Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Handmade Christmas

As a farm boy, I never knew I was poor, but I knew I had lots of other things other kids didn't have. I knew I didn't get the toys they had, the nice shoes, pants, and cool Trapper Keeper for school work. I did have my own 20 gauge/ 30-30 switchable barrel, barn and school boots, coat and other necessary items. At the time all those other things like the toys and nice clothes seemed to matter.

Taking you back to the house I lived in Clarksburg PA, it was held together by staples, and had been built a long time ago very quickly and not very well. The windows would be iced up for weeks and sometimes for months during the winter. Every morning my Step Dad Bobby was off early to work, Mom soon followed him, and I was taught to get myself ready and out to the bus stop all by myself at 7 years old.

The year was 1977, it was the same winter as the big snow here in the eastern United States... Prior to moving on the farm the following spring, this was the house where I learned life's first lessons on banking off a coal fire and getting wood in, although it was just a few logs with my Step Dad, it seemed like hard work to me. 

That Christmas I got some presents that were factory made, shinny and new. That was the first year those round plastic disk sleds came out and those huge Styrofoam Airplanes.... I got one of each of those and some clothes. Materialism has been around a long time, and for kids, at least us, it was all about the numbers, how many gifts we got...

I didn't know this would be one of the best Christmases of my life, a time that I would reflect on for the rest of my life, forever. But that year, I tossed to the side the handmade wooden toys made for me by my Step Dad and Mom. I got a spaceship from the show Space 1999, carved and the landing feet were made from screws. I got a wooden truck, I smashed that thing up after months of rugged 7 y/o abuse, and a corn bag toss game. The bags were made from our old corduroy/blue jean  pants.

Perhaps things are tight and you might be considering making a couple gifts, do it... Don't worry about the shinny and new look. Because you may just be creating the best Christmas of a child's life forever.  It really isn't about the wrappers, it truly is about the love...

Monday, December 2, 2013

Seasoning Your Cast Iron, The How To Facts

Like anything else, there is different ways to accomplish the same goal. Although what I am about to explain to you is the correct way, it might not be the same way you know. Also we are not going to tear this whole process apart, we are going to keep this process as simple as it was done a few hundred years ago. Like they say, if it isn't broke why fix it?

In order to clear the slate for a good conversation, let us get straight into factory seasoning. Any good quality cast iron will arrive pre-seasoned. It is ready to use out of the box, a light rinse and your ready to start using it. Over time a non-stick surface will form, which brings us to the golden rule, never, ever wash your cast iron with soap, dishwasher or scrub it with steel wool... I strip all my new (even to me second hand) cast iron down using Kosher coarse salt and a lemon cut in half. With a little elbow grease, you'll be done in no time. If you desire to keep the factory seasoning, that is fine too.

Let's get to the small affordable list of things you're gonna need prior to seasoning your cast iron. A disposable aluminum pan large enough to set your cast iron into while it is seasoning and a tub of lard. Yes, pig fat... You can use a veggie based white spreadable stuff, but stores still carry just plain old lard, which is the best thing to season with.

Pre-heat your ovn to 350 degrees, okay let me stop here and pass along a note. Some will say you have to pre-heat the cast iron prior to seasoning. That isn't true, the concept in theory is there, but I have been working with metal all my life and we are not annealing, we are seasoning. Annealing is a whole different blog post... The whole open pore concept isn't necessary for seasoning. 

Get out your Lard, open it, and just stick your hand in and grab a big ole glob of it and start to smear it on your cast iron, all over, don't miss a single spot...  Go ahead and to the lid to the Dutch Oven as well, smear it all over it too... Place on your disposable pan, place into the oven for one hour.

By this time you're wondering if it will stink, yes a little. Anytime that it gets too much, if it does, just open a window or door to vent. After an hour has passed it is time to remove the cast iron and let it cool to room temperature and repeat at least one more time, two more times is best at this point, but one more will work.

Over time, using your cast iron, and washing it only with hot water and a brush, a non-stick surface will form. Never use metal utensils unless you have to, just use a little care when using them.

From time to time you may need to season your cast iron again. I once knew a woman by the name of Nancey, she had a cast iron skillet that hadn't been washed with soap for 60 years. Her skillet made some of the best fried trout I ever ate, better than my own and Mom's.

If your looking for a great deal on a starter set of cast iron, here is a great deal!!!! 


Saturday, November 30, 2013

Keep Close to Nature's Heart...

