Saturday, December 31, 2011

Ringing in the New Year!

We are enjoying a quiet new year with our traditional spread of appetizers and snacks, which include a veggie tray, layered bean dip with homemade tortilla chips, mozzarella sticks, tacos, bubbly and more. Wishing you and your family a blessed and promising 2012!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Staple Foods- Milk

I went shopping for some basics last week, you know, milk, sugar, flour,etc. and you can't help but notice how much food prices have gone up in the last 8-12 months. For example, at a local store that sells the Western Family brand, I had bought some dry beans for .98/lb. this spring. Those same beans are now $1.78/lb. That's a 55% increase in the price of a staple food item, not the 3-6% increase that the media tells you. In my little area of the PACNW, milk prices have remained relatively stable, at about $2.49/gallon over the past year or so. But I noticed that milk is creeping up, anywhere from $2.59-$3.19 a gallon. Dry milk prices are about $15 for a box that makes 5 gallons, so that works out to about $3/gallon. So it may be cheaper for some folks to buy nonfat dry milk and reconstitute it for drinking and baking.

Some people don't like the taste of nonfat dry milk, but where I grew up, our milk was frozen and barged in from Seattle and mom always mixed 1/2 reconstituted dry milk with 1/2 the regular milk from the store. There were times that if the barges didn't make it, we were drinking straight up powdered milk. I liked chocolate Nestle Quick in mine and my brother had Strawberry Quick in his. That was how mom got us to drink a tall glass of milk at every dinner. But I also had it on cereal and with cookies, and I drank it however we had it.

You can improve the taste of nonfat dry milk by adding a tsp. of sugar or vanilla to it. But I like it just plain, too. If I am running low on milk and am not going to be making a trip to town, or when money has been tight, I often mix up a quart of powdered milk, and add it to what is left in the gallon of milk that is in the fridge to stretch it. Just shake it up. You won't even notice. It is a good staple food item to have on hand. If you find it cheaper to buy, or necessary to use dry milk, here are some ways to use it.

To make 1 quart of milk, mix 3 3/4 C water with 1 1/3 C dry milk and mix well.

To make 1 Cup of milk, mix 1 C water with 1/3 C. dry milk and mix well.

Condensed Milk

(14 oz. can)
1/2 C. Hot Water
1 C. Dry Powdered Milk
1 C. Sugar
1 T. Butter
in blender or with beater.

Evaporated Milk
(12 oz. Can)
1-1/2 C. Water
1/2 C. + 1 T. Dry Powdered Milk
in blender or with beater.

Add a tablespoon of
lemon juice or white
vinegar to a cup of
milk and let it stand
for 5-10 min.

Whipped Topping
1/2 C ice water
1 TB lemon juice
1/2 C instant nonfat dry milk
3 TB sugar
1 tsp vanilla
Put water and lemon juice in a bowl and add instant nonfat dry milk, stirring until mixed. Beat until stiff with electric mixer, beat in sugar and vanilla. Use right away.

White Sauce Mix (Magic Mix)

Monday, December 26, 2011

Quiet Weekend

We had a quiet weekend here in our little neck of the woods. We actually got a heavy skiff of snow Sunday afternoon, so we had a white Christmas after all. We went to church and had a quiet Christmas morning opening presents and enjoying some great new pancakes that I discovered.The pancakes are made with whole wheat berries. I was sold on the idea that it was less work to make these whole wheat pancakes, because after all, I didn't have to grind the wheat. But, I was skeptical that the berries would break down in the blender and not have chunks of hard wheat grains that I would be biting down on and cracking a tooth. DH was eyeing the blender in amazement at how fast they broke down. I mean, have you ever tried to bite a wheat berry? They are hard! The pancakes were not gritty or tough, but pleasantly light, fluffy and delicious! And no chipped teeth. Here is the recipe:

Whole Wheat Pancakes

1 C milk
1 C dry wheat berries

Put the milk and whole wheat berries in a glass blender and blend on high for 5 min. until thick. Next add, 2 TB. oil, 2 TB honey or sugar, 2 tsp. baking powder, 2 eggs and a pinch of salt, blend on med. speed for about 30 sec to mix. Pour onto heated and greased griddle, turn when bubbly and cook on other side until light brown. This made 14 pancakes. Serve with butter, syrup or whatever you like. Enjoy!

