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1/26/2015

Mary ConleyDear friends,

If you are one who wants your countertops completely empty, this post is not for you. I have never had a hidden little cupboard shelf that will pop out and up for a standing mixer, so I don’t know what I’m missing. I did learn years ago, though, that my friends who had to dig out their blenders rarely used them, while I used my handy one nearly daily.

I have a helpful hint, that may be of use to some of you. I discovered it when we purchased a Vitamix blender. The base was very heavy (10 pounds 9 ounces), and the black rubber feet slightly marked my white countertops when I pulled it out to use. I found that if I sat it on a placemat, I could effortlessly slide it out. Recently we bought a KitchenAid standing mixer and it was impossibly too heavy (26 pounds) for me to move until I put it on a placemat. I easily fell into this idea since I had already used placemats under other items on my countertops such as the coffeepot and fruit bowl, and enjoy changing them to match the seasons. I hope this hint will save some of you a backache and brighten up your kitchen at the same time.

appliances 

Fortunately, I feel a kind of coziness with my most used appliances around me. 

My kitchen is almost 26 years old, but the cupboards are still nice. I’ve had the canisters shown in the photo since we married 54 years ago. I’m surprised that I don’t seem to covet a new kitchen with the latest countertops; probably because I’ve become an antique, myself!



1/21/2015

Mary ConleyDear friends,

If you’ve read my posts, you know that I’m often telling you that I like to learn new things, but now I’m going to admit that I sometimes “get stuck” when I should be trying something new. It is like my brain can’t go there. It is just too hard. I’m 73, so that could be part of the reason, but to be honest, I’ve always had that problem. A good example might be a recipe with too many ingredients. I’ll start reading it and my mind will just quit on me. Sometimes this doesn’t matter, but when my husband bought me something that I asked for and should use, well ....

Case in point: We bought a Vitamix to make nutritious and delicious smoothies. I have used it over and over, and you might have read my post on Planting For Our Vitamix. Soon after we purchased it, Vitamix had a sale on the dry blade container. I wanted to start making my own bread, and this container/pitcher could grind the wheat for me. The cookbook that came with it was what did me in. It just made my brain tired. When Larry would ask me when I was going to use my new container to bake bread, I always had good excuses about how busy I was.

Well, it is January, the month of no excuses! That container has been in my cupboard for months and only used for making laundry soap. As the saying goes, “Getting started is often the hardest part.” I skipped its cookbook and got out my old bread-making machine. I followed a recipe that I had used ages ago that was taped to the front of it, ground my wheat in the new dry container in nothing flat, and waited while knowing the bread wouldn’t rise. But it did! I also used molasses instead of sugar, which I’m trying to cut out of my diet. Larry even liked it. Makes one wonder what was so difficult!

Then I got to try something that excites me. In the next loaf, I used zucchini milk instead of water and that also turned out just as good. I learned about zucchini milk from a fellow Capper’s Farmer blogger, Erin Sheehan. In her post, she said she freezes many cups of zucchini milk each summer and adds them to her breads and soups for extra nutrition, with no flavor change. Isn’t that fun to learn?! She also included her favorite bread recipe.

Zucchini milk is easy to make. Just put your prepared raw zucchini in the Vitamix and watch it turn into liquid. Then freeze in the portion size you will use. I just tried some in our favorite hamburger vegetable soup, and I’m regretting already that I wasn’t able to freeze more. Unlike stories I’ve heard about people trying to get rid of their extra zucchini, I seem to have difficulty growing it. Maybe next summer, when we are in town during the harvest period, we should leave our car windows down. I’ve heard that works for free zucchini whether you want it or not!

bread 

Above is a photo of a loaf of bread made in my bread machine. We usually buy Healthy Choice seven-grain bread, and love it. So why go to all the trouble of baking it? Well, the more food you make from scratch, the more you control what you are eating. Instead of a paragraph of ingredients in store-bought bread, mine only has seven. Of those seven, I used freshly ground wheat, which is naturally full of vitamins, molasses instead of refined sugar, and added the nutritious zucchini milk instead of water. It was not work; it was fun!

My Bread Machine Recipe:

2 cups whole wheat flour (freshly ground!)
1 cup white flour
1  1/2 teaspoons yeast
3 tablespoons sugar or molasses or honey
1  1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1  1/4 teaspoons salt
1  1/2 cups cold water or zucchini milk

Layer in pan. Choose the settings for whole wheat bread and light crust. It takes five hours, so make sure you are available when it is finished or it will dry out in the machine.

