Archive | March, 2011

Have I ever told you how much I love mac and cheese?

20 Mar

I love, love, love comfort foods… and so does my husband. I have an obsession with different and yummy recipes for macaroni and cheese, chili and lasagna just to name a few. On tonight’s menu is something I won’t be eating because I didn’t make it gluten free (sometimes this is a good way to keep me from eating extra calories while still making something delish for the hubs). He’s having macaroni and cheese. The twist? chicken, Jarlsberg cheese, tomatoes and whole grain pasta. I thought I would share the recipe, or rather, the technique… the recipe sort of varies with your mood and how everything is looking…. It’s really, really quick too, so it’s great for weeknights. Enjoy!

Ingredients

Boneless, skinless chicken breasts
olive oil
about a cup or so Jarlsburg (or more if you like), shredded
a cup or so of a good mild cheddar, shredded
2 cups whole milk (or if you are really daring, cream)
half cup (one stick) butter
1 tablespoons-ish flour
a pound of whole grain pasta
a pinch of nutmeg,
a quarter of a red onion, finely chopped
1 tomato, diced
some garlic
salt
pepper

Start your pasta

cut the chicken into chunks, season with salt and pepper and brown, add onion and garlic and cover to smother.

In a saucepan, over medium heat melt butter, add flour and whisk for a minute or two to cook, to increase flavor wisk and cook gently till butter begins to darken, meanwhile, pop milk in the microwave for about 45 seconds to take the chill off, whisk into the butter and flour mixture until smooth and thick (warming the milk makes it mix in smoother, I swear). When the milk starts to bubble, mix in cheeses gradually and add a pinch of nutmeg. Mix, mix, mix until everything is smooth and incorporated.

Drain your pasta, and toss it with chicken and cheese sauce, add the tomato. Pop it under the broiler if hubby can wait 10 minutes and serve. Baby spinach is also a really, really yummy addition.

Happy Saint Patrick’s day!

17 Mar

I really am Irish. My grandmother boils everything to prove it! (LOL)

http://www.history.com/flash/VideoPlayer.swf?vid=59203397501

For most people this is a just an excuse to get drunk on green beer (a travesty, in my humble opinion- if you are going to drink beer, drink real beer, please). For us… we stay home, eat our traditional dinner and enjoy company. Yes, we’ll have a drink or two in honor of the holiday fun but I’ve only ever been to a bar ONCE on Saint patty’s day, and it was dissapointing. It was a decent Irish pub with a random guy on a guitar and a bunch of very drunk girls. *sigh*

http://www.history.com/flash/VideoPlayer.swf?vid=58737575201

People always bash Irish cooking, but I LOVE it. There is something very yummy, hearty and homey about Irish food and cooking, slow cooked meats in stews, very basic wholesome ingredients… It’s making my mouth water just thinking about it. Yes, there isn’t much seasoning or spice, but that lets the food itself be tasted (and yes, I love cabbage….)

We will be having corned beef tonight. It’s a family favorite and we stretch it (plus, it’s always super cheap around St. Patrick’s day- I got mine for $1.88/ pound when it’s usually $3.99/ pound.) But the corned beef was not an original “Irish” (from Ireland) dish- It started when the Irish came to “America” and the brisket was a cheaper cut of meat available. As many immigrants were, suffice it to say, not wealthy, then as today cheaper wins! So into my crockpot goes a corned beef brisket, and I’ll add my potatoes and cabbage later. I like it in the crock pot because it really gets amazingly tender. I’ll probably break it up with a fork, and serve it as a stew with some (gluten free- not traditional but edible for me- Irish soda bread) to mop up the liquid. Did I mention my mouth is watering???

Normally, we aren’t big dessert people on a regular basis (though I do love sweets) but today also happens to be a good friend’s birthday… SO, I’m also baking a GREEN birthday cake… Also gluten free. 🙂

So everyone, enjoy the day, be responsible and eat well!

Balls, a tutorial.

15 Mar

Good title, right? (lol)

When I first started researching natural living, and specifically cloth diapering (for my future baby…) I came across a lot of information about laundering: what soaps work best, how to dry, how to “fluff” etc. Boy, it was much more in depth than I could have imagined at first, but now I’m sort of acclimated. Anyway, one of the things that was talked about rather often was dryer balls, wool versus those plastic nubby ones. Now… I was trying to really go more natural, plus in my “old” age, I seem to be developing allergies and sensitivities to EVERYTHING. So in taking out the fabric softener and dryer sheets, I didn’t want to add other chemicals the plastic bits might be letting off, into my clothes and the air. Plus, I could MAKE wool ones with left over bits… This is how I make mine, which I’m sure is similar to someone somewhere out there, so if someone else does it the same way, I’m sorry.

