Tag Archives: DIY

The DIY Life: Homemade Sweet Cream Coffee Creamer

14 Jun

I’m slacking lately on the posts. Between the garden, weekend obligations, and a ginormous amount of work, ain’t nobody got time for blogging. But before my anniversary camping trip, I decided to grace you all with an easy to do from scratch post.

The hubs and I love to have a morning cup of coffee, english breakfast tea or chai tea. Something about a warm beverage jest feels like it helps to slowly melt away your sleepiness and get you ready for the day! That being said, when you have two people drinking a cup of coffee on average 5 days per week, you can really go through creamer. I admit that I have been purchasing the Sweet Cream varieties in the refrigerated section at the grocery store. ūüė¶ I decided to stop that since only one or two options contain actual dairy ingredients, and all contain additives that aren’t found in homemade versions. This is so simple to make that I can’t believe I was spending $3.50 weekly when I could spend that same amount for enough creamer to last us at least 2 weeks and not be full of artificial ingredients!

This recipe isn’t exact in taste as the store-bought, but that is because I don’t have any chemical taste enhancers. The next batch I make I think I’ll add a teaspoon of vanilla extract to boost the flavor profile.

sweet cream coffee creamer

Sweet Cream Coffee Creamer

1 14oz can organic sweetened condensed milk

3 12oz cans organic evaporated milk (not fat-free or low-fat)

Add all of your cans to a medium saucepan and heat of low heat for roughly 5 minutes, until the milks have combined. Let cool and place inside a container that you can easily pour from. Store in the fridge and use to sweeten your coffee and tea!

The DIY Life: Keeping Chickens, One Year Later!

26 Mar

Last week, I was looking through my day planner and realized, holy shit. It’s been a year since we got those first chicks and ducklings. It caused me to pause a moment, and think about all that I’ve learned over this year.

chickens in creek

I’ve learned that raising chicks and ducklings together is a pain in the ass. Why? Because the ducks want to try to bathe in the water, causing the litter to always be wet. Causing me to always have to change it. But I loved watching the ducklings grow into ducks, and interact with all the chicks. Nobody knew they were any different! Would I do it again? Probably not. A pair of Mallards is enough for my little backyard flock. I’m thinking when I get my next round of chicks to raise, it’ll be a little less messy.

I’ve learned that I will always have to sweep mulch back into the flower beds. When chickens are digging for bugs, they don’t really care that they are flinging mulch all over the place and making the sidewalk a mess. They don’t have very good manners.

I’ve learned that dust bathing is essential to a chicken keeping themselves clean, and that they will set up their baths wherever they damn well please. ¬†Like beside the shed ramp, where they dug a hole that is 6 inches deep. Or in the front flower bed, against the house, where they dug a trench. Also 6 inches deep.¬†Screw using that tub that I filled so nicely with composted wood shavings, sand, DE and wood ash.

I’ve learned that I don’t HAVE to get up at the ass crack of dawn to let the chickens out of their coop. They will be just fine if I let them out when I wake up. When we first got them I felt like I HAD to run out before the sun and open up the coop so they could get out into the run and eat, drink, and frolic like chickens do. Then I got sick and couldn’t get up at the ass crack of dawn to let them out. And guess what? They lived! Sure, they were all at the coop windows, popping their heads up peeking out, making a ruckus. And they all stormed out and it seemed like some of them gave me the stink eye. But they lived. So until we get that automatic door opener I’m dreaming about, they’ll have to deal with being let out of the coop when I get there. It’s roomy, and gets a nice supply of fresh air. So they’ll be just fine.

Francine

I’ve learned that chicken poop will be all over my 1 1/4 acre yard. Including the front porch. The cement slab to get into the basement. The deck steps. The driveway. The world is their bathroom. Which means a shoe scraper really IS an essential household tool. So is the hose. But in the garden, yard and the flower beds? It’s a great fertilizer!

I’ve learned that when my chickens (and ducks) see me, they think Hey! That’s the human that gives us food! Let’s run at her at full speed and see what she’s got for us! They also realize real quick where the scratch grains are kept, and that a cup of them being shaken is the sign to come back to the coop for tasty treats – AKA I’ll be gone until after dark and don’t want you guys to become a predator meal, so you need fenced in.

