Monday, May 31, 2010

Bread & Sunshine

Memorial Day turned out to be enjoyable, after all. I am happy to report that the dough enhancer did, indeed, make a positive difference in the bread's taste and texture. Husband declared it the best whole wheat bread he's EVER had. And he doesn't give those types of compliments lightly.

While I was preparing the bread for baking, the sun decided to make an appearance. Once the bread was in the oven I quickly mowed the back yard. Who knows when I'll have the next opportunity? The forecast is for rain straight through till next Monday. My husband has a saying, "Never have more grass than your wife can mow". And then, just to make things interesting, he pruned the apple tree so the branches hang down very low. I have to stoop, or limbo, to mow under them. Thanks honey.

Even Better Bread?

Its hard to imagine my home baked bread being even more delicious. But I'm all for improvements. I stumbled across this Homemade Dough Enhancer recipe while visiting the "Chickens In The Road" blog (link in my sidebar). Since commercial dough enhancers can be pricey I decided to give this recipe a try. Here I have assembled my ingredients, all except the vital wheat gluten that I got in the bulk foods section of Fred Meyers (Krogers).

The canning jar contains the mixed ingredients. Now, do you notice anything wrong with this picture? In my zeal to get the bread baking, today, I completely left out the ground ginger. Rats! Too late for this batch of bread, as its in the oven rising as I type. But I will be sure and add the ginger to the remaining enhancer. I made a triple batch so it should last a while. I am using 2 TBS. per loaf since my bread is 2/3rd whole wheat flour. I will let you know if the enhancer actually enhances the bread enough to justify the added cost.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Dehydrating. The "Best" Way To Store Food?

I stumbled across this series of videos, from, the other day. I recently purchased an American Harvest FD-80 to play with and wanted some guidance on how to best prepare foods for drying. I got WAY more information than I ever could have hoped. This lady has got to be the Queen of Dehydrating. After watching her series of 4 videos I was ready to purchase a better dehydrator as well as a vacuum sealer and food slicer. I believe dehydrating is the best way to store food for the long term. This is something I will be exploring in the very near future, but I wanted to give all of you a heads up as to where to find this information. Why does dehydrating appeal to me? It is much easier than canning, takes up a LOT less space, weighs less, and can store your food indefinitely. Take a little time to watch her videos and let me know if you agree. I have a link to her web site/blog on my sidebar. She has much more information and many more videos there. Happy dehydrating!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Let It Rain!

As you've heard me lament, its been awfully rainy here. It's been raining since Tuesday. It rained most of today. And when it wasn't raining it was COLD. Then my husband bought me a couple of rain barrels and got them installed.

And you know what happened? The sun came out.

Figures. Now that we WANT it to rain, to see how the barrels function, it will probably be dry for a week. Maybe I'll get to put the clothes out on the line tomorrow, after all. My cat, Singha, seems to be happy that the rain stopped. He's rolling all around, wanting a belly rub.

And my hubby is having a pipe break while sitting in front of our huge rhododendron.

Next on the honey-do list? Chicken tractor!

Its True About Neccessity...

....being the mother of invention. Case in point, my latest knitting design, the Bag Cozy. Lately my focus has been on small, one-skein, useful designs. I've also been trying to improve my self-sufficiency/efficiency and, at the same time, compost or reuse the items in my home. Unfortunately I have a really bad memory. I have a trunk FULL of reusable shopping bags but, more often than not, I find myself at the store check out counter and the bags are, you guessed it, still in the trunk. Which means I end up bringing more plastic grocery bags home. They aren't wasted. I find them handy for lining the smaller trash cans in my home. The problem has been storing them until needed. I used to have a cute cloth bag holder but the elastic wore out very quickly and, at that time, I was too busy to replace it. I gave that bag holder away on Freecycle and began storing my bags like this.

Its not very tidy looking and many times you end up grabbing more than one bag. I thought about buying another cloth holder but then the elastic would wear out again. Finally the light bulb came on. I could knit one. No elastic needed! Yesterday I sat down with needles and yarn and by the end of the day I had this.

