Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Cooking and baking -- meat

Some Facts about Meat:

1) Meat may be one of the pricier items in your food budget. However, it does provide many nutritional benefits and is also filling, so it can be a very good buy from that point of view. Also, cooking a piece of meat generally provides leftovers you can use to stretch your food budget. For example, you can cook a ham on Sunday, have some ham sandwiches on Monday, and have ham in a casserole on Wednesday. You can also cook a piece of meat and freeze some of it for later. Obviously, watching for sales on meat is another way to incorporate meat into a frugal budget.
2) In past days and during certain times when fresh meat was not plentiful, cooks in many cultures devised ways of using little bits of meat with other foods in order to stretch the meat. For example, many Chinese dishes have bits of meat, along with lots of rice and other vegetables. Americans and Europeans developed many casseroles. Cooks in the Southern U.S. used bits of meat to season greens or beans. Italian pastas use bits of meat in the sauce. Some dietitians of today think that using meat almost as a condiment rather than as the main dish is a more healthful way to eat meat-- especially since many in today's world do not perform the physical labor during a day than our ancestors did. Whether it really is more healthful or not to eat meat as a seasoning in a dish of starch and vegetables, experimenting with such foods from all around the world is a fun and budget conscious way to incorporate meat and poultry into your diet. You can either buy smaller amounts of meat in order to make these dishes, thus saving on your meat budget. Or, you can serve meat as a main dish and use such recipes to make the leftovers appealing to your family. Either way, these are great budget stretchers and can possibly be a healthful way to eat, as well.
3) Meat is an easily digested food. It is also one of the best ways to obtain complete proteins, vitamin B-12, vitamin B-6, many other other vitamins, iron, zinc, certain mineral salts, and essential acids in our diet. In fact, if you do prefer to eat a vegetarian diet, you will need to take certain measures to make sure that you obtain nutrients you might be missing by not eating meat. It certainly can be done, and many vegetarians experience excellent health. However, it does require some study in order to achieve optimum nutrition through a vegetarian diet. So, if you are embarking on a vegetarian way of life, its wise to do your homework. An interesting fact that I came across in doing some nutritional research is that eating a vegetarian diet seems to extend the lifespan for some men but, surprisingly, may potentially decrease the lifespan of some women. Thus, it's extra important as a woman to educate yourself about the proper way to cook and eat for a completely vegetarian lifestyle.
4) Regarding beef: The USDA grades beef this way: prime, choice, select and standard cuts, which come from younger beef. Prime is generally sold to restaurants. It comes from the inner, more protected portions. It is of very high taste and quality. Choice is also of tender quality and delicious taste. In the past, choice was the preference of many shoppers. However, because we are now favoring leaner cuts of meat for health reasons, standard cuts -- which are leaner -- are becoming more popular. There are three lower grades, which are seldom sold in the grocery store. These are utility, cutter, and canner. These are used to make ground hamburger or hot dogs and some other manufactured beef items.
Lamb and pork are graded in a similar way to beef. They are generally taken from younger animals and there is less variation in tenderness with these meats than there is with beef.
Whatever the grade, stores offer a wider variety of leaner meats today because of consumer demand. Even many pigs are now bred to be leaner than in days past.
5) In general, the more prime and choice cuts of meat come from the inner, more protected portions of the food animal. These are naturally tender cuts of meat. They are usually cooked by dry heat to preserve their flavor. Other cuts of meat come from the more exposed, more muscular, and more fibrous portions. Though these other cuts of meat may be tougher, they are generally less expensive and more budget friendly. As mentioned above, they are more valued today than they were even a few decades ago, because they are often leaner than the prime and choice cuts. They can be rendered tasty and tender by proper cooking. Stewing, braising, cooking as a pot roast, or other methods of slow cooking with moisture are great ways to turn these tougher, leaner cuts into tender delights.
6) If you have a large family and a freezer, investigate buying a side of meat and having it butchered into smaller cuts. You can store these smaller cuts in the freezer for future use. Check out 4-H and other livestock auctions. Of course, if you live on a farm, you can always grow your own.
7) Look for meat that is firm, has a good color, and smells appropriately for the type of meat. Avoid meat that has an off odor. The more you cook, the more you'll recognize what is healthy and what is not. It's good to be aware that we cannot rely on meat color alone to gauge whether meat is safe or not. We consumers often misinterpret meat color, and meat suppliers are aware of that fact. They lose quite a bit of money when consumers turn away from meat that is perfectly safe because it does not have the color we expect. Meat is a dark, purplish red when first cut. Some parts are redder than others due to natural factors. Meat naturally turns browner when exposed to oxygen. That does not necessarily mean that it has spoiled. It can, in fact, still be quite fresh, healthful, and nutritious. However, many of us mistakenly believe that brown color in meat automatically means it is less than fresh, and we instinctively reach for redder-looking meats. Thus, suppliers use various means to keep meat looking artificially red. One method that has developed in the past few years is to wrap meat and fish in packaging material that holds in carbon dioxide. This reduces the exposure of meat to oxygen and keeps it looking redder longer. This is particularly used in the U.S.; if I understand the matter correctly, the E.U. has banned such packaging. Also, suppliers know that the nitrates used in curing some processed meats has a side effect of making them look redder.
Unfortunately, meats kept in packages that bathe them in carbon-dioxide may look fresh for too long. The meat may still look nice and rosy, yet be in the process of spoiling. So, be sure to check for other signs of freshness or lack of freshness. Also, be aware of when the meat was packaged and compare it to food safety charts showing how long that particular kind of meat will stay fresh. Here is a food safety sheet about meat color which explains this in a little more detail.
