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It’s Here! The 2013 HOMEGROWN Holiday Gift Guide

Tuesday, December 10th, 2013


Is it just us, or did the holidays come out of nowhere this year? No worries. We’ve got you covered with the HOMEGROWN Holiday Gift Guide, featuring a bushel of ideas that don’t require rush shipping or deep pockets. In true HOMEGROWN fashion, you can find what you need to make most of the presents below at your local winter farmers market—or maybe even in your own pantry or closet—because the most meaningful gifts come from our hearts and our hands. We’re also including a few stocking stuffers under $20, because even the most industrious elves need a break sometimes. Details below the photos!



• • • • • • • MAKE IT • • • • • • •


1. Got a t-shirt? A needle and thread? You’ve got what you need to craft Cynthia’s head-turning tote bag. It’s perfect for hauling kale—or whatever 2014’s veggie of the year turns out to be.

2. One potato, two potato, three potato, four. Give Grandma a gift that she couldn’t love more: notecards personalized using homemade potato stamps. (Bonus: Once you’re done crafting, your tools can go in the compost pile.)

3. Remember those friends who couldn’t stop raving about your backyard honey last summer? Chances are they’ll go gaga for Charlyn’s homemade beeswax candles. Learn how to make your own votives and light up a loved one’s winter nights.

4. Decking the halls with boughs of holly smells awfully good, but Maryanne’s coffee filter wreath has a longer lifespan and a smaller price tag than store-bought greenery. Plus, it’s equally appropriate for indoor winter wonderlands and springtime bridal showers.

5. Can’t you just picture a few of these babies wrapped up and tied with a bow? Nope, they’re not candy. They’re seedballs, one way to show those neglected patches of ground some love, and they’re as much fun to make and give as they are to toss.

• • • • • • • COOK IT • • • • • • •


6. So simple, it’s genius: homemade crackers, the perfect complement to all those jams and jellies and spreads in your giftee’s pantry. Get tips in Kari’s 101.

7. In the Southwest, this time of year means delicious tamales. Learn how to make your own to give away—or, better yet, round up a few friends for a tamalada and let everyone take home his or her handiwork.

8. We’re past the window of opportunity for steeping a batch of homemade Kahlúa before Christmas (where did the year go?), but you’ve still got time to make mead using Penny’s Finnish recipe.

9. Have a family member who can’t make it home for Christmas? Nothing says love like a big plate of noodles. Make your own pasta following’s Jannine’s instructions then mail the results to anyone in need of a care package.

10. Calling all candymakers: Looking for a tidbit beyond the usual peppermint bark/orange peel/peanut brittle triad? Give Jackie’s apple cider caramels a spin of the whisk.

• • • • • • • STUFF IT • • • • • • •


11. Paine’s miniature log cabins are crafted in Maine and burn incense made from balsam fir harvested by local woodsmen. Plus, they smell like winter itself for only $10.

12. You know what’s none of your giftee’s beeswax? Disposable plastic wrap. Ugh. Delight the thrifty and the eco-friendly alike with Beeswrap ($15–$19), a greener alternative.

13. If springtime feels too far away, give your favorite sweet tooth something to look forward to: her very own maple spile ($3.25) and a plan to go tree tapping.

14. Or maybe your sweetheart would rather fast forward to summer? Feed his garden daydreams with a 100-count bag of tomato trellis clips ($9.15) for the tamest plants ever.

15. Got another gardener in the family? Help her prepare her soil with a stash of biochar ($12) made from oak and tomato stakes on Pennsylvania’s Happy Cat Farm.

Want more ideas? You can find additional gift how-tos in Weeknight Wonders, updated weekdays through Christmas Eve. And just a note to you, our HOMEGROWN family: May your giving be heartfelt and your holidays be bright, and may your season be filled with delight!