I’ve learned that my rooster, Thor, while beautiful, is a complete and total ass. Sure he protects the ladies, calls them when he finds something yummy to munch on, rounds them up when it’s time for bed. But he’s not smart enough to realize that the humans – specifically the hubs & I – aren’t predators. So he tries to attack us. Randomly of course. So I’ve taken to carrying around the snow shovel or the broom to keep him away and I’ll lunge at him every once in a while, letting him know who is the boss. I never would have guessed that I’d need to establish dominance over a chicken.

chickens

I’ve learned that chickens and ducks are possessive of their piece of land. Any birds who aren’t their coop mates get chased out of the yard, in a very showy way. Lots of wing flapping and yapping.

I’ve learned that the hens I have are super vocal about their egg laying. Announcements are made, which results in kudos calls from the other hens who are out and about.

I’ve learned that nothing beats eating an egg that came from your own back yard, from chickens you feed and care for. The taste is exceptional, and it makes me feel like I’ve done something good. Because I have. I’ve taken another step towards being responsible for my own food source. Is raising backyard chickens cheaper than buying store-bought? Hell no. But the piece of mind I’m given knowing my eggs are fresh, my chickens are healthy and happy, and truly free range? You can’t put a price on that.

eggs!

Sriracha Salt. You’re Welcome.

11 Mar

Nope. You read that right. Sriracha Salt. In the wild world of flavor, this salt is an odd yet flavorful addition to your spice cabinet. I don’t know if Randy Clemens, the author of the Sriracha Cookbook is the originator of the recipe for this tasty salt or not, but I’m just going to go with that.

I don’t have his cookbook. I like sriracha, but not enough to justify giving primo shelf space up for something devoted completely to this one condiment. I don’t know what his exact ratio of ingredients is for his personal mixture, just that it contains kosher salt, sriracha, granulated garlic, and cayenne pepper. I decided to keep it simple and make up my own mixture. I refused to research any further something as simple as a flavored salt. The process is pretty simple. Measure, mix, dehydrate. Boom.

My suggestion would be to use this as a flavor booster on already cooked foods. Sprinkled on eggs – scrambled or over easy. Sprinkled on roasted veggies, chicken, sandwiches. This would be a great replacement for season salt on wings. Anywhere you would season your meal with salt, this would generally be a decent replacement. ¬†Using it in soup would be something I’d avoid. I think you’ll lose the garlic and sriracha flavor with all that liquid. Although the originator does suggest using the salt to rim glasses for adult bevs – this would be fabulous for a bloody mary!

If you make this, let me know what you think! Don’t feel like making it? Lucky for you, you can buy it from Randy Clemens via Etsy. Buying it’s a bit lazy. This is so easy, just do it yourself!

sriracha salt

Sriracha Salt

1/2 cup kosher salt

1/3 cup sriracha hot sauce

1 heaping teaspoon garlic powder

Add all ingredients to a bowl and mix them up. Put a piece of parchment on a cookie sheet and spread the mixture in a thin layer over the parchment. Place in the oven on the lowest setting it will go. Once the oven reaches temperature, turn off the oven and let the mixture sit overnight to dehydrate.

The ¬†next day, check the mixture. If it’s still moist, stir it, spreading it into a thin layer again. Put it back in the oven to dehydrate for an hour or two, until totally dry. Once the mixture has cooled, add it to a food processor and pulse until chunks are broken down, and it looks like orange red kosher salt again. Store in an airtight container and use on what you want whenever you want!

The DIY Life: Keeping Chickens – The Winter Months

8 Jan

December came in like a lamb but went out like a lion. We had mild temps and a whole lot of rain for the first couple weeks. The last couple weeks of December, the temps went down (you do get a little spoiled when you are having 50 degree days in December in Western Pa!) and the snow came right after Christmas. We got over 12 inches of snow. What that meant for me was diligence about keeping the birds with water and feed, as well as making sure their run stayed dry. AND let’s not forget shoveling a path AROUND the outside of their fenced in run. Partly for me to make it easy when caring for them, mostly for the birds so that they could venture out of the run and get a little more exercise. Did you know chickens are snow blind? They also don’t like how the snow feels on their feet. I can’t say I blame them.

Hmm....I guess the driveway ends here. I have no idea how to get back!

Hmm….I guess the driveway ends here. I have no idea how to get back!