Note that meat is not the only item in which suppliers study how to enhance the color. Many food items, from fruits to vegetables to margarine to meats, are artificially colored or packaged in a way make them more appealing to modern tastes. If you have ever eaten home-grown, old-fashioned varieties of vegetables, for example, you know that some very wonderful foods do not conform to our modern expectations for food size, shape, color, and uniformity. Usually, the methods used to enhance shelf-appeal in foods are harmless to the human body. However, the wise shopper should be aware that this does occur.
8) In today's more sedentary world, it's better to avoid too much saturated fat. We simply can't burn off fat as much as we did when more people engaged in labor intensive work and also burned off fat simply by living in draftier houses and spending more time out in the elements. If you buy meats with less marbling in them and trim off the fat, you can obtain leaner protein. Also, roasting, broiling, baking, or simmering meat tends to reduce the fat in meat. Drain and discard fat that drains off and accumulates in cooking. De-fat broths by letting them cool in the fridge, and, then, taking off the layer of hardened fat that forms on the top. Look for lean cuts of meat, and learn how to cook them so that they are tender and tasty.
9) Once you bring meat home, learn how to handle it safely. Wash your meat before using it. If you are using frozen meat, thaw it in the fridge or microwave. After cooking, refrigerate leftovers within two hours. Cook thoroughly, as is appropriate for the cut of meat you are using. Don't chop vegetables on a board where you just chopped raw meat. Clean your counters after handling meat. Follow any specific safety instructions on the meat package. Food safety is also important when handling plant foods, but we're addressing meat specifically today.
10) When you do select cuts of meat that have some fat in them, it's important to balance your diet by pairing the meat with foods that are low in fat.
11) In the past, organ meats used to be thought of as being healthy. Even in the early eighties, when I was having my children, pregnant women were advised to eat liver for its iron content. Also, in the past, people could not afford to waste any part of a slaughtered animal. So, they devised ways of cooking organ meats, and organ meats were often considered to be a great delicacy. It's important to remember that at the time when organ meats were prized a) people did not have as much access to meat and did not eat meat with every meal and b) people were more active. Today, organ meats are not looked upon with as much favor by nutritionists. For one thing, they are they have the highest cholesterol levels of all portions of meat. Also, regarding liver, some people question the wisdom of eating the "filter" of an animal. The liver is an organ that helps us remove toxins from the body, and, thus, it potentially contains these toxins within it. Do your own research and make your own decision about eating the various organ meats. If you do eat them, save them for occasional treats and don't eat them regularly.
12) Hams are the hind legs and rump of pork, which are cured and smoked. Picnic hams are the front legs and shoulder of pork, which are cured and smoked. Fresh hams are the same portions of pork, but they have not been cured. They are often labeled pork shoulder picnic. Note that fresh hams must be thoroughly cooked since they have not undergone any curing process.
Gammon is a name that is used in the British Isles for ham cuts; ham is called jambon in French and jamon on Spanish.
Almost every country has its own famous type of ham. For example, Italy is famous for prosciuttio, Germany is famous for Westphalian ham, and China has a ham called Jinhua.
Country hams, which are very popular in Tennessee where I live, have undergone a dry cure and are very salty. Preparing country ham involves a good cleaning and soaking in order to cut some of the salt content. Even when cooked properly, it is still saltier than other types of cured hams. It has a very flavorful taste. Some types of American country ham could be compared to prosciuttio or to what the French call country ham. Those are generally more moist, however, and are not quite as salty. People often serve country ham with red eye gravy. This is made by adding coffee or water to pan-fried country ham drippings and cooking this mixture down for some time. Country ham is often served as breakfast sandwiches made of slices of ham between two layers of a buttermik biscuit. It is also usually served with grits.
Smithfield and other Virginia hams, as well as Kentucky hams, are forms of American country hams. However, I personally don't tend to think of them as being exactly as salty as what we call country ham in Tennessee.
Virginia hams are famous for their unique flavor, which used to be attributed to the fact that their pork was fed on acorns and, more importantly, peanuts. Today, a Virginia ham is not necessarily peanut fed. Kentucky is also famous for its method of curing hams. Many Southern U.S. states produce fine hams.
My favorite hams are honey cured.
13) Barbecue is slow cooked fresh meat smoked over a pit, in a drum, or on a spit. It is usually brushed with a sauce, and other sauces are provided when it is served. In the Southern U.S. and in areas where Southern barbecue culture has spread, barbecue means pork, though chicken and turkey are barbecued, as well. In Texas and other points west, beef is the meat that is most often barbecued.
Every state in the Southeastern U.S. has its own twist on barbecue. In some states, it even varies by certain sections of the state. But, no matter how they serve it, Southerners love their barbecued pork. Game meats, particularly deer, can be barbecued as well.
Please note that a barbecue does not consist of throwing meat on a grill. It is incorrect, for example, to invite someone over for a barbecue and then serve them hot dogs, hamburgers or steaks off the grill. That makes for a delicious meal and a fun event, but it's not a barbecue. To quickly cook meats on a grill is more properly termed a cookout. (We'll make an exception and let you throw a steak on the barb-y if you live in Australia, but only for you!) A true barbecue means a whole animal or the ribs slow roasted or broiled over a pit fire. Many a fine barbecue has been held in someone's backyard, and you can host one, too, if you are willing to put in the time to slow roast the meat. For a big barbecue, it can take up to twenty-four hours to prepare all of the meat, especially if its marinated. However, if you start early enough in the morning, you can have a fine barbecue feast ready by lunchtime. A true barbecue is a wonderful occasion, and waiting for the meat to be ready is just part of the fun. (I know we have some other G.R.I.T.S. following along with this course. You know what I mean!)
The best barbecue restaurants are those which have been using the same fire pit for a long time and which take the time to barbecue the meat well.

