Monday, July 30, 2012

Tipsy Trap: How I Used Beer to Get Rid of Snails

I hate snails with a seething, white-hot hatred. They're vile, loathsome, repulsive creatures. I hate their slimy little guts.

There are a few good reasons for this deep hatred and disgust.

My mom has these pretty orange flowers growing all over in her flowerbeds. (I snapped this picture on the 4th of July -- they're in full-bloom right now). I love them.

Knowing this, my mom potted up a bunch of transplants for my yard. Isn't that sweet?

I couldn't get to planting them right away, so I left them in the backyard like this for a few days, making sure they would get watered regularly by our sprinkling system.  One morning, as I was heading out to feed the chickens, I looked over at my little potted transplants. They were covered with snails! Seriously, there had to be a snail on each one, if not more. It was completely revolting.

My transplants never quite recovered. The stupid snails also did this to my petunias in my front yard -- they ate the blossoms right off during the night. I find them on all sorts of plants and flowers regularly. Grrrr.

Another reason:  these awful things love to congregate around my house at night. One time after dark, I was taking out the trash and I stepped on one. Barefoot. It was one of the grossest experiences of my life.

Last week it rained a few times (hooray!) and the weather seemed to bring them out in droves, so I decided it was time to fight back. They'd eaten too many of my plants and left their little slimy trails all over my driveway and patio long enough. I read a while back that snails are attracted to the smell of beer. There's something about the yeast in the beer that they seem to like. If you put some beer in a dish, they'll go to it to get a drink, get drunk, and drown. Easy enough. Plus, I like the idea of using this natural alternative to any sort of insecticide in my garden.

So I went and bought a big can of beer at a nearby gas station.

{I'd like to pause for a moment and mention the significance of this. I'm 30 years old and this is first time I've bought an alcoholic beverage. A life-long Mormon, I've never so much as tasted even a sip of beer. It felt kind of weird. Plus, I didn't even get ID'd. Aren't they supposed to check if you look under 40? Do I look over 40? As you can imagine, I've developed a minor complex because of this.}

Instead of using a dish or saucer, I went for a more hands-off approach using some empty containers. That way, I could just pick up the container and throw it straight into the trash, dead snails and all.  I also wanted to keep it enclosed just in case my cat got curious. To make my traps, I used an empty vinegar jug and an empty milk carton. You could also use a soda bottle or any other plastic container you have on hand.

On each side of the container, about 1-2 inches from the base, cut out a square hole (again, about 1-2 inches square). I used my husband's pocket knife, but you could use a box cutter, scissors, craft knife, whatever you have on hand.

Next, dig a shallow hole where you want to put the trap. You want the bottom edge of the hole to be at ground level so that the snails can crawl right in.

Pour the beer into the trap, filling the base up to the bottom of the holes on the side. I would suggest doing this in the evening since the things are most active at night.

The trap is set. Now you just have to wait. This is a good time to practice your maniacal  laugh. I know I did.

The next morning, on my way to feed the chickens, I popped open the lid of the snail trap. Sure enough, there were a bunch of them in there and there were others just about to go in. Remember that burning hatred I mentioned before? Well, let's just say I'm feeling a lot better lately.

{This post is linked up to Homestead Barn Hop Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways, and Little House Friday..} 

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Return of Lovely Links

{I haven't done one of these Lovely Links posts in almost exactly a year. I know why I stopped: Pinterest. I figured you could find all sorts of links to things I find informative/interesting/awesome by checking out my pins. But I've been thinking about it lately and I think I'll bring back the occasional Lovely Link post to highlight some of the things I've found particularly enlightening and cool lately.}

It finally rained here! And not just a few scattered drops here and there, but a full-fledged rainstorm! I grabbed an umbrella (my practically perfect umbrella, I might add) and the baby for some much-needed puddle time and to get that just-rained air into our lungs! (My other boy couldn't join us because he was sick -- don't worry, he had Return of the Jedi to make it easier to stay inside.) This summer has been so dry and much of it has been smoky from dozens of wildfires. The rain was definitely a welcomed and wonderful change of pace.  

