Thursday, January 28, 2016

Flowering Cabbage

Edit: Apparently I scheduled this post but it never posted!  So here it is; better late than never?

So Friday, I posted a pretty deep, dark post about how bored I was with life.  After posting it, I went off to my bath, but instead of reading, I sat and just let my mind wander.  It was kind of nice.  I decided that as soon as I got out of the bath, I would put on some music, get out my paints, and start painting the picture I'd started.  And what do you know, I really enjoyed myself.

Not only that, but I'm quite pleased with the results, too.

It's a flowering cabbage with really lovely coloration.  I got my reference photo from Paint my Photo, which you have to be a member of to see the pictures.  But in case you are a member (or become one), here's the reference I used.

Yay art!

Good News for Home Canners

If you're a canner like me, you know there's two types of canning methods that are deemed safe; pressure canners, for low acid food like meat and vegetables, and water bath canners for high acid food like fruit and pickles.  Most home canners use their water bath canners the most; jellies and pickles are fun and easy to make, afterall.

Some of you might have heard of a third method of canning that's kind of been on the fringe of canning for almost a century, and that's steam canning.  Basically, it's just like water bath canning, except instead of surrounding your jars in boiling water to kill bacteria, you surround it in steam.  It makes sense, since steam actually gets hotter than boiling water.  The problem is that the government has never done any real tests on steam canning to deem them safe, so we've been told for a very long time not to use that method.  Which is a shame, because steam canning uses a lot less water and energy that water bath canner.

However, I just found out to day that the National Center for Home Food Preservation (NCHFP), with the help of a researcher at the University of Wisconsin, conducted a study on steam canners and found them to be perfectly safe for high acid foods


I actually knew for a long time, maybe a year and a half, that the government was conducting a study on steam canners, and I've been waiting patiently to see what the results would be.  I'm disappointed that it took me five months to finally see that they released the data; clearly, canning news isn't really exciting to most news agencies.  The study was also testing the safety of reusable Tattler lids; I haven't checked to see if they released that data yet, though. 

So since I knew they were doing the study and that they were having pretty good results, I went ahead and bought myself a dual-purpose canner last year.  It's a Victorio steam and water bath canner.

It looks like a regular water bath canner, but it came with a reversible grate that can be used for both water bathing and steaming, and it has a cool dial in the lid that tells you what temperature it is inside so you know when to start your timer.  I have to tell you, out of all my canning gear I've ever gotten or owned, this is my favorite!  Steam canning is so much easier, faster, and simpler than water bath canning.  Do you know how long it takes for a giant pot full of water to boil?  FOREVER.  But it only takes a few minutes for a few quarts of water to start steaming.  Plus, it's big enough for quart sized jars, which is great if you're into canning fruit.  Those old fashioned graniteware blue speckled water bath canners said they were big enough for quarts, but if you actually tried to process quart jars, you'd get water spurting out all over the place. 

So yay for progress!  We can finally officially steam can!

Monday, January 25, 2016

My New Garden Toy

I spend a little time over at the Square Foot Garden forum through the winter.  There's not much to talk about, plant wise, but it's nice company in the dead of winter with like minded folks who are also itching to start planting.  One of the people there said she got an Aerogarden for Christmas, and not really knowing what that was, I decided to spend some time researching it.

What I found out is that Aerogardens are small hydroponic systems that take the thinking out of hydroponics.  When I think hydroponics, I usually envision crazy tubes and light setups, plus lots of ph testing and carefully balanced nutrients.  Apparently, the Aerogardens are set up so it's neat, compact, comes built in with everything it needs, and takes a universal liquid nutrient.  Then you just pop in seed pods that the company sells, push a button, and it pretty much grows itself.

Now you might not think I'm interested in something like this.  I mean, I may not have a very big yard, but I do in fact have a yard and soil and gardens to work with, and I don't really need to depend on a hydroponic system to grow food.  However, if you were thinking that, you clearly don't know me very well.  The instant I saw these adorable little growing devices, I started wanting one something fierce.  I mean, how cool would it be to have fresh lettuce in the middle of winter, or a fresh vine ripened tomato?  Just being able to watch something grow, even herbs, would fill up my dreary winter days!  I suppose I could plant some seeds in pots and put them under my grow lights in the basement, but somehow that's not the same.  Partially because, once seed starting season comes (mid February for me), I could no longer grow indoor lettuce because I would be starting outdoor onions, which are far more important and pressing.