Whew! I got that off my "to-do" list!



1/5/2015

Mary ConleyDear friends,

Who would believe we've still been taking care of our harvest in January? In this case, it was the potatoes. We don’t have an ideal storage place, although we manage to keep them where it is somewhat cooler than the rest of the house. Tiny sprouts had started to form and something needed to be done quickly as we certainly didn’t want to waste all the hard work that went into them. Actually, something should have been done before the sprouts started.

Here is what I have learned on the internet: Soft and wrinkled potatoes should not be used. (Whew! Ours are very firm.) But, when potatoes begin to sprout, their starch also starts converting to sugar. Fortunately, they still have most of their nutrients intact, but I wish I had taken care of them earlier. I'm thinking that if people in the past hadn’t eaten their potatoes when they began sprouting, they very well might have starved.

As for our potatoes, I had plans for them. Canning potatoes was an option. My daughter-in-law, Nancy, did that one year, and we found that although they are not good for mashed potatoes, they work great for hash browns and potato soup. Another option I haven’t tried is dehydration. That would save space. We decided to turn them into hash browns and freeze them, and this was our method:

scrub potatoes

Here are our potatoes ready for Larry to scrub. Although some had a few sprouts, many didn’t.

foil 

We baked them until they were almost done. Do you wrap each potato separately in foil? I used to, but learned that placing them in a covered dish works just as well. It saves a lot of time and foil. Here, I covered the whole dish as I had filled them too full for the lid, then I saved the foil for the next batch.

Cooling

After cooling, I peeled and stored them in the fridge for several hours. On subsequent batches, I did the peeling after they had been in the fridge. Either way works, but I prefer the second.

food processor

My food processor broke and it seemed a good time to invest in this lovely KitchenAid mixer and attachment. I had never owned a standing mixer, and still haven’t used this one! Larry is a willing helper and enjoys using it. I call it his new tool!

frozen sheets

The hash browns froze quickly on plates in my freezers. Notice that I used the inside of bread wrappers instead of clear food wrap. Worked perfectly. I know many of you like to reuse and repurpose, too.

Sheets

I froze some in gallon Ziplock bags to be used for casseroles. In the above photo, I slid two of the frozen sheets of hash browns into the bag, but sometimes I stuffed it as full as possible with chunks I had broken apart.

small bags

I also froze several pint bags, which is a good size for the two of us.

If you don’t have a machine to make hash browns, I would suggest that whenever you bake potatoes, bake a few extra and shred them in the larger holes of your cheese grater for instant use, or to freeze for later. It will be a little more work than store bought, but you’ll have the good feeling of cooking healthier for your family.

After packing the last of the bags of hash browns in the freezers, I realized that the timing of preserving our potatoes was a good plan for us after all. Earlier in the year, my freezers would have been too full of other produce, and I certainly needed all that space over Christmas. Yes, sometimes things work out just right.



12/19/2014

Mary ConleyDear friends,

I’m not the world’s best cook. Far from it. So, if someone says I make the world’s best caramel popcorn, I’m going with it!

The first time I realized it was extra good was when I gave some as a Christmas gift to the principal of my children’s school. She called and told me how delicious it was and that her husband insisted she get the recipe! I have continued to hear the same praise over the years.

The recipe is from a dear friend, Arlene Neumann, and it is found in an old Christian school fundraiser cookbook. It is not difficult, but don’t stray from my directions, because there are two important things to remember:

#1 Use butter regardless of the cost. When I first started making this recipe, it called for margarine. Margarine was the thing back then, but I use real butter, and that is what makes the difference.

popcorn 

#2 No one likes old maids, so pop it into one pan, pick it up with your open fingers to measure and transfer to another pan. I use roasting pans.

Caramel Popcorn
1 cup butter (2 sticks)
2 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup dark Karo syrup
1/2 teaspoon soda
5 quarts popped corn

In a heavy pan, boil butter, brown sugar and syrup for 5 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, and stir in soda. Stir well.

The mixture will double in size so use a large enough pan. Pour over popcorn and mix until the popcorn is evenly coated. Place in two cake pans or jelly roll pans. (I use one roaster pan.)