HOMEGROWN Life: How to Cook the Best Thanksgiving Turkey You’ll Ever Eat

Wednesday, November 13th, 2013


HOMEGROWN-LIFE-LT-GREENIt’s November, and we all know what that means: The holidays will be here any day now! Last year we followed the Thanksgiving turkey recipe below with our own homegrown bird, and we’ll do it again this year because it’s that good: super moist, flavorful, and sure to please your guests. It takes some preparation, but in the end, it’s more than worth the effort!


This recipe will work for a 16- to 25-pound turkey. Make sure the bird is completely thawed the day before you plan to cook it, because brining it requires at least 12 hours. It’s even better if you can brine it longer. We’re doing ours a full 48 hours.


» 1 gallon unsweetened apple juice
» 6 to 8 thin slices of fresh ginger
» 2 Tbsp peppercorns
» 2 Tbsp allspice berries
» 2 Tbsp whole cloves
» 2 bay leaves
» 3/4 cup salt
» 3/4 cup granulated sugar

Combine the apple juice, ginger, and spices in a large sauce pan. Stir in the salt and sugar. Bring to a boil for 3 minutes then allow to cool completely. We’ve designated a large water cooler, similar to the one pictured at left, for brining our bird.

Unwrap the thawed turkey, remove the giblets, and place the bird in the cooler, neck end down. Pour your cooled brining liquid over the bird. Add water until the bird is completely submerged then add a bunch of ice on top to keep cool. Put the lid on the cooler and leave it undisturbed for at least 12 and up to 48 hours. (Just make sure it’s staying cold.)

» olive oil
» 2 Tbsp chopped fresh rosemary
»  2 Tbsp chopped fresh thyme
» 2 Tbsp chopped fresh oregano
» 1/4 lb butter (1 stick), cut into pats
» 2 cups chicken broth

1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Remove the bird from the brine, letting the brine drain out of the cavity. Don’t rinse the bird.

2. Coat a roasting pan with olive oil and place the bird in it, breast-side up.

3. Using your hands, separate the bird’s skin from the breast and legs. Rub the chopped herbs into the meat.

4. Place the pats of butter under the skin in various locations, including on the legs. Pour the chicken broth over the bird.

5. Cover the bird with the pan lid or foil and put the pan in the oven.

6. Roast for two hours, basting every hour. Then remove the foil and allow the bird to brown, basting every 20 minutes.

7. Continue to roast the bird until the interior temperature reaches 165F. This can take an additional 1 to 2 hours, depending on whether the bird is stuffed. When taking the temperature, make sure the thermometer is through the thickest part of the breast and not touching bone.

You’ll end up with an incredibly moist, flavorful, and tender bird. Happy Thanksgiving!

Rachel-Dog-Island-FarmMy friends in college used to call me a Renaissance woman. I was always doing something crafty, creative, or utilitarian. I still am. Instead of arts and crafts, my focus these days has been farming as much of my urban quarter-acre as humanly possible. Along with my husband, I run Dog Island Farm, in the San Francisco Bay Area. We raise chickens, goats, rabbits, dogs, cats, and a kid. We’re always keeping busy. If I’m not out in the yard, I’m in the kitchen making something from scratch. Homemade always tastes better!

HOMEGROWN Life: Halloween Crafts for Kids (Plus, a Recipe for Homemade Candy Corn)

Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013


HOMEGROWN-LIFE-MAGENTACool nights, noises in the shadows, leaves rustling in the evening air: As a child, my biggest thrill (and terror) was traipsing from house to house on Halloween night, waiting for the bigger kids in the neighborhood to jump out and scare the candy corn out of us. They rarely did, but the fear of it was enough to infuse my whole night with a sense of mystery and excitement.

Years later, Halloween is our house’s favorite holiday, hands down. For many years I’ve held a large party, costumes required, and the kids and I even visit the country’s Halloween capital of Salem, Massachusetts. We decorate heavily in October, but many of our Halloween accents never make it into the storage bins because I can’t bring myself to pack them away. I love all kinds of reminders of everyday magic, whether it’s the turning of the leaves, a walk in the brisk fall air, or the blooming of a long-awaited flower. I even find my hens a little magical. Seriously, an egg almost every day? That’s magic to me!

