Sunday, August 29, 2010

Whoo hoo!


I've been published!  Well...not exactly...does a letter to the editor count as being published?  At any rate, I am an avid reader of Diabetes Forecast, an American Diabetes Association publication.  They have awesome articles and up-to-date information for folks living with diabetes.

You may remember my recent post regarding the June issue of Diabetes Forecast.  I was so excited when I received this issue....I mean look at the cover....what homesteader/homemaker/gardener/farmer/diabetic wouldn't drool over this issue?


With the main focus on growing your own food, making meals from scratch and even an article on backyard farming...I was beyond excited.  I am an avid believer that my current state of health (which is quite good all things considered) is directly related to our way of life.  So needless to say I was so very excited to see that the "growing your own" concept was catching on in the diabetes community...excited enough to write a letter to the editors of Diabetes Forecast...hence my claim of "being published"!

Two days ago I received my September copy of Diabetes Forecast and low and behold my letter to the editor is right there in the "Mail Call" section...the very FIRST letter!  I literally screamed with excitement!  How thrilling it is to see my name in print, in a magazine that I look forward to reading every month...a magazine that inspires me in so many ways.  This must be what it feels like to win the Nobel Prize....well ok, maybe I am a little too excited!  But...truly most of my enthusiam stems from the hope that my letter and the articles in the magazine will bring awareness and inspire other folks to "grow their own".




 Here is a picture of my letter!  They even included the URL of my blog! 

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Homemade Career

I recently read a post from a fellow blogger and homesteader over at Down to Earth.  Her post talked about homemaking.  She calls it the power career.  Ya'll should check out her post when you get a chance, its inspiring and it got me thinking!

Lately I have been struggling with my career path.  Ever since I left teaching after my Type I diabetes diagnosis, I have felt the need to look for a job, a career, someplace I went to work every day and got a paycheck from someone else.  I felt the need to do this because...well isn't this what people do?  For the last two years I have been looking for a job that fits my health needs and my career interests (agriculture, education, and natural science).  This has been a struggle of mine....Why do I have to find a job?  Why do I feel bad about not working and getting a paycheck?

All along, hubby and I kept saying..."there has to be something I can do at home".  The truth of the matter is, when it comes to jobs working at home really fits well for me, allowing me to maintain my health and sanity.  During this time of searching for the perfect job, I started working around the house to keep myself busy.  I started baking, gardening more, we increased our chicken flock and I started researching home based careers.  All this time, I have been looking for a job and now I am beginning to realize I have created one for myself.

I've applied for, interviewed, and been offered a homemade career.  I have accepted a job as a homemaker.  I make bread and bake wholesome foods.  I cook healthy meals for my hubby and me.  I take care of our backyard farm.  I "put-up" food for the winter.  I grow a garden.  I support local agriculture initiatives.  I am a member of the Farm Board in my county.  I volunteer at two local schools in agriculture based programs.  I exercise and take care of myself.  I find ways to reduce our impact on the environment.  I am learning how to be more sustainable and self-sufficient.  My hubby and I live off of less and gain more from our experiences.   

Although I know what I do, and I am confident in my choice to stay at home and create my own career path(s)...I have found that many folks have no concept of why a woman (or man), without children to raise, would CHOOSE to stay at home and not work, who would CHOOSE to have only one income for the family, and who would CHOOSE to turn down perfectly acceptable jobs in today's economy.

It is always hard for folks to understand the choices of others and I don't expect the general public to "get" why I have accepted the job as a homemaker.  But I have chosen this path because this is what makes us happy.  This is what makes our house a home and this is what keeps us healthy.  I have made this choice because I feel this makes our life more meaningful and our experiences more enjoyable.  This is the career I have chosen for the time being.  This is what works.

I am still pursuing opportunities to work in the agriculture community, because this is something I am passionate about.  However, any job I take will most likely be part-time.  Any at home business I create will have to fit into my life as a homemaker.  Sure a little extra cash from me having a job would be nice, but not if it interferes with my ability to manage my responsibilities at home.  Neither hubby or I are willing to sacrifice the joy we get from my homemade career.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Can you spoil a chicken?

As we wade through the stifling August heat, I have come to the realization that its almost time to start planting for the Fall garden.  But who can think of Fall when it is so hot outside.  Of course, this weekend has been pleasantly cool (in the 80's) so working in the garden and finishing projects in the yard were bearable and actually enjoyable!

