Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Sourdough Blueberry Muffins

I had reserved a cup of blueberries in order to bake some muffins. Today I tried this recipe:
Sourdough Blueberry Muffins
Makes 16 muffins

1 cup sourdough starter
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup oil
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup granulated sugar
3 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
milk (added 1 TBS. at a time)
1 cup blueberries
1 TBS. flour (to coat the blueberries)

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Liberally butter muffin tins if not using liners. Combine starter, flour, oil, baking soda, baking powder, sugar, eggs, and vanilla extract; stir well. You want your batter to be thick but not too thick to be able to stir in the blueberries. Add the milk, a tablespoon at a time, until it is the right consistency.  Toss blueberries with  flour. Add Blueberries to batter and stir well to incorporate. Spoon batter into muffin tins, filling each about 3/4 full. Bake for 25 minutes or until done (when a toothpick comes out clean).

EDITED: Recipe amended 9-21-11

Shampoo Recommendation: EveryDay Shea

This is honestly the best shampoo I have ever used. It is EveryDay Shea Moisturizing Shampoo in Vanilla Mint. It also comes in a lavender scent and unscented. It is available, locally, at Marlene's Natural Foods Market & Deli. It cost me $11.99 for a 32 ounce pump bottle. But this stuff is really concentrated. You don't need much. The bottle should last a very long time. Especially if you're like me and only shampoo a couple of times per week.

Why am I so excited about this shampoo? My scalp is extremely (and I mean EXTREMELY) sensitive. Over the past couple of months I have tried numerous shampoo alternatives in order to get away from the chemical laden grocery store varieties. The other "organic" shampoos I've tried irritated my scalp and caused my hair to come out in fist fulls. My scalp felt like I'd washed it with battery acid and had big red sores. In frustration I turned to shampoo bars. Soap meant for hair. Another disaster. My hair was lank and dirty looking and the vinegar rinses, which are necessary when using shampoo bars, caused my hair to shed, big time. A dear friend knew of my troubles and brought me samples of EveryDay Shea. My expectations were low but I was incredibly pleased with the results. Not only is my hair squeaky clean and shiny, but my scalp is not itchy and full of flakes. My one caution would be, even though it claims to be "moisturizing", I think it would be too drying for every day use. But your mileage may very.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Blueberry Wine

This past Sunday I ventured out to gather blueberries. The bushes were quite picked over but I was determined. After close to 3 hours of picking I came away with 5 lbs. of berries. Being out in a field, in the hot sun, listening to the chatter of other pickers gave me a flashback to the 70's when I would pick raspberries, strawberries and cucumbers to earn money for school clothes. All that was missing was a transistor radio blaring 'Live and Let Die' and 'The Morning After'.

5lbs. of berries is enough to make 2 gallons of wine. But my smallest carboy holds 3 gallons. I need to stretch these berries a little further so am adding 12 ounces of white grape juice concentrate. This won't effect the wine's color but will add depth to the flavor.

Speaking of color, in order to get the best color from the blueberries I dissolved the sugar in 2 quarts of boiling water then added the must bags (I had to use 2) and used a potato masher to squish the berries. Heat changes the blueberry juice from green to lovely purple.

And here is the wine, next to 6 gallons of Green Apple Gewurztraminer (from a kit). I need more primary fermentors. I want to start some blackberry wine.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Putting Up Booch For The Winter

Summer is prime Kombucha brewing time. I like to brew my booch in the 70 to 80 degree range. But once the cooler weather arrives I'll need to add some type of heat source. I will probably order up one of the nifty heat mats from Hannah Crum's Kombucha Kamp. Then I'll be able to keep my continuous brewer going over the winter. In the meantime I am taking full advantage of our current heat wave and brewing up mass quantities of Kombucha to bottle. Here is Big Bertha, my giant booch brewer. She can hold at least 5 gallons. Maybe 6? I haven't really measured. You can't judge her size by the picture. Think "carboy" but with a wide mouth. The SCOBY in there is ginormous.

And here she is after bottling up 2 gallons worth.
It looks like I hardly made a dent.

