Archive for the ‘Tutorials’ Category

Hard upon the (late) April repost of monthly planning from Jen at Unearthing This Life, here’s what to do in May (a day early)! My May will be taken up with continuing rehabbing (ish) of my house, and of course, getting the garden up and running.


  • Skip trimming shrubbery if you notice any nesting. Let those birds have some solitude!
  • Plant annuals if you’re safe from frosts and trim back perennials if needed in warmer zones.
  • Zone 4 and lower transplant tomatoes, peppers, cucurbits and other warm weather crops. Zone 5 and up– not til the end of the month!
  • Tidy up bulb foliage if it begins to die back.
  • Allow columbine and foxgloves to go to seed and collect some for next year.
  • Trim back blooms on roses and day lilies to promote re-blooming.
  • Keep shears and trimmers clean and available for deadheading and pruning.


  • Set up and clean bird baths.
  • Clean Patio Furniture.
  • Clean grill.
  • Repair/purchase water hoses and fixtures. If appropriate, make sure water barrel systems are in good repair and have no algae buildup.
  • Make sure gutters are draining properly by watching them during a heavy rain. If there’s any overflow or tipping, you may need to have them cleaned or repaired.
  • If needed, have your air conditioner checked. Clean any debris and trim back plants to allow maximum airflow.
  • Start clearing paths to wild berries and keep them accessable until harvests are done.


  • Consider weaning goats and sheep if necessary.
  • It may not be to late to purchase chicks and other fowl from your local farmers co-op.
  • Watch for hummingbirds to return. Be prepared with clean feeders and simple syrup (four parts water to one part sugar).
  • Bees – make sure you can locate queens and that they are laying. Check for foul brood, varroa mites, and hive beetles. Is your honey coming in yet? Do you need to feed your bees? Watch for swarming.
  • Look into stocking your ponds with fish now that the cold weather is gone.


  • Change air filters and adjust thermostat a few degrees to save on electricity.
  • Clean ceiling fan blades and shades.
  • Invest in a good window/box fan.
  • Get your furnace and water heater serviced
  • If you don’t already have one, prepare an emergency kit with 3 days worth of supplies and locate your safe place for severe weather.
  • Locate and organize your picnic gear – get out there and enjoy the beautiful Spring weather at a moment’s notice!


What projects do you have lined up for this month?

Read Full Post »

Grams yarn hangersI am taking a chance and posting this before Christmas, hoping that my nieces are not reading! This is all about Gram’s hangers. Now, I know my Gram wasn’t the only person out there making these, but she was the only person out there making them for me when I was younger… hence, Gram’s hangars.

When I got a bit older (I’m guessing 10 or 12 years old), she taught me how to make them. I searched all of our closets looking for one of Grams hanger. Do you think I found one? NO!  I just wanted to look at it and work out how I was going to make them. Do you think I remembered how to do them?  Yes, and no! I worked it out rather quickly, but I knew mine are a bit different. In fact, when I took the hangars I finished to MN this past fall to wrap them up and stash them away for my nieces, my mom came in to see what I was doing and then started pulling hanger after hanger out of her closest. All Gram’s hangars! She has all of them! I couldn’t help but laugh.

Started at the base of the hookWhat I love about using these hangars is that my clothes don’t slip off the hangar (and I made them by recycling old wire hangars and gave them a new purpose in life)

You start with two metal dry cleaner hangers that are of equal shape and size.  Tape them together in a few spots so you are fighting to keep the hangars together as you are working your yarn around them. You need two balls of yarn. They can be the same color or different colors, that is completely up to you, but the yarn does need to be in balls (not skeins). I could not remember how much yarn it took to make a hanger, so I bought two skeins of blue (for one niece) and two skeins of pink( for the other niece) and started wrapping them into balls. Make your yarn balls a manageable size so you can handle it easily enough and not be fighting with it to get it through the triangle form of the hanger at each pass. I made two hangers for each niece and have TONS of yarn left over. I could probably make them two more hangers each year for several years and still not run out (and hope they still like the colors I have!)

Make a loop

Make a loop

I started at the bottom of the neck where the hanger branches out and the worked my way around the hanger ending up back at the neck and then worked my way up to the top of the hook and back down to the neck. I know working my yarn over the hook and back gave it a bit of extra bulk, but I didn’t want to end at the top of the hook and have loos ends and knots up there where it gets most of its wear as it is put on your clothes rod and taken off over and over.

pass you yarn over the hanger and through the loop

pass you yarn over the hanger and through the loop

Tie both balls of yarn onto the bottom of the neck of the hangers leaving about a 6″ tail to work with later.  You want to keep one ball of yarn on one side of you and the other ball of yarn on the other side of you. I hold the hangar between my legs so that my hands are free to work with the yarn balls. I will mention that the chair that I sit on in our living room is an old swan neck rocker. It has open arm rests which isn’t the best situation because there isn’t much room on either side of my body to rest the yarn balls without them falling through the arms rest, off the chair, and unrolling out on the floor.

