Saturday, September 29, 2007


Well I haven't really dropped off the edge of the world.

We've been really busy. We have 2 inspections of our house in the next two weeks and we have had some deep cleaning to do. Fun stuff like make sure we move the fridge and stove and get the gunk that collects at the base of them washed up. It's a bit of a hassle, but this is the only place I can afford to live right now, so we deal with it.

We had fun at our homeschool field day. I was supposed to get a start of sourdough from my friend Charlene, and she did bring it. We just forgot to exchange it. It'll have to wait until the next event. lol

I've been knitting dish cloths. I just love the way they clean. I didn't think I would like them, but tried one and fell in love with how much easier they are to use. I think they clean better and they don't make my hands ache like the flimsy terrycloth ones I've always used do.

I'm also making napkins, place mats, hankies and dish towels out of some excess cloth. I've got to get my exchange in the mail to Australia by Monday. It will be fun to see what material my partner has picked out for me.

Now if I can just find the digital camera to take pictures for Rhonda Jean, organizer of the swap, so that she can put them on her blog. Actually, I know where the camera is, it's where is the connecting cord for the computer? It WAS on my desktop plugged into the computer - before kids got to it.

Well it's almost 4am and I guess I'd better go to bed. I've got to be back up at 8 to take my daughter to work and go to work myself.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Home-sewn cloth napkins, dish towels, and handkerchiefs

Making cloth napkins, dish towels, place mats and handkerchiefs and feminine needs are all easy projects.

They can be made from various materials, but the most absorbent ones will be 100% cotton. The higher the polyester content, the less absorbent your final item becomes.

Over the years, I have acquired a bunch of fabric that either I had bought or that had been given to me. I had no idea which were 100% cotton and which were blends. So I went online and found a trick for telling if a material is a natural fiber or a man-made one. That trick I shared with you in a post last week. I have different lengths of fabric, in different patterns. I also have a set of sheets that a friend gave me. They are too big for my bed and she doesn't want them back. They will make a nice kitchen set for this dear friend who has done so much for my family. The computer I'm typing on is her old one. She bought a new one so that I could have this nice one. Without it, you wouldn't be reading this blog! lol

I washed my material in hot water, with no fabric softener in the washer - I used vinegar in the rinse and dried it in a hot dryer, again with no fabric softener. Fabric softener, over time, makes material much less absorbent. I used hot water and a hot dryer so that the fabric would shrink about as much as it was ever going to shrink, I tested my material for cotton content and picked out a bunch of pieces for napkins, handkerchiefs, dish towels, place mats and feminine needs. I will write about feminine needs at another time. I'm going to concentrate on napkins, dish towels, place mats and handkerchiefs, because they are all made the same way, just of a different size.

After I picked out my final materials I then sat down and figured out the size I wanted my finished items to be.

I have a napkin swap on another blog and those are to be 10" x 10". That's a nice size. I also have one cloth napkin I got in a tray for Mother's Day. I love it. It's 17" x 17". I want my hankies to be 9" x 9", I want my dish towels to end up being 12" x 18" and my place mats to be 14" x 24". I got these dimensions by measuring existing place mat, napkin, and dish towel. The hankie I was just arbitrary with. I have allergies so I sometimes sneeze a lot and need more to my handkerchiefs that a thin little piece of 6" x 6" cute linen!

The next thing I did was to make myself templates out of old cardboard boxes. I would start in one corner of the box measure over to where I wanted that template to end and make several marks from the edge so I'd get a straight line with my ruler. Then I'd go to the side and measure over several times. This way, I had a square template. They were a pain to cut, but they are sturdy and will last a long time. When I made my templates, I added an inch to one long side and an inch to a short side to allow for a 1/2" seam all around. I then marked on each template what it was for. Don't count on remembering which size was which. I made templates on Fri and by tonight (Mon) I had to look at what was written to know what I wanted that particular template for!

My next step is to iron the materials flat, decide which will be what item, and find my washable fabric marker. I can use chalk or soap if I want to mark the fabric, but a fine-tip, washable marker will make my finished project a little easier to sew up. I'm ironing the fabric so that it will be flat and easier to cut squarely. (I'm a person who loves short-cuts, so if I iron, it REALLY needs to be done - unless you're using a polyester fabric that just plain doesn't wrinkle, so it doesn't need ironing ever.)

Next step will be to place the template over the wrong side of the fabric and draw around the template. If you're fortunate enough to own a rotary cutter and mat, this step will be a breeze. You can stack your material or fold your material and cut several thicknesses at a time. For the rest of us, we have to mark each piece and then individually cut them. Or you can try a steel straight-edge and an Exacto knife (craft razor/knife), but watch your fingers, make sure that you cut on something that can't be damaged and don't make your stack too thick!

Ok, now we have a bunch of squares and/or rectangles cut out.
We will need a couple of items to do make these cloths up:
  • An iron and an ironing board or place to iron
  • A sewing machine and thread or needle and thread.
  • A ruler or a second set of templates 1" shorter on one long side and one short side. (So it's the finished size you want your item to be. Make this template just like you did the first set, only use thinner cardboard - like what comes in a shirt. It should be rather flimsy, so that you can iron over it and make a sharply creased fold. You need to decide if you want squared-off corners or mitered corners. If you want squared off corners, do nothing else to the templates. If you want the finished item to have mitered corners, you will need to cut off 1/2" from each corner of your template. Simple measure down both edges 1/2" from the corner. Then draw a straight line between the two marks. Do this for each corner. Cut off the triangle that is made. Otherwise, you will have to measure the fabric the same way and FOLD the fabric down between the two point and iron it flat.
  • Pins (opt) (I told you, I do short-cuts. I've finally lost the "perfection" drive. If you want "perfection" have at it. I'm making these so that people can wipe their faces, blow their noses and dry dishes - and with kids, you know they're going to mop up spills too. So I'm not doing "works of art" for them to ruin them with mustard stains that I won't find until I dig down to the bottom of the laundry bin, where they were hidden, to wash them. kwim?)

Here we go. Set up the ironing board and set the iron to cotton - because we're using cotton right. If not, set it to polyester or linen or whatever temp your fabric needs. While the iron is heating up, get your machine set up and ready to sew. Load the bobbin color you need on your bobbin and thread your machine.

You're going to work at the ironing board first. You will need either the ruler or the template. Your object here is to place the fabric with the wrong side up on the ironing board and then iron a 1/2" fold all around the fabric. Here's where you have to make a choice. Do you want mitered corners? If so, you're going to have to fold the corners down over the cut corners of the template and iron them FIRST. If you want a squared corner, just fold the fabric and iron. After deciding on our corner treatment, we're going to either center the template on the fabric, fold and iron each corner, then go back and fold and iron each length over OR use the ruler and fold down the fabric 1/2" and press. You will then remove the template or set aside the ruler. Then open up the longer folded edges (NOT the mitered corners, if you did those, keep them folded!) and fold the material over until it almost, but not quite touches the folds you just ironed in, and iron a second fold. This fold will be 1/4", but since your almost touching the 1/2" fold, you won't have to measure it. Did I tell you, I use short-cuts? now refold at the first fold you made, trapping that raw edge inside. You will now have a 1/4" finished edge that's ready for sewing.

Second choice. Either pin it or don't. Again, the choice is yours. I pin the corners, especially the miters, so they will stay mitered! I just pin on each side where the fabric meets in the corner. The rest of the edge I can get to pretty much stay put by how I feed it through my hands. I'm a very experienced sewer. If this is your first project, PIN IT. It will save you untold grief until you've learned to manipulate fabric and machine. Always keep the pins at a 90 degree angle (perpendicular) to the fabric, that way the machine will just jump the pins and you don't have to remove them before you've sewn that portion of the seam.

Finally, we're ready to sew! It's really not important where you start to sew on any of these things. I start along one side, in the middle. That way I've got the machine moving before I try to handle the corners. You're going to stitch along near the middle. Don't worry if the stitch "wanders" a little. You will learn to sew it straight line. As you come to the corner, slow down and use the hand wheel to catch the middle of the first side of the corner. You may have to do a couple of stitches by hand this way. Just keep turning the wheel until you get to the corner. When you get there, leave the needle IN the fabric, then lift the presser foot and turn the corner 90 degrees so that you're now going down the opposite side from where you just were. The material will rotate on the needle. Lower the presser foot and start sewing again. Do the same thing for each corner. When you get back to where you started, sew about an inch over the same seam to lock the stitching.

Remove any pins you used. Press it again so it will look nice and your ready to go with the next one.

Personally, I do stuff in batches. I choose which item I want to make first. I mark all my material for that pattern - say napkins. Then I cut out all of the napkins. Then I iron all my pieces around the template and pin the corners. Then I sew all the napkins. Then I press all the finished napkins, checking for loose threads.

You can do this any way you want to do it. Do one napkin at a time, one piece of fabric at a time, do sets at a time (napkins, place mats, dish towels - a table runner would be done the same way!).
If you want a bigger or smaller hem, add more than one inch to the finished size you are wanting to end up with. I wouldn't make the hem any smaller unless you have a serger you want to use.

You can make your items to whatever size you want. You can make your place mats out of a heavier material, line it, use fusible interfacing, etc. This is just the basics of HOW to do these type items. The sizes you want and the hemming you want are up to you.
I picked my favorite size items and that's where I got the measurements from. Pick your favorite items, favorite materials and customize these projects to your own liking. Then just have fun making them.

These will make great Christmas gifts. You can do them up in any holiday (T'day, Christmas, Valentine, etc) colors or fabrics. You can recycle material you already have, either new or gently used material. You can color coordinate it to the recipient's home or mix and match. Do just napkins or whole kitchen sets. If you use sheets, you can cut a top sheet for a table cloth and use a bottom, fitted sheet for the rest of the set. You can mix and match the colors - a top sheet from one set and the bottom sheet from another. Some colored, some white.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Testing fabric for natural or synthetic content

How to test fabric for natural fiber content:
(Mostly I'm looking at testing for cotton in fabric. You would have to look at other things as well as how the fabric burns to tell cotton from linen from wool.)

Note about handling fabric:
All fabric should be prewashed before you use it for anything. It removes sizing, allows the material to do any shrinking (it's nicer to have it shrink BEFORE you spend hours sewing an item rather than afterwards! If it shrinks before it's washed, you will be cutting the pattern to the size you need. If it shrinks afterwards, it may not fit or the fabric may pull or pucker the finished article.) Wash the fabric as you will the item you're making it into. So, if I'm making napkins, I put the fabric into hot water and a hot dryer. If I'm making a dress, the fabric would be cold washed and dried on medium heat.

