Saturday, October 4, 2014

So here it is October and the leaves are beginning to fall. The highs tomorrow are supposed to reach a whopping 65 degrees.
 The summer found me way to busy to blog ,but here I am with a little spare time and a lot to write about. Here is a small excerpt from a draft that I never finished. As you can see I never made it past 7a.m....

It has been over a month since my last post. As every gardener knows this is the time of year where you work half days... A full 12 hours at least. Tonight I was going to fold my leaning tower of laundry but my most wonderful husband reminded me that I had been working since 6 and here it is 9. The laundry can wait another night.
Today I canned 50 pounds of tomatoes and made cheese from 5 gallons of goat milk. Yesterday ,our family harvested vegetables,made fig preserves,and pickled peppers. We also canned the pickles we made last week. Each of these topics deserves their own blog and I will get to it eventually. Today I want to give you an idea of what a day on our farm looks like during peak season.
  6 a.m. -cock-a doodle-do,literally over and over again. No need for an alarm time to wake  up.
 The goat is bellowing as I prepare my milking supplies. I am scrupulous about the cleanliness of my milk since we drink it raw. I scrub and boil the pail and anything that comes in contact with it.6:30 it's outside with the goats. Feeding,brushing, and milking  my two goats takes about 30 minutes.
 Now usually I'm inside by 7 with coffee brewing and breakfast being prepared by my husband or daughter,
This morning however we were trying to coax pigs back into their pens as my oldest son forgot to turn on the electric fence last night....

Now instead of boring you with my day to day routine, let me bid farewell to summer and thank God for his bounty, for truly I have been blessed.This summer brought fresh flowers to adorn our home, and fresh veggies to adorn our plates. What we couldn't use or sell,
 we canned. Our pantry is now filled with hundreds of jars pickles, pickled okra, pickled peppers, watermelon rind pickles,roasted red peppers, tomato sauces, ketchups, and preserves of all kinds. We have 5 gallons of  homemade vinegar, 3 gallons of tomato wine, and 3 gallons of water melon wine. We are fermenting 7 gallons of hot sauce and have a half a bushel more of hot peppers in the freezer. We have a freezer full of veggies, and to top it off we picked up our pig from the butcher today.  My grandmother always told me that you can use every part of the pig excepting the squeak.With that in mind, we volunteered to accept any organ meat that was not wanted from our customers. I have two huge bags full.
So this week begins my adventure in whole beast eating.  A few years ago I experimented with head cheese, with that under my belt, salted dried pork liver should be a breeze.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Summer Sun Protection

Summer is officially here. With temperatures nearing 100 degrees it seems as if there is no escape from the sun's burning rays. Unfortunately, I am very fair, I spend a large portion of my day in the sun, and have sensitive skin. Commercial sunscreen burns my skin as bad as the sun. I can smell them a mile away and the smell drives me crazy. I have read that the chemicals in sunscreens have been linked to cancer and while I am not an expert on the matter, I don't believe in taking unnecessary risks. The"all natural" brands are often prohibitively expensive and the "chemical free" varieties ha, the sunscreen component might be, but the inactive ingredients?

So what's a farm girl to do? Figure out how to make it for herself!

One of the main ingredients in natural sunscreens is zinc oxide. It works by absorbing UV radiation and converting it to infrared heat which is harmlessly evaporated from the skin. It is very effective and a little goes a long way. When I was young my friends and I used colored zinc or diaper rash cream for sunscreen.As an adult I don't find "war paint" as cool as I did when I was eight. Fortunately, micronized zinc can be purchased from a few online sources. I found mine at I purchased a pound about two years ago and have made sunscreen probably a dozen times.

Sunscreen is very easy and cost effective to make at home. you need only 4 ingredients, oil, beeswax,zinc oxide and water. An immersion blender is a helpful tool but not 100% necessary.

 I like to add green tea instead of water because green tea is supposed to be good for your skin and have anti-cancer compounds, again, I am no doctor but it can't hurt. Green tea turns lotion a strange color that may be less than appealing however,it is completely transparent when it is applied to skin.
Most recipes call for a combination of olive,coconut, and a few other oils.. I have found that I like the feel of avocado,or olive and coconut oil.

