mossbetweentoes – adventures in homesteading, with brief forays into politics, geekery, parenting, crafting, and design

Getting Organized

20 lbs of tomatoes

I'm not sure what it is about September that makes me want to get organized. Maybe it's from years and years of back-to-school rituals: cleaning out closets, covering books with brown paper grocery bags, purchasing a new backpack and a Trapper Keeper. Maybe it's just the change of seasons. Or, maybe we are like the squirrels and chipmunks when they sense cooler weather coming on, taking stock of our resources and planning for the dearth ahead.

Anyone who knows me can testify that there are some areas of my life where I am extremely organized (just open up iCal on my computer or phone) and others where I am not only unorganized but downright untidy (Chris affectionately calls the half-empty glasses of cloudy water left forgotten on the bedside table "water kefir" - yuck!) Moldy beverages aside, I really prefer cleanliness and order... even if I don't find the time to achieve it everywhere and at every instance. Like most people, it gives me great pleasure to cross "to-do" items off of a list. And lately, we sure have been crossing off things at a rapid pace! It feels great! Chris has done most of the manual labor, for sure, so I should at least give credit where credit is due: it wouldn't be possible without him.

Last weekend we finally installed a shelf (or maybe you'd just call it the cabinet bottom?) in the cabinet under the kitchen sink. It's been missing since we moved here. Cleaning supplies and boxes of parchment paper and aluminum foil were just placed inside, on the subfloor beneath. Yeahhhh. I'm glad that's fixed!

This past week I picked up a bulk order of tomatoes from our farm cooperative. And with the help of friends, I canned crushed tomatoes and tomato puree. Chris and I canned sweet pickle relish, apple sauce, and salsa last week as well. It was a hot steamy mess in the kitchen on most nights. (For my birthday, Chris and the kids got me a pressure canner! I'm very eager to try making and putting up some lemon curd.)

This weekend, we purchased a glazed earthenware bird bath to be used as a bee watering hole (discounted because the top part had separated from the base... nothing a little liquid nails can't fix!) and also another apple tree (marked down 40% for an end-of-season sale) and planted it. I also got around to planting the rest of our perennial plants on the slope (butterfly bush, English lavender, hyssop, and viburnum trillium) as well as the gooseneck loosestrife in our part-sun garden around back. While the kids made a play fort out of a no-longer-in-use garden trellis, the bee hive got a sampling grid installed, so we can check on our varroa mite population. Chris fixed up some wiring in the attic that needed to be properly joined in a junction box, and also installed 24 cumulative linear feet of shelving in the kitchen, to house all of our bulk and canned goods.

The only downside to this last accomplishment is that, in the process of using the stud finder to find locations to screw in shelf brackets, Chris discovered a pair of king studs on either side of where I have always wanted a window from the kitchen into the dining room. There is a lackluster patch job of the drywall done in the same location - on both the kitchen and dining room sides - so I have often suspected that there used to be a cut-out window there. But, of course, it was also possible that a previous owner had the same idea that I had, but had cut out the drywall, realized they didn't know how to remove the middle wall studs while creating king studs to support the beam above (this is a load bearing wall we're talking about,) and decided to just seal the whole thing up and move on. Not knowing what was under that wall has deterred me from pursuing "the window option" for quite some time. So of course, I leapt with excitement with the discovery of the king studs and was just about to go grab the crow bar from the garage when Chris but the kibosh on my demolition plans. Shelving is what we needed, not a huge hole in the wall, he explained.

And of course, he would be correct. He is the voice of reason when I'm feeling trigger happy. This is the season of Organization, after all. It is not Spring, and we are not in the midst of a season of blustery Upheaval. So I'm just going to file my window dreams away in my mental filing cabinet, ready to be pulled out when I get the green-light from my better half.