Let’s begin!

stash… and a cat ear….

First… Gather your stash, you will need felt-able wool yarn (not super wash) and I like to use a “core” of acrylic or cotton sometimes to save on wool, but a wool core works too, but you may want some acrylic or cotton. You’ll also need a leg of pantyhose or a thigh high stocking for felting, unless you have those nifty felting balls. Oh, and a washing machine, and i like to use baby shampoo for felting. I used it once and it worked so well, I didn’t go back to other detergents.

Now, make the balls! Start with whatever material you decided on for the core, and start wrapping like you would any ball of yarn! (well, maybe a little more loosely) When you get to a bit over half the size ball you want, stop and tie the yarn around a few times so it’s secure.

Next, take your wool (I chose some fun colors, because I’m craving brights!) and continue to wrap the ball until it’s well covered, making sure not to wrap too tightly, you want it to be able to shrink down. I like to then continue to wrap the strand randomly around the ball, unlike the normal process where you would have several passes over the same area, to create a more net like covering. Tie a few knots around this to make sure it’s very secure!

Repeat this process to make as many as you like, I made six this go-around, because I like to use two or so in the dryer at once and in my house… they tend to disappear and become dog toys.

After you have all the balls wrapped, one at a time, put them into the panty hose, tying it off after each on. When you are done it will look like you have a string of beads.

Now it’s time to felt!!! I toss them in the washing machine on a hot wash, cold rinse and put a dab of baby shampoo right on them (not in the detergent slot). This time around I put them in with a hat I was felting and I think they really helped! I also put mine through the dryer on “high heat” but this may or may not be necessary.  

Remove from the panty hose and viola! Dryer balls!

This one felted pretty well, I think. It should stay put.

Now… just a quick note on using them…

You just toss them in with your regular laundry in the dryer. They WILL become a bit pilly over time, but you can remove the fuzz, and/ or wrap another layer of wool over and re-felt. If you like yummy smells, you can dab them with some essential oils and that will release fragrance into the clothes, not as strong as a fabric sheet, but it does work.

Also… make sure your regular yarn balls stay far away… My hubby mistook a ball of yarn for a dryer ball one day and chucked it it… needless to say… it didn’t work so well, we ended up with a tangled mess! Also… the dogs (and cats) really like these, so make sure they stay out of reach and don’t roll away on you, you won’t get them back!

Enjoy!

Compost by request

14 Mar

I love compost. I do. It’s odd, I know… but seriously, it’s interesting to see how organic matter decomposes and becomes soil again…

How I made mine. It’s really not as scientific as it could be… It started the first fall we were living in this house. we have a TON of leaves… so hubby piled them all in a corner of the yard… In theory, you are supposed to layer a good compost heap with leaves and hay and other matter so it doesn’t clump together and can allow air to move through… we just didn’t have those sorts of resources, and winter was closing in. When I cook, all vegetable matter (peels, cores, etc) get put into a bowl and later dumped on the pile, along with egg shells, coffee grounds, unbleached paper towels, cardboard… pretty much anything decomposable that isn’t dairy or meat. In the spring last year, I mixed up the heap (which is about 5 feet wide by about 2 feet tall) and added some hay (found on freecycle from a local farm) and when my brother came to visit and help me with the garden, we threw all the sod we lifted onto the heap. All summer we added “stuff” to it, and every so often I attacked it with a pitch fork (my neighbors thought this was a hoot: me out in a dress, boots, a big hat and a pitch folk turning up the compost…) and watered it when it was dry. Watering is very important, not only to the composting process, but it can get very hot in a compost pile, and I’ve been warned about spontaneous combustion- especially in dry weather and undisturbed piles. (read here for some compost fire information!) Be diligent and nurture your pile! It may help to to layer in soil, or at least some on top to quicken the degrading process.

This year, I’m sure I will work more on composting, last year was my first attempt at it and it turned out great (even with a huge amount of leaves!) I think the key is to make sure you turn it on occasion and add plenty of plant material… and keep it moist.

It doesn’t smell either. When I add kitchen scraps in the summer I will often toss some of the compost over it to hasten it’s decomposition and cover it to keep the smell at bay, but all in all we don’t have a problem with smell… it usually just smells like dirt, which is a good, almost clean smell. Yes, I just said dirt smells clean!

