Wednesday, August 7, 2013

My Laundry List...

Every year, one of my sisters hosts the other 7 sisters for a week end that we refer to as "Sisters Weekend".  Everyone comes in town to spend 3 days filled with food, gifts, fun and laughter.  It has become a tradition to bring some kind of gift, usually homemade, for the other girls. 

As a couple of examples, one of my sisters enjoys sewing; she enjoys making quilts so she will make things like neat fabric bowls, or beautiful quilted pot holders.  Another sister seeks out something unusual yet useful.  She is very thoughtful with her gifts and goes over the top in finding the perfect wrapping for the gift.  Another sister loves ceramics so she spends the winter months making every one a special item like a snowman tower for Christmas or a Platter for Easter - it is always something thoughtful as well.  You get the idea.  Anyway, I find it a challenge to figure out something creative and fun to give yet useful while not spending a fortune. 

This last year, my sisters received what I called a "Laundry Stain Basket".  Below is a picture of one of those baskets before I had filled the containers.  I never thought to take a photograph of the finished baskets but this will give you an idea of what they looked like anyway.
I included a bar of Felznaptha Soap, a bar of Zote Laundry Soap, a bottle of Peroxide, and a couple of spray bottles.  I filled some containers with Washing Soda, Baking Soda, a small bottle of white vinegar and Borax.   I included a couple of funnels, a couple of soft bristle brushes, a sponge, a scrubbie, a measure cup, the recipes for homemade laundry soap and I made a Natural Stain Chart and laminated it for them.  I found the cute miniature style laundry baskets at the dollar store as well as a couple of containers I used. They looked really cool.
Everyone seemed to like the basket filled with what I felt were useful items that would be useful to them.   
If you would like a copy of the stain guide, just PM me on YouTube and I will send you a copy. 
(I could not find any way to include it here!)
As always, thank you for stopping by!

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Avoiding Boredom with Backyard Chickens...
Alfalfa Feeder (AKA Suit Holder)
Today the rain just would not stop! It was pouring down rain -  thundering, lightening, and the yard was filled with puddles. I hated leaving the girls cooped up, but I do during inclement weather.

I take a few treats out to them through out the day to keep them busy like cabbage, some watermelon, cherries, apple slices, strawberries, some veggies, some earthworms, a few meal worms or a few greens.  They get plenty to eat - I worry about boredom.  I am concerned if they get bored, they will start pecking at each other and fighting - I am trying to avoid that issue.  I have made a few "Chicken Toys" for the girls to keep them occupied - they actually work I think!  Anyway, I change them out so they won't get used to them. (The ones I have filled with scratch grains, I change what grains I put in it for them - its ever-changing!)

Lately, I have read some people give their chickens a bale of alfalfa to pick at and it keeps them busy.  I liked the idea but I use straw over the sand to make cleaning easier.  I like the straw for the compost pile - I did not want to encourage eating poo-covered bedding. I decided I would just buy a small hay feeder and hang it inside the pen - problem solved.  It would also give them something to peck at without having to get it off the water-soaked ground.

Since the girls were penned up today, I went to the feed store today to get the alfalfa and holder. I bought a bale of alfalfa but the hay feeder was just too much money I thought for a couple of pieces of wire.

After leaving the feed store, I went to Tractor Supply. There I found a large suit feeder; I think it is actually for feeding squirrels - it was less than $5.00 - I could make that work.

I got home, filled it with alfalfa and hung it inside the pen. I video taped the chickens reactions. As always, anytime something is added that is new, the girls talk about it first, then the big girl approaches, checks it out, and once she is comfortable, the others come up to check it out. 

Adding the suit feeder as a hay feeder kept them busy for quite awhile this afternoon.  I will keep it as part of their feeding regimen they liked it so well.  I will also be able to fill it with other goodies and treats.  This idea is a keeper!

Note: I ended up screwing it to the divider of the pen and attaching it with a metal bracket so it is securely hung.  The chickens managed to pull it down so I had to re-secure it!

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Old Time Golden Syrup (A Good Honey Substitute!)

This recipe is pretty simple to make but it does require about 45 minutes to make, a good gram scale, an accurate candy thermometer and a heavy-bottom stainless steel pan.  Note: You cannot make substitutions with this recipe!

For this recipe, you will need:

800 grams of white granulated sugar               290 grams of filtered water
2 or 3 organic lemons (You need 6 Tablespoons of squeezed lemon juice)  Wash skins well. 
Quarter the lemons and Squeeze through a sieve to get 6 tablespoons of juice.) 
2 tablespoons of white vinegar

You'll also need 1/4 teaspoon of Baking Soda mixed with 2 tablespoons of water.  Set this aside until the end!