The yarn is a washable acrylic/wool blend. It makes the pattern all on its own, as you knit, so you don't get so bored. The cost of the yarn is $7.50. The cozy in the picture is holding these 25 bags, with room for stuffing in a few more.

It dispenses the bags, one-at-a-time, through a small opening on the bottom.

Now to write up the pattern so I can have it ready for its debut at our WWKIPD (World Wide Knit In Public Day) celebration on June 12th.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Who Needs Scrubbing Bubbles?

Yes, those commercials are cute. But don't let them fool you. You don't need scrubbing bubbles to clean your tub. In fact, you don't need any bubbles at all. I have a sparkling clean tub, tub surround and bathroom sink. My secret? Baking soda. That's right, the same product I use to polish my teeth. Baking soda is pretty darn amazing....and cheap. I get the big 13.5 lb. bag from Costco. The cost? A whopping $4.75. Considering I only use about a tablespoon to clean an entire tub and shower stall....that bag will last me a LONG time. I cleaned the downstairs tub today, to show you how well it works. This is the shower my teenager uses. It also doubles as my laundry wash tub.

And here are the items needed to make your tub (or sink) shine.

Oops. I forgot to include an old toothbrush and a clean rag towel in the picture. Here's how I clean the tub. Get your rag washcloth wet. Sprinkle some baking soda on the wet rag and wipe it all over the surface of the item to be cleaned. Re wet the rag and add more baking soda, as needed. Once the surface is coated, let it stand for a few minutes. Then take your scrubby (I get mine two for $1 at my local grocery store) and scrub away. I use an old toothbrush to get into the tight spots. Once you've scrubbed the entire surface, rinse with water and dry with a clean towel. Your tub or sink will shine.

Deep Clean Your Teeth

Would you like to have squeaky clean teeth without visiting the dentist? It's really easy and you already have the tooth polish right there in your kitchen cabinet. All you need is a SOFT bristled toothbrush and a little bit of baking soda. Get your toothbrush wet and then dip the bristles in the baking soda. Now brush all the surfaces of your teeth. Don't brush too hard. Light pressure is all it takes. Pay special attention to the gum line. Don't swallow the baking soda. It tastes yucky, anyway, so you won't want to. When you've finished, rinse your mouth well with water. I like to follow up by brushing with my regular toothpaste to get the yucky taste out of my mouth. Now rub your finger over your clean teeth. Hear that squeak? You only want to do this once a week, at the most. Always use a soft bristle brush and be gentle. If you over do it you can possibly damage the tooth enamel. This process removes all the gunk from your teeth that you can't get with regular toothpaste. It also whitens your teeth which is wonderful if you indulge in coffee, tea or tobacco. Guilty!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Loving Costco

We hadn't been members at Costco for quite a while. But my husband found out about the canned salmon they have there and that was reason enough to join. Its damn good salmon. Now that I am doing my own baking it is also a good cheap source of flour, yeast, etc..Here are the items I bought today: baking soda for cleaning, white vinegar for fabric softener, good bacon to divide up and freeze, unbleached all purpose flour (2 bags), a big box of organic raisins for cookies and bread, and a 2 lb. bag of yeast.

The prices on those sorts of things are MUCH cheaper at Costco than at my local grocery stores. For instance, I paid almost $8 for this 4 oz. jar of yeast at Safeway.

The 2lb. bag of yeast from Costco was less than $4. Go figure.

Once we got back from our Costco expedition it was time for me to get on the laundry. It's been raining for almost a week straight and today is the only dry day before it rains for another week. You gotta make hay when the sun shines, or, in my case, dry your clothes. It was a non-stop laundry marathon. Good thing my husband got me that second outdoor clothesline. You can see it in the foreground of this picture.

It has 3 sides, tripod legs for stability and it folds up for storage. Here it is, my tripod clothesline. We got it for $49.99 at Fred Meyers (aka Krogers).

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Tree Sparrow Sighting

I believe I saw one of these in the apple tree, today. I tried to show it to Rick, but it kept hiding whenever he would look. I am used to seeing Chickadees, Anna's Hummingbirds and Stellar's Jays...but this was the first Tree Swallow I can remember seeing.