Bake at 250 F for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes. Remove from pans and stir once or twice while it cools so that it doesn’t stick together.

karo syrup 

soda 

Use a heavy pan. After boiling for 5 minutes, take it off the heat and add the baking soda. It will double in size.

Pour over

Pour it over the measured popcorn and mix until the popcorn is evenly coated.

finished corn

Bake for an hour at 250 F and stir every 15 minutes.

tupperware 

Store in an airtight container.

It has become popular to make caramel popcorn in the microwave. It is easy, fast, and good. However, now you know how to make the world’s best!

How do I know it is the world's best? My husband, Larry, always tells me so!



12/15/2014

Mary ConleyDear Friends,

Doesn’t the word, homemade, make you think of a creative, resourceful person? I have always wanted to be that person who could make Christmas presents that were actually practical and appreciated, but the truth is, you need to start way ahead of time or it most likely won’t happen. This Christmas, I was determined I was going to make something easy but still useful for the four women of our family. I always get them a gift, but I wanted to also throw in a homemade item that said I cared and at least tried.

Two weeks before Christmas, I dug out a few pairs of worn-out blue jeans from the attic that I have been saving for a much bigger project. Only this time, I was going to make hot pads. I had seen them on the web, and thought them very cute with the pocket still attached to stick your hand in. I’m going to show you the finished project right off so you can determine if you want to continue reading and possibly make some yourself.

hot pads

Aren’t they cute! My husband, Larry, thought them very clever. I want to give my daughter, Amy, one of the light colored ones since she wore those jeans in high school! (She is 45, now!)

back pad

For each hot pad, I cut two 8-inch squares off the upper legs, and two 8-inch squares from along the sides of an old, heavy flannel sheet. I’ve also used worn-out sweatshirts for padding. After cutting around the pockets, I cut out the back side near the seams.

attach pocket

Now to attach the pocket to one of the denim pieces. I already had dark gold thread since I’m often shortening our jeans, and I used it to stitch on top of the outer gold line you see on the pocket. This is when I first noticed that jean pockets are not symmetrical, so it is impossible to make it look perfectly centered.

layers

On the above photo, I have pinned all four layers together and am machine basting them about 3/4 inch in from the edges.

trim

Then I cut about an eighth inch off the flannel all around so the bias tape would fit easily over the four thicknesses. I could have just cut the flannel smaller in the first place, but I like doing it this way.

Now it is ready for the bias tape around the edges, which was my only cost. You could make your own, but I didn’t have time.

If you need to learn to sew on bias tape, just type “how to sew on bias tape” in your browser and you’ll find all kinds of information including videos. I’m not proud of the job I did. In fact, I’m a little embarrassed, and had to tell myself a few times that the hot pads are just going to get stained and maybe even burned around the edges, anyway.

hand

I was surprised at how easily my hand slipped into the pockets and folded the hot pad for use. I hope to make some for myself after the holidays.

ravel

If you dislike sewing on bias tape, you could leave raw edges and fray them as I did in the above photo. I like the look, it is quick, and costs nothing but the thread. This one was an experiment and I’m keeping it for myself.

Now be sure to save those jeans with the holes in the knees and find a way to turn them into something useable again. After all, they weren’t cheap!



12/8/2014

Mary ConleyDear friends,

An extravagance I indulge in is buying precooked bacon. Besides feeling guilty about the price, one of my sons doesn’t like it and says he prefers REAL bacon. Surely, some of you understand that once you’ve started using precooked bacon, you never want to go back to that greasy mess or the time it consumes - no matter the extra cost.

This summer, Bob and Judy McMaster, friends who have been interested in and supportive of our adventure, visited us on the farm. It was fun showing them around, and Bob helped Larry an hour or so each of the two days they stayed. We enjoyed them immensely and thought we were quite compatible.

Bob Judy 

Judy & Bob McMaster

For breakfast one morning, I sort of apologized for the bacon. That’s when I learned that they precook their own! I knew I would have to try it.