Pull tight

Pull tight

To make a “stitch” make a loop with your yarn and then pass your ball of yarn over the hangar and through the loop. Now pull it tight. The tighter you pull the more loops you will need to make to cover your hangar. The loosen your “stitches” the lass yarn. I made mine rather tight. From time to time you can also push your “stitches” so they are tighter together also. There are no rules here, do what ever you are comfortable with.

You can do one “stitch” with each color yarn or more. I did one hangar with single “stitches” and the other with two “stitches” with each ball of yarn before working the other side.

used single stitches on left and double stitches on right

used single stitches on left and double stitches on right

I finished by knotting my ends together and leaving about a 6″ tail on each end. I added pom poms that I made out of the same yarn and used the tail ends to attach them to the hangers.

Crossing my fingers that my nieces will love them.

Have you ever made yarn hangers?

Sincerely, Emily

You can see what else I am up to over at Sincerely, Emily. The topics are varied, as I jump around from gardening to sewing to making bread or lotion and many things in between.

Read Full Post »

Two weeks ago I did a post on making ginger mojitos using homemade ginger beer…. I should have started with a post on how to make the ginger beer followed by a post about making ginger mojitos.  Well, this is a bit out of order, but here it is…

I my younger days I was one of those gals that always had a diet soda in my hand. In my late 30’s I limited my consumption to 1-a-day, like that was a good thing. “Good” really isn’t the right word, it was at least better than several cans a day, but there came a point as I learned about the harmful affects of aspartame and other ingredients where I stopped drinking soda and needed to look for other more healthy alternatives.  There were a few other things that motivated me to make the switch. I was starting to simplify things in the kitchen by getting away from boxed and pre-package food. Making my own beverages just fit right into that plan and at that point everything just came together. I have been making ginger beer for about 3 years now and haven’t looked back.

I didn’t “invent” ginger beer, nor am I the first to talk about it in the blogging world. What really caught my attention (along with the money I would save and it being a healthier option) is it is a naturally fermented drink that is full of beneficial enzymes that are good for your digestive system and all around good health.

There are only a few  ingredients you need to get started.

  • Ginger – either ground ginger or fresh ginger
  • Sugar – I use organic sugar (use what ever works for you)
  • Water – filtered. If unfiltered, let sit for 24 before using
  • A few Golden Raisins (also known as sultanas)
  • A small pinch of dry yeast (optional)
  • Lemon Juice (need towards the end in 7 days)
  • Cheesecloth or butter muslin – something to cover jar and also to strain it later.

Start with a quart canning jar (any glass jar will work) and fill it with 10 ounces of water. *Add a spoon full of sugar and a spoon full of ginger… what is a spoon full? For me, it is the cereal spoon out of the kitchen silverware drawer. Roughly, it is about 1 -1 1/2 tsp. Stir your liquid really really well. You want the sugar to dissolve and the ginger (if using ground) to break up. This is the point where you can add a pinch of yeast to speed up the process, or leave out the yeast and let the natural wild yeast in the air do its job. You will only add this pinch of yeast once. This is also the point where you would add a few golden raisins. I did this when I first started making ginger beer. There is wild yeast on the outside of the raisins that helps with this process. It is funny, I had forgotten about the raisins all together until I dug out my recipe to read it over to write this post and realize that I have not used the raisins in quite a while.

Cover your jar with a tightly woven cloth. This could be cheese cloth, butter muslin or in my case an old nylon stocking (it was brand new, never worn, but I did wash it before I put it into kitchen duty.) When I initially started making ginger beer I used cheese cloth, but the holes were just too big and I had fruit flies in my ginger mixture! UGH! Even doubled, the cheesecloth wasn’t enough for those nasty little flies. That is when the nylon came into play. It works. You will have to find out what works for you and if you have fruit/vinegar fly issues, you may need to secure your cloth with a rubber band.

*Repeat this for the next 6 days (7 days total) – add sugar and ginger and stir.

I label my jar with the day I am going to strain the mixture

After a few days, you will begin to notice little bubble forming at the top of the liquid along the edge. This is great! It’s working! You may even notice some volcanic activity at the bottom of the jar. As the enzymes eat the sugar it is turned into carbon dioxide. And it is a cool little science experiment going on in your jar. In my area, I will get the bubble forming in a few days, but won’t notice any volcanic eruptions until around day 4 and 5. They are pretty amazing and fun to watch. If you have kids, they will get a kick out of that part. I keep showing it to our cats, but they really aren’t interested.