I am using this fermentor as a type of continuous brew. I leave a goodly amount of booch behind, add more sweet tea, and it ferments very fast.

Here are the bottles from this week's bottling session. I am using sparkling cider and champagne bottles. I expect the kombucha to become highly carbonated and it would be possible to explode an ordinary wine bottle. You can see that the sparkling cider bottles take regular crown caps, the same used to bottle beer. But the champagne bottle openings are too wide for crown caps. You need to use the plastic stoppers topped with a wire cage (to keep your stoppers from popping out).

Close-up of the champagne stoppers.

For ease of bottling I used an easy siphon, siphoning hose and a racking cane. I didn't use my bottling wand because I feared it would become plugged with bits of yeast and SCOBY. To stop the flow I simply crimped the hose. The above booch is unflavored. I like to flavor my kombucha using fresh fruit but because this booch will be stored long term I didn't want nasty bits of fruit in there. How to flavor and yet not have fruit in the bottles for months? I posed this question on the KombuchaKommunity forums and got a wonderful suggestion. Instead of 2 ferments, why not 3? One initially, a second "on the fruit" for about a week, then a third "in the bottle". I will be trying this with the blueberries I picked yesterday.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Garage Sale Treasures 8-26-11

It's getting late in the season and the yard sales seem to be hit or miss. But there are still bargains to be had. Here is what I found between 8:30am and 11am yesterday morning. I stopped at 10 sales and purchased at 5 of those. I made sure I was only bringing home useful items. I tend to be a bit OCD with definite hoarder tendencies so I need to set limits for myself.  First up, a small pet bed and a ceramic cat dish.

Reggie knew what this was for. As soon as I brought it in
and set it on the couch, he made himself at home ($2).

My cat, Singha, is allergic to plastic dishes.He's been
using a "people" dish but now he'll have his own.
It is very colorful with a cute fish design on the sides ($2).

I found some items for my kitchen. A Foley food mill ($5). I have one already but this one is in better condition. I will sell the other one for what I paid for this. Some measuring spoons ($.25) because I can never have too many, and an Oneida Stainless steel teakettle ($3).

A washable wool stadium blanket ($4) and a cloth hankie ($.50). We keep the house rather cool in the winter and it is nice to have a blanket to snuggle under when watching TV. I do not like paper Kleenex so am always looking for more hankies. They are getting scarce as hen's teeth.

I found another big basket. This one will house my extra reeds for my looms ($5). And look at this gorgeous gallon wine jug! I love it! It will be so pretty in my fermenting closet ($2).

Now for the finds of the day. Here are two 5 gallon glass carboys
AND 3 dozen clean and delabeled wine bottles. All for.....$30!

New glass 5gal. carboys run about $30 each. And a case of new wine bottles are about $15 each (and they usually aren't the best quality). So this alone is over $100 worth of brewing supplies, and no sales tax. That's my kind of shopping.

I also brought home a hanging closet organizer with 8 shelves which are wide enough for storing sweaters ($2) and 4 "new-to-me" shirts ($1 each).

Total spent: $59.75                Retail Value if new: Over $260

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Green Beans! And Tomatoes?

I admit it. I haven't put much effort into my garden this year. I got such a late start. And then the weather didn't cooperate. I went through the motions and planted some things but I've been ignoring them. They've received water and that's about it. Imagine my surprise when I finally spied this little guy.

 My first red tomato of the season. Yes, he's a teeny tiny cherry tomato but he still counts. Maybe there's hope for all his big, green sisters (they're Early Girls)?

Early Girls? That's funny! They're Late Girls this year. I hope I get some red ones. I want to can some spaghetti sauce. I only have one jar left from last year. Look what else is finally producing. My green beans. I hope to be able to freeze them to have on hand this winter. We love green bean casserole at Thanksgiving.

Good thing I signed on with Full Circle, or I wouldn't be enjoying many fresh vegetables this summer. Speaking of them, they have been wonderful to work with. Whenever I've had an issue they have been quick to correct any problems. Yesterday was delivery day. There is usually a box of produce waiting on my porch in the morning. But when I opened the door yesterday, no box. I didn't know if it was a problem on Full Circle's end...or if someone had stolen it from my porch. Come to find out they had a hiccup and a few of the boxes had been damaged in transit. I received a brand new (not squished) box yesterday, during daylight hours, and was able to snap this picture of the elusive Full Circle delivery truck.

