Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Quinoa Diaries

I don't know about you, but quinoa (pronounced "keen-wa") has been one of those rare foods that I've struggled to like. Every so often I'll give it a try...and it's always been disappointing. Until recently, that is.

First of all, a bit of quinoa history, because it's interesting:

Quinoa was first domesticated about 4,000 years ago so it's an ancient grain. It is grown at high altitudes in the Andes mountains of Chile, Bolivia, and Peru, and the plants remind me somewhat of amaranth or sorghum. With their long flower stalks, they are quite lovely in a frousy sort of way when in bloom. Although quinoa is considered a whole grain it's actually the seeds that are harvested. It's possible to eat the leaves like you would any greens, but it's the seeds that make it commercially viable. Quinoa is closely related to beets, spinach, and...tumbleweeds! (Fascinating piece of semi-useless information!)

Using Quinoa

The easiest and tastiest ways I've found for using quinoa is to cook the grains thusly:
1) Rinse the quinoa well; drain.
2) Combine 1 part quinoa to 2 parts water or broth in a pot.
3) Bring to a boil; reduce heat, cover, and cook for 15 minutes.
4) Let cool for 5 minutes and then fluff with a fork.

I use cooked quinoa as a salad ingredient (sort of like pasta salad). I cool the quinoa and then add chopped onion, celery, tomato, cucumbers, olives...whatever I have and whatever sounds good. Next, I "dress" it. My favorites are malt vinegar and olive oil, rice wine vinegar and olive oil, or balsamic vinegar and olive oil. I add a bit of salt and pepper to taste, and sometimes I throw in feta cheese chunks. It's good!

Another way to use quinoa is as stuffing for zucchini or bell peppers. Mix together cooked quinoa, cooked hamburger meat, tomato sauce, and spices of your own imagining. (I like to use minced jalapenos, cumin, garlic, oregano, and chili powder.) Stuff parboiled bell peppers or hollowed out zucchinis that have been cut lengthwise, top with cheese, and bake until heated through and the cheese is bubbly.

I haven't tried this idea yet, but I want to mix together cooked quinoa, chopped onions, chopped celery, chopped spinach, a couple of eggs, and maybe a half cup of milk or cream. Then I'll bake it like a quiche (you could use a crust or go crustless) until it's set.

I've been sitting here thinking about using quinoa, and I had to ask myself why I keep trying to like the stuff. There are so many other grains that I'm used to and I like, so why go through this struggle? I think it's because I get such great satisfaction from experimenting and trying new things. Granted, it's nothing earth shattering, but I take great joy in learning, and spending time in my kitchen blesses me as it (hopefully) blesses others.

Experiment! Try something new! Who knows but that it could become a new family favorite.

Pork Chops and White Bean Casserole

Winter greetings! When the cold days of winter set in, I love to put on a pot of beans to simmer for hours. Beans are definitely perfect winter fare--their rich, rib sticking goodness is just right for keeping the cold at bay. Make a batch of cornbread to go with them and you have a well balanced and tasty meal.
The recipe I'm going to share with you today comes from my mother's kitchen from many years ago. It's not a fancy recipe, but the combination of spices makes this bean stew a real standout. I hope you give it a try!

Pork Chops and White Bean Casserole

2 cups (1 lb.) white beans (I usually used Great Northerns or the smaller navy beans)
2 tsp. salt, or to taste
1/4 tsp. pepper
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
1 T. butter
2 cups finely chopped onion
2 cans tomatoes (the size of soup cans), chopped, including liquid (Instead of store-bought cans of tomatoes, I use a quart jar of my home canned tomatoes including liquid.) or, use 5 large tomatoes, chopped
1 tsp. oregano
1 tsp. thyme
6 thin pork chops

Early in the morning: Cover beans with cold water, cover, and refrigerate all day. (You could always let the beans set overnight instead if you want to cook them in the morning for a midday meal.) Drain. Put the beans in a large pot; add 5 cups water and the salt, pepper, bay leaf, and garlic. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, cover, and simmer 1 hour, stirring occasionally. Drain again. Place beans in a large ovenproof casserole dish or dutch oven.

Meanwhile, saute in butter the onion, tomatoes, oregano, and thyme and cook the mixture for several minutes until heated through. Stir this mixture into the beans that are in the ovenproof container.

Next, brown pork chops in a skillet and then tuck them into the beans, covering them. Bake, covered, at 350 degrees for 1 1/2 hours, then uncovered for 15 minutes.

This is how the recipe is written, but what I do in actual fact is, I brown my pork chops in the cast iron pot I plan on using to bake the beans. That way, I get all the tasty bits from browning the meat incorporated into the stew. I think it makes a difference.

These beans reheat well, and I always hope there's enough left over for lunch the next day. Comfort food at it's tastiest best!.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Preserving the Harvest--A Hundred Years Ago!

I'm rereading a book that was written by a woman who was born in 1899, and lived in my area. At the time, it was extremely rural, and they would go into town several times a year to buy the things they couldn't grow or otherwise produce on their farm. The annual trip to town was a several-day affair, and because the road into town was so dusty, they would bring a change of clothes, stop at the Rest Cottage at the edge of town, and change into their Sunday best before doing their shopping. Because the trip was arduous, and because money was tight, they grew or raised most of the food and grains they and their animals would need throughout the year.

The name of the book is True Story of a Mountain Girl and Pioneer Happenings by Pearl E. Montgomery. My  copy says "Fourth Edition Printing, August, 1986."

Here is a section (found on page 13 in the book) that has the heading "Preserving Fruits, Vegetables and Meats":

"Mother canned lots of fruit. She also made big stone jars of pickles and sauerkraut. We baked light bread two or three times a week. We grew our wheat and took it to the mill most of the time. From our orchard we harvested apples, pears, four kinds of plums, prunes and cherries. Then there were strawberries, raspberries, loganberries and grapes.

"We had about two hundred and fifty gooseberry bushes and my job was to do most of the picking. We would run the berries through the grain cleaner to get the leaves out and then ready for market. I delivered all the orders around within five miles on horseback.

"In the fall we had potatoes to dig. We filled fifty to seventy-five 100-pound sacks which were stored in the cellar. There were carrots, parsnips and turnips. Dad sold turnips and fed turnips to our dairy cows.

"We dried fruit, usually around fifty pounds of pears, one hundred of prunes, twenty-five of plums, one hundred pounds of apples. After drying, Dad made apple cider in fifty gallon barrels. Ten barrels were taken to Eugene for sale. He took a load of farm products. The wagon load included two or three veal weighing three or four hundred pounds each. The veal were dressed out and the hide left on.

"It took a day to go to town, a day to trade, and a day to return home."

Interesting! I love to read true stories of local settlers, and I'm often reminded of just how little they had, and how content they were anyway. It's a good lesson for me to practice contentment in my own particular circumstances.

As my nod to days gone by, I'm canning. Yesterday I canned 7 jars of diced ham that was left over from a birthday dinner for two of my kids, and tonight I'm canning 6 jars of chicken. Since this summer, when my garden was producing it's annual bounty, I've canned more than 300 jars of food. Granted, that's not as much as in years gone by when 600 jars were more the norm for me, but I'm content.

Let the winter storms come--I can feed my family, and that's a great feeling!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Pride Goeth Before a Fall

About a week ago I bought a new toothbrush. My choice wasn't very scientific--I bought a green one because green is my favorite color, and the particular green toothbrush I ended up with was on sale, so into my cart it went.

