Monday, April 29, 2013

Whispers From Elizabeth Turns One This Week!

I really can't believe it, on May 4th, I will have been writing this blog for one year! Where does the time go? To celebrate, we are making changes!

The most noticeable change you'll see is the look of the blog. I have been working on these changes for about a month. The new header is a collage of some of my relatives.The only picture I have of Elizabeth is in the center. I hope you are pleased with the new look! If you are interested in knowing who they are, click on the Meet My Family tab at the top.

I will be making additional changes in the next few weeks. I will keep you informed on all the updates.

I would love to hear your comments on our new look!

Friday, April 26, 2013

Put Yourself In Your Ancestor's Shoes

Is it possible to know the hardships your ancestors went through? What did they sacrifice so you can be here now? I often think about the kind of hardships my great-great-grandparents and great-grandparents must have experienced so I could have a better life here in America. This understanding can ground you in the knowledge of the enormous amount of love your family members had for their future grandchildren and great-grandchildren!

My Church believes this knowledge is so important, they want all children to have a taste of what these hardships were like. Learning about the hardships is one thing, experiencing them for yourself is something you will never forget. So as an organized activity, the teenagers of my Church spend a few days recreating the march our pioneer ancestors took on the wagon trains west.  Each Stake (a geographical grouping of congregations) organizes their own 'Trek' so the youth can experience some of what the early pioneers experienced as they walked out west to their new homes and new lives. Most Stakes recreate the Trek every four years or so. 

Now, the wagon train that is recreated is not just any wagon train heading west. The youth first learn of how the migration of over 60,000 Mormons defined the Intermountain West in Sunday School classes. Then, three months before the Trek, they make the clothes they will wear and memorize some of the favorite hymns that were sung during those long days of walking.

In many books on the history of America, the story of the Mormons may amount to a few sentences, if they are even mentioned at all. However, their settlement of the Great Basin in the western United States is a story of self-sacrifice just as much as those who walked the Oregon Trail or the California Trail.

In my opinion, I think it is more important because the Mormons had the added burden of fleeing persecution from their fellow Americans. All they wanted was to be left alone to worship God as they pleased. (Some of the same reasons the Puritans came to America 200 years earlier.)

So, why am I writing about this now? Well, our Stake is making the Trek this summer! I will talk a bit more about the history of the Mormon Trail in future posts, but for now I just want to tell everyone how excited I am that I am participating in this Trek! 

It is a three day event, that will start in a mock up of the town of Nauvoo, Illinois. This is where the families 'heading west' will pick up their supplies. Then, they will walk for two days, experiencing a small taste of the hardships their ancestors experienced. My role in all this is small. I will not be in a family 'heading west.'  First, I will be one of the residents of Nauvoo, helping the families get their supplies. While in Nauvoo, the girls will stop to help sew a quilt (given away to charity at the end of the Trek) so they can experience some of the normal, everyday activities of life in 1847. I have volunteered to make one of the quilt tops the girls will bind together. (They really aren't quilting it - for the sake of time, the quilt will be tied.) Then on day three, I will be in one of the 'camp stops' along the trail. That morning when they wake up, they will be told there is no food to eat for that day. They will walk for about two hours (or so) without any food and then stop at my camp. While there, they will be fed and given time to rest, clean up, and write their thoughts in their journal. 

I am quite excited about participating! In addition to the quilt, I need to make a dress and bonnet to wear in Nauvoo and at the camp.  I only have about six weeks to make both because we will go in mid-June!

I hope you will follow along as I make my 'Trek' so you too can experience some of what our ancestors did to give us the promise of a future!  I will be sure to post updates as I complete my Trek projects!

Take some time to get to know your ancestors. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has a FREE web site that you can use to help you locate your ancestors: This web site has all sorts of tutorials and on-line help if you don't know where to start. It has records from all over the world! Anyone, from anywhere in the world with an Internet connection, can access this site to search for their deceased family members. If you want even more help, stop by the family history center at your local church. You do not have to be a church member to use your local family history center. 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Cooking with Food Storage: Make Your Own Sour Cream

Sour Cream is one of those things I just can't live without! In my opinion, it is required when eating a baked potato or taco salad. I also use it a lot in baking, it goes in cheesecake and apple pies, among other things!