You will need a couple of things:
a small swatch of the fabric you want to test.
a fire source, a lit candle is great, but matches or a lighter will work too.
tweezers or tongs to hold the swatch (so you don't burn yourself)
Non-flammable surface to work on

Set yourself up in a safe place so that you can burn a small swatch of the material you want to test. By this I mean, we're going to actually burn a small amount of the fabric to see how it burns, so set up where you have water close by in case you can't blow the fire out. Make sure you are standing where you can drop the burning piece without setting anything else on fire!
Standing over your kitchen sink is a really good place to do this kind of testing.

First, I use a candle. I had a bunch of fabric that I wanted to test and the candle is the best option - it leaves both hands free to work and you don't have to worry about burning yourself. Set the candle down into your sink (in a holder, if it needs one) and light it. Next, using tweezers, take the swatch of fabric and slowly start moving it towards the fire, the let it burn for a couple of seconds, then put the fire that's burning on the edge of the swatch out. (Leave your candle lit.)

You're looking for three things.
How did the material react to being burned
How the burnt part smells
How does the burned and cooled fabric react at the burned area.

How the material reacted to being burned?
The reason for slowly moving the fabric towards the fire is so that you can see if the fabric starts to shrink away from the fire, how close to the fire you can get before it catches the swatch on fire and can you just blow it out easily or does it want to keep burning. If the fiber starts to shrink way from the fire before it gets to the flame you have a high synthetic count in the fabric. Cotton/wool/linen have to almost touch the flame before it will ignite. Man-made fibers shrink - melts actually and wants to stay lit, even after you've blown the fire out. More about that in the last section.

How does it smell?
Man-made fibers, of which polyester is one of the most common, are made of chemicals and when any of these fibers burns, they have a chemical smell. Natural fibers have a milder, more natural odor.

How does it look and feel after being burned?
Fabric containing synthetic fibers will have a melted "ball" or "beads" at the ends of the burnt area. Make sure the fabric has cooled down, then if you run your fingers along the burned edge and it feels rough, or the fibers separate in "clumps", you have synthetic fibers in the fabric. Natural fibers will break off in an ash. The ends will feel soft and the fibers will separate individually, instead of looking like they have been glued together in small groups.

I read on one tip site that if the fabric sample being burned was natural, as soon as you blew on it to put out the fire, it would all go out. But that if it "glowed" it was synthetic. Usually, but not always so. If the natural fibers are unevenly woven - as when they ran out of thread and added another piece of thread to continue the weaving - it will cause the fibers to be thicker there than in the surrounding area, and thus not go out evenly. Also, if the fabric has been treated with sizing, it may also not go out as quickly. But the edges will be soft and the smell as it is burning is not "chemical" smell.

So, I took my many fabric samples and held them level with the side of the flame, but about 2-3 inches from it. I slowly moved the fabric closer to the flame. I didn't have any of the fabric swatches recoil from the flame, they had high enough cotton content that it didn't melt away from the heat. I would touch the edge of the flame and the material would ignite. I would blow it out. Some of my fabric, after being blown out, glowed for a few minutes. I knew that that fabric had a good amount of synthetic fibers in it (though it was still mostly cotton). I had a few pieces that glowed, for a moment or two. But then I noticed that the individual fibers were bunched closely together, as it does when I run out of yarn and have to add another piece to continue knitting. The edges were soft, brittle, grey-ashed, and there was no chemical smell. I know these are 100% cotton. (I know don't have any linen or wool fabric, just cotton and cotton/polyester.) Some of my fabric didn't smell, perhaps I just didn't let it burn long enough. But the edges did clump together or bead. I knew those have polyester in them.

Most of the 100% cotton did extinguish as soon as I blew on it. They all had a softer smell to them and the edges were soft with the fibers separating as I ran my finger across the edge. The fibers were also brittle and would discinerate to ash when touched.

I hope this helps someone distinguish between their materials, natural, combination and synthetic.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Window cleaning made easy

It's that time of year again. Here in the Northern Hemisphere, we're getting ready to do the Fall cleaning, while in the Southern Hemisphere it's gearing up for Spring cleaning.

I'm employed part-time as a custodian for my church. Like most churches, we have a lot of glass that needs cleaning. I had to learn to do it quickly and efficiently.

There are a number of ways to clean windows. From getting out buckets of water, lots of rags and/or rolls of paper towels or newspaper, to spray bottles and a squeegee. This is my favorite way, to clean windows. I think it's quick and cleanup is a breeze.

Here's what you'll need:
A cleaning liquid
A spray bottle
A squeegee (I got mine for $1.00 and it works just fine.)
Preferably an old rag, but paper towels work too -they're what I have to use at work.

Here's how:

First mix up your favorite cleaner. Some people swear by vinegar and water, others like ammonia and water, others nothing but 4-6 drops of "Dawn" dishwashing liquid in a quart of water. And some just buy window cleaner. You need a recipe or product that will cut the grease - which is most of what is on dirty windows. At work, I have a commercial cleaner I have to use. It's a product that is water and hydrogen peroxide with a stabilizer in it. I like it so much better than the ammonia-based cleaner we used to have to use. At home, I'm going to more green products. I've found that vinegar and water will clean well. If the window is heavily soiled, a drop or two of liquid soap can help, but don't overdo the soap, you don't want a filmy residue.

Once you have your liquid, we're ready for the next part. Oh, by the way, you don't need tons of the recipe. How many windows you have and whether you're cleaning them inside/outside only or inside and outside and how often you clean windows, will determine how much cleaning fluid you need. At church, a quart will clean all the door glass and entry area glass inside and out. We have 12 doors, plus the floor to door-top glass "picture windows"on both sides of each door. I only refilled the bottle about every two weeks. A little goes a long way.

Next, I put the cleaner in a spray bottle. This is so much easier than using a rag and dripping water everywhere. The spray bottle makes the job quicker, keeps your solution clean and helps the little go a long way. Also, I wear an apron so I can hang the trigger of the bottle on the waistband. This lets the bottle hang while I'm working with the squeegee and rag.

It doesn't matter if you do the insides or outsides first, you just don't want to wash the window with the sun blazing straight through it. The cleaning solution will dry too fast and it streaks badly.

On the outside, you're going to need to remove the screen and wash it. When I was a child, we would need to use a screwdriver to loosen the screws that held the brackets that kept the screens in the window. We'd remove all the screens, fill a bucket with soapy water, lay the screens flat on our lawn and use a scrub brush gently to clean both sides of the screens, then rinse with the spray nozzle on the hose. We'd then stand the screens up along a dry side of the house and let them dry while we washed the windows. That doesn't work in this house. The screens are attached to the top of the window frame. And I only have to pull two L shaped handles to release the bottom of the screen. I can wash the outsides of the screen, rinse it, prop the screen open (window closed ;) ) wash it and then rinse it.

Once you've taken care of your screens, if you're washing them, you're ready for the windows themselves.
I generously spray the window. If there are a lot of smudges or sticky stuff, use a corner of a rag or towel to moosh the cleaner around to break up the gunk. Next, take your squeegee and start at one of the top corners. I usually start at the upper left-hand corner. Draw your squeegee down following the seal of the window, making as straight a line as you can. Next, using your cloth or towel, COMPLETELY DRY off the squeegee. All you have to do is hold the squeegee in one hand and the towel in the other. Place a dry spot of the towel over the wet blade and pull the cloth down the edge of the rubber blade. This is what keeps the squeegee from streaking and keeps it from making a wet spot at the top of the window
Next, go to the wet spot, towards the center of where you just squeegeed. Overlap a little - so that you've got about an inch or so of window that you just squeegeed and is now dry, under the blade. Pull as straight down as you can. By overlapping, you won't end up with a wet spot between the first and second strips. People then try using the towel to rub the wet spot = streaks! Dry the blade again and repeat until the window is clean. Remembering to dry off that blade between each pass of the squeegee and to leave a dry margin under the blade so that if you "dog-leg" a bit, you don't have that wet spot to deal with.

Most of the church doors require 3 passes with the squeegee, a couple of them only require two. It's better to make an extra pass than to miss a spot and try to correct it. It WILL take more time to try and correct that streak than to make an extra pass with the blade!

Now you're almost done. The last thing to do is to take a dry section of the rag and carefully wipe the edges of the window - where the seals are. You don't want all that fluid running down the window and puddling on the ledge. I start at the top left and carefully go down the edge to the bottom, then I go to the upper right side and again go straight down. Last thing I do is wipe off the window sill. This may take several rags - you don't want water getting on that clean glass!

I have been known to not do a section of glass until the sun has changed directions later in the day. Too many times I tried cleaning glass with the sun directly hitting it. It's hard to see - the sun is in your eyes, the fluid dries before you can do a complete window, it's terribly hot, and it streaks something fierce. Just wait until later in the day - even if it's sunset - or do that side early in the day.

Reinstall the screens, put your equipment away, toss the rags into the laundry and you're done.
Well at least with the windows. lol I'm not sure if Mom is ever DONE?!!?

Washing dishes

When I was a child, we had to "do" dishes in a certain way, or it wasn't "correct" and we'd have to redo them. I always thought this was a waste of time, but as I've gotten older, I realized that the womenfolk of the family knew more that a thing or two. I still don't made my kids rewash dishes because they didn't "do it right", but I do try to teach them to be organized in what they do.

How do you wash dishes?
This is how I'm try to get my kids to do them and the reason why I wash in this order.

First collect all the dishes that need washing. Seems like a simple idea, but hey, how many times have you gotten to the pots and someone shows up with more dirty glasses?

Second scrape and quick rinse the very dirty. I don't prerinse all my dishes. There's no point in rinsing an empty glass unless something is molded in it. On the other hand, if you don't rinse the grease and ketchup (a vegie in my house. sigh) off the plates, your dishwater will be dirty very quickly. So anything with a heavy coating of gunk get's rinsed, especially greasy things, preferably as soon as you're done using it so the gunk doesn't harden. You really don't need to let the water run, just fill a sink with hot water and swish off the majority of it. You can rinse a lot of dishes in a small amount of water. The idea isn't to clean the completely, just get most of it off.

