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Strawberry Jam

In our house there is a great debate.

In this debate, there are no compromises. We both believe that we are correct and the other is sadly mistaken.

This great debate all centers around peanut butter – more specifically, what type of fruity, sweet substance you use to complete the “J” portion of your PB&J.

One of us, who is clearly mistaken and foolish in their ways, thinks you can only use grape jelly.

The other, who knows a thing or two about making delicious food and who has the correct answer in this debate, knows that the only way to top off your delicious peanut butter sandwich is with strawberry jam – particularly when it’s homemade.

 

Pssst… I’m the one who’s right.

 

And because I’m right, I’m here to share how to make your own strawberry jam! Beware, it’s sweet, sticky, and delicious. Perfect for your morning toast, biscuits, and, of course, making PB&Js.

 

Homemade Strawberry Jam

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What you need:

  • 2 ½ cups strawberries, mashed
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 3 ½ cups sugar
  • ½ package of fruit pectin (7 ½ tsp)
  • A smidge (official term) of butter
  • 1 stalk of rhubarb, cut into small pieces  (I had a stalk of rhubarb left over from pie making the week prior, so I added it to my jam to give it a bit of a tangy taste. It’s not essential, but it’s delicious!)

 

This recipe yields four 8oz jam jars, plus a bit extra to enjoy on toast right away! I cut the original jam recipe in half to get the ingredient amounts above (hence the ½ package of pectin). We didn’t have five cups of strawberries lying around – they tend to go pretty fast in this house. However, if you have a bumper crop of strawberries, or you really love jam (or love gifting it away), feel free to double the above amounts to make eight or nine 8 oz jam jars.

 

Let’s get started!

Hull your strawberries and toss your fruit (including the rhubarb) into a large bowl. Using a potato masher, mash ‘em up real good. Measure out 2 ½ cups of the mashed strawberry goodness and add to a large pot or dutch oven.

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Add in the lemon juice and whisk in your fruit pectin. Add a smidge of butter to the top – this helps reduce the amount of foam that will form on top of your jam as it is cooking.

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a “smidge” of butter

Turn the heat on and stir as you gently bring your jam to a boil. Once it’s boiling, add all of the sugar at once; stir until the sugar is completely mixed in.  

 

Crank up the heat until you get a strong, hard boil. A hard boil is when you can’t decrease the boiling by stirring. Let your jam boil for a good two minutes and then shut off the heat.

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Foam will start to form on the top of your jam. Take a regular table spoon and skim off as much of the foam as you can, without taking any of the jammy goodness.

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Lastly, scoop out some jam to enjoy right away and then can the rest.
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Look at you! You’re a jam-making machine! Not only do you have the perfect accompaniment for your peanut butter sandwiches, but you’ve also got a few extra jars to share with family or friends.

 

May your peanut butter sandwiches and your heart be full – and sweet!

 

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Homemade Laundry Detergent

One way Phill and I like to spend our time is trying out new “DIY” projects. We have fun looking up new projects, trying them out, and then evaluating whether it is worth the time (and money).

Our latest project: homemade laundry detergent.

There are recipes for homemade laundry soap all over the internet. Every recipe we looked through had their own quirks, but all of them essentially have the same ingredients. After reviewing a dozen or so, we picked one out and gave it a go.

 

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What you’ll need for this batch:

  • five gallon bucket with lid
  • ½ cup borax
  • ½ cup washing soda
  • 1 bar of laundry soap (found in the laundry aisle at your local supermarket), shredded with a cheese grater
  • A tall stirring utensil
  • Water
  • Essential Oils (an added bonus for a fresh scent)

Step One: Heat 2 cups of water on the stove and add your shredded bar of laundry soap. Stir and stir until the soap is good and dissolved.

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Step Two: Add in the borax and washing soda. Stir, stir, stir.

Step Three: Pour the mixture into your five gallon bucket. Fill with water until the bucket is about three quarters of the way full (We found this was most easily done in the bathtub). If you’re adding in essential oils, now’s the time to add them (we used 10 drops of lemongrass and 10 drops of eucalyptus). Stir for a good ten minutes to make sure everything is well blended.

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Step Four: Snap on a lid and let your laundry detergent sit overnight, at least 24 hours. You should have a gloppy texture. When we made this batch, a good portion of the washing soap had formed a layer at the top of our detergent. Just a quick stir and it was good to go!

Step Five: Enjoy washing your clothes, towels, and diapers knowing that you are a self-sufficient woman (or man)!

 

In the end, making our own laundry detergent was enjoyable, super easy, and saved us lots of money.

