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.
On 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.
For 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!
Snow is on the way! Time to haul in some extra wood and locate all the snow shovels, sleds and dropped mittens. Not an easy task given how far and wide the boys roam. The goats won’t mind the extra snow; they like to jump the fence and play king of the mountain on the snow bank.
We’ll be hunkering down, wood stove ablazing – likely with the dutch oven on top, slow roasting a chunk of meat into tender perfection. With a new quilt and a stack of library books to see us through I think we’ll weather the storm just fine.
Can you believe Noah is seven?! Or that between two birthdays and Valentine’s Day we’ve partaken in what may just be seven celebratory desserts in just one week?! On the flip side, we’ve also had seven fantastic celebratory meals and good times with family and friends. Exactly what we need in the middle of February when the snow is piling up and winter shows no sign of ever ending.
With temperatures hovering in the negative and single digits I am glad to finally have our wood stove hooked up! Not only does it add a cozy ambiance to the house, it’s also reassuring that should the power go out we wouldn’t freeze to death, and it’s saving us money by using less propane to heat our house and when preparing our meals. Since the stove is burning all day anyway it’s easy enough to place a cast iron pan on top and cook a meal, or three.
I have found that generally anything I’d cook or reheat on the stove top will cook just as well on the wood stove. Some meals we have enjoyed off the wood stove are: eggs in a nest, pancakes, any kind of soup, mac n’ cheese, burritos, grilled cheese, etc. Depending on how hot the wood stove is it may take a little longer or a little less time than using the gas range would. It’s important to keep an eye on the level of liquids, and if you are adding milk, cream, or cheese (for example to soup or mac n’ cheese) be careful the stove is not so hot as to break (curdle) the dairy product. Removing the pot from the stove or raising it with a cast iron trivet or on canning lids can help prevent overheating. I have also prepared some things I’d normally make in the oven by using a dutch oven. The easiest and most delicious of these is a pot roast. After the roast spends the day slowing cooking over the fire the roast is always fall-apart-tender and the broth cooks down into a delicious gravy. Add some potatoes and carrots towards the end and a full meal is ready – and the house smells great.
For your enjoyment here is Alton Brown’s stove top Mac n’ cheese recipe (reproduced below). It’s prepared essentially the same on the range or on the wood stove. First prepare the pasta then add the butter, sauce and cheese. I remove the pot from the wood stove when adding the sauce and cheese. The pot I use stays hot enough to heat the sauce and melt the cheese and this way the mac n’ cheese stays creamy and doesn’t break as mentioned above. If you don’t want to use, or don’t have, evaporated milk you can gently simmer 2 1/4 cups milk down to 1 cup of milk, or use 3/4 cup whole milk and 1/4 cup half and half, or substitute light cream.
Alton Brown’s Stove Top Mac n’ Cheese
4 tablespoons butter
6 ounces evaporated milk
1/2 teaspoon hot sauce
1 teaspoon kosher salt
fresh black pepper, to taste
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
10 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
In a large pot of boiling, salted water cook the pasta to al dente and drain. Return to the pot and melt in the butter. Toss to coat.
Whisk together the eggs, milk, hot sauce, salt, pepper, and mustard. Stir into the pasta and add the cheese. Over low heat continue to stir for 3 minutes or until creamy.
During the summer I keep a jar of dairy kefir out on the counter. I use it freely and top it off daily – with summers abundent milk supply. Now that winter is here I find our dairy kefir usage has plummeted. It’s just too cold to mix up a frosty smoothie and, not in the least, our milk supply has dried up. Yet, kefir grains need to be fed regularly. So how does dairy kefir fit into my winter kitchen?
For starters I keep my jar of diary kefir in the fridge. This slows the fermenting process down considerably. That means there’s less to use daily and I can feed my grains less frequently. The kefir still ferments so when I do want to use some I can. Then I replace however much I just used up with fresh milk. If I use over half the jar I might leave the jar out to ferment on the counter, otherwise it might not be ready for a few days at least.
During the summer kefir generally goes into smoothies and veggie dips and dressings. During the winter I use kefir mainly as a replacement for yogurt or buttermilk in recipes, like pancakes or meatloaf for example. These are cooked so they won’t contain the benefits of live kefir; although any grains in the recipe will benefit from soaking in the acidic kefir. You can still reap the benefits of kefir’s live cultures if you make dressing, dip or consume it unheated in some other way.
