Adventures in Cheesemaking

Mmmmm cheese. I LOVE cheese…all kinds – extra sharp cheddars, nutty bries, soft goat, slices of provolone, bleu, smoky, dilly, stinky, fruity, crumbly, moldy, give it all to me. There are so many amazing cheeses and so many different ways to enjoy them. I cannot imagine life without cheese. Nope.

Not too long ago, I thought brownies only came from a box. The idea of making anything from scratch was such a foreign concept, I didn’t even try to figure it out. I would just buy the brownie mix, buy the pancake mix, buy the macaroni and cheese box, buy the pizza dough, buy the cake mix, buy the soup can, etc etc etc. But recently, I have been venturing out of my comfort zone and baking my own bread, making my own shampoo, melting my own candles and so much more. Knowing EXACTLY what is going into the foods you eat and products you use on your skin and in your home is rewarding. It’s time to combine my newly found confidence with my love for cheese.

Let’s try making it….I am starting with the easiest cheese first: mozzarella. From what I have read in several recipes, I should be able to make a ball of mozzarella in less than 1 hour, including cleanup. Then I can enjoy with my well stored fresh bread from yesterday.

Making mozzarella isn’t a ton of ingredients, but requires some special ones. First of all, you need whole milk that is not ultra pasteurized. The organic whole milk I buy for my family to eat the 28,000 boxes of cereal we go through each month is not gonna cut it. Good for cereal, but not for cheese. I just ran over to our local dairy farm and bought what I needed there.

The next special ingredient is called rennet. Rennet is an enzyme specifically for making cheese and comes in a tablet form (isn’t that odd?). According to Wikipedia, “rennet is a complex set of enzymes produced in the stomachs of ruminant mammals. Chymosin, its key component, is a protease enzyme that curdles the casein in milk. This helps young mammals digest their mothers’ milk. Rennet can be used to separate milk into solid curds for cheesemaking and liquid whey.

Say Whaaaaaat? Alright – this is wildly interesting. Check out this super odd video about how to extract rennet from a calf’s stomach….I have no idea why she is wearing old timey clothes….. but it’s fascinating. Just take a peek.

You also need citric acid (powder that makes sour candies taste sour) and salt and water, but those are all things I had in my pantry already. Rubber gloves and a candy thermometer are handy as hitting the right temperature is very specific.

<<This cheesemaking post contains affiliate links so you can get some supplies and make cheese too! No extra cost to you and a kickback to me so I can keep making fun stuff to share with you all. Cheers!>>

Alright, let’s just do this:

I followed this recipe video from Felicia at the Starving Chef blog which is very simple once you do it one time. Yes, it is simple. As long as you have the proper ingredients and proper tools and understand why you are doing what you are doing, it will be easily repeated. The mess I made to get this tiny little, maybe 1 pound ball of cheese is astronomical but I made flipping cheese, y’all! CHEESE. I. MADE. CHEESE. In an hour, nonetheless. I told my son that I was gonna make cheese and he asked me why and then walked away laughing. But, once I started squealing with delight from the kitchen when my curds and whey started to separate, he was all in with me.

Curds and whey, Lil’ Miss Muffet!

Making this cheese was easy. I am not saying all cheese is easy to make, because it definitely is NOT. But if you want to give cheesemaking a try, this is a great video to watch and follow. When the tomatoes start to ripen from the garden, I will be making lots of this cheese because nothing is better than fresh tomato, fresh mozzarella, fresh basil and a drizzle of fig balsamic vinegar…..NOTHING.

Give it a try. I promise you will feel damn good about yourself and want to tell all your friends….maybe even write a blog about it. Hmmmm

Storing Bread

I have always bought my bread from the store. Occasionally a loaf gets baked and eaten within an hour by my ravenous family but it was never a weekly event. I have never been much of a baker, but bread is something I am interested in getting more experience with. Give me warm fresh bread and some creamy butter and I am just as ravenous as my family. Mmmm…

My kids love toast and sandwiches (and just warm bread with butter, surprise!) and we can easily go through a loaf of bread in just a few days. All those plastic bread bags don’t work with my less plastic lifestyle now and paper bags turn my bread rock hard. The cost of the bread and the “extra” ingredients and the constant trips to the store make me cringe too.

