Saturday, May 30, 2009

Sour Cream

For over a month now, sour cream has been created in our household with heavy cream, half and half, and vinegar. This was mainly due to me not being able to locate cultured buttermilk. But ah-ha! it was found late today at Cash and Carry tucked in with the rest of the buttermilk. Those sneaky stockers have been hiding it from me all along!

What is the significance of cultured buttermilk you might ask? Oh, let me tell you! Cultured buttermilk is currently something I'm very excited about! Most buttermilk purchased here in the States has been pasteurized or even ultra pasteurized. Though I am in great debt to old Pastuer there are just somethings that work, and culturing enzymes are one of those. The culture which is spoken of in buttermilk are pro-biotic bacteria which feed off the lactose (milk sugar) turning it into lactic acid. This ferments the milk and causes the milk proteins to thicken. This lactic acid gives buttermilk the incredible added quality of naturally fending off and inhibiting pathogenic bacteria. Yay good bacteria (probiotic); Boo bad bacteria (pathogenic).

This is all well and good, you might be thinking, but why is it important to your life? Using cultured buttermilk, you can add this bacteria into milk or cream and produce a "soured" product. (Don't confuse "soured" with spoiled because it is actually better for your body this way due to the lactose being broken down.) Thus sour cream! Way back when, this is how sour cream was created.

Enter the relevance to your current life: sour cream is no longer created this way. In 1973 the FDA repealed a law which wouldn't allow for imitation products to be placed into our food without appropriate labeling. This meant that anything could be substituted as long as the supposed nutritional content was not altered. Honestly, this was an attempt to reduce fat and lower costs. But, the result has become additives that are now added to milk in order to thicken it instead of probiotic bacteria. Things like hydrogenated oils, carageenan, guar gum, etc are now supplimented giving the sour cream a longer preservative time and a thicker texture for far, far cheaper than cultured product. Also, cultured product can wear out. The bacteria die. This doesn't taint the milk, but it means that the thickening characteristics of the culture are no longer present. That is highly costly on a commercial scale. Guar gum can hold up for quite some time along with carageenan and hydrogenated oil.

Information acquired from In Defense of Food:
An Eaters Manifestoby Micheal Pollen

The problem here is that these additives chemically alter our bodies ability to digest food. Though all are natural products, so is arsenic. Just because something comes from a plant does not mean it is a helpful component to add to your body. Secondly, I'm sure that very, very small does of these products (just like the aspertain which is in NutraSweet) aren't harmful. The problem has become that they are now in EVERYTHING! We are eating far more than we even realize.

So what exactly is the problem? Well hydrogenated oils are transfats. They have been linked to excessive free radicals, which are believed to be cancer causing agents. Carageenan is derived from red algea via alkali and has been shown to coat the inside of the stomach. This dramatically inhibits digestion causing the foods which venture to your intestine to not be properly broken down. Since most of the nutrient absorption from your body occurs in the intestine, when food isn't broken down, you cannot digest the nutrients. Carageenan is such a powerful coating agent it is what airlines use to de-ice the plane's wings. Guar Gum comes from the Guar plant and is basically a ground up grain, much like wheat. Do not be fooled however, Guar Gum is such an effective thickener that when combined with water it can swell in size 20 fold. This swelling is produced by a chemical action in reaction to the water and has been shown to dramatically reduce the ability of the intestines to process cholesterol and triglycerides. Not only that, but it slows glucose absorption as well. In laymans terms, your body consumes more cholesterol, more sugar (glucose), and more fat (triglycerides) because the intestines are processing it so much slower our body can't register that we have had enough. It doesn't block the absorption, it just slows it way, way down. This means the "full" reflex in our body can't kick in when it should because our intestines are still working so hard to break down the nutrients.

I don't know about you, but I would much rather have foods which help aide the digestion and absorption of nutrients into my body, rather than disrupt them. So, sour cream is being created now on top of our refrigerator. The hardest part of this process is leaving it alone. In fact, it doesn't require any work from you what so ever after combining the ingredients together.

1/4 cup of cultured buttermilk
1 cups of heavy cream

Pour the heavy cream into a mason jar, bowl, eating receptical. Add the cultured buttermilk (regular buttermilk will not work, only cultured). Stir to combine. Now cover it and leave it alone. Don't stir it any more or it will kill the culturing and you will have runny sour cream. Leave it out at room temperature 12-24 hours (basically overnight) or until it gets desirablly thick. Once it is thick enough, you can stir it all you want. Just put it in the fridge (this stops the culturing and thickening) and it will keep for about a week and a half.

If you can't find cultured buttermilk, you can always add plain white vinegar. The only difference in the final product is a slightly vinegary taste and no probiotic bacteria. You can also use Half and Half, Whole milk, 2 percent milk, or any combination there of. Just remember that it is the fat in the milk which makes it thicken. No fat, runny sour cream. Jules like his sour cream to stick to the spoon and make a Shloop sound when it is removed from the container. The only thing more important than the shloop is the loud Pluh sound it makes when it is splatted onto your plate. For this reason, the first couple of batches of sour cream I made were too runny for approval. They tasted great, but no shloop.