Place pan with candy thermometer on the stove and add water and sugar only to the pan. Bring water and sugar to a boil stirring constantly until dissolved.  Once dissolved, turn heat down to medium high heat and add lemon juice, quartered lemons, and the vinegar.  Stir occasionally so it doesn't burn. The mixture subtly starts turning a beautiful honey color as it reaches temperature. Keep cooking until the mixture reaches EXACTLY 226 degree Fahrenheit or 108 degree Celsius.  (The mixture will be extremely HOT, be careful!)  Once to temperature, take off heat and stir in the 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda mixed with 2 tablespoons of water; make sure you incorporate it well.  Bubbles will be on the surface of the mixture but once it cools, they will dissipate.

Once cooled, place in jars and keep in refrigerator.  This syrup keeps refrigerated for about 2 months.
I'd love to hear how you use your Golden Syrup.  I will be posting here how I use mine as a substitute for honey in different recipes. 

Thanks for stopping by!

Friday, June 7, 2013

How to Make Depression Era Malted Milk Powder

I wanted to add a few additional notes on how to make Malted Milk Powder and its uses.  In order to clear up any confusion on what kind of barley to use.   You need to use "whole barley"; you need to make sure the barley has not been processed and is still in its "husk" - it would be able to be sprouted and planted; I usually call it "whole barley" or "seed barley" when trying to locate it.  (It looks similar to wheat berries or wheat seed you use to sprout wheat grass.)

Here is a photograph of the barley seed soaking (in background with coffee filter on jar) and the whole seed to the right of the photograph.

Here you can see in the above photographs the seed after a "rinse" being put back into the jar and the other 2 photographs show the "barley seeds" and how they actually release bubbles while they are soaking.  They are very active and smell really good while they soak. (Remember to keep them covered with a paper towel or a coffee filter to keep bugs and dust out of them.)

I soak anywhere from 1 to 2 cups of barley seeds at a time in a quart mason jar.  You need to rinse them while soaking in the morning and then again in the evening.  I always use my reverse osmosis water which is about the same as filtered water.  (I would not use city water with the fluoride & chlorine additives.)  They need to soak for 2 days; on the 3rd day, rinse them again and place in the dehydrator at about 115 - 120 degrees or in an oven at the lowest temperature possible - be sure to stir them around and do not let them burn.  You just want to dry them out to make them into a "flour" or "powder".

Once you take them out of the dehydrator or oven, (my dehydrator dried them overnight), I place mine in my Vita Mixer to turn into "flour".  You can try using a spice grinder, flour mill, food processor or even a blender.  The barley seed is not a very hard grain.
Once you "flour" the barley seed, I put about half of the barley, or about 6 tablespoons of "flour" or "powder" into a bowl.
 I put the rest of the "powder" in a marked mason jar without adding anything to use later. 
To the bowl I then add about 1/4 cup of granulated sugar* (you can use organic, raw or cane sugar) to the "flour" and then I add 2 cups of powdered milk. 
(* Sugar is to taste.  You can add less or you can add more.)
I like my malted milk made with low-fat milk - I use a couple of tablespoons to a glass.  You can mix the malted milk powder into water if you prefer, add it to ice cream with a little milk for a malted shake, add it to a smoothie or even add it into your yogurt - it is very versatile! 
Homemade Pancakes made from your homemade mix (recipe follows)

1 c. pancake mix (see below)
1 large egg
1 c. milk
1 tablespoon of butter
* Optional - 1 tsp Cinnamon

1. In a large pan, melt the butter so that it covers the bottom of the entire pan.
2. Once the pan is heated, put about a 1/3 c. of the batter into the pan and let it cook until you see bubbles on the surface.
Once you see bubbles, the pancake is ready to flip over; allow the pancake to cook on the other side until it is golden brown. Serve hot with maple syrup!

HOMEMADE MALTED PANCAKE MIX  (Makes a nice homemade gift too!)

Mix the following in a large mixing bowl until thoroughly mixed together:

4 cups flour
1/2 cup Malted Barley Powder Drink Mix  (Homemade or Carnation Malted Milk)
3 Tbsp Baking Powder
2 Tsp Baking Soda
2 Tbsp Granulated Sugar
1 Tsp Salt

Store the Malted Pancake Mix in an airtight container.

I hope you enjoyed this & it helps to clear up any confusion!  Please comment, subscribe & visit often!  :-)


Sunday, May 5, 2013

Austerlorps & Ida Browns - My Choice of Chickens

This year when it came down to stocking the chicken coop, I wanted to make sure we had chickens that met certain criteria.  We wanted the chickens for egg laying.  We were not looking for meat birds and until our house is built and the new coop is built, we only have space for a few chickens.

