Ornamental BBQ Hood

Lately, I’ve been thing about a lot of things that have to do with being a business owner.  This month marks our 10th year of being in business; only seven have been full-time and we chose to make the leap to relying on our business for all of our income in 2006, which was roughly two years before the Great Recession struck.  This means that it has been a rough handful of years, trying to make a full-time go of a business when there is very little work to be had.  It takes a special kind of person to handle being an entrepreneur and I have been a reluctant one, but have learned to roll with the ups and downs of owning a business for the past ten years.  You need a lot of patience, determination, a certain amount of being willing to take risks and a some craziness, I think.

One thing that has been on my mind for a couple of years is this:  I am a huge supporter of the buy-local movement.  We purchase most of our produce, meats and much of our dairy from local farmers, we frequent the local toy store and consignment stores, use a local bank and rent movies from our local store rather than use Netflix.  (Since we don’t buy a lot of things other than food, this does limit our purchasing power.)  However, even though I support this, I am always left with a small grudge that retail stores and restaurants get all the buy-local love (particularly the ones that are trendy right now:  i.e. local food and wines).  I am so happy to see cash mobs hit our toy store, the book store and other downtown shops, but tempering that happiness is the feeling that local service professionals don’t have anything equivalent.  I realize that it would be very difficult to organize a cash mob type event for service professionals, but even getting more local support would be an improvement.  It’s true that our business does have very good customers within our community, however, we also have many would-be customers who choose a lower priced company from the city or an item stocked at the chain hardware store.  I am sure that many other service companies in this area have this issue as well.  If you need a website or logo designed, please choose a designer in your community. Need your roof replaced, your home painted or a screen door built?  I’m sure there are local contractors who really want your business, even if their price is higher than a national company.  Get your oil changed or have your window replaced at a locally owned repair shop.  Do you need a new table and chairs or a bench?  Hire a local carpenter rather than hitting up the big box store.  You’ll get something more unique and of higher quality.  I realize that it frequently costs more to hire a carpenter to build a table, a local metal shop to build a screen door or a local graphic designer to create a logo, but it also costs more to buy locally produced meats, baked goods and dairy or to buy shoes or fabric from a downtown merchant.  With increased business, your local mechanic, welder, graphic designer, and painter will have more funds to buy those shoes, toys and bread!  Let’s remember to support all of our local business to have a truly strong and sustainable local economic base.  If you live in an area that doesn’t have a lot of local owned businesses, it really does mean a lot if you will spend your dollars at the ones that currently exist.  It makes those businesses more viable and may encourage more brave souls to start a new business.

The other thing that I have been thinking about is how appreciative I am of all of our customers, in particular our repeat customers.  They provide for us so that we can pay our mortgage, feed our family, and pay for our vehicles and utilities.  The one thing that I find ironic is that our best, fastest paying customers are local, small businesses.  Even though they have budget restrictions, they make it a priority to pay us in a timely manner.  The customers who are slow payers are consistently large, multi-state companies with much deeper pockets than our local customers.

If you are considering starting your own business, my advice to you is to think about it carefully.  There are many wonderful things about being your own boss but it can be incredibly difficult and stressful, too. And one other piece of advice is to tread carefully when doing business with attorneys.*

*Seriously.

 

Water kefir is a fermented beverage and a great dairy-free and caffeine-free option for getting probiotics. Making water kefir in an easy process, but it does require regular maintenance.  When I first started making water kefir, I found it too intensive, since a batch is ready every 36-48 hours, so I took a break from brewing, gave away my grains and went back to brewing kombucha.  When I started making milk kefir, I decided to give water kefir a second chance.  The second time around, I didn’t find it as intensive, since I had already developed the habit of tending to my milk kefir.  In some ways it is easier than kombucha since I don’t have to brew a batch of sweetened tea nor wait a week for the brew to be ready.  I make 1 1/2 quarts of water kefir every two days or so and my family drinks all of it.

