Rosey the Riveter

Friday, December 30, 2011

100% Cranberry Juice

Have you looked for Cranberry juice lately?  I mean REAL, 100% Cranberry Juice?  I have.  And it doesn't seem to exist.  Even the stuff labeled as cranberry juice has 'Grape juice' listed as the number one ingredient.  What's a girl with UTI issues to do?

The answer, of course, is make her own! 

I picked up a couple bags of cranberries at the grocery store and rinsed them.  Then, I placed then in a large sauce pan and covered them with water.  Heat over medium-low until most of the cranberries are split (but don't boil), and drain the juice out into another saucepan.  Set aside.  Mash the cranberries and cover them with water again.  Heat over medium-low for about 5 minutes.  Drain juice into other saucepan.

At this point, I put the mashed cranberries into the dehydrator.  The plan is to use them in muffins and cookies.  Next time, I might try using them to make cranberry sauce.

Back to the juice.  Add about 1/2 cup sugar per quart, and bring to a boil.  Adjust sweetener if needed.  Let cool, then store in the fridge.  It's a great color, and I was pleasantly surprised at the taste. 

Price-wise, I would never buy the cranberries solely for making juice.  However, because the juice is a by-product, and the cranberries can be used for other things, I think this is something we'll be making on a regular basis.  Plus, it's really pretty!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

A Christmas Gift from Mother Nature

Now that the holidays are over and the company has gone, I took some time today to go check out the garden.  And I found this:

Remember the rhubarb I planted in October?  Yup!  It sprouted.  I'm fairly certain it's NOT supposed to come up at this point in time.  This was by the shed.

So then I went and looked over by the deck, where I planted two more.  And sure enough it was up. It even looked like Mr. Bunny got to one of the leaves, so I promptly surrounded it with chicken wire.

Then I went back to the shed to look for the other plant.  And I was completely blown away to see this:

WHAT?!?!?!  It's December, Rhubarb!  How in the world are you going to make it through til spring?  I looked it up.  Originally from Siberia, it's very hardy.  I'm banking on it.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Homemade Orange Extract

After making Homemade Vanilla Extract, I decided I wanted to try making some other flavors.  Orange seemed easy, so I decided to give it a shot.

Normally, I don't buy organic oranges (their thick skins protect the fruit from pesticides) but when I know I need to zest them, I do.  So, splurge on an organic orange and zest the skin.  You don't want any of the white stuff, as it's bitter.

Then, it's as easy as adding vodka.  Put it in a dark place, shake it occasionally, and in a few weeks you'll have some great orange extract.

I used mine to make some citrus icing to go over some cranberry-white chocolate cookies and I was really blown away.  The flavor is much better than store-bought stuff, and I know exactly what is in it.  I'll never buy orange extract again (and as soon as I can find organic lemons, you know what I'll be making next!)

Monday, December 26, 2011

Apple Cider Vinegar Update

As I mention, Mom and Dad are here visiting.  I had mom taste the apple cider vinegar (I don't know what it's supposed to taste like!) and she pronounced it fine.  It's definitely more mild than store-bought (I could tell that just by smelling... as in, it's not overpowerful.)

I wouldn't use this for anything where acidity is important (canning), but for cooking and household uses, I now have 3 quarts of homemade Apple Cider Vinegar which should last us awhile.  Mom said she used her home-brewed stuff to make pickled eggs, and Dad said he couldn't tell the difference.

Obviously, since it's really cheap to buy, this isn't a project that's going to save a ton of money.  However, I love knowing that I made something REALLY useful out of apple scraps that normally would have been dumped in the compost.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Christmas from the Homefront

It's hard to believe that it was 4 years ago that hubby spent his Christmas in Afghanistan.  It wasn't our first Christmas apart.  Probably won't be our last.  We don't usually exchange gifts with each other, and this year was no exception.  Because it's enough to be together.  Military life has taught us to appreciate the important things. 

This was also the first Christmas since that deployment that we were able to celebrate with my parents, so it was wonderful having family here.

I much prefer cooking Christmas dinner over Thanksgiving... probably because there's no turkey to stress over... spiral hams are pretty idiot-proof! 

Poor Max didn't know what to think of things.  "Go plant my cat-grass, woman, I want a feast, too!"

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Garden Trellissing

Yesterday was a gorgeous day, and since Dad and Mom are here visiting, I thought I'd take advantage of his skills and get the trellises built for the garden.  I've seen it done several ways, but the directions in my "Square Foot Gardening" book were by far the easiest.

