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Archive for the ‘DIY’ Category

HOMEGROWN Life: Shaking Off a DIY Fail

Wednesday, January 21st, 2015

 

HOMEGROWN-LIFE-LT-GREENI’m a self-conscious chef. In an effort to minimize disasters, I seek out recipes with clear, step-by-step instructions that leave little room for interpretation. And anytime I try something new in the kitchen, I make sure my roommate is on standby as my frontline taste tester. She’s usually happy to oblige, but every so often, she gets stuck with a burnt or undercooked creation.

This was one of those times.

Over the holidays, with so many other things going on, I thought I’d stick to a baking project I couldn’t mess up. Cupcakes. In a past life (OK, a not-so-distant two summers ago), I worked in a bakery and became something of a cupcake connoisseur. No style, design, or flavor fazed me. If I had a recipe, I could make it happen.

Just to mix things up a little bit, I thought I’d try making my own food coloring. I loved the idea of knowing exactly what I was smearing on my cupcakes—no weird chemicals or fake stuff, just ingredients I had selected myself. As I trolled the Internet for tips, with visions of festive red and green icing dancing in my head, I figured this would be a low-stress challenge.

Before long, I came across a blog detailing the necessary ingredients for mixing both red and green dye, but the lists were long and full of powders I wasn’t sure I could pronounce, much less afford or locate in a store. I sifted through other recipes until I found one that made natural dyes seem even easier than I’d thought: spinach juice for green and pomegranate or beet juice for red. Sounds simple, right?

Pomegranate juice is easy to find fairly cheap. I grabbed a bottle for $1.50—on sale that week, too, so it had to be fate. Spinach juice proved a bit trickier. I saw some online, but the price tag was steep, and I didn’t think waiting a week or so for it to arrive seemed practical.

Without a juicer or any knowledge of juicing, I decided I would try to liquefy spinach. I turned to my little food processor, my trustiest friend in the kitchen, thinking it could get the job done. After repeated dicing, chopping, and grinding, I was left with a murky green liquid that resembled algae or moss—in other words, not something you would willingly eat, let alone consider a treat.

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Next I tried mixing some of the sludge into my buttercream. The result: soggy white syrup flecked with green chunks. Needless to say, I couldn’t get my roommate to try it.

Zero for one, I held onto the hope that red icing would be easier. Who needs green, after all, when red is the color of Santa hats and candy canes? The pomegranate juice I had was already in liquid form, so turning it into icing should be as easy as stirring.

I added a few drops of juice to my buttercream and starting mixing. Nothing.

After dumping in a whole tablespoon of juice, the icing began to take on the palest pink tinge. My faith renewed, I dumped in another tablespoon of juice.

Hm. Still pink.

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Yet another tablespoon in, the icing was slightly darker—though not quite red—but also extremely runny. I tried to spread it onto a cupcake, but it was too soupy to apply with a knife. I thought moving the icing to the fridge for a while might thicken up the consistency, but that was a lost cause, as well. The cupcakes looked like they had spent a 90-degree day in the trunk of a car. My roommate took a tentative taste and gave the flavor a thumbs-up, but she advised me not to take the cupcakes out into the world, where they would be subjected to ridicule.

I had to agree.

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They say food is all about presentation, and in that respect, these cupcakes definitely failed. They’re the kind of thing I would usually hide in the back of my fridge rather than show off, but here they are now, in all their glory, on the Internet. To me, it’s a reminder that not everything you make will look or taste like the pristine examples you see in glossy magazines or on tastefully photographed blogs.

Sometimes we fail, whether through a flawed recipe or our own lack of skill. And you know what? It doesn’t matter one bit. You tried. You gave a shot. Maybe you made something edible, even if it’s not pretty. Hey, a laugh can be as much of a bonding experience—probably more—as sharing a fussed-over snack with a friend. The point is the experiment itself, in rolling with the punches and trying again.

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Or not. Red food coloring is one project I’m happy to leave to the pros. Valentine’s is coming up before long, and what says, “I love you,” like homemade pink icing?

amandaNortheastern University student Amanda Hoover spent her fall semester interning for HOMEGROWN and Farm Aid. She is an amazing baker (don’t miss her 101s on homemade Nutella, biscotti, and peanut butter cups), in addition to being an awfully good sport. Thanks for sharing your hits and your misses, Amanda!

ALL PHOTOS: AMANDA HOOVER

 

ICYMI: The Top HOMEGROWN Posts of 2014 (AKA Inspiration for 2015!)

Wednesday, December 31st, 2014

 

Don’t worry. We understand if you didn’t spend every waking minute of 2014 hunched over the computer, drumming your fingers and waiting for the next HOMEGROWN 101 to post. You’re busy! You’ve got actual stuff to do, from tending the garden (not to mention the kids, pets, and livestock) to making breakfast to fashioning bird feeders from Mason jars. We get it. Your get-it-doneness is why we love you!

But just in case you were wondering what your fellow DIYers were reading while you were off crafting, baking, and planting, we’ve rounded up the top five HOMEGROWN posts from 2014 in a few different categories—plus some fun stuff to look forward to. Here’s to finding inspiration for a whole new year of doing in 2015!

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Top 5 shiny new 101s of 2014:

  1. Sue’s Pallet Wood Chicken Coop 101
  2. Andrea’s Wine Bottle Wind Chimes 101
  3. Joe’s Fermented Chili Paste 101
  4. Cynthia’s Homemade Bone Broth 101
  5. Jessie’s Common Garden Pests 101—and how to fight ‘em!

