Joke of the Day

New serial starting today!  Hurray!  To get myself into the habit of posting on a more regular basis, i have decided to begin a joke of the day.  I won’t promise they will be GOOD jokes…most will probably be ridiculous and corny, but if they make you laugh and brighten your day, then awesome.  Job done.  So, to start us off, here is my absolutely top favorite joke.  It never fails to at least me me chortle.

How do you make holy water?

You boil the hell out of it...

Heeheehee

See you next time.

Gardening Tips # 2

My last post featured a great seed starter pot idea.  And here I am with another one!

Hello everyone!

This pot features some origami action and is a fun, easy, and quick way to make a lot of pots.  All you need is some newspaper…or really, any kind of paper, but newspaper is best.  I think its best demonstrated via photos.  Enjoy!

Step Step # 2 Step # 3 Step # 4a Step # 4b Step # 4c Step # 5 Step # 6a Step # 6b Step # 6c Step # 7 Step # 8 Step # 9a Step # 9b Step # 10 Step # 11a Step # 11b Step # 12a Step # 12b Step # 12c Step # 13 Step # 14a Step # 14b Step # 14c Step # 14d Step # 14e Step # 15a Step # 15b Step # 15c Step # 16a Step # 16b Step # 17a Step # 17b Step # 17c Step # 18a Step # 18b Step # 18c Step # 19

I think that makes it quite clear…but if I have hopelessly confused you, I apologize.  Please feel free to contact me to clarify any of the pictures.  I’ll do my darnedest to help you.

All my love

Gardening Tips #1

What’s up, everyone?  Its been so long, too long!  I hope you are all doing well.

Now is about the time that anyone wanting to plant cool weather crops, namely broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce, and cabbage, will be wanting to start their seeds.  I thought I would pass on something I learned about making inexpensive seed starters.

Many people just go down to their local Wal-Mart and buy seed starting kits.  Some are plastic trays that you then fill with soil and seeds.  They usually come with a clear plastic cover.  The cover is important because it traps heat and moisture. Other trays are meant to decompose; you can plant them directly into the soil, and they will break down, adding to the texture of the soil as they do. Some are made of cardboard, some of pressed earth.  You can make the pressed earth ones yourself IF you have the press. I think the most cost-effective method is to buy a large count of eggs, in a cardboard carton.  They sell them in large flats of 30 eggs here.  If you can’t find them that big, or you don’t want to start that many seeds, just cut the top off of a standard 12 count of eggs.  The cardboard will breakdown in the soil.  You want individual cells because the less you disturb the seedlings the better for them.  As this stage in their life cycles, they are very delicate.

The only other things you will need are some plastic.  I am using plastic grocery bags but you can use plastic wrap, used bread bags, basically anything that is lightweight.  I am using one bag underneath to protect the surface and one on top.  Seeds are best started between 70 and 80 degrees F.  Be careful because the covers can potentially raise the temperature inside by 10 degrees. If you want, or if your house stays on the cool side, like mine,  you can add a heating pad underneath the starter.  I ordered a heating pad from Amazon, but as of this post, it has yet to arrive.

My seeds were started 3 days ago and I already have sprouts!  Remember to water your seedlings daily, and when they start to develop leaves make sure they get plenty of sun.

Lotza Mozza

Mozzarella that is!

Hey everyone!  Been a while, huh? How have you all been?  Well, I hope.

So, I’m going to tell you about an experiment of mine.  I made some mozzarella cheese.  It is fun, easy, and quick.  Like ridiculously quick.  It is going to take longer to type up this blog post that it took to make cheese.  I got the recipe online from a food blog.  Most of the recipes that I found were very similar; equally easy and simple.  Find one you like,either online or in an old cookbook, or wherever.

Now, about ingredients and equipment:

Equipment:

  • An instant-read food thermometer
    • Any kind will do.  I used a meat and vegetable thermometer.  As long as it is calibrated, it will do.  To calibrate, stick the end in a glass of ice water.  Most instant-read thermometers have a nut or wheel on the backside of the scale.  After a few seconds in the ice water, the thermometer should read 32°F.  If it does not, twist the nut to adjust the needle until it rests on the 32ºF mark.  And you are done!  Your thermometer is calibrated! Yay!
  • A large, cool nonreactive, straight-sided stock pot.
    • This means no aluminum.  Stainless steel is best.
  • A strainer or colander
    • I used a strainer, I think it saves time later.
  • A couple of large microwave safe bowls
  • A large slotted spoon and a long handled straight spatula.

