Thursday, April 26, 2012

Food Dehydration Ideas

On Saturday, I helped at an Emergency Preparedness Fair with the Red Cross. The event was hosted by a local Mormon church. The information tables were provided by organizations and individuals. This is the second year and I have been both times. It's a great program. One table was an older couple who were sharing information on dehydrating foods and sprouting. He had made this huge dehydrator that looked like a cupboard and was nearly as tall as me. I stopped and talked to the woman when I noticed her collection of dehydrated foods. She had glass jars of all sorts of things from cheeses to vegetables to fruits to other stuff. She told me that she dried everthing. Her husband told us about her jar of vegetables that they used for soup. When items came out of the garden they went into the dehydrator and then were mixed in a gallon jar to be turned into soup and it was the best soup ever. I believe him but I was just stunned by the cheeses and the soup starters. She told me that when she has left overs such as split pea soup - she dehydrates on sheets of plastic (like you would fruit leather). She reconstitutes it later. What an amazing idea because dried foods take up less space and are so versitile. Lately I've been loving my dried oranges in my tea. I drink my first cup and then keep refilling with cool water so I can enjoy those oranges all day. Last night, I started a batch of tomatoes in the dehydrator. The woman told my husband that she dries her tomatoes and then grinds them into a powder with seasonings. When she wants spaghetti sauce she mixes the powder with water and voila - she has sauce. I can see so much potential. Ground tomato with a little water easily becomes tomato paste. More water and some chucks becomes canned tomatoes. I have 25 pounds of romas and this one batch barely touched the surface. I will can some but I can't wait to see what I can do with the dried tomatoes. I picture quick soups and sauces in our future.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Seeking Sanctuary At World's End

When I started this blog, I was struggling with feeding my family a gluten free diet on a tight budget.  Over the past few years, my life and diet have changed but I am still striving to feed my family on a tight budget.  My focus had changed but I was still me so I kept up with this blog and tried to make it work.  I appreciate each every reader but I just haven't been able to make this blog the success I imagined.
Recently, I started working with a friend to build this blog and my etsy business.  She pointed out that this blog no longer fit it's title.  As we got to working together I realized the reason this blog is not as successful as I would like is because I'm only sharing part of my life.  I write several blogs on several topics because I had learned that blogs should be topic specific. 
That had become my life - everything was topic specific.  I was so compartmentalized and divided that I couldn't be successful because I was no longer whole.  My friend is building me a new website but it was my job to give it a name.  I hate naming things.  I write fiction (did you know that?) and most of my stories are saved under the character's names because I just hate coming up with titles.
This was hard.  I had discussion after discussion with friends and family.  I put it on facebook.  I needed feedback because I just couldn't make this decision on my own.
There were so many reason's this title was hard - I wanted something that I could keep forever.  Something that would encompass the many parts of me and could become the name I call my dream farm when I finally buy it.  I went through a lot of names - some serious contenders, some just silly but needed to be shared.
I was left, in the end, with two - Dark River Oasis and Seeking Sanctuary At World's End.  Last week I was leaning towards Dark River Oasis.  It was well liked amongst my friends but then I realized it had to be personal - it had to speak all the parts of me.  The second name did that.
I am a wife, a mother, an artist, a writer, a soap maker, a forager and so many other hats.  I love victorian gardens, haunted houses, animals, horror stories, and spring flowers.  Do you know how hard is to have all these little parts and not share them when I share myself?  I felt censured.  I felt like I was missing something.
I read a fair amount of blogs that share my interests.  One blog last week talked about having the freedom to be who we wanted to be.  The list the author shared had to do with those who homestead - I was right there with her until the last line which had to do with homeschooling.  Hmm - I want to homestead but I have no interest in homeschooling my son.  In fact, the only reason my son would be interested is because he doesn't like getting up in the morning.  He loves school otherwise so why would I take that away from him.
It made me start thinking about how I am different from others who blog about homesteading topics.  I'm a country girl at heart but I live in town in an apartment.  If I could, I'd live like the Addams family.  I love the idea of a big spooky house filled with gothic decorations.  I would wear long flowing dresses and all sorts of hippy like clothing.  I don't think I'm a hippy but it's what I like to wear.  I'd love to drive a horse and buggy but there is no way I am giving up my computer.  I'm not a Christian but I like to read the bible.  I feel so outside of the box but I realized I might not be the only one.
This post is getting a little long and I like to keep these short (since I have a short attention span) but I wanted to give some reasons why Seeking Sanctuary At World's End fits.
World's End has a lot of meaning for me - first it makes me think of Pirates of the Caribbean.  I can't help it but I love that movie.  I love Johnny Depp but more so I love that world they live in.  I love the dark fantasy and the humor. 
I figure World's End would be a great name for a farm but the reason I thought of that name is because of two things - I write horror/fantasy and Zombie Apocalypse was just not fitting into any of my titles.  The other is because I am terrified that the world is going to end.  I don't know how and I don't think it's going to be a big apocalypse but I feel that things are going downhill and I want to stay above water.  It's the biggest motivator behind learning to forage. I want to be able to provide for my family regardless of what happens.  I want chickens so I know we'll have meat and eggs.  I want to learn to hunt and clean animals because I don't want us to starve.  I get a little weird because I see the economy getting tougher and I'm scared.  If I can provide food and shelter then the rest will be okay.
Adding to that - I want peace.  I want sanctuary.  I want to provide sanctuary.  I want to share my knowledge to help other's survive these scary times.  Someday I want my farm to be a place where people can come to relax, to have a spa experience in the middle of a farm.  I want fairy rings and castle walls to welcome people into a fantasy world where bathtubs over look flowers and water.  Where organic is comforting and not weird (or yucky).  I want others to know the world I want to live in and that is what my new site is all about.  It's coming soon and I hope you will join me.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Lamb Ribs and Dandelion Greens