In this post, I will walk through the steps of the first fermentation and the second fermentation.  The second fermentation is optional, but it is the step where you would flavor the water kefir and it also makes a fizzier drink.  I always secondary ferment because my family and I don’t like plain water kefir as much.

These are kefir grains:

Kefir Grains

Kefir Grains

The color of the grains will depend on what types and color of sugar you use.  If you use white granulated sugar only, they will be white, if you use only unrefined, darker sugar they will be quite dark.  Since I use a mixture of white sugar and sucanat, mine are a tan color.

The method and ingredients I am describing are what work for me.  Your home has a unique environment and what works in my home, may not work exactly in yours.  I know of people who swear by using coconut water in their water kefir and others who say it killed their grains; there are many types of sugar that can be used.  I have never had a problem using tap water for my water kefir, while other people do have issues.  Some websites will advise to cover with cloth secured by a rubber band, others say that anaerobic fermentation is necessary and suggest an air-tight lid.  You may need to experiment and see what works best for you.

These are the things you will need to make water kefir:

Equipment:

  • Strainer (preferably non-metal)
  • Wooden, plastic or rubber spoon/spatula
  • 1/2 gallon glass jar or pitcher
  • Lid for your brewing jar or pitcher

Ingredients:

  • Water
  • 1/4 – 1/3 cup water kefir grains
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons sucanat
  • 1 slice lemon
  • 1 dried prune (or equivalent raisins, currants or other dried fruit), unsulfured
  • 1 slice peeled ginger (optional)

Some things to be aware of:  You shouldn’t use metallic equipment in preparation, unless it is stainless steel.  Use unsulfured dried fruit.  Dried fruit is frequently sulfured to inhibit bacterial growth; when fermenting kefir, you want to promote bacterial growth.  I use prunes that we dried ourselves and they work perfectly.

How to make water kefir:

Fill  jar with 5 1/2 cups of water.  Add sugars, lemon, prune and ginger.  Stir well.  Add kefir grains and stir again.  Place lid on jar, finger tighten and leave at room temperature for 36-48 hours.

Water kefir liquid before fermentation

Water kefir liquid before fermentation

You will notice that when you first start the kefir, the dried fruit will sink to the bottom of the jar along with the sugar and kefir grains.  The lemon slice and ginger will generally rise to the top.  As the fermentation process continues, the fruit will begin rise and it will become more bubbly.  After 36-48 hours, it will be ready; the fruit will be floating on the surface and the surface of the liquid will be fairly bubbly; the water kefir grains will generally remain on the bottom of the jar and you won’t be able to see any sugar left on the bottom.

IMG_6636

Water kefir, ready after the first fermentation

The water kefir is ready to drink after straining the kefir grains and fruit out.  It tastes a bit tart and the fermentation process imparts what I think of as a sourdough-y type of flavor.  We prefer to do a secondary fermentation and not drink it at this stage.

Secondary fermentation is an easy process.  You can use either a clean 1/2 gallon jar or use bale-top bottles, which keep the fizz in better.  For flavor, you can use a variety of things:  maple syrup, honey, fruit juice, berries, essential oils, extracts.  The key is that whatever you choose must have some type of sugar; the kefir will continue to ferment from this secondary sugar addition.  I frequently use maple syrup and vanilla extract to create a cream soda type of flavor.  Crushed berries are very nice and make a very pretty beverage.

The process I use is this:  Open two clean quart/liter sized bale-top bottles.  Add sugar source.  To give you an idea of quantities, for this size of bottle I would use 1 tablespoon of maple syrup, 1/4 cup of home-canned grape juice, 1/4 cup crushed berries, 1 tablespoon of honey, or 1 ounce extra-light syrup from home canned fruit.  Add in any other flavoring:  vanilla extract, ginger, citrus zest, herbs, or essential oils.  Place funnel and nylon strainer over opening and pour half of finished water kefir into each bottle.  Close bottles tightly, gently shake to combine and ferment at room temperature for an additional 24 hours.  You will know that it’s ready when you see some small bubbles beginning to form on the surface; you can double-check by opening the bottle; if it hisses or pops, it’s ready! As you can see in the photo below, when you pour the water kefir into the bottle, it gets quite bubbly, but these initial bubbles will dissipate, it’s the second round of bubbles after 24 hours or so that will indicate it’s ready (or very close).

