South Carolina-Style Mustard BBQ DIY

 

 

Alrighty, last week I shared my favorite eastern Carolina sauce with you and while it’s still my all-time, favorite, go-to sauce for smoked meats and earthy greens, I also like a good mustard-based BBQ sauce now and then.  Another quick and easy holiday gift for your foodie friends for Christmas, this sauce also has it’s roots in the immigration of the 1700s.

During the early days of South Carolina’s statehood, the rich soil along the Santee/Broad River watershed was available via land grants to German immigrants wanting to establish family farms (as opposed to English plantation-style farming).  Along with their Lutheran faith and European farming methods, the German settlers also brought mustard with them, which they adapted to fit the smoked and grilled meats they encountered in the Carolina Lowcountry and Coastal Georgia.  And so, South Carolina BBQ sauce was born. There’s your history lesson for today, boys and girls! 

While slightly sweeter than it’s eastern cousin, South Carolina sauce packs a 1-2-3 punch of vinegar + yellow mustard + hot sauce that is only slightly mellowed by the addition of brown sugar.  Amazing on beef brisket, roasted chicken, pulled pork or any other smoked meat, it’s also delicious on fried potatoes and served on a cheese plate with crackers, cheese and sliced meat.  I don’t discriminate, my friends: I’ll eat this stuff on anything.

Now if you try this and you find it’s a bit piquant, it’s so easy to adjust the flavors.  Adding a touch of molasses or honey will both sweeten and add an earthy flavor.  Tomato paste will add body and sweetness.  Chipotles in adobo sauce will add a kick of smokiness and extra heat.  What I’ve posted below for you is a basic, all-purpose sauce, but you can doctor it anyway you want to make it suit your palate.

To make a South Carolina BBQ sauce you need the following ingredients:

3/4 cup of cider vinegar

3/4 c prepared yellow mustard (any brand)

1-2 T light brown sugar ( to your taste)

1 1/2 T butter or oil

2 t salt

2 T Worcestershire sauce

1/4 t fresh ground black pepper

2 t hot sauce to taste (we like Texas Pete’s)

Directions!

Combine all ingredients in small saucepan. Whisk to combine and stir occasionally while simmering for 20-30 minutes.  Taste and adjust seasoning to your taste.  Let cool and refrigerate overnight before using.  You’ll want to use this within 2 weeks, give or take.    To preserve it, simply ladle into 1/4 pint jars, cap with plastic storage lids and freeze.

This recipes  DOES take a little more time than the vinegar-based eastern Carolina sauce, but it can easily be doubled and frozen in Mason jars for use later, so it’s worth your trouble.   And like the eastern Carolina BBQ sauce, this isn’t found in most national grocery store chains, so it will be a real treat to friends who enjoy tastes of other regions!

Now if you’re planning on giving this as a gift, you’ll need to keep the BBQ sauce frozen til last minute.  (This could probably be safely canned, but given the variation in the acid levels of prepared mustard, it’s best just to freeze it.)  To gift this sauce, I’d create a simple cheese plate with crackers, sharp cheese, pickles,  smoked sausage and a jar of the sauce tucked into a basket with a cheese knife and a small Cutting Board.  OR, go the BBQ route and stock a small Grilling Basket with a BBQ mop, bar towel, a thermometer and a jar of last week’s eastern Carolina sauce.  Both are very inexpensive, very practical gifts that you can personalize for the lucky individual you’re giving it to.

Shared on Simple Life Mom Homestead Blog Hop

Hot Process Soap Making Part 1

 

 

I’ve been making soap for about 6 years and I still find the process absolutely fascinating.  I can’t explain all the science behind it, but it’s just amazing that water, having dripped through wood ash, becomes so volatile that when combined with oil it becomes a completely different product.  Is that amazing to you too?

Hot process soap making is a simple, but exact, science.  While there is room for creativity here and there, it IS a chemical reaction we’re creating and the percentages of lye, water and oils necessary to make that happen are EXACT.  To have a successful experience every time, you have to create those same exacting conditions every time or you’ll find soap making to be a frustrating, expensive waste of money and time.   Now there are 2 methods for soap-making; cold process and hot process, and they’re nearly identical except for the manner in which the soap is “cured” to neutralize the lye.  I’m going to show you the hot process as it’s much quicker and will be ready in time for gift giving if you choose to do so.  I’m also going to break this post into 2-3 parts so you can absorb the information without feeling overwhelmed and giving up.

There are essentially 4 steps to soapmaking.

  1. Carefully mixing distilled water and lye, in which the chemical reaction results in a steaming hot solution, and then allowing the solution to cool to 100 degrees F.
  2. Heating/melting of a combination of oils and solid fats, typically grapeseed, olive, almond and coconut oils.
  3. Combining the lye solution and warm oils and mixing to the point of ‘trace’, where the solution becomes pudding-like and thick enough that strings of soap form on top of the solution.
  4. Curing, either by heating the soapy mixture (hot process) or allowing the mixture to sit in a warm spot for 6 weeks for the lye to neutralize (cold process).

No matter how elaborate the recipe may seem, soap making always comes down to those 4 steps.  Always.  So if you’re anxious to try your hand at making soap, kinda wrap your mind around that.  Set the rest of the information aside and familiarize yourself with those 4 steps.

Okay, now there is some equipment that you’ll need that has to be set aside exclusively for soap making.  You absolutely do not want to serve popcorn in your big soap making bowl or use the same utensils for cooking.  Hit up the dollar store, my friends.  You can find most of what you need there for a few bucks.

