Friday, March 15, 2013

I Miss My Body

During this year's flu season, we opted to stay home from church to help protect Dad from getting ill. We are part of a friendly body and I didn't think he'd make it through the hugs and handshakes without succumbing. I also didn't want to see him getting that sick. So we opted, for a time, to have church at home. And that is the upside of flu season.


It's been many years since I had the privilege of sitting under my father's teaching in a "formal" way. He pastored Wilkins Church for many years and I got kind of spoiled by good preaching and teaching.

I suppose you could say that it's been my yardstick ever since. We followed the Standard Lesson Commentary,  just like our Sunday school classes and the sermons at our hometown church were using. That helped us feel connected even when we were apart.
Our services lasted a bit longer than some might be accustomed to. We were able to ask questions, too, which by necessity isn't typically part of Sunday morning services.
We had sweet communion together as well. It was a very special time for us as a family and I'm glad we had the opportunity to do this.

But no matter how much we enjoyed our times of home church, we really missed everyone at our hometown church. Since it would appear that the worst of flu season has run its course, we are excited now to return to worship with our regular church body - we can hardly wait until Sunday!

Monday, March 11, 2013

I Love You This Much

It's been several years  now that I've been making this cake for my daughter's birthday. The first time I made it was for a St. Patrick's Day dinner for our neighbors. I was in the mood to cook something new and I'd found several recipes to try. We're not Irish. We don't celebrate St. Patrick's Day as a general rule. But it made a good excuse at the time.
Said birthday girl was working that evening and came home in time to enjoy a slice of the cake and by some strange (at least to me) decision she opted to have one of the imported Irish beers we'd served with dinner - with her cake. She swooned and declared that they were a fabulous pairing. The next declaration was that she wanted this for her next birthday dinner. Thus was born the Irish Cream Chocolate Mousse Birthday Cake with Smithwick (silent "w") beer tradition.
So, she knows that I love her THIS much.
First comes the coffee sponge cake. Fairly straightforward. Whip eggs, sugar and whatnot together until the Kitchenaide smells hot. Then painstakingly sift flour over it and fold in, little by little until you think there's no way to get it all folded in before the batter deflates. Definitely use the sifter for this portion or you'll end up with little flour ball bombs all through the cake.
While that is in the oven remember that you probably should have made the Irish Cream Chocolate Mousse filling the night before. It's only the element for which the cake is named, how important can it be? Just whisk together the sugar and eggs, warm over steam and then beat them for 10 minutes. While that's going, shave the chocolate and melt in a double boiler. Oh, and don't forget to whip Irish cream and whipping cream into stiff peaks in another mixer. Now fold the chocolate into the whipped egg mixture and then fold in the beaten cream. You end up with this heavenly, rich, chocolate mousse! Resist the temptation to grab a spoon and start eating.
By now you are glad that the cake needs to cool while the mousse chills. Blot the perspiration from your brow. Wash dirty bowls, beaters, spoons, and counters down. Now mix up the Irish whiskey syrup for the cake assembly later.
Ok, so everything is chilled? Now you cut that single layer of sponge cake into 3 layers. All it takes is a steady hand, a very long serrated knife, your makeshift spacers stolen from the scrap wood bin in your husbands shop and, in my case, some growling. I think the growling intimidates it into sitting still while I'm awkwardly sawing on it.
Place your first layer on a cheesy, something-mart cake tray (because you need a tight fitting lid when you put it out on the front porch to keep cold). Soak the cake layer (good thing it's sponge cake) with some of that whiskey syrup. (The whiskey is added to the cooled syrup so it's not cooked off in this case).
Then spread a cup or two of chocolate mousse over the whole thing. Another layer of cake, more whiskey syrup, more mousse... I assume you see a pattern.
Eventually you run out of cake layers and you then spread all the remaining mousse over and around the cake. This will not go as smoothly as spreading frosting. It's not frosting. It's heavy. It's very moist. Don't overwork it or it won't be mousse-y. Just get it on there as best you can. It may look something like this:


You aren't done. Put that puppy out on the porch to keep cold. (Good thing it's winter, my fridge is full of eggs!)

Get that double boiler back out. In my case I have this beautiful little pan. It's 60 or so years old. The story I heard was that my father bought it when he and my mother were still kids, married a year or less, and he wanted to make her a cake that required a double-boiler.

I still use it but in this case I opted for the much less attractive but smooth sided "let's stack the copper bottom pan in the little sauce pan if they fit" set-up. And because I use a propane stove, I like a simmer mat to help keep the heat mellow for this. Why all these gyrations? Why, it's time to make the chocolate bands and chocolate curls. No skipping these for the birthday girl.

Get out two large sheets of foil and some waxed paper. Now I'm about to reveal a secret that cake shops don't want you to know. It's actually really easy to make bands of chocolate for wrapping a cake. The strips need to be long enough to wrap around the cake with a little bit of overlap. Lay them on one piece of foil. Somewhere you don't mind making a real mess. Put the other sheet of foil on a tray so you can hustle it out to the front porch with the cake.

