I’ve Started Hooking in My Spare Time

Before you dig out your soapbox and bible, it’s not nearly as horrible as you might think. Apparently that’s what the cool moms are calling it these days.

It all started late this fall. I use doilies in a lot of my decorating and began to look closer at them as I was changing colors and sizes to correspond with the season (add it to the list of “Granny” habits I have) and started to think I should really know how to make these. I’ve got time to pick up another hobby; I like to lie to myself too. But why not get a little crazy?!

I found out at Christmas that my Great Grandma made doilies until she lost her vision. I remember a basket of colorful thread in her living room but was too young to notice much more than the colors. Before she passed, she told my Grandma to give each of us girls a doily she made in remembrance of her. This Christmas, Grandma had the designated doilies, matted, framed and wrapped. They were lovely! I hung mine in my bedroom and it didn’t take until New Years for me to decide I really was going to give it a try.

Great Grandma's Doily
Great Grandma’s Doily

I needed a baby gift, which meant a trip to Hobby Lobby for yarn, and because I just happened to be there, I picked up a tiny crochet hook and spool of thread. The only crochet attempt I have had any success with is rag rugs. If it’s not a rug it’s a tiny balled up mess. I have never understood crochet patterns. Knitting is no problem, I’ve got that, sweaters, hats, mittens, cables, no problem! I was determined to “hook” too.

I printed off a few free patterns and went cross-eyed trying to figure out the diagrams explaining what to do with this tiny hook and thread. It wasn’t too long and I had the general idea of what was going on. Like anything new there is a lot to learn.

Lesson no. 1- Don’t start with a pattern, which states “this is my first attempt at writing a pattern.” There’s a 50/50 chance of it ending well. – I quit a few rounds early, while things were still lining up… it’s a large coaster size; perfect for my coffee up.

Lesson no. 2- No pattern looks like an easy one when you are first starting. –I searched for one that had a instructions that looked to be in English and finally picked one the same way I pick wine: Find a pretty picture (or a neat label).

Lesson no. 3- As long as your hook size and thread size correspond you don’t have to have what the pattern calls for. There will be lots of arguments with this one, but just starting out I’m learning to read patterns and master a technique, not make a sweater that fits. I have been using a 1.5mm (7) hook and classic 10 lace thread. It seems to be a good middle of the road size for learning.

Lesson no. 5- Being able to count correctly is very helpful. – The first larger doily I attempted was written wrong, at least to how I would read it. Between the typos and my not being able to consistently count to five, things were a bit off. (The second attempt went much better.)

A handful of doilies later, I have a stack of patterns to try! I’m hooked!

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Let the Baking Begin Again!

Long before my flour mill died I had picked out a new one. It could do everything from cracked corn all the way down to cake flour. It had a hand crank with the option to add a motor. Made in the USA, cast iron beauty! My current mill was older than me and worked well. There was only one setting-flour but it made nice bread. There was no need to get a new one with the current one still working. It finally had it’s last day (story found here) and I no longer had a mill, nor the money to spend on a new one. My baking dropped off pretty quickly after that. Not that I couldn’t buy flour, I did buy some even when I had the mill, but there is something about taking the whole grains, grinding them and then turning them into something delightful.

This year for Christmas my husband decided I needed a new mill, not only a new mill but the one I picked out! I swear he works just as hard as I do to make my dreams come true! What a great guy! He ordered the mill and it arrived just in time for Christmas. The next surprise was he already had a motor for it; one of better quality than what could have been purchased as a mill package. He has a much better understanding of pulleys and belts than I do and was able to figure out what he needed to do to get the mill running at the correct RPMs. If the mill were to run too fast the flour would easily heat up and taste burnt or cause problems with the mill itself. Also flour dust is highly flammable to the point of possible explosion! Personally I prefer to avoid kitchen explosions whenever possible.

Flour Mill
Flour Mill

It wasn’t too long after and right there on my kitchen island was a flour mill ready for grain!

The plan was to put it in the basement until we remodel the kitchen (ten years from now). We are currently in the middle of a smaller remodel project that has left us with a couple file cabinets temporarily in the kitchen. I moved the mill to one of the file cabinets and decided that was to be its permanent home. My uncle suggested we could use a set of upper cabinets on legs as a base, topped with a countertop. That’s the new plan. One cupboard (maybe two) will be a grain bin and the other can hold specialty grains and flours.