Then clean out your sinks, with your cleaner of choice. For years I used Comet cleanser, because...that's what mom and Nana used. Then I learned that baking soda and water will do the job. So will a little soap on a wet cloth or sponge. Rinse well and then make sure that you rinse the cloth or sponge out well, hand wash with a little soap, rinse again or use a clean cloth - otherwise the grease you just cleaned out of the sink will be back in the soapy water you're about to run.

Next, I put in the plugs. I have one plug that doesn't work all that well. So when I've stoppered the sinks, I put a little water in it and make sure they're sealed. I've left too many a sink filled with water only to come back and find that the plug wasn't tight and the water ran out. So put in just enough to cover the stopper. Give it about 3 mins. If it's leaking, you'll see it.

After I'm sure the plugs are tight, I start stacking my dishes in the sink. I put the large plates on the bottom, then the small plates, then any med bowls, then small bowls. I put the flatware on the left side of the plates and put the glasses around on top where there's room. Obviously, I don't have a huge family. There are days the dishes get backed up and I can't fit all that in the sink. Then it's just plates, silverware and glasses. Also, if I have any plastic zippy type bags I'm recycling, they get priority.

With the stuff in the sink, I start running the water and add the detergent or my homemade soap. For detergent, unscrew the cap from the neck of the bottle and use one capful. That should do it. I know there's a squirt top. Just like there's a line on the cup for your laundry detergent. Unless you have VERY, VERY hard water and oily, mechanic clothes, you're using too much. (Found this out when I moved here to soft water and a washer that drained into a utility sink!) Anyway, they want you to open the top and squirt. Don't, the dishes will be easier to wash. You don't need all those suds.

I asked my friend Rhonda Jean over at
answered some of my questions on using home made soap. Here are her instructions:

To use homemade soap, just rub some soap on your rag, get it a little soapy, and let the water run over it as you run dishwater. You won't get soapy suds, you don't need soapy suds to get the dishes clean. Also, as you wash, your dishwater will look milky. If you're used to using store detergent, it's not going to look right. It may even look "dirty" to you. But if you've rinsed them, then the water's fine. If something is especially greasy, then rub some soap on the rag and use it.

So first I wash the recycled bags, turning them inside out - this is the only way I know of not having greasy, recycled bags. I also rinse them first and set them aside until I've washed the glasses - which I do next. Then I prop open the plastic bags so they can dry. With the bags inside out, the outside drys first. Then I turn them right side out to finish drying and put them away.

After glasses, come bowls, small plates and then large plates. They get rinsed in reverse order - plates to small bowls. This lets me get the most from my drainer space. Last in the load is the silverware. (I have a separate plastic mesh container that I toss the dirty ones in. Then from that I dump them into the sink, swish the container and then put the clean silverware back into it to drain.

Next to go are plastics, any big utensils - tongs, wooden spoons, sharp knives, etc. I don't usually leave those laying around in the water.

If you've done a lot of dishes, you may want/need to run another sink of hot water. Here is usually a good point to do that.

Then it's on to the lids, pots, pans, skillets or roasters. From smallest to largest.

I then wipe down the counter tops and cabinet fronts, the back of the faucet/backsplash area, microwave inside and out, stovetop (around the eyes, the drip pans and the rings) and any appliances that need a wipe down. This keeps the mess from building up. Don't forget the tops of the trash can, and fridge/freezer door(s). Go from the least greasy areas to the most greasy ones.

In fact, this whole method takes you from the least greasy to the most greasy and from the most likely items to pick up grease (plastic bags and glasses) to those that are easier to get clean.

Drain the soapy side, rinse the rag out in the rinse side and let the water out - use it to rinse the soapy side down with or water your plants with it. Wipe out the sink again with a soapy rag, rinse well, hang the rag to dry, and you're done.

Now, print this out, hang it by your sink and tell the kids that this is how I said to do dishes. You can blame me. lol I'd put some contact paper on it or laminate it, otherwise, it might have an "accident". kwim?

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Small frugalities, cast iron and tasty recipes

Today I realized why our grandparents did some of the things they did and why frugal cooks of today copy those practices.

Yesterday was a long day. Getting kids moving doing school work, preparing to go to work and getting meals on the table with a tooth that is still sore. It took me a while to get my daughter to get the potatoes, carrots and roast in the oven. I had her set it on a higher temperature than I normally use to get it done more quickly, in hopes that it would be ready for her to take some to work with her. The roast was an odd shaped one, so by the time she had to leave for work, it still wasn't done, so she didn't get any to take to work. Then I realized that we had scouts that night and that we'd be gone for several hours. So I turned the roast down to 190 degrees and left it in the oven.

When we got home the meat was tender and the vegies roasted. But the water that was put into the pan to make a little steam and some gravy was cooked out. Only the fat drippings and a caramelized crust was left in the pot. It was late and I was tired, there were really no "drippings" like I normally use, so we didn't get any gravy for our meal.

I got up today and decided we'd have hash for dinner today. I had leftover meat to use and plenty of potatoes to make the hash with. I was going to wash the dishes while I stirred the hash. I put my son to peeling potatoes and then I went to do the dishes. I looked at the pan that the roast was cooked in, trying to decide how to best clean it. Then I remembered what my grandmother would have done.

Whenever she fried something, she would add some water to the pan and "deglazed" it. So I decided what the heck. I added some water to the pan (about 3 cups) and put the pan on the eye, turned the eye on and let it bubble a little. It worked! The dried, stuck on particles dissolved off and I soon had a nice couple of cups of broth to cook with. Note: If this idea doesn't sound good to you, don't do it!

Now I know the food police will have a fit that this pan was left out all night, but there was nothing but the dried, baked on drippings and a spoonful of hard fat on the bottom of the pan. Long before we had refrigerators, stuff like this was left out overnight and no harm came to anyone. Certainly, as I fry stuff in the future, I'll remember this tip and go ahead an add water to the pan, then put the resulting stock in a container in either my fridge or freezer right away. In the mean time, the water that was added to the pan was brought to a boil and allowed to boil for several minutes, thus destroying any harmful bacteria that might have been lurking. Again, use left-out drippings at your own risk!

The fact is, every time I fry hamburger, cube steaks, sausage, hot dogs, ham, etc, there's some fried on particles. If each time I fried or roasted something, I'd add some water to the pan and let it bubble the fried on bits off, I'd have nice tasting broth and a pan that was easier to clean.

When this broth has cooled down a little, put it in a container/add to an existing container to cool and let the fat harden. You can then remove the fat and use it for another purpose. (In older times, it would have been used for frying, baking or for making soap. Now-a-days, we seem to just toss it. Your call.)

Actually, since I use cast iron, and don't use soap on them, all I'll have to do is scrub any remaining stuck on spots with salt, rinse well with hot water, let drain a second, put on the stove, turn the eye on to heat the pan and dry the water, and then lightly oil the warm pan and hang it back up. It's clean, ready to use for the next meal and the no-stick surface is maintained. (There are several ways to clean cast iron. This is only one way. Choose whatever way makes you happy.)

If I remember to deglaze the pan with the water, I'll have a ready supply of flavored "stock" for gravy or soup.

This is approximate, I don't measure. My mom would fix this in one pan. I fix it in a cast iron "chicken fryer". It sort of looks like a dutch oven, holds about 4 qts of liquid, and has a pour spout on one side. I love it!

My hash recipe:
Leftover roast, cut into cubes. Last night we had a little less than 1/2 lb left over. It was tender and ended up more shredded than cubed. It still tasted good.

Peeled, cubed potatoes. I used about 10 regular sized ones. I used a white potato, I've also used Red Bliss. I have used Russets, but to me, they are best for baking.

Flour, oil, water, salt, onion and garlic powder, and some Adobo without pepper. (we don't use pepper on our food. I don't much care for it, so the kids aren't use to eating it. You may use pepper or whatever else your family likes for seasonings.)

If using cast iron, put the pan on and turn the heat to med. to let the pan get hot. Put some oil in the bottom of your pan to about 1/8 to 1/4 inch. Give it a couple of minutes to get warm, then add the potatoes. Stir them around a bit and don't let them stick to the bottom and burn! You're wanting to slightly fry the outsides. Put a lid on the pot and turn down the heat a little more.
When the potatoes are almost done - about 15-20 mins depending on how small you cubed them. (they will be more opaque than when they are only partially done. Almost fork tender.) Add the meat, stir the meat into it replace the lid and let it heat up. This takes oh, perhaps 5 mins. (At this point, I added the leftover potatoes from last night - there really wasn't enough left for a meal.)

When the meat is heated, I then take a handful of flour and sprinkle it over the mixture. I stir it in, then take another handful and repeat. I used 3 handfuls for my pot tonight and then added the 3 cups or so of the "stock" from the bottom of that roasting pan and then another 2 regular glasses of water. I let it cook for about 5 mins, but the gravy wasn't thick enough, so I ended up making a flour/water slurry of about 1/3 cup of flour and enough water to make a thinner paste. I stirred that in, added my seasonings - I always "eyeball" it.

When I add any flavoring, I pretend the pot is a plate of food and sprinkle on each seasoning as if it were the only one I was using and that I am going to stir it into the food. Which means I'm looking not only at how round the "plate" is, but the depth of the food too. Also, I go a little light, since I can always add more, but can't take back any seasoning.

I then let the pot simmer for about 10 mins, stirring often so it doesn't stick and burn.

This served the 3 of us with some left over for 2 of us to have for lunch tomorrow. We are hearty eaters. It would probably serve 6-10 people, especially if you had bread, salad and a vegie with it. As my mouth has been hurting for several weeks and I'm not feeling well, this was all I fixed!

Personally, I've never had much luck freezing potatoes in foods. They've always come out with a disagreeable texture to me. So I don't advocate freezing this recipe. But others freeze potatoes without any problems. These are probably the same ones that can freeze Mason jars and not have them break. (Mine always break, no matter how much head room I leave or whether I use straight sided or ones with a neck!)

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Chicken Delight - my all-time favorite dessert!

Chicken delight a dessert?

There's a story to this dessert.
I used to live in a little town, outside a small town. One of the few places to eat was called "Chicken Delight". We had to pass it every time we went to the grocery store.

One day my friend Ginger served a dessert for dinner. A friend of mine and myself loved the dish and asked for the recipe. Ginger wrote it out, but instead of writing "Chocolate Delight", she wrote "Chicken Delight" instead. To this day, we joke about serving "Chicken Delight" for dessert.