When I started reading In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto, Micheal Pollen points out that our brain is about 60 percent fat; every neuron is protectively sheathed in it; our cell membranes are constructed of fat and require the correct ratio for everything from hormones and glucose to toxins to permeate the walls; vitamins A and E require fat to be absorbed by our intestines; and essentially fat is a necessary part of our bodies ability to function. Somewhere in the obesity epidemic and scientifically modifying food we have forgotten this little fact. When I remembered it, I promptly could careless about how much fat was in our sour cream and the shloop was achieved.
Update: When you put the sour cream in the fridge, it will firm up a bit for those out there who are concerned with their final product. If you don't stir it up, and just eat it off the top, it will stay fairly thick as well. Secondly, the next time you need to make sour cream, use a 1/4 cup of your previous batch and it will turn out even better! This only works if the previous batch still has live culture in it. All that means is you need to use it within about 10 days. However, the awesomeness here is that you can keep creating miraculously FABULOUS sour cream without having to re-purchase the cultured buttermilk! Personally, I find this rather cool. I know....I'm a nerd.


Filament Disassembly and Loss of Mammary Myoepithelial Cells after Exposure to Carrageenan,
Joanne Tobacman, Cancer Research, 57, 2823-2826, July 15, 1997

Carrageenan-Induced Inclusions in Mammary Mycoepithelial Cells, Joanne Tobacman, MD,
and Katherine Walters, BS, Cancer Detection and Prevention, 25(6): 520-526 (2001)

Consumption of Carrageenan and Other Water-soluble Polymers Used as Food Additives
and Incidence of Mammary Carcinoma, J. K. Tobacman, R. B. Wallace, M. B.
Zimmerman, Medical Hypothesis (2001), 56(5), 589-598

Structural Studies on Carrageenan Derived Oligisaccharides, Guangli Yu, Huashi Guan,
Alexandra Ioanviciu, Sulthan Sikkander, Charuwan Thanawiroon, Joanne Tobacman, Toshihiko
Toida, Robert Linhardt, Carbohydrate Research, 337 (2002)

Guar Gum

GuarNT Product Information, Tic Gums web-site (, April 13, 2005.

Okazaki H et al, Increased incidence rate of colorectal tumors due to the intake of a soluble dietary
fiber in rat chemical carcinogenesis can be suppressed by substituting partially an insoluble
dietary fiber for the soluble one., Int J Cancer. 2002 Aug 1;100(4):388-94.

Melnick RL et al, Chronic effects of agar, guar gum, gum arabic, locust-bean gum, or tara gum
in F344 rats and B6C3F1 mice, Food Chem Toxicol. 1983 Jun;21(3):305-11.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Firewood Racks

After a Memorial Day of wood chopping we needed somewhere to put up all the wood to dry and be stored for this fall/winter when we are going to need it to heat the house. So Family Day became a trip to Home Depot and building of firewood racks. This project is incredibly simple and I dare say that I could have done it myself. One person can easily take the project on by themselves with the help of a lovely assistant to support and carry large objects only a couple of times.

Our racks were constructed to fit just about a full chord of wood. A full chord is 128 cubic feet. This basically means the length, height, and width of your rack needs to multiply together to make 128. We used the dimensions of our covered back patio to figure out how big we wanted to make our racks, and they fit just under a full chord of wood. (It will take about one and a third racks to equal a full chord.) However, we have a smaller rack which was previous made by Jules to accommodate the extra.

We did not use pressure treated wood because we designed the racks to fit under our patio which is covered and doesn't receive much of any rain. If the racks are going to be exposed to any elements or merely covered with a tarp, pressure treated wood is a must. This will increase your initial costs by maybe $15, but will mean you don't have to replace your rack year after year.

2 2x6x10 boards
2 2x4x10 boards
6 2x4x8 boards
1 box of 3 inch wood screws
Total Cost 26.50

Power drill with Phillips head bit and pilot hole bit
Miter saw (or a protractor and a pencil)
Power saw
measuring tape

None of these tools is absolutely necessary, all can be improvised or used with manual power, but these tools make it so much quicker and so much easier. More power to anyone who would do this without the above tools. You are significantly more simplistic that we are and that is awesome.

First we constructed our base. Cut 6 sections of 2x4 (use the eight footers), each 15 inches long. Create a rectangle using 2 of the 15inch sections on each end and the 2x6 boards for the sides. The other four sections of 2x4 you will be using in a minute.
Cut 3 sections of 2x4 (again the eight footers), each 11 1/2 inches long. Drill these sections spanning the middle of the rectangle to create support. Place them at even intervals (you just need to eye ball it) and put at least 2 screws in each side since all of the weight is going to be resting on them. These supports keep the base from bowing out.

Now you will be using the other three 15 inch sections you initially cut. The firewood needs to be stilted up off the ground so that air can circulate around it. This not only prevents bugs, but it also helps the wood dry out so that it will burn significantly better and not mildew. Starting at each end, screw a 2x4 section down flat against the outside beams. The last two sections can be placed evenly across the rest of the base. When you turn the base over, you now have feet for your stand to rest off the ground.