I need a better way.

To solve my issues, I started to bake my own bread more often (as you may have read about in a previous blog post), but am still in the process of perfecting that easy ‘cut and come again dough in the fridge’ option. So far, I have made a bunch of artisan loaves which are very easy to do, but I am working towards a slicing loaf too. It has to fit the family’s needs or else what is the point? I am confident that I will get there soon enough…

When you bake a loaf of bread or two and want to keep it for sandwiches and toast for the week, what do you store it in? In the past, we would just eat the whole loaf while it was still warm, but I need an option that is good for keeping the bread fresh. I want the center to stay soft while keeping the crust crisp as well. No stale bread allowed.

Apparently, linen bags seem to be my answer as the Europeans have known forever. Why don’t we listen? Linen is:

  • Breathable
  • Keeps the bread in the dark
  • Washable
  • Keeps bread from drying out
  • Linen naturally attracts moisture
  • Looks way cuter on my countertop than a plastic bag!
  • Reusable & safe for the environment

I ordered some heavy linen to make some bags from scratch, but the easiest thing that ANYONE can do is upcycle some linen tea towels or napkins. Just ask grandma…. I have tons of tea towels – you can never have too many! I chose a 50% linen check towel to make my bag (because it is what I have on hand right now) and made sure it was washed and ironed inside out. If you need help figuring out if something is actually linen, check out this post….

So many options!

<<This post may have affiliate links at no extra cost to you – thank you!>>

I pulled out the sewing machine and set up my thread to match (sorta…..the stitches won’t be seen). Fold the tea towel in half length wise and inside out,then a quick pin around the 2 edges being sewn and we are ready to roll. Zip zip. Done.

You can make it more complicated by adding a drawstring top for some twine, string or roping, but I just went ahead and made it the easiest way of all…..

Look how cute this is gonna be on my countertop! A simple twine ribbon. See you at  breakfast! Sitting pretty.

Living Frugally AND Environmentally

Saving money is pretty much on all of our minds these days. Life is expensive, kids aren’t cheap and retirement planning is nothing to be taken lightly.

When my kids were babies, I tried to use coupons on so many occasions, but they just aren’t for me. I had a coupon wallet and it was always forgotten or never had what I needed. The coupons that were available never coincided with my needs. Purchasing products that I don’t normally use just because they have a coupon just seems wasteful to me. I also hate deadlines. #procrastinator

I tried just not going anywhere in hopes that I would simply spend less. Sure, that works for awhile…but then you find yourself on Amazon dreaming of all the things you want to do while at home and the supplies you need to do them. Oh, and isn’t that wrap skirt adorable? #Imasucker

I tried making more money, but let’s face it, I am a mama and the amount of time needed to turn a profit in my home sewing business was taking away from my family, making me depressed and stressed and wasn’t producing enough money to make any difference. #dowhatmakesyouhappy

It wasn’t until I started making my own products and focusing on less waste that I realized that being eco-conscious was also frugal! Many people associate clean living with expense. But there is so much more to clean and simple living that is helpful to our planet AND to your wallet. I am not saying we should all strive to be on an episode of Extreme Cheapskates, but there are quite a few ways to live frugally, environmentally and with less waste and they are available to everyone…

  • Purchase a high quality reusable water bottle instead of buying plastic water bottles. Carry it everywhere with you. Once you get used to carrying it, it won’t seem like a big deal.  You save money by not buying single use plastic water bottles and you save the planet by not buying all that plastic that ends up in landfills or killing our ocean animals. This is my favorite water bottle.

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  • Go with a cloth napkin and washable plate and stop using paper napkins and paper plates. For everyday use, pick a color for each member of the family so they can determine when the napkin is in need of washing (it may not need washing after each meal). Super simple swap here!
  • Use a clothesline or drying rack. Dryers use a ton of energy and not everything needs to be tumbled. Set up an area in your home to hang towels, cloth napkins, socks, pants, etc during the winter (in front of the wood burning stove?) and then set up that clothesline when the sun comes out in late spring. I am excited to set up mine this year!

