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

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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A Little Preoccupied

We're still here, I promise, even though it's been a couple of weeks since I posted last. You see, I've been a little preoccupied with another task: chickens. More on that in a minute. For now, a few updates:

My preserved lemons have finished fermenting. I tasted one straight-up, and it was.... ummm... pretty damn salty. Will need to make a tangine or other recipe with these soon. I'm sure my initial taste is not a fair assessment of preserved lemons.

Peaches started appearing at local farms a couple of weeks ago, and now the season is in full swing. I've already made one batch of peach butter, but desperately need to make more. It is my favorite fruit spread of all, and since we make our own yogurt, it does double-duty as a yogurt stir-in.

I also made some of Ashley English's Persian pickles last week, and they came out pretty good. I really love dill pickles best of all, but the recipe I use calls for dill seed, which I haven't been able to find ANYWHERE. And, because we were on vacation I missed the deadline for placing my Frontier Co-op order with my local chapter of Holistic Moms Network. Gah!

Lastly, Chris has been working incredibly hard on clearing our "slope of doom" next to the circular driveway. At the beginning of the season it was covered in a thick mat of dead creeping juniper that closely resembled Medusa's tresses. Now, 99% of the juniper has been cleared, lots of crushed stone has been raked away, and a 6" layer of 50/50 loam compost mix has been smoothed over about a third of the area. Right now we are seeding the area with sweet white clover (for the bees, and for erosion control) but hope to plant some lavender, low bush blueberries, and wildflowers there soon. I'm sure we'll have a dedicated blog entry about this epic project once it is complete!

Slope of Doom


So now, as promised: chickens.

Chris and I have wanted to get chickens for a while now, but we were pretty sure it wasn't legal based on our understanding of the zoning by-laws. Well, long story short, we were right: no chickens in North Andover for plots less than three acres. We considered applying for a variance, but then decided to go ahead and see how we could go about changing the zoning by-laws. It certainly involves more work, but given my recent feelings on getting involved in local government, and the fact that changing the by-laws would benefit ALL chicken-loving residents in North Andover, it seems entirely worth it. When Chris was on the phone with the Zoning Enforcement Officer the other day, he said he'd like to see someone work on getting the laws changed. He also said we'd likely be known as the "chicken people" from now on. Which I'm kind of okay with.

So, I urge you to check out our new website dedicated to our cause. "Like" us on Facebook. If you live in town, or have any experience or expertise with legalizing backyard chickens, definitely drop us a line!