On day 8, you are going to strain your liquid. You can keep the ground ginger mixture to start another plant, or toss it in the compost. If you use it again, you still need to add sugar and ginger each day, but your next batch of ginger beer will have a deeper flavor. It’s up to you.

I use my nylon for the straining part – you can use what ever works for you. The reason for using a fine strainer or tightly woven fabric/towel is that you are trying to keep as much of the ginger mixture out of your final drink for a clearer beverage. It never works that way for me and I really don’t mind if my ginger beer has sediment at the bottom or not.

Once you have strained your liquid you want to add the juice from two lemons. Yup, lemons come in all shapes and sizes. You are looking for around ¼ – ½ cup of lemon juice.

Take 3 cups of sugar and dissolve it in 20 cups of water. I used to use 3 plastic 2-liter bottles I had and divided the water/sugar up equally between 3 bottles. The 2-liter plastic soda bottles worked great. I put a mark on the side of each bottle for the water measurement and then added 1 cup of sugar in each bottle. As I have moved away from plastic I have been experimenting with glass and will share more on that later.

Once your water/sugar is dissolved pour in your ginger mixture dividing it equally between your bottles. Lightly cap your bottles. You are almost done…

You will need to let your capped bottles sit out on the counter for a few more days. They will continue to ferment and build up natural carbonation. In the cooler winter months, that takes a little long for me because our house is kept rather cool, but in the summertime, 1-2 days is all I need. There is no way of knowing how much carbonation will develop. Each day I squeeze my bottles to see how they are doing. If they are firm, I need to release some of that carbonation that is building up, if not, I let them sit a bit more. Even though they are from the same batch, keep in mind that each bottle will be different. Now that I am experimenting with glass, it gets a bit tricky. If too much pressure builds up you can wind up with a shattered bottle. I don’t care to experience that on the counter or inside the refrigerator, so I tend to release the gas a few times a day to be on the safe side. I would like to try using a cork that is lightly inserted in the bottle. I figure if the gasses build up too much, then the cork will pop. Not sure, just a thought and I need to find some corks that will fit my bottles.

After a few days you can put your ginger beer into the refrigerator. It will slow down the fermentation process, but it will not completely stop it. The longer it sits and ferments, to more the alcohol content goes up. I never brew ours with the intention of making an alcoholic drink and it never lasts that long around our house anyway. Also, the longer it sits the more carbonation builds up. Beware: just because your bottle doesn’t feel full and tight, when you take it out of the refrigerator, doesn’t mean that it isn’t carbonated. There have been a few times where there is a delayed reaction and as I uncap bottle and start to pour – BAM – geyser. This leads to a very sticky mess to clean up, but it is amazing when it happens.

You can see a little volcano eruption at the bottle of the jar.

Enjoy your ginger beer over ice or at room temperature.

According to wikipedia, ginger beer originated in England in the mid-18th century and reached the peak of its popularity in the early 20th century. I would guess that over the past decade it has gained popularity again through blogs on the internet as people want to learn more about how to make things at home that are healthier options as well as less expensive. I have been thrilled to learn how to make a lot of things at home. I know exactly what ingredients are in each thing and know they are healthier options that what I used to purchase in the stores. Ginger beer is just another item I am happy to make on my own.

Just a few things you can make on your own:

For some other homemade soda recipes, check out Jennifer’s post from July of 2012 here at NDIN on making soda pop.

Sincerely, Emily

You can see what else I am up to over at Sincerely, Emily. The topics are varied, as I jump around from gardening to sewing to making bread or lotion and many things in between.

Read Full Post »

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!

Read Full Post »

If you’ve followed me here on Not Dabbling, you may recall my experience last winter with “harvesting” a pig (vivid butchering photos). Our intent was to get as much product out of the animal, but being our first adventure in such a large butchering job we lost a lot of said product. One of the things I was really looking forward to from our harvest was lard. Animal fats are becoming recognized more and more as a healthier fat than some vegetable, nut, or seed oils that quickly go rancid, oxidize, or contain high amounts of omega-6 fatty acids. Unfortunately while we were busy butchering, the rendering lard got forgotten about and we lost the entire pot.