Halloween crafts for kids: Michelle's helperBecause we celebrate in such a big way, we’re always looking for ideas to add. Things can get a little stale if we don’t refresh them here and there, with a new tradition added in for good measure. So this year, I went on the hunt for Halloween crafts for kids that would be simple, wouldn’t require me to be in the kitchen alone, and would be wholesome. (We don’t do gory Halloween here; we like the old-school stuff. No blood and guts, only ghosts and witches and crisp fall leaves. And candy, of course!)

Since my daughter is prepping for the PSATs, my son and I put on some Halloween music (“Purple People Eater,” anyone?) and set to work. We love candles, so a craft or two with candles made sense for us. We also wanted to work on a budget and reuse where possible. First, I settled on a jar-o’-lantern, since we had some spare jars without lids floating around. I know in most homes it’s random socks that disappear, but in our house, it seems to be Mason jar rings. Our second project was dollar-store candles decoupaged with vintage Halloween images. Last, in homage to my obsession, I made my own candy corn. Details below.


Halloween crafts for kids: jar-o'-lantern painting

Earlier in the day, I’d coated the inside of the spare jars with some orange paint I had in the garage. Simply pour the paint into the jar and roll it around until the entire inside is coated then leave the jars to dry upside down. It takes a very minimal amount of paint, so check the “oops” selection at your hardware stare, buy a small sample pot, or share the cost of paint with a friend.

While the jars are drying, you can draw a jack-o’-lantern-Halloween crafts for kids: jar-o'-lanternsface stencil on cardboard or card stock and cut it out with a sharp blade. I printed my templates from a website; there are plenty to choose from if you have limited artistic ability, like me! I cut out the templates, and my son taped them to the jars. Once the stencils were in place, he used a sponge and dabbed them with black acrylic paint. Mason jars are bumpy, so you’ll need a light hand when painting.

Zack did most of the work on this project, and he loved picking the faces and imagining they were having a spooky stare-down. Once the faces are dry, you can loop some thick wire around the lip of the jar and attach another loop of wire for hanging. (We opted to set them on the table instead.) You can make lots of these easily—especially if you’re a jar hoarder, like I am—and line your walkway with tea lights tucked inside.



Halloween crafts for kids: decoupageing candlesProject number 1 finished; on to project number 2! I adore old Halloween advertisements and cards, which harken back to a simpler time, so we decided to use those for candles, too. We hit the dollar store, printed some images of old ads and cards off Google, and grabbed our Mod Podge. I regularly decoupage furniture to give it new life. It’s a simple and useful method for those who don’t mind getting a bit sticky and doing it themselves—which is most of us here at HOMEGROWN! While we used prayer candles, you could easily decoupage a pumpkin with a black lace overlay or adhere beautiful fall leaves in an overlapping pattern.

Halloween crafts for kids: decoupage candlesOnce we removed the sticky labels from the candles (heat them with a blow dryer prior to peeling, and they’ll come off clean), we coated the candles with Mod Podge. We then applied the images, working from left to right and smoothing as we went to press out air bubbles. If you want to overlap your images, make sure to reapply Mod Podge as needed to hold the seams down. Once all of the cutouts are applied, coat the entire exterior of the candle with Mod Podge. I used gold glitter Mod Podge for this step because, let’s face it, I may be a simple country girl but I still like glitter! Don’t be alarmed if your Mod Podge takes on a white cast during this step. It’s totally normal and will dry clear. Check out our end result!



Halloween crafts for kids: homemade candy cornI also found a recipe for my beloved candy corn. I was looking for one without beeswax because, frankly, unless you’re a beekeeper, it’s a tough ingredient to find. (If you are a beekeeper, there are plenty of recipes online.) This one is very simple, and although it takes a while to cool, it’s well worth the wait and fun to prepare—not to mention the money it could save me, considering I buy and stash candy corn all year round!