Pouring water kefir into bottles for secondary fermentation

Pouring water kefir into bottles for secondary fermentation

With the quantity of water kefir that I ferment, this yields approximately 3/4 quart of finished kefir in each bale-top bottle.

Whether you do a secondary ferment or not, when you have strained the kefir grains and fruit out, save the grains for your next batch and compost the remaining contents (lemon slice, dried fruit, ginger).  If you are not making a new batch immediately, you can store the water kefir grains in some water kefir liquid and place in the refrigerator.  Your grains will multiply slightly with each batch, when you have 1/2-2/3 cup, divide in half and give some grains to a friend, compost or start making a larger batch.

Garlic Soup with Butternut Squash, Potatoes and Leeks

There’s not a person in our house who doesn’t like garlic.  We love it, in fact.  From garlicky hummus to garlic refrigerator dill pickles, we haven’t met a garlic dish we didn’t like.  When one person in the family gets a cold, there’s a good chance that it will move through the rest of us.  To help boost our immunity when faced with this possibility, I decided to make a super-garlicky soup.  Our CSA share recently started up again and if you are also a local eater, you know that means winter squashes and root vegetables and luckily this week, also some leeks.  I could have just made a potato leek soup, but I was also thinking of sweet potato curry soups (with butternut in place of sweet potato) and the result was this garlic soup with butternut squash, potatoes and leeks.  Instead of adding only milk or cream, as in a typical potato leek soup, I also added sour cream; the tang works nicely with the sweetness of the squash.  If you don’t have sour cream on hand, plain yogurt or kefir would probably work very nicely.

When cooking with garlic, there are different times that I will add fresh, minced garlic, depending on the result that I want.  Typically, it’s added when cooking other alliums, like onions or leeks, at the beginning of the dish.  This is nice, but it results in a very, very mellow garlic flavor.  If you want a real punch, it’s better to add it right at the end of the cooking time or even after you have removed the dish from the heat.  I used the latter method in this case.  If you don’t love garlic, you could add it at the beginning or even leave it out and probably still have a very nice soup, but I wouldn’t recommend going that route.

Garlic Soup with Butternut Squash, Potatoes and Leeks
Author: 
Recipe type: Soup
Serves: 8-10
 

Ingredients
  • 2-3 tablespoons of your preferred cooking fat (I used goat tallow)
  • 3 cups sliced leeks (1/4″ thickness)
  • 1/16-1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 5-6 grinds white pepper
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into ½” chunks
  • 5-6 medium potatoes, cut into ½” chunks (I leave the peel on)
  • 2 quarts water or stock (I used goat stock, but chicken or vegetable stock would work nicely)
  • ¼ cup heavy cream
  • ½ cup sour cream
  • 8-10 cloves of garlic, minced

Instructions
  1. Heat a large, heavy-bottomed pot on medium heat. Add cooking fat and let it heat. When fat is hot, add leeks and saute for about five minutes, stirring frequently. When the leeks are starting to brown slightly, add spices (cayenne pepper, white pepper and salt) and flour. Cook and stir continuously for another minute to allow the flour to brown a bit. Add butternut squash, potatoes and stock. The liquid should cover the vegetables and then some; you may need to add more than 2 quarts. Bring soup to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 30-45 minutes, until vegetables are very tender. Taste for seasonings and add more salt or pepper, if necessary. Remove pot from heat and stir in heavy cream, sour cream and garlic. Serve immediately.