I'm also in the throes of writing another book. My new book, due out next January, will be called What the Amish Can Teach Us About the Simple Life, and it's a practical guide chock full of homespun hints and lots of usable ideas for being more self-sufficient, even if you live in town, which 80% of North Americans now do. Did you know that most of us can keep at least a few chickens in our backyard? And in major cities like San Francisco and Chicago, it's even legal to keep a couple of milk goats. Who knew.

This week I've been working on the chapter dealing with technology, and I must admit that, being something of a Luddite, I was enjoying this chapter very much as I dispensed great ideas for lessening our use of and dependence on electronic gadgets. Obviously I'm not averse to technology like a true Luddite, but I've always been wary of getting caught up in the virtual world more than is healthy for me. Writing this entire book on simple, low-on-the-hog living has got me pretty smug, I'll admit it...

Now back to my toothbrush. All week long I've been using my new toothbrush, and it's sure been nice to have nice new bristles. Well, this morning I was brushing my teeth while contemplating my don't-use-so-much-technology-in-your-daily-life chapter. All of a sudden, my toothbrush started vibrating. Yikes! I jumped a country mile from the surprise of it all and then scrambled to find my glasses and get them on so I could see clearly what on earth was going on. Why was my toothbrush vibrating? And more to the point, how could I get it to stop?

You guessed it--my new toothbrush is battery powered. BATTERY POWERED! I had no idea. Good heavens, what will they think of next? Anyway, I figured out how to turn it off and, shaken though I was, I managed to finish my morning ablutions and get to work dressed and in my right mind. But I learned a powerful lesson this morning: before buying something, read the label carefully and make sure it's really what you're after.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

A Homemade Life

I enjoy living low on the hog. I was thinking about why this is recently, and I think that even though there were always glimmers, my conscious desire to live simply really kicked in when I was in high school. And as is so often the case with me, it wasn't a perfect slide into simplicity.

My oldest sister found out that she was expecting. This baby was going to be the first grandchild/niece or nephew of the next generation. Really a big deal for our family.

I wanted to commemorate this occasion in a big way, and because I was going to be an auntie for the first time, it seemed only natural that I should do something extravagant for the wee one. Plus there were so many months yet before the babe made its appearance that doing something big was totally within reason. I had the time, so now I just needed to come up with the perfect gift.

I thought and thought and then it hit me. I would make this new little niece or nephew an heirloom to treasure for a lifetime.

I would make a quilt.

Even as a young person I admired the hardy pioneer women who had given up luxury and comfort to follow the dusty Oregon Trail to a new and (hopefully) better life--a life they fashioned with their own hands and determination. I often thought about how these pioneer ladies grew the food that fed their families, chopped the wood that heated their homes and cooked their meals, and spun the fleece that would be turned into the knitted and woven fabric used to clothe and cover their loved ones and I figured these pioneer women wouldn't be intimidated by something as easy as making a quilt surely must be, so I set about my own project.

This was before the internet was a fact of daily life, before you could Google and find out everything you ever wanted to know about, say, quilt making. Oh, I had read The Whole Earth Catalog, and books with titles like Living the Good Life and Five Acres and Independence. But I don't recall ever studying up on how to make a quilt. Still, I'd read the Little House on the Prairie series and I felt confident that I could pull this off.

I decided that I would hand piece this heirloom quilt and then--of course--hand quilt it in minute and glorious designs. I'd seen plenty of pictures of quilts and so I began.

I went to a fabric store and had the presence of mind to buy cotton fabrics, but then undid all the good that came from that decision by failing to preshrink the pieces before cutting out my design, which consisted of a bunch of 4- or 5-inch squares that were quartered into triangles. Tiny pieces.

I chose some soft greens, yellows, and light browns (this was also in the days before ultrasounds) because I thought they looked nice together and would be fitting for both a girl or a boy.

For some reason, I thought that an heirloom quality quilt absolutely had to be pieced by hand and that using a sewing machine for any part of the process would somehow make the quilt less special. So I gathered my pieces of fabric, my needles, pins, and thread and got started.

I stitched and I stitched and I stitched some more. It seemed like no matter how many hours I put into the project I was woefully short of done. Nowhere near. Not even close. The months seemed to fly by and well before I was ready, my niece was born. Thoroughly demoralized, I didn't mention the quilt-in-process I had going. I honored the birth of my sister's baby another way and then pondered what to do with this unfinished quilt.

I thought and I thought and then it hit me. I would make a miniature quilt for my little niece to use with her dollies when she was a bit older. Now I was in business--I had the quilt top done thanks to the new size requirements.

This tale is a sad one. I persevered to the end, hand quilting it, although not nearly as heavily as I had at first envisioned. And the minute, even, and perfect stitches I had dreamed about didn't materialize because the sizing was still in the fabrics since I hadn't prewashed them and sticking the needle through the layers was difficult. When it was bound and completely done, I threw the sweet little doll quilt into the washer to get it clean before I sent it off. I envisioned the look of stunned delight and joy on my sister's face when she first set eyes on the beautiful gift I'd spent hours making for her daughter. But when I pulled the quilt out of the dryer, it had shrunk up so much that the pieced squares were puckered beyond redemption.

But even though my first quilt was a disaster--and even though I've had plenty of disasters since then--I was hooked. I loved the notion of starting "from scratch" and producing something useful for my family. And that philosophy for living a homemade life is still with me.

It's what causes me to hand grind my grain to make homemade bread, to plant a vegetable garden each year and can hundreds of jars of food from the harvest. It's why I sew and wear aprons and dresses and knit warm sweaters, socks, and mittens, why I love to hang the laundry outside and let the soft breeze and warm sunshine dry my clothes for free. It's what moves me to love wood heat above all other heat--even though the wood needs to be split and the wood pile and hearth constantly need sweeping. It's why you can find me hunched near an oil lamp on long winter evenings, knitting or reading by the dim but soothing light.

The joys of learning to make do and be content with the work of my hands have brought me untold satisfaction through the years. And because I choose to live this homemade life, I'm more content (at least I like to think so) than those who believe in what the advertisers are selling, which, in a nutshell, is discontent. We don't need the latest, biggest, or "best." What we need instead is the product of the work of our hands and an attitude of thankfulness for what we do have and the philosophy of "enough."

I further believe that God instilled this self-reliant streak in me. When He plunked Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, He gave them everything they could ever want, and then He told them to tend the Garden. And because we can trace our roots back to these two folks, our DNA must include that same imperative.

And so we work and we toil. We take care of those we love and try our best to fashion--with our hearts and hands and determination--a simple life of joy for ourselves and our families. And for those of us who take the time to stop and listen, we hear God whisper in each of our hearts: tend the Garden.

May God richly bless the work of your hands!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Joy of a Really Big Tiller

I have a preternatural bent for doing things as low-tech as possible. And yet I'm not averse to using technology when it seems right to me. And since it's finally springtime in Oregon and I've already been bested out in the backyard, I'm glad for my flexibility.

It's early on a Saturday morning and the dew is thick on the ground outside. I've had frost the last two mornings, but today is shaping up to be gorgeous and the temps last night were well above freezing. I'll need to wait a bit yet before I can get out there and work in the yard, so I'm passing the time composing this blog post. But there's a twist:

Lantern Light on My Computer
I'm using my sturdy, efficient kerosene lantern made in the French Alps. For years I used Aladdins, but this particular lantern is better suited to me. (In fact, I gave away all my Aladdins.) For one thing, it doesn't make the hissing noise my Aladdins did, and I think it uses less lamp oil. It's also not so fussy on parts, and because there's no mantel to constantly break, I don't have to stock what always felt like a mini lantern supply shop just to keep the lights on. Also, the glass chimney sits rock solid on the base, and it's made from a sturdier glass than most. And finally, those parts not only last longer, but they are less expensive to stock. Love my lantern.

