Saturday, December 29, 2012

Wrapping Up 2012: The Year's Most Popular Parsimonious Posts

Crazy how fast time goes by, isn't it?

Like all years, it's been a pretty eventful one for our family. The kids are growing like crazy; Max started kindergarten and my baby is nearly two years old. I feel so ambivalent about growing kids -- I love them at the age they are and want them to be little forever, but it's so much fun to see them grow, too. Thank goodness they both get even better with age. My super-talented husband has been really busy with his full-time job at Disney Interactive, as well as with his freelance work. It's been stressful at times but also a blessing -- this year we saved up enough money to buy a second car (a very basic but nice little commuter car for my hubs), to do some home renovations (we redid all the floors on the main level of our home and painted our cabinets), and we're almost debt-free (just a couple thousand left on our car -- yay!). I also turned the big 3-0 this year (which wasn't so bad, especially since we softened the blow with a trip to Disneyland).

The year was also full of frugal and homestead-y firsts:  I finally got the backyard chickens I'd been wanting for years, Kevin and I (and my parents) started our beekeeping endeavor (no honey for us this year, thanks to super-dry conditions, but we're optimistic about 2013 honey harvest), and we had our first yard sale. I also grew zucchini for the first time in my garden, started my own tomatoes from seed for the first time, and I even bought my first can of beer this year (to kill snails in my garden, of course). I wonder what we'll try next year...

Anyway, I thought I'd do what I did on here a year ago and look back to see which posts were the most popular (according to page-views) and compile a list of the top ten. I find it odd/interesting/amusing that a third of the posts in my top-ten list deal with poo. Go figure.

So, without further ado, here are the top 10 posts from 2012 on The Parsimonious Princess...

10.  Adventures in Cloth Diapering: The Post about Stripping

Like I wrote in the post, the title isn't even close to as scandalous as it may sound. After a while, some types of cloth diapers get minerals, oil, and detergent built up on them making them really stinky (we battled serious ammonia odors before I stripped our diapers) and less absorbent. This year, I stripped our cloth diapers for the first time. This post covers what worked and what didn't, plus some other info about build-up and how you can avoid having to strip cloth diapers as often.

9.  Abbey's Award-Winning Zucchini Cake

Make this cake. Hopefully you have some shredded zucchini in the freezer because this cake is awesome (just like my friend, Abbey).

8.  How I Reuse Dryer Lint for Camping, Emergency Preparedness, and Beekeeping

Yes, I found a reuse for dryer lint. Lint is notoriously flammable, so why not use that flammability to your advantage and make fire-starters? An update since I wrote the post: after my first season of beekeeping, I highly recommend using these fire-starters in your smoker. The fire-starters burn for a while and produce a nice, cool white smoke.  There have been a couple times when I didn't have a lint fire-starter and it was much harder to keep the smoker lit (and even when it was lit, it didn't last nearly as long as it did with the fire-starter in it). So, yeah, yay for dryer lint!

7.  Recipe for Relief: Homemade Teething Biscuits

So easy to make. Your little one will love gnawing on them.

6.  In the Backyard: My Milk Jug Mini-Greenhouses and How Empty Milk Jugs Changed My Garden

I put both of these posts in the #6 slot because they were in the top ten but basically about the same thing -- why have them take up two slots? That said, this is one my favorite things I tried in 2012. I'm still amazed that it worked and I actually started my own tomatoes from seed this year -- it was so easy! I'm going to start saving my empty milk jugs again pretty soon!

5.  Adventures in Cloth Diapering: The Post about Poop

Yep, I wrote a whole post about babies and poopy diapers. Apparently people wanted to know about it. It makes sense -- whenever people find out that I cloth diaper my baby, I can tell they want to ask about how I deal with the stinkier side of it all. This post has just about everything you need to know on the subject.

4.  How We Made Our Chickens' Water Poop-Free

It's been so much fun having chickens and collecting their eggs (I still get a little excited when I see eggs in the nesting box). What was not so fun about keeping chickens? Constantly changing disgusting, poopy water. Enter the 'chipple' (as the husband and I call it).  Problem solved.

3.  Ants Hate Cinnamon

They do. They really do.

2. Clothesline 101: How to Get Softer Line-Dried Clothes

Who would have thought that a tip my lovely grandmother gave my mom back in the 1980s would become one of my popular posts on the blog?

1.  Sudsy Savings: Two Homemade Hand Soaps

This post and the one in the #2 slot are so close -- it's almost a tie -- but the homemade hand soap eked out a win. I love that it's popular because homemade hand soap is so easy to make and so, so cheap.  We've been using homemade hand soap all year and will continue to in the next. If you're not already making your own hand soap, give it a try for 2013!

