Thursday, March 27, 2014

Wild Flowers and Muddy Feet

 Spring is in full swing now and I muse at the idea of "spring cleaning." Who thought of that bright idea. With 5 children, a dog, a cat,and a {husband} as well as an enormous garden in the midst of planting, every day maintenance is the equivalent of a spring clean. I honestly wonder if the authors of Better Homes and Gardens actually have gardens or children.Any way who wants to spend these sunshiny days inside scrubbing.

I love a nice clean house and can be a bit obsessive about it. My family on the other hand could care less.  A few months ago I started once a week cleaning. Every Saturday we clean the house pretty thoroughly but during the week we pretty much just pick up after ourselves, do dishes and laundry, and clean up anything nasty and sweep(4 or 5 times a day).

Last Saturday after the kids finished their chores I sent them outside to play while I finished mine.
Well lucky me. I just put the mop away and turned around to see. Surprise, surprise, "Look Mom, we picked you some lovely flowers."  I looked down to see those beautiful little muddy feet, three pairs of them, and the forest path that once was my clean floor.

I suppose I could get philosophical. I am in the springtime of my life(at least for a few more years). I'm still planting seeds. I hope that my children will continue to find joy and contentment in nature and not worry about the things that don't really matter(like an immaculately kept house). There's still hope for me too, instead of being upset about the muddy floor as I may have years ago, I was genuinely happy about the wonderful gifts that my children gave me. Just look at the wonderful arrangement.
You gotta love boys!


Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Dirty Secret of Soap Making Ingredients

Many people might be horrified to learn what soap is made from. The wonderful,lovely smelling cleaner is really an amazing chemical concoction of sodium hydroxide (lye{drain cleaner}) and fats ; in my soaps I usually use a combination of animal(beef and pork fats) and plant oils(coconut,and olive).

Just a little simple science, acids and bases combine to form a new substance ,soap;  lye is base and fats and oils are acids,that's all you really need to know as a homestead soapmaker.

Finding the ingredients was the biggest challenge I had as a novice soapmaker.
So the first step in soapmaking  should be to obtain ingredients.

The recipe for plain white bar soap is
32 ounces olive oil
74 ounce mixed animal fats rendered into tallow
14 oz of Lye
 41 ounces of water
Your choice of additives(fragrances,colors,etc.)

The best place to find Lye is the Ace Hardware drain cleaner section. It is sold in 14 oz plastic cans and is labeled 100% lye.Lye can be made from wood ash but that's another topic for another day.

Animal Fats can be obtained from the meat department most grocery stores or a local butcher for a nominal fee. I have gotten some for free, some for 5 cents a pound , and some for 20 cents a pound. It is a good idea to call ahead to see which stores have fat available
To get 74 ounces of tallow you will need  about 5 pounds of fat scrapss,however, I recommend getting as much fat at once as possible and freezing the unneeded amount of rendered tallow.
s:// the next post I will give you detailed instructions on how to render fat into usable tallow for soapmaking.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Soapmaking for the First Time

I was first interested in soap making about 15 years ago when I was pregnant with my first baby.
I bought "The Complete Soapmaker," which I still own and refer to often. The recipes are old-fashioned yet original.After reading and rereading the book I decided to try my hand at the soapmakers craft.

I went from store to store trying to locate tallow and sodium hydroxide. Remember this was pre internet shopping. I finally found Red Devil Lye in the drain cleaner section of the hardware store and fat from the grocery store that I would then render into tallow.

I took these items home and stared at them for about 3 years. Yes, I was convinced that there was a terrible error in the book or my judgment. I'm not sure why I finally decided to brave the corrosive, highly toxic, Red Devil Lye with a new baby and toddler, but "The Complete Soapmaker" was beckoning me. So armed with elbow length gloves,long sleeves,a face mask,goggles, and a willing husband to watch my two children I decided to make soap for the first time.

I was pleased with the results and have been making homemade soap ever since. I no longer dress in an astronaut's suit to make soap but I do have a healthy respect for Lye.

In the next couple of posts I will cover step by step how to make old-fashioned Lye soap.
Don't be intimidated. I will help you to save time and effort so it won't take you three years to get started on this fun and rewarding hobby.

