Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Homemade Yogurt- It's Easier Than You Think

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My son loves yogurt,
and we've been going through it like crazy over here.

I have no major issues with store bought yogurt;
there are some really great options out there.

However, for my one year old,
who doesn't need "low fat"
and who doesn't need all that sugar, fake or otherwise,
the options are few.

So I've been pulling out the yogurt maker and making it myself.
If you've made yogurt before, you know how easy it is.

There are a lot of pros to making your own yogurt:
  • it's considerably less expensive (you're only ingredients are milk, culture, and optional flavorings)
  • you can control what you put in and what you leave out.
  • it's better for you (see previous point)
  • it takes minimal effort, but you'll feel really accomplished when you're finished. :)

A word on yogurt makers:
I have one, and I love it. The main perk of having one is that it sets your milk and culture at a very consistent temperature, and most of them set to a certain time (the difference in times differs a little depending on the kind of milk you use and how thick you want it to be).
Some of them make one batch. Mine, however, makes seven little jars which I both love and hate.
Love: I can take one serving really easily out of the house,
the jars have these numbers on the top so you can set it to the date that it was made, helping you keep track of how long it should be consumed
Hate: it's an extra (however small) step to pour the cultured milk into seven different vessels,
if I want to flavor with fruit or whathaveyou after the yogurt is made, I have to do it seven times.
All things considered, though, I'm happy with it.

Note: if you don't have a yogurt maker, looky here!
Alton Brown always comes up with creative ways to avoid buying extra appliances.
If you're thinking of making yogurt consistently, though, I highly recommend your own machine.

Here's my recipe (if it even qualifies as a recipe):
Pour 6 cups of whole milk into a high-sided saucepan and bring to a gentle simmer (bubbles just coming up the side of the pan) for about 2 minutes.
*Keep your eye on it! You don't want this to boil over, and it can do that really quickly.

Take the milk off of the heat and let cool to room temperature.

Whisk in 10 Tablespoons of powdered milk (this will thicken the yogurt).
Pour 1 cup of milk into your culture (about 3/4 C)
*For your culture, you can use some yogurt that you've already made, or you buy yogurt from the store, just make sure it's plain and when you look at the ingredients it should list "live cultures" somewhere.
Whisk together.

Then pour culture back into milk and mix well.
Pour mixture into your yogurt maker and set timer to 10 hrs.

I let mine go overnight.
Then refrigerate,
And done!

For flavorings, you can add any number of things:
fresh fruit,
the list goes on and on.

See? So easy.
I hope you give it a try!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Strawberry Jam

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We had a beautifully laid back weekend.
Chris and I were determined to do next to nothing,
with the scheduled event being relaxing with our family.
Done and done.

About the only thing that happened that was somewhat productive
was the making and canning of strawberry jam.

We moved the strawberry plants to a new location in the yard because they were taking over the garden...
and then I proceeded to neglect them,
so we got all of two strawberries this year...
which the dogs ate.

Luckily, I found a FABULOUS new local fruit and veggie stand that has been selling them super super super cheap.

So I picked up 5 lbs and made some jam.

If you've never canned before,
strawberry jam is a good place to start.

There are very few ingredients,
few steps,
and best of all, you don't need a pressure cooker/canner to preserve them (just a big pot for the hot bath method).

I hull and cut mine into smaller pieces.

and then pulse them in the mini processor in small batches until they're broken down but still fairly chunky (they'll break down a little more when you cook them).

Then into the pot with sugar, lemon juice, and pectin.

Then funnel into the jars and process for 15 minutes in boiling water, turn off the heat, 
leave them for 15 minutes more in the water,
take them out,
and let them cool overnight.

So simple. So pretty. So tasty.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

DIY Rain Barrels

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We finally got a new roof with nice new efficient gutters and downspouts

which means that rain is now very specifcally directed right into my new rain barrels.

Collecting rain is great for a number of reasons.
Here are a few starting with my favorite:

1) Rain water is free. I love free.
You can use it to water plants and such, rinse off outdoor items, bathe dogs. You get it.
Note: Do not drink it.

2) Using rain water relieves some of the stress on the environment when utilizing in place of public works water.

3) Collecting rain in barrels allows you to choose where the water goes,
which is really nice especially if you get heavy downpours which can cause runoff and such.

4) It's the cool thing to do.

So, you're convinced? Awesome.
Before you run out and pay a hefty sum for a rain barrel (some are around $100! huh?), consider making one yourself
and upcycling a barrel that has already been used.
It's cheaper and it's better for the environment.

