Thursday, January 31, 2013

Two Kinds of Knitters

I remember someone telling me once, there are two kinds of knitters, process knitters and project knitters. The first knit because they love the process and will always have a project on the needles, these are the knitters that are most likely to knit for others, to give handknits as gifts. The latter of those two, project knitters, are pretty much the opposite, they see a finished project and say “I must have that!” at which point they proceed to buy the yarn and knit as fast as their fingers can go to produce that perfect cardigan, cowl, legwarmers.  

I would say that I fall firmly into the process knitter camp. Which on most days I would say is a great thing, it enables me to be happy with almost any project I have in my hands and helps me to produce mountains of handknits as Christmas gifts every year. 

There was a project that was different though.  A beret. Not just a beret, THE beret, the most perfect beret, from the most perfect beret pattern ever written. I fell in love weeks before Christmas, with much to do on my holiday deadline. So I made one… as a gift… just to try out the pattern, you know. 

The holidays were over and I devoted myself to finishing started projects. It was actually my only NYE resolution: To finish every pair of socks I have started (approx. 7 pair, if we’re counting… Don’t judge me! It happens!). Then, a birthday for a very special person came up…. Oh what to do?! Make her a beret! This time in beautiful yarn I swapped with a friend for. Perfect! Finally, I could take it no longer. The project knitter in me came screaming to the surface. I had the right yarn in the stash, I had the pattern in its plastic page protector, I had a weekend where I was ahead in school. Thus, it came to be, the hat I’ve been dreaming of, THE BERET.

 (even a little bit of sunshine for it's close up!)

This hat was knit following the Simple Beret pattern by Hannah Fettig. Next time, I think I will add one more inch to the body of the hat to give it a bit more “slouch.”

Monday, January 21, 2013

Snow Storm Scramble

We are at the end of a brilliant three day weekend, which means it feels like Sunday, and I’m pretty disappointed that Downton Abbey isn’t on tonight…. because it’s not really Sunday.

Anyway, Saturday was my birthday and Future Hubby took me to Grand Rapids to see the Great Lakes Shipwreck exhibit at the Grand Rapids Public Museum and then out for dinner at HopCat. If you are anywhere near Grand Rapids, MI, go to HopCat, order the ultimate mac and cheese with your favorite add-ins and a local beer. Do it!  So, long story short, there has been threat of a mighty winter storm, so we ate dinner with the early crowd to make it back home before dark . 

Dark came and so did the storm.  Fifty mile-per-hour winds and snow. The winds were so strong they were rattling every window in our old townhouse. It was so loud that Matt ran around our house about 10:30pm stuffing foam insulation into the window tracks to quiet things down enough so we could get to sleep. 

And Sunday it snowed. And today it snowed. Which put a real kink in my usual schedule…that includes buying groceries for the week on Monday morning, meaning things in our pantry are meager at best. What is a girl to do?

Use what you’ve got and make galette! Alana Chernilla (my food hero… everyone needs one and I would recommend her) has a great post about one here. I use the crust recipe in her post and it works beautifully every time. So boogie on over there, read the post and get the crust recipe. I’ll be here waiting….  go on… 

Great, you’re back! So let’s talk about how I made the galette that saved my butt during a dinner crisis during a winter storm. When you last were here, we had almost no rational food in our house. 

So I whipped up a crust, filled it with odds and ends and made this:

You too can make one with what you have on hand!
(Sorry the photos are a bit wonky.. there hasn't been any natural light all day)
First, the crust. 

Mix the flour and salt and cut in HALF of the butter (I did this in my food processor, because I was lazy tonight… you can do it with a pastry cutter or a fork too). 

Gently toss in the rest of the butter. You want it to stay in big lumps (I transferred to a bowl at this stage).

Slowly add water and mix with a fork. 

Carefully put the dough together with your hands. The warmth of your body will help it meld together, but not too much handling, this is a pastry crust. Then pop it into the fridge while you prep your fillers. 

This is the fun part. My formula for these is always cheese + root vegetable + something else. Tonight that looked like this Ricotta (extra from lasagna last night) + Yukon gold potatoes (on sale at the grocery last week) + bacon (6 strips left, looking sad in my freezer). 

Future Hubby said that this was his favorite filling combo ever and I should buy ingredients to make it again on purpose, not because I was desperate. 

Spread your cheese on the bottom leaving about 4 inches around the edge. 

Layer on your root veggie (I added some parmesan cheese on top of the potatoes). If you slice them thin they don't have to be pre-cooked, but if you have leftovers cooked potatoes or yams would be fine.

Sprinkle on your something else (this could be ANYTHING…nuts, veggies, bacon, sausage, chicken… you get the idea, right?).

Fold up the sides and press down to seal it together a bit. 

Put it on a baking stone or sheet and bake at 400 for 30-45 minutes. Make sure that if you are using a baking stone you put a cookie sheet on the next rack down. This crust is FULL OF BUTTER and it will fill your kitchen with smoke if it drips onto the bottom of your oven (and then you will have to clean your oven.. making this the worst dinner ever). Trust me, I know. 

