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!

Thrifty Knitting Machine – Singer Silver Reed LK-140

A couple of years ago, I really wanted a knitting machine. I like yarn and the thought of making pretty things with yarn has always appealed to me. I started teaching myself to knit and crochet while I was pregnant with Finn. He is eleven now, and it takes me two days of work to make a single dishcloth. So, a knitting machine seemed like a good compromise to speed things up a bit. They are kind of hard to come by, though, especially a well made machine. Besides, I knew nothing about how a knitting machine works, so I got my embroidery machine instead.

Fast forward to two Sundays ago. The family and I were having fun thrift shopping for some office furniture. (That could also read as, “Chris and I were dragging the kids around to thrift stores, with much protesting on their part.”) The first Goodwill store we went to didn’t have much in the way of office furniture. They did have lots of bins out full of miscellaneous stuff that I really wasn’t interested in digging through, until I happened to notice this long rectangular box poking up out of one bin.

That’s the one. It for is a Singer LK-140, made by Silver Reed. It is a plastic bed hobby machine, but a durable hobby machine. I’ve since learned that, except for having ten fewer needles, it is identical to the newer LK-150 knitting machine. That means parts are easy to come by.

The box was so well taped, and it had a good weight to it, so I decided not to even open it before buying it. I figured I probably wouldn’t even know what may have been missing. Also, let’s zoom in on the price tag:

Back when I was actively looking for a knitting machine, I would have thought getting one for $80 on eBay was a fairly good deal. At $5.49, it was worth it even if it was only good for parts.

When I finally opened it at home, I did notice a few parts were missing, but only the table clamps, manual and transfer tools. I found a free manual online, and the other two items are easily and inexpensively replaced. They also aren’t essential, so I have played with it a bit.

I did need to replace the sponge strip. That’s pretty standard for an older machine. Luckily on this machine, foam weatherstripping works great as an inexpensive replacement. I also needed to clean the needles, because they were covered with gunk from the old sponge strip. With that, I was able to set it up and play.

There is definitely a learning curve, but it is fun. I have noticed, though, that you can still tell it is my own handiwork.

See the dropped stitch. It’s like my signature. The best part, though, is it only took me a minute or two to make that swatch, as opposed to a day or two. A little more practice, and I might be able to make two or three dishcloths a day without dropped stitches, or a scarf with a few holes. Seriously, though, it is fun, and I look forward to coming up with new projects and products to make.

As for office furniture, I felt bad that I got a new toy but we hadn’t found the thing we really needed, so I did a quick craigslist search. There just happened to be a desk posted locally in the free section.

Excuse the mess. That photo was taken while everything was getting tossed around with moving in the desk. There is a trim piece that needs to be put in place on the top. Overall, it is in good shape. More importantly, it provides us with the two main things we needed for the office: more desk space and shelving. Best of all, it was free!

PSL PSA: A Pumpkin Spice Latte Recipe

Fall is unofficially here, which means it’s time for all things pumpkin spice. Last year, I came across a recipe for a pumpkin spice chai latte. It was yummy, but I’m more of a coffee drinker, so I swapped the tea for coffee. With one or two other tweaks, I had a pumpkin spice latte made with mostly healthy ingredients for pennies.

Recipe:
1 and ¼ cup brewed coffee (or tea)
1 tablespoon of pumpkin puree
2-3 tablespoons of milk (original recipe called for coconut. I usually use almond milk or whole milk)
1/3-1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ginger
1/8 teaspoon cloves
1/8 teaspoon allspice
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
Optional: a dash to 1/8 teaspoon of turmeric
Maple syrup, sugar or honey to taste. I like maple syrup.

To make: Blend all ingredients together. Top with whipped cream and a dash of nutmeg. Enjoy. Repeat. 🙂

I’ve also used this basic recipe to make a pumpkin spice smoothie. All you do is swap out the coffee for the milk of your choice and add a frozen banana or a fresh banana and some ice. I also like to add an extra spoonful of pumpkin to up the vitamin content, as well as some chia or flax seeds. You could easily leave those out, though.

Have a happy Pumpkin Spice season!

Quick Drawstring Bag Tutorial or How to Reuse Your SubEarthan Cottage Soap Wrapping

I wrap my soaps in fabric because it looks nice, it allows the soap to breathe (read here for why), and because it feels better than plastic. I often wonder what happens to the wrapping. I’m sure there are some that toss it. I know of one person who collects the fabric for quilts. For those of you who, like me, don’t want to throw away something that could be useful but don’t know what to do with it, I have a tutorial for a drawstring pouch, just for you.