Anyway, back to my garden.

First of all, some history: I've only been in the Lilliputian cottage for three years, and when I bought this derelict little gem, the grounds--like everything else--were a mess. But I got busy, again with help from family. We weed whacked the tall weeds only to discover that the back corner of the backyard had been used as a dumping ground by the previous owners. If you have read my previous blog post about my kitchen remodel  (Vegetable Oil by the Gallon), you'll know that this was just more of the same. But while the kitchen episode had its share of humor, what with the family of racoons and all, the backyard mess was just gross.

We ended up digging down about three feet (no kidding!) and wider than that and found broken buckets, monster rocks (I reused those), kids toys that looked to be years old (but not old enough to be antiques and therefore worth something), and most of an old toilet. (One of my sons suggested we fill the toilet with dirt and plant what he insisted would be a "flower pot" in the truest sense of the word. I opted out of that plan and it went to the dump along with everything else.) After unearthing the toilet (gloves on at all times, please!), we just put our shoulders into the task and filled up an entire truckbed with junk.

But the job was done. So now nothing stood between me and the garden of my dreams. Well...yes, there was one thing. Two actually.

I had to have two major surgeries so I could walk again and be without pain, which had become so debilitating that I could barely function. There was just no way I could go on any longer pretending that I could live with my condition. It was time. So I slathered on bales of straw and bid my garden adieu for two whole years. But this was where I made a tactical error.

Instead of breaking up the individual flakes of hay and strewing them feather-light over the top of things, I carefully laid out the compressed flakes side-by-side over everything. I figured that since it would be quite a while before I'd be back in the garden, those dense flakes of hay would simply kill everything underneath, and then, over time, decompose back into the soil, leaving a beautiful, weed-free, perfectly composted bit of gardening heaven in its wake. This bit of paradise was supposed to be waiting for me this year.

Didn't happen.

Earlier this spring, I went out back determined to hand dig a spot to plant peas and early greens. I sallied forth one fine day, garden tools in hand and my post-surgical body strong and ready for work. I started digging. It took all of about two minutes for me to come to the sickening realization that I was in a world of trouble. There was just no way I'd be able to dig up an entire garden area by hand. You see, those flakes of hay that I had plunked onto the ground two summers ago had sort of cemented themselves into place. Instead of killing the weeds underneath, they had in fact provided a perfect habitat for the weeds to somehow grow up through them. They weren't going anywhere anytime soon.

What to do, what to do. I thought about this for several weeks. Time's awastin', I fretted. Summer waits for no gardener, I fussed. There's nothing I can do to change that, I fumed.

But this much I did know: I just had to have a garden. So I thought and thought. I devised any number of scenarios for getting my garden spot ready for planting. And in the end, this is what I did:

I bought a tiller.

Actually, one of my sons and I bought a used tiller together. We used my money (moms really are indispensible!), but he plans on paying me half, and I'm hopeful. When that happens, this tiller will have already (almost!) paid for itself, because this is what I did earlier today:

I'm tickled pink with my new tiller. It ate through those cement-like plates of weed-grown hay flakes like they were nothing. Even better, when I started the tiller up, it only took me two pulls to get the thing going.

Because of this new purchase I am mentally going wild. I have made plans to till up large swaths of the front yard and along the side yard too. I'm seriously considering taking out the rest of my lawn in the backyard and turning an unused spot next to the garage into my hazelnut orchard (I think I could get two trees squeezed in there).

Thanks to my new tiller, I'm this close to realizing my dream garden, at least in my imagination. Really all I need is some time and a bit of money to see things through. Time is finite, but the money is coming--just as soon as my son pays me for his half.

Hope springs eternal. Hopefully gardens do too.

Blessings to you and yours!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Very Best Black Beans and Rice

I know that calling the recipe I'm about to share with you "the very best black beans and rice" is a bit hochmut of me, but it's true. What makes this bean dish so incredibly delicious is the "mojo" you ladle over the top (read on for that part). So, without further ado, I'll tell you how it's done:

Put some black beans on to simmer to which you've added a bit of olive oil and water to cover. I usually throw in a piece of pork or beef (either leftover or not; if I use raw meat I brown the pieces first in the olive oil before throwing in the beans), but it's just as good with no meat. You can use broth to flavor the beans if that sounds good, but I just use water.

Cook the beans for much as 5 - 8 hours is fine because you want them to cook up thick. I usually don't have that much time, so I'm more liable to cook them for about 3 hours. Suit yourself. Cook's choice! Add water or broth as needed. Don't add salt or pepper until near the end of the cooking time.

When the beans are getting near to being done, cook up some rice. While the rice is cooking, make:


In a saute pan, cook in olive oil (don't be stingy with the oil) minced garlic, chopped onion, and diced tomato. Saute the mixture long enough for the flavors to release and soak into the oil. Then add them to the cooking beans. There's really no right time to add the sofrito. I've done it at the beginning, and then sometimes I've just cooked my beans plain and instead simply topped my serving of beans with it. Any way is okay.

Next you're going to make the piece de resistance:


In a jar with a tight fitting lid (because you'll be shaking things up) add:

half orange juice, half lemon juice (I usually make about a pint's worth)
1/4 - 1/2 tsp. cumin
twice as much basil as you used for the cumin
twice as much oregano as you used for the cumin
lots of minced garlic

Unless the mojo has sat in the fridge for a day or so, the herbs--even with vigorous shaking--will tend to separate quickly and sit on top of the juices. If this happens simply mix with a spoon and scoop a spoonful out at a time.

Into your individual bowls goes first the rice, then the beans/sofrito mixture, and topped off with the mojo. I usually use about 4 tablespoons for my serving because I love the stuff, but you may want to be a bit conservative until you decide how much is right for you.

Now for the photos:

Here's the sofrito with the meat cooking:

And here's my bowl of black beans and rice right before chowing down:

Oh my goodness these are tasty! I hope you try them, and I hope you love them as much as I do. Beans are economical, filling, and nutritious, and it's my personal opinion that people these days don't eat enough beans. If you're one of those, I may just change your mind with this recipe.

Blessings to you and yours!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

What to Do with Leftover Pork? Boy Do I Have the Answer!

I made a pork roast yesterday. Simmered it, covered, on the stove in a cup of milk after browing all sides in a tablespoon of butter. A little salt and pepper--that's it. It was very good. I served it with garlic bread and corn that I flavored with melted butter and a surprising amount of dill weed. I highly recommend buttered corn with dill weed. I know it sounds weird, but it's very, very tasty.

Anyway, I had a bunch of pork roast left over and didn't want to let it go to waste, so here's what I did for "linner" today:

I sliced the pork and threw it in my crockpot with some Sweet Baby Ray's Barbeque Sauce, a smidge of chipotle chili in adobo sauce, and about 1/4 cup of water. I turned it to low for about 3 hours and then took two forks and pulled apart the meat. Stirred it very so often. That was it.
Barbequed Pork, ready to eat

In the meantime, I made a small batch of kind-of coleslaw: I thinly sliced some cabbage, about 1 1/2 cups. I put in 2-ish tablespoons of apple cider vinegar, a small of amount of sugar (around a teaspoon), some salt and pepper (more pepper than salt), and a few pinches of celery seed. I spritzed it with a bit of olive oil and mixed well.

Sorta coleslaw. Very plain. But tasty.

I had some ciabatta rolls and I cut them in half, slathered both sides with mayonnaise, and baked them in the oven at 375 degrees for about 10 minutes. The mayonnaise was melted and the edges of the ciabattas were slightly browned and a bit crisp when I removed them from the oven. They had great bite to them.