Remove and let cool for about 10 minutes (molten cheese is bad).

Then do a little dance, because you made dinner when there was NOTHING in your house!

Friday, January 11, 2013

Happy National Milk Day!

Ethical living is hard. I don’t mean just in the do what’s right, be nice to your neighbors, let people cross the street in front of you kind of way. I mean in the what are you spending your money on, how do your actions effect others, what footprint are you making on the world at large kind of way. For me, these questions always arise when I’m standing at the diary case at the local grocery store.

You all know that grocery shopping has been getting progressively more expensive every year, every month, and at least in our house, our take home pay has not been raising at the same rate. This forces us to reexamine how we are spending our money and what we are overpaying for at the grocery store, what we can and should be making ourselves and what we can go without. It always becomes a question of cost efficiency vs. buying local. Local is always my first choice but what about when it doesn’t fit in the budget? Not surprisingly,  dairy comes back up again. Cheese really, it’s always cheese.  We have amazing cheese produced in Michigan that I love(and will dedicate an entire post to), but what I’m still trying to figure out is how cheese from California that is shipped half way across the world is cheaper for me to buy than cheese that made a less than 100 mile journey to my grocery store. That’s a thought for another day. 

Photo Credit: Connie Straathof or Hilhof Farms

One thing that I have figured out is milk …. and cream. Milk I buy local, no matter the cost. Once I had it, I could never go back to cheap mass produced grocery store varieties. When we lived up north there was a small store in the country, only a few miles away that was owned by the local Amish community. They sold milk from a local (non-Amish) Michigan dairy farm. 2%, Whole milk, Chocolate milk, Cream and my favorite, Cream Line milk (with the cream on the top…. for anyone’s who’s never had it… put it on your bucket list). This milk was amazing and after having their cream in coffee, you will NEVER go back to anything else. I was worried when we moved to the lakeshore that we would never have great milk again, but lo and behold a local health food store in town carries Hilhof Farms milk, the much beloved brand we were buying up north.

This post is not to endorse Hilhof Farms, I was not compensated to write it, rather I want to put a spotlight on locally owned business everywhere and praise the quality of their products. For us, not only does Hilhof Farms milk taste better, but we can go to the farm where it is made, see their grass fed cows and appreciate all the effort it takes to run a truly organic farming operation.  I also want to encourage you, wherever you are to use National Milk Day as a reason to hunt down your local dairy farm and buy some milk made in your own state. I promise you it will be better than whatever comes mass produced from a plastic jug in the grocery store.  This will not be the first or the last time I say this, remember, we’re all in this together, support your local farmers. 

Happy Milk Day!

Friday, January 4, 2013

Savvy, Stylish Storage

A huge part of the idea of “homesteading” for me is making do with what we have and being content with it. Well, I have to admit, I’ve been pretty unhappy with my coat closet. It’s your typical set up from a rental, a rail for coats and a shelf with way too much space. So I’ve been slowly working on increasing its functionality and making it something I’m not terrified of our guests opening (for fear of the mess  they will see or something falling out on them). I fell in love with the idea of numbered baskets or storage boxes like these to stow our outerwear accessories (gloves, scarves, hat, umbrellas, etc.) and paper products that also live in that closet. 

 Architectural Digest

If you didn’t guess… these are EXPENSIVE. Similar ones at the big box stores were cheaper, in price and construction, but still, I felt like spending equivalent to my weekly grocery bill on baskets or storage boxes was extravagant and hardly fit my  “make do” attitude. Not to mention the store that has my favorite contenders, I’m currently boycotting.  
Having moved recently, we happen to have a plethora of boxes flat stacked in a corner of our basement that for which we paid little to no money. So, with two boxes (that just happened to fit perfect in my closet…. standard size + standard size = success!) some kraft paper from my gift wrapping stash and a sharpie I made my own numbered storage boxes for free. These would not stand up to high traffic areas or children’s rooms.  If you are looking for attractive storage that won’t be abused or used on a daily basis though, this might be your answer. You could cover these with a multitude of gift wrapping papers or fabric and label them in a million ways to suit your style. This is just a simple step by step meant to inspire! I’d love to see what you are using for creative storage at your house!

 Tape the bottom of the box securely and cut the top flaps off the box. An old serrated knife works great for this. 

Cut your paper (or fabric) so that there is 1-2 inches of overhang on the top and bottom. Wrap it around like wrapping a package. When you get to the top, wrap the paper under and tape securely all the way along the top (this area will get the most hand contact and I wanted mine to last a while). 

Next, I printed the labels on regular computer paper (I used Engravers MT font on these). Cover the back of the paper in chalk, lay it on the box and trace the numbers with a pencil. It will transfer onto your paper (or fabric) and you can then trace with a marker (or paint).

Voila! Now I have some awesome (free) storage bins that will hide a multitude of household sins in a stylish way!