Sunday, June 30, 2013

Where did I go!?

I realized that I had not posted anything in a while, but hadn't realized that it had been QUITE so long! Although, the last time I posted coincided time wise with when I went from working 12 hours a week to full time, so it shouldn't surprise me. 

I used to work for a large corporate office of a massive retail chain. My last position with that company was as a project manager for a huge project.  I loved what I was doing, I did it well. Prior to that I was in system support for that company and through my adult career I held the same position for a couple other large companies. 
I tried to surround myself with happiness at work

In December of 2010 I found myself sitting at my desk crying and realized "No one is financially dependent on me anymore, why am I still doing a job I never wanted??"  When I went to college right out of high school (Actually, I was still in high school when I went to college overlapping my senior year of college and my freshmen year of high school) I was a biology major, theater minor.. and I then spent the next 20 years of my life sitting in front of a computer. I had stayed in that position through horrible bosses, 2 hour commutes, and other unhappy situations because I was a single mother and needed to keep a roof over my kids head. That was no longer the case.... I realized I could be free!

So, (keep in mind the economy at the time and you will realize how horrible my work situation was.. actually like I said, I liked what I did... just NOT for who I was doing it for) I quit my job, gave up my apartment and car..... and went and hiked the Appalachian Trail obviously. 

Long distance hiking is something I honestly believe everyone should do at least once in their life. It doesn't have to be a massive distance... just be out in the woods.... with your thoughts.. and everything you need on your back for oh.. a long weekend. It puts everything in perspective. You realize the important things in life. Where is the next water source, and is it going to rain. Not who said what to whom, and what someone was wearing, and if a report might be a day late.... much less that you are stuck in commuter hell traffic and  might be 3 minutes late to work even though you worked 50 hours already that week.  

After hiking the Trail (I made it 850 miles before deciding to come home) my life was extremely different. I paired my life down to the essentials. I moved back into an apartment in my mother's house and worked at a friend's restaurant. My only bills were my cell phone and helping my mother with the electric. I then worked part time at a small tax office for tax season. One of the perks there was that they did my tax return. Lo and behold when you used to have a pretty high tax bracket and only worked 1/4 of the year.... you get back a LOT in taxes! I took the rest of the year off and just did a few things here and there to make some pocket money. This lasted through the summer and into the fall. Although, my Awesome August Adventure (I'm sure I will have to blog that one now) pretty much took up the bulk of my money reserves and I decided it was time to go back and get a job. 

I ended up finding a part time position as a receptionist at an outpatient mental health clinic. Nothing I thought I would ever do. I started out working 12 hours a week and am now full time. I love it. I love the people I work with. I love the work I do. I love the people I deal with. And most of all, I love who I work for. I can honestly say I am friends with everyone I work with. I don't go a week without thinking to myself  "I love my job!"  I make a fraction of my previous income, but my stress is even smaller than that!  

Anyway, that is where my time has been going. I have been documenting adventures over the past 6 months with the intention of blogging them, so hopefully I can catch up! 

Friday, January 18, 2013

Let's play "Chopped!"

I always hit the discount sections of the supermarket. My favorite is the discount produce rack. My market always (usually...) has a great supply of fruits and veggies that might not be "pretty" enough to be displayed on the shelf, or might need to be eaten in the next couple days. Between my dehydrator, juicer, canning, and soups, I have no problem taking many pounds of peppers, apples, mushrooms, etc off their hands at a great price! (usually they have perfect apples on there for $0.49/lb! Even organic apples!)

Anyway, my market also has a discount dairy shelf, bakery, grocery, deli and even meats.  I have decided lately, that instead of thinking to myself... "Hmmm, I think I will make this particular thing for dinner."   I allow the discount racks to dictate my ingredients for what I am going to make. Today was a great windfall!  Not a lot of produce (that makes me sad as I was hoping to resupply my dried apples) but there was hamburger for $1.49 lb! I had also found a dozen organic eggs for $1.50 and a large can of tomatoes for 50 cents. This of course made me think.. " I do believe I will be making a meatloaf for dinner!" I had also seen breadcrumbs on the rack, but on second check, it was cheaper to buy a discount loaf of italian bread for $1 and then I could make my own breadcrumbs. 

I got home and sliced the Italian bread, put it all onto cookie sheets in a single layer in a 300° for 15 minutes, then turning and giving it another 15 minutes. Then I tossed them into my food processor and pulsed them down into bread crumbs!

I decided to go with this recipe for meatloaf. It looks interesting. I will update with reviews from myself and the man. 

