Slow Progress

You would think that having lived in my house for several years now that I would have decorating and projects done. You would be wrong!! I’m probably one of the slowest project people that anyone has ever seen. At least The Engineer and I have taken advantage of the past few snowy weekends to get some linger projects decided on and moving on down the road to completion.

We’ve been working on getting the man loft upstairs completed for months. I do still have one cabinet to refinish, but the weather just hasn’t been cooperative for painting and staining furniture in the garage. Until the cabinet is done we can’t really put away the movies and gaming systems…or hang any of the taxidermy work on the walls, so it’s just been easy to leave the whole room a slight disaster area. We’ve made major progress this weekend though…..we’ve finally picked a paint color!

After months of collecting random paint chips and scrolling through Pinterest boards, we’ve finally nailed it down to 3 colors…..or maybe 4….it’s hard to say really.

I think we’ve decided on Olive Sprig…although all 4 are very similar..and minds could still change!

As you can tell, we pretty much have it sorted, just need to settle down on the exact shade of green we like. The Engineer would have preferred grey or blue but we had to let those colors go. None of the grey samples looked nice against the existing townhome beige. The room is so angular and open that somewhere the new wall color is going to have to butt up against the existing beige. The blues looked nice against the beige walls, but they didn’t do much to accent the dark wood, metal, and black concrete tones we have already in the room. Green is really where it’s at I think!

One loft project that we have finished up is refinishing my desk chair and mounting some floating shelves my Grandpa made. I guess at least my small corner of the loft is finished. The first step of my chair makeover was 2 coats of Annie Sloan Honfleur and some light distressing with dark wax. That was the easy part for me, just your standard rags to riches furniture rehab story! I decided to try my hand at recovering the cushion with some scrap hide, and that was really a bit of an adventure.

Happy to be reusing handmade, Peterson family heirlooms!

If your hide hasn’t been tumbled by the tannery to make it soft and pliable, you’ll have some labor to put into it. First, you’ll need to let it soak for an hour or two. I just put the hide in the bathtub with a few inches of water and let it hang out to absorb. This will make the hide seem soft, but at this point if you just let it dry it will go back to being as stiff as a board. To really help the fibers loosen up and plump, stash your wet hide in a plastic bag overnight. Get a good nights sleep, because in the morning you’ll have work to do!

Remove your hide from the bag. It will be damp, but shouldn’t be dripping. I left my bag and hide in the sink in case any water didn’t absorb and drain out….didn’t want any surprise puddles in the morning! If you need to stretch your hide to increase its size slightly, now is the time to do this. Mine was large enough already, but we did give it a bit of a stretch for good measure. Again, it was freezing in the garage and I didn’t necessarily have enough scrap wood laying around to build a large enough frame for the hide…..but I did have a rather large, and rather robust cardboard shipping box!!

Once your hide is stretched to size, you’ll need to do something to soften it. This is best done by beating or tumbling to mash and realign all the fibers. I wasn’t about the toss it into my dryer with small boulders, so I used the next best thing….a paint remover!?!? All of these tips and tricks were provided by a profession taxidermist…..so it’s gotta be the truth! I was told to just work it over the hide until it was soft. I used an African hide, and I’m here to tell you that some parts of it were so thick they never softened. We did the soak, stretch, and tenderize process twice….it’s still a very stiff hide, but it got the job done!

Beat until tender!

We decided to start the upholstry job with a slightly damp hide. The hide was never going to get evenly soft enough, especially because some portions were just so thick. This was extra unfortunate because there was no way we could align the hide on the chair cushion so that the thickest portions weren’t used. Momma Mishappenings was staying with us that night, and she has some fabric upholstery experience which was nice to have…because I had no idea what to do really!

We stapled the front side down first so that we could pull and put some tension on the hide. It quickly became clear that we needed to cut out some of the extra hide bulk in the corners so that they would lay nice. I wish I could tell you a specific shape or pattern to cut, but honestly I just sort of whacked out whatever bits and pieces we needed to make the corners lay nice as we went along. It doesn’t look overly pretty, but it fit and we did eventually get all 4 corners trimmed out and stapled down. At this point, we left the whole thing to dry out for a few days. The hide will shrink slightly as it drys, and we used that to our advantage. Some places that had seemed too big and loose tightened right up once it dried. There was one pretty bad bubble of extra hide on the front by one of the corners and I was pleasantly surprised to discovered it had totally disappeared once everything dried!

