Busy, busy in my absence

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I’ve been pretty quiet on my blog for several weeks now, so a quick update as to what I’ve been doing.  Some of it is quite exciting, other aspects, well…not so much.

First, the exciting:  I’m working on my cottage food license.  This is a big deal because it will allow me to prepare certain low-risk foods (jams, jellies, spice rubs, cookies, etc.) and sell them directly to consumers.  This means I can sell these food items at the CSA pick up this summer, at the farmer’s market, or out of my front door.  This is a new law in Montana–it has only been in effect for a couple of years.  I attended a workshop last month that answered a lot of questions I had.  Next week I’m meeting with the county sanitarian (who will review my application) to go over more questions and get some clarification before I complete my application.  The biggest pain for all of this is I have to convert all of the ingredients from volume into weight.  This is to make sure if you are preparing something like a jam or jelly that the recipe meets a certain percentage of sugar in order to be considered safe for a consumer.  It’s a pain, but there are resources available to help with the conversions.  Once this process is complete, should I want to take my products retail or wholesale, then most of the legwork will be completed.

Now for the now-so-exciting:  A couple of weeks ago I had to travel for work (that could be considered exciting) but in the process I came down with a nasty bug.  I always get sick when I fly, and this one knocked me flat for several days.  Was it the flu?  I’m not sure.  I had a fever and full body aches.  I never had a sore throat (thank goodness–I hate having a sore throat!).  It’s been two weeks since I got sick and this little bugger is still clinging for dear life.  Honestly, I’m still not exactly sure how I navigated my way through a 4 hour layover in the Denver airport with all of my belongings while being doped up on Nyquil and all–I don’t really remember much about my trip.  I’m just glad I made it home.  In the first 36 hours of being home, I spent 33 of them sleeping.  I was so tired I could barely move.  It was awful.  And when I could drag myself out of bed, it was all I could do to sit upright on the couch for 30 minutes before falling over from exhaustion and falling back asleep.  Once I felt well enough to stay out of bed for over an hour at a time, I did a lot of coloring.  A LOT of coloring.  I use watercolor pencils to sketch in my color, then I take a small paintbrush dipped in water and go back over the pencil marks to mix them like watercolors.

It’s quite fun and soothing, actually.  But there is only so much coloring I can do before cabin fever and a general antsiness overtakes me and I just want to do something.  Anything but sit around the house feeling miserable.  This week I finally returned to teaching barre at the gym, but with the clinging congestion and my diminished lung capacity it has been challenging.  It feels so good to be working out again and hopefully working the last of the sickness out of my system.

So that’s been my February.  I have not watched any of the Olympics.  I have slept and colored most of the month away.  And on those days when I have felt less cognitively challenged, I have worked on my cottage food license preparation.  In a way I’m ready for a new month to begin.  A fresh start.  Maybe March will be better.  Maybe March will be warmer.  It has been a very cold and snowy winter so far.  Monday morning when I took MaeBelle for a walk it was -16 degrees F.  I like the winter and I like the snow.  Really, I do.  But I don’t particularly care for it when I’m sick.  It’s supposed to warm up a little by the weekend.  And that means this coming weekend I ski.  It helps keep the winter blahs at bay.  Hooray!

 

Let’s make hummus!

I love hummus, but I have to be honest here, I don’t love store bought hummus.  Sure, I eat it, but I usually only buy it for camping or field work.  I much prefer homemade hummus, and you know what?  It’s really easy to make!  And the best part is you can make it any flavor you want.

