Thursday, April 24, 2014

Fresh Strawberry Muffins with Streusel Topping





Nothing tastes like spring like fresh-from-the-farm strawberries! With just a few stray berries left from our recent trip, a new muffin recipe was born.

Earlier this week we made our annual trip to a local strawberry farm. I had called, and waited…the cooler-than-normal spring kept those berries from ripening as early as usual, so when we got the word that they were finally ready, we made our plans to visit. We were not disappointed!

 We made jam from nearly all of our berries (I'll be posting that soon), but there was a plea to keep one basket out to enjoy fresh. I'm so glad we did. They were amazing! By this morning, there were just a few lonely berries in the bottom of the basket, so I decided to mix them into some muffin batter and serve them for breakfast. A new favorite muffin recipe was born.

Fresh Strawberry Muffins with Streusel Topping

For the muffins:
2 c. flour
1/2 c. sugar
1 T. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1 c. fresh strawberries, chopped
1 c. buttermilk
1 t. vanilla extract
1 large egg, beaten
4 T. butter

For the streusel topping:
1/4 c. flour
2 T. sugar
2 T. butter

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees, and grease a standard-sized muffin pan.
2. In a small bowl, mix the flour and sugar for the streusel topping. Rub in the butter (I use my fingers). Set aside.
3. Melt the butter for the muffins over low heat, then remove and allow to cool a bit.
4. In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Add strawberries and stir gently to combine.
5. Combine the buttermilk, vanilla extract, and egg and blend well. Stir in the butter.
6. Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry and mix gently.
7. Scoop the batter into the prepared pan and top each muffin with streusel topping.
8. Bake for 20 minutes.

What are your favorite ways to enjoy fresh strawberries?

Monday, April 21, 2014

Why I'm No Threat to Martha Stewart - or Those Like Her




I have a love-hate relationship with decorating. I love beautiful spaces. I can visit a friend's home or thumb through the pages of a glossy magazine, or (hold on) peruse Pinterest for way too long, and be amazingly inspired. But, I just don't have the knack - and that part I hate! But, I still try.

A while back I found some great ideas for walls and pinned a few. One of my favorites was using fabric for wall art. I've had those moments at the fabric store when I absolutely fell in love with a fabric, but had no idea what I'd do with it. I knew this project would be perfect for those pieces.

Using purchased canvas frames seemed like a great idea, but I began to consider how I could do this for next to nothing. So, I took a stroll through the shop and found an abundant supply of cedar scraps. I asked Noah to cut some 6 x 6 pieces and I had my frames - for free!

Here's how I turned a few pieces of scrap lumber and some pretty fabric into a splash of color and interest for my wall.

Next, we made a trip to the fabric store. I had my tribe of little folks with me since we were there to choose fabric for a group project we have in the works (that's coming soon, and I'm so excited about it!) Have you ever been on the hunt for something you already had picked out in your head? It's not exactly easy. After quite a while of going back and forth from one side of the store to the other - and testing the patience of the boys -  it finally clicked with this fabric:

Here's how I turned a few pieces of scrap lumber and some pretty fabric into a splash of color and interest for my wall.

(The boys were really sweet about it, and quite patient. They'll make great husbands one day.)

First I cut the fabric into 9-inch squares. I tried to vary the pattern on each square.

Then I centered the block on the back and began stapling it down. I stapled opposite sides first, pulling the fabric as tight as I could for the second side.

Here's how I turned a few pieces of scrap lumber and some pretty fabric into a splash of color and interest for my wall.

Then, I folded corners (as in wrapping a gift) before stapling down the other two sides.

Here's how I turned a few pieces of scrap lumber and some pretty fabric into a splash of color and interest for my wall.


Here's how I turned a few pieces of scrap lumber and some pretty fabric into a splash of color and interest for my wall.


Here's how I turned a few pieces of scrap lumber and some pretty fabric into a splash of color and interest for my wall.

After all four sides were done, here's how it looked on the folded edges:

Here's how I turned a few pieces of scrap lumber and some pretty fabric into a splash of color and interest for my wall.

And, the finished block:

Here's how I turned a few pieces of scrap lumber and some pretty fabric into a splash of color and interest for my wall.

I decided to give the sides a good press with a hot iron. The folds were not as flat as I wanted them to be and ironing them did the trick. Finally, I attached hangers to the back, and found a place on the wall for them.

Here's how I turned a few pieces of scrap lumber and some pretty fabric into a splash of color and interest for my wall.

I wonder what Martha would say…


What's your favorite way to use a fabric that you love? Have you ever used it to decorate a wall?


