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Just wanted to send a little wish out to my husband of 7 years and the daddy of our two funny little boys. We love you, honey, and hope for many splendid returns!

XOXOXO

At the building site for our future home.

And for those of you who are curious what special treat I’m making for the occasion… a very large chocolate cake and homemade pizza. Yum! I’m still not sure which one I’ll serve first. The cake is in the oven right now and it smells divine!

Chocolate Cake

2 cups boiling water
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, softened
2 1/4 cups white sugar
4 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease 3 – 9 inch round cake pans. In medium bowl, pour boiling water over cocoa, and whisk until smooth. Let mixture cool. Sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt; set aside.

In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs one at time, then stir in vanilla. Add the flour mixture alternately with the cocoa mixture. Spread batter evenly between the 3 prepared pans.

Bake in preheated oven for 25 to 30 minutes. Allow to cool.

 

First and foremost – my husband is home! YAY! He got home a few days ago, and just started at his new job today. It’s been a huge change having someone else here, but I think it’s one that I will deal with just fine. The boys have grown a lot since he was last home with us full-time, and we’ve established routines and ways of doing things that are new to my husband. He’ll be adjusting the same as us. So far, so good. I think it will be even easier once the kids are in school. Our four year old will be starting 4K, and our three year old will be starting an early childhood development course for children diagnosed with autism. I’m hoping they can at least get him to start talking using words. It’s so hard to figure out what he needs, even though he’s getting very good with sign language. I would love to hear the thoughts in his head someday.

Now for the second YAY! When the hubby was over in Iraq, I was busy scoping out land in the area. I had a few candidates that were promising, but only one that really stood above the rest. After seeing it once, he was sold, so we put in an offer on it. Our offer has been accepted, and now we are just waiting to hear from the Title company for the paperwork to go through. It’s 13 acres of very varied land in northern Wisconsin. There are about 7 acres of cleared meadow dotted with a tree here and there, about an acre of soggy marshland that will probably be dug out as a pond in the future, and 5 acres of hardwood forest. The land has hills all over, the main one being about an acre across on top with open slopes facing east and south.

So now begins the journey on our land. First up – getting a decent driveway put in so we can start construction. As it is right now, it’s an overgrown switchback that our van hardly passes over unscathed. Once that is in, or maybe around the same time, we’ll be getting a well dug and electricity run. Our dream was to live off the grid, but on our limited budget we can’t afford a solar set-up yet. It’s something we’ll have to build up to. The final thing to complete before winter sets in will be to set the foundation piers. We’ll be building a post and pier house that is raised up off the ground by the piers. We’re estimating it will be around 20’x30′ with a small loft for the boys’ bedrooms. As soon as we decide on a floor plan and get it okay’d by the building inspector, I’ll post the plans on here. I also plan on posting detailed pictures, descriptions, and prices of everything we do to get this house built.

We are basing our plans and goals on similar ones we have found on countryplans.com, but are customizing the floor plan to suit our tastes rather than using a stock one. If we’re going to live in it for a while, we better like it! Some of the customization includes a walk-in shower, a sawdust toilet, a woodstove for heat, a smaller-than-normal hot water heater and bladder, and lots of storage space. We’ll also be doing built-in beds with drawers beneath. Lots of fun stuff, and we’re finally getting started!

I decided to try a new bread recipe today, and thought I’d share it with you all. It smells heavenly! There’s nothing like the smell of fresh-baked bread to pick up my spirits (though having a husband home for good and a piece of land to settle are neck and neck with it!).

3 cups warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
2 (.25 ounce) packages active dry yeast
1/3 cup honey
5 cups bread flour
3 tablespoons butter, melted
1/3 cup honey
1 tablespoon salt
3 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
2 tablespoons butter, melted

In a large bowl, mix warm water, yeast, and 1/3 cup honey. Add 5 cups white bread flour, and stir to combine. Let set for 30 minutes, or until big and bubbly.

Mix in 3 tablespoons melted butter, 1/3 cup honey, and salt. Stir in 2 cups whole wheat flour. Flour a flat surface and knead with whole wheat flour until not real sticky – just pulling away from the counter, but still sticky to touch. This may take an additional 2 to 4 cups of whole wheat flour. Place in a greased bowl, turning once to coat the surface of the dough. Cover with a dishtowel. Let rise in a warm place until doubled.

Punch down, and divide into 3 loaves. Place in greased 9 x 5 inch loaf pans, and allow to rise until dough has topped the pans by one inch.

Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 25 to 30 minutes; do not overbake. Lightly brush the tops of loaves with 2 tablespoons melted butter or margarine when done to prevent crust from getting hard. Cool completely.

Since the offer on the house fell through, I have been busy looking at all sorts of other houses and pieces of property for sale. I have an agent who is next to useless (he hasn’t sent us more than a handful of listings since I signed on with him), so I’ve just been looking online and putting ads in papers to see what’s out there. While I haven’t found any other houses that interest me, we’ve found a lot of land parcels that are just gorgeous. So far, two stand above the rest:

1 – 10 acres. 3 acres of south-facing hilly grassland, 7 acres of (moist in the spring) cedar swamp. Great views, open all around.

2 – 13 acres. 6 acres of hilly grassland, 7 acres of mixed hard and soft woods. Secluded, can’t see road or neighbors through the woods.

I guess it comes down to whether we want privacy or a great view. The more I think about it, the more I think the larger parcel will suit us. A great view is nice, but there are 10 acre parcels on either side of that 10 acre one, and who knows what the owners might decide to throw up. I wouldn’t be too happy if that great view was spoiled by a trashy trailer and cars on blocks. The 13 acre parcel would give us firewood in years to come, while the 10 acre only has cedar. Cedar is great for starting fires, but not great for a long, slow burn to heat a house.

