Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Kefir, Kefir, Kefir

Move over yogurt, I have a new love in my life- and it's name is Kefir. 

Not to be confused with Kiefer, but wow can I not get through talking about Kefir without breaking out in that lady's accent!! Anyways, I digress... Let's move on.

Time to make some Kiefah! Gotta talk about my boyfwieeeenndddd.... 

Alright, seriously, here we go: 

Kefir is a fermented food which I'm all about these days. It's made by placing kefir grains in milk and then left out at room temperature until it thickens and takes on a consistency similar to thin yogurt.  Yogurt drinks/smoothies are pretty popular now so this fits right in with that. Also, did I mention how EASY it is to make this? Even easier than making yogurt!  

I drink it for the probiotics, same as with yogurt, but if you'd like to hear about some of the other benefits, lookie here. I'm super shocked that I haven't tried this stuff sooner! If you don't have access to kefir grains or want to give it a try before committing to making it yourself, you can find kefir (flavored or unflavored) at most grocery stores and for sure at your local health food store or co-op.

If you wanna be adventurous please continue reading: 

Everyone, please meet Kefir.

I think they look like cottage cheese. They're kind of spongy and wow do these puppies grow after a few ferments! The grains will continue to grow and multiply so when you get overwhelmed with the amount you have, give some away to friends!

To prepare your kefir grains for fermentation, simply toss the grains in a clean mason jar, top with milk, give it a stir, and then cover with cheese cloth.

I cover with the cheese cloth and then put the ring back on the jar to hold it in place. Then you just leave it out on your counter for 24-48 hours until the liquid thickens.

Oh well, you can't really tell from this photo but, it's thick and barely moving when I tilt it. Trust me.

You'll need to drain the kefir grains out so you'll want to get a mesh sieve and put it over a bowl. I just pour it into the sieve and then stir to remove most of the milk product from the grains. This is secretly my favorite part because I like seeing how much the grains have grown in just a day or so! I'ma nerd, I know.

Here you can better see it, sometimes it gets bubbly like this..

Then I just pour it into a glass with some honey and vanilla extract- instant vanilla smoothie!

Step by step: 

  1. Put kefir grains in clean mason jar
  2. Cover with any cow's milk (organic is best, I use pasteurized and they grow well, any fat content works)
  3. Stir with clean spoon to disperse grains
  4. Cover opening of jar with cheese cloth
  5. Secure cheese cloth with rubber band or canning ring 
  6. Set out of the way on a counter for 24-48 hours
  7. You'll know kefir is done when it has a pleasant tangy smell and is thickened 
  8. Strain kefir grains out using sieve, repeat steps
Important things to know:
  1. It's very important that the milk be at room temperature and be exposed to air for it to ferment in a decent amount of time. 
  2. If you want to slow down fermentation, cover the grains with milk, put a lid on it, and then put it in the fridge. The cooler temperature slows down the fermentation but they'll still have milk for food while you're taking a break! I've left my grains in the fridge for up to a week before I have to feed them again. 
  3. You have to make sure your kefir grains have food or they will die. They're kind of like having a pet. 
  4. Kefir grains are very resilient but extreme heat WILL KILL THEM!! 

After you've been making kefir a while, you may build up a surplus if you don't drink it everyday or perhaps don't know what all you can do with it. Here are some ideas:
  • Smoothies, (Der, but you can do vanilla or fruit or CHOCOLATE or PEANUT BUTTER *blows into a paper bag* You get the drift, experiment!) 
  • Overnight oats (Just replace the yogurt and milk with allll kefir baby) 
  • The most amazing waffles you will ever eat
  • Salad dressings (Such as these)
  • Soaking your flours or grains if you're into that sorta thing
  • Also, this is on my list: Banana Bread
  • Adding to soups, stir into cereal, whatever dude

So anyways, that's the schpeal on my new love.

But let's not forget an old love of mine....

The cutest little nugget I have ever seen.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Birthday Musings

Earlier this week I was talking with one of my good friends about my upcoming birthday and I made the joke, "I don't know why I'm getting recognized, my mom did all the work that day!" She just smiled and said something to the effect that it wasn't about that, but more a day to celebrate that I was alive, to be glad that I was on the earth and in their lives. I found it incredibly touching and that idea has just stuck with me- went right to my heart, ya'd say.

