Category Archives: Homemaking

A Promise is a Promise

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I’ve been promising for ages that we would have a conversation about chicken stock. Well, hopefully you haven’t been holding your breath but if you have, today’s your lucky day.

This isn’t really a recipe per se, it’s more of a method. There are many ways to make chicken stock, including using whole chicken, roasting a whole chicken and then making it into stock, buying chicken wings or parts and making stock, et cetera. Honestly, there is no ‘right’ way to make it, despite what some folks will tell you, though there are a couple of things you need to make it taste the way you’re used to.

The Standard for making stock is the use of celery, carrots and onions, also known as mirepoix. Having these aromatics is the most important part of stock making. In fact, if you have no chicken at all, you can use these items to make a very simple and tasty vegetable stock.

You get big rewards for something so easy. Your stock will be flavorful, lower in sodium than anything you’ll find at the grocery store, you have a frozen insurance policy for a quick dinner most nights of the week. If you remember to take a container out of the freezer before you go to work and plop it on the counter, you’re more than halfway there. You’ll also be saving yourself about $2 a quart by making your own and since you’re making it out of something you were going to throw away anyway you’re almost making money back.

So, about twice a month we will have a roast chicken. One big fat chicken will feed the two of us for at least three meals and up to a whole week if I play my cards right. Nick knows that when we’re having a roast chicken all of the bones go in a bag in the fridge or freezer because I’ll make stock. Who am I kidding – our friends know this too, and they all pool bones after dinner to go into a bag (they know they will be rewarded with dessert, I think). Once we are done with picking the meat off the chicken a day or two later, the whole carcass goes into a big pot and stock making ensues.

You want to use your biggest heavy-bottomed soup pot for this, one that is at least 6 quarts but it should be more like 8 or 10. You want to give everything enough room to move around and mingle. And since this takes a few hours, you want to make enough to have it be worth your while. Mine also has a built in strainer that makes removing the solids at the end a breeze.

Don’t bother peeling your vegetables, or taking the skin off the onion, or even really chopping them. They do their job in this application the same in big chunks as they do if you take 10 minutes to chop them all uniformly. I personally save my chopping skills for when they count but if you’d like to cut your vegetable smaller by all means. Sometimes wielding a very sharp knife is cathartic after a long week so chop away if the mood strikes.

Here’s the rundown of stock making:

Chicken bones, skin and fat (from one large chicken or sometimes two smaller ones)
Two carrots, scrubbed and cut into 1″ hunks
One huge onion, cut in to quarters, with the skin on
Two large celery stalks, with leaves if they have them, cut into 1″ hunks
A couple of garlic cloves, unpeeled and roughly chopped (I usually use the ones that are too shmeensy to peel and futz with)
A couple of parsley stems if you have them, if not no big deal
8-10 whole black peppercorns
One bay leaf
1-2 teaspoons of salt (your choice, I usually add closer to 2 teaspoons)
5 quarts of cold water

Place all items listed above in an 8-10 quart stockpot, bring to a boil, and reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for about 3 hours.

Pour stock through a fine meshed sieve, straining out and discarding all of the solids. From here, I cool the stock to room temperature and refrigerate it for 24 hours, skimming off the fat that rises to the surface and congeals. Makes about 10 cups.

Stock can be frozen for months and stored in freezer bags, frozen into ice cube trays for quick use, and frozen or refrigerated in jars It can also be kept in the fridge in a container of your choice for up to a week. I have deli-style containers that hold one, two and four cups each, and I separate the stock into a a couple of sizes for freezing.

And there you have it. Investment cooking is some of the most worthwhile and satisfying cooking imaginable. So next time you roast a bird hang on to the bones and parts you think are trash, because they will make a jewel of a soup someday.

Time well spent

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I was asked the other day how I manage to ‘do it all’ and after giving it some thought I decided I needed to be clear about some things. I don’t do it all, in fact there are weeks where we don’t do anything at all. Weeks when the laundry is three loads deep in the To Be Washed category, there are two clean loads languishing on the sofa in the office waiting to be folded and a pile on the dresser that just needs to be hung up. The bed isn’t made. The bathroom has a dust bunny in it that I’ve acknowledged and said hello to three times in as many days. He’s still there. The kitchen floor needs to be swept and mopped so badly that I wasn’t cooking barefoot like I always do. Dinner at our house isn’t always glamorous. We don’t eat at the dining room table unless we have company, we aren’t always having a well rounded dinner, there generally isn’t dessert involved. There are nights we eat pizza over the box, shamelessly. We don’t even do the dishes every night. We’re more of an every other sort of household.