{Although it's not a post from 2012, I have to mention the little post that could: the post about making an emergency heater  from rubbing alcohol, toilet paper, and new paint can. Babble first featured it on a post about DIYs for the zombie apocalypse and then it went a little nuts on Pinterest. It's gotten tens of thousands page-views in just a couple months. I'm still amazed.}

Thank you so much for reading my blog. I hope it has helped your life in some way. I have fun writing it. I enjoy taking tons pictures of kids, animals, and inanimate objects for it. It keeps me focused on my money-saving goals because I feel a sort of accountability to you all. Plus, trying all the new things I do (partly doing them with the intent to share the results with you) keeps all this homemaking and child-raising fresh and fun for me. I'm not perfect at it -- not even close -- but at least it's interesting.

Best wishes for you and your family in 2013!

{This post is linked up to Your Green Resource, Simple Lives Thursday, and Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways.}

Friday, December 21, 2012

My Favorite Cookbooks of 2012

First, let me state for the record that I realize I've been a slacker on this blog this month. I apologize, faithful readers. It's for a bunch of reasons -- lack of time, spending any free-time knitting gifts (or a hat for my son's Who costume for the kindergarten Grinch play), and simply enjoying the Christmas season with my family (we're making gingerbread cookies today). Honestly, it's been nice to take a break. Plus, taking a break has gotten me even more excited about this blog and its possibilities.

Okay. Excuses made. On to the post!

Anyone who has read this blog for a while knows of my love for cookbooks. I read them like novels. I love the pretty pictures. I love the possibilities. Lucky for me, 2012 has been a great year for cookbooks. I know I'm missing a few from my list (hopefully, I've either got this one or this one wrapped and under our Christmas tree right now) and I'm sure there are some out there I haven't even heard of (clue me in, please!), but I feel pretty good about this list.

That said, I meant to write this about my favorite cookbooks post sooner in case you wanted gift ideas, but...well...the excuses were made in the first paragraph. I guess you could still order one of these cookbooks (today is the last day for two-day shipping on Amazon for before-Christmas delivery) or you could hop over to a local bookstore (if you feel brave enough -- having worked retail for a few Christmas seasons, I know full well what shoppers face this close to Christmas).  Or, maybe you'll get a gift card for Christmas and you can pick one of these up after the holiday.

In no particular order (except for the last one which will be my #1 favorite of the year), here are my five favorite cookbooks of 2012.

5.  An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler
I'm cheating a little on this one because only the paperback version of this book came out this year (it was initially released in  hardcover last year), but I had to include it. I loved this book. It's not a traditional sort of cookbook --  no pictures, mostly prose with recipes thrown in here and there. But let me tell you, this book made the way I regard eating and cooking food so much more mindful. There's a thoughtfulness, a grace to the way she writes about the simplest things. At one point, she had me excited to boil a pot of water. Awesome. (For more on the book, you can read a full review I wrote a few months back here.)

4. The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Food from my Frontier by Ree Drummond
I love PW.  I love her blog. I feel like I know her. I think if I saw her at the grocery store, I'd forget that she has no idea who I am, and start chatting with her about her family and the ranch like I'm a close friend. I absolutely loved her first cookbook - I've used it so often that the spine is broken, the pages are wavy and splattered, and some pages are starting to fall out. Everything I've made from that book has rocked (well, except the prune cake. Not my cup of tea, but I did try it). I say all that because I was chomping at the bit to get her newest cookbook this year. When I got it, I was so thrilled that it was thicker and had more recipes. So many options -- it even had a canning section (albeit, a really small canning section, but still!).  I have to come clean and say that I don't love it as much the first, but it is a great cookbook. Nothing complicated.  Lots of variety, something to please everyone.

3. Food in Jars: Preserving in Small Batches Year-Round by Marisa McClellan
I love canning and I really like this book. No matter if you're a novice canner or if you've been canning for thirty years, this book has something to offer any canning enthusiast. I wrote all about it in full detail here.

2.  Dinner: A Love Story by Jenny Rosentrach
We've heard over and over and over about the importance of family dinner. I completely agree that it's important on so many levels, that this simple act could help change the trajectory of society and our nation's families. In our busy world, it's a bit of a struggle for people (my family included) to sit at the table and have family dinner every night. So when I saw this book's title, I was immediately drawn to it. I mean isn't Dinner: A Love Story such a fantastic title?

This book is really cool in that it's a cookbook meets family memoir. I had fun reading through it, even though at times I felt like I couldn't relate very well to her experience. I felt like the author's complete opposite: she's a working mother (writing and editing magazines -- one of my dream jobs), Jewish, from the cool and busy New York City area, who unwinds with a martini in the evenings; me, a stay-at-home mom and Mormon girl, born, raised, and living in nice-but-sometimes-boring Utah, who's never so much as tasted a drop of an alcoholic beverage. In the end, though, our differences didn't really matter -- I still enjoyed reading her experiences, I appreciated and admired her goals, and I looked for ways to implement her ideas. Her and her husband's blog -- of the same title as the book -- has since become one of my favorites to read.

As you can see in the photo of my copy, I've got quite a few bookmarks -- and that's only in the first section of the book. So far, we've liked what we've made out of it. One recipe that stands out -- the chili recipe is amazing (hint: it has cinnamon in it. Whodathunk?). It's my new go-to chili recipe. It was the first thing I made from the book and I was converted.

