Monday, January 31, 2011

Is winter making me crazy?

I'm a fair weather clothes line user.

I love hanging clothes on the line outside.

But only on balmy sunny days. As soon as the weather turns bad, I give up the clothes line. I would much rather use the clothes dryer then hang up wet clothes with frozen chapped hands - and bring in stiff frozen clothes that are still damp!

Last year, my husband put up a line in my basement next to the washing machine. Most weeks, I manage to use my dryer for only two loads. Our basement has almost no heat and it takes two days to dry things but it has been worth it not to use the dryer -or the outdoor clothes line!

So how do you explain this photo?

I had more laundry then usual today. I couldn't hang it all in the basement. The sun was out bright and the temperature rose to above freezing. I really do enjoy sun dried diapers or maybe I'm getting a little cabin fever. I don't think I've EVER stomped through snow to hang up laundry! It was so unusual I had to take a picture.

Now I'm wondering. Are any of you die hard clothes line users? My neighbor down the road has a large wrap around porch. She has a large family and almost any time, day or night, she has her porch full of hanging towels. I always shook my head in disbelief at her dedication to line dry. But I'm sure my neighbors were wondering at my sanity today, too!

I love the slow winter days and extra time to sew and bake. But anyone else counting the days til spring with me?

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Book Review - One Thousand Gifts

One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are

Last week, One Thousand Gifts arrived in my mail box. I immediately laid aside the book I was reading to gulp down Ann Voskamp's words. This is Ann's story of finding joy, joy in the beautiful, the painful, the ordinary, the mundane, the breathtaking. Joy that I, too want to find.

As I read the story of Ann's life, of asking questions, of searching for answers, of struggling to trust God and accept grace, I, too was asking questions.

Last week my cousin was killed in a farming accident. A Godly man, a faithful father, a man giving of his time and resources to build a dairy for orphans in Bolivia. I was asking questions "Why him? Why one so young? Why one who was so useful to the Lord's work?"

To happen to read (does anything "just happen"?) One Thousand Gifts at that specific time could not have been better planned. On the way to the cemetery, I read the first chapter aloud to my husband. I echoed with Ann the wish to "write the story differently" but also the desire to turn the sad holes of our soul as open places to see through to God and His hand of grace in our lives.

If you've read Holy Experience, you know that Ann pens words that can sing. Her writing is simply beautiful and has no shallow platitudes. Ann shares from the depths of hard losses, the ordinary frustrations of mothering six children, and the endless laundry of a Canadian farm wife.

"Every breath's a battle between grudgery and gratitude and we must keep thanks on the lips so we can sip from the holy grail of joy."

Ann shares how a challenge to write down the every day blessings, one thousand gifts from God, transformed a life of resentment to  abundant joy. She found the remembrance of God's every day graces affecting all of life, her trust in God, her outreach to others, her interaction with her family.

"Count blessings and discover Who can be counted on."

Giving thanks in all things is something the Lord has been teaching me since last year. I've read about gratitude and painted reminders in my kitchen but this book showed me how it works in real life. It made me love my Saviour more and challenged me to continue to practice naming the specific gifts from our God.

"Joy begins in the action of thanksgiving."

When I read a good book, I can't wait to share it with someone, anyone. Sometimes though I hesitate to write a review. Only God's Word is perfect and every book contains something that I could quibble about, even this one. I thoroughly enjoyed One Thousand Gifts and I'm now on my second trip through the book,  taking my time to savor the words. But for those of you who have told me "I hardly have time to read my Bible," please don't put yourself on a guilt trip. Just read the inspired Word. But if you are looking for inspiration on your journey, I would recommend One Thousand Gifts.

You can read an excerpt from the first chapter here, view a trailer or join a book club discussion.

I received a free review copy of One Thousand Gifts  from Zondervan Publishing. All opinions expressed here are my own.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Bulgar Rolls

If there is one bread recipe that I could call my specialty, bulgar rolls would be the one. I've made thousands of these rolls through the years, including several hundred for our wedding. I don't have to ask what to bring to family Christmas gatherings since I'm usually asked to bring these rolls.

We love the slightly nutty taste and texture that the bulgar adds. Bulgar is a cracked wheat that you can find at a bulk foods store. If you don't have bulgar, substitute oatmeal. Steel cut oats will give a similar texture, but rolled or quick oats work too.