Friday, March 7, 2014

About my blog

About a year ago I vowed that I would never write a blog. You see, I have a disdain for computers. I just can't stand the glare of the screen and I still haven't gotten the hang of importing pictures without my children's help. I feel inadequate when it comes to using modern technology. So here I am blogging. Why did I decide to embrace the world wide web? Well I feel very comfortable in my home with my DIY projects. For the past 15 years I have been baking,gardening and attempting various projects, including basketry, crochet, knitting, soap making, and just about every craft. I know a lot of people who would love to learn home making skills but just don't know where to start, or would like to learn to order their days to fit in healthy meals and crafts. I hope to share with you the things I've learned and continue to learn. I will blog about gardening, animal husbandry,food preparation,crafts, and the day to day craziness that goes along with raising a growing family on a working farm. In short, Homesteading with Heather is a glimpse into my world. I hope you enjoy reading and welcome comments ,suggestions, and ideas that you may have to make this blog interesting and informative.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

 After a lovely warm spell winter decided to dump a few inches of snow yesterday. We decided to pass the day by sewing these warm fleece hats. We made some to wear and some to donate to the Childrens Cancer Hospital. The pattern is so simple and quick that my 8 year old was able to sew it with a little help.

We used polar fleece because it is stretchy, warm, and inexpensive. For this pattern you need about a quarter of a yard. As an alternative to polar fleece you can use an old sweater.

Step 1- You need to make your pattern.
We used a paper grocery bag and cut a cone shape as below measuring
7 1/2 inches vertical and 4 1/2 inches on the bottom.You will need a strip
20 inches  by 5 inches  for the band and a 1 inch by 3 inch tassle.

Step 2- Out of your fleece cut out 6 of the cone panels, 1 hat band, and up to three rectangles for
the tassel. Cut fringes 2/3 the length of the tassel. Be creative in colors and designs.

 Step 3- Time to start sewing your hat.  For adult size hats use a 1/4 inch seam and use a 1/2 inch or more for children's sizes.With right sides together sew two panels together. Next sew a third one onto the two. Be sure that you are always sewing right sides together so the seams will always be on the inside.

Step 4-Sew another set of three panels together as above.

Step 5- Place both sets of panels right side together with the tassel between both layers facing down( this is the only step that might confuse you a little, refer to the photo it should help). Sew around the whole arch from bottom to top.

Step 6-Now it's time to add the band.Place all the seams to the inside of your hat.It will look just about finished now. Take your band and sew it into a tube. Place the seam on the inside and fold it in half . Mark your band at 4 even places. Pin the band onto the hat at these 4 marks.Sew the band onto the hat .Go back and trim all loose strings and you should have a nice hat.
My family really enjoyed working on these for the past two days I think that donating them will really be a positive experience.
                                                                                     For more info on sewing caps for charity check out                                                                                      the Hat Ladies!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Homemade Greek Yogurt

Thirteen years ago, unbeknownst to me, I made my first batch of Greek yogurt. The recipe came from an Indian cook book, which called it yogurt cheese. I used it as a substitute for cream cheese.

A few years ago, I began seeing Greek yogurt in every store. Now, it may be more popular than ordinary yogurt. It is important to read the ingredients on store bought varieties. I was horrified to discover that some companies simply thicken ordinary yogurt with cornstarch or gelatin and pass it off as Greek yogurt. Real Greek yogurt should contain only milk and cultures.

It is very easy to make homemade yogurt from scratch for a fraction of the cost of commercial varieties. Greek yogurt is simply strained yogurt.  There are many tutorials on the web about making yogurt. I have tried many of them below is the one that I have found the most simple and effective.

I always make yogurt in one gallon batches because I have a large family. When it is strained it is reduced to between 2 and 3 quarts of Greek yogurt. If you are unable to consume that much in less than 2 weeks the yogurt can be frozen or feel free to cut the recipe in half.

First pour 1 gallon milk of milk into a large crock pot, Fresh from the cow (or goat) is best, Otherwise use minimally pasteurized non-homogenized milk. Most methods recommend pre scalding (repasteurizing) the milk, but I have found this unnecessary.

Turn the crock pot on low and check the temperature of the milk every 30 minutes until it reaches the target temperature of 110 to 115 degrees. When it reaches the target temperature add ½ cup plain yogurt. Maintain the target temperature for at least 4 hours and up to overnight. I unplug the crockpot, wrap the whole thing in a towel, and put it by a heater vent or the warmest spot in the house.

