chicken Alfredo Pizza: Alfredo sauce (jarred or homemade) with cooked chicken and mozzarella. Brocolli is also a favorite addition and maybe some chopped fresh tomato for color. This is Ed's favorite pizza.

Ham Swiss Pizza: Cooked ham, sliced swiss, broccoli with just a tiny bit of tomato sauce

Taco Pizza: On a partly baked crust, spread refried beans. Add ground beef cooked in taco seasoning, olives, salsa and cheddar cheese. After baking, add chopped tomatoes and lettuce.

Sloppy Jo Pizza - Ground beef and peppers cooked in barbecue sauce topped with mozzarella cheese.

To be honest, some of these pizzas were discovered accidentally. Often by Saturday pizza night, I'm just trying to clean out the fridge. So I ask what would taco meat taste on pizza, or meatloaf, or (I actually tried it) mashed potatoes? I decided about anything works unless it is a dessert or a soup! (Hmmm....but how about a thick cream of asparagus soup? Garnished with a  little bacon? Might not be bad.)

I didn't even mention using salad dressing such as Ranch with bacon for a BLT. Add the fresh tomato and lettuce after baking.

The ideas really are limitless. There is more than one reason to avoid the lowly pepperoni!

For more ideas check out Tammy's great pizza recipes.

And speaking of dessert pizzas - check out this video on Pizza Quest of a S'mores pizza! Definitely want to try it!

How do you like your pizza?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Homemade Doughnuts

Yesterday was my family's annual Doughnut Day when all the ladies get together to make homemade doughnuts. For one day out of the year, I forget that I try to bake healthy foods and jump into all the fried white flour yumminess.

Last year some of you asked for the recipe for homemade doughnuts. This is the recipe we've used for over 30 years, ever since I was a little girl (that makes me sound old!) I'm sharing it just like it is. If I was mixing up doughnuts, I'd replace the shortening with butter, the sugar with honey and replace some of the white flour with whole wheat flour. There may be a reason that I'm not in charge of mixing up the dough. I'm sure my brothers would think that I'm destroying a great tradition. But really, I think those changes could be made and still have a great doughnut - at least is you didn't mess up with the fried in lard part.

Strangely, one of the most popular recipes on this blog continues to be the baked doughnut. Honestly, baked doughnuts taste more like sweet rolls then doughnuts. They are still tasty but to get the real thing, you just need the fried grease.

I don't want healthy eating to become bondage and today I was thinking of Michael Pollan's Food Rules. Number 39 is "Eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself." I partly disagree because I could make a awful lot of nutritional empty food for my family if I wanted to. But I get his point. Making doughnuts is a lot of fun when you can gab with your sisters and sister-in-laws. But by the end of the day, when we washed the last greasy pan, my feet ached and I was thoroughly sick of smelling doughnuts. Doughnuts didn't even look good to me anymore. No one in their right mind would go through that kind of work to get a doughnut with their coffee every morning. When our food consumption was tied to what we grew in our gardens and produced in our kitchens, our diets were healthier out of necessity.

Pollan's Food Rule # 60 is "Treat treats as treats." So I'll try to find some sort of balance and I will eat my doughnut guilt-free and with intense relish. These really are absolutely wonderful. The amount of doughnuts this batch makes will depend greatly upon the size of doughnuts made, how thin they are rolled, etc. We made four batches this year which made several hundred doughnuts which were divided among five families and shared with friends.

Homemade Doughnuts

1 quart of milk, heated almost to boiling
2 cup mashed potatoes
1 1/2 cup sugar
1 cup shortening
4 T yeast
1/2 cup warm water
1 tsp sugar
4 cup flour
2 eggs, beaten
1 T salt
8-10 cups flour

Mix milk, potatoes, sugar, and shortening. Cool to lukewarm.
Dissolve yeast in warm water with sugar. After milk-potato mixture is cooled, add yeast mixture plus 4 cups flour. Mix well. Let stand one half hour in warm place covered with cloth. Then add eggs, salt and as much flour as needed to handle. If dough is a bit sticky, the result is lighter doughnuts.
Let rise until double in a warm place. Punch down and roll out to 1/2 inch thick. Cut with doughnut cutter. Place cut doughnuts on lightly floured surface to rise. By the time you have all the doughnuts cut you can start frying the first ones cut. Fry in hot fat at 350 degrees.
Dip in glaze while doughnuts are still hot. Drip over pan until dry.
Wait until cool to sugar or fill doughnuts.
For freshest doughnuts, freeze immediately. They thaw quickly 

For small amount of glaze (won't be enough for entire batch)
3 1/2 cup powdered sugar mix with 1/2 cup hot water, heat gently until dissolves. Don't boil!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Whole Wheat Pizza Dough

This week I thought I'd interrupt the bread baking series and answer some pizza questions.  This was the first bread recipe I shared and if you have any other questions, this would be a great time to ask.

How do you adapt the pizza crust recipe when using whole wheat flour? My dough seemed dry and stiff.

I should have been more specific in the directions. Generally, when using whole wheat flour, you will use less flour then when using white flour in the same recipe. Whole wheat flour absorbs more water and the final outcome will be too dry if the same amount of whole wheat flour is used. Typically you can cut back a quarter cup for every 1 cup of flour. OR you can increase the water. It also helps to allow the dough to rest before kneading to give the whole wheat flour time to hydrate.