For dessert, I am going to make strawberry shortcake! My boyfriend had just said last night that strawberry shortcake was one of his favorites, but with the strawberry filling type strawberries instead of fresh. There happened to also be cans of strawberry pie filling on the discount rack!  He was adamant that it be with the biscuit type shortcake instead of the sponge cake type cake. So, I decided I will make my biscuit recipe I have had made since I was a teenager. 

Sky~High Biscuits

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour (or just another cup of white)
  • 4½ tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ¾ tsp cream of tartar
  • ¾ cup COLD butter
  • 1 egg beaten
  • 1 cup milk (I used vanilla almond milk)

In a bowl combine the flours, baking powder, salt, and cream of tartar. 
Cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse cornmeal.
Add egg and milk, stirring quickly and briefly. Knead lightly on a floured board. 
Roll or pat gently to 1-inch thickness. Cut into 1-2 inch biscuits. Place in a greased 10 inch iron skillet or 9 inch square pan. For crusty biscuits, separate on a cookie sheet. Brush the top of the biscuits with milk.
Bake at 450° for 12 to 15 minutes. 

Friday, January 4, 2013


Last week I found this pasta machine in a thrift store for $9.99. I HAD to get it since it is normally sold for about $90. Today was pasta day!  

I had was out of white flour and so I used whole wheat and spelt. I made a ring of 2 1/2 cups of whole wheat and 1 cup of spelt. Then broke 4 eggs into the well and sprinkled about a teaspoon of salt on it. Mixed up the eggs in the well slowly incorporating the flour until I was able to make it into a dough ball. I kneaded the ball for about 5 minutes, trying to make sure not to let it get too tough.  I had a lot of flour left (and made another couple of 1 egg batches).  I then flattened it out with a roller (flouring it as needed ) and fed it through the pasta maker. I cooked some right away for about 4 minutes in boiling water. It worked! I was amazed! And now I have a whole bunch of pasta made up and drying. I am going to try a gluten free batch next :)

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Chips and Salsa for pennies!

I am huge into hitting the discount racks at the supermarket. The produce rack is my favorite!  Most of the time, the produce it totally unblemished and in perfect condition. I don't know what their criteria is for things like apples, but I would say I have only found about 5% of the apples having something like a dime sized bruise on them. Otherwise I am able to run away with pounds and pounds of honeycrisps, galas, a range of organics, grannys, etc. Most of these apples usually run for about $2.50/lb and I am getting them at 49 cents a pound!  

The other day I came away with 25 pounds of apples for $12.  Then a mixture of tomatoes, lemons,  and avocado's that would normally have been about $30 for just $6.50!

So.. today (my 12/12/12 birthday by the way) is produce processing day!  
Usually I come home and fill my dehydrator with apple slices and make apple sauce, but the tomatoes won't keep as long, so I needed to do something with the 7 pounds of tomatoes I had!  

I decided to throw a bunch into the dehydrator to make "sun dried" tomatoes. I sliced them about 1/4 inch and placed them on the trays, then sprinkled them with a bit of salt and some dried basil. 

I also have a bunch of jalapenos I had picked up last week. I am planning on making chipotle out of them, but need to make a smoker for that and have a full day available to tend them. So, I figured I would use up some of them. I found a recipe for jalapeno salsa.  Very easy!

I took 

  • 6 jalapenos and just cut the stems off (I decided to leave the seeds in order to make a HOT salsa! If you want it more mild, remove the seeds)
  • quartered 6 large tomatoes
  • 4-5 cloves of garlic
  • 1 small onion quartered
  • salt
  • sugar

I  rubbed the peppers and tomatoes with a little olive oil and put them into a couple large glass baking dishes at 400° for about a half hour. Then after they cooled a bit threw them into the food processor with the garlic, onion and about a tsp of salt. I tweaked it a bit with a smidge more salt and a little bit of sugar to cut the acid and Viola! Salsa!

Well.. now I needed something to have the salsa with.... and sooooooo I made corn chips! I couldn't believe how easy these were. 

  • 1 cup of cornmeal
  • 1 Tbsp oil
  • 1/2 c boiling water
  • salt to taste (about 1 tsp)

  I spread this out on a parchment lined cookie tray and placed another piece of parchment over it so I could smish it really thin.You may need to add more corn meal, or more water to get it to a spreadable consistency.  I scored it into corn chip shapes, then baked at 400° for about 10-15 min. I did one batch that wasn't quite thin enough and they didn't quite get crispy. 

