Saturday, June 30, 2012

Pickles!!!!

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Yes the title needed four exclamation points!  I have been a pickle lover ever since I can remember, and now as an adult, I count down each summer to the moment when I will grow enough cukes to bring them in and make a real batch of garlicky sour pickles.  I remember this small german restaurant in the mall when I was growing up that sold pickles out of a barrel for 50 cents.  By the time I was a pre-teen, entrusted with money for lunch and free reign at the mall, I would spend literally all of it on pickles.  Okay, that is crazy, but most pre-teens are!
With my tiny plot of suburban land, I grow enough cucumbers each summer to keep my kids eating them (they make a great substitute for crackers or chips), and to make enough pickles so we can enjoy them until September.  This year has come with an extra special blessing in the way of Pickles.
A friend of mine who owns an 43 acre farm could not do a CSA program this year, but she did have a "bumper" crop of cukes and very little time.  This turned into a very big "Yay! Me" moment, in that she asked me if I would like to take part in an exchange.  I make her pickles and I keep half of the cucumbers for my family and to sell.  I jumped at this offer and I pictured myself drinking the garlicky brine from the jar.
I just finished up the first batch and it was a total hit all around.  I used a combination of recipes from Wild Fermentation and Nourishing Traditions and I do believe made something wonderful!  I can't wait for the next installment of cucumbers!

Here's the recipe I came up with:

First make the brine.  Combine 3/8 cup of sea salt with 2 quarts of filtered or distilled water.  This will be enough to make several batches of pickles.  So if you are making less, you may want to break it down to a smaller portion.

1 quart sized wide-mouthed jar (you could really use any jar, but it is really easy to cram cucumbers into these jars)
Sliced, speared, or halved cucumbers
4 cloves of garlic
1/2 tsp peppercorns
1 tbsp of dried dill or 2 tbsp fresh dill
1 oak or grape leaf
4 tbsp of whey
Enough Brine to cover the cucumbers

Press the garlic cloves in a garlic press or mince.  Place all of your ingredients except the cucumbers into the bottom of your jar.  Then add the cucumbers, packing them in as tight as possible.  (If you cut the spears just slightly shorter than where the jar tapers in, they will be less likely to float to the top.)
Once they are in tight, cover with brine.  Make sure to submerge them completely in brine.  This can be especially tricky with the slices because they tend to float.  Allow to ferment until fizzy.  Slices should take 2 days, spears 3 days, and halves 3-4 days.  When fizzy check for any mold....I know this sounds gross.  But because the pickles float to the top, it is likely to have one float up and become exposed to air, which may create some mold.  Remove any pickles with mold and discard.  Enjoy!!

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Thursday, June 21, 2012

My First Quilt

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A Quilt.  On the couch, with a cup of cocoa in the winter.  On the grass with lemonade and sandwiches in the summer.  Is there anything more lovely than a quilt?  Mine is nothing special, except that it is mine.  Each fabric was hand chosen, measured, cut, pieced and then quilted.

I chose these fabrics with my Bohemian Princess in mind.  The anchoring fabric is from Moda's It's a Hoot! Line.  (It is the one with the birds).  I worked with all fat quarters, some that were designer, on sale at my local quilting shop, and some that were from JoAnn's.  I used an old torn quilt for the body and backing, so I basically just sewed onto it. I left the pieces larger, first because I knew that would be easier, and secondly I wanted to showcase the larger prints.  My girls are currently taking turns using this at night until I finish a second.  Thought I would share it.  

If you are local (or ever passing thorough I-75 near Chattanooga), you should stop in Sew Bee It.  It is an amazing locally owned and operated fabric store.  They carry the most beautiful array of designer fabrics and have the most knowledgeable staff.  They offer day and evening classes and host a round table for Modern Quilters.  They have been so kind to me in the last couple of years as I have re-learned to sew.  They have been featured in Better Homes and Gardens and Quilt Sampler Magazine, it truly is a must visit for any quilting enthusiast or just someone who wants a little inspiration to do a simple project.

Happy Creating!