Last night my husband made lamb ribs (as I mentioned yesterday). He made a sauce with molasses, soy sauce and something else that I can't remember. I sauteed our dandelion greens (maybe 1/2 a pound) in 2 tablespoons of butter and about that much garlic. The scent was heavenly. The ribs were barbaric - meaty and greasy. I told my son I had this urge to yell out "Wilma don't spare the spare ribs" - they were that good. My husband and son felt they were too greasy. I loved it. I just loved the whole idea of them. They were not easy to eat. My first one I ate with my hands so the second one I tried using a knife but they were so tight and so many bones that it was an impossible task. I still loved them. As for the dandelion greens - I loved them less but they were tasty. Slightly bitter, as expected, but not as bitter as eating them raw. A cup of dandelion greens has about 25 calories. I did cover them in butter but not so much that they were calorie prohibitive. For survival, I'd need a lot more butter to keep the weight on but for a spring low-cal treat they were good. It didn't take me long to gather the leaves and I did have to wash them (and pull out several stray grass bits as I was cooking) but all in all, I found them worth the work. I keep seeing dandelions everywhere. It makes me excited because there is a food. I don't have a ton of root but I can't wait to play with that either. I, also, keep finding more and more oregon grape plants. I can't wait for the berries. The berries are not tasty (the books say) but they are high in pectin so will be a great addition to making jellies. I'd love to be able to stop buying pectin and use the berries. I thought about juniper berries yesterday as I was walking. I'm going to look that up and see what I can do. I would love to harvest some berries since I come across recipes that use them every now and again. I've been adding some dehydrated oranges to my tea every morning. I really like it. When I finish the tea, I pour water over them and have a great treat. I've been drinking so much water, I might just float away. It's good though, the temperature went from 50 to 80 practically overnight. We got a good season this year if the warm weather holds. I hope to get my garden started. I'll be putting in some zucchini seeds and the like, saving the plants for a little while longer to make sure they are hardy enough for the weather. I did see a wonderful idea for protecting your plants outside - surround them in hay bales and cover with windows. I might just use plastic or pick up a piece of Plexiglas. I do recommend going out and trying dandelions - bitter greens are supposed to be great for digestion. Supposedly the bitter causes the stomach to produce more acid (heartburn is actually caused by not having enough acid not an excess as we have been lead to believe). The added acid helps the body be more efficient, reducing problems like heartburn.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Fishing and Foraging

This weekend was a blur of activity as we finally got a weekend of amazing weather. It's the start of fishing and foraging season in the Palouse. The fish hadn't gotten the memo but all the lakes and ponds will be stocked for next weekend's big opening so the fishing will happen. Dandelions are out and about. I keep finding lots of yards filled with them. We've been picking from empty lots and public spaces. I managed to get several roots and a bucket of greens that we'll be eating tonight with lamb ribs (doesn't that sound yummy). The roots make great tea so I'll have enough for a few cups. I'll get more later. Right now I am focusing on flowers. I plan to make dandelion jelly. If all goes right I'll be making it with honey and sugar. My goal is to learn to can with honey and stop using white sugar all together. We went out to Rainbow Lake. The fish were not biting and our winter white skin was not liking the 80 degree sun (my arms got burnt and made me very sad - I knew I should have worn a long sleeve shirt). We were careful and all wore hats so the burns were limited to forearms (and my husband's neck where he had let a few buttons go open). My son did catch one nice little trout and it went into the freezer. We went on a search for mushrooms but none were found (not a single one, edible or not). We did find an oregon grape so I dug up two of the roots. We have oregon grape all over WSU but I didn't think they'd like us digging up the roots. They probably won't mind us taking the berries when they come (especially since there are a ton of plants). We did find something we thought were cattail shoots and then got to looking. They weren't cattails and I'm not sure what they are but we ate some as we picked and it didn't kill us. I do want to identify the plant before we eat what we have left. Most grasses are edible but I don't believe in taking the chance. We did find Arnica as we were heading home. The hills are covered in the plants but they were not easy to harvest. We got one and my mother is working on cleaning it up (except she might be allergic so I'll be cleaning it up and playing with it). No baking or even cooking happened this weekend. We did get a bountiful basket and added a box of tomatoes to the mix. I have 25 pounds of tomatoes that will be canned and dehydrated so we have some until our garden starts producing them. My mother bought a thing of culture so we can make our own cream cheese and maybe even some kimchee. Lots of great experiments coming soon. I'll be shifting this blog over to the new website in May and I am excited.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Pinterest and Whole Wheat Bread

I am absolutely in love with Pinterest and I am sure I am using it wrong. I keep hearing how Pinterest is the newest and greatest social network. My friends talk about losing so much time to Pinterest. For me, Pinterest has organized information in a way nothing else has. I read a lot online and I discover great crafts and recipes. At first I printed them out but that left me with too much paper. After putting all my recipes in a word file (currently many words files - all nicely organized), I started copy and pasting the recipes onto new word files. This worked okay, especially after I learned how to add those files on to my Nook but it still wasn't perfect. I couldn't always remember where I found a recipe and I felt odd coping someone's blog post into a word file. Some of those recipes became things I was no longer interested in and I couldn't save the pictures for most of them without completely crashing the system. I've tried adding sites to my favorites but for some reason I never think of my favorites and I hate the organizational formats for them. Then add to the that - I could only use those favorites on the computer which I saved them. (And never the computer I was on.) Enter Pinterest. If the site has a picture it can be saved into Pinterest (does make me rethink how blogs use pictures). You need an invitation to Pinterest, which is a little weird, but I had discovered it when someone sent me an invitation. Since then, many of my friends have asked for invites and gotten them within minutes so it's not super inconvenient. When you set up your pinterest, you create boards. The idea is that Pinterest is like a bulletin board - each board has their own theme as you determine. I didn't start out with a ton of boards and I'm thinking there needs to be a few new ones as I discover certain themes that don't quite match what I am pinning in them. I have boards for foraging, recipes, crafts. I even started a board this week for my dreaming. As I mentioned before - I'm starting a new phase in my life where I am really going to start reaching for my ultimate dream (my weird life on a farm). I started the board to help me share some of my vision with the wonderful woman who is helping me work on this project. It's been far too fun looking up things to pin. The best part of Pinterest is I can access it on any computer. I can save a recipe at work then go over to my dad's and pull it up. I can share with friends. I love that I have the original notes - not just ones I took. That way if something is missing from the recipe I can go over the discussion to make sure I didn't overlook something. Lately, many of my experiments have been coming from places I have pinned. That's the same with this whole wheat bread. I'm not going to re-copy the recipe this time - I didn't make any real changes. The only thing I did was use 10-grain flour that I think was stale. The flour left a weird taste but the bread was amazing. I can't wait to get through the remaining loaves (it made 3 loaves and a batch of rolls) so I can try again with just the whole wheat flour.

