Thursday, March 24, 2011

Go Ahead, Make Something

The last few weeks I have totally and completely immersed myself in being useful, productive, creative, and establishing this little house I call homestead. Here's what I've been up to:
Homemade bread and banana muffins
  • Making Bread- I decided that it was completely unnecessary to be buying things from the store that I can very easily make myself. Bread was the first thing on the list of no-more-grocery-store, and once I started I couldn't stop. I found two very simple recipes for white sandwich bread and whole wheat bread at The Frugal Girl's site. Not only does homemade bread taste fantastic, it really isn't as hard as one might think. The first loaf of bread I ever made turned out lovely, and I had never even worked with yeast before. If you've ever wanted to bake your own bread, give it a go. You just might surprise yourself.

  • Cooking from Scratch- Once I started baking bread all of the time, it dawned on me that I can take it a step further and make other things from scratch. I started with soups that had simple things in them like a variety of vegetables with lentils and beans. Not only is it easy to throw a soup like this together, but it is also super healthy and super frugal, which makes me super happy. Before making my own soup, I wasn't the biggest soup fan. I rarely ate the stuff, and honestly thought it was kind of a pointless meal because I never stayed full long enough to make it worth eating. Homemade soup with tummy-filling legumes can't be beat. Another frugal bonus to homemade soup is that typically we can get two dinners and one lunch out of one batch of it. I've been doing so much experimenting with trying new things that I've just thrown caution to the wind and if I have an idea for a dinner, I jump in with both feet and make it from scratch. Just the other day I thought Chinese food would be good as we haven't had it in a really long time. Then Wonton soup popped into my head, something I haven't had in ages but lovelovelove. So I thought, how hard could it be to make Wonton soup? 2.5 hours later I was eating homemade Wonton soup and vegetable Chow Mein. You know what else I made a couple of weeks ago? Yogurt. Homemade Greek yogurt to be exact. I'd always wanted to make homemade yogurt but I thought I needed a yogurt maker or some tools and equipment that I didn't have. After discovering I had a half-gallon of skim milk in my fridge that was a day past the expiry date I thought this may be the perfect opportunity to not waste all of that milk and make some yogurt. I did some digging around and I discovered that I could easily make it from scratch using a crock-pot, which I have. If you've been looking for an easy crock-pot yogurt this is how you do it: 
  1. Pour 2 Litres of milk (whole milk works best I find, but any type should work) into a crock-pot and heat on LOW for 2 hours and 45 minutes. 
  2. Turn your crock-pot off, unplug it, and let it cool for 3 hours with the lid on.
  3. After 3 hours scoop out 2 cups of the warm milk into a bowl and add 1/4 to 1/2 a cup of plain yogurt that has active bacterial cultures in it. You need those cultures to make your yogurt. Any type of plain yogurt will work as long as it has those cultures. 
  4. Mix the milk and yogurt together well, and then pour the mixture back into the warm milk in the crock-pot and whisk it until it is all mixed.
  5. With the lid back on, wrap the crock-pot up in big fluffy bath towels. You want to insulate your crock-pot well. 
  6. Place it in your oven with the oven light on (DO NOT TURN THE OVEN ON). Leave it to rest in your oven for 12 hours. Trust me on this, the oven light makes a major difference. You want your yogurt to stay warm all night long and the oven light gives off just the right amount of warmth.
This recipe is best done before you go to bed so you can leave the yogurt resting overnight. When you wake up in the morning you will have yogurt! Put it in the fridge to chill and firm up a bit for a good 8 hours. To make it into Greek yogurt I strained the yogurt over a bowl while it was in the fridge for the 8 hours, stirring  it every few hours. This strains out all of the whey and leaves behind a thick, creamy, gorgeous yogurt. You can use cheesecloth to strain it, or if you don't have that on hand a plain cotton pillow case works just as well.  Also, KEEP THE WHEY! You can use this in your baking, in smoothies or you can even drink it straight if you so desire. My favorite way of eating this delicious yogurt is topped with raw honey. Try it!! Frugal bonus- one 650g container of Greek yogurt in the stores here costs anywhere from $5.50 - $6.50 CAD. This homemade version makes enough strained yogurt to fill two 650g containers for the cost of one 2L jug of milk, which if you opt for organic whole milk is about $5.00 CAD. That's $2.50 CAD per 650g container. Woot! Another great thing, is that if you save 1/2 cup of your homemade yogurt, you can then use that as your active bacterial culture for your next homemade batch.

  • Making the Most of my Garden- Spring has definitely sprung, but my yard is empty. The chives I planted last year are growing like crazy, my parsley is slowly but surely coming up, and my Day Lily is taking off. But last year I didn't make the most of my yard and just dabbled in greening my thumb. This year I want a lush, productive, thriving oasis of edibles. I know it's still early in the season, but the lovely warm spring weather we've had the last few days has kick-started me into garden mode. I've been carefully plotting out what I would grow based on things that I know all three of us like to eat, where to plant them, when to plant them, where to get the seeds from, and doing a ton of research on growing food on the west coast. I'm waiting on an order I placed last week for Super Sugar Snap Peas, Little Marvel Shelling Peas, Dwarf Munstead Lavender, Single Orange Calendula (Marigold), Parker's Variety Achillea (Yarrow), Blue Boy Centaurea (Cornflower) and Chamomile. All of these things can go in direct seed now and I can't wait to get them into the ground!! All of it is also either edible or can be used for medicinal purposes. This is the first batch of things to plant. Next week I will be putting together a square foot garden (I'll talk more about that when I get going on it!) and I have visions of lettuce, beets, carrots, brussell sprouts, tomatoes, cucumber (upside down gardening), zucchini (upside down gardening), pole beans, herbs and a bunch of other stuff waiting for us to pick and eat. Before and after pictures will be coming, so stay tuned!
 One thing I have discovered with all this making that has been going on, is how rewarding it is to create something and provide for yourself and for those in your family. It is a lot of work, but at the same time it is simple. It feels simple. I feel like I'm heading in the right direction. I'm beginning to feel like a homesteader.

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