I highly recommend them. The produce has been lovely and I am always able to customize my orders to ensure I only receive (and pay for) items that my family will eat. I feel good about what I am putting in our bodies and also about supporting organic farmers. I believe in voting with our dollars. If we believe pesticide laden, genetically modified produce is unhealthy, we shouldn't support those farmers. There are more important things than "the bottom line".

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Composting Toilets?

I had heard of these but it seemed like a lot of work and the one I saw previously required a huge (and very hot) compost pile. Thanks to Heather for sharing this video on Facebook, or I wouldn't be aware that there is a much more do-able option. I really like this idea. And how much more practical than an outhouse? I may have to talk the husbeast into installing one of these at our next property.

My Thoughts On Food

Over the past couple of years I've been steering away from over processed, prepackaged "food". I realized that grocery store offerings had changed drastically over the years. I can remember, as a child, things were very different. Beef pot pies had actual chunks of beef in them, instead of bits of beef flavored sponge. Texturized vegetable protien has replaced meat in many food items. There is also an overuse of high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated vegetable oil and various fillers of all sorts. Why? The bottom line. Companies put most of their effort into selling us something that has minimal value for the most profit. The result is that many grocery store offerings can barely qualify as food. But we keep buying. And our society has suffered. Obesity is now becoming the rule instead of the exception. Diabetes is commonplace. As is cancer. And yet we keep buying for the sake of convenience. We care more about fancy packages with name brands than we do about what is inside that package. This was a scary realization. I resolved to simplify my life. I began cooking from scratch in order to know what was in the food I was ingesting. I looked for simpler, less expensive ways to clean my home and do my laundry. Did you ever notice how the first ingredient on so many products is WATER. Do you really want to pay that much for water? I don't. Those were my reasons for turning my back on most corporations and the local grocery stores. Then a friend posted this to her blog. And it has given me even more incentive to continue on this path.

This lady lays it right out there, in terms anyone can understand. And it's some frightening information. What can we do? Since corporations care more about money than they do about us, I will give them very little of mine. Yes, organic foods cost more. But can you put a price on your health?  Being "natural" and "organic" isn't just for hippies, anymore.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Dollar Store Goodies

I stopped by the local Dollar Tree this past Friday and I found some interesting items. First up is a hair turban similar to a Turbie Twist. My Turbie Twist is pink and the dollar store version is purple (but available in at least 3 other colors). There is a big difference in price (my Turbie Twist was $4.99 on sale at Fred Meyers). The dollar store turban is a little shorter and has a button. It is also made of microfiber instead of terrycloth. It worked well and I will be picking up a few more to have on hand.

This is a package of 15 shower caps for $1. I use a shower cap over my hair when I apply my henna hair dye. These will come in very handy. They are also good for when you do a deep oil conditioning. The plastic holds in the heat from your head, making it a "hot oil" treatment. I think I better pick up another pack of these, as well.

I also bought these covers for using on your leftovers (or for keeping the fruit flies out of your fermenting sourdough). A pack of 20 covers, in 3 different sizes, for $1. The plastic is rather thin but I am hoping to be able to wash and reuse them.

I found these items at the Dollar Tree on Pacific Avenue, between 96th and 112th.

