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Thursday, 12 December 2013
Last Minute Gift Ideas
Topic: Education and Values

Last Minute Christmas Gift Ideas for the Foodie and Gardener...


I know it's crunch time and the most difficult people are left for you to choose for Christmas gifts. You probably have already done your homemade gifts in advance. Certainly, you paid attention to making preserves, canning , floral sugar, wine etc. weeks ago.


So the people left...they are also the most important people, aren't they? Moms, wives, husbands and close friends--those fellow sustainable gardeners and foodies....the hardest of all...


How about a few ideas?


First, the crockpot...if they have one size, get the other...For example, Mom has the perfect size for her and Dad. Then, buy her the bigger crockpot for Beef Burgundy on Bastille Day! Or, she has the mega-size, then get her the one that will make Beef short ribs or Osso Bucco for her and Dad!


How about that Immersion Blender. If the Foodie on your list does not have an immersion blender, then THIS is THE gift for them. They will love you for it!


Then there are the two things every good gardener should have: SALAD SPINNER and FOOD DEHYDRATOR. If you've read the Summer/Fall blogs, you need no further explanation.


And, there's the gift every sustainable gardener will love...a gift card for a truly great organic seed company. Why not? Even if they have researched everything, every gardener has a curiosity to try something new. I like http://www.groworganic.com/peaceful-valley-gift-card.html but there are infinite options for you once you start looking.


How about a really out-of-the-box idea for the person in your life who DOES know everything about gardening and food safety but just lacks a “credential”? One of the best gifts would be to fund a course in safe food handling that leads to a certification. Why? Because there is a certain confidence and “street cred” one gets from certification. Try

http://www.sfhcorp.com/


You can also check your local extensions from your state and regional universities for great programs in good agricultural practices and safe produce handling.

For example, I have taken classroom courses through Iowa State University http://www.extension.iastate.edu/ and online courses through Cornell  http://www.gaps.cornell.edu/ 

You can check out options in your state but also consider the national programs that will allow your “gift recipient” to chat with like-minded people around the country while they take their virtual courses!

These ideas may be “last minute” but they may end up being...perfect for the perfect person!


Posted by Karen at 16:17 CST
Updated: Friday, 13 December 2013 10:30 CST
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Saturday, 7 December 2013
Yogurt--Breakfast and Beauty ?
Topic: Education and Values

Now that Winter is settling in ( I know technically it's still Autumn but it was 3 degrees this morning at the Farm!)--everyone is inside, we are cold-stressed, our resistance is lowered and exposure to illness heightened. Don't forget to include yogurt in your diet.

Here's my favorite breakfast that takes no time to create. Plain yogurt, mixed nuts, a drizzle of honey.

 


 

 Now... what about this yogurt recipe?

 

Looks edible,doesn't it? Well, it's another yogurt recipe but this one is the real focus of today's blog. The weather and the holiday food and just the aging process are likely doing a number on your face, so why not try this ANTIOXIDANT-YOGURT FACE MASK ?  You probably have everything around to make this right now.

 Antioxidant- Yogurt Facial Mask


2 Tbsp. Coffee grounds, fresh, cooled

2Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder

3 Tbsp. Plain, unsweetened yogurt (greek styled or regular)

1 Tbsp. Honey

Conbine in a mini-processor or hand mix very well.

Apply the mixture with a cotton ball, disposable makeup pad, OR your fingers to your entire face and under the chin and lower jaw, avoiding the eyes. It's a thin mixture, so slide it on but do NOT rub it into the skin since the grounds can actually scratch the facial skin. (note: avoid rubbing any masks or scrubs with particles into the face for this reason) Just apply it on the skin surfaces and let it dry. Keep it on about 20-30 minutes. Then—into the shower and let warm water rinse it off.

You will notice very smooth skin and a reduction in puffiness and wrinkles!

Refrigerate the remaining mask mixture and you can repeat a mask in the next couple of days while it's still fresh and use-able.

Obviously, do not use this recipe if you are allergic to any of the ingredients.

 

 


Posted by Karen at 10:30 CST
Updated: Monday, 16 December 2013 22:19 CST
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Friday, 6 December 2013
Buttery Cinnamon Coffee Cake -for holiday cheer!
Topic: Recipes

Christmas Cooking means “Cinnamon-Alert” in the Kitchen

This quick recipe I am sharing with you is adapted from one currently circulating around the internet. 

