22 October 2013

People give me the shakes!

I recently gave a presentation on how one can use food preparation in their spiritual life. It is a topic close to my heart.

I think it was a difficult success. It has been a loooong time since I have done any sort of speech. I typically do not enjoy being the center of attention, especially with strangers. I also left some materials at home, including my written notes, so I did not feel prepared. Thankfully, I kept some on my tablet, so I was not completely lost.

Once I raced through what notes I did have and what I could remember despite my anxiety, we broke bread, and I asked everyone to just dialogue about food. I loved hearing all the different memories of past meals. How certain food were connected to a person or time. I guess I just liked being reminded that we are all unique individuals with our own experiences. All are valid and true. It's chaotic and beautiful at the same time.

I do hope that the attendants were able to glean some ideas and inspiration despite my stumbling. To be tremendously 90s goth, nothing is trivial. Every act can be with purpose and thought.

I would love to work through this hurdle. I have had 2 viola performances, and both were gut-wrenching. I was decent, but I felt like I was going to implode. My performance was hindered, just as it was the other day. I am now declaring it a personal goal to become more comfortable, or at least more functional, under pressure.
I do fully intend to write on this topic (food, not so much anxiety) in depth, and I hope that those who have requested it will be patient with me. After all, I am a far better writer than speaker.

06 October 2013

Carrot Bran Muffins

We are transitioning to a more whole foods menu. The most difficult part has been moving to whole wheat. At first, it doesn't seem like a big deal, but consider whole wheat pasta, whole wheat cakes, whole wheat biscuits. It just gets sad. But I'm stubborn and will try it until I get used to it...or I can't stand it anymore.

So, this is how we got to carrot muffins with wheat. Well, that, and I had carrots that were getting limp on me. It happens with age. Yup. That just happened.

First, this recipe is dumb. It calls for AP flour and wheat, then bran. Hello, it would have the bran already if you used all wheat. However, I only had whole wheatberries and a manual grinder. My wrist has been bothering me, so I ground what it called for and used the redundant AP-bran combination. Hubs was right. That mixer attachment was a better idea. But we dont have to tell him now do we?

1. Cream 1/3 cup coconut oil (called for vegetable oil, but we ditched it). Add 1/2 cup sorghum (or molasses) and 1/3 cup honey. Set aside. If you use vegetable oil, skip this step.
1. In a large bowl, combine 1 1/2 cups bran, 3/4 cup whole wheat flour, 3/4 cup AP flour, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, and 2 tsp baking powder.
2. Toss in 1 1/2 cup shredded carrots to coat. (You could also add a handful of raisins or nuts if you like.)
3. Mix in 1 egg, 3/4 cup milk and the oil mixture.
4. Pour into muffin tins and bake for 15 minutes at 400.

I am genuinely impressed. There is no sugar in this recipe! Just mostly natural sweeteners.

High five!

These freeze beautifully if they last that long.

Next time, I will try this with all whole wheat flour and less bran to see if it is missed.

30 September 2013

Granola Bars

The kids have been in school for awhile , and I have been experimenting with their lunches. One new venture is granola bars. They can be a win-win. A little sweet with nutrition to back it up. However, most store bought options contain way too much sugar and some random, less desirable ingredients.

So! To the kitchen! I decided to go with this recipe, since most were just variants that I found online. These are dense, so smaller servings will be plenty. They are not just like the beloved Quaker chewies, but they are delicious and highly customizable.

1. In a large bowl, combine 1 2/3 cups of oats, 1/3 ground oats (I used a coffee grinder), 4Tbsp bran, 1 cup chocolate chips, 1/2 cup slivered almonds, and 1/2 cup dried cranberries.
2. In a smaller bowl, mix 6 Tbsp melted butter, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 4 Tbsp honey, 4 Tbsp brown sugar, and 4 Tbsp peanut butter.
3. Toss ingredients together until thoroughly combined. This was easier with oiled, gloved hands.
4. Spread into a loaf pan that is lined with parchment. Press firmly. Really get in there!
5. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes. I left the parchment over the top to prevent browning, but this is not necessary.
6. Let cool, then chill until stiff.
7. Slice into desired pieces using a serated knife. Store in an air tight container for up to a week. It can also be frozen for later use.

