A Day at the Park

Before the cold really set in, we decided to take a walk to the park.

One of the awesome things about homeschooling is having free run of the park.

That gives Finn the freedom to play without feeling like he’s either too old or making younger children feel awkward.

Apparently Thadd takes swinging very seriously. Riding in the stroller, on the other hand…

December

I can’t believe it’s already December. I love this time of year, but, honestly I could do without all the holidays making what little we have of fall and winter fly by. Meanwhile stinking, hot summer lasts from mid-April to Halloween with no big holidays to break it up. 

Anyway, unlike most years where I’m busy with random chaos and crafting until I realize Christmas is a week away and I still haven’t decorated, I got out our little Charlie Brown tree yesterday and let the boys decorate it. I stayed in the next room folding laundry so I wouldn’t be tempted to micromanage. 

Because that pretty much sums it up. They did a good job, though, and since they did it, I’m less likely to keep rearranging ornaments to get everything just right.

The lighting in that room is terrible. You can make out the toddler-height holes starting to develop while the top of the tree is looking a little crowded. I predict that by Christmas, the bottom of the tree up to about 3.5 feet off the ground will be bare except for lights.

If you look closely, you’ll see some painted pinecone decorations. When Finn was little, I got a huge batch of pinecones and spray painted them red, white and silver. Then I tied jute twine loops on them for hooks. That way, I didn’t have to worry about broken glass if he took them off the tree. He really didn’t bother with them much, though. As you can see, I’ve since gotten braver with ornaments, as have my children.

Have a wonderful weekend, and if you’d like to stay up to date on sales and new items in my Etsy shop, please sign up for my newsletter using the box to the right or at the bottom if you’re mobile. Thanks!

Why I Love my Electric Pressure Cooker, aka Knockoff Instant Pot

Last Christmas my lovely parents bought us an 8 qt. GoWise Pressure cooker that I have used almost daily ever since. This is the exact one I have: 

With all the sales happening, and the Instant Pot craze still going strong, I know lots of people will be getting an electric pressure cooker and then wondering what to do with it. At least that’s what I did. Now that I’ve used mine for a while, I have some favorite uses for it to share with newbies. I have never used an official Instant Pot, so I can’t say how they compare. They should work about the same, though, so if you have an Instant Pot or other similar electric pressure cooker you should be able to enjoy all this awesomeness, too. 

Boiled eggs: Boiled eggs on the stovetop are easy, unless you’re getting ready for work or school or have young children or are otherwise easily distracted. Then you either burn them or undercook them. Peeling them also is hit or miss. Sometimes the shell comes off easily, other times it takes half the egg white with it. 

In the electric pressure cooker, I can put a dozen eggs in the steamer basket with a little water, push the button for eggs (mine has 1,3, and 5 minute settings for soft, medium and hard), and forget about it. The end result is perfectly cooked eggs that peel so easily my two year old can do it.

Potatoes: Even in the microwave, I have a hard time getting potatoes and sweet potatoes to cook properly. It seems like I always have to restart it a few times to finally get them done. With the pressure cooker, I set it for 15-17 minutes depending on how soft I want them, and they are always done. I’m trying to quit using my microwave all together, too, so the pressure cooker is definitely the faster option compares to the oven.

Slow cooker recipes: Anything you’d make in a crockpot can be cooked in the pressure cooker. You can either use the slow cooker setting, or, if you forgot about cooking dinner until after lunch, you can cook it under pressure and have it done in an hour or less.

Not only that, but, unlike with a slow cooker, you can use the sauté setting to brown meats or anything that needs browning first. That means more flavor with fewer dirty dishes.

Beans: If I forget to presoak dry beans, I’ll put them in my pressure cooker for five minutes to do a quick presoak, drain, and add back to the pot along with the seasonings and broth or cooking water, then cook using the bean setting. It’s possible to skip the presoak entirely and go straight to cooking, if I’m short on time, but I prefer to presoak when I can. 

If I get them cooking early enough in the day, I’ll switch to the slow cooker setting after they’ve cooked with pressure. That gives them the super yummy, second day flavor on day one.

Stews, soups and curries: Browning meats and onions in the pot add flavor, and you can use the pressure then slow cook trick to further develop the flavor.

Bone broth: Normally I would simmer bones all day on the stove for broth. With the pressure cooker, I set it to the two hour maximum time and get yummy bone broth.

Stackable foods: Smaller meats like chicken breasts, vegetables and rice can be put into separate heat-proof containers and steam cooked at the same time. I usually cook too much at once to do that, but when it works out, it is handy and doesn’t heat up the kitchen like using the oven.

Rice: It cooks rice even better than my little rice cooker, and I don’t risk burning it like I do on the stovetop. (There’s lots of distractions here, people.) I don’t use it much for rice, though, since I usually cook curries and things I serve with rice in the pressure cooker. Whenever my rice cooker dies, though, I’m seriously considering a second, smaller pressure cooker as a replacement. 

