Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Creamy Vegan Pumpkin Soup

Happy Halloween! In honor of this Pumpkin-y day, I decided to share my recipe for easy vegan pumpkin soup. This is a favorite go-to recipe for this time of year. It’s perfect for an Autumn Potluck, as it is quick and easy, yet looks and tastes impressive. I also like to serve it with a salad and some crusty bread for a quick, satisfying, weeknight dinner.

Creamy Vegan Pumpkin Soup

1 large onion, chopped
1 Tbsp olive oil
4 cups of cooked pumpkin (you can use either fresh or canned)
2 cups of vegetable stock
1 cup of light coconut milk
1 tsp cumin
2 tsp curry powder (use more or less, depending on how spicy you like it!)
Salt to taste

In a soup pot, cook the onion in the olive oil until soft. Stir in the spices, then add the pumpkin and stock. Simmer for a bit to let the flavors blend. Puree in a food processor or blender, then return to the pot.  Stir in the coconut milk and salt to taste. 

Monday, October 29, 2012

Carving Pumpkins and Weathering the Storm

Yesterday, we carved our Halloween Pumpkins! Though when I say “we” I mostly mean “the children.” Now that they are older, they like to do most of it themselves! I just get to supervise, and sometimes I’m allowed to help clear out the “pumpkin guts,” as Monkey really hates that part. Usually we carve our pumpkins outside on the patio, with a fire going in the fire pit, but the beginnings of Hurricane Sandy forced us inside this year… so we spread newspapers out on the kitchen floor and got down to business. 

Busy children.

 The Jack-o-lanterns are cute and all… but my very favorite part of Pumpkin Carving Day is the roasting of pumpkin seeds! While there are lots of recipes online for fancy seeds flavored with tamari, spices, etc… we prefer to keep it simple: We wash the seeds in a colander, then spread them on a lightly oiled cookie sheet, sprinkle them with a little salt, then bake at 350 until golden brown. We’ve been eating them by the handful all day today, but if there are any left I will add them to the trail mix I plan on making later this afternoon.

We will need those snacks, as we are hunkered down in the house while the rain and wind pelt the windows. Hurricane Sandy is making her presence felt here on the east coast. But as the storm rages outside, all is peaceful here inside. We are grateful to be warm and safe in our home.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

"Mom... you need LABELS"

Today when I was mixing another batch of my natural hair stuff, Noodle decided that the bottles should have labels... so he made some for me! Cute, no?

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Homemade “Sweet Dreams” Bubble Bath

Sometimes, by the end of a long, busy day, the young ones in the house get a bit cranky, and they need a bit of extra soothing before bedtime. OK, I’ll admit that sometimes this goes for the older ones in the house, too! I think the very best way to soothe a cranky child (or adult) is to put them into a warm, soothing bubble bath.  We have a special “bedtime blend” bubble bath that we pull out for just such occasions! It is scented with lavender and chamomile to calm and relax, and it’s gentle enough for sensitive skin.

“Sweet Dreams” Bubble Bath

Add two cups of water to a quart jar. I use water that has been boiled and then cooled. Add ½ cup of unscented liquid castile soap, 1 Tbsp of vitamin E oil, 10 drops of lavender oil and 5 drops of chamomile oil. Cover the jar and GENTLY swish to mix.  After it’s mixed, you can pour it into an empty bottle to make it easier to dispense, if you wish. To use, pour a little under running water as you fill the tub.  Keep in mind, this will not get as foamy as synthetic bubble baths, but it still gives you enough bubbles, along with that soothing fragrance.

One word of caution if using this with very young children: It is NOT tear free, so it’s a good idea to keep it out of your little one’s eyes. 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Season Board and Nature Shelf… Autumn

Back in August, I showed you our DIY Nature Shelf project. At that time, our shelf was scattered with beach rocks and seashells, summer flowers and a robin's egg shell. But as the season has changed, our shelf has changed, too. The special treasures of late summer have been tucked away to make room for things of early fall and now mid-fall. As we are out and about on our daily adventures, we collect pretty things to add to our shelf. Noodle has especially enjoyed collecting acorns this year! A few times I have found a few in his pockets at the end of the day, which always makes me smile. Here is what our shelf looked like as of this morning:
On our shelf: Colorful leaves, preserved in beeswax (see note below); a small bowl of acorns; an unusual rock; a jar of mums, snipped from our plant outside and a cute little pumpkin.