All of this said, our home is happy. Don’t white glove my picture frames but we aren’t suffering. There’s a stocked pantry, the pillows are fluffed, the rug is straight on the floor, but we need to dust, cobweb and vacuum. No one is starving. We still have clean socks.

And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this. The guise of the perfect household, with everything in it’s place and everything clean and all of it just so is something that will continue to evade me. I struggle with this a lot: there are days when I want to walk in to a magazine-photo-shoot-perfect, completely orderly and clean (not just tidy) home. There are days I want it done for me. There are days I wish it were taken care of without my asking. There are days I just wish I had time to do it all myself. Clicking my heels together and having it all whip in to place is high on my list of requested magic powers.

But I read something the other day about rose colored glasses. Seeing the world through them is a charmed thing, but sometimes you lose them, or like all glasses they need cleaning in order to see the world more clearly. Sometimes they’re just uncomfortable. This analogy hit home for me (being a glasses-wearing girl and all). Even viewing the world through rose colored glasses can hurt your eyes. Sometimes you have to take them off, wipe them gently, and let your eyes rest. Something will inspire you to put them back on and when you do, it’s a whole new world.

We are busy in this life. We work full time, go to school, try to have a social life. Those with children have not only their own lives to manage but the schedules of those kids with their soccer games and practice, riding lessons, art class, music lesson, ballet, birthday parties. You do all of that and STILL get dinner on the table and the laundry done. Hats off to you.

Being a homemaker isn’t having floors you can eat off of, a full bar and an open door. It isn’t being able to make a crown roast on command or being able to make your own puff pastry. Nor is it being able to throw the best party, planned or impromptu, of the century. Being a homemaker is just that: you make a home. A comfortable home that you are proud of and comfortable in. A place where folks walk in and you can see the load they’re carrying lighten up because they just relaxed.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately in my workaday life, as I’ve obviously been too busy to come by here and say hi to all of you. I’m going to take a new approach this upcoming week by choosing two, just two, things I have to complete each night. Dishes and a load of laundry, clean bathroom and swept floors. But just two. I’m hoping this is going to give me more time to get back here, because I miss it.

So Happy Friday you all! Have a nice weekend: pour yourself a cocktail, have some folks over, laugh. Go for a walk. Get outside for a while. But whatever you do make time for yourself ~ it’s time well spent.

Bear with me

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This post is going to jump around a bit, but I promise the whole story will come together in the end. Bear with me.

First, let’s talk yogurt. One of the oldest cultured foods in society, it’s been called the stuff of life for more than a couple of centuries. In 500 BC, an Indo-Indian culture gave a shout out to yogurt mixed with honey as ‘the food of the gods.’ Americans, for the most part, have skewed vision of what yogurt really is. What it isn’t is those cutsie little strawberry- or lemon- or (god forbid) Boston cream pie- flavored sugar bomb cups that are in your nationwide grocery chain’s refrigerated section. Those, my friends, are most certainly NOT yogurt. I don’t care if someone wised up and actually started keeping the live cultures in them or not; there’s too much crap in them for them to be good for you. Yeah, I said it. If your yogurt comes in flavors like Creme Brulee, German Chocolate Cake or Dulce de Leche, odds are they are more chemical than healthful. And personally I like my yogurt plain, tart and Greek.

Chapter Two, a while back I stumbled onto a great blog called Little House in the Suburbs, which is one of my favorite places to camp out. These ladies are homesteading in ways that haven’t been popular in years that are suddenly becoming, dare I say it, trendy again. I try to live a simpler life, making what I can and being frugal about the rest as much as I can, but these two make me look like an amateur. And they’re so INSPIRING. Go have a peek at their place and stay a while. You’re going to love it.

Anyway, one of these amazing gals makes her own yogurt and it looked and sounded so damn simple I had to try it. For the price of a quart of milk and a container of plain yogurt I could have a monster stash and potentially unlimited supply of my own tart yogurty goodness. She had me at acidophilus.

