Green Thumb Wannabe

When I still lived with my parents I tried my hand at growing a few things, but they all died… Now, after some small successes last year with our first flower bed, we are expanding our endeavors!

This is what the front of our house looked like when we moved in…

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Please not the dead bush & dead plant in the Halloween cauldron… 

Last year was our first year in this house. We spent the majority of our time cleaning up the mess left behind, and removing dead bushes… However, we did plant the small bed with a variety of day lilies in front of the ramp. This year, however, has been full of plants. Some of our plants are just aesthetically pleasing as I love flowers and color, but we have also planted quite a few edible items!!

With all the dead stuff cleared out we took to preparing new beds. The first order of business was to extend our front flower bed the length of the house. Tilling soil by hand is not for the weak or weary. Even in March we shed some serious sweat! But after it was all said and done we planted a lilac bush, a forsenthia bush, hostas, begonias and dahlias!

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While perusing the garden center I found a half-price greenhouse that would fit on our back deck. I am a huge fan of convenience, and if I have to be inconvenienced very much then the plants are gonna die. I’m just being honest. Plus, I’m more of a water-when-reminded gardener meaning the plant usually has to remind me. We chose our favorite items to grow. The plants that we are least likely to waste perfectly good produce from, and that we spend money buying already. Here’s what’s in the greenhouse: basil, rosemary, oregano, parsley, strawberries, cherry tomatoes and jalapeños (the latter was bough at the farmer’s market).

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Also on our deck, a myer’s lemon tree and pineapple plant. The lemon tree was a must-have after discovering my husband’s addiction to lemon cookies was worse than expected, and the pineapple plant was an impulse buy. Further research on said pineapple plant? This may be the only pineapple plant we EVER grow! It can take 2 years for one pineapple to grow. I’m just not sure I’m that patient. We may only have one every-other year, only time will tell.

Then!! In the corner from the famous bush battle, we tilled a garden to house sweet corn, green beans and pumpkins (jack’o lantern type pumpkins). We fenced it off with PVC pipe and wire. It was about a $30 project to make our own garden fence. On the outside of the fence we planted 2 blueberry bushes and a blackberry bush. *Blueberry bushes need to be planted in pairs for cross-pollination.* I hope to make loads of blackberry jam and blueberry crumble bars in years to come. As for this year, I think the few berries will just make a good snack.

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Battle of the Bush

This is (was) the corner of our fenced yard. Under that GIANT bush. This picture was taken before we started trimming the bush back, last year. It was about 2/3 of this size when we started project kill-the-tree. No one seems to know what kind of bush/tree/monster it was, but we are just so glad its gone!! Four weekends were spent chopping down, digging up and pulling out that tree and its stump. We even learned to replace a section of chain-link fencing along the way.

Removing this giant bush taught us a lot! Once it was finally out we filled in the giant hole, tilled a portion of the area for our first garden, planted berry bushes in front of the fence and seeded the remainder. We can’t wait to watch it grow!

 

 

This blog contains affiliate links from which I may receive monetary compensation. I assure you that I only recommend the products I use, personally, for me and my family. Full disclosure policy here.

Sweet Potato & Peanut Butter Dog Treats

This is not what I planned on making. I’d planned to make dehydrated sweet potato dog treats without a dehydrator, but then my husband and I went downtown… We went in this cute old-timey store with all sorts of nick-knacks including the most darling dog-bone shaped cookie cutter I’ve ever laid eyes on. So you see my problem? Clearly I needed the cookie cutter, and then I needed an excuse to use it, ASAP!! Full disclosure, the cookie cutter was only $0.99, and I believe I’ll be making these treats again and again after pup’s reaction to them!! I’m thinking these will be perfect Christmas presents for the pup-parents in my life.

I already had 2 sweet potatoes at home to make the other treats. However, I don’t eat sweet potatoes except in a casserole for Thanksgiving and Christmas, meaning I had no idea how to cook them. Initial findings led me towards hours of baking in the oven, but I prefer to keep my oven use to a minimum. Further research led me to how to cook a sweet potato in the microwave! Now we’re talking!

How to cook a sweet potato in the microwave:

  1. Place the sweet potatoes on a plate.
  2. Puncture the skin 3-4 times with a fork on the top and bottom.
  3. Microwave on high for 5 minutes.
  4. Turn the sweet potatoes so the bottom is now facing up.
  5. Microwave for another 5 minutes.
  6. Cut the tops and scoop out the middle.