Ingredients:

  • 1 gallon whole milk
    • It has to be whole milk.  Raw milk is best.  However, it can be difficult to find raw milk.  Here in WS, the closest dairy farm is over 100 miles away.  That is a bit too far to drive for a couple gallons of milk!  Pasteurized milk (Which is what I used) works just fine.  Just DON”T use ultra-pasteurized.  It will not come together properly.  I have heard it said, in my area at least, that some health food stores will special order raw milk for you.  I am sure it is outrageously priced, but if you really want raw milk, you can try that option.
  • 1 1/2 Teaspoons Citric Acid combined with 1/4 cup warm water.
    • You can get citric acid from most health food stores.  I had to buy mine from Amazon.com.  I looked around to see if I could use lemon juice or vinegar in place of citric acid but I could find no information on substituting them.  The next time I make cheese, I plan to make two batches, one substituting lemon juice and the other using vinegar in a 1:1 conversion.  Citric acid comes in loose power and tablet form.  Either will work, but if you buy the tablets, you’ll have to crush them up first, so it sames time to buy the powder.
  • 1/4 Teaspoon Vegetable Rennet combined with 1 Cup cool water.
    • Rennet comes in liquid form or tablet form.  I used liquid rennet purchased from the New England Cheese-making Supply Company website, via Amazon.com.  Here is a link to their homepage.  http://www.cheesemaking.com/  They sell cheese making equipment and ingredients.  Do not use Junket rennet as it is weaker, more diluted form.  It is fine for making yogurt, I believe, but no good for cheese-making.  Rennet is available as animal rennet (which comes from the stomachs of calves, how I don’t know) and vegetable (which is a vegetarian substitute.)  I used vegetable rennet but there is n o functional difference between the two.  You can get organic rennet for a dollar more.

Steps:

  1. Place citric acid in the bottom of the stock pot with 1/4 cup warm water.  Stir to dissolve.
  2. Add milk.  Stir to combine.
  3. Heat to 90ºF.  Use medium heat, so as to not scorch the milk.  Milk will begin to curdle.  It will look like tiny white flecks in the milk.  This is what you want.  The liquid that the flecks are floating in will begin to look yellowish in color.  This is supposed to happen.   This is the whey.
  4. Remove from heat.  Add rennet, mixed with water.
  5. Stir continuously for 30 seconds, then use the spoon to still the movement of the liquid.  Cover and let sit for 5 minutes.  Do not touch it.
  6. After five minutes, the curds (solids) will have separated from the whey (liquid).
  7. Cut the curd into 1 inch cubes using the spatula, making sure to reach all the way to the bottom.
  8. Return to heat and heat to 105ºF, stirring constantly.
  9. Once it reaches 105º, use the slotted spoon to scoop out the curd and transfer it to a strainer or colander set over a bowl.  By this time, it will definitely taste like (unsalted) mozzarella and begin to look like it.
  10. If you are using a strainer, this step isn’t needed, it you are using a colander, it is.  Roll the colander around to allow as much of the whey to drain off as possible.
  11. Pick up the curd and squeeze it together to drain off more whey.
  12. Move to a microwave safe bowl and heat for 1 minute.  (I found this to be too much time in my microwave.  If your microwave is more powerful, you can adjust the time as you think fit.  I halved the times given in the original recipe. )  If you don’t have a microwave, or would prefer not to use it, you can allow the cheese to sit in hot (not very) water (you can also use the whey for this) for the time indicated.  You want to keep the cheese malleable but not melt it entirely.
  13. Squeeze out more whey, heat it, squeeze it, and so on.  All subsequent sessions in the microwave or hot whey should be about half the first time.  Be careful during this part of the process, the curd will be hot.
  14. Press the curds together and squeeze out as much whey as you can.  If you use a strainer, you only have to heat and squeeze twice to remove all the whey.
  15. Knead the curd in your hands (not on a surface as you would bread), pulling and stretching the cheese until it is smooth and soft.  At this time, knead in any salt or spices that you want to add.  Roll edges under to form a neat round ball.
  16. Let sit in an ice water bath and allow to cool completely.  This only take a few minutes.  Then it is ready to eat.

Mozzarella should be eaten fresh. But if you don’t want to eat it all in one sitting, it will store for a few days, up to a week, in the refrigerator.  Make sure that it is wrapped completely in plastic wrap or in an airtight container.

