Friday, December 28, 2018

DIY For The Birds

As most of you know, I like to make things.  I bake, I cook, I knit, sew and crochet.  I am always willing to try a new craft or recipe.  The problem with this is that everything I'm good at is either fattening and unhealthy or some little kid in China can make the same thing for pennies.  Christmas was a good example.  I made cinnamon rolls and only one was eaten by my grandson.  We have so many left over cookies, some pecan pie Chex mix and candy.  I realize I always make more food than necessary, but everyone is aware of calories and nutrition so there is always leftover snacks.  Another example is a Christmas stocking I recently saw at Goodwill for $1.99 that looked homemade, but I know it wasn't.  I bought it, just to get the pattern.  Why I bought it, I have no idea.  Why would I ever make it?  Even at 71 years of age, my decision making skills are sometimes suspect.

I am aware of the fact that I need to get the same satisfaction from making stuff without the problems.  I decided to cook for the birds.   I have experience.  I used to make homemade dog treats.  The wild birds and animals usually aren't fussy.  I do have to keep in mind that birds and wildlife have special needs too but as long as I stick to the basic guidelines, animals will eat anything.  Quite a while ago I saw a recipe on facebook.  I saved it.  It was from the Garden Answer facebook page.  The video is called DIY Birdseed Wreath.

I remembered this recipe on a recent trip to Fleet Farm.  We buy big seed blocks for the birds.  They are about 8 x 8 x2 inches.  They cost about $6.99 each but sometimes they go on sale for $3.99.

When we find a sale, we buy several.  After spending $20 on 5 of them, I thought of this recipe.  During a lull in the holidays, I decided to make one.  Even with the sale price, this DIY recipe can be made for a much lower cost.  Since the recipe was on a video,  I wrote down the recipe for easier access.

Birdseed  Wreath

Spray Bundt pan with baking spray

1 package gelatin 
1 cup warm water
6 Tablespoons light corn syrup
1 1/2 cups flour
6-8 cups birdseed

Mix together well and
press firmly into bundt pan
Dry 24 hours.

It turned out great.  Even after a full day of rain, it held up nicely.  It didn't fall apart or get soft.  The birds are enjoying it.  They have to work for the seeds and the birds seem to enjoy working for their meal.  Rather than hang it from a ribbon, we found an old metal pie plate.  We clipped on the plastic hangers from a hanging pot and hung it from a bird feeder away from the squirrels.

I think I will make more.  Maybe I can find some small bundt pans or make a block like the ones we can purchase.  

Sunday, December 16, 2018


The definition of tradition is the "transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation".  My youngest daughter loves tradition.  She loves reliving her childhood memories and wants her boys to have similar memories.  She remembers toys that are long gone and details I have long forgotten.  As sad as it is, it isn't always possible to recreate some of those special experiences.  Things change and families grow into their own traditions.   In past years our grandkids would spend New Years Eve with us.  They would stay up until midnight, and we would have a toast with sparkling grape juice.  Now they do their own thing.  This year we didn't go trick or treating with the kids.  Every year, I would tag along with the kids dressed in their costumes.   We no longer host Thanksgiving, Easter or Christmas.  Our daughters have taken on these celebrations at their homes.  I'm happy to pass the baton to them, however it is harder to get motivated to decorate and get into the spirit of the season.

One tradition that remains in tact is making Christmas cookies.  It was pretty bare bones this year, but we still had fun.  Saturday December 15, mid-morning our daughter Heather and grandson Ewan came to bake cookies.  I had prepped some dough and made the cut outs and icing before they arrived.  We didn't have the usual hands on deck so this saved time.  Ewan started decorating cookies as his mom and I began making some other varieties.

He had seen the Great British Holiday Baking show and used his creativity to make a special design.

His baking show creation.

Soon he was hungry.  One tradition, tho not traditional, is that I make my kind of dumplings for the kids.  It is usually what they ask for when they aren't feeling well, but Ewan wanted grandma's dumplings.  I got some chicken soup out of the freezer and made him dumplings.

As we continued to work on cookies, Ewan went outside.