Our cost analysis:

  • Bucket and lid: $4.65 – found at our local Home Depot
  • Borax: $3.97 for a box – $0.18 for ½ cup
  • Washing Soap: $3.97 for a box –  $0.35 for ½ cup
  • Fels Naptha laundry soap: $0.97 for a bar

Our grand total for four gallons of laundry detergent was $6.15 because we had the initial start up cost of the bucket and lid. Our next batch of laundry detergent will only cost $1.50. Typical laundry detergent runs around $10 and you walk home with less than a gallon. Y’all, we’re making 4 gallons for a buck fifty. Score!

 

I can’t believe it took us so long to get around to actually testing this out. Needless to say, this DIY project was a success! The whole process took less than half an hour and helped us save big on laundry detergent. I can also rest assured knowing exactly what is in our laundry detergent and knowing that by using homemade laundry detergent I am limiting the amount of chemicals we encounter on a daily basis.

Seriously, y’all – go buy some borax and get to laundry detergent making!

 

Until next time, may your laundry baskets be empty and your heart be full.

 

 

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simple life, Uncategorized

Growing a Garden: From One Novice to Another

Sometimes you just can’t sleep, no matter how much you’d like to.

So today I think I’ll sit here, make myself an espresso and enjoy our silent house this afternoon as my baby, puppy, and husband all nap away.

 

This is our first planting season living in a house of our own with land of our own to till and to sow. We had simple plans for our first year. It was so so so tempting to jump right in and convert half of our backyard into a garden, but the husband (who tends to think more practically than I do) convinced me to settle on a 2’ by 10’ plot for our first year. The first day we dug our hands into the soil to plant our vegetable garden we thought we had an acre of land. Those seeds were so tiny compared to the vast (major exaggeration) amount of land before us.

The plan was simple – plant vegetables that we know we’d definitely eat: cucumbers, green beans, bell peppers, carrots, turnips, zucchini, tomatoes, and potatoes. We also planted basil, mint, dill, and cilantro in pots along the porch. Not bad for the first time around, right?

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Our turnips, carrots, and zucchini are growing great! Most of our turnips are nearing two inches in diameter, carrot greens are growing tall and the zucchini plants have begun to flower.

We’ve planted our potatoes in a box so they grow vertically. The vines are tall and we’ve planted nine seed potatoes, making us hopeful for a large crop.

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The cucumbers… well, they sprouted and, actually, that’s about all they did.

Of our green beans, six of the ten plants have grown and begun to weave around our rope trellis.

The bell peppers mimicked the cucumbers.

And now, finally, on our fourth attempt from seed, we have a tomato plant! It’s growing stronger each day and hopefully going to flower in the next couple weeks, yielding a late crop.

 

Now that we’re halfway through summer, Phill and I have been reflecting on our garden and it’s growth, or lack thereof in some plants’ cases (here’s looking at you, cucumber).

  1. Next summer we need to start our non-root vegetables indoors and much, much earlier than we did this year. Thankfully, both of our parents are growing peppers and cucumbers, so we have two additional sources for these vegetables this summer.
  2. We can use our “dead space” where there aren’t cucumbers or peppers and plant a late batch of basil (in one plot) and lettuce (in the other). Lettuce tends to grow better in cooler temperatures but hopefully, if we plant it in the back of our garden where it’s mostly shaded it will grow – even in the heat of summer. And more basil, because pesto. Do I really need to say more?
  3. We need to do more prep work with the soil next year. Our green beans are growing, but some of them are yellowing – a sign of nitrogen deficiency in the soil. We’ve been packing used coffee grounds around the roots weekly to try and compensate for the soil we’re using. Once we harvest this year’s crop, the plan is to add a thick layer of compost to our garden and mulch it heavily over winter. IMG_0506
  4. Speaking of winter, Phill and I are hoping to add in a fall crop of broccoli, garlic, and spinach. All of those are delicious and grow best in cool temps. Broccoli takes 60-80 days to mature, so if we plant our broccoli the in early August, it should be ready for us at the end of October, right around the time of our first frost. Spinach, which takes 35-45 days to mature, we can also plant in early August and get two full crops out before Jack Frost visits. Lastly, the garlic we can plant whenever; it will grow all winter long and be ready to harvest in July of next summer.

 

Ahh, next summer – I’m already dreaming of a garden three times the size of this year, full of our current crops plus sweet potatoes, butternut squash, asparagus, snap peas, cantaloupe, rhubarb, and pie pumpkins… and let’s be real, probably some more  – after all, I do have a few months to keep adding to my list.