Note about the leaves on the shelf: the how-to for this project can be found here.

I love the way the shelf changes day to day, depending on what we find! But always it is a reflection of what we have been experiencing out in nature, brought inside to enjoy. Each item has a memory attached.

Here is the whole wall where the shelf is, with our Season Board, too. 

A close-up from the board: What Noodle thinks about when he thinks of Fall :)
 I really like this spot in our homeschool area... It reflects the way our lives change along with the seasons, and it just makes me happy!

Monday, October 22, 2012

A Lovely Autumn Weekend

With all the busy-ness this time of year…school stuff, kids activities, harvesting and canning… I sometimes have to remind myself to take some time to just savor the BEAUTY that is Autumn.

 This weekend, we slowed the pace down a bit... we did a few things around the house that couldn't wait, and a bit of yard work, but we spent most of the weekend just enjoying time together... eating homemade pizza by the fire pit, snuggling up to watch movies together, sitting on the back porch and taking walks out in the beautiful weather. We are now refreshed and renewed and ready for another busy week!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Dried Apples

This week I have still been working my way through preserving our last batch of apples. I was slowed down a bit by the pesky cold I caught last weekend, but I’m finally catching up! In addition to spiced apples, applesauce and apple butter I made last week, I’ve also been making dried apples! These are so easy to make, keep well for months, and they are a delicious snack! They’re perfect for tossing in your backpack for a fall hike, or tossing in your bag for when you’re driving the kids around to their activities. You can also chop them up and add them to your granola or trail mix.

I happen to have a food dehydrator, which is what I use to make dried apples, but you don't really need one. You can do them in a warm oven, but you do have to watch them carefully so they don’t get overdone. 

Here’s how it’s done:

Wash your apples and slice them into uniform slices, about ¼ inch thick. This is easiest with an apple corer-peeler-slicer. I never peel my apples, but you can if you want to. Lay the slices out on your dehydrator trays in a single layer, or if you are using your oven, lay your slices out on a baking rack. You can place them so they are touching, just not overlapping. They will shrink quite a bit as they dry. If using a dehydrator, just follow your machine’s instructions. If using the oven, place the baking rack in the center of your oven and turn it on the lowest possible setting. For most ovens, this will be 170 or so, but if your oven only goes down to 200, you should probably leave the door slightly ajar. Watch the apples carefully, and test one now and then to see if it’s done. It should be fairly well dried out. Slightly chewy is OK, but if they’re too moist they won’t keep. If you prefer, you can dry them a little longer to make them into crunchy apple chips. Just be careful not to overdo it! You don’t want them to get too browned or they will have a funny burnt taste.

When the apple slices are dry, let them cool and then store them in airtight containers or zip bags. They will keep several months in a cool, dry place. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Recipe Tweak! Homemade Laundry Soap, faster and easier!

I've been making my own homemade laundry soap for quite a long time now. I love the way it works, but I found that I sometimes didn't care for how long it took to mix up a batch. I've been playing with the recipe a bit, and have changed it up a little. Not too much, but I did decrease the amount of vinegar slightly, to about a cup and a half instead of 1-3/4 cups. I found that this small change does make for faster mixing, and it still works just as well!

You can find the original recipe here:

Monday, October 15, 2012

First Cold of the Season

Friday night we had the first frost of the season, which meant a mad dash out to the garden Friday afternoon, to gather up the last of the veggies! We didn’t quite have time to harvest all our herbs, so those were covered in burlap, and fingers were crossed. Now we just have to figure out what we're going to do with all these green tomatoes! In the coming weeks or so it will be time to finish harvesting everything, and put the garden to bed for the winter. It wasn’t our best season, but it wasn’t our worst. We enjoyed a good amount of produce all summer, and we even have a bit stored for winter. No complaints!