I guess deep down I knew that, it's just sometimes important to be reminded of it - especially for someone as bashful as myself. Ever since she said that, I've made today a day not only to reflect on my experiences and achievements, but to celebrate how grateful I am to be alive. I'm so thankful for the experiences I've had in my life, both good and bad. The good ones warm my heart and make for precious memories, and the bad ones I wear like a badge of honor- grateful for the lessons and wisdom I've garnered from my mistakes and misfortunes. 

One of my favorite, probably overused phrases is "with age comes wisdom" and I'm definitely loving the age I'm at. 

Alright, alright the entire quote is:

“With age comes wisdom, but sometimes age comes alone.” - Oscar Wilde

but that doesn't really drive home my point... anyways, we're off topic. 

I'm still young enough that I have the whole world ahead of me, but I'm old enough to have a better sense of priority and self-identity. Gone are those teenage years marked by insecurity and self doubt. I'm comfortable in my own skin and I'm pleased with who I am becoming. I'm at an age where I no longer care what others think about me, and have realized that only I can determine my own self worth. To me, a sense of accomplishment and happiness is what I value- and that's what I strive for. I'm sure some people might  find me a bit radical and 'hippie' with my homesteading pursuit, not understanding my desire to make my own soap, bath products, cleaning products, cheese, kefir, kombucha, vinegar, etc etc etc. But I absolutely love it and I'm so proud of myself for what I've learned to do and create with my own two hands. There is an incredible sense of self accomplishment and achievement when you create things by hand, and it's so cool that I don't have to depend on others for certain items. 

I pride myself on my honesty, sense of humor, and compassion- as I've mentioned before, what is on your inside is so much more important to me than what's on your outside. Looks fade, y'all! Don't put that much stock in them! Trust me, I'm already wondering where these wrinkles are coming from and metabolism, I miss you, please come back.

Lastly, I'm also so incredibly grateful for my friends and family. I have never, ever been a social butterfly but more someone who finds amazing people and holds tight to them- I know a good friend when I see one! I have such incredible and loving people in my life and I'm so thankful for each and every one of them. I cherish the wisdom and advice freely given by them, and I find it so interesting how various their walks of life are. I have friends in Australia, all over Europe, Canada, Africa, China, and many spread all over the U.S. Some I've seen face to face, some I haven't seen in a decade, and some I've never met in person before- but that doesn't make some any less valuable than others. This doesn't even touch base with my own family and how fortunate I am to be close to my parents, my brother and sister in law, and my grandparents and what a blessing it is that I get to see them all for my birthday. 

So today, I'm going to celebrate and cherish the love, the friendship, and experiences that my 27 years on earth have brought me. I hope to have many, many more! Thank you each and every one of you for making me feel so loved and special on my birthday- I love you all. 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Awesomeness On My Horizon

Well, my friends, I have several exciting things to look forward to this week!!! Yes indeedy!

For one, my early birthday gift to myself is coming... an elliptical machine!! Woo Woo! I have always, always wanted one for the home and NO it's not particularly homesteady but it's most likely the only way that I will ever commit to working out. All other methods have failed and there's something terribly fun about pretending to run while blaring dub step through the room.

Next on the list of my amazing week, we are picking up the 1/8th of beef that we ordered from Jubilee Hilltop Ranch!! That's right, just another step in the right direction of eating all natural, nourishing foods. The cows are 100% grass fed, organic, free range, and cruelty free- just the way it should be! Now if you're thinking that 1/8th a cow is a wimpy portion, you're wrong- it's fifty pounds!!!

