Sunday, December 30, 2012

'Tis The Time of Year. . .

. . . for frugal people to get their Christmas supplies for next year!

This is the time of year when I purchase wrapping paper, gift tags, and Christmas cards to use the following holiday season.  You just can't beat 50-75% off!  I send out the more expensive cards (I always loved the brand that is country-themed, but they are so darn expensive full price) ever since I started buying them in late December or early January instead of in November!

Heavy-duty wrapping paper is so much more satisfying to wrap gifts with--you can pull it tight and it doesn't rip out on the corners of boxes!--than the stuff that costs $1.00 full price.  After Christmas, I often find rolls of the good heavy stuff for $1.00.  Four or five rolls is usually plenty for the next Christmas's gifts.

This is also a good time of year to look for winter gear, be it coats, snow pants, boots, hats or gloves, in sizes to fit your children for the winter of '13/'14.  Or just to replace your current winter coat that you've been wearing year after year.  I'm going to be doing some online shopping of my favorite warm clothing sites and looking for 50% and 60% markdowns on this season's goods.  To get a warm winter coat that will last for a decade (yes, my current one is that old) for $50 instead of $120+ is a great feeling.

So, get your frugal on, make a list of winter items for storage until fall of 2013, and go bargain hunting!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Finished Rag Doll

I finally finished making K3's rag doll just in time to wrap it up on Christmas Eve.  It took much longer that I thought it would, but then again, going from scratch, the first item always takes longest to make.  I know the next one will only take about an afternoon from start to finish.  But this first one, well, it took about two months.

With the time I spent researching--aka trying to find a pattern for the kind of rag doll I wanted--then sewing and stuffing it, and then figuring out how to make the yarn hair-- which meant more research aka internet searching-- well, October and November went by.   The doll body was sewn, and the face sewn on too, and a messy head of hair, by Thanksgiving.  Then she sat while I contemplated an outfit for her and worked on other sewing projects (like that lap quilt with the deer).  

When I finally decided to start making a dress and undies for the doll, then dug out the old patterns for doll clothes that I had from when my daughters were younger, I found out that the doll clothes patterns I owned didn't exactly fit the rag doll I'd made. . .

So I had to figure out how to make them larger.  Thank goodness for a printer that will reduce or enlarge what you put into it!!

After that, things went quickly.  Now that I've gotten the gist of it, I figure the next one will go from fabric, yarn, and poly-fil, to a finished, dressed doll in four or five non-stop hours.

The doll itself is a 22" doll.  The clothing patterns I had were for 18" American Girl type dolls.  What I did, was cut out the pattern pieces, and enlarge them 125% on my printer.  Except for the skirt, which I left the original length but added about 2" to the width so it wouldn't be too straight and tight to the doll's legs.

K3 loves her doll.  Her mommy loves it too.  And I've already had a request from one family member to make a doll for her daughter.

Hmmm.  I sense a possible new source of pocket cash for me :o)  DH says I should make up a display doll for the Farmer's Market next year, and take orders for them.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

One Christmas Gift Finished

It's been over a week since I posted anything, and what a busy week it's been.  I've traveled 1500 miles to move a daughter back home from college at the end of her semester, gotten news that my Grandmother passed away (funeral to be after Christmas, so another out of state road trip coming up), finished purchasing the presents that couldn't be homemade, bought a dress to wear to Grandma's funeral ($16.50 at a consignment store and it looks awesome!!  Frugalista very happy), and finished the largest of my homemade Christmas gifts.  Now to whip off the six smaller ones in the next 54 hours!

The largest one is a lap quilt I made for a special friend of the family.  Other than not being married in, he is family.  My kids all consider him a grandpa.

I made twelve sawtooth square blocks, in two different color schemes.

The center squares of each--the deer and John Deere fabric--might look familiar.  I used both of those fabrics in the redneck baby quilt I made in April for K3.  At the time I made that quilt, DH suggested that for Christmas, I make the almost-family-member a lap quilt with those two fabrics.  The person in question is an old farmer, and a long time hunter.  So I filed that in my to-do folder for fall.

Once I had six quilt blocks made in each of the two color schemes, I added sashing to them.

Once they were all sashed, I sewed them into four rows of three blocks each, alternating the blocks in each row.

Then I added a border, and made the quilt sandwich (three times.  *sigh*  by this time I'd gotten news that my Grandma was failing and I just could not concentrate on much of anything.  I thought I was concentrating, but after sandwiching the quilt wrong, stitching it, picking all the stitches back out, relayering, resewing, again finding out it was wrong. . . I guess I really wasn't doing as well mentally as I thought I was.)

When I finally got the layers right, I turned the quilt right side out (I 'birthed' it rather than going with a binded edge) and stitched in the ditch for the quilting.  The finished product is shown in the picture below.  For some reason, the colors in the photo are kind of washed out looking.  The individual block pictures above are more true to color.

For the backing, I went with a brown plaid, that just jumped of the shelf at the fabric store, calling the almost-family-member's name it so fits his personality.  Everyone who has seen the quilt so far agrees that it is most definitely the right fabric choice for him.

So, that is part of why I haven't blogged lately.  The other part involves an eleven hour brown out that fried the damper solenoid on our outdoor wood burner.  But that's another story for another day.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Heading For a Crash. . .

That is kind of how I feel right now.  As if December isn't crazy enough, what with Christmas coming.  I don't even "do" Christmas in a big way.  I mean, my decorations aren't even up yet, and that isn't unusual.  Right now is just about the time we normally get our Christmas tree.  So I'm not behind at all. ;-) At this little place here we're more into the religious aspect of Christmas than the gaudy, glittery, and gifting.

But, add to the hectic Christmas season a few things:

  1. Changes over at the horse farm.  For nearly two years I've been trying to get the owner to bring on a third person to help out.  My co-worker there has been having health issues for three years now, and there doesn't seem to be a way to get him out of decline.  I've been trying to pick up his slack, and it's gotten to the point where I had to say "this farm isn't mine, and it can't take up my life/take me away from my family".  I had to put my foot down about how many hours a week and which hours a week I was available.  Which was a good thing, as the owner finally set to searching for an additional farm worker.  And she found one.  It did mean that I had to work extra this past week to train the new person, but in the long run it will be less stress for me.
  2. DD1 is coming home from college in MN.  Not just for the semester break.  No, she has had a really hard time adapting to being 750 miles away from all her family and friends.  It was a tough decision, and one I didn't totally agree with (I'm still not sure I agree completely--I think she should have stuck it out for the entire school year), but she decided to transfer to the local community college for the semester that begins in January, and she will be moving back home.  Which means that next week, I get to drive 12 hours out to her, load up her dorm room after her last exam, and drive 12 hours home.  Then we get to work on being a household of four again, instead of a house of three like DH, DD2 and I have been since late August.  We also get the joy of figuring out how to have an adult offspring living with us full time.  The boys left home after high school and never looked back, or came back other than for a visit of a week or so at a time.  This will be uncharted territory.  
  3. My grandmother, who was moved to FL with my uncle in June, has been ill. Late last week she was hospitalized for a blockage in her liver, and while doing surgery to correct that over the weekend, the doctor found advanced liver cancer.  Because she is 90 years old and has been frail for the last several years, there will be no chemo or radiation given to her. The prognosis: approximately two months, and plans were made to move her from the hospital to hospice. Today, the report from FL was such that my father has decided to drive down there immediately.  And he is not a man who jumps to conclusions, so I know I will not be speaking to or seeing my grandmother alive again.  As much as I would like to be there, there is no way I can go, there are too many things and people here who need me more than my grandmother.  It sounds like she would not even be aware of my presence anyway, so here I wait.
Heading for a crash.  I do believe I have hit my stress limit. Now, to go on faith and know that everything will work itself out in the end.  It just might be a rocky few months.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A Quick To Stitch Hunting Bag

My DH has a camouflage patterned backpack that he keeps his hunting goodies in--grunts, bleats, rattling antlers, rope, gutting knife, etc.  I call it his "Bag of Tricks".

