Home Made Laundry Soap

About 5 years ago our aging washer (it’ll be 20 years old here before too long) got sick enough to have to call the repairman in to give her a look over.

Happily it was a fairly simple (although not inexpensive) repair.

But what shocked me most was the comment the repairman made.

He said, “You’re using too much laundry detergent.”

Now – you gotta know that I’m a bit of a cheap-o, and I’d always prided myself on using just a little bit less than recommended by the manufacturer of the laundry detergent per load. With satisfactory results, I might add. And so I was puzzled.

I replied, “How can you tell?”

He said, “Run your fingers over the inside of the drum here.” And he demonstrated.

I did.

YUCK.

“That film is built up detergent. It builds up on your clothes, too, and damages them.” He went on to explain that I could probably get away with using HALF of what the manufacturer recommended.

Something to ponder, to be sure.

A couple of years later, when doing our routine grocery shopping, I stopped and looked in horror at the outrageous increase in the cost of – yes, even the generic! – laundry detergent!

I turned to John and said, “That’s just not right!”

And so I started doing some research and experimenting.

And thinking.

Often this researching, experimenting, and thinking will include a question that I have a feeling probably originated with my Grammy years and years ago.

Said question:

“What would they have done 100 years ago?”

Okay – so some of you would say I’m kinda granola, and I make way too much stuff from scratch at home, that it’s too much bother, and not worth the time or effort. I’ll admit – I came to the same conclusion after trying out the home made dishwasher detergent I gave a whirl a couple of years ago – not worth the effort, and less than satisfactory results.

But hello?! People have been washing clothes for millennia. Without the mass-produced goo that we fork out nearly $20 for.

I’m not saying I want a wash board and a sturdy rock on the side of a stream – but I want something I can make affordably at home – that actually works!

Is that asking too much?

So – as it happens, I happened to find just the right formula, and for the past couple of years have been making my own laundry soap. With lovely results. Ridiculously cheaply.

I’ve had quite a few people ask me to show them how to make this, and for the recipe, and I keep meaning to add it to the blog – so here you go. How to make your own laundry soap.

You don’t need much to get it done.

A large container – I use the last container I had from when we bought the expensive stuff – over and over and over again. If/when it dies; I’ll use one of those gallon containers you can put water in the fridge with. You know – something like this:

Then you need a funnel. I have this little set from Kitchen Aid – it has a silicone tip on it – which works PERFECTLY for this application – you’ll see why in a minute. Seriously – if you don’t have these yet – you need them. Just in general.

Then you need Borax. It’s super old school and you may have never bought it – but you can bet your grandparents or great-grandparents had it on hand. You probably have walked past it in the laundry detergent aisle at the grocery store a bazillion times and not even realized it’s there. It’s there. Buy it. It’s cheap. It’s awesome for homemade cleaning supplies! (DO NOT, however, ingest it. Got it?!)

Next, you need washing soda. This is also something you can find in your local grocery store on the laundry detergent aisle. It’s pretty cheap, too. Know what? You can make your own with stuff you already have at home. Get a glass baking dish – you know, the kind you bake brownies in – put an inch or so of baking soda in the glass dish. Preheat your oven to 400° F. Place said glass baking dish with baking soda in the oven. Bake for 1 hour. Allow to cool. Voila! You know have washing soda. (BTW, this is another one of those you shouldn’t ingest. Store it in an air-tight jar.)

And, lastly – you need Dawn dish soap. The blue stuff. Yes, you can try the other stuff if you want. I’ve just found that the blue stuff (which works particularly well with cutting grease) works best. Trust me on this.

See: everything you need here:

First – put 4 Tablespoons of washing soda in the funnel.

This is where that silicone tipped funnel comes in handy. You’ll need to break up the little clumps that will inevitably be in the powders to get them into the container.

Next, add the Borax. Again – I use the funnel tip to squeeze the clumps through and into the container. Works like a charm.

Next step: I add a pot full of boiling water to the container via my handy-dandy funnel. It’s about 4 to 6 cups of water.

Then I let it sit for about 15 minutes – so that the powders melt down in the water.

Next, I add cold water until the container is nearly full. Leave about an inch of head space. Lastly – add 3 Tablespoons of the blue Dawn dish soap.

After the dish soap has been added, I put the cap on the container; shake it around a bit to mix stuff up. And then use it.

And that’s it.

Seriously.

THAT. IS. ALL.

Did I mention it was ridiculously easy?

So back to the washing machine appliance repair dude. Remember how he showed me the grody film in my washing machine?

Yeah – it’s not there anymore.

What’s more, my towels have never felt/smelled cleaner.

There are some things you need to know.

This stuff is not the thick gooey stuff you buy at the grocery store.

This stuff will be kind of a watery-type consistency. That is normal.

I use the same cup to measure the laundry soap into the washing machine with that I did with the old commercially produced laundry soap. Measure for measure.

Yes, you’re right. It doesn’t smell flowery. That kinda freaks some folks out. I like that it doesn’t – we’ve got enough allergies to deal with at our house.

All tolled – it takes maybe 15 to 20 minutes to mix this stuff up and put into use. Depending on how long you wait between the boiling water part and the cold water part.

And – you WILL feel empowered and invincible and considerably richer once you start making your own and leave the commercial stuff in the dust.

Have at it!

Urban homesteading is in my blood…

My Grammy had a green thumb.


[Victory Garden circa 1943.]

She grew up in the garden, really. As did my Grampa – he was the son of a dairyman and a professional cook – both of whom believed in having a large garden out the kitchen door.

I love the old pictures of Grammy as a little girl, playing in the garden. So much of life revolved around the garden of their Booneville, Arkansas home. They lived in town – in a house that my great-grandfather built (he lost his right arm in a cotton gin when he was 11 years old – but it didn’t stop him from doing pretty much anything!) – that had a small barn, a chicken coop, and lots and lots of garden. There were fruit vines and trees, vegetables galore, and lots of “sustainable” living going on in that city lot!


[Tom Thumb wedding circa 1919.]

My Mom spoke of her love of the time spent in her Grandmother’s garden when she was a girl. For her, the love she felt related to her time spent with her Grandmother had very close ties to the amazing food grown, prepared, served, and enjoyed as a family in their lovely Southern California garden.


[My Great-Grandmother and my Mommy circa 1947.]