This is an easy and tasty dessert. Almost as easy as Yogurt pie!

1 Cup Flour
1 Stick Margarine (1/2 cup)
1 cup nuts, chopped


Layer 1:
1 16 oz (454 gm) container Cool Whip or (make 16 oz Dream Whip)
8 oz (227 gm) cream cheese
1 Cup powdered sugar (this is what we use to make icing or frosting for a cake)

Layer 2:
2 large boxes instant chocolate pudding (you could sub other flavors, if you'd like)
3 cups (680 gm) milk (Or make about 3 1/2 cups (794 gm) of chocolate cornstarch pie filling)

Layer 3:
12 oz (340 gm)container of Cool Whip or (make 12oz Dream Whip)
nuts (opt)

Mix crust ingredients in the bottom of a 9 x 13 pan (This is a large, rectangular casserole/cake size pan about 23 x 33 cm) Press down and bake for 20 mins (until golden brown) in a 350 (177 C) degree oven. Let it cool COMPLETELY.

Mix sugar and cream cheese together, then stir in the large Cool W hip. Spread it over the crust.
Mix the 2 puddings with 3 cups of milk and spread over cream cheese layer.
Top this layer with the medium Cool Whip. You can spread nuts over this layer if you so desire.

I hope you enjoy this.
If you don't know how to make a yogurt pie, comment me and I will do a post on it.

Sourdough mutiny

Well, after feeding my sourdough for a week, I finally got around to making something with it.
I decided to make pancakes. I have a nice recipe for it. I've made it before and I liked it.

Kids! Gotta love them.

I spent 20 mins whipping up a nice batch with extra to freeze. They each took one bite and went YUCK.
Then I tried one. I had to agree. It didn't taste too good.

Rule one.
Don't start this project if you have a tooth ache. You'll forget to feed it a couple of times and it will get VERY strong.
Rule two.
If they kids have never had rye flour before, don't make the start out of it. The taste will come through and they won't eat it.
Rule three.
If you ignore rule one and two, then you're going to have to do one of two things. Either throw out the starter or throw out the kids. I opted for keeping the kids. I'm not sure why. So I tossed the start.

Yes, I could have added some baking soda and sugar to sweeten it, but the damage has already been done. I need to let this subject sit for a while and then try revisiting it at a later date. Because until then, they won't even try it. Especially 18 dd who has a gourmet's set of taste buds and a water budget. (yes, this child CAN tell when the bread will break out in mold! She'd done it before. People have told her, naw, the bread is fine. Then later in the day, they'll find small spots of mold growing that wasn't there earlier.)


The tooth is doing better. It's still letting me know it's there, but not so badly that I'm taking anything for the pain. It usually only hurts when I have forgotten and chewed on that side, then I will notice a little later that my jaw is sore.
It makes me grateful that we have antibiotics - even though I do detest taking them.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Salute to a caring dentist

I've had a tooth that's been bothering me for a few weeks. Yesterday it really started throbbing. I've been rinsing my mouth every few hours with a salt brine. I even dried the area around the tooth with a cotton swab and used a cotton swab to apply some tea tree oil (Melaleuca) on the gums around the tooth. I made sure I didn't swallow any of the oil. I let it sit for a few minutes and would spit out any saliva. I also started taking about 4 Advil (Ibuprofen) every 5-6 hours.

Two weeks ago, this knocked out the pain in the tooth, but it doesn't seem to be working this time. I was up all night with the tooth hurting.

I don't have much money and the local dentists wanted $200 and up to extract the tooth, more for a filling.

There is a low-income dentist in the area, but they are only open a couple days each month. Finally today they were open and I was able to see the dentist. He gave me two choices - be sent to someone else for a root canal and crown ($1200 minimum) or he could extract it. Well I can't afford $200, much less $1200, so with tears in my eyes, I said I guess he'd have to pull it.
I was upset not only because of the loss of the tooth, but my teeth are crooked and so I only chew with certain teeth. And you guessed it, the tooth hurting is the tooth I use most when I chew.

He patted my shoulder and said he was sorry, but that it was better for me to be healthy than to have that tooth. It's an upper molar, and the chances of it causing a fast developing infection in my sinuses are very good. The dentist went ahead and had an xray made, and while it was developing, took care of another patient.

While he was busy, I got to thinking. I had had another tooth that started bothering me like this one was. She filled it and gave me an antibiotic. It worked and that tooth hasn't bothered me since. So when this dentist returned, I told him I had a proposition. He said to give him any excuse and he'd take it. He hated extracting teeth. So I told him what had been done before and asked him about doing that. He looked at the xray. There was no cavity on the tooth and he couldn't see any infection - doesn't mean it wasn't infected, just that it wasn't showing up on the xray yet.

So long story short, he ground down the tooth some so that it wasn't touching and put me on antibiotics. I hate taking them, but it beats the alternative. And he ground down the tooth so that it wasn't taking all the pressure of my chewing. He said it was like jumping up and down and landing on just one toe. Over time, it's bound to cause a bruise. He then told me that by Thur the antibiotic will have done all that it was going to do. If by then it wasn't totally calm, to make SURE I came back in and that he'd be back next Tue. He also reminded me that if the xray had shown an infection, he would have pulled it and not tried to treat it.

So thank you Dr. Thomas Carroll for listening to a patient's idea, for treating me with respect and caring that I was upset about the potential loss of a tooth. He balanced the need to protect my health with my need to keep a tooth. I appreciate that!

Keep my tooth in your prayers, that the antibiotic will heal any infection and that removing some of the pressure on it will let it settle back down and not hurt anymore.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Sourdough bread recipe

There are some facts we need to know about working with sourdough.

When making sourdough bread, there can be a big difference in how much flour to use. The amount of flour to use will vary depending of the "dryness" of the flour type you use, how compactly you measure your ingredients and the amount of liquid alcohol present in the sourdough batter. All yeast bread has some alcohol in the making of it. Yeast breaks down the starch in flour into alcohol and carbon dioxide gas. Due to the longer fermentation times in sourdough, it's just more pronounced.

(Note: As the use of alcohol is a personal call, I wanted people to know about the slightly higher levels of alcohol in the unbaked dough. I don't drink alcohol - it's against my religious beliefs. We do eat yeast breads and I do use small amounts of extracts in my baking. Extracts are distilled in alcohol. The alcohol does cook off as it bakes, but I still choose to not add alcohol to my other foods.)

When you are making sourdough bread, add about 1/3 of the flour the recipe calls for. Then start adding flour a little at a time until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl. (Remember we don't use metal bowls or spoons with sourdough, though I do use metal pans to bake in.)

Another tip is to add your ingredients by weight, which is how professional bakers and serious hobbiest bake all their goods. You will need a digital scale for best results. One that you can reset the tare and that will measure small amounts as well as larger ones - so you can measure your flour all at once instead of cup by cup, but also still be able to measure portions of a teaspoon.

One cup should be 8 oz. or 227 gm.
A teaspoon is 1/6 oz or 4.73 gm ,
A tablespoon is 1/2 oz or 14.18 gm.
(see for a conversion calculator.)

As with all yeast breads, you are going to have to knead this dough. Turn the dough out on a floured surface and knead until it's elastic and smooth. Add extra flour a little at a time, so you don't make the resulting bread too dry. The dough is ready when it's not sticky and springs back when you poke it with your finger. (Like when you try to pat out pizza dough before it's rested enough and it shrinks back from where you just patted it to.)

Also remember that all bread doughs need at least one rising to develop the texture. Let it rest for about 10 mins and then shape into a loaf and let it rise. Or you can let it rise until doubled, punch it down, knead it a few times, then shape it into a loaf and let it rise the second time in the loaf pan. Sourdough takes longer to rise by about 1 1/2 to 2 times as long. So normally it takes about 30 mins to an hour for a loaf to double. Sourdough takes 45 mins to 2 hrs to rise.

Until recently, I never had a scale and didn't know about "baker's percentages". I just eyeballed splitting the dough up and it worked just fine for me. But then again, I can eyeball two spots on the wall to hang a picture and when measured, they might be 1/8" off. So perhaps I'm just a talented eyeballer. (American for the ability to look at two or more things and see if they're the same size, shape or on the same level.) If you're making more than one loaf or are making any of the shaped rolls that I posted about in Aug., and have used the scale to measure out your ingredients, then use the scale to weigh your portions. The bread will get done at the same time instead of one being ready to bake or cooked before the other is ready.

Once you have allowed the dough to rise, place it in a greased bowl or loaf pan to rise, grease top and cover with a damp towel. Allow it to rise in a warm, draft-free place. Remember, the cooler the place the bread sits in, the longer it will take to rise. If you have a pilot light, just place the bread in the oven without turning it on and close the door. If you have an electric oven, heat a couple of cups of water (stove top or microwave) to boiling and put that in a bowl on the lower shelf of the oven, then place the covered bread on a higher shelf. Close the oven door. Remember to remove the bread AND the bowl - especially if it's plastic, BEFORE you preheat the oven! lol

When the dough is almost doubled, preheat the oven. It only takes my oven 10 mins at the most to preheat, so you don't need to start it preheating as soon as you place your bread in the loaf pan - unless your going to cook something else while the bread rises.

A basic sour dough bread recipe:
2 cups batter
2-4 or more cups of flour (Whole wheat, 1/2 and 1/2, or plain white)
2 Tbs sugar
1 tsp salt
2 Tbs oil or shortening, melted an cooled a little.
1 Tbs vital gluten (Skip if you're using regular AP flour. Optional if using whole wheat.)

Mix 1/2 of the flour, sugar and salt together. Mix batter and oil together. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture, add the wet mixture and mix that together. Then start adding enough flour to make a soft dough - this is where it will pull away from the sides of the bowl. Knead for 10-15 mins. Place in a greased loaf pan. Cover and let rise until doubled.. Bake at 375 F (192 C) for one hour.

I use very thirsty whole wheat flour, so it only takes me 2 cups instead of the 4 called for and I use honey to sweeten this and stir the honey into the oil/batter mixture. You can also use molasses, brown sugar or whatever sweetener you like. (If it's dry, add to the flour mixture. If it's wet, add it to the wet mixture.)

You can also substitute 1/3 cup - 1 cup of a different flour - rye, spelt, etc. for the same amount of the normal flour. (Since I only use 2 cups of flour, I don't want to use a whole cup of rye. That would make it 1/2 and 1/2 and it wouldn't rise very well - if I'm making a loaf in a pan. But if I wanted a "peasant bread" then 1 cup would work very well. I just know to expect it not to rise as high and that it will be a denser loaf.