Turned out to be pretty good if I do say so myself!  Salsa (like granola is something you can play with. You can make it chunkier, smoother, add green or red bell peppers, maybe red onion. I wish I had some chipotle to add to it! Have fun with it 

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Teaberry (Wintergreen) Muffins and Tea

I spent a couple hours yesterday tromping around the woods gathering teaberry berries and leaves with the intent of making muffins and tea. 

At first, I had my plan that I would gather the required 1 cup of berries on my way out into the woods, then I would gather leaves on my way back. After I had gathered about 3/4 cup of berries, I realized, I really should be gathering the greens at the same time!

So.. I have determined the most efficient way of gathering teaberry.  Basically, when you see a berry (which is relatively few and far between compared to the vast landscape of greenery).. just pull the whole thing up!  These plants will definitely NOT suffer a loss if they are pulled up by the root. I originally just tried to pull the leaves along with the berry, but inevitably the whole plant would come up most of the time. I found that if I just put the plant stem between my cupped fingers and pulled up, I could strip off the green along with the berry. This turned out to be quite efficient and I was able to gather enough leaves and berries to make a large batch of tea and muffins. 

My page on teaberry will help you to identify the plant and give you information about the benefits if you want to attempt these adventures yourself. 

In order to make a medicinal tea:

Fresh leaves have to be fermented in water to develop the wintergreen in them. Pack a jar loosely with fresh leaves and cover it, set it in a warm place for several days until the water is bubbly. Warm the tea by setting it in a pan of hot water. This will be a strong, good-tasting minty tea. The leaves can be strained out and dried in order to use for a tea that won't be so strong. I will be putting them into the dehydrator to make a nice supply!

The muffin recipe I ended up with is:

  • 1 cup oat flour
  • 1 cup quinoa flour (you can create both of these yourself. I use my grain mill, but you could use a food processor or a coffee grinder)
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 Tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 beaten egg
  • 1 cup vanilla almond milk (you can use your preferred milk whether it be cow, soy, etc)
  • 3 Tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 cup washed teaberry berries
Mix flours, baking powder, sugar and salt. In separate bowl mix egg, milk and oil. Add dry ingredients to wet and mix well. (if you use quinoa flour I suggest letting it sit a bit to give the quinoa a chance to soften up a bit) Fold in berries. 
Fill greased muffin tins 3/4 full and bake for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. 

Oh wait, that's Stephen King. I saw him live last night in Lowell :)
.. He doesn't have anything to do with teaberry.. it's just cool!

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Teaberry! (aka Wintergreen... aaka Checkerberry)

When I was out tromping around The Mashpee River Woodlands the other day, I noticed there was a grand amount of teaberry there.

  I think teaberry is the first wild edible I was ever introduced to. I can't remember when, and for the life of me I can't actually ever remember walking in the woods with my mother, but I KNOW she was the one that pointed it out to me. "It is the flavor of Clark's Teaberry Gum" is what she would always tell me. 

I knew of it as teaberry my entire life. I don't think I ever made the connection to wintergreen until I was going on a backwoods camping trip the week before Christmas 2010 with my buddy "Plane" Dave.  I made a comment about how much teaberry there was around and he said "All I see is wintergreen".  

Teaberry berries can be eaten raw or cooked. They have a kind of waxy wintergreen flavor. I have always remembered finding the berries in the fall and winter and so I thought they were a late season fruit, but when I was on the Appalachian Trail in the summer of 2011 I found them in abundance. I have since then learned that yes, they come out in the late summer and they just hang on!  They are actually better after a frost, and will stay on the plant pretty much until something eats them. I love to snag them as I walk along. It's a lot of fun when blueberries are in season, to pick a few of each and have a festive little red and blue handful. .. ok.. it's fun in my head anyway :)

Teaberry berries have that kind of little star-ish end on them, similar to a blueberry. The fruit is definitely NOT a nice round berry. 

When broken open the berry has a kind of.. dryish, white inside. The only thing I can think of to equate the texture to would be .. like.. well..wet styrofoam, but it's not gross. 

**I feel like I need to make some sort of disclaimer here saying please don't go out and eat wild food without having explicit knowledge of what you are eating.. that being said.. this one is pretty easy to not screw up if you pay attention**

 The leaves can be eaten (and harvested) any time of year. They can be nibbled on raw or made into a tea. Native Americans brewed a tea from the leaves to alleviate rheumatic symptoms, headache, fever, sore throat and various aches and pains. The active ingredient found in the leaves and berries is methyl salicylate, and is closely related to salicylic acid - the forerunner of aspirin. Early medicinal formulas using wintergreen to reduce fever, body aches, and muscular pains, were probably quite effective. Unlike aspirin, a moderate internal dosage of wintergreen will relieve indigestion rather than inducing it.

