This year for the holidays I have chosen to keep it simple and heartfelt. I love to crochet and will make some fun items for family and friends. I started with a scarf and a few hats, then moved on to more exciting projects like stuffed animals. I have just picked up the art of crochet again after a very long hiatus and am having so much fun with it! Here are a few pics of some things I've done so far.
Mama Bird with 3 babies and nest
My 5 year old loves the stuffed animals. I ended up giving him both the penguin and the birds because he thought I made them for him :) They are actually pretty easy and fast to make, so I will just make more. I'm also planning on making some wood board decorations and blankets for Christmas as well. I am sending small baskets with homemade preserves and crocheted washrags to the neighbors. I just hope everyone enjoys them as much as I've enjoyed making them. They don't cost me much of anything except my time, and I think that's a pretty good trade. Especially since it's freezing outside and I may as well spend my time on something other than staring at a TV. The patterns for the penguin and birds were found at www.lionbrand.com and the hat pattern was found at walmart for free with the yarn. As the title of this post suggests, I do plan on posting more about my handmade holiday gifts. So keep an eye out for the next installment!
I've had a little writers block as far as simple living goes lately. With growing and canning season wrapping up, there hasn't been much going on. So I thought I'd do a little post about Autumn.
Our cute little wishing well
I love how quiet everything seems to be in the Fall. The birds migrate south, the lawn mowers and weed eaters get stored in the shed for the season. The kids are inside wrapped in blankets and playing board games. Even the amount of vehicles driving up the road seems to diminish. It feels like everything is settling into hibernation before the snow starts to fall. There is nothing more peaceful than taking an Autumn stroll when everything is quiet and all you hear is the crunching of leaves beneath your feet.
Ingredients: Apple, Sugar, Cinnamon (sugar and cinnamon optional)
Cook Time: 6-8 hours at 170-200 degrees
Fall is the best time to find an abundance or ripe juicy apples. You can do a lot of things with apples. You can make applesauce, bottle apples, apple pie, apple crisp, apple fritters and one of my favorites, apple chips. You will need apples, sugar, and cinnamon. 3 ingredients for a wonderful treat that's much more nutritious (and delicious) than potato chips.
You may peel the apples if you wish. It won't really make a difference. I use a peeler/slicer, so it peels them automatically as it cores and slices. This gadget it awesome! It saves a lot of time in the kitchen with apples and potatos. The one I have is a lot like this...
Core and slice the apples. My slicer slices them to about 1/4" thick. Next lay the slices on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper (aluminum foil also works). Sprinkle as little or as much as you'd like of sugar and cinnamon on the slices. You can also choose to go all natural and not season your slices at all. They are great either way! I usually do about half with sugar/cinnamon and half without anything.
Place sheets in the oven and bake at the lowest setting your oven will go (between 170-200 degrees) for about 6-8 hours. Yes it takes a long time, but it's well worth it. Do not be tempted to turn up the heat. You want to dehydrate the apple slices, not cook them. You can also use a dehydrater if you would rather.
To check if they are done, take a chip off the sheet and let it sit at room temperature for a few minutes. After cooling, it should break in half just like a chip. If after the apple has sat at room temp, it bends but doesn't break, let them bake a bit longer. When they are done, remove them from cookie sheet and store in an airtight container. Enjoy!
Meet Belle, the newest addition to our evergrowing animal family.
My husband and I both grew up with horses. My family owned them mainly as pets and my dad used them for hunting and packing. I loved my horse growing up and did a little barrel racing when I was a teen. My husbands family broke yearlings and raised race horses. So it seems fit that we should have one of our own. We bought this beautiful girl from my dad who has decided to slim down his little barnyard. We are very excited to have a horse of our own so that our boys can learn to appreciate and love this wonderful animal as my husband and I do.
I finally attempted my FIRST JELLY EVER over the weekend! I've always heard that crabapple jelly is delicious, even if the fruit it comes from isn't very tasty. My neighbor has a huge crabapple tree that is full of nearly ripe fruit, so I made dear hubby go ask them if I could have some. They told us to take as many as we want and the boys filled me up a box. I started with an apple box about 1/2 full (sorry I should have weighed them) and ended up with about 5 pints of finished jelly. After reading a few recipes and watching a youtube tutorial, this is what I did...