Grab a pastry brush and start spreading chocolate over the wax and off the sides. It's going to be messy, like finger painting only tastier. Give them just a moment to cool ever so slightly and then use all four of your hands to grab the corners and lift it onto the clean sheet of foil.

After they cool and are set but still flexible, you wrap one of them around half the cake. Snug it up and tack it on. Stick that out to get colder. When the band is firm you can just pull the wax off the outside. Repeat with second strip.
Time to melt more chocolate if you didn't have the foresight to do enough when you did the bands. Smear it on the back of a baking sheet and... guess where you put it? Yep. Another trip to the porch. Did I mention it's the front porch? And the kitchen is in the back of the house? Through the dining room, living room and office? Yeah.
This is much trickier than the bands but still a supremely better technique than any other I've tried. The trick is to find the moment when the chocolate is soft enough to curl but not yet tacky. Slide a sharp spatula under it and it will curl right up.
Then stick a skewer in and lift it off to a plate while you make more. This was a bit of fun. I felt like a professional once I got the feel for it. I picked this technique up from this website. There are many different chocolate techniques demonstrated there. (And their pictures are nicer than mine.)
Next thing you know, you've got this lovely cake. And don't forget the Smithwick's. (Silent "w", which you would know if you had ever, like someone I know, asked an Irish bartender for smith wicks and been severely reprimanded.)

Ready to dash to the kitchen and whip one up? Here's where I got the recipe.
She's totally worth it.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

A Guide to American Federal Debt

If only Washington could see how ridiculous we look.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Leftovers Right

Do you get tired of finding perfectly good food has gone to waste simply because it was forgotten?
Do you ever find a family member meditating in front of an open refrigerator?
Do leftovers ever perish in your fridge because they are "out of sight and out of mind"?
Here are a couple of things we do at our house to make the most of leftovers. And we find fewer fuzzy blue things developing their own culture in the recesses of the fridge.
First, we keep freezer tape and a marker conveniently located so that we can mark every container of leftovers before they are placed in the refrigerator. We write the name of the item and the date (a simple "3/6" will do). We reuse containers, so it's extra important to know that it's not cottage cheese or sour cream you're looking at.

The next thing we do is note it on a small dry-erase board on the front of the fridge. When they get used, you erase them. It's better than having a glass door. You can also see which ones need used first.

Best of all, this system is so simple that everyone in the house can use it.

What do you do to manage your leftovers?

If you're looking for more homemaking helps and thoughts, why not visit Raising Homemakers for their Wednesday Link-up:

Monday, March 4, 2013

How Sweet It Is!

Do you remember this post?

Well last fall we got our first honey harvest! It was a very exciting day! Here are supers filled with frames of honey capped by the bees. Kent worked outdoors to brush bees from the frames and then handed them quickly through the kitchen door to me where I loaded the supers back up with the frames. We managed to get the honey laden frames into the house without bringing in any bees.

The caps have to be removed to extract the honey, so first Kent used a special tool - like a tiny rake with needle sharp points. The idea is to just slide it under the wax and lift if off of the honey filled cells.
It takes a light but firm touch to capture the beeswax while leaving the honey behind. The wax will be saved and used for other applications.

We borrowed an extractor from a friend and set up shop in the kitchen.

Here is a frame filled with honey and ready for the extractor.

They are placed in the extractor on end, two at a time. The honey cells are on both sides of the frames so you spin some honey out of one side, flip them, spin some from that side, and go back to the first side, etc. That way you don't put too much stress on the foundation wax in the center of the frame.

I look ridiculously happy to be cranking the extractor. Like I said, it was a very exciting day for us.


After the centrifugal force has extracted the honey from the frames, we drained the honey out the spigot at the bottom and into containers. At this point there some small bits of wax and whatnot in the honey.

We did a coarse filtering through a stainless steel seive to remove the largest of the debris but we are not interested in any serious filtration. This is the real thing and it doesn't get much better than this!

It was a very sticky process, I couldn't believe the places we seemed to find honey when we were done. Every surface in the kitchen seemed to be a bit tacky. Including ourselves. We have plans for the near future construction of an all-purpose building that will serve as a honey extraction, syrup making, etc. facility. For now, we'll do it indoors because the bees see us as thieves and go all out to "retrieve" their honey.

Which actually comes in really handy when you are ready to clean up. We found that all we had to do was take the sticky containers and tools out near the hives and leave them for a day. The bees reclaimed every last drop that would have been washed down the sink and left everything practically sparkling clean.

Here's a link to an interesting article my brother found about the state of honey available for purchase in stores. Give it a read and then give your local beekeeper a hug!