So that’s it really… Nothing special here, but there are lots of sites where they discuss composting in great detail. I kinda like my easy way for now, and I’ll add on a bit each year, I’m sure. I know people who have bins and fancy spinners, and I might like one some day, but they can get pricey (though not so much if I could get the hubs to build something…. ;)) like I said, this works for me for now. If you have a lot of wildlife, though, you may want some sort of container, I know even the dogs sometimes try to steal “snacks” off the heap if they aren’t buried!

Good luck and happy composting!!!

The Garden

13 Mar

A housewife’s realm is obviously not just the house. Her domain extends outside the walls into the yard, and often her responsibilities may even pass onto the neighbor’s yard in the ways of giving kindness, sharing and trading the fruits of her labor. 

This is an old idea that has been lost a little I think. Ladies, don’t you think it’s time we found some of those wonderful “old fashioned” values? 
I find there is something about working out in the yard or on a garden that brightens the spirit, and there is nothing like being able to eat and share fresh produce and herbs. I think it also promotes a sense of community when more than one family has a garden. Our neighbors have a HUGE, GORGEOUS garden (as well as a goat and a few horses!) And often, when I was out working in mine last year, an invitation for coffee (or swimming) would be called out to me, or a neighbor would walk over for a quick chat and talk about my tomatoes. 
Of course, in addition to the wonderful sense of community that gardens can bring, you have those fresh veggies and herbs! I LOVE seasonal cooking, and being able to wander out into the garden pick whatever is ripe and a handful of herbs and come into the kitchen to pull something together. Fresh food always tastes so much better… And it’s healthier too. Although my soil would probably not be considered “organic,” and I don’t always use organic seeds to start, I use organic fertilizers, compost, and natural pest repellent (a mix of water, vinegar and doctor bronner’s magic soap at night after watering, and marigolds) the produce that comes out of my garden is more or less pesticide free, and of course, never has any of that wax that stores use to make their fruits and veggies last longer. 
So… now that I am aching to get out and plant…. well, I really can’t. I live in New York (NOT the city!) and it’s still cold, still frosting and we may still get a blizzard. So I have to wait to get seeds in the ground, but I am going to start my seeds indoors and prepare the beds…. which I should have done in the fall. BUT, I’m trying something new this year… I’m going to give “lasagna gardening” a try. This involves no tilling or turning, or grass removal (which is the hard part in my opinion) and since we are expanding to more than 4 times the size of last year’s garden… I don’t want to have to dig out the grass! 
The thing is…. I talked to my brother (who is a student at SUNY Cobbleskill for plant production or something) about this method and he actually said it sounded like unnecessary work… That sometimes veggies do very well just sort of being allowed to grow amongst the grass.. Hm. This made me think some more… and I am leaning towards a combination of lasagna and wild gardening…. I have my compost from last year (which  is just beautiful, by the way…) and I’m going to spread that over the whole area that I want to make my garden, probably about 4-6 inches deep. Then I’m going to add manure, more compost and cedar mulch on top. I used the mulch last year and got only about 3 weeds, and only then after I failed to re-mulch when I should have. I think it will work… and then, by the time I’m ready to plant, I don’t think the grass will have been able to grow under the mess so much… I’ll plant and re-mulch, and re-mulch all season, pulling weeds as needed…. 
That’s the plan, anyway….
BUT… of course I need some good playing in the garden-wear right? Right. Last year, I got a lot of funny looks in my bulky boots and summer dresses (with a big hat- I burn….) and I think this year will be no different. I want to make a few “garden” aprons- ones with a good amount of coverage, plus pockets and long for “gathering” things… My reenactment aprons always end up being used like baskets, and it’s sort of convenient, so I want that feature in my apron. Plus, I’ll need some longer skirts (can’t really bend and work in a mini dress, huh?) and maybe some peasant blouses to keep my shoulders covered… Hm… sort of sounds like my reenacting wardrobe, maybe I should just wear that. LOL! 
I’m also thinking it would be really fun to get my friend’s kids involved somehow…. I don’t have any of my own, but I think it’s something I’ll want to do with my own kids, and that my friends might appreciate. A play-date at “Brower House Farms?” I’m almost thinking of creating a little patch for the kiddies to work on, (three year olds like digging in the dirt, right?) Any ideas? I love educational stuff, and since I may be doing some babysitting, I feel like it would be a good activity for learning and getting out of doors. This also means…. KIDDIE APRONS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! yey! 
For now… I’m going to have another cup of coffee and get to my seeds! Have a glorious day dreaming of spring!
(Pictures will follow shortly…)

Have I really not posted in a week?