With the base now complete, it is time to construct the top and arms of the rack. Set the base aside and prepare some ample space to lay out the rest of the rack. Cut 4 sections of 2x4 (again the eight footers) each 6 feet long. These will be the arms of the rack. Save the left over two foot sections as they will become support beams.

We laid out each arm separately, and then fastened the arms to the base one at a time. Mainly this was due to just how large and difficult to move both arms would be attached together. Screw one of the 6 foot sections you just cut onto the end of one 2x4x10 inch board. Screw the other 6 foot section to the other end of the 2x4x10 making a very large U shape. With the aide of a lovely assistant, carry the U shaped arm out to the base and attach it to the inside corners of one side. Notice that the top 2x4x10 is facing out and the beams were screwed on the inside of the base. This alternating provides more stability for the structure.Repeat this process for the second arm, using the other six foot sections and the last 2x4x10. At this point the rack is almost done.

The only things left to do are to support the side arms so that they don't begin to bow out with all the weight of the stacked wood. To do this use the scraps of wood leftover from cutting the arms. Turn each remaining 2 foot section into two 11 1/2 inch sections. You should have four 11 1/2 inch boards. Lay the rack on its side (some help from the lovely assistant is useful here due to how rickety the whole thing is at this point) and drill one section at the very top joining the two arms together and one halfway down the arms.
Lastly, construct the rest of the side supports. Move your miter saw (or protractor and pencil) to a 45 degree angle. Using the last 2x4x8 create four boards which measure 21 1/2 inches on their longest side and 15 1/2 inches on their shortest. Both ends should be 45 degree angles facing the opposite way. They should look like trapezoids. The exact length of the board is not important, but the angles are. The board is going to fit between the base corners and the side arms to help them from bowing out. As long as both angles are 45 degrees, and they alternate in direction, you can slide the board into place regardless of its exact length.

When all four board are cut, place them directly opposite from the corner created by the base and the side arm. This should create a right triangle. (Flash back to sophomore geometry!)

You are done! There is your constructed firewood rack. It is heavy, but not too bulky now for two people to carry together. With the base being only 15 inches across, it allows for 18 inch logs and split wood to be stacked nicely. This should fit into the average wood stove or fireplace. We measured the door to our fireplace insert first (just in case) and I'd recommend doing the same to anyone before they begin the process. It might mean tweaking the base measurements. The rest will stay roughly the same.

With racks built we ventured into our local National Forest and came home victorious with truckloads of split firewood. The Spicy Barracuda gladly helped me stack it; growing in excitement as he watched the stack get bigger and bigger and the rack get fuller and fuller.

Now we have almost an entire rack of wood ready and waiting for the winter. Not only is there a significant feeling of accomplishment (and great exercise) when you are chopping the wood, but stacking it all up adds a finality to the whole process. You can sit back and view your work in a concrete product as well as knowing you are securely warm without aide of the Natural Gas company.All in all the entire experience was great fun! We are going back out in three weeks and plan to put together the last of the firewood racks this weekend. I'm very glad to know that The Barracuda has an appreciation of the work involved and can actively participate in the stacking. He has gotten so strong! We are very proud of him! I will say though, the success of the endeavor was mostlikely due to the expert supervision of Guadalupe.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Canned Banana?

When the idea of getting a canner really looked like it was going to happen, we sat down and made a list of all the things we wanted to can so that we could get an idea of how much space would be necessary and what all we would need to acquire for the canning. One of the things on that list was bananas. So I hit the internet and began looking for how you go about canning bananas. There is very little out there. In fact there was so little that I had to call my local agricultural extension to ask questions about why different agricultural extensions claimed different things. According to the lady who called me back, the funding for testing the canning of bananas isn't as important and spending the funding to can something more "normal." As such different university extension programs might have different ideas about the safest way to can the product. Well, that made some sense. She referred me to the University of Georgia. This is apparently the mecca for anyone interested in home preservation.

As far as I now know, there are two ways to can bananas: puree and chunked. The only thing that everyone seemed to agree with is that you cannot process bananas with water bath canning. A pressure cooker is necessary because they have virtually no acidity.

The University of Minnesota recommends cubing and canning just like you would pumpkin. This is due to their belief that straight pureed banana is too thick to insure the center of the jar has reached the appropriate temperature. So you cut it into one inch chunks, boil it in water for 2 minutes and place into cans covered in the cooking liquid. Provide 1 inch of head space and process for 55 minutes at 11 PSI.

I went with the Univeristy of Georgia's recommendations for fruit puree. Fruit puree was chosen mainly because I am only canning the bananas to use in banana bread. This way, if the processing isn't 100 percent effective I am then going to recook the bananas in the bread at 350 degrees for quite some time. Also if the bananas are already pureed it saves a step later. Due to the amount of discrepancy I wouldn't use this canned banana in baby food or another product you would eat raw right out of the can like, say, applesauce.