Here's Cooper enjoying a warm fire after all the frenzy of opening Christmas presents.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas and Holiday Blessings

Merry Christmas and blessings to you and your family during this
wonderful season of Christmas.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Is There a Chicken Shrink in the House?

BO decided to get off the nest the other day, Wednesday, and in her place were a black sex link and a RI Red. She was in another corner of the barn, on the floor of course. DH said she had been off the nest most of the day and in her new spot. So, here we have a clutch of eggs that she had been brooding on for a week, and then she changes her address. I don't know if the other 2 pullets were trying out her method of squatting in a corner, but I sure wish I had taken a picture. I don't know if they were laying eggs, taking turns with her keeping the eggs warm, trying to be copycats, or what.

Now, what to do with the eggs. You see, I don't keep tabs on BO cock, so I don't know who he is servicing, or what. But I do know that I don't want to collect the eggs and break one open into the frying pan only to find a chick embryo. Ick! Call me squeamish, but that would just about put me over the top and then I'd never want an egg again. Instead, I had DD collect the eggs on the floor of the barn and get rid of them.

But whom do I find on the original nest yesterday and today? My confused BO pullet. Is this what they call sowing your wild oats in the chicken world? She is starting all over again. I would have left the first batch, but hubby said she hadn't been on them at all, and there were the other 2 squatting, or laying, or doing whatever on the clutch. I am hoping there is some chicken shrinks out there to help me out. Next time, do I just leave the eggs that appear abandoned? I know she has to get off to get food and water, but honestly, she just let 2 other hens hijack her clutch and then abandon it. Does she know she is starting over? What if she gets off in 2 weeks? I can't make chickens or eggs out of her. The last time I had a hen brood, she did so out of sight. We never even knew she had been brooding until one day she appeared in the barn with a dozen adorable little chicks. I will try to be patient and let her sort out her nesting instincts.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Christmas Gifts

We never know what to give my MIL for Christmas. DH usually makes something homemade for her. It seems that there is always one or two people in each family that are difficult to shop for. I used to give her homemade canned treats like maple pecan sauce, cranberry-orange relish, or salsa. But then we would be at her house the following year and there they sat, unopened in her cupboard. So, now, DH is the only lucky one to try and rack his brain about what he can make that will please her. We hope she likes it. Do you think he made me one, too? I will find out in 5 more days. I hope so.

This year he made her this elk cutout for her entry on her front porch, or inside in the foyer.

Last year he made me this elk light switch cover.

The year before he made me this oil candle holder with a mamma bear and 2 cubs. You can see the 2 cubs in the photo. This was harder for him to make as he drew the bears free hand and the hand filing was time consuming.

Random pics from our drive this afternoon.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Musings and Cookies

If you've read my blog the last couple of days then you know about my BO sitting on a clutch of eggs on the floor of the barn in the dead of winter. The pic I posted yesterday showed her with some of the eggs the other pullets had laid around her because she was in their "spot." Well, I wasn't wearing gloves and picked up 2 of the eggs that were furthest from her beak reach, leaving the others that were within striking distance with her, on the assumption that I would return later with gloves and be able to grab them unscathed by a sharp, blood drawing peck on the hand. Yes, I know your're thinking it, go ahead, yes, I was chicken to grab the eggs. I know...
Of course, when I went out later, they were gone. Yep, she had added them to her clutch. Now, those eggs are newer than what she already has under her, I can't help but wonder how often while I was gone at work that she snuck more eggs to brood. Good heavens, Lord knows how many eggs are under her, and I don't want to take the chance disturbing her and then she leaves the eggs for good. I will keep you informed of her progress.