 

This is the life, y’all.

The life the gives purpose to the summer heat and teaches you to lovingly embrace a good rainfall. The life that will encourage my children to eat fresh foods, get their hands dirty, and explore the outdoors. The life that inspires us to dream big, baby!

And in the midst of those dreams there is lettuce and basil to plant, sweet potato puree to clean off my baby’s face, and dinner to thaw.

 

Until next time, may your home and heart be full.

 

 

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Freedom and Fruit Pies

It’s Independence Day weekend, which means the days are filled with the smell of barbecues and the loud pops of late night fireworks. And in this home(stead), that means pie.

Because what says freedom better than a fresh fruit pie? Nothing; the answer is nothing.

Okay, you’re right; I can think of a few other things.

But right now the 4th of July means hot, sticky summer – and this hot, sticky summer we are celebrating by devouring a tart but sweet peach and blackberry pie with a melt in your mouth crust.

Peach & Blackberry Pie

What you need:

Crust:

  • 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup shortening
  • ½ cup cold butter
  • ⅓ cup plus 1 tablespoon ice water

Filling:

  • 2 ½ cups peaches, fresh is preferable but I used peaches that we canned last summer
  • 2 ½ cups blackberries
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • ¼ teaspoon almond extract
  • ⅛ teaspoon salt

Glaze:

  • Heavy cream
  • Sugar

My favorite pie crust recipe comes from The Joy of Cooking. It’s simple, easy to make, and delicious.

Mix together your flour, sugar, and salt. Then, add in your fats, aka cold shortening and butter, which should be cut up into cubes.

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Work the fats into the dry ingredients using a pastry blender. If you don’t have a pastry blender, you can use two knives (one in each hand) and cut across the bowl in opposite directions. While blending the fats and the dry ingredients be sure to scrape up any rogue flour at the bottom of the bowl so that the butter in incorporated thoroughly.

You know you’re finished mixing when there are a few pea-sized chunks of butter in your dough, but for the most part your dough has the consistency of crumbs. Those bigger chunks of butter and shortening will melt into the dough in the oven, which gives your crust a flaky texture. Mmm yum!

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Drizzle the ice water over your dough and mix using a rubber spatula. If your dough forms a ball and sticks together you have enough water; if not, add another tablespoon of ice water.

Divide your dough in half (top crust and bottom crust), wrap tightly in plastic to refrigerate for 1 hour before using. The reasoning behind refrigerating the dough before using it is that it gives the fats a chance to firm up again. The colder the butter and shortening are the more likely they will stay cold and firm when you are working with your hands, which are quite warm, to form the dough into a pie plate. Ideally, the butter won’t melt until it is in the oven and surrounding a delicious fruit mixture – hence, the hour (at least) wait time.

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Now you have an hour to do other fun, freedom-related things! After all, you have the freedom to:

Drink a cup of coffee at four in the afternoon;

Put your washed clothes out on the clothesline;

Make your own laundry detergent;

Change your baby’s diaper and outfit for the third time today because they are a drooling, teething, (adorable) mess;

Love on your husband as he tries to sneakily take pictures of you making pie crust;

Dance around the kitchen listening to Frank Sinatra.

 

At least, that’s what we did for an hour.

 

Once your dough has had time to chill out you can roll it and press it into pie plate. With the top layer, you can roll it out to place a full sheet on top of your fruit (remember to cut four lines as vents), or you can cut out fun designs and lattice. I opted for stars and stripes – it is 4th of July after all!

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To fill the pie, toss your fruit in a large bowl. Mix in sugar, cornstarch, lemon juice, almond extract, and salt. Fill your pie crust and top with lattice. Last step is to brush your top pie crust with a bit of cream and sprinkle on some sugar. Bake at 450 degrees for thirty minutes; then, place a cookie sheet under the pie dish and continue to bake for an additional thirty minutes at 350 degrees.  Eat and enjoy!

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And there you go, a taste of summer in pie form. Take this delicious pie with you to your next holiday gathering and you’re sure to be crowned Pie Queen of the Neighborhood.

 

 

May your holidays and your homes be full of love and pie this weekend.

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simple life, Uncategorized

For Love of Cloth

Our son was born seven months ago and he is the happiest baby on the block – well, the only baby on the block, but still. Just look at this adorableness!

 
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 We have been joyfully diapering this little monkey with cloth diapers for the last seven months, and I couldn’t imagine it any other way!