Necessary equipment for soap making:

  • An assortment of plastic bowls for measuring ingredients.
  • Plastic spoons and spatulas for mixing.
  • An immersion blender, optional, but SOOOOOO highly recommended!  Trust me on this one.
  • A scale that can be zeroed for weighing oils, lye and water.  The vast majority of recipes are based on weight, not volume, so a scale is an absolute necessity.
  • A candy-making thermometer.
  • Non-reactive molds.  These can be anything from a shoe box lined with parchment paper to silicone bread pans.  Personally, I like the silicone molds and pans.  They’re easy to clean and easier to remove the soap from than other molds.
  • Old towels.  Everyone should have these laying around!
  • Safety gear.  Dishwashing gloves, safety goggles, a face mask and an apron/smock.
  • Something to dry the soap on/in.  A plastic storage container lined with plastic canvas works great.
  • A plastic tablecloth.  You’ll want something to cover your workspace, preferably waterproof.
  • A gallon of white vinegar.  In an accident, vinegar will neutralize the lye immediately preventing burns.
  • An old crockpot.  For hot-process soap, you need something to heat the soap for 1 hour.  This speeds up the saponification process (conversion of oil+lye into soap).  You won’t want to use it for cooking afterwards, so check into a thrift shop for an inexpensive model that you’ll use solely for soap-making.

I know that looks like a lot of stuff but much of it is laying around your kitchen right now and it can be used indefinitely.  And as I stated, much of it can be found in bargain bins, so the initial investment should be fairly minimal!

Here’s how you do it!!

Gear up.  You’re going to feel a little silly walking around your house in a haz-mat suit, but it’s totally necessary to cover your face and exposed skin.  Lye can cause burns very easily and it stinks when combined with water, so the full suit is a must!

Step 1. Preparing the oils.

With very few exceptions, the recipe you choose will include a combination of solid and liquid oils.  Typical solids are lard, coconut oil, cocoa butter and even vegetable shortening.  Typical liquid oils include anything from olive oil, grapeseed oil, almond oil, avocado oil to plain old run-of-the-mill vegetable oil.  Don’t go renegade here!!  Be sure you choose the exact oils your recipe calls for, as the lye requirement to convert oils to soap vary.  Most recipes will give you an option of oils to choose from that fit within that required range.  Stick with those so you don’t end up with a soap-making fail!!   Using your zeroed scale, carefully weigh the precise amount of solid and liquid oils and put them in your crockpot on low heat to melt the solids and heat the liquid.  (Be sure to scrape every last bit of weighed fat out of your bowls…precise measurements, my friends!)

Step 2. Preparing your lye mixture.

After the solid oil has begun to melt, zero your scale and using a small plastic container, weigh the prescribed amount of lye.  Set aside.  Again, using a plastic container, zero out the scale and carefully weigh the distilled* water.  Precise measurements are necessary, so pour slowly and watch the scale carefully.  Very, very carefully add the lye to the distilled water.  (Never add the water to the lye as the solution can splash and cause a bad burn.)  Within a second or two of adding the lye to the water, you’ll notice a chemical reaction with extremely hot, steaming water and a foul odor.  That’s totally normal.   Immediately begin stirring the lye-water mixture with a plastic spoon until you no longer see lye crystals in the water.  That shouldn’t take terribly long, a minute or less.  Now you need only to set the solution aside and allow it to cool to 100 degrees.  Personally, I do this step outdoors so my house don’t stink, but no matter where you do it, place the cooling solution in a spot where children and animals can’t access it.  This is serious, y’all.

*Distilled water is a necessity as tap water frequently contains heavy metals, minerals and chlorine which can effect the chemical reaction and result in a “meh” colored, odiferous soap.  You should be able to buy a gallon of distilled water for under a dollar.

 

——————————————————   ~+~  ——————————————————–

Okay friends, I’m going to stop here for today.  To this point, we’ve collected the necessary equipment and created the 2 solutions that we’re going to mix together to create lye soap.  The hard part is finished, if you want to call that the hard part!   Reread the information carefully and please feel free to ask me any questions you may have thus far.  In Hot Process Soap Making Part 2, we’ll combine the mixtures, add some pretty additives, finish the soap hot process-style and mold.  So far, so good, my sweet friends!  Til next time!

 

Shared on the Simple Life Mom Homestead Blog Hop

 

 

 

Waste Not – Cheesy Goodness!

 

My family has been on  low/er carb diet for nearly 2 years now and cheese plays a huge role in our daily diet.  We use it as a binder and “breading” in place of grains, as a quick snack in the afternoons and as a necessary, beneficial fat that makes our brains happy!   We love everything from a fresh, marinated mozzarella to extra sharp cheddar and Petunia’s favorite, sweet, nutty Gruyere.  As a result,  I’m typically guilty of having 15 bags of partially used shredded cheese, a few hard cheese rinds and several blocks of opened imported cheddar shoved in the back of the cheese drawer at all times.  I’d be lying to you if I said any different.   To prevent waste, I’m always looking for new ways to use up those last little bits left in the packages and the following recipes have become my go-to recipes when my cheese drawer begins to get a bit fuller than usual.

Recipe 1- Authentic cheese sauce.  This is the real stuff, my friends.  Not Velveeta!  Now I know that you’re looking at the recipe and questioning the nutmeg: trust me.  A pinch of nutmeg takes this cheese sauce to another level.