The video below will show you how to make it entirely from scratch using dried chickpeas.  You can also use canned chickpeas if you want to skip cooking the beans yourself, but if you have a pressure cooker, it doesn’t take long at all to cook dry beans, soaked or not.  More on pressure cooking in future posts.  I absolutely love mine and I’m a huge proponent of using them to save time and preserve nutrients in food.  Check it out:

The best birthday cake ever: hazelnut carrot cake with cream cheese frosting

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I have the same birthday cake every year: carrot cake.  I cannot even remember a time that I did not have carrot cake, though I remember (vaguely) of a Strawberry Shortcake birthday cake like this one from my early childhood:

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I actually had the original cake form up until I last moved 7 years ago, along with several other cake forms for Blue Clues, Tigger, and many more cartoon characters that I can no longer recall.  But for years and years and years, it has been carrot cake.  I love carrot cake.  No….wait.

I LOVE carrot cake.

Last year I switched things up a bit, like I always do, and instead of using pecans or walnuts, I decided to try hazelnuts.  It was a freakin’ home run.  In fact, when I was first pondering what to make for my first YouTube video, this carrot cake was one I thought about making as my debut video.  But for some reason I didn’t.  Maybe it was for lack of time, who knows.  But the time has now come and yes, even though it was my own birthday, I made my own birthday cake.  Not-so-secret:  I always do.

I enjoy it, so why not?

And also…once someone, who may or may not be Hubby, made my birthday cake for me and made the comment that the batter looked like vomit.  Fair enough.  This batter doesn’t have a sexy, lick-the-bowl look to it, but it tastes phenomenal (both in batter and baked cake form).  So from that point forward, I decided it was just easier on everyone involved if I made it myself.  This year I had a particularly grand time making this cake, as you will soon find out if you watch the video.

Soon-not-to-be-secret: I lightened up the original recipe considerably and there is absolutely no compromise in flavor, texture, or overall quality of this cake.  It’s practically health food, as far as cakes go anyway, so you should definitely give it a try.

Recipe is here.  Video is below.

Making the most of these last days of 2017

I know this is totally cliche, but what a year!  2017 has been an interesting year, to say the least.  I had a good year for the most part.  Urban Farmgal is gaining some traction, my cooking videos are improving, I got to go backpacking in the Beartooth Mountains (I need to write a blog post on that soon.  New Year’s Resolution: write that blog post!), I taught myself some sewing techniques (ZIPPERS! And…I turned a denim jumper into a really cute denim skirt–more on that soon), I’ve been baking a lot of holiday goodies, and I’ve been skiing like crazy the past few weeks with MaeBelle and the Hubs, in large part to work off all those holiday calories!  But I’m ready to say goodbye to 2017.  I need a fresh start in 2018, just like every year.

A few highlights from the home front recently:

1.) Everybody needs a pineapple pillow case!  And flannel, too.  When I saw this fabric, I knew Stepdaughter #2 needed it in her life.  I didn’t know what form it would take when I purchased the fabric–I knew I’d figure it out later. I picked up the other fabric at the same time, not knowing I’d use the two together.  But I needed a little extra length and the pattern looks like sea shells, so why not combine it with pineapples?  This is probably the easiest Christmas gift I have ever made.  When you need something clever and quick, a quirky pillowcase can do the trick!

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2) Getting outside to enjoy the snow.  I have a new pair of skis.  They are short and fat and act like sliding snowshoes.  They are from Altai Skis and they are called Hoks (pronounced Hawks).  They have built in skins, so you can climb up hills but they will also slide & glide like cross country skis.  If you get on a steep enough slope, you can even turn them like downhill skis.  They are so much fun!  MaeBelle took me on an adventure with them last week and we climbed up on the trails south of town:

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3) A friend helped me out of a bit of a pickle last week.  What better way to repay her kindness than with a knitted hat?  I love the colors of this hat and I’m quite pleased with the outcome.  I hope my friend loves it.  This photo doesn’t even do it justice.

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4) Skiing!  Hubs, MaeBelle, and I went for a ski tour up at Stemple Pass this afternoon.  It was a glorious way to spend the last day of the year.  It was cold in town (-14 degrees F when we got up this morning and still below 0 when we left the house at noon) but it was 18 degrees up at the pass.  It was a bit windy, but we followed some other skiers who broke trail for us and stayed in the trees protected from the wind.  What a great way to get a workout!