Thursday, April 19, 2012


I'm not sharing a recipe today because I wanted to share a different view of our food today. Over the fall and winter, I became frustrated with the waste. No matter how well I thought I was doing I still could eliminate the waste from our food. We have a freezer filled with orange and lemon peels for various projects but we can't eat every part of every fruit and vegetable. I wanted to compost but I live in an apartment. When my son was a baby, I tried composting in our apartment. It wasn't easy to learn how to compost in an apartment and eventually I had a neighbor complain. I didn't want to go through that. We do have garden plots and I still think there's a good argument for having a compost space there but it's a long way to go from our apartment with every scrap. I just don't see it as being successful. Enter my mother and her previous worm experiment. Her department, here at WSU, wanted to go green. My mother suggested adding worms so they could compost the extra food. The worms lived happily in a large plastic tote in their hallway. When they became over populated, worms would go home with employees - some for fishing, some for gardens. She suggested that we try worms in our apartments. She ordered from Uncle Jim's Worm Farm, 2000 worms for $37. We had large totes so all we needed was a bag of peat moss which came inexpensively from Walmart. The whole thing cost about $40 but split between two households, it cost us $20. Because we have so many worms, we are going to sell the surplus for $1 a dozen. After 40 dozen (480 worms) we will have made back the expense. The worms will multiply so we can continue to sell them over time and have them actually make us money but that isn't our complete focus. The worms will eliminate our waste. All those inedible parts become food for them. They turn that into great compost for our gardens. I can throw some of the excess worms into my garden space to make it healthier. We'll have our own fishing worms as well so that eliminates that expense. I'm actually excited to have them in my home. In the warm months they will live on our balcony, the colder months they'll live inside. Damp newspapers will help reduce other bugs, as well as a little diatomaceous earth (a very fine particle dirt that kills nuisance bugs). Properly cared for, there will be no unpleasant smell. It's perfect for apartment living.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Apple Cinnamon Roll Cobbler

There are changes coming in the next few months and this blog will be moving. I don't know if I have shared this before, I apologize if this is a repeat, but I recently re-opened my business. Years ago, I started making soaps and home made bath products. I eventually turned it into a business I called Sara's Soaks. Life constantly changes and soon Sara's Soaks was gone. This year I decided to bring it back from the dead. I opened an Etsy store and started doing some promotions. My life has often felt pulled in so many directions. I didn't feel like I had focus or a real dream to work towards. The reason I felt this way is because I didn't really believe that my big dream was something I could do. It was too big, too unrealistic, too expensive and so on. So I broke it up into little easy bits. I think it made it harder because I felt like I was being divided and I couldn't focus on anything. I had no clear goal any more. This blog shows that more than anything because every few months I announce how I am changing my focus on the blog. It's not because I am wishy washy (okay maybe I am, just a little) but because I can't seem to figure out how to make this blog work. It goes back to my being divided. I'm in the learning stages of my dream but the real focus has always stayed there in the back of my mind. This week, a friend of mine asked for a few volunteers because she wanted to experiment with helping artists with branding (marketing sort of branding not hot iron branding). I jumped up and said "pick me, pick me" because I am struggling. She sent me a questionnaire which asked me what I wanted in the big picture, what I wanted from her and where do I want to go. My first response was "I don't know" and then I proceeded to tell her exactly what I wanted. I didn't know I had a clear picture, it wasn't until she wrote back to say that starting with "I don't know" holds me back because what she saw was someone with a clear picture of what she wanted. I was shocked, I cried. I was the one holding my self back - I'm the one who didn't feel like my dream was feasible so I sabotaged my dream. She said she gave me permission to dream but what she did was allow me to accept what I want as something I allowed to want. I can't say for certain that I will live my dream but I won't know until I try. As part of the work she is doing for me, she is going to help me build a website that allows me to consolidate all the parts of my dream which will include this blog. I love this blog and now that I have a clearer picture of where I want to go, I should be able to be more clear with this blog. Not much will change but the blogs location. I will still share recipes and my foraging experiments. I will still work on offering natural, inexpensive alternatives. However, I will change from trying to come up with a plan for where this blog is going to knowing where this blog is going. My ultimate goal in life is to have a small sustainable farm, to live off of the food I grow or find in nature and to teach others how to do that. I'm going to go back to herbology and maybe even work towards some certifications but I will share that with you. I will share more failed experiments (there are so many that I keep to myself but could be a good lesson for others). More importantly, I will share more of me with you and my dreams. You'll discover that I am absolutely nuts about highland cattle and had a heartbreaking affair with two beautiful nubian goats (and I can't wait to do it again). I currently live in an apartment but I keep trying to figure out how to convince our manager that chickens can be pets or at least beneficial to our complex. I'm a terrible gardener with dreams of having acres of gardens (I think I have some sort of disorder). With all that said, I did have a recipe and some experiments I want to share. I've been working on making my own chocolate chips. They are not working. I found a recipe which made me so happy but the chips are too soft and when I made cookies all the chocolate melted. The cookies looked severely burnt and there were puddles of unsweetened chocolate left behind. My first batch I tried making with sugar to have the sugar sink to the bottom of the pan leaving really bitter chips. I loved them but my family was not impressed. I made a second batch with corn syrup but they are still not very sweet and too soft for chocolate chip cookies. I don't really like the idea of corn syrup and I think I need to add some wax. I will share the recipe once I get it to where my family will eat them. I have been dehydrating fruit. I saw a blog post about dehydrating fruit and the woman dehydrated beautiful slices of orange. I wasn't sure about that but we had some oranges that no one was eating so I dried them. They are amazing. I cut the oranges in half because I didn't think anyone wanted to eat through the rind before getting to the dried pulp. They are really tasty. I figure they would make a fun treat but also would be great for cooking with. I also made a batch of granny smith apples (half sprinkled with cinnamon). My remaining granny smiths went into this cobbler. I saw a peach cobbler that was covered in cinnamon rolls made from biscuit mix. Since we already make our own biscuit mix and have made cinnamon rolls from it before, this seemed like a no brainer. It's so good and we have no whipped cream (or Cool Whip). Apple Cinnamon Roll Cobbler 5 granny smith apples, cored and sliced (because I used the leftovers from the apples I put in the dehydrator this is just a guess, the apple parts filled a 9x13 pan) lemon juice 1 cup sugar 2 Tablespoons flour 2 cups baking mix (with shortening like Bisquick, if none add 1/4 cup shortening) 3/4 cup milk 1/2 cup butter 1-2 teaspoons cinnamon 1-2 teaspoons sugar After cutting apples soak in water with lemon juice while prepping the dough. Mix together the flour and sugar in a small bowl and set aside. In a larger bowl dump the baking mix (cut in shortening if needed). Pour in the milk about 1/4 cup at a time until you have a stiff rollable dough. If the dough gets too wet sprinkle in a little extra baking mix. Roll the dough out into a large rectangle (about 9 x 13). You want it as rectangular as possible and it no more than 1/4 inch thick. Melt the butter. Brush butter on rolled dough until it has a nice smooth layer. Sprinkle on cinnamon and sugar until a nice thin crust forms. Roll the dough along the long edge until cinnamon roll like. Cut into 1/2 inch disks. Drain apples and layer in a 9x13 pan. Sprinkle over sugar and flour mix. Pour over remaining butter. Top with cinnamon rolls. Bake at 350 for up to an hour, checking every 15-20 minutes. The cobbler is done with the cinnamon rolls are fully cooked and the apples are soft.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Homemade Vanilla Wafers