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Monday, April 14, 2014

DIY Tub & Tile Cleaner




While cleaning doesn't rank highly on my list of exciting pursuits, I appreciate the outcome. I love a clean, sparkly kitchen or bathroom and this natural DIY cleaner gets the job done!
While cleaning doesn't rank highly on my list of exciting pursuits, I appreciate the outcome. I love a clean, sparkly kitchen or bathroom (not saying that's how it always is here). Somehow, having everything clean and fresh just gives me a lighter spirit. For many years I used commercial cleaners, but a few years ago I began to be concerned about the risk to our health that those products pose. So, I began reading, researching, and making my own. It's really amazing how simple it is to whip up your own cleaners with just a few basic, inexpensive ingredients.

There are lots of recipes out there, and I've tried quite a few, but for scrubbing the shower, tub, sinks, and even countertops, I love this one. I've been using it for a couple of years now. It's simple, frugal, and it works!

Ingredients:
3/4 c. baking soda
1/4 c. liquid castile soap
1 T. vinegar
10 drops of essential oil (optional)


1. Mix the baking soda and castile soap together in a small container. The mixture will be very thick.
2. Add the vinegar and mix again.
3. Add essential oil if you choose, and mix a final time.

I like to use peppermint castile soap most of the time, so I don't add the essential oil. When I use unscented soap, I like to add tea tree or lemon essential oil. Tea tree oil is a great antiseptic, making it a good choice for cleaning. And, there's a reason that lemon is so popular even in commercial cleaning products: it's an excellent grease cutter in the kitchen, and the clean, perky fragrance makes the job a little more pleasant.

I hope you'll give this easy tub and tile cleaner a try. Do you have any other favorite DIY cleaners?

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Monday, April 7, 2014

Make Your Own Buttermilk...and Southern Biscuits!




I typically prefer to use whole wheat flour for our baked goods, but a smart girl knows when she's been beaten, and I try to be smart.

If you read my post on homemade crackers, you already know that I culture my own buttermilk. It's incredibly easy and since I'm always buying lots of milk anyway (9 people drink A LOT of milk), it's easy to use some for buttermilk rather than buying a separate jug - and then someone would probably pour themselves a big glass on accident…Anyway, it's just easy and, in my opinion, a better product than commercial buttermilk. And, it's a key ingredient in the homemade biscuits that my family loves.

I typically prefer to use whole wheat flour for our baked goods, but a smart girl knows when she's been beaten, and I try to be smart. For a few years I attempted to sell my family on whole wheat biscuits. While they were plenty tasty (I thought), they didn't get rave reviews from the boys who preferred the frozen, white variety. (sigh) So, I decided to compromise on the flour and choose the best additional ingredients I could. Score! They now love biscuit morning and if I could just learn how to make gravy as good as their Papa (my father-in-law) does… :)

So, for great biscuits, you've got to have buttermilk…all you need is milk, a jar, and buttermilk starter. You can buy the starter here (not an affiliate link). You only need to use it once. After that, simply save some buttermilk from each batch to make more. Instructions for the first culture come in the package.  Then, save 1 tablespoon of buttermilk per cup of milk for the next batch. One quart is recommended as the largest amount to culture at once. 

Pour the milk into your jar, add the saved buttermilk, cap and shake. It should not be tightly covered during the culturing process, so I like to put a coffee filter on top of the jar. A paper towel works fine too. Put it into a closed cupboard for about 24 hours. You will know the buttermilk is ready when you lean the jar to the side and it's thicker than milk - it moves similar to loose gelatin. Now you're ready to use your buttermilk! And, after it's finished, it's stored in the refrigerator. The instructions on the package recommend culturing at least weekly to keep it strong.

Make your own buttermilk in 4 easy steps.

Now with our buttermilk finished,we're ready to make those biscuits!

I typically prefer to use whole wheat flour for our baked goods, but a smart girl knows when she's been beaten, and I try to be smart.
Start by whisking the flour, baking powder and salt together in a large mixing bowl.


I typically prefer to use whole wheat flour for our baked goods, but a smart girl knows when she's been beaten, and I try to be smart.
Next, work in the palm shortening (or cold butter) until it's crumbly. I do this with my fingers.

I typically prefer to use whole wheat flour for our baked goods, but a smart girl knows when she's been beaten, and I try to be smart.
Pour in the buttermilk and stir together until everything is wet. I almost always find that I need to add a bit more buttermilk. Just make sure it's not soupy. You want a firm, sticky dough.

