Friday, March 11, 2011

Taking Stock: Give Me Some Sugar Baby!!!!!

This is the next installment of the “Taking Stock” series, and while I am still trying to figure out exactly how I am going to replace granulated sugar in my pantry I have at least reconciled the fact that it plays a major role in my life as a baker and confectionery artist. It is hard to get away from using sugar because for many things it provides bulk and tenderness to baked goods. I use it for making my homemade syrups and liqueurs, for making pretty pressed sugar decorations for cupcakes and tea, for canning jams and jellies, and for making a sugar body scrub for my bath time. True, I can use honey to sweeten tea or to pour over pancakes, but I feel that sugar is one of those things that I will just have to buy rather than produce. There is however a happy medium. I do use granulated sugar to create a few of my other baking supplies. Most people do not know that granulated sugar is the base for both brown sugar and confectioners' or powdered sugar. Its also used for making those beautifully colored sugar sprinkles that look so good on cakes and cookies. Yup! Sugar has versatility.
I actually found out about the brown sugar when I ran out while making cookies one day. I remembered reading about ingredient substitutions in a baking magazine once, so I searched and found the recipe. It was too easy! Since then I kept a zippy bag full in my pantry. That lead me to research other sugar-based goodies, thus the colored sugars and pressed sugar pieces. Later, when Cake decorating took over my life, I discovered a recipe for confectioner's sugar. These recipes are all so easy to make at home, I wonder how we as a culture ever began buying them exclusively in the grocery shops. I hope to make you a convert! Here are my recipes. Hope you like them.

Brown Sugar
2 Tablespoons Molasses
1 Cup Granulated Sugar

Mix these two ingredients well and store them in an air tight container. I mix small quantities to avoid the possibility of the sugar hardening over time, but if you feel that you can use it up make as much as you want. Told ya this was easy!

Confectioners' Sugar
1 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 Tablespoon Corn Starch

In a blender, blend sugar for two minutes on highest speed. Add corn starch and continue blending until you reach the desired consistency. The cornstarch keeps the sugar from packing down. I use a lot of this, so I make quite a bit and store it in one of my old popcorn tins in the pantry.

Colored Sugar Sprinkles
1/3 Cup Granulated Sugar
Liquid Food Coloring (9 drops for soft colors; 18 drops for bold colors)

In a medium bowl, add sugar and liquid coloring and whisk together until all th color droplets are blended in. I use a generic food coloring from Walmart, the kind that comes in the little plastic dropper bottles. Add a few drops at a time and incorporate the color into the sugar. Stop when you get the color you are after. I store these colored sugars in small Mason jelly jars with the lid tightly on. Mixing colors works well as long as you slowly add the coloring and mix it well. Use the sugars for sprinkling cookies, cupcakes, cake designs, or pressed sugar pretties.

Gourmet Flavored Sugar
Great in coffee, tea, yogurt, pressed sugars, and sprinkles

1 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 Teaspoon Any Flavored Extract

In a medium bowl, whisk together the sugar and flavoring until thoroughly combined. Store in an air tight container.

Pressed Sugar Pretties
I use these when I have guest over. They make an ordinary cup of coffee of tea seem very special.
!/2 Cup of Granulated Sugar
1 Teaspoon Water and /or Extract or Liquid Flavoring, or a mixture of these

Whisk together the sugar and the liquid; spoon mixture into a candy flower shaped or bonbon shaped mold; scrape off excess sugar (back into the bowl) and press sugar down gently to pack into the mold. Turn pressed sugar out onto waxed paper to dry. If sugar is stuck in mold, gently tap until it releases. Truly, you will have some destroyed in the process, but you can always add the sugar back to the bowl and try again. These should dry at least for a half an hour before handling. Store them wrapped in tissue paper in a pretty tin or box.
For tea, try lemon, mint, and vanilla.
Coffee can have much bolder flavors like chocolate, rum, and spice.
Experiment and enjoy the Simple things in life!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Taking Stock: Part 2-Recipes for Dry Staples

In my pantry you will find the popcorn tins of Christmas Past. I save them because they make excellent (and pretty) canisters for my flour, cornmeal, and dry ingredients. If you read Taking Stock Part 1: Pantry Basics, then you know that I make my own biscuit and baking mix, cake flour, and bread flour. Once made, these get stored in the large tins, as I do a good bit of baking. I thought that I would share with you some of the recipes that I have collected for staples in my pantry. Come back frequently, as I am always updating with new recipes that I find to further my own efforts in self reliance.

