Friday, December 30, 2011

Happiness Is: Day 5 of 5

Loving and being loved.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Happiness Is: Day 4 of 5

Being served a bowl of my dad's hot gumbo with crusty garlic french bread... salad and dirty rice on the side.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Happiness Is: Day 3 of 5

Being with your brother, sisters, parents and husband around the dinner table.

What a joyful week!

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Happiness Is: Day 2 of 5

Celebrating the anniversary of our wedded bliss.

Happy Anniversary, my love, my darling!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Happiness Is: Day 1 of 5

Finding a $20 bill in the pocket of an old pair of jeans.

What little things this week have made you happy?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Difference Between Men and Women

"When we go on vacation, do you want to go see 'City of Lights Parade'?"

"Uum... do you want to see the alligator farm?"

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

This Week on Pinterest: 3 Christmas Bite-Sized Party Pleasers

In case you need a few last-minute Christmas party ideas, these were rounded up from Pinterest!

From my very own archives. Penguin olive appetizers: ridiculously adorable, relatively easy, really cheap.

Peppermint rice krispie treats: pretty cute little ornament rice krispies!

Santa hat brownie bites. Adorable!

Merry Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Christmas Cooking Traditions

Fudge, candies, cookies, sweets.... all excellent baking traditions for Christmas, but none of them part of my family's tradition.

Image credit
The tradition in my family is to start a new tradition every year (none of which stick around for the next year). This year, I intend to start tamale making as our new Christmas tradition!

I stinkin' love tamales, but they're stinkin' expensive and I rarely find ones that are the perfect ratio of masa to meat. I've made them, successfully, a few times and think I'm about ready to give 'em another go.

They are a lot of work, but that's become a relative term, now. When you attempt to make all of your own bread, pasta, bagels, ravioli, sausage, and grow a lot of your own produce, suddenly the few hours spent making several dozen tamales doesn't seem like such a big deal, and the reward is oh so worth it.

So this week, instead of the typical powdered sugar and butter, I'll be elbow-deep in masa harina, lard, chiles and pork roasts.

What about you? What are your Christmas cooking traditions?

Monday, December 19, 2011

My Christmas Card Habit

I'm an eager beaver when it comes to Christmas cards. I buy them in early January when they're on clearance, I store them all year long, they jam up my kitchen drawer and deep into August I dream about that clear drawer come Christmas.

The first Sunday of Advent I write lists of people I'm going to send them to.

2nd week of Advent: "Should we include a picture and write a Christmas letter?"

Gaudete Sunday: "I still haven't written that Christmas letter, maybe we'd better just sign 'em and include a picture."

Christmas Eve: "Yeorg! It's still the Christmas season until Epiphany, right?"

Week after Christmas: clearance aisle, resolving to do better and actually send some next year. "But oohh... aren't these beautiful??"

Do you send Christmas cards? A letter? A picture?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

A Beautiful Housewife Quote from Beautiful Literature

"For the homeliest tasks get beautified if loving hands do them, and Meg found so many proofs of this that everything in her small nest, from the kitchen roller to the silver vase on her parlor table, was eloquent of home love and tender forethought."

-from Little Women and Good Wives by Louisa May Alcott

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Goodnight, Irene

The chickens are killed, scalded, plucked, eviscerated, wrapped, and frozen.

Yes, I expect to have nightmares tonight of little guillotines.

Regardless, goodnight.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A Very Good English Custom

I think I'm becoming an old lady.

Customs, events, foods, and music that I couldn't stand as a kid are suddenly quite appealing to me, and the reverse is true as well.

A prime example of this is my sudden fascination for hot tea.

Hot tea used to taste like a weak rusty brew of leaves steeped in hot water.

Oops.

Well, a weak rusty brew of leaves steeped in hot water used to be gross to me, but now I really enjoy the warm beverage, sometimes even, *gasp,* without sugar.