I had preplanned what I was going to do to keep the birds comfortable, well fed, exercised and happy. The true test for me, I feel, was when we got that first 8 degree morning, with temps at zero with the wind chill. I got up and went out to check on the ladies. They were all alive, and came out of the coop to have their morning feeding. Yay! I felt like a super hero.

Now, what follows is how I prepped for the birds in the winter months. I’m no expert – I have read, researched, and tested out some things and this is what works for ME. Use it as a guideline. Find what works for you. Don’t take everything you read as law. You want to research and do what’s best for your flock. The main goal is to keep them well fed, watered, and able to go somewhere dry and draft free.

Late Fall РI did a  total coop/run cleansing

Run: I start by raking out any debris in the fenced in run. This gets the run cleared of all the poop, fallen litter, poop, old dropped feed, poop, corn cobs and random buildup – wait, did I say poop? – that comes from chickens. This all gets dumped straight onto our garden patch, where it can continue to break down. The chickens help me out working it in by scratching at it for bugs and tomato seeds left behind from that years garden. I then fill in any holes the birds made while they take dust baths. They’ll take a dust bath anywhere – we have trenches dug from them right up against the house in the front yard flower bed. They dug a hole alongside the shed ramp big enough to bury two of them. They dug holes in the run, right up against the foot deep chicken wire like they want to make it easier for a predator to get in and eat them. Those in the run holes need filled. Especially before the ground freezes. Once that is done, I toss in half a bale of hay and let the hens spread it around. I try not to have too much in the run since if it sits on the wood and gets wet, it will rot the wood. No good.

We don't want to come out!

We don’t want to come out!

Coop: This is a little more in-depth task. I start by removing all of the pine shavings – and poop – all while wearing a bandana over my mouth and nose since there can be a lot of dust created. Sometimes a quick spray with the hose helps keep the dust at a minimum.

Once all the litter is removed, I wipe down the flooring with a wet rag that is dipped in a bucket of warm water with a splash of apple cider vinegar. Once that is all wiped, I spray down the roosts, floor, walls and nesting boxes with a homemade citrus vinegar cleaner and wipe everything down again with a fresh rag. (Chickens respiratory systems are very sensitive, so I use vinegar instead of bleach or other household cleaners since it doesn’t leave behind any chemical smell) I leave the back of the coop open to let the breeze in and dry it out. Once the coop is completely dry, I sprinkle some Diatomaceous Earth (DE) on the flooring, in the nesting boxes and focus on the corners. This helps keep lice and mites out of the coop. On top of this goes 2 bags of fine pine shavings, and another sprinkling of the DE. It’s ready for the birds now!

I follow the deep litter method for my coop because it works for me. The deep litter method is 6 inches of shavings, stirred daily (I do every other day, sometimes every 2 days depending on how much poop is sitting on top of the litter). I add fresh pine shavings and a sprinkling of DE as well as some Sweet PDZ – a horse stall freshener that cuts down ammonia and keeps the coop smelling fresh(those sensitive chicken respiratory systems again!). Click the link for directions on using it for chickens. I chose the deep litter method because it’s essentially a working compost pile. When I clean out the litter, it’s broken down and I can either add it to the garden, or toss it on the big compost pile. In the winter, because it IS composting, it helps to create additional heat in the coop without hurting the birds.

Diet & Exercise: Once the snow hits, the birds are pretty much cut off from free ranging. The grass is dormant and covered in snow & the bugs are nowhere to be found. They have the fenced in run, which is spacious and roomy, but it’s not the same as having free run of a whole acre of land. To help substitute the greens, I fill a chicken treat toy with greens – lettuce, cabbage, cucumber, kale, spinach and carrot shavings. I will also give them a head of cabbage once per week where they basically play cabbage tether ball until nothing but a nub of the cabbage stem is left. To secure it I use a threaded eye hook, screwing it directly into the cabbage and hang it from a rope secured to the roof support. They love it. Sometimes it takes them a few days to finish it. Other times the cabbage is gone the same day.