Pork and Duck lards

Since we moved, I’ve lost my local source for fresh rendered fat and have begun to make my own. It’s really a simple process and supports the nose-to-tail way of eating. Most butchers will carry pork fat for lard or beef suet for tallow, and generally it’s pretty inexpensive – especially compared to gourmet nut oils. You can also save fat from trimming meat and store it in your freezer for up to three months before rendering it. Rendered mutton and deer fat is also called tallow, and then there is duck and goose fat which comes from rendering the skin and underlying fat on a bird. We’ve recently had duck, and from just the trimmings I averaged about 3/4 cup of rendered fat from one bird. If I hadn’t seasoned the breasts and legs so heavily, I would have been able to save much more fat. Plus there’s the tasty chicharones or fried (traditionally pork) fat and skin that are the result of rendering.

rendering fat

Whether you’re making soap, salves, candles, schmaltz, confit, or using it in place of hydrogenated shortening, rendering fat is a pretty simple process.

  • Cut the fat or bird skin into 1 inch cubes, removing as much meat as possible.
  • Use a heavy bottom pan and add about 1 cup water. The fat doesn’t need to be covered with water as long as you stir it often. I like my dutch oven for this process, but if you have a small amount of fat an iron skillet or heavy pan works just as well.
  • Start at medium high. This gets the water nice an hot which starts the rendering process. If you didn’t have the water at the beginning you’d likely begin frying the fat too soon, and the fond stuck to the pan would probably burn before you could extract all the lard. Keep stirring every few minutes so that the fat doesn’t brown prematurely.
  • As soon as you see oil on the top of the water, turn the heat down to medium low. Continue to stir every ten minutes or so. You can use a lid at this point, especially if you have a lot of product. After about 30 minutes the water you added will have cooked off and the cubes will begin bubbling.
  • The cubes should begin to brown within an hour or two depending on the amount of water inside the product. When they are completely browned and the bubbling slows down, you can remove them with a slotted spoon and set them on a plate to drain. I like to use a platter and fold a towel underneath so the plate rests at an angle. I give them a little squeeze with the back of my spoon to get as much extra oil out of them, then use a rubber spatula to scrape all of the precious oil into my pan.
  • The lard or tallow gets strained through cheesecloth or a paper towel and poured into a glass jar. The cracklings or chicharones get returned to the warm pan and are allowed to get nice and crispy. You may want to use a splatter screen for this part since any skin left on the fat will “POP” right out of the pan! It’s finally time to let these drain on a cloth and sprinkle them with salt or crushed red pepper. The remaining fat in the pan will be more like bacon drippings and can be used to flavor foods like beans or greens or to be used like schmaltz.
  • Store your lard in an airtight container and it should keep for a few months at room temperature without spoiling or oxidizing. You can also keep it in the refrigerator, which is what I like to do just for baking convenience.
  • An optional method is to cover the cubes completely with water an allow all the fat to render out over medium to medium high. Remove the cracklings and brown in a separate pan if you like. You can then skim the fat off the top of the water, an easier process done once it’s cooled completely and solidified. The resulting product may have a higher smoke point and a slightly more neutral flavor.


A few little factoids about rendered fats:

McDonald’s previously to use 93% beef tallow to fry their french fries until they switched to 100% vegetable oil.
Tallow can be used to make candles.
Lard and suet have a higher smoking point than vegetable shortening (which you shouldn’t be eating anyway thanks to the hydrogenation process) and are better for frying. Lard begins smoking at approximately 190 °C (374 °F), suet/tallow at approximately 200°C (400°F), while hydrogenated vegetable shortening smokes at 165 °C (329 °F).
Coconut oil is a great substitute for animal fats in general cooking and baking, but high heats require a refined coconut oil which is no where near as healthy as the unrefined stuff. Unless it’s unrefined, you should probably skip it.
Using fat was one of the first ways to preserve food. It’s now a delicacy that we refer to as “Confit”, and it can be sealed and stored for months.
Most commercial lard is hydrogenated.
Lard gives pastries a better, flakier texture than butter.


Do you use rendered fat in any form as a regular part of your diet?


I can also be found at Unearthing this Life where I blarg about food, motherhood, and dream of one day returning to rural living. I’m also on Twitter, and Pinterest, and a smattering of other places on the interwebs.

Read Full Post »

I learned to sew when I was 15 or 16 years old. My mom bought me a machine (the same one I still use) and I had some basic lessons from the store where the machine came from – more to familiarize you with your new machine that actually teaching you how to sew. I then started some proper sewing lessons from a family friend. I remember Making a sweatshirt was my first project. In my 20’s I sewed some clothes from time to time and made a few simple curtains for our house. I would patch things too. In my late 30’s I started making napkins and placemats. Nothing fancy, but very functional.

Recently I have taken a few classes to brush up on reading patterns and re-learning techniques like zippers, elastic, shirring and alterations. I found a great teacher and have re-learned some old things and learned a ton of new things as well.

