Ringing in 2012 by Reflecting on 2011.

My first thought is “2011 was a tough year.” Job changes, death, loss of pets, loss of dreams, illness…the usual unpleasantness that comes with life.  As a born and raised pessimist, it’s my nature to dwell on the negative. And I do. Alot.

So, in the spirit of thankfulness, and recognition that I have far more blessings in my life than most, I wanted to make a list of wonderful, happy, joyous things that happened in 2011. It’s impossible to list them all, so I’ll name the biggies.

  • Despite the odds, I found a job that fit every need I have (pays the bills, flexible hours, low stress). I’m 4 months in, and still enjoy it. (GASP!)  And the time off between jobs that caused worries turned out to be relaxing, and fun, and exactly what I needed at the time. Funny how that works.
  • The Emergency Room visit resulted in a few antibiotics, and a clean bill of health.
  • We had given up hope on something we greatly desire, and although plans didn’t work out this time, we learned it’s still possible.
  • I live in a beautiful home with a yard that affords me the opportunity to garden, spend time outside, undisturbed by neighbors and traffic. It has a leaky roof, but it’s warm, comfortable, and filled with love and laughter.
  • I found a passion in building a self-sustained lifestyle that my husband shares. We have the foundation started to begin relying more on ourselves, and less on buying.
  • Having a farm turned out to actually be possible.
  • My garden. I love it. It brings me peace, serenity, and fulfillment. I learned so much about growing this year, and can’t wait to begin in 2012.
  • Despite our losses, our lives remain full of love and support from family and friends.
  • I celebrated my 2nd wedding anniversary with my very best friend, who understands me better than anyone else in the world, who loves me unconditionally, who makes me laugh on a daily basis, who has a heart of gold and has made me happy since the day I met him, and who I look forward to spending the rest of my life.

It’s the simple things that turned out to be the greatest blessings this year. Life couldn’t be better.

 HAPPY NEW YEAR!!

Homemade Christmas Gift Round-up, 2011

I may be repeating myself, but I love homemade Christmas gifts. They’re unique, and something you can be sure the giftee won’t be receiving from someone else. (Some day I’ll tell you about the Christmas everything I bought my husband for Christmas, someone in my family also gave him. Ugh.) I’m sure there’s someone out there that hates getting my homemade gifts, but I figure that’s their problem. 🙂 So, with Christmas rapidly approaching, I wanted to take stock of the Christmas gifts I’ve made thus far, before I wrap them.

1. Christmas Chili, featured in my Can-It Santa post. Here’s the final product!

I always try to give my gifts a little flare. The beans and seasonings are in the can, sealed tight.

2. Headbands. My friend Bridgette has worn a headband every day since the day we’ve met. She loves bold, bright colors, and lots of glitter. Completely opposite of my style. But I saw a few tutorials floating around cyberspace on making cloth rosettes. They were putting them on pins, and clips. So I figured I’d make Bridge some headbands. What do you think?  I really like them.

3. Book Wreath. This summer when I was between jobs, I made a few book wreaths to hang in my living room. There is an abundance of beautiful book wreaths floating around the blog world. Some are very delicate, and carefully crafted. When I craft, I’m, shall we say, impatient. I know what I want, so I want to do it as quickly and efficiently as possible. Point being, my wreaths ended up being less delicate, and more full. They’ve received mixed reviews, but my cousin Heather came for a visit, and just loved them. So, I figured, what better gift! Here it is.

         

4. Ornament Wreath. Also popular in blogdom are various types of ornament wreaths. It’s super easy to make, and really inexpensive. (I found plastic ornaments for 49 cents for 12 at a local discount store, WHAT?!?) So I made 6, 4 for aunts and uncles, and 2 for myself. 🙂 They’re really beautiful in real life.

 5. Glitter Ornaments. These are super popular on craft blogs right now. They’re SUPER easy to make, and really dress up packages. I make ornaments every year and give them to co-workers, cousins, neighbors, etc.

 6. Package of Homemade Candy. Two of my brother-in-laws are young, and still live at home. So, the whole Chili idea didn’t seem appropriate for them. So I made some homemade candy,put them in a pretty box, and this is what you have!

                  

                      

 

And finally, every year I make pumpkin rolls and cookie trays for neighbors, bosses, co-workers (I really like) and that inevitable person I forgot to shop or craft for. (oops!) I plan on finishing my baking this weekend and putting them together to give out next week….CHRISTMAS week… 🙂

Happy Gifting!

It’s Christmas cookie time!

If you can’t tell by the new header, it is, indeed, Christmas cookie time. 🙂 So far I’ve made Chocolate chip (a must have for every and all occassions!), and the sugar cookies in the header.

