Cloth for Paper

I’m always looking for little ways to save money and the environment. One of the easiest things I’ve done was removing disposable paper products from the kitchen. It was virtually painless and unnoticeable.

First I did away with paper plates. This was easy, we very rarely used them anyways so there was no need to buy them when we ran out. For eating outside we found some cheap plastic plates so if they get dropped they wont break.

Then was the paper towels. We ran out and I didn’t buy more. My husband still reminds we need more paper towels (it’s been months now). Wash rags do the same job. The really greasy or nasty jobs I have rags from old tee shirts that can be washed and stained or thrown, need be.

Napkins, I had bought in bulk when I had the bakery for an event and had a ton left over. For now we are still using them (it’s been years). I have been stock piling clothes napkins for the day we finally run out of paper ones. Cloth napkins can be bought almost anywhere they sell kitchen towels or you can make your own.

Napkin edgeMaking a napkin is as easy as can be. Cut your piece of fabric into a square. I use a medium weight cotton, preshrunk, with a tight weave. The smallest size I would cut a napkin would be 13″x13″. Once your squares are cut you can serge the edges with a tight stitch setting or fold the edge in twice so the raw seam is hidden and stitch all the way around.

Essentially it’s easy just don’t buy it. Just the same as getting rid of junk food in the cupboard, when it’s gone, don’t replace it. Things like napkins will need some sort of replacements or the kids (and husband) will use their sleeves. I’m ok with a little more laundry but changing shirts after every meal could be a bit much.

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Deer Fat Soap

This fall, as I mentioned prior, I was blessed with a small deer. When we were cutting up the meat for steaks, sausage and canning there was lots of fat trimmings. Most red meat leaving some fat on the meat is a good thing, venison fat has a much higher melting temperature. I don’t know the exact temperature but I do know that having a piece of fat on a venison steak is quite unpleasant compared to beef. Also I’ve been told the fat can give the meat a “gamey” flavor. I don’t know that that would be the sole reason for a deer to taste as such, but may play a role.

Anyways, we were getting the meat cut and trimmed and I asked my dad if he had one more bowl I could use. Unknowingly, there wasn’t another one in the shop so he headed to the house to find one for me. After he left I chuckled as I said to my husband “he’s gonna roll his eyes when he finds out I want the bowl to save the fat”. In years past the fat has always been discarded for the animals to eat. He got back with the bowl, rolled his eyes as expected and said “Why am I not surprised…”

I put the fat in the freezer for a mid winter batch of soap. In doing some “investigative journalism” otherwise known as tea with grandma and reading though a few family history books she wrote, I found out how she and great grandma used to make soap. As usual I find the old ways better than new, but there hasn’t been much of a change in homemade soaping over the years with the exception of the availability of different oils and fats.

Soap making on grandma’s farm was always done in the spring for a couple reasons. Butchering was done throughout the winter due to the lack of refrigeration. Lye, a toxic poison necessary for soap making, gives off fumes that you don’t want to inhale.

If you look up soap making today you will find you need a soap mold. They come in various sizes and shapes. Grandma said they used cardboard boxes lined with paper. My next batch I plan to do the same; I still haven’t invested in any fancy soap mold and I have boxes.

Soap was made with the rendered fats from that years butchering. Today you can order all sorts of wonderful fats and oil such as jojoba, coconut, olive, palm, and shea butter to name a few. I enjoy using the “fancy” fats, but there’s something about making some down home farmhouse soap with rendered fats.

Last year I had the treat of using pure duck fat to make a very small batch of “Duck Fat Soap”. A chef friend of mine Loves, with a capital “L”, duck and duck fat. He gave me the fat and I made him soap. It turned out pretty good. Light lather, hard bars but soft feeling soap and pure white color.