For protein, I give them leftover roast chicken, fish, or beans (don’t cringe. they don’t know they are eating their kin!). There are chicken treats – dried mealworms – that I’ll toss around the coop for a special treat. On the cold mornings, which it seems that ALL of them are any more, I give them a bowl of hot oats, grains or plain cereal. This seems to get them going and active, and it’s amazing how quickly they’ve adapted to getting this morning time treat. All it is about 2 cups of quick cooking oatmeal, and enough hot tap water to cover it. I let it sit for a few minutes to soften and expand and then take it out to them to devour. The first time I gave it to them they stared at if for about 5 minutes before digging in. For water, I purchased a heated dog bowl to keep it from freezing. It kicks on only when temps reach a certain level, and I can set their waterer directly on it. It has worked wonderfully so far. Only had one day where there was a thin layer of ice, and that was the 8 degree day. The hens poked right through with no problem.

Enjoying some hot oats on a chilly morning

Enjoying some hot oats on a chilly morning

Additional light/heat lamps: I opted to go the first year of chicken keeping without adding any light to extend my ladies egg laying period. We get 1-3 eggs per day still, with a couple days of no eggs, and that is fine for me and the hubs. I have read too much information on how heat lamps are bad for birds because it causes too much of a temp change when they go away from it and could kill them. I have larger, cold hardy birds – Golden Laced Wyandotte & Barred Plymouth Rocks – so I’m not too worried about them being cold. The Barred Rocks are all in various stages of molt, so I know they are not currently laying because they are focusing their protein reserves on replacing those lost feathers.

Grazing on some scratch grains

Grazing on some scratch grains

The main things you want to remember for your back yard chicken keeping is that your birds should be able to access food, fresh unfrozen water, and have space to move around. They should have a dry coop to go to for warmth and to get out of the wind. Give them greens (lettuce, cabbage, kale, cucumbers) to supplement their diets from lack of free range availability. If you are an awesome pet parent like me, you’ll give them a cabbage tether ball. And you’ll give them some hot grains to get them moving in the mornings. I think we are doing

The DIY Life: an upcycle for canning rings

4 Jan

So, ya. Canning rings, or bands. Whatever you call them, I have a plethora of them. I have dented ones that get beat up from use. Rusty ones from old canning jars that people gifted me. Gold ones. Silver ones. Tarnished ones. ¬†A LOT! When a canning ring gets rusty, or dented, you are supposed to stop using it for actual canning since it can cause issue with your jars sealing properly. Instead of tossing them, I string them onto a piece of ribbon and keep them separate from my good canning rings. The beat rings are the ones I use when I need to secure the lid on an open jar (I don’t give a rats ass if it’s dented for in fridge food storage!). I’ll use some of the rusty and tarnished ones as a craft jar option. But I STILL have a shit ton of these things. So, I decided to get crafty with them. But it had to be an easy craft. Otherwise I get bored and abandon the craft. With the front porch bench bare now that the holidays are over, I needed something to put on it. And my mason jar holding the lone candle just seemed, well, sad. All alone on that big old bench. It needed a buddy. Someone to snuggle up with.

This craft is so stinking simple it’s ridiculous. You could do this blindfolded, with one hand behind your back and it would still rock.

The “directions” are as follows: I strung together the rusted, dented, beat up canning lids onto a piece of ribbon. When putting them onto the ribbon, I made sure they were all facing the same direction. Once they were all on the ribbon, I pulled the ribbon tight- SUPER tight, double knotted it and cut off the excess. Once the excess ribbon was gone, I fixed up the canning rings making them all nice and orderly. Then I jammed my mason jar “candle holder” into the center and stuck it on the bench. TA-DA! When I told you I generally stick to easy crafts, I wasn’t lying to you. The only way a craft can get any easier is to not actually craft anything. Really.

canningring

I was tempted to put it on my kitchen table, but it looked out of place so I stuck with my original plan as an outdoor decoration. I think it looks lovely. And I am digging that rusty patina from the old rings. If you do this with new canning rings, it will still look nice. Want that weathered look? Hang the rings somewhere outside where they will be subjected to the elements. It will give them a nice weathered patina.

The DIY Life: Candy Cane Salt Soak

12 Dec

We’ve got a theme going here – Candy Cane bath items. Yep. I love it. These were SO SIMPLE to whip up. I had extra so that I could enjoy them myself. Awesome! This is a thoughtful gift to give, especially around the holidays because so many of us are busy busy busy. Lifting packages, decorating, cooking. Our muscles get sore. We are tired. Epsom salts are great at relieving achy muscles. Coconut oil is a great moisturizer for dry winter skin. Peppermint and vanilla go great together. Bliss in a mason jar!