I used a new recipe for my chocolate chip cookies this year. I am always on the look out for a soft cookie, because they’re my fav. I found this recipe from The Frugal girls and gave it a try. I made regular sized cookies. At first, I thought they didn’t taste much different that the ones I usually make, but two days later, they remain moist and chewing! That’s definitely different than the ones I usually make. YUM!! I put 3/4 of the batch in the freezer until cookie tray time. My husband is sad…

Another staple I make every year is sugar cookies. I have a love/hate relationship with sugar cookies. I love to make them, but I always gripe about how much work they take. Then, I love to roll them out and cut cute shapes, but am always dissappointed because they cook unevenly. You know, the edges are crisp because I made them too thin, or the angel got squished when I put her on the tray, so now she looks like an Oompa Loompa.

I don’t like my cookies crunchy, and I had yet to find a soft sugar cookie recipe, UNTIL NOW!  Let me introduce you to my new favorite sugar cookie recipe found at allrecipes.com.

Ingredients

  • 2/3 cup shortening
  • 2/3 cup butter
  • 1 1/2 cups white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt 

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
  2. In a medium bowl, cream together the butter, shortening and sugar. Stir in the eggs and vanilla. Combine the flour, baking powder and salt, stir into the creamed mixture until dough comes together. ***
  3. Bake cookies 10 to 12 minutes in the preheated oven, until bottom is light brown. Remove from baking sheets to cool on wire racks.

***The original recipe says to roll into wall nut sized balls, and dip in sugar. My terrific husband got me a Wilton cookie mold tray for Christmas last year (probably after getting tired of my complaining about my “stupid cookie cutter sugar cookies“). So I just pressed the dough into the molds evenly and baked until they were a light golden brown, and they turned out PERFECT! 🙂 No Oompa Loompa angels or crispy santas!

Then, the best part!

The FROSTING! 🙂

I don’t really measure when I make my frosting. But I’ll guess-timate.

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 tablespoons corn syrup (it makes it shinier, I think.)
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla (I like vanilla)

Then just mix. If it’s too runny, add more sugar, if too thick, add more milk or corn syrup.

I really like how they turned out this year. They’ll make the cookie trays really pretty.

There was one mistake however…

The gingerbread man.

As soon as I stopped frosting him, I realized “He looks like he’s wearing a diaper.” And it looks like it might be full…. At least he’s happy about it! 🙂

Happy Baking!

 

Can-it Santa…

I mean that in the literal sense. I actually put Santa on a can. 🙂

My husband comes from a big family. He’s one of 7 kids, and one of 54 grandkids on one side. I had a hard time remembering names for the first 5 years we were together. (We’ve been together 6.)  Needless to say, Christmas is an interesting time to be part of his family. His siblings don’t exchange gifts with each other. They used to do a “Secret Santa” kind of gift exchange, but that kind of fell by the wayside.

In my family, we give gifts to everyone. They don’t have to be big, or expensive. Sometimes is just a pumpkin roll, or a pretty tray of cookies. Just a little something to tell that person you think of them. So, joining my hub’s family at Christmas was weird, and left me with the feeling of something missing. So, the Christmas after we got married, I gave all of his siblings a tray of cookies. Last year, I made the all the girls aprons, and the boys a homemade mix of seasoned nuts and dressed them up in a canning jar. This year, I was a little stumped. With 6 siblings, plus significant others, I had to do some brainstorming. I kind of took the easy way out for the girls. (Bath and Body works had a really great sale on mini, yummy smelling candles and pretty metal sleeves to put them in, so I got all the girls a few of those.)

 Boys are harder, but one safe bet is always food! I found a yummy looking recipe for chili. You pre-mix all the seasonings and beans together, and then give the giftee the recipe to finish. And you know, when you’re giving homemade presents, its all about the presentation! Thus…..I canned Santa!

For some reason a few months ago I washed and saved a lot of our cans. I’m glad a did now, because they’re the perfect size to put the bagged goodies for the chili gift! I’ve seen variations of my canned Santa on boxes and bags, but I think the can turned out pretty nice! What do you think?

It was really easy. I took a red 8×11 peice of cardstock and cut it in half length-wise. I embossed a white peice of cardstock with the little dots, punched out the buttons and cut one inch strips of black cardstock for the belt. I cut the buckle out of glittery gold cardstock and then just glued the smaller black square in the middle. And I glued everything together with modpodge. (My favorite!)

One tip, I lined the red seams in the front and covered it with the white paper. I did the same thing with the black belt. That way there’s no seams, and it looks a little more clean.

This would be a great wrapping for gifts for neighbors and teachers, too!

Happy…..canning? 🙂

In Memory of My Grandmother.

Today would have been my Grandmother’s 81st birthday…

She was an awesome person. 