Biscuit and Baking Mix

17 ½ cups all purpose flour
2/3 cup baking powder
½ cup sugar
2 Tablespoons salt
4 cups shortening
Sift all the dry ingredients into a super-large bowl. Add one cup of shortening at a time, working it up with your fingers as you go, until it resembles coarse cornmeal. Store in a covered container. Use this recipe in the same way that you would use the commercially prepared mixes. I recommend that you get a Bisquick recipe book and keep it handy.

Cake Flour for the Baker

Begin with a 1 cup measuring cup; for every cup of cake flour that you wish to make, place 2 Tablespoons of cornstarch into the measuring cup, then fill the rest of the way with all purpose flour. This is equal to 1 cup of cake flour when you are done. Next, sift the flour mixture 3 times and store in an airtight container. I like to make this recipe in bulk because I bake and sell cakes as a side business, but you make as much as you need.
To make 4 cups at one time, use a 4 cup measure. Use ½ cup of cornstarch to 3 ½ cups all purpose flour; sift 4-5 times before storing.

Bread Flour
Easy recipe!

1 cup All Purpose Flour
1 Tablespoon Vital Wheat Gluten

I mix about six cups of this at once. I simply add the flour and gluten into my tin canister and whisk thoroughly. Use for any recipe calling for bread flour or for any time you make a loaf of white bread.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Taking Stock: Pantry Basics for Self Reliance

While reading Amy Dacyczyn”s Tightwad Gazette, I observed the “Pantry Principle”, in which Amy describes her family's food supply. Many of the items are simple staple items, some are homemade, others bought in bulk. As I read I began to realize that she was describing my own pantry contents. This makes perfect sense because our goal in living simply overlaps with Amy's goal of living frugally. Many items that we once purchased in the stores we now make ourselves. Basic staples are the key components to a self-sufficient pantry. Basically, my pantry contains lots of baking ingredients, some canned goods bought from the “cheap” store (Save-A-Lot), and items that I make to help with meal preparation, like flavored vinegars, liqueurs, syrups and extracts, etc.
Its about the same in my refrigerator. We have a supply of milk, butter, and eggs, leftovers, homemade yogurt and meat and cheese for meal preparation. Very simple and very frugal. While it is true that we do still buy quite a bit of the food we eat, our goal is to raise as much of it as possible in the near future. I also feel that it is worth mentioning that we also have practical hobbies, such as gardening, wine making, etc. that allow us a return for the money spent on the activities. (More on this in a future blog.)
If you look over the pantry list below, you will notice that we are working in the direction of “do-it yourself” as our lifestyle slowly moves closer to the land and the farm. Here is a breakdown of my self reliant pantry so far.

I begin with the staple goods. I only need the basics plus a couple of extras. All large quantity staples are stored in large tin popcorn canisters< (given to me at holiday).

All Purpose Flour (I buy 20lbs. at once); Whole Wheat Flour; Self Rising Flour; Bread Flour; Cake Flour (home made); Biscuit & Baking Mix (home made); Cornmeal; Granulated Sugar; Confectioner’s Sugar

Next, I think about the little extras for baking.

Vanilla (and other) Extract (home made); Cooking Oil; Shortening; Lard (homemade); Pan Spray;
Cocoa Powder; Corn Starch; Baking Soda; Baking Powder; Brown Sugar; Pancake Syrup (Homemade)
Corn Syrup (Light and Dark); Molasses; Honey (planning someday on keeping bees); Nuts (Black Walnuts and Hickory Nuts are gathered, shelled and stored); Dried Fruit (Raisins, fruitcake mix, crazins, etc.)

Next, miscellaneous cooking items:

Vinegars: Apple cider Vinegar, White Vinegar, Balsamic Vinegar, Herb Vinegars (Homemade), Berry Vinegars (Homemade), Red and/or White Wine vinegars (Homemade)

Pasta: Some purchased, Some Homemade. I bought a pasta maker at Goodwill and make fresh pasta about once a month. I form the wet pasta into little nest balls to dry then store in zipper bags.

