Saturday, December 26, 2009

Merry Christmas Everyone!

Christmas was wonderful! We had Christmas at our house on Christmas Eve, blending some traditions, creating new ones. We have a "new" Christmas tree this year. Instead of hunting for a "real" tree, we were blessed to find a beautiful artificial tree. You couldn’t tell that it's artificial unless you really looked closely at the needles. You'll laugh when I tell you that I found it at our nearby dumpster back in September, packed neatly in it's own immaculate and original box! It came from Wal-Mart in 1989 and at that time cost $139!!  I love it because now I don’t have to be in a hurry to take it down!

Christmas Eve, all of the kids came (adult children and grandchildren) and we had cookies and eggnog and watched the little ones open presents. Each child had 3 presents, one of which was a new pair of heavy mittens (handmade by Grandma!), a bag of their favorite cookies to take home and a handmade ornament for their tree at home.

We did not buy presents for the adult children, but we did give them food gifts. Everyone brought something for the little ones. We all had cookies & eggnog before presents…

Notice the little hand making it's way toward the Peanut Butter Blossoms! That is my grandson Robbie, who loves peanut butter and chocolate combinations of any kind.

At the end of the evening, when people started going home, we gave the adults their presents to take home. Each package had a jar of homemade chili, banana bread in a jar, a bottle of homemade eggnog, a tin of homemade cookies & 1 other present – red zinger tea for dauhter Laura, saffron rice pilaf for Becca, hand lotions & soaps for Meredith and hens and chickens for Will to plant by the walk at his new house.


On Christmas Day, Cliff & I had a wonderful breakfast together of scrambled eggs (from our hens - look for an entry on home-grown eggs in the next day or so), bacon, toasted homemade bread & some of our homemade eggnog. Our own children were having Christmas in their homes with their kids and other family members, so we attended the large extended Hall Family Christmas Dinner at Cliff's Mom's house. It is nothing to see 30-50 people come to Mom's for Christmas. We all opened presents and Cliff gave several jars of apple butter away for Christmas presents, which reminded me that I had LEFT all the banana bread in jars at home! Fortunately, we see everyone regularly, so we'll just deliver them as late, but well-intentioned gifts!

I keep a journal of each Christmas, with photos and recipes, detailing what went well, how we decorated, what was happening then and what we could do to improve things. This year, I was actually knitting the finishing touches on Sarah's mittens when she was HERE, waiting for the rest of the family to arrive. So, I would certainly say that I need to get started earlier and finish a little earlier! My goal this year is to have everything done and WRAPPED by Oct 31st! If I start right now, I can do that and make sweaters instead of mittens!

I was in such a rush, having not yet recovered from nursing Cliff through shingles and everyone and everything else through 2 feet of snow and 3 solid days of plowing (18-20 hr days), that I forgot a lot of pretty basic things. I left out 6 of the 18 eggs for the eggnog, forgot to make labels for the banana bread in jars and then even forgot to take the banana bread in jars to the big family Christmas dinner to give them out! But we all had fun, no one noticed my faux pas and we'll do better next year!!!

If you like eggnog, here is the recipe for ours (with the RIGHT amount of eggs!) - you can still have it for New Year's Eve! Enjoy and hope you all had a very blessed & Merry Christmas!

Kristen's Eggnog Recipe
 3 quarts whole milk
1 c heavy cream
18 fresh eggs (homegrown if possible)
1½ c sugar
1 tbsp vanilla
1 tsp nutmeg

Beat eggs, vanilla & nutmeg in food processor. Pour sugar through dry funnel into gallon milk jug. Add eggs & milk & shake well. This makes about 1 gallon.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Kristen's Whole Wheat Bread Mix

To me, one of the best aroma’s in the world is fresh baked bread. And I can’t think of anything better to eat than fresh, hot bread, just sliced, slathered with real butter.

Everyone regards fresh bread as a big treat, but really, it is not hard to make fresh bread everyday if you want to. I’ll tell you my secret – I have all the dry ingredients pre-measured into gallon-size zip closure bags. Each bag has a large label with the remainig necessary ingredients and directions on how to make the bread.

I also make a smaller label with the date. Usually, I make 6 bags at a time, since that exactly uses up one 5 lb bag of whole wheat flour.

Using this system, I can make 2 loaves of fresh bread in about 15 minutes, not counting the rise time, but which does include proofing the yeast. And, since everything is pre-measured, there will be less dishes to wash. The cost may vary depending on where you live and the cost of ingredients, but each loaf costs me about 65¢ to make.

This recipe is my basic whole wheat bread recipe. I have made this for years, and this is the bread my daughters learned to bake when they were first starting. It is a good, hardy everyday bread with a nice grain, but you can also doll it up with raisins, sunflower seeds – whatever you’d like to make a multi-grain kind of bread. Cut the dough in half, roll it out flat, spread melted butter, sprinkle with cinnamon & sugar & raisins, roll it back up (like a pinwheel) and you’ll have an excellent cinnamon raisin bread. Shape it into rolls, make a soft pizza crust - the variations are endless.