I’ve been grinding flour like crazy and began baking on the weekends again. Grinding my own flour, even when I am buying the grains, is so much cheaper than buying it ground already; assuming you don’t figure in the cost of the mill. There is just nothing like baking with fresh ground flour. There is also nothing like the Little Boy wanting to make pancakes in the morning and seeing him stand in front of the mill waiting for his flour. If nothing else I will have taught my little man to feed himself and others. He’s getting to be quite the little baker!

I really like to use semolina for making pasta and am now searching that out as well as some other whole grains to grind and bake. The other day I thought for sure there were oats in the barn. I grabbed a bucket and headed out there planning to make a mill version of steel cut oats. I prefer the steel cut over the old fashioned. They take longer to cook but have more texture when done. A wonderful winter breakfast comfort food. I was wrong though, we were out of oats so there was no experimenting with that as of yet. Yes, for those wondering, I had planned to take a bucket of oats from the animal feed bin and turn them into my breakfast. They’ve been cleaned just the same as the wheat I you would grind.

Flour Mill
Flour Mill
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Making a Resurrection Garden

Spring can mean many different things depending on who you ask. From our farm view it is the start of the New Year. It brings baby animals, buds on the trees, blooms on the flowering crab trees, tulips (that I forgot to plant last fall! Ugh!) There’s spring cleaning of the house, yard, barn, flowerbeds, and gardens. It can get really crazy as things come out of winter hibernation. Spring is also a time to slow down and be thankful. That’s right being thankful isn’t limited to one day in November, you know the day before people go to town and fight over the latest gadget.

Giving thanks really should be done daily. In fact many studies have shown that the more one takes note of what they have to be thankful for the happier and more content they are. This is everything from a simple act of kindness, good health, an unexpected phone call from a friend or the orange soda you had for lunch. Every season brings something more to be thankful for and in the spring it’s the resurrection and what that means for us.

The weeks leading up to Easter are observed with fasting, self-reflecting, and most commonly the giving up something; such as the ever popular “sweets” or coffee. It seems like kind of a cop-out really. Give up the same thing every year because it requires no real soul searching or thought; “My pants are tight from Christmas, I suppose giving up sweets would be a good idea.” I’m not saying going without coffee or chocolate cake is an easy task, especially when you are still coming down from the cookie high of the holidays. But really, does it do you any spiritual good? Probably not. I knew a gal that for lent she said she was going to go to church every day for a year. Ho-ly Bananas! God bless her! She did it. I for one, am quite positive that a Lenten task such as that I would be setting myself up for complete failure. I mean done by day two failure.

For the past years, I have skipped the usual giving something up in the coffee sense of it. Instead I donate a minimum of one laundry basket of stuff a week. Yes, I would say the first few years were an easy route. I had a lot of clothes that I didn’t wear, old decorations I didn’t put up and so on. As the years have gone by this has begun to get tougher. I don’t collect nearly as much stuff as I used to and with our small house I have been getting rid of things year round. So each passing year is causing me to dig deeper into some of the things that I hold on to a little more dearly. The family heirlooms aren’t going anywhere but my ever growing book collection, cookbooks especially, I hate to part with for example. Going through the shelves is a sacrifice for me. But there is still not much in the spiritual department so to speak.

In addition to my usual (not quite) daily readings I have added a few other quiet tasks to my Lenten list. I needed something more, something that would teach. Something not just for me but for the family as a whole. With tiny ones (1 and 2 years old) teaching the concept to Easter is a tough one. The little boy knows the story of Christmas. He can tell you who’s who in the books and nativity scenes, (some of which are out all year in our home, a gentle reminder). He will tell you Joseph had to sleep in the barn and Mary had baby Jesus. There were animals, angels and shepherds and so on. Easter, on the other hand, seems harder to teach this age. He can learn the story but the story is a violent journey ending in joy that is not quite comprehensible for such a little mind.

We do put a small gift or two in the stockings and one gift from Santa but try to emphasize the true meaning of Christmas. It’s easier with Christmas. It’s a happy story for the entire journey. Easter, comes with bunnies, jelly beans and Easter egg hunts and a man being killed on a cross and then rising from the dead. Such violence is hard to explain to someone who has never experienced something more violent than a flick on the mouth for talking back or a time out. The crucifix in our living room is looked at with a puzzled look when he is told “that’s Jesus”. He hasn’t thought about why Jesus is up there or how he got there or the pain and suffering that put him there.