I saw a suggestion of adding the juice of one orange and some orange zest to make an orange sourdough bread. You could do the same with lemons, limes or probably even apples - use a little apple juice or cider and grate some peeled apple or use applesauce.

Most of us who use whole wheat flour know that you let whole wheat rise until ALMOST doubled. However, I will also add 1 Tbs of vital gluten to this recipe so that I will have a different texture to my bread and it will be foldable, instead of crumbling as whole wheat will do and this will allow the bread to be able to rise until doubled, otherwise, the bread would collapse before it doubled. If that should happen, just reshape the loaf and let it rise again. It will take less time for the second rising that it did for the first - there will be more yeastie beasties by then.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

How do I use different stitch patterns to make my project?

Have you ever wondered how people come up with a different pattern to use for washcloths, dishcloths, scarves and other straight stitched items?

These items are nothing more than large swatches of knitting and you can learn how to make them the size you want. Here's how:

First, pick out a stitch that you'd like to learn. Let's say I want to learn how to do a "moss stitch". (I think in some places this is also known as "seed stitch".)

Next decide on the weight yarn you'll use. The weight of the yarn will decide the approximate size of the needle. The smaller the yarn, the smaller the needle. The larger the yarn, the larger the needle.

Say I want to make dishcloths. I know that I want 100% cotton. It will hold up better and dry more quickly than acrylic yarns. 100% wool is more expensive, shrinks and will felt with use. It could be used, but most people don't want the expense, shrinking and felting. (And the felted ones will take long to dry.)

So anyway, I've gotten my pattern - moss stitch, I know I want make more dishcloths, I know I can use anywhere between a size 4 to a size 10 needle (3.50- 6.50mm) I will use a needle on the larger end of the scale - I want to get done more quickly and I don't need the denser stitch count of a smaller sized needle.

Truth be told, I'm going to just cast on enough stitches, probably about 40, to make the dishcloth. I'm not going to worry about exactness, it's not needed for this project. I'm just going to k1, p1 for 2 rows, then p1, k1 for two rows. I'll alternate this until my project is a square - because I like square dishcloths. How do I know when I'm about squared? I fold one corner on a diagonal. If it's square, it will make a triangle, nothing left over. If it's not squared, I will have a triangle with a rectangle on top of it. Now I can make a rectangle if I want it to be so. It's my choice. There are no dishcloth police gonna get you if it's a rectangle or even a circle. Whatever floats your boat!

But suppose I want a scarf or a table cloth. How can I make those come out with correct proportions?

Each pattern requires a certain number of stitches to make that pattern. The moss stitch is a multiple of two stitches. Divided Boxes need a multiple of 5 stitches. Each pattern has it's own number of stitches to make that pattern. So for the moss stitch I need to have an even number of stitches on the needle. For the Divided Boxes, I need to have a number divisible by 5. (so 25 stitches will work, but not 22.)

For that, you're going to have to make a test swatch or two even. So cast on enough stitches for your pattern to make a 4" or larger square. Knit until it's a square. (see above).

Then you're going to determine your gauge. Turn you swatch to the wrong side, lay it down flat and measure the number of stitches to the inch and rows to the inch. So you may have 4 1/4" per stitch and 8 rows per inch. Write these two numbers down, you'll use them in the next step.

Now to plan your project your going to need two more measurements to calculate how many to cast on and how many rows to knit. The next measurement you will need it to determine how wide you want the finished project to be. I want my dishcloth to be 6" wide.) Write that number down. Then the last measurement you will need is to determine how long you want it to be when your finished making your project. (I want it to be 6" long.) Write that number down. Get out your calculator and we'll do two equations to answer the questions how many stitches to cast on and how many rows do I knit.

How many stitches to cast on:
Multiply your desired width x the number of stitches in your swatch and you will have the number of stitches to cast on. So 6" wide x 4.25 stitches = 25.50 stitches. So I'll cast on 24 stitches for the moss stitch. (I need an even number required for this pattern.) If I wanted to do a Divided box stitch, I would have to cast on 25 stitches to be able to divide it by 5.)

How many rows will I knit:
Multiply your desired length x the number of rows in your swatch = number of rows to knit.
I want my cloths to be 6" long x 8 rows = 48 rows of knitting. That will work for the moss stitch, it doesn't care how many rows you do. But for the boxes to be square in the Divided Boxes, I'll need to do 50 rows (The divided box stitch is a pattern of square boxes. I guess I could choose to do only 48 rows, but the last squares won't be squares because you'll be 2 rows short of stitches.)

There you go. This is all it takes for a flat-patterned item - dishcloths, washcloths, table runners, tablecloths, towels, scarves, bedspreads, anything that's square or rectangular and that doesn't require cutouts or to be fitted. Fitted things like sweaters, dresses, etc. require a little more calculating. Since I don't do long-term items (ADHD strikes again), I can't tell you how to size these things. I do know that the principles are the same, but that there are other calculations you will have to take into consideration - armholes, neck-lines, curvature of the cap of the sleeve, etc. It's beyond my abilities to tell you how to do those adjustments.

Knitting Dishcloths

I thought that I wouldn't like to use a knit or crochet dishcloth. I thought that they would be too bulky to wash the dishes with, take too long to dry and in general be a pain to use. My hands hurt and cramp enough with a light-weight terry cloth dishcloth that the idea of using a bulky knit or crochet one was just dismissed out of hand as being too painful to bother with using. And why make an item that I wouldn't use?

This past week, I had invited the missionaries from my church to come over for dinner. We had a nice dinner prepared by my 15 yo old son. We listened to a talk on CD on the folly of trying to be perfect and the wisdom of doing your best, then realizing that if you've done your best, that's all you can do. We also just visited with each other. A nice time was had by all. The next day, they stopped by and dropped off a crochet dishcloth that Sister Burt had made.

There had been a lot of discussion on Rhonda Jean's blog "Down--to--earth" about knit dishcloths and people were singing their praises. They had even had a dishcloth swap. So I decided, what-the-heck, I'll try out my gift.

Far from being bulky and making my hands ache, it was a joy to use. It cleaned well and my hands didn't cramp like they do when I use a terry cloth dishcloth. Also, it dried more quickly than my cheap terry cloth ones do. I just hang mine over the edge of the sink to dry. I was really amazed.

About 5 or more years ago, I discovered that crocheting, which I had been doing for some 30 years was causing cramping and fatigue in my hands. So I retaught myself how to knit.

When I was about 10, my mom taught me how to knit. But my tension was SO tight, that I couldn't get the needle to go through the stitches very easily. I ended up with a sore finger-tip from forcing the needle through the bottom stitch. So I gave it up as something I "couldn't" do.

Some 9 years later, I had a friend teach me how to crochet, learned about controlling tension, and how to read a pattern.

I'm a person who likes to get through a project quickly, so most of my projects were and are simpler ones. Hats, mittens, scarves, doilies, etc.

Time moved on and I finally realized that my hands were hurting enough that it was no longer fun to crochet. But I still liked busy work. Something to keep my hands busy, so I didn't start snacking. Something that didn't cost a lot and that would leave me with something useful.

So I thought I'd retry knitting. I really needed some gloves, not mittens, and those patterns that I had available were all for knitting gloves. I was even able to find a glove pattern that doesn't require double-pointed needles to make. So off I went to get supplies.

A friend suggested that this time around, I try using circular needles. You can use circular needles without knitting in the round. All you have to do is, when you get to the end of the row, turn the needles around just as if you were using the straight kind. I find I like these MUCH better than the straight kind! They fit differently in my hand, the stitches don't seem to want to slip off the ends as easily, so I'm not dropping stitches and I like the fact that they want to curl up - it makes them easier to store. I did have to learn how to slightly twist the needles to uncoil them so they wouldn't be fighting me while I was actually knitting, but mostly that's not a problem. And when it is, it's obvious when you try to knit the first stitch and so it's easily remedied - just twist the needle with the stitches on it and it will unkink the connecting needle.

I've learned not to grip the yarn so tightly or pull too tightly on it. If I'm knitting two together (k2t), I've learned that after I've done that, I need to pull up just a little on the last loop I made, so that when I knit across it on the way back, the loop isn't too tight to allow the needle to pass into it. I've learned that at the end of a row, I need to tighten the stitch just a little to keep that last stitch from being too "loopy" and that when I then turn and restitch in it, to hold a bit of tension on it. The next stitches will all be done a little more loosely. If I do these things, my finished project will have uniform tension on it and will look good - provided I don't bungle the pattern. lol

Friday, I stopped by Wally world and picked up some 100% cotton yarn to make some dishcloths with. It cost me $1.27 for each 50gm ball. I also found a set of double-pointed needles - something that in 5 years I haven't been able to find locally - not in the three surrounding counties where I live.

I made two different patterns, using a size 10 (6.00mm) circular needles. (The diagonal pattern called for a 9-10 1/2 needles, 5.50-6.50mm)

The first pattern, done on the diagonal, is where you start knitting with 4 stitches, and do an increase each row (k2, yo, knit to end) until you have 40 stitches (50 for a washcloth), then you do a decrease each row(k1, k2t, yo, k2t, knit to end) until you're back to 4 stitches, then bind off. This pattern has an edge, then a small hole and then the rest of it has a garter stitch. The holes are small and decorative. The garter stitch gives it a textured surface to help remove food and grease from the dishes. This is a very easy pattern and didn't take too much yarn. In fact, I would have been able to get 3 dishcloths out of one ball if I hadn't need to use some of one ball with the other color. Also, it only takes about 2 hours from start to finish.

My second pattern was one I just made up in my head. I cast on about 40 stitches and did a garter stitch (k each row) until it was a square. Bind off and you're done. I used a yellow variegated yarn and ended up with a dishcloth that was only a row in one direction and about 2 stitches in the other direction bigger than the cloth done on the diagonal. I had more of the yellow, but decided that I'd go back to the diagonal style - I could see that it used less yarn. I was almost finished with the cloth, I think I had about 12-15 stitches left to go before I bound off 4, when I ran out of the yellow, so I just tied on the blue I used for the other cloth.