So, while everyone else was out at WalMart and Target, we went to Home Depot and picked up some rebar, some electrical conduit, some 90 degree elbows, and a hacksaw and extra blade.

And literally, in no time at all, the conduit was cut to size, the rebar was hammered into the ground, and the whole thing was up! (Hubby and Dad did it all, so I can't claim any credit.)  I placed them along the northern side of the garden so they wouldn't shade anything... and because they span 4 beds, it will allow me to rotate crops.  I just have to get the netting tied on and we'll be ready for the watermelon, cukes, and peas.

4 elbows @ $5 each... $20
4 10' pieces of conduit @ 2 each... $8    (2 pieces were halved, for 5' height.  The other two were cut to the length of the beds.)
4 3' rebar @ 2 each... $8
(I'm not including the hacksaw, that was an early Christmas gift for hubby!)

The netting will probably run around $15... so for about $50, I've got priceless vertical planting space.  Wahoo!

Monday, December 19, 2011

I'm a Lumberjack and I'm Better Than Ok!

**This is a guest post over at   ... and my mother just informed me that my grandmother never made them.  She got the recipe from a cookbook she received as a wedding gift.  So much for thinking it was an old family recipe!!!!

I grew up in Massachusetts, a couple towns over from Sturbridge, home of the famous Old Sturbridge Village.  For those of you not familiar with it, it is a living history museum much like Williamsburg or Old World Wisconsin.  It is one of my favorite places to be, and also where my husband and I went on our very first date.  During our annual visit home this summer, I was pleased to discover that my kids also love it!

Decades ago, my grandmother started making the molasses cookies that the Village Bakery sold.  The recipe for these "Lumberjack Cookies" was published in an OSV cookbook that I would love to get my hands on!  Anyway, long story short, my mother made them while we were growing up and now I'm making them.  It wouldn't be fall or Christmas without these wonderful cookies that instantly bring me back 'home.'

First, gather your ingredients (and pardon the construction zone.  One of these days I'll have new counters and a new backsplash!)

1 cup sugar
1 cup shortening, melted
1 cup dark molasses
4 cups flour
1 tso baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ginger
2 tsp cinnamon

I am trying to stay away from hydrogenated fat, so I use Earth Balance's natural shortening.

Cream together the sugar, shortening, eggs, and molasses.  I use a glass measuring cup to melt the shortening, and then I use that same cup for the molasses.  It just pours right out.

Dump in the dry ingredients and mix well.

Your dough should look like this:

Scoop out a walnut-sized piece and roll in sugar.

Bake at 350 for 12 minutes.


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Book Review: "Make the Bread, Buy the Butter" by Jennifer Reese

I absolutely loved reading this book.  The author has a great style with just enough snark/sarcasm to be very entertaining.  It was very reassuring to me that it's *okay* not to do it all... impossible (and unwise) to make absolutely everything from scratch in the kitchen!

But this is more than a book... it's also a cookbook which has already proven to be a great resource.  (I bought it sight unseen because our library didn't have it, and I'm glad I did.)  The English Muffin recipe is amazing... I'd been promising my oldest that I'd make them and finally got around to it.  The verdict?  On a scale of 1-5, she gave Thomas' a 4.5 and these a solid 5!  They remind me of the Portuguese Sweet Muffins I used to buy at The Christmas Tree Shop, only not sweet (although they could be with some added sugar, I'm sure!)  Next time, I'll be sure to roll them thinner (I had to finish them off in the oven because the outside was burning before the inside was cooked.) but these will definitely be added to the breakfast rotation.

Last night I made the granola and everyone went gaga over it.  I am especially excited about that because now I have a good replacement for store-bought cereal, which I haven't bought in awhile.  Now that the chickens have slowed laying, it's been difficult to find local eggs which had been a breakfast staple... and I don't really relish having to make the English Muffins every week (they are somewhat time/labor intensive.)

I didn't have great luck with her every-day bread recipe, but that might have been because I didn't let the whey come to room temperature before using it.  I think it was too cold and killed the yeast... it tasted great but didn't rise at all.

The author has a blog at The Tipsy Baker which I highly recommend, as well.  Currently, she is cooking her way through many of the cookbooks in her collection.  Be sure to check out the book and the blog.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A new addition to the homestead!

My little hiatus was due to computer issues.  Nothing that a new laptop can't fix  :-) 

In the mean time, I am happy to announce our new addition, Max.  He's been sleeping in bed with us since the first night we brought him home... he's an absolute love.