I piled on the barbequed pork and topped the meat with a goodly amount of the coleslaw. Popped on the top piece of ciabatta, smashed things a bit so I could get it into my mouth, and then took a tentative bite. Oh, was so delicious! The crisp sweet tanginess of the cabbage was a perfect complement to the smokey/spicey/sweet barbequed pork. The ciabatta was chewy goodness holding it all together.

I love poking around in my fridge and pantry and coming up with something good to eat. No need to go to the store for special ingredients or follow a recipe. This is cooking at its finest--making do with what I have and enjoying the end product.

And when it turns out this good, well! It's worth writing about. Even better? I'm not as liable to forget what I did if it's written down (my very worst problem in the kitchen), so I can make this again sometime if the mood moves.


May the Lord richly bless you and those you love!

Friday, April 6, 2012

An Easy and Inexpensive Baby Blanket to Make

I love to make receiving blankets for baby shower gifts as I'm a firm believer that newborns need lots of blankets. I love to use flannel fabric because it's soft and warm and washable...and I can usually pick up cute, baby-worthy yardage on sale for relatively cheap.

Currently, one of my knitting friends is expecting, and since I already knit her a baby cardigan, I thought I'd make one of my trademark flannel blankies to go along with it.

Further, I thought others might like to know how I do it so they (you!) could have a wonderful, homemade, useful baby shower gift that is sure to be loved and used. So here goes:

I buy 1 1/4 yards of cotton flannel fabric...but you can do just as well with only a yard. Wash it and dry it and then square up all four sides and making them neat, with no ravels hanging.

Next, make a rolled hem edge and pin in place so you can do the next step, which is making buttonhole stitches around the entire edge. Use number 5 or 10 crochet cotton and either a tiny crochet hook that can poke through the fabric or else a large-eyed tapestry needle to actually sew the stitching in place.
Buttonhole stitch in progress
Next I took some pink #5 crochet cotton (because that's what I had that would work for a baby girl, but I often use variegated and that comes out really nice) and single crocheted all around the edgle of the buttonhole-stitched hem. Like this:
Single crochet foundation row
Next I crocheted a scalloped border all the way around. I crocheted 3 double crochets in one stitch, skipped the next stitch, and then single crocheted in the next stitch. Keepgoing like that: Three double crochets in one stitch, skip one stitch, one single crochet in next stitch, skip one stitch, and so on. It looks like this:

Finished with scalloping on the edge!
I'm just finishing this blanket...and it's a good thing because my friend is in labor. Today is a good day!

How Do We Manage When the Electricity Goes Out?

Several weeks ago, the Pacific Northwest experienced an unexpected and record-breaking snow storm. It dumped 9 inches of heavy, wet snow on us, and things pretty much came to a standstill for two days. Trees couldn't stand up to the weight of all that snow and many came down. Especially hard hit were the ornamental plum trees that were in blossom. But everywhere tree limbs--and whole trees--crashed down. I lost a large lower limb from a Doug Fir in my front yard near the house. And around the corner from me, half of a neighbor's mighty oak broke away.Thankfully, it crashed into the street. Another neighbor lost a birch tree that fell on his house. That same scenario was repeated all around our area. As a result, thousands of us lost power in our area.

My power went out in the early morning, shortly after I had gotten up. Normally I wouldn't have even been out of bed that early, but the snow was calling to me and I wanted to sit with a morning cup of coffee and enjoy the quiet and peace of the falling snow before I showered and tried getting to work in one piece on the snowy, slippery roads. So I turned on my coffee pot and watched the snow fall as I waited for it to finish brewing. As I was pouring my first cup I was suddenly plunged into absolute darkness. I couldn't even see my hand in front of my face.

Ah well, I thought, surely it won't be long till it's back on. I fumbled in the dark and lit two of my lanterns so I'd have some light while I waited for the electricity to power back up. Then I sat and drank my coffee and waited. And waited.

Turns out the power didn't come back on for about 15 hours. It was so interesting to talk to people about their experiences because many of them were absolutely helpless in the face of this. They had no idea how to take care of basic needs and they were unprepared. They didn't have a clue how to spend that much time unplugged.

I thought of the Amish: When the electricity goes out in their area, it doesn't even register because they don't use high-line electricity. For the Amish, a day without electricity is like any other day. But of course, not for "the Englisch," which is what they call the rest of us.

Because I strive to live a relatively simple life, I wasn't too hampered by the turn of events. In fact, I rather relished the thought of living unplugged and low-tech for the day. I had my lanterns for light and my handpowered grain grinder for flour and cereal, a pantry full of home-canned food, and my books and spinning wheel and knitting and treadle sewing machine to keep me happily engaged. I had water and a propane stove out back under my patio roof for cooking and heating water. I figured I could take care of myself for quite a long time. Except...

I had no heat. In the Lilliputian cottage I have no wood stove. When I raised my boys in the country, we only heated with wood, and that big old farmhouse never seemed cold. The wood stove pumped out heat all winter long. We'd go through about three cords every winter, and I could stoke that old stove full, turn down the damper, and keep the house warm all night long. In the morning when I got up, I'd first thing go open the damper and get the coals glowing red hot before adding more wood for the day. Many's the day I'd set my cast iron pot on the stove and cook lunch or dinner for us, using the "free" heat from the fire. In the damp and soggy Pacific Northwest, wood heat, in my opinion, can't be beat. It's the best thing for keeping a body warm.

But even with no heat (I bundled up in my woolen hand knits from top to bottom and felt a bit smug), I was fine. And because of the choices I've made to live life simply, I was prepared and knew how to take care of myself.

As I see it, when an emergency hits, there are some things that are nice to have in place. We have need of food, water, shelter, heat if it's cold out (and it seems the electricity always goes out in a winter storm around these parts), an alternative light source, and any special needs, such as medicine or medical equipment. Each of us should think through these needs and decide how we can make them happen even in an outage. A little thought and preparation will go a long way.

I'm reminded of when my boys were little and we'd regularly have days (and occasionally weeks) when we "lived like pioneers." Even though it was fun, it was also educational. Depending on the season, we could forage and fish, cook out back or on the wood stove, play games by kerosene lantern light at the kitchen table, and wash our clothes by hand (even jeans!) and hang them outside or by the fire to dry. Good times.

I remember one time I gathered "fur and skins" (fabric from our local fabric store), leather thongs, and some big wooden needles that I'd found somewhere--the memory of which escapes me now--and when the boys woke up that morning I informed them that they would have to make their own clothes in order to dress for the day. They loved it! In fact, they got so excited about the project that they made a "skins" tent to play in also and we ate our meals there for several days.

These "play days" helped make my sons the creative tinkerers they are today, I think. In fact, besides the heat issue, I found I had one more problem on that snowy day and that was my fancy new iPhone. I'm fairly new to that technology, and people called or messaged me all day long (snow storm and power out = really big news!). Needless to say, my power bar was going down and I'd soon enugh run out of juice. And that was when I realized that once the power was gone, so was my ability to communicate with the outside world--granted, not a necessity, but nice to have available. I mentioned it to one of my boys and without skipping a beat he said to plug the phone into the car chager...which he'd given me for Christmas...and turn the key to accessories and let 'er rip. I did and my communications disaster was averted.

You and your family could try a "live like the pioneers" day (or two or three!) and find where you have gaps in your ability to take care of yourselves. And then you can make plans for how to close those gaps so when an uncertain future hits, you'll be prepared.

As for me, I'm saving up for a wood stove for the Lilliputian cottage. I know me well enough to know that I won't rest easy until I have it installed. And when I do, even if it's the dead of summer, I'll fire it up and put on a pot of stew.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Reading the Bible--In a Day! (Almost)

We had been forewarned: Today at work, the editorial department would be gathering en masse to proofread the newest edition of The Daily Bible, which is due out later this year. Our goal: Get as much of the Bible read in one day (with 12 of us on task) as humanly possible--reading carefully, not skimming--taking care with God's Word. A huge responsibility.

