Monday, March 30, 2020

On Preserving Food

How many of you read the title of this post and immediately thought this would be a post about canning?  I'll be quite frank and say I've never canned a thing and currently have no interest in it.  I can also tell you that we have a pressure canner and books on the matter, but it's more of an interest to hubby than me.  Let's shake that idea loose and talk about the other options.

From our house in El Paso, TX

What are the other options?  Well in our house there are three ways that we preserve food - freezing, drying, and vac-sealing.  In most cases, vac-sealing is used in conjunction with freezing or drying foods.

We all have a freezer and it's something most of us use in our day to day life.  We often fill our freezers with prepackaged or processed food, but I think we sometimes forget to freeze our assets.  I freeze all kinds of things - stale bread, vegetable trimmings, meals for later, stock, and any number of other ingredients.  Don't worry, there will be a post later this week to dive into this farther into this, but remember your freezer isn't just for pizzas, fries, and forgotten bags of veggies.

Dehydrating or drying foods, not as common as freezing, but can be a more stable way to preserve food.  This is a great way to preserve fruits for snacking and baking, veggies for soups and stews, jerky for the summer hike your planning.  That same stale bread from the freezer can be turned into dry breadcrumbs.  We'll dive into this one further as well, including which dehydrator we own and why we chose it.  Dehydrators aren't just for jerky and fruit leather.

Vac-sealing is something we use most often for freezing meat for later use.  We buy our meat in large family packs most often, bring it home and break it down into sizes that are better for two.  It's a bit of work, but it saves us a lot of money all the way around.  However, that's not the only use. We have a jar attachment that allows us to vac-seal mason jars of dried foods, specialty flours, and other dry ingredients.  So while this isn't a stand-alone method, it's a great helper in the preservation of your pantry.

My goal is to share with you other ideas for using each of these methods for preserving food.  Ways that might fit into your lifestyle a bit easier than traditional canning. These methods might also be of more interest to you as well.

How do you preserve your food to extend its shelf life in your pantry?  Are you a canner? A dehydrator? A Freezer?

Wednesday's delve into dehydrating and storing your dried foods.  Then on Friday, we'll look at better ways to fill that freezer.

Recipe Review: Banana Bundt Cake

Let's start by saying there isn't a beautiful printable version of this one, as the recipe came from my mom on an index card.  I have however included a photo of the recipe card in this post.  This cake is very good, has a lighter banana flavor than banana bread.  That said, I'm gonna be honest and tell you that I won't be making it again.  We prefer banana bread in our house.

I made one swap while making this recipe, using yogurt in place of the sour cream.  I make this kind of swap frequently, as there is always yogurt in our house and sour cream makes rare appearances.  The other ingredients we all things I had on hand.  I also want to point out that this recipe cuts down on food waste because I used my overripe bananas rather than toss them.  Yes, I know they aren't overripe to some of you, but I like a bit of green on my bananas if I'm just gonna eat them.  Otherwise, they go into something - cake, bread, smoothie, etc.

I have a tip for you when you're baking this cake.  Use some of the dry cake mix to "flour" the pan.  This will prevent that bit of white haze that can happen on a bundt cake when flouring the pan is called for.  This also means if you don't have flour I got you covered.  You're welcome. 

Next trick for you.  If you want your cake to come out easily don't cool it completely in the pan.  Release it from the pan while it's still a little warm.  The oil, butter or pan spay you used to grease the pan will still be a little warm and will release the cake easily; waiting until the pan is completely cool and increase the risk of sticking.

There is no sauce with this cake, nor frosting, but it is pretty tasty with some whipped cream.  You could totally frost it if you like, a cream cheese frosting or glaze might just kick this cake up a level.  Enjoy!

Friday, March 27, 2020

On Keeping a Pantry

Let's get one thing straight right now, keeping a working pantry a hoard it does not make! 

Working Pantry:  a pantry stocked with things that are eaten regularly, and is in constant rotation.  