 

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A few weeks ago I came to the realization that I have incrementally allowed myself to get into poor physical shape.  Let me clarify my position, because there are so many ideas of what it means to be in poor physical shape.  I don’t mean over-weight, because, although I am also over-weight, I believe that you can be healthy, in good physical shape and still be over-weight.  There is research to support this claim, though there is debate about it.*  By poor physical shape I mean: inflexible, unable to move freely while climbing a playground structure with my children, becoming winded from jogging up one flight of stairs, stiff and slow riding a bicycle and generally unenthusiastic about physical exertion.

I’ve never been an active person.  I never played or willingly participated in any types of sports.  I walk, but not regularly for fitness, or even as frequently as I could for practical purposes, like errands.  I’ve made attempts over the years to engage in physical activity to lose weight and, like most Americans, stopped after a brief, intense effort. This year, I have felt a shift in both my realization that I am not fit and the desire to do something about it.  I have watched my husband, my two younger daughters, and my toddler son ** go on weekly bike rides and rejected their repeated requests that I join them.  Mostly this was because I was uncomfortable with the idea of riding a bike on the street, in close proximity to vehicles, which still does bother me, but not nearly as much as I had imagined it would.  After riding a few times realized that more than the worry that was associated with riding a bike, was the fact that bodies at rest want to stay at rest and also, I am stubborn and don’t like change.

So, why now?  I think the beginning of the year is a good time to start anew; it’s like a place-marker, an easy way to remember when you started something.  I’m not generally a New Year’s resolution type of person, though I  have made a couple of resolutions over the years.  I only decide to make a change in the New Year when it is something that is meaningful and important to me, like the year (1997) that I decided I really needed to learn how to cook, since my husband and I had a new baby, a large dining-out bill and wanted to eat healthier.  I jumped in, started learning to cook and never looked back.  This year, shaping up needs to be a similar experience for me.

I am not overly concerned about losing weight.  Losing some weight would be a great plus, but my primary goal is to feel good moving and living in my body, which is going to rely on increasing my activity since I already eat a very healthy diet and get an adequate amount of sleep.  The more I move, the easier it is to move more, which is counter-intuitive to me, but that’s apparently how it works.  I am going to start small.  For now, I will ride bikes with my family at least once per week (weather permitting, which it frequently does, even in December and January in Oregon); commit to doing yoga in my living room three times per week and walk on more errands.  I want my joints to be strong going up and down the stairs; I want to be able to ride all the way up the hill at Joe Dancer Park without stopping; I want to run around the playground with my kids and easily maneuver down the slides with them;  I want to be more flexible and strong

This is year I will make permanent changes.  Being 35, I can see that it will probably get harder every year that I put it off.  In the past, I have focused on exercise as a means to lose weight and not as a way to enhance my life, and because I’m okay being over-weight, since I know I’m loved no matter what I look like and I’m generally comfortable being who I am, I don’t think I had the motivation to follow through.  In 2013, I will become a better, healthier me.

 

*Here’s a fascinating study I just found out about last week. Here’s a TIME article discussing the complexity of calculating health based on weight alone.

**My toddler son tags along in his front-mounted bike carrier.  First, we had a Bobike Mini, which got stolen along with my husband’s bike and we replaced it with a Yepp Mini, which we like even more than the Bobike.

For my entire life I have been a fairly thrifty person.  I’ve never felt the need to drive a fancy car, wear the most popular, name brand clothing or have a huge, perfect home.  As I have had children, I have gradually shifted our lives to a lifestyle that embraces more natural living and environmentally friendly practices.  The past four years or so have required that we tighten our financial belt as much as possible.  Luckily, frugal living is also quite often sustainable living.  Following is a list of twenty things that my family and I do to live frugally (and sustainably).  They aren’t in any particular order.  Some of these things we have done for many years and some are newer additions.