  • 2/3 cup organic light corn syrup (read more here on the differences between this and high-fructose corn syrup; or, better yet, make your own cane syrup)
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 5 Tbsp butter
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract (make your own with a HOMEGROWN 101)
  • 2 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/3 cup powdered milk
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • red and yellow food coloring (courtesy of The Kitchn, red substitutes for the commercial stuff include steeped hibiscus flowers, boiled cranberries, beet juice or powder, and pomegranate juice; for the yellow: annatto or very small amounts of saffron or turmeric)

1. Mix the sugar, syrup, and butter together in a medium saucepan over low heat. Once everything is dissolved into a homogenous mixture, turn the heat up to high and bring to a boil. Immediately reduce the heat to medium and let simmer 5 minutes, tops. Be precise: This is candy.

2. After 5 minutes, remove from heat and stir in the vanilla. Set the mixture aside until it is just cool enough to handle but still warm and pliable.

3. While waiting for the mixture to cool, sift together the powdered sugar, powdered milk, and salt in a large bowl. Once the sugar mixture is just cool enough to handle, add it to the powdered sugar. Knead the dough with your hands to incorporate as much of the powdered sugar as you can. Don’t worry if there’s a little powdered sugar left unmixed.

4. Remove the dough from the bowl and roll it into a large log. Divide it into three sections. Press divots into two of the dough pieces. Drop 12 or more drops of yellow coloring into each divot. Drop 6 red drops into just one of the divots (red + yellow = orange!). Knead the color into the dough, kneading the yellow section first so as not to cross-contaminate. You can use your bare hands or gloves, if you’d like, although the color should wash out after a few hand-washings. Make sure the color is completely solid and mixed in, not marbleized.

5. Once the colors are incorporated, wash your hands thoroughly to ensure you don’t get orange dye on the yellow dough. Start with the white dough. Cut about one-fifth of the dough and roll it out into a long worm. Do the same with the yellow dough then the red dough.

6. Press the three worms together firmly without distorting the shape. Use a sharp knife and cut the dough into triangles. Set aside and allow to dry as you repeat steps five and six with the remaining dough. Here’s the hard part: waiting for the candy to dry before eating. Good luck! (NOTE: Keep an eye out for a HOMEGROWN 101 coming soon with more photos of Michelle’s process.)



While searching for my own projects, I came across several others I’ve bookmarked for future years:

  • Fake tombstones made from empty cereal boxes
  • Milk-jug ghosts or skeletons
  • White stockings as spider egg sacs
  • Old toilet paper and paper towel rolls with cut-out eye slits. Tuck glow sticks inside and nestle into the bushes. Watch out: Creepy eyes!
  • Most importantly, parents, don’t forget your Dremel for carving pumpkins. Endless ideas!

More than anything, Halloween is a time of togetherness for my family. We’ll spend enough time prepping the chicken coop for winter, figuring out if we canned enough, kicking our cooking into high gear, and most importantly, looking for a farm of our own. This will be a busy winter for us, so we cherish fall as a time of freedom after the harvest and before the planning. It’s also a time to remember our blessings and keep our loved ones close. Autumn brings us many magical gifts. I wish you as many blessings as there are falling leaves!

P.S. I got into a discussion with a stranger at the store this week, recalling the days of the homemade costume. (Hooray for ingenuity!) I disclosed that I was a hobo for roughly a decade, and she said that her most memorable costume was when she broke her arm: Her mother turned her into a slot machine. I laughed out loud. Loudly. I’d love to hear about your favorite HOMEGROWN costumes—new or from years past—in the comments section below. Happy haunting!

HOMEGROWN-life-michelleAlthough she’s something of a newbie homesteader herself, Michelle comes from serious pioneer stock: Her great-grandmother literally wrote the book. It’s this legacy, in part, that led Michelle to trade in her high-stress life for a home on the grounds of a Pennsylvania CSA farm. You can read her monthly posts on beginner homesteading with kids and more here in HOMEGROWN Life, and sometimes you can find her popping up in The Stew, HOMEGROWN’s member blog.