In January of this year, I began researching the breeds of chickens that were easily available around where we live that were advertised.  I found a lot of people had Leghorns, Barred Rocks, Rhode Island Reds, Buff Orpingtons and Black Jerseys plus a few Sex-Links. 

I wanted to know what breeds of chickens are best suited for cold climates - We aren't as cold as Alaska but Michigan does get cold!  A lot of people locally put heat lamps in their coops.  Personally, I do not want to worry about the chickens not being able to adjust if we had a power outage.  In the area we are in, we have gone without power for as long as 6 1/2 days.  I do not want to worry about having sick or frozen chickens! (More about those thoughts later.) The more I read about the breeds, the bigger my list became of the necessary traits and features the chickens we picked needed to have. 

Here was my List:
  1. Cold Hardy - A Must   2. Brown Eggs   3.  Medium to Large Eggs 
     4. No terribly "flighty" breeds          5.  "Quieter" Breed of Chicken         

    6. Not easily spotted by flying predators  (We have to worry about over-head kills here! White   chickens in my opinion are way to visible.)

    7. Good Layer             8. Does well confined (These chickens will not be free ranged)

After reading and talking with a lot of area chicken keepers, I ended driving about an hour north to a farm and picked up some Black Australorps and a couple of Ida Brown Chickens - Both are really good layers of brown eggs, averaging 1 egg a day during their egg-laying years.  Periodically I will post on our progress.  So far, so good!

Black Australorps & Ida Browns

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

How to Make Homemade Country-Style Mustard

A few years ago, my sister, who is a Master Gardner, and I went to Michigan State for Garden Day which is a full day filled with classes on gardening, workshops, touring the gardens, and enjoying the day.  On this particular Garden Day, one of the workshops was on growing different mustards and making mustard.  Needless to say, I was hooked - Homemade is so much better than the stuff in the yellow bottle!

I found that part of the pleasure of making your own mustard is you can make it to suit your likes. You can make it the texture and taste that you prefer.  You can even make yourself "designer" flavors if you'd like.  Making mustard is so easy -  It is fun to experiment with different liquids like red or white wines, champagne, sherry, beer, and even grape juice!  Maybe you'd like to add some fruit puree of cranberries, apricot, or maybe a little applesauce and sweetener to the mix. 

If you really want to get adventurous, try some liquors - simply mix about a tablespoon of mustard powder and mix it with the liquid of your choice.  You can try honey or brown sugar for a sweeter mustard. The choices are numerous.  Just remember to wait about an hour before tasting and then try them again after another hour.  Mustard takes a while to "develop" its flavor.  Some will taste great, others, not so much. I have made some really great mustard as well as some really gross mustard - It is a lot of fun mixing and concocting different mustard profiles! 

You can choose to make a courser style mustard or a more refined mustard by grinding the mustard seeds in a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder or use only mustard powder for a smooth mustard - the choice is yours.  Add herbs like tarragon, rosemary, or sage - get creative!  Simply start with a basic recipe and then start to experiment to find the kinds of mustard concoctions you enjoy.  Homemade mustards also make nice unusual gifts!

Here I am making a "basic" recipe for Country-Style Mustard

This recipe will make about a cup of mustard.  This mustard is a pungent, grainy, all-purpose mustard that is great recipe to begin with.

2 Tablespoons coarsely ground brown mustard seeds

2 Tablespoons coarsely ground yellow mustard seeds

1/4 cup yellow or brown mustard powder 
(Regular or Hot Mustard Powder - depending on your taste)

1/4 cup cold water  (I always use filtered water)

1 1/2 to 2 Tablespoons** Apple Cider Vinegar  (You may substitute with white vinegar or white wine) **Note if you prefer a milder mustard, use wine, not vinegar. 

1 teaspoon kosher salt

Grind the mustard seeds to the texture you prefer.  (I like my mustard grainy and thicker so my seeds are coarsely ground.) 

Mix the cold water into the mustard seeds, dry mustard powder.  Allow mixture to set for about 10 minutes. 

Add vinegar or wine and salt and blend well.  Store covered for at least 4 hours before serving but it is much better if you let it set overnight before serving.  If you would like a more "mellow" mustard, let the mustard sit on the counter, (unrefrigerated).  The longer it sits, the more mellow or mild the flavor gets. 

If you like, you can add turmeric for color if you prefer a more "commercial" color for your mustard. 

Making your own Mustard will allow you an opportunity to make some truly amazing flavor profiles. 

I'd love to hear about them!  Enjoy.