I typically prefer to use whole wheat flour for our baked goods, but a smart girl knows when she's been beaten, and I try to be smart.
Flour your surface and hands well. Transfer the dough and press out to 3/4 to 1-inch thickness. I don't like using a rolling pin for biscuits. I think it keeps them from rising as well as just gently pressing out by hand. You'll probably find that you need to sprinkle a bit more flour over the top as you to this. You want to have a smooth surface that's not sticky. Sprinkle flour in small amounts at a time as needed; too much flour will make a heavy, dense biscuit - not good!

I typically prefer to use whole wheat flour for our baked goods, but a smart girl knows when she's been beaten, and I try to be smart.
I like to use a canning jar ring to cut my biscuits. If I'm making gravy or plan to serve with butter, honey, and jam, I use a regular-sized ring. For "sandwich" biscuits I grab a wide-mouth ring.

I typically prefer to use whole wheat flour for our baked goods, but a smart girl knows when she's been beaten, and I try to be smart.
Put them on a greased baking sheet, touching. Biscuits love company while they bake and it makes them rise nicer. Put them into a preheated 400 degree oven for about 20 minutes until golden brown and you'll have a nice batch of biscuits like those at the top of the post. BUT, if you'd like to make something a little special, you can add one more step before baking:

I typically prefer to use whole wheat flour for our baked goods, but a smart girl knows when she's been beaten, and I try to be smart.
In a saucepan over medium heat, melt 1/2 cup butter. Remove from the heat and add 2/3 cup brown sugar and 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon. Blend until smooth.

I typically prefer to use whole wheat flour for our baked goods, but a smart girl knows when she's been beaten, and I try to be smart.
Divide the topping evenly over the biscuits and then bake as above.

I typically prefer to use whole wheat flour for our baked goods, but a smart girl knows when she's been beaten, and I try to be smart.
After baking, you get gooey-cinnamony biscuit goodness!  My children love them. 

I typically prefer to use whole wheat flour for our baked goods, but a smart girl knows when she's been beaten, and I try to be smart.
Enjoy your biscuits!


Southern Buttermilk Biscuits:

4 c. unbleached white flour
4 t. aluminum-free baking powder
1 t. sea salt
1/2 c. palm shortening (or cold butter)
1 1/2 c. buttermilk

1. Whisk flour, baking powder and salt together in a large bowl.
2. Work shortening (or butter) in until mixture is crumbly.
3. Add buttermilk and stir until a soft ball forms.
4. With floured hands and surface, press dough into a circle, 3/4 to 1-inch thick.
5. Cut biscuits and place on a greased baking sheet.
6. Bake at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes, or until golden brown.

Yield: 20 regular-sized biscuits. You can easily halve this recipe.

Do you make homemade biscuits? How do you like to eat them - plain, with butter and jam, as a sandwich, or some other way?

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Sunday, April 6, 2014

The 2014 Ultimate Blog Party




Ultimate Blog Party 2014
I'm so excited to be joining the 2014 edition of The Ultimate Blog Party! Want to join in? I'd love to meet you there. You can get all the details here.

I'm Karen, and I'm so glad you are visiting To Work With My Hands. I'm a homeschooling mom of 8 children (6 still in school), and our house is always busy. You can meet my family here. Keeping this bunch fed and organized can be quite a challenge, and at times I need to recharge. One of my favorite ways is to create with my hands. I love blogging here about those creations. I create and write about food (we consume lots and lots of food!), gardening, handcrafts, DIY projects for the home, and the body, and sometimes I'll profile what other creative people have done.

Thanks for stopping by! If you're visiting from the party, please leave a comment and share your link! I'd love to visit you too.


Monday, March 31, 2014

How to Make Your Own Natural Linen Spray




I loved hanging my sheets on the clothesline in the springtime and bringing in all the sweet smells of blooming flowers and trees. Now, with my own natural linen spray, I can come close to those sweet fragrances.

Now that spring has finally arrived, I've got the same bug that lots of people have. I want to get everything fresh and clean. After a few months of tightly closed doors and stale air, it's time to welcome fresh, fragrant breezes through open windows and let the dusting and polishing begin!

Before we moved, we had our own outdoor clothes line. Spring was always my favorite time to load it up with freshly washed sheets and let them dance in the wind. Bringing them in always brought in the fresh smells of all the blossoming flowers and trees. I miss that! But, although I can't totally mimic that perfect smell, I can get a little creative and come close - at least with something that is equally pleasant.