Where to find a barrel:
First things first, you want to find/buy a "food grade" barrel.
I should mention, also, that "food grade" speaks less to what was in the barrel and more to what was not. i.e. no harmful chemicals and such that should not be injested.
They can come in different shapes and sizes. The most common is this 55 gallon.
I found some at a flea market that got them from an olive importer.
Only $15 a piece!

Tips for finding barrels near you:
1) Check craigslist. In my area, there are A TON listed.
2) Check food importers (they probably use them, and who knows? Maybe you'll score some for free!)
3) If you live in a "rain barrel community" like I do, ask your neighbors where they got theirs.
4) If you can't find a barrel, consider using a large outdoor trash can. Not beautiful, no, but just as functional.

Alright! Here we go:

DIY Rain Barrel How To:

Step One: Gather your supplies.
Once you have your barrel, the only other items you'll need is a rain barrel kit (sold by many home impreovement retailers online) and a diverter.

The diverter isn't necessary, but I highly recommend it. If you're barrel fills up, a diverter will divert the excess water down the downspout instead of  flooding out the top of your barrel, or worse, backing up your downspout.
The kit that I used is by EarthMinded, and guess what? It comes with a diverter.
I also love this one because it comes with absolutely everything you'll need including three different hole saw bits and crystal clear instructions.
You just need a drill and a level. Easy peasy.

*If you want to hook your rain barrel right up, go ahead! :)
Just follow the instructions with your kit.
It will look something like this:

*If your barrel is in a more visible area and you want a more finished look, check out these steps:

Step Two: Sand
I used a 60 grit sandpaper just to rough up the plastic surface a bit so the paint would stick more securely.

Step Three: Paint

I used a textured biege Krylon spray paint, one color for the lid and one for the barrel because I wanted it to match my other outdoor stuff since the barrel in the back yard is in full view when you're sitting on the patio.

Step Four: Attach your Spigot and Drain
(you'll want to drain it in the winter if you live in a freezing climate)
Be sure to place your spigot about 12 inches from the bottom of the barrel if you want to get a watering can underneath.
You can also build a stand to put the barrel on.

Step Five: Attach your Connector Hose

Make sure that the hose is level. If it travels down to your barrel, it will overflow the top when it is full. If it travels up to your barrel, the water will bypass the hose and go directly through your diverter and down the downspout.

Total Costs:

For the unpainted barrel- $42
For the painted barrel- $67
Not bad.

Now I'm just waiting for rain!

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Peas on Earth

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My first peas have been picked and shelled!
And my goodness are they delicious!
I love peas. LOVE PEAS.

I'm keeping my shells for a chilled pea pod soup recipe that I found.
I'll share, but I have to try it out first.
For now, I just put my shells in a freezer safe container since they'll go south pretty quickly.

Aren't these cute, though?
I believe it to be a true crime that most people these days have not tried fresh peas.
They are so sweet and have the best texture, not mushy at all.
Give peas a chance!

Okay, enough with the puns. For now.

I thought I would share with you all one of my favorite go to recipes for peas.
I was able to use not only my own homegrown peas for this but also a lot of my basil which is growing with a vengeance!

Homemade Pesto with Fresh Peas and Orrechiette

In a food processor or mortar and pestle, mix about 1 C lightly packed basil leaves (a good handful) with 1 clove of garlic roughly chopped and 2 tablespoons of lightly toasted pine nuts and a healthy pinch of salt.

Pulse until mixture makes a thick paste.
Gradually drizzle in olive oil until the paste loosens (about 1/4 C olive oil). Set aside.

In a pot of boiling water, cook pasta of your choice until just before al dente. I like orrechiette with peas because they get caught in the pocket of the pasta. Put in a cup or so of shelled peas. Cook for a few minutes more until pasta is al dente and peas are just lightly cooked so they maintain a firm texture.
Place in a bowl and mix with your pesto mixture and about 1/2 C of Pecorino Romano cheese. Add another drizzle of olive oil if your pasta needs to loosen up.

Top with some chopped tomato and some more cheese if you like, and serve with crusty bread.
This is the BEST easy early summertime dish!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Another Pallet Project

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Another simple raised garden idea. 
I had some pallets left over from my bookshelf project.
The workers just kept bringing them, bless their  nicotine-saturated souls,
but most were not bookshelf-worthy.
They had too many broken or missing panels
or they were just straight up nasty.