This bread is has a nice crust, so if you like a crunchy crust, you can brush it with egg white or melted butter, or do nothing. I like a softer crust, so when they come out of the oven, I brush each loaf with melted butter and cover lightly with plastic wrap and a dishtowel and let it sit for a few minutes. This makes a nice, soft crust but doesn’t turn the bread soggy.

Give this recipe a try and tell me what you think!

Kristen’s Whole Wheat Bread Mix

In a 1 gallon ziplock bag, add the following:

4 c white flour
2 ½ c whole wheat flour
¼ c. brown sugar
1 tsp salt
¼ c gluten (optional)
Seal & label.

One 5 lb bag of whole wheat flour is enough for 6 batches (equivalent to 12 loaves).

Be sure to label these with directions, especially since they have the rest of the ingredients listed! Not only are the mixes convenient, they make great gifts. I like to print the labels are printed on Avery 8160 size shipping labels so they look like this:

Whole Wheat Bread Mix

1. 3 c warm water, 1 Tbsp yeast, 1 Tbsp sugar in bowl, 1/3 c olive oil in large mixer bowl. Proof yeast by waiting 15 min to see if the yeast begins to bubble.

2. Add bread mix. Use dough hook to mix or mix & knead by hand. Let rise in bowl.

3. Remove from bowl, divide into 2 loaves. Shape, put in lightly greased pan & let rise. Preheat over to 350°. Let dough rise until nearly double.

4. Bake 30 min.

Makes 2 loaves

The Big Snowstorm of December 2009

Yes, Virginia, we are going to have a white Christmas! At least, we are having one here in Virginia! Our home is in Rockbridge County, which yesterday received the dubious distinction of getting the most snow of anywhere in the snowfall area – that included West Virginia, Kentucky, Delaware, anywhere else in Virginia and so far, all the states to the north of us currently getting heavy snow.

Cliff has been plowing since 8 am yesterday, finally getting home at 4 am this morning. After a couple of hours of sleep, he was out digging out the livestock, re-fuelling and preparing to go out again. We expect he will be plowing until Monday afternoon, at least. We understand that another, smaller, snow storm is due on Christmas day, so we are especially anxious to get everyone cleared out as much as possible before the next snow.

While Cliff is plowing, I do what I always do - tend the hearth and keep the fires burning – literally. The woodstove is keeping our home very cozy and nice, with or without electricity.

I did make a shocking discovery yesterday, however, and I want to share this to stress a point to you ladies out there who are preparing for storms of whatever fashion. If you get a generator, and I am sure you should if you don’t have one already, be sure to spend the money and get one with an electric start. Our is a gasoline powered generator, and we have had it and used it for many years with great success. However, it has always been my husband who ran it. When he left yesterday to plow, he set up the generator for me, showed me how to start it, refill it, etc. But one thing neither of us bargained for was that I am not strong enough to pull the cord hard enough to get the engine to start. Thankfully, we have a neighbor who cam e and pulled the cord for me, since otherwise, I would have had to have gone without. Imagine – an accessible generator, more than enough fuel…and can’t get it to start because the operator doesn’t have the strength to pull the cord hard enough!

Ladies, if you have a generator like this, go out and start it BEFORE you need to! Be sure you can start the thing! If you can’t, you may as well not have it at all!

(For more snowstorm photos, visit our Facebook page at

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Hand That Rocks the Cradle - Revisited

This morning, leafing through the January 2010 issue of "Better Homes and Gardens" magazine, I came across two fascinating articles. Normally, I am really more of a "Mother Earth News", "Backwoods Home" "Countryside & Small Stock Journal" reader, but this issue had headlines about getting more organized, so I just had to check it out.

I never found the article on getting organized. Instead, I found two articles that that are notable for their very presence in this "upmarket adult female" oriented magazine. One article was about having swap parties. The idea is that you and your friends clean out and declutter all your closets and basements, get it all together in one spot and trade things, no money exchanged. This is an old idea - and a good one, but not something you'd be likely to read about in BHG.

The other article fascinated me even more. This one was about starting seeds. Starting seeds! Can you imagine? Not going to Lowe's and buying nearly grown tomato plants, but actually starting seed in little peat pots for use in your garden!

Now, among my family and friends, swapping, seed starting and so forth are old news. Very old news. In fact, it's a way of life. But for the readers of BHG, it seems to be a new concept. indicative of the narrowing gap between the economic classes and the rapidly disappearing middle-class. Very shortly, we will see "middle-class" as a briefly transitory state between becoming very rich or, as is the case for most of the country, very broke.

A couple of months ago, I wrote an article for The Texas Ring ( about a similar phenomemon - homesteading how-to books available through the "Doubleday Craft Book Club". Rather than re-write it here, I have included parts of the article below.

The Hand That Rocks the Cradle...

If ever there was an doubt about the feeling of mainstream America in regard to the shakiness of our economy, one need only to look in the places where the average, middle-class lady may be found. One such place is in the crafts & hobbies market.

Having a bent toward being such a lady myself, I am a long-term member of one of the larger crafts related book clubs. Recently, I logged onto that website, looking for a book on building small backyard sheds, something which one can never have too many of.