I thought it would be easy, but as I stood in front of the many kinds of bacon in the meat department, I realized it was next to impossible to compare apples with apples, or in this case, bacon with bacon. How can you compare thick and thin slices and how many strips in a pound of uncooked to precooked with different weights and prices on several brands. It boggled my mind, and I ended up buying my favorite Black Label precooked bacon again. More than once! You see, it was BLT time with all our wonderful homegrown tomatoes that lasted until December 1!

raw bacon 

This week, I finally decided to just do it for the fun of it (and a new blog of course), and so I purchased a 3-pound package of Farmland bacon. After reading a few instructions on the web, I chose to bake it in the oven, although some prefer using a cast iron skillet or on the grill. I baked it at 400 F for 10 minutes, turned the strips and baked it again for about 15 minutes watching carefully.

cleanup  easy cleanup

I tried two pans. The broiler pan worked just fine, but it required cleaning afterwards.

I recommend lining a jelly roll pan with foil, and laying the strips right on the foil. After baking, let the grease congeal, fold the sides of the foil in and dispose, or scrape the grease off and save it. I’m not going to get into the benefits or harmfulness of bacon grease!

cooked bacon 

Now for the bacon: Notice in the above photo how it turned out in nice, long flat strips. That is when I realized the precooked strips weren’t nearly as long, so there was no comparing there. I was careful not to over bake, thinking when I warmed it up later, it would be perfect. Um! The house smelled wonderful!

folded  

After it cooled on paper towels, I folded four strips in wax paper. 

ziplock 

I managed to get all the stacks of bacon wrapped in wax paper into a gallon-sized Ziplock bag, and put them in my kitchen freezer for easy usage. All except the ones we sampled! They were SOOOOO good! I think I’m won over!

In doing my research, I learned this is how bacon is prepared ahead of time for large crowds and can be refrigerated for up to a week. None of the articles mentioned how long it can be kept in the freezer. My guess is until it's gone! I’m thinking I’ll be precooking mine from now on!



11/24/2014

Mary ConleyDear Readers,

Today’s blog is going to be about doing something I’ve always liked to do, but for various reasons, I just never get around to it anymore. Sewing! For quite some time, about all I’ve done is mending or shortening pants legs or curtains. That isn’t fun. I’ve noticed that my sewing machine has been calling me. Yes, I do talk to animals, babies, and even inanimate objects, sometimes. Hey, I’m betting some of you talk to your car, maybe even name it!

I recently had an opportunity to sew. Granddaughter Sophie’s birthday is coming up, so I made a trip to Jo-Ann Fabric & Craft Store, and became updated on a few things right off. First of all, never go to a fabric store on Sunday. I had to take a number while waiting in the cutting line and one lady ahead of me had 10 or 12 bolts of Christmas material that she only needed one foot of each! Actually, that was the third thing I learned. The first was that I couldn’t believe how much a pattern costs. The second was that I noticed there were several men in the store. Wow! When did this happen?

I’m going to deviate from the intention of my blog here and tell you about one of the men who stood behind me as I checked out. (Yes, I talk to strangers, too!) Anyway, he had large amounts of bright orange and camouflage fleece. He told me that his boys love camouflage, probably thanks to "Duck Dynasty," and he was going to make them tie blankets with camouflage on one side and orange on the other. (You know, orange is for when hunters DO want to be seen.) I’ve always said that there isn’t anything more sexy than a man vacuuming, but maybe I should rethink that!

I picked out a pattern, material and notions, and waited in the cutting line, and then in the checkout line. One hour and a half! Larry was reading a book in the car during this time. He was gracious about it even though he waited so long, he had to go searching for a bathroom. Note to self: Not only don’t go on Sundays, but don’t have Larry drive me there!

Sewing Cabinet

I’m so fortunate to have this handy, space-saving sewing cabinet that I can just fold everything away in an instant. What I’m concerned about, though, is that my machine is making some harsh sounds now and then. It is around 30 years old, but would I replace such an expensive item at age 73? If not, what would I use to do my mending? You can believe I did a lot of talking during this project, telling my machine to hang in there for as long as I need it.

Pattern

Notice the price on this Simplicity pattern. Even at 40 percent off, it adds up. The notions are expensive, too, and I needed yards of white bias tape.

aprons

GirlsHere is my finished project: An apron and hot pad for Sophie, the same for her 18-inch-doll, Holly, and an apron for Mommy. I’m imagining Sophie and Holly playing make-believe in her little kitchen in the play area, and also Sophie and Mommy baking cookies together for real. All wearing matching aprons, of course! What fun!

I saved this blog until after the party so they could model for you!





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