Happy cooking!

Monday, March 30, 2009

cooking and baking, cleaning

Proverbs 31:14 She is like the merchants' ships; she bringeth her food from afar. Proverbs 31:15 She riseth also while it is yet night, and giveth meat to her household, and a portion to her maidens.

How's everyone's spring cleaning coming? Do you have any outdoor furniture? Has it been stored away for the winter? (Or, if you live in the Southern Hemisphere, do you need to clean and store some outdoor furniture?) Whether your furniture sits out most of the time or whether it's been stored away, sometime during the spring or early summer, you will want to give it a thorough cleaning. The earlier spring comes to your area, the earlier you want to finish this so that your family can begin to enjoy the outdoors. Don't forget porch furniture, deck furniture, yard furniture, porch or yard swings or benches, or furniture on screened in porches. Make any necessary repairs. If your furniture has cushions, check and clean them, as well. If you need to buy or make new cushions, follow through with that.

If you're not sure how to clean your outdoor furniture, this link offers suggestions for cleaning many different types of outdoor furniture materials. Here are some suggestions for plastic furniture. Here's one simple method for any type of outdoor furniture.

Don't forget that many a worn looking patio furniture item can be saved simply by painting it. Look for a paint that is appropriate to the material: wicker, aluminum, plastic, wood, etc.

While you're at it, check trellises, fences, and other yard items to see if they are in good shape or if they need repairs.

We're continuing on with our cooking/baking portion of the course. Here are some random tips.

1) It's important to practice cooking skills, such as chopping or peeling or sauteing or getting the feel of whether a dough is the right consistency, etc. Even if you have been cooking for many years, you can always learn how to do something more efficiently or more creatively. With practice, you will learn how to perform skills involving the use of kitchen knives more safely and more quickly. Learning how to do this safely and quickly will greatly improve the efficiency of your cooking, as well as make the process more enjoyable.
2) Remember, there is more to a meal than just having something to eat. Even if you live alone, take time to prepare nutritious and tasty food and sit at a prettily decorated table to eat it. I've noticed that on those rare occasions when my dearest husband is out of town, I tend to eat more poorly than when he is here. Yet, that is not a healthy habit. By contrast, during the years that my father has been widowed, he has made sure to have nutritious meals for himself. One way he did this is by cooking something he enjoys and putting up meal sized containers in his freezer. Now, he is living in a facility with a dining room that prepares three square meals.
One thing that we can do for people who live along -- whether they be young singles or older widows and widowers -- is to bring over some home cooked meals once in a while or invite them to dine at our table on occasion. If we are blessed with home and family, we have something wonderful to share with those who might be far from their families or who otherwise find themselves living alone.
Certainly, if you live with others -- particularly in a family -- it's important to have at least one meal together a day -- preferably 3.
3) Modern nutritionists sometimes suggest that grazing or having five or six small meals a day fits better into our modern society and is a way of losing weight. If your doctor suggests this for a reason, heed his advice. All too often, however, this is what happens: 1) You end up eating five or six large meals instead of the small quantities that the nutritionists have in mind 2) A large portion of your day is spent thinking about food and preparing food and waiting for the next small meal. This could backfire into eating more. 3) You may tend to eat these small meals quickly, without taking the time to savor them or to chew and digest them properly. As Cheryl Mendelson points out, in countries where mealtimes are still respected, people generally have fewer weight problems.
4) The best eating pattern is a hearty breakfast, a satisfying noon dinner, and a lighter supper. I'm sure we've all heard the saying, "Breakfast like a king; lunch like a prince; and dine like a pauper." However, as a practical matter in today's world, lunch may need to be smaller and dinner become the larger meal, around which the family gathers. Work out what is best in your family.
Farm families can usually still manage the nourishing noon dinner and lighter supper at night.
Whatever pattern you choose, you will probably find that it's wise to have some healthy, lean protein with your lunch. Protein digests more slowly than carbs, and it can help prevent afternoon sleepiness.
5) If you just can't find the appetite for a hearty breakfast, have a French style petite dejuner. This was a snack that French farmers ate before going out to do their earliest chores. Then, they would come in and eat their real breakfast -- the dejuner . At some point, the dejuner simply became lunch, and French culture ate only the one breakfast. So, if you would like to have a French style petite dejuner, enjoy a cup of hot chocolate or decaf coffee with a delicious bit of a baguette or a nice roll, a tiny bit of real butter, and some lovely preserves.


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

dish strainer -- double half crochet with two strands

Below, you'll find my home video of the American half double-crochet stitch using two strands. If you live in a country that does not use the American naming system for crochet stitches, you may know this stitch by another name. If you are just learning this stitch and live in a country that uses a different naming system than the U.S., you can find out what the stitch is called in your country by asking someone who crochets or someone who works in a shop that sells yarn. That way, if you see another name for this stitch in another pattern, you'll know how to do it.

