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When I was in college and living by myself, I used to make a big pot of something– spaghetti sauce, pea soup, stew– on Sunday nights, and then eat it all week.  I mostly did it because then I didn’t have to cook all week.

Here at the other end of my journey, I find myself in the same predicament, but it’s more because I just can’t get the hang of this cooking-for-one-person thing.

I’ve actually come up with strategies– I work late on Tuesday and Wednesday, so I need something easy to fix when I get home at 8:30. I need leftovers. So I make my too-big meals on Sunday and Monday, and reheat on Tuesday and Wednesday. This doesn’t help much with Thursday, when I work at night, and have to come up with something early, which I hate to eat early, and I end up having cheese and crackers for dinner at 10 p.m.

Which I suppose is a step above a bag of oreos.

One of my cooking-for-one innovations (you’ll be amazed to hear this is my own innovation; no one in the history of living alone has ever come up with this, in case you need to know who to credit), has been the amazing ability of the top of the fridge to actually freeze things.

I mostly use this for breads. I’ve discovered (NO, I did not read this in Barbara Kingsolver, okay maybe a little) that you can make pizza dough in large quantities ahead of time, divide and freeze, then just pull a single-pizza size out of the freezer a couple hours ahead of cooking, and voila– pizza! Same thing with pita. Since I make it myself, it was such a drag when it would go moldy or stale on me, until I read on the internet figured out (ahem) that I could bake them one at a time. Of course, you have to heat the baking stone at 450 for 45 minutes, so it’s not exactly energy efficient, but I don’t waste pita anymore.

It works for scones, too, which I learned from a scone-baking class, figured out about a month ago! This is helpful not so much for the problem of scones going bad, as for the problem of scones going in my mouth a dozen at a time, because I’m really good at scones and they are delicious.

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What are you (not) cooking?

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I have had a FoodSaver vacuum sealer for the over 10 years. Since I have been buying meat from local farmers and ranchers, I have hardly touched the vacuum sealer in the past 4 years.

foodsaver play 2Over the past few weeks I have been doing a lot of planning ahead and pre-making some foods that will save me some time over the next few months. I will be having surgery and out of commission for a while and unable to spend time doing the things I normally do, like cook and garden. I will have lots of help to get me through the first few weeks, then the house will be back to the two of us. I want to do what I can now to be prepared and make the time easier on everyone, including me. So, I have been baking bread with onion, sage and oregano to make into stuffing and making bread crumbs. I have been stocking up on dry beans and grains (and cat food and cat little!) I have been drying more of my own herbs. I keep many of the dry herbs in the freezer to help keep them fresh.

foodsaver play 3

I have seen the jar sealers from FoodSaver and was curious about how they worked, but I couldn’t find anyone that had used them. I finally just took the plunge and bought both the jar sealer for the regular canning jar and the wide mouth canning jar (actually it was one of those practical Christmas presents that I ordered and told my husband he bought me for Christmas!) Hey, that works for us and I love those type of gifts.

I was so excited to receive the jar sealers that I have been on a vacuum-sealing spree and loving loving loving it. I have pulled all my dry herbs out of the freezer and vacuum-sealed them in canning jars. Most of the things in our cupboards are in glass jars, but I decided to switch them out into canning jars so that I could vacuum seal them. You may remember that I have an obsession with jars…. well, all those jars really came in handy.

I have gone through my soap/lotion-making cabinet and vacuum sealed the elderflower, the calendula and many other dry herbs. Next on my list is making crackers and getting those all vacuum sealed to retain freshness. When sealing anything in jars, just make sure it is completely dry. If there is any moisture and you vacuum seal your jars, you items will not be fresh.

Foodsaver play 1

I have not had these jar sealer for long, but so far I am thrilled with how they work and how easily the jars seal. I love that all the air gets sucked out and that means the contents should stay super fresh for a very long time.

I think these jar sealers make sense if you buy things in bulk, if you are planning ahead, if you are living in a humid climate and you want to extend the shelf life of you food. It all ties in with my frugal nature and trying to plan ahead and be prepared.

Have you used any jar sealers? I would love to hear how they work for you and how you like using them.

Sincerely, Emily

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If you’re vinegar, you must respect your mother. She can survive for months in a dark and stuffy bottle, only to come back to life and create magical chemistry to turn cider into tangy and delicious vinegar. The mother of vinegar, much like the SCOBY (symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast) of Kombucha, the m.o.v. is a skin-like film that develops at the top of a batch of brewing vinegar. It’s weird. It’s amazing. It’s mysterious.

