Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Auld Lang Syne - or - The Fruits of Our Labor

It's snowy around here, and has been for just about the entire month of December. I love it. We had a white Christmas for the first time in quite a few years, and it was so perfect to look outside and see softly falling snow on Christmas Eve and on Christmas morning. Just perfect.

In a few days, in fact, just in time for New Year's Eve and Day, it's going to warm up and rain and all the snow will turn to slop. I could complain about that, but I try not to complain about the weather. It seems like the weather always brings what we need, in some way or another, even if it isn't obvious at the time. Having the snow melt away will certainly help hubby to get more firewood, for example.

During winter, the pseudo hibernation we slip into around here is not only pleasant, but necessary, I feel, after the long days of summer so full of work. It's perfect for planning next year's garden, canning lots of convenience food for the pantry, getting the house in order, tackling indoor projects, and playing games with the kids.

I've just about wrapped up my gifts for the season. It happened yesterday as I assembled the final gift box for some dear friends of ours. As I stood back from my work table and looked the items gathered there, I realized how much a reflection of our lifestyle this gift is. I decorated a sampling of our canned goods with fabric "hats," and attached labels. I baked several breads and cookies and made a cheese log, plus knitted a kerchief and a hat. It's a nice box, altogether.

Then I started thinking about where everything came from. The ingredients for the canned goods almost entirely came from our garden, with the exception of salt and vinegar and a few seasonings. The fabric to decorate the jars came from the box of fat quarters I got from a garage sale last fall. The labels came from a thrift store. The box and tissue paper to package it all have been reused and recycled many times. The work came from my hands and was spirited by my heart and soul. I cannot express the satisfaction that accompanies my pursuits. To put it simply, it drives me, it motivates me to eliminate the middle man in ever more ways.

This is not a bragging post. It is simply a post to communicate to anyone who might be reading that you can do it yourself! Every year we do more for ourselves. We have such a long way to go on this journey, but seeing the fruits of our labor encourages me, spurs me on to continue and to bite off another chunk each year. In my mind it unfolds like this, as I look down at my gift box...

I think to myself... The first year we gardened, I only canned tomatoes and cucumbers, because we had so very many. The rest of the food we basically ate or stored in the cellar. The next year, I made sure to plant enough to can green beans, too. But it wasn't a huge amount. So the next year I planted enough of lots of different foods to can enough to store a big variety for winter. But still, I was using garlic and onions from the store, and lots of other stuff, too. This most recent year I only bought salt and vinegar, and some seasonings, to accomplish my canning. The rest came from us.

Five years ago we had no garden.

So... look around you and consider from whence your stuff cometh. Regard the fruits of your labor and determine how much you buy and how much you create or provide for yourself. There's always another step you can take care of yourself, like saving your seeds, growing and drying herbs, and getting chickens. We do some of this already, but can do even more next year.

As the current year wraps itself up and the new one approaches, take some time for reflection. Look around you, think about what you can do for yourself, and make a change. And give thanks and gratitude for the richness of your life. Because no matter what you have or where you live, there is always so much to be thankful for. I am thankful for my family, my friends, the cycle of the seasons, this chunk of land we are borrowing from Mother Earth until we become a part of it, and for opportunity. There are so many choices, each and every day.

Suddenly this is sounding a lot like making resolutions. So with that, I will bid you a peaceful passing of the year, and a tender start to the new one.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
And days of auld lang syne?

For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We'll take a cup of kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.

Happy New Year

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

In Which I Knit Some Hats

The garden is finally put to bed for the season, the kids are fully involved in school work, music, and jujitsu, and our big holiday celebration of the year has come and gone. Around here, the big party of the year is at Thanksgiving, when my entire family meets here in Ohio for a long weekend of fun and festivities. This year was the 11th year in a row, so it's really becoming a tradition.

This year I tried some new techniques to prepare in advance, and they worked quite well. I've decided to blog about them, but not tonight. Tonight I would like to share some hats I have been knitting. I gave a bunch away for Christmas gifts, and now, everywhere I go, everyone wants a hat. This is a great pattern, and will serve you well, so my hat goes off to the designer (pun fully intended!)...

Click on this link to see the pattern and its designer...

Or you can try this one...