Since I consider it so critical of an ingredient, I need a way to have it without refrigeration (should a time come when I don't have the choice of refrigeration). That means I need to be able to make it myself. It is quite easy to do if you have some shelf stable half & half.  Lots of different company make it.

Well, the bad news is, I didn't have any! So, what to do? Think outside the box! You can make sour cream with canned cream!

I used Nestle Table Cream. I got it at the big box store in the international section. When using canned cream, the final product doesn't taste exactly like fresh sour cream. It is quite good, just a bit different. On a side note, if you used shelf stable half & half, the final product does taste just like fresh sour cream.

To allow the sour cream culture to work, you will need to heat the cream to 86 degrees. No need to turn on the stove top, this is easily done in the Sun Oven! It is truly cooking without electricity as well as cooking with food storage. I used the dark casserole dish shown in the picture above. Start by preheating the Sun Oven for a few minutes.

When the Sun Oven is at about 300-350 degrees, you can put the cream in. The Sun Oven doesn't have to be at any certain temperature to do this because the cream is only staying in there for a few minutes.

I checked it at 15 minutes time and it was at 95 degrees. If I checked it at 10 minutes, it probably would have been just about perfect. No problem, I just let it cool a bit on the counter.

When it was at 86 degrees, I added the sour cream culture. Just sprinkle it on top and let it hydrate for two minutes.

Then, stir it in well. Cover and place in a thermos-like container. I used my Yogotherm.

Let it sit for 6 to 12 hours. When using fresh cream or shelf stable cream, I usually let mine sit for about 6 hours. However, since this is canned cream, it needs to sit a bit longer to develop the tangy flavor. I left this for 10 hours.

When finished, you have sour cream!

I should add here that I don't use canned cream every time I want to make sour cream. I don't even use shelf stable cream all the time. If someone is going to the grocery store the week I need the sour cream, (we do not go to the grocery store on a weekly basis at our house)  fresh cream will be on the grocery list and I make sour cream with that. If I am busy with work that week, sour cream will go on the grocery list and I will use store bought. 

This sour cream will be used as an ingredient in some mini apple pies I am making. You can see how to make mini apple pies with food storage hereMy point is you can cook with and have gourmet foods even if you don't have access to fresh ingredients if you just think outside the box!

Monday, April 22, 2013

Hand Pollinating Your Garden

Have you ever wondered why vanilla beans cost so much? They must be pollinated by hand! This is a crop that has unique circumstances. The flowers of the vanilla orchid only stay open for one day. If left up to nature, the vanilla bean would be very rare. Considering that vanilla is in high demand as one of the most common flavorings, hand pollination is required!

Is there ever a time when you would need to (or want to) hand pollinate your plants yourself? Yes! As the vanilla orchid shows us, sometimes nature needs a helping hand. The primary reason you would want to do this, in your garden, is if you don't see sufficient bees or other pollinating insects doing the job for you. You would know you don't have enough pollinating insects when your plants are not yielding a harvest. 

Sometimes row covers are used in home gardens specifically to keep out bad bugs, like the squash vine borer. However, when you keep out the bad bugs, you also keep out the good bugs. Fruits and vegetables grown in a greenhouse are in the same situation. No bugs means nature needs a helping hand to get a harvest.

Row covers would also be needed if you want to plant two varieties of the same type of plant, and save the seeds from both of them. A common example of this would be two different types of squash or pumpkins. In this situation, row covers and hand pollination would be required to keep the seed of both varieties pure.

Different plants require different steps to pollinate them. Some plants popular in the home garden are self pollinating and don't require any assistance:
  • peanuts
  • spinach
  • lettuce
  • peas
  • snap peas
  • lima beans
  • green beans
These plants self-fertilize before the flowers even open and can be grown successfully in a greenhouse or under row covers without human help.