  • Eating out rarely.  By rarely, I mean averaging about once per month.
  • Cook meals from scratch and buy few packaged convenience foods.  Not only does this save money, but it is far more healthy to cook whole foods into meals.
  • Buy meats in bulk directly from the farmer.  Typically, a half or whole beef and a large number of chickens (more than 20) to decrease the price per pound.
  • Save all bones from the high quality meat we purchase and I make stock when I have accumulated enough bones.  I just keep a bag of each type of bone (beef, chicken, etc.) in the freezer, add to it and then when I have two full bags, I make a pot of stock.  This maximizes the nutrients I can get out of food that we have already purchased
  • Don’t have trash service.  Our local landfill allows a customer to dump a 32 gallon can of garbage once per week for free if you are also bringing recyclables.  We dump our 32 gallon trash can about every 5-6 weeks.  This saves not only on trash service fees, but gas to drive to the landfill every month and a half or so.  We have a large recycling area in our basement and most of our refuse gets sorted and recycled.
  • Don’t have smart phones.  We just recently upgraded to unlimited texting, which is an expense that I resisted for a long time.  We replace our phones only as necessary.  We don’t need new, fancy phones every year or two.  When they start to malfunction, they get replaced.
  • Rarely go to the movie theater.  For this instance, my definition is about once per year or less.  We watch movies at home when they get to DVD.
  • Use reusable cloth products in place of paper whenever possible:  napkins, hand towels (both for the bathroom and kitchen), handkerchiefs, menstrual pads, diapers, family cloth (instead of toilet paper), and shopping bags.
  • Buy few books but use our local public library a lot.
  • Keep our house cool in the winter and warm in the summer.  During the winter, I keep our thermostat set to 65° during the day and 61° at night.  My oldest daughter has referred to it as the “stupid freezer house” in a moment of frustration, but I am a harsh mistress when it comes to home heating and if somebody comes to gripe to me that they are cold and they don’t have socks/shoes or long sleeves on, then they know they aren’t going to get very far.  We have an older home with single-pane windows and heating bills can get astronomical.  During the summer, we turn on a window AC unit in the living areas during really hot spells.
  • With rare exception, we only buy second-hand clothing.  The rare exception is usually for a gift or special occasion.
  • Save all usable clothing to pass down to younger siblings and turn old t-shirts and diapers into rags, cloth napkins or family cloth.
  • Own older vehicles.  They do require maintenance and sometimes repairs, but they don’t require a monthly car payment.
  • Have a vegetable garden that provides us with food during the summer and early fall, vegetables to can and a smaller amount of hardy vegetables in the winter.
  • Don’t use shampoo or conditioner.  Some of us in the family use baking soda and vinegar and the others use natural bar soap.
  • Make coffee at home and only get prepared coffee as an occasional treat.
  • Purchase electronics as they break and not just to upgrade.  Our TV’s are over 10 years old, our DVD player is more than five years old.
  • I have breastfed all my babies, some longer than others; most well into toddlerhood.  This has greatly decreased feeding costs, especially formula, and made them very healthy children, I believe, thus decreasing costs associated with illness (herbal and homeopathic remedies and allopathic medical care).
  • I cut everyone’s hair.
  • Do many repairs ourselves and only call in a professional if it’s something we absolutely can’t handle.  We do all of our appliance repairs, most of our home repairs and many of our auto repairs.  This always requires a little instruction, which is widely available online or through books.  (We have purchased repair manuals for our vehicles, but we check out other repair books from the library.)  It sometimes requires purchasing or renting special tools and typically involves buying new parts, but it is always less expensive than hiring a professional.

This list is an example of many of the things that we do on a regular basis.  Many of these changes have been gradual or incremental and we always have room for improvement.  For instance, I drive a lot more than I should.  We live close to many of the places we frequent and are perfectly capable of walking and/or biking, but usually because I am poor at time management and we have many months of wet weather, we end up driving, which, of course, increases gas consumption and emissions.

It may seem like we deprive ourselves in some areas and add a lot of unnecessary work to our lives.  It’s true that some things do require more work on our part, but we don’t do things that are so difficult that the trade-off is not worth it.  We don’t feel deprived for the most part.  Sometimes it would be nice to have a little more spending money and go to a movie or out to eat more often, but frequently, when we eat out, we are disappointed with the quality or taste of food since we are accustomed to eating very well at home.  We still do fun things; we bicycle together as a family, we watch movies at home and have recently instituted a weekly family movie night.  We play video and board games.  We eat very well and sit down together as a family every night at dinner.  We spend a lot of time together.  My husband and I feel more content than at any other point in our lives in many ways.  Deprivation is never a word that I would use to describe our life.