Anyway, I've been busy knitting up these hats and they are simply wonderful! Since it's been snowing a lot lately, and Christmas is on the way, I'd like to show you my hats, and encourage you to knit some yourself. Either that, or ask your knitting friend to knit one for you. I can almost guarantee that wearing one or giving one will make you feel warm all over, especially on your head!

Stay tuned for my series of Thanksgiving posts. Perhaps I can help some of you prepare your next feast with less stress! In the meantime, try knitting some hats!

Wishing you warm heads and happy hearts...

Thursday, October 14, 2010

New Pattern! - Just in Time for Thanksgiving!

Just a quick post to say I'm putting a new pattern on Ravelry today!

It's my:
Ballband Bun Blanket
Clever Croissant Cozy
Mitered Muffin Manager
Wicked Waffle Warmer
Resplendent Roll Wrangler

Whatever you decide to call it, I hope you enjoy knitting it, and decking out your holiday table in style!

Click here to see my pattern on Ravelry!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

My Victory Garden - or - Of Course I Can!

I've been thinking a lot about canning lately, probably because I've been doing so much of it. I've been canning for about eight years, now, but really seriously canning for the last four. This coincides with the number of years I've been seriously gardening, which is certainly no surprise. Every year, I take gardening and canning activities to a new level. This is not with purpose and intent, it just evolves. It's like gardening and canning are members of the family, growing and changing and maturing with all the rest of us living in this house. I'm never quite sure where it's headed at the beginning of the season. Then, when the season approaches its close, I find myself reflecting and realizing how things have grown, both physically and spiritually.

Today I worked hard to can 36 quarts of apple sauce, and I realized, this has been the season of the Victory Garden.

On canning days, it's always a challenge to make meals, do the dishes, keep up with laundry, teach children, and be an attentive mother, wife, and daughter-in-law. I try to plan for these days, but it's always hard. And it gets me thinking about my grandmother, otherwise known as Mammoo. She passed away eight years ago, so I hope she's watching me from wherever she is, because I learned so much from her. She raised her family on a farm in South Texas, supporting her husband as he farmed cotton. She grew a large garden, composted kitchen scraps in the field before people knew what composting was, took meals to my grandfather, Pappoo, and the cotton-pickers, wore a bonnet to shield her eyes and face from the harsh wind and sun, sewed all my mother's clothes and kept her in fashion model style on a shoe string, traded her abundances with others who had things she needed, hung her laundry on the line, loved her children and husband with all her heart, and prepared delicious home-cooked meals with fresh, garden produce.

Mammoo also canned. Even in her seventies, if she found a good deal on beets, she took all she could and went home and canned them. I know, because I was visiting once when she did exactly that. She didn't let company stop her, she just told us what to do and we all worked on those beets! As it should be.

This summer I dug deep and found determination on canning days. Determination to still hang my laundry on the line, carry out the compost, make meals, eat on dishes (not paper plates), and pay attention to family needs as much as possible. I'm not suggesting I did this without being grumpy by day's end! There have been some really exhausting days during the last few months! It's just that I kept thinking, "Mammoo couldn't run out and buy convenience food on canning days, and she couldn't throw the clothes in the dryer, either." They were far too frugal for paper plates, and the dishes didn't wash themselves. And all these thoughts led me to think about the WWII Victory Gardens.

Families were struggling to support their sons and husbands fighting a war overseas, resources were devoted to the war effort, rationing made many common foods and supplies in scarce supply. Such worrisome and troubled times, yet families rallied, pulled themselves up by their bootstraps, planted gardens, harvested their crops, and canned them for the long winter months. And it wasn't just food that was in scarce supply. Even the materials used to make pressure canners had to be devoted to the war effort, namely cast aluminum. I know this for a fact, because I am the lucky owner of the All American Victory Garden Pressure Canner!