Our garden is kinda split into two sections.  Now that the bush beans and cucumbers are done, that half of the garden can be tilled up and prepared for Fall planting, while the other half of the garden is still producing tomatoes, watermelon, peppers, etc.  So why bother tilling it and removing the plants and waste my precious energy when I have a whole flock of chickens who have been itching to get in the garden!  I fenced off half of the garden with some chicken wire and created what I like to call the "chicken playground".

As you may remember, we added 6 chicks to our flock in March.  But my little babies are not so little anymore.  Actually our new hens are bigger than our two older hens.  So two days ago we decided to "herd" (using this term loosely) the lil' ones to the chicken playground.  Boy were they excited to have access to the leftover plants and rogue vegetables to nibble on.  This plan seems to be working, as I have seen a marked decrease in plant matter and nice scratched up and "tilled" soil in just a few days.  And my little babies are happy!  (Kyra our shepard, as usual, is not so happy with any kind chicken relocation projects.  She spent the day guarding the garden gate...gotta make sure none of those chickens get out of line!)

Today I decided to take advantage of the nice weather and weed the other side of the garden.  As I was weeding I noticed a unusually large amount of clucking and cooing coming from the chicken playground.  I looked over to find my lil' ones lined up at the fence talking to me.  Their clucks and coos tugged at my heartstrings.  Those chickens love me with all their little chicken hearts (as much as a chicken can love, I suppose).  Hubby standing nearby could only shake his head and chuckle as I talked back to the chickens, petting them and feeding them blades of grass.  What can I say I love those little biddies, and I do believe I have spoiled them.  So yes, you can spoil a chicken!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Holy Hot Peppers!

Our hot pepper plants are in full swing!  This year we planted Jalapenos, Carribean Red Habeneros, Thai Chilis, Ancho Chilis, and Cayenne Peppers.  For those of you who are not familiar with hot pepper varieties, here is a brief hotness rating.....

Ancho Chili: Mild and flavorful
Jalapenos:  Medium
Cayenne:  Hot, eye's watering, pass me the milk kind of hot, but very tolerable when cooked into spicy dishes
Thai Chili: A little hotter than the cayenne
Habeneros:  Imagine eating a ball of fire.

Hubby likes it hot so we decided to plant enough peppers to melt the sun.  This year we started our peppers in January, from seeds under our indoor grow light.  Most hot peppers have a "days till maturity" range between 60-90 days.  So starting them early gives those feisty little fruits a head start....meaning we get hot peppers in the hottest part of the summer and will continue to harvest into September and possibly October.  The habeneros alone take up to 90 days for the fruit to ripen.  Our habenero plant is covered in fruits and one is just now starting on the path the fiery red.    We are getting handfuls of peppers every day and so hence begins the preservation process!

We have been drying the Cayenne and Thai chilis in the oven at 150 degrees.  This usually takes about 12 hours.  We then store them in jars and they last us about a year.  I imagine they keep for longer but we usually use up our batch in a year's time.


I also made a batch of Pickled Jalapenos from The Complete Book of Small Batch Preserving.  They look beautiful...still waiting for them to sit a while before tasting them!  It's such an easy recipe....

Pickled Jalapenos
 
Ingredients

1 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup water
4 tsp liquid honey
2 tsp pickling spice
1/2 tsp pickling salt
2 cloves garlic, halved
1/2 lb jalapeno peppers, thinly sliced



Directions

1.  Prepare canner, lids and jars.  You will need two 8oz jars for this recipe.
2.  Thinly slice the jalapenos.  I left the seeds in, you can remove the seeds if you prefer a milder finished product. 
*Be sure to wash your hands thoroughly after handling the peppers, before touching your eyes or mouth!*

 
2.  Combine the vinegar, water, honey, pickling spice and salt in a small saucepan.  Bring to a boil over high heat, remove from heat and let stand for 10 minutes.


3.  Place 1/2 clove of garlic in each hot jar.  Divide the peppers evenly between the two jars.  Add another 1/2 clove of garlic.

4.  Return pickling liquid to a boil and then pour over pickles to within 1/2 inch of the rim.  Place hot lids and bands on jars.  Process at 10 minutes according to the directions for your boiling water canner.

Enjoy!

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Friday, August 6, 2010

Are you ready for some more jam?