Lastly, there are some things that this version of fruit puree won't work for. As stated on the UGA canning website:

Important: These recommendations should not be used with figs, tomatoes, cantaloupe and other melons, papaya, ripe mango or coconut. There are no home canning recommendations available for purees of these products.

After all that, I was feeling fairly confident of the process necessary to can the bananas. Now I just needed to acquire them. Though we don't get a lot of our groceries from Save-A-Lot, they consistently have the lowest price on certain items. Bananas at .33 cents a pound is one of those things. Even more amazing, they sell their bruised or over-ripe bananas for .19 cents a pound! Twenty pounds of bananas later, I was headed home for a day of pureeing.

To make fruit puree for canning, you don't just mash up the fruit. That makes a substance which is way too gooey and dense. Secondly, you cannot water bath can bananas, so you have to have a pressure canner. Lastly, it also helps if you have a compost bin. After peeling that many bananas, I had quite a mound of waste which gladly filled up the compost bin with much helpful potassium!
Now that they were peeled, I broke the bananas into pieces and placed them in a medium sized stock pot along with the designated amount of water. This water is used to not only help in softening the fruit, but also to keep the sugar within it from burning to the bottom. For each quart of fruit, add 1 cup of water. I overshot this when I guesstimated and added eight cups (it should have been 6). It worked out fine, only I had quite a bit of runny banana glop left over when I strained the bananas out. Place the bananas on the stove and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently. I will warn you, the smell of cooking bananas is kinda nauseating. I don't know what there is about it, but definitely not a cozy, warm banana bread smell that I was hoping for. I decided to open up all the windows and doors hoping to flush it out as fast as possible. When the fruit starts to soften up and get all smudgy you can start to chop up any of the larger peices with a slotted spoon to speed the process or just wait another five minutes or so for it to all fall apart by itself. Using a slotted spoon I scooped the mushy banana goo out and into pint jars. Some people may opt to processe the goo in a blender, food mill, or food processer to make it nice and smooth. Twenty pounds (actually, I think it was 21 pounds) filled a dozen pint jars almost exactly. After filling I used a butter knife to remove bubbles, wiped the rims and placed them into the canner. Process for eight minutes at six PSI.

One odd thing I will let you know is that bananas turn pink when they are canned. I have no idea why, but almost thirty pints of bananas later, they are all pink. The first batch were canned in apple juice instead of water and I figured that was why. The second round were canned in just plain old tap water and they are just as pink. It honestly kinda creeps me out! But, when I think back to The Spicy Barracudas baby food, most all the banana items were an odd sort of off-pink color. So many canned banana questions, so little time!

In reality it took much, much longer just to find out how I was supposed to can the bananas than it did to actually do the canning. I find this rather ironic, and a little silly. By the end of the whole research process it was no longer about just canning bananas for me. It became necessary for my stubborn self to know just why on earth this had to be so complicated! The results were well worth it, however, when there is chocolate banana bread on the line. With the thirty pints we now have an entire years worth of bananas and all for under 15 dollars!

Chocolate Banana Bread

1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup sugar
2 large (3 medium) eggs
1 pint mashed banana (2 cups)
2/3 cup Dutch process unsweetened cocoa
1 Tblspoon baking powder
1 cup chopped pecans

Grease muffin tins and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cream butter, sugar, eggs, and banana till combined. In a separate bowl whisk together flour, baking powder, and cocoa. Add the flour mixture to the banana goo in thirds, mixing thoroughly in between each addition. Fold in pecans. Bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes. To make as bread, bake in 9x5 loaf pan for 60-75 minutes.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Memorial Day

Memorial Day weekend is traditionally a family holiday filled with the excited acknowledgment summer is coming. In our household, Memorial Day is a bit different. Memorial Day means that Jules does not have to teach school and if I can get the evening off, we have childcare. These two things combined with the nicer weather our area experiences in May mean that firewood season is upon us. So Memorial Day is spent with Jules and I purchasing 12 bottles of beer, sharpening our axes, and driving the two trucks (Jules' and my family's Old Beater) up into the remote areas of our local National Forest. With the two trucks we figure we can get a chord and a half each time and minimize the number of total trips. Around here the permit is $20 and allows for four chords of wood (the general consensus among all for one year of house heating). Technically the season ends in November, but I don't know who on Earth could get their vehicle up there, or once there could get through the snow to down the trees. However, the trees are all tagged and the wood is first come, first served so this is a moot point because once 85-90% of the tagged wood (and they do check) has been cut the season is closed.

With the idea of killing our Natural Gas bill this next year, we're getting ready to heat the house with only our fireplace. This means not only stocking up on wood, but also building the racks for the wood to dry and honing our skills to be able to chop enough without putting ourselves in permanent chiropractic care. So a chainsaw has been purchased, firewood racks have been built, and the overgrown vegetation of our backyard is becoming kindling.