Nilla Wafers are one of those snacks that I love but my husband does not so we don't have them that often. It's probably better that way since they are a little pricey and not very good for you. I found this recipe online and thought it was a good time to try them out. They are the easiest cookie I have ever made but the author's directions left something to be desired. Because I followed the directions - my first batch were these tiny buttons of cookies but that didn't prevent them from disappearing before the next batch was out of the oven. I did find that pinching off about a 1/2 - 1 teaspoon of dough, rolling it in a ball and then flattening it, made much better cookies. They actually crisped up. I got nice golden edges but the interiors were still softer than Nilla Wafers so you may want to bake them a little longer. I made sure to use real butter and my own homemade vanilla. My vanilla wasn't as strong as store-bought vanilla because it hasn't been "brewing" long enough but it still had good flavor. This cookie is a great base for flavors and I can't wait to try my homemade orange extract in it. I did use whole white wheat flour and you couldn't tell they were whole wheat. They were so tender and tasty. All 40+ cookies were gone by morning, which made me very sad because I wanted some with lunch. The guys could not get enough of these cookies. Homemade Vanilla Wafer 1 stick butter 1/2 cup sugar 1 egg 1 tablespoon vanilla 1 1/4 cup whole white wheat flour 1 tsp baking powder Cream butter and sugar until smooth. Add in egg and vanilla. Mix in baking powder before adding the flour. Pinch the dough off into 1/2 - 1 teaspoon balls, roll firm and then press flat onto baking sheet. Twenty-four cookies will fit on a typical baking sheet - they do not spread so you can set the cookies about 1/2 -1 inch apart. Bake at 350 for 10-15 minutes or until golden brown on the bottom. Slightly overbake for a more 'Nilla Wafer like texture or eat when still tender. *I bake all my cookies on silpats. I highly recommend purchasing a couple. They last for years and eliminate the need for greasing a pan or using parchment.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Little Caesars Crazy bread at home

I had so much fun this weekend with recipes that I will still be baking and prepping into this week. I had so many great ideas come across my computer that I just couldn't wait. I made homemade chocolate chips. They are tasty but still have some things I need to work out so I'll be sharing that later this week after I try them again to see if I can get them to come out just a little nicer. I made a huge batch of multi-grain bread. I think my flour wasn't the best because it has an odd taste but the bread is nice and light. I'll probably share that recipe tomorrow since the issue is with my flour not the recipe. But the most favorite recipe I made this weekend was a toss up between homemade nilla wafers and the crazy bread. Both were so easy I can't image buying them (okay I'll still buy the crazy bread because it is just that good). I'm not sure this is a 100% perfect replica but the taste was amazing and I couldn't keep my guys out of it. I did make the bread only to discover that we didn't have any cheese - last I knew there was parmesan and feta but they were absent from the fridge when I went about baking so I ended up with cheese less bread but no one minded. We took some to my Dad's and he had parmesan. We added it to the top, only to find it didn't really add anything to the bread. I didn't make any menu notes - not really sure what we ate all weekend since it was a clean out the left-overs sort of weekend. Little Caesars Crazy Bread One recipe pizza dough - I used the flatbread recipe with whole wheat pastry flour 1 stick butter 2 teaspoons garlic powder 1 teaspoon kosher salt (can use 2 teaspoons of garlic salt for all the seasonings). Parmesan cheese Make pizza dough/flatbread on 9x 13 baking sheets as directed all the way through baking. Melt butter and add garlic powder and salt. Brush butter on baked pizza dough. Sprinkle with parmesan. Cut the bread in half the long way and then into 1- 1 1/2 inch strips. Enjoy!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Lazy Day