2011 Seattle Pipe Club Barbecue

The Seattle Pipe Club is one of the best clubs in the states. Besides the monthly meetings at Smokey Joe's, there are 2 big social events each year. The dinner in January and the barbecue in August. Rick & I were unable to attend last summer's barbecue due to his work schedule. Yesterday we headed up north to our destination which was somewhere between Woodinville and Monroe on state route 522. The Kaplans have a gorgeous home in a park like setting with plenty of shade. We couldn't have asked for better weather. It was peaceful, relaxing and there was so much of food! I big thank you to all of you who worked so hard to make this event happen.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Whole Lotta Fermenting Going On

Fermented foods and drinks are good for our bodies and they are also incredibly fun and easy to produce. Yogurt and Kombucha are 2 of my favorites. Even wine and beer have health benefits but too much of ANY thing can be bad for you. Personally, when I'm feeling stressed, I'd rather have a glass of my favorite homemade beverage than pop a Prozac. I am quite proud of the fact that I am 52 years old, in relatively good health and take absolutely NO medications. My knee joints were acting up but that has been cured by drinking a bottle of Kombucha each day. Come to think of it, I haven't been sick in a very long time. Even my seasonal allergies have been less severe.

I have been trying to steer the husbeast in the direction of healthier eating (and drinking). He does drink some Kombucha each day and he really loves yogurt. I try to keep it on hand to send to work in his lunch. But sometimes I don't have the time to heat the milk and then watch it as it cools. Which is why I am excited about my "new to me" yogurt maker that I found on Craigslist yesterday ($15).

All the reviews were good and I was especially intrigued by the fact that you don't need to heat the milk if it's already been pasteurized. That would cut out a LOT of time. This is the first batch, made last night. I'll let you know how it turns out.

This yogurt maker was NOS (new old stock) meaning it had not been used but is no longer in production. It has been replaced with the Euro Cuisine brand. Same company, just called by a different name. Maybe because Girmi sounds too much like "germy" and no one wants to eat germy yogurt. It's going to be tough trying to find replacement glass jars for this but I'll keep looking. The new Euro Cuisine jars are a different size & shape and I'm not sure they will work.

I started another gallon of wine. This one will be Strawberry Kiwi, using strawberries from my garden. And I found a use for all those Mr. Beer bottles I've been hoarding. I ran out of Grolsch bottles for storing my booch. I was going to use my sparkling cider bottles but the stoppers I bought don't fit. I'm not overly thrilled about bottling in plastic but it's better then nothing. And here is a picture of my latest Kombucha, green tea with strawberry (using berries from my garden). It's as delicious as it looks.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Affordable Mineral Makeup?

I don't wear a lot of makeup but I do like to keep a light coat of paint on this old barn. Just to smooth out the blotchies and put a bit of color in my cheeks. Most of the liquid foundations I've tried have caused my skin to break out in nasty flakes. I finally found one my skin could tolerate and had been using Cover Girl Clean for years. Without ever questioning the ingredients. Until recently when I peeled back the label from the back of the bottle. Did you notice that their web site doesn't list the ingredients? They do mention, "Enriched with eucalyptus and clove oil". But neglect to list things like propylene glycol (antifreeze) and worse, sodium lauryl sulphate. I guess that's why they call it "clean" makeup? I was putting the same thing used to degrease engines on my sensitive face. Beauty must suffer? Nice.

I knew about mineral makeup but had never tried any. Now seemed like the perfect opportunity. Either that or go bare faced, which could frighten small children.  I had only ever heard of bareMinerals. These are available locally, at Macy's. And they are pricey. $28 for foundation and $19 for blush. I would have to pay over $50 (with tax) for the 2 items I would want. That's not happening on my tight budget. I searched around for a more affordable alternative and stumbled upon Everyday Minerals. The prices were less than half of what bareMinerals costs for the same sized product. The ingredients were nearly identical and the color range is actually broader with EM. Everyday Minerals also offers a trial sample of 7 shades of foundation for FREE. You only pay for shipping. This allows you to find your perfect shade before buying. They also have lots of freebies and promotions. I have received 2 free travel size eye shadows thus far (bareMinerals sells their shadow for $13, Everyday Mineral shadows are $7 or $4.50 for the travel size). My blush cost $9 and the foundation was $12. For a grand total of $21 plus $3.25 shipping. I have been using these products for over a week now. My skin LOVES them! And I have received many compliments on how nice I look. I hope this information can help others to get away from their toxic beauty routines.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Imagining A Wassail Wine

When I think of Christmas I always remember my grandmother's wassail punch. And pfefernuese cookies. But mostly the punch. It would be in a huge pot on the stove and the whole house would smell wonderful. She made this every year. But when I asked for the recipe, before she passed away, she couldn't remember. I want to try to recreate those holiday smells and flavors in a special wine. Here are the cast of characters.