Every so often we will have a special project like this, that takes all of the editorial staff working together to accomplish. This day's work was massive, but every one of us looked forward to it. Think about it: we got paid today to sit quietly and--for an entire day!--read the Bible. It was lovely.

And it was fun...

The managing editor of the department is a creative genius when it comes to making big projects enjoyable. In our department, food often plays a big part in our communal times, and today was no exception. Food choices today were direct reflections of what Jesus would have eaten in His day. You see? Fun!

When we got to work, we had an early morning snack waiting for us that consisted of two types of honeycomb (dark and light), almond butter, and whole wheat bread. I'll freely admit that the electric toaster wasn't authentic, but it tasted so good to slather the goodies on perfectly toasted, warm bread.

We had already decimated the dark honeycomb and almond butter before it occured to me to start taking pictures:

What's left of the honeycomb. Not very exciting, but oh, so good!

We worked solid for two hours and then were treated to more food. This is where it got fun:

We had so much to choose from that I quickly wrote everything down because I knew I wouldn't remember it all otherwise, and here it is:

goat cheese
flat bread
pistachios (already shelled!)
pomegranate seeds (ready to eat!)
dried apricots
dried figs (two kinds, Mission and a Middle Eastern variety that was out of this world)

What a feast! As we ate, we talked about what each of us had been reading this morning. How nice is that? Remember: This is my job.

We worked until lunch and were on our own for that meal. Frankly, I was still full from morning break. But I met my twin sister in town (prearranged) and we had a bit of tapas, which was just right for me today.

Then, back to work for the remainder of the day and one more treat:

Scripture Cake!

You can do a Google search to find out more about Scripture Cake. Along with a cup of hot tea, I sailed through the afternoon, alert, happy, satiated, and reading, reading, reading.

Such a blessing!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Homemade Bread--As You Like It!

This week, one of my sons put together my new Country Living grain mill. It's a manual grinder...not a bit of electricity is used to get the nicest flour anyone could possibly want. I've used an electric grinder for years, but always wanted to get away from "machinery" and just use good old-fashioned arm power instead. The Country Living grain mill with the power bar attachment makes grinding grain really quite easy.

I also purchased the corn and bean auger because I love fresh ground cornmeal, and can't wait to use that next. And if you've read my previous posts (see "A Handy Woman -- Sort Of" on 2/12/12) you know I'm not mechanical. So, if I can use this mill--and change out the augers--I figure anyone can. It's that easy!

Okay, so here are some picture of my new mill:

A Close-up view

Shown bolted onto a butcher block cabinet

Of course, I immediately set about grinding grain. I made some cracked wheat for hot cereal, and then set it to fine and ground flour for bread. The flour was beautiful stuff--perfect bread flour.

I want to share with you my go-to recipe for a plain load of bread (although you can add anything you want to it. Or do like I do and make several loaves at a time and turn one of them into cinnamon sugar bread. Yum!). The recipe comes from an Amish cookbook published in 1980 and "Compiled by a Committee of Amish Women."

What I love about this recipe is that it's easy and you make as many or as few loaves as you want. Here are some pictures of today's whole wheat bread:

Loaf At a Time Basic Bread Recipe

For each loaf use:

1 cup very warm water
1 teaspoon melted lard or butter, or cooking oil
1 scant teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon yeast (if you make 8 loaves, just use 2 rounded tablespoons yeast)
3 cups flour

Combine everything but the flour in the order given in a large bowl. Let the mixture stand until the yeast dissolves and gets bubbly. Stir in about half of the flour and beat it until smooth. (You can use an electric hand mixer, but I just use a wooden spoon or a whisk and go to it.) Then add the remaining flour. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for 8 - 10 minutes. Shape into a ball.

Place the dough into a clean bowl that has been greased (Crisco or butter). Turn the ball of dough all around so the entire surface gets greased. Then, put a clean towel on top of the bowl and set it in a draft-free, warmish place (I just set mine on the counter) and let it rise until double.

Punch down and knead it a bit. Then shape it into a ball again and place it back in the bowl, making sure to grease the entire surface again. Cover with the towel and let rise to double again. Do this punching down/rising step one more time and then:

Shape into a loaf or loaves, depending on how many you're making, and place the loaves in greased bread pans. Cover with the towel and let rise again until nearly doubled. (The bread will continue to rise a bit when it's first placed in the oven.)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. When you place the bread into the oven, turn the temperature down to 350 degrees and bake for 30-35 minutes.

When you remove the finished bread from the oven, you can lightly grease or butter the top crust. This helps the crust to remain soft...but I hardly ever do this and I don't have a problem with hard crust. After about 5 minutes, turn the finished loaves out of the loaf pans and set the bread on racks to cool.

It's really hard to let the bread rest for a bit before you dig in...but resist the urge to cut into it until the bread has had a chance to cool slightly. You'll be happy you waited because the bread will cut better and hold it's shape.

Also, you can skip the last rising before you loaf it up if you feel pressed for time. However, the bread will have a better texture and will be softer and lighter if you do all the risings because the air bubbles that get trapped are smaller; therefore, the bread is finer textured.

That's it! It's really quite easy. This bread makes great toast and works super well for sandwiches.

Happy eating!


Sunday, March 11, 2012

Cream--or, If You're on a Diet, Walk Away from This Post!

I try valiently to eat well...and by that, I mean lots of fairly naked veggies and lean cuts of meat and fish. But the truth is that I love sauces and butter and rice and potatoes, and some weeks I just have to satisfy my epicurian lusts.

This weekend I did.

I bought a container of organic whipping cream when I did my weekly shopping yesterday and immediately set about using it. I made "Lemon Cream Tarragon Chicken" and "Savory Scones"...and they are such good eating that I realized I had to share the recipes. Both of these recipes were "unvented" by me, so that's probably why I love them so much, as they appeal to my personal taste buds.

The fact that an entire pint of cream is already gone underscores just how calorie-laden and rich these recipes are. But please don't let that stop you from trying them--I think they could become favorites in your kitchen as well!

Lemon Cream Tarragon Chicken

(Serves 2 to 4)

Lemon Cream Tarragon Chicken

4 boneless skinless chicken breast tenderloins (good sized ones if you're feeding four people)
flour for dredging chicken
1-2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup chopped onions
1/2 cup sliced fresh button mushrooms
4 tablespoons lemon juice
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon French tarragon
salt and pepper to taste
cooked white rice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. (At this point I set the rice to cooking and things come out in good order at the end.)
Melt the butter and olive oil together in a saute pan. Dredge the chicken pieces in flour and cook them in the butter/oil until browned on both sides. I make sure my heat isn't too high so the butter doesn't burn. When the chicken is sufficiently browned, I lightly salt and pepper them and then put them in a baking dish (anything that fits will do) and throw them into the oven to finish cooking while I make the sauce.

Into the remains of the butter/oil, I place the onions and mushrooms and saute those until the onions are translucent and the mushrooms have cooked some. Then I turn up the heat slightly and add the lemon juice, stirring well so I can deglaze the pan and get all those good bits of floury-chickeny goodness. I cook down the lemon juice a bit and then turn the heat way down. Next, I add the cream, tarragon, and salt and pepper. Heat until the cream is very hot but don't let it boil. I stir and let things simmer for a few minutes so the flavors meld and then I serve the chicken and tarragon cream sauce over rice.