And now, for my favorite cookbook of 2012.  I'd go as far to call it one of my favorite cookbooks I own.

Drum roll, please...

1. The Homemade Pantry: 101 Foods You Can Stop Buying and Start Making by Alana Chernila 
I don't remember how I learned about or where I saw this cookbook, but the minute I did, I ordered it. I knew it would be right up my alley.

As I've written many times on this blog, I always prefer to make things from scratch, for the money-saving benefits as well as the health benefits. This book has recipes for everything I felt I had to buy processed. Take graham crackers, for instance. I had no clue how to make them, so I always bought them at the store (well, until we stopped eating hydrogenated oils and high fructose corn syrup and then it was no graham crackers at all). This book has a recipe for them -- they're easy and delicious. With this book, I've also made Oreo-style cookies, marshmallows (this past summer, we made s'mores with homemade graham crackers and marshmallows - wow), hamburger buns (so easy!), granola, brown sugar, salad dressing, and yellow cake, to name a few.   And there are so many others things I need to try making: homemade Fig Newtons, mayonnaise, cheeses, Pop-Tarts, veggie burgers. There's even a recipe for a homemade Twinkie (with only ten or so ingredients instead of the 39 in the {now-defunct} store-bought variety).

There's something empowering about this book. I like not having to rely on certain processed foods. I like having control over what my family eats -- especially when it comes to my kids. I know what is (and what is not) going into their foods. It's just cool.  The book is laid-out very nicely. I love the photography. Each recipe has a short essay/blurb before it, which I always enjoy in a cookbook.  Get it. I can't recommend it enough.

2012 was definitely a good year in my kitchen and for my recipe repertoire.

Note: Some of the links in the post above are "affiliate links." This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. 

{Have you read/cooked from/bought any of these? Any cookbooks I overlooked? Suggestions are always welcome.}

(This post is linked up to Your Green Resource, Simple Lives Thursday and Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways.)

Friday, December 7, 2012

Still Here. Christmas in Full Swing. Sorry for the Silence.

I know it's been quiet here for a while. We've been all wrapped up in the Christmas season -- baking, decorating, shopping, wrapping, upcoming parties, all the knitting (I procrastinated the gifts and stockings that have to be done in time). I seriously love this time of year!

I'll be posting again soon, I promise.

See you then.

- Heather

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Homemade vs. Pre-made: Basic Cranberry Sauce

Cranberry sauce is like whipped cream. Whenever I make whipped cream from scratch, I get all sorts of impressed expressions like, "Wow! Real whipped cream!" or "I wish I had the time to do stuff like that!".  I'm always torn between the prideful part of me that wants to look awesomely domestic and the side of me that is ever-eager to dispense any sort of knowledge (hence this blog). Usually I'll come clean and tell people how incredibly easy it was to make and how it only took a few minutes.

The same goes for cranberry sauce. People think it's fancy when you make your own, but, really, it's a cinch to make; it only takes around ten minutes hands-on time. I know that for some people (like my dad) Thanksgiving isn't quite Thanksgiving unless the cranberry sauce belches out of a can and has lines imprinted on it. To each his own. That said, the canned stuff does have high fructose corn syrup in it and I'm all for avoiding that stuff completely. And, as it is with most homemade foods, the from-scratch version tastes so much better than the canned kind.  There are a bunch of different recipes for homemade cranberry sauce (some use orange juice, some have sugar, some have maple syrup, some have oranges or pineapple added to it), but the recipe I'm sharing with you is a basic, whole-berry cranberry sauce.

So, do you want to impress your guests at Thanksgiving dinner? Here's how...

For this recipe (it yields around 2 cups of sauce), you'll need:

  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • One 12-oz. bag of cranberries

Rinse the cranberries in a colander. In a medium saucepan, combine the water and the sugar. Bring to a boil.

Once the sugar-water mixture is boiling, add the cranberries. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Stir occasionally.

This is my favorite part...

I can't quite explain why, but I like to watch the cranberries start to split (they get these fun lines and designs on them) and then pop. Yes, I am easily entertained.

Let the mixture boil gently for about ten minutes. By then, the cranberries have all burst and have broken down nicely.

Pour the cranberry sauce into a bowl, cover, and let it cool completely at room temperature. Don't worry if the sauce looks kind of soupy at this point -- as it cools, it will reduce and get firmer. It reminds me of jam -- as it cools it begins to set.

Once it has cooled, refrigerate the sauce until you're ready to serve it. Your family and friends will appreciate and admire your efforts. It's up to you whether or not you tell them how easy it was.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

{This post is linked up to Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways.}

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

18 Ways I Use Vinegar at My House

My husband teases me whenever we go grocery shopping because I usually buy more gallons of vinegar than gallons of milk.  I tell him that someday, when the zombie apocalypse finally happens, we will be the envy of the neighborhood because of our stockpile of vinegar. It'll be a hot commodity, I tell you (we'll have to guard our stash with a double-barrel shotgun), because it's useful in so many ways.