I remember that the punch contained cranberry juice, oranges, cinnamon and cloves. I am using a frozen apple cranberry juice as my base. I like frozen juices because they don't contain preservatives. Make sure it is 100% juice, though. I have 3 organic oranges from my previous Full Circle delivery, some cinnamon sticks (that husbeast bought to add to a beer but never used), whole cloves and chopped raisins. Why raisins? I love the body and color that raisins add to wine. Also in the picture are yeast nutrient, pectic enzyme and Campden tablets. And a straining bag for the must. The white bucket is one of my primary fermentors.

The most time consuming part was preparing the oranges. First I used a zester to remove the rind from all 3 oranges. This will go into the must bag, along with the chopped raisins and the orange pulp. Once the zest was removed I peeled the oranges, removed the white pith (it's bitter), and put the orange sections through my juicer. I can't remember if I introduced you to my "new-to-me" juicer? This is one of my best ever thrift store finds. An ACME Supreme Juicerator for $19.99. These go for $200 new. Especially with the stainless steel bowl and basket. I was pretty darned excited when I saw it on the shelf at Bargain World.

And it works perfectly. It extracts every last bit of juice leaving a nice dry pulp. This is the juice from my 3 oranges.

That wassail wine is now waiting overnight for the Campden tablet to gas off and kill any yeasts that are present on any of the ingredients. I also started a 2 gallon batch of my raspberry apple wine. They are hanging out in the kitchen, covered with towels.

I have some yeast starter going and will pitch the yeast late this afternoon, after the Campden is finished doing its thing. You can't tell by the next  picture but the yeast is bubbling away, multiplying for me. When I pitch it there will be many more yeast cells than if I just pitched the dry yeast in on top. We want to give the wine a good strong start.

This is the all purpose wine yeast I use. Buying it in bulk saves a LOT of money over buying the individual foil packets. I store this in the freezer and it should last a long time. 

Friday, August 5, 2011

Sourdough Biscuits

I have played with sourdough in the past. I have caught wild yeasts and once a friend shared a bit of her starter that she received from her friend in Alaska. But sourdough takes time, and when I was working I didn't have enough spare time to devote to it. The cool thing about sourdough is, once you master its use, you don't have to buy commercial yeast for your baking. Sourdough is just a live yeast of a particular strain, that is being propagated in your mix of flour and water. You can catch a wild yeast (did you know there is yeast all around you?), but that is a crap shoot. You could catch one that tastes really good, or really bad. It is better to start with a strain that you know tastes good. You can get a bit of starter from a friend, mail order some dried starter, or use commercial yeast and let it revert to its wild state. I chose to do the latter. In the past I have caught wild yeasts, and they were pretty good, but I have too many yeasts in my air. Beer, wine and kombucha yeasts, as well as others. Who knows what I'd end up with?

2 1/4 tsp. (or one package) yeast
2 cups unbleached white flour
1 1/2 cups warm water
1 TBS. honey

Mix it up in a non-metal container which has plenty of room for the mixture to more than double. Cover it with a cotton cloth secured with a rubber band and leave it in a warm place for a couple of days. It should expand and become filled with bubbles. And it will begin to smell sour. You can then put it in your refrigerator, with a lid that is not screwed down tightly. The yeast needs to breathe. This is now your starter. Use it according to your recipes. 2 cups of starter really isn't much. To expand it, put it into a larger container and add 2 cups of flour and about 1 3/4 cups of water. Stir it well, loosely cover it with the cloth and let it sit out on your counter again until it is sour and bubbly. Then put it back into the fridge. It's that easy.