I came across this delightful song, recently, and I wholeheartedly think we should adopt, as a nation, the 4:00 p.m. tea time!





Will anyone second the motion?

Monday, December 12, 2011

Mirth, Middlemarch, and Monday Musings


Right now... it's 5:00pm, I've got a pot of red beans simmering on the stove, I've finished all of my chores and outings for the day, and I'm eying a candy cane. Life is grand.

This weekend was... mirthful. It started on Friday night with a raucously fun pizza and board game night at a homeschooling friend's house. On Saturday we had a blast of a Pinochle party. Sunday, we went to the early morning Mass, had my dear sister-in-law over for breakfast on her birthday, and watched some of Middlemarch on Netflix.

My husband, amazing man that he is, cleaned up the kitchen while I took care of the rest of the messy house. Our home was sparkling clean on Sunday night and I utterly felt ready for Monday.

Some plans for this week: This is our last week of school before Christmas break, so I need to prepare the nieces for their tests. We're also going on vacation soon, so I need to pack and prepare for that. Sometime before we leave, we're going to move two-year-old our laying hens to the freezer... so we need to rent a plucker and mentally prepare for the grim job.
 
I am grateful for... a dear friend from college who, after reading this post, sent me toothpaste from Trader Joe's. I can't wait to brush my teeth tonight!

Some prayer intentions for this week: for Christ's peace in this Advent season. And for all of those who are grieving and mourning, especially because of miscarriage.
 
Something that makes me smile: what's not to smile about? I've got an all-loving God, a clean warm house, a pot of hot food, friends and family who love me, and the greatest husband on earth.


Thanks to Nadja for hosting Monday Musings!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Happy Solemnity!

Is Happy Solemnity an oxymoron? Just wondering.
From the Ghent Altarpiece. Image credit.

O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

P90X


Anybody else ever done P90X?

I thought I was tough. I thought I had a high pain threshold. I thought I had great will power and could force myself to do things I didn't think I could do.

Let me tell you, I am a PANSY!!!

Day 1 down, 89 to go.

The soreness hasn't even set in, but I think I'm going to die.

That is all.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A Jolly Image


... and oh so true.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Cooking Inspirations

I've loved to cook my whole life.

At age 5 I made my first dinner (mostly) unassisted... jello and meatballs. At age 11, I catered a dinner party for my dad's boss.

I had a little paring knife that my mom would let me use and I soon learned to do anything with it... peeling cucumbers, chopping onions, boning chicken, butterflying pork chops. When I graduated to an 8" French chef's knife, I thought I'd officially made it in the culinary world. That beauty made light work of mincing garlic!

Cooking is in my blood. My parents are both excellent cooks who hail from lines of excellent cooks. My dad can turn a piece of meat into a work of art "that could talk to you," and my mother, besides whipping out savory delicacies every night of my childhood, can entertain with the grace and charm of a beautifully set table, arranged flowers, and uplifting conversation. My siblings are amazing in the kitchen, and several of my aunts, uncles and cousins are professional chefs and caterers. We just love to cook (and eat).

Every Saturday growing up, my family watched cooking shows together on PBS. PBS aired cooking shows before cooking shows were cool... before a whole network was devoted to Food.

Paul Prudhomme, Justin Wilson, and John Folse for Cajun/Creole fare, Rick Bayless and Steven Pyles taught Tex/Mex, Martin Yan (Yan Can Cook) for Asian cuisine, America's Test Kitchen for the science of cooking, Cucina Amore (with the Carrabbas) and Lydia Bastianich for Italian, Julia Child for all things French, BBQ University and The Frugal Gourmet for American.... all of them were inspirational to me in one way or another.

My all-time favorite, however, was Jacques Pépin. He not only makes delicious food, but it's beautiful, an art, a gift. How can you watch this man and not be inspired?



How to debone a chicken.



Cream puff swans in a caramel cage.

Who are the chefs that inspire you?