Growing up we always had a garden in the back yard. Mom and Dad always grew tomatoes, squash, corn, beans, peas, lettuce. Mom always had a patch of strawberries going and there were the plum trees that put out all kinds of crazy quantity of succulent Italian prunes. (Little did we know we loved prunes!)

If something important happened when we were growing up – we’d snap a picture in the garden!


[Grammy holding baby sister, my brother Joel, and I circa 1968.]

In the summers – nothing better than sharing a meal out-of-doors – featuring the very foods we’d grown just feet from our table.

When John and I married it was a no-brainer that no matter where we lived a garden would be involved. Better yet – a garden that could yield enough produce that we could preserve for future use! (I married a man with amazing skills. He’s the one who taught me how to can!)

Some of the sweetest memories I have are of my Grammy out in the garden with my own children – showing them just how it’s done!

[Grammy – age 82, and Jessica – age 2, watering circa 1994.]

When we came across this house that we live in – listed for rent – on HALF AN ACRE just a stone’s throw from downtown Portland, well – our pulses quickened a bit. Could we afford it? Could we even possibly be in line early enough to be in the running to luck out to rent it? We nearly fainted when we got the word that we could indeed afford it (barely), and that we were the first in line with a completed rental application and application fee attached.

:sigh:

A house with a garden. A REAL garden – the kind you can live off of. Just what we’d longed for.

What a gift!

What a blessing!

What an amazing God!

Yes. There is great responsibility. But oh – the benefits far outweigh any sense of burden.

But here’s the thing…

It scares me a bit how little people of my own generation, much less those of my children, understand where food comes from. It scares me significantly more that if you stood on a street corner and surveyed the folks walking by – asking if they could grow a garden given the resources – that the vast majority would look at you with a blank stare.

There are so many deep philosophies at play here – this beautiful thing called urban homesteading represents.

Accountability.

Appreciation.

Availability.

Historicity.

Patriotism.

Stewardship.

Sustainability.

…the list could get very, very long.

For me – bottom line – it goes back to WHO I am accountable to in my life. I believe with every fiber of my being that there is a God and He is Creator and that He has gifted us with this very precious resource. I consider it nothing short of Worship to be able to steward this little corner of the world. We consider it our privilege and honor to take the yield from His blessings and our labors, preserve them, and to gift excesses to those in need in our community.

NOTHING about any of this is new.

It is the way it was done in my Mother’s day.

It is the way it was done in my Grandmother’s day.

It is the way it was done in my Great-Grandmother’s day.

…and for generations prior.

My fervent hope is that my children, my children’s children, and for generations to come – it will continue to be an important part of life. That they will never take for granted the beauty of this thing.

If you’re an urban homesteader, consider joining us in celebrating this beautiful thing we do – and make a stand for the unrestrained right to proudly declare so. There is a Facebook group to check out here. Other excellent posts to read here and here.

What we think we know…

This post is part of the Simple Lives Thursday blog hop at A Little Bit of Spain in Iowa, hosted by the beautiful, talented, incredibly intelligent, and all-around fabulous Diana!

There’s a really interesting – sad, sort of telling, but really – bottom line – very pathetic – conversation happening over on our PDX Backyard Chickens Yahoo Group.

A member of our group (and one of my own fabulous neighbors!) gifted a loved-one with fresh – just laid, probably not been out of the chicken more than hours fresh – eggs from her backyard flock of chickens.

The loved one – suspicious of the thick shell and brightly colored yolks – threw said gifted eggs in the trash – sure that they were not as safe as the factory farmed eggs she was accustomed to purchasing for a song at the local grocery store. Yeah – you know – those eggs. Eggs like those half a BILLION that were recalled of late due to a very real risk of salmonella poisoning.

How have we – as a society – strayed so far from real food?

From knowing what a real egg from an actual healthy chicken looks, feels, and tastes like?

How can it be that a local teacher has informed her students that backyard chickens are at higher risk for salmonella – which she, I’m assuming emphasized for dramatic effect for her high school aged students, would quite potentially kill the consumers thereof.

UGH!

It makes me mad.

But maybe more than that – it makes me sad.

Remember this?

Do you see the reference to the date there? 1918.

My Grammy was 6 years old then.

For her – growing up in town in Booneville, Arkansas – it was normal, matter-of-fact, routine that they would have a flock of backyard chickens. Some for meat. Some for eggs. In fact, she told a hilarious story about how one day she was left in charge – as a teenager – to prepare a meal for her Father and Grandfather (both of whom worked on the railroad) and would be home for their noonday meal – expecting a roasted chicken dinner. Both men came home to a squawking – beakless – young roo voicing his outrage around their yard – and a vegetarian meal! She’d tried – she’d seen her Mom harvest a chicken several times a week her entire life – but her aim was not what her Mother’s was! (Her Papa came to the rescue, and roasted chicken was on the menu for the evening meal that evening!) She said when word of it got out pretty much everyone in town had a good laugh – with her, of course, but at her too – because – hello!? – who doesn’t know how to take a chicken from the backyard and get it to the table?!

Um – nowadays – pretty much everyone.

Not only can we not harvest a chicken that has been healthfully raised (as opposed to what is the norm – warning this video is graphic).

I’m always amazed when I take Americans to Spain and give them a tour through the Central Market – sort of like an indoor farmer’s market for those who have never been fortunate enough to experience this.

Sights like this:

and this…

are the norm.

Americans are shocked to see animals being butchered – in plain sight – and more times than not – really don’t know how to handle it.

I’ve had grown adults break out in tears – because they’d never put two and two together that the cute picture of the little farm animal in the advertisement had anything to do with the item that ended up on their plate.

How have we gotten to this point?

What can we do to change it?

I – for one – want to make sure my children know and understand that their food comes at a price – and not just financial.

I want them to respect the process that goes into raising healthy food – be it animal or vegetable.

And I’ll continue on – committed to healthy, local, organic, sustainably grown REAL food.

…and pasturing the girls, and keeping them happy, healthy, and hilarious!

Blueberry Jelly

It’s Two For Tuesdays! Fasten your seatbelts, and come along for the ride!

Opening day at the Blueberry Farm…

A gorgeous Saturday afternoon…

Some of the most important people in my life…

…and amazing, luscious, ripe to perfection Blueberries.