In the package I'll be getting:

  • 2 Delmonico steaks
  • 2 Sirloin steaks
  • 2 packages of beef tips
  • 2 Roasts
  • 4 packages of Chip steak
  • 3 packages of Swiss steak
  • 2 round steaks
  • 25 lbs of ground beef
  • Soup bones
Truth be told, I did want the 1/4th a cow but I just plum didn't have the space in my freezer. Oh well, perhaps next time. Just to show the difference, in the 1/4th cow you get:

  • 3 Delmonico steaks
  • 3 NY strip steaks
  • 3 Sirloin steaks 
  • 5 packages of beef tips
  • 2 Chuck roasts
  • 1 Rump roast
  • 1 Shoulder roast
  • 6 packages of chip steak
  • 6 packages of Swiss steak
  • 2 Round steaks
  • 45-50 lbs of ground beef
  • Soup bones 

Next up, the dried foods sampler I ordered: the Dried Veggie Variety Sample Pack from Mother Earth Products!! I plan on writing a more thorough review of this company but so far, I'm already impressed and I haven't even received the product yet. I emailed them to request a substitution in the variety pack because of my allergy to mangoes, they got back to me in less than 24 hours, made the switch easily, and had my ordered shipped within 24 hours of me ordering. What SERVICE. You just don't see that anymore... 

And lastly on my list, I've been jonesing to make a bulk purchase of some brown organic rice and found something that fits the bill

I'm doing my best as I continue to make my transition slowly but surely, using up what I have before I commit to more so when I do get to buy something in that regard, it's super exciting. 

Upcoming posts to include: Cheese making, Kefir making, Kombucha making, and Sauerkraut! 

Friday, February 21, 2014

Salad in a Jar

I've been making a profound effort to pack my lunches so that I don't: 
1) Eat something terribly bad but terribly delicious at work
2) Spend extra money on lunches when I'm already buying food for home

One thing I super hate though is actually having to.. pack my lunch.. I would love, love, love to just be able to pack for the week on Sunday and be done with it. And I never really came up with a way to do that since I predominantly eat salads.....

Until now. 

If you've been perusing Pinterest for healthy eats, this may already have happened onto your radar. It's called Salad. In a Jar. And it is quite the life saver and it just looks freaken' cute. 

The thought behind this little morsel of genius is that inverting the salad with the dressing on bottom and the lettuce far away from the wet stuff will keep the salad fresh for days! And it does my friends, it sure does. The meat marinates in the salad dressing,and the lettuce stays safe and far away from anything that'll make it wilt. Also, I like to think that the mason jar with lid keeps it a lil extra fresh and crispy- but what do I know? 

Here's what I like to do: 

Add a good dose of olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and garlic powder to the bottom of the jars. 

Add your meat, for me it's usually tuna or chicken 

Add your fixins: avocado, craisins, onion, etc 

Add the lettuce, I usually use romaine and I cram it in 

Then you just screw the lid on and then eat when you're darn and ready. I usually dump mine out into a bowl and voila, salad in the correct, preferable arrangement. 

The possibilities are endless though, you could make a taco salad, nicoise salad, anything that floats your boat really. Just keep the dressing and lettuce apart like they were divorced parents at a Christmas party. 

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Spoon - Romanticle Valentines Dinner

Alright, I have a confession to make: we actually went to dinner on February 15th. That's because neither of us remembers Valentines day is coming and by the time we remember, all restaurants are booked solid. But hey, at least we BOTH forget, that alleviates guilt on either party. Except he did get me some Godiva coffee and chocolate so, I guess.. I'm still guilty? 


For our V-day dinner, we went to Spoon and had their Valentines day prix fixe which was absolutely amazing.  

We started off with some drinks, I ordered:
the French Manhattan 
Old Fitzgerald 1849 Bourbon + Marie Brizzard orange Curacao + 
house dry vermouth + Angostura bitters

Mike ordered:
 The Old Cuban
12 Appleton Estate rum + lime juice + 
mint + Angostura bitters + sparkling wine

While I seriously enjoyed that Manhattan, I tried Mike's drink and it was so good that I ordered one of those after I'd finished my first drink! Happy Valentines day to me! 

Next up was this amazing lobster tail over a mac-n-cheese style pasta. I really wish this was a gigantic bowl... I really am not doing this meal justice in description but I just plum can't remember, so here are the ingredients...

butter poached Maine lobster: 
“baby shells + clam sauce,”
sopressata, olive and parmesan bread crumbs,
Laudemio extra virgin olive oil

Mike ordered their wings which came with a hot, poblano sauce and potato wedges. My favorite part was also that it had sauteed greens ontop- yum yum!!

crispy smoked chicken wings: 
southwest spice rub, poblano hot sauce
duck fat fried ļ¬ngerling potatoes,
braised collard greens,
chili + lime aioli

For our main entree, I ordered the Duo of beef which came with steak and also braised beef cheeks over roasted vegetables and mashed potatoes made with duck fat. 