Fret not when you smell these – the smell will be very potent. You want it to be this way, because over time the smell will start to decrease. I promise it’s not overpowering when they are added to the bath. It’s a light scent that leaves your skin super soft and your body soothed and relaxed. I was able to skip my usual after bath lotion application because the coconut oil helped soften my skin!

candy cane salt soak

Candy Cane Salt Soak (Peppermint Vanilla Salt Soak)

4lbs epsom salts

2 tablespoons peppermint extract

4 tablespoons coconut oil, melted

4 tablespoons vanilla extract

Place your epsom salts in a large bowl. Drizzle the vanilla, coconut oil and peppermint all over the oil. Using your hands, mix up the salts until everything is nice and combined. Add to containers of your choice and decorate with a ribbon for gift giving.

To use: Add 3 tablespoons to bath water, swirling around to dissolve salt. Enjoy a long soak!

The DIY Life: Deco Mesh Tomato Cage Christmas Tree

3 Dec

Ever since we went from having a few tomato plants in pots to a full-scale garden, I’ve had some tomato cages laying around the yard – for years – doing nothing but letting the grass and weeds grow around them. I’ve been seeing Deco Mesh taking over all of the craft stores – everywhere you look there is SOMETHING made out of them – wreaths, flowers, snow men, ginormous bows, trees. I saw some Christmas Tree versions floating around both Pinterest and the craft stores, so I decided I’d re-purpose one tomato cage into a Christmas tree as a sort of test run. Since I am cheap and generally lazy when it comes to craft projects ( I tend to lose interest pretty fast, so it needs to be a completed project pretty quick), I wasn’t interested in doing any of the versions where you used multiple rolls of deco mesh ($7 for 1 was about all I was willing to spend!) and were twisting and tying for HOURS. So I purchased some floral wire, 1 roll of sparkly green deco mesh, a tin star and a small container of ornaments. Surprisingly, it’s a pretty simple project and doesn’t really require any particular set of skills – unless you consider using wire cutters a skill – and some time. I’d recommend wearing gloves because I tore the hell outta my hands from the floral wire ends. I used green stranded white lights for mine because I wanted the sparkle of the lights to shine through without the wires really showing. I like the end result of it so much I’ll make another one with the remaining tomato cage! Who knows where I’m going to put it, but at least it’ll be made and can be gift ready should I need it to be!

So, here is what you will need for the basics:

Tomato cage – whatever size you like

1 100 light strand

floral wire

1 roll deco mesh – 27 x 10 yards

wire cutters

tree topper – optional

small ornaments – optional

Start out by tying up the top (which is really the bottom) ends of the tomato cage making it look like a tepee. This will keep everything nice and together. For your lights – start by taking the outlet end of the lights (not the part you’ll plug into the wall!) and let it dangle into the interior of the tomato cage so it’s hidden. I secured all of my lights INSIDE the tomato cage, zigzagging back and forth and randomly securing them to the tomato cage with small pieces of floral wire. Once you have that all done, plug the light strand in so you can make sure the bulbs still all work and you didn’t knock any loose while securing them. (Believe me, it’s a bitch messing with them once that cage is covered in mesh!)

Now it’s time to secure the deco mesh. I started by making a little puff of it that I draped over the tepee top of the tree cage and then wrapped the floral wire AROUND the mesh, securing it to the cage in two places. Since the wire is visible with this method, you’ll want to be sure to drape the mesh in such a way that it covers the exposed wire.

For me it was easiest to get the mesh wrapped around the tree to the base and then go back in and secure it with wire once I had the look I was going for. While I was wrapping the mesh, I did little twists to give it some texture and depth. I had a little bit of extra mesh so I took and looped it around the base and made a sort of knot with it, stuffing any extra fabric up into the tree.

If you don’t want to add ornaments or a topper, stop here. You are done! If you do want to, secure them THROUGH the mesh to the cage to hide the wire. I basically threaded the wire through the holes in the mesh pattern and it kept all the wire hidden.

These look great inside, but are also safe to use outdoors. Since they are so light, you’ll want to anchor them so they don’t blow away.

The DIY Life: Keeping Chickens November Update!

