Friday, May 29, 2009

Make It Yourself - Kefir

What cultured milk product is easier to make then yogurt and even more nutritious?

It takes no special tools, it does not need to be heated, and can be made with any kind of milk.

It is loaded with probiotics, beneficial bacteria, calcium, vitamins (especially B) and potassium.

Have you guessed kefir? What? Never heard of kefir? I had not myself until several years ago. I've been wanting to try it and this winter a friend shared some kefir grains with me. We've been enjoying fresh kefir ever since! And I'm finally getting around to sharing about it with you!

Kefir is a cultured milk product similiar in taste to yogurt, but the texture is thinner. Because the milk does not need to be heated, kefir is much faster and simpler to make. Personally, I don't prefer to drink/eat kefir alone. To me, it is too thick to drink and too thin to eat! But we LOVE it in smoothies and have been enjoying it at least once a week this winter and I expect we'll be having it even more often this summer! I love knowing I'm feeding my children something so full of "good stuff"! I also use it in recipes in place of buttermilk, yogurt, or sour cream. I know that in baked products, much is destroyed in the heating, but it saves a trip to the store and makes some awesome tasting waffles!

Here is how to make your own kefir!

First, get some kefir grains. You can purchase kefir starter but it will only be good for a few batches. Kefir grains can be used endlessly. The grains are rubbery and look like cauliflower. Don't visulize wheat or barley grains!
Get a glass jar and measure out your grains. You want one tablespoon of grains per cup of milk. Place the grains in the jar and then add the milk.

Cover the jar loosely and allow to set in room temperature. Do not place in direct sun. I put mine on the refrigerator so that it is out of the way but still where I can see it so it is not forgotten!

After 12 to 24 hours, the milk should be thickened and "glop" when poured out of the jar. Pour the milk in a colander and stir to separate the grains. Your kefir is ready to use! Save the grains to make a new batch! Wasn't that easy!

Do not allow your kefir to contact anything metal. Use plastic or glass.

When first using kefir grains, you may have an adjustment period for your first batch or two. By the third batch, your kefir should be nice and thick. This also may occur when switching to a different type of milk.

If not using your kefir grains, store them in the refrigerator covered with milk. Do not allow them to dry out.

Your kefir grains will increase as you use them. You will then be able to make larger batches of kefir at a time! Or share with a friend!

All set to make kefir? I have quite a few extra kefir grains which I'd love to share with you! Let me know if you'd like them! I may be able to figure out a way to mail them - but no promises!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Gardening with Children - Bean Tents and Corn Maze

What to do with a empty plot of good soil? Last fall I tore out my herb garden. Having a little herb garden had been a dream come true but it was time for a change! (Plus I can always plant it again another year - and make it even better!)

Over the winter I dreamed of several different ideas to use that plot of soil but after reading Roots, Shoots, Buckets, and Boots by Sharon Lovelace, I was inspired to plant a children's garden!
Ed got some bamboo from our neighbor and built a simple tent frame. We planted pole beans to grow up the bamboo. Behind the "tent" we planted sunflower and corn in a simple maze pattern. At least that is the idea. The children did a lot of "helping" including the two year old who hoed wildly! I was not sure if any of the seeds were actually still where they were originally planted!
In the paths, we laid down cardboard and covered it with grass clippings for mulch. Hopefully this would keep down the weeds and allow the children to see where they were able to walk until the plants emerged.
The seeds were planted the first week of May. We also added some marigolds the children had started in the house and some dianthus and lettuce plants. Last week the corn, sunflowers and beans began to emerge, surprisingly, they are mostly in the correct places!

The children are excited about "their" garden! Check back for further updates this summer!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Balloon Shade

The Venetian blinds in our house were one of the first things to go when we moved in as my husband dislikes them. But I still like some way to easily adjust the lighting in a room. One of the first things I do in the morning is let the sunshine in! But I also want it easy to darken the room for naps and at night. Easy to sew balloon shades have been the perfect solution for several of our rooms!