Today I am feeling lazy. I do have plans for some serious cooking this weekend and will have recipes to share next week. But since I don't have a great topic to share with you, I thought I'd share a picture. I discovered Hilda this week and I love her pictures. This is just one fun example of a great character who I can't wait to see more of.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

TV and Cable expenses

A little over two years ago, my family demanded cable. We'd had it off and on while we got situated to our new life in the city but when we moved to our current apartment we did subscribe to television. It was July and we had plenty of movies and non-tv activities to occupy us. Winter in the Palouse is very cold and dark. TV becomes a source of entertainment and in some cases the only source. We had bundled our cable and internet which proved to be an amazing deal. We could add Directv for just a little more. That December we gave in and added Directv to our lives. It was more than affordable. We got a ton of channels and Showtime for free. We made sure to cancel the Showtime before the free trial ended. What we didn't expect is that the bill would grow and grow until we were paying nearly $100 for our cable. The worst part - we signed a two year contract and we were stuck. Those two years were up this past December. Keeping up with that bill was hard and we eventually opted to rid ourselves of Directv. I will say we loved the service and we were spoiled by the DVR and the number of channels. We didn't watch enough tv to justify $100. (I will say trying to cancel was tough - no one was responsible for helping us cancel and now we can't get them to take the equipment that they say we won't return and will have to pay $250 for.) We had already started working on an alternate plan. Before canceling we wrote down all the shows we DVR'd. It didn't take long for us to find out which ones we could watch on the internet for free and which ones we had to come up with an alternate plan. Some we just have to give up or wait until they are released on DVD. At first that was hard but now that we've been doing this for a few weeks, we actually forget what shows we have missed. It's not that important and we are finding other things to watch (we are just showing signs of the weather changing). During this time, we've done all the free trial memberships - Netflix, Hulu Plus and Amazon Prime. We loved the Netflix. My son has discovered a ton of new anime series. My husband and I got to enjoy tv shows we either watched ages ago or always thought we wanted to watch but were up against other things. We've been working our way through Supernatural and have talked about doing Lost next. We like Hulu anyway and found that the Hulu Plus membership did make some shows more accessible. Both of those are only $7.99 a month. We started a real membership to Netflix this week but are going to wait on the Hulu Plus until this fall when all the shows start premiering again. Now Hulu Plus does make some shows accessible earlier than waiting for them to be available for free. Fox holds their shows for non-paying viewers for 8 days. We have felt that waiting those 8 days was not all that big of a deal except a lot of the shows we like weren't on during March so the family felt they had waited enough. We're back to the waiting game now and I didn't take the time to look for shows that weren't available for free such as those on TNT and Discovery channel. However, both those channels release their shows on DVD so we can wait. As for Amazon Prime - we didn't get it. We don't do that much shopping online and their tv/movie streaming for that price wasn't worth it. If you shop from them on a regular basis, the cost is the same as Netflix but it's a one lump sum for the year. There are other benefits to Amazon Prime that might suit you but as for just watching tv it wasn't worth it. My husband did find a site - that I can't remember the name of - that offers some better access to some shows. He swears to me he did all the research to prove it was a legitimate site but I still have my doubts. The last thing I want to share is how we are watching these shows. Currently we have a HDMI cable strung from our computer to our tv. This is a cheap solution but we hope to keep it temporary. There are some disadvantages to this system - the sound goes through the computer and not our tv and it limits what can be done on the computer while watching tv. There is a cheap solution to this that we are saving towards - a streaming media player. These devices attach to the television and allow access to sites such as netflix and hulu. This won't be perfect because you can only access the programed sites (the salesclerk said they act like apps so you can add more). We figure we have the hooking the computer to the tv perfected so we can use that when we have other sites we want to watch. The other thing is you need wireless. We found a good router for about $25. We figure that the entire set-up will cost us about 1 months worth of cable - not too bad. I'm including a link to a media streaming device. We're buying ours from the local Walmart and they only offer one type and one brand but we felt it met our needs. However, I can't remember what it is so this is one that is about the same price and a chance to see what I am talking about.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Saving Money and Frustrations