NOTE: The 3 types of mustard seeds are the black mustard seed (Brassica nigra), the white mustard seed (Brassica alba), and the brown mustard seed (Brassica juncea). The Black mustard seeds give the most pungent taste, while white mustard seeds, (which are actually more yellow in color), are the most mild.  The "white" mustard seeds and are the ones used to make American yellow mustard.  The brown mustard seeds, which are actually more dark yellow in color, have a strong pungent taste.  This is the type of mustard seed used to make Dijon mustard.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Making a Worm Composter that Works! (& Cheaper than Buying Online)

I don't know about you but forking out over a $100.00 for a worm composter seemed like too much money to me.  I did some research, watched a few videos, read a few blogs, bought & read a book and  looked at a  few worm compost houses for sale that ranged from $99.00 to $160.00 plus shipping. Those are some pretty expense worm condos!! Yikes - Mine cost me about $33.00 to make and about 2 hours including me stopping at the hardware store getting the materials.

Here is what I spent making my worm condo and the list of materials you'll need to make one:

3 Rubber Maid Bins with Lids  (don't buy the cheap plastic bins, they will crack.)  Worms like darkness so don't buy the opaque or clear bins - Buy the dark blue, black or green bins. 

Cost of Bins/Lids about $22.00 - I bought mine at Home Depot.

1 - 4" Round Soffit Vent

4 - 2" Round Soffit Vent

These can be found online at Home Depot or check your local hardware/roofing/contractor supply stores.  (All 5 of them cost me about $9.00)

1- water dispenser faucet - You can find these at water softening supply stores, Grangers and online. (I went to the Salvation Army Store and found one.  It only cost me $2.00)

Silicone Caulk - I had a tube already but figure about $3.00

1 pair panty hose or fine mesh material (I used pair of panty hose - I thought nylon will last longer.)

2 plastic cottage cheese containers - cleaned out of course.  Free

Tools Needed:

Drill with 1/4" drill bit
and a *tiny drill bit

1" Drill Bit (Check the size you need once you get your water dispenser faucet.)

Razor Knife
Magic Marker or Pencil
Caulk gun
rubber gloves

(*I don't have a size but it is very small for air holes.  You do not want worms to be able to get through them.  It was the smallest one in my set - I think it's about 1/16th drill bit.)

Once you have your materials, you will be amazed at how easy this is to make. 

Let's get started:

1. We will refer to this as BIN #1 - Measure the water dispenser end after you remove the gasket and screw ring.  Just hold the drill bit up to it to determine the size hole you will need.  NOTE: It should be a 1" but it is always better to measure and be safe than sorry!

2. Take Bin #1 and set it onto one of the bin lids.  Measure the placement of the faucet as close to the bottom of the bin as you can making sure it is not on the curve.  It can be up a 1/2" or so from the bottom.  Drill the hole, insert the faucet, put the gasket on and screw the nut tightly against the inside of the bin. The faucet/drain is now installed.

The purpose of the faucet is to drain the "worm tea" as it settles into the bottom bin.  It is easier than having to take the bins apart and drain the water so the worms don't drown and the system does not stink! 


3. Take BIN #2 - Start by drilling tiny water drainage holes (about 1/16th hole size) in the bottom of only 1 of the bins.  I drilled about 25 tiny drainage holes total in the bottom of the bin spaced about an inch (1" inch) apart. Use a tiny drill, about 1/16th drill bit for these holes. 

NOTE: We will also be adding 2 of the 2" soffit vents into this bin on either side. 

4. On one of the remaining lids: Take the 4" soffit vent and center it onto one of the lids.  Mark it with a marker or pencil.  Carefully, using the razor knife, cut out the circle along the inside of your template.  Take a piece of nylon and stretch it over the bottom of the 4" vent  - wrap the panty hose over the vent and snap the vent into the hole with the bulk of the panty hose outward. Trim off the excess panty hose from around the top of the vent. This photograph is showing the bottom of the vent.  The purpose of the nylon is it will prevent worms escaping and it allows for air to circulate so the worms can get oxygen breathe. 

This is the top view after the excess nylon was trimmed.  

5. Now we take Bins #2 that we already drilled the 1/16th holes into the bottom of and add 1 of the 2" smaller round soffit vents on each side of the bin about 1/2 way up the middle of the long side of the bin.  Remember to do the same thing with the nylon as you did with the lid vent.  You will need to measure, mark, cut out with razor knife, add nylon around vent, cut nylon after snapping into place. 
6. Do this same thing to the remaining Bin #3.  Add 2 side vents with nylon cover and in this bin, use the drill and put 1/4" holes into the bottom of the bin. 
The larger, 1/4" holes in the bottom of this bin are for the worms to "escape" into the new bin after the second bin is full of casings and compost. These holes are larger.  These holes are for the worms to migrate up into this bin.  The other bin, Bin #2 had the small holes for water drainage. 
**  Silicone Caulk Around the Vents and let dry before placing bins inside each other.  Read your caulks directions to see the time frame. 
7.  Place empty cottage cheese containers (or similar size containers) upside down in Bin #1.  Set on top of one of the normal lids.  (Not the one with the 4" Vent!)