“Adapted” because I've changed proportions and the size of the pan to keep it real. You and your friends can be completely satisfied with a carb-y food served in smaller proportions. You don't have to overcook and overeat...

This little recipe is quick to whip up and bake. I think that it would be a perfect holiday-time hostess gift—baked in a 8x8 inch aluminum disposable pan, topped with a bow.

Or just the thing to bring as a coffee-break treat cake for your co-workers during the holiday season (can be doubled to a 9x13 pan if you have a large crew.) Or how about baking a couple of these to send over to your neighbors' houses as an unexpected breakfast or teatime surprise?

Why? Because the holiday season just screams for CINNAMON.

 

 

 

Buttery Cinnamon Coffee Cake

Prep an 8x8 inch square pan with spray oil.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix together in a large bowl:

¼ cup (one half stick) of butter, melted

1 egg

¾ cup milk

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 &1/2 cups flour

½ cup pure cane sugar

2 tsp. Baking powder

Pour mixture into the prepped pan.


Next combine the following:

½ cup (1 stick) softened butter

½ c. brown sugar

1 Tbsp. Flour

1 & ½ tsp. Cinnamon

Spoon the above mixture over the top of the cake batter. Take a butter knife and slide mixture around and into the cake batter.

Put it into the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes until cake is done. 

Remove the cake from oven and allow to sit for 10 minutes or so, while you make the following glaze:

1 cup powdered sugar combined with ½ tsp vanilla and 1 tbsp. water—stir until smooth, then drizzle glaze over the top of the warm cake. 

When cooled, cover with some plastic wrap or use the see-through plastic lid that comes with dispoable cake pans! Place a bow and send it on its merry way to spread some holiday cheer. 


Posted by Karen at 14:07 CST
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Saturday, 30 November 2013
Turkey and Black Bean Chili
Topic: Recipes
TURKEY and BLACK BEAN CHILI
 
Just in case you STILL have leftover turkey from Thanksgiving...
 
 Here's a great, quick little recipe to try...
 
 
Turkey and Black Bean Chili 
 
In a prepped crockpot, combine the following ingredients:

About 3-4  cups of chopped, cooked turkey

1 small onion, diced

1 -14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes with the juice

1 -8oz can of tomato sauce

1-16 oz can of black beans, rinsed and drained

1 small can of diced green chilies

1 Tbsp (or more of chili powder)

1 Tbsp dried or chopped fresh cilantro

1 tsp salt

1 tsp cumin

 

 

 

Stir, cover, cook on “Low” 7-8  hours. "Doctor up" the seasoning to your preference. Top with some shredded cheese, guacamole and/or sour cream, if you'd like. Add a tortilla or two.

 


 

 


Posted by Karen at 19:56 CST
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The Great Thanksgiving Dinner Leftovers Casserole
Topic: Recipes

If yours is like so many households, it's two days' past Thanksgiving and you still have wrapped containers with turkey pieces and leftovers from all those side dishes you made. Now--if you wrapped and refrigerated them faithfully right after dinner on Thanksgiving, they are fine to use today (2 days later) in a casserole.

And what a simple solution this is!

Prep a baking pan with spray oil. Choose a size to accommodate your amount of leftovers.

Start with leftover stuffing as the bottom layer. Build up strata-style from there with your sides: sweet potatoes, green beans, corn-you name it (even if they were originally casseroles themselves, just layer them in). Cut turkey pieces into bite sized portions and put a generous layer in, also any potatoes you may have. Then pour gravy over the whole thing, 

 

Bake at 350 degrees about 45 minutes until completely heated through. Remember the food safety rule: Internal temperature for previously heated foods should always be 165 degrees. 


 

It will be more appealing once it's baked and plated! And maybe there's a little leftover pumpkin tiramisu somewhere in the refrigerator waiting for you too!

 


Posted by Karen at 06:40 CST
Updated: Saturday, 30 November 2013 06:41 CST
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Friday, 29 November 2013
Christmas Lanterns
Topic: Crafts

A Thanksgiving tradition in our family was re-introduced yesterday. After dinner, while letting our food settle--and not yet ready for dessert-- the kids and interested adults created a holiday craft. I say we "re-introduced" it because for awhile, we had kids too young to do a craft and adults too busy with those too young. Now our little ones can handle any project you stick in front of them!