So I tried a couple rounds of making my own yogurt and, well, she didn’t work out so good. This is one of those things, like baking, that is so simple that the cat could do it with the right equipment, but not if he doesn’t thoroughly read the directions. Which I didn’t. I killed 2 sets of yogurt starts by 1) mixing in my culture while the milk was too hot, and 2) keeping the mixure too hot. So I pitched the lot down the sink, stomped around for a bit (stupid yogurt) and conveniently forgot about it.

OK, this will all come together soon I promise. Hi, my name is Cadi and I am a small appliance addict. I have a blender, a hand mixer, two stand mixers, a waffle iron, a coffee maker, two cuisinarts, a toaster oven, a bread machine, a wine fridge, a beer fridge, a counter top dehydrator, and an ice cream maker (and I know this goes against my whole simple thriftiness mantra but half of them were gifts and honestly I use all of them regularly). And that’s just the crap that lives in my kitchen. If I had my way and the space I’d have a yogurt machine and two juicers too. The other day I was shopping for said yogurt maker on the ol’ interweb and, one click leading to another, I came across someone that used their dehydrator to make yogurt. Well, I’ll be. I dug around a little more and apparently this isn’t a recent discovery. And why not? It holds a perfectly low temperature and some nice squat jars (which I already have). And while I’m an admitted small appliance addict I love when one of my currently owned appliances has a parlor trick.

Which brings us to the home stretch of this post. Jars washed, milk cultured, and dehydrator plugged in, I set off on my final mission of making yogurt without a yogurt machine. I nervously checked the temperature about every 5 seconds for the 4 hours it sat in the dehydrator, it was like watching paint dry. Was it a success? You tell me:

That’s yogurt if I’ve ever seen it. SUCCESS! Next time I’ll let it run for more like 6-7 hours, this wasn’t tart enough for my taste buds and letting it hang out longer will make it more so, but damn if it didn’t work! Also, it’s a little more runny than I’m used to so next time I will make it in a big bowl and strain it for a bit before I jar it, instead of individually jarring it from the get-go. And this yogurt? It’s going to be strained to spoon-standing thickness and made into garlic and herb yogurt cheese, so stay tuned for that one because it’s going to rock.

A Little Bravery

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I’ve been making the majority of our bread for about a year and a half now. Not that I don’t enjoy a store bought loaf every now and again (and since I keep killing my sourdough starters and that is my favorite bread ever I do haunt our local bakery on a frequent basis). It just terrifies me that so many breads are able to cheat death; their countertop longevity is like something out of a horror movie. I noticed a few years back when I started my move toward local eating and small-business shopping that bread that comes from a real bakery is stale much more quickly than your typical grocery store sandwich bread. And further, some of the new ‘low carb’ breads from some of your favorite large-scale bread purveyors don’t go bad AT ALL. I found a slice once that had successfully lived in the back of the bread box in its original bag that looked and felt as good as the day my roommate bought it – six months earlier. I was shocked and sick, to say the least.

In buying my loaves from small local bakeries and bread purveyors, I started wondering what they had that I didn’t (other than time on their side and a fruitful sourdough starter). Except for my aversion to dealing with anything requiring yeast. Oh, that. In my younger days when I worked at a bakery up in Washington state, one of my requirements as the new baker (read: low girl on the totem pole) was breads and yeast cinnamon rolls. Let’s just say that my technique is good but the long hours I spent proofing and kneading and rising and punching down and rising and forming and all of this going on at about 3:00 in the morning turned me off from the process. I’m not a morning person and I’m especially not an ‘Oh Dark Thirty’ morning person. We’ll leave it at several batches came out as doorstops and move on.

I have a bread machine that I use as my crutch nowadays. It does the ‘heavy lifting’ portion of bread making for me: it brings everything to temp, mixes, rises, punches down and gives the second rise to the dough, and when this is complete I dump the bread out onto a cornmeal lined baking sheet, form it, let it rise again and bake it. No big deal; the machine goes about its business while I go about mine. It’s a good arrangement and fits well in my weekend morning routine. I even found a website filled with road-tested recipes that follow this very method.