I've kept a working pantry for nearly 13 years.  I've had a pantry for food, long before there was a pandemic.  I see you.  Yes you, the one jumping to crazy conclusions.  I'm not a prepper who believes in the apocalypse.  I'm not hoarding food waiting for the world to end.  I'm eating what's on my shelves and replacing it as we eat it.  Working pantries rotate stock regularly, as you eat it, as your tastes change, as your location changes.

I'm a person who has lived through blizzards, ice storms, and other inclement weather.  I'm a person who has lived through scraping by on one income, more than once.  I am a person who had lived through moving to three different stated.  I am a person who has also lived outside of town, in small towns with limited options and in towns that freaks the hell out when it snows six inches.  Keeping a working pantry has been such an asset in ALL of these scenarios. 

Our working pantry when we lived in Missouri, a budget saver and helped us stretch our money from payday to payday.  Most of our time there was spent surviving on my bank teller job, with hubby adding to our income as a substitute teacher.  This was our first two years of married life and we learned a lot about making our own spice mixes, learning to make bread, cooking with low-cost ingredients and stretching cuts of meat to make more than one meal. 

When we moved to Texas, we packed our pantry and moved into a new house.  We used a set of cupboards in our laundry room, not pictured is the additional cupboard of canned goods.  We were a one-income household for a few months before I got a job.  Money was tight when we moved and my pantry kept our grocery bill low, without sacrificing good meals on our limited budget.

Two years later we moved to Alaska.  Our first house in Alaska was a rental on post, be nice, the only photos I have are of the day I was unpacking the kitchen.  When we moved into this house money became very tight because of what was spent to move here for hubby's new job.  It took a while for me to find a steady job, but I made a lot of great meals out of this kitchen with this pantry and again stretched our grocery budget. 

Fast forward to today, in our second Alaska house that we bought a few years ago.  I have a much larger pantry in this house, but we also have a better income now.  That being said we live in a small town with limited variety in the local grocery store and commissary.  Our next closest shopping options with variety is 100 miles or 2 hours from us.  We shop differently because of things like the snowstorm we're currently experiencing, not to mention the "beer" virus and house quarantine.  I'll take everything I learned nearly 13 years ago in our first years of marriage and apply to our current panty, to continue to make amazing meals while we're house hostages. 

I share this with all of you know in hopes that someone will find some gem of knowledge and maybe some encouragement start a pantry.  There are so many ways to have a pantry, small or large.  Think about the dead spaces in your house.  You can put a pantry into a spare closest, under your bed, in a hall cabinet.  My mom has two four foot cupboards that she got at Walmart and put together; they're in her hallway across from the washer and dryer. 

Don't let the idea of starting a pantry scare you.  Starting a pantry shouldn't be hard, overwhelming or expensive.  We didn't start with what you see in the photos.  When we moved to Missouri we started with few things at a time.  Take a look at what you eat regularly that is shelf-stable.  Now buy two of them the next time you go to the store.  I'd also suggest that you think about things that are useable for more than one meal, more about ingredients than boxed stuff that makes one meal.  I'll talk more about that in another post. 

Do you have a pantry?  What's one thing you consider a must-have in your pantry?

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Cloth Napkins

There's a funny story from my childhood that my mom still loves to tell about me and cloth napkins.

I was in grade school at the time, maybe first or second grade and I made some off-handed comment, yes even then, about how rich people have cloth napkins.  I think it stemmed from a movie or tv show we were watching at the time. 

My mom set about to make us "rich" people.  She took a pair of pinking shears to a white top sheet and cut it into squares.  Mom hemmed them and then hand-embroidered them with DMC thread she had leftover from other projects. 

We used these napkins for every holiday and special occasion dinner while I was growing up.  Those well-loved napkins, stained with many family meals and memories, now live in my table linen drawer. 

Do you have an old top sheet with no mate,  some cotton fabric, or maybe an old dress shirt or two?  Repurpose and reduce waste by making some cloth napkins.  It reduces the waste on two ends, with both the recycled fabric and reduction in the use of paper towels and or paper napkins. 