What are some of your favorite frugal/sustainable tips and do you feel deprived when you are practicing frugality?

I want to love legume and vegetable soups.  They are so budget-friendly and healthy that I really do want to love them, but the truth is that I find most legume and vegetable soups so-so.  They are good for a dinner and then passable for a left-over lunch the next day.  This legume and vegetable soup is different.  I loved it.  It was so vibrant with tomato goodness and the chickpeas and lentils were smooth and filling and the red pepper flakes added a barely-there heat that made this soup so warming on a chilly winter night.  This soup is not for the tomato faint of heart.  My oldest daughter declared it too acidic.  My husband who usually declares things too acidic declared it delicious.  Five out of six of us took second helpings and looked forward to having it for lunch today.  This is a great pantry soup.  I don’t always have a lot of vegetables around in the mid-winter months, when our CSA is on break.  This soup used canned tomatoes from our pantry and frozen zucchini, but you could certainly use these items purchased from the store.  This recipe makes a very large pot of soup, so you can have leftovers for lunch, dinner or even to freeze.

Tomato-y Chickpea and Lentil Soup
Recipe type: Soup
Serves: 12
 

Ingredients
  • cooking fat of your choice (I usually use coconut oil, lard, tallow or butter)
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3 carrots, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 inch of ginger knob, minced
  • 1 large or 2 small celery stalks, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 1½ teaspoons chili powder
  • ¾ teaspoon turmeric
  • ½-3/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 cup of dried lentils, washed
  • 2-3 cups of chopped potato (I don’t peel mine)
  • 1 quart of home-canned diced tomatoes (or 28-ounce can purchased tomatoes)
  • 1 quart of stock (chicken, turkey or vegetable)
  • 1 quart (or 2 15-ounce cans) of cooked chickpeas
  • 3 cups shredded zucchini (I used frozen)
  • sea salt to taste

Instructions
  1. Heat a large, heavy-bottomed pot on medium-high heat. Add a few tablespoons of your preferred cooking fat. When the fat is hot, add onions. Saute onions for several minutes, stirring occasionally. Add carrots, garlic, ginger and celery. Saute for several minutes, stirring occasionally. Add spices: cumin, chili powder, turmeric, red pepper flakes and 2 teaspoons sea salt. Cook for a minute or two, until the spices become fragrant, then add lentils, potato, diced tomatoes, stock, chickpeas and 1½ to 2 quarts of water, depending on how much broth you like in your soups. Bring the pot to a simmer, cover, reduce heat and cook on a slow simmer for approximately one hour, or until lentils are tender. Add zucchini and taste to adjust salt and seasonings, then cook just until zucchini is tender (or thawed), usually another 3-5 minutes.

 

I am bidding farewell to 2012 with much gladness.  The past four years have been difficult in some ways, most notably economically.  2012 has, perhaps, been one of the most difficult years of my adult life.  So difficult, that I was almost wishing that there would be catastrophe on December 21, 2012 (almost, but not really).  During the past four years, we have had economical ups and downs, all on a downward trend, like the American economy as a whole, but unbelievably it was even more down for us in 2012, further down than 2009, 2010, or 2011.  It is very draining to maintain optimism and hope so many years in a row; draining to pursue leads and write quotes that lead to nothing or to a very small job; draining to have to collect from the aberrant customer who is tight-fisted and unwilling to pay a fair amount for skilled work.