Now, I'm less active of a hunter, in that I prefer to sit and see what comes by rather than getting into the fine art of calling deer to me.  But, I still take things to the blind with me, like chapstick and kleenex, my cell phone, a snack, a small pad of paper and a pen, a book. . . I can't sit long without having something to do with my hands, so I take something to write on and something to read; that helps me sit still and quiet longer.  Mother-in-Law used to take knitting with her when she went hunting, but I haven't learned to knit (yet--I have my first lesson in January!).

Trying to stuff all those items into the pockets of my hunting coat hasn't always worked well.  Especially when I want to take a light weight pair of gloves for early in the afternoon and also a heavy weight pair to switch to after a few hours when the sun gets low and the temperatures drop.  My hands get cold very easily--if it's less than 65 degrees indoors, my fingers will feel like ice cubes.  So being outside for several hours at 40 or less, I need gloves.  Not just gloves, but warmer ones to change into the longer I'm outdoors.

The day before firearm deer season began this year, I was looking at DH's Bag of Tricks, and thinking how I needed a bag of my own to tote my own hunting blind do-dads in.  Then, inspiration struck!  I remembered that when I made a skirt for the double tree stand last year, I had a rectangular piece of camo burlap leftover.  To the Sewing Room!

Upstairs, in the Sewing Room (which previously was known as the Boys' Room until the youngest son left for college, at which point I moved my sewing gear in next to his bed), I dug through my bin of scrap fabrics until I pulled out that burlap piece.  It was as perfect for the job as I remembered: about 36" long and 14" wide.

What I proceeded to do, was to take the burlap and fold it in half with the fold line at the bottom (so it was now about 18" tall) and right sides (the printed 'outside' of the fabric) together.  Then I sewed 5/8" seams up the left and right sides, stopping about 2" from the top of each side.  Now I had side seams, a bottom, and an opening at the top.  I folded down the unsewn top edge 1" all the way around, and sewed it down. I double stitched each side seam, and the top that I'd just stitched down, for extra durability. Then I turned the whole thing right side out.

I hunted up two black cords.  One was from a sweatshirt of DD2's that she'd pulled out because she never draws her hoods closed, and the other was a length of bootlace from somewhere.  I didn't bother measuring them, just eyeballed that they were about the same length.  If I had to give a guesstimate, I'd say somewhere between 48" and 60".  (Eyeballing distance/measurements is not one of my strong points).

I then proceeded to take each one, and put it in the channel at the top of the bag, one cord in the 'front' and one in the 'back' channel.  I had not sewn the side seams all the way closed on that, only stitching the bottom of the channel to the inside of the bag, so it was easy to get the cords into the channel at the side seams.  After I had each one threaded all the way through half of the bag, I evened them out and tied them all together at the ends.  Now I had a drawstring bag.

I hope I haven't lost you. In hindsight, it would have been easier to show this process with a picture than to try to describe it.

The 'strings' are long enough I can put them over my shoulder and carry the bag with my hands free--very handy for climbing ladders into tree stands.  They also make it possible to hang the bag if  where I'm sitting doesn't have enough floor space to set the bag down.  Such as 15' up a tree, just within arm's reach. . .

If you want to make a similar drawstring bag for yourself, for hunting or any other activity, all you need is a rectangle of fabric as wide and twice as long as you want the bag to be, and some cords/old boot laces/rope, and some thread to stitch it up.  I think I spent all of 15 minutes making mine.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Squash Recipe #7: Baked Acorn Squash

I confess, this is probably the recipe most people have for cooking squash.  But, since it's been a bit busy around this little place here lately, and I hadn't served squash in nearly a week, I broke down and cooked it this way (one of my least favorites, although DH likes it just fine).

I served it with chicken fried venison steak on (another) night when it was just DH and I home.  A bit off topic, but I do have to say that after 23 years of having children, it is a bit odd on the nights when I find that DD2 is off on some school-related something and there are only two people sitting down to dinner.  Where once-upon-a-time I had to convert 'serves four' recipes to make them serve six, now I'm taking 'serves four' and cutting it in half to make it serve two.  (Hmm, I sense another blog post topic coming on. . . Cooking For Two. . .).

Anyway, back to our squash recipe.
  • Take two smallish acorn squash.
  • Wash them, and cut in half (I did mine at the 'equator' rather than the long way).  
  • Cut a small slice off each bottom so they will sit flat when you want to cook them.
  • Scoop out the seeds and squash guts.
  • Place the four squash halves (or 'bowls')  in a baking dish.
  • Into each of the squash 'bowls', place 1/2 to 1 Tbsp butter (depending on your preference), and a bit of brown sugar (up to 1 Tbsp, again depending on preference).  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  • Pour enough water in the bottom of the baking dish to measure about 1/4".
  • Cover dish with foil, and place into an oven preheated to 400 degrees.
  • Bake about 30 minutes (up to 40, depending on how accurate you oven is and how thick the squash are).
That's it!

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Playset Turned Hunting Blind

Here it is, the post I hinted about.  The one where I tell you how we turned our kids' outgrown wooden play set into an elevated hunting blind.  Unfortunately I do not have very many pictures to go with it, because at the time were were building it way back when, the internet hadn't been heard of, so I had no idea I should take pictures for a blog post.  And when we were re-purposing it this summer, well, it didn't occur to me then to make a post about it.  So, I apologize to those looking for a photographic play-by-play of the process, cuz it ain't gonna happen.

Here is the play set, as it began in the Fall of 1996. Mother-in-Law wanted to buy our kids a swing set, and DH told her to give him the money instead and he would purchase lumber to built a sturdy structure that would last versus a painted pipe contraption from the (discount) store that probably wouldn't still be usable when the eldest kid outgrew it in 5-7 years.

What he bought, was 8-foot long 4"x4"s, a few 2"x6"s, a few 2"x4"s, a long 4"x6", and some wolmanized deck boards.  Also, a really thick dowel that he used for making the ladder rungs.  My parents donated the 'curvy' slide (which, I think cost about $90 at the time.)  In the above picture, he has gotten the platform and ladder built, the attached A-frame arm for the swings had not been put on yet.  The platform (and footprint of the structure) is 6' x 8', with the platform being about 5' off the ground.

As you can see, the kids were anxious to start playing on it! DH hadn't even put on the safety pickets around the platform to keep them from falling off yet.  Honestly, he'd run out of money for them, so the safety features were put on hold and we hoped none of the kids (ages 7, 3 and 2) would fall off.  (They didn't, then or at any time in the future--we never did get the top enclosed to be 'safe'). A few months later, we purchased our first house (the play set was erected at the house we had been renting), and we borrowed a flatbed trailer to move it (in two pieces: swing arm and platform) to our new home.

The next picture, taken almost five years later, you can see the swings.  The big kid swinging his little sister was the one in the red coat going down the slide in the previous picture.  The little sister spider-swinging with him wasn't even a twinkle in her father's eye at the time the first picture was taken.  I don't think a 100 pound almost-teenager could swing his 40 pound little sis on one of those 'normal' pipe style swing sets without bending the frame.  As you can see, this play set isn't  stressed in the least by that much weight pulling on it.

The next picture was taken the next spring, after an ice storm knocked a fairly large tree limb down onto the top of the play set.  The slide came apart slightly (and was easily fixed), but that was the only damage.

That summer, we moved to this little place here.  For the move, the swing arm was detached, and the platform section laid down onto a trailer to be driven the 25 miles to this little place here from the old house.  The cabin you see in the background of the above photo was also moved to this little place here.  It was built by Mother-in-Law, from pine she cut out of her woods, cut to length, and hauled the three-hour drive to our house so she could built my kids a log cabin playhouse.

Fast forward nine years.  The biggest kid hasn't played on the play set in about seven years.  The next biggest kid, who is the background of the first picture, climbing up the ladder, hasn't played on the play set in about three years.  The third kid, who was the youngest at the time the play set was built in 1996, has only used it to sit on the platform with friends and have private conversations for the last three years.  The little girl who wasn't even born yet when the play set was built, is going into her sophomore year of high school.  The slide was given away to a much younger cousin five years earlier when my kids all exceeded the weight limit of the plastic slide.  Only one swing remains, the other having come up missing years ago.  My children are grown; the time has come for the play set to be retired.