I usually made my pizza dough with half white/ half whole wheat flour until I began using the following method. You'll see that it is quite similar to original recipe with only small changes in adding the flour. Even though this dough is 100% whole wheat flour, we love it and have served it to guests with great success.

Whole Wheat Pizza Dough

1 cup warm water
1 T yeast

Dissolve yeast in water.

3 T oil
1 tsp sugar or honey
1 tsp salt
2 cups whole wheat flour

Mix all together and stir for several minutes. I usually do this by hand unless I'm doubling the batch, then I use the kneading hook on my mixer.

Allow the dough to sit for five minutes. This allows the flour to fully hydrate in the water and keeps you from adding too much flour. After five minutes, turn the dough out onto a floured counter and add only enough flour to make it easy to manage. You still want it to be slightly tacky without being excessively sticky. I usually add about ½ cup more flour, sometimes not even that much. Knead only briefly since you stirred it well previously. Avoid adding too much flour or the dough will be tough and dry.

Place in greased bowl and allow to raise until double. Place on baking sheet or pizza pans, add toppings and bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Is spring coming?

This week was incredibly warm. After so many weeks of bitter cold weather, it was a joy to be outside again - even if the spring-like weather means lots of mud!

I had to keep reminding myself that this is only February and 60 degree weather would probably not last. In fact, today is blustery and cold again.

But we did enjoy it while it lasted, and it gave us encouragement that winter would not be forever. Here is some random photos from the week.

I have no idea what I'm doing in pruning grapes, but on Monday I was looking for an excuse to do anything outside. There is a strange satisfaction at turning the brambly mess into a tidy vine.

This is where I started.

And this is the finished product, a mere shadow of the original vine, but hopefully now able to be more productive.

And, of course, I can't ever prune without thinking of God's pruning in my life in order that I may bear fruit.

The seedlings on the window sill are up and growing well. I don't have a good place to start seeds, but I can't help trying a few every spring. Maybe it is from my years of working at a greenhouse, I just have to get seeds in the ground in February. I start seeds in small containers, cover with plastic wrap for a greenhouse effect and place on the top of my refrigerator to germinate. The refrigerator is the warmest place in my house.

After the seeds appear, I remove the plastic wrap and place the plants in my basement window. Our basement is basically unheated so I only grow cold weather crops like lettuce and broccoli. I know I can never grow hot weather lovers like tomatoes with the little heat and sunlight in my basement. Plus I will be able to move the cold weather crops to the garden as soon as the ground can be worked, protected with a row cover. By then I'll want to be outside anyway and not nursing plants on the window sill.

I tried chitting onions this year with the encouragement of Quinn. I've never grown onions from seed but I was impressed with the huge variety I could grow from seed so I'm making an attempt.

If you are interested in seed starting, check out Seed Starting 101 at Choit's Run. Lots of good info - and great photos!

The only thing growing in our garden is a few garlic sprouts from garlic planted in the fall.

The lettuce in the cold frame/hoop house is starting to regrow. I'm surprised that after freezing and turning to mush, the roots pushed out fresh leaves as soon as the weather warmed.

On Thursday, we just had to take the time for a picnic at one of our favorite parks.

There was still a little snow under the trees but the sunshine was warm and the children asked if they could go barefooted! I was mean enough to say "no" but that would have saved their shoes from the mud!

I'm a little sad to see the end of the quiet days of winter. There are many unfinished projects that I should have accomplished this winter. But I don't regret just enjoying the slow days, spending time just reading, doing messy craft projects with the children and just "being" instead of rushing around in the "doing" all the time.

Now that spring is approaching and the busy days loom large, I fight the urge to start hyperventilating. I love the busy productivity of summer. I hate the frantic busyness of summer. I don't want to blink and miss the fun of spring and summer because I'm too distracted with work to notice.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Agrarian Picture Books

Continuing to share favorite picture books. Go here to find the Winter book list.

Many of our children's favorite books focus on animals and life in the country. Some of these books were my favorites when I was a girl.

Ox-Cart Man [Paperback]
Oxcart Man by Donald Hall
Favorite story of pioneer diligence illustrated by our favorite artist, Barbara Cooney.

Brambly Hedge Autumn Story
Brambly Hedge Autumn Story by Jill Barklem
Sweet story and illustrations that make you want to climb into the pictures! I dreamed of living in Brambly Hedge as a child. The other seasons are also available in this series.

 G is for Goat
G is for Goat by Patricia Polacco
A new book on our shelf. Once again, it is the illustrations that pull me, this time sweet girls in pinafores and adorable floppy eared goats. If you like goats, this is definitely the book for you.

The Year At Maple Hill Farm
A Year at Maple Hill Farm by Alice and Martin Provensen
Another favorite author and illustrator.

James Herriot's Treasury for Children: Warm and Joyful Tales by the Author of All Creatures Great and Small
James Herriot's Treasury for Children
A Yorkshire vet shares sweet animal stories.

Pelle's New Suit
Pelle's New Suit by Elsa Beskow
This book has recently been republished. I love how different members of the community work together to make a suit out of wool for Pelle.

The Little Puppy (Pictureback(R))
Little Puppy by Judy Dunn
All of our children have loved this series of books about various animals.

Now it is your turn, what are your favorite books celebrating the agrarian life? I'll be making out a library list!


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