Monday, September 30, 2013

A Little More Autumn Inside

  Autumn is my favorite season…probably because it is the end of summer.  I’m a sweater wearing, toasting marshmallows, and crunching leaves underfoot kind of girl.  So I am happily decking the house and yard out for fall.
I started with my fireplace hearth then moved on to the mantel (which I’ll show soon).  But that wasn’t enough.
So I turned my attention to my sofa table.  I didn’t have many fall decorations left… except those for Thanksgiving. 
A bit of folded burlap made a nice ‘base’ to start with.  There were a few silk sprays I put out for color and I covered the stems with a ‘leaf’ plate.  The nuts are from our stash we have for munching. 
I pulled the lantern off the entertainment center (which will be redone soon).  It has a battery operated candle so it gives a nice glow with no worries about forgetting it.  The antelope are wood carvings from our trip to Tanzania. 
Now… what can I decorate next…?

Monday, September 23, 2013

Frugal Doings: Learning to Can

I have wanted to learn to can jelly/jam and pickles for a long time, so when I heard that Mandy was offering a class I jumped on it.  She’s well known for the delicious jellies she sells in Clarksville. 
The class was held at her home…a home that happens to be a Bed and Breakfast.  ( ).  This is why we started the class with this delicious breakfast.
Mandy…you’ve ruined me for other classes!
After breakfast it was time to get busy.  First lesson: pickles.
Soon we were elbow deep in cucumbers…
…and green beans.
There were a lot of jars to pack. 
Garlicky pickling spice heated on the stove while we filled the jars.
Green bean pickles: in hot water and out.
I am looking so forward to opening my jar when Himself gets home.  We tried some that Mandy had done earlier and they are very good.
Grandmother’s secret:  put a grape leaf on top of the pickles to keep the cucumbers from scalding when the hot vinegar is poured in.
We did jars and jars of cucumber pickles.
With all the boiling the kitchen was pretty steamy.  I think when I do mine next year, it will be in the evening as it is cooling down for the day. 
Next lesson was grape jelly.  I couldn’t believe how easy it was! 
Processing the jars to sterilize them. 
We cooked down peaches to make preserves.  You have to skim that foam off. 
Finishing up. 
My first cannings!  I’m looking forward to trying different blends with my jams and jellies.  I think I’ll try making persimmon preserves this fall (if we get a bumper crop like we had last year). 
I wonder what persimmon and ginger would taste like…

Sunday, September 15, 2013

It's For The Birds

I’ve been working on organizing my garage -- since I’m getting stuff put away into my studio I’m able get the garage back into shape!

One of the first areas I’ve been able to do is place we keep our bird feeding supplies.

I got this antique bin from Sis.  It’s perfect for our feeder station.
On the top we keep different types of seed in separate plastic containers.  This keeps the mice and bugs out of them. 
In the bins is where I keep the feeders during the off season.   We only feed the hummingbirds during the summer… everyone else can work on the ba-zillion bugs we have out here at The Sticks! 

It keeps everything perfectly organized and protected.

Friday, September 13, 2013

You Are What You Eat

 If you are what you eat, then I only want to eat the good stuff.”  ~ Remy in Ratatouille.
I’ve been working towards healthier eating habits this summer, starting with getting a lot more vegetables and fruits into my diet.  The weekly CSA farm box has been a big part of getting this process going.
A box like this keeps me going all week.  Plus I really enjoy the surprise of what is in there each week.
I decided to dig a bit deeper and do a bit of research.  I stayed away from questionable sites, opting instead for those of some reputation.  I suppose the first thing people think about regarding healthy eating is the ‘food pyramid’. 
So my first stop was at the Dept of Agriculture where I found out there is no more food pyramid!  It’s been replaced by “Choose My Plate” ( ).   Then I moved on to major health institutions such as Harvard School of Medicine ( ) and others.  
Most encouraged a plant based diet with half of your meals being fruit and veggies.
As far as protein, it is suggest that one gets as much of your protein from plants as possible.  For meat, limit red meat to twice a week, opting instead for fish or poultry.  Stay away from processed meats of any kind.  Research is now showing that up to one egg a day is fine in a healthy diet.  
For oils, select vegetable oils such as olive or canola instead of margarine or butter.  One suggestion was to add a bit of butter or bacon fat to vegetable oil if you just must have the flavor.  
Switch from white (refined) to brown (whole fiber) pastas, rice, and breads.  Use steel cut or old fashioned oats instead of instant. 
“Children and adults need at least 20 to 30 grams of fiber per day for good health, but most Americans get only about 15 grams a day.
Fiber comes in two varieties, both beneficial to health:
•Soluble fiber, which dissolves in water, can help lower glucose levels as well as help lower blood cholesterol. Foods with soluble fiber include oatmeal, nuts, beans, lentils, apples and blueberries.
•Insoluble fiber, which does not dissolve in water, can help food move through your digestive system, promoting regularity and helping prevent constipation. Foods with insoluble fibers include wheat, whole wheat bread, whole grain couscous, brown rice, legumes, carrots, cucumbers and tomatoes.”
Reading up on water consumption was the big shocker.  Most sources state that 8 glasses a day is NOT enough water, and that 10 should be the minimum for women…more for men.  One site suggested a person should consider only water for hydration and other drinks as a treat.  
Many people are chronically dehydrated; with the effect of low energy, headaches, trouble concentrating, and trouble losing weight.  Also your body will cue hunger in an effort to get moisture if you are not drinking enough. 
I bought a container that holds 80 liquid ounces so I know how much I have to go by the end of the day.  
Be careful with fruit juices as you are getting a whole lot more fruit sugars with juice.  One orange will yield two OUNCES of juice… so with that standard glass you are in taking four oranges!  Wow.  I’d never thought of it like that.
Something that has been working very well for me is to eat a breakfast of high fiber cereal with some fruit or yogurt around 7 to 8 am.  Noontime lunch is the largest meal of the day, and mostly plant based.  Dinner comes early – absolutely no later than 5pm.  It is extremely light.  Fruit, soup, or a smoothie.  
My only issue is that it is very hard for me to maintain when I am away from home.  But I’m working on that, mainly with portion control.  (Don’t ask about my last visit to my family; birthday treats are a weakness and I was completely unrepentant.  I paid for it too!)
But I guess the fact that I do feel it when I ‘fall off the wagon’ means something is working…