Grandpa was outside firing up the smoker.  He had some bacon to smoke.  Oops, big mistake.  We don't host Thanksgiving, Easter or Christmas any longer, but we still host our annual St. Patrick Day celebration.  Someone is building a house on the lot next door.  We are not very happy to be sharing the woods on that side of our property.  The leprechaun house was bordering this lot and had to be moved.  Our youngest grandson Ewan is the only one who buys into the leprechaun thing.  That might have been spoiled because the leprechaun house was sitting in the same garage as grandpa's smoker.  Of course, Ewan noticed right away.  Hopefully we gave him a logical explanation for it being moved.  We told him the house had to be moved but that was alright because the leprechaun goes to a warmer climate during the winter.  When Spring comes, we will put the house out and hopefully the leprechaun will move it to a better location.  He wasn't sure about that, but we hope he bought the story.  If not, that tradition will change too.

While outside Ewan decided he wanted to do some ice fishing.  We don't have ice fishing equipment or any fishing equipment for that matter.  He gathered a sturdy stick, found some string and fashioned a hook from a paper clip.  We went to the furnace room to collect some worms from grandmas worm farm.  Heather took a break from cookie baking and walked Ewan down the hill to the ice.  It was pretty warm out and there was some open water .  She didn't want him accidentally breaking through the ice.  It's impossible to put a worm on a paper clip, so his mom tied the worms on.  That's a good mom.  Not many would walk through briars,  slip in muck and bait a fake hook to catch a non existent fish in mucky water.

When the worms fell off Ewan came in the house and asked for cheese.  I thought he was hungry again, but he wanted to put cheese on the hook.  He said sometimes catfish eat that kind of bait.  Hopefully we don't snag a catfish.  He went up on the deck to watch his pole for a while.

He didn't have any luck so he left the pole set up for grandpa to check later.  Nothing so far, and I predict there won't be.

When he came into the house, it was time to watch Emmet Otter's Jug Band Christmas.  This has been a tradition since the late 1970's.  It first aired on December 4, 1977.  I think we have watched it every Christmas since.  I recently learned it was based on the children's book of the same name by Russell Hoban. If you haven't seen it, it features a cast of Muppet characters by Jim Henson.  We ate again and watched this cute show.  You can still see the strings on the puppets.  I'm glad it wasn't remastered to look more professional.

By now, we were all tired.  We had enough cookies to get through the holidays.  We made sugar cookies, peanut butter cups, Mexican wedding cakes, crack cookies with soda crackers, and turtle pretzels.  I will make some krumkake today and a couple other things I have bought ingredients for. We were going to cut back this year.  None of us need all those calories, but when you put all the different kinds together there are quite a few.

Just as old traditions die out, new ones are made.  I doubt if ice fishing in the swamp will be repeated but I'm sure cookie making before Christmas will go on for many years.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Pressure Cooked Beef Stew Meat

I haven't blogged a recipe for a long time.  Facebook and the internet are so crowded with recipes.  If we made every one, we would weigh a ton or we would not have time to do anything else.  I think this easy pressure cooker recipe is worth it.

I have used an Instant Pot before they were called Instant Pots.  My mom had an electric pressure cooker at some point, and I have had a digital pressure cooker for many years.  My cooker has a high and low, plus steam, warm and brown.  I guess it has a slow cooker setting but I have never used it.  It doesn't have any preset settings, but I like it that way.  My cooker is a 6 quart.  I wrote about this on January 4, 2013, and I still love it.  I also have a gigantic 12 quart which I use for making bone broth.

The recipe I made up is so easy, but tastes very good.  I usually get a big package of beef stew meat from Costco which is four or five pounds of meat.  I make a big batch and freeze the cooked beef for future     meals.  I figure it is better to cook it all rather than freeze uncooked portions which then have to be thawed and cooked later.   I also do this for ground beef.

I often cook in advance to save time in the long run.   The real reason is not because I am so busy but because it is so easy to go out to eat or buy prepared food.  Restaurant food is usually not as healthy and prepackaged foods have unwanted ingredients.  It is just as quick to heat up one of my meals as it is going out.