Our 2 daughters are off on the big adventure of driving to the city to go Christmas shopping, which is 45 min. away. We have a couple of stores in town and some quaint (expensive) stores in downtown, so they had to go to "the mall" to shop. They stopped along the way at Target to check out what they had. They've been gone for 3 hours and just called. They just finished lunch and are heading home. They found everything they wanted at Target. I have to tell you this because I hate to say it but they are victims of our secular public school and "have" to shop at American Eagle, Rue 21 and other stores that I hate. They "need" to have the name brands. I got away with buying at Target when they were little, but once middle school hit, forget it. That's when they found themselves buying a lot of clothes with their own money, and even then only if it passed mom's inspections. Like, no cleavage showing. No skinny jeans. No inappropriate slogans, pictures or anything else. I can't understand parents (?) who allow their children to cloak themselves with images of death, you know, skulls, dark images, and the like. Why on earth would anyone WANT to represent death and wear signs of death? It is an invitation towards evil if you want my opinion. Anyway, I am secretly smiling inside, because now that they both have jobs and DD18 is living on her own, money is a much more precious commodity. DD18 is paying her way through college. They both like to buy clothes and I totally understand because I did too when I was their age. But they are both making frugal inexpensive choices. Yeah! They spent less than they budgeted. I am so proud of their choices and they didn't even "have to go to the mall."

DD18 is gluten free. I am putting together a gift basket for her for Christmas with gluten free items and I am shopping for a gluten free cookbook. I made Christmas cookies today with gluten free flour just for her so she can enjoy some Christmas cookies. They actually turned out pretty good, very flaky. I have made these cookies every year since I was a child and I still have the original cookie molds. Here is my recipe:

Merry Christmas Cookies

1 1/2 C flour (I used Augason Farms Featherlite flour for the gluten free cookies)
1/2 C softened butter
3/4 C powdered sugar
1 egg yolk
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
1-2 TB milk if dough is too dry
Blend in mixer until it forms a dough. Divide into 24 portions and press into cookie molds, or roll out 1/4 in. thick on floured surface and cut with cookie cutters. Lightly brush with milk and decorate with sprinkles, etc. Bake at 350 for 8-12 min or until lightly browned on edges. Enjoy!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

BO on Nest

Here's a pic with my new camera of my Buff Orpington (BO) on her clutch. I put some straw next to her this morning for her nest, along with some scratch to eat. You can see there's just a few pieces of straw that she didn't use. The eggs you see were laid today from the other pullets.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Chicken Timing

I just love having chickens around. You get to eat the most delicious and freshest eggs every day, they eat pesky little bugs around your place, and it's just plain fun to have them around to watch. But they are are not the brightest, and think about the little sayings folks picked up over the years by observing them. "Hen Pecked, pecking order, scared as a chicken, running around like a chicken with it's head cut off, she's no spring chicken, they laid an egg, don't chicken out, that's chicken feed, don't count your chickens before they hatch, scared as a chicken, when the chickens come home to roost, go to bed with the chickens, if it isn't chicken, it's feathers, and it's a chicken and egg situation." I'm sure there are more but I can't think of any right now off the top of my head. If you know one, go ahead and add it in a comment.

Well, my point is that they are not that smart. Most animals and birds have their young in the spring and summer, when the temperatures are warmer and the days are longer. That just makes sense for viability issues. We have had a Buff Orpington brooding on the floor of the hen house. There is a corner where several chickens have gotten in the poor habit of laying eggs on the floor, and not in the boxes. I noticed about 2 weeks ago when I went out to put them up for the night, that she was sitting in the corner and didn't get up and run out the door like a scaredy cat chicken usually does. The next morning she was not on the eggs and they were cold, so I collected them. I think she was doing a dry run, because now, she has been on the eggs for the last three days when we have gone out in the morning and evening. I guess if she was doing a dry run, that would mean she has some forethought. I don't know how many eggs there are, but I would love to have little chicks running around. They are so cute. But it is December, and here it has been cold and foggy with lows of 10-14 to highs of 28 the last 3 weeks. The chicks take 3 weeks to incubate, so we could very well have snow on the ground, wind, and obviously, more cold weather. I hope she does brood and we get some little chicks. I hope with that little pea brain of hers, she knows what she is doing. I hope as well that they will survive. We have a pen where we will put them away from the others when (if) they hatch. I don't know that I agree with her timing, but I am hopeful. I will keep you posted.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Making Your Own Cleaners and Detergent