Anyway, I can't believe that it's already the end of July. We still have so many summery things to do before school starts ( first baby in kindergarten. Still wrestling with that idea.). We're still waiting for our first homegrown tomato and the first egg from our hens, too. I love this time of year.

Except when it gets too hot. I can keep my thermostat low in the wintertime and be totally fine; I'm a complete wimp when it comes to the heat. So, during the times when it is too hot to do much of anything, I do a little reading. Here are a few of cool links I've come across lately...

10+ Ways to Beat Rising Food Prices :: Frugally Sustainable
If you've read the news, you've probably seen the toll the drought has taken on the corn crops in the Midwest. As a result, corn prices are on the rise. Even if you don't eat a lot of processed foods or corn-fed meat,  the shortage will mostly likely affect your food budget. The post above has a lot of good, practical advice on how to keep your food budget under control even when prices go up.

The Lady's Coleslaw :: Food Network
This recipe for coleslaw (it's the only Paula Deen recipe I've ever tried) is awesome. I've made it three or four times this summer already. It's really easy to make and it's so good. We've had it on hot dogs (my husband lived in the South for a couple years before we got married and grew to love slaw dogs while he was there), on pulled pork sandwiches, and even on beef tacos (I bet it'd be amazing on fish tacos).  Anyway, this recipe is a keeper. Make a batch for your next summer picnic or barbecue.

Printable Back-to-School Countdown Chain :: Life Your Way
Like I mentioned earlier, I am feeling really ambivalent about my little guy starting kindergarten. He's so ready to go; I'm just not sure I'm all that ready. Anyway, I just found this fun way to savor all things summer-related while also gearing up for school.We're big fans of countdown chains at our house (we make them for Christmas, days until we go to Disneyland, etc.) because it's a good way to give little kids a sense of time.

10 Simple Things to Make You Happier at Home :: Apartment Therapy
I love this. This list could change your life. Even just doing the first thing listed has made a big difference for me already.

Hope your weekend is wonderful!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

How to Spot a Rooster in Your Backyard Flock

It's hard to tell if you've got a rooster when he looks like this...


It's a lot easier to tell when he starts to look like this...

One morning around the end of June, I was in the kitchen cooking breakfast when I could have sworn I heard a crowing sound coming from the hen-house. And then it started to click. That's why our Ameraucana/Easter Egger,  Betsy Ross (we gave her an all-American kind of name), looked so different than the other two chickens. I thought it was just the differences in the breeds.  I then called my brother-in-law, the one I refer to as "the chicken whisperer", and I told him about the situation. He told me not to jump to conclusions just yet and to wait it out. Then I showed him some pictures of "her" the next day. He told me I definitely had a rooster on my hands. 


I can't blame the store where I got my chicks -- they told me that they were 90% sure that all the chicks they had were female, but there was a chance we'd get a boy. So I was warned. But since I was only getting three chickens, I thought my chances were pretty good that we'd only have hens. Oh well. It's been a learning experience. As such, I thought I would share what I've learned about identifying a rooster, with the help of some photos of Ross the Rooster (though we still kept accidentally calling him Betsy).  

1. Crowing.  
That's the obvious way to tell. It took a few days after that initial "did-I-just-hear-one-of-my-hens-crow?" moment for him to crow regularly. Granted, it wasn't a very respectable crow; it was pretty much the equivalent to the way a teenage boy's voice cracks. At first, he'd only do it in the mornings (right around 6:30 AM), but then it happened numerous times a day. It didn't bother me much, but I worried about him bothering the neighbors. It got louder and clearer by the day.

2.  Saddle Feathers

My brother-in-law told me that one of the big giveaways in distinguishing a rooster from a hen is the pointy saddle feathers that drape down by the tail. On our hens, the feathers around their tails are rounded and they don't point down. As you can see, his tail feathers are characteristically rooster-ish. 

