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!