This winters experimental fat soap was deer. I know they’ve been making soap from rendered venison for years long before my time, but for me having no recipe it was an experiment.

rendering fat

Rendering the fat took a couple days because I didn’t want to warm it too quickly and have it scorch. I know it has a high melting point but I also know if your fat gets too warm and the color darkens even a little it will affect the end product of soap. To render any fat put it in a heavy bottom pot, I used my enamel coated cast iron, add a couple inches of water to the fat and warm very slowly. You can warm the fat on the stove or in the oven, whichever works best for you.

rendered fat


Once the fat is completely melted let it cool. It will then turn back to a solid on top of the water. break the fat and dump the water. Most of the bits of meat and anything else that was on the fat should have sank to the bottom. If the fat is not as clean as you would like repeat the process. Venison is by far the worst smelling fat I’ve rendered so far.

Now the fat is ready for soap. I had planned to just use the venison for this batch but for some reason I decided to use some coconut oil I had too.

Coconut Venison Soap
14 oz Coconut oil
16 oz Venison fat
4.3 oz Lye
12 oz Water
4-5 tbsp. Comfrey Root
2/3 c Dried Lavender

Combine and heat the fats slowly at this point I added the lavender and comfrey because I wanted them to have time to steep. Generally I don’t like “chunks” In my soap. I had planned to let this steep and strain it before adding the lye. But as luck would have it I didn’t realize I was out of cheese cloth before it was too late. If I were using essential oils I would add them later.

lyeVery carefully add the water to the lye in a glass container, outside.
**This should be done with extreme care because getting the lye on your skin will severely hurt you. This should be done outside because of the fumes it lets off. Lye also heats itself to a hot temperature. This is  why I make soap in the winter.


I cooled both the fat and lye water to 120 degrees, Then added the lye water to the fat.
Stir briskly for about 20 minutes, until the mixture traces.
**Tracing is when you can see the path of the spoon after you stir.
Pour the soap into a mold of your choice.
(I used an enamel coated jelly mold, I have  spent enough time in the kitchen that I can do almost any household and construction project with things only found in the kitchen! I can mud and tape sheet rock like nobody’s business. 🙂 )


Let the soap sit in the mold for a day.


After a day remove the soap from the mold and cut into bars and let set for about 3 weeks to cure.


I have to say I can make soap but I am not the best soap maker the world and this batch proved it. The soap turned out ok. It had nice color, good lather and scent (not like the fat when it was rendering thank goodness.) The only problem I had was cutting it. One cut would like nice and the other would kinds crumble. From what I can tell it was due to my cooling temperature. Soap made solely with venison fat should cool to  120 degrees as well as the lye. Soap made solely with coconut oil should be cooled to 130 degrees and the lye at 70 degrees. So I guessed at the temperatures and guessed wrong. Everything else about the soap turned out great. So if you know the right temperatures I would love to be able to edit my recipe if your willing to share.

Next year hopefully I will get another deer and another chance to get this right.

I couldn’t wait until next year to try and fix this, here is part two.

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Homemade yogurt


Yogurt and Whey

I love yogurt, just to eat and to bake with. Mostly to eat, with raspberries and honey. I can’t have refined sugar so buying yogurt is out (and I don’t like the “extra’s” they add).

Homemade yogurt seems to be the “new” thing, when really it’s been around for centuries. Yogurt is a fermented dairy product, most often made with cow’s milk. Notably the most popular cultured/fermented food for it’s health aspects. Now more than ever. Probiotics are getting lots of press lately and yogurt has a few.

Probiotic are good bacteria that help maintain the  microflora in the intestines. There are 400 different strains of probiotic bacteria in your digestive track. The most populous strain is Lactobacillus acidophilus or lactic acid. This strain is found in yogurt and is probably best recognized today (even if people don’t actually know what it is, kinda like antioxidants, I’ll tell you about those later). Surprisingly people with a lactose allergy can usually tolerate homemade yogurt because as it ferments the good bacteria eats the lactose leaving it almost lactose free.