The thing about Aerogardens are that they're very expensive, in my opinion.  The smallest, cheapest one sells for $65 on Amazon, and the extremely nice ones are nearly $300.  I would certainly pay that much if it grew as much as my outdoor garden, but not for a device that has up to 9 slots to grow things (that's for the big one; the small one grows 3 plants).

Well, as luck would have it, Chad and I were walking through Walmart last night, looking through their outdoor gardening section (yes, I am obsessed), and I happened to spot a display of small Aerogardens on clearance.  They were the small cheap ones, originally selling for $50 in Walmart, marked down to $30!  So I grabbed one.  I figured this is a cheap way to see if I like the system.

It's the one with three holes to plant in, and it came with the herb kit of basil, dill and parsley.

It came with the device, a bulb, three seed pods, and a bottle of nutrients.
I'm not exactly a fresh herb person.  I like growing herbs, but I always forget to use them.  I mean, what would I use fresh dill in, anyway?  I rarely use the dried dill I have.  And although I like parsley, it doesn't exactly have an amazing flavor or anything that would make me want to use fresh over dried.  I do, however, really enjoy fresh basil, even if I don't use it very frequently.  So I ended up digging the seeds out of the dill and parsley pods, and putting in some Black Seeded Simpson lettuce and some Baby Oakleaf lettuce seeds in those pods instead.

Now it's all set up and running.  Since getting this yesterday, I have found out that this particular model is the worst one they sell and it's not uncommon for the motor to stop running or the light to burn out.  Still, even if I only have a 60% chance of having a good experience with this thing, it'll be fun trying.  I set it up in our dining room so I can watch it grow, although I think I want to move it to somewhere more out of the way.  The light is really bright, and kind of takes away the nice ambiance I have going on.  The nice little trickling water sound it makes is a nice touch, though.

Yes, that's a fruit basket on the right, and a fruit basket shaped cookie jar on the left.  Why do you ask?
I may be getting the largest, nicest version of the Aerogarden, but there's a story behind that and I'm also not 100% certain I'm actually going to receive it, so we'll save that for another day.  Until then, at least I have this little beauty trickling in my dining room.  Lettuce usually takes about three days to sprout when I grow it in seed starting mix, so I think by the 26th or the 27th it should be up!  I'll be certain to post updates.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Fermenting Update

It's been a couple of weeks now since I started my fermenting kick, and I thought it might be high time for an update.  First, we'll start with the kraut.

As you can see, it's all nice and sour and ready to eat.  It hasn't developed its full flavors yet, but I'm still eating a little bit of it once in a while to help my gut.  The longer it sits in the fridge, the nicer it becomes.  The last batch we had stayed in the fridge for 10 months, mostly because I forgot about it, and it was amazing.

The ginger carrots I tried from Nourishing Traditions fermented as well, but it became weird.  The brine had a slimy texture to it.  I looked that up, and apparently it's fairly common or both carrots and ginger, and as long as the vegetables weren't slimy, it was perfectly fine to eat.  However, the recipe called for so much salt (2 tbsp per 4 cups carrots) that it was just inedible.  I had to chuck it.  I may try this recipe again using whey; the recipe says if you use a tbsp of whey, you only have to use 1 tbsp of salt.  I'm more keen to try a recipe online that has reviews, though.  I'm a review junky.

Now, for the fun stuff!  I've been having a really fun time with my water kefir.  It took 3 days to rehydrate the grains, then 2 days for the first ferment and another 2 days for the second ferment, which means I didn't get to try my first batch of water kefir until a week after I started.  It was a really long wait!

The first batch was pretty good, but it was flat.  The second batch was just starting to get a little fizz in it.  After the second batch, I noticed that my grains were multiplying like crazy, so I divided them out into two jars, and now I'm running two one quart batches at a time.  Here's what things looked like a few days ago.