You will probably want to review the video of the expert who is doing the American half-double crochet using one strand or one ball of yarn. I am a beginning crocheter and a beginning videographer, so her technique and video quality will be smoother. However, I wanted to do a video myself, because I wanted you to see how to work with two strands.

Remember, the motions are 1) yarn over the hook, 2) insert the hook in the next stitch to be worked, 3) yarn over hook, 4) pull yarn through the first stitch on the hook, 5) yarn over the hook, 6) pull the yarn through all 3 loops on the hook. This completes the half double crochet stitch. Take into account that we are are working with two strands of yarn and not one, so each stitch and each yarn over will have two strands!

In the video, I mention that because each stitch has two strands, when you insert your needle into a stitch, you pick up two strands. I meant to say two strands, but I actually said two stitches. I just wanted to make it clear that you pick up one stitch with two strands.

Also, I noticed that I held my stitches too far back on the crochet needle. Be sure to hold your work closer to the end so that you can perform the motions of the stitch more easily.

If you are new to crochet, please don't be intimidated by the learning process. The motions may seem unnatural and a bit difficult to learn at first. But, once you do learn them, you will find that they are easy to do. You'll notice that I'm stumbling a little bit myself as I attempt to teach this stitch. However, I have completed several rows of this stitch in which I was able to work the rows very quickly. I still have a lot to learn, though, about how to correctly work the gauge and tension of the stitches. We're all learning together.

Feel free to use any color threads you like. I am using blue and white as I have a blue kitchen with white curtains. You may prefer to use two threads of the same color. Or, you can use a yarn that's variegated in color. There are some lovely yarns that have flecks of black and other granite-like colors in them. When made into dish strainers, those are lovely in kitchens with granite or flecked counter tops. If you match the colors in your counter tops closely, your dish strainer will blend in, which is a lovely effect.

Advanced crocheters, if you'd like to add your input, please feel free to do so!

Happy crocheting!


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Saturday, March 21, 2009

continuing on with our dish strainer

Before doing anything, please view this video of an expert showing how to do the half-double crochet stitch. Do not stitch yet.

For our purposes, here's how we will proceed. Once you have chained fifty beginning stitches, chain two more. Go into the second stitch to begin your half-double crochet. Remember, we are working with two strands from two different skeins or balls of yarn. So, when we put our hook into the chain stitch, we will pull up a loop of two threads. Count those two threads as one. When you yarn over, count those two threads as one, etc. Finish your row until you have 50 completed stitches. Follow the instructions in the video for turning your work and stitch 50 more. Remember to count each time you complete a row to make sure that you have done fifty stitches in all. Also, try to keep your stitches the same length and level of tension. Counting your stitches will help you keep your rows even. Do as many rows as you like to make a rectangular piece to fit on your kitchen counter.

Some of you may know enough about crochet to take off from here. If you are still confused, do not worry. I made a video showing how we are working with two strands, but, as it was my first video, it was a little rough. I will make another one and post it tomorrow or Monday so that you can visualize this stitch using two strands from two skeins or balls. If you need to wait until you see me do it, that's fine. Once you catch on, your project can be worked very quickly. Or, you can take it along to appointments and such and do it at your own speed. I will post the decorative edging directions when I have finished mine. If you are not finished when I am, you can refer back to it when you have completed yours.

Note, except for the decorative edging, the only two stitches you will need to know for this project are the basic chain stitch and the double-half-crochet. Remember, the rows are basically double half crochet (treble crochet for many people outside U.S., I think). You will chain two stitches when you get to the end of a row and are ready to turn it.

Happy crocheting!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Let's Bake -- Sally Lunn Bread

Sally Lunn is a very old type of bread, and, as most of you know, you can find many different recipes for it -- both for making from scratch and using a bread maker. In fact, my very favorite bread machine recipe is a Sally Lunn bread that calls for a number of eggs. Below, I've given my version of a Sally Lunn recipe for baking from scratch -- without the aid of a bread machine.

Sally Lunn is such an old bread that many different legends have grown up about how it got its name. Most of the legends try to identify just who Sally Lunn was, but one tale says that it's not named after a woman at all, but is a corruption of the French phrase sol et lune. Sol means sun and lune means bread. Here's an article about that if you are curious about the romantic history surrounding this bread. It also gives some extra recipes for Sally Lunn in case you'd like to try them, in addition to the one I'm giving.

Sally Lunn is a rich, sweet-tasting bread.

In making Sally Lunn, experienced bread makers will just have fun. Beginners will learn how to proof yeast and how to work with dough. You will need to set aside up to three hours for this bread to be finished, though you will be able to do other things while it is rising.

To get ready to make the bread, assemble three bowls. Two of the bowls can be smaller, but the third size needs to be large enough for bread dough. You will also need a small pan to heat some of the ingredients on the stove.

Grease a cookie sheet or spray it with a vegetable spray, such as PAM.

Make sure you have these ingredients on hand:

3 1/2 cups of flour (I recommend that this be all white bread flour, as this bread's unique flavor and texture depend on it being able to rise well. A whole grain flour might be too heavy for this bread.)
1 package or 1/4 ounce active dry yeast
1/2 cup melted shortening or melted butter
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup milk -- more if needed
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
4 tablespoons warm water

Here are the directions:

Add water to the yeast in a bowl. Follow the directions on the package or jar for proofing the yeast.