I am not a seamstress, but I am so glad I have a sewing machine (affectionately called “The Dinosaur” – after all it is over 30 years old and weighs about 40 lbs.) I have made many gifts with my old trusty machine and it is time to dust it off and make a few more…  Christmas and wintery napkins for my brother and his kids. Today over at Sincerely, Emily  I have taken a little walk down memory lane about growing up using fabric napkins. I hope the gift of these napkins will create some good memories for my brother and his kids.

When I started making many napkins I decided to make a template out of tag board. With the template I didn’t have to keep the measuring tape out each time I cut a napkin out, I just use the template and cut around it. I had to make a new template and this one was made out of cardboard. Instead of cutting directly around it (it is pretty thick) I used a disappearing ink pen (specially made for fabrics) and traced the outline and then cut. (! Sorry for the TERRIBLE photo – not sure what happened there…)

Template for napkin

I wanted a 17” square finished napkin and I fold under a full inch on each side so my template is 19” square.

Depending on the width of your fabric and shrinkage, and also the size of your napkin, you can usually get 4 napkins in 1 ¼ yard of fabric. Always wash your fabric in warm or hot water BEFORE you do any cutting. Sometimes fabric can shrink quite a bit. You want to make sure that shrinking happens before you start your project, not after. With napkins that isn’t as devastating as it would be if you made a pair of pants. Make it a habit to wash your fabric first.

I am not an expert at sewing (or the proper sewing terminology). “Pictures are worth a thousand words” so if my words confuse you I really hope the pictures will help.

Now that you have cut out your napkins, start by pressing under ½”. Do this on each side. Steam on your iron helps set that fold or you can use a spray bottle with water to mist your fabric before ironing. It is important that those pressed lines hold and create a nice crisp edge.

Press your edges in

Continue around again, pressing another ½” under. Remember to use steam or your spray bottle. You want those pressed fold line to show as we continue on.

Unfold your pressed edges. You are using the fold lines in each corner to cut away a bit of your corner to help create a nicely mitered corner

Showing your cut line & 2nd fold line (dot)

I have drawn on the fabric so you can see the fold lines easier. I have also drawn the 45 degree angle line where you are going to trim the corner of your fabric off. There are two purposes for cutting this corner. You don’t want any fabric to stick out under your mitered corner, but it also helps reduce the bulk of the fabric you have to sew through at each corner.

Your cut

In the two above photos you also see where I have placed a dot – that is the reference point you are using to make your second fold. Stay tuned… that is coming shortly, but I wanted you to notice that reference point now.

Make your first ½” fold again.

Now it is time to use that reference point (the dot) from the above photo. Fold the corner down at a 45 degree angle. The fold line should be on that reference point. Press that fold to help hold it in place.

2nd fold - fold line is on the dot

Fold over ½” again. Your initial pressed lines should help. Your corners should come together and meet creating a nice mitered corner.  Press.

3rd fold and press

I tend to complete one corner at a time before moving onto the next. Pressing along the way to keep all the folds neat.

You are now ready to sew.

I don’t like to start right in the corner.  I start about 1” before the corner. That way, when I come back around I can sew directly over that first inch of stitching, locking in my threads, and end in the corner. There are no rules here, do what ever you are comfortable with.

My starting point

Sew in once continuous line. Pivot at the corners and continue until you have gone all the way around.

Showing overlap as you come around

Trim your ends.

You are done. Mitered fabric napkins.

Are any of you sewing some holiday gifts this years? What are you making? Add a link to your comment if you have posted about it on your blog.

Sincerely, Emily

Read Full Post »

homemade ginger ale

In spirit of those of you that have not the taste for alcoholic beverages (hic!) I’m here to share some basic recipes for making soda pop at home! What could be better than a frosty ginger ale to help cool off during these hot summer days? If ginger’s not your thing, how about a lemon-lime soda or an orange-ade? The combination is unlimited so long as your imagination is put to good use. The best part is it’s all homemade so you’re avoiding massive doses of sugar, artificial flavorings, and caffeine.

Do note that some of these recipes contain yeast, and as yeast feeds on sugars it releases alcohol and carbon dioxide as by-products. Because these recipes aren’t aged but a few days, the amount of alcohol is extremely minor. I personally feel comfortable allowing my own daughter to drink beverages made from these recipes without any worry. It should not be enough to cause intoxication for even our small samplers. If, however, you avoid alcohol for personal or medicinal purposes I recommend sticking with the recipes that don’t include yeast.

ginger pulp

Ginger Ale

Mildly sweet and spicy with a hint of lemon

(prepare 3 days prior to drinking)

  • 2 Tbsp + 1 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1-1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 inch portion of ginger club, grated
  • 1 lemon, juiced and grated for zest
  • 1 small piece sassafras root (approximately 1/4 tsp) *optional*
  • 1 Tbsp yeast
  • 1 gallon water
  1. Boil water. Add all ingredients except yeast and let steep for 2 hours.
  2. Once water is between room temperature and 100F, add yeast and stir.
  3. Cover liquid and let rest for one day.
  4. On the next day, strain liquid with cheesecloth or fine mesh strainer.
  5. Pour liquid into clean, sterile bottles and close tightly.
  6. Store in cool, dark place for two days.
  7. Chill to stop fermentation and enjoy over ice!