Two jars of water kefir with grains, two batches in their secondary ferment, and a jar of sugar water waiting for grains.
It's a pretty easy process.  Every two days, I make up two jars of sugar water (1/4 cup sugar to 3-1/2 cups spring water).  Then I strain the fermented water kefir into a quart measuring cup, measure out 1/4 cup of grains, and put them in the new sugar water.  Then, to the water kefir in the measuring cup, I add some flavorings; our favorite so far has been 1/2 cup of pineapple juice.  Pour that into either two pint flip top bottles or one 1- liter plastic bottle.  Two days later, I do the same thing, only this time I put the bottles I made last time into the fridge.  Easy peasy!

By the third batch, I noticed that by the end of the first ferment, the water kefir was already fizzy!  And by the end of the secondary ferment, it was pretty much like soda or seltzer in its fizziness.  It's wonderful stuff.

Pineapple water kefir
Now, I've gotten so used to the process that I can pretty much know what the first ferment is done just by tasting it.  It's lost most of its sugar and is nice and fizzy on the tongue.

I've been drinking 1 or 2 glasses of water kefir a day.  I need to cut back on production, though.  Making a quart a day is too much for me and Chad, and although I have been giving some to my mom, she doesn't drink it very frequently.

Instead of just throwing away my second set of grains, I decided to run an experiment on them.  The literature I've read says that water kefir grains can't thrive in water with chlorine or fluoride in it.  I know my tap water has both of those things, so I've been using spring water instead.  So what I've been doing for the last couple of days is trying to ferment one of my sets of grains in my tap water.  I boil it first to get rid of the chlorine (yes, it really does work), and then cooling it before making the water kefir per usual.  The first batch that came out seems perfectly normal!  I'm going to do it a few times before making up my mind, of course, but so far it seems like fluoride isn't doing anything to harm the grains.  I'm not happy that we have fluoride in our tap water, but I'm also not happy about having to buy water in plastic bottles, so if I can use my tap water instead, I think that's a decent compromise.

As kind of a hedge against the possibility that I kill my water kefir grains in the future, I decided to dry and store some of the many many grains that have been multiplying.  They apparently stay good for six months after you dry them!  How cool is that?

Dried water kefir grains; this used to be 1/4 cup, and is now about a teaspoon.
And yes, I have noticed a different in my digestive health.  Not to get too TMI or anything, but it's easier for me to go now than it used to be.  So yay for that!

My lastest batches?  One is passion fruit, and the second is root beer :)

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Two Ways to Look at a Woman

I'm currently reading a book called The Beauty Myth by Naomi Wolf.  It's an older book now; you might even be able to get away with calling it a classic feminist book, since it's 25 years old at this time.  It talks about the backlash from society against women after the women's movement and as women gained more power and status in our culture.  I won't go too into the book because it's pretty deep, but I'll say that it's worth reading even if you're not interested in feminism or the women's movement.

I do want to quote a part of the book that really moved me.  She's talking about how cosmetic companies and doctors try to make a woman's normal body functions and aging process into diseases for their own profit, and that you can see a woman two ways.

"You could see the signs of female aging as diseased, especially if you had a vested interest in making women too see them your way.  Or you could see that if a women is healthy she lives to grow old; as she thrives, she reacts and speaks and shows emotion, and grows into her face.  Lines trace thought and radiate from the corners of her eyes after decades of laughter, closing together like fans as she smiles.  You could call the lines a network of "serious lesions," or you could see that in a precise calligraphy, thought has etched marks of concentration between her brows, and drawn across her forehead the horizontal creases of surprise, delight, compassion, and good talk.  A lifetime of kissing, of speaking and weeping, shows expressively around a mouth scored like a leaf in motion.  The skin loosens on her face and throat, giving  her features a setting of sensual dignity; her features grow stronger as she does.  She has looked around in her life, and it shows.  When gray and white reflect in her hair, you could call it a dirty secret or you could call it silver or moonlight.  Her body fills into itself, taking on gravity like a bather breasting water, growing generous with the rest of her.  The darkening under her eyes, the weight of her lids, the minute cross-hatching, reveal that what she has been part of has left in her its complexity and richness.  She is darker, stronger, looser, tougher, sexier.  The maturing of a woman who has continued to grow is a beautiful thing to behold. 
Or, if your ad revenue or your seven-figure salary or your privilegde sexual status depend on it, it is an operable condition."

