Archive for November, 2011

Baby Steps

After spending many months hopelessly addicted to this amazing blog, I’m thrilled to introduce myself as (I think!) the last of the new contributors.  You’ll be able to catch me here every other Wednesday.  Not only am I new to Not Dabbling, I’m also new to blogging!  Yep, this is my first ever blog post.

I’m DeeDee, and I hail from the flat cornfields of central Indiana.  The husband and I have 4 boys, ages 2,3,4, & 7.  Our 4 dogs (Gus, Roxy, JoJo, and Velma) are our other babies!  We have owned and operated a dog grooming business in our small town for almost 10 years.  While I’m a complete work in progress in the real food area of not dabbling in normal, much of our married lives we’ve taken the road less traveled in comparison to a lot of our peers.  We have always tried to keep faith first, family and friends second, and work last.  In doing that, we definitely don’t live an extravagant life (at least according to our culture’s standards), but we make it work!

I’ve grown up on real food, but as we’ve tried to maintain the aforementioned priorities, it began to seem like it was much easier to hit the old drive through after work so I could spend time with the family instead of cooking dinner, cleaning up the kitchen, etc.  As each year has passed, the scale has crept up on me big time.  I knew we were in a major rut when the 2 year old began throwing fits if we would drive by the golden arches without stopping!  I was also getting extremely frustrated as the money we earned each week seemed to disappear little by little as we sometimes ate out 2-3 times each day.

Lucky for me, the husband is really good at taking initiative & getting things done little by little.  He has always been frustrated with my “all or nothing” ways.  I would spend so much time on blogs (such as this one!) dreaming about what kind of life I wanted, but feeling completely overwhelmed on where to begin.

In the meantime, due to my weight and being on my feet a lot for work (and life in general!), I developed plantar fasciitis.  I opted to seek treatment from a chiropractor as I hadn’t seen good results from acquaintances who’d sought out conventional medicine.  Getting everything back to where it should be has really helped.  He also encouraged me to take small steps to better health instead of my all or nothing approach that obviously hadn’t been working for me!

While I still have a REALLY long way to go, I’ve made some progress.  I’ve made it a priority to plan ahead, which has taken our drive through visits down considerably, which has caused some money to reappear!  I’ve also tried to make growing/cooking real food a bigger part of our lives, and guess what?  The boys LOVE to help me both in the garden and the kitchen!  Making these small changes has saved us a ton of money, has helped me lose a few pounds (many more to go!), and has given us more time together as a family.  I’ve also learned a lot of things that I feel have been lost to my generation of women.  For example, this past weekend the boys and I made our own pumpkin puree for the pumpkin soup we’ll be feasting on for the Dark Days Challenge! Of course, some of my friends think I’m crazy, but I know from past posts I’ve read here that many of you have experienced that as well!

So, a big thank you to all of you awesome contributors and those who comment here… you have inspired me (and many others I’m sure!) to make these small changes that will lead to big results.  Though I’m not nearly as far down this path as many of you are, I’ve started my journey, and I can’t wait to share more of it with you!

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Wendell Berry is that rarest of intellectuals–a man of the ivory tower who got his hands in the dirt. An academic, author of both fiction and essay, and, most importantly, a farmer, he has written extensively since the 60s on the problems with our industrial food system, predicting many of the worst excesses that we are still fighting now. Anyone who has read Joel Salatin or Michael Pollan should go back and read Dr. Berry, whose philosophy and politics presaged their thoughts. You’ll have seen him most recently engaged in civil disobedience against mountaintop sheering in Kentucky.

His 1989 essay “The Pleasures of Eating” starts with the famous quote, “eating is an agricultural act” and ends with a list about eating responsibly. Dr. Berry describes eating–that simple daily act– as “a relationship that is inexpressibly complex.” He strives to reduce the complexity, and asks only that you be mindful of what you eat, who you eat with, and where it came from.

Berry was writing manifestos about mindful eating when Michael Pollan was just a twinkle in his father’s eye. He demands connection to your food supply, through participation in food production–“Be fully responsible for any food that you grow yourself, and you will know all about it. You will appreciate it fully, having known it all its life.”

Here at Not Dabbling, we follow his precept to revive ” in your own mind and life the arts of kitchen and household.”

