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Monday, April 1, 2013

Back To The Garden:

We constructed a fence using fence stakes and chicken wire. Used a staple gun to put the chicken wire on. I painted the fence red using spray paint.

I had collected enough pallets to make 5 raised beds. I painted them white using an outdoor non toxic paint on the outsides and some inside where the dirt would not touch.

I went to Lowe's and purchased 16 foot boards that were 10 inches in width. I had them cut them each into 4 pieces to make the remaining boxes and painted them as well. My son built all the boxes.

Dirt was the big deal. I bought over 102 bags of topsoil, compost and manure. I found the best deal at Walmart. Always ask an employee about discount or damaged bags. This was very beneficial. I have to say, it was back breaking work loading and unloading those bags and then cutting each one open and putting into the boxes. Sore backs and hot Epsom salt baths may be in your future.

A little garden help and a chance to let the kids get very dirty. My girls enjoyed helping plant the seedlings but really enjoyed spreading the hay in the isles. I put down black paper to start before the boxes went in. The hay ensures that weeds won't grow inside and we won't have to mow or pull weeds.

There you have it, a garden. Took a lot longer than I had expected and was more costly than I had ever imagined but, My husband surprised me on Easter morning with a beautiful 21.5 gigantic pressure caner to can all my reward. All my homesteading dreams will eventually come true.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Let's Make Bread!

It's raining and cold out today so, I will give a test run for you on a picture posting on how to make my sandwich bread. If I had my husband here, we would make it a video, but he's at work today. Here are a list of ingredients that you will need. I recommend if you have never made bread before, not to substitute any ingredients if you can help it. This is the base for all my bread. I mean to say that after you master this kind of plain ole' white bread, you can make any kind of bread your heart desires.

4- cups Bread Flour
1/2- cup sugar
4- tablespoons yeast (quick rising for this recipe)
4- tablespoons real butter
1 1/2- cups milk (whole milk)
3- tablespoons "vital wheat gluten" (should be on the flour/baking isle)
2- teaspoons salt

(recipe for 2 loaves)

For those who don't know what vital wheat gluten looks like. It makes the bread incredibly soft. If you omit it, your bread will have a harder texture, but still very good.

I have this wonderful deep glass measuring cup from Pampered Chef. I fill it with the cold milk from the fridge and half a stick of cold butter and pop it in the microwave for exactly 2 minutes.

Once it is ready, I whisk the heck out of it until it is frothy. I also check the temperature to be no higher than 120 degrees (with a glass candy thermometer). If you don't have a thermometer (which I highly recommend:If you have ever tested a baby bottle on your wrist, if it tingles, it is too hot. But, it shouldn't be cold either. The perfect temperature wakes up the yeast and too hot just kills it so your bread won't rise at all.(99-115 degrees is best)

In my Kitchen Aide mixer bowl, I have the yeast, gluten and sugar. I pour the liquid over those ingredients and whisk the heck out of it once again.

Let it sit for a minute then add the 4- cups of bread flour. Don't pack it but make it as accurate as possible. I use a dough cutter to scrape it off the top.

Add your salt.

Then, before I turn the mixer on, I use a rubber spatula to mix it up a little and scrap it off the sides of the bowl. This is when I can tell if it has enough liquid vs enough flour. It is thick and glue like.

Then turn your mixer on the second speed (never go higher than 2!) Also, use the dough hook attachment. We are kneading, which incorporates air, not beating. Knead for 10 minutes. Hand kneading is a task. I did it for years before my mixer. The basic concept is incorporating air as you mix the ingredients. Fold and punch down from corner to corner as you turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface. If you use this method, I recommend starting with 3 1/2 cups flour and dusting as you knead. Try to keep the dough as elastic as you can without over flouring. 10 minutes is sufficient or until the dough feels like a baby's bottom.

I have an extra large stainless steel bowl I use to rise my dough in. I spray it with canola oil and turn the dough into the oiled bowl and cover it with saran wrap. I put it in my microwave which is above my stove and preheat my stove which makes the perfect rising environment for bread. It usually takes 30 minutes or until the dough doubles in size.

Punch down the dough and turn it onto the counter top. I use the dough cutter to divide it in half down the middle then fold the ends and sides together and put each loaf into a sprayed glass bread pan.

Set into a warm dry place (my microwave) and let rise again until it doubles in size. (approximately another 30 minutes)

Preheat the oven to 375. (I have had mine on the whole time and it radiates heat up to the microwave to help my dough rise)

Put your bread in the preheated oven. Center rack only. It keeps your bread cooking evenly.

Cook for 18-20 minutes according to your oven. 20 is perfect for my oven.

It should be a golden brown. It helps having a glass dish because you can see the color all the way around the entire loaf.

Let the bread cool for about 10-15 minutes in the dish. It is soft bread inside so if you take it out too soon it may collapse. Turn it over gently onto a cooling rack. Wait until bottom is cooled enough to cut.

I pre-cut mine for sandwiches. You can wait to cut the second loaf if you'd like as you use the slices up. It works best to cut with a serrated bread knife. Cut the pieces slowly and don't use too much tension holding the loaf while you cut the pieces or you will squish the bread.

Voila! You have made bread! Enjoy and let me know how it goes.


Thursday, March 14, 2013

Testing Out My Green Thumb

This weekend I embark on my first full scale raised organic garden. The kids and I have already started some seedlings. I hope all my research pays off. I have attempted vegetable gardening many times and with a bit of success but never delved into it with this much forethought and planning. I really never realized some basic things until I came upon "The Vegetable Gardener's Bible", by Edward C. Smith. His acronym system for gardening is WORD:  Wide rows, Organic methods, Raised beds and Deep soil. I had a raised small kitchen garden about 5 years ago that did pretty well using his methods, so now I am going full scale.  Wish me luck!

Using the methods mentioned in the book and some interesting facts I had never thought about, I am making a raised garden out of recycled wood pallets that I have been picking up at a local warehouse that is throwing them out. I have suffered a few long type bruises along my thighs while hoisting these heavy suckers into the back of my Honda Pilot. Thankfully my technique has improved since the first load and I am managing to get them in there a little easier. The kids who are 5 and 6, have started calling me "Super Mom". Haha!

The boxes I am planning will be 4ft/4ft and in each of them I plan on planting 2-3 items. I have paired together things that complement one another. I have learned (in this wonderful book) that certain vegetables just don't do well together while others apparently help each other along. So, while laying out my garden plans, I am putting those together that work in accordance with each other. Also, I have to take into account that my trellised or vine plants may shade out other plants. So all that can shade will be put on the Northeast side of the yard, which since I am doing the vine thing, will make my garden long and not as deep. This way, when the sun comes up, they wont shade the other guys who need sunlight as well.


The weather around here is so unpredictable. Nothing will go in our garden until I know that the last frost has past. So, the big thing will be building my raised beds and eventually building a chicken wire fence to go around it. We have had many, many rabbits around this past year and I am sure they would love to munch on our garden but it is intended for us. Unfortunately, rabbits are burrowers so I will dig a small trench and put the wiring down into the soil a few inches. I also plan on making a pest control spray. While in Lowes, I read the ingredients of Deer and Rabbit repellent and I could not believe what I could have spent over 30 dollars for. It is basically garlic oil and stinky eggs. So they hate the smell of sulfur and garlic. I will add some red pepper to it and voila! I pray it works.

I should stop here. I am sure there will be pictures to post of the frames I attempt this weekend for my raised beds. The man at Lowes warned me that they will be hard to take apart so I am probably going to have to work out my method. It should be an adventure. Keep following...