To make about one quart of sunscreen you will need-

1 cup olive(or almond,grapeseed,or avocado)
1 cup coconut oil
4 tbs beeswax shredded
1 cup slightly warm water or green tea
2-4 tbs zinc oxide powder
Fill a large pan with water and place on burner.
place a saucepan inside the larger pan.

To the saucepan add the oils and wax.

Warm the oil and wax until the wax is fully melted.

If you are using an immersion blender,
place it into the wax/oil mixture and turn it on low.

If you don't have an immersion blender you can pour the mixture into a standard blender(be forewarned however, that standard blenders are very effective albeit very difficult to clean.)

You can also use a whisk and hand mix the sunscreen. I find that often times the water is hard to incorporate by hand so my method of choice is definitely immersion blenders.

Add the water or tea in a steady trickle to the wax/oil mixture. when the lotion base is well incorporated add the zinc. More zinc will give a greater spf.( Two tablespoons provides about spf 15.)

When all the ingredients are incorporated, pour the mixture into clean jelly size mason jars.

To clean the cookware, wipe out as much of the residue with a rag or paper towel. then pour boiling water on everything and wipe again. Repeat the rinsing and wiping until all residue is gone.

The sunscreen is best stored at cool temperatures or refrigerated if it is not to be used immediately. It can be stored unopened in the fridge for at least 6 months but once it is opened it should be used or discarded after 2 weeks.

This recipe is best reapplied after swimming or sweating. I usually reapply it every hour.

Remember that sunscreen is only one defense against sunburn and potential skin cancer.

Here are some additional precautions to take-

Wear white, longsleeve clothing, and a wide brim hat.
Avoid the midday sun if possible.

And eat a diet rich in antioxidants.Green tea has been reported to help prevent skin cancer so sipping a nice glass of iced green tea can't hurt.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Herbal Bug Repelent

A few years ago my family and I went camping in the Ocala national forest.In the middle of the night I was itching so bad that I became a raving lunatic. I threw myself out of the tent and into the rain in a feeble attempt to rub off whatever it was that causing me to itch. The next morning I looked at my skin and saw little "scabs" all over. Well those "scabs" I discovered were all over my children and my dog. My husband however, was unaffected. Pretty soon I noticed them swelling on the dog realized what I was dealing with, ticks!

I'm not sure exactly how many I pulled off of everyone but it was hundreds. Now why on earth did we get ticks and not Shaun? We discovered the answer when I looked for an herbal remedy to rid the dog totally of those nasty little creatures.

Prior to our camp out Shaun and I had been reading a most interesting book by Stephen Harrod Buhner;Sacred and Herbal Healing Beers. He was intrigued by a beer that contained the herb artemisia absinthium also known as wormwood,the ingredient that gives absinthe its flavor and bad reputation. He was also interested in a beer with yarrow, and one with juniper. Well he was interested in all the recipes and couldn't make up his mind so he mixed them all together. Now I'm sure he didn't measure so I can't give you the recipe but it doesn't matter because the stuff was dreadful ,absolutely dreadful.It was so bitter that one swallow was all I could take. He however, wasn't going to waste all that good beer so he sipped it throughout the entire campout. I suppose the bugs must have felt the same way about Shaun's herbal healing brew as I did because they didn't touch him.

When I consulted my herb books for an insect spray it read something like this- "Herbalists have used different combinations of aromatic herbs to kill and repel pests for millennia. Wormwood, yarrow,and juniper are most effective." He got the last laugh on that one.

I always question the long term safety of deet based repellents and even if they are proven safe, the smell is just nasty.

Health food stores sell many all natural repellents that are effective and smell pleasant however they are all expensive.

Tick season is at  it's peak and the wisdom of God is such that the very herbs that repel insects are now ready to be harvested. Most likely you have an "weed" or two growing in your yard that can be used to ward off skeeters, ticks, no see ems and other pesky bugs.
                                 A simple repellent can be made  
                                   crushing the fresh leaves of                                 
                                  mint, basil,and/or lemon balm. 