  • 2 T butter
  • 2 T flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1.5 cups shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1/4 t mustard powder
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • salt and pepper to taste

Melt butter in a saucepan over medium heat; whisk flour, mustard powder and nutmeg into butter until smooth. Pour milk into flour/butter mixture and whisk to combine. Cook and stir until mixture thickens, about 3 minutes. Reduce heat, add shredded Cheddar and stir until cheese is melted, about 3 minutes more. Season with salt and pepper. 

Using this same method, substitute mozzarella cheese for the cheddar, omit the mustard powder and add garlic (to taste) for a very passable fettuccine sauce!

Recipe 2- Low Carb Cheese Sauce.  This is my go-to low carb cheesy fix!  It’s great on veggies, eggs, meat or anything else for that matter and is ready in just minutes!

  • 3 T cream cheese
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1-1.5 cups of shredded cheese (any combination works!)
  • Salt, pepper, nutmeg and mustard powder to taste

Over low/med heat, combine the cream cheese and heavy cream, stirring frequently and using a whisk as the cream cheese begins to break up.  When the cream cheese and heavy cream are melted and smooth, add in the shredded cheese and whisk til smooth.  Season to taste and serve warm.

Like above, the use of mozzarella cheese and garlic makes a very good, low carb fettuccine sauce to top spaghetti squash, chicken, veggies or your choice of food!

 

Recipe 3 – Low Carb Cheese Nachos.  These are so simple, I’m almost embarrassed to share the “recipe” with you.  For this recipe you need shredded cheese and, well, that’s it.  Cheddar, pepper jack or any other favorite cheese will work well for nachos.   Heat your oven to 375 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.  Put 2T mounds of shredded cheese on the baking sheet, leaving room for the cheese to melt and expand.  Pop in the oven til the cheese it melted thoroughly and slightly crusty on the edges.  Let cool til firm and then use as a “nacho chip” with your favorite toppings.  Or you can use 1/4-1/2 cup mounds of cheese to make some pretty awesome taco shells/tortillas as well.  Following the same instructions, bake them til they’re bubbly and crisp, allow to cool slightly, then drape them over a rounded surface to form the “taco” shape.  My husband actually prefers these to the real thing now!

Recipe 4- Fathead Pizza Dough.  Friends, after being on a low carb diet for a while, finding this recipe was a total game changer.  If you roll the dough out thin and bake it til it’s really crunchy, you’ll end up with the best low-carb thin crust pizza you could ever imagine.  AND it’s just as good cold the next day!  I love making a Philly-style pizza, topped with shredded beef, sautéed onions, peppers and mushrooms and covered in gooey Provolone or Swiss cheese!  This is so good, I can’t even explain it to you!

  • 1 3/4 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 3/4 cups almond flour
  • 2 tbsp cream cheese
  • 1 egg
  • pinch of salt to taste
  • 1/2 tsp dried rosemary/ garlic or other flavorings optional
  • your choice of toppings such as pepperoni, peppers, olives, shredded beef, mushrooms, herbs etc
  1. Mix the shredded/grated cheese and almond flour/meal in a microwaveable bowl. Add the cream cheese. Microwave on HIGH for 1 minute.
  2. Stir then microwave on HIGH for another 30 seconds.
  3. Add the egg, salt, rosemary and any other flavorings, mix gently.
  4. Place in between 2 pieces of baking parchment/paper and roll into a circular pizza shape (see photos above). Remove the top baking paper/parchment. If the mixture hardens and becomes difficult to work with, pop it back in the microwave for 10-20 seconds to soften again but not too long or you will cook the egg.
  5. Make fork holes all over the pizza base to ensure it cooks evenly.
  6. Slide the baking paper/parchment with the pizza base, on a baking tray (cookie tray) or pizza stone, and bake at 425F for 12-15 minutes, or until brown.
  7. To make the base really crispy and sturdy, flip the pizza over (onto baking paper/parchment) once the top has browned.
  8. Once cooked, remove from the oven and add all the toppings you like. Make sure any meat is already cooked as this time it goes back into the oven just to heat up the toppings and melt the cheese. Bake again at 425F for 5 minutes.

Don’t these simple recipes sound amazing?!  They’ve proven to be lifesavers more than once as we reduce the amount of grains in our diet and increase beneficial fats.  And as I said earlier, they’re great ways to use up those little bits of cheese here and there, reducing waste and saving money!  What are your go-to recipes when you have an abundance of cheese laying around?

Shared on the Simple Life Mom Homestead Blog Hop

Eastern Carolina Style Sauce DIY

 

Just as I promised last week, here’s an easy and inexpensive gift to share with the foodie on your Christmas list!  Eastern North Carolina style sauce isn’t readily available in most chain grocery stores; in fact, unless you have roots in Tidewater/Greater Appalachia or frequent soul food restaurants, I’d  bet that you’ve never enjoyed this simple bbq sauce before! It’s a great way to share a taste of a different culture with someone who truly appreciates traditional, regional cooking.  And the fact it’s finished in under 10 minutes, that’s a real gift too!

If you travel America (or just really enjoy eating!), you’ll find each region has it’s unique sauce for topping smoked or grilled meats.   Just as our culture evolved based on immigration, climate and the availability of resources, so did our food. South Carolina has it’s mustard-based sauce, Alabama it’s mayo-based white bbq sauce, Kansas bbq is thick and tangy, Texas bbq sauce is more akin to a thin glaze.  Many of them are cloyingly sweet, tomato-based and laden with carbs, but eastern Carolina-style is completely different than anything you’ll find in any steak house.