One thing to keep in mind: These measurements are really just suggestions. Taste as you go and add more if you want.

Okay, that was last night's dinner. This morning I made:

Savory Potato Rosemary Scones

(Serves 8)
 (You will notice there are only 7 scones pictured. That's because I ate one before I took the photo. I have my limits for self-discipline!)

2 1/2 - 3 cups flour
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
4 oz. cream cheese
1/2 cup shredded or fine diced cheddar cheese
1 tablespoon butter, plus more for greasing the baking sheet
1/4 cup finely diced onions
1/4 cup sliced button mushrooms
1/4 cup finely diced bell peppers (use orange, green, and red for a pretty display of color)
1/2 large potatoe, peeled and diced (I usually use a small one and call it good)
1 egg
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon rosemary, bruised so the aromatic oils come out
1/4 teaspoon sage

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Butter a cookie sheet in a 12-inch circle. (This is where the dough will go later. If you only butter the area where the dough will go, it's easier to clean afterward.)

Cook the potatoes in boiling water until a bit softened. (I usually throw them into vigorously boiling water and let them boil for a minute or two. Then I turn off the heat and let them sit on the hot burner until I need to drain them.)

Saute in 1 tablespoon butter the onion, mushrooms, and bell peppers.

In a small mixing bowl, mix together the flour, salt, and baking power and set aside.
In a large bowl, cream together the cheeses and egg. Add the cream and mix well. Add the sauted veggies and the drained potatoes and mix well again.
Fold in the flour mixture, a bit at a time, by hand. You may need to add more flour--what you want is a soft dough. Mix just until the flour is thoroughly incorporated in the mixture.

Pat out into a round about 1 inch thick on the buttered cookie sheet. Take a knife and score by cutting down as best as you can into eight equal pie-shaped "slices." When they bake, they'll still stick together but the scores will be there and help to define individual pieces.

Bake at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes, or until the scones are cooked through and golden brown on top.

Set on a wire rack to cool.


 I plan on eating mostly naked vegatables and lean cuts of meat for the remainder of this week as my pennance...but it's hard to feel bad about eating such good food!

Blessings to you and yours,

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Rainbow Chard--Friends At Last!

I love growing rainbow chard because it's so pretty. The stalks come in neon bright colors--red, orange, yellow, and cream. Against the deep green broad leaves intersected by colorful ribs, rainbow chard just looks like it would be wonderful to eat.

But I've never been fond of it, which fusses me no end because I can't stop growing it. Up until this evening that was a problem...

This morning I woke up to snow. Snow! In March. In the Willamette Valley. Not usual. I girded my loins, hopped in my car, and drove to work without mishap. (In these parts, we aren't very skilled at driving in snow or ice and I always get nervous.) I realized pretty early in the morning that I was suffering from a case of spring fever. I think the snow had something to do with that. I promised myself that I'll mud in my peas this weekend no matter what the weather, and that helped somewhat, but I still yearned for the taste of the growing season. I really wanted something fresh. So I decided I'd do a quick spot of grocery shopping at lunch.

When I got to the store, I saw gorgeous organic strawberries and raspberries for sale at a good price and I quickly scooped up a couple of clamshells of each. As I was turning to leave, my eye caught sight of...yep. You guessed it. Organic rainbow chard. It was fresh and crisp and oh so colorful and pretty. Now I never actually buy chard. I only grow it. I've always felt that to spend my hard-earned cash on a veggie that I'm not likely to eat isn't being a good steward. But today...

Today I couldn't resist, and a perfect bunch of chard made its way into my basket. When I got back to work, I had a chance to contemplate what I had just done. I had just bought chard. I DON'T LIKE CHARD. Oh, dear.

All afternoon as I worked I thought and thought about that chard. I really wanted to like chard. So I thought and thought some more and this is what I did:

This is a picture of my sauted chard. I wish it was a larger picture so you could really get an idea of how pretty it is. But still, I think you can see the different colors.

Sauted Chard

4-6 stalks chard (use Rainbow and your meal will be beautiful plus tasty!), more or less
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tsp. butter
1/4 cup onion, chopped
1/3 cup white wine (I used cheap cooking wine. It would probably taste better with good quality wine.)
salt and pepper to taste
4 tablespoons Parmesan cheese (or to taste)

I cleaned and separated the chard stalks from the leaves. I put the olive oil and butter into a saute pan and turned the heat to about medium. While it was heating I chopped the stalks and when the butter was melted I threw in the onion and chard stalks and stirred occasionally for about 4 minutes. Next I added the wine and the chopped leaves, lowered the heat a bit, and stirred every so often while the whole shebang cooked for maybe another 3 minutes. I turned the heat off, salted and peppered the chard, added the Parmesan cheese over the top (I didn't stir), put a lid on it, and let it set, covered, for a few more minutes so the Parmesan would melt.

Now here's the amazing part: I liked it! I really liked it! I'm thrilled with this development. Because I already knew I'd be growing chard this summer. But now? Now I'll be able to enjoy eating it too!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Easy Homemade Washcloths

Something I'm rather fond of doing is to knit up my own washcloths. I use them in the kitchen, to wipe up spills and clean off the grandkids' faces and hands; and in the shower they can't be beat because they gently exfoliate my skin while leaving it feeling soft and smooth. Plus, I love the notion that I made them myself. It really appeals to the old-fashioned spirit that's me.

I use various yarns--here are several inexpensive suggestions:
  • Pisgah's Peaches and Creme
  • Lily's Sugar'n Cream
  • KnitPicks' Cotlin or Dishie
These are washable worsted-weight cotton yarns (Cotlin is a washable cotton/linen blend and the linen makes this yarn wear like iron) and they can last through many machine launderings. If you choose to bleach them, however, the colors won't last, and in fact, even regular washings tend to make them look "well used" pretty quickly. But I make these cloths to be used, so that doesn't bother me in the least. Further, these washcloths take such a small amount of yarn and they knit up so quickly that I've found it's not a problem to simply knit up yet another one when I have a few spare hours. We are talking mindless knitting here, so these make excellent take-along projects to have on the go at all times. Or, say, after a long and hectic day when your brain won't function but you're still too wired to go directly to bed...this knitting will calm and relax you, and it's pretty hard to make a mistake.

So here's how I start:

With a #4 needle, I cast on 40 stitches. You can cast on any number you would like, but 40 seems to work for me size-wise. Then, I knit every row back and forth (garter stitch) until the washcloth is square. At this point my washcloth measures around 8 inches, but again, exact measurements aren't crucial. When I have a square fabric, I cast off.

Next, I fish out a crochet hook and some contrasting yarn. I use a size I or J hook, but you can use whatever seems to work well for you and whatever reasonably sized hook you have in your stash. You'll need the hook to be big enough to easily catch the yarn, but not so big that it's difficult to push through the fabric when you're making stitches.

I like to crochet a scalloped edge all the way around the border of the cloth and here's how I do that:

Starting a bit away from one of the corners I work around the entire perimeter of the washcloth in single crochet. When that's completed, I start a scalloped border by chaining into the first stitch on my new row. Then I skip one stitch and double crochet three times in the next stitch. *Skip a stitch, slip stitch in next stitch, skip a stitch, double crochet three times in next stitch*, etc. (Just keep doing what's between the *s above and that's all there is to it. Easy as pie!) When I get around to the beginning, I will often have to fudge things in order for the stitches to come out more or less even, but that's easy to do and the scallops are forgiving. And, let's face it, this is just a washcloth--to be used and washed and used again. It's not heirloom quality--it's a workhorse. In my book, that means I don't sweat it if things turn out less than perfect.

