Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Homemade Tortillas

I like making tortillas on a wood-stove because many can cook at once, but tortillas also cook well in a pan on a normal stove. One of my younger sisters came up with rubbing the tortillas with a spatula to get them to puff. So she gets the credit for that! 

  • ¼ cup butter, softened
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1 ¼ cups warm water

Mix 1 ½ cups flour, baking powder, salt, and butter in a medium bowl. Add warm water. Then mix in remaining flour and knead for a minute or so. Make the dough into 10 balls. Shape the balls into 2-3 inch circular disks. Roll out on a flour-sprinkled surface, turning and flipping the tortilla every few strokes of the rolling pin.
Heat a frying pan on the stove until very warm. You don't want it so warm that the tortillas will burn in seconds but it does need to be quite warm so the the tortillas puff up and bubble. Place a tortilla on the pan. After a few seconds, gently press down on the tortilla with a metal spatula. This helps it puff. Press gently, then let it up, usually it puffs up, if not, don't worry, just do it again on other parts of the tortilla. If it doesn't puff the pan may not be hot enough. Flip after the tortilla has been in the pan for 30-45 seconds. 
If it burns before then, the pan is too hot. After you flip the tortilla, gently rub the spatula over it. Let it sit 10-15 seconds. Remove from stove and cover with a towel. Repeat the process with remaining tortillas. You can use two pans at once to cook them faster. If you're not going to use them within an hour or so of making them, you might want to put them in a plastic bag or wrap them in plastic wrap to keep them pliable. 

Monday, December 30, 2013

Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip - Pecan Cookies

  • 2 sticks butter
  • 1 ¾ cups packed brown sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 ¾ cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 ¼ cup chopped pecans or walnuts
  • 1 12 oz. bag chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Cream butter and sugar in a medium bowl. Beat in vanilla and eggs. Add flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Stir in nuts and chocolate chips. Shape dough into 1 inch balls and place 1 ½ inches apart on buttered cookie sheets. Bake for 12-18 minutes.  

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Baking Day - A Memoir

When we lived on the farm, we often had baking day on Thursdays. On Wednesdays I would get the sour-dough starter out of our solar-powered refrigerator, break it into pieces and then stir in water and flour. It would sit overnight and was ready for baking the next day. On baking day, I mixed sour-dough starter, flour, water, olive oil, salt, and sugar together in a large bowl and then kneaded the dough. While the dough rose, I would boil sweet potatoes and make pie crusts. Then my sisters and I mashed the sweet potatoes. Then we added eggs from our chickens and milk from our goats, as well as cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, vanilla, sugar, and salt. Afterwards, the mixture was poured into four pie crusts and baked in the wood stove. While the pies were cooking I shaped the sour-dough bread and set them near the wood-stove to rise a second time. When the pies were finished and the bread was risen, the loaves of sour-dough bread were put into the oven and baked until golden brown. By dinner time the smell of fresh bread and pies filled the air, the house was warm and cozy and the fire gently crackled in the wood-stove.  

Sunday, December 22, 2013


Two years ago, we drove to a nearby hay farmer to buy a 800 pound round bale. The farmer looked at us a little perplexed because all we had was our 15 passenger van to drive it home in. Well, we told him that we really did mean to bring it home in our van, so he sold us the bale and we started unrolling it and layering hay on a tarp in our van. It turned out that the van was full before the bale looked any smaller. We were wondering what to do when the hay farmer said, “I believe I can get it in there.” He jabbed his forklift into the bale and lifted it up. Then he jammed the bale into the van. And off we drove laughing all the way.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Whole Wheat Egg Noodles

When we lived on the farm we made noodles a lot. Sometimes we dried them in our solar dehydrator outside. 
  • 7 eggs
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 4 - 4 ½ cups flour
Crack eggs into a large bowl. Add water and beat with a a whisk for a few seconds. Stir in the as much flour as you can and then knead in the rest. Let the dough rest for ½ hour to an hour. Turn the dough onto a flour-sprinkled surface and cut into six pieces. Roll out each piece into a very thin rectangle. Set the rectangles on a clean tablecloth and let dry for around one hour. Fold each rectangle in half and then in half again lengthwise – so that you have a long narrow roll. Cut into ½ inch slices. 