Cinnamon Raisin Bread

The weather is still rather damp and dreary, although I do see the sun peeking through now and again. Maybe tomorrow will be dry (fingers crossed). Since I can't dig in the dirt I'll play in the kitchen. Today's adventure is making my first batch of cinnamon raisin bread. This is a childhood favorite and reminds me of my great grandmother's house. When I was a child, I thought she had fascinating things in her home. A box of old Lincoln logs and vintage metal cars, lots of greeting cards and Red Rose tea animals on the mantle, and in the kitchen there were always Archway oatmeal raisin cookies and some delicious cinnamon raisin bread. She wore her hair in a tight bun so I was surprised to see how long her hair was when it was down. I remember watching her use a curling iron that was heated with an oil lamp. I was very young back then so those are some of my only memories of her. I love oatmeal raisin cookies and cinnamon raisin bread to this day.


1 1/2 C. milk
2 C. raisins
1 C. warm water (about 110 degrees F.)
2 (1/4 oz) packages of yeast, or 4 1/2 tsp.
1/4 tsp. sugar
3 eggs
1/2 C. sugar
2 tsp. salt
1/2 C. butter, softened
4 C. whole wheat flour
4 C. all purpose flour

2 Tbs. milk
1/2 C. sugar
1 1/2 Tbs. cinnamon

2 Tbs. butter, melted

Warm milk in a small saucepan on stove until just a bit warmer than 125 degrees F. Remove from heat and stir in the raisins. This will allow them to plump. Set aside.

Dissolve the yeast in the warm water. stir in the 1/4 tsp. of sugar. Let sit until foamy.

With a large mixing bowl on your stand mixer, mix together eggs, sugar, butter, and salt. Mix in yeast. Mix in the cooled milk and raisins slowly, so you don't cook the eggs. Mix in the whole wheat flour, one cup at a time. Remove from mixer and start stirring in the all purpose flour, one cup at a time, until it is too stiff to stir. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and begin kneading, adding more of the AP flour as needed to produce a good dough. Knead for about 12 minutes. Shape into a ball and place in a large mixing bowl that has been coated with corn oil. Roll the ball around in the oil to coat all sides. Cover with a clean towel and place in a warm, draft free spot to rise. I like to heat up my oven slightly, then turn on the light in there and use the oven to let the dough rise. You need to let the dough rise until its doubled.

Meanwhile mix together the sugar and cinnamon, for the filling, and divide that between 3 small bowls.

Remove the blob of risen dough from the bowl and place onto a floured surface. Gently punch it down with your fists. Roll the dough out into a square and then cut it into 3 equal (or as close as you can get) pieces.

Now roll each piece of dough, one at a time, out into a rectangle. You want the width to be about the length of your bread pan. Don't roll it too thin. You want it about 1/3" thick, and much longer than it is wide. Rub the rectangle with 1/4 of the milk and sprinkle with one of the little bowl fulls for cinnamon sugar.

Now roll it up tightly, starting at the shorter end. Use some of the milk to help pinch and seal the seam and both ends. Place the loaf,seam side down, into a pan and repeat that process with the remaining 2 thirds of dough. You should end up with something that looks like this.

Brush the tops of the loaves with the melted butter. Cover and return to the warm oven to rise for a second time, again until doubled. Remove the towel and, leaving the pans in the oven, preheat it to 350 degrees F.

Now bake your loaves for approximately 30 minutes. You want them to be nice and brown but not burnt. The finished loaves should sound hollow when lightly tapped.

Remove from pans and place on cooling racks. Do not slice until completely cool.