When You’re Asked to “Bring a Dish”

There are many times during the year where I'm often asked to "bring a dish" to either a potluck, a new mother in need, a family cookout... you name it. And as much as I love cooking long involved things, I often procrastinate until the last minute when it comes to these cooking obligations, leaving me to make something fast and easy. Spinach Orzo Salad fits the bill... and it's delicious too! This summer I have made it at least a dozen times. Sometimes I made it for myself (when farmshare spinach was spilling out of my fridge,) and other times, per request (my mother-in-law specifically asked me to make it for their cookout today.) In addition to being quick and simple, the ingredients are easy to find at any supermarket, and the recipe uses whole units, so nothing is wasted.


Spinach Orzo Salad

  • 1 lb package of orzo pasta, preferably whole wheat
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 5oz "box" of baby spinach
  • 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 6oz container of feta cheese, crumbled
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Cook orzo pasta according to package instructions to achieve "al dente" texture. Drain and rinse well with cold tap water in a colander in order to cool pasta and halt cooking.
  2. Pour pasta into a large bowl. Drizzle 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over the pasta and stir. This helps the pasta from sticking together while you prepare the other ingredients.
  3. In a food processor, combine 1/2 the package of spinach with the remaining olive oil. Pulse a few times to make a finely minced pesto. Stir this pesto into the orzo.
  4. Put the remaining spinach on a cutting boards and coarsely chop. Fold this into the orzo.
  5. Pour the vinegar into the orzo salad, incorporating thoroughly. Salt and pepper to taste.
  6. Lastly, fold in in the feta crumbles.
  7. Cover and store in fridge for at least an hour prior to serving so flavors can meld.


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Love Me Some Lists

In lieu of an actual blog post/rant/recipe/essay/etc, I will instead list some things that have interested me lately around the interwebs. I hope you like lists as much as I do!

Cob Houses and Cob Hot Tubs

While the kids were napping this week I stumbled upon an interview with Becky Bee talking about the significance and origin of cob hot tubs. This fascinated me, and I ended up clicking on several more videos before I stumbled upon this beautiful video of several cob houses in the Pacific Northwest

Photo Copyright Warren Kirilenko


Liquid Loss When Canning

I canned a couple quarts of peaches last week, and had liquid siphoning out of the lid like you wouldn't believe. I figured I didn't tighten the bands enough. Last night, I canned some apple slices (for use in pie filling) and it happened again. ARG! Today, I discovered why liquid loss occurs in home canning. Ahhhh.

Photo Copyright


Pete & Jen's Backyard Birds

I signed up to volunteer at a Mobile Poultry Processing Unit in Concord, MA this October. Anyone else want to join me?

Photo Copyright Pete & Jen's Backyard Birds


Apple Varieties and Their Uses

We took the kids apple picking with some friends at Cider Hill this past weekend. Apple season has begun! If you have apples on hand and don't know what varieties are good for what, checkout this handy reference.

Photo Copyright


Birth of a Tool: Axe Making

Originally stumbled upon this video via Root Simple a couple of weeks ago. Chris and I often discuss the hefty price tag on some handcrafted woodworking tools (planes mainly,) so it was interesting to watch this axe being born.

Photo Copyright John Neeman


Backyard Ideas

Even though Summer is far from over, I'm already dreaming of ways to integrate a stone patio with raised bed gardens (and maybe chickens) next year. When I saw some of the photos of the Ashevillage Institute, I had my inspiration for the day.

Photo Copyright the Asheville Institute


Fruit Fly Trap

Canning season means epic quantities of fruit flies. I have tried several DIY fruit fly traps, most involving apple cider vinegar and dishwashing soap, but they never seem to work. Then I stumbled on this clever invention, and I'm never looking back. I set it up before I went to bed, and the next morning I had a little swarm of flies in my canning jar. Eureka!

Photo Copyright The Idea Room




For the Love of Bread

It's been a while now that I've been making all of our bread, instead of buying it from the store (with a few exceptions.) One of my favorite recipes is a fermented dough using your choice of cereal grains (personally I like quinoa and millet) - but being a fermented/sponge type of recipe, it's not something you can whip up in the afternoon after realizing that HOLY COW we're almost out of bread! For faster turnarounds, I turn to a recipe in a cookbook I've had since I was in high school: The Tasha Tudor Cookbook: Recipes and Reminiscences from Corgi Cottage.

