Spring Wreath Conundrum

The hardest part of saving money is that I continue to want things.  All the time. This time, it was a wreath for above the fireplace. Specifically, this one, from Frontgate:

Unknown.jpeg

It is $149 for the thirty inch version. Of course I wanted the big version, we have ten foot ceilings and the proportions would be right. I was feeling very snobby about artificial flowers and figured an arrangement of dried herbs and flowers would be tasteful.

So I asked for it for Mother’s Day, and was told to go ahead and order it. I just could not actually bring myself to do it. It was too silly.  And then I learned that it would only last a year, or two if I were lucky.  Nope.  Not paying what amounts to over $10/month for a stupid wreath. I continued to stare at my mantel, which really needed a focal point.  Poor me.  We have a lot of beautiful, original art that Matt’s grandmother painted, but he did not want to hang a picture above it because it would require drilling into the stone.

Then, in my basement of horrors, I found this thing that I made probably six years ago. I’m sure at the time I thought it was beautiful. It is only 22 inches is diameter, but there is was, unused. I had even been wanting some more red accents in the house.

DSC02848.jpg

It takes a special kind of skill to take a blurry photo of a stationary object.

So I took off the ribbons and flowers, and put them up with my wrapping paper to decorate presents.  I wired on dried cornflowers that were hanging in the mudroom. The old me would have run to the craft store for more tasteful fake flowers, but instead I pulled apart what I had and added tiny sprigs here and there.

DSC02859.jpg

So it is done. It is small, and hardly noticeable because the flowers on it are so tiny.  No one has hung up a hook in the stone yet, and I am not going to ask.  So there is sits.

In the summer I will have statice and celosia from the garden, which both dry very well and will add a lot of life and color.  My sage is getting big, and I think that might look pretty too.  And in the late autumn I can just rip off the old dried flowers and start wiring on holly and ivy.  One less thing purchased, one less thing in the basement, and all throughout garden season I can have bundles of things drying in the mudroom.

DSC02852.jpg

Very…shall we say… subtle.  But it is free, and good enough.  And instead of feeling yucky about spending a bunch of money on something stupid and disposable, I feel good about using what I have.  Happy Mother’s Day to me!

DSC02847.jpg


Italian Braided Bread

DSC02717.jpg

This is another one of our most frequently made breads, French Rolls for Sandwiches being the other.  It is great sliced with butter or served alongside pasta the night you make it, and leftovers make good french toast or regular toast.

It is adapted and simplified from a King Arthur recipe called Scali Bread, but I have changed it so much I’m not sure it qualifies as Scali bread anymore.

As always, start with the lesser amount of water and add more if needed.  And use the dough cycle on your bread machine if you have one.

For the dry milk powder, I order this from King Arthur, but some is available at grocery stores. It is worth placing an order from them though. You can get a whole pound of red star instant yeast for under $7, which will easily fit in a one quart mason jar and live happily in the freezer. I also like their sparkling sugar, cinnamon, and parchment sheets, which lay flat and can be reused two or three times.

You will need:

-3 cups bread flour

-1 cup to 1 1/3 cup of water

-2 T olive oil

-2 T. Dry milk powder

-1 1/4 t. salt

-1 t. sugar

-2 1/4 t. yeast (Red star instant)

-(an egg and sesame seeds for topping the dough)

Directions:

  1.  Add all ingredients to a bowl or bread machine bucket, and knead until very smooth.  Allow to rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk.
  2. Divide risen dough into three equal pieces and roll gently into 10 inch logs.  Allow them to rest, covered in greased plastic wrap, about 15 minutes or so.  This will make them easier to work with.
  3. Pull them out a bit longer, to about 15 inches long.  Then begin your braid.  Sometimes it is easier to start in the middle and flip it around.  Tuck the ends under.
  4. Place the loaf on a baking sheet either prepared with parchment or sprayed with cooking spray.  Brush the loaf with the beaten egg.  Sprinkle sesame seeds on top, pressing to help them stick.
  5. Cover the loaf with greased plastic wrap and allow to rise.  (Preheat your oven to 425 at this time) Check after 30 minutes, because if it over-rises the braid pattern will be ruined.
  6. Bake in 425 degree oven 25-30 minutes.  It will look very golden because of the egg wash, which can be deceptive.  You may want to check with a thermometer before taking it out.  (It should be about 195-200 degrees inside.)
  7. Cool on a wire rack.

