Monday, January 30, 2017

Multi-meals with Lamb and Bacon

   I am ever working on my cooking skills, but what I really need is more organization in my food use.  I get beef and pork every year from a farmer friend, I've also gotten lamb from him the last 2 years, and I've been gifted venison from my neighbor more than once (repaid with dried fruit goods).  I also have foods I have canned and dried myself.  So I have food in the house. Then the question is - what do I do with it?
   My solution is meal planning and cooking/prepping for multiple meals. The planning part is not an ingrained habit yet, so the days my week is not planned out, I At least get the next day's meal figured out.  Prepping for multiple meals is a new skill for me, too, but I've found it really lends to using your imagination!  So here is what I made this weekend with one pound of bacon. 
   I actually started with the classic "What's for dinner tonight?" Answer: lamb.  Searching the net for a recipe, I found Daube a la Provencale.  I have no idea what that means, but it's fancy lamb stew.  I didn't want stew (we had beef stew already this week) but I liked the initial prep.  I based dinner off this recipe, but after the bacon, lamb (2 lamb steaks, trimmed and cut), onions, and celery were browned, I scraped up the brown bits with a little red cooking wine, and put everything in the crockpot.  I did add about a cup of homemade chicken broth so it wouldn't burn while the lamb finished cooking.  Add sides of brown sugared baked acorn squash and oven steak fries, and a meal is made.  A delicious meal, with only a few pieces of squash left over!  **Leftovers are the bane of my fridge, and if there's nothing left, that means everyone liked it, and my proportions were right.
   With Friday's dinner done, I had a half pound of cooked, chopped bacon.  Now the question is "What do I do with this?"  Answer: no idea, not at first anyway.  Sometimes ideas need to come on their own.  :)  Some went into omelettes Sunday morning, and I initially was going to put the rest into a goulash. As I started into the kitchen to make the goulash, I thought better.  Hubby and I were doing work outside in cold and snow, and everyone in the house is starting to come down with coughs and sniffles.  Soup it is!
   I had put the lamb bones and trim into the crockpot with water and onion ends, the part you normally toss or compost, intending to make broth or stock for the freezer (Can you tell I don't like to waste things?) but used it for soup base instead. I tossed it in the stockpot with some fresh carrots, potatoes and celery, some canned corn and green beans, and a bit of seasoned tomato sauce (almost the last of a jar I opened to make spaghetti sauce- I still have to find a use for the rest of that).  Oh, and the bacon!  Veggie soup with bacon - yum!  And only 2 quarts leftover, perfect for 3 lunches and a dinner at work. 

So, 2 lamb steaks, a pound of bacon, and some veggies to make 2 awesome meals with extra.  I call that successful meal planning and successful use of leftovers - from the lamb trim, the chicken broth (which I had made like the lamb), the scrapings from the pan, veggies before they go bad, and bacon already thawed in the fridge.

Joyfully yours,

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Mom's Muesli

   I have never heard of Muesli (pronounced mew-slee).  The name looks cool, so one might think it is very complicated, but it is so simple.  It is a cereal-oatmeal mix you eat hot or cold.  When I came across it in a The Appalachian Trail Food Planner, I knew I wanted to try it for home and trail food.  The recipe in the book called for wheat germ, dates, and other fancy things, but I had just gone out of my comfort zone and splurged on flax seed (one step at a time…) so I made it the way my mom did.  I call it Mom's Muesli. :)

   So, really, it is very simple.  Oatmeal, raisin bran cereal, brown sugar, and raisins.  Mix.  Add cold milk and eat.  Or add hot milk, let sit a minute, and eat.  Or add cold milk, microwave about a minute, and eat.  All ways lead to yumminess.