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A Brief Housewife's Prayer

Thank you, Lord, that my husband works so hard and gets his clothes so dirty. It is a privilege to wash and fold them.

Thank you, Lord, that my husband has such a hearty appetite and enjoys my food so much. It is a joy to cook for him.

Thank you, Lord, that my husband always cleans his plate. It is an honor to wash his dishes.

Thank you, Lord, that I can participate in my husband's work in the dusty fields by sweeping and vacuuming these dusty floors.

Thank you, Lord, that we have indoor, clean, heated plumbing. It is a luxury to clean bathrooms.

Thank you, Lord, that the very tasks which often seem burdens are actually great blessings. Amen.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

100% Honey Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread Recipe

I've been holding onto this baby for a long time. I wanted to test it a dozen times before I shared it with you, to make sure it's good.

Testing results are in... this recipe consistently produces light, fluffy, tender, flavorful bread, with no all-purpose flour and no dense-as-a-hockey-puck failures.

Today I put it through a few more tests: cinnamon raisin bread, monkey bread, and pizza rolls (like cinnamon rolls but with mozzarella and pepperoni instead). All of them are exceptional.

Without further ado:

100% Honey Whole Wheat Bread 
Printable version
  • 2 cups warm water (4 cups warm water) 
  • 1 T yeast (2 T yeast) 
  • 1/3 cup honey (2/3 cup honey)
  • 1/3 cup oil (2/3 cup oil) 
  • 2 tsp. salt (4 tsp. salt) 
  • 1/3 cup gluten flour (2/3 cup gluten flour) 
  • 5 to 7 cups whole wheat flour (10-14 cups whole wheat flour) 
Preliminary Notes: For two loaves, use given measurements, for four loaves use measurements in parentheses. This recipe can be made by hand rather than in a stand mixer... just knead by hand wherever it calls for machine kneading. Gluten flour is also called "vital wheat gluten" and can be found in most grocery stores where the flour is sold; this added gluten is necessary to make the dough light and fluffy... I can't vouch for the recipe if you skip it.

In a stand up type mixer such as a Kitchen Aid combine water, yeast and honey. Let this sit for about 5 minutes or until the yeast is nice and bubbly. Add oil, salt, gluten flour and 3 to 4 (6-8) cups of whole wheat flour. Knead this with your mixer and continue to add more flour until the dough does not stick to the side of the bowl and does not feel sticky to the touch. Knead for another 7 to 8 minutes.
When dough has finished kneading place it in a greased bowl in a warm place til it is double in size (about 1 hour).
Punch the dough down. Divide the dough into 2 (4) pieces and shape into loaves and put in bread pans that have been buttered generously. Let the loaves rise until they are about 1 inch above the rim of the bread pan (30-45 minutes in a warm kitchen).
Bake at 350 for approx. 30 minutes or until golden brown.

Here's what I've made with this basic recipe, lately:

{Image source: pickycook.com}

{Image source: savorynotes.com}

and of course:

(Not the actual loaf, though I did take this picture. It's too dark to take a picture in my kitchen right now).

So there you have it. No orange juice, no citric acid, no xantham gum, no mashed potato flakes, no overnight proofing... none of those crazy ingredients or techniques most whole wheat recipes call for. Vital wheat gluten is easily found, and this bread is about fool-proof.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Alternative Housing Materials

Dream home planning is in full swing. We may not be breaking ground anytime in the near future, but when we do we want to be fully ready.

Do any of you have experience with (or know of anybody, personally) who has built with Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs), Insulated Concrete Forms (ICFs), straw bales, steel buildings, or any other non-traditional framing? Any insights? Advice? Tricks? Warnings?

We want to do as much of the construction ourselves as possible... do any of those materials lend themselves (or exclude themselves) to the DIYer?

Thanks in advance.

Monday, November 28, 2011

New Translation Snafu

I've been looking forward to the new Mass translation since I first heard about it several years ago. I'm kind of a liturgy bum... I read the General Instruction of the Roman Missal in my spare time.