She was the person I spent most of my summer days with when I was too young to be home alone. And the person the school nurse called to pick me up when I was sick. She was the most faithful Christian I’ve ever known. She was thrifty and frugal, but not afraid to treat herself (even though she did hide the chocolate in the freezer). She always let you know how she felt about your decisions, even if you didn’t want to hear it. (Definitely not a fan of the belly-button ring when I was 18.) She never missed anyone’s birthday, including the mailman’s, the bank teller’s, and all the neighbors. She would call all of her grandchildren the morning of their birthday, and as soon as they answered, she would break into the “Happy Birthday to You” song. When I moved away from home, she mailed me a card every week, and was faithful in telling me she loved me. She always made homemade Christmas presents, which I don’t think anyone appreciated enough until she was gone. She’s the reason I love gardening, and the reason I know how to weed, and plant, and grow things.

I used to think she had strange ideas about things. She lived a simple life without many frills. (No cable TV, WHAT?!) But as I get older, I respect the way she lived, and strive to be like her. She appreciated all she had, and never needed much.

She fought a valiant fight against a terrible disease called Progressive Supranuclear Palsy. but on March 2, 2011, she went to be with the Lord, which is where she always wanted to be. And if there is a heaven, she is the first person to get in. No one is perfect, not even my grandmother, but…

She was my angel in so many ways.

 And boy, do I miss her.

Semi-Homemade Gingerbread Pancakes. YUM!

Remember how I wrote the post about all natural foods and cutting back on junk, etc, etc?  Forget that for a moment.

Between rushing to church, being starved, 2 wiley dogs itching to go for a run,  a husband frantically finishing an end of the semester project, cleaning, wrapping, shopping, baking, and all the other joys that come with the month of December—-

Somedays you just have to go with some bisquick and a Betty Crocker recipe, you know?

In my defense, my first thought when my eyes flew open this morning and my brain was screaming “GINGERBREAD PANCAKES!!” was to go to IHOP, which we haven’t been to in years. But this time of year, they always advertise their gingerbread pancakes, and they have whipped cream with cute green and red sprinkles…mmmm….Anyway, luckily upon further wakening, I realized I could make some more cost effective, tastier, healthier pancakes right here at home!

So, thank you Betty Crocker for this easy, quick recipe.

2 1/2 cups Original Bisquick® mixMy dad says you could patch a tire with this stuff. I think he’s joking, but I’ve never tried. 😛 It does EVERYTHING!
1 cup milk
3/4 cup apple butter—-I used my home-canned, made in the crock-pot, applebutter from this summer! YUM!
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 eggs

Stir, and cook as usual. I served with some corned beef hash (Hiss, moan, boo–I know, terrible), apple slices and coffee. Oh man was it good.

Now for all you PHO-TO-GRAPHERS (said in my native rural PA dialect), this picture is for you…

THE FINAL PRODUCT

PA-POW!

Yeah, these are the left overs, ready to hit the fridge. I didn’t have the will power to take the time to photo them prior to filling my belly. Sorry. The jar is the scrumptious homemade applebutter. I encourage you all to try it!

Thanks for reading!

Food for thought, and a thought on food…

Boy, do I love food. Always have. I’m one of those soft-around-the-edges-rather-bake-cookies-than-go-for-a-jog-live-to-eat kinds of people. And I’m ok with that. I’ve always enjoyed passive gardening as a hobby. (You know, throw a couple seeds in some dirt and see what happens?) But within the past year or so, I can honestly say I’ve become passionate about food, especially growing my own food. I think the catalyst to this change in thinking was the film “The Real Dirt on Farmer John” I ran across on Netflix one lazy afternoon. This led me to the film “Food, Inc.”, as well as some others. That was definitely the start for me. I had no idea that our food system was so complicated, corrupt and unhealthy!!! I kind of miss the naivety, but knowing this now may save my life! (Or at least help me live longer.)

I don’t know if there are more articles coming out now, or I’m just paying more attention, but I saw this generic article today “7 Foods You Should Never Eat” and I wanted to share. Now, by no means am I an expert at this. There is a huge learning curve going from McDonald’s and Velveeta Shells and Cheese to fresh caught fish with organic greens and potatoes. But I definitely put more thought and time into preparing our meals than I ever have before. Now, I’m only a fraction organic, and there is still a lot of junk food in my house. I’m working on it. It’s a tough habit to shake when that’s all you’ve know for, well, your whole life.

 So, based on the list in the article above, here are the things I’ve changed that might work for you too.

1. Canned tomatoes (and really anything canned. See “It’s December, and I’m Stewed” for a link about canned soups): This one was easy. I grow my own tomatoes and can and freeze them each year, along with a lot of other vegetables. Easy to do anywhere, even if you only live on a patch of pavement! Google “Growing in containers” and you’ll find all the info you’ll ever need!

