Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Homemade Yogurt... it's not as hard as it seems

Homemade yogurt sounds like one of those intimidating things that you need special skills and a "yogurt maker" for.  I have a recipe that is nice and simple and you can do it without a bunch of special anything!

Here are the supplies and ingredients that you will need:

-1 quart whole milk (recipe calls for non-homogenized but I don't know if that's necessary)

-1/2 c good quality commercial plain yogurt

-candy thermometer

Heat the milk to 180 degrees on the stove.  A double boiler is recommended but I don't have one and we do fine without it.  I set the burner to med-high and check the milk's temperature every 5 minutes until it reaches 180.

Pull the milk off the stove and let it cool until it reaches 110 degrees.  This can take a while.  I would check the temperature every twenty minutes or so until it reaches 110.  Once it gets to 110 put in the yogurt and whisk.  (Don't rush this step, if you put in the yogurt when it's above 110 you could kill the enzymes and you won't get good yogurt.)

Next, place the yogurt in a shallow glass, enamel, or stainless steel container.  Cover the container and place in a warm oven (a gas oven with a pilot light or electirc oven pre-heated to warm and then turned off) overnight. 

In the morning, transfer to the refrigerator.

Monday, June 14, 2010

My Messy Living Room

I promised to get real on this blog so here goes.  I'm sure none if it ever gets this bad in your own homes but orderliness is not my strong suit.  ...oh, how I try...  I don't know what's deficient in me that seems to be so amply provided in others but chaos seems to reign supreme most days around here.
So here's a "get real" picture of what's going on in my living room right now:

Yup...this is for real.  Let me take you on a tour....

On your left you see what I call "Mt. Never-rest"  That chair is perpetually holding laundry that is waiting to be sorted and delivered.  Why we can't just run through a load a day and get it to completion by the end of the day is beyond me.

Above Mt. Never-rest is a picture that is clearly too small for the space.  Doesn't it look ridiculous there?  I obviously need something bigger.  But I digress...back to chaos.

Next to Mt. Never-rest and on the coffee table are a bunch of trash bags. (Yup, there's a coffee table shoved against the hutch.  Why is it shoved there and not sitting politely in front of a couch you ask?  No clue.  It's often there 'cause the kids move it aside to do sleepovers, dance shows, etc) These trash bags are working in partnership with the blue tubs stacked in front of the coffee table.  They are all full of either all the summer clothes that the kids either think look too dorky to be seen on their bodies OR winter clothes that need to go into storage.  (Why are they not in storage you ask?  Because I want to clean out and organize the garage a bit before re-filling it with MORE STUFF...you should see our garage...but that will be for another day....)

Next to that beautiful 200 year old hutch that's buried in BLECH is a 1 year old bookshelf I cobbled together out of cement blocks I dug out of the mud behind our house and wire racks from the garage.  Did I mention I homeschool?  That means I have a lot of books.  I have no place for them.  My dear husband, whom I love, bought $400 worth of lumber to build us a wall-to-wall floor-to-ceiling bookcase that has been sitting in the garage for the past 2 (or is it 3) years half stained.  Love him, I really do.  But I am getting desperate for the bookshelf so last summer I invented my own.  Butt-ugly but it holds the books.  (I was kinda hoping it would make him feel a little guilty when he saw what I had to resort to but I don't think he did! lol)  As you can see both the beautiful 200 year old hutch and the butt-ugly 1 year old bookshelf have books lying all cock-a-mamie on them because I cannot reach either of them to put the books away properly.

Why am I showing you this?  Well, to make you feel like you're not alone with your own little pile of chaos that you have somewhere in your life.  Maybe it's not as big and ugly as mine, or maybe it's worse, but, please know I share your pain.

By the way, this space will be completely transformed by Friday night because my Dad just told me he'd like to come out to visit us over the weekend.  Yikes!  This is not the only pile of chaos that I have.  I have many.  I will be conquering some mountains this week while still trying to do all the other stuff I have to do.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

A Bread Miracle!

Bette Hagman is a genius.

I have a daughter who is sensitive to gluten.  She doesn't have celiac disease but she does have a disorder that causes her to react to gluten.  Once we became aware of the fact that our daughter can't have gluten we have provided her with gluten-free alternatives.  For bread she eats rice bread.  She may also be sensitive to artificial ingredients, so we have a very limited selection of rice breads that we can buy for her...basically ONE brand of bread which has all natural ingredients.  The bread is okay as toast or fried on a griddle, but it's not great.  I have wanted to give her bread that she can really enjoy eating and thanks to Bette Hagman, tonight I was able to do just that.