Herbs: a wide variety, mostly home grown, I purchase what cannot be grown. This allows an extra bonus. Gardening is an excellent hobby. Even container grown herbs will move you closer to self-reliance.

Spirits: Red Wine (homemade), other assorted wines (homemade), assorted liqueurs (homemade), Rum, Vodka, Bourbon; (I should add here that we are not much for drinking our spirits. Mostly these are used for cooking and company.)

Canned Goods:
Assorted Soups (home canned), Chili (home canned), Beef and Chicken Stock (home canned), Potatoes (home canned), Carrots (home canned), White Beans (home canned), Assorted Jams and Jellies (home canned), We also have a selection of dried beans and grains, an assortment of bottled sauces and tomato based products. For now we do eat store bought, canned veggies, but we are moving in the direction of home grown, home canned and frozen veggies.
In the refrigerator we have store bought milk, at least until I can move to the farm and get either a cow or goat, or both, eggs which are purchased during the winter and farm produced during the warm season, mayonnaise (homemade), peanut butter (homemade), yogurt (homemade by the gallon), yogurt cheese (homemade), butter (store bought until I get that cow), buttermilk (homemade), cottage cheese and sour cream (store bought).
This list is considered a starting point, an assessment of sorts, not a definitive list. I am always researching recipes for future homemade projects I see many places on my list where I may strive to improve the quality of the food, and further my plans toward self reliance and Simple Living.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Simple Book List...Must Haves for simple Living

As I write this, I glance over at my bookshelves and realise just how many of the books I own contribute to my simple living philosophies. I thought to share these titles along with a few notes on why I recommend them.
Stalking the Wild Asparagus by Euell Gibbons:
this is a personal favorite. I enjoy a good trek through the forest and as I walk along I scan the countryside for edibles. Euell makes this practice interesting, sharing his personal adventures and encounters with nature. If you have ever thought to eat a little something wild grown, any book by Gibbons is a must. I personally plan to incorporate many of his ideas into firm practice as I progress with my simple living plan.
Field Guide to Edible Wild Plants by Bradford Angier:
Another book regarding wild food collecting. This one has great artwork, depicting plants in full color drawings. It makes identification much easier.The book tells you alot of great information from what a plant looks like to where it grows and what to do with it once you have it.
Reader's Digest Back to Basics: How to Learn and Enjoy Traditional American Skills:
This book touches upon a broad range of activities that can be helpful to those who want to homestead. It isn't really an in depth book, but I love it because it inspires me to press on and investigate new skills and investigate further. Includes topics of building, alternative energy, gardening, preserving foods, growing both a soft fruit garden and an orchard, raising meat and dairy animals, etc.
Wilderness Living by Berndt Berglund:
This is not the greatest book I've ever read on the subject, but there is still a bit to be gleaned from the pages. Berglund writes about his own experiences, which can be quite amusing, as well as giving some pretty good info along the way. There are plans for a bee hive, which I will be using next year; information about building a simple structure, revamping an orchard, building a simple smokehouse, and a really nice chapter on maple syrup. The book also includes a nice assortment of recipes.
The Country Store by Stephanie Donaldson:
I love this book even though it is a little froufrou. There are a lot of fun projects that can help a person like myself make the migration from buying to making my own things. A beautiful book to look at, lots of photographs, and a very overall "country" feel. Highly recommended just for the projects alone.
Living Off the Country For Fun & Profit by John L. Parker:
An older book, but still filled with useful information. I appreciate the sections regarding meat production. As a simple living enthusiast I feel that raising your own meat, eggs, and dairy are crucial to a healthier lifestyle. This book tends to focus in the direction of animal husbandry and the products that animals produce. There is a section on fruit and gardening also.
Homesteading: A Practical Guide to Living Off the Land by Patricia Crawford:
This has to be one of my all time favorite books on the subject of country living. I love, love, love it! Crawford tell of her experiences of buying and moving to a country property and how she makes ends meet. Each section is well detailed, describing her approach to every aspect of her tasks, as well as her future plans to move forward. I only wish she had done a follow up book to tell us how her plans matured. Included are sections about money, country living, gardening, fruit gardening, nuts, flowers, other plants as a cash crop, hens and eggs, winter income, etc.
Micro-Eco Farming; Prospering from Backyard to Small Acreage In Partnership with the Earth:
The name pretty much speaks for itself. This book discusses how individuals with just a very small piece of ground have hit upon ideas to make the land profitable through niche farming. I like the book because it gets my brain pumping and reminds me to think about the impact that my own little farm has upon the planet. Good book.
The Tightwad Gazette Series by Amy Dacyczyn:
I fell in love with the newsletter back in the 1980's, so when the books came out I bought each one in turn. I now own all three books, only to discover that they have now printed a full collection in one book. These books are a reminder to think before you buy. In keeping with my philosophy of "Use it up , wear it out", these books keep me thinking of new ways to do things to accomplish a task rather than just running out to buy something. Perhaps not everything in the books are relevant to my country life, but I gather quite a bit from all three of these books as a general rule.  I love these books. Thank you Amy Dacyczyn.
The Little House Series by Laura Ingalls Wilder:
I have read and re-read all nine books, collecting notes on the old way of doing things. There really is a lot of information to be had i the pages of theses little books. The books bespeak of a family that had to make due. There simply was no other way. They lived simply. These stories are probably one of the catalysts that spawned my own love of a simpler country life. My great, great, great aunt and uncle Annie Belle and Odie Moore lived with no electricity or running water. As a child, I imagined that they too must have lived the way the Ingalls family did. Take time to read through some of these.
Lastly, there are a series of books that I intend to collect, but have not done so just yet. The Foxfire Books. Growing up, my family had some of these and I marveled at just how close we lived to the ways of those mentioned i the books. We raised and slaughtered our own hogs and chickens; Mammy sewed quilts and sewed clothing; we rendered lard in beautiful black iron kettles; we raised a huge garden patch and had a cash crop of tobacco. There are many other books on my shelves and on my wish list, but I felt like sharing just a few that seem to be relevant right now. Happy reading, and if you feel like it leave behind a few titles that you recommend.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Live Simply