While perusing the selection of landscaping and gardening books in the “outdoor section”, I came upon several books that shocked me with their presence. Here, the bosom of middle class America’s bookshelves were books on homesteading!

Raising chickens! Self-sufficiency! Keeping bees! Urban homesteading!

Do I detect a sense of uneasiness and/or dissatisfaction in the lives of my sisters? Or is the harsh reality of the future of our society and lives starting to reach even the most cheerful optimists? And rightly so, since our future no longer glistens like the morning dew. More like the hot, dry dust at the end of a parched summer day.

How appropriate to see the beginnings of change in a vehicle such as a crafts club. It will be the womenfolk (as our dear Bill Buppert once called us) with a penchant for “handiwork” who carry the bulk of the preparation and work involved in keeping our families (and possibly farms and small-holdings) alive. It will be the womenfolk who stock the pantries, learn to garden and can our produce, learn to cook from scratch and how to make do with a good bit less than we are used to having. It will be the womenfolk soothing the battered egos and easing the torment in the eyes and hearts of our men as they see so much of what they have worked for slowing dissolving into the sand of a past life.

It is telling that the larger publishing houses also recognize and capitalize on this trend. Is it so obvious even to the publishing houses that our country and society have changed, yet we cannot gain even a hint of recognition of this fact from our own government? When a solid 40% of our population is now owned, financially speaking, by the federal government, it seems plain that we have, in fact, experienced the beginnings of Obama’s “change”, though it certainly is not the change for which we’d hoped.

 The 2008 Presidential Election map, shows the territory won by Republicans was mostly the land owned by the taxpaying citizens of the country. Democrat territory mostly encompassed those citizens living in government-owned tenements and living off various forms of government welfare."

While I would certainly hesitate to generalize all of the pro-Obama voters as welfare or federal fund recipients, I do have to agree that the United States as we have known it is certainly on the downhill slide, and apparently the major publishing houses agree as well.

In a recent story on Yahoo news, it turns out that we, as a country, have a good deal less financial wherewithal that we’d been led to believe. The National Academy of Science uses a slightly different formula for calculating the poverty rate than the Census Bureau, in that the NAS factors in such frivolities as rising medical care, transportation, child care or geographical variations in living costs. Factoring in these items shows the poverty rate to be at 15.8 percent, or nearly 1 in 6 Americans, according to calculations released this week. That’s higher than the 13.2 percent, or 39.8 million, figure made available recently under the original government formula. Currently, a family of 4 making $22,050 is considered at poverty level, according to Federal guidelines. Shoot, that’s most of the folks in the county where we live, except the wealthy folks who have retired here, university professors and government officials. In fact, these days, $22,000 for a family of 4 in our area is GOOD money.

Everyday, despite the placid reassurances from Washington, D.C., we see another indication that homesteading might not be a bad idea. Articles abound telling us that it is perfectly moral and upright to walk away from your mortgage, forsake your car loan, default on the credit cards. We know in our hearts that this is just not true, but we know that it is a hard fact of life that difficult decisions must be made in difficult times. “Shall we buy groceries this week or chip away on the credit card balance?” is simply not a realistic question.

Prepare for a revolution, Friends. It will not come prefaced by the demolition of the Goldman-Sachs lobby, as predicted (hoped for?) by one prominent author. It will come quietly during the sleepless nights of those caught in the crux of the change.

It will come as decisions are made on the family level to abandon the McMansion, the car, the credit card bills, using that energy and money instead to simply stay alive and on our feet. It will come as more families realize that they have sold their souls to the devil in exchange for a pittance of mediocre care. Revolution will come when individuals and families, one at a time, make the decision to stand for themselves, out of desire or necessity, and to do whatever it takes to stay free or become free.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Life is Good

Several months ago, we were blessed with a homeless Yellow Lab pup. We are suckers for cute, homeless puppies, and everyone knows it - a liability when you hav a farm and a couple of empty kennels. So this pup came to stay with us. Her name is Polka (don't ask - she came with that name), and she came here with the intent of staying only until we found a home for her.

We have another dog who came here, 8 years ago, under that same premise. A Dalmatian-Lab cross who we named Lucky. Lucky came with a broken leg, and we agreed to foster her until "she found a better home". Well, who has a better home than us, for heaven's sake? We lived this lie for about 4 years. Then one day, my husband came home from the farm supply store with Lucky (who rides everywhere with him) and Lucky was sporting a fancy new John Deere collar. We knew she'd found a forever home.

I imagine Polka will have a similar experience. She is very much like our Lucky in terms of size, temperament and lovability. We figure that Lucky is now about 9 years old, so by the time Lucky is ready to pass onto that big playground in the sky, Polka will have grown up to be a sensible, adult lady dog. We hope that will help us make the transition and ease through the loss.

Odd, how as we age, we think in those terms. When I was a younger woman, I'd have never even considered that Lucky would ever die, much less bring in a companion for her to play with that will eventually help us with Lucky's ultimate transition. When the Lord calls me home, I'm ready, and I've made all the earthly preparations I can make, both for myself and for those I love.

