Sunday, October 28, 2012

Self Sufficiency is......

....Not blowing your hard earned cash on a $6 bottled salad dressing.

We love salads. Ceasar, coleslaw, poppy seed fruit salad, garden salad, potato, pasta, Caprese, Spinach salad with bacon, you name it. What I don't like is spending upwards of $6 for a bottle of salad dressing. Oh ya sometimes I find dressing on sale for $2.50 or so and I would stock up. That was the case a few months back when I found the mans garden french on sale. I bought 3 or 4 bottles of it. Then one day when I was idly hanging out in the kitchen waiting for something I read the ingredients. High fructose corn syrup was bad enough and almost all dressings contain xanthan gum which is used as a thickener. I can almost live with that since you only use a little on a salad. Right? However when I got to propylene glycol red flags went up. I'm feeding this stuff to my family???? NOT! How many of you have seen this ingredient in different foods and casually wondered what it was only to go on your merry way? I  looked it up. It has many uses. It is said the "acute oral toxicity of propylene glycol is very low" It is also used as an anti -freeze component in newer vehicles and a de-icer at airports. Propylene glycol is made from propylene oxide, a colorless volatile liquid use in the manufacturing of  plastics.  So yes! I want to feed this to my family! Bring it on!

Why is it used? It keeps the ingredients in salad dressing in suspension or mixed up so the oil and vinegar doesn't separate. Well excuse me but I think I am quite capable of shaking a bottle. I might work off a calorie or two doing that. Because I prefer to feed my family simply healthy food, as opposed to chemicals, and because spending $6 on a bottle of salad dressing really irks me I am on a mission to learn to make all the salad dressings that we use. Mostly that is french, thousand Island, Ceasar, and poppy seed dressing to name a few. In addition I am going to share them with you. So tonight we had a wedge salad with blue cheese vinaigrette. I really like blue cheese but I think I prefer a blue cheese dressing that is creamier than the vinaigrette. Too much vinegar in this recipe. The recipe said I could use white or champagne vinegar and I used white because that is what I had. Next time I will try the champagne. For those of you who like vinaigrette here is the recipe.

Blue Cheese Vinaigrette
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup white or champagne vinegar
1/4 tsp. Balsamic vinegar
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp. sour cream
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil (or tsp. dried)
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese.

Put in a blender or food processor and blend.
The salad itself was a wedge of iceberg lettuce (I almost never buy this) with cucumber slices, red onion tomatoes, blue cheese crumbles, and toasted pecans sprinkled on top. I will do this with romaine next time.

My personal favorite and one that my family really likes is this Ceasar dressing. Toss with a basic romaine lettuce, croutons, and grated Parmesan cheese.

Caesar Salad Dressing

 2 small garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp. anchovy paste or mashed up canned anchovy
2 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice (or bottled)
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 hard boiled egg, mashed yolk only
1 cup mayonnaise
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan
¼ tsp. sea salt or kosher salt
¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
In a medium bowl whisk together the garlic, anchovy, lemon juice, Dijon mustard, egg and Worcestershire sauce. Add the mayonnaise, Parmesan, salt and pepper and whisk until well combined. Taste and adjust to your liking.  

Now before you go eeew anchovy. Take a look at your bottle of Worcestershire sauce. It's made with anchovy. Believe me you wont really know it's there and it is only a teaspoon. You can use the canned anchovy in oil (last forever in the fridge) just mash it up or a tube of anchovy paste from the store. (Sounds inviting doesn't it?)

Traditionally Ceasar Salad dressing is made with a raw egg and used immediately so because I wasn't sure how long raw egg would last in a dressing stored in the fridge I decided to use a hard boiled egg yolk. Worked great. This dressing was such a hit that we eat it as a dip with romaine lettuce pieces.

Once you have a collection of salad dressing recipes it is a snap to make them. Most of the ingredients are already in your pantry. Vinegars, oils, herbs etc. If you add a few other condiments you will find making these are easy and you can do it way in advance and put them in pretty bottles like these. Or you can do what I did the first time I made honey mustard dressing and just use the plastic mustard bottle that was empty after I got done with it. No red neck in me. LOL!