So I turned one into a little raised bed for my pickling cucumbers.
I had just a little patch of sun left in the yard to grow some more veg,
 so I just screwed in some scrap pieces of 2x4's on the sides to keep the soil from leaking out.

I put some gravel down underneath to help with some drainage,

and then added a couple bags of organic gardening soil and compost.

Cooper was very curious about the whole thing.
Then, I planted.
My cucumbers are now happy little clams,
and they have their very own spot in the yard which is great because they can start to take over the garden otherwise.
They've grown a ton since these pictures were taken.
And I'll have an overall garden update coming up soon.

I'm looking forward to having more pickles this year.
I have a couple different variations on cucumber pickles that I'm sure I'll share when the time comes.

Friday, June 8, 2012


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So I did it.
I sewed something from an actual pattern.

To hear more about my pattern-sewing woes, click here.

But to cut to the chase,
here is what I made.
(It's a scrub top)

I guess I should clarify again that I am not a Broncos fan.
but as the fates would have it,
I have a substantial  amount of people in my life that call Colorado home.

One of those people is my sister-in-law.
She is crazy.
As in, crazy smart, crazy motivated, and crazy impressive.

To give you more information without giving you too many unsolicited details about my (her) personal life,
she has three kids (a four year, a 2.5 year old, and a 1 year old).

In the period of the last year,
she has cared for those 3 kids (one of them being a newborn),
and started (and just recently completed) a rigorous program to get her nursing degree.
Not enough for you?
She also did the "Insanity" workout in that time.
(for some reason, that's what tips it over the crazy scale for me)

You're impressed, aren't you?
I know I am.

I wanted to get her something for making it through that year,
and mostly for graduating from nursing school.
I found this pattern for scrubs at the fabric store on sale for a buck before Christmas, and snatched it up.

Well, it's finished.

The pattern wasn't as confusing as I thought it would be,
but I have to admit that I was a little uncomfortable at times with the order in which things were sewn, how the seams were sewn, etc.

Therefore, I couldn't resist making some changes.
I CAN NOT STAND any form of raw edge on projects that need to stand up to time and/or some wear and tear.
so I added some zigzags here, some topstitching there...
until I was pleased with the overall result.

My other main gripe with the pattern was the sizing.
I'm most certain that this will be a little big for her
(especially after doing Insanity!),
but it was the "small" size.
The good news is that it's a scrub top.
Even though I'm not a nurse, I can imagine that you need something comfortable with plenty of room to move around in.

I would say that I'm about 90% pleased with the project.
But mostly I'm just happy that I completed something using a pattern without ripping all of my hair out.

And, look! She even sent me a picture! :)


Tuesday, June 5, 2012

May Showers

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It's shower season, for sure.
Between baby and bridal,
I have a shower to go just about every weekend for what feels like the next 5 years.

I hate buying gifts, especially shower gifts
since you get so many of them from your guests,
and for the most part, you already know what they are since you've registered.

Not to mention I (obviously) like to the make things myself.

A family friend is getting married this summer and I was invited to the really really really cute shower of his bride, Shannon.

I knew I was going to make something but didn't know exactly what,
until I found this fabric, and I knew I had to make her something with it.
(I actually bought more with the hopes of making something for myself, too)

It's an insulated carrier for baking dishes (like a pyrex),
keeping hot things hot and cold things cold.

I originally found the tutorial here,

but then made just a couple alterations.
The pyrex dishes that I found had handles on the sides so I had to remeasure and alter the lengths of the fabrics that wrap around the dish.

I also found this braided strapping which I thought would be so cute with the fabric, so I used a couple yards of that for the handles instead of making it out of the fabric as well.

The original tutorial also had a velcro strap to hold the spoon,
but I thought a simple pocket would work better.
That way, she can also use different utensils with it depending on what recipe she makes,
and the utensil should fit just fine.

I also switched out the velcro on the inner wrap for this button and elastic.
I'm hoping that it will mean thatk she can use a different dish with the carrier if she wants,
and the elastic will accomodate for any difference in dish length.
Also, it's cute.

The shower, like I said above, was super cute.

Look at these favors (left).
Loved 'em.

And do not even get me started on the food.
Everything was so delicious,
and, as you can see,
so pretty.

Pam made a cake from Southern Living, I believe,
with almond flavoring
and buttercream frosting,
and blackberry preserves in the middle.
I died.

Chris and I are so excited to celebrate this wedding in another month.
Given Shannon's taste,
it's sure to be beautiful.

Congrats to Shannon and Jonathan!
Can't wait to be there for the big day.