The list of insect repellent herbs is exhaustive.
A few of the most common include:
clary sage
lemon balm                                                                                            
rose geranium

There are many ways to make repellents.
1.You can do it my husbands way and drink it. Apple cider vinegar and garlic are the most commonly recommended internal remedies.  If you are brave enough to try herbal brews consult the book Sacred Herbal Healing Beers. Remember the evidence for effectiveness and safety is purely anecdotal.
2. Tinctures are effective ways to extract the active constituents of herbs.Tinctures are simply herbs soaked in a solvent, usually alcohol or vinegar.
3. Essential oils are highly effective albeit expensive insect repellents.

Here are 4 recipes to get you started. Remember, be creative and feel free to experiment.

Garlic and Apple Cider Vinegar Tick Drink
In a quart mason jar crush a clove of garlic. Add 2 tbs apple cider vinegar,preferably organic unfiltered.
Allow the mixture to steep for 1 hour. Next add a tbs honey or more to taste. Then fill the jar up with fresh water.
Hold your nose and drink up!You can also rub it on your skin without the honey.
The results should last as long as you can still taste the garlic.
Unfortunately, bugs may not be the only thing you repel!

Everclear Bug Be Gone
1 handful fresh wormwood leaves
1 handful yarrow leaves
1 handful fresh mint leaves
1 tbs dried basil ( it's not in season yet)
5 bay leaves
1/4 cup juniper berries or cedar berries
Place all ingredients in a quart mason jar. Cover the herbs with Everclear or another clear flavorless alcohol. You can use isopropyl alcohol but it tends to dry out skin.
Allow the mixture to steep for at least a week.
Gently swirl the mixture every few days.
When the tincture is made strain it through cheesecloth into a clean mason jar. Add 1/4 cup per quart of water. Place in a sprayer and use like store bought spray.
You need to reapply every few hours or after sweating and swimming.

Herbal Tea Bug be Gone
Use the same herbs as above but instead of alcohol use a quart of water. Bring the water to a boil and pour over the herbs. Steep for an hour. Strain the mixture.Place it into a sprayer and use it straight.

Essential Oil Bug Repellent
rose geranium essential oil
citronella essential oil
lavender essential oil
eucalyptus essential oil
or a combination of three from the list above
olive/grapeseed/almond oil
Fill a pint jar with a carrier oil such as olive.
To it add 10 drops of each of the chosen oils.. You may add more if you want a stronger fragrance but do not exceed 75 drops.
To use, dip a cotton ball into the oil. Dab it onto the backs of your legs and wrists.
This is very long lasting.Reapply after swimming or sweating.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Sweet Treats

I have a fascination with candy making. I guess it's in my genes. My grandparents owned Grimaldi Candies and were "inventors" of the famous chocolate covered potato chips.The funny thing is that I really don't have that much of a sweet tooth(although my husband disagrees).
My daughter shares this love of candy making and I often find her experimenting on her own.
The truth is that I find candy making in some ways easier than baking, and as the weather gets warmer who wants to heat the whole house up with the oven.
Unfortunately, I am under no delusions that any of my candy recipes are healthy they contain only natural ingredients.
To start making candy, the one thing that I strongly recommend is a candy thermometer. The one that I have has the candy making terms written next to the corresponding temperature, for example soft ball which is the temperature used for fudge making is 240 degrees.The only other thing you need is a pot or sauce pan.
So here are two of my favorite recipes-
Honey Sesame Taffy 

I adopted this recipe from Jewish Halva or Sesame Fudge.
It contains 2 ingredients.

Honey- 2 cups
Sesame Tahini 1 1/2 cup

First, line a loaf pan with parchment paper.
Rub the parchment with a little butter.
Next, heat the honey on medium heat to the hard ball temperature of 260 degrees
Meanwhile, in a separate pan warm the sesame tahini in a separate pan to between 100 and 110 degrees.
(this temperature does not have to be exact)
When the honey reaches 260 remove it from the heat and add the tahini, whisking it continually.
When the honey and tahini are thoroughly combined, pour the mixture into the prepared loaf pan.
When the taffy feels cool score it with a sharp knife.  It will take about an hour to cool thoroughly, at that time you may remove it from the pan and place it in an airtight container or eat it.