DSC02704.jpg

DSC02708.jpg

DSC02709.jpg

DSC02710.jpg

DSC02712.jpg

DSC02717.jpg

DSC02722.jpg

DSC02723.jpg


Enjoying the Process

When we lived in the old house on this property, we had a dishwasher. That is, until a rodent chewed through some kind of water tube or wire, and then we had a built in dish drying rack.

And suddenly, something that was so easy became a big production. I agonized over whether every spoon was worth the use since I would have to hand wash it. I bought paper plates for the kids. I considered styrofoam coffee cups, but instead just rinsed out my coffee mug and ate my cereal out of it to avoid doing another dish.

But little by little, I realized I did not hate hand washing dishes as much as I thought I did. I enjoyed the smell of the dish soap, the feel of the hot water. I enjoyed getting out a clean towel to dry them, and then putting them away, instead of having them waiting in the dishwasher to be unloaded. They seemed cleaner and shinier. There was a sense of satisfaction when the sink was emptied, and then it got cleaned and dried. And it is hard to hate a task that you do every day. I had learned to enjoy the process.

There are a lot of things in life, especially in the domestic sphere, that are made out to be terrible chores. Such terrible chores, in fact, that either someone is hired to do them or a machine is purchased to do them. Sweeping and shaking out rugs has become vacuuming, and then creepy robot vacuums or cleaning ladies. I vacuum my floors. I never sweep anymore. I have never shaken out an area rug in my life. But I wonder, was it maybe not so terrible a job? Maybe it was something fun to do on a sunny day and made the kids laugh. Maybe after you were done, you rearranged the furniture a bit and felt good about yourself? Maybe not. I don’t know.

Or consider something like heating your home. Most people today use electricity, oil, or gas. We heat almost exclusively with wood, and sometimes it feels like it consumes our life. For example, this weekend we are going to visit my parents and will be returning with a huge trailer full of oak from a tree they just had taken down. We are always on the hunt for more, even though we hav plenty of trees, you can’t just keep cutting them down forever. Then it will need to be split, and dried. Then stacked. Then as winter approaches, some will need to be re-split into small kindling pieces. We will start hoarding newspaper. We gather sticks all year long and put them in the old house to dry. And for all this work, we have not started a single fire yet. Or cleaned one out.

But if I could somehow magically heat my home to 75 degrees all winter for free, I would not. I don’t just enjoy the the heat and the ambiance. I enjoy waking up on a dark and chilly morning, setting the logs just right in the back, watching the kindling catch and adding wood bit by bit. I enjoy polishing the glass after scooping out cold ashes, and then restarting an afternoon fire after the sun has weakened. It’s not just the beauty of the fire itself, it’s also the work that is enjoyable. Even the splitting can be fun. Matt does it with a friend, who brings a big powerful splitter to borrow, and he stays for dinner.

There is paid work of course, which can be rewarding, but that is not the point of it. Then there are hobbies, which generally cost money rather than being productive, but are done for sheer enjoyment. But there are also things in between, that are necessary, and can either be hard and satisfying, or automatic and mindless. Homemaking encompasses so many of these things.

So I will try to stop looking for ways to make my life easier, and instead look for ways that I make my tasks… well, not harder, but more satisfying. Why get a gift already wrapped when you could choose the right paper and ribbon, wrap it neatly, and enjoy the satisfaction of a job well done? Why turn on the air conditioning constantly when you could savor the routine of opening the windows at night, closing them when the day heats up, drawing the curtains against the sun, and reopening after a thunderstorm has cooled things off?