Once dried I was going to screw it back onto the chair frame, but it needed one final step. Even though we had cut the corners and tried to get them to fold nice and even, they still needed a bit of work. I used a hammer on the dry hide to beat and soften up any of the hard edges and bulk left in the corners. Anywhere the hide crossed over another piece of hide I gave it a pretty severe whacking. It really did help to form and soften up all the edges. I also added a few more staples and hammered them all in for good measure.

Carefully screw it back into the chair frame, and you’re ready to get stuff done behind your desk! You’ll have to screw up through the hide, so just proceed slowly and cross your fingers you don’t hit a staple. I didn’t, but that’s maybe just beginners luck. The hide was a bit stiff and crunchy the first couple times I used the chair, but it has broken in nicely. Also, I was worried about sitting on the hair, but it doesn’t seem to be shedding and doesn’t get misaligned if you’re moving around in the chair. Even if hair does start shedding, it should just add to the aged and distressed look!

The Long Hunt

Bedside tables don’t necessarily come to mind as one of the more hard to find pieces of furniture for you home….but let me tell you….I’ve been on a journey to find something!

When I first moved to town, I decided I needed up advance my furniture situation. I needed a bedside table….among other things. I had been using a “standard height” bedside table that I snagged for cheap at Walmart when I was in college, but it looked really awkward. The height difference was really the issue. A standard height bedside table comes maybe halfway up my bed?! Halfway might only be generous to the standard height table. It really created the need to dangle off the side of the bed every morning to shut off the alarm clock, and there was no way to scroll through your phone comfortably while ensuring it was plugged in and charging. Ya know…..the things that early 20 somethings care about! The size of bedroom in my first rental townhouse really dictated the width and depth restrictions of a new replacement table, and I found one at the World Market. It was on that day….approximately 8 years ago that I made a fateful error….I only bought one table!

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The OG….the table all other tables have been compared too

It’s maybe important to clarify why even finding that first table was such a struggle. I have my bed mounted on legs, it isn’t sitting on any sort of frame. The legs screw directly into brackets that are mounted to the bottom of my box spring. You’re probably thinking to yourself, just put shorter legs on your bed….problem solved. The issue with dropping my bed back down to a “normal” height is that Madam Scout a Roo prefers to sleep and hide under the bed. It’s become her safe space over the years, and watching her try and hide herself under a bed of regular height is just very sad. She usually just ends up wedging herself in up to her shoulders and then just crying and shaking cuz her lil booty remains exposed to the terrors of the world….usually thunderstorms.

Once I purchased and moved into Casa MisHappenings I suddenly had so much more bedroom space to be taken up! I’ve been on the hunt for a table with varying degrees of intensity for at least 4 YEARS! In the meantime I was using a piece of painted press board on top of a luggage trunk flipped on end. It was functional, but small and a bit ugly in the far corner. It was semi easy to ignore because my tall bed obscured the view of it for the most part. Tall beds….hiding ugly things in the corner and allowing for safe pupper caves….two birds one stone!

After looking at several dud tables that were too tall, too small, too wide, or the worst…..too expensive…Momma MisHappenings came through with an epic Facebook Market find!

It was the wrong color, and sitting right on the knife edge of being too wide….but otherwise it was perfect! You’ll notice it has a small front drawer …much like my round vanity stand. It has long, spindly little legs…oddly similar to my vanity stand. It struck me as enough similar to seem complimentary, but enough different to still pull off the difference between His and Her sides. And…the price was pretty decent. It wasn’t great especially because I needed to repaint it, and the build of the table isn’t the highest quality, but it was too good to let slide.