I'm fairly certain my favorite part of the cow now is their cheeks... so tender and melt in your mouth...

duo of beef: 
grilled rib eye, braised cheek,
loaded smashed potatoes,
baby vegetables, Gorgonzola,
bacon + arugula salad, natural reduction

Mikey-doodle ordered the cod fillet over potato risotto and crab cakes. The cod was so tender and well made, as was the potato risotto which I thought was an innovative idea. 

Alaskan black cod + crab cakes: 
potato risotto, Brussels sprout leaves,
roasted beets, burnt orange aioli,
root vegetable slaw

And then this happened, and the world made sense....

They called it their "Spoon Bar"

I call it heaven. 

spoon bar 
Bailey’s cocoa bar, milk chocolate nougat frozen mousse,
semi-sweet chocolate pudding

That amazing dinner plus all the delicious Godiva treats my loving husband got me made for a wonderful Valentines Day indeed.

Yum, yum...and amen. 

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Yumvelope February 2014 Review

I seriously love these Yumvelope packages, it's like Christmas once a month. I'm like an excited lil kid whenever they arrive and I can't wait to tear into them!

This one was pretty neat but, I have to say, I was kind of disappointed it wasn't Valentines- themed since it arrived just the day before Valentines day! Oh well, I guess they weren't into it, moving on.

After a long day at work, I came home to the BEST mail delivery EVER! A Valentines day card from my mother-in-law with a giftcard to Whole Foods, a birthday free meal at my favorite restaurant franchise, and.... the Yumvelope. I was jazzed.

This month featured two types of a product I actually have already sampled and liked, Teeccino. They're an herbal, non-caffeinated coffee 'alternative'. Though I really, really gotta have my cup o' Joe, if you're unable to drink coffee- it's a pretty good compromise.  

Also included were two types of cookies from Grey Ghost bakery: Cinnamon Pecan and Espresso Chocolate, as well as a Macadamia Chocolate Chip cookie from The Yes Bar.

And lastly, a Tapaz 2 Go pack with lentil crackers and roasted garlic hummus. 

The cookies were delicious, but nothing beats my Liz Lovely cookies- I'm addicted! I preferred the cinnamon pecan over the chocolate which is a shocker for me. 

This bar was phenomenal, it had all sorts of dried fruit and nuts and deliciousness packed into it, and still was able to maintain a delicious chocolatey taste- a winner!! 

As for the Tapaz 2 Go.... I just wasn't digging it.. I don't like shelf-stable hummus and the crackers just weren't my thang. 

I like to find a common denominator or "theme" for the boxes, so I dig the idea of a cookie and a hot beverage in the cold days of February, but... I really didn't like the hummus and I thought that they'd really 'bring it' for Valentines day. I guess they can't base their packages on EVERY holiday though- huh? So for Feb: Not my favorite, but I was still super jazzed to get it. 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Stocking My Pantry

I've been trying to find some blog entries of pantry lists to see what other people are stocking up on in the "Real Foodie Movement." That's not really what it's called, I'm just trying to be cool and start a trend... oh, me..

Many people have some great lists out there and I found them very inspiring. Lots of good ideas for what to have on hand in a pinch (and avoid excessive grocery shopping, blagh- Amazon anyone?). Alot of this stuff I already have on hand, and some I'm still trying to stock up on. Someday I dream of buying everything in bulk and eliminating my constant trips to the grocery store.. ahh someday.. 

Anyways, I wanted to make up a list of items I want/need on hand to work towards that goal, so here goes!