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  • Buy goods in bulk or refillable options whenever you can to save money and save the planet from all the plastic containers that smaller items use. Save jars from items you have already purchased and reuse!

  • Use microfiber cleaning cloths for your house cleaning instead of buying single use wipes or dusters that create more waste and many use unhealthy chemicals. (baking soda and vinegar is all you need to clean) I grew up using an old tshirt to dust…..why did we stop doing that? I am back at it now….and love to use microfiber cloths for dusting, scrubbing and floor cleaning!
  • Use a coffeemaker with a timer. Make the coffee set up part of your evening routine and soon you will realize just how much money you were wasting at coffee shops and how much waste you were contributing to our planet with all those single use cups with plastic lids and stirrers, etc….
  • Try the trendy beeswax wraps instead of using plastic wrap on your leftovers. Or try some glass containers with lids made from sustainable materials. You end up purchasing less wrap and help mother earth. I love these but I am going to try to make my own soon!!

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Some other small items that can save you money and save our planet:

<<This life-changing post contains affiliate links at no extra cost to you. Thank you so much for your support!>>

It’s eye opening what you will figure out when you decide to live a cleaner, simpler, less waste life. I am definitely buying less, saving more and making less waste. And that is what it’s all about, right? Do what you can.

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Pallet Recycle – Garden Crate

Pallets are a great source of weathered wood slats for rustic DIY projects. Thankfully, most pallets are free if you just ask (behind strip malls is a great place to check – but always ask, because some stores reuse their pallets). I will warn you, however, that taking them apart is not always easy, so do your research. I spent hours breaking my back to tear them apart so it’s time to get something in return for all my labor.

I have a habit of taking walks around my garden in the evenings to say hello to the plants and I inevitably pick some veggies. Cherry tomatoes and herb bundles drop from my arms all the way back to the house because I always forget to bring a basket out with me. So I figured it would be perfect if I had a container that could withstand the elements so I can leave it outside indefinitely.

A wooden crate is super easy and a laid back rustic style to fit perfectly in the garden. It can’t be difficult, right? I mean, I can figure out how to build it just by looking at one. I seriously thought it would take me 30 minutes to get one cranked out…..so I dropped off the boys at soccer practice and drove home to start cutting and building.

I had no plans – no measurements – no specifics. All I wanted was something capable of holding some squash, lettuce and tomatoes – not asking for much. So, I started by cutting my 4 corner posts. I picked those up at Home Depot for 87¢ each and cut them in half….there is my height for the crate.

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My plan was to build two sides and then attach the other two sides and then, the bottom and some handes. BOOM! Seems simple, right?

Sure. In theory.

The first problem I came across was that not all pallet wood is equal. Some of them are thicker and some of them are thinner. Some of them are soft and some of them are hard. I couldn’t even drill through one board it was such hard wood. I bent 5 nails trying to hammer through it. I was flabbergasted. I yelled at the board and at myself and then I had to go get the boys at soccer practice. I am not going to finish this tonight. Dangit.

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Continued later… I picked a different board and a different drill bit. FYI: my crate was made with a hammer and nails because I got impatient. But, I honestly suggest the screws and will be doing that for the next one. Moving on. This is how you make a crate:

TOOLS AND SUPPLIES:

  • measuring tape
  • power drill & drill bits & screws
  • 1-2 pallets for the wood slats
  • circular saw or miter saw
  • 4 “corner” pieces – I used 2 87¢ balusters that I cut in half so I got 4 corners

STEPS:

  • Decide the height, length and width of your crate. cut the short sides first (width) and the corners (height)
  • Attach the slats to the corner pieces by laying them out on the driveway or a solid table – I placed the top slat flush against the top of the corner piece and the bottom slat flush against the bottom of the corner piece then I lined up the third slat so that it was equally spaced between the top and bottom slats. Drill pilots holes and then screw them all in. Do again for other side. You should have two sides now.
  • Take those two sides and set them up so you can attach the long sides to them. Drill Pilot holes and screw together. Repeat on other side. I did my best to line up the slats on the corners, but because my pallets slats were varying sizes, it wasn’t perfect and just added to the charm of the rustic crate. #creativeexcuses

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  • You should now have 4 sides and no bottom! Congratulations! I hope you didn’t run into any weird hardwood slats like I did.