3. Tail Feathers
Ross's tail feathers aren't very impressive yet, but you can see how he has a long, curved tail feather sticking out above the rest. Those are called sickle feathers. That was one of the first things I thought odd about our "hen" a couple weeks before I heard that crow: "Huh. Her tail feathers look kind of like a rooster's."  I didn't give it much thought after that. I was still excited at the prospect of getting green eggs from "her".

 4.  Neck Feathers
Another thing I noticed about Betsy/Ross the Rooster before I knew he was a rooster was how his neck feathers (also known as the hackle) were different than the other two chickens. Not only were they pointy at the bottom, but they looked different than the rest of his feathers, almost like he had a sort of mane. Plus, he would regularly fluff and puff them out (it always reminded of that of that scene with the frilled dinosaur in Jurassic Park). Pointy neck feathers are a sign of rooster -- the feathers at the neck of a hen are more rounded (as with the saddle feathers). 

5. Posture 
This one is a little tricky to explain and maybe even a little vague, but our rooster just carried himself differently than the other two chickens.  He stood taller than the others and walked with his chest puffed out a little more. It was this sort of "I-rule-the-chicken-tractor" way he stood and walked. 

6. Demeanor
"Betsy" was our favorite of the chickens -- he/she was the friendliest of our three birds. Whenever we checked the brooder, he was the one to always poke his head up curiously, as if he were saying hello. He wasn't skittish or shy with us ever -- he was definitely the bravest one of the group. He also never pecked any of us -- not even my baby, who loves to stick dandelion leaves (along with his little chubby fingers) through the chicken wire to feed them. 

That said, he was nice to us, but not so nice to the other chickens.  As the chickens got older, we noticed that "Betsy" was pretty pushy with them, chasing them around the tractor, herding them up into the hen-house (as pictured above), hogging food whenever we fed them snacks (he would run right up to them and snatch whatever was sticking out of their beaks), pecking them, and, frankly, just being a bully. As he got older we him putting the moves on the hens. (Maybe that was what all the squawking was about. The couple times I saw this happen, the hens were not at all happy about his advances.) 

7.  Other Features (i.e., the ones I've read about but didn't really see with our rooster)
There are some other indicators to help you distinguish a hen from a rooster, but I've read that these are the less reliable indicators. One feature can be the comb (roosters have bigger/wider combs -- this wasn't so helpful in our case since Easter Eggers have wider pea combs no matter what sex they are). Another indicator is spurs on the back of the legs. However, this isn't really the best way to distinguish either because I've read that some hens have little spur buds on the back of their legs, too. I've read also that rooster legs are often thicker than hen legs, but this is can be misleading because different chickens come in different sizes.

Maybe you noticed that I've been referring to our rooster in the past tense. Before I got our chickens, I checked with the city for any sort of rules and regulations regarding backyard poultry. One thing they told me: no roosters in residential areas. Ross the Rooster had to go. My brother offered to give him a good his stomach. We didn't want to go that route, but we were prepared to do that if needs be. Just as I was about to tell my brother to come pick him up, someone from our church told me she had a friend who would take him. I'm happy to report that Ross is living on a farm now -- he gets to roam in the pasture and crow to his heart's content. The people we gave him to also happen to have eight hens. Basically, life is pretty good for our rooster friend.

Is there anything I missed? I'm new to chicken raising and welcome any further wisdom on this topic.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Meatless Monday: Pasta Frittata

I'm terrible when it comes cooking pasta portions. I always cook too much. Always. If you peek into my fridge on any given day, there is a really good chance you'll see leftover spaghetti noodles in there. Over the years, I've tried to find ways to use up those leftovers (they don't really re-heat well in the microwave) -- sometimes I'll freeze them into single-serving spaghetti portions or whip up a batch of lo mein, but sometimes those noodles still languish away in the fridge until they get slimy and unappetizing. However, I've just come across a new, super-easy way to use up leftover pasta in An Everlasting Meal -- the pasta frittata. {Sidenote:  I don't know why, but every time I think "pasta frittata", it's to the tune of "Hakuna Matata".  Oh, the silly things that keep me entertained...}

This pasta frittata is so simple -- it only has a few ingredients and it takes almost no work.  It's also really adaptable -- this basic recipe would allow for a lot of variations with different vegetables (and meats -- just not on Monday, of course).  I also love serving eggs for dinner on Meatless Mondays, so I'm happy to add this frittata to my repertoire.