First, wash the fruit. I did not peel, core, or remove stems, because I would ONLY be using the juice(no pulp). Then put all the apples in a big pot and add just enough water to cover the apples. (Some will float, this is ok.) Bring water to boil, turn down to medium heat and simmer.
After simmering the whole apples for about 90 minutes, your apples should look like this...
(most peels will be floating and apples will pretty much be mush) Mmmm this makes your house smell so good too!
Now, remove the pan from heat. Using a jelly bag or flour sack towel (which is what I used since I don't have a jelly bag), strain the entire contents of the pot through a colander into another pot or large bowl. I set my colander on my pot, put my towel inside colander and spooned apples and liquid into the towel. Let the entire mixture drain into the pan for a few hours (I did this for about 2 hours). Do NOT squeeze or force juice through the towel or jelly bag. Doing so will make the juice cloudy instead of clear as some pulp will get through.
After letting the juice strain for a few hours, you will be left with peels, pulp, seeds and stems in the towel and clear wonderful juice in the pan! I had about 8 cups of juice after 2 hours. Crabapples have all the flavor of regular apples without the sweetness. They are very tart and bitter. You will need to add 3/4 to 1 C. of sugar per cup of juice. I added 6 C. sugar to my 8 C. juice. After adding the sugar, bring the juice to a boil, then simmer and stir frequently to avoid scorching. According to most of the directions I read, you don't need to add pectin, but mine wouldn't thicken up right. So I did end up using a box of pectin and it jellied perfectly. I recommend using the pectin. Skim the foam off frequently and just wait until the jelly starts to "jell', then it's time to bottle!
Now, many people wonder how to tell when it's thick enough? I used the plate method. I drop a spoonful of the cooking jelly onto a tea saucer, wait a minute or 2 and then check to see if it has a skin on the top and is the right consistency. You can also use a candy thermometer and let it reach 202 degrees (at sea level). Or use a spoon and just wait till the jelly drips off of it like jelly and not like water.
Clean and sterilize your jars. I used 8 oz. jelly jars and 4 oz. jelly jars (these little ones will go in Christmas gift baskets). Fill your hot jars with the hot jelly leaving 1/4" headspace, wipe rims with a damp rag before sealing and process in boiling waterbath for 5 minutes (adding 1 minute for every 1000 ft. above sea level.) Remove jars and let cool. It takes at least 24 hours for jelly to set (it will look like syrup at first). Do not shake or move the bottles for 24 hours. Then store your jelly in a cool dry place!
I've been working on some recipes for cleaning without chemicals. Some I have found on the internet and they work great. Others need a little tweaking and readjusting. Some I have been using for a long time and others are new. I'm trying really hard to green up my life and home. But I'm still having a little bit of an issue not using bleach. I love bleach. It just smells so clean and I know that it is killing nearly every flu/cold bug that it touches. So I'm still working on a disinfectant that doesn't involve my beloved bleach. This is what we use on a normal cleaning day in our "greener" home.
Window Cleaner...GOODBYE WINDEX! 2 T White Vinegar + 1 Gal Water
I use newspaper or coffee filters instead of paper towels (less streaking and a little better on the environment) I'd love to find some kind of rag or towel that works on glass and can be washed and reused! But I haven't found one yet that works as well as newspaper. I'll keep looking though!
Hardwood Floor Cleaner 1/2 C. Vinegar + 1 Gal. Warm Water
Most of my home has hardwood floors. I've always used this mixture to mop them. It stinks like vinegar for a little while, but the smell goes away and I have beautiful, glossy, hardwood floors when I am finished!
Kitchen/Bathroom Counters Dishsoap + Water Baking Soda Lemon Juice Usually I just use dishsoap and water (like dishwater) to wipe up my kitchen counters, stove and sink. Sometimes if they are really dirty I sprinkle some baking soda and scrub with a wet dishrag. Lemon juice works pretty good on sticky/yucky stuff. But I still use Bleach as my dsinfectant after chicken, eggs, meat, etc touch the counter tops.