Without a healthy balance of bacteria in your system, trouble digesting is the first of the problems you can have. Yogurt is usually recommended to people who are taking antibiotics. This is done because antibiotics do just that, they kill bacteria and not just the bad bacteria but the good stuff too. (I wish my doctor would have told me this. I learned the hard way and on my own) Probiotics help protect the body from Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), Colon Cancer, Skin irritations and some mental disorders. Long story short, you need good bacteria.

This is where homemade yogurt comes into play. Most recipes I’ve seen are pretty close to the same; milk and plain yogurt. I do things a little different.

The whey is the yellow jar in the picture above.

Don’t throw the whey! It makes great bread just use it in place of water or milk in your favorite bread recipe.

To keep the milk at the desired temp for hours people say to fill mason jars with warm water and place them and your milk in a cooler and check the temp every so often and exchange the cool jars with warm ones. Another method is lining a cooler with a blanket and put your yogurt in it. I find both to be a pain in the ass. I do everything in the crock pot. Warm the milk, let it cool, add the yogurt, then place the lid back on it and put it in the oven with the oven light on. Done! No changing water jars, no fussing with coolers and blankets and it stays the perfect temp.

You need the bit of plain yogurt for the probiotics to start the fermentation process. Most commercial yogurts list 2-4 different strains of probiotic. Kefir is another fermented dairy product it’s thinner than yogurt and thicker than cream and sometimes slightly fizzy. Kefir generally averages 12 different strains of probiotic depending on the brand. I use plain kefir instead of plain yogurt as my starter. It turns out great!

If left to ferment longer than 12 hours you will end up with sour cream, which is equally good. This being said your yogurt is unsweetened. I prefer adding honey to my individual serving, you can sweeten the whole batch if you like. Once you have made one batch you can use a little of what you made to start the next batch.

Less is more too. Adding more plain yogurt (or kefir) will not give you super probiotic yogurt. Too much starter will actually give your yogurt a more tart or sour taste. It won’t hurt you but it’s just not as good.

The only thermometer I have is a candy thermometer and it’s not worth the space it takes in the cupboard. General rule of thumb I go by it to heat to 180 you want it to be starting to steam and a film will develop on top. To cool to 110, I use my finger, it should be a little warmer than body temp. Be sure to wash your hand before testing the temperature as you do not want to introduce bad bacteria to your yogurt.

Happy yogurt making! (It also makes great frozen yogurt too 😉 )

Tips for using the Whey can be found here and here.

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  1. Heat 1 gallon of whole milk very slowly to 180 degrees in your crockpot.
  2. Turn the crockpot off and allow the milk to cool to 110 degrees.
  3. Temper 1/4 cup of plain yogurt with 1 cup of warm milk (Tempering is adding small amounts of warm to cold to bring them to the same temp without shocking the cold.)
  4. Add the tempered yogurt to the rest of the milk and stir.
  5. This needs to be kept at about the same temp for 8-12 hours. I do this by placing my crockpot in the oven with the oven light on.
  6. Once the milk has fermented for 8-12 hours pour it into a fine cheese cloth and let strain until desired thickness. You will be left with yogurt and whey.
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Stuffed Acorn Squash


Stuffed Squash

Summer is a very distant memory now and there’s so many months of cold left. I think I’m pretty well acclimated now as I went to get the mail this afternoon and thought to myself it was pretty nice out… it was -10. That doesn’t mean I’m not craving a garden fresh meal on the deck. It’s still winter and winter flavors.


Stuffed Acorn Squash
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This stuffed acorn squash is a nice change of pace and has a few different adaptations too!
Stuffed Acorn Squash
Print Recipe
This stuffed acorn squash is a nice change of pace and has a few different adaptations too!
  • 4 each Acorn Squash
  • 1/2 each Yellow Onion diced
  • 1 each Carrot diced
  • 1 each Celery Stick diced
  • 3 each Garlic clove minced
  • 4 each Button Mushroom chopped
  • to taste •Salt and Pepper
  • 1/2 tsp Sage crushed
  • 1/2 lb Ground Elk
  • 1/2 lb lb Venision Sausage
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Put the whole squash in the oven for 10 minutes then remove and slice off the bottom. Scoop out the "guts" (seeds and such). (the short time in the oven makes cutting the squash easier)
  3. In the mean time saute the rest in a cast iron pan. (I use cast iron for almost everything. I love it!)
  4. Once the meat is cooked through stuff the mixture into the squashes and place them in a Dutch oven with a little water.
  5. Cover and bake for about 45 min, just until the squash is done.
  6. Then serve.
Recipe Notes