I’m relatively new to vinegar making. I made my first batch by simply leaving some raw cider out, covered with a cloth, to ferment and turn to vinegar (passing by the intoxicating hard cider). This was the best vinegar i’d ever had and i’m hopeful that this new batch made from store-bought cider will be reminiscent of this original wild vinegar.

I’d love to hear from you! Are you an experienced vinegar brewer? Please comment with your experiences or any fun facts about what’s really going on in that translucent mother floating in my mason jar. You can also read more about my vinegar making over at Pocket Pause.

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I live in Oregon. Come the end of Summer, i will be surrounded by blackberries. Along the road, in the yard, in the neighbor’s yard, along the river: blackberries! It’s hard not to pick and pick and pick and fill the freezer with bags of berries. It is hard to use them all up, at least for me since i don’t cook many sweet things. So, after last year’s harvest i ended up with a few bags of berries chillin’ in the freezer until just a few weeks ago. I needed to make some room for the cuts of ram meat i was bringing home, so i defrosted one of the bags of blackberries for snacking.

Defrosted blackberries do not have much taste.

What to do?! I decided to make some syrup! I do not have a food mill, so i squished the soft berries through my pasta strainer and poured the juice into a small pot. Since i have no animals currently, I threw away the berry chunks and later wished i’d saved them to try and make vinegar (anyone have experience doing that???) I have no experience making syrup, so i scrim coached: Berry juice, a tiny bit of sugar, a hint of cinnamon and some time i simmered until the juice had reduced quite a bit. The resultant syrup wasn’t exactly syrup, but it was certainly thicker than juice and was GREAT over oatmeal, yogurt and goat’s milk ice cream.

I think i’ll actually PLAN on making syrup this year… but will need a recipe. And a food mill. Who has a great recipe, that hopefully doesn’t include more sugar than fruit? I just can’t handle much sugar.

If you have a berry great syrup recipe, please share!

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My contribution to ye olde NDIN blog this week is a re-post from my blog, Pocket Pause. I decided that after drooling over these butter photos on Wednesday, i’d like to do some more drooling on Friday. Forgive me. – Miranda

Butter was given a bad name years ago, replaced with man-made margarine packaged in wasteful plastic tubs full of heart attack causing ‘frankenfood’ with fewer calories. To be completely honest, i kind a like margarine. It’s salty. You know what is also salty? Homemade butter blended with SALT.

As you probably know, many of the authors here at Not Dabbling are advocates for drinking raw milk. I prefer raw goat’s milk, which is why we’ll be raising miniature Nubian goats, but also enjoy raw Jersey milk and belong to a local co-op who supports a young farmer with her 2 cows. I realize that the ‘raw milk debate’ is a ‘thing’ these days, but i’m not afraid to say that i prefer raw milk, can digest it MUCH easier than pasteurized milk, and it is my opinion that the enzymes and other goodies found in raw milk are important and worth whatever ‘risk’ there may be in skipping pasteurization. It’s all about the handling, folks! Raw milk is also known as “cream line” milk because the cream rises to the surface. I skim off this cream to make butter, and to leave my drinking milk at a lower butter fat percentage, closer to 2% milk. Whole milk is delicious, but i don’t think my waistline needs to be ingesting that on a regular basis. ;)

I encourage you to visit this website, as well as some of the sources they reference at the bottom. The entire article is wonderful, but here is the cheat-sheet “20 reasons butter is good for you,” which is worth a Pin, if you ask me. ;)

  1. Butter is rich in the most easily absorbable form of Vitamin A necessary for thyroid and adrenal health.
  2. Contains lauric acid, important in treating fungal infections and candida.
  3. Contains lecithin, essential for cholesterol metabolism.
  4. Contains anti-oxidants that protect against free radical damage.
  5. Has anti-oxidants that protect against weakening arteries.
  6. Is a great source of Vitamins E and K.
  7. Is a very rich source of the vital mineral selenium.
  8. Saturated fats in butter have strong anti-tumor and anti-cancer properties.
  9. Butter contains conjugated linoleic acid, which is a potent anti-cancer agent, muscle builder, and immunity booster
  10. Vitamin D found in butter is essential to absorption of calcium.
  11. Protects against tooth decay.
  12. Is your only source of an anti-stiffness factor, which protects against calcification of the joints.
  13. Anti-stiffness factor in butter also prevents hardening of the arteries, cataracts, and calcification of the pineal gland.
  14. Is a source of Activator X, which helps your body absorb minerals.
  15. Is a source of iodine in highly absorbable form.
  16. May promote fertility in women.9
  17. Is a source of quick energy, and is not stored in our bodies adipose tissue.
  18. Cholesterol found in butterfat is essential to children’s brain and nervous system development.
  19. Contains Arachidonic Acid (AA) which plays a role in brain function and is a vital component of cell membranes.
  20. Protects against gastrointestinal infections in the very young or the elderly.