I love to use homemade linen spray when I wash my sheets. It's so easy to mix up and it just makes me smile each time I walk into my room and am welcomed by the sweet, gentle, or crisp fragrance. I don't save it just for springtime - or the sheets. I use it year-round and it works great on upholstery or carpeting. We don't have any carpet in our home now, so I love to give the rugs a spray instead. (Always be sure to test anything you spray in an inconspicuous place first to check for colorfastness.) Making spray in small batches is great for changing up fragrances often, or you can just have several bottles available and choose the fragrance that suits your tastes at the moment.

All you need is a spray bottle, distilled water, vodka, and essential oil. Since oil and water don't mix, you need a carrier for the essential oil. That's where the vodka comes in - it works in the same way as with homemade vanilla extract. You can substitute vinegar or rubbing alcohol for the vodka, but it's harder to mask their smells. I prefer vodka for that reason. Pour 1/4 cup vodka into the bottle and add 20 drops of the essential oil of your choice, or a combination of oils, and mix it together well. Then add 1/2 cup water and mix again. That's it!

I love the crisp, cool fragrance of peppermint, but if you have trouble sleeping, stimulating peppermint wouldn't be a good choice for your pillow. Calming lavender would be better, or a sweet mixture of lavender(15 drops) and Ylang Ylang (5 drops). I love to experiment with the oils I have and find new combinations that I love.

I hope you will celebrate the arrival of spring with me by whisking up a batch of fragrant linen spray. Be sure to leave a comment and share your favorite fragrances.


Recipes and Ramblins with the Tumbleweed Contessa

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Spring Garden





What's Growing in Your Garden?

After five months, it's finished! Yes, this was one of those projects that has spanned some time, but a little here, a little there…and just in time for the approaching warmer and longer days. After getting the final section filled with soil, my sweet helper, Samuel did a great job of getting the trellis up for me.

The Spring Garden

 It will support the English peas now - which are already climbing - and cucumbers this summer when it gets too hot for the peas.

What to Plant in Your Spring Garden

I bought a small bag of seed potatoes and filled nearly all of the new section with those. In our area, potatoes go in around mid-February. I left an empty space at the back again to plant cucumber seedlings in a few weeks. They are still inside, growing strong and waiting for their preferred temperatures, before going outside. They are finally beginning to peek through the soil - yeah!

Growing Potatoes in the Southern Garden

By late February, our order of romaine, kale, Swiss chard, and one amazingly fragrant peppermint plant arrived from The Tasteful Garden.

Top Greens for Spring Growing: Swiss Chard, Romaine, and Kale

We had a significant freeze the day after they arrived, so I kept them in the house for a few days until it warmed back up, then moved them onto our covered deck for a bit of sun each day until they adjusted. After a couple weeks, I put them into their new homes.  

Starting Peppermint in the Spring Garden

Since it's invasive, the peppermint will live in a pot. It already smells amazing and I am working hard to restrain myself from plucking off some of those gorgeous leaves. Can you see that little runner on the left? It already has tiny roots. I'm sure I'll be repotting, and sharing, before summer ends.

I ordered a few seeds this year from my favorite seed supplier, Seed Savers Exchange, and put those in too. There are leeks, two varieties of yellow onions, chives, bee flower, and echinacea. The bee flower is new to me and I am eager to see how it grows and hopefully attracts lots of pollinating bees to the garden. And, although I am familiar with echinacea, I have never grown it before and am really looking forward to having it and harvesting for the great tinctures we can make to keep the cold and flu germs at bay next winter.

The carrots are our stars.  I love to watch their feathery tops swaying in the wind! We have already tasted a few, and will be harvesting them more frequently soon, enjoying the small ones for snacks, and allowing the others the room to grow larger.

A Southern Spring Garden

I love the rich color that the pansies still grace the bed with. I'll leave them in as long as they stay nice, which will be a few weeks yet. When the temperatures climb too high for their preference, I plan to replace them with one of my favorite summer border flowers, Dianthus.

Herbs in the Spring Garden

The herbs are really thriving in the new soil. I've never grown thyme this beautiful before.

The Spring Garden

The sage has improved too, and I decided to move a second plant into the bed as well. It has just begun blooming and those bright, purple blooms add to the color in the bed. 

Yarrow in the Spring Garden

 And after spending the winter living in a pot, I moved one of my newer herbs, yarrow, into the bed. It was a vigorous grower in the pot, so I am eager to see what it will do now that it has room to spread out some.

Spring will be short here - our summer temperatures usually don't wait around until June to show up. So, our peas and greens will likely have a short growing season. As soon as they are out, I'll replace them with tomatoes and cucumbers, and maybe a few more heat-loving plants I can squeeze in.

I'm so glad spring is here! How about you? What are you growing?

Recipes and Ramblins with the Tumbleweed Contessa