A few hours in the garage, 2 coats of chalk paint and some waxing elbow grease later, and The Engineer has a new, spacious bedside table. I wasn’t sure about the color I put on it…it was just so I had leftover from a previous project. Once it’s all in and finished I actually really like it. I think I might repaint mine to match this Spring. My vanity started out a sort of distressed mint green. I repainted it with Annie Sloan chalk paint in Old White a couple years ago…and I’ve always hated it! I feel like I can still see the green peaking through for whatever reason and I’ve just never liked it. My stash of Old White had gone bad, so I used French Linen on The Engineer’s. It’s so much better! I was worried it would clash with the paint colors in the bedroom, but it blends nicely I think! Repainting mine to match would really help pull the room together. Different tables in the same color seems better than different tables in different colors.

The next project is to remember to stain The Engineer’s table organizer next time I have the stain open. I just keep forgetting, but if you ever feel like you need a way to wrangle up and contain your pocket contents, chargers, and other miscellaneous items I would totally recommend one of these. I snagged this one off Amazon.  It’s really helped keep his side looking neat and tidy…it might honestly be neater than my side. I should maybe work on that!

Here’s a lovely little photo outtake courtesy of Madam Scout-a-Roo!

Ol’ Fashioned Apple Goodness

Have you ever made a recipe that is easy, yet at the same time awkwardly hard?! For me that would be my Grandma Peterson’s Apple Pie Bars. Maybe I just went into the first round of creating the recipe with perceived notions of how it would be. Momma MisHappenings had really talked up the ease with which Grandma used to just whip these all together….it’s so easy…. Let me tell you, that wasn’t my experience but I’ve adapted, concurred, and overcome!

Momma sent me the recipe that Grandma had submitted to the church cookbook, or the county cookbook or some other small town cookbook collaboration. I submit it here as evidence that what my Momma and Aunt remember her doing maybe isn’t correct. They both claim that instead of rolling the first layer of dough, Grandma simply smeared it into the pan with a spoon. I just don’t see how it can work the way they remember! I tried it once and couldn’t at all get it to work for me at all. I’ll guide you through my “new” way, and it comes together fairly easily once you know what you’re in for.

In a mixer, combine the flour, sugar, and salt and mix on low. Slowly add the margarine, or butter, in small cubes to the mixer. The fat should be cool but not cold. If it’s soft enough to smear on bread that’s too soft. I’ve made the recipe with both butter and margarine and I don’t see a marked difference between the two…..just use what you have on hand.

Let the fat combine with the flour and sugar until it reaches a grainy, small pebble consistency. While that works away in the mixer, separate your egg. Add the yolk to a measuring cup and save the white for later. Break up the yolk a bit, then add milk up to 2/3 of a cup. Add the yolk and milk mixture to the mixer and let it work until it comes together as a dough. Shouldn’t take long. Turn out the dough onto a floured surface and give it a knead or two to just ensure it’s all together.

I would recommend splitting your dough in half, and then steal some from one half and give it to the other. The bottom crust liner needs to come up and a bit over the sides of the cookie sheet, so give that ball a little bit extra dough to get the job done. Grandma calls for using an 11×15 cookie sheet. I don’t have one of those. I have 2 different sized cookie sheets, a 10×15 and a 12×18. I used the large 12×18 for my first batch because I was afraid of overflowing the pan. This created very thin bars and really there wasn’t enough dough to make it work. This week I used the smaller pan and everything came together much better.

Roll out your bottom dough to the approximate size of the pan, and carefully transfer into the bottom of the cookie sheet. I find that using the rolling pin to help pick up the dough and move it. This bottom crust, according to my Momma, Grandma used to use a spoon to just spread the dough into the pan. I tried this once, but for the life of me I can’t get it to spread. The dough isn’t sticky like a cake batter, it’s stiff like pie dough. If you try this and figure out the secret for spreading the dough be sure you let me know!

I don’t measure out the cornflakes, but just do 3-4 handfuls of cereal and crunch it up a bit in your fist before you add it to the top of the rolled dough. I’m not sure the function of the cornflakes. You can’t taste them, but maybe they help absorb liquid from the apples and keep it from soaking into the crust?! Who knows….I just do it cuz Grandma says you need to. I’ve attempted changing Grandma’s recipes enough to know that they only work the way she says they work…..so I just do what I’m directed now!