Directly behind our backyard is a The Neighbor Who Does Not Care. I cannot blame him too much as we think he is renting the house. He does keep the lawn moved and junk from piling up, but the trees between our fence and his house are so awfully overgrown. Much discussion has gone down amongst the neighbors that the overgrown vegetation must be taken care of. However, very little has really been done. Yesteday, Jules had had it. The next thing The Barracuda and I know, Jules is standing on the fence hacking away.

Even though this first time we go into the forest The Barracuda will be hanging out with Uncle Flint and Grampa, he is not absolved of work. One of the most important things Jules and I wish to impart on our son is the realization that nothing can be taken for granted. If you aren't working for it now, you will be paying for it later. At 4.5 he has daily and weekly chores, saves his allowance, and has rolls in the garden and water harvesting. Firewood is another household job which he is to have a part in.

Currently, The Barracuda is in charge of kindling and stacking. He uses his tomahawk to strip branches and chop them into stackable kindling. This is a skill in the making, but he is doing remarkably well. His adz swinging in The Hole has really help strengthen his arms and gain controlled hand-eye coordination.

(Yes, his hair is green. His screaming blue mohawk has faded into a shaggy green mohawk.)

More than just learning a good skill, he has to chop firewood with both Jules and I all together as a family. If we are all going to use the heat, we are all going to participate in acquiring it. It is much harder to carelessly burn more wood than necessary if it is has taken hours of work to chop and stack it. Likewise, it is much harder to senselessly log our forests if you use the resource for heating your home and have had to watch a majestic tree fall. An appreciation for working and the earth needs to be fostered young and that is what we are trying to do. Whether it is taking the larger split pieces or his own personal kindling, he definitely feels part of the process and pride of ownership in our household. Much like cleaning his room everyday and helping us harvest water, firewood is becoming a very normal part of his daily life. As Jules jokes, "The family that slays together (trees that is), stays together."

To some the idea of chopping wood during the summer and beginning axe handling at four and a half might be a bit early. But the more I watch our family simplify, the more I realize how much our life was far more out of whack before all this. We now change with the seasons in the same way the earth does. Our food, our chores, our lives, all shift together rather than maintaining this homoginized feel of droning on. It makes things like chopping kindling in the backyard an enjoyable, smiling event because we do it only time a year. The summer is the only real time for us to go cut due to Jules being off of school and the snow line being low enough, so in a way we are celebrating the are ushering in of summer much like everyone else. We are merely doing it by preparing for the late fall. This seems to be the theme of simplicity: Plan ahead and work hard together so that the small joys in life can be shared and appreciated by all.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Tom Sawyer Update

Uh, no. Tom Sawyer is a complete dismal failure. He could care less about Tom Sawyer, any of Tom's adventures, and has difficulty understanding much of the older language due to the style the book is written in. So back on the shelf you go, Tom. I'm sure in another year or so Tom Sawyer will be quite a welcomed bosom buddy, as for now, The Barracuda has chosen Charlotte's Web by E.B. White. Talking animals are much more the speed of what The Spicy Barracuda is interested in right now and (in his words) he's "seen the movie." Oh goodness, movies over books this young? His English teachers are going to have their hands full when he is in high school!

Friday, May 15, 2009

To Can or Not To Can

Canning, Canning, Canning, Keep on Pressure Canning, Rawhide! My grandmother canned like the Apocalypse was coming. (Indeed in her depression era mind, it probably was.) Even when she died there were at least another four years of peaches, pears, applesauce, and Lord knows what else in their basement. I'm not planning on going that far, but I have realized the immense amount a pressure canner can take off our monthly food bill.

My tax return became a pressure canner which meant that my kitchen became very, very sticky. A pressure canner is an amazing household appliance, but not one to jump into lightly. There is much more than meets the eye with a pressure canner. I did not know this.

The upfront is about $100 for a middle of the road canner. It is all the average household needs. Ours is a Presto, 23 quart canner and will be more than enough for anything we could ever need. The jars are about $10 dollars a dozen, and can be reused forever. The hidden secret is that it is A LOT of work. If you really mean to use it, you are going to be spending much time in the kitchen and much time cleaning. Then you will be spending much time figuring out where to put all the cans you have now created because they are too heavy for most shelving.

On the plus side, your food will taste much better than anything which comes from a store can; you will know what is in your food causing your sodium, high fructose corn syrup, modified food starch, and trans fat ingestion will diminish greatly; and you will save a significant amount of money if you plan your canning with the seasons and sales.

Canning chicken stock was a bit of a whim when local, never frozen, all natural chicken went on sale for .99 cents a pound. Our freezer is very small as our fridge is a 1950's avocado green Westinghouse. We've never had a lot of room to keep foods frozen and always just bought as we go. Though a chest freezer has been discussed, the energy to keep it running would basically negate any savings; let along where would we put it? This has meant the single largest food cost we have is meat for dinner.

Though chicken stock has been something I've made and frozen in smaller batches, large scale stockpiling has been out of the question. We now have 21 quarts, nicely labeled and put up. This will last us a nice long time and whittled away at least 30 dollars from a few months of our food bill. Even better, it was so easy.