8.  Place Bin #2 into Bin #1.  Add lid with vent on top.

9.  Set Bin #3 with un-vented lid on top of Bin #1 & 2 - You are now ready to install your worm bedding in preparation for your Red Wiggler Compost Worms into Bin #2.  As the garbage you feed your red wigglers is converted over to worm castings and compost, it will fill the bin up and you will need to entice them to move into their new home, Bin #3 through the 1/4" holes you put in the bottom of bin #3.  You simply add the bedding (shredded, moistened newspaper shred, coir, and/or peat mixed with a little bit of sand and begin feeding in the new worm condo dirt - Bin #3.  The worms will smell the food and move up into their new home.  (It's really cool watching them break down the food in no-time!  I will post more on raising and caring for Red Wigglers shortly.)

I hope these directions are written so you can easily make a worm composter for yourself.  I will be posting another blog and a video on preparing the bedding and adding red worms shortly!  I hope you found this useful.

Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions.  Be sure to comment, subscribe to my blog and YouTube Channel - visit me on YouTube - Thanks for Stopping By!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

How to Meet the Calcium Needs for Chickens (and Compost Worms!)

Chicken and Worms Require Calcium in their diets.  Here is how I provide them Calcium on the cheap!  ( I know, but I could not resist!) 

Did you know a  chicken egg’s eggshell is a whopping 94 percent calcium carbonate! - A chicken, when suffering from a calcium deficiency will show signs first in their egg production - i.e. soft shells, malformed shells and even missing shells. Not a good thing.

Most folks supplement their chickens diet by buying and feeding limestone, oyster shells or buying expensive feed with calcium supplements added.

I choose to re-cycle egg shells to supply my chickens and compost worms their calcium.  I save my egg shells and I ask family and friends to save their egg shells.

About once a month, I take the egg shells and bake them on a cookie sheet at 200 degrees and I bake them for about 20 minutes. I let them cool a bit, place them into my food processor, give them a few twirls until they break down and look like wheat bran.  (You never want the chickens to know egg shells taste good or you could have trouble with them eating their eggs. Grinding or breaking them into very tiny pieces does the trick.)

While recycling my girls shells (and a few of their distant cousins!), I get to save a little money and at the same time, I am keeping my girls healthy.  It's a win-win!

Even compost worms require calcium in their diet!  How on earth do worms get calcium into their diet and better yet, how much do they require?  I have read quite a bit on what to feed my compost worms and from what I understand, a worm dispels any abundance of calcium by "Calciferous glands that release calcium carbonate to rid the earthworm’s body of excess calcium"

Click here for a really neat information sheet on worms from Penn State.  I am sure you'll find it very interesting!

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Homemade Vanilla Extract - The Good Stuff!

Making Pure Vanilla Extract
Where does Vanilla come from?
Vanilla pods are the seed pods of an orchid plant. 
Before the plant flowers, the pods are picked and cured until they become dark brown. 

This can take up to six months. Vanilla beans are sweet and perfumery with little "seeds" inside.  Some folks call it the "caviar".    They have a mild, kinda woodsy, unique flavor which gives vanilla extract a complexity and depth of flavor.   Who doesn't love Vanilla?


1 quart mason jar with lid
1 cup 80 Proof Vodka  (You can also use bourbon or rum - get creative!)
Vanilla Beans - 3 large vanilla beans minimum (The more beans used, the better the vanilla.  3 is the absolute minimum for 1 cup of extract.)
Split the beans with a sharp knife, scrape soft vanilla into the mason jar and then add the beans.                                        Pour the Vodka over the vanilla beans and give it a good shake.

    Store in a cool place for 3-6 months to allow the extraction to take place - remember to shake the extract once a week.
      You will be able to start using your extract in approximately 4-6 months  - the longer the better the extract becomes.
        Your vanilla will last for years – just keep topping it off with your base liquor as you use it. 

        Stir or shake it occasionally.

        Storing Vanilla Bean Pods

        Storing extra vanilla beans is easy.  You just need to keep them in an airtight container at room temperature. If stored in this manner, they should keep at least two years. 

        Do not store them in the refrigerator, as they tend to mold.