Honey Mustard Salad Dressing

1/3 cup honey
1/8 cup Dijon mustard (or more to taste)
¼ cup white wine vinegar or cider vinegar (I used cider)
2 Tbsp.  lemon juice
1 minced garlic clove
½ cup vegetable oil
Combine first 5 ingredients in a blender. While blending, gradually add oil in a steady stream until smooth and creamy.  Store in refrigerator. Use this one on any garden salad or let your kids dip chicken pieces in it. We don't need no McDonalds. 

I am going to estimate that these salad dressings cost me $1 on average to make and they taste better than store bought. You could say they are more convenient because you don't have to make a special trip to the store when you find out at the last minute that you are out of dressing and your mother in law just arrived for dinner. Impress the old bat instead.

I will do a follow up blog with recipes for Thousand Island, (super easy) Garden French, and  Poppy seed dressing for a green salad with fruit. That's the one the kids can't get enough of. I have to use my biggest bowl when I make that salad.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

After Apple picking days.....

We made apple cider...without a press.
My juicer worked pretty good for this. Now we have
apple juice to make apple butter with. 

Apple washer extraordinaire

and apple peeler extraordinaire. 

Apple butter maker extraordinaire. In addition to
Cinnamon, nutmeg, and Allspice I put a little Cardamom
in for a little taste flair. 

Only one didn't seal. It was yummy on toast this morning.

Also apple dumplin' maker extraordinaire.
Her first attempt at pie crust was a raging success! (with a
little direction from mom). She rolled out four squares
of dough. Small apples are peeled, cored and wrapped
 in pastry after adding sugar and spices and a pat of butter.
Then the four corners are gathered together on top.
These were so surprisingly good that we have been talking
about them all day! Tempted to make them again.  However,
we have something else waiting to be made tomorrow so
we are saving our calories for that. I hope they are as yummy!
OH! What are they? 

Raised Apple cider donuts. Yum!

homesteadrevival preparedness-challenge

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Apple Days

My family loves apples. Apple pie, apple butter, apples for lunch, apples with pork, apples, apples, apples. Probably a good thing we live in Washington. Two out of the four of us could eat an apple every day. That is 730 apples a year just for those two and that isn't even counting the pies and apple sauce etc. So when we bought this house and I discovered an apple tree on the property I was pretty darn happy. Not just any dwarf apple tree. A real full sized, reach for the sky, I dare you to try to pick these apples way up here, type apple tree. Yes, it is about 20 to 25 feet tall so the job of picking those apples usually falls to one of the kids since they are part monkey anyway. That job had always been the oldest daughters job until this year when
she moved to the city to go to the University. Last year I had the fore site to buy an apple picker. At the time I thought $30 was a lot of money for a tool that only did one thing and only did it once a year. So far we have used it to hang and remove Christmas lights, pick apples, and goose the geese. Guess it was a good purchase. This year the youngest daughter and I picked the apples. I used the apple picker from the ground but she climbed the tree and the ladder to reach the apples higher up. We had a contest to see who could get the most apples in the basket without dropping one. Seven was the winning number. We also had some unexpected "help". As soon as the geese and ducks figured out we were picking apples they were right there to make sure they got their share. When all the apples were picked except the unreachable apples our youngest climbed up the tree as far as she could and shook the branches. My job was to beat the geese to the apples that fell to the ground and put them in a separate box for processing right away due to probable bruising and goose bites.

When one bird got an apple the rest would chase him/her to steal it away. Pretty comical.

 Lucy the Wanna Be Guardian Dog helped pick up apples too. When the apples were shaken from the tree she would run over and pick them up. There was never a tooth mark in any of them.

She catches on quick.

We got done picking just as dark clouds started to rolled in and there seemed to be a noticeable chill in the air and the sound of distant thunder. So we went down to put the chickens back in their run and get the hand truck to move the three large boxes of apples that we had picked.  BUT after we got the chickens in I thought it was a good idea to go get the rest of the lettuce out of the garden  BUT while we were in the garden I decided we should maybe thin the carrots a little. Much to my surprise this is what we got when we thinned them.
Fall planted carrots!
The clouds were getting more ominous so we headed back to get the hand truck and put the apples in the garage along with the ladder and the oh so helpful apple picker. I was thinking it was time for a hot chocolate break BUT then I noticed the recycling was building up in the mud room and since I had the attention of a very helpful girl we started loading that into the car and off we went to the recycling dump.