It turned out rather cute. I have a triangle of blue on top of the yellow. All I have to do is embroider eyes, nose and a mouth and I have a person wearing a hat. I'm not going to bother, but this is one way to make a face, especially a clown face! I'll keep that in the back of my mind. It would make a cute gift for a child.

I was able to get 1 3/4 cloths from the variegated yellow.

I learned that some patterns will use a great deal more yarn than others for the same size and density cloth. Since my money is at a premium, I'm probably going to stick to the diagonal pattern.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Blog, dog and the phone cord

Ain't life grand?
Just when you think things are flowing smoothly, something happens and there goes you plans.
My plans for this week including making some of the sour dough bread that I posted about a couple of days ago, plus making some waffles for a meal and for the freezer.

So I got my ingredients together, tripled the batter ingredients, mixed 'em up and left the bowl in the prewarmed oven overnight.

I got up the next morning and to my surprise, not much had happened. The mix was still very stiff. (I had used freshly ground, red winter wheat for 4 cups of the flour and then used 2 cups of rye flour. I also added 3 tbs of yeast.) So I added some more water, thinking that my wheat was "extra dry". I left it sitting out and by the next morning, it was too thin. So I went ahead and fed it with 2 cups water and 2 cups wheat. There was about 3/4 cup of left-over flour in the bag, so I tossed that in. I'm going to use most of this for waffle batter, so having so much won't hurt anything.

This morning, it was looking and smelling good. But being the ADHD person I am and with no computer to use, I got side-tracked knitting some dish cloths and didn't get it done. I was also going to add a couple of posts to my blog.

When I got home yesterday I found that my daughter's dog has chewed the cord on the phone. My son, who was home when it happened and working on the computer, said he heard Baxter yelp and then the internet went out. He tried and tried to get it to work and couldn't. I tried also, but to no avail. So we called tech support and they tried to do stuff to get it back going. Evidently, when Baxter bit through the cord, he shorted out the DSL modem. In the end, they were going to send us a new modem. Later last night, I realized that I still have a modem on this machine and I setup a dialup account. Hey, it worked! I had limited internet usage.

Today, my son has been on the computer playing his game and I spent it knitting on dish cloths.
I knew that I couldn't do much downloading with just the dial up - it takes forever and a year!
Then about 30 mins ago, I had him plug in the old modem, just to see what would happen. Surprise, surprise, surprise! It worked. So we've reattached the DSL and here I am.

I don't think the dog will bite the cord again. He found out that it bites back.

Hopefully, I'll get some pics up of my sour dough and my knitting.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Sour Dough

Sour dough is a very useful thing to have, but it needs to be worked with and used or fed weekly.
You can make breads, waffles, pancakes, even cakes from the batter. The recipe that I have for the start is easy to make and use.
But first there are a couple of things you need to know about sour dough starts.
1.) Never use metal bowl or store a "start" in metal. Metal causes the start to die. I don't even use a metal spoon to stir mine. Crocks, glass, plastic or even a gallon ziplock will work.
2.) A start that is good will have a strong sour milk smell to it. This is normal.
3.) If you don't use it frequently, the liquid will separate out from the batter. To fix that, stir up the start and add 1 tsp sugar or simply use the start. If the start is regularly used, it won't separate. Keep it in the fridge, in a covered container.
4.) If you can't use it for several weeks, you can freeze it. You can also dry it. To take it with you camping, add enough flour to be able to make a ball out of it. Then bury this ball in flour. To use it, just add water to make it usable again.
5.) If you haven't used the start in a while or it gets too sour, you can add a pinch of soda to sweeten it.

There are many ways to make a start. One of the best ways to have a start, is to get one from someone who has one going already! But since most of us don't have that option, here is just one way of making a start. The advantage of this one, is that it's ready to use the next day.

Basic Starter
2 Cups water (or liquid milk), 2 cups flour and 1 pkg (1 scant Tbs) of yeast. Mix together, keep in a warm place and it's ready to use the next morning. (If your making this for the first time, and want to double it so that you can make pancakes the day after tomorrow, it works.)

Yup, that's all there is to it.

The next morning, you will put 1 cup of starter into a scalded container, cover it tightly and put in the fridge until the night or until you want to use it again. That's when you add more flour and water to it, let it sit out overnight and it will be ready again in the morning.

Sourdough batter
1 cup starter
2 cups warm water or milk
2 cups flour, any kind
Mix together in a large bowl - remember this will expand and DON'T use metal.
This mixture will be thick and lumpy, but will thin out while it's fermenting. Cover this and allow it to sit in a warm spot overnight (10-12 hrs.). In the morning, return a cup for your next start and use the rest for your recipe.

You can double this if you have 2 cups of start. If not, you will have to either make this over two days, by doubling the flour/water parts and then letting it sit for 24-36 hrs, or make the above recipe and put all of it in the fridge. In the evening, take out 1 cup, put the rest of the 1st batch back into the fridge and make the recipe a second time, with the one cup of start you just removed. In the a.m., take out the first batch, mix it with the second batch and let it come to room temp, about 30-60 mins.

If a recipe calls for batter, the above recipe is what you want. Actually, any time you "feed" a recipe, you have basic batter. And basic batter is a giant starter, until you add the other ingredients.

Sour dough waffles
4 cups basic batter (If you haven't already done this, save out one cup for the next batch.)
1 egg
4 Tbs oil or shortening, melted and cooled a little (too hot will kill the yeast in the start).
1 tsp salt
1 tsp soda
1/4 cup milk
Add egg, oil and milk to basic batter, stir it well. In a small bowl, mix the dry ingredients together and sprinkle over the batter, stirring gently. Let it rest for 5 mins. Heat your griddle hotter than you normally would, then drop or pour this on the griddle. If it seems too thick, add more milk.

Sourdough Chocolate Cake
1 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
3 squares unsweetened chocolate that has been melted
2 eggs
1 cup batter
1 cup milk
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 tsp cinnamon (opt)
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
2 cups flour

Cream shortening and sugar until it's light and fluffy. Add melted chocolate and beat in. Beat eggs in one at a time. On low speed, mix in batter, milk, vanilla, cinnamon then beat on med. for 2 mins. Mix salt and soda together, sprinkle over mix and gently fold in. Stir in flour until batter is smooth. Pour into three greased and lightly floured 8"-9" cake pans. Bake at 350 for 20 -25 mins until done.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Hopes and Dreams and Homemade baby food

I've always had kids who knew their own minds.

When I got pregnant with what would be my first child - after several miscarriages and not getting married until I was 34, I had all these dreams of how I was going to do things.
Lamaze, nursing, homeschooling, raising happy, obedient children.

Yeah. Right! Hahahahahaha.

I have heard it said that if we want to hear God laugh, tell him what were going to do.

First, I was going to have "natural" child birth. Which was actually ok, until the back labor/back muscle cramps converged and quit giving me a break between the contraction and the "Charlie horse" (muscle spasms) in my back. I was handling everything just fine until there was no break in the pain at all. OWW No pain meds? Who said that? I want MORPHINE. NOW! lol

Second, it was a good thing I had been a medic and paramedic. When at 30 weeks, my back was hurting so badly I couldn't sleep, I went into the bathroom and decided to read a book (I just couldn't be labor, it was all in my mind.) and write down every time I started hurting, how long it lasted (1 1/2 mins) and how long between me hurting (5 minutes). After about 15 mins., I called the MD. I went to the hospital and they spent 4 days trying to stop labor. They had enough time to push some Betamethazone, which matures the baby's lungs. It takes 4 days to work.

By the night of day 3 1/2, I couldn't breath. I had been short of breath all through the pregnancy. Ok, so was somewhat overweight (I'd kill to be that small again. sigh)
Pregnant women can't breath. No problem.

At 5 am, I finally told the nurse, who had worked on the pulmonary floor for 14 years. She got her stethoscope listened for about 10 seconds and flew into action.

By 6am I had 7 MD's and 4 nurses discussing what to do with me. They decided that they needed to deliver my daughter. So they started pushing meds. You haven't lived until you've had Lasix pushed. When you're in labor. It causes fluids to be drawn out of your body and you have to go to the bathroom, constantly - like pregnant women don't have to already? So they put in a catheter. Labor makes you thirsty - you're breathing rather hard - especially when they've pushed Pitocin too. So here I am, dying of thirst - no drinking allowed! They're trying to get RID of fluid in my lungs. I've got Pitocin causing me to go into labor - after spending 4 days pushing Magnesium Sulfate to STOP labor. Need I mention that this was not fun. They gave me some pain meds, but guess what? By the time I really needed it, it had worn off.

So I called to the MD for some more. When she finally came into the room, she and the nurse were talking. She told the nurse, "when the head's down, we can give her some more pain meds." So .............I VERY quickly lowered the head of the bed. And I looked up at them and said, "the head's down!" And nobody paid me any attention. (Did I mention I had been a paramedic who excelled in OB/GYN and Pediatrics?) (For those of you who haven't had a child yet, they were talking about the baby's head being ready to be delivered, not the head of the bed being down!)

So the dear one is born at 6:20pm. In excellent health. APGARs of 9 and 10. Small (3lbs 8oz. but screaming her head off. In fact, I became known as "the mom with the baby with the good lungs." (On occasion, she STILL has good lungs. lol) They whisk her off to the NICU.

So much for bonding and keeping her in my room.

When I brought my 4lb 3oz twenty-two day old daughter home from the hospital, I planned on nursing her. Well, because of being 9 weeks premature, bilirubin (jaundice) problems and them wanting her to put on weight, they supplemented her with bottles. She was eating more than I could produce. I had one side that produced more milk than the other - due to expressing milk for her. Why was this a problem? It was the side she couldn't latch on to that had all the milk. In fact, all my kids had trouble latching on to that side.

So I went through the hassle of expressing the milk, feeding it to her, cleaning her and the equipment up every 3 hours. At my daughter's 3 month check up, the MD, who had nursed all her kids, took one look at me and told me that while she appreciated my efforts, my daughter needed a mom more than she needed breast milk. I was dead on my feet. (Let's see, it takes about 40 mins to feed the baby - premies are slow eaters. With a home pump, takes about an hour to express milk. It takes 10 mins to package, label, freeze the milk and clean the equipment. To start again 3 hours from the last time I started. I just can't imagine why I was dead) So I cried all the way home.

But I knew she was right, so I weaned my daughter - which took all of no time for her, but about a week for me. And I cried. And I felt like a failure. So much for bonding AND nursing.