(these are more like a cross between a biscuit and a roll)

2 cups sourdough starter
1/4 cup corn oil
2 cups unbleached white flour
2 TBS. sugar
1 TBS. Baking powder
1 tsp. salt
12" cast iron skillet

Let your starter sit out, covered, until it is active and bubbly. Don't worry if you don't get to it right away. The starter used for these biscuits (pictured) was on my counter for 2 days before I got a chance to use it. Mix the oil into your starter. Then sift in the remaining dry ingredients. Stir well with a wooden spoon, until you have incorporated all the flour and have a stiff dough. Place the dough on a floured surface and knead it a bit. Doesn't have to be much. About 10 to 15 times. Place the dough back into a bowl, cover it and let it rest for 10 minutes. In the meantime, preheat your oven, just a bit, and turn on the interior light. You want it to be warm enough for the dough to rise, but don't let it get hot. Turn the oven off once the oven is warm, and close the door. Leave the light on. Put about a TBS. of corn oil into your skillet and coat it well. Once your dough has rested, break off egg sized chunks, roll into a ball and place in the skillet, leaving a bit of room for expansion.

Place the skillet into the warmed oven
and let the biscuits rise for 30 minutes.

Leave to skillet in the oven and preheat it to 400 degrees. Now bake the biscuits for 20 minutes or until they are golden brown. You can enjoy them with some butter and jam, or use them as rolls with your evening meal. They are very versatile.

I almost forgot to add an action shot.
These went right into my belly after the photo shoot.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Goodbye Cyser Mead....

...though I never.....knew you at all... 
(sung to Elton John's 'Candle In The Wind')

I am in mourning. You will be truly missed. Cut down so young. In the prime of life. The guilt I feel is crushing. Farewell, my beloved.

Yes, it's true. The apple cyser mead, that I had been lovingly coddling since December 12, 2010, is no more. I had neglected to check on it in the nearly month and a half since my retirement. The happy day finally arrived when it was due to be bottled. When I went to fetch it from the bulk aging closet I found, to my absolute HORROR, that the water had evaporated from the airlock and my precious mead had been left unprotected for God knows how long. Pouring that golden nectar down the drain was one of the hardest things I've ever done. The remaining 5 gallons of country wines and meads were fine (they had a different style of airlock) but I did find mold growing in the water in a couple of the bubblers. I hastily rinsed them and added fresh water and resolved to check them closer, in the morning, and bottle if they were ready. That was the evening of August 2nd. I didn't sleep well. I kept waking up and remembering about the mead, and worrying that I would have to toss out more of the wines I had spent so much time creating.

Yesterday I set to work. I checked all 5 of the gallon fermentors. 3 of them were ready for bottling and the other 2 needed to be racked. Here are the results of my labors. 15 bottles of some of the tastiest wine I've ever had the pleasure to drink.

From left to right:
Mandarin Orange Banana, Raspberry Apple & Apple Raisin.
(5 bottles of each)

I like my wines to be a little on the sweet side. I back sweetened each gallon with 1/2 cup of sugar (dissolved in 1/4 cup of water). I also added 1/2 tsp. of stabilizer to each bottling bucket, to inhibit further fermentation. All of these wines were racked numerous times and left to age for months, so there shouldn't be any active yeast left. But better to be safe than sorry. This is my high tech set up. Here I am transferring the wine from the fermentor to the bottling bucket, to which the sugar syrup and stabilizer has been added.

Look how clear the wine is. That is what you are looking for.
Once it is clear you can bottle it and add it to your cellar.
This is the apple raisin wine, BTW.

And here it is, all freshly bottled. I got 5 bottles from
each gallon of wine, plus a little sample for the winemaker.

Here is the raspberry apple:
(made with frozen apple juice and my fresh raspberries)

And the one I am most proud of, mandarin orange banana. The husbeast told me I couldn't make a proper wine using oranges. But a customer (when I was still employed at the yarn shop) brought in a bag of "past their prime" mandarin oranges and you know how I hate to waste things. I also had a couple of over ripe bananas at home, so combined to two to make this concoction. And it is yummy! Bet you won't find anything like this on the store shelves.

Even though I lost my prize mead, it was a good (and painful) lesson to learn. I need to keep a closer check on the bulk aging closet, especially during the hot summer months. I won't make that mistake again. I was so distraught that I was considering giving up wine making. But after bottling these lovelies I am even more enthralled with the process.