Vegetables like tomatoes and peppers also self-fertilize but need help to do so. This can be accomplished by gently shaking the plant every few days. Shaking the plant will mimic the breezes the plants get out in the open garden. Vibrations from the breezes are how the flowers from these plants pollinate and produce a harvest. .

Plants with separate male and female flowers on the same plant, need human intervention.  Common home garden plants in this category include:
  • squash
  • pumpkins
  • cucumbers
  • cantaloupes
  • watermelons
  • gourds
  • kiwi (Kiwis have male flowers on male plants and female flowers on female plants. You will need both types to get a harvest)
Fruits that require two varieties to get a good crop (like apples and pears) also fall into this category as well.

The good news here is that hand pollination is very easy to accomplish. All you need is a small paintbrush or cotton Q-tip swab. With squash, pumpkins and cucumbers, start with the male flower. (The male flower does not have a small fruit attached to it.) For fruit trees, start with any flower on one tree. 

Take the paintbrush or cotton swab and gently brush the inside of the flower. You want to gather pollen on the tip of the brush. Do this to a few male flowers before moving to the female flowers. For fruit trees, visit a few flowers on the same tree. Check the tip of the brush to see if there is pollen on it.  You will be able to easily see the pollen. If you can't, brush a few more male flowers until you can see the yellow pollen.  In this picture I am gathering pollen from one of my apple trees.

Once you have enough pollen to see it on the end of the brush, move to a female flower and gently brush it. You should have enough pollen on your brush to pollinate a few female flowers. For fruit trees, move to the second tree and brush a few of the flowers. 

For squash type vegetables, visit two or three male flowers for every female flower. You can also cut the male flower off the plant (at the stem) and bring it to the female flower. Using the male flower as the brush, gently swab the female flower. 

Technically, the pollen needs to be deposited on the stigma of the flower. However, the parts of a flower can get really complicated because self-fertile plants have flowers that are different from plants that have both male and female flowers. So, the short lesson here is to make sure you brush all over the interior of the flower.

This process isn't time consuming. It shouldn't take more than 10 minutes to pollinate four or five plants. One note of caution, if you are planning to hand pollinate more than one type of plant, clean the brush between plant varieties. Pollinate all the squash, clean off the brush, (or get a new Q-tip) then start on the pumpkins. Repeat the process in four or five days.

If this process sounds like too much work for you, you can always become your own bee keeper! That has added benefits of harvesting your own honey supply!

Really, your best bet is to set up your garden to encourage all kinds of bugs to visit. Yes, you will get some of the bad bugs, but you will get many more good bugs to keep your garden in balance.  Lots of good bugs visiting your vegetable flowers, is the best guarantee for a good harvest!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Cooking with Food Storage: Whole Wheat Almond Shortbread Cookies

This amazing cookie recipe makes a perfect 'gourmet' cookie using only food storage ingredients! I got the original recipe from King Arthur Flour Company. You can see the original post here.

Typically, when I have a food storage recipe that calls for butter, I will use shelf stable cream and make my own butter. However, this time I decided to do something different. Instead of making my own butter, I used canned butter. Red Feather Canned Butter is made in New Zealand. It is a bit pricey, but I have had this can of butter in my food storage for three years and I thought it was time to try it out. I bought mine from Emergency Essentials.

Here's the recipe:

1 cup butter (if using fresh butter from the store, use two sticks.)
1 cup confectioners' sugar
2 tsps vanilla extract (I make my own vanilla extract. It is super easy to do! You can see how to make your own here.)
1/4 tsp almond extract
2 cups all purpose flour (I make my own flour from ground wheat berries. You can see how to make all purpose flour from wheat berries here.)

Start by creaming together the butter, confectioners' sugar, vanilla and almond extract. If you are using butter from the store, make sure it is at room temperature.

Add the flour a little at a time.and mix well.

It only takes a few minutes to mix it all together. When finished, it should look like this.

Divide the dough in half and place into two 9 inch cake pans. I used a shortbread pan that I got from King Arthur Flour. It has designs in the bottom of the pan to make the cookies look pretty.