Friday also brought the first cold of the season... boo! I was the “winner” of this dubious honor, and I’m hoping that no one else in the family catches it! But if they do, I will be ready, with some Mama’s Chest Rub. Mama’s Chest Rub is my own petroleum-and-chemical-free version of Vick’s VapoRub. It’s gentler on sensitive skin, smells great, and helps to ease the discomfort of the common cold.

Mama’s Chest Rub

Two Tbsp. Sunflower oil (or any carrier oil)
10 drops of Eucalyptus oil
5 drops of Peppermint Oil

Mix together in a small jar (I use an old baby food jar) Apply liberally to chest, neck and back as often as needed.

Another soothing comfort for colds is eucalyptus in the shower. The combination of steam and eucalyptus helps clear clogged sinuses and snuffly noses. To do this, fold a washcloth into eighths. Drop 20-25 drops of eucalyptus oil onto the cloth, and then place it on the bottom of the tub while you shower. As the hot water from the shower hits the cloth, you will be surrounded in warm, comforting eucalyptus steam. Aaaah. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

An Apple Butter Lesson (plus a two-for-one recipe!)

So last postI talked about our abundance of APPLES. We spent much of the long weekend cooking up an apple storm in our little kitchen! There were apple pancakes on Saturday morning and baked apples for dessert on Saturday night. On Sunday, we canned five quarts of spiced apples and 5 quarts of applesauce. On Monday, we made up another batch of applesauce (about 7 quarts!) to cook down to apple butter. This is where my apple cooking began to go awry. See, making apple butter is a time-consuming process, and it can’t really be rushed. You must be patient, and let the applesauce cook down slowly, over low heat, stirring often, until it turns into dark, sweet, delicious apple butter. It’s hard to estimate how long a batch of apple butter will take to cook, as there are many factors involved. The moisture content of the apples, the size of the batch, the humidity in the air, even the pot you use to cook it can make a difference. Yesterday, I greatly underestimated the time it would take to finish a batch. I didn’t start until mid-afternoon, which was my first mistake. Afternoon became evening, and it still wasn’t finished. I grew tired, and impatient. I finally realized that at the rate it was going, it was still going to need a couple more hours, so I decided to refrigerate everything and finish it up in the morning. Exhausted and cranky, I grabbed my potholders and picked up the pot to move it. Then, I lost my grip on the pot, spilling boiling hot almost-apple-butter down my left thigh and my right hand. Fortunately, I was right next to the sink and was able to get to cold water quickly, but I ended up with some nasty 2nd degree burns over a good portion of my thigh, and a small blister on my hand. But given just how hot apple butter is when it’s cooking, I realize that it could have been much worse. Most of all, I was very annoyed at the loss of about 1/3 of a pot of almost-apple-butter! The family heard the commotion and came to my rescue… the kids were reassured that all was well and sent back to bed, and The Man cleaned up all the spilled mess and got me some aloe from our plant on the window sill, Bless him. The lesson to be learned, here: Don’t try to rush your apple butter! And with that… here is a recipe for applesauce, then… apple butter!

Mama’s Apple Sauce

Note: There are no measurements for this recipe, as you can use it to make big or small batches, depending on how many apples you have on hand! Just pick a pot big enough for the amount of apples you wish to use, and go from there.

Start by cutting up your apples. Core and slice them, but do not peel them. You can do this by hand, but for a large batch you might want to use one of these or oneof these. Squeeze some lemon juice over your cut apples. For large batches, I squeeze a little on as I go, so they don’t turn all brown before I finish cutting them up. Next, put about a half inch or so of apple cider, apple juice or water into the bottom of your pot, then add your apples. You can fill the pot right up to the top with cut apples, as they will very quickly start to break down as they’re cooked. A full pot of apples will yield ½ to ¾ of a pot of applesauce. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring now and then, until the apples are nice and soft. Next, run the sauce through a food mill (I use an old fashioned foley mill) then return to the pot. You can add sugar or spices to taste, if you wish, or just leave as is. At this point, you can either store your applesauce in the fridge, or can it (see note at the end of this post). Or… you can follow the next recipe, and turn it into Apple Butter!