Time moves on and it becomes time to start her on food. Now remember, I'm an older mom. All the babies in my family ate baby food from a jar. My mom, before she went home, dutifully purchased baby food so I could start feeding her - when she was a couple of weeks old. That's how she did it, that's how I should correctly do it too. then I knew better than to feed a baby that young. In fact, I believe she was 6-7 months old before she got more than a tablespoon or two of rice cereal. But...., finally the big day came. I dutifully opened the jar of peas, put a taste in my child's mouth. You'd have thought I was poisoning her. The looks she gave me were incredible. "What the ...?, followed by disgusted, followed by betrayal, followed by... good lungs at work. So, I tried another flavor. Same response. Truth be told, the only jars of food she'd eat was orange. Which meant either carrots or pumpkin.

Rules are that ya gotta give 'em more than that. So I got desperate. Finally, I cooked up some green beans, whirled them in a blender, and with fear and trepidation, gave her a taste. Her eyes shot wide, she smiled and opened for more.

That's when I learned that cooking your own baby food was easier than opening a jar. And about 6 times as cheap! Back then, I could buy a 16 oz. polybag of frozen green beans or peas for about
59 cents. Or I could buy 2 of those little jars of food for 50 cents. Being poor, it didn't take me long to figure out that the child had done me a favor!

So I would buy frozen vegies, cook each kind individually, puree them (separately) in the blender, then put them in an ice cube tray and place that in the freezer. Actually, it usually took a couple of trays. In a couple of hours, the trays would be frozen, I'd pop the cubes into a (labeled - peas and green beans look alike!) ziplock and back into the freezer. When I needed to feed her, I'd pop out however many cubes she was eating at the time, melt them in a little pan (this was before I had a microwave. Subsequent kids, the food got nuked.) and would feed them to her. She was happy, I was happy, our budget was VERY happy.
And I did the same thing with fresh, canned or frozen fruit. (I bought the no sugar/low sugar cans or frozen.)

The nice thing is, the cubes are portable. Perhaps even more so than the little jars. They will stay frozen in a container for a while and will keep for several hours at room temp and still be quite cool. You only take how many cubes you know the baby will eat, so you don't have to open and then throw out the rest of a jar of uneaten food. (Or worry about keeping it cold enough to use again.)

As she got older, I bought a baby food mill. The kind that has a little grinder attachment at the top that covers a collapsing tube. You put the food into the top, put the little grind crank thingy on top of that, then push down on the tube until the food comes into contact with your grinder. Then you just twist the crank and push a little on the tube and the food grinds up through a grate. It has a high lip on it, so the food can be served right from the grinder.

So from frozen vegies and blended fruits, we went to table food in the grinder, to Cherio's (a brand of oat cereal that's shaped like little O's) that she could feed herself, to small chunks of table food. (Did I mention that my kids have all had minds of their own?)

They all refused to eat from the jars. (I didn't buy the stuff, but others would gift us with some.)
They all started eating finger foods as soon as their little fists could find their mouths - ever try to feed a 7 month old? With mine, there was a constant fight for control of the spoon. Giving them their own spoon resulted in injury to mom or it being dropped in favor of the one I was using. So I figured, why fight it?) I just made sure to stay close by and made sure that what I gave them either was very hard and large enough they wouldn't choke on it, then they could suck on until they dissolved it or was "gummable", or was something that got soft VERY quickly - like many dried cereals.

Homeschooling worked until my youngest decided to run away to dad's with tales of us not "doing school". She has spent the last two years playing dumb with me. Whatever work I'd give her, she'd pretend she "just didn't know how to do it." I tried working with her, but she wouldn't put any effort into doing the work, she just wanted me to hold her hand and talk her through each problem. (Let's see, I have 3 years of college under my belt, I don't think I need to practice doing multiplication problems.) She was behaving like this in every area of her life. I tried scolding, pleading, threatening and consequences. Perhaps I should have tried spanking. But I so hate that. It's a huge gun that I only use when the kid look at me and then does what I just told them not to do. Even then, I don't care to do it and I try everything else before resorting to that.

So I decided that since she was doing it for attention, that the more I fussed (and her siblings would call her on it too.), the more it was re-enforcing the undesirable behavior. So I just put stuff up and left her alone. She could read books. I turned off the cable. I really couldn't afford it anyway, we never watched the network channels. Without cable, we have no tv - there's no reception here. Anyway, I'd try her again with the work and when the same behavior manifested itself, I'd put the work away. After all, I pretty well knew that she would outgrow the behavior and then it wouldn't take us too long to "catch up".

I didn't count on dad getting her to come live with him. He has tried this with all 3 kids. The oldest actually did go live with him over the summer before this last one. My oldest went there to work for them and stayed because it was easier than them having to come and get her every morning. (they live in the next county over and the work was near their house.) She wasn't mad at me, they just had work for her to do. Well, at the end of the summer, she decided she'd stay permanently. They enrolled her in homeschool themselves. Suddenly, the week after she said she'd stay, they had no work for her to do. She was just to babysit her step-niece and nephews for free. Then 3 weeks after saying she'd stay, step-mom and she got into a fight and stepmom, to whom the house belongs, kicked her out.

I was sure my youngest was smart enough to see what had happened to her sister and not take the bait. But I was wrong.

Anyway, she got mad at me because "no one here loves her" (I was sick and wouldn't take her to the lake Memorial weekend.) and decided she'd get her stepmom to pick her up without telling me and that then she'd stay at dad's.

I've got a court order that seems to not be worth the paper it's written on. But unless I get the money to hire an attorney, there's nothing I can do about her being at dad's - despite the criminal record he's recently acquired and the domestic violence at their house.

She got him to put her in school. Her dad and stepmom "know" people in the school system in the county in which she lives and they put her two grades behind. (She just went in and messed around on the tests.) But now, she's getting such good grades, they made her student of the month. (And I wasn't teaching her??!! I wonder how she's gone to the head of the class so fast?) So, everyone over there is petting on her and showering her with attention. I was hoping she'd get tired of the problems over there and come home. I was also hoping that dear dad and stepmom would get tired of having her there. But they see a way out of paying child support. (all $100 a week for 3 kids) So much for homeschooling her.

I'll have to get back to you on the happy/obedient part. The jury is still out on that one.

So just when you're ready to go belly up, they surprise the daylights out of you.

I had invited a couple from church to dinner tonight. I've had a tooth bothering me off and on for a week and today, I was feeling a little poorly. Then my daughter's work schedule was changed, so she had to go to work at 4:20. She washed her clothes (and some others) and put them in the dryer. She pulled her khaki work pants out, and there, right in the front is green food dye. So I spent 40 mins getting the stain out and trying to get the pants dried with the iron. I hustle her off to work in still damp pants and then drive home.

A few minutes later, my friends show up. We talk and I apologize for not even having started dinner. They tell me they will go, but hey, my 15 ds and I need to eat and to make a plate for the dd at work, so they may as well stay. So while I'm talking with them, my son is in the kitchen washing up a few dishes. Next thing I know, I hear the sounds of food cooking. In about 30 mins, he comes out, sets the table and begins putting food on the table. He'd made two kinds of pasta, sauce, green beans and salad. And it was tasty too! After everyone was done, he gets up and starts clearing the table. I was so impressed with his thoughtfulness. No one asked him to do it or even hinted that he should do it.

(Not to leave big sis out. She's a good worker and she helps out around the house too. They both try to contributes to the family finances.)

Ok, so I guess I'll keep 'em all.

And we'll all just pray for the runaway that she will make good choices and that perhaps she'll come home soon - with a better attitude, and that the rest of us will get over being upset with her. An attitude adjustment for all would probably be a good thing.

So maybe my life is not working out the way I had planned. Maybe yours isn't either.

But it seems like the important thing to note is this: for the most part, things ARE working out. It just takes hanging in there and realizing that while life may not be working out as YOU planned, it is working out in a way that, in the long run will benefit you and your family. All ya gotta do is hang in there and keep putting one foot in front of the other!

Some of the things that, at the time seemed like they were my greatest trials and heartaches have turned out, over time, to be some of my greatest blessing and periods of my greatest growth as a human being. The trick has been to just keeping doing my best each day and realizing that my "best" on one day may be more or even less than my same "best" is on another. "Best" is just that. You're doing what you are able to do with the time, talents, and challenges that you have.

It's rather like a story I once heard.

As a teen, a young man was involved with a diving team. He and his friends had nice things and their parents could afford to pay for them to be on the team. Also on the team was a young man who's family couldn't pay for him to have nice things and he was on scholarship with the team.

It seems that the other young men were rather proud boys and gave this other boy a rather hard time. While they were perfecting their swan dives, this boy was trying to do advanced dives.

A meet came up and the team went to compete. The first young man was paying careful attention to the leader board. After all, he was ahead. These young men were doing their perfect swan dives and other easier dives - and doing an excellent job of it. The other young man was trying to do advanced dives and making quite a splash as he did so. In the water, not with the judges, or so it seemed.

At the end of the meet, the author was just sure he had won the meet. He was very shocked and angry when the poor young man beat him out for first place. He stormed over to the judges demanding to know what was going on. HE had been first, HE had done the best dives. The other boy didn't properly complete some of his dives, he was near the bottom of the boards, how could THAT young man win?

The judges acknowledged that yes, the first had done some nice dives and that the other boy did do some pretty ugly dives. But then the judge went on to explain that while the other boy was doing ugly dives, the boy was also doing dives with a greater level of difficulty, greater than any of the others had even tried. At the end of the match, the points for difficulty were factored into the scores and that's how the other boy surpassed all those in front of him and placed first.

So it is in our lives. Some of us are called on to make dives with a greater degree of difficulty. Only we and God may know just how difficult our life is. Others may look at us and scoff. They may get more done than we seem to be able to do. Their kids may turn out "better" than ours seems to be turned out. They might have nicer things. They may "Mother of the Year." And we feel badly about ourselves. Sometimes we judge ourselves too harshly. We fail to "factor in the level of difficulty" on what we're trying to accomplish.

The thing is, until we know the level of difficulty that we or anyone else is called upon to do, we need not judge them OR ourselves against them. Because in the end, only one Judge knows and can factor in the difficulty of what we or anyone else has tried to do. The person who is so sure that they are the "winner" may find out that another, who's life has been far less "perfect", may in actuality have accomplished much more with what they had to work with than the first person accomplished with what THEY had to work with.