What does simple living mean? Is it getting back to the basics of life? Moving to the country in mass exodus? Quitting your job and living the life of Diogenes? Sounds good to me! Actually, for the purpose of this small blog I felt that simple living could best be defined as a rethinking plan for myself and you too, if you like. I have had one philosophy for the entirety of my life, “Live Simply to Simply Live”. Sounds corny, I know. But the truth is that I grew up with a Depression Era grandmother (Mammy), who believed in the lessons she learned as a child in rural Tennessee. Life had been hard for her growing up. She never forgot and she made sure that her grandchildren knew the frugal virtues she embraced. It must have worked. As an adult I still carry those hard learned lessons of frugality.
I have thoroughly embraced the idea that nearly anything that can be purchased in a store could be generated on a farm. This is not always an easy task, as I now work in an office in Nashville and only make it out to the farm on weekends. Still, there is much that can be done in my suburban home to exercise my simple living philosophies. I had a notion to see how far my husband (Chris) and I could take the simple living principle of generating our own home-grown food supply, as well as tackling some other tasks which seem to fall along the same lines.
We have plans to keep a garden this year and to preserve the produce. We have purchased a small piece of the original family compound where I grew up, and plan to repair an old living structure, with the intent of making a move back to the farm someday in the near future. I am an amateur spinner, therefore I would love to have either a herd of sheep or angora goats, or possibly angora rabbits to shear and spin the wool as a means of producing some clothing items, or possibly to sell. We have plenty of plans besides these and thought this would make a great experiment to see how far we get on our simple living journey. Oh, and did I mention that we are doing all of this out of pocket? No banks or loans. It will take longer to get where we want to be, but one of our goals is to also remain as free of debt as possible.
Okay, to recap: this blog is about living simply, being self sustaining, self reliant, and self sufficient, getting away from consumerism, living more naturally. We plan to thoroughly embrace the old adage, “Use it up, Wear it out, Make it do, Or do without”. Sounds like an adventure to me!