You’ll add your apples in on top of the cornflakes. The recipe calls for fresh, but if you’re like me and went a little overkill at the apple orchards this fall….you can also use frozen. I have several quart sized bags of prepped apple pie filling in the freezer so that’s what I use for this recipe. You’ll need 1.5 quart bags for this recipe so just be sure you have the bags thawed in advance. You might notice some liquid at the bottom of your thawed bags, just carefully add that to the apples….don’t worry it won’t make the bottom crust soggy. If you’re not using pre-spiced apple filling, you’ll need to sprinkle a layer of cinnamon over the top of the apples at this point.

You’ll now roll out the top crust for the bars. This needs to join with the overhang of the bottom crust, so you can make it a bit smaller than you did the bottom. You want enough to join the two crusts, but you can’t want too much crust piled up along the edges. Again I find it helpful to use the rolling pin to pick up and move the crust onto the top of your apples. Then just carefully work your way around and pinch the edges together till the whole thing is sealed up. You might get a leak or two, but you don’t need to worry about that too much.

You’ll need to find your egg white at this point….hopefully you still have it sitting there! Add a small splash of water to the white and whip it up a bit using a fork. You don’t have to whip it into stiff peaked merengue, just till it gets a bit frothy. If you have a pastry brush, use it to brush the white across the crust to help create a golden crust. I don’t have a pastry brush, so I just drizzle the froth across the top and then use my fingers to carefully spread it evenly over the crust.

Bake at 400 for 40 minutes or until it’s golden brown. The top crust might have puffed up a bit at this point, it will be fine you don’t need to worry about it too much. You don’t need to glaze the bars if you don’t want to, but if you’re going to you need to do it when they are fresh out of the oven. You’ll need to add a bit more lemon juice or water to the powdered sugar than Grandma says to make a glaze. I find it easiest to use a large spoon and do several haphazard passes of glaze drizzle across the top of the bars. Then, gently use the back of the spoon to spread the glaze….or leave the messy drizzle if that’s more your style. You’ll need to let the bars too before you cut into them, otherwise the apple filling won’t set and you’ll end up with a little bit of a mess. True life story….the slight messiness is totally worth it to eat one of these babies warm!

Winter Has Arrived

It’s officially that time of year!!

  The wind, freezing rain, and snow have arrived and brought with them a sense of winter and Christmas.  The Engineer and I weren’t even planning on being home this weekend, we were hoping to go down to Momma MisHappening’s to spend the weekend trying to fill my turkey tag.  That just isn’t going to happen.  Nothing about sliding down an ice coated interstate for 80 miles and then sitting in a blizzard waiting for a turkey to waddle on by sounds like a good time.  So instead…..I shall be catching up on laundry and crafting!  I’ve got several craft projects I’m working on, and some I can’t share until after the holiday….but there is one I can share and maybe you can use for some Christmas decorating!

CRAFTING TIME IS HERE!  

(Best said in the Charlie Brown sing-song style) 

So, let’s say that hypothetically you’ve been hunting , and that those hunting trips have been successful.  Let’s also assume that you’d like to take a more nose to tail…I prefer snoot to toes….approach to using the animals you bring home.  Top that all off with seeing some expensive feather spheres and wreaths in shops about town (Here’s looking at your $70 foam wreath at Scheel’s :/ )….and you’ve got yourself a full blown holiday crafting project on your hands!

You may or may not have noticed, but pheasant feathers are frequently used in boujee arts and crafts.  I happened upon some expensive pheasant feather spheres while we were on vacation in Virginia, and instead of paying I decided I could make my own.  Nothing like some feather decorations for The Engineer’s upstairs man loft!  Sadly, the only pheasants that have made it home to me have already been cleaned and vacuumed packed breasts.  While delicious, pheasant breast doesn’t contribute a ton in the crafting department.  So, I used the next best option….duck feathers!  The ducks have been arriving at a fairly steady rate, so I’ve had my choice of some nice feathers.  They are a little bit more work then pheasant feathers, but they get the job done nicely.

To start, you’ll need to prep your feathers.  I plucked the bellies of 2 gadwalls and 1 northern shoveler specifically, but any variety you have that you think looks nice will work just fine.  I kept the species separate as they are slightly different colored, but feel free to mix if you like that look.  It would be better if you have some early season ducks before they become fully plumed and downy soft for winter.  