To make a pasta frittata, you'll need:
  • 2-3 cups of cooked leftover noodles 
  • 3 large eggs, beaten
  • up to a 1/2 cup of fresh herbs, chopped (I used parsley.)
  • a little bit of shredded Parmesan cheese
  • salt and pepper
In the picture above, there is no Parmesan, salt, or pepper. This is because my noodles were the leftovers from a recipe for roasted garlic, brown butter, & Parmesan pasta (yum -- another great meatless meal), so it didn't need the added cheese or salt and pepper.

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

Mix the eggs, pasta, herbs, Parmesan (if using), salt, and pepper (to taste). Note: In An Everlasting Meal, the author suggests this recipe as a good way to use over-salted pasta (my pasta just so happened to be slightly over-salted). If this is the case, don't add more salt to your frittata.

In an 8- or 9-inch oven-safe skillet (I used my cast-iron skillet), heat a little bit of olive oil (I did just a few glugs around the pan).  Pour the egg-pasta mixture into the skillet.  

Cook until the edges are set -- you should be able to lift up the edge and see that the bottom is cooked. Remove the skillet from stove top and put it into the oven. 

The frittata is ready when the eggs are cooked and the top is just-firm. Put a plate over the top of the pan and flip the pan over (not so easy with a 12-pound cast iron skillet) so that the frittata turns out onto the plate (the bottom of the pan will the the top of your frittata on the plate. I hope that makes sense. It's kind of the same idea as an upside-down cake.).  

Cut the frittata and serve at room temperature. If you need to refrigerate it, let it sit at room temperature a couple hours before eating it.  There's something so simple and satisfying about this meal. It's basic, uncomplicated, and it's delicious -- a perfect meal for a summer evening.

Note: Some of the links in the post above are "affiliate links." This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. 

{This post is linked up to Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways and Your Green Resource.}

Friday, July 20, 2012

How Empty Milk Jugs Changed My Garden

Earlier this week, I wrote about some of my various frugal endeavors and experiments, that...well...failed. However, I have one experiment that has been going on in my garden since April that makes up for all of them!

Those little seedlings I mentioned back in early May, the ones I was so nervous to transplant, are thriving! It's borderline crazy how excited this makes me!

I'm guest posting over at The Green Phone Booth today all about my experience with the milk jug mini-greenhouses. Check it out for a recap of the process and how reusing milk jugs changed the way I garden forever!

{This post is linked up to Your Green Resource, Little House Friday, Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways, and Homestead Barn Hop.}

Monday, July 16, 2012

My Latest Frugal Flops & Failures

Blogs can be deceiving -- and a little depressing. I can't tell you how many times I've read other people's blogs and thought, "She has things so figured out."  These people don't have messy floors or ever-growing piles of laundry that need to be put away. They give birth and then wear their pre-pregnancy clothes a couple weeks later. They homeschool, they travel, sew all their children's clothes, make ugly stuff from yard sales look like it came from Pottery Barn, they have a year's worth of meals planned out, and they give bars of homemade soap as gifts. Some days, I feel accomplished that I got a shower into my schedule before 3:00 PM. That's when I start comparing myself to them and this is never a good thing. As Theodore Roosevelt once said, "Comparison is the thief of joy."  

But here's the funny thing:  I had someone tell me fairly recently that I seemed to have everything figured out, that I seemed like I was organized. I wanted to laugh and hug the person at the same time.