Unroll the noodles (young children like to help with this). Lay out to dry. If you're not using them right away, make sure that they're all the way dry before you bag them. However, if you're going to be using them that day you can just wait until they're basically dry.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Cinnamon Rolls With Walnut Streusel

These whole wheat cinnamon rolls are sprinkled with a delicious walnut streusel. With the streusel sprinkled on them you don't feel like you need to drizzle them with a sugar-loaded glaze. This is a fairly large batch that makes around thirty, but that number depends on how big you make them. These also can be frozen and reheated.

  • 1 cup + ½ cup melted butter
  • 1 ½ cups milk, warmed until a little steamy
  • 1 ½ tsp vanilla
  • 1 1/2 cup + 1 tbsp sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ cup warm water
  • 2 tbsp yeast
  • ½ tsp cinnamon (plus more for sprinkling)
  • ¼ tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 5 ½ cups whole wheat flour
  • Streusel (below)

In a large bowl mix 1 cup melted butter, milk, vanilla, and 1/2 cup sugar. In a small bowl or measuring cup, dissolve yeast and a tablespoon of sugar in warm water, let rest until foamy. Add the yeast mixture to the milk mixture. Stir in cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, and three cups of flour. Add the eggs and beat with a spoon for around a minute. Slowly add remaining flour and knead for several minutes. Let rise for one hour.
Roll dough out thinly on a flour-sprinkled surface. Brush with remaining butter and sprinkle with 1 cup sugar and some cinnamon. Roll up and cut with a knife or a piece of floss. Place in buttered cake pans. Sprinkle with streusel and let rise for 30-45 minutes. Bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 30-35 minutes.
If desired you could drizzle a glaze on but I don't always do that because it just adds more sugar and the streusel makes a good topping. Makes 2-3 dozen. Enjoy!

Walnut Streusel:
  • ½ cup flour
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup olive oil or melted butter
  • 1 ¼ cups chopped walnuts*
Mix all ingredients and use in recipe. 
*Note: you can use pecans if you like.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Our Empty Porch Swing

Sometimes when people think of homesteading, they seem to think of sitting on a porch swing drinking a nice cup of hot tea – enjoying the simple life. But in reality the simple life is rather complicated, though very enjoyable.

Water only runs from your faucet if you remember to turn the pump on, only if the water pipes that you buried don't freeze, only if the pump doesn't brake down, and only if there isn't a leak in the pipe that empties the water tank. The house is only warm if you cut down trees, split firewood, stack wood-piles, and make sure the fire in the wood-stove doesn't burn out. The lights only turn on if it's been sunny, or if you charge the batteries with the generator. You only have fruit and vegetables in winter if you preserve them in summer or grow winter greens. Bread, pasta, tortillas, English muffins, bagels, and crackers are only at your finger-tips if you first make them from scratch.

We quickly found out that the simple life is not really that simple. However, it is rewarding, it does bond families, it is enjoyable, you know that you're producing good food, and you are living the dream life

Monday, December 16, 2013

Molasses Bread

The first time I baked in a wood-stove, I made a certain molasses bread. It was really good, but the last of our molasses was used up in it, and we didn't end up buying molasses again for so long that I forgot about the recipe. That recipe is now long lost, so today I decided to make my own recipe for molasses bread. It turned out so good that some of my siblings said that I should always make this bread! I hope you enjoy it!

  • 5 cups whole wheat flour
  • 2 ½ tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • ½ cup molasses
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 ½ cups warm water
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 ½ tbsp yeast

Mix 3 cups of the flour with the salt in a large bowl. In a small bowl, mix the warm water, sugar, and yeast. Let proof for 5 minutes. Add the yeast mixture, olive oil, molasses, and eggs into the flour. Beat for 1-2 minutes. Knead in remaining two cups of flour. Let dough rise for 1-1 ½ hours, until double. Punch dough down and knead for around one minute. Split dough into halves and shape into round loaves. Place loaves on a flour-sprinkled baking sheet. Let rise one hour. Fifteen minutes before ready to bake the bread, preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Place bread on the middle rack of the preheated oven. Bake for 30-40 minutes, until golden brown. 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Winter Mornings - A Memoir

Beep, beep. Beep, beep. It's 4:45 am, I awake. The cold wind howls through the window panes. I know that it isn't a good idea to stay in bed because I know that I'd quickly fall back asleep. I quickly get ready and head downstairs. I open the wood-stove and stir the fire with a fire poker. I'm glad to see red coals. The wooden crate next to the wood-stove is empty so I step outside into the cold. I slip on rubber boots and walk through the freshly fallen snow to the woodshed. I turn the latch and open the door. I take several logs out, carefully, so I don't cause an avalanche of wood to fall and cover me.

