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. 

Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Story of the Rag Rug

So during my homesteading blog perusing, I came across something that I haven't seen in a long, long time. Rag rugs! I've always wanted to try this! Since I didn't want to go out and purchase linens from a thrift shop and there wasn't any WAY I was buying NEW sheets to tear up, I grabbed a garbage bag full of old clothes I had been planning to turn into cleaning rags..

And then proceeded to tear them into strips. The method to my madness was: 
1. Cut off collar (salvage buttons for later!)
2. Cut off arm sleeves.
3. Cut up side hem of shirt from top to bottom
4. Lay it open and rip the strips from the shirt horizontally (because unfortunately, I'm wider than I am tall and there were longer strips this way) 
5. Shoot for strips that are 3-4'' wide but, as you'll learn quickly with clothing they don't rip as neatly or evenly as linens do..

Again I apologize for my poor photography skills. And this pile of rags. 

Next grab three rags and pin them together, and START.. BRAIDING... 

Word to the wise: make your braids LOOSE, do NOT make them tight or your life will suck when you get to the sewing part. 

For more detailed instructions, go here (especially since I didn't take a photo of how to link your strips together when you get to the end of one)

See? It's starting to take form... looks like a rug to me! Uhh ignore my toes... 

And then, my least favorite part... sew the braids together...

I ain't gonna sugar coat it - this part sucked. It took me hours and I had to take breaks because it's tedious lining up the braids. I also broke two sewing machine needs :( Boo. 

But after all that blood, sweat, and tears.. I think it was worth it! 

Hmm... Now where to put it... 

This was fun, but not so sure I'll be making another one! 

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Yumvelope - January 2014

I really want to continue blogging about what I'm getting in these Yumvelope packages because they all freaking rock! I really regret not taking pictures of the December one because it was truly my favorite, they had Liz Lovely cookies, mint tea, and lots of chocolate- they even put it in a lil gift baggie! 

January didn't disappoint either, I feel like they were maybe trying to have a healthy snack theme (since that's often on alot of people's minds with new years resolutions) 

Something new in this box was something inedible, but still made with food: Savannah Bee honey body wash! I love the idea, and that it's made with real honey- but if I may be quite frank... I make my own beauty and cleaning products so I'm strictly in this for the grub. I'm sure many others loved this addition however. 

Weirdest name ever, but these Garuka bars are heavenly. It's seriously an item I can't believe is that healthy for you. Note, in my world healthy does NOT equal low calorie but instead fresh, whole food ingredients. 
It takes akin to the love child of a Payday and a Quaker's granola bar without all the nasty additives and fillers. 

These. Are. Amazing. I haven't actually had one for breakfast because they just seem too decadent but I have enjoyed one as a mid-morning snack with a cup of tea and wow did it hit the spot. 

Next up, a delicious and healthy snack of pistachios- not one but TWO boxes full! The Gilded Nut Snack Co. Original and Mediterranean blend mmm mmm! The original was kind of spicy, but then I'm a wuss- I'm sure 97.5% of the rest of the population won't even notice, my husband sure didn't. 

I get so incredibly excited about these packages and there's absolutely nothing better than getting something yummy, fun, and a SURPRISE in the mail every month! I highly suggest- it's my favorite! 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

East End Food Co-op

So there's a beautiful thang about 10-15 minutes from my house. I don't know why I don't go there more often. I used to say it was because of the cost but then I realized I was just lying to myself because it's actually really affordable. 

It's the East End Food Co-op and it's the most amazing place on earth. It's downright magical. I've been there before to pick up veggie items in the past, but I never took my time and actually perused the area. I clearly wasn't aware of what I was missing...

This time, instead of rushing past the bulk bins, I malingered, savored, and explored. 

Man oh man, was I impressed. This place has every type of dried bean known to man, every grain, every rice, every nut, seed, and spice. Lord almighty they even had my wheat berries, every single type!! 

Many, many of these items I was considering buying on Amazon for lack of finding it elsewhere, but after seeing the prices (and also the benefit of reducing my carbon footprint by buying from closer to home) I won't have to! 