This has been my MO for quite some time until last weekend. While cruising the interwebs I stumbled across a recipe for a yeasted spiced bread with zucchini and red bell pepper, cumin and coriander, that tasted heavenly in my brain as I read the recipe (yes I taste with my brain, don’t you?). I had to make this bread, just HAD to, but the recipe made two loaves, which won’t fit in my bread machine, and I am too chicken to go dividing a yeast bread recipe in half and believe it would be successful. And if you’ve never made a loaf of bread in your bread machine that was too big for the capacity and it bubbled over onto the heating element, well, you haven’t lived. This bountiful recipe meant that I had to break out my stand mixer and go about it the long way. It was daunting, I was up to the challenge, and it was worth it. Just look at this bread:

It looked like I got it at the bakery, and I’m proud to announce it tasted that way too. I brought one of the loaves to work to the amazement and accolades of my coworkers, who made short work of eating it up. This weekend I think I’ll sub other spices (maybe fennel seeds or lavender) for the dried seeds, and I can’t wait to use fresh basil from my garden in place of the parsley. This makes A LOT of dough and it might make your Kitchenaid walk across the counter while it’s kneading with the dough hook (mine sure did and it scared the heck out of me and the cat). Keep a firm hand on top of the machine and you’ll both be just fine. Also, please note that you make the starter for the bread the night before you will be baking, so keep that in mind.

Zucchini Bread with Moroccan Spices

Yields 2 loaves, about 1 3/4 pounds each

3/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
Biga (recipe below), at room temperature
1 cup grated zucchini (about 4 oz.)
About 4 1/2 cups bread flour
1 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour
3 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1/2 cup diced red bell pepper
1/2 cup finely chopped unsalted roasted pistachios
1 tablespoon cumin seeds, toasted and coarsely ground
1 1/2 teaspoons hot chili flakes
About 1/4 cup cornmeal

Biga: In a bowl, sprinkle 1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast over 1/4 cup warm (100° to 110°) water. Let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. Add 1/2 cup cold water. With a wood spoon, stir in 1 1/2 cups bread flour until mixture forms a soft dough. Cover with plastic wrap and chill 12 to 24 hours. Let come to room temperature before using, about 1 hour.

Shortcut: Without the biga, our recipes still produce great loaves. In the basic recipe, just increase the yeast by 1 1/4 teaspoons, the bread flour by 1 1/2 cups, and the water by 3/4 cup.

1. In the bowl of a standing mixer or another large bowl, sprinkle yeast over 1 cup warm (100° to 110°) water; let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes.

2. Add 3/4 cup cold water, biga, zucchini, 3 cups bread flour, whole-wheat flour, and salt to yeast mixture. Beat with paddle attachment on low speed, or stir with a heavy spoon, until well blended. Gradually beat or stir in 1 1/2 more cups bread flour, 1/4 cup at a time, until mixture forms a soft dough.

3. Switch to a dough hook and beat on medium speed until dough is smooth and elastic and pulls cleanly from sides of bowl but is still slightly sticky, 6 to 8 minutes; or scrape dough onto a lightly floured board and knead by hand until smooth and elastic but still slightly sticky, 7 to 10 minutes.

4. Add parsley, bell pepper, pistachios, cumin, and chili flakes and beat in with dough hook or knead in by hand just until incorporated (after mixing in by hand, place dough in a bowl)

5. Cover bowl with plastic wrap; let dough rise at room temperature until doubled, 2 to 2 1/2 hours. Punch down with your hand to expel air.

6. Re-cover dough with plastic wrap and let rise again until doubled, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Or for a slow rise, chill at least 8 and up to 12 hours; let come to room temperature, about 3 hours.

7. Scrape dough onto a well-floured board and knead briefly to expel air. Divide in half. With lightly floured hands, gather each half into a ball, then stretch and tuck edges under to shape into a smooth oval with slightly tapered ends (about 8 in. long and 4 in. wide in the center). Place loaves on a well-floured surface, dust lightly with flour, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and let rise at room temperature until they’re slightly puffy and hold the imprint of a finger when lightly pressed, about 1 1/2 hours.

8. Sprinkle a 13- by 17-inch baking sheet generously with cornmeal. Transfer loaves, one at a time, to sheet, spacing 2 to 3 inches apart. With a sharp knife, make three diagonal slashes 1 inch deep and 1 to 2 inches apart across loaf tops. Place sheet on rack in lower third of a 450° regular or convection oven. Or, if using a baking stone, gently slide edge of cornmeal-covered baking sheet under one loaf and lift it onto end of sheet. Slash as directed above, then gently slide loaf onto one side of stone in oven, leaving room for second loaf. Repeat to slash and transfer second loaf.