Or not.  Not retired, as the structure itself is still as sound as the day it was built, sixteen years ago! The time has come for the play set to be re-purposed, recycled into a hunting blind!  My idea, conceived back about 2006, was that if we removed the swing arm, raised the platform to the top of the 8-foot tall 4x4's, and closed in the bottom, the play set could be an awesome blind--you could sit in the enclosed underside during nasty weather, or up on the platform for an elevated view during good weather.

It took DH a few years (six, to be exact), to agree that I had a good idea for the future of the play set.  He still hasn't come completely around to my way of thinking, but he did come around enough that he removed the swing arm this summer, and raised the platform to the uppermost extent to the 4x4's.  Then we loaded it onto our flatbed trailer--lying down, hauled it out to the edge of the woods, and stood it back up, nestled in to the backside of one of the wild apple trees that edge the field.  He put up some cross braces to the 4x4s, then used some old OSB as sides/cover so the deer won't see much of us up on the platform, and salvaged half of an old wooden extension ladder to use as access to the platform.  The enclosing of the underside is still under debate, since he located the play set/hunting blind close to an existing enclosed blind we all ready have a little further back off the field.

view from on top of platform
looking at existing ground blind

Enclosed below or not, it has gotten a lot more use in the last month (muzzle loading season currently going on) as a hunting blind than in the past several years when it was still a play set.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Homesteading Christmas Gift Ideas

It's that time of year when everyone is wracking their brains trying to think up good gifts for friends and relatives.  Going through it myself at the moment for a few relatives, I got the idea to do a post on some homesteady-types of gifts.  Really, it's probably going to end up more like a list than an informative article, but I'm hoping someone somewhere will get some use out of it.  If I can help one person who's stumped for the perfect gift for that not-exactly-normal special someone in their life, well, then I will consider it a success.

If you know some homesteading types of people, or you yourself are one of those self-sufficient types who isn't into newer bigger televisions, smarter phones, jewelery or knick-knacks, then you know that this time of year can be tough.  As for myself, I want to give a gift that the recipient will both like and use, not just something that is a token "here, I felt like I had to get you something and I saw this on sale at the mall" kind of thing that ends up cluttering up their closet or put out in their next garage sale.  I also prefer to receive useful gifts, because it is awkward when you get something you have no foreseeable use for, yet know the giver is going to look for it to be displayed prominently in your house or on your body the next time they see you.

Here are some tried and true gifts that we've received at this little place here, either from each other, or from people who "got" that we aren't quite mainstream in our tastes and lifestyle.

Animal related:

  • incubator for chicken eggs
  • gift certificate to my favorite hatchery
  • new horse brushes (cuz they do get worn out after a while)
  • new lead ropes (ditto, they get worn out after 10 years or so. . .)
  • rabbit nesting box
  • 'small, sharp knife for gutting chickens' (this is what I wrote on my wish list.  What I received was a Buck knife with a 2" blade.  Very useful for gutting chickens, and carrying in my purse.)

Hunting related:
  • butchering knife set
  • gambrel
  • rope
  • game scale
  • skinning tool
  • insulated camo coat/bib overalls
  • insulated camo hat and gloves
  • wool socks
  • buck grunt
  • doe bleat
  • hand and toe warmer packs
  • tree stand
  • canopy for tree stand
  • gun cleaning kit
  • archery target
  • low-activity level thermal underwear
  • bone saw
  • gutting knife
  • skinning knife

Heating-with-wood related:
  • new chain for chainsaw
  • small whisk brush for cleaning chain saw
  • small wedge (for use in cutting down standing trees)
  • safety helmet & ear protection
  • welding gloves (for stoking the fire)
  • log chains
  • cant hook

Gardening related:
  • 1 yard dump cart (can be towed by hand or by attaching to small tractor/lawn mower)
  • new sprinkler
  • Stihl mini-tiller
  • hoe
  • floating row covers
  • gift certificate to my favorite seed supplier
  • gift certificate for fruit tree supplier

Cooking-from-scratch related:
  • Kitchenaid Professional 600 mixer (although it didn't last making bread every week; killed 2 in 21 months. . . but still works well for mixing batters--vs doughs--and whipping cream or meringue, as well as using the slicer/shredder attachments.  DS2 calls it the Power Shredder)
  • electric skillet
  • electric griddle
  • 6 qt crock pot
  • assorted glass bakeware:  pie plates, bread pans, casseroles, etc
  • pressure cooker
  • deep fryer
  • electric meat slicer
  • 18 quart electric roaster (great for open houses, I actually own 2)
  • large glass mixing bowls
  • cookbooks (especially those that have recipes for things that usually come in a can, box, or seasoning packet at the store)

Food Preservation related:
  • dehydrator
  • canning jars
  • canning lids
  • vacuum sealer
  • numerous books on growing/preserving food

Brewing related:
  • 5 & 6 gallon carboys
  • 12 oz & 16 oz glass bottles
  • recipe books for different types of beers
  • a Periodic Table of Beer Styles (DS2 found this at engineering college last year, and made a poster sized one for DH)
  • hydrometer
  • hops rhizomes
  • soda pop extract (so the kids could 'brew' their own pop in 5 gallon batches.  We learned not to bottle the cream soda after an explosive incident that left most of our 12 oz bottles broken and the basement very very sticky. . .  5 gallon soda kegs work better. )
  • 5 gallon stock pot (aka brew kettle until we converted a keg to boil 10 gallons of wort on the turkey fryer. . .)
  • airlocks

General 'life on the farm' related:
  • Carhartt coats and bibs
  • rubber knee boots
  • work gloves, both insulated and summer weight
  • fur lined hats with ear flaps for winter work
  • tractor-sized wrenches and sockets
  • work boots
  • heavy duty snow shovels
  • pocketknives (even the girls own pocketknives)

Handmade wearable stuff:
  • scarves
  • crocheted blankets
  • denim quilts (made from our own outgrown/worn out jeans and backed with warm flannel)
  • flannel pjs

Crafting stuff:
  • knitting lessons (shhh, this one is for both my daughters this Christmas, and I get to tag along for free!  All 3 of us will receive a 'starter knitting kit' and 'lifetime lessons' at a local knitting place.)
  • books of quilt block patterns
  • sewing machine
  • rotary cutter
  • acrylic rulers 
  • cutting mat
  • crochet hooks and yarn
  • fabric
  • measuring tape for use when quilting (120" long!)
  • needle threader
  • sewing machine needles
  • hand sewing needles
  • pin cushions
  • quilting pins
  • cardstock
  • gel pens
  • ink pads and rubber stamps
  • calligraphy pens, ink and book
  • counted cross stitch design books
  • embroidery floss and needles
  • aida cloth (for counted cross stitch)

Fix-it-yourself related:
  • battery charger
  • battery booster pack
  • tow rope
  • work lights
  • assorted wrenches
  • bench grinder
  • floor jack
  • bottle jacks
  • car ramps
  • rubber mallet
  • utility knives (mine says "MOM" in black permanent marker so as to not walk off in DH's hand when he can't remember that his is silver and mine is green.  His has a tendency to get lost.)
  • hammers
  • screwdrivers
  • tool boxes
  • measuring tapes
  • 4 lb sledge (mine, because a hammer just isn't hefty enough to pound stakes into the garden with, but the 8 lb sledge is overkill)
  • axe
  • 10' step ladder
  • amp meter/electrical tester
  • tool belt
  • carpenters pencils
  • speed square
  • jumper cables
  • 4-way tire irons
  • tire gauges (great stocking stuffers for anyone who drives)
  • portable tire pumps (you know, the kind that plugs into the cigarette lighter/port in your vehicle)

Outdoor recreation related:
  • snowmobile helmets
  • kayak
  • canoe paddle/kayak paddle
  • floating eyeglass/sunglass cord (for canoeing/kayaking)
  • snowmobile boots
  • snowmobile pants
  • snowmobile gloves
  • ice skates
  • cross country skis
  • rock climbing gear (shoes, gloves, ropes, etc)
  • ice fishing poles & lures
  • Mr. Buddy portable heater
  • sleds (one year DH & I bought the kids the best plastic sleds.  They were so heavy duty, but also fast!!!  In fact, DS1 broke his wrist on New Year's day--one week after receiving his cool new sled.  Even so, those sleds lasted for years.  Unfortunately, we haven't been able to find similar ones to replace them with.  Must have been 'too dangerous' to continue to be sold, LOL.)
  • snow boards
  • 2-man tents
  • mummy bags (for winter camping)
  • riding gloves (horseback riding)
  • riding boots
  • riding pants (usually for English style riding)
  • riding helmet

Whew!  If you've read all the way to the bottom of the list, I sure hope I've given you an idea or two.  