Cleaners, and detergents are expensive. About ten years ago I went on a kick to make my own to save money, feel a sense of accomplishment, and just for the fact that I could, and they would be just as good as the store bought stuff. All were successful, except for my flypaper strips. Let me tell you about these. I picked up a book called Cheaper and Better by Nancy Birnes. There are a lot of food recipes, clothing care, personal care, children's play items, and holiday ideas. It is a super resource and I have adapted many of her ideas. But fly paper was not one of those super fantastic ideas.

"These hairy, speckled items (fly paper) could be the ugliest-looking thing in the world, but if you want to get rid of flies in places where you don't mind looking at their dead bodies hanging stuck on long strips of paper, then this is just the ticket. You can hang them in out of the way places like barns, sheds, and even in guest bedrooms."

I was convinced that I could make these and hang them out at the barn and hen house to reduce the infective numbers of flies that we get in the summer time around here. So I followed the recipe.

Fly Paper

2 C milk
2 TB black pepper
2 TB white sugar
2 TB brown sugar
brown paper bags cut into strips

Boil the milk, pepper and sugars together for 5 min. Simmer uncovered for 5 min. more, until thick and let cool. Wind the paper strips into a tight roll and drop into the milk mixture. Let become completely saturated. Rewind strips and let them air dry on a cookie sheet. They are ready to use when sticky to the touch. Suspend from wherever flies are a problem.

DH got home from work that afternoon and I showed him my latest attempt at being self sufficient and creative. He was like,"Gross, what on earth is that?" "Homemade fly paper. We'll just hang it up and the flies will stick to it like the store bought kind. The book says they're just the ticket." He tried to be supportive, but I could tell he had his doubts. He was secretly laughing. We hung them up all over the place. And waited. Friends came over and were like, "What is that?" I tried to explain how I was being frugal and thrifty and homemade items were just as useful and effective as store bought. "Than how come there aren't any flies stuck to the paper?" Not one fly to be had. Yes, these were a real disaster. We both have had a good laugh about that over the years.

I have been making my own laundry detergent for a year and a half now, and it works just as well as the store bought and costs pennies to make. Here are some tried and tested recipes that work.

Laundry Detergent

3 pints water
1/3 bar Fels Naptha Soap, grated (1/3 C)
1/2 C Arm and Hammer Washing Soda, NOT baking soda
1/2 C 20 Mule team borax
2 gal. bucket
hot water
You can get the Fels Naptha, washing soda, and borax at Fred Meyer. Look on the top or bottom shelf.

Mix the grated Fels Naptha in a sauce pan with 3 pints water and heat on low until dissolved. Stir in Arm and Hammer Washing Soda and 20 Mule team borax. Stir until completely dissolved. Add 1 qt. hot water to the 2 gal. bucket. Add soap mixture and mix well. Fill bucket with hot water and mix well. Set aside overnight. It will gel and kind of separate when you mix it again. Don't worry. Just use 1/2 C of mixture per load of laundry. That's all you need, I promise. I even have a large capacity washer. I do like to add 2 TB. of softener when I wash laundry. It helps with the static and clothes are softer.

Fabric Softener

2 C baking soda
2 C white vinegar, or herbal vinegar
4 C water

Mix ingredients in a plastic container. Label. To use, add 1/8-1/4 C to final rinse water in your washing machine, or in the fabric softener receptacle in you washer.


Kris Watson over at Simply Living has a wonderful Windex/409 recipe.

Windshield Washer Fluid

3 C isopropyl alcohol
1 TB liquid detergent or soft soap
10 C water

Pour alcohol and detergent into a clean gallon size plastic jug and add water. Shake well. Label. To use, shake well and pour into car's windshield washer compartment.