What kind of preparations have you made? Have you even really considered the possibility that you may not live forever? Have you gotten things right between you and the Lord? Do you have your personal life & finances in order? Have you forgiven all you need to forgive?

Getting your house in order, as the phrase goes, both with God and with earthly issues will give you a peace and security that you have never known. You'll have a contented smile on your face just like Polka - sigh, life is GOOD!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Getting Ready for the Storm

Remember how we talked earlier this week about the warm tepmeratures, flowers blooings and all that wonderful spring weather? It's over. We have a severe winter weather forcast showing on our weather alert, predicting from 1" to 4" of snow by tomorrow, starting around daybreak.

In our area, a good snow storm is when the farmers like to burn brush piles. Last year, we burned a good size pile in January and the cows were very grateful. If you look closely at the picture, you can see the flame in the middle of the herd as they circle around the campfire! Even cows like to be toasty warm!

We have been preparing for a storm for a long time now. What kind of storm, we did not know, but we're ready anyway. If the weather is bad, rain or snow, we're fine. If the economy sinks to the bottom of the global ocean, we're fine.

Are you?

Can you get by if you can't get to the store for 2-3 days? Do you have at least 72 hrs worth of food and water stored somewhere accessible in your home? What about lighting? What about warmth? Do you have a "bug-out bag"? That's a bag packed for each member of the family with the barest essentials that you can grab and run with if you need to in an emergency.
If you don't have any of these things, now is a great time to start thinking about it. There are literally hundreds of sites online that talk about preparedness and stocking your pantry. We'll be covering some aspects of that here, too.

But for today, just see if you can prepare your family for 72 hrs. That's not much time, effort or money and will leave with a wonderful sense of security. You'll find that you already have 90% of what you need - you just have to get it organized. Here are a couple of websites to get you started:

72 Hours

How to Make a 72 hr kit for Emergency Preparedness

72 Hour Survival Kits

Take the time to start working on this today. You never know what storms might come or when!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Banana Bread (and other treats) In Jars

With Christmas rapidly approaching, it's time to start baking some of our gifts. We long ago abandoned the big Christmas shopping ordeal, in favor of handmade, useable or consumable gifts. One of our favorite gifts is a "goodie basket". This is usually a very pretty basket (picked up sometime over the past year at Goodwill or somewhere similar) filled with goodies like banana or cranberry nut bread, maybe some homemade jams or jellies, apple butter, handmade soap or salves. It is always handmade and usually comes from the farm.

The first item for the basket this year is Banana Bread. It's a pretty popular quick bread, and there just happened to be a sale at Kroger - bananas were 29¢ a lb. Lord only knows how many pounds I bought, since we love bananas. We ate some and the rest we used for Banana Bread. We made some of the usual small traditional loves (pictured above) and the rest we baked in canning jars, put the lids on as soon as they come out of the over and you have Banana Bread in Jars that lasts about forever (as long as the seal is good). These are great as gifts for people who may want something sweet long after the holidays.

Here is a picture of a few of the Banana Bread(s) in a Jar, right after they came out of the oven. After they have cooled and the jars have sealed, I put them back into the original case and cover them with a sheet of newspaper, plastic or whatever is handy so they don't get dusty in the pantry. Then I label and date the cover so I don't have to remember what they are in a year or so! When I need one to give away as a gift, I print a nice little label for the jar, tie a ribbon or several strands of natural twine around the top for a decoration.

Besides being great little gifts for a food basket, house-warming or thank you gift, they are right handy to hanve in the pantry for our own use. And it doesn't have to be just Banana Bread. Any favorite quick bread recipe will work for an instant quick treat with out the chemicals and preservatives of store-bought food.

If you are having a rushed day, how about taking a jar of homemade canned chili off the shelf with some Cornbread in a Jar? Once you know the technique, the possibilities are endless for healthy, satisfying and fast desserts, snacks or side dishes. Here's the basic formula -

You'll need:

4 wide mouth pint jars with lids and rings
A quick bread recipe that makes 2 loaves - banana, banana nut, cranberry nut, pumpkin,
                          zucchini, applesauce cake - you get the idea

Preheat the over to 350 ยบ F (or whatever your recipe calls for)

Grease the insides of the jars. Mix up your quick bread recipe as usual. Fill each jar about ½ full. Place the jars evenly spaced on a cookie sheet. Bake for 30-45 minutes, according to your recipe. Test with a toothpick for doneness. When they are done, remove the cookie sheet with the jars and place on the counter on a towel to prevent burning the counter. Place a lid on each jar and screw down, but don't crank it down tight. Set the jar on a towel on the counter andrepeat with each jar. Within a few minutes, you'll hear the jar lids start their delightful "pinging", signifying that the lids have sealed.

When the jars have cooled, place them in the jar box for storage or store in a cool, dry, dark place. The cakes will last indefinately as long as the jars stay sealed. If you are canning these for your own use, you can remove the lids before storing. I usually leave the lids in place for things like this, since we normally use them as gifts, and you'll want rings on them in that case.