Grease the bottom of the pans well. Or, you can line the bottoms of the pans with parchment paper and then grease that. I used butter flavored Pam and sprayed the bottom of the pan. Press the dough into the pan. You can use a small rolling pin if you have it. I just used my hands. The dough should be about 1/4 inch thick.

Prick the dough all over with a fork to ensure it doesn't rise while baking. 

The King Arthur Flour website instructions state you can prick the dough in random patterns but that it looks nicer with some kind of symmetry. Here is mine before it went into the oven.

Bake at 300 degrees for 35 minutes. The sun wasn't shining when I made these so I just put them in my regular oven. They should be lightly golden brown on top. As soon as they come out of the oven, release the sides with a knife and flip it out of the pan. While still hot, cut the cookies with a pizza wheel. If you wait until they are cool, they won't cut nicely - they just break apart.

Cool completely. I have been making these cookies for a few years now and my, are these good! At Christmas time, you can omit the almond flavoring and use eggnog flavoring instead. Eggnog shortbread cookies taste wonderful! I would think that you could also replace the almond with lemon, orange or just about any other flavor your family likes.

When I first opened the can of Red Feather, I took a small taste. I will admit I was disappointed. To me, it really didn't taste like anything. You could tell that it wasn't fresh butter. However, the cookies came out perfect and tasted great! I will be purchasing another to replace this can. 

Believe me, Almond Shortbread Cookies won't last long!

Monday, April 15, 2013

Garden Update: Waging a War on Weeds

For some reason, this spring seems to be a bad one for weeds. Normally, this is not a problem this early in the year here. I have weeded my cool season garden twice since I planted it! With all the deadlines I have for work right now, I don't have time to weed! 

What to do? Newspapers to the rescue! I mentioned this idea in another post a few weeks ago called What Do You Do With All Your Newspapers? In this post today, I will show you how I do it!

Start by cutting up the newspapers. I usually make mine about four inches wide. This way I can cut enough for the entire garden and put them anywhere regardless of the spacing between the plants. Here are some of the ones I cut up on Saturday.

Next, lay the papers down covering all the spacing between the vegetable rows. Don't let the papers touch the plants. I usually put at least two layers down.  Here is a before and after picture of my peas.

If you have even the slightest breeze, the papers will not stay where you put them. You can anchor them down with rocks if you would like, but I usually water mine in. That way I can take my time adding the mulch. (The mulch should still be added the same day as the newspapers - but the water will hold the paper down for a few hours as you work.) 

Then, add the mulch. We have a lot of termite problems in my neck of the woods so our mulch is all pine straw.

Although it is hard to see in this picture, the mulch is added very lightly. You only need enough to hold the newspapers down. It is fine to have the newspapers show through the mulch in spots .

When it is time to harvest the peas and turn the soil over for the summer crop, I will turn the newspapers into the soil and leave them there. The mulch can be removed and saved for the summer crops. (If you use organic mulch, you can turn the mulch over into the soil too, if you would like.)

I only got the peas and garlic covered on Saturday. I will need to carve a few extra hours out of this week to complete the rest!

Friday, April 12, 2013

What Can You Buy With A Quarter? A Kitchen Scrubber Pad!

This is a really neat project that I learned from a friend at Church. For my birthday last year, she gave me a jar of homemade grape jelly (from homegrown grapes) and a kitchen scrubber pad. 

The jelly was fabulous! It didn't last long. The kitchen scrubber lasted almost six months. When it was time for a new one, I asked her how she made them. It is so easy and inexpensive I just had to share! 

I must state here that you will need to know how to make a simple single crochet stitch to make these scrubber pads. If you don't know how to crochet, you can get a book from a craft store or even a big box store. My crochet hook is a size J but the size really doesn't matter, use whatever size hook you have. If you have a really small crochet hook, you may need to make more rows.

Start with a medium size netting. I got mine at Hobby Lobby. It was on sale for 77 cents a yard. (Hobby Lobby also has large and small netting, but I liked the feel of the medium size the best.) You will need nine to ten yards. 