  • Dried beans (kept in small amounts, I don't tolerate legumes so well... Go to bulk bins at East End Food Co.) 
    • Cannellini
    • Kidney
    • Black Bean
    • Black Eyed Peas
    • Lentils 
  • Rice 
    • Brown Rice mostly (Costco or Whole Foods)
    • Basmati or Jasmine (Whole Foods)
    • Arborio (for risotto) (Whole Foods) 
  • Grains 
    • Quinoa (WF)
    • Barley (can buy 1 or 6 if ya really like barley!) 
    • Oats
  • Popcorn Kernels
  • Nuts/Seeds
  • Dried Fruit
    • Bananas (homemade)
    • Pears/Apples (homemade)
    • Craisins (Guilty pleasure..Costco has huge bags)
    • Prunes
    • Unsweeted coconut
  • Canned products - I'm trying to switch over to only home-canned items, so far I have:
    • Apple Pie Filling
    • Blackberry Jam
    • Strawberry Jam
    • Salsa
    • Corn Relish
    • Canned pears
    • Canned apples
    • Hot Mustard (Mom canned this- yum!)
    • Hot Pepper Rings (Mom again, double yum!) 
    • Apple Butter
    • Jalapeno Apple Jelly (Holy delicious heaven) 
    • Garlic Pepper Jelly 
    • Someday plan to also can marinara, tomato sauce, tomatoes, lots and lots of tomato things..oh and PICKLES. Pickled EVERYTHING!!! 
  • Wheat Berries/etc
  • Fats
  • Baking supplies 
  • Cheese Making supplies
  • Sweeteners
  • Vinegars
    • Distilled White (Costco)
    • Cider (Whole Foods) 
    • Balsamic (Whole Foods) 
  • Spices
    • Kosher salt (Costco) 
    • Smoked salt (Pgh Public Market) 
    • Peppercorns (Costco) 
    • Garlic (Costco) 
    • Cinnamon, Nutmeg, etc. I'm trying to build up this department (Costco) 
  • Coffee Beans (Costco)
  • Tea lots of tea
I also plan on having: Kefir grains, Kombucha SCOBY mushroom, and vinegar "mothers" so that I can make my own Kefir, Kombucha and vinegars- but those are all works in progress. 

The rest of my food is basically meats, fruits, vegetables, and dairy that I buy as needed.

Anything I missed? 

Friday, February 7, 2014

Things I've Learned So Far

I have to say, since starting on this journey of...gosh, how do I sum this up? This real foods, whole foods, traditional eating, do-it-yourself, from scratch, all natural, anti-commercialism, organic, non-toxic, homesteading journey, I've realized that the learning curve has been exponential in the beginning.

I've loved every minute of it. 

I know that what I'm striving towards is a natural, self-sufficient, and satisfying lifestyle and every mistake and failure is an irreplaceable lesson- and trust me, it's so worth it. These are a few things I've found that need to be kept in perspective, especially when I'm feeling discouraged or defeated in something that's gone awry. 

  1. Homemade is not always guaranteed to be better than store bought- but it's still more satisfying. Yes, with some things for sure it is. Homemade bread? Delicious. Homemade cheese? Divine. Homemade jam? Yes please! But, homemade dishwasher detergent? Ehhh...No.... not quite... Sometimes I'm left disappointed with a white film on my glasses or picking dried food off a dish. But ya know what? It sure beats the heck out of all of those chemicals and God knows what in the commercial mixes. I have to remember that many of those chemicals were created to make that dishwasher detergent effective. Those companies have spent tons of time and money to make a perfect blend of ingredients to kick any homemade mix's butt. So what if I have to give a glass or two a rinse? I'm no longer paying for gallons of store bought dishwasher detergent and am using natural items I already have on hand. So there. 
  2. Things will not always work out as you had hoped or envisioned, at least the first couple of times. I cannot tell you how many batches of milk I have carefully labored over trying to create mozzarella only to end up with a bowl of ricotta. These crafts take time and experience to perfect. Cheese making is an art and at some point I was able to create a delicious, stretchy ball of mozzarella. It was amazing. 
  3. You gain a whole new appreciation for the things you have, and waste a whole lot less. The phrase "waste not, want not" has never rang truer. Whether it's creatively working in the leftover odds and ends of food or reusing old shampoo containers to hold my homemade cleaning products, I throw less away and appreciate more. I also buy a whole lot less (though my husband may argue this point, on the whole, it's true!)
  4. Your priorities change. Like 180 degrees. I'm no longer concerned with the things that I once found incredibly important. 
    1. I'm no longer such the germaphob because, well, you kind of have to let that go when you're leaving milk out on the counter to ferment into kefir or making sauerkraut in the basement. 
    2. I'm no longer concerned with my outer appearances. Don't get me wrong, I care about being presentable, bathed, healthy, etc. But I no longer am striving towards this unnecessary, unobtainable standard of beauty that society has pressed as important or as a status of success. I value myself not for how beautiful or "hot" I am, but for my intellect and my creativity. Making things from scratch and being self sufficient is incredibly self-empowering and gives you a confidence in yourself that you didn't have before. 
    3. I'm no longer chasing after the next big item to own or the big fancy house with the big fancy car. I'm happy with what I have, who I'm with, what I'm doing, and I'm happy with where my life is going. In a nutshell, I'm over that material bullshit. 