This holiday project is super simple and will keep little fingers busy while you do other holiday preparations and gift wrapping. And you need very little materials, all available at low cost. In fact, you may have these things in your house right now!  Plus, once these lanterns are done, you can use them as centerpieces, part of mantle decorations, or even as luminaria going up a staircase, inside or out!

To make one dozen lanterns:

 

 
  • assorted ribbon, bows, tinsel on wire, gel-sticks (used on windows)
  • optional rice, glass beads
  • optional spray snow for a little "glitz" on the interior, if using tea candles. 
And below are our results, created by all ages, from elementary school kids  to older adults. 
  

 

 

 


 

 

 


Posted by Karen at 13:53 CST
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Saturday, 23 November 2013
A beautiful loaf of bread
Topic: Recipes

Hello...my name is...homemade bread?

 

 

 

I know you might find this impossible when there's a million other things to do with your time. But, you know, when you make all those wonderful soups, stews and cassoulets –not to mention herbal teas and gluhwein--this winter, you really should have a homemade loaf of freshly-baked bread, shouldn't you?

I recently read a great article by Adam Gopnik on breadmaking in the New Yorker magazine. And, it filled me with the desire to bake homemade bread. I really wanted to knead, wait, knead again, bake and await, see, smell and then taste...

I really wanted all those verbs!

 

But, if you saw my schedule (like yours), you'd realize that this would be an impossibility for the near future. So, best case scenario, I'd pull out my breadmaker and pop in the ingredients and do stuff on my schedule until I could do those verbs...await, see, smell, taste.

I found this great recipe in the book that came with my Oster Breadmaker. It really produces a brioche-like loaf seen in the pictures.


Country White Bread


Add the following ingredients in this order into your breadmaker pan (I still lightly spray it with cooking oil)

Liquid Ingredients, mixed together go in first

1 cup warm milk (110-115 degrees)

1 and ½ TBSP melted butter

1 large egg

Then, add dry ingredients, mixed together,  directly on top of the liquid ingredients:

4 cups flour

1&1/2 tsp salt

1&1/2 TBSP pure cane sugar

Finally, make a well with your finger and place 2 tsp. Dry active yeast into the middle of the well, still in the dry ingredient layer, NOT in contact with liquid.

Now, secure bread pan in place in the machine, close the lid and select the Basic (3 hour) setting, with a medium crust color (if that option is available).

Press the START button.

Here's what you'll end up with...a beautiful crumb, lovely with butter and raw honey (in this photo) and a cup of tea...or with anything!


 


Posted by Karen at 16:07 CST
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Friday, 22 November 2013
Dinner in the French Countryside...a cassoulet
Topic: Recipes

A French Cassoulet

in the humble Crockpot


Interested in sitting down to a rustic country French dinner in the middle of the week? Without airfare and without a lot of prep time either!

 

 

 

I'd like you to think a bit out of the box and use your trusty crockpot, some common ingredients you'll likely have around the pantry and refrigerator, and create a trip to the countryside of France in the middle of the week...


French Cassoulet in the crockpot

serves 4, increase as needed


4 slices of bacon, cooked in microwave, then chopped

Prep the crockpot with reserved bacon fat.


Add into the prepped crockpot:


1 lb. cut up boneless chicken and a couple of links of smoked sausage cut up into 1" pieces --OR-- 1+ 1/2  lb chicken sausage cut into 1” pieces (my choice in this recipe)

Bacon (see above)

1 can of Cannelini beans (white kidney beans) rinsed and drained

1 can of diced tomatoes, with the juice

1 lb baby carrots


Add sprigs of fresh thyme, dried Herbs de Provence blend, salt and pepper—start with 1 tsp dried herbs blend. Adjust seasonings after fully cooked.

Cook on “low” setting for 8 hours. Serve in bowls with freshly baked bread, a salad and a glass of dry, red wine.