Anyone who spends time canning these days knows that All American makes the best pressure canners on the market. They are gasketless, solid, heavy duty cast aluminum, and last for decades, if not forever. Several years ago, when I was getting into canning, I responded to a man on Craig's List who had some canning jars for sale. The man offered me "an old pressure canner" for $10 so I could get going with my pressure canning. Hubbo picked the jars up on his way home from work, along with the canner, and this is what he came home with, original instruction manual and all:

This canner is made of stainless steel, because of the national mandate to devote aluminum manufacturing to the war effort. The canner is aptly named the Victory Garden Pressure Canner and includes an inspirational introduction to the buyers, encouraging their efforts to grow and can home grown foods. It even calls the canner the weapon that will help win the war from home. I could not believe my good fortune, this piece of history that now helps me preserve my food, many decades later, still in great working condition, used by so many others in their efforts, now belongs to me, and I treasure it.

I wanted more information about this piece of history, so I called the manufacturer in Madison, Wisconsin. I asked if they had any information on this piece of equipment, or if they had any interest in having it on display in their showroom. They had nothing. Nobody there knew a single thing about this beauty. Nobody was even remotely interested. I've never seen one on eBay, never heard about them from anyone else.

Yet here it lives, and I use it all season to help me with my food preservation. And I can't help but believe that all the hope and determination of the many hands touching this canner over the years transfers to me every time I touch it. So whenever I feel overwhelmed by my many tasks at hand, whenever people ask me why I spend so much time growing and preserving food in our uncertain world, whenever I doubt myself, and wonder if I can manage canning a big batch, I think to myself, "I can." No, I think, "Of course I can!"

I dedicate this entry to all home-canners: past, present, and future. Of Course You Can!

Just yesterday, a mailing tube arrived, via UPS, with a surprise for me! Hubbo ordered the above "Of Course I Can" poster for me, got a frame, and we are hanging it in my kitchen. I am ecstatic. Can't wait to see it on my wall.

I obtained images of the above posters by googling "Victory Garden" under "images."

Saturday, September 4, 2010

A Tale of Tomatoes

Today, the kids and I worked on pureeing about 2 bushels of tomatoes, to make tomato soup for the coming winter. I thought you might like to see a brief photo essay of our process.

Huge, white beefsteak tomatoes from the garden.

Lonely table, awaiting tomatoes and boys...

Victorio strainer, ready for action...

First boy on the job, eager to make soup!

Keep up the great work, Levi!

Look, Mom! The puree looks like rainbows!

Cherokee Purple and White Beefsteak Tomatoes responsible for making the rainbows.

Second boy, ready for action!

Izak is looking forward to tasting the soup after sledding this coming winter!

Tired Mama, after the work is done...

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Summer! -or- Please Stay Tuned...

If you stopped by to check in on me, I thank you.

Wow, has this been a busy summer! Maybe the busiest ever, for me.

Since early June, we have taken two trips, managed our huge garden, built a wood shed, completed 4-H projects, had the projects judged, socialized with friends, and prepared and pulled off a big bake sale/fundraiser.

I have sprinkled a bit of harvesting and food preservation in there, as well, not to mention mowing, weeding, mulching, and regular household maintenance.

Factor in Father's Day, Hubbo's birthday, a few dentist and eye doctor appointments (we all wear glasses), and basketball camp, and you start to see wear I am going with this post.

I simply have not had time to devote to this blog.

But I knew that would be the case.

I have had desire to blog all summer, and certainly enough subject matter, but not enough time.

So, before the next round of craziness kicks off in the next couple of days (State Fair, another journey, Aztec Adventures Camp, and the loads of harvesting and preserving coming on) here are a few pics to tide you over.

If you're still stopping in and haven't given up on me, thank you! I hope to post more often in the coming weeks, so please stay tuned...

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

My Favorite Pantry Staple -- Granola!!

Well, I'm feeling a little out of touch, but I'm still here. And I'm still thinking about oats. In fact, I made a huge batch of Mama's Bullet-Proof Waffles this morning! They turned out great... golden, crisp, and yummy.

But today, I'm thinking about granola. There are many mornings my breakfast consists of two simple, homemade, food items: granola and yogurt. The secret to making my granola is very unpredictable. Are you ready? It's not something you'd ever guess... I use my crockpot! Otherwise known as a slow-cooker. Most kitchens are equipped with one. I know I bought mine for the sole purpose of birthing my babies at home. The midwives wanted a crockpot with warm cloths and water, ready for... well... ready for all the things one needs wet, warm cloths for during a birth.

Anyhow, these days, I use my slow-cooker for making granola! Without further delay or introduction, I give you....