To remove the cakes from the jars, place them in the microwave (without the lids) for 30 sec or so or set in a pot of hot water for a minute. They will slide right out and you can slice them into pretty little rounds.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Keeping House

Having a reasonably clean house is really important to me. I am just one of those people who can’t function when the house is dirty. I am not obsessed with it and it doesn’t have to be spotless, but it has to be neat. The kitchen is really the hub of our home, and if the counter tops are cleared off, the dishes are done and the floor is clean, I am happy.

Now, if you live in the country, as we do, have a lot of dogs, as we do, and visiting grandchildren, as we do, keeping the floors clean can be a challenge. One thing that does make this chore easier is the Swiffer® – I have to tell you, I LOVE the concept of the Swiffer® .Unfortunately, disposable Swiffer® pads just don’t mean my criteria for frugality – they are expensive and add to the clutter in the landfill, something we try to avoid. Swiffer® fluid is expensive and, at least on my floors, leaves a filmy residue.

So I decided that I would go back to my old way of damp mopping with a string mop and a squirt bottle of my preferred cleaning solution. The string mop head is removable and therefore washable, which is wonderful. However, it doesn’t get into the corners very well, it picks up little twigs and sticks which are impossible to remove and it tends to leave little bits of the cotton on the floor after it’s been used a while, which means you have to sweep again after you mop.

This was unsatisfactory to me, also. I like to get my work done in the best way possible, with as little effort as possible. This means I have more energy to use on the projects where a lot of effort is necessary. And that started me thinking about how to get my floors clean with the least amount of time, money and effort and still have nice, clean, shiny floors.

That chain of thought brought me back to the Swiffer®. I started looking for ways to make covers for the Swiffer® instead of using the disposable pads. Looking online, I found several links for handmade, re-useable, washable Swiffer® covers. You can sew, knit or crochet covers or you can even buy re-useable covers for the Swiffer® Wet-Jet (the one with the batteries) or the regular Swiffer® which is mostly just a handled stick with a head for the cover. This is a great option of you don’t want to be using batteries to run the Swiffer® You would just squirt your cleaning fluid of choice out of a bottle. An old dish soap or shampoo bottle would work well for this. Here are some links to get you started –

Zoom Swiffer Cover (pdf)

Biffer Shrug (pdf)

Old Socks as Swiffer Covers 

Swiffer Cover Sewing Pattern

These are all great, easy, fast patterns. Personally, I lean toward sewing the covers, since I like to reserve my knitting time for socks, sweaters, etc. I use old, stained terry cloth dishcloths or washclothes and I use velcro to attach the sewn cover, rather than using buttons.

For those of you who still prefer the battery powered Swiffer® Wt-Jet, even if we save money on the hand-made covers, there is still the issue of the Swiffer® cleaning fluid. How do you get the top off the bottle to refill the bottle with your preferred cleaning solution, and still get the cap back on right so you can mount the bottle on the handle properly? This stumped me, since the bottle cap does not just come off and I thought there had to be some magical combination to make it work. Or worse, they just did not come off and you always had to buy a new one. Period.

After searching online, I found an great “instructable” video on how to remove the bottle caps and make those Swiffer® bottles reusable! It is simple and very do-able. BTW, this site has a ton of other “instructable” videos – be careful you don’t get lured into spending a couple hours looking at all the great ideas!

How to remove the cap on a Swiffer Wet-Jet cleaner bottle. - More DIY How To Projects

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

December Flowers

This morning, my husband came in with a nice, but amazing surprise - a bouquet of fresh picked flowers! Now, normally, he picks a really beautiful bouquet, and you might look at this one as a little scraggly, but to me, ANY fresh flowers in the Shenandoah Valley on December 1st are amazing and welcome. They really highlight the peculiar weather we have experienced here in the past few years - this year was especially odd.

The temperatures stayed warm during the day, with some rain occassionally and the dropped down to frost, sometimes even hard frost at night. In the morning the sun comes up and we're back up to 68 or 70 degrees. The grass is still growing, the goats are still browsing and, as you can see, flowers are blooing! We saw somwone actually mowing his lawn this afternoon! It is really more like springtime in the valley!  Being a moderate weather type of person (not too hot, not too cold), I am really enjoying it. I have been able to do a lot of catching up on my pitifully neglected garden clean up!

We took so many pictures during the Thanksgiving holiday that I would not have the space to run even a few here. But here is one I loved and wanted to share...


This is the grand-daughter you hear about all the time, our little Sarah. We made Thanksgiving pies together, and in the process, it occurred to her that the cupboard door handles would be great eyes for a "smiley face". She did this and I raced for the camera! She'd been trying out a new cranberry-raisin pie filling, and was in a very creative mood!

We are STILL doing venison! We cooked and processed about 15 lbs of venison barbeque last night. We ran out of some of the ingredients for our usual barbeque sauce, so we created a new, and very tasy recipe...

Venison BB Sauce -

2 bottles of your favorite BB sauce
1 qt tomato sauce
1/4 red wine vinegar

Mix together and then pour over cooked, shredded venison (or pork). Mix with your hands and then let cook on very low overnight in a large roaster/cooker. This was enough for 15 lbs of meat.