Fast forward to 2014, when I was trying to make us a little greener and I was kind of tired of the number of paper towels we were going through.   I made napkins from a stash of fat quarters I'd been hoarding, and I had a good stash to make some fun napkins.  Let me first say none of my napkins match.  Yes, that's right I said none.  I literally used up a stash of fabric with no care in my soul about matching sets.  You can totally make a pretty set of matching napkins if that's your thing, but it wasn't important to me.

I used the tutorial from - How to Make Easy & Stylish Cloth Napkins.  I'm resurrecting this because I'm thinking about making more, maybe matching this time.  I might even gift them to a few friends. 

We are still using these napkins.  They make for a great conversation piece when we have guests.  We talk about the fact that we have cloth napkins, we talk about how they don't match.  I have a funny story from New Year's about napkins.  While none of the napkins I made match I do have a set of cloth napkins, sent to me from a friend, that do match.  As we were sitting down to dinner there was a comment about the napkins matching to which my husband made the remark - "I didn't know we had matching napkins."

I love that our napkins are much like our dishes, an eclectic collection of colors and things I love.  Tell me, do you have cloth napkins?  Or even a funny story about cloth napkins?

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Recipe Review: King Arthur Flour Soft Wrap Bread

I can honestly say we've only made this twice and both times it's been delicious.  There will be more of this in our future as we stay put through this COVID-19 outbreak in Alaska.  This recipe does take a little bit of time, but right now we all have that on our hands.

We usually buy Stonefire Naan, they come two naan bread to a package and delicious.  Our favorite flavor is the roasted garlic, but in order to get these, we need to travel the 100 miles/2hours to Fairbanks to get them.  I usually buy several packages at a time, as they freeze well.  They make fantastic flatbread pizzas, sandwich wraps and are delicious warmed in the toaster oven and served with hummus.

Since we won't be making the trip to Fairbanks any time soon, I'll be making more of the Soft Wrap Bread recipe.  I'll also be doing a little experimenting to see if I can make a garlic version.  This recipe is from King Arthur Flour is really close to naan and we love it!

I made it over the weekend to go with some falafel and then we used some to go with huevos rancheros for breakfast.  The ingredients are super basic, and most of us probably have them in our kitchen right now.  I used all-purpose flour, potato flakes (aka instant mashed potatoes), kosher salt, instant yeast, and olive oil.

The time-consuming part of this recipe is really in the hands-off periods.  Once you mix the warm water and 2 cups of flour, you have to let it sit for 30 minutes.  Then you add the remaining ingredients and knead the dough 5 minutes and allow it to rise for an hour.  Your last resting phase is after you divide the dough into 8 balls with a 15 to 30 minute rest.  We opted for just the 15 minute rest.

I used a french rolling pin to roll out all of the balls into roughly 8" circles.  I did pretty well getting them round, which isn't usually the case.  I'm not known for my rolling pin skills.

We used a cast iron griddle to cook our soft wrap bread.  I forgot to grab a photo before hubby flipped it when it was all bubbly.  It bubbles up beautifully when you start cooking them.  They reheat really well in the toaster oven or on a hot griddle as well.

They made the perfect carrier for the falafel we had for dinner and were delicious paired with our huevos rancheros.  The recipe makes eight, and while I'm sure they would freeze well, I'd have to make a double batch to find out.  Right now there are only two of them left in the fridge and I'm gonna guess they will be eaten before the weeks out.

When you live in Interior Alaska, you learn to adapt and make it yourself when times change and challenges arise.  I really love how simple this recipe is and the fact that it's just basics to make something so delicious.  I can't wait to try them as a pizza crust.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

DIY Reusable Hand Wipes

It's been a  while since I did any amount of sewing, but when you're home with no end in sight you do things you haven't done in a while. 