Brought to the southern East Coast by way of the Caribbean, it’s the original bbq sauce!  This vinegar-based sauce has very little sugar and is slightly spicy with an acidic kick that cuts through the smokiness of a pile of pulled pork.  It’s extremely thin, great for mopping as it doesn’t burn under heat and doesn’t mask the flavor of bbq under a thick, sugary sauce.  But don’t stop with bbq…Carolina-style sauce tastes amazing on beans, potatoes, eggs, soups, stews and a hundred other dishes.  My sweet Petunia douses her collard greens with it and I have to admit it’s pretty doggone tasty that way too!  In fact, I don’t think I’ve eaten any dish that Carolina sauce didn’t improve!  Admittedly, it’s not for sissies.  It’s spicy, pungent, tart and salty all at the same time,  but what it can do to a simple meat or veggie is just amazing!

So are you intrigued enough to try it?  All you need is a few, very basic ingredients!

Eastern Carolina-style BBQ Sauce

2 cups of apple cider vinegar

2 teaspoons hot sauce (we use Texas Pete’s)

2 tablespoons sugar (white or light brown sugar or even honey)

1 tablespoon salt

2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes

2 teaspoons finely ground black pepper

Combine all the ingredients in a sauce pan, bring to a quick boil to dissolve the sugar and remove from heat.  Allow the sauce to cool then transfer to a covered container and refrigerate for several days before using.   As a total bonus, this sauce can be poured into Mason jars, sealed with a 2-piece lid and water-bathed for 10 minutes to be shelf stable and easier to gift…but I wouldn’t leave it on the shelf too long.  I store mine in a pba-free condiment bottle in the fridge as the acid in this sauce will eat straight through a metal lid!

Come back next week as I’ve got a great South Carolina mustard-based sauce that will make a great gift as well!  Til then!

Posted to Homestead Blog Hop!

Homemade Skincare

The last few years, I’ve been experimenting with homemade skincare and have experienced great success with it.  After my children were born and my thyroid went south, my skin was a wreck!  Dry, dry, I mean uber-dry, sensitive, prone to chaffing, this girl was a hot mess!   So I stopped with all the commercial products and began using what I could find in the kitchen.  Coconut oil, olive oil, oatmeal, honey, natural abrasives and my skin has greatly improved.  Here’s the thing:  our grannies had beautiful skin long before the advent of Pond’s cold cream, commercial astringents, under-eye serums and retinol lotions.  And they had beautiful skin without worrying about the parabens, petroleum by-products and endocrine disrupters that OUR beauty products are laden with.  What if we try something new and do it the old way?  Here are a few quick and easy beauty products that you can make with simple kitchen products.  Added to a pretty jar, they also make beautiful gifts that no women is going to refuse!

Whipped Body Butter– This is so crazy easy I’m almost embarrassed to share it with you!  You need 2 ingredients for this body butter:  coconut oil and essential oils, which are optional.  Add approximately 1 cup of solid coconut oil to your mixer and whip til the coconut oil is light and fluffy, almost like whipped cream.  Add a few drops of your favorite oil:  cinnamon for “warming”, peppermint for “cooling”, lavender for “relaxing” or whatever fragrance you happen to enjoy.  Mix well then scoop gently into a covered container.  To moisturize, just allow a few dabs to soften on your fingertips then massage into your skin.

Invigorating Peppermint Sugar Scrub- This is so, so good for dry wintertime skin and it smells like Christmas, which is a total bonus!  For this simple scrub, combine 1/2 c oil (olive, coconut or sweet almond) in a mixer with 2 cups of granulated sugar and several drops of peppermint essential oil.  Mix til thoroughly combined then pour into a cute covered container.  To use, simply massage into your skin while in a warm shower using your fingertips or a cloth, then rinse well with warm water and pat dry.

Soothing Oatmeal Facial Scrub- I love this for irritated, dry skin!  Combine 1/2 cup of finely ground oatmeal, 1 cup of coconut oil, 2 T of olive oil, 1 T of honey and 1/2 cup of brown sugar.  When mixed, store in a covered container.  To use, apply a small amount to your damp skin and massage very gently.  Rinse well and blot dry.

Simple Homemade Astringent- No more of that odd-smelling stingy stuff!  This astringent is about as simple as it comes!  In a glass container, combine 1 cup of distilled water, 1/4 cup of organic apple cider vinegar and up to 10 drops of essential oil.  Lavender and lemon are nice, but tea tree oil would be great if you have troubled skin.  Shake well and store out of direct sunlight.  To use, simply dip a cotton ball and wipe your face.  Blot dry and moisturize.

Homemade Honey and Aloe Facial Cleanser-  This gentle cleanser is great for sensitive skin, especially during the harsh winter months and only requires 3 ingredients!  Combine 1/4 cup of raw honey, 1/4 cup of aloe vera gel and 1 T of olive or sweet almond oil and pour into a covered container such as a mason jar.   To use, simply massage into skin and rinse well.