So good! Adjust the vinegar to taste and maybe add some salt and pepper. Enjoy!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Thanksgiving and an Ode to America

We had a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner here. We have the "Big Hall Family Feast" every Thanksgiving, but this year, we took it to the fellowship hall at our church. Since we were there, we also invited any church family who wanted to come to have Thanksgiving dinner with us. This was not a church event - we just know that some of the folks are older and don't have family close by (if at all) and some just don't have much, so we invited them. Daughter Laura and I cooked for the last 2 days and then cooked all day today. You never SAW the like of food. And Cliff shot a 13 lb wild turkey this morning, so there was a store-bought turkey, a huge store-bought turkey breast, a ham and a wild turkey, green beans, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, salad, macaroni & cheese, several homemade pies and homemade just-out-of-the-oven rolls & bread (with real butter, thank you very much). It was a real farm-style feast. We had 14 people from the church, plus our 10, which is about 1/2 the church. (We average about 50 now and are starting to really grow.) At the end of dinner, we told everyone to take home some food and we got out a couple of dozen take-out boxes. EVERYONE left with a big take-out box, Laura and I filled the refrigerator with food for Sunday and we both STIll took home carloads of food.

We all had a lot of fun. We really feel blessed that we could have had a dinner like this to share, and the church family seemed to be thrilled to have dinner with us. We had a little more time than usual to visit, Cliff got a chance to get to know some of them a little better and they us. It was a real blessing for everyone - wish y'all could have been here to share it with us!

We have a dear friend that my husband met a few years ago while on a mission trip to Romania . We started talking via email and became good friends, then she and her husband came and visited us for a week. What a joy it was to hear about their different culture!

My husband loves to tell about the simple, basic lives lived by many Romanians. What we earn here in a year that keeps us solidly middle class would have us placed as very wealthy folks in Romania . We can learn a good bit from them about frugality and eating good, basic, homemade foods. I can still taste the wonderful goat cheese she brought with her, and today opened a plastic bottle (recycled, of course) of the most wonderful, fragrant Romanian honey you ever want to taste-homegrown by her father.

But they lack the one thing that we take for granted – freedom. They are not free to leave the country to work or visit without specially granted visas, which are extremely expensive and difficult to get. Our friend tells of spending $300 to apply for her visa – on a monthly salary of $80.

She sent me an email today that I wanted to share with you all. We seldom hear what the other countries of the world think of us – with the obvious exceptions of the British, French, Israel and miscellaneous unfriendly Arabic countries. Here is an excerpt from a Romanian newspaper that you all may find interesting. The article was written by Mr. Cornel Nistorescu and published under the title 'C'ntarea Americii, meaning 'Ode To America ' in the Romanian newspaper Evenimentulzilei 'The Daily Event' or 'News of the Day'.

~An Ode to America ~

"Why are Americans so united? They would not resemble one another even if you painted them all one color! They speak all the languages of the world and form an astonishing mixture of civilizations and religious beliefs.

On 9/ll, the American tragedy turned three hundred million people into a hand put on the heart. Nobody rushed to accuse the White House, the Army, or the Secret Service that they are only a bunch of losers. Nobody rushed to empty their bank accounts. Nobody rushed out onto the streets nearby to gape about.

Instead the Americans volunteered to donate blood and to give a helping hand.
After the first moments of panic, they raised their flag over the smoking ruins, putting on T-shirts, caps and ties in the colors of the national flag. They placed flags on buildings and cars as if in every place and on every car a government official or the president was passing. On every occasion, they started singing: 'God Bless America !'

I watched the live broadcast and rerun after rerun for hours listening to the story of the guy who went down one hundred floors with a woman in a wheelchair without knowing who she was, or of the Californian hockey player, who gave his life fighting with the terrorists and prevented the plane from hitting a target that could have killed other hundreds or thousands of people.

How on earth were they able to respond united as one human being? Imperceptibly, with every word and musical note, the memory of some turned into a modern myth of tragic heroes. And with every phone call, millions and millions of dollars were put into collection aimed at rewarding not a man or a family, but a spirit, which no money can buy. What on earth can unites the Americans in such way? Their land? Their history? Their economic Power? Money? I tried for hours to find an answer, humming songs and murmuring phrases with the risk of sounding commonplace, I thought things over, I reached but only one conclusion.... Only freedom can work such miracles." ~ Cornel Nistorescu

Ah, yes, Cornel, but the point you miss - while aptly describing the American spirit and love of freedom - is our absolute, unfailing intention to keep that freedom. We “accuse the White House, the Army, or the Secret Service that they are only a bunch of losers. …rush to empty (our-sic) bank accounts.” Not for the sheer joy of humiliating our leaders, but in an attempt to keep them honest, and to keep them working for the “right side” - the side of freedom.

In many ways, we are not the same people, not the same country, we were before 9/11. There are more laws restricting our personal privacy now than our forefathers would have ever imagined. But in some ways, we are stronger, as a collective group. We have seen what can happen in our own country and we are not willing to let it happen again. Never again will we be terrorized by forces that I personally am willing to recognize as “evil” – not from outside the United States nor inside the United States . 9/11 was the first wake up call. Perhaps Ft. Hood is the second.