The rebirth, and new beginnings can symbolized in some of what has become another over-commercialized holiday but it can be found. Empty plastic eggs compared to an empty tomb, bunnies and baby chicks to new life or candy as a celebration for fasting. Ok that last one is a stretch but you get the picture.

Our dining room table always has a center piece and for the Lenten season it is an empty patch of dirt, with a cross of nails and a small cave. Jesus is sad for these weeks, there is no green grass or pretty flowers. When we talk back or push our sister it makes Jesus sad and the empty dirt is a reminder to be nice. We water the empty dirt on Friday and tell Jesus we are sorry for the things we shouldn’t have done, what we are thankful for and good deeds we did. These are simple things- talked back, threw a toy not meant for throwing, thankful for a warm house and family, we helped put the books back on the shelf and set the table.

A week and a half or so before Easter the dirt is heavily seeded with grass seed. As we continue to water during reflection time grass begins to sprout. On Easter morning, the grass is full and green and there might be a butterfly or flowers. Jesus is happy and we are too.

It’s the least violent way I could think of to teach about this season to a toddler. The repent for our sins is made into as simple terms as possible. We are learning to take ownership of our actions and acknowledge all that we have been giving.

Don’t get me wrong, come Easter morning their baskets will be “hidden” with a treat, a dyed egg and new toothbrush. The Easter bunny will have come and left a couple dishes of special candies and with any luck there may be an egg hunt later in the day. We can have the “bunny fun” as a side note of Easter and not the center of attention.

(We always got a new toothbrush from Santa and the Easter Bunny. Give one for Halloween and you know everyone is getting a fresh brush a few times a year anyway.)

Resurrection Garden
Resurrection Garden
Resurrection Garden
Resurrection Garden
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Learn to Like it

It’s not that you don’t like it; it’s that you don’t it the way it was prepared.

I worked with a chef that said this quite often, mostly to the wait staff. I’m not saying that the kitchen staff was well versed in some of the dishes that were concocted there, but those of us that weren’t, knew enough to give the dish an honest taste before making any judgment. I will admit I was not fond of fish before working there. Yes, I grew up in northern Minnesota and still preferred my walleye fried crispy with a 2:1 ratio of tartar sauce to fish for every bite. Tuna hotdish was an exception, I made that almost every Friday during lent. As a whole, fish was never on my menu…ever. Turns out, I just never found a variety and preparation method that I liked.

I have always had a bit of a “cart before the horse” method as my brother has put it. I do just enough research to get started, bring home whatever “parts” I may need and then start assembling; a lot of times learning as I go. I did this with the bakery I opened years ago. I had an idea, rented a space, and maxed out a credit card buying ovens, mixers, ingredients and so on. Then I picked my favorite cookbooks and started to bake. I learned along the way what not to do; buying on a credit card was one and not knowing the business partner’s credit history was another big one. That turned out ok, she didn’t make it very long. On the farm I ordered the chickens before the coop was built and had a cow coming before the fence was in, just to name a couple more.

So why wouldn’t the same thing be true for food? Learn the name, take a bite and then decide whether or not to take another. I learned to be rather cautious about trying food blindly and it was my own doing. The reply I had when asked “is this still good?” or “what is this?” was “let me try it.”

Seriously.

“This smells a little funky…” “Well, let me try it.”

It was 50/50 if whatever it was I just ate was still ok to eat and yet when it came to safely prepared fresh food I wasn’t sure I wanted to even give it a chance. Makes no sense, I know.

It wasn’t until I heard the chef say that it was a matter of preparation and not food in question that I started to dive into new tastes just as I did with everything else in life. In looking back, I can’t think of a single thing that I have tasted and really not liked. Shellfish being the exception here. I have given up trying shellfish, I have had so many different varieties prepared a wide variety of ways and I just don’t care for it. Which brings me to “You’ll learn to like it”.

This is something I really do believe. It can take trying something 15 different times for your tastes to change and for you to learn to like something. Apparently I have not tried shrimp scampi 15 times, close enough together to acquire a taste. As we are raising little ones, this thought needs to be remember; no matter how tough it may be. The little boy asked for pancakes every day this week, last week he cleaned his plate, this week “no, I don’t like them.”