Dawn is just under two hours away. The stove is crackling and the new logs that I added to the fire are catching fire. It is 4:55am. I take a saucepan and a large pot out of the cupboard and fill them with well water. After setting them on the stove and placing their lids on, I quickly mix flour, yeast, sugar, salt, and butter in a large bowl. Then, I add warm water from the saucepan to the bowl and knead until it's a good dough.

I wipe down the counter backed by a huge picture-window. As I watch the snow gently falling in the darkness outside, I gently sprinkle flour on the counter. Our solar-powered light in the kitchen illuminates the rail-road ties that keep soil away from the house outside. I can see around an inch of snow collected. This is quite a bit for Tennessee, but because I grew up in Wisconsin, it isn't much at all.

As I roll out the dough, I see our small gray, black, and white bob-tailed cat walk through the snow along the rail-road ties. The cat stops and peers in at me. I take a dry cup measure and press it into the dough. Our kitty walks away as I cut out all the English muffins. Then I cover them with a towel and leave them to rise.

It is 5:20. I walk over to the shelf near our table and take my precious Bible. I have around twenty minutes before I need to do more with breakfast. Meanwhile, upstairs is starting to stir as some of my siblings are waking up to milk the goats and take care of the chickens. Down here on the main level, my father is awake and working on our family farm's website, getting it set up for the new growing season around the corner.

At around 5:45, I add another log to the wood-stove. Then, I go down to the root cellar to get a jar of home-canned blueberry jam made from our own blueberries. I also bring up a dozen eggs and a stick of butter from our solar-powered refrigerator. Our chickens are producing less eggs now that it is winter but they're still laying enough eggs for our family's use. After coming back up from the cellar, I wipe off the wood-stove.

Now it's time to carefully transfer the risen dough onto the surface of the wood-stove. As I place the English muffins on the stove, I see that the pot of water is boiling. After I put all the English muffins on the wood-stove, I walk into the pantry. I walk past jars of homemade feta in olive oil and spices to jars of dried mint leaves and I bring a jar of mint out to the kitchen. My two-year-old little sister comes running to me as I put mint leaves into the boiling water for tea.

I hold my little sister as I return the jar of mint to the pantry. The pantry air is cool because we keep the door closed and the warmth of the wood-stove isn't able to enter. My little sister and I can see our breath in the air. We turn off the solar-powered light and return to the kitchen.

It's 6:10. The sky is showing hints of the coming daylight. The fragrance of mint tea and cooking English muffins is filling the air. I hear my older brother using a chainsaw bucking fallen trees on the near-by hillside. The light layer of snow doesn't keep him in; he is dressed in a wool jacket, wool mittens, and a woolen hat.

The underside of the English muffins are light brown and the sides facing up are really puffy. I gently flip them one-by-one. Then I place the stick of butter on a plate and set it on the shelf above the wood-stove, near the eggshells that we're drying to feed to our chickens as their calcium supplement. One of my younger brothers is nicknamed the “chicken man”, he makes sure that the chickens get everything they need, including these eggshells.

The front door opens, letting in a gust of brisk, cold air. I hear my siblings come inside from milking the goats. The “chicken man” also comes inside with a basket of eggs. He leaves the eggs inside and takes the dried eggshells outside and brings them up to the chicken coop. My little sister is contentedly cutting paper into a bowl with a scissors. Meanwhile, I take a pan out of the cupboard and set it on the stove to warm up a little. I then add some butter to it and let it melt. Then I begin cracking eggs into the pan.

Sunrise is approaching. The English muffins are almost done, I have them on the coolest part of the stove so that they don't brown too much as they finish cooking. The eggs are on the warmest part of the wood-stove; right over the firebox. I dash some salt into the eggs. My siblings are straining the milk, and I hear them talking about our new Great Pyrenees puppy that is going to be a guard dog for our sheep. She was growing quickly and had already made friends with one of our goats' new kids. We named her Sheleg, which means snow. She has a beautiful fluffy white fur coat.

I try to remove the blueberry jam's lid with my fingers, I can't. This is actually good, I was just making sure that the jar is really sealed. Now I take a jar opener and pry the lid off. I hear air rushing into the jar as the vacuum breaks. I quickly set the jam on the table and then go to stir the scrambled eggs. They are almost done. The English muffins are done also and I remove them off the stove onto two plates.