As you can see, with the exception of perhaps the aloe vera gel, most of these ingredients can be found in your kitchen cupboards right now.  And as you know, they are naturally anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, anti-acne, and some folks even say anti-aging.  I can’t speak to those things, but I can tell you my skin has never felt better.  No more tight, drawn skin, no more outbreaks and people swear I’m not in 40s, so I’ll take it!  LOL

Okay, as I stated in my Homemade Holidays post, presentation is everything!  If you’re going to give these items as gifts, make the packaging and presentation as beautiful as the product.  For the body butter and scrubs, I would use a basic 4 oz Mason Jar but for something as thin as the facial cleanser and astringent, a better option would probably be Pump Bottles. To finish the look of the bottle, turn to our good friend Pinterest for cute labels.   I love the old-fashioned looking apothecary labels but these Mason jars are adorable too!   You’ll want to be sure to include the product name,  ingredients and the date you made it, for safety’s sake.  Last, be sure to accessorize, my dears!  To your homemade goodies, add a hand-knit spa cloth, perhaps a pair of aloe-infused slippers or a seriously relaxing CD such as Marconi Union Weightless to complete the spa experience!

Care to share some of your favorite homemade skincare ideas?

*Posted to Homestead Blog Hop!

Homemade Holidays!

Okay friends, we’ve turned that corner and we’re officially in the holiday season now and I have to confess that as much as I love Thanksgiving and Christmas,  I get so dreadfully anxious over them.  Or at least I used to.  There’s so much pressure for everything to be “just so”….I blame the Hallmark Channel and Martha Stewart.   A few years ago, it occurred to me how silly it is to trade gift cards with people we don’t talk to or see.  How silly it is to stress over buying the “it” toy of the season that’s going to be set aside 3 days after Christmas and never picked up again.  And my personal non-favorite, running myself ragged trying to accommodate every extended family member in the tri-state area.  Silly.

Now listen to my heart, friends; I’m not against gift buying or decorating or baking or visiting if that brings you joy;  I love all those things!  I’m against the pointless consumerism, stress, debt, anxiety and waste that accompanies the holidays.  That’s not what Thanksgiving and Christmas were meant to be.  We’ve taken 2 beautiful holidays, meant to be times of praise, joy, thankfulness and celebration and turned them into burdens.  Isn’t that just like America?!  My sweet friends, how about we unburden ourselves this year?  Over the next few weeks, let’s deconstruct these frantic times we live in and re-learn to celebrate the holidays like our grandparents did.  Simply.  Thankfully.  Frugally.  How about we share some favorite recipes, homemade gift ideas, start creating realistic traditions and learn to reconnect with our people?

Sound like fun?

Let’s get started by talking about some thoughtful, homemade gifts that we can share with the adults on our lists.  Understand that I’m not under the delusion that our husbands would be thrilled over a pair of hand-knit socks…(Pa Ingalls would but my Mr Lynch, probably not, though he would rave over them for my feeling’s sake!)  But what if we use our talents as a means to stretch our gift budget?  Instead of grabbing a gift card or marked-down appliance or gadget for our parents, neighbors, friends and teachers, what if we made something meaningful?  Something that required our effort instead of our credit cards?  I’m going to throw out some suggestions, just little things I’ve given over the past few years that were well received.

 

  • Tea baskets.  All you need is a simple inexpensive basket, lined with a tea towel and tins of your favorite loose leaf teas.  Bonus:  make your own blends with herbs from the grocery or your own garden.
  • Breakfast Baskets.  Again, a simple, inexpensive basket, lined with a tea towel and filled with goodies for a traditional breakfast.  Tea or quality coffee, a homemade muffin or pancake mix in a Mason jar, an assortment of homemade jams, jellies or butters and a bottle of local maple syrup or honey.
  • Felted Wool items.  Years ago, I made a pair of felted wool mittens and a beanie for a niece and she wore them for years.  Decorated with buttons, bells and ribbons, they can be made into really stylish accessories.
  • Family History book.  Some 10 years ago, I put together a book with family photos, documents, birth certificates and stories for my in-laws and they loved it.  The grandchildren also loved seeing pictures of their grandparents as children.  When the grandparents passed, it quickly became a family heirloom.
  • Cook’s Basket For the person who enjoys time in the kitchen, put together a basket of homegrown herbs, handmade extracts and perhaps copies of treasured recipes.  Salt-preserved herbs and baking extracts are incredibly easy and inexpensive and you are only limited by your imagination!
  • Spa Baskets In years past, I’ve given spa baskets to teachers and bus drivers at my children’s school.  I used cute Wooden Berry Baskets filled with raffia and added a homemade soap, homegrown luffa sponge and a hand knit spa cloth.  Now I’ll be sure to include a lotion bar too!
  • Sweets sampler.  These are always well-loved, especially when they’re stuffed with samples of baklava, potato candy, peanut butter fudge and Guinness Stout cake.
  • Cheese Plates.  On a cute, reusable Cheese Board, I packed summer sausage, homemade pickles, homegrown pickled peppers,  quality hard cheese and homemade candy.  This was my father-in-law’s favorite gift each year, hands down!
  • Flavored Vinegars and Homemade Hot Sauces.  Before I learned to make my own vinegar, I learned to flavor store-bought with the simplest of ingredients such as herbs and berries.  And if you’re looking for something unique for a foodie friend, I’ll be sharing my Carolina-style bbq sauce next week!

When giving a homemade gift, pay extra attention to presentation; that seems to make all the difference, in my humble opinion.  Invest in quality, reusable bins, baskets or containers instead of buying gift boxes that will be thrown away.   And take the time to dress up your package.  Recycle brown paper bags or Sunday comics as wrapping and tie them up with simple cotton string.  These are a few of my favorite things…..

But seriously, look to your talents and your resources to both bless people and stretch your budget.  The object isn’t to spend the most or buy the biggest or impress but to bless others by using the gifts we’ve been gifted with.  I can honestly say I’d rather receive a homemade-ugly gift that someone put their heart into than an As Seen On TV gizmo that will be donated to the Goodwill in January.   Are you willing to say the same?