Bette Hagman has written an entire cookbook on gluten-free breads.  I have tried my first recipe tonight and it knocks the socks off any homemade white bread I would ever imagine eating.  It was so delicious I was actually a little jealous that she would be getting this all the time while we are stuck eating regular wheat bread!  (Yes, we could all eat her bread, but it's more expensive than wheat so I'll save it just for her...most of the time!)

Here's the cookbook:

The recipe that I started out with is her "Basic Bread".  The ingredient list is far from "basic" let me tell you.  Here's all the ingredients in one place:

Let me tell you what's in this loaf:
-egg replacer
-garfava flour
-sorghum flour
-xanthan gum
-tapioca flour
-corn starch
-apple cider vinegar
(and milk or water, your choice)

She has you make this "bread mix"...like that "Make-A-Mix" cookbook from long ago.  I pre-measured pretty large quantities of most of those ingredients shown above and stirred them together in a giant bowl.  Then measured just a couple of cups of the "bread mix" into another bowl, added the remaining ingredients to it and whipped it up good in the blender, poured it into a bread pan, let it rise, baked it a while, and Voila!  A gluten-free bread miracle!

This isn't a great picture but here goes:

The slice looks weird because I spread it with butter to make it look more scrumptious but instead it just looks..."glumpy".  Can you see how "holey" it looks?  It's just the most tender delicious stuff ever.

Thank you Bette Hagman for all your hard work.  My daughter's life is better for it.

Honest Pretzels

I'm trying to feed my family better.  My goal is organic meats and veggies, pastured milk, no artificial anything.  That makes for expensive eating...especially compared to what we were paying for food before.  We ate the processed foods that were cheap:  hot dogs, mac n cheese, frozen pizza.  We have a tight budget so every dollar counts. 

One idea I had to increase health while keeping spending down was to cook some meals vegetarian.  One of the most famous vegetarian cookbook authors is Mollie Katzen.  She authored the Moosewood Cookbook.  If you want to cook vegetarian, she's the one to go to I guess.  Anyhow, never having been a vegetarian cook I decided to go to her for some recipe ideas.  Easy recipe ideas.  Easy and cheap recipe ideas.  What I discovered was a cookbook she's written for kids called "Honest Pretzels".  Kid cooking I can do.

So far every recipe I've tried from there has been a home run.  It's all delicious! (Except maybe the tomato soup recipe...it seemed curdled and not smooth.  Blech.  But that may have been my fault because I may have let it cook too long with the milk in there.)  She does use white flour and sugar, but that's easy enough to sub out.  The kids love the food and so do us parents.

I do have a certain degree of guilt using this cookbook because I'm standing there alone doing the recipes instead of having quality time with one of my 4 daughters cooking together like the author intended.  I really stink at involving them in the cooking.  I'm working on improving in that area.

Here are some of our favorites from her cookbook:

-Yogurt Pancakes
-Grilled Cheese and Broccoli Sandwich
-Cream Cheese and Apricot Sandwich
-Apple Yogurt Salad
-Creamy Corn Soup

My Kitchen Sink

Okay so this is my kitchen sink.  This is actually pretty doggone clean compared to how it normally looks.  I'll post a picture of how bad it can get another time. 

So...what do we have here? 

Well, starting at the top we have the view out the window.  I love our yard.  Very woodsy.  It's not a giant yard but it's very natural.  It's my favorite thing about living in this house.  As you can see, there is a grey fence out there.  That is my neighbor's fence.  Before they got the bright idea to put up a solid 6 foot high fence around their property and plow down all the foliage, we had this beautiful illusion that we lived in the woods.  Now, we get to see their fence every day and see their "yard" every day where before there wasn't a yard, just woods.  Grrrrr.  And, if I may, they don't even have young kids that go out and play in the yard!  That I could understand, but, they did all of this for a dog they bought that goes out to pee and then runs back in the house.

Next you see an index card pinned to the window frame.  On that card is a prayer request from a woman in my homeschool group.  We pass out prayer requests every month.  I enjoy being able to pray for her needs when I'm at the sink.

Next you see a gallon-sized ziploc baggie hanging from the curtain rod.   I am trying to economize by re-using my ziplocs.  Not the little ones, but the biggies. 