Keep close to Nature's heart... and break clear away,
once in awhile, and climb a mountain or
spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.
John Muir 1838 -1914

I find that seeking out moments with nature have to be not only on her terms, but when she wants to keep her beauty close to her own heart away from prying eyes. She keeps her beauty protected for those who seek out to see it and that are there just for that moment and time.

Passing through a field, I see the plants, flowers and seeds. When I look at the woods or while walking through the woods I see the trees as a part of my life for that moment. I look at their form and shapes, their limbs and leaves as pieces of art.

As I sit in a spot I look and see everything God has provided us in our world. If you think about this a moment, as you sit there and watch the leaves fall, you are seeing in your life a moment of time that will not be repeated.

Yesterday I took a trip into McConnell Mills State Park after the big ice/snow storm pushed through. People had already adventured into the key locations before I made time to go there. But I knew a few places others wouldn't venture into and I could go there and sit and reflect on the sounds and beauty.

The storm had left behind a glass covered forest, as the trees were covered heavy with ice and snow. I sat along the river and listened to the water rush by. Knowing the ice would leave it's toll, I could hear the stress of the trees as branches could be heard crashing down.

As the wind blew ever so slightly, the sound of the cracks of branches could be heard like wood in a fireplace. The pops and cracks would sometimes be followed by big crashes, and other trees would begin to crack from the wind and sound. I sat there listening to this being played out all around me, and I was thankful to be able to go to a place where the scenery was so different from my own mountain spots of the homestead. The scenery and sounds always seem so much more defined and louder in new places as you visit them.

I left these photo's as large as I could so you can look at them and see how they make you feel. This is what I saw around me as I ventured into the park and took in all that was around me.


Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Hardtack, The Recipe and Practical Uses

As I walk you through making Hardtack, I wanted to show some pictures of the process but I want to tell you a little bit more about this staple.

Hardtack has been made and used for centuries by many types of people including Sailors, Pioneers and Travelers. It is a type of cracker, that when made properly, can be stored and last forever. On its own, it can be eaten once softened. It was often dipped and used in broths, soups, stews, beans and coffee.

HT can be carried as long as it stays dry, it can be useful. It stores really well in air tight containers and in the dark. You can use basic flour, wheat flour and for this small batch, I ground my own Wheat. You only need water and salt from here. As you can see, I made a small batch, but I suggest that you double up the recipe and make double using the same amount of energy.

Mixing 3 cups of flour, you can mix 2 cups of white and one cup of Whole Wheat, all white flour, all wheat flour, whatever suits your needs. Adding 1 cup of water or so to make a tight dough, and 3 teaspoons of salt. Here I kneaded the mix and formed a ball.

I rolled the now formed dough out after kneading it to form together.

I grew and ground my own flour as you see here. I rolled it into 1/2 thick piece.

I trimed the edges, set them aside to for and make more and began to cut them into 3 inch squares

After cutting them, as you can see they don't have to be perfect at all. Using a small skewer, I poked a bunch of small holes in them, but not all the way through.

I separated them and placed them on a cookie sheet to bake at 350 degrees for a half hour, flipped them over and continued to bake them for 30 minutes more. The general rule to tell if they are done is that they should not be soft at all, hard as a rock they should be.

Here is the final product!!!

3 cups of flour
1 cup of water
3 teaspoons of salt

Bake at 350 for 30 minutes one side, flip and continue for 30 minutes until hard. 

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Beam Making, The Bridge Project

When I started to plan the second bridge project, I took everything I learned from the first build, and applied it to this project planning. The first bridge, still standing and handling people and equipment traffic, had its flaws and bad approaches.

Nothing in Homesteading is perfect and learning as you go is a tough way to get things done. However, it sure makes for a learning curve that is not soon forgotten. Building my first bridge, I used lumber that was left here from the old home built saw mill that once occupied a space above the pond. When I dug the holes to put in the main supports, I used a string to aline the post and holes. Over a 20 foot span, I missed my mark by 3 inches, so cutting the lumber to fit properly took twice as long as it should have and the boards had to be custom cut and fit in.

Have the out building that I use to dry some of my food such as beans, onions and garlic has its advantages. Split in half inside, one side has woodstove and the other has a force fan which pushes heat to that side and has a electric 220 volt heater as well. The woodstove side also has a evaporation hood to vent out the moisture when cooking down sap during sugar season. As a manufacturer of copper range hoods, that skill has helped me along with the vent hood.