First cook the bulgar with butter and water until it is soft. I usually just bring the water to boil, then turn off the stove and allow it to sit and absorb the water.  Let this cook before adding it to the dough. You do not want to kill the yeast with too much heat. You can use bulgar raw, but it is rather hard and I think it feels like hitting a stone in your roll.

You can shape these rolls any way you wish. When making dozens of rolls, I find that rolling the dough out with a rolling pin and cutting with a biscuit cutter is the easiest method. I place them on a greased baking sheet to rise and bake.

Bulgar Rolls

2 cup water
1/2 cup bulgar (or oatmeal)
3 T butter
1 T yeast
1 1/3 cup warm water or milk
1/3 cup brown sugar (or 1/4 cup honey)
2 tsp salt
1 egg
6 cups flour (may use white or a white/whole wheat mix)

Cook the bulgar in 2 cups of water and the butter. Cool until lukewarm.

Dissolve yeast in 1 1/3 cup warm water or milk.

Mix sugar, salt, egg, flour, bulgar mixture, and yeast mixture. Mix well.

Allow dough to rest for fifteen minutes. Add more flour if needed to make a soft dough.The dough should be soft and slightly tacky, but not sticky.

Knead dough for 5 to 10 minutes by hand or by machine, until a smooth ball. Place dough in a greased bowl and allow to rise for one hour or until double. Punch dough down. Rest for 10 minutes. Shape into rolls. Rise for 45 minutes or until double. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes.

Note: I always double this recipe in my large Bosch mixer and machine knead the dough. It makes quite a few rolls but they freeze well. I usually replace at least half of the flour with whole wheat flour and often add a tablespoon or two of vital gluten.

Edit in February 2015: I was making these rolls this Christmas for a gathering and without thinking, I used all freshly ground whole wheat flour. This was the first time I used all whole wheat flour - especially since I often make these for guests - but they turned out wonderfully. And everyone enjoyed them very much. When using whole wheat flour, just be careful not to add too much flour. Whole wheat flour absorbs more moisture and can make your dough too dry.

For other favorite roll recipes see cornmeal rolls and sandwich buns.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

12 New Things - Homemade Lotion

The new project for December was homemade lotion. But actually I was inspired to start this project back in the fall. I picked up a book at the thrift store that finally propelled me to make some  of my own bath products. I've made this recipe several times since then, adjusting it slightly and never want to go back to a bottled lotion again.

The ingredients couldn't be simpler. Water (I used rain water), baking soda, olive oil, coconut oil, and beeswax. All are easy to find. The beeswax may give you a little difficulty. I bought some from a friend who has bees.

The original recipe called for Borax. Borax is often in cleaning products, even in my laundry detergent. Though it called for only a tiny bit, I was nervous about using it. Borax is a great ant poison and I just didn't like the idea of rubbing it into my skin. I read that baking soda would work as well, and that is what I've used.

Want to try it with me? It really is simple.

Homemade Lotion

1/4 cup distilled water (I used rain water.)
1/8 tsp baking soda

1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup coconut oil
2 T grated beeswax

Dissolve the baking soda in water in a glass container.

Mix the two oils and beeswax in another glass container. Place glass in a pan of water.

Heat the oil and beeswax over medium heat until oils and beeswax is melted. Stir occasionally.

When wax is melted, bring the water/baking soda mixture to almost boiling. You may do this in the microwave or in your pan of water. Slowly add the water to your oil mixture, stirring briskly.

The mixture will thicken as it cools.

I like to pour into small jelly jars while still warm and pour-able.

The best part of the lotion? It works. I always have dry skin in the winter and even with slathering myself with lotion, I sometimes have a dry skin patch that will hang around for weeks. But this winter, I've been using this lotion faithfully and have had the best skin ever.

This lotion doesn't have the strong scent that you may be accustomed too. It only has a faint scent of beeswax. My skin is more on the sensitive side and I've had terrible rashes with strongly scented lotions - so no scent doesn't bother me. If you wished for a scent, you could probably add some scented oils.

So far, I've had no problem with the lotion separating or going bad. I had one jar around for a couple months and it was still good. I did go to the precaution of making sure my jars were very clean. (The hot water was right there in the pan for a quick sterilization.) I make sure my hands are clean before dipping into the jar but I won't say that everyone in my household is as vigilant. My little boys are very much little boys with no concept of germs!