Just now I came back from getting my mail down the long gravel road. My neighbor was across the street, sweeping his driveway. I gave him the silent neighbor wave, while thinking to myself this guy is a nut. Isn’t it going to rain soon? Why does it matter if there are bits of leaves visible to the neighbors on your driveway? He didn’t return my wave. He was under the shade of a tree, admiring his handiwork. I get it my friend. You weren’t sweeping that driveway for me. Just enjoying the process.


May Harvest

Two beautiful words that don’t really belong together. The garden is so full as cool weather and warm weather plants are both in. And what is there to harvest? Very little, at least in my garden.  Some people are good about extending the harvest, which is something I need to work on.  But for now, there is not much available fresh.

DSC02814.jpg

(Not yet.)

The only things I could eat out of here are cilantro, spinach, and green onions. In a few years I hope to have a productive strawberry and asparagus patch, and I guess that is what will tide me over for these months. Leaf lettuce would be ready around this time too, but I don’t grow any, because someone in our house will only eat romaine and iceberg.  Most cool weather plants around here won’t be ready until mid to late June. (Maybe even July since this year we got to a late start.). They are at least up and growing well, the peas, onions, broccoli, potatoes, and lettuce.

DSC02819.jpg

(Nope.)

DSC02817.jpg

(Closest to being ready, but no.)

DSC02828.jpg

(It sure doesn’t look like much for how much work it takes.)

DSC02829.jpg

(You can hardly see any plants here, but they are there.)

And as far work goes, there is a lot of it.  I put one thing in a day to avoid burnout.  Baby seedlings need to be, well, babied, making sure they are watered in and kept weed free, since it is hard for them to compete at this young age. I still have some things yet to do, like melons and a second corn planting.  By the time that is done, it will be time to put in fall-harvested things.  The weeds are happy and flourishing in the warm days and cool nights, so it is a constant battle. The second planting of carrot seeds need to be watered twice a day until they germinate, and then they have to be thinned. The first planting has some nice ferny looking leaves, but nothing else.  It is all work and and no reward.

But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a bountiful May harvest here. It’s just a harvest of a different nature.

DSC02821.jpg

DSC02826.jpg

These were planted by previous owners, and we have not done a thing for them, except water them very rarely in dry spells. Past the gate is the old house, chicken coop, raspberry and blackberry patch, and the Pinecone Forest, where the kids like to play.

DSC02834.jpg

We are collecting eggs by the dozen, having to give them away.  Any poor soul who stops by our house is forced to take a carton.

And wildflowers everywhere.

DSC02835.jpg

Some things are all reward, no work.


Greek Pasta Salad

(Hi to anyone coming over from Lisa’s Discovery Tour!  And thank you to Lisa for including me! I’m Katie and my blog is mostly about homemaking: to include cooking, gardening, decorating, organizing, and frugality.  I share recipes, but only our favorites that we make over and over.  This is one of them!)

May is the beginning of cookouts and pool parties, especially with Mother’s Day, college graduations, and Memorial Day on the calendar, and I am always looking for a good side dish to share.  This pasta salad is filling but not too heavy, and is a definite crowd pleaser.  I came up with the recipe trying to copy an expensive pasta salad that we used to buy all the time.  It is what I am most frequently asked to bring to parties.

You will need:

for the dressing:

1 cup olive oil

2 1/2 t. garlic powder

2 1/2 t. dried oregano

2 1/2 t. dried basil

2 t. salt

2. t. black pepper

2 t. onion powder

2 t. dijon mustard

1 1/3 cup red wine vinegar

for the rest:

1 box of mini penne pasta

1 can of black olives

1 green pepper finely sliced

1 small red onion finely sliced

6 oz. crumbled feta cheese

Directions:

  1.  Cook the pasta to al dente in boiling, lightly salted water.  Drain, rinse with cool water and set aside
  2. Combine all the ingredients for the dressing EXCEPT the red wine vinegar.  Add the vinegar last, while whisking quickly to combine.
  3. In a large serving bowl, toss the pasta and dressing together, then add the olives, green pepper, red onion, and crumbled feta.
  4. Cover and chill at least four hours.

DSC02731.jpg

DSC02735.jpg

DSC02733.jpg

DSC02736.jpg

DSC02737.jpg