There's no fancy or clever name for this recipe. It's just granola, after all. First, get out a big slow-cooker (mine's a 6-quart), sans lid, and lightly oil the crock Next, dump all the dry ingredients into the crock:

Give them a healthy stir to mix them all up:

Then, get out your favorite measuring utensil for finicky liquids (I use a very old "metric wonder cup" from Pampered Chef). Okay... I confess, I got mine at a garage sale and have been using it for 10 years, now! So much so that the markings are gone and I use it upside down most of the time. That said, here is the first link that came up when I googled "Metric Wonder Cup." Obviously, I have no affiliation here, just giving you a source if you want one. Measure all of the liquid ingredients into the cup. Mine's a two-cup measure, so I can do the oil, vanilla, and rice syrup at the same time!

Now, add the liquids to the crock and give everything a very good stir. In other words, combine all these ingredients with a nice, large, wooden spoon.

It should look something like the following picture:

Cook on "High" for 1.5 hours, stirring occasionally. I stir about every 20 minutes. This usually isn't a problem, since I'm almost always making yogurt and some other staple at the same time. Meaning I'm in the kitchen a LOT. We seem to run out of these items all at the same time! Make sure you do NOT use a lid! It sweats and the granola would never get dry enough.

After the initial 1.5 hours on "High," switch to "Low" and cook for an additional 2 hours, still stirring occasionally. After the cooking is over, pour the granola out onto a big cookie sheet or tray and let it cool. Store for up to two weeks (it won't last that long...) in an airtight container. Here it is on my tray:

And here's a close-up of the granola, so appetizing, I'll bet you want to take a bite right now!

Enjoy! Next time..... Energy Bars! I hope you'll tune in!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Uh Oh...

Just a quick note to say that the dates on the previous two posts got mixed up! Oops!

Oat-a-palooza should be time-stamped before Mama's Bullet-Proof Waffles. I tried to change it, but to no avail. So, in order to find the first recipe, please scroll down past Oat-a-palooza. Thanks!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


In Praise of Oats

See the freshly plowed field behind my dog, Jesse? This year, Hubby planted oats in it! We eat a lot of oats in our house, and feel the healthier for it, I must say. Already, the field is covered in grass that looks like it should be mowed. But this year, we will not be mowing that field, as the grass covering it is now oats. It's a new experience, and I'm hopeful it will turn out well. At the end of the growing season, we will harvest it and thresh it, use it in the kitchen, and save some for seed.

This is my oldest son completing one of his daily chores, namely, flaking oats. You place the whole oat groats in the hopper, turn the handle, and out come flaked, or rolled, oats. Kids love flaking and grinding grain, for some reason. It's the chore my boys never mind doing. They plug into their CD players, listen to their favorite music (Smoke on the Water, or Coming Undone, or Age of Aquarius, or Vivaldi -- we have diverse tastes in this house!) and crank the volume AND the handle. Sometimes they even compete to see who can roll the most! This works out quite well for me, because I use a lot of rolled oats in any given week.

Here's a picture of the flaker, not in action. It flakes any whole grain you might want to try. In fact, it's kind of fun experimenting with different grains. Wheat, spelt, barley, rice, oats, and more can be flaked into a variety of mixes to cook for morning cereal or add to your favorite recipes.

Here's something that gets a lot of use, as well. It's the grinder. You can buy a lot heftier and more expensive grinders than this one, but it serves our purposes well for the moment. I use it to grind the varieties of grain we use in our baked goods.

This week, after getting several requests for some of my recipes using oats, I decided to devote a week of posts to them. So stop by later and look for entries devoted to three of my favorite recipes using oats. Energy Bars, Waffles, and Granola. They get rave reviews in my house, and I can barely keep them in stock.

Energy Bars



By the way, I have decided to drop the habit of closing every post with getting back to my tasks at hand. I liked the idea in the beginning, but it seems rather tired at this point. After all, I'm pretty much always getting back to my tasks at hand! How redundant.

So! On that note, I invite you to celebrate oats with me this week! I hope you'll tune in on Thursday for my first recipe, which will be presented with lots of photos. See you then! Now go and eat some oats.. or, sow some wild ones, whatever floats your boat!