I love having a lotion with a short pronounceable ingredient list. I just walked through my house, digging for old lotion tubes in the back of drawers and cupboards to read the labels. I read labels on my food, I wonder why I never read the labels on my lotion. Not only are the ingredients long enough to make your head spin but the warnings give caution. "Don't apply near eyes or mouth." "For external use only." Keep out of the reach of children." The last warning, found on a baby lotion bottle, made me pause. What is baby lotion for except for children?  Am I the only one who has applied lotion to a small child's hands only to have them lick it off?

At this point, I plan to take a few simple kitchen ingredients to mix up a lotion to enjoy using with my family. No more time spent hunting for coupons for CVS deals. I love when frugal, healthy and simple all line up!

Do you make your own lotion - or any other body products?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Bread Baking - Rest

When writing this post, I accidently posted a rough draft. Sorry if it caused confusion.

When mixing a bread dough, often a recipe will ask you to allow the dough to rest after mixing and before kneading. This resting period is called the autolysis. What is the purpose?

Adding too much flour to dough will make the bread dry and heavy. Recipes give an amount of flour but because flour varies in the amount of moisture it can absorb, the actual amount of flour used will vary.

Allowing your bread dough to rest before kneading gives the dough time to absorb water and fully hydrate. I find this resting time is especially important when using whole grain flours. Whole grains will absorb more water than white flour but they take longer to absorb water. If you mix and knead the dough quickly, often too much flour will be added and the resulting bread will be dry and crumbly. By giving the flour some added time to hydrate, you will likely add less flour and result in a more successful bread.

My usual method is to mix the dough with all the ingredients and almost all the flour. I may reserve back one cup of flour if the recipe is unfamiliar to me. I mix the dough briefly, maybe one minute at low speed in my mixer. The dough may look coarse and shaggy at this point. I then shut off the mixer and allow the dough to sit for a few minutes. Sometime only five minutes, other times up to half an hour.

 As a mother with young children, I find that this method works well for me. By the time I have the ingredients in the mixer and briefly stirred, there is probably some dire emergency that needs my attention! But I've learned to set the timer so that I don't forget the dough entirely! And who can really mind these interruptions?

When I come back to the dough, I mix for another minute. Usually the dough is much smoother at this time. I may need to add a little more flour. I then proceed with the kneading.

Not all bread recipes call for a resting period. You can add in a rest period, or not, as you wish.

Often you'll find recipes that add the salt AFTER this resting period. Salt does adversely affect the flour's hydration. But I usually add the salt with the all the other ingredients since I've had some bad experiences with forgetting salt in bread. Salt-less bread is barely palatable. If I do add the salt later, I sit my salt container on top of the mixer  lid to remind me to add it after the rest.

Do you allow your dough to rest? Do you feel that it benefits the bread?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Bread Baking - Shaping Rolls

Later this week, I want to share a favorite roll recipe, but first I thought I'd share how to shape rolls. There is a multitude of ways to form rolls. Here are my three favorite ways.

1. Roll and Cut

If I have many rolls to make I usually roll out the dough and cut with a biscuit cutter. I find this method to be fast and results in rolls that are similar in size. I have numerous cutters so can choose the desired size whether it be a sandwich roll or dinner roll. Before I owned any cutters, I just used a floured glass cup or empty tin can.

2. Hand Shaped

If I don't feel like getting the rolling pin out and clearing a spot on the counter, I just pull off a blob of dough and roll it into a ball. Can't get much simpler!

3. Crescent Rolls

A special way to make dinner rolls that looks far more difficult then it is! Roll dough into a circle. Cut the circle into eight or ten wedges. I use my pizza cutter. Starting at the wide end, roll the wedge up, and place on baking sheet. To make these rolls even more special, before cutting into wedges, brush dough with butter, sprinkle on nuts, or whatever you prefer. The options are endless!
What is your favorite way to shape rolls?

Friday, January 21, 2011

Cookbook for Orphans

I LOVE cookbooks. It is an addiction I probably inherited from my mom.

Recently, Kaylene Hartzler, a Home Joys reader from Georgia, sent me her cookbook, Kay's Country Cookin'.

A quick flip through it's pages and I knew I found a new favorite. The cookbook has several contributors and contains a large variety of recipes. Kaylene enjoys using whole grains and natural sweeteners and many of her recipes already have the adjustments made. I'm looking forward to checking out the crock pot and canning sections as well. I even found some great looking bread recipes to try.