Spray 3 to 4 squirts of water on floor or sides of oven, taking care not to spray near heating element or lightbulb, then quickly close door.

9. Bake bread, spraying twice more at 5-minute intervals during the first 10 minutes of baking, until crust is well browned, 35 to 45 minutes total.

10. Transfer loaves to a rack to cool for at least 1 hour. Store in paper bags at room temperature up to 2 days. To recrisp the crust, place loaves directly on a rack in a 400° oven and bake for about 5 minutes.

Cleaning Solutions

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Let’s take a break from camping talk for a bit to have a conversation about distilled white vinegar. In my local large chain grocery store, I can get a gallon of this stuff for less than $5 on any average shopping day. While this may not create excitement for many folks unless they are going on a pickling spree (and more on that later this summer when the garden is going crazy) it’s a nifty thrifty way to cut back on spending on a lot of household cleaners and laundry additives. I know we are all trying to do our part to use less chemicals in everyday life for our health and well being, and vinegar is pretty much a one-stop shop in the world of Home Care Arts.

Distilled white vinegar goes beyond making neato volcanoes for a science fair experiment, and far beyond using it to clean windows. You can use it to deodorize and unclog drains, keep your cat off a windowsill that you don’t want him on, and clean spots on carpets. In fact there’s a website called 1001 Uses for White Distilled Vinegar that lists a litany of things you can do with it. Below is a sampling of my favorites from the site. I hope you find a couple of ‘Huh! Who knew?’ ideas on here that help you to not only make your home cleaner and greener, but simplify your life and green your wallet as well.

Laundry

Prevent lint from clinging to clothes by adding 1/2 cup white distilled vinegar to the wash cycle. (Meaning, you don’t have to use a dryer sheet. Love it!)

To remove soap residue that makes black clothes look dull use white distilled vinegar in your final rinse.

Before washing a mustard stain, dab with white distilled vinegar.

Attack spaghetti, barbecue, or ketchup stains
with a white distilled vinegar and water solution.

Remove perspiration odor and stains on clothing, as well as those left by deodorants, by spraying full-strength white distilled vinegar on underarm and collar areas before tossing them into the washing machine.

Forgot that you left wet laundry in the machine and it now smells moldy? Pour a few cups of white distilled vinegar in the machine and wash the clothes in hot water. Then run a normal cycle with detergent.

Get cleaner laundry! Add about 1/4 cup white distilled vinegar to the last rinse. The acid in white distilled vinegar is too mild to harm fabrics, yet strong enough to dissolve the alkalis in soaps and detergents. Besides removing soap, white distilled vinegar prevents yellowing, acts as a fabric softener and static cling reducer, and attacks mold and mildew.

Bring out bright colors by adding 1/2 cup white distilled vinegar to the rinse cycle.

Household Cleaning

Make your own scouring cleanser by combining 1/4 cup baking soda with 1 tablespoon liquid detergent. Add just enough white distilled vinegar to give it a thick but creamy texture.

Clean and deodorize a drain by pouring in 1 cup baking soda, then one cup hot white distilled vinegar. Let this sit for 5 minutes or so, then run hot water down the drain. (Got kids? Let them do this, it’s a boatload of fun and a good lesson on acids and bases and how they work. Science in action!)

Deodorize and clean the garbage disposal with white distilled vinegar ice cubes. Make them by freezing full-strength white distilled vinegar in an ice cube tray. Run several cubes down the disposal while flushing with cold water.

Clean the microwave by mixing 1/2 cup white distilled vinegar and 1/2 cup water in a microwave-safe bowl. Bring it to a rolling boil inside the microwave. Baked-on food will be loosened, and odors will disappear. Wipe clean.

Cut the grime on the top of the refrigerator with a paper towel or cloth and full-strength white distilled vinegar. (Also works on fan hoods over your range!)

Get rid of lime deposits in a tea kettle by adding 1/2 cup white distilled vinegar to the water and letting it sit overnight. If more drastic action is needed, boil full-strength white distilled vinegar in the kettle a few minutes, let cool and rinse with plain water.