Here is some simple directions. No pattern needed!
First sew a simple, one piece curtain. It should have a top placket for the rod and fall generously below the window. The fullness of the curtain is entirely up to you.
Next, take a trip to a fabric store and home improvement store and gather a few items.

cord - I bought mine in the curtain department at Joannes

tiny rings - I used plastic rings for the first shade I made but after several years of hanging in the bright sunlight, the plastic disintegrated. Ed suggested stainless steel washers. They were more expensive but should last for years without falling apart or rusting. You want the smallest size possible while still allowing your cord to pull through easily.

three small eye screws

one cleat
Lay your curtain on a flat surface wrong side up.
Mark where you will sew on your rings. I used pins to mark three rows evenly spaced across the curtain. Then marked about every six inches from top to bottom.
Carefully hand stitch the rings to the curtain. You want them to be sewed securely without being too noticeable on the wrong side. When the shade is gathered up, the stitches will not be noticed.
Cut three lengths of cording. Make sure it is long enough to go through the whole length and across the top of the shade. String the cording through rings. Tie the end securely to the bottom ring. (This picture is sideways and I can't seem to get it flipped. You want the strings going from top to bottom!)
Hang the curtain in the window. Screw the eye screws into the top of the window frame. String the cording through the eye screws pulling the cording all to one side.
Attach the to the side of the window frame. When you pull the cording, wrap the cords around this to hold the shade in position.

Wasn't that easy! At least it is easy to do but harder to write about!

Please let me know if these directions were not clear!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Make It Yourself - Sweetened Condensed Milk

Nola shared this recipe with me. I think sweetened condensed milk is rather overpriced considering all it really contains is milk and sugar!

2c. milk
1c. sugar

Boil in double boiler until golden in color and thick.

Nola - I don't have a double boiler, so I just cooked it until it got thick and golden.
BE CAREFUL! It burns easily. I recommend medium heat and lots of stirring.

Gina- I tried cooking on a double boiler and it seemed to take a very long time. I found a heavy bottomed pan to be much faster though I did keep a close eye on it and stirred often.

I really don't use a lot of sweetened condensed milk but like to keep it on hand for our favorite brownies. (recipe found here) This weekend I made up a batch of caramel sauce to eat with apples. I used the recipe from Tammy's Recipes. Mmmm Good!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Hoop House Update

Just had to show you a few new pics of the hoop house! (Click on the link to see the difference in only one month ago!) The spinach and lettuce are almost finished but they have supplied lots of salads. The broccoli, onions, and kale are growing like crazy! I've been very pleased with this hoop house/raised bed/cold frame! I'm asking Ed for another one next Valentine's Day!

Now I have a question for you. How do you eat kale? I've never grown it before!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Make your own Nursing Pads

Finally back to sharing sewing projects!

I love my readers! Not only do I gain all sorts of good information, but even your questions help me find better ways to do things!

Some time ago, a reader asked if I had a better solution to buying nursing pads. I immediately visualized the many boxes of disposable nursing pads I've purchased the last several years! I bought several pair of washable pads, but still used plenty of disposables as well. I know this is a "problem" some moms don't have! But my babies are chubby and happy, so I'm not complaining! And, of course, even buying a few nursing pads is still far cheaper then purchasing formula!

Still, it made me wonder if there was a better solution and when I read this article on making your own nursing pads at Passionate Homemaking, I wanted to try it.

What a simple project! Using a cup, I traced circles out of flannel (for absorbency) and fleece (for waterproofing). My circles were about four inches across. I used fabric scraps from another project, but you could also use old receiving blankets or cloth diapers. For each pad, I layered three flannel circles and one fleece circle and used a zig-zag stitch around the edge. You can make the inner circles a little smaller to reduce bulk, but stitch through the middle. Some of my layers shifted.

I love the result! So easy, fast to make, super soft, simple to launder and far more comfortable then any other option I've used!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Chicken Update - Ten Weeks Or What to Feed a Chicken!

Our chicks are growing unbelievably! I can hardly believe that ten weeks ago they were just fuzzy balls! Though they are not up to full size, of course, from a distance they look like real chickens scratching in the dirt with their tail feathers erect.
It has been a month now since we first left then out of the chicken house. That first day we needed to push them out of the house and catch them to get them back in! Birds with very small brains can still learned quickly and the next time we left them out they entered and exited the chicken house on their own.
We had built a small temporary run for them until they were accustomed to the big outside world. Some of them learned they could fly over the fence but then they frantically tried to find a way back in with their friends! After we were certain they knew where "home" was, we took down the fence. Now every morning before work, Ed opens up their door and they eagerly rush for the entrance, squeezing through two or three at a time!
I love the idea of free range chickens. It seems they should enjoy fresh air, exercise and salads as much as I do! And they seem to! They are in and out of their house all day but especially active outdoors in the mornings and evenings. Even a light rain does not seem to discourage them from being out.So far, they have not made it to our garden. We purposely placed the chicken house out in the pasture hoping they would find plenty to occupy them there. But each day they seem to be a few feet closer to the pasture fence, so it may be only a matter of time. I am hoping they don't discover the garden until the seeds are up and plants established. Then I'd love if they visit the garden and eat bugs and deposit their contributions without harming anything! Is that wishful thinking? I know that chicken scratching can be very destructive. I also don't want them visiting the neighbors. Though we have almost three acres, our lot is narrow and the border between us and our neighbor is quite close to the chicken house. Already their favorite place seems to be a our neighbor's thicket in the fence row. As long as they don't get any further, I don't think they'd mind. We may need to make a permanent run for them but I'm hoping it is not necessary.
We were hoping to save some money in chicken feed by feeding our chickens some home grown food. I've heard that if you want your chickens to eat table scraps and such, you need to start them young. So, as soon as the first spring grass sprouted, the children and I would gather hand fulls and throw it into the chicken house. We've also given them kale, lettuce and potato peelings. They ate all of it eagerly, until we began letting them out on the pasture. Now apparently they are getting enough greens on their own and they are not as interested in the things we pick for them. We still give them grain each evening and they rush for the feed trough when we fill it. Hopefully some of their food requirements are being met by grazing.
I still enjoy observing them. I watched one chicken this week devour several dandelion seed heads. How's is that for a great free food?!