Duck feathers are very oily, and that oil can slowly degrade the feathers once they are removed from the ducks, so you’ll need to clean the feathers.  This is the hardest part of the project honestly.  I filled the kitchen sink with some warm water with a few drops of regular Dawn dish soap.  Place a colander down into the water, and slowly and carefully add handfuls of feathers and swish to clean.  Pull the colander up and rinse the feathers well with clean water.  

Now…..to dry the feathers……ugh.  I placed the feathers into grocery bags and then used my hair drying to blow the feathers dry.  You’ll need to maintain a firm….but not too tight so the air can’t escape…..grasp of bag around the neck of the dryer.  Also, make sure that the air hole you leave isn’t too large.  If it’s too large, the feathers will shoot up and out of the bag as they dry….which will lead to feathers floating all around you bathroom…….been there done that!  Honestly, this isn’t a great method for drying feathers, but it got the job done.  It’s annoying and VERY time consuming, but it works.  You’ll probably want to leave the feathers sit for a couple days and stir them occasionally to make sure they dry completely.

So fresh and so clean clean!

Now that everything is clean and dry, we can officially get crafting.  You’ll need to pick up a few supplies from your local craft shop.  Some good craft glue, tan or brown paint, a cheap foam brush or two, and some floral foam spheres of whatever size looks good to you.

Start by painting your foam.  If you can happen to find foam that is already dirt colored feel free to skip this.  I didn’t want to risk any of the green foam poking through so I gave them all a rough coat of paint.  It doesn’t have to be pretty or even, we are just looking for some camouflage here.

I recommend using a good tacky craft glue to place the feathers.  There are some cons to such a thick glue, but the pros greatly outweigh them.  You’ll want to start placing feathers from the center top and work down.  Begin by smearing a layer of glue on about the top third of the sphere.  Start layering on the feathers working in concentric circles around the sphere.  If you find that your feathers aren’t sticking, or if portions seem to be lifting, it might be helpful to put a tiny amount of glue on each feather before you place it.  I found that putting some glue on a foam brush and dragging the feathers carefully across it worked to smear on a very thin layer.

If the bases of your feathers are especially downy…or quill-y….you might want to gently trim them.  I ended up having to trim every single one of the gadwall feathers, they were just too fluffy.  It can be hard to cover up all the downy fluff, although if you don’t mind some fandom fluffy tuffs then just glue the feathers as they come.  

Every 3 circles around the sphere you’ll want to apply another ring of glue.  Use the foam brush to carefully dab on the glue.  You’ll want to be carful not to get too close to the previous row of feathers.  If you snag one it’ll pull bits of feather in weird directions, or maybe even pull the feather off depending on how recently it was placed.  Just use your finger or a toothpick to smooth the feathers back down, and if that doesn’t work just layer another feather or two on top.

Continue until you reach the bottom of the sphere.  You’ll end up with a quill end or two visible at the bottom of the sphere, but it’ll be alright….no one but you will ever even know.  Plus, just put that side down!  Let your spheres dry and then use them however the wind takes you.  Mine are destined to be nestled into a garland upstairs in the man loft!  I didn’t apply any sealant to mine, but depending on your intended use you might want to hit them with a thin spray coat of a sealant.  I wouldn’t recommend anything you’d need to brush on, it will just disturb the flow of the feathers.

New Protein

Duck season is upon us!!

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A successful harvest so far this season means that I’ve had a fun chance to do something new with a protein I’ve never used.  I’ve had restaurant duck plenty of times, and it’s always been delicious.  But wild duck is a whole different animal, and it really puts a whole new spin on it when you can take something all the way from harvest to plate.

In addition to eating we also have some wings stashed in the freezer for a taxidermy/biology lab style display I want to do for the upstairs loft.  I’m thinking something along the lines of displaying the wings with little tags and their Latin names.  It’s a nice way to blend hunting with science in a stylized way, and it will feature the prettiest part of the birds….in my opinion.  Using as much of what we bring home as possible is something I really put a lot of focus on, The Engineer might say too much focus….but he usually goes along with my ideas! 🙂

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The most shocking part of duck season so far is how strongly Madam Roo has taken to the whole situation.  My usual timid, perpetually nervous girl has taken to charging right through The Engineer when he arrives home that she can go investigate what he’s brought home every morning.  Poor guy just wants to say hello to her, and she can’t even be bothered until she’s accessed the daily harvest.