Finally the First Sunday of Advent arrived and I'd practiced all of the new responses several times at home just to be ready. I wasn't going to be one of those auto-pilot Catholics. I was going to be ready and alert with full, conscious, active participation!!

I aced the first few and then... well... my mind started to wander around the Sign of Peace and I blurted out the old "And also with you." GAAAH!

Duly humbled, duly humbled.

How did you do yesterday with the new translation of the Mass?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Peeling Chicken Feet: The Grossest Experience of 2011

According to Julia Child, French chefs, and traditional foodies, the absolute best chicken stock that can be made includes chicken feet. It, supposedly, adds a depth of flavor and a huge amount of gelatin (for superior stocks) that footless stocks just can't match.

You can't exactly waltz down to the grocery store and come back with chicken feet, though.

So I'll admit it... the awful truth... ever since I saw Julia Child make her stock with chicken feet I've been waiting for one of my laying hens to die.

Rather than one of the cannibal biddies, though, unfortunately the first one to bite the dust was Howard. You may remember our Polish Crested rooster from this post. He was a cocky little crower, but he crowed his last earlier this week when he was run over by the moving coop. RIP Howard.

My husband did the thankless task of plucking and gutting, and brought Howard home for me to stew... feet included.

Let me tell you... nothing I read about the delights of French cooking prepared me for the NIGHTMARISH experience of actually skinning chicken feet!!!

The how-to is easy enough. You boil the feet for about 1 or 2 minutes and then plunge them into cold water. Supposedly the skin slips off just like on a tomato. BUT THEY FAILED TO MENTION THAT IT GETS CAUGHT ON THE TOENAILS! EEEEEEWW!!!!!

I called my father for moral support. I was so grateful that he didn't laugh at me when I told him I was skinning chicken feet. He held my hand over the phone and without him I don't think I could have done it.

Think I'm exaggerating the grossness? Feast your eyes on this:


Those, dear ladies, are Howard's skinned feet (stewed for 24 hours).


I don't think any soup on earth could be worth the horror of peeling a chicken foot and having the claw come back to clench your finger as you drop its snake-like shedded skin.


This soup had darned better be worth it.

Farm life initiation lesson 436: complete.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

A Compliment

"I don't usually like geography, but you make it fun."

Maybe I'm not so bad at this teaching stuff, after all.

Never underestimate the power of a kind compliment.

Monday, November 21, 2011

What I Did With the Game

Thank you so much for your suggestions last week about what to do with wild game! Here's what I ended up doing...

Venison:

1 pound venison soaked all day in milk, sliced 1/4" thick, breaded, and fried like chicken fried steak. Served with cream gravy, mashed potatoes, and buttered corn. Delicious! No gamey flavor whatsoever... tasted like tender juicy (albeit much more flavorful) beef.

Image source: Use Real Butter

2 pounds venison sliced 1/8" thick, marinaded in brown sugar, salt, garlic powder, onion powder, black pepper, Worcestershire and Tamari sauce for 24 hours. Dehydrated for 7 hours to make jerky. YUM!!!! I can't tell the difference between this and beef jerky.

Elk: 

4 steaks sliced 3/4" thick, marinated in red wine, salt, garlic powder, black pepper and olive oil for 24 hours. Grilled on a high heat grill for 4 minutes each side. Served with red wine, baked potato mashed potatoes and green beans. Tasted just like a rich buffalo steak... a little beefier than beef, but in a good way.

The verdict: I want a freezer full of game. This stuff was incredible. My mother-in-law said something about somebody having moose... I'm game!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

This Week on Pinterest III: Irresistible Thanksgiving Recipes

This week on Pinterest there were a lot of delectable recipes. Here are a few that might work well for Thanksgiving next week:


{Pin} Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Dip



{Pin} Pumpkin Spice White Chocolate Cheesecake


{Pin} Homemade Crescent Rolls (Croissants)



{Pin} Baked Pumpkin Pudding



{Pin} Pumpkin Pie White Hot Chocolate

If you'd like an invitation, just let me know. If you're already on Pinterest, let me know so I can follow you!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Fluoride-Free Toothpaste

I've been wary of fluoride since I was a kid, when my mom would tell the dentist we didn't want a fluoride rinse. She was against it, in general, but I didn't know why.