Like all populist scientists, he wants people to learn and learn and learn. To know through conversation and through experience, through an open mind and heart. He saw it coming, long before the modern scourge of pathogen-laced, nutrient-starved industrial foods we are asked to eat. He says,

“The idea that every locality should be, as much as possible, the source of its own food makes several kinds of sense. The locally produced food supply is the most secure, the freshest, and the easiest for local consumers to know about and influence.”

Carl Sagan famously said that we are the stuff of stars. His “we” is inclusive, really inclusive, because if we–you and I–are the stuff of stars, then so is an ear of corn, or a steer, or a mountain. They are our sisters.  Says Dr. Sagan, “If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.”

And John Donne? He says that “every man’s death diminishes me” in a poem that was probably the very first thing I ever read that made me think about what it means to have a personal philosophy, in the 6th grade.

I extend it now–I have learned from Wendell Berry and Carl Sagan, and the philosopher gardeners whom I personally know, that I am connected not just to “every man” but to every blade of grass.

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Cottage Cheese

Our family likes cheese. A lot. I don’t know if that’s a regional thing because my husband isn’t so crazy about it. As for my daughter, I have to cut her off from cheese or she’ll eat it with every meal. Now, when I say I like cheese, I don’t mean I like gobs and gobs of it. I don’t like macaroni and cheese, I don’t like extra cheese on my pizza, and I definitely don’t like fake “cheese” flavored foods (read: Cheetos, Velveeta, and the like). What I really like are different flavors of cheeses: camembert, blue-veined, swiss, munster, cheddar, gorgonzola… ah! The list goes on. Creamy goodness – all of it!

About two years ago I started making my own cheeses and dairy products. I’ve ventured a little into some of the simple hard cheeses like manchego, and hope to have Hubby make me a cheese press over the long winter (hint, hint!). I also aim to get into some of the mold strains and waxes soon. In the meantime, what I make most of is mozzarella, cream cheese, farmer’s cheese, labneh, clotted cream, and sometimes cottage cheese.

Yes, I do keep raw milk, but did you know that YOU can make cottage cheese at home with plain store-bought milk?

cottage cheese


  • 1 gallon milk (preferably not ULTRA-pasteurized as it doesn’t always listen to directions)
  • ¼ tsp liquid rennet OR ¼ junket tablet mixed into ¼ cup non-chlorinated water (you will only need 1 Tbsp of this solution)
  • ½ cup (4 oz) cultured buttermilk
  • ¼ to ½ cup cream

If you have one large enough, use a double boiler to make this cheese as it helps to prevent scalding.

  1. Heat milk to 70-72 degrees. Remove milk from heat.
  2. Add buttermilk and stir thoroughly. Then add 1 Tbsp rennet solution and stir thoroughly once more.
  3. Cover milk and allow to rest at room temperature for about 4-5 hours. You’ll know it’s ready when it breaks clean from the side like custard.
  4. Use a long handled knife or spatula to cut the cheese into ½ inch-ish cubes, then cut those cubes diagonally in either direction (so you make an “X” in each cube).
  5. Allow the cheese to rest while you heat your double boiler (if you’re using one) up to 115 degrees. Insert the pan full of milk. Ideally the milk will heat slowly – about 2-4 degrees every 5 minutes. You may need to remove the liner pan of milk occasionally if it’s heating too quickly. Warm the milk up to 110-115 degrees. Then allow it to rest for 20 minutes, holding at that temperature.
  6. The curds will start to form nicely now. Test a few by squeezing them – if they’re not firm enough, cook them longer. But be careful – you can cook them too long leaving you with what I call “squeaky” cheese curds.
  7. Line a colander with cheesecloth or use a fine mesh strainer. Scoop the curds out into the cloth or strainer, and let it drain for about 5 minutes. Bring the corners of the cheesecloth together, if you’re using it, and dip the cheese in ice-cold water several times. Gently squeeze any extra water and whey out of the curds then allow to drain for another 5 minutes.
  8. Transfer your curds into a bowl, breaking apart any large pieces.
  9. Add cream to your liking and eat!
  10. You can keep this up to 5-7 days in the refrigerator. Makes approximately one pound of cheese.

Growing up I always added a sprinkle of sugar to my cottage cheese, but some people use salt and pepper, add fruit, or eat it plain. How do you eat your cottage cheese?

Jennifer can also be found blarging at Unearthing this Life and other sundry places across the interwebs.