Simple enough. The potatoes were very tender and mashed up easily.

Now to prepare the treat dough.

Combine all the ingredients in a medium mixing bowl until they form a dough ball. (The dough should not be sticky so add flour as necessary to thicken the dough or water if the dough is too stiff.) Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Roll the dough to between 1/4″-1/2″ thickness.

IMG_1588Cut out your shapes, of course any cookie cutter or even just cutting into squares would work. Lay the cut outs on a parchment lined cookie sheet.

Bake at 350 degrees F for 20-25 minutes or until brown around the edges. Please let them cool completely before feeding them to your dog. Store in an airtight container!IMG_1595

Sweet Potato and Peanut Butter Dog Treats

  • Servings: 2-3 Dozen
  • Difficulty: Easy
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Ingredients

  • 1 C. cooked and mashed sweet potatoes
  • 2 1/2 C. flour (all-purpose or whole wheat)
  • 3/4 C. creamy peanut butter
  • 1/4 C. old fashioned oats
  • 2 eggs

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Combine all the ingredients in a medium mixing bowl until they form a dough ball. (The dough should not be sticky so add flour as necessary to thicken the dough or water if the dough is too stiff.)
  3. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Roll the dough to between 1/4″-1/2″ thickness.
  4. Cut out your shapes, of course any cookie cutter or even just cutting into squares would work. Lay the cut outs on a parchment lined cookie sheet.
  5. Bake 20-25 minutes or until brown around the edges.
  6. Cool and store in an airtight container.

PLEASE LET THEM COOL COMPLETELY BEFORE FEEDING THEM TO YOUR DOG.

 

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Really? Could it be? My very own mulberry tree!

The last month or more has been full of yard work. Cleaning up, planting a garden and planting some of my favorite flowers. I tend to get most of my baking done on the weekend, and hubby likes to spend the weekends outdoors. After finishing some huge projects he was getting antsy for something else to do. He decided to make clearing out the fence line on the far side of the house his next project.

Over dinner hubby started asking me questions about what these berries could be. He’d taken some pictures, but I just couldn’t tell. When I ventured out to see what they were, I was delighted to see mulberries!! Further research of this particular tree shows that it is a white mulberry tree. They aren’t as sweet or dark as a red mulberry tree, but they are still recommended for jams!!

**Update: A few berries were ripe enough to try, and they are still VERY yummy. Albeit not as wonderful as the red mulberry tree, but they will fill the void in my life just fine.

I can’t wait to try my hand at canning some mulberry jam this summer!

 

This blog contains affiliate links from which I may receive monetary compensation. I assure you that I only recommend the products I use, personally, for me and my family. Full disclosure policy here.

Homemade White Bread

More often than not (OK, a majority of the time) my recipes turn out just how I want them on the first try. After-all, my mom taught me how to read and follow a recipe. I know the basic techniques for baking and cooking. Bread making has not been so easy. I’ve had many trials and logs of bread. I’ve followed the recipes and still ended up with dense loaves you could eat if you tried. I’ve had textbook yeast activation but no rise. This weekend alone I tried 3 different batches of bread with varying recipes. I was determined to make this weekend go down in history for bread making mastery. The first two attempts failed, hard. But then! THEN!! I made the bread of all breads!

I have learned a lot through this journey. What to do and what not to do. I’m ready to divulge all my secrets and mistakes to help you succeed, the first time!

First off, a little education. There are different types of flour: self-rising, all-purpose and bread flour are the basics. Let’s pretend no one came up with the horrible idea to make self-rising flour; it’s rarely successful, it’s overpriced and has limited uses making it less economical to keep on hand. All-purpose is ideal for biscuits, brownies, cakes and cookies, but bread flour has been designed especially for making bread. Bread flour has a higher gluten (or protein) content than traditional flour which reacts with the yeast to increase your rise. Yeast needs sugar and protein to grow, when yeast grows it releases carbon dioxide and ethanol which created the air bubbles and lifts your bread. Even with elbow grease to knead the dough, an all-purpose flour just won’t lift the same.

Why do you knead dough? Simply to “develop the gluten.” Gluten, the proteins in bread, need to be man-handled. Kneading the dough strengthens those proteins making them more elastic. You may have heard about the window-pane test. Once dough has been thoroughly worked you can stretch it while holding it up to the light. Well developed gluten holds together while continuing to stretch thin. You’ll be able to see the light coming through the dough without any holes forming.

