Winter Holidays = Cookies

It’s that time of year! Winter is well and truly here; winter solstice and Christmas are just around the corner. Our outdoor projects have been traded for some much-needed indoor renovations. So we’re shifting things here and there, patching walls and ceilings and generally making a huge mess. That’s right, a week ’till Christmas and we’re tearing the house apart. Not to worry though, this is just a classic example of “it gets worse before it gets better”, and we are beyond ready to be rid of these old pepto bismol pink walls!

But, as we all know, the holidays are not about whether or not your walls are pink, or if your house is spotless in time for guests, the holidays are about being together with those we love. So while we are chipping away at the piles of stuff (in hopes of fitting a tree in here somewhere) we’re also making time to bake cookies (and eat them with friends), play in the snow, craft ornaments, read, and just spend time together.

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DSCN8453The tree is by Ezra and the I is by Ishmael, of course!

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DSCN8410On the topic of cookies, if you’re looking for a gluten/grain/nut/ egg/dairy free (AIP Compliant, Autoimmune Protocol) cookies you have to try these Jam-filled Thumbprint Cookies from Delicious Obsessions. I tried a couple other AIP cookie recipes with such dismal results I almost gave up on the idea of cookies. These are a mixture of coconut butter, shredded coconut and coconut flour which give the cookies a great crumbly cookie texture. You can make your own coconut butter by running shredded coconut through the food processor until it resembles a nut butter. It will be runny and a tad grainy immediately after processing but it will set up, like store brought coconut butter, with a little time. These cookies work best with warm stir-able coconut butter so freshly made coconut butter is perfect.

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DSCN8445For everyone else, we made these to use with the cookie cutters. Everyone says they’re good and it’s a great recipe for kids because the dough is easy to handle and doesn’t fall apart easily. We also made these thumbprint cookies this year. They have no nuts so my kids prefer them to the traditional nut rolled thumbprint cookies. I find we make a handful of the same kinds of cookies every year plus one or two new kinds for fun. Cookies are essential for the holidays – and we’re fresh out!

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A Quick Knit and Bacon Experiment

Sometimes a quick knitting project is needed. Something you can finish in a day, maybe two. Molly needed another winter hat so it all worked out quite well. Molly is at the stage where hats are a fun game. I put the hat on her head, she swipes it off and waves it about. Sometimes she tries to put it on herself. Don’t think of helping her cause then she’ll pull it back off and it starts all over.

I had some leftover yarn from this BSJ and a pattern for a cute hat. I lost the pattern though (!), so I just made it up as I went along, ending up with an elvish hat. The older brothers just love all things elf related so they’re excited about the prospect of Molly outgrowing said hat and having their stuffies get to wear it. In fact, Molly’s hat went for a round of trying on and has disappeared. SO, no cute photos of Molly “in” her hat.

As not to leave you photo less I’ll share with you a recent experiment in our bacon curing. Normally I cure our sides or bacon in the fridge with just maple syrup, brown sugar and salt. No nitrates.  I think I’ve done several posts on how I make it previously if you look under recipes. It’s good but, not like store bacon. I thought it was possibly the nitrate factor. Celery is a natural source of nitrates and I had plenty of celery in the garden. I made one half with added juiced celery and one without.

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With (below)

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We cooked up a couple of slices of each. They were tasty and pretty close in flavor. Although, we both thought that maybe, the one with celery was better; a little deeper in flavor. We would have cooked up a bit more for comparison’s sake but Sasquatch, that little puppy Megan had last year, snatch up the side of bacon and devoured it. So we’ll be trying that again and keeping a better eye on the dogs.

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Smothered Pork {In the Kitchen}

 As you may have surmised, from all the semi-recent pig photos, we love pigs and like to raise our own pork. Since we butcher the pigs ourselves we get the WHOLE hog. There’s a lot of meat there, especially in the form of hams.  My preferred way to deal with all that ham is to cut some of the ham up into ham steaks.

DSCN8344So, what to do with all those ham steaks? We like them best prepared like smothered pork chops (except I often substitute ham steaks for the pork chops, those we like best breaded with parmesan and sage).
Smothered pork is simple to make. Basically, cover your pork with sliced onions, add a touch of herbs and surround with broth to add moisture and flavor while baking. It sounds too simple to be true but the resulting meal is tender, flavorful and there’s gravy!

The Recipe In Detail

  • 4 pork chops or equivalent in ham steaks
  • 4 slices bacon, optional but recommended
  • 2 medium onions
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 cups broth
  • salt and pepper

Using a stove top/oven proof pan, large enough to hold the ham slices (or pork chops) in one layer, brown the pork slices. Feel free to cook a couple of slices of bacon first, reserving bacon to crumble and serve on top of the finished dish and use the rendered fat to brown the pork on both sides.

