Friday, August 8, 2008


I finally baked bread. It's been weeks since I've baked and the family was craving some good homebaked bread. (And ready to revolt if I didn't!)

Lovely stuff.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Dill Pickles

Ever try someone's recipe and have a EUREKA! moment? I did with this dill pickle recipe. Thanks to Margaret my family now eats great quality pickles.

I've compiled this photo essay for how-to-can the best darn pickles. Step by step for those who've maybe never canned before.

Step 1: wash and scald your jars, these are 2 quart jars with some 1 quart jars if I decide to make sweet pickles today too. ALWAYS wash and prepare more than you think you will need, just in case. (jars break, nicks in rims are discovered, there are more cucumbers there than you thought, etc.)

Step 2: Working backwards, prepare the rest of what you will be needing. Here is the towel laid out for the jars to cool on after they come out of the canner.

Step 3: Fill the canner and get it going. It takes forever to heat this much water to boiling. Start it right away! Fill as much as you can at the sink then use a jug to carry more water to the canner on the stove. You'll want enough water to cover your jars 1-2 inches without boiling over. You'll get used to your canner and be able to judge how much to put in after a couple times.

Step 4: Gather the ingredients for the brine. Here is Margaret's secret recipe:

16 cups water
4 cups white vinegar
1/2 cup white sugar
1 cup pickling salt

(To make enough brine for 8 - 2quart jars I increased this recipe by 50%.)

Put these in a big pot and bring to a boil.

Just a note on preparing for 'canning season'. There will never be any vinegar or pickling salt at the store when you run out during a canning spree. Prepare during the winter and buy a year's supply ahead of time. It is so much easier to go to your cupboard for another package than to have everything come to a screeching halt while you go the the store just to find out they are out of what you need! Save up and buy a case of lids, a case of pectin, gallons of vinegar etc. (Especially important if you can after the kids go to bed like I used to when they were little!)

Step 5: Prepare your lids and rings. I like to put the lids into the rings and lay them in the pot. Cover with water and FOLLOW THE DIRECTIONS FOR THE BRAND YOU ARE USING! Again, prepare more than you think you will need, it will save frustration later when you discover you need more and you won't have to wait for new ones to heat up. (in this photo I'm trying out my new rings, my old one's were getting horribly gross )

Step 6: Prepare your dill and garlic. Both of these we got from Grandma's garden. I'm washing the dill heads and peeling the garlic here. You need 1-2 dill heads and 2-3 garlic cloves for each jar. Remember to do more than you think you need!

Step 7: Finally it's time to prepare the cucumbers. Dh picked these last night and I washed them well to get off the dirt and every last little black spine. They then went into the fridge to chill. This results in a better pickle than if you did them while they were still warm from the field.

Here I'm cutting off both of the ends. You don't want any chance of any blossom end in the jars and having the ends cut off quickens the change from cucumber sitting in brine to marvelous pickles ready to eat. Margaret has her children poke the cucumbers with a fork to hasten this even more. I don't.

Step 8: This is where it all comes together. The jars, lids, brine, dill, garlic, cucumbers and the canner are all ready to go.

Place a dill head or 2 if smaller as well as 2 large cloves of garlic in the bottom of each jar. It is MUCH easier to pack cukes on top of these than try to fit them in later! I dry pack all of the jars before adding brine to any of them.

Use a canning funnel and a measuring cup (4c. size works well) to add brine to one jar at a time. Wipe the rim and place a lid/ring on. I stack these on the counter until I have enough to fill the canner. They all go in at once and then I wait ... I try to pull them out when about 75% of the cucumber skins change into 'pickle' colour. I don't wait for the canner to come to a boil for pickles as they can be ruined by over processing.

Pull them out, being careful not to tip the jars, and cool them on the towel on the counter. PROTECT THEM FROM DRAFTS! Don't move them or tip them for 24 hours. Remove rings and write the year on the lids before putting them into storage.

In a week you can enjoy your pickles!!! :o)

We try to do 100 quarts of dills every summer, and these just get us through the year!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

CFLs continued

I'm sure we've all heard the stats on how much replacing our bulbs with CFLs will save us cash wise. See the image above if you haven't. (Though the price of the CFLs has dropped since this comparison was made.)

In yesterday's post I admitted that we had changed all our bulbs but 2. A strange thing happened after the change though. From some where in my childhood or reading came the 'knowledge' that fluorescent bulbs waste energy when you flick them on and off, it's better to leave them on. And CFLs = fluorescents, yes? Can you imagine the results of this knowledge coupled with practically every bulb in the house being a CFL? Now add in 6 homeschooled kids who are home all day ...

I'll let you think on it for a second .... picture it .... picture it ...

You got it.

From sunrise to long past sunset our house glowed from one end to the other like a Micheal Jackson stage show. Aliens could have used our house for a beacon from space.

But we were saving energy and thus money right???

I got to thinking about savings in other areas. 'The most expensive food you buy is the food you throw out.' Bikes take 0L/100KM. In other words if it isn't needed don't use it. No usage is even cheaper than light usage. I had a eureka moment!!!

Yes the electricity pull of a CFL is less than that of a 'regular' bulb but it is still a pull. Like the ghost load being drawn by appliances left plugged in those lights being left on were using electricity for no good purpose. Did we truly need to have the basement stairs light on 22 hours of every day? Do we need to have the bathroom light on nearly all day and night too?

At first not having the lights on was hard, we had become accustomed to the bright illumination from artificial lighting. This was too reminiscent of my grandmother's house, we'd go to visit and end up chiding her for living in the dark, turn on some lights that's what they are there for!

After a couple weeks I noticed that the house felt calmer. Less stressful, more relaxed. I began to like it.

Now I realize come winter I'm going to have the lights on more, but it sure will be less than it was last year! There are also a couple lights that do remain on once the natural illumination fades. It would be crazy for us to be flicking them off and on every couple seconds as the various members of our home wander in and out of the room, their usage won't change. There has been a fundamental change of standard operating procedures that is effecting unnecessary usage.

One huge difficulty is convincing the children that they could leave the lights off a lot of the time. Not to mention the foreign notion of turning them off as they are finished in a room. This is going to be the real challenge.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

A Lightbulb Moment

Some months ago I received an e-mail from my now-hip-living-in-California cousin tooting the benefits of CFL bulbs. He went on and on and on and on about this wonderful new invention. About how he, the one living in California where they are at the head of the pack of all things cool not like the hicks he was evangelising, was going to change his ways and install a CFL bulb. Yes, folks, A CFL, singular; as in ONE.

Poor deluded boy.

I had to inform him that not only was this old news, though the Wal-Mart angle was a nice touch in his letter, but we hicks were way ahead of him. I was already replacing CFL's, burned out from long use. And to top it off, Mr. I make so much money, we had converted all but a couple bulbs over. We are just waiting for the last two to burn out so they too can be green.

One hint, as you install these bulbs note on them in indelible felt-marker the date. If they burn out ridiculously quickly, as one of ours did, the company will replace it.

Now, you'd think they'd replace it by sending you a coupon for a new bulb in the mail. No, no, no that would be too easy and too green. No, they send you a new bulb by courier.




All my green 'points' blown I'm sure, forever. -poof-