**sassafras contains safrole which has been shown to cause cancer in lab rats when consumed in high doses. You can purchase safrole-free sassafras extract or use the leaves which do not contain safrole if you have concerns.

Lemon Lime Soda 

Like a liquid SweeTart

(prepare 3 days before drinking)

  • 1 lemon, juiced and grated for zest 
  • 2 limes, juiced and grated for zest 
  • 1-1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 Tbsp + 1 tsp cream of tartar
  • 1 Tbsp yeast
  • 1 gallon + 2 cups water
  1. Boil water and add all ingredients.
  2. Simmer over low for one hour.
  3. Add yeast after water has cooled.
  4. Let rest overnight.
  5. Strain, bottle and cap tightly after one day.
  6. Allow to rest two days before drinking
  7. Chill to stop fermentation, then serve

Summer Refresher

Perfect for a hot day in the garden

  • 1 small cucumber, peeled, seeded, and sliced
  • 1 lime, bruised and sliced
  • 1/4 cup fresh mint or lemon balm
  • 2 liters of carbonated soda water
  • *add fresh aloe or 1 cup aloe water for additional health benefits
  1. Mix all ingredients in a pitcher and cover. Allow fruits to remain in pitcher.
  2. Store in refrigerator and serve when chilled.

soda ingredients


Fun for the kids, best prepared over a sink or outdoors

  • 3/4  cup sugar
  • 2 quarts water
  • 1/4 cup baking soda
  • 3-4 oranges, juiced (substitute limes or lemons if desired)
  1. Boil sugar and water until the sugar is dissolved.
  2. Chill syrup until very cold.
  3. Stir in baking soda.
  4. Prepare room for overflow!
  5. Add sugar syrup to iced glasses.
  6. Just before serving, add orange juice to each glass. The citric acid will activate the baking soda. The kids will adore this one!

blackberry cream soda

Fruit Pop

Make with seasonal fruit

  • 2 cups fresh fruit such as strawberries (rasp-, black-, blue-, huckle-, goose-…), peaches, pineapple, or grapes
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 quarts water
  • 2 liters carbonated soda water
  1. Boil water, sugar, and fruit to make a syrup.
  2. Strain skins and seeds through cheesecloth or a mesh strainer.
  3. Allow to cool in refrigerator.
  4. Pour syrup over ice, then top with soda.
  5. For a fun twist, add 2 Tbsp half & half and top with whipped cream.

Vanilla Cream

For those that like it smooth

  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/8 tsp almond extract
  • 3 tsp sugar
  • 2 Tbsp cream
  • 8 oz carbonated soda water
  1. In a tall glass, mix extracts, sugar, and cream until sugar is dissolved.
  2. Add ice and stir in soda water.


As you can see, the recipes are limitless. Combine different fruits to make a beverage that you enjoy. Don’t forget to top of your soda with a nice garnish made from fresh fruit, basil, mint, or watercress.

Jennifer can be found blarging at Unearthing This Life where she rambles about her daily doings, her crazy chickens, and her quirky family.

Read Full Post »


If you’ve read some of my previous posts you’ve probably gathered that I enjoy a glass of wine every now and then (read: “now” as 4:30 and “then” as 5:00 pm). I really can’t think of a much better way to keep my wine guzzling sipping experience as local as possible other than making it myself. Sure, we have several good vineyards and wineries in our region and I love to purchase from them when possible. Keep in mind, though, that many wineries import some of their fruit to blend with their local selections.

Homemade berry wines are often referred to as “country wine.” I began brewing my own wine last year as an experiment. I had so many blackberries that I couldn’t give them away. I had jars and jars of jam that were given freely as gifts. I think my poor mail delivery gal was bursting with my jam. I have perfected several types of cobbler (which the mere thought of still makes me quiver from having eaten so much). My hands and arms are permanently scarred from last year’s harvest simply because we were so plentiful! So being a wine lover I couldn’t think of a better way of using up my bounty than to experiment with wine. I will admit that I am barely practiced on this subject, but I thought I’d share my learnings and experiences thus far in hopes of building upon all of our practices. Please feel free to comment and make suggestions!

