Monday, January 30, 2012

That man of mine...

He is always telling me he is not a carpenter, but he could easily fool me. He may not be a carpenter, but whatever he is, he surely is pretty fantastic. This whole project took two days and only cost us the price of hinges for the cabinets (and someday a couple quarts of stain). The wood is all reclaimed pine from the ceiling of my parents former "palace", so it was totally free AND we get to conserve some memories in the process. Plus this wood is really beautiful, the richness and diversity of the color is really lovely. Mr. T took about 2 hours planing all the boards on day one and did ALL of the construction on day two.

I was just intending to dry fit the electronics and dvd's in the cabinets to be sure there was enough space and that just rolled over into trying out the books too and then it was full so we decided we would stain it another day...possibly never. Still lots of things to do on "finishing" this room, but one step closer, I'll take it. It is only about 8 inches deep, perfect for DVD, VHS ( yes we still use those, yes we do) and most book storage, a bit wider than 7 feet, and about 8 feet tall. It is MASSIVE and STILL, we got back about 6 square feet of floor space after taking out the old tv stand and floor speakers. The room seems massive and it doesnt make that wall seem quite so ridiculously tall. Not to mention it was a total distraction for a few days, that was desperately needed. Winning all around.

The funny thing is, I was expecting a cheese press and aging cave (old fridge brought in from the garage really not as fancy as it sounds) so the cheddar making can commence, but this was the chosen project instead. No complaints. This was super fun.

In other news, we are awaiting some test results from a procedure MAT had done last week, hence the necessary distraction. Fingers crossed for good news and more on that later. Happy Monday!

A completely frivolous, yet totally worthy, way to spend $10 a week

I am cheap. I admit it. The only thing I buy new are hair dye, underwear, jeans, and flip flops. The hair dye is a every few months thing and I always do it myself. Undergarments are self explanatory, NO ONE wants skivvies that have been all up in anyone else's bits. Jean are a once every two or three... or 6 years, expense. I only buy them on sale and REFUSE to spend more than $35 a pair. I REFUSE. And flip flops, well, those last me about 3 years a pair and I buy the less than $5 ones. Most everything else we buy second hand.
So when I say I am spending $10 a week on something totally frivolous, has no useful purpose, and expires readily, you know it HAS to be something worthy. I assure you it is.

Earlier this week during my trip to the grocery, I passed the floral department, as always. I like to take a leisurely stroll through and smell the flowers and let the boys look at the balloons and gift baskets. As I was nearing the end, I saw a display with beautiful flowers and they were marked down to $3 a bunch. I thought to myself, "well, I can reasonably spend $6 on two bunches, I am saving $7 on milk this week. No one else buys me flowers, sorry Mr. T, but you don't. I like flowers, they make me happy, and it is January it will be months before our start to do anything again. And I  LIKE flowers."

Decidedly, I picked out two bunches, a white one and a red one, and brought them home with the rest of my goodies. Mr.T gave me a funny look when I brought them in and I gave him a "go ahead, say something about me buying myself flowers, I DARE you" face and he smiled and said they looked nice. He also had the good sense not to ask how much they cost, even though they were not expensive, it is still a frivolous item. He's rather smart that one.

They have been on the table for nearly a week now and I cannot say that they have worked miracles or been particularly useful. What I can say that they have done is made me stop, take a deep breath and smile, nearly every time I walk past. They have lightened my mood more than once. I find MAT and RAT admiring them often and on a few occasions stems have been plucked from the vase and presented to me by my boys with declarations of " I love you Mom" and "you're the BEST, mom."

For that I have decided that between $5 and $10 of our weekly grocery budget will now go to buying fresh flowers, when we cannot grow our own. There is just something uplifting in the brightness and beauty they bring. I like those two things in my home that is often too filled with noise, wrestling, and arguing.
Seriously, tranquility and beauty in such a simple package.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Three, of my very favorite, things to make with sourdough discard.

Aside from sourdough bread of course. That is the purpose of the sourdough mother, but I cannot help but think of all the other wonderful things to do. And we only need bread every three or four days so we have discard daily. I have noticed I am the "just throw a cup of starter in there and see what we get" kind of baker. I refuse to throw it in the garbage and I prefer not to compost it. I want to USE that flour, water, and culture, otherwise I am throwing away money and health. So I have started putting a cup, or two, in just about everything I bake. It hasn't let me down yet.

Sourdough Waffles (adapted from the Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook Waffle recipe to incorporate sourdough)
1c. sourdough starter
1 3/4c. flour, a combination of whole wheat (3/4c.) and white(1c.) works well
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
2 eggs (or 1 goose egg)
1 3/4c. milk
1/2c. oil

Mix the egg, oil, and milk. Add the starter. In separate bowl combine dry ingredients, make a well, and add wet mixture. Mix, just till it comes together, it should be lumpy. Pour onto hot waffle iron. Bake according to iron instructions. 