All Purpose Cleaner

1 C ammonia
1 C washing soda, NOT baking soda (Arm and Hammer)
14 C warm water.

Pour ammonia and washing soda into a clean gallon size jug. Add 2 C warm water and shake jug to mix. Fill the jug with the rest of the water. Close and label. To use, pour 1/2 C of solution in a bucket and fill with warm water. Great for scrubbing wall surfaces or floors. For small jobs, fill a spray container (label) and use full-strength on appliances and tile, or any washable surface.

Coffee Pot Cleaner

1 C white vinegar
1 C water

Mix together and pour into your automatic coffee pot reservoir. Turn on and run solution through. Discard solution, or fill your thermos and let soak for 30 min. Fill reservoir with clean water and run coffee pot again to rinse.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Advice Needed

I need your help. Many of you know that my camera died and I had already had it repaired a couple of years ago. It is a Kodak Easy Share and has the camera dock that charges the camera and prints pictures. I don't know if I want to get another one. You may also remember that my computer up and died in October and we had one built and I got a new printer at that time.

To complicate matters, when all my files were transferred from my old hard drive to my new computer, none of my pictures from my computer transferred that were on the Kodak program, only pics that I had moved to another folder. So, sad to say, I have very few pictures that were taken over the last 4 1/2 years because they were not backed up elsewhere. So, vacations, basketball, volleyball, 4-H, birthdays, Christmas, etc, are gone forever.

They guys at the computer store told me that they keep the old hard drives for a couple of months when they gave us our new one. Well...yeah. They've never been able to find it. So it is lost in the heap of disorganization and gone forever. So, my advice I need is, what kind of camera do you recommend? My new HP printer has picture printing capabilities and a place for an SD card. I need something inexpensive since we have been spending up a storm with a new computer and sets of snow tires for 2 cars. Any advice or suggestions are appreciated.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Good Morning and Welcome

I am busy with the last 2 weeks of school before Christmas break and holiday baking, but I wanted to welcome Vicki and Rob's Bunker. I'll post more later this week. Have a good one.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Apples and Eggs

I'm still trying to gain headway with my apple abundance. If you've been reading my blog, you know that I have made apple cider, apple coffee cake, apple pie filling, applesauce, and dehydrated apples over the course of several weekends. Today I dehydrated another batch. Still got more to go. A reader suggested making apple butter, which would make good Christmas gifts. I may still do that. I guess all I can do is to keep plodding along.

Along with an overage of apples, we get about 8-9 eggs a day. At least, that's the eggs that I find in the hen house. I occasionally find clutches of eggs in odd places, like under the tractor mower attachment. We let our chickens free range during the day, and then put them up at night. So, since we don't go through that many eggs on a daily basis, we have way too many. DH sells some to a coworker, and I have mentioned that I have eggs at work, but no one seems to want them. So, here we are with eggs coming out our ears. Not to mention that I have gotten very creative in the frig.

Finally, after 17 years, DD17 is eating eggs. But, only if they are hard boiled. So, if you raise chickens or are lucky enough to have access to fresh eggs, then you know how frustrating it is to hard boil a fresh egg. See, it just doesn't work. Why? Because the eggs are fresh and the yolk and white take up the whole inside of the egg. So when you hard boil them and then go and try to peel one, yeah, they don't peel. The white is still kind of attached to the shell. The egg will kind of have shell and white come off in grotesque chunks. Not the kind of egg you want on your deviled egg party tray this Christmas.

For the best hard boiled eggs, you need to age the eggs. I mean, they need to be hanging out in your frig for 4-5 weeks for the best results. And put them in the carton with the narrow end down. This way, some of the white evaporates through the pores of the egg. This leaves a little air pocket in the larger end of the egg. You can check to see if your eggs are ready for hard boiling by putting them in a pan of water. If they lay flat on their side, they are too fresh. If the large end floats up a tad bit, or really sticks up in the water, they are perfect. That means there is an air pocket. Now, if your egg totally floats, get rid of it! It has spoiled.