With enough mostly non-whiney helping hands – in short order:


(Okay, so we picked more than blueberries… we got some Coho Raspberries, and Marionberries, too.)

But this post is all about the Blueberries.

Do you ever start out on a project – full steam ahead – plowing forward and then mid-project realize, “Umm… I’m out of…” Yeah – you probably don’t. But – in real life – in MY real life – it happens all the time. You’d think I’d figure out a system to keep this from happening. But I guess if I did, half of my adventures just wouldn’t happen, would they?!

I digress – back to the topic at hand!

Do you have a juicer/steamer?

No?

Why not?!

‘Cause you NEED one. Not even just want one. Seriously – this is a need thing.

The possibilities are endless, mind-blowing, and fantastic.

Know all that excess straggler produce from your garden toward the end of the summer and early fall? Steam the veggies and make vegetable stock for your soup making during the winter! Make your own fruit juices. I make an amazing pomodoro tomato sauce with it. Seriously – it’s the right thing to do. Start right now by watching the canning section of every store that carries anything canning related. Watch the extra percentage off coupons. My $170-ish steamer/juicer cost me about $40 with an end of the season sale and percentage off coupons. How could I NOT buy it?!

Okay – tangent done…. on to Blueberries.

I traditionally make blueberry jelly and blueberry syrup most summers. (Last summer, not so much since I was too sick.) I also really, really, really want to have some picked in the morning, sorted, washed, allowed to air dry, and then frozen and stashed away for baking all year long blueberries, too. There is just something so right about blueberries at their peak of freshness.

When I make the blueberry jelly and syrup, I rely on my juicer/steamer. It’s a total breeze.

First, you fill the base with water:

Then you add the collection portion:

…and the steamer basket:

And finally, the berries and the lid:

That took all of about three minutes.

Next, you set the heat on the eye on high, and let the juicer do it’s thing. It takes about 80 minutes. And for this hopper full of fruit – I got about a gallon of blueberry juice. (It would have been more if it hadn’t been for that pesky little spill I had – but thankfully, maybe only 1/2 a cup or so lost.)

Here’s what the fruit looks like when it’s spent:

My chickens love the spent fruit!

While the fruit is steaming, I typically get my jars and lids sterilizing, my canning supplies all lined up, and take inventory of the ingredients I need… sugar – check. pectin… um…. pectin…. STINK! I’m out of pectin! And we’re broke! UGH!

So decisions need to be made here.

Freeze the juice and jelly at another time?

or…

Think outside the box.

You know I’m an outside the box girl, don’t you?! 🙂

So, I pulled out Grammy’s old cookbook:

Read up on the old school methods of jelly making, and then checked out a couple other resources.

I mean – did they have pectin in Little House on the Prairie? Surely you don’t HAVE to have pectin, do you?

Well – as I found out – it depends on which fruit you’re working with – and fortunately enough for me – blueberries is one of the fruits that it’s easier to get away without it. And pectin – while lovely and convenient – doesn’t necessarily have to be a factor. It just takes a little more time, and attention to detail to do it without the pectin.

What I learned:

One to one ratio with sugar if you’re using a concentrated fruit juice (like I got from my juicer/steamer) – although it’s okay to go slightly less than 1 cup with the sugar. So I had 16 cups of juice, and 16 cups of sugar.

You need a GOOD and LARGE pan to boil the juice/sugar solution in. I used my All Clad 20 quart stockpot. I love that thing!

You need a little patience. This is gonna need at least 30 minutes to boil at about 200 F.

Having a good quality candy thermometer sure as heck is a nice thing to have on hand!

I decided I could do this with the supplies I had on hand and forged ahead!

I combined the blueberry juice and the sugar, put the heat to high, and stirred until the sugar was completely dissolved. It took longer than I thought it would to get it to boil and the 200 F mark. But once it got there, and I got the heat adjusted to just the right spot to keep it there, it was just a matter of setting a 30 minute timer and letting it boil away.

Can I just tell you how nice it is to have a nice deep large pot with a solid base on it that makes this sort of task no problem whatsoever?! No worries of boil overs. No worries about splatter – see below – it’s all splattered inside the pot – just where it ought to.

I was actually pretty thrilled that in pretty short order I started to see the mixture begin to form a gel!

Amazing!

In no time I was filling canning jars with jelly, processing them in the boiling water bath, and getting them tucked away into the pantry.

Voila!

I will confess – we ate so many blueberries that there weren’t enough for syrup quite yet. But we’ll get around to it before the Blueberry season ends. Promise.

Other things we got done that day:

Coho Raspberry Syrup

and

Marionberry jam.

All in all – a lovely – and very productive day!

REAL Canned Beans

spaininiowa

I got a tip from another blogger about this great Blog Carnival going over at girlichef featuring REAL food.   And Diana has launched Simple Lives Thursday at her blog.

So totally up my alley!

Especially when I’ve been pondering things that I probably ought to have known, and well – just really didn’t!

Do you ever just buy stuff because you always have?

Does it ever rock your world when it occurs to you that you can make it at home – better, and more often than not – WAY cheaper?

Ugh! I hate that I’m such a consumer sometimes!

So… Some time ago I came across a great post over at Foodie With Family about a copy cat barbeque bean recipe. For canned barbeque beans. Said beans – according to all who have tried them – will turn all consumers into diehard fans for ever more. I read that post and recipe and suddenly the light bulb went on!

DUH!

I can buy dry beans in the bulk foods section and can beans until my little heart’s content!

I love beans.

I put them in soups…

I put them in salads…

I put them in stews…

I put them in chili…

They’re packed with tons of great stuff for you.

And I carefully monitor all of the grocery adds to see when my favorite canned beans go on sale – cause they’re not cheap! And I’m not just gonna throw a buck a can at them without thinking it through.

Especially when said beans cost me $0.49 (yes, that says forty-nine cents) a pound on sale this week in bulk foods!

Dang!

I’m SO canning beans, people!

Being a bit unsure how my experiment with canning dried beans would turn out I hit the net and did lots of reading. You know what? There are LOTS of different opinions out there on how it ought to be done. But I chose to stick with a method from my Grammy’s 1926 cookbook, which followed closely to the Ball Blue Book. I then went to the bulk foods section at the grocery store and choose about a pound of several different types of beans…

Black eyed peas

Small red beans

Black beans

Navy beans

Garbanzo beans

All tolled – given the price differentials – this about 5 pounds-ish of beans cost me about $5. I happen to have an embarrassment of riches in the canning jar/lid/ring department (Freecycle rocks!) – so no outlay of cash there. The biggest thing required? Time.