 

 


Posted by Karen at 18:34 CST
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Saturday, 16 November 2013
Make Your Own Fruit Wine--a kitchen craft you should know!
Topic: Education and Values

Make a Quality Berry CountryWine

Good day, post-modern Pioneer! Here's a skill you may want to add to your kitchen competencies...how to make a rustic, berry wine. This is a long post but well worth the read and print and keep for future reference!

 

Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas are all just around the corner and we know “it's all about the food.” In fact, most of the time, we're just serving mineral or ice water at the table, occasionally a white or rose' wine. But, this year, why not consider crafting your own rustic, dry wine using a non-grape fruit concentrate? Unlike our wonderful and ancient grape winemaking techniques, this simple berry wine is relatively quick because non-grape fruit wines do NOT improve with age or oak or anything else. They are what they are once the fermentation process is over.

Now, I am not talking about those overly yeasty “jug” wines of old—or that fruit, sugar and alcohol blend bad idea you picked up at a tourist resort. You can actually make a pretty decent wine with the old balloon-as-airlock if you apply some of the concepts used in traditional grape wine-making to your “Berry Country Wine Recipe”.

This recipe will yield 2- 750ml bottles of wine when the whole process is over, a nice amount for sampling with a holiday dinner So, if you want more, then double the recipe and number of fermentation bottles.

I am also going to assume you want to work with products and supplies you have at home or can easily get at a grocery, meaning frozen fruit concentrates, pure cane sugar, and rapid-rising yeast granules found in the baking section.


 

 


 

This wine will be sulfate free, but that means you must adhere to food safety principles of cleaning and you must assure your alcohol content will be adequate at the end of the process to kill any bacteria and yeast. We'll do that by adjusting the sugar content at the beginning.

This simplified methodology will give you a nice, light and fruity, and DRY final product. Serve chilled.


Berry Country Wine

( for 2- 750 ml bottles)

Equipment:

2 half gallon glass milk bottles

Small jar with lid to make yeast mixture

2 clean, uninflated Balloons

Funnel

2 disposable, paper Coffee Filters to fit into the funnel for later transfer

2 screw top wine bottles, recycled, cleaned and sanitized, or

Glass wine decanter or pitcher with cap

 

Ingredients:

2- 12oz. Cans of 100% Juice concentrate—your choice cranberry, any berry with berry blend.

(Note: Read the ingredients list very carefully. It's OK if apple juice or grape concentrate is in the blend, but it must NOT contain any high fructose corn syrup or sucralose, or any other additives, EXCEPT for Citric Acid and/or Ascorbic acid—these are OK additives.)

Filtered, pure water – 48 oz. to reconstitute the concentrate,

¼ cup for yeast mixture, ¼ cup for simple syrup mixture

(again read all the ingredients to make sure there's nothing added in the water, you don't want flouride or s ofteners, just plain, filtered water)

Pure Cane Sugar : (1) ½ cup mixed in ¼ cup of boiling water, and (2) 1 Tbsp mixed with ¼ cup warm water and ½ tsp. Yeast

Rapid Rising Yeast ½ tsp of granules mixed with sugar and water as above.


Method:

(Note: I used this blend: “Old Orchard 100% Juice Blueberry-Pomegranate” which also contained Aronia berry juice, apple juice, and grape juice. I am expecting all these fruits to be expressed in the final wine. I looked for Cranberry juice but the blends were limited to cran-apple, cran-raspberry and the super-antioxidants in the blueberry-pomegranate and Aronia berry won me over.)

(Note: Even though we did not dilute this concentrate fully, The BRIX of this mixture was still only 15. Unlike wine grapes which naturally have high BRIX at maturity, our non-grape fruit concentrates will need  more sugar in order to yield an alcohol content needed for food safety as well as appropriateness for a dinner wine.)

(This produced a BRIX of 20, potentially an alcohol of about 10-10.6%.)

Here's what you should have at the end of 24 hours.

This is Day 2 at the time of maximum yeast growth and conversion of sugars to alcohol. It's cloudy and you may wonder “why on earth did I do this, I certainly won't drink this concoction?”

Trust me. Be patient. You can wait a few more days. As the yeast utilizes the sugar and converts it to alcohol, then higher alcohol content will kill off the yeast.

And your next thought is: “Will that balloon will explode?” It won't- it's porous and excess gases will escape.


 

At THE END OF WEEK ONE: I tested the specific gravity and BRIX again. Not ready, even though the wine was clearing and the yeast-y top receding.