These are just a few things I've realized, I know that there's plenty more but these were the big ones that came to mind. I know sometimes it might not make sense why I bother doing all this extra work when it seems unnecessary, but it's so worth the effort. 

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Homemade Queso Fresco

As I'm still trying to learn the ins and outs of finding affordable organic products, I've found that sometimes it's just easier to do it yourself. Organic and/or raw cheeses can cost an arm and a leg yo'!!

This is by far my favorite cheese recipe and I make it often - it couldn't be simpler and the mild, crumbly cheese it produces is so versatile. Put it on salads, crumble it into soups, casseroles, tacos, pizza, the list goes on and on.  If you're new to or nervous about trying to make your own cheese- this is the perfect beginner recipe. And all ya need are three ingredients:

  • 3-4 Tbsp Distilled white vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp Kosher salt
  • 1/2 gal of organic milk (You can do skim, 1%, 2% or whole - they all work!)

Pour the half gallon of milk into a large non-reactive pot and add 1 Tbsp Kosher salt. 

Bring slowly to a full, rolling boil over medium. Once it's good and boiling, add 3-4 Tbsp vinegar. (I find with the ultra pasteurized or pasteurized, you have to be a little violent with the boiling and the vinegar - alot of recipes say to turn the heat off when you add the vinegar but mine wouldn't curdle that way... I had to keep on boiling! Don't worry, you won't hurt it- it's not a sensitive cheese.) 

Here you can begin to see the curd separating from the whey....

Prepare your strainer: You can't see it very well but I actually have a bowl under the colander to catch the whey - you don't want to throw that away! You can make ricotta or other cheeses out of it or use it to boil pasta or rice in. It's full of vitamins! 

Here you can DEFINITELY see the whey and curd have separated, time to pour into the strainer...

Gather up the cheesecloth to let it hang and pour off the excess whey. 

I actually like to tie the cheesecloth to one of my cabinet handles and let it drain/cool while I'm busy doing other things... make sure to place a bowl under the cheese as it continues to drip. 

I love how it compacts into a little cheese ball, but crumbles easily if you need it to! 

And there you go! Homemade cheese! 

Now what to do with the whey.... 

Monday, January 27, 2014

Heirloom Seeds

This might just be me, but whenever I see those heart-wrenching ASPCA commercials, I immediately call Razor to me and snuggle him and give him treats. Does anyone else do that? Oh well, he's making out on the deal!

Look at that face....

Even though inch after inch of snow continues to whiten the world outside, covering every branch, every rooftop, and all the land in a thick blanket of bitter cold - I'm huddled inside anxiously planning for spring. 

I'm going to do it this year, I'm going to have a garden, I'm going to grow vegetables. Well, let's not set the bar to high, I will grow -a- vegetable! What homesteader doesn't grow some of their own vegetables? I can do this... I am Bob's granddaughter, I am Candy's daughter... I have gardening in my veins. Okay, pep talk over.. let's talk seeds. 

I saw an advertisement in my new favorite magazine, Mother Earth News for these heirloom seeds available at Baker's Creek . These seeds are so interesting, not your typical array of veggies here. I love that each seed is reviewed by users and they add good tips or things to consider before buying. This girl can use all the help she can get! 