Love and Butter,

Mishelle
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Thursday, June 14, 2012

Soap Barter

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Summer is off to a great start here in Chattanooga, TN!  The farmer's markets are open, early blackberries at the Pick-Your-Own are available, and tomatoes are starting to turn red.  I have a love-hate relationship with summer.  I hate the, I need a third shower today, humidity.  But I do love the basil, the tomatoes, and the blueberries...oh! the blueberries!  This will be my first summer, 8 years, without a child in diapers, so, needless to explain why, I am looking forward to blueberry season a little more.  
So far I have struck up two new bartering arrangements that I am really excited to share about.  I am working on the beginning of the second, so I will share the first.  I am trading fermented goodies for soap.  Through my local chapter leader of WAPF, I found a local soap maker who was interested in fermented veggies but didn't have the time.  What she did have, was soap!  Hand-made, custom, small-batch soaps.  Her company is called 423 Soaps.  (423 is the area code here in Chattanooga, in case you were wondering).


I met CeCe on a Saturday morning at the Brainerd Farmer's Market.  I love the Brainerd community, they are a strong and hard-working sort of folk.  They seem to treasure the smaller things and are working so hard to preserve a beautiful and historical part of our city.  From CeCe's amazing array of soaps I chose two that I thought I would like.  The first was a vegan soap made with charcoal and scented with Sage.  I've been using this on my super-oily face, it feels so good especially after a sweaty workout.  The second I got a lard-coconut combination soap, scented with  Citronella and laced with coffee grounds.  CeCe sources her lard from a local sausage company Link 41 that specializes in hand seasoned and smoked grassfed and pastured meats.  I've been loving this one in the shower, the coffee grounds offer a nice exfoliation and the lard is so moisturizing that I've even been using it to shave.
I am looking forward to this new relationship, bartering is such a glorious thing.  When we enter into agreements with people built on mutual trust and respect, I think the earth is just a little bit better!
Are you involved in your local chapter of WAPF (The Weston A. Price Foundation)?  Here's mine, anyone is welcome to join.  It is a wonderful place to share ideas, find support, and increase your bank of knowledge.  All subjects in the realm of natural living, real food, and local farming will apply.  It is a great way to find people in your community who know more about specific things (like herbal remedies) and to share your journeys to real health together.  I am so thankful for all that I have learned through my local chapter, and I know that it is only the beginning.

Love and Butter,

Mishelle
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Monday, June 11, 2012

Picnic Ready Pimento Cheese

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I don't pack lunches on a daily basis, since we home-educate.  But in the summer, it always seems like there is something fun to do that requires a picnic.  Whether its a hike or the pool, I am always trying to throw whatever I can come up with into a cooler.  Since I try my best not to buy bread from the store, and thus rule out the good ol' PB&J, I have gotten a little creative and thought I would share some of my simple recipes with you.  I'll start with my hubby's favorite, which started as an experiment and became a summer staple in my fridge-- Pimento Cheese.
Okay, don't stop reading if you are grossed out.  I know.  I know.  That nasty tub of orange stuff in the lunch-meat section.  Have you ever flipped it over, it has about a million ingredients.  But here's my dilemma, I married a true Southern boy, and to him this stuff is gold.  (I'm gagging a little thinking about it.)
Let me first say, that for the most part my husband will eat whatever I make and do so with good sportsmanship.  But there are certain things, that every once in a while he will just go buy at the store to have and Pimento Cheese was one of them.  So last summer, after seeing a couple of consecutive tubs of that crap come into my fridge (yes, I said my fridge), I decided to experiment.  And I do have to say, it turned out much better than I thought.  Everyone in the family loves it, including me.  The best part is that is so simple!