   I do have dry milk in my line of ingredients.  We were experimenting with adding the dry milk to make it trail friendly.  I'm all about quick Yummy foods on the trail.  So we had a bowl of regular Muesli (no dry milk) with hot milk to see how much milk it needed, then had another bowl with Muesli, the corresponding amount of dry milk, and hot water.  Well, that was too sweet.  Experimentation at its finest.  So a little less dry milk, same water, and presto! we have yummy Muesli mix ready for the trail. If you have ever been in the woods on a cold, damp, or rainy morning, you know what a wonderful thing it is to have something nice and hot to eat or drink.  We picked up some little rocket heaters years ago for that exact reason.  A bit of boiling water and a packet of this can really set a good mood for the day.

   The book also says their recipe is great as a dry snack, and I'm sure it is with the added figs, walnuts, sunflower seeds and the rest they put in there.  Mine as stated here - not so much.  I did have 1/2 c. sunflower seeds in the first batch, but then I ran out.  I will probably add more dried fruit (I make my own) for my mix on the trail.  I encourage you to do your own experimentation, add different ingredients, see how you like to eat it.  Enjoy your food.  Prepare it in ways that suit your tastes and lifestyle, and then try it another way.  My recipe is below.  Feel free to copy into your own recipe book and send a link to your friends.

Joyfully yours,

Mom's Muesli:
2 1/2 c. quick oats
1 c. raisin bran cereal
1/2 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. raisins
  **For the trail, add 1 Tbsp dry milk per 1 c. mix
To eat:
At home, add equal parts mix and hot or cold milk.
For the trail, add equal parts mix and hot water.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Christmas Spice Tea

   When I was growing up, we did not have much money. We weren't so bad as to need food stamps or government housing, but we had free lunches at school and lots of second-hand clothes.  So our at home food choices growing up weren't that broad, either.  There was a lot of noodles, oatmeal, canned goods, and other cheap and easy foods, but fresh fruit and veggies weren't always available, let alone name brand foods and special treats on a regular basis. One of the treats we did get was spice tea. At least I thought it was a treat.  Growing up we usually had frozen juice, milk, water, and generic Kool-Aid to drink. Sometimes, though, we had Friendship Tea, which is basically instant ice tea, orange drink mix (Tang), cinnamon and cloves.  So when I came across a recipe in a church cookbook for Christmas Spice Tea, it took me back to my childhood.  Thank you Patty Compton, whoever you are, and the Immanuel Lutheran Church of Altona, IL, for bringing this back to me.  I'm pretty sure copyright keeps me from putting the exact recipe here, but it's from the Divinely Delicious book, Celebrating 150 years.  Maybe they still have some copies.

   Anyway, it's made from orange drink mix (Tang), ice tea mix, sugar, a packet of lemonade mix, cinnamon red hots, ground cloves, and ground cinnamon. Google Friendship tea or Christmas tea, you'll find something close.

Don't the red hots look like holly berries in there? So cute!

   It's pretty simple. Mix everything up, pour into hot water, and enjoy!  Ah, the simple things.  This is going to be great on a cold night or morning on the trail, too.  I think next time I'll try it with less sugar, since there's already some in the orange drink stuff, and try again without the lemonade packet.  I like to experiment. :)

But right now I'm going to have another cup.

Joyfully yours,

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Fitness: Week of 1--8-16

   Since I'm not meaning for this to be a Fitness blog, but it is a part of healthy living, I'm going to summarize my workouts for a week.  The dog walk was cold. It was about 38 degrees, but wet and windy. BRRR. Thanks, I'll take a clear snowy day instead.  Both CrossFit days were good, except the AMRAP was bad-good. You know, when something feels and, but is good for you, so you do it anyway.  It had me breathing heavy and taking lots of breaks.  The workout doesn't sound that hard, but it's a push to get them done.  I did have to look up the kettle bell swing to make sure I was going to do it right, and I ended up using a dumbbell because our smallest kettle bell is too heavy for me.  I could still feel all the muscles the next day, so I'm guessing I did the right amount.  I was hoping to get a hike in this weekend, but that didn't happen.  I'm crossing my fingers for next week!