In our family, we each wash our own plate after every meal and put them back on the table, so, I don't have to set the table. I place the eggs and English muffins on. It's 6:58 am. I step outside into the chilly air. The fresh white snow is glimmering in the sun's first rays. A brilliant red cardinal is sitting on the bird-feeder, singing cheerfully. I call everyone inside for breakfast. They head toward the house, talking all the way.

After everyone takes off their snowy boots, we gather around the table. We are very blessed indeed.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Cranberry-Orange Bread

This is a lovely bread scented with orange and dotted with cranberries and pecans.

  • 1 cup olive oil or melted butter
  • 1 ¼ cups sugar (I use brown sugar but granulated would work)
  • 4 eggs
  • ¾ cup orange juice concentrate
  • ¾ cup water
  • 1 tbsp vanilla
  • 3 ½ cups flour (I use whole wheat flour but white flour would work too)
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
  • 1 cup dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Beat first six ingredients together in a large bowl. Stir in the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Beat for one minute. Mix in the pecans and cranberries. Pour into two buttered bread pans. Bake for 40-45 minutes, until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Enjoy!   

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Homemade Cinnamon-Pecan Coffee Cake

This is a great homemade coffee cake. I often use it as a make-ahead breakfast.
  • 1 cup olive oil or melted butter
  • 1 ¼ cups brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp molasses (optional)
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 3 cups flour (I use whole wheat)
  • 1 tbsp cinnamon
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 2 cups sour cream or yogurt
  • streusel (below)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. In a large bowl mix the first 5 ingredients together. Then in a smaller bowl, mix together the next five ingredients (the dry ingredients). Stir half of the sour cream into the wet ingredients. Then add half of the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients. Beat on medium speed for 1 minute. If you don't have a beater, just mix the batter hard and fast with a spoon. (That's what you do on a homestead) Add the rest of the sour cream and beat for a half-minute, then add the remaining flour mixture and beat for 1-2 minutes.
Pour into a buttered 9x13 glass baking dish. Top with streusel. Bake for 35-50 minutes, until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

  • ¼ cup flour
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp cinnamon
  • dash salt
  • 1/3 cup oil
  • 1 cup chopped pecans

Mix together in a medium-small bowl. Use on cake.

P.S. A few months later: my sister noticed that I wrote baking powder instead of cinnamon in the streusel, I've changed it now; but if you made it with baking powder instead of cinnamon - I'm so sorry!

Homemade Cheese Crackers

Here is a cheese cracker recipe that I recently made. They are great with humus, cheese dips, and bean dips.

  • 3 cups flour
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • ¼ tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 8 oz. block of cream cheese
  • 1 stick butter
  • 3 cups shredded cheese
  • 1.5-2.5 cups milk

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. In a large bowl mix together the dry ingredients. Then cut in the cream cheese and butter. Add cheese and mix well. I forgot to measure the milk when I made these so just stir in enough milk to make the dough come together without being sticky.

Roll out thin on a floured surface. Cut into squares and bake on cookie sheets for 15-25 minutes, until slightly golden. Enjoy!

Greenhouse Video

Two years ago, we needed to build a new greenhouse and we had a budget to make it with less than a thousand dollars. Here is the result:


We no longer have our farm website so if you try to go to the website at the end of the video, it won't work.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Clearing a Hillside -- The Homesteader's Pastime

Autumn was ending, summer's sunset was disappearing. Colorful fall leaves had fallen from their trees. Squirrels were chattering as they hurried to gather enough acorns for the coming winter. Only winter greens were left in our garden, everything else was harvested and preserved for the winter. Dried herbs, potatoes, and winter squash were in the pantry. A dozen crates of sweet potatoes sat in the corner of an upstairs bedroom. Rows and rows of sparkling jars fill the cellar.

The talk around the farm was of burying water pipes before the freeze, and of transferring our chickens from the barn to the little house. We decided to turn the one-story little house at the back of the holler into a chicken barn, or maybe a chicken hotel. But more than these things, there was a faint talk about something more interesting, something that would later cause my brother to say that when fall comes to an end this very thing should be done every year.

Suddenly, one cool morning, my father and two older brothers climbed one of our steep and slippery hills. The trees covering the hill were so dense that they blocked sunlight from the gardens and solar panels. They had decided to clear several acres of the hill. We would then use the cleared hillside as sheep and goat pasture.