Here a few of the ways I use vinegar at my house...

1. All-purpose cleaner.  This is the #1 reason I think that vinegar is a great thing to have on hand (zombie apocalypse or no):  vinegar (straight 5% solution -- the kind sold at supermarkets) kills 99% percent of bacteria, 82% of mold, and 80% of viruses. Because of this, I use vinegar to clean just about everything in my house. To make an all-purpose cleaner,  mix equal parts white vinegar vinegar and water in a clean spray bottle. That's it (though sometimes I add a few drops of orange, lemon, or tea tree essential oil). I use this cleaner in my kitchen, bathrooms, everywhere. Best of all, this all-purpose cleaner is way cheaper than a store-bought all-purpose cleaner. I also love it because it's just vinegar -- no funky chemicals to worry about. (One word of warning -- don't use vinegar on marble or granite surfaces.) Your home won't smell like vinegar once it dries, I promise.

2. Dishwasher rinse aid. Fill up the rinse aid dispenser in your dishwasher with straight white vinegar instead. Totally works for me, even with my hard water.

3. Garbage disposal cleaner.  A great way to combat stinky kitchen drains is to freeze white vinegar in an ice cube tray. Once frozen, pop a few vinegar cubes into the disposal and turn it on. It not only gets rid of the stink but it also helps sharpen the blades of the garbage disposal, too.

4. Stain remover. I use vinegar in the laundry room a lot, especially since white vinegar works well for getting rid of stains.  I think it works particularly well with food stains. Here's a link to the stain fighting chart I have in my laundry room, courtesy of Martha Stewart.

5. Fabric softener.  Did you know that vinegar is a natural fabric softener? I pour around 1/4 - 1/2 cup of white vinegar into the middle of the agitator (that's where my machine's fabric softener dispenser is) and it gets released into the rinse cycle.   The vinegar keeps our clothes static free when I use the dryer - I haven't purchased dryer sheets in over two years. Vinegar is also helpful for the clothes that I dry outside on the clothesline -- it makes them less stiff.  And don't worry about your clothes smelling like vinegar -- once they're dry, the vinegar smell disappears.

6. Eliminating boy bathroom smell. I grew up with three younger brothers. I have a six-year-old boy now. I am well acquainted with "boy bathroom smell". (Is it really that hard to aim? Really?) What's the best way to clean the floor around the toilet? With vinegar! Not only does it neutralize the smell and kill germs, but it's also a safer way to clean. Mixing bleach with anything with ammonia in it (read: urine) can create a dangerous toxic gas. True story. Anyway, I splash vinegar around the base, let it soak for a while, then mop it up.

7. Toilet bowl cleaner. I've been cleaning the toilets in my house with only vinegar for years. When I clean a bathroom, the first thing I do is flush the toilet, add about a cup of vinegar while the bowl is refilling with water, and close the lid. I clean the rest of the bathroom (with spray bottle filled with vinegar) while I let the vinegar in the toilet do its work. Once I've finished cleaning everything in the bathroom, I'll scrub out the bowl with the toilet brush and all stains come right off. Flush and the dirty work is done.

8. Cleaning up vomit. I've mostly have experience with this from my (recently departed...sniff) cat. Let's just say he had a sensitive system and grazed on grass as if he were half-cow. Anyway, vinegar is good for cleaning up vomit because it has a more neutral acidity level than stomach acid, which helps neutralize that horrible vomit smell. I usually attack those stinky spots with a mixture of water and white vinegar (about a 2:1 ratio) and the smell goes away pretty quickly.

9. Glass cleaner. I'm a big fan of the "Alvin Corn" glass cleaner recipe I found on Pinterest. To make it, you only need vinegar, rubbing alcohol, cornstarch, and water. It's inexpensive and it works really well.

10. Pickling. I used so much vinegar canning this fall. Pickled peppers, dill pickles, sweet pickles -- delish.  You certainly can't pickle without vinegar.

11Salad dressing. Vinegar goes great with salad. I like splashing some red wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar straight onto my salad and eating that way. You can also make your own Italian dressing with vinegar -- for the super-easy recipe, go here.

12. Coleslaw. My husband served an LDS mission in the southern United States. After spending two years in the South, he come home with a love for slaw (especially when it is piled up on a hot dog with some chili. I thought it was weird until I tried it. YUM.). Lucky for him, I've been making it pretty often since I discovered Paula Deen's recipe (so easy, so good!). Without vinegar, coleslaw is just cabbage and carrots; vinegar is what makes it work.

13. Turning milk to buttermilk. Real, cultured buttermilk is always best in recipes, but sometimes I don't have it on hand. In those instances, I make do by mixing a little bit of vinegar with milk. To make a subsitute for 1 cup of buttermilk, mix 1 Tbsp. of vinegar with a cup of milk. Let it stand for about 10 minutes -- this will give it time to curdle the milk and thicken. Only use this method if you'll be cooking or baking -- it's not meant for recipes where you would use buttermilk raw, like in a salad dressing.