This choosing land thing is really difficult. So many options to weigh! I took a panoramic video of each piece of land, but for some reason this wordpress site isn’t recognizing any videos on my computer. Does anyone know how to post those? I can always edit this to add the videos later if I figure it out.

Other than looking for land, we’ve been keeping busy with the garden at my parents’ house and entertaining the boys. We make a lot of trips to the local park with my bike and the trailer. Our neighbors have a little girl whom the boys adore, so we’ve had them over to visit here and there. I’ve made chocolate zucchini cake, banana bread, all sorts of pickles and relish, and been canning everything I am able to. I just read about oven canning dry goods like pasta and flours. I might give that a shot. I hate opening up a bag of pasta to discover little bugs crawling around… no matter how clean I keep the pantry or how well sealed the box/bag is. But with oven canning, you heat the dry foods up enough to kill any vermin, then you seal it to keep any other vermin out. Sounds like it’s worth a shot.

I’ve also been doing a lot of reading lately. My husband (who will be home in two days!!!! yay!!) turned me on to a series called A Song of Fire and Ice. I’ve also made it most of the way through Parenting Beyond Belief (thanks, Carla!). My Backwoods Home magazine just arrived, so I’m sure I’ll be reading through that too. Once I finish these current reading projects, I think I’ll have to start back in on my yearly knitting. I need a new hat, as will both of the boys, and I still need to figure out how many dishcloths I need to kick out for Christmas. My yearly quilt project was put off last year due to all the moving and stress, and may yet be put off another year. I suppose I’ll have to make up for it with a magnificent quilt next year.

So much to do, so little time! First up, though – get that land. Wish us luck!

I’m trying out a new recipe tonight for Bread and Butter Pickles. I have about three flats of quarts and pints worth of dill pickles, so I figured it was high time to try something new. A person can only eat so many dill pickles in a year, and I want something else to fill gift baskets with too. With about 20 cucumber plants kicking out cukes by the dozens every other day, I have more than enough materials to experiment with.

So here’s the recipe I found. (ETA – At the time I found this recipe, it seemed common knowledge because it had been copied word for word in so many places, so that is how I copied it down. See comments to find someone who claims to be the creator, though I have no way to verify her claims.) I have just finished making 6 pints and 5 half-pints (I doubled the recipe), but unfortunately my camera is MIA so there are no pictures.

2 1/2 lbs pickling cucumbers
1 pound white or yellow onions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup pickling salt (can use Kosher salt as a substitute, regular table salt has additives in it that will turn the pickles dark and muddy the color of the pickle juice)

1 1/4 cup white distilled vinegar (5% acidity)
1 cup apple cider vinegar (5% acidity) (Here I omitted apple cider and used 1 cup more of white vinegar due to a shortage)
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 Tbsp mustard seeds
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
3/4 teaspoon celery seeds
1 inch cinnamon stick
6 allspice berries plus a pinch of ground allspice
6 whole cloves plus a pinch of ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1. Carefully rinse the cucumbers, scrubbing away any dirt that may have stuck to the ribs. Slice off 1/8-inch from the ends and discard. Slice the cucumbers in 1/4-inch thick slices, place in a large bowl. Add the sliced onions and pickling salt. Stir in so that the salt is well distributed among the cucumber slices. Cover with a clean tea towel (thin towel, not terry cloth). Cover with a couple of inches of ice. Put in the refrigerator and let chill for 4 hours. Discard ice. Rinse the cucumber and onion slices thoroughly, drain. Rinse and drain again.

2. If you are planning to store your pickles outside of the refrigerator for any length of time, you will need to sterilize your jars before canning, and heat the filled jars in a hot water bath after canning. If you are planning to eat the pickles right away and store them the whole time in the refrigerator, you can skip the water bath step. It’s still a good idea to sterilize the jars first, you can do that by running them through the dishwasher, or placing them in a 200°F oven for 10 minutes. To sterilize the jars for canning, place empty jars on a metal rack in a large, 16-qt canning pot. (Jars must rest on a rack in the pot, not on the bottom of the pot). Fill with warm water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to warm to keep the jars hot and ready for canning. Remove with tongs or jar lifters one by one as you can the cucumbers. Sterilize the lids by bringing a pot of water to a boil and pouring water over a bowl containing the lids.

3. In an 8 quart pot, place the vinegar, sugar, and all of the spices. Bring to a boil. Once the sugar has dissolved, add the sliced cucumbers and onions. Bring to a boil again. As soon as the sugar vinegar solution begins boiling again, use a slotted spoon to start packing the hot jars with the cucumbers. First pack a jar to an inch from the rim with the vegetables. Then pour hot vinegar sugar syrup over the vegetables to a half inch from the rim. Wipe the rim clean with a paper towel. Place a sterilized lid on the jar. Secure with a metal screw band.

4. If you are planning to store pickles outside of refrigerator, process the filled jars in a hot water bath for 10 minutes. Return filled jars to the same canning pot with its already hot water. Water level needs to be at least one inch above the top of the cans. Bring to a boil and let boil hard for 15 minutes, or 20 minutes for altitiudes of 1001 to 6,000 feet. Over 6,000 feet, boil for 25 minutes. Remove jars from pot. Let cool down to room temperature. Jars should make a popping sound as their lids seal. If a lid doesn’t properly seal, do not store the jar outside of the refrigerator.

The whole place smells like pickles now thanks to this venture. Our neighbors are probably wondering what I’m up to. I can’t wait until  few weeks from now to crack one of these open and taste them!

 

August 2011
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