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Terribly Yucky Sauce. . . .

Actually, it's really good sauce.  But the first time I made teriyaki sauce, my youngest child thought I said I was making "terribly yucky" sauce.  And the phrase just kind of stuck.

In my quest for made-from-scratch recipes through the years, I have come across some really good ones for things like dressings, sauces, and powdered mixes.  This recipe (as well as some of my other favorites) came from the book  Family Feasts for $75 a Week by Mary Ostyn.  I saved quite a few recipes from her book, and I highly recommend checking it out from your local library, or putting it on your Christmas Wish List.

Teriyaki is a really quick and easy sauce to make.  It only takes about 15 minutes to whip up a batch, which is enough for a couple of meals.  According to the book, it stores well in the fridge for two weeks, but I've never had it around quite that long!

Teriyaki Sauce

1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup cold water 
2 cups water
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 Tbsp honey
1 tsp ground ginger
1 clove garlic, minced

Whisk together cornstarch and water in a medium-size saucepan.  Whisk in the remaining ingredients and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until sauce thickens.

That's all there is to it.  Faster than driving to the grocery store for a bottle of teriyaki sauce.

I cooked up a batch of white rice and some steamed veggies (broccoli, cauliflower, carrot medley), then diced up some of the pork roast leftover from the other night when DH and I had roast with parmesan acorn squash for dinner.  I made 1/2 batch of the teriyaki sauce, heated the diced pork in it while the rice and veggies finished cooking, then served it all for dinner.  

Monday, December 3, 2012

Squash Recipe #6: Parmesan Acorn Squash

This squash recipe I served alongside a pork roast.  It's very similar to squash recipe #5, and because of that I didn't bother to take any pictures.

This one uses one acorn squash that weighs two pounds, and serves two people, or three to four if you serve another veggie or potatoes with it.  Since it was just DH and I eating that night, I  served the pork roast and the squash without any additional side dishes.

So, you take your 2-pound squash, wash it, slice it lengthwise, scoop out the guts and seeds, and slice into 3/4" slices.  This is a bit thicker than the slices in recipe #5.  Then you lay the slices in a greased 13" x 9" baking dish, and drizzle 1 Tbsp olive oil over them.  Rub the oil across the face of each slice. Then sprinkle with 1/4 tsp kosher salt (needs to be this, cuz it's the big grain salt.  Regular table salt will be too fine and too much), 1/8 tsp black pepper and 2 Tbsp grated Parmesan cheese.

Now, turn each squash slice over, and repeat the oil, salt, and cheese.

Put the baking dish with the squash slices into an oven heated to 425 degrees.  Bake for about 35 minutes.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Making a Blue-eyed Girl For My Blue-eyed Girl

K3, my granddaughter, has the most gorgeous blue eyes.  I love her eyes.  Actually, I love every part of her, but she has very pretty eyes.

When I was thinking up ideas for Christmas presents, I decided that I wanted to make her a rag doll.  After all, a not-quite eight month old baby doesn't really want anything spectacular for Christmas.  So I figured rather than going overboard this year on things she won't have the motor skills to use for quite a while (Grandpa, aka DH, has all ready been looking into those motorized ride on toys--quads and trucks--that we couldn't afford to buy our own kids when they were little. *Ahem*); I would keep it simple with something that she will hopefully like now and get use out of for years to come.

While I was at it, I decided to personalize her doll with eyes and hair approximately the same shade as hers. Not that she has alot of hair so far, but it appears to want to be a strawberry blonde.  So, this is what I have come up with:

Now, to give the doll a hairdo, and make something for her to wear.  Then I can say I have my #1 crafting item on the "To Make For Christmas Gifts" list completed.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Squash Recipe #5: Maple Acorn Squash Slices

This week I wanted a recipe to use some of my acorn squash since those don't seem to keep quite as long as butternut squash do.  Personally, I'm not much of a fan of acorn squash; I think they're much blander than butternut.  So I try to avoid the usual sliced in half with butter and brown sugar way of preparing them.

Searching through my cookbook collection, I came up with a recipe that sounded pretty tasty.  I decided to make it to go along with a venison stroganoff I had planned for dinner.

The recipe comes from the 1999 Quick Cooking Annual Recipes book put out by Taste of Home.   In the cookbook, it's simply called Acorn Squash Slices, but to differentiate it from other sliced acorn squash recipes, I added the word "Maple" to the front of the title.

It's very simple to make, and it went marvelously with the venison stroganoff.  Without further ado, here is the recipe:

2 medium acorn squash (about 1 1/2 pounds each)
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup maple syrup
2 Tbsp melted butter
1/3 cup chopped pecans

Wash your squash.  Cut in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds and guts, then cut crosswise into 1/2 inch slices.

Place the slices in a greased 13" x 9" baking dish.  Sprinkle with the salt.

Measure out your maple syrup

and mix it with the melted butter.  Pour over the squash.  Sprinkle the pecans over everything.

Cover with foil, and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.

Homegrown squash with home made maple syrup.  Yum yum!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Much Anticipated Package

Earlier this week, I finally received a much anticipated package in the mail.  Back in September, I decided to join an online quilt block swap.  I've done a few in the past, usually where one or more of the fabrics to be used is mailed to you, then you make one block, and mail it back.  In one group I participate in, all the finished blocks are given to one randomly drawn winner from those who participated.  In another group, there were twelve of us who agreed to a year-long swap; each participant was assigned a month, mailed out fabric to be used for her month and a design request, then the other participants sewed a block each and mailed it back to that month's person.

For this newest swap, it was where a theme and fabric colors were given, and each participant used her own fabric choices and block of choice to fit the theme, then made one block for each of the participants signed up plus one block for the hostess of the swap.  All blocks were mailed to the hostess, who sorted them and mailed each participant back one block from each of the other participants.  In this case, 15 people signed up, so I made 16 blocks total (15 people plus an extra for the hostess).

In September and October we sewed.  At the beginning of November, we mailed the blocks, along with a return envelope with enough postage to get our 15 blocks back.  The hostess sorted them out, added an extra block to each of us as her gift to us, and mailed them back.  Everyone included delivery confirmation slips, and we all started tracking our packages once the hostess posted that she had mailed them at the beginning of last week.

Since the hostess was in Ohio, and I live in Michigan, and I'd used a priority mail envelope (and postage!), I figured mine might arrive the day before Thanksgiving.

It didn't.  According to the postal service website and my tracking number, it went from Ohio to Pennsylvania.  What??  How is Pennsylvania on the way north to Michigan??

Oh bummer.  Now I had to wait through the no-mail-on-Thanksgiving holiday to hopefully get my package on Friday.  Just in case, I checked the postal website on the night of Thanksgiving.  It said that my package had arrived at a sorting facility in Michigan, from Pennsylvania, that morning.  Oh joy!!  It would definitely show up in my mailbox on Friday then, right?

Nope.  On Friday, the mail came and went.  No package.  What the---??  Again, I got online and tracked my package courtesy of the postal service website.  To find that instead of arriving in my mailbox on Friday, my package had arrived at a sorting facility in Phoenix Arizona!!!  Ummm, hello?  Post office?  I think you made a mistake!  How does a package, addressed to a mailbox in Michigan go from a sorting facility in Michigan to Phoenix AZ??  Sounds like a waste of fuel to me.