The whey that is left over, and there will be A LOT of it, has many uses.  I’ll make a separate blog post about all of those.  Store the whey in the fridge until you use it.  it will keep for at least 2 weeks.

There! I hope you enjoy making and eating this cheese.  It was so tasty between slices of my mom’s amazing homemade bread.  A wonderful treat.

Blight on Tomatoes

Hello Everyone!  I hope you have been having fun and loving life since last we spoke.

The topic of discussion today is tomatoes, more specifically late season blight.  It is slowing killing my tomato plants though I think they may yet be salvageable.  It is, apparently, a very common problem in gardens and on farms.

CAM00593 CAM00591

I began to notice the dark brown spots on the leaves and fruits a couple of weeks ago.  As first I thought it was a result of too much water, since it had rained so much recently.  I soon discovered this was not the case.

Blight is a fungal infection (according to my research) which begins at the base of the plant and travels upward as the season progresses.  It affects the leaves first and eventually the fruit.  The fungal spores overwinter in the ground and are splashed onto the plants by watering.  It is for this reason that you should take care when watering tomatoes not to water the leaves, but the base of the plant.  The fungus needs wet leaves to be able to enter the leaf tissue.

You can help protect your tomatoes from blight by:

  1. Selecting healthy, stocky plants
  2. Rotating your crops so that you don’t plant them in the same place for 3-4 years(This can be difficult in small gardens)
  3. Space plants at least 3 feet apart.  This allows for good air circulation between plants.
  4. Grow your tomatoes in wire cages.  This keeps them off the ground and makes them less susceptible to the spores.  You can buy wire cages from a garden store or make them yourself if you are a DIY type of person.
  5. Use 2-3 inches of mulch made of dry leaves, dry grass clippings or straw around each plant starting in early June.  This helps to prevent splash back.
  6. Avoid wetting the tomato foliage when watering.
  7. Apply fungicides if needed.

I had no idea what is was when the blight first appeared on my plants and I had to go online to find the answers.  I got my information from the following websites and all credit goes to the individuals who maintain them.  I merely paraphrased it here.  Please click the links for more complete information.

http://www.ipm.iastate.edu/ipm/hortnews/1996/4-26-1996/tomato.html

https://extension.umass.edu/vegetable/articles/recognizing-tomato-blights

http://www.cals.ncsu.edu/plantpath/extension/fact_sheets/Tomato_-_Field_Staked_-_Late_Blight.htm

I hope that this proves useful to you and that your gardens are faring better than mine.

Lights – A Poem

The cloud-mottled midnight sky stretches far above the lights of the city. 

From my car, traversing the high way between my home and my job guarding a warehouse filled with men’s underwear and tee shirts, I can see the lights of downtown fly past. 

Oh such a multitude! 

A vast array of twinkling, shining lights, pinpointing the city in the gloom. 

The traffic lights in perfect rows as far as my vision extends, blinking first red,  then green in a ceaseless dance of late night traffic. The traffic. 

Not the frenzied, frantic motions of the daylight hours, but something altogether more subtle. 

Headlights, some white, some blue, green or pink, some blindingly bright, others falling at the other end of the spectrum, lead the way, carving out of the darkness, great tunnels, through which the tired travelers find their way.

Tunnels sealed shut again by the taillights and blaring red brake lights. 
I flick my eyes upward, hundreds of feet, to settle on the buildings themselves. 

They glow with white hot light. Windows, one next to another,  floor by floor, like great angular eyes, staring down with indifference. 

Here and there, lights of other colors burn. 

I can see a neon sign, of red and blue, indicating the entrance to some bar. “Aero” something I think it said. 

There is a single purple light, down near the ground. Can’t think what that could be. I leave the purple light as it disappears behind me. 

I contemplate the twin rows of street lights, ranging from what can only be called pale peach to what is positively orange, and the solitary vehicle running between them, heading east. It’s a blue car, that’s all I can tell from here. At least, I think it’s blue. Hard to tell in this light. 

The harsh lights of the oncoming traffic snap me out of my revere and then the lights of the city fade into the rear view mirror, as I make for home, with its mismatched porch lights.

One Lovely Blog Award

one-blog-lovely-award

How is everyone doing today?  Well I hope.  It looks like a bright and sunny day outside, though I cannot testify to that.  I worked all night and have only just gotten out of bed.