To make the more medicinal quality tea:
Fresh leaves have to be fermented in water to develop the wintergreen in them. Pack a jar loosely with fresh leaves and cover it, set it in a warm place for several days until the water is bubbly. Warm the tea by setting it in a pan of hot water. This will be a strong, good-tasting minty tea. The leaves can be strained out and dried in order to use for a tea that won't be so strong.

You can make a quick tea just by breaking up fresh leaves and let it steep in hot water. On the Trail, I would treat myself to Teaberry tea when I wasn't having sassafrass (my favorite Trail tea.. hmm.. another blog ...)

I am always looking for things to do with wild edibles.. and in my searches, I came across a recipe for WINE!! (I still have a bottle of my Dandelion wine left from last summer)

I also found recipes for muffins and pies! The muffin recipe only calls for a cup of berries.. I think this will need to be attempted (and tweaked of course for using other than regular flour).

Natural Root Beer: (this totally looks like fun.. but.. 1 1/2 GALLONS of molasses?!?!?)

  • 5 gallons water
  • 1/2 cup dry yeast 
  • 1 1/2 gallons molasses 
  • 1/2 cup wintergreen leaves, rinsed & dried 
  • 1 cup sassafras root bark 

Combine water and molasses and heat just to the boiling point. Remove from heat and allow to stand for two hours. Add the wintergreen, sassafras root bark, and yeast. Stir just until blended. Allow to ferment overnight at room temperature. Strain and refrigerate.

And of course.. wintergreen (any minty thing) crushed and placed at your doorways will discourage insects from intruding.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Chewy Granola Bars

I have a friend who's daughter has many many food allergies. She had said she would love to try my granola and then mentioned that her daughter loves granola bars. So... I decided to try my hand at granola bars. Personally, I like the chewy granola bars over crunchy. 

Whenever I try something, I check out a whole bunch of recipes, and then tweak it into what I want to make. One thing I have learned from reading recipes on line, is to read the comments!  I have found soooo many recipes where people comment saying that it is an AMAZING recipe.. but they changed this, this, this and that.  I have literally found a few comments where they changed every single ingredient!  .... ... ... 

Anyway, I decided I would just come up with my own recipe and see how it goes. 

First consideration for this particular recipe is that it doesn't have any nuts, corn (including corn syrup), egg, or coconut. Then, I wanted to keep it wheat gluten free.. so no wheat flour.  And of course I want to keep the refined sugar down. 

So.. here is what I came up with:

  • 4 cups Old Fashioned Oats
  • 1 cup Oat Flour (just grind some oats.. I have a mill.. but you can use a food processor or coffee grinder)
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon (I used freshly grated cause I'm all about cinnamon)
  • ½ cup butter
  • ½ cup apple sauce
  • 1 cup honey
  • ¼ cup brown sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
Preheat oven to 325°
Use a 9x13 pan. I line it with parchment (cause parchment ROCKS) but you can either line it with aluminum foil that you then grease, or just grease the pan. But.. lining it is helpful because you can remove the entire pan of bars in order to slice them easier. 

Mix oats, oat flour, baking soda, and cinnamon in a large bowl.

Melt butter, applesauce, honey and brown sugar in a sauce pan over medium heat. Stir, stir, stir until it JUST starts to bubble, then remove from heat and add in vanilla. 

Pour wet mixture over dry and mix it up really well. Let it sit for 5 or 10 minutes to let it really soak into the oats. If you use quick oats you may not need to do this. 

Fold in any add-ins you would like, dried fruits, nuts, chocolate chips etc. I  took some chocolate I had made and just put it on top of half of the tray to see how that would work. 

Press FIRMLY (when I say firmly I mean STUFF IT IN!) into lined pan. If it isn't packed down well, the bars will end up being crumbly. I take another piece of parchment and put it over then push down with something flat and wide.. or even another pan. (I read one review where a woman took another cookie sheet and STOOD on it.... ... ..yeah that's not gonna happen here)

Anyway.. bake for 18-20 minutes (or until it turns golden brown) You can take it out half way and press again if you like.

I smished it again after I took it out cause it seemed to have fluffed a lot. And then I actually kept smishing as it cooled. 

Let it cool about 10 minutes and cut, then let it cool completely. 

They are nice and chewy! Not crumbly at all!  In fact they are a good consistency that can be shaped a bit. So you can wrap them up in wax paper or something and send it off in a lunch box :)