14.  Health drink. Drinking a couple teaspoons of apple cider vinegar mixed with water a few times a day is supposed to be really good for you. My husband used to drink it every day when he was in high school and said it helped him with colds and such. I've been trying to drink it regularly, but the stuff is strong. I'm trying to get used to it. I'll let you know if any of those health benefits start kicking in. I've also mixed a little bit of ACV with my chickens' water because it's supposed to be beneficial for them, too.

15. Hair detangler. Believe it or not, you can actually use apple cider vinegar as you would conditioner. I used apple cider vinegar in place of conditioner for a while back in 2010. It totally softened and detangled my hair. I don't use ACV conditioner as often anymore, but I do use it whenever I'm in a pinch. To make vinegar conditioner, simply mix 2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar to a quart of water (I just kept a quart-sized Mason jar in my bathroom); pour over your hair (I usually just focused on the ends). Let your hair absorb the vinegar-water mixture for a minute or so, then rinse. I promise your hair won't smell like a pickle.

16. Dyeing Easter eggs.  Never buy egg-dyeing kits again. Making your own Easter egg dye is ridiculously simple. For the how-to, go here.

17. Cleaning the chicken coop. I decided to give the ladies' housing a good scrub-down last month following the instructions from this helpful post about naturally disinfecting chicken coops with vinegar.

18.  Baking soda + vinegar = cheap entertainment.  Kids love seeing vinegar and baking soda combine. Who am I kidding? I still think it's fun to mix the two.  My husband helped Max build a little volcano out cardboard last year. Then, he put a shot glass in the middle (the souvenir one that he got as a joke for me after a business trip to Austin. It says, "Don't Mess with Texas" ). Add some vinegar, food coloring, and baking soda and Max thought it was the coolest thing ever. We've also done the fun activity with the pan of baking soda and the colored vinegar in a dropper (if you have no idea what I'm talking about, click here). Who knew a chemical reaction could be entertaining?

Oh, vinegar. How do I love thee? Let me count the ways...

{This post is linked up to Homestead Barn HopSimple Lives Thursday, Your Green Resource, Farm Girl Blog Fest, Frugal Fridays, and Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways.}

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Breathing a Little Easier with Eucalyptus Essential Oil

There's been a bit of blog silence here. I could blame it on a myriad of things. For part of the week, we were busy painting our kitchen cabinets. Then there was the planning and execution of our annual Halloween party this past week.  Or maybe it was partly because I was busy searching thrift store racks and sewing costumes, sometimes until 2 AM (hobbit and mummy costumes this year). Part of the reason for the blog silence was most certainly due to my oldest child getting strep throat, which meant lots of downtime just hanging out (read: snuggling), watching Halloween movies, and drinking smoothies. To top it off, my other boy got a nasty little cold a couple days later (how does a little nose produce so much mucus, I ask you). It's been busy, to say the least.

But now the boys are better, for the most part. My baby still has a bit of a cough and I'm still, to his chagrin, wiping his nose from time to time. One thing that helped my sweet little guy...

... eucalyptus essential oil.

Eucalyptus oil has a strong yet refreshing smell and has been used as a remedy for centuries, first by the aborigines of modern-day Australia, then to the people of China, India, and Greece.  It's powerful stuff in that little bottle! (For more a comprehensive look at eucalyptus oil, check out this helpful link.)

The way I use it to help my kids with colds is at bathtime. While I'm running the water, I just add a few drops (like five or so) to the bath. In seconds, the entire room smells like eucalyptus. It's like Vapo-Rub in bath form.

I also use it in the shower, particularly in the middle of the night. I swear kids' coughs get and sound worse at night. Last week, there was one night in particular when my little guy's coughing woke him up and he was just miserable. I took him the bathroom, put a few drops of eucalyptus oil on a washcloth, put it in the tub, and turned the shower on as hot as it would go. The room filled with the eucalyptus-infused steam and my little guy fell back asleep soon after. (Sidenote: I saw these homemade vapor shower disks on Pinterest a while back and I have yet to make them, but they seem like a great thing and I'll bet they'd work better in the shower than just the oil on a washcloth.)

The nice thing about eucalyptus oil is that it is one of the less expensive essential oils. You can use it in other ways besides the one I've mentioned -- as far as I can tell, eucalyptus oil is a great basic essential oil to keep on hand. I still have lots to learn about essential oils, but the more I learn, the more I like them. And if they help my little ones breathe easier, even better.

{Disclaimer: I think it goes without saying that I am no doctor. Not even close. I got a degree in English, people. So if you have any concerns or questions, contact a physician.}

Note: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have disclosed.

(This post is linked up to Your Green Resource, Simple Lives Thursday and Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways.)