Despite that, we used regular toothpaste, which has lots of fluoride, though not nearly as much as a fluoride rinse.


Recently I read a few articles about it. Apparently, it is more toxic than lead and stores up in bones where it, purportedly, can eventually cause bone cancer. I'd prefer to do without it.

When we finally ran out of the toothpaste in our home, I went out and bought the first fluoride-free toothpaste I could find: Tom's of Maine.

It smells minty, it tastes minty, and then the aftertaste is all baking soda. It's not BLEEEEAH! but it's not exactly minty fresh refreshing, either.

I could use it for the rest of my days without complaint. I've never particularly liked brushing my teeth, anyway, so this is a mild penance to bear to avoid fluoride. But is there something better out there?

Do you use a fluoride-free toothpaste, and if so, do you like it?

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Wild Game Game

Let's play The Wild Game Game.

I have a huge venison roast and two elk steaks in my fridge, generously gifted by a local hunter. I have no earthly idea what to do with them! Seriously, I was thinking about turning it all into jerky because I know how to make that... but something tells me if I can prepare these right, I'll have a real treat.

Your quest, should you choose to accept, is to tell me the proper way to prepare these things.

I know many of you have freezers full of wild game. What are the tricks of the trade to make it flavorful, less gamey, tender, and delicious?

Any tips, secrets, tricks or help would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks in advance.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Why Banks Need Human Brains

When I went to the bank recently, they offered me a credit card.

Normally I say "no thanks," but in a moment of insanity, I accepted.

A week later, I received in the mail an invitation to sign up for the very credit card I'd just gotten, except with a $300 bonus. "Holy cow, $300 is nothing to sneeze at!" I thought. "It'd hurt my credit score to cancel the card I just got, but for $300 bucks I'm willing." But as I usually do, I sat on it for a few weeks.

Then I received another invitation in the mail for the same card.

Then another.

And another. And another. And another. All for the same card. All with the $300 sign-on bonus.

By now I had six invitations. All on high gloss paper with six high gloss color inserts. Each invitation must have cost them $5+ in printing fees.

So I sent in the darned application.

Yesterday I received two envelopes in the mail. The first:

"After careful consideration, we've decided to reject your application because you already have this card."

In the second:

"If you sign up today, you'll receive a $300 bonus!"

Thursday, November 10, 2011

This Week on Pinterest II

My love of Pinterest continues. Here are a few good ideas found this week:


{Pin} How to paint letters perfectly on wood.


{Pin} How to make scrapbook tiles (using a spray sealer, perhaps to be used as a tile backsplash?).


{Pin} Crock Pot dinners. Buy and chop all ingredients in one day, freeze meals separately, to be tossed into a crock pot for easy dinners throughout the month. A few recipes included (but could be adapted to just about any crock pot recipe).


 {Pin} Turn mason jars into easy-pour containers.


{Pin} Make your windows look bigger and allow in more light, simply by how you hang the curtain.

If you'd like an invitation, just let me know. If you're already on Pinterest, let me know so I can follow you!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Don't Ask Me How I Know

A watched pot never boils.

An unwatched pot always boils over.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Where Do You Give?

My mailbox was flooded this week.

We get a lot of unsolicited pre-approved credit card applications throughout the year, and coupon books from local pizzerias, but around this time of year it's solicitations for charitable giving. Anyone we've given to before, and anyone loosely connected with them, sends out a heart-wrenching plea for funds.