Thing is, we bloggers, for the most part, put our best faces forward. We write of the things that are going well in our lives, the things that we're proud of. For example, I'm happy to put a photo of my garden on here, but you won't see any wide-angle photos my lawn (it's patchy and has a bunch of weeds in it). I'm more than happy to write a post about canning salsa or cloth diapering, but I'm probably not going to give much advice on organization or time management. I usually only show the things that work out, the things that I'm proud to show to anyone who will look.

That said, I thought it would be kind of fun to lift the curtain and show you some of my latest frugal flops. I love to experiment around my house and in the yard (it keeps things interesting!) -- sometimes they work, sometimes they don't.  Oh well. Incidentally, if you've tried any of these things and had success, I'd love to hear about it!

Flop #1 - Homemade Seed Tape

I read about homemade seed tape on Pinterest first and then in a book. I figured if two people could attest to it, then it had to work, right?  I spent some time one afternoon (during valuable baby naptime, no less) making carrot seed tape. I hate planting carrot seeds because they're so tiny -- I don't like just scattering a bunch (what a waste!), but it's sort of a pain to crouch over the dirt and plant each speck of a seed one by one. So when I read that you could glue the seeds onto strips of toilet paper and then plant them all at once (and evenly spaced), I was excited. I got all the supplies together -- seeds, toilet paper, and homemade paste (flour and water) -- and got to work. I took so many pictures of the process, thinking, "I can't wait to share this on the blog!"

Once I'd finished sticking those seeds on the toilet paper strips, I planted the tape, patting myself on the back. This was the way to plant carrots!  I covered them with dirt, watered them, and waited. And waited. And waited. I'm not sure what happened. Maybe I didn't water them enough, I can't be sure. All I know is that over a month later, I finally gave up and turned the bed over to plant something else. You can bet that there was a bunch of dried toilet paper that came up with the rake. Incidentally, I just replanted carrots not too long ago and discovered today that they're all sprouting, so it wasn't the seeds that were bad. I don't know where it went wrong -- the idea is great, but I just don't know if I want to spend the time to try it ever again.

Flop #2 -- Homemade Dish Soap
I found a recipe for homemade dish soap on a blog and quickly pinned it. Homemade dish soap for pennies? Could it be true? The recipe called for castile soap, water, and vinegar. As you may know if you've read this blog for a while, I love castile soap. Don't even get me started on my love for vinegar. So, once we were finished with our store-bought soap, I mixed the soap, water, and vinegar together and filled the dish-filled sink with water. I added the dish soap. It didn't work at all. I might as well have just used water. I just didn't understand -- how did castile soap and vinegar let me down?  I did a little research and found out that vinegar and castile soap sort of cancel  each other out when they're mixed and stored together (here's the link where I learned about that). Thankfully, I only made a little, so there wasn't much waste. Plus, I can always use the extra castile soap for something else.

Flop #3 -- Soap Nuts

I so wanted these to work. Have you ever heard of soap nuts? They're basically this dried fruit that people have used for centuries to clean clothes. The soap nuts contain saponin -- an all natural soap. I did lots of reading and research before buying them. There were so many testimonials from people completely happy with them. I even read great reviews about washing cloth diapers with soap nuts. I figured hundreds of years of use says a lot. Plus, I could compost them when they were used up! I was sold. I told my husband about them and he was pretty skeptical, but, being the awesome and patient guy he is, he was open-minded about the experiment. 

It's tricky with these things -- you can't really tell if they're working while they're in the wash because you don't get the suds in the water like you do from regular laundry detergent.  I washed a few loads with them. The clothes seemed clean but I worried about it in the back of mind. I even washed a batch of cloth diapers with them. The clothes and diapers smelled like, well, nothing after I washed them (which is a good sign).  However, it didn't seem to take long for the nuts to lose their oomph. To test if they're still good to use, you squeeze them when they're wet -- if a sticky substance oozes from them, they can be used again. After a few washes, I was mostly squeezing water out of them. I got nervous about my laundry. The diapers started getting a strong ammonia smell for the first time ever (which was weird because I'd read that the soap nuts actually stripped diapers and prevented ammonia build-up). So I stopped using them. Looking back, I think the problem is our really hard water (a byproduct of living next to mountains).  I still have the soap nuts. I want to use them. Any suggestions or help would be much appreciated.