I hope I can see my own aging as a beautiful thing.

Friday, January 15, 2016

The Dead of Winter

It's finally winter here in western New York.  The snow has finally blanketed the ground and put the earth to sleep.  The air is chill, and the cold winds howl through the skeletal trees.  Nothing but a pine branch stirs in the grey outside world.

I always look forward to winter, because I think finally I'll have some time to work on my creative endeavors.  I don't have a garden to care for or any other outside activities to do really.  When it's 12 degrees outside with whipping wind, it's not that fun to go play in the snow.  But the truth is, once the stillness of winter sets in, it seems like a stillness settles over my heart as well.  Nothing seems to stir my interests.

Certainly, I have plenty of things I can do.  I have the line drawing for my next painting all finished and ready to start painting, I have several quilts and quilting projects I'd like to work on, and plenty of other crafts and household projects that would be nice if they were done.  None of those things really call to me, though.  It's almost as if I just want to curl up on the couch for the rest of winter.

Maybe it's the weather.  A dull grey day isn't exactly cheerful or inspiring, and the cold makes me want to never step foot out of my bed again.  I do tend to get this way every year, and I don't have much luck just shaking it off.

When I'm not keeping myself busy with my creative projects, I have time to contemplate my life.  Lately, I've been wondering if I've been wasting my talents.  I enjoy staying home, but sometimes I feel so useless and unseen by the world.  I don't want to be rich and famous or anything, but it would be nice if I could make some kind of impact.

At the same time, I'm afraid to seriously pursue any of my passions because I'm such a flake.  The only serious commitments I've been able to make in my life are A) to my husband and B) to my garden.  And it's only worked out with my garden because I get a six month hiatus every year.  Imagine telling your boss that you're pretty sick of your job, and you'd like to take a few months off so you can go do something else for a while.  Life just doesn't work around my personality.

I've had a job before, and I showed up on time for that and was an excellent worker.  That's not really what I'm afraid of.  What I'm afraid of is that I'll set down a career path, and a year later decide that it's not for me.

At least as a housewife, I have the option to pursue whatever creative endeavor my heart desires, even if I only get to share it with my family.  I dunno.  It's depressing sounding when I put it like that.  It's not that I'm unhappy at home; on the contrary, I enjoy the freedom it offers me.  I just wish I had a real focus or goal.

I don't know where I read it, but I remember someone calling this feeling something along the lines of the holy restlessness.  Or the sacred boredom.  It's when there's a deep longing in your heart for something more; an empty space in your soul that's just waiting for God to fill it.  And I really do feel like that's what's happening to me.  As tough as it is for me to feel bored and restless and uninterested in everything, it's creating space for something new and wonderful to come into my life.  Maybe it's best that I don't just jump into anything right now.  I want to leave the space open for a little while and see what happens.

Maybe I'll take a bath and read a book. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2016


I want to stay focused on my health as I get going into this new year.  For me, that means eating well, getting enough sleep, doing the things I love, and getting some exercise.  I'm purposely leaving out any thoughts on losing weight.  Why?  Because it's a death trap for my self esteem.  If my goal is to lose 20 pounds, then I start thinking about how fat and blobby I am, start doing some not so smart things to help me lose those pounds, and can become pretty obsessive in a bad way.  It's a bad place to be, and I don't even want to try going down that road.

Which is why I'm really mad at myself for stepping on the scale the other morning.  I wasn't really thinking about it.  I was feeling good about myself because I've been eating well and feeling better.  Until I saw how much I weighed.  I hadn't weighed myself since before Christmas, so I'd gained a good 5 or 6 pounds, and it was a bit of a shock.  And it made me feel really bad about myself. 

I haven't weighted this much since before I was married. 

Then I start arguing with myself in my head.  I've been through a lot this fall; I was pregnant, I had major stress and hormones, I ate emotionally, I was deeply depressed, I got the depo shot (progesterone birth control, which they tell you will make you gain weight), it was Christmas, I've been sick.