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to be posting numerous homemade-simple DIYs that you can give for gifts.  I’ll be posting recipes for homemade spa products, my favorite Carolina-style bbq sauce, hot-process lye soap, flavored sugar, a few very simple canning recipes, an old family-recipe toffee, and anything else I can dream up.  My goal is to present you with an idea for everyone on your list…don’t know if that will happen, but we’ll give it a try!  Til next time!

 

Posted to Homestead Blog Hop!

The Necessity of Close Community

 

 

The disasters of the past 2 months have been a sobering reminder to America of a fact our grandparents knew all too well:  community matters.  It’s a strange paradox, this modern American lifestyle.  Through Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter and a veritable array of electronics, we’re connected to the world in our cars, homes, work places and everywhere in between in the blink of an eye; and yet, we’ve never found ourselves more isolated.  We collect thousands of friends on Facebook, but we don’t know and connect with anyone face to face.  No one knows us or our families and we don’t know them either.

I praise God that one of the indomitable qualities of the American spirit is our willingness to rally to our neighbors during times of devastation, but I propose that we do ourselves a disservice by waiting for a disaster to build a close relationship with our community.  I propose that the time to begin building a community is when times are good; the old saying that the time to make hay is when the sun shines isn’t just for the farmers among us.  So let’s talk about why community is important and how to get connected if you feel like you’re not.

What IS Community And Why Is It So Important?

The definition of community is a group of people living in close proximity, as in a neighborhood, village or city, but community is so much more than a group of people sharing a zip code!  Community is also a group of people sharing a common interest, purpose or goal.  Consider the days of early America, when our fathers were literally carving out homes in the wilderness, struggling to survive in weather they’d never experienced, against disease they had no names for, with new foods they’d never grown or eaten before.  Their goal was plain and simply survival and without the support of their community and neighboring communities, America wouldn’t be standing today.  Consider the water bucket brigade stories, when men, women and children would line up shoulder to shoulder and pass water buckets to put out a wildfire and protect a neighbor’s home.  Consider the countless stories of families in need finding baskets of food, firewood, medicines and necessities on their porch, left by unnamed benefactor.  Without community, we perish.

But not only is community necessary for our survival, it’s necessary for our well-being.  Whether we consider ourselves strong and independent or not, everyone needs encouragement and support.  We need the wisdom of the older generations, the enthusiasm and energy of the younger, and the validation of our peers.  A close, honest community gives us hope during difficult times, courage to pursue dreams and face challenges, and joy from intimate friendships.  Life is not a solo sport, my friends!  We NEED community!

How Do We Begin Connecting With Our Community?

The good news is that beginning to connect with our community is easy, but it won’t happen accidentally.  Intentionality is the name of the game here.  If you’re going to plug in, get connected and start building relationships within your community, there has to be an element of commitment, just like any other priority in your life.  Admittedly, it may feel awkward at first; it’s hard to be the new person or family, but push past that awkwardness and begin the process of getting to know your neighbor and your town.

What are some ways you can become engaged with people living in your zip code?

  • Attend a nearby church
  • Volunteer to mentor at the local elementary school
  • Read to children at the library
  • Become a ‘room mother’
  • Take meals to new mothers, widows and shut-ins
  • Donate your time and supplies to a pet shelter
  • Visit nursing homes
  • Join a local quilting guild, exercise group or sporting club
  • Host a block party
  • Organize a neighborhood clean-up
  • Candy stripe at the hospital
  • Take food to a homeless shelter or soup kitchen
  • Create a fundraiser for a charity
  • Serve at a Veteran’s breakfast
  • Turn a vacant lot into a community garden
  • Eat at the local greasy spoon
  • Go to high school football games and cheer the loudest!
  • Teach a class (gardening, sewing, canning, crochet!)
  • Get to know small business owners by shopping locally
  • Attend local festivals, fairs and parades
  • Take a class at a community college, extension office or parks department
  • If your neighbor has a yard sale, go.  If children are selling lemonade, buy a cup.  If the little old ladies at the local church are having a bake sale, buy cookies.  Donate to missions.  Buy Boy Scout popcorn and Girl Scout cookies.   In whatever ways you can get to know and encourage the people living around you, do it!!

Here’s the thing:  I know you’re tired.  I know you’re busy.  I know your schedule only gets busier over the next few months.  I know you have a lot of good things coming up;  football games, holiday meals, office parties, school recitals, Christmas shopping and family gatherings.  But as my pastor says:  don’t let the ‘good things’ prevent you from doing the best things.  Don’t let the busyness of life distract you from one of the purposes to life:  to love your neighbor as yourself and by extension, your neighborhood.  Become that smiling, familiar face that your community can depend on to show up and support them, encourage them and help them in difficult times.  All my best—

 

 

Waste Not – Potatoes

Thanksgiving is right around the corner and if you’re family is like mine, you’re going to have a glut of leftovers come Black Friday.  No matter how well you plan ahead, that just seems to be the case!   When I was growing up, all the leftover dressing, gravy and turkey at my mamaw’s house got thrown into a big casserole with a few fresh ingredients and called “Company’s Coming Casserole”….which I loathed entirely but ate it because my mama and mamaw said so.  I think living through war-time rationing, the Depression and the 1970s inflation crisis lead women to be super frugal with leftovers even as they were more willing to spend large amounts of money on a feast.  Looking back, it was a bit paradoxical on their part, but that’s what makes the “good old days” so fascinating.