Joyfully yours,

1-10-16 Walk dog in Rain. 1.84 miles
1-11-16 CrossFit. 250m on row machine, 20 box step-ups, repeat 8 times.  21 minutes.
1-13-16 CrossFit. Warm-up of 250m on rower, 25 push-ups, 25 sit-ups, 25 squats. Then 7 min AMRAP: 7 Burpees, 7 kettle bell swings at 15#.  Score: 5+5.

Making Energy Bars

   Hubby was getting ready for a winter hike last weekend, and I had a brand new trail food book I haven't made anything out of yet.  What is a girl to do?  Well, the stereotypical girl wouldn't have a trail food book in the first place, but I'm not her, so I tried out some new recipes for them to take.  My mom actually found this recipe for Energy Bars in her newest Midwest Energy Cooperative magazine (p.10).

   First I mixed peanut butter and honey, and then added the oats, one cup at a time.  That was an arm workout, let me say.  It could be because I worked out the day before, but it was a tough mix.  Then in went the flax seed and chocolate chips.  The recipe called for a cup of mixed seeds/nuts/grains as you like, so I used cut-up mangos, raisins, sunflower seeds and crushed peanuts.  It looks yummy.  Note the chunky balls of mixture.

   Then grease a pan, sprinkle coconut on the bottom, and press the mixture in. 

   Top with more shredded coconut and refrigerate.  Yum!

   Failure #1: It came out crumbly.
      Remember that photo of the mix before it was in the pan? Well, that's pretty much how it looked when we took it out of the fridge and tried to cut it into bars.  Did I mention I've never made, or seen made, bars of any kind?  Obviously I did something wrong.  I have two theories.  1: Not enough peanut butter-honey for it all to stick together and/or 2: I should have pressed it into one big mass before putting it in the pan.  I will make it again with those changes and see how it goes.
   I almost made that a half failure, because it is Delicious! The kids like it, Hubby and the big boys took it as trail mix, and I found it is yummy with plain yogurt.  Side story here: I got a good deal on some plain yogurt a week ago.  Then I discovered that, while it's perfect for smoothies, not so much for eating by itself.  Maybe I'm spoiled by Greek yogurt with honey or even vanilla yogurts, but plain yogurt is just too … plain.  It's bland.  Eating it with this stuff was the first time I didn't miss the flavor in the yogurt.

Until the next challenge,

Joyfully yours,

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Homemade Strawberry Pie

   First off, I am not a baker.  Not in any kind of sense.  But I want to be one, at least a decent homemaker-type baker.  Simple breads, cakes, pies, etc. from scratch.  I can make yeast bread in the bread machine (why I don't make it all by hand is a future post), and simple from scratch quick breads, noodles (is that baking?), cakes and  cupcakes.  One thing I've never been able to do is pie.  It's not the filling that gets me, it's the crust.
   I offered to bring pie for our family's New Year's Eve party, since that was the only thing not covered.  I bought one pie from the store, and took it as an opportunity to challenge myself to homemade strawberry pie - the cold kind.  I don't know if that needs to be said, but I have had many two-crust hot strawberry, strawberry rhubarb, and strawberry-berry pies.

   Failure #1: Burnt pie crusts.

   This was totally my fault, and doesn't really have anything to do with bad baking skills so much as bad habits.  I had a box of Jiffy pie crust mix, which made 2 crusts.  Mixing was fine, though the crusts looked pretty sad once rolled out.  Did I mention I'm not a baker?  So I pop them in the oven, set the timer, call my Dad to chat……..and go upstairs where not only can I not hear the oven timer, but can't smell or see the smoke.  (Did she say smoke?) So there I am, chatting away, and the smoke alarm goes off. Seriously? I did that? Ugh. <shake my head at myself> I know better that that.  So, burnt things outside, ceiling fans on, windows open, smoke alarms reset.

   Okay, Take 2.  I pull out my new baking book, The Fannie Farmer Baking Book.