The other side of my head is saying things like, yeah, but you didn't have to eat all that at Christmas and New Year's, you should be exercising more, you're so fat and ugly, it's no wonder you can't fit into your clothes, you have no self control, and even if you did, no diet even works for you so why try, you're going to be fat and blobby forever.

But I'm gonna do good and cut out all food that tastes good and exercise until I collapse and maybe I'll start calorie counting again and tracking every food I put in my mouth and running even though it's winter and I have cold weather exercise-induced asthma.

You'll never do any of that.  You're too fat and lazy. 


All that from weighing myself absentmindedly.   It's a bad thing for me.  It brings out the worst parts of me; I get obsessed, beat myself up, believe in miracle cures, and forget that what's important is my health and not how I look.

So maybe I'll move my scale out of my room for now.  Now that I know how much I weight, I have strong desires to continue to weigh myself to make sure it's going down.  It's a sickness.  The funny thing is, no one really sees it as such.  If it was gambling or drinking, people would say I fell off the wagon.   But it's about weight loss, so of course it's good that I weighed myself.  I certainly used to think so. 

Now I just think it's a waste of my precious time and energy.

Monday, January 11, 2016

What's Bubbling in My Kitchen

One of my resolutions for 2016 is to take better care of myself.  Something I know I need more of is probiotics.  I feel great when I have them in my diet, and pretty good for a few months afterwards.  But there comes a time when I can tell I need them pretty badly.  Especially after a sugar and junk fest like Christmas, my gut's in dire need of some friendly helpers.

There are a couple of options available to buy.  I can get pills; we've done these before, and they worked pretty well, but I kind of object to the high price of good ones.  I can buy fermented drinks and raw kraut at my local Wegmans, but it's also pretty pricey for something that I know is fairly easy and cheap to make.  So what's a frugal girl to do?

Make it yourself, duh!  I've made sauerkraut before, and know that it's super easy to make.  That's the jar on the left.  I got my recipe here, and highly recommend it to newbies.  The jar on the right is a new one to me; pickled ginger carrots.  I got the recipe from Nourishing Traditions.  If it turns out well, I'll write down the recipe here.  It's got a nice bubble going on it today, though, so I think it's well on its way.

This photo is taken a day after the first one.  It's got some nice bubbles, and it smells lovely.

The kraut is looking good and bubbly too.  The carrots are supposed to take only a few days, whereas the kraut could be up to 10 days.

The kraut I've made in the past has improved tremendously after sitting in the fridge for a month or so.  The flavor's ok after 10 days on the counter, and I'm certainly eager to start eating probiotics sooner rather than later, but you can't beat a well aged kraut.  Apparently it will stay good for nearly a year in the fridge.

Something else I'm trying is water kefir.  I ordered some grains on Saturday, and should be getting them tomorrow.  Everyone's heard of milk kefir, and it's very good for you (better than yogurt), but I can't stand the stuff.  It's just too... I don't know.  Sour?  I'm really not fond of the flavor.  To be fair, that's commercial kefir, and I'm sure homemade would be a lot better.  After all, homemade yogurt is miles ahead of store bought.

Well, from what I understand (which isn't a lot), water kefir and milk kefir are similar in one way; they are both made with grains, or what's called a SCOBY.  The bacteria and yeast form little globules that look grain-like.  You use the grains from one batch of kefir to make the next kefir, and sometimes the grains multiply.  After that, I think water kefir and milk kefir are pretty different.  For one thing, water kefir grains are used to ferment sugar water, while milk kefir grains are used to ferment milk, and you can't substitute one for the other or you'll kill them.  Also, you can do a second fermentation of water kefir to make it fizzy!  How cool is that?

Other than that, I don't have much info on water kefir.  It's going to be a fun experiment!  I'm all ready for my grains to get here.  I have some spring water and some turbinado sugar to get me started, plus lots of mason jars and a bunch of flip top bottles left over from when Chad was into making hard cider.  Wish me luck!

Oh, by the way, my face is feeling much better after a restful weekend.  The swelling in my cheek has gone down completely, and my jaw is looser than it was.  I'm still healing though, so I'm trying to take it easy until I'm all better.  Then I want to start getting more active!