30 Nov

So it seems like it’s been awhile since I talked about the chickens (and ducks) and given everyone an update. I mean hell, the last time I talked about them, I had a hen with a prolapse and it was warm outside and the plants were green. The hen healed up and is an egg laying machine, but the weather has changed and we’re now cold with sporadic bursts of snow, shit is dead or dormant, and the grass is getting a bit sad looking. It would appear that winter is upon us. Blech.

Where to start? Well Thor, that gorgeous rooster of ours decided he wanted to test his fighting skills…on me. While I had my arms full of bags and a weenie dog, that feathered rat bastard. It was a very enthusiastic jump up type of assault, complete with wing flapping and legs kicking. So I kicked at him to get him away from me. And made these really weird AAAAARRRRRGGGHHH gurgling noises in between screaming for the hubs. Hubs came out and they did their little chest puffing (hubs was trying to establish himself and the supreme being in the male population around here) and that seemed to get Thor to back off. I started carrying the broom around with me just in case and I did have to tap him on the ass another day when he puffed at me and got all “I’m gonna get you” on me. I told him that if he kept up that shit his pretty little feathered self was going to become dinner. Perhaps a nice Coq au Vin. I ate a piece of chicken in front of him as well, just to show him I meant business. It seems like he got his cock fight mentality out of his system, but I still carry the broom around when I’m in the yard. I bet that is a sight from the road.

Matilda, taking a dust bath

Matilda, taking a dust bath

Ever heard of feather pulling hens? Ya, I’ve got multiple ladies missing feather. Actually, only 1 hen and the rooster have feathers on their bums. At first I thought it was some weird reverse molt, but once the feathers started growing back in and were pin feathers, a couple of days later they were gone. My newest guess? They’ve resorted to being bored with their beauty routines and like having naked chicken butts. Because they don’t have any lice or mites, they get lots of scratch grains, are laying regularly, everyone takes dust baths and is otherwise healthy, and no one can possibly be considered bored since they are out all day long, foraging around the yard for tasty greens and bugs. Lucky me, I got weird birds. I’m at a loss at what else I can do since if there are feather pullers, there is certainly more than 1. And I have never actually caught anyone pulling out any feathers, except for the one hen occasionally pulling on Thor.

Speaking of letting them run free, the hens reminded me that they are not always the smartest animals. They are smart enough to avoid the highway, move out-of-the-way when we pull into the driveway, and come running when they see me because I have scratch or perhaps some other tasty treat – yet somehow, they are not smart enough to stay on OUR side of the fence. Matilda ended up on the business side of the fence once, and I easily lured her fat ass through the gap with some scratch and back to the safety of our yard.

Then one night I came home from work to lock up the ladies for the night and Francine was missing. My heart sank. I figured she either decided she wanted to see WHY a chicken decided to cross the road and met her maker, became a meal for a hawk, fought a cat, or was stuck on the other side of the fence like her sister and had to hang out for the night since it was dark. Hubs and I looked high and low for her and couldn’t see her. He then called me in the morning to tell me he saw her roosted up on the other side of the fence in some Aborvitae trees.¬†Let me tell you, chasing a chicken for 20 minutes is some good cardio first thing in the morning. Francine came to me easily – ran right under the fence and high tailed it to me, but then stopped and wanted to go back in. Well then. I figured she had to be thirsty and hungry, so scratch should have easily lured her to my open arms. No dice. Finally she did what chickens tend to do and cornered herself, where I was able to lunge, almost fall on my face, and grab a strong hold on ONE SINGLE FEATHER to get her to stop so I could carry her back to the safety of the run. As I wiped the sweat from brow that chilly 35 degree morning, complete with snow flurries, I decided the birds were staying in their run for the day. One AWOL hen was enough, and I didn’t want to have to commit to the same chicken chasing cardio the following morning. Hubs thinks she wants to go off and be a wild chicken. I think she was just too dumb to find her way back home and got stuck so she hung out.