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5) Snow science!  Hubs and I dug a snow pit on our ski tour today and he showed me how to examine the snow to look for weak layers that could fail and lead to an avalanche.  We actually found some weak snow, which means avalanche danger is fairly high right now.  We knew the snow was a little sketchy because we’ve gotten a ton of snow the past couple of days.  Just after we left the truck, on a fairly flat section, I felt my skis “wumphf” beneath me, which is a tell-tale sign of weak snow layers.  We also took our avalanche beacons and wore them just to practice using them.  Don’t worry, mom!  We were not in any danger, I promise!

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6) Here are my Hoks.  They are only 125 cm long, which means my poles are longer than my skis!  They truly are just a ball of fun.  And they climbed up some pretty steep snow today, which impressed both Hubs and me. Unfortunately, this year’s stock, including my skis, have a problem with the skins delaminating and so they have to be replaced or repaired.  At least they are under warranty, but I may have to ship my skis back while I wait for my new ones to arrive.  That means I may not have a chance to hop on these babies again for a few weeks…

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7) Full moon rising.  We saw the moon rising as we were driving home and it was a glorious sight!  A full moon on the last day of the year seems a fitting way to bring 2017 to a close.

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Happy New Year, everyone!  I hope 2018 brings you much health, happiness, and prosperity.

How to dry brine a turkey

I love love love Thanksgiving.  It is my favorite holiday.  And I am hosting this year, both friends and family, so we’re expecting a nice crowd of about 8.  But who knows?  If I see anyone in the neighborhood up for adoption Thursday, I might drag them along for our Thanksgiving ride, too (we play Scattergories after dinner–it’s so much fun!).

Since I love to cook, this is absolutely my holiday.  And I prep well in advance so that I don’t get too stressed out on Turkey Day.  I began my preparations on Sunday, FIVE days before Thanksgiving (one can never be too prepared).  I found my Thanksgiving menus from the past 3 years along with my list of To-Do and When, and created my Thanksgiving Timeline of Preparations.  And since I have a vegan friend joining us for the big day, nearly everything is vegan.  Here’s the menu of what I’m making:

Non-vegan:  Turkey with gravy  /  cheese log

Vegan:  gravy  /  ‘Thanksgiving’ rolls  /  pumpkin pie  /  mashed potatoes  /  corn casserole  /  curried fruit  /  sweet potato casserole  /  roasted carrots & parsnips  /  French cornbread dressing  /  chocolate hazelnut-blueberry pie  /  mulled apple cider

Stepdaughter # 2 is bringing chocolate pie, coconut cream pie, cranberry sauce (from a Harry Potter cookbook, no less), and a sweet potato & apple dish.

THAT’S A LOT OF FOOD!

And in case you’re curious, here’s my what my Thanksgiving Timeline of Preparations looks like:

Sunday:

  1. toast hazelnuts & skin.  chop.  toast pecans. chop.
  2. make vegan pumpkin pie–from scratch–& video
  3. start sourdough starter
  4. make curried fruit topping
  5. make vegan pie crust for chocolate hazelnut pie

Monday:

  1. make French cornbread
  2. make turkey rub
  3. roast garlic
  4. make sweet potato casserole topping
  5. make herb/spice mix for ‘Thanksgiving’ rolls

Tuesday:

  1. brine turkey & make video
  2. grate cheese for cheese log
  3. bake sweet potatoes in skin
  4. cut & toast French cornbread
  5. mix together dry ingredients for chocolate hazelnut pie

Wednesday:

  1. slice / steam carrots & parsnips
  2. make chocolate hazelnut pie
  3. assemble curried fruit
  4. assemble sweet potato casserole
  5. prep corn casserole
  6. prep dressing
  7. make sourdough roll dough (bread maker)

Thursday:

  1. make ‘Thanksgiving’ roll dough (bread maker)
  2. bake curried fruit
  3. roast carrots & parsnips
  4. roast turkey
  5. bake sweet potatoes  / corn casserole  / dressing
  6. bake rolls (Dutch oven & solar oven &/or in kitchen)
  7. mulled apple cider (Crock Pot)
  8. pressure cook potatoes
  9. make gravies

Wednesday night will probably be my most ‘stressful’ night in part because I will work Wednesday afternoon and I teach barre that evening.  So by the time I get home & showered, it will be quite late to begin some of the prep.  But the good news in all this is if it doesn’t get done on Wednesday night, it will just happen on Thursday.  And Thursday won’t be all that crazy, despite the long list of things I have to do.  The turkey will take up the largest chunk of time, and while it cooks I can prep other things.  Then while the turkey rests, I’ll bake the casseroles and such.  Should be a fairly relaxed day, all things considered.

Now, about that turkey.  I prepared my turkey this afternoon with a rub and dry brine.  I had a near turklamity while bagging the turkey, and you can witness the look of horror on my face when I thought I was about to lose it.  If you want the rub recipe, it will be posted here.  And here’s the video:

Homemade pumpkin pie–totally from scratch!

I’ve been radio silent for a couple of weeks–other priorities have taken my time away from videos and blogging.  Such is life, I suppose.  This is the last week of the CSA and then I’ll have a bit of a break.  We had a really good season, but I am looking forward to focusing on other things for a few months.  Videos will continue throughout the winter, but may be more sporadic–who knows?

But I’ve got two, count ’em TWO, videos specifically tailored to Thanksgiving this week.  This is the first installment, which walks you through how to make a pumpkin pie, completely from scratch:  from pumpkin to pie.  And you know what?  It’s really not that hard!  Sure, it’s more time-consuming than opening a can of pumpkin puree, but this is better.   Waaaaaaaay better than pumpkin from a can!

The second video will show you how to dry brine a turkey.  Never tried it?  Well, you should!  I think this will be my go-to turkey preparation for Thanksgiving forevermore.  Look for that video tomorrow!

More summer knitting, including a new design– the growler tote!

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I don’t usually knit much in the summer–it seems like such a winter activity, something to do on those long winter nights while cuddled up in front of the wood stove.  But this summer I’m keeping the knitting needles busy because I have had a couple of knitting orders to fulfill.  The good thing is I’ve had quite a bit of windshield time traveling for work this summer, which has allowed me, as a passenger, to do something productive while on the road.  It works out rather nicely.  I never knit while behind the wheel, just to be clear.  I’m a proud multi-tasker, but even that one is beyond me!

A woman in my barre class loved my little Kindle bag I made earlier this spring so much that she wanted me to make one for her friend, whose birthday is this month.  The only requirement was that this friend liked orange, so I was free to mess around with colors.  This is what I came up with:IMG_2619

And the inside looks like this:IMG_2621

I’m please with how it turned out, so I’ve got a couple ideas for the next one I’m going to make.  While looking for a little decorative bling to sew on the outside, I found these really cute little octopus pendants–so my next design will be an ocean theme with blue and/or turquoise yarn and hopefully I can find some cute aquatic-themed fabric to go along with it.

And then there’s the growler tote.  I designed it earlier this summer and I just finished it last week.  It’s knit with 2 strands of yarn to create a thick fabric and I lined it with a fleece pocket to keep the beer cool and to add additional strength to the bag.  I think it turned out pretty rad.  IMG_2625

And I think it’s going to carry well, even when full:IMG_2630

The woman who bought the above Kindle bag wants me to go down to one of our local breweries and show it off to see if anyone is interested in buying one.  She thinks the tote will be a hit–because this community takes its beer very seriously.  We have 3 breweries in Helena and a 4th one is in the works.  For a town of this size, that’s nuts, especially since we can barely seem to hang on to a decent restaurant around here.  So we’ll see what happens.  I might have a busy winter ahead of me!