   I've actually had it for a few months, but hadn't got into it yet.  So I use the basic pie crust recipe. The newbie version with detailed instructions is on p. 46.  If you've been through the pie crust rodeo, see p. 54.  Right away I could tell the dough was turning out much better than the Jiffy mix.  *Nothing against Jiffy - I toured their factory here in Michigan and got an assortment of box mixes while I was there.  They have a nice, clean facility and they have wonderful people working there.  Back to the story - I added more flour this time around, and paid attention to the shape before I started rolling it out.  Oh, and I didn't leave the kitchen!  Much better.  I even had a enough extra for a little third crust.

   Then it was on to the filling. I probably should've started this first, since I started with frozen strawberries, but...oh well.  The recipe for the filling was in the same book (p. 83).  It calls for fresh mashed strawberries, sugar, cornstarch, and lemon juice to go in the pot, cook it, cool it, mix with sliced fresh strawberries, and fill the crusts.  Easy as…ha!…pie.  Since I started with frozen not fresh, I had to mash them up as they started to cook/thaw.

   So while my strawberries are cooking, I'm softening a brick of cream cheese and thawing the half the strawberries that get sliced.  I discovered frozen strawberries are a little tough on my food processor, so I'm letting them thaw.

   The strawberries mix in the pot start mostly white and thick, then gets thin as the sugar melts, then thickens and starts to look clear. Yummmmm….

   That looks about right.  I think.  Let's go with it.  Into the freezer for a quick cool down because, well, I didn't make this the day before - it's already 3 o'clock and this is for dinner.  While that is cooling, I work on a bonus to the pie I got from Dad.  A small layer of whipped cream cheese on the bottom of the crust.  Somewhere online I got the simple instructions for it. One brick of cream cheese, 1/4 c. milk, whip, done.

Failure #2: Homemade whipped cream cheese.

   I don't have a picture of this, but it was the consistency and texture of pancake batter.  Hm, well okay then, that didn't work.  Fine.  Do I really want to even put this in?  "Handsome Boy! Come to the kitchen and taste this!"  One spoon just strawberry, one spoon cheese stuff and strawberry.  The vote is a huge grin - cheese goes in.  So, okay.  I will pour it in the crusts and stick them in the freezer to harden before the filling goes in.  Perfecto - it worked!!  It looked like a nice glaze on the bottom.  Mix in the sliced (chopped) strawberries to the cooked stuff, pour into crusts, and…

   YUM! The little white dish was an extra bit from the mix fiasco, which went in so much later than the main two pie crusts that it didn't burn. So I had enough for two and a half and a quarter pies.  Into the freezer again for a bit, to stiffen up the filling, and then off to the party.

Failure # 2 1/2: Runny filling.

   I call this a half-failure, because it was delicious and no one cared that it ran.  It wasn't actually runny, but it didn't keep its shape when cut.  You know, like in the commercials, where nothing is like real life, or like when you cut a pie too soon after coming out of the oven.  I think it didn't chill enough in the crusts, or it needed to thicken up on the stove more, but those are easy fixes to try next time.  Bottom line is the kids and adults both loved it, and we didn't even use whipped cream on top.  Happy dance!

   So in the end I successfully made homemade, from scratch, strawberry pie.  I don't know if I can all myself a baker, but it's a step in the right direction.  I've gained the confidence of making pie crusts, and now I don't have to buy them anymore.

Joyfully yours,

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Bar Keepers Friend review, aka Finding Joy in the Small Things

   Call me a nerd, call me a homemaker, call me silly, but I danced a little dance when I discovered Bar Keepers Friend (and no, I'm not getting paid for this).  I discovered it….under my kitchen sink.  I had bought for some unknown reason a year or more ago, thinking it was a good thing to have for stainless steel stuff.  I have an old porcelain sink I got second hand.
   I love my sink. It's got the two different size bowls, it's deeper than the regular sinks nowadays so I can fill my huge stockpots, and it's a bright white. I've seen other sinks that are that crazy avocado green, a weird orange, rose pink and all kinds of other colors that were thankfully already out of fashion when I was growing up.  Except my sink doesn't stay bright or white.  Silverware, knives, cookie sheets and the like put gray marks all over the sink, and things like coffee and tomato sauce stain it.  There were only two ways I knew how to keep it white.  One was the fill up the sinks with bleach water and have them sit overnight. I have two little-ish ones and pets, so this wasn't optimum, but what I used the most.  The other way, courtesy of my aunt, was a Magic Eraser. I use a lot of scrubbing and a whole Magic Eraser when the sink is full of marks, so it isn't the cheapest option, and I'm not really sure what those things are made of.  Not exactly natural or sustainable.  In comes this beauty:

   I was actually moving the Bar Keepers Friend container to look for a Magic Eraser when I noticed it said "Porcelain"across the top. Wait, what? Let me look at that. 'Works on kitchen sinks to clean knife marks'.  Wait, WHAT?  This has been here, unopened, for how long? Oh my heavens.  Let's try it.

   Glorious!! Left is after a couple shakes of Bar Keepers Friend, and 2-3 minutes of medium scrubbing.  Right is what both sides looked liked.  I clean my sink everyday - those are all marks that don't come out with soap and a scrubber.  A few more shakes and another minute or two, and…
   Wa-la!! Time for the happy dance!  I tell you what, maybe it's just me, but there is something wonderfully pleasing about a nice, clean, bright white sink.  Bar Keepers Friend is now my go-to.  I don't remember if it was Messie's Anonymous or not, but somewhere, a lady wrote about emptying and cleaning the sink every night so you don't have that mess to look at.  Along the same lines as making your bed in the morning, so when you walk into your bedroom, the biggest piece of furniture is neat.  Makes a big difference in both cases.  Yes, I am a nerd, I am a homemaker, and I can find joy in the smallest things. Like an efficient sink cleaner and a pretty white sink. 

Joyfully yours,

Friday, January 6, 2017

100 miles on The North Country Trail

   Ever heard of The Appalachian Trail, also known as the AT?  (Check out my book review of Becoming Odyssa, a auto-biography about a young girl's first time through-hiking the AT.)

   Well, The North Country Trail -NCT- is about 4,600 miles from New York to North Dakota (the AT is about 2,190 miles from Georgia to Maine). This year was the 100th anniversary of the NCT and they put out a challenge for people to hike 100 miles of the trail this year.  Any kind of miles.  100 different miles, a 1 mile section 100 times, one through-hike, different days, whatever. Just put 100 miles under your feet on the NCT.  I found out about this challenge in April, but.......

I did it!!!!!!!!!!!

   My biggest challenge was finding a NCT trail that was wooded, not roadway or rails-to-trails style, and close enough to home so I could actually get the miles in.  My idea of "hiking" is in the woods; "walking" is what's done on cement, and most of the trail near me is on cement.  I knew of sections in the Manistee National Forest, but those are at least five hours away.
  At first, the closest section I found was the Lost Nations area, and required a three hour round trip.  Not great.  Little Princess does not walk very fast, which came out to a lot of time for a little miles. Enjoyable, beautiful, full of wildlife, yes, but not very efficient for the goal.  So I kept looking, and around the time school started, I found another section only one hour away in a Toledo city park.  A city park did not look promising, but I could do a lot of miles after kids got on the bus and before I went to work.
   Well, it turns out it was a Metropark, and it was great! It has oak stands, pine groves, prairies, and 4 different NCT starting points I could take.  I parked, hiked for half my time, turned around, went back, and went home.  My dog got a lot of trail training, too, because he always came with.  I even talked a friend into going with me one time.
   I thought I'd finish at the end of November, completing the last few miles with the family Thanksgiving weekend.  Then came some sickness, and the Thanksgiving bookcase project to finish.  I did not finish that weekend, though the family did go hike.  Honestly, once December came, I was a little worried I wouldn't finish.
   But I did! And I am so glad I did. I'm ecstatic to complete the goal, and I enjoyed all of it, even the soreness and cold.  Hiking in the woods relaxes and refreshes me.  It allows my brain wander and my stress to wander off.  The day I did over 10 miles in one day I was so elated to hit that mini-goal, I skipped all the way back to my car singing "I did 10 mi-les, I did 10 mi-les".  The last day I even borrowed Hubby's snowshoes and went in 18 degree weather and snow.  I do not do well in the cold at all. Snowshoes and anything less than 40 degrees were not options on the table even two months ago, but I was so determined to finish!
   The whole thing proved to me again that I can do things which seem big, overwhelming, and difficult if I just get up and do it.  All the other challenges I will face, whether it's gardening, animals, house projects, etc., I will be able to do too.
   This year I will have a new hiking goal, which I will start in another week or two.  Until then, I am going to bask in my own glow for a bit.