Here is a recipe I adapted from Nourishing Traditions, it’s kind of a three recipes in one recipe. It’s a light mild dressing. NT calls for piima cream or creme fraiche but I used kefir instead.
First make the basic dressing (pg129 NT) This makes about 3/4 cup.
Combine the mustard and vinegar then add in the oil in a thin stream, stirring all the while till emulsified.
1 tsp dijon mustard
2 Tlb plus 1 tsp raw apple cider vinegar ( NT calls for wine vinegar)
1/2 cup olive oil
1 Tlb flax oil, if you have it.
Add 1 tsp finely chopped fresh herbs i.e. parsley, oregano, tarragon, thyme, basil etc. This is now the herb dressing (also pg 129 of NT).
Finally blend in 1/4 cup kefir.
Now you have 1 cup creamy dressing (pg 131 of NT).
Adjust seasoning to taste. I like to let it sit for a while to let the herbs have a chance to release their flavor.
Some other recipes using kefir:
Susan’s Whole Wheat Kefir Pancakes (or use your favorite pancake recipe replacing the buttermilk or milk with kefir)
Ranch Dip (from cultures for health- this one is a favorite)
Also, try straining the kefir for a thick & smooth kefir cheese. Season with herbs and salt and pepper. You can roll the seasoned cheese into small (about golf ball size) balls. Place balls in a jar and cover with olive oil.
It’s been a while since we last had an “around the homestead” update. Freezing temperatures and snow is here to stay. The piles of winter coats, boots and drying mittens are growing. As is my collection of empty milk jugs to tote water out to the animals.
The goats never seem to enjoy the snow. Already their tracks are mainly confined to a path between their shelter and the waterer. Manson has been taking his job very seriously so we should be expecting a new kid or two in the coming months. Nonetheless he still chases all the does around- just to be sure.
Now that the snow is sticking the chickens are glad to stay in their camper. A week or two ago I gave the camper one last good mucking out and a deep bed of new shavings. As long as the cold temps are here the deep bedding shouldn’t get too gross and it acts as a layer of insulation. I stir it around every few days and add additional shavings when needed. The camper has a handy hatch in the back that makes mucking out the old shaving that much easier.
Sad news- my bees have already succumbed to the harshness of winter. I checked on them a while back while I was prepping the hive for winter and they had already devoured their store of honey. I didn’t have my camera with me but they were positioned headfirst in their comb, in what my resources say is a classic starvation position. They had plenty of natural food around them and I had been supplementally feeding them. I didn’t take any honey nor is there another hive nearby (that I know of anyways) that could have robbed them. My thought is that perhaps our warm season is too short for a package of bees to really have time to get established and really produce enough for our long cold winters. If I can convince struggling_along I think our best bet would be to purchase a nuc, or two. Of course with bees there are no guarantees.
On a happier note: PUPPIES!
They are all doing well and growing plump. They’re quite fun to have around but… 9 dogs! The very thought makes me glad the puppies are being spoken for left and right. Still for now we can take advantage of all the puppy snuggle time we can get, right?!
Last week Struggling_along brought me home a surprise – a stack of metal syruping buckets with lids and spiles! It was like Christmas. I had resigned myself long ago that metal buckets were too expensive. Luckily Struggling_along just happened to be at the feed store at the right moment (ordering this year’s chicks) and he was able to snatch up the last of these previously used buckets sold by a man getting out of the business. Score!
And it was perfectly timed too as this weekend it finally warmed up, and even rained!
We went from this:
So the boys and I went around identifying our maples and fighting over who got to drill which tree and whether the person who drilled also got to use the hammer to tap the spile in. There was also much sap sampling- straight from the tap of course.
Since then I can’t count the number of times we’ve crossed the field to check on the sap levels. We have 4 buckets on each side of the field. It’s quite the journey across because it’s a ways, plus, every step has to be taken with caution. Sometimes the crust holds us up, or we may sink an inch or two, but the next step may send us suddenly lurching forward, sinking us down past our knees and potentially onto our faces, or alternatively, stuck like a turtle on our backs. It’s all good fun though.
our first full bucket. Those buckets are deceptive – they hold a lot! It just about filled my 5 gallon pail and with the little bit from the other buckets I had a slow return journey trying not to slosh sap over the sides of the pail.