Now that you know a bit more about what to look for, lets make some bread! In a glass or plastic bowl dissolve the sugar into the warm water. Use a thermometer to make sure the water is the right temperature. 110 degrees is the desired temperature to activate the yeast. Too hot and you kill the yeast, but too cold and it doesn’t activate. Now add in the yeast (note this recipe calls for more than the packets come with). Give it a stir with a plastic or wooden utensil. The alkaline properties of metals can alter yeast’s naturally acidic nature so make sure you use only glass, plastic or wood. Let the yeast mixture sit for 10-15 minutes. You’ll know its ready by the bubbles and frothy appearance.  IMG_1606

Next, add in the salt and oil. Stir together. Begin mixing in the bread flour one cup at a time. 5 cups should easily mix, but you may need to go ahead and turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface to knead in the remaining cup.

You’ve reached the fun part! Kneading, kneading and more KNEADING!! This is where I failed on my first few attempts. I didn’t work my dough near enough. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. I also recommend coating your hands in flour. Start kneading. Fold the dough. Roll the dough. Punch the dough. Flatten the dough. Add flour as necessary just to prevent the dough from sticking to your hands. You can do window pane tests throughout to see the change in structure, but once your dough has been worked enough it will resist tearing and bounce-back if you depress it with your finger.

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This dough is ready to rise. It is not sticky to the touch but rather smooth and elastic.

Spray a large bowl with cooking spray. Place the dough in the bowl and cover with plastic wrap and a towel. If you’re impatient like me you can place a damp towel in the microwave for a minute to speed up the rising.

(Left: before it started rising; Right: After 1 hour of rising, at least doubled in size)

After an hour punch the dough down 4 or 5 times. Turn the dough out on a clean work surface and cut it in half. Form the dough into loaves. Grease 2- 9″ x 5″ loaf pans and place the dough inside.

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Cover again and let it rise for another 30-45 minutes or until the dough is about 1 inch above the edges of the loaf pans. Then bake the bread for 30 minutes. The bread is done when the top bounces back and the crust is golden brown.

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I recommend enjoying with some apple butter or jam. 🙂 It was the perfect way to enjoy the apple butter we bought over the weekend at the farmers’ market.

Homemade White Bread

  • Servings: 2 Loaves
  • Difficulty: Intermediate
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Ingredients

  • 2 Cups Warm Water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
  • 2/3 Cups White Sugar
  • 1 ½ Tablespoons Active Dry Yeast
  • 1 ½ Teaspoons Salt
  • ¼ Cup Vegetable Oil
  • 6 Cups Bread Flour

Directions

  1. Dissolve the sugar into warm water in a large bowl. Stir in the yeast and let sit for 10-15 minutes. The yeast should be frothy.
  2. Stir in the salt and oil.
  3. Add the bread flour one cup at a time.
  4. Turn the bread out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until dough is smooth and elastic.
  5. Place in a greased bowl, cover and let stand for 1 hour or until doubled in size.
  6. Punch the dough down 4 or 5 times.
  7. Knead dough for a few minutes and cut in half.
  8. Shape into loaves and place in 2 greased 9×5 inch loaf pans.
  9. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  10. Cover the dough again and allow it to rise for an additional 30-45 minutes. The dough is ready to be baked when it is about 1 inch above the top of the loaf pan.
  11. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until tops are golden brown.

 

here: This blog contains affiliate links from which I may receive monetary compensation. I assure you that I only recommend the products I use, personally, for me and my family. Full disclosure policy here.

Freezer-Friendly Sausage & Cheese Breakfast Sandwiches

I’ve told y’all about my struggles to get my husband to eat breakfast. Well, as of late he has been popping into a certain fast-food chain to pick up a breakfast sandwich on his way to work, but I knew I could make a healthier freezer version for less!! These taste better than the fast-food chain’s and can be customized with your favorite type of sausage (veggie, pork or even turkey) and cheese.

What you need:

  • 1 pack of English Muffins (or if you are brave you can make your own)
  • 6 sausage patties (1/2 pound – I cooked it all and froze the remainder)
  • 6 pieces of Cheese

Cook the sausage into large but fairly thin patties. Like I said, I used 6 for this and froze the remaining 5? or so to use later. I also saved the grease to use if I want to make biscuits and gravy to go with the leftover sausage. While your sausage is cooking, cut all the English muffins in half like a hamburger bun. Then toast the muffins and set aside until the sausage is done.