I’ve got some amazing news!  I have been nominated for the One Lovely Blog Award by Ema Jones!  She writes these amazing posts that feature food from all over the world.  I love to eat and find her recipes mouthwatering! Especially the Swabian Maultaschen recipe!  I would recommend her blog as she has an easy style of writing and a plethora of fascinating topics to talk about.

Rules for winning this award are very simple, here they are:-

1. Thank the person who has nominated you. Provide a link to his/her blog.

2. List the rules and display the award pic.

3. Include 7 facts about yourself.

4. Nominate 15 other bloggers and let them know that they have been nominated.

5. Display the award logo and follow the blogger who nominated you.

Seven Facts About Me

1. I work in private security for a living.  I currently support my whole family, as my mom is disabled and my dad retired.  I work nights mostly and sleep during the day like a vampire.

2. I love to write science fiction and fantasy, and especially poetry, though I have to “feel it” to write poetry.  I wrote music in high school.

3. I love all animals, especially cats and panda bears.  Snakes creep me out though, and I’m afraid of spiders and sharks.

4. I’ll eat anything except beets.  I dislike beets intensely.  

5. I self-published a book of poetry a couple of years ago.  It is currently my greatest ambition to have a novel published.  

6. I learned quite young not to care about what people think of me.  I make decisions based on what is best for me and my situation and I say what I think.  Tends to make me unpopular, which is basically par for the course. Ha!

7. I was raised a Baptist Christian.  But the more I go through life, the more Christianity doesn’t make any sense to me.  Sometimes, I think I should become a druid or something, honestly.

Enough about me.  Here are some bloggers that I think are amazing!  You should definitely visit their blogs and check them out.  In no particular order:

  1. Art by Angela Pierce  
  2. I’ve Got Cake
  3. Crowded Earth Kitchen
  4. Random Musings of a Hotel Goddess
  5. Parkadilly
  6. Druid Life
  7. Pardon My Garden
  8. DINNER BANK
  9. Cooking With A Wallflower
  10. Garden of Eady
  11. The Girl In The Little Black Dress
  12. Jayna Grace 
  13. https://2foodwithlove.com
  14. World Around Us
  15. The Geek Anthropologist

Thanks again to Ema Jones for nominating my little blog!  And congrats to all of my nominees!

 

Preservation Techniques – Part 1, Drying

Good morning, everyone! It’s a pleasantly bright and sunny day, here in WS, even if it is a bit hot for my tastes. (I am very much a cold weather person.) I hope you are enjoying your weather, wherever you happen to be.

As the title stated, I’m going to discuss methods of preserving food. I’ll cover each method in an individual post. The lucky method of today is drying.

Dehydration is incredibly versatile and very easy. Whether it involves hanging bunches of herbs or slicing fruits and veggies and putting them in the dehydrator, it’s a “fix it and forget it” kind of method. It great if you have a busy schedule.

If you are using the hang-and-dry method, hang bunches of herbs in a warm, dry, well-ventilated area for several weeks. Dried herbs are best if you crumble them just before you add them to the dish you are preparing.

You can also dry herbs(and just about any thing else) in a dehydrator. Food must be sliced thin in most cases.

image

The mandolin. Please be wary of the blade.

This little do-hickey is called a mandolin. Yep, just like the instrument. It slices veg and fruit in uniform slices very quickly.  (For the love of God, Allah, rock ‘n’ roll, or whatever deity you follow, PLEASE be careful. The blade of the mandolin is very sharp and you could cut your finger tips off, if you don’t pay attention. Use the guard at ALL times.)

The dehydrator that I have is just about as simple as it gets. Just plug it in. It uses low heat applied over many hours to remove the moisture and preserve the food. It was warm to the touch and could be moved with my bare hands. As with any kitchen endeavor, take nothing for granted and always exercise caution.

For the purposes of this post, I sliced four potatoes and put them in the dehydrator. In a single layer on each tray, barely touching but not overlapping.

image

Potato slices arranged on the dehydrator trays.

Different foods call for different drying times.  Bananas, for example, dry in just 9 hours. The potatoes will take twelve. I started them (and this post!) at about 9 this morning.

Food in the dehydrator must be turned a couple of times during the process. Move upper trays to the bottom and turn left or right. The food will stick slightly to the trays as it’s drying. For best results with the food you are drying, do some research about drying times. Also, some foods need to be treated prior to drying. This usually involves dipping in lemon juice, boiling water, or marinade, in the case of meat. Of course, each food has different requirements for pretreatment.