Bathtub/Shower Baking Soda + Water Vinegar
Most of the time, I rinse out the shower and tile walls, Sprinkle baking soda, Scrub it down and Rinse again. If the tub is particularly grimy I will spray some vinegar, let it sit for a minute then scrub and rinse. Works really well!
Toilet I still use bleach!
I spray a mixture of 2 T bleach and a spray bottle full of warm water in and all around the toilet, then scrub/wipe clean. I also use this same spray on the floor around the toilet as I have all boys in my house and they tend to miss....A LOT!
Laundry 2 T. Homemade Laundry Detergent (recipe can be found here)
per normal load. A little less for less dirty loads, a little more for whites and heavily soiled loads
I'm still looking for a good dishwasher detergent recipe that I like that doesn't leave film and junk on my dishes.... So for now, I'm still using commercial detergent. But we do use vinegar instead of jet-dry!
As far back as I can remember, I have hated the taste of cantaloupe. So why is it the best growing thing in my garden? A few years ago, I was living in a small home on a small corner lot with no room for a garden. I decided to plant a few tomato plants next to the house anyway and try a cantaloupe seed just to see if I could get it to grow. Grow it did! I was so excited to see tiny little cantaloupes trailing out over my lawn. I thought, just maybe I will like it because it's homegrown! Nope, still hated the stuff.
My kids love it though. And I LOVE to grow it. Cantaloupe always grow exceptionally well in my gardens. I love the looks of the plant, the leaves, the cute little round fruit. I get so excited when I see those very first little fuzzy green fruit. I just wish I loved to eat it.
I think I'll be passing a few off to my neighbors this year. Out of 1 plant, I have 5 fruit nearly ripe and another 7 or 8 (that I can see) just getting started. And to think I would have double that if I hadn't accidentally pulled the other plant up while weeding :( I hope the warm weather holds out until they are finished.
I have been thinking about composting for about a year now. I'll be honest, at first it all seemed very complicated. I was a little put off at how much work it looked like and have pushed it out of my mind most of the summer. Finally I decided to check back into it and do more research. This second time around didn't seem quite as daunting. I've looked at manufactured composters, tumblers and homemade bins. After weighing all the pros and cons, we decided to make our own. We repurposed some wood pallets from my husbands work. Not only are we recycling, they were also free! I'll never complain about NOT spending money. We used 1 pallet for the floor, to keep air circulating under the pil,e and chose to only have 3 sides. Hubby still wants to put a door or something on the front. We'll figure that out later. I'll use a tarp to cover the top if we are getting too much moisture. I decided to go with 3 sides so that I can maintain it easily as far as watering and turning. We will see how it goes for now and modify as needed.
I found this great article at www.gardeners.com, All About Composting . It pretty much explains everything you need to know to make good compost, including types of bins. This is where I got the idea for the pallets. Before seeing that, I was leaning more toward a wire bin.
I've started with some dead dry weeds, kitchen scraps, dirt from the garden and a little bit of grass clippings. I'm so excited to have somewhere to throw my kitchen scraps instead of my trash! It's all a lot of practice for now, but like the saying goes 'Practice makes Perfect'!
A friend of mine had too much corn for her own family this year and offered up her field to anyone that wanted some. Since I didn't grow any this year, I jumped at the chance for fresh corn! I took home 28 ears. I saved 6 for dinner that night and decided to bottle the rest. This was the first time I have ever bottled corn or used a pressure canner. It was eventful to say the least. Let's start at the beginning... First I shucked and washed the corn.
Next I cut all of the corn from the cob. This is time cosuming and I did cut myself once or twice.
After that, I put all the corn in a pan, covered it with water and boiled it for 3 minutes. While waiting for the corn to boil, I started getting my bottles ready.
After the 3 minutes were up, I started filling my jars, sealing the lids and placing them in the canner.
Once the pressure canner got going at the right pressure, it was time to watch and wait. 102 minutes of waiting! Finally time was up! I took the pressure canner off the heat and let it sit while the pressure inside dissipated. After about 30 minutes, I took the lid off. I let it sit for another 30 minutes or so before deciding to remove the jars.
Now, future reference for anyone canning for the first time DO NOT let the hot bottle touch anything hard (such as a countertop) or this will happen....