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  • Now it’s time to add the bottom – measure the length first and then cut the slats. This is where I came into more trouble…..because I didn’t really have much to screw into since my slats were pretty narrow. So, if you have narrow slats as well (if they are thick, you won’t have this issue) you may need to add a small piece of baluster running across the bottom between each short end of the crate. It’s basically just something for you to screw into. But, you will also need to screw that small piece in too.

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  • See what I mean about it not being as easy as I thought?
  • After the bottom was completed, I used a large drill bit and drilled 2 holes on the sides and wove the roping through and tied knots of the ends to create handles. Make sure they are both the same length.

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In the end, I have a functioning crate and it’s pretty damn adorable. Did I learn something? Absolutely: Never try to get projects done while your kids are at soccer practice. Now bring on the veggies!

Chicken Toddlers

It’s been a couple weeks since we brought home our baby chicks and I wanted to give you an update and share what I have learned so far as a new “suburban chicken lady”. I would definitely call the chicks ‘toddlers’ now since they are clumsy, knock stuff over, get into things they shouldn’t and poop everywhere…

Chickens grow fast. Holy cow….it does not seem possible that it’s only been a couple weeks since they came to our home (or actually, I giddily brought them home without talking to my family about it). Chicks are shipped to stores when they are only 1 day old because that is the only safe time to ship a chick because they have enough energy from the egg they just hatched from. After that, they may not survive the journey. So, it is safe to say that when my chicks arrived at the supply store that morning, they were probably just 1-2 days old. We will certainly celebrate that…..cuz, who wouldn’t want to see a chicken in a birthday hat?

Everyone stayed close to me when I took them on their first outdoor field trip…
Getting braver…

Chickens are fascinating to watch. OK, so it’s not a binge-worthy Netflix series, but it’s easy to spend an hour just watching them peck around and peep. I started to take them outside this week since they have some actual feathers now and the weather has gotten warmer. Man, they love to peck and scratch and flit about.

Moooooooommmmm, stop following us….

Chickens aren’t that messy. I’m not a neat freak….I have 3 kids and have succumbed to the chaos. Since I can’t really put the chickens outside permanently until nighttime temps are over 70°F, they are living in our home inside a large wired dog crate. (we have 2 instinctive cats) I am not bothered by the chickens poop and that is pretty much the messiest part about having chickens (because they let it rip anywhere….even on your shoulder). Of course, when they are moved outdoors, that same poop will be a great fertilizer for my yard and coop cleanup doesn’t scare me. A well maintained coop will be low to no-odor – especially when compared to our indoor kitty litter box….ugh (that’s my daughter’s chore).

It’s not every day a chick climbs into your hand and takes a nap…

Chickens have personalities. I specifically chose the Plymouth Barred Rock breed because of these few traits – they are good egg layers, do well in cold climates, are a heritage breed, fairly quiet and make good pets. But, let’s be honest….I didn’t just get these chicks for eggs. This may be my “the kids don’t really need me anymore” phase. I definitely want them as pets. We have already named them all and I can honestly say that I have a couple favorites that are also the bravest ladies in the flock. I talk to them all day long just like I do to my cats. #crazycatANDchickenlady

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My sweet boy with his favorite chick…..

It’s only been 2 weeks and I have been sucked into the vortex of suburban chicken ladyship. I’m proud to wear this badge! I live in a boxed up neighborhood and dream about owning 10 acres away from all society. (maybe when the kids go to college) Owning chickens does NOT have to be only for farmers.

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Learning how to plan the garden space, plant the seedlings and care for their individual needs.

With the need to feel more in touch with our food and where it comes from and also to create a simpler life, chickens are an easy way to take that step. Teaching and sharing with my children about the herbs and vegetables that we grow in our garden and the eggs that we will be collecting from our ladies will bring more awareness to the impact we have on this world. My hope is that it will create an understanding and desire in my kids to keep their footprint small as they grow to adults.