  • Substitute ground beef and pork sausage for elk and venison.
  •  Add 1 1/2 cup of cooked wild rice.
  • Add 1 cup of cooked wild rice and 1/2 cup of Craisins
  • Add 3/4 cup of crushed Ritz crackers and 1  egg. (this should be combined after the meat is browned and before stuffing the squash.

These are just a couple ideas add or subtract to fit your families tastes.
I usually just stuff two squash and save the rest of the filling as a start to hotdish, as my husband gets tired of leftovers and really likes hotdish. 🙂

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Canned Venison


Canned venison

Fall means deer season around here. Hunting opener was the one time of year you could be guaranteed to see more of the family on my dads side than any other holiday. Over the years the crowd has thinned considerably with the cousins growing up and spreading out and travel getting to be too much for some in the questionable northern weather.

This year I was graced with getting a small (very small) buck. Any other year I would have left him to grow for a few more years, this year however the freezer was empty and so is the checkbook. We moved before I could harvest our gardens at the old house so every little bit helps.

I went out about forty five minutes before sunrise because I wanted to get to my tree grove by the barn before shooting time. It was cool, but I was bundled for -50 out. I sat in the snow by the pine trees and waited.

I watched the sunrise in facing west. If you’ve never done this, you should it’s really quite amazing. Like most people I like to watch the sunrise and set facing the sun. It’s very hard to describe the rising in the west. It’s like God flips a switch, “and there was light” it’s not on a dimmer. Just dark to light. From then the little critters begin to stir and so do I. I’ve been sitting for about an hour, being quiet and not moving, that’s got to be record. I watched and waited for another hour and decided I was hungry and it was time for breakfast.

That afternoon we went to grandma’s. My dad said I could sit with him in his deer stand. I got a chair and it was heated. Now that’s my kind of deer hunting! It was almost dark and a little buck came into sight. With dad’s permission, I dropped him. He didn’t know what hit him. Just the way it should be, I don’t like them to suffer and I don’t like to track a wounded deer in the dark.

With the help of my brother, husband and a couple cousins the deer was hung, skinned and gutted. (I don’t think an animal that small takes the whole family to take care of but I don’t complain about help. 🙂 )

After it hung for a few days it was brought home. Dad, my husband and I cut it up into steaks, ground meat, sausage meat and some for canning. I would have loved to can the whole thing. There’s something great about hot canned venison over mashed potatoes with caramelized onions in the middle of winter. Good old comfort food.


Here’s my recipe:

Canned Venison
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Canned Venison
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  • 1 qt Canning Jar
  • 3 each Garlic cloves smashed
  • 2 slices Yellow Onion
  • 1 tsp Kosher Salt
  • 1/2 tsp Pepper
  1. Put everything in the jar and fill the rest of the jar with venison cut into chunks.
  2. Be sure to pack the meat in the jar, you don't want air pockets. Leave 1 inch of head space.
  3. Process in a canner for 3 hours.
  4. You can use a pressure cooker, I believe the process time is 1 1/2 hours. I do enough dangerous things around here I don't want to add pressure cooker to my list, so I water bath it.
Recipe Notes

To serve the venison just warm in a sauce pan. Saute a couple yellow onions in butter until they are a nice caramel color. Then mashed potatoes, I like russets, nothing fancy about them. Just boiled and mashed with butter and a dash of milk. Potatoes on the plate topped, with a scoop of onions and venison accompanied by a healthy slice of homemade sourdough. You just can't beat it.

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