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Good-bye Forever Weeds!

One thing about living here at The Sticks is that we do not have a lawn… we have a pasture.  A pasture with some of the toughest, most determined weeds you’ve ever seen.  These weeds laugh at even the best weed cloth I could find at the big box home improvement stores.  I would have to rip out the old weed cloth every year or two and replace it.  That was getting expensive -- to say nothing of how aggravating it was!
The worst area is the north side of our house.  The street side of course.  It’s the area where they backfilled from building the house and the rocks are starting to work their way up thru the thin overlay of soil.
Mowing in there is downright scary!
A double layer of weed cloth and 6 inches of wood mulch only slowed those weeds down for a couple months.
But… I think I’ve found my solution from the ReStore!
A few weeks ago there were pallets and pallets of some sort of rubberized tarp sitting along the building.  I found out it was basically just that…rubber tarp.  It’s what they use when roofing flat top buildings.  Those pallets held the edges that had been cut off.  And they were only $20 a pallet (about 3.5 feet high).
I brought home TWO pallets.   It took two trips to do so; this stuff is majorly heavy.  This is what one pallet worth looks is like.  It's about 3 feet high in the middle and stretches about 8 feet out.  Both sides are the same, just one is dark and the other side is light.
It only took one pallet to do this large area plus a 25x6’ area along the sidewalk (pics on that makeover later). 
I’m going to have some more gravel hauled in when it gets cooler.  A friend will use his tractor to move it to the tier and spread it out.  I used the light side up so that there will be less contrast when I get the white gravel spread on it.
I still have one more tier to do (to the left of this photo).  It’s a narrow wedge shape and won’t take much at all to do.  But I need to also be ready to trellis that wisteria you can see in the bottom left of the photo. 
A good job for Himself when he gets home!
You know… maybe I should go get another pallet of it…

Monday, September 9, 2013

Rock On!

My herb garden has really taken off (this is last year's photo).  So much so that I have to ‘recalculate’ the set-up.  But that is for another post.  There’s been one area that has been hard to maintain… and it doesn’t even have any herbs in it!
It’s the area that leads up to the water spigot.  Last year I mulched it with the same cedar mulch I used around the herbs.  Nothing is planted there because it would just be messed up by the hose when we use it. 
Himself dug down and set the paving blocks.  Thought we had that area taken care of.
Well, not so much…
Seems that is the exact place where a wind eddy drops leaves.  And when I raked them out, it pulled the mulch out too.  Plus the sides needed to be a bit lower to keep the mulch from moving.
I really liked the look of the river stones Himself put under the spigot.  So why not use them on the sides too?  So I removed the mulch and put in fresh weed cloth. 
Since I like the look of the stones under the spigot I bought 6 bags of ‘egg rock’ at Lowes.  Three bags on each side and I now have a new look for my herb bed!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

An Autumn Hearth

For several years I have wanted to do a wee bit of decorating for the seasons.  The problem was that I like the way I have things and couldn’t figure out what I wanted to redo so I could change it up regularly. 
It finally occurred to me that my fireplace hearth was looking tired.  I’d taken the plants usually sitting on it outside for the summer and all there was to look at was two empty containers and two candelabras. 
Talk about boring.
At the same time I was being totally discontented with my fireplace, many of my art challenges are featuring autumn themes...and still life vignettes are a form of art.  And with that, the decision was made to have my fireplace be my seasonally decorated area.  I started with the hearth since it needed the most help.
While September can and is still miserably hot, it heralds the beginning of autumn.  And autumn – for me – runs through Thanksgiving.  I headed out to the shed and brought in my tub of fall  decorations. 
First thing I did was to wrap some white Christmas lights around the driftwood I have sitting in the fireplace.  A mirror placed behind the logs ……..
The blue runner was replaced with a linen runner.  The metallic thread details in the leaves pick up the colors in the metal containers. 
Some silk mums perked up the containers.  I added some moss to fill in around the stems. 
I pulled a drift board from my stash to set candles on.  The candles came from my stash also. 
I’ll be working on the mantel in a bit.  There are a couple of projects I have to finish for it.  You will see more about those later this month.
(The above is the inspiration photo for this week.)
(Any creative/art project using orange)
(The word is "autumn")
(The challenge is to use something that flickers - in this case, candles and light strings)

Friday, September 6, 2013

Baking Croissants

I took a break from my August busyness to take a croissant class at a local bakery (Ann Marie’s ) .  With all the bread baking classes I’ve taken, I’ve never made croissants before.  So I jumped on this opportunity.