The "Oatmeal Bread" recipe was the first yeast bread I ever made, and is still a favorite of mine. I've adapted it slightly over the years, but the overall personality of the bread is the same. The recipe in the book supposedly makes 3 loaves, but it always yields 4 for me (do I have teeny loaf pans or something?) so I usually cut the recipe in half. I've made this bread for neighbors and friends, and most memorably, I made the full-size batch, kneading out a monstrous ball of dough, when I was very very pregnant with my youngest child. Two days later, my son was born. Afterwards as we were getting settled in bed, my midwives went to work making something for us all to eat downstairs in the kitchen. I had requested scrambled eggs and toasted bread. I don't think I was alone in remarking how DELICIOUS the bread was. Everytime I make this bread, it is well received. So, without further ado:

Oatmeal Bread
(based on the recipe of the same name, from The Tasha Tudor'Cookbook)

Yields 2 loaves. Double recipe to make 4, rise times should be the same.

  • 1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup*
  • 1/4 cup molasses*
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 cups boiling water
  • 1/2 cup lukewarm (110-115° F) water
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast (or 1 packet)
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 4 cups bread flour*
  • 1/2 cup oat bran
  1. Combine the oats, salt, sweeteners, and butter in a large mixing bowl. Add the boiling water, cover, and allow to sit for 1 hour.
  2. In a small bowl, measure out the lukewarm water. Add the yeast, and stir until fully dissolved. Add to the cooled oat mixture and stir well.
  3. Combine flours in a large measuring vessel or mixing bowl. Add to the oat mixture a few cups at a time, stirring with a wooden spoon or silicon spatula after each addition. Continue mixing.
  4. When the dough becomes too difficult to mix in a bowl, turn out onto a floured surface and knead well for 10-12 minutes. Continue adding more flour, as needed, to obtain a non-sticky dough that is smooth and elastic. (Sometimes I have to add an additional cup of flour, depending on how humid it is, etc. Don't be alarmed! Look at the dough, not the measuring cup.)
  5. Place the dough in a well-oiled mixing bowl, turn over once so the top is greased, and set it to rise in a warm place for 1 hour, or until doubled in size. (I like to let me dough rise in my over-the-range microwave. The hood light underneath keeps it warm, and the enclosed space keeps the dough safe from kids/cats/etc.)
  6. After dough has doubled, turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface and divide in two sections. Shape into loaves, and place into greased loaf pans. Let rise again, until doubled, about another hour.
  7. Preheat oven to 350° F. Bake the loaves for 45-60 minutes, or until they sound hollow when tapped. Remove and cool on a wire rack.

*Notes: Adjust the proportions of sweeteners to your liking. You can use 1/2 cup molasses and no maple syrup, or no molasses and 1/2 cup maple syrup... it all depends on your penchant for molasses. I personally like the 50:50 ratio if I plan on using the bread for sandwiches, and 100% molasses if I just want to eat it slathered with butter. As for flour, you don't have to use bread flour. You can use all-purpose flour and have a denser loaf. Or, if you are like me, and hate having a bunch of different flours in the house, I use all-purpose flour in place of bread flour all the time, and then add vital wheat gluten at a rate of 1 tablespoons per cup of flour.

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Time is of the Essence

Nectarines, frozen in time

I can't believe it's been almost two weeks since I posted last. And yet, I can believe it, since I've been so busy.