Today is Mother’s Day (well, when I wrote this) and the amount of love and support that my lady-friends all show to each other today with kind “Happy Mother’s Day” greetings is matched in their love and support in raising kind and thoughtful children. Raising these chickens is for me and for my kids because I take my lifelong “job” as Mama of Kind and Conscious Kids very seriously.

I hope all you Mamas had an amazing day!

Everything Herbs: 101

Herbs don’t always get the attention they deserve. We forget to sprinkle fresh rosemary on our baked potato, put cilantro in our guacamole and basil is only eaten on restaurant-made margherita pizzas. How sad is that? That tiny little sprinkle of fresh herbs can change an entire dish into something miraculous and yet…..we often overlook it.

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I admit that I often forget to add that final touch…(and then my herbs rot in the fridge crisper, sigh) But that is essentially the issue with purchasing cut herbs….you may not eat them all and it seems so wasteful that you just don’t bother with them anymore. But, what if you had your own herb plants to be able to cut and come back again whenever you need their freshness? No more waste and constantly fresh herbs to take your dishes from blah to wow!

Not everyone thinks they have a green thumb (I don’t believe in this at all, btw) so I want to simplify the way you think of herbs. You can grow them, harvest them and use them yourself whether you have a black thumb, no backyard or live with little space. I promise.

Let’s talk about space for your herb garden:

Whether you have an apartment window, a brick patio or a 10 acre farm, you can ALL have an herb garden. For the indoor gardener, herbs gardens are easy! (growing carrots, not so much) Pick your favorites, your containers and make sure you provide your pots with proper drainage. If your pot is something like a mason jar which has no drainage, make sure to add a thick layer of decorative rocks to the bottom of your pot to help keep the plant out of direct standing water. Whenever you have standing water like this, I like to add charcoal to the pot as well to help deter smells. For the patio or container gardener you have a little more space to grow your herbs but still need to provide enough drainage and make sure that if they are outside in a container, that they get the proper amount of watering. Containers will dry out faster than gardens. For the full size garden, just go buck wild……grow a whole row of lavender. If you are also growing vegetables, consider companion planting (we will talk about that next)… As with any plant, providing it with the proper amount of sunlight is important to the health of your herbs. Do your research on what each herb plant needs before picking your spot. Here are some gorgeous ideas for indoor and container gardening ideas:

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Let’s talk about what herbs grow well together:

Growing certain herbs together can promote a healthy and happy growing garden. Some plants will even help deter insects from their plant companions, provide them with rich soils and even enhance the flavor of their garden buddies. When figuring out what herbs make good companions, you must consider each individual plants requirements first. If one herb needs moist, fertile soil and another needs sandy soil, they clearly won’t make good companions. You also need to consider space as some plants tend to take over their space and spread wildly (mint family!) which would steal space and nutrients from other plants. Some plants just don’t get along too! Here are some great plants to group together:

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Let’s talk about how to harvest and use your herbs:

If you are growing your herbs in containers, they will most likely stay pretty small and will need regular pruning to encourage healthy growth. If you are growing in a garden, you have more play with how much you harvest, but it’s still a great idea to encourage growth with regular pruning. Each herb has a specific way to prune, so make sure you are aware of how to care for each type. Harvesting fresh herbs means you can use them for cooking, baking and for drying, freezing and oils as well. The typical way to dry a bunch of herbs is to hang them, but it can take 6 weeks. You can also speed up the process by using the microwave – just clean and pat dry your herbs and put them in the microwave on a paper towel and dry in 30 sec intervals. Herbs are also very easy to freeze – my favorite method is to chop and freeze them in ice cube trays of oil or water. Another method is to use them to infuse your cooking oils – just place the dry herbs in the oil and let it steep for 6 weeks then strain and enjoy.

I adore growing fresh herbs in my garden even though I haven’t utilized them as much as I should have in the past. This year will be different for me and I hope it will be for you too!

Happy Herb Gardening!