I spend a lot of time pondering the fact that I am blessed in many ways:  my husband, my children and I are healthy; I have a solid marriage; my children are wonderful human beings who make my life better in so many ways; we still have a home.  And I AM profoundly grateful for these blessings because I know that many people would love to have these things.  Yet, constant strain and worry does cast a pall over these blessings.  When  you are worried over how you are going to pay your bills and feed your children, it is difficult to enjoy a simple pleasure like watching a movie with the family or snuggling into a warm, soft bed.  (Warm!  Yikes, the heating bill!)  I realize that many other people are in a similar situation and in my case, misery doesn’t love company.  It doesn’t make me feel better than other people are broke, too!

Because I am ultimately an optimist and I can’t imagine a daily life where I become truly overwhelmed with despair, I look to 2013 with renewed hope for a more prosperous year.  I wish the same for those of you who have been experiencing tough times, no matter the cause.  I really do believe that if you hang in there long enough, things will improve.

For many years in our family, I have made a handmade gift for each of our children for Christmas.  This was a fairly easy task when we had only two children.  Now that we have four, this is a more difficult task.  Combine it with the fact that my children are around the house a lot, because we homeschool, and it makes gift crafting feel nearly impossible at times.  I pull some late nights during December trying to finish gifts.  I also made a gift for my husband this year, which added to the load.  When I am in the midst of working on a craft at midnight the third week in December, I wonder if I am nuts and if it is worth it.  When my family opens their gifts on Christmas morning and I see them using and loving their gifts throughout the years and anticipating what they will be receiving each year as Christmas rolls around, I have no doubt that it is worth it.

This year I made a total of five gifts.  I will start in order of gifts from the oldest recipient to the youngest.

For my husband, I crocheted a 100% wool watch cap.  This pattern was fairly easy to complete once I got the hang of it.  Unlike many patterns, I did need to count stitches frequently.  I have never crocheted ribbing before and I didn’t even know that it was possible.  Using slip stitch crochet, ribbing IS possible and it turned out really nicely.  This hat fits snugly and my husband really liked it.

My oldest daughter has been bitten by the bacon craze.  She loves all things bacon, so I crocheted a bacon and fried egg scarf for her.  I used a chevron scarf pattern, but instead of alternating colors every row, I simply used different widths of deep red and cream to create the bacon look.  I used the egg from this pattern and then stitched it onto the end of the scarf.  My daughter LOVED it.

Ever since my two younger daughters received a Black Apple Paper Doll Primer book as a gift a few Christmases ago, they have loved Black Apple dolls.  This year I discovered a free doll pattern and immediately knew what I was making for the girls.  They took a bit longer to make than I had anticipated due to sewing and turning tiny arms and legs, but I am very pleased with the results and the girls liked them, too.

This is the first year that I made a gift for my son.  He was only 8 months old last Christmas and obviously not aware of gift-giving yet.  I was searching for ideas for toddler boys and came across this idea for fleece soft blocks.  They are 5″ cubes, so they are a nice large size for carry, stacking and even throwing.  They have felt appliques and are easily assembled with yarn blanket-stitching.  They took so much longer than I anticipated that they would; I originally planned on making six but I started running out of time by the fifth and I was getting burned out on this one.  Five ended up being a nice number.

I hope all of you had some wonderful Christmas memories this year, perhaps including handmade gifts or crafts.  Taking time for one another and making something is so much more than the actual gift that is given. Please share links to some of your handmade gifts or crafts!

Pantry (pardon the poor quality photo, it is incredibly difficult to take a decent photo in this cramped, dark space)

As my preserving for each year winds down, I like to inventory the amount of food that I have preserved.  I have found it helpful over the years to review the quantities that I preserved in previous years and adjust quantities as needed during a preserving season.  Usually that adjustment means making more than I did the previous year, but there is the rare occurrence that we didn’t like a particular canned good and still have excess when summer rolls around.  Last year I neglected to do an inventory and it was very difficult trying to remember how many pints of ketchup I should make this year!  This year, we got a lot of food preserved, our pantry and freezers are quite full and I feel very blessed to have so much abundance.