I've read that chickens will only be vegetarians if they are forced to. We've seen them eat earthworms and once we saw them carrying a baby bird. I've heard that they will even eat mice.
Our son has become The Terror of the Chicken Yard! He loves chasing the chickens! He stands at their door waiting for one of them to poke it's head out and tries to pet it! He certainly has no fear! But they do! They run for their house when they see him coming!

I've planted my garden somewhat with the chickens in mind. I'm especially trying to grow some plants that will be harvested late in fall and can be kept over winter when there will be little green grass in the pasture. Mangle beets (a huge beet that farmers fed to their livestock in years past), swiss chard, and kale are some of the new (to me) vegetables I've planted. Of course, extra zucchini, greens, and carrot tops can also go to the chickens. I may start a pile near the chicken house for vegetable peelings and such for them to work over. Whatever they leave can be added to the compost pile after a few weeks.

I found several helpful articles on the web on gardening for your animals.
"Animal Gardening" at Countryside Magazine
"The Homestead Poultry Flock" at the Modern Homestead

If any of you have experience in free range chickens, growing your own chicken food, or any other hints for us newbies, I'd love to hear it!
Also, our chicken house is getting full! I think we can now tell the males from the females by the bright red combs and wattles. We really don't need ten roosters! We will probably be sending some of the roosters to auction or butchering them. If you are interested in a pure bred young rooster of the Black Australorp, Speckled Sussex or Partridge Rock breeds, let us know!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Reader's Share - Blueberry Recipes

Thanks to all of you that have sent in your recipes in response to Linette's request for ways to use frozen blueberries! I'm wishing that I had not used up all the blueberries in my freezer!

Purple Cows - Barb

One way we love frozen ones is to make what we've dubbed "purple cows" :) In essence this is just a smoothie....I fill my blender part way with frozen berries, add some sugar, pour some milk in and whirl away....dump into a cup, and slurp with a straw or (for a really fun mess) just drink produces lovely purple/blue mustache! You can always add other fruit too, or yogurt.

Baked Oatmeal, Blueberry Crisp - Rachel B.

I like to use them in baked oatmeal for breakfast. I use the following recipe and then just before putting in the pan, I throw in a handful of blueberries. (You can put in amount for your taste.) The boys (and hubby) love when I add them. I don't make it this way every time but it adds interest. :)

Baked Oatmeal

1/2 cup oil
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
3 cups oatmeal
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 cup milk

Mix in order given and put into greased 8 X 8 baking dish. (Adding blueberries if desired) Bake at 350 (325 if using glass) for 35 - 40 minutes. Serve warm with milk.
You can add just about any fruit but I most often use blueberries.

Another way I use blueberries is to make Blueberry Crisp. :) I have never seen this in a recipe book but I take my topping for Apple Crisp (below) and put it over frozen blueberries. Just spray a 7 X 11 baking dish and put in a layer of frozen blueberries. Put crumb mixture over top and bake. Delicious served warm with vanilla ice cream.

Topping for Crisps:
1 cup brown sugar, 1 tsp. cinnamon, 3/4 cup flour, 1/2 cup butter (melted), and 1 cup oatmeal. Mix together to make crumbly. Sprinkle on top of fruit. Bake at 350 for about 30 minutes. Should be browned on top. I double this recipe if making a 9 X 13.

Blueberry Sauce, Oatmeal Blueberry Muffins -Julie

We use a lot of blueberries. I can hardly put up enough. Besides eating them right out of the bag, here are two ways we especially enjoy them.