 2. Corn-Fed Beef: This was probably the most shocking thing for me to learn about, and one of the things I feel most strongly AGAINST eating. So I contacted a local farmer, and buy my beef from him a couple times a year. It’s a higher cost up front, but because we have such a nice selection right in our freezer, we eat at home more, so it evens out. And it tastes and smells so much better. We also get our pork and chicken from local farms.  (I plan on doing a more in-depth post about grass-fed vs. conventional beef soon.)

3. Microwave popcorn: This article says you shouldn’t eat microwave popcorn because of the chemicals in the bag. I did not know this. But we did change the way we make popcorn after reading the labels on the most common brands and finding that they are made, mostly, from genetically modified corn (GMO). —Don’t even get me started– Thankfully, I found this tip from Frugalgirls.com about making popcorn in a brown paper bag. Now I get organic popcorn kernels for a couple bucks and go to town!!

 4. Nonorganic potatoes: We grow our own potatoes. They are the easiest, best return veggie you can grown, I swear. They are so fun to dig, because you just never know what they’re going to look like! My grandmother says: “Ohhh, I just love digging potatoes; it’s like opening presents at Christmas.” It really is.

5. Farmed Salmon: Fish is a new food for me in the past few years. As I kid I HATED fish. But my husband eased me into it with some Lake Erie Perch (Probably the most toxic fish ever) covered in 3 inches of fried batter. Now, I like to cook tilapia and other white fish in a little olive oil on the stove. But, I do try the get “freshly caught” or whatever the lingo is, because they are doing some CRAZY stuff with fish these days. (Cloning, genetically modifying, etc.) Maybe I should start buying organic…

6. Milk with artificial hormones: I look for labels that say “Without rBST.” They sell it at Trader Joe’s and Wal-mart now, too. It’s a little more expensive, but I’d say it’s worth it to keep my ovaries functioning.

7. Conventional Apples: Ok, this is admittedly the hardest for me. I try to buy local, which is seasonal, so then I try to buy organic, and they are all grown in Chile or somewhere they’ve been stored and shipped across continents for 3 months before making it to my kitchen. So, sometimes I just get disgusted and buy the regular ones. Which, now I’m re-thinking. I did can applesauce and apple butter from my grandfather’s tree this summer, so it’s a start.

And as always, I encourage buying all your food locally! Personally, I think buying locally is more important than buying organic. But organic is a close second.

Do you have any helpful tips to improve your food quality? What do you do to decrease preservatives and chemicals in your diet? I’d love to hear, because I’m still learning!!

It’s December, and I’m Stewed!

 Yesterday was the first day we got snow, which is unusual for my little part of the globe. We generally have had 1-2 feet by now. (You won’t hear me complaining!)  That first snowfall is always the prettiest. And it’s days like these that make me want something warming and homey to take the chill off. So what better way to warm up a cold day than SOUP! (The post title should have been “I’m Souped!”, but “stewed” is funnier! :))

Now, I pride myself on my down-home cooking skills, but there are two things that defy me in the kitchen. Soup and Gravy. I KNOW! What kind of farmer can’t make soup or gravy?  That would be me. So when I get the urge to make soup, I have to follow a recipe, which I generally don’t use, and the dogs and husband run into  other rooms and shudder in fear.  But, after reading this recent report I figured I better learn to make good soup, and quick!!

So, after a brief search I found this recipe for Minestrone soup. Looks yummy, right? And the best part is, I have 90% of those vegetables frozen or canned from my garden last year! YAH!! FOR GROWING YOUR OWN FOOD! I’m not gonna have any of that chemical crap in THIS soup! Let’s hope it’s edible…

After a few tweaks to the recipe, here’s what I came up with:

(This was before the “Cleaning up the Details…” post, as you can see.)

Actually, this is what was left after we ate a lot of it, packed some for lunch, and froze 2 quarts for later scrumptious consumption! It was DELICIOUS! I really think the secret to this deliciousness was the homegrown goodness. So what exactly is in there that I grew with my own little hands?

  1. Yellow squash and zucchini, frozen
  2. Green beans (frozen or canned, I used canned)
  3. Onions
  4. Carrots (actually had to supplement with store bought, because I didn’t have enough. Note to self: Plant more carrots next year!!)
  5. Stewed tomatoes
  6. Tomato sauce, which was seasoned with home-grown oregano and basil.

The only thing I didn’t have was the kidney beans and celery. Maybe I’ll grown those next year?! Oh, and the garlic, but I have garlic in the ground already, since they have to over-winter. (Yeah!!)

Happy December Everyone!