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Off the Needles: Max's Birthday Slippers

Months ago I was going through some of my first son's old clothes, seeing what would fit my baby-turned-toddler. At one point, I came across a pair of slippers. They were nothing fancy -- just a basic fleece slipper with a dinosaur pattern that I'd bought years ago at Old Navy. Max picked them up and said, "Oh! My slippers!"  I'd forgotten how much he'd liked wearing those as a three-year-old.  He looked at them for a while, tried to put them on (they didn't fit, of course), and then he said, "Mom, maybe you could knit me some slippers when it gets cold!"

Few things make me happier than knitting requests from my family. It makes me kind of giddy. I resisted the urge to pick up my needles right then. Instead I said as casually as possible, "Oh, sure. Maybe in the fall I'll make you some."  While I said this, though, I was thinking, "Yaaaaay! Birthday slippers!!!"

Then last month, I searched for a pattern on Ravelry and came across this one for children's mukluk slippers. I thought they were so cute and they looked pretty easy, too (before this project I'd never knitted any sort of footwear).  I picked up some green yarn at my favorite yarn store and got to work. Since I didn't want Max to see them, I waited until the boys were in bed to knit. For a couple weeks in September and a few nights in October, I would spend an hour or so knitting while watching British period films (mostly Bleak House) or streamed episodes of Raising Hope on Netflix. A lovely way to spend my post-kids'-bedtime free-time, I must say.

I gave them to Max for his birthday yesterday. He opened them first thing in the morning and slipped them on. He loved them! And that makes me a happy mama.

The pattern is great -- very easy, very straightforward. It can be downloaded for only $7 -- totally worth it. There are no tricky stitches, increases, or decreases -- just the basics, really. There is only a little bit of sewing required at the end to stitch up the seam (just an overcast stitch, which is really simple). Making these was a good learning experience and I even overcame my (unfounded) fear of double-pointed needles (they're not nearly as tricky as I thought they'd be).  The pattern requires around 100 yards of bulky yarn (I picked the Comfort Chunky because it's machine-washable and soft), a pair of size US 7 straight needles, and a set of size US 7 double-pointed needles. (For my Ravelry notes, click here.)

The slippers fit a pretty wide range of young kids, from a toddler size 7 to a big kid size 5 -- there are instructions to make them either small, medium, or large. I'm glad that there's a pattern to make them in an adult size because the whole time I was knitting them for Max, I kept wishing for a pair of my own!

I can't recommend this pattern enough. Max tells me that they're warm and comfy. I'm going to be knitting up a pair for my 18-month-old soon (so many things to knit, so little time!).  Not only do they make a great birthday gift, but they're something you could definitely whip up for Christmas gifts. I can already tell that $7 pattern is going to go a long way in my knitting repertoire!

Note: I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the brands, products, or services that I have disclosed.

{This post is linked up to Simple Lives Thursday, Your Green Resource, Little House Friday, Farm Girl Blog Fest, Homestead Barn Hop, and Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways.}

Friday, October 12, 2012

My Fall 2012 Canning Recipe Round-Up

It's that time of year when my kitchen always gets a little overrun with jars, lids, and rings. The canner is always on my stovetop  whether it is in use or not. There are apple peels, tomato tops, peach skins, cucumber ends, and other scraps in bowls headed to the compost heap or to the chickens. The countertops are covered in sticky patches of juice and sugar syrup. My kitchen gets hot, I sometimes burn my fingers, and the pile of pots and bowls in my sink stacks up. Most nights I feel too tired to cook because I feel like I've been in the kitchen all day (pizza, anyone?). Even so, when I see the jars lined up in my cupboard, all the mess and work reaffirms my love for fall canning (though it would be nice to have prettier labels on them. For now, masking tape and a Sharpie will have to do).  Plus, I love canning with my mom -- we get to spend a lot of time chatting and being productive all at once.

Anyway, I thought I'd do a recipe round-up on here, a list of links to the recipes I used this canning season.

1. Jam
The first thing I made this fall was jam. Homemade jam turned me into a jam snob.

This year, I made raspberry, blackberry, and peach jam. My raspberries didn't produce as much this year, so I only got a couple pints of it (so, so sad -- raspberry is my favorite!). We got lots of blackberries, though. For my blackberry and raspberry jams, I simply used the recipe from the pectin label. Nothing but fruit, sugar, and pectin.  For the peach jam, I used the recipe from Food in Jars -- I love it because it has this very warm, fall-like taste to it with the cinnamon, nutmeg, and lemon zest. Yum.

2. Salsa
Again, nothing on the shelf at the store even comes close to being as delicious as homemade salsa.  We made two kinds this year.

The first is roasted tomato salsa. This recipe is THE best canned salsa recipe I've tried, period. It's from the blog Doris and Jilly Cook. I would make gallons of it if I had enough tomatoes. I love it because it has no vinegar in it. Now anyone who has read this blog for a while knows of my deep love for vinegar, but whenever I've made other salsa recipes, there's usually vinegar in it and it overpowers all the other flavors. This recipe uses lime juice instead. Another thing I love about this salsa is that tastes fresh, even months after it has been canned and sealed. I reminds me of the salsa you'd get at good Mexican restaurant.