Yes! They do become corn bombs! The jar slipped from the bottle gripper just as I was getting ready to set it on the pad and it barely touched the lip of my counter. The jar exploded into corn, glass and steaming liquid shrapnel! Luckily, I only ended up with 3 tiny burns from the scalding hot liquid. I've heard of it happening and honestly was a little afraid of it happening to me. But, it did, i survived, and now I know better. (I let the batch of green beans sit in the canner for about 5 hours before attempting removal!)
In the end, I have 4 beautiful bottles of corn. Picked, shucked, cooked and canned all by myself!
I have an overgrowth of summer squash this year. I pick at least 3 a day, which is way more than we can eat. Instead of letting it go bad in the garden, I have started freezing it. A year ago I didn't even know you could freeze squash! Thanks to taking steps to learning how to store my poduce I have learned many new things this year. Here is how I do it....
First, pick the squash and slice it (however you like).
Then get your water boiling to blanch it before freezing. I blanch mine in boiling water for about 3 minutes.
Next you move your squash immediately into ice water. This stops the cooking process. You will leave the squash here for another 3 minutes.
After you have cooled the squash, seal it in a freezer bag making sure to push as much air out as you can. I also like to dry my squash a little before putting it in the freezer bag. I lay down a clean dish towel and use a slotted spoon to scoop the squash onto it. Then pat it with another clean dishtowel. This helps keep the squash firmer and not so mushy when you defrost it.
Who would have thought preserving all that summer squash could be so easy!? You can also use these exact same instructions for zucchini and green beans!
Living a life of simplicity is not exactly an easy thing to accomplish in this day and age. I was not raised with chickens in my backyard and a milking cow in the barn. I was born and lived most of my childhood in a very large city. We did have a small garden most years, although it was more of a hobby to my parents than something to sustain life. We have always owned horses, but more for fun than anything else. In my teen years we moved to the "country". We did have chickens and ducks for a summer. We had a cow for another summer and now my parents keep 5 goats along with their 4 horses and 3 dogs. All of these are pets. My dad loved the idea of living on a "farm" but never really had the motivation to actually keep livestock. The animals only purposes were for the entertainment of us kids. Which was great until they got big or we got bored. But, at least I have a little knowledge to start with as I venture into a life of simpleness.
The new kids born this year (born in Feb. 2012)
Because of the economy and instability of the country (and well....world), we have decided to start keeping food storage and becoming more self sufficient. I also want my family to be greener and lessen our impact on the environment. My little family grows a garden every year. We get to eat wonderful fresh vegetables all summer/fall, but then it goes to waste. I've never canned/bottled anything. I have dehydrated a little fruit here and there for snacking, but nothing in such an amount that it would hold us over in an emergency. But for the most part, 70% of my home grown bounty goes bad before it is ever touched. This year I made a change. I planted things that we will eat and are able store. I will try my hand at canning and freezing. In fact, I've already frozen some summer squash and zucchini. A pretty good start if you ask me. My carrots didn't grow this year. I still haven't figured out why. I must have had a bad batch of seeds or something. My tomato plants look sickly, but we get about a handful of cherry tomatoes daily. My squash is growing like weeds! I have way more than I know what to do with. My green beans are kind of in the middle, have some growing and plants look great. We have quite a few jalepenos almost ready to pick (too bad we don't have any tomatoes to make fresh salsa with). I am growing cantaloupe like a mad woman! I hate cantaloupe, but I love growing it and my kids love eating it. We also planted 2 apple trees last year and a raspberry bush that tripled in size this year and gave us quite a good amount of perfect fresh berries. This year we planted 2 concord grape vines. They are doing well, but we won't know for another year or 2 how great the fruit will be.
This was our first pick of the year (5 squash, a handful of tomatos and peas, 3 peppers)
For now I will start this journey with learning to compost for next years garden, growing and preserving our fruits and vegetables and stocking up my pantry. I hope to have a few hens next year for eggs. I also just started making my own laundry detergent (much much cheaper) and cleaning supplies (also much cheaper and family/environment friendly).
I am really excited to learn to live better and with less dependency on my local big box store and bank account. Until next time...