With not too much effort, my washcloth is ready to use:

Love it! And I hope you make one and find you love them too. Maybe before you know it, you'll have an entire drawer full of homemade washcloths..and then you'll have to turn your attention to knitting kitchen towels next. They're no harder; simply bigger.

Happy washing!

My Sister's Purple Potatoes

One of my out-of-state sisters came for a quick, unexpected visit this past weekend, and my twin sister and I pretty much dropped everything we had planned for the weekend so the three of us could enjoy the special time together.

The sister who visited owns and operates an organic CSA--Community Supported Agriculture--that serves cutomers in the Portland, Oregon and Vancouver, Washington area. She has a three-season operation, which pretty much means that we rarely see her anywhere but in her "dirt," amending, digging, planting, tending, harvesting. So this visit was a treat for all of us.

For those of you who don't know what a CSA is, I'll give you the Reader's Digest explanation: A farmer (my sister, in this instance) plants a market garden and sells "shares" to individuals prior to harvest. Then, every week during the harvest season, the farmer picks what's ripe and divides that week's produce into however many shares have been sold. Each shareholder then gets whatever is available that week according to their share amount. It's a win win situation, because the farmer earns an honest (although hardworking) living, and shareholders get the benefit of eating the very tastiest, freshest, close-to-home-grown fruits, veggies, greens, and sprouts. And in the case of my sister's operation, the food is sustainably grown with absolutely nothing in the way of herbicides or pesticides used. And because the food is locally grown, the costs for transporting long distances, packaging, and using up store shelf space are virtually nonextent. Considering that where I live, gas has gone up to over $4 per gallon, that could really add up in savings.

Another neat aspect of my sister's CSA is that she grows some things that are "new" to most Americans' taste buds. She's known locally for being a whiz at Asian greens, and she grows many, many different varieties. And to sweeten the deal, my sister often includes recipes for whatever is in the week's box of goodies so her customers will feel confident in using the food. In the winter, she grows alot of microgreens and sprouts.

But of course, the summer CSA is the mainstay of her operation, and the chance for her to grow the largest variety of veggies. Another specialty of hers is the unique potato varieties that she grows. Russets and reds don't figure in her customers' boxes because people can buy those just about everywhere. So she's always hunting for new and unusal varieties. And this visit was no different.

My sister has located a new purple potato that isn't on the market yet and doesn't have a name that I'm aware of. But she knows the developer so she got a line on several hundred pounds of seed potatoes. She tells us that these potatoes are deep purple with a creamy Yukon-gold-like swirl; very pretty. They are also high in antioxidents, which is one of the selling points of purple versus regular potatoes. (Studies has shown that purple potatoes can actually help lower your blood pressure, among other benefits.)

My twin sister and I were very much interested in these, so our CSA sister is shipping us a few pounds each to try them out this summer. I usually have good success with growing potatoes at the Lilliputian cottage, so I'm hoping that these few pounds will result in several months at least worth of winter eating bliss.

I'll keep you posted!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Vegetable Oil by the Gallon

A few months ago I broke down and bought a deep fat fryer.

I had a good reason: oven baked donuts just don't cut it. I mean, if I'm going to go to all the trouble to make homemade yeast donuts, they really do need to be deep fried. In my old farmhouse, I used a heavy-duty pot for donut frying, but now that I'm in the Lilliputian cottage, complete with nice new kitchen, I thought I'd go highbrow and get an actual deep fryer. I justified the expenditure by reasoning that cleanliness is a virtue in a new kitchen. Especially my new kitchen.

Maybe I need to explain the kitchen concerns: When I bought the Lilliputian cottage three years ago, I moved in after kicking the squatters out...which happened to be a family of racoons. That should tell you something about the state of affairs I found upon moving in. But it's amazing what a willing group of friends and family can do with lots of cleaning equipment and paint. Well, that coupled with a large dose of carpentry work.

You see, I knew this house from years before, and I knew it had good bones. The family who had called this place home for so long took great care of the place. But times were hard, and the family had to leave, and the house stood empty for many months. There was a doggie door into the garage, and another doggie door into the kitchen, and the racoon family figured that out and set up housekeeping at the end of the hall in one of the linen closets. They lived here rent-free for at least six months, or so the neighbors say.

This derelict little place needed some TLC. My friends and family and I scrubbed and scrubbed, and painted and painted, and the carpenter was here every day for two months. At the end of all that work, everything was spic and span, except for the kitchen. My twin sister had tried her best to make it habitable, and she did an admirable job of it. She'd used vinegar and bleach and cleanser, and she'd worked for hours. But even after all that work, we just couldn't talk ourselves into putting my dishes and food into those cupboards. Racoons. Food. Couldn't do it.

So I pinched my pennies, checked my numbers twice (and then twice more), and decided that if I was really frugal, I could pay cash for a new kitchen. Suddenly that seemed like the very best idea in all the world. Yes! A new kitchen! I went to the local home improvement store and ordered one up:

One of my sons, who is an electrician, installed under-cabinet lighting all across, so when I'm working anywhere in the kitchen I have impeccable light. I love it! In case you're wondering, the writing above the top cupboards (you can see a portion at the top of the photo) says, "May the warm winds of heaven blow softly on this house." My sink was a splurge for me. It's an extra deep farmer's double sink with an extending faucet and instant hot water. I purchased good, solid appliances--workhorses without much pedigree. They have served me well so far; and the best part is that my stovetop has an extra large canning burner, plus a warming burner. Nice! And cheap! (Sort of...)

Okay, so back to the deep fat fryer. I found a great sale. Two models caught my eye. One was small, and the other large. Well, I reasoned, if small is good, large will be better. (Classic "Super-Size" thinking. I had a moment of madness, I'll admit it.) I trundled home with my new, large deep fat fryer and promptly set about frying things. It was so satisfying: tempura shrimp, vegetables of every kind, corn dogs, french fries (the trick with fries is to fry them twice: makes them nice and crisp outside, with soft interiors), onion rings, and the aforementioned donuts.

But here's the rub: I was woefully unprepared for just how much oil this monster takes. Before my first go-round, I had to run to the store for more oil. Then I had to run to the store yet again for still more oil. It takes a lot of oil.

But there's nothing so good as fried donuts on a cold winter morning. Plain, old-fashioned donuts, with chocolate frosting, cinnamon sugar, or powdered sugar. Nothing fancy, mind you. But eaten warm and fresh? Now that's donut heaven.

And one thing I've learned: I now buy cooking oil "super sized." That way I don't run out quite as often.


6 cups all-purpose flour (possibly a bit more)
1 cup lukewarm water
4 1/2 tsp. yeast (2 packages)
1 tblsp. sugar
1 cup scalded milk
2 tsp. salt
3 tblsp. sugar
1/2 cup shortening, slightly humped
3 eggs, beaten

Sift the flour and set aside. In a smaller bowl, pour the water over the yeast, adding the tblsp. of sugar; stir the mixture and let stand. Meanwhile, pour the scalded milk into a large bowl and add the salt, 3 tblsp. sugar, and the shortening. When it cools to lukewarm, add the water/yeast mixture and 3 cups of the flour. Beat the mixture until it is smooth, then add the eggs and the remainder of the flour, a bit at a time. Continue to beat or knead until the dough is well worked. Cover bowl and let the dough rise in a warm place until it is double in size. Roll out and cut out the donuts. Place them on baking sheets that have a bit of oil or flour, or else use waxed paper so they don't stick when you go to (carefully!) taken them off to fry. Let the donuts rise again. Fry the donuts in hot grease. Frost or sugar as desired.
Eat and enjoy!