Flop #4 -- Healing Clay Poultice

Well, it finally happened: I got my first sting since becoming a beekeeper. It's my own fault -- I got lazy and decided to not wear boots. Sure enough, one of our little bees (at the very end of the inspection, I might add) decided to land on the top of my foot and sting me. I've been stung by bees before with hardly any sort of reaction, but this time my whole foot and ankle swelled up like a balloon (that explains why my foot and toes look so big in this picture)! I should have just taken a Benadryll and been done with it, but since we didn't have any on hand (we do now), I thought I would try out a different remedy first.

My mom is the one who introduced me to "healing clay". She had visited a health store and gotten a free sample. Apparently, this stuff is supposed to heal all sorts of things (according to the informative pamphlet that came with the sample), including bee stings. In fact, one of the testimonials actually said that the clay poultice had pulled out the stinger from the sting site. One man said that his hand had been stung by wasps twelve times -- he put the clay on it and his hand was better an hour later.  The pamphlet had all sorts before and after pictures, so it seemed like a viable option. I mixed up some clay with some water, slathered it on my foot, wrapped it in some plastic wrap (so it wouldn't dry out too quickly -- this was also in some of the testimonials I read), and let it sit for a good while. I felt pretty silly walking around the house with my foot in plastic wrap. The clay helped a little with the pain and the itching, but it did absolutely nothing for the swelling. Once the clay dried out and I rinsed it off, my foot hurt just as it had before and it still looked terrible. Thankfully, the swelling subsided as time went by and after a couple days or so, I was back to normal. But why was my experience with clay so different than the ones I read about? Why didn't it affect my bee sting?

I'll give the clay another try, but it didn't work in this instance. Maybe I'll just use it for a facial. And I'll always wear my boots during inspections.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Meatless Monday + Book Review: Homemade Vegetable Stock and 'An Everlasting Meal'

Before I start the post I intend to write, I must make a confession right away: I feel slightly embarrassed about some of my Meatless Monday posts.

There I'll be, typing away and listing the ingredients you'll need for a recipe. I'll throw in a few photos, some commentary here and there. I'll go back to read (and re-read) what I've written, only to realize that I've called for chicken stock in a Meatless Monday recipe. That's when I'll add, in parenthesis, that I used chicken stock because I had it on hand but that vegetable stock would work fine. It just seems like a cop-out. I mean, shouldn't I go all out and make it completely meatless?  What makes it even more of a cop-out is that vegetable stock is SUPER easy to make. You just need the bits, pieces, and ends of vegetables, some herbs, a little salt and pepper, water, and you're set. So, I figured, it's about time I made a batch of the stuff already.

Feeling better now. On to the post!


A few weeks ago, we harvested all of our peas.  

My older son was right there with me picking all the fat little pods from our garden (in his cowboy clothes, no less. Awesome.). He proceeded to take them inside, count every single one, and arrange them in a nice little pattern all around the kitchen table.

 The baby, who is at the into-everything phase right now, disrupted the arrangement a little.

Once he had counted every single pod (we got up to about 150, if I remember correctly -- it was a great counting lesson!), we both started shelling the peas together, just chatting and marveling at how full our bowls were getting.  It was one of those parenting moments when I feel like I actually know what I'm doing. They don't come that often, so I relish them when they do.

Which leads me to the two purposes of this post:
  1. How to make vegetable stock.
  2. A review of Tamar Adler's book, An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace
If I had to sum up Tamar Adler's book in word I would probably pick inspiring. Or lovely. Here's a passage that I just loved -- especially since it related to the aforementioned pea-picking and shelling:
"Children must help shell peas. In a world of things too big, getting peas from pods is a chance for pea-sized people to exercise authority. Always told to put things back where they found them, here, children have it right. Pea shelling goes only in one direction: dig, disperse, and never look back. Shell English peas by digging a fingernail in by their stems and sliding your finger along their seams, seam side down, over a bowl. Keep a second bowl for everything that isn't a pea."