12 Mar

I thought I had more recently!

I suppose it’s been a busy week here. First, I was asked to be a bridesmaid in my friend’s wedding in October, no planning had been done yet so we got down to work on that. Then, another friend decided to get married… that week, yesterday, actually! (and had only decided the week before!) not to mention it was their two year old’s birthday and they just had a  little baby girl… so I was busy making gifts! I forgot to take pictures as I was running out of time before the party, but for the 2 year old boy, I did a small quilt of the USA, and for the new baby, a purple themed patchwork play mat. I also, of course, had to make a new skirt for the occasion- a bright pink confection that there will be pictures of.

It was also Ash Wednesday- the beginning of Lent. Now, I’m not technically Catholic, so I didn’t go to church to receive ashes or communion (I can’t receive communion in the catholic church because I never did my “first” communion, though I was baptized in the church). Anyway, I still observe lent, and this is what I am doing. I’m giving up chocolate and alcohol, and also decided to cover when I go out. I know this is something that many people debate about, and though I have not always been the most observant Christian, it’s always been something I liked and felt compelled to do for church. It’s not a stretch for me to do it every day, I have always liked head-coverings for their historical and symbolic value, and being a reenactor, I have a collection started already. I love, love, love snoods. I do, crochet, sewn, knit… I think they are beautiful, and have worn them since I was a teenager. I also love my linen caps, and kerchiefs, so like I said, it’s not a stretch and most of my friends don’t think twice about seeing me in a covering of some sort, though strangers look at me sort of funny, especially when I wear a skirt that shows off the tattoos on my legs! But as a friend once told me, “people are complicated,” there is no need to be just one thing or another. I can be a goodwife and still have tattoos and listen to both metal and classical music. This is the way I am…

So it has been run, run, run, this week. I have a lot of creations that I need to take pictures of too, so hopefully I will get that done. For now, we are off to look at new dishwashers! Yey!!!!

Money Saver

4 Mar

There has to be a way to save more.

Yesterday was my shopping day. I go to three stores: Walmart, “The Herb Shoppe” (A natural food store) and Shoprite. I bought what SHOULD amount to almost three weeks worth of groceries (in about two weeks I’ll go buy more “fresh” stuff and odds and ends, but all the meat, pasta and frozen food is covered) and spent about $200. This is a big improvement over $150/ week. Sure, we don’t eat as “fancy” but it’s all tasty and wholesome for the most part.

But, I’ve been trying to save more money. We are a one income household except for the little money I make working from home. I’m been searching online for tips but nothing “new” is coming up. Well, except for ditching a car, and we just don’t think that will work for our little family, though we did discuss it. People are “sacrificing” their daily $4 latte… Jeeze, I think the last time I had a latte was 2 years ago. I don’t mean to undermine anyone else’s efforts, but for those of us who are REALLY trying to be frugal that sort of advice doesn’t help. The price of gas doesn’t help either (even buying it in New Jersey…) but there is little outside of politics I can do about that.

I bought a book (used on Amazon), Family Feasts for $75 a Week by Mary Ostyn. It has some really great tips that I won’t disclose (buy the book :P) But I will tell you I am starting a price book to keep track of how much various items cost and where. That way… I know where I can get the best prices.

Now… The thing I’m realizing is, I need to make trades. There are things I won’t give up or go “cheap” on. One of them is milk. We drink organic whole milk, and we drink about a gallon per week. at $5/ gallon, this is a little rough, but we make do. It’s good for us, and important. Another, Gluten free food. I try to buy “normal” food that is naturally gluten free as much as I can, but I love pasta and bread. I just try to stretch this as much as I can by controlling portions and buying on sale (the gluten free bread I usually eat was $2 off per loaf in the freezer section of Shoprite this week!) The last thing is vitamins. We are trying to have a baby, and given my past health issues, I don’t skimp on these, I buy an expensive one from the health-food store that is gluten free, vegan and actually DOES have more of the good stuff packed in. Yeah, I know the cheap ones are supposed to really be the same, but I didn’t feel as good when I was on the cheapies from walmart, I didn’t have as much energy and they made me nauseous. So… I buy the expensive ones… but they do last three months.

I’ve been concentrating on groceries because that is one of our biggest flexible expenses. We can do nothing about our mortgage just yet, we are in all the tax programs we can get, and I’ve limited leaving the house to once per week or so to save gas (this is to go shopping and I consolidate all my errands into one day).

What else can I do?????? More on this later…