Remove mineral deposits from coffee makers with white distilled vinegar. Fill the water reservoir with 1 cup or more of white distilled vinegar and run it through a whole cycle. Run it once or twice more with plain water to rinse clean. (Check the owners’ manual first.)

To clean tarnished brass, copper, and pewter,
use a paste with equal amounts of white distilled vinegar and table salt.

To remove a label, decal, or price tag, cover with a cloth soaked in white distilled vinegar. Leave the cloth on overnight and the label should slide off.

Kill germs all around the bathroom with a spray of full-strength white distilled vinegar. Wipe clean with a damp cloth.

To remove grime, mildew, and scum from the tub, tile, shower curtain or door, wipe with undiluted white distilled vinegar. Rinse with water.

Mix up an inexpensive tile cleaner by adding 1/2 cup baking soda, 1 cup white distilled vinegar, and 1 cup ammonia to a gallon of warm water.

Get a shining finish on a no-wax vinyl or linoleum floor by cleaning it with a solution of one cup white distilled vinegar for every gallon of water.

Some carpet stains can be removed with a paste of 2 tablespoons white distilled vinegar and 1/4 cup salt or baking soda. Rub into the carpet stain and let dry. Vacuum up the residue the next day. (Always test on an out-of-sight part of the carpet first).

Create your own window cleaning solution by combining 1/2 cup non-sudsy ammonia, 1 cup white distilled vinegar, and 2 tablespoons cornstarch in a gallon of water.

Clean woodwork and walls with a mixture of 1 cup white distilled vinegar, 1 cup baking soda, 1/2 cup ammonia and 1 gallon warm water. Wipe on with a sponge or damp—not wet—towel.

Remove wallpaper easily by using a paint roller to wet the surface very thoroughly with a solution of equal parts white distilled vinegar and hot water. Or spray on until saturated.

Get decals off walls or doors by letting undiluted white distilled vinegar soak into them for several minutes before trying to peel them off. Repeat if necessary.

Remove fireplace soot and grime with undiluted white distilled vinegar. Use a brush to scrub and a towel to blot up the wetness and dirt.

To kill germs, spray full-strength white distilled vinegar on doorknobs and then wipe them dry.

Never use white distilled vinegar on marble. The acid can damage the surface.

To clean and disinfect baby toys add a good-sized splash of white distilled vinegar to soapy water.

Clean vinyl baby books or board books by wiping with white distilled vinegar. Wipe clean with a damp sponge or cloth.

Purse Strings and Belt Notches

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Every now and again a rainy day becomes a when-it-rains-it-pours day, and we’ve had a couple in a row. It’s been a rough week around the Young’s household, to spare you the details, and it means that we have to reevaluate exactly how lucky we are to have each other (and that rotten cat) and all of the wonderful things we are blessed with: a cozy home, a warm fireplace, a loving relationship, our friends and family, and the good sense to do our very best with what we have and not constantly feel that American need for more. Which is a good thing, because we’re in one of those patches where less is going to have to be enough and that’s all there is to it.

Another blessing I can count is that I am a very resourceful girl, and I can share my ‘less is plenty’ lifestyle with all of you, and I’m going to have more time to do it. The promise of spring is on the wind today, and the bluebells are about to bloom…

….it’s a time of year that makes me rub my hands together and start thinking of the promise of longer, brighter days and the bounty of our area. That sniff of spring makes me excited to get things cleaned up, get some projects going, and get outside.

The first notch on the belt that gets tightened is the grocery notch. No more artisan cheeses bought on a whim, no more exotic breads, no more fancy Greek yogurt, no more flowers for the dining room table. It means that I get to exercise my creative abilities and make exotic breads, make my own yogurt (to be done this weekend, I can’t wait), and grow my own flowers. Farmer’s Market is a very pricey venture that I will have to X off for the most part, and my community garden plot’s rent is a luxury that I will have to forgo, but Mom and I are going to start our own garden patch in their back forty, which means I’ll have home grown organic vegetables AND flowers a short drive away. The Magical Fruit Alley will soon have figs, blackberries and French prune plums available for the picking for jams, pies, and putting-up.

A need for a new skirt means getting out the sewing machine, and new patio cushion covers mean the same thing. I’ve been saving scraps and such to make a rag rug for the living room, which I’ve never done before but it can’t be too hard. Those with birthdays or giftish events coming up look out – you’re going to be getting some homemade lovin’ from me.