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I’ve shared this already on Instagram, but it’s just too good and too cute!
“The Stay at Home, Delicate Duck Hunter”

I have grand cooking plans for all sorts of wild game, so I tend to get a bit bossy with home the birds should be cleaned.  Sadly, it’s been a bit too early in the season to pluck a bird for roasting.  They have all been about halfway between their summer feathers and having their dense winter, downy feathers grow in.  This has just led to a mess of plucking, so sadly I haven’t had a bird yet for roasting with my canned apple chutney.  That will come with time I’m sure, but I am antsy to try that and let you know how it goes!

While we patiently wait for the birds to fully plume for winter, and hopefully cleaner plucking, we’ve been breasting out the birds.  I tend to be a bit more skilled than The Engineer in that capacity, so bird cleaning as really become a whole family affair.  We usually try and keep Scout in the house while the knives are flying, but she’s taken to crying like she’s being beaten if we are out with the ducks without her, so we usually cave about halfway through.

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Ummm excuse me iz trying to investigate pleez!

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Pleez do not mind while I investigate these ducks pleez….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My very first adventure into cooking duck was Spicy Thai Duck Burgers curtesy of From Field to Plate.  I’ve used other From Field to Plate recipes before, and I’ve always had really great results.  I really can’t say enough good things about his lime and tequila turkey marinade!  The burgers were alright, but I would defiantly tweak the spices and flavors next time we make them.

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I think I’m just not a huge fan of cinnamon paired with meats.  I know that it’s a normal flavor profile in some Eastern cuisines, but it’s just not my favorite flavor.  Also, I didn’t find it all that spicy, and even The Engineer thought it was too mild.  I will say I did half the jalapeño in the slaw, but usually a single jalapeño is all The Engineer can tolerate spice wise.  It’s so hard to know especially because every pepper is a little different, but it could have used way more oomph.

I would definitely remove the cinnamon and amp up the spice for round two.  Also, I don’t like peanut sauce and it was a Wednesday night, and I was feeling lazy…..so I cheated and bought some peanut sauce for The Engineer.  The From Field to Plate homemade version is probably much better.  If you’re into peanut sauce and give it a try let me know!

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High on list of things you don’t want in your burger patty…..

This week we were a bit crunched for time, so instead of trying a new recipe we went to an old fall back.  Friday night duck taco and nacho night with margaritas was exactly what this week called for!  Just treat it exactly the way you’d use regular ground beef, and no one will even know you’re sneaking waterfowl into the dinner rotation!

I do a bit feel like I’m not really using the ducks to their full flavor potential, and it’s making me a little bummed.  I’m not really in love with the texture of ground duck….it’s a bit soft.  More on the side of ground turkey or chicken then say ground beef or deer.  It defiantly goes better, in my opinion, with something crunchy….slaw or tortilla chips.  But, at the end of the day, it’s all getting gobbled up and that’s really what counts.

Meals do really mean more when you know the time and sacrifice that have been put in to make them happen.  So many people have moved so far away from knowing where their food comes from.  Nothing that arrives on your table arrives by magic, and I’m glad that in this house we are active participants in at least some of the meals that arrive on the dining room table.

Bonus points for not having any shot end up in the taco meat!  I’ll take that as my major victory for the week!!

Sore Fingers and Stocked Freezers

The flip flops have been exchanged for Ugg boots, and cold weather is here to stay for the next several months.  As much as I’ve complained about the looming cold weather’s effects on my Summer garden, the dip in temperatures has given me an opportunity to practice one of my favorite Fall activities…..

Squirreling everything possible away like a crazy and deranged food hoarder!

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I have no idea why, but I love getting everything squared away for winter.  I guess it’s just nice to make the best use of everything.  Somewhere between Labor Day and Halloween I start to act like an old time-y prairie grandma, and I feel an overwhelming responsibility to “put everything up” for the winter…..and I don’t feel bad about that at all!