Unfortunately, water bath canning can't work for meat so a pressure canner is necessary. Fortunately, many years ago canning was a standard in the household so if you ask around your grandmother, aunt, mother-in-law (etc.) might still have one laying around in the garage or basement. They last forever and with a replaced sealing ring (only about 10 dollars) can be reused over and over. So, ask around, it may not be as out of reach as you might think.

All you do to can chicken stock is prepare the stock normally and pour into the jars. I used quart jars as they just seemed more reasonable for a family dinner. I strained the stock and put the chicken into the jars first, then pouring the hot liquid over the top. Leave 1 and 1/4 inch head room at the top. Since it is a liquid, you don't need to worry much about bubbles being stuck inside. Glance at the jars, give them a little shake, and call it good. Also with pressure canning, the sterilization of the jars isn't as important. If they have been kept somewhere gross like an old attic, garage, or something it probably is, or if you have just purchased them from the store and not washed them, but clean shelved jars can be filled and placed in the canner without the added heating step. This is because you are pressure canning them and the inside of the container is going to get excessively (read explosively) hot. Trust me, they will sterilize themselves! If you still wish to be extra careful, go right ahead, but unlike water bath canning it isn't a complete necessity.

So the jars are filled, now you need to wipe off the rim of the jars so that you can insure a proper seal. The only thing keeping bacteria out and goodness in is the fact the jars are sealed air tight. Broken seal equals nasty insides. Yuck! Due to the fact that chicken stock is greasy, use a bit of white vinegar on a rag to wipe down the rims. This will cut the grease and be completely harmless. Place the lids, screw on the rings and fill up your canner!

They need to be processed for 25 minutes and 11 pounds of pressure. Be very careful that the pressure valve has fallen before you open up the canner, and that you lift the lid away from you as there will probably be some steam inside. Remove the jars with either tongs or a ovenmit and set them aside to cool for at least 12 hours.

Now you have chicken stock which will last for years (usually around 3-5 at the longest) without the need of a refridgerator, freezer, or much of anything! We use ours for burrito filling, enchiladas, soup, casserole, and pot pies. Just about anything that contains shredded chicken can be made from the stock at a fraction of the cost.

If stock isn't something your family would use much, you can also can just the chicken. When the sale continued an extra week, I went to purchase 2 more packages of chicken to be cubed up and canned by itself. This is even simpler than the chicken stock as all you have to do is boil the chicken till it is mostly cooked, yet still slightly pink. Cube it up and pack it tightly into pint jars. Then pour the chicken water over the top till you have 1 and 1/4 inch of head space. Pressure can for 75 at 11 pounds of pressure. One pint contains 1 and a half chicken breasts.

Though I used to be a coupon clipper, I've realized once you start buying most of your food in bulk and making it from scratch, coupons don't really cover that. What they do help with is canning food. Now by looking at what is on sale, I can go buy a couple dozen cans, hit the grocery store and spend a couple days in the kitchen. This will allow the coupons and sales to last much longer and save us significantly more! All together 17 dollars worth of chicken yeilded 21 quarts of chicken stock and 6 pints of chicken. This was well worth two days of canning!

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


With the onset of allergy season and Jules attempting to quit his long seated tobacco habit, headaches are becoming more frequent in our household. Jules is a strong believer in Advil. However, I react very strongly to drugs (over the counter or otherwise) which has resulted in NO MORPHINE permanently written into my hospital file along with one heck of an embarrassing story for my parents to tell over and over again. It has also caused quite a look into alternatives in medicine.

As such, Feverfew tea is my chosen remedy for headaches. Feverfew is a herb so named because it has long been used to treat or relieve fevers, inflammation in joints and arthritis, and headaches. It contains vitamins A, C, niacin, and Iron and is also believed to increase appetite and cure asthma.

You can make a tea out of it by combining 1 Tablespoon of the herb with 1 cup of boiling water. Steep for about 10 minutes and drink. I mix it with some honey so that it doesn't taste nearly as sharp with the added sweetener.

If you wish to use Feverfew to cure migranes it will need to be consumed in one cup increments daily for about 4-6 weeks. This may sound tedieous, but as a teenage migrane sufferer I understand the debilitating effects of such ailments and it is worth the effort! Medical science has shown a dramatic effect in feverfew versus plecebo when studied for migranes. So, if you want to attempt to get off the prescriptions (or if the prescriptions don't work for you), I'd give it a try. You can eat and or chew on a the fresh leaves a few times a day to lessen the frequency and severity of headaches, also.

Information acquired from

Unlike Horehound, Feverfew is actually pretty and can be grown in the home garden. It is a cold hardy, terrible soil loving plant that is hard to kill and loves to be left alone.

So far I've converted Jules to Horehound, now I just have to work my VooDoo medicine (as he calls it) on the Feverfew!

Saturday, May 09, 2009

In The Morning, I'm Makin' Waffles!

Somewhere at one of the many grandparent's houses, The Barracuda got the idea of waffles. He has been on a mission ever since to have these tasty treats for breakfast, dinner, snacks and any other time he can find a way to squeeze in the suggestion, "We could have waffles..."