I will be trying this with crushed pretzels, peanuts, and chocolate chips next time. I love those Take 5 candy bars, so this may be a healthier alternative. The notes from the link have lots of alternatives, like maple syrup instead of honey, or ground wheat instead oats. More suggestions for the mix-ins: mini marshmallows, seeds, cereal, candies, nuts...

My son just said caramel. That would delicious swapped with the peanut butter! With dried apples. Mmm! Perfect for this time of year. Well, I think that is next week's experiment.

PS: I am having glitches with photos. I'll have Mr. Technology take a look.

12 September 2013

Moar Bacon

Bacon. I love it. You love it. I'm pretty sure even pigs would love it.

So, you buy bacon. How can you store it long term? The refridgerator is only good for a couple weeks. Freezing is an excellent choice. You can just toss the whole package right in. However, you have to thaw it at least a bit to get strips. If you are going for bits, use a serated knife to cut straight across the slices. This is really easy and quick. To keep the remaining bacon safe, put the package inside a freezer bag.

Can you make bacon shelf stable though? Yes! I have my first batch of bacon in the canner right now. This is a test run, so I used cheapo bacon. One quart is slices; the pint is bits. The slices are a bit more time intensive but not too much. They'll have their round in the canner, and tomorrow I'll pop them open to try them out.

1. Place bacon slices out on parchment paper and layer. You will have to see how many layers will go in a jar, since bacon is cut to different thickness. Make sure you end and begin with a layer of parchment.
2. Fold in half vertically and roll tightly.
3. Pack into jars, no liquid needed. I would not recommend adding liquid, as the slices may fall apart.
4. Pressure can for 90 minutes. Let cool. Ping! Rejoice.

I have no experience drying bacon, or drying anything for that matter...well, besides herbs. That is next on the skill to learn list.

So, the bacon was great! Like the bbq, the smoke just developed more. You could eat it right out of the jar, but ew. Just crisp it up a bit either on the stove or in the oven.

Both ways, strips and pieces, worked well. The bits I just nuked for a bit and drained off that glorious fat for later.

Tip: If you have a large family or just enjoy gorging on bacon, baking in the oven is the best way. I line mine on a cooling rack over a sheet pan and bake at 325 about 20 minutes. I would jot recommend going much higher on the temp, because the grease could splatter. Grease+heat=fire! And, most likely, you will burn it despite your best efforts. Like this awesome gal.

Canning bacon is a good option for shortcuts, stockpiling, and mmmm bacon!!

Little Cabin in the Woods

I recently took a short trip to a friend's cabin. This trip taught me some things, mainly about what I want for my homestead.

First, the popular micro housing is not for me. The cabin was approximately 400 sqft. Two adults and two children would fit comfortably...for a few days. A week tops. I tried to envision my family living there, but we would not make it without several other structures. 3 out of 4 family members require an amount of alone time to function well, which usually takes place indoors. Plus, I have mild claustrophobia. I now think a minimum of 1000 sqft is right for me, even without children.

One surprise is that ample running water is now on the must have list. The cabin is on spring water, so use is limited. Military style showers. If it's yellow, let it mellow. And forget soaking in the tub with a good book! This isn't to say a natural source of water isn't in the cards. However it gets there, I prefer a lot whether or not I choose to use a lot. I will still insist on some sort of water source nearby for emergencies. That's just common sense.

The biggest shock was how much I missed people. Maybe it was because we were on vacation and didn't have any chores or projects to tend to. Whatever it is, and I expect it to change back and forth through the years, I think it would be wise to be within 15 miles of town and give focus to social outlets. I find it easier to feign seclusion than feign a decent population.

I loved the setting, which was completely unseen from the road. Nothing but woods, fields, and a creek. It has been a dream since childhood, in fact, to have a completely hidden house.

A lady lives on one corner of the property with 8, yes 8, dogs. My friends Jeff and Amy have been trumped. She lives alone and is very self sufficient. She lives on the same water, uses solar energy, has an impressive garden, and raises bees. In addition, her house is mostly repurposed materials and handmade. It is truly beautiful,  and I did not take a single picture unfortunately. She also has 2 micro houses for visitors, which she has often. One is about 600sqft with a lovely screened in porch. The other is in progress, about 150sqft. It has a loft for a queen bed, and the rest is just like a European studio. No electricity or plumbing.

We had a great little break though! I was really happy to get a clearer picture of what I want, what is practical, and what others are doing.