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Our Dark Days Challenge starts this week. To remind everyone, sign up here to share your SOLE (Seasonal, Organic, Local, Ethical) meal once a week through March. Here on Not Dabbling, and over on (not so) Urban Hennery, we’ll do biweekly highlights from the participating blogs, focusing on each region:  Sage for the West, Jen for the Southeast, Miranda for the Northwest, Emily J. and Ryan for the Northeast, me and Susy for the Midwest, Emily S. for the South. Make sure to check our individual blogs as well for our own Dark Days efforts. If you’re signed up for the Challenge, you’ll be getting an email with an address to let us know what you’re up to!


I (Xan) focused more on frozen than canned goods this year. My biggest deficit is greens; I’m hoping my local year-round CSA will have local frozen peas!


Here at Chiot’s Run the larder is more filled with things I don’t have to actively preserve: carrots, potatoes, beets, celery, etc. Each year I focus more on growing things for a longer harvest season so I don’t have to spend as much time canning/preserving during the season. I grow greens for harvest in the cold winter months, usually spinach, mache and kale. I’m lucky that there are also a lot of local farmers now focusing on cold weather crops. We have a great farmer’s market that should make my Dark Days Challenge Meals a little easier!

We do focus on filling our freezer with local meat. I just purchased a half a hog from a local farmer that I’ll pick up next week. Mr Chiots is also a hunter, so each year we end up with a few deer in the freezer thus venison is our primary source of red meat.


Up here in the Northwest, without a personal garden and within a temporary apartment, I will be heavily utilizing the local Winter Indoor market to supply us with fresh produce this year. I luckily have friends with chickens to supply us with eggs, and i’ll most likely do a lot of bartering for fresh veggies with my handcrafted soap. I love being able to barter for local goodies instead of paying with cash – it is so rewarding to trade quality commodities without having to visit the bank! One thing you will always find in my cupboards, though is homemade and canned chicken or turkey stock. My pressure canner may take up an entire closet, but it’s worth it to me to have it around to supply us with nourishing stock all through the year. I also added something fun to my preserved foods this year: dried local apples. Yum!


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stack of cards to give

The holiday season is upon us. One of the gifts I decided to give my nieces this year is cards. At first I thought I would make them each a stack of personalized “monogrammed” cards. Then I realized that they are at a point (8 and 10 years old) where they like projects and new things, so why not let them make the cards (or at least partially make the cards.) They live in Wisconsin and so it isn’t easy to just stop by and do craft projects with them (although I wish it was) so I thought I would do some of the work and let them finish the cards by putting them together.

Trying color combinations out

I had already made several “monogrammed” cards for them, so I will send those along as examples. With my new plan,  I set out by picking out plain card stock and designer paper combinations that I thought they would  like.

working on a layout

I am lucky enough to have a huge room upstairs where all my arts and craft supplies are. I found a HUGE long table at Salvation Army that makes a wonderful work space. Most of the time I never pick up the mess from my previous project, so that is the first thing I have to do – clean up the table. Lucky for me, the last thing I worked on was cards, so it didn’t take long for me to straightening things up.

Applying adhesive

Picking out papers. I am very frugal with buying my supplies. I check out the Sunday advertisements for both of the craft stores in my area to see who has what on sale. If one of them has a sale on paper and I am in need of more paper, I make a point to head that direction. Also, I make sure that I am armed with any coupons they have and always check the clearance sections because you never know what you will find there. I have found a lot of deeply discounted papers in that area. Craig’s List can also be an good place to find things like stamps and punches and even papers. You can also make contact with a stamp demonstrator from your area. When we first moved to Texas, I visited my friend in Austin I learned about Stampin’ Up. They have demonstrators all over the world and most likely there is one in your area. Those demonstrators can have all sorts of activities from stamping cards to scrapbooking. Several demonstrators will have a “stamp-a-stack” class where you pay a fee (usually around $10-$15) to go stamp a stack of cards (usually 12 cards). They do all the planning and paper cutting and you just go and stamp the selected stamps they have chosen to “demonstrate” and put it all together (I notice they are usually themes depending on the time of year – Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Spring.) You walk away with finished handmade cards and you didn’t had to buy any supplies. What a deal. With the “stamp-a-stack” in mind, that is what I did for my nieces. I think they will enjoy this gift. It is creative, handmade and they get to have some fun with it too. I hope it will bring a big smile to their faces when they each open their gift.

using foam to raise an area

I have a hard time figuring out what to give my mom for gifts. She is at a point where she has everything and doesn’t want more “things.” I have found making cards for her to be one of the gifts I can make and give her that she will use (she also enjoys the homemade soap.) Right now I am making her Christmas cards and throughout the year I give her other cards as gifts. She can use them herself or use them as gifts for other people. I want to make sure I am making cards that she will like, so she is involved in the process. I know that takes some of the surprise factor away, but in the long run I know she is happier to get a gift she likes and can use.