Saturday, January 9, 2016


I just made a really luscious batch of baconnaise.  I thought I'd better write the recipe down in case it turns out well.  Usually my baconnaise doesn't actually emulsify properly, and gets all hard in the fridge.  But it seems to be pretty good this time so far.

3 egg yolks
2 tbsp vinegar
2 tbsp water
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
shake of pepper
1/2 cup liquidy bacon grease*
1/2 - 1 cup high oleic expelled pressed sunflower oil

*Sometimes I get bacon grease that doesn't solidify at room temperature.  This is what I used for my baconnaise.  If you're using more solid bacon grease, warm it up slowly before using, so it's liquid but not very warm.

Dump first six ingredients into a quart mason jar.  Blend together with an immersion blender.  Mix together 1/2 cup bacon grease and 1/2 cup of oil in a pourable measuring cup.  Slowly add oil mixture into egg mixture while running the blender (you don't have to be very slow.  Just don't leave huge puddles of oil on top of the mix).

Once all the oil is blended in, stop and test the mixture.  If it's the consistency you like, stop there.  If it's thin, continue to add oil slowly until it begins to thicken up, testing frequently to see if you've reached the desired consistency.

If the mix is watery looking and won't thicken up, add another egg yolk.


Good news!  It's been a week since I wrote this recipe down, and the baconnaise is still lovely and luscious as ever!  I highly recommend it if you've got lots of bacon grease sitting around, or a need for mayo.

Friday, January 8, 2016

One Week into 2016

So it's the first full week of 2016.  How's everyone doing on their resolutions?  I've been doing... ok, I guess.  It's been a rocky week for me, so considering that, I'd say I'm doing better than I thought I would be.

Chad went on a business trip this week, and I get very needy when he's gone.  The last time he went on a business trip, I ended up eating dozens of cookies.  This time, I only ate a little chocolate, so I think that's a win overall. 

I haven't been exercising as much as I'd want, because I've been sick the last few days.  I have something going on with my face.  It's clearly infected, but I don't know what's causing it.  This happens to me occasionally, and the last couple of times, the doctor/dentist told me it was like a sinus infection.  This time, my face is swollen and my jaw won't open quite the whole way.  I'm just going to wait a little while to see what happens.  It's not nearly as bad as the last infection I had, which was so painful I was crying and screaming that I didn't want to live.  I'd much rather take it easy and let my body heal itself, than go to a doctor and be told to take antibiotics.  I'll take them if I have to, but I don't want to if it's not necessary. 

This is a very clear reminder about why I want to eat better.  I don't want to continue getting these terrible infections, which I'm sure are at least partly due to bad eating habits.  I ate a lot of sugar between Christmas and New Year's, and sugar is really hard on your immune system.  I deserve better than that, right?

So I'm going to chillax today and let my amazing body do what it needs to make me better.  Then I'm going to start getting active again.  It's going to get snowy and cold again, so I'm planning on getting most of my exercise on my exercise bike.  I'm grateful I have it, even though it's pretty boring to use it.  I don't know how people get anything done at the gym; indoor exercising is so dull to me.  It's worse than washing dishes or doing taxes.  Clearly I need to move somewhere that's warm all the time so I don't have to do indoor exercise.  Or, I need to get over it and go out in the snow and cold!

Monday, January 4, 2016

A Boost to my Resolve

Have you heard the latest news?  Scientists have discovered that sugar, namely fructose, fuels the growth of cancer. 

This isn't a new idea, of course.  There's lots of studies out there pretty much pointing in the same direction, showing that sugar both increases your risk of getting cancer and makes the cancer worse once you have it.  I don't know why this isn't common knowledge by now, but I guess no one really wants to hear it in the United States.

This was a pretty interesting sounding study, though.  It's a rat study, so take it with a grain of salt; after all, humans and rats are pretty different.  Still, the results are intriguing and  I hope it leads to even better research. 

The gist of study is that a diet high in fructose (through sucrose) is correlated to a much higher rate of breast cancer than a diet high in starch.  And the more sucrose the rats ate once they developed cancer, the faster the tumors grew. 

I certainly needed a boost in my resolve to cut sugar way back in our diets.  This certainly helps.