Cucumbers make great crackers!
Ingredients
cheddar cheese (1lb)
1/4-1/2 cup of mayonnaise
1/2 cup of diced roasted red peppers
2 tbsp. of liquid from the jar of peppers
cayenne pepper (to taste)
salt (to taste)

Directions
Shred your cheese.  I know you can buy pre-shredded cheese, but have you ever flipped the bag over to see what you are getting with your cheese?  It only takes an extra second or two, and the cheese is so much better tasting and better for you.
Dice and add roasted red peppers, liquid, and 1/4 cup of the mayo.  Stir.  Add more mayo if you need it.  You want it to spread on cracker or bread.  Now depending on how hot you like things, add a few shakes of cayenne.  Stir.  Taste.  Repeat until you get the "kick" you want.  If you think it needs salt, add it, if not, don't.  My homemade mayo is pretty tangy, because I use a good amount of dijon, lemon, and salt, so I usually don't need any more salt here.  That being said, if you aren't using my mayo you may need some.
Serve with whole grain, gluten free, or grain free crackers depending on your dietary needs.  I also slice a few cucumbers and we use those as "crackers".  When I pack this I also include carrot sticks, cherry tomatoes, and some fruit & nuts.  It really makes a satisfying lunch on the trail or at the pool.  If I were packing lunches, this would be a year-long standby in my kitchen.

Love and Butter,

Mishelle
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Sunday, June 10, 2012

Preserving the Harvest: Zucchini

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So I must confess I have a problem.  I cannot pass up a good deal.  It is kind of a sickness.  My closet is filled with random things I've gotten on clearance, a lot of which I don't even fully like.  But if you ask me I can tell you, "well it only cost five bucks at the Gap, how could I pass it up?"  For the most part, and this sounds sad, my shopping is limited to the grocery stores these days.  I know what you are thinking, "gee I wish I had such a glamorous life!"  Right?  But it is true.
So my obsession for a bargain continues.  So do I crazy coupon?  No, I actually found that I spent more money and got less stuff when I did that.  I also found myself compromising the nutrition of my food for a good deal.  I mean if I get the BOGO granola bars with an additional 50 cent coupon, do I really need to worry about the sugar content?  So my ride on the coupon train was short lived, I decided I would save more money in the long run if I put my time and energy into preparing as many meals as possible from scratch and doing as little "compromising" as possible.
One of my biggest helps these days is Aldi.  It is a funny little store, with the funny philosophy that less means less.  Ergo, the less they do (they don't even light the store to full brightness and you have to put your cart back and bring your own bags) the less their grocery costs.  Since I always bring my bags and put my cart back (I know I deserve a community medal or something), I don't mind doing this!
Since we don't buy conventional meat, eggs, or milk or processed foods I don't get a whole lot of stuff from the store.  But what they do have is good prices on nuts, dried fruit, some dry goods (beans, oatmeal, rice).  And then there is the produce!  Each week there are specials on produce that usually comes to one-third the price of the sale price in other grocery stores.  Like 99 cent pineapples or 3-tri-color peppers for $1.49.  One day I even got 49 cent strawberries because there was a glitch in the order and they didn't want the massive delivery to spoil.  I've also found baskets, house plants, and other household items in their featured section.




I do take the extra step to cleanse and remove the pesticide residue from my produce, but for now this is what my budget allows.  These sales help me stock up on a ton of a few things and then freeze or ferment whatever I get.  This week I made sauerkraut and ginger-carrots. and I froze about 8 pounds of zucchini.  I love to add diced zucchini to pasta sauce and soups or just saute some in butter for dinner.  I also love that by taking the time to freeze a bunch of it, I am saving my family a bunch of money on something that is good for them instead of compromising.  Summer is a great time to preserve the harvest, from jam to pasta sauce there are so many options.   What are some of your ways to save the taste of summer?  I would love to share some of your tips!

Love and Butter,

Mishelle
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My 49 Cent Secret

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I wanted to take a minute to pay homage to a wonderful thing I cannot live without.  Baking Soda!  I know you've probably used it for baking, science experiments, or even cleaning.  But lately I've been using it to "stay fresh."  In my pursuit for a natural lifestyle, I am trying to eliminate all of harmful chemical substances I come into contact with or put my family in contact with.  One of my hold outs until about a year ago was anti-perspirant.  I knew all of the information about how harmful aluminum was, but I just couldn't begin to comprehend my life without it.  I sweat so much, just in normal life and even more so when I get nervous or exercise.  In fact, I know I've hit the high of my daily workout when a huge bead of sweat comes rolling off the top of my head and hits the ground.
Okay, I know that is gross, but if you consider the skin as an excretory organ--meaning that its purpose is to get toxins out of the body, then sweating is a good thing, right?  I even spend 30 minutes a week sitting in a dry sauna in an attempt to detox.  So here is my dilemma.  I had tried the organic deodorants, the salts, all of it--with no success.