I may have gotten a wee bit overzealous in what I purchased, but here's what I got:

In my internet searching, it sounds like the herbs, the swiss chard, spinach, onions, cabbage, lettuce, collard greens, and carrots will do alright in partial shade (3-6 hrs sunlight) Which is good since that's what my back yard consists of. The cucumbers, ground cherries, peppers, and tomatoes are going to need at least 8-12hrs of sunlight so I'll be putting these along the side and front of the house (and will be crossing my fingers). I'm even considering making some window planters- but we'll see. Another good tip I picked up was to use self watering containers for the tomatoes and peppers that need hydration consistently. 

I also will have to ensure I have plenty of mulch and/or plastic tarp to protect the latter items from drying out as they'll have to be in containers. (Hey man, I'm in the city, this is urban homesteading at it's finest.) 

My goal is to plant a little bit of everything and use trial and error to see what thrives and what fails in this climate and with the amount of sun I get here. Pittsburgh ain't known for their sunshine- that's for sure! Oh well, wish my luck- I'll need it. 

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Mason Jar Soap Dispensers

I was perusing my favorite online shopping website (Amazon, I'm truly addicted) for some country-esque, homesteady items and I saw these incredibly cute mason jar soap dispensers! Well, they were cute until I saw the price... These things range 12-25 dollars for ONE depending on what one you're looking at. What the heck? It's a soap pump and a mason jar...

Then I realized I indeed had many a soap pump AND many a mason jar, so I immediately traveled to the Mecca of art and craft ideas: Pinterest. After searching and reading a few how-to sites, I knew this would be a doable feat for me.

With only a few snafoos that were easily fixible, I ended up making three soap jars that I'm proud to call my own! I think there's something incredibly satisfying about creating your own household items out of things you already have lying around- cheers for upcycling!

The black hand pumps look more classy and aesthetically pleasing, but I found that the Cetaphil pump works wonderfully as well and I like to utilize all of my 'trash'. 

This is what you'll need for this project:

  • A mason jar with two piece lid
  • An old plastic soap dispenser (Think those hand soap containers from Mrs. Meyers or Purell- I even used an old Cetaphil pump container) 
  • A permanent marker
  • Scissors (Preferably a hardcore set like kitchen shears) 
  • A Phillips screwdriver
  • Crazy glue (I also had acetone nail polish remover on standby)
  • GLOVES, GLOVES, USE GLOVES -FOR THE LOVE - USE GLOVES (I used a latex set like you see in hospitals and what not) 
  • Paper towels - protect your counters! Crazy glue is evil and merciless
  • Optional: A hammer, needle nose pliers 

Assemble your tools and don your gloves my fellow homesteaders! Here we go!

As you can see, I have a knife here. It's old knife from college and I use and abuse it for projects like this. I used it to cut off the top of a soap dispenser but you could also use your scissors. Please notice I left about an inch around the top of the dispenser. Also, sorry for lack of picture of me sawing the top off of the empty soap dispenser. Also- use common sense when working with sharp knives and scissors, let's not lose a digit here!

Invert the top of the soap dispenser onto the bottom of the mason jar lid, trace around the opening so that you know how large to cut the hole. (You could also do this before you cut the bottle apart, it doesn't really matter) 

There we go! Not a perfectly drawn circle, but who's going to see it once it's together? NOBODY - that's who! 

Then grab your screwdriver and hammer, and go find a soft, cushy place to pound the screwdriver through the lid. I used my carpeted stair. I promise, it doesn't damage the carpet, it just raises the lid up enough that it's not flush on the ground and it makes it easier to puncture the lid. The metal is really thin also, so if you don't have a hammer handy, just pound on the end of the screwdriver with your fist. One or two holes should do. 

Et voila!

Now carefully, oh so carefully, use your kitchen shears to cut through the puncture hole and around the circle you made with the permanent marker. The metal is sharp, any jagged edges WILL cut you, I know from experience. 

Save yourself some grief and trial putting the neck of the soap dispenser through the mason jar lid to ensure that it fits. Cut the hole a little wider if necessary. 

Now, WEARING YOUR GLOVES, put a line of crazy glue around the inside of the mason jar lid, then immediately put the two pieces of the lid together and hold in place for 10-30 seconds. If you DO NOT wear gloves and get crazy glue on your skin like I did the first time- proceed in a panic to the nearest bathroom where you'll douse your hands in the acetone nail polish you gathered and scrub off the glue with a nail file. So, WEAR GLOVES.