Lift the edge of each balloon, deflate them and replace.

WAIT ANOTHER WEEK. During this time, you'll see for yourself that additional air will fill into the balloon showing there's still fermentation going on.

AT THE END OF WEEK TWO: The specific gravity is 0.995 and you can see the top surface is pretty clear, there's sediment on the bottom which is actually the dead yeast cells.

Now we're ready to remove the balloons and pour the wine into the prepped empty wine bottles, through a coffee filter lined funnel. I say “very gently” because we do not want to disturb the yeast sediment lying at the bottom of the jars. That sediment should be discarded, not bottled.

The wine should be capped and again allowed to sit undisturbed and upright (in the refrigerator now) for another week or more, as additional sediment will descend to the bottom, further clarifying the wine. Basically, this “Country Wine” is ready to drink as early as 2 weeks from the time we started this project, or you can keep longer in the refrigerator.

 

This wine has a beautiful color, and lovely fruity fragrances with no off-odors or chemical smells. It is a dry wine, so makes a good table wine for those heavier holiday foods.

This works because we used a good quality fruit concentrate, did not reach for the stars in terms of expectations of creating a Gold Medal aged, vintage, estate grape wine, but instead set our goals on a blended berry wine with reasonable palatability (nice acidity, pH 3.5, alcohol about 10%) and interesting complexity. We got the bonus of playing around with all of these super-fruits --blueberry, pomegranate, Aronia berry--known for their high anti-oxidants, making it a good conversation piece. And, we got to work our primal, pioneering spirit into the blend.

We made a DRY, TABLE wine, that's now fully fermented. If you want to change this into a sweet wine, at this point you can do so by adding simple syrup: 1 oz pure cane sugar, dissolved in 1 oz. water. Add ½ oz (that's 1 TBSP or 15 ml) to each bottle and you'll convert the dry wine to a sweet wine.

IF you simply must “Craft” your wine further: You can add aliquots of a dry red (grape) wine into your berry wine for more complex flavor profiles in a “blended” wine.



Posted by Karen at 10:35 CST
Updated: Friday, 29 November 2013 17:48 CST
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Friday, 15 November 2013
Love Sparkly Thngs? Make a Scarf or Two!
Topic: Crafts

The Joy of Sparkly Things


I know I risk all the blonde jokes by writing about my attraction to (and distraction by) “sparkly things”.

I'm the one who walks into a store at Christmas and sees the decorations, not the merchandise. And if I don't have a list, I'll walk through the entire store without remembering what I came in for.

The same thing happens with magazines. If there are sparkly things in the photos, I'm hypnotized. I don't care what the content is.

This happens wherever I go, so when I was looking for some scented candles for the Holidays, that section was located right by the yarn aisles and, you guessed it!- sparkly yarn. I had to walk over and touch it. And then, hypnotized by both the lacy feel and metallic shimmer mixed with the variegated blues, I wanted to take it home with me. I really wanted it.

 

This instinct was immediately counter-balanced by extreme guilt...there already was sparkly yarn sitting for the last two years in a bag with other UFOs (unfinished objects). The solution became immediately clear. I'd make two scarves. First, the UFO with the silver gray sparkly yarn and then use this really gorgeous blue metallic yarn. Of course, since this new yarn was thin and really wanted a lacier feel, I also had to buy giant #16 needles, too.

 

So first,  the unfinished object: 

My silver-gray metallic-flecked scarf is knitted on size 10 needles, straight knit, no fringe. Look how pretty it is over a simple black t-shirt--perfect for Choir Practice! 

 

Next...I am working the blue metallic yarn scarf as a much narrower neck accessory,  but "loopy" on size 16 needles, I might do fringe. 


 

My suggestion to you for the long cold nights coming up before the holidays is to complete a couple of super-quick knitting or crocheting projects while watching a romantic comedy or classic holiday movie. It's not pointless or silly, it's satisfying to see a completed project, to work with the tactile sensation of fibers--knitting or crocheting does wonders for the soul.

And, because you are working with a simple pattern—you can make a scarf using a straight knit or crochet because “it's all about the yarn.” The only decision you'll have to make is whether you want to add fringe or not!


Posted by Karen at 14:37 CST
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