Our greatest fault lies in our willingness to let others do our work, namely the state and local governments. They have been joyfully allowed to feed, clothe and house us, prevent or eliminate the birth of our children, determine the validity of marriage, even determine the validity and popularity of our religions and the quality of our spiritual life.

We have been sleeping for several decades, lulled into a sweet, drunken slumber of complacency and it has nearly cost us our lives. We are on the edge of the web, about to be drawn in to a nice, warm cocoon – only to find that it holds us safely paralyzed until we can become dinner.

But we, the people of the United States, are slowly, groggily waking up to our surroundings – a tad hung-over and disoriented, but very much aware that something evil does indeed this way come. We will need a miracle to get the country through this phase – but, to quote Cornel Nistorescu once again, “.... Only freedom can work such miracles.”

Friday, November 20, 2009

Honey & Vinegar

For most of my life, I have gotten a nasty case of bronchitis at least once a year. Annually, I fend it off with bed rest, cough syrup and very rarely, antibiotics. I’ve had it so often and know it so well, that I no longer even go to a doctor when the symptoms begin to appear. I just stock up on cough syrup, Mucinex®, ginger ale and popsicles in case I run a fever and then I just get ready. Two or three days in bed in more of less of a cough syrup induced stupor (since I am very sensitive to medications) and I can function again…after 4 days I feel human.

On Monday night, I could feel it coming on. I had been reading about honey and vinegar for colds, flu and bronchitis – among the many other health benefits they offer. So this time, I got out my bottle of organic apple cider vinegar and a gift of Romanian honey and got ready.

Tuesday morning, the bronchitis came on full force, with a slight fever of up to 101° F. I drank nothing but a tea made of 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar and honey to sweeten to taste (since I cannot stomach straight vinegar and water on a good day. Fasting was not a choice – I was just not hungry (perhaps from the honey?).
Bed rest all day Tuesday, and part of Wednesday. Thursday I had no fever and was up and dressed early in the morning and able to work some, but still felt a little tired. By this morning, Friday, I felt fine, though still coughing productively.
Tonight the coughing is nearly gone and I feel fine.

I’m no doctor and I am not even going to use the word “cure”. But this is the fastest case of bronchitis I have experienced in- oh, 50+ years. The family is joking about it being the “bronchitis diet”, since I lost 5 lbs. (I wouldn’t recommend it.)

Apple cider vinegar – the real kind you get in health food stores or make yourself, not the pasteurized version – has long been known for it’s healthful properties, lowering blood pressure, cholesterol, fighting off infections, strengthening the bladder and kidneys – just for a start. And honey is known world wide as the natural sweetener of choice – easily metabolized, it is said to help with arthritis, high cholesterol, colds, upset stomachs, influenza, indigestion, fatigue and helps build the immune system.

It worked for me, better than the drug store aids. My lungs did not clear up faster, but they did clear up more thoroughly (along with my sinuses, which I didn’t know had a problem), and while I still had coughing fits, they were more productive. I spent less time in bed, less time with a fever and was back to at least light work much faster. Next time you have a cold coming on, I’d highly recommend you give it a try. I'm going to make this my regular morning and evening tea!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Surprise and Reminder

Nov. 17, 2009

You may have noticed the pretty little flower garden in the picture of the log cabin. That’s the summer garden, and it is absolutely my favorite time of year, at least for flower gardens.

But it’s turned cold and the flowers have long since ceased to be pretty. The rose bushes are spindly and naked, the hibiscus is spread out an yellow leaved, as is the big autumn joy sedum.

Yesterday was a wonderful day – sunny and warm, but not to hot – a perfect day for me. I did some housework and some office work and took the afternoon “off” to go play in the garden. While pruning and clearing away the dead stalks and leaves, I found a delightful little treasure…

Tiny baby sedum plants! They were so adorable and such a sweet little surprise, I had to show them to you! Every one of these little ones will grow into a big showy plant that needs virtually no care. In the spring, we’ll separate them and pot some up for family, friends and maybe the farmer’s market.

The hens have completely stopped laying now and are growing their feathers back in after their molt. We’ll let the girls all rest and re-grow their feathers at their own rate, not pushing them to produce with artificial lighting or other things. Even my pair of beautiful Muscovy ducks are molting. It is definitely the time of year when things slow down and take a much needed rest.

Wouldn’t it be great if we would just rest and rejuvenate when we needed to, like our pets and livestock? Instead, we work and work, 24/7, never giving ourselves a moment’s rest. And now, the pressure of the holidays is upon some of us,complicating things with the need to buy gifts, impress friends and family, tolerate friends and family and run ourselves into debt and craziness.

What if we just slowed down and pay attention to ourselves a little? Not in a selfish way, but just use our common sense about how we care for ourselves. Rest when we’re tired… Buy less for Christmas – make gifts for your friends and family and stay out of the stores….slow down just a little and stop taking ourselves so seriously. Let’s make the holidays – and every day - special and enjoyable again, not something we just have to “get through”.