For perfect hard boiled eggs, put them in cold water and check that the big end stands up a bit in the water. Next, bring them to a boil. When the water boils, turn off the heat, but leave the pan on the burner. Set the timer for 16 min. When the time is up, immediately chill with ice water. You will find that your eggs will peel smoothly because that air pocket allows space between the white and shell. Your yolk will be fully cooked but will not have that nasty greenish-gray coloring around the yolk. That is from over cooking your eggs. I should mention that the 16 min. is for large to extra large eggs. If you have medium eggs, cook for 15. min. I have found that this method works for me every time, although, I do on occasion, get that one egg that just refuses to peel.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Pantry Essentials, Easy & Economical White Sauce Mix

I have posted some of my trusted recipes, but the past couple of weeks really reminded me of how much I relay on pantry basics. DH looks in the pantry and sees a mess and nothing to eat, but I look at my pantry and see endless possibilities, much like I look in his shop and see a disaster, but he sees numerous projects beckoning. DH mentioned that he would like to help out more in the kitchen since I am working full-time now, and he is off 3 days during the work week. He wants to get really good at making several dinners, so he can always be a help in the kitchen.

Lately, I have been making a lot of white sauces to make macaroni and cheese, tuna casserole, Swedish meatballs, and lasagna to name a few. I have chosen to make my own white sauce rather than use canned cream of __________ (fill in the blank) soups. They are expensive and it only takes an extra 5 min. to make your own sauce. Plus, I have to say, homemade sauce tastes so much cleaner and fresher than the canned soups that you won't want to ever go back. The soups always have that chemical taste and just don't taste clean. I was at the store today and a can of the Western Family brand of cream of chicken soup was $1.18! Way too much to pay.

Now, DH is handy in the kitchen when it comes to making toast or heating up a can of chili. But for me to try and show him how to melt butter in the saucepan (which I didn't measure but eyeballed), and then whisk in flour (again, eyeballed), then stir with a whisk now and then for a couple of minutes to get the flour taste out, and then to add milk, yeah, again, without measuring, just until it looks right, is like me in his shop with power tools, a bolt, and a slab of wood. So, I told him I would whip up a batch of master mix and show him how easy it is to make.

It's easy, simple and economical, and tastes great! Here is my version of the mix. You can find variations on the internet. I also included ideas to make a cheese sauce, and condensed soups. I use this sauce as a base in many recipes that call for a white sauce, or condensed soups.

Magic Mix
(white sauce mix)

4 C nonfat dry milk
1 C flour
¼ C corn starch
1 C butter or shortening (or a combination)

Combine all very well with a pastry blender, or better yet, with a food processor or mixer.

To use, combine 2/3 C Magic Mix with 1 ¼ to 1 ½ C water, and simmer until thick. You can start with less water and add more if you want a thinner sauce.

Store in your refrigerator in a coffee can. I add a piece of masking tape with the basic white sauce recipe.


Cheese Sauce
2/3 C Magic Mix
1 ¼ C water
1-2 C shredded cheddar cheese (parmesan works well for an Alfredo sauce)
Combine Magic Mix and water over Med. Heat stirring until thick. Add cheese and stir until well blended. This is a good base for mac and cheese, or over pasta.

Cream of Chicken soup, condensed
1 C. Magic Mix
3/4 C. Chicken Broth (either from a can, bouillion, or liquid from canned chicken)
1 t. Dry Parsley
Dash of Onion Salt
Combine and stir over Med. Heat until thick. Use in recipes for condensed chicken soup.

Cream of Mushroom Soup, condensed
1 C Magic Mix
1 4.5 oz. can Mushroom pieces and stems, drain, but save liquid (or use dehydrated mushrooms and use leftover water)
1/4 C. Water + water from mushrooms (3/4 C total)
Dash of Onion Salt
1-2 drops Kitchen Bouqet, optional
Combine and stir over Med. Heat until thick. Use in recipes for condensed mushroom soup.

Cream of Celery Soup
1 C. Magic Mix
¾ C. Water from Cooking Celery
1 C. Chopped Celery, cooked and drained (or use dehydrated celery and use the water left over from hydrating the celery as my water)
Pinch of Celery Seed
1 t. Dry Parsley Flakes (optional)
Combine magic mix and water from cooking celery. Stir constantly over medium-high heat until it thickens. Add in celery, celery salt and parsley. Use in any recipe calling for canned Cream of Celery soup.