All through the long weekend I waited. And worried.  And tracked.  At least by Sunday afternoon the website said my package was back in Michigan.  So, hopefully, not totally lost.

Finally, Monday afternoon, it appeared in my mailbox.  Hooray!!  All is right with the world!!  (Except I'm wondering why my 2-3 day priority rate package took almost a week and a long detour to get from Ohio to me here in Michigan.)

Anyway, when I opened the package, it was just like the best surprise party ever with the bestest friends ever.  Taking those quilt blocks out, one by one, admiring the skill that had gone into each and every one of them, reading the names and locations of those who had made them, that was like being surrounded by people who love you, all lined up to give you a hug.

Here is a picture of all 16 blocks as I laid them out on the living room floor when I opened the package.  The little white squares and rectangles are the name tags attached to each block, telling the name of the maker and where the block is from.

The theme was rustic/cabin (what you'd see in/around an old cabin), and the colors were the colors of autumn: golds, browns, greens, etc.  Blocks were made by wonderful ladies in MI, OH, TX, VA, NY, WA, OR, AL, AZ, MS, TN and Quebec, Canada.

Now I can't wait to be done sewing up Christmas gifts so that I can start sewing these lovely blocks together into a quilt.  Then my far away quilting friends can give me a hug every time I wrap up in it.  :o)

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Squash Recipe #4: Squash Sticks (Squash "Fries")

Another first-time tried squash recipe for me.  We were having venison burgers for dinner after processing DH's 9-point, and I wanted something to go with them other than french fries or sweet potato fries.  With my abundance of squash, I wondered if I could make squash fries.

Apparently you can make squash 'fries'.  After searching the internet, I found several recipes for squash fries or sticks.  The deep fried ones were battered, which I didn't think I wanted to fuss with that particular day. So I chose one that you make in the oven.  Less mess, and more health, right?  ;-)

Another super easy squash recipe--hooray for super easy recipes that don't say "take a can of this and a box of that. . ."!!

All you do is take your butternut squash, peel it, cut it open, scoop out the guts, cut into sticks that are about 1/2" thick, put them in a baking dish in a single layer, drizzle on some olive oil, season with sea salt and pepper, then put in a 450 degree oven for 25-30 minutes.

That's all there is to it.

As you can see, there wasn't much left of two medium size squash once we were done with dinner.  The squash sticks reheated well the next day and I ate them for lunch. :-)

Friday, November 23, 2012

A Tongue In Cheek Look at Thanksgiving

Last year, I had the most wonderful Thanksgiving.  DH and I had decided to forego family obligations (you know, the agonizing decision over which side of the family we would eat with for the holiday, or if instead we were going to host both sides at once at our house so no one could be jealous. . . ) and we declared we would be staying home without hosting anyone.

Horrors!!  You would have thought we were just the most awful people ever.  And our relatives pretty much told us so without using those exact words.  But at this little place here, it was a nice, calm, thankful day.  We had a good meal, to serve five instead of 15-20.  The house was quiet, not chaotic with multiple conversations going at once, each trying to drown out the other.  The under-eighteen set was well-behaved, not bouncing off the walls or picking fights with each other.  We ate.  We talked. We went deer hunting.  We relaxed.  It was, truly, a day of thoughts that dwelt on how good we have it; how blessed we are and how much we love the people we were with.

In contrast, this year we gave in to the familial pressure and invited both DH's side and mine to attend.  And immediately had to justify the time of day we'd chosen to serve the meal. (1:30 p.m.)  Why so early?  Because DD1 and her boyfriend wanted to be able to attend both our Thanksgiving dinner, and the one his family was having 3 hours away, that's why.  After all, the only reason DH and I gave in was to make it easier to for the grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins to all see both of our college kids who would be home on break.  No "how come I didn't get to see him but his other grandma/aunt/cousin did?!?"  This was a decision we made in September after being told numerous times by numerous relatives: "make sure I get a chance to see DS2 and DD1 when they are home for Thanksgiving".

This Thanksgiving it was pretty much impossible to relax or even have a thankful attitude.  Not when you're doing your best to be hospitable and give everyone an equal chance at the holiday, yet everyone is complaining at you.  And half of the relatives who "had" to see the two college kids on their short break didn't even come!!   Then there was the relative who said "what can I bring?  Rolls?  I'd like to bring rolls. I'll bring rolls."and showed up without the rolls she'd insisted I didn't need to make because she would bring them (and several others asked me during the meal "how come you didn't serve rolls?  Rolls would have been good.")   How about the under-eighteen relative who was abusing the furniture in a way my own kids would never dream of, yet his parents were offended when he was told to stop by a cousin (one of my kids).

It definitely was not relaxing, and I don't think any of the inhabitants of this little place here had a single thought about how blessed we are to have the relatives we do.

Anyway, the day before Thanksgiving, as DD1, DD2, DS2 and I were baking pies and cleaning the house in preparation for hosting relatives on Thanksgiving Day, we got a little punchy while discussing the situation and the pressures we were getting from our kin.  The discussion, begun by the 19 year old engineering student, was about the real reason for having Thanksgiving, and how most people don't seem to get it anymore.  How Thanksgiving is not about driving for hours to eat with relatives that you don't bother to see any other time of the year but holidays.  The 18 year old college freshman who aspires to be a Christian school teacher added that Thanksgiving is about being grateful to God for what you have. And the 15 year old high schooler, with amazing mature insight, said that Thanksgiving, which should be a time of celebration, is more often looked upon with dread.

It was after that we began to get punchy, imagining if the first Thanksgiving had gone something like this:

Mercy and Hope are at Plymouth, looking around at the bountiful harvest of food that they grew in their gardens that year.  

Mercy says, with brow furrowed, "what in the heck am I going to do with all these pumpkins?  The kids hate pumpkin."

Hope replies, "My pumpkins did well too, and so did my sweet potatoes.  I wish sweet potatoes stored as long as pumpkins do; if they did we wouldn't have to eat them all up so fast.  I can only make so many variations of sweet potato for dinner. Dear husband William is getting sick of them."

Mercy gets a bright idea.  "We ought to have a big party.  I'll bake some of these pumpkins into pies.  You cook up a bunch of your sweet potatoes and bring those.  We'll invite all the residents of Plymouth.  Everyone can bring something; and we'll have a potluck.  I hear that John Smith is good at hunting turkey, maybe he'll bring a few.  I love turkey."

Hope smiles.  "That's a great idea!  I'll see if Patience is willing to make a bunch of corn bread.  Her corn field was loaded this year and she has tons of corn waiting to be ground and used." 

Hope goes off to start talking to the other wives of Plymouth and get this party in the works.

Meanwhile, Mercy tells her husband, Bartholomew, what they have planned.  He agrees it's a wonderful idea, as he is rather tired of pumpkin and loves sweet potatoes and corn bread. Plus, he's lousy at turkey hunting and would love to eat some.

Later that day Bartholomew bumps into the minister of the colony, with whom he shares the news of the upcoming feast.  Reverend Holierthanthou puts in his two cents, reminding the man that without God's providence, there would not be an abundance of corn, pumpkins, sweet potatoes or any of the other bumper crops the pilgrims experienced.  

As Reverend Holierthanthou gets involved with the planning of the feast, it becomes not just a party given as a way of using up the foods certain wives have more of than they personally want to eat, it becomes a religious festival.  And the guest list grows.

Mercy and Hope meet up the next afternoon, after all the colony have been informed of the big meal coming up on Thursday.

"Can you believe it?" Mercy says in annoyance.  "Holierthanthou says it wasn't my green thumb that made all those pumpkins grow, it was God.  Now we have to say a prayer at our party, giving thanks to the man upstairs for my pumpkins.  As if I wasn't the one who planted them, weeded and watered them, harvested and stored them and now cooked them into pies so Holierthanthou can have dessert!"

"I know!"  Hope huffed.  "Not only that, but we have to invite those dang Indians who gave us food last winter when we were all starving to death.  I don't even like them!  Their clothes are so unfashionable, and they let their children run wild!  But no, we have to invite them to our party and be polite.  Ugh."