With the recent addition of buttermilk to our household, waffles weren't too far off. The only hold out had been the waffle maker. I used this excuse time and again as the reason that waffles hadn't made their appearance. After all, if someone had invented Bisquick then waffles had to be just plain tiresome to make from scratch. I don't know if the previous waffles were Eggo's or not, but in our house we mix our waffles.

Ever resourceful, The Barracuda visited my father's house as per usual and happened to find the old household waffle maker in the pantry. This would have been no issue before, but since the advent of reading there isn't much that passes The Barracuda by. So he asked, "Grandpa, can we borrow your waffle maker?" To which my father looked both sad and baffled, he didn't think he owned one. As you can see, the waffle maker got lots of use over at his house. It turns out this waffle maker was a hold out from the divorce and had been sitting in the pantry ever since being unpacked. The Barracuda, prompt as ever, went scurrying off to procure his new found treasure and prove its existence. Now our household has a waffle maker. Blast the ever resourceful child!

Waffles have now made a very fond entrance into our breakfast lives. Where once there was no breakfast at all, only coffee, there are now meals spent together. On Saturday and Sunday mornings we now sit together and eat a breakfast of pancakes or waffles. Jules and I are all about the pancakes, The Barracuda wants the waffles, so we compromise.

One batch of waffles makes six large waffles. There is no way, even with Jules gorging himself, that our family can eat 6 large waffles. The extras are saved in a Ziploc baggy for the rest of the weeks' mornings before work and school. This way I don't have to get up unrealistically early to make waffles, then do the dishes. (If that were the case there would be no waffles.)

Surprisingly, waffles are crazy simple! I don't know what Mr. Bisquick was thinking inventing an entirely new product to make something so very, very simple. Isn't there cancer to cure? All that it takes are two eggs, some flour, a little baking powder, and milk. So here is our families version of waffles:

2 eggs, separated
2 cups of flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 cups of buttermilk
3 Tblespns honey
1/8 teaspoon Allspice
1/4 teaspoon Cardamon

3-4 Tblspns of butter (I just scoop some out of the jar)

You are going to need three bowls (don't worry, two wash really really easily) and a whisk. Separate the eggs into two of the bowls. Whisk the egg whites till they form stiff peaks - this is definitely the hardest part. Set aside the egg whites and add the buttermilk, honey, Allspice, and Cardamon to the egg yolks. Whisk them all together and set aside. In the third bowl, whisk together the flour and baking powder. In our family we don't really use salt, but if yours does add a 1/2 teaspoon of salt into the flour mixture.

Make a well in the flour and pour in the egg yolk goo by thirds. Mixing thoroughly between pours. Melt the butter and pour into the egg yolk goo, mix thoroughly. Fold in the egg whites and you're done!

The entire process takes about 10 minutes or less! Waffles make a great breakfast, and easy brunch, a quick dinner, and just about everyone likes them. Not only this, but with summer here the fruit you can put on top of them has just multiplied significantly. The best part of the homemade waffles - other than eating them - is that everyone thinks they are super difficult, just like I used to! You can be super mom with little effort at all and no one would no! You could even surprise mom tomorrow with a batch of them and she would think you went to enormous amounts of trouble. A great Mother's Day present for very little cost and not much effort, but lot's of love.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Applesauce Granola Muffins

The last batch of granola bars weren't exactly delicious. In fact they were disturbingly sweet, far too gooey to form bars, and got your hands sticky and gross. It appears I was distracted when counting 1/2 cups of honey and added one too many. Bleck! Needless to say, they sat in the pantry for quite a bit and weren't going to be eaten any time soon. If this happens at your house as well, do not fret. The entire process of creating your own family recipes is a learning curve with many detours into food that is less than edible. This does not mean it needs to be thrown away. It can be recreated into something quite tasty and no one has to know that it was orignially an utter disaster. I won't tell if you don't.

In our household when life gives you icky granola bars, you make applesauce granola muffins.

2 cups whole wheat flour
1 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 cup vegetable oil of choice
1 egg
1 1/2 cup applesauce
1/2 batch of failed granola bars

(There is no sugar in this recipe as the issues we seem to have always involve them being too sweet, you may have to add 1/2 cup of sugar and subtract something else to meet your individual needs)

Cream oil, egg, and applesauce together. Whisk together all dry ingredients. Combine oil, sugar, egg and applesauce in another and mix well. Break granola bars into quarter sized chunks of granola. Add dry ingredients to wet and stir until combined. Fold in the granola in until all combined into batter. Bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes. Remember to grease your muffin tins or your loaf pan. If you are making bread, you will need to bake for about 50-60 minutes. Yields 1 dozen large muffins.

These work really well as a snack and also as a quick breakfast on the go. Since I've started sending Jules to work with breakfast, he feels significantly more awake and hopefully will be less likely to crave tobacco (he's trying to quit) on the way to work. They also make great give aways. My father and his "lady friend", as he calls her, devoured quite a few!