So...here is the next installment of jams that I have experimented with.  Spiced Blueberry Honey Jam...the name says it all...if there were a smell button on this blog, you would know that this is a fragrant jam that has delicate yet complex flavors that make it very unique! 

Spiced Blueberry Honey Jam
from the Complete Book of Small-Batch Preserving

Ingredients:
2 1/2 cups fresh or frozen coarsely chopped bluenerries
2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup liquid honey*
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 pouch liquid fruit pectin

* Use local honey if available to support your local beekeepers (and add the flavors of your local flora).  If you don't have access to local honey, be sure to use organic or high quality honey that is not cut with corn syrup.



Directions:

1. Place blueberries, sugar, honey, lemon juice and nutmeg in a large stainless steel saucepan.

2. Bring to a full boil over high heat and boil hard for 2 minutes, stirring constantly.



3. Remove from heat and stir in pectin.




4. Ladle into hot jars and process for 10 minutes in your boiling water canner...follow directions for your canner for processing jams.



Enjoy!  This recipe yielded four 8oz jelly jars.  

Monday, August 2, 2010

Sugar Free Blueberry and Peach Jams

So continues my quest for jam perfection!  Along with the large amount of blueberries I purchased a few days ago, I also made a trip to the Farmer's Market and bought some beautiful peaches.  I decided to experiment with my bounty and made some beautiful and tasty sugar free jams!

First off, being diabetic, I am always looking for an alternative to sugar.  I have found what I consider the golden child of sugar substitutes!  Xylitol is an all natural sweetener derived from fruits and vegetables.  It has little to no effect on my blood sugar and it substitutes 1 to 1 for sugar in most recipes.  I love it because it has no weird aftertaste and it is all-natural.  I order my xylitol online.

Although xylitol works as a great sugar substitute, I was not sure how it would work in jam.  When making jam, you usually add pectin....of course you can cook down the jam without pectin, but this takes much longer and I just don't have that kind of patience!  Store bought pectin has added sugar to help with the gelling and the preservation of the jam.  This creates a dilemma when using a sugar substitute.  I have read that it is possible to make jam using pectin and sugar substitutes but most recipes recommend doing this as a freezer jam.  I was interested in doing canned jam so I did a little research on making sugar-free jam and found this wonderful product...

 

Pomona's Universal Pectin is wonderful!  Use it for making low-sugar, no sugar added, and sugar free (using sugar substitute) jam.  You can use any kind of sugar substitute including splenda, stevia, xylitol, and honey.  The pectin is easy to use and just has one extra step that is different from other store bought pectin.  I purchased this at our local natural foods store, but I think you can order it online as well!
So...here is the recipe I used for my sugar free jam.  I halved the suggested recipe in the Pomona's insert and made half batches of each blueberry and peach.  The recipe listed below is for the half batch.

Sugar-Free Jam (using xylitol)

Before you start jamming, prepare the Pomona's Pectin Calcium Water following the directions in the box insert.  The calcium water is shown in the picture above, it keeps for months in the fridge and you only use a small amount per recipe, so you will only need to do this step once. 

Ingredients
2 cups mashed berries or peaches 
2 tbls lemon juice
3/4 cup xylitol (use less or more depending on your taste)
1 teaspoon Calcium water (for blueberry jam) or 2 teaspoons calcium water (for peach jam)
1 teaspoon Pectin powder (for blueberry jam) or 1.5 teaspoons Pectin powder (for peach jam)

Directions
1.  Prepare canner and jars.
2. Measure fruit and place in a large stainless steel pot, add lemon juice.
3. Add calcium water and stir well.
 
 
4. Measure xylitol in a separate bowl and add pectin powder, mix well.

5. Bring fruit mixture to a boil.
6. Add xylitol/pectin powder to fruit mixture and stir vigorously until pectin is dissolved.  
7. Return to a boil and boil rapidly for 1 minute.  Remove from heat.
8. Fill hot jars with 1/4" headspace, seal with lids and boil in boiling water canner for 10 minutes.  Follow your canner recommendations for processing jams.

 
I filled 4 oz jars, since I don't eat a ton of jam, these sizes work better for me (and they make the cutest gifts!).  I yielded three 4 oz jars of peach with a little left over and four 4oz jars of blueberry with a little left over.  They taste amazing!  I am pretty darn proud of myself being that this is the very first time I have experimented with sugar free jams!