Add enough sliced onions to cover the pork and saute till they start to brown (remove pork from the pan if there’s not enough room, when you return them to the pan place the onions on top of the pork).

Add a sprinkle of thyme, perhaps a bay leaf, salt and pepper. Add enough broth to cover the pork and onions (we’ll cook this down later to make a delicious gravy). Cover and bake till fork tender, add liquid if the broth dries up during this time. This is the most important step. If you don’t cook the pork long enough to be fork tender, and it can take a while, then you won’t get tender, delicious, eat it with just a fork results.

Now, uncover and allow the broth to condense. The onions and meat will develop a deep golden color. Make sure you will have enough liquids to make a gravy, add broth if needed.

Make the gravy. Transfer broth/pan juices to a stove top saucepan and thicken to make a gravy. I use arrowroot powder but cornstarch or flour is commonly used.

Serve with gravy and crumbled bacon on top. I often serve with mashed potatoes (with some of that gravy on top) and veggies.  Since the oven is on anyways, I like to braise pot of collar greens in chicken broth for my vegetable. Peas are common too.

Adding apples in along with the onions is also super delicious. Here’s a photo of that:

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Observation

The best thing about taking a nature walk (besides the obvious: you’re outdoors and taking a walk) is the ample opportunity for observation. Observing is a skill. Like any skill, observing takes practice to learn. We have to take the time to slow down and really look; make ourselves familiar with whatever it is that we’re observing. A nature walk  provides a plethora of opportunities to observe: leaves, flowers, feathers hidden off in the grass, rocks, trees, insects, animals, weather…. The more we observe the more we may notice: patterns, behaviors, where to look for a certain plant or for turkey feathers. As a keen observer we notice changes, ask questions and answer them.

Every season offers plenty of wonderful things to observe but fall is my favorite season. The cooler weather is inviting and reminds us of the harsher conditions soon to come.

Get out and enjoy it while you can!

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Ezra observes a spider during a walk back in September.

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In the meantime…

It’s a busy time of year, between wrapping up fall projects, homeschooling, and you know, just living life, there doesn’t seem to a lot of time for my many craft projects. Often, I end up just going to bed. What I’m saying is: I’ve only knit a few more inches of Molly’s poncho, and I haven’t worked at all on anything else!

Sometimes, that’s just the way it is. In the meantime, here is a clay creature Noah made. I wish I had some photos of his Lego animals he creates. Birds, dogs, cats, pigs…they’re quite cool. Maybe, if I ask nicely, he’ll make some for me to show you.

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Cold Hardy Veggies

The fall gardens are thriving, but it won’t be too long before the ground freezes. Until then I’m relishing every trip to the garden. Fresh (and free) veggies! I let the chickens into the gardens to help clean them up and give the top layer of soil a stir (to help kill off insects  that over winter there, like flea beetles). They did a surprisingly zealous job, pecking most of the greens down to the stems! It’s a trade-off I’m willing to pay. Still lots of carrots, celeriac, kale, beets and leeks to get in before it’s too late!

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Miss Molly Stark’s Offset Wraplan

 

DSCN8282Molly Stark is on the move! Crawling, climbing, cruising…she’s investigating the world. In front of the kitchen window is where Molly likes to stand and observe from. We’re in the kitchen a lot. The chickens, dogs and cats seem to always be hanging out around there too; I’m sure they’re quite amusing to watch.

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 I finished this sweater almost two weeks before Molly Stark was born. A larger version of this sweater she looks so cute in. The neck is a little too wide but I think she might grow into it and it won’t seem quite so loose. If you happen to be reading this and you think you might knit an offset wraplan I recommend making the neck opening a little smaller and cutting back on the number of buttons. Not by too many, buttons definitely add to the sweater, but it’s hard to find 9 and that many really isn’t necessary. I managed to find these pink ones with little gold lambs on them.

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This isn’t a sweater I made but here’s Molly Stark in her spot, looking out the window, anyways.

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sharing with KCCO and Yarn Along

Tokyo and Rio

DSCN8218Our new little piggies, Tokyo and Rio, joined us this past weekend. For now they’re in the extra stall in the chicken camper while we close in the front of the pole barn. Tokyo is the pinker female on the left; Rio is on the right, he has more of a gray to his shin. They’re both red Tamworths.

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In other piggie news: Singapore is getting big! She’s done a fine job of rooting up her pen. I’ll be able to expand the garden there next year.

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