This is him nestled between my legs as I was watching tv tonight.  If I can't have chickens I will most definitely settle for a cat.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thanksgiving Musings

This was the first year that I cooked a fresh turkey.  So fresh, that it was warm when I picked it up at the farm.  As I was picking over the carcass after Thanksgiving, I came to the conclusion that there are only two things I dislike more than that very unpleasant task:  Chuck E Cheese and Black Friday.  Ergo, next year I have decided to just cook a turkey breast.  And it will be in the crock-pot, so I don't have to play the "How are we going to cook the rolls and the greenbean casserole with a turkey in the oven" game. 

Truth be told, I didn't notice any difference in taste, either, between the usual (cheap and inhumanely treated) supermarket frozen turkey and the (much more expensive, local) farm-raised turkey.  I can definitely tell the difference when in comes to chicken, so I was a little disappointed.

I've also decided that at some point when I free time (?!?!?!) I am going to put together a Holiday Notebook that holds all of the standard recipes and also a master shopping list for Thanksgiving and Christmas, so I can avoid a last-minute trip to the store for the evaporated milk I didn't have in the pantry. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Rhubarb and Grapes and Peaches, Oh My!

My box arrived yesterday from Stark Bros.  You know, because I have nothing else going on this week to prepare for Thanksgiving...

In it was a Dwarf Saturn Peach Tree (aka Donut Peach), four Starkrimson Rhubarb crowns, and a Reliance Seedless Grapevine.  (I am listing the varieties here to help my memory later on when I can't remember what they are.)  I chose this rhubarb after much research, because apparently it's really hard to grow here.  (As are lilacs, but I'm determined to grow that, too!)  The grapevine is more of a 'sacrificial' plant... Japanese Beetles really like them and I've heard they'll leave everything else alone if there's a grape they can eat.  However, if we happen to get some grapes to harvest, that will be awesome.  And I knew I wanted some sort of fruit tree... but most take up to 5 years before they start producing.  WE DON'T HAVE THAT KIND OF TIME!  So, I decided on the Saturn peach because I know they grow well here and because they start producing after only two years.

I have no pictures because it's pouring down rain.  I was soaked to the bones after digging and planting, but it's nice to look out the window and see my little tree!  I planted it in the middle of our Butterfly Garden, where a Bradford Pear used to stand.  Thankfully, it blew over in a storm a year or two ago and we didn't have to deal with it (these landscaping trees, which don't produce fruit, tend to rot after about 15-20 years).  Because the peach is a dwarf, it will only spread about 10 feet.

The grape I planted along the side of the garden fence, so it can trellis along that and not be in the way.

The rhubarb was a little trickier.  I know it likes full sun, but I also know that zone 8 afternoon is too much sun.  So I planted two crowns alongside the shed near the garden, and another two alongside the deck.  Both places allow for afternoon shade.  We won't be able to harvest in the spring, as it needs time to get settled... but hopefully after that I'll be able to make some strawberry rhubarb jam (we live right down the road from a Strawberry farm!) and other baked goodies, and may be even use some for barter, since it's not readily available here.  The Starkrimson is supposed to be good into zone 9, so I have high hopes (we are 7b/8a depending on which map you look at.)

Stay tuned.  I'll take some pics when the rain stops (and when the rhubarb actually breaks the surface!!!)

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Napkins and Rings

Last weekend, I went to a sewing class sponsored by the Virginia Urban Homesteaders League.  I was hoping I could find out what was wrong with my sewing machine.  Almost 10 years ago, I took lessons and made this quilt while Stephen was deployed.

I also made some rag quilts, which were a lot of fun.  So I can sew, but only straight lines.  But then one kid and then a second came along, and the sewing machine stayed safely tucked away in a closet.

Last winter, I decided I wanted to make a pillowcase dress or two for the girls, and almost tore my hair out.  I couldn't get the sewing machine to stitch right, despite checking everything imaginable.

So, last Sunday I toted out the machine which is still going strong after five moves, and with the help of a wonderful lady whose name I didn't get, we determined that I had the WRONG FOOT on the machine.  It was plastic.  I needed a metal one.

So zippedee do dah, I was able to sew up 8 napkins for Thanksgiving.

But then I saw some really cute burlap napkin rings on Pinterest and decided I wanted some, too.  They were so easy and quick I may have to make more for other holidays!

Step One:  Cut your burlap into strips.  I forgot to measure the size of these, but you can eyeball.

Step Two:  Form a strip into a ring.