This is NOT a sweet waffle recipe, they are light with a twinge of sourdough tang and are PERFECT with real maple syrup, strawberries, or mulberry syrup.

 Sourdough Rhubarb Muffins (adapted from Angry Asian Creations and I doubled it)
2 eggs (or 1 goose egg)
2tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2c. oil
2c. sourdough starter
1c. whole wheat four
1c. white flour
1tsp. baking soda
1/4c. white sugar
1/4c. brown sugar, plus 4Tbsp. for topping if you like
1c. rhubarb, diced (I used, thawed, frozen chopped rhubarb)
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/8 to1/4 tsp. each nutmeg and ginger (can easily be omitted)
Preheat oven 425 degrees.
You can macerate the rhubarb with the sugar for a couple hours, I do NOT, I like my rhubarb tangy.

Combine dry ingredients, set aside. In another bowl combine sugar, oil, vanilla, and egg, add starter, add rhubarb. Combine wet and dry ingredients.

Fill greased or lined muffin cups 1/2 to 3/4 full and top each with 1/4 to 1/2 tsp. brown sugar if you like.
Bake 425 degrees for about 20 minutes. Let cool on wire rack. This recipe made 14 muffins for me( and I filled the cups more than 3/4 of the way up)

Secret Chocolate Chip Sourdough Cookie Bars (cookie shape also works)
1c. Sourdough starter
2 1/4c. flour (a combination of whole wheat and white works well)
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2tsp. salt
1c. butter, softened
3/4c. brown sugar
3/4c. white sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs (or 1 goose egg)
1/2c. rolled oats (NOT the quick oats)
2-3 c. chocolate chips
and feel free to throw in nuts or cranberries or what have you.

Mix dry, reserve oats for later, set aside. In separate bowl cream butter and sugars, add vanilla, add eggs, add starter. Combine wet and dry and mix well. Add oats and mix. Add chocolate chips and any other goodies you might have. Spread whole mixture onto greased pan and BAKE at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes or till toothpick in center comes out clean.
OR drop spoonfuls on parchment lined baking sheets bake 350 for 14 to 18 minutes.
Cool. Enjoy!

I hope you enjoy these as much as I do! And I hope to get back to some gardening, poultry, building posts soon. Fingers crossed!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Take Care of your Mother...

else-wise, THIS might happen!
I swear I am not totally inept.

I DID start this sourdough mother all by myself with only water and flour, love and attention, and time, lots of time. It was a week old on the 18th, it was easily doubling every 12 hours and smelled of alcohol, all great things for sourdough.

I made my first loaf on Wednesday and it was pretty good, everyone in the house thinks it is the best bread yet! So in preparation of  today's baking extravaganza I didn't discard any yesterday and then fed it again at 8 am this morning. My jar was only half full, so I thought that I would be ok till I got to make my dough at 10am (naptime). How much could happen in two hours? Right?

I was woefully wrong. On the upside, I have enough "discard" to make bread bowls AND sourdough pancakes. WINNING!

So, in summation, just a reminder, take care of your mother... and enjoy your Friday!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Homemade Ricotta cheese

Here it is, fast and easy. I Promise.

Non-reactive pot, stainless steel or enamel
Wooden, plastic, or stainless steel spoon
Candy thermometer (not a necessity but makes this easier)
Cheese cloth, muslin or clean dish towel (for the latter two you will also need kitchen string)
Large bowl, preferably one the colander fits in
Storage containers
Time.10-40 minutes to stand in the exact same spot stirring, constantly, OR a helper to do it for you.

1/2 gallon milk (I used whole milk, because that's what we had)
1tsp citric acid (lemon juice also works, but we have a giant tub of citric acid to use for cleaning and canning)
1 or 2 tsp kosher salt, I use 2 tsp because I like it, but the recipe calls for 1 tsp.
About a Tablespoon of water.

Start by dissolving the citric acid in the Tbsp of water. If you are using lemon juice you are good to go. Pour milk into pot. Add half the acid and all the salt. Place candy thermometer in milk. Turn on burner.

You want to slowly heat the milk to 185 degrees. This only took me about 10 minutes, and I didn't do it terribly slowly and I had a less than constantly stirring helper and mine turned out scrumptious.

When it reaches 185 degrees it should start to curdle on its own but it might not, this is where the thermometer is very helpful.

You can't read that but it says 185!

At 185 degrees, sdd the rest of the acid and remove from heat.
It curds up REALLY fast. Suppress the urge to stir, stirring gives you smaller curds, as you can see ( I couldn't resist it). Ha!