This is the part where I got really excited and embarrassing: they have bulk honey, vinegar, oil, and maple syrup!!! And you can FILL your own JARS!

You just weigh your mason jar, write down it's weight, fill 'er up, and write down the product number! Oh and along the top they have bulk pumps of Dr. Bronner's liquid castile soap- AWESOME!

Oh! And they have peanut butter machines so you can make your own fresh, raw peanut buttery goodness! Also, they have lots and lots of bulk options for coffee beans...also known as the elixir of life..

At this point, my arms were too laden with goodies (forget taking a cart in this place, it's too small and packed!) ergo, I was unable to take anymore pictures but I was still in my own personal heaven. They have organic eggs from local, pastured chickens as well as non-homogenized, gently pasteurized milks. They also had tons of organic, free range chickens and grass-fed, pastured beef from farms local to Pittsburgh. I was stoked to see that the whole roasting chickens were on sale, so I scooped two of those up as well as some milk, kombucha, kefir, and eggs. I'm pleasantly surprised to see that all of it wasn't that much more expensive than the prices I'd been paying at Giant Eagle, for much less quality items! 

Needless to say, this is my new grocery store.... Boom. 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Why I'm a Bad Blogger

I have this issue where, I get so incredibly excited about making something or starting a new project that I forget to record the progress. I just simply go forward full throttle, hold my creation of amazingness in the air and think, "Wow.. really should have blogged about that.."

For example, today I made homemade yogurt and refrigerator pickles. No pictures. I blew it.

Yesterday, I baked bread all by myself. Like.. I KNEADED IT.. and sat it in a bowl and let it rise..

One picture. No recipe. I'm sorry. (Ignore the mess and bad photography)

And tonight I randomly realized I was out of hand soap. So what'd I do? I freaking made a soap dispenser out of a mason jar and an old hand pump. And then I MADE hand soap. No... pictures..

I didn't even take a photo with my homemade hand soap in it.

I just don't think to take photos, I have never found the urge to document my crazy crafts I do every day. I probably haven't had my picture taken in a couple years. That's just me- I go through life undocumented.

I promise, I will work on this. Because this is boring otherwise.. recipes and photos will explode from my pages from here forth. I voweth. 

Kaya: Restaurant of the Gods

So again, my husband and I went to our absolute favorite restaurant in Pittsburgh. It's called Kaya and it's owned by the Big Burrito Restaurant Group. What I dig about this restaurant group is how creative they get with their different restaurants and I know for sure that at Kaya they try to purchase as locally as they can. Being located in the strip district, that doesn't make that too hard to get great produce and I'm glad they make that extra effort! I have seriously never went to this restaurant and left disappointed, ever.

To start off, our beverages: 
I got a Dark & Stormy which has: Gosling’ Black Seal Rum, Fever Tree 
ginger beer, lime

He got a Brooklyn winter ale 

I absolutely loved my drink. I love, love ginger and this really hit the spot, it was crisp and refreshing in flavor and not too sweet which is how I like it. 

For the appetizer: Jamaican jerk wings with cilantro cream sauce

First off, if you are sensitive to spicy food - these may not be for you. My mouth was numb for 10 minutes after eating these and I think the waiter refilled my water glass twice. My husband, who could probably drink a vat of acid and be alright, said he felt a slight "tingle". As for flavor, WOW. Amazing, just what I wanted. Jamaican jerk is a completely different animal than Caribbean jerk: it's citrusy and not full of sugar like you typically think of jerk rubs. As for the cilantro cream sauce, I would love to bathe in that sauce. It's life altering. 

And for entrees: 

I got Kaya Burger with pickles, avocado, bacon, tomato, 
Chihuahua cheese, a sunny-side-up egg, &       
Kaya sauce. 