Canned Goods

  • Cayenne salsa – 10 pints, 8 half pints
  • Grape juice – 22 quarts
  • Ketchup – 5 pints, 8 half pints
  • Peaches – 8 quarts, 3 pints
  • Vanilla pears – 6 quarts
  • Pickled beets – 4 pints, 1 half pint
  • Plums – 3 quarts, 8 pints
  • Diced tomatoes – 26 quarts, 14 pints
  • Tomato sauce – 2 quarts, 13 pints, 9 half pints
  • Dozens of jars of jams: strawberry rhubarb, vanilla strawberry, peach blueberry triple sec, strawberry balsamic black pepper thyme, strawberry rosemary, damson plum, lavender strawberry, peach cardamom ginger, vanilla peach, plum (plain), Damson plum, and fig (all made using lower sugar and Pomona’s Universal pectin)
  • About 12 pounds of potatoes from our garden

Freezer (no hard numbers here, just a general idea of quantities)

  • 18 ears of corn
  • 2-3 one gallons diced bell peppers
  • 3-4 gallons shredded zucchini (frozen in one cup chunks)
  • 6-8 pounds of green beans
  • 3-4 gallons sliced peaches
  • 1 1/2 gallons strawberries
  • 2-3 gallons blueberries

Fridge

  • Refrigerator garlic dills (mostly cucumbers but a few jars are a delicious zucchini/carrot mix) – 1 half gallon, 20 quarts, 2 pints
  • 2 + gallons prunes
  • 3/4 gallon dried pears
  • about 1 dozen pints dried bell pepper
  • 3-4 pints Damson plum chutney
  • 2-3 pints fig chutney
  • 15 pounds of carrots from our garden
  • 1 1/2 gallons of fermented sauerkraut

In addition to all this, we purchased 24 pastured chickens from Kookoolan Farms and a whole pastured beef from our regular, local beef rancher.

One fantastic thing about this year’s food preserving is that much of the produce we preserved came from our own garden.  The beets, green beans, zucchinis, carrots, cucumbers, cayennes and all the tomatoes for diced tomatoes and for several pints of sauce came from our garden.

What did you all put up this year?

Pear, Zucchini, Almond Bread

Pear, Zucchini, Almond Bread

It’s harvest and preserving season here in the Northwest.  I have lots of produce in abundance around my kitchen and garden right now.  Two things we have are buckets of pears ripening and zucchinis.  Our zucchini plants are still producing, not as vigorously as a month ago, but still giving us enough that we have to keep on top of fresh eating, preserving or giving away lest we risk accumulating a sizable pile.  The only nuts I had in my pantry were almonds.  Though walnuts are the traditional nutty addition to zucchini bread, the almonds were very good.  The pears add sweetness to the bread so that the additional sugar can be kept lower than most recipes.  This bread was slightly sweet, which was perfect for breakfast and had a nice large crumb.  I also added chia seeds for an extra nutritional boost.  We enjoyed this warm out of the oven, slathered with butter.

Pear, Zucchini, Almond Bread
Recipe type: Bread
 

Ingredients
  • 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (Bob’s Red Mill is my favorite)
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon chia seeds
  • ½ cup melted butter
  • ½ cup milk kefir or yogurt
  • 1 cup granulated sugar or sucanat
  • 2 cups grated zucchini
  • 1 cup chopped pear (I left the skin on)
  • 1 cup chopped almonds (other tree nuts could be substituted)

Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Combine flour, salt, baking soda, baking power, cinnamon and nutmeg in a large bowl.
  3. In a separate bowl, mix eggs, chia seeds, melted butter, kefir (or yogurt), zucchini and pear.
  4. Add liquid mixture to dry ingredients. Stir gently to combine and add nuts. Batter will be very thick.
  5. Pour into two 8″ x 4″ loaf pans.
  6. Bake for 40-60 minutes. Test with a toothpick; it should come out clean when the bread is done. (I baked mine in a convection oven and they were done in about 40 minutes. They will take longer in a conventional oven.)
  7. Cool in pan for 5-10 minutes, then turn onto cooling rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.