I think I'll go hug mine right now.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

It's Confession Time

As much as we try to eat real food, whole food, as-often-as-possible food we've raised or grown ourselves... I confess that we hadn't found a salsa we liked as well as store-bought. I cringe to even have to say that. But there we were, putting Chi-Chi's salsa on our homemade tortilla. With home-cooked refried beans. With green chili and pork from our own pigs. It was criminal, really.
So when we had a day of harvest that looked like this
I decided it was time to try yet another canned salsa recipe. Maybe this time we'd find one that we could tolerate. I stumbled across a website that had a recipe that actually sounded good, along with lots of detailed information on getting the ratios right. There were weights for all the ingredients according to batch size and tips on adjusting heat. What most caught my eye? The fact that there wasn't a drop of vinegar to be found in this salsa. They used lemon juice as their acid. Why, that's so much like the lime juice I would use in my pico de gallo that I felt quite certain this could make the difference in flavor that would finally appeal to my family. Because if there was anything we'd agreed on over the failed attempts at canned salsa, it was the vinegar taste that just wasn't supposed to be there.
So we skinned and chopped tomatoes

We weighed and diced and minced peppers.
We won't even discuss the onions and the goggles required for this undertaking.
And we produced jars and jars of salsa. We loved it right out of the pot... but what would it be like in a few weeks or months?

Let me just say that we've got a jar of store-bought salsa on the shelves and even though we made a rule that we should finish up the store-bought before getting into our home-canned, that rule has been clearly broken. And nobody wants to be the enforcer. We have finally found a salsa that we can proudly put atop, beside and into our other homemade goods.
You can find the recipe and all the directions here. It's actually a great lesson/tutorial/walk-through for even the most novice canner while still providing great information for those experienced in many types of preserving.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Of Cabbages and Kings

Or at least King-sized projects.

We had success growing cabbage last year but we don't yet have the proper storage to try and keep it whole. We dried some - I highly recommend it. I shredded it the way I would use it in meals later, blanched it and then put it in the Excalibur. When I rehydrate it there is still some crunch and all the flavor and expected aroma. It's been a very positive experience.

Still, we wanted to try something more with it. That's when I opened up my newest Backwoods Home magazine (last summer) and found Jackie Clay-Atkinson's article that included Amish Canned Coleslaw. That sounded like something we could really get behind.

So we chopped, we shredded, we prepped. And then we realized that we didn't own a single bowl big enough for our ambition. What to do?! We needed something large. We needed something that would hold liquid. We needed something clean enough to eat out of. We needed...

A large plastic storage tote. (Don't get into the whole BPA thing with me, please. It was not in this long and it worked very well for our needs.)

And we canned up the most delicious coleslaw! It really delivered on the promise that it would taste great. How nice to pop open a crispy, delicious cabbage side whenever we please.

Kent is very good at canning. I'd never make it through the season without all his help.

Here's a link to the recipe online. You'll need to read down the page, past the sqiurrel relocation, past the daffodil bulbs and the vegetable broth:
And here is the text lifted from that link:
I love the Amish canned coleslaw, BUT it is NOT an approved recipe. (It is basically pickled sweet cabbage, so I’m not too worried. I can’t tell you to try it, only that generations of Amish have used it and so have I for a few years now.) Here’s the recipe:

1½ cups vinegar
2 cups sugar
½ tsp. celery seed
½ tsp. mustard seed
2 tsp. salt
1 large head cabbage
1 cup diced celery
½ cup diced onions
2 cups shredded carrots

Mix vinegar, sugar, and seasonings. Mix with vegetables. Stir very well. Pack into sterile jars and process in a water bath canner for 10 minutes. (If you live at an altitude above 1,000 feet, consult your canning book for directions on increasing your processing time to suit your altitude.) — Jackie

Friday, March 1, 2013

More Homestead Summer

Once the garden began producing, there was something to harvest daily, hard but satisfying work. Here come Steph and Kent with a load - and a little help.
And also satisfying is sitting down to a meal and realizing that you grew most of what you are eating. Here's a dinner of chicken pot pie with our own chickens and veggies, refrigerator cucumbers and coleslaw.
We grew dry beans for the first time. These were called "French Horticultural". I thought they looked like Jacob's Cattle. And so easy to grow. Plant them, make sure they get weeded and watered, wait for them to dry out, snap off the pods and shell them at your leisure. We'll be planting at least three times as many this year.
Here's a homestead breakfast - pancakes with fresh milled grain, eggs, from our chickens, maple syrup from our trees and our own strawberries. Makes my mouth water. And maybe this year we'll add a cold glass of our own goat milk!

And maybe sometimes when we sit around the dinner table we talk of unusual and somewhat obscure questions, like:

"If you pull a vacuum on a marshmallow, what happens?" This was probably preceded by conversation about vacuum sealing food, the qualities of food being sealed and the science of what happens in a vacuum.

Which meant we had to immediately grab the Foodsaver and find out! It expanded impressively.