Peanut Fudge with Chocolate Chips
This recipe is similar in process to the sesame  recipe except I use sugar and don't cook it quite as long.
1 cup chocolate chips
1 cup white chocolate chips
1 cup peanut butter
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla

First, sprinkle the chocolate chips onto a 9x5 baking pan.
Next, in a saucepan, mix milk and sugar until sugar begins to dissolve.
Cook the sugar mixture on medium stirring occasionally until it reaches 240  degrees soft ball phase.
While the sugar is cooking warm the peanut butter on low to between 100 and 110 degrees.
Add the vanilla to the peanut butter and stir well.
When the sugar mixture reaches the correct temperature remove it from the heat and add the peanut butter mixture. Whisk until thoroughly incorporated.
Pour the mixture over the chocolate chips. Allow about an hour for the fudge to cool.


Monday, April 28, 2014

How to Kill a Catfish

Those of you who have been reading my blog up to this point may be tempted to believe that homesteading is nothing more than eating homemade food, doing cute crafts, and keeping house.  Those things are important, but it's time that I expose a not so pretty fact of life(on the farm): we omnivores eat living creatures.

While many urban and suburban never have the opportunity to raise and butcher their own meat, most people have been fishing,even if just to cast a line and relax by the water. Cleaning fish is a good introduction to processing your own meat. So If you are not squeamish keep reading and I will show you how to clean a catfish.
I'll start with a recipe for fried catfish just in case you opt for store bought fish filets.
Cornmeal  Fried Catfish
2 filets per adult
1 per child
enough buttermilk to soak fish
enough cornmeal to coat fish
about a teaspoon cayenne pepper per 2 cups
about a teaspoon of salt per cup cornmeal
enough peanut oil to fry fish
Soak fish at least an hour up to overnight.
Dredge fish in cornmeal mixture.
Meanwhile, heat peanut oil in a deep skillet or
deep fryer. Cook fish for about 5 minutes per
side.Allow to drain on brown paper.
Eat hot with biscuits or hushpuppies.

Springtime is a wonderful time of year to fish. Our pond is teaming with catfish, bluegill and ,I suspect, bass. My children caught 27 fish last week. I let them keep about 10 which we fried up on Friday.

If you have a teenage boy(or girl) you can put him in charge of the whole process, he'll probably beg for the opportunity.

First, get a large cutting board and a sharp fillet knife.

If your fish is alive when you're ready to clean him you'll need to stun him so he won't squirm during the process.
To do this,hold him by the tail and whack him against the cutting board a few times.

The next step is my least favorite, cutting off the head. Hold the fish firmly by its middle and just above the fin saw a few times to get through the bones, the head will come off easily after the bones are broken.

After the head is off the guts need to be removed. To do this, flip the fish over and with the tip if your knife or a pair of kitchen shears slice or cut down to the anus(a small hole near the tail of your fish)being careful not to pierce any of the organs.

Use your hands and pull out all of the guts. You can bury or compost these, we fed them to our pigs.

Cat fish have no scales,however most other fish do. There are de scalers that you can buy at sporting goods shops or with a sharp knife, scrape your fish against the scales until they are all removed.
Other than cat fish I usually leave the head on.

When your fish is gutted, beheaded,and descaled, rinse it well in cool water.
Place it on ice until you are ready to cook it.
The flavor of catfish improves if you soak in buttermilk for a few hours.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Pine Needle Basket

Yesterday I finally finished the pine needle basket that I had been working on for over a year.
I have some projects that have taken longer due to lack of time or loss of interest. However this one was due to lack of materials.

My home town in Florida is just filled with the most wonderful long, thick, and dark brown pine needles.
I can gather enough to complete a good sized basket in a matter of minutes.

Here in Virginia everyone tells me that they have plenty of pine needles. I have a forest of them myself. Sorry to complain, but these pine needles are a pain in the butt to work with. They are skinny,brittle,and half the size of my Florida pine needles.

If any of my Virginia friends know what Florida pines are like and thinks they have the right kind of tree please let me know, or if any of my generous readers back home have a tree and a box,I would be deeply indebted to you for sending me some. In the mean time, I plan to experiment with sage grass.

 Pine needle basketry is my absolute favorite craft and so simple. It is more appropriately called coiled basketry; any pliable material can be used including tall grasses,straw,cattails, and rushes. I just happen to think that the most aesthetic medium is pine needles.