NOTE: This recipe is an adaptation of "World's Best Cinnamon Raisin Bread" found on Recipezaar. In this inital batch I used 1 cup sugar and 3 Tbs. cinnamon, for the filling, like the original recipe shows, but I feel that is too much and I will use half that amount in future batches. This is supposed to be cinnamon bread...not cinnamon rolls. Having so much sugar in there made it hard to roll the dough tight enough. Mine tended to want to come apart. It's still good, though, and it'll be even better next time.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Soggy Week

We are having an unusually cold spring here in Tacoma, WA. Usually we are able to shut the heaters off by mid-April. But its been so cold. I had the heater running the past couple of days, and its almost June. I'm starting to feel I'll never get my garden planted. It's been quite frustrating. Not to mention that this rain is putting a real damper on my garage saleing. I did manage to find a couple, though. This first one was held on Thursday in a building out near Hwy 512 and Pacific. It was billed as a multi-family garage sale but I think it was actually folks who used to have stalls in an antique mall. The giveaway was that they charged sales tax. They also had their goods displayed in neat little booths, just like at any antique mall. Oh well, a bargain's a bargain. I left $6.75 (plus tax) with them and brought home these treasures:

6 canning jars ($4)

Pottery pitcher and plant pot ($2.50 for both)

Debbie Bliss Book 3 (knitting patterns, $.10)

A small tupperware storage container ($.15)

This morning I had to run to the grocery store and stumbled upon a garage sale where the sales lady shared my penchant for hand thrown pottery. She was moving and had these up for grabs:

Colander ($2)

Garlic Keeper ($2)

Small pitcher ($2)

Even smaller pitcher ($.50)

It is hard to tell proportions from the individual photos. Here are the pitchers displayed in my kitchen window. That last little one was brought over from France by the previous owner.

I almost forgot to report on the "no poo" experiment. The jury is still out. It is day 3 and I am still in the adjustment phase. My hair feels a little odd, to me. Kind of stringy/oily. But no one else seems to notice. I'm going to continue and will report back soon. I also have to let you know that I tried cleaning the bathtub and sink with baking soda and it worked really well. I was surprised.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

No Poo?

So my fellow pipe club member, Heather, posted about this DIY shampoo & conditioner on Facebook and I had to give it a try. A full tablespoon of baking soda seemed like overkill, to me, so I opted for 2 tsp. I mixed it with a bowl full of warm water (in the shower) and dumped it on my head. Worked it in well, and rinsed. Then I put a glug of apple cider vinegar in the bowl and added warm water. Poured that over me head and rinsed with more warm water. I have read that there is an adjustment period, where my hair should be tangly and feel strange....but I didn't find that to be true. My hair combed out quite easily and felt nice all day. I'm sure my friends thought it odd that I kept telling them, "feel my hair". LOL. I am committed to giving this new way of hair care a fair shot. The true test will be how my scalp reacts. I have a very sensitive scalp, so if it starts acting up I'll have to revert to my Selsun Blue and Kirkland Conditioner. Time will tell, but so far, so good. I think I'll probably decrease the baking soda to 1 tsp. as I do not have oily hair anymore. I used to, but that changed when I started dyeing with henna.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Busy Weekend

The picture pretty much sums it up.

Sunday the weather cooperated (for once) and I got quite a bit accomplished. Here the laundry is on the solar clothes dryer and I am mowing the back yard and getting exercise at the same time. Thank goodness I just have a small backyard to mow. Here is a close-up of my little plastic sock drying thingy. I found this a few years ago at the Daiso store in the South Hill Mall in Puyallup. Not sure if the store is still there. I should go check as I could use more of these now that I air dry everything.

Monday was supposed to be rainy but it just sprinkled a little in the morning. I finally got around to clearing out a space, behind the garage and out of sight, to move my compost pile. I wish I'd taken before and after pics, but by the time I thought about it....I was already done. Monday is the day I bake bread and make my yogurt for the week. I am getting the hang of bread baking. This time the loaves were nice and high and round, and the bread was softer. Here is a picture of my redneck yogurt maker. Works like a charm. It consists of 3 towels, a heating pad, a rubbermaid shoebox, and a thermometer. The jars or some I got off of Freecycle. They are glass and have plasic lids.

I made progress on my plantings, as well. The Swiss chard are now in the ground. After a late dinner of leftover curry rice I retired to the basement to have a beer and a pipe, and watch the season finale of Survivor I had taped. What a great ending. That jerk Russell didn't get a single vote. I didn't watch the reunion part as I couldn't bear to hear him whine about how he's the best survivor ever and he was robbed (again).