It all started last night – yes, I confess, I was still up at midnight putting said beans in bowls, filling them with water, and then covering them with plastic wrap. (Yeah, that took all of about 5 minutes – so totally not the reason I was up way too late!) These babies need to soak anywhere from 8 to 18 hours – depending on who you believe. My Ball Blue Book said 12 hours, so I went with that.

A little after noon – after I’d done dishes, and sanitized the kitchen, I set my big kettle and a saucepan to boiling.

The big kettle holds the clean canning jars, the saucepan holds the clean lids and rings. See?

Pretty much, all you gotta do from this point in time is…

Rinse the beans… You discard the liquid they’ve been soaking in, pick through and make sure you get out any discolored beans or debris that might have made it through the packing process before being marketed.

I dumped the beans from the bowl with water into a colander over the kitchen sink. Then transferred the beans back to the bowl they’d soaked in (after giving it a quick rinse), and rinsed again with cold water. Drained once again with the colander. At that point I place the colander on top of the now empty bowl, and transfer over to my work area adjacent to the stove.

Then it was time to pack the jars…

I pull a few jars out of the boiling water and put the funnel on the jar closest to the bowl of beans. These puppies are HOT – so I use silicone wrapped tongs to work with them, it’s so much easier!

I got about 1 1/2 cups of beans per pint jar. I pulled out my electronic scale to check out how it weighed in. Just bean weight – roughly 9 ounces – within about an eighth of an ounce. The important thing here is to be certain to maintain an inch head space on the jars.

Now you put 1/2 a teaspoon of salt in each jar.

And then you fill each jar with boiling water – again, maintaining that 1 inch head space.

It’s important to get rid of air pockets that may be stuck in the jar. I pull out a handy dandy chop stick and gently stir to dislodge any air. If the volume is significantly affected, then I top off with additional boiling water.

Now all you do is wipe the rims and tops of each jar, and then put the lid and band on!

We’re fortunate enough to have a 23-Quart Pressure Canner (and yes these MUST be pressure canned!) – so I packed it with the beans… It’s important to make sure you get the right amount of water in the base of the canner, too. Mine calls for 3 quarts (12 cups) of hot water. And you GOTTA have the insert in the base of the canner, too. You don’t want exploding canning jars going on, right?!

That’s two layers of pint jars in there. When you do two layers of jars like this, it’s important to use another insert between the layers. I also stagger the jars so that no jar is sitting directly over another one.

That middle jar up there- it’s a “mix” jar. I do this when I’m making jams and jellies, too. Does it ever just bug you that you never have an exact right amount – always a little too much or not quite enough? I just keep an extra jar on hand and fill it with the leftovers. Life goes on, you know? And I’ll always use them.

Once you get the canner loaded, you put the lid on and put the heat on the eye on high. You want the steam to start to build up in there. Once steam is built up enough to be exiting the vent, set a timer for 10 minutes. When that 10 minutes are up, place the regulator on the vent tube.

Pressure needs to build to 10 pounds, and pint jars need 70 minutes at that pressure.

It’s really important to set a timer when you’re doing these stages. It’s just too easy to get sidetracked and lose track, and when you’re working with a pressure canner – NOT okay.

Once the 70 minutes is up, you remove the pressure canner from the heat, making sure it’s resting somewhere on a level surface. I had John move it to the dining room table (with appropriate heat pads underneath, of course). It took about 45 minutes for the temperature to drop and the steam to release.

The unveiling….

Pretty, huh?

All-in-all, probably one of the easiest canning projects I’ve ever tackled.

For my $5 investment in beans I’ve got

6 pints of black eyed peas

4 pints of small red beans

4 pints of black beans

5 pints of navy beans

5 pints of garbanzo beans

Not bad. Not bad at all!

This will definitely NOT be the last time I can my own beans! In fact, I think I’m giving up store bought beans from here on out!

Now – I’m off to finish up canning the yams the gleaners dropped off for me this afternoon. An unexpected blessing!

A Rare Day Off…

I had to go back to work at the end of May – after 4 months off for medical leave.

I’ve had few days off – although I have been fortunate enough to be able to work first half-time, and most recently, about 3/4ths of a typical work day.

On an average day I’m at work by 7 am, get home by 1:15 pm – and pretty much crash. Getting over this lengthy illness will take a concerted effort and quite a bit of patience! It’s been pretty frustrating not being able to accomplish the many things that I feel I ought to accomplish.

Over the course of the last week – after a substantial delay due to the very cool, very wet Spring we’ve had – our garden has begun to take some shape.

HOORAY!

Here – let me show you what we’ve got put together so far…

This is the “old” garden. I.e., the original garden plot that’s been here since we moved her 5 years ago.

In the foreground are three rows of squash… they are yellow crookneck (my very favorite in the whole entire world), and Mexican squash – sometimes also seen as grey zucchini. The Mexican squash is a new variety for us – I buy it sometimes at the store, but it’s expensive, and not reliably available. So I decided we oughta grow some!

Next, is a row of dill. I’m relying on it to be wildly successful – I have big pickling plans this year!

There’s a reserved space next (i.e., empty) – right before that trellis. It’s for the trellis that is currently being used for peas. When the peas are done, the trellis will move here, and we’ll get another planting of green beans in. And the trellis that you see here:

On the left side are the old standard – Blue Lake pole beans.

On the right – another fun new option:

In the right growing conditions, these beans can grow up to 36″ long! WOW! The rumor is that they’re fabulous, too. I hope to find out. That would mean, of course, that we NOT the deer get to eat the green beans this year!

To that end, I’ve planted lots of flowers that are supposed to be deer deterrents. Like:

My goal is to edge each plot with plantings that the deer are said to be particularly repulsed by. They include: astilbe, coreopsis, gallardia, chives, lavender, sage (quite a number of varieites), purple coneflower, candy tuft, and bee balm. Here’s hoping it works!

After the green bean trellis are five hills of another new to us planting – Romanesco Zucchini. I think this is the variety of squash that I enjoy so much when I’m in Spain – or at least something very similar to it. I heard so many raves about it – and it was SO difficult to obtain the seed. I’m really hoping for success with this one!