With the days being colder and the sun setting earlier, the girls have slowed down on their egg production. We are still getting 4 eggs per day from the chickens, 1 from the duck, so no substantial losses. I am still buried in eggs even after all of my holiday baking so we are not feeling the eggless pinch just yet. I decided I didn’t want to give the hens any artificial light to keep their egg production at it’s peak. I wanted to have my first year of chicken keeping be a complete test run. If they continue to lay with a decline but still give us a couple eggs per day so I don’t have to buy any, then we’ll keep them on natural lighting next year as well. That just means no eggs for anyone else but us. I mean, they are our chickens after all, so we should reap the rewards of our efforts!

And for those of you that have never seen a chicken take a dust bath, I bring you Matilda, the Barred Plymouth Rock hen who is by far the friendliest of my hens and one of the funniest. Till next time….

A Method to my Madness: Why I Can

26 Nov

I’m not going to lie – it was pretty freaking awesome to have all of last week off. However, having to go to work today? Totally blows. I wish my company was closed in observance of the first day of rifle hunting here in Pa. That would have been super fantastic. Because I’d still be in my pj’s just finishing up the last swig of coffee and getting ready to bring down all the Christmas decor. Sigh. Now, onto the real reason for my post!

Food Preservation Рwhen people think of food preservation they think about their great grandparents and grandparents. They did it because times were tough and it helped to save money. It was a great way to feed their  Рat many times Рvery large families. They did it because it was part of their immigrant heritage Рtheir mothers did it, so they too carried on the tradition.

My bubba was a canner. She’d preserve the fruits and veggies from my pap’s well taken care of, high yielding garden. Sadly, I never got to see this part of her life because when she passed away, I was 7 and she was 92. Her canning days were behind her. My gram never canned or preserved food, therefore my mom never did. Which means I was never introduced to it. But I got into it because I like to think because it is in my blood, part of my DNA. But the real truth it that I got bored with traditional cooking and needed a challenge. I needed something different. I was already creative in the kitchen, trying new recipes and being adventurous. But food preservation? That was something totally different. There was a science to it. And the thought of having shelves full of beautiful mason jars filled with foods I had preserved was very appealing to me. But I wasn’t sure it was something that would stick for me as a hobby so I did a test before I committed to purchasing all the stuff you’d need. I made a batch of strawberry jam. That first batch of jam? It was delicious. It was sweet, it was simple, it was easy to make. And I was in love with the fact that I could recite all of the ingredients that were in it, without having to look at a label. The idea of simple preserved foods made a home in my head, and my heart. The following year, we planted a garden. I gave in, knowing I was hooked and purchased more mason jars, a canning pot, and a pressure canner because hubs wanted to can deer meat. I tried my hand at pickles, pickled peppers, and canned tomatoes. I made a batch of Apple Pie Jam. Tomato Butter. Simple things that could be processed in a water bath canner. Only enough to take up just one shelf in the basement food storage shelves. The pressure canner sat for almost a year, unused while I attempted to get over my irrational fear of it exploding and blasting me in the face with molten hot deer meat and shards of glass. The hubs used it the first time around January 2012 to cold pack a few jars of deer meat. It didn’t explode. I got over my fear and jumped into canning a whole 23qt canner full of jars of deer meat. I survived. I was in deep.

This year, I went balls out on canning – take no prisoners. I canned 100+ jars of stuff, a variety – pasta sauce (tomato basil and spicy tomato), tomato jam, bruschetta mix, strawberry jam, apple pie jam, pinto beans, cannellini beans, greek style butter beans, potatoes, and my very first batch of chicken stock. And I’m not done. I plan on canning another canner full of deer meat with some potatoes and carrots for a kind of hunters stew. I want to do more potatoes because it’s lovely being able to pop open a jar and have almost instant home fries for breakfast. I’m going to can ground beef so we can have quick nachos, or chili. That Thanksgiving turkey carcass will be turned into turkey stock (I’ll have an upcoming post on how to make this soon!) This is just the tip of the iceberg for me.