Once your sausage is thoroughly cooked, drain the grease off on some paper towels. Better to have grease on the paper towels than on the English muffins. Now it’s time to assemble your sandwiches. Spread out some squares of plastic wrap or my favorite, Press’n Seal. Put the bottom of your muffin in the middle, layer on the sausage, then the cheese and top with the other half of the muffin.

IMG_1416Wrap the completed sandwich tightly with plastic wrap or my favorite, Press’n Seal. I stored mine in a gallon sized bag in the freezer. To reheat, place on a plate or paper towel in the microwave for 1 1/2 minutes. Enjoy!!

 

This blog contains affiliate links from which I may receive monetary compensation. I assure you that I only recommend the products I use, personally, for me and my family. Full disclosure policy here.

 

Instant Vanilla Pudding Mix

As mentioned in my post about Amish Friendship Bread, this is a substitute to store bought pudding mixes which are called for in the recipe. I’ll be using this batch up for a LONG time to come too. I didn’t realize what a massive amount of mix it would yield.

I had everything already in my pantry except cornstarch. I did not have 3 cups worth of cornstarch, now I do!

Use this as a replacement to store-bought pudding mixes where called for in Amish Friendship bread recipes.

Instant Vanilla Pudding Mix

  • Difficulty: Easy
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Ingredients

  • 3 cups Nonfat Dry Milk
  • 4 cups Granulated White Sugar
  • 3 cups Cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon Nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon Salt
  • 5 teaspoons Pure Vanilla Extract

Directions

Dump all of the dry ingredients in a 1-gallon sized bag. Shake them together. Add in vanilla and shake and massage until well combined.

Use 1/2 cup in place of 1 large box of pudding mix.

 

This blog contains affiliate links from which I may receive monetary compensation. I assure you that I only recommend the products I use, personally, for me and my family. Full disclosure policy here.

Amish Friendship Bread Starter: Recipe & How-To

If you’ve stumbled upon this you’re likely in the mood for some friendship bread, but aren’t lucky enough to have a starter on hand. Good news? I can teach you how to make one! Bad news? You’ll still have to wait 10 days until the starter is ready to use.

So what is Amish Friendship Bread? Simply it’s a sweet sour-dough spice bread that you pass on to friends much like you pass on a chain letter. It comes from the Amish belief of sharing your surplus with those you love.

How is it made? A key ingredient in Amish Friendship bread is the starter. It’s a fermented blend of yeast, sugar, flour and milk. You’re given a bag with 1 cup of starter, and at the end of 10 days you have enough to make bread, continue a start and share the starter with 2-3 friends. But what happens if you don’t have a starter and don’t know anyone that you can get a starter from? Make your own!

Making the starter counts as Day 1. For full directions and the recipe for Amish Friendship Bread go here.

If you plan to continue utilizing the starter, think about giving it a nice home. I love this jar!

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Amish Friendship Bread Starter

  • Difficulty: Intermediate
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Ingredients

  • 1 packet Active Dry Yeast
  • 1 cup All-Purpose Flour
  • 1 cup White Sugar
  • 1 cup Warm Milk

Directions

  1. Activate the yeast according to package instructions. (Generally, 1/4 cup warm water (110 degrees F), 1/2 teaspoon sugar and the packet of yeast in a glass or plastic bowl. ) Let the yeast mixture stand for 10 to 15 minutes or until frothy and bubbly, this means the yeast is activated.
  2. Stir together the flour and sugar in a medium sized mixing bowl (again, glass or plastic only).
  3. Stir in the warm milk which needs to be 110 degrees F.
  4. Then stir in the yeast water mixture until well combined.
  5. Pour the mixture into a 1-gallon sized plastic bag.
  6. Follow the Amish Friendship Bread directions and recipe.

**ONLY use glass, plastic or wood to store or stir the yeast mixture AND starter. The alkaline properties of metal can alter the acidic nature of the yeast causing the starter to spoil.**

This blog contains affiliate links from which I may receive monetary compensation. I assure you that I only recommend the products I use, personally, for me and my family. Full disclosure policy here.

Amish Friendship Bread

While I despise chain letters/texts/emails, I adore this bread which is much like a chain letter. The idea is to receive a cup of starter from a friend. Then for 10 days you tend to your starter, adding flour, sugar and milk periodically. On the 10th day you use 1 cup of starter to make your own 2 loaves of amazingness, and put the remaining starter in 1 cup portions into new bags (keep 1 for yourself and share the remaining starters with friends).