Blueberry sauce

I put the desired amount into a kettle and add a little water. Let them simmer till bursting and then thicken to desired thickness with cornstarch or clear jel mixed with a little cold water. Sweeten sauce to taste with sugar. Serve warm over pancakes, or chilled for other uses.
We really like this sauce. We can't have pancakes without it! We also love it on homemade yogurt. I have used the leftovers over vanilla ice cream too.

Oatmeal Blueberry Muffins

1 1/4 c. flour
1 c. quick oats
1/2 c. sugar
1 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
1/4 t. salt
1 egg
1/2 c. buttermilk
1/3 c. oil
1 c. fresh or frozen blueberries

Mix dry ingredients. Add wet ingredients and mix just till moistened. Fold in blueberries.
Line 12 cup muffin pan with papers or grease pan. Divide batter between the 12 cups.
Sprinkle with a mixture of cinnamon and sugar. (2 T. sugar and 1/4 t. cinnamon)
Bake at 375 degrees for 15 to 20 min.
This is a little different twist to regular blueberry muffins. They are really moist and
keep or freeze well. We really like them!

Blueberry Cheesecake Flapjacks, Blueberry Delight, Thickened Fruit - Debra

Blueberry Cheesecake Flapjacks

1 pkg.(3 oz.) cream cheese, softened
3/4 c. whipped topping

Beat cream cheese and whipped topping until smooth. Chill until serving.

1c. flour
1/2c. graham cracker crumbs
1Tbsp. sugar
1tsp. baking powder
1/2tsp. baking soda
1/4tsp. salt
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/4c. buttermilk
1/4c. butter melted
1c.fresh or frozen blueberries, if you use frozen blueberries do not let them thaw before mixing
3/4c. maple syrup, warmed
Additional blueberries, optional

Combine flour,cracker crumbs, sugar,baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
Add eggs, buttermilk, and butter to dry ingredients just until moistened.
Fold in blueberries. Pour batter by 1/4 cupfuls onto a greased skillet; turn when bubbles form on top. Cook until the second side is golden brown. Spread cream cheese topping over pancakes. Top with warm syrup; sprinkle with additional blueberries if desired. Be sure these blueberries are thawed.

Blueberry Delight

1pkg. cream cheese, softened
1/2c. confectioner sugar
1 can (14oz.) sweetened condensed milk
1pkg. (3.4oz) instant vanilla pudding
1 (12oz) carton of cool whip, thawed
1 Angel food cake, cut into 1in. cubes
1qt.fresh or frozen blueberries, thawed

In mixing bowl, beat cream cheese and confectioners sugar. Add milk and pudding mix; mix well. Fold in 1&1/2c. of whipped topping. Place half of the cake cubes in a 3qt. container. Layer with half the berries and pudding mixture. Cover with remaining cake cubes,berries, & pudding mixture. Spread remaining cool whip over top. Garnish with additional berries if desired. Store in refrigerator.

I also like to thicken blueberries for over top of waffles or angel food cake. If you like cottage cheese, mixing thickened fruit with it is delicious also.

Fruit Thickening

1qt. of blueberries & 2 cups of water, heated together till boiling.
Stir in 1c. sugar, if you freeze your fruit with a lot of sugar you may want to cut back the amount of sugar.
Mix together 1/3c. clear jell with a little bit of water. Just enough to liquefy it. Stir into fruit.
After thick, add 1/4-1/3c. of blueberry jello. Let cool.
This can be used for any kind of fruit. Just change your jello to match your fruit.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Gardening With Children - Seed Markers

My husband always has the best ideas! The children always want to help in the garden - but sometimes their "help" is less then helpful! When planting beans, Ed drilled holes in some pieces of wood as seed markers!
The children loved their planting sticks! After placing a seed in each hole, they'd move their stick further down the row next to the other stick. In a short time, all the rows were planted. We even used the sticks for corn, planting in every other hole.
I'm sure it wasn't all done perfectly. Some holes may have been given two seeds and others none, but it was better then spending the evening yelling at the children to get out of the garden! I love to watch the thrill of accomplishment on their faces when they feel like they are really helping! And the beans are up and growing already!

Do you have any creative ways to encourage your children's "help"?

(Note: If you allow your children to help plant seeds, use only untreated seeds.)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

One Month!

Hard to believe that our precious little girl is already one month old!

I just love the chubby cheeks, dimpled elbows and leg rolls on babies!

She sure receives lots of hugs and kisses every day! Big sister and brothers have not tired of holding her!

And, in case, like many others, you've been wondering if there was a hospital mistake, all our children start out with dark hair and turn into blue-eyed blondes by their first birthday!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Dandelion Bouquets - A Guest Post

Thanks to a reader for sharing this photo and a simple message of a dandelion bouquet.