And lastly in the old garden – four or five rows of corn – I can’t remember how many now. We’ll see when it comes up! 🙂

In the “new” garden plot we’ve got…

A potato condo with both Red Pontiacs and White Kennebecs. Here’s to a more successful potato year than last year!

Cucumbers! The trellis on the left has pickling cucumbers. The trellis on the right has slicing cucumbers.

In the foreground you may be able to discern a hill – there are actually 3 (I forgot to get a shot of them!) – one of a variety similar to cantaloupe that we’ve enjoyed in Spain, another an heirloom cantaloupe, and then an heirloom watermelon.

We’ve got forty tomato plants in the ground. A few aren’t looking so great. Gosh – they could sure use a few solid days of genuinely summer weather! They are all – of course – heirloom varieties: Paul Robeson, Copia, TC Jones, Grammy Cantrell German Red, Moon Glow, Dr. Wyches, Grace Lahman’s Pink, Roman Candle, Weeping Charlie Roma, Amish Paste, Isis Candy Cherry, Dr. Carolyn Cherry, and Tess Land Race Currant Cherry.

Separating the two banks of tomato trellises is a row of basil plants. I have some serious pesto plans for those basil plants!

Also in the new garden is my weed-infested patch of cabbages…

As well as my weed-infested patch of peas – which have pea pods on them now!!! Woo Hoo!!!

Aren’t they beautiful?

You may recall this entire plot was completely weed infested – as recently as just a week ago! We decided to just till it all under and start over again – sadly, saying goodbye to the spinach and green onions that had limped along thus far. I need to get out there and weed this little corner – and soon! – but only as energy allows.

Also in this plot are…

Parsley…

Cilantro…

Beets…

…and marigolds.

So far.

We will fill up nearly every spare inch we can.

I still need to get lettuce planted, a new planting of spinach, and a new planting of green onions in, as well. I put those under the trellises – it works out nicely.

John also got two more beds tilled tonight.

The front bed – along the street – will have pumpkins and lots and lots of perennial seeds that I’ve saved up and need to get in the ground!

And a bed where we’ve had great success with green beans in the past, will play host to green beans once again! John will get the trellising up in the next day or two, and then it will get planted. And then immediately thereafter – fenced! One MUST protect the garden from the chickens!

And speaking of chickens…

Buffy and three of the babies… the fourth (the Dominique) is always trailing behind somewhere!

One of the little black sex link chicks. Isn’t she pretty?

And – one of the EIGHT mostly naked chickens I have on my hands right now:

I don’t know if it’s the weather being so cool and yucky that’s caused so many of them to decide to molt all at the same time – or what! But there are feathers EVERYWHERE! Poor things – they look kinda pathetic! At least it’s not as cold as when Crayon molted last year! But has sure put a damper on egg production!

So – while I didn’t get as much done as I’d hoped to on this lovely day off, I’m thankful for every moment I got to spend here at home with the kids and in the garden, and out with the girls. I even threw together a new fun salad, that I’ll post about later this week. I think it’s going to be a keeper!

Oooh! And – Shelly‘s broody again! I think I’m picking up fertile eggs for her to set in the next day or two. More on that as details are available!

Potato Crusted Quiche

and it’s Fight Back Friday!

Well – it was Fight Back Friday – and then my computer got the hiccups – and so you’re getting Fight Back Friday on Saturday. Sorry!

I gotta tell you – I love quiche.

Well – it has to be good quiche, because bad quiche – ewww…. YUCK!

Good quiche is – well, obviously – the polar opposite of what bad quiche has not going for it… you know, that rubbery consistency, the slightly (or not!) burnt egg aroma and taste, greasiness, and is overall – not an experience you want to repeat.

The problem being – too many people have come to accept that quiche is:

1. Hard to make – a total lie!

2. Not worth the effort – fallacy!

3. Is probably nutritionally not so great for you – um, not!

4. Kinda yucky tasting – au contraire!

I’m here to show you that quiche is one of those things that is easy to do, fun to make, is nutritionally fabulous (protein galore!), and tastes utterly divine.

There’s something important that you need to know starting out, though. You need fresh eggs. Seriously fresh eggs. Like go out the back door and collect the eggs from the coop and then start cooking fresh eggs. (Julia Child agrees with me on this!) I know you may not have a backyard flock of chickens – and that’s okay. If you don’t – find someone who does and buy a dozen eggs from them! Totally worth it, people! (And you should know my bias – I feel like this should be the case for all food – fresh, local, organic – do this, and fabulous food will ensue!)

Okay – so – insider tip: all good quiche is built around two basic ingredients: fresh eggs and excellent quality heavy whipping cream.

That’s it!

Seriously!

From there on out it’s about what floats your boat.

This post is about a potato crusted quiche, but it could just as easily be about a traditional pie pastry crusted quiche, or even a crustless quiche. Quiche is incredibly versatile, easy to throw together, and willing to work with you. I’m going to throw in ingredients that I love and have on hand – but you could mix it up any way you wanted!

So let’s get down to it!

So this is a potato crusted quiche, right? All that means is you’re going to take some frozen hash brown potatoes, a couple of beaten eggs, about 1/2 a cup of shredded white cheese – whatever you have on hand is fine. Mix them all together, press them in the bottom of a pie plate or something akin to that. Go ahead and bake it for about 20 minutes at 350 F. It should look something like this:

Yeah, I know, it’s not a traditional pie plate. This was actually my Grammy’s and she cooked all sorts of stuff in this pan. It is circa 1940-something, and has been well used and loved. I particularly love it because it’s so nice and deep – so I can put lots of yummy stuff in my quiche.

Note: you could totally put the potato crust up the sides of the pan. I just wasn’t in the mood for that this time, so didn’t.

Go ahead and take it out of the oven and set it aside. You don’t want it piping hot when you have the filling ready.

Moving on to the filling. I start with bacon – a wonderful place to start, don’t you think?

I took 8 slices and just cut them up into little strips. It’s so easy to do it this way. Once it’s cut up, throw it in the frying pan and cook until they’re nice and brown – but not so brown that they’re super dry.

Perfect!

Then I remove the bacon to a paper towel lined bowl, leaving the drippings behind in the pan. You’re gonna need those drippings!