Mercy rolls her eyes.  "I wanted to have Aunt Prudence and Uncle Thurlough over, but they can't make it.  I mean, yeah, it's a long boat ride from England, but it's Thanksgiving!  What could be more important to them than coming to eat with me that day?"

The big day rolls around, and all the pilgrims and Indians gather to eat the meal together.  Several Indian women pick at the turkey the pilgrim women prepared, the squaws commenting to each other that they can cook turkey better than the white women can.  Uncle  Isaac sits next to Uncle Moses, each trying to outdo the other with loud boasts about how he can chop wood better than the other man can.  Aunts Priscilla and Constance look at their children running around and bicker over which sister has the worst behaved children.  Everyone has fake smiles on their faces as they either endure inane conversation, outright bragging, or barely veiled barbs aimed their way.  Children whine about being bored and wanting to go home, no they don't like stuffing, and why can't they have a fourth piece of pie?

The feast is such a disaster and so unenjoyable that the pilgrims decide to never repeat it again.

Nope, I don't think that's how Thanksgiving originated, with grumbling and one-upping, and grudges held against relatives who couldn't make it at that day and time for the meal.  Why in the world would we have continued it for almost 400 years if it had?  The dilemma for many of us is how to change it back, from it's modern day obligation, to it's founding principal of community, fellowship and gratefulness for the health and food that we have.

I haven't figured out how to accomplish that yet.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

More Deerless Hunting Adventures

No deer for me yet.  DH did take a beautiful 9-point that I'd had my eye on the last half of bow season.  But, alas, I'm not a bow hunter (although I'm thinking of getting out the old compound bow and brushing up on my skills, as well as replacing the broken sight on it).  So my first opportunity to go out and stalk the big buck was opening day of firearm season.  And, unfortunately for me, Mr. Big, Buff, and Beautiful walked past DH's stand first.  Waaaaaahhhh!!!  So I don't get to claim the awesome rack for myself.  I do, however, get to enjoy all the meat that came off the deer, which dressed out at 150 pounds.

Here's a trail cam picture of the 9-point just a few days before his demise at the hands of DH.

While I haven't yet had the opportunity to see a deer at close enough range, in the open, to get a shot at it, I did have a little excitement the other day.  I was sitting in the new platform aka the kids' old play set, when something tawny colored, about the size of a large fawn, and very quick, came running through the brush about 10 yards away.  Close enough that had it gone slower and I'd gotten a good look at it at the time, my heart really would have been hammering.  As it was, I just sat there in bewilderment, trying to figure out what I'd just seen.  It had been deer colored, and small deer sized, but very very quick and very quiet on it's feet.

I didn't think it was a fawn out by itself.  Not quietly like that.  Especially not quiet and moving so quickly.  I began to think perhaps it had been a coyote.  We have coyotes, but very rarely see them.  I've never seen one while deer hunting, and DH has only seen one once while hunting--it was chasing a deer at the time.

So I sat and wondered about this for a few hours, while watching for deer that never appeared.  Then I went into the house to warm up, change clothes, get something to eat and get some housework done before the afternoon hunt.

I hadn't been in the house but an hour when I glanced out in the field while carrying a hamper of dirty clothes down to the basement for washing.  I saw a large shape running on the edge of the woods.  For a second I thought about grabbing the binoculars to get a better look at it; then I decided to grab the camera instead.

These pictures are zoomed in, from my back deck, about 200 yards away into the field near the edge of the woods.  I wish they were clearer, but that's about as good as my camera gets at such a distance.

Now I knew without a doubt that what had gone blasting through the brush near my stand that morning was, indeed a coyote.  This one stayed in the field, hunting mice in the soybean trash for about twenty minutes while I took pictures of it.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Squash Recipe #3: Squash and Quinoa Bake

Here's our third way to use up squash from your garden.  This is a recipe I'd copied a few years ago out of Sharon Astyk's book Independence Days: A Guide to Sustainable Food Storage & Preservation (published in 2009) but hadn't gotten around to making it until now.  In the book, it's called "Creamy Quinoa and Butternut Squash".

The recipe says it serves four.  Since DH doesn't care much for quinoa (its a new thing for us and totally foreign to his raised-on-meat-and-potatoes palate), I made this on a night when it was just going to be me and DD2 eating.  I figured we'd have half the pan leftover, and that it would make a nice lunch for me for a couple of days.

Maybe we just weren't all that hungry or something, but the night I served this (and only this--since quinoa is high in protein, no meat was needed), we ate maybe 1/3 of it and were absolutely stuffed.  It ended up lasting for 3 meals each.  So I'd say it serves six instead of four.

Unfortunately no pictures to go along with the recipe, but here's the recipe if you want to try it for yourself.  DD2 and I both loved the flavor and the texture.  And we discovered that the leftovers are pretty good pan fried!

Creamy Quinoa and Butternut Squash
1 2-pound butternut squash peeled, cleaned and diced
1 cup quinoa
1 tsp salt
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups water
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp shallots (I used regular onion)
2 eggs
1 tsp sugar
1 cup yogurt
shredded cheese if desired (we desired; I used parmesan)

Steam the squash just until tender.  Meanwhile, place the quinoa in a colander and rinse it very thoroughly (5 minutes or so).  This is really important as quinoa has a bitter protective coating.

When the squash is tender, mash it and the quinoa together in a pot.  Add water and salt to the pot and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer for about 15 minutes or until all water is absorbed and the quinoa 'blossoms' into little spirals.  Remove from heat and let rest.

While that is resting, heat olive oil over medium heat in a small frying pan.  Add the shallots (onion) and cook 3 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook a minute or two more, being careful not to let the garlic burn.  Pour this over the quinoa/squash mixture and stir in thoroughly.  Add eggs, yogurt, salt and pepper to taste.  Pour everything into a greased 8" x 8" pan and top with the cheese if using.  Bake at 400 degrees until golden brown.  If I remember right, that was 25 minutes (?? I confess, the original recipe doesn't state a length of time and I don't remember exactly how long I cooked it).

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Looking at Trees (aka Deer Hunting)

For the past three days I've been getting up a good hour before dawn, putting on three layers of clothes plus a coat, and walking out to the woods to sit and look at trees.  Really, I've been deer hunting, but other than the first morning, I haven't seen many deer.  Mostly birds, and trees.  Lots of trees.  Little trees, big trees, apple trees, thorny trees, oak trees, living trees, dead trees. . .

I'm sitting in the 'new' stand we put out this summer.  It used to be our kids' play set, when they were little.  When they'd all outgrown it except the youngest one, I proposed to DH that it could be converted to an elevated blind and taken out to the woods.  Four years later. . . If I can dig up  some pictures of it in it's play set days I'll write a post about recycling a play set into a hunting blind.

Anyway, this new blind is situated just inside the woods, on the western edge, not quite at the half-way point north and south.  From it, I can see partly into the woods, in a very thick cover area, and also a good portion of the north-south line on the eastern edge of the field.  Opening morning I saw 19 deer.  Unfortunately, none close enough to shoot and  no horns,.  They mostly looked like this:

Can you see the deer?

Look again.  The picture below is the same, except I enhanced it with some helpful arrows.

Can you see the shape of the deer's back and hindquarter through the brush now?  That's pretty much what I saw.  Movement and outlines through the branches.  A few deer ventured into the field, but they were way out there, more than 100 yards away.

So, mostly, I looked at trees.  And took pictures.

My east shooting lane as the sun came up.

The field (west) as the sun was rising.  There was a light fog over the field.

Looking northwest, the direction I did see deer, way off in the field.  The camera didn't pick them up.

An abandoned bird nest in the apple tree behind me.

Kicking back, waiting for deer.  This was about three hours in to a 5-hour sit.

Female cardinal

View to the south.

Chickadee in the weeds, it was eating the seed heads off dead flowers.

My new hunting palace.  