Very Joyfully yours,

Here's my hiking breakdown:
05-15   3.52mi  3hr21min  H, with kids
05-22   3.27mi  1hr54min  H, with kids
06-25   4.57mi  2hr42min  H, with kids
07-04   3.94mi  2hr25min  M, with kids
07-21  13.25mi  10hr47min  M, whole day trip, with kids
09-03   8.6mi    3hr55min  T
09-24   8.61mi   2hr37min  T
10-07   8.71mi   2hr26min  T
10-13   7.79mi   2hr5min  T
10-18   6.22mi   1hr42min  T, with a friend
10-31   10.27mi  2hr44min  T, Over 10 mile day!
11-26   3.36mi   1hr16min  T, with kids
12-08   9.16mi   2hr23min  T
12-20   9.83mi   3hr36min  T, Snowshoe Day!
Total: 101.1 Miles!! :)

Monday, January 2, 2017

And then plans change...

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

   What a ride the last few weeks have been! I was behind on my blogposts, catching up on housework, holiday party planning, Christmas shopping, and everything else on the daily lists, when it happened.  My mom fell down a flight of stairs.  Thank goodness, as bad as it could have been, she only broke both forearms, her nose, and got some scrapes and bruises. The nose healed fine, she got plates and screws in both arms, and was able to leave the hospital after 5 days.  But since both of her hands were almost useless, she couldn't go home alone and came to stay with us until she's got the strength and mobility back to take care of herself.  She could've gone to a rehab home for several weeks, but she didn't want that, and it wasn't even a question for us - as soon as we knew the extent of her injuries, Hubby and I were discussing her sleeping arrangements here.
   So she is here, healing nicely, but feeling a bit frustrated. She is not the type to sit around and have people take care of her, and she wants her independence back.  I don't blame her, I would be the same way.  She is making good progress, though, and her hands aren't totally useless. She is wearing removable braces instead of casts, which gives her much more ability. At the hospital, she could just barely feed herself with a spoon, now she can use a fork and spoon, but can't lift a full serving spoon to put food on the plate.  Before she could only drink out of a straw, now she can hold and lift a cup to drink, but can't pick up a pitcher to pour.  Before she couldn't dress herself, now she can do it all but her socks, her arm braces, and some shirts.  So, yes, good progress.  And I am able to take 3 weeks off work to care for her and get her on track, which is a big help for all.  Next week I'm back to work, but we've scheduled it so she's not home alone.
   On the homestead front, the whole thing has put me behind.  Note here: not complaining or blaming, just stating how it is.  Trips to the hospital, follow up appointments, watching her two rescue dogs, taking care of her, etc. have taken up time, and we added a new construction project. We enclosed the open area off the back door to make her a bedroom downstairs. It was the playroom/future mudroom, so we built a wall to separate the entryway from the room.  Oh, yeah, and this was all right before Christmas, New Year's, the completion of my hiking challenge, and the beginning of my (focused) permaculture studies.  More on those projects later, but it has been a busy time!
  So I am thankful my mom wasn't more seriously hurt, she was home for Christmas, and the kids have loads more time with her for awhile.  I am thankful I have the time, space, ability, and support of my husband to care for her here at my home.  I am thankful to have already started this journey here, because I know these kinds of things will happen and they will not stop me, but keep me even more focused on what I want in life and out of life.

Joyfully yours,