On the way back Old Man Winter decided to try and sneak in without anyone noticing. We saw it first on the windshield. That tell tale lacy splat of frozen rain also known as snow. The snow turned to hail and by the time we got home we had.....                       



So we finally had our hot chocolate. Then we made apple cider juice with my electric juicer out of the apples that we shook out of the tree.  Tomorrow we shall make the rest into apple butter.

Homestead Barn Hop

Friday, October 12, 2012

More on Ready-ing the Coop for Winter

As a lot of you know not only do I have 28 chickens but I also have 8 ducks and 4 Sebastapol geese. I love those guys! The geese are not only beautiful but a lot like a dog in that they follow me everywhere. In the garden they will stand outside the fence for hours while I am working and then follow me back up to the house demanding a green bean or leaf of lettuce along the way. After all they have been very patient. I always know when someone pulls into the drive way and predatory birds think twice before crossing their paths giving a small measure of safety to the chickens. Not only are they beautiful but hand raised Sebastapol geese are very gentle. Except during breeding season. Even then they will tolerate me. They are also very family oriented. I always know when one has managed to become separated from the rest of the group by the forlorn call requiring me to go outside and lead the poor sad thing back to its group which is probably just on the other side of the house eating wind fall apples or what ever tomatoes are within reach through the fence on the patio. Unlike chickens geese are also all vegetarian. Now I don't know about you but when it comes to poop I much prefer the vegetarian variety. There is a lot of it mind you but if you can control where they get to wander not only do you keep the "mess" in a given area but you also have some of the richest garden soil EVER! They are like composters on fast forward.
Chicken pen on the left geese on the right
Which brings me to the fact that their pen does get a little slippery when wet. Preparing the pen for winter isn't much different from prepping the chicken run. In fact it is a mirror image of my chicken run minus the ramp the chickens use to get inside at night. Geese prefer to stay outside. Unlike ducks though Sebastapol geese do not have feathers that lay flat along their body giving them the same insulation factor that ducks have. In other words water does not run off their backs. Their feathers are curly and fluffy allowing wind to lift the feathers and chill the bird on the windiest days so because of this they need a wind break in the run. Other than that both bird runs get the same treatment with 2 to four inches of sand. This can also work like a litter box if you are so incline. As seen here at the chicken chick you can make a big scoop from a pitch fork and a little hardware wire. Although Kathy prefers sand over chips in the coop itself I still prefer the idea of wood shavings mostly for the warmth factor and deep litter method. However I am thinking of stealing her idea of making a giant litter scoop for chips with larger holes for the wire. The idea of deep litter is to warm up the coop but sometimes I just want to get some of that mess out of there. I will let you know how that works.
In my last blog I mentioned a system for growing grass in the chicken run that keeps them from digging up the grass roots.This enables them to have a continuous source of greens inside the run for those days when I am unable to let them free range. The man cheerfully built these for me using two 10 ft treated 2x4's. Because they are smaller they are also much easier to move if need be. I left this corner of the run sand free so I could install the grass growing frames and toss in the grass seed to get it started.

 Also in my last post someone mention that they liked having the birds be able to dust bathe. Well so
do I so when we originally built the coop we added a small lean to roof on the back to give the birds a dry place to go in inclement weather. The soil under here is dry as a bone and they love to dust bathe in it. I add a little poultry dust to assist in keeping the bugs off and a little straw just to make it interesting for them. This summer I got over my paranoia about predators being able to get under the coop and at my ladies. As a result I opened up the underside of the coop so the chickens now have an 8 x 12 foot dry area to play in that is out of the rain. The whole bottom of the coop is enclosed with 2 x 4 inch welded wire that bends out at a 90 degree angle onto the grass outside about a foot and is held in place with garden staples. This allows the grass to grow through and the lawn mower to go right over the top but keeps digging predators out. Because I am paranoid, I also installed chicken wire over the top of that but in all honesty that was more to keep baby chickens from escaping through the 2 x 4 wire.  I also re-purposed an old dog carrier for a nest box for the ducks which is tucked just under the coop.