I will will be starting a new coiled basket in a few days(or weeks) and demonstrate step by step on how to sew a coiled basket. For today, I will do things backwards and show you finish a coiled basket. Often times thrift shops and garage sales are laden with baskets that could use a little refinishing.

There are a few different ways to add waterproof and shine to  a basket. My favorite is using beeswax and paraffin.
First, I put on leather gloves and run my hand around the basket to remove any sharp ends or loose needles.
After the basket is smooth I shred equal amounts of paraffin and beeswax and melt them in a double boiler or makeshift double boiler.

The next step is to thoroughly coat the basket with the melted wax. I use a cheap short bristled paint brush.
It will look really ugly. Don't worry, it'll melt.
To melt the wax set your oven on the absolute lowest setting and place the basket on a newspaper or brown paper lined baking sheet. Put the basket in the oven and check every 5 minutes to see if all the wax is melted into the needles.

When the wax is melted remove your basket from the oven and rub it real well with a rag.
Allow it to cool and polish it with the rag once again. It should be shiny and firm.
Alternatively, you can melt the wax in a hot car or greenhouse. Be creative!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Italian Fried Doghnuts

The last time I posted, I wrote about once a month cooking. So I have a lovely freezer full of food and what happens? I run out of propane. I do not own a microwave and my stove and oven run off of gas. So last week I could only cook on an electric skillet.Oh Well. The propane company refilled the tank yesterday so I can finally make use of my well prepared freezer.

Last week was Holy Week, the last week of lent. Lent,the 40 days preceding Easter, is a time of a prayer,fasting,and almsgiving. Traditionally Christians "give something up" for lent. Our family gave up sweets.

Lent officially ends the Saturday before Easter at noon so armed with only an electric I had to think of a sweet treat to make to break our fast.

Fortunately, I remembered one of my favorite childhood treats that my Grandfather used to make during the Easter season, Italian fried doughnuts (Zeppole,or crispelle.)

My Grandparents always found a way to tell people how healthy their desserts were.  My grandmother would always tell us exactly what we were eating.  “There are fresh eggs, whole wheat, milk, butter, and no chemicals in here,” she would say in her musical New York/Italian voice. Grandpa’s cake (or whatever it was we were eating) made a wholesome breakfast according to grandma.

 These doughnuts may not have a heart healthy seal of approval from the FDA, however they are Grandma Grimaldi approved, easy to make, and perfect to break any fast or diet with. Italians traditionally serve them on the feast of St. Joseph, March 19, at Easter, and on picnics. They are usually served for dessert with coffee, but rarely for breakfast.

Italian Fried Doughnuts

6 cups white whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons yeast
2 teaspoons salt
¼ cup sugar
3 eggs
¼ cup olive oil
Water about 2 ½ cups
1 quart of peanut (or other suitable oil) for deep frying
Powdered or cinnamon sugar for dusting

In the bowl of a mixer add flour, yeast, salt and sugar.
Scramble the eggs with the olive oil in a separate bowl.
With the dough hook attachment turn the mixer on low to incorporate the dry ingredients.

With the mixer running, add the egg/oil mixture and as much water as you need to make a cohesive dough. 
The dough should be sticky but hold together.

Knead the dough by machine for about 10 minutes. Scrape the mixing bowl a few times to ensure full incorporation of ingredients. 

Next, cover the dough with a damp cloth and allow it to rise in a warm location for about 2 hours.

When the dough has risen oil your hands with a little olive oil and sprinkle the counter with a bit of flour.

Knock down the dough. To form the doughnuts, pinch small pieces of dough and form into balls about half as big as you want your doughnuts to be.  Palm size is just about right but some people like them smaller.

Allow the doughnuts to rise for about half an hour more.

Meanwhile in a deep skillet, frying pan, or deep fryer add the frying oil. Heat the oil to about 400 degrees.

Being careful not to overcrowd them, place the doughnuts in the hot oil. Cook them for about 3 minutes per side until they are golden brown.

When they are cooked, drain them on brown paper for a few minutes.

Finally, sprinkle them with powdered sugar or roll them in cinnamon sugar. They’re also delicious with fresh jam.

These are best served piping hot. 

I hope you had a blessed Easter!