You can marinate the stew meat for a few hours if you can't cook the meat right away, but it isn't really necessary.  Pressure cooking infuses the food with flavors just by the way it's cooked.  Initially I used Dale's Seasoning.  I learned about Dale's Steak Seasoning while visiting friends last summer.  Dales has a great flavor but when I read the label, I discovered it had MSG and corn syrup.  I try to avoid both of those ingredients, although corn syrup isn't the same as high fructose corn syrup and is nearly the same as sugar.  I just like to control how much sugar I use.  As strange as it sounds, MSG gives me a headache and makes my legs ache.  If that isn't important to you, you don't react and intense flavor is most important, then use Dale's.  It is inexpensive and tastes great.

Meat cooked in Dale's has a beautiful dark rich look and flavor.

Fortunately for me,  I discovered a copy cat recipe  on which is good too.

Copy Cat Dale's Seasoning

Yield: 4 cups

     3 cups    Soy sauce
1/3 cup  Worcestershire sauce
2 T.         Sugar
1  t.         Salt
1 t.          Liquid smoke (optional)
1 t.          Granulated garlic
1/2 t.       Ground ginger
1 dash     Paprika
1 dash     Ground pepper

In a quart container whisk all ingredients together until blended.
Seal well and refrigerate.  It should last 1-2 months

This is 2.5 pounds of stew meat.  I made half the recipe.

Pressure Cooked (Instant Pot) Beef Tips

4-5 pounds Beef Stew meat
3/4 cup Dale's seasoning (or copy cat recipe)
1 sliced onion
1 1/2 -2 cups water

Put all ingredients in the pressure cooker (Instant Pot)
Pressure on high for 30-40 minutes.
You can release pressure or use natural release

Pour off the juice and thicken for gravy if that is your preference.

These beef tips can be eaten plain, put over noodles or made into beef stew or beef chop suey.   You just have to use your imagination.

Cooked beef with copy cat recipe.
I served it over noodles one night and then made vegetable soup with the left over  meat and noodles.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Let's Try A "Real" Christmas Tree

Life continually evolves.  Nothing ever remains the same.  A person in their 20's thinks 40 is old, a 40 year old thinks 60 is old, a 60 year old thinks 80 is pretty old and an 80 year old knows they are old.  As I am in the decade before 80, I need to evolve too.   I have two daughters.  One has taken over hosting our Thanksgiving meal and the other is having Christmas.   I think that is awesome.  It was wonderful to see what a good job my daughter and her family did on Thanksgiving.  I am looking forward to celebrating Christmas as well.

 Since no one will be at our house for Christmas, I thought I would cut back on decorating.  When we discovered our youngest daughter was allergic to the "real" tree, we purchased an artificial tree and had one for over 40 years   We have upgraded over the years but always put up a big tree. Two years ago I wrote about the struggles we had with an 8 foot tree.

This year I got the bright idea of buying a small potted Christmas tree.  We could enjoy it in the house, and we could plant it in the yard in the spring.  Sounds good right??  My husband and I made the trek out of town to a local nursery.  I had heard they had some potted trees.   We found a Norway Spruce we liked.  It was 4 feet high, and it was nicely shaped.  It cost a bit more than I wanted, but I justified it by thinking we could plant a nice sized tree in the spring, and it wouldn't be another dead Christmas tree in the landfill.  With a little help, we got it in the truck.  My husband was able to back the truck near the porch and took out the tree.  It was frozen solid.  So far so good.  The next problem was finding a container to put it in.  The instructions we got was to warm it up, put it in a bright spot and water it regularly.  It can never ever dry out or it will die.  I measured the pot and the container had to be 16 inches across and 15 inches high.  I couldn't find anything without drainage holes that large.  We got in the truck again and we were off to find a proper container.  I thought we could surely find something at some of the thrift stores.  Nope, nothing to be had.  Next we went to the farm store.  We looked at all kinds of containers until we found one large enough.  It was a steel utility tub and would be able to hold water.  I'm not sure what it is supposed to be used for.  It's probably for hauling oats for horses or pig slop.  We got home after dark although it isn't that late these days.  It's pitch dark at 5:00pm.  We brought the tree inside, put it in the container and left it to thaw out overnight.