To live in the homesteading mindset means to live modestly and to also be stewards of our planet. When you find a way to frugally be stewards of the earth, it’s a double victory! Cue cloth diapers.

The initial reason my husband and I fell in love with the idea of cloth diapers was their cost – or rather, lack of cost. Cloth diapers are a one time purchase, unlike disposables that we would have had to buy over and over again. Research says the average cost of (disposable) diapering a child through potty training is around $2,000! That’s a crazy amount of money to throw away, literally.

We were blessed to be given two sets of cloth diapers as baby shower gifts, and we have spent an additional $55 out of pocket for diapers and cloth wipes. That’s right. Only fifty-five dollars! We purchased additional inserts for one of the diaper sets we were given and bought an additional diaper set at a used cloth diaper sale, where we got seven diapers with inserts for $10. Score!

That means we’ve spent three percent of the average cost compared to disposables.

Okay to be fair, let’s add in the cost of the two sets of diapers we were given – an additional $60 and $100. Our new total is $215. Compared to $2,000. And we can continue to use these diapers as our family continues to grow.

Three cheers for sustainable living!

Another reason to love cloth diapers is that they contain everything. Even now that my baby is starting to eat solid foods and his poo is quite explosive, his cloth diapers always catch it all without leaking onto his clothing. I’ve had a few major blowouts and all of them have been in disposable diapers. My worst experience with leaking diapers was when our little guy was just over a month old. It was my first time taking him out in the world by myself, so I packed him in a disposable diaper thinking that would be easiest to handle. Oh Lord, was I wrong. The speaker had just begun and baby man was laying across my lap when all of a sudden – blow out. The worst part? My little guy was wearing separate shirt and pants, not a onesie. That means his poop-splosion landed all over me. I then had to walk from the front of the hall, mid-speech, covered in newborn poo. Talk about a mess!

Given all the messiness of childrearing, cloth diapers are (surprisingly) easy to maintain and care for. Sure, you can just throw away disposable diapers, but then they sit and rot and stink for years and year and years. Talk about an expensive way to litter our planet! To care for the cloth diapers I rinse, wash, and hang ‘em up. Just like all my other laundry. And if you’ve ever been around a teething baby (much like my little man), you know they soak through three outfits a day (at least) with drool. And really, what’s an extra load of laundry?

All else aside, the main reason I love cloth diapers is that they are made of, well, cloth. I know exactly what my diapers are made of and I can rest easy knowing there aren’t any plastics or chemicals surrounding my sweet baby’s bottom. Why expose my baby to harsh chemicals if I don’t need to? Cloth is healthier for the little guy, and more comfortable.

Have you ever thrown your towel in the dryer before taking a shower? I love that feeling of wrapping thick, warm, fresh-scented cotton around me after freshening up. It’s glorious! The same thing goes for my little baby man when I change is diaper and wrap him up in some freshly laundered love.

Hmmm, warm thoughts.

 

For our family, cloth diapering was a no-brainer. It’s the all-natural way to care for my little one and it keeps me focused on living a simple life. And there’s something about seeing cloth diapers drying on a clothesline that makes you forget about the surrounding hustle and bustle.

 

For the love of cloth, may your hearts – and not your diapers – be full.  

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Bacon Spinach Cheddar Frittata

I’m beginning to realize that breakfast is my love language.

Seriously – pour me a cup of coffee and dish out some eggs and you’ll have a piece of my heart.

Even though we don’t have chickens of our own (hopefully our municipality changes its chicken ordinance in the future), I love starting the morning off with an egg dish. Today began with a frittata, of sorts.

Frittatas are Italian egg dishes filled with meats, cheeses, and vegetables. Traditionally, these dishes begin by cooking your fillings in a skillet on the stove, top with eggs and cook for a minute or two, and then move your frittata off the stove and into the oven to bake completely. Seeing as I don’t own a cast iron skillet – or any oven safe skillet, for that matter – I decided to modify the traditional methodology to work with what I had.

All I needed was a regular ‘ol nonstick skillet and a fitted lid. So much easier, and all I needed was my stove top!

From the piece of my heart dedicated to breakfast, I present for your breakfast delight: spinach, cheddar, and bacon frittata, of sorts.

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Begin by whisking up your eggs and pouring them into skillet. As your eggs begin to set on the bottom, add your fresh spinach and cooked bacon. Cover the skillet with a fitted lid and watch as your delicious breakfast magically cooks before your eyes. Once your egg is cooked all the way through and the top center is set, add freshly shredded sharp white cheddar cheese to the top of your masterpiece. Recover with the fitted lid for a minute or two to make sure the cheese is nice and melted.