That's exactly what we did -- peas into one bowl, pea pods into a bag.

But why keep the pea pods? For pea pod stock! I had already planned to do this and then I came across the suggestion in An Everlasting Meal, too. It was meant to be.

This pea pod stock captures not only the basics of vegetable stock making, but also the essence of Ms. Adler's book. In the frugal kitchen, very little needs to go to waste. Throughout her book, Ms. Adler shows how peels, skins, and bones can be used to make food better.  Meals can be made better if you approach them as something continuous, with a sort of flow to them. Yesterday's dinner turns into part of tomorrow's lunch; the stems of the parsley you chopped for dinner play a part in the stock simmering on the stove the next day.

A week ago, I made a batch of coleslaw for a barbecue with some friends (mmmm....slaw dogs) and I decided it was time to finally make a batch of vegetable stock (especially since I'd just read the part in the book about pea pod stock).  Into the pot went the stems of the parsley, the end and peels of the carrot, and the unused part of the onions -- all the remnants of the slaw preparation. Then I pulled the pea pods out of the freezer (since I'd saved them for this reason) and dumped them into the pot, too. I threw a few whole peppercorns into the mix, sprinkled it with some coarse salt, and added water (to about a couple inches over the vegetables). I brought it to a boil then let it simmer for about 45 minutes or so.

Let me tell you, I don't know if I've ever been so eager to boil a pot of water. That's what I love about An Everlasting Meal -- she makes the mundane seem graceful and beautiful (the first chapter is entitled, "How to Boil Water", after all).  The book made me even more anxious to get our first egg from our hens. The way she blends cooking and prose is elegant.  But I'll be honest, the book scares me a little. Maybe intmidates is a better word. Not in a bad way, but a sort of out-of-my-comfort-zone kind of way. I don't really know how to cook the way she cooks. I need recipes -- I rarely trust myself to make anything without one. I so want to cook like she does, though, and use all five of my senses to really get a feel for what I'm making in the kitchen.

So I tried it with this stock. Ms. Adler says to taste, taste, taste whenever you're cooking -- even tasting boiled water to see if it's salted enough. I kept tasting the pea pod stock to see if it was ready. The first time I could taste the pea flavor immediately, but it needed to boil down more and a little more flavor. I added some more salt and let it simmer.  Tried it again. Still needed more time. By the third taste, it was just right. It was simple. It was different than the chicken stock I've made time and time again. It had a clean, fresh taste. It tasted like vegetables! So, all the time I've said that chicken stock or vegetable stock is fine, as if they're interchangeable, isn't entirely true. Vegetable stock isn't chicken stock and chicken stock isn't vegetable stock. Each has its own flavors and contributions to whatever you're making.

Once the stock was cooked down to the flavor I wanted, I strained it and poured the stock into glass jars. I always freeze stock in glass jars (I just re-use jars from spaghetti sauce and other things). As long as you leave some space for the liquid to expand during freezing, they'll be fine. I've never had any trouble with glass in the freezer.

I can't recommend An Everlasting Meal enough. I'd say it is a sort of love letter to food and the preparation of it. The book has something for everyone, of every skill level, and it captures so well the way people have cooked for generations before us. Food doesn't have to be complicated or fancy. Food doesn't have to cost a lot or include exotic ingredients to be delicious. You can use the food you buy and grow to its fullest, without much waste.

And you should make some vegetable stock, too. It'll make you feel even better about going meatless -- even if you only go meatless on Mondays.

{Sidenote:  I have to include this link to a clip from Arrested Development. It kept coming to my mind as I read An Everlasting Meal. "Baby, you've got a stew going!"}

Note: Some of the links in the post above are "affiliate links." This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. 

(This post is linked up to Homestead Barn Hop and Your Green Resource.)