Leave it alone for 15-30 minutes, the longer you leave it the more defined the curds will be.

Line your colander and place it in a large bowl.

Careful, "them curds be hot" (in a pirate voice), pour your curds and whey into the cheese cloth, muslin, towel lined colander.

If you are saving the whey, which I HIGHLY recommend, place the colander in a large bowl. If you aren't keeping the whey (for shame) you can place the colander right in the sink.
You have made curds and whey! Congratulations!
Then tie the curds up and let them drip for 15 minutes or so. The longer you let it drip the drier the curds will be, the shorter amount of time the wetter they will be.
Something like this, if your curds don't sit in the whey than there is no need to hang them.

When they have dripped enough it is time to save the whey. Yes it looks a little odd all washed out with a green tint, but I assure you it is wonderful stuff.

 There are lots of uses, I have learned, for whey. And since you will have a quart and a pint, at least, from this recipe, I suggest you familiarize yourself with a few of them.

I used this whey in place of a stock in a soup recipe yesterday and it was marvelous. I also used it in place of water to cook our brown rice and this mornings oatmeal, and just like that it is gone. Really it is very useful, keep it, you wont be sorry.

Now that they whey is handled it is time to admire, and taste, your curds. Have a small spoonful, make the Yummy face, try not to eat it all. It is scrumptious.

Beautiful, right
And then put your curds in an airtight container and there you have it. 1 Pint of homemade Ricotta cheese and a quart and a pint of whey.
  whey and 1 pint Ricotta.

Put it all in the fridge, the Ricotta should be used within a few days, though I used mine the same day. And the whey will keep for about 5 days to a week. Enjoy!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

What I can do in a naptime.

Lay the toddler down. (Who coincidentally, went and got a pacifier and stood by the stairs when I commented that "it might be naptime" because of someones attitude. Oddly enough apparently DOT also thought he needed a nap. AMAZING. That boy. Oh. I love him.)

Put in first load of laundry.
Re-read the instructions of homemade ricotta cheese, again, for like the 20th time.
Ready and add ingredients.
Cook ingredients with stirring assistance of RAT.
High five 3 year old for excellent help and for not burning himself, turn off stove.
Put first load in the dryer while curds rest.
Start second load of laundry.
Trip over the cat who is attached to your ankle because she thinks you haven't fed her, even though you in fact did, 2 hours ago, like you do every day.
Dance break with 3 year old helper.
Surf net to find out uses for whey other than pouring it down drain, hit the jackpot.
Search  recipe box for Amanda Soule's fantastic carrot tomato soup. Because, after all, it has been a week since you have had it.
Line colander and place it in large bowl.
Strain curds and separate whey.
Forget to write "cheese cloth" on the grocery list.
Tie and let drip.
Wash pot and whey and ricotta storage jars.
Dry them.
Put pot back on stove and toss in 2 Tbls butter and turn on burner.
Cut onion, carrots, and ready herbs and seasonings for soup.
Toss goodies in pot.
Pour whey and ricotta into containers.
Remember write "cheese cloth" on grocery list and this time immediately go do it.
Taste ricotta, roll eyes and make the "yummmmmm" sound when something is delicious.
Try not to eat it by the spoonful. 
Stir pot.
Wash some more dishes, our dishwasher is possessed and nearly impossible for me to start so I hand wash dishes.
Add tomatoes, we use our whole home canned tomatoes instead of fresh roasted ones, it is winter after all, and whey, instead of stock, I'm gonna try it, why not.  What's the worst that could happen?
Make self a salad and 3 year old's lunch.
Dance break (we put a radio in the kitchen, that's why all the dance breaks).
Remove dry laundry and think about putting them away, then decide against it.
Hang load of dedicates to dry.
Go get toddler who has now woken from his nap and also wants lunch. 

2 hours, 6 minutes.

I still have to puree and strain the soup, but really I feel like a rockstar. If only I had got the bread made...Oh well we still have enough to get through today and there is always tomorrows nap. Enjoy your Thursday folks! And to those of you, like me, who are expecting snow. Button up and enjoy the show!

(I will post pictures of the Ricotta cheese making process one of these days, but I didn't get the photo's off the camera yet.)

Sunday, January 8, 2012

What we've been up to..

It's been a busy month. The family is finding a rhythm, sort of, with Mr's strange work schedule and things are moving along.