Sixteen months ago I fell a couple of Red Oak Tree's on my property. I set them on top of some other logs to season. Partially seasoned now, I have started to cut them and will allow them to un-stress and normalize as the seasoning process continues inside the out building.

Once inside, after I finish cutting the beams to 10 x 10 x 12, I plan to control the moisture level and hang the beams 7 feet off the ground to the ceiling to take advantage of the heat. I fire up the woodstove a few times a week keeping it going during the weekend, I maintain a temp of 65 degrees. The idea is to control the moisture and allow the beams to twist, crack and do what they will do before the final cuts and building with them.

The final cuts will be made using a tried tested method, using an Adze. So lets take a look at the preliminary cutting of the beams. You can see the quality of the wood now that I have cut into it. Although these are not yet seasoned all the way, I am using a approach that I have in the past that I know will work and produce a high quality beams that will be the running beams for the new bridge.

Although this project will be done in stages, I plan to blog and share lots of photo's in the future so that you can better understand what I am doing and my approach.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Seed Power Plant and The Dehydrating Meltdown

Have you ever looked at a seed of a plant as a power plant? What if it used all of its energy at once? What if your food supply depends on understanding dehydrating a little more? Well it does....

For this example of teaching, I am going to use a mature Zucchini Squash. This shows more than anything, the problems that could arise and ruin your food supply that you have dehydrated and put up for future use. After noticing a problem in my own food supply, I felt this would be more informative to express and blog about because I found little to no information about this problem.

So lets start with this photo... Here you can see fat, somewhat thick seeds at the end of my knife.

I found that seeds that are slightly thick to thick need to be removed before dehydrating. What gives? I have no formula and I can't say which vegetables need seeds removed, but Squash of all kinds that your going to dehydrate needs a little more attention than say peppers.

Seeds were design to with stand extreme conditions. Consider a plain that has burnt after a lighting strike and catches fire. Many people start field fires to control weeds, knowing that regrowth will occur again. So why would a seed that goes under stress from a dehydrator? So if the seeds are mature enough, remove them.

For this process I am removing seeds from Zucchini that I sliced on a slicer and have many pounds to get through so I can move on to other task. If I am grating Squash, I will use a ice cream scoop. Here I have sliced the Squash and have used a egg cup to cut out the centers.

Once I have cut all the centers out of the slices, ensuring a safe vac package of dehydrated Squash, I set my racks beside me, and move the slices to the cutting board.

Once I have moved them over, I cut the larger pieces in half in a crescent moon shape and place them on the drying rack as shown in the photo. With my 9 tray dehydrator full, I have processed 19 pounds of wet product or enough for 10-12 meals for four people.

Following this method might save your whole dehydrated food supply as you reduce risk of those power plants start sprouting out and rotting or souring in a airtight bag.

 Adjustable slicing allows this machine to be used for everything that you want to slice evenly and properly for OUTSTANDING end product quality when dehydrating.

People often over look this product because slicing is easy, but here the key is even thicknesses for consistency. I and several other hundreds of people found this slicer to meet our needs during harvest time, and makes great Jerky too

Thursday, August 15, 2013

My Popular Sausage Zucchini Muffin Recipe

I have been asked for some of my Zucchini recipes and what to do with this popular summer Squash. If your at work and people want to give it away, you will find most people will take a few at first, then nobody wants any more. However you can do more with it than most people know, I mean I like to get out my seasoned cast iron fry pan and mix it with Yellow Squash and Onions.

Dehydrating it is great, and I will add this same recipe made with dehydrated Zucchini Squash later. My goal is to show you what to do with it while it is fresh and everywhere you turn. If one will grow, you will get others until the plant dies. Or other people will get sick and tired of them, along with some people who grow them for fun, will just give them away....

Now I am not known for top rated cooking, okay I am a awesome trail cook and a self proclaimed Gravy Master, but there are some recipes I have gotten or I create on my own. This one was modified from a souffles recipe I made up, but it was better as a muffin. I had too many eggs on hand and was being creative and stumbled upon this idea/recipe.

From Boy Scout meetings to Swim meets, these became a family favorite very quickly. Then during parties these just disappeared and rave reviews were heard many times. If your looking to get married, remember the way to a mans heart is through his stomach. LOL... Enjoy... Jason

Sausage Zucchini Muffins

2 pounds of (any) sausage
3 cup zucchini, grated
3 large egg
1 medium/large onion, chopped
1 1/2 cup reduced sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1 1/2 cup seasoned breadcrumbs
2  teaspoon garlic powder
salt & pepper to taste
cooking spray

******Note at bottom*******

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray mini muffin tin with cooking spray.
Cook Sausage, let cool.. Grate zucchini on medium side of grater. In a medium bowl, combine all of the ingredients and season with salt & pepper to taste.