Now comes the love…

Is there anything more fabulous than a sautéed Vidalia onion?

I think not!

Again – I remove the contents, not the bacon drippings.

Next, the mushrooms. I always debate whether or not to add mushrooms to my quiche. Some of the time I do, some of the time I don’t. The reason I hesitate? Well – it’s the texture. But since this quiche has bacon in it – say, opposed to some diced black forest ham – it’s already a little bulky, so the mushrooms are no biggie. If this were the black forest ham rendition, I’d probably throw some spinach in there with the sautéed onions and call it perfection.

Back to the mushrooms. Yes, there are bacon drippings in there, but not a whole lot left, so I added a couple of tablespoons of butter to aid in the whole sautéing effort.

You don’t want to cook these down to shoe leather or anything. Just enough to soften them up and give them the opportunity to suck in some of that buttery/baconey goodness.

Voila!

Here are our toppings:

Now it’s time for cheese.

Here’s the thing – you can use any old cheese you want. I’ve used cream cheese, various Spanish cheeses, goat cheese, cheddar, co-jack, muenster, jarlsburg – you name it, I’ve probably thrown it in a quiche. They’re all fabulous. Just choose cheese that complements your other ingredients.

For this quiche I used some Monterey Jack and some Swiss cheese.

I would normally have a block of Swiss on hand that I would grate, but I found an insanely cheap package of sliced Swiss at the grocery store the other day and brought it home. Sliced is fine!

Now is when you start layering.

First – sprinkle a little bit of the Monterey Jack on top of the potato crust, then top it with the Swiss.

Now add the bacon:

Next the onions:

And then the mushrooms:

Now more cheese – Swiss first this time:

And then the Monterey Jack:

Easy so far, right?

It just stays that way… Now for the rest.

You’re going to need six fresh eggs.

These were laid yesterday and today. See that dark speckled egg on the right in the front? BB laid that one – her eggs are SO fabulous!

Crack those eggs into a container that you can mix the eggs in easily. I have a stick blender that I love that came with a fabulous container that is perfect for this application!

This container has markings up to 24 ounces. The eggs take up about 8 ounces, then I fill the balance up to the 24 ounce mark with heavy cream.

Now blend those babies until they are as smooth as can be. It takes a good two or three minutes with the stick blender to get the consistency that I want to see.

Time to put everything together!

Now – insider tip.

Put the pan with the oven.

NO – I did not skip a step.

See? Put the pan in the oven:

NOW… pour the egg/cream mixture in the pan. Like so:

Perfecto!

Now you need to find something else to do for an hour. Yep, it takes a whole hour to bake. But that’s okay – there are dishes to wash, laundry to fold, kids to nag to clean their rooms, chickens to chase… The time will fly.

And soon – you’ll find this in your oven:

Isn’t it pretty?

The real key here is to make sure that when you jiggle the pan GENTLY that you don’t see any movement. You want it to be just set up.

I go so far as to use a toothpick to make sure it is:

Exactly as it should be – the toothpick will come out clean. (Yes, sorry – I have Blu-Kote on my thumb nail! A chicken keeper’s work is never done! And yes, it can take WEEKS to wear off!)

Now all you have to do is wait for it to cool a bit before you can dig in.

That is the hard part!

Voila! You have now made an amazing quiche – it wasn’t hard at all, was it? You’re going to make it more often, aren’t you? Nod your head up and down. You will – I know you will, as soon as you have a bite of this luscious treat!

And just so you know – I make a quiche about once every week or so. I cut it up into 8 pieces once it’s cooled some, cover it and put it in the refrigerator. Then, every morning I take it out, take a piece from the quiche, put it on a plate and microwave it for about a minute to 90 seconds – and I then have a fabulous breakfast with little or no effort!

Warning: others will find out how marvelous this is and will want some, too. Be prepared to make quiche on a regular basis!

Potato Crusted Quiche

Crust:

1.5 cups frozen hash brown potatoes
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 cup shredded white cheese (your choice)

Preheat oven to 350° F.

  1. In a bowl, mix together hash browns, beaten egg, and shredded cheese.
  2. Press hash brown mixture into a pie plate, covering as much of the surface as possible.
  3. Bake in preheated oven for approximately 20 minutes. There will be some browning at the edges.
  4. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

Filling:

6 eggs
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup shredded Swiss cheese
1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
8 slices bacon, diced
1 medium sweet onion, thinly sliced
12 mushrooms, sliced
2 Tablespoons butter

  1. Cook diced bacon in medium pan until it is cooked through and fairly browned. You don’t want it super crispy. When cooked through, remove the bacon from the pan and set aside – leaving the drippings in the pan.
  2. Sauté thinly sliced onion in the bacon pan. Cook until translucent and beginning to brown. Remove onions from the pan and set aside – leaving the drippings in the pan.
  3. Sauté the mushrooms in the bacon pan. Add the butter, cooking the mushrooms just until they have tenderized. Remove from the pan and set aside.
  4. Sprinkle half of the Monterey Jack and Swiss cheeses on top of the crust.
  5. Now layer the bacon, onions, and mushrooms on top of the cheeses.
  6. Sprinkle the remaining Swiss and Monterey Jack cheeses in the pan.
  7. In a bowl, combine the eggs and heavy cream. Beat until thoroughly incorporated and smooth.
  8. Place the pan with crust, fillings, and cheeses in the oven.
  9. Now pour the egg/cream mixture into the pan.
  10. Bake at 350 F for 50 to 60 minutes – until the center is set and a toothpick comes out clean.
  11. Allow to cool slightly before cutting.

Grammy’s Gingerbread

…and it’s Fight Back Friday!

When I was about 25 years old my Grammy gave me a gift. It wasn’t brand spanking new or anything. In fact, it was pretty old and sort of falling apart and definitely tattered. It was her high school Home Economics cookbook. She was born in 1912, so I’m trying to figure out when exactly she would have gotten this – maybe the late 1920’s or early 1930’s? It’s entitled “The New American Cook Book” – and unfortunately it doesn’t have ANY copyright or publisher information. Bummer.

Now – if the truth be told, Grammy was not the greatest cook. Much like my Mom, she had a few things she did remarkably well – and other stuff – not so much!