Moving onto the counter and starting at your left you will see a stack of Ikea cups and bowls.  These are so handy.  I have limited cupboard space (or don't know how to use it right) so for now they live on the counter.

Next we have the hand washables drip drying in the dish rack.  And next to them the empty sink.  Just above the sink you will see two paintbrushes that I've washed from one of the kids' art projects and they will sit there for months until I finally return them to their home.

To the right of the sink you will see liquid dishwashing soap and my ugly cup that holds my dish scrubbies.  I would like to hide them but I use them all the time so I think it just needs to sit out.  Next to that you see the dishwasher detergent that I was too lazy to put in the cupboard, then an empty bottle that I've been putting off cleaning for a month, then my spray countertop cleaner.  I'm sure I could hide the kitchen cleaning supplies...but where?  Do other people hide theirs?  If we hide them, is that creating that artificial veneer that everything is perfect at the expense of real life?

The rest of the stuff on the counter is my bread making supplies.  I didn't sit it out "on display" for you to see, I was just about to make some bread so it was all sitting out.  I make two loaves at a time because that's all my Kitchenaid can handle and I'm too lazy to knead my own at this time :).  I would like to make four at a time though.

Well, that's my kitchen sink.  Feel free to send me a REAL picture of yours and a description so we can "get REAL" together!

Homemade Hashbrowns

Store-bought hashbrowns have artificial ingredients added so we make our own.  Making hashbrowns is a great way to use up leftover cooked potatoes.  How often have you tossed leftover potatoes because they're too much of a pain to reheat and aren't as good the second time anyhow.  When you turn them into hashbrowns, it's like eating for free!

What you'll need:

-leftover baked or boiled potatoes
-olive oil/butter/bacon drippings
-salt and pepper

 Here's the basic rundown: take leftover baked or boiled potatoes and grate them.  Grate an onion and get your griddle nice and hot.  Generously coat the griddle with the fat of your choice (if olive oil, don't heat the griddle as high), sprinkle on the potatoes, then the onions, then salt and pepper.  Seperate them into squares that will be easy to flip with your spatula.  Let 'em sit and sizzle for a while until nice and brown on one side, then flip them and fry the other.

As you can see, I left a gap for eggs.  I'll throw eggs on the griddle close to when the hashbrowns are done.

One little thing, if you want to prepare potatoes exclusively for hashbrowns the next morning, here's what I've found works the best...but I'm not a cook, so take this with a grain of salt:  cut up and put the potatoes in a pot of water and heat to boiling.  Once it begins to boil, shut off the burner and go to bed.  In the morning, drain them and pat them dry and you'll have nice hashbrown-ready potatoes.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Passionate Housewives

This book is sold through Vision Forum. I love Vision Forum...they cast such a vision of Christian homeschooling life. Every man is noble, every woman is lovely, and every child is obedient. They paint a picture that is soooo beautful. I want to live in their picture...and I wonder what the people that are fully attempting to "live the Vision Forum life" do when find that they fall short of this beautiful ideal every single day? What do they feel when they lay their heads on their pillows at night and feel like their families have failed to reach that ideal? I am glad that I am not surrounded by Vision Forum families. If we all put on this veneer of beauty and domestic perfection toward one another, I think I would crumble with discouragement.

But anyhow...I still love the picture they paint of "Biblical Domesticity to the Glory of God". It is my little private dream that I strive towards. (You'd never know by looking at us, but I do.)

My friend and I have decided to read through this book together and discuss it. We had our first discussion today. We covered the Preface and Chapter 1. Here's what we LIKED:

"As we have pried our covetous fingers off those things that are not for us and instead clung to God with all our might, we have found our desperation met with mercy, strength, and power by our loving and powerful Savior. While it may seem counterintuitive, the lesson is true: living MORE for self will only keep us further from that true joy we're after as women."

"If we find ourselves in a position where we feel that serving our families gets in the way of serving Christ's Kingdom, then we should fall on our faces and repent...Serving our family IS serving the Kingdom."

Here's what we DIDN'T LIKE:

There is a statement in the book that is presented as a worldy lie: "If you don't make time for yorself, no one else will!"