Fill each muffin section to the top, pushing down on the filling with your spoon so it's nice and compacted so they don't fall apart when you take them out of the tin.

Bake for 18 to 20 minutes or until the tops are golden. Remove by inserting knife around edges after they are cooled some, about 10 minutes.

****** Because you can make these with different types of sausage, they can be served at different times of the day. If you make the recipe with breakfast sausage, I do suggest, you can eat/serve them for breakfast. If you want to make these for appetizer's or as an hors d'oeuvres, use a mini muffin pan and reduce cooking times by a third or a little more. In any case be sure to make plenty and be on guard because once your family realizes and has what your making, they'll never be safe again when cooling, trust me. ******  

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The False Idea on Freezer Food, The Food Storage Basic's Part 1

People love to get great deals on food that comes on sale, fruits, vegetables and meat alike. It is almost a no brainer when it comes to food cost and sales.

Long ago the process to keep food was less healthy and affordable than today. From Vinegar, Oils, Dehydrating, Smoking and Salt Curing, these methods were used and passed down for hundreds of years. Today, in places you might visit, cured meats and sausage hang. When you walk into these places two things happen, your repelled or your mouth begins to water.

While in Italy, I walked into a meat store while passing through a small town. Off the beaten path, I knew I was in a place that not very many visitors came by and it was a place of locals only. The pungent smells hit me first, it was kinda different, then I started to smell the layers of different smoked and cured meats.

Dust laid on some of the meats as if they were just left there, unsellable for what ever reason. My education told me they were longer term curing meats and might be ready now for the harvest. The woman, having a brown stained dress on, a thick cotton, came up and started to greet me. I said hello and passed by her to look and ask her about some Pepperoni I spotted.

She made her way back to the counter where a drawer was, she pushed it in and walked to a cabinet and opened it to reveal walls of hanging cured meats. Some had been sliced on a few times, some new, some whole. I even spotted some cheese and fish.

The reason I tell you this story is so that you understand that meats can be stored and cured, even today it is still used. However, it has to be done right.

For now I want to cover a few basic things, long term and short term food storage for the average person or some one who is just starting out at food storage. The one book I found useful in understanding long term or alternative preserving is this book.

Preserving Food without Freezing or Canning: Traditional Techniques Using Salt, Oil, Sugar, Alcohol, Vinegar, Drying, Cold Storage, and Lactic Fermentation

Second, I want to get your ear on something that is misleading and although generally not a common case, but is for preppers, homesteaders, gardeners and folks who just want to plan cheaper meals it is a great concern. Salt cured meat and freezing.

After reading a article in Meats published by Hobby, it was brought out that meats like sausage, bacon and other salted meats will go rancid and decay after awhile. Before this article, it never occurred to me that  meat would go bad, even if vac packed and handled properly. The Author of the article went on to explain, and then all sorts of light bulbs started going off.... 

As I read, it dawned on me, about the funny taste my own sausage had after 7 months in the freezer. I had not eaten much of it, the tainted meat, but enough to know it wasn't right so I stopped eating it. Then I started to ponder the salt content and how that would stop the meat from freezing solid, like a rock or really hard. I went down and grabbed a slab of my own bacon from the freezer, not that bacon sits very long around here. But I did a flex test on a package. I had preserved it correctly, I was confident in my workmanship and knowledge of processing the bacon. 

So I let a few packages of that old sausage in the freezer and tested it several ways including cooking it and smelling it against the same recipe but fresher, 3 months fresher. I also did a package push test on the meat, while still vac packed. I found that the sausage that was older, the outside of the meat, although just a thin layer, pushed around easier than the fresh sausage which didn't have a layer to push around. 

I cover this issue more in depth in one of my Food Storage Workshops on-line. I mention this today because so many people are starting to buy bulk and perhaps not think of this or not rotating their freezer stock often enough. 

Be sure to check out Part 2 in this mini series, The Food Storage Basic's. I will be covering Dehydrating methods, processes and debunking some of those myths and wives tales. You will learn long term and short term approaches. I will toss in a few good long term recipes to boot...