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

How I Became a Deer Hunter

I wasn't always a hunter.  In fact, twenty-two years ago if you'd asked me if I saw myself ever hunting deer, I would have told you "No."  I hadn't grown up around hunters. No one in my family hunted, and none of my parents' friends were hunters. The only gun I'd ever shot was my brother's BB gun, and he'd only let me get my hands on it once or twice.  The only time I'd ever eaten venison was one little bite sized piece during a first grade Thanksgiving feast at school; someone's father had gotten a deer, their mother had cooked it and sent in a small amount for the class to have in order to make our Pilgrim meal authentic.  I don't remember how it tasted, but I do remember that it was tough and hard to chew.  So, no, I would have never pictured the future me as an avid hunter and lover of venison.  Let alone someone who's main red meat is venison.

That all changed when I met my DH.  The first meal he ever cooked for me was venison.

And when I say the meal was venison, that's all it was.  A whole pile of chicken fried venison steaks.  No veggies, no starches, not even milk to drink.  A platter of venison.  For a girl who'd taken cooking in 7th grade home ec and knew that every meal needed a protein, a starch, and a veggie, I was shocked to find just meat being served.  Who in the world called a pile of meat a meal?  How was that nutritionally appropriate?  And who would think that was a meal fit for a guest?

I was still a pretty picky eater back then, with a very limited menu, and I was quite thrown off my stride looking at what was on the table for my dinner.  Recalling my one and only previous time eating venison, to say I was less than excited to see a pile of it before me, with no other food options, would be a vast understatement.  But, as every girl in love will do, I ate some anyway, because I wanted to make him happy.

Oh my!  Was that venison good!  DH had not only pounded the meat to tenderize it before frying it, but he'd seasoned it with onion powder.  Yum!  From that point on, I was transformed into a venison eater.   Step one on the slippery slope, LOL.

Almost ten months later, at our first Thanksgiving together, my evolution into a deer hunter continued.  We were in DH's hometown for Thanksgiving break, at Mother-in-Law's house (because Thanksgiving is deer season and the family hunting property is just down the road from her house), and hanging in her garage was a freshly harvested deer.  So now I saw my first dead deer.  Okay. Step two, check.

Then I got introduced to processing a deer.  It seems that it was customary for DH's relatives to cut up their own deer.  And, since DH and I were in town for the holiday, and there was a deer to be cut up, we were both given sharp knives and a hunk of deer to process.  Now not only had I eaten venison and liked it, seen a dead deer hanging and not been repulsed, but I had touched and cut deer muscles into steaks.  Not bad.  Step three, taken.

Also during that Thanksgiving break, DH got called in to help an elderly friend of the family field dress a deer that this friend shot while we were in town.  I, being the curious and adoring girlfriend, of course went along with DH.  That was were I saw (and smelled) deer guts for the first time.  I was given a flashlight, and two hind legs.  I was instructed to hold the hind legs apart and shine the flashlight down on the deer's nether regions so DH could cut it open.  Rather than gagging, I found it interesting, in a scientific anatomical kind of way.  Step four, and I'm picking up steam!

A year went by. Thanksgiving break rolled around again. We were, again, at Mother-in-Law's for the holiday and hunting.  (I should probably mention that we were sent home that first year with several packages of venison for our freezer, which we cooked meals with for a couple of months).  This time, DH asks if I'd like to go sit out in the deer blind with him.  Would I?!?  I've eaten them, seen them dead, helped gut them, and help cut them up.  Sure I'd like to see what it's like to hunt them!  That decision was step five, and the point of no return had been reached.

Well, the main thing I remember from my very first trip to the deer blind, is that hunters don't stay awake the whole time they are sitting out there!  I was shocked when, after an hour or so (of seeing nothing), DH fell asleep.  I, however, was wide awake, not wanting to miss sighting a deer, should any happen to walk by.  None did.  But little pine trees and other brushy things look amazingly like deer in the twilight of dusk, and spotting something like that out of the corner of your eye sure can make your heart race!

Another year went by.  Thanksgiving again, but by now DH had graduated college and we were living only about an hour and a half from Mother-in-Law.  DH also had a job, which meant we could only see her/hunt only for a few days instead of an entire week.  We also had an infant son, so I was limited in my availability to go out hunting with DH.  DH, however, had a new spin on my 'hunting':  why didn't I sit in a blind by myself?  I can feed the baby, leave him with Mother-in-Law, and then get in a little hunting before it's time to feed him again.  I won't interrupt DH's hunting then with my coming and going from his blind.

Well, because me sitting in a blind by myself wouldn't increase our chances of taking a deer home with us.  You see, I'd only ever shot a BB gun, and it had been well over 10 years since I'd done that.  Something DH hadn't known.  Or, maybe I had told him at one point, but he had forgotten.  Anyway. . .

Shooting lessons ensued, in the very short, basic form (don't point this end here, here or here; the bullet goes in this part, this is how you load it, this is how you rack it into the chamber (although I think that particular gun was a bolt action),  this is the safety, this is how you hold the gun, this is how you aim, this is how you release the safety, now pull the trigger.

I believe I shot 3 times, DH shot 3 times, we examined the target up close and saw my grouping was tighter and closer than his grouping, and he pronounced me "good enough."

Scary, huh?  Now we've got an inexperienced, armed woman in the woods alone!  I am now definitely in the realm of 'those' people, the hunters.

For ten years, I didn't hunt much.  Like maybe 2 or 3 sittings during the entire two week firearm deer season.  I had an increasing number of kids who needed attending, and when I could find someone to babysit them for me for a few hours, I could only hunt if 1) there was an available deer blind at the family property and 2) I could borrow someone's gun because I didn't own one of my own (nearly 20 years since my first shooting lesson and I still don't own one of my own. . .) and 3) I could borrow someone's warm orange clothing!

Then we bought this little place here.  And it all changed.  For one thing, DH promised me I'd never have to go to Mother-in-Law's for Thanksgiving again (because now we owned our own hunting land).  For another, I could walk out my back door and into the woods, and, as the property owner, I had first dibs on any of the blinds or tree stands (well, second dibs, DH gets first).  For a third, my kids were old enough to stay in the house supervising themselves for a few hours at a time while I hunted (we used two-way radios in case they needed to get a hold of me).  And fourth, DH bought himself a muzzle loader (to extend his own hunting season) but this also meant there was always a gun available for me in November.

I began to accumulate my own hunting accoutrements.  First, a warm orange hat and an orange fleece vest.  I wore my barn carhartts to the woods with the vest over top.  Then, later, as I collected bargains at garage sales or late winter clearances, my own warm camo coat and gloves.  I still borrow guns, my children have accumulated them instead of me, but that's okay.  We have enough now that one is always available, and depending on who is at school or work, I have my choice between a 12 gauge with or without a scope, a 20 gauge, or a 50 cal. muzzle loader.  So far, I've taken deer with the scoped 12 gauge and the open-sights 20 gauge (at 60 yards dead on!).  I've taken the muzzle loader many times (on the evenings DH has to work during muzzle loading season, I'm the armed one manning the tree stand), but so far have not had the chance to take a deer with it.  Those late season deer seem to be few and far between around here.

And that is how I became a deer hunter.  I figured if I was going to do the work of cooking it,  gutting and cutting it, tracking it (somewhere along the way I was called in to track deer too), I could be the one to shoot it.  So I hunt.  And I greatly enjoy sitting in the woods on a brisk fall day watching the wildlife and relaxing--relaxing until a big deer walks into my sights, that is!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Squash Recipe #2: Squash Gnocchi

Yesterday I made my second squash recipe to share with you.  It's one I came across somewhere, thought it sounded good, and scribbled down.  When I say scribbled down, I mean I cut out all but the pertinent facts like measurements, temperatures and cooking times.  So if it seems to assume you know a lot about cooking, well, I scribbled it down for me and after 20+ years of cooking daily, I do know a lot about cooking.

If you don't know what a 'gnocchi' is, it's basically a type of dumpling; that is, flour and seasonings with a little liquid to bind them together, and then boiled until cooked through.  And it's apparently pronounced "nyawki", even though I always want to say "notchee".