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Oldies but goodies! Top 5 archived 101s in 2014:

  1. Jennifer’s Drying Chili Peppers 101
  2. Camas’s Buying a Whole Pig 101
  3. Back to basics: Hoop Houses 101
  4. Lauren’s Duck House 101 (Don’t miss her Raising Ducks 101!)
  5. Lucy’s Growing Lettuce 101

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Top 5 HOMEGROWN blog posts of 2014:

  1. Rachel’s pros and cons of tiny house living
  2. The Skills Tent Schedule at Farm Aid 2014—now with photos!
  3. The United States of Thanksgiving, HOMEGROWN-Style, with apologies to The New York Times
  4. Rachel’s big-batch granola recipe (This woman is a HOMEGROWN machine!)
  5. Dyan’s ode to fall cooking—and eating

Coming up next: a few inspiring—and totally doable—food resolutions for 2015. Stay tuned to HOMEGROWN.org! And happy HOMEGROWN New Year, you guys!

 

HOMEGROWN Life: The Family That Crafts Together Laughs Together

Thursday, December 18th, 2014

 

HOMEGROWN-LIFE-MAGENTAIf you’re anything like me, this time of the year has crept up on you like frost in a field: slow and inevitable yet somehow invisible and surprising.

On my homestead, I’ve spent days making pounds of chili and pasta and packing soups and sweets for my hunter to take along with him to his camp. I’m hoping this pays dividends, and he brings home plenty for the freezer. I’ve been planning the garden again and hauling and chopping firewood. I had the chickens processed before winter and put them up in the freezer, ready to provide a warm meal after a cold day. Despite this being a season for family, I wasn’t feeling like I was getting a lot of time with the ones closest to me: my kids!

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Weekdays are so robotic lately, reviewing stacks of homework and trying to make sense of fourth grade math. By the time we’ve sifted through the sea of confusion and then dinner, it’s bedtime. So I was determined to hold on to this past weekend with a death grip. We were going to make stuff, listen to Burl Ives sing “Silver and Gold,” and RELAX—and we were going to do it together!

Because this has been a year of tumult and change for us, I wanted to put together two holiday crafts I’m calling Grateful Globes and Pride Journals. For the first, I lugged out the acrylic paints, Mod Podge (plain, silver, and gold), brushes, and clear glass Christmas balls that I got at a craft store. I laid down some newspaper and gave my kids intentionally loose instructions: Make a globe that represents you and your year. Include what you’re grateful for now or what you’d like to remember in the future.

grateful-globes2For the next couple of hours, the kids diligently discussed, clipped, and glued their way towards truly personalized Christmas ornaments. They spent time pouring over an old dictionary to talk about words that encompassed these past months, what they hope to accomplish in the next year, and what they hold close. I wanted these decorations to be something they could reminisce over years from now, when they’re hanging their own trees with their own children. They succeeded beautifully! We now have a few more heirloom ornaments hanging on our tree, and we’ll repeat this activity again in the coming years.

The best part was listening to the discussion their efforts prompted. My daughter spoke dreamily of our travels as she made a ball celebrating our life on the road; my son selected random hilarious highlights to focus on; and our guest made a wonderful piece commemorating her grades and her dreams for the coming year. It allowed me to peek inside their heads, which can be cluttered and closed off to Mom and Dad. (One tip: Don’t use a pen! The ink bleeds wildly when mixed with Mod Podge. If you want to incorporate text, you might print your grateful list on the computer and use that.)

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My next project is more of a commitment. I firmly believe that every child seeks a parent’s stamp of approval, no matter how old she or he is. (I’m talking to you, 16-year-old!) I also think that, in this day and age, it’s increasingly difficult for our children to hear us, REALLY hear us, when we say we’re proud of them. Frankly, sometimes we stink at saying it. To bridge that gap, I want to make sure I outline something my kids do every week that I’m proud of and that I think makes them better people.

I’ll sit down weekly to write out this one thing. It won’t always be warm and fuzzy. It might be overcoming something that was difficult for them in their everyday lives. Here’s an example: Recently, my son and I were watching a kid’s network that shall remain nameless and that was hosting an awards show, supposedly to honor kids for helping other kids. In the midst of this program aimed at kids, a musical guest sang about a girl having a “booty like an hourglass,” among other comments my boy had no business thinking were acceptable things to say about women.

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This led to a discussion that could have been incredibly awkward but ended up being very open and educational for both of us. It was certainly a moment in which he could’ve blushed and buried his head. I mean, his mom said “booty,” for goodness sake! Instead, we had a talk I was proud of. Into the Pride Journal it goes, along with some dialogue and a mother’s thought on why the moment was important.

My father is one of the rare and lucky few who has a treasure-trove of journals, letters, notes, and recordings left behind by his mother. No matter how many of these tangible memories he has, I’m certain he would always wish for more. Even now, I see him page through the books and glance over her handwriting or quote something she wrote. Her presence is palpable. Thanks to her example, I want to plan ahead and make sure my kids never forget how very proud I am of them and their accomplishments, big and small. At the end of the year, the journals will get packed away with the monthly photo books I’ve started to publish online, waiting for the kids to revisit them many years down the road—or maybe whenever they need to.

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This is an excellent time of year to plan ahead, not just for the new year but for a lifetime. How can you impact others and how can you make sure they know what impact they have on you? Within your family and well beyond it, you hold the capacity to spread far-reaching beauty. How can you start today?

HOMEGROWN-life-michelleMichelle Wire 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 Pennsylvania homestead where she holds down a full-time gig in between raising kids and chickens. 

PHOTOS: MICHELLE WIRE