Then a friend of mine came up with a solution.  What if we added baking soda to our salt rock?  It absorbs odor, right?  Right!  It worked.  If you put on salt spray or roll-on or rock and then rub baking soda into the wetness of the salt stuff, you get a really powerful protection against odor.  Note: You get protection from odor, not sweat.  You need to sweat.  Not convinced?  Here area some benefits of sweating:
Cools your body
Flushes toxins
Calms nerves
Regulates pulse
Slows aging


In addition, here are some other things body heat does when you are sweating:
Increases circulation
Accelerates metabolism
Opens pores
Produces white blood cells


So why are we trying to stop it?  And what about the chemical compounds we are using to do so.  Aluminum compounds or aluminum salts, such as aluminum oxide (Al2O3), are key ingredients in almost every antiperspirant. They are powerful astringents that close pores, stopping sweat and odor from escaping the body.  
Antiperspirants may leave the outside of the body smelling fresh and clean – but inside, the toxins that would have escaped the body in the sweat have nowhere to go. For this reason, antiperspirants have been linked to problems with the sweat glands and lymph glands in and around the underarms.
What's more, "antiperspirants are designed to be absorbed"; the aluminum and many other chemicals are taken into the body and may affect the endocrine and lymphatic systems, as well as being a potential risk factor in breast cancer.

I should mention the one gross part that happens in the transition.  When you first start sweating after an extended period of using anti-perspirant (for me almost 20 years), the anti-perspirant that your body has absorbed will make its way out of your body.  For 3 or so days, when I switched to this natural solution, I could smell all of the deodorants coming out of me.  It was super nasty.  I did a lot of heavy exercising during these days to speed up the process.  This process was enough to convince me to never go back.  If I could smell my Degree or Lady Speed Stick days after using it, I cannot imagine the amount of aluminum and who-knows-what else swimming through my lymphatic system.
I'm crossing my fingers this little solution will keep working throughout the summer.  We have already had some record high (97) days.  I'll keep you posted, or not..maybe it is TMI!


Love and Butter,


Mishelle









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Sunday, June 3, 2012

St. Augustine 2012

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History and the ocean.  Does it get any better?  Well, not in my world.  I love old towns, with local food, lessons to teach the kids, and if I get a beach in the mix I am a happy lady!  We just had our big "summer" vacation.  I air-quote because we never go in the real summer.  The first week of May is my favorite time to head to the beach.  First, it is just hot enough to get in the water, but not so hot you want to die!  Second, because spring breaks are over and school is back in, things aren't crowded and rates are lower.
We spent most of our time just relaxing on the beach, boogie boarding, and searching for treasures (shells).  It was in all ways, totally and completely LOVELY!!
I loved visiting the fort, it looked so much smaller than I remember it as a child.  But I guess it looked that much more grand to my little ones.  They loved going through the barracks and storage houses.  The view from the top was amazing.  We watched a team dressed in traditional Spanish uniforms fire a cannon.  Then we had dinner in Old City.  My kids were really into reading (or being read) the plaques on all of the old buildings.  So many rich cultures made there way to Florida in colonial times.










Mostly I prepared all of our meals, but we did venture out once in Old City and once on the beach. I tried a Minorcan Clam Chowder (a spicy red version) a the local Florida Cracker Cafe and my kids munched on the long awaited bites of Gator Tail.  I also had a Sunset Lemonade at the Sunset Grille on St. Augustine Beach made with local 4 Orange Vodka and my husband had a couple Key West Sunset Ales.  Since I had a Greek Salad with Mahi Mahi, I treated myself to homemade Key Lime Pie...Oh Man!!!  It was SOOO good!  I shared it with a couple of my monkeys, which was a good move because I would have eaten every bite!  We also had a handmade empanada one day at the Cuban Bakery.  Two bites in my husband said, "you have to learn to make these!"  I actually think there is a recipe in Nourishing Traditions.  Maybe I'll get brave enough to try one day!?!

Love and Butter,

Mishelle

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