Mama’s Apple Butter

Before you begin, make sure to set aside plenty of time for this to simmer down. You can expect it to take anywhere from 3 to 10 hours, depending on how much you’re making, and how humid it is. On humid, rainy days it will take longer to boil down than on dry days. Unless you’re only making a small batch, I’d say it’s best to start this in the morning. If you start in the morning making the applesauce, you can just keep going from there, or you can make your applesauce one day, then store it in the fridge overnight and make your apple butter the next day.

To begin… pour your applesauce into a big, uncovered pot (if it’s not there, already!) and set it over low heat. If you’re starting with refrigerated applesauce, bring it to a simmer over medium heat first, then turn it down to low. Just allow the sauce to simmer, stirring every now and then to keep it from sticking or burning on the bottom.  When it starts to cook down some, I like to add a generous amount of cinnamon, and, depending on the sweetness of the apples used, maybe a bit of sugar. Keep simmering and stirring until the sauce turns a dark, mahogany brown and gets nice and thick. It will reduce in volume by at least half, maybe more, when it’s done. When it looks done, you can either store it in the fridge, or can it.

A Word About Canning. One of these days, I will write a post about canning basics. But, for now, I will point you to this website which will give you all the basic information you need to start canning.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Apples, Apples, Apples!

Every Autumn, we go a little Apple Crazy at The Homestead. How can we not? September and October in New England are all about apples! There are so many apple farms within a quick, easy drive of our home, and apples are plentiful, fresh, delicious and cheap this time of year. We make the most of apple harvest time by getting our hands on as many apples as we can, to can and freeze for thewinter months. In addition to all the Pick-Your-Own apple we get, we are also lucky enough to have a farm near to us which sells bags of “seconds”… less than perfect apples, which are still perfectly fine for cooking. “Seconds” are extra cheap… generally about half the price of perfect apples. Last week, we got a whole bushel of “seconds” which we turned into 9 ½ quarts of applesauce, 3 pints of apple butter, some apple compote and an apple cobbler!

Today… the children and I ended up at three different farms, and came home with a TON of apples… two pecks from our homeschool group’s apple picking field trip, a ½ peck bag we got when we picked up our farm share from another farm, and then another bushel of seconds from our favorite “seconds” farm.  Most of the fresh-picked ones will be eaten fresh, and then there will be pie, more applesauce, more apple butter, and who knows what else!

So today we are utterly surrounded by apples, in the fridge and on nearly every surface of our kitchen! It’s hard to believe that in just a week or two, the apples will be all picked, and apple season will be just a memory.  

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Maple Walnut Granola

 We love granola around here! We eat it as a cereal for breakfast, on top of yogurt… The Man has even been known to just eat it by the handful! I love to make my own granola… first of all, because it’s much less expensive to make my own than buy it, but also because when I make my own, I don’t have to worry about too much sugar or less-than-desirable ingredients. I’ve been on a real granola kick lately, experimenting with different ingredients and flavors. Here is one of our current favorite recipes. It’s pretty easy to make, and only has six ingredients. It’s also really delicious!

Maple Walnut Granola

3 cups rolled oats
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 tsp cinnamon
¼ cup sunflower oil
1/3 cup pure maple syrup
1 cup raisins

Combine the oats, walnuts and cinnamon in a large bowl. In a small bowl, combine the oil and syrup, then pour over the oat mixture. Mix everything together and spread onto a cookie sheet. Bake at 350 for about 10 minutes. Stir, then pop it back in the oven for another 5 minutes. Stir again, and if it’s still not nice and toasted, pop it back in for another 5 minutes.  I find that 20 minutes total usually does the trick, but since ovens vary, you may need more or less time. Just watch it carefully, to make sure it doesn’t burn.  When it’s all golden and toasty, take it out and let it cool, then mix in the raisins. Store it in an airtight container.  We use quart-size canning jars to store ours. If you’ll eat it soon, store it in a cool, dry place… but if you’ll be keeping it more than a few days you should probably store it in the fridge.

The cool thing about making granola is there really is no wrong way to do it. Here are some other delicious granola additions:

Sunflower seeds
Flax meal
Any dried fruit (just add the fruit after baking, for best texture and flavor)
Flaked coconut