He stands before me, my little boy of three, clad in denim overalls and yellow ducky boots. His eyes dance and he asks me, “Guess what I have?” It is then I notice his hands hidden behind his back.

“A bug?” I answer. He grins and shakes his head.

“A worm?” His grin gets bigger but again, a no.

“Is it a flower?” I try again, and this time I’m rewarded with his chubby hand stretching towards me. A small bouquet of dandelions is clenched in his fist.

“I love flowers!” I exclaim, as I take them from his hand. I smile at him and his eyes glow behind his crooked glasses. His cheeks are smudged with dirt but oh, how cute he is! Can anything be sweeter to a mom than the first, love picked dandelion bouquet of spring? Their bright, sunshiny yellow peek out from among the new green of grass just inviting little fingers to pick them and I know God created them just for this reason.

“I like picking you flowers, Mom” he says, and then runs back to his red training wheel bike.

I look again at the slightly crushed dandelions in my hand, and my heart is warmed by the love in these simple flowers. And then I wonder, is this how God feels when I do something special for Him? Whether it’s something so simple as taking the time to visit a lonely neighbor lady, give the grocery lady a lovely smile, or if I’m just patient with my children and take the time to read them a story or give them a special “I love you” hug. Does God feel as if I just picked him a dandelion bouquet? Does He see the beauty of something so simple I do in His name and is His heart warmed and pleased? As I hold the dandelions to my nose and smell it’s sweet and musty scent, I determine within me to pick more dandelions for my Father. An offering of love, no matter how simple, brings some of the greatest joy in life.

- a mom

Monday, May 4, 2009

Asparagus Recipes

It is hard to beat the first taste of asparagus in the spring! I'm grateful for the veggies in our freezer - and even the produce available in the grocery store, but at the first taste of asparagus, I am reminded why I put forth the effort to garden! Nothing can beat eating fresh vegetables that you grew yourself and picked only an hour earlier! Some garden produce can be bought at the store after being shipped from who-knows-where and still be edible. Asparagus is one of those veggies that have unsurpassed quality when eaten home grown and fresh!

Ed and I both grew up eating asparagus served the same way and it is still our favorite! First, you crumble toasted bread onto a plate, next you layer cooked and drained asparagus, then pour over a white sauce. Garnish with hard cooked eggs or crumbled bacon if desired. Serve immediately! Mmmm! I'm drooling just thinking of it!

Here is another of our favorite ways to eat asparagus and a few recipes from readers. How do you like to serve asparagus?

Skillet Asparagus
1 quart chopped asparagus
2 T butter
1 T oil
3 T chicken broth
1 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp soy sauce
1/4 tsp pepper
In a skillet, heat all ingredients and cook asparagus until almost tender.
slivered almonds
diced baked potatoes
Add almonds and potatoes. Heat well. Salt to taste. Serve immediately.

Grilled Asparagus - Rachel
It is asparagus time of year again and I thought I'd send you our favorite way to eat it. It's so easy and good. Even people who normally don't like asparagus like it this way.
Wash fresh asparagus and dry. Roll in a little oil (I use canola. You can use whatever you like.) just to coat. Salt heavily and lay on the grill. Grill on low temp. for about 15 - 20 min. Time will depend on how thick your stems are. The asparagus should be limp but not black. :) Serve immediately. It doesn't hold it's heat very long.

Asparagus Wraps - Jean M.

flour tortillas
deli sliced ham
swiss cheese
raw asparagus
ranch dressing

Spread a little dressing on the tortilla, cover with ham, put a strip of cheese and an asparagus spear in the center. Roll up tightly and serve or put in a lunch box.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Easy Valence

I love to make curtains! Many of the windows in our house have had two curtains in our almost seven years of marriage! With a little bit of fabric and a short time of sewing, you can easily freshen up a room with a new curtain. Curtains have none of that fussy fitting that can make garment sewing a challenge.

I made this simple valence for our kitchen window (I photographed it hanging on two chairs since the glare from the sunshine did not allow it to photograph properly.) I stole the idea from Nola. I love the tailored simplicity of this lined curtain.
If you want to copy the effect on your window, here is brief instructions. Cut your fabric one inch wider and twice as long as the desired curtain. Hem up the sides. Fold in half, right sides together and stitch the top seam. Turn right side out, press, and stitch the rod pocket. Cut a band out of contrasting fabric. ( I used the same fabric with the stripes running in the opposite direction.) Stitch the band to the bottom of the curtain. Add a simple bow, and hang your finished curtain!


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