Using the pan, heat the milk and shortening/butter to the temperature of a warm baby bottle.

Mix the flour, salt and sugar in a separate bowl. This bowl should be large enough for dough to rise in.

Mix the egg in yet another bowl.

Add the warm milk and melted shortening to the bowl of flour, salt, and sugar.

Add the eggs and the yeast and water.

Beat the entire mixture until it comes off the side of the bowl. Note, the ideal in bread making at this point would be for the dough to come away from the sides, leaving a "clean" bowl. However, because we are using two eggs instead of one, the dough may be very sticky at this point. Do not worry about that. It will become less sticky as it rises.

Cover, let rise in a warm place until double in size about 1 and a half hours.
When I cover bread, I use a bread cloth over the top of the bowl. Some people like to moisten and heat their bread cloth in a microwave, so that it provides moist heat as the dough rises. I have not tried that method. I have, however, turned the oven to 200 degrees for a bit, and then turned it off as soon as it was warm. Then, I have set the dough inside the oven or on top of the warm oven to rise. See the note below for tips on getting dough to rise.

Once the dough has risen, flour your hands. Pat the outside of the dough with flour if you need to in order to work with it. Knead the bread down in size and shape it into a round loaf. If you have never kneaded and shaped dough before, you're in for a treat. It's very relaxing, I think, and it always makes me think of the generations of women who made bread for their families. This dough does not take a lot of kneading, so don't overdo!

Place the round loaf on the cookie sheet and let it rise again to 1/2 again as big. This rising should take about 45 minutes.

(Note: rise times in bread recipes are approximate and rising depends on a number of variables. For example, your bread may not rise as well on a cold, damp day as it does on a warm, sunny day. Here's an article with some tips about getting bread to rise.)

When the bread is nearing the end of the second rising, pre-heat the oven. Bake it for thirty minutes. Then, baste the top of the bread with butter. Let it bake for another 15 minutes. Check to make sure it's done.

When it has finished baking, baste it with butter again.


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Oops -- Memory Verse

I've been updating our memory verses, which you can find in the sidebar link. Our first memory verse was Psalm 68:3-6a, which reads

But may the righteous be glad
and rejoice before God;
may they be happy and joyful.

Sing to God, sing praise to his name,
extol him who rides on the clouds [a]—
his name is the LORD—
and rejoice before him.

A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows,
is God in his holy dwelling.

God sets the lonely in families, [b]
he leads forth the prisoners with singing;

In my first post about this verse, I accidentally transposed the 6 and the 8 and mistakenly cited psalm 86:3-6, which, apparently, I've been doing all along. Of course, you can't go wrong memorizing any verses in the Bible. But, Psalm 68 is what I had in mind, and it pertains to our subject of keeping a home. So, I apologize for any confusion.

Happy Home making!

Calling all crocheters to "weigh in" on skein of yarn, more labs, more cooking this week

Seraphim asked a great question, and this is my attempt to answer her. If you have experience with crochet/knitting and have used UK standards, please also feel free to "weigh in". I did not realize that when it comes to yarns, there actually is a great deal of difference in American and U.K. terminology.

In G.B. yarn is sold in weights, rather than in skeins.

There are two aspects of yarn weight -- the thickness of the strand and the total weight of the skein or ball.

The U.S. brand yarn I'm using is 100% orlon acrylic fiber 4-ply net weight 4 ounces knitting worsted type. This is American 4-ply, which I believe is different than British 4-ply. In fact, I think that British worsted weight is 10 ply, though I'm not sure why the ply counts are so different. Though worsted is named after a town in England, in England (I believe) they call worsted weight "double-knitting" weight. A 7 ounce skein of worsted American 4 ply comes out to about 198g. That's probably more yarn than is needed for this project. So, I'm guessing that 100grams total weight would be enough to complete the project, plus give you some extra to work with, as it is a small project.

Again, this is a very forgiving crochet exercise, so if you don't have quite the right yarn, it will probably be ok. Since you can make this as large or as small as you like, it's ok if the gauge is a bit different than what I am doing. The main thing to remember is that you do not want any natural fibers, such as wool or cotton, as those will retain moisture too long for the strainer to be effective. You want man made fibers, such as acrylic. Also, you do not want your yarn to be too fine, as the finished product needs to have some thickness and weight to it.

Here's a discussion of yarn weights and British equivalents:

4-ply = Sportweight
Doubleknitting = Worsted
Aran = Fisherman or Medium weight
Chunky = Bulky

Here's a little more explanation:

Worsted Weight - This is by far one of the most common weights you will encounter. Its British equivalent is 10-ply, and is incredibly diverse. It makes great garments, but can also be utilized for throws, blankets, afghans, hats, scarves, mittens... and the list goes on. It's also a great sized weight to learn on, as the stitches aren't too small to see well so the learner can really learn to read the stitch.

Aran Weight - This is a tricky yarn. It's somewhere in between worsted and bulky yarns, but you usually won't find it on the shelves in North American stores. Its name comes from the tradition of knitting Aran sweaters from Ireland and Scotland. Aran yarn is most commonly found in its natural state - an off white and unscoured wool, so it still contains all of its natural greases which make the finished garment more water resistant and insulative.

Worsted weight is what we're going for. So, Seraphim, look for the British equivalent of worsted weight and buy a smaller size to medium size ball of it for this project. I hope that answered your question, but if you're still not sure, leave another comment, and we'll figure it out together.