There you have it – the easiest frittata ever!

I can’t wait to make this again with new ingredients: asparagus, squash, artichoke, peppers, ham, sausage – the possibilities are endless!  

Until next time, may your heart and your breakfast table be full!

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A Frittata for Two:

  • 5 eggs, whisked
  • 1 splash of milk
  • 2 cups fresh spinach
  • 5 pieces bacon, cooked
  • ½ cup shredded white cheddar cheese
  1. Grease your nonstick skillet and place on medium-high heat.
  2. Toss your spinach into the skillet and allow to cook. Once slightly wilted, whisk together eggs and milk; pour into skillet.
  3. Allow eggs to cook until the edges start to bubble, indicating that the bottom of your eggs are beginning to set.
  4. Add cooked bacon to your spinach and eggs. Cover skillet with a fitted lid.
  5. Cook until the center of eggs are firm.
  6. When eggs are set, remove from heat and sprinkle shredded cheese on top of your frittata. Recover with lid and allow cheese to melt.
  7. Serve with a cup of coffee and enjoy your breakfast!

 

 

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Uncategorized

Bone Broth

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The homestead way has always placed emphasis on preparing and utilizing the entirety of whatever plants or animals the good Lord has blessed you with.  One way our family lives this out is with some good ol’ fashioned bone broth.

If there’s anything everyone needs to have in their kitchen at all times – besides a working coffee pot – it’s a stockpile of homemade bone broth.

Bone broth is the backbone (pun intended) of homestead cooking. This broth is the essential ingredient for making soups, sauces, cooking grains, and making comfort foods. True bone broth is made from collecting leftover bones and small amounts of meat and slowly simmering them overnight. The results are a delicious and nutritious broth.

By slowly simmering the bones overnight, you are able to create a broth that’s rich in protein, gelatin, which supports digestive health and healthy skin, and calcium. Also, it tastes delicious and isn’t chock full of sodium, like the store bought broth alternatives. The best part? Anyone can make bone broth. All you need are chicken bones, vegetables, water, and a large stock or crockpot.

The first – and most difficult – step: cook and enjoy eating a whole chicken. I know, torture, right? How horrible it will be to fill your house with the scent of baking chicken and then enjoy that fall off the bone, melt in your mouth goodness.

Once you’ve enjoyed a hearty dinner, collect your leftover chicken bones and scraps and throw them into the cooking pot of your choice. We typically simmer our bone broth overnight, so a crockpot is ideal – no one wants to leave the stove on all night long. Although, if you’ve feasted on your fresh chicken for Sunday luncheon, then by all means, use your large stockpot and cook on medium heat for a couple hours.

Bones in? Good. Now for the vegetables! We’re using the harvest, baby! Slice up your carrots, celery, and onion and toss them in.

Top off your bones and vegetables with water, a bay leave, and a dash of parsley. Now you’re all set to simmer away and wake up to the best smelling kitchen you’ve ever smelled before – you know, except for the smell of your first brew of coffee. Or brown sugar rising in your homemade wheat bread. Okay, I guess there is more than one way to fill your kitchen with sweet aromas. A homestead kitchen is a little piece of heaven on earth, y’all.

With your nose leading the way, you stumble toward the kitchen after a peaceful night’s rest. Peaceful meaning your baby only woke up twice for late night snacks – And behold! The ordinary kitchen scraps from last night’s delicious dinner has become a magical bone broth.

Take a few moments to lift off your pot’s lid and breath in deep. That’s the smell of sustenance. Strain out the bones, vegetables, and herbs and you’re left with the only broth you’ll ever need.

(Bonus – you can throw your cooked down carrots and celery into your backyard compost – food for you and your plants!)

The broth is best stored frozen. Grab your extra mason jars or plastic tupperware and fill, leaving an inch at the top for the broth to expand when frozen. Keep the jars in your freezer until you’re ready to prepare you next delicious homemade meal.

What you need:

  • Bones from a whole chicken
  • Carrots (2-3, chopped)
  • Celery (3-4 stalks, chopped)
  • Onion (½ an onion, keep in rings)
  • Bay leaf
  • Parsley

Fill crockpot with ingredients above. Cover all ingredients with water – fill just up to the top of your crockpot. Turn on “keep warm” and let simmer overnight (8+ hours). Strain out bones and vegetables. Fill mason jars with broth, leaving an inch of headspace. Freeze. Take your cooked down carrots and celery and throw in the compost bin.

And may this bone broth fill your hearts – and your bellies.

 

 

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