And the recipe couldn't be simpler -- just tomatoes, a few dried peppers (boiled until they're pliable), a big onion, cilantro, garlic,  salt, and lime juice. Broil the tomatoes for a few minutes. Put the tomatoes and all the other ingredients into a food processor. Puree. Bring to a boil and let it simmer for ten minutes. Pour into hot jars. Remove air bubbles. Adjust lids and bands. Process. Easy.  Mom and I have made three double-batches this year and we'll probably do at least one more (*crossing my fingers that all those green tomatoes I have turn red*). What more can I say? This recipe rocks.

The other salsa we made this year was tomatillo salsa. The recipe we used is from Food in Jars. This salsa verde is delicious -- it was tangy and sweet and just a little spicy. I just picked all of my tomatillos and my mom has buckets full of them, so we're going to be making a bunch of this salsa over the next week or so. So good. Plus, it's great for a Halloween appetizer -- I often serve salsa verde and guacamole with dark blue corn tortilla chips at our annual Halloween party (Martha gets the credit for that idea).

3. Pickles
Some aspects of my garden this year were disappointing (what happened, green beans?) and frustrating (curse you, blossom-end rot), but there was one aspect that was awesome this year: my cucumbers produced so well! At one point, I had around 15 cucumbers in my fridge -- and they just kept coming. We ate a lot of them in salads and on sandwiches, but we also pickled a lot of them.

We did two different types of pickles. First, we made sweet pickle chips -- Mom and I made them for the first time last summer, sort of as an experiment, and we ended up loving them. They were great on their own, but also worked well in potato salad and macaroni salad (I used them in Pioneer Woman's recipe for macaroni salad. Now I'm craving it.)

Last year, we canned dill pickles and they were tasty, but they definitely weren't the crisp kind of dill pickles I love. Then I came across this recipe for refrigerator pickles (so, technically, they weren't canned, but I'm including them because it's a sort of preservation). They were so, so easy to make. It took probably 20 minutes at the very most (maybe less -- I wasn't really timing myself) to make them. As indicated in the recipe, I let them sit in the fridge for two days. Then we tried them. To quote my husband, "This is the best pickle I've ever had."  Delicious! What makes them even better? When you run out of the pickles, you just slice up more cucumbers, add them to the brine, let them sit a couple days, and -- voilĂ ! --  more pickles!  The name of the recipe says it all: "The Very Easy and Neverending Jar of Pickles".

4. Peppers
Just check out the post before this one to read all about the sweet pickled peppers. No need to be redundant, right?

5. Applesauce

In my effort to eat less refined sugar, I've been cooking some foods with applesauce as the sweetener (like these waffles. Yum.). Since I try to only buy organic apples (they're #1 on the dirty dozen list this year, after all), I've been getting organic applesauce at the store. It's pricey, though. Imagine how excited I got when my in-laws said we could pick all the apples we wanted from their unsprayed apple trees! Organic apples for free! Some of them were blemished and had some nibbles from worms on them, but we picked them anyway.  Then, my mom and dad went on a trip to Zion National Park and found a u-pick organic apple orchard and picked 40-lbs of apples (for both applesauce and all the juicing my parents do) at a remarkably low price (we're talking like under a dollar a pound -- a steal compared to the organic apples at the grocery store). No more pricey, store-bought organic applesauce for us!

Applesauce is so, so easy to make: you cook the apples until they're soft and then puree. I like to use the food mill pictured above because it eliminates the need for peeling or coring the apples. But you don't need a food mill to make applesauce -- I've used a food processor, too. For the step-by-step of how I make applesauce, check out this link.

It's been a busy season and there's still more I want and wish I could do. Sometimes I overestimate my time, my kids' patience, and my endurance. That said, I love canning not just for the self-satisfaction of seeing those jars in my cupboard, but because it's an exercise in gratitude. It's an extension to the awe I feel about growing food and seeing how others grow it. Everything about canning is lovely. Well, except cleaning up.

What have you been canning this fall? 

Note: Some of the links in the post above are "affiliate links." This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. 

{This post is linked up to Little House FridayYour Green Resource, Simple Lives Thursdayand Farm Girl Blog Fest.} 

Monday, October 8, 2012

Pack a Peck (or at least a few pints) of Sweet Pickled Peppers

My husband loves pickled peppers. He eats them on hot dogs, hamburgers, pizza, salad, and sandwiches. Since he loves them so much and since they're so easy to make and since my mom had a bit of a surplus from her garden to share, she and I canned a few jars of them.

This recipe (adapted from this one) is so simple. You can make just a few pint-sized jars or go gung-ho and pickle a peck of peppers (which, incidentally, would yield about two gallons worth!).  There's still plenty of fresh produce at the farm stands and coming from the garden (unless you forgot to cover your plants like I did last night. So sad.), you could put up a few jars of sweet pickled peppers in less than an hour.