Living on a budget and trying to save your health and the environment can get to be frustrating. Last year we invested in a big bag of soap nuts. The price was reasonable when you considered all it was replacing. For $35 we had laundry soap, bath soap, shampoo, etc. The only problem was we didn't like it. My family hated the feel of the soap on their skin and hair. I hated that it went bad so I had to constantly make fresh batches and keep them in the refrigerator (which meant remembering to take it out and using really cold soap on our bodies). Eventually, it just became laundry soap. Our laundry grew dimmer and dimmer over the months until one day my husband announced he had had it. He does the laundry in our home and he just couldn't do it any more. I was so grateful because I could stand the fact that my clothes looked awful and the static was enough to kill us all. It just didn't work for us. The worst part is I still have half a bag of soap nuts that I have to figure out what to do with (supposedly they make great insect repellent so that's what we'll be using it for). This is just one example of how hard it is to do the right thing. Last night was grocery night. There were sales we didn't want to miss so mid-week shopping was what we had to do. I can't control when the food stamps arrive or when pay day is - fortunately they are on the same day. That meant late evening shopping which is frustrating enough. We started at our Co-op. The plan was to buy the hamburger there. The price has been $2.89 and if you buy three packs you get it for $2.59. The meat department was dark by the time we made it there (that in its self is a long terrible story but not all that important except to say I was already tired). The hamburger was $3.39. What!? My mother was there on Sunday and it was $2.89. After a time and me nearly leaving without hamburger. The lovely man that was helping us had finally found someone who knew something about the deal. We got 30 cents off a pound and bought the last four packs (two for us and two for my dad). We ended up paying $3.09 a pound. It's still a better deal but 50 cents in two days is a huge price jump. I did find a huge container of plain yogurt for just over $5 which was great because I wanted to start adding yogurt back into my lunch. This will get me a months worth and then I can save some to make my own (I forgot to save some from my last batch). On to store number 2. I had 2 things I wanted to get there - butter for $1.69 a pound and milk. Before we gave up milk we bought it there. The milk was from a local(ish) farm and was amazing, except I can't remember the name of the farm. There were three choices at the store - generic for $2.49, Dairygold for $2.99 and one organic brand for over $6. No local farm milk. I did peek at the milk at the co-op and there was nothing there for less than $6 a gallon. I can't do it. I remember the milk we bought wasn't that pricey, when did organic milk become over twice the price of the non-organic milk. No organic milk for us this month. I head for the butter. It's a generic brand for $1.99 with a coupon for 30 cents off. Not bad, except I forgot this is Idaho and even if you use food stamps, they tax the coupons. I didn't even think about it. As we were checking out, my son was going on about how he wanted some change and I hadn't even brought in my purse so I had nothing. That's when the girl at the counter asked if we had 12 cents to pay the tax. I understand that 12 cents is not much but it's inconvenient. I think it's horrible and the state's way of preventing those who use food stamps from using coupons. It's nearly a scam - the food is not taxed because of the food stamps but the coupons are. It's the whole reason I refuse to use coupons. I know if I think about this rationally - I saved $1.80 and they only want me to pay 12 cents but I have to tell you - I never have change. Change is what my son always takes. He loves the change, always had and I don't have a problem giving him the pennies and what not I find. But I, also, rarely deal in cash so change is not something I always have. By this time we had spent most of our food stamps (down to $18) and had 6 different foods to feed my family - hamburger, yogurt, milk, eggs, butter and flour (my wonderful husband had picked up the flour earlier in the day). For those who are keeping track - we started with $92. I'm fully frustrated. I don't know how I'm going to feed my family. Our cupboards are getting barer and barer each month. I still have a ton of applesauce but that's not any good if I don't have more to go with it. We're working our way through the grains we have in the pantry and the beans but I still haven't got a plan in place for when they are gone. I still have the option of going to the store right now but it makes me think of what will happen if I don't have that option. What if the world really does end? I worry about the economy and the environment. I've always been a nature lover but over the past few years I have been learning about what nature really provides for us. I get to thinking about the weeds - there's food and nutrition out there but there's also pesticides and herbicides and natural poisons. This winter has opened my eyes. I have to learn more, be vigilant in finding free or inexpensive sources of food, and find ways of preserving that food without coating it in sugar or salt. I know I'm not alone in this. I'm finding a growing community of people who want the same thing - sustainable sources of healthy food. That I am grateful for.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Fried Fish

My mother gave us some ling cod she caught last year. My husband has become an expert fish fryer so it was only right to eat the fish battered and fried. It was amazingly good. The batter keeps the fish incredibly moist and tender. We were out of mayonnaise to make tarter sauce (just mayo and relish) but I put together a decent sauce using a spoonful of cream cheese, milk to thin, splash of lemon juice and a spoonful of zucchini relish. The result was not exactly tartar sauce but a good compliment to the fish. Frying fish is easy. Wash the fish, pat dry, dip in the batter and lay in hot oil until crisp (turning once). Hubby doesn't use more than about an inch of oil for the frying. The batter is just as easy: Mix together - 1 cup flour 1/2 cup milk 1/2cup water 1/4cup baking powder 1 teaspoon salt We use bay seasoning for all our fishy foods (and many non-fishy foods) and last night he used whole wheat flour which didn't affect the texture or flavor at all. Well that might not be true because we thought this was the best fried fish he has ever made so maybe there's something to the whole wheat flour.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Monday Morning

I thought I had a recipe in mind for today but I can't remember what it was to save my life.  I'm having a braindead sort of day.  Tomorrow is grocery day which means things are a little tight in the kitchen.
Yesterday I made graham crackers out of nothing but graham flour since I had no other wheat flour in the house.  They are good.  Have a sort of coconutty texture and flavor to them which was weird since I had only thought about adding coconut flour.  I'm guessing that the graham flour lends a sort of coconut feeling.  I left out the spices so they are rather plain and cracker like but we were going to make s'mores (until we discovered the buckets of candy my dad brought for Easter).  I did make marshmallows, opting to use frangelico in place of the vanilla.  It didn't really change the flavor but we'll see how they roast. 
Let's see what else do I have to share.  My dad made an amazing ham for Easter.  I'll get his glaze and share.  He always uses a recipe so it's easy to get them from him.  I know the glaze had mustard and maple syrup.  I used the drippings on my mashed potatoes - what an amazing meaty sweet sauce it made.
Speaking of ham, that's got some good prices right now.  All the Easter sales carry on until tomorrow so we'll be shopping in the evening of a work night.  I prefer shopping on the weekend so I have time but we want to hit the remaining sales.  One store has butter for $1.69 a pound so we'll be stocking up.  We're moving away from the Nucoa.  We're reinvestigating my husband's dairy allergy since he hasn't gotten any healthier staying away from the dairy.  We'll be on the lookout for a local milk that I know has been sold in the area before.  I just can't remember the name so that's my mission for tomorrow.  We'll be buying hamburger from the co-op.  It's local beef and ground there at the store.  If you buy 3 packages it's $2.59 a pound.  Slightly higher than my $2 a pound limit but I have discovered that it's not working.  We are so sick of chicken thighs.  We're also worried about all the new discoveries they are making when it comes to meat products.  The co-op also sells chickens for $1.99 a pound but at the moment it's whole chickens so we'll look into that next month.
Still working on researching foods and I think we're moving in the right direction.  We're back to butter and getting rid of the plasticy Nucoa.  We've been investigating coconut oil.  At this moment, we haven't switched because the best price is mail-order and I'm just not ready for that yet.  I make lotions and soaps so having large quantities of coconut oil is good (the stuff I have now I'm not sure is good for eating so when that is gone, we'll be buying new stuff that will be food-grade).  I'll share more on that when we get around to the order.
Safeway has the whole white wheat flour on sale for $4.69 (new regular price $4.99) until tuesday.  My son didn't think 30 cents was much of a sale but when we started explaining that last month we paid $5.09 but prior to that we paid $5.39, it feels like a much better sale.  Still not $1.99 like white flour but we'll take what we can get. 
We're skipping the bountiful basket this week because of the season.  It's just hasn't been a great selection and we're so full of apples and pears that we want to wait to get into a new season of foods before buying again.  We may get one next week or wait until towards the end of the month.  We've gotten a little back-up with some of the produce so it gives us a chance to use everything up.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Homemade gummy candy

Yesterdays menu:  Breakfast - fried egg with grape tomatoes, Lunch - leftovers from dinner, Dinner - a one pot dish with cabbage, broccoli, onions, peppers and polish sausage served over barley.