There are a few replies I have for this: “Yes, you do.”, “You’ll learn to like it then.” and out of complete frustration “That’s too bad.” I’m not sure why people don’t take learning to try and like new foods as seriously as they do potty training their child (our newest phase). It’s so important for children to eat healthy foods and yet so many are given junk at the first refusal of vegetables. We aren’t to the “clean your plate” rule yet, right now we are at the “so many bites” rule. The only reason I cook a separate meal for the kids is if I make something extra spicy, otherwise, they are expected to eat the same thing we do. Don’t like it? Go hungry. I have made a healthy home cooked meal, you can’t be healthy eating goldfish and m&m’s (which I am quite positive our little one would give it an honest try though). It doesn’t take long for them to realize what’s be made is what’s to eat for this meal.

Learning to like a variety of different dishes keeps meals exciting. Yes, you can eat mashed potatoes, gravy and a roast everyday. It’s good but can get quite boring. There’s a million ways to prepare potatoes, why limit yourself to one taste and texture?! It really is a learning curve. Most people aren’t going to wake one day and say “I’ve been eating mozzarella all my life, it’s time for limburger!” That is one stinky cheese, and can be quite delicious but takes some working up to. I’ve found the same to be true with wine, (start with a really sweet one and work from there) and so many more foods.

If you are willing to try (repeatedly) with an open mind, you will be amazed to see all you were missing out on.

*Note- The only taste that I don’t think anyone could learn to like it toothpaste and orange juice. Pretty sure that’s not possible.

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The Humble Pot

A cheap cut of meat and some aromatic vegetables. This used to be thought of as a poor folks dish. An inexpensive way to feed a lot of mouths for little cost. Slow food revolution, back to basics cooking, whatever you want to call it, this pot of humble beginnings is what it’s all about. I haven’t seen it make the comeback that it rightfully should, but in time I’m sure it will.

A rich aroma that passes through the house gets anyone within reach feeling hungry. The warmth of the oven makes the kitchen a cozy place to wander in and stay. Second only to bread, a dish made in a single pot can warm a house and gather everyone to the kitchen before they are called for the meal.

I am not talking about hotdish (for you non-Minnesotans, casserole) although, those can be good and an easy way to use up leftovers, a humble pot dish is so much more. In the way of comfort food there is really nothing better. The meat- super tender and juicy, some of the vegetables- cooked down until they reach a rich, flavorful sauce, the rest have soaked up all sorts of great seasoning. Everything mingles together in one pot. No single ingredient more important than another (except salt, that rules all).

Recently, I have been making these more and more. Mostly because I work full time in town and still want a decent homemade meal for my family. A humble pot dish can be started the night before or morning of and placed in the oven with a timer and left to cook for the better part of the day. Some people use crockpots for such dishes. I do sometimes, but more often than not, I find it is not roomy enough to get the full potential from the ingredients inside. The vegetables need space to cook down and work with the added liquid of choice. I prefer to use cuts of meat that have the bone in tact, not only does it add richness to the dish but it also adds more nutrients too. Even a small roast or bird take up a considerable amount of space when coupled with vegetables and broth.

For all of these dishes I use a heavy enameled cast iron pot. The whole thing can go into the oven, lid and all. The lid is important; a foil covered dish just doesn’t make the same results. I think it has something to do with how the lid retains more of the steam and helps the insides to keep a more even temperature… or I am just full of it. It’s just a guess. In addition to the collection of cast iron skillets in my kitchen, I also have a variety of these pots as well. In a perfect world I would set up a pot for each weekday on Sunday, place them in the fridge and have them ready for the week. Maybe someday, if we end up with an extra refrigerator, right now there is no room in the one we have.

I must admit, not every humble pot I make looks very pretty, in fact most don’t. The taste more than makes up for the lack of visual appeal. Honestly, over time the look doesn’t change but the dishes start to look better and better just because of the anticipation of the deliciousness to come. I know it’s possible to make such a meal vegetarian style, I have yet to make one as such. Considering we just made the last chicken in the freezer, this may be something to look a little closer at. I can and have “offed” a chicken on a meal by meal basis, but it’s not something I would like to make a habit of. I would like to stretch the beef supply as long as possible. I really don’t want to have to start getting meat at the store. I could. I don’t want to.

The method is simple:
Start with a combination of aromatic vegetables, most common around here is onions, carrots and celery in a 2:1:1 ratio.
Sauté the vegetables.
Add any herbs, spices or seasonings.
Add meat. ( a cut with the bone in tact will produce more flavor and nutrition)
Add dry rice, par cooked beans, or raw potatoes or squash.
Add liquid. (water, broth, wine, beer etc.)
Cover and cook slowly until done.

With this simple “recipe” there is an endless amount of meals that can be made.

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