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Yard Sale Saturday (5-15)

There are definitely bargains to be had. All it takes is an hour or two on a weekend morning and you can have a treasure hunt in your own "backyard". Here are the treasures I found this Saturday. A couple of plant pots. One is terracotta and the other is pottery ($.50 each).

A large Tupperware canister with lid. These are great for storing bulk flours and other baking items. I can never have enough of them ($.25).

A dozen wide mouth canning jars ($3). I am still kicking myself for getting rid of all my jars when we moved. What was I thinking? Now I get to collect them all again.

Last but not least, I found this groovy cotton tunic top ($1). It is embroidered and covered in tiny sequins. Someone in Bangladesh put a lot of work into hand embellishing this top. I will really enjoy wearing it.

This is a close-up of the inside (wrong side) of the top.
You can see it is all hand stitched.

Total spent on this day's bargains? $5.25.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Yard Sale Friday (5-14)

I managed to get out there for about an hour this morning, and had a bit better luck than last friday. I stopped at 2 sales. At the first, a patio sale, I found this nifty compost can with the lift out pail ($3). I had seen these new for about $30. This will be used at the yarn shop to put coffee filters and veggie/fruit scraps in.

The second sale was actually an estate sale, and there were things for sale throughout the home. I like estate sales because it is usually an elderly person who has passed away, and they have some cool old treasures. Here I found this old school woven kitchen rug ($.25). You can get similar rugs, today, but they fall apart quickly. This one is probably circa 1970's and is made of really tough polyester strips. It's just like the ones my step-grandma used to have in her farmhouse kitchen.

At this same sale I scored 7 flour sack towels and a screen printed kitchen towel ($.25 each). Again, old school, good quality. Not like the cheap junk you find in the stores, today.

Total spent, $5.25.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Honey-Whole Wheat Bread

Today I decided to try my hand at making bread. I really don't like most commercially available breads, and those that I do like cost too much. Besides, I like to know exactly what is in what I'm eating. I had today off from work, and the weather was too rainy to work in the garden. It was the perfect time to do some baking. I made a visit to YouTube and found a series of videos from epicurious which show how to knead, proof and shape the dough. I had planned to use a recipe I'd found on the web for beginner white bread, and substitute some whole wheat flour for half the white flour. But when I went to the grocery store, to purchase the whole wheat flour, I found this recipe for Honey-Whole Wheat Bread on the back of the package. It sounded like just the recipe I was looking for. It was easy and called for wholesome things like butter and honey. Thanks to the video, I successfully kneaded the dough and it rose well. Here it is all shaped and in the pans, ready to rise for a second time.

I baked it for about 5 minutes less than the recipe recommends. I was afraid it might burn if I left it any longer. Here are the finished loaves cooling off.

I had read somewhere about greasing the bread pans with butter and sprinkling them with cornmeal, which is what I did. It isn't the most attractive thing, but it does make a nice crunchy crust. I'll probably continue to do that in the future. I also brushed the top of the loaves with melted butter before baking, although the recipe didn't mention to do that. The bread turned out perfectly. I had 2 pieces of peanut butter toast for dinner and it was the best toast I ever ate.

Newspaper Plant Pots? You Betcha!

Remember when I found this mint plant at a yard sale? I was intrigued by the newspaper pot it came in.

Coincidently, my Lehman's catalog arrived at about the same time (every urban homesteader should receive this. Good stuff in there). On page 47, was this do-hickey called 'The Potmaker'. It's kinda cool, but I'm a frugal girl, and I don't know that its $14.95 worth of cool. Besides, I think you'd still need some tape to hold it together, and I don't want tape in my garden. So I googled "newspaper plant pots" and found this YouTube video on how to make origami plant pots out of your newspapers. Sweet! I scrounged up some of the sale ads (I don't get a regular newspaper) and made some pots.

Yes, I realize colored ink my be an issue, but I had to work with what I had on hand. And here are my pots filled with little plant starts from my garden.

Now, when I want to find new homes for plants, I won't have to also give away my little plastic pots. And the recipients will be able to plant the new start directly into their garden, without disturbing the roots.