One of my favorite treats is gummy candy but I hate all the artificial gunk in them.  My husband and I were talking about this one day and he mentioned a woman he knew growing up who made all natural gummy bears to sell in his community.  Yesterday, I thought it was time to see if there was a recipe online.  The one I am sharing today is the first recipe I found.  It's not all natural since it uses packaged Jello but it was so easy that I was glad I started there instead of picking a complicated natural recipe.  My mom had said she wanted a particular jelly candy - it's similar to a gummy candy but with nonpareil candies coating it.  I rushed home and made this candy.  The gummy part is great.  I don't recommend trying to coat them in nonpareils.  They were hard to keep on the candy and by morning had disintegrated into a rainbow goo which stains (they were making lovely colors on my plates last night when they were being attached).  The candy replication for my mother was not a success but I did manage to make a really good gummy candy.  It was so easy that I may never buy gummy candy again.
I did not use a mold but poured it into a 9x9 glass pan.  They're not pretty but great for learning.  If you choose to use molds - do not grease and let the candies sit for awhile.  The recipe said 20 minutes but mine was still tacky (I did double the batch) which was perfect for adding the nonpareil mess but difficult for removing.  I just cut mine up with scissors to make bite sized candies.

Gummy Candy
1 3oz box of Jello
2 packages of knox gelatin
1/3 cup water
Add water to a saucepan and sprinkle on Jello and gelatin.  Let sit 5-10 minutes.  Cook on medium heat, stirring constantly, until all the gelatin has dissolved (2-5 minutes).  Pour into molds or glass pan (ungreased).  Let sit for 20 minutes before removing.
Easy Peasy!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Lentil Chili

We tried out the lemonade. I was slightly disappointed that it didn't taste special. It was still overly sweet, even after cutting a whole cup of sugar (next time I might cut it to 1 1/2 cups). To me, it tasted like Kool-aid Lemonade. I had expected something that would be like nothing I could get at the store. It's still good and the family thinks it's the best thing ever. Yesterday's menu: Breakfast - grits with just a little butter, Lunch - dinner leftovers, Dinner - spaghetti with homemade sauce (4 slices pepper bacon, 2 cans low salt tomato sauce, onion and garlic powders), salad. I stopped by the store to pick up the pasta since we're not buying it anymore and the family really wanted pasta. Eggs were on sale 99 cents a dozen so I picked up two. My plan was to buy some parmesan cheese but I only had 5 dollars. The pasta was $1.50 and I wanted two dozen eggs since we were starting to go through them fast again and Monday I paid $1.89 for a dozen. That didn't leave me much for cheese and the parmesan was nearly $3. I opted for cheese sticks - 1 mozzarella and 2 cheddar at 3 for $1. It's makes for pricier cheese per ounce but all I wanted was some for dinner as a treat so this worked perfectly. We're not eating cheese right now while we're trying to get my husband off of dairy. I noticed we've really missed it because I bought real butter on Monday (with the eggs to make the lemon curd) and we're going through it rather fast. It didn't help that we used nearly half of the butter in making the lemon curd. I don't have a recipe that I have made this week to share with you. I would have loved to shared my husband's soup recipe but it was really a dump of what we had in the kitchen (I think he used split peas instead of lentils but I haven't double checked). I have shared my lentil chili recipe just this last December so I thought - I'll share the famous Lentil Festival Chili with you. This is an award winning chili that is served every year during the Lentil Festival. They serve it from this huge bowl and it's free for everyone to come eat. It's so good and this recipe, though smaller than what they use, still makes a good vat of chili. Every year they do a lentil recipe contest so you may be seeing some more recipes posted as we try to find the perfect entry. World’s Largest Bowl of Lentil Chili Submitted By: National Lentil Festival -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- INGREDIENTS Lentils: 2 2/3 Cups Water: 3 Quarts + 1 Cup Onions, diced: 2/3 Cup Celery, diced: 1/3 Cup Carrots, diced: 1/3 Cup Tomato puree: 17 Oz. Pace brand salsa: 1 Cups + 1 Tablespoon Chili powder, mild: 2 Tablespoon Cumin: 1 Tablespoon Granulated garlic: 1 Tablespoon Granulated sugar: 2 Tablespoons Kosher salt: 1 1/2 Tablespoons Crushed red chili flakes: 1/2 Teaspoon 2/3 Cup water and 1/4 Cup cornstarch, stirred into a slurry Cinnamon: 1/2 Teaspoon Chopped cilantro: 1 Tablespoon Mexican chocolate: 2 oz. Green bell pepper, diced: 1/3 Cup Red bell pepper, diced: 1/3 Cup -------------------------------------------------------------------------------- DIRECTIONS 1. DO NOT INCLUDE CILANTRO OR CORNSTARCH SLURRY AT THIS TIME. Mix all ingredients together (EXCEPT cilantro and cornstarch slurry), bring to a boil, stir and cook (will take a couple of hours) until lentils are tender. 2. When the lentils are tender and the broth is well blended, add the cornstarch slurry and continue cooking until the chili consistency is very uniform. 3. Just before serving: add the cilantro, stir, serve.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Lemonade Syrup