When you get it home, lay it out on a table folding it on itself so you can cut it. Mine came folded in fourths. It was 18.5 inches wide when folded, for a total of 74 inches wide. I kept mine folded in fourths and folded it lengthwise on my kitchen table. Smooth it out as you go and be sure to line up the edges. When you have folded the entire 10 yards, pin it so it will stay put as you cut it. Here is a picture of mine.

Using a ruler and a permanent marker, mark the netting every two inches. I got a total of nine rows from mine with a 1/4 inch left over on each end to trim up.  Mark the entire length of the netting. Here is a picture of mine.

Cut out the two inch strips. I have opted to only cut out the number I am going to make at one time. The rest of the netting I will fold back up and store with my quilting fabric. I cut out one strip. Here is a picture of mine.

Remove the pins and separate the netting. Remember, it was originally folded in fourths. That means for every strip you cut, you will have four strips of netting, each of which is 10 yards long.

You will use one strip for each scrubber pad. Make five slip stitches. Connect the slip stitches together so they form a circle. (This will make a round scrubber. You could also leave it flat and crochet it flat like a pot holder. If you make a flat one, it may not last as long since it is only a single layer.)

For the first row, make two single crochet stitches in each slip stitch.
For the second row, make two single stitches in the first stitch, one stitch in the next. Repeat until you have 22 to 26 stitches. (This will depend on how big you want it.) Mine had 22 stitches. You should have a total of three rows. (Generally, you should have about three rows. It is no big deal if you have more.)

Continue crocheting with 22 stitches for five or six more rows. How many rows you make will depend on the tension of your stitches and how much netting you have left.

The next row, crochet a single stitch, skip a stitch, crochet a single stitch.  Repeat. Continue skipping every other stitch until you close up the scrubber pad.  Here is a picture of my new one, almost finished, along with the old one I was replacing.

When you get to the top, finish off with a slip stitch and a knot. Here is the new scrubber pad, side by side, with the old one I will be discarding.

Total crochet time was 45 minutes for the first one, 25 minutes for the second. Total cost for the netting was $8.24 (with tax). The 10 yards of netting will make a total of 36 scrubber pads. That puts the cost of each scrubber pad at slightly over 22 cents!! How frugal is that!

Depending on your use, each scrubber pad will last between four to six months. These things make great gifts! I know I was delighted when I received mine. When your recipient asks you where you got it, you can answer, "I made it myself!"

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

What Was Everyday Life Like for Your Great-Grandparents?

What would you do if you had to live without electricity just like they did?

In the western world, our lives would not be what they are now without electricity. It runs everything we depend on. Numerous times during the day instead of flipping on a light switch, or plugging in an appliance, I ask myself "What would my Great-Grandmother do if she needed to accomplish this task?" My Great-Grandparents lived in the late 1800's. They didn't have electricity, yet  they cooked dinner every night, did the laundry, went to work and raised families. Unless you go back to school to get a degree in History, there really isn't any way to truly know how they handled every little detail of their lives. Living History museums try to give a flavor of what life was like, but I just don't think it is the same as living that life day to day.

My solution has been to turn to books to figure out how people lived. About 10 years ago, I found a book that I think gives a better picture of what everyday life looked like for our ancestors. The book is called: Mrs. Dunwoody's Excellent Instructions for Homekeeping.

This book is amazing! In the Preface, the author states:

"Unlike our grandparents, we seem to be too distracted by life to take the time to teach and pass on our wisdom from one generation to the next."

Reading this book is like speaking with your Great-Grandmother. It can give all of us some skills that would help if (or when) you ever find yourself without electricity for an extensive period of time and you start wondering how you are going to cope. There are time-tested and fun-to read tips on everything from keeping your home clean & organized to gardening and making homemade health and beauty preparations.