Grammy definitely was a frontrunner on the whole Health Food movement. The stuff she’d eat! And then make us try to eat! EGAD! One day it would be peanut butter loaded with all sorts of herbs and wheat germ. The next she’d make the most amazing bar cookies with butterscotch, chocolate, and peanut butter – totally decadent! I think she WANTED to be good, but sometimes the love for the decadent won over more often than she liked! But really, the thing she was striving for was food that was good for you and tasted good, too. Aren’t we all? If that isn’t at the heart of being a Food Renegade, I don’t know what is!

One thing that I will always remember fondly is the fact that she and I had a somewhat secret love of gingerbread. I don’t think it was really supposed to be any sort of big dark secret – it’s just there weren’t any others around who gave a rip.

One day she said, “Let’s make Gingerbread.” Which might sound pretty normal for a Grammy to say. But my Grammy believed in doing stuff herself – so much so that my Mom knew how to do NOTHING in the kitchen by the time she got married! So that invitation to bake with Grammy was a big deal! Out came her high school Home Economics cookbook, and we made a truly wonderful batch of gingerbread. I can still remember the smell, her kitchen in Burbank – before the remodel, and the smile on her face as we took the first bites. Gosh I miss my Grammy.

So when I was 25 and Grammy gave me said cookbook, I was pretty moved. She’d been using that thing for a lot of decades! I still consider it a treasure, and guard it carefully!

Grammy would have been 97 this month. I’m sharing our Gingerbread recipe in her honor. She’d have really loved it if you enjoyed it as well!

Grammy’s Gingerbread

Ingredients
2 cups All-purpose flour, sifted
2 teaspoons Baking powder
1/4 teaspoon Baking soda
2 teaspoons Ginger
1 teaspoon Cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/3 cup Butter
1/2 cup Granulated sugar
1 large Egg, well beaten
2/3 cup Molasses
3/4 cup Buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350° F.

  1. Sift flour once, measure. Add baking powder, soda, spices, and salt and sift together three times.
  2. Cream butter thoroughly, adding sugar gradually, continuing to cream until the mixture is light and fluffy.
  3. Add egg and molasses to creamed mixture.
  4. Add flour and buttermilk alternately to the creamed mixture. Beat after each addition until smooth.
  5. Pour into a greased pan or a ring mold.
  6. Bake in a moderate oven (350° F) for 1 1/4 hours.

Notes:

This recipe was one my Grammy liked to make – and I love to eat! It has lovely flavor and is nice and moist. It comes from “The New American Cook Book” which unfortunately has no copyright information in it. Grammy was given it when she was in high school so I’m guessing it’s from the late 1920’s or early 1930’s. It’s a BIG book, and has seen quite a few miles – but there are some real gems therein!

Grandma’s Jam Cake

… and it’s Fight Back Friday!

Sorry – it’s been a while – was sick, in the hospital, yada, yada, yada. But I’m back! And here you go!

Quite some number of years ago now I worked several months at a Conference Center in rural Michigan as the baker. Being the consummate city girl – I had no idea that rural America still existed. In fact, I actually mouthed the words to my Grammy as she drove from Oregon to Michigan with me, “It’s just so sad that all of America is just one big huge suburbia!” That, of course, was before I was in Nebraska – at which point in time I turned to Grammy and said, “How can we – as a nation – possibly consume this much corn?!” I was young and dumb enough to know virtually nothing about anything but – well, anything is a good word here. Okay – I was a decent baker – must have been for them to want to move me all the way to Michigan to bake, huh?!

It just so happened that for a week each summer said Conference Center had a week off. All staff packed up and went somewhere else for a week. I didn’t really have anywhere else to go. Well… unless…

And that’s when the bright idea hit. I would drive to North Carolina and visit one of my all-time favorite cousins – Bobby.

(My Dad on the left, me, and Bobby. Circa 1964.)

Bobby is my redneck, Southern Baptist preacher cousin. I love the socks off this guy. He’s as real, transparent, fun, hilarious, loving, kind, hilarious, amazing, hilarious kind of cousin that every girl needs. He was living in North Carolina – having been born and grown up in Mississippi for pretty much most of his life – finishing up his Masters of Divinity. He’s not your typical redneck, Southern Baptist preacher kinda guy. He’s the kind who wanted to ride his Harley across the stage at his graduation from Seminary. Have I mentioned that I love this cousin?

So I thought – “Hey! I’ll go visit Bobby! Can’t be too far – driving from Michigan to North Carolina, right?!” This was back in the dark ages – you know – before Google maps and reality checks that they sometimes provide. I called Bobby – told him my plan, and he said he would count the days until I arrived.

So, the day of departure arrived. I had a little cash. I had my stereo and a good selection of music. Some snacks. A huge refillable cup for Diet Coke stops. (Shudder – back in the day when I drank the vile stuff! YUCK!) I hopped in my 1978 Toyota Corolla Station Wagon with 189,000 miles on it and headed South East. 862 miles – I’d driven more than that in one day – I was determined to make it a one day trip – with little stops at places I’d always wanted to see – like Lexington, Kentucky, and Knoxville, TN.

Remembering that I was a virtually uneducated in the ways of other parts of this Great Country that we call home – I was slack jawed most of the trip. It was wild, wonderful, beautiful, amazing – at every turn of the road. I love history. I love architecture. I took LOTS of pictures that I’m sure other people would laugh at. But it was stuff I’d never seen before – and I was awestruck.

I arrived at Bobby’s and was greeted by hugs, kisses, and laughter by his wonderful family. I had the best four days with them. My car had been a little “cranky” on the way down, so Bobby and a mechanic pal of his did a thorough once over on it before I left – getting me a new battery, changing the oil, making sure the radiator had the right mix of water and coolant. Have I mentioned I love this cousin?

My plan for the return trip to Michigan was to take a different route – a more off the beaten path route. I’d studied my map and thought eventually ending up on Hwy 52 and taking it until it ended, until Hwy 23, and then making my way back from relatively familiar territory to my little corner of Michigan.

So I left North Carolina with hugs, love, well-wishes and a sadness that I wasn’t sure when I’d see this much loved family again. I made it 178 miles – until here:

…where my car broke down. I stopped. I looked at this broken down old truck next to me and thought, “This may not bode well.”