Now, onto WHY I can and preserve. It’s for a variety of reasons, none of which have to do with the zombie apocalypse. Yes, I’m obsessed with all things zombie, but I’m not preserving mass quantities of food because of some potential viral outbreak that turns us into brain eating undead. I do it because it’s cheaper than purchasing it from the grocery store – I even beat the discount stores. But I’d still can even if doing it myself wasn’t cheaper. Because – onto the second reason I can – canning my own food means I have control over what is going into my body. I can recite the exact ingredients that went into all of those items I listed earlier, because the list of ingredients is small. I am canning veggies from my own garden, as well as local farms. For a little investment of my time, I can fill shelves with food that has no preservatives, except maybe a little salt, vinegar or lemon juice. I can take that surplus from our garden and turn it into pasta sauce that we can eat and share for a whole year. The third reason I can? Because I enjoy it. I love cooking. You have got to love cooking in order to be a food preserver. It is time consuming, and it can get hectic, because you have to process the veggies and fruits when they are ready. They do not wait until it is convenient for you. My August and September each year are now pretty much consumed with canning and freezing. That means the house is a mess, because between work and canning there is certainly no time for things like running the sweeper or dusting. The laundry gets done sporadically. I force myself to clean the bathrooms because well, they’re bathrooms and they get gross. And at times I do get frazzled and feel overwhelmed because I am living and breathing food preservation. After work, on the weekends. Yep, I live and breathe it for those 2 months. This year, when I was all done, I wiped the sweat from my brow and said whew! All done till next year! And then a couple weekends later, I canned potatoes. In the coming weeks I’ll can that deer meat “stew”. Why? Because I had a breather from Canapalooza 2012 and I want my new canning shelf to be FULL of jars, no empty spaces. And because I love to cook. And the last ¬†reason why I can? It’s kind of a side effect, but I want to inspire other ¬†people, both young and old to start canning or to restart canning. To be more mindful of what they are eating. I am only 32, and people are always surprised that someone so young is so deeply interested in something as old fashioned as canning. Hearing people say that makes me smile. My own mom wanted me to teach her to can before she passed away, because she loved the thought of controlling her food. And it would give her a hobby. If I can inspire just one person to take up canning from my talking about, or gifting them something I’ve made, it makes this whole food love/food preservation experience even more worthwhile.

The DIY Life: Candy Cane Sugar Scrub for holiday gift giving!

13 Nov

In the retail world, Christmas has officially arrived. There is Christmas music on the sound system, holiday decorations overflow into the aisles, holiday t-shirts are front and center. And that leaves me a little twitchy and itchy over the thought of gift giving. It’s too soon. We haven’t even made it through Thanksgiving yet. I haven’t yet decided on a home made gift to give!!! Last year it was a canister of this Homemade Laundry Detergent¬†– it went over well and was easy to do. This year, I thought what about something pampering for the ladies? Something the boys can use too if they wanted, but it was pretty for the girls? And then while I was at the local Bath & Body Works it hit me – body scrubs! Sugar scrubs to be specific, because salt dries out the skin, and it’s winter, and we are all already dried out. Wait…maybe that’s why I got twitchy AND itchy about the upcoming holiday – because I’m all dried out!!! I searched the wonderful world of the internet and found a recipe that had a cute photo as well as the directions/ingredient list and adapted it for my use. I wanted a deep¬†moisturizing scrub that would help cure that winter dryness we experience once the furnace is on while exfoliating all those dry flaky skin particles. I think this recipe does the trick. And it yields a nice batch – 6 1/2 pint jars, with about 1/2 a jar of leftovers for me to use myself!

I’ll be jazzing these jars up with some shimmery ribbon and a candy cane. What a cute gift that I hope the ladies will love! It takes very little time – I think I whipped this up in about 15 minutes and it’s easy on the budget.

Candy Cane Sugar Scrub

adapted from here 

Yield: 6 1/2 pint mason jars

5 cups granulated white sugar

1/3 cup olive oil

2 cups coconut oil

1 1/2 teaspoons pure peppermint extract

In a microwave safe bowl, heat the coconut oil until melted, in 30 second bursts. Once melted, add the olive oil and peppermint extract, stirring to combine. Add your sugar and mix until no dry sugar remains. Add to jars up the 1 inch head space mark. Wipe rims, add bands and voila!

If you want to do the layering effect to make it look like a candy cane, take half of your sugar mixture and add it to another bowl. Use food grade GEL food coloring – this works the best. Mix until you have a nice consistent color and then layer it in your mason jars – one layer red, one layer white, and keep going till your jars are full up to the 1 inch head space. The red layers may leave some red coloring on your skin, but it easily rinses off with some soap.

Note: Since this is an oil based scrub, you’ll want to be careful after using it in the shower since it will leave a slick film on your tub. I usually just rub the slippery areas with my foot and it’s all good.

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