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

How We Start Most Mornings: Blueberry Spelt Pancakes

I think this is my third pancake post on here. What can I say? We love pancakes at our house.  Though the pancakes recipes I've shared on this blog in the past are good (you can find them here and here), this is the recipe I make the most. My one-year-old gobbles these down for breakfast just about every morning; my five-year-old eats them most of the time (he'll opt for a bowl of cereal or oatmeal now and then to mix things up). I make a batch of these once, maybe twice a week. Whatever we don't eat goes into the freezer. Most mornings I just pop a couple pancakes in the toaster (our toaster has button for frozen foods that works perfectly for this) and the boys have a hot, healthy breakfast in mere minutes.

I like these pancakes not only because they're tasty and my boys love them, but also because they're full of healthy things --  whole grain flour, natural sweetener, flax meal, and blueberries. What makes these pancakes stand out, I think, from other whole-grain pancakes is the spelt flour. The spelt flour makes the taste and texture of the pancakes lighter than a traditional whole-wheat pancake, yet it has that yummy, nutty flavor you get from whole grains. Spelt is also high in fiber and contains more protein than regular wheat.

Blueberry Spelt Pancakes - adapted from King Arthur Flour Whole Grain Baking
2 cups of spelt flour (I buy it in the bulk section of our local natural food store)
2 Tbsp. Sucanat (more on that in a moment)
1 Tbsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
1 3/4 cups milk
2 Tbsp. butter, melted
2 tsp. vanilla
frozen or fresh blueberries
ground flax meal

First, mix all the dry ingredients together -- the flour, Sucanat, baking powder, and salt -- with a whisk and set it aside.

In case you were wondering: this is Sucanat.

Sucanat is an abbreviation for sugar cane natural because it's just dehydrated sugar cane juice. It isn't nearly as refined as regular white sugar. It comes in the form of little brown crystals -- it's brown because it has retained the molasses that is present in sugar before it is processed (for more info on Sucanat, you can go to this interesting link I found). Sucanat can be subsituted in any recipe that calls for white sugar (so if, say the recipe calls for 1 Tbsp. of sugar you can use 1 Tbsp. of Sucanat instead). Sucanat does have a stronger flavor (from the molasses), so it works better in some recipes than others. It works really well in this recipe (and in the wheat bread I make). However, I used Sucanat in place of the regular sugar in some chocolate chip cookies last month and my five-year-old didn't eat a single one (I can't say I blamed him -- they weren't so great.). The next time I made cookies he reminded me to use "the right kind of brown sugar."  Oh well. You win some, you lose some. I buy Sucanat in the bulk section of the natural food store, too. If you don't buy flours, nuts, rice, grains, and, in this case, Sucanat in the bulk section, you really should look into it. But that's a different post. On to the pancake making!

In another bowl -- I always just use a 2-cup Pyrex measuring cup -- mix the milk, melted butter, and vanilla with a fork.  Add to the dry ingredients.

According the recipe in Whole Grain Baking, they suggest setting the batter aside and letting it thicken for around 15 minutes. When you've got a baby in his highchair signing "Eat" (gosh, it's cute when he does that) and a five-year-old with his head on the table, whining about being hungry, waiting 15 minutes isn't really an option. And, really, if you don't wait the 15 minutes, they still turn out fine. Granted, they are a little fluffier if you wait. By the time I'm pouring the last batch of pancakes on the griddle, they've thickened up pretty well.

Pour about 1/4 cup of batter for each pancake. Once I've done that, I sprinkle each pancake with flax meal and drop a bunch of blueberries on them. I like adding the blueberries at this point instead of mixing it into the batter so as to avoid having blue-gray pancakes. Flip pancakes once the edges get set and the bubbles in the batter pop. Cook for another minute or two until the pancake is cooked through.

Add some butter and real maple syrup and you've got yourself a breakfast that keeps you going all morning. It's a lovely way to start the day.

Note: Some of the links in the post above are "affiliate links." This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. 

{This post is linked up to  Homestead Barn Hop and Your Green Resource.}
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