This is done with the wrapping from one of my soaps, but you could make it in any size you like.

Materials
Cloth wrapper from soap (roughly 8×11 inches)
Jute string from soap (about 29 inches)
Thread

Tools
Needle or Sewing machine
Safety pin or Bodkin
Scissors
Iron

First, iron your fabric flat. Then, fold down a long edge about 3/4 of an inch to one inch and press. This is for the casing. It doesn’t have to be super precise.

Sew a straight seam along the bottom of the flap to form the casing. All the sewing can be done by hand or machine. I have no time or patience, so I choose machine. Fold your material in half with right sides together like a book.

The fold is at the bottom of this photo.

Next, starting just below the casing seam, sew down the side and across the bottom. I use anywhere from a 1/4 to 1/2 inch seam allowance for this. Again, it doesn’t have to be precise.

With scissors, clip the bottom corners, being careful not to cut your stitching. You could probably skip this step, but it helps the corners look square and crisp. Turn your bag right side out.

Now it’s time to thread the string. Tie one end of the string to a safety pin, large paper clip, or attach a small bodkin. This makes it easier to work it through the casing. Thread it through the casing, safety pin first.

Once you get the string to the other side, remove your safety pin or other tool and adjust the string so that the ends are even.

Knot the ends together once or twice to keep it from coming out.

Ta-da! It’s done! Perfect for organizing your purse, storing jewelry or other small items, or as a small gift bag.

Or holding your favorite bar of soap.

Tutorials are always a little complicated to write because it’s easy to overlook small steps in things you do frequently. If something is unclear, please ask. 🙂

If you have any other creative uses for a SubEarthan Cottage soap wrapper, I would love to hear it!

Flavoring Your Kombucha

When you get your homebrew timing right, kombucha is pretty yummy on it’s own. Sometimes you want something a little different, though. Or maybe straight kombucha just isn’t your thing but you still want the probiotic benefits. Luckily you can easily change the taste of your kombucha to make it more palatable or fix a soda craving.
Mixing
The simplest way to flavor kombucha is to mix it with juice or another beverage. This is a great way to get started drinking kombucha. To start, add 1-2 ounces of kombucha to a glass of your favorite juice. As your body and tastes adjust to drinking kombucha you can increase the kombucha to juice ratio.
I like to dilute 3-4 ounces kombucha with sparkling or still water, add a splash of lemon or lime juice and a bit of stevia. This makes a refreshing summer drink when served over ice.
Kombucha is also nice as an add in for smoothies. It can be fizzy on it’s own, though, so make sure to account for that when adding it to blended drinks. Leaving a little extra headspace in the blender is a good idea. Or, stir it in after everything else is blended.
IMG_1939
Flavored with Peach and Cherry herbal teas in a second ferment.
Second ferment
You can also add flavoring in a second, shorter ferment. Basically you’ll put your flavorings in a bottle or jar (I like canning jars), fill almost to the top with your brewed kombucha and cap the jar. Leave at room temperature for 2-4 days and then refrigerate or drink.
The second ferment can increase the carbonation in your kombucha, so it’s a good idea to be cautious when opening and storing the jars. I’ve never had a jar break from the pressure, but I have had the metal disks on canning jar lids pop up in the middle. If I think too much pressure is building up, I “burp” the jars by opening them just enough to release some of the pressure and recap.
There’s a variety of things you can add for the second ferment. Really, any herbs, spices or fruits can be added. If you want to increase the carbonation, add a little bit of sugar, honey, raisins or a sweet fruit. My favorite thing to do is put enough orange peel to fill the jar halfway, add a teaspoon of sugar or honey, top with kombucha and let it sit for two days. It makes a kind of healthier orange soda and uses something that would normally have been tossed.
IMG_1942
Orange peel and honey kombucha.
Other flavorings I’ve tried:
Lemons and limes cut into wedges, sliced or just the peels. You can also use a lemon or lime half after juicing it for another recipe.
Fresh sliced ginger, plain or with a dash of chai spice and squirt of honey.
Fruit flavored herbal teas, one bag per quart jar.
Blueberries.
Next week I plan to do a FAQ/kombucha myths post. If you have any questions please share them in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them.
Find all of my kombucha posts here: http://subearthancottage.com/search/label/Kombucha