Quick Chicken Fried Rice

When you have 3 kids doing multiple activities in the evenings, it’s tough to get everyone together for a meal. Some weeks, we may only have 1 day where everyone is able to be together. Many nights 1 or more kids eats quickly and alone. It saddens me that we can’t all sit together all the time, but I do my best to spend time with each child while they are eating to make some kind of a connection. #doingmybestEven on the days where we are available to be together, we are often busy working on projects before dinner or in a rush to do something after eating. It’s important to me to atleast have some sort of a meal together even if it’s in front of the TV or multitasking something. Together in any way possible.Just yesterday, I spent my entire day working around the house on some back-breaking projects and I was exhausted. Usually I would have to quit at least an hour before dinner time to prepare something for our family, but last night I was outside working until 8 PM. Phew.We normally eat at 6 PM so I asked my husband to feed everyone leftovers. No problem but I missed out on that time with my family and came inside during shower time.I still have some mom guilt about missing our togetherness window last night, so I am planning a meal that we can eat with everyone tonight. Unfortunately, I still have more back-breaking work to do today and we have family plans for later in the evening, so this meal is going to have to be a quick one.Finding shortcuts to make family meals is perfectly acceptable. It’s all about the time together, right?One of my favorite shortcuts is my Instant Pot, but cooking lots of chicken for the whole week is also a fave. Or, go buck wild and buy a rotisserie chicken and use that. #whateverittakes I find that if I cook the food ahead of time, it forces me to make sure I use it. So here is a fun and quick recipe from The Recipe Critic using already cooked chicken and rice and it only requires one cast iron pan. Another HUGE bonus. Am I right?Protein, veggies and some grains all together. I just love ethnic foods and anything that can be eaten all together from a bowl…..I’m a simple gal.INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 pound of Chicken (around 2-3 chicken breasts) cooked and shredded
  • 3 cups cooked Rice
  • 2 Tbsp Sesame Oil
  • 1 small Onion, chopped (or less depending on your audience)
  • 1 cup frozen Peas & Carrots thawed (or if you have fresh, that works too – just make sure you give em a quick cook before adding to pan)
  • 2-3 Tbsp of Bragg Liquid Aminos (or soy sauce)
  • 2-3 Eggs, beaten
  • 2 Tbsp of chopped Green Onion

Heat a large skillet at medium heat, add sesame oil to skillet and cook onion, peas and carrots until tender. Shove to one side of pan.

Add eggs to other side of pan and scramble. The veggies may get slightly mixed and that is fine because once the eggs is scrambled, you are going to mix everything together anyway.

Add rice and chicken to skillet and pour your aminos on top. Mix and heat through!

Make a bowl for everyone and sprinkle some green onion on top (if ya like). My kids all liked this dish which is a huge help for busy weeknights! Better than takeout.

When you have the precooked chicken and rice, this takes no time at all and you can all have a delicious meal together at the table (even though one kid was in the shower…..oh well). I tried.

Happy Eating!

Busy Busy Busy

I had a busy day full of back breaking work. No time to create or write, sorry. My only tip to share is this:

Do NOT try to take apart pallets by using a pry bar. If someone said that was the way to do it, don’t trust them. They are not trustworthy. Trust me when I say, you can only cut them off into smaller pieces with a circular saw or use a Sawzall (reciprocating saw) to cut the nails.

I brought home 12 pallets last Friday to work on a project for a friend and to maybe make something for myself. After shoveling more trenches for our drainage project this morning and grocery shopping, I decided to take care of the pallets. I know it’s going to rain tomorrow and I need to be able to put a kid or two or three in my car, so the pallets gotta go. (did I mention that my stow ‘n’ go seating rocks!? 12 pallets!)

I cut the boards into small pieces on the first 5 and then used the sawzall on the rest…it took me 4 1/2 hours and 3 reciprocating saw blades. My whole body hurts and I’m completely exhausted.

Takeaway: pallet deconstruction is not a simple afternoon task.

Good luck everyone. Zzzzzzzzz

Everyday Bread

My family eats lots of bread. Lots. PB&J, toast, egg in a basket, BLT, cinnamon toast, submarine sandwiches, french toast, rolls, whatever. We are definitely not a gluten free family.