We didn't agree with their assertion that it is wrong to make time for ourselves. At this point in our walks we do believe that it is important to make time for ourselves, to recharge and renew. Many acts of service to our families are draining. The tank gets empty and we need time to refill. One of may favorite expressions in this regard is this: "I need to take care of my kid's mom." If I don't take care of my kid's mom and my husband's wife then I become an exhausted irritable screaming shrew. Maybe the Vision Forum ladies don't...but I do :). So, I believe in taking time for myself...thus this blog.

Homer Price

I've been reading Homer Price to my two younger kids lately and I absolutely love the illustrations. The kids love the storyline but my favorite aspect of this story are the illustrations....they are so sweet and nostalgic. The author and illustrator of this book is Robert McCloskey. He's the same author that wrote and illustrated "Make Way for Ducklings" and I think also "Blueberries for Sal". He draws such lovely illustrations of days past. This is a good read-aloud for elementary kids and for strong elementary readers to read to themselves, too.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

My Dogs Are Barking!

So last summer I thought I'd stepped on a stone and bruised my heel. I waited for it to heal but it only got worse and eventually both feet were in pain. Finally I went to see the doctor and he confirmed what I suspected: plantar fasciitis. I'm sure I have the worst case in the history of feet. Sometimes it hurts so bad I walk like I've got a serious physical handicap. In fact, for all intents and purposes I AM handicapped to some degree. The intense pain has handicapped me.
So, first I started out with exercises and pricey shoes. I'm told I can never pad around in barefeet again....ever....in my life. Harumph. I believe that people were designed by God to be barefoot. I don't think He designed us to need $100 shoes with good arch support. But he also didn't design us to be carrying an extra 50 pounds of body fat for most of our adult lives, either...so there. It's my own fault I suppose for being overweight AND barefoot. If you're overweight, I advise you look into shoes with good arch supports and wear them...to avoid this terrible agony later in life.
Anyhow, so 3 pairs of pricey shoes were purchased and I was full of hope that my days of pain and limited mobility would be over. Nope. I'm sure I'm better off with the pricey shoes, but I'm still DYING by the end of the day.
So, then I tried this "Sports Rub" with Emu Oil and Peppermint Oil. It claims to help with muscle aches....and it does. I'm in pain, I rub some on my feet, the inflamation reduces and I feel better! ....temporarily. But temporarily is better than never so I've been rubbing regularly. My feet smell like your Grampa's candy dish. Mmmmm....yummy. But, the painful inflamation is the reaction of my feet to something going WRONG down there and even though the lotion reduces the pain, the "wrongness" is continuing and the pain returns.
Today, however, is a day to hope for a change. Today I received my very own pair of custom designed orthotics. I finally hobbled my way to a specialist and he had a nurse tape my feet and see if I felt any better. I really did feel better for a few days until the tape stretched out so he believes these things will help me. At $450 a pair I hope they do! They are sorta "floppy" and already seem to be peeling off at the heel so I'm not sure how they are going to make "the difference", but I really hope that this is the magic bullet.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Yummy Healthy Chili

We made some yummy chili tonight and wanted to pass on the recipe. This will make a nice, big pot and served the 6 of us with some to spare. We would have had more to spare but we were famished since I couldn't get dinner on the table until 8 pm and there was no butter for making cornbread so all we had to go with it was the blop of sour cream you see in the picture and some corn chips I had on hand....so, we really snarfed up the chili.
2 Tbsp olive oil
3 c onion, diced
1 green pepper, diced
2 c celery, diced
4 cloves garlic
1 lb ground beef
2-28 oz cans diced tomateos
4-6 Tbsp chili powder
2 1/2 c water
1 tsp cumin
2 tsp salt
4 tsp honey
3 cans undrained kidney beans (or other beans)

Saute onions, green pepper, celery, and garlic in olive oil. Brown beef. Stir it all together and simmer on low for two hours, stirring occasionally.

Getting Real!

I love poking through other people's blogs. I love to catch a peak into other's lives. Especially Christian homeschooling moms like me. But, I often leave feeling defeated because they so often have it all "figured out", all their ducks are in a row. All their gifts are handmade, all their meals are beautiful, all their kids are exceptional...you get the jist. Well, that's not what my life looks like and I don't want to paint that kind of a picture. Now, don't get me wrong, I don't want this blog to be a gripe fest...but I want it to be REAL, I want to share the good and the bad. So, if you agree with me that nothing's perfect this side of Heaven and we shouldn't paint a false picture that it is, then feel free to tune in.

But, to get real, this is my THIRD attempt at a blog that has ended within a month, so don't hold your breath! lol