The next morning I got out the strings of lights I had purchased two years before.  They were LED and not that old so I wasn't worried about them working.  Thank goodness I hadn't brought up the big tree because six lights at the end of the first string didn't light.  I wouldn't have been very happy to have to go through finding the source of the burned out bulb.  In this case, I just pulled out another string of lights, and they worked just fine.  The tree only took two strings of lights and even that was a struggle for me.  The little fresh tree was prickly and sappy.  It smells good, but I got sap on my hands and clothes.  With the lights accomplished, it was time to decorate.  I brought up my bins of ornaments.  Most of the ornaments were too heavy.  They just slid off the branches.  I ended up using a bunch of small ornaments and dehydrated orange slices.  It is done, and it looks pretty good.  I only hope that we don't kill it and it lives a good long life in my yard.   If not, it was a pretty expensive little 4 foot tree.

Keeping with the Christmas spirit we brought Santa up from his storage cabinet, I ended up putting up my villages and hung the stockings on the fireplace.  Old habits are hard to break. 

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Fake Sourdough Bread

I haven't blogged a new recipe for a long time.  This one is a little unusual and one I haven't made before today.  I am blogging about it so I don't lose the recipe the next time I want to make it.

In the past I have made sourdough bread, but I have found it tedious to keep a sourdough starter alive.  If you don't make bread regularly, then the starter has to be kept alive by throwing some away and feeding it.  It is wasteful, and we don't eat that much bread to bother with keeping starter alive.  I came across this recipe for Cheater's Easy Sourdough  If you google Cheater's Sourdough there are many recipes.  The cheat is using Greek yogurt instead of sourdough starter.

I mixed up the dough.  It was drier than the pictures on the website, so I added more yogurt.  It still wasn't very sticky, but I set it aside to rise.  I let it sit for 14 hours.  It looked like it had risen enough so I shaped it into a ball, covered it and let it rise another two hours.  I have made sourdough bread in a cast iron dutch oven before and used the same process to bake this bread.

After baking it, I took it out to cool.

Then I cut some slices.  It is quite dense and tastes just like sourdough.  I wonder if adding more yogurt would make it lighter in texture or soggy.  It will be great to have with soup.  I toasted a slice and ate it with my oatmeal and blueberries sweetened with date paste.  It was delicious and very filling.

I doubt that this fake sourdough bread has all the health benefits of "real" sourdough, but I don't know for sure.  I would think that the live cultures in the yogurt would be destroyed by the baking process. That would probably be true for sourdough starter as well, but the fermentation process to make the bread rise is a positive thing. I read that regular bread is hard to digest.  Even if you don't have gluten problems, regular whole grain bread is hard to digest.  The lactobacillus and the wild yeast in sourdough starter forms lactic acid which can neutralize the phytic acid in wheat making it easier to digest.  Phytic acid interferes with the absorption of nutrients so by neutralizing them, you are making nutrients more readily available and absorbable.  Long slow fermentation of wheat can reduce phytates by up to 90%.  This bread with yogurt starter definitely has a long slow fermentation process.  I hope I have that concept right.  They say a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.  I do know that sourdough breads are usually tolerated for people with gluten sensitivities and has a low glycemic index for people with diabetes.

I will make it again when I have a hankering for sourdough bread.  If you don't count the rising time, it takes five minutes to mix and 35-40 minutes to bake.  Everyone can carve out that much time for a bread with no additives or odd ingredients.

Cheater's Easy Sourdough


3 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp instant dry yeast for 18 hour rising time or 3/4 tsp for 6 hour rising time
1 1/2 cups plain, unsweetened yogurt which contain active cultures or 1 1/2 cups of whey (the liquid drained off of homemade yogurt)


In a stand mixer with a dough hook or in a large bowl by hand, mix the flour, dry yeast, salt and the plain yogurt.  Mix on medium low speed for two minutes until a dough forms.  If the dough is too dry and doesn't want to come together, add 1 tbsp more yogurt.  Continue to knead with the mixer or by hand until the dough is springy.  The dough should be very sticky but able to retain a shape.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it ferment and rise at room temperature for up to 18 hours.  The dough should have doubled.  Then transfer the dough to a bread board or counter lightly floured.  Gently fold the dough over itself a couple times and form it into a ball.  Transfer to a piece of parchment paper and cover with a large bowl.  Let it proof again for about two hours until doubled.