All set! We're almost there!! 

Now from here, if you have a super tight fit you can probably avoid that evil super glue, or if you're really wanting to avoid ANY leakage, you can give it a go. I did not have good success with being able to adequately super glue these two pieces together. I also don't give a care about the leakage (it seems that was the top complaint on the Amazon reviews of purchasable ones as well- so I'm not alone!)

Screw the top part of the pump onto the neck as tightly as you can and there you go! 

Sure, it might not be perfectly painted and I bet if I turned it upside down and shook it, it'd leak, but I think there's something incredibly appealing about home-style, imperfect creations. Makes it unique eh?

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Baking Bad

I think one of the first things people should start doing to cut out processed foods is bake bread- and it's no wonder why!

There is nothing more pleasing to your soul than whipping up a batch of fluffy, warm, delicious baked bread. It's so self empowering to know that, with a little time and care, you can produce for your family something so basic and nourishing. Also, I'm not sure if you're aware, but check out the ingredients list on your store bought bread- what an eye opener that was for me. So many unnecessary items that take bread from wheat, water, sugar, salt, and yeast to... high fructose corn syrup, ethoxylated mono and diglycerides, and azodicarbonamide...

When you bake bread, you're in control of your own ingredients, you know how fresh it is, you can modify it to your own preferences- you're the boss! There's also just something very rustic and relaxing about standing in the quiet warmth of your kitchen, kneading bread just like our forefathers (foremothers?) used to. Definitely give it a try...

When I first started baking bread however, I was doing it with a bread machine (which there's nothing wrong with that! If you haven't got the time- this is a great option, no judging here!). But I swear I never could figure out what I was doing wrong, it would rise beautifully and then the top would sink just a few minutes before the bake cycle was over. I tried everything, modifying the liquid, yeast, salt, etc. No dice. So I decided to just do it myself! Take THAT bread machine!

Even though the bread machine bread was ugly, it was so, so delicious and I wanted to use the same recipe so I modified it from bread machine directions into hand made and it turns out perfectly. Hopefully you have good results as well! Happy Baking.

Homemade White Bread 
Makes around 2 1-lb loaves

1 c + 6 Tbsp water (between 80-100 degrees) 
2 Tbsp sugar
2 and 1/4 tsp active dry yeast
2 Tbsp butter (softened)
1 3/4 tsp salt
4 c bread flour 
2 Tbsp dry milk

Combine the water, sugar, and yeast and let it set for 5-10 minutes until it's foamy - like this: 

Pour yeast mixture into a large mixing bowl and add the remaining ingredients. I have to be honest, I just get in there with my hands to make sure that everything is really incorporated and then I transfer it to the counter to start kneading. This girl ain't afraid to get messy! Please excuse my lack of photos of kneading as my hands were covered in dough and I didn't want to mess with it. 

Knead for 8-10 minutes to activate the gluten and make sure the yeast is distributed. Enjoy this, let it be therapy, vent your frustrations on the bread! It's a good  arm workout too! 

Set dough in mixing bowl and coat in a thin layer of olive oil to prevent sticking. Cover with a warm, damp cloth and put it somewhere warm to rest for about 1- 1 1/2 hours until it doubles in size.

This is the fun part: punch down the dough! Knead it a few times (4-6 is plenty) and then divide into two balls. Form them into loaves and put them into two greased bread loaf pans. 

Again, cover them with a warm damp towel and let them rise for about an hour. 

Bake at 350 degrees for around 30-40 minutes, take out when golden brown on top and has a nice hollow sound when you tap on them. My oven runs hot so 30 works perfectly for me!  

Feel free to add a little butter to the tops to make them prettier and what not. I didn't want to mess with it for these guys though. If you don't think you'll go through two loaves of bread in a week, toss one in a baggie and put it in the freezer for the next week! Then you'll only have to bake twice a month- can't beat that!

Aren't they beautiful? A slice of this with some butter and homemade jam and mmm mmm you're good to go! Good luck keeping your husband and kids (if you got 'em!) out of the bread while it cools.