Step Three:  Starting from above, start sewing the button on.  Leave a strip hanging for tying later.

Step Four:  Make a couple stitches, then tie off.

Step Five:  Trim


Saturday, November 19, 2011

Apple Cider Vinegar

A few days ago I happened to see this post from hipgirls, and I pinned it so that once I found a good price on organic apples, I could use my applesauce scraps to try making vinegar.  Lo and Behold, $1.49/lb later, I was toting home some Galas and Braeburns and Golden Delicious.

So, I peeled and cored them and threw them in the crock pot for applesauce, and then the real fun began.  Personally, I would only use organic apples for this, since the peels are involved.

I saved all the scraps (I used 10 apples) in my Pfaltzgraff batter bowl.  Don't use a reactive container.

I needed 2 quarts of water mixed with 1/2 c sugar to completely cover the apples.

Cover with cheese cloth to keep out the fruit flies.  (Borrow bungee cord from hubby's tool box.  He won't mind.)

Let it sit at room temperature for a week.  Strain, then continue to ferment for 2 or 3 more weeks (covered, of course) stirring occasionally.  I'll post another update to let you know how it turned out, and how much the family complained because it stunk up the house...

Friday, November 18, 2011


Last year at this time I got a really great price on sugar pumpkins...  50 cents each (the cheapest I've seen so far this year is $1.50 each).  So, naturally, I bought a bunch and decided to preserve them.  Knowing we'd be moving over the summer, I didn't want to just make pumpkin puree and freeze it, only to have to scramble to use it.  I decided to dehydrate it and then grind it up and store in a canning jar.  (7 pumpkins fit into a quart jar!)

A few weeks ago, I finally rehydrated some and made pumpkin icecream out of it.  The girls liked it, but I thought it was barely edible.  There were tiny 'chunks' of pumpkin throughout.  I was devastated.  What if all of my pumpkin-preserving was a waste?  Refusing to give up, I rehydrated another batch and left it in the fridge to get nice and juicy.  There were still small chunks, and even putting it in the blender didn't help.  I decided to try something that would involve cooking the pumpkin, hoping the heat would help.  It did.

I've been wanting to make these 'Starbucks' Pumpkin Scones for awhile, so I decided to finally give them a whirl.  The recipe looks far more complicated than it really is..

This is what they look like, all mixed and cut:
They really puff up a lot while baking:

The icing was thick, so I spread it while the scones were still warm and that helped to smooth it out and make them look pretty.
The last step is the spiced icing. 
If you're going to use the ziploc bag trick to get them to look beautiful, don't use a snack size one.  It oozes everywhere.  Trust me on this one.

I've decided that once my dehydrated pumpkin is used up, I'll be sticking to Libby's... even with the great price on the fresh pumpkins, it's just not worth it... this is one of those rare cases where store-bought trumps homemade (ketchup and Ragu being the only other two I can think of off the top of my head.)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Not so Sweet on the Sweet Potatoes

So a few weeks ago I bought a 40lb box of organic sweet potatoes from Quail Cove Farms.  After finally acquiring more quart jars (thank you, Craigslist!) I decided it was time to can some of them.  Most places online suggested 17lbs for 7 quarts, so I got out my scale and weighed them up. 

Then I boiled for 15-20 minutes.  This required my two largest pots.  17 pounds is a ton of potatoes!

Next, cool slightly and peel.  (Total pain in the neck!!!!)  At this point, I had enough half way through and decided that was enough.

Cut into equal size pieces (do not mash!) and place into sterilized jars.  I filled six jars with some left-over, so that 17 lb recommendation must have been for teeny-sized cubes.

Add 1 tsp of salt to each jar.  Fill with boiling water, leaving 1" headspace.

Process for NINETY MINUTES.  Yeah, because I have nothing better to do with my time than stand around the kitchen watching that dial.

I started at about 10:30 in the morning, it was after 3 by the time the pressure canner cooled enough for me to take the jars out.

And THEN I had to go back and tackle the other half of the potatoes.  Thankfully, the prep for freezing is the same as canning (boil for 15-20, peel, cube or mash).  So I threw them in Ziplocs and popped them in the freezer.  That'll be less work for me Thanksgiving morning.

The rest of the sweet potatoes went out in the garage (they need to be kept cool, but not cold.  Above 50 degrees is recommended.)  Between the canning, freezing, and cold storage, we should be all set for sweet potatoes for a long time. 