As I was looking through my recipe book a few weeks ago I saw my recipe for friendship bread, but I didn’t have a starter in the freezer or anyone to give me a starter. Luckily, I had a recipe to make my own starter. I hope to have this starter for many years, and for it to find homes with friends through the years. So after 10 days of waiting, I was finally able to make my friendship bread.

Amish Friendship Bread is a sweet bread. It doesn’t make a traditional bread “dough” but rather a batter similar to banana bread. After separating out the starter simply add all the ingredients into a large bowl and combine (my KitchenAid made quick work of this). Next, mix up your cinnamon-sugar topping. Grease 2 loaf pans, dust the pans with the cinnamon-sugar and pour in your batter. Sprinkle the remaining cinnamon-sugar topping evenly on top of the batter in both pans. Bake for 1 hour. Let the bread cool for 10 minutes before turning out to cool on a wire rack.

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Each batch yields 2 loaves. 1 for you and 1 for a friend.

Here is the link to the recipe and directions for taking care of the starter. If you give someone the starter include this printout so they have the directions. (Amish Friendship Bread Recipe) Also, check out how to make your own pudding mix here! Kiss the store-bought mixes goodbye!

Amish Friendship Bread

  • Servings: 2 loaves
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

Ingredients

1 cup Amish Friendship Bread Starter
3 Eggs
1 cup Oil
½ cup Milk
1 cup Sugar
½ teaspoon Vanilla Extract
2 teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1 ½ teaspoon Baking Powder
½ teaspoon Salt
½ teaspoon Baking Soda
2 cups Flour
1 Large Box of Vanilla Pudding Mix

Cinnamon-Sugar Topping: ½ cup sugar and ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Mix ingredients together.
  3. Grease 2 large loaf pans, pour batter into pans and top with cinnamon-sugar.
  4. Bake for 1 hour or until knife comes out clean.

 

This blog contains affiliate links from which I may receive monetary compensation. I assure you that I only recommend the products I use, personally, for me and my family.

Whipped Organic Coconut Body Butter

Over the last few years, as natural alternatives to chemical-laden skincare products became more popular, coconut oil’s popularity has sky rocketed. Coconut oil can soothe burns, lessen stretch marks, reduce scars, moisturize dry skin and leave your hair shiny and healthy. Today, I’m going to share with you my favorite moisturizer. I’ve given this as a gift, many times, and it is a favorite.

Before we get started, these are my favorite ingredients. I’ve researched a lot of brands and tried a few I’ll never buy again. These are the brands I trust for my family, pets and followers. Also, I only use Young Living oils in my homemade skincare items. Click on the link to learn how you and your family can benefit from these amazing essential oils.

Below is the original recipe for my body butter, but you can get creative with your essential oil blends and even ingredients to create your own scents.

Combine shea butter, coconut oil and sweet almond oil in a double-boiler. Using low to medium heat melt these ingredients completely. Remove from heat and add 10-15 drops Frankincense and 10 drops of Vitamin E Oil.

Freeze mixture until it is firm to the touch. Using a mixer whip mixture until it begins to soften.

At this point you can add 1 tablespoon of cornstarch to make the body butter lighter and airier. The cornstarch also helps cut the greasy feel of the body butter. Continue to whip on high until the body butter reaches a whipped cream consistency, and is about double the starting volume. If you rub a small bit onto the back of your hand it should melt almost immediately. Place in a glass jar or container and enjoy your baby soft skin!

Whipped Coconut Body Butter

Ingredients

  • ½ C. Shea Butter
  • ¼ C. Coconut Oil
  • ¼ C. Sweet Almond Oil
  • 10-15 Drops Essential Oil
  • 10 Drops Vitamin E Oil

Directions

  1. Combine shea butter, coconut oil and sweet almond oil in a double boiler, stirring occasionally.
  2. Once ingredients are completely melted, remove from heat. Stir in essential oil and Vitamin E oil.
  3. Transfer to a larger mixing bowl.
  4. Freeze until solid.
  5. Using a hand mixer, beat until desired consistency. (Typically doubles in volume.)

Store all mixtures containing essential oils in mason jars or any glass container.

 

This blog contains affiliate links from which I may receive monetary compensation. I assure you that I only recommend the products I use, personally, for me and my family. Full disclosure policy here.