They walked up that hill with a two-man handsaw. My father and older brothers went up to a big tree and started. Back and forth, back and forth, the saw was pushed, then pulled, then pushed again. Nothing seemed to be happening. It took hours to just go several inches into the tree. And there were hundreds of trees to go.

By mid-morning the chainsaw was brought out, and the handsaw was brought back to the tool-shed. Soon the chainsaw's roar was resounding through the holler. Sawdust was flying through the air as the saw was welded against the tree. The face-cut was made. Within minutes, there was a huge thud that echoed through the holler. Afterwards, there was a stillness like after a storm.

Day by day, my father and older brothers would climb onto the hill and set to work, planing to fell 10-15 trees. They had bought another chainsaw as well as some wedges from the local co-op. They also bought chainsaw chaps and helmets to aid in safety. Meanwhile, the weather grew colder and the Tennessee winter settled in.

From the house, the rest of the family could daily hear the roar of chainsaws and the crash of falling trees. Sometimes we would go to a window to watch a tree fall. We'd see our father and older brothers run full speed up the steep hill as soon as a tree would start falling. The hill was slippery and difficult to climb, but they always got out of the way of the falling tree.

From on the hill, the view was spectacular, as if from a helicopter. In winter, when the leaves were off the trees, the view was even better. The houses, barns, pastures, and fields of nearby homesteads woven in between hills, creeks, forests, and sky, made the scene picturesque.

Slowly, but surely, the hill was being cleared. Soon my father and brothers began limbing the fallen trees. The small branches were thrown into large piles. The large, straight tree trunks were to be sent to the sawmill. While everything else was thrown down the hill and stacked, to be cut and split for firewood.

Twice we had someone come out his bobcat to help bring the large timber down the hill. My father and brothers would take a rope that was attached to the bobcat, and then run up the steep hill to a log, attach it, and then the bobcat man would haul it down the hill. This was repeated over and over again many times. Once there was so much tension on the rope that the rope broke and the metal hook flew through the air and hit the bobcat. That was epic.

One day, our grandparents were visiting, and my grandmother climbed up the hill with us to help throw brush into piles and firewood-type pieces down the hill. She and one of my younger brothers came up with a technique of sitting and sliding down the hill, pushing brush with their feet.

At the bottom of the hill, a huge pile of branches was gathered. Although we could burn the smaller brush piles on the hill, this pile was much to big to burn. One day, we decided to rent a chipper-shredder. A neighbor family came over and we had a work day together. We all went to our neighbors' farm and did their branches. Afterwards, everyone came over to our farm and we spent the rest of the day pulling branches out of our huge brush pile and feeding them through the chipper-shredder. The weather was cool, and, as evening came, a light snow began to fall. Before dusk, the brush pile was reduced to a large pile of wood-chip mulch.

On a cold, cloudy day, a timber company came to our homestead. With their knuckleboom, they loaded the choice logs onto their truck. One by one, the logs were lifted in the air and maneuvered onto the logging truck. Within an hour, the logs were off down the country roads to be sold to the sawmill.

By late winter, piles of brush dotting the hill were all that was left on the two-acre cleared portion of the hill. These piles were left to dry for a year, and then were burned. In the flat pasture at the bottom of the hill, huge stacks of logs for firewood were waiting to be cut and split. There was enough firewood to heat our house and cook for around five years. However, we had the large task of splitting it all.

Many large knotted stumps also sat in the pasture, they were much to difficult to split by hand. Therefore, one day, we rented a log splitter. We all spent the day wearing homemade wool jackets, hats, and mittens out in the middle pasture, as we called it. Log after log was put under the log splitter's sharp blade. The blade slowly cut through the wood and split the logs into firewood. Meanwhile, my brothers split piles of logs by hand.

Early spring came and we began to spend more and more time in the greenhouse making soil blocks and starting plants. The effects of that winter's project were clearly seen. From that winter on, the gardens and solar panels had more sunlight. Rows and rows of neatly stacked firewood, to be used in coming years, lined fences. The hillside pasture was planted with grass, and soon frolicking sheep and goats were seen grazing up there.

The effects of that winter were more than directly visible. My older brothers were hooked on the timber business and the next year they set to work clearing a section of another hill. When we moved away from the farm, one of our neighbors said that he'd tell our farm's new owners that if they put their boys up on those hills, they'll turn them into men.