I walked into the shop to this…a half pound of butter and rolling pins.  Hmmmm…interesting.
Our fearless teacher ready to share the secrets of the flaky croissant!
First we rolled out the butter into a square about a quarter of an inch thick.
Then we rolled the dough out so that it was a bit wider than our butter and about 3 times as long.  (The dough had been premade for us since it has to rise and that takes a while).
Once the dough was rolled to the correct size, we laid the butter across the bottom – leaving about 2 inches space.  The top of the dough was folded over the butter, and then the bottom is folded back up and over. (This is a little different than the recipe below.) 
Rotate the dough so that the open side is next to you and roll out again.  Repeat this process AT LEAST four times to give you many layers in your dough.  You may have to chill the dough between rolling to keep it firm.
Before your final roll out, let the dough rest in the refrigerator.
To make your croissants, roll out the dough one more time.  Using a wheeled cutter (pizza wheel works great) cut the dough into triangles.
See all the layers?
At the top of each triangle, cut a deep notch.  When you roll the croissant, start at the notch and spread it to each side and roll down towards the point.
So it looks like this.
Place on a parchment lined baking tin (these are a bit too close). Brush with an egg wash.
To make a chocolate croissant, you cut the dough into a rectangle.  Place some chocolate chips in the middle…
… and bring the back third of the dough up over it.  Push the edge down into the bottom dough to lock in the chocolate.
Then add a few more chips!

Roll the dough on over the last edge and seal as best you can.  If it’s not completely sealed, that is fine.

It goes on a parchment lined baking pan too and egg wash.

Then bake!
You’ll soon have fluffy croissants.
And delicious chocolate croissants.
MMMMmmmm… Look at all those layers!
 Croissant Recipe
1 Cup Scalded Milk
2 3/4 tsp. Yeast
2 3/4 tsp. Sugar
1 1/4 tsp. Salt
1/4 Cup Butter Softened
2 1/2 Cups All Purpose Flour
2 Sticks Unsalted Butter for Folding in.
1 egg and 1 TB water for egg wash.
Parchment paper.
Mix the yeast with sugar & scalded milk. Make sure the milk is cooled. Let sit for about 10 minutes for the yeast to 'bloom' (get bubbly).   Add the remaining ingredients except the sticks of butter and mix into a dough.  Once mixed, let it rise until doubled.  Knock down and refrigerate for at least one hour or overnight (cover in plastic wrap). 

When ready to roll out, turn out on a lightly floured surface and roll out to a 10” square.  

Pound and roll out stick butter between two pieces of parchment paper into a sheet about 9” square.

Place butter in the dough square diagonally (butter corners to the dough sides).  Then bring the corners of the dough one at a time to the center of the butter to form an envelope.  Press the dough together along the seams to seal.  

Roll the dough/butter to elongate to about 24”.  Reshape the ends as needed to keep square corners.  Brush flour from the top of the dough.

Take one end of dough and fold towards the center …leaving about a third of the dough exposed.  Brush off flour from the top again and fold the other third over…forming 3 layers.

Place on cookie sheet, cover, and chill for about 20 minutes.

Roll out again, this time elongating towards the open ends.  Repeat folding process.  Chill. Repeat this process at least 4 times to incorporate the butter into layers.

After final roll out, cover and chill overnight.

The next morning, set the dough out for one more roll out.  This time elongate to about 44”.  The dough sheet will be very thin.  (If the dough starts pulling back and becoming hard to roll, refold and chill to relax the dough…then unfold and continue rolling.)

When it’s rolled out, let it rest for a few minutes.  You can even lift the dough a bit so it doesn’t spring back as you cut.

Cut the dough into long triangles back and forth across the rectangle.  Use a pizza wheel to cut.  You can measure if you’d like, or just go for it.

Make a quarter inch notch in the short end of each triangle.  Then give the dough a stretch from short end to point. 

Roll the croissant from the short end towards the point, giving a flare at the notch when you start.  This creates the classic croissant shape.

Place widely spaced on parchment covered cookie sheets and allow to rise for one and a half to two hours. 

After they have risen, brush each lightly with the egg wash.

Place into a pre-heated oven (425*).  Bake about 22 – 24 minutes; until nicely browned.  Cool on the baking sheet on a rack. 

It’s a long process but so worth it. 

The dough before the final roll out can sit about 5 days in the refrigerator or about a month in a deep freezer when wrapped air tight (thaw unwrapped).  The baked croissants also freeze well. 

Mini croissants can be made by cutting the final dough in half long ways.