Those are some great reasons to eat butter! So, let’s make some! (If you don’t have access to raw milk, pick up some organic cream instead.)

Homemade Butter

First you must separate the cream from the milk. Skimming the cream was difficult when i purchased my raw milk in regular milk gallons. Luckily, my local farmer sells her milk in wide mouthed half gallon mason jars. We bring in a jar as a ‘deposit’ when purchasing the milk. I have a handy little spoon (the type that looks like a mini ladle) that i use to carefully scoop out the heavy cream into another large mason jar, or in this case a food processor. Making butter is easy: all it takes is agitation. When making butter with the cream from a half gallon, i usually do it “by hand” in a large jar: shake shake shake shake. This batch was rather large, however so i saved time and sore muscles by agitating in a food processor. Easy. Though, i always have a hard time not just stopping at whipped cream. ;)

As you agitate the cream it will slowly begin to thicken, turn to whipped cream, then begin to separate. Once you get chunks of butter suspended in a milky liquid (buttermilk!), stop and move the operation into a quart jar. Carefully pour out the buttermilk (and use for baking and other recipes) and replace with super cold water. Shake, pour off, pour on cold water, repeat until the water runs clean. Place the butter into a bowl along with a pinch of salt and press any residual water out with a wide spoon. You can leave your butter salt-free, but the salt will help to preserve it, and i personally love the flavor. To store my butter, i pressed it into ice cube trays and covered them with wax paper and froze them. Now i have perfect little butter loaves: one in the fridge, the rest in a ziplock in the freezer. You can further preserve butter by making ghee.

I had a delicious piece of toast with a thin slice of melting homemade butter on it this morning, as did my husband. In his words: “man, this is delicious with your butter on it.” Yes it was. Go make some butter! It’s fun to do with kids, and it’s nutritious and good for you. Love margarine too much? Add some salt and maybe some other spices while you press out the water, and do yourself a favor: scrape out the cancer-spread and re-use the tubs for holding buttons or something.

How about you? What’s your stand on the “raw debate?”

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I’m a brand new knitter. I love it. I love the stockinette stitch: it makes me giggle all over with happiness. I’m new to knitting, but i’m not new to crafting with yarn: i originally learned that ‘other’ yarn art: crochet. Some deem crochet low brow, kitchy, less advanced or somehow just not as refined as knitting. But you know what? Crochet is just as good as knitting, it’s just DIFFERENT (and usually way faster!)

Although i’ve been spending most of my time working on knitted hats, scarves and recently trying out lace (all with my handspun yarn) i took the time to write out a pattern of sorts to help folks reintroduce themselves to the functional art of crochet. Ever seen someone shopping at the farmer’s market carrying one of these sexy market bags? Want one for yourself? You could spend $25 on one of them and support an artisan, which is nice in its own way. OR you could learn how to make one yourself, and them make dozens of them in all sorts of sizes and colors for mere pocket change! Hold your onions in the kitchen, shop for tomatoes at the market, throw in some paperbacks for a day at the beach: the possibilities are endless! *Disclaimer: i am not a master crochet pattern writer, and i usually just ‘wing’ these bags. The pattern i wrote out is not the end and be all of the best way to make them, in fact – if i did it over i would have all the mesh holes be much smaller – so learn this pattern, then fiddle with it to suit your needs.

Visit my two part series (one, two) over at An Austin Homestead for the tutorial, and post photos of your crochet craft at my Flickr group. Just want the quick basics? Already know how to crochet? Make an easy crocheted market or produce bag by following these basic guidelines:

  1. Crochet a flat circle, first using single crochets, then doubles, then triples until you have a circle about 9-10 inches wide
  2. Build the height of the bag by alternating triple crochets with simple chain stitches, crocheting around the chain below, in between two crochet stitches to create a mesh
  3. Keep going until you get as tall as you like!
  4. Finish by alternating double crochet and chain 1 several times per mesh hole, then weaving a draw string through the top

Visit An Austin Homestead for the full shabang!

Do you crochet or knit? Do you ever ‘wing-it’ or are you a strict pattern follower?

*This market bag pattern, and all tutorials found on An Austin Homestead, or re-published at Not Dabbling in Normal are presented for your personal use only. Tutorials and/or objects made from my tutorials may not be sold commercially (that includes Etsy or Ravelry!). If you want to sell something based on one of my tutorials, please email me at gonudesoap at gmail dot com and we’ll try to work out a fair deal. Please play nicely!

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silos

Computers and modern transportation have made this world of ours seem a lot smaller. It makes luxuries that many of us might afford seem commonplace. I can order shea butter made from nuts handpicked by African locals, wool from the “Highlands of Peru”, and water bottled all the way in Fiji and have them shipped to me here in the midwest. But do I need them… especially when I can get a comparable item from somewhere closer to home?