I am using an American J-10 hook. In G.B., that would be a 4 hook.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, here are American versus British terms for crochet stitches:

British (UK) and American Crochet Terms - by Eva Owsian, BellaOnline's Crochet Editor
British (UK)

Slip Stitch (sl st) Slip Stitch (sl st)
Double Crochet (dc) Single Crochet (sc)
Half Treble (h tr) Half Double Crochet (hdc)
Treble (tr) Double Crochet (dc)
Double Treble (d tr) Treble (tr )
Triple Treble (tr tr) Double Treble (dtr)
Quadruple Treble (q or quad tr) Triple Treble (tr tr)
Quintuple Treble (qt or quint tr) Quadruple Treble (q or quad tr)
Sextuple Treble (s or sext tr) Quintuple Treble (qt or quint tr)
Cast Off Fasten Off
Miss Skip
Tension Guage
Work Straight Work Even
Yarn Over Hook Yarn Over (YO)

We will be doing a half double crochet, which is a British half treble.

This week, we'll be continuing on with our crochet work, doing a little baking, and studying more about the art and science of cooking.

Happy Home Keeping!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Lab Week -- crochet dish strainer

Let's get started:

Above is the photo of the completed dish strainer. As you can see, it's a bit wrinkly from being folded on my counter and needs a good washing. I use mine all the time, and I didn't get it washed before I needed to take a picture. The beautiful thing about this strainer is that you can toss it into the wash anytime, and it always comes out perfectly. I wash mine several times a week, usually, but just didn't get it done for today.

Since it is made of absorbent and quick-drying acrylic yarn, it is a fantastic surface for drying any kitchen items that you hand wash. It also can function as a hot pad -- though you do need to test it to make sure it can handle something really hot. I have found all sorts of uses for mine, which was a gift, and I am looking forward to making one of my own. (One of my sisters-in-law uses one that was given to her underneath her dog's dishes to keep them steady and to keep any spilled water from damaging the floor underneath)

Remember, these are the supplies we need: TWO skeins of acrylic 4 ply sport weight yarn. Usually, we enjoy the lovely cottons and wools. However, for this project, it must be acrylic and man-made materials versus the natural yarns. You want something that dries more quickly than the natural fibers. These skeins of yarn can be any color that you like. You can use two of the same color for a solid effect, or you can use one of one color and one of another to make a variegated effect. I have a blue kitchen with white curtains, so I am using one skein of blue and one of white to make a blue and white variegated one. My mother in law and my sister in law have both found already variegated yarns that pick up all the little speckles in their granite counter tops, and they have each made strainers that blend right into their kitchen counters. Or, you can always do a plain white one or a Christmas colored one or a pastel spring one. It's all up to your imagination and your desire.

Of course, you will also need a crochet hook. I am using size J-10.

Now that you have your supplies in hand, here we go:

Chain 50 stitches using one strand from each skein, so that you are working two strands at one time. (The instructions for how to chain your beginning stitches are below.) Remember, using one strand will not produce the correct results. We need thick stitches to be absorbent and to give the strainer some good body and height. So, we must use two strands.

Now, most people who do handwork say that to crochet is actually easier and faster than knitting once you have learned crochet. For one thing, if you make a mistake in crochet, it's easier to go back and fix it than it is if you slip a stitch in knitting. For another, an experienced crocheter can work very quickly.

Learning to crochet can be a bit tricky, however, just as learning to knit can be. Usually, once people have the feel of working the needle and the yard, the trickiest part is keeping the stitches all of the same size so that your rows come out evenly. Now, for this project, the challenging thing will be working with two strands instead of one and learning a fairly advanced stitch to begin with -- the half double crochet. The great thing is that this is a very forgiving project. We're basically just making a mat with a decorative edging that we'll add at the end, and if the mat's a little funny looking, it's not the end of the world. It will still perform its function. It's not as if we're making an heirloom baby sweater here. So, if this is your first attempt at doing crochet, you'll find this to be an excellent starter project. If you can crochet with the best of them, you'll find this to be a fun, quick, and useful project, and you may use this to make quick little gifts.

Here are instructions about how to chain your beginning stitches:

Just so you can see, here is a video using one strand:

Since we are working with two strands, you want to tie your slip knot with a strand from each skein. That's one slip knot with both strands tied in it.

As the woman in the lady suggests, it's important to keep your stitches as even as possible, and this is good practice. Again, since we're doing a kitchen mat, don't become discouraged if your first attempt isn't as even as someone's might be who's been crocheting for years. Just do your best.

Here I am working with two strands of yarn. Remember, I am left-handed, so I am likely working in the opposite direction than you are. I just wanted you to see how to hold two strands of yarn.

Here's my right-handed mother in law getting ready to tie her slip knot.

Here is her slip knot.

Here is her chain.

From there, she moves on to the next steps. We'll tackle that in the next tutorial. Just concentrate on getting your fifty chained stitches for right now. This chain of fifty chain stitches will be the base from which you work the rest of the project. From here out, (except for the decorative edges), we will work with only one crochet stitch. We'll also learn how to turn the corners. I'll try to have this in video with audio instructions to make this easier.

Remember, this is practice. Practice makes perfect, and practice makes progress. But, if you are a total beginner, be patient with yourself.