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Zucchini Bread Recipe

Zucchini Bread Recipe

2 Eggs
3 cups grated Zucchini
1.5 cups of Oil
3 cups of Sugar
4 cups of Flour
1 cup of Raisins 
1.5 teaspoons Baking Powder
1 teaspoon of Baking Soda
1.5 teaspoon of Nutmeg plus a pinch
1.5 teaspoon of powdered Ginger plus a pinch
1 teaspoon of salt
2 teaspoons of Cinnamon
1 Tablespoon of Molasses

Optional 1 Cup of chopped nuts (suggested)

Grate the Zucchini allowing it to drain in a strainer for only 5 minutes then place into bowl. You will need the extra moisture later on, so dump the Squash in the mixing bowl.

Mix Eggs, Zucchini and oil well. Sift Sugar, Flour, Baking Power and Soda, Nutmeg, Ginger, Cinnamon and add to liquid then add Molasses and Raisins. Then add optional nuts and mix well.

Grease and flour two loaf pans, split dough into two pans, bake at 350 degrees for 1 1/4 hours or 75 minutes. Allow to cool on bread rack or two wooden spoons. Remove serve warm or at room temperature with Butter or Cream Cheese.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Copper crosses for sale!

My company, The Metal Peddler, will be making copper crosses to donate for sale to the mission trip fundraiser.  They are 9 inches tall, and there are 2 options - with or without our "Boldly Compassionate" fundraiser heart cut-out. They are available to purchase, and also as a thank you gift for our highest level supporters.

Each cross is made from 48 oz copper (1/16 inch thick) and is handrubbed raw copper. It will develop a patina over time. The patina will differ whether you hang this inside or out, exposure to dry or humid air etc.

Price: On ebay and my website we have these for $47.99/ 48.99, and a larger size at $95.

Special fundraiser price until April 19: $35/ $37

Want to order one? You can order here and pay by credit card or paypal. Click Buy Now & follow instructions. Allow a week or two for your cross to be made. For credit cards, you don't need a paypal account. 

Option 1: Local Pick Up.
If you live in the area, you can pick these up from us in West Sunbury or from church.

Option 2: Shipping within USA 
adds $6.60
Ships with US Mail

Select plain or heart cut-out

Select plain or heart cut-out

Monday, March 25, 2013

Mission Trip & Thanks

Giving is a joy all on its own. But we do like to show our thanks! 

Currently, when you give for our mission trip - unless you select to be anonymous - we will thank you on our supporters page and on our GoFundMe page. We are also offering thank you gifts. The various levels are below.  Learn more about the trip on my new blog

If you don't want the thank you gift, just let us know when you make your donation, or donate directly without clicking one of the boxes below. 

Donate any amount through paypal

Or select one of the levels below for the corresponding "Thank You" gift!

The levels below have limited quantities.
I will remove the levels once that has been reached.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Wild Boar Hunt..... Taking Some To Share

There have been a handful of people in my life that, with time and life, have slipped away from. Chris was one of those people that has and I regret this, but such is life..

Chris and I have done a lot of big things together, big game fishing, Elk, Boar, Deer hunting. Although he is a better salt water fishermen than me, I can slay 2-3 large mouth bass to his one. One year we made it to AAA fishing circuit and had two sponsors. 

We got up early in the morning, back then we had pagers, and he had paged me ready to go and head to our final destination.. South Carolina

We had taken some personal time off work, we worked at the same company, and we were known to hangout outside of work...

He had told me of a spot down there where his cousin had hunted a year before, and at the time it was a $800 Boar hunt and we paid for lodging and meals. We were promised each a hog to bring home... I packed the video camera and off we went...

I was so excited, and we were talking about the "what if's" as young men do... Adding a lot of dreams in it and it created some very interesting conversations... We got there and we needed to attend a short two hour class to understand about hunting Boar and working with dogs... Next day we go on the hunt....

Drawing straws, he got to hunt first and kill the first hog while I filmed it.... Within 15 minutes the dogs had a hog chased under a downed tree... The guide told Chris he could jump on top to scare the hog out, and made him aware of our locations and shoot only when he was sure.. So he climbs up does a couple of bounces on the trunk, and out came the hog..

To me, filming it, it was like I was watching it and not thinking about that thing headed my direction... But so it came, and it was so fast, by the time I realized what was going on, the Boar plowed right into me and knocked my on my arse... Camera went rolling and all.... I jumped up knowing that the day before Boars have been known to charge at people... I got up, scared, grabbed the camera to keep filming... Chris didn't kill that hog, but he spent years telling the story on how I got attacked by a Wild Boar....

We both did, in the end get hog meat to bring home....