Yesterday's Menu- Breakfast: grits with a fried egg, Lunch: Leftovers from dinner, Dinner: Lentil vegetable soup (water with beef bouillon, lentils, onions, peppers, tomatoes), cornbread, salad (romaine lettuce, cucumber, tomato).
I made the lemon curd while my husband made cornbread for dinner. The triple batch of lemon curd used far more eggs than I planned (I don't know why but my brain refuses to acknowledge how many eggs are in a batch) so I only made a triple batch (instead of 2 triple batches). This worked out perfectly though. I got four 8 oz jars and a little leftover for dinner. I canned the jars so I can send one to a friend. The lemon curd was amazing on the cornbread.
I went on to use the remaining lemon juice in Lemonade syrup. I used only 2 cups of sugar since these lemons were rather sweet and 3 cups just seemed excessive. The flavor is great and it made about 1 1/2 quarts (I just poured into to canning jars to store in the fridge). It was still warm so we didn't try it as lemonade but as syrup it is so tasty. It's not thick enough to use on something like pancakes but I was tempted to just drink it out of the bottle. Once again I skipped the zest - all my lemon peel is now nicely frozen for future projects (like lemoncello). I used a pot to make this syrup and even heated the water/sugar mix just a little to make sure all the sugar dissolved.

Lemonade Syrup
3 cups sugar
1 cup boiling water
3 cups fresh lemon juice (about 16 lemons)
2 tablespoons grated lemon zest
Measure sugar into 1½ quart bowl. Pour boiling water over sugar and stir until dissolved. Let mixture cool before adding lemon juice and zest. Blend well and store in covered jar in refrigerator. To make lemonade, blend ¼-1/3 cup lemonade syrup with ¾ cup cold water. For a sparkling, fizzy lemonade, use club soda or seltzer in place of water.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Lemon Curd

Menu for yesterday - last of the homemade instant oatmeal for breakfast and leftovers from Sunday dinner (veggies and pork chops cooked with cream of chicken soup and rice). Dinner was fantastic. My husband put 4 chicken thighs in a casserole dish (3 for dinner, 1 for my lunch). He covered them with leftover pasta sauce and sprinkled on feta cheese and then baked the whole thing at 350 until the chicken was perfectly cooked. The feta doesn't melt but makes a crust that tasted amazing. He also sliced up sweet potatoes and baked them into chips and served it all with millet groats. The millet groats have no flavor but covered in sauce from the chicken they were amazing. It could easily become a favorite grain, especially since they come in bags that you boil them in (super easy).
I didn't take time to make the lemon curd last night since I wanted to do some research on canning it first. Lemon curd is made with eggs so I wasn't sure they would be shelf stable. I want to send some to my friend in LA who sent me the lemons. I did learn I can seal the jars but they need to be used in two months - that should work to get a jar to her.
This recipe makes a tiny amount and can easily be doubled. I'll be making 2 triple batches because I am not confident in the ability to make a 6x batch. I, also, skip the zest. I like the creaminess and don't want anything chewy to disrupt the wonderfulness of this spread. I've made this with lemon/lime juice and grapefruit juice. I did purchase real butter for this since I have never made it with nucoa.
To can - process in a water bath for atleast 20 minutes.

Lemon Curd
2-3 lemons
1/2 cup sugar
3 eggs
1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut into cubes
Zest 1 lemon. Squeeze juice from lemons to measure 1/3 cup. In heavy saucepan, combine juice, zest, sugar and eggs. Whisk until blended. Place over med-low heat. Stir constantly, slowly add butter - let melt before adding more. Cook slowly until thickened 10-15 minutes. Transfer to bowl and cover with plastic wrap to prevent film on surface.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Cranberry Apple Cake

We were gone all weekend so there was little cooking done and I figured what we ate won't offer any information. We were invited to a family weekend with an organization we have been involved with for ages and they prepared all our meals.
I did have one last recipe from last weekend's bake fest to share so it's perfect for today. This week I'll be working on a couple of lemon recipes. I am running low on several ingredients so baking is not an option. I'll be making lemon curd (after a quick trip to the store to get eggs) and lemon syrup. We'll see how much lemon juice we have left over after that and see what we can make. The lemon syrup takes 3 of our 4 cups of lemon juice but we might halve it to make more curd. Those are what we are looking forward to so it will all depend.

This cake is actually a cranberry pear walnut cake but I ran out of pears and walnuts in my bake fest so I subbed apples. I bought a bag of fresh cranberries in November and threw them in the freezer. Cranberries freeze beautifully and I wanted them for future projects. The bag had more than two cups (1 pound bag) so I cleaned out the less than desireable berries and then dumped what was left in the batter. The cake was filled with the tart berries which I liked. It was less sweet than the other cakes (I also skipped the caramel sauce because everything else was so gooey sweet). If you like cranberries this is a perfect cake for you.
I did use a combination of oat and whole white wheat flours.

Cranberry-Pear-Walnut Cake
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground allspice
3 tablespoons butter, softened
¾ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1 cup milk
2 cups fresh cranberries
1 cup pear, peeled, cored, and chopped (or apple)
¾ cup chopped walnuts
1 Caramel Sauce, recipe below
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a 9x9x2-inch baking pan; set aside. Combine 2 cups of the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and allspice; set aside. In a large bowl beat the butter on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Beat in sugars. Beat in eggs, one at a time, beating well after each. Add flour mixture alternately with milk, beating on low after each addition until combined. In a bowl toss cranberries, pear, and walnuts with remaining 1/2 cup flour; gently stir into batter. Spoon into prepared pan. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool 15 minutes on a wire rack. Remove from pan; cool on rack. Top cake with whipped cream, cranberries, and pear slices. Serve with Caramel Sauce. Makes 12 servings.

Caramel Sauce
1 cup packed brown sugar
½ cup butter
½ cup half-and-half or light cream
2 tablespoons light-colored corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla
In a large saucepan combine brown sugar, butter, half-and-half or light cream, and corn syrup. Bring to boiling, stirring to dissolve sugar. Boil gently for 3 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in vanilla. Cool slightly.