It’s a mixed blessing. Modernization and change can be good thing, but I wonder, “At what cost?”. Not just the cost to my pocket book, but the cost to our surroundings – the local industries and businesses, job rates, fuel prices, and the impact on the environment.

Just like I have doubts about processed foods, I have some issues with purchasing food online. Some of these “must have” herbs, oils, seasonings, and out of season vegetables can hardly be better for the environment with all their fossil fuels and packing than all the pesticides and fertilizer a conventionally grown product may have. I have some concerns with purchasing food from places like Amazon, for example, simply because the items are organic, or they fall under the latest diet fad, or are the latest craze in grains. How can it be any better than picking up packaged processed organic convenience foods at your local grocery store?

olive oil

Don’t get me wrong, I’m thrilled that these goods are available to those that would otherwise have no access to local organic products or allergen-free foods. I love that my sister, with her gluten- and lactose-intolerances, can easily find alternatives for her diet. But for a majority of us it shouldn’t be an issue. One of my biggest fears is that globalization (in the sense of marketing and shipping) of the organic industry will hinder the local food movements. When we choose to order food and goods online, I feel like we’re cheating our neighboring farmers even the chance to decide if they want to go organic, or sell at the market or even direct to stores.

With all that said, I admit I’m no saint. I have my coffee and teas; I’ve ordered bags of flour and even Meyer lemons; nuts and avocados from the States and Mexican mangoes frequent my kitchen when they’re in season. I keep balsamic vinegar. And wine… I have not given up my wine (hic!). Let’s not even talk about Peppadews. It’s been said many times before, “Moderation is key”.  If you want to splurge on something, choose wisely and limit your purchases and usage. For example, I try to choose Californian olive oil instead of those imported from Italy, Argentina, and Tunisia. I also purchase in bulk any items that need to be shipped – like flour. But I do purchase a majority of my vegetables and fruits from local farmers – and I buy lots at a time to can, freeze, and store*. Doing so is an investment in future meal. Yes, it requires some time and very minimal equipment, but it sure is an improvement in value and taste. I also try to forage when I can, and I’m not shy about asking family and friends if I can pick extras from their gardens and trees. Those Peppadews I love so much? I limit the amount I purchase and keep them as a special treat: a luxury.

Canning SessionSet your own limits. What is acceptable to you? Would you be willing to spend a couple of Saturdays  at the end of summer to put up the products of a good harvest? Can you fit an hour a week into your plans to go to the farm stand or market instead of the grocery store? Is it really okay to purchase organic garlic from Argentina, when you can wait until fall and pick it up locally? Can you get by with eating foods grown strictly in your own country? Would you be willing to eat seasonally and regionally instead of buying out of season fruits and vegetables from California? What ingredients would you be willing to give up, grow yourself, or purchase locally instead of having them imported? Would you be willing to be an activist and get the ball rolling on a local farmers market?

I think it’s phenomenal that so many more small businesses are cropping up and offering organic goods where they weren’t previously available. I love that there are so many alternatives available for people that have food challenges, like allergies and intolerances. I also think it’s important to stay educated and keep questioning how we can make things better for our families, the environment, and our local businesses. Food quality is very important to me, and I frequently find myself researching what I can do to improve it while reducing my footprint. My time and pocket book is also important to me, and I always have to work on consolidating my projects and errands. So while I may purchase a few key items online, you won’t find me getting box-loads of organic meals delivered to my door. Instead you’ll find me bringing box-loads of organic veggies home from the market to put up for those long, cold winter days and searching for ways to advocate local resources.

Farmers Market

(*A note on purchasing and preparing foods in bulk: It’s amazing how much cabinet space is left when you get rid of all those factory processed and packaged foods. Cans and jars of goods stack easily and don’t have as much empty space thanks to settling. Freezer space is nice if you have it, I’m currently storing a lot in my parents’ deep freeze since ours is long gone. I keep 20 pounds worth of flour in air-tight storage bins and have kept long-storing items like winter squash under my bed.

It may be intimidating to spend the little extra cash up front, but the investment of a little money and time up front will save you money and time later down the road. Less grocery shopping, means more time and more money in your pocket. Start small and add more projects as you feel more comfortable and can afford to add more to your project list. Share projects with someone else to save money and time, find canning jars and storage containers at garage sales or look for end of season sales. Over time you will notice a difference in the amount of money you spend on food, but it may take a while depending on how much you actually prepare and store.)

***

- Jennifer is also at Unearthing this Life, is on Twitter, and has written for Rhythm of the Home.

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