Preheat the oven and the heavy bottom baking pan with a lid (I used a cast iron dutch oven)  to 450 degrees F.  Lift the dough on the parchment paper and transfer the dough into the pan.  Cover it with the lid and bake for 30 minutes.  Then remove the lid and bake until the crust is golden brown.

Let is cool on a rack for 20 minutes.

Update:  I make my own Greek yogurt and get an excess amount of whey.  In fact, I now use the whey as the starter for my next batch of yogurt instead of the yogurt itself.  It works so well, I thought I would replace the yogurt in this recipe for equal amounts of whey.  It worked so well.  It isn't quite as dense and tastes great.  


Saturday, September 29, 2018

In Search of Fall Color

Today had the feel of fall in the air.  Even before the temperatures drop, you can sense the change.  The sun is in a different position so the light is different and the air seems fresher.  Every fall we go in search of fall colors.  Today we decided to take a day trip with some friends.  We traveled north about 100 miles to the Green Bay, Wisconsin area.  My husband researched the area around Green Bay and found two waterfalls we didn't know about. For those who don't know Wisconsin and its position in the United States, Wisconsin's eastern border is on Lake Michigan.  Lake Michigan is the third largest of the Great Lakes.  It is beautiful with sand dunes and nice beaches, but it doesn't have many waterfalls.  We recently drove around Lake Superior and saw many many waterfalls. This is not the case of Lake Michigan.   If you travel clockwise around  Lake Michigan starting in Lower Michigan, the first waterfall you can find is Fonferek Falls in the Fonferek Glen County Park.  If you are interested in Earth Science this would be an interesting fact to research.

Fonferek Glen is on 74 acres.  It is located along Bower Creek in basically farming country.  The parking area for this area is right next to a farm.  I'm not sure I would like having so many visitors right next to my driveway, but that is where it is.  We weren't sure if we would even see the waterfall in this area.  Except for the time of the Spring melt, Fonferek Falls is usually just a trickle.  We knew that there had recently been heavy rains in the area so we were hoping for more than a trickle.  We walked down a path to get our first view of the falls.  We were pleasantly surprised to see the falls.

From this view of the falls we saw a trail into the glen.  There were signs everywhere warning of danger and steep drops.  About five years ago a woman was killed by falling over the edge so they have it well posted .  We were careful to stay on the trail and approached the top of the falls.  As we continued, we were able to cross the creek to get to the other side.  We wanted to see the area from another angle.

We didn't see much fall color today.  The area had a lot of birch trees which were turning yellow but nothing striking.

I couldn't find a lot more information about this park.  It appears to be part of a gravel pit of some sort.  It also had nice views from the trail of the dolomite or limestone cliffs.

We returned to our vehicle and headed to the next waterfall in the area.  There was a bridge out so we had to rely on our navigation girl to find another route.  We had a nice drive along the Bay of Green Bay and finally found the small roadside park.  It was a small park but it had a lot of information on signs to read.  I confess, I didn't read all of it, but I took pictures of the information in case we want to know more about it later.  This park was named Wequiock Falls park.  There is bridge which has a view of the falls from the top.  Then as you walk around to the opposite side, there is a set of stone steps.  These stairs take you down into the gorge area for a closer look.  We were lucky here too because the falls actually had falling water.

Wequiock Falls park also has a large grassy area which included a large statue of Jean Nicolet placed in 1939-1940.

When we finished viewing both of these falls, it was still early.  We headed back home.  When we got down the road a ways, we could see Lambeau Field off in the distance.  We thought it would probably be a good day to visit the home of the Green Bay Packers.  We visited the Pro shop, went into the Atrium and looked at the statues of Curly Lambeau and Vince Lombardi.  We ate lunch at the restaurant in the atrium called 1919. 

Vince Lombardi 
Curly Lambeau 
Mike doing the Lambeau Leap

We like these day trips.  It is something fun for us to do, and we don't have to pack for overnight.  Even though there wasn't much fall color, we had a really good day.