Country Wine: Equipment and Ingredients

It is possible to make wine with minimum equipment and purchases. The bare necessities (in my humble experience) that you’ll want include:

  • Food-grade bucket, preferably 5-gallon. Check with a local bakery or deli.
  • A large strainer or sieve plus some cheesecloth.
  • About 4-5 feet of food-grade tubing. Look in the plumbing section of a hardware store.
  • Gallon-sized glass carboys or 5-gallon collapsible water cubes. Carboys can be saved from juice purchases. The water cubes are fantastic for making odd-sized batches of wine and can be found at camping supply stores.
  • Balloons and cotton balls, or  airlocks.
  • Yeast. You can use regular baking yeast, but if you want a better flavor you can opt for different “wine” strains of yeast found at winemaking/brewing stores. I’ve used Montrachet as it’s recommended to balance the flavors of berry wines.
  • Bottles and Corks. I save all my bottles from other purchases like wine, vinegar, juice, and so on. I purchased “mushroom” corks since they don’t require a tool to insert them into the bottles.


  • Campden tablets to sterilize equipment, remove stray yeast and bacteria (highly recommended unless you have problems with sulfites).
  • Tannin, citric acid, or Earle Grey tea for flavor balance in sweeter wines.
  • Extra sugar or wine conditioner to sweeten and brighten finished wine.
  • Pectic acid for removing extra pectin and “clarify” wine.
  • Yeast nutrient to feed yeast. Recipes without nutrient require extra sugar.

You can purchase all of these items from a wine and beer making supplier or spend a little more energy and locate many things locally. I purchased my airlock, water cube, yeast, campden tablets, and corks from E.C. Kraus. for less than $50. The rest I found locally or did without.

One note about sugar – many of us prefer to use honey or raw sugars in our every day cooking in order to stay away from processed foods and HFCS. I have read that professional beverage makers use white sugar because the sweetness levels are more predictable to work with. I honestly don’t know if there’s any truth behind this or if it’s a matter of expense. For my recipes I’ve used granulated cane sugar. As I get into more honey I will be trying a few batches made with honey in place of sugar.

Blackberry Wine (1 gallon):

  • 4.5 lb fresh berries
  • 4 cups distilled or boiled, chlorine-free water
  • Campden tablets (optional)
  • 1-3/4 cups granulated cane sugar
  • 6 cups distilled or boiled, chlorine-free water
  • 1 packet yeast
  • 1-3/4 cups granulated cane sugar
  • 2 cups distilled or boiled, chlorine-free water
  • 1-1/2 cups granulated cane sugar
  • 2 cups distilled or boiled, chlorine-free water
  1. Sterilize all equipment with boiling water. If you purchased campden tablets you can crush one per gallon of water to ensure sterilization.
  2. Wash berries and pick out any spoiling fruit before crushing in your bucket. Using bare hands is tons of fun, but you can use a food mill if you prefer to keep your nails stain-free. Be sure to add the pulp back into the juice if you are using a mill.
  3. Add one quart of water – cooled – and an optional campden tablet. Wait 24 hours.
  4. Boil 6 cups water and 1-3/4 cups sugar together for 1 minute. Allow to cool to room temperature.
  5. Activate yeast in small amount of warm water.
  6. Add cooled sugar-water and yeast to fruit mixture.
  7. Cover and let rest one week.
  8. One week later, strain fruit from mixture with cheesecloth and sieve being sure to get every ounce of juice from the berries. Put liquid in clean and sterilized carboy or water cube.
  9. Boil 2 cups of water with another 1-3/4 cups sugar for one minute. Allow to cool to room temperature before mixing into fruit liquid.
  10. Close container with airlock or a balloon stuffed with cotton ball.
  11. Allow to rest 10 days.
  12. Ten days later, use your original bucket (cleaned and sterilized) and tubing to siphon the fermenting liquid from the sediment. Place your bucket on the floor and your carboy/watercube/jug on a table or counter. Insert one end of tubing into the wine and suck just a bit to get the siphon action going.
  13. While the siphoned liquid is resting in the bucket, clean your carboy/cube/jug and re-sterilize along with your tubing.
  14. Boil 2 cups water and 1-1/2 cups sugar for one minute and allow to cool to room temperature.
  15. Siphon the liquid again – back into the cleaned carboy/cube/jug and mix in the last of the sugar-water.
  16. Close container with airlock or balloon as before.
  17. Let rest for 3 months or longer so that the yeast can work its magic. Once the mixture stops bubbling (if you’re using an airlock) or the balloon deflates the wine is ready to be siphoned into your sterilized bottles and corked.

winemaking collage

I highly recommend waiting at least 6 months from the original date before drinking your wine. This makes a fabulous gift for the holidays. We celebrated New Year’s Eve with all of our friends across the country by opening the wine at midnight. This year I believe I’ll add a bit of conditioner or glycerine to add some extra sweetness to the finished wine since my batch was dry.