10 July 2013

Chow Chow!

A friend called me up, the applesauce one, to say she had received half a garbage bag of yellow squash. We quickly made plans to tackle it together. The next day, we had quite the haul. We basically just cleaned out the fridge. In addition to the squash, we had cabbage, onions, carrots, celery, tomatoes, peppers, and garlic. Now, this is one of those recipes that is very loosey goosey. Just use what you have. It may be more sweet or tart or stout than your last batch, but that's kind of the joy of it.

1. Trim and seed as necessary. We seeded the squash, as they were a little big, and the peppers, so the heat wouldn't be too much.
2. Shred up everything. My friend has a food processor, which made this bearable and pretty. Even if you don't, an extra set of hands will help it go quickly, and there is something special about conversation in the kitchen.
3. In a pot, bring 9c vinegar (I love ACV), 6c sugar, 6Tbsp pickling spice to a boil. Cut the heat and let steep. It's always better to have too much liquid than not enough. You could definitely experiment with different spices, but we were noobs to chow chow and played it safe.
4. Sprinkle 1/2c salt over 8c shredded veggies and cover with water. Let sit for 1 hr. We had 3 bowls going at once.
5. Rinse and drain vegetables. Fill jars about 3/4 full. Here you can add extra garlic and/or peppers. We did habaneros! Use chunks just to infuse. Chop it up for full flavor. Taste your liquid first, so you can adjust the sweetness if needed.
6. Fill with pickling liquid, leaving 1/2" headspace.
7. Process for 15 minutes in a HWB. We ended up with 8 quarts and 6 half pints. It is tangy and sweet with a hint of heat. Some jars were extra spicy though! ;)

What do you do with chow chow? My friend eats it right out of the jar! But others use it to top burgers, hot dogs, bbq, or on top of pintos or greens.

We had a really great day, and now I like chow chow! Yay summer!

03 July 2013

Food Storage

While I am busy squirreling away food, I realized I needed to address food storage. It's a boring but necessary topic.
First and foremost, you should make sure your appliance are in good working order. Keep a thermometer in both the fridge and freezer. Deep freezers usually have one installed. I clean my fridge once a month with diluted vinegar, followed by a spritzing of hydrogen peroxide. This removes any odors and keeps the interior bright and germ free. Any ice build-up should be chipped away. If you have a serious problem, defrost the freezer and soak up the melted ice. I have no other tips as far as maintenance. We are renters, so I don't have to worry about that. Yay!

I find that the easiest method is to store properly right away. As soon as you return from the store, market, or your garden, wash all produce. I find it very convenient to keep one large container in the fridge of prepped veggies for snacking and tossing together a quick meal. Meats and dairy products should go in the coolest area, which is the bottom shelf as far away from the front as possible.
Since our run-in with mice last winter, I store all dry goods in glass jars or heavy duty plastic bins. Bakeries and restaurants go through a lot of packaging, and these are perfect for storing your food at home, especially if you buy in bulk. It never hurts to ask if they have any you could haul off. Similar bins and buckets can be found at most stores though.Store your dry goods in a dry, dark, cool spot that is convenient. Visibility is crucial. If everything is jumbled together, who knows what lurks on the bottom shelf? Note: Store water in glass containers. Mice will chew through plastic, and the glass doesn't leave a funky aftertaste. I tend to group items together in categories. Smaller items are grouped together in topless boxes. Rotation is key, and I find a quick survey before a trip to the store does the trick. If your home came with a pantry, great. If not, freestanding pantries and cabinets can be purchased. I first used an old bookshelf, until I upgraded to a metal rack. The rack cost me $60 at Home Depot, and it has been worth every penny.

When storing additional food supplies, it is fun to get creative. Our space has been plenty, but I want to highlight some others' ideas. Create side tables by putting a tablecloth over milk crates or a cabinet. The same can be done for a sofa or coffee table. Under the bed is pretty perfect. Unused closet space. Garages are a good idea IF they are connected to your home AC. Attics are terrible. Sheds are terrible unless there is an AC unit. Cellars! Great idea. One which I have no experience but lots of curiosity. I have heard some odd variations, such as burying old appliances sideways so that they can be opened from the ground. I even read of one innovative homesteader who buried a boat.

I'll expound on another day about specific items and preserving methods. Kids are bickering!