May God richly bless you and yours!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Aprons, Treadles, and Memories

I love sewing with my treadle sewing machine! I've had it for many years, but it's way older than that. This machine and cabinet were manufactured more than a hundred years ago. I take good care of it, regularly putting oil in all the little holes, making sure my needle is straight, changing the belt occasionally, and wiping all of the wood surfaces with wood conditioner. It's in great shape and has many more years of use in it.

My antique White treadle sewing machine

There's something incredibly restful about this machine. The up and down, up and down, of my feet on the treadle, and the quiet sewing that takes place, sans the whir of electricity, is always soothing. There are no fancy stitches with this machine. I can straight stitch--and that's it. And if I want to reverse to anchor my stitches? Well, I lift the presser foot, turn my fabric 180 degrees, and then sew the other way. Because there is no reverse on this thing.

Often when I'm sewing, I use one of my kerosene lanterns for light instead of flipping on an electric light switch. On a cloudy day or in the evening, it might be a bit harder to see, but the perfect fit of the treadle machine and the old-fashioned light make for a pleasurable time. Something else I do when I'm sewing with my treadle is wear one of my homemade aprons.

All of my aprons (and I have an entire "wardrobe" of them) are made using a one-yard pattern that I've used for the past thirty years. And they have all been sewn either on this treadle machine or by hand. They are old-fashioned aprons, and I make them the old-fashioned way. I have "good" aprons and work aprons, and I love them all. Two of my oldest aprons are used only for canning and harvesting veggies from my garden--they are a perfect "basket" for carrying my harvest into the kitchen. These old aprons are permanently stained, and I love them dearly! I wear my good aprons for everything else, and I choose which one to wear based on my mood.

When I wear my aprons, I also wear memories: My three newest ones, in lovely, summery calicos, remind me of a summer lost when I had major surgeries that included months long recuperations. My twin sister set me up with those. She cut out fabric, gave me needle and thread, and encouraged me to start handsewing them. In the end, both the aprons and I emerged in one piece, ready to take on the work of life.

My oldest apron is faded and stained...but I still have it because it reminds me of when my sons were a lot younger and we were all under one roof. It used to be my favorite apron, so it saw a lot of hard use. This old apron helped me cook and bake countless meals, chase chickens out of the garden, gather eggs, bring in a load of firewood to feed our woodstove in winter or lettuce and tomatoes to feed my family in summer, and wipe off dirty hands and faces. How could I throw away such a treasure?

My old treadle sewing machine is full of memories too. I've clothed my family, made gifts, and prayed for my sons' futures all while using it. I sometimes like to sit and sew and wonder about who used my old sewing machine before I did. Was she a mother? A farm wife? Was she content with her circumstances? Did she sit by lantern light and dream dreams for her family too? I hope so!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

A Handy Woman...Sort Of...

For the last two weeks I've been having trouble with the water in my bathtub draining too slowly whenever I take a shower. Even though I hurry, I'm always standing in inch-deep soapy water by shower's end. Every morning I'd frown and think, I really need to do something about this problem. But all I could think to use was one of those store-bought caustic drain cleaning mixtures, and I didn't want to do that for several reasons: I can't imagine that stuff is good in the sewer system, something so corrosive can't be good for the aging pipes in my Lilliputian cottage, and I didn't have any because I don't buy things like that...

(Now, anyone who knows me, knows that I'm not particularly handy. My sons have bailed me out countless times over the years, and Mother's Day and birthday gifts often consist of the family coming over to my place for a work day. It's a nicely workable solution to my ever-present list of "Stuff That Needs Fixing Around Here." God really knew what He was doing (doesn't He always?) when he blessed me with three very handy sons.)

But yesterday, I really, really wanted a nice, long, hot shower. I've been away for several days babysitting one of my grandkids...the sweetest, smartest one-year-old there is, mind you, but also very quick to take advantage of a situation where Grandma is otherwise occupied. So my shower times were rushed. I'd jump in and furiously wash up, hoping to be out and dressed before the little guy had managed to take every single pot and pan out of the lower kitchen cupboard. I was fast, but he was faster. If we were keeping score, the board would look like this:

Grandson - 2
Grandma - 0

So I really, really needed a nice, long, hot shower. But the draining issue was standing in the way of a good soak. Hmm, I thought. Surely there's something I can do. Well there was. And it worked!

I rummaged around in the kitchen and yarded out some white vinegar and baking soda. I shook about 1/2 cup baking soda into the drain, and then glugged some vinegar over top. The resulting eruption looked promising. I let things set for about 15 minutes and then turned the water on full blast. The clog was better, but it wasn't perfect. So, I tried a variation on this theme, and this time it worked perfectly!

I made a hook out of an old wire clothes hanger and tried to get as much gunk as possible out of the drain. Surprisingly little came out, which disappointed me because I felt I wasn't making progress. Next, I turned the water on long enough for things to back up, and then I used a plunger. I plunged and plunged until all the water had been forced down the drain. After that, I put in another dose of the baking soda and vinegar and let things set for 20 minutes. I turned the water on full blast and hot, and watched as the water slipped effortlessly down the drain (after a satisfying whooshing sound, like the remainder of the clog was going down the drain).

I enjoyed my nice, long, hot shower. When I was dressed again, I promptly texted my sons and told them of my victory. They sounded properly impressed, but I'm not so sure. Each of them ended their message to me with a smiley face...

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Pacific Northwest Dreaming

It's a beautiful, sunny Saturday here in the Pacific Northwest--such a rare treat this time of year! It's early February--way too soon to do much in my garden--but that doesn't stop me from dreaming. And dreaming at this time of year is absolutely the best, because I am not hampered by the vagaries of reality. No water issues, pests, crop failures, or disease in sight.

In my dreams today, my summer garden is stupendous! My flowers are the envy of all passersby, and my vegetables are producing so heavily that I'm hard pressed to keep up with the bountiful harvest. In this dream garden, I've tried some new-to-me varieties, and every single plant is a winner. I can't fail!

Even though we're locked in the throes of winter, I'm already gearing up for warmer days. I'm collecting, cleaning, and organizing my seed-starting tools. I have saved seeds, but I'll still get to the stores in the next several weeks to poke around and see what I can't live without. I can already tell I have a hankering for heirloom tomatoes. I think the juicy richness of the old tomato varieties put them in a different class entirely from the hybrid choices available. So, I'll try to find something I have never grown yet.

It doesn't take many tomato plants to get big results. I'm a mad tomato sauce canner in season, and I don't feel I've done my duty with anything less than 50 quarts in my pantry...but I try to can way more than that to last us all winter. When my kids were still at home I'd plant as many as 20 tomato plants, and I'd beg, borrow, and buy more tomatoes by the bushel to supplement what I picked so that by the time winter came around, I'd usually have 200 or so jars of sauce. Now I'm content with maybe a half-dozen plants, and the aforementioned 50 quarts.

When the tomatos are ripe, a pretty and tasty presentation is to slice different varieties of tomatoes and arrange them artistically on a large platter. I try to have different colors--green striped, pink, purple, orange, etc.--so just looking at the plate is fun. I drizzle the tomatoes with olive oil and vinegar (try balsamic, malt, or rice wine vinegar), dust them with fresh chopped parsley or basil (whatever I have) and salt and pepper, and they're ready to eat. Not much is better than that!

Another easy way to use tomatoes is to cut the stem end off and dig a shallow hole in that end. Next, I salt and pepper them a bit and then set them into a baking dish that has sides at least 2 inches high. I sprinkle on pine nuts into the shallow holes, add some fresh chopped parsley, and bake them at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes or so. How long they bake is really a function of how big the tomatoes are. The goal is to have them hot clear through and somewhat softened but not mushy. These are really good and they look elegant on the plate.

I'm getting hungry just thinking about this!