I swapped my chips for a field greens salad with: lime cilantro vinaigrette and pepitas

He got their famous fish tacos with avocado, spicy crème fraîche, 
cabbage slaw, cilantro, and Reyna’s tortillas

This was, unarguably, the best burger I've ever ordered. The burger was cooked to a perfect medium, very juicy and fresh. The bacon was so.. freaking... good. It was crispy and melt in your mouth. This was also the first time I've had a burger with an egg ontop and now I can see why there's a crazy about it. Holy crap. Also- I have to say. I don't know what the dressing is exactly, (cilantro and lime obviously) but it is of the gods. I seriously want to blackmail them for the recipe. 

I didn't get to try the husband's meal this time, but I've had it before and those fish tacos are famous for a reason.. Well seasoned, lightly breaded and fried fish with a cool, crispy slaw. Mmm mm good. I'll be getting that next time. 

So ANYWAYS that's what we did on Saturday to get out of the house. It was worth every single calorie. Amen. 

Monday, January 6, 2014

So... Incredibly...Cold...

I cannot get over how COLD it is outside! It seriously takes your breath away, it's incredible. Just checked the temperature and it's currently -3 degrees out with a wind chill of -35.


The heck...

This is the kind of weather that makes you tell fashion to go lay an egg and you put on whatever long johns, tights, leggings, bibs,or overalls you ever owned!

I'll be spending the next couple evenings bundled up on the couch with some hot tea... watching terrible movies I saw playing on HBO. Or reading the book I just ordered: "Nourishing Traditions: The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats" by Sally Fallon and Mary Enig.  This is either going to be a laugh or eye opening - I'll keep you posted.

Stay warm out there kiddos!!! It's a rough one!

I think I'll finally try making that London Fog recipe from my absolute most favorite book on the planet... From Scratch by Shaye Elliott 

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Pittsburgh Public Market

Well my friends..... after an incredibly long and draining week at work, I think my husband knew I needed a pick-me-up because he suggested that we take a trip to quite possibly my most favorite place on earth....

If you're any type of foodie, if you love homemade, natural, organic, fresh, DELICIOUS, creative, inspiring, unique and just plain amazing food, if you would love to have personalized service with some of the friendliest people you'll ever meet, if you'd like to purchase everything you'd need in one spot....

Alright you get it, just go there. It's amazing.. It really, really is. If I could shop there all the time, I absolutely would- if only it were closer to my house! 

Since the turn into 2014, I've been headstrong and adamant about switching our food over to more sustainable, wholesome, and natural options. Thus, when going to the public market, I was on a mission. 

While there, we purchased: 

  • 1 lb of 80/20 ground beef, ~2 lbs chuck delmonico steaks, and ~2 lbs flat iron steaks from Clarion Farms 
  • A 5-6# roasting chicken from Clarion River Organics 
  • I also got a half gallon of unhomogenized, pasteurized whole milk from Clarion River Organics, it was from Pasture Maid Creamery
  • 2 bundles of lemon pepper fettuccine, 2 bundles of chipotle linguine, and some shredded parmesean-esque cheese from Ohio City Pasta  
  • 2 growlers of a-mah-zing beer from East End Brewing Company 

The man who was selling the beef at Clarion Farms was so incredibly helpful and nice! He helped me pick out some nice cuts of delmonico and flat iron steaks. 

I have big plaaaaans for this clucker! Roasted chicken and saving the bones for homemade broth mmmmm...

The top is the lemon pepper, bottom is chipotle. Lord this pasta is good, good, good...

Two growlers of delicious, locally brewed beer. To the left is a brew called Monkey Boy, and the right is Snow Melt which is one of their seasonal winter ales. And of course, beside the brews is the bottle of my delicious whole milk.

After we got back from the public market, we were pretty famished, so I decided to make some of the fresh pasta that we'd gotten that day. I also had some broccoli and mushrooms that I needed to use up so that's exactly what I did. That's what I love about pasta, you can throw just about anything with it and it will still taste fantastic- have a high quality pasta and it's even better..

So I steamed the broccoli.. 

Sauteed the mushrooms in olive oil with some onions and garlic... 

And I boiled up the two bundles of lemon pepper pasta..

Added some lemon juice and tossed it all together, topped with some of that shredded cheese I got. 

And I have to say, it was quite delicious if I do say so myself....