2 card projects done

You may have some stamping and scrapebooking stores in your area that offer classes or projects. Local craft stores in your area may have some projects going on with the holidays coming up.

I am also quite happy to report that some of the papers I cam able to buy are made in the USA. I look at that as a win-win situation. I get to make a handmade card and support a business in the USA. While that business is not local to my area, at least I feel better knowing the paper didn’t have to travel across the ocean to get here.

Papers made in the USA

Sincerely, Emily

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And then we feast!

As I sat down at the table yesterday, I realized how fortunate I am to be so connected to my food, to those that grow it and that we now have the ability to host family and friends at our house to share the bounty.

The act of preparing the meal was the result of months and months of work of many people in my community. The butternut squash was gifted to me from my intern, whom was sad to discover that the squash I grew this year were infected with disease (our soil needs a lot of love). She came in the next day with armloads of squash for us that she had picked up at a local farm in her town. The potatoes were gifted to us by our neighbor who runs a small farm, she knew we loved potatoes and dropped off about 30 lbs of potatoes on Monday afternoon and said to stop by soon, she had plenty more for us. The stuffing, was made by Mike and I, first we baked some gluten free bread with eggs from our friends pastured chickens and with raw milk from another friends farm. The turkey came from yet another friends farm, raised on pasture since July. They processed them on Sunday using the same equipment we had borrowed from them to process our pastured chickens the week before. We grew the garlic and the onions and apples came from another local farm, where we visit regularly to stock up on fresh raw milk ice cream. The only distant food was the organic canned cranberry sauce. I know that this is one of those weird foodstuffs that have made it to the table that is bizarre but I grew up eating it and it was always the favorite of my sister and I. I think it was because it was like candy served as a dish in a main meal, and as a child that has great appeal. I was beyond excited when I found an organic version!

It was the first Thanksgiving that Mike and I prepared and hosted, and it was the first Thanksgiving that it dawned on me that this was the one truly seasonal meal that people all around the country were enjoying as well. It shocked me that it took this long in my life to realize the seasonality of this particular feast, because I’ve never hosted and had the ability to bring a Thanksgiving meal to the table with such intention and connection. It dawned on me that the symbol of tradition has triumphed meaning and connection to what the dishes even represented all these years.  It is not much different than how we eat every day because we eat in season and each meal, three times a day, is just as connected and filled with stories as this one. But what makes this meal different, is that it is the one time, you can bring a bunch of folks together, that aren’t necessarily thinking about food and connection as much as I might be, but we all sit down and share the same amount of gratitude. And then we feast.

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To be Thankful

I am Thankful (this is my thankful face^).

In the past, I’ve felt like writing the whole “I am thankful for…” thing was ridiculously primary-school. It always felt forced and stuffy. I am thankful for my dog and my house and my Polly Pocket.

It really wasn’t until this year that I realized that listing what we’re thankful for isn’t just listing; It’s committing. It makes the writer bear a part of them self in a concrete way and it makes the writer really ponder the things in their life.

If you still feel like its primary-school-like, well… too bad.

I’m thankful for the bountiful harvests that occur around me each year, both naturally and cultivated.

I’m thankful for the beauty in the world, and my ability to pause and take it in.

I’m thankful for the silly in the world and my husband’s neverending ability to make me laugh harder and longer.
I’m thankful to have been born into a supportive, albeit strange family, and to have married into a family just as supportive, albeit a little more “normal”.

I’m thankful for my life, my passions and my endless daydreams.

I am also thankful to be part of a blossoming digital community that comes together, via blogs and social networking to discuss, learn, challenge and inspire one another.

Thank you readers and fellow NDiN contributors.

With love, Emily from Tanglewood


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