Moral of the story? Don't compare yourself to your neighbor. You're in no position to correctly identify the loser of that competition.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Any questions?

Do any of you readers have anything that you would like to see me cover or questions you'd like me to see if I can answer for you?

I have a lot of resources for "make-your-own..." items - like tortillas, soap, easy cheeses, sour dough baked goods, candies with honey, using typical food storage items such as wheat, beans, rice and TVP.

I also have resources for "instant" food that you prepackage at home - such as oatmeal packets, seasoning packets, soups, bread machine and knead by hand mixes, Bisquick-type baking mixes using whole wheat or regular flour with recipes for using the mix, etc.

I have ideas for 72 hour kits (emergency kits), food storage, back to basics, vegetarian cooking (though I'm not a vegetarian, I do make many meatless meals.)

I also have a lot of gardening ideas, I've raised rabbits, chickens and for a while a goat - though I had to get rid of her before she had freshened. So I never milked her.

I have been homeschooling for 14 years. Two of the three have had high IQs and major learning issues. All three have minor learning issues. I have a lot of resources in this area.

I do a little knitting. I've never done complicated things like sweaters or used double pointed needles. (Will you believe this? I can't FIND double pointed needles in the local 3 counties. NO ONE has them, so I can't learn to use them.) Mostly, I've done mittens, gloves, slippers, slipper-socks and this half-glove type mitten. That one is my own pattern. My hands get cold in the winter, especially my right hand. So I made a half mitten to keep it warm. Worked VERY well. All these I knit on round needles. I find them easier to work on than straight one. I don't knit in the round with them, just use them as I would a set of straight needles.

I'm a little more experienced crocheter. I've done hats, scarves, gloves, mittens, doilies and other things. I have trouble crocheting now, it makes my hands hurt too much, so I knit things instead.

I also sew. I make dresses, pants, shirts and household items. It's been a while since I've had the machine out and I'm not an "expert", more an upper-level intermediate sewer. I can do some alterations on a pattern, but resizing the bodice is not one of them. I can move the darts, but not change the size. I always have to get a larger pattern, then cut down the rest of it to fit. I prefer working with knits. (I took a couple of "Stretch-n-Sew" classes back in the late 70's and loved the ease of construction!)

I can fix computers. Both fixing broken ones and figure out why people are having problems using certain programs. I'm not a programmer. I don't know a lick of code.

I'm also a ham radio operator. I mostly use Echolink - I only have a handitalkie (looks like an old police radio) which doesn't have much power to get out, I can only broadcast to about a 20 mile radius - providing one of these beautiful mountains doesn't get in the way.

I'm also a former medic/paramedic as well as have kids that had more than their share of illnesses. I read medical textbooks for fun. One day when I was pregnant, my MD came in to find me reading one of her ultrasound books. She thought it was funny, but they used it a lot, so she wouldn't let me borrow it. lol

I was a "Master Gardener" in north Florida. I've done mostly Square Foot Gardening and container gardening.

I'm a single mom who's been divorce for 11 years. I can pinch a penny so hard, it doesn't squeal, it begs for mercy. lol

So, that's a partial list of what I can do and some things that I feel comfortable answering questions on. If I don't have an answer, I'll look it up or just plain tell you I don't know the answer to that one.

If you have any suggestions, I'd love to hear them. Just drop me a line or make a comment on this blog and I'll see what I can do to help.

Make your own cultured buttermilk

Tired of buying buttermilk in the store? Tired of finding the last bit gone bad?

Did you know you can make your own buttermilk at home? I mean real cultured buttermilk, not vinegar and milk to use in place of buttermilk.

This is as easy as making yogurt. It's the same principal!

You do need some fairly fresh buttermilk. The "Cultured" kind from the store. You need some milk - fresh, canned (evaporated) or powdered.

First step, if you're not using fresh milk, is to prepare the milk.
If it's evaporated from the can, you need to reconstitute it. Open the can, pour the milk into a clean container, add a can of water to the milk and stir.

If it's powdered milk, follow the package for making a quart (unless you want more or less buttermilk, then just mix the amount you need.

For one quart of buttermilk, place 3 1/2 cups milk (any of the above) in a clean container if you want to microwave the milk to warm it. If you want to heat it on the stove, put the milk in a pan. Heat the milk to between 95 - 105 degrees. Don't make the milk too hot or the buttermilk "start" will die, just like yeast or yogurt will.

In my opinion, glass is the best container to make buttermilk in. You can get it really clean - scalded, you can see whether or not it IS clean and you can see how much milk you have left. But you can use plastic, even recycle the original jug that the buttermilk came in. Just get it VERY clean. Wouldn't hurt to scald it. You want bacteria in the container dead, but not the good bacterial in the buttermilk. Don't use a metal container - metal and live cultures just don't seem to mix. The culture will die. Personally, I use a glass Mason jar, wide-mouth if I can lay my hands on one, with the normal Mason lid and ring that fits the jar.

After you have warmed the milk up, take 1/2 cup buttermilk (cold is ok) and add it to the warmed milk. Stir it up good. If it's not already in the container you want to let it incubate in, put your mixture into that container now. Then put the lid on it and let it sit for 8-24 hours. (If you don't have quite enough for 1/2 cup or a little more than 1/2 cup start, don't worry. It will just take a little longer or shorter time for the milk to thicken into buttermilk.)

I put my milk in a quart jar, put my temp probe for the microwave in, lodging it partway down, trying to have it not touching either the sides or the bottom; and set the microwave to 100 degrees. When it dings, I take the milk out of the microwave and then and add the start to the milk. I put the lid and ring on the jar and and shake it. Then I leave in on my counter and go to bed. (Ok, I'm doing this at night, so if you've just gotten up, you don't have to go back to bed for this to work. lol Unless you just want to and then blame me for it.)

When I get up my buttermilk is ready. It will be thickened and smell "buttermilkly". I can cook with it or freeze part of it for later use. My house is around 78 in the summer and 66-68 in the winter and this works well for me. The cooler the house, the long it will take to thicken. If you wanted, you could also insulate the jar by wrapping a towel around it and or sticking it on a heating pad on low, in an oven with a pilot light, or any other way you can think of. If you have a quart yogurt maker, just make this in that. It will turn out just fine, but will be done MUCH sooner. If the temperature outside is between about 70-80 degrees, you can even set the jar in the sun for about 4 hours.

You don't need to make a full quart, you can make a pint, or a gallon if you need it for a huge batch of biscuits.
For a pint, you'd add 1/4 cup buttermilk to 1 3/4 cups of milk. For a gallon, you'd need 2 cups to 14 cups milk.

That's all there is to it. You can continue this cycle for as long as you want to. The only thing that will mess it up is if you get some bad bacteria growing instead of the good. This buttermilk should have a rather mild, buttermilk smell to it. If it smells bad, it IS bad, don't use it.
If you keep everything clean and use a good start - one that hasn't sat in the fridge until it's almost expired, it will work just fine.

Note in behalf of the food police.
It has been said that milk shouldn't be left out for any reason. All I can say is that this is the way I've been doing it for years and the only time I ever had it go bad was when I used a VERY old start or was it very old milk? Either case, it was because I didn't use fresh ingredients and I could smell it was "soured" and not buttermilkly when I opened the container. So I tossed it.

This method is how the older generation cultured buttermilk. (Buttermilk that is left over from making butter is a different tasting product and can't be cultured using this method - because it's not a "culture".)
Also, letting milk "clabber" at room temp is a part of may recipes for cheeses too.

So the Bottom line is : If leaving milk out bothers you or worries you, don't do it. If the milk smells bad, don't use it. I keep mine covered so I don't get any "critters" in it. We have little "sugar" ants that have a nest in the walls of the house. They've lived in the walls for at least 13 years. I knew the people who were in this house before I rented it and no one has been able to get rid of them. I can get them killed off for a week or two, but then they come right back. Even having the pesticide man come spray, doesn't kill them off. (Yeah, I know, but my contract requires me to allow them to spray, I can't afford to live elsewhere and they use a "nontoxic" spray.) Anyway, keep your cultures covered to protect them. In fact, keeping all foods covered is a good idea, no matter where you store them.)

You need to wash out your container with soap and hot water each time you want to do a new batch of milk. If the container your going to use has been sitting on a shelf for a while, rewash it. It never hurts to scald the container. To do this, boil some water in a kettle or a pan that you can control the water flow when you go to pour the water. When the water boils, remove it from the heat and pour it over you container and the lid. Empty the water out being CAREFUL that you don't burn yourself!!! I use canning tongs to empty the water out. I pour the water on jars/lids that are either in my empty dish drainer or in the sink itself. Careful with the sink. My sink doesn't have a flat bottom, so things want to tip over in it. Anyway, when you've emptied the jars, let them cool some. You don't want to put cold milk from the fridge into a jar that's just had boiling water put in it. It will cause it to crack or possibly even shatter. You don't want to know how I know this. ;o()

Now for some history and trivia.

Do you know the real story of how Dixie cups and Mason Jars got their name?

Now you do know about the Mason/Dixon line right? No? Well here's your homeschool American history/geography lesson for the day.

Here is a very brief overview from Wikipedia:
The Mason–Dixon Line is a demarcation line between four U.S. states, forming part of the borders of Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, and West Virginia (then part of Virginia). It was surveyed between 1763 and 1767 by Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon in the resolution of a border dispute between British colonies in Colonial America. Popular speech, especially since the Missouri compromise of 1820 (apparently the first official usage of the term "Mason's and Dixon's Line"), uses the Mason-Dixon line symbolically as a cultural boundary between the Northern United States and the Southern United States (Dixie).

Back to jars and cups.
Well a long time ago, back when they was surveying this here Mason-Dixon line, the foreman had to deal with those two good 'ol boys. They drank a lot of water cause it's hot here in the summer. And they was always a fightin' over who's glass was who's. Finally the foreman had had it up to here with their squabblin' and decided he'd settle it right then and there. He handed a cup to one and a jar to the other and said, "Dixie, this here's your cup. Mason, this here's your jar. 'n' boys, I don't want to hear another word about it!

And so to this very day, we still have Mason jars and Dixie cups. ('n' yup, here in the South, people are still drinkin' outta them jar. Some even come with a handle right on the jar, no lyin'! You can sometimes find them at Dollar General or Wally World.)

And that's the truth.

Here are a couple of links to find out more about Mason, Dixon and the reason for the dividing line. (It only came into play years later as part of the North/South divider)