As a teen, my friends and I used to make fun of my mother for stuffing her freezer with almost entirely bread products. It was hysterical. Most families had popsicles, ice cream, frozen desserts, veggies and TV dinners and my Mom had bread. Loaf after loaf after loaf. Rye bread was her favorite.

We all say we aren’t going to become our parents, be we all do and I am no exception. Now, I freeze bread. Lots of it. If I didn’t, I would be going to the store for bread every few days and grocery shopping is not my favorite pastime.

With my clean and simple living journey, I hoped to be able to find a way to make healthy and easy homemade bread instead of buying bread and freezing it constantly. But, bread is not exactly a simple process so I knew this way going to be a challenge.

Mixing the ingredients, letting the bread rise several times and then baking the bread takes time and can get complicated. (just see my sourdough cheat recipe!) I need something “on hand” to be able to make a loaf of bread every afternoon if needed.

After reading some library books and making some trial loafs, I think I finally found what I need: a premade homemade dough that can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks and only requires 1 more rising (around 45 min-1 hour) and takes only 30 minutes to bake. This, I can work with.

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups lukewarm water
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp of granulated yeast
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp kosher salt or other coarse salt
  • 6 1/2 cups unsifted, unbleached all purpose flour (scoop and sweep measured)
  • cornmeal or more flour for for working with the dough

Warm water helps the dough rise faster before you put it in the fridge for storage, so make sure it’s around 100°F – or a little warmer than body temp.

Add the yeast & salt to the warm water in a sealable container – nothing airtight, though. A simple tupperware container works perfectly. They even make bread dough lidded buckets if ya want one. Mix in the flour, any way that you want, but do NOT knead it. I just used a wooden spoon at first and then my fingers to really get the dough completely incorporated. This only takes a few minutes and the dough should be moist.

Now, let the dough rise. Cover the container with your lid (make sure it’s NOT airtight or something bad could happen) and let it sit at room temp for around 2-5 hours depending on water temp and room temp. Letting it go longer will not harm your results. Now throw it in the fridge until you are ready to bake a loaf.

When you are ready to bake, give yourself around 2 hours before mealtime. Take the dough container out of the fridge and with a pair of kitchen shears or a knife, cut off a piece of dough that is around a grapefruit size or 1 pound.

Dust the dough and your hands with a little flour. Take the dough and do what is called a “gluten cloak” (check out the quick video). This is when you stretch the top of the dough down the sides and under the loaf so that the top of the loaf looks tight – it takes seconds.

Let the loaf rest on a cornmeal or flour covered “pizza peel” or small wooden cutting board (which is what I use) for about 40 min or more. It does not need to be covered. Just keep it out of the way of traffic. It may rise a little more or not.

Preheat oven to 450° F with a baking stone in the oven and another small tray to hold water on another shelf.

Dust the loaf one more time and slash a 1/4″ deep cut in whatever pattern you like with a serrated knife.

Slide the loaf of bread onto the preheated baking stone with a quick jerk and then quickly pour 1 cup of water into the other small tray and close the oven right away to trap the steam.

Set the timer for 30 minutes and make the rest of your meal while it bakes. Bam. Super crusty and crackly crust with a soft and dense center. Perfection.

The coolest part of this is that you can keep it in your fridge for a couple weeks and just cut off the dough and bake as you go. Then restock the dough and keep going. Or, you can even freeze 1 pound sections in airtight containers and just defrost overnight in the fridge. This master recipe can be used to make so many different variations of breads and even pizza crusts and desserts.

I am going to continue testing out more simple and easy loaves of bread for my family to enjoy for sandwiches, french toast and dinners. But, I am definitely on the right path towards a quick and easy fresh loaf of bread that can be baked a few times a week. Check out more ways to use the Boule master recipe in this awesome book, Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. I am floored by all the options.

Next step: sew some linen bags for storing any bread!

Happy Baking!