To make Greek yogurt; line a large colander with cheese cloth, place the colander over a large bowl, and pour your homemade yogurt or commercial plain yogurt into the colander. The whey will drip through the colander and the yogurt will thicken. Leave the yogurt for at least 4 to 8 hours (the longer it strains the thicker it will become). The finished yogurt can be stored in a mason jar for up to 2 weeks.

Be sure to use the whey for another purpose. See my post for Sandwich bread made with whey.

Secret to Great Sandwich Bread

I love to bake and eat homemade bread; however I always was disappointed in the texture of sandwich bread. Most recipes are a little too heavy or crummy to accompany sandwich fillings. A few years ago I discovered the secret to wonderfully textured sandwich bread quite by accident.
I was milking goats and making cheese nearly every day. I was also making something that I called yogurt cheese which is basically the equivalent of Greek yogurt. In making cheeses and yogurt a byproduct is produced called whey. I had a lot of whey and I hated to see it go to waste every day.
 I was baking bread one morning and had a giant pot of warm whey it was the perfect temperature so I decided to experiment and use whey to replace the milk and water in my recipe.  I was happy to discover that using whey resulted in flavorful evenly textured bread neither too heavy or to light.
 After a little research I learned that the reason that whey works to improve breads texture is that it is an acid. Commercial bakeries usually use acid in some form (vinegar, vitamin c, or even whey) to improve crumb and shelf life of bread.  Now I almost never bake yeast bread without whey or sourdough starter.

The Best Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread
Yield 3 loaves

10 cups whole wheat flour (my favorite is King Arthur white wheat)
4 cups warm whey plus 1 additional cup of water or whey
(If you don’t have whey on hand use half water and half yogurt)
2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons yeast
¼ cup honey
¼ cup melted butter

Electric mixer instructions-
In a large electric mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment add the flour, salt, and yeast incorporate them well. Next melt the butter and honey together on low and allow it to cool to the touch. Turn on the mixer and in a slow stream add the warm whey and melted butter and honey. Allow the mixer to incorporate the ingredients for about a minute.

At this point there may be a bit of flour on the bottom of the mixer bowl. Stop the mixer and use a silicon spatula to scrape all of the flour and unincorporated dough together. Then turn the mixer on and slowly add as much of the extra liquid to make a soft, slightly sticky dough.

Resist the urge to add additional flour. I have found that kneading more water into whole wheat bread dough and having a wetter dough results in a much better textured loaf.

Allow the mixer to knead the dough for at least 5 minutes and no more than 10 minutes.

When the bread is well kneaded coat your hands in vegetable oil, using your hands and a silicon spatula remove the dough from the mixer bowl. Coat the mixer bowl with a little vegetable oil or butter and put the dough back in the bowl. Turn it a few times to coat the outside with oil.
Cover with a dish cloth and place it in a warm place and allow it to rise until it doubles in size - about 2 hours.

After the dough rises it should lose some of its stickiness.  Punch the dough down with well-greased hands.
For sandwich loaves place the dough in 3 standard loaf pans lined with parchment paper or well-greased.
For rolls, form them into fist shaped balls and place them on a parchment lined cookie sheet.
Allow to rise once again for about 1 hour.

Fifteen minutes before you are ready to bake them preheat the oven to 400 degrees and place a pan of water on the bottom rack of the oven.

You can also bake the bread at 550 for the first 5 to 10 minutes and add the water to the pan right after you insert the bread. The shock of the heat will cause the air pockets in bread to expand and the bread to increase up to 20% in size. The steam will prevent the exterior from becoming crispy. (My husband, Shaun’s, 2 cents)

In a bowl, scramble an egg with 2 tablespoons of water, brush the tops of the loaves with the egg mixture, and slash each loaf with a sharp knife. When the oven is pre-heated, quickly place the loaves in and bake them for 45 minutes.

Remove the loaves from the oven and allow them at least 30 minutes to cool before slicing to allow the loaves to firm up and finish cooking internally. Of course, if you want hot fresh bread and aren't concerned about the shape of the slices you can eat it straight out of the oven.

 I hope you enjoy this recipe! Please feel free send me any suggestions, tips, or experiences that might help to make this blog more informative and interesting. Thanks.