One of my least favorite tasks of pre-winter hoarding is sorting out all the herbs.  It’s easy, and so important because I do cook with them all winter long, but it does lead to cold, damp, and slightly sore fingers.  My preferred way of preserving my herbs is to freeze them.  It works quite well, and is faster than drying I think.  Plus, I have a secret tip that really saves a ton of prep work time when you need to use the herbs.

First, you’ll need to gather up all your herbs.  I had thyme, oregano, and cilantro that needed to be dealt with this year.  The cilantro was the easiest.  Just cut off near the soil, wash well, and freeze on a cookie sheet.  Once the cilantro is frozen, transfer to a freezer bag and try and remove as much air as possible.  Pull out as needed for Mexican nights or game day guacamole.  I find the beauty of freezing them is that they tend to behave very similar to fresh once you add them into recipes.

The thyme and oregano takes a bit more work, but it isn’t hard.  If you have a delicate, wispy thyme plant you might be able to get away with freezing everything whole.  I am apparently some sort of thyme miracle worker and managed to grow a small herb tree.  No one wants twigs in their tomato sauce, so I have to pluck all the leaves off the stalks.

I like to place a freezer bag into a quart sized, wide mouth canning jar, and then just strip the leaves off directly into the bag.  Pinch the base of each twig and gently pull towards the thinner end.  For large, multi branched stems you will need to probably pluck each stem singularly.  With a little practice and patience you should end up with a bunch of tiny thyme leaves in the bag and a garbage can full of naked….or nearly naked mini trees.  Close the bag, leaving some air in, and toss in the freezer.  Once the leaves have frozen, crumple them slightly to break them up and remove the air from the bag.

Follow the same process for the oregano as you do for the thyme.  Here comes the time saving secret!  Once the leaves have frozen…..give them a really good crumpling and crunching.  Ta da…..instant chopped oregano leaves!  Thyme is so small it doesn’t matter, but basil and oregano leaves can get quite large and in charge.  The post freeze crumple is much faster than chopping everything before freezing!

If you’re looking for a tasty and filling way to use up some of your frozen herbs, might I suggest Chicken Pot Pie Soup!  I made it this week and it was a massive success….AND I DON’T EVEN LKE POT PIES!

Soup is one of The Engineer’s favorites, and even though he would eat soup when it’s 100 degrees outside, I refuse to make it.  This chicken pot pie soup will certainly become a standard in our winter rotation, and it’s easy enough to whip up quickly on a school night!

Chicken Pot Pie Soup

  • 8 oz butter
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 cup flour
  • 6 cups chicken stock
  • 2 tbsp fresh frozen thyme
  • 2 tbsp fresh frozen oregano
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 pinch of ground nutmeg
  • 1 large potato, diced
  • 3 carrots, diced
  • 2 cups half and half or milk
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 3 cups rotisserie chicken meat, cubed
  • 1/4 pound deli ham. sliced
  • salt and pepper to taste

In a large stock pot, melt the butter over medium heat.  Once melted, add the garlic and onion, cooking until fragrant and translucent.  Slowly add in the flour, whisking vigorously to form a smooth rue.  Cook the flour for a few minutes being careful to stir so the mixture doesn’t burn.  We need to cook out the raw flour taste, so just keep an eye on it and let it go a bit golden brown. Whisk the chicken stock into the rue being sure to get out any lumps.  Add the potato, carrots, and spices and cook until the veggies are tender.

Once you potato and carrot are tender, add the peas, ham, chicken, and half and half.  Drop the temperature to simmer, and just let everything warm through.

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Serve up hearty bowls of this you’re sure to keep the chilly temps at bay.  For regular nights I would serve it up with a nice loaf of crusty bread for dipping.  Or, if you’re feeling extra fancy….or like me, you have some spare pie crust sitting in the freezer…..you can make some crust crisps to give it a more traditional “pot pie” feeling.

I just rolled my dough into a large rectangle, cut thin strips, and twisted into fun little pie sticks.  I topped with a bit of sea salt and baked at 375 for 20 minutes.  Some of them did come untwisted in the oven, but they were still flakey and delish!

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Herby, warm, and delicious!