Some send guilt tokens... free Christmas cards, address labels, or even nickels! I rarely give to the guilt mongers. It makes me wonder how much of my donation would go to high color glossy prints with attached gimmicks guilting others into sending money, rather than channeling aid directly where it needs to go.

Besides our local parish, of course, some of the charities dear to our hearts are the Pro-Life cause, Food for the Poor, Comunità Cenacolo, Catholic Relief Services, and the China Little Flower Project.
  
What are your favorite charities? 

Monday, November 7, 2011

Jersey Fever

Oh goodness, people.

We sold Ofelia about 10 days ago for a fraction of what we paid for her.

"It was a good lesson" we reminded ourselves over and over again. What the lesson was, I'm not quite sure, but it was a good one nonetheless.

Just as we were happily settling down to our carefree and easy cowlessness, SHE came along.


She's very reasonably priced.

And she's currently producing milk. An actual honest to goodness lactating milk cow! Imagine that!

We haven't handed over any checks, signed any papers, dotted any i's or crossed any t's, but my husband didn't out and out say "No!" either. We're ruminating over it, so to speak.

Here we go again?

Friday, November 4, 2011

Some Saints of November Coloring Pages

Hands are hard and so are faces. If we could just do silhouettes, artists would be a dime a dozen.


November 4th, St. Charles Borromeo


November 10th - Pope St. Leo the Great


November 11th -- St. Martin of Tours


November 15th -- St. Albert the Great

Happy Feast of St. Charles Borromeo!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

This Week in Pinterest

Well, Google Reader has eliminated the ability to share links (unless you do it through Google+) so that nice little sidebar on the left entitled "Recently Pondered" is now defunct. I may keep it up by manually add links to it, but the one-click ease factor is gone.

Thankfully, there is Pinterest to fill the void. This week, I shared the following ideas on Pinterest:

From Flickr. Did you know that the little green shaker top on a Parmesan container fits onto a regular mouth Mason jar? Turn a glass jar into a shaker.


From Briangreen.net. You can make individual packets of creams, ointments, lotions or hand sanitizer using drinking straws and a lighter.


From Justsomethingimade. Label your chargers and never wonder again, "is this my camcorder charger or my old broken phone charger?"


From makeit-loveit.com. Etch your Pyrex dishes cheaply, easily, and permanently. No more wondering whose is whose at the potluck. It could make a lovely wedding gift with a few kitchen towels, too. The design possibilities for etching are endless.

Aren't these simple but lovely ideas? Are you on Pinterest? I can send you an invitation if you'd like.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

What Do You Do for a Sore Throat?

Remedies, people, remedies!

It's not too bad, yet.

How would you attempt to nip this thing in the bud?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Deleting Debt, Dave Ramsey Style

We're chipping away at my student loans.


It's exhilarating, actually.

My husband and I made the agonizing decision to follow Dave Ramsey's advice, postponing construction of our dream house until we've eliminated all debt. Part of me wants to live on our five acres now, with a new Jersey cow and a small flock of puddle ducks. But the other part realizes I'd breathe a little freer out there knowing our debt was gone.

Have any of you put into practice any of Dave Ramsey's principles? Is there a light at the end of the tunnel? Or what are your debt strategies?

Monday, October 31, 2011

Cattle Ranching: Out on the Range

Last week I mentioned an overnight business trip to check on the progress of our little herd of cattle.

Some time I'll have to tell you about the trip itself, 'cause it was a doozy! But for now...


Here is part of the ranch; the area where the cattleman works his horses.


Horses on this ranch, you see, are vital. You could die pretty easily in a rollover accident on a 4-wheeler in this range land.


Horses can carefully pick their way down these cliffs.


Other wildlife are pretty good at it, too. I heard there are bears and cougars on this ranch, but mercifully we didn't run into any of them.


This is what we came to see!


Mamas and babies are pretty well bonded.


The calves are chubby and fat.


Coats are sleek and shiny.


Lookin' good, sir.


We'll stay away from those!


Yep... everything looks good!