I will never can them again.  What I will do is pop extra in whenever I bake some for dinner, then mash and freeze.  Much less work.  Did I mention this whole process was a pain?  Don't do it.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Bye Bye Bells

We had a frost warning last night... and although the parsley and oregano and other herbs seem unaffected, the Bell Peppers definitely succumbed.  So I harvested the last of them.  I think the Cayenne has jumped ship, too, but I am going to give it a day or two to recover (no signs of frost in the next week) before I pick the rest of them.  I should have harvested them all and taken the plant in, but it was the last thing I felt like doing.  If it recovers, then I will.  If it doesn't, then it's one less thing for me to nurse this winter.  I think I'd like to try growing Tabasco peppers, instead, just to try something different (and because they are absolutely beautiful.)

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Homemade Tortillas

What to do when there's no meat defrosted and you're too sick to go to the store?  Bulgar Tacos for dinner!

Except, of course, we only had one taco shell left in the house.  I've always wanted to try making my own, so I decided this would be it.

I used this recipe and didn't have any lard, so I used Earth Balance Shortening-Substitute (no hydrogenation).  It was super easy to mix up and knead.
Original directions said to divide into 24 pieces.  I did 16, and then got 2 extras by stealing from the larger balls.
Roll thin and then transfer to skillet.
When they bubble and are golden, turn and cook the other side.
It would have been much easier with a helper, since they only need to cook for a short time and it takes awhile to roll out.  Or, may be roll them all out and stack between layers of wax paper?

I only ended up cooking half of them.  I froze the rest of the balls and am hoping they will be ok next time we have tacos.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

November in Zone 7b/8a

Roses, people... we still have roses.  Blooming, Blossoming, Beautiful roses.  In November.  (Can you tell I'm not used to this?  Snowflakes and frost, yes.  Roses, no.)

 The carrots (which I planted late, I think!) are up and I've already thinned them out.

I've harvested most of the broccoli and am now waiting for the side shoots to get big enough to pick.

Mr. Bumblebee is still loving the basil and lavender.  I love knowing he's there to pollinate my treasures.
The Black Swallowtail Cats have found the parsley.  We counted about a dozen, but I think we're down to a handful at this point.  (Look carefully in the center.  You'll see one with it's white stripe.)

The cabbages are just starting to head up, and I had to harvest the first tiny one today.  It was getting decimated by cabbage worms.  Fortunately, the few others I have seem to be faring better.  As with the broccoli, I don't think I planted enough cabbages.  I didn't want an influx, but I might have forgotten they can be left unharvested for awhile.  Or I might have been permanently scarred by Mom's stinky sauerkraut fermenting in the basement...  (love you, Mom!) 

I'm not sure what to expect from the herbs, so I'm dehydrating as many as I can in case they don't last the winter.

I just planted garlic and shallots, which may be a little late but who knows.  I didn't special order any heirloom varieties (most were sold out by the time I got around to looking).  I just bought some at the store and plunked the individual cloves in the ground.  Yes, you can do that.  Which reminds me, the leeks I bought and planted are doing wonderfully.  Need to figure out when/how to harvest them.

And since it's November, best of all the new seed cattys will be here next month and I can start dreaming about my first real garden, with plants that *I* chose and raised.  Until then, I need to go freeze some more bell peppers...

Monday, November 7, 2011

It's Official...


It's a beautiful day, sun shining, 65 degrees, and I am sick as a dog.  But I decide that some Vitamin D can't hurt, and I can't spread my germs to anything out in the garden, so off I go.

First thing on the to-do list?  Preparing the Jalapeno for over-wintering inside.

Yes, you read that right.  I have been complaining about all of my peppers and here I am, unwilling to let the thing just die... committing myself to care for it all winter long.  Why, you ask?  Just to see if I can. 

Growing up in New England, peppers were treated as annuals.  But they are indeed perennials, and I truly had gorgeous plants (for which I can take zero credit.  They were here when we bought the place.)  It would be a shame to not even TRY to save them.  I did a bit of research last night on the internet, and decided to take this approach:

First, I harvested most of the jalapenos and then pulled up the plant.

Next, I went ahead and trimmed the roots.  Supposedly, this is supposed to encourage more root growth, but mostly I had to do it in order to get the thing into the pot I prepared for it.

Then I trimmed it back.  Way back.  And nestled it into it's new home for the winter.

And trimmed it back some more.  (When Hurricane Irene came through, it got blown around and started growing funny, so I decided to trim off the crooked branches.)

Apparently, all it needs is to be near a window for the winter, so we'll see.

The Cayenne is next, but it still has too many peppers on it.