I should probably explain the elevated chicken ramp too. Although the ducks don't need as much protection from inclement weather they do need protection at night from predators. So once the chickens go in for the night I let the ducks into the run. However one of the ducks has learned that if she goes up the ramp into the coop she scores big time on chicken food. She is very good at teaching this to the rest of her friends and they have been seen leaving the scene of the crime with crops so full they can barely move or see their feet. Fortunately the man had the fore sight to install the ramp with a hinge. I now have a draw bridge.

For once I am ready for the foul weather animal wise. Good thing too since our first fall storm is suppose to be here this weekend with 4 inches of rain. This will be a good test. Will let you know how it goes. Have a great weekend.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Remember This? Bathroom Remodel Update

How about this?
This is the ugly bathroom of my nightmares. This is the bathroom that almost made me put the kabosh on buying this house. This is the bathroom where the vanity top was not attached to the vanity, where you couldn't plug in and use the hair dryer the same time as someone upstairs was using an electrical appliance or when someone was using the micro wave in the kitchen without blowing the breaker and where the floor tile crackled underfoot because the prior owner installed it over the existing linoleum. This is the bathroom that had a constant smell of urine no matter what you did to it because (unknown to us) rats had climbed through a pretty large hole under the shower pan and gained access to the walls where they had families of little rats.
(Fortunately they were all exterminated before we bought the house but we still found 2 or 3 petrified bodies inside these lovely puce colored walls.) This is the steamy, nearly unventilated bathroom off the Master Bedroom where the closets were located  and where I found mold growing on my suede belt when I was finally able to move our clothes into the beautiful new closet in the bedroom that my man built me for Christmas.

Why is it taking so long? Well first, the man has a job with only Sundays and Tuesdays off. Second he has me, the person that can't make up her mind where she wants something and makes him rewire lights three times, once on a completely different wall and twice on the same wall because I decided on a different configuration. (My bad). Third, we are trying to put a lot into a small space and every inch has had to be measured and remeasured  and redesigned to see if we could actually do it. Two inches to the left or right or in the wrong place could mean you couldn't get to the toilet or that the beautiful claw foot tub that I found wouldn't fit in the space that was once occupied by the horrid closet.  Fourth, money. Enough said there.

So where are we now after 10 months. We are still not done, that's where. But we are closer. They say a picture is worth a thousand words so I will shut up now and show you.

 Subway tiled shower with dual shower heads. Glass doors are on order.
New toilet, vanity, floor and trimmed out window.
Click on pic to enlarge. 
Detail of deco tile in shower. Love the leaf pattern.
I always was an Autumn. Click to enlarge. 

 Rewired twice with lights finally installed. Who says I
can't make a decision?

Fell in love with these Hudson Valley lights. Two polished nickel
 restoration vintage sconces and matching 3 light vanity light.  Got the sconces on sale but had to pay full freight  for the vanity light.
 Spent more than the budget allowed but has been the one big splurge. 

My free toilet! Notice the smooth easy to clean bottom! None
of those curly pipe looking forms to catch the dirt and (gag) hair
that accumulates on those forms. Bead board surrounds the room
and will be trimmed out with 3 inch trim on top.
Ok so the story here is that I bought this toilet online because I actually DID know what I wanted this time and Lowe's (big box store) had it. I took a ferry at 6 AM to go get it the next day and got home at 2 PM just in time for the man to install it before his eye appointment. Upon opening the box we discovered vital parts missing so being the NICE and CALM person that I am I called the store and demanded to talk to the manager. Then firmly told him how much MONEY he had just cost me because I had a PLUMBER trying to install a toilet without parts AND the ferry was going to cost me another $20 just to come get the parts AND I wanted them NOW!!! To his credit he offered to get the parts and have them at the store the next day and refund my  money. OK! Deal! This definitely helps with the price of those beautiful Hudson Valley lights I bought at Lamps Plus.

How do you like this wood floor! Not! This is a vinyl floor
that comes in strips that fit together kind of like tongue and
groove but with a special glue. The tongue part has one kind
and the groove has another so when you put them together
the glues react to each other giving you a tight fit. This floor wasn't
my first pick but it looks nice, feels good on your feet, was
easy to install and it was very affordable. (gee those lights should
be paid for by now) 

We use to have a bathroom door with clear glass panes.
Great for privacy. We now have a lovely pocket door that takes
up no space. This is one of the ways we got a little more room in here.
The walls are paneled in bead board and this wall will have
wooden pegs for bathrobes and towels.  