Why pretreat? It’s to help maintain the color, shape, and/or flavor during the drying process. Potatoes don’t require pretreatment. When they are finished, allow to cool completely and store without crushing, in an airtight jar or sealable plastic bag. Check once a month. Fruit should be packed in a non-aluminum, non-plastic container and kept away from moisture.

image

These potato slices are nearly finished. They will be dry and brittle when they are finished. Reconstitute by soaking in water.

Drying is an excellent way to preserve a wide variety of foods for later use.

I hope you enjoyed this post. Look forward to more posts about preservation methods and my beginner’s crochet tutorial, coming soon.

Amber, over and out.

Oodles of Noodles

How is everyone doing today?  Its an amazingly beautiful day here.

I am a huge fan of pasta.  Penne and Farfalle are my favorite shapes, and I dislike elbows immensely.  Not the taste, because they basically all taste the same.  I find elbow macaroni really difficult to eat.  Sorry, I’m on a tangent, I’ll get off.

I found a great recipe the other day for egg-less pasta.  Egg-less pasta is great for people who need to watch their cholesterol, or for one reason or another, don’t eat eggs.

I found the recipe on food.com here: http://www.food.com/recipe/basic-pasta-dough-no-egg-360234, posted by someone called JoeyV.

I followed the directions and the pasta came out wonderfully.  I didn’t have the full 3 cups of flour that the recipe calls for, so I reduced it.  I also used regular canola oil, instead of olive oil.

I’ll paste it here, for anyone who can’t follow the link back to the original.

Basic Pasta Dough (No Egg) Recipe

Total Time: 2 Hours

Prep Time: 2 Hours

Cook Time: 0 mins

JoeyV‘s Note:  This recipe yields the equivalent of about 1-1/2 lbs of dry pasta, and can be used to make 4 dozen raviolis.

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

Servings: 4

Directions:

  1. Put flour in large mixing bowl, making a well in the center.
  2. Add wet ingredients to well and very slowly mix together with a fork, incorporating only a little flour at a time so it mixes smoothly and evenly. Trust me, the more patient you are with this the better it will turn out.
  3. Continue kneading by hand for about 10 minutes, let rest for a half hour covered with a towel. Repeat a couple times until dough is smooth and silky, and just slightly sticky.
  4. Shape by hand or with a machine.
  5. Note: Boiling fresh pasta takes significantly less time than dry pasta. Depending on the shape, cook for 30 seconds to 2 minutes.
 

 

 

The ingredients gathered.

The ingredients gathered.

A ball of dough, ready to be cut and shaped.

A ball of dough, ready to be cut and shaped.

It came out beautifully.  And tasted delicious, which is the more important thing! 

I plan to make a bunch of this dough and freeze it for when I’m running low on money and groceries.  You wrap the dough in plastic and put it in an airtight container.  It will keep for several months.  When you want to use one, just take it out, thaw it and use it as you would fresh dough.  You can use this dough as a substitute for any store-bought dough.

When you first start to knead, it will be lumpy, but soon it will smooth out and feel soft, silky, and only slightly sticky.  Make sure you coat the work surface and your hands with flour while kneading or it will stick to them.

If you try it out, let me know how it comes out.  I hope you enjoyed this post.  Have a wonderful day!

 

Daily Walks…Not Just For Your Health

How’s everyone doing today?  Well I hope you’re well, but just in case you aren’t, I have something here which I hope will help.

The physical benefits of daily exercise are well-known and accepted.  I take a walk almost every day, regardless of weather. (Unless it’s really bad outside, I mean, a hurricane brewing is a great excuse to curl up with some hot cocoa and your favorite author’s latest book).

Walks are incredibly pleasant especially when the weather is as nice as it was today.  I find that beyond the physical benefits of walking, there are emotional and mental benefits as well.

As a writer, I know how difficult it can be, on top of dealing with real life, to find time, motivation, and inspiration, all at the same time.  Whenever I’m stuck, a 20 minute walk works wonders to help me focus.

There are some great green-ways here in WS where I live.  Pedestrians only.  Well, pedestrians, cyclists, skateboarders, no motor vehicles.  There is one quite near my street and it’s a short walk over.  It is quite refreshing to just walk and think.  To remember that there is more to life than struggle and worry.  Just breathe fresh air.  Take in the sun, the rain, the wind and remember the simple pleasure of being alive.