Now I don’t mind eating holiday leftovers, but they can’t look like leftovers, savvy?  My children seem to be of the same mind; they’ll eat leftovers as long as they don’t look like what they ate for dinner yesterday.  In my house, creativity is the name of the game when it comes to leftover food!  So in that spirit, let’s reinvent some of our Thanksgiving leftovers into something everyone will look forward to.  Ma Ingalls would absolutely approve!

Invariably, we have leftover potatoes sitting around on Black Friday, so I’d like to offer you an easy way to use them up, starting first with those mashed potatoes.   Tater cakes have long been a favorite of my kids and it’s a great way to use that last cup or two of mashed potatoes.  It’s difficult to give you an exact recipe for tater cakes because the amount of flour necessary will depend on the consistency of your leftovers.

 

 

Here’s roughly what you need for potato cakes:

2 cups of cold, leftover mashed potatoes

1 egg

1 c of flour

1/2 cup shredded cheese

1/4 c diced onion

salt and pepper to taste

1t chives

A sleeve of crushed club crackers, crushed potato chips, bread crumbs, almond flour or something along those lines—optional but delicious and highly recommended!

To make your tater cakes, combine the mashed potatoes, egg, cheese and herbs and begin to slowly incorporate the flour.  You’re adding enough flour to create a batter that looks and feels a bit like a  cookie dough.  It’s going to be very soft, but it’s more manageable than the plain mashed potatoes.  Place the crackers/chips/crumbs onto a plate and carefully spoon approximately 1/4 cup of the mashed potato mixture onto the crumbs.  Using your fingers, thoroughly cover the mixture with crumbs and then flatten gently into a patty.  It’s going to be soft, so very carefully transfer the patty to a med/high pan with olive oil and panfry until the egg in the patty begins to set up and the crumbs brown up.  Gently flip and fry the other side as well.  Carefully place the fried patty on a paper lined plate and keep warm.  As they cool, they’ll set up firmer and will taste amazing!  Use them as a side or a main dish.

Okay, now if you have leftover boiled/baked potatoes, I have a recipe that may be just a bit outside of your comfort zone, but try it nonetheless!  My Mamaw and Aunt Vicky ran a candy store out of her summer kitchen and potato candy was a perennial favorite!  I won’t lie to you, it’s cloyingly sweet but there’s actually a bit of nutrition hidden under all the sugar, so I don’t mind making it once or twice a year.  And once or twice a year is typically plenty to satisfy everyone!

Here’s what you need for potato candy:

1 small potato, baked or boiled, peeled and cooled completely

2T of milk

1t vanilla extract

pinch of salt

1-16oz bag of powdered confectioner’s sugar + extra for dusting

1/2-1 cup peanut butter

Using a mixer, mash potato, milk, salt and vanilla extract til smooth and runny, then slowly incorporate the bag (yes, it may take the entire bag, give or take!) of powdered sugar into the potato mixture until you have a sugar cookie-like dough.  It may take less powdered sugar depending on the size of your tater, so just work slowly, incorporating the sugar a cup or two at a time.  Sprinkle powdered sugar liberally onto a dough board, countertop or parchment paper, add the dough and roll into a large rectangle.  Spread the peanut butter thinly (1/8-1/4 thick) to cover and then carefully roll the dough jelly-roll style.  Wrap in foil or parchment paper and refrigerate until completely cold and then slice into 1/4-1/2 inch thick slices.  A single 1/4 inch slice will generally satisfy the worst sweet tooth!

Next week, I’ll have a few more Waste Not ideas for your Thanksgiving leftovers, but I’m curious if you have any amazing leftover ideas to share with the class??

 

Posted to Simple Life Mom Homestead Blog Hop

Homemade Scents DIY

 

I found these recipes circulating on the internet and just had to share them with you!  Now that cooler temperatures are upon us and we’re firing up the woodstoves, a steamer pot full of rich, natural potpourri is a wonderful treat for the senses.  Scent is such a powerful connector, linking us to people, places and events and is a simple way to create a warm, inviting atmosphere in your home.  Now, if you don’t heat with wood, don’t fret!  You can always use a kettle on low heat on the back of the stove or an Aromatherapy Electric Simmering Pot.   I love these electric simmer pots because you can move them around from room to room without worrying about children and pets around an open flame—or forgetting that you had potpourri on the stove until it cooked dry, ignited and stunk for days.  Ahem.

What I really like about these recipes, aside from the fact they’re not putting toxic chemicals into the air in our home, is that you can make many of these out of kitchen scraps like citrus peel, frost-bitten herbs or fruits that have begun to go south.  AND if you’re really clever, which I know you are, you can make these shelf stable and use them as handmade gifts.  Simply dehydrate the apple and citrus slices, cranberries and herbs, toss them in a bag with the remainder of the ingredients and sprinkle with any extracts, spices or essential oils.  Seal them tightly in a pretty bag and give them as a gift with an electric simmering crock.  Can you think of a nicer gift for a teacher, bus driver, mail deliverer or secretary?

Here are some simple, non-toxic, handmade scented recipes for you!