We were going to put a granite counter top in but with a vinyl floor that seemed too weird besides it was $850 on sale for a remnant. I found a Formica brand of vinyl that looks like marble called 180fx and we really liked it. Plus an 8 ft piece cost $45 on sale at Home Depot. The man will install it. I think those lights are actually paid for and then some. Will show you the finished product hopefully before the holidays. I am currently working on stripping and painting the outside of that claw foot tub. Almost done! And my man is the most patient on earth.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Ready-ing up the Coop for Winter

Weather has been beautiful so far this fall. Apparently mother nature is trying to make it up to us for having no summer until late July. I was sure we wouldn't get tomato one and it's sort of true since we haven't had any normal size tomatoes get ripe. However the cherry tomatoes are taking over the kitchen and although it was time intensive I made salsa.
Since it is October and this is the Pacific N.W. I am going to go pull the rest of the green and red-ish tomatoes tomorrow. I am ready to plant garlic in that spot and need the tomato plants gone.

In the mean time I am getting the chicken coop ready for winter. First a very thorough cleaning is in order so today I took everything that wasn't fastened down (and a few things that were) out of the coop and cleaned every square foot. All bedding was removed, walls and wire dusted off, feathers removed, nest boxes cleaned out, and the whole inside white washed with a mix of hydrated lime and water an old fashion way to clean and beautify your coop. Ok maybe it isn't on the top of the list for interior decorating but it does disinfect and repel pesky bugs and I don't want another round of Northern Fowl Mites this winter. White washing
 is an old farming idea that use to be used a lot. It is cheap and helps seal and clean surfaces and brightens up the inside of your coop by reflecting light into all the darkest corners. Around here in the winter light is a good thing. Last winter I used lime in the bedding to help keep it dry. I just mixed a little in every other day or so and gave the bedding a good stir. I will be doing that again this year since it was very helpful and didn't seem to harm any of the ladies.

To make a whitewash use hydrated lime only. Wear goggles, gloves, and a long sleeved shirt as this mix is caustic and can cause burns. Safety goggles are especially important because this stuff can burn the cornea of your eye if you happen to splash some and that is very easy to do. In a bucket mix water and hydrated lime together until it is just slightly thinner than paint. Use a cheap brush to apply it to the walls of the coop. I did not apply it to the nest boxes or the perches just in case it caused irritation to perching feet. This stuff does rub off onto clothes and hands kind of like chalk so just the walls were good for me. I also cleaned and re-organized the storage/hospital side of the coop. This is the side the Silkies use at night. It is separated by a wall and door between the two sides. I only white washed the table. The nest boxes are made of used melamine shelving that we had laying around and is a snap to keep clean.

A couple days ago I tackled the chicken run. Last winter, spring, and most of the summer this was a mud pit. Every hole and depression in the soil held standing water, a no no if you want healthy birds and the soil was so slick when it rained that you would slip and slide around the run like an ice rink. Every feather (and there were plenty from all the molting going on) was raked up and disposed of just in case there were any lingering mite eggs. Then I rototilled with my little cultivator. Perfect for this job. After raking the area smooth and

even,  I shoveled and raked a yard of sand on to the top of the whole thing giving a 2 to 4 inch depth of sand on top. Not sure if this is something I want to leave or if  I am going to lightly mix it into the top of the existing soil. The chickens don't really like to dig around in the sand since there are no bugs but it does seem to keep them from digging holes for dust bathing. I just wanted a little drainage and some grit to keep from falling on my butt in the mud.

In addition I have asked the man to build me a frame from treated 2x4's so I have a box that is 3 or 4 foot wide by 8 ft long. I will fasten 1/4 inch hardware cloth to the top, place it in a corner of the run and plant grass seed. As the grass grows up through the wire the chickens can eat it without digging up the roots. I will post pics when I get that done. If anyone out there has a suggestion I am all ears. Leave a comment. I really do appreciate any input.