Simple Suburban Living

I woke up this morning thinking I better get myself a pair of overalls so I can wear them in the yard while taking care of the garden and chickens and whatever else I dream up for my backyard farm. Then I smiled and laughed at myself and just put on my sweatpants. I mean, really….sweatpants are everything.

But, honestly, I have been dreaming only of my backyard farm lately. I am obsessed. It’s all I want to do. I was asking around recently about getting a job at a local farm just to learn more. I would much rather shovel poop than work in front of a computer any day. (ironically, here I am writing this…)

In a way, I have been moving towards this lifestyle for quite a few months after a very successful year that in hindsight also felt very unlike me (it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement). Authenticity and acceptance of who I am, good and bad, is my goal now. For so many years, I suppressed this simpler side of me because I had a picture in my head of what I “should be” and what I “should be” making, which never involved raising chickens or making my own toothpaste. I’m a Jersey girl, for f*$# sake! But, hear me out…

Most people think that to live a “simpler life” we need to quit our jobs and move to the country and buy a cow. They immediately give up on that idea because no one wants to own a cow or thinks they can do it. But that’s just not true. Living a simpler life can happen in the city or the suburbs as well, you just have to create your own way and definitely don’t buy a cow if you have a 4th floor walkup….disastrous.

I surveyed my area. What do I have to work with? Small suburban fenced in lot. I know that I will not be moving anywhere any time soon because my children are in school and I wouldn’t dare take them away from their friends just to satisfy my need for a teeny tiny baby goat that hops and prances and let’s me take it for walks. My human kids come first (see what I did there? LOL). So, we make do with the space we have.

The easiest first step towards a simpler life is to start a garden. It can be in pots on your deck/porch or you can go rototill a section of your yard or even build raised beds like I did. Ask yourself what your level of commitment is before deciding. Not sure? Start small and just do container gardening. You can grow vegetables and herbs from containers. Sure, purchasing shiny waxy vegetables is easier, but let’s look at this for a hot minute…

We are a society of consumerism. It’s easier and faster to buy. I remember the day that I realized that brownies didn’t just come from a mix in a box. Eek, embarrassing. Back in the day, we all made our own clothing, grew our own food, made our own baskets, carved our own toys, built our own homes & chopped our own wood to heat them. Some people had specific jobs like blacksmith or schoolteacher, but most people were able to do a little of everything. We weren’t afraid of doing it all.

Now, I am not encouraging you to go out and build your own barn (unless you want to, then huzzah!), but we all should take a step back and see how much we purchase and where we are willing to slow down. Maybe try to make our own items instead. (this blog is my way of hopefully encouraging and inspiring you to do just that!) You do not have to do it all, but when you make even your own homemade salad dressing, the sense of accomplishment can make you feel like a celebrity. That sense of accomplishment is exactly what we need to get back. That confidence in ourselves and our abilities. Whip up some shampoo or hand lotion, grow some basil or fix a hole in your sock and realize that you can do this. Recipes and tutorials are everywhere, I have even shared a few so far on my journey. I am in no way an expert – far from it. Which means you can do it too.

We are all natural makers, us humans. We make things out of necessity and we make things out of love. At least we used to. Find that part of yourself and get back to being a maker. You never know how much it will fulfill your life to know that you can make instead of buy. Getting back to basics is is good for your soul, it’s good for your body, it’s good for your family, it’s good for your wallet and it’s good for our planet.

So start that garden, make some homemade cleaners, bake your own bread or maybe even raise chickens like me (I’ve never done this before – trial and error!) so you can feel that sense of accomplishment, that pride in yourself and your abilities. Think about how much happier we would be if we lived this simpler life? We can all do something.

Me, I am planning on growing as many veggies I can this summer and hopefully trying out some freezer/canning preserving ideas to stock up for the winter months. I am also going to raise these chickens to hopefully get some fresh eggs by the fall. I am also going to start baking my own bread and you know I am already replacing as many cleaners, candles and beauty products in our household as I can. If something doesn’t work out, then I will try another way.

Please share what you are planning on making yourself and are going to stop purchasing. I would LOVE to hear everyone’s plans so I can encourage you all.

Happy Making.