Yogurt: I haven’t quite perfected yogurt with any method yet, but so far, the best I’ve made is in jars on the trivet in the pressure cooker. It is still a little runny, but it works well for smoothies.

Baking: I’ve only done this once, but thought I’d mention it. You can bake cakes and breads in it by setting the bread or cake pan on the trivet and adding water to the pot for steam. This helps keep the bread or cake moist, which is especially handy for baking with gluten or grain-free flours.

Thanksgiving Week and Cyber Monday

I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday. We spent the week at home doing nothing but eating and relaxing and eating some more. 

I did lots of baking to keep everything gluten-free. To help make it easier, I picked up a stand mixer. I couldn’t justify the expense of a Kitchenaid right now (and I stupidly passed on buying Aldi’s Ambiano classic stand mixer a few weeks ago when I had the chance), so I went with a Sunbeam Mixmaster. It has a two year warranty, so I think that should give me plenty of time to see if I use it enough to warrant investing in a higher end machine.

So far, I have used it to make a two loave batch of banana nut bread, a two loave batch of apple nut bread, a two loave batch of sweet potato bread, mashed potatoes, mashed sweet potatoes, crust for an apple pie, pizza crust, and a batch of chocolate chip cookies. I bought it last Wednesday. If it survives through Christmas with everything I’m throwing at it, I will give it my highest endorsement. If you’re interested, here’s a link to a similar mixer in white:  Sunbeam 2371 MixMaster Stand Mixer, White

The only thing that made me nervous so far was the sweet potato bread. It was super stiff and thick, and I was lazy and didn’t switch to the dough hooks after combining the wet ingredients. Even so, the mixer still managed with the speed increased. Next time, though, I will be smart and use the correct attachments for the task.

We took another batch of pecans to be cracked, and bought another $5 box of bruised apples and a few marked down bunches of bruised bananas. That supplied the nuts and fruits for most of my baking. Unfortunately I don’t have photos of any of that. 

I do have a photo of the apple cider vinegar I’m making from the peelings I saved from the first batch of apples. This is my first time to make ACV, so I’ll hold off on writing a how-to until it’s complete.

Today is Cyber Monday, so I’ve marked down everything in my SubEarthan Cottage Etsy shop by 20%. No coupons needed. ☺

Fruit and Nuts

We have eleven pecan trees, so along with the leaves, pecans cover our yard this time of year. We already had about ten pounds collected just from our front yard, so this weekend we took them to the farmer’s market to have them cracked. Even though we still have to separate the shell from the meat, it’s so much faster than doing it all by hand that it is totally worth it. 

Cracked pecans

While we were there, Thadd discovered a big box full of bruised apples for five dollars, so I bought those, too. Thanks to my apple peeler-slicer-corer contraption, I was able to quickly get them ready to freeze for later. Here’s a similar apple peeler to the one I use:

Johnny Apple Peeler by VICTORIO VKP1010, Cast Iron, Suction Base

Some of the apples went straight to the stove with cinnamon and sugar to have as a sweet side and baked oatmeal topping.

Apples!

I’m looking for more recipes to use the apples and pecans that aren’t overly sugary. So far, I’ve found a recipe for apple cider vinegar that makes use of the saved peels. 

In the meantime, I made my favorite pecan dessert that is the opposite of not sugary: pecan pralines. (That’s puh-cahn prah-leans, y’all.) They are dangerously easy, especially when you have a ton of pecans on hand and the rest of the ingredients are kitchen staples. 

Pecan Pralines
Still too hot…

Here’s the recipe I use:

Pecan Pralines

3/4 cup each of brown sugar and granulated sugar

1/2 cup of milk

1 cup of pecans

1 tablespoon of butter

1/4 teaspoon of vanilla extract

Combine the sugars and milk in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and cook until it reaches the soft ball stage. (That’s when you can put a drop in cold water and it holds together in a ball shape but flattens on your finger when you take it out of the water.) I stir it pretty constantly and check it when it starts to look a little thicker.

Once it is at the soft ball stage, remove it from the heat and stir in the butter, vanilla and pecans until it’s well mixed. Drop the mixture by the spoonful onto waxed paper. If it gets too hard to spoon out, warm it back up for a bit on the stove. It’s best to have the waxed paper ready and work quickly, though. That way you don’t risk burning it and the resulting sadness.  

Resist the temptation to try the yumminess immediately and let it cool. Seriously, let it cool. Hot melty sugar burns! The pralines will be more frosty opaque than glossy and easy to peel off the waxed paper when they are ready. 

I usually get about sixteen pralines from one batch, but it will vary depending on how big you make them.

Enjoy!