I have a big stash of fabric, that I've moved a handful of times.  It's an asset in times like this.  Disposable is good, but when the shelves are empty you become resourceful with your assets.  Back in the day, I used to make and sell burp rags.  What does that have to do with this?  Well in said stash is a pile of flannel scraps, many of which were big enough to make 6x6 squares.  Flannel will make for a soft wipe, as we plan to use these as hand wipes.  Now let's get to how easy these wipes were to make. 

Easy Reusable Wipes:

  1. Iron the fabric.  If using scraps select the pieces that are large enough to make the desired size.  I created 6x6 inch squares for this project.
  2. Cut squares to desired size.  If you have a self-healing mat, rotary cutter and ruler you can make short work of this process.  If not, make a cardboard template to trace and make the process easier.  
  3. Match up and pin together two square, with wrong sides facing.  Yes, that's pretty sides out, no fancy turning and conner mitering needed.  
  4. Using a zig-zag stitch, sew around the outside edges.  
  5. Trim up the edges to make them look pretty.  Using pinking shears will make this an easy job, but do what you can with what you have.  
  6. Sew across the center of square diagonal from corner to corner.  This will depend on the size of your square.  With the 6x6 inch square only did one diagonal, but for a large square, I would sew two to create an "X" in the middle.
  7. Press and use wipe for desired use.
I'll be using a plastic container with a lid to create my wipes.  I have a hand sanitizer recipe that is designed for spraying that I'll be putting into the container, and then adding my wipes.  You can find that recipe for the sanitizer here.  

I hope you found this project useful, as well as helping you bust through a bit more of your fabric stash.  

Monday, March 23, 2020

Currently March 2020

It all seems like it started with daylights savings time, a full moon and Friday the 13th.  Then came COVID-19 (aka Carona Virus) and now it's been snowing on and off for three days in Interior Alaska.

Meme from Facebook
Our world is shutting down one piece at a time.  First the public schools.  Then went the bars,  restaurants, gyms and even churches.  There are snarky comments about hoarding.   Toilet paper is selling out as fast as it hits shelves.

I don't even have the words to explain how I feel about all of the things going on.  I'm saddened by the number of people who won't take it seriously.  I'm angry at how the news chooses to cover things like this.  I'm worried about my family that is thousands of miles from me at this crazy time.  I'm amazed at the kindness people are sharing in this time of panic.  I'm awestruck by the diversity of some business as they change and morph to help with the changing needs of our country.  I'm concerned about the impact this will have on our country.  I could go on, but we don't need a laundry list of what I'm feeling.

I think Mike Rowe said it best in one of his Facebook posts this past week:
"It feels like the country is going through the five stages of grief, but at different speeds. Some are angry, some are depressed, some are in denial, some are bargaining, and some have accepted the fact that we’re in for a long, strange trip." - Mike Rowe

Meme from Facebook
I also think it's VERY important for us all to keep our sense of humor.  I also know that humor is how many of us deal with stress and the unknown, so don't be too hard on your friends cracking jokes about our current state of affairs.

I've told a few of my friends that in five years we can look back on this and laugh about the great toilet paper shortage of 2020 that was brought on by the "beer" virus.

Before you get angry, this is coming from someone in Day 8 of House Hostage 2020, with no end in sight.  I'm also someone who is very uncertain about the future.  I have a job that doesn't come with sick leave or vacation time.  The public schools in Alaska are now closed by Governor mandate until May 1st, as of the last update.  More of our state is shutdown than open at this point.  There's a mandate in place that closes many of the public services in our state - dine-in restaurants, gyms, bars, churches, and the list keeps growing.  These closures will have a deep impact on many of my friends.  If I don't laugh I will spend my time crying.

I'm trying very had to stay focused on projects and making the most of being home.  There's been a lot of cooking happening in our house.  I've dusted off my sewing machine.  I'm even close to finishing a shawl I've had in progress for like four years.  I've started seeds for our garden and cleaned something nearly every day.  I'm constantly looking for the silver lining.

How are you?  Are you knee-deep in homeschooling?  Have you had to close your business?  What are you doing to keep yourself busy and pass the time?  Are you looking for the silver lining, no matter how deep you have to dig for it?