At the beginning of December MAT had a CAT scan. He has been having swollen lymph node issues since June so the doctor and I decided it was time to check them out, just to be safe, and to be sure it isn't something serious. Most likely it is just that children's immune systems are constantly under some kind of attack and that's what is causing the prolonged enlargement. In this case, no news from the doctor is the very best news. If it doesn't need immediate treatment we won't hear boo till the follow up appointment, and chances are if it is an issue that doesn't need immediate treatment it isn't a REAL issue at all. That appointment date is January 16 and we haven't heard boo from our ENT yet. Let's be happy with that. I am anxiously awaiting to hear the doctor SAY it is nothing, but the hearing nothing has me strangely at ease. 
Other goings on include a trip to the Windy city, Many a Happy Christmas, food, crafts, fitness, and generally loving my life.

Just after MAT's scan I adopted some books and some lovely furniture. We ventured to the Windy city to scoop them up when their owners found out they were gonna move and had 2 weeks to do it. I wish we would have been able to help more and that we had seen more of them while they lived so close. Hindsight is funny that way. So we helped with what we could and visited and they moved their family of three across the country with crazy calm, precision, and speed. To my joy we inherited a load of wonderful literature, a new couch and many many house plants. I have already started in on some of the classic...that I have never read... I am so ashamed. But aren't they BEAUTIFUL!
Then it was Christmas number 1, with my parents and siblings. It was a super wonderful day with loads of family fun and love. And will you believe not a single photo was taken of the fun, just the aftermath.
 They were all asleep before we hit the highway. Morgan is asleep behind them in the back too. It was a wonderful day.

Then it was Christmas day.

We opened presents and played and played and played. It was a wonderful day. We have had a lot of those lately.
Then after the holiday, life returned to normal...well that kind of normal, that is normal for us.

I made some new quilt squares, always a good time.

DOT thought they looked like something for him, he was quite bothered when he learned they weren't for him.This is his "These are NOT for ME? You must be joking" face.

In other normal for us news Morgan has taken over Watermelons bed. Watermelon doesn't seem to mind and Morgan doesn't seem to mind that she doesn't really fit in it. This is her "What? I totally fit in the bed. I am ROCKIN this two sizes too small bed!"

She is too wonderful for words.

And then it was 2012, officially.

No pictures of New Years Eve, of course, but I do believe the "I stayed awake the longest" award goes to MAT. I left him watching a movie at 10:30. Mr. T won the award for first asleep, he even beat DOT to the title.
2012 Garden planning has begun!
And I'm gonna be honest, with the weirdness of this weather we have been having, next to no snow and last week we had a 55 degree day, in January, in Northern Indiana, the SNOW capitol of the state. We have had a total of like 10 inches fall so far. It is totally bizarre. Anyway, because of the weird weather I am considering planting some lettuces and other cold hardy veggies because, well, I dont have to dig under 4 feet of snow to get to them. I am also considering trimming the apple trees, again because, well, the weather is warm enough that I won't have to wear a parka, or trudge through the snow. I have no idea what this weather means for the planting and growing seasons ahead, but I suppose we will find out.

Gratuitous cute baby shot #2.
Shut up, I'm his mother and this is the greatest face ever.

In other news, I have joined the make all our bread club...Mr. T and I have both tried our hands at the baking, I am great at traditional white breads and wheat bread. Mr. T excels at pizza dough and sandwich slice bread. I am nearly ready to start my own sour dough mother, but I want to get more in the routine of daily bread making first.

Today it was the first try at French bread, it turned out spectacularly.

 I have been baking and cooking new things and trying all the soup recipes I can get my hands on. It is fabulous. Tonight was homemade cream of broccoli and french bread. It was SO good.
MAT asked for seconds, which was impressive because he doesn't typically like soup or broccoli, and RAT actually took a bite of the soup, swallowed it, without making a face, thought about it, and then said he didn't like it and asked for some apple sauce. They both approved of the bread, thankfully. They can be a little picky about bread. So that's the happenings around here.

Also, I have decided to get fit. This is a month along already, not a New Years resolution. It is more of a "get your ass in shape, you can't even do 5 push up's? you want to play with your children? don't you want a new wardrobe and to be able to make your own clothes without having to buy 5 yards of fabric for one shirt dress? you gained 10 POUNDS Thanksgiving week and that is ALL the weight you lost in the YEAR after your third child was born, do SOMETHING about this right now!" kind of thing.

It has been surprisingly smooth so far. I have lost 10 pounds, in a month just by eating proper portion sizes, watching my caloric intake and moving an hour or so a day, not even exercising necessarily, just up on my feet doing things, the weight comes right off. I am working out a little at a time. I don't want to overdo it and then burn out. I want this to be a lasting and healthy change in my life. I am still working on self control, but when your stomach is the size of a grapefruit instead of a football, self control comes pretty easily.

So that's the low down on the goings on of the Little Squidgen Home. I hope your Holiday's were lovely and happy and that the New Year is being good to you so far.

Totally unrelated- Anyone have a sour dough mother recipe for me? or positive assurance that I am capable of maintaining it?