Changing of the Season

Here’s to hoping your shift into the Fall season has been less abrupt than ours.  It felt like we went from glorious, sunshiny days to sad, deary, and cold all overnight.  Such is life in the Midwest I suppose.  You’d think I would be used to it by now.  This week we are due to have a weather swing of more than 30 degrees!  It’s been chilly but since there is still tank top weather visible in the forecast I’m refusing to turn on the heat.

I’m honestly most upset about the toll the abrupt cold temperature swing is having on my garden.  My poor pepper plants all still have flowers on them!  I have little baby poblano peppers that almost certainly aren’t going to achieve their maximum potential….it’s so annoying!  Gardening season is over I suppose….time to harvest what I can salvage, dry all my herbs, and nestle in for winter!

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This is so true….us Midwesterners know what’s up!

With the changing of the seasons comes a shift in activities.  Twice now I have insisted that The Engineer go apple picking with me!  Additionally, I’ve forced him to stand in front of many a pile of pumpkins while I attempt to select just the right shaped pumpkin for the front porch!  I don’t even generally decorate for fall….why do fall when you can skip straight to Christmas right?!  Something just has me in the mood to switch it up this year I guess.

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Would you just look at that?!  Perfectly picked pumpkins, squash, and corn cobs! 🙂

If you pick the apples, you’ll need to do something with the apples.  Nothing will make your house seem warm and cozy….even if the heat isn’t on yet…..than making apple butter!  I hadn’t ever tried my hand at apple butter previously, but I’ve whipped of several of these batches, and I’ve even had it taste tested by several friends and coworkers.  The results have been an overwhelming success, and it honestly doesn’t get much easier than this recipe!

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This first batch of apples was a variety called Cortland…I’m not sure why my bag says mix.

Before I get into the recipe I have an important public service announcement to make!

In case you find yourself preparing to go apple picking and looking up recipes wondering, “How many apples do I need for all this festive, fall fun-ness!?”  Well let me give you a list of what 1 peck of apples will get you.  For those of you not super up on your apple picking terms and quantities….1 peck is roundabout 10 pounds!

From my first peck of apples I made:

  • Nearly 2 full batches of apple butter….the second batch was maybe 5 apples short of full
  • 12 caramel apple and pecan pasties
  • 2 quarts of apple pie filling
  • Random apples for raw eating throughout the weekend

I now return you to your regularly scheduled recipe post!

Apple Butter

Ingredients

  • Apples
  • Brown Sugar
  • Cinnamon
  • Nutmeg

Supplies

  • Crock Pot
  • Immersion Blender — if a smoother texture is desired
  • Canning jars and water bath, or containers for freezing

Directions

Wash, core, and simply rough chop your apples into bite sized pieces.  Fill your crock pot until the very top and you can just get the lid on.  We have a two crock pots, but I used our smaller 4 quart sized pot.  The measurements are relative to that, but feel free to make more or less to suit your needs.

Place the lid on your crock pot and let cook on Low for about 12 hours.  I started mine in the evening and just let it go to town all night long.  There’s no need to add any liquid to the apples!

After 12 hours, stir your apple mixture.  It will be very soft and broken down on the bottom, the top apples might still be a bit firm, depending on how large a batch you’re working on.  To you apple mush add 1 cup loosely packed Brown Sugar, 1 tbsp Cinnamon, and 1/4 tsp Nutmeg.  Again, this is for 4 quarts of fairly tangy apples.  I like to taste the tang in the finished product, but if you like it sweeter feel free to adjust to your own personal tastes.

Recover you crock and let everything stew and simmer together for another 3-5 hours.

After this second cooking, if the mixture is still looking chunkier than you’d like, use an immersion blender, or regular blender, to make a smoother texture.  If you don’t mind it a bit chunky, just skip that step.  I’ve done both and it all comes out just fine, just what you prefer.

If canning, place your mixture into clean, half pint jars.  Process in a water bath for 10 minutes and let rest over night to seal.

4 quarts of apples gave me 4 half pint jars plus a few extra tablespoons to enjoy on the fly!

I didn’t freeze any myself, but my coworker always freezes her.  Bag or place in portioned containers to freeze and enjoy at a later date!

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