CINNAMON APPLE:  1 sliced apple +  1 1/2 tsp. cinnamon + 1 tsp. maple or vanilla extract + 2 cups of water

MINTY CITRUS PINE:   1 sliced lime + 1 tsp. vanilla + 1 small branch of fresh pine needles + 1/4 cup fresh mint + 2 cinnamon sticks + 2 cups of water

WINTER CITRUS   2 sprigs rosemary + 1/2 of sliced lemon +  1/2 sliced grapefruit + 1 tsp. vanilla  + 2 cinnamon sticks + 2 cups of water

CRAN-ORANGE   1/2 cup fresh cranberries + 1 sliced orange + 1 tsp. whole cloves  +  2 cinnamon sticks + 1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg + 2 cups of water

MULLED ROSEMARY  3-5 cinnamon sticks + 1 sliced orange + 1-2 sprigs of rosemary +  1 cup fresh cranberries + 1 tbsp. cloves + 2 tbsp. nutmeg + 2 cups of water

SPICED VANILLA  4-6 cinnamon sticks +  1 tsp. vanilla extract +  rind of 1 orange + 2 tbsp. cloves + 3-5 bay leaves + 2 cups of water

But don’t stop with these recipes!  Create custom scents for your house using ingredients from your kitchen!  How about Viennese cinnamon using inexpensive coffee grounds, a few cinnamon sticks, and a dash of vanilla or maple extract to 2 cups of water?  Or chocolate mint using a few tablespoons of Dutch cocoa and a dash of peppermint extract?   Or candied citrus, with orange slices, vanilla extract and Dutch cocoa powder?  Personally, I love more savory combinations such as cranberry, rosemary and bay leaves.  But anything works so long as it’s pleasing to your senses!

So tell me, what are your tricks for making your home smell amazing during the long, closed-window seasons of fall and winter?

 

Posted to SimpleLifeMom Homestead Blog Hop

A Hard Nut To Crack

As I talked about in the post last week, black walnuts are in season and abundant this year!   At our last home, we had access to just a few black walnut trees on a neighboring property.  Now we’re on a property with dozens and dozens and dozens of black walnut trees, with thousands of walnuts laying in the driveway rotting and dead spots all over the front yard from the tannin in the husks.  This year we decided we needed to figure out SOME way to make use of those nuts to prevent both waste and a big mess, but as you know, black walnuts are difficult to both clean and crack.  But I think we hit upon a few good ideas this year, both for the cleaning and the cracking.  All you’ll need is a cage/trap/perforated metal containment of some sort and a power washer.

We gathered about 15-5 gallon buckets of really grossly-ripe walnuts from the front yard and dumped them 1 bucket at a time into an old live trap.  It was clean, don’t fret about it.

My darling husband set the power washer to the strongest spray setting and turned it on the walnuts, rolling the cage from front to back every minute or two to ensure all the nuts were receiving the full brunt of the spray.  (Pardon the blurry picture…there was gunky overspray splattering everywhere!)

 

 

After approximately 5 minutes of power washing, the nuts were clean and we spread them on a sheet to dry in the grass.

 

 

So step 1, the cleaning, is done.  Now onto step 2, which is far more difficult.  For the past 14 years, I’ve tried numerous methods for cracking black walnuts.  I’ve tried the small handheld versions you find at Walmart and broke about 3 of them.  Tried a mallet.  Tried a brick.  Used a vise.  Ran over them with my Jeep.   Some of the methods worked, some of them failed miserably, most of them resulted in mangled black walnuts with glass-like shards of walnut shell crushing the meat that had to be picked out in miniscule bits.  Yes, it IS that hard to crack a walnut shell.  I seriously don’t know how the squirrels do it.  This year, my husband decided it was time to take the plunge and invest in a quality nutcracker to harvest all those expensive nuts!  And oh did he find a good one!  We love the Master Cracker for Black & English Walnut, Plus Filbert Nut/hazelnut, Pecan, Macadamia, Chestnut- American Made!

If you’ve ever tried to crack black walnuts, you KNOW how difficult the process is but this cracker is so easy to use, my sweet Petunia did it one-handed without breaking a sweat.

So here are some of the features that we like.

  1. The grip is rubber-coated, so it’s comfortable to use, even after a hundred walnuts.  It’s also easy to wipe clean.
  2. It has a large wooden base, approximately 5X20 inches, so you have a very secure surface to work on that won’t slip and slide around.  I love that I don’t have to clamp this to a countertop or bolt it to a work table.
  3. It has interchangeable cracker cups, so you can crack small nuts like hazelnuts right up to large, tough black walnuts.  There is literally no nut you can’t crack with this cracker.  Except a coconut, possibly.
  4. It has a heavy spring so the lever-action feels very secure.  There’s no slop or play in the handle, is what I’m saying.
  5. The ratcheting action of the handle allows it to crack even the hardest nuts with almost no force required.  A child can use this cracker with no problem.
  6. It’s American-made.  Love that!  Apparently there’s a very similar Chinese-made product that costs far less…but as with most things,  you get what you pay for.  Check on youtube for a side-by-side comparison and you’ll see what I mean.

I think my only “complaint” is that I wish the base had a more durable finish for cleaning up afterwards.  It appears to have a rubbed-oil finish, but a gloss would make it easier to wipe up any black walnut mess!  Not that that interferes with the function of the cracker, just saying.

Now I’m not going to lie to you, it’s not cheap.  This model runs over $100, but given the price of black walnuts at the grocery and the fact we have thousands of them wasting in the front yard, it was a sensible purchase for my family.  This cracker will most likely pay for itself in just a year or two, especially given how much I love black walnuts!

I don’t do product reviews often, and when I do, it’s only for products that really work well and save me time and labor.  This cracker does both, so I’m very comfortable recommending it for those of you looking!  Til next time!

 

Posted to SimpleLifeMom Homestead Blog Hop.