To make sweet pickled peppers (this recipe yields 4 pint-size jars), you'll need: 

around 1 lb. peppers {I used mostly banana peppers but you could use other mild varieties, like Anaheim or Hungarian.}

4 cups of white vinegar
1 1/3 cup sugar
1 tsp. whole mustard seeds
1 tsp. celery seed

1. Wash and sterilize four pint-size jars (or whatever size you want to use -- half-pint sized jars would be good, too.).

2.  Slice the peppers crosswise, so you end up with a pile of pepper rings.

3. Put the pepper rings into the sterilized jars, leaving 1/2" headspace. (As you can see, my 18-month-old is a burgeoning canner. He was "helping" me put the peppers into the jars. And don't worry -- these were really mild peppers so his cute, chubby hands were fine.)

4. Next, mix the the vinegar, sugar, mustard, and celery seed and bring to a boil.

5. Pour the hot mixture over the peppers, being sure to leave 1/2" headspace. Run a knife or rubber spatula around the inside of the jar to remove the air bubbles.

6. Make sure the rims of the jar are clean and adjust the lids and bands. Process the jars in a boiling-water canner for ten minutes (be sure to adjust for altitude; I ended up processing mine for 20 minutes).

Not only are these peppers delicious, but they're pretty, too. Maybe it seems silly to tout this recipe partly because the end result looks so nice, but, to me, there are few things more satisfying than seeing rows of brightly colored food packed away and preserved in glass jars. Definitely one of those simple joys of life. They almost look too pretty to eat -- almost.

{This post is linked up to Homestead Barn Hop, Your Green Resource, Little House Friday, Simple Lives ThursdayFarm Girl Blog Festand Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways.}

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Off the Needles: The Granny-Style Washcloth

I barely knitted all summer. It just feels weird to knit scarves, hats, socks, and the like when temperatures are in the high 90s.

Then my baby started kindergarten this past August (not nearly as traumatic as I thought it would be) and I realized I'd be spending some time shuttling him around and waiting for him in the car. After the first couple days of our new routine, I started to miss my knitting needles; these 5-10 minutes I was spending just sitting and waiting were perfect for knitting.

However, it was still August. What to knit in August? Then I remembered the knitted washcloths my husband's aunt (my aunt-in-law?) gave me months before. It was the perfect hot-weather knitting project! So I looked around for a pattern that resembled the washcloths she gave me (I found a couple -- I used this pattern and this pattern as guides). The washcloths look like something my grandma would have made if she knitted (who, expert seamstress she was, would have probably been an awesome knitter if she'd picked up some needles).  They've got this old-fashioned feel to them -- maybe it's the doily-esque edge to them.

Let me just take a moment to tell you about these washcloths: they are fantastic! They're made out of cotton yarn and they absorb well. What's cool about them is that they're really soft, but the ridges make them great for scrubbing. I use these washcloths all. the. time. I made a couple for my mom and she uses them all the time, too. They work better than a basic rag or dish towel and you can use them instead of an icky sponge -- when you're done with these, you just pop them into the washing machine.

One other thing I like about these washcloths: they're super easy to knit up.  After my knitting hiatus, I was a little nervous that I'd forgotten how to knit. This project was a great way to get back my knitting mojo - not only was it simple, but I didn't feel any pressure. If it turned out looking weird, who cares? It's a washcloth. More on that later. They don't take long to make -- I've already made a couple since school started and I've kept them in the car, so they were made by me knitting in short spurts here and there.

Ready to get started?

1 skein cotton yarn, medium weight (4-ply)  (Nothing fancy -- I got mine at Walmart for $2)
Knitting needles, US size 6, 7 or 8

CO: Cast on
BO: Bind off
K: Knit
K2tog: knit 2 stitches (sts) together
YO: yarn over (check out this video for a quick, helpful tutorial)

CO 4 sts
Row 1: K 4 sts
Row 2: K 2 sts, YO, K to end of row
Repeat Row 2 until you have 40 sts on the needle
Row 3: K 1, K2tog, YO, K2tog, K to end of row
Repeat Row 3 until you have 4 sts on the needle
To finish, slip 1 stitch, BO 3 sts.

I have to say that I've really missed having something to knit in the car. It's the best thing to have when you're waiting for kids to get out of school or while you're at the drive-thru of the bank or even at a really long stoplight. But, please, only do it when you're safely stopped. Friends don't let friends knit and drive.

The finished project.  So simple and so useful. {Ravelry notes can be found here.)

And since I'm all about honesty on this blog, remember what I said about getting back into practice?

I'm not sure what happened here. I sort of lost it toward the end. Maybe I was tired. I think I may have done a couple rows wrong. Oh well. My fingers are back into knitting shape and my brain remembers how to knit again.

Plus, it's going to look like this most of the time.

{This post is linked up to Homestead Barn HopLittle House Friday, Farm Girl Blog Fest, Simple Lives Thursday, , Waste Not Want Not Wednesday,and Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways.}
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