Happy home keeping!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Lab week -- Dollar Store Craft

While we're thinking about spring cleaning, it's a good time to organize our dressing table/grooming areas. Whether you wear makeup or not, you likely have some long implements for basic grooming. These could be makeup brushes, nail files, little scissors, an orange stick, a little tube of clear lip gloss, etc. Here's a handy and inexpensive way to keep these little items organized and handy for use.

First, let me say that the following video is where I found the inspiration for my idea. Please watch the video, as this young lady has a cuter version than mine. (Note that she got the idea from the Sephora makeup line, so creativity gets passes around.) Plus, she offers several tips for organizing your grooming space.

Here's the video:

I decided to see if the brush/tool holder could be done on a dollar store budget. I wanted to make one for myself, as well as a couple for my daughter-in-law's birthday. So, I set out for the local Dollar Store to see what I could find.

I bought 3 little jars for $1.00 each. Now, the Dollar Store has a number of glass jars in different shapes, as well as several other little containers that would be cute. The container does not have to be see through glass. I chose a modern shape, because my daughter-in-law likes modern shapes and because I wanted to duplicate the one in the video as closely as possible on my first try.

I also found plastic sacks that contain a pouch of colored sand and a pouch of shells for $1.00 each. There is not a lot of variety of color there. My first selection was a bright pink. I decided to add little decorative rocks at the bottom on my first attempt. This did not work, as the sand filled into the rocks and the rocks made it hard to slip the brushes and tools in and out of the containers. I looked for more sand at another dollar store as I happened to be nearer that one, and I discovered that even though they are the same chain, the second store does not carry the decorative sand. So, I ended up buying white sand at Michael's instead. The sand at Michael's is $2.99, but one pouch is enough to do three of the little glasses. The sand at Michael's does not have the shells in it.

I have looked at both the dollar store and Michael's for some little decorative doo-dads to stick in. I particularly wanted butterflies like the ones in the video. I did see some possibilities at Michael's, but they would require a little more investment in wire, glue, etc., which would take me out of my dollar store budget experiment. I also saw an Easter garland that was basically white wire with some clearish/whitish stones on them, which looked similar to the ones the young lady had wrapped around her lamps in the video above. I could have cut that into lengths to wrap the three jars, but that would have added another $4.00 to the project. Again, that's not bad, but I was specifically determined to do this on a dollar store basis. So, I used the shells from the dollar store sand pouches to decorate the sand, and I think it looks lovely. It's hard to get the full effect of the white sand and the white shells in my photo, but they look darling in real life.

The bottom line is that if I had not made a mistake with the rocks, this would have been the total cost of my project:

$3.00 -- 3 decorative glass containers
$2.00 -- 2 packs of colored sand with shells

That means $5.00 spent on two for my daughter in law and one for me -- not bad :). Sometimes, at the dollar store, you can find makeup brushes and nail tools, so you can buy a few of those to stick in your jars. I actually bought some of the makeup brushes I'm giving my daughter-in-law at Kroger's. I'm sticking my own stuff in mine, so that's basically free.

I did pick up two thick, brightly colored emery boards in the sale racks at Michael's -- one for me and one for my daughter in law.

I would like to do this for my daughter, as well, but can't quite figure out how to get this up to Chicago, where she and her husband live.

Anyhow, that's my dollar store organization craft. Try it if you like.

Happy homemaking!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Time for some Labs

This week we'll be doing some practical hands-on things.

We'll start our basic crochet project (I can't wait!) (If any of you would like to do a tutorial for any crochet project, let me know. I'm sure it would be nice to have some projects to pick from.)

Also, we'll be baking, and we'll be creating a simple, little, dollar-store ingredients craft to organize our makeup brushes or to give as gifts.

Happy Homemaking!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

A Few Thoughts for Our Homemaking Journals/Exercises

Well, I don't know where my posts have disappeared to. You can get to them through the links on the sidebar, but they don't seem to be showing up when you simply view my page. Does anyone have a suggestion?

Do you have your goals and your "Manager at Home" statement written down in your homemaking notebook? Are you reviewing your goals regularly? Simply reading your goals once a week can keep you focused. You'll find yourself making choices in alignment with your goals and values.

Just for fun: For either your homemaking book or your Book of Days, choose some adjectives or nouns similar to those in the following list. Select the one to five words in each category that appeal to you the most. The items that appeal to you should give you some idea of your natural style. Perhaps, these can be qualities that you bring into your home keeping. You'll also want to consider your family members' styles and tastes, though. Do this quickly. Your first impressions are probably your truest reactions to the adjectives. If you like, share your findings with us.

Category One

  • Warm
  • Loving
  • Welcoming
  • Happy
  • Peaceful
  • Homey
  • Neat
  • Orderly
  • Serene
  • Playful
  • Active
  • Quiet
  • Refuge
  • Casual
  • Refined
  • Lovely
  • Feminine
  • Classic
  • Pretty
  • Functional
  • Comfortable
  • Stimulating
  • Exciting
  • Refreshing
  • Relaxing
  • Unpretentious
  • Down to earth
  • Elegant
  • Artistic
  • Music-filled
  • Sounds of nature
Category II:

  • Urban
  • Rustic
  • Simplicity
  • Basic
  • Curves
  • straight
  • Country
  • Elegant
  • Classic
  • Romantic
  • Trendy
  • Traditional
  • Artistic
  • Natural
  • Green
  • Tasteful
  • Simple
  • Minimal
  • Sentimental
  • European mix
  • American
  • Asian
  • African
  • South American
  • French
  • Spanish
  • English
  • German
  • Native American
  • Western (U.S.)
  • Victorian
  • Regency/Federal
  • Greek Revival
  • Southern (U.S.)
  • Old World
  • _______ (What country's or region's style inspires you the most?)
  • eclectic
  • strongly one style
  • family pieces
  • handmade
  • thrift finds
  • florals
  • solids
  • prints
  • stripes
Category 3

  • Blues
  • Browns
  • Greens
  • Earth Tones
  • Bright Tones
  • Soft Tones
  • Pastels
  • Muted Tones
  • Sunny
  • Spring-like
  • Autumn-feel
  • Winter cool
  • Summery
  • Warm tones
  • Cool Tones
  • Neutrals
  • Creams
  • White
  • Black
  • Taupes
  • Ocean colors
  • Desert colors
  • Country colors
  • Garden colors
Happy homemaking!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Today, I'm a guest at Hadias' blog

Have you read Hadias' blog, "A Day in the Life of"? She writes about being a Proverbs 31 wife and offers so many very practical solutions for increasing the family income as a stay at home wife.

Hadias has graciously let me write a little post about "Frugality without Fretting". If you'd like to take a peek, follow this link.


March 2nd -- How to Recover From a Mild Illness and Manage Household

I am in that period of recovering from a cold and asthma complications where I'm beginning to feel up to getting out of bed. I even have enough strength to tackle a a few tasks. As you might guess, after being in bed with the cold/asthma for nearly a week and having had some back issues for several days before that, I do have some important things to catch up. Here are some things I've learned in the past and am learning now about how to make your comeback after a short time of being indisposed.

It's a fact of life that at some point, you or a member of your family will undergo a temporary illness. For those with hardier constitutions, this might not be very often. For those who are more susceptible, this can occur frequently.

In some cases, there are things you can do that might strengthen your and your family's immune systems so that you don't become ill so frequently. Here's a post about that on PHE: The Home Manager's Health and Beauty.

When you are recovering from an illness, it's important to recover fully so that you don't slide back into a relapse or sustain another illness soon. Resist the urge to go full sail ahead when you're at half-mast physically. This will take some patience, especially if your to-do list is long or you see things piling up around the house. Yet, the world won't come to an end if you take the time to get well. In the end, you will be of more service to the Lord and others if you help your body to get back to full strength.

Here are some ideas for easing back into your routine:

1) When your illness takes a turn for the better and you start to be on the mend, you'll likely feel it. When this happens, it's a great time to shower or bathe. Apply a sweetly scented body lotion. Put any clothing you've been wearing while contagious into the hamper to be cleaned, or if you or a family member can wash it now -- do so. Ask a family member to help you change the sheets so that you can recover in a fresh bed. During the next several hours, you may feel like doing what you can to freshen up your appearance. You and your family will be happier for that! You might even use an afternoon of recovering to do some girly things that you might not otherwise take the time to do. Try your hair in a new way, for example. Or, buff and file your nails. Massage cream around the cuticles.
2) You don't have to do all of these things at once if you are still weak. Catnap between doing different activities if you need to. It's good to challenge yourself to move around a little so that you prevent weakening further. But, be wary of overtiring yourself.
3) Don't forget to keep taking any necessary medications. Keep on drinking plenty of fluids. If you are doing things like breathing steam, drinking tea with lemon and honey, rinsing your nose with salt water sprays, etc., continue those as needed. Keep these things up until all of your symptoms are gone.
4) When you become a little stronger, your first concerns around the house are to disinfect and dust. Wear a mask when dusting to prevent further irritation to your nasal passages. After that, clean out the fridge. You may have lots of laundry to do as well. Even if your family members have been keeping up with the laundry while you're down, you'll want to wash any towels you've used, any clothing you've worn, and any linens you used while you were sick. Work as you can, resting when you need it.
5) Don't be upset with yourself if you need an afternoon nap for several days in a row, provided that you are sleeping all night and still feel the need of a nap. If your naps mean you can't sleep at night, you probably don't need them. Instead, sit down and put your feet up.
6) Think in terms of easy meals. What can you throw in the crock pot, for example? Do you have any meals in your freezer that you made ahead of time? If so, now's a good time to thaw them out and use them. (If you have a chronic illness with random flare-ups, get in the habit of making two meals at one time and freezing one for use during such a flare-up.
7) Ease back into exercise. Even if you had a cold that lasted for three days only, you will have lost some conditioning. Do stretches, gentle walking, etc. for a few days. Then, slowly ramp back up to your usual routine.
8) Don't be upset if you become peevish when attending to very detailed mental work or tasks that require a lot of decision making. Mental concentration uses a lot of our nutrients and energy. Take it slow until you are back to full health. Go do something else that is important, but not as mentally taxing, and then come back to the work at hand.
9) Your family may naturally have pitched in to help when you were obviously at your sickest. But, when you're up and feeling somewhat better, you may look well to them. They may not understand that you still need help until you are completely recovered. After all, only you know how your body feels. Resist the urge to be impatient with family members' expectations. Gently explain how much you feel that you can and can't do. Assure them that you're on the mend and will be back in full swing soon.
10) Use recovery time as a time to put people over things. Invite your children to cuddle up with you for an afternoon of reading books. Take the time to play a game with a child.

Happy home management!