I tried every trick in the book. I was a halfway decent tinkerer with that old beater car’s engine. But, nothing I tried worked. I was so relieved I had AAA, found a pay phone (yes – way back THEN – before any of us had cell phones!) not too far away, dug out my change, and made the call. I explained where I was. The operator eventually found my location on the map, and said a driver would be there to assist me within the next 2 to 3 hours.

I just happened to be just a stone’s throw away from a roadside store – with all sorts of interesting stuff – and beautiful seasonal produce. I decided to walk over and take a peek.

I had precious few extra dollars, but something I found here I knew I couldn’t leave without.

It was a little home-produced cook book entitled “Old Timey Recipes.” All hand written. Originally copyrighted in 1969. Its chock full of the kind of recipes that every girl ought to have on her bookshelf. (Like the recipe for Pork Cake! Or the Keepsake Biscuit recipe that was written down by Mrs. Colonel Moore in 1890. Or the Pickled Peaches recipe. I could go on and on – but I’ll spare you.) So I forked over the $3 and left with my treasure to go wait in my car for AAA.

It didn’t take me long to stumble across “Grandma’s Jam Cake.” I’d just been talking to my Grammy about a jam cake that she remembered from girlhood. She’d remarked it was her favorite cake ever, and that it had blackberry jam in it – her favorite. Lo and behold! This little cookbook had what – I was sure – the very recipe Grammy remembered! How cool was that?!

As it turned out, my stay in nearby Hillsville, Virginia ended up being 3 days longer than anticipated. Bert’s 24 Hour Garage and 24 Hour Wrecking Service had to get parts in to fix my poor car.

I spent the time taking long walks throughout Hillsville, visiting the public library, and eating at the local diner. The diner, incidentally, employed the granddaughter of the lady who submitted the Jam Cake recipe to the cookbook. She, in fact, did some of the baking for the diner and happened to occasionally bring in a Jam Cake for the offerings. I thought that pretty amazing.

In my opinion – being a Food Renegade is all about honoring the heritage recipes and traditions about food that our forbearers knew to be the only way to live and eat. So I love sharing this traditional, very down home recipe with you!

So at long last – here it is – from “Old Timey Recipes” – Grandma’s Jam Cake.

Ingredients
1 cup Butter
1 1/2 cups Blackberry jam or jelly
1 1/2 cups Granulated sugar
3 cups All-purpose flour
1 teaspoon Baking soda
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 cup Buttermilk
1 teaspoon Ground cloves
1 teaspoon Cinnamon
3 Eggs

Preheat oven to 350° F.

  1. Cream butter and sugar. Add eggs and blackberry jam. Beat thoroughly.
  2. Sift the flour, measure and resift with soda, salt, and spices.
  3. Add dry ingredients alternately with milk to the creamed mixture. Beat well.
  4. Pour into well greased tube cake pan.
  5. Bake at 350° F for about 55 minutes.
  6. Frost with Quick Caramel Frosting.

Notes:

Find the Quick Caramel Frosting recipe here.

I still don’t know how I feel about the Caramel Frosting on this cake. I don’t know – it seems kinda – well, weird. I think it’s far better served with a simple confectioner’s sugar, whole milk, and a tad of vanilla extract glaze. Do what makes you happiest! I honestly think it’s just fine plain with no frosting whatsoever!

I found “Old Timey Recipes” – a hand-written, 64-page cookbook that includes a thorough description on how to make Moonshine in it, at a roadside store and produce stand outside of Hillsville, Virginia in 1992.

Great-Grandma’s Toffee Cookies

…and it’s Fight Back Friday!

And this is the latest I’ve ever posted and joined the fun on a Fight Back Friday. That has everything to do with the fact that I’ve been sick and I’ve just been readmitted to the stinking hospital, darn it all!

However – I’m determined to still have some fun while I’m here I brought the laptop with me and I’m going to do my best!

Recently, I’ve been determined to try and find my Great Grandmother’s recipes. Unfortunately, I’m not as organized as I ought to be and they are not close at hand. There ARE, however, a few that we use regularly – so much so that it was a surprise to come across little notations written in my Mom’s beautiful script identifying the point of origin to my Great Grandmother Laura.

This recipe today is one such treasure.

The first conundrum: they’re called toffee cookies. I have no idea why. There’s really nothing about them that I would consider toffee. They ARE undeniably delicious – yes, without question. But toffee? That just confuses me.

The second conundrum: they really aren’t a cookie, per se, they’re a bar cookie. I know, semantics – but, well, I think that’s kinda weird too.

The third conundrum: I have never seen a cookie made quite this way. It is really its own little anomaly.

But you know what? They’re so darn delicious, I really don’t care anymore! I just make them, cause they’re fabulous.

I should interject here that we pretty much only make these cookies from late November to early January. Why? Cause that’s when my Mom, Grammy, and Great-Grandmother would make them. They are synonymous with the holidays, family, good cheer, warm and fuzzy memories. I realized today that they really OUGHT to be made more often – they’re just that good!

Great Grandma’s Toffee Cookies

 

Ingredients

1 cup

Butter, softened

1 cup

Brown sugar

1 large

Egg, separated

2 cups

All‐purpose flour

2 tablespoons

Cinnamon

1 teaspoon

Vanilla extract

 

Whole Almonds

 

Preheat oven to 350° F.

 

  1. Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy, then add egg yolk and vanilla, mixing well to incorporate.
  2. Blend in flour and cinnamon a little at a time.
  3. Pat out mixture about 1/4″ thick into a greased 9 x 13″ pan.
  4. Brush with egg white. (I just put the separated egg white on top, swirl it around, making sure the entire surface gets covered, and call it good! Of course, discard any excess egg white.) Mark into squares – but don’t cut through. You’re just giving yourself a guide for cutting after they’re baked. Place one whole almond in the center of each marked square.
  5. Bake bars at 350° F for about 25 minutes, turning the pan half way through the baking time.
  6. At the end of baking time, remove from oven. Allow to cool for 5 minutes, and then cut the bars at the marked places. Now allow to cool completely before removing from the pan.

 

Notes: My great‐grandmother used to make these and taught my Mom how to make them. Why they’re called “toffee” I have no idea – I just know they’re delicious and incredibly habit forming. Mom always made them for Thanksgiving and Christmas and sometimes my birthday (New Year’s Eve). The smell of them brings a flood of wonderful, warm memories!