This was the first month after a three-month hiatus that I have had to layout the newsletter for The Mother Connection (the newsletter has a large combined "Summer" issue, before resuming a regular monthly schedule in September.) When I signed on as the Creative Director last year, I knew it was a two-year commitment, and I don't regret my decision to volunteer my time one bit. But, it is difficult to pull away from my other endeavors for 4-5 days each month, nose to the grindstone, and do nothing but just pound out the newsletter. In theory, I should be spending short amounts of time on the newsletter all month long, instead of pulling several back-to-back all-nighters right before the publishing deadline. But deadlines being what they are, I never get all the content I need until the very last minute. And because it's almost impossible to flow all the advertisements until all the copy is in place, it makes for some late nights where it's just me, the cat, and InDesign sitting on the couch in the dark.

Procrastination seems to be a universal human trait, and it is especially prevalent in a volunteer organization - where none of us seem to have enough time for everything. We are all moms, some of us have jobs outside the home, and many of us volunteer at other organizations or help at our children's schools. It's no one's fault that the copy comes in late, or articles never materialize, and this post isn't meant to be a "blame game" so much as an admission that Time Is Valuable. And try as we might, we just cannot add hours onto each day.

Each night after the kids go to bed, I do some calculations involving time. What can I get done tonight, in this block of time? There might be laundry, or cleaning, or thank-you cards to write. Yard work, gardening, or bills. But lately, one thing always seems to take precedence: canning. Produce will rot before your very eyes if not eaten or preserved. So while I can put off the folding, or the weeding, I usually can't ignore the pile of fruit sitting on the counter.

Last night was one of those nights. I volunteered at the co-op on Thursday, and thus ended up with a lot of extra nectarines. Galen will eat a nectarine, and so will I, but Hunter and Chris are not big fans of fruits with skins or pits. I knew that Galen and I wouldn't be able to eat them all in time, so I sought out a jam or chutney recipe for nectarines. I came across a few that called for brandy, and one delicious looking dessert (to be eaten fresh, not canned) that used Grand Marnier. This gave me some inspiration, and so I came up with a recipe for my nectarines using the proportions suggested on the back of my jar of Ball RealFruit No-Sugar Needed Pectin. (By the way, I have never tried Pomona's Universal Pectin, but probably should. Ball's no-sugar pectin has dextrose as a "filler" ingredient.) After I was done cooking it on the stove, I thought it reminded me of a white wine sangria - and so I labeled it as such: Nectarine Pink Sangria Preserves.

I share the recipe here with you, in case you want to transform your ticking clock of ripening fruit into Summer-In-A-Jar, to be enjoyed at a later time!

Nectarine Pink Sangria Preserves

  • 4 cups of peeled, pitted, and roughly chopped nectarines
  • 1/2 cup of Cranberry Peach juice (100% juice blend, not a cocktail. I used Whole Foods' 365 brand)
  • 1/2 cup of white wine (I used Sauvignon Blanc)
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 4.5 tablespoons Ball RealFruit Low or No-Sugar Needed Pectin
  • 1 cup of unrefined cane sugar
  • 1 tablespoon Grand Marnier liquor
  • 4 half-pint glass canning jars
  1. Combine fruit, cranberry juice, wine, and lemon juice in a large saucepan. Gradually stir in pectin. Bring mixture to a full rolling boil that cannot be stirred down. Test fruit to ensure it is soft (especially if you used some unripe fruit!)
  2. Add sugar. Return to a full boil and let boil hard for 1 minute, stirring constantly to avoid burning.
  3. Remove from heat, stir in the Grand Marnier.
  4. To can: Pack into hot, sterilized half-pint jars leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Wipe rims of jars clean, apply a hot lid to jar, and screw on a band so it is "fingertip tight." Process for 10 minutes in a hot-water bath. Leave undisturbed on counter to cool. (My favorite: smile as you hear the "plink" of the buttons popping when the vacuum seal is created.)

A few afterthoughts about canning: did you know processing for longer than 10 minutes can break down the pectin and cause runny jam? Yeah, neither did I, until recently. Also, I find the proportions of fruit-to-pectin listed on the Ball pectin products to produce a fairly thick jam. Maybe it's just me. But if you prefer a thinner set, you might want to cut back the pectin a tad.

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