For example, you can find answers to the following and more:

  • How do you turn a recipe that must be cooked at 375 degrees to something that can be cooked in a wood oven or over an open fire? (Page 97)
  • How do you clean if you are out of cleaning supplies? (Hint: make your own! There are many homemade recipes in this book for everything from furniture polish to homemade paint! Plus tips to help you sweep, dust and mop when your vacuum won't work.)
  • How do you manage washing mounds of laundry by hand?
  • What do you do if someone gets sick? (Homemade health remedies that don't require a doctor's care are in Chapter Seven.)
While there is also a section in this book on how to plan the perfect party, almost everything else in it can be useful information if you find yourself without power. Here are some other tips that you will find in this book:
  • Natural control of household pests such as ants, roaches, mosquitos, bed bugs, moths and flies.
  • Lots of recipe substitutes if you find yourself out of an ingredient. (There are lots of recipes in this book too!)
  • What you need to grow in a kitchen garden.
  • Managing your supply of candles (and some info on oil lamps as well) so they last longer.
  • Laundry tips using natural ingredients. Also, tips for how to do things like eliminate wrinkles from clothes hung on a line to dry.
  • Lots and lots of household tips such as preventing mildew and controlling odors. (This could definitely be a problem if the power is out for an extensive period of time.)
Now, this book isn't written specifically for coping without electricity in our times. Instead, it tells how our ancestors lived without it in the first place!  In its pages you will find a non-electric answer to almost every household task you would need to accomplish.

If the power goes out at my house, I don't plan on skipping a beat! My goal is to live my life so I won't even notice that the power is out.  This book goes a long way towards helping me do just that!

Friday, April 5, 2013

Time To Update Your Emergency Preparedness Kits!

Do you have an Emergency Car Kit in your car? It can come in handy if you should get stranded because of an accident, flat tire, ice storm or snow. How about a 72 hour kit in case you ever needed to evacuate your home because of a fire, nuclear plant accident, or a chemical spill?

If you don't have any idea of what I am talking about, you can read about why you should have an Emergency Car Kit and how to make one here. This post gives all kinds of ideas on what you can put in your kit. You can read about why I have a 72 hour kit and what I put in mine here.

The kits are easy to make and they don't have to cost a lot of money. You can use a lot of stuff you already have around the house. The idea is to make them up and then just leave them until you need them. The car kits are stored in the car and the 72 hour kits are stored in a closet in your home. No need to think about them again until you need them!

Well, almost. You do need to think about them twice a year. That's how often you will need to exchange food items and check on other items that may be out of date. This weekend is one of the times I do that.

For all Latter-Day Saints, this is General Conference weekend. We get to hear the counsel of our Church leaders for four specific sessions - two on Saturday and two on Sunday. This weekend event is one of my favorite times of the year! Because it is easy to remember, it is also the time I update my Emergency Preparedness Kits. 

You can use any bi-annual event to signal the time to change your kits. Daylight Savings Time is a good example, Fall/Spring Equinox is another. Use whatever makes sense for your family! Spring and Fall triggers work best because they get you ready for the extreme seasons of Summer and/or Winter. Christmas/July 4th might also work for someone who lives in a mild climate.

Go through all your kits and remove any food that is going to expire before your next update. Replace it with food that has a 'Best By' date that is beyond the date of your next scheduled kit update. It is a good idea to also check:
  • Are the bottles of water in good condition? Do any show signs of a possible leak? Are the bottles out of date?
  • If you store medicines in your kit, are they still fresh? Will they remain that way until you check the kit again?
  • Are the clothes in your kit appropriate for the upcoming weather?
  • Is anything in the First Aid kit out of date?
  • Do the flashlight batteries need to be replaced?
  • Do the pens in the kit still write? 
  • Is the package of wet wipes still fresh?
  • Is there anything else in the kit that should be replace?
Think about your kits twice each year and you will be able to depend on them if and when you ever need them!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Garden Update

We finally have had a few days of weather consistently in the 70's!  Everything is now up and growing. Here is an update:

The peas are looking good.

The broccoli is up now so there will be no need to purchase any starts from the big box stores!

The carrots and onion seeds are up too but the leaves are so delicate that they don't show up in the pictures yet!

This warm weather has also stirred up the new apple trees that my husband and I planted last Fall. You can just see the start of new leaves!

Maybe now the weather will turn more normal and I can get a good harvest in late spring!