And this cookbook is large. Well over 400 pages! It should keep me in new recipes for a long time.

Kaylene was inspired to write a cookbook after learning of the millions of orphans around the world. Kaylene and her husband adopted a little boy last year. ALL the proceeds from the cookbook fund adoptions to give children a loving home and place to belong.

To get your own taste of Southern cooking, email Kaylene at

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Country White Bread

This bread is a classic light bread, perfect to add to any meal or use for sandwiches. The addition of eggs, honey, and oil make this bread a bit richer than some doughs.. The dough can also be used to make cinnamon raisin bread or cinnamon rolls. 

We like whole grains and prefer to add some whole wheat flour in place of some of the all-purpose flour.

2 T yeast
2 cups warm water
1/4 cup honey or sugar
1 T salt
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup vegetable oil or soft butter
6 1/2 to 7 cup all-purpose flour

In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in water. Add honey, salt, eggs, oil, and 3 cups flour. Beat until smooth. Stir in just enough flour to form a soft dough. 

Turn dough onto an oiled surface and knead until smooth, about 6-8 minutes. (If your mixer has a kneading hook, you may machine knead for five minutes.) Place dough in a greased bowl. Cover and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour.  Punch dough down. Divide and shape into three loaves. Place in loaf pans.

Let rise until doubled. Bake at 375 degrees for 25-30 minutes. Remove from pans and cool.

If you wish, brush some butter on top while still warm. Try to let it cool before eating!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Favorite Winter Picture Books

If you walk into our house, you will get the impression we like books. Nearly every room in our house contains a bookshelf, or two. But very rarely do we buy a book at full price. Most of our books have come from used book sales or Paperback Swap.

To me, a large book sale is like turning a child loose in a candy store. I love the searching through boxes of musty books looking for treasures to take home. But I've talked to others who are completely overwhelmed at a book sale. How do you ever find what you want? Especially when there is a crowd of other people also looking for books.

I wish knew more about books, but slowly, over the years, I've become familiar with titles and authors that I like. Sometimes I pick up a book that just looks good. At book sale prices I can pitch it, or swap it, if I don't like it. I have also spent a lot of time browsing book recommended book lists to become familiar with the titles and authors that others like.

Over the next few weeks, I plan to share some of my favorite children's books. Hopefully it can be helpful to some mothers (or grandmothers) as you shop for books or even look for good books at the library. There is lots of truly awful children's literature out there. You may not totally agree with my idea of a "good" book but maybe it will introduce you to something you wouldn't find yourself.

Today I'll share some of our favorite winter picture books. Last year the shelf for children's picture books was overflowing so I put all the snowy winter books away for a few months. I promised the children that I would get them out at the first snowflakes.  I forgot about the promise, but they certainly didn't. The children so enjoyed seeing these books after a few months of absence that I'm thinking of putting more of our books away on a rotational basis. (I may have just admitted that we have too many books!)

I'm including the links to Amazon so that you can learn more about the book. If you make a purchase through these links, I will get a small percentage. But really I don't care about the money. I'd rather you get these books at a used book sale or Paperback Swap if possible!

Favorite Winter Picture Books

Katy and the Big Snow Book & CD
Katy and the Big Snow by Virgina Lee Burton - always a favorite with my boys!

Sadie and the Snowman
Sadie and the Snowman by Allen Morgan

Annie and the Wild Animals
Annie and the Wild Animals by Jan Brett - also enjoy The Mitten, The Hat, The Gingerbread Baby, and others by the same author. Love her illustrations!

Akiak: A Tale From the Iditarod
Akiak by Robert J Blake - story of the Iditarod dog sled race in Alaska

The Big Snow
The Big Snow by Berta and Elmer Hader - a snowy nature classic

The Mitten Tree
The Mitten Tree by Candace Christiansen - a sweet story of the joy of giving in secret.

Snipp, Snapp, Snurr and the Yellow Sled
Snipp, Snapp and Snurr and the Yellow Sled by Maj Lindman - I loved these books as a child as well as the companion series Flicka Ricka, and Dicka. Working cheerfully and sharing generously is the theme of this one.

First Snow
First Snow by Kim Lewis - I'm a sucker for lovely illustrations of the agrarian life.

Marven of the Great North Woods
Marven of the Great North Woods by Lasky - true story of a city boy in a logging camp one hundred years ago.

What winter books have you enjoyed with your children?


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