Stocking the Pantry & Filling the Freezer

Nov. 17, 2009

Today was another beautiful day, warm and sunny and here in the mountains, and opening day of deer season. Hunters are everywhere, parked alongside the roads and in fields, and all over the county there are signs on little country stores reading “Hunters Welcome!” Families plan big lunches around when the hunters will come in, eat, rest, maybe watch some football and go back out again this afternoon, if they were not successful this morning.

We do not hunt. Not that we are against hunting or are unable to hunt - we just simply prefer not to hunt and, as it turns out, it’s not necessary. That fact does not prevent our freezer from being filled with all manner of venison preparations – ground, chunked up for stewing and chili, Italian and breakfast sausages, pulled barbequed venison and of course, tenderloin for grilling. We are blessed to live in an area that is absolutely chock-full of people who like to hunt – but don’t have the time or inclination to process game. These folks hunt for the sport of it, not for the meat, and they give us a call when they are finished, delivering or requesting pickup. We process the meat, making up packages or pressure-canned jars of many different venison recipes for our own pantry and what is left we share with our neighbors. We’ve been doing this now for nearly 13 years, so opening day of deer season has become quite a routine for us.

If you have never eaten properly processed venison, you are missing a gourmet quality meal. Venison is extremely low in fat…a 3 oz portion has 26 grams of protein and only 3 grams of fat. Processed quickly and well, venison tastes very similar to grass-fed beef. We use it in place of beef in all recipes. After so many years, we find that ground beef has a more fatty, sometimes almost rancid taste unless it is fresh, so we seldom eat beef burgers. Many people like to add beef suet or pork fat to their ground venison to make ground meat or sausages, but we do not, preferring the taste of the low-fat version. The health benefits and the price (our time, jars and freezer bags) make it well worth the switch.

Our large, heavy duty meat grinder was purchased several years ago on e-bay for $69 and has served us and several neighbors well over the years. You can now buy smilar grinders at places like Tractor Supply. Don't bother with the meat grinder attachments for the larger mixers like the Oster. While the mixers is excellent, the grinder will not hold up to the heavy work of processing a lot of meat. Once the meat is ground of cut into appropriate sizes, we freeze the majority of our venison in small, two person size bags. Place the meat in the freezer bag, close the zipper part leaving about 1" open, lay it flat on the counter and flatten the meat as much as you can, taking care not to get meat in the ridges of the zipper. Push the meat as close to the zipper as you can, then finist closing. This removes most of the air in the bag, creating a vaccumn, and will lengthen the freezer life of your meat considerably. You can also buy vacumn sealers that will do a little better job of this, but our method is free and has proven to be successful. It's also one less appliance to buy and store over the year. We apply a label, package the meat and freeze it flat on a cookie sheet to make for easier freezer storage and faster de-thawing. The flat packages stack nicely and take up considerably less room. If you are feeling creative, you can design labels similar to the ones we’ve made using a word processing program like Microsoft Word, or you can just hand-write labels with a permanent marker. Some folks like to write on the bags. Which ever way you label your packages, be sure to add the date so you can rotate the meat, always using the oldest first. We find that our venison keeps for a year (or better) in our upright freezer without freezer burn. Refrigerator freezers don’t keep the meat as long – they aren’t as cold and the meat will freezer burn after about 6 months.

Grandma K’s Venison Chili

1 lb venison, 1” cubes
½ c green peppers, diced
1 medium onion, finely diced
1 qt tomato sauce
1 qt crushed tomatoes
1 qt canned kidney beans
2 tbsp chili seasoning (taco seasoning is also very good)

Sautee the onions & peppers in butter or olive oil. Add the venison & cook until brown. Place venison, onions, peppers & chili seasoning in a large (8 qt) slow cooker. Add tomato sauce, tomatoes & kidney beans. Stir, cover and cook for 4 hrs on high or 6 hrs on low. Serve topped with sour cream and finely diced green onions and a side of cornbread or corn pudding.

This also cans well in a pressure cooker for pantry storage. We like to can it in quart jars for an instant hot, winter-time lunch.


Home Canned Venison

Cut the meat into 1- ½ “ to 2” chunks, removing all the fat, gristle or bloody meat.
Brown the meat in a little butter n a skillet. Pack the meat into clean, sterilized wide mouth canning jars. For pints add ½ tsp powdered beef stock, (for quarts add 1 tsp. powdered beef stock) and fill with hot water to within 1” of the top of the jar. Run a butter knife along the inside of the jar, removing all air bubbles. Wipe the jar rims carefully – any grease or meat pieces will result in bad seals. Close the jar with hot, sterilized lids and tighten rings but don’t crank them down. The lids will seal themselves when the processing is over – the rings just hold them in place.
Process pints and half pints for 75 minutes at 10 pounds pressure and quarts for 90 minutes, unless you live at an altitude above 1,000 feet and must adjust your pressure to suit your altitude. (See your canning manual for directions.)
As long as the seals are good & the jars are in tact in a cool, dark area, the meat lasts almost indefinitely. The recommended shelf life is 1 year, and I prefer to use everything in that amount of time, but the meat will stay good well past that.