I’m already anticipating New Year’s Eve this year. Winemaking definitely gives me a local, homemade something to look forward to during the bleak, chilly months of winter. Over the next few weeks I’ll be posting a few more winemaking recipes including wild plum and dandelion.

What are your favorite Country Wines?

Read Full Post »

Birdhouse Gourds


A year ago I’d planted some birdhouse gourds. I placed six plants in my garden, fully expecting an overflow of fruit by midsummer. My eyes twinkled and I got as giddy as a six year old when I saw the first tiny, pollinated gourd. It grew and grew and kept growing! The second one appeared two weeks later – and it grew and grew. A third and a fourth! I was so excited to have homegrown, handmade Christmas presents to give away in several months.

And then nothing.

No more gourds to be had. One even had the courage to up and rot on me! Darn the luck! Christmas came and went with handmade windchimes instead of birdhouses, and I was left with two gourds large enough for the birdies. What I’d like to share with you today is the process of turning these hard and hollow fruits into homes for feathered critters. Mine will be set out near my garden in hopes of attracting some bug eaters, preferably a bird that munches on squash bugs! The third would have become a fairy house for the Kid’s garden except she lost it during one of our hikes. So two birdhouses it is!

gourd collage

  1. Wash gourds with a bleach and water solution. About 10 percent bleach will be sufficient. You may find it helpful to use a scrub brush to remove any mold, but be sure to wear some old clothes as you’re sure to get some bleach spots.
  2. Rinse with water and allow to air dry.
  3. Use a drill bit to make a whole large enough for small birds to fit inside of. A vice padded with a small towel helpful for this. Smaller holes will reduce the invasion of Cowbirds. At the end of this post is a list of resources for recommendations. You may want to wear a face mask for this part, especially if you have allergies to mold/mildew.
  4. Use a small bit to drill 3-4 holes for drainage on the bottom of the gourd. – Chiot’s Run
  5. Clean out interior by using a bent wire hanger. There will be a white paper-like material as well as seeds. The seeds may or may not be viable and the gourds may not be like the original fruit.
  6. Once the interior is cleaned out, soak in a fresh bleach solution for 10 minutes, rinse and allow to air dry for 12-24 hours.
  7. At this point you can stain your gourd. If you decide to paint it instead, you may find it helpful to put on a primer coat to ensure that any mold doesn’t come through your paint.
  8. After a primer coat, rough up the surface of the primer and gourd with some very fine sandpaper. We used two coats of primer before sanding and followed up with a final coat of primer.
  9. Now it’s all ready to be painted however I choose!

green gourd

hyoi pear

Now for a few links with height and hole size recommendations.

Read Full Post »

Baking powder and baking soda are both leavening agents used in baking. Some recipes call for baking powder, baking soda or a combination of both. When both are used in a recipe, the baking powder does most of the leavening and the baking soda is used to neutralize the acids and add tenderness. Baking powder does lose it’s potency after a while, so I mix up small batches whenever I need them.
I started mixing my own baking powder quite a while ago. I ran out once and didn’t want to run to the store. I knew you could mix it up at home, but had never done it. So I looked up a recipe on-line. It’s so quick and easy, I’ve been mixing it up fresh ever since. I also like homemade baking powder because I can make it aluminum free. Homemade baking powder is not double acting like most of what you buy in the store, so it’s important to bake the item right away. (I chill the dough, sometimes overnight and have never had issue with cookies not rising, so I guess baking right away isn’t really necessary). Homemade Baking Powder
1 teaspoon baking soda (I use aluminum free)
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon corn starch *optional

Mix all ingredients in a small jar. If you are using right away, there is no need to add corn starch, *add if you’re planning on storing baking powder for future use.

It costs a little less than 18 cents for each batch you make following this recipe, if I didn’t add corn starch it would cost only 14 cents per batch. I’m pretty sure I couldn’t buy organic aluminum free baking powder for this price and it certainly wouldn’t be as fresh. I’ve always had great results with this homemade baking powder. So next time you’re in a pinch and need baking powder, mix some up at home. You’ll be surprised by how quick and easy it is.

Have you ever mixed up your own baking powder?

Susy can also be found at Chiot’s Run where she blogs about organic gardening, local eating and all kinds of other stuff, like sugaring your maples.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: