Monday, December 27, 2010

Jingle Bells!

Because I have three small children, teach the 18-36 month old class at church on Sundays, and will be taking care of the "Baby Group" at our homeschool co-op for the next two months, I decided I needed some fun entertainment of my own, to keep with me, that would be novel to the children I was with.  It seems that keeping toys novel is the key to keeping small children entertained.  Back in November, right after Thanksgiving, Michaels was selling these harvest colored bells at 75% off.  I bought a box of them, thinking they would come in handy at some time.  Then as I stared at them last night, an idea came.  Last year, when Christmas decorations went to 90% off everywhere, I bought a bunch of raffia for packages.  Well, it's the day after Christmas again, and I haven't used up all the raffia I bought last year.  So, I braided the bells onto it, making musical jingle bells for the kids!   My husband was wonderful and we sat and braided together while watching Paula Dean--Love her!

The bells!  Such pretty colors:  I have red, green, orange, and yellow.

Braiding the raffia, and putting the bell onto one strand.

See...just one strand, so it's part of the braid when you are done.

The bells hanging from the raffia.  Tie off end in a knot.
Tie the ends together in a square knot.  You want a bracelet of bells. 

Jingle Bell bracelets completed! 

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Simple Sausage Dip

My mother always made this wonderful hot sausage dip at the holidays.  I think it's the perfect New Years Treat, though you really could eat it anytime.  I've seen many different variations to it online, some calling for Rotel, some calling for plain's our version:

Hot Sausage Dip
1 pound of HOT sausage (as in spicy).
1 onion
1 8 oz pkg cream cheese
1 large can crushed tomatoes
1 small can of green chilies (we use jalapenos when we are serving a crowd that loves things spicy)
1 8 oz container of sour cream
Chips or crackers to serve it with.  We prefer corn chips.

Dice the onion and saute it in a frying pan.  Brown the sausage in the pan with the onion, crumble well.  Cut the cream cheese into small cubes for easier melting.  When the sausage is finished cooking, melt the cream cheese into it.  Pour in tomatoes and peppers.  Turn off heat.  Right before serving stir in sour cream.  Use as a dip for chips or crackers.  We often keep this in our crockpot at parties so it stays hot.   Enjoy!

Even More Simple (and one of my husband's favorites):

Hot Jezebel Dip
In a small bowl mix together peach, apricot or pineapple preserves with horseradish to taste (we prefer a mix of apricot and pineapple).  Place a brick of cream cheese on a serving platter.  Pour preserve/horseradish mix over the top.  Serve with crackers.  Yum!

True Economy of Housekeeping

The true economy of housekeeping is simply the art of gathering up all the fragments, so that nothing be lost.
I mean fragments of time, as well as materials. Nothing should be thrown away so long as it is possible to
make any use of it, however trifling that use may be; and whatever be the size of a family, every member
should be employed either in earning or saving money.

I was particularly impressed with the introductory paragraph of the book The American Frugal Housewife, written by a Mrs. Child in 1838.
The book itself is full of wonderful tidbits and ideas, many of which are simple, but solve a greater problem. For example, sending the children out
to pick black berries for the family meal, rather than letting them just play aimlessly gives meaning to their time and efforts. Now, that isn't to say the
children didn't use their imaginations and have great fun together in the wooded patches gathering berries. I know that my children adore going out
and picking. Since you can read it online for free, why not peruse it a bit? You might gain some insight into homemaking that you didn't have before.
I'm sure I'll be referring back to it now and again, as one of my hobbies is to sit and imagine keeping house in such a way. I have a collection of old
homemaking books, and have read them all multiple times. I enjoy it...what more can I say?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Anything you say can AND WILL be used against you.

A simple reminder: children remember everything you tell them, even when it seems they are not listening.

Here's an example (originally published on Regression in July 2008):

This evening we made cookies...chocolate chip--no decorating required. This, however, did not phase my dear children. They still got the sprinkles out. I informed them they could only put sprinkles on the ones they were going to eat. The following conversation ensued:

Z: Why?
Me: I don't like sprinkles, so I don't want any on my cookie.
Z: Here's a cup of sprinkles.
Me: What for?
Z: You need to try them again. You said that if I don't like something I need to try it a few times. Keep eating those sprinkles until you learn to like them.

(a few minutes later, he comes up to me imitating my "mmm, this is a good (insert veggie here) statement)
Z: Mmmmm, Mommy, these sprinkles sure are yummy! If you'd try them, I know you'd like them!

I'm trying really hard not to laugh.

THEN, I find Chayce with the colored sugar bottles.

Me: what are you doing?
C: Eating these sparkly sprinkles.
Me: I see....why?
C: They are yummy, and they don't have sugar IN them.
Z: Nope, not in them, because they ARE sugar.

Laughter no longer controlled. You have to love them.

With red sprinkles stuck to her face.

Enjoying the Moment

I've been trying to think of how to phrase why I'm on a quest for simple, and perhaps due to the fact that I like to complicate things, it has been difficult for me. I cannot really explain what it is I am after, but I know it when I see it--or feel it. While looking for my simple moment today, I decided to go back through some writings of my husband's. When I read the following passage, I knew it had to be today's post. Think on it, I know I have been.

During landing at the Detroit airport, I noticed the moon was fascinatingly large, orange, and beautiful. As is typical, my first response was to whip out my cell phone and to try and get a picture of it. Of course, my cell phone was off, so I thought, 'oh, well,' and just looked.

While looking, I contemplated the specialness of the experience. The moon only looks like this a few times per year. Why did I need to violate the specialness by greedily capturing the experience to have with me always? Why could I not watch in wonder rather than immediately trying to immortalize the view?

For remainder of the taxi to my gate, I contemplated how many other things in life were like this experience, and it seemed that much of American culture and lifestyle is this way. We can have any type of food any time of the year. We can have dessert twice a day. We can communicate from anywhere, but the convenience and frequency has led to shallow relationships.

What do you think? Do you agree that our relationships have become more shallow, due to ease of communication? Are we so well off, so wealthy, that nothing is special anymore? I'm off to think on this more.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Being Prepared: Simply.

You just never know when having a store of food will come in handy, so I'm sharing a plan I received from a friend that gives a good guideline for first time storers. It really is a simple thing to add to your life, yet will give you much peace of mind. Think about it--could you live off of your pantry if all of a sudden you were out of a job? Brandy at The Prudent Homemaker has written many wonderful posts about keeping her family fed when they were unemployed.

I received this handout many years ago, so, I'm sure the prices have gone up a bit. I think it should be about $8 now, maybe a little more. Anyhow, for those just starting, it is a good place to start.
However, realize that some weeks will be LESS than $5 (like the soup weeks, or tuna) so you save the left over amount and roll it over to the next week. You should use a total of $260/year, but it'll probably be a bit more since grain prices have gone up.

Week1: 6 lbs Salt
Week2: 5 cans cream of chicken soup
Week3: 20 lbs sugar
Week4: 50lbs of wheat (un-ground. I'll post some recipes for wheat without a grinder later)
Week5: 6lbs pasta
Week6: 20lbs sugar
Week7: 8 cans tomato soup.
Week8: 8 cans tuna
Week9: 6 lbs yeast
Week10: 50 lbs wheat
Week11: 8 cans tomatoes
Week12: 20 lbs sugar
Week13: 10 lbs powdered milk
Week14: 7 boxes mac n' cheese
Week 15: 50 lbs wheat
Week16: 5 cans cream of chicken soup
Week17: 1 bottle 500 count multi-vitamins
Week18: 10lbs powdered milk
Week19: 5 cans cream of mushroom soup
Week20: 50 lbs wheat
Week21: 8 cans tomato soup
Week22:20lbs of sugar
Week23: 8 cans tuna
Week24: 6 lbs shortening
Week25: 50lbs of wheat
Week26: 5 lbs honey
Week27: 10 lbs powdered milk
Week28: 20 lbs sugar
Week29: 5lbs peanut butter
Week30: 50 lbs of wheat
Week31: 7 boxes mac n'cheese
Week32: 10 lbs powdered milk
Week33: 1 bottle 500 count aspirin
Week34: 5 cans cream of mushroom soup
Week35: 50 lbs of wheat
Week36: 7 boxes mac n'cheese
Week37: 6 lbs salt
Week 38: 20 lbs sugar
Week39: 8 cans tomato soup
Week40: 50 lbs of wheat
Week41:5 cans cream of chicken soup
Week42: 20 lbs sugar
Week43: 1 500 count bottle vitamins
Week44: 8 cans tuna
Week45: 50 lbs wheat
Week46: 6 lbs pasta
Week47: 20 lbs sugar
Week48: 5 cans cream of mushroom soup
Week49: 5 pounds of honey
Week50: 20 lbs of sugar
Week51: 8 cans tomato soup
Week52: 50 lbs of wheat

You should end up with enough in storage to feed two people. Personally, I'd buy less wheat and add in some dry beans or lentils. Especially lentils because they are faster cooking. However, Whole wheat berries, when soaked and cooked are high in many of the vitamins needed to survive. I personally, would also buy canola oil rather than shortening, and some oats because they make a great fast breakfast (and who could live without oatmeal cookies in case of emergency? Not I!)

Also, it might be more cost effective in the long run to buy each item in larger quantities when on sale. For example, when I knew wheat was available for $0.35/lb, I went ahead and bought a full 600 lbs, rather than 50 pounds here and there. Of course, we use it regularly.
Good luck!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

When Christmas Comes Early

I already posted about our tree being completely safe (it's even quite light, as it's a plastic one that I bought ten years ago for about $20, because really, once it's covered in decorations, you can't see the tree anyway). I'd been keeping an eye out for a safer nativity for my children to play with, but didn't really want to buy the plastic ones. Then, I was pleasantly surprised.

My wonderful friend (who blogs with her sisters here) sent me this beautiful nativity that she crocheted herself! I was so surprised/excited when I opened the box that I cried. The detail shows that the time and effort this took must have been enormous. My children adore them as well. This is something that will definitely have a place beneath our tree, probably in a cute little basket, every single year. THANK YOU!
The Three Wise Men & Their Gifts.

Mary, Joseph & baby Jesus.

The donkey, Shepherd, sheep, and Angel.

Another shot of baby Jesus, and his wonderful straw lined manger.

Making Do, With Love.

Today, I decided that we needed a lasagna, yet, the only ingredients I had on hand were 8 oz of mozzarella and some lasagna noodles. I was not in the mood to go to the store with three kids in heavy coats, but I wanted lasagna. My friend Cheryl stopped by and warned me of the lovely winter storm that is to come and stay til Thursday, and let me know that if my shopping wasn't done, I'd better do it. After she left, I looked at the kitchen, decided I had enough food if I got creative, and opted to be a hermit. So, onto making lasagna from more scratch than usual.

First, I needed ricotta cheese. Just to let you know, making ricotta is ridiculously easy. In fact, it pains me to see it at such high prices in the store--for two reasons: #1 Ricotta is a left-over. It literally means "cooked again", you get it from the whey after making mozzarella. #2 It takes 15 minutes of effort. Tops.I did not make mozzarella first, I just wanted ricotta, so I followed a shortcut:

Dump 2 quarts of whole milk in a pot. Heat to 200 degrees (just about boiling), add an acid (about 1/3 Cup--lemon juice, vinegar, or I use 1/2 tsp powdered citric acid in 1/3 C water). Reheat to 200 degrees (takes seconds). Take off heat. Let sit 15 minutes while you do something else--like play with the kids, eat lunch, read, you get the picture. Then, line a colander with a thin cloth (clean pillow case works if you don't have fine cheesecloth lying around). Dump it in, let sit for a few minutes. DONE!

IMG_8590.JPGHere it is in the colander.

IMG_8593.JPGI gave it a good squeeze to get the rest of the whey out.

Then, I mixed it with egg, the mozzarella and some sea salt. Set aside to layer in lasagna.

Time to make sauce!!

2 quarts frozen tomato chunks (saved from the garden, when you weren't in the mood to can)

2 carrots, shredded

1/2 onion, diced

2 stalks celery, shredded (an electric shredder makes fast work of all of this!)

some garlic, basil and oregano.


Layer noodles, cheese mixture, sauce, and fresh spinach. Yum.Bake @350 f. Covered with foil. Mine stayed in for two hours, but less would have been OK. You just want to make sure the egg is cooked.

Then, to complete the meal, use the whey to make bread and rolls!

I had four cups of whey left when I was done, so I made two loaves of bread and one rack of rolls. This should last us the week, and if that storm makes it so I can't shop, we'll be eating some amazing PB&J (with a blueberry, strawberry, raspberry jam that I made. Mmmmmm).

IMG_8594.JPGDinner is served!IMG_8600.JPG

Really, it didn't take that long. Wonder what else I'll come up with in this snowy weather. They do say that necessity is the mother of invention!!!

Merry Christmas!

This is currently our front room, all decked out for the holidays. This year, there are no ornaments on the tree that will shatter or break (or break my heart if touched, for that matter). Last year, our tree was knocked over three times by well meaning children, and the ornaments had been glass. For some reason, it just didn't cross my mind that tree+allowing tricycles in the house during our cold winter=crash! But, I have become wiser, and I don't think our decor has suffered at all. In fact, I think it is beautiful, and I love the peace of mind I have from the knowledge that no one is going to get hurt. Even the fireplace isn't actually's a cold one with a heating vent by it. Therefore, it sets the mood, and I'm not constantly telling my toddler not to touch it. Very nice.

Yogurt--Simplicity At It's Finest

I'm writing this post because I get funny looks when I tell people I make our family's yogurt. But really, it's ridiculously easy, and you CAN get it nice and thick like at the store, and it will taste good (especially topped with my home made jam...).

I make 4 quarts at a time, because it's silly for me to make less, considering yogurt keeps well in the fridge for awhile, and it can be used in place of sour cream many times. In fact, we have not purchased sour cream in quite some time. To begin I take a gallon of milk minus a half quart and put it in a stainless steel pot. I use whole pasteurized milk, only because I don't have the money right now for whole raw milk. This recipe isn't cheaper if you are buying organic, and please, if you are spending your money on organic milk please see the foot note to this post*. I'm not against buying organic, it just helps to know what you're getting.
Bring the milk to 112 degrees Fahrenheit. If it is raw milk, you will need to bring it to a boil and let it cool to 112 degrees. I don't use a thermometer. I stick my finger in. If I can still put my finger in, but it's not comfortable after about 20 seconds, it's just right. You can use a thermometer, if you want to.

In a small glass or stainless steel bowl, mix 1/2 C of already made yogurt (leftover from the last batch, or I like to purchase a single serving plain yogurt cup.) with a ladle full of the warm milk. Stir gently, then add the yogurt to the big pot. Stir well, but not briskly. A figure 8 stir pattern works well. NOTE: Plain is not the same as vanilla. Really. I don't add this to insult anyone's intelligence, it's just that there have been those that I've worked with on this that made this mistake. Please don't.
Pour this warm milk mixture into clean quart jars. You'll need 4 if you are using the whole gallon. Take those warm jars (that feel so good...warm glass in hand is kind of a pleasure, don't you think?)

Find a place to keep the milk warm for 4 to 8 hours. I use my dehydrator, kept at 112 degrees. If you don't have a big dehydrator like this one, you can use a cooler filled with hot water, or keep it in the oven with a pilot light on, preheat an electric oven to a low temp and turn it off, or wrap the milk container in a hot towel and set it on top of a radiator. There are many ways. The milk just needs to stay warm. After four hours, test for taste and thickness. The longer it incubates, the more tart it will be. If you want it REALLY thick, like Greek yogurt you can use
a handy tool like this one. It's a fine mesh sieve over a container. Cheese cloth lining a colander can also be used.Pour it in, let it sit for a few hours. The longer it sits, the thicker it'll get in the fridge. If it's kept cold, it won't become any more tart.

*Ahh, now for my footnote. You can ignore it if you wish, but let me make this argument given that my in-laws are dairy farmers who sell their milk to large milk\cheese companies, and my neighbor`s job was to test milk at farms on a regular basis, I feel I can make this statement with decent knowledge.

Organic milk has to meet three criteria: one, no RBGH is used. Did you know that ALL cows make their own RBGH and adding to their bodies doesn`t change what is coming out in the milk. You`re getting more milk out of the same cow with the same levels of rBGH. And Dale Bauman, a professor of animal science at Cornell University states that IGF-1 (an insulin-like growth factor that people are worried about being in milk of rBGH fed cattle) is slightly higher in rBGHtreated cows, but people make IGF-1 on a daily basis, and we would have to drink 95 quarts of milk a day to get the same amount of IGF-1 that is found in just one human`s saliva. And given that I had to take extra hormones in order to breast feed, and it didn`t change my milk quality enough to hurt my baby (it actually helped) I would say it is no biggie. The second criterion for milk to be branded organic is no antibiotics, but given that I have been there for testing of these cows, and dropped samples off to my neighbor`s lab from other large producing dairies, I know that one thing that is being tested for is antibiotics in the milk, and most farmers will not leave a cow on their production line who is sick enough to be taking antibiotics in such an amount that it would come through their milk. My father-in-law in specific takes that cow and milks her separately until she is better, and then puts her back in the line-up after her milk no longer tests for antibiotics. Many, if not most, farmers do this. There might be a few that don`t. Keep in mind, my father-in-law cannot be branded organic because he EVER gave his cow antibiotics. In essence, if you ever treat a cow with a medicine to help the cow, that cow has to be sold to a non-organic farmer or killed. Did you organic buyers know that? Third, grazing time. Many people assume that because the cows on the organic farm have access to a pasture that that is what they are eating, but it is not the case. If you really want grass fed cows milk (which really is better for you, a whole other post, but it has to do with vitamins and a special type of fat that fights cancers) you should be looking for raw, grass-fed cows milk, not organic at the grocery store. As soon as my budget allows, that is what we hope to be drinking, given we can find a dairy farmer who will sell to us under the FDA radar.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Jam Session

I turned this...

and this... (Stephen says it's almost as beautiful as me. Glad to know I come in a close second to fruit.)...

into 28 pints of this...and this.

Here's my recipe:
3 1/2 C any fruit or juice
1/4 C lemon juice (or 1 tsp citric acid dissolved in 8 Tbsp water)
a short 1/2 C of clear jel
3 1/2 C sugar or to taste, if I'm using a very sweet berry, I don't need quite this much.

Bring fruit (or juice) to a boil. In a separate container, mix together clear jel and sugar (this will prohibit the clumping of the clear jel, which would be nasty). Slowly ( 1/2 C at a time) stir the clear jel/sugar mix into the fruit. Bring to a boil to pour into hot glass canning jars. Process in a hot water bath for 10 minutes.
Once you take the jars out of the hot water, let them sit for 24 hours without being disturbed so they will seal.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Healthy, (Wealthy?), and Wise.

My cookie-making helper decided that she really enjoys whole-wheat flour. To her, freshly ground whole-wheat flour is better than one of those Fun-Dip candies.

Anyhow, we decided to make use of our new cookie cutter today, and I put a family favorite to the test with some tweaks. Yum!

Oatmeal Jim-Jams (or Date Sandwich Cookies)

1 C butter, room temp.
1 C brown sugar, or sucanat, or turbinado. I used turbinado today.
2 C whole-wheat flour (contact me if you need to purchase a grinder).
2 C oatmeal, ground in blender
1/2 C flax seed, ground in blender
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking soda
1/2 C water
3/4 C dates & 3/4 C water soaking in a saucepan, set aside.
nuts, optional (we opted out today)

In your mixer or a big bowl, mix all but the last three ingredients.
You should have a stiff dough to roll out. Often, we split this in half and smoosh half into a 13x9, pour on the date mixture (see below) and then roll out and lay the other 1/2 over the top, making one big bar cookie. Today, we got creative.

Simmer that dates on the stove until soft. Puree in blender. Let cool. Should be pretty thick.

When cutting out cookies, make them uniform in size. They don't really rise, so you can place many on one pan, side by side, actually. Bake for 8-10 minutes at 350 degrees.
See our owls? Aren't they cute?!? They make me want to have a party!!!

Make into sandwich cookies with the date puree as the filling.