I'll warn you, it's not a quick recipe to make even though the gnocchi cook fast.  I do however, think it could be partially made in advance, and then cooked later in the day or the next day, which I might try next time I make this particular recipe.  Because I will definitely make it again.  I liked it, even if DH isn't fond of dumplings.

Squash Gnocchi
1 1/2 cups potatoes, peeled, and boiled until tender
1 cup squash cooked and pureed
1/4 cup grated Parmesan (I buy mine in wedges and fresh grate it)
1 egg
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp salt
2 cups flour (or more)

Mash the cooked potatoes, then let them cool.  When cool, mix in the squash and all remaining ingredients except the flour.  Add the flour about 1/3 cup at a time until dough is smooth and sticky (mine was pretty sticky, consider yourself forewarned!).  Briefly knead dough in bowl until the flour is mixed well.

Put a pot of salted water on to boil.  While the water is heating, divide the dough into 6 pieces. Roll each piece into a long rope about 1/2" in diameter.  (Mine was fat, more like 3/4 to an inch in dia.  I was exceeding the time I'd allotted and having trouble rolling thinner.)  Cut into 1/2" pieces. Press back of fork into each piece to make shallow grooves.

Add the pieces (I did about 2 'ropes' worth at a time) to the boiling water.  Stir gently so they don't stick to each other when you first put them in the pot. Then leave alone until the pieces rise to the top of the water.  Once they float, boil them about 3 minutes more.  Remove with a slotted spoon, and put into serving dish while cooking the remaining dough pieces.

Serve with sauce.

I made a basic white sauce to go with mine (1/4 cup butter, melted; 1/4 cup flour, 1 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp pepper, 1 cup or so of milk) and stirred in fresh grated Romano cheese (about 1/3 cup) until the cheese was melted, then poured it over the gnocchi in the serving dish.

gnocchi before I added the sauce
(not sure why this picture turned out so yellow, they aren't quite that brightly colored)

Saturday, November 10, 2012

I Can Make Hot Dog Buns!

I've been making bread for years.  Dinner rolls for years.  Pizza crusts for years.  Bread sticks for years.  But  until recently, I'd never tried making my own buns.  Somehow, it was just easier to spend a couple of dollars at the store to buy them rather than making them.

However, it has become difficult the last few years, to find buns I've been satisfied with.  The quality seems to be lacking.  Who wants to eat a bun that feels like mush in your hand, never mind in your mouth?  Not to mention just about every brand now seems to need high fructose corn syrup to make their buns with.  HFCS has been on my 'avoid list' since before the media came out with a negative stance on it.  Like a lot of processed sweeteners, HFCS and my body just don't get along.  I'd rather not have a headache every time I want to eat a hot dog or hamburger with a bun, thank you.

So, I finally got desperate enough to look for a recipe for buns, and give making them a try.  And, like a lot of things I was afraid to do until I did it once (using my pressure canner, making refried beans from scratch, canning corn, roasting a turkey for Thanksgiving dinner, shooting a gun, fixing a car without my DH there to show me how, kayaking. . .), making buns is not difficult.  Actually, it's rather easy.  Not scary at all.  I can't believe I didn't try it years ago.

The recipe is simple:
1 cup milk
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup butter

Place those three in a small saucepan and heat on low until the butter is melted and the mixture reaches 120 degrees.

4 1/2 cups flour
2 Tbsp sugar
2 1/4 tsp yeast (or one packet)
1 1/2 tsp salt
1 egg

Mix 1 3/4 cups flour and the rest of the dry ingredients in a medium bowl.  Add the warm milk mixture and the egg.  Stir well and add the rest of the flour, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring between additions.  Knead the dough about 5 minutes, then divide into 12 pieces.

Roll each piece into a 6" x 4" rectangle.  Then roll into a 6" long bun, and seal the ends.  Place on a greased baking sheet.  Allow to rise 20 minutes, then bake 10-12 minutes at 400 degrees.  Remove from baking sheet when done and allow to cool on cooling rack before cutting 2/3 the way through each bun.

Great texture, hearty and filling, and no headache!

Friday, November 9, 2012

If You Give a Girl a Fire Stick

I'm sure you've heard the saying "Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day.  Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime."  At this little place here, we now have a variation of this saying.  If you give a girl a fire stick. . .

First, I should probably explain what a 'fire stick', in this little place here terms, is.  A fire stick is simply one of those little butane fireplace or grill lighters with a trigger on it.  Not sure which of my offspring coined the phrase fire stick in their younger years, but it stuck.

Why give a girl a fire stick?  Well, our cook top is propane, and, in 2003 when we got it brand new for our house we built, it had electric ignition:  you turn the burner knob to 'lite', the cook top sends an electric pulse through a ceramic piece with a wire in it (kind of like a spark plug in a car) and at the same time the gas valve is opened, so the spark ignites the gas to light the burner.  After about four years of daily use, the electric ignition went bad.  At which time I started using kitchen matches to light my stove the old-fashioned way:  strike match, stick match down in burner, light gas, quickly remove fingers from burner!

DH considered replacing the electric ignition, but, well, the economy was getting bad, and things were rocky with the auto industry in which he was employed.  Money was tight and the possibility of him losing his job due to downsizing was great, so we decided that matches were just fine, we didn't need to spend money on replacing the electronics.  He did consult my uncle, who managed several branches of a propane company for over twenty-five years (and used to do many service calls for customers), on the cost and difficulty of replacing the ignition system ourselves, and my uncle said:  "You've heard of matches, right?  If it were my stove, I'd just stick with lighting it by a match."

And so we did.  Which wasn't a problem, until DD2 got old enough that we started to expect her to help with cooking (my kids start cooking simple things on their own about age eleven or twelve on the stove; baking comes much earlier).  She was just plain scared of lighting the stove with a match.  As long as someone else was around and willing to light the stove for her, she'd cook.  But she just could not light the thing herself.

Try as I may, I couldn't teach her to be calm and light the stove.  I could light the match and she'd turn the knob for the burner, releasing the gas.  She'd even light the match herself.  But when it came to lighting the match and holding her hand down on the edge of the burner to get the flame close to the gas valve, forget it.

When she turned fourteen, and only one of two children left living a home, I had the brilliant idea to buy her a fire stick.  We'd had one in the past for lighting our old grill that the ignitor was shot on, but it had long ago died, and we'd replaced the worn out (and rusted out) grill  with a newer used one we got for free (former tenants of DH's sister and brother-in-law left it behind when they moved).  So I bought a brand new, shiny red fire stick, wrapped it up, and gave it to DD2 with her other birthday presents.  Rather an usual gift for a kid:  something that makes fire.

She was so excited!  Until she went to use it.  This particular brand of fire stick is very safety conscious.  Wouldn't want children getting ahold of it and setting their house on fire, now would we?  The 'safety' on the fire stick was so hard to use that DD2 couldn't hold the safety button down far enough with her thumb to pull the trigger with her finger and have a free hand to turn the knob to open the gas valve on the stove with.  In fact, I could barely do it either, and I'm stronger than your average woman (I don't need no man to open my pickle jars, lol).

Well, darn.  So much for my great idea.  That fire stick went to DH, who used it for lighting brush piles and other stuff outdoors.  For many months, DD2 only cooked if someone else lit the burner for her.

Late this summer, I got another brilliant idea: I would find a less safe fire stick, and buy it for DD2!  By less safe, I mean one with a safety that even a toddler could push.  Which wasn't so easy to do, given the fact that my shopping options in a 20 mile radius (how far I normally am willing to drive for an item) pretty much carried the uber-safe brand of fire stick.

I finally found one, though.   I brought it home and gave it to DD2, who instantly lit it with ease.  With excitement, she proceeded straight to the cook top, turned the knob, and I swear the neighbors could hear her joyful proclamation:  "I LIT THE STOVE!!!  I LIT THE STOVE!!"  

She no longer fears the cook top.  She makes her own hot water for tea frequently.  She cooks when asked to do so.  And just the other day, she told me that she wants to cook even more often.  Like dinner once or twice a week!

She is empowered!

If you light the stove for a girl, she cooks once.  If you give a girl a fire stick, she cooks for a lifetime.