Monday, May 04, 2009

Trans Fats and Butter. YAY BUTTER!

Trans fats come from vegetable oil which has been hydrogenated, converting unsaturated fatty acids to saturated ones. In processed foods, trans fats replaced solid fats (like butter and vegetable oil) because they are cheaper and preserve foods better. Trans fats however, have unwanted side effects when consumed. They lower the "good" cholesterol and increase the "bad". This switch causes insulin resistance elevating the risk of Type 2 diabetes and contributes to coronary heart disease. In 1999 Harvard researchers estimated that 100,000 deaths annually could be prevented by reducing the consumption of trans-fats. So where are these harmful food additives? All over everywhere! The top offenders are boxed mixes such as cake and brownie mixes, Bisquick, cornbread mix; spreads like shortening, margarine, and butter substitutes; and powdered soup mixes.

The FDA required trans fats to be put onto food labels in January 2006, but a food can be labeled zero trans fats if it contains less than .5 grams of trans fat per serving. So be careful, because this labeling can be deceiving. By eliminating problem products our family has eliminated many of the harmful trans fats from our diet.

When we first started converting our food, we used margarine and Jiffy cornbread mix. They were cheap, good, and worked well. I am now finding out, however, that cheaper isn't always better. So we are now switching over to making our own butter and rendering buttermilk.

Finding diary products cheap enough to be able to justify the switch caused a bit of a problem. However, if you combine the price of buttermilk and the price of a pound of butter, you probably will break about even. In our household buttermilk is a complete frivolity, so breaking even here just wouldn't do. It took some sleuthing, but by using Cash & Carry (a restaurant supply company which allows the public) we were able to purchase whipping cream from a local, farmer owned dairy for less than it would cost to purchase a pound of butter. Not only that, but we can render the buttermilk as well which saved us even more! Score!

Homemade butter is about the simplest thing possible to make. Everyone thinks of a farm lady from the early 1900's with her churn struggling away, but all I used was my mixer. I will say, though, without a mixer, you are gonna need one hell of a bicep! Butter is basically whipping cream which has been over whipped. Due to only being able to purchase ultra-pasturized whipping cream, the process took about 30 minutes total. Here is the run down:

Pour the whipping cream into a bowl and begin to whip it. I used the whisk attachment, and medium speed. After about 15 minutes I had whipped cream.

Depending on your mixer, you may want to let it rest in between the transitions. I stopped and scrapped down the sides before mixing again for10 minutes till the whipped cream started to turn yellow and tasted like butter.

At this point I draped a towel over the top and turned the mixer onto turbo crazy high. After another 10 minutes on uber-high the butter began to break away creating a yellow, clumpy, dripping mixture.

I scrapped down the sides again and began mixing on high once more. At this point it is almost butter so you really need to watch it. In three minutes, the sloshing of the buttermilk could be heard and there was butter!Now, it is hard to accurately quantify how excited I was at this. Alright, I admit it.

I'm a nerd.

Being a nerd, I was also excited to have discovered the awesomest kitchen tool. When I am making butter, I call it my butter squisher (it has other names when I am doing other things with it). In reality I think it is supposed to be used with spaghetti some how, but around here it is a butter squisher, canning strainer, chicken stock divider, and lots of other great stuff.

By making butter, you are essentially separating the fats (the butter) from the liquid (the buttermilk) within the cream from the cow/goat/sheep/other dairy animal. So when it becomes butter, you have the clumpy yellow butter in the bowl sitting in the buttermilk. You need to squish as much buttermilk as you can out of the butter. Enter the butter squisher!

Press the butter to the side of the mixing bowl, clumping it all together into a mass and squeezing out the buttermilk as much as possible.

Once the butter is together in a mass, lift it out of the bowl, wrap the butter in a couple layers of paper towel and physically squeeze it as much as you can with your hands to remove any other excess buttermilk. This not only presses the butter into a ball, but gets a lot of the left over moisture out.
Pour the buttermilk out of the mixing bowl into a jar, bowl, or some other receptacle for later use. (It is amazing in mashed potatoes, pancakes, waffles, biscuits, gravy, muffins, just about anything other than drink. Remember, it is also pasteurized as long as the original whipping cream was pasteurized so no worries there.) You should get about a pint. Every quart of cream is different so it goes up and down a bit, but average of a pint.

Now place the butter ball back into the mixer, and switch attachments to the bread hook. Add a small amount of cold water (about 8 ounces) and beat the butter around again to chop it all up. Essentially you are rinsing all of the last of the buttermilk out.

After a minute of so (when the water looks as though it isn't getting any murkier) smush the butter together into a ball with your hands, wrap it in a couple of layers of paper towel, and squeeze all the water out. You now have butter! One quart of whipping cream yields about a pint of buttermilk and a pint of butter (about a pound). Both last as long as the store varieties when kept in the refrigerator.
The creating of our own dairy products is a new beginning in our household and a definite sign that we aren't turning back from our voluntary simplicity. In fact, as we venture further, the transition back seems even crazier than moving forward.