And so I sit, daydreaming about all that can be and all I can do, and try to shift my focus from the negative to all that’s positive. Enough of my rambling thoughts… it’s time to get crackin’.

The Start of Something Big

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Crab season is open in this part of the world, and according to the crab fishermen it’s going to be a banner year. The pots are coming in full with nice big crabs for the eating. The opening of crab season really says Holidays to me, more so than just about anything.

The best way to eat crab is with your hands on a newspaper lined table, up to your elbows in the juices, dipping the sweet meat in clarified butter and relishing the catch. Make up a nice green salad with a light, lemony vinaigrette and slice up some good sourdough bread for sopping, and you have a meal fit for a king. Or a king and queen, as N and I usually devour this simple, succulent meal together.

Yesterday my dad dropped of two lovely crabs, and I picked up a nice head of organic red lettuce and some seeded sourdough bread. We’re ready for tonight’s feast.

In the last year I’ve branched out into making my own bread with my bread machine, using this website as my guide. I know, you’re thinking ‘who still has a bread machine? I donated mine ages ago when the craze was over’ or ‘I got really tired of having a half a loaf of unusable bread because there’s a hole in the bottom where the paddle is after it bakes.’

Well, I have a bread machine still, which we’ve used to make pizza dough for ages. And last fall, in a fit of health in my back-to-basics movement, I began baking much of our own bread,  getting tired of seeing the amount of scary, unpronounceable things on the back of the bag at the grocery, as well as paying better than $5.00 a loaf for great bakery bread. After a few tries, my loaves of bread came out of the oven bakery-perfect, and I’ve even used some of the basics on this website to make some of my own creations.

But what of sourdough bread? It evades me, with my fear of having to keep something alive in order to make a successful, sour loaf of bread. Keep it alive? Yes, sourdough comes from a ‘mother’ which needs to be fed and aged and cared for to get the very best bread. A successful, strong mother can live for many long years, like the ones at the famous bakeries in San Francisco. Now, the only reason the cat is still around is because he tells me he’s hungry. If he didn’t he’d have gone the way of the houseplant ages ago. This gives me pause.

I’ve decided to at least try to make sourdough, starting today with making the mother. It has to age and grow and get sour, and I hope I have the patience and memory to help it on it’s way. (I’m going to set reminders on my Google calendar to help me to remember  to feed the thing. Ah, technology!).

Hopefully by next weekend, I’ll have made my first loaf of sourdough bread, in time to make stuffing out of it for our very first post-Thanksgiving feast (yes, I’m baking my first turkey. Should be interesting).

Wish me luck…

 

A Little Seasoning

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A solid third of the reason we had to rent our house was because of the fireplace. It’s a real, working, wood burning brick fireplace with a nice wide wooden mantel, right in the middle of the dining room focal wall. I took one look and fell in love:

N took one look at the house, with it’s flat roof, white brick walls and lack of a dishwasher and told me I was nuts. We moved in three weeks later.

I love having a house with a fireplace. I know that a wood burning fireplace isn’t exactly the greenest thing we can use for heat, but it certainly keeps the gas bill down. In the winter, when it’s pouring down rain for the third day in a row and the cold bricks make the house feel like an igloo, N starts a roaring fire in the hearth and the bright, cheery flames instantly perk up the situation. That, and our fireplace cranks out some serious heat, and in the same theory as a wood burning brick oven, you get the house warm enough with a hot fire and it stays that way for a heck of a lot longer than just cranking up the heater.

Another reason I love having a house with a fireplace is that I can decorate the mantel for all seasons and holidays. Once September hits, the mantel is chock full of seasonal goodness until the close of February, when I put away my heart-shaped candy box collection for the season. Decorating the mantel means cleaning the mirror, changing out my baskets and bowls on the kitchen island, swapping candles and table cloths and sort of a Season’s Cleaning. It prompts me to get my life together and do the things that I usually let slide all summer long while we’re out playing in the sun, because who’s actually inside? I generally wait until the actual first day of Fall to decorate, but with our upcoming weekends full of wedding To-Do’s, why not start now?

Happy Changing Seasons everyone, and here’s to a happy autumn!